|A Touch in Time
By QL Quanta
"What the heck are you talking about? Im right here."
Al looked his best friend up and down...though of course, he didnt look like his best friend. "No, not you, Sam. The Sam you were before you leaped into this body."
"The Sam I was? Whose brain is Swiss cheese here, Al?"
"Samantha. You were Samantha before " Al just sighed and shook his head. "Never mind."
Dr. Samuel Beckett looked down at himself. He was wearing swimming trunks, red silky ones. He realized his hands were holding the two ends of a rolled towel hanging around his neck. As he looked up and took in his surroundings, it was apparent he was in a locker room, and he was dripping water all over the floor.
"I guess I was swimming."
"A safe bet. God, am I glad youre not Samantha anymore."
Sam frowned at him, then turned to a full-length mirror behind him. His eyes widened as a smile slowly crept across his face. "Oh, boy."
"Oh, boy what?"
"Look at me, Al!" Sam grinned, raising first one arm then the other, admiring the lithe young physique he saw reflected in the mirror. And good-looking, too, even from his point-of-view as a guy. Light brown hair fell over his forehead as his hair began to air dry. His eyes were large and brown, his jaw square, his cheekbones high. His features were almost elegant.
"You done admiring yourself, Adonis?"
"Lets get down to brass tacks,
"Your name is Jim Evans, youre twenty-three years old and youre training for the next Olympics."
"Uh-huh. Youre a high-diver."
"Okay. Doesnt sound so bad. What is it Im supposed to do as Jim Evans?"
"In the pre-qualifying meet tomorrow, Jim gets up there to do his second dive and the board comes loose."
"And lets just say he never competes in the Olympics."
He didnt respond, just gave Sam a look.
"He winds up a paraplegic. Hes never able to move anything but his head again."
Sam frowned and turned back toward the mirror, looking at his alter ego. Al nodded his head, that familiar yep look on his face.
At the same time they said, "Oh, boy."
You know, leaping in and out of these lives has become something Im getting used to. Except I cant always remember who I was right before I leaped into whatever life Im in at the time. Al said he was glad I wasnt Samantha anymore. Which means the last life I leaped into was the life of a woman. And given Als history with women, I can imagine how that mustve gone.
The man is an animal. Hes been with Tina for a while, but hes insatiable. Its like hes got this overly charged hormone disease. Before I leaped, there were many times wed be working side-by-side together for long hours at a time. I remember one time he actually said to me:
"You know, Sam, its hard on me not having had the company of a female in over 24 hours."
"Al, keep your mind on what were doing here, please?"
"Sorry, Sam, but you know how it is. Just the smell and touch and feel of a woman"
Id been getting dressed as my thoughts played back to the past. When I looked back over to where Al had been standing, he was gone. How he could slip out without me noticing, I had no idea, but he was nowhere in sight. As I pulled my shirt over my head and turned to my locker to gather my things, I heard the door to the locker room slam.
"Hey, Jimmy boy, youre lookin good out there."
I didnt know why, but the man behind that voice made me instantly dislike him. "Thanks."
"You think youre gonna take the gold at the 72, dont you?"
I turned to face him. Tall, muscular, with a mess of pitch-black hair on his head, the guy was certainly imposing. "Yeah, sure, why not?" I grinned.
"Why not indeed?" he growled, taking a step closer to me. "Just watch your back, Jimmy. You never know when an accident could happen."
I stared at his back as he turned and walked away. An accident? The diving board that was it! Whoever this guy was, I was ready to bet my money that he loosened the diving board, purposely trying to injure or even kill Jim Evans.
Also dressed in swimming trunks, I guessed that he was also a diver, and also trying out for the Olympic high-diving team. And he mustve seen me seen Jim as his only real competition. What better way to edge out the competition than by seeing that the competition doesnt compete?
Well, one way or the other, I was onto him whoever he was. And now that I had a theory he was involved in Jims accident, I knew what I needed to, to make sure that accident never happened.
Jims coach, Sam found out the next day, was a workhorse. He had him in the gym bench-pressing, free lifting, jump roping you name it, Sam was doing it. The only thing was, as their time in the gym passed, a knot grew and grew in Sams stomach. High-diving indeed. Sam couldnt even make it from the edge of a pool into the water without doing a belly flop. How the heck was he supposed to dive off a board umpteen feet in the sky?
Luckily, he didnt have to find out just yet. Coach told him to get showered, go back to the hotel and rest up for the meet. "Just keep playing out your dive moves over and over in your head, Jim. Visualization is the key."
