by:  Jennifer Rowland 


As Al takes his first steps on the road to sobriety, he’s challenged not only by his addiction and wounds but also by his internal demons.  While personally concerned by his lack of training and experience, Sam expresses his confidence to Al that he’ll be able to help him recover as well as convince the Administrators to authorize their “research” trip.  The question on both their minds—is confidence enough?
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Chapter Four



Saturday, April 20, 1985


Since it was Saturday, both Sam and Al relaxed in the knowledge that Al’s absence wouldn’t be commented upon.  Al eventually fell into a fitful sleep, disturbed by moans of pain.  They were caused as much from the dreams as from the sharp headache and wounded wrists.


While Al slept, Sam searched through every drawer, cabinet, and cubbyhole in the room, determined to find any hidden stash and dispose of it.  Within a half hour, Sam had come up with two bottles of bourbon and a bottle of vodka.  He carried the bottles into the bathroom and poured the contents down the drain.


The liquid swirled down the drain with the water pouring from the tap.  Sam took a step back from the fumes rising up from the sink.  The amount of alcohol disappearing into the sewer system was minuscule compared to the accumulation within Al’s body.  Today would probably be one of the hardest for Al to get through.  Sam stole a glance into the bedroom to check on him.  He had flung his arm over his eyes and tossed his head back and forth in time with his moans.


Sam sighed, knowing things would only get worse for Al as the weeks wore on.  The captain would have to face the double obstacle of battling withdrawal and whatever problems had led to his heavy drinking.  Now that he was committed to helping Al, Sam worried that he would really be able to handle things.  His lack of a psychology degree troubled him.  Plus, he’d never had to deal with a withdrawing addict before.  He knew the events of the morning would very well be paltry compared to what awaited them.


Al was moving again, his legs thrashing as if he were trying to run.  Sam dropped the empty bottles into the trash and moved to the bedside, dragging the desk chair along.  He sat down and reached for the damp cloth Al had flung from his forehead.  The captain’s face was drenched with sweat and Sam lightly patted the cloth on his cheeks.


Al’s eyes flew open and he grabbed Sam’s wrist.  He didn’t seem to have woken up all the way.  His eyes were wild with panic and his grip tightened painfully.


“Al, wake up,” Sam said, trying to remain calm.  “It’s all right.”


Al blinked and realized where he was.  Releasing a heavy breath, he let go of Sam’s wrist.  “Sorry.”  He didn’t offer any explanation.


Sam rubbed his wrist.  “Are you all right?” he asked.


“Oh, yeah, just dandy,” Al quipped.  He closed his eyes and groaned.  “If the room would just take a break from this spinning.”


His eyes snapped open again when Sam laid his hand on his forehead.  Sam’s outline was blurry, but Al still watched his every movement.  He wasn’t sure he liked being in this position of patient, but he admitted to himself that he was too weak to move and too sick to protest.  Besides, he was certain he didn’t want to be left alone.  He was terrified of what the memories and voices might lead him to do.  They were already trying to take over again, taking advantage of the opening the retreating numbness of the alcohol afforded.  Ashamed of himself, Al turned his head away from Sam.


“Here, drink this.”  Sam held a fresh glass of cold water.


Al flopped his head back to face Sam.  “No, thanks.”  His throat was dry, but Al didn’t feel like sitting up to drink anything.


“Doctor’s orders,” Sam responded with forced cheeriness.  He slipped a hand behind Al’s back and hefted him up.  Al glared at the childish treatment, but he took the glass.


“So, when do you figure we can get out of here on this ‘business trip’?” Al asked between sips.  He pulled on the comforter’s loose thread.


“I’ll write the proposal up this evening and turn it in Monday morning.  With a little pushing, we should be able to leave as early as that evening.”


Al shook his head.  “I doubt it, Sam.  There’s no way you can get a bureaucratic machine moving that quickly.”


“They’ll listen.  There’s no way they can resist the combined force of you, me, and Dr. LoNigro.”


“Well, I won’t argue about the last two, but I don’t think you realize how little weight I carry right now.”


Sam refused to let Al slide into despair at his endangered career.  “Just trust me, Al.  We’ll be out of here no later than Tuesday morning.”



The darkness which greeted his eyes was stifling.  Al found it difficult to catch his breath.  He was overwhelmed by the pressing close of the blackness and couldn’t tell where he was.  He’d been dreaming that he was trapped in the tiger cage again, falling down a black hole.  He’d bolted awake, panting and sweating, but consciousness was not any calmer for him.


