"Hidden Agenda"
Part V

October, 1998
Hardesty, OK

Brenda Moyer had once again cornered Sam Beckett and was discussing
various types of eggs with him. He was leaning against her counter
nodding absently and looking as if he was trying to appear interested
when, in fact, he looked about as engrossed in the conversation as a
coma patient. Al appeared almost directly in front of him and Sam
jumped, visibly startled. Brenda didn't appear to even have noticed. Al
didn't have time to be polite about anything, anyway.

"Sam, you have to get down to the creek - now!"

Sam turned automatically, alerted more by the frantic tone of his
friend's voice than the words themselves. "What?" he asked
automatically.

"Brown eggs," Brenda clarified cheerfully. "I used them once to-"

"Tabitha's down there," Al cried over her words. "Something changed - it
happens now. I think she was coming to get you - I don't know! She's
halfway over now. I got her to stop, but-"

"Go stay with her," Sam ordered and took off out the back door, running
through the damp grass, calling Tabitha's name loudly, insisting that
she stay put if she could hear him.

"What?" Brenda called after him. "Bernie, what's going on?" She started
to follow Sam, though not as quickly.

By the time Al popped back in, the only sounds were the water trickling
over the pebbles that lined the floor of the creek and the distant
sounds of Sam's yelling. "Oh, God, this can't be happening," Al
murmured. He stepped upstream of the stone and found her face down in
the water, only just deep enough to suffocate her. Blood matted her
hair, mingling with the clear water around her. He went down heavily on
one knee beside her. "Tabitha, wake up! Listen to me - you have to wake
up!"

"Al?!" he heard Sam holler as he ran down the hill.

"Over here! Hurry, Sam!"

Sam didn't hesitate, but plunged into the water and moved as quickly as
he could towards their position. He picked her up, cradling her in both
arms, and waded back to the closest shore, which was on the Moyer's
side.

Al walked closely with him, tense with worry. "Sam, she's not
breathing-"

"I know, Al," Sam replied tightly. He laid her on the ground and started
mouth-to-mouth while Al looked on, pacing helplessly and fingering the
handlink with shaky hands.

Al glanced at the readouts: her chances were at 50/50. "Come on, come
on," Al muttered, not really looking at either of them. 57/43 in her
favor. 62%. "Her odds are going up, Sam, keep going," he urged, as if
there was even the slightest possibility Sam would give up.

Brenda finally came up on them and she stood, miraculously silent for a
moment, staring, wide-eyed. "I'm going to go call an ambulance," she
told Sam and started running back to her house. Sam didn't stop to
comment, but he was grateful, for once, that she was there.

"Come on, Sam," Al chanted. 76%...89%...

Tabitha coughed suddenly and Sam turned her head to the side as she
brought up water and struggled to breathe. Al exhaled in relief. Still
coughing, she started to sob and Sam took off her jacket, then his own
sweater, wrapping it around her. He picked her up and carried her back
to Bernadette's house without a word. Al walked beside him, murmuring
comfortingly to her as they went. First Sam called Brenda to tell her
they didn't need an ambulance, that she was okay and he'd bring her to
the hospital to get checked out later. Then her put her into some warm,
dry clothes and sat her on the kitchen counter.

She was still crying softly so, while Sam inspected the source of the
blood, Al moved in front of her. "Tabby, honey, it's okay. Oh, please
don't cry..."

"It hurts," she whimpered, gazing at him with ocean blue eyes.

"I know, baby, but Sam'll take good care of you. He's real careful,
okay? I promise."

She wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand and nodded and Al was
grateful she was so trusting. "Will you stay with me?"

He caught Sam's eye over her head and the scientist shook his head. "Not
much longer, I don't think, darling, but I'll stay as long as I can."

"She hit her head pretty hard," Sam noted, "and she should still go to
the hospital - she probably has a concussion, but it's nothing too
serious."

"But she's going to be okay?" Al pressed.

"Sure she will," Sam reassured them both. He walked around in front of
her. Tabitha shivered slightly and he touched her head with his hand.
"Are you still cold?"

"Little bit," she said in a quiet voice.

"Sam?" The leaper glanced back at his partner. "Give her a hug for me,
huh?"

