"The Final Chapter" pt. VI

July, 2002
Stallions Gate, NM

  Al heard the phone ring once, twice, and then someone lifted
the receiver.
  "Hello?" said a male voice Al identified as Brian's. He had to
pause to remind himself not to address the young man with the
comfortable informality they had shared in the other timeline.
Brian was Beth's youngest, and it surprised him that he was home;
he was usually off doing field work in some backwater corner of
the world.
  "Is Beth there?" he asked, unable to bring himself to use her
last name.
  "One moment."
  Al leaned back in the chair, relieved Brian hadn't asked who
was calling. There was a short pause, and then he heard her
voice. "Hello?" His heart leapt into his throat and he was left
momentarily speechless. "Hello?" she asked again when he didn't
respond, a tinge of familiar irritation in her tone. She was
having a bad day.
  "Beth?" he asked, knowing full well it was her.
  "Yes?" She sounded more puzzled now than irritated. There was a
shocked pause. "Al?" she asked, the incredulity almost tangible.
  He cleared his throat. "Yeah."
  "Hang on a moment. Let me get on the other phone." Before he
could respond, she set down the phone. Mentally, he conjured up
the image of her kitchen, and the small table near the
entranceway that the phone was probably resting on. "Dirk?" he
heard her call, from a distance. "I'm going upstairs, could you
hang the phone up when I get there?"
  "Who is it?" Al pursed his lips, concentrating on holding the
phone steady. Suddenly, he began to wonder if this was such a
good idea.
  "Just a friend. Will you, please?" Her voice clearly said,
"Don't push it," but the message that was clear as day to Al went
right over her husband's head.
  "Well, why can't you tell me who it is? I know your friends;
what if I wanted to talk to her?"
  "Dirk..." Beth's voice held a warning and Al could tell by her
tone that this had been going on all day. "Let it go."
  "I was just asking," he said, more to himself than her. Silence
reigned from that point on, and Al breathed a sigh of relief that
Dirk hadn't picked up the phone to talk to him after all.
  "I've got it," Beth's muffled call finally reached him, and
then the click of the receiver being replaced returned some
measure of privacy. "Al?"
  "Yeah, uh, sorry to just call you out of the blue like this,
hon, but I needed to talk to you."
  "What is this about?" she asked, her voice cautious and maybe
even a little suspicious.
  He anxiously twisted the phone cord on his fingers. "I'd really
rather do this in person if we could..."
  "In person - where are you?" she demanded. "Are you in
  "Well, no, actually, I'm still in New Mexico." Al was beginning
to get the feeling he was the final straw for the day.
  "And you're just going to skip over here for a day?" she
countered. He grimaced at the fire in her words. "Look..." She
sighed heavily and he twisted the phone cord tighter. "This isn't
such a good time, Al, I've got a lot going on and I'm not sure I
need one more appointment to top it all off with."
  *Appointment?* Al considered her words; just how far did he
want to push her? "Beth...it's important."
  She was quiet for so long he almost wondered if she'd hung up
on him, but then she drew in a deep breath. "Okay," she agreed.
"Okay, but I really can't give you more than an evening. And it
has to be in a public place."
  He swallowed tightly. Why did everything have to change again?
_Why_? "Fine."