He rolled over and fumbled for the lamp on the nightstand.  He bumped his wrist on an empty glass, knocking it to the floor with a crash and reviving the throbbing pain.  Al snatched his wrist to himself and groaned in agony.  His head was still pulsing, and the dual drum beats constantly pounded, a half second apart from each other.  The pain probably wouldn’t be as bad if they would at least throb together, he thought.  And his heart decided to find a rhythm separate from those.  Al lay there, incapacitated by the smothering darkness and pain.


A small bit of light was breaking through the blinds of his tiny window.  Al shakily crawled to the edge of his bed and yanked the blinds up.  He leaned his head against the glass, looking up at the full moon.  The light comforted him a little.


Where was Sam?  Al drew his knees into his chest and hugged them.  His hands were shaking violently, and the tremors were spreading throughout his body.  He looked out the window into the night sky again.


The silent room was suddenly filled with the sound of helicopter blades and Al felt himself back in the tiger cage, staring up at a full moon through the jungle cover.


“Copters, Al.  Man, they’re pulling out.”


Al leaned his head back against the hard bamboo wall of his “home.”  The pain in his back had long since faded to numbness.  He couldn’t feel a thing below his waist.  His chest, meanwhile, burned from the effects of his last “conversation” with the VC Sergeant.


He coughed before whispering to his cellmate, “They don’t know we’re here yet.  We can’t expect a miracle.”


“No, I guess we can’t.  Especially since we’re in Hell right now.”


“That’s not what I meant,” Al angrily shot back.  “You can’t give up.  They’ll find us eventually.”


His companion laughed bitterly.  “Sure, just keep deluding yourself.  We’re never getting out of here.  It’s useless.”


Al started to respond when a VC guard entered and roughly yanked the young Marine from his cage by the hair.  He was beaten and dragged from the room.  Al was left alone, with only the moon and the retreating sound of the Hueys to keep him company.


He jumped when a hand took hold of his shoulder.  He weakly resisted.


“Didn’t you do enough last time?  I won’t talk,” he rasped.


Sam drew back in shock.  He hadn’t meant to leave Al alone for so long.  He’d gone back to his room to get an overnight bag and enough paperwork to support a stellar request.  On the way back from the infirmary, where he’d returned the wheelchair and stuffed the soiled bedsheets into a trash bag to be hidden with the other garbage, he’d stopped at the lounge and gotten two to-go trays, which he’d laid on the desk.  Sam had cringed when he’d entered the pitch black room and found Al huddled by the window, staying within the small square of moonlight.  His guilt quickly shifted to concern when Al didn’t react to the illumination from the overhead light.  Now he realized the captain was caught in a hallucination.


“Last time?” Sam asked.


Al clutched his chest and shrank back from Sam.  “One isn’t enough?  Why don’t you let the kid go and just take me?”


Sam tried to guide him out of what he guessed was a POW camp memory, praying he wouldn’t make things worse.


“I’m not here to take you anywhere.  I’m a doctor.”


Al laughed and coughed.  “I don’t need any VC doctor.”


Sam took a chance.  “I’m not VC.  I’m American.  Can’t you tell from my voice?  Now let me help you over here.”  He gently took hold of Al’s arm and led him back to the pillows.


“You found us,” Al reverently whispered.  He let Sam ease him back.  The deep brown eyes were glazed.  Heaven only knew what he was seeing instead of Sam.


“Yes, everything’s going to be fine now.”  Sam wiped Al’s sweaty face with a washcloth.  “It’s okay for you to rest.  Just relax.”


“Where were you?” Al asked.  It took Sam a moment to realize that Al was speaking to him, not the holdover of a memory.  The sudden lucidity in his eyes was a startling contrast to the clouded stare of seconds before.




“Who’d you expect?” he weakly joked.  He shivered, still extremely weakened by the blood loss.


Sam retrieved the blankets from the foot of the bed and pulled them over Al’s shoulders.  Al lowered his eyes, embarrassed by being in a helpless condition.  Sam decided to try to put a stop to it.


“Al, look at me,” he said.  “I want to get one thing straight right off the bat: I am not going to say a word of this to anyone.  I won’t even bring it up with you again, unless you want me to.  You can’t do this alone.  You need help.  Please don’t be scared to take it from me.”


