CHAPTER 31 Al was standing next to the window in the cafeteria, keeping watch for the plane, he turned to Beth. "Dunno what's keeping Sam, I called him over an hour ago." "Al, you're silly, you know it's not a what that's keeping Sam " Jack, Dirk and a few others had just left the cafeteria, Beth was just clearing their tables. "Should've known that, neither made an appearance last night. It must've gone well for him, Bernie I mean. Like I told you, he wants her to work with him on the project." "I'm sure Sammi will show her the ropes. It'll give Sammi more time too. She'll be able to spend more time with Leone, she misses her so desperately, Joel's okay, he has his university studies and new friends. He gets home when he can, in fact I think he's home this weekend." Beth sighed, "It's Jimmy I feel for, he spends most of his time with Sammi's mother, I think he's even going to school over there now." "Sam can't remember Jimmy, he has a vague recollection of Joel though. Dunno how Sam thought about him being family, it must be one of his feelings I suppose." The sound of a light aircraft engine drew Al's attention back to the window. He could see a little speck of black dust in the distance. "Pearson's arriving." He turned to Beth. "I hope the new waitress is up to scratch, I forgot, it was the agency that sent Rosie. I hope this one's different." "Not everyone has evil intentions Al, most are decent." Beth joined her husband at the window. Al looked from the now clearly visible plane, down and across the car park, beyond the hanger, to the stretch of level ground. An immense, thick wad of tumbleweed and rubble had snagged in the middle of the runway. "Gawd! There's gonna be a Goddamned catastrophe if I don't get out there. Look, look at the runway Beth." "Oh my!" Beth gasped, she bought her hands up, covering her mouth. "Al, the plane's early." Al raced out of the cafeteria and across to the hanger, waving his arms frantically. A few of the technicians and engineers had gathered for the landing, the hanger blocking their view of the hazard littering the runway. Beth watched as the plane flew in closer, Al's arms flapped with gusto as he kept pointing to the runway and trying to hold his ribs at the same time. "The runway" There's debris on the runway!" He shouted. "There's an obstruction on the runway!" He finally made himself heard. Two men ran to the end of the hanger and beckoned to the others, they ran as the plane descended ever closer, too close. The pilot must have seen the debris as he began to slowly level out of the descent, only feet from the ground. The engines roared as he pulled into a steep climb. All Al could do was stand, watch and yell, "Easy there, ease off the throttle, now. No, you're too steep, push the column forward, you're gonna stall it, you're gonna stall." He yelled. The engines spluttered and the little plane seemed to stop in mid-air, the nose dipped downward and started to tumble, silent as the engines stopped. Suddenly the engines stammered back into life, Al breathed a sigh of relief as the pilot took control again. The plane circled and approached the now clear runway. "What's all the kaffufle?" Sam said as he entered the cafeteria, Bernie by his side. Beth, startled out of her trance of the horror she had just witnessed, whirled around. "It nearly crashed Sam, the plane, there was something on the runway, the plane shot up into the air to avoid it and the engines stopped. I thought it was gonna crash." Sam strode over to Beth and she buried her face into Sam's chest. Sam looked out of the window and saw figures running about dragging a gigantic pile of debris to the side of the hanger. "It was horrible Sam." She looked up at Sam, wide eyed. Bernie joined them and placed an arm around Beth's shoulders, "Oh Lordy, looks like it's under control now though." "Come on, we should be out there." Sam held a woman in each arm as he led them through the cafeteria and outside. Al heard their footsteps on the gravely ground as they approached, he turned around. "Boy that was damned close, too damned close." Sam could still see the distress in Al's face, "What happened Al." "The pilot must've seen that heap of tumbleweed just in time, he only just had enough time to climb out, too steep though and the engines stalled. Good job he wasn't flyin' a larger plane, he'd never have gotten the engines back." The wheels skidded on the rough tarmac as the plane touched down and slowed to a stop near the end of the runway. The plane turned and taxied back towards the hanger. Jack