"You seem a little glum, Rhade," Bekka commented as she led the way from the docking bay to the Command Deck. She, Rhade and Harper had just gotten back from a supply run with the Maru.
"How can you tell?" Harper commented. "He always has that sour expression."
Ignoring Harper's barb except for a quick glare, Rhade replied to Bekka's comment himself. "Guess I've just been thinking about the time of year and what I would be missing back on Tarazed if I was home," he told her. Since removing the part of the Spirit of the Abyss that had been dwelling inside her, Bekka had started to warm up to him a little. It was a nice change.
"Which is?" Bekka prompted, with a quick glance back at her two crew mates.
"Probably Nietzschean heritage week or something," Harper muttered.
"The Christmas season actually. It's a big deal on Tarazed. Though at first it was only celebrated by the humans who had come to settle the planet, most races on Tarazed have now adopted it, with some variations among the different cultures."
"Bah Humbug," Harper muttered, the disdain clear in the engineer's short expression.
"And here I've often been called Scrooge when it came to Christmas," Bekka commented. "My Dad use to try to make something of the holiday on the Maru. I even got some pretty nifty gifts as a kid. Hasn't been quite the same since he passed," she confessed.
"The holiday can make missing family more pronounced," Rhade agreed. "Being with family is probably the thing I miss most right now. It's not just about missing out on the celebrations, traditions, and the sharing of memories with those you care about most."
"Yeah, well it's nice that you both have some happy memories of the holiday. My Christmas memories consist of Dragons in the role of Santa Claus but the only gifts they ever gave out were lumps, bruises, and cuts."
"That must have been rough," Rhade said sympathetically.
"I know growing up on Earth wasn't easy, Harper, but are you telling me that your parents never tried to make something special of the day. Christmas seems like the perfect opportunity to put a little light into a child's life, and that's what all parents' want to do, no matter what the circumstances."
"Not that I can remember," Harper said. "I do remember a public execution on Christmas one day that the Drago-Kazov carried out because they caught someone stealing food."
Neither Bekka nor Rhade made a comment, neither knowing what to say after Harper's comment. The trio fell into silence for a few moments as they continued on their way.
"Maybe we should do a Secret Santa here on Andromeda," Bekka said, as she started climbing up a ladder to the next deck. "It might prove to be a nice change of pace."
"It could prove interesting," Rhade replied as he started following Bekka.
"Count me out. My luck, I'd get Rhade," Harper muttered loudly.
"Don't be a spoil sport, Harper," Rhade countered. "It's never too late to make a happy Christmas memory."
"You mean like you going back to Tarazed and me never seeing you again," Harper countered, only half meaning it. Like Bekka's relationship with the Nietzschean, Harper was starting to like the guy. Unfortunately, the disparaging comments about Nietzscheans still came out naturally.
"Perhaps one day you'll get your wish," Rhade told him.
"Now, boys, behave," Bekka piped in.
Neither Rhade nor Harper replied to Bekka's comment. However, a short yell from Harper and a following thud had both Rhade and Bekka looking behind them. Spotting Harper lying on the deck below, Rhade looked back up at Bekka.
"I didn't do a thing," Rhade told her, even as he quickly descended the ladder and was soon kneeling next to Harper.
Moments later, Bekka was kneeling on the other side of the fallen engineer.
"Harper, can you hear me?" Bekka asked, even as Rhade reached out to check the engineer's pulse.
With a groan, Harper opened his eyes to find himself on Med Deck. Looking around, he quickly determined he was alone. Sitting up, Harper tried to remember how he got here. He remembered talking with Bekka and Rhade about Christmas, and then slipping off the ladder.
Reaching up with a hand, Harper felt the spot on the back of his head that felt sore. He found a good size lump, which explained his headache.
~I must have knocked myself out when I fell, ~ Harper mused, as he looked around Med Deck again. Again he saw no one and all seemed quiet.
"Guess, they dropped me off here and then went about their business," Harper muttered, not sure whether he felt grateful to them for not leaving him where he had fallen, or upset that neither of them had hung around to see if he would be okay. The fact that Rhade hadn't didn't really surprise him, but he had expected more from Bekka.
What irked him even more, was that Trance was nowhere to be seen. He had never known her to leave a patient alone.
"Feeling a little put out?"
The question made Harper jump, even as he looked to his right to see Dylan leaning against a nearby wall.
"Where did you come from, Boss?" Harper asked, knowing he hadn't been there seconds before and not recalling hearing any footsteps.
"That's not important," Dylan replied. Harper noted there was something eerie about Dylan's voice though he couldn't quite place what it was.
