The Center Cannot Hold, Things Fall Apart
by Karen

Harper smirked, his face stretched into a mingled expression of delight and excitement. He held the wafer thin document underneath the micro-reader and concentrated on the schematics. So focused was his concentration so that he was all but oblivious to the ringing of the communication systems in the background.

As far back as he could remember Seamus Harper's life up until his stint on the Andromeda, had mainly consisted of a series of mistakes and bad luck, and get-rich-quick schemes, and usually it was due to his own intelligence and uncanny kind of luck that allowed him to land on his feet no matter the heights he insisted on jumping off from.

In the back of his mind, Harper, thought it had more to do to knowing the right questions to ask and knowing where to look than luck that had allowed him to stumbled across the information that he had stored in his own personal data file. The ship's avatar, Rommie, may be one of his prouder creations, but that was different. "It's about time the Universe dealt me a good hand. Face it Harper, the Universe hates you. Deal with it." he muttered under his breath. All that was about to change, or he would know the reason why.

At that second the face of the ship's captain filled his computer's monitor screen.

"Yeah, Boss," Harper acknowledged the older man.

"Mr. Harper, report to the Command Deck," Dylan replied, "I'll go into more detail on the mission I have in mind once everyone is assembled. Is Mr. Ryan there with you?"

"Sure thing, Boss. Be right there." Harper glanced around the crowded but spacious Machine Shop, noticing that Ryan was over by the opposite wall fiddling with a handful of exposed wires, a technical manual spread open on his lap. 'Yeah, he's here.

"Bring him with you." Dylan ordered.


Standing at the helm, a calm, serious expression on his face, Dylan Hunt regarded each of person as the filed onto the command deck. The hologram of the ship's holographic avatar flashed onto a nearby computer screen to his right. Rommie, the ship's physical avatar, stood beside it, a bemused expression on her face.

Dylan, his arms folded over his chest and his feet braced in a wide- legged stance couldn't help but wish certain members of the crew could adopt a bit more of something resembling military discipline, but you couldn't have everything.' Dylan thought to himself. "Now that you're all here. I have an announcement to make."

"What we have here is a two-pronged opportunity to work towards building a new commonwealth. It will require a great deal of work, especially when it involves diplomacy."

"I've got a bad feeling about this," Beka muttered under her breath.

"I don't like this," Methos grumbled.

"No one's asking you," Richie said.

"Mr. Harper, you will accompany Trance and Mr. Ryan on a good will mission. You'll take the Maru and while there, I expect all of you to be on your best behavior. It wouldn't do to lose a potential Commonwealth charter member because of a social faux pas."

"Not a problem," Harper replied, flashing a toothy grin.

"I wish you would be serious for once," Beka sighed.

"I was," Harper smiled.

"It always to trust your instincts," Tyr announced in a snide tone as if it purest wisdom extract fully expecting the blond human woman to turn on him in mingled fury and exasperation, in fact he had been counting down the seconds mentally while Captain Hunt had been detailing the good will mission to other crew members.

"Why you over-grown, muscle bound, smug piece of Nietzchiean trash, what do you think has kept me alive and kicking all these years. My good looks?"

"Valentine, stand down," Dylan ordered, deftly stepping in between the two verbal combatants.

Methos stared at the deck plates below his fate and wondered if his being on board this ship was some cosmic joke and that he would wake up to find himself back in his customary booth by the window in Joe Dawson's jazz bar in Seacouver, Washington. When the noise of shouting voices had simmered down to a loud conversational roar, Methos found his surroundings and his circumstances unchanged. "Too much to hope for, I'm just glad this big ship is equipped with beer."


Several days later

The place was packed. Harper and Trance counted more people crowded into one room: they sat the bar counter, crowded around tables, or where there were no seats to be had, stood against the walls or buffet tables, sipping various drinks and made desultory conversation.

