With A Little Help: Part I
By: Sue Johnson
Episode #003

March 16th, 1984

 

Prologue

Elevator—Starbright Project Complex, New Mexico
Friday, March 16th, 1984

6:30 AM


Again, as he found himself doing every morning for a whole month following Miss Elesee's reinstatement, Sam was riding the elevator down to Level 21. Even before breakfast he felt the need to look-in on the orb in the 'glass room'. Four week's ago, he had been so exalted in Donna's decision to stay on, that the connotation of what had taken place hadn't quite begun to sink in and even now he wasn't sure of what had or would come to pass.

Then, as with every morning, the orb had greeted him with its enthused tentacles of electric energy and he swore that every day, it glowed even brighter in his presence. To Sam's disappointment however, there had been no more growth in its size and he wondered how that could be.

Donna had noticed it too and had even commented on it once when she was observing the sphere when had Sam walked in. She had also given the impression of being angry and that Doctor Beckett's entry had thwarted her current experiment. "Now I'm gonna have to start all over," she'd said, somewhat irritated. But after seeing the reaction from the sphere at Doctor Beckett's presence she had calmed a little from her irritation but she wasn't going to show Doctor Beckett her excitement. No, she was going to stay as aloof as ever. "I'm beginning to think, that those five month's in Utah were all in vain. I've not gotten a spark of a reaction from any of the samples that I'd worked so hard on acquiring."

"Donna," he'd said as he'd approached her. "Perhaps… perhaps you need to look at things from a different perspective?"

He now thought back at her reactions, every time since, when he'd tried to get close to her, she'd pushed him away; making some excuse as to being too busy to chitchat or of some absurd pretext that she was late for being somewhere else. If Sam hadn't known better, he would have taken her rebuttal as a brush-off. Now, he bit his tongue at his words and realized that Donna disliked his criticism but he knew somewhere deep down inside that hard shell of an exterior, there was a woman longing to be loved.



PART ONE

As the elevator doors opened his thoughts returned to the present, hoping that he would see Donna in that central arena that between them, they had nicknamed the crystal lab.

Again, Sam was disappointed when he was informed by one of the technicians, that he'd just missed Miss Elesee. Only minutes before, she had taken the stairs to one of the upper levels and on this occasion she'd said that she didn't have time to wait for the elevator.

'Typical,' Sam thought and looked longingly into the direction which the technician pointed, he wanted to follow her but he shook his head sadly when he realized that he didn't have a clue as to which level she'd be on, she could be on any of the many levels within the complex.

"Never mind, I'll catch her later," he said to the technician and continued his way to the crystal lab. He looked back absently, ever hopeful that she might return but in his heart he didn't hold out for too much optimism.

Doctor Beckett unlatched the case that held the globe but instead of its usual vibrancy, this time, he was greeted with a feeble ebbing glow.

"So…" Doctor Beckett addressed the orb. "You're feeling down in the dumps too?" he asked and traced a subtle finger over the orb's silky surface. The tingle he received was instant but the once voluptuous radiance didn't improve any. "At least you've seen her today, that's more than I can say for me," he continued dejectedly. "I don't seem to be able to get within five feet of her lately, even before she sees me, she's off somewhere else, it's as if she can sense my imminent presence. Any suggestions pal?"

Again, he stroked delicately at the outer shell but this time the tingle was different. As if the sphere was imparting unto him some of its electrical charge and immediately he withdrew his hand. But the sphere was reluctant to let Doctor Beckett's sudden hand retraction go unheeded and an outstretched feeler shot forth and into the back of his retreating hand.

"Ouch," Sam squealed as the pain from the unexpected sting jetted up his arm. "What the hell was that for?" he asked as he tweaked his shoulder and held the throbbing site on the back of his hand

The globe brightened for a split second and then dimmed to a murky blue.

"I'll come back later, when you're in a better mood," Sam admonished as he slammed the casing closed and then turned his back.

Before even one of his long strides could be implemented, something told him to about turn. It was as if there was a voice and, yet not a voice, spiritually, telling him to look again.

"Only if you promise not to do that, ever again," he said analytically, only turning is head ever-so slightly so that he could watch for any signs of a reaction.

The orb brightened and again that voice, that disembodied voice, telling him forlornly that it was, sorry.

"Only if you're sure," Sam directed towards the sphere.

The interpolation continued until he realized that eyes were now scrutinizing his every metaphorical move and he smiled awkwardly.

'They think I'm the mad scientist,' Sam rationalized, 'and I don't blame them, I think I'm must be going mad too.'

He turned abruptly back to the sphere. "I have to go now… but we will finish this conversation later," he uttered through the corner of his mouth and as he turned to leave, he added, "…you can be certain of that."

As Doctor Beckett hastily retuned to the elevator, he could sense all eyes were upon him and he, not being a man to take pleasure in attention, felt very awkward and exceptionally uncomfortable. He breathed a deep sigh when eventually, the elevator doors opened and he could step into its seclusion. Just before the doors closed him in, he heard the tittering and muttering voices rise up again. No doubt discussing what they'd witnessed and Sam, once again felt a flush of embarrassment rise lucratively from within his chest and up to the top of his head. His thoughts were a confusion of questions, all of which needed answers and he decided then, that he would return that very same night, when he knew the lab to be deserted.

Not until the elevator was well on its way to the ninth floor, did Doctor Beckett start to relax. But still an impatient foot tapped on the metal floor as he counted up through the levels. As the doors slid open, the mixed aroma from the cafeteria reminded his stomach that he hadn't eaten in a long while and as he made his way over to the counter, he saw Donna Elesee seated at a far table, almost hidden in a corner.

Unthinking, he chose an ensemble of assorted dishes, arranging them precariously on the inadequately sized tray. He then turned to where he'd seen Doctor Elesee settled and only two strides into his advancement, his heart sank, as once again Donna thwarted his company.

"How does she do it?" Sam muttered in exasperation and to no one in particular as he watched her stroll across the span of the room and towards the only exit, imparting him no heed. Sam hastily looked about him to place his tray down but the surrounding tables were all occupied and when he caught sight of her again, it was between the closing doors of the elevator.

The din and chattering around him became intolerable and Sam groaned earnestly at yet another lost opportunity, and self-consciously alert, he made his way toward the next vacant table and sat down. He forked at the food on his plate numbly, none of it reaching his mouth, before pushing the tray aside. After a few moments of staring blankly at the elevator doors, he rose as inconspicuously as possible from his seat, all the time watching for people's reactions.

No sooner had he returned to the elevator when the doors opened and a disgruntled Albert Calavicci burst through them. "You don't know what you've gone and put me through, Samuel!" he enunciated, grabbing Doctor Beckett by the arm, blocking Sam's hasty retreat.

Sam studied the Captain with puzzlement.

"I swear, not a drop has passed my lips in over a month and still they slap this on me!" Al scorned as he swiped the back of his hand across a crumpled sheet of paper.

"What? W-what have they…?"

"This! Damn CIA, you'd think they run this place!"

"I suppose, in a way, they do run…" Sam grimaced placidly but still curious as to how the Captain could be blaming him, and for what.

"Oh that's it, take that approach, that's what all'uve you civilians think! Highest rank knows best, when all they know is Jack sh…"

"Al!" Sam cut-in sharply. Through the corner of his eye he could see everyone turning in their seats and staring in his direction. It was bad enough with the tittering, without the Captain adding to it. Al knew that he hated being watched and now he felt as though he was under further scrutiny with his outlandish display of behavior. "Al, are you gonna calm down and tell me what you're going on about?"

"They should get their facts straight first," the Captain goaded. "Afore they start jumping to theologies."

The elevator doors started to slide shut but Sam managed to stop them, he didn't relish waiting the eternity for them returning. "Conclusions," Doctor Beckett corrected. "Before they start jumping to conclusions."

"So you do agree with me then?" the Captain grinned readily.

"It would be nice to know as to what I am agreeing with you, on?" Sam solicited tactfully and took a further buffeting from the abrupt closure of the doors.

"This! They're saying 'cos of my drinking, I'm a security risk—go on read it!" Al admonished, slapping fiercely at the paper again before thrusting it into Sam's hand. "You won't guess what they've gone and done—only demoted my security clearance from level one down to six."

"Al!" Sam jibed, straining to stop the hefty doors from closing.

"They just might as well fire me and have done with it," Al rebuked soulfully.

Sam could feel piercing eyes burning into his back and he glanced warily behind him. "Al!"

"Level six! I mean, what use is level six to me, in my position, I ask ya?"

"Al! This is neither the time nor the place to be discussing your relegation," Sam declared as he forcibly ushered the Captain into the elevator and pushed him into the corner. "I'll have a word with them, okay?" he nodded intently and resolutely, he pressed the button for the 15th floor.

