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Chapter Two – Remembering The Past

THE GREEN PEN

By Jules

Author Notes – thank you for everybody who is still reading. It truly means a lot that people are reading after such a long time of being away. I hope you enjoy this next instalment.

This is the second story in my new series, and it would be helpful for you to read Please Tell Someone as this story continues straight into a new page from the ending scenes of that story.

The reason for this title will not become apparent until much later in the story, but was thought of ten (10) years ago or more, when the original plot came to me long before I added in the new adoption arc.

Any legal references, laws, requirements for reporting abuse, the steps taken afterwards, court proceedings and outcomes and interview protocols are all fictional. Some are based loosely on real laws and circumstances, but a lot are fabricated to suit my story only and have been changed to suit the plot I have derived. The same with which authorities are involved and their individual roles and responsibilities.

This chapter will be a little darker and angsty for most of it, because it is building to some of the most important scenes of the whole beginning adoption process – and that is Lucas’s long held secret has just been found out. But I intend to have quite a few light-hearted ones as well and some new things happening.

Sorry folks, this second chapter became too long again – actually half of the stuff I wanted to put in here won’t come up until Chapter Three.

There will be a lot happening in this story as well, so I am not sure how long it will be yet. Quite a few more chapters longer than the first story.

Chapter Two – Remembering The Past

from the end of the previous chapter:

Some people thought that because he spilled his guts, that now he would just come to accept that everything was going to change for the better. They assumed that everything would be different now because others had said so, but it wasn’t. The feelings he had now, were the same as they were before last night, and every day and night for the last several years. The same fears and apprehensions.

Make no mistake, very little had changed at all.

And now the story continues:

Nathan Bridger retrieved two icy cold cans of soda from the mess hall and made his way towards the Mammal Engineering section of the boat. Three hours ago he had quietly knocked on the hatch door to the small cabin, waiting a few moments to see if a voice would invite him in.

Lucas had heard the knock, but remained in a similar position he had been in on top of his bunk around lunch time, trying to block out a lot of what was going around in his head. For a second time today, he closed his eyes and evened out his breathing, giving the impression that he was still sleeping. He could take a fairly good guess at who might be knocking. If it wasn’t the Captain, then it was fairly even odds that the unannounced visitor would have been Ben or Kristin.

A part of him wanted to openly ask the Captain in to talk, but that little voice inside his head, and the devil sitting on his shoulder reminded him that he shouldn’t. The teenager had heard the door open, but close shortly again afterwards, without the visitor entering his cabin. He doubted he would get them to believe a third time.

The knock came again now, just as he predicted, with a similar pattern and at a similar volume, so Lucas made the assumption that it could be the same person. “Come in,” he invited, shuffling his shoulder against the aqua tube. The pain was still present, but he was trying his best to ignore it. He would need to move for real soon and stretch his back and legs.

The handle of the hatch spun, and the door itself opened to reveal the Captain, who gave a smile in greeting, and took a step inside, closing the door behind him. Lucas hadn’t turned around to face him yet, watching the water, and appearing to be lost in deep thought and contemplation. Darwin was nowhere to be seen, so it wasn’t the dolphin drawing his attention.

After a few moments of awkward silence, Lucas turned towards him, “Hi,” not knowing what else to say.

Sometimes silence was good for the soul the teenager convinced himself. It allowed him space to think. At other times though, silence was like a silent cancer if allowed to grow and fester. Different sides of the same coin. Lucas didn’t want that coming between him and Bridger.

Hello, I am glad to see you awake. I came by to visit a little earlier, but you were still sleeping. I didn’t want to disturb you.” What the Captain didn’t voice out loud was how tired the teenager still appeared upon taking a close look.

The genuine efforts coming from the man, made Lucas’ guilt increase at the small deceptions he had created. He was relieved that the first question out of the Captain’s mouth wasn’t, “Are you okay?” Because he would not have had a positive response, or any favourable answer at all to such a ridiculous query.

Bridger had quite a few words of description for what he was seeing going on in front of him. The teenager’s demeanour, and body language spoke volumes, but he chose to keep all of them to himself and deal with what was right in front of him on a one on one basis. That method had been proven to work so far, so he saw it as the best way of taking a step forward.

I have been awake for a while now,” Lucas admitted, the answer somewhere in the middle of the truth and an outright lie. He found himself dozing off in small snatches for several minutes during the afternoon, but not because he wanted to sleep. More like his body forcibly demanding that he take things a little easier. He never reached anything that would be considered proper sleep.

I bought this with me, thinking you must be a little thirsty by now,” Nathan said, handing over the second can, and opening his own. “I could use the extra sugar rush myself,” he added, hoping that by drinking from his own can, he may encourage the boy to do the same without needing a reason other than offering friendship.

Lucas saw through the charade for what it was, but didn’t openly voice any objection, and took the offered can and opened it, drinking from it. “Thanks.”

I was having lunch brought back to my quarters to share, but you had already left to come back here,” Bridger said casually, trying to gauge the boy’s mood.

Sorry, everything you said earlier became a bit too much to handle I guess….,” he said, looking down and away from the Captain, not knowing how else to describe the feelings of panic that he had been trying to escape from.

You don’t need to apologise. I know it is a lot to take in, but we will do it a little at a time, together,” Bridger responded, walking over and standing by the bunk bed. Pleased to see that there was still no spoken protest about the distance between them. Wariness was still present on the teenager’s features though.

Physical contact was still being actively avoided and perceived as a threat, rather than offering support or comfort. This was something that Bridger intended to work on himself, but also to let Ben and Kristin be aware of and the other crew members. There was a long way to go, and it could be some considerable time before the teenager would feel safe with anybody being close to him or putting their hands on him.

A few of the biggest questions of all were still rolling around in Lucas’ mind, and he hadn’t found a suitable answer for any of them yet. He still didn’t feel safe, and that lump of fear was still lodged in his throat of what would happen when his father found out.

Did he want the pain to stop? Yes.

Did he think that anything was really going to happen just because he let his guard down? No.

Was his father going to allow him any kind of freedom? Definitely Not.

Was he ready to take such a huge risk? Not Ready and Undecided.

Was he prepared to let Bridger help him? Maybe.

The next sentence out of the teenager’s mouth left no doubt what he had been thinking about before the Captain entered the room. And he understood why Lucas had a hard time letting the subject go entirely.

Are you sure they know?” Lucas said, looking back at the aqua tunnel as Darwin swam into view. Once again he was wringing his hands together in nervousness about what those few crew members might be thinking.

I know it sounds like a stupid question,” Lucas added, knowing that the Captain had already explained that those few who had overheard, would keep his dreadful secret to themselves. It was meant to be a rhetorical question.

It doesn’t sound stupid at all, Lucas,” Bridger replied, “I know this all sounds very scary for you right at the moment. And you have every right to be upset.”

I don’t want them to treat me different now than they already do because of it,” Lucas stated, trying to justify what he was feeling with rationalisation. He had never been in a position where someone knew what had been happening. And now he had to deal with the fact that it wasn’t one person, but nine.

Give them a chance, I think you might be surprised,” the Captain said, trying to quell the boy’s apprehension.

It wasn’t my intention to upset you further by bringing the subject up, but like I already said, I wanted us to be as honest with each other as possible. And I thought you deserved to know before you heard it as a rumour from some other source.

While we are on the subject of being honest then, I should tell you that I know about your son, Robert passing away….,” Lucas said, leaving the sentence incomplete.

You do?” Bridger said with surprise. He could see that the teenager was trying to be tactful, and had not wanted to bring up such a painful topic out of the blue.

Ben told me a few days ago, when he was trying to tell me a few things about himself,” Lucas stated. “For what little it is worth now, I am sorry you lost your son.”

Thank you for telling me, and I know it must have been quite a painful moment for Ben too, because they were very good friends for quite a while at the academy together,” Bridger replied. “Robert didn’t share too much of their antics together with me during their time there. I am still trying to find out all the details about them painting a float pink.”

Pink!” Lucas said with a small smile appearing on his face, wondering what other secrets Krieg had about those days that hadn’t been shared with the Captain.

Yes, they were not always the well-behaved cadets they should have been,” Bridger said. “Maybe you can worm the full story out of Ben one day.”

You are welcome to ask any questions about my son,” Bridger offered. “I have been trying to remind myself recently that not all the memories I have are bad ones, and that I have a lot of great memories of times we shared together.

That is great that you have some happy ones,” Lucas replied, not knowing if he would ever venture down that pathway.

With some honesty being shared between them, the teenager decided to change the direction of the conversation entirely away from Bridger’s son.

There was something that I meant to say back in your quarters, but after hearing what you had to say, I guess it slipped my mind when I left there in such a rush.

You can talk to me any time, day or night,” Bridger re-emphasised. “And if it is not me, there are other people here willing to listen.”

I feel like I owe an apology to everybody for leading them all on a wild-goose chase and having to search for me when I was hiding,” Lucas said, dropping his gaze away from the Captain as guilt and shame spread across his features. “Sounded like a good idea at the time, but now I guess it sounds pretty stupid to other people,” he added, looking up at the ceiling.

Not something I am entirely proud of by any means, but I have had to do it on more than a few occasions and it has definitely saved me in the past from something much worse happening,” Lucas explained.

What could you possibly say after hearing something like that? Bridger asked himself, caught without a single word he could think of in reply. He wanted to reach out with a hand of sympathy, but he knew that it wasn’t what Lucas was searching for or wanting right now.

The mere thought that any child had to resort to hiding away to escape torment or physical punishment was beyond his comprehension. That they had to come up with strategies in their own home to avoid being hurt and in an attempt to achieve anything close to safety.

Nathan found himself wondering about those other times and if Lucas was ever found by anyone or had come out on his own accord eventually. He shuddered to think of what the repercussions might have been if any of those occasions had ended with his father being the one who had found him hiding out. But he didn’t dare ask at this point.

The fact that it was this boy sitting in front of him, only strengthened his resolve to make SeaQuest a place where Lucas could feel safe and not have to worry about cowering away from his father or anybody else. Where he was encouraged to be himself and allowed to grow up as normal as possible without fear.

What Lucas had chosen to reveal though about his past, made the Captain think that he should at least be willing to admit to his own similar actions in the past.

I wouldn’t say you are the only one to do that. I have a little first-hand experience of hiding away myself at various times in my life,” Bridger answered truthfully.

Lucas sat up, looking directly at the Captain, wanting to challenge his notion of hiding. Nathan could see the unasked question, and spoke first.

You are talking to someone who hid himself away on a deserted island for a number of years until very recently being dragged back under false pretences,” Bridger replied. “If it hadn’t been for Admiral Noyce’s persistence, I would probably still be there right now, instead of standing here talking to you. After Robert was taken from us both, and then Carol passed away, I guess a large part of me saw it as the only logical solution.”

I wanted to leave the rest of the world behind that I thought had dealt me such a terrible hand. So I have done my own fair share of hiding away, maybe just using a bigger space and an island. At the time, I couldn’t face anybody either, or even myself.”

The teenager thought for a minute of how much of their choices did or didn’t mirror each other, and he tried to draw out the inferences that Bridger was hinting at. On some level he could see the Captain’s retreat as escaping too or hiding away as he had put it, and their need to be away from everybody else may not be so different. But Lucas wasn’t so sure that he couldn’t think of enough similarities, where Bridger or anybody else would be able to comprehend or begin to understand the life he had been forced to endure for the past eight years.

I was expecting Kristin to be with you,” Lucas said, genuinely surprised that he hadn’t seen the doctor for most of the afternoon.

She is getting some rest herself after spending the early morning hours watching over you in med-bay,” Bridger informed him.

Don’t worry, she will be bugging you soon enough, and she didn’t mind at all. She already reminded me that being a doctor has prepared her for longer hours,” the Captain stated, seeing guilt coming to play on the boy’s features at hearing such an admission.

Are you ready to come with me and get some dinner in the mess hall?” Bridger inquired. “Otherwise you and me will be both in trouble, after you missed lunch.”

No, I am not,” Lucas managed to answer truthfully, “but let’s get it over with,” he agreed to with resignation.

If he didn’t start showing some attempts at eating a bit more regularly, he knew he could expect the doctor, the Captain and Ben to be hounding him. A lifetime of poor meal times wouldn’t disappear overnight, but as long as they thought he was making an effort, then perhaps he could avoid their scrutiny at what he put into his mouth. They didn’t know how bad it had gotten in the past and had only begun to see one of the measures he had employed to get through some lean times.

Lucas maneuvered his body to the edge of the bunk, unable to hide a grimace of pain as the bruising on his hip reminded him where it was.

Take it slow,” Bridger said with concern, watching the boy’s face, and seeing the discomfort.

Stubbornness won out again, and Lucas refused any assistance from the Captain of climbing down from the top bunk. Once he had both feet on the floor, he stretched his back as much as it would allow, the stitches pulling and making themselves known.

The Captain walked beside the teenager, trying to remain calm and relaxed, hoping some of it would rub off, allowing the teenager to dictate the pace as they exited the small cabin.

There were a few crew members attending to their duties, and making their way through the corridors as the two of them headed towards the mess hall. Bridger kept his attention focused on looking out for anybody who wanted to stop too long. But his fears of that happening were soon quashed. The foot traffic was fairly constant, but the two of them made their way towards the mess hall without interference or hindrance.

Lucas was trying to push aside his uneasiness and pretend today was just like any other day, walking about the vessel, but his gaze was everywhere at once. Looking side to side, and continually glancing behind him as they took the longer route once more, away from the stairs.

Bridger could see that the teenager was worried about other crew members being out in the corridor and seeing his slower range of movement due to his injured hip. He wanted to try and direct the teenager’s mind elsewhere, so decided to start some casual conversation.

It was smart of you to take Ben’s PAL Communicator with you into the vent, but next time, please make it much easier for everybody involved, including me, and let me know where you are,” Bridger teased good-naturedly.

I nearly did at one point,” Lucas admitted ruefully, walking with his hands shoved deep into his pockets. “Darwin gave my position away quickly enough.”

Besides what would be the point of that? It couldn’t be called hiding then,” Lucas pointed out, tapping a finger against his temple to signify that some thought process had taken place at the time, even though the act itself had been a last minute choice.

Bridger was surprised at the teenager admitting to almost giving in and allowing his hiding place to be discovered, but didn’t comment further.


As the two of them neared the mess hall, the apprehension that Lucas had felt only a few days ago quickly resurfaced, and the teenager stopped at the doorway. He saw the Captain had stopped walking too, and could probably guess at his current state of mind. Taking a deep breath, and exhaling slowly, he felt a hand from Bridger on his left shoulder in encouragement of entering.

The time of day was busy, and there were a lot of people inside gathered in different sized groups at the tables. The room was just as noisy and the smells from the food wafted up from the serving tables. Lucas felt his stomach growl quietly. A few crew members had looked up at the Captain being present, but for the most part they went about eating their own meals and talking amongst themselves.

“Captain, over here,” Krieg called out, signalling to his commanding officer and pleased to see the reluctant teenager trying to overcome his awkwardness.

Bridger saw the hand shoot up from the young Lieutenant, and was grateful that there was only a few of the senior crew members at that particular table.

Good evening, gentlemen,” Bridger greeted those at the table.

Seated at the table along with Ben Krieg was Jonathan Ford, Miguel Ortiz and Tim O’Neill. Lucas chose a seat next to Ben, with the Captain sitting on the opposite side.

Good evening, Captain and Lucas,” Commander Ford returned.

For now, all of them were trying their best to keep the atmosphere at the table calm and natural. They had questions on their minds, and all of them were trying to ignore what they had heard the night before. Those present at the table were trying their best to accommodate the teenager and treat him just as they did before they knew about his abuse.

Hi,” was the short acknowledgement from the teenager, as he glanced around the table, pleased to see familiar faces and not too many people to confront all at once. Lucas had to reposition how he was sitting at the table on a couple of occasions, due to his stitches and sore hip, but he picked up a menu that was casually laying on the table, trying to use it to mask what he was feeling. He could do this he silently told himself

Ben Krieg was the first to break the ice and try to drum up some casual conversation. “Lots on offer today, Lucas.”

Oh yeah, what did you choose?” the teenager asked, turning to the dark-haired man to ask the question.

Bridger was pleased to see the tension he had noticed across the teenager’s shoulders begin to relax just a fraction. They couldn’t continue to walk on eggs shells around him every minute of the day. Krieg fell into the role of supportive friend very quickly and easily without it appearing forced or contrived.

This is what I was thinking about ordering,” Ben said, pointing to it on the folded cardboard booklet and letting the teenager peruse the description and ingredients to see if it was to his liking or something he would be willing to try.

Too many spices and flavours all at once for me,” Lucas commented, continuing down the list and looking to choose something else.

He was surprised at the large array and variation available. But with more than two hundred people on-board to cater for, the likes, dislikes and preferences from one person to the next would probably be just as extensive he surmised. He didn’t envy the kitchen staff of coming up with something to suit and feed everyone three times everyday, and that didn’t include extras like drinks, snacks and fruit.

Ben moved closer, using the menu that the teenager was holding as a reference, and used a finger to run down the list, commenting on each dish that was on offer.

No you don’t want to try that one.”

That one doesn’t sound too bad, but a little on the healthy side for me.”

Lucas was listening to the recommendations and disapproval’s coming from Ben, grinning at little at the man’s off-beat sense of humour as he deliberately mispronounced a couple of the menu options. He didn’t necessarily agree with Ben’s personal assessment and wanted to make his own choice.

The teenager didn’t seem phased or concerned about Ben’s proximity inside his personal space, which was seen as a small victory by everyone at the table. Kristin had been successful to a lesser degree, but some of that would be because she was also a doctor and had been treating his injuries. It was only a day ago that Lucas had not been accepting of anybody being near him, including the Captain.

His finely tuned alarm system would let him know when he needed to be wary of anyone in particular. Everybody else was being kept at arms length, both mentally and physically. For now, Krieg and Bridger were the only ones who Lucas was willing to tolerate being close enough to allow any actual touch or personal contact.

Gestures of support or comfort were something he wasn’t used to dealing with, and often shrunk away from them as a perceived threat. He didn’t always know what was expected or wanted from him in return, and they were rarely given freely before. In the past, affection of any kind showing love or kindness were unfamiliar and non-existent in his life.

Ford was silently following the Lieutenant’s attempts at lightening the mood, thinking Krieg might be over-doing it by commenting on nearly every dish on the menu. But a small genuine smile coming from Lucas, and a few tugs of laughter told Bridger that Ben’s off-the-cuff approach was working like a charm.

The Captain was very pleased with the Morale officer’s efforts. Jonathan and the other men found themselves a little out of their league when it came to being around someone as smart and intuitive as Lucas and much younger. They envied the natural ability that Krieg applied with ease to put the teenager at ease, seeming to be able to do it without drawing attention that he was doing so.

Lucas didn’t voice anything out loud that could spoil the moment, and he could see that Ben meant well, so he played along, appreciating the genuine attempts at normalcy. The teenager knew that he wouldn’t be able to handle seeing concerned looks and glances from everyone all the time. He told himself that he would have to internalise a lot of the emotions and keep them off his face in the coming days and weeks ahead, to allow the Captain and the crew to go about their own daily lives. But that was going to be easier said than put into practice.


Tim and Miguel were already half-way through their own meals, and Bridger had made a selection of his own, and added a hot cup of coffee. Before Ben could suggest something else, the head Chef Don, approached the table, carrying a piping hot dish, setting it down before the teenager.

I thought I would provide something from my personal recipes,” the small Italian man said with a smile. “Something simple that my mother taught me to make when I wasn’t much older than you,” he added.

Lucas sniffed the steaming plate appreciatively, “Spaghetti,” he said. Pasta was something he did like. “Thank you. I hope you didn’t go to any extra trouble just for me.”

I put a little extra cheese on top, just to give it a little extra flavour,” the Don informed the teenager. “The sauce is exactly like she used to make at home, and thick enough to stick to your insides and keep you full for longer.”

Bridger could see that the Chef had gone to a little extra trouble that Ben had mentioned earlier in the day, and it looked as though his efforts were worth it.

The cinnamon custard that I had in med-bay yesterday was nice,” he commented casually, taking a fork and swirling a few of the strands of saucy pasta around the tines.

The doctor wasn’t specific there about what she wanted, except something gentle on your stomach,” the chef replied. “Come by the galley kitchen any time and I will put some aside for you. It is not hard to make. I can even teach you if you want me to. The same with the spaghetti you are trying right now.”

Lucas didn’t know how to respond. Nobody had ever offered to show him how to cook anything before. Attempts at making something to eat that he had made during college came about as a necessity. They ended up resulting in a mixture of pure dumb luck or a horrific disaster that happen to taste good.

Don could see the hesitation from the teenager, and erred on the side of caution about pushing too early. “Maybe another time,” he said, seeing that the teenager wasn’t quite sure to do about the offer to teach him how to make a few simple meals for himself.

Maybe,” the teenager agreed, leaving the suggestion open to discussion at another time.

The chef was trying to be accommodating just as much as all the other people seated at the table around him, and whilst Lucas could appreciate that they were trying to do nice things, and the offers of help and inclusiveness were genuine. It was also all a bit too much and becoming overwhelming with everybody trying to do it every time he turned around. He bit his tongue and decided to keep any comments to himself.

I don’t see that option on the menu,” Ben interjected, pleased to see that the kid was eating something. “Looks and smells great.”

Forget it, Ben, it’s not for you. I made it just for him,” Don affirmed, with a cheeky wink at the teenager, signalling that he was deliberately tormenting the Lieutenant with some light banter.

What about my individual needs,” Ben huffed in mock indignation. “When can I expect some extra special treatment like that?”

For you Krieg, never,” Don said with finality to his voice. “You already cause me enough problems on a daily basis when bringing all of my ingredients on-board.”

Ben was about to defend himself, but the Chef continued before he could do so.

You will get what I give you, Krieg and like it, or the only thing you are going to get from me is a bunch of fives,” Don openly taunted. “You and everybody else get the regular menu that is put in front of you.”

Those seated at the table were laughing at the impromptu exchange. Lucas enjoyed it for what it was worth, knowing that the Chef had gone out of his way just for him. He didn’t want that to always be the case though. It was all a part of that being singled-out feeling that he wasn’t used to and didn’t like, even if those involved had the best of intentions.

Come by tomorrow or the next day, Lucas, or even next week and I will give you a full tour of the galley kitchen and show you where everything is,” Don suggested. “That way you can make something for yourself to your liking any time you want, day or night. No schedule, just when you are ready or have five minutes spare.”

That would be great, thanks,” Lucas responded, thinking that he would prefer to be able to slip into the kitchen when the mess hall had fewer people about and grab something. That would suit him better than trying to stick to regular meal breaks or times.

Don seemed pleased that the teenager was open to that idea, “Please, don’t bring Krieg with you is all I ask as a favour in return.”

Lucas couldn’t help but laugh a little at the shocked look on Ben’s face again at the Chef’s words. Bridger and the other men at the table were hiding smirks of their own at Krieg’s expense.

What is this, pick on Krieg day?” Ben shot back.

What did you do?” Lucas found himself asking, thinking there must be a story behind Don’s statement. The Captain was a little more than curious himself.

Hey, I am innocent until proven guilty,” Krieg started to say, before seeing the Chef fold his arms in front of him, and taking on a demanding stance of wanting him to admit the truth. The tone of Ben’s voice gave himself away that something had indeed happened to incur the small man’s wrath.

Out with it, Krieg,” Miguel spoke up on everybody’s behalf.

What! There might have been a little misunderstanding during my first couple of weeks living on-board here. But it wasn’t my fault.”

Sure it wasn’t,” Ford commented, having been present during that time and knowing a little of what had taken place.

A little misunderstanding!” Don said at full volume, instantly regretting yelling.

My apologises, Captain. But that misunderstanding involved the destruction of at least three appliances by him in my kitchen during the first two weeks alone. Before you came on-board, Sir with Admiral Noyce.”

Three?” Tim O’Neill weighed into the conversation. “Boy, Krieg, even I am not that challenged by appliances.”

Yeah, well you had to be there at the time,” Ben said in his own defence. “I swear some of those gadgets had it in for me is all.”

I promise I will come on my own for the tour,” Lucas promised the Chef. “I don’t want to be responsible for setting off the toaster,” he added as a joke.

Thanks for the spaghetti, that was really nice,” the teenager said, putting his fork down to signal that he had eaten all he wanted. He had consumed most of what was on the plate.

Glad you enjoyed it,” Don said, taking the plate and heading back to the kitchen.

I will bring out your dinner in a moment, Captain,” the Chef said to Nathan. “And a second cup of coffee?”

Yes please if you don’t mind,” Bridger confirmed with gratitude.

I guess I will bring you something out to eat as well, Krieg, before you start complaining,” Don said.

But I haven’t given you my order yet?” Ben pointed out.

Yes, you did,” the Chef said, confiscating the menu from Krieg’s hand. He had a fairly good knowledge of what the man preferred to eat. Those seated at the table continued to laugh at the casual banter.

I will have another cup of coffee with you, Captain,” Ford offered. Bridger and the Commander went about quietly talking between each other about some of the glitches that were still occurring on-board, and other issues related to the vessel.


I will get us something to drink, Lucas,” Ben offered, walking over and collecting a few cold water bottles.

Miguel accepted the one offered to him, but Tim shook his head negatively, getting up from the table and preparing to leave the mess hall.

I am going to tend to some of my plants,” O’Neill informed the small group.

As he sat down, and noting that Lucas was not really listening to any of the discussion about anything work related, Krieg decided to introduce a new topic of conversation that he knew would pique the teenager’s interest.

Lucas opened up the water bottle he was holding, drinking the contents. The first sentence out of Ben’s mouth had drawn Bridger’s attention as well.

Only two more weeks, Lucas until this year’s game roster comes out,” Ben said idly. “As well as the draft picks for this season.”

The first mention of anything baseball related definitely had the teenager’s brain kicking into gear.

Yeah, well, I haven’t seen a game played live for quite a while,” Lucas replied. “But I hope this year my team have a few more options up their sleeve than they usually do. Some of the draft picks for the last two years leave a lot to be desired because they haven’t helped us to anything close to a championship.”

We can watch the first game on the big screen in the recreation room,” Krieg announced. “I will mark it on the calendar, and let you know who is playing when.”

That would be terrific,” Lucas said with a touch of excitement in his voice for the first time today. “Are there any other people on-board who follow baseball?”

Bound to be, with a crowd as large as the one we are currently carrying,” Ben said with certainty. “I will put up some flyers on the notice boards, and anybody else can come and watch too.”

Lucas smiled at the idea, though he didn’t want to admit out loud that he secretly hoped it was only a small group of people wanting to watch. A handful of people would be his personal preference so that he would be able to enjoy the game. He didn’t want to tell Ben that he had watched or listened to games mostly on his own in the past. Unfortunately, he had already revealed that he had never seen a live professional game.

The teenager got up from the table, needing to stretch the muscles in his side and quell some of the pain starting to make itself more noticeable.

Heading out?” Ben asked casually, not wanting to crowd the kid, but see the needing to know expression on the Captain’s face at Lucas’ intentions to leave the table.

Yeah, cannot sit in that one position any longer,” Lucas admitted with a grimace of discomfort.

Any plans for the rest of the evening, Lucas?” Bridge queried as he put down the cup of coffee.

Not really, unless you have something specific in mind you want me to do?” the teenager replied.

Nothing at all,” Bridger asserted, “Please take it easy for now though.” He wanted to repeat the ‘my door is always open’ speech, but didn’t think Lucas wanted to hear it again so soon.

Might spend some time with Darwin near the moon pool for a bit before heading back to my cabin,” Lucas informed him. “After that, I have no idea.”

The four remaining adults watched the teenager pick up the partly empty water bottle, and make his way towards the mess hall doors. His pace at walking was still slow to watch and each of them could only guess at what thoughts were currently going through his head.

Don brought out the meals to the Captain and Krieg.

How do you think we all did?” Bridger asked, seeing that Don had seen the teenager leave the area as well.

Too early to tell for now,” Ben answered truthfully. “He was a little more relaxed than I thought he would in here around everybody.”

Thank you for the food for us and Lucas, Don,” Nathan said to the Chef. “At least that wasn’t such a battle this time around.”

You are most welcome, Captain. I can see the anxiousness in that young man, even after speaking to you earlier about him. I hope he will start to open up and find his feet around here a little more.”

Let’s hope so,” Bridger agreed wholeheartedly.

I only ask that everyone keep a watch out for any signs that he may not be coping, as best you can without drawing his attention,” he added, knowing that such a feat was no small task.

You have our combined co-operation, Captain,” Ford spoke on everybody’s behalf.

Thank you all, it is appreciated,” he replied with gratitude. He could only hope that those efforts would be enough when it was needed the most.

Inwardly, Nathan was worried about what might come about once Bill Noyce questioned the boy’s father about the abuse.


For the first half an hour after dinner, Lucas was content enough to submerge his hand in the water of the moon pool, and move it around aimlessly. His thoughts taking him far away. Darwin had come to say hello,and the teenager smiled at the animal, but it soon faded as he tried to force away the encroaching shadows that were beginning to build.

The teenager was happy to see the dolphin. He wished he could go for a swim, and just allow the water to wash away some of the fear and anxiety, but unfortunately it would be at least another week, maybe longer until he stitches would be ready to come out.

Bridger and Ben meant well, as well as the other crew members, but what right did he have burdening everyone with his own problems at all? They barely knew anything about him or what had happened in the past. Over the years, he had taught himself to be stronger mentally, just like he had told the Captain. Sure he could hide his emotions for a time. He could mask the pain sometimes. He could keep everything pent up inside until he couldn’t stand it any longer.

But that wasn’t always a good solution apparently. Recent history would show that it could and had ended with disastrous results, making him reveal secrets he had wanted to keep hidden until the end of his days. A large part of him wanted to push everyone away again, but some of the crew members were not letting him do that. Bridger being at the forefront. The man was making him take a hard look at himself and face some demons that he didn’t want to surface.

Slapping the water with his hand, What was he going to do? He asked himself silently.

Some scars left no visible trace behind, but went a lot deeper than mere physical reminders or heated words. That didn’t make them any less painful or damaging.

Bridger and the crew had barely an understanding of what had been occurring at home. They didn’t know everything yet, and he aimed to keep it that way for as long as possible. There were things that had happened in his past that he never wanted to tell anybody. It wasn’t quite as simple as telling them like a story or just parroting things that his father had done or said.

There was much more to the psychological hold his father had over him, that had developed over time. He doubted he would be able to quantify it anybody even if they wanted him to. He didn’t want to remember them, or live through some of those memories again.

Eight years was more than half his life time living in fear from day to day, and he didn’t think that anybody on-board this vessel truly understood what a mental battle that it was. Not just to want to exist, but to be allowed to live and survive. Two thousand, nine hundred and twenty days, give or take a few. More than seventy thousand hours. The numbers when you worked them out were staggering.

As anxiousness started to grow within him, tried and true methods that he had employed in the past crept into his mind. There were plans B and C if he ever needed them. They were meant to be last desperate minute or your life is under serious threat plans.

The injuries he was carrying now were not the worst he had ever received, though he was never admitting that to Kristin or anybody else. He had used both once each with varying degrees of successfulness. But here he was again now, still under the threat from his father’s wrath, so he may have to re-evaluate that.

Those plans involved the use of other people, and that was definitely something that he was trying to avoid. He had earned his independent stripes the hard way, and he didn’t want to drag anybody into his prison, even if they wanted to help. It was only a matter of time. Lucas knew that his father would find a way to stop anybody helping him.

Access to money was still a major problem in the immediate future if he decided that enough was enough and to just cut and run. There was a small amount of funds hidden away, but those too were only when there was no other option. He had disappeared in the past, he could do it again if it became necessary again. This time around, he would be a lot smarter he promised himself. He had not reached that point yet.

Lucas knew that the feelings and emotions that he had now, although perfectly normal some would argue with him, didn’t help him at all. He was going to have to try even harder to mask them from everybody. In public, where everybody could see him on-board, he was going to have to put on a different face.

The teenager had learnt from experience not to make such a big deal out of the things that hurt the most. It was the only way he had managed to teach himself to cope. He was going to have to deal with those feelings alone like he had always done, in the dark or in his cabin, when no one else but him would know.

Standing by the moon pool, he used the hand that wasn’t in the water to scrub at his tired face, forming a fist and using the knuckles to rub at his eyes. He was tired, but he doubted sleep was going to come any time in the next few hours, maybe even longer.

He couldn’t change his mind now, and just say ‘no’ to Bridger’s offer of help, like he probably should have done in the first place. He was going to have to keep himself busy and his mind occupied over the coming days and weeks.

Looking up and gazing about the immediate area, crew members could be seen passing by at various intervals. Thankfully none of them had stopped long enough to scrutinize him or report anything back to Kristin or the Captain.

Lucas left the area, and went back to his cabin. For the remainder of the night, he went about keeping his mind busy by starting on some of the software programming that he had promised Krieg for his stock. There were other smaller projects that he could keep himself occupied with at this time of night over the next few days. He felt like his mind was going around in circles at a million miles an hour. He was using the programming to slow down that thought process and force himself to work productively and block out everything else.

Working quietly away in his cabin, he didn’t have to worry about being spotted in the corridor or people asking questions about what he was doing. He was a little surprised that he didn’t see any sign of Ben or Bridger checking up on him. But even they needed to sleep sometime and take care of themselves.

By 3.00 a.m. he was fairly certain that most people on-board were sleeping, so he used that time of the night to head to the mess hall and grab a cup of coffee. The more he thought about this time of night and the quietness, the more he liked it. It might just be the plausible solution that he was looking for until something else presented itself.

It would be just after 5.00 a.m. and over two hours later that he could barely keep his eyes open and felt tired enough to attempt sleeping. He turned his music on, and pulled himself up onto the bed, hoping to prevent any nightmares from surfacing. Finding a way to lay without the stitches in his back pulling took a good twenty minutes.


The next morning, Doctor Kristin Westphalen stood outside the hatch door to the small cabin. Lucas had not come back to see her yesterday, so today she was coming to him instead. It was still fairly early, only approximately 7.00 a.m. She had not attended breakfast in the mess hall yet, but was hoping to catch Nathan before he started on the Bridge this morning to give him an update on the teenager’s physical recovery.

Feeling refreshed after gaining some much needed sleep overnight, and hoped that Lucas would have done the same. There were a few matters she wanted to tackle today about him, but one step at a time she told herself, and that was to check on his well-being first.

From this side of the door she could hear the music playing that he had talked about only yesterday. She knocked and waited patiently, repeating it a second time after a few minutes, but then she turned the handle thinking that the music may be preventing Lucas from hearing her at his door.

The door wasn’t locked, so she quietly entered the small room. She was prepared for a less than cordial reception at this time of the morning. Her own daughter had objected loudly on many occasions to anyone coming into her room before the crack of noon.

Doctor or not, it was the mothering instinct in her that kicked in hard when she approached the bed, and saw him asleep. The blanket was tangled around his ankles, and she felt her own parental skills starting to re-emerge after being absent for a number of years. She couldn’t bring herself to wake him up or disturb him unnecessarily. Any checks she wanted to do or questions she wanted to ask, could wait at least a few more hours.

The teenager must have sensed a presence close to him, as he turned over away from her, grimacing at the discomfort that resulted. A frown briefly crossed his features, but

soon smoothed out as he fell back into a deeper state of sleep. She didn’t understand how the loud music worked, but she could see the positive results for herself.

How dare any father or parent carry out such awful treatment of somebody who was supposed to be in their care? Just let her have five minutes alone with Mr Lawrence Wolenczak. She would soon show him the error of his ways.

She thought about the injuries she had seen and treated on him and recalled the fear in his voice. The absolute desolation she had heard from Lucas when he was speaking to Nathan and admitting to being subjected to his father’s tyranny over a prolonged period of time. The hopelessness that the teenager blindly accepted because he had never had the opportunity to experience anything different.

Never having the chance to dream or be part of a family environment that shed encouragement and everything else that was supposed to go on within a group of people that cared about each other. For any child to grow up losing that kind of faith, it was difficult to comprehend. To be afraid to reach out at the offer of help, or want to shy away from it because it felt unfamiliar and Lucas himself being made to feel unworthy of receiving it. Those were some of the worst kind of crimes in her eyes.

All of that only made her own protectiveness towards Lucas within her grow even stronger.

Kristin quietly left the room, closing the door behind, and heading towards the mess hall for breakfast.


Good morning, Nathan,” Kristin said cheerfully as she neared his table, pleased to see him still partaking in his own early morning meal. “I hope I am not disturbing you?”

Not at all,” Bridger said, returning a smile, and using a hand to invite the doctor to take a seat. “Please, join me in a cup of coffee.”

I am sorry that I wasn’t present last night at dinner,” she apologised. “I was a little more tired than I thought,” she added, pouring a cup of coffee for herself from the pot on the Captain’s table.

You needed some rest yourself,” Nathan said. “I was intending to share lunch with Lucas, but he had fallen asleep in his own cabin while Ben was arranging it. He was quite depressed in my quarters, and didn’t want to face anybody afterwards. I thought I might have to come and get you at one point.”

Fear is still a strong force in him when it comes to mentioning anything about his father finding out about other people knowing about the abuse. Just like you saw down in med-bay.”

There are still a lot of triggers that we may not be aware of yet,” Kristin pointed out. “The crew and anybody else here on-board are going to have to be patient with him and very understanding about how some things may affect him for the foreseeable future.”

Yes, I think they do grasp that on some level,” Bridger agreed, finishing off a second cup, but not intending to have another.

Changing the direction of the conversation, “You will be happy to note, that I managed to get Lucas to join me in here for dinner, and finally eat.”

That is wonderful news,” she agreed. “I just went to check on him now because he didn’t come back to see me yesterday. How does he sleep with that music so loud?”

I have no idea, but it is good to hear that he was sleeping,” Bridger replied. “Ben and I both left him alone after he left here after dinner. He said he was going to visit Darwin at the moon pool, but didn’t know what he wanted to do after that.”

I went to check on him a couple of times in the afternoon before dinner while you were sleeping. On the third occasion, he was awake and sitting up, staring through the water of the aqua tube,” Bridger informed her.

Still coming to terms with everything I would imagine,” Kristin surmised, knowing that the battle was only just beginning on many fronts.

I cannot say for certain, but I guess the only way to describe what I saw was that he looked lost,” Bridger commented with a touch of concern. “He was worried about how the crew members that overheard were going to treat him now. That revelation is still weighing fairly heavily on his mind, in addition to everything else.”

What else did the two of you talk about?” the doctor asked, grateful that Lucas was at least communicating on some level with Nathan. That was more than he was doing with anybody else at the moment.

He started apologizing for hiding in general, admonishing himself harshly and thinking that we must have thought the whole idea was stupid,” Nathan said, but Kristin could see there was something else troubling the man.

Bridger looked up at her, “Do you know what he said to me?”

Kristin shook her head, but knowing that it must have been something troubling for Nathan to hear.

That he has done it before on more than one occasion, and it has saved him in the past from something worse happening,” Bridger repeated.

How can anyone……?” he started to say, but stopped, picking up his coffee cup and drinking from it instead to wash away any harsh words on the tip of his tongue that were there about Lawrence Wolenczak.

That boy has been so much that we cannot even imagine about yet,” Kristin said, knowing that they were only just beginning to scratch the surface. “We just have to be there for him.”

I told him that I wanted things to be honest between us, and that is why I told him about everybody knowing,” Bridger continued to explain. “In return he told me that Ben had spoken to him a few days ago about my Robert and that he had passed away.”

It is good that he is trying to be honest too,” Kristin said, thinking that she couldn’t blame Lucas for wanting to keep back some things about his past.

I told him to ask me about Robert any time. Ben must have dozens of stories to share about the pair of them together. More than they shared with me sometimes,” Bridger said.

To put him more at ease, I told Lucas that I have done my own fair share of hiding, even up until very recently,” Bridger responded. “I could see that he didn’t necessarily believe our situations were even remotely similar. But he listened.”

I invited him to come here for dinner, which he accepted reluctantly. He is still being stubborn about how much his leg is hurting when he walks around on it, but I assume we can expect that for another few days at least.”

What happened when he came in here?” Kristin asked, wanting to know.

Ben and a few of the other crew members were here eating their own dinners. He stopped at the doorway, and wanted to make a retreat, but I persisted, and he entered with a little silent encouragement. The place was busy again and noisy, but he pushed through and made his way over to the table.”

Ford and the other men were a little unsure how to start talking to him, but Ben was a natural and just started talking to him like any other day. Together they were looking down the menu, with Ben making jokes and comments the whole time, trying to put him at ease.”

What did he order to eat, and did he finish it?” Kristin enquired.

He didn’t order from the menu,” Bridger stated, “Don brought out a tray of spaghetti he made just for Lucas. He made a substantial dent in what was put in front of him. He didn’t finish the whole plate, but he told the chef he enjoyed it. He also said to the chef that he enjoyed the custard that he tried in med-bay.”

That was nice of the chef to make something just for him,” Kristin commented.

The chef has invited him for a tour of the kitchens in the next few days so that he can show him where everything is. Lucas will be able to make something for himself when he wants,” the Captain told her. “Don even offered to show him how to make the spaghetti and custard, but he didn’t quite answer yes to that offer yet.”

I am hoping Lucas won’t give me too much of an argument when I ask him to come and visit me down in med-bay this morning,” the doctor mentioned. “I want to start filling in some of the unknown details on his medical file.”

How are you going to get him to volunteer for that?” Bridger asked, thinking that it was going to be more than a touchy subject.

I was hoping you and Mr Krieg both might be able to help me on that front,” Kristin said with a sly smile.

Oh?” the Captain voiced with intrigue. The man could see that she had already formulated some kind of plan.

Remember that little problem of you and Ben not having up-to-date files either?” she hinted behind her coffee cup.

Yes,” Bridger said, now knowing where the conversation was headed.

The Captain remembered giving her his promise of making himself available at any time she requested. If would help Lucas to become a little more relaxed in answering some of her questions, he was willing to try. Although he wasn’t entirely happy about having to submit to her testing himself this morning. He had thought he could have dodged that bullet for a little longer.

Don’t be too concerned, today is just filling in basic paperwork and a couple of minor base line readings,” she said, seeing the man squirming uncomfortably. As much as she expected most of the crew and staff on-board to do once their time came to submit to her request. “I don’t want the session to go on too long.”

I was going to tell Lucas myself,” Kristin conveyed with some sense of foreboding. “I thought I would leave informing the Lieutenant about his obligations to you.”

Thanks a lot,” Bridger said with a brief laugh, knowing that Ben would probably be just as vocal in his objection as Lucas in participating.

At least with Mr Krieg, you or Commander Ford can make it an executive order,” Kristin pointed out. “Otherwise I could employ Katie Hitchcock to strong-arm him into attending if he refuses your request. With Lucas, I am hoping to persuade him that it is for his own good.”

Suddenly my job just became a whole lot easier,” Bridger speculated, pouring more coffee for himself.

He offered another to Kristin but she refused by putting her hand over the cup. One was enough this morning. She would probably need another one later, thinking about the difficult task that she had assigned for herself, and silently agreeing that Nathan had the easier job.


Before any further conversation could happen between Bridger and Kristin, both looked up and were pleasantly surprised to notice Ben Krieg entering the mess hall, with Lucas casually walking alongside of him. The time was 8.00 a.m. in the morning.

They couldn’t hear what Ben was saying from this distance, and he was doing most of the talking. Lucas didn’t pause in the doorway this time, but he was looking about the room. Today’s crowd was a little less due to being breakfast time, and it wasn’t quite as noisy.

Krieg kept the conversation going, using his hands to talk as the two of them joined the queue, grabbing a tray each to select from the service tables. Ben ensured that the teenager was standing in front of him rather than behind, preventing the chance of giving him any opportunity to change his mind.

Lucas gave a short greeting to Don the chef as he spotted the two of them in the line, giving Krieg some cheek and Ben returning fire quickly enough. The teenager selected some pancakes and butter, and a small plate of toast. He shook his head when other selections were offered, and he left the two of them, starting to walk over to where he spotted the Captain and Kristin sitting.

Good morning, Lucas,” Kristin greeted him, perhaps a little too cheerfully as he paused in his step and gave her a look back of ‘are you kidding me’.

Morning,” the teenager said to the two of them, putting his tray down, and seeing that it was immediately being inspected and assessed as being suitable for breakfast.

Lucas didn’t say anything out loud, but he wasn’t about to listen to any comments he could see forming on the doctor’s lips about the choices he had made. He was here in person, he had slept a couple of hours, and he had food in front of him. They should be lucky to count any one of those feats as a victory by their own individual merits. All three of them happening together was something they would rarely see from him.

What more did they want from him this early in the morning?

Bridger didn’t say anything about what was on his tray, and appeared more relaxed compared to Kristin. Maybe it was just the doctor in her coming out too strongly for his liking this early in the day.

Ben Krieg came along with his own tray containing quite a lot more on it, putting it down before the heavy laden tray could become unbalanced. “Look who I found when I was passing through the corridor near the moon pool,” he casually joked, pouring a cup of coffee and adding milk and sugar.

This is not my idea of the best time of day, Krieg,” Lucas said in response, but his mood was improving a little as he began pouring his own coffee, keeping it black and stronger.

Couldn’t sleep very much?” Bridger gauged despite that Kristin had told him that she had found him asleep not too long ago. There were signs that he hadn’t slept that well or could use a whole lot more. He wasn’t going to push the issue too much just yet.

No, not really,” Lucas, surprising himself by truthfully admitting to it, but flatly refusing to enter into any more discussion about it.

Keeping Darwin company this morning?” Bridger asked, knowing that he had done the same thing himself before coming into the mess hall for breakfast.

Yes,” Lucas answered with a small grin, that tell-tale positive change in his demeanour shining through when he was talking about the mammal. Bridger had observed it on a number of occasions, and was pleased to see the bond between the dolphin and the teenager helping somewhat.

I wish I could go for a swim with him today, but I guess that is out of the question for now,” he added, grabbing a toast square.

In ten days or so you will be able to again,” Kristin said with promise in her voice, but she could see that her prediction wasn’t the time frame that the teenager was hoping to hear. “You can still spend time with him and keep each other company.”

Yeah, but that will feel like forever and is not exactly the same thing,” he huffed a little, but knowing himself how long stitches were general in place for.

What are you planning on doing for the morning after breakfast, Lucas?” Nathan asked casually.

The question had the expected effect with the teenager stopping eating, looking over at the Captain with a little curiosity and a whole lot of suspicion on his face. More than he had last night when leaving the mess hall. Bridger had asked almost the exact same question then, but he suspected today it wasn’t merely out of courtesy or inquisitiveness.

When Lucas looked over at Ben, his friend was carrying on with his breakfast, seemingly unaware of anything going on. He didn’t sense a threat today, but something was definitely going on as he looked at the Captain and over towards Doctor Westphalen.

Last night he had asked the Captain if he had anything in mind for him to do, but Bridger had told him there wasn’t. The tone of the man’s voice this morning told him that something had already been planned without his knowledge. He had taught himself to pick on subtle changes like this with people in the past, because he had needed to depend on or perceive any impending threat.

Was there something you wanted me to do?” the teenager asked, waiting to see if the Captain would give him a straight answer the first time.

No, no, not that I can think of right now,” Bridger answered, “I will let you know if I do.”

It was a game of cat and mouse at the moment, and Lucas was willing to play for now.

I was thinking about working with Darwin on the vocorder for most of the morning,” Lucas stated, leaving the half finished cup of coffee. “It doesn’t require me getting into the water with him.”

I could help you Ben, if you still had needed help with putting away some of that stock?” Lucas asked, trying to catch the Bridger out if he could.

Krieg swallowed the mouthful of food that he had been eating, and could see that the teenager was trying not to say something out loud in his answers to the Captain.

No, I don’t have anything straight away……,” he began to say, but was interrupted before he could finish the sentence.

Ben will be helping me this morning,” Nathan stated firmly, but the look of confusion on Krieg’s face was all the teenager needed to confirm that his friend was being roped into something too without his knowledge.

I will?” Ben said before feeling a sharp kick to his shin underneath the table from Doctor Westphalen.

Oh I mean, yes I do have something to attend to with you, Sir,” he answered, looking at Kristin for the reason behind her not-so-subtle attempts at getting him to agree to what the Captain had said.

Everybody at the table knew that the gig was up and Lucas wasn’t believing any of them. He wasn’t angry at any of them per se; he just wished they would plainly say what they wanted rather than dance around any topic because of worrying about hurting his feelings or upsetting him without meaning to.

Lucas pushed aside his tray, and stacked what he had not finished onto it. He could see the not so subtle looks from the doctor at his efforts. He had eaten all he wanted for now.

Lucas I would like to check those stitches of yours again please before you resume any projects you are planning to do,” Kristin requested. “You forgot to come and see me yesterday after you promised to do when I released you from med-bay.”

Lucas rolled his eyes at her challenge, but that didn’t give an answer for Bridger’s evasiveness. Unfortunately he felt obligated to do what she asked, “Yes, okay,” he said.

The teenager got up from the table, wanting to leave the mess hall. The longer he sat in here with them, the more he could see unanswered questions mounting about how much he had or hadn’t eaten. About his health and everything else. Hopefully going somewhere else to do something productive for a few hours would give him a little peace from that for a few hours.

Kristin got up from the table too, getting ready to leave, but felt she needed to be honest with Lucas herself about what she was intending to ask him to do this morning.

Lucas, wait for a minute, please,” she called out to him as he slowly made his way to the door.

Bridger and Ben could see her having a couple of quiet words with the teenager. Krieg couldn’t hear what the doctor was saying to him, it wasn’t long before he heard the response though.

Today?” the teenager shouted with a bit more volume to his voice. Followed rapidly by a second exclamation, “Now?”

Lucas took a step away from her, raising his arms up in a defensive stance until the stitches in his back pulled up sharply to stop any tirade from building further. His arms fell limply by his side as any fight in him was quickly extinguished. He didn’t want to do the combative thing today, and turned to face Kristin.

The Captain was about to get up from the table, thinking that he may be required to step in to help Kristin, but he had only started to rise from the seat when he saw a definite change from the teenager.

Please,” Kristin pleaded with him, putting a gentle hand on his lower arm, and hoping she could get him to co-operate without too much fuss. She leaned in closer and said something else to him that made the teenager suddenly look up sharply over towards the two men still seated at the breakfast table.

Lucas reluctantly conceded defeat, nodding his head in agreement at Kristin. Nathan watched the teenager walk out of the mess hall in the doctor’s company, knowing that the teenager was less than happy. Bridger knew that he wouldn’t be able to stay where he was much longer either, and would need to inform Ben of his own fate.


I wonder what that was all about?” Krieg said, finishing his breakfast and drinking the last of his coffee. “I thought we were going to have a major problem there for a minute.”

Bridger acknowledged the man’s comment, finishing his own coffee and getting ready to speak. Just when he thought the man was blissfully unaware of what he was going to be needed for today, the man spoke up.

So what was the real reason Kristin was viciously attacking and kicking my leg underneath the table that you didn’t want Lucas to know about, Sir?” Ben asked his Commanding Officer.

Bridger smiled at the man’s candidness to call him out on the subterfuge.

The Captain was about to explain himself and Kristin’s plans when Commander Jonathan Ford entered the mess hall, intending for a short break and a hot cup of coffee. Nathan saw the opportunity to tell Ben exactly what he wanted to know, but not allow him to get away off the hook either.

Good morning, Captain. Lieutenant Krieg,” Ford formally greeted them.

Good morning yourself, Jonathan,” Bridger returned. “I was just about to come and find you and make sure that you had no need of the young lieutenant here for the next couple of hours?”

Next couple of hours?” Krieg remarked, sitting up much straighter and recognising that he was being set up for something. “Now, wait just a minute……Sir,”

Ford could see the uneasiness on Ben’s face and the smirk from Bridger, and knew that the Captain was cooking up something that Krieg would not ordinarily want to do.

Consider him assigned to you for as long as you need this morning, Captain,” Ford said, chuckling at little at the expression on Krieg’s face. “The lieutenant doesn’t anything else to do today other than his usual workload.”

Hey, and it is very important work too,” Krieg tried to argue back. “Very necessary and under appreciated work,” he added, but he could see that his words were falling on deaf ears.

No doubt you would want me to make that an executive order wouldn’t you, Sir?” he added, knowing that Krieg was military enough to know his pecking order in the scheme of things.

Definitely, Commander, at the very least,” Bridger said in his most authoritative voice.

Nathan knew once Ben was aware the ploy was to help Lucas, that he would be more than willing to help out. The man’s posturing about needing to be ordered to carry out something for the Captain, was merely comedic relief that Krieg had already employed on a number of occasions when dealing with the teenager.

You are both of my Christmas card list this year,” Krieg grouched.

It might be less than that, Commander, but Ben and I are going to be going down to med-bay in a few minutes, filling out some medical paperwork on ourselves while Kristin is encouraging Lucas to fill out his own. Then she is intending on doing a couple of basic tests. She doesn’t want to overwhelm him too much at once. We don’t even know what his reaction is going to be to some of her questions yet.”

Now I know why Lucas was objecting so much when he left here a couple of minutes ago,” Krieg said plainly. “I think I will join him in protest.”

I will be doing it too, Lieutenant. Kristin hopes that with both of us being subjected to the same treatment, that Lucas will relax enough to do the same, and be willing to accept her to ask a few questions afterwards. Everybody on this vessel is going to have to do the same thing eventually, just like we were told by her in the Ward Room.”

Somehow the order of who was supposed to go first is all messed up. By my calculations, you should have been first before anybody, Sir?” Ben identified. “By ranking officer, or the person whom the doctor has the least information about. Lucas being excluded there.”

Let’s go down there before Lucas has the chance to change his mind,” Bridger instructed. “I will find you later on the Bridge, Commander. Until then, you know where to find me if you need anything, but it might be best if there wasn’t much of a crowd down there for now.”

Understood, Captain,” Ford said.

You three had to go and ruin and spoil my perfectly good mood for this time of the day,” Krieg announced as he started walking out with Bridger. “Lucas is off the hook, because he is an innocent party to this conspiracy too!”


By the time Bridger and Krieg entered the med-bay area of the science labs, Lucas was already seated on a chair, and had been talking quietly with Kristin. Now he was back down here, Lucas had begun to feel guilty about the way he had spoken to Kristin when she was treating him, and leaving med-bay the way he had.

Thank you for attending gentlemen, if you would both like to take a seat on those chairs there, I will hand out clipboards to you all in a minute. There will be a number of forms that you all need to fill out as much as possible.”

Ben had taken a seat on one side of Lucas, Bridger on the other. “Let me just say that I was dragged into this as much as you today, buddy,” Krieg announced loud enough for Kristin to hear his hollow complaint.

If I have to do this, so do you,” Lucas declared with no sympathy for Krieg’s fate of having to comply as well.

Ben looked down at the teenager’s right hand and could see that the bruising from the I.V. needle was now quite noticeable and darkening. “Does it hurt?” he asked, noting the colour of the bruise he could see.

No it doesn’t,” Lucas answered all too quickly, pulling his hand away out of Krieg’s reach.

At least his stitches and the bruising to his back and hip were covered so that nobody could see them most of the time. He knew Ben meant well, but feeling the concern from his friend and seeing it on the Captain’s face made him feel awkward and want to hide the fresh discolouration to his hand away from prying eyes that much more.

Let me know if anything does hurt enough for you to need any pain relief, Lucas,” Kristin brought up. “I will give you the paperwork in a minute, but if you will follow me into the next room, I want to measure your height and get you up on the scales to determine your weight.”

Kristin probably already had enough notes and information about him already to fill a few pages. Lucas stood up, ready to follow her instructions, “This is humiliating,” he said unhappily, but knowing that he couldn’t avoid the situation forever.

A few minutes later, the two of them returned. “If you want privacy about any of the results or answers on your forms Lucas, I can put you in a separate room to Ben and the Captain if you like? The choice is yours.”

Lucas looked over at the two men for a moment thinking about her offer, “Sounds rather redundant now when they already know everything else about me,” he answered.

The choice is still up to you,” Kristin reiterated, wanting to allow him to have as much to say about his own health and treatment as much as possible. He was still a minor, but old enough to understand anything being discussed about him, or being done to him physically.

