by:  Jennifer Rowland 


One is consumed by work and theories, the other by painful memories and alcohol.  As Sam tries to find his place at Project Starbright, Al begins losing the grip he has on his.  What happens when one star rises while another falls?

Print it Out

Chapter Two



Friday, March 15, 1985


Al had started early today.  Somehow, he staggered through the cloud of inebriation to his office.  Unsteady on his feet, he grabbed for the door handle to keep from falling at the same moment the Committee visitor pulled it open.


Al stumbled and nearly fell on the sour-faced man.  The sour expression intensified at the sight of Al’s two-day growth of beard and the strong scent of alcohol on his breath.


“Captain Calavicci!  What is the meaning of this?” he demanded.


Al stared blearily at him.  Recognition suddenly broke though his drunken vision and the color fled from his face.


“Senator Eddison!”  He straightened and nervously tried to comb his hair with his fingers.


“I asked you a question, Captain, and I am still waiting for an answer.  I hate waiting,” the senator scowled.  “And stop fidgeting!”


Al snapped into a wobbly attention and stared straight ahead.  His mouth was drier than Death Valley.  Oh, no.  It’s coming down now,’ he thought.  “Yes, Senator,” he said.  “I have no explanation.”


“Do you think this is behavior befitting a captain and administrator?” barked Eddison.


“No, sir.”


“Neither do I.  And I doubt the rest of the Committee would think so either.  I suggest you get your act together, Calavicci,” sneered the senator.


Al just nodded dumbly as the man walked away without another word.  He stood there staring at the empty doorway for several minutes.  When he finally turned to go to his office, he saw Rachelle staring open-mouthed at him.  No doubt she’d seen the whole exchange.


The complete lack of color in his face transformed itself into the deep flush of embarrassment and rage.  It took a great deal of self-control for Al to walk rather than run to his office.  Once inside, he slammed and locked the door.


His rage at himself, at Eddison, at Rachelle, at Bob, and at life in general bubbled up until he couldn’t control it anymore.  He seized a lamp and threw it to the floor, then upended the table he’d gotten it from.  A pair of shot glasses and a clock smashed in concordance with the resounding thud of the heavy table’s fall.


Al still wasn’t satisfied.  He launched himself at his desk and swept everything to the floor with both arms.  A torrent of paper flew into the air, miraculously not catching fire as the smashed computer sparked twice in protest at the treatment it had received.  Panting, he sat before the bare desk and yanked a handful of pencils from the top drawer.  Methodically, he gripped them one by one and bent them until he snapped them in two.


His rage finally settled down as he destroyed the last pencil.  Now the implications of his encounter with Eddison hit him.  Eddison was going to tell the rest of the Committee what he’d seen.  It wouldn’t be long before they’d decide Al’s presence was actually more harmful than helpful to the project.  He buried his head in his arms.  There was no way he could talk his way out of this one.


Al raised his head and watched the fog cloud from his breath slowly evaporate from the shiny mahogany of his desktop.  He desperately pulled open one drawer after another until he found a well-hidden collection of the tiny bottles of liquor from airlines and hotels.  He drained them sequentially, so self-absorbed he didn’t even wonder why no one had investigated the series of crashes coming from his office.



Sam sat down at his desk and instantly began making calculations again.  Two filled legal pads rested near his rapidly moving hand as he made headway on filling a third.  The shadow falling over his work area caught his attention and Sam looked up to see a strange face considering his station.


“Dr. Beckett?”


“Yes,” Sam answered, not knowing who this person was.


“Senator Jack Eddison.  I’m visiting on behalf of the Committee.  I’ve been hearing good things about you.”


“Thank you, Senator,” Sam said.  He glanced back at his legal pad briefly.  Sam had never been good at dealing with administration; he much preferred to be in up to his elbows with research.  “Have you had a good visit?”


“A couple of rough spots, but nothing that won’t be cleared up within a few weeks,” the senator responded.


Sam didn’t like the gleam in the senator’s eye when he made that statement.  But, not knowing anything further--dismissed it.  He nervously tapped his pencil against his ankle as he struggled to think of something to say.  Fortunately, the senator seemed to care little for small talk.


“I see you’ve been shuffled across the board,” Eddison was saying.  “While that’s all very good, we’d like to see you settled in one area.  The Committee has recommended that you be returned to the holography lab and cross-assigned with computer programming.  Your suggestion that the two could benefit from each other has been taken under consideration, so that’s why you’re cross-assigned.”


