"Linked" Book I, Part VI ~~~~~~~~~~~~ June, 1980 Anchorage, AK ~~~~~~~~~~~~ *Twenty people.* Sam wondered if that included the security officer on the lowest level. He wondered if that included the people in this room! There would be time to figure all that out later, though. For now, they had to start establishing some control over their situation. "Look," he said, stepping forward slightly, "the first thing we need to do here is assess the situation. This is a big storage room. Are there any ways to get communication to anyone else, any supplies we can use?" Sherri latched onto his idea immediately. "Everyone check a corner and let's see what we can't find." John mumbled his token pessimistic comment, but immediately started searching through boxes. Sam moved furthest away from them and motioned to Beth. "This is a surprise," he said in hushed tones. She smiled. "It's good to see you again, Sam." "Is this some new arrangement I'm not aware of?" he asked, sifting through items on the shelf to look busy. "It's temporary," she assured him. "Al's...in D.C. You know, time for the annual face-off." Sam nodded slowly. "Al was right." She cocked her head. "About what?" "You are the world's worst liar." She dropped her gaze and he stared steadily at her. "For goodness' sake, you're even worse than he is! What's wrong?" "What makes you think I'm lying?" she pressed, not yet ready to give up the story. "You always play with your hair," Sam replied, then looked more carefully at her. Something was definitely terribly wrong. "That and the tears in your eyes." She closed her eyes and caught her breath. "Beth, what's wrong? Is Al okay?" "I don't know," she said in a not-quite-steady voice. Sam waited. "He's really...sick..." She would have liked to blame her despair on her connection with Al, but it was all her this time. Ever since Al came out of the coma, the sensations had stopped, further proof that it wasn't just something out of her own head. "How serious is it?" Sam pushed, a scared feeling starting to creep through him. "Verbena doesn't know what's wrong. He's..." She shook her head. "Things don't look so good on your end," she hedged. Sam took a step towards her, glancing quickly around himself to assure that he hadn't attracted any attention. "Forget this," he said firmly. A voice inside of him told him he was handling this news a little too well. "Are you okay?" Somehow, when Sam asked the question, soft and comforting, Beth didn't feel the urge to snap or become defensive which, she knew, she had been doing to everyone else. Sam was Al's best friend and she understood what they meant to each other. Just as Sam's safety was always first and foremost in Al's mind, she knew it was likewise in the opposite direction. "Not really," she responded. "I feel like everything's coming apart at the seams." She shuddered. "Sam, do you remember what happened at the end of your last leap?" Sam's face went blank for a moment, then he paled. He opened his mouth to speak, but Sherri came up beside him. "Anything useful?" she asked. Sam jumped, startled. "No..." he said uncertainly. "‘Cause you've been over here a while." He smiled unconvincingly. "Just thinking." "And talking to invisible friends?" "Out loud," Sam covered hastily, "thinking out loud..." She leaned against a shelf and folded her arms. "Yeah, this is some crew we've got here, huh? Especially John. Geez, he's gonna be a fun one." Sam nodded. "This is Sherri Marks," Beth said calmly, her recovery time a little longer than it had been the past few days. "And you're Gary Turbot. You're both employees of the National Marine Fisheries Service, which is a small division of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, and you've got offices here in the Federal Building. You met three years ago in the Coast Guard where-" "What do you want to do about Cindy?" Sherri continued. Beth abruptly changed gears. "Cindy Pruitt. You two were involved a year back and almost got married, but she had a few...problems and was in and out of therapy for months after the break up." "We obviously can't depend on her," Sam said quietly. "What about Mary?" "Mary Robinson: she's married, has three kids, and has lived in the area for 12 years. She's a district attorney. Graduated from-" "Oh, she'll be okay. She's a bit on the quiet side, but she's not gonna be a problem either way." Sherri smiled warmly and patted Sam's arm supportively. "But it looks as if you and I are the ones who are gonna have to instigate a plan if we're gonna have one." Sam glanced at Beth, who had given up on talking around Sherri's comments. She looked ragged and he wondered exactly what was going on with Al anyway. "Any ideas?" Her responding laugh was short. "I wish. But we'll think of something." Sam smiled absently at her. "Sure." Sherri smiled once more at him, then walked back to check on Cindy. John and Mary were talking softly in the opposite corner. "It's June 16, 1980 and Ronald Simpson has just broken into the Federal Building in Anchorage, Alaska," Beth informed him. "In the original history, twenty people died, including John Whitmire and Sherri Marks." Sam looked at Sherri. Already, he liked her. She was smart, friendly, and determined, and she had Sam Beckett's respect in every sense. He exhaled heavily, then turned back to Beth. "Was he caught?" "Ron was killed in a crossfire when the Anchorage police retook the building. Two people have already been shot, Sam. One is dead, and the other's on his way there." "What does he want?" Beth bit her lip. "The records aren't really clear on that. My guess is he wanted the courts to pay for his brother's death." "And the other guys? I saw at least two." She studied the `link. "There are three others in the building. They would be Andrew, Simon, and Walter Simpson." Sam sighed. "The whole family's out for revenge." Beth nodded in agreement. "But Ronald was the one who killed the twenty people - the other three brothers were never charged with murder and they all surrendered after Ronald was shot." "So I have to make sure no more people die," Sam summarized. "I think so." The leaper nodded slowly. "And, in the meantime, what about Al?" She swallowed hard, knowing what he was asking. "I don't know, Sam. When he woke up, he was...really hurting. I did