by:  Jennifer Rowland 


When the hearing resumes, Al is subjected to direct questioning from the Committee.  Just when it seems that there can be no way to salvage Al's career and position, Sam is reluctantly allowed to speak on the captain's behalf.  But will it be enough?

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Chapter Eight



Monday, April 29, 1985


Al kept a starchly perfect posture as Eddison rapped the gavel to begin the second session of the hearing.  Bob, apparently leaving Walter and Annalise to cover for him, had returned as well, resuming his seat next to Sam.  Al didn’t even glance over there, just kept the imaginary blinders on his head, directing every ounce of his concentration on the Committee.


“Captain Calavicci, you may be seated,” Eddison sneered.  Al crisply nodded and took his seat.


“In this portion of the hearing, Captain, we will question you regarding the evidence we’ve had presented to us.  This is your opportunity to defend yourself.  Once we are done, then your ‘witness’ will be allowed to speak.  Do you have any questions?”


Al spoke for the first time since everyone had returned from lunch.  “No, Senator.  No questions.”


“Very well, then.  Shall we begin?”  Eddison invited Martin Garrett to go first.


Garrett shuffled through his papers for a moment before addressing Al.  “Captain Calavicci, as an administrator, aren’t you supposed to be familiar with the regulations of Project Starbright?”


“Yes, Senator Garrett.”


“And as part of that familiarity, aren’t you supposed to enforce these regulations?”


“Yes, Senator.”


“I see,” Garrett mused.  “Well, then, Captain, perhaps you could clear something up for me.  Were you just unaware of the regulation prohibiting the consumption of alcohol in the workplace or during duty hours?  Or was it that you deliberately chose to disregard it?”


“I . . . “ Al pressed his lips together before continuing.  “Yes, sir, at the time, I deliberately disregarded the regulation.”




“I had . . . personal reasons, Senator.”


“That’s not good enough, Captain.  I’m sure Jack the Ripper had ‘personal reasons’ for committing murder,” Garrett argued.


Al frowned.  “I’m sorry, Senator, but I can’t give you a concrete reason as to why I behaved as I did.”


“I don’t suppose your addiction getting out of hand had anything to do with it?” Eddison cut in.


“I imagine it did play a part, Senator Eddison,” Al said.  “However, I also know that no excuse can change the fact that I did what I did.  And I don’t wish to waste the Committee’s time by trying to come up with one.  I let my drinking take over, let it affect my job, and I am sincerely sorry for that.”


“Now is a fine time to show regret,” snorted Eddison.


“I realize that, Senator.”  Al swept his gaze to rest upon each member of the Committee in turn.  “I can’t give you any reason to accept anything I say.  I’d probably doubt how sincere I was if I were sitting up there.”


“I’m glad you realize how serious this is, Captain,” Francine Lehmann said.  “May I ask when you realized your drinking was out of control?”


Al sighed.  “To be perfectly honest, Senator Lehmann, it wasn’t until I got the letter informing me of this hearing.”


“But didn’t Mr. Jansen testify that he’d attempted several interventions?”


Again, Al sighed.  “Yes, ma’am, he did.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t willing to listen to anything he said at the time.  I suppose that deep down I knew I was playing with fire, but . . .” He trailed off into silence.


Major Van Sant joined in the questioning.  “Captain, we’ve established previously that your behavior changed concurrent with your finalized divorce from your wife.  Is it possible this was affecting your outlook and attitude?”


“I suppose it’s possible, Major.  But as I said before, I’m not trying to excuse my behavior.”


“I understand that, Captain, and I’m glad to hear it.  But I would like to find some sort of explanation, if it’s possible.”


“Yes, sir,” Al quietly conceded.  The major seemed convinced that he could find an explanation and, for some reason, seemed determined to do so.  Al hoped he wasn’t misreading things to believe that Van Sant was on his side.


“Thank you, Captain.  Now, Mr. Jansen stated in his testimony that you’ve had five marriages end in dissolution.  Is that a correct assessment?”


“Yes, sir, it is,” Al reluctantly said. 


“I imagine having to go through a divorce for the fifth time wasn’t easy.”


Al hesitated for several seconds.  “No, sir, it wasn’t.”


“Combined with a POW experience in Vietnam, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t,” Van Sant said.


“I’m sorry, sir, I don’t understand where you’re going with this,” Al stiffly said, getting a fair idea of exactly where Van Sant was headed, and not one bit happy about the direction.


“Captain, I’m sure you’re aware that I have access to your entire service record.  What you may not be aware of is that I served in a platoon in Vietnam.  I know what it was like over there.”


“Begging your pardon, sir,” Al broke in, harshly, “but I don’t think so.  I don’t think you know what it was like in the prison camps.”


Van Sant wasn’t offended.  “Point taken.  But I do know what the last twenty years have been like for a lot of us.”


Al didn’t say anything.  Van Sant paused for a moment, and then continued with his attempted defense, admitting in a generic sense to visions and terrors that tormented him and other veterans in the middle of the night.  Unfortunately, Eddison found a way to twist Van Sant’s soul-baring to suit his own agenda.


“I’m sure I can speak for the entire Committee, Major, when I say that we do sympathize with you, and the captain, for what you’re both going through.  However, I don’t think we can ignore the fact that you are apparently dealing with things in a much healthier manner than Captain Calavicci has,” Eddison said.


“Everyone deals with things in their own fashion, Senator,” growled the major.  “I could name several other veterans who’ve ended up in similar situations as Captain Calavicci.”


“Yes, but none of them are employed on this government project, now are they, Major?  And may I say that the simple fact that you’re coping quite excellently with your wartime experience speaks all the more loudly to the fact that Captain Calavicci has not done the same?”  Eddison turned to Al.  “So, Captain, is what Major Van Sant saying true?  Are the stresses of your divorce and your Vietnam experiences the reason you have a drinking problem?”


