Chapter 2 0240 HRS. MARCH 5, 2000. PROJECT QUANTUM LEAP, STALLION'S GATE, NM Al shook his head as the link between the past and present was broken. He stared at the blessedly familiar chamber walls and tried to remember. It was no use. Snippets of the new past had gradually worked their way into his memories. He hadn't slept well because of this. *Hell, I can't remember the last time I *did* sleep well," Al thought wearily. One memory that hadn't been replaced was the day he learned she wasn't there anymore. That was a dangerous path to travel. He shook himself and headed for the door before Ziggy snitched to Beeks. "Gushie," he started to say, as he stepped into the Control Room. Gushie and Tina (now Gushie's wife) were no longer in the Control Room, yawning over the terminal. The night technician took the link from him and went about her business in the side office. Al was left alone to stare at the only other person in the room. "I told everyone to go back to bed," Beth informed him. Like Al, she was wearing her pajamas and robe. "I sent Sammie Jo back to her own room. Donna and the others have just turned in." Al couldn't move or speak. She blocked his path out and he'd be trapped if he retreated into the Imaging Chamber. He couldn't help it. He still wasn't entirely convinced that she was here to stay. Beth began moving toward him. "Ziggy let me eavesdrop," she explained. The computer now transcribed the exchanges between the Observer and the Leaper. Any member of the senior staff could get a copy of the transcripts. It was just one of many changes, that Al had to cope with now. The major change in his life stood within reach. "I'm so sorry Al." They stood silently, just looking at one another. Al was still afraid to touch her, for fear Sam was wrong. Beth, ever patient, waited. She knew. She knew he would give in eventually. It was just a matter of time. Al's resistance was already beginning to crumble as he stood there studying her face. Anxious, but full of the love she always had for him. It didn't look like the face of a (almost) sixty-four-year-old woman. In fact, time had been kind to her. She looked closer in age to Donna or Verbena, she still had her health, and she had managed to keep her figure. The only indications of age were her hair, now streaked with grey, and a few wrinkles. In short, still as desirable as the day he met her. "Al?" she said, softly. *Why am I still fighting this?* Al thought. *I have Sam's word.* It was time to surrender. He held out his arms, tentatively, and she willingly stepped into his embrace. Miraculously, she didn't disappear as his arm closed around her. *Thank you, Sam.* Al moved to kiss her for the first time in over thirty years. At least, in his mind, it was. "Excuse me! There will be none of *that* in here. Restrict your sexual activities to your own living quarters, Admirals Calavicci!" Beth was blushing. Al rolled his eyes at the computer. "I thought you liked observing humans," Al growled. "I am perfectly capable of observing you and Admiral Calavicci in your own quarters, Admiral," Ziggy replied, haughtily. "For decency sake, I request that you and Admiral Calavicci restrict such activities to the appropriate place." "Decency?" Al asked, incredulously. "What about *spying* on us?" The computer hummed to herself, loftily ignoring the couple. "Al," Beth pleaded, "Let's not get into a discussion with her right now." Al gave the brightly blinking computer an angry glare before giving into his wife's gentle tugging. "Al," Beth said as the Control Room door slid open, "I don't remember Sam visiting me. Ziggy told me he was Jake Rawlins and I understand that you were there with me that night. But Sam. . . Jake never mentioned you." Al caressed her cheek. "I'll ask Sam later." Now that he was coming to terms with the situation, Al was anxious to get back to their quarters and make up for lost time. Lost time was a relative term in this case. To her, the last time they made love, was just a few days ago. To him, it was decades. The elevator arrived and Sammie Jo was inside, holding a large orange-and-white striped cat in both arms. Two huge pillows were laying at her feet. She also looked very grumpy. "I thought I sent you to your room," Beth said to her, sounding suspiciously mother-like. "I had to go back for Ferdinand and my pillows," she grumbled in response. Ferdinand, looking eternally perplexed (Al could sympathize), meowed. "You went into the Waiting room like that?" Al asked her, staring at her attire. Sammie Jo was wearing an old MIT sweatshirt (at least, as far