"Linked" Book I, Part II ~~~~~~~~~~~~ January, 2001 Stallions Gate, NM ~~~~~~~~~~~~ Beth did her best to ignore the oppressive gazes of Gooshie and Tina. She rarely went up to the Control Room; her area was in the labs of the lower levels and, should she need to get a message to Al, Ziggy's communication system was always sufficient for the job. So, to see her in the Control Room was an anomaly from the start. To see her up there while Al was in a coma several stories below was downright bizarre. She cleared her throat and stepped up to Gooshie's station. "I had hoped you could help me with something," she said before he could fumble his way into an introductory question. "Certainly." "I was looking for Al's last report on Sam's leaps. I can't seem to find it anywhere." "He never made it." She blinked. Al was nothing if not persistent when it came to keeping track of Sam. The headache must have been worse than even she realized. "Do you know why?" "Uh, no. He just said he'd do it the next morning." "Well, does Ziggy have any records I can access?" Gooshie moved over a foot to his left and started sweeping his hands over the controls with deft assurance. It seemed the only time he was ever comfortable. "Ziggy has many of the basics on file," he replied as he worked, "but they're normally just a supplement to the admiral's reports." "I understand." She rested her fingertips on the edge of the console. "If I may ask, why are you interested in this?" She hesitated. Why _was_ she intent on doing this? Was it just to keep busy or did she really believe Al's mysterious condition was a result of something relating to Sam's leaps? "I don't know," seemed to be the best answer she could offer. "I just...wanted to see it." Gooshie avoided her gaze. "How is the admiral?" She stiffened. She didn't even know what the rest of the staff had been told. "The same," she said. "Oh, here it is," he said, sounding relieved. "See? Just the basics." "That's fine, Gooshie," she muttered hastily. "Can you get it transferred to my quarters?" "Uh, sure." Beth suddenly felt very tired. She nodded to Tina as she left the room. Donna was waiting for her outside and Beth looked up in surprise. She and Donna didn't really talk that much and for Donna to seek her out was abnormal at best. She could tell by the woman's expression that word about Al had spread to every corner of the project. Donna fell into step with her. "How are you doing?" Sam's wife asked quietly. "I've had better days," Beth responded. Donna smiled slightly. "You've been married to Al too long - you're starting to talk like him." "You want to know how I am? You? It should be a sensation you're familiar with. Goodness knows I've had my fill of it." She stopped and looked at Donna. In some ways, Beth didn't care for her. She could be just a little too needy at times, but Beth could also understand it. Especially now. "I'm trying not to take this one out on anyone else, Donna, but I just need some time to myself." Donna smiled faintly. "You know, there are nights that would be so hard if Al wasn't there. I guess you understand what I mean." Beth dropped her gaze. "And I know that you and I are...very different and we've never been all that close, but I guess I feel I owe him a lot. And..." She shrugged. "If you need someone, please give me a call." "I was going to spend the night in his room," Beth said quickly, quietly. "Oh, I understand. But...if you want me to stay with you, or...something..." "Thanks, Donna." Donna shook her head. "You won't call," she stated. "It's like I said: you've become too much like _him_. And you'll go it alone as long as you can stand it." A faint hint of a smile flashed in Beth's eyes. "Probably," she agreed. "But thank you." Donna touched her briefly on the hand, then turned and walked in the opposite direction. Beth let out a strained laugh. "Before the day is over, I'm gonna have the whole project waiting by the phone for me to call," she said aloud to herself. Even so, it was a comforting thought to know she wasn't in this alone. Knowing that neither of them were. She went back to their quarters and pulled up the files Gooshie had located. She could feel the start of a headache coming on, but she ignored it. The scientist had been right - the files contained little more than what she already knew. Sam had leaped into a police officer in some small backwater town. He was there to prevent a murder. The entire leap had been wrought with mishaps and misunderstandings and it had almost cost several people their lives, Sam included. Hence Al's anxiety the evening before. It usually took a while for the adrenaline to work its way out of his system and she had credited his odd behavior to that. Now, looking back with a slightly clearer mind, she found other anomalies she'd missed before. He'd seemed sort of edgy. And when she'd found him to urge him to get some sleep, he'd been staring off into the distance as if in a trance. It took her several verbal attempts to get his attention and, even then, he'd still been distracted. Maybe, he was just sick. Maybe he wasn't feeling well and he pushed it back so he could take care of Sam. But maybe it was more than that. "Maybe _I_ need a bath and a good night's sleep." She glanced at the clock. It was only noon. Verbena and Doctor What's-His-Name would still probably be running tests and trying to figure out if her husband was going to live through this one. She stood up and went through the bedroom into the modest-sized bathroom. She opened the medicine cabinet, but the aspirin bottle was gone. She frowned, then glanced out the door and noticed it sitting on Al's night stand. "Naturally," she muttered and crossed over to his side of the bed. Something crunched under her feet and she looked down to see aspirin scattered all over the floor as well as the surface of his night table. She sat down on the bed and surveyed the sight worriedly. It was as if the hands that handled the pills were too unsteady to control them. When she looked at the bottle, she saw the cap rested askew on the rim instead of snapped on. She knew, at that moment, that it