"Pieces" pt. IX June, 1979 Hartford, CT Melana stood outside "her" daughter's door, hand poised in mid air, hesitating. The instant Julie got home, she rushed upstairs and locked herself in her room. She hadn't exactly been crying, but she was definitely upset and Melana was certain it had something to do with what was going to happen. She wished Al were there to provide council, but no-one had shown up since Sam the night before. She bit her lip and knocked on the door. "Julie? Are you okay?" Melana had spoken with the girl the night before and they'd actually had a pleasant conversation. Today was a different story. "What?" Melana definitely heard tears, barely audible through the door. "Can I talk to you for a minute?" There was a pause and then, slowly, the door opened. Julie peered through the sliver of a crack she had opened the door, a faintly suspicious sheen in her eyes. "What?" she repeated and Melana pushed back a sigh. "I just want to -talk to you. Can I please come in?" The young woman eyed her a moment longer and then pulled the door the rest of the way open. "Thank you. Is there something wrong?" "No." Julie crossed the room and sat down on her bed, folding her legs underneath her. This time, the sigh did escape and Melana moved to sit in the chair nearby. A hundred different responses to the lie sifted through her mind, but she remained silent for a moment longer, waiting to see if Julie would provide her own information. She didn't. "Well, how is your summer going?" "Fine." "Everything going alright with the boyfriend?" she asked, remembering her younger brother's earlier proclamation that Julie was out all day "doing gross stuff with Greg". "He's fine." "Well...good." They sat in an awkward silence and then the distinct sound of the Imaging Chamber door opened from behind her. "I'm going to go fix dinner. You know where to find me if you want to talk," she said, offering a smile before departing. Julie just nodded, never once removing her gaze from her hands clasped in her lap. She closed the door carefully behind her and turned to eye both men. The look Sam levelled at her warned her not to ask the question that rested on the edge of her concern. She smiled wanly instead. "A two for one deal?" she asked. The corner of Sam's mouth lifted in faint acknowledgement of the joke. "We have to talk with you, Melana," he said cautiously. Al remained silent, almost a background noise just on the edge of her vision. But he carefully avoided her eyes. "No problem," she said automatically, covering her anxiety with a sigh. "I was just...going down to fix dinner." She hesitated, trying to meet Al's gaze, then turned and trotted down the stairs. "Melana," Sam began, with a sidelong glance at his partner, "we tried to retrieve you, but we couldn't. You are too far back. And...the odds of retrieval are dropping as we speak." She pursed her lips and swallowed. "So what can I do?" Sam cleared his throat, trying to draw Al out of whatever thoughts he had lost himself in. Al glanced up and immediately, his expression cleared and he even managed a small smile. "We just need you to concentrate on this leap, sweetie," the admiral said urgently. "Once you leap close enough home, we can get you back, but you've just got to focus." She stared steadily at the two of them, trying to discern whatever code had passed by her defenses undetected. Sam and Al had both agreed prior to entering the Imaging Chamber that it would be best not to tell her the specifics of the problem. The moment they told her the specifics of the problem, the harder it would undoubtedly be _not_ to think about what happened to her. "Okay," she said finally. "So does Ziggy have anything else on what I'm supposed to do then?" "Yeah, well, she's got some more information, anyhow. She pulled up a police report about the incident and the boyfriend, Greg, was accused and then convicted for Julie's murder. The entire time he maintained his innocence, but Ziggy gives it a 87% chance that he's the one you've got to watch out for. If you can nail him abusing her beforehand, maybe you can stop this before anything more concrete happens. It's tonight that she ends up back in the hospital with the sprained wrist." "Back in the hospital?" Melana repeated, a puzzled look on her face. Sam gestured to the handlink. "Well, Ziggy says that she's been in there a couple of times before for minor things since she's been seeing Greg. That's probably how she knows what's going on here." "She didn't mention going out tonight," she said, half to herself. "But then again, I'm sorta new here. I don't really know the ropes." As if on cue, Julie trotted into the room, snatched up a cookie, and stared steadily at her mother. "I'm going out tonight." "Whatever happened to asking permission?" Melana countered sourly. The girl's attitude was starting to rub off on her. "Do you need me home?" Melana cast a desperate glance at Al, but he seemed too preoccupied to offer assistance. "No. Where are you going?" She broke off a piece of the cookie and shrugged. "I don't know. Someplace with Greg." "She could