Harper shook his head, and in the back of his mind, he had to admit when Dylan Hunt had first announced and conscripted them into joining his crusade about restoring the Commonwealth 300 years after its fall. Harper thought the man was either brilliant optimistic, or brilliantly insane. Still, here they all were, swept along in Dylan Hunt's wake.

Now, Trance, Richie Ryan and he were on a good will mission, handing out flowers to the locals. Some things would just refuse to surrender to either common sense or logic.


Meanwhile a ship that could generously be described as geriatric approached a docking bay ringing the planet.

Its pilot cut its engines and signaled the space port authorities to be cleared him for a landing. A green light on his control panel lit up and the pilot acknowledged the clearances with a quick rap on a button and green light signal.

The pilot was a Nightsider, and he did not allow a small thing like outdated technology and electronics to stop him from obtaining his objective. Success and satisfaction would go hand in hand and would not skip a beat, or perhaps half a beat. Gerentex knew what he was after, and he knew what he wanted from his quarry. Harper did not stand a chance. If Gerentex had been aware that the Andromeda's acting chief engineer was not alone on his mission, perhaps the Nightsider would have adjusted his plans accordingly, but he didn't and it was not about to stop him now. He had waited too long and nursed his grudge towards one of his former business associates. He needed the human. "Now all I have to do is find him."


Gerentex slid through the crowd, slipping in out like a shadow, trying to avoid detection. It's not that who couldn't stand exposure to bright light; it was just easier to use darkness as a shield and a natural defense. One, it was a natural instinct common to nightriders and two it would also make it easier to sneak up on the unsuspecting human engineer.

About an hour later Gerentex found Harper, but he was not alone. He had the girl, Trance Gemini with him, whom he had believed to be decently dead, along with another human who's very proximity made the short hairs on the nape of his neck tingle. 'A mystery for another time," he thought. "Now how do I play this?" he muttered aloud. "Lady luck must be smiling on me today. What in the name of the Abyss are they doing here? Handing out flowers? Some things just do not make any sense."

"Some one's coming," Richie muttered to Trance. Richie had wanted to talk with Methos about something that had been bothering him for a while, namely if they were the only two Immortals in this corner of the galaxy, but it was either his overly sensitive instincts that warning him of danger, or he really was going crazy.

"It's just your imagination," she replied

"It's probably just another person wanting to take part in the new commonwealth celebrations, Chill, Richie," Harper said.

"I'm cool," Richie replied, but, he words trailed off when a lanky dark shadow leapt from the recesses of an upright statue, blitzed past his startled form and made a grab for Trance's billowy, sleeved arm.

"I thought you were dead," Gerentex blustered, drawing a knife on her. His instincts were screaming at him to correct his earlier mistake in not finishing her off properly.

Trance smiled, a narrowing of her lips, "Standard response," she snatched her arm out of his cold grip. "The reports of my death were greatly exaggerated."

"That's a good one, Trance," Richie remarked, giving the tall, lanky and dangerous looking alien the once over. "Do you mind if I borrow it sometime?" Richie added, giving Trance a shaky but confident grin.

"If you wish, Mr. Ryan," Trance replied, her smile becoming a shade warmer. "But where are my manners, or have we gone past the formal introductions? "Gerentex, you already know Harper, this Richie Ryan. Richie, Gerenetex."

"Uh, pleased to met you, I guess," Richie stammered, hands a bit clammy from nerves and firmly shook the nightrider's gloved hand.

"I don't care about any that, although I must admit I am curious how you managed to survive a point blank laser blast, but that isn't what I'm here for." Gerentex replied, dropping the human's hand and turning back to face Harper.

"It isn't. Look if it's money you're after for stiffing you on that last salvage assignment?" Harper began. "You need help with that hunk of junk you call a ship. There are other competent engineers in the galaxy, you really don't need me. Although I am the best."

"Shut up, human," Gerentex growled. "Actually, I need your help." Gerentex growled each word out as if he were chewing the sheels of a night sider's favorite delicacy, scallops in a heavy, spicy sauce, and found it a bad mix.

