"The Final Chapter" pt. XI July, 2000 Santa Fe, NM "Mason, stop!" Sam grabbed Mason's arm and swung her around, preventing her from going any further down the hall. She jerked herself free. "Leave me alone," she snapped. "Why are you so concerned about this, anyway? I can't see how you have a stake in it at all." "You're so convinced this is the right thing to do? Fine. You won't listen to me? Fine. Just, all I ask is that you bear with me for another hour." Mason hesitated. "What's an hour going to do?" Sam demanded. Melana stepped into the foreground. "Mason, please. An hour." The woman paused, staring at Melana. "An hour. No more," she stated. Sam smiled in relief. "Good." He glanced at Verbena, standing to his right, and nodded. With Verbena's direction, they made their way through the project, slowly progressing downward. Eventually, they came to a door and Sam turned to Melana, raising one eyebrow as if to say, "Well?" She licked her lips and stepped forward, running her ID badge through the slot. It opened. Mason gripped Sam's forearm, whether in anger or surprise, he couldn't tell. "How did you get clearance to come down here?" she asked. Melana held the door open for them. She held up one hand, wiggling her fingers. "Footwork," she quipped, casting a small smile at Sam. Mason frowned, but followed them in. "Sam?" Verbena asked, never slowing her pace, "is that going to get you into the room, too?" They continued to follow her down the twisting hallways. "I hope so," he muttered between gritted teeth. When they finally arrived at their destination, the security member standing outside cleared them (though somewhat skeptically), and let them through. The four stepped into the room. The lighting was dim and when the door clanged shut behind them they were rendered helpless until their eyes adjusted to the darkness. "What do you want?" asked a voice. Sam supposed it would have been a rebellious demand if it carried with it the effects of a few good nights' sleep. "We need to talk to you," Sam stated. He blinked, trying to make out a familiar form, and, slowly, the room began to come into focus. "About what?" Sam hesitated. "About what?" Mason echoed, turning to face him. All disdain was gone from her expression, for the moment. All that remained were confusion and a healthy curiosity. "Please," Sam urged, "Beth..." The woman stepped directly into his line of sight then, and he inhaled sharply. *She looks so...alone,* was all he could think. He'd met her a couple of years after this incident and only Al saw the effects it had on her. "How do you know my-" she began, then cut herself off. "What a stupid question. Franklin probably knows my favorite color by now." She eyed Sam carefully. "What does he want with me now?" There was no defiance in the words, just weariness. "It's true," Mason breathed. "Goodness, all those stupid, stupid rumors. A woman, locked up in the basement..." She trailed off. "Why, Karen? Why do you want me to talk to her?" The question was clearly addressed to Sam, but she was looking directly at Beth. "Mason, this is Beth Simon. I wanted you to meet her and see what that man was capable of. I wanted you to believe that you're putting your life in danger." Beth looked back and forth between them. "What are you talking about? You...you don't work for Franklin, do you? Do you work for-" She closed her eyes. "Never mind," she said tightly. Sam smiled gently and touched her arm. "You could say that, yes." "Would _you_ say that?" she countered. Sam considered this. "I'd say...we're friends. Partners." Beth became uneasy. "Franklin tells me he already has a partner." "I know." The look she gave him made him wonder if she had figured it out or not, but she changed the subject before he could ask. "So why did you come to see me?" "Look," Mason said, "forgive me, but I still don't understand exactly what's going on here." She motioned to Beth. "Why are you here?" Beth laughed. It wasn't a nice sound and Sam winced. "I am the guinea pig," she said. "And you...volunteered for this?" Mason still seemed uncertain of Beth's position. "Mason," Sam said quietly as Beth sat down on the floor, "she was kidnapped. Her family doesn't know where she is, her friends don't know... She's..." He stopped and sat down next to Beth. "A prisoner," Beth finished for him. Mason and Melana joined them on the hard floor. "If it did any good for me to be here, I could live with it, but it's not." She lowered her head and started rubbing her temples. Sam touched her arm. "Are you okay?" he asked. She winced at the contact and then smiled apologetically, waving him away. "I'll be fine." "Is it your head?" he asked. She looked dizzy to him. "It's nothing," she said and kept talking quickly so Sam wouldn't press the point. "You brought her down here so I could talk her out of doing something stupid? You wanted my advice, Mason? If I thought you going and talking to Franklin would do one ounce of good, I'd urge you to do it. Even if it meant he still killed you, but it won't. And he doesn't take things lightly. If that's what these ladies have been telling you, they're right, and you ought to listen." Mason shook her head. "But I wanted to make a difference here." "How?" Beth demanded. "You want to join me down here?" "There's always something you can do." Beth shrugged. "Maybe. But this isn't it. If you do find out what that something is, tell me." She blinked and rubbed at her head again. Melana spoke for the first time in a long while. "We'd, uh, better be going soon. I don't want to push this any longer than we have to." "Right," Sam agreed, getting to his feet. "Mason, ultimately the