|Premise | History | Episode Guide | Characters | Authors | Contact Us | Submit A Story | FAQ | Links | Message Board | Latest Updates | Coming Soon | Return to Al's Place|
|Printer Friendly Version||Chiefest of Sinners: Part IV
The Purpose That Prevails
By: Jennifer L. Rowland
May 18th - May 19th, 1984
Previously on The Starbright Project in "Chiefest of Sinners: Parts I, II, & III" .
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 accuracythough Al swore hed never met her before. Ross Adams overheard the accusation, and immediately reported it to General Collins, demanding Als 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 Als 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 hed kept to test his will, and nearly fell off the wagon, but was diverted by Sams arrivaland was further gratified by Sams support. In a shocking twist, we learned that Alia had actually Leaped into Shannon MacLean and, with Zoes 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 mothers. Driver Perry Thompson noted her distress and lent a friendly earas 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, Shannons 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.
While the medical staff scrambled to save Shannon MacLean and her child, Al pondered the enigma of her change in attitude and condition. Ross Adams took every chance to goad Al and demanded he be questioned. Perry Thompson came forward to vouch for Al on the night in question, but Ross Adams insisted a paternity test would prove otherwise. At Santa Fe General Hospital, both Shannon MacLean and her son struggled for life, their survival hanging in the balance. At the prospect of her death and inability to be questioned or authorize a paternity test, Al spiraled deeper into depression. Donna sought out Sam to apologize for her harsh words and surprised herself by reaching out to Al and later, to Tina via a long distance phone call. Al insisted on visiting Chief MacLean at the hospital and was granted an exception by General Collins, who accompanied him. Everyone was startled when his visit precipitated Chief MacLeans regaining consciousness and the mystery intensified when she didnt know who Al was.
Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails.
Friday, May 18, 1984
"Where is he?" bellowed Ross Adams, as he stormed into Max Tylers office.
"I beg your pardon?" Max asked, calm as could be.
"Oh youll be begging all right, but for more than just my pardon if I dont get some answers. Calavicci! Where is he?"
"May I ask what you need with the captain?"
Ross fumed. "Why are you stonewalling me, Lieutenant?"
"Stonewalling. Where is he? Ive checked his quarters, his office. Where else could he be? I thought Collins restricted him to the property."
"He did, sir. I logged it in myself."
Ross closed his eyes and shook his head, his nostrils flaring wide as he tried to calm himself. "And?" he muttered through clenched teeth.
"And General Collins is fully abreast of the situation."
"Where, pray tell, might I find General Collins?"
Max willed his face to remain serious, but a wide grin threatened to split it. He was enjoying this. "Hes not in his office?"
"Tell me Lieutenant Tyler, how did someone so ignorant of the goings-on at Starbright ever get appointed Security Director?"
"Well, golly! Just lucky I guess," Max imitated Gomer Pyle and looked challengingly at the CIA Agent, growing stern now. "Bear in mind, Agent Adams, you still havent told me what you require of the captain, or the general."
Ross squared his jaw and glared. "Never mind. Ill find the answers on my own." He stalked away.
Max watched him leave and shook his head. Hes up to something.
_ - o O o - _
Shannon studied the route as best she could as Dr. Beeks pushed her wheelchair through the hospital corridors toward the NICU so she could see her baby. Determined not to admit to Dr. Lodge how painful moving was for her lest he forbid her the small freedom hed reluctantly granted, Shannon had managed to shift from the bed to the chair. A small grimace was all shed allowed herself as both doctors assisted her in the move. As shed been wheeled outside, Shannon had signaled a pause and weakly beckoned at Captain Calavicci, who promptly left his companions, a tall, white-haired man and a smaller, ginger-haired man. When shed asked him to accompany her to the neonatal unit, she wondered at the captains uncertain hesitation and the tentative glance he gave the tall man. After a nod from the older man, who she supposed was his superior, he agreed to accompany her.
When they arrived at the NICU, the doctor in charge greeted Dr. Beeks and smiled warmly at Shannon. "Im Dr. Crawford. Weve been taking good care of your son." She looked up to include Captain Calavicci in her conversation. "Is this the father?"
"Oh, no. No, hes not." A hard lump formed in her throat as she thought about Karl, and at the same time she was embarrassed at the doctors suggestion. "He he helped me earlier today, and I just I " She broke off as tears overwhelmed her. Dr. Beeks placed a comforting hand on her shoulder, while behind her and out of her sight, the captain took a sharp breath.
"Im fine, Bena, I just need to sit down for a second," she heard him say in a low voice. "Go ahead and take her in there to see her baby."
She wanted to ask him what was wrong, but the need to see her son was much too strong to be bothered by anyone elses problems at the moment. Obediently, Dr. Beeks pushed her into the neonatal ward.
Shannons breath caught in her throat at the sight of the tiny babies in the clear plastic boxes. Shortly, she was stopped in front of an incubator containing a frightfully small infant, and she realized shed been brought to her son.
_ - o O o - _
Al made it to a bench before his knees gave out from the stunned confusion that washed over him. Stunned? Stunned doesnt even begin to cover it, buddy-boy, he thought. Confused doesnt quite cut it, either. His head was swimming. Yesterday shed shouted at him and accused him of fathering her child. Today she denied it and viewed him solely as herhow had she put it?her Good Samaritan. Which was the act, and which the truth?
Al frowned and a sharp vertical line formed between his brows as they knit in anger. He thought back to the previous afternoon, to Shannon describing an intimate encounter, to the fear that had knotted his stomach at her accusations. A vision of Ross Adams and his sneering innuendoes came to mind next, and Al felt his fists clenching of their own accord. Because of her, Adams was on the hunt, with Als career as his quarry. A slow fire began burning inside him as he thought back on the generals words:
"Al, you know that given your recent history with alcoholism I cant just take your word for this, as much as I want to. Youve blacked things out before."
"Not like this, I havent! Tom, please!"
Closing his eyes in pain, Tom shook his head. When he opened his eyes again, he looked miserable. "Im sorry, Al. Its your word against hers, and until we can get this sorted out, I have to put you on suspension."
Frustration and irritation added kindling to the blaze as Johnnys accusations came to mind. It was nearly a full-blown bonfire by the time the incident in the elevator crossed his thoughts.
What is her game? What is she up to? Al jumped from the bench and started pacing, an eight-step circuit that brought him back and forth before his abandoned seat. He sighed as he caught sight of the sign. Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. A small crack opened in his anger to bring forth the memory of Shannon MacLean falling to the ground, bleeding and screaming, agony and terror in her voice and eyes. She hadnt recognized him, and at first hed thought it was due to the trauma. But now she acted as if her first encounter with him had been in the stairwell.
Why had she denied he was the father? She definitely had the sympathy card on her side. If Shannon wanted to have his head on a silver platter, now was certainly the time to act, with no paternity test and Al feeling protective toward her. Al shook his head and resumed pacing, remembering the words shed cried out after shed fallen, "They tried to kill my baby! Dont let them!"
WHO? Who was she talking about? The mysterious words nagged at him, and he began absently chewing on his thumbnail as he paced. She was with me the entire time. I dont get it. I just dont get it. One thing he did know, her terror had been real, and so had her injuries.
Was she schizophrenic? Maybe that was the answer. Maybe the only answer that would get Ross Adams off his back. It still offered no satisfactory answer, especially where the injuries were concerned, but all Al could currently do was grasp at straws. Theyd gotten the okay to let her see the baby; however, Dr. Lodge flatly refused to allow any form of interrogation.
Hed ask Beeks about the schizophrenia.
_ - o O o - _
Tears blurred Shannons vision, mercifully blinding her sight of the tubes and wires connected to her son, so that all she could make out was the soft blue of the crocheted booties and hat he wore.
"A group of women make those and donate them to us for the preemies," Dr. Crawford said by way of explanation, opting to focus on the superficial for the moment, having been warned by Verbena Beeks to try to keep Shannon as free from upset as possible.
"Hmm," Shannon said absently. She scrubbed away tears and flattened her hand on the side of the incubator. "Can I hold him?"
Dr. Crawford shook her head. "Im sorry, not today. Probably not for a few days."
Shannon dropped her head and tears splashed into her lap. As she had before, Dr. Beeks rested a gentle hand on her shoulder, but it angered Shannon and she rolled her shoulder out of the touch. All she wanted to do was let her son know she was here. Her whole body quivered as she sobbed and her hand trembled against the side of the incubator. Crushed that she hadnt been able to protect him, she wept for her son and for her inability to comfort himor herself. Oh, Karl, I wish you were here.
