Book II, Part XV

				March, 1998
				Fairbanks, AK

Sam waited up until 3:30 AM before Jessie came home. She was feeling lost in
the shuffle, unimportant next to her mother's fading health, and Sam had to
put forth the effort to make her understand. She slipped inside, closing the
front door quietly behind her, and hurried to go upstairs. Her eyes met with
Sam's instead, and she stopped in her tracks.

"Dad. You're still up." There was a distinctly guilty look on her face.

"Yeah," he replied, shaking off his fatigue. "I wanted to talk to you." He
wiped his face, smothering a yawn in the same motion. How on earth could she
do it? "You've got school tomorrow, don't you?"

"Look, I don't have to listen to-"

"I'm not lecturing you." He kept his voice low and steady in an attempt to
make her listen and, hopefully, to avoid a screaming match.

"Then why are you asking? You know I do."

He took a heavy breath. "Sit down, Jessie."

She sat slowly across from him and he realized then how much she had been
craving for attention from her father. "Mom's okay, isn't she?"

"Oh, Jessie, there's been no change in her condition," he reassured her
hastily. It was hard enough living in a time of constant crisis without him
exacerbating the situation. 

"Oh." Her gaze shifted downward.

"Jessie, I need to tell you something." He felt the tension in the room rise
again. "I spoke with Doctor Dorhan earlier today. He wants to try some new
treatments on your mother. He feels the ones they're using now aren't

"She's going to die, isn't she?"

Sam leaned forward and put his hands on her arms. "Now, just take it one step
at a time, all right?"

Jessie looked up and nailed him with a firm expression. "Isn't she?"

"The doctors aren't saying, but...probably...yes."

She sniffed. "I knew she was going to, I knew it. I know I've been acting
terrible lately, Dad, but I'm scared. And I just knew..." She hesitated, as if
waiting for Sam to jump in. He just watched her, waiting for her to say things
that craved exposure. "Have you ever felt that way? Like you love someone so
much that you feel like you'd know what they were going through, even if you
were on opposite sides of the world?"

He squeezed her gently. "Yeah, I have."

"Have you ever...hurt them?"

His smile was understanding. "Jessie, we're all human beings. We make
mistakes, we hurt each other - and ourselves - all the time. It's part of
life. It's part of growing up." He shrugged slightly. "It's going to happen."

"Mom and I, we...had an argument the day she had to go into the hospital 24/7.
And since then, whenever I go...I just keep waiting for her to bring it up or
something, but she never does."

"Well, maybe she thinks the situation's resolved. She may not realize it's an
issue with you, but you have an incredible gift with your mother's condition."
"I don't - I don't understand," she responded, perplexed.

Sam brushed her hair behind her ear. "You know your mother is dying. It sounds
crazy, I know, but, so often, a loved one dies and people say, `If I'd only
said, "I love you," one more time,' or, `If only the last words I said weren't
spoken in anger.' But you have that time to go say those things before it's
too late, and, this argument, you still have time to resolve it with her.
Because if you don't do it now, you know you won't get the chance down the
road." He smiled encouragingly. "That gift also comes with a responsibility.
Talk to her."

"I don't want to face her alone."

"Because she's dying?"

"Because...I don't know!" she cried.

"Maybe you should face the truth without fear and think about it," he
suggested. He rose and kissed the top of her head. "I'm goin' to bed."

				February, 2001
				Stallions Gate, NM

"Sammy Jo's back. She's on her way to Conference Room A where Donna's already
waiting," Verbena said, leaning into Al's office doorway.

He was pacing. The pain in his gut was so fierce it was starting to eat a hole
in his willpower, but he couldn't seem to stop pacing. "Verbena...I can't find
Beth." It had been two hours since she'd left.

The psychiatrist saw panic in his eyes behind a thin veil of restraint. "I'm
sure she's fine. Weitzman called Donna earlier and we've got to either
validate or eliminate this as an option before the Committee finds out what
we're up to. You were right - we're running out of time."

Al came around the chair towards her. "You don't understand. I'm worried. She
was really upset earlier and she's not in the project and her car's still here

Verbena put a hand on his shoulder, cutting off his rush of explanation. "Al.
Just relax, okay? She can take care of herself." She patted him gently. "We
need to address this problem now."

His face fell. "I really blew it this time, didn't I?"

He could feel sympathy emanating from her touch. "She understands. You know
she does."

"Yeah, well, maybe it'd be easier for me to live with myself if she was just a
bit more selfish."

She pulled him towards the doorway. "She's fine. She'll be back. In the

He followed her out into the hallway and started a swift pace, knowing that
they were rapidly running out of leeway. "Does Sammy Jo know what's going on?"

"Donna's briefing her right now. Hopefully, we can start tossing ideas around
the instant we get there." There was a pause and then she pulled on Al's arm,
stopping him just before he entered the conference room. "There's something I
have to ask you before we go in there."

He took in the somber tone and adopted it as his own. "What?"

She inhaled deeply. "The question of why you believe you can leap in where Sam
is is moot as you have no evidence to back up your claims, but the one thing
we do have to work with, scientifically speaking, is your retrieval."

When she hesitated again, Al began to feel impatient. "So?"

"So if Sammy Jo says she can't retrieve you, for whatever reason, are you
still going to go?"

"A month ago, I would've said `yes'," he muttered to himself.

Verbena studied him carefully, knowing that, from his perspective, a month ago
he hadn't had a wife and four children. "And now?" she pressed.

Indecision wavered in his eyes. "Have Beth observe for me," he whispered.

The choice was made. The only reason Beth wasn't involved in it was because he
knew what she'd say.

