For the forty-third time (he was counting) Sam Beckett forced his wandering mind back to the work in front of him. If he didn't have this report done by tomorrow morning, Weitzman would have his ass. It had only taken him his first two minutes at Starbright to decide the guy was a total jerk -- and he fervently hoped he never had to work on another project with the uptight committee member.
The report wasn't difficult, and it should have been done days ago -- but that was the problem. It was boring, and his mind kept slipping away to work on his project -- the one he was hoping to get someday soon, that is. And he hated having to write reports on his work, having someone to answer to. But for the moment, there was nothing he could do about it.
Sam sighed and switched off the computer for a break, wondering if he was being a "temperamental genius" again. If someone were around, he might have asked, but it was after ten and the building was all but deserted. He liked it that way. It wasn't that he was anti-social, it was just so hard to work with the other scientists. He was too young to be taken seriously with his innovative ideas. They were either jealous of him or just plain thought he was crazy. But to his bosses he was the golden boy. So he put up with it all, counting on that to get him his own project when the time came.
His Mr. Coffee was broken (okay, so he'd thrown it across the room when a nagging formula wouldn't work out right for him -- still didn't make him petulant), so he headed down to the cafeteria in search of some strong brew to help him get through the night.
And stopped abruptly in the doorway.
He'd been so lost in his thoughts, the racket hadn't penetrated until he arrived. The object of his quest -- the coffee machine -- was being systematically demolished by a deranged-looking dark haired man in a stylish black tux.
Sam didn't quite know what to make of the situation, but the unusual distraction was welcome anyway. He cautiously stepped closer, being sure to keep out of range, just in case.
"I, uh...was hoping to get some of that coffee," he offered.
Startled, the man spun around. He paused a beat, then recovered. "It's broke," he said shortly, turning back to his chore.
Sam wondered if that was before or after he'd kicked the front in. "I know how you feel," he began, remembering his own bout with the Mr. Coffee. "But trust me, I know -- it won't help."
"Help what?" the man said crossly.
"Anything." And his eyes widened when the man stopped moving long enough for him to read his I.D. tag. It said Albert Calavicci. He was finally face to face with the Al Calavicci. He couldn't help gaping.
"What are you starin' at?" Al demanded.
"Uh..." Sam stammered, silently cursing himself. Now he was going to get all shy and tongue-tied, and he knew there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it.
"Who are you, anyway?" Al said, leaning close to try and read his I.D. tag. It was then that Sam smelled the liquor on his breath. That and the slight slurring of his voice told the whole story.
"I'm Sam Beckett," he supplied, feeling like a five-year old being chewed out by the principal again, even though he knew he'd done nothing wrong, Calavicci was just drunk and feeling mean. Knowing didn't help how he felt.
Al looked him up and down, something unkind shining in his glassy eyes. "So you're the famous Sam Beckett, God's gift to science. What'dya know."
"So you're the famous Al Calavicci," Sam replied without missing a beat.
For some reason, this struck Calavicci as extremely funny. He started laughing. "Kick in the butt, ain't it?!"
"If you say so."
"Sorry I disappointed you," Al said mildly.
"Who says you did?" Sam asked, wondering where his sudden nerve was coming from.
Al peered at him, probably looking for a smile that would tell him Sam was kidding. There wasn't any. "Yeah, I guess my reputation precedes me."
"Daring test pilot, war hero, astronaut, Romeo...did I leave anything out?"
"Nothing that matters."
Suddenly Sam understood, like a light illuminating the dark room. "I know how it feels to have everyone expecting certain things. And I get lonely sometimes too..." he ventured. Didn't someone once say, nothing ventured nothing gained?
"The golden boy, lonely? I bet there are hordes of genius-groupies, ripe for the pickin's."
"And there must be hordes of hero-groupies, so what are you doing here, alone, beating up a coffee machine?"
Al squinted at him as if he were a million-piece puzzle and he was trying to fit the pieces in without his glasses. "Are you one of the groupies?" he asked finally.