Al glared at his nemesis.  Eddison coated his words with a thick, patronizing sarcasm, completely negating the sympathy Van Sant was apparently trying to establish.  Sympathy Al appreciated and hated at the same time.  No weakness.  Show no weakness.’


Eddison had fire in his own eyes as he leaned menacingly over the table.  “Captain Calavicci, you will answer all questions that are put to you!”


“With regards to what Major Van Sant has postulated, I suppose it’s possible, Senator,” Al coldly said.


“I see.  So you tempered your inability to handle stress by becoming an alcoholic,” Eddison concluded.


Garrett was ready to jump in and continue the attack.  “Captain, people encounter stress all the time.  Wartime stresses, traumatic stresses.  Even the stress of divorce.  I dare say many of them don’t become alcoholics.  I can appreciate that your divorce is a fresh wound, so to speak.  But, honestly, Captain, trying to blame your problems on events that are decades old?”  Garrett laughed nervously, hurrying to continue and turning his head to keep from seeing Van Sant’s growing irritation.  “What I would like to ask you, Captain, is this.  If you can’t handle stress in your personal life, how can we expect you to handle the upcoming stresses involved with keeping Project Starbright on schedule?”


“That’s completely unrelated,” Al tried.


Garrett held up the photographs of Al’s office again.   “I beg to differ, Captain Calavicci.  As we’ve heard this morning, they’re very much connected.”


“What I mean is,” Al took another stab at it, “that I . . . hit a rough spot these last few months.  But I’ve seen what it--what my drinking--has cost me and others at Project Starbright.  I didn’t like what I saw and, Senator Garrett, everyone, I’ve . . .  cleaned up my act.”


“Unfortunately, it appears that it took the threat of a Committee hearing to bring you to this turning point,” commented Dr. Gupta.  “Now, Captain, I understand that you’ve been away from the Project property for a week.  What proof do we have of your change?  What assurance do we have that something like this won’t happen again?”


Al glanced down at his hands in his lap, at the physical reminder of what had been his catalyst for change.  Sighing, he met the doctor’s eyes.  “Dr. Gupta, I don’t have any proof I can offer you.  Certainly if you’d like me to take a blood alcohol test, I’ll submit without any arguments.  As far as assurances go, all I can give you is my word.”


“I’m not sure that’s enough, Captain,” snarled Eddison.  “You’ve demonstrated what your word is worth over the last several months.  How many times did you promise Mr. Jansen that you would change?  Shall we re-read his testimony?”


The young man started to rifle through the long transcription tape before a disgusted glance from Eddison told him it was a rhetorical question.  Flushing, he returned to his task.


“Senator Eddison, I do wish I had some proof to offer you that I won’t let this happen again.  I’m afraid all I can give is my apology and my promise that things have changed.  I’ve changed.”


Eddison dismissed Al’s words with a wave.  He gestured for the next Committee members to ask their questions.  Lois James piped up.


“Captain, I’m curious as to what you would do if you had to deal with a staff member with the same problems you’ve demonstrated.”


Al lowered his eyes.  “I’d probably have them dismissed, Dr. James,” he quietly answered.


“So you can see the dilemma we’re in,” she gently added.  “Why should we make an exception for you?”


“Honestly, ma’am, I can’t give you any reason.  But I believe wholeheartedly in what we’re trying to do.  I’ve been in space, and I’m telling you, we would have given our eyeteeth to have communications capabilities like the type we’re developing at Starbright.  Not to mention, the scope it has for the future.  If we ever reach the point where we can colonize the Moon, or Mars, well, just imagine what we could accomplish with this system!”  Al’s eyes lit up as he spoke about his dreams for the Project.  Then the light faded as the reality of the hearing sank back into his brain.  “I can’t give you a single reason to keep me on.  My behavior was inexcusable.  But I’m asking you to give me another chance, even though I know I don’t deserve it.”


“Captain, you’re admitting to us that you deserve to be terminated?” Mick Kramer asked.


“I’m admitting that I was wrong and that my actions were out of line.  I’m admitting that nothing I say or do can change any of that.”  Draw whatever conclusions you like,’ he thought, but didn’t say aloud.


“You’re correct, Captain.  I seriously doubt there is anything you could say that could change things,” said Eddison.


Al couldn’t help it.  He knew he was only going to make things worse, but he couldn’t take Eddison’s baiting any longer.  His eyes blazed with a passionate fire and he rose from his seat.  “Well then why did you hold this hearing, Jack?  Was it that vital to you to publicly humiliate me?  I always knew you hated me, but this is a new low, even for you!”


“Aren’t you being a little paranoid, Captain?  Why would one man have it in for you?” Garrett asked.


“Why don’t you ask him?” Al demanded, thrusting a pointing finger in Eddison’s direction.


Jack Eddison jumped to his feet, purple with rage.  Captain, may I remind you that this is a Committee hearing!  We didn’t even owe you this much of a chance to defend yourself.  The simple charges on paper from your coworkers was enough evidence for me, and for others.  Your record speaks for itself.” 


Al’s shoulders sagged and the anger flew out of him as quickly as air flees a leaky balloon.  He looked over at Sam, who was sitting in helpless shock.  The Committee was sitting in much the same fashion, except for Eddison, who was taking deep breaths through flared nostrils, standing with his arms folded, staring down at Al. 


“And you say you’ve changed, Al.”  Eddison shook his head, feigning sadness.  “Looks like the same old thing to me.”


Al took a quick mental poll.  His outburst had effectively swayed everyone to Eddison’s side except Van Sant.  And the only reason the major was still on his side was because of Vietnam.  Al sank into his chair with an air of defeat about him.