Sam nodded and mopped beads of sweat from his brow as he headed for the gyms locker room. He slowly undressed, his muscles aching. It had been forever since hed seen the inside of a gym, and he was hurting after that workout. Though pleased that hed been able to keep up with the drill, Sams muscles were crying out for a nice, long, hot shower.
He stuffed his sweat-covered clothes into a locker, grabbed a towel and walked through the doors into the empty community shower. He headed to one of the knobs on the far side and turned it on, standing off to the side to wait for the water to heat up. His mind tingled ever so slightly. Sam knew that was the telltale sign that Al had arrived.
He turned to face the shower room door, completely forgetting that he was buck-naked. Als eyes widened and he looked toward the ceiling, then at the walls anywhere but directly at Sam as he cleared his throat about ten times in a row. Frowning, Sam had to look down to realize what was causing Al this discomfort. Instinctively, his hands cupped around his groin, not entirely effective at hiding it, but better than standing there full frontal.
"Sorry, Al. Thats what you get for creeping up on a guy in the shower."
More than just a little uncomfortable, Al mumbled, "Youre definitely not Samantha anymore."
"Al, do you mind telling me why you keep talking about this Samantha person?"
"Oh, its, uh its nothing," Al dismissed with a wave of his hand.
"Its not nothing, Al. What was it about Samantha thats got you so so "
"Yes, thats it," Sam replied, shaking his hands in the air. "Riled."
"Aw, Sammy, cmon."
"What?" It was then that Sam realized the shaking of his hands had removed them from his mid-section. "Al, Im a man."
"Well, at least in this life you are," the admiral mumbled.
"You dont like it, turn around. Im dying here, I need a shower."
Al nodded his head and rolled his eyes, turning his back on his best friend. Sam sighed gratefully and stepped under the hot stream of water. "Better?"
Nodding again, Al said, "Yes. Definitely."
"Uh well, Ziggy figures theres an 86.2 percent chance youre here to stop Jim Evans from getting injured."
"I couldve figured that out on my own, Al. In fact, I already have."
"Well, aside from the obvious not diving this afternoon I did figure out theres a guy named Dave Jeffries, a fellow diver. He strongly, uh hinted to me yesterday after you left that accidents could happen."
"Accidents?" Al turned around, his mind no longer on the fact that Sam, in Jim Evans body, was completely naked in the shower. "Are you sayin what I think youre sayin?"
"I think so, Al. If Im not mistaken, Jeffries rigs it so when I when Jim gets up there to dive, the board goes."
"But if thats true, how could this Jeffries guy possibly know youd be the next one up there and not some other poor slob?"
"We got the lineup today, Al. On the 30-foot board, Im the first one up."
"Well he could be there right now, riggin that board! You gotta get over there, Sam!"
Al blinked out immediately, on his way to the diving pool.
Sam rinsed the shampoo out of his hair as fast as he could. He didnt even turn off the shower, and barely remembered to stop and put his swimming trunks on before he flew out of the locker room like a bat out of hell.
The only person visible at the high-dive pool was the lone security guard assigned to protect the area. He ran from one end of the area to the other, but found no sign of anyone who shouldnt be there. He frowned and tapped a few commands into the handlink.
Ziggy came up empty. The equivalent of a computer shrugging.
Just then, Sam came barging into the pool area, startling the guard, who pulled his gun out and pointed it directly at Sam.
"Sam! Look out!" Al cried, running toward them though he could do nothing to help.
Sam stopped short, arms in the air. "Is anyone else here?"
"No! Sam, no, nobodys here!"
The guard frowned. "No, nobodys here but you. What the hell is your problem, Evans?"
"A-Are you sure? How long have you been
"The board. The boards been tampered with."
"Tampered with? It couldnt have been."
"It was. It was, just please get someone up there to check it out. Please. Or someones going to get hurt."
The guard looked at him funny.
"Please, just humor me."
"Humor you? Which board, Evans?"
"The thirty. Please."
The guard stared at him a little longer, then took his walkie-talkie out of his belt. "Alpha Three to Control."
"Control here," the radio crackled back.
"I need someone here to check the thirty-foot board. One of the competitors is claiming its been tampered with."
"There," the guard said as Sam leaned back against the wall. "You happy?"
"You mustve done it, Sam," Al said, approaching him.
"I sure hope so."
Al lifted the handlink and punched a few commands into it. He frowned.
Two men entered the pool area, each with a box of tools in hand. "Which board?" the first one said.
"The thirty," the guard replied.
Al looked up at him, then down at the handlink again. "Sam "
Sam and the guard watched as both men climbed the long ladder up to the board.
"What made you think the board was tampered with?" the guard asked.
"Well, I, uh it was something someone said to me."
