High Hopes

Chapter 8

Project Quantum Leap Headquarters

Relieved that Becky-Lou was safe thanks to Sam's quick thinking and medical knowledge, Al had returned to base nonetheless still rattled by thoughts of Maggie Dawson. He glowered at Gushie as he returned his hand-link to its recharging station, but Gushie seemed even more preoccupied than usual and didn't notice.

Al ignored Tina's cheery greeting as if he hadn't heard it, which in truth he hadn't. He was too lost in his own maudlin thoughts.

Automatic footsteps carried him mechanically back to his quarters.

Routine rummaging produced his card-key and gained him admittance.

Habitual fingers triggered his answer-phone, which droned banalities heedlessly into the ether, until a message, stark in its shocking solemnity, penetrated his moping mind, and further sank his spirits.

"Yes, this is Albert Calavicci, returning your call." Al sighed. The number that had been left on his machine had been drilling the 'busy' tone into his brain for the past hour and more.

Finally, he had a connection.

The official on the other end sought to confirm some details with him.

"Yes, that's right, though not for some years…"

"You are still listed as the next of kin, sir." He was informed.

"I am?" He wasn't sure why he was so surprised at that, but it saddened him that she hadn't found anyone else close enough to fulfill that role.

"I'm surprised she even has a contact number for me." Al was more or less thinking aloud.

"Really?" eyebrows arched, Al wasn't sure whether to be annoyed or impressed. "You tracked me down through our respective divorce attorneys, huh? How very resourceful!"

The voice at the other end continued to interrogate.

"No, no I haven't. I don't have a lot of time for luxuries like watching television."

Then came the crux of the matter.

"Oh, I see. Of course." He found himself nodding as he was brought up to speed. Then he found himself pacing. The familiar, subconscious, four-step pace that surfaced whenever the Admiral felt stressed.

"Can you tell me how she is?"

Al's frown deepened, and a look of great sorrow crossed his face as he listened to the particulars of her condition.

After a time, he requested: "Please keep me informed of any change, either way…"

"What was that?"

The other party repeated their query.

"No, I'm afraid that won't be possible at this time."

They remonstrated with him.

"I appreciate that, but I'm afraid there's no way I can get away from here at the moment. I'm sorry."

A further attempt was made to persuade him to change his mind.

"I know all that, and I am concerned, believe me…" He stopped pacing, and rubbed his forehead.

"It's out of the question, completely. But please, keep me informed."

One last thing was asked of him.

"Uh, yes. Yes, of course…" he paused, while he considered how best to phrase the specifics, "um, tell her…" he drew in a deep breath, "tell her…ah…" he began pacing again, his mind in a whirl. "If, that is uh when…when she wakes up, tell her…" he shrugged his shoulders in defeat, "Just uh, just tell her I'm thinking of her, and I wish her well."

When the line went dead, Al stared at the receiver for a long time, before placing it carefully back in its cradle. Then he sank down in his huge leather armchair, and buried his head in his hands, staring mournfully and unseeing at a tiny scorched patch in the carpet at his feet, where he had dropped a lighted cigar a few days before.

How long he remained that way, he couldn't have guessed, but when Ziggy informed him that Dr Beeks wanted to talk to him about their visitor, he arose stiffly, and rubbed at an aching back. No amount of massage could ease the ache that had settled in his heart, however.

Going through the motions, Al consulted with Verbena, and interviewed young B-J again. He seemed to be adapting well to his incarceration, and bore his reluctant jailors no ill will. He repeatedly showed concern for Becky-Lou, though, and kept asking when he could see her. Both the Admiral and the Psychiatrist re-assured him that they would be reunited at the earliest possible moment.

Hearing the teenager speak of his love for Becky, a pang of regret stabbed at Al's heart, but he buried it deep, and went about his business, ever the professional.

Verbena looked at him closely, sensing something personal was troubling her boss, but that he was in no mood to open up about it. She made herself a mental note to keep an eye on him, and to be on hand in the unlikely event he should decide he needed her sympathetic ear.

