"The Final Chapter" pt. I July, 2002 Stallions Gate, NM A week passed. And then another. And another. Al wasn't sure which was more frustrating: the fact that Melana, despite rather positive predictions, hadn't leaped back in, or that the money to replace the shorted out parts in the Imaging Chamber simply wasn't there. Parts that would not need to be replaced if he hadn't made the mistake of attempting to leap. Great, more guilt...as if he didn't have enough to deal with as it was. The only thing that seemed to make it all bearable was that God (and when had he come to this conclusion?) had seen fit to return his wife to him. He had lost her so many times before that it stood to reason that this time she would surely be gone forever, but things hadn't happened the way Al thought they would. It had been a long time, he realized, since things had happened his way. Driving away the inevitable thoughts of helplessness and lack of control, Al sat up in bed and rubbed at his eyes. He was alone in the room; Beth had fallen asleep on the couch. Again. She had done that a lot for some time after the accident, but this was the first time in about three or four weeks that she had never made it to bed with him. The painkillers she had been on knocked her out so much that he had rarely seen her up and about with Verbena as she used to be. And she'd seemed to need them a lot. It was better for her, now, but there were still brief moments when Al could see her discomfort. The arm had been pretty bad, he had been told. She had lost some motor function that they hoped would be restored pretty much in full before the therapy was over. Her side had ceased to give her problems by this point. Surrendering to the fact that he wasn't going to fall back asleep, he got up and pulled on his robe, and padded out into the other room. Quietly, he eased himself to the floor beside the couch and looked at Beth by the light of the moon outside. He had barely been there a minute or two when Ziggy's voice jolted him halfway to his feet in surprise. "Admiral?" Thankfully, she was talking quietly. "In the bedroom, Ziggy," he hissed, his voice barely above a whisper and he stood, bent to kiss Beth on the cheek, and returned to the bedroom. "What?" "There is evidence to suggest that Melana has landed." "Where is she?" "Dr. Beeks is in with the leapee right now. I will know more shortly." Al sighed. "Anything I can do to help?" "No, Admiral. Dr. Beckett just asked me to tell you." Al swallowed a lump in his throat. "We can't do anything to get information to her," he said when he could speak again. "I am aware of that. But Dr. Beckett thought you would want to know," she responded, her voice uncharacteristically gentle and understanding. "Yeah. Thanks." He smiled briefly, relishing the flood of relief that momentarily overcame his senses. He had begun to feel certain, as the weeks wore on, that she would be lost to them for another five years, perhaps forever. "Feeling better?" He turned to see Beth in the doorway and smiled briefly at her. "Much. You?" She shrugged and crossed the room to sit beside him on the bed. "I guess. I'm up to going to see Verbena and Sam if that's what you're asking, and I know it is." He took her hand and sighed. "I'm just worried about her, is all." Beth nodded. He had told her what Melana had done for them. >From her perspective, Melana had leaped because of a violent breakdown over what had happened to her in her last leap. And in a fit of guilt-stricken torment, Al had tried to leap after her. She wasn't really sure how much of that Al remembered, but she knew how well he remembered the other history, the one she no longer felt a part of. "And I'm feeling a bit responsible for her predicament," he continued. "If I hadn't tried..." He shook his head and she squeezed his hand. "Isn't your plate full enough? Let's go talk to Verbena, okay?" Still wallowing in his own regrets, he shrugged numbly and stood when she pulled him to his feet. Verbena was in the Waiting Room when they went down to the Control Room. Sam and Donna, along with Gooshie and some nameless technician, were gathered around the colorful orb in the center of the room that represented the supercomputer. Sam nodded to them as they entered the room, slowing his pace slightly to study his partner. "Verbena's with her." Al stepped completely into the room, swallowing back a yawn. "What do we have so far?" Donna glanced at her husband and then pulled up the printouts to study the information further down the sheet. "We have a date: July 25, 2000." Sam crossed the floor to stand behind her and read over her shoulder. "I give it another couple weeks' repair on the Imaging Chamber and at least a month before we can try retrieval again." "So nothing we do here does a bit of good," he pointed out mercilessly. Beth slid her arm around his waist and he sighed in appreciation. Sam echoed the sound. "I couldn't even leap, Al." Al didn't respond to that, but his expression clearly said, "good". "Can we listen?" Beth asked quietly, motioning to the speakers. "Certainly, Doctor," Ziggy said suddenly. The sound of the conversation from the Waiting Room was piped into all the speakers in the Control Room