Chapter 26 Al had returned to his office to find messages waiting for him from Senator's Weitzman and McBride. He called them back and after an hour and a half of trying to please them and placate them with promises, he was more angry than when he had started. He left his office with a fresh head full of steam. He was so lost in his thoughts that as he turned a corner he ran into Donna. Literally. She stumbled, but luckily didn't fall. Good thing too, because she was holding the baby. Al took a step back. "Sorry." Donna waved him off. "It's okay. No harm done." She shifted her tiny bundle from one arm to the other. Al peered at the tiny bundle she was holding. Baby Johnny was asleep. "May I?" he asked while holding out his arms. "Of course." She carefully placed the newborn in Al's arms. She beamed as she watched the look on Al's face change from worried frustration to loving uncle. It could not have been easy for Al, these past couple of days. She could understand what he had been feeling. Al gazed at Sam's son. Al could already see the similarity between father and son. The baby looked just like his dad. Al couldn't help but smile. He placed a kiss on the baby's head, and got a whiff of that special smell all newborns have, a sort of mixture of baby powder, and innocence that made you want to hold them forever. He wished again that he could bring Sam home. It was bad enough that Sam had to miss his daughter Sammi-Jo's childhood, but did he have to miss his son's too? This child deserved a chance to know his father, to play ball, and have piggy back rides. He deserved to grow up with two loving parents, in a loving home. Al rocked the baby gently. Al did not get to see much of Sammi-Jo, not since she transferred to Research and Development six months ago. He occasionally stopped by to keep an eye on her, and make sure she was okay. He would always look after her, while Sam was gone. With a final glance at the miracle in his arms, Al handed the baby back to Donna. She took the baby and adjusted the blanket surrounding him. "Al? Where were you heading?" He checked the time on his watch. "Back to my quarters for lunch with Beth, but I better check on Sam first. I don't know when I will get another opportunity, as the Board has convened a meeting this afternoon to discuss the final quarter's budget." "Has there been any change?" Her tone was hopeful. "In the budget? No, not that I am aware of… " He saw the confused look she shot him and realized that money was not what she was asking about. "Oh, you mean Sam.... No, no change there either. I'm sorry Donna." "Keep me informed in both cases, okay?" "I sure will, Donna." Donna smiled a weak smile, then headed off to her quarters, as Al turned and headed for the elevator and back towards the Imaging Chamber. As he entered the Control room, he saw Gooshie's legs sticking out from under the main console for Ziggy. The man's head and arms had disappeared inside. Tina was on the other side and was handing some tools down as they were needed. Al stepped up to the console. "Gooshie?" A sharp rap of a head striking a surface then a muttered "Ouch" brought Gooshie out. He was rubbing his forehead and cursing under his breath. "Yes, Admiral?" "What's going on here?" Al was nosing about curiously. "Just a simple alteration, and an update to the retrieval program. The alteration is to keep the 'spinning sensation' that you feel at lock-on to a minimum. The update is from a new formula devised from Research and Development, handed down this morning from Dr. Samantha Fuller." He wiped his brow with a nearby towel. "What brings you back so soon, Admiral?" "I want to check on Sam before lunch." Al extracted a cigar from his pocket and lit it. "Can you fire up the chamber yet?" "Sure. Give me a minute to load the program." He turned back to Tina and gave her some commands. She disappeared under the console that Gooshie had emerged from. Al waited patiently, and thought about what Verbena had said to him earlier. It was true, he had been cross with others as of late, and the pressure he was under was still no excuse to treat them the way he had. He puffed on his cigar and thought. Gooshie entered a sequence of commands as Tina exited the console and closed the panel. Al heard the familiar sound of the Imaging Chamber starting up. "Ummm, Gooshie?" He began as he took the handlink offered to him. "Hmmm?" The programmer's attention was elsewhere. Al stepped over in front of Gooshie. "I just want to apologize for my earlier behavior. This stress is getting to all of us, and I didn't mean to take it out on you. I know that you really were concerned about me." Gooshie looked thoughtful for a moment. "Apology accepted. I'm glad you're okay." A final beep from the console brought his attention downward. "Chamber on-line." Al nodded and headed up the ramp. Once inside he waited as the sequence was begun. Al noted with interest that the upgrade had worked. For once, the spinning didn't bother him. The room coalesced into Sam's room with a whirl of color. The chair was still by Sam's bedside. Al walked over to sit in it, but decided to stand instead. He looked down at Sam's still face and was reminded of the baby. He sighed. "Sam, oh Sam. You need to come home." He checked some data on the handlink. "I wish you would wake up. Gooshie is updating the retrieval program again. The odds are better this time of bringing you home, over 65%, the highest they have ever been. We'd like to try to retrieve you again, but you have to be conscious first." Al watched as the machines beeped with Sam's heartbeat. The room was just too still. He couldn't take much more of this. "Sam? I'll be back soon. I'm going to check a few things for you." He punched the buttons for the door. As it rose and he stepped towards it, one of the machines began to beep loudly. Al turned away from the door and stepped back to Sam's bedside. The door slid shut behind him. The insistent beeping had brought in one of the nurses. She checked the machine, and turned the alarm off. She recorded a notation in the chart and left to get a doctor. Sam stirred on the bed and tried to open his eyes. He slammed