Sam nodded, rather relieved to be settled.  “Thank you, sir.  When will the assignment be finalized?” he asked.


“A few days,” Eddison said.  “You’ll receive official notice soon.  Well, carry on, Dr. Beckett.”  With a wave of his hand he strode away.


Sam returned his attention to his calculations.



“You’re kidding me, Rachelle!”  Joanne Kenning nearly dropped her coffee.  She glanced around the small smoking lounge to make sure no one else noticed and lowered her voice.


“Eddison really threatened him?”


Rachelle nodded.  “You should have seen the captain’s face.  He looked like he’d been punched in the stomach.  Then he locked himself in his office and must have started throwing things.  I didn’t dare check to see.  Mr. Jansen came out and stood in the hallway with Dr. Hollis and Ms. Wilkes.  They just stood there shaking their heads and went back to their offices when the noises finally stopped.”


“No one checked on him?  The poor man.”


“You’ve got to be kidding me, Joanne.  He’s come in drunk for at least the past month.  It’s about time he got busted if you ask me.”


Joanne shook her head.  “Maybe, but still.  What happened next?”


Rachelle stirred her coffee before continuing, enjoying prolonging the suspense.  It wasn’t often she had gossip to spread, and this was extremely juicy.  “After about an hour or so, he comes out, red-eyed and drunk as a skunk and leaves without saying a word.  Jansen came out of his office and calmly told me to please come into Captain Calavicci’s office.  You wouldn’t believe it.  My mom used to tell me my room looked like a cyclone blew threw it, but I’d never seen a room that really looked that way.  He’d smashed everything he could, even a pile of pencils!  Jansen handed me a camera, asked me to deliver it to the photography labs and then to contact a cleaning crew to straighten the captain’s office.  Like there was nothing wrong at all.”


Joanne clucked her tongue against the roof of her mouth.  “What do you think will happen to him?”


“If Eddison has his way, I doubt he’ll be around much longer.”


“And Jansen’s going to give him those pictures?”


“Oh, yeah,” Rachelle asserted.  “He tried to get the captain to turn himself around.  But even he is sick of dealing with him.  Jansen wants the problem gone just as much as Eddison does.”


“It just seems like such a shame,” Joanne said.  She stared down at her coffee and shook her head.


Rachelle shrugged.  “You didn’t work in the outer office like I did.  If you’d seen some of the things I’ve seen--half the time he came in wearing the same clothes he’d had on the day before, reeking of booze, and with several days’ worth of beard.”


“I’d heard he’d had some problems, but I had no idea.”


Rachelle touched Joanne’s arm.  “Don’t say anything, okay, Jo?”


“Of course not,” Joanne said.  She drank the last of her coffee and headed back to her office.  “See you later, Rachelle.”


Five minutes later, Joanne Kenning was spreading the story to the other secretaries in her section.  It spread from there faster than Mach Two.



Al sped down the interstate as fast as his car would go.  He gripped the steering wheel, imagining it to be Eddison’s face.  The thought started a convulsive shiver in his arms, and he reached over to turn on his stereo to drive the thoughts away.  He turned the volume up as loud as it would go.  Breaking both speed and sound limits, Al barreled down the highway until he reached town.


Once there, he whipped into the first bar parking lot he came to.  He slammed his way out of his car and stormed inside the seedy establishment.  He plunked down at the counter and ordered the hardest drink available, tossed it back, and immediately ordered another.  He relaxed a degree when the alcohol settled into his system.


He hadn’t been sitting long at the counter when a woman came up and seductively ran a hand down his arm.  Al blearily looked up.  He could barely make out her features.  Still, he assumed a welcoming smile--one that had never failed him.  She smiled back and settled onto a stool next to his.


“Hello, stranger,” she cooed.  She moved her hand to run it up and down his thigh.


Al shivered and ordered another drink.  The woman requested a martini.


“You look like you could use a friend,” she said.  She slipped her finger inside his collar and tickled his neck.


Al turned to face her.  “You have no idea,” he said.


“Want to talk about it?” she said.  “I’m a very good listener.”


He shook his head.  “Not particularly.”


She shrugged, and leaned in closer anyway.  “Maybe you just need some company?”


“What’s your name?”


“What would you like it to be?” she countered.


