Chiefest of Sinners: Part III
Known By His Actions
By: Jennifer L. Rowland
Episode #008

May 18th, 1984


Previously on The Starbright Project in "Chiefest of Sinners: Parts I & II"….

A group of visitors sent to the project by Weitzman arrived for a tour and a chance to dine with the scientists. Johnny Bartlett and Al Calavicci conducted a tour of the facility; when it became too taxing for the pregnant Chief Petty Officer Shannon MacLean, Al remained in the lounge with her while Johnny continued with the tour. Shortly thereafter, she informed him she was carrying his child, courtesy of a drunken whirlwind weekend in Las Vegas that she specified with eery accuracy—though Al swore he’d never met her before. Ross Adams overheard the accusation, and immediately reported it to General Collins, demanding Al’s removal from the project. Collins put Al on suspension, but only with the restriction of remaining on project property at all times. At the dinner that night, General Collins confronted Chief MacLean and informed her she too would remain at the project until everything was sorted out. Donna Elesee overheard the conversation and immediately assumed Al’s guilt, leading to a minor disagreement with Sam Beckett. Feeling betrayed by Collins, Bartlett, and having argued with Tina, Al was tempted by a lone bottle of alcohol he’d kept to test his will, and nearly fell off the wagon, but was diverted by Sam’s arrival—and was further gratified by Sam’s support. In a shocking twist, we learned that Alia had actually Leaped into Shannon MacLean and, with Zoe’s guidance, is enacting Lothos’ plan to eliminate Al Calavicci from future interference by removing him from the Starbright Project and having him dishonorably discharged from the military.

The fallout from the accusation against Al continued as gossip spread throughout the Project. Tina was devastated by the thought of Al cheating on her and left to spend time at her mother’s. Driver Perry Thompson noted her distress and lent a friendly ear—as well as an alibi for Al. Johnny Bartlett reconciled with Al and went full-force into his corner. Alia confronted Al in the elevator and forced him to join her on the recreation level stairwell, where she planned to stage a fall resulting in a miscarriage (courtesy of a modified late-term abortion being performed on the real Chief MacLean); however, Shannon’s vitals crashed during the procedure and she was dying, so the Evil Leaper was forced to Leap back early or be trapped in the past. Al was stunned by her sudden collapse and hemorrhaging and immediately tried to help until Dr. Beeks could be summoned. Shannon MacLean clung to both life and Al as she was rushed to the infirmary.


Proverbs 20:11
Even a child is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right.



Friday, May 18, 1984

"Al, she’s under now. You can let go of her hand," said Sam.

Still standing on the rail of the gurney, Al didn’t move for a moment, despite the flurry of activity around him. Verbena was examining MacLean and the medical staff was attempting to remove her uniform and get an IV started. He studied the young face, wondering at the sudden difference in her demeanor, replaying in his mind the moment in the stairwell when she’d fallen to the ground.

"Al," Sam said again. Al looked up at him. "Al, you’re in the way."

Nodding, Al dropped Shannon’s hand and stepped down from the gurney. He backed away and watched the medical team try to get her stabilized, Sam leading them, while Verbena examined her, trying to determine both the status of the baby and the cause of the bleeding so she could stop it. In the background, he heard Sam call for blood typing so they could get a transfusion started. Nurses dashed to fill orders and requests, and Al quickly realized he was still in the way, even though he wasn’t in the center of the action any longer. He kept to the sides of the room and edged out to the hallway.

Once there, he leaned against the institutional cinder block wall, his brow furrowed in confusion. Something had changed in the stairwell, and he was at a loss to explain it. Verbena was right, the blood had come too hard and fast for the short amount of time that had elapsed. Then there was the matter of her reaction once he’d knelt beside her. She was 100% focused on her baby—that was to be expected. But the desperation in her eyes when she’d turned to look at him had been shocking. More shocking still, the lack of recognition there. Sure, she’d clung to him, but fear and panic were the only things to be seen in her eyes. And she was so convinced that someone had tried to kill her baby. Al shook his head, lost in thought.

"Al, are you hurt?"

He snapped his head up and looked over at Johnny Bartlett, hurrying down the infirmary corridor with Collins and Tyler hot on his heels.

"Huh?" He looked reflexively down and realized that his grey shirt bore bloodstains on the arms and front. "No, it’s not mine. It must’ve happened when we put her on the gurney." If his pants had been a lighter color, he knew they’d be showing how saturated with blood they were as well. "They’re working on her now." He paused and regarded the three men. "That is why you’re here, isn’t it?"

Max nodded. "We got the notification that Dr. Beeks had been called to an emergency, and then when she overrode the elevator, it triggered another notice." He poked his head into the exam room, surveying the hubbub within. "What happened, Captain?"

Al opened his mouth to answer, but didn’t get the chance. Verbena flew out of the room and confronted Max. "Mr. Tyler, I need you to get a helicopter here as fast as you can, and contact Santa Fe General. Tell them to get the NICU ready."

"The Nick You?"

"Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. We’re not equipped to care for a preemie. Now, Lieutenant! I need a MedEvac!"

Max couldn’t have executed a sharper about-face, grabbing his walkie-talkie as he went, shouting orders into it as fast as he was moving.

Dr. Beeks had turned her attention to Al now, gently touching him on the shoulder. "I need you to tell me again what she said after she collapsed."

Al blinked. "She was crying for help, and when I reached her side and took her hand, she begged me not to let them kill her baby."

"Who was she talking about?"

Al shrugged his shoulders, "I have no idea. All she said was ‘Them.’ It makes no sense, who could have been hurting her, anyway? She was with me the entire time."

Verbena pursed her lips, "Well, Al, I don’t know how, but someone did try to kill her baby. Her cervix has been forced open. As near as I can tell, she was about to undergo an abortion."

Collins was aghast. "But…she was so far along. Why would she…?" He realized what he was saying and shook his head. "How? Could this have been started before she got here?"

"No, she’d have been hemorrhaging long before this. It’s a mystery, and one that I don’t have time for right now. All I know for sure is I have two patients in there who are clinging to life by a thread." She pressed her lips together and looked urgently at the men in the corridor. "Let me know as soon as the ‘copter is ready. We’ve got to do a C-section and we’ll try to keep the baby as stable as we can, but it’s imperative that it’s brought to a proper neonatal unit."

One of the nurses came to the doorway and tapped the doctor on the shoulder. "Dr. Beeks, whenever you’re ready."

Verbena bobbed her head in acknowledgment. "Gentlemen, please excuse me." The two women disappeared into the room, closing the door behind them.

Al rubbed his hands across his face and groaned. "I didn’t want this to happen."

Tom gripped his shoulder. "We know that, Al. No one’s accusing you." On his other side, Johnny took hold of the opposite shoulder.