bring him here," Sam suggested. Al shot him a disgusted look. "Her monster wouldn't come and if she's covering for him, why would she want to bring him here?" Sam recoiled slightly, but didn't respond. "Why don't you two come over here tonight?" Melana asked, figuring it couldn't hurt. Julie looked up sharply, first with a suspicious air, and then she relaxed visibly. "Could we have the family room to ourselves?" she asked carefully. Al shrugged. Melana paused. "For most of the night. Deal?" For the first time ever, Julie smiled a genuine smile. "Deal." ^----^----^----^----^ May, 2002 Stallions Gate, NM "Did you see the look in her eyes, Sam? She's remembering." Al perched on the desk top, his expression anguished. He was very tempted to ask what exactly she was remembering, but he refrained. Ever since they'd left the Imaging Chamber, Al had seemed a little more at ease with himself and Sam and the scientist didn't want to do anything that would impede on his newfound peace. "Do you think there's any way we can get her to leap earlier?" he asked, taking the seat next to the desk. "Yeah, we can try the blunt, direct approach," Al responded sourly, pulling out a cigar. "Meaning?" "Meaning Melana can get that slime of a boyfriend put in prison." Sam absently slid the ashtray over next to Al. "Not without proof." "So she makes something up." "Yeah, and then when Amy leaps back in she's up a creek without a paddle. I don't think that'd work, Al." Al waved the cigar around in a circle emphatically. "So let's pull out the scales, shall we, Sam? Either we lose Melana again or there's a little confusion in court." "Okay," Sam conceded. "I see your point, but let's just say that you're right. Let's say that she does accuse Greg and it doesn't work for whatever reason. Then Melana would have to stay in there a lot longer to put that wrong right." Al shook his head and stared at the cigar in his hand. "I see what you mean," he said quietly. "I just wish there was something I could do about this." Sam gazed up at him. "Why don't you go and get some rest? I'll let you know if anything happens." He seemed about to protest, but then relented at the last instant. "Yeah, okay. Just promise me you'll keep running scenarios." Al reached up to run a hand through his hair and that's when Sam saw it. His tie was pulled down and the top button of his shirt was undone. When he moved his arm, the collar shifted slightly and Sam's eyes were immediately drawn to the patch of white. Startled and swallowing back an unexpected wave of anger, he pulled back Al's collar without hesitation. "You're wearing a Fermi suit!" he exclaimed in dismayed tones. A guilty expression crossed his friend's face, but he didn't respond. "How did you get it, Al? I had them all locked up a week ago." Al hesitated and then dropped his hand with a heavy sigh. "I've been wearing it for the past two weeks," he confessed. Sam drew back a half-step. "Every day?" he demanded. Al nodded slowly. "How could you?" He pushed past the admiral and sat heavily in a chair. "I knew she was dying. And I knew she wasn't going to make it. Even so, for two weeks I hoped and..." he trailed off, glancing sideways at Sam. Sam eyed him carefully. "Prayed?" he asked. "A little," Al admitted slowly. "Sam, would you have done any less? You were ready to leap before and you're not married -weren't married to her. Did you really think...." He shook his head and looked down at the floor, focusing all of his attention on anywhere but the present. "Do you really think I could offer any less?" Sam closed his eyes, retreating when he realized just how much truth Al's words carried with them. "So what are you going to do now?" Al swallowed harshly, fingering the tip of his tie with exaggerated interest. "I can't make any promises, Sam." "You said that last time. Well, dammit, I want promises! Do I have to be worrying about you every waking moment, too?" Had he had more energy, Al probably would have become angry at that comment, but he just shook his head slowly, avoiding a verbal response. "I want it on my desk in an hour, Al. An hour!" Sam's voice rose shrilly and Al winced. "Okay, Sam," he agreed quietly. Sam studied him for a moment and then sighed, relenting. "I'm sorry, Al. I didn't mean to be insensitive. It's just that...well I'm not ready to lose you, too." The scientist stood silent, studying him, waiting for a response. "What do you want me to say, Sam?" he asked, his voice tired and passive. "I don't know, but things haven't been right between us since Beth died and there must be _something_ we can do that'll fix this." Al closed his eyes and Sam took a step back out of the office. "I don't know what to do." Sam waited until he had opened his eyes and locked a firm gaze on him. "Promise me." "I - I can't." "Al..." The word was a warning; a lot of pent up anger was coming to the fore. Al blinked rapidly. "I can't," he repeated, seeming to force the words out with incredible effort. Before Sam could respond, he was gone, taking the hurt and anger with him, carrying it around with that Fermi Suit he wore.