Star Light, Star Bright
by Noel Goddard
Original Pub. Date: April 2003
Summary: A look into Sam and Al's first meeting at the Starbright Project.
I stared at the golden liquid in my glass for what seemed like hours before I downed it all in one gulp. It felt like a match sliding all the way down my esophagus. The fire then spread out through my stomach to the rest of my body. Each first drink was always like this. Each first drink was coming earlier and earlier in the day. Sometimes so soon after the last drink of the night that I didn't really have time to notice the difference.
Today, this first drink happened at exactly 9:08 AM. I had staggered into my office at 9:00 AM and was immediately told that I had to meet with the powers that be in exactly one hour for a performance review. Nothing good could come from this. I stared at the glass of scotch for exactly 8 minutes before downing it all at once. Now it was time for seconds.
How did it come to this? How had I gone from American hero to American joke? I had all the excuses in the world. My wife left me. I was suffering from PTSD from my time in a Vietnamese prison camp. I had no meaningful attachments to other people. Yep, I had all of those excuses and none of them meant a damn thing. I was a drunk. Plain and simple. I liked alcohol, and I was tired of the world. Tired of the paperwork. Tired of the bureaucratic bullshit. Tired of the hierarchy of the military. Just plain tired.
There was little doubt in my mind that this so-called performance review was just a semi-public hanging. They would bring up certain indiscretions in both my work and private lives and would quietly offer me retirement. That would get me out of their hair. Make sure that I couldn't embarrass them any more.
Damn. Where had I put that bottle of scotch? I relaxed momentarily as the warm liquid slid down my throat. Screw 'em. They could take this job and shove it. I was a Navy pilot. I was a goddamned astronaut. Now I was a goddamn paper-pusher, and I couldn't take it anymore. Who ever heard of holograms anyway? What the hell do they have to do with stars? Not a damn thing that I could tell from my desk.
Now they’d brought in that Beckett kid to run the show. Between him and Elesee, it had become a damn science think-tank. No self-respecting military man would stay here. Correction - no self-respecting military man would have to stay here because he would have a real command.
With that and another hit of scotch, I reached my decision. If they wanted me out, I'd give them what they wanted. I'd leave on my terms. Screw 'em. I walked out the door at 9:52 AM, ready to make myself retired military.
The presiding official at my performance review was Admiral Davis, known around the Pentagon for his no-nonsense attitude. He was joined by the new Project Director, Dr. Beckett, and his co-egghead, Dr. Elesee. Edward St. John was there representing the private sector interests who were involved in Project Starbright. A motley crew to be sure.
I couldn't help but notice that the new director, Dr. Beckett, seemed to be fixated on me. He hadn't taken his eyes off me since I entered the room. His eyes seemed to look straight into my soul. I shook off the moment; I hadn't even been formally introduced to him yet. Why the hell would he care about an old seadog like me?
Davis cleared his throat and started the meeting. He clearly had his own agenda planned. "Admiral Calavicci, you are here today for your quarterly performance review. Over the last three months, there have been certain irregularities in your performance which must be addressed."
Screwing up what was left of my liquid courage, I interrupted and started on my own agenda. "Admiral, Dr. Beckett, Dr. Elesee, and Mr. St. John. I understand why I am here today. I have, as you put it, had some irregularities in my work performance of late. I feel that my performance may in fact be jeopardizing the project as a whole. Thus, I feel it is in my best interest and the best interest of this project if I resign immediately as Project Starbright security director."
Davis looked like I had stolen his ice cream cone. Served him right. Dr. Elesee and St. John looked generally unaffected. The only one who reacted negatively was Beckett, and oh boy, did he react negatively.
It was like a bad movie as I watched Dr. Beckett move to lean forward over the table, seemingly in slow motion. His eyes captured mine again. A shudder crawled down my spine as I felt like this man knew my soul. He saw past all the crap, all the booze, and saw my pain. With my eyes locked to his, I heard him say just one word, "No."
The room stayed silent for a moment, then exploded with Davis yelling at both me and Dr. Beckett. The yelling continued as I sat back in my chair and tried to figure things out. This didn't make sense. I was supposed to get out. I’d planned for it to be over. How could he make me stay here? Dear God, why would he want me to stay here?
Davis's voice was too loud to be ignored any longer. "Dr. Beckett, you're new here. You just don't understand how bad the Admiral's performance has been!"
I winced with that remark. Dr. Beckett was equally fierce, but his voice remained low and quiet, terrifyingly quiet. "Admiral Davis, I don't think you understand. Admiral Calavicci's continued involvement with Project Starbright is critical to its success. As project director, I am willing to personally take responsibility for any of the Admiral's actions from this point forward. He will be staying."
