VIRTUAL SEASONS EPISODES

Episode 604
I'm Getting Married In Absentia

October 7, 1984 Pacific Ocean
International Waters Near Japan 

Upon landing on a Destroyer, Sam finds out that he's about to go on leave to be married... married?

As Airman Eric Stubbs, Sam finds he's in the Navy to help a shipmate marry a stateside girlfriend.  Sam finds himself standing in for the groom; saving the bride's life, and having to convince both that this marriage should happen.

Written By:

Written By:  A. J. Burfield

PRELUDE

 

The space was dark and cramped. And bumpy. Very bumpy. Just bumpy would have been all right, though; it was the frequent sideways slides that got Samís stomach rolling. He clunked his head on a window beside him and realized he was wearing a helmet. The "Ouch!" he yelped was drowned out by the continual roaring/thumping noise that seemed centered above his head and vaguely familiar. 

Firmly grabbing the seat he was in to avoid another head banging Dr. Sam Beckett, time traveler, took a terrified second to figure out where he was before total panic set in. Before him in the darkness was a green glowing instrument gauge of some kind. Sam looked carefully through the padded hood around the face of the gauge just as an unexpected dip made his face connect with the instrument. His face was saved by the padded hood, obviously there for that very reason, but his stomach wasnít so lucky as it seemed to slam against his throat. To keep from throwing up, Sam tasked his brain to figure out what the gauge was. He glanced again, uneventfully, and deduced that it was a radar screen. 

Looking around in the darkness, he saw he was seated behind a wall with a small doorway in the middle. The profile of another helmeted person seated to Samís right in front of the wall was barely visible, lighted only by the slew of gauges set low in the front of the compartment. There was a window of some sort in front of that person, and all Sam saw outside was darkness and rain slamming into the glass. Still peering out the front window, Sam was suddenly shocked to see a bright light with the words "FIRE" distinctly spelled out on it snap on above the window. Slowly, the unidentified person reached up and tapped the light with his finger as Samís heart rate jumped and his grip tightened on the seat. A crackly voice in his ears surprised him and made him gasp.

"Damn thing always goes on in the rain," it said calmly, then with an edge of laughter, "See any fire back there, Stubbs?"

It was then Sam recognized the thumping sounds.

"Oh, boy," he groaned to himself. "Iím in a helicopter!"

 

 

PART ONE

Pacific Ocean, 

International waters near Japan

October 7, 1984

 

 Sometimes Quantum Leaping into some one elseís life gave me a new and different perspective on things. This leap gave me both of those things instantly. I had been in a helicopter before, but not like this. The seats had been clean and comfortable, the weather clear and sunny, it had been much quieter; it was enjoyable as long as I didnít look down. This was as far away from that experience as Earth was to the next galaxy in the Milky Way. There were no reference points outside due to the complete and total blackness, and the vertigo that came over me was overwhelming and disorienting. I was thankful to be sitting behind the pilot and just along for the ride. I hope.
 

"Stubbs?" the voice repeated through the helmet earphones. "Yoo-hoo! You asleep back there?"

"That ought to do it," another voice cut in. "Nice and clean!"

The rain instantly stopped and in a few seconds the fire light snapped off. "Never mind, Stubbs!" the first voice said.

" ík," Sam replied shakily, figuring out he was Stubbs.

The helicopter banked sideways, turning Samís stomach once again as they slipped away from the rainstorm. They had flown into the rain on purpose? 

"I sure wasnít in the mood to hose this thing down," the second bodiless voice commented. "I wonder if theyíll ever find the short that causes that light to come on?" he added, obviously a rhetorical question.

The other voice just snorted a short laugh in reply.

Breathing deeply and slowly to control his nausea Sam tried to find the horizon out the large window next to him. It worked for carsickness, didnít it? It didnít work this time because he couldnít see a horizon. All he saw was inky blackness. A flash caught his eye and he looked more intently out the window, finally locating a weird glowing green streak . He assumed it was in the distance and below them; it was hard to tell without any visual references, but they seemed to be heading towards it. 

Samís death grip on the seat cushion loosened as curiosity overtook him. The glow was a beautiful jade color, swirling in the darkness acting like a foggy beacon. Then it hit him; phosphorescence! They were over the ocean, which explained the darkness, and that glow was the wake of a ship! They were going to land on the ship! 

The sense of relief was short lived, however, as they got closer. It was so small against the surrounding blackness! How could they land on such a tiny target, in the dark? They were very close now and he saw that lights were illuminating a landing circle on the deck that looked impossibly small. His grip on the seat tightened again as they swooped down to the target and hovered just off to the side. There was little room for error, and Sam was glued to the window, frozen in fear as he noticed how the deck rolled with the waves. Could this be done at all?

"You have to guide them in, Sam," a deep, gravely voice sounded next to his head, causing him to jump and whack his head against the window yet again. The noise of the engine was so loud he hadnít heard the Imaging Room door open.

Sam looked angrily at his holographic friend Al, and adjusted his helmet. "Donít do that!" he snapped at him. The helicopter jerked away from the ship.

"Do what?" came through the headphones. "Did you see something?"

"Sam, you gotta tell them to go right, left, forward or back to hit the landing circle. You have the best view of the deck!"

"Right or left?" Sam repeated looking out the window.

"You tell me, Stubbs!" the pilot replied. "Are you awake?"

Al pointed out the window next to Sam. "Look out there and direct them!"

"Oh! Right!" Sam caught himself quickly, "I mean, left! Go left!"

The helicopter edged left, almost over the circle, and Sam saw a square painted in the center of the circle.

"They want to land directly on the square," Al said, indicating it with his wave of his finger.

The pitching of the deck made Samís nausea return, but his desire to be on the pad was much stronger. "Left, forward," he called, fixated on the square and frowning in concentration. "Youíre over it now!" he said excitedly.

The helicopter hung for a few seconds as the pilot timed the rolling of the deck, then quickly and expertly set down as the deck rolled away from them. There was a normal feeling second of stillness followed by an opposite roll that sank Sam deeper into his seat.

"Well done!" Al commented. "Nothiní like a Navy pilot to have such skill!" he gloated, as if heíd just landed the thing himself. "Iíve always admired heilo pilots. This vertical stuff is tough!"

"No kidding," Sam grumbled, fighting the restraints to get out of the seat.

Al gave him a patient sigh and pointed at a center buckle near Samís waist. "Flip that," he said. Sam did, and the webbing released him. The pilot half-visible to Sam slid the side door open so Sam could jump down. 

He thought heíd feel better with his feet on a solid surface but the soaring of his stomach with the next set of swells made him wish he were back in the air. Grabbing the open doorway of the aircraft kept him from tumbling sideways as the glared at Alís next comment.

"Itís going to take you a little while to get your sea legs, Sam," Al commented as he looked happily around. "Ah, the sea! Where men are men, and women are afraid!" He chuckled softly as he looked around. He looked right at home.

"Sea legs?" Sam repeated through clenched teeth, trying to control his stomach.

"Yeah. This is nothiní. Iíd say a 15 degree pitch...Iíve see Ďem land these babies at twice that angle!" Al walked to the front of the craft as flight deck crew ran through him with wheel chocks and deck chains. He admired the craft from all angles as Sam wobbled to one of the entryways to the inside of the ship. The hologram noticed the lack of verbal response from Sam and turned to him, noting his distress. "Oh, youíll be OK in a day or two. Always took me three days to acclimate on a cruise." A dreamy look passed through his eyes as he drifted down memory lane.

"Three days!" Sam moaned, just as one of the pilots strolled by intent on a clipboard in his hands.

"Seems like forever, huh?" the pilot said, lifting his head to smile at Sam. "Just think, soon youíll be away from this paradise!" He laughed as he stepped through the portal into the ship. 

Sam leaned against the bulkhead, unsure of his legs and roiling stomach.

"Ah the camaraderie! The brotherhood of the Navy stays with ya, ya know? Too bad this isnít a carrier. Then I could give you a tour!" Al chatted on as he poked the hand link.

"Carrier?" Sam squawked, arms crossed over his abdomen.