"Well, isn’t this a touching picture?" smirked Ross Adams, casually strolling into the infirmary. "The worried father and his friends."

Al glared at him, and though the hands on his shoulders were intended to offer support, they were serving the dual purpose of holding him back (not that he’d actually deck Ross Adams, pleasant as the thought might be). "What d’you want?" he snarled, instead.

"Me? I just came down here to see about a band-aid for a paper cut," Adams said innocently, holding up his index finger. "I passed Lt. Tyler in the hall and couldn’t help but overhear the situation, since he was explaining it to his subordinates on his walkie-talkie." He laughed, mockingly. "So, Calavicci, what happened, did the heat get to be too much for you? What did you do, use your boxing skills to punch her in the stomach?"

It was a good thing Tom and Johnny hadn’t let go of his shoulders yet, because Al lunged forward at that, and now they really did have to hold him back.

"Back off, Adams," Bartlett ordered. "This isn’t helping."

"Oh my, looks like I touched a nerve," Ross grinned. "Surely you’ve interrogated him, General."

"We haven’t had a chance to sort everything out yet," Collins answered. He gently squeezed Al’s shoulder, hoping to communicate through the contact that he was on the captain’s side. "In fact, I was just going to suggest, Al, that you get showered and changed, and perhaps we can meet in my office in a half hour?"

Al glanced at the closed door, before nodding resignedly.

The general leaned close and murmured, "It’s out of our hands now, Al. Verbena will let us know." Then he cleared his throat and addressed the CIA liaison, "Is that acceptable, Agent Adams?"

"Half an hour then." He turned on his heel and left, his finger still bandage-free.

Once the agent was gone, Tom gave Al his full attention. "I’m sorry. I was hoping to keep him out of it for now."

"It’s all right," sighed Al, shrugging uncomfortably. "Better to get it over with all at once, I s’pose."

"You going to be okay?" Johnny asked.

"I just want all this to be over." Shoulders slumped, Al walked away from them, preparing to make the trek to his quarters. They watched him leave, and once he was gone, the general turned to Johnny.

"Keep an eye on him, will you?"

"Tom, he won’t skip out on the meeting."

Collins shook his head. "It’s not that. He’s barely holding it together. I don’t know what happened in that stairwell, but it’s got him shook."


_ - o O o - _

Al’s skin crawled at the sensation of drying blood. He shed his clothes the moment he crossed the threshold to his room, barely waiting until he’d closed and locked the door. It wouldn’t matter how many times he had them laundered, he’d never be able to wear the pieces again. His knees and shins were liberally streaked with crimson, and Al had to remind himself it wasn’t his. Years ago his legs had once been coated with his own blood, but this would be washed away soon enough.

He took a quivering breath and made a beeline for the shower, turning the spigot until the water steamed so hot he could barely stand it.


_ - o O o - _

Johnny hesitated in the hallway outside Al’s quarters, listening to the sounds of the shower running inside. Even if he knocked, Al wouldn’t hear him over the rushing water. He didn’t want to embarrass his friend by checking on him, but he had to admit Tom was right. As Al had walked away, he’d looked as if the weight of the world was heavy on his shoulders.

He heard the water shut off, and now he faced the choice. He could wait in the hallway until Al emerged, or he could knock now. While he was still thinking, he heard approaching footsteps and he turned to see who was coming.

"Commander Bartlett, how are you doing, sir?" Perry Thompson’s cheery Scottish accent filled the hallway.

"Fine, Perry, and you?"

"Fair to middling, sir," grinned Perry. He nodded at the captain’s door. "Are you needing to see Captain Calavicci as well?"

Johnny nodded.

"Oh, well, I can come back later. I’m sure what you need to see him about is much more important."

"I don’t know about that, Perry. What did you need?"

"Well, Commander, I don’t want to be talking out of school now. But have ye heard the rumors?"

Grimacing, Johnny said, "I think you’d have to be working on another project not to have, wouldn’t you agree?"

"That’s true," Perry sighed. "Well, that’s what I needed to see him about, sir. I think…well, I hope, that I might be able to be of some assistance."

"Trust me, Perry, that’s a lot more important." He knocked on Al’s door and nodded at the driver.

"Who is it?" Al called from within.

"Al? It’s me." Before Johnny could add "and Perry," Al had opened the door, wearing a terrycloth robe and toweling his hair.

"Is Tom worried I’ll be late?" Al asked, his sight obscured by the towel as he vigorously rubbed his head.

"No. Listen, Al, can we come in?"

"We?" Al pulled the towel from his head and noticed Perry for the first time. "Perry, hi. C’mon in." He rubbed the last droplets of water from his hair, and closed the door after they entered. "What’s up?"

"Captain, I, ehm, I drove Ti—I mean, Dr. Martinez-O’Farrell to the airport this morning and she told me about the rumors, sir."

Al sighed and folded his arms. "They’re not true, Perry."

"I know, sir. I assured her of that."

"Thanks, Perry, I appreciate your confidence in me, but how could you know?"

"I was there, sir, at the bar at Caesar’s Palace that night. I saw you, but you didn’t see me til that afternoon at the airport."

Al thought back and remembered running into Perry and getting a ride back to the project. "Perry of the golden memory!" he beamed. "We’ve got to get to General Collins’ office in about ten minutes. Do you have time to join us?"

"Yes, sir," affirmed Perry.

"Great. Give me a moment to change clothes, then." Al grabbed a shirt and slacks from his closet and disappeared into the bathroom.

"You know, Perry, Agent Adams won’t think your word is enough," cautioned Johnny.

"Feh," snorted Perry. "Let him give me a lie detector test then. I’d be glad to oblige him."


_ - o O o - _

General Thomas Collins and Agent Ross Adams frowned at each other as they sat waiting in the general’s office. Adams had shown up early, and he tapped his foot as if Bartlett and Calavicci were inexcusably late. The tapping was getting on Collins’ nerves and he visualized snapping the agent’s foot off at the ankle. His frown momentarily changed into a wicked grin, and as if he could read the general’s thoughts, Adams stopped fidgeting.

"Did Dr. Beeks get her helicopter?" Adams queried, apparently opting to make small talk while they waited.

Not in the mood to chat, after the way the agent had baited Calavicci, Collins merely nodded.

"And the baby?"

"I hope you don’t mind, Ross," said Tom, false sincerity in his voice, "but I know Commander Bartlett and Captain Calavicci are going to have the same questions, and I’d appreciate not having to repeat myself." He gave a wooden smile.

Adams tightened his lips and tersely nodded. He went back to tapping his foot. Fortunately for Collins’ sanity, a light knock sounded at the door, and Johnny Bartlett peeked in.

"Come in, Johnny. Is Al with you?"