Now, my Italian temper got the best of me as I did a little yelling of my own. "I can take responsibility for my own actions, Dr. Beckett. Did it ever occur to you that I was sick of the bureaucratic bullshit around here and I was just ready for retirement?"
A smile flickered across his face briefly, but then it was gone as he continued in a more serious fashion. "Nope. Not for a red-hot minute. I know you're not ready for retirement. As for your dissatisfaction with your present position, I can understand that. That's why effective immediately, you're being moved to the design team. I know that you have a degree in mechanical engineering, and I thought you'd make a valuable addition to the team."
I thought the good Dr. Elesee was going to fall out of her chair at that point. "Sam! We can't have him crawling around the lab! Of course, that's assuming he could crawl out of the bottle long enough to find the lab."
Dr. Beckett cut her off with a look. Damn. That look could even shut me up. "Admiral, as Project Director, I have the final say on personnel around here. What do you say? Would like to come help me change the world?"
Dumbfounded, I knew my plan to quit never had a chance. Beckett had this planned all along, and he was going to get his way no matter what. I did the only thing I could. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. "Sure. It might be nice to actually use the brain cells for a while."
He grinned back at me and closed the file folder in front him. "So, how about I show you how to find the lab?"
He took me to the lab and showed me around. In fact, I did know where it was and what it actually looked like. I was the security director after all. I may have been drunk the last time I was there, but I did vaguely remember it. Equipment was strewn everywhere, and white-coated geeks were working furiously at all the benches. As we were leaving the lab, my mouth opened in a jaw-splitting yawn.
Dr. Beckett laughed and turned down the hall towards the nearest soda machine. "Admiral, I think you could do with some serious caffeine. Since I don't have any coffee in my office yet, a soda will have to do."
I smiled back weakly. My binge drinking of late was really wreaking havoc now. I cast a glance at my watch. It was now 1:08 in the afternoon. Four hours since my last drink. I couldn't remember the last time I went four hours without a drink while I was at this place. My head felt like it was filled with glue and my nerves were rattled, but I was still more comfortable than I had been in weeks, months actually.
We reached the soda machine, and I dutifully fed it the quarters that I fished out of my pocket. And the machine dutifully ate them. It ate my friggin' quarters right there and didn't give me a damn thing. Something inside me snapped. I reached back and threw a solid punch at the machine, fully expecting the glass to shatter and go flying. Instead, my fist connected solidly with an equally solid out-stretched hand. The hand belonged to Dr. Beckett. My fit of temper fizzled almost instantly.
I looked up into his eyes, which now looked sad. "Remember, Admiral, I took responsibility for your actions. I don't really want to have to pay for another soda machine that will just eat your quarters again tomorrow."
I looked at my fist, still resting on his hand, and slowly lowered my arm to my side. "Um, thanks. Since you'll probably be doing that quite a bit, you might as well call me Al."
The shadow lifted from his eyes and brought back that creepy, crawly deja vu feeling. "You got it. You can call me Sam. Please. I really hate it when people call me Dr. Beckett. Makes me feel about 400 years old. Why don't we go to my office where we can talk some more?"
We wandered amiably through the halls to his office, chatting about your usual office conversation topics. The weather and sports mostly. We arrived outside a stately door, which proclaimed itself to be the office of the Project Director. I wasn't sure what I expected, but it sure wasn't what I found. The fancy cherry desk and bookshelves were in total disarray, covered with books, loose papers, and computers. That's right - computers with an 's'. There were two desktop computers - one PC and one Apple. There were other random parts scattered around which appeared to be parts of a homemade computer.
On the walls, where there should have been paintings, diplomas, and awards, there were instead large sheets of paper serving as makeshift blackboards. The sheets of paper were filled with equation after equation after equation. Without knowing where to start, I couldn't even begin to make sense of what the equations were about, much less whether they would work. I let out a low whistle as I followed the pages around all the walls of the room.
Behind me, Sam just laughed. "Yep. You've entered the lair of the mad scientist. Aren't you glad to be joining the team?"
His laugh was infectious; suddenly, I felt like I had known him forever. "Well, that depends. Exactly, what team am I joining?"
Sam looked more serious again and lowered his voice. "What team would you like to join, Al?"
No, I must be hearing things. He didn't just try to seduce me. Did he? My inner voice groaned as I remembered he had access to the files detailing certain indiscretions. He would know that I had recently been caught in a more than compromising situation with one of the local civilians. I couldn't believe this; I was kept around for this shit? "Um, Sam, I think you may have the wrong idea about some things."
Sam smiled and laughed to lighten the mood considerably. "No, I don't think I do, but that's not why I kept you around, Al. I kept you around because I really think you're vital to the success of both this project and my next project."
