Chapter XIV DECEMBER 19, 2000, CALAVICCI RESIDENCE, STALLIONS SPRINGS, NM Al perused his holiday ties, considering each one. It was still very early, around 5:30 am. There were several things that needed his attention today, and Al wanted to get as much done as possible before Sam woke. First, he'd stop off in Security and talk to Milo about Paul, and then see Donna and Verbena. And of course, stop in to see Elizabeth, if she was awake by the time Sam got up. With that in mind, Al had carefully chosen his wardrobe. Now that the initial meeting was over, his civilian attire shouldn't be a problem for the young nurse. Al had decided on the red slacks (his favorite), a white top, and a vest embroidered with mistletoe. He finally chose the bolo tie that sported a rhinestone Christmas tree. Adjusting the tie, Al glanced absently at the reflection of his sleeping wife in the mirror. An hour or so before he had planned to get up, Al was startled from a deep sleep. It wasn't a noise made by some other member of the family, moving about the house, and it wasn't a nightmare. It had been Beth, elbowing him sharply in her sleep. He didn't wake her. It didn't seem to him that she was having nightmares, so he settled back down, preparing to drift off to sleep. Just before he could do so, he remembered clearly the first time she had done that to him. It was the first time he'd slept in the same bed with her, after returning from Vietnam. Used to sleeping alone, Beth elbowed and kicked him in her sleep several times a night. Once, she even woke up momentarily startled to find him in bed with her. That memory jerked him back into wakefulness. Al lay there, in the darkness, marveling. The memories that had eluded him since March were *finally* surfacing. He resisted the urge to wake his wife. Instead Al held Beth close, just letting his mind drift, absorbing those precious memories until the alarm clock sounded. Closing the dressing room door quietly, Al approached the bed. He let her sleep; she'd need all the rest she could get with the grandkids around. There would be time enough later to talk with her. Al gently kissed her cheek. In the hallway, he could smell the scent of fresh coffee. Al grinned. Someone else was up already. The door that led to the guest-room-turned-nursery was firmly closed. Faith's bedroom door was half closed and the sound of Jack's snoring could be heard in the hallway. As Al passed the other bedrooms, he noted that most, if not all, of the others were up already. Sure enough, sitting at the table in the breakfast nook were Faith, Hope, and Alberta. Faith was having toast and juice, and Bertie had a glass of water. From the kitchen, Al could see Trudi preparing breakfast. "Hi, Dad," Hope said sleepily. Trudi appeared at his side with a travel mug filled with hot, black, coffee. He kissed her cheek in thanks. "Getting an early start this morning?" he asked, joining the others at the table. "Yeah. We want to be on the road by nine," Trudi replied before disappearing into the kitchen. "Everyone still has to shower and have breakfast yet. Those who are going, anyway," Bertie added, gingerly sipping her water. Al raised an eyebrow at her. "Why are *you* up?" "Kevin woke me when he got up to run." Ah. That would explain the missing members of the family. Vacation or no, the FBI agent and the four military officers worked out. "And you?" he asked Faith. "I thought you might be taking the advantage of the kids being zonked out to catch up on your own sleep." "Nah. Georgie, Sandy, and I are going to swim some laps when they get back." Trudi reappeared with two plates of scrambled eggs and toast; one she placed in front of Hope and the other was for her. "Nice vest, Dad. Want any breakfast?" "*You* designed the vest, Tru," Al gently reminded her, "and no, I don't want anything. Thanks anyway, honey." Alberta, sitting directly across from him, was wrinkling her nose and turning a strange shade of green. *The eggs*, Al thought. Bertie was trying, in vain, to keep her composure. Faith notices her sister's color. Alarmed, she said "Bertie?" Abruptly, Bertie bolted from the table, heading for the closest bathroom. She disappeared into the powder room. "What's with her?" Hope asked, puzzled, fork poised over her plate. Faith's expression was also puzzled, but only for a moment. She gazed shrewdly in the direction of the powder room. Something must have clicked for her, because she grinned. "Well," Faith murmured, "that would certainly explain her sudden interest in `Rora and Bruce." Al made no comment. *I guess she hasn't told them yet.