"Of course," said Al, pushing the door open and accidentally smacking it into the CIA agent’s chair. "Oh, sorry, Ross." Tom swallowed a chuckle, and Ross looked as though he believed the accident was anything but.

"We need another chair, Tom," Johnny said.

"Now why would we need that, Commander," demanded Ross. "There are four chairs here."

"Well, if you’re offering your chair to Mr. Thompson, then, that’s fine, Ross," grinned Johnny, beckoning Perry inside.

"A driver? What does he have to do with this? I didn’t think we were discussing parking arrangements"

Perry’s face flushed pink, and Al’s eyes grew fiery. Johnny quickly intervened before things got ugly. "You wanted to get to the bottom of Shannon MacLean’s accusations, didn’t you? Perry has some information for us."

"Did he loan you the car for your backseat rendezvous with Chief MacLean?" taunted Ross, still speaking as if Perry wasn’t in the room. The driver’s eyes narrowed, and Johnny could feel Al tensing next to him.

"Ross, if you would like to remain a part of this, then I suggest you shut up," said Collins in a no-nonsense tone. He buzzed Tanya and requested a chair for Perry.

Once everyone was seated, Collins took charge. "First off, Chief MacLean and her son were rushed to Santa Fe General about ten minutes ago. They’re in critical condition, and Dr. Beeks went with them. She promised me she’d check in from Santa Fe."

"Congratulations, Captain, it’s a boy," sneered Ross. Al ignored him, his only reaction a slight flaring to his nostrils.

"I’m not going to warn you again, Ross," advised Collins, his brows two angry caterpillars over his eyes. He steepled his fingers. "Once Chief MacLean is okayed for visitors, we’ll see about getting her permission for a paternity test."

"Assuming they both make it," said Al, morosely. He couldn’t get the image of the terrified woman out of his mind, her pale face stricken.

"Al, can you tell us what happened this morning? Every detail you can give is helpful."

Sighing, Al nodded, and proceeded to tell them everything—from her behavior on the elevator to her attempt at suicide in the stairwell. When he got to the part where she fell to the floor and started hemorrhaging, he almost faltered, realizing in the telling how absurd it sounded. But as they say, life is stranger than fiction, so he persisted, not leaving out a single facet.

"From that point, you know as much as I do," he finished.

Everyone sat in stunned silence for a moment, and then Ross Adams snorted. "You expect us to believe that?"

Collins cleared his throat. "You’re questioning the integrity of Verbena Beeks now, Agent Adams? According to her, Chief MacLean’s bleeding appears to have been caused by a surgical invasion. Are you suggesting that Al subdued her and started to perform an abortion?"

Ross opened and closed his mouth, looking for all the world like a giant grouper. "Well, how else could it have happened?"

"That’s a question we’ll have to put to Chief MacLean," Tom answered. "I’d like to remind you that there are several witnesses from the recreation level who can vouch for Al’s assistance to the chief, and her pleas for Al to save her from ‘Them.’ For the very last time, Ross, I’d advise you to think before you speak."

Virtually pouting, Ross folded his arms across his chest and closed his mouth. Satisfied, Tom nodded and turned his attention to Perry.

"Now, Mr. Thompson, Commander Bartlett said you had some information for us?"


_ - o O o - _

"Sorry I’m late, Bobby. I was helping Dr. Beeks with a medical emergency," explained Sam.

"I know. Max called me." LoNigro gestured at the empty chair across from his desk. "Have a seat. So, do you think she’s going to make it?"

"We got her stabilized. She may yet need a hysterectomy. Verbena said her uterus had been punctured."

"Good Lord." Bobby closed his eyes sympathetically.

"She had a boy. He’s in bad shape, but appears strong. If they can get him situated in the NICU, he should stabilize." Sam sighed. "It wasn’t ideal, but at least she was as far along as she was. He’ll have a better chance."

"Does she know?"

"No. We put her under, and the anesthetic hadn’t worn off when the helicopter arrived. Verbena’s going to stay at Santa Fe until she comes around."

"Rough morning you had."

"I think it was worse on Al," offered Sam. "He was with her when she started hemorrhaging. You know, he was so concerned about her. It was like the last 24 hours had never happened."

"You think it could be because it’s really his baby?"

"Uh-uh. I talked to him last night and he was emphatic that it wasn’t his. No, that’s not why. I’m telling you, Bobby, he puts up a good front, but he’s got a big heart under all that bravado."

You’ve got a big heart, too, Sam, thought Bobby. The two of you are so alike in that way.


_ - o O o - _

Verbena Beeks looked at the tiny baby as he lay in the incubator, tubes and wires connected to his fragile frame, a breathing tube inserted into his small mouth. She rested her hand atop the clear box, as if she could will her strength into the infant.

"You can do it," she whispered to him. "If you can make it through this, nothing will ever hold you back." His miniature limbs twitched and a small fist rose to fitfully rub his cheek. Verbena beamed. "Attaboy," she encouraged.

Helen Crawford, the hospital’s neonatalogist, joined her at the incubator. "He’s a little fighter, this one."

"That’s what I’m counting on."

"They tell me his mother’s in worse shape than he is."

Verbena nodded. Judging from her injuries, someone had begun to perform an abortion on Shannon MacLean, and botched it badly—that was the only explanation she could come up with for the perforation in the woman’s uterus. Yet the chief had not left the project, and apparently the only people she’d interacted with outside of her quarters had been the project administrators. Now that she’d had time to think about the mystery, Verbena found herself frustrated by the lack of any sensible answer. Rather than get into the enigmatic circumstances, Verbena settled for sharing the catalog of injuries with Dr. Crawford.

"Was the uterine injury reparable?"

The sad look in Verbena’s eyes gave the other doctor her answer even before she spoke. "They had to do a hysterectomy."

"So young, what a pity," Helen sighed. She, too, laid her hand on the incubator, and studied the preemie. "Well, if he inherited his fight from her, she’ll make it, Verbena."

"I hope you’re right."

They stood silently together, watching over the baby like two guardian angels charged with his safekeeping, until a nurse approached and called Crawford away to check on another premature baby. Verbena stayed by the incubator for a few more minutes before departing the NICU.

She stood uncertainly in the corridor for a moment, then turned her steps toward Maternity, where Shannon MacLean was just being wheeled out from surgery. It would be a while before the young woman awoke, and there was really nothing Verbena could do for her, yet she felt compelled to be nearby. She took up a post outside MacLean’s room, and again pondered possible scenarios for her injuries.


_ - o O o - _

"This isn’t the end of this, Calavicci! Thompson may vouch for you—however you paid him off—but the real truth will come from a paternity test." Ross Adams stormed out of General Collins’ office. They heard him slam the outer door, and heard Tanya’s outraged and startled shriek as he did so.

