"Pieces" pt. V June, 1979 Hartford, CN A woman, seemingly for lack of anything better to do, concentrated intently on her pushups. She was a small woman, but very strong and fit, and she intended to keep it that way. She focused on the loose strands of hair that floated up and down with each thrust and counted them as she went. Exercising was always a way for her to work things out. At the moment, she didn't know much. She knew her name was Amy Harrington and she was in Hartford, Connecticut, but beyond that, she was clueless. The driver's license from which she had gleaned her information didn't tell her anything else, but it did expire in 1980, so she had some frame of reference from which to draw. A quick inspection of the house revealed that she was alone in a rather large, expensive house. Surely Amy didn't live her alone? A glance in the mirror had revealed a woman, slightly overweight, about thirty or thirty-five, blue eyes and dirty blonde hair with soft facial features. When Melana smiled, a pleasant expression greeted her in the reflection, almost motherly in nature. Sure enough, there were two kid's rooms in the upper level of the home. That, and a master bedroom with a wedding picture on the night table. *One big, happy family,* she thought to herself and did another pushup. "Hi, sweetie." She smiled, but didn't stop her exercises. "Hey, Al." "'Hey, Al'? That's all you have to say?! You put me through hell and the best you can come up with is, 'Hey, Al'?" That got her attention. "What?" she asked, flopping over onto her back, breathless from the workout. "What one earth are you talking about?" He looked steadily at her over his cigar. "You don't know?" She pushed herself into a sitting position, noting for the first time, Al's haggard appearance. "Al, what's wrong?" "You've been gone for five years, that's what! Are you telling me you didn't even know?" He gestured in sweeping motions, furrowing his brow at her confusion. "I don't understand." He shook his head. "You haven't aged a day." Then he sighed and pulled out the handlink. "What's the last thing you remember?" She wiped her forehead with a towel. "I remember Los Angeles, 1995, and then that's it." "Well, that was your last leap," he conceded, punching in the data. "But that was over five years ago." "You're kidding!" She jumped to her feet to look at the handlink over Al's shoulder. "Trust me," he said without humor. "What do you remember about it?" Melana paused, trying to call up the image of her last leap. She knew it had been in LA, and she knew it had been bad. And, unless her memory was even more swiss-cheesed than she thought, it had only been her third or fourth leap. She blocked out everything: the room, her new identity, Al... Smoke. Lots of smoke and a blazing fire. A bomb or something; she remembered it had been set deliberately. There were people and...and... *Back up,* she commanded herself as she started to lose the image. She had been a witness to a murder and in the original history, the witness had died, killed by the men who had comitted the crime, which she couldn't quite remember. Right. And they had put her in a safe house (a different one per her request), but they had still been found out and the building had been blown up. Thanks to Al's warning, she had escaped, but there was more. She closed her eyes tighter, trying to remember. Shadows against cold stone... ^"Melana! Listen to me! Just me, do you understand?"^ The frantic voice intruded on her thoughts and she tried to jerk herself free. ^"No, honey, no! You don't exist there anymore. Just listen to my voice, okay? Please..."^ Shadows... ^"Al! Help me!"^ "Melana?" Al's voice intruded upon her efforts, pulling her up out of the black water into the light of reality. "Melana, do you remember anything?" He sounded anxious and she couldn't tell if he wanted her to remember or not. "Sorry, Al. Just a jumble of images and sounds. I can't quite get it." She opened her eyes to see him staring at the handlink. "You're not gonna tell me, are you?" He swept a hand through the air. "What's there to remember? Wasn't very exciting anyhow." She shook her head and then looked up when she felt his gaze on her. "I've missed you, honey. We thought you must be dead." He paused, twirling his cigar between his fingers. "We, uh, we retrieved Dr. Beckett." She was momentarily speechless. "When?" "Two years ago." Melana looked up, studying his face. "Is something wrong?" He threw down his cigar in disgust. "Can't I come into the Imaging Chamber just once without being asked that question?" She smiled gently at him. "Take it easy, Al." He sighed and ran a hand across his face. "Yeah. Yeah, okay, something's wrong." She looked at him, waiting. "A friend of mine is in the hospital. They don't think she's gonna make it." "Oh, Al, I'm sorry. Anyone I know?" "No, but that will soon be remedied because I don't plan on losing either one of you." She smiled at his blunt command of destiny. "So....what am I here to do?" "Well, if I have my way, get retrieved. We'll get the preps set up and hopefully you