"Sink or Swim"
Part VII

November, 1999
Stallions Gate, NM

Al crept into Karen's quarters quietly, not wanting to startle her. She
was curled up on the bed, still fully clothed, with just the blanket
pulled up to her waist, her hands folded underneath her head. He smiled
softly, then sat down next to her on the mattress. She didn't even stir.

"Karen?" he murmured in hushed tones. He rested one hand on her upper
arm, shaking her slightly. "Karen, hon, I need to talk with you."

She stirred slightly and opened her eyes, looking ashamed. "Al..."

He rubbed her arm and smiled down at her. Ever since she was old enough
to talk, she'd called him by his first name, at his prompting and her
mother's frustration. Now, it made her seem younger instead of older.
"Karen, we have to talk about Cary. And you. I think it's time you tell
me the whole story about him."

She sat up and he let his hand fall away as she leaned against the
headboard, keeping the blanket on her as if for protection. "What about

"I think you know what I want to hear about. When did you meet him?"

"We were in school together. I was a freshman, he was a junior."

He nodded and leaned on his right hand, resting on the mattress. "Did
you know about his criminal record?" He was more afraid of her answer
than worried she would be untruthful.

She hesitated. "I knew he had one, but I don't know what for."

"Karen..." He took a deep breath. "Do you know if he's doing anything
now that could get him into trouble?"

The pause was longer this time, the silence Al's answer. She wiped away
a stray tear that had slipped free and sniffed.

"Oh, no... You can't get into that stuff, you know that," Al pressed

"I haven't," she said in a small voice.

He leaned forward and gripped her shoulders tightly. "Karen, don't lie
to me on this one, okay? I need to know if you're doing any of this

"I'm not!" she protested, trying to pull free. He retained his grip,
staring into her eyes. Then, satisfied, he sat back and let her go.

"And what about everything else? When did he move out to Santa Fe?"

"About a year ago. We were dating and all and he just suddenly decided
he couldn't stay and he had to go somewhere else. So he just picked a
direction and went. I'd get postcards from him every so often, but... It
was just so hard with Nick's death and he understood..."

"Honey, the only thing he understands is how to drag everyone else into
his mess. I don't want that to happen to you and I'm not taking you
back, understand?"

"But Al-" she started, sitting up.

"No," he stated firmly. "I won't take you back to someplace where you
won't be safe, understand?"

She stared intently at her hands, then nodded.

"And what about you two?" Al continued. "Your father's as hurt as you
are and he lashes out at you unfairly. So you run away to the only
person who listens to you, am I right? And, once you get to him, what do
you do?"

Her green eyes focused on his face. "What do you mean?"

He bit his lip and then charged forward with his tactic. "I mean why did
he want you to come to Santa Fe? Was it because he was concerned about
you and your family? Or was it because he wanted your company and your
loyalty? And by company, I mean...for his own physical gratification."

"No, he..." She wrung her hands anxiously. "What you accused him of - he
didn't do that. I swear he didn't."

Al could feel the condition coming, so he supplied it. "But."

"But he did want me to..." She closed her eyes.

"But you really didn't want to, did you? Even if he didn't force you,
you still weren't ready." Al's voice held sympathy, not accusation, and
she reached out blindly for support. He clenched her hand tightly.

"No." She opened her eyes again and stared at him. "But he didn't force
me. Al, I don't want him to get into any kind of trouble."

Al restrained his anger at the statement, asking instead, "Why?"

"Because, he may not be the ideal citizen, but he listened when nobody
else did. He believed me and told me it wasn't my fault my brother died
or my mother left. My father didn't do that."

Al started to protest, then just exhaled heavily. "Yeah. Well, your
father regrets all the things that happened between you. I think you
should give him another chance."

"I don't know, Al," she fretted, picking at the blanket.

"Can you talk to him, honey?" he prompted, touching her shoulder
carefully. "Just be honest with him. That's all the two of you need - to
be honest with each other."

Her expression was almost shy. "Can you be there while I do?"

"If you need me." She nodded and he stood and kissed her forehead.
"C'mon, honey. Let's go get some dinner, okay?"

"Thanks, Al."

September, 1986
Gulf of Alaska, AK

"Excuse me," Al retorted as Sam and Elliot tossed a huge halibut through
his stomach.

Sam jumped, startled, and almost lost his grip on the gaff. "Al..." he
muttered through gritted teeth.

"Sam," the hologram replied cordially. "How's everything going?"