"No," Dylan told him, still leaning against the wall. "After all, memory is what we choose it to be. We don't always remember things as they were but as our emotions want them to be. In reality, I could have been standing here the whole time."
"Can we leave the talking in riddles to Trance please?"
"Let me show you," Dylan said, pushing off the wall.
Around him, Med Deck disappeared and was replaced by a city block that had definitely seen better days. It didn't take Harper long to recognized the streets he grew up on. It was a place that he would never forget, even though he would like to.
"How did we get here?" Harper asked, looking toward Dylan as the older man stood beside him.
Dylan didn't respond but instead pointed down the street.
Looking in the direction Dylan pointed, Harper spotted a group of Nietzscheans walking away from him. Their guns were drawn and pointed at two figures who seemed small amongst the Dragons.
"I know what day this is," Harper said, realizing where the Nietzscheans were leading their captives too. "And I don't want to relive it."
"You don't have a choice, "Dylan replied.
His surroundings faded again and when things around him solidified, Harper found himself in the square. It didn't take long for him to spot a younger version of himself in the crowd of slaves the Nietzscheans had rounded up to watch the execution.
As he had back then, Harper watched in silence as the Nietzscheans carried out the execution of the mother and father whose only crime was stealing some food, that their overlords would never miss, so that their three children could eat.
"Yeah, this was such a Merry Christmas," Harper muttered as the Nietzscheans left, their victims' bodies still lying in the square.
"This was tragic, yes," Dylan replied, "but you choose not to remember what happened afterwards."
The next thing Harper was aware of, they were standing in one of the large rooms that the humans gathered in on occasions. Everyone in their little community was there, including the newly orphaned children. It was a somber occasion, but they were together. They had all shared what they had, and no one had gone without that Christmas.
"I remember this was the first time I actually understood what a sense of community really was," Harper said softly, as he spotted himself sitting with his parents.
"And do you remember what happened to the couple's children?" Dylan asked.
Harper looked over the crowd until he spotted the children. The three orphans, two boys and a girl, were sitting between another couple, enjoying the meal the women of the group had put together for the group.
"The Clarks' took them in. The couple had lost their only child, a girl of thirteen, a few months earlier when she had succumbed to injuries caused by a group of Dragons rapping her," Harper commented, even as his father's words came back to them. "Two families faced with tragedy finding solace in coming together."
"A bit melancholy, yes," Dylan said, "but even you, Mr. Harper, should be able to see the spirit of Christmas in this scene."
Before he could reply, Harper found that he was once again alone and the scene was fading again. The streets of Boston disappeared and Harper found himself standing in the corridors of Andromeda. Once again, he appeared to be alone.
And then Trance was standing beside him.
"Now you I expect to talk all mysterious," Harper commented, as he faced his alien friend. As he did, he realized he wasn't seeing the gold Trance that had become a part of the crew, but the purple version he had first met. "This isn't right," he muttered.
Trance simply smiled, even as her tail came up and wrapped itself around his wrist. "This way," she said softly.
Not knowing what else to do, Harper followed. Somehow, Trance's purple complexion put him at ease even if everything seemed out of place right now. Though he tried to keep it to himself, he still missed this Trance. He had felt closer to her even if he had accepted the presence of the gold version of Trance.
"Where are we going?" Harper finally asked, when the silence had become too much for him.
"I want to show you what is going on behind closed doors," Trance replied, even as she paused in front of a door.
It didn't take long for Harper to realize that they were standing in front of Bekka's quarters. Like on the Maru, he had only ever seen brief glimpses of his former employer's quarters. Never had he been invited inside by Bekka.
"Ready?" Trance asked.
Without giving him a chance to reply, Trance led him toward the closed door - and right through it. Standing just inside of the door, Harper found him inside Bekka's quarters for the first time. He also spotted Andromeda's first officer almost immediately. Bekka was decorating a small Christmas tree, streaks of green and red were visible in her otherwise still blonde hair. Harper couldn't help but imagining the fiery reaction he would get from her when she turned around and spotted him in her quarters.
"Don't worry, she can't see or hear us," Trance told him, seemingly reading her thoughts.
"Okay," Harper replied. "But why are we here?"
"Because I wanted to show you what your missing out on," Trance told him. "Bekka still reminisces about the Christmas celebrations she had one the Maru growing up. Did you know she used to attempt a small celebration with her crew herself, up until you joined?"
Harper glanced over at Trance. "How do you know?" he asked, Trance having joined the Maru crew after he had.
Trance just gave him a mysterious smile before looking back in Bekka's direction. Bekka was putting the star on top of the tree, a content smile on her face.
