In the Nick of Time

By Hawk 

EMAIL: Hawk

Rating: FRT

Summary: Harper wants to use the Quantum Teleportation Device to go back in time to visit his family on Earth before it was destroyed. Will he return to the Andromeda? And when he returns will anything be the same ever again?

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Past, present and future All are entwined amidst the strings of time And anything that affects one Ultimately affects them all

Bashira, High Priestess, Pariese CY5385

<><><>

Dylan was in his office going over some reports when the door chime sounded. He looked up to see his engineer, Seamus Harper, walk in.

"What can I do for you, Mr. Harper?"

Harper looked nervous, which worried Dylan somewhat. A nervous Harper usually meant trouble of some sort was brewing.

Dylan leaned back in his chair and waited for Harper to speak. He'd learned over the years that it was a waste of time to try to pry anything out of his engineer - - or to try to steer the conversation in any one particular direction. All would be revealed - - on Harper's schedule.

After a couple of unsuccessful attempts to begin, Harper finally took a deep breath and blurted, "My Quantum Teleport Device is functional, Boss - - and I want to use it to go home."

Well, that wasn't what Dylan had expected to hear and he opened and closed his mouth in shock as he tried to sort out how best to handle the situation.

Harper saw Dylan's hesitation and stepped in, "Boss - - it's gone. Think of how you felt when you first found out that Tarn Vedra was gone." He took a deep breath. "I need to see it again, Dylan. I know that nothing I can do or say will ever bring it back. Earth is gone and is going to stay gone forever, but I still need to say goodbye."

Dylan nodded. "I understand how you feel, Mr. Harper, but I'm not sure that machine of yours is safe. I need to know that I'm not going to lose you."

Harper grinned. "Hey! It was safe enough to send you back to see Sara, wasn't it? And this one is MUCH better than the old one. This one is new and improved."

Dylan stood and held up his hand. "Just prove to me it works - - and is safe. Then we'll talk about sending you back."

Harper pumped his fist into the air. "Yes! Thanks, Boss!" He turned and ran out of Dylan's office. Calling back over his shoulder, he inquired, "Well? Are you coming or not?"

"Harper, it's very late…" He looked around his office and shrugged. "Aw, hell. It's not like you were going to sleep anyway," he muttered. "I'll be right there, Harper."

<><><>

It was probably two hours later when Dylan looked up from reading the reports Harper had put together for him and noticed that they had company. "Trance? What are you doing here?"

Trance smiled. "I just thought I'd take a peek at what was keeping you two from getting any sleep tonight."

Dylan nodded, knowing that Trance didn't sleep much. He knew that if he wandered the corridors at night he would find her at some point, either wandering or having something to drink in the Officer's Mess or tending the plants in the hydroponics garden. Wherever he wandered on any particular night, Trance was there, offering support or just friendship.

Dylan gestured toward Harper. "It seems that Mr. Harper here has gotten this bucket of bolts he calls a QTD working … and now he tells me he wants to go back to Earth." Dylan watched for Trance's reaction and wasn't too surprised when she merely nodded her understanding.

Trance noticed Dylan's scrutiny and smiled at him. "Surely you saw this coming, Dylan. Seamus is very family oriented. He has missed his family and friends since the day he left Earth and joined the crew of the Maru." She held up her hand as Dylan opened his mouth to speak. "Sure, he left of his own accord, but think of his life there. The Earth had been subjugated by the Nietzschean regime long before - - turning it into a slave world, subject to the whims of its oppressors. And when the Nietzscheans weren't actively abusing them, the Magog attacked, leaving devastation in their wake. Did the Nietzscheans step in and take control? No! They weren't risking their precious hides to save a few raggedy, starving slaves from the Magog! It was the underground - - the same underground that finally and irrevocably drove the Nietzscheans from their world that drove off the Magog, burning them from their lairs, killing the host bodies before the babies could hatch, and making it very unprofitable for them to be there. And, since there were other, easier worlds to conquer, the Magog pulled up stakes and left, leaving behind death and destruction." She paused.

"And I know you know about the family members that Seamus lost to the Magog attack… He saw them slaughtered right before his very eyes, and the ones they sought to use as incubators for their offspring? Harper had to help kill them - - his family - - his friends."

Dylan nodded every so often, but didn't try to interrupt Trance's train of thought.

Trance smiled ruefully. "And then, just as the Magog pulled up stakes and scurried away, the Nietzscheans moved back in, picking right up where they had left off."

Trance watched Harper scurry around, tweaking this and that as he kept up a rambling diatribe on the varied applications of the machine - - all benefiting mankind, of course. She sighed as she turned to look at Dylan again. "It is a miracle, Dylan, that Harper turned out as well as he did. Everything was stacked against him succeeding, and pointing him in the direction of complete and utter failure. And then he escaped that world. Sure, times were tough for him, and he didn't exactly walk the straight and narrow path - - until he met you - - but he survived, and flourished and grew into a pretty amazing young man."

"Yes, he did," Dylan murmured, nodding his head in agreement.

Trance looked at him then and Dylan found it difficult to pull his eyes away from that scrutiny. Finally she nodded once. "He needs to do this, Dylan. Let Seamus go home - - just this one more time. It will be good for him - - and us."

Dylan pondered her wording, but knew it was no use to ask what exactly she had meant by her last statement.

"What will be good for him? And just who are we talking about?"

Dylan spun around, finding Rhade leaning against the bulkhead just inside the door to the Machine Shop. "Doesn't anybody sleep on this ship?" he mumbled under his breath. "Rhade? How long have you been standing there?"

"Just got here, Dylan. May I assume you and our golden friend are talking about Harper?" He nodded toward where Harper was tinkering with the teleporter.

Trance smiled at him and Dylan chuckled. "Yes, Rhade. Trance and I were talking about Harper."

"So, Trance - - what did you mean by 'it will be good for him - - and us'?" Rhade pinned Trance with a stare designed specifically to make the person on the receiving end want to tell the Nietzschean everything they wanted to know.

