"Pieces" pt. XII

April, 2002
Stallion's Gate, NM

  "Gooshie?!" He barely heard the call for clarification over the sudden burst
of volume in the room.
  "I said, she's landed!" he shouted back to the admiral.
  The Control Room was a bustle of frenzied activity as they prepared for the
  "The year?" Sam tossed over his shoulder as he rushed from one console to
another, almost running over Donna in the process.
  There was a stunned pause. "2002."
  "How's she doing?" This one from Al.
  It was Ziggy who volunteered this time. "Very well, Admiral. I predict a 95%
chance of success."
  Al swung around in his chair. "Then let's do it. Gooshie-"
  Sam stopped him in mid-sentence. "Al, wait."
  Al's expression became puzzled as he faced the scientist. "What wait? Sam,
we've got to do this now."
  "I just have a feeling that..." Sam laid a hand on his shoulder. "Ziggy,
where is she?"
  "Santa Fe."
  For an incredible instant, Al still didn't comprehend. Then, realization
dawned. "You don't think she's really..." He looked up and met eyes with
Gooshie, who had just finished calling up the data with lightning speed and
efficiency. The look told him all he needed to know. "Oh, no," Al murmured,
his breath coming in short bursts. "Don't ask me to choose this one." His
heart had stopped beating, he was sure.
  Sam raised his eyes. "Ziggy, we need some numbers and we need them now."
  "Oh, come _on_," Al spat, on the verge of shouting.
  Sam tensed, afraid Ziggy would choose that moment to express her haughty
nature, but thankfully, she refrained. Nonetheless, he motioned for Al to
quiet down. "Regarding the chances Melana'll last through this leap, regarding
the chances we'll be able to get her back when it ends, come on Ziggy," he
snapped, beginning to lose his patience as well. Somewhere in the back of his
mind, he wondered why Ziggy had been referred to time and time again as the
most sophisticated computer in existance.
  Undaunted, but cooperative, she fed the numbers through the console in front
of them and Sam could see Al's heart sink another notch with each number. Sam
reached past Al and jerked the printout out of the slot, holding it so he
could read it more clearly. "25% chance she'll make it long enough to complete
her mission, 10.4% that we'll be able to get her after and 2.7%  that she'll
leap back in if we don't," he repeated dully.
  Al made a strangled sound and leaned forward in his seat. Sam knelt down
beside his chair and looked up at him. "Al," he prodded in low tones. The
bustle in the room picked up right where it had left off and Sam felt some
measure of privacy had been restored. "Al, I hate to do this to you, but
you've got to be the one to make this decision."
  Why couldn't he feel his heart beating?! "Why?" he asked in a tone that
would have been a demand if his voice hadn't sounded so hoarse.
  Sam shook his head slightly. They both knew why. Torn, he left the admiral's
side to prepare for possible retrieval.
  ^"I traded a life for a life."^
  The words came back suddenly and Sam flinched at the pain they still caused
to rise within his chest. He knew what Al would have to live with, whatever
his decision and he wondered if it was a choice he had ever had to make
before. Knowing Al like he did, he didn't doubt it.
  "Sam." Al's quiet entreaty broke through his thoughts. When he turned to
look his best friend full in the face, he saw the quiet calm of a decision,
but the absence of conflict twisted his stomach and gave him a terrible
feeling. "Get the retrieval ready."
  Some part of Sam knew that was the choice he would make, but he was taken
aback anyway. "It's ready to go now, Al."
  He turned away before Al could say anything more, determined not to make the
older man say it. Not to make him order the death of his own wife; so much had
already been asked of him.
  Al stood in a corner out of the way, watching as Sam and Gooshie initiated
the retrieval, watching as Verbena darted to the head of the group into the
Accelerator, and waiting for a person he regarded as a close friend to exit
under her care. It was the moment she emerged that the full force of what he
had done hit home, but he pushed it aside with an effort. Melana would not be
denied her welcome home.
  "Al!" she cried out suddenly, spying him across the room of people. Her
grin, which made her look all of fifteen, brought a small smile to his face.
She pushed her way through the crowd and threw her arms around him in a warm
embrace which he returned readily. He held her perhaps a little too tightly
and a little too long in the presence of so many people, but it was either
that or let the cluster of scientists he had worked with so closely for years
see the tear that slipped down the side of his cheek.
  This time, he was certain, his heart had stopped forever.

