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Gone

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People always leave, one way or another. Al had learned that lesson time and again, yet somehow each loss came as its own shock—a bolt from the blue. His mother abandoned her family without a backwards glance. Then his father got sick. He said Al’s prayers could keep him safe, but they did nothing. No one was listening. No one cared. He had himself, and his sister, and nothing more. But then came those people who stole her away, claiming they knew best. They did nothing to help her. They neglected her. They got her dead.

After years, Al met Lisa. Life was taking a turn, or so he thought. But it life had other plans. A car crash; that’s all it took to take her away.

When he met Beth, Al couldn’t help but feel a rush of hope. It will be different this time, he thought. Until the war. People always talked about going through hell and back again, but even after everything, Al never understood how true that could be until Vietnam. Those years of captivity, locked up in a cage, were darker than any loss he’d faced. They were lonely, forsaken… broken. Beth was his only light. He held her in his mind with every fabric of his being, as if sanity—as if life—depended on it. And it did.

When he made it home at last, he did it for her. Only to find that she had moved on to someone new. In a single breath he lost both her… and himself.

There was no point believing in anything after that. And even if there was, he had no belief left to give. Then came project Starbright, and that one night. Drinks, a dime, a vending machine… and then a friend. Sam believed in him… believed for him, and with that life became less dark.

When Sam embarked on Project Quantum Leap, Al was the first person he brought along. They would spend hours going over plans, fighting for funding and dreaming about time… listening to Elvis tunes in a half-built imaging chamber, designing a talkative supercomputer, synching their very neurons together. If there was anyone Al knew would stick around, it was Sam.

After the government threatened to pull funding, Sam was in a panic—but Al assured him he’d sort it out. And luckily, proudly, he did. Driving home that quiet evening, tapping his fingers on the dashboard of his bright red car, he hummed to himself. Sam would be over the moon when he found out. Then came the girl, the radio beeping on, Gooshie’s voice filling the car.

“He’s leaping.” No goodbye. “We’re not ready!” No second thought. “Tell Sam that!”“Put him on!” What if something goes wrong? “I can’t, he’s in the accelerator!” Not him, too. Please not him.

Al slammed his foot down, car zooming towards the base as fast as he could make it, as a blinding light zipped from headquarters over the desert, shaking the ground like a bomb.

When he pulled open the door to the control room, Gooshie turned around, stunned. Al’s voice broke the silence. “Where is he?”

“…Gone.”