Chapter 27 Al followed Donna down the ramp. Donna was smiling broadly, holding her baby proudly. It was as if Christmas had come early for her, and she found a much wanted present under the tree. Al stopped her before she could get too far. "Donna? Thank you." She turned to face him, the smile still on her face. "For what?" "For letting Sam know. I have never seen him so happy. Or so proud. It has been years since I saw a smile that large on his face. After he got over the initial shock, I mean." Donna looked down at her son. So much like Sam, she realized. "I was glad to put it there. I just wish..." She trailed off, unable to voice her desire. "I know, Donna. You wish for him to come home." He kissed Donna's forehead. "We all want him home. With any luck, the new retrieval program will work and he will be home once and for all." Al watched Donna's face, he hoped he wasn't building her hopes up for another downfall. "When are you going to try?" "I don't know exactly." Al fiddled with the handlink. "We were waiting for him to come out of the coma, and now I want to talk to Verbena first. Make sure it's okay to try. But it will be soon. I won't leave him back there any longer than necessary." He didn't voice his biggest concern that they had to try soon before whatever was Leaping Sam around in time decided to snatch him up again. The reminder of what happened last time was still all too vivid in his mind. Donna nodded. "Okay. I'm going to go feed Sammy. Page me again before you go back in. Want me to handle the meeting with the Senators and the Board?" Damn. Al had forgotten about them In light of what had happened, it was no wonder. "Nah. Let them stew. I'll handle them. Now that Sam is awake, they will have to grant the funds. They won't take the chance on closing the project now, not when Research has sent up a new upgrade with such high odds." He grinned at her. "It's bad publicity, y'know." She had to laugh at that. "Sometimes I wonder about you, Al." "So does Beth." He watched Donna turn and leave, shaking her head and muttering something about angels and admirals. He turned back to the main control and saw Verbena talking with Gooshie. She looked up as he approached. "Al. We need to talk." "In a minute." He handed over the link. "Gooshie, is the new program up and running?" "Affirmative, Admiral." He caressed a couple of the colored blocks. "Ziggy is anxious to try to bring Sam home." At the mention of her name, the computer purred. "That is correct. However I estimate an 82% chance that the optimal retrieval time should be within the next 12 hours. After that the odds of retrieving him decrease." Al didn't expect that. Leave it to the pompous computer to throw a monkey wrench in this nice little party. "Why is that?" "Because, Admiral, " The computer adopted a lecturing tone. "The longer he stays conscious and is able to interact with his environment, the more the time streams change. Even a simple decision can diverge the time stream enough to make retrieval difficult. After 12 hours, the odds decrease rapidly for success in retrieving Dr. Beckett." Ziggy finished glumly. "I don't understand. Why should this time be any different? It's just another Leap." "Dr. Beckett has just awoken from a coma. His brain waves are fresh and untampered from Leaping in time. The magnafluxing is at a minimum, it's almost non-existent. The best time to attempt a retrieval is before Dr. Beckett has a chance to manipulate his surroundings, and possibly cause himself to Leap again and therefore either wind up magnafluxed again or lost as he just was." Ziggy spoke like she was talking to a child. One that wasn't paying attention. "Admiral." Gooshie remained silent. Verbena looked to Al. Al looked at the giant brightly colored disco ball that housed the main part of Ziggy. "Is retrieval at all possible after 12 hours?" he questioned. "It is possible, although I wouldn't guarantee it with any hope of success." The globe flashed in time with the words. "In fact, the best time for a retrieval would be right now." Al didn't wait to hear more. He grabbed the handlink and headed back for the Imaging Chamber. Verbena stepped in his way, blocking his path. "Al, we need to talk." "Bena, you heard Ziggy. Whatever you have to say can wait." He tried to go around her, but she continued to block his path. She grabbed his arm and maneuvered him so that he was facing away from the chamber and near a wall. He gave up. "Okay, what?" She didn't waste either time or words, as she cut right to the heart of the problem. "Sam isn't going to let you pull this off, you know that." "Huh? Why not? He wants to come home." "He's got too much good in him. He won't let you even begin to pull him out, until he fixes whatever he was sent there to fix. He's the kind of unselfish person that puts other's needs first. Al, come on, you should know that by now after all the Leaps." She placed her hands on her hips. Al knew she was right. And he hated it when she was right. "I can't let him this time. If he fixes it anymore, we could lose him again. Besides, he already fixed what he was there to fix. Kelsey and Laura are alive." Al knew that there was more to it than that. He only hoped he could convince Sam that it was okay to come home. He