Chapter III DECEMBER 17, 2000, PROJECT QUANTUM LEAP, STALLIONS GATE, NM The reason for Beth's sudden visit to the project became evident the moment Al walked into the cafeteria. Paul Ryder was in the middle of a cooking frenzy, and apparently had asked Beth to bring some much needed ingredients and cooking utensils. "Thank you, ma'am. Sorry you had to come all the way out here," Paul was saying. "Oh, no problem. I wanted to be nosey." "Beth," Al said, interrupting before the bodyguard turned into Julia Child. "I need to speak with you about something." She looked at him inquiringly. Though Paul had the same clearance as Bertie, something Adam had insisted on, Al did not want to discuss this in front of him. "Not here." "Is it about the leap?" "Yeah." "You don't need me to come in, do you?" she asked as they got into the elevator. Beth was technically on leave. "Well, that depends." He opened the door to the conference room. He'd rather tell her about the leap *before* he took her into the Observation Room. Beth gave him a slightly puzzled look, but took a seat at the table. Al sat next to her. He studied her thoughtfully for a second, wondering how to tell her. He took her hand. "Beth . . . " he stopped. "Sam leaped into, well, he's . . . " Beth leaned forward slightly, concerned. "Is he all right?" "Yeah," he replied, grinning slightly, "he's fine. In fact, he's you." Beth's eyes grew wide and her hand tightened around his. "Me? When?" "April 1, 1973." She repeated the date softly to herself, then looked up at his face. "You came home that April." "I know," he said, gently squeezing her hand. "Who's in the Waiting Room with me, now?" "No one, actually. You're asleep." He brought her up-to-date on the situation. "You're really shook up, honey," he added. "Do you plan to go into the Waiting Room?" "I don't know, sweetheart. I'm waiting for Beeks' verdict, personally. What do you think?" Al kept a watchful eye on her, as she thought about it. So far, she wasn't showing any signs of shock. "Everyone reacts differently to being here, right? I mean, according to the files, you thought it was a prank of Chip's, and young Sam just behaved as if this was something normal," she smiled at the last part. "It all depends on where I think I am, and why. Let Bena talk to her first." Beth made a face. "From now on, let's refer to her as Elizabeth." "Would you like to see Elizabeth?" Beth looked a little hesitant. "You mean, go into the Imaging Chamber?" Al shook his head. "No. I have Tina downloading the Enhancer in the Observation Room." "Donna's not going to be happy with that, Al." "Tough. Well?" She gripped his hand. "Sure." Al led her out, still holding her hand. "You know, Bingo and young Sam both reacted to the sight of their older selves pretty good. Do you want to see how Elizabeth reacts to you?" Beth made another face. "No thank you." Tina was still working on the down load when they entered. Because Elizabeth had fallen asleep on the far side of the room, Ziggy zoomed in on her and displayed the image on all the monitors. Al slid an arm around Beth's waist and leaned forward to whisper in her ear. "You look good in a Fermi suit." She elbowed him gently. "Behave." "Yes, dear." Apparently, years associated with the leaping process had steeled her for this possibility. So far, she was behaving as if it were a routine leap. "We're ready," Tina said. All eyes turned to the screens. For Al, the only way he knew anything happened, were the sharp intakes of breath and Beth's hand gripping his hand on her waist. "My God, someone get her a robe," Beth ordered. Al chuckled and kissed her cheek. "Admiral, Doctor Elesee is on line one." "Thanks, Ziggy." He glanced at Beth, who was still holding on. "Are you all right?" She nodded. "When Sam leapt into George, I got to see myself, remember." "Well, this is different, honey. Sam's you now." She sighed. "I'm ok, Al. Really." "Let's go see what Donna and Verbena have to say." She nodded, and Al led her out of the room. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Bertie studied her pajama clad reflection. *Six weeks tomorrow. I wonder when I start to show.* She ran her hand gently over her abdomen. *July.* Bertie herself was supposed to be a Bicentennial baby, but she arrived on her father's 42nd birthday instead, much to everyone's surprise. No one knew yet, not even Kevin. She wanted to tell him the news, in person, and hoped he'd be in New Mexico soon. The baby wasn't planned for, and neither had ever discussed children. She already knew he would insist she stop running back and forth across the country. Bertie sighed, gathering up the Retrieval Program files and her laptop. Kevin Riley didn't have a problem with his wife's unusual lifestyle. He had a problem with Congress. Bertie was at their beck and call, and he felt that they were misusing her talent, that she should be heading projects, running NASA, or at the very least, teaching. What Kevin didn't realize was that Bertie had sold her soul to Congress for the sake of Project Quantum Leap. Years ago, Senator Max Henderson had tried to send Bertie off to some government think tank. However, Sam Beckett and Adam Whitmore-Jones had effectively squashed his plans. Henderson bided his time, and in due course, found himself appointed to PQL's committee. At that time, Bertie had been offered the opportunity to get involved with the shuttle program, and Henderson threatened to vote down the funding of PQL if Bertie accepted it. Sam had already started leaping and, though McBride and Weitzman were supporters of the project, Henderson had gathered enough support to make his threat a reality. Bertie never understood Henderson's interest in her or why he threatened her. The only explanation that came to mind was that Henderson liked to manipulate people, to control things. He was quite happy to send her off, at the last minute, to do an evaluation. Bertie had found a way to make the project benefit from her strange job, and Henderson didn't seem to mind. Soon, she would no longer be so free, and Henderson might go through with his threat. Bertie hoped that Sabina Barnhilt, who would be replacing Weitzman on the committee, would be able to out maneuver him. Bertie stared at the screen in front of her. The Retrieval program was the true key. Bertie smoothed her hand across her stomach again, and picked up Donna's notes.