Hormones seemingly back in check, I stared at him. "Next project? This project is barely a year old! What next project?"
Sam looked like a kid in the world's biggest candy store as he continued. "Al, can you keep a secret?"
I was confused, but decided to continue to play along. "Yeah, Sam, I think I've kept a few of those in my lifetime."
"Well, Al, this project is basically just to put the finishing touches on the advanced holography that I'll need for my next project. Next, I'm going to travel in time!"
Now, it was my turn to laugh. And laugh. And laugh. My laughter slowed only as I saw the hurt on Sam's face. "Sam, come on. You can't be serious! That's science fiction, not science."
Sam looked sad, but resolved to prove his point. "You know, Al. You said the exact same thing to me before."
"What are you talking about, Sam? You're starting to worry me here."
Sam just smiled back cryptically. "Al, I'll walk you through all of the equations. I'll prove to you it can work. I just need to know that you'll give it a chance. Give me a chance. I don't want to do it without you."
What else could I say? I had no idea what this clearly crazy scientist thought a tired old sailor like me could do for his dream, but it was better than the alternative. "Sure, Sam. Fire away."
Hours passed as Sam rattled on and on about the equations. I found myself dusting off long-unused corners of my brain. As he continued, I found his enthusiasm contagious. After hours of questions and answers, give and take, I was convinced. If anyone could travel in time, it would be Sam Beckett. Unbelievable as it was, I honestly thought this stuff could work.
"Sam, you win. I think you've got something here. I'd really love to be a part of it, if you're still interested in having me."
The joy on his face was indescribable. "Al, you're already part of it. No matter what else happens, just remember that I need you." Then his eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed. As I called the medics, I glanced at my watch. It read 12:08 AM. My first day sober. I vowed it wouldn't be my last.
I was running through the halls, heart pounding in my chest. Damn, I was too old for this crap. Crazy piece of bolts, sounding the alarm in the middle of the night. It couldn't be. It just couldn't be. I glanced at my watch, 12:08 AM.
I rounded the corner just as Verbena did, and we collided, each nearly sending the other crashing to the floor. "Verbena, what the hell is going on?"
"I don't know, Admiral. Ziggy says that Sam is gone from the waiting room."
Exasperated, I snorted. "I know what he says. That's impossible. Isn't it?"
She just shrugged and started again down the corridor. I followed after her, at a somewhat slower pace now. Ziggy continued the alarms and flashing lights, which grated on my now frazzled nerves.
Verbena and I reached the waiting room together. We both looked in together and confirmed Ziggy's announcement. The table in the middle of the room was empty. Sam's body was nowhere in sight. "Alright, Ziggy. You got us here. Where the hell is Sam's body?"
There was no answer from the computer. The alarms just continued to blare. "C'mon, you bucket of technicolor bolts! Answer me or I'll come down to control and start pulling out circuits myself!"
There was still no response. Deciding it was finally time to make good on my threats, I marched resolutely out of the waiting room and towards control. As I entered the control room, I saw something. Something that just couldn't be. "Sam?"
The man clad in the white Fermi suit smiled back, "Al? Am I really here? Am I back at the project?"
I ran across the control room and gathered the wayward physicist into my arms, "Sam! Dear God, yes! You're home!"
We stood wrapped in each other's arms for what seemed like eternity. Without a second thought, I pressed my lips against Sam's, seeking and finding the love that I had missed for so long. What if he hadn't remembered? Screw it. Clearly he did remember or at least wasn't averse to the idea. Finally, we separated and Sam spoke first. "Ziggy, could you shut off the alarms please? It's me."
With the room silenced and the lights now just a steady glow, the moment seemed so much more real. "Sam, what happened? How are you here?"
"Al, it's a long story. Can we go to your office before the others come? I want you to hear it first. Plus, I think we need to talk about some things. Please?"
"Of course, Sam. Whatever you want. Anything you want."
Soon we were settled in my office. Sam was wrapped in the old blanket I kept on my couch for the many nights I never went home while he was leaping. I was in my desk chair with my feet on the desk. It felt just like old times. So many times over the last 15 years, Sam and I had spent time just like this. Just talking.
Sam looked at me, not quite sure where to start. "Al, do you remember where you were 15 years ago tonight?"
I searched back through my memory. All the memories, which now encompassed so many different time lines. In most of the time lines that I could remember, I was at Project Starbright 15 years ago. In fact, in the current timeline, tonight was the anniversary of when I first met Sam. "Of course I remember, Sam. Tonight's our anniversary."
Sam smiled back at me. "It sure is." Seeing the troubled look on my face, Sam set out to reassure me. "Don't worry, Al. I remember what we were to each other, and I want nothing more than for us to grow old together."