"You know, air craft carrier. This is just a destroyer that handles one submarine hunting chopper. You can really feel the old pitch and roll on these ships because theyíre smaller."

Sam just moaned at the pit-and-roll reference and stumbled into the hallway. "Why am I here?" he griped through gritted teeth. "And whereís my room?"

"OK, OK, hang on there, Sam." Al read the readout as he directed Sam to get out of his flight suit and helmet. "Letís see Ö your name is Eric Stubbs, youíre 26 years old and a Chief Petty Officer. A good one, too! Says here youíre, I mean Ericís, recommended to the Flight School. Thatís why youíre leaving here, letís see.... in about 12 hours. Heís going to be an Aviator! Thatís really a privilege for an enlisted guy." Al continued to read, obviously impressed. "They only choose a few enlisted guys a year for that program. Ericís worked his butt off to get his college degree while being enlisted. Quite the go-getter." Al pointed to Stubbsí locker in the hanger and told Sam to stow the suit and helmet in it. Sam also put on the shoes that were in the locker and stowed the boots. Al continued to read off the hand link. "Letís see here... Ericís parents were killed when he was 18, only child ..." he muttered as he hit the high points of Ericís life. "Pretty much on his own, and has done well, Iíd say." He concluded, slipping the link back into his pocket and watched Sam with an amused expression.

After changing, Sam had found an open section of the hallway that over looked the ocean, and Sam took the opportunity to throw up into the vast darkness that was the open sea.

"Eww, yuck. I bet you feel better now, though," Al commented knowingly.

Sam just gave his holographic commentator a dirty look. He felt too miserable to reply.

"I bet youíre green, too. Good thing itís dark." Al went back to reading the link. "Anyway, Eric leaves for the States, becomes and Officer and an aviator, and is currently a Commander. Wow, he was on the fast track! Knew how to make influential friends." He glanced towards Sam and the disgruntled expression finally sunk in. "Oh, your quarters...just follow me. Thereís no way you could find it yourself."

A look of relief spread over Samís face as he weakly stumbled after his guide. "Doesnít sound like Iím here for Eric. He does all right on his own."

"Youíre right there." He rolled his eyes when Sam went right down the first hallway. "Not turn right! I meant youíre correct. Go this way." Al pointed down the stairway. The corridor system was a nightmare; all the halls looked alike to Sam and he felt helplessly lost as he bounced down the walls, still unadjusted to the rolling motion. The doorways were all hatches, and Al had to remind Sam to step over the thresholds after he barked his shin for the third time.

"My God, Al, how do you keep track of where you are? This is worse than the Project...I think..." Samís brow furrowed for a few seconds as he tried to focus in on a picture in his Swiss-cheesed brain of the Project deep down in the earth of New Mexico.

"The frame numbers on the walls." Al indicated a stenciled number high up on the wall. Sam noticed they were all over the place. "Your photographic memory should pick this up in a snap. Each area is designated by which two ship frames itís between. The bigger the number, the further back from the bow. See?" 

It made sense now. He could picture the frame in his mind like a rib cage.

"Youíre in Chiefís Berthing down two levels, 2-135-2. Level two, frame 135, port side. The flight deck is 01, the level below is 1, and so on. Got it?"

"Yeah. The other 2 means port side. Thatís Ö uh Ö the left side?" 

It was Alís turn to roll his eyes. "Landlubbers. Yes. Port is left. Sheesh."

Gratefully, Sam found his room boldly labeled "Chiefís Berthing" and stumbled in, collapsing on a bunk. Fortunately, no one else was in the quarters even though there were about a dozen bunks. Al nosed around and found Ericís bunk, and directed a reluctant Sam to the proper resting spot.

"OK, so why am I here?" He could feel his bunk gently rolling back and forth as he lay there, and closed his eyes to try and settle his stomach. "Maybe itís one of the guys in here." Sam tiredly waved his arm to indicate the room "Find out who else is in here."

"Iím on it, buddy. Now that youíre safely stowed away Iíll have Beeks talk to Eric." He punched a few buttons and the Imaging Room door opened with a clang.

Sam opened his eyes to say good bye and saw that the lighted doorway framing Al was steady as the ship walls around it rocked back and forth. His stomach lurched and he snapped his eyes shut again. "Yeah," he said weakly. "OK. I just hope I donít have to be anywhere soon."

"Nope. You just came off a flight, you donít have duty, so you have a few hours. See ya soon, ya lucky dog!" Al stepped back, a look of envy on his face, and disappeared with the whoosh of the door. Sam watched him go with one eye, then gratefully closed both eyes again. 

He wasnít alone long. He heard the door open and footsteps come in, still not wanting to open his eyes. 

"Hey, Stubbs," the voice chirped. "Mail call. I picked up your stuff for ya."

Sam sighed in resignation. He would just have to tolerate his queasiness for now, and swung his legs to one side and sat up. He planted his feet firmly on the floor and his head swam. He opened his eyes and looked up to see a handsome young man with dark, wavy hair and a mustache holding out some mail to him. Sam noted the Officerís uniform. He took the letters, and saw they were addressed to AWC Eric Stubbs. Me, he thought with a snort.

"Well, sounds like I shoulda left it in the mess," the man replied to Samís reaction. Sam glanced up and saw him flip over an envelope and tore it open. "Hope itís not bad news," he commented to Sam as he pulled the letter out. A stick slipped out from between the pages and bounced on the floor between them. Sam and the man both looked at it, surprised, then the man bent over and picked it up, and held it up under the overhead light. Sam could see a tiny Ď+í sign on one end.

There was a heartbeat of silence before the man whispered, "Shit," and immediately turned his attention to the letter.

Sam recognized the stick as a home pregnancy kit test results, and instantly knew that it was the reason he was here. 
 
 

PART TWO

 

Sam opened Stubbís mail, but didnít read it. He needed a reason to stay where he was and think of a way to approach the subject with ... he glanced up and read the name tag clipped to the manís shirt. ĎLt. Mike OíConnellí. 

"Uh, Mike," he ventured in a light tone. "Whatís the story?"

The man looked up, his mouth in an ĎOí shape, and his eyes wide. "Ah," he stumbled, "It looks like Iím going to be a father." He looked rather dazed.

Sam still wasnít able to garner if that was a good thing or not. "Thatís, uh.." he hesitated, "Great?"

Mike sank down on the nearest bunk. "I think so," he said tentatively. "Gee, I guess that means we have to get married."

'Bingo!' Sam thought. Now all he had to do was confirm with Al if he was here to get them married or keep them apart; only Ziggy could supply that information. The hologram was never around when he needed him! When did Al say he was leaving the ship? Two days? Or was that when heíd be home? He needed information. Now.

"What do you want to do?" Sam asked gently. He didnít know how close these men were, and relied on Alís comment about the camaraderie of shipmates to pry further. 

Mike hesitated for just a second. "Denise is great," he breathed, smiling. "Weíve only been dating a few months, but we have this connection, you know?" His eyes became a bit unfocused. "I know Iíve only been divorced a little while. And I admit I was on the rebound for awhile." He chuckled, shaking his head. "That would explain why I went out with Janet!"

Sam frowned. "Janet?"

"Yeah, I told you about her. The body builder?" Sam gave him a blank look. "Great body, but a nutcase? I told you all about her taking a steak knife to my apartment door!"

"Oh, yeah!" Sam covered, trying not to look totally appalled. "Janet. I forgot her name." Controlling his facial expression to his shock was difficult, but Mike went on, oblivious to the struggle.

"Boy, when I dumped Janet to date Denise, she was pissed. Anyway, Denise was like, I donít know how to put it. It was like we knew each other our whole lives. We could never get close enough. Iíve never felt like that before. Not even with my ex-wife."

Sam smiled. A knowing flash went through him, but he was immediately confused by it. ' Why did he relate to that feeling? Did he have someone like that at home?' He quietly cursed his Swiss-cheesed brain and made a mental note to ask Al about it.

