"The Final Chapter" - Epilogue January, 2003 Stallions Gate, NM "We have to go now, sweetheart," Al murmured. Beth, who was curled up in his arms on the chair in their quarters made some soft sigh of dissatisfaction. "I don't like this, Al." He grunted. "What's to like? Look, I tried to change her mind." "I don't understand why anyone would want to..." "The retrieval program is perfected, this is what we proposed, this is what we _planned_, that we send someone else out after it was finished. This is why we've been sucking up the money." She nestled deeper into the space between the cushions and Al, unconsciously expressing her reluctance to go see Melana off. "I just wish it wasn't _her_, you know? She's such a wonderful kid...I don't think she should be out there - it's too dangerous." Absently, Al rubbed her back. "It's her choice, her decision. Besides, she's tough. She can take care of herself." "I know." She closed her eyes. "Is this business with Franklin almost over?" "Almost," he assured her. The wheels of justice were spinning a little faster for him thanks to McBride, but it was still a slow process. "Senator McBride is really helping out and, besides, you'd be surprised the amount of sympathy the concept of self- defense draws out of people," he said, smiling slightly. She didn't pretend to understand the statement. "I wish you hadn't retired from the Navy." He laid a hand on her arm. "It made it easier that way. Besides, I was never gonna advance any further." "It just doesn't seem fair the way it happened." He took a deep breath. "I knew there were going to be sacrifices to make. It could have been worse. It could have been a _lot_ worse." "Al..." "We'd really better go," he said. "Okay," she conceded, pushing herself to her feet. Al stood up next to her. "Hey," he said gently. When she looked over at him, he kissed her lightly. "I love you." She smiled and moved so she could put her arm around his waist. "I love you, too." He settled his arm across her shoulders and they walked that way together to the Control Room. Sam, Donna, Tina, and Gooshie were already assembled. Them, and Melana, Fermi Suit already in place. "Are you sure?" Sam was asking her. Melana laughed, the light carefree laugh she'd had when Al first met her, the one he thought she'd lost for good somewhere along the way. "Sam, from that other time line, when we never came home, what's happened to all those people we helped while we were out there instead of here? And now, what about those two years the other project was up and running - what about all those who were hurt? The job's not over. I don't have too many ties here, no family except for you guys, I've done this before, and - I'm simply the perfect choice. Besides," she added, glancing at Al and Beth with a small smile, "it's not like I'll never be back. The retrieval program's operational and I can come home whenever I want." They said their goodbyes, then. Melana hugged each of them in turn, even though they all knew chances were in a few weeks she'd be back home again for a break. She went into the Accelerator and Gooshie began the preps. Sam stood in the corner by himself as Donna went to assist Gooshie. Al left Beth's side to stand beside him. "Penny?" he questioned. Sam jerked himself out of whatever abyss he was lost in and turned to Al. "What?" "For your thoughts," Al clarified. "Oh, nothing. I was just thinking...hoping she'd be okay." "And maybe wishing it were you?" Sam snorted. "No." Al looked accusingly at him. "Well...maybe a little." "Uh-huh..." Al placed a hand on his friend's arm. "Just because you aren't needed in that ambiguous `out there' doesn't mean you're not needed here, Sam." "I know that, Al." "So explain to me that look." Sam barely glanced at him. "What look?" "That `I can't handle this' look." "It's just not the same thing, Al." "I know, but people still need you. Donna needs you, this project needs you..." "Yeah." Al shifted his weight. "_I_ need you." Sam stopped and locked his gaze with Al's. He smiled slightly. "Yeah," he said again as the Accelerator gained power and blue brilliance surrounded them. "I know." The storm rose to a climax and, in an explosion of sound and color, Melana leaped.