Chapter 12 He awoke, panting heavily and swallowing the scream that threatened to leave his lips. The dreams, or rather nightmares, were usually bad but this one was exceedingly so. The voice had returned - that evil sound that ordered him to surrender to the peaceful bliss of death. But this time, it wasn't talking to him; it was talking to an innocent, a person who couldn't possibly know what real pain was. The man, who was stretched painfully tight in what seemed like a vertical iron maiden, was being horribly beaten and was struggling not to scream out. The dreamer watched in horror as the man slowly collapsed emotionally with every strike as the voice ordered him to die. The dreamer recognized the man as someone he had seen before, someone who had helped him, and he was determined to return the favor. "Leave him alone!" he ordered the soldiers striking the man. "He's done nothing wrong! Hell, he isn't even a prisoner! You want to beat someone into oblivion? Take me!" The voice laughed slightly. "Sorry, kid, but he has to endure this in order to continue." "What the hell are you talking about? Continue what?" "What he must do." At that point, the man screamed and the dreamer screamed with him as he woke with terror. "Commander, are you okay?" Lieutenant Commander Calavicci blinked, trying to regain his composure and his bearings. He looked around to find not his bedroom but rather a large blue room with seemingly only one door. A Marine corporal stood near the door, apparent professional concern on his face. "Commander?" the Corporal questioned, looking at Al. Al blinked his eyes again. "Yes, Corporal?" "Are you okay, sir?" Al thought about the question for a moment. "Yes, I think so." He looked around again. He could swear he recognized the room he was in and yet he was also almost certain that it wasn't like any military base he had ever seen. In fact, it didn't look like a base at all - more like a mental hospital. The thought terrified him. Had he finally lost it? After nine years of being in the middle of a war, was it the peace that finally caused his mind to crack like an egg? "Where am I?" he questioned abruptly, desperate for answers. "I'm sorry, sir, but I cannot tell you that. My orders are to see to your physical comfort but nothing more," the Corporal replied. "What's your name?" Al asked. "I am not authorized to give any information, sir." Al exhaled in frustration. "Terrific. Then who the hell can give me information?" The Corporal didn't give an answer. "I asked you a question, Corporal," Al emphasized, standing toe to toe with the subordinate. "Yes, sir. You did. However, my orders haven't changed, sir." Al tried to step around the Corporal to exit but failed miserably as the Corporal block his every move. "Dammit! I want answers and I want them now!" he shouted at the guard. "Who the hell is in charge here and where the hell am I?" "As far as you are concerned, you are safe," someone said from behind, "and I am in charge." Al looked towards the source of the feminine voice to see a beautiful black woman, dressed simply and elegantly in a pale red dress and shoes, her hair up in a flattering loose bun. He smiled a bit at the sight. "Who are you?" he asked gently. She returned the smile. "My name's Verbina." Al took a step towards her, the slight smile still on his face. He extended his hand. "Hello, Verbina. What a lovely name." Verbina politely shook his hand but then gently released it. "Cool your jets, sailor," she told him with a smile. "The Calavicci charm doesn't work on me." Al took a step back at her words, only then realizing that he couldn't remember his own name. "Calavicci," he repeated the name, knowing it was his but also knowing it was seemingly new to him. "Gawd, I can't remember my name!" He ran his fingers through his hair and walked away from Verbina, his attempt to seduce her far from his mind. Verbina approached him with sympathy. "It's okay. The gaps in your memory will fill in with time." Al turned around and looked at her carefully. "You mean you expected this?" He frowned. "Where am I and what the hell is going on here?" Verbina hesitated a moment before turning to the guard. "You're excused, Corporal." "Ma'am, Admiral…" "The Admiral is not in charge here," Verbina interrupted quickly. "If you have a problem with my order, take it up with the Admiral. Meanwhile, you're excused." The Corporal looked from Verbina to Al and back. "Yes, ma'am," he replied, immediately leaving the room. She turned her attention back to Al, taking a breath. "This may be unbelievable for you but you're not in North Carolina anymore." Al gave her a sarcastic look. "No shinola!" Verbina smiled. Some things never change. "In fact, you're not in 1976 anymore." Al huffed. "Let me guess. I'm forty years into the future and this is some kind of top secret project." Verbina tilted her head a bit, slightly surprised by his answer. "Actually, it's more like twenty years but, other than that, you're correct." Upon her words, Al stared at her. "You're kidding." She shook her head. He hesitated. "You mean to say that what happened twenty years ago… when I was an Ensign… it wasn't a dream? I was actually…" She nodded. "For us, it was only a few months ago. Actually, I'm surprised you even remember it." He shook his head. "Damn, this is confusing." He quickly sat on the table, thinking about her words. As he did so, a feminine voice filled the room from every direction. "Dr. Beeks." Al jumped at the sound, searching the room for the source before looking at Verbina. "Go ahead, Ziggy," she answered the voice, a hint of annoyance in her voice. "You're a doctor?" Al queried before a realization came to him. "You're a shrink, aren't you?" She didn't have an opportunity to answer as Ziggy replied. "The Admiral has left the Imaging Chamber and is waiting for you in the Control Room. He is quite upset." Verbina exhaled. "I'll be right there." She turned to Al. "Excuse me a moment, Commander." "Hold it!" he ordered, standing and glaring at her as she obeyed. "Who the hell are you? What is this really? Some kind of sick psychological experiment to see how far I've finally cracked?" Verbina frowned at him. "Al…" He pointed at her angrily. "Don't call me that! You don't know me!" She took a breath, holding her response. "We'll talk when I return." She left quickly, leaving the Commander glaring at her angrily. The general situation, however, didn't improve when she left. Standing at the bottom of the Waiting Room's ramp was Admiral Al, looking at her with the same glare Commander Al had given her. "Hold back your lecture, Al. I know what you are going to say," Verbina told him as she approached him. "Do you now?" Al asked sarcastically. "Then perhaps you also know why I ordered for you to not enter the Waiting Room until we talked." She looked at him firmly. "He's suffering from PTSD." Al paused at her words, his anger dissipating with them. "Exactly. And he doesn't exactly trust psychiatrists, no matter how attractive they are." She gave him a gentle smile of thanks for the compliment. "I'll be careful, Al. I promise. But I didn't think it would be good for him to be alone. What if he has a bad episode while he is here? Would you prefer he handle it alone or with someone who cares?" "He would prefer to handle it alone," he answered. "I didn't ask that, Al. You are twenty years older and wiser. If you knew then what you know now, what would you have preferred?" Al didn't answer for a moment. "Just don't spook him out, okay? He's going through a hard enough time as it is." She smiled. "You know me, Al. Mrs. Cautious." Al merely shook his head as he walked over to the control console. "Anything, Gushie?" he asked as he placed the handlink back into its proper container. Gushie shook his head. "Not yet, Admiral. Ziggy's still working on it." "Well, let me know when she has something," Al told him briskly before leaving the Control Room quickly and silently.