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The Unbearable Weirdness of Being

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Disclaimer: Andromeda belongs to Tribune Entertainment and Fireworks Productions. It is not mine. Note: The story references events from the 2nd season episode “All Too Human”.

The wonderful artwork to accompany this story was created by the fantastic tarlan, which can be found here: http://archiveofourown.org/collections/casestory/works/848115

 

"The Unbearable Weirdness of Being” by karrenia

 

“Where is Harper?” demanded Tyr, storming onto the Command Deck with his arms folded over his massive chest, his hair flowing long and loose down his back instead of tied up.

“How should I know?” Beka replied with a shrug, trying and not completely succeeding in not staring at Tyr’s heavily muscled torso that was currently on display underneath a wire-mesh shirt.

If Tyr noticed that she was staring, he either considered it beneath his dignity to call her on it, or simply took it as his due. It was often difficult to tell exactly what the big Nitzchean was thinking or even feeling at any given time; for he often kept both carefully guarded, under the skin.

“I’m not his keeper. Besides when I last saw him he said something about checking the hydraulics on his new hover-board. Which mean that he’s in either one of two places, the machine shop or his quarters.”

Tyr frowned and then informed her: “I have already checked both of those locations. He is not there.”

“Why do you want to know anyway, Tyr?” asked Beka curiously. She had not really thought Tyr cared that much about Harper so this insistence on getting her attention to his disappearance was both strange and unprecedented.

One of Tyr’s bushy black eyebrows went up a fraction of an inch and he pinned the ships second in command with a penetrating state. “Because unless I receive a satisfactory answer to this question a certain ship board android will not cease to pester me.”

“Rommie’s worried about him?” Beka asked, in some astonishment, trying to maintain a serious appearance and inwardly laughing at the mental image of the ship-board android pestering the crew’s resident Nitzchean weapons’ officer.

“Yes, and he has not responded to any of her hails or attempts to contact him,” Tyr continued.

“When was the last time you saw him?”

Beka had meant in an off-hand joking manner when she had told Tyr that she had never been Harper’s keeper, even in the days before she and her crew of misfits and outsiders had agreed to join Dylan Hunt and his mission to restore the Systems Commonwealth.

And while that still held true she also felt a sincere irritated fondness for Harper as a friend and an obligation to him as his former captain. If Rommie was worried perhaps there was more to Harper’s disappearance than a case of a wayward engineer going AWOL.

“Four hours ago, at the time I had only gone to chide him for including me in his experiments,” stated Tyr in a manner that implied that she should have known to which experiments he meant without any further clarification required.

Her alarm levels had been rising with every passing second. While she affected a casual disregard for Harper, because it had become more or less the comfortable pattern that they had learned to adopt over the years.

Beka was also aware that ever since his capture and torture at the hands of the Magog, Harper had been on a downward spiral with the knowledge of the residual larva that had been left behind in his gut. She suddenly recalled an incident not that long ago where Trance had once walked in on Harper, and caught him in the act of trying to stab himself in the stomach with the butt end of the medicine dispensary unit.

While Beka was aware that Trance had done everything she could to synthesize the medicine that at least appreciably slowed the progression even if it could not completely remove them. “What kind of experiments.

“He and the Perseid scientist were working on creating a device that would affect and or distort time dilation,” Tyr said. “To be honest I did not care to inquire too closely, only to reassure myself that they did not include me in their endeavors.”

“Is that even possible?” she asked. “I meant, distorting time, not the part about including you in them.”

“I could not say, but I believe he was attempting to remove the Magog parasites from his stomach.”

“Why Tyr, if I didn’t know any better, I think you almost cared about him.”

“That is beside the point,” Tyr stiffly replied. “The fact remains, he is no longer aboard this ship, and the Maru is gone.”

“He took my ship!” Beka exclaimed. “When I find him, I am going to kill him, and if someone else has already gotten to him first, I’ll bring him back just to kill him all over again.”

Tyr allowed the smallest hint of an amused wry smile to curve his mouth. “Why Captain Valentine, I did not know you cared. However, first you must locate him before you can accomplish the former.”

“How long ago did you discover the Maru missing?” she asked, rather more calmly this time. Sometimes she liked Tyr’s dry, matter-of-fact attitude, and other times she found it derisive, scornful and annoying. Dylan Hunt, in his own way, could be just as insufferable.

In the back of her mind, she thought, “Does he not appreciate just how much or my life and my pride is bound up in that humble cargo freighter?’

“Half an hour ago,” replied Tyr.

“So there’s still time to track it by its energy signature.” Beka thought that over as she idly tapped the heels of her right hand against the armrest of the pilot’s chair.

“Should we inform Dylan?” he asked.

“No, not just yet. In fact, I’ll let Rommie handle that. In the meantime we have a certain wayward engineer to find.”

“Agreed,” Tyr replied. He was relieved that Beka had seemed to pick up immediately on his concern for the wayward engineer. He didn’t care to overly analyze what it was that had made him actually care for these people other than the fact that he was now a part of the crew, and as such their continued well-being contributed to his own, and therefore his own survival.

But somehow or other, it had gone beyond the simple instincts, and while he would never dare to let any of this show outwardly, as annoying as it was to have the little Professor around; Tyr actually cared. He shook his head and took up his post at the weapons console. “I do hope he hasn’t managed to get himself killed before we locate him. It would obviate the need to come to his recuse.”

**
The smell of his own sweat permeated the Maru’s cockpit, and his own heartbeat sounded as loud as a proverbial drum in his ears. It was hot, and Seamus Harper could feel the sweat trickle down his back and arms, making his shirt stick to his back and stomach like a second skin. Some of the sweat was due to the heat, some from anxiety over the transmission that had prompted his premature departure from the Andromeda Ascendant.

The transmission from his cousin had been implicit and urgent enough that Harper had felt compelled to respond to it without delay, and against his better judgment. Granted that the last time he’d been in contact with Brendan had been during that uprising on what used to be Old Earth and had left each other’s company in more or less agreeable terms.

