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?”


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.


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…………!

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…………………………


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.