"Don't let Harper show you what he keeps under his pillow!" Ever since Beka had shouted that sentence after first boarding the Eureka Maru to tend to the affairs of one - supposedly deceased - Bobby Jensen, Captain Dylan Hunt could think of little else.
What did Harper keep there and why was Beka so adamant about Dylan not seeing it?
Dylan didn't think it could be pornography. Harper was a strange young man but, despite all of his talk and advances towards...well, anything even remotely resembling female, Rommie included, he had a great respect for women. Even if it was, the High Guard Captain was sure that the young engineer wouldn't dream of letting Beka know he owned such degrading material. She would throw it out the nearest airlock and Harper would be lucky if he wasn't thrown out with it.
What could Harper possibly own that Beka would allow him to keep yet not show to anyone? Now that Bobby was dead and the Mugani had agreed to negotiate with the colonists, Dylan decided to find his engineer and learn the answer to the annoying mystery.
"Andromeda," he called and the ship's hologram instantly appeared before him. "What is Harper's location?"
"Harper is initiating repairs on the Eureka Maru," Andromeda replied without the slightest hesitation.
Dylan thanked her and headed in that direction.
He reached the Maru just after Harper had completed the last of the repairs. He stood behind the young man, who was busily cleaning and putting away his precious tools, and cleared his throat to announce his presence.
"Hey, boss." The engineer flashed a brilliant smile when he finally noticed his captain.
"Mr. Harper, um, how are the repairs going?"
"All done. There was quite a lot of damage to some of the Maru's electrical systems, but it was nothing a super genius like myself couldn't handle."
"Well, um, that's great. Good, good, uhhh... Good job..." Now that he was here, Dylan didn't know how to go about asking the question.
Harper noticed the captain's unease. It was obvious he wanted to say something. "Did you need something, boss?"
"No! No. I mean...well, I was just wondering what...umm...what you..."
Harper stared at him expectantly. His bright blue eyes were laced with a strange combination of amusement at seeing the regal High Guard Captain at a loss for words and suspicion that the next words the captain did speak would be something he didn't want to hear.
Dylan, who had been absently tracing a small scratch on a nearby wall with his finger, closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and quickly released it along with a stream of words. "Iwanttoknowwhatyoukeepunderyourpillow."
Harper gave a slight chuckle as he shook his head. "Sorry, boss, Beka would kill me."
Oh, the plot thickens, Dylan thought, no closer to satisfying his curiosity. Beka would kill him? Why? Did it have something to do with her?
Dylan raised himself to his full height to tower, head and shoulders, above Harper. He was more determined than ever to unravel the mystery. "You do realize, that as captain of this ship, I can order you, as a member of my crew, to tell me."
Harper looked up at the captain, as if trying to gauge whether or not he would actually give such an order. He determined that, yes, Dylan would. "Promise that you won't tell her?"
Dylan nodded his head and then followed Harper to the crew quarters.
Harper stood on the bottom bunk and thrust a hand under the pillow of his top bunk. After a moment he withdrew the hand, lowered himself to a sitting position on the bottom bunk, and motioned Dylan to join him. Harper handed him a small flexi.
Curious, Dylan turned the flexi on.
Instead of the expected video or text, the flexi simply contained one still-frame picture. The subjects of the picture were one very haggard looking Beka lying on her side in a bed cuddled up with one very ill looking Harper.
"Beka teases me that I keep this because it's the only proof I have that I was able to get her into bed with me." Harper's eyes became distant and filled with a deep sorrow, as if he were reliving a painful memory. With a quick shake of his head, Harper was back in the present. "She doesn't want me to show it to anyone because she thinks she looks bad." The exaggerated rolling of his eyes demonstrated exactly what the young man thought of that idea.
Dylan was confused. That just didn't make sense. He, along with every other member of Andromeda's crew, had seen Beka in the worst possible condition: high on flash. Why would she want to hide away this very touching picture? It was obvious that she had exhausted herself caring for an ill or wounded friend and she had simply refused to leave his side even to sleep.
It was true that Beka didn't look her best. Her clothes were dirty and rumpled, she had dark smudges under her eyes, her skin was pale - though she had much more color than Harper did, and her shoulder-length hair was tousled and...blue. She had one arm resting on Harper's chest and held a fist full of his shirt in a white-knuckled grip.
To Dylan, the picture only proved how much Beka cared for her crew. Surely there had to be more to the story than her thinking she 'looked bad'.
Seeing that Dylan was not going to be satisfied with only the information he had given, Harper retook possession of the flexi and simply stared at it a moment before beginning the whole story.
"It wasn't until Beka finally got rid of Bobby that she realized exactly how much of the ship he had rigged so only he would have access."
"Because of his data port?"
"Exactly. It wasn't that big of a deal at the time, though. We had access to all the major systems. We took every job we could find for six months until we had enough saved up to get me a data port. We never even really discussed it. I had told Bobby and Beka that I had always wanted one. When we found out that we needed someone with a port to access a lot of the things on the ship, Beka simply looked at me and said, 'Well, kid, it looks like you're going to get your port.'
"The operation went as well as could be expected, all things considered, and I had learned to use the port in no time flat. Wow! What a rush it was to jack into the hospital's computer simulation for the first time! I couldn't even begin to describe it.
"Anyway, the first time I entered the Maru's computer, BANG!"
