Book I, Part II

                    January, 2001
                    Stallions Gate, NM

Beth did her best to ignore the oppressive gazes of Gooshie and Tina. She
rarely went up to the Control Room; her area was in the labs of the lower
levels and, should she need to get a message to Al, Ziggy's communication
system was always sufficient for the job. So, to see her in the Control Room
was an anomaly from the start. To see her up there while Al was in a coma
several stories below was downright bizarre.

She cleared her throat and stepped up to Gooshie's station. "I had hoped you
could help me with something," she said before he could fumble his way into an
introductory question.


"I was looking for Al's last report on Sam's leaps. I can't seem to find it

"He never made it."

She blinked. Al was nothing if not persistent when it came to keeping track of
Sam. The headache must have been worse than even she realized. "Do you know

"Uh, no. He just said he'd do it the next morning."

"Well, does Ziggy have any records I can access?"

Gooshie moved over a foot to his left and started sweeping his hands over the
controls with deft assurance. It seemed the only time he was ever comfortable.
"Ziggy has many of the basics on file," he replied as he worked, "but they're
normally just a supplement to the admiral's reports."

"I understand." She rested her fingertips on the edge of the console.

"If I may ask, why are you interested in this?"

She hesitated. Why _was_ she intent on doing this? Was it just to keep busy or
did she really believe Al's mysterious condition was a result of something
relating to Sam's leaps? "I don't know," seemed to be the best answer she
could offer. "I just...wanted to see it."

Gooshie avoided her gaze. "How is the admiral?"

She stiffened. She didn't even know what the rest of the staff had been told.
"The same," she said.

"Oh, here it is," he said, sounding relieved. "See? Just the basics."

"That's fine, Gooshie," she muttered hastily. "Can you get it transferred to
my quarters?"
"Uh, sure."

Beth suddenly felt very tired. She nodded to Tina as she left the room. Donna
was waiting for her outside and Beth looked up in surprise. She and Donna
didn't really talk that much and for Donna to seek her out was abnormal at
best. She could tell by the woman's expression that word about Al had spread
to every corner of the project.

Donna fell into step with her. "How are you doing?" Sam's wife asked quietly.

"I've had better days," Beth responded.

Donna smiled slightly. "You've been married to Al too long - you're starting
to talk like him."

"You want to know how I am? You? It should be a sensation you're familiar
with. Goodness knows I've had my fill of it." She stopped and looked at Donna.
In some ways, Beth didn't care for her. She could be just a little too needy
at times, but Beth could also understand it. Especially now. "I'm trying not
to take this one out on anyone else, Donna, but I just need some time to

Donna smiled faintly. "You know, there are nights that would be so hard if Al
wasn't there. I guess you understand what I mean." Beth dropped her gaze. "And
I know that you and I are...very different and we've never been all that
close, but I guess I feel I owe him a lot. And..." She shrugged. "If you need
someone, please give me a call."

"I was going to spend the night in his room," Beth said quickly, quietly.

"Oh, I understand. But...if you want me to stay with you, or...something..."

"Thanks, Donna."

Donna shook her head. "You won't call," she stated. "It's like I said: you've
become too much like _him_. And you'll go it alone as long as you can stand

A faint hint of a smile flashed in Beth's eyes. "Probably," she agreed. "But
thank you."

Donna touched her briefly on the hand, then turned and walked in the opposite

Beth let out a strained laugh. "Before the day is over, I'm gonna have the
whole project waiting by the phone for me to call," she said aloud to herself.
Even so, it was a comforting thought to know she wasn't in this alone. Knowing
that neither of them were.

She went back to their quarters and pulled up the files Gooshie had located.
She could feel the start of a headache coming on, but she ignored it. The
scientist had been right - the files contained little more than what she
already knew. Sam had leaped into a police officer in some small backwater
town. He was there to prevent a murder.

The entire leap had been wrought with mishaps and misunderstandings and it had
almost cost several people their lives, Sam included. Hence Al's anxiety the
evening before. It usually took a while for the adrenaline to work its way out
of his system and she had credited his odd behavior to that.

Now, looking back with a slightly clearer mind, she found other anomalies
she'd missed before. He'd seemed sort of edgy. And when she'd found him to
urge him to get some sleep, he'd been staring off into the distance as if in a
trance. It took her several verbal attempts to get his attention and, even
then, he'd still been distracted.

Maybe, he was just sick. Maybe he wasn't feeling well and he pushed it back so
he could take care of Sam.

But maybe it was more than that.

"Maybe _I_ need a bath and a good night's sleep." She glanced at the clock. It
was only noon. Verbena and Doctor What's-His-Name would still probably be
running tests and trying to figure out if her husband was going to live
through this one.

She stood up and went through the bedroom into the modest-sized bathroom. She
opened the medicine cabinet, but the aspirin bottle was gone. She frowned,
then glanced out the door and noticed it sitting on Al's night stand.

"Naturally," she muttered and crossed over to his side of the bed.

Something crunched under her feet and she looked down to see aspirin scattered
all over the floor as well as the surface of his night table. She sat down on
the bed and surveyed the sight worriedly. It was as if the hands that handled
the pills were too unsteady to control them. When she looked at the bottle,
she saw the cap rested askew on the rim instead of snapped on. She knew, at
that moment, that it had been more than just a headache even at that point,
that he must have known it, too, but figured he could handle it himself.