"General, Captain Calavicci hasn’t paid me anything," Perry quickly said.

Collins chuckled. "No need to worry, Perry, the thought never entered my mind."

"It would have been worth it if I had, though, to get that reaction out of Adams," smiled Al. "I thought he was gonna have a stroke for a minute there."

"Well, Al, you said you wanted a paternity test. Looks like you’ve got it. Ross is going to insist on one now."

Al’s smile widened then faltered, as he remembered his worry from the previous night. What would he do if the father shared his blood type? Maybe Perry would have to take a lie detector test after all. Maybe they all would.

Collins’ phone rang. "That’ll be Dr. Beeks. I gave her a direct line to call." He answered the phone, and spoke briefly with the doctor, jotting down information. The three men across from him tried their best to pretend they weren’t listening, but everyone knew that each of them was trying to piece together information from his side of things, straining to pick up the tinny voice of the doctor from the receiver. Finally, the general ended the call and looked at the expectant faces.

"The baby’s in the NICU, and Chief MacLean just came out of surgery—they did a complete hysterectomy and she’s still unconscious. They’ve given her three pints of blood so far." He paused, collected his thoughts, and went on, "Dr. Beeks expects her to wake up some time this afternoon and we should be able to talk to her then."

"God, I almost hate to put that girl through this after everything that’s happened to her," Al muttered.

"How’s the baby?" asked Johnny, reaching over to give Al a reassuring squeeze on his upper arm.

"Improving slightly, but he’s on a ventilator until his lungs get stronger."

"Do they have any more ideas on what might have caused all this?" inquired Al.

"Dr. Beeks said the surgical team was as perplexed as she was. The consensus remains a botched abortion. As for how and why, we’ll have to wait until we can talk to Chief MacLean.

"Al, much as I’d like to take you off suspension now, I’m afraid I can’t do that until we get a paternity test. Adams has just enough pull that it would cause more problems for us than it’s worth."

"I understand, Tom." The words were spoken without a hint of resentment.

"Perry, do you think you could arrange a vehicle for us to travel to Santa Fe this afternoon? I’m not sure when we’ll need to leave—that’ll depend on when I get the call from Dr. Beeks that Chief MacLean has been given the green light for visitors. We’ll need something large enough for the four of us, plus Agent Adams."

"Are you wanting me to drive you, sir?"

"If it’s not too much trouble."

"Not at all, General! ‘Tis an honor! Just give me the word and I’ll have the car ready for ye in three shakes!" His enthusiasm overwhelmed him, and Perry shot to his feet and saluted.

Collins returned the salute, and laughter filled the office, breaking the tension, as Perry realized his exuberance had gone a bit over the top. Sheepishly, he grinned and shrugged. "I’ll just head down to the motor pool and reserve a suitable vehicle, shall I?"


_ - o O o - _

"How much longer until she wakes up, do you think?" Verbena asked.

Dr. Raymond Lodge didn’t look up from checking Shannon’s vitals. He frowned and notated something in her chart before he responded to Verbena.

"Frankly, Dr. Beeks, I can’t promise that she will wake up. I’m not certain you appreciate how profound the injuries and blood loss were."

Verbena straightened to her full height, and her nostrils flared with anger. "Dr. Lodge, need I remind you that I performed the C-section to deliver her baby, and that I was the first doctor on the scene? I saw how much blood she lost, and her injuries. So don’t tell me I don’t appreciate what she went through. If I could have, I’d have assisted in the operating room when we brought her here! I may be young, but I’ve had just as much training as you!"

"I’m sorry," he conceded. "According to your notes, she had to be resuscitated?"

"Twice. Once by the people who were with her when she collapsed, and once by my team during the C-section."

Lodge frowned. "Well, make that three times. She flatlined on the operating table."

Verbena gasped, and found herself taking hold of the young woman’s hand. Lodge gave her a wan smile.

"How long was it before you brought her back?"

"Over five minutes," he said.

He met Verbena’s eyes, and they shared a concerned frown. She knew as well as he did that the chances of survival went down after five minutes. Instinctively, her hand tightened protectively around Shannon’s hand, and as she had earlier with the woman’s son, Verbena wished she could impart some of her own strength.

"What do you think her chances are?" she whispered, not wanting to hear the answer.

He shook his head. "I honestly couldn’t say. The next few hours are going to be touch and go. It’s really up to her." Lodge sighed. "It might be a good idea to contact her next of kin. And the baby’s father."

Whoever that is, Verbena thought. She was fully aware of the rumors circulating back at the Project about Shannon MacLean’s alleged dalliance with Captain Calavicci. While she wasn’t prepared to completely eliminate the possibility that the captain had indeed fathered her child, Verbena’s gut told her otherwise. Still, feelings alone weren’t enough. You’ve got to wake up, Shannon, she mentally told the unconscious woman. Your son needs you. And we need the answers that only you can provide.

"Dr. Beeks. Will you be able to get in touch with her family?" Raymond Lodge tapped her on the shoulder and brought her out of her thoughts.

"I’ll have to contact my people, but we should have some information to go on," Verbena said heavily. Reluctantly, she returned the limp hand to the bed and headed for the nurse’s station to place another call to General Collins.


_ - o O o - _

It was amazing how quickly hope slid once again into despondency. Sprawled on his back atop an unmade bed, Al stared numbly at the ceiling. Was he ever going to be cut a break in this life?

Not long ago, General Collins had stopped by his quarters, a somber look on his face. Al’s first thought had been that Perry had been unable to obtain a car, but his stomach plummeted when the general had asked if he could come in, and urged Al to have a seat.

"Is something wrong?"

Tom nodded. "I’ve just gotten off the phone with Verbena Beeks."

"Wait, isn’t that a good thing? I thought we were waiting for her to call when Shannon regained consciousness."

"Al," Tom stopped and frowned, a sad and frustrated air about him. He took a deep breath before continuing. "Al, right now they’re not certain when, or even if, she’ll wake up."

"But she has to!" The absurdly pointless words flew out of his mouth before he could stop them. He flushed, realizing how stupid and desperate he must sound. And selfish; though as Al considered, he hadn’t uttered the words thinking only of himself. He was thinking also of Shannon’s baby, hours old and a month early, struggling for life.

The lines in Tom’s face seemed to deepen as he regarded Al. "Even if the worst happens, Al, we’ll get that paternity test somehow."

Al shook his head. "If it comes to that, it won’t matter, Tom. Adams will blame me for her death. He’ll trump up some charge, and she won’t be around to dispute it or tell the whole story."

"What about the witnesses from the rec level?"

Snorting derisively, Al said, "What about them? She was already on the floor bleeding at that point. All they heard was screaming…God only knows what Adams could convince them was ‘really going on.’"