There had not been anything in either Brendan’s manner or tone that hinted that he harbored any ill-will or the like. And despite their differences and given how much time had passed, Seamus Harper still felt reasonably certain that he could read the other man’s moods, expressions, and mannerisms in a way that no one else could.

Which was exactly why he was now very much concerned that something was wrong. Exactly what it was about the transmission that had so set him off he still could not yet determine, perhaps it had been the flatness in his voice, or the keenness of his blue-eyed gaze dulled, but whatever it was, Harper was determined to find him.

Best case scenario, Brendan was mad at him for some reason he could not fathom; worst case scenario, someone was holding Brendan hostage. And Seamus Harper believed himself enough of a realist with a good helping of
cynicism to be inclined to believe that latter was the more likely possibility.

The coordinates he’d been given in the message said to arrive at the Commonwealth World of Mobius d within seventy two hours and no latter. The whole thing, to Harper’s way of thinking smelled like a set-up and he would be damned if he’d walk into it with his eyes closed.

Harper pulled back on the throttle of the Eureka Maru’s controls and banked the ship in a steep arc, adjusting his speed and heading, taking several deep calming breaths in order to bring his churning emotions back under control.

Harper figured that he had to be ready for just about anything, and following shortly on the heels of that particular thought, came another, “Just an a friendly warning to whoever’s holding Brendan hostage, if you think having one of us under your roof is bad, wait until you have two’ and then you’ll be sorry.”

He grinned, and this particular version was a bit more toothy and feral than his customary confident and snarky version. “Hang on, Brendan, I’m coming. And I’ll get you out of this mess. I promise.”
**

Interlude

Logic is clinical; if she knows this to be true then why does it get in the way of the emotional responses and needs of her crew? Rommie is a ship's avatar, one in a long line of the old Commonwealth High Guard ships. She is the Andromeda Ascendant.

Thanks to the human engineer, Seamus Harper she had become so much more than simply an autonomous android than any of her predecessors.
This is an unavoidable fact which has proven far more problematic an equation for her logic circuits to find a workable solution.

It had also occurred to Rommie that Harper had had more than just an engineering feat in mind when he built that artificial body for one of the ship's many androids.

More often than not that fact caused more than a few misunderstandings; not to mention an occasional glitch when logic did not agree with emotions.

Dealing with the emotions of her crew had been an entirely different equation than those of strangers, especially hostile ones.

The most recent example being when the inhabitants of the Commonwealth world Moebius had been faced with a rebellion by the very machines that they created to serve them centuries ago.

The fact that she fought her way through all the safeguards and heavy security to reach the energy core with another android fighting for every square centimeter in order to accomplish her mission and uncover Mobius’ dirty little secret was not lost on her either.

When had she returned to the Andromeda Rommie wavered about whether or not she should check with Captain Hunt about a possible glitch in her computer programming.

She actually felt several different sensations that would in other circumstances classify as an emotional reaction and she would like to discuss it with him.

She found Dylan Hunt sitting alone on a chair beside his bed, his face drawn and white from exhaustion.

Dylan stirred a little in his chair, but did not immediately look up or acknowledge her presence.

There was a protocol to follow, even when she was uncertain as to the exact nature of the situation, so she waited.

Even as she waited, it occurred to her that she has never been able to logically classify her emotions, in terms that resolve themselves into neat little compartments. Even now Rommie is not certain if she possesses such things or has simply achieved a reasonable facsimile of those emotions that are so second nature to human and other sentient species.

 

However, centuries of knowledge as a member of the old Commonwealth High Guard's complement of android avatars has left a good working knowledge of how to read and understand humanoid emotions.
He is exhausted, frustrated, and even angry.

Rommie wondered if much of that anger is directed at the power brokers of the planet with whom they have just reached a cease fire agreement, or at something else entirely.

"Captain, may I speak with you?" Rommie asked, her black uniform contrasting with the recent change in her appearance, the dyed blue-black hair.

"Come in," Dylan replied. "Actually, I wanted to discuss something with you, so this is as good a time as any."

"Much took place during the conflict Sir, and much is still in doubt about the future of the people of that world.”

"You took the words right out of my mouth." Dylan shifted his weight on the bed, his icy blues turning a little watery in the dim interior lighting of his private quarters.” Given what we’ve learned we may want to rethink their status.”

Rommie noticed without making it obvious that Dylan's gaze had been locked on the framed photo of his dead wife, Sarah.

At last who tore his attention away from the photo and addressed her: "I meant to do this earlier, but there never seemed to be enough time or even an appropriate way of going about it."

Dylan stood up and walked over to the chest where he kept valuables and odds and ends. Stooping over he opened up and removed a black metal case, hefted in his hands; then turned around and walked back to sit on his bed again.

"Rommie" he began. "I want you to have this," Dylan said, handing her his medal, his hands quivering with a pronounced tremor. "You've earned it."

"I did only what was necessary," Rommie replied. "Surely no commendation is required."

"You went above and beyond the call of duty," Dylan replied, flashing his white teeth in a shaky but reassuring grin, "Just take it, will you, before I come to my senses and change my mind."

Rommie returned the smile. "Yes, Sir, when you put it that way.
Her computerized AI counterpart, until now a silent observer from the view screen mounted on Dylan Hunt’s walls, simply shook her head and refrained from making a comment, either positive or negative.

“This isn’t the first time he’s gone missing, why are you so worried this time?” Dylan asked.

“Dylan, I cannot say this with any degree of certain, but as Harper is fond of saying, I feel it is so, in my gut, which is odd because I don’t have any viscera to speak of,” replied Rommie.

“There’s something more to all of this that we’re not seeing.” Dylan mused and then began to pace up and down the length of his quarters, hands shoved into the pockets of his uniform slacks. “You know, it’s too damned bad what happened to that Perseid scientist, you know. Had he survived he might have told us much about what happened after the accident with Mr. Harper’s device.”

