Actions

Work Header

Al

Work Text:

June 15, 1995

I miss my friend.

That sounds kinda weird, considering I see more of him now than I ever used to before – before he Leaped. All day, every day, or almost. Maybe it just seems that way, I don't know. But it's not the same. He's not the same. Literally. He's not the same person. Fumbling, hesitant, uncertain – dependent; the Sam Beckett I used to know wasn't any of those things. A little naïve, maybe – he was shy as a kid, that leaves scars – but the Sam Beckett I knew, the Nobel Prize winning genius, he was nobody's fool. He was tough, determined, confident ... over-confident, you might even say, if it weren't for the fact that he was always proved right. All but that last time.

There are times when I sit and damn the quirk of fate that took him away. Only it's him I'm cursing. Sam himself. His courage, his impetuousness. He took himself away, no-one else. And now, when I step into the Imaging Chamber and see what Sam Beckett has become, the shadow of his former, his real self, sometimes I feel this rage burning in my gut and it's all I can do to keep it under control. It boils up inside of me until I feel like it's going to overflow, just come spilling out, if I don't give it some release ... and then he looks at me with those scared, bewildered eyes, like a hurt kid, and all my anger seems to drain away. Whatever he did, he's paying the price. Maybe, consciously he doesn't realise how much he's really lost – but in his heart he knows. I know.

In the orphanage when I was growing up there was a girl called Daisy, not much older than me; a pretty kid, who grew up beautiful. There was talk of her becoming a model – the sisters didn't exactly approve, but they didn't exactly say no, either. But it wouldn't have made any difference if they had, because one day, three of the other girls cornered her in the kitchen. Two of them held her down, while the third slashed her face with a steak knife. I remember that even now, nearly fifty years later: the ruin, the waste, the unfathomable pity of it. I remember it all over again every time I look at Sam and see the eyes that had burned with intelligence so fierce it could pierce right through you turned to childlike, helpless confusion.

What's hardest for me to take is his fatalism, if that's what you call it. His willingness to accept this destiny he's been handed, almost without argument or question. That, above all, is not Sam Beckett – the Sam Beckett who got the Project off the ground in the first place just out of sheer bloody-mindedness, the Sam Beckett who I sometimes suspect only stepped into the Accelerator to prove to the sceptics in Washington how wrong they were. That stubborn streak hardly ever shows now. God, I never thought I'd miss it. Sam and I locked horns plenty of times in the past. Used to be, I thought I'd live for the day when he would just once take my advice without argument.

Now he hangs on my every word as though it were gospel, clings to me like I was some kind of lifeline. Which I am, I guess. He has such faith in me. It's scary. It never seems to occur to him that I could have anything less than his best interests at heart, that I could be wrong, that I might not be all-knowing, all powerful –

That I could be lying to him.

That neither of us may be who I tell him we are.

All he knows about me, about us, is what I've told him. God knows, that's not much. He has no memory of our years working side by side, our friendship, our arguments, what we made together, what we built, our triumphs or our failures. He thinks of me as his friend. He has to. After all, what other choice does he have? I'm the only thing he's got, all he can rely on, his only constant. But the whole thing's built on sand, there's no foundation. And sometimes his trust, his dependency, stifles me. Some days I can hardly wait for the Chamber door to close behind me so that I can break down and cry, scream, throw things – anything. But I don't do it. I can't. The last thing Sam needs is to see me lose control. To see his one link to the life he's lost snap.

I can't let the kid down; it would be like kicking a puppy.

(Kid. There it is, that word again. See, that's what he's become to me. The finest scientific mind of the twentieth century, reduced to that.)

So I dress up for him, and I tell him wild stories, and I do all I can to keep him from suspecting that everything back home might not be just fine and dandy. Things are tough enough on him, he has his own job to do. He doesn't need to hear me tell him that, for us too, every day's a struggle. That we may never be able to bring him home. That even with full committee backing, even working flat out, stretched to our limits and beyond, we're nonetheless going noplace, and getting there fast. If he knew that, I think he might just give up. And he can't give up, he's got to keep on going. He has to, so I have to. I don't know how well I succeed, whether I actually fool him at all, or whether he's just humouring me, believing because he wants to believe, daren't consider the alternatives – but it's all that I can do. And I'll keep on doing it, just as long as I can.

For my friend.

Even if he did bring this whole problem down on himself. I tell myself that, try to get mad at him, if only because I figure that anger's more constructive than pity. It doesn't help.

Oh, sure, there's a lot of things I'd like to say to him – like, what the hell did you think you were doing, Beckett? But even if I asked, he wouldn't be able to tell me. Gushie doesn't know, no-one does: not Donna, not Verbeena. He didn't tell anyone what he was planning, he didn't leave a note. He just – went. And no-one understands why.

The reason we finally settled on, the only thing we could come up with that made any kind of sense at all, was that he was afraid we'd lose our funding, have to shut down. We had been getting put-up-or-shut-up messages from the higher-ups for a while before ... well, before. But, you know, it wasn't like it was the first time. It was a kind of dance we did, me and the funding committee. After all these years, we each knew the moves down pat. The Project costs too much, they'd say, we need results, we need something to justify the expense; and I'd say, well, sure, I understand that – but look, while we were working on that, we produced this – and this – and this – and oh, lookit here, here are some preliminary specs, wouldn't you just love this, couldn't you use it? And, every time, they'd bite, and I'd tell them, okay, I'm sure we can come to an arrangement ... but meanwhile, we really need our funding continued ...

