"The Final Chapter" pt. IV

July, 2000
Santa Fe, NM

  Sandy had been gone for an hour. Mason had been gone even
longer than that. Melana paced the room alone. Karen wasn't even
there; she hadn't seen her often and had barely exchanged words
with her anyhow. Now she could feel the worry that permeated her
thoughts through every fiber of her body. The very molecules of
the room seemed to vibrate with it. Finally, after another
agonizing hour passed this way, she could pace no longer; it was
time to do something. She had to be here for something, and it
was a good chance that this was it. She didn't know why she still
had seen nothing of Sam or Al, but she had the feeling that she
wouldn't before this leap was over. 
  With trembling hands, she pulled out the small computer and
hooked it up to the outlet in the corner of the room. Sitting
cross-legged on the bed, she sifted through the system with
practiced ease, searching for Franklin's file. She wasn't sure
how much security he had on his files within the network, but she
had to try. Mason had been right; she couldn't stand back and do
  She had been at it for a good two or three hours before she
even made it into the subdirectories. And, in the midst of it
all, she found an outline in a transferred file from Franklin's
system to someone named Herbert Kessler. It had a code to break
into a system, and instructions of the data to retrieve. In
addition, it carried a virus to be planted into this foreign
system. Upon further prying, she discovered the virus was nothing
very drastic, simply a program to throw certain things out of
whack: the air conditioning, the lighting system, and various
other such factors. It didn't seem a threat, so why use it?
  Melana stood from her bed, stretching muscles that had been
neglected during her work. Sandy and Mason had never returned,
and Melana had long since ceased wondering if they ever would.
That was a question she fervently wished she didn't know the
answer to. "I guess I should finish what they started," she said,
the needed sound of her voice startling her as it reverberated
through the room. Two women had died in their attempts to stop an
injustice, and consciously or not, that weight had come to rest
on Melana's shoulders. 
  With sudden resolve strengthening inside of her, she pressed
the palms of her hands against each other, stretching the muscles
in her arms, and then sat back down. 
  She started with dismantling the virus, hoping whoever
initiated it wouldn't review it before activating it. Upon
further thought, she decided that she would reassemble the virus,
but add instructions to Ziggy (where she was certain the
receiving end of this would fall), which would certainly give Al
an edge he didn't have before. 
  As her fingers tapped on the keys, she didn't realize that she
was in the process of undoing everything.

  Elsewhere in the project, Franklin eyed two women warily. He
let them squirm in silence for a minute before waving his hand
towards Thames, who led them from the room.

