"The Final Chapter" pt. IX

July, 2000
Santa Fe, NM

  Melana nudged the door open with her toe and peered inside.
Sandy and Mason had gone off on their own after their return to
the complex, effectively sealing her out of their plans by
physical abandonment. What did she want with their insanity,
anyway? Except that, one way or another, she and Sam still had to
stop them, make them see that what they were trying to do. Though
it was right and just, it was also plain stupid.
  The soft, static sound of movement came from within and she
snapped on a small lamp on one of the two nightstands in the
corners. Sam was curled up on the left bottom bunk, facing the
wall. At a glance, he appeared to be asleep and she sighed. Sam
had told her what they were there to do, but not anything else.
Not why both of them were there, not why they hadn't been
retrieved, not why Al was upset earlier. And not why Sam himself
was here in the first place, which is what she _really_ wanted to
  Sam shifted minutely in the bunk. "Melana?" he whispered
  "Didn't mean to wake you up," she commented, settling in a
cross-legged position across from him on her bed. 
  "I wasn't asleep," he replied in the same ragged voice.
"Couldn't sleep if I wanted to." The tone of his voice was so
heavy, so restrained.
  She stood, drawn forward by his mood, but resisted the urge to
sit next to him on his bed. Some measure of formality still
existed between the two of them, despite the absence of titles.
"What's wrong?"
  "Are the other two coming?"
  "No, they had a fit of self-righteousness. Sam, they're out to
bring Franklin down. Just the two of them. I think that's
probably how they..."
  "-Got killed?" he finished for her, his voice cracking.
  "Hey," she intoned, pushing formality to the side and sitting
next to him anyhow. "Are you all right, Sam?"
  He moved then, sitting up with his back making constant contact
with the wall, as if he needed the extra support to move. He
lifted his head to face her. "Not really."
  She gasped slightly, pressing her palms tightly against her
chest. "Oh, no," she murmured. "What happened?"
  Sam looked terrible. His eyes were bloodshot, his face red and
slightly swollen, and his hands chapped from constant rubbing. He
looked to Melana as if he was desperately tired, but had been
unable to sleep at all. When he finally spoke, it was so softly
that she had to strain to hear it. "I can't tell you yet, Melana.
I needed to ask you about something, first. Because...I can't-"
His words, which were trembling and strained to begin with, began
to tumble over each other until they settled into incoherent
expression. A few stray tears slid, unchecked, down the side of
his face. It didn't seem to matter; there had clearly been
several before that. He fought again for control, but the harder
he pushed, the more he was reminded of the cause of his despair
to begin with.
  Finally, he gave up the attempt to talk and let Melana reach
forward and press his head to her shoulder as he cried. It didn't
matter; he felt numb all over. How could he ask her to choose
this without knowing everything, just as he'd asked Verbena not
to do with him earlier?
  But he wouldn't tell her yet. He needed to pull himself
together enough to hold her while she wept, once she knew.
  Sam pulled away and wiped his eyes on his sleeve. He glanced up
into Melana's black eyes. They gleamed with sympathy.
  He couldn't sacrifice all those people for one. Even if it was
Al. Could he?
  "Are you okay?" she asked, removing her hand from his arm.
  "I don't know," he admitted, still shaky, but at least under
enough control to keep from breaking down again. "Probably not.
But I think it's time to explain this leap to you."
  Melana nodded, pushing away the natural maternal instinct that
had taken over, trying to focus. "You mean, why you're here." It
wasn't a question.
  "Melana, when you originally leaped in here, you wrote a
program that started a chain reaction. The program was a note to
Ziggy hidden in a virus she was later infected with. That program
ended this project and caused a number of side-effects in the
process." He paused, debating whether to mention Beth's marriage
to Dirk, then dismissed it as unnecessary and defeating to his
own purpose for hiding Al's fate from her. "One of these effects
is our leaping. Al was never able to gain the retrieval program.
The other problem is that the program changed several things
which, in turn, led to more things being altered, and so on. Now,
someone is dead who wasn't supposed to be. If we don't write this
program, it won't happen, but this project will, in the meantime,
have a massive - and largely negative - effect on countless
lives. And I don't know what to do."
  *Al was right,* he thought as he pushed his emotions even
further back. *This is a lose-lose situation. You can elicit
changes to infinite proportions with one little switch. Our
making things for the better had to have negative effects
somewhere down the line as the other project had to have some
positive ones. Like Al and Beth being re-married. How can I
possibly weigh that? What it boils down to is: who is really
running this, do they know what they're doing, and what am I
supposed to do?*
  Melana watched him tighten his grip on some unnamed grief. She
knew what he wanted, but she didn't know what to do about it. On
the one hand, he wanted the truth, but on the other hand, he
wanted her to tell him it was okay to sacrifice everything for
this person, this friend. How could she tell him that one life
against so many others just didn't add up? She hoped he wasn't
talking about Donna...after going through everything with Beth's
death, and then having it undone, she didn't want him to have to
do this with his own wife. She desperately wanted to ask him, but