Despite Tom’s assurances that any of Ross’ games would be intercepted, Al knew just from how quickly the rumors of MacLean’s accusation had spread that there was really nothing any of them could do to stop Ross Adams, short of locking him in his quarters and cutting off his contact with the outside world. Al’s stomach heaved as he considered the ramifications if Shannon MacLean died. If there’d been any food left in it, he’d have had to run for the bathroom. As it was, he just quietly moaned and continued studying the ceiling tiles, as if the solution to all his problems would reveal itself in the pattern of bumps and dimples.


_ - o O o - _

Donna Elesee’s mind was far from her work. She ferociously crumpled up the latest page of flubbed calculations and threw it in the direction of the overflowing wastebasket. Disgusted with herself, she rested her elbows on the table and pressed the palms of her hands against her temples. Why had she said those things on the elevator? Setting aside the way she’d offended Sam by her words, she acknowledged the disrespect she’d shown to her superior.

Her fingers moved to pensively twirl the ends of her hair as she realized that she wasn’t as troubled by what she’d said to Al Calavicci as she was by Sam’s reaction. A sick feeling knotted her stomach as she pictured the anger in Sam’s eyes, anger that was not only out of place on his face, but was directed at her. Sighing, Donna shoved the legal pad away and looked at the clock. More than likely, Sam would work through his regular lunch hour. Equally as likely, Dr. LoNigro would eventually force him to stop and go eat, if for no other reason than his wife phoned his lab on a regular basis to ensure that the scientist remembered to take his meals. Once he received a call from Dana, he’d force Sam to join him for a meal if the quantum physicist happened to be working in their joint lab that day. All Donna had to do was estimate when the attorney was apt to check on her husband.

Admittedly, it would have been easier for Donna to just call the lab and arrange to meet Sam. She suspected he was still so upset with her that he wouldn’t be amenable. But if she caught him in a public place, he’d have to, at the very least, be civil, even though the cafeteria would probably be rather deserted by the time he and Bobby took a lunch.

Donna rose to her feet and headed for the vending machines. If she was going to put off lunch, she’d need something to tide her over. Maybe a sugar rush would jolt her brain into gear, she thought, glancing savagely back at the calculations awaiting her return.


_ - o O o - _

Ross was agape. Fascinating? That was the response Dr. L had to the latest developments? As if he could see the agent’s face, Dr. L laughed, and told him he took things far too seriously.


The doctor quickly outlined what he advised Ross to do, to take advantage of Chief Petty Officer MacLean’s condition—both currently and if it worsened to the point of death. Though neither of them had been party to Al Calavicci’s conversation with Thomas Collins, the words he spoke next were eerie in their prophetic nature, as he urged Adams to propose scenarios without fear of contradiction from the incapacitated woman.

For once, Ross Adams was speechless. Whether it was because of the genius of the idea, or from fear of implementing it, he wasn’t sure.


_ - o O o - _

Nearly two hours after her candy bar, Donna finally decided to venture to the cafeteria in hopes of intercepting Sam Beckett, estimating the time of Dana Barrenger-LoNigro’s call to Bobby being the only computations she’d managed all afternoon. She idly stretched and nonchalantly announced her intentions to go eat. Absent-minded nods from those who’d already dined and returned acknowledged her.

Her stomach growled loudly in the nearly empty corridors, and Donna lightly pressed a hand against it to silence it. She now wished she’d had more than a candy bar. It wasn’t that she’d never been known to get so involved in her work that she forgot to eat, but it was a much rarer occasion for her than Sam and Bobby. Her stomach only got distracted from a meal when she was successfully absorbed by whatever she was working on. Her mediocre attempts at calculations today certainly didn’t qualify.

As she’d expected, only a few clusters of people were in the cafeteria. A cursory glance, subtly conducted on her way to collect her meal, caused her stomach to drop when she didn’t see her quarry. Trying to keep disappointment at bay, she halfheartedly assembled a salad and made her way towards the tables.

As she rounded the salad bar, she caught sight of Sam and Bobby, deep in discussion, in a far corner of the cafeteria. Donna hesitated, halting in her progression and second guessing herself. Fortunately for her nerves, Bobby looked up and saw her. Unaware of her tiff with Sam, he waved and beckoned her over. Donna suspected they’d been discussing the latest developments with the orb, if Bobby’s enthusiasm was any judge. Her guess must have been correct, for when Sam turned to follow Bobby’s gaze, the only hint of pause he gave was a brief tightening of his lips before he nodded and gestured for her to join them.

"Glad you happened over here, Donna," Bobby said as she sat down. "Sam and I have some thoughts about some additional tests to run on the orb. I really think we can get SID performing more predictably."

"Are you sure predictability is what you really want, though?" Donna asked, her analytic side speaking up before she could stop herself. Arguing with Sam over this instead of Al was not what she wanted to do.

To her relief, Sam mused what she’d said. "She may be right, Bobby. I agree we need more focus and channeling, but I really don’t want to see a typical computer come out of this."

Bobby chewed his sandwich thoughtfully. "Focus without predictability. That’s going to be quite the programming challenge."

"We need to talk to Gooshie," Sam said.

Still attacking the remnants of his sandwich, Bobby nodded in agreement. He polished it off and wiped his fingers on a napkin. "In fact, Sam, I’ll go run some ideas by him now. I’ve satisfied Dana’s requirements by eating my lunch, and since we’ve got twenty minutes left, I’ll spend the rest of my time talking to him. No, stay here and finish your lunch, Sam. Besides, we invited Donna over; it would be the height of rudeness to leave her without any lunch companions. Please excuse me, Donna." Bobby brought his tray to the disposal area and then left.

As soon as Bobby was gone, Sam focused on the soup and half-eaten sandwich before him. Donna chewed on her lower lip and idly picked at her salad, lifting and then dropping greens. Silence hovered over the table until Donna couldn’t take it.

"I didn’t mean to run Bobby off," she said.

"You didn’t," Sam muttered, barely raising his head.

Donna sighed. "If you wanted to talk to Gooshie as well, you should go, you know."

Sam shook his head and took a bite of his sandwich. His hazel eyes flicked in her direction, and he seemed to be evaluating her. Donna ate a few morsels of her salad before speaking.

"I’m sorry."

Sam was apparently not going to let her off that easy. "For what?"

"For our argument."

He set his sandwich down and looked directly at her. "You think I’m upset because we had a disagreement?"

"No," Donna admitted in a small voice. "You’re upset about this morning. Sam, I don’t know why I said those things on the elevator."

"I do," Sam said. "You don’t like Al."

Her voice was even smaller now. "Not particularly, no."


