"Sink or Swim"
Part V

November, 1999
Stallions Gate, NM

Al sat beside his car with Karen for a half hour, trying to reassure her
and failing miserably. She was certain she alone was the cause behind
the destruction of her family. She didn't breathe a word all the way
back to Project Quantum Leap, but, when he led her inside and up to her
room, she grabbed his arm, preventing him from leaving. He stepped
inside and shut the door part way.


Her eyelids fluttered as they closed and she shook her head faintly and
sank against him. "I wish I was five again," she murmured.

He kissed the top of her head. "Get some sleep and we'll talk later,
okay?" She pulled back and nodded slowly. "We'll work things out for
you, I promise."

When she vanished into the inner room, Al let himself out and closed the
door behind him. Then he resolved to go make sure Sam was doing okay
with Kate.

He met Verbena on the way back to the Control Room, missing her as she
came up behind him.

"Good morning, sunshine," she greeted him.

He smiled wearily at her. "Don't tell me it's still morning. Or, heaven
forbid, already morning. Whatever."

"Actually, no. It's just you look so cheerful, I could hardly help
myself." She patted his arm lightly and smiled at him.

"Oooh, sarcasm." He shook his head. "You make a great psychologist,

"Why, should I be analyzing you right now?" she questioned innocently.

Al wasn't buying it. He stopped in his tracks and faced her, a hint of
amusement dancing in his eyes. "Boy, you are good."

She inclined her head. "Thank you. What's on your mind, Al?"

He narrowed his gaze as if contemplating what to say. "I'm just worried
about a friend. A couple friends, actually. I may need your help with it
eventually, if you're willing."

She resumed walking. "Of course. Any progress on Sam's front?"

"That's what I'm on my way to check up on."

She clasped her hands behind her back as the Control Room came into
sight. "Just try and relax, Al."

They met Lieutenant Commander Simmons coming out of the Waiting Room and
Verbena slowed to talk to her. Automatically, Al stopped as well.

"How's he doing?" the psychiatrist asked.

Simmons glanced at the admiral, then returned her attention to the woman
in front of her. "He's adjusting well, but he can't tell us any more
than we know." Simmons was new to the PQL staff and often did the
routine debriefing of the leapees.

Al smiled at her. "Well, all we need to know we can pretty much find in
the Coast Guard records. Thank you, Commander." He looked her up and
down once. "You're out of uniform."

She frowned and glanced down. "No, I'm not, sir."

"Would you like to be?" The look in his eyes was unmistakable.

Verbena made a sound of exasperation. "Al...if you can tear yourself

Simmons winked good-naturedly. "Better luck next time, Admiral."

He opened his mouth, but Verbena grabbed his arm and dragged him into
the Control Room. "I didn't mean relax _that_ much," she scolded. The
door slid shut behind them. "Go check on Sam and stop harassing my

"_Your_ staff?" he demanded, his eyes glittering.

"Al, do your job."

He scooped up the handlink smoothly. "Yes, ma'am. Gooshie," he added to
the scientist to his left. The man nodded and Al walked into the Imaging

Sam didn't hear his entrance; he was alone in the galley with Kate,
talking. The television was on, some movie showing at an uncomfortable
volume, but neither made any motions to turn it down, or to watch it,
for that matter.

"Why Alaska?" Sam was asking. "Seems like a pretty unforgiving

She shrugged and leaned back against the cushions. One hand held the
table, the other was flat on the bench she was seated on, holding her
upright. The time Al had been away didn't seem to have done much good;
her eyes held dark bags underneath them and her hands trembled ever so
slightly, almost unnoticeable in the already violent movement of the
cabin. At least Sam had managed to get her out of her bunk. "They
offered me a job," she answered sheepishly. "I have the double whammy:
not just a biology degree, a _marine_ biology degree."

Sam grinned. Unlike Kate, it seemed his body was finally adjusting to
the boat, which had more of a side-to-side roll than Al was comfortable
with. Still, he knew looks could be deceiving and with each shudder of
the hull as it absorbed more and more impact, the better made the vessel

"Y'know," Al said suddenly, stepping into view as Kate returned her
attention to the screen, "you're looking better than before." Sam

"Uh, Kate, I'm gonna...step out on deck for a minute and catch a breath
of fresh air."

"How long are you going to be?" she asked immediately.

Reality hit as he realized why she was questioning him. With vague
estimations, it could be too late before anyone noticed his absence
should he fall overboard. "Give me five or six minutes."

"Gonna go have a smoke?" she asked.

Sam wasn't surprised; he'd noticed the pack of cigarettes in his pocket
earlier that day. He'd actually been grateful at the discovery - Steve
and Elliot both seemed to use chewing tobacco.

"Yeah. I'll be back, though, and my watch isn't for another two hours,
so let me know what happens in the movie, okay?"

He grinned and she returned the gesture. "Be careful," she warned.

He stepped outside and managed to get the door closed behind him. The
instant the cold and the rain hit him full in the face, he regretted the
decision. If the stateroom hadn't been right next to where Kate was
sitting, he probably would have opted for that location instead.

Al stood beside him, still warm and dry and Sam felt a flash of envy.
"How long have you been here?" he demanded of his observer.

