Chapter VIII DECEMBER 18, 2000, PROJECT QUANTUM LEAP, STALLIONS GATE, NM Sammie Jo filled Ferdinand's water dish with fresh water. She sat it down on his mat and gently scratched his head. He still hadn't forgiven her yet for abandoning him the night before. She gave up trying to win her cat over and turned to finish getting ready for work. She absently ran her brush through her hair, and yawned. *Oh, I'm going to be a lot of use today,* she thought ruefully. The door chimed, startling her out of her reverie. Without prompting, Ziggy announced, "Dr. Calavicci." Sammie Jo's heart sank. She thought about ignoring the doorbell, but thought better of it. Ziggy would open the door for Alberta without hesitation. Sammie Jo opened the door for her diminutive friend, and Bertie entered. Ferdinand, after one glimpse at the newcomer, bolted under the bed. Without any preamble, Bertie said. "I've been to the Waiting Room." Sammie Jo's eyes widened. "You were *where*?" "Waiting Room. You know, the room where the Visitors wait." After that bit of sarcasm, Bertie brought her friend up-to-date on her nocturnal activities, thankfully not even bringing up the subject of Sammie Jo's whereabouts. "The poor woman thinks she's in a nut bin. Anyway, I'd just come from telling Mom and Dad about it when we ran into each other earlier," she said, concluding her narrative. Sammie Jo waited for a sly comment or an arched looked but neither came. Highly unusual. "Are you ok? I mean, you sound as if she'd upset you and I thought you'd be uncomfortable about Sam leaping into your mother." "She did. I cried my eyes out. Do you know what it feels like to be telling the absolute truth, and have your *mother* call you a *liar*?" She sighed. "But I'm ok. I understand her position. And for being uncomfortable, well, Sam wouldn't do anything to change Mom and Dad's future, if there's nothing to change, right? I mean, their story has a happier ending so far, than anyone would have thought at the time." Sammie Jo nodded, understanding. She studied the younger woman. Sammie Jo believed her, when she said she'd gotten over the incident in the Waiting Room, but Bertie still looked a little distracted. "Was your father mad at me?" "No. I assured him, it didn't matter who had gone in. The moment someone tried to reassure her about him, she'd have called them a liar." She paused, and the look Sammie Jo had been expecting from the moment the door open, spread across Bertie's face. "In fact, he was too busy trying to figure out who was keeping you company last night. He didn't have time to be mad." Sammie Jo felt herself blush. The look on Bertie's face faded as quickly as it came, and she looked a bit wistful. "It seems like everybody is abandoning the ship, so to speak. First Claudine and now Paul. He asked me to speak to Dad about an opening in security and put in a good word. He's been more like a big brother than a bodyguard, and I'm going to miss him." Her face brightened. "You know, I've been trying to get him to settle down for the longest time. For a while, I thought Paul and Claudine might make a good couple. They get along so easily. Whenever we would be en route somewhere, they'd turn into the Siskel and Ebert of the literary world." Bertie rolled her eyes. "I swear they're spokespersons for the Reading Is Fundamental program." She turned solemn again. "I never dreamed he already had his heart set on you." "Did you know that he's been in love with me since Star Bright?" "*Star Bright*?" Bertie exclaimed, eyes wide. "Thirteen years? And never once let on?" Bertie was impressed. "I was only eleven then, Trudi was ten, and the twins were nine. You could have kids that age by now if he'd said something then." "I'm still in a daze about it myself," she confessed. Bertie looked at her, quizzically. "Do you love him?" "I married him," she replied automatically, without thinking. "You did *what*?" For the second time in five minutes, Bertie's eyes had gone wide. "And you didn't tell *me*?" She looked hurt. "We've told no one, so you're not alone. Well," she amended, "we brought Claudine in on the secret. That's partly the reason I wanted to know who you picked to replace her." Bertie stood there a moment, trying to decide whether or not to be offended. She threw her arms around Sammie Jo's shoulders and hugged her. "Congratulations! So, how long have you been married? Come on, tell all." "Since Thanksgiving." "What possessed you to keep this a secret?" Sammie Jo summarized what had happened since the spring. "It just seemed like a good idea. It added a bit of adventure to it all, y'know?" Bertie shook her head. "Well, it does sound romantic, I guess." "I actually got the idea from your parents Well, sort of." "Huh?" "Did you know, that they sometimes check into hotels separately, your mother using her maiden name, and then they'll sneak around as if they are having an affair with each other?" The look on Bertie's face told her that this was the first she'd heard of it. "You're making this up, aren't you?" "No. Come