"We talked about getting married before I left, but weíve only known each other for about 4 months," Mike hesitated for a few seconds, unconsciously rolling the test stick between his fingers. "Even though it feels right, Iím still spooked from Debbie dumping me two years after our wedding. Maybe Iím just on the rebound; it wouldnít be fair to Denise."

As Mike spoke, Samís gut instinct was telling him that he was here to make sure these two got together. There was true admiration, respect and love in his tone as he spoke about Denise, and marriage obviously was a serious commitment for Mike; he didnít take it lightly or jokingly. It didnít sound like Mike needed much of a push to go in that direction.

Samís attention refocused as Mike let out a short laugh and re-folded the letter. 

"She had a feeling she was pregnant when I left for this cruise," he laughed. "I told her it was probably a false alarm. I made a joke about how she may be engaged to someone else by the time I got back. Six months is a long time." He stuffed the letter in his shirt pocket. "I didnít really expect her to wait for me. Sheís so great. I wouldnít have been surprised if she was engaged!" He laughed again, shaking his head. "She kept insisting she was sure she was pregnant, and asked me what we would do if she was. I was leaving the next day for this cruise. She wanted a serious answer."

Mike glanced up and Sam caught his eye. "Well?" Sam asked with a raised eyebrow. "What did you tell her?"

There was a few silent seconds as a slight grin tugged at the corner of Mikeís mouth. His voice was a little softer when he answered, "I told her Iíd just have to marry her. And I meant it. Now, Iím not sure. I really didnít think she was pregnant."

Something tugged at Samís mind. Six months? This was a six month cruise? The guy on the flight deck said Sam would be gone soon for Flight School. "How long have we been gone now?" Sam asked casually.

"One month, three days, and 15 hours," Mike replied instantly. "Not that Iím keeping track."

Sam did some quick calculations, and said, "So sheís about eight weeks along then?"
     "I guess so," Mike replied. "She also said sheíd want to get married before the baby was born. Wow, thatís about the time Iíd get back! I donít know about this...."

Sam was just about to reply when an announcement came over the speakers. "Lieutenant OíConnell , Lieutenant Commander Hines to the flight deck immediately," the voice squawked , repeating itself once. 

Mike stood up. "Sounds like somethingís up," he commented, standing and striding to the door. Sam, forgetting his queasiness, followed Mike through the labyrinth of hallways to the flight deck he had just left. He didnít trip once in any of the hatchways and managed to keep up with the rapid pace Mike set. On their arrival at the deck, Mike immediately grabbed his flight suit and helmet from a locker and started suiting up. Another officer soon joined them, also dressing out, talking rapidly to Mike. Must be Hines, Sam thought.

"Whatís up?" Mike asked Hines.

"Medical emergency," Hines said calmly. "Weíre to air lift a fisherman to the carrier."

At the sound of medical emergency, Sam automatically grabbed his suit from Stubbsí locker, his fear of flying gone.

"What are you doing?" Mike asked. "Perantu is in back today."

Sam turned around to see a curly haired, redheaded man step into the room. Sam could tell he wasnít well; swollen eyes, red nose and a tell tale tilt of his head to one side.

"Heís sick," Sam said instantly, recognizing the tell tale signs of an ear infection. Possibly a sinus infection, too, if not both. ' This man shouldnít be flying,' Sam thought. ' His balance and decision making will be way off due to the pain he must be experiencing.

"Iím fine," Perantu snapped in reply.

With his helmet on, Sam didnít hear the sound of the Imaging Room door open, but the motion of a brightly dressed person moving in his peripheral vision caught his attention.

"Youíre right, Sam, heís sick and shouldnít be flying."

Sam didnít dare look at Al, because Mike was looking right at him.

"Airman Perantu there may be the reason this rescue fails. One man dies, and another is seriously injured in an accident that he should have seen coming, but didnít. No one knows why." 

"He has a sinus infection," Sam said out loud, nodding towards Perantu.

Mike and Hines looked at the man in question.

"But just try to tell an air crew member he canít fly," Al sounded somber. "Itís a sign of weakness to them to be sick and be taken off the flight schedule, so a lot of them fly anyway. It rarely effects a mission, but this time it does. The guy they airlift dies, and the Corpsman almost drowns. There is suspicion that Perantu was incapacitated and unable to perform his duties in the back, but nothing was proven." 

"I should go," Sam insisted, catching Hineís eye. He was the ranking Officer in charge of this flight, and had the power to make that decision.

Hines turned back to Sam. "Youíre right. Perantu, get to sick bay. Stubbs, Mike, letís go. Whereís the Corpsman?" Perantu threw his helmet into his locker with a loud bang as they left the room for the flight deck.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

Weather conditions had worsened since Sam had landed the first time. He had noticed the more severe pitch to the deck, and he could see flashes of lightning in the distance. It was still so dark that he couldnít see a horizon, but the lightning reflected off the water enough to give him some reference. He felt his eyes grow wide when he realized they were flying right towards the lightning, and noticed the whitecaps glowing in the water below. The Corpsman that had met them in the chopper was quietly sitting in the jump seat, oblivious to the chaos they were approaching.

Al coached Sam on the radar and how to use it to track the worst parts of the storm, and relay the proper information to the pilots. He also noted that dawn was near, and there should be some light to maneuver by during the pick up. Sam did notice that there was a slight grayness out the window, but he also noticed the sky being swallowed up by huge clouds, heavy rain slamming into the aircraft, and the water sensitive "FIRE" light blinking overhead. He prayed the pilots were as good as Al claimed.

"They donít crash in the original timeline, Sam, so relax. Ahh, this kind of flying makes you feel so alive!" Alís eyes were shining with exciting memories, none of which Sam cared to hear at this point. He was too busy trying to keep his seat and focus on the radar. It was an eternity of heart pounding lurches and thumps a before Al pointed out something on the radar. "There they are, Sam, dead ahead about 1 mile! Tell Ďem!"

Sam did what he was told, and soon saw the fishing trawler in trouble bobbing off to the side, lights on against the dark water, barely visible in the feeble morning light.

"Wow, Sam, this ought to be fun! Thereís no landing pad, so itís gonna be a basket rescue!" 

"Yeah, great," Sam mumbled, feeling a slight surge of vertigo as the aircraft dropped lower, hovering near the boat.

"Direct Ďem Sam," Al reminded him. "You need to be over that flat area there, but look out for all the antennas."

The pitch of the deck was treacherous. Sam fought down his fear and gave them the information they needed in a calm manner, although his palms were damp and he could feel sweat running down his neck. The pilots were all business. This is what they trained for their entire careers, Sam thought, as he felt his confidence in these men growing with each passing minute. The Corpsman readied the rescue basket and harnessed himself up, which was quiet a feat in the rock and roll.

Finally, they were ready. Hines told them the victim was ready below, and to go ahead and drop the basket and Corpsman. Al pointed out the wince, and directed Sam in hooking up the man in his Ďhorse collarí and the rescue basket. When he slid the door open he was greeted with a blast of icy wind and rain that assaulted his face, the only uncovered part of his body. Bravely, the Corpsman swung out, and Sam carefully winced him down, hanging out the doorway for a better view. 

Swinging wildly in the wind, the pilots did an exceptional job of keeping the machine over the open spot on the deck. When the Corpsman hit the deck he was instantly greeted by four men decked in foul weather gear holding up a fifth man between them. They secured the man in the basket, and all but one scurried back inside the boathouse. With the two men below initially steadying the basket, Sam winced it up without incident.

"That went great, Sam!" Al yelled over the rotor noise and wind. "The problems all occur next. The Corpsman slips the collar and goes in the drink, and this guy," he pointed to the dripping basket, "bleeds to death. Something happens with the wind, according to the pilots, but no one is able to say what happens back here. Perantu claims he was knocked out."

"Ready!" the pilot reported in Samís ear.

Sam leaned out again, watching the cable lower. The Corpsman hooked up, and gave Sam a thumbs up. Sam turned on the wince and started reeling him in. He wasnít far off the deck when he started swinging.

"Look out, Sam! Thatís bad! Tell the pilots heís swinging!"

