Part of USS Mackenzie: Mission 4 – Harris Transport Chronicles Chapter 1 (HTC1)

HTC 005 – An Old Friend

Opheim, Montana
1.4.2401 @ 0700
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“Easy, easy.”  Harris moved through the barn, checking on the horses as he went.  He’d been thankful that the house he’d built was far enough away from the Harris Transport Campus that it still felt isolated.  He owned three horses and there was a caretaker to manage the home while he was gone.  He had come to love the early morning rides as the sun crept up over the horizon in slow motion.  He secured the gates for the horses and was walking out as Juliet Woodward walked lazily down the path from the house, her civilian clothes giving her a comfortable air.  They’d discovered she was from Scobey, which had been saved with Harris Transport’s investment in Opheim.  “Good Morning, Woodward.”

“Mornin’ si…cap…damn, this is hard to figure out what to call you when I’m off duty and off the ship.”

Ambrose accepted the offered cup of coffee, “Let’s go with ‘Harris’.  It’s easier than calling me by my first name…that’d be awkward.”

She smiled in agreement, “I agree.”  She took a pull from her coffee, “So, Elizabeth Rachel McKee?”

A grimace, “Yes.  She’s up at the main house getting breakfast.  We’re meeting at her there to figure out…just what in the world we’re going to do.”  He looked at her, “You able to get her records from her current therapist?”

“We talked last night when I got in – he’s surprised as we are that she’s here.  He didn’t tell her that there was a need to confess anythin’.  He suspects she’s dealin’ with a heavy case of survivor’s guilt that’s been gettin’ heavier and heavier as the years have gone on.  Ten years is a long time to carry somethin’ like this.” He kicked at the ground, saying nothing.  She turned to him and waited for him to speak.  She raised her eyebrows, “You think there’s something to this?”

He put his hands up, “I know, I know.  I’ve dug through every report that was done in the incident.  I’ve reached out to those of us who are still alive.  Everything points to us being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  But…,”

She stared at him, “But….?”

“There’s something there.  I didn’t want to admit it ten years ago…but it started bothering me when I talked to my mom yesterday.  It was the wrong place, wrong time…but some of the stuff that, at the time, felt accidental…I’m starting to wonder if it was.”  He shrugged, “I don’t know.”

She stopped, and he walked back to where she stood, pointing furry gloves at him, “The most dangerous thin’ is hindsight and doubt.  Together they can form false memories, plant ideas that weren’t ever even considered, and do a really good number on you and whoever else is in the middle of it.  You need to be careful, sir.  She could be having a full-on episode of some kin’…and if she drags you in…I’m going to be jugglin’ two patients and not just the one.  That is not ideal workin’ conditions.”

Ambrose finished his coffee, “You have my word – I’ll be careful.  Let’s get on with it, shall we?”  She followed him down the snow-packed path to the main house.

 

Elizabeth McKee sat down on the couch in the main house’s living room, finding comfort in the soft seat and fluffy cushions.  Ambrose walked in, a woman following in his stead.  McKee stood, her smile cratering as she said, “Hey.”

Harris stepped forward and embraced her softly, “Hey Rach…or Elizabeth…or Liz..?” He pulled back, and she shrugged, “Liz works.”  He gestured to the couch, and she sat on one end while he took the other.  Woodward sat in the chair opposite them as he introduced her, “This is my ship’s chief counselor, Juliet.  I asked her to join us because I think she can help.”  He turned back to his former engineering officer, “I know this will be hard to discuss…but I need to know what pushed you to find me?”

McKee kept her attention on her hands, “I…I needed to confess to you that…I could have saved them.  I could have stopped it all from happening.”  She accepted the tissue box from the counselor, “I was on the night shift that night.  You’d put us to the task of ensuring the intermix chamber had been given a proper diagnostic, and an EPS conduit systems check.”

Ambrose nodded, “I remember.  The Chief wasn’t happy with the work that had been done before, so he wanted it done right.  Porter was pissed.”

She nodded, dabbing at the tears that threatened to flood her face, “Well…we did the intermix chamber, and it came out just fine.  But we didn’t do the EPS systems check.”

Her former assistant chief asked the obvious, “Why?”

She fell back into the sofa, sighing a deep and mournful sigh.  “I was tired.  I didn’t think we needed to redo it and Paula swore up and down she’d done it right.”

Harris growled and explained to Woodward, “That’s Gamma Shift Lead Paula Perena.  She was pretty worthless.  My chief was trying to find a place for her without sending her packing.”  He gestured to McKee, “Ra…Liz was just following what her shift leader was telling her.”

Juliette spoke up, “I read the reports, Liz.  Even if you worked with the EPS system…the Garrison Incident would happen no matter how hard you tried.”

McKee shook her head heavily, “Chief Porter would still be alive.  He was in main engineering at the console when it blew – the entire room killed him.  The EPS system wasn’t working right.  It hadn’t been for weeks.”

Woodward looked to Harris, who sighed in acknowledgment, “It wasn’t – we’d upgraded…almost refit the Garrison from stem to stern six weeks before the attack.  I wasn’t as good as I am now. And Chief was an old school engineer – Matthew Porter was 50 years old – he’d cut his teeth on ships like the Garrison.  We thought we had it licked.  The week leading up to it, we kept getting error codes and power reports that told us it wasn’t.  That’s why Porter was pissed, and that’s why he asked me to get Gamma Shift on it.”

Liz sobbed, “We didn’t do our jobs…and Porter died…we lost five crew that day.”

Ambrose disagreed, “Porter was stubborn.  He would have stayed in main engineering no matter what.  I tried to pull him out, but he ordered me to save who I could.  He was old school.  You didn’t kill him, Liz…he saved the rest of us.”

She shook her head miserably, “I don’t know if I can ever accept that, Ambrose.”

Harris smiled quietly, “We’re not going to process through this in an hour, Liz.  Let’s take it one step at a time, ok?” He nodded to his chief counselor, “Juliet’s been asking to take some horses out…and I got to follow up with some reports I missed.  You and her should take in the ranch.  Take some lunch with you.”

Juliet smiled wide as McKee looked on with worry, “Don’t worry, Liz.  I grew up an hour from here – horses are my second language.  Come with me.  You ain’t seen nothing like Big Sky Country.”  They left the room and Harris turned his attention to his PADD.  The dockmaster had gotten back to him.