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Operating at a level of precision and expertise rarely seen
outside of large city hospitals the usually reliable sensors concealed within
the tables internal workings are abandoned for the more sophisticated
electrocardiography machine and sphygmomanometer. A measure that hasnít been
necessary for some time, six months at least, I realise. Not since Sam leaped
into the retired Louisiana lawyer and the poor man had gone in the cardiac
arrest whilst he was with us.
I help where I can but it quickly becomes evident that I
need to stand out of the way so as not to impede the movement of others as Kate
and her small team work to lower our visitorís blood pressure and heart rate.
Cutting away Samís body suit to expose his chest and to apply resuscitation
should it be required, electrodes and leads are attached at the necessary
points on his body and over the course of untold minutes the crisis is averted.
Judging from the expression on Kateís face and the ECG
display the situation was now under control. Our guestís heart rate is still a
little irregular, but nowhere near as concerning as it had been. I can see her
talking to him and can just make out his murmured replies. The tension in my
own body receding to some extent and for the first time since the emergency had
begun I breathe a sigh of relief. The fact that he has remained conscious and
able to respond throughout is a very good sign.
It becomes obvious moments later however, that Kate isnít
the only person speaking to him.
Samís voice is weak, yet still distinctive amongst the
sounds already filling the space. As is the affection contained in the single
I recall Al had mentioned something about the imagining
chamber and I move forward to get a better view, my eyes scanning the room in
search of the man most associated with the name. There is no sign of the
Projects only remaining director, but I know better than to discount his
ďDo you remember us?Ē
Seconds that may have been as long as full minutes pass. The
constant sound of the ECG and the low hum of conversation providing a cover for
the silent exchange, until I see the edge of Samís lips curve into a soft
There is moisture gathering at the corner of his eyes and I
watch as they flutter closed, the build-up of emotion spilling down his cheeks
unchecked. Apparently content with the answer he has received from our unseen
interloper he turns his attention to those around him. A sense of peace
settling over him, the realisation of which is nothing short of miraculous. I
feel as if I have just witnessed the shifting of a great weight from his
shoulders, or perhaps the confirmation of a long held promise.† I am not sure; I only know that I have been
made privy to something incredibly intimate. My own eyes mist up as I continue
to regard him, his handsome face showing none of their earlier signs of stress
or pain and my heart skip a hopeful beat. I am very aware that I am only
hearing half of a conversation, but his question had been so similar to the one
he had asked Al and the reminder of it brings a dozen others to mind. Could
this really be our Sam? Had he finally come home?
I look up again, searching for signs of life in the
direction he had been watching. There is no one there of course. For all
intents and purposes he had been talking to himself, except something tells me
that is not the case.
Honestly, I donít know if this is Sam or not, but if anyone
will, it would be Al.
Catching Kateís eyes I indicate towards the wall at the far
end of the room and slip away.
My exit is barely complete and the wall sealing the waiting
room from the rest of the complex is no sooner closed behind me when I catch
sight of Donna Elesee headed towards me. One of her many shawls drawn
protectively around her narrow frame, her fingers clasped tightly at the edges
and the soft glow of her wrist link flickering beneath. I donít know what she
has heard or if she has simply come to see Sam. Not being in contact or even
having his body here for the last many weeks has been difficult for her and it
is perfectly understandable for her to want to see her husband. Even if the man
in the waiting room hadnít been the one she married for a very long time.
I offer her a friendly smile and move to meet her half
way.† ďHello, thereís been quite a bit of
I try to keep my tone light and positive to counter her more
serious expression though it is clear I have my work cut out for me.
ďIs he back, Verbena?Ē
Her eyes are bright, fear of yet another disappointment
barely contained under a carefully constructed faÁade. My heart clenches in
sympathy, but I keep my own optimism in check. There was no point getting ahead
of myself. I still need to talk to Al to confirm the identity of our latest
guest, but as Samís wife she has a right to know about the transformation that
had occurred since we last saw him. Whatever Al tells me I know she will want
to see him, and it is best I decide, to prepare her first.
Nodding, I take hold of her arm and turn her gently in the
opposite direction. After everything she has been through she doesnít need to
see what is going on in the waiting room just now. It would unsettle anyone.
ďI heard the medical team had been brought in, and that
there was a problem with the visitorís heart,Ē she says.