had been more than just a headache even at that point, that he must have known it, too, but figured he could handle it himself. Beth picked up a few tablets and dropped them in. "Oh, Al, how much pain were you in?" She blinked rapidly. "Why do you have to be so damned self-sufficient all the time?" she demanded, swatting the bottle on the floor altogether. She laid down on the bed and buried her face in Al's pillow, waiting for blessed sleep to take her. ~~~~~~~~~~~~ Beth woke up with a sharp headache behind her eyes. She sat up and glanced at the clock: 1700. She groaned and fell back against the mattress. The pillow she pulled over her face smelled like Al and she swallowed past the knot in her chest. Several stories below her, she was sure, Verbena was still trying to make sense of everything. Which meant that she still had no progress, or she would have contacted Beth by now. In the meantime, Sam could be leaping back in within a matter of days, and he would be without an observer. Beth wasn't even certain they had figured out what they were going to tell him yet, or who would do it. She sat on the corner of the bed, surveying the room as if looking for clues. To what, she didn't know. The stillness became oppressive and she stood up quickly, snagging her shoes and pulling them on as she went. When she reached the Control Room, she saw Donna in the corner and made a beeline for her, grateful that she didn't have to work with Tina or Gooshie. She just couldn't take that today. Donna looked sympathetically at her, another thing she couldn't take. And that, she realized, was the main difference between them. When Al was lost in Vietnam, Beth had fought to depend on herself; Donna relied on other people a vast majority of the time. Beth wasn't sure which road took more courage. "Beth," Donna greeted her, "how are you doing?" She swallowed back her instinctual reply. "Donna, I need a favor." "Sure. What can I do?" Beth squared her shoulders. "Hook me up." Donna opened her mouth, but nothing came out. She blinked several times. "I beg your pardon?" she managed, astonished. "Hook me up," Beth repeated, waving a hand about in vague patterns. "Link me up, take some blood, whatever it is you guys do up here." "To _Sam_?" "Yes," Beth stated, faintly impatiently. "Al's not..." She peered carefully at Beth, as if waiting for her to crack right in front of her. "He's not able to observe," Beth said calmly. "Someone has to." "Have you cleared this with..." She trailed off again and Beth knew what she was thinking. Al usually handled these decisions. Her resolve and her outward appearance of calm and confidence almost dissolved at that thought. It was like he was already dead. *No. Not already - he's not going to die.* "You're the first one I've mentioned this to. Are you next in the chain of command on this one, or do I need to talk to Gooshie?" Donna finally put down the clipboard she was holding. "What are you going to tell Sam?" "Would you rather we left him out there without direction?" "No, no, that's not what I mean. Normally, my vote would be for Verbena, but she's...busy. I'm out of the question, Sammy Jo's out at that conference in Chicago, and Gooshie and Tina, well..." She shrugged. "I wasn't going to ask you because I would've thought it would have been too much." "I want to do it. For Al." Donna nodded slowly, brushing several long strands of hair out of her face. "What I meant was, what are you going to tell Sam about why you're there, not Al?" "I hadn't gotten that far yet," she confessed. "The truth?" Donna pressed. Beth turned that one over in her mind. That was another one she would have consulted with Al on. "Can we keep it from him?" "Depends on how good a liar you are." Donna leaned back against the wall and Beth realized she didn't know how the woman felt about Al's constant "harmless alterations" of the truth. "If there's any chance he can help us, I'll tell him everything," she said with fierce determination. Donna studied her an instant longer, then nodded. "We'll cut your duties down to just observing. Lieutenant Commander Simmons can deal with the visitor, I'll handle research, and you are just the hologram." Beth sighed gratefully. The more time she could spend with Al, the better. "So what do I do now?" Donna scribbled something on a piece of paper, folded it in two, and handed it to Beth. "Give this to Verbena and have her take some blood and skin samples, then make sure they get sent up here. We'll give you a crash course on the handlink then, okay?" She took the sheet, nodded her thanks, and left the room gratefully. She waited until she was safely encased in the elevator before opening the note. Verbena - go ahead and run the tests she asks for. -Donna She couldn't help but feel angry that everyone felt the need to sneak around behind her, as if they all knew something she didn't. As if they all knew her limits better than she did, as if they all had to look after her welfare. Al was the one who looked after her, and if that sounded weak, she no longer cared. She sagged against the wall of the car. Maybe she should wait until the morning to do all this, except that no one knew when Sam would land and Al would want him to be taken care of, especially if this next leap should happen to turn out half as bad as the last one was. The doors opened in front of her, but she let them close again and pressed another button. Moments later, she was out in the approaching night. She breathed in deeply, trying to erase the suffocation she'd felt in the complex. Eternity stretched out above her and the twinge she'd only subconsciously been aware of nudged her again. Maybe it was the vast enormity of the desert at night, but Elizabeth Calavicci felt very alone. Hope you don't mind too much that the man hasn't even been conscious yet.
As always, comments are both desired and welcome. And, probably later, begged for. ;-) Also, lemme know if you like the new format.... BTW, both on this story, "Point of View" and "The Day After That", MAJOR thanks go out to Christina Bartruff and Pat Chachich, my loyal editing team.... Thanks, guys!! -amkt