The guard and Sam both looked up to where the workmen had finally reached the board. They looked at it, tested it, even walked out onto it, but nothing happened. The board seemed secure enough.
The guard whipped around. "What what?"
"Sam, listen to me! The numbers arent changing here!"
"But " Sam forgot the guard standing nearby, the guard who was looking at him like hed lost his mind. "But the board, its its fine!" Sam said, indicating where the workmen were descending the ladder above them.
"I dont Sam, Im telling you, Ziggys sayin that Jim Evans still gets hurt."
"I dont understand."
"There doesnt seem to be a thing wrong with the board," one of the workmen said as he and his buddy approached Sam and the guard.
"Nothing wrong with it?" Sam asked.
"See, Evans? Nothings wrong with the board." The guard half-waved at the workmen. "Thanks, guys. Sorry for the false alarm."
whats going on?"
"Evans, you dont look so good. Are you talking to someone?"
Sam turned to face the guard. "What? Uh no."
"Hey, whats going on in here?"
Everyone turned to find the event coordinator walking through the door leading to the high dive pool.
"Nothing, Jay, Im sorry," the guard replied. "Evans here was convinced something was wrong with the thirty-foot."
"I-Im sorry, Mr. Deeks, I I guess its okay."
"Sam, I dont buy this."
"Neither do I, Al," Sam whispered fiercely.
"Evans, you say something?"
"Sam, lets get back to your room at the hotel."
Sam nodded to Al, who blinked out of existence.
"Evans," Jay Deeks said, grabbing Sams arm as he passed.
"I Ill be fine."
"Listen, tell you what you get a little more rest, Evans, Ill move you down in the order. Say sixth, maybe?"
Sam nodded, the coordinators words not even reaching his ears. "Fine. Thanks, Mr. Deeks."
With that, Sam, left.
"Somethings wrong with that young man," the guard said as he and Jay watched the door close behind Sams retreating form.
"I know. I hope moving him down will give him some time to shake whatevers eating him."
"He was talking to someone whos not there."
"I know. I know." Jay sighed and shook his head. "Sometimes the strain of competing is too much for these guys. Im going to head back to the office."
The guard took one last look around the pool area. "Ill walk you partway. Ive gotta use the head anyway."
Jay nodded and the two walked away.
Several minutes passed and the area was quiet, the only sound the pools filters, water lapping softly against the sides. Then a man appeared at the door. He walked into the pool area. He looked left. He looked right. There was no one around. No one to stop him.
He removed his baseball cap and smiled. It was none other than Dave Jeffries.
"Ah, Sam, there you are."
"Al, what is going on?"
"Well, what other interaction have you had with Dave Jeffries?"
"Interaction? Other than when I first leaped in, none. I I asked someone else who he was, thats the only reason I even know his name. Hes given me dirty looks from time to time, but I havent spoken to him."
Al frowned and punched at the handlink. "That blows my theory."
"Dammit, Al, what am I doing wrong?"
"I dont know, Sammy, I dont hey, wait a minute Ziggys got a pretty good idea here."
"Good. I could use one. What is it?"
"Well, Ziggy says you just shouldnt dive."
"You mean withdraw?"
"It makes sense. You dont get up there, you cant possibly fall on the broken board. Ergo, you dont get hurt. Ergo, you dont become a paraplegic."
"But then I also dont compete in the Olympics."
"Maybe you werent supposed to, Sam."
Sam looked at Al for a few minutes before heading into the bathroom to splash some water on his face. Al kept punching on the handlink, but Ziggy could give him nothing. Nothing at all.
"What?" Sam called from the bathroom.
"Ziggys coming up completely empty. Other than saying, of course, that you just shouldnt dive. Hes convinced you still dont compete in the Olympics, only this time not because you get hurt."
Sam came walking out of the bathroom, toweling his face dry. "So I guess I just go find Mr. Deeks and withdraw."
"I guess so, Sammy."
Al happened to glance at his watch, and his eyes widened.
"Al? What is it?"
"Sam, its nearly time for you to dive! You got five minutes! Theyll scratch you."
"No, Al, its okay. Deeks moved me down to sixth, I dont have to be there for at least another half hour."
"He he moved you down to sixth?"
"Yeah. He told me right before I left the dive area just now."
"Sam, who was in sixth before?" Al asked, punching at the handlink a few more times.
"I I dont know here, here." Sam picked up a piece of paper off the nightstand. "Here, lets see " he said, perusing it. He looked up at Al. "Jeffries. Dave Jeffries was sixth."
"So what, he gets bumped down?"
"Al, what if what if he gets bumped up?"
"What if Deeks what if he switched Evans and Jeffries?"