The tiny sober part of Al’s mind warned him against taking this any further.  But the drunk, lonely part of his mind was hungrier and opened his mouth.  “Beth.”


“Well, what do you know?” she smiled.  “That’s exactly what my name is!”  She leaned in even closer and ran her hand across his chest.  “Tell me, wouldn’t you like to go someplace quieter?”


Al shrugged.  He reached into his pocket and tossed a crumpled handful of bills onto the counter to pay for the drinks.  He shoved the rest back into his pocket.  The woman pressed against him at the sight of the bills.


“You have a car?” she crooned.


He nodded.  She instantly clung to his arm and walked outside with him.  When he stumbled, she hesitated.  “You’ve started partying early, honey.  Maybe I should drive.”


Al shook his head and opened the car doors.  “Beth” shrugged and settled into the passenger seat.  He sat down and started the car.  With a squeal of tires, he zoomed out of the parking lot and sped away.


“Oh, honey, what a set of wheels.  I think it’s hot.”  She squeezed his thigh.


Al slightly turned his head to face her.  “Where to?”


“Beth” leaned over and rested her head on his shoulder.  “I’ll tell you when to turn.  Just drive.”  She ran her hand up and down his arm.


Five minutes later she pointed to a motel driveway.  “Turn here,” she breathed in his ear.  Al turned in and parked the car.


When he headed toward the lobby, she shook her head and withdrew a key from within her dress.  “I’ve already got a room, baby,” she said.  She took his hand and led him toward a room on the first floor.


Once they were inside she leaned against the dresser.  “You’ve got eighty dollars, right, baby?” asked “Beth.”


Al shoved his hand within his pocket and dropped a handful of bills into hers.  She glanced over them quickly and then spilled them onto the dresser.  With an energized smile she moved in and wrapped her arms around him.


“You just need some TLC, honey,” she murmured, kissing his neck and nibbling on his ear.


Al closed his eyes and ran his hands across her back.  He felt the cloud of alcohol swirling within his brain.  He was beginning to feel very detached from his environment and before he knew it he was sitting on the bed.  The slender hands were involved with unbuttoning his shirt.  He felt her hands on his chest, and then he passed out.


“Beth,” whose real name was Ivy, pulled away from the slumped over man.  “Boy, do you know how to pick ‘em,” she grumbled, straightening her dress and smoothing her blonde hair.  Before she walked out the door, she turned to look at the unconscious man.  Shaking her head, she moved back to the bed, swung his legs up, and covered him with a blanket.  She scooped up the money, and closed the door behind her.


Two hours later, Al awoke, confused and disoriented.  He had no idea how he’d gotten to the motel room, nor how he had come to be lying alone in a bed with his shirt unbuttoned.  He staggered out of the room without looking around, and made his way back to his car.  His shirt flapped against his sides from the breeze blowing across the parking lot.  The sound was too similar to one he’d heard and felt in Vietnam, and Al gratefully slipped into his car.  Once inside, he absently ran a hand down his side, tracing a barely visible scar.  He shook his head, trying to ignore an encroaching headache, and started the engine.


He made an interesting sight in his red car, the gold shirt flapping open over green slacks.  It was too bad that he didn’t feel as festive as he looked.  Al pressed the accelerator to the floor and drove away with no destination in mind.


Late in the evening, Al drove back into the Project Starbright parking lot, heavy hearted, drunk, and exhausted.  He trudged inside the building, his shirt still open.  He walked past a small group of scientists who were chatting in the reception area without noticing them or the way their conversation halted when he drew near.  As if he were wearing blinders, Al mechanically made his way to his quarters.  He slammed the door behind him and practically fell on his bed, falling asleep almost as soon as he landed on his back.



Monday, March 18, 1985


When Sam entered the labs, his mind was so full of theories and equations that he moved single-mindedly to his station.  He stared straight ahead and didn’t notice the whispering groups of his colleagues, who hurried to their stations as the department head entered the room.  He focused instead on the tablets before him.


Shari paused by his station and tapped him on his shoulder to get his attention.  Sam pulled himself back to the real world, laying his tablet aside with an internal sigh.


“Hi, Shari.  What’s up?” he asked.


“Sam.  I need the variables for the M subroutines.  Do you have those ready?”


Sam nodded and rifled through his notebooks.  “They’re right here, Shari.  I’m sorry it’s taking me a while to find them.  I was working on the O set.”