“Perhaps so, but until then, we can go on as we are, and continue to follow the ion trail left behind by the Maru.

“What I don’t understand is why he didn’t tell us what he was up to before taking off.” Dylan griped. “After all this time, you’d think he would be willing to come or Beka, or you, and talk about whatever it was that was bugging him instead of just going running off half-cocked.”

“Perhaps he felt especially pressed for time. This, I might add is an entirely an irrational response to the situation. However, I believe that he will need our help very soon, whether he wishes it or not,” stated Rommie.

“In the meantime,” he added, much more briskly and confidently, “Let’s find Mr. Harper and bring him home.”

“Yes, Sir,” Rommie replied.

“And Rommie, thanks, for everything.” Dylan said, as he got off the chair and led the way out of his quarters and out to the corridor and she followed, as they took the most direct route to the Command Deck.

“Yes, Sir,” she replied.
**

Harper had not known exactly what to expect upon arrival on the planet, but given the history these people had with Ais, added to the fact was the fact that the man who had contacted him and claimed to his have his cousin held hostage against anything foolhardy that he might attempt. That being the case Harper felt it was best to go armed into unknown and potentially dangerous territory.

It was true that the two of them had not seen much of each of other since the events of the recent at the historical site of Old Earth’s Bunker Hill; they had maintained a sporadic contact.

Say what you will, if their positions had been reversed there was little doubt in Harper’s mind; well maybe a little that Brendan would come running when it counted.

Also, as much as he cared about those he had left behind, especially Rommie and Beka, if not necessarily in that order, the man was holding his cousin, Brendan hostage, and as the old saying went, blood is thicker than water.

So, here he was, ‘borrowing’ not stealing Beka Valentine’s beloved Eureka Maru, and haring off to parts unknown without so much as a ‘by your leave, or a warring. Seamus Harper consoled himself that it was a good reason and that as soon as he found Brendan, sorted out matters with the kidnapper, and returned to Andromeda Ascendant, that he’d explain everything.

One thing still bothered him: Namely, why the kidnapper had gone to all this trouble?

Surely, if this was about Rommie, and the changes he’d instilled in her that had made her unique and singular self, this was an awfully strange way to go about it. He had never fully understood all of the historical and societal implications of these people history with artificial intelligence and how it could all go from an idealized society to a war of man versus machine, but he got that they had become very much techno-phobic, and what to get a measure of closure or even revenge for perceived wrongs.

Harper stepped down and off the landing ramp of the Eureka Mara, instinctively his hand went to his laser pistol holstered at his left hip; reassured on that score, he sighed, and muttered aloud, “All the same, this is a damn strange way to go about it.’”

 

He had not taken more than a few hundred steps towards the tall matte black arched pillars that separated the landing platforms from the city proper when a group of uniformed men surrounded him in a loose fan-shape formation.

“Look, I don’t want any trouble,” Harper began.

“On the contrary, Mr. Harper, we’ve been expecting you,” the apparent leader said, holding a long silvery rod with a blue and green orb mounted on top of it.

“You have?” Harper replied quietly if a bit anxiously.

“Yes, my name is Minister Gregory, and these are my associates, we represent the council of Nine who have the honor of serving our people in both legislative and administrative capacities.

“Must keep you very busy,” replied Harper, unsure what to make of this situation, but he had sense enough to remove his hand from the holster of his laser pistol, but still within reach should these people’s outwardly friendly demeanor become hostile.

“Come, Mr. Harper, we shouldn’t keep you standing around on the floor of a hangar deck,” continued Gregory, “How would that look? I mean, we could do so, but then I would not feel as if I have suitably discharged my duties.

And we on Mobius pride ourselves in our hospitality to our ‘honored’ guests.”

Harper, his nerves jangling from more than the tension of getting here, and his initial plan of getting in, finding his cousin, and getting out again, undetected, for the moment thwarted, felt the sweat dripping down his back and arms making his clothes stick to his body like a second skin, could only nod in agreement.

All the same, he could not help but notice that oh so subtle emphasis that Minister Gregory had put on that ‘honored’ guests part. Still, at this point Harper figured he did not have much choice other to go with them. “Okay, we’re cool, then.”

“I am relieved to hear you say that,” replied Gregory, folding his hands in front of him with the fingers interlacing, and then nodded to his entourage. “Please, if you would follow us.”

With that Gregory and his three companions, with Harper in tow, walked away from the hangar bay, passed through the tall arched gates and into the city proper.
**
The city was a nice as cities go, but Harper had never really been one to admire the finer points of architectural design, having spent the better half of his adult life ship- board, something he felt he shared in common with Beka Valentine.

She had always been far more comfortable out in space, aboard a ship than planet-side. Still, as they walked along, with Gregory and his young associate Simon, who walked along pointing out first the municipal park, then several blocks further the commemorative statues and at last the People’s Boulevard, he did have to admit that it was a nice tour, and he nodded and oohed and aahed in all the spots where he felt it was appropriate to do so.

 

All the same, if they were as aware as they claimed as his real purpose for visiting their planet, why go to all the trouble of treating him as a honored guest, why the elaborate tour?
At the tail end of about two hours, Harper felt that he should ask his hosts just that, when they steered him towards a ground car, hustled him in, and gave orders to the drive to convey them all to the government center.

Harper had always been the suspicious sort and he’d been riding high on stored up adrenaline, Harper turned to the man seated next to him, a thin, gangly fellow whose had the face and features of a hungry weasel, “Look, Simon, may I call you Simon, let’s level with each other.”

“I don’t have the faintest idea what you’re talking about, Mr. Harper,” the other man replied.

“Sure you do. I’m not that important, and if this were really a diplomatic mission either we or you would have made the first opening move, and even if this all turned out to be a horrible misunderstanding, you could have covered over the social faux pas easily. So why are you doing this?”

“Doing what?” asked Simon, in a tone that he had not the foggiest idea to whatever that his ‘honored guest’ found so perplexing and frustrating.