“I don’t see any reason to continue with this,” Eddison said.  “Shall we dismiss for a vote?”  He raised his gavel.




All heads turned towards Sam Beckett, who’d risen to his feet.  Sam’s cheeks burned under the scrutiny, but he remained standing.


“I haven’t been given an opportunity to speak on behalf of Captain Calavicci,” Sam said, blatantly fighting to keep his voice steady.


“Dr. Beckett, do you really think you can say anything that would change our minds on this?” Eddison asked with the patience one uses with a four year old.


“I don’t know, Senator.  But I do know that Captain Calavicci deserves to have someone speak for him.”


“He’s right, Jack,” Francine Lehmann said.


“Fran, you’re not seriously entertaining the idea to let this continue!” Eddison was aghast.


She rose to her full height and glared at Eddison.  “Jack, you will allow Dr. Beckett to speak.  We agreed at the outset that he would have the opportunity.  He’s waited quite patiently for his chance.  Now sit down and shut up.  I’m starting to wonder if Captain Calavicci is right about your attitude.”


Sufficiently abased, Eddison sat down.  After an encouraging nod at Sam, Lehmann resumed her seat as well.


Sam took a nervous breath as he strode to a central position.  The Committee may have expected him to sit in the “witness chair,” but Sam, willing his legs to remain steady, stood directly opposite the conference table.


“Let the record show that Dr. Samuel Beckett is now testifying,” Eddison said, almost sulkily.  He paused as the recognition sank in that they didn’t have any questions prepared for this witness.  None too pleased about that, Eddison told Sam he could begin.


“Thank you, Senator Eddison.”  Sam inclined his head in gratitude.  He inhaled deeply before launching into a speech he wasn’t quite sure he was prepared to give.  He angled his body toward Al and extended a hand in the captain’s direction.  “I’ve been listening all day as this man’s character has been repeatedly called into question and attacked.  Captain Calavicci freely admitted to you that he had been having a problem with alcohol.  No one is denying that, least of all him.  And even though only a few members of this Committee have showed any interest in trying to compassionately understand what brought about such a drastic change in his behavior, Captain Calavicci has not tried to excuse himself.  Quite the opposite, in fact.” 


Sam faced the Committee head-on.  “I can’t believe your response to his honesty and remorse is to strip him of everything and remove him from this project!  I’m confident that Captain Calavicci is well aware of the fact that his actions will have consequences, and I’m also sure he is prepared to accept whatever consequences you deem necessary, but I draw the line at his punishment being his eviction.


“Major Van Sant, you mentioned that you have access to Captain Calavicci’s entire service record.”


“That’s right,” affirmed the major.


“Would you mind telling me if there are any blemishes on that record?”


Van Sant flipped through the folder at hand.  After a few moments, and a firm stare at the Committee members within his line of sight, he raised his head.  “Not a single blemish, Dr. Beckett.  There are, however, several commendations.”


“With the Committee’s indulgence, would you read Captain Calavicci’s service record aloud?  Just to remind everyone of his background,” Sam requested.


Van Sant straightened in his chair and turned to the first page to begin reading aloud.  Sam edged toward Al’s table as Van Sant continued reading.  As each note was read, the transcriptionist’s fingers flew madly over his machine.  Eddison scowled the entire time, his frown intensifying as the space program was mentioned.  All attention was rapt upon the major; all attention except for Al’s.


“What are you doing?” Al hissed when Sam drew near.


“Just trust me,” Sam whispered back.  He patted the edge of the table and nodded his head comfortingly at his friend before heading back to his original position.


Van Sant was drawing to the end of Al’s service record.  He closed the folder with a smugness to counter Eddison’s when he was done.


“Thank you, Major,” Sam said.  “I know that was a lot to read.”  He scanned the faces of the rest of the Committee.  “A lot to absorb, I know.  But I want you to remember something.  The man that Major Van Sant just described is the same man that is sitting right over there.


“I’ve gotten to know Captain Calavicci well over the past week.  I’ve gotten to know a man that is incredibly intelligent, well-versed in every single aspect of this project, full of ideas, and even criticism when it’s needed.  Senator Eddison, when I arrived you asked me if I was confused about when I was to report on my findings.  Well, Senator, you might not know that Captain Calavicci was authorized to help me work through those findings, and everything I’m going to present to you tomorrow would be worthless without his input.”  Sam paused, looking meaningfully at Eddison.  “And I offered to stand before you today.  Captain Calavicci did not request my presence here in any way, shape, or form.”  He glanced back at his friend.  “In fact, I’m sure that he would rather I wasn’t here.”


Sam paced in front of the Committee’s table.  “But I am here.  And I am not going to let you get rid of him!  You’d be doing a disservice to him, but most of all, you’d be doing a disservice to this project.”


“Dr. Beckett,” Martin Garrett said, “from what we’ve heard, I’m not sure this project can survive another four months of Captain Calavicci’s behavior.”


“Senator Garrett, with all due respect, I hope that if you ever have a bad reaction to traumatic experiences in your life that your peers would show you more respect and consideration than you’re showing Captain Calavicci.  As much as Al . . . Captain Calavicci would like to deny it, because I know he would like to believe and would like everyone else to believe that he’s indestructible, I agree with Major Van Sant.  Things in his personal life just started to get out of hand.  I agree with the rest of you, as well--he found the wrong way to deal with it.  But he has acknowledged that to you.  He’s admitted to you that he was wrong.  All he’s asking for is a chance to prove himself.  To prove to you that the man who signed onto this project is still around; that he hasn’t been permanently buried underneath a brief period of poor choices.