“I’m not scared!”


“Ashamed, then.  Al, you’re facing a very rough road.  Now I’m willing to help you, but you’ve got to be willing to accept my help.”


Al shifted under the covers and sighed.  He was ashamed to be taking someone else’s help.  Sam was right on target about that.  He also knew he needed Sam’s help.  He wasn’t certain, but he had a feeling he’d been trapped in a flashback when Sam came in.


“I don’t like being dependent on somebody else,” he finally said.


“Everyone needs a helping hand from time to time.”


Al shrugged.  He didn’t want to say what was really bothering him.  He was scared to be alone, and he hated himself for it.  When he’d awakened in the dark room, he’d been terrified.  What a weakling.’  He had been so relieved to find Sam back in the room.


“What is it, Al?” Sam asked.  Al had been silent too long, sitting with his head down.  The other man didn’t answer him.  “I’m going to start working on the proposal.  Any pointers?”


Al shook his head.  He tossed the covers back and swung his legs toward the side of the bed.


“Hold on, where are you going?  You shouldn’t be getting up.”


“I’m going to the bathroom.  Alone.”  If there was one thing he didn’t want, it was Sam hovering over him as if he were going through potty training.  He massaged his temples while he acclimated his feet to the floor.  When he felt partially certain that his legs weren’t going to collapse beneath him, he stood.


He swayed and gripped one hand on the headboard.  Sam lurched forward, his arms extended to help support the captain.  Al waved him off.


“I’m going to do this on my own.”  He let go of the headboard and staggered to the back of the room.  He had to stop partway and grab onto the desk to regain his balance.  He glanced back to make sure Sam wasn’t shadowing him.  The scientist was nervously standing next to the bed, keeping a cautious eye on him, but allowing him to try to move under his own power.  Al was grateful for that.  He paused again at the doorjamb, but managed to get inside and close the door.


Sam moved to the desk and sat down, spreading the paperwork before him.  He actually wanted to be right there in case Al needed his help, but knew the captain was still having trouble accepting his assistance.  How can I get him to trust me?’


The bathroom door swung open and Al leaned heavily in the doorway.  His face was ashen; the trip across the room had taken more out of him than he was willing to admit.  Sam studiously ignored him.  He’d had the sudden inspiration that maybe Al would accept help if it was on his terms.  He’d let the captain ask for assistance, if it was needed.


Al hadn’t moved yet.  He watched Sam, who seemed intent on deciphering a particular paragraph.  Come on, Calavicci, you can make it to the bed.’  He looked.  The yards looked like miles and his leaden legs refused to cooperate.  All right, to the desk then.’


Al quickly moved to the desk, grabbing hold of the edge and settling his hip to make it look like he was leaning out of interest in Sam’s work.  His leg hid the white-knuckled grip keeping him upright.


“What have you got there?” he asked, trying to keep his voice level.


“The Project guidelines.  I’m using them to design the request.  I want to be sure there’s nothing they can bring up to counter it.”


Al glanced at the papers.  “Focus on subsection C-8.  That’s where most of your trouble is likely to come in from.”


“Thanks.”  Sam’s gratitude wasn’t just for show.  He really had no idea which parts would be most helpful.  Only an administrator could help with that.  “Would you be able to look over it when I finish it?”


“Sure, why not.  It’s not like I’ll be going anywhere,” Al said.  He looked at the bed again.  He was certain he couldn’t make it.  He could already feel his legs turning to jelly beneath him.  Sam had returned his attention to the paperwork, and Al really had no further excuse for remaining at the desk.  The only way was for him to ask for help.


“Sam,” he quietly began, “I . . . I need a hand.”  He gestured toward the bed.


“Of course.”  Sam stood and slid an arm beneath Al’s shoulders.  Al leaned on him as Sam led him to the bed and helped him down.


“Thank you,” Al said.  He wiped a trickle of sweat from his brow.


Sam carried the trays from the desk and laid one in Al’s lap.  He put his own on the nightstand and pulled the chair from the desk back to the bedside.


“I hope you don’t mind some dinner company,” he said as he settled his tray in his lap.


Al shook his head, halfheartedly lifting the cover and regarding his tray.  “The company’s fine.  Dinner, however, leaves a little to be desired.”


Sam chuckled.  “My mom always said you didn’t have to eat everything, but you had to try everything.”