Sam blushed fifteen different shades of red.
"Ah!" Al nodded in apparent understanding.
"I'm not--I didn't--I just came in for some coffee."
"What, they didn't give the golden boy a coffee maker for his office?" Al said skeptically.
"Well, yeah, but I..." Sam glanced at the damaged machine. "I threw it across the room." Again he'd tickled Al's funny bone. He found he liked the sound of the man's laughter, and rallied against the feeling. "But I wasn't drunk at the time," he added defensively. He should have been disappointed in the visage before him, it should have clashed with his expectations. Somehow, it didn't.
"Another image tarnished," Al chuckled.
"And I wish you wouldn't call me that!"
"Golden boy," he spat the word.
"Aren't you?" Al asked, as if genuinely curious.
"I'm a human being, just like you."
Al paused, regarding him through eyes that looked a little clearer. "Yeah, I guess you are," he said softly. He gazed at the broken vending machine momentarily. "Well, my work here is done. C'mon, human being, let's go find us some coffee."
And Sam eagerly followed him out, tail wagging behind him.
If Calavicci had had his way they'd be in a bar but after a token protest, Sam was able to steer him to the all-night diner down the road instead. The man definitely needed some strong coffee. Still, it was exciting to finally meet him, even if the circumstances were less than ideal.
Unfortunately, the spell, if that's what it was, was broken by the change of locales. Now awkward as strangers often are, they traded small talk and insults about Weitzman through their second cups of coffee.
At least Al seemed more sober, and gradually the ice was thawed. "So, how do you know so much about me?" he finally asked Sam.
"I got my physics degree at MIT. You were a legend." You're the reason I signed on with this project. He kept his tongue on that thought and said instead, "I've been wanting to meet you for a long time."
"Was it everything you thought it would be?" Al said in a teasingly lewd tone, and Sam laughed. "I saw your file. I told them, you're crazy if you let him get away. Not that they needed my opinion."
Sam warmed to the words.
"So they still talk about me at MIT, huh? Have they erected that statue yet?"
Sam laughed again. "I think they're waiting for you to come by so they can take a measurement."
"Seven inches," Al replied, with a wicked gleam in his eye that said he probably enjoyed making Sam blush. "Those were good days," he continued, his tone turning nostalgic. He glanced at Sam. "You must've been still in diapers. I'll never forget those long, cold nights..."
"Cramming for an exam by candlelight?" Sam teased.
Al winked at him, twinkle in his eye. "Listening to Be Bop a Lula while I did some extra curricular research with Danessa. She was Lithuanian, this big, blond knock-out from the Chem. lab. She really knew how to keep me warm..."
"Al!" Sam wasn't used to his companion's colorfully bawdy tales, wasn't quite sure how he should respond.
"Don't tell me, you're one of those 'all work, no play' people."
"Well...yeah, I guess so. Right now at least."
"Ah kid, you're missing out on a lot that life has to offer."
"They'll be plenty of time for that, after. My work is very important to me...the most important thing in my life."
"My own project," Sam warmed to the subject. "It deals with...time travel." This was the part where they usually laughed.
Al's eyes widened. "Not too ambitious, are you?"
"It can be done, I know it can," Sam continued in excitement. "This is my theory..." he cast about for a piece of string to use, finally bending down and removing the lace of his sneaker. "Imagine your life as a piece of string. One end represents your birth, the other your death. Ball the string and the pieces touch each other out of sequence. Enabling you to leap from one point to another in your own lifetime." He looked up at Al, waiting with bated breath for the reaction.
"That's a real nice Dick-and-Jane hors d'oeuvre for the idiots with the money, but I need a little more here. Like some meat and potatoes scientific theorem."
Sam decided he'd discovered nirvana. Better than that -- found a kindred spirit. To top it all off, it was the man he'd admired from afar since MIT. "Admittedly, it's a long way off, and will require a lot of preparation." He began scribbling equations down on his napkin while he talked. "First thing I'd need would be a parallel hybrid computer to oversee the experiment and measure the incoming data."
