"Basis of Control" pt. IV

January, 1989
Cleveland, OH

  Sam Beckett stumbled through the morning with a minimal amount of
difficulty. The other child, it seemed, was at a friend's spending the night
and wouldn't be back until later that afternoon. As for Matt, he wandered off
shortly after breakfast to play video games in the back of the house and Sam
felt no inclinations to seek him out, even to find out if Aaron was in the
house. Sam only hoped he didn't have to pick up Sylvia's husband from an
airport or anything else as potentially disastrous as that.
  While he waited for Al to show up again, he rifled through the bedroom,
searching for clues. All he found was that Sylvia was fond of cross-stitching
and she didn't keep a diary. A cat wandered through the house, stared at him
for a moment as if to say, "I don't know you and what are you doing in my
house?" and then continued on his or her way. As the hours slipped by, Sam
began to worry that whatever had called Al away had been more urgent than even
Sam had guessed at.
  He was in the middle of cleaning up the mess breakfast had produced when the
person who could only have been Aaron walked through the door, dressed in a
suit and carrying a briefcase. Sam's heart skipped a beat until he saw the
man's face; he didn't seem in the least upset over being forgotten anywhere by
his wife. He did look a little tired, though.
  "Hi, hon," he said, smiling slightly as he tossed the jacket down on a chair
in the living room. "Where are the kids?"
  Sam squeezed out the sponge he was using. "Christina's at a friend's and
Matt's playing in the back. How was..." He waited for Aaron to fill in the
location, but when he didn't, Sam cleared his throat. "How was your trip?"
  He laughed lightly and the scientist relaxed another notch. Sam didn't know
why he had thought this was going to be so hard. This guy had some potential
in him - so they were having some marital problems, what couple didn't? Maybe
they were getting lax in their communication, or maybe...
  "It's not as if I went very far."
  "Oh, well, you know, just thought I'd ask." Sam cringed inwardly at his
blunder, but it didn't seem to faze Aaron.
  "Whatever. Listen, I got you something." He snapped open his briefcase and
Sam dried his hands on a towel and came around the counter, wary of any
actions that could lead to...anything that would make the situation
uncomfortable.
  "Oh?"
  Aaron held out a jewelry box and opened it to reveal a necklace. It was an
opal. Sam's first instinct was to wonder how Sylvia could be unhappy in a
marriage where her husband was so thoughtful, but if there was anything he
knew it was that such assumptions could be dangerous. The necklace could just
be something to ease Aaron's conscience - to make up for not being there. Al
had said he wasn't around a lot. Sam made a mental note to ask his partner to
look up his flight records to see exactly how often this guy was home.
  Stepping back without taking the necklace seemed a good way to put distance
between himself and the potential bribe (as well as assuring no thank-you kiss
would take place) and make Aaron take the conversation more seriously at the
same time, so he did. "Aaron, we need to talk."
  He looked puzzled and Sam wondered how many times this ploy had worked.
"Don't you like it?"
  Sam hesitated. "Yes, it's beautiful, but we need to talk first."
  Aaron sat down slowly, still not comprehending. "Why?"
  Sam sat down across from him, sliding back in his seat when Aaron reached
for his hands. "I just want to know...are you happy in this marriage?"
  "Of course I am." The response was so immediate that Sam had the feeling the
question had been asked often. To Aaron's right, the Door slid open and Al
walked through. "You know that," Aaron added, talking over Al's "Hi, Sam."
  Suddenly, Sam didn't know any safe direction to go with this conversation.
The easiest way to explore the relationship between Sylvia and Aaron would be
to suggest going out to dinner or some other activity that would require him
to spend time away from work, but Sam wasn't willing to ask anything of the
man he wasn't prepared to go through with. He really needed to know what areas