Sam did so, and the pilots compensated but not quickly enough. Suddenly an unusually huge blast of wind hit them broadside, and the chopper dipped and twisted sideways. Sam was prepared and held on, but saw the Corpsman swung right into an antenna, snapping his head back in a frightening manner. His body went limp.

"Oh, Sam, heís knocked out! You gotta get him up here pronto! Heís gonna slip the collar!"

There was no way to adjust the wince speed, but Sam, ignoring his fear of heights, hung out the doorway and clawed at the man when he was close enough to grab. Just as he had the manís arm, he felt the body slipping the collar. Sam held on desperately, noting the wild waters far below and the fishing boat bobbing madly off to the side. The wind had blown them aside quite a way!

He was able to hang on until the Corpsman was safely inside, Dr. Beckett quickly checked his vital signs and closed the door. "Weíre OK! GO!" he told the pilots, and moved his attention to the fisherman and his own pounding heart. All Sam saw of his face was dripping hair and beard and wide, brown eyes regarding him.
 

 

PART THREE

 

Sam checked the manís vital signs and they were strong. The thickly bearded man quietly watched Sam as he was being examined. He was very pale, and Sam was surprised he wasnít in shock when he unwrapped the plastic from his heavily wrapped arm. There was some spotting of blood on the end of the arm, where the wrapping was thickest.

The manís eyes were dark and somber, and followed Sam with interest.

"There should be a packet of documents in there somewhere, Sam," Al offered, stepping next to his friend. He pointed the unlit cigar in his fingers towards the manís stomach area. They were both astonished when the manís eyes raised to meet Alís, and grew wide with surprise.

"Watkinda Navy outfitzthat?" the man slurred, eyes locked on Alís electric blue and canary suit. Sam had been leaning down and heard him in spite of the engine noise. Sam glanced at Al.

Al interpreted the look. "He can see me?" Al asked, astonished.

"Who couldnít?" Sam snapped as he snatched up the medical papers. It was difficult to read in the pitching airship, but the amount of drugs in this manís system would make it easy to write Al off as an hallucination. 

"Youíve got enough morphine in you to see whatever you want, pal!" Sam said to him, figuring Al would pick up on the idea.

"Oh! I get it. A hallucination," Al sounded rather insulted. "Iíd rather be a blondeís dream." He leaned closer to the man.

"Meetoo," the passenger agreed. Sam smirked.

"Smartass," Al groused quietly.

"Hey," the man mumbled at Sam. "Thandzinthere."

Confused, Sam tried to figure out what he said. "Youíre hanginí in there?" he questioned.

"Put your hand there?" Al guessed. "He wants to shake hands?"

Then Sam recalled what Al had told him about the man bleeding to death in the original history, and frantically pawed through the manís blankets.

"Who are you talking to back there?" Sam heard in his helmet. "Is he still conscious?" It was Hines.

"Yeah," Sam replied, finding what he was looking for and pulling it out. It was a plastic ziplock bag packed with ice and ... a human hand.

"Is his hand in there somewhere?" the pilot inquired.

"Aww, yuck!" Al commented. "I forgot to mention that."

"Thanks," Sam mumbled after the initial shock. "Yeah, got it!" he said to Hines, who he could hear laughing in his helmet.

"Sorry!" Hines laughed, the noise and bumping of the chopper in the background. "The Commander briefed Perantu, but didnít have time to tell you!" 

"Izmyrinonthere?" The man mumbled.

"WHAT?" Sam yelled over the motor noise, which grew louder as the machine rose higher in the air.

"Mrin." The guy muttered, raising his wrapped left arm. Just then the helicopter lurched sickeningly to the side again, slamming the metal basket against the wall along with Sam. The manís arm somehow got crushed between the basket rim and the wall, and the wrappings instantly turned bright red. 

"SAM! Heís passed out!"

Sam saw that his eyes were rolled back into his head as the bloody arm flopped down across his chest. The bagged hand skittered along the floor and wedged itself under Samís seat. He didnít notice as he leaped onto the man, yelling, "Iíve got an arterial bleed!" to his companions. He frantically clawed at the wrapping, looking for and end.

"There should be a survival knife in your flight suit, Sam! Cut it off!" Al pointed at one of the many pockets of the suit, and Sam unzipped it. There was a huge folding knife inside. "This is why he bled to death the first time! Perantu must not have been able to stop the bleeding!"

He pulled it out and sawed at the bandages, which were saturated with blood. He cut a long opening along the top of the stump and peeled the wrappings back. "Got it!" Sam barked, reaching in and pinching off the artery with his fingers. To Al he said, "This had to happen sometime. There wasnít much keeping this from bleeding again. Perantu must have been distracted the first time."

Punching the hand link Al said, "It was pretty wild recovering the Corpsman from the water the first time. Perantu could have been distracted, or even passed out like he said. Doesnít matter now." 

It was a long and bumpy ride to the carrier, which was also in the storm. There was plenty of flight deck to land on there, so Sam didnít need to direct this time. His fingers were numb from closing the artery. The Corpsman was just starting to come around when the door slid open he was scooped out. 

"Heís gonna be all right," Al said, reading the link. "No hypothermia to deal with this time, so heís back to work in a couple of days."

A doctor came in and relieved Sam, and asked about the hand as they off loaded the patient. Sam felt around and reached under his seat, pulling the bag out just as Mike appeared at the open side door. "Iíll take it in, Eric," he said. "You need to clean up. Good job!"

Sam gave him the bag, and Mike looked at the contents. "Hey, his wedding ring is still on there!" he commented.

"He asked about that," Sam said, realizing thatís what the man had been trying to find out. 

Mike regarded the ringed hand for a few seconds, then grinned slightly and trotted off, following the medical team. "It gets re-attached all right," Al says, "but not a whole lot of function. But heís alive! Doesnít go back to fishing, but does all right running a tackle shop in town. Heís still there, as a matter of fact! You should be leaping soon, buddy."

Sam felt otherwise. "No," he said, recalling the way Mike looked at the wedding ring on the severed hand. "Iím not done. What happens to Mike in the original history?"

"Mike? The pilot?" Al looked confused. "Whatís he got to do with anything?"

"Heís why Iím here, Iím sure. Just look into it, will you?" Sam made his way through a hatch and down a hall to the nearest bathroom to clean up. He noticed the pitching on a ship this size was minimal in this weather, and felt a sense on relief. Washing himself off, he listened as Al read Mikeís history.

"Well, he finishes this cruise without incident, gets orders to Jacksonville on his return and is currently a Commander. He looks fine."

"Does he ever get married?"

"Ah...yes. In a couple of years. His career becomes the center of both their lives, which is why he does so well."

"Kids?"

"Ah, no. Wait," Al punched the protesting link, and gave it a shake. "Here we go. He has a child, Riley, listed as a dependent. Whereíd he come from? He didnít have kids with the first or the second wife."

"Thatís why Iím here, Al. To have him marry the right person. The boyís mother."

Al looked skeptical. "I suppose you know who she is?"

"Denise is her first name. Iíll get the rest."
     "OK, and while youíre looking for that, Iíll see what I can find out from Ziggy." The Imaging Room door swooshed open behind the hologram. "Iíll be back. Ha!" he laughed as he stepped back through the door. "Sounds just like Swartzenagger," then the door slipped shut.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

There were very few hours left for Sam to pack up Eric Stubbsí things. He hoped he got them all. At Mikeís suggestion, he packed up most everything to be mailed back, and arranged for that to happen. Mike helped him pack, regaling Sam with flight school stories all the while. During a break, Sam brought up the subject of marriage, and what he had decided to do.

Mike grew quiet. "You know," he said, "that guy we rescued? Married 15 years. And he goes out for months at a time every year to fish. I asked him how his wife liked that."

"What did he say?"

"Not much, really. It was his face as he talked that I remember. He did say that he knew she was the one after a few days. I guess it happens," Mike rubbed his neck.

"But youíre not sure it could happen to you," Sam guessed.

"Yeah." Mike was quiet for a minute. "You know, deep inside I know that we would get married, Denise and I. Iím sure of it; more sure than the first time around. And Iíve always wanted kids."

"So, whatís the problem?"

