The plane came to a standstill and the engines began to wind down, when 
they had the all clear the ground crew moved the portable stairway into 
position.  Sam and Al walked over to the foot of the stairway and waited 
for Austin Bebrooks to emerge.  Tumbleweeds flurried passed their feet 
as the wind started to whip up the dust.

Al nudged Sam in the ribs, "For Christ sake don't mention your little 
escapade to Bebrooks."  Sam turned to speak, but Al interrupted.  "I'll 
do most of the taking, but I'll leave the technical stuff to you. Lord 
knows more than I do, how you can babble on sometimes."

"Well I've never been good with interviews, you always have the right 
words.  I don't have any problems with you doing the talking.  I just 
wish I didn't have to be here, there are more important things on my 

"And would one of those important things be looking at you from the 
cafeteria window?" Al nudged Sam again.

Sam turned ever-so slightly and looked in the direction of the 
cafeteria.  Sure enough the waitress stood by the window, watching.  Sam 
smiled to himself and whispered.  "What's her name Al?"

"Erm, I don't have the hand-link on me at the moment, erm, oh you mean 
the waitress.  Her name's Bernadette, Bernie for short, erm, she's been 
with us for about 2 years now, I think.  She's from England and....."

"How do you know so much about everyone Al?"

"It's my job to know, since February 2004 we've been running only on a 
skeleton staff, we're like a family here, everyone knows everyone. 
Except for you, you seem to be the stranger here, they all know of you, 
but so few know you."

The door to the small plane opened, Austin Bebrooks stepped onto the 
platform of the stairway.  After being in the darkened interior, the 
afternoon sun blinded him, he held up a hand to shade his eyes from the 

He saw Al and raised his hand in recognition.  "Ah, Mr. Calavicci."  He 
drawled in a strong Texan accent.  Still shielding his eyes he descended 
the steps.

At the bottom Al introduced Bebrooks to Sam.  "Austin Bebrooks this is 
Doctor Samuel Beckett."

Sam glanced sideways at Al, he had an aversion to being called Samuel, 
and Al knew it, he secretly smirked back at Sam.

Sam shook hands with Bebrooks.  "Pl-pleased to meet you erm, Mr. 
Bebrooks."  Sam's brow creased, he especially disliked these formal 
occasions, they made him nervous.

"Please call me Austin, Doctor Beckett.  I don't think we need to stand 
on ceremonies here."

"Then you must call me Sam," he glanced again at Al, "this way Austin."  
Sam led Bebrooks inside followed by a dejected Al.

"May we offer you some refreshments?"  Al retorted.

"Yes that would be greatly appreciated," he cleared his throat, "it's a 
long journey.  The dust here, it's made me quite thirsty."

Sam responded not thinking, "Well this is the desert, there is a lot of 
dust."  Al looked across at Sam slightly annoyed, he held a finger up to 
his lips, as if to quieten him.

"I can understand that Sam, not quite used to it though."

As they sat the waitress came over.  "Coffee for me I think."  Bebrooks 

Al looked up at the waitress, "That'll be three coffees then please...."

Sam interrupted, "N-no, I'll have tea this time, please," he looked up 
at the waitress and smiled, "Bernie, thank you."  She smiled as she 
turned and walked away, again his gaze followed her.

"Erm, how was the flight Mr. Bebrooks?  Not too bumpy I hope?  The 
atmospheric turbulence in the desert can make the journey quite 

"No, as journeys go, I found this one pleasantly surprising, never been 
this far north before.  The scenery makes quite a change."

"Not much scenery here I'm afraid," Sam commented, "just miles and miles 
of sand-dunes, not much here for an artist."  Al looked at Sam again 
quite sternly.  Justly noted Sam realised he was babbling again.

"Are you an artist?  Do you paint Sam?"  Bebrooks replied, not at all 
put off by what seemed like an irrelevant remark from Sam.

"N-no I don't but my son does."

"You must be quite proud of him, I've never met him of course, is he 
working with you on the project?"

"Yes I am proud of him and no, he's not working with me on the project, 
he's only,"  Al could see where this conversation was going and tried to 
ward Sam off, but was too late.  Sam blurted out, "eight."

"Eight you say, but I thought you'd been gone for almost four-teen 

"Well it is a long story........"

Al interrupted,  "And I think it's one we should talk about at a later 
date.  Al drained his cup and looked at his watch.  "The clock is 
ticking, and I know you cannot stay long Mr. Bebrooks."  He stood up 
from the table, glaring at Sam.  "If you would care to join us, we'll 
show you around the complex."

Sam looked at Al and shrugged his shoulders, his lips tightening in an 
apologetic smile.  The other two men rose to their feet and followed Al 
out of the cafeteria, along the main corridor, they turned right at the 
last doorway and entered the room.

"W-hey-hey!" Bebrooks remarked as the floor moved beneath them.

Al stood with his hands behind his back, shifting to his toes, then 
rocking back onto his heels.  "Oh it's all right, this is the elevator, 
it's unnerving at first but you get used to it." He pursed his lips in a 
silent whistle.

"Some elevator, you could fit a whole army in here."  His Texan accent 
more pronounced.

"We needed it large enough to carry some of the apparatus, some of it is 
quite sizable"

"How far down are we going?"  Sam could see that Bebrooks was still a 
little nervous.

"Two hundred feet." A look of satisfaction spread across Al's face.