"I thought you'd already had words?"

"I did but I had no idea that they were…"

"Samuel Beckett, do you think they're gonna listen to what you have to say? When those butt-brained weasels sink their teeth in, do you think they're gonna let go?"

"You're still here ain't ya?" Sam watched as the irate Captain began to cool down a little. "I mean, I must have some influence otherwise…"

"Yeah, yeah, okay. There's no need to rub it in. But Sam… I think Paddy has had a helping hand in this too."

"Paddy? I didn't think you'd be into the 'Saint's Days'?" Sam asked quizzically.

"Yeah, most of my friends were Irish and tomora is Saint Patrick's Day, 17th March. The patron saint of the little people and compared to the big wigs, we're all little people needin' all the help we can get."

"T-the 17th? So today's the…" Sam said thoughtfully, every day to him seemed the same, he hadn't realized the date and now he felt a little narked at himself for forgetting.

"You mean… you don't know what the date is? Samuel… I mean," Al laughed mockingly, shaking his head.

"Yes, I do know what day it is, thank you… It's Friday, and quit calling me Samuel, will ya? Even with Paddy on your side, I could take the side of the CIA and then you'd really be out on your butt."

"Okay Sam," Al said brusquely. "You've got it; from now on it'll be Sam. Okay, now where are we going?"

"To my office, I need to set up a meeting with Ross Adams… erm… he is the one that got your privileges revoked, right?" Sam asked scanning his eyes again through to the bottom of the memo.

"Him and his cronies. Erm, though Sam, before you do, I need to give you a little advice." Al subjugated. "Be careful of what you say to Adams, these government officials have an uncanny knack of undermining the ethics of principalities."

"I thought him to be very helpful; he didn't strike me as being in the least bit…"

"Believe me Sam, I'm going on gut feeling here and believe it or not, I've had a hell'uve a lot to gain from my gut before, trust me."

'Trust? That's a laugh, trust an alcoholic?' but as Doctor Beckett straightened his shoulders, he knew that deep down inside Al could be trusted. With his instincts and Al's gut feelings, he began to appreciate, there and then, that they would make a great team and he would argue that fact to anyone who tried to prove him wrong.

The descent of the next two floors was made in silence as the two men studied each other. Al thinking, how on earth Doctor Beckett could get him out of the mess he was in and Sam, wondering, if he should tell the Captain about his recent encounter with the orb. Neither man said a word long after the two had entered Doctor Beckett's office.

Al, plunked himself into a brown leather easy-chair and reached into his inside pocket, pulling out a cigar, whilst Sam strode over to his desk and proceeded to lift the receiver and dial the number for Adams' office.

Whilst Sam waited for a reply, Al was the first to break the silence. "So, where's all your books?" he asked as he noticed the bare shelves.

"Don't need 'em," Sam replied tapping an index finger to his temple. "Every word I've ever read is all up here."

The Captain blinked ruefully in astonishment. "And your research notes?"

Again, Doctor Beckett tapped his finger. "Photographic memory, everything's up here, securely locked away 'til it's needed."

"Handy," Al commented. "No scraps of paper to lose and no one looking over your shoulder at your notes." He nodded wistfully. "Wish I could do that, I'm always losing those darned scraps of paper."

Sam laughed but he could see that the Captain was deep in thought as he puffed away at the stodgy cigar that was held so deftly between an equally stodgy finger and thumb. Sam wrinkled his nose when the smoke began to drift over in his direction.

"Either that or get me a pretty secretary, yeah… a real cute one." Al gestured the female form with his hands, "With nicely curved kazoo…"

Sam interrupted with a wave of his hand as he spoke into the telephone, "Ross Adams, please." He then paused as the speaker on the other end responded.

The Captain covertly strained to listen to the conversation from the other party but the voice was too quiet to even catch one word.

He needn't have worried though because he heard Sam say: "I see, not until Monday, well in that case tell him that Sam Beckett will be down to see him first thing Monday morning."

Again a pause and Al shifted uneasily in his chair.

"No, I do not wish to leave a message. I would like to speak with Mr. Adams in person and no, I do not wish to tell you what it is concerning. I think the subject matter should remain between myself and Mr. Adams. Just tell him that I will expect to be seen promptly at 8 o'clock."

'Right on! I think you and I, Sam Beckett, are gonna get along great guns. We are one of the same mind.' Al thought as Sam replaced the receiver and turned to him with a frown.

Al shrugged his shoulders. "No need to tell me, I think I caught the gist of that conversation, alright," Al said pensively and then added as an afterthought. "And how are you getting along with the delightful Donna?"

Sam pouted, his eyebrows raised. "You tell me!"

"The old Beckett charm not working then?" Al asked as he flicked the ash from his cigar into the palm of his hand and ground it to dust with his fingers.

"I think I'd have more luck with that Miss, erm, Pringle, in the typing pool."

"Miss Pringle?" Al almost bit off Sam's head. "Awww no, Sam, you can do better than her! She reminds me of my old school ma'am back in the orphanage!"

"You—you were an orphan?"

"Yeah… but that's a long story, pal and something I don't wanna discuss right now."

Sam sat on the corner of his desk to face the Captain and seeing the expression on the Captain's face, he knew that that subject was now a closed issue.

"What is it with her, Al? It's not as if I'm some kind of ogre. How do I come across to you, I'm not being too assertive, am I?"

"Just the opposite pal, I don't think you're being assertive enough. You need to grab the bull by the horns," Al advised, discreetly blowing the ash into the atmosphere.

"Rope her in, you mean?" Images of him being on the farm sprang into Sam's head, lassoing a young calf and he had to bite at his lip to stop himself smiling.

"Exactly, let her know she's being pursued, instead of all that dilly-dallying you're doing."

"Dilly-dallying?" Sam laughed. "I've not heard that idiom used in a long time. I remember my grandmother saying that to Tom and me, when we were kids." Sam looked down at his feet as he began to rub one shoe fretfully against the other.

Al cocked his head to one side. "Anything wrong kid, is she wearing you down that much?"

"No Al, just brought up a memory I'd sooner forget about, that's all," Sam fidgeted.

"Hmmm," Al pondered. "Strange things memories, why is it you all'us remember the things you want to forget?"

Sam didn't reply, he really didn't want to talk about it.

"Women, huh? Can't live with 'em and can't live without 'em."

"If only I'd been given that choice." Sam rubbed a weary hand over his face. "My whole life, I've thrown myself into my work, my childhood dream."

"Nothing wrong in dreaming pal, I can tell you. I've done my fair share of dreaming too." It was now Al's turn to feel despondent. "I think everyone has, at one time or another."

"Until today, I thought that's all it would ever be, just a dream but now I'm not so sure." Still Sam held back at telling Al about his encounter with the orb, the time didn't seem right, somehow.

"So kid, what is this dream of yours? A harem full of gorgeous women?" Al grinned.

Sam couldn’t help but chuckle and blush slightly at the Captain's amorous innuendos. "No Al, quite the opposite, in fact, I've never had an altercation with a gorgeous woman, let alone a harem full of them."

"Altercation? With a woman? Is that what you think of them? Though, come to think of it, with some women I suppose it may seem like a challenge. Hmmm. Come to think of it, I wish I hadn't." Al looked at Doctor Beckett somewhat bemused. "You mean to say you've never been with a woman before? A man of your age, come off it Sam, you're kidding right? You're not still a vir…"

"Al! I thought we were talking about our dreams," Doctor Beckett spouted, his face turning beetroot red.

"You are! You're still a virg…" Al teased gleefully, sucking in on the cigar and blowing out a couple of perfectly circular smoke rings.

"Drop it will you, Al? So okay, what if I am? There's no law that says you have to have relations with every woman you meet."

"And there's no law that says you can't, either. You don't know what you're missing pal, being with a woman is like being an astronaut. There's that full force of the rockets behind you and then comes the countdown and when those rockets fire—well it's like you're being jettisoned into outer space and then, then there's the floating back to earth, on that canopy of silk. I tell ya kid, you ain't lived."

"Okay Al, I get the picture!" Sam rebutted, feeling slightly in awe of this man before him.

Al's eyebrow rose as a thought occurred to him. "Do you want me to have a word with Doctor Elesee?"

"NO! Al, don't you dare!" Doctor Beckett jumped up from the desk and started pacing. "I think, just having me to contend with for the moment is enough for her for now. I'm sure she'll come around eventually."

"You could be in for a long wait." Al puffed again on his cigar.

"I'm prepared for that. I'm not gonna force any woman into anything she doesn't want to do, that's not me."

The Captain sat upright in the chair, questioning Sam. "And you're saying that I am?"

"No Al, of course not! I'm not saying that at all. What I'm trying to say is that we are two different people. You have your way of dealing with things and I have mine, just let's agree to differ on this subject, okay?"