July, 2002
Stallions Gate, NM

  Al had been catching a quick nap when Ziggy woke him up.
  He forced his eyes open, instinctively reaching for the other
side of the bed. Abruptly, he recalled that Beth had been in the
infirmary when he had retired for the afternoon. "Yeah, what?" he
asked, the sleep still clinging to him giving his voice a rougher
tone than normal.
  "Dr. Beckett has leaped."
  Al froze in the process of getting out of the bed. "Say that
  "Dr. Beckett has leaped," she repeated, sullenly. "You always
told me to tell you the instant he leaps in, Admiral, you know
  He sat up all the way, reaching for a shirt in an automatic
motion that two years of peace had not deprived him of, his
thoughts spinning around in a blur. "Don't play games with me,
Ziggy. Obviously something has changed and I don't know yet what
or how. Why is Sam leaping? I thought the Accelerator wasn't
fixed yet." Even as he said it, he knew that Sam had not used the
Accelerator in years and the quick change of clothing he had
reached for that lay draped over a chair by the bed was further
evidence that something was terribly wrong. Keeping an outfit
nearby whenever he went to sleep was a habit he had developed
during the five years Sam had been leaping and he hadn't done it
  "The Accelerator is in perfect working order. Dr. Beckett
simply never leaped home."
  Al swallowed. *I knew it. I knew I was right to be worried.* He
paused in the motion of buttoning the shirt to bottle the care
fully restrained anguish and push it aside. "Let's hear the
rundown, Zig. From when the change was first made." He was
surprised at the steadiness of his own voice when he spoke.
  "Melana altered the virus I was infected with as you were
discovering Alia nearly two years ago. It included instructions
as to Senator Franklin's plans to apprehend Dr. Beckett's
calculations so he could begin his project. You ordered the
remaining security still at the project to apprehend Herbert
Kessler when Dr. Beeks phoned you and informed you of the
situation. He was kept at the project until Senator McBride was
contacted and informed of the situation. 
  "After Franklin failed to gain the information he needed, his
sponsors cut off his funding and he was forced to let people go,
Dr. Meth among them, and then eventually shut the project down."
  "So I never met Dr. Meth, did I?" he asked, buckling his belt.
It had been the actions of Christina Meth, he recalled, that had
led to his finding Beth.
  "Actually, she's still on the project in this timeline. You
hired her some time ago."
  Al shrugged. "Okay, then. What happened after that?"
  "Because you were never able to gain the retrieval program Dr.
Meth was able to re-work along with several other scientists at
the senator's project, you never retrieved Dr. Beckett. Melana
re-surfaced in the time stream not long after she did in the
previous timeline, leaping first into a housewife to save her
daughter's life, then into Jenna Stevens to stop Thames, who had
attacked and successfully murdered Elizabeth Simon, and then-"
  "Hold it!" Al protested. "Did I hear you right?"
  "Well," she sniffed, "granted she wasn't Mrs. Simon at the
time, but after that leap Melana proceeded to leap into Amanda
Toy and that's when the other project was shut down."
  "Wait, will you just stop for a moment?" Al pleaded, pausing to
erase the desperation from his voice. First Sam and now this.
"She was using her maiden name when we found her, remember?"
  "Admiral." Ziggy's voice was admonishing. "When the project was
disbanded, you met briefly with Mrs. Simon before her husband
came to get her. She currently resides in Charleston with Mr.
Dirk Simon and is undergoing psychiatric treatment."
  "How long did it take the project to disband after he failed to
break into our files?" he asked, not certain he really wanted the
  "Almost a year."
  Al sat down hard on the edge of the bed. "A year? She was there
for a year?"
  He rubbed his hand over his face. "So why is Dirk still alive?"
  "That's an interesting question. My only speculation is that
something the senator's project did led to his death, either
directly or indirectly."
  "She told me they weren't very happy together before he died."
  "Affirmative. I believe they were deciding whether or not to
file for divorce when she disappeared."
  "And now?" Al tied his laces hurriedly, painfully aware even as
he worried about Beth, Sam could be in some serious trouble
wherever he was. 
  "There have been no further word on the proceedings since she
returned to South Carolina."
  Al let out a heavy breath. "Okay, fine, we'll worry about that
later. Right now, I'm more concerned about what Sam is up to."
  "I predict Dr. Beckett is not in a good mood at present."
  Anger exploded outward to cover for worry. "I don't give a damn
what you predict, Ziggy, I just want to know where he is!"
  "Dr. Beckett has leaped into a Karen Belley."
  "Is he okay right now?"
  "Data indicates he's in good health and-"
  "Is he _okay_?" Al demanded, rising to his feet and fishing
around for the handlink that always remained near the bedside
when Sam was leaping.
  "Yes, Admiral."
  By this point, he was moving steadily down the halls.
Interestingly enough, he felt less emotionally paralyzed now than
he had in the other timeline when Beth had died. But then, at
that point, he didn't have so many people depending on him. Sam
had been taking care of Melana, funding was coming through pretty
well, and the paperwork was all caught up. Now, he had so much to
occupy him that it was almost possible to forget order had fallen
back into chaos.
  "So where is he, Ziggy?"
  "Santa Fe, 2000."
  Al shook his head. "Of course."

