Chapter 25 Al was careful not to rush to the Imaging Chamber. He really was feeling better, but the nausea remained at the back of his mind. He entered his code to the Main Control Room. As the door slid upward he saw the faces of Gooshie, Tina, and Verbena turn to see who was entering. All three registered concern when they recognized him. Gooshie was the first to speak. "How are you feeling, Admiral? Is everything okay?" "I'm just fine, thank you for asking." He responded a little more gruffly than he would have liked. He immediately regretted his tone when Verbena and Tina looked away. "We are glad to hear it, Admiral." Gooshie looked down, now embarrassed at asking. He fiddled with the control panel. Verbena stepped over to Al. She held his gaze. "After you see Sam, I want to see you in my office." Her tone was unwavering. He brushed past her on the way to the Main Control console. He let her stew for a moment, as he gathered up a handlink. She came up behind him. He pretended to be checking the data in the link. He wasn't in the mood to be psycho-analyzed today. She tapped him on the shoulder. "Al." He ignored her. She was close enough that he got a whiff of her jasmine scented perfume. He prepared his cigar and started to light it. She stepped around him coming face to face with him. She reached up and snatched the cigar from his lips. "Now that I have your attention..." She started to say as she twirled the cigar between her fingers. Al glared at her. "What?" he said through barely clenched teeth. His temper was rising and he struggled to control it. "My office. After Sam. Capishe?" She emphasized every other word with a point from the cigar at Al. Al grabbed the cigar. "Fine, whatever." He turned away from her so he wouldn't lash out. Lighting the cigar he stomped his way up the ramp. Verbena turned back to see a bewildered Tina and Gooshie watching her. She shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine." Al had palmed the door open and waited for Gooshie to start the program. He puffed angrily on his cigar. After what seemed like an eternity, the program started up and with a sickening lurch, Al found himself in Sam's room. He swallowed his anger momentarily, then stepped over to Sam's bed. Sam was still, and the machines still beeped. Nothing had changed since Al's last visit. "Sam," he called softly. "Sam, I'm here kid. I was sick yesterday, so if it seems like it has been a while, well it has been." Al shifted uncomfortably. "Can you believe it Sam? Me, letting a virus put me under? I woulda been here if I coulda, you know that." Al puffed on the cigar as he thought. "Sam. You gotta come out of it, pal. I know you can hear me." He went to sit on the folding chair that still remained in the Chamber. "People are really starting to worry. Come on kid. Snap out of it and talk to me. Insult me if you like. Argue with me, but please wake up." Silence greeted Al's words. Al felt like shaking Sam into consciousness. His anger was starting to return. He bit back angry words and concentrated on keeping his cool. "Sam, just remember that no matter what, I'm here for you. I'll come see you everyday. I gotta get going for right now. Project business. More Senators and Congress to deal with. I'll be back later." Al got up and keyed open the door and left. Gooshie didn't say anything to him but just took the handlink. Tina was nowhere to be found. Al headed over to Verbena's office. She was waiting outside when Al approached. He was ushered inside and over to the couch. He sat awkwardly and stubbed out the remainder of his cigar in the ashtray. Verbena had closed the door and had gone to fix herself a cup of coffee. "Want one?" She offered. "No, thank you." His voice tone was calm and even. Verbena sat in the chair opposite Al. She crossed her legs and sipped her drink. "Tell me what's on your mind, Al." "Other than Sam?" "Yes." "Nothing." He put on his best poker face. The same charming one he used when bullshitting the Board. Verbena wasn't fooled. "Then explain your attitude this morning." "Crap, Bena. I don't feel up to this right now. Can we play this game a little later?" He could feel her trying to provoke him, to needle him, to get inside his brain. He stifled his angry thoughts for the moment. Verbena placed her coffee cup down with a tinkle. She pinned Al to the couch with her glare. "I'm not playing games here. And neither should you be. Beth was worried about you, Al. You damn near scared half the project to death!" "It's not like I meant to." He tried to defend himself. "I know that. However you are acting strange as of late. I'm just trying to find out why." She sat back and picked her coffee cup back up, hoping her actions would help Al to see she wasn't a threat. "I'm acting strange??" His voice rose, and with it his temper. "Donna gives birth here; Sam gets into an accident and is now in a coma, and you think I'm acting strange??" He bit back the rest of his sentence for fear of the response his angry words would bring. "It's not like you to bite people's heads off first thing in the morning. Especially Gooshie's." She watched his reaction, he looked properly chastised. "He was concerned about you. We all are. I do believe you owe him an apology." "Thank you for your concern. However, I am doing better now. Okay?" His temper was sitting below the surface and he wanted to leave before it blew. He didn't need people telling him how to act. "Al, what are you so angry at?" She didn't want to push him, but she knew that if he didn't face his anger now it would get worse later. "You really want to know?" His words were sharp and clipped. "Yes. I think it would be best if you just let it out. It helps sometimes if you talk about it to someone who cares. I do care, Al. I'm here to help you, not hurt you." She tried to reassure him and hoped it would help. "I'm angry at the unjustness of all this. That someone as good as Sam, ended up in a coma. When I should be there for him, I'm not. And then I get sick to boot. That kid deserves so much more out of life. His son is coming home today. He won't get to see that baby. That's what I'm angry about." Having spoken his peace, Al got up and left the room. Verbena put her coffee cup down and went after him. By the time she got in the hall, he was nowhere to be seen. She knew he was simmering and if she didn't diffuse him soon, he would explode. He still couldn't see beyond his own guilt into the situation. If only Sam would wake up, then he could talk some sense into Al. It seemed that Sam was the only one Al would listen to. It had been that way since the first day they had met when Al was a drunk, beating on the vending machine. Sam please wake up soon, she prayed. Al needs you as much as you need him.