“I’ve tried it before, doesn’t that count?”


“You surely don’t want me to force-feed you, do you, Al?” Sam teased.


Al cast a shocked glare at Sam until he realized he was joking.  He chuckled.  “No, but I also don’t want you to have to clean anything up.  I’m really not feeling so hot.”


A serious look came into Sam’s eyes.  “I’m sure you’re not, Al, but you’ve got to eat something.”


Al raised a spoonful of broth and looked dubiously at it.  “Don’t forget, I warned you.”  To his surprise, it stayed down.  He managed to empty half of the bowl before his body warned him it wouldn’t take kindly to another mouthful.  It was enough for Sam, who relented and took the tray back.


He returned with a glass of water.  Grumbling at the drill by this time, Al slowly drained it.


“Can’t I have something besides water?” he complained.


Sam shook his head.  “You might be ready for some orange juice in the morning, but I don’t want to shock your system.”


Al looked out the window at the moon.  “Yeah, my system’s already pretty shocked.”


Sam touched Al’s shoulder.  “Did something happen while I was gone, Al?”


Al shrugged, not tearing his attention away from the sky.  “Just don’t leave me alone, please,” he absently said.


Sam gripped the thin shoulder.  Al didn’t seem to be aware he had spoken aloud.  By now, Sam knew better than to say anything further on the subject.  Silently, he vowed to honor Al’s request.  It hadn’t been right of him to leave Al alone like he had.


“The moon’s beautiful tonight,” Sam said instead.


Al just nodded.  He’d seen the moon up close before.  If Sam thought this was beautiful, he had no idea what true beauty was.


“You, um, you better, I mean, I better let you get back to work,” Al said.


Sam took that as his cue to leave Al to his thoughts.  But not to leave.  Al carefully watched to make sure Sam went to the desk.  Why is he so concerned that I stay?’  It was a question he could only hope time would answer.



Monday, April 22, 1985


Sam roused himself from the armchair he’d used as his bed for the past three nights.  Al gently snored in his bed, the first completely peaceful sleep he’d fallen into all weekend.  Sunday had been a very hard day, as Sam had expected it to be.  Al was viciously irritable when he was awake, anguished and distraught in the sporadic sleep he got.  At one point Al had struggled with Sam in an attempt to get out of bed, nearly bursting his stitches in the process.  It had taken over an hour for Al to agree to let Sam examine the wounds.  He never looked Sam in the eye when his stitches were exposed.


Sam arched forward in the chair when Al grunted, but the grunt gradually transformed into a contented sigh.  He turned and mumbled something into his pillow; Sam guessed it was a woman’s name--especially when the captain began stroking the pillow.  He let himself relax and checked his watch.  He had just over an hour to deliver the paperwork if he wanted the request processed today.  Sam glanced at Al again when he started to get up from the chair.  His mind was filled with the image of Al’s empty gaze from the last time Sam had unexpectedly left him alone.  No, he wouldn’t do something like that again.  Just because Al was having a good dream right now (Al sighed into his pillow again and Sam mentally added “a very good dream”) didn’t mean it wouldn’t turn ugly.  Sam didn’t know what Al saw, imagined, or remembered, but he saw the pain and terror in the man’s eyes each time he bolted awake.


“Al?”  Sam quietly tested the depth of the captain’s slumber.  When he got no response he decided to use the time to take a shower.  He grabbed his bag and entered the bathroom.


Though he would have preferred insuring complete privacy, Sam kept the door ajar, just in case Al needed him.  He showered as quickly as possible and got dressed.  He checked on Al while beginning to comb his wet hair and noted that the older man still slept easily.


Sam picked up his proposal and re-read it again, checking to make sure he’d caught every mistake or hole.  He glanced at his watch again.  He was going to have to leave soon if he wanted to get the paperwork moving.  Sam reluctantly watched the peaceful face.  He hated to disturb him, but knew it wouldn’t be fair to Al if he woke up alone.  Especially not after the request he’d unknowingly spoken aloud the other night.


Sam sighed and crossed to the captain’s bedside.  He hesitated.  Would it be better to stand and gently prod him awake or sit next to him so as not to be such an imposing figure?  Sam decided on the latter choice.  He carefully sat next to the sleeping form and touched the closest shoulder.


“Al,” Sam said.  He gently shook the other man.  “Al, wake up.”