July, 2002
Santa Fe, NM

  Sam slowed his pace to survey his surroundings, wondering where
his host had been heading to. Or more importantly, why he was in
someone else's life again. He wasn't sure of anything except that
mere minutes ago, he had been home. _Home_...
  He swallowed harshly, hoping for Al's timely arrival so he
could get some questions answered, and glanced around. The walls
were smooth and nondescript, giving no indication of what might
lie behind any of the doors, even though he would still be
clueless if he knew what did. He stopped dead and surveyed his
clothes. Even though he wasn't in a dress, the outfit was
definitely feminine. A light blue blouse rested on his shoulders, 
accompanied with black slacks and (much to his relief) low heeled
dress shoes. In his arms he carried a modest stack of files.
  A man passed by him, nodding as he went. He either didn't think
it odd to see a clueless woman standing in the hall, or he simply
didn't care. Sam returned the gesture, watching his retreating
back, envying his purposeful direction. Finally, for lack of
anything else to do, he kept walking down the hall. As he rounded
a corner, still guessing at directions, he saw a woman leaning
against the wall, obviously distressed. She gave him a funny look
as he approached, as if she knew him, but couldn't place a name.
  Sam paused in front of her. "Are you okay?" he asked carefully,
looking at her with concern.
  "Um...yeah. I just need some water," she choked out, pushing
away from the wall and breezing past him quickly.
  Sam stood in front of the abandoned spot for another moment or
two, trying to untangle the messages he was getting from his
different senses. His instincts were telling him to tread very
carefully, that little changes could alter everything. He shook
his head as if to clear it and resumed his walk.
  "Sam." Al's urgent voice came suddenly by his right ear and he
  "Al, what am I doing here?" Sam demanded, foregoing the
reprimand to get down to business.
  Al eyed him speculatively, drawing the handlink up into his
field of vision. "Well, we don't know yet-"
  "No." Sam shook his head, casting a cautious glance down the
hallways to make sure they weren't being overheard. "I mean why
am I _here_? Leaping?"
  He couldn't tell if Al looked relieved or upset. "You remember?
I mean, you know that history changed?"
  Sam's shoulders slumped. "It looks that way. I remember being
home, and not a whole lot of this time line yet. Besides, you
look terrible."
  Al wasn't sure whether to feel grateful that Sam and he were in
this together, or pained by the burden his partner would have to
bear by remembering the changes in history. "Well, I don't
remember much of the new timeline yet either," he pointed out,
gesturing with the handlink. "How much do you remember of
  Sam looked soberly at Al. "Everything."
  Al stared into his eyes for several long minutes. "Okay," was
all he said when he finally spoke.
  "I remember Donna, if that's what you're asking," he said
  Al looked distinctly upset. Sam reached out a hand and watched
it pass through Al's shoulder. He exhaled heavily, averting his
eyes. "It's been a while since I've had to get used to this," he
  Al's eyes spoke volumes. "I wish you didn't have to now. And I
hope you don't take this the wrong way, but I wish you didn't
have to remember her, Sam."
  The leaper looked back up at him. "Well maybe it's just time
for you to stop having to protect me," he intoned gently. Then he
studied Al and pressed, "Al, what else is wrong?"
  "Beth is gone," he said, amazed at how easily the words came
out. He supposed it was because he hadn't taken the time to let
himself feel the pain from it yet and he just needed somebody to
know. And who better to tell than Sam? At least he'd have someone
to turn to when he did go to pieces over it.
  Sam sighed regretfully. "What happened to her?"
  "Whatever Melana did stopped this project from-"
  "This project?" Sam interjected quickly. "Oh, boy, I should
have figured."
  "Yeah, well, she succeeded in stopping it. And it turns out
whatever this project did led to Dirk's death. Now, none of that
even happened and she's still married to him."
  Sam was silent, processing this new information. "She shut them
  Al watched him, then threw up his hands. "I don't know which
way is better, Sam."
  "You can't mean that."
  "Think about it. Now I can't retrieve you or Melana, Beth is
trapped in a marriage she told me herself was an unhappy one in
the later years..."
  Sam's brow furrowed. Personally, he thought Al's judgement was
impaired. "And how many countless people did she help by
destroying this place before it ever truly got off the ground?"
  "So it's a lose-lose situation."
  Sam waved a hand to get draw him out of his frustration. "First
thing's first. What am I here to do? Ziggy got it figured out
  "Um...you're Karen Belley."
  "Yeah, it's French. Spelled like belly. except with another
  Al shook his head and continued reading. "It's July 25, 2000,
and you're here to prevent two murders."
  Sam moved the files to the other hand, squaring his shoulders
and clearing his throat. "Then let's get the details and get this
leap going, okay?"
  "What about-"
  "What can we do, Al?" Sam demanded. "I'm not going to undo what
she did, so don't ask me to."
  "I won't, Sam. You know me better than that." He considered his
companion again. "Besides, I know you couldn't."
  Again, Sam tried to touch him, but clenched his fist in anger
when the attempt failed, cursing under his breath. "What do I
have to do?" he asked, the weight of the world once again seeming
to rest on his shoulders.