"Pieces" pt. VI

May, 2002
Santa Fe, NM

  There was a gray mist all around and everything seemed muted, distant.
She felt lost and alone without an anchor to reality. There was no longer
anything to judge reality _by_. Time had no meaning and each instant
could have been a second or a day. Oddly enough, she should have been
terrified, but she wasn't. Not yet.
  A voice in her mind told her she had to hold on - that she was still
needed in that place she had come from, but she didn't know how to get
back. She tried to lift her hand, but had no idea if she was succeeding
or not. She tried to open her eyes, but she still only saw the gray void.
  For what she supposed must have been a long time, it went on like this.
At times, if she was lucky, she would catch a sliver of reality, reaching
through the thick curtain in a vain attempt to grab her - a flash of
pain, a firm pressure on her hand, a gentle voice in her ear. She wasn't
sure she liked it. The more it happened, the more frightened she became
that she was lost in a place where nobody would ever be able to find her,
lost and alone. Forever.
  So contented had she been to be nowhere at all that she had surrendered
the urge not to question. But now, as the all-consuming fear grew, she
began to worry and wonder. Here, there was nothing to drive away the
panic because there was nothing else at all. And she needed something -
anything - to hold her to what was real and tangible. Doubt was forming
as to her very existance.
  And so she fought.
  She reached into the depths of her tattered identity like a child
reaching into a bag, hoping to retrieve a prize, something of worth.
Again and again she strained, striving to gather any clue about that
place deemed reality. She remembered her name and other shreds of who she
was. She remembered the names of her children and she could see their
faces in her mind. She remembered her mother with her kind eyes and her
little brother, so young and so fragile when his soul had been taken from
them in a tragic accident. She remembered the field near where she grew
up, so sweet and fragrant and she remembered how she used to lie there
for hours on end, just staring at the sky. She remembered Dirk and her
years with him and their children.
  A sharp wave of pain rose up and, torn from her quest, she cried out.
>From beyond the wall, she heard a soothing voice call to her. "Beth,
honey, it's okay. Please don't cry, baby. You're going to be fine, I
promise." She hadn't known she was crying - she certainly couldn't feel
it, but she knew who it was offering her the line to cling to. She
grasped at it with all her strength. There was a pause and she felt the
black wave rise up again.
  *Please, Al!* she cried to call out. *Don't stop - keep talking.* As if
he had heard her, though his actual words gave no indication that he had,
he resumed speaking to her, reassuring both her and himself at the same
time. He spoke about inconsequential events that had transpired since
she'd left. She used the slow, strained tone of his voice as her safety
line as she climbed. The voice began to sound closer and then she was
struck suddenly with an intense pain - a fire in her gut that was so
intense that she couldn't stop the scream that rose in her throat.
  That, she was certain, had reached beyond the barrier because Al
reacted immediately, ceasing his endless flow of comfort. And she hadn't
even noticed the pressure on her shoulder until it was gone as he lifted
his hand. His touch was gone and his voice had stopped and she feared he
was going to get a doctor. And she didn't think she could hold on without
him. Her physical agony was beginning to push her out again and she
lifted her hand and called out, summoning all of her remaining energy to
call him back.
  There was no sounds and she felt a tear slip down her cheek. "Beth?"
She felt his hand on her face and, the anchor restored, she pulled the
rest of the way through and opened her eyes. He was wiping her tears
away, but his eyes were closed and he seemed to be fighting his own.
"It's okay," he whispered.
  "Al?" He opened his eyes and they glistened in the dim light. She
watched her trembling hand rise slowly and he took it firmly, stilling
the shaking.
  He smiled sadly at her. "I know you'd come back," he murmured, but she
saw that he was lying.
  She looked up at him, memorizing his face and the sound of his voice. A
warm feeling came over her and the pain vanished, but everything was
still crystal clear. She started to let go again, but instead of feeling
the void, terrible and lonely, she felt safe and secure. She had the
incredible sensation that someone had wrapped her in an embrace and,
looking up, she was surprised to see that Al was still just holding her
  Suddenly, she knew what was happening.
  "Al?" Her voice was barely above a whisper.
  "What is it, baby?" he asked, smoothing her hair back in a gesture that
almost seemed more comforting to him than to her.
  "Calla lilies," she said slowly. Speaking seemed to require infinite
  "What?" His hand stopped in mid-motion and she could feel it shaking.
  "When it comes time. I want calla lilies," she murmured. Then she
smiled up at him and closed her eyes.

