Chapter 20

Al was pacing outside the Imaging Chamber while Gooshie loaded the program 
and the janitor cleaned out the inside.  Al didn't envy him that job.  
Evidently Ziggy had called for a cleanup after Al had left.  That was fine 
with him.  He really hadn't thought who was going to clean that mess up.

Al neared the main control panel.  He stopped and placed a hand on one of the 
scanners.  "Ziggy?"

"Yes, Admiral?"

"Vital statistics on Sam, please."

"Unable to comply." the computer responded sorrowfully.

Al went cold all over.  "Why not?"  He braced himself for the worst.

Insufficient data."  Ziggy returned.

Gooshie interrupted.  "Imaging Chamber on-line.  You may enter now."

Al watched as the janitor exited, pushing a mop and bucket in front of him.  
He nodded to Al and Gooshie, then headed for the elevator.

Al picked up the handlink and steeled himself for whatever he would find 
inside.  He headed toward the ramp, turned towards Gooshie and nodded.

Gooshie hit the final sequence of keys to fire up the Chamber.  Bringing up 
the program to center Al on Sam, he watched, expectantly, as Al entered the 

Al stood in the room and watched the images swirl around him.  They coalesced 
into a hospital room.  Al saw Sam lying very still in a bed.  I.C.U. machines 
beeped and hummed. Al walked over to Sam's bed.

"Sam.  Oh, Sam."  He watched the monitors beep with Sam's heartbeat.  Sam was 
hooked up to oxygen too.  Sam was unconscious. Al watched his friend breathe. 
 At least he was alive.  He thought about Donna and Sam's new son.  This 
wasn't fair.  Sam should live to see his new baby grow up.

When Al spoke next, it came from his heart.  "Sam, I know you can hear me, 
even if you can't respond.  Please know that we are praying for you.  We all 
care about you."  His voice broke at the words.  "Sam, you hang in there.  We 
want you to come home to us.  Hear me?  You have plenty of reasons to live."  
Al thought again of the new baby.  The one he had just helped to bring into 
the world.

"I'll be back, Sam.  You just hold on."  He pushed the buttons to summon the 

As he left Sam, his thoughts turned toward what to tell Donna.  He passed 
Gooshie and shook his head silently.  Then he turned and headed down the 
hallway to break the news to the women.

Al entered the room, and Donna was once again on the couch, nursing her 
newborn son.  Tina and Verbena had cleaned up as much as possible.

Verbena caught sight of Al's eyes.  He shook his head silently and motioned 
her aside.  When they were out of Donna's hearing Al spoke.  "He's alive but 
unconscious.  It looks like a coma."

Verbena gasped slightly.  "Oh my.  I'm sorry, Al."  He knew her sympathy was 

Al nodded.  "The worse part is, it could have been prevented.  This didn't 
have to happen."  He swore silently to himself.  "I needed to be there for 
him and I let him down."

"Al, you didn't know.  And we were otherwise preoccupied."  She pointed 
toward Donna.  "You couldn't be in two places at once.  You did the best you 
could.  No one will blame you."

Al looked toward Donna.  "I'm not sure of that."  He wanted a cigar so bad.  
"Excuse me.  I need to be alone right now."

Verbena went to stop him, but he brushed her arm aside.  He walked past Donna 
and gave her a small smile before going out the door and down the hallway.

Tina came to stand beside Verbena.  "I just got off the phone with the 
hospital.  An ambulance was dispatched an hour an a half ago.  They should be 
here shortly."

Verbena nodded.  "Thanks, Tina.  Why don't you go check on Gooshie?"  Tina 
agreed and with a smile and a wave, left.


Donna sat holding her baby boy.  He was nursing quietly.  She couldn't get 
over how beautiful he was.  As soon as she had gotten her hands on him, she 
had counted the fingers and toes.

She smiled down at him.  He was truly a gift.  And she had been blessed with 
his love.  She watched as Al entered the room.  He motioned for Verbena to 
follow him.

He seemed, well, not quite right.  She tried to put her finger on it.  He was 
sad. Melancholy.  Hurt.  Angry.  Donna puzzled over this for a minute, trying 
to remember.  She had blocked out most of everything that had happened while 
she was in labor.

She remembered Ziggy interrupting, and Al leaving.  But he had come back, and 
helped her with the delivery.  She was eternally grateful to him for that.  
This baby wouldn't be here now, if not for him.

She tried to remember more.  Right after the baby was born, Al left again.  
And now he was back.  Looking like Hell had swallowed his reality.  He said 
some things to Verbena, then turned to leave.  Verbena tried to stop him, but 
he brushed her off.  He had smiled at Donna, but she had glimpsed his eyes.  
Something was bothering him.

Little Johnny had fallen asleep in his mother's arms.  Verbena came to take 
him away and put him in the heated blankets.  Donna relinquished him 

Verbena returned to take her pulse, once the baby was settled.   "An 
ambulance is on the way.  It will arrive shortly."

Donna saw her chance to bring up the subject that was bothering her.  "What's 
with Al?  If it's something I've done..."

"Oh Donna, it's not you at all."  Verbena wondered who should be the one to 
tell Donna.  "He just needs to be alone."

Donna puzzled over this.  "No, there's more to it than that.  Something's 
wrong."  She glanced over to the baby.  No, he seemed fine. 

A memory hit her like a freight train.  Gooshie.  Leaving with Al.  Ziggy.  
Interrupting.  OH MY GOD!  SAM!!  She grabbed Verbena's arm.  "It's Sam, 
isn't it?"

Verbena nodded just once.  "I'm sorry, Donna."  She placed her arm atop 
Donna's.  "There's been an accident.  He's in a coma.  Al blames himself."

"Accident?  Why would he..." she started the broke off as realization set in. 
 "Because he was here?  Instead of there?"  She pointed towards the Imaging 

Verbena nodded again.

Donna tried to take this all in.  Sam was in a coma, because Al was here to 
help her and not him.  She slumped against the pillows, tears flooding her 
eyes.  Her emotions were on overload right now. 

"Donna, there's nothing that can be done right now.  Roll over and try to get 
some sleep."

Donna did so only because she didn't feel like arguing and she was tired.

Verbena covered her with a clean blanket and then went to go find Al.