CHAPTER 1 Sam stared at the stranger in the mirror, shocked. He was a stranger to Sam, yet he was beginning to look vaguely familiar, too. *As if I've seen a picture of him before.* The memory eluded him. He reentered the bedroom. *If this guy's in the military, he's got to have some sort of identification. Tom and Al always seemed to be flashing those ID cards at people.* Sam was in the process of opening desk drawers, when he heard the Imaging Chamber door open behind him. "Sam!" Al called out, relieved and excited. Sam turned at the sound. "Thank God! What happened?" Before Sam could answer, Al was already continuing. "I left you in Cokeburg and went to change while Ziggy and Gushie were working on your problem. By the time I got to my rooms -- " Al stopped abruptly, eyes still wide and unbelieving. Sam sat quietly on the edge of the bed, observing the Observer. He looked as if he had been dragged out of bed. Al wore his familiar red silk pajamas and slippers. The familiar bathrobe was on inside out. Apparently, Al hadn't had the chance to right it before getting to the Chamber. The handlink was silent and dark, indicating that Al had yet to turn the little machine on. "By the time I got back to my rooms," Al started again, a bit calmer, "she was there. Ziggy and I lost it then. Zig freaked out and said she didn't know what you could have done to change history the way you did. Then, after a few hours of that, she calmly announced to the Project that you, and I quote, ‘had returned to the normal leaping parameters', and a new Visitor would be in the Waiting Room in two days. Sure enough, Ziggy was right." Sam blinked in surprise. Sam had followed his friend's train of thought. He assumed the ‘she' in his room was Beth, though Al had failed to mention her by name. The thing about Ziggy surprised him. He decided to wait and question Al later about Ziggy's sudden ability to predict when he would arrive at this leap. Al, distracted, was still talking. "Ziggy woke most of the project with her alarm. I thought we were being invaded. I got here as fast as I could, Sam." Sam spoke for the first time. "I just got here myself, Al. Why don't you go back to bed and give me the information later, OK?" "Huh?" Al looked at him, confused. "But I've already got some information for you, Sam. Sammie Jo sometimes sleeps in her lab, so she beat me to the Waiting Room. A good thing, too. George thought he was a prisoner, so he gave her his name, rank, and service number. As soon as Ziggy told me that I came straight here. Wish we were that lucky all the time." Without consulting his link, Al continued. "You're Lieutenant (jg) George Whitmore-Jones, a Navy pilot, and," he paused and stuck his head through the window. Sam shuddered. "You're assigned to Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida." "Do you know the date?" Sam asked, all business. If Al was willing to stick around and do his job, Sam was willing to oblige him. Al still looked distracted and very tired. Al sighed. "Not yet. Ziggy," he called to the computer, "how's Sammie Jo getting along with George?" Now Sam was sure Al wasn't entirely himself on this leap: he had forgotten about the still silent handlink in his hand. Al listened to the computer's response to his inquiry. "That's all he can remember? Ok. Sam, George only remembers that it's October." "The Cuban Missile Crisis?" "No. George was at sea with me then." A thoughtful look crossed Al's tired face. Sam watched as the expression changed to sadness. Someone's going to die. "Sam, it's October of 1960. Around the 15th, I think. You're here to save the life of a nurse, Lieutenant Kelly Hardy." Sam frowned. The handlink was still dark. "Are you sure?" Al nodded wearily. He flipped the handlink's on switch and started pressing buttons. "I'll have Ziggy run scenarios to see what you can do to save her." Sam had let things go far enough. He wanted some answers from Al about what was happening back at the project. "Al?" The short, tired man looked at him. "How do you know all this? You just now turned that thing on," he said, indicating the brightly blinking box. "How do you know I'm in Florida or who I'm here for if you haven't consulted the link, and all you have to go on is a name, rank, service number, and a month?" Al punched a few buttons and consulted the readout before he motioned for Sam to follow him. Al went through the wall. Sam opened the door and saw Al disappear through the closed door across the hall. Sam hesitated in front of the closed door. Maybe he should knock first. "It's empty, Sam," the disembodied voice of his friend told him. Sam opened the door. "Don't turn on the light." There was enough light filtering in for Sam to see where he was going, and to make out the form of his holographic companion. The observer pointed to the window and stepped out of Sam's way. Sam looked out. This window overlooked a well-lit parking lot. Leaning on the trunk of a familiar black Corvette, was a very familiar looking Navy pilot. Bingo looked a little older, but still recognizable as Al. He was talking enthusiastically, to a young woman, who was also leaning on the car. "Beth!" She was nearly ten years younger than the last time he saw her. Beth was listening intently to Bingo. With a silly grin on his face, Sam turned to Al. It faded when he saw Al's heartsick expression. "What's wrong?" Sam began to worry. Maybe he *had* misunderstood Al's meaning earlier. *But who else could he have meant?* Instead of answering him, Al headed back into George's room. Sam followed, still confused over Al's behavior. *What's going on back there?* He tried another approach. "How did you know this was Pensacola and not North Island?" "George's room was in the back of the building in Florida. At North Island, it was in the front." "How did you know ‘they'," he pointed back over his shoulder, "would be out there? You couldn't possibly remember." Al indicated the box in his hand. "I had Ziggy get a lock on me...him. >From now on, she'll alert us if he's anywhere nearby." Sam sighed. He could be here all night, beating around the bush, getting his friend to tell him what was happening. This was Al after all. "Al, what's wrong?" Sam could see he was too tired and too strung out to hold out much longer. Al studied him. "What did you do in Cokeburg?" Al asked quietly. "What did you change?" Sam blinked. He remember his conversations with both Als. "Nothing. I was there to learn something, not to change someone's past." Curious, Al asked "What did you learn?" "Well, I told you that already. Most of it anyway." "You should have heard the arguments THAT caused." Al paused to steel himself. "Then what happened? What happened after I left you?" A suspicion had been growing in the back of Sam mind. Now to test it. He shrugged. "I leaped." Al looked defeated. "Sam, when I got back to my rooms, I found them filled with furniture I've only seen once since 1966 and that was as a hologram." *He doesn't remember.