* "Faith," Trudi was saying a bit impatiently, "what *are* you mumbling about?" "Faith," Al said before she could reply, "why don't you go check on her, okay?" Al's own stomach was feeling a bit queasy at the thought. Faith turned to look at her father. "Is she?" she asked meaningfully. Al nodded. Faith grinned at her two remaining sisters, both growing more impatient with the half-conversation going on around them. "Well, it looks as if *I'll* finally get to enjoy the thrill of aunthood," she informed them as she headed for the powder room. Trudi and Hope's faces lit up. Al could almost see Trudi's plans for Bertie's maternity wardrobe. They began bombarding him with questions he didn't know the answers to. "Sorry, kids, you'll have to ask Bertie. I'm afraid she didn't go into details. All I know is July 4th." He glanced at his watch, just as Bertie and Faith returned. He gave his girls quick kisses good-bye, feeling a bit guilty that he couldn't stay longer. Fortunately, the leap would be over with (he hoped) by day's end. Then he could spend as much time as he wanted with them. Provided Sam didn't reappear someplace else right away. Al passed Kevin and the other on the road to the project. They were about a mile from the project perimeter, jogging at a steady pace. Al tooted his horn at them as he passed. Upon arrival at the project, Al went directly to the Security office. He dropped the visitor pass request forms in the clerk's In-box and rapped on the chief's door. Milo Bowman sat behind his desk, coffee in one hand and bran muffin in the other. "What can I do for you, Admiral?" Al waved at him. "You can drop the `Admiral', Milo," he said, taking a seat across from the retired Marine major. "I'm here about the vacancy." Milo raised his eyebrows, amused. "I didn't know you were looking for a new job Al." Al smiled. "There are days, Milo, I wish I was. But I meant I've got a candidate for you to interview." "Oh? Who?" Milo had worked with Sam and Al at Star Bright. He knew who Paul was. "Paul Ryder." "Paul Ryder?" Milo was surprised and curious, but he knew better than to pursue the topic. "I can interview him first thing this afternoon." "Good," Al said, standing. "You know he'll have good references and he's qualified. Even has the appropriate clearance." "He may be *over* qualified for the job, Al," Milo commented, chuckling. Al left him to his breakfast and proceeded through the complex's offices, greeting the employees as he went. Before heading into his own office area, Al made a detour to the cafeteria to refresh his coffee. Sitting alone with a thoughtful look on her face was Sammie Jo. "Well, I see you've decided to work today," Al said, teasing. "It seems you will get paid after all." "I'm glad. I have bills to pay and . . . another mouth to feed." As if on cue, Ferdinand emerged from around the counter and wandered over to Al. Sammie Jo leaned over to pet her cat. The furball nonchalantly moved out of her reach. Al noticed a band aide on the back of her hand. "I see someone's not too happy with things," Al commented, drily. She sighed. "Yeah. He's been like that since yesterday morning. Funny thing. He hasn't changed the way he behaves around Paul. You'd think he'd be miffed with the person he perceives as invading his turf than with me. Cats. Go figure." "Speaking of Paul, I've just come from Milo Bowman's office. Paul's got an appointment with him this afternoon." "Thank you, Al. I hope he gets this job." Al smiled. "Me too." Once again, he found himself feeling good about her involvement with Paul. *She really needs to get away from work and live a little. She's turning into her father. Not,* Al reminded himself, *that it is necessarily a ~bad~ thing.* "Where's Bertie?" Sammie Jo was asking him. "Uh, at my place. Kevin and some of the others --" "Kevin and the others?" "Yeah. They're all here. They wanted to surprise me." Al decided to let Bertie tell Sammie Jo about the baby. "Anyway, Kevin and some of the others are heading into Santa Fe. Bertie will be over later today." Sammie Jo nodded. "Well, I should get back to work. By the way, nice vest." Al watched her walk toward the elevator with her cat. Halfway there, she turned around clearly distracted and worried. "Al, can I talk to you for a few minutes?" "Sure, kid. What's on your mind?" he asked her, inviting her to sit with him. Sammie Jo joined him, still a little hesitant. "First, I should tell you that Paul and I are married. We got married at Thanksgiving." Al was so stunned, he couldn't respond at first. He sat silently listening to her brief account of her whirlwind romance and her mother's plans for a big wedding. "Congratulations, sweetheart," he said, sincerely. "Save me a dance, will ya?" "There's more," she informed him, worried. "More?" He sat back. *Let me guess,* Al thought to himself, as she worked up the courage to voice her anxiety. *She's pregnant. Well, Sam, congratulations, you're going to be a grandfather.* Sammie Jo was watching his face, and realized he already figured it out. She gave him a questioning look anyway. "Honey, I have four daughters and two nieces. I pick up on these things." *Or I'm usually the first person they tell.