Why, indeed. "Do I have to have a reason?" she asked, not wanting to get into self-analysis. Not wanting to think about how many times the men in her life had let her down. Not wanting to think about her father and how he’d left her without a single word.

Sam shrugged. "It would help if you did."

"Look, I don’t like the way he treats women, okay? I don’t know why Tina puts up with him."

"She apparently sees something there she likes. They seem to get on well enough."

"Yeah, that’s why she left in tears this morning."

"She did?" Concern distracted him from his defense. "Do you have any idea what happened?"

"I don’t want to be accused of rumor-mongering," Donna said in a hard voice. She stabbed a lettuce leaf and gestured a small circle with her fork. "But the word is that it’s this thing with Chief MacLean and Al. Apparently Tina doesn’t see enough that she likes to override being cheated on like that."

"He didn’t cheat on her."

"I suppose he told you that."

"He did, and I believe him. Why can’t you?"

"I just…can’t, Sam."

He frowned. "That’s not good enough."

"What about you?" she challenged. "Why do you take him at his word?"

He sat in quiet thought for a long time. "I see something when I look at Al Calavicci. Something you don’t see in a lot of people." He paused, searching for the words. Donna bit back a smart remark, and let him continue. "He’s got a drive—dreams, ambition. I can tell. He couldn’t have accomplished all he has otherwise—M.I.T., Annapolis, the space program. Bobby told me some things when he was trying to get me to join Starbright."

"I could tell you some things, too," Donna said, darkly.

"I’m sure you could," acknowledged Sam. "I saw a few things firsthand when I got here. I’ve also seen how far Al’s come since then. That special person I saw behind the cloud of booze is starting to come out now that he’s been given a chance."

Donna poked at her salad. "Why even bother trying?" she asked. She looked up at him. "I’m not being flip, Sam, I really want to know. Why?"

"Everyone deserves a chance. More importantly, everyone deserves to have someone believe in them, whether they or anyone else thinks they deserve it or not."

Donna fell silent. She pushed greens around her plate and sighed. "Well, God knows you’ve believed in me."

Wisely, Sam just gave her a weak smile and ate some of his soup. Donna used the stillness to evaluate her opinion of Al Calavicci and what Sam had told her. She was starting to understand Sam a bit better now, and had to admit that a serious side of Al she’d never before seen had started to display itself over the past several months. As she considered further, she allowed that nepotism alone couldn’t account for the captain’s office of First Assistant Director on a project of this magnitude. She wasn’t sure she liked Al any better, but she could begin to see a bit of Sam’s faith, even appreciate it.

"So what happened with Chief MacLean?" she finally asked.

Sam quickly filled her in on what he knew, though he hadn’t heard anything since helping to load her onto the medical helicopter. "I imagine General Collins, Al, and Johnny know more," he finished. "Verbena was supposed to call them from Santa Fe."

"Hmmm. I don’t think it was good news," said Donna, gesturing with her fork. Sam turned to follow where she indicated, and they watched Johnny Bartlett virtually steering Al Calavicci through the cafeteria line. It was obvious Al was only going through the motions, his mind miles away, as he allowed his plate to be indiscriminately filled. Johnny nudged him toward a table in the opposite corner of the cafeteria from where Donna and Sam sat, seeming to try to keep him from prying eyes, even though only two other tables besides theirs had occupants at this point.

To Donna’s surprise, Sam got up without uttering a sound and strode toward them. After a moment’s hesitation, she followed. Johnny noticed their approach and appeared to welcome the distraction, reaching out to tap Al’s forearm to call his attention to the visitors. Donna now regretted her harsh words, seeing the captain’s drawn face and weary eyes.

She remained a short distance away while Sam pressed the pair for an update on Chief MacLean. Donna’s guilt increased when they said the chances weren’t good for the chief or her baby. She stepped closer, and as the conversation paused, she touched Al’s shoulder.

"Al, I want to, that is…" she stopped, aware that not only were Al’s eyes on her, but so were Sam and Johnny’s. She inhaled a shaky breath. "I’m sorry…about what I said this morning…on the elevator."

He smiled a weak grin and reached for her hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. "Thanks."

"What…what are you going to do now?" As surprised as she’d been by her attitude that morning, she now shocked herself with an empathy whose source she couldn’t pinpoint. Next to her, Sam lightly pressed a hand to her back, out of gratitude and support.

"All we can do is wait," Johnny answered on his behalf.

A sudden fire came into Al’s eyes and he looked up at Donna, his mind pulling back the events surrounding the words for which she’d just apologized. "No, that’s not all we can do." He rose, leaving his food untouched. "C’mon, I need to call Tom. I’m going to the hospital."


_ - o O o - _

Lt. Max Tyler sat across from General Collins in his office and watched the director’s face. Collins rubbed a hand across his forehead, lines deeply etched into the flesh.

"You’re certain?"

Max nodded, his fresh face serious. "I made a few calls to double check. No family; she was raised in foster care."

"And no clue who the father is."

"None, sir."

Tom sighed, wishing he was somewhere else. Home, maybe. As the phone started ringing, he amended that location to Fiji, preferably without electricity.


"Tom, I know you said I wasn’t allowed to leave the project, but I need you to make an exception."

Tom’s eyes widened, and Max leaned forward a bit in his chair, despite himself. "Where do you need to go, Al?"

"I want to go to the hospital. I can’t explain why, hell, I can’t even explain it to myself, but I’ve got to see her."

"Are you sure that’s wise?"

A short laugh came through the line. "No, probably not in Ross Adams’ eyes. I may be admitting guilt as far as he’s concerned. And I don’t care. If you’d seen her, Tom—the look in her eyes…" He trailed off.

Tom thought it over; it only took a moment. "You’ve got my okay, Al. But I’m coming with you. Meet me on the surface in ten minutes." He disconnected and looked to Max. "I’m off to the hospital in Santa Fe."

The director of security nodded. "I’ll keep an eye on Agent Eager."

"Thanks. And put in a call to Perry Thompson if you wouldn’t mind. Looks like we’ll just be needing a small car after all."


_ - o O o - _

Verbena wearily trudged out of the NICU, after checking on the preemie once more. Her afternoon had been spent alternating between the baby and his mother, neither one of them responding as she hoped. At least the baby hadn’t worsened, she thought. At least there was that.

She sat down heavily on a padded bench in one of the small waiting areas nearby and leaned forward, resting her head in her hands. A gentle touch on her shoulder startled her, and she looked up into Raymond Lodge’s serious face. Verbena’s heart dropped and a lump flew into her throat.

"Oh, God, no. Don’t tell me she’s gone," she began, blinking furiously to avert tears. She wouldn’t normally be so emotional, but she was so drained.

"No, no, I didn’t mean to alarm you," Lodge quickly said. He sat down next to her. "She’s pretty much the same. A slight improvement in her blood pressure, but that’s all."