“Sam!  Already?  We haven’t even finished getting the bugs out of the L set!  You’re way ahead of the rest of us!  Slow down a bit, willya?” she grinned.


Dr. Underhill crossed over to them.  “Is there a problem, Dr. Washington?”


Shari shook her head merrily.  “Hardly.  Sam, er, I mean Dr. Beckett has everything well under control.  So under control that he’s three steps ahead of us!”


Underhill reached over and flipped a few pages of the nearest notebooks.  Sam was simultaneously excited and embarrassed.  Not only had he been working ahead of schedule, but he’d transferred all of his handwritten notes to computer and printed them out for his notebooks.  He blushed when Underhill raised his head in amazed gratitude then smiled and nodded before turning away to return to his office.


“You’ve just been highly complimented, you realize,” Shari beamed.  She ruffled his hair.  “You just keep on with that good work and you’ll be in charge of a lab in no time.”


Sam didn’t know what to say.  He just smiled and shrugged before picking up his pencil again.



Al rubbed his forehead wearily before pulling open the door to the administrative offices.  His clash with Eddison had frightened him, and he hadn’t touched a drop of alcohol all morning.  He’d braced himself for the break all weekend, though, and his wastebasket was filled with the empty reminders of his last fling.  The fluorescent lights hurt his sensitive bloodshot eyes, and Al squinted his way to his office.  He tried to ignore the muffled whispers and gasps he heard as he left the reception area.


He stopped and stared at the sight of his office.  He’d expected to spend the morning cleaning up the remains of his tantrum (he hated to call it that, but if he was going to be honest with himself, that’s what it had been).  His office gleamed with a recent coat of furniture polish and his desk and table had been restored to their original status, minus the glass objects he’d smashed.


He recovered, and moved to his desk.  His head throbbed, but he refused to give in and take the drink his body was screaming for.  Al reached over to flick the switch signaling his secretary to bring in the morning’s paperwork.


Rachelle appeared in the doorway, doubly stunned.  Not only was this the earliest Captain Calavicci had ever summoned her, but given Mr. Jansen’s instructions, she hadn’t expected to see him at all.  She’d been in the back when Al had made his entrance, and the gossip hadn’t made its way to her yet.


“Yes, sir?” she asked, trying her best not to show her disdain for him.  She wasn’t very successful, as the captain’s narrowing eyes revealed.


“Monday’s paperwork.  You know that’s what I call you for first thing, Rachelle.”


Rachelle nodded, suddenly smug.  Now was her chance to get back at him, and she planned to take full advantage of it.


“Wouldn’t you rather something to drink first, sir?” she murmured.  She smirked as she watched the captain try to decide what she meant by that and whether or not he should acknowledge the remark.  She didn’t give him a chance.


“Mr. Jansen is taking over all your paperwork, sir.  He doesn’t want you under any strain.”  Rachelle dripped the sentence with sarcasm.


Under the desk, Al gripped the arm of his chair.  Things were worse than he’d anticipated.  Much worse.  “He’s what?” he managed to choke out.


“Yes, sir.  Now if you’ll excuse me.”  Rachelle turned on her heel and walked out without a backward glance.


Al stared out the open door into the small hallway, trying to digest what he’d been told.  Jansen was slowly stripping his authority away.  Eddison had probably played a part as well.


‘And what about you?  Your little explosion didn’t help matters, did it?’


Al slowly shook his head.  He glanced about his immaculate office once more.  No, he certainly hadn’t helped matters.  Why do I let Eddison get to me so easily?  He couldn’t find an answer.  The simple fact of the matter was that Eddison did manage to get to him, and he’d fallen right into the tiger trap.  There was no love lost between the two; it had been that way ever since Al had been chosen over Eddison for a seat on Apollo.


And Eddison threw you into that trap all on his own.  You had nothing to do with it,’ the sarcastic voice spoke for his ears only.


Well, he didn’t plan on silently letting himself fall.  Al lifted the receiver of his phone to his ear and dialed the extension to Bob Jansen’s office.




“Bob.  What is this about you taking over my workload?” Al tried to swallow the apprehension in his throat.


“I am.  I didn’t think you’d be up to working today, Al.”


“Well, I’m here, Bob.  I can take it now.”


“I don’t think so,” Bob quietly said.  He let the silence stretch out for several long seconds.  “Frankly, Al, we’re all worried about you.”


“Who is we?” Al questioned, unsuccessfully striving to keep his voice level.