"What do you want?" Richie demanded, impatient, irritated.

"What I want should not be discussed out in the open like this. Let's go someplace private where we can talk," Gerenetex said.

"This had better be worth it," Harper muttered, and followed Gerentex to a shadowed alcove draped in heavy magenta and black drapery, Trance sniffing at the heavy layer of dust weighing down the fabric. Richie glanced around the crowded reception hall, checking to see if anyone took unwelcome attention to them or was tailing them. movements "Common sense, or I am being paranoid?" he thought to himself. "We're probably in more danger from this lanky alien then we are from any of the dignitaries here.'


"Damn, I know I put in here before I landed, give me a moment. I have something to show that will blow your tiny minds." Gerentex smirked.

"Wait a nanosecond, I resent that remark!" Harper spluttered.

"Harper, let it go," Richie whispered.


"If you'll recall that last salvage operation set back quite a ways." Gerentex pulled out a genuine leather book with dog-eared pages and cream paper. Flipping it open to a the first few pages, he held out so everyone in the little group could get a good long look at the hand written scrawled signature of the book's Hasutari."

Harper glanced at Trance, then shuffled his feet and glared at the nightsider. "If this is a scam, it's the lamest one I've ever seen. You can't be sure this is the genuine article."

"Oh, it's all right, I checked with the Pereseid authorities."

"It's a map along with a diary of some guy named Hastauri, so what?" Richie said.

Trance intercepted the irritated Gerentex who was about to give Richie a swat, "Cut him some slack, he's a little rough around the edges, and he never heard of any of the local galactic legends before."

"What planet is he from? Some place where everyone keep their heads in the sand like a bloody ostrich?" Gerentex griped and then agreed to do as Trance asked, turning to Richie. "Try to follow along as best you can, kid." It's a diary, one of collection of nine. Sifting through the clues, you'll find that map will point towards the coordinates in slipstream that will lead to the lost planet of Tarn Vedra."

"Why us?" Richie demanded.

"Harper and the purple girl used to work for me," Gerentex.

"I am so gonna regret this," Richie sighed.

"Whoa," Harper whistled. "Do you what that means?" Talk about the next big score."

"Yes, " Trance nodded. "It's a valuable bit of knowledge. We should find the remaining volumes in the series. In the wrong hands knowledge of this sort could be very dangerous."

"We'll need money. Lots of money." Harper interrupted. "The El Dorado Drift. I know a place, at least I've heard of a place where we can get the cash we need and no questions asked," Harper breathed air in through his nose and darted a smoldering look at the Nightsider. For his part Gerentex ignored the look and darted a gloved hand into a worn-looking rucksack he carried slung over his shoulder, drawing a worn, rusted handgun and thumbing the trigger button.


Richie was just as happy to have arrived at their destination as he was not to have to listen to Harper and Gerenetex verbally spar with each anymore. He didn't much care for whatever bones of contention the pair had. It was painfully obvious the two had met before and hot not parted on terms that were mutually beneficial.

Richie's train of thought cut out when Trance signaled from the navigator's seat that they were on the approach run to a place called Hernando De Soto Casino in the El Dorado Drift.

Richie had been to more than a few bars, casinos, and night clubs, and was painfully reminded of the time he had tried to bass himself as a high-stakes big time gambler in Paris. That was had been entertaining for a while until he had fall head over heels for a gorgeous blond French woman. Things only began to go a bit off kilter when it turns out his act had been convincing enough to fool the woman and her accomplice that really was what he appeared to be. Then had drugged him, stashed him into a car, and held him hostage for his millions. The woman had been trying to safe her family estate from a greedy real estate developer. If it hadn't been for Duncan Macleod, Richie would not have made out of that one with his clothes, his dignity or his life intact.