"Okay!"

"Now can we please talk about something else, something relevant, we are being paid to work?" Sam stood with his back to the Captain, not wanting to take this conversation further.

"You might be, but I'm redundant, remember? I no longer have adequate security clearance to do the job I'm being paid for."

"Think of it as paid leave," Sam suggested turning back to face Al. "I'm sure you and Tina can think of something to occupy your time until I see Adams first thing Monday." He winked mischievously, indicating to Al that he wasn't the prude that he was making him out to be.

"I suppose, if I'd've known what Adams was planning I'd've taken leave to New York City with Gooshie, instead of sloping around here all this time with nothing to do."

"Gooshie's taken leave? When was this and why wasn't I informed?" Sam asked shocked that he'd been kept out of the loop. "We were supposed to be working together today; it was all planned the other afternoon."

"Oh my God! I've really goofed now, haven't I?" Al rubbed at his chin, knocking the ash from his cigar and brushing it from his leg with his other hand. "Sam, Adams knows nothing of Gooshie's absence, I told Goosh that it would be okay for a few days and that I would cover for him," the Captain divulged. "How was I to know that I'd end up in deep ca-ca? Whatever you do Sam, don't tell Adams that Gooshie hasn't been here, if you do, then I'll be on the chopping block for sure, not to mention what he'll do to Gooshie and it ain't his fault. I gave the authorization."

"When did he go and when's he due back?"

"Thursday evening and he's due back sometime Sunday," Al answered.

"He's been gone two days? You could at least have told me Al!" Sam stated assertively.

"I was, well… that was before I got that damned memo and the whole darned thing went clear outta my head. I know it shouldn't've but it did and I'm sorry, Sam," the Captain apologized profusely. "But I haven't seen you for as many days and… and…"

"Okay Al, so… any ideas what we should do now, those tests Gooshie and I were gonna perform today, Adams wants the results on his desk by nightfall Sunday."

"No problemo! Adams ain't here so, we've got until Monday to get them tests done and get the results in."

"Problemo numero uno!" Sam reminded the Captain. "Your security clearance won't get you down to Level 21 never mind into the crystal lab."

"The crystal lab?" Al laughed boldly. "Who came up with that choice name?"

"Donna… well me really but she agreed… but that was before she went all uppity on me."

"Then she's the one you should be running the tests with, I'll go and see her right away and explain something or other to her."

Sam looked at him quirkily.

"Hey pal, could be worse, at least this way she can't avoid being with you and run out of the room yellin' an' screamin' and pulling her hair out by the roots."

'It might work,' Sam smiled.

Al dropped the remnants of his cigar into the metal trashcan besides Sam's desk before leaving in search of the elusive Doctor Elesee. He hadn't a clue as to where she would be located. His search was now limited to the upper 15 floors, his clearance card wouldn't permit him to go any further than his office on the 15th level and that's where he went first to engage the services of one, Tina Martinez-O'Farrell in his quest. She knew all about Gooshie leaving so abruptly, he'd spent the night with her and she was upset at the news of Gooshie's sister, Catherine, being taken ill with the recent virus that was plaguing the whole of the east coast, right down to the border with Argentina.

Tina was hoping that the virus would peter out before spreading further west and reaching her home town of Mason City in Iowa, her mother was frail enough as it was, without the added misery of that nasty new virus.

"Hey, Al!" Doctor Beckett's unnaturally loud voice echoed down the long passageway, yanking the Captain from his flighty imagination.

Al stopped and turned from whence he came and saw Doctor Beckett's outline silhouetted against the brightly lit backdrop of the central cavern. It was an eerie sight and he had to blink a few times before he could trust in what it was he was seeing.

"When you see Don—Doctor Elesee," Sam had already decided against the Captain's advice; to keep it formal with Donna for the time being. Instead of him doing all the running, he thought that possibly, nature could take over. After all, he had nothing to lose. "Tell her to meet me in my lab, okay? I've already wasted much of this morning and I really have to get that problem with the energy circuits organized before Sunday night, with or without any help."

"Okay pal, consider it done." Al waved Sam off with a solitary gesture of his hand and as he turned back, he heard the click of Sam's office door and his footsteps heading in the opposite direction.

The Captain didn't move, he was too mystified by what he'd seen and, tilting his head, he half turned his body to where Sam had been standing. Nothing eerie about the scene now but nevertheless, he still shook is head with disbelief.

"Nah!" the Captain waved his upturned hand and shrugged, "Impossible!" Then continued to his office.



_ - o O o - _

Tina lifted the biotech goggles and rubbed at her eyes to adjust them to normal focus. Four hours of working with the micro-circuitry had taken its toll. She swore that every new chip she created was going to be smaller and more efficient. Already, in only six months, she had gotten the dimensions of the latest chip down to 100th of the original's size. But now she considered redesigning the biotech goggles with stronger lenses to accommodate the miniaturization of each infinitesimal juncture contained on the slither of silicone.

As she turned the ridged frames over in her hand, she felt the gentle touch of a hand placed on her shoulder.

"Doctor, Doctor Martinez? Your bleeper?" a soft voice in her ear disclosed.

Without even turning around, she answered, "Thank you Jack. Boy, do I need a break, you know, I never heard the stupid thing go off!" She looked up into the smiling face of lab technician, Jack Waterfield who was now reaching over her shoulder to retrieve the beeper.

"You work too damn hard," he beamed but his smile soon faded when he read the sender's name on the small screen and as he handed the device to his colleague, he added under his breath, "too damn hard!"

"Thanks again Jack, whatever would I do without you looking out for me?"

"Less work and more play, that's for sure. The Capt'n certainly has you under his thumb."

Tina gave Jack a sideways glance. "And what do you mean by that?"

"Apart from your own job, he has you running round in circles, do this, do that. It's no wonder you're exhausted."

"It may seem that way to you, but I can assure you that isn't the way it's intended."

"You could've fooled me, he's an old-fashioned slave driver, if you ask me."

"No one's asking you and you would do well to keep your opinions to yourself around here. You know how the people here like to gossip."

"There's no need to take that attitude Doctor, I was only expressing my opinion!"

Tina stood abruptly, aggressively pushing her chair to the side. "Well, don't in future!" she said harshly and stomped off, giving Jack a brief backwards glare before leaving the lab.



_ - o O o - _

The Captain sat impatiently at his desk. Every now and again he sharply struck the base of his pen onto the desk's surface and blinked with the sound of each biting crack.

"Come on Tina, what the hell's taking you so long?" he grumbled loudly but jumped expectantly when the telephone rang.

Before the first tone had faded, Al grabbed the handset, "Tina, is that you?"

"Sure it is Al," Tina clicked her tongue. "Now what do you want me for, that's so urgent?"

"Donna, is Donna in the lab with you?"

"Nah, I ain't seen her all mornin', though she could be in one of the other labs," Tina reported and slurped up a mouthful of the hot coffee she'd just picked up from the vending machine.

"If you're not too busy, do you think could you find her for me? Doctor Beckett needs her assistance… due to that matter we were discussing the other night, ya know, about absenteeism," Al lowered his tone to almost a whisper.

"You mean Goo…" Tina bubbled forth, not quite getting the full name out.

"No! Shush, don't say anything!" Al stopped her barely in time. "Sweetie, walls and even your phone could have ears, ya know!"

"Oh right, I didn't think of it like that. Anyway, what's wrong with you findin' her?"

"Long story, but I will tell you all about it later, promise."

"I'm just taking a break so… I guess I could search her out."

"Good girl… Now Tina, you must tell Donna that she's to meet Sam in his office as soon as possible… oh and Tina… no dawdling, I know what you're like when you girls get chatting."

"Oki-doki Al, anything else while I'm here?"

"No sweetie, just don't work too hard and strain those pretty little eyes of yours."

"Oh Aaal, you're such a cutie. Byzi-wyzi, see you later, hon."

"But not much later, I hope, remember B.U.R.M.A.?" he grinned then even broader when he heard Tina's promising titter.

"Naughty Al, not in office hours but later when we're alone."

"Very alone," he clucked and then to himself as he hung up, "Now what?"

Leaning on his desk with an elbow, he cupped his chin in his hand, his other fingers tapping in turn on the desktop as bored rigidity began to strike into his muscles. "Suppose all that's left is the gawddamned awful boring stuff," he finished as he opened a desk drawer and pulled out a thick and mismatched wad of official papers.

 

_ - o O o - _

First, Tina looked-in on the most likely place, the glass room, but Doctor Elesee wasn't there, then her eyes scanned each of the six hexagonal sections in-turn, each section enclosing individual laboratories. Though Tina didn't know which section Donna would be in, she had a good idea as to where in each sector she could be.

