Chapter Twenty

     "Okay, try it now," Gushie called from under the
console.  He'd spent so much time under there over the past
week, Verbeena was beginning to wonder if the man had an
upper body.  As directed, Al punched a few buttons on the
handlink.  Its lights were on but, as the saying goes, nobody
was home.  It wasn't connecting to Ziggy's mainframe.
     "Shit!"  Gushie didn't swear often, but when he did, you
knew something major was wrong.
     "Gushie, honey, what's the matter?"  Tina tried to bend
over, to speak more softly to her husband, but the size of her
very pregnant stomach wouldn't allow it.  "You, like, keep
swearing under there, but you're not, like, letting us know
what's going on?"
     He crawled out from his hutch, pulling himself up to his
full height.  Those in the room took an step back, unaware that
they had even done so.  He didn't anger easily, but when he
did, everyone knew to stand clear.
     "The problem is I can't get that damn handlink to
connect.  Without it, even if Sam does leap, and we find him,
Ziggy can't communicate with the Admiral!"  He ran his hand
through the mop of bright red hair, frustration showing on his
haggard face as he paced in exasperation.
     It was then he realized he had yelled at his wife.  Her
eyes misted over, but she refused to let the tears loose.  He
stepped to her, taking her in his arms.  Al flinched slightly.
"Tina, darling, I'm sorry.  It's just ..."
     "It's okay, I understand."  Under normal circumstances,
his outburst wouldn't have affected her so much, but being this
close to giving birth, her emotions wouldn't always stay under
her control.  She pushed him back, giving him a weak smile,
but he knew there was something more behind the tears welling
up in her eyes.
     Verbeena, also sensing that there was more to it, stepped
forward.  "Gushie, why don't you take Tina and get her
something to drink.  You could probably use a break, too.
You've been under that console forever."
     As Gushie placed his arm around Tina, she held up her
hand.  "No.  I'm fine.  Really.  Gushie's still got mega work
to do.  We're running out of time.  We've got to, like, get this
finished so Sam can ... can get back on track."
     Al hadn't been part of her life all those years not to
know when she was bluffing.  Or at least trying to.
     "Are you sure, hon?"  The strain on Gushie's face told
her that he really did need a break, but she knew that his love
for the Project and Sam wouldn't allow him to give up until the
very end.
     "Get back under there.  That's an order!"  Tina
managed a smile, but Al could see right through it.
     "Verbeena's right, Tina.  You should go and at least sit
down," he said, passing the handlink to Sam.
     "Maybe you're right.  I, like, lost the feeling in my
ankles hours ago.  They're probably the size of an elephant's by
now."  She bent her leg back, trying to see, but her size
wouldn't allow her to twist her upper body around.  She gave
up, putting her foot back down, wincing.
     "Come on.  Drinks are on me."  Al knew he might be
stepping on Gushie's toes, leading Tina away, but he also knew
he wasn't necessary in the process to get the handlink working.
Verbeena gave him a 'be careful' look, but he didn't need the
warning.  This was one married lady who was definitely off
     Settling her into a boardroom chair, he pulled one of the
discarded file boxes close, gently lifting her ankles and placing
her feet on the box.

     "Water?  Soda?"
     "Water's fine, thanks."  He disappeared momentarily,
slipping into their improvised kitchen.  Returning, he handed
her a bottle of water.
     "Sorry it's not cold.  They even took all the minibar
     "That's okay."  She held the bottle in her hand, staring
at it.  Then the tears came.
     Al's history with most women told him that they usually
cried because they wanted something from him.  His history
with Tina told him just the opposite.  There was something
terribly wrong.  Unsure of what to do, but knowing he should
do something, he knelt beside her chair.  Intending to only hold
her hand, the moment he made contact with her, she grabbed
onto him, squeezing him with more strength than he thought she
was capable of.  Instinctively, his arms surrounded her, taking
all of her to him.  He let her cry until she was done, saying
nothing, gently stroking her hair.  He didn't think of their past,
only that she was a friend in pain and this was the only way he
could help her.
     After several minutes, she finally pulled away.  Al
reached inside his pants pocket, pulled out a handkerchief and
gave it to her.
     "An officer always carries a clean hanky, eh Al," she
said, taking it.  She blew her nose, then dabbed at her eyes,
now even more puffy than they had been before.  "It's alright,
I'm fine now."  Slipping into the chair next to hers, he took her
hand back into his.
     "Tina, I know you.  Something's bothering you, and you
don't want anyone to know it.  But I know it.  Tina, honey, tell
me what's wrong."
     She slipped her hand from his grasp and, looking down
into her lap, began pulling at the corners of the hanky.  "Look
at me, Al!  I'm nearly eight months pregnant.  I already have
a little girl, who by the way you've never even bothered to
come and see.  If Sam leaps back to the right timeline, I'm
afraid I'll lose everything.  My babies, my husband, everything
that matters to me."
     Looking up at Al, he saw the anguish in her eyes.
"Don't get me wrong.  I really want to help Sam, but ..." her
voice came in a whisper, "I'm scared."
     "Sweetie, I'm sure that, whatever happens to Sam,
you're life will be as perfect as it is now."  He wasn't sure.
He was bluffing, saying what she'd wanted to hear.  But in
reality, he'd wished for just the opposite.  If Sam did leap and
set everything back to its original path, he wanted Tina to be
his again.  Hadn't Sam's leaping altered their own reality, even
if only slightly, on numerous occasions before?
     She sniffled, and a few lingering tears rolled down her
cheeks.  Before Al could reach up and wipe them away, her
hand swept across her face, erasing their existence.
     I should be the one with her, not Gushie!  But that was
a decision he himself had made.  Now he had to live with it.
Besides, at nearly 70, he felt he was too old to be starting a family.
     "Why don't you stay here and get some rest.  After all
you're ..."
     "... eating, sleeping, whatever for two.  I know the
clich=82.  Gushie says it all the time.  I really, like, hate it."  She
grinned at him, letting him know that, for now, she'd accepted
his explanation.  As Al stood to leave, she grabbed his
     "Please come and get me in a couple of hours.  I want
to be in there ... no matter what happens."
     "I will," Al replied, patting her hand in reassurance.
She released her grip, the settled back into the chair.
     He turned and stepped into the hallway.  Looking back,
he wished there was a door to close so she wouldn't be
disturbed, but this was another computer-controlled area and
Ziggy was concentrating on other, more important things.  He
saw her reclining her head, drifting off into a hopefully deep
     As he stepped just out of view of Tina, he reached for
the last cigar in his pocket, clipped the end then lit it.  He
inhaled slowly, blowing a stream of grey-white smoke into the
air above his head.  If only things had been different three years
     With a glance back at Tina, he turned and headed back
to the Control Room.