"Ms. MacLean .Shannon " Dr. Crawford knelt next to the wheelchair, and Shannon looked over at her. "I cant allow you to hold him, but you can touch him."
"I can?" Emotions washed over Shannon in a flood too powerful for her to identify a single one of them and her weeping intensified.
Quietly, Dr. Crawford rose and opened a circular door set into the side of the incubator. She guided Shannons hand inside the incubator as she said, "Just gently stroke him. Yes, just like that."
Shannons hand shook as she touched her babys velvety skin. He was so small, so fragile. His small head turned toward her ever so slightly, and Shannon choked. "Yes, thats right, Mommys here. Im right here, honey." She spent several minutes just stroking each of his limbs, then lightly fondling a thin cheek. "Is he going to be okay?" she asked Dr. Crawford.
"He was only a month early, thats in his favor," said the neonatalogist. "Plus hes a little fighter, this one. Im encouraged by that."
The doctor hadnt actually answered her question, Shannon realized, but she focused on the fact that her son was a fighter. She leaned closer, cringing only slightly at the discomfort it caused her, and whispered, "Keep fighting, my little wiggleworm. I know you can do it."
_ - o O o - _
Something fishys going on around here, thought Adams as he stalked back to his office. Calaviccis girlfriend was out of town, hed found out, so he knew he wouldnt find the captain with her. He nearly tripped over his own feet as a sudden thought grabbed him. Beckett. Of course, why hadnt he checked there? Adams hurried to his office.
Once he settled at his desk, he turned to the computer and typed in the password that allowed him access to the security systems. A quick scan of the security card usage showed only Beckett, LoNigro, Gushman, and Elesee having entered Gushmans lab in the last couple of hours. They hadnt left it yet. Adams wondered what they were up to, but had bigger fish to fry at the moment. He made a mental note to investigate further at another time, and pulled up the phone logs.
Well, well, well. What have we here? A phone call had been placed from Gushmans lab to a residence in Mason City, Iowa. Ross cross-referenced the phone number and smirked at what he read on the computer screen. Mrs. Carla Martinez. Interesting. What could be so important that you had to call Dr. Martinez-OFarrell at her mothers? Oh yes, he would definitely have to find out what this little group had been up to. But for now, back to business.
Ross keyed in a series of strokes that sorted the list by internal phone lines. He then sorted those results by phone calls originating from or routed to Collins office. Most passed through Tanya, Collins secretary, but a handful went directly to the generals desk. Adams isolated those. He wasnt surprised by those originating from Lt. Tylers office, but one phone call placed earlier that afternoon caught his attention. Cafeteria. Hmmm.
He pulled up the security card usage log again, this time searching for the activity of General Thomas Collins. Sure enough, he found it. Within five minutes of that phone call, he was out of his office, and on his way to the surface? Ross eyes narrowed as he studied the screen. He queried the system for all activity to the surface and found three names that set his jaw. General Thomas Collins, Captain Albert Calavicci, and Perry Thompson. The log showed that each man had headed for the surface within minutes of each other.
Ross picked up his extension and dialed the motor pool. "This is Agent Adams. I need you to tell me the details of Perry Thompsons last scheduled pickup."
_ - o O o - _
Verbena whirled her head back toward the NICU, regretting her outburst and hoping Shannon hadnt heard. Grabbing Al by the elbow, she ushered him away from the unit and toward the elevators.
"What do you mean, Is she schizophrenic?" she hissed.
"You give me an explanation for the way shes been acting then," Al countered. "Its like shes two different people!"
"Youre thinking of a split personality disorder, Al, not schizophrenia."
"Whatever! Do you think its possible shes, you know, cuckoo?" He twirled a finger in a circle near his temple.
Verbena rolled her eyes. "Cuckoo isnt exactly a medically accepted term, Al." She chose her next words carefully. "But, anything is possible. Shes just come through a very traumatic experience."
"Yeah, theres that, too. Could that have been some kind of psychosommywhatsis?"
"Psychosomatic reaction? No," Verbena shook her head firmly. "Nothing so severe as that could have come from her head. Her uterus was punctured, Al."
He paled and held his hands up, "Bena, please."
"I wish I had an answer for you, Al. My only psychiatric training is the standard course everyone takes. But even if I had the training, I couldnt make a call like that without spending a considerable amount of time talking with her."
"And Lodge wont be allowing that anytime soon," he groused. "So much for hoping Id be off suspension soon."
She sighed sympathetically. "Arent you at least a little relieved that shes saying youre not the father?"
"A little. But now it makes even less sense why she accused me in the first place!" Al fiddled in his pocket and pulled out a cigar.
"Dont you dare! There are babies on this floor!" She glared at him until he sighed and replaced the tobacco in his pocket.
"Used to be they handed out cigars when babies were born," he smirked.
"Not on my watch."
Shoving his hands into his pants pockets, Al made a lopsided shrug. "So, no thoughts on the craziness theory, huh?"
"Sorry. Wish I were qualified to make a guess."
"Me, too. You know, you wouldve probably been good at itpsychiatry, I mean. I couldnt hear what you were saying when you went in Shannons room, but you sure settled her down. Heck," he chuckled, "you mightve even changed my mind about shrinks. If theyd had any as pretty as you at the VA, well "
He didnt finish the sentence, but she could well guess what hed been about to say. She was aware that, like most men his age, the captain had served his time in Vietnam. She guessed with fair assurance that hed scorned therapy.
She smiled noncommittally at him, but a small kernel of a thought was planted by his words. Verbena had to admit, she was as intrigued as the captain was by Chief MacLeans one-eighty with regards to Al. There had to be a logical explanation, but she was at a complete loss as to what it was. Lacking the psychiatric training, she wasnt about to hazard a guess on the womans mental state.
"Im going back to talk to the general and Perry," said Al, after a moment. "She didnt need me to come down here, really."
"Youre her .security blanket."
His eyes widened at her word choice and he laughed, despite himself.
Verbena smiled. "No, Im serious. You were there, Al. Bizarre as the situation you described to me was, you were there and you helped her. You dont need to be a shrink to know she feels safe when youre around."
"Hmmph," he grunted. "Id feel a lot safer if I knew what the last couple of days have been about."
"Ill talk to Dr. Lodge," said Verbena after a moments thought. "If Shannons vitals are strong enough, Ill see if hell give in about letting you and General Collins speak to her."
_ - o O o - _
"And you are related to the patient how?" The nurse at the desk peered over her half-moon glasses at him.
Ross Adams sighed. "Im not related to her. Look, my coworkers are with her right now and I need to join them. Its vital that I speak with her."
"Im sorry, sir, but I can only give information to family members. Now, if youd like to speak with the patient, I can connect you to her roomyou can use the courtesy phone."
He knew he should have done more checking. Collins and his little entourage obviously hadnt had this problem. Then again, Collins had the trump card of Verbena Beeks. Ross hadnt planned past arriving at the hospital; so learning the room number hadnt been a consideration.
"Thank you anyway," he muttered in a frigid tone, and turned away. Several yards away was a directory, and he smirked. Shed just given birth. Maternity was the obvious choice. He still wouldnt know a room number, but he was fairly confident hed be able to identify the room by the men standing outside.
And theyll be standing there all right, for they were still here. Hed driven through the lots and the parking garage until hed found the projects sedan Thompson had used to drive them.
Ross strode to the elevator and selected the floor for Maternity. He tapped his foot and hummed "A Spoonful of Sugar" as the car rose through the hospital levels. Youll need more than sugar to help the medicine Im about to give you go down, Captain.
_ - o O o - _
"I hope its still hot enough for you, sir," said Perry as he handed Al the disposable cup of coffee that had been left in his charge.
"Perry, I told you, you can dispense with the sir and call me Al." He took an experimental sip; the liquid remaining in the cup wasnt exactly hot, but it was warm enough to be tolerable. He smiled, "Its fine."
Tom glanced down the corridor. "Is Shannon still with the baby?"
"She was when I left, but I dont know how much longer theyll let her stay." Al shook his head as he thought back to the chief petty officers words to Dr. Crawford. "Tom, Lodge has got to let us talk to her."
"She still doesnt remember you?"
