Chapter XIII DECEMBER 18, 2000, PROJECT QUANTUM LEAP, STALLIONS GATE, NM "I wish you were coming home for Christmas, dear," Abigail Fuller Dawson told her daughter. "I know, Mom, but I wanted to be there all of January. I couldn't take Christmas off." Her mother sighed, resigned. "Yes, you told me that already." She paused. "Well, dear, I better let you go. Don't forget to call your father." "I won't, Mom." Sammie Jo hung up of the phone and sat back, tapping her calendar with a worried look on her face. Her mother had been thrilled and Sammie Jo let her talk her into a formal ceremony with family and friends. It was set for the coming spring. What she failed to tell her mother, and it was the thing that worried her, was that the ceremony might need to be *earlier*. *Maybe I'm wrong,* she thought, flipping her calendar back a couple of pages, and counting the days carefully. But deep inside her, she *knew* she hadn't counted wrong the first time. Sammie Jo was pregnant. ************************************* "Ziggy," Al asked the computer. "Have you already rerun the scenarios, factoring in Andrea? I mean," he said quickly, before she cut him off. "Now that we know for sure she agreed to go out on a date?" "Yes, Admiral," she replied promptly. There was a pause and Al was sure she was going to give him a hard time. "I'm concerned that history has not been impacted significantly by Dr. Beckett's presence alone." Al and Tina, standing by her terminal, stared at each other, blankly. "Meaning?" Al asked, not seeing any connections. "There are no indications that Lt.Cdr Calavicci R.N., Ph.D., ever *attempted* to prevent Michael Murphy's suicide. As you may have noticed, this is no mention of your wife in any report, since Dr. Beckett's leap in." Al groaned, a headache starting. Where all *this* was coming from, Al didn't want to know. He never understood why sometimes Sam's mere presence changed things radically, and sometimes only a flicker (if at all). Al could never understand it when just *saying* the words, "This is what I'm going to do . . ." affected the odds, and sometimes actually *doing* what he planned, made the difference "Maybe . . . maybe Sam will get stuck in traffic tomorrow, or Andrea goes shopping and we have to look for her first," Al replied after a moment, squeezing the bridge of his nose. "Those are valid possibilities, Admiral," the computer conceded, as if it had never occurred to her. "I will refocus my research on areas of this nature, to ensure that Dr. Beckett will not encounter these obstacles." "Could you answer my question first?" "Yes, Admiral. I have reviewed the scenarios, taking into consideration the minor changes made by Ms. Zimmer's acceptance, and I predict a 62% chance that Dr. Beckett can convince her to assist him. However--" "I should have seen *that* coming," Al muttered, shaking his head. "I do not have odds on what type of influence Ms. Zimmer will have on Mr. Murphy." "And Sam's chances of influencing Michael himself?" This question had been asked of her before, and Ziggy hadn't given them a prediction. "Forty percent." Al rubbed his temple, frowning. It wasn't very good; however, they had beaten the odds before. "Well, I hate to say this, but it looks like we'll have to see what happens *after* Sam talks to her, before we know whether or not it's worth the trouble. I just hate for Sam to spend time convincing a person who won't have any influence on the situation." He paused. "I suppose all this also applies to the uncle?" "Yes, Admiral. Though, Dr. Beckett may have better odds of persuading Mr. Murphy's uncle for help, the odds of him influencing his own nephew are much lower." Al's headache was getting stronger. "Well, let me know if you come up with anything. If Sam hasn't gone to bed by then, I'll pass it on to him tonight, so we have time to rethink our strategy if we have to." "Very well, Admiral." As Al turned to leave, Verbena and Donna entered the Control Room. "Well, we've just spent one of the more pleasant days in the Waiting Room," Verbena declared, beaming. "Elizabeth's one of the best Visitors we've had so far. She was a bit disappointed that you didn't come back for a visit, Al, but we reassured her that you were with Sam. I think she understood. We told her about Michael, by the way." "I'll go see her now," Al decided. "Well, she's sleeping, Al," Donna pointed