"Lost Causes" Part VIII April, 1992 Pomona, NE He heard arguing faintly through the door. No doubt Derrick butting heads with his partner - again. It was starting to become a familiar sound and he wasn't sure yet how he felt about that. He wasn't sure it was safe to feel anything yet; he was afraid if he let one emotion in, the rest would come forth as from a floodgate and overwhelm him. After a few moments, the front door slammed shut and he couldn't help but wonder who he was left with. He honestly wasn't sure which he would prefer. He thought of the last 12 hours again and shuddered. Things were still cloudy and uncertain, but he knew whatever was going on demonstrated a definite threat to the project and to Sam. Even if he got out of here, he knew, his career would be over. It would be best to get out, resign his commission, and disappear. He knew he could never face Sam again. He moved slightly in the darkness and felt his knees brush the wall. As if for comfort, for the feeling of something solid and reassuring, he moved against it, feeling the cold seep through his clothes onto his skin and straight into his bones. He didn't do anything to try and stop it: his arms were aching from so many days of this and he was tired and alone and he would have given anything for it to end. Again, he tried to think back to his three captors. There were- "Al?" The soft voice called to him and he froze, his eyes shut as if it would enable him to hear better. He felt, rather than heard, Derrick advance into the small room and, despite himself, he tensed when he felt the man's touch on his arm. Derrick pulled away quickly, perhaps remembering as well as Al the last time they'd been in that room together and what had happened. Al himself still hadn't made heads or tails of that yet. Derrick wasn't behaving like the man who helped grab him outside of The Pool Cue, the man who'd helped keep him drugged for the first week of his stay. He suddenly claimed to be his friend, then betrayed him. Maybe it was all just a game after all. What Al didn't realize was that, in the midst of his mental ramblings, he was no longer thinking about how trapped he felt, or how he could almost feel the heat of the jungle on his skin, or how a drink would drive those thoughts away. Instead, he was calm and more clearheaded than he'd been in weeks. Derrick crouched down behind him. "Al?" he asked again, but Al didn't respond. He just wanted to be left alone. He didn't want any kindness, even now. Derrick moved his hand to Al's head lightly, as if checking to see if he was awake. He didn't budge; maybe if he was just absolutely still, Derrick would go away. Maybe it would all go away. "I'm so sorry, Al," he murmured, then removed the gentle contact. Mentally, Al sighed. It still didn't make any sense unless...everything Derrick had told him was the truth. He rejected that theory as quickly as he could and found himself back at square one. He wasn't sure he was prepared to believe that yet - he didn't know what to believe anymore. As if he could read Al's thoughts, or maybe because he was indeed convinced that he was asleep, the man sighed and said, hardly even a whisper, "I'm your friend, Al - you can trust me." He took a breath as if to add more, then let it out slowly. The static sound of movement reached Al's senses and suddenly, inexplicably, he didn't want to be alone. He spoke out into the darkness, halting Derrick in his tracks. "What do you know about all this that I don't?" The hesitation led to a long pause and Al shifted his position away from the wall. "Nothing important," came the reply. Something about it didn't ring true. "So you want me to trust you, but you don't want to trust me." He snorted in bitterness, a feeling that was painfully familiar. "Typical. Can't say as I blame you." The careful probing quickly transformed into denial. "No, I do trust you..." He still sounded somewhat uncertain, as if he believed what he was saying, but he couldn't reconcile it with what was before his eyes. "No," Al countered with a degree of anger, "you don't." He switched tactics into one that made him feel like he was dealing with a slimy politician. "I'll tell you what you want to know if you tell me what you already know." Almost a little too quickly, Derrick stated, "You don't have to make that deal. I'll tell you what you want to know." "How do you know about Sam?" The startled pause that followed was enough for Al to know his companion hadn't been expecting that question. "What...what