"The Final Chapter" pt. VIII

July, 2000
Santa Fe, NM

  "You have to change it, Sam." Al's tone was almost pleading.
  "No, Al, I won't change it. I can't believe I'm standing here
hearing you ask this of me! After all the time we spent trying to
put a stop to this madness, I can't believe you would say this."
  Al held up his cigar, using it to punctuate his words. "Sam, if
anything happens to her, I'll never be able to forgive myself, do
you understand that?"
  "Al, I doubt she'll do anything. Will you just calm down?" Sam
stood and began pacing the room anxiously. 
  "You have to change it," Al said again, his voice hard, his
expression unreadable. "Ziggy predicts-"
  "Stop it. Just stop it right now. What does that computer know?
You're not seriously going to tell me she's on your side?"
  Al opened his mouth, then clamped it shut again, eyeing the
handlink. He sighed deeply and shrugged. "What do you want me to
tell you? Do you want me to tell you that if you do this you'll
get to come home? Because you will."
  Sam knew it was true, but he resented Al for bringing it to his
attention. Why couldn't anything be simple? And why couldn't he
make this decision without feeling his selfishness would get in
the way? Maybe that's why he was resisting this. Maybe-
  "What about Mason and Sandy? I thought you said that's why I'm
  Al sighed again, and lowered the handlink. "I'm giving you what
Ziggy's got. And right now she insists that's just a secondary
objective. You're obviously not in the best position to help
them; Melana is. How do you know that's not why she was here and
she just didn't know because we were unable to contact her? And
now you're here to correct _her_ mistake."
  Sam studied his partner carefully. Al wouldn't lie to him,
would he? But this felt wrong... It felt...
  "Sam?" Sam jerked his head up when he realized it wasn't Al's
voice he heard. Al continued to look steadily at him, but Sam
felt himself being pulled up and away.