"Not prior to her collapse, and heres the kickerthe doctor at the preemie unit assumed I was the father and she denied it." He swilled coffee and gave a twisted smile. "I dont suppose it counts as a retraction if she doesnt even remember accusing me. I cant get over how strange this all is."
Perry nervously cleared his throat and nodded toward the hallway behind his bosses. "I, ehm, I think its about to get a bit stranger."
Tom and Al both turned to look and saw Ross Adams step out of the elevator, turning his head to the left and right before spotting them and striding purposefully in their direction.
"Great. Here comes trouble," muttered Al.
"Let me handle this," Tom cautioned, laying a restraining hand briefly on Als arm. He walked forward to intercept Adams.
"Agent Adams, what brings you here?"
Adams narrowed his eyes and peered over Collins shoulder. "Is that Captain Calavicci I see? I thought you assured me he was on suspension, General. Restricted to property, I believe you said?"
"Hes with me. I do believe I have the leeway to allow supervised exceptions."
"Hmmm. And what precipitated this exception? Since I found you on the maternity level, I assume the captains checking on his paramour and their child?"
Collins gave him a flinty glare. "Im going to pretend I didnt hear that, Ross."
"Ah, yes, and therein lies the problem, General. Theres an awful lot that goes on at Starbright that you pretend you dont see or hear. Or is it that you truly are that oblivious?"
"What are you getting at, Ross?"
"How can you deny the truth thats staring you in the face? That man," he thrust an accusing finger in Calaviccis direction, "has compromised everythinghes even conned you into allowing him to come here!"
"Hey!" A man emerged from the room directly to the right of them. "Would you hold it down out here? My wifes in labor and this isnt helping!"
"My apologies, sir," Tom said. Ross merely glared. The man nodded tersely and disappeared back into the room. Tom took advantage of the interruption to take control of the conversation.
"I dont need to explain the reason were here to you, Ross. I dont need to explain anything to you. But I will tell you this. You might want to rethink your accusations against Captain Calavicci."
"You sound awfully confident, General. I assume you have the results of a paternity test to share with me?"
"Not yet," he admitted. "Nor have we been given permission to interrogate Chief MacLean."
"I see," Ross mused. "A little difficult to do if shes unconscious, I suppose."
"Oh, shes not unconscious anymore." He nodded his head in greeting to someone approaching from behind Ross.
Ross stared as Chief MacLean rolled past him, her wheelchair once again pushed by Dr. Beeks. The woman was listless, lost in thought, and she didnt acknowledge the generals greeting. Ross watched her being pushed to a room several doorways down, where the two women entered, out of his sight. While he stared, Thompson and Calavicci had come up to them.
"She doesnt look good," observed Calavicci. "Shes calmer than she was, but she looks worn out."
"Well, we did override Dr. Lodges recommendations," the general said.
"Wha-? Who? What recommendations? Why? Whats going on?" demanded Ross.
"So many questions, Ross. Why dont we start with the one I asked you when you got here? What are you doing here?"
_ - o O o - _
"How are you feeling?" asked Verbena as she helped Shannon into bed.
"Tired. Sore." She groaned as she settled back into the pillows and looked into the doctors eyes. "Do you think hes going to be okay?"
Verbena pulled the sheets over the womans shoulders. "Yes, I do. Look how well youre doing."
Shannon watched her as she disconnected the IV bag from the hook on the wheelchair and returned it to the stand near the bed. "Am I?" she sighed.
"Shannon," Verbena settled on the edge of the mattress, "is there anything you want to talk about?"
"I I dont know how to say this."
"I often find its easier to just come right out and say things."
The young woman shifted her eyes to the side and pressed her lips together, then looked back at Verbena, tears brimming. "I think Im going crazy."
"Why would you think that?" Was Al on the right track after all?
"Everything feels all mixed up, wrong. I dont know how I ended up in that stairwell."
"What do you remember?"
"I remember getting off the bus at the Starbright Project. Then I was somewhere else .and .someone was hurting me ."
Verbena hesitated, uncertain if she should continue. After a moment she asked, "Where do you think you were?"
"I dont know!"
"Okay, its okay," she soothed, and patted Shannons hand. "Dont worry about that right now."
"Do you think Im crazy?"
She hadnt had an answer for Al, and she didnt have one now. Verbena pressed Shannons fingers with her own to ensure she had the young womans attention. "Heres what I think. I think youve been through a lot the last couple of days. I know someone hurt you. And I think youve got to give yourself time to process all youve had to deal with. Most of all, I think you need to focus on getting better for your little boy."
"I just wish I had an answer! What happened to me?"
If we knew that, a whole lot of questions would be answered, thought Verbena. Aloud she said, "Well figure that out. Now, is there anyone we can call for you? The babys father, maybe?"
In response, Shannon burst into tears.
_ - o O o - _
"What am I doing here?" sputtered Adams. "Checking up on you, as a matter of fact! Youve got a blind spot when it comes to Calavicci, General, and I dont trust you."
"Well, theres something we have in common then, Agent Adams, because I dont trust you either. And may I point out, you have blinders on where Captain Calavicci is concerned. Your dogged pursuit of the truth in this matter is a bit questionable. Are you prepared to make an apology if Al is exonerated?"
"If that happens," scoffed Adams, "Ill apologize before the entire project."
"In writing as well, I hope," put in Perry, his green eyes full of spirit.
Adams glared defiantly back, "Ill get on the loudspeakers, hows that? But when hes proven to be the father, I want you gone from the project with him, Thompson. I dont like your attitude."
"Fine!" shot Perry.
"All right, thats enough!" Collins would have had smoke emerging from his ears if hed been a cartoon character. Al, meanwhile, was absorbing the entire exchange, simultaneously stunned, annoyed, and touched. The father-to-be whod shushed them earlier angrily stuck his head out again, but apparently decided not to further antagonize the men who were tensely facing off; he settled for closing the door, hard.
"This is ridiculous. Im getting to the bottom of this now!" Ross stalked towards Shannon MacLeans room.
"Youre not going to bother that girl!" Al grabbed Ross arm and spun him around. Ross brought his arm up, roughly yanking it free and shoving Al with both hands. Overbalanced, the captain fell backwards and landed on his posterior. Ross took advantage of the moment to barrel into MacLeans room.
Perry and Tom both bent to pull Al up, but he waved them off. "Stop him!"
_ - o O o - _
"Shannon? What is it? What did I say?" Verbena was bewildered by the young womans sobs. Helplessly, Shannon flapped a hand in the air while she tried to stop crying. "Honey, Im sorry. What can I do to help?" Shannon just shook her head, hiccupping.
"Excuse me, Dr. Beeks, I need to speak with Chief MacLean."
Verbena couldnt believe her ears. She reluctantly turned her back on Shannon to stand and face Ross Adams. "This is hardly the time, Agent Adams. Besides, Dr. Lodge hasnt authorized anyone to question her." And look what I did with one stupid remark.
"Yes, well, Ill deal with Dr. Lodge."
"No, Ross, youll deal with me." Verbena rose and moved to the doorway, intending to talk with him in the hall. He made as if to follow her, but as soon as she passed him, he dashed into the hospital room and locked the door behind him. She allowed herself a rare curse, and smacked her hand against the door.
"Hes in there with her, isnt he?" asked General Collins, who had just jogged up, Perry Thompson on his heels. Verbena nodded as Captain Calavicci joined them, absently rubbing his backside.
"Someone get a key to this door. Hes got to be stopped."
"Theyll have one at the nurses station," said Verbena. "Ill call Dr. Lodge as well."
_ - o O o - _
Ross turned from the door to the distraught woman in the bed. He pulled a chair to her bedside and sat down. "Chief MacLean, Im Ross Adams, CIA Liaison to the Starbright Project. Id like to talk with you, if I may."
Quivering hands covered her nose and mouth, and she closed her eyes. "Have I done something wrong?" she asked in a small voice.
"No, nothing like that," he assured her. "Id like to talk with you about Captain Calavicci."
"Wh-what about him?" Slowly, she lowered her hands from her face and dabbed at her wet eyes with the sheet.
"Firstly, Id like to apologize for the way hes treated you."
Her puffy, red-rimmed eyes widened. "Why would you need to do that? He saved my life! Saved Karls life!"
"M-my baby. I Im going to name him after his father."
Ross forehead creased in confusion. "Shouldnt you be calling him Albert then?"
"Mr. Adams," she fought back the resurgence of tears shed just managed to stem, "I dont know what "
He interrupted, "Yesterday, I heard I heard you I saw you You told Captain Calavicci he was the father of your child!"
