Terror Firma

Chapter 14

Tuesday 8th August

Sam surfaced next morning to a world consisting entirely of labored breathing and intense discomfort. His neck was painfully stiff and he still had The Headache. It didn't feel like any place he wanted to be, especially on his birthday, so he allowed himself to be submerged again.

He took refuge in a dream world, the one place he could find solace. He drifted now, back to a farm in Elk Ridge, Indiana. He was a boy again, in his early teens. It was barely sunrise, and he was just finishing milking the cows. He unhooked Harriet and moved on to Aggie, the beautiful brown Guernsey cow with the soulful eyes. The milk struck the bottom of the bucket with a clang, like a cowboy lobbing baccy into a spittoon. When it was full, Sam tapped her rump affectionately.

"Good girl."

Then he ladled some of the warm milk into an old saucer and called:

"Donner! Blitzen!"

Whether it was his summons, or the smell, two kittens immediately came trotting into the barn, slinking round the wooden slats of the stalls, brushing wisps of hay from their ears with their paws. Sam tickled the backs of their necks as they drank. He savored the moment, basking in the dawn. It felt good to be Home. This was his favorite dream, and he made the most of it. He took in every detail of the familiar red barn – his father's wooden toolbox, the white enamel sink, the farm equipment, not high tech, but well maintained and functional.

He went out; sliding the huge door shut behind him, and made his way into the house, glancing across the fields on the way, to catch sight of his father on the tractor. He walked through every room in his parent's house, basking in the memories – the sturdy kitchen table with its clean linen tablecloth, the wooden chairs where they sat and ate together. He heard the banging of the pipes in the kitchen sink, smelt the plants on the window ledge, felt the soft folds of the curtains arranged neatly at the windows. He looked into the pantry, stocked full of good things. There would be his favorite peach cobbler for desert tonight. His Mom made the best in the State.

Everything was peaceful and wonderful, and just as he remembered it. When he was allowed to remember it. In his dream it was real again, and he could revel in life's simple pleasures.

Most men dreamed of beautiful women, of conquests in the bedroom (especially the Al Calavicci's of the world!). Or else they dreamed of doing great deeds, performing dare devil stunts, spending great riches, lifting them out of their ordinary humdrum routine.

To Sam, his everyday life was the stuff of other men's fantasies – driving fast cars, being a test pilot, performing in the circus, on the stage, stuntman in the movies, top photographer, the list was endless.

He'd already done most of the things other men could only dream of achieving. But he would willingly trade it all for a life of swilling out hogs and harvesting crops. To Sam, his greatest ambition, the fulfillment of all his dreams, would be to be back on his parent's farm, surrounded by his loving family, with no greater challenge than getting his chores done before supper-time. He supposed that as a young man he must have resented those chores at times, but now they seemed like the ultimate privilege.

Into his dream ran Katie, little sister Katie; laughing and teasing - her ringlets bobbing up and down on her shoulders, her eyes alight with mischief. Sam chased her round the yard, making her shriek, scattering the hens, which clucked and squawked and flapped around in alarm. He caught his sister, and tickled her, and she protested half-heartedly.

Sam looked up to see his Mom watching them from the doorway; her light brown hair piled high, her brown gingham dress somehow symbolic. Next to her, with his hand on her shoulder, stood Tom. Big brother Tom, who suddenly sprinted forward, down the porch steps in a single bound and across the yard to join in, pretending to defend Katie, scrapping playfully with Sam, wrestling him to the ground so that they rolled in the dust, sending clouds into the summer air.

Katie watched, her giggles rising in pitch above their banter as they sparred. Thelma surveyed them indulgently form the doorway. They were good kids, and had to let off steam. She knew it would not get out of hand. Sam worshiped his older brother, and Tom would do anything for his siblings. She and John had good cause to be mighty proud of all three.

Then, in Sam's dream, his father called to them to get washed up for breakfast. Ham and eggs, home grown, orange juice and coffee.

And birthday presents.

This particular year, Sam recalled in his dream, his brother had given him an elegantly bound hard-back edition of Homer's Odyssey. The book still had pride of place on his shelves next to his bed at Project H.Q; right alongside the intricate wooden bookends his father had lovingly carved for him that same year. Simple gifts. Not vastly expensive or extravagant, but reflecting the warmth and affection and thoughtfulness which surrounded him. The most precious gifts - the best of times.

If only his dream could last forever. If only it could come true.

His Impossible Dream.

But at least he could enjoy the dream, could lose himself in it for a while. And it had a cathartic effect on him. His Inner Tranquility was restored.

