Chapter Eleven Al did not re-enter the Imaging Chamber for another three hours, much to Sam's dismay. Although he had Dante and June as sort of a safety net to fall back on to ([Well, that wasn't very kind. Their role has got to be equally important, or we wouldn't have Leaped here together.]), he still felt awfully edgy without Al around. Their relationship was one built through five years of trials and tribulations, and he was connected to the man in a way he couldn't describe. Although he wouldn't know why during this Leap, he even felt a little of Al within him from the simo-Leap. It was never enough to get in the way, but it was there. Al, he realized, was his lifeline. He caught himself pacing nervously whenever he wasn't busy blundering through song after unfamiliar song, although he was beginning to build a mental book of music by this point, which was beginning to alleviate the situation slightly. And now he was pacing again. To his extreme horror, he almost banged into 'Mac Forester,' and jumped nearly a foot in the air. "Oh, I'm so sorry!" he gasped. "I should watch where I'm going!" [You could have gotten yourself killed!] he berated himself. "That's all right," 'Mac' answered, but 'he' studied Sam intently. "You're awfully nervous today." Sam unknowingly tossed back the reply Al had just barely rejected while speaking to Senator Weitzman. "You're telling me. I mean, my girlfriend is here," he lied, realizing DiCarlo had given him the perfect excuse. "Won't that make any man nervous? But hey, it's worth it. You wouldn't believe what a wonderful person she is." [You'd believe _me_ being here, but two Leapers? Ain't it a kick in the butt?] he thought, mimicking Al. "Quite a standard to live up to, you know." He was quite aware that he was blubbering. But then it certainly fit that nervous, idolizing-his-girlfriend image he was trying to give 'Mac' to allay the evil Leaper's suspicions. 'Mac' seemed to accept the explanation. Sam hoped Zoey did, too, if she was present. "Okay," he replied. "Sorry for prying into your business." "That's all right," Sam answered, with a sheepish grin. "Guess I had to tell someone. Can't keep it all bottled up inside, or else I'd explode, wouldn't I?" 'Mac' smiled as if in sympathy, and walked off to do whatever it was 'he' was supposed to do. Sam let out a great sigh of relief as soon as 'he' was gone. [Oh, that was close. Oh, that was _way_ too close, Sam!] He desperately wished Al would return to keep him from blundering into situations like that, and glanced up at the clock in an involuntary reflex to see how long the hologram had been gone and realized it was about time to go home. He didn't know what was keeping Al; he had been upset over his wife, but at least he'd remained in contact with Sam. What worried Sam was that he might have gone back to his quarters to get a drink to steady his nerves, and that drink became another, and another, and another. Al had managed to thwart the drinking problem so far in this timeline, but Sam knew well that the potential was there, and that there was the possibility that Al might not remember the other timeline. In which case, he would not even know to be on guard against the potential of another dark period of drunkenness. He hoped that he was overreacting, but still, Sam couldn't help but pray that Someone was watching over his friend. Sam's worries weren't that far off. Al had found himself totally inundated by everything that had transpired, swirling into one terrible monster that just refused to die no matter what steps he might take to try to fight against it. After his stomach settled back down, he had ordered, no, shouted at, the entire Control Room staff to have the entire Project spotless by the next day in a display of temper that had shocked even Al himself. Ashamed at the way he had just verbally abused his colleagues and friends, he had slunk quietly away to his quarters. Al was teetering precariously on the brink of a sharp cliff, although he didn't realize it right at that moment. He dug through his refrigerator until he found the secret stores of beer he'd had stored up for this year's Super Bowl, and wrenched out a bottle from the back, and poured himself a glass, sitting down at the nearby table, prepared to wallow in his misery. He raised the glass to his lips in preparation to bolt down the entire glass, but a voice came to him from another timeline that he'd tried to allow himself to forget during the short time of bliss he'd enjoyed with