she knew he would tell her when he thought she should know.
  "Well..." she began slowly, "what do you think this person
would want?"
  Sam took a ragged breath and let it out evenly. "I know what
this person would want; what should I _do_?"
  "What they would have wanted." At his discouraged expression,
she confirmed her earlier suspicion that most of him was looking
for permission to do what he wanted to do. "Sam, would this
friend be willing to be a victim to save so many others?"
  He looked up at her. "Yes. But not a victim. Casualty, maybe,
but never a victim." 
  She stroked his arm, comforting, taking note of the waver in
his tone. "What does Al have to say about this?"
  Sam closed his eyes and his breathing became labored.
  Melana's hand froze on his arm. "Oh, Sam...no..."
  He shook his head, brushing away her touch. 
  "Tell me I'm wrong," she pleaded firmly.
  "It was a plane crash," he said heavily.
  "Oh, please, not Al. There's no-one left for me now..." She
wiped her face with her hand, then drew it back to study her
palm. She was shaking.
  Sam grabbed her hand and was about to say something when the
door opened and Mason and Sandy entered the room, looking grim,
but determined. Melana didn't even glance at them as she pushed
past them and out into the hallway. Sam shook his head and got up
to follow her, but Mason blocked his path.
  "What did you say to her?" she demanded.
  "What I had to," he mumbled, trying to push past.
  "Do you have to be so hostile all the time?" Sandy demanded of
her partner, taking Sam's arm and sitting him back down on the
bunk. "What's going on, Karen? You look awful."
  "Bad news," he choked out. "Please, I don't want to talk about
  "Should we go after her?" Sandy asked, pointing to the
still-open door.
  "No, I think she just needs some time." *I hope. Oh, Al, why
did you have to listen to me? Why did I have to urge you to talk
to Beth?* "But I need to talk to the two of you."
  "Oh?" Mason raised an eyebrow. She was still hardened towards
him, but at least she was trying to be civil.
  "Mela- Amanda told me what you were trying to do. I admire it,
really, I do. But I don't think it's such a good idea right now."
  Sandy spoke before Mason could become angry that Melana had
talked. "Karen, you have to understand. Knowing what we know,
we're morally obligated to do our part to try and stop it. We had
this conversation with Amanda, but I'm afraid we all got a little
heated and we couldn't convince her."
  Perhaps Sandy was looking for allies, and that's why she was
being so accommodating. While she had not yet been outwardly
resentful of "Karen", she certainly hadn't been this calm and
reasonable. Or perhaps the sight of Sam in the condition he was
in had softened her and made her realize exactly how things had
stacked up against the odd person out. Either way, he was willing
to take any rational person he could get.
  "Well," he countered, wiping again at his eyes, "_you_ have to
understand, too. Senator Franklin, well, he's not exactly playing
by the books." Something Al had told him filtered upwards through
a sea of sorrow and he turned to face them evenly. "If you have
two people, and one doesn't play by the rules, you don't have a
fair fight. Ladies, Senator Franklin does not play by the rules,
and, thus far, he's gotten away with it. But if you approach him,
two people who's families and friends don't even know where they
work or what they do because it's so confidential, what's to stop
him from taking that advantage and using it to the hilt? And I'll
tell you something else," he pressed, while he still saw the
glimmer of dawning realization in Sandy's eyes, "I happen to know
- I can't tell you how - that if you go talk to him, you won't be
the first person he's killed to get what he wants, and you
certainly won't be the last. So quit, walk away if you feel you
can no longer support what you know to be wrong, but don't be
  By this point, Sandy looked downright scared. "You can't be
serious. I really don't think he would _kill_ us for-"
  "For threatening to expose his project?" Sam cut in. "Think
  Mason glared. "I told you before and I'll tell you again, we
don't work for you. Sandy, just because she's acquainted with his
quarters doesn't mean she knows him."
  Sandy shook her head. "I say she's right. Maybe we should
rethink this."
  "You think. I'll act." With those words, Mason stalked out of
the room. Sandy shot him a sympathetic glance and followed.
  "His _quarters_? Oh...boy..." Sam slumped forward, resting his
head on his hands. *I ought to go find Melana. Oh, Al...*

July, 2002
Gaffney, SC

  Beth Simon glanced around her hotel room in Gaffney, then laid
down on her back on the bed. She couldn't think, couldn't feel,
couldn't move. If she did, she was scared of what she might do.
She had never felt this uncertain before, _never_. She
desperately needed someone, but she was at a loss for who.
Certainly, she'd left friends behind in Charleston, but she
couldn't go back. She just couldn't.
  Guilt, some of it decades old, mingled with fresh pain. If he
hadn't felt the need to come see her, he wouldn't have died.
Along that train of thought lay destruction, she knew, but she
couldn't help it. 
  In another timeline, he'd said, they were married. Sure, Dirk
had had to die for that to happen and she certainly didn't want
_that_, no matter how poorly their marriage had been progressing,
but she was happy, in that other place. She was with someone she
loved who loved her. Someone who understood.
  She curled on her side, nestling further into the covers
without actually getting up and readjusting them. She couldn't
cry if she wanted to; she couldn't feel anything anymore.
  Beth wasn't tired, but she coaxed herself into sleep anyhow,
hoping to find some peace there that eluded her while she was