She started crying again, "Why would I do that? Oh, God, why would I do that?" Ross stared as she twisted the sheets in her hand. "Karl!" she screamed.
Behind him a key rattled in the lock and the door flew open. A tall, dark-haired man in a white lab coat stood in the doorway. "What the hell do you think youre doing in here?"
Smoothly stepping around him, Verbena Beeks hurried into the room and crossed to the other side of the bed. She sat down on the mattress and lifted Shannon into an embrace, motherly pressing the hysterical womans head into her shoulder. "Shhh, shhhh," she soothed.
Ross stared at the newcomer. "Who are you?"
"Raymond Lodge. Who gave you permission to be in here, upsetting my patient?"
"Permission? Sir, do you know who I am?" Ross reached into his pocket for his CIA credentials, but was frozen in mid-gesture by the doctors next words.
"I dont care if youre the President of the United States, sir, you have absolutely no right to be in here. Now get out before I call security and have you removed from the hospital premises!"
"Dr. Lodge, your patient has information that is vital to the future of a government project."
"I dont care. You have to the count of three. Onetwothree."
Ross was out by "two."
_ - o O o - _
Al grabbed Ross by the collar as soon as he emerged from the room and thrust his face in the CIA agents. "What exactly were you trying to do in there?" he snarled. "Hasnt that girl been through enough?"
Muffled wails drifted from the room; Verbena had not yet succeeded in calming Shannon. In addition to her soft, even voice, Lodges deeper baritone could be heard as he attempted to check Shannons vitals while not disturbing her from the comfort of Verbenas embrace.
"I was trying to find out the truth!"
"Dammit, Ross, if I can wait, you sure as hell can, too!" Disgusted, Al released the agent with a rough gesture that caused him to bobble on his feet.
Trying to regain some dignity, Ross smoothed his rumpled shirt, and adjusted his collar and tie.
"Ill be filing a complaint about this, Adams," Tom casually said. "Incidentally, whos Karl?"
"Who?" Ross stiffened and his eyes bugged out. Al thought he looked like the toad he was.
"Come off it, Ross, even through a closed door we could hear her screaming for someone named Karl," said Al. "What did you say to her?"
Defiantly, Ross tightened his lips as if hed sucked on a particularly sour lemon. After a moment, he shrugged. "She claims that Karl is the babys father."
Al balled a fist, and would have cocked it to deliver a blow on Shannons behalf (to say nothing of his own), but Perry laid a light, cautioning hand on his shoulder. He settled for an almost bullish release of tension and oxygen through his nostrils, perversely enjoying the slight flinch the snort evinced from Adams.
Verbenas quiet voice startled them all. Al looked questioningly at her.
"It goes against our better judgment, but Shannon shed like to ask you a question."
"Is Lodge okay with this?"
"Like I said, its against our better judgment, but given the circumstances ." She stopped and glared at Ross.
"Okay." He started to walk in the room, but Verbena held up a hand. "I have to ask you to remain as calm as possible, Al. What she wants to ask you is .probably going to be sensitive."
"Be straight with us, Bena. Its about the accusation, isnt it?"
She nodded. "Agent Adams has stirred up more questions for her."
Al turned to the general. "Tom, would you listen in on this?"
"Im right behind you, Al." He regarded Adams. "You stay out here, Ross. Youve caused enough damage. Perry, keep an eye on him, would you?"
Glaring at Adams with his arms folded, the small man nodded.
"After you, Doctor."
_ - o O o - _
Dr. Lodge briefly looked up from checking Shannon with the stethoscope and nodded as Verbena led the two men into her room. "Breathe in, please," he told his patient as he returned his attention to her. "Good, and exhale." In addition to monitoring her vitals, Lodge hoped the deep breathing would serve to calm her. "Once more .and exhale. Very good," he patted her arm. "I want you to try and relax, understand?"
She nodded, her teeth clenched together. "I need answers, though."
"Thats why Im agreeing to let you speak with these gentlemen." He beckoned for the visitors to approach.
Verbena introduced the men to Shannon. "You already know Captain Calavicci; this is General Thomas Collins, hes the Director of the Starbright Project."
If Collins thought it strange to be introduced to a woman hed already met and conversed with, he hid it well. "Chief MacLean." He properly extended a hand for her to shake, which she did, weakly.
"Dr. Lodge and I will be on the other side of the privacy curtain," explained Verbena. "If we think youre getting too upset, well be stopping this conversation, okay?"
Shannon nodded. The physicians withdrew to the sofa near the empty bed on the other side of the room, drawing the privacy curtain for her as they went. Two chairs were on Shannons side, and Tom and Al each pulled one close to the bed and took a seat. She shifted uncomfortably in the bed and chewed her bottom lip.
"Captain, is it true? What that man said? Did I ?" She closed her eyes and took a shaky breath, valiantly striving to keep tears at bay. She tried again, "Did I tell you that you were my babys father?"
Al sighed and nodded. "Yes, you did."
"I dont remember. And I dont understand " Shannons voice started quivering, but she pushed on. "I would never say something like that, especially when its not true!"
A tidal wave of relief washed over Al at her words. Its not trueglad you were in here to hear that, Tom! Next to him, Tom leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees.
"Chief MacLean, I want to be sure I have this clear. Youre saying that Al is not the father of your child."
"Hes not. I swear, I never said he was I mean, I dont remember saying " She shook her head and broke off, tears glistening in her eyes. "Look, the father of my baby was a wonderful man. Id have no reason to lie about that."
Al and Tom exchanged a nervous glance. This was probably going to edge into territory the doctors would deem stressful. Gently, Al said, "We heard you cry out for Karl earlier. Is that his name?"
Shannon nodded, and two tears splashed out of her eyes to run down her cheeks. "Karl Davidson. We were engaged to be married."
"He was in the Marines and .he, um, he was k-killed in Beirut "
"Im so sorry," Al said. He reached to take hold of her hand. She smiled wistfully through her tears.
"Thank you," she whispered. She wept quietly for a few moments, then took a deep breath. "Hed only been over there a few weeks. A week after the funeral, I found out I was pregnant.
"Captain, Ive got a lot of mixed-up memories in my head about the last couple days, but I know I didnt say such things! And yet you say I did. That man says I did."
"Uh-uh, dont you worry about anything that nozzle says." Al was emphatic. "If he said the sky was blue, Id go to a window to check."
"But you youve been so kind to me. I I just dont understand! I didnt I wouldnt have!" Dr. Lodge peered around the edge of the curtain and Shannon quickly said, "Im fine, Doctor. Please just a few more questions." He frowned, but withdrew.
"Please, Captain Calavicci .what exactly did I say?"
_ - o O o - _
"Heading home for the weekend, Johnny?" Sam asked as Johnny Bartlett entered the elevator and selected the bottom level to the subterranean transport.
"Yeah, Im ready for a break, and I promised to take Marsha out. Otherwise, Idve gone with Tom and Al."
"Have you heard from them?"
Johnny shook his head. "But Max tells me Adams has left the compound. Three guesses where hes gone."
"What does he think he can accomplish?" wondered Sam.
Johnny laughed derisively. "I expect hes after an airtight case against Al, same as always. Als rightif something happens to the chief, its anyones game and Adams will have the ball."
"What about the paternity test?"
"Might clear him in that regard." Johnny sighed and shrugged. "But there arent any security cameras in the stairwells Adams could still accuse him of attacking her."
"Al would never do that!"
"I know, Sam. Even Adams knows that, but ." Johnny spread his hands in a "what-can-you-do?" gesture. "Im just speaking hypothetically. Anyway, Max and I have already discussed submitting a proposal for cameras in the stairwells because of thisnot that what we want to get all Orwellian .oh, heres your floor, Sam."
"Oh." Sam stepped out but held the elevator door open with his hand. "Thanks for the information, Johnny. Have a good weekend."
"You, too. And if you talk to Al, tell him Marsha and I are both hoping for the best."
"I will." Sam let the door slide closed, then turned and headed down the corridor to the glass room and the orb. Hed intended on making some observations and testing a new connector possibility for further integration with SID, but his mind was now preoccupied by the hints of potential trouble to come for Al.
The steady flashing of the orb often soothed him when he caught sight of it, but today it portended danger, like the strobes of a police car. Sam sighed and retrieved his clipboard from his station, trying to get focused by reviewing the notes hed logged during his last round of experiments with the orb.