"Well, that would mean " Al cocked an eyebrow. "That would mean that Jeffries would dive first."
"On the sabotaged board."
"What if it wasnt sabotaged, though?"
Sam shook his head. "But what if it was?"
The men looked at each other and breathed, "Oh, boy."
The crowd had gathered. Nearly four hundred people crowded the stands. Olympic hopefuls lined the pool with their coaches, shaking their arms and legs, loosening their muscles in preparation for the only chance theyd have at the next Olympic games.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to todays Amateur Athletic Union of the United States tryouts for Olympic High-Dive!" boomed a voice over the loudspeaker system.
Al blinked into existence near the door leading into the pool area. He looked around and immediately spotted Dave Jeffries, whom Ziggy had easily found in their database. According to Ziggy, Dave was Al froze as he read the latest on his handlink. Dave was the one who got hurt. Not only hurt, he he died.
Als eyes widened just as Sam burst through the door. "Al, whats going on?"
Loud, raised voices from near the base of the diving ladder startled them both.
"Thats Jeffries," Sam said.
"I know, Sam."
"What are they arguing about?"
"Lets go find out."
As they drew closer, the exact content of the argument between the two men became clear.
"I will not go first, Deeks! I drew sixth!"
"You dont make the dive order around here, Jeffries, I do!"
"You dont have a choice!"
"Oh, yes, I do! Ill have you removed from the Olympic staff!"
"I am well within the boundaries of my duty to change the dive order as I see fit, Jeffries, and there isnt a damn thing you can do about it!"
"I am not going first." Dave Jeffries ground out.
"Then youll be disqualified."
Dave looked up at Sam, his jaw twitching. Then he looked back at Deeks. "Disqualify me, then, Deeks. Im outta here."
With that, Dave Jeffries picked up his towel and, much to his coachs consternation, marched past Al and Sam not failing to bump into Sam as he passed and was gone.
"He quit?" Al said, confused. He brought the handlink to eye level.
"Al, whats this mean?"
"I dont know, Ziggys running it through his programs."
"Ladies and Gentlemen, Dave Jeffries has been disqualified, I repeat, Jeffries from Kansas has been disqualified. That means our next diver up is Alan Shane from Indiana."
"Al, help me out here."
"Hang on, comin through now." Al stared at the handlink for a moment. "Whod that guy just say was up next?"
"Uh I dont know uh, Shane. Alan Shane. Why?"
"Hes gonna die, Sam."
"The board it is sabotaged. Sam, Alan Shane dies!"
Sam and Al both looked up the ladder. A man they could only assume was Alan Shane was halfway up already.
"No." Sam breathed. "No!"
"Sam!" Al yelled as his friend started climbing up the ladder faster than hed ever seen anyone move. He punched at the handlink, watching as the percentage chance of Alan Shane dying slowly began to go down. He looked back up. Sam was only about 10 rungs below Shane now. "Go, Sam. Go," he whispered.
Sam climbed. And he climbed and he climbed. Hand and foot, one over the other, faster and faster. He could see Alan Shane not too far ahead. "Alan!" he called out. "Stop!"
Whether it was the noise of the crowd or the booming voice of the announcer drowning out even being able to hear yourself think, Shane kept climbing the ladder, not even acknowledging Sams pleas.
"Alan! Stop! Please, dont!" Sam yelled even louder, to no avail. He continued climbing. He was almost on him.
They were almost at the top.
Down below, Al walked out into the pool. To anyone who couldve seen him, he looked like he was walking on water. His eyes peered up into the distance. "Cmon, Sam, watch yourself." He looked down at the handlink and his expression changed completely.
New information, Ziggy conveyed.
"What, Ziggy? What is it?"
There is a 97.8 percent chance that Dr. Beckett is going to die.
"No," Al breathed, looking back up at the diving board. "Sam!" he yelled out. He ran back across the pool to the base of the ladder. "Sam!"
Sam didnt hear him. He kept yelling to Alan Shane the innocent victim of another mans desire to win Olympic gold. A man who would do anything to get that gold.
Shane stepped up onto the diving board.
"Alan!" Sam practically screamed as his hands reached the edge of the board.
Alan Shane turned around. "Evans? What the hell?"
"Whatre you trying to do?" Shane asked as he backed up a step.
Just as he was about to hoist himself onto the board, Sam heard a sound that made him freeze.
The man took another step backwards.
"No!" Sam cried. He leapt up onto the board, grabbing Alan Shanes thighs and hurling him toward the hand railing near the back of the board.
Alan grabbed the railing, hanging on for dear life as his legs flew out from under him. He flailed for purchase, his feet finally finding the rungs of the ladder, which he clung to as his chest heaved from the exertion.