“For most of his life, Captain Calavicci has served his country in just about every capacity there is.  Don’t rob him of his chance to continue doing that.  Because if this is how a hero of his stature is treated, I don’t want to have anything to do with it.  I won’t be associated with a project that abandons its own when they hit a rough patch.  While I can’t condone the choices he made, to some extent I can understand what he’s dealing with.  My goodness, anyone who’s been to the movies lately can understand what he’s dealing with!  Just try to put yourself in his shoes, just for a few moments.  Imagine you’re having to deal with what Major Van Sant was describing earlier.  Then try to think about how you would handle it as it all comes flooding back--especially if your wife had just left you.”  Sam stopped, sensing that to continue would hurt Al more deeply than to just let the Committee have their way with him.


“Give him another chance,” Sam said, quietly.  “He deserves that much in my book.  If you send him away, I promise you, you’ll be hurting this project far more than you can imagine.”  Not sure what to do with his hands, Sam stuck them in his pocket and turned to walk back to his seat.


Complete silence hung heavy in the room.  A few nervous coughs broke in, and then Eddison cleared his throat.  “We’ll recess to discuss this.  Captain, don’t leave the project property.  Someone will contact you when we’re ready to render our decision.  Dismissed.”


The sharp rapping of Eddison’s gavel signaled the hearing’s conclusion.



Al hadn’t stopped pacing for a second.  “Why haven’t they reached a decision yet?” he muttered at regular intervals, wearing a path into the floor.  Sam felt like the judge at a tennis match as he followed his movements.


Sam had hoped that the relatively neutral environment of his quarters would help to calm his friend.  It hadn’t.


Al finished another circuit, wringing his hands as he went.  “What’s taking them so long?”


“I think it’s a good sign,” Sam offered.  He was sitting with one leg crossed over the other, and he tapped his hand against his ankle in an unconscious reflection of Al’s nerves.  “At least they’re not rushing into their verdict.”


“Mmm, maybe,” Al said.  “But I wouldn’t put it past Jack to stretch things out just to torture me.”  He continued pacing.


“Are you sure you don’t want to sit down?” Sam asked for the fifteenth time.  For the fifteenth time, Al shook his head, moving in his eight-step pattern.  Four steps and turn, four steps and turn.


A light knock on the door froze him in mid-step.  “They’re done,” he whispered, staring at the entryway.  His heart raced, pounding against his ribcage as if battering to get free.  He wondered who they’d sent to get him.


“Al, try to relax,” Sam said in a low voice as he got up to walk to the door.  He glanced over his shoulder before turning the knob.  Al didn’t look quite as panic-stricken, but he didn’t look good, either.  Sam cracked the door to give Al time to compose himself.


“Sam?”  Shari stuck her face in the small opening.  “Where were you today?  Is everything all right?  Are you sick?”


He’d sworn Underhill to secrecy about his whereabouts today, but Sam hadn’t counted on Shari’s overactive concern.


“I’m fine, Shari,” he said, bracing the door closed with his foot.  When he didn’t immediately admit her, Shari gently tried to push her way in.  Her brow creased when she met resistance.


“What’s wrong?  Look, I’ll wait while you put on a robe if that’s the problem, but I’m not going anywhere until you tell me what’s going on.”


“I can’t.  Shari, please.”


“Sam, you’ve been acting weird lately.  I’m worried about you.”


Al sighed.  “Let her in.”  Utter shock coated Sam’s face.  Al nodded.  “Let her in,” he repeated.


Sam stepped back and Shari rushed into the room.


“Al?”  She stopped short when she noticed that he wore his uniform.  Shari looked from Sam, who’d shut the door again, back to Al.  “I know the Committee’s here.  What’s wrong?  Are they going to shut us down?”


“No, probably just me,” Al quietly answered.


“I don’t understand.”


Al crossed to her and took both of her hands in his.  “Shari, sit down, hon.” He walked her to Sam’s bed and sat down next to her.  He dropped his head, regarding the small hands within his.  Then, meeting Shari’s confused eyes, Al started to explain.


“Sweetie, the Committee’s here because of me.  Because of m-my drinking.  I’ve been in a hearing all day, which is where Sam has been, too.  I’m waiting to hear if I still have a job or not.”


Shari tightened her grip on his fingers.  “Oh, Al.  I’m so sorry.”


He gave her a small smile.  “Me, too.”  He pulled one hand free to rest it on her shoulder.  “Shari, I’ve been apologizing to the Committee all morning.  I want to apologize to you, too.”


“For what?”


Al couldn’t meet her eyes.  The words he was about to say were difficult for him.  “For the way I’ve acted and the way I’ve treated you.”


Shari squeezed his hand.  “You don’t have to apologize to me, Al.”  She studied his face.  Smiling, tears filling her eyes, she reached up with her free hand to touch his cheek.  “I’m just glad to have you back.”  She laughed when she saw the bewilderment in his eyes.  “You don’t think I can tell that you’ve stopped drinking?”


At a loss, Al just stared.  He looked to Sam, who spread his hands wide and shrugged, puzzled as well; Al returned his attention to Shari.  “You can tell?”


“I can see it in your eyes,” she nodded.  “When did you stop?”


Al drew his hands back, flattening his palms against his thighs.  “Last weekend.”


“I’m proud of you.”  She leaned over to graze his cheek with a light kiss.


“I’m glad someone is,” Al remarked, clearing his throat.  He stood and glanced at Sam’s alarm clock as he rose.  “What is taking them so long?”  He fell into the anxious pace again.


Shari caught Sam’s attention, telegraphing her concern.  Sam nodded.  It didn’t go well,’ he mouthed while Al’s back was turned.  Shari’s constantly perky expression fell, and tears of a different sort cast a sheen across her eyes.  She watched the captain pacing his small circuit until her own compassion betrayed her.


“I better get back,” she said in a small voice, her throat tight with unshed tears.


Al finished his course.  “Okay, sweetie.  Thank you.”  He didn’t notice her failing composure, and he immediately set into his pace once more.