A gentle intrusion into his thoughts roused him, and he stared at the orb as he recognized the voice that wasnt quite a voice attempting to get his attention.
*You do not seem yourself today. Is something amiss?*
Sam smiled slightly and set aside the clipboard. "Its been a long day," he said aloud.
*You are troubled by the events of this morning.* It wasnt a question.
"What do you know about that?" Sam asked, genuinely curious.
He sensed a profound melancholy as the orb accurately related a summary to him. *I do not wish for Captain Calavicci to be dismissed.*
"Hopefully it wont come to that," said Sam, wondering how much of his own thoughts the orb had gleaned.
*Perhaps I can help. Immediately prior to the emergency call to Dr. Beeks, I detected an energy fluctuation in the vicinity of the thirteenth floor.*
"Thats where they were."
*It was virtually identical to one I detected yesterday morningnear the visitors, on the surface.*
When the visitors arrived? I wonder what that means, thought Sam. To his amazement, the orb responded.
*Captain Calavicci testified that the chiefs demeanor changed when she collapsed, did he not?*
"He did," Sam affirmed. He wondered how the orb knew that. "We also could find no explanation for her injuries." He was thinking things through as much as he was "conversing" with the orb.
*I would posit the events are related.*
The orb seemed to sigh, the illumination dimmed momentarily, and then resumed its pulsing glow. *That I do not know. I lack your intuition in temporal matters.*
Sam sighed himself, wishing his intuition would make the connection. The orb flashed brightly and Sam blinked, picking up his clipboard to resume his studies. The conversation was now reduced to mere impressions, yet in a small but important part of Sams mind, the facts the orb had yielded were being processed and analyzed.
_ - o O o - _
A horrified expression was on Shannons face as Al finished recounting what shed said to him in the two encounters theyd had prior to her collapse. Hed relayed everything as gently as he could, and he sighed as he finished.
Aghast, she clapped a hand to her mouth for a moment, and her eyes filled with tears as she said, "I I dont know what to say. Im sorry seems so trite. I swear to you, Captain, I would never have not in my right mind anyway." She pressed her lips together, and he could almost feel her distress as she whispered, "Maybe I really am going crazy."
"Hold on, now," Al said, taking her hand. "Youre forgetting something when I pulled you back from the stairs, you were fine, physically. Seconds later, you were bleeding. Dr. Beeks assures me, craziness is no explanation for your injuries."
"About that, I I think I remember a little ."
Beeks and Lodge appeared from the other side of the curtain at her words. Al opened his mouth to protest, but they quickly shook their heads. Apparently they werent going to put a stop to this, but were clinically interested in Shannons revelation.
Verbena approached the bed. "You told me earlier that you remembered getting off the bus at the Starbright Project. Can you tell us everything you remember from that point?"
Shannon nodded. "The driver helped me off the bus; it was so bright I couldnt see too well. But then, all of a sudden, I wasnt outside anymore. I was somewhere else. It was dark oppressively dark. And there was a voice " She shuddered. "Its hard to describe now .its .feelings, mostly. Fear, a-and pain lots of pain. Someone was hurting me and I think they were enjoying it!"
Al frowned as his thoughts strayed to his experiences with the VC as she spoke. Firmly, he thrust the memories down deep, angry both at their resurgence and at the deflection from Shannons story they represented. "W-who was hurting you?" he asked, annoyed by the slight tremor in his voice.
"I dont know and I dont know where I was. I dont know how long I was there, either. It all kind of runs together and its fuzzy. The only thing thats certain is the last thing I remember before the stairwell." Another shudder, much more pronounced.
"What happened?" asked Tom.
Shannon looked down at her hands, and her voice quivered. "They brought me into a room and they they strapped me down to a t-table. They said they said " She closed her eyes and breathed deeply before trying again. "They said they had to d-do a modified abortion so they wouldnt d-destroy the f-fetus." She abruptly looked up and startled them all with the fire in her eyes and voice, "They were killing my baby!!" She fell into weeping, and Verbena moved near to take her pulse. Shannon yanked her hand free, desperate to continue. "It hurt so bad and then then it all went black and and next thing I knew I was in the stairwell.
"Thank you for saving me .for saving Karl, Captain. Especially after what you say I did." She shook her head. "I just dont understand how I could have. I wasnt there!"
"I believe you, Shannon," Verbena said. Shannon looked at her, stunned. "The unanimous diagnosis for the damage to your uterus was a botched abortion. As odd as the circumstances you describe are, they definitely gel with your injuries."
"I believe you, too," put in Al. "Honey, the person I interacted with was nothing like you. But aside from that, I know youve been telling the truth in everything youve said here."
"Youre not crazy, Miss MacLean," Tom added, "though I agree the situation is outlandish."
"Are you familiar with the changeling legends?" Raymond Lodge said, suddenly.
Shannon nodded. "Fairies steal away a human baby and leave a changeling in its place."
"Identical in every wayat first. But then it grows ugly, outside and in. The changeling can be spiteful, and cruel. Meanwhile, the real baby is spirited awayand there are two thoughts on the reasoning: one, the fairies sincerely desire the love of a human baby or two, the fairies have malice in their hearts."
"Dr. Lodge, are you suggesting that Chief MacLean was the victim of fairies? I thought you were a man of science," scoffed Tom.
"Youd be surprised how much science has a background in folklore, General. The herbal remedies of the village witches actually have a lot in common with modern pharmacology."
"Can you come up with a better theory, Tom?" Al commented.
Sighing, Tom shook his head.
"That would explain how you were apparently in two places at once," mused the physician. "Now, Im not saying it was literally fairies but somehow, someone exchanged places with you."
"The Tylwyth Teg," murmured Shannon. When everyone turned to look at her, she repeated it. "The Tylwyth Teg. My grandmother used to tell me stories about them. Theyre Welsh fairies. Only she didnt call the babies theyd leave changelingsthey were the plentyn-newid. Same thing, really." She shook her head in amazement. "Is it possible? Did a changeling take my place?"
"One thing Ive learned," said Al, his thoughts inexplicably turning to the orb hed dubbed Ziggy, "youd be surprised whats possible in this world."
_ - o O o - _
"Where dye think youre going?" demanded Perry. Up to now, Adams had been well-behaved, but sullen. Now he had turned and started walking away.
"Im thirsty. Theres a vending machine on the other side of the elevators."
"Sorry, cant let you do that, sir."
Ross frowned, both at the words and the tone. "You have a straight sight from here!"
"Sorry, Agent Adams. Im not supposed to let you leave."
"Thats not what General Collins said!" argued Ross.
"Oh? Thats how I interpreted it."
"Fine, then walk over there with me."
"Im terribly sorry, but I cant do that either," Perry smirked.
"Im going to enjoy processing your termination papers, mister!"
Perry just smiled sweetly at the agent, thinking, Im going to enjoy driving you for your final ride away from the Starbright Project. Oh, one day, Agent Adams. One day.
"Wipe that smile off your face before I do it for you. Just give me a reason to fire you, Thompson."
Lifting his eyebrows in challenge at that, Perry maintained the smile for several long moments before letting it naturally fall back into the harsh glare hed held fixed on Ross Adams face. Ross steamed at the alteration, but couldnt deny the driver was no longer smiling insouciantly at him.
Perry wanted to laugh. Though Ross Adams held more sway at the project than anyone liked, hed yet to succeed at terminating someone based on a totally fabricated excuse. Perrys record was flawless, his performance reviews consistently stellar. In fact, hed been told he was next in line to head the motor pool when the current supervisor was either promoted or chose to leave.
Nearby at the nurses station, a phone buzzed and the nurse on duty picked it up. "Maternity, Nurse Johnson." She listened and rifled through a file drawer, clipping the paper she retrieved to a clipboard and grabbing a pen. "Yes, Doctor, Ive got it. Ill be right there." She replaced the receiver and strode purposefully into Shannon MacLeans room. She emerged in short order, followed by Tom Collins and Al Calavicci.
"Ah, Ross, glad youre still here," the general amiably said. "Chief MacLean has agreed to a paternity test; though I assure you, its strictly a formality."
"She identified her babys father. Quite sincerely, I might add. One Staff Sergeant Karl Davidson."
"So where is he?"
"Dead, Im afraid."
"Well isnt that convenient?"
Al stepped forward threateningly. "Ive had about enough of you for one lifetime, Adams! Lay off!"