The elevator reached the bottom Sam was the first out, followed by 
Bebrooks then Al.  Sam looked around, at least the lights were working, 
he now knew of Al's fears, of the darkness in the meandering maze of 
tunnels, why Al had insisted on the cabinets filled with torches and 
batteries, why there were ladders in every tunnel leading to the surface 
and why at every junction there was a map.  Al had suggested that each 
section be painted a different colour but this seems never to have 
transpired.  Sam closed his eyes and tried to imagine himself in the 
pitch of blackness once again.  He span himself around deliberately, 
just to see if he could sense which direction he was facing.  Sam peeked 
to see if he was correct.  Keeping his eyes firmly shut, he then started 
to pace out the corridors mentally counting each step to the next turn, 
these details were added to the map in his brain.

Al looked at him curiously.  "Sam what are you doing?"

Bebrooks took Sam's actions all in his stride, taking him to be just 
another eccentric scientist.

"Just seeing if I can make my way in the dark"

"Your makin' a fool of yourself."

"No I'm not."

"You are.  What do you think these are for?"  Al opened one of the 
cabinets to reveal their contents.  "In case the lights go out."  He 
held up a torch and several batteries.

"They'd be useless to me."

"What'd you mean Sam?"

"I can't use them."

Al replaced the items back to the cabinet, walked up to Sam and 
furtively nudged him in the ribs, "Why not, Sam?"  then through his 
teeth, "don't say it."

"Ah, erm, nothin' just foolin' around."  Sam laughed.

Al turned to Bebrooks, "Ahm, just another of Sam's little pranks, he's 
always pullin' them."  He gave a warning glance to Sam, then returned 
his attention to Bebrooks, "These are all natural shafts and caverns 
we've just utilised them and made them safe.  The walls are lined to 
make them more serviceable.  The lights are operated by motion 
detectors, which makes them more economical.  Each section lights up as 
we approach and darkens again as we leave."

Bebrooks listened intently.

They continued to meander along the tunnels, deeper into the caverns 
depths, and finally reached the end of a long corridor.

"This is the Control Room."  Sam waved a hand showing off the door, then 
moved closer.  The door opened with a 'whoosh'. 

Sam entered the Control Room.  "Ziggy, lights."

Immediately the lights hummed and illuminated, "Good afternoon Doctor, 
Admiral.  I'm sorry Sir we have not been introduced yet.  Perhaps the 
Admiral would perform the introductions."

"Who is that?"  Bebrooks looked around in amazement.

"That, Mr. Bebrooks is Ziggy our hybrid computer."  Al gestured towards 
the console.  "Ziggy this is Mr. Austin Bebrooks."

"Pleased to meet you Mr. Bebrooks, that was a little formal don't you 
think.  May I call you Austin?"

Bebrooks stood with mouth ajar, "Y-yeah, I-I think that would be okay."

"She has a character all of her own, you'll have to excuse her 
disposition Austin.  Ziggy says what she thinks."

"So this is Ziggy, the great computer you've been working on all these 
years, a computer that can think."  Bebrooks looked around, "I'm 
impressed Sam, really impressed."

The external door 'whooshed' open and Sammi Jo walked in.  "Oh I'm 
sorry, I didn't think you would be here yet, I-I saw you in the 
cafeteria.  Sorry."  She turned to leave then turned back, "Sorry, 
again, could you please excuse me for a moment, I came in for this."  
She walked over to the bench near the control panel and picked up the 
fragments of the broken hand-link, placed them in a foil bag and turned 
to leave.

"Sammi can I speak with you a minute?  Sorry Austin I'll only be a 
couple of minutes, I'm sure Al, will explain some of the controls."  Sam 
took hold of Sammi Jo's arm and lead her towards the door.  Sam noticed 
the blood stained bandage on Sammi Jo's finger.  "What have you been 

"Oh I just caught it on one of the connectors in the hand-link."  Sammi 
Jo held up the bag.

"Are you okay, I mean it looks pretty serious."

"Yeah, I'm okay, Al cleaned it with iodine, it'll be fine, looks worse 
than it is."

"What did you find with the hand-link?  Is it burned out?"

"No Sam, funnily enough its okay, just a loose connection, there's a bit 
of carbon on a couple of the chips but other than that it should work 
all right once the connection is fixed."  She put the foil package into 
the pocket of her lab-coat.  "I'll finish this off in your lab if you 
don't mind."

"No, of course I don't mind, go ahead I'll see you there later."  Sam 
patted Sammi Jo on the shoulder, "hopefully I won't be too long."

Sammi Jo left through the external door and headed for Sam's lab.

Sam joined the other two, Al was in his element.  He loved to baffle the 
unenlightened with technical terms, he was in his element.  Sam let him 
continue, just adding the odd word or two, to help Al confuse the 
unsuspecting Austin Bebrooks even more.  'Baffle them with science', Sam 
had heard him say many times in the past, especially when the project 
was at stake.  Al was good with people, Sam envied his friend's ability 
and wished he could be the same.

* * * * *

Sammi Jo entered Sam's lab and emptied the content of the foil package 
onto the bench, she picked up the largest piece.  She noticed something 
inside the casing.  She looked at it more closely, but could not make it 
out.  Transferring it to the microscope she studied it closer.  It was 
the skin that had been torn from her finger along with a drop of blood.  
It had started to synthesise with the carbon from the microchips and was 
growing, integrating with the slither of silicone within the chip.

"Oh Ziggy, I think we've done it, I think we've accidentally created the 
neuronic microcosmic-molecular cells Sam needed."  She put the piece of 
casing in the incubator, "Wow Ziggy, I can't wait to tell Sam."