as Al could see, with the cat in her arms) that had seen better days, oversized plaid boxer shorts, mismatched socks that slouched around her ankles (and probably had holes in the bottoms), no shoes, and her long abundant hair was pulled back in messy, lopsided ponytail. Not exactly appropriate for the Welcome Wagon. Before Sammie Jo could snap back at his wardrobe, Beth said "Bena thinks it helped, a little. George thought he was a prisoner until he saw Sammie Jo. She looks more like a college student than a captor. We still had to gas him, though, because he didn't like it when she kept pressing him about the date." Sammie Jo looked from one to the other, finally realizing that they were together. "I take it that Sam cleared up a few things?" She asked, as delicately as she could. Al nodded. "Some, but there's still some unanswered questions." "Ziggy?" Beth called out, eyeing the scientist suspiciously. "Yes, Admiral?" "Do not download the transcripts until half an hour before the morning briefing. Also, lock Dr. Fuller out of the system until then. I don't want her up all night." "Very well, Admiral." That was something else that was going to take some getting use to. Beth had remained on active duty and retired, a vice admiral, just before Ziggy went on-line. The door opened on the living quarters level. Sammie Jo grumble as she tried to juggle a large cat and two pillows. "Super-computer that can run dozens of programs at once, but can't make a elevator move faster." "Do you want some help?" She shook her head, but Beth was already saying "Help her, Al." Al took both pillows as Sammie Jo shifted the large cat into a better carrying position. The cat's presence at the project was also another result of Sam's leap into San Diego. Sammie Jo's room was between the emergency exit and Verbena's room. Beth continued on down the hall, alone. Al watched her disappear into their room as Sammie Jo opened her door. "Do you need me to read you a bedtime story or to tuck you in?" he asked Sam's daughter, in a light tone. Spoken in a different tone, on one of the other time lines, it would have been an invitation to a night of passion. But not on this time line (unless spoken to his wife) and certainly *never* to Sammie Jo, regardless. Al was eternally grateful that he never looked at Sammie Jo in that way. He had lived in fear, that after a leap (and sometimes during), Ziggy would inform him that he and Sammie Jo had an affair at some point in the new time line. "I'm almost thirty-four, Al," she grumbled, dumping her cat on the bedroom floor. Ferdinand looked up, adoringly, at Al. Al had discovered that the cat only liked two people on the project: him and Sammie Jo. He had too much else on his mind to wonder why. He handed her the pillows and she smiled sleepily. "Thanks. Did you know your robe's on inside out?" Feeling more light-hearted by the minute, Al planted a kiss on her forehead, where her hair was starting to turn grey. It would only be a matter of time before she had a lock similar to her father's and then she would guess the truth. "Goodnight, kid," Al said. Startled, and obviously touched, Sammie Jo replied, "Goodnight, Al." 2130 HRS. THURSDAY, OCTOBER 13, 1960. PENSACOLA NAS, FLORIDA After Al had left, Sam looked around the almost bare room for something to do. He wasn't particularly tired and he wasn't in the mood for music, unless he could play it. Sam perused George's book collection, but he wasn't in the mood for dry, military history-type, books. *This guy is boring, and he's in desperate need of an interior decorator.* He remembered from his short stint as Bingo, and half-formed memories of visiting Tom, that bachelor officers' quarters usually had a recreation room of some kind. There was bound to be more reading material and at least a TV set in the rec room. Sam wasn't sure he should venture out of this room until he spoke to the Observer. *But that*, he reminded himself, *could be awhile.* Sam decides to chance it anyway. What he found was, a pair of pool tables, a modest bookshelf, and no TV. A group of pilots were already playing at one of the tables. They all acknowledged his presence, but not one asked him if he cared to join the game. Sam considered the possible reasons: George couldn't shoot pool worth darn, or he wasn't well liked. None of the pilots struck up a conversation with him while they waited their turn. *He's not liked* Sam surmised. He browsed the literary pickings and came across several issues of Playboy. In 1960, Sam supposed, finding one in the recreation room of an all-male barracks was common. Though the magazine wasn't banned, 40-odd years later, it certainly wouldn't be found lying on the recreation room coffee table. Sam by-passed the magazines and continued his search A familiar face appeared in the doorway. *Chip Fergeson,* Sam thought, to himself, remembering the circumstances of the near-disastrous leap. Chip began setting up the other pool table. *I wonder if he and Al are still friends?