Al chewed his cigar idly as he rounded the hall and was met by Dr. Verbeena Beeks. “Admiral” she silkily said, matching his pace as she joined him down the hall. Verbeena held her clipboard close to her chest, and as much as Al loathed psychology as a whole, he had to admire her tenacity since joining the project.
That is, of course, when is wasn’t annoying the living Hell out of him. Like tonight.
“I know what you’re going to say, Beeks, but I have a lot to do tonight.” Al made no eye contact, a tactic that still lingered from his days as an alcoholic. It always seemed far easier to hold your position if you didn’t look someone in the eye. Especially if the eyes belonged to a lady. “These end of week events have proven extremely important to morale around here,” she countered, “and having your support is crucial Admiral. These people live here, and maintaining a healthy balance to the stress is essential.” She stopped at the entrance to the Control Room, placing a hand on Al’s shoulder. “Even for you.” Al stopped, looking up at her but saying nothing as the Control Room door opened and Gooshie excitedly approached.
“Have you heard?” he exclaimed, “Janna Irons is supposed to be coming to the social tonight.” Al immediately looked to Verbeena for explanation, “How in the Hell did she get clearance?” he demanded. His glance swayed from one to the other until Dr. Alessi spoke up from behind Ziggy’s control panel. “I invited her.” she said simply, not taking her focus from the panel. Al sidestepped Gooshie to step into the Control Room, leaving the others in the hall. As he looked at Donna for further information, she sighed softly and replied, “Let me tell you about the very rich.” Al chuckled, “Are they different from you and I?”
Donna stopped keying and looked at him, “When they control the foremost processing technology in the world,” she began, “when even the government we answer to kisses their ass and they might be the only person who can bring my husband home.” Donna licked her lips, returning her focus to Ziggy. “Yeah.” she concluded sarcastically, “They are different than you and I.” Al took a step closer to her, “You don’t actually believe she’s the last chance. You can’t. We just got Sammie Jo’s notes and..” Donna cut him off, “And he’s still out there. I’m tired Al. I’m tired of waiting. I’m tired of fighting everyday just to be here.”
“She wants to talk.” Donna said, wiping her eyes and turning away, “We should listen.” Al blinked several times. He had always considered this place his sanctuary from all the politicking and the compromise. He did not enjoy the idea of that element being invited in. Moments like this made Al want Sam home more than ever. They also made Al furious at Sam for leaping the way he had. Al tapped Donna’s hand but said nothing, turning to walk out. He rejoined Verbeena and Gooshie, who was babbling about how exciting it would be to chat with Irons.
“Unfortunately, I have to work tonight.” Gooshie admitted bemusedly, “Unless you’ll be in Control Admiral?” Gooshie looked hopefully at Al, who as focused on his own thoughts. “I’m going to the social.” Al mumbled, and Verbeena lit up as he walked off on his own toward his office.
Al sat in his office in the dark, which was also a tradition that began when he was drinking. He would sit in his office at Project Starbright, sipping whatever bottle was in his desk at the time and thinking. Trudy, Lisa, and his father were all players in his late night lingerings, but no one as much as Beth. Now he sat in his leather chair, sharing the dark with Ziggy. When he thought of the irony of this, he chuckled. “Admiral?” Ziggy inquired from her panel. “Yes Ziggy?”
“Why do you sit here in the dark?” Ziggy implored curiously. Al chuckled again, “Because I need a drink.” he commented dryly. There was a moment of silence before Ziggy replied, “Given that the popular colloquialism for a needed drink is liquor, I find that highly unlikely as you joined Alcoholics Anonymous at the urging of Dr. Sam Beckett in 1986, and I know you haven’t had a drink since 1995.” Al sighed. Sometimes it can be tiring to have a companion that knows everything. “Unless of course, Admiral, you were referring to water. There is a water cooler on corridor 176B.”