“Damn it!” Harper threw his hands up in the air in mingled anger and frustration.” This, giving me the guided tour, being all polite and friendly, and everything, it’s nice, it just doesn’t make any sense.”

Simon heaved a heavy sigh. “It is neither my place to divulge the decisions of the Council or to question our leader’s orders.”

“So it wasn’t a unanimous decision?”

“No, but our leader is a stickler for order and decorum, and civilized behavior, thus we the reception that you have thus far received.”

“Your mission, and it is noble one, Sir, is known to us. However, and I should not be saying this, even in passing. For it might be taken as treason.”

“By whom?”

“Not Minister Gregory, for even as powerful and influential as he is, there is an organization that even he must bow to on occasion, and this is one of those times.”

“Come on, Simon, tell me! I need to know, I don’t give a damn about your world’s politics and machinations. I’m just here to find my cousin!”

Lowering his voice and nodding his head, and clutching the arm rests of his seat in a white-knuckled grasp Simon at last whispered “Machen Alpha.”

Harper sighed. “I should have known. If that’s the case, why didn’t they just nab upon arrival.”

“Because Gregory wanted to make a show of following protocol and going through the motions of showing a guest the proper welcome, and personally, I think he detests violence,” replied Simon.

“Wonderful, great in fact, but how long before he dispenses with the smoke and mirrors show and turns me over to the cops?”

“I don’t know,” Simon,” Honestly, Mr. Harper, you have to believe. I’ve jeopardized at lot just by telling you as much as I have, but I felt it was only right that you know the truth.”

“You know what they say, forewarned and is forearmed, or something like that,” muttered Harper.

“Indeed, that is what I’ve heard as well. We’re here,” Gregory announced.

The administrative center was a large sprawling complex that had built with an eye to honoring both the old world technology to mesh alongside the new. Disembarking for the motorized conveyance, Harper eyed it with an eye to possible exits and entrances, the number of armed guards more than the awe that his hosts seemed to expect from him. “Isn’t it magnificent,” replied the one that had been introduced to him as Minister Edwin. “It’s fabulous,” Harper replied nonchalantly.

Edwin frowned but seemed satisfied with that answer as Minister Gregory’s entourage with Harper in tow walked away from the esplanade that fronted the complex up a set of marble stairs, and in throw the open double-doors and inside.
**

The entourage split up with various murmured excuses that amounted to having other task to which they must attend, much of which Harper tuned out. Gregory, Edwin and Simon remained with him and he was hustled past the foyer, through various branching chambers that underneath the lavish décor obviously served as administrative offices, and finally into a large, comfortably furnished chamber, where Gregory dismissed his fellow ministers.

Simon appeared determined to speak up, but in the rush of events, he either never got the chance or his nerve failed him, in either case Harper felt that he wanted very much to get the horse and pony show over with and get right to the heart of the matter of what he had come to Mobius for.

“All right, Minister Gregory,” he began, with his back as ramrod straight as he could possibly make it the over-stuffed arm-chair, and ignoring the long-stemmed glass of champagne that his host poured for him.

“This has all been very nice, but let’s cut through the crap…“

“Pardon?” Gregory replied. “I don’t understand.”

“Oh, come off it, you know exactly what I mean. Ever since I arrived on this rock, you and your fellow ministers have gone out of their way to treat me as if were so high muckety-muckety dignitary.”

“Which you are implying that you are not such a personage,” replied Gregory smoothly, his demeanor cool and patient.

“Which I’m not, So, why the games, it’s what I’ve been wondering ever since you met me at the space port. So, tell me the truth, you know what I want, why don’t you tell me where he is?”

“He won’t wouldn’t be able to discern the difference between the truth and a lie if it stared him right in the face,” a deeper, more intimidating voice answered Harper’s question.

“Officer Carter,” quavered Minister Gregory. “I’ve been doing things my way. If that does not meet with your approval, I am sorry to say that I feel no compunction at all in disappointing you.”

“I’m sure that you don’t.” The owner of the deep voice appeared from behind the one of the far wooden panels which slid aside at the particular moment and entered the room.

“Our guest has come all this way, in a particularly prompt and rather urgent response to our, or rather, my summons,” Carter said. “The least we can do is accommodating him, rather than give him the ‘guided’ tour.”

“There are protocols to maintain, “ Gregory murmured, and we can’t just…”

Harper glanced from one man to the other, and decided that while he might be more comfortable with the diffident and punctilious minister, the odds of his finding and getting his cousin Brendan off this world could only
increase dramatically if went with along with this guy.

“I’ll take him off your hands, Minister, now.

The subtle omission of the man’s title without his given name may have been a deliberate insult in a society that seemed to value the observances of protocol, or it may have been just an oversight. Regardless, Harper didn’t really care.

“Okay, I guess it’s my best bet.”

“I thought you’d see it my way,” Carter replied.

**

“I would like to introduce to Carter, the marshal of Machen Alpha police force of the Commonwealth world Moebius,” Minister Gregory stammered, unable to resist his ingrained impulse to observe all the forms of protocol and propriety, even though the presence of the man always made him extremely nervous.

“I can’t exactly say that it’s a pleasure to meet you,” Harper replied. “You obviously know who I am, and why I’m here, so why don’t we dispense with the pleasantries and get down to business?”

“Direct, to the point, if lacking a bit in the refinement department,” observed the Marshall. “I like that.”

“Yeah, where’s Brendan?” I’ve been given the BS run-around ever since arriving on this rock, and frankly I’ve had it!”

“You came, which is honestly more than I expected of you,” Carter began as he led the way through the hidden doorway in the wall panels and into a dimly lit corridor, that was barely wide enough to accommodate one person, yet alone two.

By this time Harper felt a mixture of anger, recklessness and frustration; a dangerous combination that made him contemplate jumping the big man from behind, draw his weapon and force the other to reveal where he’d been holding Brendan captive.