Thanks, I do appreciate that,” Lucas said, pleased that she had taken the time to offer and grant him some say. “I don’t even know if I can answer much for you on your forms. So long as everything that goes on them or my file, stays between me and you three for the most part. Ben and the Captain have already seen me at my worst and the injuries.”

Nothing will leave these walls to any other third-party without your express permission, I promise, unless I think it is necessary as your doctor. That would only change if you are in a situation where you are unable to provide me with that permission and I need to make an informed decision about your health,” Kristin said. “I apply the same rules and high standards of privacy to everybody who is one of my patients.”

She had wanted to add a little in there about that including Child Protection Services, but erred on the side of caution at this stage. She would wait until she had prepared her report ready for them, and then talk to him about her obligations.

Ben and Bridger knew that the teenager was granting them access to information about himself that he probably wasn’t prepared to share with many others on-board. Both of them saw it as a rare opportunity to connect with Lucas more, and they promised themselves that they wouldn’t break that trust unless they had no other choice. And it felt like a lot of trust that he was giving them.

Let’s get started on these forms. I already have some data to add to your file and the computer, but we need to begin somewhere with the basics,” she explained.

Handing out the three clip-boards, to Nathan first, then Ben, and then Lucas, she watched the expression on his face as he took it from her, and accepted the pen to write with. She could see the apprehension mounting in him already, like she expected. The teenager watched the Captain begin to write on his forms, and then proceed to start his own.

I was going to take a blood sample from you today, but seeing as how you have eaten breakfast not so long ago, that will have to wait until later today, or the readings will be useless.”

Well that is something to be thankful for,” Lucas said, definitely not wanting to be poked with needles again this morning.

Your height, Lucas is within normal ranges for a teenage boy your age, but I expect that you could grow quite a bit taller yet,” Kristin in formed him. “Five feet seven inches or more than 173 centimetres tall is your current measurement.”

You really think so?” he asked hopefully. In the past he had considered himself a little too short, and couldn’t wait to grow a few more inches taller, but never really knowing what his final height might be. He didn’t know much about his family history to recall if anybody was really tall or short.

Lawrence Wolenczak was a large man, but Lucas had never used his height as a guide to what he might reach himself based on similar characteristics. He tried not to compare himself to his father on any level, including physical attributes.

Yes,” Kristin said with a smile at seeing he was pleased with her prediction. She saw him thinking on her assessment, before resuming writing again.

However, your weight is a little under what would be considered healthy,” she admonished gently, knowing that there had been other forces out of his control as contributing factors. “You need to gain a few more pounds to reach what would be ideal, so eat more pie.”

Lucas tried to take her words in the spirit they were intended to be, but his eating habits were a sore spot that he didn’t want to discuss. There were a lot of things surrounding food that they didn’t know about, and he wasn’t about to write it down for them now.

Ben could see the teenager’s change in mood about his weight, and saw him trying push down what he was feeling about Kristin’s views and opinions on healthy eating choices and options. He decided to introduce a little impromptu performance, so that the teenager would start to think about something else.

Miss, he is cheating on me,” Ben directed at Kristin all of a sudden, changing his voice slightly and making Lucas look up from his own forms.

Krieg pulled the clipboard closer to his chest, looking back at the teenager and trying to get him to relax, “Stop looking!” he accused, pleased to see the tugs of a smile appear on the boy’s face.

Lucas decided to play along with Ben’s antics for a moment, “What is there to look at, you haven’t even written anything down yet,” he challenged in return.

Ben laid the clipboard down again, so that Bridger and Kristin could see, and they both started to laugh, seeing that the teenager was correct, Ben hadn’t even begun filling out his own form yet. The page was blank. The boy had outsmarted him.

I, on the other hand, am almost finished,” Lucas declared to Kristin, handing her back the clipboard, looking back at Krieg as he handed back the pen. He knew there were a few pieces blank spaces on the forms.

Almost finished?” Ben scoffed, not believing the teenager for a second.

Bridger had been quickly observing the interaction between Ben and Lucas, and was pleased to see that Krieg’s efforts again were going way above what was expected of him. He was only about half-way through his own forms, and was starting to feel that he didn’t want to complete them either. All this bureaucratic red-tape and useless data collection had never sat well with him when he was in the service the last time.


There are a few pieces of information missing from here, Lucas, if you don’t mind me asking about them,” Kristin pointed out in seriousness. She knew he had tried to write a few things down, but hoped she could fill in a few more details yet.

Your professors at college were correct about your hand-writing,” Kristin commented, starting the questions with something the two of them had discussed. “It is very small.”

Lucas gave a small grin at her remembering such an indiscriminate piece of information about him, “Now you can see what they were talking about for yourself and why they were often on my case.”

Ben was immediately trying to get a look at what the doctor was referring to. “Great penmanship. Very neat. How do you do that?”

Krieg had begun writing on his own forms, and the teenager pounced on what he could see about Ben’s own handwriting style.

How do you manage to get yours looking like chicken scratches?” Lucas asked. “Kristin is going to need a translator to read any of your answers.”

Apart from the boy’s name, Ben was able to jump on the first new piece of information about the teenager. “December 23! Your a Christmas baby?”

That is what my birthday says,” Lucas admitted, not seeing any real significance to the date. He wasn’t about to tell them that it had never been a day to remember or ever drawn anyone’s attention before.

Oh the celebrations and parties we are going to have. Double the presents,” Ben said with excitement, but his exuberance was falling a little flat.

What is your date of birth?” the teenager asked Ben, trying to deflect the attention away from himself.

9th of February,” Ben wrote down, followed by the year.

Your that old?” Lucas poked in fun with a mock expression of pity on his face. “Did they have electricity back where you lived when you were growing up?” he openly taunted.

Oh ha, ha, funny guy,” Ben said, but coping the ribbing he was receiving. It was good to see that the teenager could let his guard down just a little, and turn the table on someone else with a joke.

If you think I am elderly, I cannot imagine what your choice words would be for the Captain and Kristin,” Ben said, looking over at Bridger.

Yeah, but with him being Captain, they start to call it distinguished by his age,” Lucas answered cheekily. “And with Kristin they would call it experienced.”

Distinguished!” Bridger countered good-naturedly. “I am not quite out for the count yet, or ready to be put out to pasture you young whipper-snappers.”

Experienced indeed, young man,” Kristin responded with mock indignation of her own. “While we are sharing birthdays, mine is the 10th August. I expect the customary best wishes on the day followed by a full English breakfast.”

Come on, yours too,” Lucas prompted Bridger. Krieg hadn’t dared ask Kristin or Nathan for their birthdays.

It’s no secret,” Nathan started to answer, “The 17th of March.”

Ben was the one who picked up on the date straight away as being a significant date for many people on the calendar, “Leprechauns and Irish stew and whiskey for everybody lucky enough to come from the Emerald Isle!” Krieg declared. “Saint Patrick’s Day!”

I hate to ruin your party plans and ideas, Ben, but I am not even slightly Irish,” Bridger said with a laugh. “No shamrocks, harps or celtic knots of any kind to be found.”

Doesn’t matter, Sir. On the 17th March, everybody claims to be a little Irish for Saint Paddy’s day,” Ben promised.

Hey I need to create a birthday list for everybody on-board. I could work some of them into the themes for my social hang-out nights. Commander Ford and Miguel Ortiz are only a day apart for their birthdays in March. I will have to make a diligent effort to learn or find out dates for other crew members.”

Telling a few tales out of school now, but I don’t even remember my twenty-first birthday, courtesy of Bill Noyce,” Bridger said, admitting to a time in his life that he could scarcely remember before marrying and having a family. Sometimes his old memory banks coughed up shreds from his youth out of nowhere and allowed him to venture down nostalgia lane.

The Admiral!” Krieg said, his eyebrows almost disappearing into his hair-line at such a piece of noteworthy material about both high-ranking men and their younger years. He knew both of them had been friends and served a long time together.

Well, Bobby and I don’t exactly have happy snaps of our twenty-first birthdays to show off to anyone either,” he said with a knowing smirk to Bridger. “I don’t know if he ever told you, but we spent his and mine, stranded with no money and hang-over’s that will go down forever in history and legend as the worst either of us have ever had.”

His mother read him the riot act when she found out,” Bridger informed Krieg. “Carol was looking to hunt you down too and give you a piece of her mind.”

Glad I missed that then,” Krieg said with a apologetic smile. Bobby had said in the past that his mother was a beautiful soul, until you got on the wrong side of her temper.”

Krieg looked down at Lucas’s form in the doctor’s hand and noted the place of birth that was listed. “You were born in Buffalo, New York.”

Yes, but I don’t remember living anywhere else except San Jose, California, Krieg,” Lucas said, his mood changing again, at having to recall any details about himself.

I myself, first and foremost am a Californian boy, born and bred,” Krieg announced with pride. “So you are in good company.”

Time to move on please, or we are going to be here all day,” Kristin interrupted, seeing the change in the teenager’s mood, and still wanting a few more answers before he displayed even more disinterest.


The address section has been left blank?” Kristin pointed out, but she saw Lucas stiffen immediately at her little observation. He was hoping that he could get away with not writing it down.

Some would argue that technically, he didn’t really have a place to call home at the moment with bring stuck on SeaQuest, but he didn’t want sound too ungrateful by bringing that up right now. Being here was still a temporary solution, and he was only too mindful of that, no matter what Bridger promised or told him, and what measures he had gotten Admiral Noyce to agree with.

Sorry, I must have missed that line,” he mumbled, taking the clipboard back and resting the ball-point of the pen on the paper long enough to leave an imprint on the paper without any ink. He could feel the three sets of eyes on him, and waiting for him to continue.

Sighing audibly at the unfairness that he felt, he started to write, still trying to avoid doing so for as long as possible. “Do I have to write it in full?”

That would be best please,” Kristin said gently, but seeing that he didn’t want to reveal any information pertaining to a place designated as his home. She could imagine that bringing up such a place would only invoke bad memories of his time living there. Considering what had happened only recently.

126 Lawrence Way, Evergreen Estates, San Jose, California,” he finally wrote, almost wanting to wash his hands once he handed back the form. That house or prison, however anybody wanted to call it or eventually refer to it as. For Lucas himself, it would never be considered as a home.

When he saw Kristin looking at the address, he felt he needed to add a little explanation to her about where it was and it’s overall description. “A large, modern concrete, three storey place, set about ten miles from the nearest neighbouring estates in any direction. Just like it was designed to be. There is a huge electronic gate at the front and a high wall built around it to keep everything and everybody in or out.”

‘Lawrence Way’, Bridger thought to himself silently. How conceited did the boy’s father have to be to name even the roadway leading up to the house after himself? No wonder Lucas was feeling like he was at the moment.

Ten miles from anywhere would have prevented anybody knowing what could have been happening inside or offer help to Lucas, or if he wanted to try and escape. From what details the teenager gave, it sounded like a cold, unfriendly place and set up like Fort Knox, with sophisticated security to match he assumed.

Lucas got off the chair he was sitting on, “Just stretching a little,” he told them, but the three adults could see how much writing down the San Jose address was affecting him. He forced himself to sit down again after a short time. He knew he wasn’t fooling anybody.

Please, can we continue and get the rest of this over with,” he requested, forcing himself not to leave the room. When he first agreed to doing this in the mess hall at breakfast, he could never have predicted how strong some of the emotions that were swelling up within him now were going to become. By merely having to write down something as simple as his address.

To try and keep his mind occupied elsewhere, Lucas did look over at what Krieg was writing down, and noted Ben’s address for himself. “13926 Challenger Loop, Honolulu,” he recited.

Yeah, only a small two bedroom place. The kitchen is not big enough to swing a cat around in, but I am rarely there to cook or eat anyway. Someday I will take you there for a visit and show you around,” Krieg said, returning to being a friend and leaving any wisecracks aside for now. “The beach isn’t too far away either in a few different directions so that you can enjoy the ocean.”

Left to me by my father, he used to live and stay there too during his own academy days. I never needed to move anywhere else as it was close enough to attend classes. Hickham Baseball Field was only a few blocks away to walk to. There are a few great places to eat nearby and plenty of places to visit that are not exclusively for military personnel.”

It is not much, but with me going to be living on SeaQuest for more than the best part of a year, I won’t need anything else bigger for the moment,” Krieg continued.

Sounds like a great place,” Lucas said, genuinely intrigued by what he was hearing.

What he wouldn’t give to have a place like that, he could call his own, where he could shut the world out. No matter how big or small it was. Maybe that was something he could look forward to having one day when he was older, or perhaps it was merely a pipe-dream that would never eventuate.

Krieg looked over at the Captain, who was being totally too quiet for his liking and had a strange expression on his face. “What did you put, Captain, Sir?”

Lucas was the one to look over and catch a glimpse of what Bridger had written in the space provided.

SeaQuest? Really? That was the best you could come up with?” the teenager challenged. “What about that mysterious island that you were supposed to be living on?”

Well, I don’t live there at the moment, so this is the only place I have to put down right now,” he rationalised. “I will tell those who I feel deserve to know at the appropriate time about its true location, when I decide to do so. I set it up specifically so that people couldn’t find me, so I guess I have a little trouble letting go of that yet.”

That is so not fair at all, Sir,” Krieg replied, seeing that Lucas was nodding in agreement with him too at his remark.

Ben had heard rumours about this island as much as the next person, but nothing too specific. He remembered Katie telling him that she went there to drag the Captain back upon Admiral Noyce’s orders. Not request, she had been ordered not to take ‘no’ as an answer, so she had been there, but had failed to share its exact location, or any specific details with him.

Bridger had been very difficult to persuade and it had taken a personal visit from Noyce to even encourage the man to come and look at his dream, built and put to practical use.

I tried finding out information about your island in the hopes of talking to you about your scientific research, Nathan. The only answer I ever got from anybody at U.E.O. headquarters, was that you were ex-communicado, and that you couldn’t be reached.”

Kristin was a little surprised that Nathan was being a little too evasive as well. The man was supposed to be helping Lucas be more open about his past, not join his ranks. Lucas wasn’t the only one being secretive on some occasions.


Continuing on the best way she could, Kristin focused on Lucas’ answers, rather than Nathan’s. There may have been legitimate military reasons why he was withholding further details, and no doubt it would be for totally different reasons than Lucas that she wasn’t privy too. She would tackle that at another time.

She noted that the next piece of information that the teenager had written down on his form, and gave him another look of empathy. She could only assume that writing those answers would have brought up just as much anxiety in the boy; his parents names.

Lucas saw her looking at the names he had listed, and could see the unasked questions, and feel the wave of emotions coming off her and the concern that she could barely mask. He had only given his father’s first initial; L. Wolenczak and C. Holt as the second name.

Holt was your mother’s maiden name?” she asked gently, not knowing how strong the connection between mother and son were, compared to the life of fear that existed with his father.

Yes,” the teenager said, but his short answer didn’t give anything away about how he felt towards her.

Bridger thought back to when Lucas had told him about his parents being divorced and was asking if he was staying on as Captain of the SeaQuest. At the time, the teenager had only said about how miserable they had been when living together. ‘If only the real truth had been found out then’ he said to himself.

Ben started to think back about his early theory of Robert Cooper being involved in Lucas’ injury to his shoulder, and drawing a comparison. That seemed to be different now that they had found out about his father’s mistreatment.

It didn’t make him like the guy any more though, but it meant that the teenager was having to deal with some nasty stuff on-board in addition to what he had already been subjected to at home. His friend had accepted the empty threats and harassment because he it was what he was used to hearing.

Ben had seen the Captain drift off into his own thoughts for a moment, but it didn’t last long, and he came back to the present as he heard Lucas speak again. The boy’s next statement was shocking to them all to say the least.

If you are looking for information about her, then you are asking the wrong person. I barely know her, and she hasn’t wanted to be a part of my life for as long as I can remember,” Lucas said, but there wasn’t any animosity in his voice, or bitterness as he spoke.

Hasn’t wanted to be….’ was the part of his response that was echoing back at them. Had his mother had the opportunity to help Lucas in the past and refused? Did she have any idea of what had been occurring in her son’s life or tried to help him escape the abuse?

It was hard enough to comprehend that Lucas had been living under his father’s abusive roof, but now to hear as well that there had been no mother figure or positive guidance during a large part of his childhood. That through the troubling years of his life, or at those times there hadn’t been anybody who might have been able to offer help to him, was difficult to fathom or accept.

Indifference was the closest word that the three adults could think of to describe the expression on the teenager’s face when talking about his mother. Quite different to how he reacted to his father.

Looking down at the form again, there was something about the way his mother’s name had been written down, that triggered Kristin’s memory. She walked a short distance from where she was sitting, her eyes immediately spotting what she had remembered. Retrieving the small white prescription bottle that she had confiscated from the teenager’s cabin.

Lucas realised that the doctor had made the connection between his mother and the name printed on the label.

Bridger and Ben were watching the exchange between them with interest.

Holt is the last name of the person who this medication was prescribed to,” Kristin pointed out. She was trying to be as sensitive as she could.

You have already guessed that the name on the bottle is hers. The C. stands for Cynthia,” Lucas told her. “She didn’t always use my father’s surname, in relation to many legal or financial matters that concerned her. I guess that also included doctor’s appointments and consultations.”

This time it was Kristin whose expression changed to one of surprise at the teenager’s admission of his mother’s first name. And it was at this point for the first time since she had come aboard SeaQuest that she felt the need to reveal some information about her own family.

Then we share something in common with each other,” Kristin said with a brief smile. “Cynthia was also my daughter’s name.”

Lucas started to give a small smile in return at such a startling connection, but that quickly changed as he picked up on the ‘was’ in her reply.

You have a daughter named Cynthia too?” he asked, hoping that he had heard wrong. But he could see the first signs of sadness in her eyes. He swallowed the lump that was forming in his throat, but wanted to allow her the chance to explain in her own time.

Kristin sat a little closer to Lucas, keeping her focus just on him, but knowing that the two men would be able to hear what she was saying.

My husband Nelson and I were happily married once. We had one daughter together, Cynthia,” she began. “After a while, our relationship became strained due to his vocation that kept him working away in foreign countries for long periods of time. And I found myself working at a number of hospitals and working ridiculous hours as well. We decided the best path for both of us was to divorce and give each other space to continue our chosen careers.”

That was just before Cynthia turned twenty, and with her father absent for a good part of her teenage years, she grew up resenting what she saw as my restrictions on her. They included things like what time she was going to be home, and meal times, her education and wanting to know who her friends were, making sure that she was taking good care of herself.”

A small, tight grin appeared on Lucas’ face as he recognised a couple of those same things were what she had been worried over him about and tried to address.

Do you know what she did during times that could only be described as ‘reinforcing her individualistic ways’?” she asked, sharing a little bit of her daughter’s rebellious attitude. The tone of her voice had changed to one of being like other parents and less than impressed with their child’s choices or decisions.

Lucas shook his head at her question.

When she was seventeen, I came home from a particularly long day at the hospital to find that she had shaved off half of her hair on one side of her head. And dyed the other half bright orange.”

Bridger had let out a blurt of laughter, immediately showing remorse, but could see that Ben was chuckling as well. Both of them were trying to picture what Kristin’s face would have looked like when the doctor first saw her daughter’s new look. Lucas had smiled a little more, but didn’t laugh out loud.

To this day, I am convinced that she only did it to irritate me instead of the noble protest against whatever cause that she was sprouting the reason was,” she added, which had Nathan and Ben letting go a few more guffaws of more laughter.

Kristin saw their laughter, and knew that it must have sounded funny. She wasn’t angry any more like she had been on that particular day, and didn’t hold it against them that they found the whole scenario hilarious. If it hadn’t been her own daughter, and she was hearing about such antics from someone, perhaps she would have been laughing along with them.

Turning back to the teenager, she said something that continued to bring out some powerful emotions in herself once more.

I can see that need for self reliance that you have been displaying recently, and the same strong independent streak in you, that my Cynthia had, Lucas,” she commented.

I swear to you, right now,” Lucas began to say, “That I have no intentions of shaving off or dyeing my hair any colour,” he responded with his best straight-faced expression.

Kristin let go a sudden burst of laughter for his well placed attempt at humour as she explained some difficult and unusual times during her life.

The next statement from Lucas gave Ben, the Captain and the doctor another small window of insight into a time in his life and saw him letting his guard down for a split second.

My father objected to the length of my hair on many occasions, and usually threatened to cut it short. Keeping it untamed and wearing it longer like it is now was one of my only ‘rebellious’ acts against him.

Kristin nodded her head in acknowledgement, knowing such a stance must have been difficult to maintain when there had been few occasions to do so. She wished all of his struggles could have been as simple as objecting to anything happening to his hair.

From the age of twenty-one through to twenty-five, my daughter was still searching for what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. Whilst living with me she had been working as a volunteer at an animal shelter. She was passionate about helping animals, conserving the environment and leaving the smallest footprint that we could on this planet.”

Before she turned twenty-six, the opportunity of a life-time was offered to her. I have a friend who had been working in hospitals alongside of me, but wanted to give back more to the poorer populations of the world. The third-world countries and their people who had nothing. She moved to a remote part of Africa to create a wildlife reserve, and asked Cynthia if she wanted to join her to do some important humanitarian work.”

Wow, what a great job opportunity,” Lucas remarked.

Kristin’s daughter’s ideas about caring for the environment and looking after animals seem to follow in some of her mother’s footsteps. The Captain had chosen the environmental and conservation route too through some parts of his life, and it was probably why the two of them connected on quite a few matters.

Now it was time for Kristin’s own mood to turn a little more sombre and downcast, and she could no longer hold back the silent tears that were brimming in her eyes. Lucas felt an invisible hand reach into his chest, grab his heart and squeeze. He couldn’t shake the feeling that something terrible had happened.

On the day she was due to leave on her big adventure, we had an argument that morning. Over something trivial like whose turn it was to cook dinner that night,” she began to explain, with a lot of guilt she was still holding onto. “Cynthia refused to buy a car to drive from where we lived at the time, but instead rode a bicycle to her work at the animal shelter.”

Kristin was about to go into more detail about her daughter, but found that memories had robbed her of the desire to use too many words, so she kept the tale brief, “From the report I received from the police later that same day, she had been travelling on a dirt-road, approximately a kilometre from her work place. A vehicle travelling from a side-road ever saw her or the bicycle. Crossed onto the wrong side of the intersection and didn’t even stop. She was struck and killed instantly. The driver has never been identified or held accountable.”

The red-headed doctor cried softly at the memory of her daughter, and how neither of them had been able to mend things after their heated words or say how much they loved each other or even say goodbye.

Neither Nathan or Ben could scarcely think of a single thing to say that would sound right after hearing about such a harrowing accident that took a young life. Both of them felt privileged in being allowed to know such a deeply sad and personal tragedy in Kristin’s life.

I am so sorry, Kristin,” Lucas said sadly, not knowing what else to say, but putting a hand on her arm in sympathy. “Thank you for telling us,” he added, his own voice thick with emotion. The Captain and Kristin had both lost children; a son and a daughter, both of them who could have gone onto lead promising lives. Instead they only left behind heartbroken families, who probably felt like a piece of themselves was missing forever.


Bringing her attention back to what had started telling about her Cynthia, Kristin held the prescription bottle out for Lucas to see.

Up until now you have been reluctant to tell me or anyone else how bad your pain was at times. I hope that a little more common ground can start to emerge between us,” she suggested. “Come and see me when your discomfort reaches a level you feel you would need to turn and look to use something this strong. I am here to help you, not hinder. In the meantime, I will keep them safe and refrigerated for you.”

Thank you,” Lucas said, feeling a mix of emotions. Guilt at having not told her about how bad his pain had been at times. Still a little perturbed at her having found them in his cabin and taken them away. And a little frustration that she didn’t get that sometimes resorting to such methods in the past had been the only way of coping. And that is what he found himself voicing to her now.

Those bottles are still sealed, I didn’t take any of them as you can see,” Lucas began, wanting all of them to hear his point of view. “She had others that I used over the years when I had to. Sometimes there was no other way or options, and it was the only way to get through the day. I needed them. My mother left them at home years ago when she left.”

Your mother left?” Bridger asked before Kristin could form the same question.

Yeah, she was the lucky and fortunate one and managed to escape out of that place, after filing for divorce from my father,” Lucas admitted, failing to keep eye contact with the Captain as he spoke.

How old were you when she left?” Ben queried, feeling very out of depth with everything that had come up so far about his bleak past.

Just before I turned nine years old,” Lucas answered.

Kristin wanted to know something else, and didn’t know how to phrase it. “How long has it been since you last saw your mother, Lucas?” She hoped that it had not been the entire five years from him being nine back then, to fourteen now.

That is a little more complicated,” Lucas began to explain. “About two years ago, I lived with her for about two weeks, not long before I was accepted to start college at Stanford. My mother decided that she was leaving the country again to get away from my father’s harassment, so that new arrangement didn’t last very long. Less than a month later, I was forced to live back with him after she left.

Because there wasn’t any other options or choices’ he wanted to add, but chose not to, keeping the bitterness to himself.

The two weeks gap that existed from when he had been living with his mother temporarily, to being under his father’s control, was a very painful experience that the teenager was not about to reveal or relive here today. There was a couple of people that knew where he was during that time, and he wasn’t ready to share that information with anybody.

That couple of weeks came with the promise of being one of those times that Lucas thought the tide of his life might be changing for the better. Boy had he been mistaken about that, because it hadn’t taken long for harsh reality and cruelness to set in about how far Lawrence Wolenczak’s reach really was. And to what extent he was prepared to to go and the methods he employed and thought nothing about risking and using to achieve that control.

His father had demonstrated that he was more than capable of stepping on other people, and cause them trouble, if they even dared to contemplate putting themselves in a position to help his son. And Lawrence had ensured that they were soon corrected in no uncertain terms against making any offers of assistance, asylum or sanctuary. In the end, Lucas was the one who had paid a hefty and painful price for any of their attempts. He never wanted that to happen again to a third-party, no matter who it was.

Kristin was dismayed to hear that the teenager’s mother, from his account, had all but abandoned him just to escape herself and no-one had thought to check on Lucas afterwards and keeps tabs on what his father was doing. If it was true that she did get out, why didn’t she take Lucas with her to protect him? Even if she was leaving the country.

The doctor understood that his mother may have been living in fear as well, and experiencing physical and other kinds of abuse herself at the hands of her husband. Her ultimate decision to leave her own child behind in that environment, didn’t sit very well with Kristin at all as a valid excuse.

Ben Krieg was silently doing some number crunching in his head, using the information that Lucas had been telling them, and came to a startling premise, “Two years ago?” he questioned. “That means you were twelve years old when you started college?” he added, thinking how young that sounded.

Yes,” Lucas answered a little uncomfortably, not knowing what else to say.

I didn’t mean it to sound like a bad thing, Lucas,” Ben responded. “Honest. Just goes to show how smart you are compared to the rest of us.”

Do you remember what you were doing at twelve years old, Sir?” Ben addressed the Captain. “I am not sure about you, but at twelve, the only thing I was going was riding around on my bike with friends and playing baseball. School for me was mostly filled with getting into mischief from the teachers that usually resulted in detention, and trying to impress girls.”

Now those last parts, I can certainly believe,” Kristin teased Ben good-naturedly. She wasn’t quite so studious at twelve years old either, even though she would later go on to complete a medical degree. Ben sounded like he had a fairly rounded and normal upbringing, even with reporting of his father being in the military.

Until this very moment, none of them had been aware of how young Lucas had been when attending college. Twelve sounded far too young for anybody to be living away anywhere, without any kind of positive support and with a father living at home and inflicting his own resume of discipline and control. Yet another example of them scarcely able to comprehend how different things had been for Lucas over such a long period of time.

Do you know of any other immediate family members or next-of-kin that could be written down in addition to your parents? Kristin asked. “And how they might be able to be contacted if that became necessary to do so.”

Not that I know of,” Lucas answered. “There are aunts and uncles on both sides, but I haven’t had contact with any of them in years. Before my mother left.”

Grandparents?” Kristin asked with a little hope in her voice, but that idea was quickly quashed as well.

I don’t remember meeting any of them, or spending time with anybody called grandma or grandpa,” Lucas replied truthfully, but with shame creeping up at having to admit how his isolation from anyone except his father had been allowed to manifest.

He hated having to reveal that his notion of any kind of extended family was very different. “I don’t even know what their names are and they were never mentioned. I have never seen any pictures of them if there are any in the first place.”


Can we please leave it as is for now, and move onto the next questions and get this finished?” Lucas pleaded, knowing that it probably sounded like he was whining. He wanted this inquisition and point by point dissection about his life and everything about it to be over and done with.

It worked though, as Kristin could see that he wanted to leave, but felt obligated enough to stay.

They had been here quite a bit longer than had been allotted already, but the exercise certainly had it merits, with more than a few clues and details about him being revealed on paper or given in explanation. Some noteworthy, others stirring up emotions on his behalf and some they accepted as being out of his control but invoking a fair amount of unspoken criticism about his so-called family.

Let’s do that,” Kristin agreed.

To Krieg, it felt like the first time he needed to complete the paperwork to join as a submariner. Even the powers-that-be wanted to know everything from your shirt size, to what you had for lunch on Tuesday, five years ago. The forms wanted to know digest everything about your personality, and the colour of your socks and underwear, and which side of the bed you got out of.

I am sure Commander Ford must be wondering where I am by now,” Ben put out there, hoping to cut short this session and get back his normal duties.

No he is not,” Bridger said in mock sternness, “If we have to be here longer, so do you, Lieutenant,” adding his rank for emphasis, and seeing Lucas smirk at the Captain’s quick rebuttal.

Kristin moved her eyes further down on the page of the form, “The next sections go into further detail about your personal medical history.”

Oh joy!” Lucas declared with frustration, “Just what I wanted other people to know about too.”

The doctor ignored his jibe when she saw his answer to a question that both puzzled and struck a little worry into her at the same time. “With the question about your blood type, you wrote ‘rare’.”

Do you know what your actual blood type is?” she pressed.

Lucas looked over at Ben’s partially completed form and saw that he had recorded the correct terminology. He couldn’t see Bridger’s, but wasn’t really interested in what either of them had written down.

No,” he answered honestly.

Then how do you know it is rare?” Kristin immediately followed with.

The doctor was concerned from a medical point of view about what that could mean for the teenager living aboard SeaQuest. “There are a few blood types that are considered less common in the general population. If you are correct, then we need to find out as soon as possible.” There could be other crew members aboard in a similar situation, and it part of the reason she liked to keep her own medical files.

Lucas looked over uncomfortably at Bridger as he answered, “Remember me telling you about the first time that I ripped out my I.V. when I was in hospital?”

Bridger nodded. Ben and Kristin had heard him tell the Captain that in his cabin.

Well, I think a couple of the reasons that the nurse was not happy about it included having to redo it and having to clean up afterwards. Then she mentioned something to one of the other nurses about my blood type being rare. I never heard her say what it was, and I didn’t get to ask. That is the only way I found out. That was sometime after my ninth birthday.”

That blood sample that I talked about, needs to happen today then, no arguments to the contrary,” Kristin informed him, wanting to take any precautions that might be necessary.

Do you know if there are any medical files that I could access since you remember there being at least one hospital stay?” Kristin queried. “That would also help me find out more about your current immunisation status, which you have left blank.”

Lucas shook his head, seeing the concern she had about his answers. “What I told you back in med-bay the last time still applies, that my father would never give permission for any file on me to be released to anybody. I recall being in hospital twice, that time and one other. I don’t know which particular hospital it would have been or even if it was the same one both times.”

Didn’t your father ever take you to a doctor for a regular check-up, or have you treated when you were sick with normal childhood illnesses like a cold or the flu?” Kristin asked, internally growing angry that the hospital visits were probably due to something that his father had inflicted upon him.

Ha, not likely!” Lucas scoffed with a hollow laugh. “That would require him to shed money out on me or do something that meant he gave a damn. That is never going to happen. And antibiotics or medications would have cost him money too, so not much chance of that either.”

Bridger could only look on with dismay at the teenager’s angry response, but by also listening to the context of the words, he picked up that the teenager still believed the situation he described to be still current.

To satisfy your curiosity though, Kristin, there was a couple of specific occasions where my father used the services of a private doctor that I can vaguely remember. There may have been files started or kept on me that would tell you what they diagnosed. I have no idea where they would be, and I can only assume that they would be sealed or kept somewhere secure and out of sight by him now.”

They were times when I was quite sick and probably should have been admitted to a hospital. The only reason I recall them is that I awoke to have some strange doctor poking and prodding me. They were different each time, so I never saw the same person twice, and they were foreign, so I didn’t always understand what they were talking about. Anything that they did to me or gave to me when they were brought to the house is a total mystery.”

How convenient for him,” Kristin said, unable to hide her own moment of unbridled contempt. It wasn’t directed at Lucas. By using private doctors, and home visits, this is how Lawrence Wolenczak had been able to cover-up some of his acts of abuse and keep it hidden away for so long. This is how he had been allowed to circumvent the system that could have alerted someone a lot sooner that something was amiss and needed an investigation.

Would you be willing to provide me with permission to talk privately with the hospital Registrar’s? They would have access and custody of any records should there be any files on you at any hospital within the state. And being a doctor, they would release them to me upon official request.”

I can do that,” Lucas said with some apprehension. He didn’t know what was out there, and would be lying if he didn’t admit to feeling a little nervous about what unknown information Kristin may stumble across about himself.

Everything will be kept confidential,” Kristin promised, reiterating her earlier assurances. “And I will share with you anything I do find, and explain any notes made if you wish to know.”


These new pieces of information spurred Kristin on to keep going down the list of questions. Ben and the Captain had stopped writing their own forms, instead being drawn by the questions that the doctor was asking and the answers that Lucas was giving.

Commander Hitchcock told us that she arranged your flights to travel from your home to the pier to meet the launch?” Kristin said, looking for confirmation from Lucas.

Yes, I had to fly to go between them. The flight times vary, but are between five and a half or six hours, depending on turbulence and weather factors,” the teenager said, not catching on why she had asked all of a sudden about his method of transport.

Under the section asking whether you experience motion sickness, you have ticked ‘yes’ and added that you are affected by planes and boats when you travel,” Kristin commented, hoping for more precise details of what symptoms it caused him.

Thankfully once I am here on-board SeaQuest, I have not had a problem and my stomach has been behaving itself for the most part. And the same goes for when I was arriving or departing on the sea launches each time,” Lucas replied. “But whenever I travel on a plane, it happens every single time. I pray that I won’t need to fly again in the near future if I can avoid it because it gets quite bad and it feels like my insides are trying to punch their way out.”

Ben made a mental note to himself of keeping a check on the kid the next time they travelled in a launch anywhere. The tell-tale signs should be easy enough to spot, especially if Lucas was reluctant to speak up and tell someone.

If you have to fly again by plane at any time, come and see me,” Kristin said in sympathy. Motion sickness wasn’t pleasant for anybody, and there should have been no reason for Lucas to have to suffer through bouts of it. It was something that was perfectly preventable if known ahead of time, or could be successfully managed.

There are a lot of remedies that I can recommend to use that won’t upset your stomach and they will take away that awful nauseous feeling that you are often left with,” Kristin offered with a smile.

That would be great for when I need it again,” Lucas said with genuine gratitude.

I tend to suffer from a little motion sickness myself, but mainly on long bus drives,” Kristin admitted, trying to put the boy’s mind at ease.

You do?” Lucas asked.

And size of the bus doesn’t matter, big or small,” she shared with him.

Bridger was silently promising that the teenager wouldn’t be needing to leave SeaQuest any time soon to fly home or anywhere, if he and Bill Noyce could work together enough.

Under allergies you have written two things,” Kristin noted. “Avocados?”

Ben Krieg gave a sharp gasp of shock at that detail. “Allergic to avocados?”

It’s not like I have a choice, Krieg. They don’t like me,” Lucas said.

But you live in California,” he said, horrified by what he had just learned and shorting the name of a personal favourite food, guacamole.

The disappointment on Lucas’ behalf at missing out on such a delicious condiment in its addition to a lot of foods was clear, “So no guac….. ?”

No,” Lucas replied.

Man, that means I have to change all my plans for Mexican themed parties nights aboard SeaQuest and everything,” he huffed at the unfairness of it all. “Are you doubly sure? Because you could be mistaken about what you wrote down.”

Leave him alone, Ben,” Kristin scolded lightly, seeing that he was trying to add some humour again. “What effect do they have on you? Is it eating the flesh, or even touching the oil in the skin that causes an adverse reaction?”

Eating them,” Lucas said firmly. “They make me throw up after consuming any recipe with them in it. Not a pleasant experience, believe me.” He had not thought about needing to let anybody know about his food allergies.

That would be something that Head Chef Don, needs to know about, Lucas,” Bridger remarked.

Hey, you should all know by now, I don’t come with an instruction manual,” Lucas joked.


The other allergy you wrote down could be just as serious; bee stings?

I need for you to tell me a few more details if you can please,” Kristin requested. “Some people have different levels of reaction to insect stings, most ending in only mild irritation and a raised area and reddening of the skin.”

The three of them had noted the sudden change in demeanour in the teenager at seeing him write down his home address, and his parents names. But those instances seemed to pale in comparison to the dramatic reaction that those two words caused.

I thought you needed to know,” Lucas said, his voice barely above a whisper, as he fought within himself. “I wasn’t even going to write it down.”

Kristin could see that he was holding back information, and could only hope that something may be noted about the extent of his allergy on a medical file, should she manage to find one. But of course, there was no guarantee of that.

Lucas stood up, grimacing at the pull of stitches and his bruising protesting loudly at the abrupt movement, “Sorry, but I have to go,” he mumbled, unable to hide that his hands were trembling badly at the very memory of that time in his life.

These people in the room didn’t know how bad that particular incident was, and it still shook him to the core to think about the circumstances that lead up to that particular hospital stay. The only reason he knew how serious his condition had become, was by overhearing a doctor talking to one of the nurses when they thought he was still unconscious.

Kristin knew that something was very wrong, but trying to stop him right now would only result in pushing him closer to the edge. She didn’t want to do that so soon after learning about the abuse. On the face of it, gauging by his reaction now, it may be an event that he would never be ready to tell them what had happened.

Kristin put a hand on his arm, trying to see if she could get him to calm down and talk to her, even about something else that wasn’t remotely related to filling out forms.

The emotions had begun to swell and become overwhelming, and no matter how hard he tried to suppress them right now, he couldn’t. Lucas looked at her, and could see the concern on her face for him, “Please don’t ask me to tell you about it. Because I can’t. Ever!”

I promise I won’t.” It was the only thing she could think to say after receiving such a heart-wrenching plea.

Bridger stood up and was prepared to back Kristin up, with his own concern multiplying about how upset the teenager had become in a such a short space of time. The Captain went one step further and put his a supportive hand on his shoulder. The trembling he could detect running across his shoulder blades was worse than what he and Ben had experienced that day in the corridor before he collapsed.

Hey, hey, slow down and talk to me for a minute,” Bridger implored with a soothing tone. “None of us are not going to make you do anything you don’t want to.” But his understanding words were not enough to persuade the teenager.

A quick glance from Nathan to Ben spoke a silent warning to be ready for anything. Krieg didn’t grasp the reason for his friend’s sudden change, but he could sense the worry pouring off the Captain and the doctor. Lucas himself was another story entirely.

Sorry, I cannot be in here any longer,” he repeated in apology to the Captain, pulling away from them both. “Please don’t make me stay.”

Unless they were going to physically restrain him, they had no choice but to leave him alone for awhile. He was on the verge of losing his composure, but none of them wanted to take such drastic actions unless it became absolutely necessary.

The three of them could only watch as he quickly grabbed his empty stash jar from a table behind him and walked out of med-bay as quickly as his hip would allow without running. They could hear the catch in his throat and see that he was on the verge of tears over whatever had triggered such a strong bolt of distress to course through him.

For Lucas, he felt that he had given enough of himself today, tomorrow and for weeks ahead. Maybe too much.


The three adults left in med-bay were trying to figure out between them what the next best move was after Lucas’ sudden and emotional departure.

What do you think we should do, Nathan?” Kristin asked, not masking her worry about him. “He is still determined to keep his independence, taking back his stash jar,” she added.

Bridger ran a hand through his hair as he tried to answer that very question in his own head, and worked out a solution. “Whatever it was, is something really bad.”

How about I go and try to talk to him first,” Ben suggested. “Not about what just happened in here, I don’t think that would be a very productive approach. But I have a few general bits of news to tell him about the mess hall that I haven’t told him about yet. Whilst I am doing that, I can try and encourage him to come and help me for a bit.”

That blood test still needs to be done as soon as possible,” Kristin commented, knowing it was a slightly lower priority than his psychological frame of mind at the moment. “We are not prepared for any emergency that involve needing a blood transfusion for Lucas or anybody else on board. Particularly for any crew members with a rare type.”

I promise I will be sensitive and back off if he isn’t ready to talk. But I will try to get him to come and help me and keep his mind off what is bothering him. If we allow him to be on his own too much, he will only brood over it, and try to hide behind it.”

A launch is due to dock very soon to unload supplies,” Ben said, looking down at his watch and noting the time. “Once everything has been off-loaded, it is due to depart again to take Mr Cooper up-world and off SeaQuest.”

I will make sure that I am nearby to supervise,” Krieg attested. “He won’t have to do any heavy lifting that may cause problems with his stitches. He can sit in one place and mark the inventory off against the cheat-sheet I use. It will be in the launch bay area, so he will be able to see Darwin as soon as he chooses that he doesn’t want to help any longer, or he shows signs of being in pain.”

Lucas doesn’t need any of that kind of antagonism today from the likes of him,” the Captain quickly retorted. He made a mental note to make sure he was in the immediate vicinity before the launch was due to leave.

Tag, you it,” Nathan stated, grateful for Krieg’s involvement. There was no guarantee that the teenager would be wanting to agree to doing anything judging by the way left.

I guess we don’t have much choice but to try something,” Bridger replied.


During his walk towards Lucas’ small cabin, Krieg went over a few different ways of how he might approach the anxious teenager. Any request to help would only be possible if he was prepared to listen. The door could be locked, thwarting any attempt to gather his co-operation.

By the time he reached the door, Ben decided to stick to his normal game plan, and just come out plainly and be honest. That was probably what the kid wanted from anybody right now, not flowery words and empty gestures that everything was going to work out alright.

Krieg knocked politely on the door, and waited before testing the handle. He was mildly surprised to find it unlocked, but pleased that a small amount of lee-way had been given and that the teenager wasn’t entirely too closed off just yet.

Come in,” came the invitation to enter.

Lucas was sitting at his small computer table when Ben opened the door. All signs of being upset had been pushed aside, maybe a little too quickly for Krieg’s liking. Only to be replaced by the expression of expectancy for someone to turn up, and suspicions held about their motives and intentions.

If all you have come here to do is try and cheer me up, Ben, then don’t bother,” Lucas warned. “I know the Captain and Kristin probably sent you in here. I am sorry that you got lumped with the job.”

He had been waiting for Krieg to bring up about his sudden departure and about everything Kristin wanted, not being completed. But he was thankful when it wasn’t brought up immediately. He could dance around more about his answers or what he had missed later. He knew that the doctor was expecting to take blood from him at some point today.

No, that isn’t it at all. Actually I had a few things to tell you about that I missed at breakfast this morning,” Krieg said. He knew not to voice out loud that the teenager had already assumed partially correctly.

Ben proceeded to tell him about the launch arriving very soon, and ask if he was up to helping out with the new inventory.

I don’t want you hauling any of the boxes anywhere yet, or Kristin will have my hide in a sling. But I thought it might get you out of here for a while,” he enticed.

To be honest, Lucas didn’t want to go anywhere, and the idea of getting a few more hours sleep had plagued him after leaving med-bay. Tiredness was quickly catching up with him today, and it would only be a matter of time before it showed more prominently.”

He didn’t have the heart to turn down Ben though, and he was convinced that his friend was still there partly to check up on him. “Yes, alright I will follow you out. I am halfway through devising that software for you that I told would write.”

Really? That would be great, but don’t go to too much trouble,” Ben responded, but in the back of his mind he was asking a different question. ‘When did you have any time to do that lately?’

What were the other things you had to tell me?” Lucas asked in curiosity.

Mostly about some changes to the mess hall, and they don’t apply just to you,” Ben stressed, knowing that the teenager would assume that he had been singled out for special treatment, when that wasn’t the case.

Don got permission from the Captain and has stocked one of the fridges in the mess hall with sodas and fruit juices. In addition to the cold water bottle station that you already know about. There is also tea, coffee and hot chocolate facilities being arranged as well. They are for anybody any time of the day and don’t require any money like the vending machines. The drinks and snacks in those are still available too, but will require a coin donation as normal.”

Why the change in policy?” Lucas asked, not convinced that Bridger or the chef had a sudden change of heart.

Some of the scientific staff in Kristin’s department were kicking up a bit of a ruckus, saying that they were hard done by,” Krieg answered truthfully. “Once the military personnel heard about their complaints of having to spend their own personal funds for the vending machines, they added their voices of protest as well.”

Don went to the Captain, and eventually agreed that there should be cold and hot drinks available throughout the day outside of regular meal times. Some of that stock should be arriving on that launch I just spoke to you about.”

There will probably be a few changes yet, once Bridger has time to sit down and sift through all the requests. Some he will out-right nix straight away and throw out as frivolous expenditure or impractical wish-lists,” Krieg stated. “But anything that benefits the crew as a whole I think he will be willing to implement as best he can. They come under the banner of maintaining the morale of the crew, keeping the peace by, in addition to feeding and watering them properly to attend to their duties.”

Anything else you needed to tell me?” Lucas said, thinking that Krieg had explained himself well enough, but reserving judgment and retaining a healthy amount of skepticism.

Not tell so much this time, as ask,” Krieg began. “I saw you take your stash jar back from Kristin. As Supply Officer, it is my job to oversee everything ordered in. I just wanted some clues as to what you like to put in them, so I can help you stock up.”

No, thank you,” Lucas said firmly.

No?” Krieg said in confusion. That wasn’t the answer he had been looking for.

No, as in, I don’t want you to order in anything for me. I usually keep a variety in them, something different in each jar. Nuts, dried fruit, sultanas, that kind of thing,” Lucas explained. “Stuff that doesn’t need refrigeration and can be stored for long amounts of time.”

That will surprise Kristin, she was thinking that you were only keeping lollies and sugary treats in them. The unhealthy stuff and that was what you were living off,” Ben commented. The kid had given some good forethought into his choices.

I don’t have any money at the moment to fill them up yet, but I don’t want you or the U.E.O. subsidising what is my responsibility,” the teenager replied.

If I order anything in with the regular stores, you wouldn’t be obligated to pay for it,” Krieg informed him.

It saddened him to hear the teenager holding onto a reason like having no money, as the basis of refusing to accept help. His parents had never been rich by any standards, but he had not grown up experiencing not having it either. There were other uncomplicated options being put in front of Lucas, but his stubborn streak of remaining independent and relying on himself too much, was shining through.

And that is where the problem lies for me,” Lucas countered back. “I have found a way in the past to manage and get by without money. I have managed on my own before, until funds became available. And I intend to do that here as well.”

The teenager was determined that he wasn’t going to ask for money from anybody on-board or expect free-hand outs. He had existed perfectly fine without it the past, and that was what he was going to do now.

Come on, let’s get this stock unloaded, then maybe I can try out some of those noodles you ordered in for me,” Lucas urged, not wanting to argue with Ben over his stashes.

Krieg could see that he had lost that battle for now, and wouldn’t be able to proceed at the moment by ordering anything without Lucas asking first. He didn’t want to do that behind his back, and put their emerging friendship in jeopardy with mistrust.

You are just saying that to try and avoid giving a donation to the doctor’s blood-bank,” Krieg theorised. “Not to say that I blame you, because no doubt she has the same unfair plans for me,” he grouched.

The two of them left Lucas’ small cabin, heading towards the launch bay. The over-head speakers gave the announcement that the launch had arrived as scheduled.


Ben had left Lucas in the launch bay area briefly, heading to get his own clip-board and the printed inventory list that he needed. He made a brief stop by the mess hall and grabbed a drink for both himself and the teenager.

Kristin had remained in the science labs, indicating that she had plenty to keep herself occupied for a number of hours. She asked them merely to keep her appraised of how he was coping, wanting to allow him some time away from her questions.

Captain Bridger had been standing in the launch bay area himself, talking to Commander Ford, and holding onto what looked like blue-prints for the vessel. Lucas didn’t hear what they were saying, could see Bridger stop briefly and notice his presence.

Krieg arrived back, handing over the soda as the two of them started looking at the list together. “You will need to count the boxes, and then mark them here accordingly,” he instructed.

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the Captain and Ford, and Bridger’s unspoken appreciation of being able to persuade the teenager to be doing something to occupy his time. For the next half an hour, assigned crew members unloaded the boxes and stacked them along the wall out of the way so they could be to be counted.

Bridger kept his attention on his own task at hand as much as possible, forcing himself to give the teenager some breathing space. Ben was doing well enough without his input. But the teenager’s calm exterior quickly changed as they all heard Chief Crocker’s voice approaching the area.

He was currently escorting Robert Cooper to the launch before its impending departure. Manilow’s instructions were formidable, and authoritative, not giving the man the option to speak unless he was asked a direct question. Crocker had not known that the teenager was going to be in the launch bay area today.

Lucas looked up, his less-than-impressed expression at recognising his antagonist plain to see. Tim O’Neill was following Crocker, being the operator of the launch today.

Cooper showed a moment of surprise himself at seeing the teenager in the vicinity. Of course Krieg was standing close, and he grinned widely again as he spotted the Captain on the other side of the room too. With the fat-tub of lard, and Commander Ford in the immediate area as well. All of them ready to pounce on him if he even looked sideways at the kid.

Keep moving,” Crocker ordered the man gruffly.

The sanctioned crew member and now prisoner threw caution to the wind as a last act of defiance before being forced to board the sea-craft. He shared one final look between himself and Lucas, unable to wipe the smug look off his face.

‘Snowflake’ he mouthed silently, and saw that the teenager understood the taunt.

To his credit, Lucas remained very still, his own intense gaze never leaving the man’s face. He wasn’t about to be deterred by any slur directed at him, nor intending to show any sign of backing down. The mutual dislike between them was obvious to all.

Lucas turned around as the Captain’s speak beside him, not having noted the man close the distance between them until now. “I doubt you will have to worry about seeing him again.”

Lucas nodded his head at Bridger’s statement, but a feeling in pit of his stomach said otherwise and he wasn’t quite so sure about that.

Something in the back of his mind told him Cooper would be back, but he couldn’t figure out why he felt that way. He didn’t voice that opinion out loud, because it would only make the Captain and Ben more watchful over him than they already were. And he didn’t want that.


A splash from a tail from the moon pool caught Lucas’ attention once the launch bay doors were closed. He handed the clip-board to Krieg without an explanation, and made his way over to the dolphin. A genuine smile appeared on his face and Ben could see that he had just lost his helper for the foreseeable future.

Commander Ford had finished his discussions with the Captain as well, and Krieg watched with interest as Bridger made his way quietly over to where Darwin and Lucas were together. The teenager had taken up sitting on the stool near the pool and had taken possession of the vocorder from its bracket.

Bridger was standing behind the teenager, talking softly to him. Ben saw the man put a hand on the teenager’s uninjured shoulder, but there was no immediate withdrawal.

Are you going to finally show me how it works?” came the quiet question from Nathan, showing genuine interest in something that the boy was very passionate about.

Lucas looked over at the Captain, pausing for a moment, before offering a small smile of agreement. “Yes, but I will go slow for you because it is complicated,” he added with a small laugh. Bridger taking the jibe good-naturedly.

Bridger was perhaps the only one that he was willing to share the technology with at the moment. Ben watched from a distance and observed that the teenager’s reactions with the Captain were a little different. Lucas was slightly more relaxed in his presence when it was just the two of them together.

It wasn’t clear if Lucas even felt it there, and the Captain may not have been paying attention that he was doing it either. To Krieg, though, it was quiet a powerful moment of positive acceptance between the two of them. He doubted that the teenager would have allowed anybody else to be so close and within his personal space.


The interaction between Lucas and Bridger continued for approximately the next forty minutes, before Darwin singled that he was finished with work, and swam out of the pool to feed outside of the vessel.

Lucas got up and replaced the vocorder back in its rightful spot. He and the Captain spoke together for a moment, before the teenager left the area, headed down the corridor in the opposite direction.

Bridger came over to Ben, seeing that he had taken over accounting for the stock. “Lucas seems a lot better now, than he was earlier,” Krieg commented, as he stopped writing.

You must have been quite eloquent when he first left med-bay to persuade him to come here in the first place,” the Captain commented with gratitude.

Not really, Sir,” Krieg answered. “I made a judgment call that he would be looking to keep his mind occupied. Although I told you earlier about Cooper leaving on the launch, I would have preferred it if Lucas wasn’t elsewhere for that.”

I don’t know what that guy’s problem is with Lucas, but I am glad that he is finally off SeaQuest,” Bridger remarked. “We won’t have to worry about him.”

Do you mind if I say something off the record, Sir?” Krieg asked, not sure how the man would react. “It is not about Cooper or anything that went on in med-bay today.”

Fire away, I don’t mind you being honest at any time,” Nathan answered, but intrigued at the Lieutenant’s change in direction of conversation.

I just wanted to let you on how much more relaxed Lucas is in your company, Sir, than anybody else on-board. He has a different stance about himself when he is around you. Even to me or Doctor Westphalen.”

Really?” Bridger faltered, thinking that he hadn’t been doing quite enough to gain the boy’s trust. “This morning certainly didn’t indicate that he was very relaxed at all.”

I think that was a little different, Sir,” Krieg pointed out. “And we don’t even know what the cause was there yet.”

Go on,” Nathan prompted, seeing that Ben wanted to say more.

I have been standing here watching the both of you for well over half-an-hour,” he started to explain. “That kid uses masks to his advantage, and he is good at keeping them in place sometimes. He says one thing when talking, but his face says another. But behaviour never lies.”

The happiest I see him is when he is with Darwin and working on his vocorder program. And just now, explaining it to you, he was willing to do so as soon as you asked. I don’t think he would be quite prepared to do the same with me or anybody else.”

He appreciates that you are willing to spend time with him, and take an interest in what he likes,” Ben continued. “I don’t think that Lucas has ever had anybody pay attention to him on that kind of level before. He doesn’t want to get to close to anybody, or allow anybody to do the same towards him. At any other time, he is drawing away when anybody else is offering too much friendship.”

That is interesting,” Bridger replied, taking in what Ben was saying, hoping that his efforts were having that kind of effect. The comments about anybody paying attention to him before were probably not far from the truth, going from what little they already knew.

Lucas is starving to be shown any kind of affection, and has been pushing everybody away when it is given, because it is too unfamiliar to him. Denying the battle, and then retreating when his emotions inside get too strong,” Ben commented. “There were positive signs that you were starting to break through that barrier a little today. You are slowly getting through to him, Sir.”

I am due on the Bridge in a few moments to relieve Jonathan,” Nathan said, putting a temporary stay on any further discussion between them. “Let’s pick this back up at another time. I appreciate you taking the time to tell me.”

No problem, Sir,” Krieg returned, looking down at this watch, “My shift there is about to start shortly too.” He could see that the man was a little uncertain about the praise he had just given, but he didn’t regret it. He had been truthful about what he had noted, and definitely hoped that trust could continue to be established.


When he commenced his shift on the Bridge, Nathan informed Jonathan Ford about the departure of the launch, with Cooper on-board as part of his removal. Chief Crocker would be with Tim O’Neill as he piloted the smaller craft until the man had been delivered to the main-land. Then both would return to SeaQuest.

The Captain discreetly kept the small network of people watching out for Lucas informed about completing the medical history required. Those present had groaned out loud themselves at the thought of having to do the same. Nobody was particularly looking forward to Doctor Westphalen’s probing and tests.

Bridger intended to maintain Lucas’ privacy and wouldn’t give away any specific details. He did make a mental note to speak to the teenager at some point, as he may have to tell a few crew members about his food allergy. He did tell them that Lucas had left the area prematurely, but that they were still in the dark over the cause of his panicked reaction.

Nathan was about to warn them that Lucas may be looking for some space for the rest of the day, but just as he said that, the teenager walked onto the Bridge. In his hand he was carrying a biodegradable container of noodles that were still hot after being heated in the galley microwave.