ask Verbena, and she really couldn't - make any promises." Sam's hands clenched. He should be there, not with strangers locked up in some closet. He should be there with his friend, to help him where he could, to sit with him, to comfort his wife. But he wasn't. Sam resented the fact that he had to continually deal with that fact. He blinked back his worry. "Will you tell him...that I'm praying for him?" Beth smiled. "I will," she replied softly. "And I-" She broke off suddenly, listening to a voice Sam couldn't hear. "Already?" she asked. Sam knew she wasn't talking to him. Then she met his eyes. "I've got to go. I'll be back, though." Sam reached out a hand as if to stop her. "Wait. Is it Al?" She nodded. "He's awake again. It's been less than an hour since he fell asleep, but Gooshie says he asked for me." Sam tightened his outstretched hand into a fist and lowered it. "Then go, but let me know, okay?" She nodded tightly, then was gone. ~~~~~~~~~~~~ January, 2001 Stallions Gate, NM ~~~~~~~~~~~~ Beth was so preoccupied that she wouldn't have even known Verbena was there if the psychiatrist hadn't grabbed her arm as she swept past. Beth jumped reflexively and pulled free, then glanced apologetically at the woman. "Before you go and see him, we have to talk." Dread clouded Beth's mind. Nothing good ever came after that statement. "What is it?" was what she wanted to say. What came out was a desperate sob. Verbena steeled her voice and expression. "Doctor Spenard and I don't think he has much more time. After you talk with him and say what you have to, we're putting him under and removing the implant." Beth cleared her throat. "Have you told him?" The psychiatrist lowered her gaze. "No. I don't think it's a good idea, either. You know if he dies, we lose contact anyhow, but I'm not so sure he's thinking clearly now." "So why are you telling me all this now?" Verbena put a supportive hand on her shoulder. "I'm leaving it up to you whether or not to tell him." Beth clutched her arm. "And after you remove it...he'll be okay, right?" Concern reflected in her expression. "I don't know, Beth. It's all just guesswork, but we dare not wait for more than another hour." "An hour," Beth whispered. "The clock's ticking now?" Verbena nodded her confirmation and Beth pushed past. She heard his breathing first - ragged and labored, and her steady steps faltered. *Dear God, help me,* she prayed silently. *I don't think I can do this.* She stepped next to the bed and sat down. "Al?" she whispered softly. His eyes opened and she clenched his hand tightly. "How's Sam?" The words were quiet. Verbena must have told him she was observing. "He's fine, Al. But he's worried. I...didn't mean to tell him, but he just knew something was wrong." Al smiled dimly. "He always does. Level with me," he added, almost a plea. "`Bena keeps feeding me lines." "No, she's not. You're gonna be fine." The smile faded and she saw the muscles in his arms tighten as a wave of pain passed over him. She never felt any additional pressure on her hands, though. "Elizabeth," he reprimanded between heavy breaths, "you wouldn't lie to a dying man, would you?" "You're not dying," she insisted. He held her captive with his eyes. "It hurts to breathe. I can barely see your face, and I have this terrible fear in every part of me. I may not know much, but I know I'm dying." "No!" she cried, rising to her feet. His eyes held defeat. "No, you're not going to die." "Sit," he implored her. She didn't move. "You sure Sam's okay?" She nodded, tears flooding her eyes despite her best efforts. "Then sit. Stay with me, please..." She sat weakly in the chair and he closed his eyes. "I can feel you," he murmured. She squeezed his hand, but he shook his head slightly. "Not there." She put a hand over his heart and he relaxed under her touch. "Sam said to tell you he was praying for you," she said after a long moment. "When I die, will you observe for Sam?" "Al..." she choked. He obviously wasn't thinking clearly. "Please." Even with his eyes closed, she could feel his steady gaze on her, she could feel what it meant to him to know that Sam was being taken care of. "I don't want him to be out there alone." She massaged his chest gently. "You know I'll make sure he's okay," she whispered. "He'll be just fine." When he didn't respond to what she felt certain had to be a transparent lie (he always knew), she began to realize for the first time what a real possibility his death was. As if reading her mind, he sighed, then opened his eyes again. "I'm sorry, Beth. I...I wanted this, but I never wanted...to leave you alone." She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. "What do you mean you wanted this?" He started to lift his right arm, grunted in pain, and abandoned the effort. "I don't - remember, but I know I did." "I don't understand," she said desperately. "Sam...tell him I..." The hesitation wasn't pain this time - it was embarrassment. "I will," she assured him. The conversation was random and confused, but Al obviously had things that needed saying. Verbena appeared in the doorway. "We need to get ready," she said softly. Al was starting to slip back into unconsciousness and didn't appear to have heard her. Beth nodded, caressing Al's hand. Verbena came up to the other side of the bed, holding a needle casually by her side. "Al? I'm going to give you something to help with the pain, so just relax, all right?" He nodded, letting his eyes fall shut. Beth wiped away the sweat glistening on his face, then she sat silently as the drug took effect and he fell back into darkness. In a way, it was almost a relief - every moment awake seemed like pure torture. The instant his hand went lax in hers and she felt the even rise and fall of his chest under her fingertips, she kissed his palm and laid his arm carefully at his side. Then she stood and looked at Verbena. "Doctor Spenard is doing the procedure. Angeline is assisting and I'm monitoring," she said. Beth didn't care. "I'll let you know the moment we know anything." That, she cared about. She was about to reply when Ziggy cut in. "Doctor Calavicci, Emma Calavicci is on line one." Beth blinked in surprise. "What are you going to tell her?" Verbena asked in hushed tones. Beth shook her head mutely and walked out.