The pilot stood up. "I really think we should be married before the baby is born. You saw that rescue today. Anything could have gone wrong. When I think of how both those men could have died so easily... I donít know."

"It makes you realize how fragile life is, doesnít it?" Sam suggested.

"Yeah," Mike agreed. "I want to marry her now. If something happens, our child needs support. Theyíll have that if weíre married."

The sound of the Imaging Room door announced Alís entrance. "So, get married now."

Sam looked at him like he was nuts. "Get married now?"

"How do I do that?" Mike answered.

"How?" Sam replied, throwing a questioning look at Al.

"Vegas!" Al replied happily. "Get married by proxy."

"Married by proxy?" Sam repeated, confused.

"Iíve heard of that," Mike mused.

"Yeah!" Al said enthusiastically. "Ziggy says all you need is a specific power of attorney. They have lawyers here on the ship. They can write it up."

Sam turned to Mike. "You need a power of attorney..."

Al helped. "It has to be specific. It has to say that Mike wants to marry Denise, and have someone listed as Mikeís stand in."

".... that says who you want to marry and who will stand in for you. They accept them in Las Vegas," Sam finished.

Mikeís face instantly brightened up. "Hey! Thatís perfect! I can list you, and you can do it when you get back! You said you had a couple of days with nothing to do!"

"Ah, sure," Sam glanced at Al. How close were these two?

Al poked at the link. "Says here you, I mean Eric, and Mike invest in real estate together eventually, so they must be good friends. You can do this, Sam!"

"OK," Sam declared, a little hesitantly. 

"Iíll go see the lawyers now. Then I guess I should call Denise, if the Captain will let me," Mike darted from the room. "Not much time before you go, bud! I like this!" he said, hesitating just outside the door. "I donít have to even rent a tux!" Then he was gone.

Finally alone, Sam faced his holographic friend. "So, why didnít he do this in the original history? Or marry her when he got back last time?"

Al bounced happily on his toes. "I guess itís like the first time skydiving," he replied with a gleam in his eye. "He just needed a little push!"

"And no one did the pushing last time."

"Exactomundo."

Sam sighed and continued the seemingly endless job of packing. His flight left in just under three hours, and he wondered if this event was going to be as simple as he hoped.
 

 

PART FOUR

 

It was almost two days before Sam saw the San Diego city skyline from an airplane window. The old P-3 skimmed over the sandy beaches and scantily clad bathers of Coronado Island just before touching down on the runway at North Island Naval Air Station. Sam could just imagine Al oohhing and ahhing and dredging up memories from his time here. What did Al call this place? The birthplace of Naval Aviation? The hologram had been a sporadic companion during the trip back to the States. He finally got a little information on Denise from the sonís Navy database. Her last name was Green, and she was a professional woman, a travel agent that owned her own office with one partner and did very well. She never married in the original history, and did an admirable job raising Riley. He had some behavior problems, not having a father active in his life, and could have done better in school. It was looking, even to Al, that the purpose of this leap was to make sure kismet happened this time; it was obvious these two were a perfect match. They just needed a boost.

The heat blasted his face when he stepped onto the ramp that was rolled up to the planeís hatch. The tarmac reflected that heat, and Sam felt his shoes growing hot as he walked to the hangers. It certainly wasnít like October in Indiana. It felt like the middle of summer.

As he got closer to the hangers he saw a variety of cars parked alongside, and changed the focus of his attention from the weather to the people gathered at the hanger. Mike had only a couple pictures of Denise that he was willing to part with, and after studying them Sam was sure he could pick her out.

His thoughts flashed back to his last hour before leaving the destroyer. Mike had called Denise, and they had agreed to go ahead with the Ďweddingí. She said she sure didnít want to walk down the aisle with a basketball stomach, and it would make her feel better knowing Mike was there for them, albeit physically separated. Sam was amazed at their devotion and practicality; no whining about a fancy ceremony from her. Sam was looking forward to meeting her.

Mike had also warned Sam about the uproar this would probably cause in the flying community. There was a group of Commanderís wives that were very snooty and proper that would probably find all this offensive, and may make things difficult for Denise. This wivesí group didnít take kindly to girlfriends acting like wives, and rarely accepted them in the community. 

It could get ugly...but not nearly as ugly as the telegram Mike had received from Janet, the girl he had dated prior to Denise. It seemed that word of the unconventional wedding had already been spread to the rest of the squadron here in San Diego when Mike had called to arrange clearance for Denise to come on base and pick up Sam. Janet, who worked on the base, happened to be in the squadron office when Mike had called in, and overheard the entire conversation. She had immediately sent him a telegram, knowing that it would be read by several people on the ship before it even got to Mike. 

"Dear Mike," it had said. "You donít have to marry her because of this. These things can be taken care of before you even return! Youíre making a stupid mistake, and Iím sure youíll regret it. Iím trying to warn you, as a friend, to stop this now and wait until you get back. Youíll change your mind by then and see Iím right. Love always, Janet."

It had been very embarrassing receiving that note. Telegrams were usually sent only on life-and -death issues, and it raised a few eyebrows among the command staff. His personal life was now the top gossip subject of the entire squadron, on the ship and here in San Diego, and Mike did not like that kind of attention. Sam didnít know how Denise would handle it; it would be great if she didnít care, but for some reason he knew that it wouldnít be that easy. All Mike said about it was that Denise was strong and confident, and would come through the whole thing with flying colors. His face always glowed when he talked about her, and that made Sam smile. Such faith was a wonderful thing.

Sam picked Denise out immediately. She was the only one there not in uniform. Al had gotten an eyeful of her photos, and Sam wasnít surprised to hear the Imaging Room door slide open as he approached her.

"Yowza! Even with a bun in the oven, she looks terrific!" Al leered from behind Sam somewhere. "I wonder if those are all milk, or the real thing?" 

Sam didnít have to ask what he was referring to. He dipped his head and covered his mouth, pretending to cough, and growled, "Stop it, will you?"

She was smiling, wearing a sleeveless dress and sunglasses, her long, dark hair blowing back from her shoulders with the breeze. No one was standing with her, and Sam saw a couple of the uniformed personnel from his flight glance her way after speaking to the ground crew. She was oblivious to the looks.

"Hi!" she said cheerfully as Sam approached. "Iíd know you anywhere, Eric. Mike had some pictures from your last cruise shore leave in Hong Kong."

"Uh, oh," Al warned, noting the smirk on her face. "Those usually arenít too flattering...."

"Oh, yeah?" Sam said innocently, taking her hand. She had a firm shake.

"I especially like the ones with the snake and the monkey," she had a big grin now.

"I like a woman with a sense of humor!" Al leered. "I know the kind of picture sheís talking about....just laugh, Sam, and say ĎI donít remember much from that trip.í"

"I, ah, donít remember much from that, uh, trip," he stammered to her smiling face.

"Yeah, I believe that!" She laughed and tossed her head aside, and pointed to the direction of the car. "Iím parked over here. This is pretty weird, huh?"

"You donít know the half of it, honey," Al quipped.

Sam shot him a glare as he followed her. "I guess you could call it that. It depends on your attitude, I think." 

She started to unlock a gray Mustang. "I agree 100%. Attitude is what makes you or breaks you, isnít it?"

Sam really liked this girl. He tossed his substantially loaded bags into the trunk and rubbed his sore shoulders. Just before climbing in the passenger side, he pulled out a large envelope. "Here you go," he said, handing it to her with a smile. "All the proper paperwork, and a letter from Mike."

She took the envelope with a blush and opened it, a slight smile breaking out as she read the power of attorney. "And my mom was always afraid I would elope! This sure caught her off guard." She slipped it back into the envelope. "Dad thinks itís great. They both are meeting us in Vegas along with my brother and sister and their spouses. Should be fun!"

"Sounds like it," Al said brightly.

"Yeah," Sam agreed slowly, watching her carefully. "Are you OK, Denise?"

She held the letter from Mike against her heart, then slipped it in her purse to read later, in private. "Iím fine, really. It would be great if Mike were here, but I never was one for those fru-fru weddings anyway." She buckled her seat belt and grinned happily. "You canít say this wonít be memorable!"