The corridor wound on, sparsely lit at intervals with electric torches that gave off a constant stream of light, but not much beyond that.
**

Harper could not help but feel a kind of visceral chill run up and down his spine that had nothing to do with the damp and chill temperature, but shook it off immediately.

Again, after being the ‘captive audience' of the Minister Gregory and his entourage guided tour of the planet Mobius’ high points and public buildings and fountains, and having seen the lengths that they had gone to down in designing public areas, Harper felt he had felt that they certainly went into a geometric and over-wrought spiraling patterns.

In fact, the more he thought about, the more he was convinced of it.

At the end of the seemingly interminable trek Carter at last came to a heavy iron-banded door which he opened with an electronic key that he pulled from a pocket of his uniform coat.

“I’ll leave the two of you to get reacquainted, but bear in mind you only have an hour. When I come back, Mr. Harper, you and I have unfinished business,” Carter said.

“Ooh, how generous and intimidating! Do you practice in front of a mirror?” Harper tried as a rejoinder.

“Some might find that amusing, I do not. “One hour.” And with that the big man pivoted on his heel and left the cells through another iron-banded door across from the one by which they had entered.

The cells were designed along the same pattern as the tunnels, a somber matte black and gray with a cells lining either end of the large square rooms, the bars at interspersed heights that allowed their occupants just enough room to see out, but barely enough room to get more than a hand or an elbow in between the bars. Recessed electric lights in the ceiling provided the only illumination.

Harper hunkered down and called his cousin’s name, hesitantly at first, and then louder and with much more confidence.

“Seamus,” the voice was husky, low-pitched but recognizably belonged to his cousin.

“Brendan!” Harper exclaimed “I didn’t think you would come. You probably shouldn’t have, because I strongly believe that it’s a ruse to lead you into a trap.”

“Hey, you know me,” Harper scoffed, bending down until he was eye-level to the hole in the cell door. “Stubborn to a fault, and I promise that we’ll both walk out there, before I’m done.”

“Water, I need some water,” Brendan choked, trying for a wry laugh which in his parched throat came out sounding more like a croaking of a bullfrog.

“Sure, coming right up.”

Harper cast around for something, anything that would serve his immediate need, finally latching onto a folding table with a couple of empty chairs and where the guards had abandoned a card game and most importantly, a jug half-full with water.

Darting over and grabbing the jug by its handles Harper brought it over to the cell door and slid it through the metal bars.

Brendan nodded his thanks and gulped down the precious liquid, coughing every now and again, but still managed to get most of it down his throat and not all over his dirty and torn shirt. He had been sitting with his long legs folded under him on the top of his folding cot, and after having emptied the contents of the jug carefully placed it to one side.

“Thanks, cuz,” he whispered. “You know, it has occurred to me that for a society that prides itself on hospitality I could have wished for better accommodations,” he muttered.

Harper nodded but did not immediately respond, and after a moment or two asked: “This is gonna sound like the stupidest question ever, but are you okay?”

Brendan tried on a grim smile, but the attempt made it only so far before it was replaced with a grimace. “Dying for a decent meal, but other than that, I’m just dandy. How are you?”

“Well, once we get out of here, you can eat and sleep all you want, not necessarily in that order,” replied Harper. “Now, how do we open this cell door? The one thing I forgot to pack was a blow-torch.”

“The next time I get kidnapped as used as bait, I’ll make sure to remind you to add a blow-torch to the list of vital can’t leave-home-without-it items.”
“Yeah,okay. Maybe we’ll get lucky and someone left behind one of those electronic key-cards by mistake in one of the other cell doors.”

“Hey, it’s worth a shot,” replied Brendan.

Harper turned around and began to search the other cell doors, even going back to scrounge through the discards, and finally, right before giving up in frustration, found what he’ been looking for. It occurred to him even as he secured it and strode back to Brendan’s cell, that either the security was very lax around here, or that someone, probably that Marshall fellow was deliberately making it too easy. Either way, at this point Harper simply
didn’t care. He was not about to leave his own living blood relative to the dubious tender mercies of these people, and while the Machen Alpha Marshall had threatened to return after the specified hour had elapsed he still had not returned.

Harper glanced at the far door, which remained reassuring closed, and began to slide the key card into the slot; it took some adjusting and several false starts, before the indicator on the panel turned from red to green, and the bars slid away and the door finally opened.

Brendan stumbled out of the cell, under his own power, coughing something fierce, but only made it so far before he stumbled into his much shorter cousin’s arms and sent them both toppling backwards.

It took a moment or two to sort themselves out, but once more standing upright, they both broke out into a fit of uncontrollable laughter; it made for an extremely strange way to feel.

“Hey, Harper, before I forget, thanks for coming after me,” said Brendan.

“Hey, no problem,” Harper replied.

“Indeed,” said Carter. “In fact, I was counting on it.”

“I believe that you have had more than enough time to catch up. If you would be so good as to wait there, Brendan,” Carter added. “Mr. Harper and I have some unfinished business to discuss.”

“Oh, sure, it’s not like I have any other pressing business at the moment,” quipped Brendan, both out of the need to relieve the building tension that had been accumulating for quite some time, and because he figured that just the right amount of provocation might provide a distraction in the big man’s obsession with his cousin.

“Brendan, I’ve got this,” Harper offered, and went over to pat his cousin reassuring on the shoulder.

“Indeed,” Carter said.

**
For a tall man with a heavily muscled build the Marshall moved with surprisingly lighting quick reflexes.

Moments before Harper could bring up any kind of defense or his weapon that he had been carrying in the pockets of his cargo pants; the man had slammed him up against the wall and locked his hands around his neck.

 

“Why are you doing this? Harper demanded, feeling the strong implacable fingers of the big black man pressed against his windpipe and slowly ever so slowly squeezing off his air.

“Because I can,” Carter, “and it would seem a good enough reason at the moment.”

“That’s no kind of a response.” Harper gasped, still managing despite the pain and pressure to come out sounding highly indignant and snarky at the same time.