"She stopped doing it when she heard you talking about your dislike for the holiday. She didn't want to dredge up bad memories for you with the decorations, so she limited them to her quarters."
"She did that for me?" Harper ventured, not needing an answer but touched nonetheless.
"She's not the only one keeping their true feelings about the holiday secret," Trance told him, giving his wrist a small tug with her tail.
As Trance headed for the wall, Harper followed her. He didn't even doubt that he would be able to follow his friend through the wall. They crossed through several other crew quarters, all with some sort of decoration except for the still empty quarters that had once been Tyr's. Harper doubted it had ever seen Christmas decorations even in the three years the Nietzschean had occupied it.
The duo passed through another wall into a corridor. Leading Harper across the deserted corridor, Trance walked through the far wall and into another crew quarter. This one seemed more sparse then some of the others, though a string of holly still ran along a shelf upon which an angel sat, holding a star. Glancing to the left of the angel, Harper spotted Andromeda's new Weapon's Officer sitting at the desk as an image evaporated from above a message pod.
"Please tell me he can't see or hear us either," Harper commented fearfully. He knew Rhade would be more upset about this invasion of privacy than Bekka would have been.
"He can't." Trance assured him, even as Rhade reached up to wipe something away from his cheeks.
"Is he crying?" Harper asked, still keeping his voice low despite Trance's assurances. "I didn't even think Nietzscheans were capable of tears."
"Nietzscheans feel all the emotions the rest of us do, even if they are better at hiding it," Trance told him. "Rhade was just listening to a message from those he left behind on Tarazed. It's lonely for him so far away from everything he's always known."
"And most of us haven't exactly been welcoming," Harper commented, finishing what Trance hadn't said.
"Having friends, feeling more welcomed aboard the Andromeda, would go a long way to easing the loneliness," Trance conceded, even as she gave his wrist a small tug with her tail.
Even as he followed, Harper's gaze stayed a little longer on Rhade as the Nietzschean stood up and turned to gaze upon the angel. As Trance led him through the door into the corridor, Harper found himself what or whom Rhade was thinking about as he gazed at the angel.
Then Harper found himself standing in the corridor alone. Like she had appeared, Trance had quickly disappeared. Harper looked once more back at the quarters he had just left and then headed down the corridor in the direction of his own quarters. He had only taken two steps though when he walked into someone, taller and more muscular than himself.
"Sorry," Harper replied immediately, taking a step back and glancing up at the person he had walked into. "I should have been paying more attention to where I was going," he finished.
The statement was meant with silence as Harper took in the hooded figure that stood behind him. Though the person's face was hidden in the shadows of the hood, Harper knew there was something familiar about him.
Unnerved by the silence, Harper made to step around the person. "Um, I'll just be going."
The figure reached out and laid a hand upon his shoulder. Everything faded to black and then Harper found himself standing on the Maru. A little boy and a little girl ran past playing tag.
"Who are they?" Harper asked looking toward his silent companion.
The hooded figure simply pointed. Looking in that direction, Harper spotted an older looking Bekka. She was smiling as she prepared a meal. A man walked in then, and crossing to her leaned in for a kiss.
Apparently, Bekka had found the family Harper knew she had always longed for.
He smiled, even as the blackness closed in again. The Maru disappeared and as his surroundings lightened up, Harper found himself standing on soft ground, an overcast sky above him. Glancing around, he found he was in a cemetery. Not far away he spotted Dylan kneeling in front of a grave. Again, time had left its mark on the familiar visage, and Dylan's hair had done grey.
His hooded friend started walking in that direction, beckoning for Harper to follow him. Afraid of what the hooded person would do if he didn't, Harper started to follow him toward Dylan, who was placing a wreath adorned with roses in front of the tombstone he was kneeling in front of.
"Whose grave is he at?" Harper asked. He wasn't surprised when the question was met with silence.
As the two continued to walk toward Dylan, another familiar figure appeared behind Dylan. This figure was untouched by time.
"The Rhade's will be holding dinner for us if we don't get going," Rommie said softly, as she held a hand out to help Dylan to his feet.
"It wouldn't be the first time," Dylan replied, even as he took the outstretched hand and got slowly to his feet.
Rommie simply smiled as she linked her arms with Dylan and the pair headed away from the grave site toward the cemetery entrance. As he and his hooded companion reached the tombstone, Harper glanced toward the stone. Etched in the stone, Harper made out the name of Sarah Riley - Dylan's fiancé from before The Fall.