* Suspicion confirmed, Sam said aloud, "Beth was waiting for you when you came home from Nam." "Yes! But I don't remember any of it!" He began to pace, agitated. "When I walked in on her two days ago, I gave her quiet a scare. She thought I was having a stroke. Ziggy went nuts and told the senior staff about the change, before I could stop her. No one took it well, I might add." Al stopped and turned to face him, still agitated. "Now, I'm camped out in your office because I can't cope with any of it, and Verbena is on my tail nearly every moment, trying to get me to discuss things!" Sam had hoped that he wouldn't have to explain this to Al. He didn't want his best friend to think he owed him. Sam's swissed-cheese mind didn't allow him to remember all the times Al had come through for him, but for once he was allowed to remember the one memory that could justify calling it even: Tom. On that leap, Sam now believed Al had hoped he wouldn't have to reveal to Sam the price for Tom's life. Sam hadn't leaped out of Magic because he had failed, but because Sam needed to know what Al had done. Maybe Al wouldn't remember the new past until Sam told him how it came about. "It seems," Sam started, "Don Quixote's been taken Sancho for granted." "Huh?" "Al, I may be the one in life-or-death situations, but you're the one who has to put up with the frustrations of not being able to physically help me, temperamental technology, Congress, impossible Visitors, and everything else that could go wrong and usually does." Al started to wave him off with the standard "It's my job," but Sam cut him off. "I chose to go to San Diego, as myself, just as you chose to lead me to Tom instead of the POWs." Al looked as if he was going to protest, but Sam didn't give him a chance. "I didn't even *try* to convince Beth to wait when I was Jake, and you didn't throw it in my face when I leaped into Elk Ridge and Nam." Sam shook his head. "I'm always complaining that you never ask for help, that you're too stubborn and proud. You were practically begging me to save your marriage to Beth." Sam didn't finish the thought. He didn't have to; both knew what had transpired outside the Calavicci residence in April 1969. By now, Al was no longer looking at Sam. He refused to look at him in the eyes. Some things would never change, no matter what Sam did to the past. Sam let the silence last a few moments longer. "Beth was there, in 1969, dancing by herself. Just the way you left her. She was scared at first, but I told her I was there to help and that I was your friend." Sam smiled, remembering Beth's reaction to Al's name. "I saw how much you meant to her and how much she was hurting. I told her you were alive and coming home. Once she believed it completely, I came here." Sam waited quietly, as he watched Al struggle with his emotions and his inability to remember the new past. As for his own emotions, Sam expected to get emotional, but instead, he felt an inner peace, knowing Al had one of the things he most wanted. Sam, home, safe and sound, was another. Both men jumped at the sound of the handlink squawking, followed by the sound of knocking at the door. "Come in," Sam called out, still watching his friend. Al's attention was on the link. The door opened and Bingo stuck his head in the room. "I'm taking Beth back now. Do you want anything while I'm out?" Sam opened his mouth to answer, when Al cut him off sharply. "*Don't* call him Bingo. George *never* called me Bingo." "George?" Al-the-younger said. "I'm fine. Thanks." The younger nodded and closed the door behind him. The elder let out his breath. "Sam--" "Don't say it, Al. You don't have to thank me. I was hoping you wouldn't remember the original history." For the first time, Al looked him in the eyes. Al was still tired, but Sam could see some of the anxiety start to fade. "So, she's not going to disappear if I blink?" She. Not Beth, but She. Sam was determined to make him say her name, no matter how much it was going to hurt. Playing dumb, Sam asked, "Who?" Unfortunately, Al wasn't going to be tricked that easily. "You know who." Sam crossed his arms and looked at him sternly. "Say it." "Sam--" "Say it!" Sam was careful not to speak too loudly. "My wife," Al said weakly. It was a struggle for him even to say that much. "Al!" Al closed his eyes and clenched his jaw. "Beth." It was obvious that it still painful for Al to speak her name. Sam wondered how long it would be before that would change. Al didn't open his eyes. "Sorry, Al. I had to do that," Sam apologized. Al nodded, eyes still shut. "Are you going to answer my question?" "As long as I don't make any mistakes here, that prevents her from even marrying you, she won't disappear. I don't think either of will let that happen." The Observer nodded again. He opened his eyes and ran his free hand across his face before turning his attention to the cheerfully blinking box. "Ziggy says that there's a 100% probability that you're here for Lt. Kelly Hardy. If we're successful, we'll also be saving the careers of the investigators that botched her murder investigation. It's the second one this year, by the way." "When does she die?" "Tomorrow night, October 14, 1960." Something occurred to Sam. "Wait a minute. George's a pilot, right?" "Right. So?" Fear gripped Sam. "Do I know how to fly?" "No. But don't worry, Sam. George's on leave. His grandfather is still here in Florida and George visits him every day. You won't have to fly." Relieved, Sam sighed. He watched Al tap keys on the link for several seconds before speaking again. "This can wait until morning, Al. Go find Beth, and go back to bed." Al opened his mouth to speak. Then he thought better of it and gave Sam a grateful look. He started to key up the Door. "Al," Sam said before Al stepped into the glow. "Yeah, kid?" "Did you know your robe's on inside out?"