out, laying a hand on his arm. "Poor thing, she's tired out. I would advise a visit tomorrow, if you can spare the time." "Sure. Sam will probably sleep in. I'll drop in before he wakes." "You don't know how hard it was for me *not* to tell her about your children." Verbena said, smiling ruefully. Al returned her smile. "I can imagine." "Are you heading home?" Donna asked curiously as she entered her password into the terminal. Ziggy promptly spewed out the transcripts from the leap. Al always thought that the password thing was a little excessive, given the fact Ziggy *knew* the person accessing the data, and could verify identity and authorization by other means. "No, the office." "Sir," the computer spoke up, cutting off any comments Donna could make. "Ms. McNeill has closed down for the day. She left a message to the effect that there is nothing that requires your immediate attention." "Well then, I guess I'm heading out after all," Al replied, making another attempt for the Control Room door. "Stop by Al, in the morning, and fill us in on Sam," Verbena reminded him. "If you could." "Anything else?" he asked sarcastically. Verbena laughed. "No that's all, Al. Thanks." Al breathed a sigh of relief as the door closed behind him. All and all, the day went better than most. Tomorrow, on the other hand promised to be stressful, if the conversation he just had with the computer was any indication. The headache seemed to intensify as he headed down the hall. Al turned off and entered the Observation Room, mainly to check in on Elizabeth, but also needing to raid the first aid kit's aspirin stash. The room was empty, not even a technician. There were times when Verbena found it unnecessary to leave one on duty. Al rummaged for the kit and, finding it, he tapped out two pills from the little bottle. He took the two aspirins without water, nearly gaging on them in the processes. Al turned to look into the Waiting Room. The lights had been dimmed, but not to the point he couldn't make out the objects below. Elizabeth, laying on a cot Verbena had erected for her, was sleeping peacefully. He smiled gently at the sight, then quietly left the room. As Al made his way through the deserted halls of the project, he silently debated whether or not to make an issue out of his wife's abrupt departure from the project. As Sam had pointed out, it was a silly thing to get all worked up over. Stepping off the elevator Al decided that Beth, in all likelihood, felt bad about it all day, and he could skip to the making up part without even brining the subject up. He rummaged through his uniform pockets for his car keys. He noticed that Bertie's car (the one she kept in New Mexico) was not in its space. Her whereabouts, he could guess at: she was at home with her mother. This did not, however, change Al's plans for this evening. The drive was, as usual, uneventful. Out of habit, he slowed as he passed by the private airfield near his home. The airfield's modest hanger housed the private planes (including Al's) belonging to the handful of pilots employed by the project. Everything looked as it should and he increased his speed. As he drew nearer to the house, Al recognized the old minivan in the driveway. Beth had no real use for the van anymore. It was used by the staff to car pool, instead of flying, into Santa Fe for their holiday shopping and for supply runs. That being the case, Al pulled into the driveway next to it, behind Beth's car. The house itself was larger than he and Beth needed, now that the girls were on their own. Not that they had lived there long to begin with. They kept it, mainly because had become the gathering place of the project. Official guests sometimes preferred *not* to stay on the project, and the staff's visiting family members weren't always cleared. He was about to insert the key when the door flew open. It wasn't Beth or Bertie who stood smiling radiantly at him. "Hi, daddy!" Hope cried, throwing her arms around his shoulders and kissing him soundly on the cheek. "Surprised?" Al was struck speechless and frantically prayed this wasn't a history shift. She was giving him the impression that he *should* be surprised by her presence, but he couldn't be too careful. Al regained his equilibrium and pulled his daughter into a hug. Hope, though the elder of the twins, was his baby; the one who would (if she could) still curl up