Al groggily opened his eyes.  “Wha--?”  He lifted his head from the pillow only partway and peered up at Sam.  “Mmph.”  He dropped his head face first into the pillow.  “Whaddya want?” came the muffled response.


“I just wanted to let you know I was leaving for a little while to drop the proposal off.  Will you be all right?”


Al raised his head and leveled a disdaining gaze on Sam.  “Why wouldn’t I be?” he snapped.


“Well, I . . .”


Al dragged himself upright and raised his right hand.  “I solemnly swear I will not try to kill myself while you’re gone.”


“That isn’t what I’m worried about,” Sam answered in a low voice.


“Well, then what the hell are you worried about?  Go already!”  When Sam hesitated, the captain raised his voice.  “Go on!  I’m not a baby!”


“Okay, okay,” Sam said.  “I won’t be long.  Should I notify your office that you won’t be in today?”


Al’s frown deepened in pensive thought.  “Damn.  I forgot it was Monday.”  He chewed his lip.  “No.  Better they hear it from me.  I’ll call in.”


“What are you going to tell them?”


Al shrugged.  “I’ll think of something.  I usually do.”  He waved Sam away with a shaky hand.  “Look, if you don’t turn that in soon, your brilliant idea isn’t going to be worth a plugged nickel.”


Sam nodded.  “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”  He got up and arranged his files under his arm before crossing to Al’s dresser to claim the keys.  “I’ll lock the door for your privacy,” Sam said as he left the room.  He locked the door behind him and shoved Al’s keys deep in his pocket.


Grateful that the hall was empty, Sam made his way to the lounge area at the hub.  The fewer questions he had to answer the better.  Unfortunately, once he crossed into the passageway towards the administrative offices, his luck ran out.


Shari Washington rounded the corner and made a beeline for him.


“Sam!  Where on earth have you been?  I’ve been trying to get a hold of you all weekend!  I had tickets to a show I thought you might be interested in.  When I couldn’t find you, I thought you’d gone out of town, except Frank said he saw you getting to-go plates from the cafeteria.”


“No, I didn’t go anywhere,” Sam said, trying to answer only part of her rambling questions.


Shari put her hands on her hips.  “I told you I figured that much out.  But you weren’t in your quarters when I called.  I got so worried I even knocked on your door.”


“I’m sorry I worried you, Shari,” Sam said, edging past her in an attempt to continue toward the offices.  “I just got caught up in a project.”


Shari let Sam past, but turned to follow and kept pace with him.  “But you didn’t sign in to any of the labs,” she argued.  “And you weren’t in your room.  So where were you working on this project of yours?”


The corridor was crowded ahead, but the section they were in was isolated.  Sam stopped and faced Shari.  “I was running some ideas past Captain Calavicci,” he answered in half-truths.  “He pointed out some things I hadn’t considered and we spent the whole weekend fleshing out the problems.”


“I was wondering why Al wasn’t around much this weekend either,” Shari said.  “I’ve been worried about him, too.”  She hesitated.  “Is he doing all right, then?”


“Of course he is,” Sam lied.  He thought back to the rumors Al claimed were circulating the project.  “Well, as good as someone that hasn’t had much sleep over the weekend.  The problems we found were pretty complex.”


“Get them all figured out?”


“Not quite.  But maybe over the next week or so.”


“Anything I can do to help?”


“Actually, there is,” said Sam.  He rifled through the sheaf of papers until he found a blank sheet.  He patted his shirt pocket, searching for a pen.  Shari handed hers over.  Smiling his thanks, Sam scrawled a note requesting a personal day, and then returned the pen to her.  He folded the note in half and passed that to her as well.  “Would you deliver this to Dr. Underhill, please?”


“Sure, but I don’t understand,” Shari began, a confused expression on her face.


Sam checked his watch.  “I wish I had time to explain, Shari, but I have to turn this paperwork in.”


“Okay, but you owe me an explanation, Sam.”  Shari turned and headed towards the labs.


Sam exhaled a sigh of relief and continued toward the administrative offices.  He paused outside the glass door when he reached his destination and took a deep, calming breath.  He pulled open the door and stepped inside.


A tiny woman with long dark brown ringlets sat at the reception desk.  “May I help you, Dr. Beckett?” she coolly asked.


“Yes,” Sam checked the name plaque on her desk, “Rachelle.  You certainly can.  I have a proposal that needs to be reviewed as soon as possible.  I believe I need to meet with Mr. Jansen for approval?”


