"Hidden Agenda" Part XII November, 2000 Stallions Gate, NM "Al!" Al burst into the Control Room, Celia trailing in his wake and generally unnoticed by all. He went straight to Verbena and took the handlink from her. "What's the story?" "David's driving in his general direction - it won't be long before he shows up there." "And Sam?" he asked curtly. She put a hand on his wrist. "Hanging in there, but fading fast. He needs you, Al." "I don't know what I can do for him. What are the scenarios showing?" "We can't even get him out of the shelter - he's locked in and there's no other way out." Her face crushed into an expression of helplessness. "When it comes down to it, you may just have come back in time to be with him while-" Al jerked away from her touch, as if she'd betrayed him. "Like hell," he retorted, fire in his eyes, and he almost ran up the ramp to the Imaging Chamber. ~~~~~~ April, 1995 Hancock, MD Al scouted out the area as quickly as possible, then centered on David. He was in the car, an estimated 25 minutes from Sam's location. They were running out of time. "Gooshie, center me on Sam," he ordered in a controlled tone borne of years of practice. Immediately, he found himself in the dark. He squinted, trying to make out any forms, then stepped forward hesitantly, as if afraid of running into something. He wished he could - he wished he could _be_ there, dammit! He forced himself to stand absolutely still and the labored sound of breathing was to his left and a couple paces in front of him. At least Sam was still breathing - just because David would have to have come back didn't mean "Gina" hadn't died before he did. "Verbena?" Sam asked wearily and Al was momentarily paralyzed. He didn't sound so good. "Is Al here yet?" He followed the sound, drawn by the pleading inquiry, and bent down next to his friend. "I'm right here, Sam." He waved the handlink through the air to give him some perspective. "Right here. How you doin', kid?" "Al..." Sam's relief was almost painful and Al could feel his unflinching trust, a blind faith that the admiral would work it all out. "It hurts." Al thought briefly of the man who had once told him stoutly that he mattered, that there were things that were important and he was one of them. Somehow, now, he sounded younger and more vulnerable and that thought alone angered the admiral. He pushed it aside, forcing a soothing quality into his voice, knowing Sam would respond to that. "I know. I know it does, Sam, but it's gonna be okay." He stopped for a shaking breath. *Don't do this,* he commanded himself. *Don't fall apart now. You can do that later, when you have time.* "I need you to listen carefully and follow my instructions, okay?" "Okay." Al leaned a little closer. "Okay," he repeated firmly, putting on a false bravado that Sam probably saw right through. "Can you get up?" "Al, why-" "Sam, I don't have time to outline this for you, so we're going to take this one step at a time, here. You're just going to have to trust me." Al gripped the `link tightly. The only reason it was still on was so that at least Sam could see him, even if he couldn't see Sam. "Now, can you get up?" "I don't know..." "Try. Come on, Sam, you can do this, I know you can! Get up." He heard Sam straining, the soft scuffing of his soles on the rotting wood, then there was a loud thud as he fell against something and Sam cried out reflexively. "Sam?! Sam, I can't see you - you're gonna have to talk to me." "My arm," he panted, "I think it's broken." "Use your other arm to pull yourself up," Al commanded firmly. "Al, I can't..." "Get up!" Al yelled at him. *Forgive me, Sam...* "I don't care how you do it, I don't care how much it hurts - I told you to get up!" Sam grunted and, several agonizing seconds later, announced, "Okay, what now?" Al badly wanted to ask him if he was okay, to apologize for having to do this, but he didn't want to waste time. Ziggy had said if he didn't make it to a hospital within 24 hours, he was done for. Sam was a doctor - surely he knew that. In all honesty, Al didn't know if he would be able to do what he had to to save his own life. "Okay, there's a flight of stairs you're gonna need to go up. I'm standing at the bottom step - follow my voice. Come on, Sam, you can do it. Don't make me yell at you again...come on..." "Okay," Sam whispered right on top of him and he jumped reflexively. "Al, I'm really dizzy. Verbena said I already fell down these stairs once and if I-" "You have a railing to hold onto?" Al interrupted. He didn't want to think what would happen if Sam fell, and he didn't want his friend thinking about it, either. There was a short pause. "Yeah." Sam labored up two steps, then stopped. "Keep going," Al prompted. "It's easier to keep going than to stop and start." "Al, I'm tired... Can't I just take a minute to-" "Don't you dare, Sam, don't you _dare_!" They didn't have a minute and, besides, Al worried that if he sat down, he'd never get up again. He waved the handlink, wishing he could smash it against something. "I'll keep talking, but you have to keep going." "When's he going to get here?" he questioned breathlessly. "Don't worry about it, Sam," Al said, but glanced at the handlink anyhow. Sam was moving too slow - they were never going to make it. And they hadn't even hit the hard part, yet. "Are you at the top, yet?" "There's something above my head." "That's the wooden hatch. Now listen to me - there's a piece of wood slid through the handles to lock it shut, but one of the handles is half off - it's only screwed on at one end and the quality of this wood is questionable to begin with. A few good blows and you can break it." Sam wanted to protest, Al could _feel_ it, but he just took an unsteady breath. "Okay," he agreed, gathering his strength. He had so much trust that it scared Al. He'd always felt that way. He once told him: ‘No kid with as innocent a farm boy heart as you should waste that kind of faith on me - you'll get hurt!' But Sam wouldn't listen. Now Al felt the same way - he could be leading Sam to his death for all either one of them knew. "I'm gonna go on the other side and you give it all you've got." "Hurry, Al," Sam pleaded - he must have been fading. Al punched a button and found himself staring at rusted handles and rotting wood. "Okay, Sam," he called, "come on, pal..." Sam didn't waste the energy it would have taken him to reply, but Al saw the doors jolt as he rammed his shoulder against it, tugging at the loose screw and stretching the limits of the construction. "That's it, Sam, you're getting it!" He hit the doors again and again, but each blow carried with it less and less force until there was no definable progress. He was too tired - it wasn't going to work. Al reached past the panic within him to find some untapped source of strength and calm and he glanced at the `link - 12 minutes. "Oh, no," he whispered. Even though David was a big man, Sam would normally have had a good shot against him, but not now. "Sam - what's wrong with you?" Al demanded. *Low blow, Al...