to focus on first, what the problems were exactly.
  "Listen, honey, I have to go to the office and prepare a report for tomorrow
on all the stuff I took care of today. Can we have this conversation later?"
  "That's what Sylvia says, Sam," Al supplied. "That's how come I was so late
coming back - I wanted to talk to her for a while. Poor kid," he added in
lamenting tones. "Anyhow, that's what Sylvia says, that he keeps avoiding the
issues and won't take her concerns seriously. They're not getting anywhere."
  "No," Sam said firmly. "We need to talk about this now."
  Aaron's face hardened slightly, just enough for Sam to notice. "Sylvia, I
_have_ to get this stuff done. It has to be finished by Monday morning and I
have things to do tomorrow."
  "Things like what?" Sam demanded.
  Al stood by, watching the conversation without comment, much to Sam's
annoyance. He had hoped his partner would have something constructive to add
on as a result of talking with the leapee.
  "Things like things you wouldn't understand," Sylvia's husband said sharply.
"You know you don't understand my work; why do you always ask?"
  "She thinks he doesn't love her anymore, Sam," Al supplied finally. "She
says she keeps trying to involve him in her life and their kids' lives and he
just refuses to make an effort."
  "Because," Sam said slowly, "I want to hear about what it is you do when
you're away all the time."
  "Isn't it enough that I'm doing it for you guys?"
  "Push, Sam. Don't be harsh, but don't let up, either," the hologram
continued.
  Sam glanced at the admiral, then returned his gaze to Aaron. "No, it's not.
We'd rather have you here more often and do without the luxuries."
  Aaron seemed about to get angry, then relented at the last instant and
smiled. "Sure," he said, getting up, "you say that now, but it'll change if I
actually did it."
  "No, it wouldn't," Sam insisted simultaneously with Al.
  "Sure it would," Aaron said playfully, smiling. He kissed Sam on the head
and walked from the room. "We'll see what I can do, hon," he called over his
shoulder on the way out, but both Al and Sam knew he was just humoring who he
thought was his wife.
  "What a nozzle," Al muttered.
  "Oh, I don't know, Al," Sam said quietly. "He's got a lot of potential from
what I saw before you showed up. He just...doesn't quite _get_ it yet,
y'know?"
  "Yeah, I guess," Al agreed noncomittedly.
 "I thought he was gonna really blow up there for a moment."
  "Would have been better if he had," Al remarked, "that way at least he
wouldn't have been so patronizing."
  Sam rubbed the top of his head absently. "No kidding," he agreed. "That
really bugged me, too." He glanced up and saw the disgust lingering in Al's
eyes. "Why are you so ready to hang him?"
  Al blinked and focused on Sam's face. "Oh, I dunno...I just spent some time
with Sylvia and from what she said, I guess I'd already developed an opinion
of the guy."
  Sam nodded. "Just be sure to keep an open mind. These things are rarely one-
way."
  "Oh, believe me, I know," Al assured him. "You found anything interesting on
this end?"
  "Not really. How 'bout you? Everything okay back at the project?"
  "Everything's fine."
  "Well you just ran out in such a rush that-"
  "Didn't you hear me say it was fine?" Al demanded.
  "Okay, but if you want to talk-"
  "Sam," Al said in a warning tone, interrupting his friend again. "It's
fine."
  Sam just nodded.
  Al exhaled sharply. "Sorry. I didn't mean to jump on you. It's nothing we
can't handle, okay? You don't need to worry."
  Sam looked solemnly at him, then decided to change the subject. "Oh, Al, I
wanted to ask you if you could check flight records so we can see exactly how
much time Aaron was home."
  Al looked relieved. "Sure, we can do that. It may take a few hours, but we
can do it." He took a deep breath. "If everything's under control here, I'm
gonna go back and look into that for you."
  "Right. I'll...clean house or...something."
  Al raised an eyebrow. "Yes, dear."
  "Get outta here," Sam admonished.
  Al bowed slightly, lifting his fedora a fraction of an inch as he did so,
and disappeared through the Door.

