I fell in love with you the day I first met you. Part of me regrets that I never told you that. Another wonders how much it would have even mattered. Being here now seemed pointless. I asked myself a thousand times on the plane ride here what I was even doing. Al called me about three days ago, asking a favor of me. Now here I was on a plane bent for New Mexico. My heart beat rapidly in anticipation although I knew I wouldn't see you there. It was silly really. Al had told me everything. Not on the phone of course. He'd come to visit me from time to time like you used to but it's been fifteen years since you last paid me a visit. I heard you don't remember me. Just as well. I never meant that much to you anyway. The plane landed and after I got my bags there was Al standing there smoking a cigar. Some things never change.
"Tessa! I'm glad you could make it," Al threw his arms around me smiling.
I squeezed him as tight as I could, "Al, it's good to see you."
He meant my dad; he and my dad had been in Vietnam together. My dad came home but Al didn't. At least not right away.
I tried to smile, "he's- well honestly, he's been better."
Al said nothing. He had heard by now that my father was dying of cancer. I knew that the two of them tried to keep correspondence even if it was against the rules strictly speaking. However, no one thought, going in, that this would go on as long as it did. He took me to the project in a metallic car with buttons on the dashboard that looked like something out of Star Trek. Not the Next Generation with Patrick Stewart but the original with all the gaudy flashing lights. It was awful. He drove like a maniac and I held on for dear life as I tried to catch a glance at the speedometer.
"I don't usually drive like this. I only figured that since you're here, if someone tries to pull us over you can flash that fancy badge of yours. Say we're on official police business," Al said as he turned his head for a split second to wink at me.
"Oh no, Al, don't think I'm going to cover your ass. I've done that plenty in the past."
Al laughed his voice was coarse from years of smoking. His smile disappeared, "I'm afraid I'm going to ask you to save my ass one last time."
"Is that all?" I joked.
"Tessa, this is serious. It's Sam. We haven't been able to find him. Gushie has been trying everything but Ziggy keeps insisting that she can't establish a lock."
I looked out the window. There was nothing but desert everywhere. Off in the distance I could see the silhouette of mountains but they were so faint I could have imagined them. I didn't know what to say. Instead of trying to come up with something to say I checked my reflection in the mirror. I looked so much older than I'd remembered. My laugh lines were always present now and I was reminded of the time when I used to smile. Now I didn't have anything in the world to smile about. Sam was gone. What was bringing me here going to do? I'm just an Irish cop from Chicago but Al said that I held the key. Maybe I was his last hope. If that was the case then he must have been desperate.
"How's Dona doing?" I asked not knowing why.
Al gave me a look, "are you serious?"
"Oh sure she's fine. Just dandy," his voice dripping with sarcasm.
We pulled up to the base and Al escorted me inside. Project personnel passed us left and right. They were rushing off to do something, I couldn't imagine what. What could they possibly be doing if Sam was gone? He led me all the way into the control room where Gushie was frantically smacking away at the control board. The doors shut and I looked around the vast space with the rainbow colored control panel and the giant blue sphere that was Ziggy's consciousness. More than ever I felt that I had made the wrong decision coming here.
"Oh, you must be Captain McDowall! I'm Gushie, well that's what everyone calls me," his hands shaking wildly as he spoke.
I nodded at him giving him a halfhearted smile. Al pointed over to a small metallic door and told me it lead to the imaging chamber. That's where he wanted me to go. The theory being that the reason Al couldn't establish a lock with Sam is because Sam didn't recognize him. Not even a little part of him as in the first leap. Al had worked out that maybe I, a childhood friend, would be more easily recognizable. He felt I was safer than a relative too. Sam wouldn't want to get his family involved. They wouldn't understand his distance the way I had. Not to say that I was completely okay with it either. As far as Thelma knew Sam was safe, just busy. It wouldn't be the first time he'd neglected to call for ten years. He was a good man but a terrible son. Maybe he wasn't even a good friend, I thought as I looked at Al. He seemed tired. I wasn't sure I had ever seen him so rundown. Not since he'd come back from Vietnam and found out Beth had remar-. No she hadn't. She waited for him. They had four daughters. Didn't they?
"Go ahead and try it," Al gave me a soft push towards the door.
More than anything, I was afraid it would work and I'd have to see Sam again. What would I say? That is if he even remembered me. Maybe it would be better that way or maybe it would be worse. I didn't even know what I wanted to happen. Al yelled outside the door that they were searching for Sam. Different times and places whirled around me and I heard many voices. There! I saw Sam. I concentrated hard on his face and before long the room had stopped spinning and I was in a green field. It looked like Ireland. There were sheep and there was Sam. As a shepherd. He waved at me as he walked over. My heart plummeting into my stomach as he was near enough that, had I not been a hologram, I could have reached out to touch him.
"Hello, Sam," I said weakly.
He turned his head to the side perplexed. It took him a moment but I saw in his eyes that he had remembered, "T-Tessa?"