And Trance just smiled enigmatically and turned away to watch Harper again.

"Trance?" Rhade was puzzled. No one had ever withstood the stare before. It simply didn't happen. Was he somehow losing his touch?

Dylan noted Rhade's frown and sighed. Time to bolster the Nietzschean's confidence. They could be so sensitive, especially if they thought there was anything wrong with their ability to intimidate or persuade an opponent. Not that Trance was an opponent, but still, Rhade's pride was dented when she simply turned away from his request.

"So, Rhade. You didn't answer my question."

Rhade turned to look at Dylan. "What question?"

Dylan grinned. "Actually I hadn't really asked it yet, but since you want to know…" Rhade rolled his eyes. "What's keeping you from sleeping tonight?"

Rhade glanced to where Trance was standing.

"If you'd rather go someplace else to talk?" Dylan knew something was bothering Rhade and he didn't seem inclined to talk in front anyone else.

"Um - - what about - - whatever Harper is doing?"

"He's working on his Quantum Teleport Device, Rhade. He wants to go back to Earth."

Rhade stared, open-mouthed at Dylan. "Earth? He wants to travel through time - - using that heap of scrap - - and go back to a hellhole like Earth? Why?"

Dylan got up and headed toward the door. "Walk with me, Rhade."

Rhade smirked and fell into step beside Dylan.

They walked for a couple of minutes before Dylan spoke again. "Harper lost everything when the earth was destroyed. His past, his family, his - history, for lack of a better word."

"But he'd left earth long ago, Dylan. He'd already said his goodbyes."

Dylan smiled sadly at half-buried memories. "You never really say goodbye, Rhade. The Earth will always be what Harper thinks of first when he thinks of home. Just like Tarn Vedra is what I think of. And when I thought it was gone - - it was like a part of me was missing too. Sure I'd lost my past - - my family - - but they were always inside me. But to lose a planet! Rhade - - think about it. How would you feel if suddenly Tarazed was gone - - destroyed?"

Rhade looked at the floor, refusing to meet his eyes. Dylan noted how withdrawn he was and instinctively knew something else was bothering the Nietzschean.

"Rhade? What were you doing out of bed tonight? Why did you come looking for us?" They were in front of Dylan's quarters and he stopped walking, causing Rhade to fumble to a stop beside him. "Come on in. Let's sit and talk about whatever it is that is bothering you."

"Nothing is bothering me, Dylan! I don't need anyone to analyze my feelings. I'm just…"

Dylan stepped into his quarters. "Just what, Rhade?"

Rhade walked in and sat in an overstuffed leather chair. He took the glass of amber liquid when Dylan pressed it upon him. Taking a deep drink of the liquid, he savored the fire as it burned its way down his throat.

Dylan lifted his own glass of brandy and sipped as he sat in a chair opposite Rhade. He set the bottle of Terrelian brandy on the table between them and waited for Rhade to tell him what was troubling him this night. Dylan had noticed a 'stillness' about the Nietzschean ever since they had returned from Nirvana. It was nothing that had affected his work, and so Dylan had left him to work it out on his own. It seemed now that maybe he had been wrong to let this fester instead of bringing it out into the open before now.

Rhade's empty glass hung from his fingers as he draped his hands over the ends of the chair arms.

"More?" Dylan held up the bottle and poured himself another glassful of brandy.

Rhade shrugged and held his glass out. Dylan filled it and then sat back again - - waiting for Rhade to be ready to talk to him.

It only took another minute or two before Rhade sighed loudly and set his now empty glass on the table in front of him, before slouching in his chair and staring moodily at the bottle of brandy.

"More, Rhade?"

Rhade shook his head. "No, Dylan. Brandy isn't what I need right now."

"What is it that you need then?" Dylan sipped his brandy, waiting patiently for Rhade to tell his tale. When it looked like he wasn't going to say anything more, Dylan spoke again. "You've been out of sorts since we left Nirvana. Does this 'mood' of yours have anything to do with that?"

Rhade looked up sharply and shook his head before smiling sadly. "How do you do that?"

"Do what?"

Rhade snorted. "I think you've been hanging around Trance too long."

Dylan smiled and sipped his drink. "Now what is that supposed to mean?"

"This - - problem of mine, if you will. It has everything to do with what happened on Nirvana."

Dylan frowned. "What do you mean, Rhade? What happened on Nirvana?"

Rhade blushed and poured himself another glass of brandy. He'd need it if he was going to pour his heart out to Dylan.

"Damn, this isn't going to be easy. I wasn't really sure I wanted to go on this little vacation of yours and I started out with a chip on my shoulder."

"Hm, I hadn't noticed." Dylan's eyes twinkled over the rim of his glass and Rhade scowled at him.

"Yeah - - I guess I was a bit of a bear, huh."

"Just a bit, Rhade. But hey! We're used to your moods."

"Funny, Dylan. Funny."

"Sorry, I couldn't resist. Go on."

"Well, I was a bit upset at having messed up on our last mission."

Dylan shook his head. "Rhade - - I told you - - it wasn't your fault. You had no idea that we were going to be ambushed by the Hespians. How can it be your fault that they had received intel of our arrival and were trying to collect bounty on us?"

"That is SO not the point, Dylan."

"Yes it is, Rhade! You can't be perfect all the time. No one had any indication that the Hespians were anything but friendly. We had no way of telling that someone had poisoned their civilization years ago and that they are now xenophobic to the extreme."

Rhade shot to his feet. "Face it, Dylan. I should have been able to stop them."

"And you did." Dylan nodded towards the chair. "Sit, Rhade."

Rhade sat with a grumble. "Just let me tell this, okay?"

Dylan nodded.

"I was very angry with myself when we got to Nirvana, but I was also determined to have a good time so, after I checked into my room, I went downstairs. I planned on gambling a little bit and then finding out just how one keeps busy on vacation, since I had never had one forced on me before."

Dylan smiled, but refused to rise to the bait, so Rhade continued his tale.