With that, she put the car in gear and pulled out of the lot, not noticing the blonde woman watching her from the open hanger. If looks could kill, Denise would have been cold on the tarmac a long time ago. 

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

The plan was to leave for Las Vegas before dawn in her car, since Ericís was at his home in Florida. They hoped to get the marriage license before the License Office in the late afternoon, and have a nice dinner with her family that night. The actual ceremony would be late in the day the second day; they needed to locate a decent chapel and allow time for Denise to get ready. As Sam helped Denise fix dinner, they discussed what he should wear.

"So, standing in for Mike as the groom, does that mean youíre the best man, too?" She asked with a giggle.

"I guess so!" he replied with a smile. "This isnít too weird for you, is it?"

"No, not really." She started some pasta to go with her simmering sauce, and indicated Sam to set the table. "Iím sure there will be people out there that wonít be surprised at my bucking tradition."

Denise was easy to talk to, smart, and a good cook on top of all that. "Well," she admitted, "Spaghetti sauce is my specialty. I can make a ton, freeze it, and end up cooking only once a week!" Between cooking and chatting, she finished packing and answered the endlessly ringing phone. Most of the calls were good wishes from friends and distant relatives, confirming the story of getting married without the groom being present, but there were a lot of hang ups with no messages mixed in. It was as close as Sam ever saw her lose her cool when she slammed the phone down at yet another hang up. "WHO IS THAT?" She growled loudly between clenched teeth. "I donít have time for this!"

It was close to midnight with they finally settled down to get a few hours sleep. Sam had packed the car, and was settling down on the couch. The phone has finally stopped ringing around 10:30, and it was quiet in the apartment except for the occasional sound of a car passing by outside. Sam felt good about this leap. After meeting Denise, he knew this is what he was here for. Mike and Denise were soul mates.

Al had stopped by a few times without any more information, and Sam suspected he was checking to see what she was packing for her wedding night.

"Jeeze, Al, her husband wonít even be there!" Sam pointed out.

"Hey, I donít need a logical reason to inspect a lingerie drawer!" he protested jovially. Samís eyes were just closing when he heard the Imaging Room door open. He was so tired he didnít even jump. "What do you want?" he asked, eyes closed.

"Just checking in one last time," his friend responded. "I have a romantic dinner date with Beth planned, so I want to be sure I have a few hours, if you catch my drift!" His voice had a leer to it that Sam knew was connected with dirty thoughts. "Well, maybe you wonít."

"I get it," Sam replied wearily. "Get out of here. Iím going to sleep."

"Iím not!" Al replied perkily. Sam could envision the sparkle in his eye. "Iíll be back in....."

Al was interrupted by the sudden sound of shattering glass and squealing car tires. Sam leaped off the couch in time to see a large rock bounce on the floor right through Alís feet. The sliding glass door to the small patio was shattered into a million shards, and spread all over the living room. Sam hurriedly grabbed for his pants and shoes.

"WHAT WAS THAT?!" He heard Denise shout from the back room.

"Go see who did that, Al!" Sam hissed as he slipped the shoes on and tiptoed through the glass.

"Iím on it, Sam!" Al disappeared.

Denise ran down the hall, robe flapping behind her. Sam called out for her to stay back as he carefully stepped through the gaping, glass hole in the door. He leaned over the patio wall, but didnít see anything. He could hear a car accelerating madly in the distance, but couldnít be sure if it was the same one heíd heard before.

"Oh, my God!" Denise breathed. "Who would do that?"
     Sam came back in. "I didnít see the car," he said as he pulled on his shirt. "Iím going to check out side."

"Well, I coming with you!" Denise snapped, putting on the slippers she had in her hand. 

They both edged outside. Nothing was amiss out front, and on a feeling, Sam decided to check the car. When they rounded the corner to the carport, he noticed the security lights near her car were out. Not a good sign. He held Denise behind him as they approached her car, listening intently. They both held their breath. When they were close enough to make out the shape of the car, Denise gasped just as Al popped in next to Sam, causing him to jump.

"Sorry," Al and Denise said together.

"My car!" Denise yelped angrily. "Who did this??!!"

The gray Mustang was lurched to one side, two tires slashed and flat. The windshield was cracked and the sides spray painted.

"I didnít see anyone, Sam," Al said, pounding the hand link. "They got away."

Sam inspected the car on the other side as Denise swore a blue streak. 

Something about the back window caught Samís eye. He leaned closer and squinted in the darkness. 

"What?" Denise snapped. "What is it?"

"Looks like writing," Al noted.

"I think itís red lipstick," Sam said, touching the words with his finger tip.

Denise stepped to the back and put her hand to her mouth as she read the writing, furious. "Whore" and "bitch" were scrawled across the window with such force that the last little chunk of lipstick, broken from its case, was stuck to the glass at the bottom of the Ďhí.

"Iíll run more background checks," Al said coldly. "Gooshie! Tell Beth Iíll be late!" he hollered as he punched the link, and stepped back through the open door. "We obviously missed a nutcase somewhere."

Sam nodded, and put his arms around Denise, who was now crying in anger.
 

 

PART FIVE

 

 They got a couple of hours sleep after unloading the car. Denise was up early to borrow another car and arrange to get her Mustang towed to the body shop. Her business partner, Carol, was a big help and loaned them her Camero. They finally hit the road late in the afternoon, deciding to shift plans around and on arrival in Vegas and look for the chapel first and get the license in the morning. Dinner would be late. Sam could see that Denise was tense, but after getting out of the city in more open California desert, she started to relax. 

"I love driving," she commented. "I sure hope they can fix my baby all right!"

"Your car is your baby?" Sam laughed.

"Sure!" she replied. "We go everywhere together! Thatíll change with all this," she added, biting her lip. Then she smiled. "For the better, I know, but any change is scary."

Sam admired her positive attitude in the midst of all this. "True," he commented.

It was getting dark as they started into the long desert stretch that ended at the edge of the neon lights of Las Vegas. It was midweek, so traffic was fairly light. Sam hadnít seen Al since the previous night, and was wondering where he was.

"Gee, you think that car could get any closer? They have the whole rest of the road!" Denise adjusted the rearview mirror so the headlights of the car behind them didnít reflect in her eyes. "They even have their high beams on! What a putz!"

The hairs on Samís neck rose as a chill swept through him. When he turned to look, he couldnít help but notice that they were in an especially empty and isolated part of the desert. He had the feeling this wasnít a coincidence. All he could see were bright headlights, impossibly close and getting closer. Then, the car rammed them.

"Hey!" Denise shouted, fighting to keep the Camero in her lane. The car bumped them again, and Sam was thrown sharply into the side window as Denise corrected their path. "Whatís he doing?!"

The swoosh of the Imaging Room door was simultaneous with the sound of Alís voice. "Whoa! This is a wild ride! I think Ziggy figured out whoís doing all this!"

"Who?" he asked, grabbing the dashboard.

"The guy back there, who do you think?!?" Denise shouted.

"Her name is Janet Barnes. She dated Mike before he met Denise."

Sam recalled the comment Mike had made about her, and how he had regretted getting involved with her. Of course! It all fit! The embarrassing telegram (which Denise didnít know about), the phone hang ups, the Mustang.

The Camero swerved wildly as they were struck again. Denise had a death grip on the steering wheel, and a determined angle to her chin. "What do I do, Eric?" she yelled, keeping her eyes on the road.

"Thereís an all night gas station about two miles up, Sam. Go there!"

"Look for lights," Sam said. "Thereís got to be a gas station around here!"

As they rounded a sweeping turn around a small hill they saw the twinkling of lights in the distance.

"There it is!" Al yelled, pointing it out as he floated in the back seat.

"I see lights!" Denise said excitedly. 

At the sight of the lights, the car dropped way back and made a U-turn. Neither one could see the license plate or car type, but they stopped at the station and called the Highway Patrol anyway. Denise toyed with the idea of going after the car, but took into consideration her condition, and decided against it. Sam took a walk outside the station to talk to Al as they waited for the police.