in his lap. There was a faint smell of calla lilies about her, like her mother. "Hi, sweetie! Why didn't you tell me you coming out sooner?" "It was Trudi's idea," she explained, drawing him into the house and closing the door. "Trudi's?" As he said it, realization dawning. "Yes. We're all here. She wanted to surprise you," Hope replied, confirming his suspicions. "Well," Al said, removing his cap and throwing it and his keys on the table by the door, "she got her wish." Al held his daughter away from him, at arms length, studying her. Hope wore a plain white blouse and jeans, her long wavy hair was pulled back in a loose pony tail. Even so, she still resembled Adam's mother, and her gentle nature reinforced that similarity. Hope was as sweet and gentle as mother and her great-grandmother. Al supposed it was the reason why he was closest to Hope: Trudi may have *looked* like Beth, but Hope had her soul. "So, how's the theater?" he asked, linking his arm through hers. "Oh, it's great! There's a `Phantom of the Opera' revival planned and I've been selected for the lead!" she said enthusiastically. "Uh, Hope, I can't imagine you as the phantom, honey. It just isn't you, y' know?" "Christine Daae, Dad. His protege." "Oh. Sorry, honey." "That's all right. You're still in shock. Will you make opening night?" By sheer coincidence, Al always made her opening nights. Sam was always between leaps. However, Al always said the same thing to her. "I'll try, Hope. Just tell me when it is and I'll try to plan around it." She smiled at him warmly. "I'll send you the details when I get back." "By the way, where *is* everybody?" Al had been expecting the others to also wander in as they stood there talking. "Oh, they're all in the den. I wanted to be the first to greet you. They probably don't know you're here yet." "Didn't someone tell your mother that I was coming?" He'd figured that Beth would have arranged it with Ziggy, to be alerted when Al left the project. Hope gave him a blank look. "Not as far as I know. I've been sitting out here for the last hour or so, waiting." Al nodded. No telling what games Ziggy was playing. Maybe the computer wasn't in the mood to play messenger service. The scene that greeted him in the den brought a smile to his face. Sitting on the floor, playing with Jack, Jr., was Al's son-in-law Jackson Beckett, Sr., Alessandra's husband Bruce Anderson, and Georgia's husband Justin Michaelson. It was hard to tell who was having more fun, the grown men or the little boy. Al's niece, Sandy, was spending time with her orphaned nephew, Michael. Georgie, gently rocking her daughter Aurora, sat with her. Al was proud of the fact that he could distinguish between his identical twins nieces. Most people had to see them in their uniforms, and even then, they still couldn't remember which one was the Marine. Sitting to the left of the Whitmore twins, Faith was watching her daughter Theresa try to climb over her father's outstretched body. Little Theresa, with a determined look on her face, was trying to get to her brother, most likely to pester him. Theresa, though failing each attempt, was not in the least bit frustrated. Just determined. Al seriously doubted she would give up or fuss. Faith wore a gentle smile as she watched her. Bertie was sitting on the couch with her feet curled up under her, holding a bundle wrapped in a soft blanket. She was leaning against Kevin, who was gazing down at the bundle over her shoulder. Process of elimination told Al that the `bundle' was Bruce, Jr. It appeared that Bertie was getting some practice in, before her own baby arrived. Off to one side of the group, Trudi sat with a tablet in her hand, sketching. Al was sure she wasn't sketching the family scene. Her head was bent over her tablet, a colored pencil gripped gently between her teeth, and two more behind her ears. She was humming tunelessly. But what made him pause in the door way was his wife. Beth, in the midst of their family, was smiling radiantly. It was her smile that caught his breath. All this was taken in at a glance. Beth, sensing his eyes on her, looked up. "Al!" She stood up, her face lighting up even more. Once his presence was known, Al was nearly bowled over by his family as they converged in on him. Beth came to his rescue. "Al, honey, why don't you go change?" There were several slightly disappointed looks, but they