July, 2000
Santa Fe, NM

  Sam made his way back to the room by following Mason. It seemed
they were both off duty and, never one to wait to start a task,
he decided to talk to her as soon as they were someplace private.
As they walked, Sam evaluated his options regarding Melana. Two
people were going to die and, even though she wasn't one of them,
she was still here and still involved. He was torn between making
contact with her so they could work together and the fear that
doing so would alter her decision. Sam didn't really know her all
that well, and he finally decided that perhaps he should wait for
Al's council in that area before committing one way or the other.
  When he finally made it back to the room, Mason seated herself
in a cross-legged position on the bed, pulled out a pad of paper
and a pencil, and began writing. The leaper seated himself on the
bunk opposite her without knowing if it was his or not. He smiled
at her, but she only looked up long enough to glare slightly at
him, then returned to her work. It seemed, of the four, Karen was
the outcast; that was going to make his job a lot harder. He
sighed, knowing it was still morning, but feeling as if it was
much later.
  "Uh, I was just thinking..." Sam said slowly, trying again to
break her concentration, "why don't we all have dinner tonight?
We can-"
  "I'm going into town tonight," she responded sharply without
even raising her head.
  "Oh? To do what?"
  "Nothing in particular."
  Sam raised his eyebrows. "Uh...huh. Mind if I tag along?"
  Mason snapped the pencil down against her pad. "Look, Karen,
there are things going on around here that you don't understand,"
she said intensely.
  "So explain them to me."
  She laughed and Sam strained to cover his surprise at her
reaction. "Trust me. It's not your cup of tea. It will be easier
for you to remain uninvolved if you just don't know."
  "So what if I don't want to remain uninvolved?" he pressed.
"What if I want to help?"
  "Why are you doing this?" she snapped, dropping the pad on the
  "I just-"
  "We are _not_ in the third grade and Franklin is _not_ our
  "I know, but-"
  "We don't owe him anything," she continued, oblivious to his
attempts to get a word in edgewise. "And we don't owe you
  The door opened and Amanda entered, looking confused. Except it
wasn't Amanda. Mason fell into a somber silence the minute the
door opened and Sam watched her get up and go into the bathroom
without another word. Whatever happened tonight either was the
cause of their disappearance or a clue to it, Sam was certain. He
turned to Melana and smiled at her. She looked terrible -
exhausted, anxious, and maybe even scared, but she managed a
small smile in return. Seeing her, even in the aura she occupied,
he made his decision. He could not let her think she was alone
  "Are you going tonight?" he asked her.
  Melana glanced at the bathroom door. "Looks that way."
  The smile grew wider and he beckoned her over. "Maybe you can
help me, then," he said quietly and, reaching out, he touched her
hand. Her form shifted and her eyes widened in disbelief.
  "Dr. Beckett?" 
  "Sam," he reminded her, encouraged by the look of relief that
crossed her face. 
  "Sam, we got some more data for you," Al said, appearing out of
nowhere in front of the pair, his back to Melana.
  "Al!" Melana's cry came from the depths of loneliness and he
whirled to face her.
  "Melana..." He trailed off and cast a sidelong glance at Sam.
  "She can see me," Sam reassured the hologram.
  "Oh." Al looked as if he wasn't sure this was a good thing or a
bad thing, but Sam knew they needed her help just as much as she
needed theirs. "How are you doing, baby?" he asked her gently.
  She shrugged, her eyes filled with pain. "I talked to Thames,"
she told him softly.
  He flinched, confirming her suspicions. "You knew who he was,
didn't you?" she asked, even though his reaction had already
given that away. 
  "Not until recently. But, yeah, I knew. I'm sorry...if we could
have contacted you earlier we would have. Are you all right?"
  Sam watched the conversation with confusion and curiosity, but
didn't interrupt.
  Melana drew herself up, closing her eyes briefly to steady
herself. "I will be," she stated, drawing a smile from Al. "What
do we have to do?"
  Al noticed how she carefully steered the conversation both from
herself and the multitude of questions about why Sam was there.
  "Your two roommates, Mason and Sandy, disappear within the next
couple days. We have no details on that, but-"
  "Beth!" Melana exclaimed suddenly, as if just remembering. "I
almost forgot, Al, did it work? Did I...?" She let the question
hang, waiting for some confirmation of success, some sign that
she hadn't started this all over for nothing.
  Sam started to speak, but Al's glance at him nailed him into
silence. "Melana, sweetheart, I can't thank you enough for what
you've done. You gave her back to me." His words were heartfelt
and sincere, and Melana failed to pick up on the underlying pain
due to her own sense of relief.
  "Al," Sam practically whispered, looking for reassurance that
his friend was all right.
  All further conversation was cut off when the bathroom door
opened and Mason emerged. "Can I talk with you a moment, Amanda?"
she asked, eyeing Sam pointedly.
  Sam started to object, but Al waved him into silence. "You can
fill Melana in on everything later, Sam. For now, I need a minute
to talk to you."
  Sam glanced at Melana, confirming that she was feeling better,
and then he nodded. "Okay. I've got to stretch my legs anyhow."
He gave her an encouraging glance on his way out. "Do you want to
tell me what that was all about between you two?" Sam asked
firmly once the door was closed behind them. "About Thames?"
  "Sorry, Sam, it's a private issue. But...just keep an eye on
her for me, will you?"
  "Of course."
  "Anyway, what we found was some more data on your two missing
persons. Franklin was, of course, questioned about it and he
claimed that they left for a week's leave and never checked in
again, but when their co-workers were asked about it, there were
discrepancies between dates given by the senator and everyone
  "Okay, so at least we know now that Franklin was a direct cause
of whatever it is that happened to them."
  "Most definitely," Al stated angrily. "As if we didn't know
that for sure, but at least you don't have to cover all your
bases now just in case we were wrong; it's narrowed down."
  A natural pause settled over them and Sam knew the silence
represented a shift in the conversation.
  "I'm flying to Charleston," Al said finally, tensely. "Or, at
least, I was planning to. I need to make sure you won't need _me_
here. Verbena's getting synched up now, so you'll have someone
observing, but if you want me here, I won't go."
  "Al," Sam said firmly, "I'll always want you here, but I think
you definitely need to do this. I know you can't be satisfied
until you know this for sure. Did you call her?"
  "And?" the scientist asked, trying not to press, but wanting to
all the same.
  "And I didn't really get a lot out of her over the phone and I
thought it would be better if I went to see her. I'm taking the
project's plane this afternoon."
  "Al?" Sam waited until he had the admiral's full attention. "Be
  He shook his head. "What do you mean?"
  "I mean with her, with you, with both of you. Tread carefully."
  Al held Sam's gaze a minute more, then punched out.
  He understood.