"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 know. Sam shifted minutely in the bunk. "Melana?" he whispered hoarsely. "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 it." "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 foolish." 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 again." 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 awake.