“I’ll see if he’s available.  Have a seat, Dr. Beckett,” Rachelle said.  She picked up the phone and dialed an extension.  “Mr. Jansen, Dr. Beckett would like to meet with you at your earliest convenience.”  She paused and listened, glancing at Sam.  “He has some sort of proposal.”


“It’s rather urgent,” Sam offered.


Tightening her lips, Rachelle added, “He says it’s urgent, Mr. Jansen.  . . . .  Yes, Dr. Sam Beckett.”  Her eyes widened.  “Yes, sir.  I’ll send him back.”  Shaking her head almost imperceptibly, she replaced the receiver and turned to Sam.  “Mr. Jansen will see you now.  Third door on the left.”


“Thank you,” Sam said, smiling at her.  He rose and headed down the short hallway.  He cast a small glance at Al’s closed, locked office door as he passed toward Bob Jansen’s office.


Jansen’s door was open, but Sam still paused and lightly rapped on the wooden door to get the administrator’s attention.  Bob Jansen looked up and gave Sam a welcoming smile.


“Dr. Beckett, good morning.  How are you today?”


“Fine, sir, and you?”


“Fine, fine. Have a seat.”  He gestured at the empty leather chair across the desk.  Sam settled into it, fighting down nerves.


“Rachelle tells me you have a proposal you’d like me to look at?”


“Yes, sir,” Sam answered, setting the papers in the center of the desk.  “I know you have a lot of matters pressing your attention, but I would really appreciate a quick turnaround on this request.”


“Well, let’s see what it is, shall we?”  Jansen opened the top folder and began reading.


Sam sat in nervous expectation, remembering what Al had told him about Bob Jansen’s current attitude where the captain was concerned.  Sam had gone over the proposal with a fine-toothed comb, and Al had helped as much as his health and concentration would allow, which unfortunately didn’t amount to much.  But despite his big talk to Al, he wasn’t sure all their hard work would stand up to the administrator’s scrutiny--at least not after he came across Sam’s request for Captain Albert M. Calavicci to depart the project property.


Jansen thoughtfully clicked his tongue as he read on, penciling a few questions on a nearby note pad.  The clicking came to an abrupt stop midway through Sam’s proposal.


Sam chewed on his thumb as Bob Jansen’s head snapped up, a question arching his eyebrows.


“Dr. Beckett, am I reading this right?  You want Captain Calavicci to help you with your theories?”


“Yes, sir,” Sam said with more confidence than he felt.  He knew he’d have to argue the point, but part of him had hoped that the written words would be enough.  “Dr. LoNigro mentioned to me in a letter that Captain Calavicci might be of assistance to me, so I met with him.  When I ran the first ideas past him, I learned that Dr. LoNigro was right.  The captain has pointed out several avenues I originally overlooked, and I could really use his help.”


Jansen looked skeptical.  “Did the captain happen to mention his upcoming . . . meeting to you?  I don’t suppose that this was his idea?”


“No, sir.  I had to do a bit of convincing to get A . . . Captain Calavicci to agree to leave the project to help me out.  In fact, he was questioning me on how my theories could help Project Starbright.”


“Indeed.  I’d like to hear your ideas on how these quantum mechanics can assist our project.”  Jansen held up a pausing hand as Sam began to launch into a lengthy explanation.  “But I’d like to call in the other administrators first, if you don’t mind.  Their input will also be needed for this proposal.”



Al remained in bed for quite some time after Sam left.  After about an hour, he stared at the clock and realized that if he didn’t call in soon, there would be even more hell to pay than there probably already was.  What do I give as an excuse?  If only I’d worked out a story with Sam.’  Al wasn’t even sure who to speak with.  He didn’t want to exchange words with Rachelle, that he was certain of.  He debated whether he should call Bob, or if he’d be better off speaking with one of the other administrators.


‘Well, like it or not, Bob was in my corner the longest.’  Al frowned, aware he hadn’t been exactly gracious about Bob’s intervention attempts.  He also knew that he had to be careful not to put across the idea that he was too sick to work; otherwise Sam’s plan wouldn’t even get off the ground.