"Instead of the gaming tables, I wound up at the bar and I just couldn't shut out the memories of what happened on that damned mission. I didn't plan on getting drunk - - but I must have really tied one on."

"Must have tied one on? You don't remember?"

Rhade shook his head. "No - - all I know is I woke up the next day feeling like I'd died and dragged myself out of my own grave. I took a shower and …" He trailed off.

"And?"

"And saw a note written on my mirror in the steam. It said 'thanks for a good time, C' or something like that. Anyway - - it was obvious someone had had a good time - - but I couldn't remember it! As I was getting dressed there was a knock on my door and when I opened it there was a gorgeous lady standing in the hallway. Her name was Crystal."

Dylan grinned. "You're good, Rhade. Wasted no time getting it on."

Rhade glared. "That's the problem, Dylan. After everything that happened - - the Abyss - - Seefra - - I made a pledge to my wife to stay true to her and I blew it."

Dylan sipped his drink, giving himself time to think. "Rhade? Do all Nietzschean males pledge their fidelity to their wives?"

Rhade snorted. "Yeah, right! Nietzschean males take as many females as possible to further their line. You know that."

"So the pledge you made to your wife was one of love? Or was it one of monogamy?"

Rhade stared at Dylan like he'd never seen him before. "Monogamy? You can't know so little of Nietzscheans, Dylan. We can no more be monogamous than we can breathe water."

"So your pledge to your wife was of love then."

"Yes - - my pledge was of my undying love to my wife and family."

"So your problem is what exactly?" Dylan watched Rhade over the rim of his glass as he pondered Dylan's question. He saw the moment it all sank in and suppressed his smile.

Rhade shook his head and snorted his amusement. He stood then. "Dylan - - I have a request."

Dylan stood to put himself on equal ground with the Nietzschean. "What is it, Rhade?"

"I would like to visit Terazed - - and my family."

"This visit would put your mind to rest?"

Rhade nodded. "Yes, I think it will."

Dylan smiled. "Then go. We need you in top form." As Rhade turned to leave Dylan stopped him. "Rhade?"

"Yes?"

"A week. We have another mission coming up that we will need your help with."

Rhade nodded. "Very well. Thank you, Dylan. And Dylan?"

"Yes, Rhade?"

"Keep the boy out of trouble, will you?"

"I'll make sure he stays safe."

Rhade turned to leave again.

"Hey! Was she Nietzschean?"

Rhade turned back. "No - - Terrelian. How do you think I got that bottle of brandy?" He smiled then and was gone, leaving Dylan laughing in his doorway.

<><><>

"So - - how's it going in here?"

Trance and Harper looked up as Dylan strode through the door. Trance knew he had needed to talk to Rhade - - or, rather, Rhade had needed to talk to him, but Harper was totally oblivious to the fact that Dylan had left the machine shop. Now he wondered just how long he'd been gone and if he'd talked to him (without him being there) about anything vital to his project during that time. It made his head spin just to think about it.

Harper scratched his head, mussing his hair even more than was natural for him. "Um - - how long have ya been gone, Boss? 'Cause I've been doing some amazing stuff here. I've got this baby fully calibrated to send me back to Earth - - before she blows up." He winked. "All we need to do is go to Earth - - well, where Earth used to be anyway. And then I'll step up onto this platform," he stepped up into the QTD, "and Rommie will send me back in time to when I want to go."

The room fairly reverberated with excitement and Dylan shook his head as he watched Harper flit about, telling and retelling his tale of success. He hated to burst the young man's bubble, but somebody needed to rein this in and he thought it was probably in his job description to be the one to do so.

"Harper - - hold up a minute."

Harper looked back over his shoulder and stopped his rambling.

"What is it, Boss?"

Dylan walked up to the QTD and ran his hand over the cool metal. His mind flashed back to when he had been the one to step into the machine. He remembered so vividly the disorientation of being ripped to shreds only to have his atoms reassembled in another time. And then - - having Sara in his arms again. He experienced such joy - - only to have it ripped away again when he had to leave that time and couldn't bring Sara back with him. Did he want the same to happen to Harper? And it would - - when he found a family member and had to leave them behind, knowing that Earth would be gone soon - - blown up with them on it.

"How can you be sure this will work?"

Harper sighed loudly. "I told ya. It's calibrated, Boss. It'll work - - and it's perfectly safe."

Dylan shook his head. "I don't know, Harper. Last time…"

"Last time? Boss, last time was totally different! Last time we were hooked to a black hole. This time is what's important. This time, I've configured the QTD to work on quantum mechanics; no black hole necessary. This time, I will be able to control my travel - - to the day, time and coordinates. This time, I will get to say goodbye."

"Harper, I know how important this is to you." He held up his hand as Harper tried to interrupt. "We've already been through this. We have both lost loved ones, homes, lives. What I need to know - - what I need to see - - is that this machine of yours works. I need proof of multiple successful journeys through time. Your job is to show me. Show me that this Quantum Teleport Device is safe and I'll let you use it. I'll let you go home again."

Harper took a deep breath and nodded. He knew Dylan was right. He needed to remember just what it took to make sure his experiments were safe and apply that knowledge to this instance as well. All scientific discoveries were typically tested and retested until you could be reasonably positive that the device was as safe as it could be and would cause no permanent harm to the user or anyone else.

"Okay, Dylan. So now we test this baby out. Have any place in mind?"

"What do you mean?"

"Where do you want to test it?"

Dylan smiled. "This 'field work' will be completed right here, Mr. Harper. You can use the QTD to teleport melons from one side of Andromeda to the other - - and back in time."

"Melons again, Boss? You're no fun at all. I thought maybe…"

Dylan held up his hand. "Harper! Melons - - unless you'd like to put this little project on hold for another millennia."

"Millennia? Um - - no - - not a good idea. Not a good idea at all." He looked up then to see Dylan smiling at him. "Very funny, Dylan."

"I'm not kidding, Harper. Test it and test it properly or it will rust right where it stands - - without ever being used."