Having food or beverages on the Bridge certainly wasn’t protocol and he could see the slight frown forming on Jonathan’s face in unspoken objection. At least he was intending to eat something, Bridger thought to himself and the boy wasn’t consuming them here. The lid was closed and he was probably going to take them back to his cabin. Having them in a portable manner like that would no doubt appeal more to Lucas, rather than having to stick to eating in the mess hall.

Upon entering, Lucas walked over to Commander Ford first, and started talking to him quietly.

I thought I would come and see if you quickly for a few minutes and ask if you still wanted my help working on those door locks,” he broached with the dark-skinned man. “I am going to have a late lunch now, but could start afresh tomorrow if you like?”

If you are willing to help out, Lucas, then by all means, that would be great,” he answered. He was very open to the idea and grateful for the offer of assistance if the youth thought he could handle it.

Ford wanted to check that working on the door-locks wouldn’t cause him discomfort or pain due to his injuries that he had, but erred on the side of caution about bringing up such a topic in front of everyone.

Come and see me when you are ready first thing tomorrow, and I will arrange with Katie Hitchcock to make the tablet available that I mentioned to you. She will want to record any changes in the maintenance log for future reference,” Ford explained.

Sure,” Lucas said, now turning to talk to the Captain before leaving again.

Bridger took a closer look at the boy’s face and could see fatigue setting in. Like Jonathan, he thought it wise not to mention it for the moment, especially since he was intending to eat. A wrong comment could see him change his mind and forget all about the food.

I wanted to come in here and organize that with the Commander before I head back to my cabin for a few hours,” Lucas told the Captain. “I have a few things I want to work on this afternoon.”

Nathan was hoping one of them would be sleep, but upon hearing the teenager’s plans, he doubted that it was priority.

It was Ben Krieg who was about to become a little over zealous in his attempt to try and bolster the boy’s confidence about his computer skills, and go about it completely the wrong way.

Hey, Lucas, something is wrong with my computer screen here. I bet you could come and tell me what the problem is?” the Morale Officer announced.

Up until now, Ben had been a great help, but right now, he was trying much too hard, and it was obvious to all that it was becoming annoying.

Bridger saw the teenager roll his eyes at Ben’s tactics, and could see that Lucas was less than impressed. He was about to call out Ben and tell him lay off, but upon second thought, chose to remain silent and see how the teenager handled it first.

Ford saw it too and stood back, knowing he had already made the mistake of talking about Lucas and his computer skills when he didn’t realise that the boy could hear him. He had incurred the boy’s razor sharp tongue and wondered what Krieg was about to receive.

By now, Lucas was over-tired, and noticably so to crew members standing nearby. He didn’t want to be patronised in front of everybody on the Bridge, and decided to tell Ben off in his own unique way. He didn’t want to hurt Krieg’s feelings, or do anything rash, but sometimes a line had to be drawn in the sand.

Sure, Krieg, I can tell you without even walking over there and looking at the screen what is wrong with it,” Lucas said, his voice sounding overly pleasant and accommodating.

I knew you could!” Ben exclaimed too loudly. “Tell me what I need to do.”

Grab a piece of paper, Krieg, and write this down word for word as I explain it. The coding may be a little complicated for some people,” Lucas said, almost having to bite the inside of his cheek to keep the sarcasm out of his response.

Krieg did exactly as the boy requested, taking a piece of paper, and positioning himself with pen in hand, “Lay it on me.”

I am just about to do that Ben Lucas thought to himself.

Write down these letters and numbers in this specific order,” Lucas directed. “I .D. at the front.”

Ben copied down what he was hearing.

The number ten following after that, but space it out a little,” Lucas instructed. “Followed by a capital letter T on the end.”

Okay, what comes next,” he said, not having caught onto what Lucas was trying to say yet.

Read it out loud all together, Krieg. And then when you are not sure, read it again,” Lucas repeated.

Hey, wait a minute…..,” Krieg said, standing up, trying to get the kid to explain that he had written everything down correctly. Until he looked down at the piece of paper he was holding.

Ford and Bridger were close enough to read the line, and couldn’t hold back their burst of laughter at Ben’s expense.

I .D. 1 0 T”

Another moment and the penny dropped, and Krieg to give a wry smile of his own. He had fallen right into his trap and been totally out-smarted by the teenager.

I guess I deserved that,” Krieg said sheepishly to the Captain and Ford.

Yeah, I think you did,” Bridger agreed, pleased to see that nobody’s pride was hurt. Krieg might remember to tone down his attempts from now on.

Ben walked over to Lucas, giving a look of apology at being a total ass. Lucas accepted it and gave a small smirk of triumph in return.


Lucas was getting ready to walk off the Bridge, when Miguel Ortiz made an announcement to the Captain.

Ortiz had been taking over O’Neill’s duties at his communication station in addition to his own for a few hours, while Tim was piloting the launch up-world. He didn’t know about the Captain’s earlier instructions about communications coming to him from Admiral Noyce.

Captain, I have Admiral Noyce coming through to talk with you via video-link,” Ortiz stated.

The small group were all able hear the startled gasp of shock, and see the immediate colour change to the pallor of the skin on Lucas’ face. He did leave the Bridge, but it wasn’t at a walk. Major panic had set in, and the Captain and Ben were not quick enough to stop the teenager from escaping through the dome doors.

He was on edge again, perhaps not quite to the same level as he had been when leaving med-bay. But bad enough. It mirrored Lucas’ abrupt departure from the Bridge during the Admiral’s video-link about the new funding for the hyper-reality probe.

Krieg had followed the teenager, trying to catch up and intercept him to find out what was wrong. A minute or two ago, they had all been sharing a laugh.

Miguel, tell the Admiral that I will contact his office in a few moments from my quarters,” Bridger instructed, knowing that it was clearly the video-link from Noyce that was bothering Lucas. He knew that Bill wasn’t the teenager’s favourite person, but he couldn’t put his finger on why his mood had changed so drastically.

Aye, Sir,” Miguel answered dutifully, but guilt sounding in his voice.

It’s wasn’t anything you did, Mr Ortiz,” Bridger informed him, knowing where his train of thought was headed.

Commander, you have the Bridge for a moments, I will return as quickly as I can,” as he headed out the dome doors himself, ready to find one wayward teenager.


Kristin had come near the small cabin, not knowing what had transpired on the Bridge. She wanted to ask if Lucas was prepared to give her a blood sample yet.

Upon seeing the Lieutenant knocking on the hatch door, and asking the occupant if he was alright, “Please open the door, buddy. I just want to talk to you.”

Ben turned and saw the doctor standing there, with her tools of torture in hand, “I don’t think you are going to have much luck with that,” he told her.

Has something else happened?” Kristin asked with concern.

I managed to coerce him out earlier, but this time I am not so sure,” Ben answered with less than half of any kind of story after med-bay. “He was helping me in the launch bay area, and spent some quality time with the Captain and Darwin near the moon pool. It looked like he was enjoying what they were working on together. Honest.”

And since then?” the doctor prompted, understanding that whatever the problem was, had occurred very recently.

Lucas was on the Bridge only a few minutes ago talking to Commander Ford about doing some of the computer work he had promised. He had food in his hand too, which was a win today without having to be badgered about it. He even told me off when I over-stepped the boundary. From all angles he appeared fine, maybe a little tired, but that was fixable. Now we are back to this.” he remarked, knocking again.

Has he locked himself in again?” Nathan asked as he approached both of them in the empty corridor. Then realising how stupid that sounded. He had seen Ben knocking on the door, and heard the last comments of the conversation with Kristin.

Yes, Sir, but no luck of getting him to answer yet,” Krieg answered. “Now he simply refuses open the door. I can hear him moving around in there. He has decided to ignore us.”

Miguel took a communication from Bill, and announced it on the Bridge like he is supposed to,” Bridger told Kristin. “That is what made Lucas run out of there this time.”

Do you have any idea why?” Kristin queried.

Nathan shook his head negatively at her. “I don’t think cutting the power or bombarding him, or pounding on his door is the option for getting him to willingly come out this time around.”

You don’t,” Kristin and Ben both said at the exact same time in unison.

No I don’t. His emotions are up and down like a roller-coaster today,” Bridger began. “Earlier this morning he appeared to be a little better when having breakfast, only to be set off in a panic in med-bay as you both saw.”

Then he was with you, Ben, and seemed in a better frame of mind again. The time he and I spent together with Darwin, you told me he looked more relaxed. And now he is back to panicking again and locking the door to keep everybody out.”

Let’s give him some space and see if he is willing to unlock it afterwards and talk to one of us, one on one,” the Captain suggested.

Ben and Kristin were both about to voice their objections to let things drop for a moment, until they heard Nathan’s next assessment of the teenager’s mood.

I know this probably isn’t what either of you want to hear, but we have to let him dictate the time frame of when he is ready to talk.

He remembered back to how tightly Lucas had been gripping his hand, and finally understanding what the boy was seeking, more than anything else. “I am not saying to walk away this afternoon and do nothing. I don’t want to that even now,” Bridger stated. “But we need to give him the chance to feel what he is craving: safety.”

You know that statement that was made recently about Lucas feeling like he was being backed into a corner?”

Bridger saw them both nod their heads in agreement, and Ben in particular. It had been him who had made a similar comment to the rest of the crew, just before they started searching for the teenager’s secret hiding place.

Well now he sees that corner as a cage, and the door is bolted shut. He is still feeling very trapped and alone right now, despite any number of assurances we have given him. Reactions like this from him still have all the hallmark of him feeling like there is no where else to go or hide all over again. Locking the door like this, is the only way he can gain some sense of control.”


Katie Hitchcock had taken over command of the Bridge, and other crew members like Ben Krieg, Jonathan Ford and Doctor Westphalen had all eaten dinner, and gone to their own cabins for the night.

Lucas had remained behind his locked cabin door for the remainder of the afternoon an evening, without showing any sign of coming out to join them or wanting to talk.

It wasn’t until well after 3.00 a.m. again the morning when Captain Bridger made his way into the mess hall, unable to sleep himself due to worry about the teenager. Upon wandering into the room, he came across Lucas having a cup of coffee on his own.

Nathan knew that Kristin would not be happy to hear that the teenager was missing more sleep and partaking in drinking caffeine at this hour. But being in here now, he couldn’t help but think the quiet atmosphere may just present the right opportunity. The chance to talk may not come along during daylight hours when everybody was busy and there was too much noise.

Bridger poured a cup of coffee from the station, and came back to the table where Lucas was seated. With just the two of them in here again, it made it a little easier to talk. The conversation started exactly the same as it had the last time, only Bridger was hoping that he didn’t say the wrong thing and have the teenager storm out.

Couldn’t sleep?” Nathan asked casually.

Haven’t even tried,” Lucas answered truthfully, and that could be plainly seen. The fatigue very noticeable. “And your excuse this time?”

Not much different to the last time you asked, couldn’t sleep either,” Bridger replied. He thought about adding ‘worried about you’ but changed his mind.

Nathan found himself thinking back to Ben Krieg’s comments from earlier in the day about Lucas being a little more relaxed in his company. He took that observation and decided not to pressure Lucas about doing anything specific. He could sit here and lend an ear if the boy chose to unload any unresolved tension or frustration.

Lucas spoke first, surprising Bridger with the topic, “I guess you and others have lots of questions about why I freaked out when Admiral Noyce’s name was brought up on the Bridge?”

I am not here to judge you, Lucas, but if you want to talk about anything, I am willing to listen,” Nathan responded, thinking back to what he had said in front of the teenager’s cabin. About him dictating when he was ready to talk.

I am sorry that I left from there again, for a second time in a rush,” he said with some regret, with the first signs of apprehension emerging again in his body language. The Captain had offered to listen plenty of times, and he kept brushing him off. Just like he was trying to do now, so for the first time, he tried describing what had been going on in his head.

At the time, I didn’t occur to me that the Admiral would be calling up to talk to you, when I heard Miguel speak,” Lucas said, putting his coffee cup down, and focusing on the table as he spoke candidly. “Although I don’t know why, because he has done so before. Its only natural for you and he to be talking about things going on with the SeaQuest.”

You don’t need to apologise. What did you think?” but then the answer came to him.

Lucas looked up at the Captain as he continued, playing with his fingers, “I was expecting the Admiral to be calling to say something about my father,” he confirmed, pushing away from the table, and fidgeting, unable to shake the nerves.

I know that you probably thought I was reverting back to my old habits of wanting to hiding away again. And I cannot lie, you wouldn’t be wrong about that conjecture,” he said with a self-depreciating, hollow laugh that fell flat.

It the first defence mechanism that kicks in automatically, without a lot of conscious thought or deliberate action on my part,” he continued. “I cannot help but react that way sometimes.”

I know you still overwhelmed by everything, but you can talk to me any time and I will try to help. I understand you have misgivings about everybody’s intentions. I wish I could make it easier for you.”

I know you are carrying a large dose of fear inside you about what must seem like and unknown future. That is totally understandable, and not something that I expect to disappear overnight.”

Nothing will happen without your knowledge and consent,” he reaffirmed in relation to leaving the vessel. If he needed to keep emphasising or repeating that statement, then Nathan vowed that he would do so.

Bridger could see the emotions building, and reached over, grabbed both of the boy’s hands gently in a gesture of comfort, and pouring meaning into his words. He agreed with Krieg’s remark about affection never being shown towards him, but was pleased when Lucas didn’t pull away from his touch.

I want to believe what you are saying, and telling me about being here away from him. I do,” the teenager poured out, “But I guess my mind is continually reminding me and stopping me from thinking that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Or hope. Or whatever anybody throws out there as bait to cling onto.”

I thought the Admiral would be calling to tell me…….that my father was ordering me to come home,” unable to make the words form into a coherent sentence, his voice barely above a whisper. He was holding onto his composure by a thread with sheer will power.

Bridger’s heart almost broke at the teenager’s admission. “We will get through this together!” giving his hands a squeeze in support.

To be continued…………………………

Jules

Author Notes:

I hope that the multiple changes of emotion are not too jarring for readers. I want the uncertainty, and mix of emotions throughout and then the bits where a little co-operation is reached intertwining. Lucas is still both finding his feet on-board and dealing with the aftermath of the abuse being discovered, and coping as best he can.

There was a lot more to happen in this chapter, but that will now continue into the next one.

The details about Kristin’s husband Nelson and her daughter’s name being the same as Lucas’s mother are all canon details from the show. As is the story about her daughter dyeing and shaving her hair. The story about her being deceased and how that happened are fictional only and woven in.

Anything to do with Krieg’s background is totally invented, including about his own family and upbringing and where he is from, except his birth-date. Any antics between Ben and Bobby are totally made up, as are the younger years of Bridger and Bill Noyce.

Details about Lucas’ extended family are made up, and some details about who the aunts and uncles are have already been given away in stories such as My Mother’s Son and others such as “The Will”. I haven’t decided yet how far I will explore about his grandparents.

All birthdays given for the characters are canon according to the show as much as possible, except for Kristin’s exact day and month, as I could only find a year, so I chose the date myself. Any years and dates not revealed yet, will be in other plots as necessary.

I am setting up backgrounds for some of the other main characters at the same time, some have links to canon references, otherwise they are all invented to suit.

Information about the addresses where Ben and Lucas were living are invented, but Ben’s is a real street name chosen at random in that area, and the baseball field name and the academy are real places. The area of San Jose for Lucas is a real place, but the street address is of course invented.

The details about Kristin’s friend living in Africa and operating an animal reserve are invented to fit in with my future story Africa and will be explored more in that plot.

The details about Lucas’s rare blood type and allergies will be used for future plots and will come up as necessary in those. The were quite a few other large clues about things that happened, but haven’t been fleshed out properly yet. They will be, just holding them in reserve for now for another time.

The mention of motion sickness that I started right from the first chapter of Please Tell Someone relates briefly to a few different upcoming plots and stories that are already written. But there it is also included in some completed stories such as The Perfect Christmas Present and Whispers On the Wind which will have major additions to them.

I was supposed to be writing a totally different story in another fandom to this one. Those readers will not be happy with me.

Thank you for reading. Enjoy. Any reviews gratefully accepted and cherished.

Jules

Chapter One – Nothing Has Changed

THE GREEN PEN

By Jules

Author Notes – thank you for everybody who is still reading. It truly means a lot that people are reading after such a long time of being away. I hope you enjoy this next instalment.

This is the second story in my new series, and it would be helpful for you to read Please Tell Someone as this story continues straight into a new page from the ending scenes of that story.

The reason for this title will not become apparent until much later in the story, but was thought of ten (10) years ago or more, when the original plot came to me long before I added in the new adoption arc.

Any legal references, laws, requirements for reporting abuse, the steps taken afterwards, court proceedings and outcomes and interview protocols are all fictional. Some are based loosely on real laws and circumstances, but a lot are fabricated to suit my story only and have been changed to suit the plot I have derived. The same with which authorities are involved and their individual roles and responsibilities.

This chapter will be a little darker and angsty for most of it, because it is building to some of the most important scenes of the whole beginning adoption process – and that is Lucas’s long held secret has just been found out. But I intend to have quite a few light-hearted ones as well and some new things happening.

Sorry folks, this opening chapter wasn’t meant to be this long – actually half of the stuff I wanted to put in here won’t come up until Chapter Two.

There will be a lot happening in this story as well, so I am not sure how long it will be yet. Probably longer than the first story.

Chapter One – Nothing Has Changed

from the end of the previous story:

Bridger knew he was only beginning to understand. And there was so much more that he wanted to talk about and say to the boy. To be able to do to help him overcome these inescapable obstacles. He was aware that it would take time and patience, and most of all, it might require everything he had to give to keep his promises.

And now the story continues:

Quite a few more than twenty-eight seconds had now passed. The coldness of the room was beginning to seep into his own lower back, and he needed to move from the position he was currently sitting in.

Nathan Bridger slowly and quietly raised himself off the floor, not wanting to make a single sound at the moment to disturb the sleeping youth who was still seated against the opposite wall. His head was at an awkward angle, and although he had fallen asleep due to exhaustion and pain, it was restless, not restful. Nathan doubted it would be long before Lucas woke again from more discomfort.

Time to stop that from happening if he could, and make some plans of getting the teenager out of his own cabin and back into Kristin’s capable hands down in med-bay so that he could sleep properly and be monitored carefully.

Everything that he had heard tonight about Lawrence Wolenczak would have to wait until Lucas was being taken care of and in a much better frame of mind. How long that might take, Bridger didn’t know. He had to force himself to push it all aside for the time being and deal with what was happening right in front of him.

The current time was close to midnight. The Captain looked over at the aqua tube and saw the lighting was on, and he could see his dolphin friend hovering about in silent vigil as well. Moving himself out of the void that Lucas had created for himself, but still close enough to be able to see him, Nathan reached for his own PAL communicator and spoke into it.

Doctor Westphalen answered the page from the Ward Room. None of the crew had left and they had been waiting upon further instructions from Bridger.

Kristin, I am going to try and bring him out to you in a few minutes,” Nathan spoke quietly. “He finally fell asleep, but even now it is not peaceful. He totally wore himself out emotionally, and it was incredibly hard to watch and listen to, but right now I have to do what I can. I doubt his little cat nap is going to last long; even now he is still grimacing in pain. He is leaning with his back against the wall, and probably pulling at those stitches you put in.”

We were able to hear everything that happened between you in the Ward Room, Nathan,” Kristin warned him, emotion coming through in her own voice at the distress and new revelations that they had overheard.

Everything?” the Captain asked with concern, trying to think about how Lucas would feel and react to that piece of news. The devastation from revealing what was going on just to him alone in this cabin had been plain enough to see on his face already tonight.

He is completely exhausted. He ran out of whatever stamina was keeping him going over the past couple of hours. For the moment, I just want him to know that he is not alone.”

I will be ready in med-bay when you both arrive,” Kristin assured him, able to hear the worry he held for the teenager’s physical and mental condition. She had the same fears herself. They all did.

Let me talk to Ben for a moment please,” Nathan requested.

Yes, Sir,” Krieg answered, the man’s voice portraying what everybody was feeling. A sense of outrage and helplessness that they wanted to correct, but scarcely knew where to begin.

Make sure that the corridors from this cabin to med-bay are completely empty when I do move him,” Nathan instructed. “I don’t know what his state of mind is going to be yet, but whatever it is, he doesn’t need any kind of audience. It might be better if you all just stay in the Ward Room for now until he is back under Kristin’s care.”

Understood, Sir,” Ben agreed, handing the communicator back to Kristin and preparing to assist the Captain in anyway possible.

You all just heard what the Captain asked, and it might be best for the moment that everybody wait here, until he manages to move Lucas back to med-bay,” he relayed back to those crew members seated around the table. “After that we just take one step at a time until we hear from him or the doctor herself.”

Commander Ford and others nodded in agreement. They recognized that the fewer people involved for now the better.

Putting away the communicator he held, the Captain pondered what his next move was going to be. He really didn’t want to wake Lucas, but knew that he couldn’t leave him the way he was much longer either.

Moving back to where the teenager had sequestered himself, and crouching down in front of him, gauging for a few moments what he might be dealing with. Even the need to interrupt what little relief he was receiving right at the moment seemed unfair.

Nathan reached out and moved a thumb softly and gently down his right cheek to see if the boy would respond to his touch. He was rewarded when Lucas opened his eyes briefly. The teenager started to close them again, but not before recent events and memories of angry words being shouted slowly started filtering into his tired brain. He turned his head, looking back at the Captain.

Whether it was tiredness or something else, the teenager didn’t shrink away from the man being so close this time. But the expression on his face was plain to see. He didn’t want to talk any more about his father, his past, or anything in general.

The teenager lifted his right hand to his face, rubbing at it tiredly, sighing audibly as he tried to wake himself up more. Bridger could see that the blood on his hand and down his arm from the I.V. was dried and thankfully had stopped. He wasn’t sure if Kristin would be wanting to put a new one in somewhere, but she would make that decision according to what was best for Lucas.

The groan of pain said everything to Nathan, “Come on, let’s get you off this floor for a few minutes,” he suggested, pulling the blanket back up around his shoulders, but as soon as the teenager tried to sit up, it fell down again. An involuntary shiver ran through him.

Whose idea exactly was this again?” the teenager asked plainly as the stitches in his back protested at any movement. “Oh that is right, mine. My bad,” answering his own question with half a genuine smirk.

Bridger tried to give a small smirk of his own in return. It was the only thing he could do to stop his own true emotions from showing, but Lucas didn’t deserve or need to see any of them at the moment. It was either a smirk or white hot anger, so he chose the same one as the teenager.

Lucas was trying to quash any fears that the Captain might have about what had been shared with him about his home life. Bridger definitely appreciated the effort, but seeing it directed at him through eyes that were at half-mast and punctuated with grunts of pain the teenager was trying to mask; the attempt of trying to lighten the mood he was hoping to achieve was lost and fell very flat.

The Captain used the palm of his hand and placed it gently against the teenager’s forehead, trying to determine if the fever he had felt earlier was still present. The unnatural warmth was still present, as was the shivering, despite the blanket. Time to get the boy some decent medical care, and hopefully this time around he wouldn’t be in such a hurry to object or leave.

Nathan was prepared to lift him off the floor once more like he had done earlier if that was what was required, but even with his body protesting loudly, Lucas was determined that he wasn’t going to allow the Captain to carry him like a helpless invalid this time around.

With his brain definitely not firing on all cylinders, fatigue was taking its toll on what he needed to think about right now. “Where are we going?” Lucas asked with confusion, as he started trying to pull himself up off the floor, feeling a supportive hand from the Captain holding onto his right arm near the elbow.

Back to Kristin to take a look at your stitches,” Nathan answered, wanting to be honest, but waiting to see what level of protest and defiance he was going to be met with.

The exhaustion that he had spoken about to Kristin was in the forefront, as Lucas managed to pull himself to his knees firstly, and then with a great deal of effort, to his feet. He made a grab for the small table he had been standing beside earlier.

I don’t know if I can do this,” he admitted truthfully. The statement could have been about any number of reasons after everything that had been exchanged, but at the moment his only focus was about being able to put one foot in front of the other without falling over.

Lucas could feel the blanket being draped around his shoulders now that he was standing upright, but he held some serious concerns about his leg being able to support his weight and allow him to walk.

I will be right beside you the whole way,” Bridger promised.

The pain he was currently experiencing was real enough. Trying to take a deep breath, Lucas had to close his eyes as he was met with resistance and started coughing. He could really use a drink of water right about now, but didn’t think there was any about, so didn’t voice his need.

No stairs please,” the teenager pleaded as he took the first tentative and shaky step forward.

We will take the back route today,” Nathan assured him, but not sure how much of the brief conversation he was following.

By the time the two of them had made it to the hatch door, and out into the corridor, Lucas was grimacing in pain with a deep frown appearing on his face.

Once outside in the corridor, stubbornness set in again and Lucas pulled his arm away from Bridger, determined that he was going to make the distance on his own. The barriers were beginning to build themselves up around him again already after only a few steps outside of his cabin.

Bridger had to concede the battle a little, choosing to stay as close as the teenager would allow, who was making the return journey on sheer will power and resilience. Nathan had to silently wonder how often Lucas had found himself having to rely on his own independence for it to become such a strong defence mechanism.

Thankfully, Ben had kept to the plan about making sure the corridor was completely empty. The time of night was probably also a factor with many of the other crew members and staff in their own cabins sleeping. Krieg had wanted to be near med-bay when his friend finally made it back, but erred on the side of caution, and went to the teenager’s cabin, wanting to to collect some fresh clothes for Lucas. At least that would have him doing something useful.


Lucas and Bridger reached the science department, and were almost at med-bay. The teenager’s steps were getting a little more unsteady again, and the Captain had to marvel as how strong willed he was being. His sub-conscious must have kicked in a little as well as they reached the door way, his brain briefly reminding himself that he didn’t want to be there.

Physically though he was done, and his body’s need to rest overrode his brain’s warnings, making him take that last step inside. By the time he approached the bed he had occupied previously, he didn’t seem to notice that Bridger was holding onto his right arm again in case he faulted.

The bed awaiting him was the same, but had been freshly made with new sheets and clean blankets, with all signs of blood splatter removed. He tentatively sat down on the edge of the bed, trying to collect his thoughts. He had yet to utter a word or notice Kristin standing only a short distance away.

A mobile table was located at the end of the bed, and on top of it rested a food tray. There was a glass of juice and a glass of water on it, and something smelling inviting on a small plate. Without hesitating, he reached out with his bloodied arm for the water and slowly drank it, putting the empty glass back.

It was only now that he dared to look up, waiting for the scathing words to come from Kristin about his foolishness. He had yet to learn that she had heard everything he had spoken. He thought she was still cross with him about the argument he had with her before leaving med-bay without permission.

S-sorry,” he mumbled the single word apology towards the doctor, not having any other excuse that he could think of right at this moment to explain his actions. He knew it was very inadequate after what he had done.

Kristin stepped forward, making sure she was wearing her best understanding face. She didn’t need him to say anything at the moment. She could hear his physical pain and could see the fatigue multiplying by the second.

Let’s just take care of you for the moment,” she said gently. Although he didn’t answer, she saw he had somewhat resigned himself to being under her care again for now.

Kristin handed him a small medicine cup containing two white tablets, “They will help relieve your pain, for a little while,” she offered him. There was a pause for a moment, as he looked at the medication and her, deciding what he wanted to do. She had been expecting him to ask what they were, but a small window of trust opened between them that she would know what he needed and the correct dosage.

Bridger and the doctor were both pleased when he accepted the pills, and used the glass of juice to wash them down with. They could see the inner battle still raging within himself, but he wasn’t quite capable of strongly objecting to anything at the moment, or causing more of a fuss.

Finishing the juice, Lucas picked up the small spoon beside the plate and stabbed at the food that was there, picking up some and placing it in his mouth.

The chef sent it from the kitchen, it is cinnamon custard,” Kristin informed him, watching as he took two more mouthfuls. He must have finally felt hungry enough to attempt it without needing to be forced or pressured to do so, both adults thought to themselves. Neither of them wanted to interrupt him from doing so and were happy to see him eating.

The texture was soft and the taste was pleasant enough. Later he would let the chef know that he had liked it and would try it again.

Once the food was consumed, and the juice, he pushed the mobile table away from the end of the bed. He wanted to lie down on the soft mattress, but the doctor spoke to him first before he could do so.

I just want to take a look at my handiwork on your back and make sure that everything is still in place,” Kristin requested.

Lucas nodded slowly at her words, feeling her pull the blanket down from around his shoulders. He could feel her hands on his back, and arched away from the discomfort on more than one occasion, signalling how painful the sutures and bruising still were.

By now, Bridger had moved around to the opposite side of the bed so that the teenager could see him, watching the boy’s posture change as fatigue still controlled his emotions and movements.

Thankfully it looks like you didn’t undo any of my work,” Kristin commented, relieved to see that the stitches were still intact and the dressings themselves were mostly undisturbed. There was no sign of fresh bleeding, or swelling or redness, which was a very good outcome.

The bruising on his shoulder and hip were standing out against the paler skin but there wasn’t a real lot the doctor could do about that now. She suspected the colour would change and perhaps even darker further over the next couple of days.

Lucas grimaced in pain again, a deep frown appearing on his face, dragging his legs up onto it, and pulling his body down onto the left side. He was facing the wall again, grimacing at the pain, too early for the medication to be having any lasting effects. He didn’t know if the doctor was going to be poking or prodding him more if he was in this position, but didn’t really care at the moment.

With him laying on his left side, Kristin was able to take a dampened cloth and proceeded to carefully begin washing away the dried blood from his lower right arm and hand. With him accepting the water and juice, and eating a little, she was cautiously optimistic about not having to attach a second I.V.

Kristin kept a watchful eye on his face as she tendered to his arm, with tiredness clearly visible, she couldn’t help but draw the same conclusions as Bridger about how young he appeared. The pain was only exaggerating his age and vulnerability. He didn’t react at all to her administrations or offer any conversation.

A shiver ran through his body, and Bridger drew the blanket up around him, waiting for him to fall asleep, but it seemed that the teenager was having trouble letting go and allowing himself to rest. Fear was still a strong influencing factor, despite what he had promised him.

Nathan had taken a hold of his left hand, and as he had done back in his cabin, was gently rubbing the back of it in slow rhythmic circles, hopefully to help him relax, and to give some silent reassurance.

What happens now?” came the first question, but as he asked the question, his eyes were slowly closing finally. He forced them open again and looked directly at the Captain, waiting for an answer.

Nothing that you don’t want it to,” Bridger said quietly, maintaining eye contact but positive that any complex conversation would have to wait.

Kristin was now finished cleaning his arm and hand, and had applied a small covering to the needle entry mark itself. She suspected there may be some bruising on the back of his hand by morning given his determination to rip it out. The doctor was attempting to be as quiet as she could to allow her patient to drift off to sleep, and was grateful that Nathan was present to assist.

Despite that, Lucas opened his eyes again, fighting the pull of sleep, his senses dulled, but remaining somewhat alert.

Go to sleep and rest,” Bridger cajoled softly. “We will talk later.”

Just as he thought that might be achieved, Ben appeared at the doorway with one of Lucas’s changes of clothes in his hand. The noise of someone approaching had caused Lucas to jump a little again and he was trying to turn his head and looking back over his shoulder to see who it was.

Ben whispered an apology to Kristin at the intrusion and could see that his friend was still trying his hardest not to go to sleep and didn’t want to give in, no matter what the Captain was promising him. The two of them stood near the doorway, knowing that Nathan had been much more successful today so far than either of them at getting through to the over-tired boy.

It wasn’t just the expression on his face, the small tremors of fear he could detect, only caused Bridger more concern. He could also feel the teenager’s hand gripping his own very tightly.

Captain, he cannot find out that you know,” Lucas pleaded with desperation saturating the sentence, the muscles in his arm tensing slightly again as his brain tried to drag itself out of the fog and make him think about what the consequences of what would happen when his father found out. The brief conversation was only shared between the two of them.

The fear was so real on the boy’s face, Nathan fought to keep his own expression calm. Lucas’s eyes drifted closed again, and the battle was almost lost.

With them opening halfway again not a second later, Bridger lowered his voice, “You are safe in here,” he whispered, finally realising what words the boy needed to hear coming from him.

This time Lucas’s eyes slowly closed, whether it was the medication helping to ease his pain, the comfortable pillows underneath his head, the warmth of the blankets covering him or the exhaustion finally taking centre stage and settling in. His face beginning to relax and his breathing deepening as tiredness wound its way into every muscle fibre and nerve synapse and sleep took over.

After a few moments, the Captain’s efforts were rewarded with the hand gripping his own releasing, as the teenager succumbed to the demand to rest. Nathan placed the sleep limp hand next to him onto the bed, and accepted the second blanket from Kristin, both of them draping it over the slumbering form.


Nathan stood up from the chair, but stayed beside the bed lost in his own thoughts. It took a hand on his own shoulder for him to turn around and see Kristin standing next to him, with a mix of emotions written across her own face.

Ben Krieg remained just inside the doorway, not wanting to interrupt whatever small amount of peace his new friend had found.

Kristin walked over to the light controls for the room, making them dimmer over that side of the room. She then joined the two men and the three of them moved out of earshot away from the teenager, so that any conversation that took place between them would not disturb Lucas.

He certainly doesn’t want to give one inch,” Bridger commented. “He has enough stubbornness and tenacity in spades. After tonight, I feel like I have run a marathon.”

I cannot thank you enough, Nathan, for what you have done today,” Kristin praised. “You really have made a difference to him today, even though he may not be willing to completely accept it just yet.”

Doc, I went to his cabin and fetched a fresh set of clothes for him, thinking he might be looking for them later,” Ben said, handing over the garments. “They were the only ones I could find inside his bag.”

Thank you for your thoughtfulness, Ben, I am sure Lucas will appreciate it a little later,” Kristin answered. “You have done some great work yourself today.”

Sorry, but to me it doesn’t feel like any of it was anywhere good enough,” Ben remarked, thinking of the up-hill battle that they were facing.

I agree with you on that point, but I need the both of you to go and get some sleep for a few hours, because I may need you both later when he starts to wake,” Kristin stated.

All of us are more than a little overwhelmed by what we all heard today, and that includes the other crew members who were listening in the Ward Room.”

None of us are in the frame of mind needed to make any concrete decisions right now,” Kristin continued. “We all need to give ourselves enough time to process our own emotions, just like Lucas.”

Are you going to wait down here with him for now?” Bridger asked Kristin.

For several hours at least,” the doctor confirmed. “Don’t worry about me, lots of years of practical training through various hospitals prepares us for long nights and less sleep. I will rest a little later once I am satisfied that Lucas is getting enough himself.”

Please let me know if you need me at any time, once I leave here,” Bridger requested. “I doubt sleep is going to come any time soon for me, but I will try, for you and him.”

The same goes for me,” Krieg weighed in.

Kristin watched the two men leave the med-bay area, knowing that both of them were reluctant to do so.

She quietly walked back over to the bed where Lucas lay asleep. Silently asking for his forgiveness of not knowing the underlying cause for his reluctance and defensiveness.

You have people who care about you, Lucas,” she whispered, finding herself adjusting and smoothing the covers to feel that she was at least doing something. “Please let us help you.”


Upon returning to his own Captain’s quarters and closing the door, the silence in the room was deafening to Bridger. He found himself barely able to stand still in one spot or allow everything that had happened to filter through his brain. The pull to go back to med-bay and just sit in a chair beside Lucas was very strong, but with Kristin relying on him, he had to push the desire to do so aside.

When he had been in this very room a few days ago, having the epiphany about Lucas being on-board and how he felt about that, the words that had echoed in his mind had been his own. About what new challenges and responsibilities they were all facing, with him most of all due to his position as Captain.

Now, the only voice he heard was that of Lucas. Scared, hurting, shouting out in frustration and pleading to be left alone, not knowing which way to turn, and feeling like there was no-one he was able to depend on. And then came the horrific truth that had been revealed, and who was responsible for his fear and pain and sense of isolation. A trust that had been broken between parent and child. Nathan was still coming to terms with how any person could allow themselves to devolve to such a level.

Mistakes, oh he had made enough of his own with Robert that was true. But never once did he ever think of doing anything that would cause his son to be afraid of him. To make him feel unwanted, mistreated and a burden. He would have rather hurt himself before he would have allowed that to happen.

It boggled the mind how any parent could break that most sacred of promises, to hurt their own child. How long had it been going on for? According to Lucas’s own comments, admissions and actions, much longer than any of them dared to guess at or think about. The devastation that had appeared on the teenager’s face about his darkest fear being found out kept haunting his current thoughts.

…every day when I am under his roof. Or anywhere for that matter, and a lot of the time more than once a day. That it never stops?” Those were the words Lucas had shouted back at him.

Not just on odd occasions, or infrequently. But daily, and sometimes more.

….those beatings would still be happening right now, without any of you finding out about them or being able to do a damn thing to stop him.”

What if they hadn’t found out about the abuse at all, and just assumed that the boy hadn’t wanted to come back to SeaQuest? He didn’t know how he could have dealt with that knowledge if they had found out about the abuse happening after Lucas had left and not been in a position to know about it happening or to stop it. That wasn’t too far from where they found themselves now.

As the Captain drifted off into a light doze of his own about 2 a.m. in the morning, his main focus was waiting on the difficult video-link conversation he would be having with long-time friend Bill Noyce.

Until some very hard questions could be asked of Lawrence Wolenczak, they were somewhat in limbo about Lucas’s future. But Bridger was just as determined now as he had been when he promised the teenager to protect him and that he wasn’t going to be sent back to his father.


Commander Ford and the other senior crew members who had been in the Ward Room during the later half of the previous night, had dispersed back to their own cabins not long after Bridger had managed to convince Lucas to return to Doctor Westphalen’s medical care.

None of them knew that today would bring on that front, but all of them were prepared to help where deemed necessary. The details of the old and new injuries that Lucas currently had were a difficult pill to swallow. He was too young to have found himself on receiving end of such treatment, when he didn’t deserve it.

Jonathan Ford, Tim and Miguel resumed their own early morning shifts, wanting to give the Captain some much needed rest. They knew that he would play a pivotal role in some of the outcomes during the next twenty four hours. Doctor Westphalen as well.

Ben Krieg had slept for a few hours after returning to his cabin, but found himself wandering onto the Bridge much earlier than needed for the usual commencement of his shift. The normal charismatic and friendly Morale Officer, was much more subdued, and they all knew what the cause was. The man needed to keep his mind busy, and work seemed to be the best way to do that at this hour of the day.

Chief Crocker and Commander Hitchcock were not due to start their own shifts today until later in the morning. Ford was aware that the Captain and Krieg’s rosters may need altering during the next several days to suit the needs of their youngest crew member. Ben hadn’t asked for or sought out any special privileges, but would be given every consideration due to how close he was becoming to Lucas and his success at getting the teenager to talk to him during the past week.

It was only half an hour into Ben’s early presence on the Bridge, that Tim O’Neill was fielding a video-link call from U.E.O. headquarters.

Commander, I have Admiral Noyce calling for Captain Bridger,” Tim announced.

I am going to bring a cup of coffee to Doctor Westphalen,” Krieg announced, knowing that he could no longer stay where he was without knowing about his friend.

Ford knew that the Captain had been waiting to talk to the Admiral. “Patch it through to his quarters, please Lieutenant,” Ford ordered.

Aye, Sir,” O’Neill responded dutifully.

No doubt the Captain would share what he felt was necessary with them at a later time. Or that is what they hoped he would do.


Ben had collected two cups of coffee from the mess hall, and now made his way through to the science department, specifically headed for the med-bay area.

Knock, knock,” Ben whispered from the doorway towards the doctor who was seated at a small desk in the room.

Lieutenant,” Kristin smiled tiredly at him, glancing at the sleeping teenager as she went to talk to Ben.

You didn’t need to do that,” she said softly. “But I do thank you for your consideration. I definitely needed this.”

Rough night?” Krieg asked with concern, looking over her head towards Lucas.

It hasn’t been the restful night that I had hoped for,” the doctor admitted. “He is sleeping now, but has only drifted off again a few minutes ago. It is not the solid six or seven hours sleep that he had gotten in here the first time before heading up-world. At the moment it is too broken and not deep enough, and then he wakes himself up, and turns to look over at the door where you are now. At first he appears to be a little confused as to where he is, and it takes time for him to settle again.”

That has been the schedule for most of the night anyway, but I didn’t want to alert you or Nathan yet until it becomes absolutely necessary. He has drunk some more water on two separate occasions.”

I was going to visit, but I think I will leave it until later,” Krieg offered, a little disappointment creeping into his voice. “I don’t want to disturb what little rest he is now getting.”

These short bouts and snatches of sleep are probably going to make him more tired, not less,” Kristin reported. “I doubt he has gotten more than a couple of solid hours overall of the sleep he needs since you and Nathan left.”

Have you seen the Captain this morning?”

Tim O’Neill was just putting the call from Admiral Noyce through to him,” he informed her, both of them knowing that the conversation was going to be a difficult one for Bridger.

You call me if you need me, please,” Ben said. “I will be on day shift for most of the day, and will come back from time to time as I can.”

You have my word,” Kristin promised.


Captain Bridger took a few minutes to hear the page from Tim O’Neill. At some point during the early morning hours his doze had deepened into sleep.

He scrubbed at his face, running a hand across his forehead, forcing himself to wake. He then heard the page through the video-link, and got up off his bed to answer it.

Bridger,” he answered, looking over at the clock and noting that he must have been asleep for the best part of four hours.

I am sorry to disturb you so early this morning, Captain, but I have Admiral Noyce coming through from his office,” O’Neill informed him.

Thank you, Mr O’Neill. Please inform Commander Ford that I want this meeting to proceed without interruption. And please ensure that it is on a secure line,” Bridger ordered.

Understood, Sir,” Tim answered. He had wanted to say ‘good luck’ to the Captain, but decided to err against it and carried out the request without any further delay or comment.

A few moments later, Admiral Bill Noyce’s face appeared on the screen.

Good Morning, Nathan,” he greeted his friend cheerfully, but the expression on his face soon changed.

Nathan took up a seat at the small desk meant for the holographic screen. Normally he would stand to talk to the Admiral, but he needed to keep his own emotions in check as much as possible if he was going to be able to get through this without shouting. And even now, there was no guarantee of that.

Bill,” Nathan returned the one-worded reply. There was nothing ‘good’ about this morning for him to add any further embellishment.

Bill Noyce took a closer look at the man sitting before him, “You look like you could use a few more hours sleep, Nathan.”

I apologize for the time of day Nathan, but the message I received from you said that you were wanting to speak to me urgently? I am sorry that this is the earliest I could get back to you,” Noyce commented.

Before I get to that, I will give you my oral report on the progress of the vessel, because the other matters are going to take some time, and they will take some digesting,” Bridger informed Noyce cryptically.

Alright Nathan,” Noyce agreed, “I thought Commander Ford and Hitchcock would have ironed out most of the kinks by now?”

Hardly,” Bridger said with the first sign of an edge to his voice.

There are very few vessels as unique as the SeaQuest, and any with a combined crew number of that size go through teething problems, Nathan, you have been around long enough to know that,” Noyce placated, thinking that any problems might be getting made into mountains when they didn’t need to be.

I have, but I wouldn’t call the problems that my crew and I have been facing in relation to the vessel, teething problems,” Bridger responded. “The usual fights between the military and science departments could have been guessed at without too much trouble. But some of the insubordination, and harassment that has already been happening on-board is very concerning for this early in a tour. Although nothing we cannot handle at this time.”

Are you needing any assistance from me at this stage?” Noyce voiced.

No, at this stage, I have proposed with Jonathan and Katie that some training programs need to be drawn up to include all military personnel and scientific staff. They will be mandatory with no exceptions about completing them,” Nathan explained. “I want the military to be reminded of their obligations whilst on-board, and entrench in the scientific ranks that being on this vessel is a privilege and not a Sunday picnic.”

You and Jonathan have my total support for any initiatives that you want to introduce, Nathan,” Noyce said, inwardly thinking that this was exactly the reason he had asked the man to come back from his island.

Nathan’s way of dealing with personnel was quite different than other more modern Captains or Commanders and his initial hands-on approach often culminating in much better outcomes. But the results usually spoke volumes. Any minor hiccups now, would make the end game worthwhile when they were finally achieved, and the crew became more familiar with their day to day duties and responsibilities.

In the last two days since the scientific community has increased, there have been more glitches with the digital door locks and computer equipment on-board than the technicians can find a solution to or handle,” Bridger informed the Admiral. “We have had staff locked out of their own cabins, but also locked in with no way of getting out.”

Locked in their own cabins?” Noyce asked with his own concern growing about the technical issues beginning to surface.

The worst occasion was when someone was injured and they were locked on the inside and we couldn’t get the door open,” Bridger informed him. “It took the power being cut to a whole section of the vessel for us to reach them.”

I hope their injuries were not made worse by not being able to get to them?” Noyce enquired.

It was Lucas, and thankfully we were eventually able to get him out,” Nathan remarked. “It was only because of his determined efforts that we were able to come up with a successful solution the other door locks open in the first place.”

Young Lucas was injured?” Noyce picked up, frowning a little at this news.

Please Bill, I will explain to you about him in just a minute, but you have to let me do it in my own way, or I will never get through this,” Bridger pleaded.

Alright, Nathan, please continue,” Noyce replied.

Jonathan Ford has spoken to Lucas about helping correct the door locks on-board. As a conservative estimate, we are talking more than two hundred doors, so it is going to take some time to rectify the problem as a whole.”

Two hundred?” Noyce questioned, thinking that the number was quite large. “And you mention about there are other glitches as well,” he added with dismay.

The suggestion has already been made that you should be considering asking for a refund on this elaborate purchase,” Bridger said, but there was no laughter behind the joke, like there had been at the time it had been first made.

It was Bill himself that could see such a drastic change in Nathan’s usually calm exterior, and it was beginning to unnerve him enough to make comment about it.

Forget anything else about the SeaQuest and any technical problems for now, Nathan, tell me what you are really calling me about,” he requested.

Nathan smiled a little to himself, thinking that he had been able to mask his expressions and feelings, but apparently not well enough it would seem. His old friend knew him too well.

Bill, before I go any further, please make sure that this your office door is closed and your video-link connection to me is secured and confidential,” Bridger requested.

A raised eyebrow came from Noyce, not knowing Nathan to be a stickler for such strict security measures being in place. The fact that he was specifically asking for a secure line drew his attention the most. He could not recall a time in the past when his friend had made such a request during their four-decade long working relationship.


Bill Noyce made sure that Nathan was watching as he got up from his office desk to ensure that his office door was firmly shut and locked, preventing anybody from entering without knocking on the door first.

Once he returned to his desk, he made sure that the correct protocols were put into place that any of the conversation between the two of them, could not and would not be overheard by anybody else.

Done, Nathan,” Noyce promised. He was about to prompt his friend into continuing, but looking at Nathan, he paused and allowed the man as much time as he needed, just like he requested.

Instead of remaining seated at the desk, now Nathan rose from his own chair and began pacing back and forth on the carpet of his own quarters.

Please let me tell you as best I can,” Bridger repeated, looking down at his hands as he spoke as he tried to think of the best place to bring up such a difficult subject.

Nathan….,” Bill said quietly, thinking that he had not been many occasions that he had seen his old friend this rattled before. Not since the deaths of Carol and Robert at least, and he hoped that those memories were not haunting him. Maybe forcing him to give up his seclusion on an island and bringing him back to civilisation and into military service had been in his best interests after all.

I am going to ask you a question first, Bill, and I need you to answer me truthfully and without any hesitation,” Bridger began. “In fact, I have not wanted you to be so honest about anything else in a long time.”

Alright, Nathan, you have my commitment,” Noyce answered, not knowing how else he could lessen the man’s apprehension.

For the record, Lucas has no knowledge of this meeting between yourself and me today, but I do intend to advise him of it later. I have already promised him that there will be no secrets between us, and I intend to keep to that.”

How well do you…., no that isn’t quite right,” he started, but then changed his mind. “How much input did you have with the agreement that you had drawn up between the U.E.O. and Lawrence Wolenczak concerning Lucas’s placement on this vessel?”

Giving you a little trouble already is he? Remember I did try and warn you…,” Noyce began to say, but the look on Nathan’s face soon made him forget that train of thought.

That is not how I wanted you to answer,” Bridger pushed back, showing a little annoyance at the man’s ‘brush-it-aside’ attitude. But it wasn’t totally Bill’s fault, as he reminded himself that he hadn’t been able to tell him what had happened yet.

I never want to hear you bring up the issue of Lucas and him needing discipline or being trouble in the same sentence again in my presence,” Nathan ordered, making it clear that he wasn’t going to accept any argument of any kind to the contrary. “And I don’t want to hear one word from you or anybody else about him needing to be kept in line either.”

Noyce could see the agitation in Bridger begin to grow and the pacing back and forth increase.

What has happened, Nathan?”

Have you ever met his father in person?”

No, I cannot say that I have. Any business we conducted was done via video-link just like you and I are doing now. Any legal documentation was handled through his lawyer. From what I observed, a large man who has a very business like persona and any interaction has been strictly professional. The man travels quite a bit for business and it was difficult to arrange meetings with him in the first place to complete the arrangement.”

Yes, that last part has been brought up in discussions with me as well,” Nathan commented, the edge to his voice sharpening.

Right at this very moment, Lucas is in med-bay under Kristin’s care. She would want to be here this morning to make her thoughts known, except she is needed down there more at the moment.”

Is Lucas alright?” Noyce asked, his earlier concern about hearing the boy was injured resurfacing.

Perhaps that was the reason for Nathan’s current unsettled mood and snappy attitude. The man had always displayed strong connections and emotions when it came to handling animals and dealing with children.

Physically, no he is not,” Bridger answered. “How he ended up in that condition, please let me go back to the beginning and explain. Because you deserve to have all the facts. None of what has happened to him has anything to do with glitches or problems with SeaQuest that we have been talking about.”

It hasn’t?” Noyce started to ask, but a sudden rebuking look from Nathan made him stop talking and just listen again.

Right now I don’t even want to speculate on how he is emotionally or what the prognosis is for his long-term psychological health,” Bridger added.

He was satisfied that his comments were having the desired affect of shock and confusion on the Admiral’s face. Unfortunately he hadn’t even begun to hear the worst of it yet.


I know that you brought Lucas on-board with you just before you dragged me back here under false pretences,” Nathan stated, having no qualms about bringing up that little jab again about how he ended up on SeaQuest. Silently though now, a part of him was grateful that he had been persuaded.

Did you or his father give any consideration at all as to why he was being assigned to such a project in the first place?” Bridger asked plainly. “Or even give one single thought about asking what he wanted to do. Or if he agreed to come here in the first place?

Noyce looked suitability uncomfortable with the line of questioning that was coming at him. “Look Nathan, at the time of beginning such an ambitious project, there were very few investors willing to shed the amount of money, or even be in a position to do so. We are talking hundreds of millions of dollars, and the U.E.O. wasn’t able to fund such a unique opportunity on its own merits. Private funding was vital for it even getting off the ground.”

That’s so comforting to know, Bill, that dollar signs were dangled in front of you, and that was all it took to overlook the welfare of one fourteen year old teenager instead,” Bridger fumed, barely able to hold back a spew of other accusations that he wanted to make.

Now just a minute, Nathan, I don’t know what hornet has crawled under your hat today, but you are being totally unfair and unreasonable about the agreement that was drawn up,” Noyce defended. “The boy’s father mentioned to me that he was real smart and had already finished high-school and college. He was looking to put his son somewhere he thought would give him the best start at a career, with the hope of instilling some discipline and responsibility in him at the same time.”

Well, I hope that all the money that you received from him was worth the pain and suffering that Lucas is currently putting himself through,” Bridger remarked without the slightest bit of compassion in his voice at the man’s justifications.

Pain and suffering?” Noyce said, his voice suddenly changing and becoming laced full of concern for the boy’s welfare. The Admiral didn’t consider himself a tyrant or a bad person. He and his wife had no first-hand experience with kids of their own. However, he did object to his old friend accusing him of deliberately and knowingly putting the teenager in harms way.

Nathan had wanted to wait until later in his report to bring up the subject, but now he changed his mind. The Admiral deserved to know the worst first, then he could hear everything else that had occurred on-board up to this point.

Lucas’s father has been physically beating him, Bill,” Nathan said, his voice losing some of its impact as he struggled with himself to reveal the horrible truth. He had wanted to do it without emotion, but that clearly wasn’t going to be possible. “How long it has been going on for, I have no idea, that part has not been shared with me yet.”

Beating him?” Noyce said in total shock and dismay of his own. “Are you absolutely sure, Nathan? Lucas told you this?”

Unfortunately Bill Noyce knew the answer before he even asked his own question. This was the reason Nathan appeared tired and upset, and why he was carrying on with this current no nonsense stance.

I have never had to listen or witness such a heart-wrenching display of hurt and emotion from someone his age before in all my life, Bill,” Bridger answered. I have seen the evidence for myself, and it is beyond shocking to say the very least.”

And the fact that it has been happening at all didn’t just come up in passing conversation. It only came up under extreme duress, when he felt he was being pushed and had no other choice.”

Kristin will be able to show you the photographic evidence, but I can assure you, seeing it in a picture isn’t the same as seeing it on him first-hand. Nor is hearing his grimaces of pain, or watching him causing himself more harm and distress because he has been desperately trying to keep everything hidden away. He is too afraid to speak up to anyone, even when it comes to asking for help.”

There were several moments of silence between the two men as Admiral Noyce tried to process everything he had been told, and Bridger sat back down at the desk after having to reveal such harrowing news to another person.

Tell me everything from the beginning, Nathan, and please don’t leave anything out,” Noyce instructed. This is where he put aside the professionalism of being an Admiral, and asked merely as a concerned friend.


Before you go any further, please let me assure you that I never knew anything like that was happening. I wasn’t privy to any details concerning his home life,” Bill stated. “Perhaps I should have been more diligent myself and finding out more before everything was finalised on paper.”

I’ll accept that, it doesn’t seem that many of us knew anything about Lucas at all before he landed here,” Bridger agreed. “I am sorry if I sounded out of line a few minutes ago and was getting mad at you, Bill. I apologize for being too quick to jump to conclusions, and I shouldn’t have insinuated that you would have gone ahead with any arrangement if you had known otherwise.”

I remember the day he was on the launch with me that first took him to SeaQuest,” Noyce commented, thinking back and recalling what he could. “He got out of a private car, and his father wasn’t present at that time. The boy barely spoke to me once he entered the launch whilst we made the journey to the vessel.”

At the time I just put it down to him being a difficult teenager, and being a little resentful towards me for being there in the first place.”

Commander Hitchcock has only informed myself and the crew as recently as yesterday, about how difficult it has been for her to get in contact with his father. And she has reported about there being some private travel arrangements put in place between the launches, the airport and his home,” Bridger informed him. “She hasn’t met him face to face either, and confirmed that any dealings concerning Lucas were done with his personal secretary.”

It was Lieutenant Ben Krieg that voiced about how long each trip was taking from his home in San Jose California to the pier. More than five hours each time and usually in the middle of the night. At first there was some hope that he had overnight accommodation to stay in after this flight had landed, but has since been discounted.”

That day that you had the video-link conference with us all on the Bridge, and was congratulating Hitchcock about the new funding for her hyper-reality probe. Do you remember?” Bridger queried.

I do remember, Lucas was there too, but he walked away in a bit of huff after I made the announcement,” Noyce recalled. “I was trying to praise his efforts of speaking to his father about important the probe was and that a fresh cash injection was needed.”

From what little I have been told, his father was trying to drag information out of him about the probe. Trying to get his hands on classified information,” Bridger informed him. “Lucas tried to tell him that he didn’t have access to such details, but his father wouldn’t believe him. Why he was being so insistent on finding out about it is anybody’s guess at this point.”

Noyce shifted position in his office chair again, leaning against the back of it, and running his hand nervously across his mouth. He could scarcely believe what he was only beginning to hear and comprehend.

I guess under the circumstances then, his reaction at the time was fair understandable,” Noyce said as the acid in him stomach began giving him a hard time. “As you said, the probe is classified and strictly under wraps from anybody not directly associated with it. That would only be Commander Hitchcock herself and a handful of technicians directly under her supervision or those crew members who are assigned to duties on the Bridge.”