do you mean?" He twisted around to face his captor. "The first time you really bothered to talk to me. You seemed to know a hell of a lot more than someone who was just hired for the dirty work. So tell me - what do you know about him?" Derrick took a step towards him and he had to fight back the emotions that came with the potentially aggressive motion. "He's not in any danger," he said in low tones, as if not quite certain of himself. "At least, not for a long while. Which is why I need your help." "I don't understand." Derrick moved forward again. "Here, let me-" "Why don't you just leave me alone?" He was being irrational, he knew, but he didn't trust this man. He didn't trust anyone who did things without an apparent motive - including Sam. Derrick froze, his arms still outstretched to untie Al's hands. "Let me prove it to you?" Al could feel the tightness in his chest again. "How?" He gestured awkwardly. "Can I..." He pointed to the ropes. "Please?" Al wasn't sure what he was so afraid of - maybe the feeling of betrayal that had overcome him the last time he'd let Derrick help. It was a battle of curiosity and apprehension and, eventually, curiosity won out. He nodded slowly and even let Derrick help him to his feet after he could stand. The man stared steadily at him for several seconds, then cocked his head in the direction of the open door. "C'mon." This time he didn't question, but followed him out, taking in his surroundings with alert eyes as they went up a flight of stairs and entered a small kitchenette. Derrick stopped in front of a small card table pushed up against the wall. Several dirty paper cups littered the surface, all coated with a thin layer of dust that spoke of abandonment. Al narrowed his eyes. "Here are the ground rules: no trying to escape. I wish I could let you, I really do, but I can't yet. It's for your own good, as well as...Sam's. Secondly, if you mention what you know of where you are, I'll have to cut the connection. He can't know - not yet." Al's brow furrowed and he realized he was rubbing his torn wrists anxiously. He forced himself to stop. "I don't understand." He was becoming tired of saying that. Derrick motioned above the table and, for the first time, Al noticed the phone hanging there. "He has his cell phone on him. Call him." Al's eyes went wide as amazement overtook fear. "How do you...?" "He's here - in town. He tracked you up here." Derrick's words were confident, calm... persuasive. "He ignored the police when they told him not to get involved and he followed you up here." Still wary of picking up the phone, as if he thought it was all a trick, Al tried to wrap his mind around what he was being told. "Why? Why would he...do that?" Derrick lifted the phone from its cradle and handed it to him. "Why don't you ask him? It's late, but I don't think he'll mind." He smiled mysteriously, then became serious again. "But don't forget our rules. Once the time comes, I'll call him myself. You can tell him anything else - anything at all, but not that." Suddenly he thought he understood. "And what do you want in return for this?" "What I _want_ is your help, but you're under no obligation to give it. This phone call is yours, if you want it. You don't owe me anything for it." Derrick studied him for a moment longer, something almost familiar about his expression. Then, he turned away and moved to a point close enough to hear, but far enough away to let Al feel that he had some privacy. Still, the admiral hesitated. Then, with a shaking hand, he dialed the number to Sam's cellular phone, scared of what he would find. It rang five times and he was about to give up, almost to the point of tears with disappointment he didn't expect to feel, when someone picked up and he heard an achingly familiar voice answer. "Hello?" Al caught his breath, both hands gripping the receiver as if it was a lifeline. Only now did he realize how alone he'd been, even before he'd been grabbed in the parking lot in Nambe over a week ago. He looked up at Derrick, who nodded encouragingly. "Donna?" Sam asked, sounding slightly more awake. He inhaled slowly. "Sam?" The silence was that of his friend praying he'd heard right. "Al? Oh my God, Al, is that you?" He swallowed loudly. "Yeah..." *Keep talking. Please, I just need you to keep talking to me.