"Yes sir, Captain Sir!" Harper tossed off a mock salute and then scampered away to set up his first test.

Trance snickered softly and then smirked when Dylan turned to stare at her. "What? It was funny!"

He smiled and shook his head as he walked away. "Call me when you have it set up, Harper. I want to make sure it works."

"It will! Geesh, Boss - - don't ya trust me?"

"I trust you just fine, Harper. It's that damned machine I don't trust."

<><><>

And Dylan didn't trust it - - to an extent. But what he really didn't trust was that Harper would be unchanged by his experience. His greatest fear was that Harper would go back in time - - and not want to come back to the Andromeda - - that he would take the opportunity to disappear on Earth, blend in with the ragged society there. He didn't think he could take losing another crewmember.

So it was with heavy heart that Dylan answered Harper's summons the next morning to attend his first test of the QTD. As he walked the corridor to get to the Machine Shop, he tried to school his face and thoughts so Harper and Trance wouldn't know just how upset he really was at the prospect of Harper using the machine.

Harper was nearly thrumming with excitement. As Dylan walked into the Machine Shop, the young engineer spun around to look at him and grinned. "Hey Dylan! You ready to be amazed?"

Caught up for a moment in Harper's excitement, Dylan smiled and nodded. "Sure thing, Harper - - astound me."

Harper laughed as he turned to the console in front of him. Keeping up a running dialog of what he was doing and how the test would play out, he set the coordinates for the QTD.

Dylan noticed that there was a melon on the platform of the QTD. It had a face drawn on it, which made him smile. Short spikey hair and he could name it Harper.

"So, I've put Herbert in the QTD."

"Herbert?"

Harper snorted. "I had ta name the thing first before sending him through the QTD, Dylan - - and Herbert won out. I didn't think you'd want me to name a melon-head Dylan, after all."

Dylan grinned at Harper's witty comeback. "Probably not, Mr. Harper. Good decision."

"Thank you. Now where was I? Oh yeah - - Herbert. He's all ready to be teleported across the ship to Hangar Bay 17."

"Why the hangar bay?"

"Because it's probably deserted and I don't want melons just appearing in front of startled crew members."

"Ah." Dylan nodded his head. "Probably a good idea."

"Ready then?" Harper looked back over his shoulder and Dylan nodded.

"Go ahead - - dazzle me, Mr. Harper."

Harper grinned and turned back to the console. "Okay, I've set the date for two days previous at 1300 hours. Hangar Bay 17 had no activity recorded on this date. I'm also sending a data recorder back with Herbert. When we pull the recorder and the melon - - Herbert - - back to us, we can then analyze the data."

"Proceed."

Harper activated the controls for the QTD and Dylan watched as a bright light filled the space between the upright posts of the teleporter. He shivered as the light brightened and then shrank to a pinpoint before disappearing altogether. When he blinked to clear the spots from in front of his eyes, the melon - - Herbert - - was gone.

Dylan let go of the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. "That still amazes me every time."

"Even though you've been in it?" Harper grinned at him and then shrugged. "To tell you the truth - - it amazes me too." Harper winked and turned back to the console, fiddling with the settings as he talked. "So - - you ready to bring him back?"

"Sure, Harper. Bring him back. Let's see if you've got this set correctly - - or if we get melon soup like last time."

Harper glared at him over his shoulder. "Hey! I was just learnin' then. This time it's perfect. You just watch."

Dylan grinned and leaned against the bulkhead, crossing his arms over his chest. "Amaze me, Mr. Harper."

"You got it, Boss."

And then Harper pushed a button on his console and the bright pinpoint of light took shape in between the uprights of the teleporter, gradually growing until Dylan had to shade his eyes from the glare. When the light dissipated, Herbert sat on the pad, apparently unharmed. Harper grinned and jumped up, pumping his fist into the air.

"Yes! I did it!"

"Yes you did, Mr. Harper - - once. Let's take a look at that data recorder and see exactly when and where you sent this melon to."

"Right! Gee, I almost forgot." Harper scampered over to the QTD and picked up the melon. He kissed it and then unstrapped the data recorder from it. Setting the melon carefully on the pad of the QTD, he walked over to the computer console and plugged the data recorder in. "This'll take me just a couple of minutes to decipher, Boss."

"Great. Call me when you're ready to go again, Mr. Harper. I'll be on Command."

"Right."

Harper was bent over the console, muttering away to himself as Dylan walked out of the Machine Shop. It looked like this just might work - - and that worried Dylan almost as much as it would if the QTD didn't work at all.

<><><>

"So - - um, Dylan? Do you really want to watch every trial run of the QTD?"

"Sure - - why not?"

Harper fidgeted. "Well, you - - kinda slow me down. Boss." He hastened to explain at the incredulous look on Dylan's face, "It's just that I have to stop each time and call you and then wait for you to get here. Couldn't I just run the tests and give you a summary report when I'm finished?"

Dylan stared him down for a couple of minutes, trying to decide if Harper was trying to get away with not testing the device adequately. Finally, he decided it was his own suspicious mind working overtime that was the issue - - and he nodded his acquiescence.

"Sure thing, Mr. Harper. Carry on with the trials. I want a thorough report when you're finished, though. Am I making myself clear?"

"Crystal. One anally detailed report coming up." He grinned cheekily and turned away to get back to work.

Dylan shook his head, bemused at the turn of events, and wandered back to the command deck to talk to Rommie about the upcoming mission - - sending Harper back to earth.

<><><>

Now that the mission seemed imminent, Dylan felt it his obligation to do all he could to ensure Harper's safety. What he really wanted to focus on, however, was totally out of his control and that was ensuring Harper's return - - his safe return - - to the Andromeda. Not being able to say with certainty that Harper would be able to give up his friends and family again was worrisome to Dylan. He really didn't think he would be able to leave Harper on Earth knowing that it was going to be destroyed. He wouldn't be able to walk away from the young engineer like that. Like it or not, his crew had become his family and he would protect his family at all costs, even to going back in time himself to drag Harper kicking and screaming back into the present.