"Long enough to see that she's still not doing so hot."

"She's doing fine," Sam retorted testily.

"You know," Al mused as if Sam hadn't even spoken, "my third - fourth -
third... Well, darn it, I can't remember."


"One of my ex-wives wanted to do marine biology."

"Fifth," Sam replied instantly. Both men seemed a bit surprised at his
conclusion. "Al, see that? I've got a swiss-cheesed memory and _I_ know
your ex-wives better than you..."

"Hey," Al responded tartly, "you may be able to keep `em straight
better, but I _dare_ you to tell me you _know_ them better."

Sam started to respond seriously, then saw Al's expression and relented.
"Never mind. Al, I've got...three minutes and counting. Did you have
something important to tell me? I've got to get this resolved! I have
wheel watch in three hours, then I'll need to sleep for a few hours and
then we finish baiting tubs. Then we start fishing and-"

"Well that's perfect."

"What do you mean?"

"You can chat with her after you set the first line. That's what I came
to tell you: I've got more details for you on the incident. Most of this
information comes from Allen, as he was her bunkmate. She slept, or at
least stayed in her bunk, for almost 27 hours. Things finally calmed
down and they set a line." Al smacked the handlink to prompt a faster
flow of information. "Actually, they set two. Then Steve started getting
reports of a really bad storm: they were predicting 30 to 35 foot seas,
winds up to 55 knots." He whistled. "So after soaking the line for just
four hours, they went back to pull the set. Half way through, the
weather got bad, but they got everything on board okay. Kate went inside
and after doing their duties, so did the crew. This last set fulfills
their quota: it's the last set of the season. They'd planned to pull
into Juneau and drop Kate off and their fish, then go back to Seattle,
where they're based."

"But..." Sam prompted as Al paused.

"But then Elliot went on wheel watch and both Steve and Allen went to
bed. Sometime between starting out for Juneau and ten hours later when
they woke Allen up for wheel watch, Kate vanished. Nobody knows why she
went out on deck and nobody knows when." He considered the deck.
"There's not a whole lot to hold onto out here. I've noticed this boat
really rocks back and forth a lot - it'd be easy to pitch someone over
the side. A lot of the trawlers I've seen have less empty space except
for the trawl alley, which is in the middle, not near the rail. They've
got checker bins on the sides and huge net reels and winches to hold

"And what to hold onto?" Sam demanded.

"Winches. To wind the line up from..." Al stopped, seeing his friend's
face. "Sam! Winch - with an "i". Not - geez, I thought I had the dirty

Sam flushed slightly. "So all I have to do is stay awake and stop her
from going out on deck."

"Or convince her beforehand how unsafe it is. I mean, she's already
weak. Have you gotten her to drink anything yet, Sam?"

"No," the leaper confessed.

"Well, you'd better. They also found out the stuff she'd taken was 24
hour medication, so she'll be out of it for a while. It's the first time
she's taken this particular kind, Allen said. She'd mentioned it to him,
I guess. So she couldn't know how severely it'd effect her."

"I'll work on her. I've got to go back in, though." Sam stopped. "You
okay, Al?"

His partner looked vaguely surprised at the question. "Oh, sure.
Just...missing time out to sea, that's all."

"You miss _this_?" Sam was aghast.

Al smiled faintly. "More than you realize."

Sam shook his head and opened the hatch, stumbling inside. Kate had lain
down on the seat, which actually looked more comfortable than the bunks
at this point. The table and the back of the seat formed a cozy cubby
for one person without having to fear for falling on the floor. Plus she
had a prime view of the movie. She twisted her head to look at him as he
entered and pulled off his jacket. "I was about to send the Coast Guard
after you," she said, tapping her watch.

"Sorry." At Al's physical prompting, he opened the refrigerator and
pulled out a juice pack. "Want something to drink?" he asked.

"Oh, no, I'm fine."

"Sam..." Al warned.

Sam decided it was time to try the direct approach. "You know, Kate, I
think you really should have something to drink. You can't let yourself
get dehydrated especially in this weather. It's not safe, especially
when it takes so much energy just to walk from one end of the cabin to
the other..."

She pushed herself into a sitting position, touched her left temple
briefly, and quickly covered for how dizzy she must have felt. "You've
got a point, there. Didn't even think about it, to be honest."

Al nodded approvingly. "Nice, Sam."

Sam sat down next to her, handed her the drink, and they relaxed in
silence for a few minutes. Al started to grow antsy in the stillness and
he finally leaned in towards Sam. "Well, I guess I'll-"

A low rumble startled all three of them and Kate sat up completely,
suddenly at attention. The trio turned simultaneously as an entire 24
pack of Pepsi began to cascade behind them down the wooden stairs to the
wheelhouse. The flimsy cardboard tore open, scattering cans everywhere.
Before anyone could react in any fashion, another 24 pack, of Squirt
this time, tumbled behind it. The floor was alive with cans, rolling
every which way.

Sam exchanged an amazed look with Al, then Kate. Then, in a sound that
brought a flush of relief and hope through both men, Kate began to

[Okay, so Al's subplot isn't light, but basically.... If you're more
into the intense stuff, I again promise the next one'll make it up. I
needed something happy after Rebirth, tho... Enjoy! -amkt]