Al stood, stretching. “Thank You Ziggy.” Al stepped around his desk as Ziggy commented. “That doesn’t explain however why you were chuckling when you are usually sitting here thinking of your first wife. Given the feelings surrounding that period are perceived as depressing and concern your romantic derailing, psychologically speaking, why would you chuckle?” Al rubbed his face slowly, “Research alcoholism.” he replied.
As Al steeped to the door, Ziggy returned. “So the acknowledgement of painful memories directly correlates to an alcoholic’s pursuit of an inebriated state?” Al shrugged, “Sometimes.” Ziggy continued, “Admiral, do you find in your personal experience…” Al had no intentions of talking about his feelings with anyone, hybrid or no. He approached the door, cutting Ziggy off, “Ziggy…” he sighed.
“Yes Admiral.” Ziggy said brightly, abandoning the previous line of thought. “How is Sam doing?” Al asked as the door opened. “Dr. Beckett is still sleeping in the year 1972.” Ziggy calmly replied. Al sighed as he stepped out and headed for the cafeteria.
The cafeteria looked like a junior prom, and the collection of young scientists were huddled around the punch bowl and plainly separated from the older members of the project. Al walked in and Verbeena made her way over. “Admiral” she brightly called, “Can I get you some punch?” Al looked around at the small clusters of people and a queer looked washed over him. “When does this thing kick off?” he asked. Verbeena looked around undaunted. “Well, usually there’s some music, and those boys do a very lively sort of game.” Al started laughing, “They play Dungeons and Dragons at your party?” Verbeena huffed, “They‘re quantum physicists, Admiral.”
Al paced about when he saw her enter the room. The rest of the room however, went wild. Janna Irons seemed modest enough - a simple skirt and vest with chestnut hair she swept into a loose bun. Al immediately grimaced. She looks too damn much like Beth, he thought as he watched her. Everyone seemed to be watching her as she meekly wandered to the table, watching the boys play cards. Over at the punch bowl, several young physicists stood chatting. “That’s it.” one announced, “I‘m going over there.”
The others just laughed. “Yeah, why don’t you do that.” another heckled, “Go ask her if she wants to take a look at your doctorate.” The first adjusted his coat, “Well, why not? She’s the nerdy type.” This was met with even more laughter. “She’s a billionaire, and a genius. You know what that means?” the second taunted. The first turned back to the punchbowl, blushing. “Oh my god, you guys, his resume is in here!” The second snatched the envelope from his coat pocket, where it was quickly passed around the group.
Oblivious to all of this, Janna stood silently observing the group. As she swept her bangs from her face her glasses fell, and were caught by Al as he leaned in. He straightened, handing them to her as she smiled bashfully. “Thanks,” she said, “so clumsy.” As she adjusted her glasses she gave a glance around the room, “Average Friday night among rocket scientists, eh?” Al scoffed, “I wouldn’t know.” From across the room, the second physicist groaned loudly. “Goddamn it.” he moaned, “Calavicci‘s got her.” The other scientists looked on forlorn as she chatted with Al. “Damn he works fast.”
“Your cafeteria needs a remodel.” Janna said absentmindedly. Al looked around, not really noticing before. “So, how long do you think I have to hang out?” she asked, still not looking at him, “For social purposes.” It had never occurred to Al that she might have been going through the motions of being social. He looked at her, realizing that the territorial image of her that IronWorks is so fond on displaying might not be entirely accurate. Janna turned to him suddenly, “Oh, I’m sorry. That’s not what I meant.” she stumbled, “It‘s just, there‘s going to be a shower tonight and its so secluded out here.”
Her hair was in her face again, and she trailed away and began playing with her hands. “Do you like stargazing?” Al laughed, “I was an astronaut. You could say that.” He rested a hand on her shoulder to calm her, and Janna brushed her hair from her face again. “Oh, I know you were.” she replied, looking at her hands, “You were in the crew of Apollo 8.” Al’s hand slipped down from her shoulder and extended to shake her hand. “I’m Al Calavicci.” he said, “lets ditch the dweebs and watch some stars fall.”