When Lucas first came on-board, he was apprehensive and nervous, just like anybody would expect from someone coming to a new place,” Bridger started to explain. “Probably even more so for someone of his age, and far away from home, and with no real connections to the military or any of the crew members. He was trying to find his way around on his own.”

Lucas feels like he is getting passed around like some kind of social experiment, with little or no say at all in what happens to him.”

It wasn’t long after you left, that I had the epiphany of a life-time right in this very room,” he continued. “One that I shared with Kristin at the time, and will confide with you here now about what we were left facing. Even without the current situation that encompasses me and everybody aboard this vessel, and I would even go so far as to include you to a certain degree as well, Bill.”

He is someone else’s child. And placing him here aboard the SeaQuest, placed an obligation on each and every one of us for that duration. But there is also much more at stake than that, and I doubt any of us even realise the number or individual skills that he will need to be taught whilst he is here.”

Together as a collective community of military and scientific people, we have been given the temporary custody of a very bright, youthful and impressionable young man and be expected to take him under our supervision,” Bridger said, repeating similar sentiments that he had expressed to Kristin. “Now I would even add to that description even more and say, vulnerable and unpredictable person.”

Becoming part of the crew, and being asked to live too far away from home, we are all going to be responsible for his health and well-being, just like a family. And the gravity and importance of that is only just beginning to truly hit home.”

With being Captain of this vessel, any final decisions are left with me regarding everything that concerns him whilst he is living here. Kristin and I spoke briefly, and I was fairly undecided then whether I was ready to become a father figure again.”

Nathan had always felt he was a failure when it came to his son, and regretted the time that he had spent away from his family on active duty. He knew how Robert’s disappearance and presumed death had broken the man on every level. Being reported as “Missing In Action” and not being able to bring his son’s body home for burial had left a bitter after-taste that would probably never fade away entirely.

From what Bill remembered over the years, being an only child, Nathan had always been a very caring father to Robert before he joined the military as a cadet. Social gatherings and military events had portrayed them as a happy family, and the man always displayed an endless amount of patience and understanding to children.

Noyce coughed a little at Nathan’s statement about being a father again, and he truly hadn’t considered the position that he was placing his long-time friend when he was searching for the best candidate for captaining the SeaQuest. He hadn’t contemplated the awkwardness it might have created by persuading him to come back, and being responsible for and involved with the day to day activities and well-being for someone as young as Lucas.

Lost in his own thoughts for a minute, Noyce was brought back to the current problem by Nathan’s next determined statement.

After everything that has come to light during the previous week, and especially during the last twenty four hours, I am determined to do whatever it takes to protect him. I promised him that much.”


After making such a proclamation, Bridger backtracked, intending to start at the beginning and add to the already damning account of everything that had occurred as soon as Bill left the vessel.

From the very first day he arrived here, there have been rumours and assumptions made about his purpose for being here. There was one person in particular that took it upon themselves to hurl threats and insults at Lucas without any provocation. He was told that he shouldn’t be here, and that someone must have been pulling strings to allow him being here in the first place,” Bridger commented.

It was Ben Krieg who hinted to me that someone his age may take some time to open up and feel comfortable around the other crew members. He has been great at trying to make friends with Lucas without having ulterior motives. He thought the best way to do that was to include him in the daily operations of the vessel. He genuinely cares about the boy and wants to make him feel welcome.”

Most of us didn’t know anything about him, what he liked, what he didn’t like. Without being asked to, Ben has already been going to some extra lengths, just to find out the basics about him. It hasn’t been easy, because Lucas has fought all the way about anybody finding out about him unless it was something he was willing to share.”

Krieg?” Noyce said, trying to picture a face to the crew member that Nathan was mentioning.

Lieutenant Benjamin Krieg. Our Supply and Morale Officer. He was in the same academy class with Robert. They were friends, although I do believe they did cause some antics back then,” Nathan remarked. “Speaking to Lucas himself a few days ago, he didn’t mind being in his company at all, even with Ben probing him for information to help the rest of us get to know him a little better.”

That is something at least,” Noyce commented. He was like Nathan and a little old school. Back during his own service aboard various vessels, the position of Morale Officer was not even thought of. But from what he was being told now, the right people being assigned under that title may just prove to be an asset.

Jonathan thinks he is a little unorthodox when it comes to carrying out his duties, but so far I very pleased with his efforts and friendly nature.”

After that little episode, I set up a small network of trusted people from my senior crew, in addition to Ben, who would keep a watchful eye out for Lucas,” Bridger said, “At that time we were still trying to identify the culprit and take some steps to prevent it happening again.”

Is this what you were mentioning earlier about insubordination and harassment being present on-board already?” Noyce interjected, not happy himself to hear the state of affairs.

Yes that was part of it, and that is when I instructed Jonathan to put into place the mandatory training program into practice for all staff on-board.”

That was a prudent move on your part, Nathan, and I look forward to seeing Commander Ford’s notes and recommendations on this program myself,” Noyce replied in praise at the man’s calm approach to solving one problem, but also creating an environment that was beneficial to all staff.

Well, it sounded good at the time, but it came about with its own set of hiccups too, and the same person was caught doing the exact same thing a second time, in a different area of the boat, the very next day. Again he was harassing Lucas and making him feel out of place,” Nathan replied with annoyance bubbling to the surface. According to him, the gossip getting around on-board was that he was seen as being nothing more than the ‘Captain’s Pet’.

Such childish….. uncalled for………,” were the words that he caught the man muttering to himself to deal with the anger that was emerging.

I hope by now you found out the identity of this person and have dealt with them accordingly?” Noyce questioned, he could see how much those words may have hurt Lucas, but also infuriated Nathan.

This time we were fortunate enough that there were witnesses that could come forth with a name, and add to the earlier statement from the first incident,” Nathan answered, making himself calm again so he could continue rationally. “The person was also being disrespectful to Kristin and her staff.”

It looks like this bad egg slipped through the system,” Noyce commented, thinking that there should have been measures put in place at the time of recruitment to stop this type of rogue crew member becoming part of the U.E.O.

Yes, I would say so, but to her credit, Kristin had no intentions of backing down to him or accepting his condescending assessment of her or the science department,” Bridger agreed with the Admiral’s assumption. “She dealt with the situation swiftly before I was even made aware of it occurring again.”

Kristin was fully prepared to defend Lucas, even without him knowing about it, and has declared that he belongs to her scientific department. She made sure that the person wouldn’t be carrying out such behaviour again in her presence whilst on-board.”

I was under the impression that she was a formidable woman when I first met her myself, and asked her to take up the position as doctor,” Noyce stated. “Doctor Westphalen comes with very high credentials and some outstanding references.”

Kristin has been making some great steps of her own to make Lucas feel like part of the crew, and I think her own intellectual ability to stimulate his thirst for knowledge will be of great help. In addition to that, being a doctor she has a very caring nature, and as a woman is beginning to feel a little parental herself towards him.”

That is something pleasing to hear,” Noyce commented, having spent a great deal of time in selecting and subsequently filling the vacant position.

The Admiral had hoped she would be someone who could communicate with Nathan on a grass roots level, given their common interest in conservation and the science fields. He had been aware that the strongly opinionated woman might challenge people like Jonathan Ford and Katie Hitchcock, who had expressed a different mindset when it came to leadership and engaging with people in a military environment.

The punishment for this person has already been drawn up and handed down by Commander Ford, with me taking a step back and signing off on his recommendations only as a matter of convenience,” Nathan informed the Admiral. “Accordingly, and in line with protocol and guidelines set out by the U.E.O, that crew members has been handed some stiff sanctions and will be removed from SeaQuest on the next available launch and will not be allowed to participate in the upcoming tour.”

I let Jonathan make the call on the specific details of the sanctions, because I felt I was already too closely involved because the actions had been against Lucas, and I wanted everything to appear impartial and above board,” Bridger added. “I would have preferred him to be removed permanently, but he has been given the option of redeeming himself by completing some stringent programs before he will even be considered for any future tour aboard SeaQuest.”


Nathan, I cannot begin to believe how difficult this was for you to discover, but how did you find out about the boy being beaten?” Noyce asked.

Before we get that far, Bill, first you need to hear about the first time we found out that Lucas was hurt, and it wasn’t by any willingness on his part,” Nathan answered. “From what Kristin has been able to determine, he must have been walking around for a couple of days at least, hiding his pain and discomfort from us all.

He was hurt more than once?” Noyce asked, unable to hide the shock at this new piece of information.

Yes, but the first time we cannot attribute to his father. I was only talking yesterday morning about setting up an investigation as to how it came to happen and the circumstances surrounding it,” Bridger answered, leaving the Admiral with a confused expression and more unspoken questions.

And I can see the look on your face already, but trust me, up until late last night we had no idea of why he would do that either,” he added, as his voice trailing off.

When Lucas came on-board, there was no medical history based on him. Kristin brought up the subject directly to him casually, that informed him that she would need to create a file for him, including some medical information and immunisation status. Lucas was adamant that he wouldn’t be co-operating in any way shape or form, or volunteering for any of the basic tests that she wanted to carry out.”

Kristin tried to assure him that the tests and information were routine and necessary, and that she could approach his normal doctor or his parents to obtain the information. Lucas told her that his father would be even less accommodating to a request of that nature, even if she could contact him. Now we have a better understanding of why.”

Nathan stood up and began pacing back and forth as he spoke again, needing to keep moving to stop the agitation building up within him.

Lucas was apprehensive about going to the mess hall to eat proper meals with the crew, and we didn’t find this out for a few days. Just like everything else,” Bridger explained. “He confided in Ben later that he had felt awkward on one such attempt, and that he didn’t know what there was going to be eat on here. None of us were aware of what the food likes or dislikes were for a teenager.”

Kristin was able to find out, much to his displeasure, that he has been surviving on eating snacks from a few secret jars that he brought on-board with him, and has stashed about his cabin. We found one of the jars almost empty yesterday morning.”

Been a while since either of us have been a teenager, or even eaten on a submarine on a regular basis, Nathan,” Noyce pointed out plainly, making fun at both their ages. “And all of your current crew members are certainly past their adolescent years.” Bill frowned a little as he realised it was yet another consideration that he hadn’t fully thought through when placing someone as young as Lucas on SeaQuest.

What did teenagers his age eat on a regular basis? He had absolutely no idea.

Once again, Mr Krieg has been most diligent in this area, and hopefully we will make a bit more progress with that over time,” Nathan said with a bit more positivity in his voice. “He informed me yesterday morning that he has ordered anything teenager friendly that he could lay his hands on, and there are now copious amounts stored in the galley kitchens and freezers. I have spoken to the head chef, Don on this matter as well to ensure that everyone on-board has access to a menu, not just Lucas.”

In addition to not eating on a regular basis, he hasn’t been sleeping enough for good health either,” Bridger informed the Admiral.

Not much more than a day after your announcement on the Bridge, Ben Krieg and I found him standing in the corridor. He was so unsteady on his feet he could barely stand up, and then before either of us were ready, and without warning, he collapsed into my arms.”

He was unconscious and couldn’t tell us what was wrong with him. His health had deteriorated dramatically within hours,” Nathan said, wringing his hands together as he recalled how he felt at that moment, and the concern he had held at the time resurfacing. “I haven’t had to look after someone while they were sick, since Carol’s illness on my island.”

Noyce could see how close Nathan was feeling guilty about what had happened the teenager and that he hadn’t noticed the signs of trouble for himself. The man usually prided himself on being observant and being able to pick up on trouble before it eventuated. But not in relation to these matters it would seem.

Luckily for us on that occasion, Kristin was on the spot at the right time, and took control,” Nathan said, continuing to tell the story. “We managed to get him back to med-bay, but we still didn’t know at that point what was going on with him. Kristin began to take stock of his symptoms, and determined that his blood sugar was probably low from not eating.”

It was clear to us while he was sitting on the examination bed, just how much the lack of sleep was affecting him. Ben and I had to hold him up for Kristin because he was falling asleep sitting up, unable to stay awake. When she removing his shirt to assess him more closely, that is when we discovered the bruising on his back.”

Bruising?” Noyce asked, his own expression troubled at such news, even though Nathan had already told him that the boy was injured.

And I don’t just mean a little bruise either, Bill,” Nathan replied. “It was extensive with half of his back from his collar bone to just below his rib cage, discoloured black and blue. It was still to very tender for Kristin to touch it without Lucas trying to pull away from her. She determined that it was at least a few days old, and that he would have had trouble moving his arm.”

Kristin diagnosed that there wasn’t much she could do except offer pain relief if he asked for it. Instead Lucas was settled into one of the beds, and allowed to sleep for quite a number of hours. Thankfully, he was finally getting some rest, whether the wanted to or not.”

By the time he awoke several hours later, his whole demeanour had changed noticeably, and he was very closed off and guarded to the three of us, Kristin, myself and Ben. He didn’t want to talk to any of us, or offer an explanation about how it happened. We had to coax it out of him, and even then he was adamant on not wanting to reveal too much.”

Lucas was under the assumption that his staying on SeaQuest was part of this agreement that you and his father came to. That he behave himself according to rules set out from you, and if he messed up and reported that he was injured to me or anybody else on-board, that he won’t be allowed to stay here any longer.”

Nathan, that is absurd, I would never have agreed to such a clause being part of any agreement that was drawn up, no matter who it was with,” Noyce defended himself. “Lucas really thought that I would do something like that?”

Bridger nodded his head in acknowledgement. “I do know that, Bill. But unfortunately Lucas doesn’t, he told us outright that was the deciding factor on his staying. He didn’t know what the purpose of him being here was, only that the deal was done, and that he had no choice.”

We have no idea what scale of measurement or deduction he might have used for that, but it is clear that it was partly the reason why he didn’t want to come forward about anything that was happening to him. The harassment, being hurt, or anything else. We have no way of knowing what his father told him before he came on-board to instil such a belief either.”

What else did Lucas tell you when you finally did get him to talk?” Noyce asked. Bill was still having trouble wrapping his head around everything that was being told to him.

Lucas told us that he fell down a set of stairs,” Bridger answered, “And Kristin’s assessment of pattern of bruising on his back appeared to match what he admitted to us.”

Somewhere in the his head though, Noyce was waiting for the ‘but’ that he could hear in the man’s voice as he spoke.

Well, I did speculate about that a whole lot. The timing of when it must have happened, because from what I could work out, there was a very small window of opportunity when it could have happened.

I brought it up to the crew only yesterday morning that somebody must have seen something about a fall like that. I want to find out why it wasn’t reported by someone when they would have seen a crew member hurt, even if it was an accidental fall. Especially when it involved someone Lucas’s age and they were the adults.

Ben even went a bit further in thinking that the fellow that had harassed Lucas might have been responsible for pushing him down a set of stairs. But there wasn’t any direct evidence to support that accusation, and there wasn’t the chance to get Lucas to elaborate further or ask any more questions.”

Why not?” Noyce asked, thinking that Bridger should have probed further from what he was hearing.

Because before we knew anything about it, Lucas left on the launch that was leaving that day to go back up-world, without so much as a goodbye or anything,” Bridger told the Admiral. “Jonathan Ford knew about it because he had seen the passenger manifest, but Lucas didn’t tell anybody else.”

Kristin was not entirely happy about him leaving her domain before she could examine him properly again, but he didn’t give any of us or her much of an alternative.”

Did his father know that he was injured when he returned home?” Noyce enquired.

Not that we know of,” Nathan replied with bitterness beginning to creep back into his tone. “At the time we thought that his family may contact us and demand to know what had happened, or at least take Lucas to see their own doctor.”


How long was he gone home for?” Noyce asked.

Two days, and when Ben and I found him returning on the launch yesterday morning, but it was clear that he had not gotten any of the care that Kristin had hoped for,” Nathan answered. “That is when the we begun realising there was a much bigger problem beginning to emerge.”

Was he still reluctant to talk about the fall?” the Admiral asked, making an educated assumption.

We didn’t get a chance to talk to him because he was asleep on the launch, and physically he looked worse than before he left,” Bridger reported. “Outside the launch an altercation broke out between two crew members over their lodgings. By the time that was sorted out and the crowd had dispersed, Lucas had awoken and was gone.”

Ben and I briefly discussed about giving him some time to settle in again and some space before approaching him about anything. I spoke to Kristin and she was going to take a look at him, but agreed on not pressuring him too soon after arriving back,” Nathan stated. “That is when I put together the meeting about starting an investigation about his fall. I also wanted to bring up about some of the lax attitudes that were beginning to emerge.”

How did the meeting conclude?” Noyce asked.

It didn’t. A member of the laundry crew arrived with one of Lucas’s shirts that he had given them, and that is when knew something else was very wrong.” Bridger answered.

Everybody at that table was aware that Lucas had deep bruising to his shoulder, but his shirt had some noticeable blood stains on the back of it.” Nathan continued. “So naturally Kristin and I, together with Ben raced to his cabin, intending to check on him.”

When we got there, his cabin was empty, and that is when we discovered that he was feeling scared and had taken the drastic steps of hiding away from everybody,” Bridger added. “We found out that he had gotten some bottles of water and a PAL communicator.”

Hiding away?” Noyce questioned with concern. “Bleeding? Where was he hiding and how did you find him?”

It took almost six hours to find his secret location. He was certainly determined for nobody to find him in a hurry,” Bridger answered. “He wouldn’t answer any of my attempts to talk or come out. In the end, I persuaded Darwin to help, because Lucas has been developing a strong connection with him over the past week, and was talking to him.”

Lucas was using one of the large air-conditioning ducting vents that opens out into Krieg’s quarters, but somehow he managed to elude us again, and climbed out of there. There was more evidence that he was bleeding from somewhere,” Nathan commented. “He was trying to reach his cabin and get away from us when his door lock malfunctioned, and locked him on the inside like I told you earlier.”

So you had to cut the power to release him?” Noyce asked, recalling the method had been spoken about earlier.

Yes, by the time I reached him, he was lying on the floor, something was wrong with his right leg, and he was burning with fever,” Nathan reported. “I had to carry him back to Kristin down in med-bay myself because he couldn’t stand up on his own.”

Kristin started examining him and declared him dehydrated, and with no way to establish the last time he had eaten anything, she took the precaution of hooking him up to an I.V. That way she could deliver pain relief and antibiotics.”

He was in a great deal of pain and feeling too miserable at that point to object to any of Kristin’s administrations. It was one of my first opportunities to see her work as a doctor, but I wish it had not been on Lucas. She has a very calming bedside manner, and managed to keep him calm the whole time.”

I will contact her personally myself and offer my thanks and praise for her due diligence and professionalism,” Noyce promised.

You do that, because I did tell her that I would talk to you about get her some medical staff. She had no one to assist her, and luckily only had one patient to focus her attention on,” Bridger replied.

But despite how good a doctor she is, even Kristin was shocked when she managed to remove Lucas’s shirt this time,” Nathan said. “The images are burned into my brain, Bill, and it is going to take time before I will be able to fully process them. Poor Ben Krieg was just plain horrified.”

What happened to him, Nathan.?” Noyce asked in a softer voice, seeing that his friend was growing angry again as fought to keep his emotions under control.

There were several lacerations across his right shoulder blade, the source of the bleeding no doubt, and one further down on his ribcage,” Bridger answered. “I had to stand there and watch her put stitches into his back. But that wasn’t the worse of it!”

Not the worst?” Noyce said, almost not wanting to hear anything further. Stitches sounded painful enough as it was, in addition to the other symptoms that had already been described.

In addition to the fresh lacerations, there was some new dark, discoloured bruising over his right hip that had not been there as a result of falling down the stairs. Kristin told Ben and I, that it was a boot impression….” Nathan said, pausing to see what the Admiral’s reaction would be. He wasn’t disappointed when the man on the other side of the screen wore the same dark look that he had at such startling news.

A boot…..,” Noyce said, scarcely able to believe the doctor’s diagnosis.

I had to stand there and listen to her tell me that someone had deliberately and maliciously stomped on that boy with a boot, Bill,” Nathan said, running his hands through his hair to keep from balling them into fists of frustration. “Hard enough to leave a tread impression from the sole of the shoe responsible on his skin, not to mention even more bruising.”

How could anyone do that to any child?” Noyce voiced.

That was my question, and Kristin confirmed that there was no way that the individual would have been able to carry out such a heinous act without being able to see what they were doing to Lucas, or hear the pain that he would have experienced.”

Oh Nathan, what have we gotten ourselves into the middle of here?” Noyce asked, trying to fathom what Lucas had been put through.

I will tell you what I said to Kristin: That there was no justifiable excuse and that it was no accident this time around, no matter who was blame.”


By the time Kristin finished with the stitches, Lucas was finally starting to fall asleep and finally get some rest,” Nathan interjected. “At that time we still had no idea that it was his father that was responsible. Kristin was fairly adamant there was evidence that identified the culprit.”

So how did you get him to tell you it was his father?” Noyce prompted.

We left Lucas in Kristin’s care for the next couple of hours. There wasn’t a whole lot Ben and I could do. I tried to contact you then, but could only leave a message.”

I had the small network of people gather in the Ward Room to inform them of what injuries had been discovered,” Nathan explained.

One of the glitches we have encountered during the past week relates to the overhead speaker system between the different areas of the vessel. Kristin contacted us in the Ward Room because Lucas was beginning to grow restless, and she wanted to get some answers. The comm-link between the Ward Room and the med-bay didn’t disconnect properly, so when she started talking to Lucas, those present in that room were able to hear everything that was exchanged between them.”

Kristin tried to broach the issue with compassion and understanding, but Lucas wasn’t in the mood for any kindness or caring from anybody. He was still in a lot of pain giving her a very hard time, being evasive, dismissive and generally not wanting to participate in any conversation. He told her that nobody was supposed to find out about him being hurt this time around, any more than the last time. That the injuries just happened all by themselves.”

Lucas made sure he had her full attention when he told her that she was free to draw her own conclusions about what had happened to him, because he wouldn’t be writing it down or explaining it to anybody. After that he just turned away from her and refused to engage in any further discussions.”

Ben and I went to go and give her some moral support and see if we could help, but in the short time Lucas was left alone, he decided that he wasn’t going to co-operate any further, and wanted to get as far away from everybody as possible again.”

What else did he do?”

While she was out of the room briefly, he ripped out the I.V. in his arm, spraying red over the sheets and blankets, and left med-bay on his own accord, with blood running down his arm and limping. He was so desperate to get away that he was prepared to do almost anything to escape, even risking further harm to himself.”

Shocking, Nathan, just terrible,” Noyce stated, unable to come with any other suitable words.

I was able to follow him back to his cabin, and I tried to get him to talk to me, just between the two of us. I was trying to approach him on a one on one level, but that is when his emotional state became worse. He was defensive, upset and feeling trapped with nowhere else to go. Physically he was over-tired and hurting and couldn’t go on any further. He was barely holding it all together, when he started shouting at me and was accusing everybody of asking way too many questions.”

I won’t go into everything he said, but he did reveal that his father was beating him on a regular basis. He wanted to make it clear that his father wasn’t the person everybody thought he was, including you, Bill. The way Lawrence is portrayed through his business dealings, with his company’s financial gains and scientific achievements, was nothing more than a smoke screen according to Lucas.”

I will never forget that devastating look on his face, Bill, when he realised that he had just allowed his deepest, darkest secret to be found out. Something that he has been trying to avoid and hide all this time.”

It must have been a difficult time for you as well, Nathan,” Noyce stated with empathy, knowing that his friend would have been affected at witnessing the boy’s distress.

He wasn’t going to accept help from anybody, including me,” Nathan confirmed. “He was very mindful of anybody getting too close, or being in his personal space, and he was feeling threatened. I was able to take a few tentative steps, in an effort to gain some ground and his trust. But it was far from easy.”

I want to help him. I told Lucas exactly that. I promised him that I would protect him, and do whatever it is going to take to fix this, and to keep him safe. And I mean that, Bill,” Nathan declared with fierce display of tenacity.

Noyce hid a small knowing smile at hearing such a strong statement of commitment coming from Nathan. Surprised to hear such sentiments? No, definitely not.

These were qualities that made up a large part of this man who held a strong sense of fairness and justice, but rarely showed it with such intensity unless provoked. Some of the unique criteria and traits that had drawn Noyce to pick him as the perfect candidate as Captain of the SeaQuest, despite his own personal association.

Lucas didn’t believe last night, of course, and I doubt he does even right now. But I aim to change that, and keep the solemn promise that I made.”

As Captain of this vessel, I do have a duty of care to him just like any other crew member, but this is more than that,” Bridger voiced. “He admitted to feeling scared, about reaching out and accepting any help that is being offered, even from me. I am certain that there are already a number of crew members on-board who are also willing to do whatever it takes to help him if only he was prepared to let them do so.”

Kristin has already indicated to me that she intends to report everything to the appropriate authorities. She has a legal onus to do so because of her own sense of duty, due to her position as a doctor and as part of the oath she took. That means Children Services at some stage will be notified and become involved, but she hasn’t given me a time frame yet for that to happen. Kristin is also aware that she needs to be sensitive to Lucas’ needs and well-being above any other requirements or obligations.”

I am sure that I don’t need to impress on you, Nathan, the legal ramifications that we are currently faced with. Whether Lucas chooses to co-operate or not, and even if Kristin does any reporting to the authorities. I will talk to our legal department just as soon as I finish this conference with you, but quietly so as not to rock the boat, to find out where we stand.”

In addition to that, I will try and contact Lawrence Wolenczak and invite him to talk, and give him the chance to explain his actions,” Noyce commented.

Nathan could scarcely believe Bill would want to allow the man any kind of chance. “To explain himself!” he shouted at full volume. “The man shouldn’t be given the luxury of doing any such thing. From what little I learnt so far, he has not afforded his own son any level of understanding or compassion, or allowed him a chance or opportunity to live normally without fear.”

I understand your anger, Nathan, believe me I really do, I have some myself after what you have told me. But the fact remains, as you have plainly pointed out, Lucas is someone else’s child and a minor. If his father is anything like you have been told or we can collectively guess at, he could make this very difficult for everybody involved, if he chooses to do so. He has the financial capability and probably the right connections that would only serve to impact more on Lucas.”

Nathan paused and took in everything that Noyce was saying, nodding in acknowledgement that none of them could go off half-hearted about this and only cause more problems long-term. Having the best of intentions in mind wouldn’t help any of them or Lucas. They would have to strive to work together to help the teenager.

Bridger knew he was going to have to accept the situation as it was for now, until they had better advice on how to proceed. “When you do make contact with his father, you are going to have to go about bringing up such a subject very carefully.”

This is going to get much more uglier before it gets better, Bill, and that boy is so close to breaking now. Any steps or actions taken by Kristin, you, me or anybody in general is undoubtedly only going to make everything even messier,” Nathan stated, forcing down any residual anger, knowing it would not serve a purpose. “Someone has to be there for Lucas in all of this, because he has been the silent victim here, and handling it for far too long on his own.”

I promise that I will keep Lucas’ health, best interests, and part in all of this at the forefront, Nathan. The arrangement is legal and while it is in place, Lucas is assigned to the SeaQuest. With you as Captain of the vessel, you have some say over the boy and everything that happens to him whilst he is on-board.

I made a vow to myself, that Lucas is not setting foot off SeaQuest until these allegations against his father can be substantiated and proven. Unless there is somewhere else he can be taken to that will keep him out of reach. I promised him that I wasn’t going to send him back to his father, and at the moment, he doesn’t feel safe at all.

Lucas is petrified that his father is going to find out that someone else knows about the beatings and everything that has been happening, and that he will suffer the consequences. He is afraid of what is going to happen to him now. When I finally encouraged him back to med-bay in the early hours of this morning, he wouldn’t allow himself to fall asleep due to that fear.”

Looking down at his watch for the time since they started talking, Bridger was shocked that two hours had passed since Tim had patched the video-link call through to his quarters. He knew a lot of ground had been covered with the Admiral. But he hadn’t bargained on this long.

He wanted to go and check up on Lucas and spend some time with him, and see how Kristin had faired over-night. She needed some rest herself. He wanted to keep earning the boy’s trust by demonstrating that a friendly and familiar face would be close by. The teenager may be too sore and closed off, so he wasn’t expecting miracles, and they didn’t need to talk about or do anything if he chose not to.

Go and see him, Nathan, and make sure that you are taking care of yourself as well. Lucas is going to need you,” Noyce chided with mock sternness, knowing where the man wanted to be, rather than talking to him so early today.

I will do everything I can from here, as quietly as I can, and I will keep in touch with any news immediately,” Noyce said with assurance. “Contact me personally at any time, even away from the base, if there is anything you or Lucas need,” he added with sincerity, praying for a positive outcome and peaceful solution for everybody involved.

Bridger was under no illusions or assumptions of what the next few days may bring about. “Thanks, Bill, I will call if I need to,” Bridger answered truthfully, pleased and grateful to see that the Admiral was willing to pledge his support and assistance.


After the Captain had severed the video-link with Admiral Noyce, he left his quarters, intending to head straight towards med-bay. Today was going to be a long day, but he was as prepared as he could be for what might eventuate. So in other words, he wasn’t ready at all.

Half-way to his destination, Bridger came across Ben Krieg heading back towards the Bridge.

Good morning, Captain,” Ben greeted him. He took stock of the man’s appearance, and noted that he looked a little tired, but determined.

Have you been down to see Lucas this morning?” Bridger questioned.

I took a cup of coffee to Kristin a couple of hours ago,” Krieg answered. “Lucas was sleeping, but she mentioned that he had been very restless throughout the night and had only just dropped off again before I arrived, so I decided not to stay. I was planning on visiting a little later.”

Thank you for thinking of Kristin, I am headed down there now,” the Captain commented. “I will wait and see what Kristin’s prognosis is, and what Lucas wants to do before making any great plans for the day.”

Admiral Noyce is giving us his full support, and has had everything explained to him,” Bridger informed him. “But I want everything about what we learned about contained as much as possible to those few crew members who already know only. We have to keep Lucas in mind with all of this and how he is going to be feeling.”

That is great news about the, Admiral,” Krieg agreed. “With Lucas, I am still struggling myself to deal with everything I heard him saying last night, first to Kristin and you. My mind cannot even begin to process it all.”

I know, but please hang around nearby or within paging distance this morning, because I may need you,” Bridger pleaded. “Depending on how he is feeling, at some point he needs to be told that other people overheard and know the truth. I don’t want him finding out accidentally or through any other means.”

Oh boy, Sir, hearing that is going to be rough on him,” Krieg said, running a hand nervously through his dark hair, and trying to fathom how the kid would react to such news.

I know it will, but Lucas has to be our main focus now,” Bridger replied. “Like I told Noyce, this situation could get very messy, very quickly if we are not careful and vigilant enough. My intentions are to focus on providing whatever support or help he is willing to accept.”

Understood, Sir, please let me know if I can do anything,” Ben said. “Even if he doesn’t want to talk, maybe he is willing to have a friend.”

Thank you, Ben,” the Captain responded. “Please inform Commander Ford where I am, and he can contact me there if necessary.”


As Bridger approached the med-bay room he had left Lucas in, he deliberately quietened his footsteps on the tiled floor, in case the teenager was still sleeping. Entering the room though, he was pleasantly surprised to see the teenager not only awake, but sitting up on the bed, with his legs hanging over the side.

Hello,” he greeted the boy, trying to keep the mood light. “How are you feeling?” He really wanted to know.

Lucas lifted his head up, and turned towards the Captain, managing half a genuine smile, but it quickly disappeared again as he grimaced at the movement pulling on the stitches in his back.

At least the teenager seemed to be pleased to see him, and that was a far cry from what he had been trying to do in his cabin last night.

I didn’t expect to find you awake yet,” Bridger admitted, looking about the room and the corridor, wondering where Kristin was.

Nathan was trying to get a good look at his overall appearance without looking suspicious, but he didn’t think he was managing that very well, as he watched the teenager’s eyes follow his own.

A little rocky,” he finally admitted truthfully. It was more honesty than Nathan had been expecting, even if it wasn’t exactly informative.

Bridger wanted to judge how he was doing emotionally, but that was undecided yet too. Part of him could see a distinct difference to the previous night. The teenager wasn’t trying to pull away from him standing nearby, and he wasn’t looking to escape the room again. So those were all positive signs in his book.

This changed quite suddenly, when Lucas saw Kristin enter the room, and the guardedness on his face definitely increased a notch or two in the blink of an eye.

Good morning, Nathan,” she greeted the Captain warmly, keeping her smile in place as she handed Lucas a drink of water. She was also carrying a new bottle of the concentrated juice Bridger had seen a few days ago, and this was placed on the mobile tray at the end of the bed.

No doubt our young friend here is feeling slightly worse than whatever he is telling you, and he has only slept for a couple hours in total,” she informed him, having no qualms of pointing out his down-playing tactics to Bridger.

Kristin was trying to keep the atmosphere in the room calm and supportive as well. She looked a little tired herself.

Lucas gave a mild disapproving look at being dobbed in by her, but instead of voicing his displeasure, drank the water that was offered. He expected that she wasn’t going to be allowing him to get away with anything today. How much she had already reported to Bridger about his injuries before he escaped med-bay he didn’t know, but he knew she would have told him something.

The teenager didn’t want to be as difficult as he had been yesterday, and silently allowing her to carry out the checks to the stitches on his back without any fuss. But as she worked, his half-smile never reappeared, and he kept his attention focused on the wall across the room.

Kristin noted that the bruising was still very tender to touch, and Lucas had inadvertently jerked away from her, even though her touch was as gentle as she could be.

Do you need any pain relief?” she asked him, the same question she had direct at him yesterday, but had been given an unequivocal ‘no’ in response.

No thank you, I can deal,” the teenager said, knowing she was trying to help, but trying to hold onto whatever shreds of control he could. And he didn’t want to apologize for needing to do that.

Please let me know if you do,” she voiced, keeping his attention, and hoping to eventually break through the tougher exterior he was trying to portray. “I want us to be friends, Lucas,” she added.

Thanks, I do too,” he answered truthfully. “And I will tell you when it starts hurting too much.”

All three of them in the room knew that it he wouldn’t be admitting to being in pain unless it was dragged from him again, or his body portrayed him like yesterday.


Your stitches are still holding in place nicely and your fever is now completely gone,” Kristin reported to him, wanting to include him in any details about his own health.

You have been taking fluids, which is great, but we need to start eating properly again, or your injuries are going to take longer to heal,” she explained. “You need a lot more sleep yet too. Waking up almost every hour is not my idea of a healthy sleep pattern.”

Bridger gave him a look of empathy, and partially understood why he hadn’t been able to sleep properly yet. The Captain had trouble himself trying to block everything out enough to sleep, so he had absolutely no idea how Kristin expected Lucas to rest without problems cropping up.

That is just a me thing,” Lucas tried to tell her. “It was too quiet in here and I couldn’t find a comfortable spot on this thing you call a mattress.”

Try again,” Kristin challenged, not believing most of what he had just said. His answer had been much to casual for her liking to be the whole truth.

Some of that was the truth,” he said, moving about on the bed and regretting it as pain flared across his back. He had never been in a position before where someone wanted to know why he found it difficult to sleep. Where someone cared enough to call him out on it and wasn’t prepared to accept just any answer.

Which part, and how much of it?” she asked, seeing that he was making another attempt at avoidance in relation to anything pertaining to him personally.

This was both annoying and depressing for someone who was trying to keep most of his past a secret, but he didn’t want to tell her that out loud.

I keep music on in my cabin all the time when I sleep because I find it helps,” he told her.

Kristin suspected there was more to it that that though and waited for him to continue.

Lucas slumped in posture, knowing he would have to make a further admittance to appease her, the doctor was too astute and could see right through him at the moment.

Don’t be disappointed, but I keep waking myself up all the time like you saw, because it is a habit that has formed over a long time. Something about being in unfamiliar or new places, and it takes me a while to get used to sleeping anywhere for any length of time.”

I am not disappointed, Lucas, I promise,” Kristin said calmly, trying to break through the ice. “I didn’t realise that you had trouble sleeping in a new place. It is not an uncommon thing, especially in places like this where the accommodations are more confined, and people are required to live much closer together.”

I have switched off the music a couple of times when I have come into your cabin,” Bridger chimed in. “I am sorry, I didn’t know why you had it playing so loud before.”

You weren’t to know, don’t get too worked up about it,” Lucas replied to him. “Occasionally I forget to turn it on myself.” There were other reasons for him playing the music loud to sleep, but at the moment they didn’t suspect that, and he wasn’t going to reveal it to them unless absolutely necessary.

I just want to make sure you are taking good care of yourself,” Kristin said, trying to grow the rapport between them. The teenager wasn’t as relaxed in her presence yet, as he was with Nathan. That was something she wanted to work on as he gained more confidence being on-board. “That means you and me have to work as a team, understand?”

Lucas deliberately took a deep breath now, and slowly let it out, knowing he was getting the doctor’s attention. He had to get this over with, and he had to do it now. The teenager thought it was best to get some of the thoughts swirling around in his head off his chest, before any more pleasantries could be exchanged.

When he had first woken up, everything that had happened in his cabin with Bridger came back to haunt him. Every word he shouted, and everything he had said afterwards echoed in his brain and filled it up. Even now his emotions were starting to surface again too quickly, just thinking about it. And he hadn’t even set foot outside med-bay yet. He had no idea how he was going to suppress them enough today to get Kristin to release him.

As he looked over at the doctor, the argument that he had with her came back as well, and how uncooperative he had been to her. Did he regret it? ‘No’ he told himself. The way he had spoken to her, ‘yes’. Guilt was quickly mounting in his corner, but not about what they had spoken about. He was angry at himself for having revealed everything, not at any efforts she had made to help him.

Bridger and Kristin exchanged worried glances at each other, and could see the teenager struggling to come up with the right words to say to her. They could see the burden that he was placing on himself again over something important.

Lucas didn’t like that he was doing it, and suspected that Kristin wouldn’t like it either, but he needed to make it clear to her.

His gaze had been focused on the floor for a minute as he tried to compose himself better, but as he looked up at her, he couldn’t hide the tears that he refused to let fall.

Kristin was immediately concerned that he was about to break down, and was ready to console him if that was what he was looking for. She put her hand on his, but wasn’t surprised when he attempted to jerk it away. He put his hand back over the top of hers in silent apology as he spoke.

Bridger could see the teenager was upset, and Kristin was close to tears herself at the heart-breaking look on his face, but for his sake, she was holding them back.

I am sorry for how I acted,” he began, his voice barely above a whisper. “I know what you are asking me to do, but I haven’t changed my mind. I meant what I said yesterday. I cannot give you all of the answers you seek. Please try and understand, because I just cannot do it. Please don’t ask me to,” he begged.

Kristin’s own expression softened in an instant to one of wanting to offer comfort and caring. For now she was willing to accept that he didn’t want to talk or acknowledge anything that had happened. She would offer him that space for now, for as long as possible. The sight of his unshed tears were almost her undoing again, and she couldn’t help but bend at his heart-felt plea for understanding and time.

Whatever happens and no matter what you need to face, you won’t need to do it alone. I will be there to help you get through it,” she pledged.

Lucas nodded his head at her words, knowing that they were meant to be just as genuine as those Bridger had said to him.

I promise I will be here when you need me,” she answered, placing a friendly, feather light, motherly kiss on his forehead.

Doc……, there are other people here watching,” he quipped in mock indignation, pointing his thumb at Bridger, feeling the blush creep up from his toes.

She let go a laugh that broke up the tension of the moment, as the teenager baulked at such a simple, understated gesture and tried to brush aside his own embarrassment with humour.

Oh don’t mind us standing here, none of us saw a thing,” Bridger said with a straight face, but then grinned back at both of them. He knew he was the only audience that the teenager had labelled people.

Bridger could scarcely believe the powerful and moving moment he had just witnessed between Lucas and Kristin. They had both reached an understanding, not knowing where it would take either of them. Both of them growing a little closer. He could not have been more happier to see it happen right in front of him.

Lucas gave a brief laugh of his own in return, but neither adult noticed that it didn’t quite reach his eyes. The teenager didn’t have the heart to tell either one of them, sitting here in front of them, that he couldn’t afford the luxury of believing that change would come.


How long do I have to stay for in here today?” Lucas asked, looking hopefully back at Bridger who he was counting on to help convince Kristin to release him.

You really need to very easy today, Lucas, and I will need to monitor your injuries for the next few days to ensure they are all beginning to heal,” the doctor answered.

Can I at least go for a shower please?” he asked. “After that I will be a good boy and do what you ask,” he tried to negotiate.

You are only promising that young man, so you can get your own way,” Kristin replied, trying not to douse his attempts at normalcy.

For the rest of today, and into the near future, she knew that all of them would have to allow Lucas time to adjust and assess at his own pace. Their actions would be guided mostly by what his psyche could handle, allowing for his injuries into that mix as well.

For a moment, Lucas was certain that his simple request would be denied, and she would force him to stay down in med-bay until she was satisfied with his eating and his pain levels. He was pleasantly surprised with her next statement.

I don’t see that being a problem, I have covered your stitches that will prevent them getting wet, but you still need to take extreme care,” she explained. “There is the options of using one of the shower rooms down here in the medical department?”

Lucas’s posture slumped at that suggestion, not wanting to be there any longer than absolutely necessary.

Bridger interjected, seeing the teenager’s reluctance, and understanding a little where he was coming from and the privacy and space he was craving. “You can use the shower in my quarters if you would prefer? Luckily it comes as one of the perks as being Captain,” he shared.

I would prefer,” Lucas agreed, thanking the Captain with a small smile of appreciation, and understanding that he didn’t want to use any of the men’s shower facilities located around the boat.

Alright, I will allow that, but on the understanding, that once you have finished, you will eat something please,” Kristin negotiated.

Lucas nodded his head in agreement, resigning himself to that fate. He felt a little hungry since waking and offering to eat would push back or delay having to talk about anything else, or so he secretly hoped.

Mr Krieg came by earlier this morning, and left you a fresh set of clothes from your bag,” the doctor said, holding them out to him.

Ben was here?” the teenager asked, not having remembered seeing Ben or talking to him since he had left to go back up-world, but not wanting to voice that out loud.

He wanted to visit, but he had to go on shift on the Bridge very early this morning,” Kristin informed him.

She didn’t tell him that the man had left so as not to disturb him sleeping. Nor did she want to reveal how guilty Ben had felt about the choice of location for his hiding spot. The young lieutenant had reacted badly to seeing the boy’s injuries on both occasions and at having to watch his young friend being stitched up. Lucas had enough to worry about already, instead of having more pressure added to him.

I spoke to Ben in the corridor before I made my way down here,” Bridger stated.

Taking possession of the clothes, Lucas made a casual comment that drew the attention of both adults, “Thanks, I think this is the last set I have in my bag. I put my Eagles shirt in the laundry room to be washed when I first came back, and I don’t know what happened to my red and black Cubs one that I was wearing on the launch yesterday.”

Bridger and Kristin picked up that the teenager hadn’t brought too many sets of clothes for himself from home, but didn’t want to pry too much all at once. They didn’t want tell him that the cubs shirt was probably non-repairable at this stage. Nathan made a note to talk to Ben about that little problem.

Please take it easy walking around on your leg, and come and see me if you need any pain relief,” she requested.

After you have had your shower, and eaten, please come back down here so that I can recheck your stitches?” Kristin asked. “I am going to be spending the majority of the day down here in the science department.”

Sure,” Lucas answered, but he wasn’t enthusiastic about having to come and see her again today. No doubt he could expect that routine to keep going to a few days unfortunately.

Lucas started to get off the bed, wincing a little as he put too much weight on his right arm to steady himself, and sending pain up his arm and across his back. But he persevered, and wasn’t about to let them baby him if he could avoid it.

Thanks,” he said in gratitude with a small smile at Bridger’s gentle, but unspoken support.

Sometimes it was a guy thing, not wanting to admit what could be viewed as weakness in the eyes of a stubborn teenager. Nathan had already planned to watch Lucas carefully to make sure he wasn’t over-doing things too early. He would report any noticeable increases in pain or discomfort and symptoms.

The teenager started walking out the door of med-bay at a very slow pace, lost a little in his own thoughts and not realising that Bridger had stayed back a few seconds to speak to Kristin out of earshot.”

After he finishes, I am going to tell about everybody knowing,” Bridger said, knowing that she would pick up on the message he was trying to convey.

Kristin’s facial expression changed to one of trepidation again, “He has already been through so much. That may be too much more than he can deal with today.”

I know, but he needs to know sometime. And best that it is sooner rather than later. I want to keep building the trust between him and I, and to do that, I have maintain honesty from the start.”

Depending on his mood and frame of mind after that, we can share lunch wherever he feels comfortable or more at ease,” Bridger commented.

Kristin nodded her head in agreement, thankful that he had offered his own quarters to the teenager. Hopefully that forethought by Nathan would give them the privacy between the two of them that had already worked to a degree in his favour.

He deserves to know. Be ready for anything,” Nathan added in fresh warning, thinking Lucas’s fragile emotional state was about to take another battering.


Bridger was surprised that Lucas had managed to walk quite a distance away from med-bay without being suspicious about him hovering nearby. He had definitely expected the teenager to make comment about it, but the teenager didn’t bring it up in conversation.

With the damage to his hip, movement was painful and slow, but determination drove the youth towards his destination. There had been a few people in the corridors, but if they were giving him strange or sympathetic looks, he never mentioned it or acknowledged them.

For the next twenty minutes, Bridger sat idly in his own quarters, trying to think of the right words to say in what was going to be a difficult situation when Lucas emerged.

Thanks, that felt great,” Lucas said to the Captain as he walked on the rich carpet in bare feet. “First one I have been able to have in days,” he added, not noticing the conflicting expression that such a comment brought to Bridger’s face.

You didn’t get your stitches wet did you,” Bridger probed, trying to mask his own nervousness. “How about you sit down for a minute and take it easier on yourself.”

Lucas looked at the Captain and could see the man’s uneasiness, which only cause his own apprehensiveness to renew. He wasn’t in mood for falsehoods today, any more than he had been yesterday or last night. And he definitely didn’t have the energy to argue with anybody today.

Please, just tell me. I am too tired to play games,” Lucas voiced, closing his eyes briefly before opening them again, pushing down pain from his shoulder and hip. He was trying not to be alarmed, but he could see that the man before him was struggling to say something out loud.

Bridger stood up and walked over closer to him, seeing that the teenager had seen right through him, and regretting that he hadn’t been able to mask his own emotions enough.

I don’t know how much you remember about what you told me last night,” Bridger began, watching the teenager’s face, hoping to be able to detect any subtle changes.

I remember most of it……,” Lucas whispered, looking down at his feet, afraid to look up at the Captain. Actually he couldn’t have quantified how much he did or didn’t recall if he was being totally honest without needing to concentrate.

I meant every word I promised to you, even if you don’t,” Bridger vowed, seeing the boy raise his head. It was clear that some of what had been exchanged between the two of them was jumbled and mixed up.

I am sorry that I yelled at you,” the teenager said, “And that you had to find out everything that way,” he said, as emotion began swelling within him strongly. “I never wanted anybody to find out at all.”

‘If only I could take it all back’ was clearly written on his face, as his eyes beginning to glisten. What he had done was quickly becoming overwhelming again.

You have nothing to be sorry about,” Bridger emphasised. “My door is always open to you to come and talk about anything. I promised to help you get through all of this, and I meant that!”

He was determined the boy wasn’t going to fall down into a pit of self-reproach again. “But I also did agree to be honest with you as much as I can, and that is why I am telling you what I am about to now. Because I felt you deserved to know.”

Lucas nodded his head at the Captain’s words, he doubted he could have spoken, even if he knew what to say.

The words that you and Kristin exchanged before you left med-bay last night?” he prompted.

Yes?” Lucas said, suspicion showing on his face. This wasn’t the direction that he was expecting the conversation to go at all.

I assumed that she must have shared most of what happened with you, judging by what she said to both of us a short time ago.”

No, I am afraid she didn’t tell me anything,” Bridger informed him. “Kristin wouldn’t have shared what you both spoke about unless she had asked for your permission first.”

Then how did you find out?” Lucas asked, clearly confused how the Captain knew if the doctor hadn’t told him. “I didn’t want to argue with her or give her a hard time either, really,” he said with guilt creeping into his voice.

I think you were hurting a little too much at the time, and weren’t quite ready for her line of questioning?” he commented, watching the expression change again, and saw the frown of curiosity form.

Were you somewhere nearby that I didn’t see?”

No.”

Then how did you know I was hurting?” he asked, though to be fair the man could have just pulled that assumption out of thin air. Bridger knew about his injuries now.

Remember our little problem with the over-head speakers and your music playing in other parts of the vessel?” Bridger said.

You mean………..,” Lucas started to say, but he realised what the Captain was trying to say. “Don’t tell me the whole Bridge heard what she and I argued about?” he said, getting a little more animated as he spoke, and his voice rising in volume.

I was having a meeting with a few people in the Ward room, including Ben, when she called down from the room you were in.”

A few people!” the teenager shuddered.

He couldn’t quite remember, line for line the whole argument with Kristin either, but he remembered accusing her of going through his bag and demanding her to leave him alone.

No, no, not on the Bridge, I promise,” Nathan said, as he tried to get the boy to calm down. “The comm link didn’t disconnect properly, and the few of us who were in there overheard.”

Overheard!” The teenager said loudly, as he could no longer hide the agitation building inside of him. Now he knew why the Captain had so much trouble finding what to say.

This is bad, this is really really bad,” he said, twisting and turning on one spot, as he tried to digest what he had just heard. “This is becoming some kind of perpetual nightmare that just won’t end!”

The Captain knew that there was more he needed to hear.

By now his hip was beginning to protest from his constant movement and the walk back from med-bay.

Come and sit down here for a minute and hear me out, please,” Bridger said gently trying to persuade him, encouraging towards the chair near the holographic desk.

Lucas allowed himself to be pushed towards the chair, but that was mainly because his mind trying to get a grip on the latest bombshell rather than where his feet were headed.

Who?”

That is not the most important thing right now,” Bridger said, taking up position in the second chair at the desk and being able keep at his eye level.

Ben and I were coming down to help Kristin talk to you, and help try to make you understand that we were aware of what you were going through.”

Lucas scoffed a little, demonstrating just how much he didn’t believe any of them could have possibly comprehended how he was feeling, or what his state of mind was at that time.

Not long after that you ripped your I.V. out and were trying to escape back to your cabin, everybody else stayed back in the Ward Room. They didn’t see any of your blood on the floor or sheets.”

Not one of my more stellar moments……..” Lucas admitted candidly, shame creeping up his neck at what he had done. He hadn’t even thought of how someone might have been affected after having to witness such an aftermath.

I am afraid it is much worse.” But as soon as that last word left his mouth, he could see the startled expression that it caused.

Worse?” Lucas asked, the volume of his voice dropping, because he was too busy convincing himself that he didn’t want to hear anything else.

How could it get even worse?

Bridger started as calmly as he could, putting his hand over the boy’s in an effort to lessen the blow that was coming, “It also happened when you and I were talking in your cabin.”

At first Lucas didn’t show any reaction, because his brain hadn’t filtered it enough yet. But Bridger was watching his face very carefully, and would have sworn that he could pinpoint the very moment that the truth struck home.

Lucas quickly hitched in a breath and the pallor of his face immediately turned two shades lighter. But that meant…………..

That means they heard me shout at you that my f-f………….,”

Bridger nodded his head slowly, seeing the pain that such a revelation invoked.

They know that he…………..,” he couldn’t even get all the words out.

Pain in his hip or not, Lucas jumped to his feet, instantly regretting it, but gritting his teeth, as he turned around on the spot nervously, running his left hand over his mouth and then wrapping his arm around himself in a self hug.

He tried to hide his fear by lifting his hands above his head to run this fingers through his hair as he tried to fathom this piece of news, but he found he couldn’t lift his right arm above shoulder height. His stitches pulled sharply and made him gasp out loud at the sudden fresh stab of pain.

Even that sensation couldn’t mask the sheer panic that was close to engulfing him. He wanted to run from the room and find a place to hide again. He needed to get away from here…………..now!

He was wringing his hands together without even realising what he was doing, turning away from the Captain and trying to figure out his next move.

Bridger stood up, and put his hand on the boy’s upper arm, rubbing up and down in a soothing gesture, feeling the fear that was virtually radiating off the teenager.

They heard everything I said to you,” Lucas said, making a statement rather than asking a question. He was still turned away from the Captain.

Bad enough that you know………… now everybody does,” he said, the self-hug tightening and getting closer to losing control again as he had done last night.

He felt a hand on the back of his neck, trying to get him to calm down more, but it had the opposite reaction, with him jerking away from Bridger altogether, and raising his voice again.

Do you have any idea what that means?” he shouted.

Bridger tried to answer but was quickly cut off.

No you don’t!” he said, blinking back unshed tears and swallowing harshly, forcing himself to stop yelling.

A cold shiver of fear ran through him from top to bottom as he pictured his father’s face and heard his voice at what he would say when he found out. A second one when he thought about the punishment that would follow as a result.

‘And let’s be honest’ he told himself, ‘there was no way to prevent that.’

Not everybody. Only a handful of people know, Jonathan, Miguel, Tim, Katie, Chief, Ben, Kristin and myself. Nobody else.”

Each name was punctuated by the teenager closing his eyes and squeezing them tighter and tighter, each time one was called out. There wasn’t supposed to be any.

I have been trying to keep this secret a good part of my life, and now eight people know way more than they should,” Lucas declared with more than a touch of bitterness.

They care enough to keep it safe from being found out by anybody else who doesn’t have a right to know,” Bridger spoke softly, feeling the tremors running across his shoulders, but still trying to get the boy to calm down.

Otherwise he would have to make a call to Kristin, and he didn’t want to do that right now if it could be avoided.

Lucas stopped saying anything, and found Bridger coaxing to sit on the chair again. The damage had been done. Being this upset and agitated was only causing the boy more pain and distress.

When Bridger thought the boy was composed enough, he made sure that the teenager would hear what he wanted to say.

Admiral Noyce also knows….,” he started to say and could barely stop the teenager from jumping to his feet again. “He is going to do everything to help us too. I couldn’t keep this from him. He was just as horrified about what has been happening.”

But he is the one that…..,” Lucas started to say, his voice no longer holding any anger. The count was now up to nine people too many.

I know he drew up the agreement, but he now knows he should have done a lot better by you,” Bridger stated firmly. “Let him prove that.”

Lucas stared back at the Captain, not sure he could give the man the positive answer that he wanted to hear about the Admiral and any of his so called efforts thus far.

I promised you that I would help, and I meant it,” Bridger implored. “I will not let you leave this boat unless you are safe. You are not going back to your father.”

You have some people now who want to help you. I am sorry that they had to hear everything too. I didn’t know myself until this morning,” Bridger said.

Lucas looked into his face, searching for even the hint of a lie about when the Captain found out about others knowing. There was a small amount of internal relief when he saw it was the truth.

Those people are now allies on your side. They couldn’t believe what was going on.”

Poor Ben was beside himself with worry over you. He is the only one that has seen your bruising, both times, I swear. He stood there in med-bay ready to help if it was needed when Kristin was stitching your back,” Bridger told him.

The other people I mentioned have been told about your injuries, but Ben is the only one who has witnessed them first-hand. Nobody else needs to see them except Kristin unless you decide, not even me after today.”

Not much point in hiding them from any of you now is it,” Lucas said, looking down into his lap, his voice devoid of all real interest in the topic of conversation.

I have never seen Kristin so angry before about something happening to you. Afterwards, she was just as saddened that you were trying to hide your pain from everybody.”

Guilt began surfacing in the teenager about how the other crew members were being towards him, and how much they wanted to help according to Bridger. Most of them didn’t know the first thing about him. Why would they do that? He didn’t have the answers.

I know you are not used to people helping you before now, but please let us try. They just want to help too because they care about you,” Bridger said gently, trying to get him to listen and agree to what he was proposing. “Something you are going to have to get used to being part of this new SeaQuest family,” he added to try and bolster his confidence. But so far such notions had not been very met with skepticism and unfamiliarity.

Family is a very strange concept to me,” Lucas offered as a final non-committal response.

He had nothing to base such an idea on, and didn’t know if he wanted to find out.

Bridger stood up, seeing that he had done all he could for now. Said all that he needed. Anything else could wait.


Lucas sat slumped in the chair, head bowed, trying to come to terms again.