“I’ll check back with you later,” she whispered to Sam.  The tears were rolling down her cheeks now, and she fled from the room.  Sam watched her from the doorway until she rounded the corner.  Shari was jogging down the hall, wiping her cheeks as she went.  Once she was out of sight, he carefully closed the door.


“Sam?”  Al had finally stopped walking.  He chafed his palms as he stood uncertainly in the center of the room.  “What am I going to do if they kick me out?”


Sam wanted to reassure his friend that such a consequence would not come to pass, but the words stuck in his throat as meaningless.  His hesitation seemed to calm Al more than his earlier quick responses had.  “I don’t think it’s going to come to that, Al.  I’ll do whatever I can to keep you on.  But even if all of that fails, you’ll pick up and carry on.  I know you will.  I know you can.”


Whatever Al might have had to say in response was cut off as the phone rang.  Sam picked it up on the second ring. 




Al was rooted to the floor, anxiousness knitting his brows together.  Sam nodded, confirming that it was someone from the Committee. 


“Yes, he’s right here.  . . . .  Yes, ma’am.  I’ll tell him.  . . . .  Thank you.”


He replaced the receiver in the cradle and turned to the ashen-faced man behind him.


“They’re ready for you.”



The Committee’s faces didn’t reveal a hint of what decision they’d finally reached.  Al reminded himself not to let panic lock his knees as he stood at attention in front of their table.  He was not going to pass out in front of Eddison.


Sam had taken the same seat he’d had earlier.  Bob had returned as well, and once again, was sitting next to Sam.  Al had just enough of a peripheral view of Sam that he didn’t feel isolated and alone before the panel.


The Committee continued to calmly regard him.  More specifically, Eddison stared down at him like a Buddha whose calm smile emanated from a source that was more suited to Dante’s Inferno than Nirvana.  He seemed to draw peace from making Al sweat, and Eddison lingered over his gavel, his fingers tracing the carved handle, before finally lifting it and rapping it hard to reconvene.


“Captain Albert M. Calavicci, we have carefully reviewed the charges brought against you, evaluated everything we heard here today, and we have reached a decision regarding your future,” Eddison said, his poker face revealing its usual dislike and disdain for Al, not giving him a clue as to whether that hatred resulted from Al’s imminent dismissal or pardon.  “It was not an easy process.  There was a lot of information to go through, much to be weighed.  One scale held everything you have cost this project, everything you have done to demean it and yourself, every violated regulation, every infraction.  The other scale held the things you’ve brought to Project Starbright and the accomplishments of your past.  It was far from balanced.”


Al didn’t move a muscle.  Didn’t allow his cheek to flinch, his eye to twitch as he desperately tried to ignore the roiling, churning sea of bile which rose in his stomach.  There was no question as to which way the scale tipped, and probably no question about which way the Committee’s decision had gone.  Maybe they’d at least give him until morning to be packed.


“Your behavior was appalling, to say the least, Captain.  Personally, I wouldn’t be able to walk around this property with my head up if such shameful actions had been in my file.  Your repentance has not gone unnoticed, and while it doesn’t change a single thing, doesn’t lessen the severity of your conduct one iota, it has been appreciated.”


Eddison paused.  Al silently instructed himself to keep breathing.  He ran through a mental list of the larger items he possessed.  His father’s chair was the only piece of furniture he’d have to move, maybe a few electronics.  Only a couple of model aircraft had survived the tempest in his office, and the books would be the most he’d have to pack.  It would be close, but he could be out of there under any deadline they issued.


“Dr. Beckett’s comments gave us much to consider,” Eddison was saying, his brows lowered like two storm clouds.  “Let me assure you that our decision was not hastily reached, nor was it reached without a great deal of discussion.”


‘Just get on with it,’ Al thought.  Cao had relished drawing the torture out, too, slowly walking around him, feigning attacks before finally tormenting him with whatever item happened to be the tool of choice for the day.  Al shook off the memory and focused on the sentence falling from Eddison’s lips.


“Captain Calavicci, you know as well as I that your behavior is fully deserving of your immediate removal from Project Starbright.”  Eddison looked at his fellow members.  “However, after much heated discussion, we have decided to allow you one more chance.”


A lifetime of career military service was the only thing that kept Al on his feet.  His eyes widened and it took every ounce of self control to keep his mouth from wagging open.


“There are several stipulations associated with your reprieve,” Eddison continued.  For the first time, he seemed to wish someone else had been put in charge of the hearing.  He’d obviously longed to be the one to pronounce Al’s dismissal.  Now he had to deliver a pardon.  A pardon of sorts.


“First, you must attend weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for a period of no less than one year.  We will appoint a contact at AA who will keep us abreast of your attendance and progress.  Any negative reports, and you will be immediately removed.  Is that understood?”


“Yes, Senator,” Al managed to choke out.  He wasn’t thrilled about the idea of having to go to a self-help, twelve-step program, but at least he wasn’t out on the streets.


“Second, your wages will be garnished by twenty-five percent from each paycheck until you have paid for the damages you caused to project property.”  Eddison paused, waiting for Al’s acquiescence.  The words didn’t stick in his throat this time.


“Third, you will be under a strict probation for a period of no less than one year.  Any infraction of the rules and regulations, no matter how minor, and you will be dismissed from this project.  As part of this probation, the Committee may send undercover agents to observe you at any time.  Again, any negative reports will result in your removal.  Do you have any questions?”


“No, Senator Eddison,” Al said.  He needed to sit down, needed to lie down, needed to be alone to absorb everything that had just happened.  But the Committee wasn’t finished with him yet.


“Captain Calavicci, I remind you that we are making an exception for you.  We are giving you the second chance you’ve asked for.  You wanted to prove yourself.  Your probationary period is your chance.  Don’t waste it.”  Eddison frowned down at him.