^----^----^----^----^
October, 1999
Stallions Gate, NM

  Beth met Al outside the Imaging Chamber. Without even pausing to say
anything, she took his arm and led him from the Control Room. "Julia got a
letter," was all she said when they were outside.
  He was almost too afraid to ask. "What did it say?"
  She opened her mouth and then just started crying. Fear clenched his heart
and he put his hands on her shoulders, shaking her slightly. "Beth! What did
it say?!"
  She pulled free with amazing strength, staring at him wide-eyed. "What's
going on here?" she whispered.
  He shook his head as if to clear it. "Beth, are the girls okay?" he asked
slowly and pointedly.
  "Yes."
  "Did you tell them all to come here?"
  Beth still seemed dazed. "Yes, I called them all. Marina is definitely
coming and the other two said they'd try."
  "And Emma's still flying in tomorrow?"
  She nodded wordlessly, pressing her knuckles to her lips.
  He heaved a sigh of relief, both at his daughters' safety and at her return
to the land of the living. "Beth, what is with you lately? You've been really
distant and I thought you were going to lose it on me for a second there." He
reached for her hand, but she stepped out of range. Al barely covered the hurt
in his eyes.
  "Do you remember when you told me you were going back to a second tour in
Vietnam?"
  Al winced and his eyes darkened even more. He tried to speak, but the word
came out as a dry croak and he cleared his throat. "Yes," he confirmed.
  "Remember when you threw my book across the room?"
  He tried to laugh, but it failed him. "Yeah, and I broke that expensive vase
with all the calla lilies in it. What are you getting at, Beth?"
  Instead of responding, she slid suddenly into his arms. He reacted in a
mixture of surprise and relief, but responded in kind after a few seconds.
  "Honey, what's going on?" he asked her finally.
  "I thought...you were a leaper."
  "You _what_?" He tried to pull away, but she refused to let him. It did
explain why she'd been acting the way she had been, but the thought itself was
still too bizarre to accept the first time he ran it through his mind. "Where
on earth did you get that idea?"
  "The way you kept covering for whatever happened with Donna - I thought
maybe you killed her."
  Al was struck speechless. The truly scary part was that it wasn't all that
improbable an idea.  "And with the girls coming here..." he finished for her.
  She nodded against him. "I'm sorry," she murmured, "it was stupid, really
stupid of me to think that. I should have just accepted what you were telling
me."
  "Yeah, well...I'm sorry, too. I should have seen that things were getting so
out of hand." He brushed her hair back with the palm of his hand. "Are you
okay?"
  "I will be," she responded, barely above a whisper. "Oh, goodness," she
exclaimed suddenly, pulling back, "I've got to get the rooms ready for the
girls."
  Al frowned at the tears on her face; he hadn't realized she was still
crying. He leaned forward and kissed her tenderly. "There," he said when he
finally pulled away, "I don't want anyone else kissing you like that,
understand?" She smiled, just as he'd hoped she would. *One less thing to
worry about. Now, if I can just keep the truth from Sam, keep an eye on my
girls, and find out what's wrong with Ziggy, this leap might almost be
salvageable.* "By the way, Beth, not to bring you back down or anything,
but...what did the letter say?"
  Beth gazed worriedly at him, but he could see some of the strength flowing
back into her eyes. As long as they had each other, he knew, they were a force
to be reckoned with. It was only when she'd thought she'd lost him that things
started to go  ca-ca. She reached out and took his hand in a firm grasp.
"'There is no pain greater than the loss of a child.'"
  Al's breathing became labored and he leaned hard against the wall behind
him. "Oh, Beth...what are we going to do?" he murmured.
  She held his hand tighter. It was the first time hed indicated that they
both needed to take action. "I don't know."

^----^----^----^----^
October, 1999
Grant, NM

  David Tucker paced the same hotel room he had been in for the past week and
his brother watched, as always. "What did you do?" Jonathan was demanding. He
seemed to be trying to sort everything out.
  "I just sent him a letter, that's all."
  "You can't do this, Dave. I don't intend to let you do anything, do you
understand?"
  Dave stared at his companion, fire blazing in his eyes. "I lost two children
- my two daughters! Because of something those people did. You can't just sit
there and trivialize that."
  "I'm not, but neither is it your right or your privilege to exact revenge."
  "Why would anyone help a murderer?" Dave demanded, not seeming to even hear
Jonathan's reasoning. "They deserve whatever they've got coming!"
  Jonathan fell deathly silent, his face a pasty white. "You're going to kill
his daughters, aren't you?"
  "What? No!" 
  Jonathan advanced a step, trembling with fury. "You keep saying you wanted
him to feel what you felt and you were serious - you're going to kill his
kids!"
  "You're insane! I could never..."
  "I don't believe you."
  Dave swung on his brother, leveling a finger at him. "Then I don't need you.
You're either in with me on this or you're not."
  Jonathan looked ready to storm out of the room at that instant, but then
stopped. He closed his eyes. "The deal was you wouldn't hurt anyone.
Personally, I don't even see why you have to play these games to begin with,
but you can't hurt anyone. Those are my terms."
  "You're just gonna have to trust me on that one."
  Jonathan opened his eyes again. He didn't like what he saw in Dave's eyes.
He didn't trust it, either, and he knew what he had to do. "I'm in."