decision is up to you, but I'll ask you once again: please don't do this." She looked up at him, then sighed heavily. "All right. You've convinced me. Happy?" "You make it so hard to be," he grumbled, but left it at that. He offered a hand to Beth and pulled her into a standing position. She started to turn away, but he held her hand and her gaze. "He loves you, you know? He may not know you're here now, but he will." She shook her head in amazement. "Is it any good, me being here?" she asked. "Why do you say that?" "The way you looked at me when..." A corner of her mouth lifted. "You're Dr. Beckett, aren't you?" He released her. "We'll find a way. It may take a long while, but we'll find a way to shut this down." She shook her head at him. "Make it sooner rather than later. I don't want anyone else to have to go through..." She smiled again. "Thank you." Sam closed his eyes and swallowed tightly. He felt Melana's gaze on him. "Don't thank me yet," he advised. "You may be here longer than I planned." He opened his eyes to see her puzzled gaze and, quickly, he kissed her on the cheek. "I care about you, too, Beth. And I'm sorry," he whispered, for her ears only. Briskly, he led the company out into the hall. "Verbena," he ordered, ignoring the look he got from Mason, "get Ziggy on it. We're writing the program." "What?" she gasped out, honestly astounded. "What on earth changed your mind?" "You suddenly switch sides on me?" he asked angrily. "Sam..." Melana said, trying to calm him. "She's just so...sure of things." He rubbed at his head, just as Beth had done. "I...I just can't ignore the fact that it's what both of them would have wanted. I tried, I truly did, but I can't." All three of the women could see this wasn't an idle decision and Verbena and Melana knew Sam well enough to know it wouldn't be, anyway. Verbena knew that either way this went, Sam would never forgive himself. But she agreed with this change of heart. As much as it hurt, she agreed. Beside her, Melana nodded somberly. Mason looked back and forth between them. "What?" she asked. Melana put a hand on Sam's shoulder and gave him a light squeeze. "Two people are going to make the sacrifice you couldn't make," she explained. "Sam," Verbena said urgently. "Every moment you're down here, it gets worse and worse." "Come on," Melana said, tugging the other two to the way back towards the upper levels. The instant they were home free, Sam motioned towards the living quarters. "Melana, get your computer out and let's get this over with. Verbena, keep running scenarios. I want to know if there's any way-" A burst of blue light cut off the rest of his instructions and he vanished. ^----^----^----^----^ July, 2002 Stallions Gate, NM Sam stood alone in the lab. He shook his head as if to clear it. Had Melana been left alone to write the program for both of them? Had he been leaped back home? He closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths, straining to find the information his mind didn't seem ready to provide. After a moment he looked up at the ceiling. "You took the choice away from me, didn't You? All that time trying to decide the fate of the world and it was never my decision at all." He grinned slightly. "Al was right about what I was really only there to do and-" He stopped. *Al.* "Ziggy?" he called. "Where's Al?" "Admiral Calavicci is in his quarters." Sam ran the entire three flights in a matter of minutes and burst into Al's room without even thinking to knock. He needed to confirm with his eyes what his memory was beginning to tell him. He needed to know if Al was really alive. Al turned only slightly when he entered the room, breathless and frantic. If Al registered anything odd about the scene, his face didn't show it. "Al! Do you remember-?" He stopped at the curious expression on his friend's face, then gripped Al's arms in overwhelming relief. The contact felt wonderful - real. "Sam..." The tone of his voice was the last snippet of odd behavior Sam could ignore and he pulled back sharply. "Al, what's going on?" He motioned over Sam's shoulder, looking him directly in the eyes. "That," he stated. Sam turned to see Beth standing on the other side of the room in a bizarre face off. She was holding a gun, but it wasn't pointed at anything in particular. Instead, it just hung at her side in a limp hand. "Beth?" Sam took a step forward, but Al grabbed his wrist and pulled him back. "No," he said quietly. "Al, I don't understand..." "This song and dance has gone on long enough, wouldn't you agree?" Al asked, but Sam wasn't sure who he was talking to. Beth shrugged noncomittedly. "You've had the power to end it all along." "Zoe?" Sam breathed and Al nodded slightly. "I think so," he whispered back. "We can't hurt her...or we hurt Beth." Al nodded again, still frozen to the spot, his hands balled into tight fists. "What do we do?" Sam pressed in an anxious hiss. Zoe shifted her weight and fingered the gun with her nail. "Well?" she asked. "What does she want?" Sam asked. Al took a step forward. "It's Franklin's final bid. He's calling my bluff." Zoe smiled. "Then it was a bluff after all." Al unclenched his hands. "Not all of it." He started for the door. "Admiral, where are you going?" "To end this. Once and for all." "If you leave, I'll kill her." Al looked at Sam, long and hard, and Sam nodded. In a swift motion, Al left the room. A moment later, a shot rang out. Not choosing to guess who was on the receiving end of the bullet, Al broke into a run. He was going to settle this with Franklin. And then, he was going to go to the Accelerator to fix whatever terrible wrong had just occurred behind him.