“And what makes you say that?”

“Because it’s lame. If you want to, ugh,” Harper began to choke and his face turned a blotchy red, purple color, before he at last managed to draw up his own hands in an attempt to loosen the big man’s grip and only partially succeeded. “If you want to interrogate me, it helps to let me breathe.”

“Someone with that snarky, biting charming wit, how ever did you survive this long? The big man loosened his grip and stepped back to regard his captive.

As Marshall of the Machen Alpha Police force Carter had always prided himself on controlling his emotions, having learned at a very young age that in doing so he would always have the upper hand. A policy which had served him well over the years, and given him the edge in his meteoric rise through the ranks, and intimated his rivals.

Some of his detractors had even gone so far to hint that the man had no emotions at all, that he was as logical and clinical as those among his troops who had once been among the very artificial intelligence and technology that had degraded to the point where they had rebelled and in doing so had fostered centuries of distrust and fear among their human counterparts.
Marshall Carter had served his world, done his duty, but the memory of what he had seen and done when facing off the avatar of the Andromeda Ascendant still left a bitter taste in his mouth.

His world’s history and interactions with AIs and other artificial intelligence had finally reached the point that outright distrust and fear of such had become paranoia. His previous encounter with Rommie did not go well, which was an understatement.

The fact that she had also uncovered his world’s dirty little secret was not the worst of it. He wanted a sort of satisfactory revenge, and even if it had to be done in this rather indirect fashion, still it would be something. And as one of the legendary philosophers of his world had once put it so succinctly and simply, ‘revenge is a dish best served cold.’

“I’m just that good,” replied Harper and the flashed his attacker one of his trade-marked, wry, devil-may-care grins.

“Hm, defiant till the end; I like that.” Carter replied. “However, it will not be enough to save you.”

“Are you trying to interrogate me or torture me? In either case, could you make up your mind!

“Oh, a little of both, I should think.”

Harper sighed. “Look, I know I can inspire either great fondness among those I encounter, or great antagonism, but ‘just because I can’ is not a good enough reason. What’s with the revenge thing? What’d I ever do to you?”

“You really don’t realize?” Carter asked the astonishment in his voice all too apparent to both of his captives.

“Yeah.”

“Then I can sum it up for you in two words, the Andromeda Ascendant,” Carter replied.

“I should have known. So, you went to all the trouble of getting my attention but napping Brendan over there, just you get me for my part in creating Rommie?”

“Yes, do you believe me to be insane?” Carter asked.

“Hey, I don’t judge, after it’s said that true genius takes all kinds of crazy. Besides insanity is as insanity does.”

Carter heaved as heavy sigh and dropped his hands to sides, remarking as he did so, “You do have a high opinion of yourself, Mr. Harper.”

“Could I get that in writing?” Brendan interrupted. “If you do end up killing him, I’ll make certain to get that inscribed on his tombstone.”

“Don’t help, Brendan!” Harper exclaimed.

“Now, I believe that we have reached an impasse. I wanted you to suffer before you die, and even were you not directly responsible for your role in creating that ambo nation you call a friend, you should be punished for allowing yourself to have a data implant in your own skin.”

“Man, you really are one hulluva son of a bitch, not to mention a massive techno-phobe.”

Brendan, having recovered somewhat from dehydration and captivity, took a few moments to take deep breaths, and considering the wisdom of his actions. He realized that he had never really served much more in this whole debacle than as a bait, but all the same, this was his cousin, and he simply was not about to let him die without a fight.

Dismissing the fact that the Marshall was at easily twice his size, armed, and probably skilled in various fighting techniques Brendan launched himself at the man’s unprotected back and wrapping his long lanky frame around the man’s mid-section, toppled them both to the floor.

The two men landed in a heap, taking a few moments to sort out the tangle of arms and legs.

Harper came to his cousin’s aid, and received a kick to his stomach for his efforts.

Brendan, was knocked aside by a rapid-fire cross-body blow to his temple.

 

“Enough!” Carter exclaimed. I’ve had enough of the both of you. It’s time to die.”
**
Interlude

At this point Dylan did not care to bother with observing the proper protocols, or having to jump through the elaborate hoops that high dignitaries like the Council of Nine seemed to love observing to the point of absurdity.

Perhaps, in any other circumstances he might have respected their adherence to centuries of tradition, but at the moment he was in a big hurry, and simply had neither the time nor the inclination for such things.
He brushed by the cordon of escorts at a rapid trot, deaf to their outraged protests, with Beka and Tyr following closely behind. He would have much preferred to have Rommie accompany them, but considering the history these people had with AIs and other androids, he felt it would be better not to tempt fate more than once.

He still wondered if she had had more of an emotional even visceral reaction to his award her a medal of commendation for her role in what had taken place only a handful of months ago, and as much as his own curiousity about the matter prompted him to bring up the suspect, another part, the rational, practical side, told him that such an inquiry, no matter how delicately worded, would be welcomed or comfortable for her.

It had been a very near thing, and one that might have been missed if not for Rommie’s attention to detail. But someone had sent an embedded transmission on a carrier wave that had originated from the near Mobius’s
capital city had brought them here, just when it seemed that they had utterly lost the ion trail left behind by the Eureka Maru.

Beka, following along in his wake had her face set in a grim but determined expression that he had come to know so well. Dylan didn’t care to guess at what she might be thinking, since she had made that quite loud and clear only a few short hours prior to their receipt of the embedded transmission which had also included the coordinates of Moebius in its message along with a series of codes which had brought them to the capital city.

Shortly after their arrival, much to Beka’s relief, her ship was found intact at the space port just outside the city, however, it still meant that they were no closer to finding their wayward engineer than before.
Truth to tell she had not really expected that it would be that easy, but she could hope against hope that it could have been.

Minister Gregory, with an expression on his face that made the lines of face twist in a grimace of a man who had just received bad news or eaten something sour that threatened to come back up, reluctantly escorted their landing party through the streets of the city, without saying much of anything, except a cursory, step this way, mind the gap.

