"Hidden Agenda" Part IV November, 2000 Stallions Gate, NM Al focused on the scenarios only faintly. It would figure - the woman spent every spare moment of her day calling to annoy him and now that he wanted her to call, she wouldn't. Ziggy had finally gotten on the ball at 0400 when she'd called last and traced her to some small town in Pennsylvania, which didn't end up clearing up anything. He sighed and read the reports again. He didn't like it when things went smoothly, he decided. He was much happier when he had to figure out missing gaps in the data, fight with distasteful people in the Waiting Room, and schedule repair teams to fix some component of Ziggy's every 12 hours. But this...this was quiet. Quiet and easy, and he didn't trust either. Earlier, he'd spoken with Bernadette for the first time, just to introduce himself and reinforce what the staff had been telling her. Now, he got up to go back, maybe ask her a few questions that could offer insight into that night's disaster. In reality, he knew he was just killing time until something happened. The one thing Al never handled well was waiting. Bernadette was reading a book when he entered. She looked up and smiled faintly. Still polite, still willing to help, but being by herself in the same room for 24 hours was starting to take its toll already. *Probably just worried about Tabitha,* he thought to himself. "Admiral," she greeted him cordially. "Any word yet on when I can return home?" "No...I'm afraid not. I wanted to ask you something and...I'm sure it'll sound silly, but I can't think what else to try." She raised an eyebrow. She'd been told that Tabitha was being taken care of and that they were trying to protect them, but little else. She hadn't even been given a mirror - she was going to be there for such a relatively short amount of time that Al decided it really wasn't necessary to go into all of that. "What can I do for you?" she asked neutrally. He cocked his head to one side, wishing for a cigar to fiddle with; as a rule, he tried to keep them out of the Waiting Room. "Is there anyone who would want to hurt you? Or Tabitha?" She looked genuinely shocked at the suggestion. "Goodness, no! I've lived in Hardesty for, oh, a good 25 years now. I know many people in that town and it's a wonderful place to live. A wonderful place to raise a little girl, although I wish that wasn't necessary, given the circumstances that led to this." He nodded in understanding. "I'm sorry to even suggest it, it's just that-" "Has something happened to Tabitha?" she demanded with more force than he'd seen her use thus far. "No, no," he assured her quickly. "I was just asking - she's fine." "You're sure?" she pressed. He smiled slightly, glad she had someone so determined to look after her. "I'm sure." Bernadette visibly relaxed. "I-" "Admiral." "Ziggy, it's rude to interrupt," Al said pointedly. "You're a fine one to talk." Al gritted his teeth and Bernadette looked curiously at him, then glanced around the room. "Besides, you told me to notify you the _instant_ Ms. Gray called." Al smiled slowly. "Tell Lt. Collins to meet me in my office ASAP." He nodded to the woman in front of him. "Thank you for your help. Let me assure you that everything's going to be fine with her." "Thank you, Admiral," she replied, though she still looked slightly uncertain. Most likely swiss-cheese and the whole oddity of the situation to begin with. By the time he made it to his office, Collins was already there. Al nodded to him and sat down behind his desk. "You ready?" he asked. "Yes, sir." "Relax," Al said, then added to Ziggy, "Okay, Ziggy, let's do this." He hit speakerphone and leaned back in his chair. Collins swallowed, then spoke clearly and calmly. "This is Dr. Beckett." There was a shocked pause. "Dr. Sam Beckett?" "Yes, is there something I can do for you?" The lieutenant seemed to relax suddenly and even Al was impressed with the ease in his voice. "My name is Celia Gray. We've met." Al's eyes widened and Collins looked up sharply at him. He waved one hand around in a circular motion, indicating for him to wing it. "Have we? Where?" "I was at the lecture you gave in 1990 at MIT. I spoke to you afterwards." As Collins tried to think what to say, she laughed lightly. "Of course, I was wearing a name tag, so I'm sure you remember now. Having a photographic memory should make it easier. I was wearing a light blue dress..." Al hesitated, then nodded. "Ah, yes, I remember you now. I'm sorry to seem impolite, but I have a large number of things to take care of, so if you could..." "Oh, I'm sorry to take up so much of your time. It's just that it's taken me so long to get hold of you - I was constantly being intercepted by Admiral Calavicci." Al rolled his eyes. "Still, now that I'm speaking with you, I would like to know who you are." Even Collins couldn't hide his surprise. "Excuse me?" "I never met Dr. Beckett. Who are you?" Al ran a finger across his neck: abort. "Ma'am, I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to-" "I presume the admiral's there?" she interrupted smoothly. And that haughty tone was back. Al considered a moment, then decided there was absolutely nothing to lose now. "Ms. Gray, what kind of game are you running here? What do you want?" Her only response was to feed him a telephone number. "You want to figure out how to get Dr. Beckett back? Give me a call sometime." Before Al could protest, the line went dead and, before he could say anything else, even process what he'd just been told, Ziggy spoke up. "Admiral, the time of death for Tabitha Kesey has changed." "To?" "1346." Al glanced at his watch. "Tomorrow? That gives us-" "No, Admiral, 1346 Dr. Beckett's time. Which is in approximately 7 minutes." ~~~~~~ October, 1998 Hardesty, OK Tabitha wandered around the house by herself. She was bored. She couldn't eat anything because she'd been told countless times to wait until there was an adult around before trying to get anything out of the cupboards, and she was tired of playing in her room. It was too rainy outside to play in the garden. She wished Al was there, or Sam. Sam had been pulled over by Mrs. Moyer to get some eggs or something to that effect and he'd been gone for _days_ by now. At least, that's the way it felt. She knew Daris wasn't home - he was with his father somewhere out, but at least Sam was always willing to play with her. She wondered if perhaps Aunt Bernie was at Daris's, too. Clutching her teddy bear and pulling on her rain jacket (inside out, it so happened), she went outside into the rain, which was only coming down as a light drizzle. She was halfway over the creek, using her stones instead of the bridge, as always, when Al suddenly appeared at her side. "Baby, stop!" he cried, distressed. She gave him a lopsided grin. "Hi, Al!" He floated over the water, but she never thought twice about that. He could do that - he was magic. "Tabby, honey, I just want you to listen to me. Just stand right there, okay? Don't move. I'm gonna go get Sam." She could get Sam herself - what was she, a baby? "I'm getting Sam," she protested and took another step. The stone wobbled - it always had - but Al reacted as if something was wrong. "Stop!" he repeated, more forcefully. "You stay right there - I don't want you to get hurt." "I'll get wet," she protested as the rain soaked into her hair and pants. The stone was slick with water, but she couldn't figure out why Al was so angry. "I know, but just stay there, okay? Promise me." She folded her arms and her lower lip stuck out. "Don't wanna." He visibly calmed himself and stood in front of her. "Tabitha, honey, you don't want to hurt my feelings, do you?" She considered him, his face level with hers as he knelt down, then unbent slightly. "No..." "Then will you stay there? For me? Please?" A simplistic battle of decision flopped back and forth within her for a moment. "Are you staying, too?" "I have to go get Sam, but I'll be right back. I'll only be gone...90 seconds," he pressed. "You can even count them if you want." "I can't count that high," she protested and he wiped his brow. "Can I play with your box while you're gone?" she asked, looking at the handlink curiously. "When I get back, baby, I promise." She sighed and then, as if doing him a tremendous favor, nodded. "Okay." He straightened, relieved. "I'll be right back." He popped out from right in front of her and she jumped, startled, and the rock wobbled violently underneath her feet and her stuffed animal splashed into the water.