* While Sam was flipping through the latest issue of the NAVY TIMES, he heard Chip call out, "Hey, Bingo, do you want to play a game of pool?" Sam turned. Hands stuffed causally in his pockets, and wearing a bemused expression, Al nodded. "How about you, George?" Chip asked. "Yeah, George," one of the other pilots from the first table said, "How about it?" "Ah, no thanks, guys. I'm fine. I'll just watch." *Interesting,* Sam thought, *Al walks in, and they all trip over themselves to include George.* Sam had watched Al play pool before. He even remember ‘Black Magic' Walters, the man who taught Al the game. Walters was one of the best and his pupil was no slough, either. Normally. After Al botched a relatively easy shot, Sam took a hard look at the younger version of his Observer. He was unusually quiet and contemplative. Al stood by the table, lost in thought, while Chip made his shots. Sam expected joking, drinking, smoking, and the usual repertoire of stories. This was *not* Al. Then he realized it. Al was in love. Sam shouldn't have been surprised. After all, that was what his previous leap was all about. But seeing him like this, Sam knew he would never had made this leap, if he hadn't made the changes to Al's past. He wouldn't have been able to bear the sight of either Al. One, deeply in love and blissfully unaware of what lay ahead, and the other, still deeply in love and wallowing in grief knowing that the younger man would lose her. Sam didn't even want to contemplate what the presence of Beth, on this leap, would have done to his hologram. *But everything is fine, now,* Sam thought, *I hope.* The fact that the Observer hadn't reappeared, demanding an explanation, eased Sam's mind. "Oh, man, Bingo!" Chip was saying to Al. "Why don't you just give it up? I've seen you play better drunk." Al seemed not to take offense. He waited for Chip to finish his turn. With several well- aimed shots, Al cleared the table and won the game. He returned his pool cue and wandered over to where Sam sat. Chip shook his head ruefully. Al plopped down on in the chair across from Sam. "What's wrong? Did you have a fight with Beth?" Instinctively, Sam knew this wasn't the case. ‘George', on the other hand, might think that. Al frowned, with a puzzled expression on his face, "No, but something *is* bothering her. I just wish I could figure it out." Sam shrugged. "Why not ask her?" "I did. She keeps insisting it's nothing. I keep bringing her flowers. Her face lights up every time, as if I've never done it before, but somehow she still seems..." Al was at loss for a word. Sam was, too. Al had more experience dealing with women, and he seemed to be more sensitive to their feeling. More than Sam would have given him credit for, anyway. Sam had to keep reminding himself that this was a pre-Vietnam Al who hadn't lost the woman he loved to another man. "Well, it can't be that bad, whatever it is. I mean, she's still talking to you, and seeing you. So, whatever you did--" Al cut him off. "That's the problem," he said leaning forward. "I'm not even sure it has anything to do with me. You said it yourself, she hasn't given me the cold shoulder." He had a point. Sam was about to say something profound and meaningful, when a memory floated to the surface. A memory that couldn't possibly be his. ^*Al and Chip, flirting, with a group a young ladies. Then there was Beth.*^ The expression on her face, reminded Sam of his leap as Jake. George had witnessed the whole thing. Sam realized he shouldn't be having this conversation with the younger Al. He was about to change the subject when he realized that the younger man's mind had wandered away again. This was familiar territory, at least. Al's mind wandered a lot, especially when it came to women. Sam stood up. It would be safer to talk to the elder version first, before having any more heart- to-hearts with the younger. *Then again, ~his~ mind will probably wander even more, considering there are two Beths.* "Goodnight, Al." "Goodnight, George," Al replied, absently. Sam trudged up to his room, wondering what was on the agenda for tomorrow, and how he was going to cope with two love-sick Als.