Ross cringed but didnt back down. "Did you pay her off, too?"
Al burst out laughing so hard tears sprang to his eyes. He doubled over, unable to control the peals of laughter. He knew he was the subject of concerned stares, but he didnt care. It wasnt just the absurdity of Ross comment, it was the relief of the weight that had finally been liftedthanks to Shannons story, Atlas had reclaimed the burden of the world.
"Where," whooped Al, panting for breath around guffaws, "where exactly am I supposed to be coming by all this extra money to pay people off? First Perry and now Shannon." He hooted with laughter and wiped his eyes. "Have you forgotten that I pay alimony to four ex-wives?" Al turned to Tom. "Better hope they dont get wind of these supposed riches Ill be back in court being sued for more!"
Ross opened his mouth and gaped at the captain. Anything he might have been preparing to say was forestalled by Dr. Lodge and Dr. Beeks, who exited Shannons room. Verbena pulled the door partially closed behind her.
"Ive got the consent form here," said Dr. Lodge. "Ill be going to the NICU to withdraw some blood from the baby. Captain Calavicci, Ill need a vial of blood from you as well."
All humor drained from Als face along with the color. Verbena steadied him. "Ill take care of it. Al and I have an understanding where needles are concerned." Al turned green at the mention of needles, but nodded his assent.
"Thats settled then. As soon as Ive got the samples Ill send them off to the lab. Ill make sure its fast tracked and we should have results in the morning." Dr. Lodge started to head for the nursery, but turned back after only four steps. "I would appreciate it if Miss MacLean was left alone for the rest of the evening. Shes overexerted herself today and she needs her rest."
"Absolutely, Dr. Lodge," Tom agreed. "As soon as Dr. Beeks finishes with Al, well all be leaving and getting out of your hair."
Lodge smiled. "Dont misunderstand me. Getting answers probably ensured that she will rest tonight. But, Id like that to continue uninterrupted."
"Of course." Tom reached into his pocket for his wallet and withdrew a business card from within. "Please call me when you get the results, Dr. Lodge."
Lodge took the card and tucked it into the pocket of his lab coat. "I will, General. Now if youll excuse me, gentlemen, Dr. Beeks." He walked off.
"All right, Al," Verbena said. She held onto his arm and led him to the elevators. "I think we can find a free corner near the labs to get that vial for Dr. Lodge."
_ - o O o - _
Sam Beckett waited for the elevator to descend so he could go to his quarters and relax for the rest of the evening. Max Tyler had called him earlier requesting that Sam write a statement, "Just to hedge our bets against you-know-who." Sam had complied as soon as his studies of the orb reached a point where he could pause, and hed personally delivered the document to Max. Perhaps they were both being a bit paranoid, but Max wasnt head of security for no reason.
A pleasant ding announced the elevators arrival, and Sam stepped inside, surprised to see Perry Thompson, General Collins, Verbena Beeks, and Al Calavicci aboard for the ride. All looked drained and just nodded greetings were exchanged. When the lift stopped on the fifth level, only Al moved to leave the elevator after Sam.
"Thanks for everything," Al said, his gaze moving around the elevator to each person in turn.
"Ill let you know as soon as I hear something," the general said.
With that, the doors slid closed and the elevator continued its descent.
Al sighed, the breath transforming itself into a yawn and he rubbed his face with a weary hand. A few steps down the hall already, Sam glanced at him, concerned, and halted his advance to his quarters to turn back and wait. The captain looked up and chuckled wryly.
"Do I look that bad?"
"A little worse for wear," smiled Sam, "but nothing much beyond what Id expect from someone who spent their afternoon at the hospital."
"Afternoon and then some," agreed Al. He started walking with Sam, a bit stiffly, and he groaned under his breath.
Al massaged his lower back and shook his head. "Only that Im learning the hard way that its one thing to get knocked on your duff at 16 and something else entirely at 50."
Sam stopped in his tracks and seized the older man by the elbow. "Knocked on your duff?! What happened?"
"Ross Adams happened." He quickly explained the scuffle hed gotten into in trying to prevent Adams from confronting Shannon. Sams jaw dropped and Al chuckled again. "Thats not even the half of it, Sam."
"Hows Chief MacLean doing?"
"Much better. She woke up while we were there, we made sure she saw her baby, she told us about the father."
Sam was nodding as he listened, and Al spoke the words so casually they almost went unnoticed. A split second later, Sam did a double take and grabbed Als arm again. "Did you just say the father? As in not you?"
"Yeah. Ow. Not so hard, Sam."
Quickly, Sam relinquished his grip. "Im sorry, did you hit it when you fell?"
"What? No, thats where Bena stuck me when she got in touch with the vampire within. Its still a little tender."
"Al, I think I need to be sitting down for this story, and I also think I need to hear it from the beginning. Can I offer you some tea or coffee in my quarters?" They were only two doors away.
"Coffee," Al said agreeably.
Sam unlocked his door and gestured the captain inside. Al headed directly for the couch and settled into it, leaning his head back and closing his eyes. "Man, does it feel good to sit down on a real chair."
"Is instant coffee okay?"
Al opened one eye and regarded the scientist. "Its not ideal, but itll do. Thanks, Sam."
Sam put a kettle of water on the stove and rejoined Al in the living area. "Im more of a tea person myself. Sorry."
Al shrugged and smiled. "To each his own, right?"
"I guess so." He sat down next to Al. "Now, what happened at the hospital? Tell me everything."
Al did, his natural storytelling abilities keeping Sams attention as much as the riveting facts. When the kettle whistled, Sam was silent, still intent on the captains words as he filled two mugs with hot water, stirring instant coffee into Als mug, dipping a tea bag into his own. He quietly moved back to the captains side, a mug in each hand, as Al related how Ross Adams had upset Shannon.
"Regular bull in a china shop, isnt he?" Sam couldnt help commenting. Al smiled and nodded his agreement as he took a sip of the hot black liquid.
"The poor thing asked me to come in to verify what hed told her."
"Yeah, I can think of about a dozen other unpleasant things Id rather have done at the time." He explained how the conversation had gone and her sincerity and pain when discussing the late Karl Davidson. Sams brows furrowed when Al detailed Shannons claim of having been mysteriously transported to another location and tortured before being returned. He knew there had to be a reason the strange story tugged at his mind, but was so focused on Als narrative he just let the tug slide into the recesses of his brain, where it would percolate until something was triggered. For his own part, Al didnt editorialize about the peculiar tale, just relayed it as Shannon had.
"How did Ross take the news that Shannon wasnt saying you were the father?"
Al smirked over his coffee cup. "He accused me of paying her off. You werent there, Sam, but earlier today, in Toms office, he accused me of paying off Perry to speak on my behalf!" He chuckled and shared his rejoinder about alimony.
"So much for my theory that Ross was paying her off then," mused Sam. He looked up suddenly. "Wait I thought you were married five times."
Al stopped laughing and set down the nearly empty mug. "I was. BI mean, my first wife, she never asked for any alimony. Even if I made the Forbes list, she wouldnt " He exhaled wistfully and drained the cup.
Sam nervously sipped his tea in the awkward silence that had fallen. After a moment, he asked, "So, why was Verbena drawing blood? Did Shannon okay a paternity test?"
Al nodded, a slight buoyancy returning to him, but only slightly. "Pretty much a formality, according to Tom. Dr. Lodge is supposed to call him with the results tomorrow morning. Which cant get here fast enough for my liking," he added with a yawn.
"Itll be here fast enough," Sam realized. "You should get some rest, Al."
"Yeah, I think Im gonna call it a night." Al set the mug on the coffee table and rose to leave. As Sam walked him to the door, he remembered something hed neglected to mention in the storytelling. "Sam, can you meet me for breakfast in the morning? Dr. Lodge had this crazy idea that actually made senseas far as explaining Shannons confusion and injuries. Id like to see what you think of it."
"Sure. 8 oclock too early for you?"
"8 is fine. Thanks, Sam. Have a good night."
"You, too." Sam acted as if he was closing the door, but as soon as Als footsteps sounded as if they were a few doors down, he quietly eased it open again and watched the captain as he trudged down the hall. Sam was gratified to see that Al appeared only to suffer from physical exhaustion tonight.
_ - o O o - _
Saturday, May 19, 1984
Al arrived in the cafeteria before Sam did, stopped to fill a cup with coffee, and settled at a table to wait for the scientist. He didnt have to wait long; one thing about Sam Beckett, the man had a definite sense of time, and was rarely late. Sam entered the cafeteria, looked about briefly, and spotted Al, who waved a greeting.
