Chapter 20 Al was pacing outside the Imaging Chamber while Gooshie loaded the program and the janitor cleaned out the inside. Al didn't envy him that job. Evidently Ziggy had called for a cleanup after Al had left. That was fine with him. He really hadn't thought who was going to clean that mess up. Al neared the main control panel. He stopped and placed a hand on one of the scanners. "Ziggy?" "Yes, Admiral?" "Vital statistics on Sam, please." "Unable to comply." the computer responded sorrowfully. Al went cold all over. "Why not?" He braced himself for the worst. Insufficient data." Ziggy returned. Gooshie interrupted. "Imaging Chamber on-line. You may enter now." Al watched as the janitor exited, pushing a mop and bucket in front of him. He nodded to Al and Gooshie, then headed for the elevator. Al picked up the handlink and steeled himself for whatever he would find inside. He headed toward the ramp, turned towards Gooshie and nodded. Gooshie hit the final sequence of keys to fire up the Chamber. Bringing up the program to center Al on Sam, he watched, expectantly, as Al entered the room. Al stood in the room and watched the images swirl around him. They coalesced into a hospital room. Al saw Sam lying very still in a bed. I.C.U. machines beeped and hummed. Al walked over to Sam's bed. "Sam. Oh, Sam." He watched the monitors beep with Sam's heartbeat. Sam was hooked up to oxygen too. Sam was unconscious. Al watched his friend breathe. At least he was alive. He thought about Donna and Sam's new son. This wasn't fair. Sam should live to see his new baby grow up. When Al spoke next, it came from his heart. "Sam, I know you can hear me, even if you can't respond. Please know that we are praying for you. We all care about you." His voice broke at the words. "Sam, you hang in there. We want you to come home to us. Hear me? You have plenty of reasons to live." Al thought again of the new baby. The one he had just helped to bring into the world. "I'll be back, Sam. You just hold on." He pushed the buttons to summon the door. As he left Sam, his thoughts turned toward what to tell Donna. He passed Gooshie and shook his head silently. Then he turned and headed down the hallway to break the news to the women. Al entered the room, and Donna was once again on the couch, nursing her newborn son. Tina and Verbena had cleaned up as much as possible. Verbena caught sight of Al's eyes. He shook his head silently and motioned her aside. When they were out of Donna's hearing Al spoke. "He's alive but unconscious. It looks like a coma." Verbena gasped slightly. "Oh my. I'm sorry, Al." He knew her sympathy was sincere. Al nodded. "The worse part is, it could have been prevented. This didn't have to happen." He swore silently to himself. "I needed to be there for him and I let him down." "Al, you didn't know. And we were otherwise preoccupied." She pointed toward Donna. "You couldn't be in two places at once. You did the best you could. No one will blame you." Al looked toward Donna. "I'm not sure of that." He wanted a cigar so bad. "Excuse me. I need to be alone right now." Verbena went to stop him, but he brushed her arm aside. He walked past Donna and gave her a small smile before going out the door and down the hallway. Tina came to stand beside Verbena. "I just got off the phone with the hospital. An ambulance was dispatched an hour an a half ago. They should be here shortly." Verbena nodded. "Thanks, Tina. Why don't you go check on Gooshie?" Tina agreed and with a smile and a wave, left. ************* Donna sat holding her baby boy. He was nursing quietly. She couldn't get over how beautiful he was. As soon as she had gotten her hands on him, she had counted the fingers and toes. She smiled down at him. He was truly a gift. And she had been blessed with his love. She watched as Al entered the room. He motioned for Verbena to follow him. He seemed, well, not quite right. She tried to put her finger on it. He was sad. Melancholy. Hurt. Angry. Donna puzzled over this for a minute, trying to remember. She had blocked out most of everything that had happened while she was in labor. She remembered Ziggy interrupting, and Al leaving. But he had come back, and helped her with the delivery. She was eternally grateful to him for that. This baby wouldn't be here now, if not for him. She tried to remember more. Right after the baby was born, Al left again. And now he was back. Looking like Hell had swallowed his reality. He said some things to Verbena, then turned to leave. Verbena tried to stop him, but he brushed her off. He had smiled at Donna, but she had glimpsed his eyes. Something was bothering him. Little Johnny had fallen asleep in his mother's arms. Verbena came to take him away and put him in the heated blankets. Donna relinquished him reluctantly. Verbena returned to take her pulse, once the baby was settled. "An ambulance is on the way. It will arrive shortly." Donna saw her chance to bring up the subject that was bothering her. "What's with Al? If it's something I've done..." "Oh Donna, it's not you at all." Verbena wondered who should be the one to tell Donna. "He just needs to be alone." Donna puzzled over this. "No, there's more to it than that. Something's wrong." She glanced over to the baby. No, he seemed fine. A memory hit her like a freight train. Gooshie. Leaving with Al. Ziggy. Interrupting. OH MY GOD! SAM!! She grabbed Verbena's arm. "It's Sam, isn't it?" Verbena nodded just once. "I'm sorry, Donna." She placed her arm atop Donna's. "There's been an accident. He's in a coma. Al blames himself." "Accident? Why would he..." she started the broke off as realization set in. "Because he was here? Instead of there?" She pointed towards the Imaging Chamber. Verbena nodded again. Donna tried to take this all in. Sam was in a coma, because Al was here to help her and not him. She slumped against the pillows, tears flooding her eyes. Her emotions were on overload right now. "Donna, there's nothing that can be done right now. Roll over and try to get some sleep." Donna did so only because she didn't feel like arguing and she was tired. Verbena covered her with a clean blanket and then went to go find Al.