The momentum of him pushing Alan off the board to safety carried Sam out over the diving board. He felt his back hit the board and expected, at the very least, to bounce. Just as he hit it, the diving board let out a loud CRACK! and gave way.
Als mouth dropped open as a hush swept over the crowd. Time seemed to stop altogether as he ran back out into the pool. "Nooooo! Saaaaaaaam!"
Sam cried out as the board gave way. He felt himself falling. Falling. Falling. Further and further down.
"Al! Al!" he cried. "Heeeeeelp meeeeeeee!"
Al watched in horror as first the board, and then his best friend, hit the water of the pool like a ton of bricks.
He just laid there in the bed staring out the window. But his eyes didnt see it, or the clear blue sky that lay beyond. He had failed. Sam Beckett had failed. He had fallen from that sabotaged board anyway, fallen to the pool, his back cracking on the broken diving board as he hit the water.
He was paralyzed.
And that meant that Sam himself not Jim Evans was now a paraplegic. Sam hadnt only failed, hed failed miserably. He could do nothing but stare off into space. He would never leap because he hadnt put things right in this time. And hed never move again. Hed never get home. Even if he did somehow manage that, hed never walk. Or feed himself. Or clothe himself. Or be able to give someone a hug. Write tap at a computer hold a book
What had Al said back when hed been the soldier whod lost his legs?
Imagine waking up and finding your entire body has fallen asleep and it wont wake up.
A lone tear trickled out of his eye. It was hopeless. A hopeless situation, useless daydreams of somehow breaking out of this situation only making matters worse. And so his mind became a blank, the ache he felt at having, in a split second, lost everything his mobility his ability to leap everything consumed him to the point of near depression. And to top it all off, since falling he hadnt seen Al once. Not once.
And so all he could do was stare at the nothingness he felt creeping around his heart, around his mind enshrouding him like Deaths embrace, only leaving just enough room for him to continue to live.
In the corner of the room, something like a door opened, a bright white light silhouetting the man that stepped through before the door swished closed behind him. He stopped and stared at the prone figure before him, a lump rising in his throat. Hed been here almost constantly for the last three days, but this was the first time the eyes of the man in the bed had been open.
Al received no response. He took a step forward. "Sam? Hi. I, uh Im sorry I wasnt here when you woke up, kid."
"Weve had a coupla tremors here at PQL. Ziggys looking into the origin of it. He didnt think it was safe for me to come into the chamber, but I I just "
Al took another step forward. "Sam, will ya look at me? Cmon."
The hair stood up on the back of Als neck. Something wasnt right. "Ziggy, he acts like he cant hear me. Whats going on?"
Reports indicate no faults in chamber.
"Sam, can you see me?"
Al walked right up to the bed and leaned over, trying to get into Sams line of vision. Still, Sam showed absolutely no recognition that he could see him, let alone hear him.
Frowning, Al held up the handlink, punching a few buttons. "Sam, you did it, you changed history. You saved Alan Shane, and you kept Jim Evans from dying."
Al rubbed a hand down over his face, scratching his chin absently as he stared at Sam who looked to him like Jim Evans just lying on the bed.
The ground beneath his feet began to move. He swayed from side to side, trying to keep his balance. The sudden movement seemed to jolt Sam out of his stoic silence and stillness. His head whipped to the left.
"Sam? Sam, you can hear me? See me?"
"Al, whats going on?"
"Whoa," Al breathed as the ground finally stopped shaking. "Ziggy, what the hell was that?"
Sam felt something then. Something odd. His arms being to hurt to sting as though a hundred bees were stinging them. "Al? What happened?"
"Ziggy?" Al whacked the handlink a couple of times. "Gushie? Answer me!"
There was no response.
"Al, whats going on?"
"Okay? Do I look okay to you?" Sam turned his face away again. "Im paralyzed, Al. I cant move a damn thing."
"But Sam, Ziggy said you werent permanently injured."
Sam turned his head. "What?"
"Thats impossible, Al, I told you Al "
Al kept whacking the handlink.
"Al, my arms."
"What about em?"
"Theyre burning." Sam looked over at his friend, a shared smile gracing their features. "Theyre burning, Al! That means the feelings returning. Its returning!"
"See? I told you, Sam. Theres no need to go gettin all depressed."
"I wasnt" Sam was cut short by the look Al gave him. He smiled sheepishly. "I never could keep anything from you."
"No way, not Al Calavicci. I can wheedle anything outta anybody except " he hit the handlink a few more times before making like he was going to throw it to the floor.
"What is it, Al?"