"Mornin, Sam," he said as the younger man neared the table.
"Good morning. You havent eaten already, have you?"
"No," Al chuckled. "Shall we?"
They got up and moved through the line, selecting identical breakfast plates of toast, scrambled eggs, grits, and bacon. Al topped off his coffee cup, and Sam reached for a tall glass of orange juice before they returned to their table. Farmboy habits dying hard, Sams food disappeared in short order, while Al approached his at a more leisurely pace, savoring every bite, as he had ever since returning home from the POW camps. Rather than dumbly stare at the captain while he ate, Sam decided hed better make conversation. He also decided he needed to fess up.
"I have something to tell you, Al. I hope you wont be upset with me."
Al paused with a forkful of eggs halfway to his mouth. "Why would I be?"
"I had Donna do something yesterday."
"Oh?" Als eyebrows flew up, and one twisted into a salacious bend. "Like what exactly?" A spicy glint came into his eye.
Sam hesitated. "Like having her call Tina."
Als fork clattered into his plate, and he quickly scooped it up again. "Y-you what?" Anger flittered across his face for a brief moment, but then he shook his head and looked directly into Sams eyes. "And?"
"Shes at her mothers, still pretty upset."
"Yeah, I figured she would be," sighed Al.
"Donna thinks Tinas missing you."
"Did Tina say that?"
"Well, no, not in so many words. Female intuition, I think."
"Hmm." Al shrugged and resumed eating, not wanting to let on how much he cared about this conversation, how much he cared about the subject of their conversation.
"Are you mad at me?"
Shaking his head, Al finally said, "No, Im not. Im not thrilled at your meddling." He stopped and covered his mouth, remembering his own meddling in Sams affairs only a couple months ago. Removing his hand, he smiled. "But thank you."
Sam nodded, and silence fell as Al cleared his plate of eggs and moved on to the remnants of grits, which disappeared in a few swipes of the fork.
"So," asked the captain around a bite of bacon, "anything else to confess?"
"Actually " began Sam.
Al stopped chewing and regarded the scientist. He swallowed hard, "I was kidding!"
"I was going to wait until you told me Dr. Lodges theory, but something happened with the orb last night."
"Ziggy? The thing didnt zap you again, I hope!"
"No," Sam was impatient. "It told me about some energy fluctuations it detectedwhen the visitors first arrived. Then again, localized around the thirteenth level right before you summoned Dr. Beeks."
"When Shannon collapsed?" mused Al. "Thats funny, Sam. Thats real funny. Shannon said the last thing she remembered was getting off the bus."
Sam nodded. "I knew it was significant last night when you first told me her story, but I didnt make the connection with what the orb said until sometime in the middle of the night."
"Its more than just that." Al pushed his plate to the side, partially-eaten toast and half a strip of bacon remaining. "Lodges theory is starting to make more and more sense, and thats pretty creepy."
"Why is that? Whats his theory?"
"What?!" Sam snorted, "You cant be serious."
"I am. Okay, thats probably oversimplifying it. I mean, I dont think he was talking about real fairies. At least I hope he wasnt." Al abruptly shook the stray thought off. "He compared Shannons experiences with the changeling legends."
"Im familiar with them." Sam rubbed his chin as he considered. "So he thinks someone spirited her away, tortured her, and then sent her back."
"While her changeling was wreaking havoc here. I dunno," Al spread his hands, "but someone sure as hell accused me of fathering that child. And someone definitely hurt her!"
Al shook his head, and deflated slightly. "No clue," he sighed. "But Lodges fairies have to be related to Ziggys energy fluctuations, dontcha think?"
"Probably. I just dont know how."
Just then, Als pager went off, and he lifted the small electronic unit from his hip to read the tiny screen. "Im afraid youll have to figure that on your own." He tilted the screen towards Sam. "Toms calling me. Looks like Lodge is as good as his word on rushing the test results."
"Go on, Al. Ill take care of this." Sam gestured at the dirty dishes on the table.
"Thanks, Sam." Al flashed him a more confident grin than he actually felt, and hurried out of the cafeteria.
_ - o O o - _
Tom sighed after he finished punching in the series of numbers that sent an alert to Ross Adams pager. He didnt relish including the CIA Agent in this. Hed prefer to speak with Al first, on his own. Al deserved that much.
Raymond Lodge had certainly made sure to rush the test through the labs, and, as promised, had called as soon as he arrived at the hospital and found the test results waiting on his desk.
Adams arrived at his office first, face flushed and breathless. While it was probably due to a mad dash, Tom suspected that the possibility the test results would implicate Al despite Shannons denial contributed to Adams state.
"Have a seat, Ross," Tom said, stiffly waving to an empty chair.
Uncharacteristically quiet, Ross complied. Shortly thereafter, a soft tap at the door signaled Als coming. Though hed undoubtedly expected Ross to be in attendance, Al couldnt keep the disgust off his face. Tom nodded sympathetically but cautioned Al to keep himself in line with a slight elevation of his eyebrows.
Al slipped into the office and took a seat next to Ross. "So Dr. Lodge got the results?"
Tom nodded. "The baby is type O."
Al sagged in relief.
"In case youre not up on your Mendelian genetics, Ross, Al is type AB. Theres no way he could have fathered Chief MacLeans baby." Tom steepled his hands and stared at the CIA Agent. "I believe you owe Captain Calavicci an apology, Agent Adams."
Ross jaw was hanging slack and he stuttered out an insincere "Sorry."
Tom shook his head. "Not good enough, Adams. If I recall correctly, you vowed to apologize over the loudspeaker system as well as in writing." His eyes narrowed and he added, "Ill look for your written apology in next weeks newsletter. As for the verbal apology, I expect to hear it Monday morning between 9 and 10 AM, when the entire staff is present."
It was a wonder Ross could see out of the slits his eyes had become. Frowning, he nodded, then stood and stormed out of the office.
Tom chuckled and turned to the relieved captain. "Al, Im sorry. The last few days have been rough on you, and being on suspension hasnt helped, I know."
"You didnt have a choice, Tom."
"Doesnt make it right. Your privileges have been restored, of course, and the revocation wont be notated in your file."
"Thanks, Tom." The smile on Als face was genuine.
"Id like to make it up to you, Al. What can I do?"
Al considered, and his smile widened when the answer came to him.
_ - o O o - _
Al emerged from Toms office and was surprised to see Sam Beckett in the hallway.
"Sam? What are you doing here?"
"What kind of question is that? What happened?"
"Ive been completely exonerated and reinstated. The babys type O."
Sam beamed and energetically shook Als hand.
Al laughed and reached into his pocket. "Cigar?" he teased, pretending to offer it to Sam in mockery of the tradition. He shook his head and laughed again. "God, what a relief."
They began walking to the elevator, and Als laughter intensified.
"What is it?" Sam asked as he pushed the button to summon the elevator.
"I wish you couldve seen Ross Adams face! Tom told him he had to apologize in writing and on the loudspeakers Monday morning."
Sam had to laugh as well. He could just imagine what the expressive CIA Agents face had done at that remark.
"So, now that youre off suspension, what are you gonna do?" Sam asked as they boarded the recently-arrived elevator.
"Gee, I hadnt even thought that far," Al realized. "Off suspension. I love the sound of that."
"Why dont you come down to the crystal lab with me?" Sam offered. "Ziggy will probably be glad to see you."
"Why do you say that?"
"It told me it didnt want you to be dismissed, and I swear it felt saddened by the prospect."
"The orb I have on my side," Al chuckled. "Sure. I havent been down there in a while, and I hate falling behind you guys. Its hard enough to keep up when Im on the same page!"
_ - o O o - _
Donna Elesee was startled by the phone in her quarters. Few people called her, and she couldnt imagine who might be doing so now. Sam, maybe? She hurried to the phone and picked it up.
"Speaking." A female voice. Not Sam. She sighed, but quickly straightened when the caller identified herself as Tina. "Tina? Hi, hon. How are you?"
"Im all right, I guess. Donna, I have, like, a favor to ask of you "
_ - o O o - _
Tom tapped his inkpen against the surface of his desk as he contemplated the best method for enacting Als request. It wasnt unreasonable, and Tom did have a fair amount of leeway without having to get the Committee involved. He just wasnt sure this fell underneath that covering.