Donnaís steps slow, drawing me to a halt beside her. There
is no point denying it. Ziggy would have informed her
the moment our visitor arrived and the Projects grapevine would have supplied
the rest of the information, making up what had not been included in the original
transmission and spreading it across the remainder of the facility in a matter
ďYes, but itís all under control now,Ē I explain. ďWe should
talk though. How about we have some tea in my office?Ē
Undoubtedly distracted she doesnít respond immediately and
instead glances back in the direction of the waiting room, trying to decide I
imagine, if she will come with me or not. Her brief seconds of indecision
working in my favour as it turns out when Al suddenly appears at the other end
of the corridor. Looking far too startled for my liking, but giving nothing
away as he raises a finger to his lips to stop me announcing his presence and
then backs away without saying a word.
Itís very strange, even by Alís standards. He and Donna have
never been what I would call close. Still, I have never known him to purposely
avoid her before, especially when it came to Sam or dealing with one of his
leaps. There was clearly something going on. Iím just not sure what at this
point. The sooner I find out, the sooner I will know how to help.
I note the careful disengagement as Donnaís arm slips from
my loose grasp at the same time Al appears and subsequently disappears. Turning
to regard her I watch as she takes a step towards where her husbandís body is
housed, her gaze still fixed in that direction.
To be honest I am a little confused. I am not used to my
friends behaving in such peculiar ways or feeling as if I only have half the
story to work with and it takes me a moment to catch up. Al has always been
difficult to pin down. Some days his priorities are clear, he loves and cares
for Sam as would be expected given their long friendship and current
predicament while on others he is less secure, constantly second guessing
himself and the decisions he makes. I have often thought he would be a perfect
candidate for post-traumatic stress disorder, but he has never given me the
time, let alone his permission to properly diagnose him.
I glance once more at the empty corridor and then back
towards the waiting room where Donna is standing. For the time being at least
Al would have to remain the enigma he has always been. In all good conscious I
know I canít let Donna see Sam before I talk to her and the realisation that
she must be my primary concern in all of this is enough for me to gather my wits.
ďI have camomile,Ē I inform her, hoping the lure of a good
nightís rest might make the decision for her.†
Of course I generally keep a wide selection of teas and sleeping
draughts, but some varieties are more enticing than others.
Whatever the outcome of tonight, it promises to be a long
one for all concerned and I know sleep doesnít come easily to her. I also know
she prefers natural remedies to prescriptions ones and that I have never been
able to persuade her to accept something stronger than a cup of tea to help her
deal with Samís ongoing absence. It is not surprising. Her husband hasnít been
home in almost two years and then it was only for a few hours. Before that it
had been a little over three years. Under the circumstance I donít imagine I
would sleep very well either.
Almost shyly she turns back to face me. ďOkay,Ē she says.
Itís plaintive, almost as if the fear was getting the better of her but she
wasnít ready to admit it just yet.
I am relieved, not because she is obviously willing to talk
to me, but because I know itís better if she has the information she deserves.
ďCome on then.Ē
The remainder of the short trip is conducted in silence, as
is the tea making ceremony that usually precedes one of our discussions.
Settling in a respective chairs I let her raise the mug I have given her a
couple of times to her lips before setting my own aside. Not at all surprised
that it is Donna who starts the conversation.
ďHas an identity been established?Ē she inquires.
I shake my head. ďAl is still working on it.Ē I try to sound
casual, reminding myself that until he tells me otherwise this was just another
leap. If the man in the waiting room turns out to be Sam then I will deal with
any questions she has about why I didnít tell her earlier when the need arises.
My response is accepted with a slight incline of her head.
Sometimes it took hours before we knew who we were dealing with and Donna like
the rest of us understood that.
ďIs something wrong with him Verbena? I donít just mean with
his heart, is there something else?Ē
Despite the slight tremor I detect as she balances her tea
in one hand and attempts to draw her shawl more firmly around her shoulders
with the other she appears calm, her voice steady.
ďWhat makes you ask that?Ē
The tears start without fanfare. There is no bid made to
wipe them away or to even acknowledge their existence. A box of Kleenex lays
between us, but she makes no move for it and not wanting to interrupt her I
donít offer them to dry her eyes. For long minutes I wait and eventually she
ďBecause heís never been missing before and itís been so
long. Six weeks Verbena. God only knows where he has been all this time and
what heís been through.Ē
Her voice is less steady now and I lean forward a little,
choosing my words carefully. Most of what I am about to say she already knows
but it is important I believe to set the ground work for what I am guessing she
ďYou know that ever since Sam leaped the first time weíve
been taking care of his needs. When heís on a leap the visitor is generally
mobile and that helps with muscle tone and circulation. He is also fed and
showered depending on how long our guest stays. Sample taking, and testing
along with hair cutting and shaving usually occurred during the in-between times.Ē
Donna nods and reaches at last for Kleenex to wipe her eyes.