Al tried to focus on the faces lining the table.  Some held a grudging agreement, frowns to rival Eddison’s scrunching their brows.  Others, particularly Van Sant’s and Lehmann’s, graced him with an encouraging kindness, tempered with a caution of their own that he needed to mind his p’s and q’s.  Al took a deep breath, trying to convince his innards that things had worked out after all.


The sharp rap of Eddison’s gavel snapped him out of the cloud of amazement.


“We’re dismissed.”


Tuesday, April 30, 1985


The early morning sky still had the grey pallor of the fading night.  Al made his way through the silent hallways to the cafeteria.  He and the cafeteria staff were apparently the only ones awake and moving.  Half of the breakfast entrees had yet to be put out.  Waving to the hairnetted men and women to signal that they needn’t hurry on his account, Al walked to the just-finished-brewing carafes of coffee to pour himself a cup.  Grabbing a bagel from a warm stack, he sat at the nearest table.


If they were surprised by his abnormally early appearance, the staff was discreet about it.  The loud clanging of metal trays, pans, and silverware would have covered up any hint of their gossiping, though, had they chosen to engage in a gab session about him.


Al glanced down at his rather conservative (for him) outfit, a black shirt paired with red pants and vest.  The small photo on his project ID badge stared back at him from the lapel of the vest.  He ran a finger across the lettering on it.  Project Starbright.  Captain Albert M. Calavicci.  Administrator.  Full Clearance. 


Sam had tried to convince him to go into town to celebrate last night.  For the first time in as long as he’d been at Starbright, Al declined the chance to depart the property.  After the hearing, he’d stuck around long enough to be graciously sociable to the Committee--at least those who approached him.  Eddison and Garrett had made a beeline for the exit with Jansen hot on their heels.  As soon as he was able, Al had fled for his quarters to get the seclusion he so profoundly needed.  He’d shed the uniform and showered, hoping that the pounding water against his skin would persuade him that he wasn’t dreaming, that he still had his job. 


It wasn’t long after he’d changed his clothes that Sam had knocked on his door, Shari in tow, ready to cart him off to a restaurant for a jubilant dinner.  Neither of them quite seemed to understand his desire, no, his necessity to be alone, but they’d reluctantly agreed to go without him.


Once they left, Al had sunk into his father’s chair and silently poured his heart out to the two people he’d loved most in this world, trying to recapture the pride and love each had bestowed upon him in their own way.  His father through his gentle motivation, kindness and affection covering each word.  Trudy through her absolute trust and pure, innocent devotion to him.


‘I won’t let you down again.  This time I’ll make you proud.  Papa.  Trudy.’


Al blinked.  The cafeteria had started to fill up during his reverie.  He bit into the now cold bagel and lifted the empty coffee mug he didn’t consciously remember draining.  Al rose and went back to the counter to refill his cup.  When he returned to his table, Sam was sitting in the chair across from his.


“Good morning,” Sam said.


“Good morning,” he replied, settling into his seat.


The two men ate in silence for several minutes, the background sounds of noisy chatter and loud hustle and bustle of the cafeteria keeping things from feeling awkward.


Finally, Al spoke, plowing into the dangerous waters of honesty and emotion.  “I owe you, Sam.  I owe you big.  They were ready to toss me out before you took up for me.”  He glanced at the ceiling in the fantastical hopes that a safety ring would drop down to pluck him back to the land of the everyday.


Sam paused with a forkful of scrambled eggs halfway to his mouth.  He lowered the utensil, slowly, the surprise at Al’s words shining in his eyes.  “I meant what I told them,” he said simply.  “They’d be hurting this project to get rid of you.”


“Bull,” Al responded.  “This project wouldn’t notice if I dropped dead.”  He bit the words off, his hands flying into his lap as he ran a thumb across the healing scars on his wrist.


“I’d notice.  A lot of people would,” Sam answered.  He looked deep into his friend’s eyes to the point where even he began to grow uncomfortable, then focused on his plate and the eggs he started shoveling in his mouth again.


Al stared across the room, absently chewing on the bagel.  Sam repeated himself twice before the words sounded in Al’s ears.


“What?”  He snapped himself back to the cafeteria.


“I said, ‘You’re going to be at the report later, aren’t you?’“ Sam patiently restated.


“Oh, I don’t know, Sam.  I’m not really sure it’s such a good idea, after all.”


Now it was Sam’s turn to exclaim, “What?”


Al gestured with his hands as he tried to explain.  “It’s just, well, it’s my first day back and I’m sure there’s a lot I need to catch up on.”  Why don’t you tell the truth, Calavicci?  You don’t want to have face Eddison twice.  You don’t want to be on the hot seat again.’  He sighed.  “I really need to spend some time in my office, you know.”


“No, I don’t know.  Al, I need you there with me.  You helped me come up with everything I’m going to report.  Half of the connections with Starbright are your ideas!”


“You’re exaggerating, Sam.”


“Not by much!”  Sam frowned, not understanding why Al pulled away.  “They can’t take anything away from you.  Not now.  Besides,” he argued, “don’t you think this would be a good way to show the Committee what you’re made of?  You can show them they made the right decision.”


Al creased his own lips in a grimace.  “Sam,” he grumbled.  “I just don’t think now is the time to be putting myself in the spotlight.”


“Now is the perfect time to do that,” countered Sam.  “Please, Al.  Please.”


Al rubbed his forehead.  “I’ll think about it.  That’s all I’m promising.”


“I’ll be looking for you.”


“I’ll think about it.”



Al gave himself a silent pep talk as he stood before the doors leading to the administrative offices.  His fingers wrapped around the door handle but he couldn’t quite command his muscles to pull the door open.  Go on,’ he directed his hand to pull back on the handle.  Slowly, the glass door swung toward him.