Beth picked up a few tablets and dropped them in. "Oh, Al, how much pain were
you in?" She blinked rapidly. "Why do you have to be so damned self-sufficient
all the time?" she demanded, swatting the bottle on the floor altogether.

She laid down on the bed and buried her face in Al's pillow, waiting for
blessed sleep to take her.


Beth woke up with a sharp headache behind her eyes. She sat up and glanced at
the clock: 1700. She groaned and fell back against the mattress. The pillow
she pulled over her face smelled like Al and she swallowed past the knot in
her chest.

Several stories below her, she was sure, Verbena was still trying to make
sense of everything. Which meant that she still had no progress, or she would
have contacted Beth by now.

In the meantime, Sam could be leaping back in within a matter of days, and he
would be without an observer. Beth wasn't even certain they had figured out
what they were going to tell him yet, or who would do it.

She sat on the corner of the bed, surveying the room as if looking for clues.
To what, she didn't know.

The stillness became oppressive and she stood up quickly, snagging her shoes
and pulling them on as she went. When she reached the Control Room, she saw
Donna in the corner and made a beeline for her, grateful that she didn't have
to work with Tina or Gooshie. She just couldn't take that today. Donna looked
sympathetically at her, another thing she couldn't take. And that, she
realized, was the main difference between them. When Al was lost in Vietnam,
Beth had fought to depend on herself; Donna relied on other people a vast
majority of the time.

Beth wasn't sure which road took more courage.

"Beth," Donna greeted her, "how are you doing?"

She swallowed back her instinctual reply. "Donna, I need a favor."

"Sure. What can I do?"

Beth squared her shoulders. "Hook me up."

Donna opened her mouth, but nothing came out. She blinked several times. "I
beg your pardon?" she managed, astonished.

"Hook me up," Beth repeated, waving a hand about in vague patterns. "Link me
up, take some blood, whatever it is you guys do up here."

"To _Sam_?"

"Yes," Beth stated, faintly impatiently.

"Al's not..." She peered carefully at Beth, as if waiting for her to crack
right in front of her.

"He's not able to observe," Beth said calmly. "Someone has to."

"Have you cleared this with..." She trailed off again and Beth knew what she
was thinking. Al usually handled these decisions.

Her resolve and her outward appearance of calm and confidence almost dissolved
at that thought. It was like he was already dead.

*No. Not already - he's not going to die.*

"You're the first one I've mentioned this to. Are you next in the chain of
command on this one, or do I need to talk to Gooshie?"

Donna finally put down the clipboard she was holding. "What are you going to
tell Sam?"

"Would you rather we left him out there without direction?"

"No, no, that's not what I mean. Normally, my vote would be for Verbena, but
she's...busy. I'm out of the question, Sammy Jo's out at that conference in
Chicago, and Gooshie and Tina, well..." She shrugged. "I wasn't going to ask
you because I would've thought it would have been too much."

"I want to do it. For Al."

Donna nodded slowly, brushing several long strands of hair out of her face.
"What I meant was, what are you going to tell Sam about why you're there, not

"I hadn't gotten that far yet," she confessed.

"The truth?" Donna pressed.

Beth turned that one over in her mind. That was another one she would have
consulted with Al on. "Can we keep it from him?"

"Depends on how good a liar you are." Donna leaned back against the wall and
Beth realized she didn't know how the woman felt about Al's constant "harmless
alterations" of the truth.

"If there's any chance he can help us, I'll tell him everything," she said
with fierce determination.

Donna studied her an instant longer, then nodded. "We'll cut your duties down
to just observing. Lieutenant Commander Simmons can deal with the visitor,
I'll handle research, and you are just the hologram."

Beth sighed gratefully. The more time she could spend with Al, the better. "So
what do I do now?"

Donna scribbled something on a piece of paper, folded it in two, and handed it
to Beth. "Give this to Verbena and have her take some blood and skin samples,
then make sure they get sent up here. We'll give you a crash course on the
handlink then, okay?"

She took the sheet, nodded her thanks, and left the room gratefully. She
waited until she was safely encased in the elevator before opening the note.

		Verbena - go ahead and run the tests she asks for.

She couldn't help but feel angry that everyone felt the need to sneak around
behind her, as if they all knew something she didn't. As if they all knew her
limits better than she did, as if they all had to look after her welfare.

Al was the one who looked after her, and if that sounded weak, she no longer

She sagged against the wall of the car. Maybe she should wait until the
morning to do all this, except that no one knew when Sam would land and Al
would want him to be taken care of, especially if this next leap should happen
to turn out half as bad as the last one was.

The doors opened in front of her, but she let them close again and pressed
another button. Moments later, she was out in the approaching night. She
breathed in deeply, trying to erase the suffocation she'd felt in the complex.
Eternity stretched out above her and the twinge she'd only subconsciously been
aware of nudged her again. Maybe it was the vast enormity of the desert at
night, but Elizabeth Calavicci felt very alone.

Hope you don't mind too much that the man hasn't even been conscious yet. 
As always, comments are both desired and welcome. And, probably later, begged
for. ;-) Also, lemme know if you like the new format....
BTW, both on this story, "Point of View" and "The Day After That", MAJOR
thanks go out to Christina Bartruff and Pat Chachich, my loyal editing
team.... Thanks, guys!!