"In the original history, Janet Barnes tries to get back together with Mike, but he goes off to flight school in Florida. She hooks up some other Navy guys, and all the relationships turn violent," Al squinted at the readout of the handlink. "She ends up an alcoholic and alone. What a pathetic person."

"What took you so long to find her?"

"Well, Ziggy was so enthralled at the prospect of a Vegas wedding, she got a bit off track."

"Off track?"

"Well, the mathematical aspects of gambling, the romance of a wedding, and the interesting legal ramifications of a wedding by proxy got her off in all sorts of directions,"

Al shrugged his shoulders at Samís astonished look. "She even started laying odds on how long the marriage would last! Plus, Mike only dated Janet a couple of times, and Ericís brain is so Swiss-cheesed in the waiting room that he can hardly remember his name, let alone who Mike dated. He couldnít even tell us Mikeís whole name or the ex-wifeís name!" Al shrugged, looking sheepishly at Sam. "We arenít mind readers, ya know!" 

"Clearly," Sam said, annoyed.

"And this Janet gal is a real space case. She changed her last name, at least twice, to that of the guy she was dating at the time! More than a tad possessive, Iíd say," Al had a visible shiver at that thought. "Scares off who ever she dates for more than a month. Any way, the name changes are what threw us off on the background search."

"She needs professional help," Sam said.

"No kidding. But it looks like sheís gone for now, and hereís the cops." The door slid open. "Iíll check with you later, OK?"

Sam nodded, and went to talk to the officers as the door closed.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

They finally made it into Vegas much later than they wanted, and had little time before dinner with her family. Driving through town, Denise saw a series of chapels that just seemed tacky, as she put it. Finally, standing apart from the glitzy collection along one street, she spied a less flamboyant chapel simply named "Chapel of the Roses". Driving by, she dove into the parking lot suddenly, catching Sam off guard.

"Here we go!" she stated. "This one feels right! Letís go in, quick."

The parked and walked to the front door. Sam had to agree, it was a lot less tacky. It was almost, but not quite, classy in appearance, with lots of stained glass and wood. The inside lobby was neat and clean, with many pictures on the wall of the lucky couples who were joined in this very establishment. There were four doors inside, each with a different stained glass rose on the door. Only one was closed.

"We have a ceremony in that one," the matronly receptionist said with a smile, pointing at the door. 

"Looks great, I need an appointment," Denise said, getting right to business. The receptionistís smile never left her lips as she jotted down a time in what looked like a dentistís appointment book. She then gave Denise a pamphlet of the details she may have forgotten on how to have a memorable ceremony. "Yeah, yeah," Denise said, "See ya tomorrow!" 

In the car Sam noted with a laugh that she seemed to rather short with the lady.

"I know, I know," Denise said with a sigh as she backed up. "I just want to get all this over with, get home and get fat."

They checked in the hotel, and made arrangements for a limo to take them all to the chapel. 

"Congratulations!" The Concierge said as he made the arrangements.

This made Denise smile. "Thanks," she responded.

They had adjoining rooms on the 17th floor. On the ride up, she took a breath and smiled at Sam. "This is finally sinking in," she said. "This is serious stuff. Iím getting married."

"Looks like it," Sam said with a smile, putting his arm around her. "You OK?"

"Yeah. I know this is the right thing to do. I honestly believe we would get married even if I wasnít expecting." She caught his eye. "Mike is about the greatest guy I ever met."

The goofy grin on her face confirmed her love without having to say it, and Sam smiled.

The rooms were basic, but nice. After a shower, Denise hauled him off to meet her family at the restaurant across the street. They were a jovial bunch, siblings and all, and showed Denise every measure of support. They had all met Mike once at a family party and had all liked him. There were funny gifts, funnier marriage advice, and a slew of ideas on what she should do for her wedding night, many which made Sam blush furiously. He was glad Al wasnít here to make fun of his situation. Her mother presented her with her own wedding veil, tears in her eyes. Her dad gave her an heirloom ring, and the siblings supplied something new (naughty underwear), something borrowed (diamond earrings) and something blue (a garter). This was a terrific family, and it vaguely reminded Sam of his own family. A sister, a brother and two parents on a farm was all he could come up with at the moment, mentally cursing his Swiss-cheesed memory.

They were just finishing dessert, and Denise was telling them all about the Hong Kong pictures Mike had sent when Al made an entrance. Sam heard the door, and saw him out of the corner of his eye, then excused himself to go to the restroom. Al blinked in ahead of him, making a snide comment about a outfit worn by the sole occupant of the room, who was washing his hands.

When the man left, Sam stated smartly, "Like you have room to comment on clothing..."

"What do you mean?" Al asked innocently.

Sam sighed, "Just forget it. Why havenít I leaped? I canít stand in for this ceremony. Ericís name is on the power of attorney, not mine!"

"Because we think that nutcase Janet will try something again, and thatís why youíre here."

"Really? Sheís that dangerous?"

"We dug further into her history. She has a violent temper! She hasnít used it directly against anyone up to this point, but Ziggy sees this as a turning point in her life. She has abused a few inanimate objects, as you have already seen, and both Beeks and Ziggy feel Denise is in actual physical danger, here."

"Iíd call ramming the car direct."

"Some people call that a bad case of road rage."

"I call it assault with a deadly weapon."

"Well," Al sighed, knowing this wasnít getting anywhere. "Call it what you want, but when the blood gets right on the hands, thatís considered direct."

Sam thought for a few seconds, pacing the length of the washroom. "Does she have a gun?"

"None that we know of."

"Then Iíd best keep my eyes open, huh?"

"Widely, Sam," Al agreed. "Very widely."

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

It was close to midnight when the blonde woman approached the front desk. She looked out of breath, and smiled brightly at the receptionist.

"Hi! I need a room for tonight."

"Certainly," the clerk responded. "One night?"

"Yeah. My best friendís getting married in the morning, and I want to surprise her."

The clerk glanced up at her client.

"I told her I couldnít make it, but here I am!" She was cheery, which also made the clerk smile. "Do you know where the ceremony is?"

The clerk knew she wasnít supposed to give out personal information about on clients but this woman seemed so harmless and friendly. "Whatís your friendís name?"

"Green. Denise Green. The groom is Mike OíConnell, but I donít think heís staying here."

If she knew that information, than she must be a friend, the clerk thought. "Well," the clerk said, making a decision. "They ordered a limo for noon, and any flowers are supposed to be sent to the Chapel of the Roses, about four blocks down. Does that help?"

"Oh, yes!" the blonde replied brightly. "Thanks!" She picked up the pen to sign the register. "My nameís Janet OíConnell. Isnít that funny? My nameís the same as the groom!" And she proceeded to sign the register roughly, tearing the page.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

Sam slept badly. He tossed and turned, and his attention on the adjoining room, expecting to hear, well, he didnít know what he expected to hear. Some kind of confrontation; but it never happened. He was jarred awake from a doze at nine oíclock by the phone. It was Deniseís dad, Mr. Green.

"Comoní boy, itís time for breakfast! We want to hear more flying stories about my future son!"

He managed to get down to the dining room, with the chinking sounds of the slot machines all around as they ate. They all played Keno as they ate, using various combinations of lucky numbers involving Denise. It would have been another fun meal if Sam wasnít so worried about Janet showing up. It was difficult keeping an eye on things with the throngs of people everywhere, but Sam managed to get the schedule of events in his head. After breakfast, it was off to get dressed for the limo pick up at noon. 

Sam dressed quickly, keeping close to the door so he could hear everything. There was squealing and giggling from the girls next door as they readied for the big event. Denise hadnít bothered with a true wedding dress, and went with a simple off white suite, classically cut. Sam had declined champagne with the men in the bar while the girls dressed.

A bit before noon, there was a pounding on his door that made him jump. "Come on Eric!" he heard Deniseís brother call. "Letís go, and donít forget that paperwork!"