Would you like to go to the mess hall with me and grab something to eat?” Nathan asked, knowing that Kristin was wanting to get the boy eating again soon.

The teenager didn’t answer straight away.

He didn’t have a clue at what he was going to say to Ben or any of the other crew members now that they knew his dark secret. Would they act differently around him? He didn’t want pity or sympathy from anybody.

I don’t think I could go in there and face anybody right at the moment,” Lucas said with genuine sincerity.

‘I need some space’ but that part wasn’t voiced out loud. The expression on his face begging Bridger to understand that he didn’t know what he wanted to do right now.

I will go and get us some lunch and bring it back here for the both of us then,” Bridger offered.

The Captain left his own quarters, heading for the mess hall.


Ben Krieg was having his own lunch in the mess hall when he saw the Captain come in.

He was going to ask the standard question about how the man was, but one look at Bridger’s face gave away a myriad of emotions.

Lucas released him long enough to have a shower. I was going to bring him down here for lunch, but that has since been scratched as a good idea.”

Still hurting a lot?” Krieg surmised about some of the reason why the teenager had not wanted to attend.

Yes, but he was responding fairly well to Kristin a short time ago in med-bay,” Bridger answered. “But now he knows about everybody overhearing of his secret.”

Krieg swallowed the mouthful of food he had been chewing, “How did that go?” already guessing at how the kid would react.

Like the lead balloon we were both expecting,” Bridger said, letting out a sound of exasperation and worry clearly on his mind. “I will take back something for the both of us. Maybe he might be in a better frame of mind a little later.”

I think the head chef was intending to cook up something special just for him,” Krieg told Bridger. “Partly as an apology to Lucas, as well as for not alerting us sooner to seeing him injured.”

Well that was nice of him, but I guess something a little simpler to eat might be easier at the moment.”

Not to worry, I will let Don know, he won’t mind and will keep it for the next time. You head back to Lucas, and I will bring you both something for lunch. That way you can spend a bit more time with him, and he won’t blame you if the food isn’t to his liking.” Krieg added with a laugh.

Thanks, that would be great. Don’t be too long. Otherwise Kristin will be hunting all three of us down for him to eat,” Bridger joked back.

The Captain knew that part of Ben’s plan was so that he could make his own assessment of Lucas without drawing the teenager’s suspicions.


In the short time that Bridger was talking to Ben in the mess hall, Lucas had left the Captain’s quarters, intending to head back to his own cabin. He knew Bridger was bringing lunch, but he didn’t want to eat at the moment.

The walk to his own cabin had been just as slow and painful as the first time before his shower. This time he didn’t engage in any conversation with anybody else in the corridors either. Thankfully, to him this part of the boat was once again a little more isolated from the normal heavy traffic of the crew.

He wanted to be left alone.

Once he had arrived and entered the cabin, he didn’t even look at some of the furniture he had tried to move around the night before. Upon trying to lock the door, once again the mechanism didn’t work. Frustration flared again and everything was beginning to crowd around him. Feelings, thoughts and pain, And right at the moment, he didn’t want to deal or think about any of them.

His one immediate problem was going to be trying to get up onto the top bunk with his sore hip and stitches.

Before going about pulling and getting himself up there, he rearranged two of the pillows from the head end down the bottom end of the bed, punching them into place up against the aqua tube. The position they were in would add enough padding for resting his good left shoulder against and hopefully would prevent him putting any pressure on the majority of the right-hand side of his body.

Putting the pillows in the correct position was the easy part though. His hip was protesting loudly, and by the time he had managed to pull and climb onto the top bunk, he was forced to stop and breathe through the pain that was racing through his stitches and intensifying with every minute.

At this point in time, he didn’t care about heeding Kristin’s warning to take it easy, or what others might have been wanting him to do, including Bridger. With great difficulty, and no small amount of grimacing, he hauled himself onto his left side, until his shoulder reached the top of the pillows. By the time he was finished, his body was screaming in pain, and he was exhausted.

One pillow had moved too much and was fairly much useless, but he didn’t have the energy to move again and try and change where it was. The second one was in a position that allowed him to recline enough against it. It would have to do.

When he looked into the tube, the only thing he could see from the angle he was lying in, was the blue of the water. Darwin swam into view, and he gave a lazy smile at the dolphin. The first time he had seen him since coming back, and he wasn’t telling him that he needed to do anything. That kind of silent company suited him just fine.


Ben Krieg was carrying a large tray, with two very different meals. One the day’s standard lunch time special from the head chef. The other items, a container of noodles and a cold soda.

The young lieutenant had only made it part of the way towards the Captain’s cabin when he was met with Bridger coming back towards him.

He didn’t stay,” Bridger remarked, announcing that the teenager had left his quarters. “I thought he might be wanting to avoid my company for a while.”

Let’s hope he didn’t find another hiding place just yet,” Ben Krieg commented.

Nathan had half a mind to go and get Kristin and have her joining them as they made their way towards Mammal Engineering, but he had better see what they were dealing with first, to be able to give her some information about his current condition.

As they reached the small cabin, both men listened intently for any noise that might be coming from inside, as they knocked and waited for a sign that they would be allowed entrance. When the door failed to open, they nodded at each other, both throwing caution to the wind, and prepared to accept whatever backlash they would receive if the teenager decided he didn’t want their company.

Both men where surprised with the quietness of the room that greeted them. The over-head light was still on, but the occupant didn’t seem to notice. The teenager’s eyes were closed, and his features relaxed.

Ben put the food and drink tray on the teenager’s computer desk, looking at the angle he was lying on the bed. “How did he manage to get himself up there without help?” he whispered.

Pure stubborn, pigheadedness,” came Bridger’s bold assessment, but his voice at a very low level, shaking his head a little at the boy’s tenacity and drive to do everything on his own. “But maybe that was what he needs at the moment to cope.”

Krieg had wanted to laugh out loud at the Captain’s brash comment, but kept quiet, neither of them wanted to wake the teenager. His own thoughts turned a little more sombre as he thought about the injuries that were currently plaguing his friend, and the torment that was he was going through. They knew he had spent a poor night sleeping.

The boy’s sleep must have been deep enough for him not to hear either of them enter the small cabin. The kid needed the rest to start the healing process, but they had hoped he would have eaten first. They didn’t want him falling back into old habits too soon.

He must have dozed off pretty quickly,” Bridger commented, noting that not a whole lot of time had past since he had left Lucas in his quarters, until how they found him now. “But after the emotional roller-coaster he has been on, its not too surprising I guess.

I will let Kristin know where he is, and come back and check on him periodically,” Bridger stated. “Hopefully he will get some rest for a few hours. I will take our lunches back to the mess hall and eat mine there.”

We can leave his food with the kitchen staff, for now. The noodles can be reheated and he can get a cold soda later,” Ben said.

Bridger looked through the aqua tube, and saw the dolphin keeping a silent vigil, and smiled at the animal’s devotion. “You keep a good eye on him now, Darwin,” he said quietly, hoping that his aquatic friend would alert them once Lucas was awake again.


Upon hearing the hatch door close, Lucas opened his eyes, still leaning against the aqua tube, but not sleeping like Ben and Bridger had assumed he was doing. Conflicting emotions were bubbling just beneath the surface, and he didn’t know which spoke to him the loudest.

He had almost given himself at away at Bridger’s random comment about his independent streak. Pigheadedness indeed. Perhaps it was on some level he said to himself.

Though it was not quite the description he was going for to explain his strong need to rise above everything that was thrown at him and want to survive.

Past experiences usually taught him lessons about wanting breathing space for himself, and to think through what his options were. Accepting help from anybody had rarely been offered or even a choice. And he was struggling to know how to deal with half of him wanting to do that, and the other half wanting to pull away and say ‘forget it’.

The teenager had heard everything the two men had said, and his only solution to everything right at this very moment, was avoidance. It might not be the right answer, but he was grasping at straws anyway, and it was the best he could come up with at short notice. He felt tired and was ready to surrender into the waiting arms of Morpheus. If only dreamless sleep was actually attainable.

Lucas could feel himself falling back into old habits, but right now, pretending to be asleep was better than facing the alternative of Bridger or Ben wanting to talk to him. He knew what they were trying to do and although he said he was willing to try, part of him couldn’t deny that it scared him green to do so.

Lucas could feel a bubble of nausea in the pit of his stomach, but it wasn’t the fact that he hadn’t eaten that was causing it. This time the feeling was out of pure fear from what his father’s reaction was going to be. He could almost hear the man’s voice now, yelling at him, and his fist reaching out towards him in his mind.

For the next thirty minutes, just like the first day he had arrived back on SeaQuest, Lucas slowly used the index finger of his left hand to lazily trace along the aqua tube he was facing. The blue hue of the water was the same colour, and the lights inside the tubes were strangely soothing, rhythmical and hypnotic.

Some people thought that because he spilled his guts, that now he would just come to accept that everything was going to change for the better. They assumed that everything would be different now because others had said so, but it wasn’t. The feelings he had now, were the same as they were before last night, and every day and night for the last several years. The same fears and apprehensions.

Make no mistake, very little had changed at all.

To be continued…………………………

Jules

Author Notes: I am sorry that I had to split this chapter way before I originally wanted to, and that the meeting between Noyce and Bridger took sixteen hours and needed a packed lunch. It was getting long again. There was supposed to be a lot more included in this chapter. Chapters One to Four are pretty much full now and mostly mapped out. After that, no clue.

I felt it was important, although I still feel that it is disjointed in a couple of places how everything was explained. Noyce has a fairly large part to play in this story, some parts in the next one The Hurtful Truth and a major one in an upcoming plot a few stories away.

The additional parts that were cropped from this chapter will be the basis for Chapter Two, and include the ending that I originally had planned for this first chapter, plus what wasn’t added yet.

I did want there to be a little anger towards Noyce from Bridger over the agreement with Lawrence, but I don’t see Noyce as a bad person or character, and there is plenty more to come with him in this story yet, with Bridger and Kristin and the rest of the crew, and most of all with Lucas himself.

I am still carrying over some of the emotions and thoughts of Lucas from the last story, because I feel that he is still in that frame of mind right now, even after the scenes with Bridger. Although some of the truth is known now, it certainly isn’t all of it yet, and the unwillingness to not share is going to be a strong theme for quite bit yet. Just my interpretation for someone being in this situation for as long as he has been.

There will be some happier and lighter moments in this story, but they will take time to get to. Please bear with me as I am being very deliberate with the pacing of how things are set up, I know I am taking forever to get to the parts everybody wants to see and hear about. But I want to set everything up properly in these first few stories, because it will affect some that are already written and plenty that are yet to come up next.

Everything that is being set up in this story is leading to The Hurtful Truth which, if I do it with the correct amount of impact, and the way I want to, should not only rip out the heart of every reader, but chew it up and spit it back out again. I am aiming for some of the most angsty, heart-breaking scenes I have yet written for this fandom.

I will be back as soon as I can. At the moment I have a few things to do. A birthday party to set up for Frodo and Bilbo. Calm down an unhappy Jack O’Neill because one of his team is in the infirmary again. Plan and set up an ambush just outside of Virginia City. And have Harry Potter getting used to living with Sirius and Remus and the magical world.

Thank you for reading. Enjoy.

Jules

Chapter Three – A New Plan Hatched

STOWAWAYS

By Jules 6

A SeaQuest story – Ben Krieg has hatched a new plan to try and make it up to everybody on-board for his earlier mistakes. The original title probably doesn’t suit the new chapters, but I decided to tie them in together. I am writing this out of order for the new time line.

Author Notes – I was going to write a new story, but instead added it onto what you have already read. There will be a few occasions throughout a couple of my stories after “Please Tell Someone” that has to do with Lucas experiencing headaches or migraines.

Most of the time any headache or migraine Lucas experiences will have a specific reason for the plot to that story, but there will a few scattered times where they are random and have no identifiable cause. This is all leading to a much later story “A Second Opinion” which will give a definitive answer, but it is not anything like cancer or brain tumours or any such other causes. Something new and totally different, and a few clues are already planted in place in “Please Tell Someone”.

This story is set two years after the events starting in Please Tell Someone so Lucas is a lot more comfortable around the crew and is currently sixteen years old. The adoption between him and Bridger has happened by this time. The origins for Krieg’s nickname of ‘Junior’ on very rare occasions will become known through other stories. And Ben is the only one Lucas will tolerate calling him that nickname and it is fairly infrequent.

The sensitivity to some specific types of medications and their ingredients that is mentioned for Lucas in this chapter, will be introduced and addressed a little more in the earlier chapters currently being written for the new and unpublished story “The Green Pen” and a few other follow up stories as to what that exactly entails. By the time of this story, it is an accepted fact for his medical history.

The story of the respiratory illness that Lucas has been suffering from will be part of the plot for an upcoming story A Packed Suitcase, yet to be written. Another new story yet to come called “The Accident” will follow on from this story. The mention of Lucas losing his voice will be explored more in another story set directly before and leading into A Packed Suitcase to be called A Silent Voice.

As I continue to fix older stories, there is always plotting afoot for new stories in the background.

I know a few people liked the last couple of chapters, so hopefully someone out there is still reading this new material.

Chapter Three – A New Plan Hatched

With the exception of Lieutenant Krieg, the remaining crew members who had found themselves caught up in the debacle that saw Lucas misplaced for several hours were currently standing in the launch bay area.

The time was approximately six a.m. in the morning, and the announcement had come over the loud speaker about the arrival of the launch carrying the new scientific personnel, their luggage and equipment.

As a myriad of new faces started to pour out of the now opened sea launch doors, the crew members stood ready to assist as instructed. All of them had had very little sleep in the last several hours and would rather be in their own quarters doing just that. None of them were looking forward to more of the wrath of Doctor Kristin Westphalen.

Commander Ford had other crew members assigned and standing by ready to help with unloading luggage, stores and the new passengers, having a little empathy for the men standing nearby.

Captain Bridger was waiting impatiently as well for a totally different reason, waiting to see for himself that Lucas was alright as Kristin had assured him.

Commander, have everybody gather in one of the science labs so that they can be assigned their sleeping quarters. I am sure that Doctor Westphalen is going to want to talk to them all as a group before allowing them to disperse throughout the vessel too much,” Bridger instructed his Second-in-Command.

Aye, Sir,” Ford agreed readily.

The guilt that some of the men carried about Lucas was only renewed when they could hear his hoarse voice before being able to see him. By the time he emerged from the launch bay area, walking with Kristin at his side, they could see for themselves how tired he looked.

The baseball shirt he was wearing had several different stains marring the fabric, and the garment had seen better days. “I want to have a shower first, please, before I agree to doing anything else,” came the croaky pleading from the teenager.

Bridger came up to the doctor and his young charge, very pleased to see him, but not the state he was in. He held back from embarrassing the boy in front of the other crew members and new staff members. Giving him a family embrace would have to wait until they were in a less public place.

Hi,” was the only cautious greeting Lucas gave him, realising that the Captain was probably looking to chew him out about leaving the SeaQuest.

Nathan had to be satisfied with putting a hand on his shoulder for the moment. But the teenager openly objected to even that, pulling away from the Captain’s supportive hand.

You might want to wait until after I have had a shower, the clothes I have on are a write off,” he said glumly. By the time he finished speaking, he was rubbing at his throat, indicating how raw it felt.

I need some water; it feels like a thousand little nails are stabbing my throat.”

Kristin’s temper appeared to have cooled considerably as she spoke to Lucas, “I will get you some water for your throat, and take a look at it, once you have had your shower,” giving in a little to his request. It had not been a fun experience riding back in the launch for him.

Lucas groaned out loud at the pain in his head as his headache spiked again, closing his eyes briefly and trying to turn his face in any direction away from the bright lights that were flooding the launch bay area.

The lights are too bright in here,” he grumbled in complaint, being forced to open them again, squinting and turning his face away in the opposite direction of the strong illumination. His eyes were bloodshot and displayed his level of tiredness.

Doctor Westphalen, I have arranged for your new staff to all meet in one of the science labs together,” Ford informed her. “I am sure you will be wanting to talk to them just as soon as you are ready,” repeating what the Captain had already pre-empted.

Thank you, Commander Ford, my new assistant, Annette, will be able to fill in for me until I get down there. Most of the new faces will be familiar enough with her,” Kristin replied.

Some of the new scientific staff were still filing past, down the corridor and heading away from the launch bay.

It should be a crime to be awake and that happy this early in the morning,” Lucas grouched, regretting he had spoken again with his inflamed throat. His headache was still very much present and growing more bothersome by the second.

From where he was standing, Lucas spotted Miguel and Tim standing off to the side. Both of them were dressed in their usual U.E.O. uniforms. They also looked a little tired.

What happened to you guys?” the teenager asked plainly, walking over to them, “I was waiting for ages outside that convenience store like I told you I was going to do.”

We went looking for you we promise, Lucas,” Tim began speaking first, not sure how much he should be revealing right now. “We had a few problems inside the store that took longer than we anticipated.”

You guys just ditched me and left,” Lucas said with a small amount of annoyance creeping in. “I had no way of getting back here to SeaQuest or even knowing where any of you went to.”

Miguel wanted to say something in their defence, but held back for a minute as the teenager continued to relay his whole sentiment about the misguided adventure. They could understand how he felt not knowing all of the details yet, but they had tried to find him before the bar-room incident.

Wait until I find Krieg,” Lucas added, and immediately started looking about the faces around the moon pool for his best friend, the missing-in-action morale officer.

I think any explanations of what went on last night can wait until you have had your shower and I have seen you down in med-bay,” Kristin suggested. Neither she or Lucas had heard the full version yet, but it could wait.

I want you to limit using your voice for the next few hours and maybe tomorrow to give your throat the chance to recover a little more,” the doctor said to him. “Otherwise you will risk losing your voice entirely again just like you did the last time. And I am sure you don’t want to repeat that couple of weeks.”

Lucas let out a wince of pain from his headache, rubbing at his temple with his fingertips, but then forced to swallow harshly and move his hand to his neck, trying to indicate how sore his throat was becoming again. Unfortunately he was inadvertently signalling how poorly he was starting to feel overall to her as well, nodding reluctantly and heeding her warning.

Commander Ford spoke to Kristin, “Doctor, I sent Lieutenant Krieg down to med-bay not long before you arrived. He should be waiting for you when you get down there.”

Something happened to Ben?” came the immediate question laced with concern from Lucas looking at O’Neill and Ortiz for an answer, forgetting about his own pain for a moment at hearing Ford’s statement. “Why didn’t anybody tell me there was a problem when we first arrived?”

Ford was kicking himself a little, looking at the Captain with an unspoken apology, knowing he should have spoken to the doctor quietly to one side away from Lucas first. It was no secret on-board SeaQuest that Ben Krieg was always looking out for the teenager’s best interests when they were together anywhere. It could also be argued that Lucas’ own loyalty could be just as strong as their friendship had continued to grow over the last couple of years. And Krieg wasn’t usually sick or hurt that often, which drew his attention even more.

You can see him for yourself when you arrive down there after your shower,” Kristin assured the worried teenager. She had not known that the Lieutenant had been injured either before now when she had been berating them over the video-link.

Use the Captain’s quarters if you like, but Nathan stay with him outside the shower, he still has some of that medication in his system,” she warned, not wanting to voice her concerns out loud about his earlier unsteadiness. “You can bring him back down to me in med-bay when he is finished to see to the cuts on his fingers.”

I will be totally fine on my own, I don’t need anyone to babysit me or to take me there afterwards,” Lucas objected, his croaky voice betraying him again as he spoke and not helping his declaration. His agreement to restrict the use of his voice broken already, but understandable given what he had just found out.

Come on, let’s do what Kristin asks and go from there,” Bridger negotiated, seeing and hearing that the teenager was less than well himself and needing some of the doctor’s brand of care.

Lucas started walking off away from the moon pool area with the encouragement of the Captain, still rubbing at his throat, “I want to know what happened to Ben?”


Once they had reached Bridger’s quarters, the teenager went about collecting a fresh set of clothes, and headed for the shower. He kept a few sets there now on a regular basis apart from his own cabin.

Bridger had taken up sitting on the couch while he waited for Lucas to take his shower. Thirty minutes later, he emerged with the fresh clothes on, using a towel to dry his hair, but making a face at the discomfort from his headache. The steam from his hot shower had done nothing to alleviate it, but rather had caused it to come to life more.

Starting to feel a little more like yourself again?” the Captain asked, but he could see the redness of his eyes and lethargic posture to answer his own question.

No, not really,” Lucas admitted, rubbing at his throat again, before tossing the towel aside.

It is good to have you back safe again and mostly in one piece,” Bridger declared, standing up and surprising the teenager with a heartfelt embrace that he had been wanting to give him when he first arrived back.

Lucas accepting and returning the gesture, “You weren’t too worried about me now were you?” he poked in fun for a moment, adding a smile. But one look at the Captain’s face and noting the spontaneous display of affection told him otherwise.

You were,” he pointed out with the simple statement, his smile fading.

No matter how many times it still happened, he was secretly grateful that someone was in his life who did that now. With both of them now comfortable and relaxed in each others company, it was still such a nice feeling to have someone show that they cared that much about him. On the odd occasion Lucas still needed to pinch and remind himself that it wasn’t all a dream.

You didn’t totally freak out did you?” knowing from previous experience that the Captain tended to get more than over-protective at times.

If he wanted to give himself any credit about knowing the man he was talking to at all, or learning anything about him in the past two years, he should have known how things would have turned out. Bridger could be known to be bordering on obsessive at times about knowing where he was, if he was in good spirits and if he was taking care of himself, even when he was on-board the vessel.

Some of the other crew members could be called out on doing the same thing from the Captain cues. And it wasn’t completely unheard of for Bridger to rope them into carrying out surveillance on his behalf so Lucas himself wouldn’t get suspicious. But most days the teenager prided himself with being able to tell what they were up to.

Lucas guessed that such tactics came from everything that the two of them had been through and weathered together, and he couldn’t be too critical when he thought of how bad some of the outcomes could have ended up from the past.

But then he answered his own question without needing to use his croaky voice. ‘Who am I kidding’ he silently admonished himself.

Bridger had suddenly found the carpet on the floor to his own cabin more interesting than wanting to be honest about just how much he had indeed ‘freaked out’.

Sorry, I didn’t mean to leave without telling you,” he offered as a poor excuse. “I just didn’t think head and it seemed like a good idea at the time when Ben first asked me. But then it started turning into nothing but an afternoon and evening to forget. I was only planning on getting some food and some fresh air.”

Commander Ford organized a search party with the security guards for you at the base on the mainland once we realised you were missing and had not made it back to the launch,” Bridger informed him, deciding he deserved to know.

A search party!” Lucas said in complete shock, thinking that such a move was going a little overboard. More guilt was starting to set in about causing anybody enough worry about his whereabouts. “I am sorry that you had to send other people out looking for me. Kristin knew where I was eventually, but I didn’t have any way of contacting anybody else before that.”

They couldn’t find you at first either. You were gone for over nine hours, and I didn’t even find out myself that you were with Ben until after 3a.m. this morning, when the others arrived back on-board. I thought you were still in your cabin sleeping. So did Jonathan.”

I wanted to go out and start searching for you myself, but there wasn’t any spare launches left to leave here,” the Captain told him, wanting to make it absolutely clear that he would always put aside anything else less important until he knew the boy was safe and sound.

I was with Miguel, Tim and Ben for the most part,” the teenager interjected, not realising just how long he had been absent until it was pointed out to him, “You usually don’t have a problem with me being in their company.” He had never intentionally wanted the Captain to worry about him so much.

And I wouldn’t have had one this time, except for a few small little details,” Bridger replied.

With his headache still throbbing, Lucas was waiting for the Captain to tell him what the answer was, because his brain wasn’t really switched on at the moment.

Commander Ford didn’t know about Tim O’Neill being roped in at the last minute and going on your little impromptu jaunt either. And then to make matters worse, Ben neglected to tell anybody that you were going with them, including myself and Kristin.”

Oh,” was the only response he could think of straight up at that piece of information. Being left to his own devices in his own cabin with very little company for the week, he had been unaware of any of the level of planning that Ben had gone to get the other crew members to accompany them.

He could safely assume that Ford would be chewing out Ben in the foreseeable future as well as the Doctor and the Captain. He would have to make it clear to those involved that he deserved some of the blame as much as Krieg, and wouldn’t let them all take the fall for his own poor choices.

How are the fingers by the way?,” Bridger asked, changing the topic of conversation to other matters. Kristin had told them on the video-link call that she would need to look at them.

Lucas looked down at his hand, almost having forgotten about the cuts from the glass inside the store, casting a critical eye over the marks that they would even need anything. “They will be fine. They were stinging earlier at the store when it first happened, but the bleeding has stopped now.”

Let’s go down to Kristin in med-bay and find out how Ben is doing,” Bridger said in compromise, wanting the doctor to look him over when she could. Mentioning Krieg’s name was more likely to gain the teenager’s co-operation than saying that he wanted the doctor to take a look at him instead.

Guess I have to face the firing squad sometime,” Lucas voiced, knowing Kristin’s fierce reputation at times. Thankfully he had not been on the receiving end of it too often, but it looked like his luck was changing for the worst again today. “I can hear her yelling at me already.”


By the time Bridger and Lucas reached the med-bay area, the Captain could plainly see how much the headache was bothering the teenager. He was almost ready to admit defeat and willingly submit to Kristin’s administrations just to gain some relief. Almost.

Ben Krieg was seated on a chair inside the medical facility, but quickly stood up and was looking over at his friend, incredibly relieved to see him. He didn’t like the pained expression the youth wore though, or the tiredness he could plainly see.

Before Kristin and the Captain could exchange words, the two friends spoke to each other first.

What happened to your face?” Lucas said with fresh concern growing, seeing the darkening bruise on Krieg’s cheek.

Then there was also the dishevelled appearance of his friend, with the torn Hawaiian shirt and the grimaces of pain from that Ben was trying not to draw attention to.

Don’t worry about me. Where did you get to?” Ben asked, frowning as he heard how croaky the kid’s voice was.

Are you alright?” knowing how stupid that sounded as soon as the words had left his mouth. “Someone said you were close to throwing up outside?”

I am fine,” the teenager replied but not elaborating and rubbing at his neck and grimacing, sitting down on one of the beds, lifting his legs up onto it and turning onto his side, demonstrating how “not fine” he was to those in the room.

You can take up residency in that bed beside him, Mr Krieg, now that we have established how bad both you are at admitting the truth,” Kristin instructed.

Lucas, I thought you might be looking for this to help ease your sore throat,” she said, waiting for him to turn over and face her, before sitting up, and then handing him a glass of water. “There are some other soothing remedies I can employ after you have had some more fluids.”

Bridger was standing next to Lucas’s bed, but monitoring what was happening to Ben at the same time. Lucas drank the water, giving an audible sound at the instant but brief relief. His head was throbbing and the coolness of the pillows was very inviting. He laid awake though, watching as Kristin went about talking to Ben.

Any headache present, Mr Krieg?” Kristin asked as she gently examined the bruise.

Yeah, actually there is,” Ben answered ruefully, running his fingers through his short black hair.

“Like you wouldn’t believe,” Lucas reluctantly agreed as a secondary comment as his own headache spiked in response.

Kristin, Ben and Bridger all gave a surprised look towards each other at the teenager’s honest and open confession. The boy had missed the exchange between them entirely.

Would you like me to bring you a tray of food?” Kristin asked Ben.

Not unless you want to see it make a sudden reappearance,” Lucas answered, his eyes closing, not realising that the doctor had been talking to the other patient in the room.

Without any further conversation for a moment, Lucas was falling asleep before Kristin could even begin her assessment of him. The teenager already admitting to having a humdinger of a headache, and feeling nauseous.

He already told me he felt like throwing up earlier last night,” Kristin whispered, picked up his left hand and looked carefully at the cuts on his fingers. “As I mentioned, probably only a side-effect of the medication I provided, and not having something in his stomach when he took it.”

The teenager didn’t bother acknowledging what she was doing or even twitch at any of her procedures that involved her caring touch, though he did still frown on more than one occasion at the lingering discomfort. The residual effects from the medication she had left him with were causing the drowsiness to return, but no longer offering any significant decrease in relieving pain.

They look better now than they did a few hours ago, and they won’t need stitching,” she stated, placing small waterproof covers around them to keep them clean and dry. “Back at the lab when I first looked at them, I was concerned there might be some slivers of glass embedded in there, but thankfully that doesn’t seem to be the case either.”

I will keep an eye on his headache for the remainder of the day and check on him again over the next couple of hours,” she said to Bridger, seeing him visibly relax now that the teenager was being taken care of and finally sleeping peacefully where he could see him.

Nathan watched as Kristin laid a light cover over the youth, happy that he was comfortable enough and content to let him rest without further interference. Tomorrow she would recheck his recovery progress from the respiratory infection that had been plaguing him. She had been fairly optimistic with how he was fairing when she had checked him before she had left the vessel, but being outside on such a windy night when he was supposed to be indoors had not done the boy any favours.

When the doctor turned back to address Ben, and to ask if he was wanting any food or needing medication for his own headache, the man had thwarted those efforts, having fallen asleep as well, facing away from them during that short time of tending to Lucas.

Bridger and Kristin both shared a laugh at how alike the two friends could be at odd times without even realising it.

I think they can keep each other company in here for a few hours today, before I release them back to their own cabins,” Kristin commented, taking a second light cover and placing it over Ben’s sleeping form. She doubted that Lucas would want to stay where he was once he was more alert.

I think we could both use a few more hours sleep ourselves today,” Nathan commented, seeing tiredness on the doctor’s face too. She had been keeping long hours herself the past few days with the heavy burden of the new staff coming on-board. The crazy schedule of the day was going to keep both of them busy for the next several hours at least.


For the next two hours, Kristin was kept busy in her science labs helping with the new staff members and conducting the orientation meeting along with her assistant Annette.

The two ladies had finally been able to share a much needed cup of coffee in the small kitchenette before the next task of the day was to be tackled head-on.

Captain Bridger was currently arriving on the Bridge, and looking to give Commander Jonathan Ford a few hours rest until at least lunch time.

Captain, on deck,” came the announcement from the security officer as the dome doors opened and the siren wailed in the background.

Jonathan, you had better alter your duty roster for the remainder of today. Kristin has assessed both Lucas and Mr Krieg, and both are currently sleeping down in med-bay and I don’t expect that we will see either of them making an appearance for work any time soon,” Bridger instructed.

Both of them are sporting headaches, but should be fine a little later. Doctor Westphalen will keep tabs on them throughout the morning,” the Captain added to his report.

I have already pre-empted that a little, Sir, and removed both Krieg and Lucas from today’s duty roster of shifts. Mr O’Neill and Mr Ortiz have also been given time off today to get some extra sleep before their next shifts tomorrow,” Ford told his commanding officer.

You make sure you go and do the same thing now, and you can come back and meet me in the mess hall about lunch time. By that time, I hope Kristin can get some rest herself with the help of her own staff, and I plan on trying to catch up on some myself after checking on our resident computer whiz of course.”

With Commander Hitchcock absent for the next few days, Captain, rather than you and I having to soldier on throughout the day between the two of us, I intend of using a little back-up on the Bridge with your permission?,” Ford commented.

You certainly have my agreement to employ any staff changes you deem are suitable or necessary, Jonathan,” Bridger responded.

This morning is chaotic, but that should soon settle down, before we start our journey back into Pearl in three days time,” Ford surmised.

I will have more information about that for you by lunch time, Commander. Admiral Noyce is due to talk to me whilst I am on duty this morning,” Bridger stated.

Thank you, Sir, I will talk to you more then,” Ford agreed, giving a formal salute and proceeding to walk through the dome doors.


Back down in med-bay, Benjamin Krieg had turned over on the bed, not having remembered falling asleep, and noting that someone had covered him with a blanket. He went to turn over on his back, trying to work out what had awoken him. He listened intently again.

Looking around the room, he recognized that he was still in med-bay. His headache was gone, the bruise on his face, still tender to the touch, and he was missing several hours.

He looked over to the opposite wall, and noted that Lucas was occupying the bed, and currently facing him lying on his side. He heard another sound, and he realised that the noise was coming from his friend. The kid still had his eyes closed as though sleeping, but a sound of discomfort was definitely coming from that direction.

Krieg threw back the cover and got off his own bed, and padded across the tiled floor to the other bed.

Lucas, are you alright buddy?” he whispered, not wanting to wake the kid if he was trying to sleep.

Please make it stop,” came the barely audible plea from the teenager, as he wrapped both hands around the top of his head and groaned a little louder at the pain he was experiencing.

Hang in there, I will go and find someone to help,” Krieg promised.

Kristin had been tending to some slides in laboratory two when she came across Ben in the corridor, heading in her direction. To say she was surprised to see him wandering around was an understatement.

Mr Krieg,” she scolded lightly, “What are you doing out of bed before I have formally released you?”

I came to find you, I woke up and my headache is completely gone.” he started to explain, but concern soon started showing across his face. “Lucas was trying to sleep in the bed on the other side of the room, but he seems to be in a quite a bit of pain. I couldn’t tell what was wrong and wanted to come find you. I did try and find out by talking to him, but he didn’t answer.”

Kristin put aside the clip-board she had been writing on, and both of them quickly made the short distance back to med-bay.

Ben stood at the foot end of the bed, whilst Kristin put a hand on teenager’s shoulder, and spoke very softly to him. She could see the scrunched up expression on his face to indicate his pain level from the headache.

The doctor whispered a few words to him in a question, and Krieg saw the teenager slowly nod at her suggestion. “Stay with him for a minute, I will be right back.”

Kristin returned with some medication and a small glass of apple juice, hoping the drink would also help with his sore throat.

Regular strength Tylenol,” Kristin said to Ben as they both saw the teenager accept the tablets and wash them down. He turned over onto his opposite side and was trying to go back to sleep.

He was complaining about how bad his headache was before he came back on the launch with me. They should help and after a few more hours of sleep, he will be feeling much better,” the doctor informed him. “It must have been bothering him to be willing to admit how bad it was getting and wanting to accept the medication. He didn’t even want me to leave the ones with him that he took last night.

I knew his throat was bothering him some by the time we reached the convenience store, but he never said anything about having a headache,” Krieg remarked.

Are you planning to go back to sleep yourself?” she asked, “You could use some more I am sure. There isn’t much I can do about the bruising on your face except offer some ice.”

No, its fine. Still gives more than a little tickle if I poke it, but other than that, I will survive. I was planning on getting some more sleep, but back in my own cabin, unless you have any further objections?”

Kristin looked him over for a few more seconds, “No objections, but I am holding you to your word about the sleep,” she returned with a smile.

Do you want me to find the Captain and let him know about Lucas?” Krieg enquired as he headed towards the door.

He was going to be tied up on the Bridge for a few more hours, but I am sure he will get away just as soon as he can to visit,” Kristin answered.


The current time was closer to lunch by the time Captain Bridger had left his shift on the Bridge and headed towards the medical area. He was hoping to do two things, firstly get Kristin to take a well earned break and get some sleep if she hadn’t done so already. And secondly, visit Lucas before getting some sleep himself.

Noyce had not contacted them yet as promised about the matters he had spoken to Ford about, but no doubt the Admiral had merely been caught up and would be in touch as soon as he could. There was no rush and plenty of time.

Ford had taken over from the Captain for a few hours, promising to let Bridger know of any developments in his absence.

Nathan found Kristin just outside the science laboratory’s small kitchenette, looking more than a little tired. “I hope you are going to get some rest yourself,” he said with a little worry in his voice.

I was just about to head to the mess hall for a well-earned cup of coffee and some lunch, before I leave everything in the capable hands of my new assistant, Annette,” Kristin informed him with a tired smile.

I just have one more task, and you can join me if you like?” she enquired, knowing the reason why the man had wandered into her area in the first place.

One more?” he questioned, thinking anything else could wait a few hours surely.

I want to check on Lucas again,” she stated, and then saw his expression change to a puzzled one. She had expected him a little earlier and hadn’t informed him yet.

Mr Krieg awoke a couple of hours ago, and offered to inform you,” she began, “The headache Lucas was suffering from when he first arrived back, became worse.”

Worse? Is he alright now?” Nathan immediately asked, heading towards the room he had last seen the teenager sleeping in.

I offered him some medication, and he accepted. He was going back to sleep when I left the room,” Kristin assured him. “Ben promised to go back to his own cabin and rest.”

Upon arriving back in the medical room, the bed the teenager had been occupying was vacant.

Maybe he went back to his own cabin as well?” Nathan commented, knowing from experience that the boy liked his own company rather than being in down in med-bay when he wasn’t feeling well.

Let’s go and check on him, and then get that lunch,” Kristin suggested, speaking briefly to Annette as she left, promising to return after a few hours.

Upon reaching the small cabin located in Mammal Engineering, Bridger knocked out of courtesy, but tried the handle when no answer was received. The door was unlocked, but flicking on the light switch and peering inside, the bunk bed was empty and the teenager’s whereabouts remained a mystery.

I swear I have to keep tabs on that boy every minute…” Kristin started to say in mock anger as the two of them made their way to the next most obvious choice for where he was.

Both of them headed towards cabin A119, and knocked on the door. There was movement coming from inside, so somebody was behind the door.

The door opened, and a bleary eyed, Ben Krieg looked at both of them with confusion, he had swapped his torn Hawaiian shirt for a new one and had a shower himself upon returning from med-bay.

Hey, I was sleeping just like I promised,” he gave as the excuse for his lack-lustre appearance.

I apologise for waking you, Mr Krieg, I wish the same could be said for your wayward friend,” Kristin said, “He didn’t come here to visit you then obviously.”

Lucas?” Ben said, trying to clear his head, and rubbing at his face. “I thought he was still in med-bay with that bad headache?”

He is supposed to be,” the doctor relayed. “I went to check on him just now with Nathan, but he has left med-bay and is not in his own cabin.”

You lead, I will be right behind you,” Ben said, wanting to find the kid too, mumbling about starting to agree with Bridger’s sentiments recently about putting a tracking device on Lucas.


The three concerned adults entered the main entrance to the mess hall, and sighed in relief a little at seeing the missing teenager absconded on his own at one of the far tables.

Behind them, approaching footsteps revealed, Miguel Ortiz and Tim O’Neill who were heading to get lunch themselves.

Afternoon, Captain and Doctor Westphalen,” Tim greeted them.

Our young resident genius was missing for a few minutes,” Bridger informed them. “Kristin said his headache was worse.”

Good to see him trying to eat, at least,” Ben whispered, as the group made their way to join the teenager. Although better than it had been two years ago, it was still one issue that had not changed significantly for the better.

As they neared the table, they were able to see for themselves that the teenager was focusing more on keeping himself awake, rather than looking up at anybody in front of him.

Lucas,” Bridger said quietly, sitting on the bench seat beside him, and trying to gain his attention.

Oh, Hi,” Lucas greeted his new found audience, looking up and surprised at see more than one person. “What are you all doing in here?”

Some of us were looking for you,” Kristin scolded lightly, sitting down herself on the opposite side of the table. “Has your headache eased at all?” she asked, watching his facial expressions in case he was trying to mask anything from her.

Ben, Miguel and Tim took up a seat each on the other side of the table as well.

A little, but not a lot,” the teenager admitted, rubbing at his temple to emphasis the comment. “Throat is not as sore at the moment thought, which is a good thing. And I don’t feel like I want to throw up now. I thought the food and having something in my stomach might help.”

Your voice sounds a whole lot better than it did before,” Bridger agreed in response, noting that it didn’t sound croaky as the teenager spoke.

Kristin picked up the tub that Lucas had in front of him, eyeing his lunch choice with a questioning look. “Vanilla ice-cream?”

It doesn’t hurt going down, and it isn’t soup,” Lucas pointed out, not wanting to justify his choice of food.

He had only awoken twenty minutes ago, and wasn’t looking to engage in any meaningful conversation until his headache had gone away completely. But judging by the number of people now gathered at the table around him, that probably wasn’t likely to happen.

Feeling better, Ben?” Lucas asked, his friend seated directly across from him, the bruise having darkened over the last couple of hours, and standing out prominently.

Much better,” Krieg answered, “Just need a bit more shut-eye,” he complained. “Like everybody at this table, I can see.”

Bridger could see Lucas rubbing at his forehead, noting that the teenager had done so on a few occasions since they had joined him at the table.

Do you know where your headache came from?” he said, his voice laced with fresh worry.

No, but every little noise or sound is echoing inside my brain like it is being amplified tenfold,” Lucas complained. “I haven’t had a headache this bad very often before,” he admitted to Kristin.

The spoon there that Miguel is stirring his coffee with as it hits the side of the mug,” he added, Ortiz immediately stopping the action and giving an apology.

Ben shuffled about on the chair he was sitting on, “The sound of a chair scraping on the floor,” the teenager bemoaned as he put the lid on the ice-cream container, signalling that he had eaten what he wanted for now.


The sound of footsteps approaching them, saw Commander Jonathan Ford joining the group.

Good Afternoon, Captain, everybody,” the dark-skinned man greeted them.

Jonathan, I didn’t expect to see you here just yet?” Bridger questioned, thinking that his second-in-command had been taking over from him.

Well Sir, with Katie still away and us being a little short-handed on the Bridge between yourself and I, today is the best time to put my new training into place for someone who is trying to get a little experience and climb the officer ladder.”

Oh, that is what you were talking about earlier when we spoke,” the Captain answered with approval of the measures put into place, “Who did you start with?”

Lucas was trying to keep track of the conversation between Bridger and Ford, but after hearing Katie’s name mentioned, he could see the strained look that briefly crossed Ben’s face. There was genuine regret there about something, but about what he didn’t know. He would have to talk to his friend later on when nobody else was about to find out.

Lucas had tried to broach the subject with Ben briefly another day about what was bothering him, but his friend only mumbled something about her currently being away. It was clear that Ben knew a little more to the story than that, but the teenager respected his friend’s privacy, and recognized that it was something he didn’t want to talk about.

I decided to start with someone the regular crew is a little more familiar with, Sir,” Ford informed the Captain. “Wayne Watkins is the most senior person next to Commander Hitchcock, and has been patiently waiting for his chance.”

Watkins has been on the Bridge for some time and knows the protocols and procedures, but has not actually taken full control without supervision by one of us before,” Ortiz spoke up, “His style is a little different to both you Commander Ford, and Katie Hitchcock.”

He is, but hopefully it will give both the Captain and I the chance to recharge for a few hours,” Jonathan commented.

Lucas hadn’t said anything during this exchange, nor had Tim O’Neill.

Keep me informed on his progress, Jonathan,” Nathan requested.

Now that the formalities were over, Commander Ford looked about the table, trying to assess everybody’s mood and well being. He wasn’t entirely impressed by what he could see in front of him.

How are you feeling Tim and Miguel?” he asked casually, starting with those he was sitting closest to.

Needing sleep, Commander,” Tim answered truthfully, with Ortiz nodding in agreement. But at least neither of them were suffering from any injuries.

Krieg over there looks like he went a few rounds with a prize fighter in a boxing ring. The Captain and Doctor Westphalen both look like they could use some much needed sleep themselves as well. Lucas sitting at the end of the table there is sporting a bad headache,” O’Neill offered in assessment of those present.

Despite his own discomfort, Lucas couldn’t help but keep looking back at his friend Ben’s face, the guilt showing clearly on his own tired features.

Finally he couldn’t just sit and not ask the question, the silence that was enveloping everybody was grinding on his last nerve. “Are you going to tell me what happened or do I just have to guess?” addressing the question to Krieg.

Ben looked over at his teenage friend and then glanced at Bridger and Ford, trying to decide for himself how much to reveal. But he ended up making the choice of being completely honest. His friendship with Lucas from the start had been built on that foundation and he wasn’t about to change anything about that now.

The Captain and Commander Ford both seemed indifferent about how much to tell the boy, and they had yet to hear his version of events after exiting the store, so perhaps that is where they should start.

I am yet to hear much of anything about this little journey any of you took,” Kristin pointed out matter-of-factly, crossing her arms in a no-nonsense pose and looking at the faces around the table. “Anybody want to go first?”

Lucas turned his attention back to the table, swallowing and feeling her eyes on him and expecting him to start. He looked from Kristin then turned to look at the Captain, seeing the expectant look on their faces. He shrugged his shoulders a little resigning himself to telling them what had happened from his perspective.

After you left my cabin, the Captain did come and visit me too,” Lucas began, looking over at the doctor as he spoke. “I was still feeling lousy as you know, and by the time he left, was looking to spend a little time somewhere other than within those four walls. And to see some other faces for a while.”

Kristin was trying to keep her expression composed, but hearing his statement about feeling lonely, wasn’t helping that endeavour. She realised that he was willing to shoulder the blame away from Nathan.

The Captain said I should be getting something to eat, but during the last week, everything had been tasting like nothing but cardboard, and I couldn’t stomach the idea of any more soup again,” he continued. “When Ben came along and offered to take me up-world to get something to eat, I didn’t need much convincing.”

Ben wanted to add some explanation as well, but held off, letting his friend tell his version without interruption first. He could always embellish afterwards if needed. He hadn’t realised that being cooped up in his cabin for more than a week had been driving him a little stir-crazy. He wish the kid had of spoken up sooner, and he could have done something about his boredom.

By the time I followed Ben onto the launch, my head was just aching. I saw Miguel and Tim on-board, but didn’t question if either of them were supposed to be there or not.”

We arrived on the mainland without incident, and Ben said that he had someone arranged to pick us up,” Lucas stated.

This time around, Ben did interject into the conversation, “I was going to take you all to my Dad’s diner.”

The one you have been talking to me about for a few months?” Lucas enquired.

You know about this place, Lucas?” Miguel asked. The first any of them had heard about it was when Ben was standing by the moon pool giving his version of events to the Captain.

The rest of the crew at the table were surprised, but told themselves that they probably shouldn’t have been. Ben had often been Lucas’s confidante in the past about a whole host of matters, and it seemed that at least on this occasion, the premise was being reversed, and Lucas had kept some things shared from Krieg to himself.

Yeah, Ben told me about it, and how his Dad wants him to take over one day,” Lucas replied, glancing over apologetically at Krieg. Ben waved a casual hand gesture back at him to signal that there was no hard feelings about it being out in the open now for others to know.

Kristin was getting a little lost, this being the first time she had heard anything about Ben’s family or them owning any kind of food establishment.

I will tell you later,” Nathan promised, trying not to interrupt the teenager’s train of thought too much.

I still aim to take you all there one day,” Ben said good-naturedly, and meaning to do just that as soon as time allowed.

Next time I will not be going with Barry,” Lucas emphasised, annoyance creeping into his voice, and he rubbed at his head as his headache throbbed as a result. “I don’t care how we get there.”

Barry?” Kristin now prompted, seeing that his mood had changed very quickly.

The doctor wanted to know the reason for it. Vaguely she remembered Lucas mentioning something about a driver when he had turned up in the company of the security guards outside the research facility. At the time she had been more stunned and concerned about his own appearance at the time rather than who he was speaking about.

Lucas slumped a little more down in posture, and his face took on a very sullen expression as he recalled what the guy had said. It still bothered him, no matter how much he tried to deny it. And it bothered him more that he wasn’t able to block it out like others would have him believe after the length of time that had elapsed.

Nathan put a comforting hand on the teenager’s shoulder, having heard what the taxi-driver had inferred, knowing how any references to his father would have been received.

When it was clear that the teenager wasn’t going to repeat what had happened, Ben stepped in to explain what had happened to the doctor.

Barry wasn’t the regular taxi-driver, but wasn’t one of the most charming of personalities. He is ex-marine, and his cab was like a local sewer. He found out about us being sub-mariners and started making jokes at our expense. That part wasn’t a problem, and our resident genius here soon put him in his place with a few choice words of his own, defending us. But then the guy started in on Lucas, and made some wild, hurtful accusations.”

Lucas was almost ready to leave the table and bolt, but stayed at Nathan’s insistence, but kept his gaze focused upon the table. He knew that the teenager didn’t want to hear the driver’s words again.

With Lucas’s eyes fixated on the table in front of him, Bridger looked over at Kristin and silently mouth the name, Lawrence to inform her of the subject causing the teenager’s sudden mood swing. The man’s name had not been said out loud, but knew the doctor was smart enough to draw her own conclusions and understand what had occurred.

Kristin was able to lip-read fairly well, and her expression softened towards Lucas, but inwardly wanted to kick something hard on his behalf.

I let him get to me when I shouldn’t have,” Lucas said, looking up and apologising to the crew members who had been in the car with him. “I wasn’t really thinking straight when I tried opening the door and getting out of the car whilst it was still moving.”

Kristin almost gasped out loud at that statement, looking over at Nathan first, and then at Ben who displayed fearfully, and nodded in confirmation that it was the truth.


The next thing we know is that we are all standing on the road, after being dumped there, and have to make our way on foot for a while,” Ben continued where Lucas had left off. “There was civilisation somewhere nearby, we just had to find it.”

The efforts that Ben had made to negotiate with Lucas and preventing him from wandering away on his own were left out.

We didn’t have to walk too far before stumbling across a few shops and businesses, but most of them were closed,” Miguel added. “The first place we found open was the convenience store.”

Everything was fine in there at first, we were all in there looking at various things,” Ben recounted. “Lucas went to buy water at the counter.”

I still owe you for the water, by the way,” Lucas confessed. “I am sorry it slipped my mind and I forgot to bring my wallet.”

These nice girls come into the store, but our young friend here choked big time at a chance to score himself a date or a phone number. All he got for his efforts was a fleeting glance of concern, and a coughing fit,” Ben said, much to Lucas’s embarrassment.

It was you that was more interested than me, my throat was feeling too sore then to talk to them anyway,” Lucas shot back, his mood improving slightly. “I went looking for the good food you promised me, but there was only vending machines, and none of them had anything that was worth sampling. And I didn’t have any money anyway, so gave up on the idea of gaining food.”

At least Lucas would have only been attempting to say hello, and wasn’t trying to spy on those girls like you and Miguel were, Krieg,” Tim O’Neill pointed out.

Spying on them?” Bridger questioned, with a look of disapproval from anyone under his command, on or off-duty. He wanted more of an explanation for this, as some of it had been left out of the earlier report he and Jonathan had received.

Miguel and Krieg had the good sense to look contrite at their Captain’s disappointment in their behaviour. Boys will be boys as someone would probably tell him, but that didn’t let them off the hook.

I just wanted to know what they were doing,” Tim said to the people gathered at the table. “They were looking through the gaps in the shelves and trying to work out what to say to the girls to get their attention.”

Then you went and wrecked it for us by getting cold feet,” Ben pointed out, only to earn himself a dark look from Kristin at his antics.

I walked out of that aisle and turned around the corner, but didn’t realise that Lucas was approaching from the opposite direction. For a few minutes, I guess we all lost track of where he was even in the store,” Tim admitted. “Lucas and I didn’t see each other until it was too late and both of us crashed into each other and ended up sprawled on the floor.”

I tried to steady myself, but some of the larger glass jars were bumped off the higher shelves, and smashed onto the floor around us,” Lucas continued. “That was where I got the cuts to my fingers, I was trying to catch them before they broke, but couldn’t save them. The liquid stuff stank and was slippery.”

The smell was definitely offensive and powerful,” O’Neill agreed, knowing that the clothes he had been wearing were soaked in the contents as well.

You didn’t tell anybody you cut your hands from the glass when we came running and checking if anybody was hurt,” Ben scolded, “You said you were leaving the store and would be waiting outside.”

Yeah, well by then my headache had grown to monstrous levels, and my throat was killing me, and I just didn’t want to be there any more,” Lucas admitted petulantly. “I should have told you that at the time I guess, but I just wanted out of there. The whole afternoon had ended up a waste from start to finish.”

I left because I was tired, and my head was hurting too much, and I just wanted to make our way to the launch and back to SeaQuest.”

I wanted to follow you outside because I knew something wasn’t quite right, but the store owner was intent on keeping the rest of us inside until the damages were assessed and paid for,” Ben commented. “The girls must have left by that time as well, and headed over to Molly’s Palace.”

By the time we were allowed out of the store, it was dark and the breeze had picked up considerably,” Miguel interjected. “We tried to get the store owner to let us back in to contact someone from there to help find you, but the guy wouldn’t even hear us out.”

Molly’s Palace?” Lucas questioned, this was the first time he heard mention of the place.

A bar owned by the equally charming Carla. She and Barry would be the best of friends,” Ben quipped, giving a first-hand account of her acid tongue and overall sour disposition.

I couldn’t get the stench off my clothes, and my stomach was starting to feel more than a little queasy without any food in it. I thought I was going to throw up, so I tried to find the nearest bathroom,” Lucas said, explaining where he had gone after exiting the doors to the convenience store.

When I got back, I waited and waited, but nobody was coming out. By then the doors were locked and the shutters had been pulled down, so I thought you guys had ditched me, and headed back to the launch.”

I walked back where we had travelled with the taxi-cab. When I finally made it back to the base, there was nobody about because of the time, but as I was crossing the lawn section, the automatic sprinklers sprang into life, and I was drenched from head to toe. I had no way of knowing where you guys were, I was soaked to the skin, and no way of contacting the SeaQuest, so I sat down on the little bench feeling pretty miserable about everything.”

I was sitting there shivering from being wet, not heeding what you said about bringing a jacket, when I found the medication that Kristin offered me earlier and left in my shirt pocket. I took them with the last of the water I was carrying. The next thing I know someone is shining a torch light in my eyes, and asking for me by name.”

The security guards that the Captain and I sent out to look for you, Lucas,” Ford surmised.

The only thing I had on me was Kristin’s contact number,” the teenager remarked, “And that is when they brought me to you at the building where you were.”

The medication I left with you was a night-time blend. I had hoped it would alleviate your headache, but help you get some sleep too. Taking them on an empty stomach probably only added to your nausea and certainly would account for you being unsteady on your feet when you got to me,” Kristin informed Lucas.


We definitely didn’t ditch you,” Ben guaranteed the teenager. “We came out and you were gone. We started searching for you thinking you had gotten bored, and it wasn’t long before full scale panic set in.”

We were looking for you, Lucas, but went in the other direction towards Molly’s Palace, thinking you might have made gone in there out of the wind, looking for all of us,” Miguel chimed in.

You thought I went into a bar, Krieg?” Lucas said in surprise and gave a brief laugh. “The Captain would have had my head on a platter,” he added, turning his head and giving Bridger a small smile that promised he would not have gone into such a place, even if the situation presented itself.

Bridger playfully cuffed his head with a look of ‘You had better not!’ and returning a grateful smile of his own, thankful that the teenager was usually responsible.

Going inside there was a mistake, but we did,” Ben added. “Turns out that the place is run by some shrew of a woman named Carla, who looked like someone had run over her a few times and then put a cigarette in her mouth.”

Yeah, we had better check with Doctor Westphalen about our vaccination status,” Miguel said. “The place could have been carry all sorts of disease.”

The one main rat present was serving at the bar, to those girls,” Krieg commented, meaning the awful woman Carla they had encountered. “Her startling personality came to the forefront when we explained that we were only in there, looking for you,” Krieg remarked.

I tried again to use my charming personality to explain to her that we were only in there looking for you Lucas, but she was trying to throw us out,” Ben said.

That is where you went wrong in the first place, Krieg,” Ford commented, knowing that the Morale Officer could use his easy going nature when it suited him.

Oh ha ha,” Krieg shot back to Ford, but almost everybody at the table was laughing at Ben’s expense, knowing Ford’s accusation to be quite accurate.

Lucas had a smirk on his face, but was not laughing at his friend.

Then the troll at the bar accuses me of running down her place and chatting up the two girls, so she called over her Neanderthal of a bouncer, Charlie, from over in the back corner.”

Big guy?” Lucas asked in assumption at the description Krieg had given about the man.

Big, ugly, and a brick short of a brain cell. Leg and arm muscles built like tree trunks, but he made up for his lack of smarts in jealousy, when Debbie came out from the kitchen, and heard what we were doing in there,” Ben answered.

Debbie, a waitress come out from the kitchen, having heard everything going on,” Krieg continued. “At least she was willing to listen, so I explained why we were there to her, and gave her your description, Lucas. ”

Carla had poured drinks for the girls and wasn’t intending on letting them leave before they finished them,” Miguel recalled. “They were feeling more then a little intimidated and wanted to leave.”