Two days later Harper walked into the Officer's Mess while Dylan was eating his midday meal. He looked up as the doors opened and winced at the exhaustion that was stamped on the young man's features. It was then that Harper noticed him sitting there and waved.

Dylan waited for the young engineer to sit opposite him before asking, "Have you slept at all in the last few days, Mr. Harper?"

Harper frowned as if trying to remember, and then shook his head slowly. "I really don't know - - but I doubt it. If I did sleep it wasn't for very long - - maybe I snoozed for a minute at the controls." He sighed. "Huh, I can't believe I don't remember that!"

Dylan smiled sadly. He understood the emotions that were driving Harper to push himself past his limits, but he also knew that he would be burnt out soon, would probably get sick, and would then be unable to accomplish his mission. For a fleeting moment that thought tempted Dylan to let Harper go on in the same fashion and ruin the chances of the mission occurring at all - - and then he remembered the anguish in Harper's eyes as he watched his home be destroyed, and he knew he could never do that to him. It was his responsibility to give Harper every chance to recapture a piece of his past. He wouldn't be able to live with himself if he didn't.

"What do you have for me?"

Harper looked confused for a moment as he peered down at the flexi in his hand and then he brightened. Holding out the flexi to Dylan, he said, "The reports you requested, Dylan. Twenty trials - - different locations, varying destination times, and diverse length of times spent in the past before pulling Herbert back to the present. I've also included all the information downloaded from the data recorder from each trip."

Dylan took the flexi from Harper and, tapping a couple of icons, he could see that the data was well organized. He nodded to Harper. "Thank you for this, Mr. Harper. It will take me a few hours to digest it all. In the meantime, I want you to report to your quarters."

"My quarters? But there is so much left to do!"

"Your quarters, Harper. You are ordered to get some sleep. I will see you in my quarters at 2100 hours - - and not a minute before."

Harper got up and turned away from the table.

"Oh, and Mr. Harper?"

He turned back. "Yes?"

"Andromeda will be monitoring you. You will get some sleep or I will call this mission off. Are we clear on this?"

Harper glared at him and then grudgingly nodded his head. "Yeah, we're clear."

"Good night then."

"Whatever."

Dylan watched the young man leave the room and then contacted Andromeda to ask her to monitor his whereabouts. He also asked her to let him know when he finally went to sleep - - and if he didn't.

<><><>

Dylan poured over the information on the flexi. Harper had been very thorough with the testing of the QTD and Dylan was impressed with the amount of data he had summarized on the flexi, setting it up so Dylan could scan through it quickly. Very quickly, it became apparent to Dylan that the QTD would do exactly what Harper had designed it to do. It would be able to safely teleport him back in time to Earth - - and there lie the risk for Dylan, and for Harper.

Dylan sighed and rubbed his hands over his face, erasing the insinuating thread of doubt that kept creeping into his thoughts. If he didn't believe in Harper and trust his word, then he shouldn't have the young man as part of his crew, because without trust what was left really?

When the door chime sounded on Dylan's office, he was discussing the upcoming mission with Holo-Rommie. He looked up at the sound, noted the time and allowed Andromeda to open the door.

"Come on in, Harper." He waited until the young man stood nervously in front of his desk and the door had closed behind him before speaking again. "So - - you rested."

"Yes." Harper nodded, shifting restlessly from foot to foot.

Dylan sat back in his chair and steepled his fingers in front of him. "Good. I've had a chance to look over the data from the trial runs of the QTD."

"Look, Dylan, you and I both know that the data on that flexi is solid. The QTD works. It can send me back to the when and where I specify, so don't tell me it doesn't look right on the flexi because I know better."

Dylan smiled up at the agitated young man. "Harper?"

"I know you don't want me to go - - I understand that - - but it's safe - - really it is! I've proven it!"

"Harper!"

Harper took a breath, ready to launch into another diatribe, and looked down at Dylan. "What?"

"The data looks good."

Harper gaped.

"I may be uncomfortable with the concept - - but the science is solid. The QTD's performance is beyond my expectations. I am very impressed with the work you've put into this, Harper."

"Thank you - - Dylan?"

"Yes, Mr. Harper?"

"Are you telling me I can go?"

Dylan smiled up at Harper. "Yes, Harper - - I'm telling you that you can go home - - for a visit."

"Oh wow! Dylan, this is so amazing!" The grin that covered his face was brilliant. "I can really go home?"

Dylan stood. "Yes, Mr. Harper - - you can go home - - but we still need to set some ground rules and parameters for this mission."

"Ground rules? What do you mean, Boss?"

Dylan walked around from behind his desk and put his hand on Harper's shoulder. "Walk with me, Harper."

They headed for the Machine Shop as they walked. Dylan wanted to see the QTD again before they finalized the mission parameters.

"Every mission has parameters, Harper - - ground rules - - a set of what ifs, if you will. I need to be certain that you will be safe while you're gone. Nothing in life is guaranteed, but we need to agree on certain things so we can both work to make the outcome of this mission a positive one, okay?"

Harper smiled up at Dylan as the door to the Machine Shop whisked open. "Sure thing, Boss. I understand that this mission isn't exactly what you'd call routine - - in any way. And I am very grateful that you would allow me to do this even though it is dangerous. I appreciate that you trust me - - and I won't betray that trust - - I promise."

Something in the young man's eyes made Dylan pause - - but then he mentally shrugged his disquiet off and they continued into the room. "Very well, Harper. Let's get to work, shall we?" He activated the flexi once again and then called out, "Andromeda?"

Aye Captain?

"We need to get working on the mission parameters for Harper's trip to Earth."

Aye.

The hologram shimmered into view beside a workbench. "I have alerted Rommie, Beka and Trance to join us, Dylan."

Harper looked up quickly and opened his mouth to retort when Dylan put his hand on his shoulder. "It's okay, Harper. We will need their input."

"Oh - - okay then."