One step forward, one step back. Cha-cha-cha.

This time was no different. I'd flown out to Washington, taking along a couple of our R&D people, and I'd sold the committee a shiny new doohickey – a datapacking analog, Sam called it, claimed it would enable them to store the entire Library of Congress in a matchbox. ("Uh-huh," I said.) Like most of these things, Sam had flung the program off almost absent-mindedly in a matter of hours rather than days, a by-product of something else he was working on. That's what had kept the Project alive for the past few years; Dr Beckett's doodles, someone called them, and the name stuck. The Leonardo cartoons of quantum physics.

There are fringe benefits to being a genius. Like, it helps you get what you want.

It helps even more if you have an experienced bullshitter – excuse me, negotiator – to act as a go-between. Even geniuses have their weak spots, and Sam's inclined to believe the best of people, even when there's none to be found. My job, as I see it, is to keep him from getting screwed.

Was, back then. Still is, now.

Right from the start we did everything we could think of to raise finances, everything short of holding garage sales and selling our blood, that is. (Although Sam did make semi-regular donations to the national sperm bank – at their request and to his embarrassment. I'll never forget the time he came back from his first session, beet-red and almost crying with laughter. "They give you magazines," he finally told me, when he was intelligible again. I wanted to know, what magazines? He rattled off a list of titles, running from hardcore, down through Penthouse and Playboy, a couple aimed at gay men ... and New Scientist. "I think they put that in just for the computer nerds," Sam decided. But he never would tell me which magazine it was that did the trick for him ...)

Sam. Trust him to turn a visit to the sperm bank into a stand-up comedy routine. He could never take anything too seriously for long. I'd always thought his sense of humour was a by-product of his intelligence, some kind of buffer to keep him from hurting himself too badly. He cared so deeply, about so much ...

So what had been so desperate, scared him so bad that it had driven him into the Accelerator to make that premature Leap? He knew it wasn't ready, knew the inherent dangers. He wasn't insane, or irresponsible, or suicidal. Ziggy knows – s/he must do – but Ziggy, being Ziggy, isn't telling. For a while I wondered, did he fall, or was he pushed? and I found myself eyeing Gushie, as the only almost-witness, with suspicion. When I told Beeks about it (I didn't want to, she could see something was bugging me and she twisted my arm – and I don't mean figuratively, either) she laughed in my face and told me to throw out all my old Agatha Christies. She had a point. I guess I wasn't exactly thinking rationally. Haven't been thinking rationally for a while now. Face it: this is not a rational situation.

The weirdest thing is, every time I step into the Imaging Chamber, it's as though I'd done it all before, everything, the whole damn works. Echoes and memories drift around me, telling me what to say, prompting me what to do ...

And sometimes I find myself wondering: Sam – what have you done?

I'm afraid that he's set wheels in motion that would have been better left still. A wheel is a circle, and a circle ... is never-ending.

Have we been here before?

Gushie said he overheard Sam talking to someone in his office earlier that evening. But there were no calls logged to his phone. No-one left the building. No-one that anybody saw, that is.

Who was it that Sam was speaking to? Did they talk him into taking this crazy Leap?

Who was it who never left that room?

I don't know. But maybe I could guess.

It's lucky I don't have much time now for thinking. I might not like the answers I'd get.

Only today – today's my birthday. A time for reflection, if ever there was one, for sitting back and taking stock. I'm sixty one years old today. Now, that's frightening. The date seems to have slipped 'most everyone's mind this year – hell, even I almost forgot, there's too much else going on to think about – but then something jogged my memory. Now I'm sitting here brooding, remembering this time last year, when nothing would do for Mr Project Director but we had to celebrate, which meant, he said, that I had to have a cake with sixty candles. You know what kind of size we're talking here? So, naturally, there was noplace to bake a thing like that – nothing to bake it in, come to think of it. No problem: Sam went ahead and roped in any and everybody sucker enough to admit to knowing their way around a kitchen, talked them each into baking a regular-size cake, a square one, so we could put them all together, add candles, and the hell with the fire regulations. A pretty good plan, right? Except he forgot to specify what recipe to use. We had cherry cake, we had raisin, we had banana, and coconut, and carrot, we had three different types of chocolate, not including the chocolate chip ... And was he fazed? Not him. He got the cafeteria staff to mix up a big batch of buttercream frosting, coloured it pink and yellow and green and blue, and spent the rest of the day putting together a high-carbohydrate model Ziggy. Which, when he'd finished, he was too proud of to put candles on anyhow.

That was Sam. Resourceful. Ingenious. Pragmatic. Unquashable.

Crazy as a snake.

Is it any wonder that I miss him?

Sixty one. Jesus. Why does it feel so much older than sixty? I thought I was doing pretty good for my age, but then I had all this extra hassle dumped in my lap ... and the Imaging Chamber takes a lot out of me; it wasn't designed for prolonged use. I get these headaches now I never used to, attacks of vertigo, nausea; I get tired, irritable. What I don't get is any time off. We can never predict when Sam's going to Leap, so I have to be on call twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty five days a year ... for the past forty two years, if you look at it that way. I don't know how much longer I can cut it.

Sammy – kid – you'd just better Leap home some day. Make it real soon – for all our sakes. Okay?

Oh – and thanks for the birthday card. I found it on my bulletin board when I logged on this morning. It's nice that somebody remembered.

Sam always did think of everything.

Didn't he?

***