He pulled the door to the conference room open and collapsed in the nearest
seat. Only Donna noticed the pill he slipped between his lips, and she knew
better than to comment. "Sammy Jo. Glad to have you back," he said warmly.

The young woman eyed him with deep concern. They were moderately close,
especially after Al found out she was Sam's daughter, but there was a level of
formality that had yet to be eliminated. "Doctor Elysee was telling me about
what happened," Sammy Jo said in amazement. It's all pretty incredible and
completely baffling."

"Yeah, well, maybe we should leave off the scientific curiosity until later,
okay?" He realized he was being short-tempered, but his whole body ached and,
in the back of his mind, he was still greatly ill at ease regarding Beth.

"Admiral, what makes you think you can leap to Doctor Beckett's location?" Her
forthrightness and disbelief momentarily shook his confidence and he stumbled
mentally. He hadn't formulated a response for Sammy Jo and he certainly
couldn't give her the same answer as he'd given Verbena. The real reason
dissolved into nothing under the harsh scrutiny of scientific reasoning.

Instead, he dodged the question. "That's not what we need to be discussing
here. Assume I can and that's all you need to go on. What I need to know is,
first, what do I need to do to reinitiate the permanent link? Second, can you
retrieve me? And, third, if you can't, will the link be worth anything?"

She frowned deeply at him. Sammy Jo was, if nothing else, a very...immersed
scientist. She enjoyed making her own discoveries and connections and she
liked to do it in her own time frame. "Well," she began, steepling her
fingers, "you won't have to do anything to reinitiate the link - we'll do all
that from here. If you don't make it back, assuming you leap near to Doctor
Beckett to begin with, the link will remain effective. It'll sort of be like
ships in a fog. As long as one vessel has sight of land, and the other has
sight of it, everyone's okay. The link itself won't take long to initiate.
After you land, you locate Doctor Beckett, inform your hologram, and we'll set
it up. It'll only take about 20 seconds."

"20 seconds," he echoed in disbelief. All this for 20 seconds. "And the

"I...think we can bring you back. It all depends on how long you're there. If
we'd known the retrieval would work that way, and had attempted to recover
Doctor Beckett shortly after he leaped, it may have had a better chance of
working," she added, a little defensively. "‘Course, that was before he made
those changes the one time he came back..."

"Then why couldn't we get him back then?"

Donna leaned forward. "He only had a short time to input his data. Sammy Jo
and I have since perfected it."

"So how long as we talking here?"

"I'd aim to be in and out within 10 minutes, 30 tops," Sammy Jo responded.
"Any longer than that and, well, we are working with limited power resources."

"I can live with those arrangements."

Her expression became even more doubtful. "Yes but, Admiral, even if you're in
and out in 10, the odds are still only 40%."

*That's not the sort of thing you mention as an afterthought, Sammy Jo.*
"That's still not so pitiful."

Verbena looked intensely at him, but didn't comment.

"Okay." Sammy Jo pulled out a folder and slid it across the table to Donna.

Sam's wife opened the folder and folded her hands on top of it. "How long do
you need to get ready, Al?"

"I'm ready now," he responded without hesitation. And he was - physically,

"Okay, we need two hours' prep time. And I want to talk with you privately on
some of the finer points."

"Fine. I guess that just leaves the question of who'll be my observer."

"I will," Verbena replied instantly. He looked at her in surprise. "I want to
keep an eye on you," she explained, giving him a decidedly clinical look.

The tension was rising just a little too high. "Doctor, I'm a married man," he
responded, a glint in his eye.

She actually looked relieved at his lighthearted remark. "That's fine,
Admiral. I'll be a hologram - it'll all be look, don't touch anyhow."

Even Sammy Jo chuckled.

Al stood up. "Then let's get this show on the road." He peered down at Verbena
as the attention of each individual shifted inwards. "If Beth comes back..."
he said quietly.

She nodded. "You'll be the first to know."

				March, 1998
				Fairbanks, AK

The phone call came at 5 AM. Sam was sound asleep and was so exhausted that he
was only vaguely aware of the phone ringing. It continually trilled five times
before it stopped. He opened his eyes slowly, wondering if they had an
answering machine. Then Jessie burst into his room.

"Dad," she gasped out, shaking him roughly. "Dad, wake up." Her tone was
wrought with panic and he pulled himself the rest of the way into wakefulness.

"Jessie, calm down. What's wrong?"

She snatched the cordless off of its cradle and handed it to him. "Doctor
Dorhan is on the phone."

He sat up and took it from her. "Here," he said, patting the bed beside him,
"sit down." She sank reluctantly onto the mattress and he put an arm around
her waist. "Doctor?" he said into the mouthpiece. "Is Sherri okay?"

"That's why I'm calling, Mr. Burton. I was hoping you could come down to the
hospital and-"

"Doctor, it is 5 AM, I've only been in bed for two hours, and I'm worried. Can
you please stop beating around the bush?"

"I am very sorry, but I can't give you much more than the basics. Her
situation is worsening by the minute and it's possible that she may not make
it through the night."

Denial flashed through Sam's mind. He stared into space for several seconds.
"I'll be there as soon as I can." A shaking hand replaced the receiver and he
hugged Jessie gently. "Go get your brother."

"Oh - oh, God. She's not dead, is she?"

By this time, Sam was in motion, pulling on a pair of slacks. "Not yet, now go
wake Jeff up."

Jessie sat still, crying. "What's gonna happen?" she wailed.

Sam slid a shirt on and bent down, grasping her tightly. "I know you're upset;
I am, too. But you've got to wait to break down until we're there, okay?"

She nodded stiffly and he kissed her on her head. "I'll go wake Jeff up," she

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