“Al, everyone here has noticed things aren’t exactly right with you lately.  It’s not hard to figure out.”


“I see.”  It was Al’s turn to sit mute.


Bob couldn’t take the stillness.  “Al, look, it’s not the end of the world.  Take the day off, pull yourself together.  We’ll see how things stand tomorrow.”


Al nodded, even though Bob couldn’t see the gesture.  “Uh-huh.”  He hesitated for a second, couldn’t think of anything else to say, and settled for just hanging the phone up.  He rested his head in his hands.


‘Tomorrow.  Well, tomorrow is another day.  Never mind that the fact that today was going the way it had been didn’t bode well for the next.



Tuesday, March 26, 1985


Sam stretched and yawned as he walked down the hallway to his quarters.  A burst of laughter drifted towards him.  When he reached the lobby area before the branch to the residential quarters, Sam encountered a group of off-duty scientists and guards watching a telecast of American Graffiti.


One of the off-duty guards leaned back on the vinyl couch to attract Sam’s attention.  “Dr. Beckett, why don’t you join us?”


Sam awkwardly twiddled his hands behind his back.  “Thanks, but, no.  I’m really tired.”


“Oh, come on,” Ian Markham chimed in.  “Sit down, Sam.  This is really a great movie.  Aren’t you a George Lucas fan?”


Sam shrugged and smiled.  “No, really, I think I’m just gonna go to bed.”


He walked off amid protests that it was too early.  Why didn’t I just sit down and join them?’  Sam shook his head and idly examined the bulletin boards on his way to his room.


An ad for the college championship games in basketball caught his eye.  Sam was immediately reminded of his brother.  He smiled at the memory of backyard basketball games as he unlocked the door to his quarters.


Sam carefully slipped his white lab coat off and hung it in his closet.  He stretched before his closet again as he selected a change of clothes.  For some reason he chose his brother’s old basketball jersey.  Sam gingerly laid it on the bed with a pair of jeans before pulling his shirt over his head.  As meticulously as he’d handled his lab coat, Sam folded his shirt and then his slacks to carry them to his laundry hamper on his way to the bathroom.


He stepped into the shower and closed his eyes as he let the water pour over his head.  In an attempt to relax, he began to sing.  The soaping and massaging pound of the water on his back tried their best to have the same effect, but all were unsuccessful.  He shook his head and turned off the water, rubbing his hair vigorously with the towel when he stepped out of the shower.  He wrapped it around his waist and padded to the bed, where he began getting dressed.


He stared at the number on the jersey for several long seconds before pulling it over his head.  Bare-footed and with hair dripping, Sam sat heavily on the bed and surveyed his quarters.  The package his mother had sent still sat unopened on the corner of his desk.  He stood half-heartedly and walked to his desk.  When he was close enough to read the elegant handwriting, Sam vacillated over whether to open the package at his desk or to move to another part of his quarters.  He settled for the old rocking chair he’d found during a rare trip to the antique store and balanced the box on his lap.  He felt like he’d spent quite enough time at a desk for one day.


He carefully pried the tape from the box and opened the lid.  He smiled at the handwritten card his mother always nestled amid the tissue paper.  He opened it and stifled a misty sigh after he read the words.  His mother was missing his father again, from the tone of things.


Sam parted the tissue and choked back a sob at the sight of the item shining up at him.  It was his father’s pocket watch--the one he’d received from his father after proving himself on the job.  The watch hadn’t worked for years, and had spent most of Sam’s teenage years gathering dust in the back of a drawer in his parents’ room, but now, broken as it was, it was in his hands, and Sam was warmed by the message.  He also felt a wave of guilt for not being there for his father until it was too late.


He walked to the dresser and carefully placed the watch in a prominent location.  He turned it over to read the old inscription on the back.  Make a difference.’  Sam closed his eyes for a moment.  He sat in the rocking chair again and set it in motion.  The creaking of the rockers accompanied his thoughts.


‘Have I really made a difference?  Sure, I’ve got a lot of degrees.  And I’m making headway on the work in the holography and programming.  It’s giving me ideas for realizing the string theory.  But what have I done really?’ 


Sam pulled on his lower lip as he rocked faster.  I’ve got an M.D., but when have I really used it?  I headed right on to get other degrees.  I need to start working with people, not just figures.  The human equation.’  Sam started laughing, the influence of a life-long interest in science fiction showing in his thought processes.