* "Are you okay? Al, I was so worried about you - where are you?" He stopped the rush of questions abruptly to calm himself down and give Al a chance to answer. "I...I can't say." "What do you mean?" Sam's relief seemed to change back into anxiety in a heartbeat. "Are you okay?" He fell into the seat beside the table, turning away from Derrick. "No... No, I'm not." "Look, just tell me where you are, okay? Let me come get you. I'm sorry about what I said to you - I was wrong. Can you please let me come get you?" "No." The word shook and he forced a steady breath in and out. He knew Sam was confused and lost, trying to gather an understanding of the situation from what he was being told, but he couldn't seem to offer any more. He was nervous about Derrick and scared at what Sam would say. "Are you in Pomona?" he pressed, as if trying to convince him to see things his way. He hesitated. "I don't know." Al glanced again at Derrick, wondering how much the man would let him get away with. His captor was busying himself wiping down the counter, trying to appear as if he wasn't listening, and Al second-guessed himself. Again. Maybe this _was_ just a trick. Some sick, twisted joke. "You don't know?" Sam's breath was almost audible over the line. "Are you in some kind of trouble?" Al's throat closed up and he couldn't speak. "Al, answer me!" The sudden fierceness spoke more of worry than anger. Al's hands tightened on the phone and he focused on the dried blood on his skin, wincing at the reminder that that was exactly where he was - in trouble. "I went out drinking that night, Sam." He choked, recovered, and pressed on before his friend could interject. "I went out and got smashed. Sam, I'm so sorry, I-" "I know you did. And it's okay." The sudden calm in Sam's voice was a godsend. "We'll fix everything, okay? Tell me what happened so I can help you. Are you hurt?" How could he answer that? On the outside, he had bruises, stiffness from being locked away for so long, and he was fairly certain he hadn't eaten in over 24 hours, but it was nothing extreme, as far as he was concerned. He was thinking clearly, so the drugs had to be mostly out of his system, for now. Inside, however, every part of him seemed to ache. "Not...really..." Sam didn't comment on the lack of conviction in the words. "What happened?" "When I left the bar that night...someone grabbed me and I..." He swallowed, harder this time, as if he could force back the memories. "Sam, I'm not allowed to tell you where I am." The scientist's shock was almost tangible. "Are they listening? What do they want?" "To me, but not you," he answered Sam's first question. "They've been asking me - everything about PQL. And I mean everything... Where we're building, times for completion of phases..." He lowered his voice. "All the passwords." "Who are these people?" A kind of protectiveness entered Sam's tone - protective of his project, no doubt. "I don't know." Al was starting to feel as if he'd let him down. "Did they hurt you?" The fury in his voice was beyond protectiveness, now, and Al wasn't sure how he felt about that. "No." Sam was silent for a moment. "I don't believe you." Al bit his lip. "Look, I'll get you out of this, okay? You've just got to hang in there." "Don't go yet," Al implored before he entirely realized what he was saying. "I won't," Sam reassured him. "I'll keep talking with you as long as they'll let me." The conversation died again and Sam seemed to realize that Al needed him to keep speaking. "Listen, Al, the last time we saw each other, I didn't mean to-" "You were right," Al interrupted. "About a lot of things." He leaned forward, resting his forehead on his fingertips. "I failed, Sam." "No," Sam replied immediately, firmly. "No, you didn't. Don't say that - please don't say that." He cleared his throat. "Is there anyone there who can tell me where you are, anyone who can help you?" "Maybe. But I don't think so." He closed his eyes. "I don't know who to trust." Trust - what a word! It was so fragile and yet so powerful a thing. And, although it didn't come easily to Al, he didn't crave it any less. There was a lengthy pause and Al began to feel nervous again. "I'm your friend - trust me." Al sensed Derrick nearby and he looked up sharply. There was regret on the man's face. "Marcus may be back soon," he warned. "So you'd probably better..." He winced. "Al? What's going on?" Sam asked quickly. "I have to go. I'll, uh, I'll see you soon, okay?" "Al?! Al, wait!" Sam's frantic voice reached his ears, but Derrick was already pulling the phone away. He hung it up and looked regretfully at Al and the admiral felt his world crumble back into oblivion as the connection was cut.