The next time he awoke, the sparkle had returned to his light green eyes, and a smile creased the corners of his mouth. There was even a little color in his cheeks. He still had a headache, but it was tolerable. He was hungry, and that was always a good sign.

"That's more like the old Sam Beckett we all know and love." Al was only half teasing. He'd spent long hours pacing the corridors of the New Mexican bunkers, worrying. Despite Ziggy's assurances, he'd seldom seen Sam so low before, and Ziggy was not always the most infallible of experts. This Leap had really taken its toll on Sam, both physically and emotionally. Al had been afraid that the invisible scars might never heal. Yet now Al had seen his friend again, he was reassured. He had become adept at reading Sam's expression, an essential skill when they often met in circumstances that prevented overt conversations. He looked into Sam's eyes now, and knew with unequivocal certainty that Sam was going to be all right. His old alacrity had returned.

For his part, Sam didn't need to be told that Al had been blaming himself for not being there in the Lab. Whilst he couldn't pretend that he wouldn't have preferred it if the situation had proceeded according to plan, he was also acutely aware that it had been Al who had engineered his rescue from the giant cement mixer. He had no intention of chiding Al for his initial absence, nor asking him what had caused it. Al would not have let him down without a very good reason, and that in itself was good enough for Sam. Al came up trumps in the end, and for that Sam would be eternally grateful. He didn't need to vocalize his gratitude either. The two men understood one another. It was time to move forward, not to dwell on what had passed.

Al's attire had resumed its normal state of abnormality: a bright mustard colored three-piece suit, suede like in texture, over a leaf-covered shirt in autumnal hues, blossoming from a black background. The broad silk tie was deep russet, matching the fedora, which had a black band around it, and was tilted at a rakish angle. For once, he was not waving his customary cigar around, or slapping the COM link, but had his hands behind his back.

Sam looked at him quizzically.

Al grinned from ear to ear.

"I guess you're bursting with curiosity, huh, birthday boy?"

He was, but Sam would never admit it to Al in a million Leap years.

With deliberate slowness - only partially attributable to the all-pervading pain that still accompanied any movement - he reached over to the bedside cabinet and picked up the jug. Then he poured himself a glass of water, swapped the jug for the tumbler, and raised it to his lips. Before imbibing, he lifted the glass towards Al, and inclined his head ever so slightly, as if to say "Cheers". Then he sipped the refreshing liquid slowly, watching Al out of the corner of his eye, smiling at his friend's mounting impatience, the tapping of the foot.

'Who is bursting, now?' he thought. 'Which one of us is going to crack first?' He was enjoying himself.

After a suitable pause, he adopted his best Southern accent:

"Why, sir, I'm a might touched y'all remembered lil' ol' me had a birthday!"

Al tried hard to remain straight faced and impassive, but he failed miserably. First, he smirked, then, he guffawed.

"Many happy returns, Sam!" he said, when he could speak clearly. "42: again!"

"I wish I could remember how I spent it first time round," replied Sam. "Did I have as much fun then?" Al wasn't sure if Sam was mocking him, or being sarcastic about his surroundings and his state of health, but he was smiling, determined not to sink into self-pity.

"That's for me to know, and you to find out, buddy." Al taunted him. It was a familiar theme.

"Now, are you gonna ask me what I've got behind my back, or am I outa here?"

The suspense was killing them both, but for one moment longer, Sam feigned disinterest. Then, as Al's face fell in defeat, he smiled broadly, setting down the drinking vessel with careful precision.

"Okay, okay." He put up his hands in surrender. "You win. Are you gonna show me what you've got there? Do I get a present, huh, do I?" he did his best to sound like an excited kid.

"Ta-da!" trumpeted Al, with a flourish, producing a huge round cake covered in soft sticky icing and groaning under the weight of forty-two blue candles.

Sam's eyes widened in astonishment.

"Master Chef Calavicci?" he laughed, "Where's your white hat?"

"What? Oh, no. This is one of Sammy-Jo's little concoctions. Like it?"

Sam gasped as he was struck by a sudden memory evoked by the name.

"Just don't ask me to blow out the candles." Sam replied, breathlessly.

Al did the classic double take at that. Sam was making role-reversal jokes again. Then Al snarled playfully at Sam:"Why I oughta…" he couldn't resist. He balanced the cake on the palm of one hand and drew back his arm. Sam shrank back in mock terror.

"You wouldn't…"

"Wanna bet?""No; please, not that – anything but that." Sam grinned.