on, you know you're parents. Does it *sound* like something they'd do?" "Actually, it does. But how do you know this?" "Well, it was not long after I came to work on Star Bright. This new staffer accompanied your father TDY. He knew your father was married, but he didn't know your mother, and he certainly wasn't told she would be there. The poor guy witnessed your father flirt with her in the hotel bar and accept the invitation to join her in her room." "You've *got* to be making this up," Bertie breathed, astonished. Sammie Jo shook her head. "The guy thought that he would score points if he reported misconduct to the director. He brought it up in the middle of a staff meeting." "No!" Bertie gasped, laughing. "Yes! Your father was sitting there, calm as could be. Sam didn't know what to make of it. He didn't know about it either. Anyway, your father pulls out the family picture from his wallet and asks the guy if the woman in the picture is the one he saw him with." Remembering the look on the guy's face, Sammie Jo started laughing. Al hadn't lost his temper or even held anything against the man. He'd figured the embarrassment alone was sufficient. "Oh, I can't wait to tell Kevin this," Bertie said, wiping a tear from her eye. "And I can't wait to tell him about you and Paul." "Could you hold off saying anything, I mean, until I've told my mother?" "Sammie Jo!" Sammie Jo was pretty sure her mother would be more stunned than angry. "Speaking of Kevin," she said, changing the subject, "heard from him yet?" Bertie sighed, and Sammie Jo figured he was the reason she still looked distracted. "No word yet. I hope he gets here soon. I have something very important to tell him." She looked up. "Let's go pester Beeks." Sammie Jo chuckled. "Isn't she busy?" "I think Elizabeth. . . .boy, this is weird. I think Elizabeth is sleeping. She was going to let her sleep a little while longer." Sammie Jo dragged her cat out from under the bed. "Well, let's go then." *************************************** "Gushie, get digging. I want everything you can find on this kid, understand?" "Yes, Admiral." Al shook his head as he left the Control Room. Beth had made no mention of Michael when they were brainstorming the day before. Her memories were sketchy, to say the least, about her former class mates. Beth had continued taking courses, having earned her Ph.D. the previous summer, just to keep herself occupied. Once she learned Al was on his way, she dropped the courses. Given the fact that this part of his life still was a complete blank, Al had to be reminded of this. The earliest recollection, of this time line, was one Al preferred to forget. It was a distressing time for them, made more so by the fact that Al felt so helpless and ill-equipped to handle the situation. How could he, with his own emotional and psychological problems, deal with the sudden and unexpected loss of their unborn child? He was still adjusting to being home, trying to overcome the nightmares that plagued him, when Beth miscarried. To make it even worse, she miscarried again in early 1974. It was a miracle that Bertie was even *conceived*, let alone born. There was no spontaneity in their lovemaking after the second miscarriage, since Beth was afraid to get pregnant. Then they got a little carried away, during the only visit Beth was able to make while he was in astronaut training. It helped that it was the longest period of time they had been separated, since his return, and he hadn't been expecting her to visit him at all. *And now Bertie herself is pregnant,* Al thought. Mixed with the pleasure he felt at the news, was worry. To Al, Bertie didn't look physically capable of carrying a child. He mentally reminded himself that Bertie wasn't as fragile as she looked. Al couldn't bear the sight of seeing his girls, or Beth, in pain. In fact, Al hadn't even been in the delivery room with her, when she gave birth to them. Al shook himself, trying to shake the worry and memories. It was then that he realized that he had arrived at his quarters. Al was greeted by the sounds of Christmas carols, and Beth humming along to the `Twelve Days of Christmas'. She was wrapping gifts. "Are any of those for me?" She smiled at him and shook her head. "I wouldn't keep your gift here, Al. These are for the girls." Curiosity piqued, Al asked, "Do you have my gift yet?" "Of course." "Is it bigger than a breadbox?" Beth gave him an amused looked. "Al, you do this every year. You know I never tell." She carefully labeled the gift. "How's Sam?" "He's overjoyed in your choice of footwear." He paused. "Beth, can you remember *anything* about Michael Murphy?" After a few minutes of concentration, Beth shook her head. "I'm sorry, Al. I can't remember anything about him. I really didn't get to know my class mates. I was nearly old each to be their mother, in most cases, so there wasn't much common ground." She ran a hand through her grey streaked hair. "What happened to him?" Al signed heavily. "It appears that he committed suicide on April 