Itís the times between Samís leaps that she avoids and I
canít say I blame her. Being present when a visitor is alert and communicating
is very different to dealing with the cold reality of her situation when her
husband is little more than a shell, artificially sustained because he is not
capable of caring for himself.† Giving
her another moment or two to refocus, I watch as she tucks the now damp tissue
through the band circling her wrist and I go on.
ďFor the last few years Sam has appeared mostly unchanged,
even the signs of aging that would have normally occurred over the same period
seem to have been delayed for some reasons. There have been discussions, but
none of us really know why he hasnít been getting any older.Ē
I let my words trail off, watching as she absorbs what I
have said until a tiny spark of recognition appears in her eyes.†
ďHeís aged?Ē she asks, incredulous.† One of her small hands moving to her chest to
rest over her heart. ďIs that what you wanted to talk to me about, that heís
finally started to look his age?Ē
ďYes,Ē I reply, more than a little taken back by her
ďOh thank God, I thought it was something else. I donít know
what exactly, I was just afraid there was something terribly wrong with him.Ē
Her entire posture changes as she speaks, her shoulders
relaxing and her expression becoming less strained. Itís a welcome sight, but
one I had not expected to see. The tears start again, but this time they are
obviously shed in relief. I want to explain in more detail, help her understand
that Samís persona hadnít just caught up the years he had been leaping; he had
in fact aged by at least twice that length of time, but Donna it seems has
ďCan you show me?Ē she says, setting her tea down on the
small table beside her and gesturing towards the monitor on my desk as she
There are close circuit cameras throughout the Project,
including the waiting room and imaging chamber. Our security team takes care of
most things but there are monitors set up for each head of department in their
officers to keep track of Samís whereabouts. None have sound but all allow
observation without disturbance. Not to mention reassurance when one of us is
not able to be present.
While I would prefer she waited, it is clear Donna isnít put
off by what she has learnt.† She is bound
to become suspicious if I refuse her and it is better I decide, that if she
wants to see Sam, that I am with her, at least this first time. †
ďOkay,Ē I return, rising myself and stepping around my chair
to take up my place on the other side of the desk.
I had intended to keep working before the alarm to announce
Samís return had sounded. There are still unsaved notes on my computer and I
take care of those before I switch on the monitor and turn it so that Donna can
see also. She has dried her eyes again and has been smiling at me as I work.
Excited but a little anxious I imagine. She is not the only one of course and I
take a moment as the monitor warms up to purposely calm myself, knowing that
whatever she makes of all of this she will need my support.
Even with both of us as ready as possible and my best
intention firmly in place some things just donít work out the way you plan. The
overhead light is reflecting on the screen; causing havoc with the picture and
it is necessary for me to adjust the position a couple of times before we can
both make out what is going on in the waiting room.
At first glance everything appears much as it had a short
time ago, Kate is still there, as are a number of her staff although they seem
more occupied with the equipment than the man they have been treating. The
reason why becomes plain when I note the familiar sight of Alís brightly
coloured jacket amongst those gathered around the table in the middle of the
room.† The only explanation I can think
of is that he must have gone back in after I had seen him in the corridor. It
still donít understand why he didnít want to see Donna, but I will have to add
that question to the growing list of others I have for when I see him next. His
presence makes it is impossible to see Sam with him standing in the way though
and I switch camera angles to get a better view.
Itís an improvement of sorts and I look over at the women
hoping for a glimpse of her husband as we perch together on the corner of my
desk. Her arms are once again folded protectively across her chest, her hands
twisting the tassels on her shawl in anticipation. I reach out briefly,
stroking her long hair, grateful I am here with her before I look back at the
Apprehension steadily growing inside of me as the scene
before us develops into something completely unexpected.
The others have moved away now and Al is bending over our
guest, the other manís arms extended to embrace him. I canít hear what they are
saying but you would have to be blind not to see the love in Samís eyes as his
tapered fingers caress Alís face or the kiss he presses to his lips when he
pulls him closer.
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