Dana would know, he thought. He hated to bother the project attorney on a weekend. She was fond of heading offsite for shopping, particularly since Bobby often got himself elbow deep in research whether he was on the job or not. He just hoped she didnt have an excursion planned or had already left.
After another few procrastinating taps, Tom dialed the LoNigros quarters. Dana answered on the second ring.
"Dana, its Tom Collins."
"Tom, this is a surprise. Do you need to speak with Bobby?"
"No, I was calling for you, actually."
The rustling in the background as Bobby apparently had approached to take the phone subsided, and Danas curiosity was audible in her voice.
"Me? What can I do for you?"
"Ive got a compliance question for you. Do you have a few minutes?"
"Are you in your office?" When Tom responded in the affirmative, she said, "Ill be there shortly."
_ - o O o - _
Sam had been right; the orb did emanate a certain sensation that could only be described as pleasure when Al entered the crystal lab after him. It didnt attempt to communicate with him, but twice it extended a blue tendril towards his shoulder that seemed to Al as if it were patting him encouragingly or tenderly, he wasnt sure which. Feeling self-conscious, Al responded the second time the orb did so by thanking it. A warm suffusion of blue gradations of light rippled across the orb at that.
He spent over an hour in the lab with Sam, as the younger man showed him the latest test results and observations with the orb. The developments were intriguing, and as Sam explained the potential improvements to SID, Al felt his own excitement growing. Sam looked as if he was inclined to spend the rest of the day in the lab, so after Al had been brought up to speed he decided to leave Sam to it and he returned to his quarters.
Al sighed contentedly as he entered his quarters and knew that he could leave them anytime, could go to the parking garage, collect his car, and drive to Taos if he wished. He was considering doing just that when his phone rang.
He answered it, "Calavicci."
"Um, C-Captain Calavicci, its me, Sh-Shannon MacLean."
"Shannon, hi. How are you feeling, sweetie?"
"Better, thank you." She sounded nervous, and Al wondered if she still was troubled by the accusations her "changeling" had leveled against him.
"And hows little Karl doing?"
"Dr. Crawford came by and told me hes improving. They said I overdid it yesterday, so they wont let me out of bed to see him." She paused, and added, "Karls actually the reason Im calling."
"Is something wrong?" asked Al, concerned.
"No, I just wanted to ask you something. I feel kind of funny asking, considering everything thats happened." Al gently urged her to go ahead with her question. Shannon took a deep breath, and plunged forward. "II need to give Karls full name for the birth certificate and I was wondering if you would mind if, well Captain, Karl wouldnt even be here if it hadnt been for you; neither would I for that matter! Would you mind if I used Albert for his middle name?"
Touched, Al was unable to say anything for several long seconds, and Shannon misinterpreted his silence for disapproval.
"Im sorry, it was presumptuous of me. I shouldnt have asked at all, much less over the phone. Im sorry." She was tripping over herself to apologize and take it back.
"No, Shannon, its fine. You just caught me by surprise, honey." He smiled and wished she could see how pleased he was. "Id be honored."
He could almost feel the relief pouring from her as she thanked him. "One day Ill tell him about the men hes named after and why. Thank you so much, Captain Calavicci. For everything. If theres ever anything I can do for you, dont hesitate to ask."
"There is one thing. Please call me Al."
"Okay, CapI mean, Al." She let out a small nervous laugh at the difficulty breaking the habit. "Ill try. But I mean it. I owe you so much "
He knew shed probably never lose the sense of indebtedness to him. While it certainly never hurt to have favors to call on when they were needed, this wasnt the sort of situation he felt comfortable with. He smiled as he thought of a solution.
"Shannon, heres what you can do. Put me on your Christmas card list. I want you to keep me informed on how things are going for you and Karl, okay?"
"Okay." She sniffled and valiantly fought back tears as she thanked him again and then said goodbye. Just in timeAls own eyes were getting slightly misty, and he blinked furiously, pretending to pick dust from the corner of his eye, even though he was alone in his quarters.
_ - o O o - _
"Hey, Thompson, whatd you do?"
"What dye mean?" Perry had just arrived for his Saturday shift, and that wasnt the sort of greeting he normally expected to receive.
"General Collins left a message for you. He wants you to go to his office as soon as you arrive. And here you are." Roger Evans face was anxious. "Didnt you drive the general yesterday? Did something go wrong?"
"Not to my knowledge," Perry said. "Well, Ill be back in a while, I guess."
He headed for the elevators, and when he pushed the button to summon the car, his stomach dropped. Agent Adams refused to believe Captain Calavicci was innocent until a paternity test was performed, and intended to dismiss the captain if the test showed anything other than clear blamelessness. Perry was to be terminated as well if the captain was dismissed.
Was that why Collins had called him? Perry took a deep breath and tried to tell himself not to panic. He knew when you made a deal with the devil you had to pay the price, but surely the general wouldnt sell them out. Not to Ross Adams.
It seemed to take forever before Perry reached the administrative offices and headed to the generals office. Tanya, the generals secretary, was off duty, so Perry nervously crossed her space to the inner sanctum, timorously knocking on the generals open door.
"Come in, Perry," beckoned General Collins, reaching for a file folder and opening it.
Swallowing his apprehension, Perry entered the room and stood awkwardly near a chair until he was invited to sit down.
"How long have you been with the Starbright Project, Perry?"
"Since day one, sir."
"And youve been a driver with the motor pool the entire time, is that correct?"
"Any aspirations for advancement?"
Perry wasnt sure what the general wanted to hear, but he told the truth. "Ehm, Ive been told when Mr. Kline either retires or gets promoted himself, Im up for head of the motor pool."
Collins nodded and studied the open folder before him. "Captain Calavicci believes youve been overlooked for a promotion for far too long. Given what youd accomplished in Scotland, I would tend to agree with him."
"Starting June 1st, youll be starting in a new position. One a bit more in line with your background." He lightly tapped his pen on what Perry now realized was his resume detailing his job history and training in Scotland.
Perry couldnt believe his ears. "Sir?"
"Youre being promoted to Director of Transportation, Perry. The full job description is still being fleshed out, but youll basically be in charge of arranging all transportation for the project staff." General Collins closed the folder and smiled. "Congratulations, Mr. Thompson." He reached across the desk to shake Perrys hand.
"Th-thank you, sir!" beamed Perry.
_ - o O o - _
"Donna? Where have you been?" Sam hoped she hadnt been avoiding him.
"Im sorry, Sam. I got called away for a while. I had to help out a friend." He could hear the smile in her voice. "But Im back now. Did you need to go over some test results?"
Sam started to say yes, but thought better of it. "No, I just wanted to see you."
"Really. Well, that can be arranged "
_ - o O o - _
"I dont know how to thank you enough, Al!"
"Just do as good a job as youve done and prove yourself, Perry. Thats all I ask. And thank you for coming forward yesterday."
A slight deflation entered Perrys voice. "Thats not why you pushed for my promotion is it? I want to earn my way here."
"Listen, Perry. I wasnt just blowing smoke when I talked to Tom. Youve been overlooked. Youre far more talented than Glenn Kline, you just havent been given a chance to shine. Im just sorry we didnt take a closer look at your file before this."
"But why now?"
Al sighed. He hadnt wanted to get into this, but Perry was like a dog with a bone. "Tom wanted to make up for my suspension and asked what he could do. I thought of you, and we pulled your file. After that it was plain as day. Dana Barrenger-LoNigro went over it all with a fine tooth comb. You earned this, Perry. Dont toss it away because I gave it a little nudge."
Perry was quiet as he processed Als words. Finally he said, "Okay, then. Ill quit being such a bampot. Thank you, Al."
Al was on the verge of asking Perry what a "bampot" was, but decided against it. He accepted the thanks and smiled as he hung up the phone. Two good deeds in one day. Feels pretty good.
A knock at the door pulled him out of his thoughts, and, the smile still on his face, he rose to answer it.
Shock covered his face when he saw Tina standing there. "I thought you werent coming back until Monday!" he exclaimed.
"I changed my mind," she said.
"Im glad. And about Friday, Im sorry, honey."
"I know. And I decided to forgive you. You can thank Perry and Donna for that."
They stood in his doorway, smiling stupidly at each other, until Tina finally smirked and said, one hand on her hip, "Well, arent you going to, like, invite me in, silly?"
At that, he seized her around the waist and pulled her to him, and their smiles merged into a kiss.