“Here goes nothing.”  Al threw the covers back and slowly got out of bed.  He staggered to the desk, frustrated by his own unsteadiness.  A chill passed over him as he sat in the chair at his desk, and he rubbed his wrists uneasily.  “Come on, Calavicci, pull yourself together,” he commanded himself as a shaky hand reached for the phone.  His quivering finger punched in Bob Jansen’s extension.  Al’s breath caught in his chest as the phone rang.  He hadn’t been this nervous since his first day at the Academy.


“Jansen.”  Bob sounded distracted.  Sam must be there right now.’


Al tried to sound casual.  “Hi, Bob.  This is Al.”


“Al.”  Suddenly, Al had Bob’s complete attention.  “I take it you got the letter?”


‘The letter.’  Al stared at the memo Sam had carefully returned to the desk at some point during the weekend.  “Yes, Bob, I did.  I, uh, I wish I could . . .”  Al stopped.  He wished he could what?  He didn’t want to admit that the letter was accurate, nor did he want to argue with its contents.


“I understand, Al,” Bob said, cutting off anything else Al might add.  “I assume since you haven’t come in that you are taking a personal day?”


“That’s why I’m calling,” Al said, grateful that Bob saved him from having to come up with the request and an excuse.  “I’m sure you understand that I’d like to prepare for the meeting.”


“Of course.  I imagine you have some packing to do, too.”




“Yes, Dr. Beckett and I have been having a very interesting discussion.  Dr. Beckett has been most convincing of his need for your assistance in working through these theories and the other administrators and I are in agreement to grant his request.”  Bob lowered his voice, “Not to mention, I think everyone involved could do with some time apart, don’t you?”  He returned to a normal speaking level.  “We’ll expect you back for the hearing, of course, and I’m sure I don’t need to tell you the ramifications if you choose not to return on time.”


“Of course not.  I mean, yes, definitely, I’ll be back on time.”  Al was amazed at the miracle Sam had managed to pull off.  What on earth did the kid say?’ 


“Excellent.”  Bob terminated the connection without another word.


Al hung up the phone and sat staring at it for several minutes.  “I don’t know how you did it, Sam,” he said.  He wiped a suddenly sweaty face with shaking hands.  It wasn’t enough to counteract the perspiration, so he rubbed his sleeve across his face.  The sour smell of unbathed flesh stung his nostrils.  Al picked at the pajamas he’d been wearing since Friday night with distaste.


Cringing at his condition, Al crossed from the desk to the dresser.  Once he got there, he held on to the top with one hand while the other rifled through the appropriate drawers to get a change of clothes.  He knew better than to think that he was fit enough to dress for the outside world, but Al was more than ready to get into a clean outfit.  His skin crawled at its unclean state, and he knew if he went any longer without a bath, his mind would more than easily make the jump of an association with the POW camp.  If there was one thing he could live without, it was yet another memory of the camp.


‘Sam won’t like this,’ the voice taunted him.  Obviously the voice would love for a memory to overtake him.  For him to try to silence them as he had before--either with a drink or with a more permanent solution.


“I don’t care what Sam likes or doesn’t like,” Al announced out loud, as if the voice were an exterior force he could combat.  He shakily made his way to the bathroom.


Al turned on the water in the shower stall.  He piled his clean pajamas and underwear on the sink, which he held onto as he clumsily stripped out of his soiled clothing.  He was extremely grateful for the towel rack in the shower which helped to keep him upright as he bathed.  His stitched wrists stung, but he ignored the pain, so wonderful did the steaming water feel as it poured over his head.  He vigorously scrubbed his hair and his body, taking the directions “Lather, Rinse, Repeat” to new levels.


When he felt he’d finally set a new layer of skin free, he shut off the water and quiveringly stepped from the shower and dried off.  The heat from the shower now overwhelmed him, and he hurried to struggle into his clothes.  He only had the pajama shirt left to put on when a tremor began shaking his entire body.


Al clung to the sink and swore quietly as his body continued to betray him.  If only I could have a drink, I’d stop shaking.  Did Sam find all of them?’  He shook his head.  He knew Sam had searched very thoroughly and there wasn’t a drop of liquor to be found on the premises.  Still shaking, Al glanced at his reflection in the mirror and jumped back at what he saw.


His dry lips were cracked and white; his normally olive complexion, pasty and blotched red.  An unhealthy tinge stained his sunken eyes.  Al stared at the zombie in the mirror and backed against the wall, clutching the shirt to his chest with hands that wouldn’t stop shaking.  “No,” he whispered.