and Dirk moved the stairway into position and the door opened. Sam, Al and the women waited at the bottom, a large woman in her middle sixties descended the stairway first. "That'll be Ms. Chilton, our new waitress, Lordy she looks formidable Sam." Al squirmed. "I think she looks sorta Motherly, Al." Sam chuckled at Al's expression. "Well I think she's gonna put both of you in your proper places.... boys." Bernie laughed. "I do declare, that was some finale!" The woman pronounced with a southern accent. "If I'd known we were goin' on a roller coaster, I wouldn't have eaten my breakfast." Al held out a hand as she reached the final step. "Are you feeling all right Ms. Chilton? Sorry about the landing, it's not usually that rough. Good to have you join the team." "No worryin' bout me, Lordy found it really exhilaratin', wouldn't do it each and every day though." She was almost breathless with excitement. Sam offered his hand, and she shook it gently, "This is Al, he runs things around here, his wife Beth and my lady," he gave Bernie a hug, "Bernie." "So you must be Doctor Beckett. My, my, you's younger and more handsome than I was expectin'." She looked around at them, "And you's all must call me Colleen." Gregory Pearson was halfway down the steps before anyone noticed. Sam took two giant steps towards him, smiling. "Mr. Pearson. I hope you're okay after the little incident?" Sam remembered Pearson's handshake and declined to offer his hand. Al offered his though and regretted it afterward. "Yeah, sorry about that, highly unusual. The name's Albert Calavicci, but friends call me Al." Pearson looked over Beth and Bernie, "And who are these delightful young ladies?" his gaze looking slightly promiscuous. "Well you'll know Colleen of course." Al placed a hand on each of the women's shoulders in turn. "This is my wife, Beth and Bernie Sam's ....." "Bernie, I've heard so much about you. Pleased to meet you, all of you at last." "Despite it only being September and the sun" Al looked up at the clear blue sky, "the air is a little chilly today, shall we go inside gentlemen, after you ladies." Al commented. Al and Sam lingered behind as the others entered the complex. "See I told you I was a good judge of character." Sam grinned at Al. "He seems too smarmy to me Sam. There's something not quite right, he looks sorta, erm..... can't put my finger on it right now" "No, Colleen Al, the motherly type." "Oh right, thought you meant Pearson, I don't like him Sam, not one little bit." They followed the others into the building and into the cafeteria. Colleen looked around, "So this is where I'll be workin'. Hm-m, very nice." She saw the counter and walked over to it, "And this'll be the kitchen, I'm supposin'." Alfredo came through the door and introduced himself, they both disappeared into the kitchen, closely followed by Beth. "Shall we go into my office?" Sam asked, "it's more comfortable in there." "I would like to get straight down to business. If that's all right with you Doctor?" Pearson insisted. Al looked at Sam disgruntled. Sam didn't notice. "Sure. What about you Al, are you ready?" "Suppose so Sam." Apprehension audible in Al's voice. "Come on Bernie, your first lesson. I think Sammi's down there already." Sam took Bernie's shoulder and they headed for the elevator. They stopped outside the elevator doors. "First thing, you have to place your thumb on the touch-plate for Ziggy to scan your print." Al pointed to a metal disk at the side of the doors. "Then, when we're inside, Ziggy will do a full body scan. Just a precautionary measure, you understand. No-one's allowed down here without Ziggy's authority." "You keep saying Ziggy, who's he?" "She's the parallel hybrid computer. She's the focus of this project, without her, or Sam the project wouldn't exist." Al explained. "You first Bernie." Bernie placed her thumb against the metal disk, there was a low hum for a second, then stopped. Gregory Pearson hesitantly placed his thumb against the disk, after the humming stopped the elevator doors opened and they stepped inside, the doors closing behind. There was a short buzz and a voice called out, "Firearm detected, scan terminated." Bernie pressed herself against the wall of the elevator. Sam called out, "Who Ziggy?" "That's Ziggy?" Pearson remained unperturbed. Ziggy answered, "Mr. Gregory Pearson is holding the concealed firearm." "Hand it over pal." Al held out a hand to receive the weapon. "Uh, sorry, force of habit, New York yer know." Pearson handed the revolver to Al. An aperture opened