"The Final Chapter" pt. II

July, 2002
Stallions Gate, NM

  Al sat despondently at his desk and fingered the top paper on
the stack he had to sort through while he accepted the letter Sam
handed him. "Look what landed on my desk today, Al!" he was
saying angrily seconds after storming into Al's office. He was
seething from every pore. "I thought you said this couldn't
  Sam managed silence for a moment while his partner read over
what would most likely become their death sentence. When Al
finally looked up again, Sam wasn't sure he liked what was in his
eyes, but he pressed on anyway. "You told me there was no way at
all Franklin could get on our new committee, even with Weitzman
as the new head."
  Al shook his head and let the letter drop onto the desk.
"Weitzman sold out."
  "Al," Sam said quietly, dropping into the chair across from
him, "why didn't you take care of this problem back when you had
the chance?"
  "I couldn't, Sam."
  Sam pressed his palms up against the surface of the desk.
"Why?" he demanded.
  "You were still leaping."
  Sam nodded angrily. "And when I got back?"
  Al laughed harshly and stood up, fishing around for a cigar.
"When you got back? Are you kidding me? Hell, that's when he
finally started leaving us alone."
  "Until now," Sam agreed reluctantly, sinking back into his
  "Until...now," Al conceded slowly. "Why now?" he added,
rounding on Sam, a concern etched deep into his eyes.
  Sam shrugged. "Well, we're just getting really close to getting
things up and ready for another go and-"
  Al cocked his head to one side and sat back down. "Think about
it, Sam. We work on the project, things are going fine, and then
I talk to McBride about rounding up a new committee, throw in a
misplaced word about Franklin and my concern that he'll try and
get on it, and then Beth is attacked."
  "I don't like where you're going with this."
  "But, Sam, then a short while later Melana pops up after almost
five years!"
  Sam grimaced. "You don't think they could have been responsible
for that, do you? How?"
  "I don't know, but it's one heck of a coincidence. Then, she
starts leaping again after only a night home, and bingo! McBride
doesn't make the new committee and Melana leaps into Franklin's
little den, then -bingo! - Franklin's name is added to the
committee roster. What does this tell you?"
  Sam's expression was very unhappy. "That we've got bigger
problems than we thought."
  "Sam," Al intoned, gesturing with the cigar he had finally
found and lit, "nothing would give me greater pleasure than to
take him down with my bare hands, believe me! But I wasn't
willing to risk your life to do it and I owe Melana the same
  "Maybe she can do something about it. I mean, if she's where
you think she is..." Sam shrugged. 
  "I don't know. There's got to be some way around this mess.
There's got to be _something_ I can do."
  "Well, look, we'll find it. We've just got to think about this
logically and rationally."
  "Easy for you to say. Well, okay. What's the worst he can do if
we expose him?"
  Sam crossed his legs and leaned back. "We've been over this a
hundred times. He'll get us shut down along with him."
  "Right. But what if we could turn the tables on him?"
  "First of all, the committee knows Melana's leaped, but they
don't know where and they don't know we can't retrieve her at
will. Or communicate with her."
  Sam's brow furrowed. "How could they not know that? I thought
you sent them a report just last week?"
  Al flinched and squirmed slightly in his seat. "Sam, these guys
you know, you can't really-"
  "You lied to them?"
  Al pointed at him with the cigar. "Hey, pal, you don't even
want to know what kind of stories I had to spin to get this place
goin' in the first place. Don't lecture _me_ on playing
government games; I've been doing it twice as long as you have,
at least."
  "All right, all right, I'm sorry."
  Al lowered his hand, and paused to regain his train of thought.
"So anyhow, we let Franklin think we've got him in a corner and
then we have the upper hand. The first step is just to get
Franklin off the committee."
  "But you're not going to get Franklin to shut down the other
project. What kind of a threat is that? Shut it down or we will
do it for you? Either way, he'll lose and you _know_ if he has
nothing to lose that nothing will bring him more happiness than
to take us out."
  "I'll be honest: I don't think we're going to be able to shut
him down, Sam."
  Sam slammed his palms against the arm of the chair. "I don't
want to hear that."
  Al launched to his feet again, the anger coming to the fore.
"Then give me another option. One that doesn't involve you and
the Accelerator. Tell me your brilliant idea, pal."
  "I don't have one."
  Al nodded. "Then we do this my way. I'll arrange to meet with