The leaper glanced at Elliot who was grumbling to himself, then at Kate,
who was looking much more sturdy for all the fresh air and food and
water she had in her, then back at Al. "Pretty good. How are the odds

Al tucked his cigar in the corner of his mouth and pressed a button on
the handlink, which emitted a series of squeaks and squeals and lit up.
"They're going down, but they're still not down far enough. 62% she dies
in the next six hours, 83% in the next eleven."

"I don't understand it, Al, she is doing better. I mean, look at her -
she's not dizzy anymore, at least not so as I can tell. She ate
something earlier and then had an apple just before coming out here."
Sam stepped aside as Kate knelt by the bin and started measuring the
lengths of the fish. Sam waited out of earshot of everyone else on deck.
They didn't seem to need him at the rail for the moment: most of the
halibut they were pulling up were too small to keep.

"Well maybe there was more to her accident than just her physical
condition. I still say she must have come out on the deck for a reason."

"Al, what if..." Sam glanced at Elliot. Sure, the man was annoying,
rude, and presumptuous, but certainly he wasn't a murderer, was he? "Run
a more in depth check on Elliot, will ya?"

Al was startled. "Surely you don't think-"
"I don't know," Sam replied tightly, "just do it, okay?"

Al keyed in the data and waited as Ziggy began to pull up information.
"It's gonna take a little while, but so far, nada. No criminal record,
nothing aside from what I told you when you first leaped in."

"How long was he on watch?"

"Well, it was ten hours before they came for you after finishing up on
deck, so they probably each did a five hour shift. Allen was asleep the
whole ten hours, he said. Not surprising seeing as he's barely had eight
hours the last two days combined."

"Well, maybe it's not malicious intent. Maybe he just told her to go out
on deck and do something because he was on watch and couldn't do it

Al shook his head. "No, no, because then they'd have a time she went
over. If that was true and he's not out to hurt anyone, he would have
sounded the alarm when she never came back, but that didn't happen."

"So then we're back to him doing it intentionally." Sam looked at
Elliot, bent over the edge, heard his cry of victory as he pulled up a
good-sized fish, white side flashing in the dim lighting. "He said
earlier all they needed was one more keeper and that'd be their quota.
That means all they have to do is pull up the rest of the line and go."

"How many tubs did you set?" Al asked curiously.

"Fifteen. But I have no clue how many we've pulled up and Elliot and
Steve both lost count earlier, too."

"Ask her," Al instructed, indicating the observer with his cigar.

"How would she know?"

"She's got to tally a certain percentage of what you guys pull up, so
she'll have been keeping count."

Nodding, Sam took a step closer to where she was crouched over and
reached to hold one end of her tape measurer.

"Thanks," she said, taking the complete length and making a notation on
her clipboard.

"You wouldn't happen to know what tub we're on, would you?" he asked,
casting Al a random glance.

"Uh..." She lifted her deck sheets and counted. "We're in the middle of
thirteen. How many did we set?"

"Fifteen," he replied and she gasped and stood up.

"I'd better tally the last tub, then. Excuse me." She pushed by and went
all the way around to observe the line as it came up on board.

Seeing as he had nothing else to do for the moment, Sam followed her.
"Listen, Kate, we've got some rough seas coming up, and I just wanted to
make sure you had everything taken care of out here now so you don't
have to be out here later."

"Ooh, good idea, Sam," Al complimented him.

"Oh, well, I've got my blue baskets together, but I was going to wait to
tie it all up and everything until we were in port and I didn't have
everything being tossed around at me."

Sam's expression was frustrated. "That's a good idea..."

Al glanced at the readout. "No dice, Sam. She still dies."

Before the leaper could try another tack, Steve called to him from
behind the reel. "Allen! Start cleaning and cutting up the fish! Things
are already starting to get bad and I don't want us to have to be out
here when the seas hit 30 feet, do you?"

"No problem!" he hollered back over the motor and the wind and the music
blaring over the speakers. "Any more ideas, Al?" he asked as he made his
way back. The admiral followed him, walking absently through various
pieces of equipment as he focused his attention on the handlink. "Al?"
Sam prompted again.

"What? Oh, no, nada. I guess you're just going to have to stay awake and
make sure she doesn't come out. I just don't get what could be that

Sam hauled a fish up onto the cleaning table, grunting with the effort.
"Well, we'll find out eventually." He picked up the knife.

Al nodded, then looked casually up and saw the blade in Sam's hand. "Uh,
yeah... Well, you have fun and all and I'll come check up on you later."
Sam shook his head as Al opened the Door and stepped in, shutting out
Alaska with a punch of the button.