near the corner of the elevator and Al placed the revolver inside, immediately the aperture clicked closed. "You can have it back when you leave." Al notified Pearson. "Some security," Pearson commented, "I'd like to know the name of the firm who installed this." "No security firm could install this, this is all down to Ziggy." Al laughed gingerly. "Some computer Eh." Pearson looked about him. "No other like it in the world." Sam smiled, still not noticing Al's distaste for Pearson. "Commencing scan." The buzz began again, " Three scan complete." "Why three Ziggy?" Sam asked. "Just checking Doctor." Answered Ziggy. The floor descended and Al smirked as he saw the reaction on Pearson's face, "Gets the new ones every time." Pearson looked at Al awkwardly. The elevator stopped and the doors opened. Sam held Bernie's hand, laughing he half dragged her into the corridors of the underground complex. She looked about her in awe. "Sam it's so...." "Big." Sam finished her sentence. "No, erm, fascinating." Bernie continued. Sam pulled at her hand and they, almost running, skipped down the rest of the tunnel.. "Aint love grand, they're like a couple of kids, aint they?." Al almost smiled as he watched the two lovebirds together. Pearson didn't comment he just followed the direction Sam was heading. Sam and Bernie were waiting at the entrance to the Control Room, the others turned the corner and caught up. "Ziggy will do another comparison scan here, then the doors will open." Sam informed Pearson. There was a quieter buzz and the Control Room doors whooshed open. The four entered. Sam noticed Sammi Jo wasn't there, "Ziggy, where's Sammi?" "She's in your office Doctor. Would you like me to contact her?" Ziggy's feminine voice filtered through the speaker. "No it's okay Ziggy, I think we can arrange this little demonstration without her today." Sam walked over to a cabinet and pulled out a white Fermi-suit and began to strip. "What's the costume for?" Pearson asked. "It's a special suit," Al informed Pearson. "It stops the majority of the static and kinetic energy particles from penetrating Sam's body." "Is the static and things dangerous?" Pearson looked from Sam to Al. "Nah, not really, it's like X-rays, too much and it could be. That's why he wears the suit." Al turned the dial on the control panel and selected a date. "Any particular time Sam?" "Erm, make it daylight hours Al. What date have you set it for?" Sam finished pulling on the Fermi-suit. "Today's date, and erm, 1976." Al checked the dial. "Why that year?" Pearson said as he watched Al. "No reason, just a random number." Al turned to Sam, "Are you ready Sam?" "Ready Al." Sam walked up the ramp and stepped onto the metallic disk. "Ziggy, activate the Accelerator Chamber." The over head disk started to descend. As everyone watched Sam, no-one saw Pearson pullout a small, hard resin pistol from his inside pocket. He lunged forward, taking Bernie with him, he bulldozed Sam out of the Accelerator Chamber, Sam crashed against the wall, stunned. Pearson stood on the metallic disk the gun pointing to Bernie's head. The overhead disk continued to descend. Al was mesmerised by what he'd just witnessed, he shouted desperately, "Ziggy deactivate the Accelerator Chamber." "Sorry Admiral, I can't, the program has taken over." Ziggy sounded almost human with emotion. Sam shook his head as a whirl of haze obscured his vision. Pearson ripped at his face with his free hand, revealing his true identity. "Saint-James!" Al yelled as latex hung from Saint-James's face and fell to the floor. "Ha-ha," Saint-James laughed satanically, "I'm taking control of this computer, it's all mine now." The Control Room door whooshed and Beth rushed in screaming, "The TV, Gregory Pearson's body had been found in a warehouse in Helena, Montana. He's an impostor Al." "Stay back Beth, thanks for the warning, but I think it's a little too late." Al backed off, and pushed Beth out of the Control Room. "Can you pull the plug Ziggy." "Let them go Admiral, trust me I know what I'm doing." Ziggy sounded adamant. "But we'll never retrieve them the program is only designed for Sam's genes." Al raged at Ziggy. "Admiral please trust me." Ziggy sounded almost sympathetic. Sam's vision slightly cleared and he shook his head once more. Struggling to get to his feet, he fell. He saw the bright blue white take over Bernie's form, he crawled, desperately trying reaching for her, his face distorted with effort. "Nnnnnnoooooooo!!!!" He cried as they both vanished, leaving no body shells behind.