3rd. Ziggy's still gathering data, but we do know he finds out about his older brother tonight, after classes." "What happened to his brother?" she asked, but Al could tell she already suspected the truth. "His body is being returned to the States," Al replied, sadly. "Vietnam," Beth said, sorrowfully. It wasn't a question. Al nodded and put a comforting arm around her shoulders. "Don't worry, Beth. You know Sam. He'll make everything turn out right in the end. He's got a good track record with this kind of thing." Beth nodded. "I guess you're right." She glanced at him. "Don't you think you should go get ready?" He kissed her before releasing her. "What did you finally decide on?" Instead of answering him, she led him into the bedroom. "The winter uniform?" he asked. Everything was already laid out for him, including the hat and shoes. Beth even put the wings and his service ribbons on the dark jacket. Al couldn't remember when he last wore that uniform. "Well . . . It was that or your red suit." "How did you decide?" "I flipped a coin." Al burst out laughing. She grinned at him as she closed the door behind her, leaving him to get ready. **************************************************** Verbena Beeks glanced over at Donna Elesee as the pair of them watched Elizabeth Calavicci finish her breakfast. Donna's face was unreadable as she glazed out the Observation Room window. "Don't be mad at him, hon," Verbena advised her quietly. "To be honest, I'm glad he did it." Donna sighed. "I just feel as if he'll find reasons to keep the program running, after this leap." "Al gave you his word, Donna." "I know, Verbena." Verbena decided to let the subject drop, for the time being, and turned back to the window. She had let Elizabeth sleep, giving Al time to visit Sam. Once he returned to his quarters, Verbena had her assistant wake Elizabeth, run some tests, and give her breakfast. This gave Verbena the chance to go over everything that happened since Sam leaped in. Ordinarily, she would have already interviewed the Visitor, but Alberta's visit had made it unnecessary. It would serve no purpose going in before Al was ready to make an entrance. Alberta and Sammie Jo had stopped in, but Verbena managed to shoo them away. Elizabeth was finished with her breakfast, and Verbena glanced at her watch. "Ziggy, how much longer will Al be?" "Admiral Calavicci is on his way, Dr. Beeks." "Well, why didn't you say something sooner." Verbena stood up. "I guess I better go now. Have him wait outside the Waiting Room." She glanced at her companion. "Coming?" Donna looked up, startled. "I wasn't planning on it." "I think you should," Verbena said gravely. "I think you need to meet this version of Beth." She looked at her significantly. Donna followed her out of the room. The door opened and Elizabeth turned, face sad. "Good morning, Lieutenant Commander," Verbena said, extending her hand, "I'm Dr. Beeks, the staff psychologist. You can call me Verbena. This is Dr. Elesee, a physicist." Elizabeth's eyebrows furrowed. "A physicist?" "Yes. You can call me Donna." Elizabeth looked confused. Verbena had purposely introduced Donna that way to draw Elizabeth's attention away from her title. "Sorry we couldn't visit you sooner, but we were out of the area," Verbena went on, explaining. "We apologize for the decor in here, by the way. I hope you weren't too frightened." Elizabeth looked around the room. "I was." "Do you have any questions for us?" Donna asked. Verbena smiled. *Nice move.* The look of confusion was back on Elizabeth's face. "I thought you asked the questions and I answer them." "Well, yes, normally, that's how it's *suppose* to work," Donna conceded. She gave Elizabeth a reassuring smiling. "This time, there aren't any questions we need to ask." Elizabeth looked uncertain. "Why is there a physicist on staff of a mental hospital?" "This isn't a mental hospital," Verbena assured her. "In fact, I'm the odd duck here. All my friends and co-workers, with the exception of the infirmary staff, are scientists and engineers." Elizabeth paused, deciding what to ask first. "Was she telling the truth?" "Who?" "The young woman with the dark, curly hair." "I don't know," Donna lied, "What did she say to you?" "She said . . . she said this was the year 2000." "Would you believe *us* if we told you she was telling the truth?" Verbena countered. She hoped Al was in place and that Ziggy would recognize her cue when it came. Elizabeth shook her head. "No, I wouldn't." "Then why did you ask?" Elizabeth paled. Donna took a step closer and put a hand on Elizabeth's shoulder. "She was telling you the truth, Beth. She didn't lie to you about anything." Verbena watched as the words sank in. She could see that Elizabeth wanted to deny them. Tears were threatening again. *Now*, Verbena thought, in anticipation. The door remained closed. Verbena groaned. "Open the door." The door slid open promptly and Al, every inch an admiral, stepped through. Elizabeth turned to look at the newcomer and gasped, eyes wide. "Al?"