May, 2002
Stallions Gate, NM

  Sam reached absently for the phone when it rang, keeping his eyes
trained on the computer screen. He was so close... Any interruptions now
could avert him from his destination.
  "Hello?" He tried in vain to keep the irritation out of his voice.
  "Yeah, Al?" he asked, missing the tone in his friend's voice.
  "Could you...come pick me up?"
  He caught it that time - a kind of desperation that belonged to a lost
soul. "Al, what's wrong?" The calculations were all forgotten now.
  "I - she's dead, Sam. I really...need you to come get me. Please. I-"
He stopped again, but then resumed speaking before Sam could respond. "I
can't really drive now."
  "You stay put. I'll be there in ten mintues."
  He laughed harshly. "If I was going somplace, I would have done it by
  "Al...promise me."
  "I'll be here," Al vowed, his voice quiet and serious.
  "So will I," Sam responded, putting down the reciever and scooping up
his keys in the same instant. Worry propelled him out to his car and into
Santa Fe in record time towards the hospital - a sight that had become as
familiar as his own home in the past two weeks.
  Al sat outside the building, staring into emptiness and seemingly
unaware of the warm sun that beat down on him. Sam pulled up to the curb
and got out, crossing to where he sat, lowering himself carefully onto
the bench beside the admiral.
  "When?" he asked quietly.
  Al drew in an unsteady breath. "About an hour ago. She came 'round for
a few seconds and then she..." He let the sentence trail off into the
suffocating heat.
  "An hour ago? Where have you been since then?"
  "I don't know...places..." He closed his eyes, his brow furrowed as if
he was in pain.
  "Al, I-"
  "Sam, I know you're trying to help, but I don't need you to be my
parent and I don't need you to look after me."
  "I'm not trying to be your parent, Al. I'm trying to be your friend."
  Al exhaled heavily. "Then, please, let's just go home."
  They got into the car and drove the entire way home in silence. Al
stared out the window the whole drive, a shadowed sorrow evident only in
his eyes. When they returned to the project, he finally turned to face
Sam. "I'm gonna go get cleaned up and then I'm gonna go see Melana."
  Sam reached out to stop him and Al pulled sharply back from his touch.
"Why don't you take some time?"
  "I _can't_. Ziggy isn't done synching up your brain wave patterns yet
and I have work to do, remember?" His brow furrowed as if he was
confused, but Sam knew better.
  "She will be shortly."
  Al looked at him, almost confused. "I don't know, Sam..."
  "Well at least let me take care of everything else." He tilted his head
forward. "Please."
  Al's breathing increased as if he was deprived of oxygen and he reached
a hand back to touch the wall at his back, searching for the steadiness
to continue. "Sam, I can handle this. I-"
  "No you can't!" Sam shook his head angrily, his own sense of loss
momentarily overpowering his sympathy. "You think you're the only one
hurting? Well you're wrong, pal. You think I don't blame myself for not
doing more? And things between Donna and I have been a little more than
on edge for the past couple weeks. She may not have been the best of
friends with her, but she's grieving, too."
  Belaying all reasonable turns the conversation could have taken, Al
laid a hand on Sam's clenched fist. "Sam, I don't want you to blame
yourself for anything, okay? It's meant a lot that you were home these
past couple weeks. Go clear the air with your wife."
  Sam blinked, angry at himself for not talking sense into Al, but before
he could pull their talk back to where he wanted it to be, Al had turned
and walked down the hall to his quarters.