‘Maybe something as simple as volunteering at the infirmary.  I’d get to use my medical degree and maybe find a way to get to know people better.’  Sam sighed.  Without the guidance of another person, particularly Shari, he was having trouble getting socially acquainted with his co-workers.  It wasn’t that they didn’t want to spend time with him.  He just couldn’t make himself feel comfortable enough to join them.  He shook his head and cursed himself again for not joining the others as they watched television.  He thought about getting up and joining them anyway, but decided against it.  Instead, he turned on the portable stereo and began listening to an Andrew Lloyd Weber soundtrack.



Tuesday, April 9, 1985


Al crossed the crowded lounge on unsteady feet.  He’d spotted a familiar strawberry blonde head and didn’t feel like spending the evening alone.


“Hello, gorgeous,” he crooned.


Brenna glanced up at him disinterestedly.  “Hello, Captain.”


“Captain?  Since when have you gotten so formal with me?”


Brenna shrugged and focused her attention on stirring her coffee.  “Is there something I can do for you, Captain?”


Al grinned slyly, “Well, actually, there is.”


She stared in his face, her expression bland.  “You can drop it off in my office and I’ll get right on it.”


“Your office,” Al repeated.  He suddenly got the message and stiffly nodded.  “Of course.”  He turned and headed through the line, grabbing a cup of coffee for himself.  He found a seat at an isolated table and somberly dumped sugar in his cup.


He stared down at the black liquid, his soul feeling equally as dark.  Al started to raise the cup to his lips and hesitated.  “The hell with it!”  He roughly set the cup down and stormed out of the lounge, moving determinedly to his quarters.  Once there, he yanked open a cabinet and seized a bottle of bourbon and a glass.


He filled the glass and stared at the amber liquid.  Come on, Calavicci.  Leave it there.  Dump it in the sink.’  Al closed his eyes and tried to pretend the glass wasn’t there.  But when he opened his eyes, it was still enticing him.  He reached out for the glass, arguing with himself the entire time.  His hand won, and the liquid was soon burning its way down his throat.


“Damn,” Al whispered.  He rubbed his eyes and stared at the bottle again.  Before he realized it, he’d poured himself another glass and slammed it back.  His resistance was even weaker the third time.


Before long, the entire bottle was empty, and Al paced his room like a caged animal.  Who designed these hellholes they call quarters?  It’s enough to make someone go crazy.’  He started laughing and grabbed his keys.  He headed out of the residential area and stopped in the lobby.


Shari Washington noticed him and waved.  Al waved back cheerily and planted himself on the couch next to her.


“Well, if it isn’t my angel,” he murmured, leaning in close.


Shari scooted over an inch to move away from him, suddenly uncomfortable.  “Al, are you feeling all right?”


“I’m feeling fine.  Very fine,” he answered.  “But not as good as I could feel.”  He plucked at the shoulder of her t-shirt.


She smiled weakly.  “You might feel better if you weren’t drinking so much,” she softly said.


“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he answered.  He swallowed hard and tried to change the subject by lifting her wrist and tenderly kissing it.


Shari pulled her hand away from his caresses.  “Al, I . . . I can’t.  You’re just not the same.”


“Yes, I am.  I’ll prove it to you.”


“Prove it to me by sobering up,” Shari sadly said.  She gently kissed Al on the cheek and left.


Al sat alone in the lobby for several minutes.  I tried.’  He spoke the words aloud, “I tried to stop.”  He shook his head and walked outside to his car.


He sat in the driver’s seat and put the key in the ignition, but some spark of rationality broke through and stopped him before he started the car and put it in gear.  Instead, he turned on the radio and leaned his head back.


“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” began pouring from the speakers, and Al dropped his head onto the top of the steering wheel.  He wallowed in the misery the song brought up before he finally changed the station.  Nothing he heard seemed to satisfy him, and he switched the car off in one rough gesture.


He sat there, lost in thought.  Suddenly, he switched the car on long enough to open his sunroof, and he leaned back in the driver’s seat, stared up at the deepening twilight and brightening stars and lost all track of time.



Sam closed the door of his newly assigned locker and twirled the combination lock gleefully.  He’d just finished his first day volunteering at the infirmary and already he felt better.  He’d not really seen anything more serious than a chemical burn, but he was doing something, and true to the inscription on his father’s watch, he felt like he was finally making a difference.  It was funny how sometimes the smallest things could have the biggest effects, Sam thought with a chuckle.