"Don’t scare me like that," sighed Verbena, slumping in relief. "So if there’s really no change, what did you come down here for?"

"Physician, heal thyself," he quietly said, producing a takeout box from behind his back. Verbena smiled and gratefully took it, opening it to reveal a club sandwich and chips. Lodge reached into the pocket of his white labcoat, and handed her a chilled can of Sprite.

"Thanks, Dr. Lodge," she said, hungrily attacking the sandwich. She hadn’t realized until the first bite just how famished she was. Verbena made short work of the meal and smiled ruefully at the surgeon. "Bet you didn’t expect this to get dropped in your lap today."

"I’m trying to keep it down to two patients. Are you going to be all right?"

She nodded, the food having helped both her energy levels and her mood. "I thought I’d go check on Shannon again."

"I’ve just come from there, Dr. Beeks," he chided.

"I know, but I just have to see for myself," she said, shrugging.

"A doctor after my own heart." Lodge gave a wry chuckle. He patted her on the shoulder. "Go on with you, then."

"Thanks for lunch…or supper, whatever that qualified as." She rose and made her way down the hallways to Shannon MacLean’s room. Verbena paused at the threshold and steeled herself before entering, not certain she could take seeing no change—or worse. Right when she’d convinced herself to go in, she heard someone calling out her name in a soft voice. She turned to see General Collins approaching, Captain Calavicci with him, and a third man she wasn’t certain she recognized.

"General, this is a surprise."

"Yes, I know. Are they allowing visitors yet?"

A vertical line formed between her brows as she looked at him. "General, I thought you understood when I called. Chief MacLean is unconscious."

"It’s my fault, ‘Bena," interjected Al. "I want to see her."

Verbena sighed. "You understand, she won’t even know you’re in the room. She won’t be able to answer any questions."

"I know that. Can I see her?" When Verbena didn’t respond, he added, "If you think I need a witness, you or General Collins, or Perry, any of you can come in with me."

"That won’t be necessary," she finally said.

He smiled and touched her cheek. "Thank you."

She merely nodded, the boost from the food insufficient to steady her emotions, too close to the surface.


_ - o O o - _

Al slowly walked into the hospital room, butterflies suddenly having taken flight in his stomach. He made his way to the bedside, dragging a chair a few feet over as he went, taking a seat when he stopped.

Shannon lay still and pale in the bed, her blond hair straggled on the pillow, only the faintest hint of color in her lips. A nearly empty pint of blood drained through IV tubing into her arm.

He wasn’t sure why, but he took hold of her hand. Al had to shake his head; he’d half expected the limp fingers to tighten in his grip like they had earlier. Frowning, he bowed his head for a moment, then lifted it again.

"Shannon, what happened?" he murmured. So many questions. Why she’d fingered him in the first place being the primary one, the mysterious source of her injuries a close second. He sat quietly holding her hand for a long time until the silence started getting to him.

"You had a son, did anyone tell you that?" Probably not, they don’t think you can hear anything. Maybe you can’t. Maybe I’m just nuts, sitting here talking to myself. Al sighed. "He needs you, Shannon."

"I’m not angry about what you said, okay? I understand you probably felt pretty desperate. I know you don’t have any fam…" Al broke off, realizing that if she could hear him, he needed to remain positive, "any help," he amended. "I can’t imagine why you’d figure I’d make a good father, but at least you’ve got good taste." He laughed softly, sardonically.

He took his other hand and covered hers that he still held. "Shannon, honey, you need to wake up. Don’t give up, do you hear me? Don’t you give up. I’ve survived worse than this, so I know this won’t beat you."

Al closed his eyes and sighed. "Just hang in there, okay? It’s all going to be all right."

He gently returned her hand to the bed. Then he pushed the chair back, rose, and turned to leave. A soft sound behind him made him turn back. He studied the unconscious woman for a moment, but noticed no change in her appearance. I’m hearing things now. He stood still watching her, a sad expression on his face, when he heard the sound again. With a start, he realized it had been a slight whimper, coming from the back of Shannon’s throat. Al looked down and saw the fingers of the hand he’d been holding fluttering slightly.

Al grabbed her hand and pressed it reassuringly, simultaneously turning his head back toward the doorway to shout, "Dr. Beeks!"


_ - o O o - _

Bobby and Gooshie were deep into discussions and schematics when Sam and Donna finally caught up with them. After Al had hurried out of the cafeteria, Johnny following him in a daze, Sam and Donna had returned to their table, finishing their meal in the relief of having had the awkwardness that had ruled for over a day removed. They discussed the continued integration of SID and the orb before ultimately determining that they needed to join in with Bobby and Gooshie’s theorizing.

"Sam, Donna, is lunch over already?" Bobby asked, searching out the wall clock in the lab. Of course he should have expected to lose track of time, he always did when he got involved with his work. Gooshie greeted them as well, albeit more formally, as usual.

Sam grinned, "We thought we’d join you, see if four heads aren’t better than two."

"Please, Dr. Beckett, your ideas are always welcome. Yours too, Dr. Elesee," said Gooshie. He glanced around. "Will Captain Calavicci and Dr. Martinez-O’Farrell be joining us as well, to complete our team?"

"No, Al’s gone to the hospital to check on Chief MacLean, and Tina left town—to her mother’s, I think," Donna said. She kept the editorializing to herself this time.

"What happened to Chief MacLean?" Gooshie asked, and everyone stared, amazed at his oblivion to the rumor mills. Sam glanced at Donna as if to say, And I thought I was in my own world!

As quickly as possible, they filled Gooshie in, and he nodded knowingly. "So that’s why she left town," he said. "Has anyone told her it’s not true?"

"No one knows how to get in touch with her, Gooshie," explained Sam. "And I don’t think Al has had a chance to try yet." Or been much in the mindset to.

Gooshie ran a hand through his wild hair. "I might be able to be of assistance in that regard. It wouldn’t take much to access her file and get the phone number." He worried his lip between his teeth. "Of course, this isn’t the type of call that should be coming from me."

All eyes turned to Donna and she took a step back. "Me?"

"Well, you’re her friend, aren’t you, Donna?" asked Bobby.

"Not that close of one," Donna said, not adding that she had very few friends at the project.

"You’re closer to her than any of us," Sam put in.

Donna waved her hands in a negative way. "I wouldn’t even know what to say."

"You’ll be fine. Just go with the flow, and feel her out about Al," insisted Sam. "She needs some reassurance right now, that’s all."

"I don’t know," waffled Donna.

Gooshie turned from the computer terminal, where he’d been steadily clacking while Bobby and Sam tried to convince Donna. "I’ve got the number."