Beth, before _this_. [What are you doing, Al?] He lived with two distinct pasts that were each equally valid, although he did his best to shove the first from his mind. He shook his head trying to dismiss it, but the memory came back to him unbidden: --Clunk. [_In_ goes the dime. And _out_ comes . . . I _said_, out comes the cigar! Okay, give it one more second . . . nothing! Hey, you ate my dime! Now it's personal! Hmm . . . there's something! Perfect. Now you'll regret you ever messed with a Calavicci! I'm gonna get my dime one way or the other if you're gonna be this way!] I raised the . . . what was it? Oh, yeah, it was a hammer. You hit nails with those. At least I thought you did. Right? Anyways, I raised the hammer (if that's what it was?), and took aim, wondering why the blasted machine kept moving back and forth. And sometimes it looked like there were two of them. Oh, well, never mind that.-- --Bang! A hit! [That'll teach you! Gimme my dime!] I waited a second. Then I swung again. The vending machine ducked out of my way. Yep, that thing was definitely alive, and it definitely hated me. No question. [Well, I hate you too, if you're gonna play this game!] Bang! Another hit! And still no dime! [Or a cigar, for that matter,] I remembered. [Hey, the way I see it, you owe me both! Cough 'em up!] Bang! Bang! And then it dodged me again. Okay, maybe the hammer wasn't enough. Well, if it could be so clever, so could I. I renewed my attack, now with both the hammer _and_ my fists. [Come on, come on, you nozzle!]-- --But something grabbed my wrists all of a sudden and I couldn't move. This guy had to be superhuman in order to stop Al Calavicci! He spun me around to face him, and I realized I was right, but not the way I expected. "What are you doing, Al?" His hazel eyes just bored straight into mine and I guess I could tell there was no point in fighting this guy. That look was enough to crush any man. [Wait a minute! How did he know my name? Oh, right. I'm the only admiral in this place . . . right?]-- --Well, there was nothing to do but tell him. "It ate my dime!"-- --He sighed and shook his head, a patient smile on his face. Funny that he could smile while he had me in that death grip. "No, that's not what I mean. Why are you wallowing in misery like this?"-- --I had my clearest thought all night. "I . . . I don't know. This is stupid!" I wasn't sure whether I meant his question was stupid or what I was doing was stupid, but either way, it had the same effect.-- --"Exactly!" he answered, and that grin widened. And then he finally let go of my wrists, but that look of his kept me from renewing my attack on the vending machine. "I'm Sam Beckett," he said. Sam stuck out his hand, and I took it. "Why don't I come see you tomorrow?" I was too dumbstruck by his sudden change of tactics to say no. He turned around and left, and I discovered that this Sam Beckett had left something in my hand: a bright, shiny new dime.-- [What are you doing, Al?], came the echo of Sam's admonition. The admiral looked at the glass in his hand and slammed it down suddenly in fright, realizing just how close he'd come to reopening that timeline. Some of the beer sloshed out and onto the desk, the less to endanger him. [What _are_ you doing?] Al thought frantically. [What about Sam? You'd let him down so badly; he still remembers. And what if Trudy Dann woke up and saw me blitzed? Or Beth? Wouldn't that make her day? Oh, God, I was _this_ close!] He sighed and made a solemn resolution. [Never again. No matter what anyone does to me, NEVER AGAIN.] With those words ringing in his mind, he quietly mopped up the mess, and poured the rest of the beer down the drain, and he headed back towards the Control Room to take care of Sam, realizing he'd been neglecting his best friend. Al gave a final shiver and continued on his way. Gooshie eyed him warily as he entered, recalling his earlier outburst, and Al found it difficult to meet his eyes. He felt unclean somehow after his close call, but he somehow summoned up the words he felt he needed, addressing not only Gooshie, but the entire Control Room staff. "Look . . . I'm sorry I snapped at you; that was really uncalled for. Just do your best and that's all right by me." Tina looked at him with surprise in her eyes, astounded by the admiral's apology. If Beth wouldn't listen to him, maybe Tina would be willing to . . . no! He wasn't going to let himself think like that. Somehow he was going to win this. After all, he _was_ a Calavicci!