reluctantly cleared out of his way. Al chuckled. "I'll be right back," he promised. Beth followed him to the back of the house. Once they were alone, she said. "What's been going on?" As he changed out of his uniform, Al filled his wife in on what Sam had done so far, and what they had learned. "Oh," Al added, carefully draping the uniform jacket over the dummy valet. "I almost forgot. Sam had a few words with Kramer." Beth, sitting on the edge of the bed, perked up. "Really? What happened?" Al recounted the exchanged with Kramer. As he talked, Al felt himself get all worked up again. He wasn't at all surprised. Beth stood up, laughing. "Oh, Al," she said, eyes shining. "I wish I could have seen the look on his face!" "Yeah, well, Sam and I both wanted to belt him one," Al replied, moving to stand next to her. "My hero," she commented with a whimsical smile. "Who? Me or Sam?" he asked, suspiciously. With a playful wink she said, "Sam, of course." "Hey!" Al responded, with mock indignation. Beth giggled and kissed him lightly. "You're my hero, Al." "That's better," he told her, gently guiding her out the bedroom door. They returned to the den, and Al once more found himself the certain of attention. Al didn't get to say much; just listen and ask the occasional question. He didn't mind though. He wanted to hear about his grandchildren from his daughter and her husband. Al was interested in Trudi's plans for her spring line. He listened to the Navy gossip Sandy, Bruce, Kevin, and, occasionally Georgia, had heard. Georgie, the Marine, worked for the Navy Investigative Service, so she sometimes had a juicy bit of news to share. Her husband, an FBI agent, had some interesting things to share too. Jack usually filled him in on Beckett family news. Tonight, however, he declined to make any reports mainly because Donna was absent. It never ceased to amaze Al that not a single person in that room (not privy to the project) asked about Sam. It wasn't because they didn't care about Sam, or because they thought he was dead. All of them understood the meaning of the words `Top Secret', `Classified', and `Need to Know'. All had their own theories, Al supposed, about what Sam was doing. He'd be interested in knowing what they were, but he wasn't sure it would be a good idea to just come right out and asked them. *Let sleeping dogs lie*, Al thought. Little Theresa, finally bored with attempts to pester her brother, crawled up into Al's lap while Justin was filling him in on the latest Capitol Hill news, stuff that Bertie hadn't related. Theresa promptly fell asleep in his lap. Not long after that, Bruce, Sr. gave a whopper of a yawn, which he tried to stifle, and that caused a chain reaction of yawns around the room. Though most of the party had taken naps earlier in the day, all were still suffering from jet lag. Except Bertie, of course. Beth surveyed the sleepy-eyed group with a meaningful look. They were adults and it was really unnecessary for her to tell them to go to bed. Kevin was the first to move. "Well, those of us who are going into Santa Fe, really need to get some sleep." "And we should get the kids into bed," Bertie agreed, standing up carefully, still holding the sleeping Bruce, Jr. "I've got to work tomorrow," Al said, also rising. "So, I'll turn in now too." That made it unanimous. No one saw the point of staying up if their audience was retiring for the evening. They said their good nights, and headed off to their beds. "Al," Beth said, as they moved to their own rooms, "I've filled out the forms for visitor passes for our family to join us for the holiday party. Could you take the paperwork with you in the morning, and have them rush Hope and Faith's passes?" "What's the rush?" "Neither one is going to Santa Fe tomorrow, and I've invited them to help decorate the project's tree, since ours is done." "Oh. Why are they going into Santa Fe so soon?" "Christmas shopping, I suspect. Oh, and to pick up the gifts they shipped." Al nodded. Jack, Jr. was at an age where carrying his gifts on the same flight was risky. He would have gotten into his gifts before anyone caught him. "Speaking of gifts," Al said to his wife, "I think you got me ties this year, right?" "Al!" Beth said, amused and shaking her head in amazement, "We've been through this once already today. You're worse than Jack, Jr." Al grinned. "I've had more practice."