Though he had nothing momentous to report, and Ziggy assured him that Sam was managing the leap quite well, Al dropped into the Imaging Chamber, where he was able to reassure Sam once more that BJ would stand by Becky-Lou no matter what, and all scenarios pointed to their having a long and loving marriage, though to what degree of happiness was relative, and conditional on Sam's successful completion of the Leap. Al tried to appear as though nothing was wrong, but he could tell by Sam's expression that the leaper saw through his façade. If challenged, he'd make up some technical mumbo jumbo to explain his stress, but lucky Becky-Lou's presence meant Sam could listen, but wasn't free to cross examine.

Seeing Becky's doe-eyed adoration of her dreamboat was more than Al could stomach, and before long he'd made his excuses and left, retreating once more to the solitude of his private B.O.Q.

In the Project canteen, Rusty's TV had become the focal point for all off-duty personnel. Reports continued to trickle in from City Place Station, and the viewers here, along with the nation at large, still cheered each new emerging survivor, and said silent prayers for those cocooned in body bags, taking their final journey.

A few workers were just now learning of the tragedy, having recently come away from busy shifts at their workstations or wherever, and wandered along to the canteen in the hopes of unwinding. Soon, they too became engrossed in the awful events as they unfolded, picking up the full extent of the disaster from the reruns of earlier footage, which played over and over, with commentary from experts in this and that, while the reporters, like every one else, waited for something else to happen. Debates both on and off the screen covered every aspect of the situation – political, social, humanitarian, moral, religious – you name it; they raised it. Nothing else was on any agenda. Neither work or relationships or the weather or whatever in the canteen; nor the latest outrageous behavior of some footballer or movie star on the screen. Other world news normally reported at length and in depth, was relegated to a tickertape bar across the bottom of the screen, and a redirection to the text pages for further details, should anyone care enough to divert their attention.

One employee at Project Quantum Leap had seen far more than he cared to of the carnage. He avoided the canteen, returning from his shift to his lonely quarters, where, mirroring Al's actions, he spent the next couple of hours on the telephone.

Again like Al, a good part of that time was spent getting 'busy line'.

His first call was to his cousin's house, where eventually he raised his aunt.

She confirmed his worst suspicions, that Miriam had indeed been one of the helpers of the group mentioned on the news. The line had been tied up as Aunt Muriel had been trying to get information from the authorities as to whether or not her daughter had been accounted for. So far, nothing definite was forthcoming, other than the confirmation that Miriam had booked her ticket for that journey.

He talked with his aunt for a while, not daring to give her the longed for reassurance that Miriam would soon be home safe and sound, since it would be too rash to assume that to be the case. Nevertheless, he offered his sympathy and support, and promised to use whatever professional contacts he may have to cut through the red tape and get the answers they sought.

"Ziggy?" He cleared his throat nervously.

"There is no need to ask, Gushie." Ziggy's vocal settings were currently in the female range, and 'she' sounded almost caring. "I have been monitoring your communications, and I am already interfacing with the computers in all the Dallas hospitals, as well as those of the rescue services. As soon as your Cousin Miriam's identity is confirmed as one of those to have been brought out of the disaster area, whether dead or alive, I will know it, and shall inform you instantly. Naturally, it would be preferable if I could report the latter to be the case."

"Amen to that," responded Gushie, "Amen to that, indeed."

While he awaited the promised bulletin from Ziggy, Gushie made several more calls to relatives whom he knew would be sharing his concerns. It sometimes took something of this magnitude to remind one how much you took family for granted. It was good to talk with some of them again, to catch up with people he'd not spoken to in months, maybe even years. Yet the conversations were strained, marred by the uncertainty of Miriam's fate.

Sometime later, Gushie stretched out wearily on his couch. Too drained both emotionally and physically to bother to take himself off to bed, he soon drifted into an uneasy slumber.

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