Doctor Elesee had numerous workstations and she could be at any one of them. Monitoring one thing in one locale, testing something in another or even putting something together at another. Quite often she'd marveled at Doctor Elesee's abilities and diversification, she had her finger in countless pies and her pulse on many.

At the 10 o'clock position from the elevator, she saw Donna's head bob up for no longer than a couple of seconds, she was in the microbiology lab working in the company of Toni Fisher and Mark Taylor.

Toni specialized in microbiology but when the opportunity arose for her to work alongside Doctor Elesee, she jumped at it, saying that she'd always wanted to broaden her horizons and this was the perfect opportunity and wouldn't miss it for the world.

Mark however, had always been focused on microbiology from the very beginning and was pleased with the appointment of Doctor Elesee. Though many years her senior, Mark learnt a great deal from the young doctor and excelled in his learning curb and soon attained the title of executive biologist.

As Tina approached the studious team, Donna looked up from her workbench and Tina beckoned her over.

After exchanging a few pleasantries chatting with her colleagues, Donna edged to Tina's side. "It's not very often we see you in biology Doctor Martinez, what can I do for you?"

"Al, err," Tina stumbled in awe of her champion. "Capt'n Calavicci asked me to deliver a message."

"Typical," Donna tutted. "Just like him to interrupt a worker's schedule to pass on his messages. I don't see why he can't deliver this message in-person, it's not as if he's not down here all the time."

"I think he's tied up with some official stuff, up top," Tina explained. "But I think it's pretty important though."

"It had better be!" Donna seemed somewhat irritated at the interruption of her work and at such a critical stage, and she glanced back at her colleagues momentarily. "I'm in the intermediate stages of some really tricky photosynthesis here and the timing is crucial."

"I'm sorry but Capt'n Calavicci asked me to tell you to… that is if you can spare the time, I suppose," Tina said awkwardly, "and meet with Doctor Beckett in his lab the instant you are available."

"Well, you can go and tell Doctor Beckett that I've received his invitation," Donna changed her stance and the expression on her face hardened as she began to point an accusatory finger in Tina's direction. "And if it's that important, he will have to see me here. Why on earth he should have a separate lab, miles away from the rest of us, I shall never know but I cannot possibly leave off and go traipsing all the way up to his laboratory on any old whim of his. I'm about to expose a possible breakthrough here and is far too valuable to abandon."

"All right, Doctor, I'll let him know," Tina said, feeling quite intimidated.

"Thank you!" Donna practically snapped Tina's head off and she stood watching as slowly, Tina skulked away.

Never looking back, Tina headed back to her own laboratory to gather up some of the silicone chips she'd been working on that morning.

Jack couldn't wait to tell Tina what he'd heard. "Doctor Martinez, hang on a minute," he called out as he rushed to her side. "I hear your Captain's in trouble again with his, erm… alcohol habit."

"That's not true he hasn't touched it in months now," Tina exclaimed. "And besides, it's none of your business, Jack."

"And they say he's had his security demoted," Jack raised his eyebrow smugly at Tina's unresponsiveness. "So, I guess we won't be seeing him hanging around here for awhile?"

Tina noticed that Jack looked almost pleased with himself. "What makes you think that?"

"It's common knowledge, everyone knows… except probably you. Ahhh, sorry, Doctor," Jack feigned dismay. "I thought that… I just thought, he would have mentioned it to his nearest and dearest."

"Stop it, Jack! Don't forget who it is that does the hiring and firing around here," Tina stood in defiance and raised her voice so that Jack wasn't the only one to hear her next statement. "And if anyone around here shows any disrespect to their coworkers, I hope you all know that means instant dismissal. It's in your contract of employment, if any of you even bothered to read it and if you haven't, I suggest, you should."

After obtaining her prerequisites and leaving the lab in triumph, she stopped off at the central area before entering the elevator. She hesitated slightly before picking up the phone to pass on Donna's reply. In her flurry, she couldn't remember Sam's extension and so she relayed the message to Al.

The tone barely sounded before Al's voice boomed across the wire-way, "Yes!"

"Not you too Al, why is everyone in such a bad mood today?"

"Ah, Tina it's you! Gawd sweetie, jeeze I'm sorry," the Captain breathed, relieved. "I thought it was Bartlett again, he's been really bugging me. Five calls since you last phoned, being in-charge has definitely gone to his head."

"In-charge, why's Johnny Bartlett in-charge?" Tina asked, feeling more befuddled since her encounter with Donna and Jack.

"Well, erm, that's part of that long story I'm gonna tell you later. Did you find Donna?"

Tina sensed the urgency in his tone and answered, "Sure did and talk about shooting the messenger."

"Hmmm, that bad, huh?"

"What's the story with her and Sam anyways? I thought they were getting along brilliantly since that convention in DC."

"We all did, erm, but you know Donna, she's so easy going one minute and the next… who knows what's going on in that mixed-up noggin of hers," Al admonished coolly. "A right Jekyll and Hide character, if you ask me."

"She certainly demonstrated that earlier."

"Anyway, Sam will sort her out even with his inexperience, he sure does have a way with words."

"She isn't with Sam," Tina confessed.

"What!" the Captain proclaimed, nearly deafening the young woman. "You did tell her that Sam wanted her urgently in his lab?"

"Of course I did, but she stated categorically that her work was more valuable and if it was that important Sam should go to her."

"Drat that woman! Hell, she's been avoiding him for weeks. How are they supposed to get this project off the ground if two key people can't work together amicably?"

"Arghhhh, the pain!" Tina all but screamed into the mouthpiece.

"Tina? Sweetie, are you alright?" the concern in the Captain's voice clearly evident.

"I'm only the messenger remember. If this keeps up I'm gonna have to start wearing a bulletproof vest."

"Hell, Tina, you really had me going there, I genuinely thought you were… Hey! Tina! No vests, alrighty? Definitely no vests, there's enough to contend with, all that clobber you wear. Are you listening?"

Tina giggled.

"I'll remonstrate with you later," Al teased and joined in with Tina's exuberance. "But first, I suppose I'll have to impart this to Sam, he's not gonna be too well pleased." Al altered his tone and made his voice deeper, "Sweetie, where are you working at now? 'Cos maybe, I'll be able to remonstrate with you sooner."

"I'll be up on the next level, in programming for the rest of today," Tina cooed.

"Damn, you would be, that's out-of-bounds too, even Sam's lab, one floor below, is outta my reach for the duration. Damn Adams and his cronies. Maybe lunch then, surely you can make lunch? I really need a break from this drudgery."

"I've heard about your run-in with Adams and I'm sorry about that and I hope it's sorted soon and Al… I'm sure I can make lunch… say 12:30ish. I should have completed the test run on the new chips by then."

"Perfect," the Captain purred into the handset before hanging up.

Tina swayed a little, before she too hung up the receiver and pressed the button to summon the elevator.

As always, the elevator took its time in arriving. But Tina would sooner wait for the elevator; she didn't like using the stairs. Even though brightly lit, they seemed eerie in their isolation. Carved directly from the granite of the masonic walls, they felt more like a tomb than a stairwell.

 

_ - o O o - _

The Captain's grip around the receiver tightened. Doctor Beckett wasn't answering his phone and he felt the resentment of his current predicament welling inside his chest. His level six clearance even made the use of the integral com-link void.

"Dammit!" he growled as he slammed the receiver down onto its cradle but didn't remove his hand immediately. Instead, his eyes traced down to the central drawer in his desk, the one he always kept locked, full of his personal papers and junk.

His hand slid slowly away from the phone and along the desk to the drawer, whilst his other sought a small set of keys from his within his pocket. Looking at the bundle in his hand, his vision broadened to take-in the old framed photograph of the whole team from eighteen months ago when the project was first launched; he picked it up and studied it.

"Only to be used in emergencies," he'd promised Gooshie and his fist clenched ever tighter around the cold hardness of the keys, the notched edges digging deeper into the fleshy elements of his fingers.

Slowly, he replaced the photograph then, unlocking the desk drawer, his hand rested against the bottle he had stashed there back in February. He'd forgotten it was there, until now.

'Is this emergency enough?' he asked himself as he slid a notebook aside to pick up a pass-card. "Dare I?" he posed, as unconsciously, he tapped Gooshie's pass-card onto the hard surface of the desk.

'Covering for Gooshie is one thing' he closed his eyes tightly. 'But contravening security is definitely another. I need think about this and carefully. I'm in enough Gawddamned trouble as it is, without adding a breach of security to the list.'  He placed the pass-card back into the drawer, snapping it closed sharply. Then began to gradually open it again as his mitigating fortitude began to rule his reasoning.

No longer wedged by the notebook, the bottle rolled temptingly into the Captain's vision, sloshing its golden contents within its perfectly rounded belly.