"Bang? What happened?" Dylan questioned.
"Bobby happened." The hatred was evident in Harper's voice. "He had introduced a rather nasty virus into the Maru that was intended to make sure he was the only one with access. It wasn't pretty." Harper trailed off.
After a few minutes of tense silence, Dylan realized Harper wasn't going to continue, but the captain was completely absorbed in the story and wanted to hear it all. "What happened next?" he prompted.
Harper was still staring blankly at the flexi, lost in the memories. "The virus attacked my port. From what I've been told, it fried every wire, every circuit, everything. All I remember is an intense, agonizing pain. Beka told me that she ran over and ripped the connecting cable out of my port as soon as I started screaming and that I screamed for hours until my voice finally gave out.
"She got me to a hospital as soon as possible. I was dying. The doctors told her that my only hope was to replace the port, but with my immune system and the damage done by the virus, the odds were stacked against me. They gave me a less than 20% chance for survival. She agreed to the surgery."
"It's obvious that you did survive. I still don't see why Beka would want to hide this picture. I mean, yes, the blue hair is a little odd, but..." Dylan tried to add a little humor to dispel the morose atmosphere that had engulfed the room.
The comment brought a slight chuckle from the engineer. "I, um, 'borrowed', this picture from the hospital's security system after I had recovered enough. I think it was taken about three weeks after the surgery. I was still in a coma and the doctors expected me to die at any moment. Beka never left my side and by that time she was so drained she couldn't think straight. She finally gave in and decided to crash in the bed with me.
"Did you know that when she's in that shape, she can't control her nanobots and they change her hair color to reflect her mood? When I woke up about a week later her hair was bright yellow! I told her that it looked great and she should keep it that way. She said she would compromise and go blonde. Her hair has been that color ever since."
Harper stood up, gave an exaggerated yawn, and stretched before turning off the flexi and returning it to its home under his pillow. "Well, that's it. That's the big secret."
"No, I don't think it is, Mr. Harper. That still doesn't explain..."
"Why I didn't want you to see the picture?" Both men jumped as Beka's voice sounded behind them.
"Oh, boss, we were just, uh..." Harper stammered.
"I know and it's okay." She placed an affectionate arm across the young man's shoulder and gave him a slight squeeze. "Trance has been looking for you. Now, get going." Beka gave him a light swat on the back of his head and smiled as he bounded out of the Maru.
"Beka, I'm sorry," Dylan began. "I ordered Harper to tell me."
"Oh, come on, Dylan. You and I both know that Harper only follows the orders that he wants to. Don't worry, it's okay." Beka reached under Harper's pillow to retrieve the flexi. Turning it on, she looked at it with pain-filled eyes.
"I've never told him, and I'll deny it until my dying day, but I knew Harper was something special from the moment I laid my eyes on him. As soon as his usefulness was up, I think Bobby was really going to kill him. Even before everything happened, I knew that, if it came down to it, I would chose Harper over Bobby."
Beka paused, lost in painful memories. Dylan waited patiently for her to continue.
"It was bad enough to see Harper in so much agony that he screamed himself hoarse. At first I had assumed it was a defect with his data port. I was so angry that I was ready to track down his doctor and rip him to shreds. When I found out that it had been because of a virus left by Bobby and that Harper might die...I just can't explain it, Dylan. I was already so angry with Bobby for betraying me. He wasn't around to vent my anger at, so I took my anger out on myself."
"You know that it wasn't your fault, don't you?" Dylan soothed. "There was no way you could have detected the virus without someone entering the computer."
"Intellectually, I always knew that, just like I always knew that Harper would have argued for the data port even if I had thought it was a bad idea. I thought I had accepted it emotionally as well, until I saw this picture for the first time. It just caused the memories and emotions to resurface. My anger flared again.
"Harper and I had such a huge fight when I found out he had it. I insisted he get rid of it and he refused. He finally told me that he wanted to keep it to remind him that, at one point in his life, someone cared about what happened to him. He hadn't had that since his parents were killed. I finally agreed to let him keep it.
"Trance found it while she was cleaning sometime after she and Rev joined up with us. Harper, Rev, and I were all in the mess when she brought it in and asked him about it. Telling the story to them was almost as bad as living through it the first time. It was so hard that I asked Harper to hide it and not show it to anyone else. All I've ever seen in this picture is the proof of my failure to keep him safe."
"Do you know what I see in this picture?" Dylan questioned as he reached over and gently plucked the flexi out of Beka's hand. "I see proof of a captain who cares about and would do anything for a member of her crew."
"I wish I could see that," Beka sniffed.
"Do you know what Harper sees?" That question gained Beka's full attention. "He doesn't just see proof that someone cared about what happened to him. He sees proof that he has a family again. How many people do you think he's let get that close to him since leaving Earth? How many people have you allowed yourself to get close to? This isn't a picture that should be hidden away, Beka. You should display it with pride. Both you and Harper have come a long way since meeting."
Dylan handed the flexi back to Beka and stepped off the Maru.
Several weeks later, Dylan took the Eureka Maru to meet with the delegates of a planet that wished to join the new Commonwealth. Upon entering the crew quarters the first night, he was pleased to see a framed copy of the picture from the flexi hanging on the wall beside Harper's bunk. Further investigation revealed an identical copy in Beka's quarters.