He trod carefully across the thick plush carpeting of the reception area, absorbing his surroundings as if it were his first day on the job.  In a sense, it was.  His first day in his new life.  The first day of his second chance.


Rachelle was sitting at her desk.  Al kept his shoulders back and his head erect as he drew closer.  That little tart wasn’t going to find the slightest chink in the armor of confidence he’d carefully strapped on before entering the office.  She looked up, an expression on her face that was one part confusion and one part derision.   


“Good morning, Rachelle,” he said evenly as he passed. 


She didn’t answer him, instantly dropping her head and sorting through the files scattered across her desktop.


Al shrugged, steadily moving toward his office.  He paused, aware of an unnatural silence filling the hallway.  The jangle of his keys echoed loudly, the slight knocking of the hanging ones against the door emitting a clatter that seemed proportionate to a jackhammer.  Al opened the door to his office and reached inside to flick the light switch.


The fluorescent light flooded the confines of his office with its brightness.  He stood in the center of the floor, reacclimating himself to a room he hadn’t seen without a drunken haze clouding his vision.  It was the office of a stranger, and Al wasn’t sure if the stranger was the drunk he’d been, or the sober man he was reclaiming.


Al ran a hand along one shiny mahogany edge of his desk as he circled it to pull his chair free.  Once seated, he flattened his hands on the desktop, surveying the empty bins.  It seemed as though Bob Jansen had expected him to be gone as much as Eddison had.  A backlog of work should have awaited him.  Somewhere, there was a backlog, he knew, regardless of where Jansen may have stashed it.  Al determined to make a dent in it, and he buzzed Rachelle.


After a brief directive to her through the intercom, she appeared in the doorway of his office, her arms laden with forms and folders.  Al started to thank her, but she unceremoniously dumped the paperwork in his “in” box and left the room, all without saying a word.  Who peed in your Cheerios?’  No matter, he could wait her out, and in the meantime, start chipping away at the probation that overshadowed his career.


He lifted the first folder and scanned its contents.  Dr. Harold Lassiter had submitted the monthly report for the astronomy labs, and Al soon lost himself in the details.  He pulled himself back to the administrative realm when he heard a deep voice clearing its throat.


Walter Hollis stepped across the threshold to enter Al’s office.  He had a sheet of paper in his hand.


“You were out of town when Bob distributed this memo.  I thought you might be interested in seeing it,” he said, gently placing the page on Al’s desk.


“Thanks,” Al answered, reaching out to pull the sheet within his line of sight.  “I imagine there’s a copy of it in my mailbox,” he lightly commented before scanning the lines of text.


“I guess there might be at that,” Walter said, as if the thought had just occurred to him.  He waited for Al to hand the paper back to him.  “Well, I just figured I’d kind of get you up to speed about that,” he said, bouncing on his toes and snapping the paper in illustration.  He scratched his left bicep.  “I’ll let you get back to work.”  Walter turned to leave, and then stopped in the doorway.


Al rested his hands on top of the open folder to show Walter that he had his attention.  He kept a neutral expression on his face as he waited for his co-worker to say what was so obviously on his mind.


Finally Walter let the words free.  “I’m glad you’re back, Al.”  He shrugged, and headed back to his own office.


Al stared at the empty doorway for several moments before concentrating on evaluating Lassiter’s report.  He continued reading, scrawling several questions and notes for composing his response to the report.  He’d nearly finished his task when he felt more than heard the presence of someone in his doorway.  Al stifled an exasperated sigh and raised his head.


Annalise stood uncertainly in the doorway, half in and half out.  Al smiled encouragingly and beckoned her inside.  She chewed her lower lip before moving forward.  She had a folder in her hands, and she walked with it in front of her, as if it were a shield.  She worried her lower lip between her teeth as she made her way to the chair across from him, carefully balancing the folder on her knees.


“Captain, I need to get your signature on this.  It’s Dr. Elysee’s resignation.”  Annalise’s hand trembled as she passed the folder to him.


“Elysee’s leaving?” Al asked, skimming the scant pages within the folder.


“Yes.  Two weeks.  Well, less than that now,” Annalise said.  She looked past him to the view out the window.  Al recognized it for the avoidance technique that it was.  There was nothing to see out there except for the back of a warehouse.


“Do you have any objections to this?” he gently asked, trying to reassure her that he didn’t hold anything against her.


Annalise shook her head.  “No, she’s more than fulfilled her contract with us.  I don’t have any problems with her leaving.”


Al bobbed his head up and down in consensus.  “I don’t see any reason to deny her request either.”  He reached for a silver pen from the small cup on his desk and scribbled his name on the appropriate lines.  “Thanks, Annalise,” he said, handing the folder back to her.


She received it, but didn’t move.  She balanced the folder on her knees again, and sucked her breath in.


“Al, I want to, no, I have to.  I have to tell you.”  Annalise stopped.  She took a deep breath and the words came flooding out on the exhale.  “I’m so sorry about yesterday, Al.  I didn’t know things were going to get like that, or I never would have agreed to it, to any of it!  I’m sorry.  I was just . . . concerned about you. . . and . . . .”


“Shh, it’s okay,” Al said.  He would have patted her hand, but it was too big of a stretch across the desk.  “Honey, I understood.  I don’t blame you for anything.  In fact, it should be me apologizing to you.”  He hesitated, an uncertainty of his own blocking his words.  “If I hadn’t let my own problems get out of hand, you wouldn’t have ever had to be put in such a situation.”


Annalise shrugged.  “Everything snowballed.  The hearing wasn’t supposed to be like that.  When Bob approached me about it, he . . . .”  She gasped and clapped her hands over her mouth.  “Oh, Al, I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t have said anything.  I . . . .”