Picking up the bottle from its resting place, he held it up to the light. Nearly two thirds full, he noticed.

"Well… Jack," he mumbled, holding delicately onto the bottle by its neck. "Better you than me… into the can you go," he added as he dropped the bottle into the metal trashcan. The aroma that filled his nostrils as it smashed sent his senses swirling into multitudinous longings but his resolution held firm.

In one deft movement, he returned Gooshie's security card to the desktop and without taking his eyes from it, he flipped it with his fingernail, as if playing tiddlywinks. Although it only moved a couple of millimeters, he consciously repeated the process until the card was suspended over the surface edge. Standing, and grabbing at the card as he did so, he animatedly headed out of his office and towards the elevator, his heart racing.

As he approached, his footing faulted and he looked down at his own and Gooshie's pass-keys in his hand. 'Hmmm, better not use mine. I don't want to prompt that damn computer generated voice into informing the defense staff of my security violation,' he thought. 'Now then… if I were Gooshie, hmmm… he wouldn't use the elevator, not for just one floor. He'd only use the elevator as a necessity. He hates the damn thing.'

The Captain changed his direction and instead, headed for the stairwell. Glancing negatingly about him, he slipped Gooshie's pass-card through the scanner, he passed through the door and into the cold cavern. His footfalls on the concrete steps sounded hollow and empty and the steady rumbling of the elevator on some floor far below sent out an extraordinary reverberation throughout the deep, cavernous shaft. He even felt the grumbling vibrate acutely in the pit of his stomach. Although there were only four small flights that twisted around the elevator shaft, Al was pleased and relieved when the sign for Level 16 came into view so that he could escape the confines of the claustrophobic walls.

Doctor Beckett's laboratory was at the end of the long stretch of corridor and only those with Level two security passes or greater were allowed admittance. As he slid Gooshie's pass-card through the scanner, the door clicked open.

"Samu—Sam, are you in here? Are you there?" he called out in a half-whisper as he poked his head through the partly opened aperture. When no answer came, he shouted out a little louder, "Sam, you here?" and he stepped cautiously inside.

Slumped over a bench at the far side, he could see a figure in a white lab-coat, though from its position, he couldn't tell if it was the outline of Doctor Beckett nor if indeed, it was human. The anxiety for himself being found out, soon gave way to concern as the ghostly apparition he'd seen only an hour earlier rematerialized in his imagination.

Again, Al called out and the figure straightened abruptly. "Huh! Al," the scientist gasped when he turned to see the Captain. "I didn't hear you come in," he said nonchalantly as he teased at the tense and aching muscles at the side of his neck.

"And I don't suppose you heard the phone ringing either," Al said rather than questioned.

"The phone? Ahhh, no," Sam said absently, turning back to the ensemble strewn across the bench. "Should I have?"

"I've only been phoning you for like… ten minutes."

"Sorry Al, but when I'm working on something, it gets my full attention."

"So I've noticed. I mean Sam, anyone could've walked in here."

"I doubt it," Sam laughed. "You've gotta have a pretty high security level to get into my lab…" he paused long enough to take-in something that was bothering him. "Talking of security Al, how on earth did you get in here? I thought you'd had yours downgraded."

"Don't remind me, but there are ways and means pal, ways and means," the Captain said knowingly, tapping the side of his nose with the tip of his finger.

Sam frowned. "And I suppose you know all of the tricks of the trade?"

"Ah, that comes with experience, patience and dedication, and plenty of practice."

Sam watched as Al winked mischievously and he then realized, that was all the answer he was going to get, for now.

"I've got a few hours to kill and I just wondered that maybe, you might be needing a hand," the Captain said as he saw the scientist's childlike expression. "What?" Al asked, bamboozled in not knowing the young man's signals, he didn't want to upset him by inaccurately interpreting the Doctor's intentions.

"You're here to help?" Sam laughed. "Tell me Al, what do you know about quantum mechanics?"

Al shrugged his shoulders. "I know it's a study of matter and radiation at an atomic level. That's about it but I am willing to learn…"

"Learn?!" Sam interjected. "It'd take you about seven years just to grasp the basics, that is, if you've studied physics in your past."

"Sorta…" Al digested.

"Okay," Sam hummed, his face blasÚ with concentration. "A basic quantum mechanics question. What is the innermost, the electron or the atom?"

"Everyone knows that the electron circles the atom," Al answered.

"Then everyone is wrong," Sam said with a courtly smile. "That idiosyncrasy is extremely outdated by about… fifty years. Take a look." Sam ushered Al towards the microscope.

"What I have here is a set of microscopic twinned atoms, very rare, to which I've added a solution of radium-iodine to highlight the isotopes contained within the structure. The darker the color, the more the probability is—that's where we'll find the electron's position. See how they mirror each other?"

"'Tis all Japanese to me, Sam," Al said frankly as he looked up, blinking.

"Let me explain it in basic terms. Hmmm… Al, think of a number, any number," Sam sounded out as he picked up a marker from the bench.

"Okay," Al pondered as to what would become of this exercise.

Sam moved over to the whiteboard and started scribbling. "Now we'll add Planck's constant, divided by 2pi, then the wave function divided over space and time," the physicist continued to draw symbols, all of which had no meaning to Al. "That giving us the mass of the particle, plus the Laplacian operator, finally the potentiality energy factor—giving us, Schr÷dinger's equation." Sam stood aside, revealing his doodles.

"This is the basics?" Al asked, mesmerized. "What does that have to do with floating atoms and them tiny electron thingies? I think I'll stick to astrophysics, least then I know I can get on the astral plane of any shapely blonde."

"Talking of women… Al, where's Donna?" Sam asked, looking around.

"Probably in the lab where Tina left her. She's a haughty one, that one, can't figure her out at all."

"Donna? She's not coming, then?" Sam queried dejectedly, settling his butt on the edge of the bench.

"Bad move Sam, instead of parking your butt there you wanna get your ASS—pirations down there and make an ASS—ignation," Al goaded with a broad grin.

Sam's brow wrinkled, he was caught off guard and looked at the Captain pensively.

"Keep goading her, she'll wear down eventually," the Captain continued to advise. He was well pleased that the subject matter had changed.

"I don't know if I can take much more of this rejection," the physicist uttered dolefully.

"If you think she's worth it, then go for it. I know I would—if I were in your shoes," Al said as he rocked and rose to the balls of his feet.

"Well you're not…" Sam floundered for words, he didn't want to offend the Captain; he was only trying to help out. "…and besides, Donna's not your type anyway, you've already told me as much."

"The ball's in your court, pal. It's up to you—it's your service… love, thirty or so I'm reckoning. Toss her a few volleys and even up the odds."

"Tennis? You're comparing Donna and me to a tennis match?" Sam said contentiously.

"She may be playin' hard to get but, pal, that don't mean she don't wanna be got. Remember that old axiom, faint heart never won fair lady?" Al prodded a stubby finger into his chin. "And that song… hmmm… now how does it go?"

"Al, I get the picture…"

"A man chases a girl… hmmm," Al cocked his head to one side, ignoring the physicist. "…until she catches him. Yeah, that's it!"

"Al!"

"You two will make a good match… that is, if you have the balls to court her."

"Al!"

"Well, have you?"

"Have I what?"

Al tutted and turned his eyes to the ceiling. "Balls—do you have the audacity to deuce it out without giving her the advantage, huh, do you?"

"Al, I don't know if I…"

"Can't or won't!" the Captain rebuked. "I don't know how you've gotten this far Sam. I mean, look at you Sam, you're here and how did you get to where you are. In my books you're the top of your profession, why'd think I chose you? I never thought I'd picked a quitter."

"I'm not a quitter! I just… I don't know how to approach her. She's so…"

"Oppressive?" Al finished with a raised eyebrow.

"No Al, erm… she makes me feel so insignificant… as though I'm not worthy and… maybe I'm not."

"That’s your inexperience talkin'. What are we gonna do with you Sam?" Al questioned despondently as he shook his head.

Sam's cheek twitched, he felt very uncomfortable talking about his feelings and he hoped that the older man wouldn't again start picking fun at his ineptitude with women.

The Captain saw the physicist's uneasiness but that didn't stop his brain from ticking over. "What you need is some coaching, and Sam, I know just the coach."

Sam slid down from the bench and stared quizzically as the Captain began to pace. "What kinda coach?" Sam asked in all innocence.

"Mimi—one night with her and you'll never have problems with a woman again."

"Mimi," Sam mouthed and then it suddenly dawned on him, just what was being suggested but before he could even voice his objection, Al was already halfway out of the door.

"Leave it with me Sam. She's probably a little old for you but what the heck, as far as you're concerned it's all arranged—for tonight!"

With Al's last words, the door snapped closed and as Sam raced to the door to let loose his protest, the physicist found the long corridor empty and his protestation went unheard.