Suddenly the floor beneath Al lurched again. He was thrown sideways and slipped down to one knee, his eyes wide with barely concealed fright.
"Im all right, kid. Im all right."
Just as Al stabilized his feet beneath him, the chamber lurched violently, throwing him back through the holographic wall, where he slammed into the wall of the chamber, then came flailing forward, sailing back into Sams hospital room again.
And then Albert Calavicci knew nothing but darkness.
"Al!" Sam cried as he watched his friend fall unconscious to the floor. "Al!"
But what the hell could he do? He couldnt even get out of bed. Then he remembered his arms. Theyd been tingling.
"I have to move," he whispered, willing his hands to move. Anything, even the smallest motion. His eyes darted from his hands, which lay atop the blanket, to Als body lying still on the floor. "Have to move."
He couldnt even tell for sure whether or not Al was breathing. "Al! Al, wake up!"
Al didnt stir.
He tried to move his hands. And tried and tried. Suddenly he caught movement out the corner of his eye. Als body shook and trembled as the chamber floor lurched again. It slid violently to the left, rolling him over and over, closer to the wall near the head of Sams hospital bed. He landed on his back, the handlink falling out of his hand, clattering to the floor.
He looked dead.
"Al!" Sam cried. "Dammit, Al!"
And then it happened. His finger his finger it it moved. "Aaa! Ha ha!" Sam crowed. "Thats it, thats it. Come on, you can do it."
He strained and strained. Suddenly his whole left arm twitched. "Yes!" Sam stared at his arm. Stared at it like all the willpower in the world would do the trick. And apparently it did, but on the other arm. Sam all-out grinned as his right arm bounced off the bed.
He turned to look down at where Al still lay unconscious on the floor. "Al! Im moving! Im doing it!" But Al didnt answer.
With all the effort he could muster, Sam hurled or tried to hurl himself out of the bed. Unfortunately for his head, which connected with the nearby mobile snack tray, he succeeded. With no ceremony, and many loud cries to go along with it, Sam went tumbling off the bed and onto the cold linoleum.
He lay there on his stomach for a moment, trying to catch the breath thatd been knocked out of him by the fall. He heaved and puffed, willing his arms to move. And slowly they did. He raised his head. Al was only a foot away now. Surely he could muster enough strength to make it a foot. He had to.
"I have to."
He pulled one arm up by the shoulder. Then the other. He had little motor control. His movements were jerky at best, downright infantile at worst. No balance, no sense of what his arms would do exactly when his neurons tried telling that part of his brain how to move them.
"Im coming, Al," he ground out, sweat beading his forehead. "Just hang on, pal. Im coming."
"Gushie, what the hell just happened?"
"I dont know!" Gushie coughed as electrical lines sparked and smoked around him. He crawled out from a small sinkhole that had formed in the floor. "Ziggy, whats going on?"
Verbena Beeks half ran, half fell down the long, metal staircase to the floor where Ziggy sat completely dark. "Gushie, are you okay?"
"Yeah," he coughed as she helped him up. "Im okay, Im fine. Ziggy!"
The computer did not respond.
"Gushie, see about bringing Ziggy up. Im going for Al."
"You got it." Gushie rushed to the computer, ripped the panel from one side of it and began tapping commands in at lightning speed.
When Bena reached the chamber door, she keyed in the unlock sequence. But nothing happened. She tried again. Power to the chamber was out. No matter what she did, the door wouldnt open.
"Al!" she called out, banging on the door. "Al!"
But it was no use. She ran back down the long tunnel, finally emerging into the control room. "Gushie! I cant get to Al! Theres no power to the chamber door!"
"Ziggys fried a circuit, Bena," Gushie replied, his eyes meeting hers. "Im gonna need help to get him back."
"Ill get help, you keep trying. We cant lose Sam and Al, Gushie. We cant."
"Im on it, Im on it."
Within minutes, five programmers and analysts were on the scene. They ran forward and more or less pushed Gushie out of the way. Bena was waiting as he turned his frantic face toward hers.
"What happened, Gushie? What the hell was that?"
"It had to have been an earthquake of some sort. Thats the only thing that makes sense."
"An earthquake? But there arent any faults around here. Al and Sam checked that out before they chose this location."
"I know, I know unless "
"You know all that nuclear testing that used to go on underground here?"
"What if somehow that weakened the earths crust here somehow creating a fissure or crack "
"And it moved and caused an earthquake," Bena finished, her eyes growing wide.
"My God," Gushie whispered. "Sam. Al."
They stood by helplessly as the men and women worked at bringing Ziggy back on line.
"I cant just stand here, Gushie. Tell me something I can do. Anything."