_ - o O o - _

The ringing phone interrupted General Hospital. Tina sighed and turned to her mother. "I’ll get it, Ma, just let me know what happens with Luke and Laura, ‘kay?" She rose and headed into the kitchen where she picked up the extension.


"Hello. May I, uh… May I speak with Tina, please?"

"You’ve got her," Tina said. It didn’t sound like any of her high school friends, not that any of them knew she was back in town.

"Tina, hi, this is Donna. Uh, Donna Elesee."

Tina almost dropped the phone. What was she calling for?

"Donna? Is something wrong at the project? Has one of my experiments, like, blown up?"

"No, nothing like that. I just wanted to…check on you, see how you were doing."

"You wanted to check on me? Why?"

The other line was quiet for so long Tina began to wonder if they’d been disconnected.

"Word gets around, Tina. I know what Portia told you."

Tina’s lips tightened in a way that would have served as a warning if Donna could have seen it. Al always knew to back off when she tightened her lips. At the thought of him, her lips tightened even more.

True, she had told Perry she would think about what he’d told her, and she did believe the alibi he provided for Al. But she was still furious that Al hadn’t been up front with her.

"I don’t…." Tina stopped herself. She’d just started to say she didn’t want to talk about it, but that was what Al had said to her last night. She didn’t want to think about him—or think like him. She sighed, "And?"

"And…how are you doing?"

"I’m mad, okay? I’m mad and I’m hurt and I’m just trying to lose myself in somebody else’s problems. I’ve been watching soaps all afternoon. Is that what you, like, wanted to hear?"

"No, it isn’t. Is there anything I can do?"

Tina walked to the refrigerator and pulled it open, grabbing a can of Tab. She opened it and swallowed, "Not really. Not unless you can rewind things so yesterday never happened."

"Oh, Tina," Donna’s voice was tender. "You’re not the only one that wishes that."

"Tina? Is everything all right?"

Tina cleared her throat before hollering back, "I’m fine, Mom. It’s a friend from work."


"Your mom’s worried about you," observed Donna.

"Yeah, well, that’s, like, her job, isn’t it? What’s your reason?"

"I just…I just figure you have to be pretty upset to run off the way you did."

"Give the girl a gold star," Tina snapped.

"Have you talked to him?"

Tina frowned, sipping Tab before she answered. "No. I don’t want to hear more lies."

Donna sighed. "He’s not lying, Tina. He really never met her before."

Tears sprang to Tina’s eyes, and she started pacing around the kitchen as far as the over-long cord would allow. "Did he tell you that?"

"No, he told Sam. I didn’t believe it at first, either, but it’s true. I know that now. And, Tina, there’s more."

"How do you know?" She ignored the part about there being more for now.

"I trust Sam’s instincts for one thing. For another, I’ve seen Al today."

"Is that supposed to make me care?" She wished her voice weren’t quavering.

"You do care, Tina, I know you do. Tina? Hon, are you crying?"

"No," lied Tina. She hurriedly swigged soda to try and alleviate the lump in her throat. "I…I have to go."

"Wait! Tina, please."

"Donna, I appreciate the call. I just…I can’t talk about it right now."

"Tina, don’t…"

She sighed, and leaned against the counter, tears threatening to start again. "Why do you care what’s going on between me and Al, anyway?"

"I don’t like to see people hurting. Especially my friends."

Fighting to speak clearly through weak sobs, Tina said, "Donna, I have to go. But…thanks." She hung up the phone and leaned her forehead against the receiver.

If Donna Elesee could believe in Al, why couldn’t she? What she’d told Perry was true, she had a lot to think about. Tina took several deep breaths and splashed cool water on her face before returning to the living room to rejoin her mother and the soap opera.


_ - o O o - _

Tom stood next to Al outside the hospital room. Perry had offered to pick up coffee for all of them while Al had been in the room and hadn’t returned yet. Verbena had hurried in upon Al’s calling out, and had paged Raymond Lodge shortly thereafter. Al had been shooed away while they examined Shannon.

"Do you think she’s really coming around?" Tom asked.

"I dunno, maybe I’m reading too much into things." Al shook his head in amazement. "Wouldn’t that be a kick in the butt if she was, though?"

"Who’s doing the kicking?" asked Verbena. A fragile but genuine smile was on her face. "She’s awake now. Very weak, but lucid. Dr. Lodge is telling her about her baby right now."

"Is she strong enough for questions?" Tom asked, louder than he intended.

Dr. Lodge had heard, and he stepped out behind Dr. Beeks. "No, absolutely not. I won’t have her put under any additional stress right now."

A faint wail came from the room, and Verbena hurried in, taking Lodge’s place. They heard her soothing tone, but couldn’t understand the words she said. Al frowned. "You need to let her see the baby."

"Out of the question," Lodge answered, sadly shaking his head. "Moving her could further traumatize her."

"She sounds pretty traumatized as it is. She’ll be more upset every minute she can’t see her son. Trust me, Doctor, every fiber of her being is focused on that baby."

Tom nodded. He hadn’t been there when MacLean had collapsed, but he’d been there when his own children were born. "She won’t rest until she sees him," he affirmed.

The doctor hesitated, and while he was still pondering his response, Verbena came to the doorway. In a low voice she asked Al to come inside. "You seemed to be reassuring to her earlier. See if you can calm her down."

"Me? I…okay." Al turned to Tom, "Convince him." He followed Verbena back into the hospital room.

The head of Shannon’s bed had been slightly elevated, and she wept so furiously she didn’t notice her visitors. Verbena allowed Al to approach the bed and hung back a few steps. He paused for a moment, remembering that in the stairwell, before her collapse, he’d been anything but reassuring to her. How would she react to his presence now? Cautiously, he took hold of her hand. She gasped at the contact and looked up at him. Scrubbing at her eyes with the other hand, she smiled weakly.

"It’s you," she said.

"It’s me."

"Thank you….for helping me. My baby would have died for sure." She choked on the final words. Al gently stroked her hand to bolster her spirits; she took a shaky breath and swallowed her tears.

"We’re trying to get them to let you see him," he said.

"Thank you." She pressed her lips together, her jaw quivering as she tried to fight back encroaching sobs. Her eyes closed and tears slid down her cheeks.

"Shannon, is there anything I can do?" Al asked her.

She looked at him, and gave him a rueful smile. "Tell me your name?"

Verbena exchanged a shocked look with him and drew near. "Don’t you recognize him, Shannon?"

Shannon nodded emphatically. "Yes, he was my Good Samaritan. I don’t know where he came from, but I wouldn’t be here without him."

Al did a double take and then smiled serenely at her and patted her hand in lieu of shaking it. "Captain Al Calavicci. Glad I could be of assistance, ma’am."


(to be concluded…)


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