* "Have you told Paul?" he asked her gently. Sammie Jo shook her head. "Well, you'd better. Today, in fact. And," he paused, wondering if Bertie would get mad at him for spoiling her news. He decided that Sammie Jo needed to hear it. "You're not the only one pregnant. Bertie is expecting, too. Though she'll probably kill me for telling you." Her face brightened and the traces of worry disappeared. He stood up and kissed her forehead. "Thanks, Al," she said, also standing. "No problem, kid. You just take care of yourself." *Well, change of plans. Donna needs to hear this,* Al thought, going for more coffee. Al entered the project level of the complex and noted that Ziggy was unusually quiet this morning. The computer hadn't spoken to him since he arrived. He wondered what he did to upset the computer. Al found Donna in Verbena's office. "Good morning, Al. Nice vest," Verbena greeted him cheerfully. "Thanks. Every female I've seen since I got here said the same thing." Donna smiled. "I like it too." They got right down to business first. The three of them discussed the leap, the Visitor, and Sam at great length. "Michael's attachment to Kenneth seems a lot stronger than I first thought when Ziggy provided me the information, Al," Verbena said at one point. "It's going to take a lot of convincing on Sam's part to get us through this." "Yeah. I know. I just hope he can tap into his own experiences with Tom to help him." "How much does he remember of the original time line, Al?" Donna asked. "When I first told him that Kenny's body was shipped back to the states, Sam told me he remembered when Tom was brought home," he replied. "Sam'll probably use me, and not Tom, as the way to get through to the kid. He'll just have to *act* like he doesn't know the truth." After a few more minutes of discussion, Al changed the subject. "Sammie Jo has become involved with Paul Ryder." "Yes, I know. I saw them yesterday," Donna replied, smiling. "I'm happy for her." "Oh, good, because they're married." "What?" Verbena exclaimed. "You're joking," Donna added. "No. She told me this morning." "How long?" Donna asked, frowning. Al gave them a condensed version of events. Donna relaxed a bit and the frown disappeared. "I'm surprised Abigail didn't hit the roof," Verbena commented. "If she'd been mine, I'd have a fit." "At least he someone we all know and trust," Donna added. "And she's pregnant." For a moment, both women stared at him, speechless. "Al," Verbena said, sounding a bit irritated, "next time, soften the blow." "Sorry." Donna sat, eyes wide, staring off into space. Her eyes moistened, and Al as sure she was about to cry. He kicked himself mentally for not being a little more considerate. "Are you all right, hon?" Beeks asked, gently taking her hand. "You're not mad at me, are you?" Al asked, worried. He took her other hand. She shook her head. "Actually, I'm very happy," Donna said, tearfully. "It's just that . . . you know . . . Sam won't. . . ." She didn't finish. There really wasn't any need to. Donna let go of Beeks' hand and reached for a tissue. Al allowed her to compose herself, before going on. "I want to tell Paul the truth about her." Whether she agreed with him or not, Al had every intention of telling Paul. He wanted Donna to have the opportunity of at least voicing her opinion on the matter and the chance to give her blessing. "Why?" "Because he needs to know. For the last nine months her memories, like mine, have been influenced by Sam's leaps. He needs to know what to expect." Donna was quiet for a moment. "Yes. You're right. He needs to know, especially with the baby on the way." "And for that reason, she needs to know too, Donna. But," he amended quickly, holding up his hand to stall her protests, "we can wait a while for that." Donna nodded, though Al wasn't sure which statement she was agreeing to. "Oh, and by the way, Faith and Jack are here with the kids. Faith'll be at the project later today." "Why didn't you tell me they were coming early, Al?" Donna asked, eyes dancing. Donna took great delight in her nieces and nephews, and their children. It was a pity that she and Sam didn't have any of their own. It was Sam's fault, he knew, and there had been times when Al had tried to be the voice of experience. Sam ignored him, naturally. Al would have ignored someone like himself, when he was younger, so he wasn't too upset or surprised by Sam's actions. Then Sam got stuck in time and it almost seemed that it was a good thing that Donna and Sam didn't have any kids. Would Sam have stepped into the Accelerator if he had kids? *Would I have gone for a second tour if I had kids?* Probably. On both accounts. "Sweetheart," Al said, standing up, ready to take his leave. "It was a surprise to me. Now if you excuse me, ladies, I've got to have a few words with Paul." Ann Marie was at her desk, typing furiously. He was amazed at her typing speed and was impressed with the fact there were very few typos in anything she did. Al, as Bertie once commented, was the poster child for voice-recognition software. He could type, but it was slow going. "Good morning, Ann Marie." She looked up and smiled. "Good Morning, Admiral. Nice vest." "Thanks. Uh, could you please contact Mr. Ryder and have him come to my office." She looked a little confused. "Sir, I thought Dr. Calavicci had returned to your residence last night?" "Yes, she did, but Paul didn't. I forgot to ask Sammie Jo where he was." Ann Marie's eyes grew wide. Obviously, the rumor-mill was slow this morning. Al went into his office and noted the already full In-box. "Ziggy?" "Yes," the computer snapped. "Anything new on the leap?" "No," she replied curtly. Al shook his head. "Let me know when you do. And Ziggy? Let me know when Elizabeth and Sam are awake, okay?" "If you insist," she snapped again. Al sighed. He had been lucky with his daughters, through their teen years. He seemed to be making up for it