He almost ran into Shari Washington on his way to the cafeteria.  She was lost in thought, and barely noticed the near accident.


“Shari, hi.”


She looked up.  “Oh, hi, Sam.”  She sounded distracted.  “Going to get supper?”


“Yeah, I thought I might.  You?”


“Mm-hm,” she absently nodded.


Sam amiably walked next to her, inwardly concerned that he’d interrupted her and invaded her privacy.  He started to walk away when they reached the cafeteria, but Shari snagged his arm.


“Where do you think you’re going, Beckett?” she smiled.  “Don’t get my hopes all up and then dash them to the ground.”


Sam’s cheeks colored, to Shari’s delight, and she steered him toward the food line.  “No way you’re gonna let me eat by myself.”


Sam selected a roast beef dinner, a large difference to Shari’s green salad.  They found a table and sat down.  He started slicing his beef, while Shari picked at her salad.


“Shari, is . . . is something bothering you?”  Sam had never seen Shari so quiet in the months he’d been at Starbright.


She smiled and shrugged.  “Just worried about someone.”


“Want to talk about it?”


“No,” she shook her head, “I shouldn’t.”  She stared down at her salad.


Suddenly she raised her head and smiled at Sam.  “So, I saw you coming out of the infirmary, is anything wrong?”


“No, things are just fine.  I’ve started working there.”


Shari brightened.  “You did?  How do you like it?  How do you have time to do it?”


Sam shrugged.  “It’s really a relief to me to be able to work there.  It’s not extra at all.  And I love it.  Just the balance I need.”


“Yeah, like you need any more balance,” Shari chuckled.


Sam ate the last bits of food from his plate and awkwardly waited while Shari finished her salad.  He really wasn’t sure what he should say next, but for once he was with company he felt comfortable with.  There weren’t too many people at the project he could say that about.  Even crusty Captain Calavicci hadn’t totally intimidated him.  Dr. LoNigro’s advice had probably played a part in that.  Sam straightened as he remembered the captain’s invitation to drop by and discuss the string theory.  He’d gotten distracted by other things and let the opportunity slip by.  He decided to drop by within the next couple of days, maybe close to the weekend, to show Al what he’d worked up.


Shari finished her salad and drained the glass of diet cola she’d selected.  When she was done, she brought her plates to the conveyor and returned to the table.  Sam suddenly snapped out of his reverie and noticed her waiting for him.  Blushing and grinning, he hurriedly disposed of his dirty dishes and rejoined Shari.


“Jerry was saying something about gathering a group to go into town this evening.  Maybe catch an eight o’clock show.  You gonna come, Sam?”


Sam smiled down at Shari as they left the cafeteria.  “I think I will.”



Friday, April 19, 1985


“Ms. Perkins?”  Bob Jansen paused by her desk.


“Yes, sir,” Rachelle looked up from her typing.


He handed her a small envelope with a typewritten name on the front.  The return address was pre-printed on the envelope, and bore the project seal.


“Please have this delivered to Captain Calavicci, and make sure he receives it.”


Rachelle looked down at the envelope when Jansen left and smirked down at the typewritten name.  Captain Albert M. Calavicci.  “My pleasure,” she said under her breath.



Al struggled to silence the voices in his head.  He slammed back another glass of vodka.  He didn’t even feel it; his body was already so numb.  “Stop it.  Stop it,” he ground out.  His jaw tensed and his eyes were squeezed shut.


‘You’re a selfish creep, Al Calavicci!’  The feminine voice began echoing amidst the gunfire and the rustle of leaves.  The lithe, blond-haired woman sauntered past the bamboo cage, a whip in her hand.  She stood before him, legs spread wide, tossed her head back and laughed.  Her wicked laugh intensified as she abruptly turned into the VC Sergeant who had delighted in torturing him for six years.


Al clapped his hands over his ears, but it didn’t stop the sound of flesh being torn from his back.  It’s not real!  It’s not real!’  He bore the scars from it, but it had been years ago.  He tried telling himself that, but the sound continued.


With shaking hands, Al poured himself another full glass of vodka.  He’d gone through an entire bottle already and it had had no effect.  He was halfway through the second and the demons in his head hadn’t relented yet.


You think the POW camp was punishment enough?  Not on your life.  Don’t forget how you let Trudy down.