"Lets see maybe we can find out whats going on in the chamber at least."
"How?" Bena asked as she followed Gushies quick ascent back up to the Observation Lounge.
"By bringing the monitors back on line."
"So we can see Al?"
Gushie froze and turned to look at her. "I hope."
"Im coming Al."
Sweat poured off Sams brow as inch by agonizing inch he made his way across the floor, leaving wet trail of sweat behind him on the cold linoleum surface. Pain was etched into his face but he had to keep going.
You cant help him, Sam, hes a hologram to you.
"I dont care," he spat in response to his own thought. One arm jerked up, then down. The other jerked up, then down. He pulled and pulled until at last, if he could just get an arm to work, he could reach out
he held his hand above Als chest.
"I wish I wish I could touch you," he whispered, tears filling his eyes. "Al, can you hear me?"
Al didnt even stir, but as the first tears fell from Sams eyes, his vision cleared enough for him to notice the slight rise and fall of his friends chest.
"Oh, yes oh, thank God," he breathed, his forehead dropping to the floor. The strength in his outstretched arm completely gone, Sam let it fall.
But it didnt fall as far as he expected it to.
And when it fell, it didnt hit cold, hard linoleum.
He gasped and raised his head. His hand was lying on Als chest.
On it was it was on Als chest.
Sam let out an involuntary sob.
"Almost got it almost got it " Gushie intoned as Bena looked on. "Ah! Now! Try it now, Bena!"
Bena hit the switch and suddenly a monitor came crackling to life. At first it showed nothing but static. Slowly slowly a picture formed. And as the camera flooded the chamber with light, Bena cried out and rose to her feet.
"What is it?"
"Youve gotta get that chamber door open!"
"Im on it!" Gushie called out over his shoulder as he made his way down the metal stairs.
Bena turned back toward the monitor. She thought for a moment her eyes were deceiving her or that there was something wrong with the monitors picture because for a moment, she couldve sworn she saw Al move. And yet he wasnt conscious, of that she was certain. Then how how could he have moved?
She continued staring at the picture. Suddenly, Als head bobbed up, then back down a little but when it came back down, it wasnt touching the floor. Slowly she sank back into a chair, her eyes never leaving the screen.
"Gushie?" she said, her voice barely above a whisper. She tore her eyes from the screen and scanned for her coworker. "Gushie!!!"
"What?" she heard his voice echo down the tunnel.
She waited. She could hear Gushie puffing up the stairs. She watched as Als head, neck and shoulders continued to move. "Jesus Christ," she breathed.
"What is it, Bena?" Gushie asked, rushing to her side.
"Look, Gushie. Just look."
They both looked at the picture. Their eyes widened.
"You know what that looks like,
"Yes, I do," she replied, her fingertips reaching up to touch the monitor. "It looks like someones holding him."
"My God, Bena. You dont think "
Sams chest heaved as tears streamed down his face. How it had happened, he couldnt fathom, but suddenly his memories came flooding back quantum physics the project Al the leaps Gushie Bena Ziggy everything. It was all there. All of it.
And his hand it was touching Al.
"Al," he choked, grasping the fabric of Als red silk pajama top in his hand. He pulled with what was left of his strength, pushing off the floor with his left hand. He finally made it close enough for his head to rest on Als chest. Tears soaked Als top as Sam whispered his name over and over again.
He jerked one arm to the floor near Als head, then moved it beneath, lifting his head off the floor. He used his left arm to haul himself closer. His legs were still useless, but Sam was determined to get closer. Finally he rested alongside Als unconscious form, his right arm pulling his head into Sams chest, his left arm moving to Als opposite shoulder.
He rested his cheek on the top of Als head, reveling in the feel of his curly hair against his skin, of the slow movement of Als breaths coming steady and strong. "Am I home?" he whispered, his mind begging him to stop torturing his body. Slowly Sam felt himself slipping away as the last of his strength waned.
"No. I wont let go, Al. Please wake up. Tell me youre okay," he whispered, sniffling a little. "Share this with me, Al. I can feel you. I can feel you."
But the strain had been more than he could take in his fragile state. Just as the light began to fade, as the world began to close in on him, he whispered, "I love you, Al."
Bena and Gushie knew that what they were seeing was someone cradling Al in their arms. And even though they couldnt actually see that person, it took nothing for them to be thoroughly convinced it was none other than Dr. Beckett.
Gushie ran helter-skelter down the metal stairs, determined more than ever to help the crew find a way into the chamber. If Sam was in there with Al if he was finally home they had to get them out. They just had to.