Letting his gaze pass beyond Sarah's grave, Harper took in the adornment of the other well kept graves. Though these people had passed from the world, it was clear that people still cherished their memories. In the distance though, he spotted a lonely looking grave. No flowers, flag or wreaths surrounded the small tombstones, and even in the cool, dreary weather, the grass was clearly higher surrounding it.
"What a lonely sight," Harper commented, expecting his words to be met with silence.
Though he was right on that account, the hooded figure started walking toward the lonely grave. Harper found himself following, wondering where this person was leading him to. In time, they were both standing in front of the grave. The hooded figure, pointed toward the grave stone. Looking in that direction, Harper gasped when he saw the name etched into stone.
"Keeping pushing people away, and no one will miss you when you are gone," said a familiar voice.
Harper turned toward the voice and looked up to see the figure pushing back the hood. Harper found himself standing face to face with Telemachus Rhade.
"You have been warned," Rhade said before fading away, leaving Harper standing alone in the cemetery.
Harper glanced back down at the tombstone. Down at his tombstone. Granted, he didn't want to die, but even more, he didn't want to be forgotten in his death. Even Sarah Riley, who had been gone long before Harper had even been born, had someone who remembered her.
This was not the future that he wanted.
"Seamus, can you hear me?"
Harper was vaguely aware of the question, though he couldn't see the person who was asking it.
"Perhaps we should just get him to Med Deck," another familiar voice commented.
"I think he's coming around," the first voice said.
As he struggled to open his eyes, Harper found himself staring up at the ceiling of one of Andromeda's corridor. His relief at no longer being in the cemetery faded as he spotted Bekka and Rhade's faces looking down at him.
"Now what?" Harper asked, half expecting the duo to show him how he had died.
With a quizzical expression on her face Bekka asked, "Seamus, are you feeling okay?"
"I'm not sure. First Dylan was acting weird and showing me things from the past and then purple . . . " Harper trailed off realizing that Bekka and now Rhade were both looking confused. "Never mind," he added, reaching up to rub the back of his head which he realized was throbbing.
"I still think we should get him to Med Deck," Rhade commented.
"Yeah, you're probably right," Bekka replied. "Do you think you can stand?" she asked, looking down at Harper.
"I think so," Harper said as he pushed himself up into a sitting position. He accepted the hands offered by both of his crewmates as he went to stand up. He felt a bit dizzy as he got to his feet and was thankful for the steadying grip Rhade had on his arm.
"I'll escort him down to Med Deck," Rhade announced.
"Okay," Bekka said, sounding a bit reluctant. "I'll let Dylan know what's going on," she said. "Just try not to annoy each other too much," she added as she started back up the ladder.
"Probably easier said than done," Rhade muttered.
"Speak for yourself, pal," Harper commented, even as he let himself be lead in the direction of Med Deck. Though he didn't want to admit it, he still felt a little dizzy and he wouldn't mind something for the headache he had. The last thing he wanted to do was annoy the person who was probably keeping him on his feet right about now.
The two made their way to Med Deck, where Trance was waiting for them. Harper was glad to note that her skin was golden which meant whatever weird experience he had been having was indeed over.
"I'll leave him in your capable hands," Rhade said as Trance began scanning Harper with her medical device.
As he turned to go, Harper spoke up. "Hey, Rhade, do you have someone waiting for you back on Tarazed?"
Rhade paused, glancing over his shoulder at Harper. It was clear he was trying to figure out what angle Harper's question was coming from. "I do," Rhade finally replied.
"Part of me wonders what it would be like to have family waiting somewhere for me."
"Harper, family isn't necessarily about blood relationships. Family is what you choose to make it."
"Are you trying to say you would miss me if I suddenly left Andromeda for some reason?" Harper said jokingly.
The sincerity in Rhade's simple answer surprised Harper. The Nietzschean was already at the door before Harper got over his surprise.
"I'd miss you too," Harper admitted. "Somewhere along the way you grew on me like fungus," he added, needing to get a little levity back into the conversation. "And let Bekka know if she wants to organize a Secret Santa, I'm in."
"Did the fall knock some sense into you?" Rhade asked.
"Let's just say it made me realize that even the bad memories usually have something good in them and it's never too late to make new memories. Maybe even memories that are more cheerful than the ones in my past."
Rhade nodded. "I'll let her know," he said as he left Med Deck.
"I didn't think you had a concussion," Trance commented. "But now I'm not so sure."
"What, can't a guy have a change of heart," Harper replied. "Besides, if I'm not nicer to people then people might just forget about me in the future. As afraid as I am of dying, I'm even more afraid of dying alone."
"No one should die alone," Trance conceded as she went back to treating Harper.