That is when out gallant knight in shining armour, Tim O’Neill over here, came to their defence, and offered for the girls to come back with us,” Ben said, sharing a knowing smile at Tim, who was looking mighty uncomfortable himself now at being in the spotlight.

Bridger and Ford shared a chuckle again at hearing just how mixed up and out of control everything had become within a few hours. They knew that Ben and the others had never meant for things to get this crazy.

I started asking Debbie to contact you, Sir,” Ben addressed the Captain, but Charlie got hot under the collar and said she wasn’t doing nothing for us.”

I tried to diffuse the situation and was going to talk to Debbie outside, away from the bouncer,” Krieg explained. “The waitress told him to back off and take a hike. But unfortunately I ended up causing her to fall, and she ended up on the floor, taking the tray of drinks with her.”

The bouncer snatched up Krieg by the front of his shirt, and punched him twice before he even knew what happened,” Miguel told them. “That is how his shirt got torn.”

So that is how Ben ended up laying on the floor in a daze as well,” Ortiz filled in. “But then I saw the guy was intending to kick him when he was on the ground, so I jumped in and was ready to stop it.”

You were ready to take on the bouncer, Ortiz?” Ford asked with a whistle of pride. Hearing how big the bouncer was, it was clear that Ben might not have been the only injured party had tempers boiled over even further.

Thanks, Miguel,” Ben said, giving the Cuban man a hand-shake of gratitude. “I always knew you were the little bulldog of this crew.”

Lucas paled a little at hearing that Ben had been punched and almost kicked. The guilt about the bruising he could already see resurfacing. Hearing about Miguel’s near miss didn’t diminish his own culpability on the whole saga.

I am sorry you got hurt because of me, Ben,” the teenager voiced.

Hey, don’t beat yourself up, Lucas, you weren’t to know,” he said, trying to relay any fears his friend was having. “Sorry about your fingers and your baseball shirt.”

Luckily for all of us, Tim here came to everybody’s rescue,” Ben declared with relish.


Tim shrank away from the spotlight again, but gazed around and could see the looks and surprise on those at the table.

What did you do?” Lucas asked, wanting to know. The communications officer was normally not known for showing anger at any time, so the idea of him getting involved in any physical altercation was difficult to fathom.

I turned on the over-head fire sprinkler system that is inside the place,” O’Neill answered, but not really feeling that he attributed too much at all, like it was being retold.

Everybody in the room, us, the girls, Carla, the huge ape, everybody, including the inside of the bar and all furnishings, was drenched in gallons of water,” Ben said triumphantly. “So we all got a little wet just like you, Lucas.”


With most of the full version of events now out in the open, Lucas decided that now was just as good a time as ever to address Commander Ford about any impending punishment or sanctions.

So what is the damage bill from everything?” the teenager asked.

You don’t need to worry about that, Lucas,” Ben tried to assure him.

No, Ben, I am just as much to blame as any of you for whatever happened there and any breakages, and deserve the same treatment,” Lucas stated firmly.

Three thousand, four hundred and sixty-nine dollars, and twelve cents, was the estimate given to us before we heard the final report from law enforcement,” Ford informed him.

Lucas could scarcely believe the amount being quoted, and coughed out loud to mask his shock, thinking that he would be needing to make contact with his bank to gain some funds. His impromptu night out was turning into even more of a nightmare than he could ever have imagined.

That includes the breakages from the store of the jars, and the water damage to ‘Molly’s Palace’, Ford confirmed.

Bridger could see the downcast mood of the teenager darkening but he was also proud to see the boy’s maturity shining through with stepping up to the plate with the others involved.

Tell him what happened next, Commander,” he instructed.

Technically the store damages still need to be paid for, but they shouldn’t amount to any more than twenty dollars,” Ford reported.

I will split the damages with you, Lucas,” Tim offered, “Because we were the ones involved there, not Ben or Miguel.”

Done, I will get the money for you as soon as I get back to my cabin,” Lucas said, feeling the burden lift from his shoulders a little at what had to be paid for. And Tim was right about the two of them being liable.

Ben and the others have been exonerated from any of the other damages to Molly’s place for the water damage and other losses,” Ford shared.

Really, they have been let off the hook?” Lucas queried, unable to mask the skepticism in his voice. “Why?”

Debbie told the local police what had happened, and who was really to blame,” Ben announced cheerfully, hoping it would perk up the boy’s mood.

And then the authorities gave the Captain a little call to inform him that we were returning on the launch, with the new supplies, and we arrived back here just before 3 a.m. this morning,” Ben finished.

Well my little jaunt back here wasn’t any fun either,” Lucas pointed out. “I was nice and comfortable until Kristin came and told me we had to leave. It felt like I had just fallen asleep.”

Sitting at the table, Lucas yawned to emphasise that statement, his headache still making itself known.

I only wish I had some clean clothes for you to return in at the time, Lucas,” Kristin remarked, “You had only just fallen asleep, before I had to wake you up again.”

There was that one nice lady on the launch, I am not sure of her name,” Lucas remembered. “I am positive I have never met her before, but she seemed to know my name.”

That would be Annette, my new assistant. I will introduce you to her a little later, once you have had some more sleep,” Kristin promised. “I am finally getting one after all this time, and she has been a great help so far.”

Well, I don’t know about her, but the rest of the science people aboard the launch couldn’t get far enough away from me because my clothes stank from the pickled onion juice,” Lucas huffed. “I might have been standing up with my eyes closed, and there were too many people trying to talk over the top of each other at once. But I heard them gossiping amongst themselves and what they were saying. They wanted to get as far away from me as possible but couldn’t because of how tightly packed in we all were.”

I will probably hear them snickering every time they see me walk past one of them in the corridors over the next couple of weeks. I will hear them whispering, “There goes onion boy!”

Those at the table laughed good-naturedly at the teenager’s expense, and were relieved that he could joke about himself. There was a time when they walked around him as though on egg-shells, knowing that others had made poor and undeserved jokes in the past about him that had caused him to doubt his place on SeaQuest.

All jokes aside, next time you leave this vessel, I am putting a tracking device on you,” Bridger vowed. “Maybe I might have to think about putting one on all of you,” he added, turning to the other crew members.

Pftttt,” Lucas scoffed in jest, ‘I dare you’ on his face as he looked back at the Captain in challenge, but he couldn’t hold the expression very long, and it wasn’t long before he was frowning due to his headache again.

Lucas was thankful to be back on-board and amongst family and friends, and pleased that Bridger’s own fears about him missing, had been put at ease too.


I promise I will make it up to everybody at this table very soon for everything that happened,” Ben declared with sincerity.

His announcement though was met with audible groans and exclamations of not wanting to be involved in the next caper the Morale Officer tried to cook up.

Ben, I haven’t even had the chance to get over this ‘fun-time’ yet, Lucas implored, noting a nod of agreement from Miguel and Tim at his comment.

I promise it will be worth your while this time, Lucas,” Ben stated.

Lucas laid his head on the table and groaned out loud again, not from pain, but knowing that he would be the first victim of whatever Krieg had in mind.

Looking up at his friend, “Do me a favour next time around, Ben, don’t come calling or knocking at my door,” he pleaded. “Actually come to think of it, when I go back to my cabin, I am putting a heavy bolt on the inside of the hatch to lock you out.”

Now that hurts, Lucas,” Ben retorted. “How can you even think of doing that to a good friend like me?”

Favourite baseball shirt, Krieg, you owe me,” Lucas reminded him. “And no food like I was promised.”

The banter between the two friends was welcomed by everybody at the table, hoping that everything would soon return to normal on-board.

Now it was Kristin’s turn to intervene against Ben. “Don’t worry Lucas, I am start selling tickets today. Would you like to buy any?”

What are the tickets for?” the teenager asked, but could see her exchanging looks with Krieg, so he knew it couldn’t be good for his health.

Lucas’s smile widened as he saw Krieg lower his own head onto the table and groan out loud in abject misery at whatever fate Kristin had in mind for him.

Tickets to Mr Krieg’s imminent execution for his misdemeanour’s and his yearly physical evaluation which has been brought forward a few months,” Kristin answered with her own unique brand of sanctions in mind.

Oh come on, Doc, have a heart would you, I told you and the Captain I was sorry. The kid is here now, returned all safe and sound. I didn’t mean to temporarily misplace him, so there is no need to stoop to such underhanded tactics is it?”

Everybody at the table was now laughing at Ben’s expense and his impending punishment. He looked at each face at the table apart from his friend, looking at them with a hopeful expression, only to be give an exaggerated gasp of horror as each person shook their head negatively.

Come on, Lucas, you can help get me out of this, right?” Pal?? Buddy?”

Lucas looked at his friend briefly, before turning back to Kristin, “I will buy three tickets, thank you, Kristin,” Lucas asserted.

There was no way he was going to miss such an opportunity. “I assume the money is going to a good cause?” He didn’t really care where the money was being spent, if Ben was going to be on the end of one of Kristin’s legendary punishments, he wanted to be there with bells on.

Oh only the best cause, Lucas, new equipment for my science department. I assure you, the money will be well spent,” Kristin replied with a smile, looking over at Krieg as she spoke.

Three tickets!” Ben spluttered in indignation, hardly able to believe his friend would turn on him so quickly. “But there is only one of you.”

Yeah, but I am sure that there are a few other people around here wanting to watch too,” Lucas responded.

We will gladly take you up on that offer, Lucas,” Tim offered, pointing his thumb in Miguel’s direction.

Ortiz nodded his head in agreement, “We wouldn’t mind being part of the audience.”

You know, I never really liked any of you people,” Krieg huffed.

Ben looked over at Commander Ford and saw the man was joining in with the laughter and jibes, “Don’t worry, Commander, Sir. The Doc already has your number too,” Krieg revealed with delight. “Don’t forget revaluation!”

Bridger couldn’t help but laugh at Ben’s torment of Ford. Lucas was surprised by the man’s random outburst.

Revaluation of what?” Lucas asked innocently, missing the punch line somewhere.

His abilities to command this vessel when the Captain isn’t about,” Krieg answered with a air of superiority, pleased to see the scowl appear on Ford’s face at his own impending battle with Doctor Westphalen.

That is yet to be determined by someone else with a military background, and above the pay rate and extensive expertise of Doctor Westphalen,” Ford informed Krieg with authority. He had hoped that Bridger would take note of his protest as well at the assessment of his abilities, but seeing the amusement on the Captain’s face, he might be mistaken about that.

Everybody present thought Lucas said it best, what they were all thinking, but were too afraid to say out loud.

Man you must be crazy taking on Kristin on your own,” he said to Ford.

Ben couldn’t help but guffaw in fresh laughter, the teenager was probably the only one who would get away making such a statement to Jonathan’s face like that, in front of Kristin, unless it was Bridger himself.

That is what I have said to him,” Krieg commented. “And have done so on more than one occasion.”

What makes her think you were not up to the task, Commander?” Lucas directed at Ford.

But Krieg jumped in to answer before Jonathan could, “We all escaped the SeaQuest under his watch when his back was turned.”


Most of the crew at the table were laughing, but Lucas soon stopped as he realised that his actions may have gotten more people into trouble than he originally thought, and the guilt was only added to what he felt over Ben being injured. Ford should not have to bear any consequences when he was nowhere near the launch or the mainland.

My brain isn’t back to working just yet with this headache, Commander, but when it eases, I will put in a good word for you,” Lucas offered truthfully.

Thank you, Lucas, but I don’t think that will be necessary. I will let you know if anything develops,” Ford replied. Like the Captain, he could see the teenager’s genuine attempts at making amends for his involvement and was appreciative of his offer of shouldering any blame.

What about putting in a good word for me?” Ben queried.

Nope for you, I am going to be the star witness for the prosecution,” Lucas remarked.

I knew there was a reason I didn’t like you, ‘junior’,” Krieg taunted his teenage friend.

The use of that nickname got the desired response he was looking for.

I hate that nickname you deliberately gave to me, Krieg,” Lucas scowled.

Yes, I know you do, that is why I said it,” Ben teased.

You start calling me that one more time Krieg, and I am going to start calling you ‘Benny’ from now on,” Lucas said, knowing how much Ben detested that variation of his own name.

There had been an unwritten agreement between the two friends, that the only time Lucas could use the said awful name, was when he was in trouble and secretly trying to gain Ben’s attention.

Kristin was keeping an eye on the teenager, and couldn’t help but notice the fatigue and pain becoming more noticeable and prominent on his features, no matter how much he was trying to mask them. It was time to put a stop to everything for a few hours for everybody seated at the table. She was looking forward to getting some sleep herself and could see that Nathan was showing signs of tiredness himself.

Lucas, before you two get any further into that little area of discussion, I think you both should be going back to your cabins and trying to get some more sleep,” Kristin interrupted. “Apart from your headache, your body is still recovering from the respiratory infection you had before your little excursion.”

Oh that….,” Lucas said, taking stock of what she was saying, and silently agreeing. He had wanted to hear about what happened, and had enjoyed the banter between himself and Ben, but his eyes were feeling more than gritty and sore.”

Yes, oh that, and you still have a stern lecture coming from me yet about your latest wayward activities,” Kristin promised.

The others winced on his behalf at the mention of one of the doctor’s legendary ‘lectures’ for the teenager, but knew that he was getting off fairly lightly compared to others.

Lucas looked over at Bridger for a moment, hoping he would back him up about against Kristin’s edict, but the doctor spoke first. “He is still in trouble as well as you, and the other people at this table. Except for when he is being Captain,” Kristin confirmed.

You as well?” Lucas asked in complete astonishment, that the Captain was being lumped into trouble with Commander Ford, Ben, himself and the others.

Bridger was about to open his mouth in his own defence, but he erred on the side of caution, and kept any comments to himself, but nodded in answer to the teenager’s question.

The other men at the table laughed heartily at the Captain’s plight. Oh how the mighty had fallen, and in such a short space of time. They knew Doctor Westphalen well enough that she was more bluff than bark, but it was funny to see their fearless leader, quickly admitting his own defeat to her.

Wow, I missed out on a lot by the sound of it by being away for just one night,” Lucas remarked.

It certainly doesn’t get boring around here, Lucas,” Ford added with irony.

I am heading back to my cabin to sleep,” Lucas said, getting up from the table, and yawning again and rubbing at his forehead.

I will be by later to check on you,” Kristin informed him. “Let me know if your headache doesn’t improve beforehand if you need to.”

He gave a wave of acknowledgement to her as he trudged out of the doors of the mess hall, headed down the corridor towards his cabin.

Everybody else at the table soon departed company. Ben Krieg affirmed that he too was headed for some more sleep, as did the others. It should be a fairly quiet afternoon.


Two hours after leaving the mess hall, Lucas was still in his cabin, trying to get his headache to ease, without success. He kept tossing and turning, without being able to get comfortable enough for his headache to improve. He had fallen into a light doze not long after promising Kristin to get some sleep, but now the pain was making that virtually impossible.

The teenager was feeling fairly miserable, and just wanted the pain to leave him alone for a while. If that meant going to find Kristin to ask her for some medication, then so be it.

When he reached the science labs, there were a lot of new faces, and no Kristin about. He looked into the kitchenette, but she wasn’t there.

Annette, Kristin’s new assistant came across the young man she had been briefly been introduced back on the mainland. “Hello,” she greeted him politely, but was concerned when she saw him grimacing in pain.

Um, Hi,” he answered, squinting at the bright overhead lights, “I was looking for Kristin?”

I think she is still sleeping in her quarters,” Annette she informed him. “Did you want me to go and get her?”

Lucas thought for a minute, and considered it. He had wandered in this direction for that exact purpose, but upon hearing that the doctor was getting some sleep herself, he felt guilty about disturbing her.

I will catch her later. Can you please let her know I was looking for her?” Lucas requested.

As soon as I see her, are you sure you are alright? I can get someone else if you like?” she offered.

Kristin had been treating him when the security guards had brought him to her, and she knew he had been complaining of a sore throat on-board the launch when they arrived on SeaQuest.

No thanks, when you see her will be fine,” Lucas promised, and went to leave the area.

Upon leaving though, he didn’t want to go back to his own cabin just yet. When he was feeling this lousy, there was only one other place that he felt like going to that he wouldn’t be found by anybody else in a hurry. And that is where he headed now.

Knocking on the door first, he had expected a reply to come from the other side. When that didn’t happen, he turned the handle and pushed the door open, only to be greeted by silence and an empty room.

Drinking a glass of water, he removed the shoes he was wearing, and laid down on the soft surface, hoping that the quietness would help with his headache and allow him to drift off to sleep.

An hour later, Kristin had emerged from her own cabin, and made her way to the small kitchenette in the science department. Her sleep had been restful, but not as long as she would have liked. Hopefully if everything went smooth enough this evening, she would be able to call it an early night after dinner with Nathan.

Kristin,” Annette called out to her, as she spotted the red-haired doctor with coffee cup in hand. “I hope you had some sleep?”

A little, but looking for some more later on this evening, thank you,” Kristin answered.

I am glad I found you, because that young man you introduced me at the facility, was down here looking for you earlier,” Annette informed her.

You mean Lucas?” Kristin questioned. The science labs were a regular haunt for the boy, but she wouldn’t have expected him back down here today after chasing him from the mess hall, back to his cabin to rest.

Yes, he came down here asking for you in particular,” Annette confirmed. “I was a little worried about him at the time, he looked to be in some pain. I did offer to come and find you straight away, but he didn’t want to wake you, and asked me to let you know when I saw you next.”

Thank you, I will go find him now and see what is troubling him,” Kristin commented. She was pleased to see him a little more comfortable these days in coming to her when he wasn’t feeling the best. On this occasion she wished he had followed through until he had done so.


Kristin had made it past the moon pool, on her way to Mammal Engineering when she spotted Nathan coming in her direction.

He is not in his own cabin, if you are looking for Lucas,” he informed her.

He isn’t?” Kristin said, “Annette just same and told me he was down in the science department looking for me.”

I got a couple of hours sleep, but then Commander Watkins came to me, asking for my advice on a matter on the Bridge while Jonathan was sleeping. I left my quarters, and only just returned a few minutes ago to find I have a visitor.”

Both adults knew that Lucas going into Nathan’s quarters was not an uncommon occurrence to get away from too much distraction, and work away on one of his projects without interruption. They knew it was one of the sanctuaries he sought to get away from people when he wasn’t feeling well and was trying not to say so.

Kristin followed Nathan back to his own quarters, and together they both entered. Lucas was lying down on the Captain’s sofa couch, with two pillows, one underneath his head, and the other on top. She could hear a grimace of pain coming him as she approached.

Lucas?” Kristin said softly, lifting the top pillow a little, but finding that the teenager refusing to relinquish possession.

Turn down the lights, please,” Lucas begged, as the migraine continued to sap his energy and making him more miserable.

Nathan walked over to a wall, and pressed the dimmer switch for the lights, dampening the overall brightness in that section of the room. It was clear now why the teenager was using the pillow over his head for, to block out the light and make it as dark as possible.

It is hurting so much,” he complained to her. “Please do something so I can sleep.”

I will be right back with something to help,” Kristin promised him, knowing that the headache had been going on for far too long now.

Stay with him, I will return in a few moments,” she said to Nathan.

Bridger nodded his head in acknowledgement, but was worried himself about how long this headache had been holding on. Lucas had mentioned about having it when Kristin had examined him before going to the mainland with Ben.

Kristin quickly returned with an oral medication and a glass of water. “Lucas, can you sit up and take this for me, please.”

Reluctantly, Lucas lowered the top pillow, pulling himself up into a seated position and accepting the medication. “I don’t care what it is at this point, as long as it works,” he said. “Next time, an ice pick through my skull might be less painful.”

This is Sumatriptan and it should help with any nausea as well,” Kristin told him, but looking upon his pinched features and rumpled appearance, she didn’t know how much of her medical advice he was taking in. His eyes were terribly bloodshot. “It will take about fifteen minutes to start working.”

Lucas groaned out loud at that information, laying down again and turning onto his side, and putting the pillow back over his head, despite the lights being turned down.

Kristin sat beside him on the couch for a few minutes, massaging the back of his neck, and trying to get him to relax enough for the medication to wind its way into his system.

Thank you, that feels nice,” the teenager said in appreciation. A few more minutes and she could feel the tenseness start to ease, allowing himself to drift closer towards sleep.

When she was satisfied that he was finally dozing, Kristin stood up and the two of them moved out of earshot, not wanting to talk in case he heard them. From previous experience, he was a fairly light sleeper unless he was injured or under the influence of medication.

I will monitor him for the next couple of hours,” Kristin whispered. “But we don’t have to hover over him the whole time.

I plan to be up for quite a while yet, so I will call in and check on him as I can too,” Nathan said as the two of them quietly closed the door. “Why do you think this headache is holding on so badly?”

I am not sure. He has had one or two occur in the past without much explanation as to their source, but this one is probably one of the worst. I had previously put it down to dehydration and from lack of food, but he has eaten now, and had fluids, so it should have begun easing. I did give him a dose of Tylenol when he first alerted Ben in med-bay, but it didn’t seem to have much of an effect.”


Upon entering the mess hall, intending to share in an early dinner, Kristin and Bridger were met with Commander Ford and Ben Krieg also sitting at a table, talking quietly together.

Good evening, Captain, Doctor Westphalen,” Ford greeted them both formally. “I should be ready to take back over some of the duties on the Bridge now, Sir, and relieve both you and Commander Watkins.”

That would be great, Jonathan,” Bridger responded. “I did sleep a little, but Wayne came and wanted some help. I was happy to do so.”

Do you mind if we discuss a few matters over dinner, Sir?” Ford asked, not wanting to encroach on the man’s eating time, but there were quite a few issues that needed his personal attention.

No, Jonathan, just let me get us a plate of food and come back to the table,” the Captain requested. He knew the next few days aboard the SeaQuest were going to be busy ones. Whatever they could get out of the way now, would help immensely later.

Kristin was happy enough for Nathan to chose a plate for her, as she sat down opposite Krieg on the other side of the table. “You look much more rested than you did earlier,” she commented with a smile.

Yep, slept like a baby, and had a shower, and ready to put some food away now,” Ben said. He had already gained a plate from the kitchen, and was slowly making his way through what was in front of him.

Nathan now returned, having selected a small meal for both Kristin and himself. Both of them were still tired and wouldn’t be looking for a heavy meal. Strong coffee was definitely needed though, which he had also gained for both of them.

Is Lucas awake yet to be joining us for dinner?” Ben asked casually, hoping to just chat to his friend. “That kid really needs to eat more than ice-cream today.”

No, I am afraid he won’t be, Ben,” Kristin said, the tone of her voice changing enough to draw the attention of both the men they were seated with.

His headache got worse again after he left here,” she stated. “Annette came and told me when I woke up that he was looking for me earlier.”

Is he alright?” Ben asked, putting his fork down, knowing this was the last thing any of them wanted for the teenager.

He is in my quarters now, on the sofa couch. And he was actually admitting to us about not feeling great, or words to that effect. You know how often both of those things happen,” Bridger replied. “Not that I mind, I keep telling him he can go in there any time without needing a reason.”

Actually admitting it, and being in your quarters?” Krieg said with surprise. “He must really have been hurting.”

Nathan nodded his head affirmatively. Each of the crew members at the table were surprised that the teenager would openly admit such a thing to the doctor.

I have given him a specific migraine medication, and he finally started relaxing a little before we came in here to join you,” Kristin told them. “Hopefully by now it should be working enough to help him rest without pain.”

Don’t you still have to be careful what you use on him?” Krieg asked, knowing a little about the teenager’s medical history since coming on-board SeaQuest.

Yes, I made sure that the dose was carefully measured due to his sensitivity to the ingredients in some medications, but this one should merely help relieve his pain, and allow him some extra sleep. That is the only way he is finally going to beat off the last of his illness. I will monitor him for any adverse effects,” the doctor answered. “I don’t expect there to be any to worry about.”


Satisfied with Kristin’s prognosis, Ben went about continuing his own dinner, though he was listening to the topic of conversation around the table.

Captain, I am sure that you are aware of the preparations that Admiral Noyce has put into place for the U.E.O. joint exercise campaign that is due to start in three days,” Ford spoke.

I haven’t had a chance yet to hear everything Bill has planned, tell me what you know so far,” Bridger instructed.

Well, Sir, it is going to be a massive exercise, not just on our part, but all of those involved. Including all military personnel aboard this vessel, and all of your scientific staff, Doctor Westphalen, new and seasoned,” Ford stated.

The majority of those personnel, military and scientific alike will be absent over three days, leaving only a few people left on-board SeaQuest. You, and Doctor Westphalen will have an important conference with the Admiral during the first day, but would be free to return here that night.”

And I will be sitting back here, relaxing free as a bird,” Krieg stated, clearly very happy that he wasn’t going to be attending or participating at all.

You are not going?” Bridger said in surprise to Ben, but then looked at Ford for an explanation for him not being part of what was considered ‘mandatory exercises’

Unfortunately I have no idea how Krieg’s name was omitted from the list, Captain, his name must have merely been missed,” Ford said, eyeing Ben trying to catch a glimpse that he had anything to do with altering the system.

It’s not what you know, but who,” Ben said with a cheeky grin, finishing off his meal and pushing his empty plate and cutlery aside.

Actually it brings up the possibility of Ben being able to help out in another area,” Ford hinted, giving a grin of his own when he saw the Morale Officer’s unspoken objection.

Don’t worry Lieutenant, I am sure that what I am proposing won’t be too much to your disliking, and may even have the stamped approval of the Captain and Doctor here,” Ford taunted.

Bridger raised an eyebrow at Ford’s less than informative statement, wanting to know what his second-in-command was torturing Ben with.

Sir, during that time, the only other person that will be left on-board the SeaQuest on his own is Lucas,” Ford stated. “And I am not sure it is the sort of event that Lucas would ordinarily like to attend anyway.

So you were thinking?” the Captain prompted, thinking to himself what it meant for Lucas to be left to his own devices for a number of hours.

I was thinking he would be bored if he was made to attend, and with Krieg not attending, Lucas wouldn’t be entirely left on his own to work too much during the time you and the doctor were absent from the boat,” Ford suggested.

Any objection that Krieg had been thinking about, dissolved in an instant. He had no problems at all being in the teenager’s company for any length of time.

You are right, he would be bored,” Bridger agreed with the Commander’s assessment.

And if left to his own devices, he would be working non-stop without a break,” Kristin interjected, know full well about the workaholic habits of the teenager.

I think you might be the right person for the job, Ben,” Bridger commented. “And he is less likely to get suspicious about someone watching out for him if it was you.”

I would be happy to stay behind and hang out with him, Sir,” Ben offered.

No doubt if he was hearing this conversation, he would be declaring that he doesn’t need anybody babysitting him,” Bridger remarked with a laugh. “But I am not entirely happy with the idea of leaving him on his own for the whole day either, even in your company. He is still on the fringes of getting rid of and recovering from this recent bout of illness.”

Lucas wouldn’t want to go to the event or the dinner afterwards either,” Kristin surmised. “He doesn’t normally like those kinds of affairs, and rarely wants to stay in the luxury accommodation that is assigned specifically for you Nathan or any guests.”

I will work out something, Sir. Something fun to get him away from the computers and his programming as well as taking care of himself,” Krieg said, as he started planning in his head.

Alright, for now I agree, but we will have to talk more to Lucas about it when he is feeling better,” Bridger remarked, intending to talk to Ben more on the matter later.

I don’t know why the U.E.O. and Bill didn’t have this whole exercise before Kristin went to all of the trouble of moving the scientific staff on-board today. They could have had the campaign before they got here and save themselves a lot of double handling,” Bridger said with annoyance creeping in about bureaucratic red tape. “But that is U.E.O. logic for you.”

Only a handful of people will be able to return to the SeaQuest that first night, Sir,” Ford pointed out. “Mostly only a handful of senior staff members, including yourself and Doctor Westphalen should you choose to do so. The scientific community and military personnel will be staying on base over three days and two nights in assigned accommodations also.”

Commander Hitchcock has been doing something completely different for a few days and that will continue until after this event. That is the reason she is away now, and has been secretly doing a few other things outside of the SeaQuest lately as you are aware,” Ford commented. “Not many people know about anything about what she is involved with.”

Kristin looked over a Ben’s face and saw a similar troubled expression to what Lucas had noted earlier when her name was mentioned. She wanted to reach over and ask if he was alright, but the normally jovial man tensed up and went to grab a fresh cup of coffee to avoid anybody’s scrutiny.

The three people left sitting at the table, exchanged questioning glances after the dark-haired man, but none of them were aware of what turmoil was causing the distraction that they could see.


Ben returned to the table with his coffee, but wasn’t prepared to talk more about Katie or anything she was currently away doing.

Kristin, do you have any idea of how long Lucas might be out of action for?” Ford asked, clearing his throat a little, and realising how callous the question sounded, when they had just been discussing about him feeling unwell.

The Commander could see the questioning looks he was getting from all three people, and regretted having to do so, but he was running out of options.

Before the doctor could answer his question, the Captain jumped in first, asking a question of his own in return.

Why?” Bridger asked plainly, his one word answer demonstrating how he felt with the teenager’s name and work being brought up in the same conversation already.

I apologize to you both, and to Lucas, but some of the crew are actively voicing their needs for his help in quite a number of areas because they simply cannot keep up with the systems he has in place, or the pace he usually works at,” Ford commented. “They were already looking for him a week ago when he got sick with the respiratory virus and was confined to his cabin.”

Please don’t let Lucas know any of that right now, he is already going to be unhappy about the amount of backlog that is no doubt already waiting for him, since his absence for that week,” Bridger ordered, “It has been over a week since he has been able to work on the updates and glitches that surface on-board this place from time to time.”

You start letting people know too soon that he is on the mend, and he is only going to work himself day and night until he is sick again from over-working,” Krieg interjected. “You all know how passionate he gets. He will be putting more pressure on himself than anybody else can.”

Commander, I am putting everybody aboard this vessel on notice about the consequences from me should they even think about waking Lucas before he is ready to do so during the next twenty four hours. And I extend that to at least seventy two hours for any requests for work, even if he says he is better, until I give him the all clear,” Kristin warned.

Now I am glad that he decided to take refuge in the Captain’s quarters away from anybody trying to reach him.”

Understood, Doctor, I will inform them all that they will have to be patient a while longer,” Ford said, not wanting to ruffle any more feathers.

I am going back to check on him now, and then I will meet you on the Bridge briefly before you take over, Commander,” Bridger stated, as he finished the last mouthful of coffee.

Yes, Sir,” Ford said he got up from the table and headed to the Bridge. “Good evening, Doctor and Lieutenant.”

Ben, you keep any loiterers away from Lucas’s cabin for the next few days, and nobody else needs to know that he is currently in my quarters,” Bridger ordered.

No problem at all, Sir,” Ben promised. “I am heading back to my own cabin now. My next shift doesn’t start until tomorrow morning.”

Goodnight Sir, Kristin,” Krieg said as he too left the mess hall.


Bridger and Kristin left the mess hall a few more minutes later, after Kristin had finished her own meal, wanting to call in on Lucas.

Opening the door as quietly as possible, Nathan walked over to the couch, pleased to note that there were no longer any sounds of pain coming from between the pillows.

The teenager was no longer gripping the top pillow tightly in his hands to prevent any light from reaching him.

Kristin went one step further, gently lifting the top pillow away from the teenager’s head to reveal his peacefully slumbering face, and smiling that the medication was indeed doing its job. She put her hand on his forehead, trying to detect the temperature of his skin. He was laying on his stomach with his facial features completely relaxed.

No temperature at all, and he is sleeping at last,” Kristin quietly remarked, very pleased.

The Captain went over to the second bed that was in the room and removed the blanket, “I thought he would at least made use the bed, now that I have one put in here for him,” he whispered to her.

I don’t think he cares where he is at the moment, as long as he is comfortable and pain free,” she replied, taking the blanket and laying it down over Lucas and pulling it up to his shoulders. “And he feels safe in here.”

Whatever you gave him has really knocked him out this time around,” Bridger said, noting that Lucas had not stirred in the slightest at any of their administrations.

Yes, I suspect so. I did measure the dosage carefully like I told Ben, but the medication’s properties are still designed to have a sedating effect on the person using it. In his case, the sleep may last a little longer than normal. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing at the moment. He could definitely use it.”

I have to head to the Bridge like I said to meet with Jonathan for a few minutes, but after that, I plan on coming back here, and doing nothing but reading quietly and catching up on sleep myself. I can keep a good eye on him, while you get some more rest tonight yourself.”

That would be very much appreciated,” Kristin said in gratitude. “You know where to find me if either of you need me.”

Kristin and Bridger left his quarters together, but parted company outside in the corridor.


Kristin returned to the science department, and carried out a few menial tasks before speaking one final time with Annette and then heading to back to her own quarters to wind down.

The few minutes that Bridger thought he would be spending with Jonathan Ford, turned into an hour before he was satisfied that everything was progressing as well as it could. Anything else that needed to be done could wait a few hours. He was more than ready to hand over to his second-in-command, and was happy to be heading back to his own quarters for the night.

Bringing with him, a hot cup of coffee, Bridger set that on a small table beside his reading chair, making sure that the lights over the sofa couch were still turned down. He adjusted the ceiling lights over his armchair to allow enough good light to read by.

Changing out of his uniform into pyjamas and a robe and slippers, he picked up the book he had been reading over several weeks and set it beside the coffee mug.

With his slippers on the carpet, he was able to approach the couch without making a sound. He didn’t know how the kid was breathing in there, and gave a silent laugh at the cocoon that being faced with.

The blanket was now pulled up and over both of the pillows, Bridger gently pealed back one corner, and smiled that Lucas was still asleep, and deeply so it would appear.

He was getting much better at being able to check on Lucas without waking him. A far cry from the boy’s first few days and nights aboard SeaQuest.

It was in private moments like this that he was able to take stop for a moment and take stock of the important things that had come into his life. Especially when that certain someone wasn’t in a position to be arguing those points with him. And be truly thankful to have this strong-willed, complex, but generous and brilliant individual challenging him every step of the way.

The Captain returned to the armchair and sipped at the hot beverage. He put on his reading glasses, and opened up to the place he had bookmarked.

He prayed that the remainder of the night was pain free for Lucas. Being in this room, Bridger would make sure that no-one disturbed him until he was ready.


The clock was about to turn 3.a.m. on the digital clock beside the bed of Ben Krieg, when the man suddenly sat bolt up in bed. In the middle of the night, the perfect idea had just presented itself of how he could make up for his ill-planned trip in the launch.

He had been trying to figure out how to do just that when he came back from dinner in the mess hall, and he started thinking about what Ford had mentioned to the Captain about the impending U.E.O. combined science and military exercises.

He would be able to make it up to everybody in one foul swoop, the Bridger, Doctor Westphalen, Ford, O’Neill, Ortiz and Lucas. And the best part about his epiphany was that it could all happen right here on SeaQuest, so there was not need to worry about anybody getting lost or misplaced this time around.

If his brilliant idea came to full fruition, then there would be plenty for everybody to eat, so that would give him plenty of brownie points with the Captain Bridger and Doctor Westphalen, for encouraging Lucas to eat more. The kid wouldn’t have to do much, just help out a little and would learn something new as a skill.

Bridger and Kristin would be doubly thrilled, and the teenager wouldn’t be over-tired or over-worked. They could both do it all in one day if they worked together, and he could shoulder most of the responsibility. Ford would be able to see his organisational skills.

Krieg knew he would have to talk to the head chef Don about using the equipment in his kitchen. That included the brand new stove and oven that the man kept raving about, that cooked virtually everything on its own if you believed everything he bragged about it.

Getting up from his bed, he grabbed a notebook and a pen, knowing he was going to have to start making many lists. He was going to need to talk to a few people, and work on getting Commander Ford to relax the duty roster for himself and Lucas during the next few days. That shouldn’t be too difficult considering Bridger and Kristin’s concerns about the kid getting too much work thrown his way already.

Some invitations would need to be designed and sent out, and most importantly, when Lucas was awake, he was going to have to sweet talk his friend into agreeing to help get the whole affair off the ground.

It would only be one day of preparation and a few hours that night. It was going to work, it couldn’t miss this time around.

Saturday was three days away, and would be the best time to have the event he calculated, on the first night of the U.E.O. campaign because there wouldn’t be many crew members coming back on-board. Which gave Lucas enough time for his migraine to go away and to be fully over his respiratory illness, and well on the way to feeling better.

And best yet Ben told himself, it all could happen before next Thursday, so he could still avoid Kristin’s threat of completing his physical evaluation.

The plan was almost fool-proof.

Planning to be continued………………………

Jules

Author Notes: Thank you for continuing to read. There wasn’t much happening in this chapter, but the next ones should mostly be fun and comical. I am leaving the angst and hurt stuff mostly aside (shocking I know – I am getting rusty). But there is enough of both coming in spades in other stories to make up for it, I promise.

I am still writing the first chapter to the new story in the adoption arc, The Green Pen but that is taking a lot longer than I originally planned, because there is so much happening in it.

As to all the secrecy surrounding Katie Hitchcock and what she has been up to, those answers will not come out in this story, but stay tuned.

I cannot update any of my 2nd season stories, new or old, until I have written Africa which deals with Ben Krieg’s departure from SeaQuest (yep still bugs me majorly to this day), and that one will be a long one, but have yet to put any words on a page.

So please bear with me, I have been planning that story for almost 10 years in my head since finishing The Perfect Christmas Present (which will be getting its own new major additions and changes)

Hope you enjoy.

Jules

Chapter Three – Gandalf’s Arrival

ESCAPE THE DARKNESS

By JULES

Author Notes – This story was begun a very long time ago, and it was never my intentions to leave it unfinished. This first was first published in 2003. I have twelve (12) chapters written – but want to add more to them and edit where necessary.

I will be going back through and editing a few scenes and adding to a few and fixing errors, now that I hopefully understand the Middle Earth world a little better since I first began. I hope to add a sprinkling of “The Hobbit” details in certain places where is needed. There will be a heavier saturation of this time period during the Rivendell scenes.

Real life just got in the way for a very long time and still is to a large extent.

I was going to add more to the synopsis, but for now I will leave you to read along and find out what happens along with Frodo and the rest of the cast as I take them out of the box. I promise to put them back when I am finished. If you think you know what might happen throughout and the ending, hopefully I have created enough twist plots and changes.

Strong friendship only – no slash. Very little romance (I am no good at writing that) – And plenty of angst, hurt/comfort. For those don’t know my previous work – this won’t be the Disney version.

This will be a very very long story, with many chapters, and many of those being long as well – just the way I write. And I usually try and describe from the viewpoint of multiple characters for any one scene. As well as describe every rock, tree branch and blade of grass along the way.

I have a very complicated plot planned, and some may not agree how I have altered the course of things, or that I introduce them and Frodo differently than the books or films. Hopefully you will continue to follow and read as the story progresses. If it hasn’t happened yet, or there isn’t enough information about something yet, that is usually deliberate on my part. Sometimes there are subtle clues that I put in chapters, other times I don’t.

This story explores the idea about what might have happened if Strider had come to the Shire to forewarn Bilbo Baggins about the Ring Wraiths that would soon come hunting for the One Ring. Commences a few days before Bilbo’s Birthday party and before Gandalf returns to the shire as well.

There are other changes that I will deliberately make to the story at a later date to explore how the journey may have changed as a result. “Hint Hint – some big changes that were the whole reason for starting this series”.

Strider had vowed to protect Bilbo when the Ring Wraiths are sent by the Dark Lord but he is unaware that the legacy of who is to carry the Ring to be destroyed falls upon a totally different Baggins hobbit.

In this story the corn fields in the shire are a little further away and I have added a lot extra between then and when the hobbit’s arrive at the Prancing Pony in Bree.

Hoping to add a few funny, light hearted moments in this one in between the serious stuff.

All mention of herbs or treatments used in this story or others come about from a little research I did into some and what their effects were. Some of them have been around since ancient times so I have no problem using in this time frame but still am not sure if they would have been grown near Rivendell.

Disclaimer -I do not own any of the characters I write about. I write about those created by J.J.R. Tolkien and marvel at such a story-tellers ability to enthral us all. There are occasional quotes from the movie in this story, just to keep the continuity going strong and to add just at the appropriate time.

Chapter Three: Gandalf’s Arrival

this new chapter follows on from the last:

“Who does Frodo seek at such a pace?” Strider asked as he and Sam did their best to catch up with the more agile hobbit.

“I don’t rightly know for sure, but I be thinking that it might be somebody coming along the road in a wagon,” Sam said, trying to talk and keep up with the Ranger’s longer strides at the same time.

“For one so small, your master is swift on his feet,” Strider commented.

The Ranger and Samwise lost sight of Frodo for a short time as the terrain dipped into a grass covered gully. The grass was very tall and often reached high enough to tickle Sam’s nose. The fragrance was sweet though and the day was beginning to warm gently.

As Strider and his hobbit companion came out of the dip, they ascended a small grass covered hill where they saw Frodo standing. The grass on this embankment was an emerald shade of green and a little shorter than they had just run through.

Frodo stood beside the roadway, still listening for the approaching wagon. He could now hear distinct singing coming from the man driving the wagon. The language used would be indecipherable to most of the Shire, even Frodo himself could not translate every verse he heard.

Strider and Sam were standing only a short distance away from Frodo but did not disturb him. The Ranger could now see the wagon and its driver. The man was dressed in a long grey cloak that fell in deep folds about his body. His hands were visible beneath the long sleeves gently guiding the horse as they went.

The man’s face was one of somebody who had seen much in his lifetime but had become stronger because of it. The lines on his face were softened by his kind eyes and gentle outer expression. The man’s beard was a multitude of grey and white tones that were scarcely distinguishable from each other but blended together to match the man’s long hair.

The man wore a large, over-sized pointy hat that was made of the same hard-wearing fabric as his cloak and shimmered slightly in the dappled sunlight.

Frodo still had the smile on his face as he watched the wagon grow nearer. He now tried to change his facial expression and stood in an almost demanding pose. His arms were folded in front of him as if waiting for an explanation and there was an expectant look about him.

“You are late!” Frodo accused. The man was now pulling the wagon to a halt, still avoiding eye contact with the young hobbit.

“A wizard is never late Frodo Baggins…. nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to,” came the confident reply.

Sam seemed to be holding his breath at the moment as he watched his master and the wizard. Both of them were now intently staring at each other, neither one willing to give in first.

Strider found it most interesting that the young hobbit could show an almost defiant attitude upon will. When he had met the lad earlier he would have been mistaken to think the same thing back then.

The wizard found the corners of his mouth twitching first into a vague smile. His efforts to make Frodo waver first were mostly in vain, though it did not appear that way for long.

Both wizard and hobbit now gave each other a genuine smile of friendship before laughing heartily at each others stubbornness. Sam silently released the breath he had been holding and couldn’t help but have a grin of his own to see such pleasure on his masters face.

“It’s wonderful to see you again Gandalf,” Frodo exclaimed happily.

Before Sam could prevent it, with one leap, Frodo threw himself towards the wizard. Gandalf had no trouble catching the hobbit with his free hand, the other still holding onto the horse’s reins. The wizard now cast the leather straps to one side and returned Frodo’s show of affection with enthusiasm. Both of them were wrapped in an heart-felt embrace, and for the briefest of moments neither wanted to let go.

“And you too, Frodo, my dear lad,” the wizard replied as he pulled away slightly from the hobbit and tried to look at how much he had changed since last they had spoken to each other. It had been far too long indeed since their last face to face meeting.

“I was beginning to think you weren’t going to be here until after Uncle Bilbo’s birthday party,” Frodo said. The hobbit now sat on the bench-seat beside Gandalf ready to travel together to Bag End.

Until now, Sam and Strider had remained in silence, not wanting to disturb the rekindling of friendship. Frodo looked behind him and was some what surprised to see the two standing there. He had not noticed them before now. His brow wrinkled slightly as he tried to ask himself how Sam had come to find him.

Frodo could see a smile on each of their faces and he knew that they had taken quiet, reserved pleasure in seeing him happy.

“Have you two been following me?” he asked, directing his question more at Sam, than the Ranger. Frodo knew that Sam would not be able to look him in the eye and give him a false answer. There was an honesty about Samwise that Frodo had come to know a long time ago and trusted until this very minute.

“Sam was merely giving me a tour of your Shire, Frodo,” Ranger said, seeing the conflicting emotions within the hobbit that stood beside him. “We have seen many things this morning. Our paths cross again by chance and no other reason.”

“Rangers I have been told, Mr Strider are very resourceful people when they want to,” Gandalf said addressing the big person. “You are no exception to that rule and I suspect you have other motives for allowing our ‘paths cross’ as you say.”

“I am humbled by your knowledge, Gandalf the Grey,” Strider replied, a smile in his eyes as he bowed towards the wizard.

“You two know each other, Gandalf?” Frodo asked with genuine surprise, seeing the same question on Sam’s face. Up until just now, they had no indication that the wizard and the Ranger had come across each other before.

“I have travelled many places in my time, Frodo and so has Strider. While I have not known him as long as your dear Uncle Bilbo, his friendship has always been most welcomed. It is truly a surprise to see him here now I must say.” the wizard added, but the look on Gandalf’s face towards the Ranger said otherwise.

“Begging your pardon, Mister Frodo sir, but are you planning to travel back to Bag End in that wagon with, Mister Gandalf,” Sam asked nervously. He didn’t quite know how to come out and tell his master how uneasy the man made him feel at times.

Sam had only come to know of Gandalf during his infrequent visits to Bilbo and Frodo. The man had always seemed to have an air of mystery about him that the gardener could never explain in plain words.

“Would it be alright for Strider and Sam to travel back with us in your wagon Gandalf?” Frodo queried.

“Yes of course it would be alright, though I think Strider might find it a bit cramped for room with his longer legs,” Gandalf pointed out.

“Your horse travels at a very slow pace Gandalf, Sam would probably benefit from the wagon rather than I,” the Ranger said. Strider now helped Samwise into the back of the wagon.

Sam worked his way to the front of the wagon, careful not to trod on any of the crates or other cargo that seemed to cover the entire floor. There were a great many long poles poking out from underneath sheets of canvas. All of the strange looking shaped items only seemed to make the hobbit more uneasy towards the wizard.

Despite Strider’s comments, Gandalf kept the horse’s gait at a sluggish rate so that the Ranger would not have to keep to a faster pace. From where Sam stood in the wagon he was directly behind his master Frodo, just where he preferred it. At least he could keep a good eye on him from where he was positioned.

“You didn’t really think I would miss your Uncle Bilbo’s birthday party did you, Frodo?” Gandalf asked, keeping the topic of conversation casual.

“So how is the old rascal Bilbo? I hear the party its going to be a party of special magnificence.”

“You know Bilbo…. he’s got the whole place in an uproar. Half of the Shire has been invited,” Frodo informed Gandalf.

“Don’t be forgetting Mister Gandalf, Sir that it is Mister Frodo’s birthday party too,” Sam said proudly. He knew that most of the gossip about the Shire folk had been about how old Master Bilbo was going to turn. Sam was determined to make sure that Frodo’s special day was not forgotten in all of the chaos and atmosphere.

“True Samwise, I had not forgotten our young Frodo’s birthday. A special day indeed, coming of age at last,” Gandalf said, giving Frodo’s shoulder a light pat.

“With all that has been happening lately, I wish it would just come and go without any fuss,” Frodo admitted openly.

“Uncle Bilbo has had nothing but visitors for the past two weeks since he sent out the invitations. Some of them are telling him of coming to the party. Others are those folk who were either deliberately or mistakenly forgotten of the guest list.”

“I take it then that Bag End has not been quiet of late,” Gandalf commented, puffing away with his long pipe as they travelled.

“Uncle Bilbo is getting more fidgety by the day. Most of them have been decent enough to come at a suitable hour to utter their congratulations. Then there are those directly involved with the preparations and cooking, telling Uncle what dishes he should be serving and what not to have. But others who are a little upset at their being left out that they have little regard and often interrupt Bilbo’s writing or studying,” Frodo informed the wizard.

Although Gandalf grinned slightly at the image formed in his mind of how Bilbo would be reacting to his quiet time being disturbed, he could see that Frodo cared enough for the old hobbit that he too would be a little stressed about the party preparations.

Strider remained silent during the trip to Bag End although Frodo had not tried to put any other meaning into his words, the Ranger couldn’t help but think that he had only recently become one of those uninvited guests that turned up at odd hours.

“I hope your Uncle will invite me in once we arrive there.”

“Oh you don’t have to worry about that Gandalf, Uncle Bilbo has been looking forward to you coming for weeks now. What he needs to worry about later on today is the arrival of my younger cousins, Merry and Pippin. Uncle has agreed to let them stay with me at Bag End until after the party.”

“The appearance of those two should certainly be eventful,” Gandalf said. He had met Frodo’s cousins many times before, but because of their age and immaturity, together they had a tendency to cause trouble whether they were to blame or not. They usually took to playing practical jokes on unsuspecting folk which would backfire and only leave a mess to clean up or an explanation to be forthcoming.

“I am looking forward to them coming,” Frodo said as he thought about his cousins. He knew what the wizard was terming as ‘eventful’ but nevertheless at least they would someone familiar to him at the party. Frodo was a little nervous about the sheer number of relations that Bilbo had invited that he had never met before.

“Let’s talk about something else, Gandalf,” Frodo suggested. “I want to get away from all this chatter about parties and birthdays. It gives me a headache at times just thinking about what has to be done today and tomorrow.”

Sam now looked intently at his master, to see any signs of the headache that Frodo spoke about. He promised himself that he would make sure that Mister Frodo was relaxed a little by tomorrow.

“What news have you from the outside world?” Frodo asked with anticipation clearly in his words. The young hobbit was happy with his life in the Shire but often wondered what other places and peoples he would meet if he travelled outside it’s boundaries.

Whilst Sam had noted on a number of occasions his desire to stay in the Shire for what he perceived the foreseeable future, Frodo could not deny that often he had dreams about leaving for a time in search of a purpose in life.

“What do you wish to hear about, Frodo?”

“Tell me everything!” Frodo stated matter-of-factly, his eyes lighting up with a rare display of unbridled excitement.

Everything….. you become too curious for your own good my boy. It is an unnatural trait for a hobbit such as yourself be so eager to know,” Gandalf said with a light-hearted chuckle. The wizard had always known Frodo to convey a thirst for knowledge and learning. He would promote such a fine characteristic in one so eager, not thwart it for the sake of what others considered unusual or strange.

“What can I tell you my young friend, is that life in the wide world goes on much as it has this past age, full of its own comings and goings, scarcely aware of the existence of hobbits and the Shire, for which I am very thankful.”

Gandalf couldn’t how thankful he was that it was the case. In the past couple of weeks he had become increasingly concerned with matters that were beginning to appear that were best left alone and untouched. The appearance of the Ranger here today in the Hobbiton only seemed to add to his concern that such matters would not remain hidden for very much longer.

Frodo now looked back towards Sam and smiled at his friend. His eyes drifted towards the large amount of stuff that was laying in the wagon. Curiosity got the better of him as well, but he was confident enough to voice this to the wizard.

“What are you planning to do with all that you have brought, Gandalf?” Frodo enquired.

“Nothing to worry about Frodo, just a little entertainment for the Shire folk as I promised your, Uncle Bilbo.” Gandalf promised, giving the hobbit a sly wink.

“Why do I get the feeling that Merry and Pippin are not the only ones to be planning something? Seeing as you and Uncle Bilbo have been down that path before, Gandalf,” Frodo said with an knowing grin.

“Before your last ‘little bit of entertainment’, Uncle Bilbo and I were very well thought of in the Shire,” Frodo said, knowing that such a statement wasn’t entirely true. “We Bagginses never had any adventures or did anything unexpected.”

Unfortunately for Frodo, being heir to Bilbo Baggins left him with not only the older hobbit’s possessions, but also labels of stranger and unusual even before the Shire folk had gotten a chance to meet him and make a judgment themselves.

Shire folk were inclined to talk amongst themselves about matters that didn’t concern them or they had very little information about. The appearance of strangers like dwarves and Gandalf to Bag End over the years had continued to fuel the gossip and only confirmed to the folk what they had been told by others.

“If you are referring to the incident with the Dragon, I was barely involved. All I did was give your uncle a little nudge….” Gandalf began explained, not wanting to go back over the details of that most memorable of visits at this time.

“And as for adventures my dear boy, your Uncle Bilbo might have led a quieter existence for the best part of forty years, but there was a time when that hobbit could never stay in one place for his feet to take root,” Gandalf said.

“Whatever you did, you have been officially labelled a disturber of the peace,” Frodo remarked, trying his hardest to keep a straight and serious face, but soon failing and giving a little smile at the memory.

Frodo thought for a few seconds, not really confident about how to approach the next topic of conversation, and the happiness on his face disappearing to be replaced by an expression bordering on concern.

“I think Bilbo is up to something as well,” Frodo said, the words sounding more like a question to the wizard rather than a statement.

The hobbit knew that his Uncle and Gandalf had spoken often and in great detail about the comings and goings of each other by letter. Maybe Frodo couldn’t talk to Bilbo about what he had over heard the night before with Strider, but he might be able to gain some clues as to the truth through Gandalf.

Strider listened to the tone of Frodo’s words with interest. He could hear an almost underlying air of suspicion from the young hobbit. For not only the first or second time today, the Ranger found himself wondering about what thoughts.

“Really?” Gandalf replied in mock surprise. It was obvious to the wizard that Frodo knew much more about his Uncle than Bilbo realized. He would have to have a quiet word to his old friend before the party began tomorrow.

“Keep your secrets then.” Frodo answered, a little disappointment in his voice that Gandalf was unwilling to shed any light on the subject.

“I will see you back at Bag End soon,” Frodo said as he readied himself to climb down from the wagon and continue on his own way. “I will meet you and Sam back at Bag End before lunch,” he added, trying to hide the weight that his thoughts were putting upon his heart.

“But Mister Frodo you can’t… ” Sam wanted to protest.

To his dismay though his master was already heading through the trees on the other side before anybody could stop his progress. From where he sat in the wagon, he was unable to get down quickly enough to join Frodo.

“I think Frodo would rather think on his own for a while Sam,” Gandalf said, placing a reassuring hand on the hobbit’s shoulder, urging him to remain in the wagon until they reached Bilbo’s home.

Bilbo is going to have to tell him…,” Gandalf said to himself, barely audible enough for Sam and Strider to overhear.

Frodo had walked away from Gandalf’s wagon, but as soon as he was out of sight, the hobbit found himself running through the long grass and the trees. He felt slightly cross with himself for leaving so abruptly and silently berated himself for doing so, hoping that the wizard would understand and Sam wouldn’t be too upset.

His thoughts about the conversation he had overheard the night before between the Ranger Strider and his Uncle had re-ignite his fears about Bilbo leaving Bag End and the Shire.

The sudden reappearance of Gandalf to the area only made Frodo more unsettled about what the next few days would bring. Maybe Bilbo planned to leave after his birthday with the wizard.

Frodo could scarcely bare the ache in his heart if his Uncle did intend to leave. Tears had begun welling in his eyes about being left alone once more, but he refused to let them fall. Although it had been some years since his parents had left him, the feeling of abandonment didn’t take long to renew the seed of doubt in his mind.

Running prevented the unshed tears from being noticed by anybody else. There was a sense of freedom that couldn’t be ignored. Before he even realized it, Frodo had run the better of half a mile. He came to a halt and forced himself to take slow deep breaths in order to try and quell both the negative feelings he was experiencing as well as the exertion that the fast running had placed upon his body.

Frodo waited until he felt calm enough again and more composed. Putting away the fears that had resurfaced, he started to make his way back towards Bag End. If he delayed his return any longer, Sam would surely worry unnecessarily and come looking.


back at Bag End….

Gandalf, Strider and Sam were now arriving at Bag End. Sam got down from the wagon and offered to help unhitch the horse and put both the horse and wagon away safely until they were needed further.

While Sam went about these tasks, Strider and Gandalf approached the gateway to Bilbo’s home. The wizard observed the sign-age on the gate that Strider had seen the night before and chuckled to himself that the old hobbit’s personality seemed unchanged despite his age.

Gandalf proceeded to knock on the door using the bottom end of the staff he carried with him. He noticed that the dwarvish symbol that he had etched into the wood of the door a long time ago, was unnoticeable in the bright sunlight.