I released the breath that I was holding without realizing it. "Thank God, Sam. When you forgot us after the first leap, I was so worried that you wouldn't remember when you got back."
"Of course I remember, Al. I remember that and more. Think back to that night, Al. What else happened on that night?"
Rummaging around my memories, I remembered what I thought Sam wanted. "That was the night you sold me on your time travel theory. You showed me all the equations and convinced me that I was vital to the project."
"What else, Al? What happened after I sold you?"
What was he getting at? Damn, I've always hated when he talks in riddles. "Sam, just get to the point! After you showed me the equations, you got woozy and passed out. You hit your head on the floor and had to go to the infirmary. Scared me to death!" I smirked thinking about how that would be the first of many scares from my own personal trouble-magnet.
Now Sam looked just like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. "Yep. Did that happen in the original timeline, Al?"
Oh God. Here comes the headache that I feared was coming. He did it. He changed something in our own history. Goddammit. I hate time paradoxes. "Actually, kid. No, I don't think you did.
The grin on Sam's face told the story. "That was you, wasn't it, Sam? You went back to our first night together. What could you possibly have changed that caused you to be able to come home?"
"C'mon, Al. Work with me here! It's no fun if I have to tell you."
I worked my way through the original history. In that timeline, Sam had missed my performance review. I had been canned, and we had met as I beat the shit out of a soda machine. It was then that we had started talking, and Sam had decided to keep me around on a probationary basis.
In this current timeline, Sam had been at my review and fought for me without even knowing me. Damn. He had leaped in before my performance review. "You leaped into yourself even earlier, didn't you? You saved me and then brought me to your office to show me the equations. In those equations, you rewrote the retrieval program, didn't you?"
Sam rose from the couch and approached me with a positively predatory look on his face. "Now that's the Admiral I know and love. I figured it out after the leap into that bar. I just had to get back to the beginning. If I could fix the retrieval program from the beginning, then I could trigger it myself when I was ready to come home. And, Al, I'm really ready to be home."
Sam leaned down and took my face in his hands. "Hey, kid. I love you too."
We joined together in a deep kiss, the kind that rocks you to the base of your soul. I felt myself growing hard as Sam moved to kiss my neck. My voice was rough as spoke. "Did you lock the door?"
Sam practically purred. "Oh yeah. I also got Ziggy to lock out the security systems while you weren't looking."
Sam's hands were working their magic across my chest. I groaned deeply as I felt Sam's own hardness pressed against my leg. Sam stopped his ministrations on my neck and looked up at me. "Al, we've got the place all to ourselves. Now why don't you get rid of those pesky pajamas, while I get the hell out of this Fermi suit? Whose crazy idea was this thing anyway?"
I just grinned. It had been mine. The accelerator would only work within a few millimeters of the leapee's body. So, I convinced Sam that the skintight suit was a helluva lot better than the alternative of leaping in the buff.
I quickly removed my pajamas and moved over to the couch. Lord knows, it had been used for this many, many times in the days when we were first getting the project going. As I looked up, I saw that Sam was already done with his striptease and was now standing there in all his glory. His body was just as beautiful as it had been when he left five years ago. Sure, it was a little older and not quite as fit, but it was still a gorgeous sight to behold. Damn. I'd never know what he saw in an old man like me, but I sure wasn't going to talk him out of it.
Next thing I knew the kid descended on me. It was like he had grown an extra set of hands while he was gone. There were hands, lips, and tongues everywhere as our groins ground together. We continued the bump and grind action until I couldn't stand it anymore. My mind exploded as my cock shot its cum all over Sam's stomach. Sam continued to rock against me for a few more moments, and then all movement stopped as he arched stiffly and exploded himself. Sam then collapsed on top of me, and we lay in contented silence.
After some time had passed, Sam broke the silence, asking the question that had to be asked. "Al, you know that my leaping was never about you, right?
I knew that he would need an answer. As much as I needed to hear from him that it wasn't my fault, he needed my forgiveness. "Aw, Sammy. I'd be lyin' if I told you I wasn't hurt. But, over time, I realized that it was just something that you felt you had to do. You didn't feel like you had any other options. I just decided that it was my job to bring you back."
The hard part done, Sam settled into my embrace just like old times. "You know, you did bring me back, Al. It was all dependent on you understanding the equations and staying on board with the project. It was always all about you."
"I know, kid. I love you, Sammy."
"I love you too."
That night I fell asleep in Sam's arms on the couch. It was the first night in five years that I didn't recite that old childhood nursery rhyme before going to sleep. Star light, star bright. Wish I may, wish I might, have the wish, I wish tonight. Yep, tonight, I was all out of wishes. All of my wishes had already come true.