"Less Than Perfect" Chapter III DECEMBER 19, 2000 PROJECT QUANTUM LEAP STALLIONS GATE, NM Al stumbled out of the Imaging Chamber and was met with startled looks from the Control Room staff. Tina and Gushie, unchanged as always, paused in their duties of powering down the Chamber to look at him with concern. A brief mental image of the Shermans' wedding day momentarily intruded itself on Al's thoughts. A small voice in his mind informed him that Tina was *not* the current Mrs. Calavicci. "Admiral, what happened?" she Tina asked, alarmed. Al shook his head, leaning on the console for support. He *had* to get out of there. Any moment, a new wave of memories might assault his senses. The Control Room door slid open to reveal the very distraught Sammie Jo. "He's gone!" she exclaimed, panicked. Al swallowed, shoving his own grief and loss aside momentarily. This was the first time the impact was so strong. His concern for the younger woman was the only thing keeping his own feelings at bay. Al needed to know exactly what she remembered and how she realized the past had changed. It didn't take much guessing as to who `he' was. That had to be Paul. Al knew *why* Paul no longer existed at the project, and he shied away from those thoughts. But Sammie Jo might not. She only knew he wasn't there anymore. "Yes, I know, sweetheart," he replied. "He who?" Tina asked, puzzled. "Paul," she informed them, before Al could stop her. Tina and Gushie stared at Sammie Jo blankly. "Who?" Gushie asked. "Uh, Sammie Jo," Al said, maneuvering her toward the door. "I don't think --" "Paul Ryder," she clarified. "You know, Bertie's bodyguard." The continued blank looks from the duo was making the already panicked woman more anxious. "Please, Sammie Jo, let's not get into this here," Al pleaded in a low tone. "Al, what's going on?" she asked once they were in the deserted hallway. Al shook his head. "Not here." Once in her quarters, Al gently guided her to the edge of her bed and made her sit. He pulled the overstuffed ottoman closer to the bed and sat, facing her. "Tell me what happened, honey," he prodded gently. "We were talking about the baby. And then, he just disappeared," she said, her face filled with concern and confusion. Al closed his eyes and held onto her hands. He felt sick to his stomach. Al had forgotten all about the baby and he wondered if she realized she was no longer pregnant. "Donna came in then, with Senator Barnhilt." Something about that didn't sit right with Al, but he didn't comment. "I asked her if she'd seen Paul. They both looked at me as if they didn't know who he was. What happened, Al?" Al looked deeply into her eyes. He couldn't do this to her, but he couldn't leave her in the dark either. He took a deep breath. "History changed, Sammie Jo. Big time." Sammie Jo sat perfectly still, eyes wide. "How?" "Beth. . .," he swallowed, and tried again. "Beth was killed in 1973." Realization dawned and Al watched as the enormity of it spread across her face. No Beth meant no Alberta. No Alberta meant no bodyguard named Paul. She swayed slightly and Al caught her before she fell forward. "Oh, Al," she breathed, taking his hand in hers. She started to cry. Al's heart ached for her. He gently took her in his arms and rocked her until she voluntarily climbed between the sheets, exhausted. He watched Sammie Jo quietly cry herself to sleep. Sammie Jo finally fell into a fitful sleep. Al moved to leave and thought better of it. *She may need me when she wakes up, especially if she dreams*. He didn't know where he'd go anyway. Al couldn't face a wife he didn't know. That thought brought his pain back to the surface. Coupled with the pain was the sting of betrayal. This time, it wasn't Beth's supposed betrayal of him. This time, she had been hopeful of his return. She'd been waiting for him. No, this betrayal belonged to Sam. No matter how hard he tried not to feel it, Al felt betrayed by him. He had put Beth's life in danger unnecessarily. Michael hadn't pointed that gun at Sam, or at himself for that matter. Sam could've talked him into putting the gun down. There had been no need for Sam to go after that gun. Al, still standing in the middle of Sammie Jo's room, felt very tired and weak. With both his quarters and Sam's office uninviting, Al shoved the ottoman in front of the overstuffed chair and sank tiredly into it, closing his eyes. Silent tears slid down his cheeks as he tried to fight the memories. ********************************* Al remembered her funeral, as clearly as if it had happened only yesterday. Kelly, Sabina, and Janet had hovered protectively around him, leaving him to his grief but also making sure he didn't neglect himself in the process. He met Tom and Colleen Beckett that day. Colleen was pregnant and had made the trip against her doctor's judgement. Tom introduced himself and told Al of the time he met Beth. After she'd been laid to rest, Al had gotten on with his life, career wise. He had joined the space program, just as he had done on every time line. He had filled every waking moment of his day with his work, and would be too exhausted to dream about her at night. He had nightmares of Vietnam, but he had striven to keep them at bay. He had been successful, but it would only be a matter of time before it would catch up with him. His personal life was nonexistent. Because he had been so wrapped up with his work, Al hadn't sought out female companionship. This had also kept memories of her at bay. Al had seen Janet, Kelly, or Sabina on occasions over the next few years. These occasionally meetings had not been dates. Just meetings between old friends. Beth's old friends had been concerned