AUTHOR'S NOTE: Sorry about the delay. Real life sorta got in the way in the form of a newborn niece: Deborah Elizabeth Bartruff. Just call me "Auntie". ======================== "Less than Perfect" Christina L. Bartruff Chapter V DECEMBER 20, 2000 PROJECT QUANTUM LEAP, STALLIONS GATE, NM Verbena balanced the lunch tray in one hand as she made her way to Sammie Jo's lab. The psychiatrist had spent most of the morning with Mrs. Calavicci. She was worried about her decision to leave Al alone, for a few days, yet she agreed that she didn't know how else to handle the situation without making it worse. Sabina's only comfort was that the liqueur supply was limited. Now Donna had learned some rather interesting things from Ziggy and asked Verbena to check in on the young scientist. Verbena rapped lightly on the lab door, and waited for a response. "Come in." Sitting at her work table, deeply engrossed in her task, Sammie Jo barely acknowledged her presence. "How are you today, Sammie Jo?" she asked casually, setting the tray down on a clear spot. The younger woman looked up and spotted the tray. "Not bad. And you?" Verbena was momentarily startled. She studied her young friend for a moment. Sammie Jo's expression had that slightly abstracted look worn by most scientists of Verbena's acquaintance, but nothing more. She sat, wondering what was going on. "Pretty good," she replied slowly. "Sammie Jo, are you *sure* you're all right?" Verbena handed her a sandwich as she spoke. Sammie Jo nodded. "Yeah. Why?" *She's way too calm and collected for this to be an act,* the psychiatrist observed silently, mind racing. "Well, I'm just worried about you. The holidays are just around the corner and you're not spending them at home. Is there something going on you want to talk about?" Sammie Jo looked at her, startled. "Bena, you know I'm going home for a month in January." She paused, pulling the crust off the sandwich. "I know I overwork and skip too many meals, Verbena. It's just that, well, I get so wrapped up in trying to solve the problems we're having with the Retrieval Program, I lose track. I know you and Donna and Sabina are worried about my health. I'll try to do better," she promised. "Sammie Jo, do you remember what we talked about yesterday?" "Oh, sure. We talked about the Christmas party." The scientist looked at her, quizzically. "Don't you remember?" "We talked about the party the day before yesterday," Verbena reminded her gently. "Not yesterday." "Oh." A blank, concentrated look spread across her face. "I don't think we talked at all yesterday, Verbena. I remember working here in the lab." She shook her head. "I really must've been busy. I don't even remember going to bed last night." This puzzled Verbena. *Now she doesn't remember a thing. What's going on?* "I see. Well, it's not that important. If you'll excuse me," she said, standing. "Oh, sure. Thanks for stopping by with lunch." *Donna's not going to believe this,* Verbena thought, leaving Sammie Jo to her meal. ************************************************ "She doesn't remember," Verbena announced without preamble as she entered Donna's office. "Excuse me?" "Sammie Jo. She doesn't seem to remember a thing about that other time line. She's back to her old self again and probably thinks I'm nuts." Donna stared at her in disbelief. "You're joking." "Not about this." She shook her head in frustration. "Do you think she might be blocking it out? Like she did with Leta Aider?" Donna hazard, thoughtfully. Verbena thought for a moment. She only had, briefly, discussed the incident with Sammie Jo when she first came on board. Sammie Jo had gotten over the incident of her youth, and seemed well adjusted. "My first thought? No. She doesn't appear to be nervous, or evasive. But I will keep an eye on her." Verbena glanced down at the paperwork spread out across Donna's desk. "What's that you're working on?" she asked curiously. Donna looked down in disgust. "Data. I was working on what may have caused her to remember in the first place." She sighed. "A pointless task now." "Why?" "Well, if it's true and she's back to normal, why research something meaningless." "It still might be important," Verbena disagreed, sitting across from her. "She might remember again. And," she added, "I *could* be wrong about her." Verbena did have a point. Donna sighed again. "You're right." "Need some help?" "Please," Donna replied, grateful. "So, have you spoken to Sabina at all today?" "Oh, yes. She's still worried about Al." Verbena didn't say any thing else about the subject, and Donna was left to wonder what was said. Sabina was a strong person, but this was a very unusual situation. Not even a half an hour later, Sabina herself stopped in as they were sorting out the data on Donna's desk. "He's sleeping," she announced, without being asked. She took a seat next to Verbena. "What's your strategy for when the bottles run out?" Donna asked. "Well, I'll keep him from getting his hands on more," she replied, determined. "Sam didn't pull him from the edge all those years ago just so Al could drink himself to death when his back was turned. So to speak. Sam could land at any time, regardless of Ziggy's predictions, and he'll need Al in one piece. And preferably sober." Whatever heart-to-heart, or soul-searching, discussion Verbena and Sabina had earlier must have been enough. In her eyes, Donna could see her determination to keep Al, and her acceptance of the fact that she had very little control if Sam did change the past back to what it had been twenty-four hours earlier. Not wanting to undo whatever progress Sabina had made, Donna changed the subject. "Have you heard the latest?" She hadn't. Donna and Verbena brought her up to date. She was shocked to learn of the relationship between the late Admiral Whitmore and Beth, and Sammie Jo's baby. "What are you two up to now?" Sabina asked, curious. "The mystery of Sammie Jo's memories," Verbena replied, with a hint of melodrama. "Would you like to join us?" *************************************** Sammie Jo set her tools aside and scrubbed at her face, tired. The clock on the wall told her that it was nearly 9pm, and her stomach told her