It was a good job no one was around to eavesdrop on his strange 'monologue'. Pure straight jacket stuff. A man with a serious persecution complex? All fears would be confirmed watching his next action.

As Al launched the cake towards his friend, Sam flung both arms across his face for protection, although both men knew full well that the cake would vanish the moment it lost contact with the hologram.

Al chuckled heartily. Sam was somewhat more restrained. Sometimes laughter really was the best medicine. If only it didn't hurt his ribs so much.

"You'd better get that cleaned up, before Sammy-Jo sees it." Sam warned, pointing to a perfectly clean floor in the hospital room as if he could see the gooey remains of the cake on the floor of the Imaging Chamber. "Tell her I appreciate the thought though."

He did, too, more than she would ever guess. He also appreciated the irony of Leaping, which led him to be celebrating his forty-second birthday for the second time, with a cake he couldn't have eaten even if Al hadn't thrown it at him, baked by his daughter when she was in her mid-thirties, and totally ignorant of her father's true identity. His expression grew wistful.

Al noticed the change in Sam's tone, and his face, and guessed at the cause. It was impossible to predict when Sam would recapture a memory, or how long he would hold on to it. Al thought it appropriate that Sam should have knowledge of his issue on this of all days. It was a time for families, even if they were absent. The expression on Sam's face suggested he found the knowledge an added source of pleasure.

The bleeping of the hand-link broke into both men's thoughts, and Al took it out of his pocket.

"Do you feel up to some company, Sam?" he inquired, looking at the COM link as if it were a crystal ball (which in a way of course, it was).

"As long as the natives are friendly!" joked Sam, not needing to qualify the allusion.

Right on cue, there came a hesitant knocking, as if someone was afraid of waking him, and the door opened a crack. A face peered round, making sure they were not intruding. The security guard was close behind, just in case.

Sam recognized the face at once, and responded:

"Come on in." he said, with genuine enthusiasm.

A man wheeled a woman into the room, and parked her wheelchair alongside Sam's bed. She looked pale and tired.

"Bill! Good to see you." Sam looked at Caitlin in her dressing gown. "Does this mean that someone was in a hurry to greet the world?" She lowered her eyes, unable to meet his gaze. Sam worried that he had said the wrong thing. Surely Al would have warned him if she had lost the baby? He looked to his friend for reassurance. Al shrugged.

"I'll leave you to it. I've got some cleaning up to do, remember?" he smiled and left.

"A boy, David!" enthused Bill, bursting with pride. "They've got him in an incubator, but the Doc says he'll be fine. And he's a fighter – after all, he's survived his first earthquake already!"

"Congratulations! I'm really pleased for you both." Sam was sincere. He was concerned for Caitlin, though. "Is anything wrong, Mrs. Donahue? Are you in pain?"

"Oh, Caitlin, please." She replied spontaneously, looking up. Then she avoided his eyes again. She couldn't bear to look at the bandaged head, the stiff collared neck, or the recumbent form.

Suddenly, Sam understood.

"Caitlin, then." He continued, gently, "I'm sorry if I gave you a scare. Don't worry, I'm going to be fine." It was typical of Sam to be so self-effacing, so apologetic.

She smiled then, and reached out to take his hand.

"We can never thank you enough. You really are our brave knight." Now, it was Sam's turn to look away, embarrassed. The movement made him wince. Caitlin stiffened. "You poor thing. It must be dreadfully painful."

"Only when I breathe." Sam smiled, joking earnestly. ""But what matter wounds to the body of a Knight Errant, for each time he falls he shall rise again, and Woe to the Wicked."" He quoted.

"Really, you are the most incredible man, Mr. Beckett." Cat laughed.

"Now then, the name is – David." He corrected her. The sound of his name on her lips had brought a lump to his throat. He really liked these people. He was going to miss them. It was hard making friends and then losing touch so completely, so irrevocably. He hoped that David and the Donahues would develop a lifelong friendship after he left. Al had said that David was something of a loner. Well, he couldn't ask for better friends than these. Sam wondered if he could look them up once he got back to the future. The baby would most likely be in kindergarten by then. The idea appealed, although he realized he would have trouble explaining how he knew them. Even David was liable to forget.

The same process that Swiss-cheesed Sam's brain tended to leave those whose lives he invaded with little or no memory of their time in the Waiting Room; which was probably just as well for their sanity for the most part. He wondered how they felt when they switched back into their own lives, confronted by what he had done, what they were supposed to have done, with no real memory of it. Knowing how crazy it seemed to him, he wished them luck. So far, Al had usually been able to give long term predictions of happy-ever-afters – such a family would have six kids, that one would make a success of her career. So he supposed that they must get over the initial hiccup pretty well. Perhaps he should start keeping diaries for them.