"A parallel hybrid computer??" Al said incredulously.
"That's the easy part," Sam answered, pushing over the napkin. "They're making remarkable advances with artificial intelligence these days, and I could build something three times as good as their best tomorrow." He wasn't bragging, merely stating the facts. He wasn't conceited about being the smartest man in the country, despite what the others thought. It just was. "If I had the funds," he added.
Al whistled low, studying the napkin. "You should concentrate on this computer as your ticket in the door, they'd kill for something like that. Ease the time-travel stuff in sideways, as a package deal."
"I'm no good with this begging-for-funds stuff. I usually either embarrass myself, make an enemy, or else nobody understands what I'm talking about. What I really need is somebody else in the picture. Somebody who understands at least half of what I'm saying, and is good with the political stuff. And believes in what I'm doing." Believes in me, Sam added silently. How he longed for someone just to believe in him. His family loved him, supported him...but they couldn't understand his dreams. They couldn't even understand him, most of the time.
Sam knew the hope showed on his face, but he couldn't control it. "Maybe you could--"
Al held up a hand, cutting him off. "Whoa, slow down there, kid. Not that I wouldn't love to get involved in something this exciting, this innovative. It's the kind of crazy scheme you can really sink your teeth into. But I'm leaving Starbright"
Sam's face fell. "Leaving?!" You can't leave!
Al snorted, some of his earlier bad mood returning. "Have to and can...as in canned. I'm through at Starbright, and probably everywhere else by the time they're done."
"Why?" Sam breathed, feeling all his tenuous plans evaporating into thin air.
"I thought you knew my life story, kid. You must've heard the scuttlebutt. I'm a burned-out old drunk, who's of no use to anybody. You don't want me in your corner."
"Don't say that!" Sam demanded. "It's not true. The wisdom that comes with age is invaluable. The best remedy for burn-out is something new and exciting to work on. And a drinking problem can be overcome."
"It's too late for me, Beckett."
"It's never too late," Sam insisted, thinking fast. "I'll talk to them, tell them to give you another chance. They'll listen to me, I'm the golden boy, remember? Whatever I want, I get."
"You'd do that for me? Why?"
Sam looked down momentarily, hoping he wasn't showing his embarrassment again. "Because I know you have a lot left to offer. And it would be a waste to let you go. They'd be crazy to let you go," he echoed Al's earlier words.
"I don't know what to say," Al mumbled, finally showing some embarrassment of his own. "You sure they'll go for it?"
"Like you said," Sam told him, low, "it's a package deal."
Al stared like he couldn't quite believe what he was hearing. "That's an awful lot of future to risk on someone you just met."
Sam forced himself to meet Al's eyes, letting his feelings show. "I can't do it alone. I need you to help me realize my dream. And I think maybe...maybe you need me to make it too." He held his breath again. He'd put all his cards on the table, was naked with nothing left to lose.
Al remained silent for a few moments that seemed more like hours, just looking at him. Finally, he spoke. "Have you read the newspaper today?" he asked casually.
Sam blinked at the apparent non-sequitur, shaking his head mutely.
"I'm a Gemini," Al explained. "But you probably already knew that. Anyway, today my horoscope said, if I was willing to take a chance, I'd be embarking on a grand adventure."
Sam held his breath one more time. "Have you ever seen Man of La Mancha?"
Al could have responded with the Impossible Dream. Or the obvious insanity of Don Quixote...
Instead, he began quoting in slight paraphrase, "What matter wounds to the body of a knight errant, for each time he falls he shall rise again." He raised his coffee cup, just touching it to the edge of Sam's. "Here's to more misadventures."
Sam shook his head, smiling with the promise of things to come. "Adventures, my friend."
Dawning was just rising when they walked out the front door of the diner. Sam blinked in the morning light, still stunned. It was amazing. A few hours ago they were virtual strangers, united only in their insignificant quest for coffee. Now they were partners.
And the most amazing stuff he knew, was yet to come.
Onward to Glory. . .