Bena watched as Als head and shoulders seemed to drop just a bit. She frowned. What was happening? She didnt even blink as she continued to stare at the screen. Suddenly Al dropped back to the floor, as though
as though the one whod been holding him who may have been solid for just a few moments was once again nothing more than a hologram.
"No," she whispered, fingers rising to the screen again. "Sam."
Sam awoke to find Al standing on the right side of his hospital bed, a doctor on the other.
"Welcome back, Mr. Evans," the doctor said. "How are you feeling?"
"Like my best friend died," he croaked, with a meaningful look in Als direction.
Al just gave him a lopsided smile as the doctor tut-tutted until at last, he left them alone.
"Al, you youre okay."
"Yeah, kid, Im fine. I see your arms are moving pretty well now."
"Yes," Sam smiled. "It looks like Jim Evans is on his way to a speedy recovery."
Silence thick with unspoken sentiment hung in the air between them.
"What happened to PQL, Al?"
"Well, best Ziggy can figure they got him back on line a couple days ago best he can figure is what Gushie and Bena already came up with, and thats that a fissure was created beneath PQL from all the nuclear testing they did here all those years ago."
"I get it," Sam replied, glad for something non-sentimental to wrap his brain around. "And when the plates moved beneath the surface of the earth, the fissures presence caused an earthquake."
"Thats how Ziggy sees it."
They were silent again. Sam desperately wanted to reach out, to see if Al was still real. If he could still touch him.
"Am Al, am I did I go home?"
Als face softened, and his dark eyes seemed to become moist. "Beeks told me Sam, Bena said she she said the only thing live after the chamber went was the monitor, and that she saw "
"She saw someone picking me up, almost like they were like they were cradling me in their arms or something. But she couldnt see anyone there except me."
Sam smiled sadly and nodded. "That was me, Al. I could I touched you. I touched you and felt you breathing, I I held you in my arms."
Al blinked his eyes in rapid succession.
"I wanted you to know, I wanted you to feel it, Al. For the first time since I leaped, I was able to touch you."
"I wish I hadnt conked out on you, kid, Id have liked to have felt that myself."
"Im just glad youre all right."
Al had the good grace to look uncomfortable as hell. "Yeah, you know us Calaviccis, Sammy. Hearty and hale, thats us. A little shake and quake cant take me."
Sams face morphed from sadness into that look that look Al knew all too well.
"Al, thats it!"
"Whats it, kid?"
"I came halfway home. Thats the only explanation. Whatever was happening when Ziggy went went "
Sam nodded enthusiastically. "Kablowie, whatever was happening at that precise moment, that combined with the sudden power loss, and my proximity to you Al, dont you see?? If I could come halfway home if I could touch and smell and feel you then Al, whats to say if we recreate it that I wont come back all the way?"
Als face was full of hope. "Do you think thats really possible, Sam?"
"I was in that chamber. I was there, Al, there with you. Bena saw me holding you, even if she didnt see me. Listen to me, you have to try. Maybe I didnt only leap into Jim Evans to keep him from dying. Maybe I leaped into him "
" to find your way home."
Sam nodded. He turned to look into his best friends eyes. Of its own volition, one hand reached out toward him but sailed right through Als stomach. Once again, he was nothing more than a hologram.
Disappointment was evident on Sams face. "I touched you, Al," he whispered forlornly.
Just as Al opened his mouth to speak, that familiar blue light engulfed his friend, streaks of blue lightning flashing here and there. Just like that, Sam was gone.
"I wish I couldve felt it, Sam," Al whispered as he looked down at the real Jim Evans lying in the bed before him. "I wish I couldve felt it, too."
Sam blinked his eyes open as the now familiar electrical spinning rush faded. He heard a voice behind him speak.
"You all right there, Alex?"
Sam knew immediately where he was. He turned and looked at the woman who had spoken. "Uh yeah, yeah, Im fine."
"Okay, then get the cart, would you? Its time to serve the drinks."
"The cart right, right." Sam was on a passenger jet. He looked at the rows upon rows of people before him as the flight attendant hed just talked to walked toward the back of the plane. Then he turned and headed for the galley, which he knew to be up in front of first class. Hed taken enough airplane rides as a passenger in his time to pretty much just know the layout.
When he reached the galley, he noticed someones compact sitting on the counter. He reached out and grabbed it, closed his eyes, and slowly opened the compact. Then he allowed himself to look.
Staring back at him was somewhat peaked, bird-like face, the face of a young man who couldnt have been more than twenty. Then he looked down at his body, and found he was wearing the same uniform the flight attendant had been wearing. He looked at his chest, and saw a gold nameplate hanging there, which simply said, Alex.
Im a flight attendant named Alex, he thought as he turned to look back at the cabin.
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