Everyone met in the hall, and Denise looked beautiful. They met the rest of the men in the lobby, and moved off to the front doors. Sam thought heíd get whiplash from trying to keep his eyes on the rest of the crowd in the lobby. The casino ran right into the lobby, so there were clusters of people everywhere. They pushed out to the front walk, and the blast of desert heat hit them all in the face. Deniseís brother started asking why she didnít get married in the pool.

Sam could feel himself getting more and more tense the closer they got to the chapel. When they got there, things were delayed a bit as the minister called the license office to confirm the paperwork. Heíd been working in Las Vegas less than a year, and this was the first proxy wedding heíd seen. He just wanted to make sure everything was in order.

Nervously standing by the displays of fake flowers and photos of past weddings, Sam nearly jumped out of his skin when Al opened the Imaging Room door right next to him. 

"Oh, sorry, Sam!" Al said, bouncing on his toes and looking around. "Nothing yet?"

"No!" Sam shot back. "And itís getting close!"

"Well, Ziggy gives it a 98% that Janet will show, so hang in there."

"Letís go!" They heard Mrs. Green chirp. She was already dabbing her eye with a tissue. "Itís time!" 

Everyone piled happily into the Red Rose Room as Denise, her sister and father stood outside the door. 

"Go on, Sam," Al said. "Youíre the best man and the groom, so you have to go inside. Iíll stay out here."

With one last look out the windows to the parking lot, Sam slowly walked in the room and up to the altar.
 

 

PART SIX

 

He was standing there at the altar, trying not to fidget, for a few minutes when the minister hustled down the aisle with a smile. Discreetly next to the altar was a giant boom box, and he touched a button calling up a classical song. A few seconds later the door with the stained glass red rose swung open, and Deniseís sister walked down the aisle as the maid of honor. The door had swung shut behind her, and it was a few seconds before she was set and the music changed to the wedding march. The doors did not open, and the minister cleared his throat loudly. 

"SAM!" Al yelled.

Sam sprang into action. He had sprinted half way up the aisle when the doors were swung open with a bang by Mr. Green, who then fell on the floor. Sam saw he was gripping his thigh, blood coursing between his fingers. "Get her!" he yelled, unable to stand. 

Sam darted out the door just in time to see Denise being half dragged backwards towards the exit doors by a blonde woman. There was blood on the side of Deniseís suit, and a huge knife being held to her throat.

"She came in from the back Sam! Youíve gotta get her!"

He darted towards them as Janet yelled, "Stay back!" Sam slid to a stop, his hands out from his sides. He could hear the collective gasps and screams in the hall behind him from the rest of the family, and motioned to them not to move. Sam was the closest, just a few feet away. Denise seemed to be holding her own at the moment.

"Janet," he called out. "You canít do this."

"Just watch me!" Janet hissed, hesitating at the sound of her name and looking at Sam.

"I donít think reasoningís going to work with her, Sam!" Al said, "She seems determined."

"How did you know my name?" Janet growled, stopping for an instant. "Never mind! It doesnít matter! Nothing matters anymore!" Angry tears started down her face as she pushed the doors open with her back.

Sam ignored Al, and calmly walked after them, talking softly as she drug Denise out the door to the parking lot. The limo driver was standing next to his vehicle, mouth hanging open in surprise. Sam signaled him not to move, and Janet glanced his way and tightened her grip.

"Yes, it matters," Sam continued. "Life always matters."

"Not mine," Janet replied quietly but angrily. "I have no life. And this bitch took what chance I had for a real life. Mike and I were destined to be together. Didnít he tell you? We were great together! Then this, this WHORE, traps him into marrying him! Thatís not playing fair!"

"Boy, does she have delusions of grandeur," Al said quietly.

"Look, Janet. Donít do this. You still have all kinds of life ahead of you!" Sam could see that Janet was listening. "I know youíre lonely, and you donít want to face your life alone, but thereís lots of time for you! You hurt Denise, and your time stops here." Sam saw her forehead crinkle as she frowned. "Youíre beautiful, healthy..." Sam was at a loss for words.

"Smart, Sam. Tell her sheís smart."

"...smart," Sam took a step closer. "Use all that together and no one can stop you."

"Mike called me smart?" Janet stood up a little straighter, and Sam saw the knife slip just a hair away from Deniseís throat. That was all Denise needed. She dropped straight down, below the knife, and rolled into Janetís legs causing them both to end up in a tangle on the sidewalk. 

Sam jumped forward and grabbed her knife hand as she stabbed it towards Denise, deflecting the blow up. Denise fought her way from Janetís grip, and scrambled to her feet. She ran right into her brotherís arms as the limo driver jumped in to help Sam. They managed to disarm her to the sounds of distant sirens. Janet screamed and cried, then weakly gave in and went limp as the Police cars pulled in the parking lot.

"That does it, Sam!" Al chirped. "She doesnít due any time in jail, because they find her mentally unstable, but she does go to a State facility for awhile where she gets lots of counseling. She does OK,"

"OK? What happens?" Sam was brushing off his suit, leaving the scene to the authorities. "Well, she doesnít get married, but lives in a group home with other troubled women, helping council abused women. She does good things, Sam."

"What about Denise?"

"Whaddaya mean, what about Denise? Sheís here to get married, son!" Deniseís dad was hobbled out on the shoulder of one of the son-in-laws, having refused medical treatment. "Letís get to it! I can get stitches later!"

"Now we know where Denise gets her strength!" Al quipped, amused by the limping man. 

Denise had brushed herself off and frowned at the blood stains on her suit. "Not mine!" she said. "Daddy! You ruined my suit!"

Everyone laughed as she helped him back into the chapel. "Just hold your bouquet over it, honey! Iíll just lean on your arm! Weíll be back in a few minutes, Officers! Come on, Eric!" And off they went through the doors, Sam looking amazingly after them.

"This has to be the oddest family Iíve ever seen!" he said quietly to Al, following them inside. "And why havenít I leaped?" he added.

"Probably because I love weddings!" Al quipped, shooing Sam into the Red Rose Room. "And by the way, Sam, Mike and Denise are still together, deliriously happy with two more kids after this one. Good job!"

As Sam stood at the altar once again, he watched the smirking bride and her limping escort make their way down the aisle, amidst applause, to a befuddled minister, with a perky hologram conducting a taped orchestra. Feeling like he himself was in a nut house, Sam sighed gratefully as a veil of blue enveloped the scene. He leaped to the words, "We are gathered here today..."
 

 

EPILOGUE

 

The first thing that Dr. Sam Beckett, time traveler, noticed was that the sun had not quite risen, but judging from the red, yellow and purple streaked horizon, sunrise would be within the next five minutes or so. Sam closed his eyes and felt the warm, gentle breeze that would later turn this beautiful dawn into a scorching day. When he opened his eyes it was because he felt his left arm sag with the weight of something heavy gripped in his fingers. He blinked, and shifted his shoulders, and lifted his arm.

His fingers were tightly holding the handle of a battered leather suitcase. Taking a few steps back, Sam bumped into something and turned around to find that it was a red and rust colored VW van. It looked like it had seen better days.

Sam set the suitcase down on the paved ground next to the vanís drivers side door and walked around to the back side of the van only to be presented with what looked like a half dozen luggage bags and a green and gold trunk wedged in the middle of the chaos. He looked around to see if he could find any clues that might help explain what was going on here. 

Across the street was a neat row of houses making up a small neighborhood that appeared to rise up sometime in the 1950ís. It was a nice atmosphere, with a dog barking somewhere in the distance and birds starting to chirp happily in the abundant trees. Turning to his left he saw the van was parked in front of a house that was about fifty yards from where he was standing. The house was quite pleasant with a metal fence painted white bordering the perimeter of the yard and a blacktop driveway. The roof sported a brick chimney and a weather vane of a trotting horse. Sam also noted that the front door was standing open.

ĎWell,í he thought to himself as he observed the house. ĎI wonder if Iím coming or going?í His question was answered by a male voice emanating from inside the house.

"Kenny! What are you doing?" A young man stepped into the doorway, looking impatient. "I donít know about you, but Iíd like to have all that unloaded before itís hot enough to melt!"

Sam hesitated, realizing his physical labor had just begun, and muttered tiredly, "Oh, boy."