When they reached the administration building Beka, Dylan or Tyr spent much time admiring the architecture, much to Gregory’s chagrin. Instead, they all passed through the wide double doors, through the foyer, and into the man’s office.

“You can get through to the prison cells through the far sliding wall panel. To be honest, with Captain Hunt, my part in this was merely cursory. I was to keep Mr. Harper off-balance and occupied while his captor made his preparations.”

“I am certain that if that is what you wish to tell yourself, in order to soothe your conscience, then so be it,” muttered Tyr threateningly.

“Do not patronize me, Nietzchean!” Gregory retorted hotly, “I have never the time or the patience for it!”

“Be that as it may, “ Dylan began, cautiously placing a hand on Tyr’s heavily muscled shoulder, because the man had a swift but cold temper, was also aware that they were all in their own way on edge; it would take very little to push things over the edge into violence.

“Here,” Gregory added, shoving a small metal cylinder into Beka’s hands. “You’ll need this to gain entry to the prison holding area.

She refused to respond, simply took it and held it up to the light. “An electronic key-card,” she said. “

“He’s correct about at least one thing," said Dylan, "we’re on the clock here, people. “Let’s just find Mr. Harper and get out of here.”

“Very well,” Tyr replied, shrugging off Dylan’s hand and walking towards the indicated wall paneling, but pausing to look over his shoulder at the dignified pale-face administrator with a sneer and a glare. “But for your sake,
Minister, I do hope that our crew member is alive when return this way.”

“For all I know, he might be, or he might not be, the Marshall, is capricious.”

“Some help you are,”” Beka said, contenting to vent her anger and worry at the nearest available target, by pinning the short, officious man with one of her best level stares.

She was rewarded for the effort by seeing Gregory twist his hands and go pale.

Dylan nodded at her, and whispered to her in a soft, but penetrating undertone, ‘Come on, he’s not worth it. Let’s go.”

****

 

They barreled into the detention area, one after another, in time to find the object of their search pressed up against the far wall, the hands of his abductor intensely involved in squeezing the very life out of him.

“Step away from him, turn around and put up your hands where I can see them,” Dylan ordered, his voice bouncing off the walls like stones trickling down a well.

Beka and Tyr came to flank him on other side, their own weapons drawn and ready.

“You have an odd assortment of friends, Mr. Harper,” Carter muttered, staring down the barrel of Dylan Hunt’s force-lance.

“Yeah, I can’t argue with you there,” Harper replied, rubbing his neck and trying to sit upright on the floor leaning against the wall, breathing shallowly, but still with his irrepressible grin plastered on his face.

Meanwhile Brendan stood off to one side, leaning over at an awkward angle, rubbing the egg-shaped purpling bruise on his temple where he’d been knocked aside in his attempt to come to his cousin’s aid. “He’s right about that,” he muttered.

“News flash, for you, Mister,” Beka announced as she came to stand beside Dylan. “No one’s dying tonight, not even you. Although, if anyone had asked me, I might have argued differently.”

“Take them both,” Carter gasped. “Who am I to argue against overwhelming odds.”

“Wise decision,” Tyr rumbled.

“Are we really gonna leave this big goon alive, after everything he’s done to the both of us,” griped Brendan as he slowly sat up.

“We’re not in the business of cold-blooded murder,” Dylan stated.

“Implying that I am, Captain Hunt,” Carter said, and in the manner in which he said it, it was clear to all that it was more a statement than a question.

“No, don’t bother to reply, I can see the answer in your eyes. You have what you came for, you can let yourselves out.”

“You think that we’re gonna let you off the hook that easily?” Harper shouted.

“Yeah, I’m with you there, cuz,” added Brendan.

Dylan had gone over to help him up, and held onto his elbow because even now he was now upright, the room and everyone in it appeared to him to be swimming in his vision.

“As much as I understand why Mr. Harper and his cousin feel the way they do,

“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, blood as we say for blood,” Carter said, folding his arms over his chest,” giving Tyr a cautious look as he did so, “Such things are considered barbaric and outdated types of justice. Things are that simply not done in this modern day and age.”

“How can you stand there and lecture us about barbaric warped justice when you’re guilty of doing just that?” Beka exclaimed.

“I don’t think this was ever about seeing justice done,” said Brendan quietly.

Harper nodded. “Okay, as much as I would dearly love to punch this guy in this face after everything he’s done to me and Brendan, isn’t there anything we can do use his own laws against him?”

“I honestly don’t know,” replied Dylan.

“That’s not what I wanted to hear,” replied Harper.

“Let us just shoot him and be done with it,” Tyr suggested.

“For a refined and superior race, I find that suggestion rather lackluster and disappointing” remarked Carter.

In response to this conversational sally, Tyr merely shrugged, implying that he did not care at all about the Machen Alpha’s Marshall’s opinion.

“All right then, there’s not much more we can do here. Let’s go home,” Dylan said.

“You’ll get no arguments from me, Boss,” Harper announced, his voice a bit husky from the damage inflicted on it, but that did little to damper the irrepressible devil-may-care grin that spread across his face.

“Or, from me” Brendan added.

“Glad to hear that,” Dylan replied.

Turning to lock gazes with the Marshall, You had better not even think about doing anything like this again, or…

“Or what, Captain Hunt?” asked the big man.

“Or, I’ll think of something,” Dylan replied.

“I’m sure that you will. From everything I’ve heard about you, now and before the fall of the Commonwealth, you have always been a man of your word,” Carter replied.

“I’m sick of this guy, let’s get out of here,” Beka said.

“Agreed,” Tyr rumbled.
**

Conclusion

Brendan was sitting upright in the bio-bed the sleeve of his arm rolled up so his forearm was exposed as Trance Gemini, serving as acting medical officer finished removing the syringe in order to take a blood sample.