  He opened his eyes. It was just a dream. Incredible; it had
seemed so real. "Verbena?" He was still alone in the
room...apparently the others hadn't come back from dinner yet. He
was still awaiting Melana's input as to what exactly was going
  Verbena Beeks peered down at him. "You awake?" she asked.
  He ignored the stupidity of the question and yawned
expansively. "Yeah. What are you doing here?"
  She brandished the handlink with unnecessary flourish. "I'm
here to tell you what you need to do, of course."
  "Right, I have a question, as a matter of fact. What did Ziggy
say Melana was here to do the first time around?"
  Verbena cast him a puzzled look, but entered the information
in. She had been updated on the history change, of course, but
that didn't mean she understood it. "She gave it a 79.3% that she
was there to prevent the death of her two roommates." She
shrugged, indicating if there was a point, she'd missed it.
  "And now?"
  Verbena consulted again. "She's not saying. She's just offering
  "Do you think I could be here to undo what Melana did?"
  She looked pointedly at him. "Where did you get that idea?"
  "Oh, just from a d-" Sam frowned. "Where's Al?"
  She shrugged. "He's not here, he's in Charleston. Remember?"
  "Right. So what..." Sam let his voice trail off as she dropped
her eyes and studied the 'link carefully. "Verbena? What's going
  "I can't tell you, Sam."
  If she'd said, "Nothing," he'd probably have believed her, but
this... Sam stood up, suddenly angry. Something was being kept
from him - something important - for one reason or another, and
he didn't appreciate it. "Verbena..." The word was a warning. He
remembered Donna this time. He knew what he'd be giving up if he
decided not to change things. But if this was a decision that was
going to rest on his shoulders, he'd need to know the _whole_
story. And she was holding back. "What _is_ it?"
  She looked him in the eye. "There's been an accident," she said
  "What happened?" Sam asked, equally quietly, trying to maintain
a firm grip on the panic rising within him.
  "There was something wrong on the flight home from Charleston.
They don't know what yet; investigations have just begun. Al
wasn't flying, but his co-pilot was more than qualified and a
hell of a pilot herself..." Sam remained silent, waiting for the
other shoe to drop. "They were both killed."
  He dropped onto the bed behind him and gasped for air. "Dead?
Al's...dead?" The words sounded hollow in his ears. "Why-"
  "Sam, I can't answer your questions because I just don't have
the answers. I've told you all I know right now. I'm sorry."
  Sam stared at the floor. "Was it really an accident?"
  "I don't-"
  "Was it?!" he cried, rising to his feet again.
  She took a deep breath. "Franklin's in prison, Sam. He has been
for a year."
  "In this time line," Sam corrected.
  "Whatever," Verbena countered. "In this time line he's in
prison, so there's nothing he could have done. And even if he
could, he wouldn't know you were here and that he should act now
to force anyone's hand."
  "We underestimated him before."
  "What do you think I should do?" he asked sharply. 
  Verbena eyed him warily. "Sam, I know you're upset about Al,
  "Do you think I should change it?!" He was practically
screaming now.
  "Sam!" Verbena, the rock of the operation, the one who always
had a kind word to offer, a loving gesture to donate, snapped at
him. "Sam, don't get defensive with me, okay? I. Don't. Know. I
don't know what you should do; this isn't exactly my area of
expertise. I don't understand this stuff - you do. You tell me
what you should do."
  "Me? You're the one with the handlink." Sam closed his eyes.
The handlink. _Al's_ handlink. Could he change this, just because
a person who happens to be a friend had died as a result of a
change from a change from a change? No-one was qualified to make
that kind of decision, certainly not him.
  A friend. *The understatement of the decade,* he thought
  Both of them stopped talking and shouting and took several
minutes to compose themselves. Verbena spoke first. "Sam, there's
no more data I can give you. You have all the facts, you know as
much as any of us. You have to stop those two ladies from dying.
No matter how noble those deaths were, they were for nothing. You
have to keep them alive, stop them from doing whatever it is that
killed them. Then, you have a decision to make. We know how
Melana stopped Franklin. We know exactly what she did because she
communicated it all to Ziggy. But I can't tell you what to do
about it. I can't tell you whether to help her, stop her, or just
let history take its course. That's a decision you're going to
have to make on your own."
  Sam flinched. Why were all the hard ones left up to him? "How
can I make a decision about that? I'm certainly not objective!"
  "No-one is," Verbena replied somberly. Her breath caught in her
throat and she swallowed her emotions back with an effort. "Um, I
have to go take care of some things, okay, Sam?" Her voice was
trembling and he knew she needed some time to herself. So did he,
for that matter. The Door opened.
  "Wait," Sam said suddenly. "What should I tell Melana?"
  "Al told me some personal demons of hers are being confronted
here. Whatever you tell her, she's got to know sometime." The
psychiatrist sighed. "Then again, she may just be the objective
opinion you're looking for." With those words, the Door slammed