'Nah, he wouldn't, would he?' Sam shook his head and dismissed the thoughts from his mind but the thoughts wouldn't be set aside so easily. Even as he returned to his work at the bench, in his mind's eye, he could see Al in some contra-ta or other with a strange looking woman who went by the name of Mimi.

 

_ - o O o - _

Halfheartedly, Al pottered about the top levels of the complex, doing nothing much. There wasn't much he could do, except the sedate task of the unending paperwork. He wasn't in the mood for such dull endeavors; he wanted something more exciting and what could be more exciting than taunting the benevolent physicist. But since leaving Sam's lab he'd had second thoughts and third thoughts, which lead into differing fourth and fifth concepts, each and all getting more outrageous in his own, furtive imagination.

'I definitely have too much time on my hands,' the Captain hypothesized as, for the umpteenth time, he pushed up his jacket sleeve to check that he wasn't going to be late for his date with Tina. And this time, using his own pass-card, he made his way down to the cafeteria just as Tina emerged from the stairwell.

"We couldn't have timed it more perfect," the Captain purred as he slid his hand around Tina's waist.

"Oh Aaal, if I didn't know better, I'd swear you've been… " Tina paused as she looked suspiciously into the Captain's eyes, "…wat—ch—ing—me. A—aal, what are you up to? You've got that look in your eyes."

"What look? Me? Up to something? Never!" the Captain subjugated.

"Out with it Al, I've seen that look before," Tina demanded, teasingly.

Al grimaced. "You know, I'm just an open book to you, ain't I?" he said as his grip tightened around Tina's waist. "Ha-aha, there is something…" he whispered covertly as he drew her closer. "I've been wondering… nah, it doesn't matter—silly really."

"Al, no! Not now you've got me on tender-hooks!" Tina said, pulling away slightly and jabbing him in the ribs with her long, nail-tipped fingers.

"Arrgghhh! Not the… talons," Al joked, grabbing hold of her fingers and as he gently curled them over, he cupped them into his palm. "Later, honey! The three 'T's come later," he cooed.

The employees in the complex were well used to seeing the lover's digressions and didn't take too much notice. Apart from the odd nod or shake of a head, indicating here we go again, nothing more was said. That was, all except Jack. He'd been surveying the pair attentively since their arrival.

"Come on, Al, I only have an hour, you know and we've wasted ten minutes already. I'm starved," Tina said as she tugged at the Captain's arm that was still attached to her hand.

Jack's glare followed every movement the couple made and even after they were seated, Jack's scrutiny didn't cease.

"What's with it, Jack? Lost your appetite?" the young technician seated next to Jack asked.

"The food's fine," Jack mumbled, half ignoring her. "Debs, how can she stand being with him, he's old enough to be her father."

"I do believe you're jealous, Jack but after that scene in the lab earlier, I'd've thought by now you'd've realized that you ain't her type."

"She's wasted on him!" Jack virtually snarled into Debbie's face.

"Leave 'em alone. Jack, they've both had bad marriages and I'm just happy to see 'em both so happy."

"I can't—to see him—him pawing at her, it—it makes me sick." With both fists clenched tight, Jack slammed them down onto the table and started to stand.

"Take it easy!" Debbie half whispered and half ordered as she grabbed hold of his sleeve, pulling him down, she then turned to look about the span of the cafeteria. "Everyone's staring at you."

Shrugging off Debbie's clutch, he growled, "And you think that bothers me, let them look!" His knuckles glowed white as half seated and half standing, he pushed hard against the table with trembling limbs.

"Jack! Let it go!" Debbie pleaded, tugging again at Jack's sleeve. "You're making a fool of yourself!"

"Fool! I'm not the fool, he is—taking advantage of a young girl's…"

"I'm not listening to this!" Debbie proclaimed as she scraped her chair backwards and stood, towering above him assertively. "If you want to play the fool, then go right ahead, it's fine by me!" she continued whilst slapping Jack on the shoulder. She leaned in and whispered, "And while you're at it, you might take the advice of finding another job. You're gonna be needing one."

"Jack's really in a foul mood today, he had a go at me earlier," Tina said as she diverted Al's attention to the ruckus in the center of the dining hall.

"Maybe we all need time to mellow out, things have been a little tense around here lately," Al said as he reached for Tina's hand over the table. "What with all the different projects finally coming together, there's bound to be some stressful moments. It's inevitable."

"Maybe so but we're all adept enough to keep a handle on our emotions, seems with Jack, he can't keep his under control. I think he's losing it, Al."

"Looks as if Beeks' gonna be having a new inmate pretty soon, huh? Come on hon, what'd ya say, we've got half an hour, hmmm?" Al said, squeezing shamelessly at Tina's hand.

"Not until you've told me what's on your mind," Tina said pensively, drawing her hand away.

Al reached and took it back, patting the back of her hand tenderly. Hmmm-ing and err-ing a few times, he finally answered, "It's Sam, I'm worried about him." He smoothed the tip of his finger over the surface of one of Tina's highly polished nails as he spoke. "Do you know, he's never even slept with a woman, let alone…"

"Al," Tina cut-in. "I don't think we should be discussing Sam's personal life in public, do you?"

"You asked," the Captain said; making out he was passing the buck over to Tina. "I told ya it was silly!"

"No, Al, it's not that. I had no idea, I mean, all those years ago, I knew Sam was shy but I was sure he woulda gotten over that by now," Tina said sympathetically. "I never realized it was that big of a problem."

"Why should ya, to him you're one of the guys, an equal intellect. When you two are together, I feel the one that's outta place."

"Awww, sweetie." It was now Tina's turn to pat the daunted hand. "Didums, did my sweet li'll Alsi-wal-si feel left outsi-wout-si," Tina teased, reaching over and tweaking at the Captain's cheek.

"Cut it out will ya, hon… people are watching," Al jibbed, brushing her hand away in embarrassment.

"Everyone's always watching us, Al, or didn't you realize that?" Tina said taking hold of Al's hand and pulling him up from his seat, she steered him towards the elevator.

"Now, where are we going?" Al asked tempestuously.

"We need privacy, so I'm taking you up to programming, everyone will be out to lunch."

"But…"

"Don't worry, we'll use the stairwell and my pass-card, you'll only be detected if we use the elevator. This way, we can have more time together."

Al's pace quickened. He didn't dare tell Tina that he had the use Gooshie's pass-card in his absence. Now that would really spoil the fun.

As she turned the corner in the stairwell, Tina noticed that Al had that look in his eyes again and this reminded her of his concerns for Doctor Beckett. "What are you planning for Sam?" she asked.

"Ahhh," Al felt as though he'd been caught napping whilst on duty. "Nothing," he quibbled.

"Don't give me that, an open book, remember?" she said as again she took hold of his arm, stopping him in his tracks.

"Well… I was thinking of getting him… a woman."

"A w-woman! Al, you're not serious?"

"That's the beauty of it," Al laughed as he overtook Tina on the stairs. "Sam thinks I am."

 

_ - o O o - _

Straightening his tie, Al smiled as the first of the technicians returned. "That was a close call, it's a good job we can hear the elevator from here," he whispered as he kissed Tina before leaving her to return to her work.

"See you later, sweetie," Tina called after him, discreetly fastening the top button of her dress.

As more technicians arrived, she hastily made-up excuses to leave… she was itching to reprise Doctor Elesee for her irreverence that morning. After talking with Al, she now had something to work with, she had the perfect solution for Doctor Beckett's introversion and Doctor Elesee's aloofness.

Two flights down to the next level, she suddenly thought, 'How on earth is Al gonna get up top without my pass-card?' she shrugged her shoulders. 'Al's resourceful, he'll find a way, somehow. At least Adams ain't here, unless one of his cronies catches him out?' She became indecisive and started to return but then changed her mind. 'Al's a big boy now and knows this complex better than anyone, if there's a way, Al will find it,' she surmised.

Again, Tina scoured the multitudinous segments of the laboratory level and found Doctor Elesee at one of her usual haunts. But as she approached, Jack managed to get to Donna first and after earlier events and seeing his performance in the cafeteria, she didn't want to get involved in any further confrontations.

And so, Tina held back, forfeiting the inevitable altercation by looking busy at her own worktable but all the time keeping a furtive eye on what Donna was doing.

To Tina, it seemed like an age before Jack finally relocated himself to his bench.

"How goes it?" Tina asked as she approached Donna from behind.

Doctor Elesee brought a hand up to her throat in surprise. "Ahhh, Doctor Martinez, you startled me for second, there."

"Have you found any discrepancies with those cell cultures you're working with?"

"No, the sphere doesn't seem to be too keen on any of the concoctions I've introduced so far," Donna answered negatively.