  She stared at the ceiling. *Exciting,* she thought sarcastically.
  Al had left the party early, pleading exhaustion. She'd asked him to stay a
little longer, but Dr. Beckett had agreed rather quickly, saying he'd been up
from an incredible hour of the morning and he would be needed at the same hour
the next. She had made up her mind not to pry. Now, in the darkness of the
room, waiting patiently for sleep to come overpower the adreneline rush she
had been on since her return, she began to try and remember and catalogue her
few leaps. To her, she hadn't been away that long; to everyone else, it had
been years. As a result, everyone else seemed much happier that she was home
than she did herself.
  She remembered her first leap. Images coalesced into a picture of a snowy
bank and someone she hadn't recognized at the time. And Al hadn't had the time
to identify himself until her second leap. Her second leap had been a little
longer and a lot more interesting. Almost fun, she recalled. She had been a
food critic who, in the original history, had given a restaruant a terrible
review, destroying the restaruant and the owner in one blow. Of course, when
Al informed her that the only reason her host had done so was that she had had
a love affair that had just been broken off by the restaruant owner and was,
well, a woman properly scorned, Melana had no trouble altering the article and
saving the business.
  Then there was the third leap. She remembered the last one perfectly and she
remembered most of the third, but not the end. Still. Frusturated, she sat up
and turned on the desk light. It's dim bulb threw faint shadows on the far
wall and, when she pulled herself out of the bed, the dark echo of her waving
nightgown caught her attention and she flinched not completely understanding
why. Suddenly overcome by an irrational feeling of terror, she gasped slightly
and froze, trying to take in the entirety of the room without moving her head.
  Then, without warning, they came.
  Like an overflowing river, they came quickly, much more so than she could
handle, and she felt a cry torn from her throat, driving her to her knees on
the floor beside her bed. Still mentally assaulted, she curled tightly into a
ball, waiting for it all to just go away.

  Not that he was sleeping all that well to begin with, Al thought bitterly to
himself as he pushed himself into a sitting position, turning to look at his
clock in the dark. 0230. He groaned and reached for his robe.
  The banging came again, then his door chime. Whoever had woken him at this
hour obviously wanted his attention. The chime again, twice in quick
succession. As he padded out of the bedroom area, feeling his way in the dark
in spite of the fact that he knew he would be assaulted with light once the
door was opened, the person on the other side of the door thumped twice more,
and then silence reigned. He was half tempted to accept their surrender as a
sign that he could go back to sleep in peace, but an internal voice prodded
him onward and he opened the door slowly.
  At his feet, huddled miserably next to the door jam, was Melana. She was
fighting hard to control her breathing and at the sound of the door opening,
she looked up at him. He squinted in the light, trying to hide his surprise.
"Melana?" he asked.
  "You _are_ here..." she murmured inbetween heavy breaths. If she kept going
like this, she was going to pass out from hyperventalation for sure.
  "What is it, baby?" he asked, kneeling beside her. He had a pretty fair idea
of what it was, although he had been hoping that the infamous "reverse swiss-
cheese effect" as  Sam had once called it, would take full effect and she
would never remember.
  "I remember," she said simply.
  *So much for that...* "Oh, Melana, you shouldn't have..." he trailed off
sorrowfully. She shouldn't have what? Come to him? Was he completely out of
his mind? "Not here. Come inside." He lifted her to her feet and drew her into
the room. He left her to close the door as he fumbled for the switch on a
lamp. She stood uncertainly by the door, as if she was afraid to move under
her own power. His brow furrowed in sympathy and he crossed the room again to
face her. He lowered his eyes and then sighed. "Come on, it's okay," he said
quietly, moving to put his arm around her shoulders. To his surprise, she
whimpered slightly and pulled away. He dropped his arm and shook his head.
"The bastards," he muttered. "Melana, please. Come sit down."
  She followed him to the couch and shrank into the corner, looking as if she
was wishing it'd swallow her up. "How much do you remember?" he asked.
  "Do you remember everything? Or just bits?"
  A confused look crossed her face. He may as well have been speaking a
foreign language as far as she was concerned. "Did I...die?" she asked in a
small voice.
  "Oh, no, baby," he soothed, reaching to touch her hand. The look in her eyes
made him change his mind. "But I need - want to know what you remember."
  "I remember...when the bomb in the building went off. I remember how you
told me that I had changed history and I would leap, but you couldn't stay
because Sam needed you."
  "You," he started to say, but his voice broke. "You remember that part?"
  She blinked rapidly, trying to organize and perhaps evaluate what she saw in
her own mind as truth. "I...remember the police came, but I got sidetracked in
an alley and I couldn't figure out where the sirens were coming from," she
continued, ignoring or maybe not even hearing his question. "And I can see
light and shadows on a wall..."
  Her change in phrasing warned Al ahead of time that she had crossed the
narrow border from remembering to re-living. Sharply, he shook her shoulder
and she looked at him with partly lucid eyes. "Al," she cried, tears
overflowing. Gently, he wiped them away, feeling that protectiveness swell
inside him again. This time, she didn't resist as he pulled her close and held
her to try and make the pain go away. When she spoke again, it was through
desperation and pain. "I remember. He raped me."
  He held her tighter. "I know. It was my fault."