Things worked out for well for all concerned, the thing that saved the family estate was the fortunate and completely unlooked for bonus of centuries old wine cellar, bottles intact.

'Hell', Richie thought, some of that classic vintage was probably as old the Scottish immortal himself, no wonder he recognized its value right away. Aloud he said: "Here I am, stuck in the future, frozen at early 20-something. and I've only been Immortal for what, by my reconciling would amount to ten years, if you don't factor it's about what several decades have passed between the 21st century and whatever year it is now. Damn it all, time-travel makes my head hurt."

"You are a very peculiar human," Gerentex commented over his shoulder to Ryan..

Richie spluttered the mouthful of his shot glass of a drink that tasted like vodka and beer, wiped his mouth on his sleeve and spent a few seconds getting his back pounded by a solicitous Harper. "Yeah, I get that a lot," Richie replied when he could speak again.

"Richie, take a deep breath. We'll be fine, just play it close to the vest and act natural and everything will be fine," Trance said.


Hours later, and a streak of phenomenal luck on Trance's every throw of the die, they group had managed to pile a more than respectable stack of money. More than Harper had ever managed to get his hands on. The small group, stood in flat-footed awe as every die cast, and every card turn came up a winner. Richie helped himself to another champagne glass.

"Like the old saying goes, 'in for a pound, in for a penny. Let it ride, Trance." Richie grinned and finished off the remaining liquor in his glass in one swallow.


"You know, I'm new to this part of the galaxy and everything, but tell me, it's not a good thing when a casino's security people come after you at full speed ahead. Am I right?" Richie yelled to make himself heard over the whining of the Eureka Maru's powering up its engines.

Harper couldn't hear for a moment then adjusted his position in the pilot's seat. "Don't worry, it's not big deal."

"Did we or did we not win our jackpots fair and square?" Richie added.

"Uh, more or less," Harper replied.

"Oh, I feel so much better now," Richie griped, settling and double- checking how secure his seat belt , the harness automatically looping over his torso and his shoulders almost fusing the plastic of the seat's back. Hoping against hope that the cargo ship was sturdier and capable of withstanding any amount of punishment than it looked.

"Set it to autopilot," Gerentrex said, "Do it, and none of your smart- ass remarks, Harper."

Harper settled into the pilot's seat, the computer's voice coming in an he followed the programmed list of pre-flight checks automatically. He had just hit the last sequence of buttons on the console when he glanced out the view screen and realized that a small group of ships marked with the casino's security forces and a ship he recognized and wished he didn't shadowed their flight path. "Damn it!"

"We need to leave right away," Trance said, settling herself into a passenger seat and buckling the harness restraint into place. "We're attracting an undue amount of attention and I would like to keep the knowledge of where we're going to a minimum."

Something was bugging Richie, like an itch that he couldn't quite reach, more than just the obvious mutual hatred flowing in waves from Harper and Gerentex.

Trance. Ordinarily, the purple skinned girl was sweet and kind, and gentle. It seemed like nothing bothered her. However, that last several jumps in the slipstream. Richie was getting better at figuring on the mechanics of navigating through the slipstream, but it still left a hollow feeling in his stomach.

Richie knew it wasn't his over active imagination that made him believe that the wrangling was getting to Trance as well.

"Relax, I know a shortcut to the Antares system," Harper yelled over his shoulder, his attention focused on maneuvering the Maru away from the docking bay and the artificial gravity that wrapped around the casino like a bubble. "We'll able to lose them."


"I told you so," Harper smirked.

"I hate it when you're right," Richie muttered to Harper. You crow about it and make everyone within earshot miserable."

"We're here, that's what matters," Harper replied.

"Would you shut up," Gerentrex growled. "I'll need to check the diary and orient our position." He stood on the summit of a sheer mountainous terrain. The sky above was a clear, cloudless robin egg's blue. To their left the vista opened out in a series of mountains of granite and sandstone. They were not here to admire the view.

"We need to go down." he grunted and stashed the diary in his ever present rucksack.