Her initial medical exam which had been confirmed by the ship’s computers a well, that there was nothing physically wrong with him, except dehydration and exhaustion, which could be easily cured by getting plenty of rest and drinking a lot of fluids.

Earlier Trance had completed her examination and treatment of Harper, and aside from a bruised trachea and windpipe, perhaps an even more severely bruised ego, she had pronounced him fit for duty. She had also said that there had been no permanent damage to the data patch on his neck, which was fortunate.

“That was one helluva of a ride, and believe me, as much fun as hanging out with you is, I don’t care to repeat the experience,” Brendan announced, rubbing his forehead with his fingers and wincing at the size of the lump that he could feel but not see.

“Tell me about it,” Harper replied, as he gingerly perched himself at the foot of the bio-bed.

“Brendan leaned forward, rubbing the heels of his hand through his tousled wheat-blonde hair, then locked gazes with his cousin for a heartbeat before he saying: “You make any more enemies like that, I hereby declare that I be informed so I can stay out of it.”

“The guy had an agenda, no argument about that, and I think it had as much to do with me as it had to do with his dust-up with Rommie.”

“So, he went after you because of your part in creating her,

“I actually didn’t create her, so to speak, merely made a few modifications that improved on the original design.

“Don’t rupture a rotator cuff, patting yourself on the back, for that, Seamus.”

“You’re the only one who ever gets to call me Seamus.”

 

“Yeah, and don’t you forget it!”

“I guess that means you’re feeling better?”

Brendan smirked. “Yeah, but just between you and me, do you think I could stay a few more days by acting worse off than I really am?”

Brendan glanced around the spacious and well-supplied infirmary, before turning back to look at his cousin once more. “This is an amazing gig that you’ve secured for yourself, Seamus. You’d be an idiot to let it slip away from you.”

Harper nodded. “Yeah, yeah, I know. And to answer your another question; sure, no problem.

“Then if that purple girl finds out that I’m faking, you’ll cover for me?” Brendan asked, wondering if Trance Gemini were lurking somewhere nearby and would over-hear and punish him for his temerity. And then as another thought occurred to him following shortly on the heels of the first, if that might actually be enjoyable.

“That would be Trance, and you know I will, In fact, I’m surprised you even have to ask.”

 

“Trance, that’s a pretty name,” Brendan repeated drowsily. “Hey, just like old times.”
Harper got off the edge of the bed and walked around to the head, and fluffed the pillows.

“Yeah, Brendan, just like old times.” Harper repeated as he watched his cousin lie back down and fall asleep.
***
She found him balancing on his hover-board in the machine shop that he had taken over in order to conduct the majority of his projects and assorted repair work. She also went around gathering the discarded aluminum cans of Sparky Cola and placed them on a nearby workbench, before she addressed him directly.

“Harper,” she said.

“Hey, Romm-doll!” he shouted, wavering, and then lowered the hover-board down so it settled to the floor of the machine shop with a low-keyed pneumatic hiss. “How you doing?”

“I am fine,” she replied. ”Should you be exerting yourself this strenuously after the traumatic experience that you have just endured?”

“No, no, It’s okay, really, don’t’ worry your pretty little head!” Harper continued, idly scratching a spot on his head, as he crossed the distance and embraced her in an enthusiastic hug.

“I think this actually good for me, if I keep working, or picking up where I left off, then it keeps me from you know worrying about,” at the moment the tone of his voiced dropped considerably and he stepped back a pace or two, leaned over at the waist and sighed, placing his hands on his knees, “the other stuff.”

“Is there anything I can do to help?” Rommie asked. When she had first learned of her engineer’s disappearance she had experience an unaccustomed level of concern that had been unprecedented in anything in her experience, which she had put down to the need to protect and serve her crew in whatever circumstances that were required at the time.

Once committed to a mission or a task, she had never been one to second guess it or question it, but if she were, there was so much more to this crew’s interactions and emotional highs and lows that she does not have the fundamental basis to adequately explain to anyone, not even to herself.

She wanted to learn those fundamentals, those underlying concepts that appear to come so naturally to humans and other organic beings, and she is learning, of that there is no doubt.

Harper sighed and shuffled his feet, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his jacket. “It’s not that I don’t want your help, and I do, but it’s complicated.”

“I feel somewhat responsible for what happened.”

“Guilt and compunction, hey Romm-doll, don’t sweat it, the guy who set this whole thing up was both a bastard, a techno-phobe and had an incredibly twisted sense of seeing his own particular brand of justice down. He just couldn’t stand that it he had got burned the first time he faced off against you.”

“I think that somewhere in there is a rattionalization, or an attempt at an avoiding the question, but I shall allow it to slide. “

“Thanks, I think,” said Harper, the bounce in his step, and the mix of confident and exuberant energy back in his voice, facial expressions, with the ever-familiar irrepressible devil-may-care grin plastered on his face. He leant forward and planted a kiss on her cheek. “You cared, and you don’t have anything to feel bad about, or say you’re sorry, if anything, it had much to do with me and big mouth and, well…” he trailed off.

“What are you trying to say?” asked Rommie.“That we’re cool,” Harper replied.

Without over-thinking her reaction or even if she should do so Rommie simply reached out and pulled Harper over to her, and embraced him, the slight over-abundance of android-enhanced strength eliciting a grunt out of the engineer, but aside from that he did not utter any other protests, and he smiled.

When she finally released him, “We are cool, then?”

“The coolest,” he said, with another grin spreading across his face.

“Indeed,” she replied. “And speaking of cool things, would it be too much trouble for you to properly dispose of your empty cans in the proper containers.”

“Oh,” said Harper in some surprise. “Sure, I guess I could do that.”

“Thank you,” said Rommie as she turned around and walked out of the Machine Shop.

Standing, with his hands in his pockets and his heart going thump thump in his chest Harper, felt relieved that he and Rommie had had this little chat, and also felt much like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar about her subtle reminder that he had promised to keep his work area a little less cluttered. “Figures,” he sighed, and then went back to work on his hover-board.