can be back before you know it." "Okay, but in the meantime?" She cocked an elegant eyebrow at him and smiled. "Alright," he relented, lifting the handlink. "Your name is Amy Harrington. It's June 3, 1979 and you're in Hartford Connecticut. You're married with two kids: Julie, who's 16 and Robbie, who's 12. You're a teacher, but since it's the summer, you're not working. You have a class of second graders. Your husband is Hubert and he's in sales." Al stopped and squinted at the handlink. "Um...and we don't know why you're here yet." "Figures." But there was a smile on her face. "Yeah, so just, you know, clean the house, eat some bon bons, and watch Oprah." "Al!" She put her hands on her hips and gave him one of her trademark glares. He shrugged. "Sorry." Then he looked fondly at her, sucking on his cigar more from habit than anything else. "But you know the drill. Just do what you have to do until we can get you some information. I'm gonna see about synching up Sam's brainwaves to yours so he can come communicate with you. I've got something else that needs a lot of my attention and-" "Your friend?" He narrowed an eye at her. "Yeah. You gonna be okay while I go back?" She cast their surroundings a quick sweep. "I don't think anything's likely to happen now, do you?" "Famous last words," he muttered. "Just keep an eye out, honey. I'll be back soon." No sooner had he stepped from the Imaging Chamber then he remembered the other problem he had to deal with. He cast Sam a quick look that said "let's talk" and left the Control Room, secure in the assurance that Sam would be right behind him. He opted to go into Sam's office instead of his own and he closed the door carefully behind them. Then he sighed and fell into Sam's chair, rubbing his palms along the arms. "Okay, let me start out by apologizing for not telling you about her before, but it's just...hard." Sam sat next to Al instead of across from him and offered him a nod of encouragement. "A few months after you leaped, I hired Melana as a technician, but it became obvious early on that her talent was wasted there. So she started working with Tina and Gooshie." He smiled fondly. "She's such a great kid. Always smiling, happy and open. She hasn't always had it so easy, too." "Verbena told me about her parents," Sam interjected. A flicker of something materialized in Al's face, then vanished. "Well, when it became clear that you weren't going to be back any time soon, we started toying with the concept of sending someone after you, but the problem arose of how to retrieve _that_ person. Some data had come up, though, that suggested it was easier to retrieve a person the sooner the attempt was made. Melana agreed to help with the simulations and eventually voluntered to be the guinea pig." Al leaned forward to retrieve the stub of his cigar from the ashtray he had supplemented Sam's office with. It was a habit that Sam tolerated with exaggerated patience. "Well, I wasn't too happy about it, but she insisted. We had some experimental stuff going, but nothing we were ready to try yet. And then you leaped into that Indian boy. You remember? Trying to bring your grandfather home to die?" Sam shook his head as if to clear it, then shrugged. "Vaguely. None of the details are real clear, though." "The sheriff was gonna kill you, Sam. No matter what you did, he was gonna kill both of you. And so....we leaped her into him." "You _what_? Al, how could you do that?" Sam pushed up with his hands, propelling himself out of his chair and into a slow pace. "Sam, I didn't even know it was happening. Gooshie only told me just after they powered up the Accelerator and then it was too late to stop her." "Okay, okay," Sam said, reclaiming his seat in a humble acceptance. "So what happened?" "Well, she leaped out right after you. She leaped into a food critic in Massachusetts, and then a woman in Los Angeles and then she disappeared." "What do you mean 'disappeared'?" Al frowned. "I mean just what I said. She disappeared. Kaput. Didn't see her again for years. Until now." The scientist leaned back in his chair and folded his hands in his lap. "That doesn't make any sense. Something must have happened to trigger this. Was there anything wierd about her last leap? Or the way she leaped?" "Why do you ask?" Al's tone seemed almost defensive. "Because this couldn't have just happened. Something must have caused it." Al waved a hand through the air. "What does it matter? We'll retrieve her and it'll all be set." Sam shook his head slightly. "It's never that simple." "Yeah. Tell me about it." "So nothing unusual happened?" Al lowered his gaze. "You're like a dog with a bone. Once you get the bit between your teeth..." "You're mixing metaphors," Sam pointed out. He smirked. "Well, anyhow, you're stubborn." "You should talk." "Yeah, well, nothing happened. Trust me. Nothing happened." Sam studied his friend's face for a moment. Al was undoubtedly under a lot of strain, but he had the vague feeling he was being lied to. Nonetheless, he nodded in reluctant acceptance. "Okay, Al. Nothing happened."