and the small party stood in silence, listening to Dr. Beeks console and comfort yet another confused visitor. "Can you remember your last name?" she was saying. "I can't..." The voice of the visitor was distinctly distressed and Sam winced at the tremble in her tone. "It's okay. Just give it time. It will all come back to you in time. You told me your first name was Amanda, right?" "Y-yes." "How old are you, Amanda?" There was a small pause and then she said, "I'm 31." "And where do you live?" "Um...somewhere in New Mexico, I think." Al raised his eyebrows, a familiar feeling of dread churning within him. Everything was just too close. The past two months had formed an intricate web of leaps and alterations that were all somehow interconnected with each other. At this point it seemed almost absurd not to think that this could simply be a coincidence. One tug on the wrong string, and... "Do you know where in New Mexico?" "I don't remember." For the first time, Verbena's voice held a degree of hesitation. "It's not Stallions Gate, is it?" "I don't think so...but I'm not positive." "Ask about Santa Fe, Verbena," Al muttered, but Beth shushed him. "What do you do?" "I work with computers." "Damn," Al muttered angrily, pulling away from Beth. "What?" she asked, abandoning her attempts to quiet him. "Too close, it's all too close. Don't you get it?" he demanded before Sam or anyone else could interrupt. "She's back there poking around and changing things without any guidance from us," he said fiercely, gesturing expansively with one arm, "and she could undo everything!" "She's probably not in a position to-" Sam began, but Al cut him off, still ranting. "You don't know that! She could destroy everything." He felt a touch on his arm and looked up to see Sam gazing at him with concern. "You don't know that." "Sam," he intoned quietly, "you don't understand. I couldn't bear it if..." He trailed off and looked away again. "You don't understand," he repeated. Abruptly, he pulled away and abandoned, leaving behind him a stunned silence. ^----^----^----^----^ July, 2000 Santa Fe, NM "'Manda, you have to get up." Melana opened one eye to see a woman standing over her. She jumped, sitting up suddenly in surprise and banging her head on some low-hanging object, flinching at the sudden rush of pain. The woman snorted and shook her head. "You were the one who wanted the bottom bunk," she pointed out in a flat tone. Then she shrugged and turned away. "You had better get up before Dragon-Lady gets her teeth in you." Melana sat on the edge of the bed, rubbing her head absently as she took in her new surroundings. She was in a small room with two bunk beds sitting parallel to each other on either side of the doorway. The other end of the room was lined with dressers and housed another doorway which seemed to lead to a bathroom. She noted that all of the beds in the room were adorned with slightly rumpled sheets that went with recent abandonment - except for one - and she could hear the sound of a shower running. As she sat there soaking it all in, the bathroom door opened and another woman emerged in a robe, rubbing at her wet hair with a towel. "It's all yours. You better hop to it; you're late," she said, looking right at Melana. Melana nodded and stood, going to the dresser she hoped was hers. She'd watched the other two women go into theirs and there was only two left: a 50/50 chance. Nobody protested, so she hoped she had the right one. As she rummaged through it, the door behind her opened and the missing roommate walked in, leaning against the wall just inside the door jam. "Man, I pulled a double shift," she exclaimed, and then glanced at Melana. "You're not ready yet? I'd forego the shower if I were you, Amanda. She's not in a good mood today and if you're late..." "Oh, okay," she sighed. She had been given so many pieces of advice that she didn't even know which way was up anymore. "I guess I'll just get dressed." She moved away from the wall and raised an eyebrow. "Why tell me?" "I...uh..." This wasn't such a great situation to be in, Melana decided. Cramped in a small room with three other women, none of whom she even knew the names of, all of which seemed to be more than a little testy. Or maybe it was just because it was early in the morning. She seemed to recall breathing fire herself in the wee hours. A stray memory involved Al mentioning that _he_ certainly wouldn't take his life in his hands to wake her up if she overslept her shift and Ziggy countering with a comment that she was always left to be the bearer of bad news. Al... A flash of her last leap echoed in her mind and she smiled faintly. She'd done it! Al hadn't been by to tell her yet, but how could it possibly have gone wrong? She'd seen them both, alive and, for the most part, well. The image made her feel warm and contented. And now this. Sighing, she pulled out some slacks and a blouse and turned to go into the bathroom. "By the way," the woman who had just entered called after her, "Thames wanted to see you before you go to work." Melana paused and turned to face her. The name was vaguely familiar, but she couldn't place why. "Sure," she said quietly and disappeared from the room.