Richie darted over to the edge of the drop and looked down. "How to do you propose to do that? It's a forty foot drop, on the outside."

"We came prepared." Trance added. "I brought the climbing gear from the Maru and what I could scrounge up. We can rappel down and tie ourselves together."

"I'm impressed," Richie shook his head at Trance's remarkable foresight.

"Indeed," Gerenetex agreed. "Just remember one thing, human, 'you fall and I'm the last person who will pick you up again."

"Lovely," Richie griped. "Just so we're clear on where everyone stands on the issue" he said, accepting the end of the rope and his climbing gear. He waited till everyone had the equipment in place, the metal head of the grappling hook rammed into a nearby solid granite outcropping.

Gerenetex took the lead, Trance in the middle, Richie next and Harper bringing up the rear. The descent into the drop-off was accomplished in silence, swinging out and with mingled huffing and puffing of breath in their lungs. Until Gerenetex called out that his booted foot had hit the bottom.


The bottom was a wide cave with various entrances and exits looping out in circling tunnels carved out through centuries of action from a dried up river bed and natural erosion. The place smelled like hot concrete and mold. Rock formations thrust up from the tunnel floor or hung down from the ceiling.

"Let's go." Trance said and marched towards the exit to their immediate left.

"As good a direction as any," Richie shrugged and followed her.


The air inside the caverns kept to a steady 70 degrees, and while a bit stick was breathable, which was something to be thankful for. Walking in single file, sometimes bumping into each other as the passageway narrowed to where it barely passable, Richie wondered why anyone in their right way would choose this barren chunk of asteroid as their final resting place for either their body or their most prized possession. Richie glanced around at the rocky crevices, the jagged stalactites thrust out from the ceiling and aloud he said, "Unless he wasn't given a choice."

Gerentex, who brought up the rear of the tiny column glanced at Richie and scrambled around him to ensure that he did kept in visual contact of both Trance and Harper, given how narrow the passageway was, and where Richie stood, trying to catch his breath, when they collided, sent both sprawling to the floor of the tunnel. Richie's leather jacket front tore at waist level and the hilt of his 17th century French rapier slid out from underneath, rattled away from him and came to a stop at Gerentex's feet.

Gerentex recovered first, bending over to pick up the weapon. Richie tried for offended innocence and held out one hand for the weapon to be returned.

"Why are you carrying three inches of steel on your person?" he demanded of Richie.

"I'm a collector," Richie replied.

"Whatever floats your boat, but I've told you before Ryan, you are a very peculiar human." Gerentex left the awkward situation and ran to catch up with the others.

Harper kept walking straight ahead, looking neither right nor left, his head bent in concentration on the open diary that contained the map and missed the entire incident.


"I think I found something!" Trance shouted, scrabbling at the face of a rocky wall where with a metal pick with a smooth handle and tines like those of a trident. Light welled from an unknown source, growing brighter by slow increments. The light reached a point where it so bright that it forced everyone in the small group to cover their eyes with their hands and peek through their fingers. Trance dropped the rock pick and reached inside the crack to pull out a battered black leather volume. Richie moved forward so he get a better look: he could have sworn he'd seen that particular design on the cover of a book before. A trefoil, and a smaller interior circle surrounded by twelve stones making up a larger circle. It took a few seconds to recall where he'd seen it before when it hit him. 'Dead ringer for the cover of a Watcher Chronicle.' he thought to himself.

"About time," Harper shouted back to Trance.

"Possession is nine tenths of the law, this is a joint venture," Gerentex snarled, "Whatever we find belongs in part to me, as we agreed."

"Whatever," Richie shrugged. He didn't give a damn what the ferret- faced alien wanted as long as everyone got off this rock in more or less one piece.