Smiling a tiny upturn of his lips, Al reassured her.  “Annalise, it wasn’t hard to figure out that all of that was Bob and Jack.  Not that I hadn’t worked my way towards it on my own.”  He shrugged and grinned.  “If I forgive you, do you think you can forgive me?”


She finally smiled at that, her green eyes dancing with relief.  “I think so.”


“Good, it’s a deal then,” he said. 


Annalise, her guilt assuaged, rose from her chair and left his office.  Al watched her go, touched by her caring.  Then he shifted his hand and felt the papers of Lassiter’s report slide beneath his palm.  He finished his comments and set the file aside to write his response later.  He grabbed the next item in the “to do” stack and attacked it.


He’d completed about a fourth of the pile when Rachelle silently entered his office and laid a thin spiral-bound folder on his desk.


“What’s this?” he asked before she could leave.


Rachelle’s spine stiffened as she turned to face him.  The respectful tone was belied by the look in her eyes.  “Dr. Beckett’s report.  Sir.”


“Ah.  Thank you,” he said.  She didn’t seem to be aware of his association with the file, and she inclined her head in acknowledgment as she left.  Once she was gone, Al curiously flipped the cover back, even though he didn’t need to read the report; he’d helped Sam organize it! 


Al glanced at the wall clock.  Sam would have been in front of the Committee for about fifteen minutes now.  Depending on how they responded to him, that could be an eternity for the kid. 


He shrugged the thought off and reached for the next folder on the pile.  He couldn’t focus on the words within.  His mind kept going back to an imagined vision of Sam, an identical report in hand, nervously trying to convince the Committee of things he hadn’t been able to clearly explain to Al on the first try.


Al sighed.  He grabbed the report Rachelle had just delivered and left his office, pausing at the reception desk.


“Rachelle, I’m going to swing by the meeting rooms to listen in on Dr. Beckett’s report.  Catch all my calls, will you?  And if anyone is looking for me, let them know that’s where I am.”


Stunned, Rachelle just nodded.  Al tucked the binder under his arm and crisply strode from the offices.


He nodded affably to the staff members he passed in the hallways, noting that subdued whispering still followed him wherever he went.  In time, that would stop.  He hoped.


When he reached the meeting rooms, he wandered up and down the section, trying to figure out which one housed Sam and the Committee.  Sam’s report was a more familiar proceeding, so it wasn’t likely that the Committee would utilize the same room they’d held his hearing in.  Then again, if Eddison was taking charge of this meeting, such a location would suit his ego perfectly.


Al strained his ears, trying to hear a voice he recognized.  There, from the second door, was Sam’s voice.  Al walked to the room and quietly pulled the door open. 


Sam was sitting at the end of a long conference table, with the Committee taking the seats along either side, leaving two seats empty between Sam and them.  Sam was explaining one of the central theories of the report when Al entered the room.  He was so busy talking he didn’t notice the arrival of the captain.  Only the Committee members who directly faced the doorway saw him.  Fortunately, Eddison wasn’t one of them.  Al silently made his way to one of the empty chairs that had been idly placed along the side walls of the room, a position that placed him behind Sam.


“I’m afraid I don’t understand how this ties in, Dr. Beckett,” Martin Garrett said.  “Explain to me again why this system of yours can help.”


Sam launched into an explanation of the aspects of quantum physics he planned to use to revolutionize the computer systems.  Al could tell the young man was getting frustrated by the fact that most of the Committee couldn’t comprehend what he was trying to tell them.  He’d had a suspicion that Sam would encounter just such a reaction, and he sighed because his grilling hadn’t fully prepared the young scientist for the eventuality.


“Why do we need to reprogram all the computers in the holography labs?  Won’t that be expensive?” Mick Kramer asked.


Jack Eddison turned his head at that moment and saw Al sitting on the side of the room.  He held up his hand to forestall Sam’s answer.  “Excuse me, gentlemen.”  He stood and faced Al, arms akimbo.  “Captain Calavicci, do you have some reason for being here?”


Sam whirled in his chair so fast he almost gave himself a case of whiplash.  “Al!”  His face was awash with relief as he turned back to the Committee.  “Senator Eddison, I was hoping that Captain Calavicci would be able to attend.  As I told you yesterday, the details of this report owe everything to him.  In fact, Mr. Kramer, I believe that he is better suited to answer your question than I am.”  Sam turned to Al again and beckoned him to take one of the seats closest to him.


Al barely shook his head, not wanting to be under the Committee’s gunsights again, but he knew that Sam was right.  Sam didn’t have the bureaucratic vocabulary to get through to the Committee.  He did.  And after everything, he owed Sam.  He’d said so that very morning.  Now was the moment to return the favor to the kid.


He took a deep breath and relocated to the chair Sam pulled out for him.  He turned to face Kramer.


“I assume Dr. Beckett has explained to you that the computer system as it now stands is incapable of keeping up with the goals we’ve set for the holographic communications system?  I believe if you speak with any of the lab directors, they’ll confirm that for you.  What he’s proposing is somewhat of an expenditure, yes.  But it will save us money in the long run.  If we keep pursuing the programming under the current operating system, we’ll have to spend more manhours chasing and fixing bugs than if we take the time to develop a system that can actually handle the rapid changes in variables that this calls for.”  Al flipped through the binder to the financial figures he’d helped Sam work through.  He explained how cost-effective it was to follow Sam’s plan rather than to continue in their current direction.  Even Eddison and Garrett seemed to be able to move past who was speaking to listen to what was being said. 


Sam sank back into his chair.  He’d tried to accomplish the same thing, but just as Al had warned him, the Committee couldn’t quite understand what he was saying.  But Al made everything crystal clear and simple, filtering Sam’s technical information into dollars and cents that the Committee could appreciate.  It was a skill Sam doubted he himself would ever master.


To Be Continued



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