While his mind had been thus wandering, Bill had been regaling him with the tale of how Caitlin had been in labor all through the 'quake, and how their son had made his grand entrance just as the last aftershock had subsided. Sam had been half listening, smiling politely. His brain was used to having to function on two or three different levels like this. Despite the headache, he hadn't missed much.

"He sure sounds like one tough cookie." He commented, to prove it. Then, on impulse, "Maybe I could look in on him, when I'm back on my feet?"

"Would you?" smiled Cat, obviously pleased. She squeezed his hand affectionately, and then let it go abruptly, as if surprised by her own boldness, or afraid she had hurt him. "I mean would you really like to?"

"I'd love to, if it's okay with the proud parents." Sam was feeling a certain kinship with Bill. He hadn't been able to be part of Sammy-Jo's babyhood; in fact he'd only seen her for one brief time when she was eleven, when he had learned of her existence. That didn't mean he loved her any less. He envied Bill the joys of being a hands-on parent. It would be pleasant to share in even this small part of the miracle.

Bill put a hand on Sam's shoulder, genuinely moved. He and Cat exchanged glances, they were smiling.

"We kinda hoped you'd feel that way," said Bill. "See, the thing is we've been talking it over. We'd like to call him Patrick David, if you have no objections?"

Sam was touched.

"I'd be delighted." He thought David would be too.

"And…" Cat continued, hesitantly.

Sam wondered what more they could possible have to add. He gave her an encouraging smile.

"Well, we don't want to presume, but…" Cat was fighting for the right words. It was obvious she wanted to ask something important, but was fearful of a rebuff.

"What is it, Caitlin?"

"It's a lot to ask, we know, and we will quite understand if you don't feel you can, but we were hoping that you would consent to be Patrick's godfather. We both agreed that we couldn't hope for a finer man to be an influence on our son."

Sam felt a lump rise in his throat. It was moments like this that made Leaping worthwhile. If ever he failed to get home and had to be stranded in another life, he hoped it would be one such as this.

For himself, he would have liked nothing better.

Yet he hesitated.

Sam worried that he would be presuming too much for David, that he was letting his own feelings dictate too much. It was a huge commitment to make on someone else's behalf: a profound responsibility. What would the real David think of the idea? How well would he fulfill the obligation?

The Donahues were trying to read his face; afraid they had offended him, or asked too much. Sam hedged while he tried to make sure in his own mind that he would say the right thing – for everyone.

"Oh, I don't know about that." He replied lightly, dismissing the praise he alone felt he hadn't earned, "his father is an honorable man, and his mother a virtuous woman. He's gonna grow up just fine without any help from David Beckett."

Cat blushed profusely; she was not at ease with praise either. But she looked crestfallen at what she took to be a refusal. Sam saw her disappointment. He thought about the profile of David, which Al had given him and the evidence of his philosophies in the contents of David's abode, and the observations of how much more than a name the two Beckett's had in common. Sam decided to trust in his instincts.

"Of course, that doesn't mean I wouldn't be honored to be the little guy's godfather. In fact, I think you just made me an offer I can't refuse."

They all laughed, but then Sam degenerated into a fit of coughing. His rib cage was still sensitive. Unbidden, Bill moved forward and helped Sam to shift into a more comfortable position, supporting his torso with one muscular arm, while adjusting the pillows with the other. Then he eased Sam gently back, and helped him to sip some water. Sam was struck with the sudden conviction that forging this friendship was as important a part of this Leap as destroying the drugs factory had been. It was not always the most dramatic acts that mattered most.

Sam gave a satisfied sigh.

Bill misinterpreted it.

"We mustn't outstay our welcome, Cat. David must be exhausted."

"Not at all, it's been wonderful to see you both." Sam said, in all honesty, although his head was beginning to throb again, and the coughing had left him feeling weak. "But I do think you should see to it that your wife gets some rest. You said yourself, she had quite a hectic day yesterday." The doctor in him was talking again, ignoring the impact the previous day had made on him.

Caitlin had to admit that she was tired, and anxious to check in on their new offspring, but she wouldn't leave until Bill had promised to bring her back again the next day. She took hold of Sam's hand again, patting it in a matronly fashion.

"You take care of yourself, now, David Beckett, do you hear?"

"Yes, ma'am." Replied Sam meekly. He raised her hand to his lips and kissed it gallantly. "You too." He ordered.