"Then, perhaps, you should be working with Doctor Beckett. As far as I know he's come up with some pretty amazing results in his lab and from what I've heard he's been trying to get your opinion on what he's achieved." Tina paused momentarily for a response.

"Erm, Doctor Beckett and me, well, were not on very good terms at the moment. Every experiment I've conducted with the sphere so far, he's managed to impede. I don't think he trusts my judgment, where the orb is concerned."

"I think you're wrong there, Doctor Elesee," Tina corrected as she moved in closer and placed a hand over Donna's. "Doctor Beckett values your opinion greatly. If he didn't then, why are you still here? He could've just let you go when your term of resignation had expired."

"I think he's interested in more than just work and I don't think I can cope with a relationship right now, not after Roger and then Tony," Donna sighed deeply. "Not so soon."

From the expression on Donna's face, Tina deduced that Donna was indeed interested in Sam but was afraid to admit it. She decided then, that now was the right time to put her plans into action, seeing as Al was incapacitated into triggering his tactics, which were similar, though she had to admit, hers were more subtle to execute.

"Donna?" Tina had never used Doctor Elesee's Christian name before, she hadn't dared but now somehow, it seemed appropriate. "From what I hear, I don't think Doctor Beckett has any romantic interests with you, so Doctor, you really can rest easy," Tina fibbed and at the same time watched Donna for any signs of a reaction. She swore she saw Donna flinch and so she continued with the conspiracy. "Al was only telling me earlier, that Sam has a date tonight," again, she saw Donna react.

Tina hated doing this but it was all for a good reason, she was against lies and deceit, but Donna was deceiving herself more and needed waking up to her true feelings.

"He's seeing someone… tonight?" Donna gasped inwardly.

"Uh-hum," Tina nodded and she watched as Donna swallowed hard to hide her emotions.

"Who is she? Do I know her?" Donna inquired slowly as she shifted a shaking hand behind her back.

"Al didn't say, but I think she's in programming. Would you like me to find out?"

"Erm, no." Donna cleared her throat. "That won't be necessary, Doctor Beckett pleases himself as to whom he sees, though I am a little curious as to whom she may be."

Donna couldn't understand the thoughts and feelings that were running through her head. Was she feeling a pang of jealousy? Had she misread Doctor Beckett's signals? Could it be that he wasn't interested in her after-all? She felt dismay at that prospect but still she couldn't figure out why she should be feeling this way.

"Donna, are you okay?" Tina asked, concerned.

"Yes of course I am," Donna feigned. Tina's intense stare was making her uneasy. "Why, shouldn't I be?"

"It's just that, erm, you seemed to be taken aback when I told you of Sam's plans for this evening."

"I'm fine Doctor Martinez. I'm sorry, I'm probably keeping you from your work," Donna said as she clumsily changed the subject.

"Well… I suppose… but if you're not feeling your best, maybe you need to see Verbena, you could be sickening for something," Tina suggested, then added to herself as an afterthought, 'Love-sick, more like it.'

"No, I'm fine, really, Tina but thanks for your concern, it's appreciated," Donna smiled, desperately trying to mask her true feelings and show a little sincerity.

Tina took Donna's words as a dismissal but she still asked, "Are you sure Donna? 'Cos I can stay if you need anyone to talk to."

Tina was relieved when she shook her head but nevertheless, she repeatedly turned back to glance at Donna until the doors to the stairwell closed her out the picture.

 

_ - o O o - _

After the Captain's departure, Doctor Beckett had thrown himself into his work and before he knew it, his stomach started to growl from lack of food. As with many times before, he realized that once again, the day had run away with him. He rubbed at his aching eyes that, for more times than he could remember, had been staring into the microscope for too long. He blinked repeatedly, to focus from the infinitesimal world that he'd been submerged in for the majority of the day.

Leaning back in his chair, he stretched his tender muscles and as he did so, his eyes strayed to the clock, high on the wall. Even he was surprised to see the lateness of the hour, no wonder he felt hungry. He then realized he hadn't eaten since breakfast and even then hadn't eaten enough to feed a mouse, let alone a fully grown man.

Rising impassively from his seat, he walked wearily towards the door and instinctively flicked at the light switch as he walked out into the corridor. His feet trudged apathetically towards the brighter point and after depressing the call button, he waited for the elevator to reach his level.

Eventually, the doors slid open and he stepped inside the large interior, for a few moments he stared blankly at the double columns of numbered keys. For those few short seconds, he couldn't remember what level he was on, nor could he recollect where he was going. Sedately, he rubbed gingerly at his temples, attempting to resurrect his stultified brain cells. Then, his stomach grumbled out a reminder and he promptly depressed the button which would take him to the 9th floor and to the cafeteria.

The doors opened onto the forecourt of the almost deserted refectory. A handful of employees were dotted around the expanse of the dining area. None of which he knew and so he followed his nose and the appetizing aroma to the counter, where he proceeded to scan the choices on offer from one of the five differing menus that were always presented. As he looked down, the food didn't match its description nor did it look as it smelled. It was about as appetizing as his diminished stomach felt and he immediately changed his choice for that of lasagna; at least that looked the most edible, even though a little dry and curled at the edges.

After stocking up his tray, he stopped off at the nearest secluded table, almost hidden from the entrance, just in case the Captain should be seeking him out already. At a quarter past seven he didn't yet know of the Captain's timetable or whether his tonight meant sooner rather than later but from what he'd learnt so far, Al was certainly a night owl and this thought reassured him as he dug his fork into the leathery substance he once knew to be pasta.

Half eaten, Sam pushed his plate aside; it was in propos, as tasteless as one of Al's garish suits. As overly cooked as the Captain was overly dressed, when not in uniform. A stark contrast to the unpretentiousness of naval whites.

His chosen dessert was a little more satisfying and as he scraped up the last spoonful he washed it all down with the sparkling mineral water he preferred other than coffee. A sense of panic brusquely swelled in the pit of his stomach as the clock's hands clicked all too swiftly around its mushroom-colored face.

Further employees had come and gone whilst he ate, and now there was only him and one other staff member in the vastness of the mess hall. He felt isolated and vulnerable and he concluded that he needed to be where the Captain couldn't get to him. He'd sooner be submerged in a vat of hydrochloric acid than go on any rampage with Al.

Hastily, he approached the elevator and luckily the doors didn't do their usual trick of closing just as he arrived. Pushing a determined thumb onto the button for Level 21, the floor descended. He was on his way to keep the promise that he'd made that very same morning.

The expanse of Level 21 as the elevator doors opened was an eerier sight than he'd ever seen it. Deserted as it was now, the stillness and gloom seemed overpowering. The blinking ions winking out their many feeble lights made Doctor Beckett gasp inwardly.

The spontaneity of everything culminating together, distorted the natural rhythm of his heartbeat and as he approached the crystal lab, he wiped his sweating palms against his trembling legs.

He paused fleetingly before sliding his key-card through the security scanner and breathed in deeply as the loudness of the swishing door took him briefly by surprise. He then shuttered his eyes as the expected flurry of displaced air ruffled at the abundance of his ambient locks.

Stirred by his earlier encounter with the orb, he circumnavigated the enclosure before approaching it directly and, holding his breath as he unfastened the catch. He crouched down to be on a level par and gazed into the casing.

Before he spoke, he took a tentative glance about him, to make sure that this time he was really alone. He didn't want anymore tittering than was absolutely necessary, already he knew people to think he was barmy. The snide comments as he passed and thought he couldn't hear, were becoming all too frequent of late and he didn't want to add to the gossiping speculation.

As he looked back to the sphere he noticed the hue had brightened since that morning. "So, you're feeling better, then?" he whispered, feeling totally farcical at talking with a supposedly inanimate object. But Doctor Beckett wasn't at all convinced that the orb was as inanimate as everyone supposed.

As sudden click from behind had him spiraling towards the noise and, losing his balance, he found himself sprawling.

"Go away Al! I'm not going with anything you say or do, in-fact, I wouldn't touch that woman with a bargepole, even if she'd be the last woman on earth," Sam argued and looking up from the floor, he was gazing straight up at a not so amused Donna, standing in the doorway.

"Can I come in or am I interrupting something?" Donna asked craftily, grinning down at the spread-eagled physicist.

"Donna? I thought it was…" Sam gasped but couldn't move for the thoughts of who it could have been. He seriously thought that Al had landed him right in it. "What—what are you doing here?" he asked as coolly as he could muster whilst he attempted to derive some semblance of dignity.

"I was just about to make my way up top when I heard the elevator, I just wondered who on earth it could be working at this hour, I might have known it would be you, Doctor Beckett."

