Chapter 39

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Chapter 39 

Aaron Harris had never intended to join the Patrol but when he had been caught stealing again, at the age of sixteen, he had been given the choice by the magistrate, continue the way he was going and end up in prison within the next couple of years or join the current intake of boys seeking admittance to the Academy. It was an option offered to young offenders, the idea being that they would benefit from the structure and discipline, the opportunity to make friends away from their current circle, give them a career for life if they succeeded. They had six months to prove themselves, before being accepted into the standard training program. It was hard work and about half dropped out or were expelled before the end of the six months. Those who lasted the distance were nearly always accepted. 

Aaron had hated the academic lessons, struggling to scrape by with a pass, but to his surprise, he had revelled in the physical classes, enjoying the rigorous fitness training and exercises. He had survived the six month probation and entered the Academy. He found he enjoyed being a Patrolman, if only his father had still been alive he thought he might have been able to put aside his burning desire for revenge, carried inside him like a hot coal. 

He couldn't remember a time when his father had actually lived with them, them being Aaron and his mother. He had always been a visitor, a wonderful larger than life figure who swept into their lives every few months bringing with him a whirlwind of excitement and attention. Hoisting the little boy proudly onto his big shoulders, making his mother smile, drawing them all into the warmth of his presence. He had brought presents too, perfume for his mother, toys for Aaron, but it had been the happiness and security which Aaron remembered. Then his father would go back to the stars, his mother would gradually slide back into the black trough of depression and he'd be left to look after himself again. 

But it had been worth it, Aaron told himself. He had known it was only temporary, his father was going to come home to live with them soon, he told him that every visit. "Look after your mother Aaron," he had said, ruffling his hair with one big hand. "It won't be for much longer, I'll be home soon before you know it, to look after both of you." 

He had only been six when his father was taken from them but he could still remember that. 

His mother had taken him to visit Tom Wilson in prison where the big man had explained earnestly that it wasn't his fault that he had left them, it was all the fault of someone called Jackson Murray. Aaron had felt shocked and frightened to see his father somehow shrunken, behind bars and the seeds of hatred had been sown in his heart, hatred towards the man who had reduced his father to this, who had stopped him from coming home. 

They had visited a couple more times that first year but then their neighbour Neil Harris had moved in with them, and that had put an end to the visits. He and Neil never got on despite the fact that he told him he was his new father, nor did he like the way he treated his mother but there wasn't much a seven year old could do about it. He had had to wait until he was sixteen before he could visit his real father and by then his mother had faded away, in the end dying of an untreated bout of pneumonia. Neil Harris lost no time in escaping a pile of debts for the mines on Burra. Aaron was left to look after himself, getting by as best he could in the streets of Wallaroo. 

On the day after his sixteenth birthday, he went to see his father. He was smaller and older than he remembered, no longer the smiling man who had carried him on his shoulders. Deep lines of discontent were etched into his face, ten years of prison life had taken their toll. Wilson took one look at the almost worshipful face in front of him and knew he could never tell Aaron the truth about himself, that he had always been an om and trying to hide it. In fact he had told his version of the story so many times he had difficulty remembering what was true and what wasn't. 

"I told you, it was Murray's fault. He wouldn't leave me alone," he told the boy. "I was lonely, missing your Mum and he took advantage of me. Then he betrayed me with Doyle. I couldn't stand for that and we got into a fight, but I didn't mean to kill him. It was an accident." He shook his head regretfully, "I was all set to transfer down to Moonta so I could be a proper father to you when that happened." In truth he had never really intended to move back to live with Janet, a few days every three or four months was as much as he had been able to take, but the years of wishful thinking had clouded his memory. Besides, he didn't want his son to think he had let him down, placated him with false promises. 

"Never mind Dad, you'll be out in less than a year and we can be together. I'll look after you," Aaron added manfully. 

Private Harris looked back at his younger self in a rare moment of reflection. Maybe if Wilson hadn't been knifed only two months before his release, everything would have been different. But he had, and someone had to pay. 

It had been sheer luck that he had been transferred to the Diell a month ago. When Weiss told him the story behind Farrell's policy on oms, neither man knowing at that stage that Farrell was one of the protagonists, every sense had gone on alert, that had to be his father they were talking about. He wondered if Farrell knew what had happened to Murray, where he was now. 

When he had a couple of days leave on Capella, he took the opportunity to check back over the records of his father's arrest and trial. Almost idly he added Farrell's name to the search, he must have been on board the Reval at the time of the incident, what position had he held on the ship? To his surprise, there was no record. He frowned in annoyance, he must have misspelt the name. He tried again, and again, under all possible combinations but there was no Farrell aboard the Reval. His interest piqued, he went searching for references to him elsewhere. 

He found that 'Jake Farrell' had apparently not existed anywhere until several months after his father's trial. 

It didn't take him much longer to discover that Jackson Murray and Jake Farrell were the same person. 

When the red haze cleared from his eyes, he went in search of his old contacts. By the time he reboarded the Diell, he had three tiny explosive devices tucked inside the heels of his boots, although as a permanent member of the crew, he was not expecting to be searched.

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