Once the crew was assembled, Dylan told them to get comfortable. "Well, I'm sure you can all guess what we're doing here. Harper has spent the better part of the last two days testing his QTD and, I'm happy to say, the trial runs were a resounding success. As most of you know, he has requested to use it to go back to Earth."

"Before she blows up!" Harper interjected.

"We're here to hash out mission parameters and set up some ground rules for the use of the QTD."

"Ground rules?"

"Yes, Beka. This thing could potentially be very dangerous." He paused to let his last words sink in. "Face it - - every time someone visits the past there is the chance that they will alter the present and the future. One misstep and suddenly you no longer exist in this time - - or we don't."

Harper gulped as those words sunk in. "I guess I hadn't really thought about that aspect before, Dylan."

"Think about it, Mr. Harper. Think about it really hard."

Harper nodded as the others began talking.

It took over an hour, but they finally hashed out the mission particulars. Harper had chosen the date and place of his return to Earth and Dylan was happy that it wasn't in the too distant past. The closer to their own time he went back, the less chance there was of something vital being altered - - at least they hoped that was the case.

<><><>

"Exiting slipstream," Beka announced, as she brought the Andromeda back into normal space near the orbit of Mars.

"Be careful of debris, Beka. No telling what we'll find drifting near the Earth's orbital path."

"You mean 'former orbital path' don't you, Dylan?"

"Very funny, Beka. Just fly and leave the comedy to the professionals."

Trance snickered from her place at the science station and Rommie smirked as Beka frowned.

"So when's Rhade due back, Dylan?" Beka asked as she piloted the Andromeda through the edges of a debris field.

"Three days - - give or take."

"And you let him know where we would be?"

Dylan smiled. "Yes, Beka - - I let Rhade know what we would be doing. He knows where to look for us and, should we finish up before Rhade gets here, we'll drop a beacon to let him know where to find us."

Beka grinned. "Just checking, Dylan. I wouldn't want Rhade to be looking for us all through the known galaxies."

Dylan rolled his eyes. "Right!"

Just then Harper walked in and they could tell from his demeanor that he was quite nervous. "Hey guys. How's it coming?"

"Almost there, Harper. Are you all set?" Dylan looked at him critically as if measuring his readiness for the mission.

"Yeah - - I'm ready." Harper smiled and nodded.

"You look a little nervous."

"Nah - - not nervous, Dylan. Just - - excited, I guess. I'm anxious to get going, you know?"

Dylan patted him on the shoulder. "Yeah - - I know. Come on then, let's get you ready." He turned to the rest of the assembled crew. "Beka, bring us into position - - let me know when we're ready to go."

"Right."

"Trance, stay here and monitor the area. Keep an eye out for hostiles. You never know if the Nietzscheans or anyone else is still lurking in this system. All signs point to it being pretty much deserted - - but I won't take any chances with Harper out there."

"Right, Dylan. I've begun scanning the immediate area already. Once we're in position, I will expand the search area."

"Thank you, Trance. Rommie? You're with me."

"Aye, Dylan." Rommie followed Dylan and Harper as they headed to the Machine Shop.

<><><>

"Dylan? We're in position. Scans are all clear - - no hostiles in the area."

"Thank you, Beka." Dylan was smiling as he turned to where Harper and Rommie were working at the instrument console. "All set, Mr. Harper."

Harper looked up. "Huh?"

"Beka just announced that we are in position. It's time to go." Dylan nodded toward the QTD.

Harper gulped and nodded quickly while wiping his sweaty palms on his pants. He was simply dressed in black cargo pants, black military boots, a blue t-shirt and black survival jacket. His hair looked even more messy than usual, if that were possible, since he'd been running his hands through it nearly constantly as they set the controls for the QTD.

"You ready?"

Harper nodded quickly and patted his pockets. He pulled a couple of things out that looked like small boxes and then tucked them away again before looking around the room. "One more thing," he mumbled as he walked over to a workbench and rummaged around. He picked up another small rectangular box and walked over to where Dylan was standing.

"Whatcha got there, Harper?"

"Just a couple of signal boosters - - just in case." He winked.

"And the last little item you just picked up?"

Harper turned the small box over in his hands and shrugged. "Just a little memento. I promise not to leave it lying around someplace."

"Harper…"

"C'mon, Boss." He held up his hand and intoned, "I solemnly swear that I am taking nothing to the past that has the ability to change it. Okay?"

Dylan smiled. "Sure thing, Harper. Just - - be careful, okay?"

Harper took hold of Dylan's arms briefly and gave them a quick squeeze. "Don't worry, Dylan. I'll be fine - - everything will be fine."

"Okay then. Do you have your communicator?"

Harper patted his pockets and pulled a small device out of one. "Right here, Boss. Relax! It's all good."

"Right - - relax, he says. That's easier said than done…"

"Stop muttering, Dylan and say goodbye. I'm anxious to get this show on the road."

Dylan smiled. "Right - - be safe, Harper."

Harper grinned and stepped up on the platform, setting the small box he held in his hand on the ground next to his feet. Dylan raised an eyebrow at that but held his tongue. Harper had promised him he was taking nothing with him that could alter history - - and he had promised himself that he would trust Harper.

"Rommie?"

"Ready when you are."

"Harper?"

Harper nodded quickly. "Ready." He tugged at his jacket and gave Rommie a thumbs up.

Rommie hit a couple of icons on the control panel and a bright white light suffused the area - - glowing brighter and brighter until Dylan had to shade his eyes - - and then it shrank in on itself and was gone, taking Harper along with it.

Dylan and Rommie stared at the empty platform for a couple of minutes before Dylan straightened and looked at Rommie. "Rommie? Do you have contact with Harper?"

Rommie paused and worked at the instrument panel for a moment before they heard a scratchy, crackling voice coming across the com link.

"Hello? I'm here and it's awesome! Can you hear me?"

"Yes, Mr. Harper. We can hear you."

"Dylan! It's so amazing!"