"So that's why you're here, an inquiring mind, I like that Doctor Elesee—there's nothing like an inquiring mind in this profession—at least that's what I think but I don't suppose that's of interest to you—what I think, I mean," Sam struggled to say in the presence of Donna. He'd been trying to get her alone for weeks and now she was here, he was bumbling about and babbling like an idiot.

"So, Doctor Beckett, who actually, did you think was standing here?" Donna queried.

"Al, I thought you were Al," Sam answered warily.

"And this woman, who would she be?" Donna teased, knowing full well of the Captain's plans from Tina. "Not me, by any chance?"

Sam gulped. He felt the color rising in his cheeks as he started to blush uncontrollably. 'Oh Boy… She thinks I was talking about her… Now I've really blown my chances.'

"My, my Doctor Beckett, I do believe you are blushing," Donna tormented further.

Sam's mind raced nineteen to the dozen, trying to think up a suitable explanation, but words failed him. Again, he wished he had the gift of the gab like his contemporary.

"It's a dead give-away, ain't it?" Sam said, lowering his eyes in even more embarrassment.

"It may give you away but I think it's kinda cute. It's not often a man can show his true feelings, albeit unconsciously."

Sam curled his tongue into his cheek; suppressing the exuberant feeling he could feel welling inside of his already pounding chest. 'Heck, she's warming, even cracking subtle jokes. Could it be that she's seen Al and she's jealous, or maybe she's mistook the things she thought I'd said, to be about her. Whichever, it seems to have worked. Carry it through Sam, but hell, don't you go and be too obvious—go with the flow.'

"And what makes you think I was talking about you?" Sam asked, as awkwardly, he found his feet.

"It's just what you said and the way you said it," Donna evaluated. "I mean, I have led you on a merry dance and I wouldn't really blame you for hating me."

"No Donna, you've got it all wrong, I don’t hate you at all," Sam assured, closing his eyes briefly to keep his composure. He shook his head as he placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. "You're a sweet intelligent kid, who doesn't know what she wants out of life yet. You've had your disappointments, as have I, but that's life and you have to learn to grow with whatever life throws at you."

Sam saw a look of alarm in Donna's eyes and he forced himself to turn away from her as his emotions began run away with him.

"Donna, I'm sorry, I'm lecturing again," Sam kept his back towards her; he didn't trust himself to conceal the feelings that had begun to stir. All the time, he could feel her eyes penetrating intensely into his soul. Bearing down on him; wearing down his fastidious suppression and he breathed in deeply. "But I do need your assistance, please work with me, I know that I can do it all alone but with your help, I know we can beat these problems that keep hurling themselves in our path."

"To be honest with you, Doctor Beckett… I am getting absolutely nowhere with my research on the phosphorescence derivative of the plant extracts that I thought would—could combine the sphere with the linkages of the mainframe. In fact, I cannot find any substance that would suffice."

"That's where our combined efforts could flourish, I've isolated certain elements from the substructure within the isotopes and I think we could work on the solution together, that's if you're willing? I think I'm getting pretty close."

Sam held his breath, closing his eyes once more, whilst subconsciously crossing his fingers that a positive answer would soon follow. Donna's agonizing silence kept him on tender hooks for a few moments longer and it was all he could do, to endure the tension of the resulting seconds as they ticked away far too slowly.

In response, Donna looked down and closed her own eyes as she considered Sam's proposal. She was not normally one to refuse a challenge, but dare she trust herself to work so closely with this man who stirred such strange emotions in her? Emotions she'd never felt before, frightening, suffocating but yet she was intrigued by the proposition. A strange shuffling sound interrupted her musings and caused her to open her eyes. Doctor Beckett was swaying, looking as if he were about to pass out.

"Doctor Be—Sam, are you alright?" she asked, concerned, as she instinctively put out a hand to help steady him…

"Don—na…" Sam said falteringly as he shakily reached for her outstretched hand. "I feel… kinda strange… as if—as if all of the energy… is being drained… ahh… away from me."

Donna managed to catch his arm just in time to stop Doctor Beckett from completely collapsing to the ground. He was a dead weight and she almost buckled along with him, only saving herself by grabbing hold of the counter that supported the orb.

As she heaved at Doctor Beckett's limp frame, she caught sight of the sphere. Faint blue tendrils spiked out from its center even though it was still tightly caged.

"Stop it! You're hurting him!" Donna shouted out without thinking. "Stop this at once!"

Straight away, the orb retracted its iridescent strands from the side of Doctor Beckett's temple and she blinked as helplessly she stroked around his scorched hairline.

"Please be okay, you've gotta be okay! Sam can you hear me?"

Violent tremors began to jolt Sam's muscles, contorting first his face and then radiate through the rest of his body. The spasms alerted her and she drew him up closer, frightened, she didn't know what else to do and so she cradled his head into her lap then, taking his trembling hand, she held onto it firmly.

"Sam, if you can hear me, please squeeze my hand," Donna implored as the rigors continuously swept through Sam's comatosed form.

"What the hell! Donna?" Al's voice startled the anxious physicist.

"It was the orb Captain, it—it attacked Sam."

"What! How?" Al questioned as he stormed into the inner lab.

"I don't know, we were talking and—and all-of-a-sudden Doctor Beckett went as white as a sheet and collapsed. I—I didn't see anything at first, I didn't expect to but there it was, throwing out these lightening bolts into Sam's skull."

Al glanced at Donna manifestly. "Steady on Donna, you're not making any sense."

"I know I'm not but it is what I saw, then I told it to stop and it did, it's as if it knows our language, it just stopped Al, believe it or not it just stopped."

"This is all too weird. How's Sam? He don't look too good, is he okay?"

"I think so, least he's breathing and that's a good thing but he is out for the count."

"How long?"

"Just over a minute, I think, I don't know, I'm not sure. Everything happened so fast," Donna tried to explain but then burst into a flurry of tears.

"My God you're shaking!" Al said as he crouched down to join the pair on the floor. "It's okay Donna, I'll get Bena on the intercom and before you know it, she'll be down here, she'll know what to do. You're in shock, I know that much. Time can play tricks, especially when you've had a scare like you've had."

"I'll be fine, just get Verbena down here, I'll be as right as nine pence once I know Sam's all right."

"Just breathe deeply and try to relax a little, I'll back in a few," Al advised as he rose to his feet. As he approached the intercom system just outside of the glass room, Al hesitated. 'Damn you Adams, this is all I need right now. There's no way I can use Gooshie's card in this scanner, my voice will be recognized. Being caught down here, security will bring me up before the tribunal for sure, then it'll be bye, bye naval commission and bye, bye to the rest of my career,' he grimaced as he punched in a message for Verbena on his bleeper whilst he raced up the two fights of steps to programming. He was out of breath by the time he reached the telephone but it wasn't long before he was startled into action with its trill tone.

"Verbena? Thank God!" Al breathed into the mouthpiece.

"What is it Al? You sound flustered," Verbena asked.

"Long story, just get your butt down to the laboratories, there's been an accident in the glass room, that darned sphere has zapped Sam and it looks bad, really bad."

"I'm glad you've caught me, I was on my way up top when I received your page, the elevator's here already so I'll be with you in a minute, I'll grab my bag then I'm on my way."

The line went dead as Verbena hung up then, as Al made his way through to the stairwell, he could already hear the steady drone of the elevator getting closer.

They both arrived at the same time and Al grabbed Verbena by the arm as soon as the elevator doors opened. "This way, hurry!" he said as he ushered the physician towards the glazed arena.

"Take it easy, Al. We don't want another accident on our hands," Verbena pleaded as she shrugged her arm free. "Well, at least not before we've sorted this one out."

"How is he Donna?" Al asked as he raced ahead into the lab.

"No change, he's still unconscious and he hasn't moved since the convulsions."

"Convulsions?" Al bellowed, directing his anger toward a fretful Donna. "You never told me he'd had—if you had, I'd've gotten the doc here sooner."

"Sorry, I didn't think," Donna apologized as she once again burst into floods of tears.

Verbena pulled the Captain backwards. "Al, what's done is done. No need to take your spat out on her." Then pushing him aside, "Captain, if you don't mind, you're in my way," she continued to admonish, barging a path past the Captain. With one glance, she started shouting out her orders, "Make yourself useful and get Jonquil to set up the CT, the burns unit on standby and I need the neurological team down here, Doctor Beckett is in critical trauma and I can't do this alone. Snap to it Captain!"

Almost out of the blue, Verbena gasped and started loosening Sam's clothing then, feeling about his neck.

"Hurry, now!" she screamed, "Doctor Beckett has stopped breathing and I can barely feel a pulse!"

 

TO BE CONTINUED

 

This story crosses over with the Quantum Leap: The Virtual Seasons fan-fiction series!
Check out the episode by Damon Sugameli titled "Lifetime: Past's Prologue" to see the events in this story from a different perspective.

 

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