July, 2000
Santa Fe, NM

  Melana stood against the wall for support, her breathing shaky
and her hands visibly trembling. She had to go help out with the
systems analysis; she couldn't afford the time her weakness was
costing her here, but she couldn't move. She walked without any
particular sense of direction, fighting to maintain her balance
as the hallway spun around her. Luckily, she stumbled upon a
restroom just as the nausea she had been holding back overtook
her. She felt a little better after emptying her stomach, but her
legs were still shaking and she exited the stall, bracing herself
against one of the three sinks embedded into the opposite wall.
For a moment, she avoided the mirror, waiting for the room to
stop spinning and her nerves to stop jumping. Tensely, she
splashed some cold water on her face and finally looked up into
the newly cleaned mirror. 
  The scent of Windex and lemon-scented cleaner that permeated
the room made her feel sick all over again. A pair of deep blue
eyes stared back at her. Shoulder-length, wavy brown hair fell
against her cheek and she brushed it away absently. The face
carried a little extra weight, but Melana thought it suited her.
She had the distinct feeling a smile would look lovely on her,
but she couldn't seem to muster one. A drop of water dripped into
her eyelashes and she blinked it off.
  She was still studying the face of the woman who's life she was
in when the door opened and one of her roommates entered. She
stopped in surprise. "I've been looking for you for the past half
hour and _this_ is where I find you? Where have you been?"
  "In a meeting," she answered, pulling off a piece of paper
towel to dry her face, using the motion to cover for how shaky
she was. 
  The woman stepped forward, letting the door slam shut behind
her as she did so. "Are you okay? You look like hell."
  "Feel like it," Melana muttered with uncharacteristic gloom.
She moved to a small padded bench and collapsed heavily on it.
  "Hey, hey, hey," her roommate murmured, crossing the small room
to study her. "Are you sick?"
  Melana looked up at her. "Yeah." It was the truth. She was
certain she wouldn't be eating anything soon. 
  The woman studied her a moment longer and then shrugged and
slipped into a stall. Melana reached for the purse the woman had
left resting on one of the sinks and fished around for the wallet
as the conversation continued. "So why were you looking for me?"
she asked as she pulled out the leather wallet, opening it to
reveal a driver's license.
  "Oh, well I was talking to Sandy this morning and she agreed
with me that we should talk to you about this."
  Mason Ricca. Born: June 27, 1973. Santa Fe, NM. "Talk about
what?" The pocket calendar she found revealed it to be somewhere
in the middle of July, 2000.
  The toilet flushed and Melana quickly stuffed Mason's
belongings back into the purse and replaced it on the sink
seconds before the stall door opened. Mason washed her hands in
silence and then sat down next to Melana. "I think we ought to
hit the town tonight, what do you say?"
  Melana looked curiously at her, completely flustered. "Well, 
  "Good! We'll go to your favorite restaurant."
  She felt she was missing something obvious. "Fine, whatever.
What did you want to talk to me about?"
  Mason lowered her eyelids and her voice. "I realize this cloak
and dagger stuff isn't generally my style, but when else are we
ever going to get to surprise Karen?" The look in her eyes spoke
  Unbidden, the words, *paranoia runs rampant,* rose in Melana's
mind and she sighed. "Sounds like fun."
  "Hey, Mase!" Another of the women from that morning stuck her
head partially inside the door. "You coming or - oh!" She broke
off when she saw Melana sitting there. "'Manda. I see she found
you." Her expression suddenly turned somber. "You joining us
  "Um, yeah," she agreed, rising to her feet. "Sure thing."
  The woman nodded and Melana was certain she saw a hint of fear
in her eyes. "Good. I've got to get back to work. And I _know_
you do. You haven't been at your station all morning."
  Mason rose to her feet and followed the woman Melana assumed
was Sandy. After a moment, she followed suit, wishing Al was
there to tell her what was going on.