“No thank you…. we don’t want any more visitors, well-wishers or distant relations,” came a voice from inside. The wizard chuckled slightly as he heard the statement, assuming that Bilbo was speaking on Frodo’s behalf a little when he mentioned ‘we’.

“What about very old friends?” Gandalf asked through the closed door.

There was a distinct silence for a few seconds before the rounded doorway slowly opened. Bilbo walked forward to make sure that the sun wasn’t deceiving his eyes.

“Gandalf?” the elderly hobbit greeted cautiously, scarcely able to believe who he saw standing before him.

Until today there had been the smallest notion that the wizard would have more prevailing matters to attend to than a birthday party, even one celebrating one hundred and eleven years.

“Bilbo Baggins….” Gandalf said as he greeted his long-time friend with a warm and heart-felt embrace. The wizard could not have expressed in the words of any tongue he knew, how dear his friendship with this hobbit had become over many decades.

“You haven’t aged a day…..,” he added, noting that the hobbit carried his years excessively better than others. The old hobbit’s eyes had a gentle and kind appearance about them and his genuine smile shone through at meeting his old friend once more.

“Oh, I see you have met up with Strider,” Bilbo said as he saw the Ranger standing nearby. Bilbo now looked around for any sign of the younger companions that had journeyed out earlier that morning.

“Where is Frodo and Sam?” Bilbo enquired.

“Frodo and I have already spoken. I must say that he has matured much since I had the pleasure of talking to him. He informed me that he would be along shortly. Samwise has kindly offered to attend to my wagon and horse to aid a weary traveller,” Gandalf explained.

“Come in, come in…. where are my manners? Welcome, welcome. Can I offer you some tea, Gandalf, or something a little stronger?” Bilbo asked. “Would you join us as well Strider? It is almost time for elevensies.”

“Tea thank you,” Gandalf responded as he ducked his head and entered the smial.

The Ranger noted that the wizard had to show just as much caution as he, when walking through the lower ceilings. He had already avoided a few nasty knocks to the head by mere fractions of an inch and quick reflexes.

“I would prefer tea as well, Bilbo,” Strider said, answering the hobbit’s question.

“I’ve got a few bottles of the Old Winyards left…. 1296, a very good year. Almost as old as I am. It was laid down by my father,” Bilbo said as his two guests disappeared from sight temporarily as they took a different route to the kitchen.

“Just tea thank you,” Gandalf repeated as he and the Ranger sat down and waited patiently as Bilbo bustled about his kitchen, pouring hot water from a kettle into the teapot positioned on the table.

Gandalf noted that due to the fact that Frodo and his companion Sam had yet to return, now might be a good time to approach the subject about Bilbo’s intentions to leave the Shire. It had caused him a much concern to see the flickering emotions on Frodo’s face just a short time ago.

Before Gandalf had a chance to mention any concerns, there was another loud knock at the door. Bilbo up until then had been standing near a window, but upon hearing the knock at the front door, shrunk back from the glass panels, into the shadows that the walls provided, hoping that he wouldn’t be spotted.

“I am not at home,” Bilbo proclaimed out loud, forgetting that he had just alerted to person outside that he was indeed at home.

“I have got to get away from these confounded relatives. Hanging on the bell all day, never giving me a moment’s peace,” once again confirming some of the comments Frodo had mentioned earlier about the steady stream of unwanted visitors to Bag End recently.

The tea was now poured and Strider and the wizard remained silent as they watched the old hobbit move back and forth from the window, almost nervous as he spoke. Bilbo knew that this was the conversation that he had meant to continue with the Ranger from the previous night, as so continued.

“I want to see mountains again… mountains, Gandalf, and then find somewhere quiet where I can finish my book,” Bilbo declared, now ceasing his pacing back and forth and forcing himself to remain still by sitting on a chair at the table and facing the truth he had been trying to avoid for some time.

“So you mean to go through with your plans then?” the wizard asked cautiously, not wanting to put words into the hobbit’s mouth if he had not yet come to such a decision.

“Yes, yes, it’s all in hand. All of the arrangements have been made. I was only telling Strider the same thing only late last night,” Bilbo replied, but there was a air of uncertainty in his voice and an air of sadness as he came to realization of what he had decided to do.

“Frodo suspects something…..,” Gandalf brought up, trying to put the subject as delicately as possible to his long-time friend.

“He does?” Bilbo responded, already suspecting such to be the case. “Yes I suppose he might think something is going on the way I have been acting lately. He probably feels like I have been trying to avoid him.”

“You will tell him soon won’t you, before it’s too late,” Gandalf prompted, hoping the hobbit understood how urgent it was becoming.

“Yes, ….. I will,” Bilbo responded hesitantly, pausing a little as he answered.

“How do I do that Gandalf, without hurting him? Frodo has got such a gentle nature about him. Kindest lad I have ever come across. What will it do to him to learn that I am leaving?”

“It would hurt him more if it is your intention to leave without telling him first, Bilbo,” Gandalf said, seeing the emotions play out across the hobbit’s face like a clearly visible stain. “He is very fond of you.”

“As I am of him, Gandalf, as I am of him. I cannot put into words what that lad has come to mean to me over the years. For years and years all I did was sit here in my study writing about my travels, without anybody to share them with other than my ink and paper.”

“He would probably come with me if I asked him.”

“Do you think that is what Frodo wants to do with his life?” Gandalf asked, genuinely interested in Frodo’s future well being.

“I think, in his heart, Frodo is still in love with the Shire, the woods, the fields, little rivers…..,” Bilbo replied without finishing the sentence.

“I have no right to do that to Frodo, Gandalf. The lad came here with only sadness and uncertainty after his parents death. Living here at Bag End, I tried to change all that by trying to give him all the love, understanding and patience I could find. I wanted to give him all the love that his parents would have shed upon him, as well as my own.”

“Frodo is older now and more confident in his own self. He has friends that think the world of him, especially Samwise. He now has familiarity and firm connections with the Shire and those in it. I wouldn’t feel right asking him to give all of that up just for me and my wandering ways. It wouldn’t be fair to Frodo.”

“I am old Gandalf. I know you think I don’t look it but I am beginning to feel it in my heart,” Bilbo said feeling a little daunted by his own admission.

“I need a holiday, a very long holiday. I don’t expect I shall return, in fact I mean not to,” Bilbo uttered with an unmistakable tone of finality about the trip he was preparing to take.

The conversation did not continue much further as the three of them pondered on all that had been said. Both Strider and Gandalf couldn’t help but think of what mixed emotions Frodo might experience over the next couple of days.


Samwise had just been making his way back from finishing stabling the horse and putting away the wagon until the next day, when he saw Frodo approaching from the opposite direction.

To his surprise, Frodo looked as though he had been running. His master sounded a little out of breath and looked a little tired. “Hello, Mister Frodo, are you alright?”

“Yes Sam, thank you,” Frodo said as he forced his breathing to be deeper and slower. The brisk run had been invigorating and helped him over come some of the fears he held about his uncle’s possible impending departure. “I was running through the trees,” he admitted to his friend, who looked a little worried about him.

“Let’s go inside and get something to drink and eat then, Mister Frodo,” Sam suggested, a little perplexed as to why his master would be running in the first place. Sam knew that Frodo enjoyed daily walks and exercise but he couldn’t see a purpose to making himself out of breath unless there was a reason to.

Frodo and Sam opened the door and walked inside to the kitchen where Gandalf and the others were still drinking their tea.

“We are back, Uncle Bilbo,” Frodo announced as he reached the kitchen.

“Did you enjoy the weather outside, Frodo, my dear boy?” Bilbo asked with interest, trying to push aside any of his earlier thoughts.

“Yes uncle, but I feel as though I might have spent too much time out there this day,” Frodo admitted, putting his hand to his temple and rubbing slightly at a headache that was beginning to form.

“Why is that, Frodo?” Bilbo queried, noting his nephew’s actions and the small grimace on his face.

“I did a lot of running back to here just now and I have a headache beginning. Maybe that or it is from too much sunshine overhead whilst I was reading earlier,” Frodo stated.

“Well running is good for you, but I hope you have not over done things. Why don’t you go and sit on the comfortable settee and I will bring your cup of tea when I have made a fresh pot. Sam can help me and I will put a few herbal leaves in it to help ease your headache,” Bilbo offered gently, putting a hand on the lad’s shoulder in an affectionate and comforting gesture.

“If is alright with you Uncle, I might have the tea in my room whilst I do some quiet study. I really think it was the running and not the reading that is the cause of the problem. It might help relax me along with the tea and go away,” Frodo countered in negotiation.

“Alright Frodo, let me know if you need anything else. Once I have finished with this tea, Sam and I can start on luncheon. Your cousins are due to arrive very shortly and the first thing they will be looking for apart from you is food,” Bilbo said.

“Let me know when Merry and Pippin arrive will you please Sam. Please excuse me Gandalf and Strider,” Frodo said as he turned towards his room and a little quiet time.

“Of course Mister Frodo,” Sam answered immediately, only to happy to help out as requested.

Strider and Gandalf both responded to the boy’s beautiful manners and hoped that his headache would not last too long. There was something about the lad that just made others warm up to him immediately and his honesty and sincerity were charms that he certainly possessed in abundance.


“You can take his tea in to him in a minute, Sam,” Bilbo said to the younger hobbit, seeing the frown of his face. Sam was being pulled in opposite directions at the moment, wanting to be with his master when he wasn’t feeling one hundred percent and the other direction because of his respect of Frodo’s privacy and need for solitude when studying.

Studying was something that Bilbo had never had to press on the lad, even from the very beginning of his stay at Bag End. Frodo seemed to drink up every book that the older hobbit had in his library and had a thirst for knowledge to match. Bilbo had taught Frodo to speak a limited amount of Elvish language and how to form the various symbol representations in writings and songs.

Once Frodo had a grasp of the subject material, he had taken it upon himself to further his own education through self-teaching methods. The lad preferred to do this alone for varying amounts of time, some days for hours on end, on other days, all but a few minutes before going to sleep at night to help him relax after a long day outside.

After a few minutes, Bilbo announced that Frodo’s tea was ready and Sam was more than willing to take it to his master if only to use it as an alibi to see if he still suffered from the headache.

Sam knocked respectfully on the door before hearing a quiet “Come In” from the other side and entering Frodo’s bedroom.

Frodo was seated at his study desk, with a large book open in front of him and another standing up leaning against the window. He seemed to be practising his writing skills and master the fine strokes needed to form the letters and symbols.

Sam put his master’s cup of tea down close enough for him to reach but far enough away to prevent it accidentally spilling on Frodo’s hard work. Sam couldn’t help but watch his master write with a slight twinge of envy. Frodo’s small hand made his grip on the quill quite tight to allow more control. The strokes were small but accurate and the page itself was very neat indeed.

Frodo now looked up from his work briefly and smiled at his friend, then reaching for the tea with his still bandaged hand.

“You have beautiful writing if you don’t mind me saying so, Mister Frodo,” Sam said honestly. “My fingers could never hold still long enough without smudging what I have already done,” he added, thinking back to past efforts when Frodo had been more than willing to be Sam’s tutor.

“Thank you, Sam, although I am grateful that my writing hand wasn’t the one that was scalded by the hot water or I fear that I would not be able to write at all today.”

“Does your headache still give you pain, Mister Frodo?” Sam found himself asking.

“Actually Sam, it has eased considerably even after only such a brief time. Maybe it is the tea that is helping me relax after all.”

“Would you like something to eat? Sam asked, hoping Frodo would accept. “Luncheon should be ready very shortly.”

Frodo could see the hopefulness in Sam’s eyes that he would agree to something to eat. He found himself not being able to refuse the offer. “I am getting a little hungry Sam, lunch would be nice as soon as it’s ready.”

Sam smiled broadly and went off to make sure that everything was just right for his master. Frodo watched his friend leave and then turned back to his books for a little while longer. He doubted that he would have much time tomorrow or the day after to indulge in such personal escapes.

Strider and Gandalf engaged in quiet, non-committal conversation as Bilbo and Sam went about preparing lunch for all.

Just before it was ready, there was a knock at the door, which Bilbo went to answer, muttering as he went, hoping it was not yet another visitor.

When he opened the door, he was somewhat delighted and relieved at who was present. He was met by the smiling faces of Meriadoc and Peregrin, bursting full of energy and barely able to keep still even as they waited to be invited in.

“Merry and Pippin, my dear lads, how are you and won’t you come in,” Bilbo said allowing them entry to Bag End. The two hobbits had a small suitcase each as they entered, taking in the sights and smells of Bilbo’s home.

Sam came forth and greeted Mr Frodo’s cousins. “How was your trip little masters? I will see to your bags and put them in the guest rooms,” he said, remembering duty had to come before enjoying their company.

“Hello Sam, we are fine thanks and hello to you too Uncle,” Merry said in a loud voice, speaking for his younger cousin Pippin as well.

“Lunch is almost ready, you can join us in a minute,” Bilbo said, already noting the delight that came to the youngest cousin’s face at such a statement. It was no secret that Peregrin was always hungry and ready to eat, no matter how long ago the last meal had been. There was always room for more Pippin had told his Uncle once.

“Where is Frodo?” Merry now asked, eager to see his older cousin again as he looked about the rooms for any sign of the dark-haired hobbit.

“He’s in his room studying a little before lunch. He said he had a slight headache and wished to relax a little before you arrived,” Bilbo said, hoping that would be enough of a deterrent for the two younger cousins to wait patiently until Frodo appeared on his own accord.

Merry and Pippin weren’t to be discouraged though, and both looked at each other and grinned devilishly that they knew of an alternative way to get Frodo’s attention without going to knock on his bedroom door.

“Come on Pip,” Merry said as the two left Sam holding their luggage and dashing back out the front door and around the side of the smial.

“They won’t do anything too terrible to Mr Frodo will they Master Bilbo?” Sam asked, a little worried about the two cousins who always seemed to have too much energy for their own good. They were always up to something.

“I shouldn’t think so Sam,” Bilbo said, putting a reassuring hand on the lad’s shoulder. “Frodo has been looking forward to them coming. He will put them straight if they look like getting out of control,” he added, knowing that Frodo often took on responsibility for his younger cousins whenever they visited.

In the past such loyalty had often landed Frodo in as much trouble as Merry and Pippin, but the happiness and laughter that the two cousins brought to Frodo couldn’t be replaced and Bilbo was often most grateful for that.

“Studying!” Merry said as he and Pippin moved around the side of the dwelling. Sometimes Frodo was too studious for his own good. Time to break that habit and get his cousin having some fun again.

Merry and Pippin could now see the window that belonged to Frodo’s bedroom. They could see a book of some description leaning up the bottom half of the glass and the older cousin immediately had a giggle of an idea about how to alert Frodo to his presence. No doubt they would scare him senseless, but they would have fun nevertheless.

Merry motioned for Pippin to sneak up beside the window frame like he and peer secretly through the glass. Both of them could see Frodo’s dark head bent forward as he continued what he was doing.

It took a few more minutes than Merry would have liked, but eventually they were rewarded with Frodo’s casual glance towards his book and spotting two faces leering back at him through the glass.

Frodo had been concentrating on the book but was startled by the faces at his window and tried to jump backwards away from the window. Unfortunately for Frodo, his chair was behind him and now both he and the chair fell backwards, knocking the cup of tea from the desk as well as the ink pot. It wasn’t until after this that he recognized who the faces belonged to.

“Merry and Pippin!” Frodo said in a mock annoyed voice as he surveyed the image of himself sprawled on the floor and the congealing mess not to far away on the rug of the ink and tea mixing together.

The two cousins had seen Frodo tumble backwards but knew he wasn’t hurt. They now made their way back around to the front door, hoping that neither Bilbo or Frodo would be too upset at their antics.

Sam had overheard his master’s startled cry as he fell backwards and couldn’t help but open the door to see if everything was alright. He immediately went to Frodo’s aid of helping him stand, he too concerned about the now black stain marring the rug.

“Are you alright Mister Frodo?” Sam said, seeing that the bandage on Frodo’s hand had also been stained by the ink. Looking upon his master’s clothes, they hadn’t faired much better and there was now a soaking blackened mark across the front of Frodo’s vest and trousers.

“Yes I am fine thank you, Sam,” Frodo said, trying hard not to laugh at how he must look at the moment. “Those two cousins of mine….,” he said, a smile creeping across his face.

“Frodo,” Merry said in a quiet voice behind Sam, the two cousins standing just outside the doorway, hoping to apologize for their behaviour.

“Just look at this mess you too created,” Frodo said sternly, the corners of his mouth twitching with a grin. Sam was sighing in relief that Frodo’s writing had not been spoilt by the ink. It seemed that the floor and Frodo himself wore most of what was spilt.

“We will clean it up cousin, promise,” Pippin said, feeling a little guilty as he looked at the spreading stain on Frodo’s clothes.

“Offering to do manual work now are you Pip, that’s certainly good to hear. Though I don’t think you sound like my cousin Peregrin Took,” Frodo said already seeing that they were remorseful for their childish actions.

“It’s great to see you Merry and Pip,” Frodo added and gave his cousins a warm greeting. “I really wanted that cup of tea though,” he poked in fun.

“I’ll get you another cup Mister Frodo,” Sam offered.

“That’s alright Sam, just let me get into some clean clothes and clear a bit of this mess on the floor and then we can go and see if lunch is ready,” knowing that Pip wouldn’t be needing a second invitation.

“I will get a little sugar from Master Bilbo to sprinkle over that stain. The sugar crystals should soak up most of the ink and then it can just be swept into pile and thrown away,” Sam said, explaining a little about what his mother had taught him about how to remove difficult stains from things.

“What about my clothes Sam, you don’t expect to sprinkle sugar over me to get the ink out do you?” Frodo said with a laugh.

“Oh no sir,” Sam said returning the grin to his master as such an idea. “But I can put it into a bucket of water laced with lemon and vinegar and that will certainly have your clothes looking nice again.”

“Dear Sam, you always have a solution for me when I am in need,” Frodo said.

“I hope so, Mister Frodo,” Sam said proudly that his master thought so highly of him.


Half an hour after Merry and Pippin announced their arrival to Frodo and everyone else, all were seated at the table now enjoying a leisurely lunch and gentle conversation.

Introductions had been made of Strider, though Merry seemed to be a little wary of the Ranger at first. Pip had been awed by the man’s height but gave a small smile and made sure that he sat safely on the other side of his cousin Frodo.

Sam had been about to excuse himself when Frodo asked that he stay and join them. Bilbo had also voiced that he wished for Samwise to join them at the table as had the two cousins. Sam felt himself out numbered and although he had been taught to mind his betters and remember his place, he had also been taught to be there as often as Frodo wanted him to be.

Sam couldn’t put into words how good he felt when Mister Frodo treated him no differently to other adults around him or indeed his own relatives such as Merry and Pippin.

Strider had not wanted to add to any fear that the two cousins might have over his presence but marvelled at how quickly the two seemed to forget their apprehensions and include him in their conversations around the table.

Pippin had gone into great detail about the scare that he and Merry had given Frodo a short time before and how his cousin had fallen off his chair and been smeared in ink and warm tea.

After hearing about this, Gandalf promised himself that he would need to keep a closer eye on the two mischief’s and keep them out of trouble as much as possible before the party.

“You should have seen your face, Frodo,” Pippin said with a giggle, remembering the startled look his older cousin had moments before toppling backwards.

“Don’t worry Pippin, my revenge will be swift and silent but most of all unexpected,” Frodo said in a voice so low that the younger hobbit believed every word. He couldn’t help but bait them a little and keep them guessing about what he might do to get back at them.

“You wouldn’t…..,” Pippin said in shock. In all the time he had known Frodo, he had never seen his dark-haired cousin retaliate for any of the mischief that they had caused.

“He wouldn’t do anything would he, Merry?” he now asked, seeking a little confirmation from his partner in crime.

Merry too was a little surprised at Frodo’s statement, and both had an ominous feeling as they watched their secretive cousin smile sweetly back at them. They would have thought Frodo’s comments to be baseless except for the gleam that they saw in his blue eyes.

Strider and Gandalf laughed at the sight of the two now uneasy and nervous cousins that kept looking back and forth between themselves and Frodo. He certainly knew had to get them on edge without any effort at all.

Merry had already asked why the Ranger was present, before receiving a painful kick to his shin under the table for not remembering his manners in somebody else’s house.

Bilbo had not been concerned over what he saw was Merry’s natural curiosity and gave him the same explanation as that to Sam earlier at breakfast about possible trouble presenting itself at the party.

Lunch had then continued for a time. Gandalf had asked that Strider and Bilbo assist him to unload his wagon of surprises after they had eaten and was pleased that his friends had readily agreed.

That would leave the four hobbits on their own but that didn’t present itself as such a problem. Sam had already offered to clear the lunch dishes so that Bilbo could go with Gandalf.

Bilbo had gotten up from the table towards the end of the meal and begun pouring milk into glasses for the four hobbits. He had been thinking of something else at the time and before realizing it, had half-filled Frodo’s glass with the white liquid.

Frodo’s displeasure was clearly evident on his face as he scowled at the substance in the glass as though it were a vile medicine he was being asked to drink.

“You don’t expect me to drink that stuff do you, Uncle Bilbo?” Frodo asked still eyeing the milk with disdain.

“Oh, I am sorry Frodo, I wasn’t thinking. No of course not. I know you don’t like milk. I will get you a fresh glass of juice or tea if you would prefer?” Bilbo said apologetically.

“I’ll drink it, Frodo,” Pippin said and grabbed at the glass before any reply could be given.

Sam glared at the hobbit a little, thinking that he was being very rude, but then relenting a little at Pippin’s enthusiasm. He knew that Frodo wouldn’t drink the milk anyway but he could have been more polite about it.

“I take it you do not like to drink milk, Frodo,” Strider said, noting the hobbit’s obvious dislike.

“No, Strider, there isn’t any threat that anyone could make that would force me to drink that stuff,” Frodo affirmed.

It was about now that Frodo noted how tired he was suddenly becoming. The headache that had eased earlier was beginning to resurface and he no longer had an appetite for his remaining lunch.

“I think it’s about time we headed out to help Gandalf,” Bilbo now stated. “How about you go and have a little lay down inside Frodo,” he suggested, noting his nephew grimacing slightly from the headache again.

“I might just do that, Uncle Bilbo,” Frodo agreed, thinking that a nice soft pillow would be more than welcome at this point in time.

“What are we going to do if you are going to be boring and rest?” Merry said, not knowing about Frodo’s headache. Staying still for too long didn’t appeal to either Merry or Pippin.

“I think you and Pippin would be best suited to helping young Sam here clean up the dishes don’t you?” Bilbo said, not accepting no for an answer. “You can go out and play later on after your lunch has settled some.”

Merry and Pippin were not entirely happy with this idea, but though they had little choice since they would be staying under Bilbo’s roof for the next few days.

Sam was happy to see Bilbo take a little control of the situation and vowed that the two hobbits would keep their voices and games to a minimum if Mister Frodo was going to try and rest to ease his headache.

“We shan’t be long,” Bilbo said, noting the slightly disappointed looks on his visitors. “By the time you finish helping Sam we should have returned. Sam asked, hoping Frodo would accept. “Frodo can choose if he feels like going out or not later.”

Gandalf, Strider and Bilbo now prepared to leave and go to the wagon. Frodo had gotten up from the table and retrieved a pillow from his own bed before settling onto the settee in the sitting room. Somehow he didn’t like the idea of leaving Merry and Pippin unsupervised despite Sam being present.

Bilbo went to check on his nephew before walking out the door but was relieved to see Frodo already stretched out with his eyes closed attempting to doze off. He brushed a stray curl away from the lad’s forehead and smiled.

Frodo smiled at the gentle touch but didn’t open his eyes. Seeing his nephew’s face relaxed and carefree in sleep was something he could never tire of.

“Keep an eye on him for me Sam won’t you,” Bilbo said to Sam who saw them off at the door, out of earshot from Frodo.

“Don’t worry Master Bilbo, I’ll make sure he’s not disturbed,” Sam promised. Little did Sam know that his best efforts would not prove enough against Merry and Pippin.

After the others had left, Merry and Pippin had did as they were asked and for a time went about helping Sam as best they could. Their interest quickly waned though and the two hobbits soon found it more fun to play games with the plates and cutlery rather than drying then and putting them back in their rightful places.

Merry and Pippin were unaware that their game was beginning to get a little loud until they were harshly chastised by Sam to keep quiet. The sitting room was only a short distance away and Sam could see his master stirring slightly from the noise.

Merry and Pip put the dishes away as requested but although one game was quickly at an end, there was always another around the corner. Sam had now decorated the table with a large bowl of fruit. Apples and oranges, pears and grapes.

Pippin was most impressed and would have tucked in if he hadn’t been so full after lunch. He took two apples from the bowl and started to play around with them, tossing them into the air and catching them again.

It didn’t take much encouragement for Merry to join in and soon instead of throwing them up and catching them, they were tossing them backwards and forwards between each other.

Pippin had now taken a few steps away from his cousin to increase the distance of the throws, not taking any notice of which room he was standing in. The lack of walls in Bilbo’s home often made it difficult to tell which room was which.

Pippin was now standing directly in front of his slumbering cousin Frodo on the settee. He wasn’t making any excessive noise at present and Sam was forced to hold back any scathing words he might have had on the tip on his tongue.

Merry tossed a large apple at his younger cousin, but his throw was not as accurate as he hoped. A little too high and it sailed over Pippin’s head.

Merry and Pippin both cringed as they heard the unmistakable sound of the apple hitting Frodo.

Frodo woke with a fright and immediately sat up rubbing the his forehead. There was no mark but he looked at his two cousins, demanding to know why they were throwing pieces of fruit at him while he was trying to sleep.

If Merry and Pippin thought they could get any sympathy out of Samwise, they were gravely mistaken as they heard his shocked intake of breath as he watched the apple strike his sleeping master and then see Frodo sitting up with a frown on his face.

It was about this time that Gandalf and the others proceeded to walk through the front door. They heard Sam’s angry outburst and wondered what had happened to rile the normally gentle tempered hobbit.

When they entered the sitting room where the noise was ensuing from, they were greeted with Merry and Pippin looking very guilty about something and Sam threatening to do them bodily harm.

Frodo was by now wide awake again and trying not to laugh at Sam’s serious face. His headache seemed to have eased to a barely noticeable level once again but he was not impressed by the way he had been woken.

“Run!” was the suggestion that the two cousins said to each other with their eyes, a little afraid of being in the middle of both an angry Sam and a cross looking Frodo.

To be continued……..

Author Notes: This story was started a long time ago (over fourteen 17 years ago), but I felt there were parts that needed more, and I wanted some more scenes in certain areas and include some of my new arcs.

I apologize for any mistakes I may have made about Lord Of The Rings history or any names I may have mis-spelled. I also hope that I have not wavered too far from people’s takes on the individual personalities of each character.

I don’t mean to make Strider and Bilbo out as so secretive. I just want to keep the idea about the Wraiths coming until later in the story. The fact that Bilbo knows that danger is coming and doesn’t do anything straight away is also not intentional and I humbly ask for readers to believe that’s what happened.

Any medicinal information is only from my own sources and not meant as true procedure to any injury or treatment that I may have used in my story so far or will in the future.

As you have probably guessed, I leave this chapter at the place where Gandalf arrives in the movie and hope that the sequence of events that I have included is at least logical.

Not much has happened yet. More to come. In next chapter, the party preparations take place that I envisaged happened prior in the movie. A few little incidents to come involving Lotho.

I know the appearance of a big person in the Shire would be out of place too, but I need that to make the story work. I just need both people, elves, dwarves and hobbits everywhere to suspend what they know to be true for a while and take what I write as happening.

I have also referred to Frodo as a boy in many parts – not intending for him to be called a human “boy” – just makes the story flow a little easier at times instead of constantly using “the hobbit” and similar descriptions.

Any information that I write in my Lord Of The Rings stories about eating flows on that in the two other fandoms I write – the main characters in each all are finicky eaters and just push the food around on a plate or go for long lengths without anything to eat or refuse to do so. The other two are like this in all stories that I know about them as well.

One other character also dislikes milk to the point of refusing to drink it – I am going to include this for Frodo later on – just something I dreamed up – nothing from the book or the movie. I wanted to write a close relationship between Bilbo and Frodo as well as friendship Frodo and Aragorn and Sam too.

Please review and let me know what you think. I will try and update as soon as I can, but please be patient as time is often not on my side.

Jules6

ESCAPE THE DARKNESS

By JULES

Author Notes – This story was begun a very long time ago, and it was never my intentions to leave it unfinished. This first was first published in 2003. I have twelve (12) chapters written – but want to add more to them and edit where necessary.

I will be going back through and editing a few scenes and adding to a few and fixing errors, now that I hopefully understand the Middle Earth world a little better since I first began. I hope to add a sprinkling of “The Hobbit” details in certain places where is needed. There will be a heavier saturation of this time period during the Rivendell scenes.

Real life just got in the way for a very long time and still is to a large extent.

I was going to add more to the synopsis, but for now I will leave you to read along and find out what happens along with Frodo and the rest of the cast as I take them out of the box. I promise to put them back when I am finished. If you think you know what might happen throughout and the ending, hopefully I have created enough twist plots and changes.

Strong friendship only – no slash. Very little romance (I am no good at writing that) – And plenty of angst, hurt/comfort. For those don’t know my previous work – this won’t be the Disney version.

This will be a very very long story, with many chapters, and many of those being long as well – just the way I write. And I usually try and describe from the viewpoint of multiple characters for any one scene. As well as describe every rock, tree branch and blade of grass along the way.

I have a very complicated plot planned, and some may not agree how I have altered the course of things, or that I introduce them and Frodo differently than the books or films. Hopefully you will continue to follow and read as the story progresses. If it hasn’t happened yet, or there isn’t enough information about something yet, that is usually deliberate on my part. Sometimes there are subtle clues that I put in chapters, other times I don’t.

This story explores the idea about what might have happened if Strider had come to the Shire to forewarn Bilbo Baggins about the Ring Wraiths that would soon come hunting for the One Ring. Commences a few days before Bilbo’s Birthday party and before Gandalf returns to the shire as well.

There are other changes that I will deliberately make to the story at a later date to explore how the journey may have changed as a result. “Hint Hint – some big changes that were the whole reason for starting this series”.

Strider had vowed to protect Bilbo when the Ring Wraiths are sent by the Dark Lord but he is unaware that the legacy of who is to carry the Ring to be destroyed falls upon a totally different Baggins hobbit.

In this story the corn fields in the shire are a little further away and I have added a lot extra between then and when the hobbit’s arrive at the Prancing Pony in Bree.

Hoping to add a few funny, light hearted moments in this one in between the serious stuff.

All mention of herbs or treatments used in this story or others come about from a little research I did into some and what their effects were. Some of them have been around since ancient times so I have no problem using in this time frame but still am not sure if they would have been grown near Rivendell.

Disclaimer -I do not own any of the characters I write about. I write about those created by J.J.R. Tolkien and marvel at such a story-tellers ability to enthral us all. There are occasional quotes from the movie in this story, just to keep the continuity going strong and to add just at the appropriate time.

Chapter Three: Gandalf’s Arrival

this new chapter follows on from the last:

“Who does Frodo seek at such a pace?” Strider asked as he and Sam did their best to catch up with the more agile hobbit.

“I don’t rightly know for sure, but I be thinking that it might be somebody coming along the road in a wagon,” Sam said, trying to talk and keep up with the Ranger’s longer strides at the same time.

“For one so small, your master is swift on his feet,” Strider commented.

The Ranger and Samwise lost sight of Frodo for a short time as the terrain dipped into a grass covered gully. The grass was very tall and often reached high enough to tickle Sam’s nose. The fragrance was sweet though and the day was beginning to warm gently.

As Strider and his hobbit companion came out of the dip, they ascended a small grass covered hill where they saw Frodo standing. The grass on this embankment

was an emerald shade of green and a little shorter than they had just run through.

Frodo stood beside the roadway, still listening for the approaching wagon. He could now hear distinct singing coming from the man driving the wagon. The language used would be indecipherable to most of the Shire, even Frodo himself could not translate every verse he heard.

Strider and Sam were standing only a short distance away from Frodo but did not disturb him. The Ranger could now see the wagon and its driver. The man was dressed in a long grey cloak that fell in deep folds about his body. His hands were visible beneath the long sleeves gently guiding the horse as they went.

The man’s face was one of somebody who had seen much in his lifetime but had become stronger because of it. The lines on his face were softened by his kind eyes and gentle outer expression. The man’s beard was a multitude of grey and white tones that were scarcely distinguishable from each other but blended together to match the man’s long hair.

The man wore a large, over-sized pointy hat that was made of the same hard-wearing fabric as his cloak and shimmered slightly in the dappled sunlight.

Frodo still had the smile on his face as he watched the wagon grow nearer. He now tried to change his facial expression and stood in an almost demanding pose. His arms were folded in front of him as if waiting for an explanation and there was an expectant look about him.

“You are late!” Frodo accused. The man was now pulling the wagon to a halt, still avoiding eye contact with the young hobbit.

“A wizard is never late Frodo Baggins…. nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to,” came the confident reply.

Sam seemed to be holding his breath at the moment as he watched his master and the wizard. Both of them were now intently staring at each other, neither one willing to give in first.

Strider found it most interesting that the young hobbit could show an almost defiant attitude upon will. When he had met the lad earlier he would have been mistaken to think the same thing back then.

The wizard found the corners of his mouth twitching first into a vague smile. His efforts to make Frodo waver first were mostly in vain, though it did not appear that way for long.

Both wizard and hobbit now gave each other a genuine smile of friendship before laughing heartily at each others stubbornness. Sam silently released the breath he had been holding and couldn’t help but have a grin of his own to see such pleasure on his masters face.

“It’s wonderful to see you again Gandalf,” Frodo exclaimed happily.

Before Sam could prevent it, with one leap, Frodo threw himself towards the wizard. Gandalf had no trouble catching the hobbit with his free hand, the other still holding onto the horse’s reins. The wizard now cast the leather straps to one side and returned Frodo’s show of affection with enthusiasm. Both of them were wrapped in an heart-felt embrace, and for the briefest of moments neither wanted to let go.

“And you too, Frodo, my dear lad,” the wizard replied as he pulled away slightly from the hobbit and tried to look at how much he had changed since last they had spoken to each other. It had been far too long indeed since their last face to face meeting.

“I was beginning to think you weren’t going to be here until after Uncle Bilbo’s birthday party,” Frodo said. The hobbit now sat on the bench-seat beside Gandalf ready to travel together to Bag End.

Until now, Sam and Strider had remained in silence, not wanting to disturb the rekindling of friendship. Frodo looked behind him and was some what surprised to see the two standing there. He had not noticed them before now. His brow wrinkled slightly as he tried to ask himself how Sam had come to find him.

Frodo could see a smile on each of their faces and he knew that they had taken quiet, reserved pleasure in seeing him happy.

“Have you two been following me?” he asked, directing his question more at Sam, than the Ranger. Frodo knew that Sam would not be able to look him in the eye and give him a false answer. There was an honesty about Samwise that Frodo had come to know a long time ago and trusted until this very minute.

“Sam was merely giving me a tour of your Shire, Frodo,” Ranger said, seeing the conflicting emotions within the hobbit that stood beside him. “We have seen many things this morning. Our paths cross again by chance and no other reason.”

“Rangers I have been told, Mr Strider are very resourceful people when they want to,” Gandalf said addressing the big person. “You are no exception to that rule and I suspect you have other motives for allowing our ‘paths cross’ as you say.”

“I am humbled by your knowledge, Gandalf the Grey,” Strider replied, a smile in his eyes as he bowed towards the wizard.

“You two know each other, Gandalf?” Frodo asked with genuine surprise, seeing the same question on Sam’s face. Up until just now, they had no indication that the wizard and the Ranger had come across each other before.

“I have travelled many places in my time, Frodo and so has Strider. While I have not known him as long as your dear Uncle Bilbo, his friendship has always been most welcomed. It is truly a surprise to see him here now I must say.” the wizard added, but the look on Gandalf’s face towards the Ranger said otherwise.

“Begging your pardon, Mister Frodo sir, but are you planning to travel back to Bag End in that wagon with, Mister Gandalf,” Sam asked nervously. He didn’t quite know how to come out and tell his master how uneasy the man made him feel at times.

Sam had only come to know of Gandalf during his infrequent visits to Bilbo and Frodo. The man had always seemed to have an air of mystery about him that the gardener could never explain in plain words.

“Would it be alright for Strider and Sam to travel back with us in your wagon Gandalf?” Frodo queried.

“Yes of course it would be alright, though I think Strider might find it a bit cramped for room with his longer legs,” Gandalf pointed out.

“Your horse travels at a very slow pace Gandalf, Sam would probably benefit from the wagon rather than I,” the Ranger said. Strider now helped Samwise into the back of the wagon.

Sam worked his way to the front of the wagon, careful not to trod on any of the crates or other cargo that seemed to cover the entire floor. There were a great many long poles poking out from underneath sheets of canvas. All of the strange looking shaped items only seemed to make the hobbit more uneasy towards the wizard.

Despite Strider’s comments, Gandalf kept the horse’s gait at a sluggish rate so that the Ranger would not have to keep to a faster pace. From where Sam stood in the wagon he was directly behind his master Frodo, just where he preferred it. At least he could keep a good eye on him from where he was positioned.

“You didn’t really think I would miss your Uncle Bilbo’s birthday party did you, Frodo?” Gandalf asked, keeping the topic of conversation casual.

“So how is the old rascal Bilbo? I hear the party its going to be a party of special magnificence.”

“You know Bilbo…. he’s got the whole place in an uproar. Half of the Shire has been invited,” Frodo informed Gandalf.

“Don’t be forgetting Mister Gandalf, Sir that it is Mister Frodo’s birthday party too,” Sam said proudly. He knew that most of the gossip about the Shire folk had been about how old Master Bilbo was going to turn. Sam was determined to make sure that Frodo’s special day was not forgotten in all of the chaos and atmosphere.

“True Samwise, I had not forgotten our young Frodo’s birthday. A special day indeed, coming of age at last,” Gandalf said, giving Frodo’s shoulder a light pat.

“With all that has been happening lately, I wish it would just come and go without any fuss,” Frodo admitted openly.

“Uncle Bilbo has had nothing but visitors for the past two weeks since he sent out the invitations. Some of them are telling him of coming to the party. Others are those folk who were either deliberately or mistakenly forgotten of the guest list.”

“I take it then that Bag End has not been quiet of late,” Gandalf commented, puffing away with his long pipe as they travelled.

“Uncle Bilbo is getting more fidgety by the day. Most of them have been decent enough to come at a suitable hour to utter their congratulations. Then there are those directly involved with the preparations and cooking, telling Uncle what dishes he should be serving and what not to have. But others who are a little upset at their being left out that they have little regard and often interrupt Bilbo’s writing or studying,” Frodo informed the wizard.

Although Gandalf grinned slightly at the image formed in his mind of how Bilbo would be reacting to his quiet time being disturbed, he could see that Frodo cared enough for the old hobbit that he too would be a little stressed about the party preparations.

Strider remained silent during the trip to Bag End although Frodo had not tried to put any other meaning into his words, the Ranger couldn’t help but think that he had only recently become one of those uninvited guests that turned up at odd hours.

“I hope your Uncle will invite me in once we arrive there.”

“Oh you don’t have to worry about that Gandalf, Uncle Bilbo has been looking forward to you coming for weeks now. What he needs to worry about later on today is the arrival of my younger cousins, Merry and Pippin. Uncle has agreed to let them stay with me at Bag End until after the party.”

“The appearance of those two should certainly be eventful,” Gandalf said. He had met Frodo’s cousins many times before, but because of their age and immaturity, together they had a tendency to cause trouble whether they were to blame or not. They usually took to playing practical jokes on unsuspecting folk which would backfire and only leave a mess to clean up or an explanation to be forthcoming.

“I am looking forward to them coming,” Frodo said as he thought about his cousins. He knew what the wizard was terming as ‘eventful’ but nevertheless at least they would someone familiar to him at the party. Frodo was a little nervous about the sheer number of relations that Bilbo had invited that he had never met before.

“Let’s talk about something else, Gandalf,” Frodo suggested. “I want to get away from all this chatter about parties and birthdays. It gives me a headache at times just thinking about what has to be done today and tomorrow.”

Sam now looked intently at his master, to see any signs of the headache that Frodo spoke about. He promised himself that he would make sure that Mister Frodo was relaxed a little by tomorrow.

“What news have you from the outside world?” Frodo asked with anticipation clearly in his words. The young hobbit was happy with his life in the Shire but often wondered what other places and peoples he would meet if he travelled outside it’s boundaries.

Whilst Sam had noted on a number of occasions his desire to stay in the Shire for what he perceived the foreseeable future, Frodo could not deny that often he had dreams about leaving for a time in search of a purpose in life.

“What do you wish to hear about, Frodo?”

“Tell me everything!” Frodo stated matter-of-factly, his eyes lighting up with a rare display of unbridled excitement.

“Everything….. you become too curious for your own good my boy. It is an unnatural trait for a hobbit such as yourself be so eager to know,” Gandalf said with a light-hearted chuckle. The wizard had always known Frodo to convey a thirst for knowledge and learning. He would promote such a fine characteristic in one so eager, not thwart it for the sake of what others considered unusual or strange.

“What can I tell you my young friend, is that life in the wide world goes on much as it has this past age, full of its own comings and goings, scarcely aware of the existence of hobbits and the Shire, for which I am very thankful.”

Gandalf couldn’t how thankful he was that it was the case. In the past couple of weeks he had become increasingly concerned with matters that were beginning to appear that were best left alone and untouched. The appearance of the Ranger here today in the Hobbiton only seemed to add to his concern that such matters would not remain hidden for very much longer.

Frodo now looked back towards Sam and smiled at his friend. His eyes drifted towards the large amount of stuff that was laying in the wagon. Curiosity got the better of him as well, but he was confident enough to voice this to the wizard.

“What are you planning to do with all that you have brought, Gandalf?” Frodo enquired.

“Nothing to worry about Frodo, just a little entertainment for the Shire folk as I promised your, Uncle Bilbo.” Gandalf promised, giving the hobbit a sly wink.

“Why do I get the feeling that Merry and Pippin are not the only ones to be planning something? Seeing as you and Uncle Bilbo have been down that path before, Gandalf,” Frodo said with an knowing grin.

“Before your last ‘little bit of entertainment’, Uncle Bilbo and I were very well thought of in the Shire,” Frodo said, knowing that such a statement wasn’t entirely true. “We Bagginses never had any adventures or did anything unexpected.”

Unfortunately for Frodo, being heir to Bilbo Baggins left him with not only the older hobbit’s possessions, but also labels of stranger and unusual even before the Shire folk had gotten a chance to meet him and make a judgment themselves.

Shire folk were inclined to talk amongst themselves about matters that didn’t concern them or they had very little information about. The appearance of strangers like dwarves and Gandalf to Bag End over the years had continued to fuel the gossip and only confirmed to the folk what they had been told by others.

“If you are referring to the incident with the Dragon, I was barely involved. All I did was give your uncle a little nudge….” Gandalf began explained, not wanting to go back over the details of that most memorable of visits at this time.

“And as for adventures my dear boy, your Uncle Bilbo might have led a quieter existence for the best part of forty years, but there was a time when that hobbit could never stay in one place for his feet to take root,” Gandalf said.

“Whatever you did, you have been officially labelled a disturber of the peace,” Frodo remarked, trying his hardest to keep a straight and serious face, but soon failing and giving a little smile at the memory.

Frodo thought for a few seconds, not really confident about how to approach the next topic of conversation, and the happiness on his face disappearing to be replaced by an expression bordering on concern.

“I think Bilbo is up to something as well,” Frodo said, the words sounding more like a question to the wizard rather than a statement.

The hobbit knew that his Uncle and Gandalf had spoken often and in great detail about the comings and goings of each other by letter. Maybe Frodo couldn’t talk to Bilbo about what he had over heard the night before with Strider, but he might be able to gain some clues as to the truth through Gandalf.

Strider listened to the tone of Frodo’s words with interest. He could hear an almost underlying air of suspicion from the young hobbit. For not only the first or second time today, the Ranger found himself wondering about what thoughts.

“Really?” Gandalf replied in mock surprise. It was obvious to the wizard that Frodo knew much more about his Uncle than Bilbo realized. He would have to have a quiet word to his old friend before the party began tomorrow.

“Keep your secrets then.” Frodo answered, a little disappointment in his voice that Gandalf was unwilling to shed any light on the subject.

“I will see you back at Bag End soon,” Frodo said as he readied himself to climb down from the wagon and continue on his own way. “I will meet you and Sam back at Bag End before lunch,” he added, trying to hide the weight that his thoughts were putting upon his heart.

“But Mister Frodo you can’t… ” Sam wanted to protest.

To his dismay though his master was already heading through the trees on the other side before anybody could stop his progress. From where he sat in the wagon, he was unable to get down quickly enough to join Frodo.

“I think Frodo would rather think on his own for a while Sam,” Gandalf said, placing a reassuring hand on the hobbit’s shoulder, urging him to remain in the wagon until they reached Bilbo’s home.

Bilbo is going to have to tell him…,” Gandalf said to himself, barely audible enough for Sam and Strider to overhear.

Frodo had walked away from Gandalf’s wagon, but as soon as he was out of sight, the hobbit found himself running through the long grass and the trees. He felt slightly cross with himself for leaving so abruptly and silently berated himself for doing so, hoping that the wizard would understand and Sam wouldn’t be too upset.

His thoughts about the conversation he had overheard the night before between the Ranger Strider and his Uncle had re-ignite his fears about Bilbo leaving Bag End and the Shire.

The sudden reappearance of Gandalf to the area only made Frodo more unsettled about what the next few days would bring. Maybe Bilbo planned to leave after his birthday with the wizard.

Frodo could scarcely bare the ache in his heart if his Uncle did intend to leave. Tears had begun welling in his eyes about being left alone once more, but he refused to let them fall. Although it had been some years since his parents had left him, the feeling of abandonment didn’t take long to renew the seed of doubt in his mind.

Running prevented the unshed tears from being noticed by anybody else. There was a sense of freedom that couldn’t be ignored. Before he even realized it, Frodo had run the better of half a mile. He came to a halt and forced himself to take slow deep breaths in order to try and quell both the negative feelings he was experiencing as well as the exertion that the fast running had placed upon his body.

Frodo waited until he felt calm enough again and more composed. Putting away the fears that had resurfaced, he started to make his way back towards Bag End. If he delayed his return any longer, Sam would surely worry unnecessarily and come looking.

________________________________________________________________

back at Bag End….

Gandalf, Strider and Sam were now arriving at Bag End. Sam got down from the wagon and offered to help unhitch the horse and put both the horse and wagon away safely until they were needed further.

While Sam went about these tasks, Strider and Gandalf approached the gateway to Bilbo’s home. The wizard observed the sign-age on the gate that Strider had seen the night before and chuckled to himself that the old hobbit’s personality seemed unchanged despite his age.

Gandalf proceeded to knock on the door using the bottom end of the staff he carried with him. He noticed that the dwarvish symbol that he had etched into the wood of the door a long time ago, was unnoticeable in the bright sunlight.

“No thank you…. we don’t want any more visitors, well-wishers or distant relations,” came a voice from inside. The wizard chuckled slightly as he heard the statement, assuming that Bilbo was speaking on Frodo’s behalf a little when he mentioned ‘we’.

“What about very old friends?” Gandalf asked through the closed door.

There was a distinct silence for a few seconds before the rounded doorway slowly opened. Bilbo walked forward to make sure that the sun wasn’t deceiving his eyes.

“Gandalf?” the elderly hobbit greeted cautiously, scarcely able to believe who he saw standing before him.

Until today there had been the smallest notion that the wizard would have more prevailing matters to attend to than a birthday party, even one celebrating one hundred and eleven years.

“Bilbo Baggins….” Gandalf said as he greeted his long-time friend with a warm and heart-felt embrace. The wizard could not have expressed in the words of any tongue he knew, how dear his friendship with this hobbit had become over many decades.

“You haven’t aged a day…..,” he added, noting that the hobbit carried his years excessively better than others. The old hobbit’s eyes had a gentle and kind appearance about them and his genuine smile shone through at meeting his old friend once more.

“Oh, I see you have met up with Strider,” Bilbo said as he saw the Ranger standing nearby. Bilbo now looked around for any sign of the younger companions that had journeyed out earlier that morning.

“Where is Frodo and Sam?” Bilbo enquired.

“Frodo and I have already spoken. I must say that he has matured much since I had the pleasure of talking to him. He informed me that he would be along shortly. Samwise has kindly offered to attend to my wagon and horse to aid a weary traveller,” Gandalf explained.

“Come in, come in…. where are my manners? Welcome, welcome. Can I offer you some tea, Gandalf, or something a little stronger?” Bilbo asked. “Would you join us as well Strider? It is almost time for elevensies.”

“Tea thank you,” Gandalf responded as he ducked his head and entered the smial.

The Ranger noted that the wizard had to show just as much caution as he, when walking through the lower ceilings. He had already avoided a few nasty knocks to the head by mere fractions of an inch and quick reflexes.

“I would prefer tea as well, Bilbo,” Strider said, answering the hobbit’s question.

“I’ve got a few bottles of the Old Winyards left…. 1296, a very good year. Almost as old as I am. It was laid down by my father,” Bilbo said as his two guests disappeared from sight temporarily as they took a different route to the kitchen.

“Just tea thank you” Gandalf repeated as he and the Ranger sat down and waited patiently as Bilbo bustled about his kitchen, pouring hot water from a kettle into the teapot positioned on the table.

Gandalf noted that due to the fact that Frodo and his companion Sam had yet to return, now might be a good time to approach the subject about Bilbo’s intentions to leave the Shire. It had caused him a much concern to see the flickering emotions on Frodo’s face just a short time ago.

Before Gandalf had a chance to mention any concerns, there was another loud knock at the door. Bilbo up until then had been standing near a window, but upon hearing the knock at the front door, shrunk back from the glass panels, into the shadows that the walls provided, hoping that he wouldn’t be spotted.

“I am not at home,” Bilbo proclaimed out loud, forgetting that he had just alerted to person outside that he was indeed at home. “I have got to get away from these confounded relatives. Hanging on the bell all day, never giving me a moment’s peace,” once again confirming some of the comments Frodo had mentioned earlier about the steady stream of unwanted visitors to Bag End recently.

The tea was now poured and Strider and the wizard remained silent as they watched the old hobbit move back and forth from the window, almost nervous as he spoke. Bilbo knew that this was the conversation that he had meant to continue with the Ranger from the previous night, as so continued.

“I want to see mountains again… mountains, Gandalf, and then find somewhere quiet where I can finish my book,” Bilbo declared, now ceasing his pacing back and forth and forcing himself to remain still by sitting on a chair at the table and facing the truth he had been trying to avoid for some time.

“So you mean to go through with your plans then?” the wizard asked cautiously, not wanting to put words into the hobbit’s mouth if he had not yet come to such a decision.

“Yes, yes, it’s all in hand. All of the arrangements have been made. I was only telling Strider the same thing only late last night,” Bilbo replied, but there was a air of uncertainty in his voice and an air of sadness as he came to realization of what he had decided to do.

“Frodo suspects something…..,” Gandalf brought up, trying to put the subject as delicately as possible to his long-time friend.

“He does?” Bilbo responded, already suspecting such to be the case. “Yes I suppose he might think something is going on the way I have been acting lately. He probably feels like I have been trying to avoid him.”

“You will tell him soon won’t you, before it’s too late,” Gandalf prompted, hoping the hobbit understood how urgent it was becoming.

“Yes, ….. I will,” Bilbo responded hesitantly, pausing a little as he answered.

“How do I do that Gandalf, without hurting him? Frodo has got such a gentle nature about him. Kindest lad I have ever come across. What will it do to him to learn that I am leaving?”

“It would hurt him more if it is your intention to leave without telling him first, Bilbo,” Gandalf said, seeing the emotions play out across the hobbit’s face like a clearly visible stain. “He is very fond of you.”

“As I am of him, Gandalf, as I am of him. I cannot put into words what that lad has come to mean to me over the years. For years and years all I did was sit here in my study writing about my travels, without anybody to share them with other than my ink and paper.”

“He would probably come with me if I asked him.”

“Do you think that is what Frodo wants to do with his life?” Gandalf asked, genuinely interested in Frodo’s future well being.

“I think, in his heart, Frodo is still in love with the Shire, the woods, the fields, little rivers…..,” Bilbo replied without finishing the sentence.

“I have no right to do that to Frodo, Gandalf. The lad came here with only sadness and uncertainty after his parents death. Living here at Bag End, I tried to change all that by trying to give him all the love, understanding and patience I could find. I wanted to give him all the love that his parents would have shed upon him, as well as my own.”

“Frodo is older now and more confident in his own self. He has friends that think the world of him, especially Samwise. He now has familiarity and firm connections with the Shire and those in it. I wouldn’t feel right asking him to give all of that up just for me and my wandering ways. It wouldn’t be fair to Frodo.”

“I am old Gandalf. I know you think I don’t look it but I am beginning to feel it in my heart,” Bilbo said feeling a little daunted by his own admission.

“I need a holiday, a very long holiday. I don’t expect I shall return, in fact I mean not to,” Bilbo uttered with an unmistakable tone of finality about the trip he was preparing to take.

The conversation did not continue much further as the three of them pondered on all that had been said. Both Strider and Gandalf couldn’t help but think of what mixed emotions Frodo might experience over the next couple of days.

_______________________________________________________________

Samwise had just been making his way back from finishing stabling the horse and putting away the wagon until the next day, when he saw Frodo approaching from the opposite direction.

To his surprise, Frodo looked as though he had been running. His master sounded a little out of breath and looked a little tired. “Hello, Mister Frodo, are you alright?”

“Yes Sam, thank you,” Frodo said as he forced his breathing to be deeper and slower. The brisk run had been invigorating and helped him over come some of the fears he held about his uncle’s possible impending departure. “I was running through the trees,” he admitted to his friend, who looked a little worried about him.

“Let’s go inside and get something to drink and eat then, Mister Frodo,” Sam suggested, a little perplexed as to why his master would be running in the first place. Sam knew that Frodo enjoyed daily walks and exercise but he couldn’t see a purpose to making himself out of breath unless there was a reason to.

Frodo and Sam opened the door and walked inside to the kitchen where Gandalf and the others were still drinking their tea.

“We are back, Uncle Bilbo,” Frodo announced as he reached the kitchen.

“Did you enjoy the weather outside, Frodo, my dear boy?” Bilbo asked with interest, trying to push aside any of his earlier thoughts.

“Yes uncle, but I feel as though I might have spent too much time out there this day,” Frodo admitted, putting his hand to his temple and rubbing slightly at a headache that was beginning to form.

“Why is that, Frodo?” Bilbo queried, noting his nephew’s actions and the small grimace on his face.

“I did a lot of running back to here just now and I have a headache beginning. Maybe that or it is from too much sunshine overhead whilst I was reading earlier,” Frodo stated.

“Well running is good for you, but I hope you have not over done things. Why don’t you go and sit on the comfortable settee and I will bring your cup of tea when I have made a fresh pot. Sam can help me and I will put a few herbal leaves in it to help ease your headache,” Bilbo offered gently, putting a hand on the lad’s shoulder in an affectionate and comforting gesture.

“If is alright with you Uncle, I might have the tea in my room whilst I do some quiet study. I really think it was the running and not the reading that is the cause of the problem. It might help relax me along with the tea and go away,” Frodo countered in negotiation.

“Alright Frodo, let me know if you need anything else. Once I have finished with this tea, Sam and I can start on luncheon. Your cousins are due to arrive very shortly and the first thing they will be looking for apart from you is food,” Bilbo said.

“Let me know when Merry and Pippin arrive will you please Sam. Please excuse me Gandalf and Strider,” Frodo said as he turned towards his room and a little quiet time.

“Of course Mister Frodo,” Sam answered immediately, only to happy to help out as requested.

Strider and Gandalf both responded to the boy’s beautiful manners and hoped that his headache would not last too long. There was something about the lad that just made others warm up to him immediately and his honesty and sincerity were charms that he certainly possessed in abundance.

______________________________________________________________

“You can take his tea in to him in a minute, Sam,” Bilbo said to the younger hobbit, seeing the frown of his face. Sam was being pulled in opposite directions at the moment, wanting to be with his master when he wasn’t feeling one hundred percent and the other direction because of his respect of Frodo’s privacy and need for solitude when studying.