Dylan frowned. "Harper? I need you to remember why you're there. You need to do what it is you need to do - - and then get back here - - and, remember - - you can't change the past."

"Right, Boss."

"Keep in touch, Mr. Harper. Rommie will be monitoring the console for the duration of your mission."

"Okay - - right-o, Boss."

<><><>

Harper walked along the streets he knew so well - - and that he knew no longer existed in his time. It was a heady thought - - that he could travel back in time to find what he'd lost. Not many people would understand his need. After all, what was past was past. But Harper had unfinished business - - and this time he wouldn't fail in his mission.

He had checked in with Rommie again before he found what he was looking for. The tunnels, when he found them, were exactly as he remembered. Until that point, he hadn't really believed that his mission was going to work as he'd planned. But now he smiled and walked on, deeper and deeper into the network of tunnels.

It wasn't too long before he was stopped by a sentry and questioned. The young man looked at him strangely before herding him forward at gunpoint. Harper was beginning to think he'd come to the wrong set of tunnels when a familiar person stepped out of the shadows.

"Seamus! What the hell are you doing here? I thought you had to leave."

Harper grinned. "Leave? Me? Nah - - I have to talk to you first." He looked around. "In private."

And hour later he was back on the street, heading to the section of the city that he used to live in - - once upon a time. He wanted to visit his family's house - - the graves of his parents - - his cousins, Aunts, Uncles, friends - - hell, if anyone was still alive. The grittiness of the streets was comfortable to him and, even though he knew it spoke of desolation and the slavery of his people, he found it soothing.

A sense of belonging permeated his being and he breathed deeply of the air - - and coughed as the grit settled into his lungs. "Damn, didn't miss that!"

As he looked around he realized it was getting late - - and he'd need to find a place to hold up for the night. It wasn't a good idea to be caught without a safe haven at night. Taking a deep breath, he picked up his pace slightly, heading for his Aunt and Uncle's house - - or at least he hoped so.

Another block and he was there, looking up at a familiar rundown hovel. He steeled himself for whatever he would find and walked up to the door. The door was thrown open even before he had a chance to knock and he took a step backward in surprise.

"Seamus Harper! What a sight for these sore old eyes ye are! Come and give your Auntie a hug, darlin'."

And Harper was home.

<><><>

"Dylan?"

"Andromeda, lights." Dylan yawned as the lights in his bedroom were turned up. He pushed up onto one elbow. "What is it, Rommie?"

"I've lost contact with Harper."

Dylan felt something cold coil up in the pit of his stomach and he hung his head. "Damn," he whispered. He took a deep breath before answering Rommie. "I'll be right there, Rommie. Continue to search for his signal."

"Aye, Dylan."

Dylan threw the covers back and got out of bed, heading for the bathroom to change. Within minutes he was heading down the corridor towards the Machine Shop.

Rommie looked up as the door opened, admitting Dylan.

"Anything, Rommie?"

She shook her head. "No."

"How long?"

"I lost contact with him just over an hour ago. At first I thought it was an anomaly, as I had briefly lost contact with him over six hours ago. That time, the interruption of signal was for fifteen minutes and then the signal was back again, strong and steady."

"And this time?"

"This time, the signal just shut off. It was strong one moment and then - - nothing, like someone had thrown a switch. The first time it was gradual. The signal lessened until it was not detectable and then, after thirty minutes it reversed itself, becoming stronger until it was back to its original strength."

Dylan ran his hands through his hair. "Harper? What are you doing down there?"

Rommie watched Dylan, afraid to say anything for or against Harper. She knew Dylan had been nervous about sending the young man on this personal mission of his and now it appeared that his fears were justified.

Dylan sighed loudly, bringing Rommie out of her reverie. "Keep monitoring the equipment, Rommie. He has to be out there. He has two signal boosters, for goodness sake! He can't have just disappeared."

"Yes, Dylan." She adjusted the sensitivity of the scanning device again, hoping to find a signal from the young man.

"I'll be in my quarters, Rommie." And with that he walked out of the Machine Shop, his shoulders drooping as thoughts of Harper's desertion ran through his mind.

<><><>

Dylan was sitting in an overstuffed chair, staring at nothing in particular when the door chime sounded. "Come." He sighed as he looked up to see who was visiting him in the middle of the night. "Trance, what brings you here tonight?"

"I know about Harper."

"You know what?"

She smiled sadly. "I know you've lost contact with him and that you think he has deserted you - - us. You couldn't be further from the truth, Dylan. Give him some time. He will come home to us."

Dylan stared up at her. "Are you sure of this?"

Trance nodded. "I don't know why you can't track him right at this moment in time - - but I do see him coming home again. When he comes, he will bring the means of salvation to an entire population of peoples." Trance smiled again and then turned and left.

The door whisked shut behind her and Dylan shook his head. "Now what the hell is that supposed to mean?"

<><><>

"Nine hours. It's been nine hours, Rommie."

"I know that, Dylan. One minute there was nothing - - and then he was back, or, rather his signal was back."

Dylan nodded. "Have you tried to contact him yet?"

Rommie shook her head. "I thought maybe you would like to do that, Dylan."

"Yes, Rommie - - I would really like to do that." Dylan took a deep breath. "Open a channel please."

Just then Harper's voice came through the com. "Andromeda? Do you read?"

Dylan's eyes opened wide. "Harper! Where the hell have you been?"

"Um…" Harper's voice was full of confusion as he answered. "At my Aunt and Uncle's house. Why? Is something wrong? Has something happened?"

"Calm down, Mr. Harper. Everything is fine - - now. It's just that we lost your signal - - for over nine hours."

"Nine hours?" Harper squeaked. "How'd that happen?"

Dylan rubbed the back of his neck. 'I don't know, Harper. It happened earlier yesterday as well - - except that time the signal faded away gradually, was gone about thirty minutes and then came back just as gradually. Any ideas as to what could have caused these anomalies?"

