[Author's Notes: The building Sam leaps into in the first leap is based on the real thing in downtown Anchorage. However, NMFS only recently moved in there as of a few months ago (August, 1998) and so there would not have been any NMFS or Groundfish Observer offices in there in 1980, but I've taken liberties with that. In addition, should any NMFS officials be reading this, please keep in mind that I've been through a debriefing with you guys and you're STILL the good guys in the story. Even if I DID get a 4 day re-briefing... ;-)] "Linked" Prologue Blue skies. Not just blue, but those deep oceans of light and darkness that give you the feeling of being very small but still part of something huge and important. Blue skies and green grass. The playful trill of a bird in the distance. Maybe even a babbling brook, or was that becoming too much a fairy tale? And the music, sweet and pure, floating over, cleansing and comforting. Dancing in the morning air. He stood alone. But not alone. There was a presence all around him, kind and gentle, and he embraced it, brought it unto himself until they were one. He had been here a long time. Too long, he feared, for it only made sense that there was somewhere else he was supposed to be, some other life he was supposed to be living. But he wasn't sure. ~How much time?~ He stopped, glancing around without moving, trying to determine the source of the voice. He waited, anticipating a response. When none came, he wondered if he was the one who was supposed to provide it. He had no desire to - the silence was too perfect to shatter. It was still again for what may have been a long time, or may have only been an instant. Then another voice came, or maybe it was the same one. ~I didn't realize anything was wrong.~ Wrong? What was wrong? Everything looked- "Perfect." He shouldn't have spoken. He shouldn't have incurred the wrath of whoever owned this place because surely the opposite of this would be just as terrible as this was wonderful. But, then, he'd already been to hell and back. ~Something is wrong. But it's not your fault.~ He felt a sharp tug and resisted it with every fiber of his being. It started just on the edge of his vision - he wasn't certain what it was at first. Then, it spread. Death and destruction as a billion tiny black dots, eating up the calm, the peace, and leaving something terrible in its wake. The closer they drew, the faster they came, as a relentless army or a wave ready to break over him. He threw up his arms reflexively as it approached him. There was terrible pain and then everything went black for an instant. When consciousness (or, perhaps, unconsciousness) was returned to him, he immediately regretted it. Agony ate way at every nerve and he could barely feel anything but that. ~Is it the link?~ The land around him was a wasteland - grays and muted yellows in the sky, the ground, the water, the fire that burned into his retina. ~Must be. We've got to sever it.~ "No!" he cried, reaching out. "Please, no!" His vision was washed in red, then faded to the tedious gray again. He was sobbing now, curled into a ball, trying to hide from the misery and the pain. Whatever was controlling him pushed past his feeble defenses as a knife through soft flesh. He collapsed back into darkness.