"I'm with Ryan," Harper agreed. "Shall we take a look at what we came all this way to find?" Trance handed the volume to Harper, and cracked open the cover, the leather creaking in protest. The first few pages where blank or covered with illegible script in the Pereseid language, after all Haustari had been a Pereseid, even if he was considered insane. The following pages contained entries that were mostly covering details of his life right up until the time of his exile. Harper wasn't interested in those, what they came for were the entries containing specifics on how to navigate to slipstream to the hidden home world of the old Commonwealth, Tarn Vedra. Harper flipped through the pages with some eager anticipation, trying not to damage the diary any more than it already was.

"Here we are, "Harper beamed and handed the volume back to Trance, who held it out so everyone clustered around in the group could get a good look at the coordinates. Trance's hand covered up a small footnote at the bottom of the page where no one else could see it, a line about containing a single name with an explanatory caption. If she moved her index finger out of the way the name would read: 'Methos.'

"We have the coordinates," Gerentex muttered, "Let's go," he added making a quick snatch to secure the volume for himself.

Before anyone could track his movements Harper had moved out the circle and was holding twin double-barreled laser blasters on the alien. "Uh, uh, somehow that's not gonna fly, pal. We've gone this far with you, but no one's taking that information back home except me."

Richie darted a quick glance at Trance and back to the tableau of the two men facing off with each other and wondered if he should get involved. Trance, with a barely detectable negative shake of her head, told Richie to stay out of it.

"You are out of line, human." Gerentex bent down and within a half second had come up with a wickedly sharp bone-handled knife.

"Not when I'm the one holding the better weapon." Harper's itchy trigger finger put pressure on the firing mechanism. He had never liked the Nightsider and he didn't like him any better now with this reaccquaintance.

"Do not be too sure of that. The knife swept low and in and grazed across the exposed skin of Harper's left wrist, and the gun wavered in its deadly aim level with Gerenetex's chest.

"I can't understand what you hope to gain by doing this."

"We both agreed if this scheme paid off it would make us rich."

"Never agreed to split the profits."

"Would you really kill me over a diary."

"It's not the diary, it's what it contains."

"This isn't like you, Harper."

"How do you know that?" Maybe you don't know me as well as you think/

"Well, if you feel that killing me is the only way to get what you want, go ahead and do it. What are you waiting for?" the other taunted his opponent.

Harper sweated, and it was not just from the humid warm temperature of the cavern. He could feel the moisture of his sweat trickle down his back and make his shirt stick to his back. His knuckles were turning white from how tightly he gripped the laser gun.


Trance leaned forward arms folded over her chest a distant look in her eyes. "Stop it! Both of you!" All right, boys, let me put in terms that you'll understand. Unless you both stop this petty bickering, I will not hesitate to kill you both."

"What about Dylan?" Harper stammered, his hand with the gun in his sweaty grasp falling limp to his side.

"Dylan, will understand, and I'll get away with it because I'm cute," Trance smirked and somehow Harper knew she was not trying to pull his chain, no joke. Trance was being deadly serious.

Admittedly he had only known Trance for about a month and he knew very little about her, but she had effectively put an end to Harper and Gerentex's wrangling and she hadn't really done anything. Just a matter of timing and a verbal parry that silenced both men.

"Let him go, Harper," Trance added.


"Because," Trance smiled.

"Because it's you," Harper replied, putting his gun back in its holster and with a mortified goofy expression cross his face. "I honestly don't know what came over me. Turning his attention back to the nightsider. "I'm sorry. No hard feelings."

Gerenetex did not respond in any way, just considered the cracks in the tunnel floor underneath his boots, and looked up. "If I must." then stalked and walked away back the way they had come. "I expect to be dropped off back at the casino where my ship is docked, from there you may go you way and if I ever see you again, it will be too soon."

"He apologized."

"That's an apology," Richie gasped.

"For him, it is," Trance replied.

"Well, he has the right idea," Richie said. "The sooner we get back to the ship, the better."

"I assume you mean the Andromeda and not the Maru?"

"Whatever," Harper replied.


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