Chapter Twenty "Okay, try it now," Gushie called from under the console. He'd spent so much time under there over the past week, Verbeena was beginning to wonder if the man had an upper body. As directed, Al punched a few buttons on the handlink. Its lights were on but, as the saying goes, nobody was home. It wasn't connecting to Ziggy's mainframe. "Shit!" Gushie didn't swear often, but when he did, you knew something major was wrong. "Gushie, honey, what's the matter?" Tina tried to bend over, to speak more softly to her husband, but the size of her very pregnant stomach wouldn't allow it. "You, like, keep swearing under there, but you're not, like, letting us know what's going on?" He crawled out from his hutch, pulling himself up to his full height. Those in the room took an step back, unaware that they had even done so. He didn't anger easily, but when he did, everyone knew to stand clear. "The problem is I can't get that damn handlink to connect. Without it, even if Sam does leap, and we find him, Ziggy can't communicate with the Admiral!" He ran his hand through the mop of bright red hair, frustration showing on his haggard face as he paced in exasperation. It was then he realized he had yelled at his wife. Her eyes misted over, but she refused to let the tears loose. He stepped to her, taking her in his arms. Al flinched slightly. "Tina, darling, I'm sorry. It's just ..." "It's okay, I understand." Under normal circumstances, his outburst wouldn't have affected her so much, but being this close to giving birth, her emotions wouldn't always stay under her control. She pushed him back, giving him a weak smile, but he knew there was something more behind the tears welling up in her eyes. Verbeena, also sensing that there was more to it, stepped forward. "Gushie, why don't you take Tina and get her something to drink. You could probably use a break, too. You've been under that console forever." As Gushie placed his arm around Tina, she held up her hand. "No. I'm fine. Really. Gushie's still got mega work to do. We're running out of time. We've got to, like, get this finished so Sam can ... can get back on track." Al hadn't been part of her life all those years not to know when she was bluffing. Or at least trying to. "Are you sure, hon?" The strain on Gushie's face told her that he really did need a break, but she knew that his love for the Project and Sam wouldn't allow him to give up until the very end. "Get back under there. That's an order!" Tina managed a smile, but Al could see right through it. "Verbeena's right, Tina. You should go and at least sit down," he said, passing the handlink to Sam. "Maybe you're right. I, like, lost the feeling in my ankles hours ago. They're probably the size of an elephant's by now." She bent her leg back, trying to see, but her size wouldn't allow her to twist her upper body around. She gave up, putting her foot back down, wincing. "Come on. Drinks are on me." Al knew he might be stepping on Gushie's toes, leading Tina away, but he also knew he wasn't necessary in the process to get the handlink working. Verbeena gave him a 'be careful' look, but he didn't need the warning. This was one married lady who was definitely off limits. Settling her into a boardroom chair, he pulled one of the discarded file boxes close, gently lifting her ankles and placing her feet on the box. "Water? Soda?" "Water's fine, thanks." He disappeared momentarily, slipping into their improvised kitchen. Returning, he handed her a bottle of water. "Sorry it's not cold. They even took all the minibar fridges." "That's okay." She held the bottle in her hand, staring at it. Then the tears came. Al's history with most women told him that they usually cried because they wanted something from him. His history with Tina told him just the opposite. There was something terribly wrong. Unsure of what to do, but knowing he should do something, he knelt beside her chair. Intending to only hold her hand, the moment he made contact with her, she grabbed onto him, squeezing him with more strength than he thought she was capable of. Instinctively, his arms surrounded her, taking all of her to him. He let her cry until she was done, saying nothing, gently stroking her hair. He didn't think of their past, only that she was a friend in pain and this was the only way he could help her. After several minutes, she finally pulled away. Al reached inside his pants pocket, pulled out a handkerchief and gave it to her. "An officer always carries a clean hanky, eh Al," she said, taking it. She blew her nose, then dabbed at her eyes, now even more puffy than they had been before. "It's alright, I'm fine now." Slipping into the chair next to hers, he took her hand back into his. "Tina, I know you. Something's bothering you, and you don't want anyone to know it. But I know it. Tina, honey, tell me what's wrong." She slipped her hand from his grasp and, looking down into her lap, began pulling at the corners of the hanky. "Look at me, Al! I'm nearly eight months pregnant. I already have a little girl, who by the way you've never even bothered to come and see. If Sam leaps back to the right timeline, I'm afraid I'll lose everything. My babies, my husband, everything that matters to me." Looking up at Al, he saw the anguish in her eyes. "Don't get me wrong. I really want to help Sam, but ..." her voice came in a whisper, "I'm scared." "Sweetie, I'm sure that, whatever happens to Sam, you're life will be as perfect as it is now." He wasn't sure. He was bluffing, saying what she'd wanted to hear. But in reality, he'd wished for just the opposite. If Sam did leap and set everything back to its original path, he wanted Tina to be his again. Hadn't Sam's leaping altered their own reality, even if only slightly, on numerous occasions before? She sniffled, and a few lingering tears rolled down her cheeks. Before Al could reach up and wipe them away, her hand swept across her face, erasing their existence. I should be the one with her, not Gushie! But that was a decision he himself had made. Now he had to live with it. Besides, at nearly 70, he felt he was too old to be starting a family. "Why don't you stay here and get some rest. After all you're ..." "... eating, sleeping, whatever for two. I know the clich=82. Gushie says it all the time. I really, like, hate it." She grinned at him, letting him know that, for now, she'd accepted his explanation. As Al stood to leave, she grabbed his shirtsleeve. "Please come and get me in a couple of hours. I want to be in there ... no matter what happens." "I will," Al replied, patting her hand in reassurance. She released her grip, the settled back into the chair. He turned and stepped into the hallway. Looking back, he wished there was a door to close so she wouldn't be disturbed, but this was another computer-controlled area and Ziggy was concentrating on other, more important things. He saw her reclining her head, drifting off into a hopefully deep sleep. As he stepped just out of view of Tina, he reached for the last cigar in his pocket, clipped the end then lit it. He inhaled slowly, blowing a stream of grey-white smoke into the air above his head. If only things had been different three years ago. With a glance back at Tina, he turned and headed back to the Control Room.