with Ziggy. "Sir," Ann Marie called from the outer office. "Mr. Ryder is on his way." "Thanks." Al thought about the bodyguard. He had to trust him. After all, he'd had trusted him with his own daughter's life. Adam Whitmore-Jones had loved his granddaughters to the extent that, as theorized among those who had known him, he had lived as long as he had just to see them all grown up. Bertie had been the favorite. This being the case, Adam had developed a healthy dose of paranoia about her safety, particularly when third parties (such as members of Congress), tried to run her life. That, in a nutshell, was how and why Paul Ryder came to be her bodyguard. Now Al would entrust Sam's only child to him. Ten minutes later, Paul Ryder appeared in the door way. Ann Marie showed him in and closed the door. "You wanted to see me, Admiral?" "Yes. Have a seat. I've talked to Milo Bowman in Security. You have an interview with him. Check with the secretary for the time." "Yes, sir. Sammie Jo told me. Thank you." Al waved him off. "No problem." He paused, choosing his words carefully. "Did she tell you anything else this morning?" Paul's usually expressionless face brightened. "Yes, Admiral, she did." Father mode immediately kicking in, Al gave the bodyguard a stern look. "Don't you *dare* hurt Sammie Jo Mr. Ryder, or you'll have me to deal with." It wasn't an idle threat, and Al was pleased to see the younger man took it seriously. "Paul, I'm not going to preface what I have to say to you with the words, `can you keep a secret', because I know you can. However, what I have to tell you is only known to a handful of people and Ziggy." He paused before going on. "It's about Sammie Jo." "I know about her mother's family history, Admiral." Al gave a small sigh and stood. "Not the whole story, Paul," he informed him, beginning to pace. "Do you know what we do here, at the project? Do you understand what happened to Dr. Beckett?" "Yes, sir. He travels in time, changing individual lives, usually for the better." His tone was plain and simple. Al wasn't surprised by it. He imagined that the bodyguard had seen may amazing things during his association with Bertie. "Right. Well, Dr. Beckett leaped into Wil Kinman." Al looked him right in the eyes as he spoke. It didn't take Paul very long to understand the meaning behind those words. It registered on his face. "She's Sam's daughter. Now you know why I'm concerned. She is *very* special, Paul. There's no one else like her." The bodyguard nodded, speechless. Al continued. "Donna, Tina, Gushie, Verbena, Beth, Ziggy, and I are the only ones who know. Sam found out when he leapt into Abigail's lawyer. He might remember someday, but for the moment, he doesn't." Paul managed to compose himself enough to speak. "Thank you, sir, for telling me this." "You're welcome, but there's more." *Boy, am I on a roll today or what?* "More?" He sounded as if he found that extremely impossible. "Yeah. Just recently, since March, she's been affected by the shifts in history. Like me. Sometimes, she remembers the old pasts and sometimes she doesn't. I think you need to know this. It's possible that history could change, and you never marry her. She'll remember you did. Of course, that would also mean you and I never had this conversation, so you'd be at a loss. Follow me so far?" Paul nodded, rubbing his temple. "Yes sir." "Good. It could also change to where, one day, she wakes up with you at her side and she doesn't have a clue as to *how* you got there." Paul breathed in sharply. He looked at the admiral in amazement and awe. "How do you handle it? Never knowing from one day to the next, what will be different when you wake up?" Al shrugged. "I just do. Mostly, I don't think about it. Sam's actions don't always have an impact on the project. But when they do, believe me, it's rough. Especially if it's an unpredicted or unexpected change." *Like Beth and the girls.* "How . . . how was it . . . what was it like . . . when Sammie Jo . . . appeared . . ." "I think I know what your asking. In her case, Abigail had gone to the electric chair on June 30, 1984. Traumatized by her mother's death, she ended up writing manuals for a small computer company. When Sam leaped into Stanton, Abigail's lawyer, we already knew Sammie Jo existed and we knew there was a very high probability that she was his daughter. In fact, Ziggy predicted Sammie Jo would end up on our staff if Sam was successful. I was prepared for that change." Paul was silent for a moment. When he spoke, his voice was under control, though his face still held amazement. "Will you ever tell her the truth?" Al sighed, sitting back down behind his desk. "She's close to Wil, and I couldn't do that to her. But with the baby on the way, I think she should be told. Donna's the one who'll have to make the final decision, since she's Sam's wife." They were both silent again. The bodyguard was lost in thought, and Al wanted to give him the opportunity to ask more questions if he had any. After a minute or two, Paul stood up, completely composed. "Thank you, sir. For everything." "No problem. Oh, and congratulations." Once he was gone, Al slumped back in his chair. *What a way to start a day,* he thought, rubbing his temple.