There had been a lighter spring in his step when Al emerged from the Imaging Chamber this time. His face looked less haggard. He answered Dr Beeks' questioning look with a nod and an enigmatic smile, as he wiped something sticky from his fingers with a large handkerchief.

It was enough. She was satisfied.

Not just about Dr Beckett's welfare, but to some extent that of Admiral Calavicci as well. He steadfastly refused to discuss his feelings with her, but that didn't mean she was ignorant of them. Now that just left one main concern, their 'prisoner', David Beckett. It was clear that although the main crisis had been averted, he was not about to go home. Ziggy stated categorically that Sam had to remain to present his testimony at the trial. Initially, Verbena would not have worried about the unprecedented length of this visitor's stay. With some it would have been a problem. Some had to be kept more or less permanently sedated, unable to cope with any aspect of the situation. David, however, had taken it all in his stride. But then they had become too relaxed, had got careless, and it had all gone horribly wrong. The consequences had been most serious for Sam, of course, but she was not prepared to dismiss the effect it was having on David. He was consumed by guilt and he needed help. He needed to talk to Al. He needed forgiveness.

Dr Beckett would forgive, even though David had almost cost him his life.

She was sure of that.

But Al refused to tell him what had happened. Not now, nor ever. He maintained that Sam had more than enough to contend with and didn't need the added strain of knowing how easily Ziggy could be taken out of the equation. She had to admit how devastating that knowledge could be. How the dread of a repeat performance could destroy what little stability he had. On balance, the Project Director was probably right. Sometimes ignorance could be bliss.

That still left David.

He had been full of contrition. He'd voluntarily told Gushie exactly how he'd managed to hack into Ziggy, and suggested ways to program in greater safeguards for the future. He'd been very helpful. Both Gushie and Tina had explained as much to Al at some length, but he had been in no mood to listen. He remained angry and intractable.

Dr Beeks tried repeatedly to get the Admiral to talk to David, but he made one excuse after another. None of them were convincing.

She knew why Al couldn't face David.

He may have been genuinely angry with the young man at first, and justifiably so. He was rightly worried about Dr Beckett and the danger he'd been placed in. That was natural, perfectly understandable. But by now he should have come to terms with all that, been able to continue with professional detachment.

The real reason he couldn't let go of his anger was that deep down he had long since stopped blaming David for the crisis. Al had been the one to break the rules. It had been his carelessness that had introduced David to the handlink, his decision to let David hear Ziggy speak. His authorization had given David access to a computer.

But if he forgave David, he'd be left unable to forgive himself.

It was easier to direct the anger and the blame outward. Then it was possible to bear; just.

Such was Dr Beeks professional diagnosis, and it wasn't far from the truth. It was also her considered opinion that it was high time things got back on track. For both their sakes she had to get the two men talking. Now, his present demeanor suggested that the Admiral might at last be responsive. She decided it was time to get tough.

"Admiral…" she began.

"Here we go again," sighed Al, "Same old tune."

"Not this time. With respect, Admiral, this has gone on long enough. If Muhammad won't go to the mountain, I shall bring the mountain to Muhammad. I shall break the habit of a lifetime and let David out of the Waiting Room. After all, Ziggy assures me that there is no danger of Dr Beckett Leaping in the near future, so there is no risk involved."

Al's expression could have curdled milk, but he saw that she meant business, and would not be fobbed off with any more excuses.

'Might as well get it over with.' He thought. He squared his shoulders and approached the Waiting Room with the same enthusiasm that he usually reserved for divorce hearings.

Dr Beeks had calculated correctly. When she looked into the Waiting Room some considerable time later, Admiral Calavicci was still there, playing poker and swapping anecdotes with David like they were lifelong buddies. She had never before seen Al so relaxed in this environment. She had gambled that David's uncanny similarities with Dr Beckett would mean that he should be the one person to find just the right thing to say to get through to Al.

She had toyed with the idea of spying from the observation booth to find out how he did it, but the Project Director could have been aware of her, and that would have been too inhibiting. She may never know how he achieved it, but she was grateful to the visitor. Admiral Albert Calavicci may be brash and uncompromising, sometimes even a downright pain in the neck, but she had a profound respect for the man, and the way he coped with the near-impossible lifestyle that Dr Beckett's Leaps imposed upon him. She was glad to see him back to his old self. For his part, David too had regained his equilibrium. She didn't think there would be any lasting damage to his psyche. Content, she made her excuses and left – with a parting look of utter disbelief at the way the Admiral was playing with a hand like THAT!

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