July, 2002
Stallions Gate, NM

  Verbena Beeks sat alone in her office. Tina had requested to
speak to her earlier, but she'd refused. In all the years she had
been doing this, she had never refused to talk to someone who
needed her. Until today. They were all too close to this
situation to look at it with any semblance of reason and logic.
  "Can't see the forest for the trees," she muttered, and leaned
forward on her desk. Al rarely talked to her, at least, not in
the capacity that she was trained for. He had to be desperate to
seek out her help. Usually, he talked to Sam if something was
truly bothering him, and whether he knew it or not, she was
usually the one to help steer him in that direction.
  He probably knew. Had known.
  She sighed and choked back another sob. She couldn't hold this
back forever, she knew. But for the moment, she relished the last
piece of control she had over herself before releasing it. 
  "Why can't anything ever be easy?" she asked the air. It was
time to let go of this, time to let herself mourn in peace before
she had to get back up, don the handlink and act as Observer
until they could find a replacement.
  "Dr. Beeks?"
  Verbena jumped as Ziggy's voice filled the room. She pressed
the bridge of her nose with shaky fingers. "What is it?" she
demanded in what she hoped was a steady tone.
  "There's a call I think you should take."
  "Not now, Ziggy." *Please, not now.*
  "Doctor, I really think you are better equipped to handle this
than I, but if you like, I will notify her."
  Verbena groaned and propped her elbows on the desk, resting her
head in her hands. *Shock. Of course, I'm still in shock. Shock
and anger, those are integral parts of the grieving process,
right? That's why I blew up at Sam and he blew up at me. That's
why I have the urge to take an axe to Ziggy's central monitor.
It's still shock. I only just found out an hour ago and `dead' is
such a large concept to absorb in such a short amount of time.
I'm a psychiatrist; I should be able to look at the grieving
process logically and reasonably. It should somehow be easier for
me...* She knew she was wrong, of course, but her feeling of
helplessness remained and she had no choice but to live with it.
  Then Ziggy's words hit. "Her?" she asked finally. *Notify her?
Notify who? Of _what_?*
  "Dr. Simon. Dr. Beeks, are you functioning at normal capacity?"
  She started massaging her temples. "Don't talk at me like I'm a
computer. In fact, don't talk to me at all. Who's Dr. Simon?" She
felt like she was thinking through a thick haze. She only hoped
Ziggy wouldn't take too much offense and oblige her last request
to stop talking.
  Ziggy gave an exasperated sigh. Where was that damn computer's
circuits for grief? Or, at the very least, tact? "Dr. Elizabeth
Simon? Charleston, South Carolina? Born: 19-"
  "Beth?" Verbena was suddenly thinking very clearly. "Oh, God,
she doesn't know, does she?"
  "I already told you; I didn't tell her anything."
  "Put her on my line." Ziggy didn't respond, but she didn't
notice. She cleared her throat, wiping away any traces of sorrow
from her face and her voice, and picked up the phone. "Hello?"
  "Oh, I'm sorry... I was trying to reach Admiral Calavicci."
Beth's voice sounded tired; this wasn't just a call to shoot the
  "Dr. Simon, please, don't hang up. You dialed the right
  The use of her title didn't surprise Beth; she had given who
she had presumed was the secretary her name, if not her reason
for calling. "I don't understand." Al had told her to use this
number if she needed him and she definitely needed him. She felt
she was in over her head.
  "Dr. Simon, this is Doc- Verbena Beeks. I'm a friend of Al's. I
need to talk to you about a few things..."
  "I'm sorry, but I really need to talk to Al. I don't know what
business you could possibly have with me."
  *More than you think.* "I'm afraid Al's not available to speak
with you." She paused to word what she had to say next and Beth
interpreted it as a need for more prodding.
  "Are you...friends?"
  Verbena almost smiled at the cautious tone. "We're co-workers,"
she clarified. "And I'd like to think that we were friends, too."
  "Were? He's not there anymore?"
  Too late, Verbena realized her slip. How do you ease into
something as complete and final as death? "I'm sorry to have to
tell you this, but Al's plane crashed on his way back to New
  "Is he all right?"
  She was pushing, Verbena realized, grasping at any tendril of
hope. The psychiatrist would have given anything not to say what
she had to say next. "No, he's not."
  There was a sharp intake of breath as realization descended and
then a long stretch of silence. Verbena intently traced circles
on her desk top with one fingernail as a distraction, trying not
to suffocate in her own grief. 
  When Beth still didn't speak, Verbena cleared her throat. "Dr.
Simon? I am a psychiatrist and I knew Al. He and I worked
together for over a decade now, and if there's any questions you
might have, I may be able to help you." The words were so calm,
so rational, that she surprised herself. "Dr. Simon? Beth?"
  There was a strained sob on the other end of the line and
Verbena could have sworn she heard her whisper in an unbelieving
voice, "Al?" Before the she could try again, there was a click
and, after a moment, the harsh ring of a dial tone.
  "Dr. Beeks?" Ziggy asked, and she wondered fleetingly if the
computer had been listening in on the conversation. "I feel you
may want to know that a report was just filed with the Charleston
police. Dr. Elizabeth Simon was listed as missing when her
husband, Dirk Simon, found a note to the effect of her leaving.
The report was filed an hour ago. I have not as yet gained access
to what the note says."
  Verbena sighed. "I'm willing to wager that note doesn't say
anything good. Get the Imaging Chamber ready. I'm going to take a
couple hours, and then I've got to talk to Sam again. His
decision just got harder."