that she had worked through dinner. Again. She always seemed to lose track of time when she was at work in the lab. The odd depression she had woken up with this morning was back. She had puzzled over it deeply at breakfast. She had this vague feeling that something was missing, but she couldn't put a finger on it. The more she thought about it, the more certain she was that she was missing something *very* important. Sammie Jo had gone over all her equipment and tools, accounting for everything; yet the feeling persisted. Was she forgetting an appointment or meeting? Was she forgetting to call her mother? After a while, Sammie Jo gave up and delved into her work, forgetting all about it. Around noon, Verbena came into the lab with lunch. Thinking back over the conversation, Sammie Jo couldn't help but to note Verbena's odd behavior. Beeks needed more of a break than she did. Feeling restless, she pulled on the bulky sweater she kept in the lab and made her way to the surface. The air was crisp and clear, and even with the heavy sweater, Sammie Jo knew she couldn't stay out too long. The night wind blew her hair into her face as she walked away from the cluster of buildings, hugging herself for warmth. She stopped a short distance away. Project security was out there, somewhere, lurking. They knew she was there too. Even so, she didn't want to bump into one in the dark. She turned slightly, until the wind was blowing her hair away from her face, and looked up into the clear night sky. This action brought an unexpected memory to the surface. *"Do you think there's intelligent life out there?" The voice belonged to a tiny, dark- haired young woman. Her face was turned up to the stars, as if trying to see through them.* *"Yes," Sammie Jo heard herself say, her own gaze also heavenward. "And I think they're exhibiting their superior intelligence by staying as far away from this planet as possible. Just think, if other beings came for a visit, the poor unsuspecting creatures would be subjected to the cruelest form of torture. The talk show circuit."* *The young woman chuckled, then grew serious. "I don't."* *"You don't think there's intelligent life out there? Anywhere?"* *"Yep. Just imagine, Sammie Jo. We are ~it~. Nothing else. Just this planet and all it's inhabitants. We are alone."* Sammie Jo could remember not being able to *feel* alone, at that time. Yet, recalling the incident and not recognizing the woman, had made her feel suddenly very alone. Unexpected tears began to well up. Without knowing why, Sammie Jo found herself crying quietly in the dark, alone, until a concerned Marine guard led her gently back into the complex. ********************************************* "It has something to do with Beth," Donna concluded. "It had to be," Sabina agreed, yawning. "Ziggy pinpoints Sammie Jo's awareness to the incident in March of this year. According to Ziggy, that's when Sam supposedly told Beth that Al was alive and coming home." "Ugh," Verbena said, rubbing her temple. "This makes my head hurt. First, she didn't wait, then she did, and then she died." "But what's the connection between Beth and Sammie Jo?" Donna asked aloud. Before either could come up with even a half-baked idea, let alone an intelligent theory, there was a respectful knock on the door. "Sorry to disturb you, ma'am," the Marine guard who stood in the entrance said, "but I found Dr. Fuller outside the complex, crying." *Maybe she hasn't forgotten after all.* "Where is she now, corporal?" "Infirmary, Dr. Elesee." "Thank you." The guard left. "Well," she said to her companions, "let's go see what happened now." They found Sammie Jo unharmed and tear-streaked, but perplexed. "Hi, Sammie Jo," Verbena said softly, taking the lead. "Are you okay, hon?" She nodded. "Oh, I'm fine. Don't know what came over me though." "Do you want to talk to us about it?" Surprisingly, she did. "I decided to get some air and I . . . I remembered having a conversation with someone I don't recognize." "Oh? Could you describe her?" "Her? How did you know it was a female? I never said it was." "Call it a hunch. Go on." The description she gave them sounded nothing like Beth, and they knew it wasn't when Sammie Jo told Verbena that the woman seemed to be younger than herself. She told them about what they had talked about. "Then all of a sudden," Sammie Jo concluded, "I felt so lonely." She frowned. "Funny thing. Earlier today I felt as if I had lost something very important, but I couldn't remember what it was. Somehow, I feel *she's* connected." Donna was willing to bet the mysterious woman was Alberta Calavicci. She just wasn't sure if it would do any good to mention that to Sammie Jo, just yet. Apparently, Verbena and Sabina felt the same way, for neither uttered a word on the subject. "Has this ever happened before?" Verbena was asking her. Sammie Jo looked blankly at them. "No." Verbena studied the young scientist a moment. "Promise me you'll let me know if it does happen again, okay?" Alarmed, Sammie Jo asked, "Is something wrong with me?" "Oh, no," Verbena said, calming her. "You're fine. It's just that, well, I think you're remembering another past." "Oh. Like Al?" She asked, suddenly fascinated by the idea. "It's a strong possibility," Donna spoke up, hedging a bit, "that yes, you've retained bits and pieces of another time line." It wasn't exactly a lie, but it wasn't exactly the whole truth either. "Where's Al?" Sammie Jo asked suddenly. "I haven't seen him all day." "He's, um, not feeling well," Sabina lied. "Oh. I hope he's feeling better tomorrow. Could you let him know that I need to speak with him?" "Sure thing," Sabina replied readily. "I guess I'll call it a night then," Sammie Jo said, getting up. "See you all in the morning." "Amazing," Sabina murmured, watching the door close behind the young woman. "If I hadn't witnessed things yesterday, I'd never believed they'd happened. You're right, she's back to her old self." Donna nodded. "Same here." "I'm going to check on Al and then turn in," Sabina said, also heading for the door. "First thing tomorrow," Verbena told her, "the three of us will meet in my office. We've got to get a game plan together."