Harper immediately surmised that the first occurrence was when he was in the tunnels - - but he wasn't about to tell Dylan that - - at least not yet. The second time was a mystery to him, however. All he could think of was a shielding device of some sort - - but that made no sense at all. His relatives would never be able to afford a shield - - and who would they be shielding from? He shook his head, knowing it was useless to guess at what had happened.

"Um, Dylan? Maybe once I'm back I can analyze the data from the recorder I'm carrying and figure out exactly what happened. I just can't do anything from down here."

"Understood, Harper. How much longer are you going to be gone?"

Harper hesitated. If everything went well, he could be ready to leave in a matter of hours. If not - - then it might be days before he could get away. He shrugged to himself. "I really don't know, Dylan. I'm hoping to wrap things up here today - - if not, maybe tomorrow."

Dylan rubbed his forehead. He knew he needed to be patient and give Harper the time he needed to say goodbye to his home - - for the final time. "Okay - - keep us informed."

"You got it, Boss. Talk to you later."

"Right," Dylan mumbled as he turned and walked out of the Machine Shop. It was going to be a long day.

<><><>

Harper hurried down the street, absentmindedly kicking the garbage out of his way as he went and not even noticing the burnt out buildings along the way. His mind was on the meeting he had set up for this morning. His entire reason for coming back to Earth hinged on this meeting and he was nervous that it would all fall apart - - and there would be nothing he could do about it.

He looked up as he approached the square, looking around quickly for Nietzschean patrols. When he saw none, he breathed a small sigh of relief and ducked into the nearest café. He nodded once to the woman standing behind the counter and then went quickly through the door leading into the back room.

"Seamus!"

"You came - - I wasn't sure."

The other man nodded. "To tell you the truth - - I wasn't too sure myself."

Harper smiled. "I understand that. This may not be paradise, but it's still hard to leave here. If nothing else - - it's home."

"And I'm needed here, Seamus. I am necessary to the rebellion. Without me, my cell would fall apart, and I'm not saying that to be conceited."

Harper nodded. "I know that. But what I told you in the tunnels is the honest truth. The Nietzscheans are going to attack in a couple of days. They will overrun the tunnels. Your cell will be wiped out - - and you along with it." He put his hand on the other man's arm. "I need you to come with me."

"I can't desert my people, Seamus!"

"But it won't make a difference if you stay! Don't you see? This has all happened before and nothing you can do will change it - - except coming with me. Save yourself and live to fight another day - - please!"

The young man turned away from where Harper stood. He slowly shook his head. "I don't think I can just walk away from the fight, Seamus."

Harper took a deep breath and then told him what he'd told himself he would never reveal to anyone while he was on Earth. "You can't win the fight on Earth because it will all be gone in just a couple of years."

The other young man spun around to face him. "What are you saying?"

"The Earth will be destroyed - - and there in nothing we can do to stop it. The fight? It's out there now." Harper pointed upwards. "Come with me and continue the fight against the oppressors."

"I need - - I need some time to think about this."

Harper nodded and the young man pushed by him, leaving Harper alone in the storeroom.

<><><>

Harper was sitting on the ground, leaning against a grimy wall - - waiting. It had been a couple of hours since he'd dropped the bombshell and been left standing in that storeroom all alone. This was their favorite meeting spot as boys, so he should be easy to find - - should he come looking.

And then, suddenly, he wasn't alone any more. He looked up into a face filled with anguish and he stood. Grasping the other man's arms, he looked into his eyes. "Are you coming with me then?"

The young man nodded.

"Did you make the recording, like I asked?"

Again the young man nodded. "Yes - - I left it with the cell, along with instructions for its use."

Harper smiled. "Good - - let's get going then."

They turned as one and headed back toward a deserted part of the city.

<><><>

"Dylan? Can you read me?"

"Harper!"

"Rommie? Where's Dylan?"

"I've just notified him of your contact. He'll be along shortly."

Just then the door to the Machine Shop whisked open and Dylan hurried inside. "Harper!"

"Hey Boss!"

"You ready to come home, Mr. Harper?"

"You betcha."

"Great - - stand by. Rommie? Bring him home."

"Aye, Dylan." Rommie activated the QTD and began preparations to bring Harper back from the past. "Ready, Harper?"

"Just about - - Rommie, full signal boost and activate channel seven."

"Channel seven?"

"Just do it - - please, Rommie."

Dylan lifted as eyebrow in question and Rommie just shrugged.

"Hang on - - activating QTD, adding in channel seven - - and, full signal boost. Here we go."

A bright light suffused the area as Rommie frantically worked the instrument controls. A frown flitted across her face as the data streamed in front of her eyes. "I don't understand, Dylan. There's too much data."

"Too much data?"

"It's like…"

And then the light dissipated and Harper stood on the platform of the QTD - - and he wasn't alone. Harper grinned and jumped down from the device, pulling the other man with him.

"Dylan Hunt - - meet Brendan Lahey, my…"

"Cousin." Dylan was stunned. "Harper? How did you do this?"

Harper winced, knowing Dylan was thinking of when he'd used the teleporter - - and had to leave Sara behind. "I had a lock of his hair from when we were kids - - and I took it back with me…"

"In the black box you set by your feet."

Harper blushed. "Yeah - - and I used that to fool the QTD into thinking it had transported him already - - and the signal boosters just helped with the excess mass."

Dylan nodded. "And what about his speech during the Nietzschean attacks, Harper? You know how pivotal that speech was in inciting riots on other slave worlds."

"All taken care of, Boss. Brendan made a tape of that speech and the rebels will play it when the Nietzscheans attack. We haven't changed a thing by bringing him here. I was really careful!"

Dylan nodded as he rubbed the tension from his neck. "Okay, Mr. Harper - - what's done, is done." He took a deep breath. "Welcome aboard, Mr. Lahey."

Brendan stuck his hand out. "It's Brendan. And thank you - - for everything."

"It was all Harper's idea." Dylan turned to Harper. "Find him a place to bunk down. I'll give you two a few days and then we will need to discuss your future, Brendan."

"Right, Captain."

"Call me Dylan."

<><><>

The End…