tried again to push past Verbena. She continued to keep in front of him. "He may have saved Kelsey and Laura, but now what about Kelly? What about Jessica? According to Ziggy, Jessica loses custody of the baby to the state, and she ends up spending most her life trying to get her back." She pointed one finger at Al. "Sam isn't going to leave this situation like that. You know that." Al sighed. "Well, what can we do to keep the tampering to a minimum? How can we best fix the situation so that we can fix it, but at the same time, fix it in a way that allows us to retrieve Sam? If I allow him to even consider the options, he will do what he was sent there to do, and then Leap before we get our chance." Verbena shrugged. "I can't answer that. Only Sam can." Now she stepped out of his way and allowed him to leave. Al headed back up the ramp toward the door, ready to convince Sam that no matter what, it was time to come home. ********************************************* Sam was getting settled in his new room. He had hardly noticed much as they moved him. His thoughts were on Donna and his son. He had a son. A baby boy. The surprise of it was a welcome change in his life. The nurse had left him with instructions that should anything be needed, just to call. The tests were scheduled for tomorrow morning, and that was just fine with Sam. He wanted to be alone to think right now. He curled up under the blanket, his mind replaying the scene with Donna. She was so beautiful. He wanted nothing more than to hold her, to hold his son. He was drifting off to sleep when he heard the Chamber door open. He cracked one eye open to see Al coming through the light and up to his bed. "Al? What are you doing back so soon? And where is Donna?" "Donna went to feed the baby. The reason I'm back is it is time to try to bring you home." Al pulled a cigar out of a pocket and lit it. He puffed a few times then waited for Sam's reaction. "Home? Now?" Sam had opened both eyes and was gawking at Al. "Yeah, Sam. Ziggy says the best time to try is right now. She gave us a lengthy explanation too, but I won't bore you with the details. It's time to come home, Sam. Ready?" Al hoped that he could just leave it at that. But the Boy Scout in Sam decided to make an appearance. "That's all fine and dandy, Al, but what about the person I was sent here to help? Did I help them?" Sam sat up and waited for the answer. Al consulted the link. "Yeah, Sam. You were here to help a girl named Kelsey and her daughter Laura. In the original history they were first murdered. Then you changed that, and they were killed in the car accident. But that got changed too. Now, because of the accident, Kelsey takes up classes in nursing and becomes one of the top nurses at Tampa General. She gets decent pay and leaves the slums behind to give her girl a good start in life." He stopped at that and took a drag on the cigar, hoping it was enough. Sam looked directly at Al. "If that is so, then why am I still here? From what you said earlier, I leap in to fix something that went wrong, then I leap out. If I fixed it, why haven't I leaped?" "We don't know, Sam. But we want to try to bring you back before you do leap and then we will be unable to try again for who knows how long. So, hold on to your horses, and get ready to come home." He wished desperately that Sam would drop the whole subject. "Remember, Donna and the baby are waiting for you." Wrong thing to say. Sam picked up on it real quick. "Al, didn't you say that Jessica had a baby too? What becomes of them?" Damn! Al swore at himself for that little blunder. He also cursed the fates for giving Sam such an unselfish attitude. "Uhh, you really don't want to hear that part." At Sam's no-nonsense look, Al knew he was going to have to tell him. Dammit. They were so close! "Sam, we can't waste time chatting when we could be bringing you home. Just drop it and let us do our part." "Al." The one word in the tone he used said it all. He wasn't going to come home easily until he heard. "All right, Sam. Jessica loses custody of the baby and spends most her life trying to get the child back. She eventually does, but it's too late for them to really have the kind of relationship that Jessica wanted. It's a grim future at best." Al chewed on the end of his cigar, waiting for the other shoe to drop. "And you want me to leave the situation like that?" Thunk. There it went. "Al, have some compassion for these people. Let me fix this, and then I'll come home." "Sam, I know how much of a Boy Scout you are, but you don't understand the bind we are in. Right now, before you mess with the past anymore is the best time to retrieve you. If you begin to muck around in the past again, the odds for retrieving you drop. Or you could Leap and we could lose you again. Either way, the best time to get you is right now. I'm sorry it has to be this way, but you can't fix them all, Sam. Your own wife and son need you now." Sam crossed his arms over his chest. "No. I'm not going to let someone else suffer because I messed up. Tell that to Ziggy. Now, either you are going to help me fix this, or you can just leave. Decide which it is going to be." Al looked down at his feet. Then without another word, he opened the chamber door and left.