about him. Christmas of 1977, Janet had asked him to attend a Christmas party with her. She had been stood up by her date and Al, not really interested in attending, felt he owed her. It would be the first time he had been out on a date in well over a decade. They had a good time, and began seeing each other over the course of the following year. Janet had always known she was contending with the memory of Beth, and her understanding and compassion were boundless through it all. It wasn't until Al met little Claudine Barnhilt that things really began to change. She was only nine when he met her. Claudine's father had been killed in a hit-and-rum on his way to get a marriage license. Sabina hadn't known she was pregnant. Normally, Sabina would leave Claudine with her mother when she went TDY, but this time she Claudine to San Diego with her. She had left her daughter with Janet before heading out to Hawaii. It was when something came up at the hospital, and Janet was stuck working all weekend, that Al was persuaded to look after her. Claudine and Al had taken to each other immediately. By the time Sabina came to claim her, Al had found himself wanting children of his own. For the first time since Beth's death, Al had begun to think about settling down and starting a family. Claudine reawakened that desire. It was something he should have done with Beth, and his regret was that he wouldn't be. To his amazement, it had been something that had been on Janet's mind, too. Shortly after discovering this, Al had asked her to marry him. They had been married by a justice of peace, in a quiet ceremony, with a few friends present. Life had gone on smoothly, for a while. Then the nightmares, and the dreams of Beth, had started to plague Al's sleep. Janet had insisted that he see a psychologist, but he had refused. He had told her he could handle it alone. Not long after the nightmares started again, Janet had found out that she was pregnant, and on a warm summer's day in 1980, she had given birth to a baby girl. Without consulting him in the matter, Janet had named her Calista Elizabeth. ******************************** "Al?" Al bolted upright, startled. Sammie Jo was standing over him, red-eyed and haggard. Al rubbed his face, clearing away the sleep and dried tears. He must have dozed off. Sammie Jo sat on the ottoman, dejected. "I remember everything Paul and I said and did in the last few days, clearly and perfectly," she whispered. Al took her hand in his, a loss for words. What could he say, that would be any comfort? For his part, Al felt the loss of his daughters deeply. His heart felt like someone was ripping it very slowly. He had yet to remember anything more about Calista, but something inside him told him that the memories were not good ones. He had to get out of there. Out of her quarters, out of the project. He wanted to find the closest bar and get so wasted, he wouldn't feel anything anymore. In short, he wanted to die. Al carefully removed his hand from Sammie Jo's. She didn't try to make him stay. Before he could make it to the door, it slid opened. Three very determined and concerned women entered the quarters, led by Verbena. Her reinforcements were Donna and Sabina. Sammie Jo spoke first. "Senator Barnhilt," she greeted Sabina respectfully. "`Senator'?" Sabina said, puzzled. "Al, what's she talking about?" Al, who had been staring at Sabina since she came into the room, turned to Sammie Jo. "She isn't a senator on this time line, kid. She's my wife." *********************************** "Tina came to see me," Verbena was saying to Al and Sammie Jo, "and she told me what happened in the Control Room. She was concerned about you. Are you all right?" Sabina looked from her husband to the young scientist. Both had been crying and Al looked as if he'd lost everything he loved. Sabina became uneasy. "I'm fine," Al replied tiredly, brushing Verbena off. "Please," Sammie Jo asked quietly. "Could I be alone for a little while?" "Anything you want, sweetheart," Al told her gently and, ignoring Verbena's protests, herded them all out into the hallway. Al looked relieved to be out in the hallway. Knowing him as well as she did, Sabina knew he was going to make a run for it. She snagged his arm before he could do so. "Al, we're all worried about you and Sammie Jo." "You look like you witnessed your own funeral, Al," Verbena commented, concerned. Al wouldn't meet any of their eyes. "It's . . . just a minor change in history, that's all. We've got killer headaches." He rubbed his forehead for emphasis. Sabina knew in an instant that he was lying. "Like hell it is," she snapped. "And since when did *she* start suffering the side effects?" "She's Sam's daughter," he responded, as if that explained it all. "Yes, we know that," Donna said patiently, "but this has never happened before." "As far as you know, it hasn't," Al corrected wearily. "Don't change the subject," Sabina countered. "I'm worried, Al. What's *really* wrong?" She paused. "Is Sam okay?" "*He's* fine," Al replied, harshly, anger flashing in his dark eyes. He pulled away from her. "I've got work to do." Sabina started to go after him and thought better of it. In all the years she had known him, hounding him about something wasn't always the best course of action, at least not for her. Few people could successfully hound Al Calavicci about things. In fact, Sabina had known only two. One was Beth, and that was on heresy from Janet and Kelly who had known the couple longer. The other was Sam Beckett. However, there was *one* other way to get information. She turned to her companions. "Let's go to the Control Room and have a few words with Ziggy."