So now it was back to Trudy.  His mind had betrayed him already with memories of his dying father.  Al knew he was fooling himself to think he could get through this battle without having his own thoughts throw his dead sister back up at him.


He remembered her gentle face, smiling through the tears caused by the bullies in the neighborhood.  I tried to fight for you, Trudy.  Did you understand what I was doing for you?’  He heard her small voice in his head, eternally eight years old.  “I love you, Al.”


The wave of love he felt was short-lived as his memory resurrected the quack at the institution where he’d finally tracked down Trudy after a year and half of searching.


“I’m sorry, Mr. Calavicci.  I’m afraid you’re too late.”


“What do you mean, too late?  What the hell are you talking about?”


“I’m afraid your sister died six months ago.  Pneumonia.  We did the best we could, but . . .”


Al grabbed the doctor by the collar and thrust him against the wall.  “Pneumonia?  Did anyone even bother to check on her before it got to that stage?”


His mind was filled with the image of gentle Trudy, a child in a young woman’s body, struggling to breathe, drowning in a dry bed.  He slammed the doctor against the wall again.  “You bastard!”


He was screaming in anguish when the security guards pulled him away and escorted him from the building.


Al opened his eyes and tried to focus on his glass through the tears streaming from his eyes.  After three tries, he managed to take hold of it.  He raised it to his lips and drained it in one smooth motion.


His vision was blurred.  Unfortunately, his memories were not.  His mind tossed up scores of women, some he’d abandoned, others who’d abandoned him.  The string of failures went far into the distance.  He opened his top drawer and pulled out the confirmation of his shattered love life.  A manila envelope filled with the divorce certificates of a string of marriages.  The faces of his ex-wives played out before him, all of them scorning him as they walked out the door.  Maxine, Sharon, Ruthie, Greta.  Beth.


Al squeezed his eyes shut again.  Beth.  No one could ever be like you.  But my loving you wasn’t enough.  I tried.  Oh, how I tried.’  He pressed the heels of his hands into his eye sockets.  “Couldn’t you have waited for me, honey?” he asked aloud.


Why would she want to wait for a slob like you?  his mind taunted him.  You would have brought nothing but shame to her.  A man who let his own nightmares take over.


“I wish they were only nightmares,” he spoke out loud again.


That is all they are, you idiot.  You’re the one who can’t separate them from what really happened.  You’re the one who relives them.


Al drained another glass of vodka.  I can’t help but relive them.  They won’t go away,’ he argued with himself.


Have you tried to make them go away?  You could end them forever.


Al closed his eyes again.  The alcohol was only intensifying the argumentative voice, which was his own.


You read the memo.  You’re a failure.  You don’t have a future.  Your past is a shambles.  Do you really need me to bring it up again?


The evil laugh of the sergeant echoed in his ears again.  Al picked up the letter from the Committee and absorbed it again.  The words hadn’t changed one iota.  He laid it on the desk and turned away from it.  The voice was right, he was doomed.  His own behavior had earned him a trip right out the door.  And neither his former POW status nor his trip to the moon would do anything to save him.  He didn’t even have a comforting set of arms to turn to.  Maxine had made it clear she wanted nothing more to do with him.  They all had.


‘I could go into town and buy a pair of arms to hold me,’  he thought.  He shook the idea away.  The arms would only hold him because of the money in his pocket.  He himself was worth nothing.  He never had been worth anything.  He’d only been deluding himself.


Al pulled the dogtags from around his neck and stared at them.  His life really only amounted to a few lines of letters and numbers.  He crumpled the chain in his hand and dropped it on a corner of his desk.


He poured the last few drops of the liquor into his glass and slammed it back.  As he expected, no sense of relief came with it.  He stared at the empty bottles.


You’re just like one of those bottles.  Empty and worthless.


Al’s eyes watered and he slowly nodded, dazed and dejected.  He lifted the knife he’d used to open his mail and turned it over and over in his hands.


The voices began murmuring to him again.  Trudy, his father, his ex-wives, his mother.  The terrors he’d lived through in the war cycled maddeningly in his mind.  And his own voice . . . .


“Stop!  Please stop!” he begged.


The voices only became louder. ‘Failure.  Failure.  They repeated the words over and over again.


Al’s mind was dulled, the voices the only thing he was sure of.  He wanted them to stop, never to return.  He took the knife in his left hand and bared his wrist.


To Be Continued



Email Jennifer Rowland


Find a Dentist