Studying was something that Bilbo had never had to press on the lad, even from the very beginning of his stay at Bag End. Frodo seemed to drink up every book that the older hobbit had in his library and had a thirst for knowledge to match. Bilbo had taught Frodo to speak a limited amount of Elvish language and how to form the various symbol representations in writings and songs.

Once Frodo had a grasp of the subject material, he had taken it upon himself to further his own education through self-teaching methods. The lad preferred to do this alone for varying amounts of time, some days for hours on end, on other days, all but a few minutes before going to sleep at night to help him relax after a long day outside.

After a few minutes, Bilbo announced that Frodo’s tea was ready and Sam was more than willing to take it to his master if only to use it as an alibi to see if he still suffered from the headache.

Sam knocked respectfully on the door before hearing a quiet “Come In” from the other side and entering Frodo’s bedroom.

Frodo was seated at his study desk, with a large book open in front of him and another standing up leaning against the window. He seemed to be practising his writing skills and master the fine strokes needed to form the letters and symbols.

Sam put his master’s cup of tea down close enough for him to reach but far enough away to prevent it accidentally spilling on Frodo’s hard work. Sam couldn’t help but watch his master write with a slight twinge of envy. Frodo’s small hand made his grip on the quill quite tight to allow more control. The strokes were small but accurate and the page itself was very neat indeed.

Frodo now looked up from his work briefly and smiled at his friend, then reaching for the tea with his still bandaged hand.

“You have beautiful writing if you don’t mind me saying so, Mister Frodo,” Sam said honestly. “My fingers could never hold still long enough without smudging what I have already done,” he added, thinking back to past efforts when Frodo had been more than willing to be Sam’s tutor.

“Thank you, Sam, although I am grateful that my writing hand wasn’t the one that was scalded by the hot water or I fear that I would not be able to write at all today.”

“Does your headache still give you pain, Mister Frodo?” Sam found himself asking.

“Actually Sam, it has eased considerably even after only such a brief time. Maybe it is the tea that is helping me relax after all.”

“Would you like something to eat? Sam asked, hoping Frodo would accept. “Luncheon should be ready very shortly.”

Frodo could see the hopefulness in Sam’s eyes that he would agree to something to eat. He found himself not being able to refuse the offer. “I am getting a little hungry Sam, lunch would be nice as soon as it’s ready.”

Sam smiled broadly and went off to make sure that everything was just right for his master. Frodo watched his friend leave and then turned back to his books for a little while longer. He doubted that he would have much time tomorrow or the day after to indulge in such personal escapes.

Strider and Gandalf engaged in quiet, non-committal conversation as Bilbo and Sam went about preparing lunch for all.

Just before it was ready, there was a knock at the door, which Bilbo went to answer, muttering as he went, hoping it was not yet another visitor.

When he opened the door, he was somewhat delighted and relieved at who was present. He was met by the smiling faces of Meriadoc and Peregrin, bursting full of energy and barely able to keep still even as they waited to be invited in.

“Merry and Pippin, my dear lads, how are you and won’t you come in,” Bilbo said allowing them entry to Bag End. The two hobbits had a small suitcase each as they entered, taking in the sights and smells of Bilbo’s home.

Sam came forth and greeted Mr Frodo’s cousins. “How was your trip little masters? I will see to your bags and put them in the guest rooms,” he said, remembering duty had to come before enjoying their company.

“Hello Sam, we are fine thanks and hello to you too Uncle,” Merry said in a loud voice, speaking for his younger cousin Pippin as well.

“Lunch is almost ready, you can join us in a minute,” Bilbo said, already noting the delight that came to the youngest cousin’s face at such a statement. It was no secret that Peregrin was always hungry and ready to eat, no matter how long ago the last meal had been. There was always room for more Pippin had told his Uncle once.

“Where is Frodo?” Merry now asked, eager to see his older cousin again as he looked about the rooms for any sign of the dark-haired hobbit.

“He’s in his room studying a little before lunch. He said he had a slight headache and wished to relax a little before you arrived,” Bilbo said, hoping that would be enough of a deterrent for the two younger cousins to wait patiently until Frodo appeared on his own accord.

Merry and Pippin weren’t to be discouraged though, and both looked at each other and grinned devilishly that they knew of an alternative way to get Frodo’s attention without going to knock on his bedroom door.

“Come on Pip,” Merry said as the two left Sam holding their luggage and dashing back out the front door and around the side of the smial.

“They won’t do anything too terrible to Mr Frodo will they Master Bilbo?” Sam asked, a little worried about the two cousins who always seemed to have too much energy for their own good. They were always up to something.

“I shouldn’t think so Sam,” Bilbo said, putting a reassuring hand on the lad’s shoulder. “Frodo has been looking forward to them coming. He will put them straight if they look like getting out of control,” he added, knowing that Frodo often took on responsibility for his younger cousins whenever they visited.

In the past such loyalty had often landed Frodo in as much trouble as Merry and Pippin, but the happiness and laughter that the two cousins brought to Frodo couldn’t be replaced and Bilbo was often most grateful for that.

“Studying!” Merry said as he and Pippin moved around the side of the dwelling. Sometimes Frodo was too studious for his own good. Time to break that habit and get his cousin having some fun again.

Merry and Pippin could now see the window that belonged to Frodo’s bedroom. They could see a book of some description leaning up the bottom half of the glass and the older cousin immediately had a giggle of an idea about how to alert Frodo to his presence. No doubt they would scare him senseless, but they would have fun nevertheless.

Merry motioned for Pippin to sneak up beside the window frame like he and peer secretly through the glass. Both of them could see Frodo’s dark head bent forward as he continued what he was doing.

It took a few more minutes than Merry would have liked, but eventually they were rewarded with Frodo’s casual glance towards his book and spotting two faces leering back at him through the glass.

Frodo had been concentrating on the book but was startled by the faces at his window and tried to jump backwards away from the window. Unfortunately for Frodo, his chair was behind him and now both he and the chair fell backwards, knocking the cup of tea from the desk as well as the ink pot. It wasn’t until after this that he recognized who the faces belonged to.

“Merry and Pippin!” Frodo said in a mock annoyed voice as he surveyed the image of himself sprawled on the floor and the congealing mess not to far away on the rug of the ink and tea mixing together.

The two cousins had seen Frodo tumble backwards but knew he wasn’t hurt. They now made their way back around to the front door, hoping that neither Bilbo or Frodo would be too upset at their antics.

Sam had overheard his master’s startled cry as he fell backwards and couldn’t help but open the door to see if everything was alright. He immediately went to Frodo’s aid of helping him stand, he too concerned about the now black stain marring the rug.

“Are you alright Mister Frodo?” Sam said, seeing that the bandage on Frodo’s hand had also been stained by the ink. Looking upon his master’s clothes, they hadn’t faired much better and there was now a soaking blackened mark across the front of Frodo’s vest and trousers.

“Yes I am fine thank you, Sam,” Frodo said, trying hard not to laugh at how he must look at the moment. “Those two cousins of mine….,” he said, a smile creeping across his face.

“Frodo,” Merry said in a quiet voice behind Sam, the two cousins standing just outside the doorway, hoping to apologize for their behaviour.

“Just look at this mess you too created,” Frodo said sternly, the corners of his mouth twitching with a grin. Sam was sighing in relief that Frodo’s writing had not been spoilt by the ink. It seemed that the floor and Frodo himself wore most of what was spilt.

“We will clean it up cousin, promise,” Pippin said, feeling a little guilty as he looked at the spreading stain on Frodo’s clothes.

“Offering to do manual work now are you Pip, that’s certainly good to hear. Though I don’t think you sound like my cousin Peregrin Took,” Frodo said already seeing that they were remorseful for their childish actions.

“It’s great to see you Merry and Pip,” Frodo added and gave his cousins a warm greeting. “I really wanted that cup of tea though,” he poked in fun.

“I’ll get you another cup Mister Frodo,” Sam offered.

“That’s alright Sam, just let me get into some clean clothes and clear a bit of this mess on the floor and then we can go and see if lunch is ready,” knowing that Pip wouldn’t be needing a second invitation.

“I will get a little sugar from Master Bilbo to sprinkle over that stain. The sugar crystals should soak up most of the ink and then it can just be swept into pile and thrown away,” Sam said, explaining a little about what his mother had taught him about how to remove difficult stains from things.

“What about my clothes Sam, you don’t expect to sprinkle sugar over me to get the ink out do you?” Frodo said with a laugh.

“Oh no sir,” Sam said returning the grin to his master as such an idea. “But I can put it into a bucket of water laced with lemon and vinegar and that will certainly

have your clothes looking nice again.”

“Dear Sam, you always have a solution for me when I am in need,” Frodo said.

“I hope so, Mister Frodo,” Sam said proudly that his master thought so highly of him.

________________________________________________________________________

Half an hour after Merry and Pippin announced their arrival to Frodo and everyone else, all were seated at the table now enjoying a leisurely lunch and gentle conversation.

Introductions had been made of Strider, though Merry seemed to be a little wary of the Ranger at first. Pip had been awed by the man’s height but gave a small smile and made sure that he sat safely on the other side of his cousin Frodo.

Sam had been about to excuse himself when Frodo asked that he stay and join them. Bilbo had also voiced that he wished for Samwise to join them at the table as had the two cousins. Sam felt himself out numbered and although he had been taught to mind his betters and remember his place, he had also been taught to be there as often as Frodo

wanted him to be.

Sam couldn’t put into words how good he felt when Mister Frodo treated him no differently to other adults around him or indeed his own relatives such as Merry and Pippin.

Strider had not wanted to add to any fear that the two cousins might have over his presence but marvelled at how quickly the two seemed to forget their apprehensions and include him in their conversations around the table.

Pippin had gone into great detail about the scare that he and Merry had given Frodo a short time before and how his cousin had fallen off his chair and been smeared in ink and warm tea.

After hearing about this, Gandalf promised himself that he would need to keep a closer eye on the two mischief’s and keep them out of trouble as much as possible before the party.

“You should have seen your face, Frodo,” Pippin said with a giggle, remembering the startled look his older cousin had moments before toppling backwards.

“Don’t worry Pippin, my revenge will be swift and silent but most of all unexpected,” Frodo said in a voice so low that the younger hobbit believed every word. He couldn’t help but bait them a little and keep them guessing about what he might do to get back at them.

“You wouldn’t…..,” Pippin said in shock. In all the time he had known Frodo, he had never seen his dark-haired cousin retaliate for any of the mischief that they had caused.

“He wouldn’t do anything would he, Merry?” he now asked, seeking a little confirmation from his partner in crime.

Merry too was a little surprised at Frodo’s statement, and both had an ominous feeling as they watched their secretive cousin smile sweetly back at them. They would have thought Frodo’s comments to be baseless except for the gleam that they saw in his blue eyes.

Strider and Gandalf laughed at the sight of the two now uneasy and nervous cousins that kept looking back and forth between themselves and Frodo. He certainly knew had to get them on edge without any effort at all.

Merry had already asked why the Ranger was present, before receiving a painful kick to his shin under the table for not remembering his manners in somebody else’s house.

Bilbo had not been concerned over what he saw was Merry’s natural curiosity and gave him the same explanation as that to Sam earlier at breakfast about possible trouble presenting itself at the party.

Lunch had then continued for a time. Gandalf had asked that Strider and Bilbo assist him to unload his wagon of surprises after they had eaten and was pleased that his friends had readily agreed.

That would leave the four hobbits on their own but that didn’t present itself as such a problem. Sam had already offered to clear the lunch dishes so that Bilbo could go with Gandalf.

Bilbo had gotten up from the table towards the end of the meal and begun pouring milk into glasses for the four hobbits. He had been thinking of something else at the time and before realizing it, had half-filled Frodo’s glass with the white liquid.

Frodo’s displeasure was clearly evident on his face as he scowled at the substance in the glass as though it were a vile medicine he was being asked to drink.

“You don’t expect me to drink that stuff do you, Uncle Bilbo?” Frodo asked still eyeing the milk with disdain.

“Oh, I am sorry Frodo, I wasn’t thinking. No of course not. I know you don’t like milk. I will get you a fresh glass of juice or tea if you would prefer?” Bilbo said

apologetically.

“I’ll drink it, Frodo,” Pippin said and grabbed at the glass before any reply could be given.

Sam glared at the hobbit a little, thinking that he was being very rude, but then relenting a little at Pippin’s enthusiasm. He knew that Frodo wouldn’t drink the milk anyway but he could have been more polite about it.

“I take it you do not like to drink milk, Frodo,” Strider said, noting the hobbit’s obvious dislike.

“No, Strider, there isn’t any threat that anyone could make that would force me to drink that stuff,” Frodo affirmed.

It was about now that Frodo noted how tired he was suddenly becoming. The headache that had eased earlier was beginning to resurface and he no longer had an appetite for his remaining lunch.

“I think it’s about time we headed out to help Gandalf,” Bilbo now stated. “How about you go and have a little lay down inside Frodo,” he suggested, noting his nephew grimacing slightly from the headache again.

“I might just do that, Uncle Bilbo,” Frodo agreed, thinking that a nice soft pillow would be more than welcome at this point in time.

“What are we going to do if you are going to be boring and rest?” Merry said, not knowing about Frodo’s headache. Staying still for too long didn’t appeal to either

Merry or Pippin.

“I think you and Pippin would be best suited to helping young Sam here clean up the dishes don’t you?” Bilbo said, not accepting no for an answer. “You can go out and play later on after your lunch has settled some.”

Merry and Pippin were not entirely happy with this idea, but though they had little choice since they would be staying under Bilbo’s roof for the next few days.

Sam was happy to see Bilbo take a little control of the situation and vowed that the two hobbits would keep their voices and games to a minimum if Mister Frodo was going to try and rest to ease his headache.

“We shan’t be long,” Bilbo said, noting the slightly disappointed looks on his visitors. “By the time you finish helping Sam we should have returned. Sam asked, hoping Frodo would accept. “Frodo can choose if he feels like going out or not later.”

Gandalf, Strider and Bilbo now prepared to leave and go to the wagon. Frodo had gotten up from the table and retrieved a pillow from his own bed before settling onto the settee in the sitting room. Somehow he didn’t like the idea of leaving Merry and Pippin unsupervised despite Sam being present.

Bilbo went to check on his nephew before walking out the door but was relieved to see Frodo already stretched out with his eyes closed attempting to doze off. He brushed a stray curl away from the lad’s forehead and smiled.

Frodo smiled at the gentle touch but didn’t open his eyes. Seeing his nephew’s face relaxed and carefree in sleep was something he could never tire of.

“Keep an eye on him for me Sam won’t you,” Bilbo said to Sam who saw them off at the door, out of earshot from Frodo.

“Don’t worry Master Bilbo, I’ll make sure he’s not disturbed,” Sam promised. Little did Sam know that his best efforts would not prove enough against Merry and Pippin.

After the others had left, Merry and Pippin had did as they were asked and for a time went about helping Sam as best they could. Their interest quickly waned though and the two hobbits soon found it more fun to play games with the plates and cutlery rather than drying then and putting them back in their rightful places.

Merry and Pippin were unaware that their game was beginning to get a little loud until they were harshly chastised by Sam to keep quiet. The sitting room was only a short distance away and Sam could see his master stirring slightly from the noise.

Merry and Pip put the dishes away as requested but although one game was quickly at an end, there was always another around the corner. Sam had now decorated the table with a large bowl of fruit. Apples and oranges, pears and grapes.

Pippin was most impressed and would have tucked in if he hadn’t been so full after lunch. He took two apples from the bowl and started to play around with them, tossing them into the air and catching them again.

It didn’t take much encouragement for Merry to join in and soon instead of throwing them up and catching them, they were tossing them backwards and forwards between each other.

Pippin had now taken a few steps away from his cousin to increase the distance of the throws, not taking any notice of which room he was standing in. The lack of walls in Bilbo’s home often made it difficult to tell which room was which.

Pippin was now standing directly in front of his slumbering cousin Frodo on the settee. He wasn’t making any excessive noise at present and Sam was forced to hold back any scathing words he might have had on the tip on his tongue.

Merry tossed a large apple at his younger cousin, but his throw was not as accurate as he hoped. A little too high and it sailed over Pippin’s head.

Merry and Pippin both cringed as they heard the unmistakable sound of the apple hitting Frodo.

Frodo woke with a fright and immediately sat up rubbing the his forehead. There was no mark but he looked at his two cousins, demanding to know why they were throwing pieces of fruit at him while he was trying to sleep.

If Merry and Pippin thought they could get any sympathy out of Samwise, they were gravely mistaken as they heard his shocked intake of breath as he watched the apple strike his sleeping master and then see Frodo sitting up with a frown on his face.

It was about this time that Gandalf and the others proceeded to walk through the front door. They heard Sam’s angry outburst and wondered what had happened to rile the normally gentle tempered hobbit.

When they entered the sitting room where the noise was ensuing from, they were greeted with Merry and Pippin looking very guilty about something and Sam threatening to do them bodily harm.

Frodo was by now wide awake again and trying not to laugh at Sam’s serious face. His headache seemed to have eased to a barely noticeable level once again but he was not impressed by the way he had been woken.

“Run!” was the suggestion that the two cousins said to each other with their eyes, a little afraid of being in the middle of both an angry Sam and a cross looking Frodo.

To be continued……..

Author Notes: This story was started a long time ago (over fourteen 17 years ago), but I felt there were parts that needed more, and I wanted some more scenes in certain areas and include some of my new arcs.

I apologize for any mistakes I may have made about Lord Of The Rings history or any names I may have mis-spelled. I also hope that I have not wavered too far from people’s takes on the individual personalities of each character.

I don’t mean to make Strider and Bilbo out as so secretive. I just want to keep the idea about the Wraiths coming until later in the story. The fact that Bilbo knows that danger is coming and doesn’t do anything straight away is also not intentional and I humbly ask for readers to believe that’s what happened.

Any medicinal information is only from my own sources and not meant as true procedure to any injury or treatment that I may have used in my story so far or will in the future.

As you have probably guessed, I leave this chapter at the place where Gandalf arrives in the movie and hope that the sequence of events that I have included is at least logical.

Not much has happened yet. More to come. In next chapter, the party preparations take place that I envisaged happened prior in the movie. A few little incidents to come involving Lotho.

I know the appearance of a big person in the Shire would be out of place too, but I need that to make the story work. I just need both people, elves, dwarves and hobbits everywhere to suspend what they know to be true for a while and take what I write as happening.

I have also referred to Frodo as a boy in many parts – not intending for him to be called a human “boy” – just makes the story flow a little easier at times instead of constantly using “the hobbit” and similar descriptions.

Any information that I write in my Lord Of The Rings stories about eating flows on that in the two other fandoms I write – the main characters in each all are finicky eaters and just push the food around on a plate or go for long lengths without anything to eat or refuse to do so. The other two are like this in all stories that I know about them as well.

One other character also dislikes milk to the point of refusing to drink it – I am going to include this for Frodo later on – just something I dreamed up – nothing from the book or the movie. I wanted to write a close relationship between Bilbo and Frodo as well as friendship Frodo and Aragorn and Sam too.

Please review and let me know what you think. I will try and update as soon as I can, but please be patient as time is often not on my side.

Jules6

Chapter Six – Questions Without Answers

RIVERBOAT GAMBLER

By Jules

Chapter Six – Questions Without Answers

Author Notes: This story deals with Joe’s wanting to be seen as grown up and able to make decisions on his own about his future. Understandably his family are a little concerned at how Joe plans to deal with his idea of responsibility.

Ben Cartwright has always taught his sons certain values that made them into the proud men they are today. Someone from Ben’s past wanting to seek revenge plans to take all of those values and the special bond forged between Ben and Joe and tear them apart.

I hope you enjoy the next chapter of this saga:

how the end of the last chapter:

Bonnie had given Seline the barest of outlines at to Joe’s mental state, saying that Joe didn’t remember who he was. Seline had scoffed at it being a stunt and had strode into the room, prepared to give the young Cartwright a lesson after his escape attempt.

Joe opened his eyes again, still squinting at the harshness of the light and swallowing hard to cope with the relentless pain in his head. He couldn’t put any coherent thought together that would give him any kind of explanation to his current situation.

Seline came and stood by the bed, fully prepared to be a sceptic and to make Cartwright reveal that he was faking the symptoms that Bonnie had explained.

“Come now, Joseph, you don’t expect me to believe this little performance do you?” Seline asked.

Joe had started a little at the voice, not hearing anybody approaching. He had tried to focus on the face talking to him, but it held no familiarity either. He couldn’t put a name to the well-dressed gentlemen at all, or how he came to know him.

“Who are you?” Joe asked, closing his eyes again briefly. He was tiring quickly and didn’t wish to deal with the pain and confusion any longer. He wanted the darkness to come and take him again so he didn’t have to ask questions that seemed to have no answer.

A resounding slap could be heard as Seline slapped Joe across the face without warning. Joe had yelped at the slap and looked back at the man with shock and surprise, but still no idea as to the reason for being struck.

“I promise you more of the same if you wish to play these foolish games, Joseph,” Seline said in a cold voice.

“Who is Joseph?” he asked not realising the man had been talking about himself. He didn’t really care at the moment, he just didn’t want to deal with any of it while the pain was so bad.

Seline had raised his hand in frustration, ready to deliver the second blow, but held his hand in mid-air as he watched the young man close his eyes and fall back to sleep. He still thought the stunt a ploy, but something in Joe’s eyes as he had rubbed at the redness on his cheek, made him stop and think a little.

There had been a look of uncertainty and one of fear. Surely the boy could remember his own name?

now the page turns and the story continues ….

Seline sat at the table, drink poured, but left untouched as he tried to go over what he had just seen in the other room.

On the face of it, Joe Cartwright appeared to be playing an elaborate game of charades. But there was a small part of him that thought perhaps the young man was not merely acting. Bonnie had clearly thought something more serious wrong with him, and that had been evident in her actions and clearly written on her face.

Seline remembered the conversation he had held with Bonnie about getting a new doctor to examine Cartwright when they arrived in New Orleans. It looked like it was time to make such arrangements, but in addition to examining the physical wounds inflicted, making a diagnosis on any long-term effects of the blows he had sustained.

Seline called Yeager, Edwards and Bonnie together to tell them of the decisions he had made about how to move Cartwright from the train once they reached New Orleans.

“We will wait for the other passengers to get off,” Seline instructed them, still seated at the table. “Once the coast is clear and there aren’t so many witnesses, we will move young Mr Cartwright to the steam boat. Everything there is in order.”

“But I thought you were going to get a doctor to look at him,” Bonnie blurted out.

“Calm yourself, my dear,” Seline said, giving her a sly smile. “I will arrange for a doctor to examine Joseph once we reach the boat. I considered the idea of a hotel in town, but I want to use his apparent lack of memory to my advantage.”

“How so?” Edwards asked, feeling like he was getting a little lost in the conversation.

“If he truly has a lapse in his memory of people and surroundings, then the first place he needs to become familiar with is the place is the boat. After all, this whole scheme revolves around the idea of taking him away from Ben Cartwright and the Ponderosa. To get him to believe that he has been raised somewhere else all his life,” Seline explained.

“The fallacy has to be as real as possible if this is going to work. Joseph has to believe that we are the ones who care about him. That we are his friends and that this is where he truly belongs,” Seline continued.

Edwards and Yeager had placed themselves at opposite ends of the train on the platform. Both casually standing and analyzing the surroundings and watching the faces of the passengers disembarking.

There seemed to be two porters who were currently run off their feet, fetching luggage for passengers. Edwards could hear one of them being berated by one impatient woman, saying that he was taking too long to carry her baggage. The fellow was doing the best he could, but by the high tone of the obnoxious woman’s voice, she wouldn’t have agreed with his assessment.

Looking away from that scene, Edwards noted that Yeager was signalling him, indicating that the commotion on the platform was the ideal time to be moving Joe Cartwright.

Although there were still a number of people in plain sight, most appeared to be pre-occupied with someone else or their own affairs to be taking particular note of anything that may seem out of the ordinary.

Edwards and Yeager appeared together before Seline, giving their candid report of the commotion and chaos that was on the platform at this time. Seline did agree that it did appear to be a good opportunity to remove the Cartwright boy and bundle him into a taxi towards the docks.

“Bonnie, you go and fetch us a taxi and make sure its waiting right outside the entrance to the railway station,” Seline ordered. “Yeager you give me a hand to stand him upright. He is still unconscious, but between us we should be able to disguise that enough until we reach the taxi.”

“Edwards you grab the baggage and put it up on top of the taxi,” Seline told the man.

Reluctantly, Bonnie rose from her bedside vigil, and made her way towards the door of the train. She took the one piece of luggage belonging to her, for two reasons. One so that she would not look out of place amidst the other passengers on the platform, and secondly, because she did want any of these men having access to the few items that were personal to her.

With Bonnie out of the room, and Edwards gathering the few pieces of luggage, Seline drew back the sheet that had been lightly covering Joe Cartwright, and tried to assess the best way to approach moving him.

“Is he going to wake up once we start moving him?” Yeager asked, the very question that was running through Seline’s mind.

“I don’t think so,” Seline said, trying to sound convincing, but not exactly sure himself. “He looks to be fairly out of it for the time being. Lets just get him off the bed and to the door. We can make it up as we go.”

Seline and were grateful for the fact that Bonnie seemed to think a little ahead of them and had dressed Joe in a shirt and trousers before she left, preparing for the intended move from the train. At least they didn’t have to do any of that.

Didn’t he have his own hat back in San Francisco?” Marchant asked, remembering vaguely seeing one on the boy at some point. The man brushed aside any further thoughts, knowing that time was not on their side. For now Seline would have to use his own hat to hide Joe’s face as he had done when boarding the train.

“Take him underneath the arm on your side and let’s lift him into a sitting position first,” Seline instructed Yeager.

Joe remained unresponsive during this process, his head leaning back a little due to him remaining unconscious. It was when Yeager and Seline lifted him to an upright stance on his feet that the fog in his mind began to clear slightly, and the first signs of conscious emerged.

At first the only response was a deep low groan from the base of his throat as his body was pulled upwards. Yeager and Seline were both surprised by the sound, looking intently at the young man’s face for any further movement.

“Let’s hurry, we may not have much time to spare,” Seline commented, unsure of how close the young man was from awareness of what was happening to him.

Yeager and Seline managed to manoeuvre and guide Joe awkwardly through the carriage’s narrow passage way towards the door. The hat was placed somewhat haphazardly on his head, but there was few attempts made to adjust it into a more suitable position due to it being too big. Seline pulled the brim down as much as he dared without causing it to fall from the young man’s curly head.

A final glimpse towards the platform to make sure that they drew no unnecessary attention to themselves from Edwards. Joe was lifted down to the platform, held upright on both sides from Seline and Yeager.

If enquiries were made, the story was to be that the young man was still suffering from an injury that needed attending by a doctor. Although not strictly a lie, they hoped they would not have to elaborate further to anyone who became too curious.

Joe had made several more moans, perhaps as a result of his body’s protests at being moved, but Seline was pleased to see that the level of unconsciousness did not improve to any great degree during their cautious walk towards the taxi.

Although his feet were touching the ground, it was by the support of Seline and Yeager on either side that held Joe upright and prevented him from collapsing entirely.

One woman had looked their way in concern, probably in motherly concern at seeing such a young man having to be physically escorted. But a charming smile from Seline ensured that she made no comment and no attempt to approach him to extend her assistance.

Bonnie was nervously pacing back and forth beside a taxi, just as she had been instructed. She tried to remove her emotions from the situations and not show any deliberate concerns about the manner in which he was being transported.

The taxi driver had only taken an interest upon seeing his intended passengers and noting that one needed a great deal of assistance.

“He not being sick now is he?” the driver asked, his accent strong.

“No,” Seline replied curtly, clearly getting impatient. “My assistant will tell you where we need to go. And please don’t stop to look at the scenery,” he added, signalling for

Edwards to climb up alongside the driver to give directions.

Within a few minutes, Seline, Bonnie and Yeager had bundled the mostly unconscious Joe Cartwright into the taxi and were slowly making their way towards the paddle steamer that had been made ready.


Bonnie kept a close eye on Joe Cartwright’s breathing and temperature signs during the journey, noting that his shirt was beginning to stick to his skin. She reached over and felt his brow in concern, Joe moaning at the sudden touch, and leaning into the fresh coolness that his body felt.

“His temperature is up a little again,” Bonnie remarked to Seline. “Probably only from moving him from the train so quickly,” she reasoned. She hoped that was all it was.

The journey to the boat was only a short one, but Seline seemed uneasy through it all, wondering if he had taken care of everything enough to cover up what he was attempting to do. It was the number of people at the train station that bothered him the most.

Bonnie was startled by the grandeur of the paddle steamer as she followed Edwards and Yeager, carrying Joe Cartwright to one of the rooms on-board. The furnishings were very luxurious and the fittings stylish. The interior of the rooms would have rivalled that of any of the fine hotels in the area.

Seline had clearly gone to a lot of trouble and expense to set up this elaborate hoax and until this moment, perhaps Bonnie had truly not understood how much he was prepared to gamble to see his desired outcome.

Edwards and Yeager were suitably impressed also by their surroundings, but neither make any comment as they laid Cartwright on the large bedspread. Seline had specifically picked this room for the young man. Being central to a lot of other areas of the boat, it should be fairly easy to track his movements during his captivity.

“Help her to get him settled into bed. I am going to find the doctor to look him over,” Seline stated.

Bonnie would have rather not have the two men in the room, but did not wish to voice any objections, knowing that Seline may not take so kindly to her petty reasons.

Once Seline had departed the boat, she had used them to help take off his boots, trousers and sweat soaked shirt, but had then told them she could handle the rest of his care on her own.

Edwards and Yeager did not push the matter and left her to tend to the young man until the doctor returned.

Bonnie found most of the items she needed within a short space of time, and went about bathing Joe’s chest in tepid water. She wanted to wash his sweaty body before dressing him a fresh shirt, but also relieve the fever that had flared from being moved from the train.

As she bathed him, Bonnie looked at his young face, and wondered what Seline had in store for this young man. She had yet to learn anything about him. He looked to be someone who enjoyed life, and no doubt could use his handsome face to make friends and go places.

Her train of thought about Joe Cartwright was cut abruptly short as Seline re-entered the room, this time with a doctor carrying a bag containing the tools of his trade.

Bonnie stood up and moved the basin of water away to allow the doctor access to his patient. The doctor was tall and thin, very different in appearance to the doctor that she had seen in San Francisco. His face was devoid of emotion and his features unreadable.

Placing his bag on a nearby table, he began to examine the unconscious man. He did not speak as he lifted the closed eyelids. His mannerisms were very practised and accurate, but looked too clinical and unfriendly to Bonnie’s eyes.

The doctor had barely enough time to do the basic checks on Joe, when Seline began demanding to know how the patient was.

“Can you give me an accurate prognosis of his condition?” Seline asked, pacing nervously back and forth, knowing that the outcome of his entire plan was in the balance.

The thin doctor, leaned over his patient and lifted an eyelid once more, ignoring the pressure to be quicker in his assessment. The pupil inside reacted sluggishly to the small amount of invading light. He allowed the eye to close before moving his attention to the young man’s head. He could immediately see the tell tale signs from the fresh injury sustained. There was an amount of bruising, but perhaps fortunately for the patient, no open gash as had occurred like the first time.

“There is some bruising here,” the doctor pointed out, voicing his observations to Seline. “It is not as bad as the previous blow that you can see here. But that doesn’t mean that the impact will be any less. Considering that the first blow was quite severe in itself and you mentioned about the bouts of dizziness and nausea that Miss Bonnie witnessed.”

During his examination, Joe showed no signs of waking, or reacting to any of the doctor’s probing of his injuries.

“When is he going to wake up?” Seline asked, his tone of voice revealing his growing agitation.

“There is no way to tell. That is individual with every patient. Some I have known recover with little evidence of their injury at all. Then there are some that awaken, but their personalities are completely changed from who they were before. They find themselves unable to relate to family and friends as they did before,” the doctor explained.

“I don’t want to know about every other patient you have ever seen,” Seline declared with impatience and frustration. “I want to know about this young man.”

The doctor was becoming increasing annoyed with Seline’s stand over tactics, and was not about to be intimidated, “Then there are those few patients that never wake up,” he said with emphasis.

“I am the one that hired you, doctor!” Seline said, his anger now becoming apparent.

“Yes, and I doubt that you could find another one in New Orleans who would be willing to carry out what you have asked of me. You have instructed me to tend to this patient and give you my diagnosis as to his recovery and the length of time it may take. I have given you that as best I can. It is too early to see what other effects of the injuries he may have until he wakes up and I am able to speak to him,” the doctor replied, calmly but in a stern tone of voice.

Seline now turned towards the back of the room, “Bonnie, get over here so this over priced quack can tell you what you need to do to keep Cartwright alive until he wakes up.”

Edward and Yeager both flinched and were just as surprised as Bonnie about the ferocity of Seline’s tone of voice. The girl timidly walked closer towards the bed, not wanting to cause the man’s anger to turn upon her.

The doctor ignored Seline’s outburst, but instead turned his attention to speaking to the girl whom was placed in charge of the young man’s medical care. “For now, and over the next few days, you had better keep a close eye on him for any signs of waking up.”

Bonnie nodded her head, but did not interrupt the doctor’s instructions.

“When he does wake,” he began, making sure that Seline was listing to his statement as well, subtly letting the man know that he thought young Cartwright would regain consciousness at some stage. “Be sure and note any increase in his temperature. If his fever continues to rise and develop more, you might need to add using ice and keep using damp cloths to bath him with cooler water.”

“What do I do if his temperature becomes too high?” Bonnie asked, worried that she would not be able to cope with such a situation if the young man’s health declined.

“I will be here regularly to begin with, at least over the coming week. If any fever is going to occur, it should show up during that time. If his temperature gets too high, then we may have to fully submerse him in a bath of cold water, but that is a rather drastic measure to take, and it may do more harm than good. His body could go into shock, unable to cope with the extremes of heat and cold,” the doctor replied.

“Should he be given food or any drink when he does wake?” Bonnie enquired.

“Keep his water intake going as much as possible now, especially if his temperature does start to go up. When he wakes he probably won’t be interested in eating very much, but a light broth could be given, with a little extra salt.”

“There isn’t much you can do physically for his head wound. It is bruising mostly, though the extent of any internal damage is yet to be seen. No doubt you might find he experiences some bouts of sever dizziness and nausea as he did in San Francisco. He might develop bad headaches as a result of the blows that were inflicted. I will give you some mild pain powders when this happens, but for the moment I do not want him taking any sedative until I am convinced that there are no complications with his injuries,” the doctor informed Bonnie.

“Alright, that should be enough for now. You said yourself that you will be back tomorrow, so she should be able to keep him alive until then. He isn’t a baby and I don’t intend wrapping him up in cotton wool. I need him awake for when Ben Cartwright gets here and can see for himself that his beloved youngest son no longer has any loyalty towards him,” Seline interrupted, cutting the doctor’s visit to as short as possible.

“Don’t forget my fee when I come back tomorrow,” the doctor remarked. “A little higher than you would like to pay I suspect, but you get what you pay for in this world nowadays.”

“You will get paid doctor,” Seline said curtly, though he had a good mind to shoot the doctor and be done with it. The doctor in San Francisco had not been as nearly so condescending and he had met an untimely fate.


Bonnie could see that now would not be a good time to cross Seline’s path. She would hold her tongue and do as she had been told, and look after the Joseph Cartwright.

“Edward, Yeager, come with me, we have some things to discuss,” Seline snarled. His tone of voice certainly left no doubt, and he did not wait to see if they hesitated or not before following him to another part of the paddle boat.

Bonnie looked down at her patient after everyone had left, and wondered how best to help him apart from seeing to his medical needs. They needed for him to wake to be able to assess how he felt.

Preparing a basin of water, and testing the temperature with her fingertips before sitting beside the bed, the young woman dabbed a soft cloth into the water and then as gently as she dared, began to gently touch it to Joe’s face.

She hoped it would do two things, one, help bring him back towards consciousness, and secondly, it would clean the area directly surrounding his head wound that was bruised and swollen. She didn’t dare put any pressure into her actions, but softly washed away the dried blood stains that were present.

After a few minutes, Bonnie was rewarded for her efforts with a low moan from Joe. She stopped her actions, waiting to see if the young man was trying waking up or only in protest about the pain from his wound that she had been carefully trying to clean.

Joe eyelids fluttered a number of times, indicating that he was trying to wake, but finding it difficult. Silently she was urging him to wake so that she could try and determine how badly he had been affected by the second blow to his head.

The young man lifted his hand to his temple, as though trying to show where he was feeling the most pain. His movements were somewhat slow and cumbersome, but Bonnie thought this might be a symptom of the head injury or due to his prolonged period of unconsciousness.

The hand lost its momentum, but rather than returning to his side, it came to rest on his chest. Bonnie looked at the door to the room, hoping that Seline or one of the other men were not about to walk into the room and see what she was intending on doing.

Bonnie lifted the young man’s hand and began massaging the fingertips and joints between her own to try and induced a more alert response.

Joe felt like he was swimming against a never ending tide of black that seemed to surround him on all sides. For a brief moment the black mass seemed to clear a little and he thought he saw a strange and distant light before him. He didn’t know where the light led to and he really didn’t know if he wanted to go towards it.

“Come on now, I know you can here me,” Bonnie said softly. “Can you open your eyes for me?”

The fluttering of his eyelids continued, but she could now see that he was making a more determined effort to open his eyes at hearing a voice beside him.

“I know you can do it,” she encouraged.

The young man finally managed to open his eyes a little, and glance back at the person speaking to her. But what frightened her the most was the lack of reaction that she saw in his lovely green eyes.

His brow began turning into a frown, and although she put it down to the pain he was experiencing from his injury, a small part of her could see the confusion in his gaze.

Joe tried to move his head from side to side, as though trying to clear the image before him and make more sense of what he was seeing. This only resulted in the headache that was present, reigniting with vengeance. So much so that he moaned deep and low in his throat at the sudden wave that assaulted him.

He closed his eyes again briefly, waiting for the spasm of pain to abate to a more tolerable level. It did not ease much, but he willed himself to open his eyes again and make more sense of his surroundings.

“Here, let me get you a drink of water,” Bonnie said, a little unsure about she should be doing. She retrieved a small glass of water and helped the young man to sit up enough to drink from the glass. He didn’t offer any word of thanks, but his eyes remained on her, even as she crossed the room to refill the glass from the pitcher.

Bonnie knew that Seline would want to know the minute he was awake, but part of her wanted to allow him time to adjust in his new environment before he was subjected to Seline’s presence.

She looked about the room and wondered what to do next. Part of her chastising herself for falling apart slightly, knowing that she had been in much more difficult circumstances before and able to display strength. She didn’t know why this time was different, or why this young man’s well-being seemed to be a high priority for her.

“You must be hungry?” Bonnie asked, knowing that he had not eaten any full meals for a few days. She had been able to feed him some nourishing broth before leaving San Francisco, but that would not have sustained him until now.

Bonnie was waiting for him to answer, but instead he only gave a small nod in answer to her question. She was glad that at least they had found common ground.

She was fortunate enough to have some food ready a short time ago. Bonnie had tried to adhere to the doctor’s suggestions and requested the light broth with extra salt. It had quickly cooled away from the paddle-boat’s kitchen, but it was still warm enough for her patient.

Bonnie helped Joe sit upright a little more before seating herself on the chair again, ready to spoon the soup to him. Placing some on the spoon, she held it close to his mouth, waiting for him to sip at the liquid.

“It is good,” Bonnie said, trying to reassure him, but noting that he made no attempt at opening his mouth. She was surprised when he lifted his own hand, trying to take the utensil from her hand.

“Are you sure you are strong enough to do it on your own?” Bonnie asked. He did not answer, but persisted in trying to handle the spoon. “Alright, here you are.”

The young man took the spoon, spilling some of the contents, but shakily drawing the spoon to his mouth and drinking the small amount of soup that remained. Still he never said a word, and his gaze was still focused on the young woman helping him.

For the next few minutes, Bonnie held the plate for the young man who took a few mouthfuls of the soup, spilling a little each time due to the unsteadiness of his hand. At one point he had tried to hold the plate too, but a stern look from her and a forceful hold on the bowl and he had unsuccessful in getting her to let go.

Part of Bonnie was pleased that he was showing such a stubborn streak after waking from a serious head injury. But she could see that his body was far from healed and that he would still need a good deal of rest and good food to see him well on the road to recovery.

After the sixth spoonful, the young man’s hand trembled from fatigue and he allowed the spoon to sink back into the soup. Bonnie offered to help him some more if he was still hungry, but he had turned his head away, indicating that he would not let her feed him.

Bonnie got up and put the bowl to one side briefly, before helping him to lay down once more in the bed. His eyes grew tired and began to droop. With a heavy sigh and a wince from the pain in his head, he allowed his eyes to close and faded off to sleep.

Bonnie knew that Seline would want to know about Joe waking and eating a little, but decided against it. The young man had been coherent enough to be stubborn about his eating, but still weak from his injuries and the past week of tiring travel.

She could tell Seline the next time he woke. The doctor would be back tomorrow. For the moment, she had enough compassion to allow him to sleep undisturbed.

For the next few hours, Bonnie kept her constant vigil beside the young Cartwright’s bedside. At times she found herself dozing in the chair due to the tiredness she was feeling, but she didn’t dare ask one of the other men to take her place.

She had pondered what the next few days might hold in store for their young patient and themselves as Seline carefully put his plans into place. She would be rewarded almost immediately though, as Seline now came into the room.

“Not awake yet?” the man said, seeing for himself that Joe was sleeping on the bed.

“No, but his condition has not deteriorated any since this morning, which is a good thing,” Bonnie commented.

“A fortunate thing indeed,” Seline responded, though there was no feeling in his words. “I wish to speak to you and the men together for a time. There needs to be cohesion to our story for when Mr Cartwright does regain consciousness and when he begins to ask questions.”

“But the doctor said not to leave him on his own, especially with his head injury,” Bonnie said, hoping that she didn’t have to hear what the man was planning against Ben Cartwright.

“The young man seems comfortable enough to me,” Seline remarked, barely turning his head to see if his statement were correct.

“I shall not waste much of your time, but I need for you to be able to regurgitate some of the background information that I have drawn up about how he comes to be here and his connection to this boat.”

Bonnie could see that Seline had no intention of leaving her out of these necessary discussions, and taking a look at her patient and noting that his sleep seemed peaceful enough for now. She reluctantly went towards the door, intending to follow her employer. Somehow she would have to put on a convincing mask and be a involved in this colourful charade.

Bonnie watched as Seline closed the door behind her, and then deliberately allowed her to see him locking the door from the outside. Joe Cartwright was to remain his prisoner and he was not about to take any risks.


It was about half an hour after Bonnie had left the room, and late in the afternoon, when the young man began to show signs of waking.

The world was coming back to Joe very slowly. He couldn’t tell if he was still asleep or awake, somewhere in between he guessed. On that higher plateau between consciousness and being unaware of one’s surroundings.

He tried to let the gray veil lift a little before trying to think any more. His head felt as though it was stuffed with cotton wool and everything around him felt incredibly heavy. He was still trying to figure out where he was and why and why the hell he hurt so bad.

Try and think of simple things first he pointed out to himself. First, ‘what is your name?’ His mind was totally blank. Inwardly he frowned and tried to concentrate harder on remembering something so easy as his o his head at any moment.

‘Where are you?’ asking the second question. Again no answer came, only more confusion and anxiety. When he forced himself to take a breath and think of where he last remembered, all he could see was a bright light.

I don’t know who I am,” he said out loud to himself and immediately snapped open his eyes to look around at where he was. The panic in him started to rise to the surface again as he fought to keep control of his fear.

I don’t know who I am,” he repeated, allowing his eyes to settle on the room be found himself laying in. There was no-one else in the room, and there was no recognition or familiarity of his surroundings.

Joe tried desperately to think of who he was but still, the answer didn’t come and his head now began to throb from the efforts of remembering. He put a hand up to the area where he thought the pain was coming from, and winced, withdrawing his fingers as he felt where he had been struck.

As Joe opened his eyes a little more, he could hear voices talking to him. They spoke to him, but he did not understand their words, the sounds reminding him of people talking while he used to swim underwater.

Joe forced his body upright on the bed and lowered his legs over the bed, preparing for his feet to touch the floor. He kept telling himself that if got up and began walking around, he might be able to clear the cloudiness of his head and remember who he was and where he was.

With his back turned towards the door, and his concentration centred on the dizziness that was assaulting his sense of balance. The room pitched to and fro and he had to swallow many times to keep from vomiting. His legs were visibly trembling and, much to his chagrin, the dizziness began to get worse, threatening to betray his body and send him back into the oblivion he had just awoken from.

From behind…..

“What in the world are you doing out of bed!” came a thunderous cry from behind startling Joe badly. He grappled for the edge of the bed clothes and was barely able to keep from spilling onto the fall.

Because his back was towards the people in the doorway, Joe did not see Bonnie whisper to Seline.

“Remember what you said….,” Bonnie warned.

A grimace seemed to work its way across Seline’s face briefly. His look of disdain obvious to the girl, but quickly replaced by that of someone with concern for the young man’s welfare.

The elaborate charade that Seline had to carefully laid out and put together, was about to be tested.

Joe vaguely felt hands trying to help him stand, and with his legs still trembling slightly and his confusion growing, he found himself laying back on the bed.

“Are you alright, Joseph?” Seline asked, his voice seemingly full of concern.

Seline had released his hold on the young man once the bed was underneath him.

Joe could hear a voice talking to him, and he lifted his head in response.

“You have had a nasty blow to the head, Joe. You need to rest until the doctor says you have healed enough to get out of bed,” Seline commented, noting the confusion on the young man’s face, and doubting if any of what he was saying was being taken in.

“W-who…..,” Joe began, his voice barely audible, and his thoughts not coherent enough to complete the sentence.

Seline didn’t know whether the young man was asking about his own name or not.

“Your name is Joseph. Joseph Dubois. Do you remember?” Seline asked, inwardly smiling at the reaction Ben Cartwright would have at his son’s sudden change of surname.

Joe didn’t respond right away, and Seline was about to ask the question a second time, when the young man shook his head in a negative answer. Anybody not paying attention would have missed the action entirely.

Watching from the side of the bed, Bonnie couldn’t help but notice the apprehension on Joe’s face and the lack of recognition of his own christian name, even after being prompted.

“It doesn’t matter for now, Joseph. The most important thing now is to get you better and then we can work on you remembering who you are,” Seline said, playing his role to perfection.

“Bonnie will get you a little more comfortable and then get you something to eat, and then we can get the doctor to take another look at you.” Seline commented, moving towards the door and preparing to leave the room.

Joe turned his head towards the young woman, but he didn’t remember who she was either. Her expression was one of sympathy towards him and she gave him a small smile.

Seline was about to close the door behind him, when he decided it was best to plant the seed of doubt earlier, rather than later.

“By the way, Joseph. I know it is difficult for you to remember who you are, but we will take good care of you, son.” Seline left before any questions formed on the boy’s lips.

Joe’s brow furrow at the mention of the word ‘son’, but he didn’t know he fully comprehended what was being said to him. Was the man who left the room his father? Why couldn’t he remember who he was. Why couldn’t he remember who these people were?

His stomach growled, telling him that the idea of a meal was a good one. Bonnie went to prepare a tray for him, promising to be back in a few minutes.

During her brief absence Joe leaned back against the pillow and closed his eyes, a combination of the pain from his head and the frustration of not knowing who he or anybody else was.


Once the train pulled out of the station, Adam and Hoss found themselves in a similar position to the one they had been when travelling on the stage coach. Their father was worried and desperate for news about his youngest son.

Neither of them could think of the right words to say, but knew they would be there to support their father and help in anyway they could. They were worried about their brother Joe and what could be happening to him when they always seemed to be a step behind his movements.

The train had pulled out of the station, and fortunately for the Cartwright family, it was a little less crowded than when Seline and his party had travelled on it.

Ben sat with opposite his sons, so that he was not facing any of the other few remaining passengers. Adam watched his father’s facial expressions, noticing the tightening of his grip on the brim of Joe’s hat.

The hat had been discovered at the train station on pure chance, but Ben held onto it, somehow seeking to reconnect with Joseph. It wasn’t until Ben turned it over, examining it more closely that he found a darkened stain on the inside.

“Adam, Hoss, look at this!” Ben exclaimed, showing them the upturned hat, and pointing to the stain. All three drawing the same conclusion that the stain was most likely blood. It was a dark rusty colour, again the much lighter material inside.

The stain was dry, so there was no real way of knowing how long it had been there. Ben was convinced it had not been there when Joe had left the Ponderosa.

“What do you think, Pa?” Hoss asked cautiously. “You think that Little Joe is laying hurt somewhere?”

“I don’t know, Hoss. There are too many possibilities. It has only been by luck that we are even on this train to begin with. Joe’s hat was at the train station, but anything else that might have happened is pure speculation.”

“Do you think we should ask the conductor if he remembers seeing Joe at all?” Adam suggested.

“I don’t know, but I guess it is worth a try. We have no other clues apart from this train?” Ben said, his voice sounding dejected.

“Conductor!” Adam said to a man approaching the part of the carriage where they were sitting. He was wearing a navy blue uniform and wore a hat that identified him as part of the staff aboard the train.

“Can I help you, Sir?” the man asked. “Do you have your tickets please?”

Adam handed over the three tickets that had been purchased, the conductor looking at them and then back at the Cartwrights, seemingly satisfied.

“I was wondering if you could tell me, you see we are looking for my son and we have reason to believe that he may have travelled on this very train before,” Ben interjected before Adam could speak.

With the conductor standing in front of them, none of them noticed a middle-aged lady sitting on the opposite aisle, being able to hear the conversation that was taking place.

“Is he travelling here on the train with you today, Sirs?” the conductor asked, looking for another younger passenger he may have missed for ticket inspection.

“No, you don’t understand,” Hoss stated. “Joe ain’t here with us today. But we think he might have been on this train a couple of days ago?”

“He is not with you here?” the conductor remarked, appearing more confused.

“My name is Ben. Ben Cartwright. These two men are my son’s Adam and Hoss. We are on this train looking for my youngest son Joseph.”

“How do you know he was on this train?” the conductor asked. By now Adam and Hoss had deemed the man to be a slow learner, hampering their need for information that might help find Joe.

“You see, we found his hat at the ticket office back at the train station,” Ben continued the story.

“Excuse me gentlemen,” a voice said from behind the conductor. The man turned, enabling the Cartwright’s to see the middle-aged woman who was addressing them.

“I didn’t mean to interrupt and of course I didn’t mean to overhear what was being said, but I couldn’t help but notice you said something about a young man named Joseph.”

The fact that the woman called Joe by his name caught the Cartwright’s attention immediately. Ben turned to face her and was keenly listening to anything she might have to say.

The woman was well-dressed Ben wanted to be sure that he didn’t scare away the one witness who claimed to have seen his missing son recently.

“My name is Benjamin Cartwright, ma’am. I am from Nevada territory, travelling with my two son’s Hoss and Adam,” the Patriarch said as he respectfully removed his own hat and introduced his sons to the woman.

“My name is Mrs Estella Ruby Martha Hopkins. My husband is a very important man you know. Stewart Hopkins, perhaps you have heard of him?” the woman commented with pride in her voice.

“My apologies, but I am relatively new to this area,” Ben replied. The woman seemed a little perturbed that her husband’s importance had not been noticed, and most of all her own name.

“Can you start at the beginning please, ma’am,” Adam asked, hoping their might be further clues about confirming who had taken Joe and where they had taken him to.

The woman appeared happy enough to oblige and seemed to take particular pride in telling the men how unjustly she had been dealt with by the young porter a few days before:

“Well, you know it all started with that young man at the train station,” the woman began.

“You mean the porter at the ticket office, ma’am?” Hoss interrupted, trying to put a face to people the woman was mentioning.

“That young man needs a good talking to. The only thing he had eyes for on the morning I spoke to him, was for the pretty young woman in another compartment,” Mrs Hopkins scoffed.

“Can you describe the young woman, ma’am,” Adam asked, hoping for more clues. He and Ben exchanged glances when the woman began to describe the same woman that had been described in San Francisco in the stage coach by the young police officer.

“More than a coincidence, wouldn’t you say, Pa,” Hoss remarked. Ben nodded his head in agreement, but continued to listen to Mrs Hopkins story.

“I had asked for a seat in the upper-class carriage. They have sleeping quarters you know,” the woman explained, her voice changing to note the unsatisfactory treatment she had received. “But that ticket man refused to note my husband’s status and told me that the entire compartment had already been booked out.”

“The whole compartment?” Ben asked, his curiosity quirked, thinking that this could mean quite a number of people.

“Well, I didn’t see anyone at all, he told me that they were already aboard. Sounded all very suspicious to me. I even told him that I was going to make a complaint to the Station Master,” Mrs Hopkins answered. “And I will too,” she added, as though just remembering what she had said to Harvey Reynolds that day.

“Did you see a young man, possibly wearing a hat that looked like this?” Ben probed, holding out Joe’s hat for the woman to inspect.

The woman looked briefly at it, but took a disinterest in such things. She began commenting to the woman sitting next to her about a new subject of conversation, “You know that young people today just don’t show enough respect.”

“Please ma’am, my youngest son Joseph is missing, and we are desperately seeking information about him,” Ben pleaded, his voice showing his exasperation at the woman’s self-interest and focus on what she had witnessed.

The woman stopped in mid-sentence, looking at Ben for a moment, and noting the genuineness of his face. She noted there were signs of weary on the gentleman’s face, her high and mighty attitude softening as she gauged the man was seeking information about a missing family member.

Adam could see that Ben’s words struck a cord, and tried to encourage the woman further, thinking a little of the truth would help the cause. “We have reason to believe that something has happened to my younger brother. He might be travelling with those who would want to hurt him.”

“Oh dear!” the woman exclaimed, placing a hand over her mouth.

Ben and Adam exchanged brief glances, not knowing if revealing their suspicions about Joe’s kidnapping would hamper their efforts further, but Ben nodded slightly towards his eldest son in reassurance that the right methods were being employed.

“I apologize to you all, I didn’t know the matter was so urgent. I do remember that a young man stumbled into the carriage we were sitting in that day. At first I thought he must entered by mistake, but he barely walked to the first row of seats before I could see blood running down his face,” Estella said, pausing to think if she had noted anything else on the day.

“There was another man behind him, because I remember chastising him harshly about not watching someone who was injured enough on the train,” the woman continued.

“Did you see how the blood came to be on his face?” Adam asked grimly, the fresh information about Joe being injured bringing no comfort to his family.

“No, but he seemed to be off-balance, and had tried to take hold of the seat to stop himself from falling. He did fall on his knees, and I that is when those other men burst through the door and helped him up,” Mrs Hopkins recalled.

“The man admitted that the young man had injured himself a few days before and that they were travelling to New Orleans for some medical treatment.”

“Do you remember how many of them there were, ma’am?” Hoss asked. The information about New Orleans matched the destination of the train they were on.

“Possibly three. I can’t remember what they all looked like, but the first one…,” Mrs Hopkins replied, remembering what features she could. By the end of her description, Ben Cartwright was in no doubt that the man who had been on the train with his son was Marchant Seline.

“There was his father and two other men that helped the young man up,” Estella stated.”

“His father!” Ben said, the words barely able to get the words out. He could feel the anger in him rising, barely suppressed by his overall concern that Joe had been injured. He could almost feel physical pain in his heart, the result that someone else would claim Joseph as their son.

Ben and Joe’s relationship ran deeper than any river, and was etched in stone. A sacred bond that was built on trust and love and that should never be broken.

Ben now stood up, caught up in his own thoughts at such an outrageous statement. That Seline had recklessly taken Joseph in the first place from the people who loved him was bad enough. What he couldn’t believe or stomach in any format was that Seline would have the audacity to call Joseph his son.

“Are you all right, Pa,” Adam asked, seeing that Ben was disturbed by this piece of news. It didn’t sit well on Hoss or himself either that someone would deliberately tell such devastating lies.

According to the woman’s statement, Joe was injured, probably concussed by the symptoms she had described. Seline had taken