Sam smiled and hugged the girl gently. She looked at Al over Sam's
shoulder and he winked, then vanished as Sam leaped.

~~~~~~
November, 2000
Stallions Gate, NM

"Okay, what do we got?" Al asked wearily, sitting down behind his desk.

"Nothing much, Admiral," Ziggy responded.

"So tell me what we do have," Al pressed, a little more patient now that
the leap was over.

"Celia Marilyn Gray. Born June 28, 1975 in New York City. Her mother
died when she was four of ovarian cancer. Her father is an artist and,
as far as I can tell, they don't communicate." Al raised his eyebrows.
"Graduated from Newberg High School on-"

"Skip ahead a few years," Al prompted.

She sniffed. "Currently resides in New Freedom, Pennsylvania. She
married insurance salesman David Lewis Gray on March 30, 1994, then
divorced him in November of 97. She holds a Masters in philosophy and a
doctorate in Quantum Mechanics."

"So how does she know about us?"

"Maybe you should ask her," Ziggy suggested, still sulking, as she
always did when they made her cut down her bios.

"I'm surrounded," Al sighed, pulling out Celia's number. "Rule number
one, Zig. Always go into a situation knowing the answer to every
question you ask. That's apparently what she did, too."

"Why?"

"Because how they answer and what they say is often more important than
what the truth is."

There was a momentary pause. "I'm glad I'm a computer," she announced
finally. Al rolled his eyes.

"Well, let's see if this is some kind of hoax, or actually a glimmer of
hope," Al stated, trying to think positive while, at the same time,
trying not to let his own desperate hopes get out of control. He dialed
and it rang four times before anyone picked up. The connection was
sporadic and he wondered if she was answering from a cellular phone or a
car phone. It was late - he'd have thought she'd be at home. It was even
later on the East coast, too. "Celia Gray?" he questioned at her
greeting.

"Admiral." He could almost hear the grin and he cringed. "I thought I'd
hear from you sooner than this."

"I've been busy."

"What can I do for you?" she asked sweetly.

"You can tell me how you know about a classified project," he began.

The pause that followed made him wonder if she was thinking up an excuse
and he made a mental note of it for future reference. "I have friends,"
she stated smoothly. "I have friends in the field, and in Washington."

"So what's the bottom line here, Ms. Gray. Surely you didn't call me out
of the goodness of your heart - not if you played games along the way."

"I'm hurt." The words were haughty, but something slipped in her
demeanor and he made another mental notation. "I want to make a deal
with you."

"What's that?" he asked, suspicious.

"I have a theory on how to get Dr. Beckett back. I've been studying his
research for years and, although you know I never did meet him, I had
always wanted to. I find his projects fascinating."

"But," Al supplied quietly.

"I need your help. So it's really quite simple: I give you my help, you
give me yours."

Instead of asking what she wanted, which he knew she was waiting on, he
let the silence hang an instant, then asked, "If you knew Dr. Beckett
was...lost, then why did you keep asking for him?"

"Rumors aren't the most dependable things, Admiral. All I had was a
rumor and no proof. I've also noticed your name emerging quite a bit,
especially in association with his."

"And you figured I'd have a personal investment in his safe return," Al
concluded, rather angrily, partly because it was the truth. Her lack of
response spoke volumes and he felt a tempered fury rise within him. He
didn't appreciate people playing on his emotions. "Now you listen to me
because I have to make one thing very clear before this goes any
further. Sam Beckett is a good man and he's my partner and friend and if
this is just something to screw with me or this project or, heaven help
you, Sam, then you'll regret it, is that clear?"

The only response for a moment was her uneasy breathing, but then she
cleared her throat. "I understand," she said coldly.

"What's the deal?" he asked sharply.

"Your project has top security clearance, correct?"

"What's the deal?" he repeated, not knowing how much she really did
know. If she heard about Sam's disappearance through rumor, chances were
there were a lot of gaps in the details, and he didn't want to
unwittingly give her any extra information.

"The deal is I need a place to stay."

He blinked, not certain he understood. "What do you mean?"

"It's not complicated, Admiral." Whatever composure she'd lost when he
laid down the rules for her was back. "I need a safe place to stay."

"For how long?" he asked, noting the usage of the word `safe' this time.

"I don't think it's that unreasonable," she continued on as if he hadn't
spoken. "I work in your project and you let me stay there..."

"You don't have clearance to work here," he stated in no uncertain
terms. "If I'm going to do this, I'll be risking a hell of a lot - you'd
do better off to answer my questions."

"About a month. Maybe two."

"What does this length of time hinge on?" he asked.

More hesitation. "Look, do you want my help or not?"

"Do you want mine?" he countered. *Boy, this is gonna be fun,* he
thought sarcastically. Already he was sick of her and he hadn't even met
her face to face yet. "What are you running from?"

She cleared her throat. "Someone's trying to kill me."

"Who?"

"I don't know." The detachment was fading from her voice and he wasn't
sure what that meant yet.

"Why?"

"I saw someone murdered."

He let the sentence hang, but she didn't add anything else to it and he
sensed uneasiness, maybe even worry that he would turn her down. He also
sensed that it was the truth. "Where do you want to meet?"