Al dropped the shirt on the floor and fled from the accusing mirror.  He stumbled on his way to the bed and nearly popped his stitches as he caught himself.  The shaking intensified as he stretched out on the bed.


Could things have really gotten that bad?  Had he sunk so low as to not even look human anymore?  Al squeezed his eyes shut as tiny hot tears made their escape.  “I’ll do whatever it takes,” he said aloud, almost speaking to God even though he’d long ago vowed not to.  He repeated the phrase again and again until the chant became hypnotic and lulled him into a restless sleep.



Sam was ecstatic as he left the administrative offices.  He was so excited about the opportunity to work on his theories that he nearly forgot that a major reason for the trip was to help Al through his recovery.  It was very easy to get caught up in the scientific side, and while there would be the burden of producing enough results to justify the faith that was placed in the trip, a goodly portion of their time would be spent getting Al back on his feet.


‘Al.’  Sam glanced at his watch and realized that it had been over two hours since he’d left the captain in his room.  Alone.  He stepped up his pace, almost fearful of what he might find when he opened the locked door. 


The corridors became a yellowish blur as Sam rounded the corners to the residential hallway, jogging towards Al’s room.  Pausing out of breath before the door, Sam lightly rapped to signal his presence before turning the key in the lock.


A pit settled in Sam’s stomach at the silent, empty room.  Al wasn’t in his unmade bed, at his desk, or in the small living area.  A quick glance at the window assured him that Al had not left by that route.  That left only the bathroom.


“Al?  Are you here?” Sam asked as he headed toward the rear of the room.


A small whimper answered.


“Al?”  Sam pushed the bathroom door open to find Al cowering in the corner, unsuccessfully trying to hide behind dirty towels and clothes.


“Get out of here before they come after you, too!” Al whispered, his eyes wild.  He waved at the shower drain with quivering hands.


Sam followed Al’s gaze to the empty drain.  “What’s coming?”


“Can’t you see?” Al hissed.  He pushed himself further against the wall in trying to get away from whatever it was he saw.


“I can’t see.  Can you tell me what it is?”


“You can’t see their teeth?  Dirty, rabid animals.  They’re crawling out from the sewers!”




Al wrapped the towels tighter around his ankles.  “You do see them!  Why are you just standing there?  They’re all over the floor!”  His shaking intensified and he screamed as an imaginary rat nipped his ankle.


Sam swallowed hard.  Delirium tremens.’  “Al, there aren’t any rats in here.  You’re seeing things.”  He shook his head, knowing even as he spoke that his words weren’t going to make any difference in what Al thought he saw . . . and felt.  He tried another tack.  “Let’s get out of here and we’ll lock them in.”


Al nodded in agreement.  “Maybe that will work.  We’ll try that.”  He took Sam’s outstretched hand and stood unsteadily, dragging one of the towels in his free hand.


“Look at me, Al, not the floor,” Sam directed, gripping the older man’s hand.  Al gulped and nodded again, forcing his attention on Sam, though he continued flashing uneasy glances at the floor.  Every few inches, Al would jump to avoid a hallucinated rat.


Once he and Sam reached the threshold to the main room, Al ripped his hand free of Sam’s and slammed the door.  He stared at the bottom of the door to watch for rats escaping.


Working on a sudden inspiration, Sam took the towel from Al and stuffed it in the space between the door and floor.  “That should hold them,” he announced.


Examining the blockage, Al nodded his agreement.  “So, I take it the meeting went well, then?” he asked, startling Sam with his quick return to reality.  Almost reality,’ Sam added, noting the cautious glance Al gave the door before edging away to sit on the end of his bed.


“Yes.  We can leave tomorrow, just like I promised.”


“Where are we going?” Al asked.


“Right outside MIT.  The cabin I told you about.  I’ve already got all the arrangements made.”


“There won’t be any rats there?”


Despite the gravity of the situation, Sam had to stifle a chuckle.  “I doubt it.  It’s too warm a time of year.”


Al nodded, “All right then.”  He paused a moment.  “Are you sure this is going to work?  I mean, I’m hardly up to par.”


Sam frowned, his own uneasiness about the whole endeavor now coming from Al’s lips.  “As long as we have you back on your feet and have something to show at the end of the week, I don’t think we have anything to worry about.”


“I hope you’re right, kid.”


‘I hope I’m right, too.’


To Be Continued



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