* "Push. Push!" Sam tried again and Al noted the loosening of the screw with hopeful eyes. Still not enough, though. "Dammit, Sam, keep going - don't give up!" "Al, it's not working," Sam cried desperately. "Yes, it is!" The wood creaked, as if in defiant disagreement. "Dammit, Sam, don't _make_ me leap back here to save your butt!" That spurred Sam on and he threw his weight upwards and the entire door broke away, crumbling with age, and collapsed in on him. "Sam!" Al cried, sick to his stomach. He slammed to his knees on the smooth, cold floor of the Imaging Chamber, each sensation reminding him that he had nothing but words. *Told you to watch where you put that faith, Sam.* "Sam?! Answer me!" He could see something move, faintly, and he forced air back into his lungs. "Sam, come on, pal - can you hear me?" "Al, I can't get out..." Sam's voice was rough, muffled, but it was there. "Well, you gotta!" *What on earth am I supposed to say, Sam?* "Come on, kid - you're running out of time! Sam, don't _let_ this bastard hurt you - or Gina. He's hurt a lot of people." *Oh, sure, appeal to the kid's sense of responsibility - that's low, too. He's got the most overdeveloped sense of responsibility of anyone already - goodness knows he already does more than he probably should and not enough for himself.* Even so, Al pressed on; words were his only weapon and he had to use them to spur Sam on, to light the fire through anger or passion or whatever worked. "He was the one who tried to drown Tabitha. He killed an innocent woman. He beat his _wife_, Sam! Don't make me add your name to the casualty list!" "Keep talking." Al heard determination in his tone and he relaxed slightly. "Okay, Sam, no problem. Be careful, but hurry up! Come on, pal..." Sam's face was flushed with the effort, but he pulled himself from under the board that pinned him, and emerged, gasping and drained, falling onto the grass. As he pulled free, Al got his first good look at him this leap by the only light for miles - the half moon above them. Sam looked terrible. He cradled his right arm against his chest, one side of his face was bruised and swollen, and there were first and second degree burns on his hands and arms. "Oh, Sam..." Al breathed, angry and distraught. Sam climbed unsteadily to his feet and stood in front of Al, panting and bent over. "Al..." "Sam, you okay, kid?" Al hovered over him anxiously. "You did real good." "What - do I have to do?" Al pushed back his concern - David was almost there. "Okay, you see that little building over there? It's sort of a two room house and it's only just got the basics. I want you to set fire to it." Sam blinked at him. "What?" "You can't get to anyone fast enough - you need someone to come out here and get you. What would attract the attention of people miles away better? Especially at night." "Al..." "Sam, it's your only shot! C'mon - you already did the hard part." The hard part was over, but it had also taken its toll. The leaper had used all his strength to get out and now it would just be to die in the grass at Al's feet instead of in the dark already six feet under. *Stop it! Stop it, stop it, stop it!* "Okay, just tell me what to do." Al led him into the house and to the stove. It was a gas stove and there was a set of matches almost hidden in a pile of rust and a can of gasoline that, Al realized with a sick feeling, had probably been used to burn the body. Minutes later, the two-room shack was ablaze and David pulled up just in time to see it. He got out, staring at the flames as they licked at the sides, devouring not only the pitiful construction, but beginning to eat away at the trees as well. Sam was in the underbrush, ducked down, with Al standing guard. David circled the house once, then stopped directly in front of Sam's position, uttering a stream of obsenities. Sam emitted a grunt of pain and Al crouched beside him. "Sam, take it easy." "Is it working, Al?" Sam whispered, closing his eyes tightly against pain that felt as if it had been going on forever. "Uh..." Al shook the handlink. "The fire department will be here in five minutes." David threw up his hands and went down into the shelter Sam had been in. Al muttered several obscenities under his breath, then looked down as Sam wrapped himself in a fetal position. "Sam?" he prodded. David emerged and, in what was obviously a fit of anger, started looking around, then got in his car and drove off at alarming speeds. "Probably going home to slap his wife around," Al snapped bitterly. "You gonna make it, Sam?" Al moved a notch closer and Sam seemed to breathe easier, though he couldn't say why. It wasn't as if Al could _do_ anything. "When can I leap out?" *`Can.' Not `do', like it normally is... Oh, Sam, how do you always get into these messes?* "Ziggy thinks it'll be as soon as the fire truck shows up. You just hang on `til then. David's gone and I'll stay with you until you leap." "What about his wife?" he asked suddenly. "What?" Al was a little startled by the question, almost as if Sam had been paying more attention to his words than he himself had. "Can we do anything to help his wife?" Sam elaborated, his words heavy. Al was amazed that he was even thinking about that now. "Sam, you just relax and take care of yourself. She's going to be all right, in the end, okay? Trust me." Sam just nodded against the leaves that carpeted the soil. "I'm sorry, Sam - I shoulda been here." Sam smiled dimly as sirens sounded in the distance. "You were." Before Al could ask exactly what that meant, Sam leaped.