them shut against the harsh lighting in the room. Al stepped even closer to the bed. His image was almost inside the bed, he was so close. "Sam? Sam can you hear me?" Sam attempted to lick his lips, but his mouth was dry. "Al?" His voice was barely more than a whisper. Relief flooded through Al's body. He wanted to laugh with joy. "I'm here, Sam. I'm right here." Sam forced his eyes open a bit. "Where... " He coughed. "Where am I?" "Bayfront Hospital, Sam." He checked the handlink. "And your Doctor, a Dr. Browning, is on his way in here." Sam struggled to sit up a bit. Al was relieved to see Sam move both his arms and legs. He stepped back a bit so that his image was more or less right next to Sam. Footsteps in the hallway warned Al that people were coming. He stepped out to check on who. Sam watched him leave and mistook his intentions. "Al! Don't leave me!" Al stepped back in the room. "I'm not going anywhere, Sam. I'll stay with you." Sam gave up trying to sit up and settled for rolling over to one side. "What happened, Al? I can't remember anything." Al was about to respond when the doctor walked into the room. He took the chart and went over to Sam's bedside, walking completely through Al in the process. "How are you feeling, young lady? Can you remember your name?" Sam blinked and did a double-take. He looked from Al to the Doctor with a puzzled expression. "I think I'm okay, but my name is Sam and....." Al cut him off with a sharply spoken "SAM!" Sam's mouth snapped shut in mid sentence. Now it was the doctor's turn to look puzzled. "Sam?" He made a notation in the chart. "Can you tell me the date?" Al spoke up, trying to fill Sam in and fast. "Sam. Listen to me. Your name is Jessica. Jessica Marchecci. You have a young baby girl named Kelly. The date is July 13, 1988. Now tell him..." He pointed at the doctor, "before you get your brain dissected." Sam again looked from Al to the doctor. "But Al, the date is September 5, 1995 and I'm not a woman!" "Sam..." Al warned. "Al? Who is Al?" The doctor was scribbling like crazy on the chart. Sam looked completely stumped. "I don't understand. Al, will you tell him I'm not crazy!" "Sam. He can't see or hear me. Can't you remember?" Sam frowned. "No, I can't remember. I don't know how I got here. Or what is going on." He tried to sit up again and this time was more successful. The doctor made a couple more notations on his chart. "Okay. Why don't you just rest for a bit. I'm ordering some tests. We will find out what has happened. Okay?" Sam nodded. "Okay. Can I get a drink?" "Sure you can. I'll send someone in with one." He closed the chart and left. Sam focused his attention back on Al. "Why couldn't he see you? And why does he think I'm a woman?" Al's mind raced. Sam still thought it was 1995, so therefore he hadn't leaped yet. He wondered how much information he should give Sam. "Sam, what is the last thing you clearly remember?" Al began typing commands into Ziggy and called for Verbena to standby. Sam closed his eyes and tried to bring up his last clear memory. He opened them and looked directly at Al. "The last thing I remember is going back home last night after we debugged the retrieval program for Ziggy. We were going to work on the Acceleration program tomorrow. What happened, Al? How did I end up here? Where is Bayfront? It's nowhere near Alamagordo..." he trailed off, very confused. The handlink bleeped and Al turned around to read it. He didn't want Sam to ask any more questions until he had some idea as to how to answer them. He read the screen and typed in a reply. Sam was trying to look over Al's shoulder. "What are you doing, Al? Why won't you answer me?" He reached a hand out to touch Al's shoulder and yelped in surprise to see his hand pass right through Al. Al turned around to catch the look of total bewilderment on Sam's face. He walked closer to Sam and watched as his friend shrinked back in the bed. "Sam…calm down. It's not what you think. I'm not a ghost. Okay?" "Okay.. what then?" Sam had calmed some, but was still wary. "Explain it to me. Tell me something at least." The nurse entered the room and overheard the last sentence. She handed a cup of water to Sam along with a small cup which held two white pills. "We'd love to tell you more, dear. Unfortunately, until the tests are run, we just don't know." Sam took the water, but stared at the pills. "What are they?" "Something to help relax you." Sam swallowed the pills and washed them down with a few sips of water. The nurse took the empty cups. "Now get some rest. Someone will be back shortly to get you set up in a permanent room." She left the room. That was when Sam actually looked around at the room he was in. "All right, Al. Enough is enough. I want to know just what is going on and why I am in ICU in a city I have no idea where it is located." Al sat on the chair. "Okay, I'm gonna start at the beginning." He took a deep breath. "Or maybe I should just let you ask the questions you need answered." He went to take a puff from his cigar which he had forgotten he had held and was surprised to find it had gone out. He relit it, and waited. Sam tried to put his questions in some sort of order. "Al, if you aren't a ghost, what are you? I can see you and hear you.. but no one else can. Why?" "I'm a neurological hologram tuned to the mesons of your optic and audic neurons." Al took a puff from the cigar. Verbena had said it was best to just answer the questions as honestly as possible. Sam thought about that for a moment. "Where is Bayfront? Is it in New Mexico?" "Nope. St. Petersburg, Florida." "Florida??? Ohhhh boy. I'm not sure how to take that. Why do people think I am a woman?" Sam wanted that question answered next. "That one is a little harder to explain." Al looked around the room for something that could be used as a mirror. He spied a small reflective surface in one of the machines that was still monitoring Sam's heartbeat. "Sam, do as I say. And don't be alarmed. I will explain everything. But do what I say. The machine over to your right, has a reflective surface. Look at yourself." Sam bent over to the machine and gasped at the reflection. A pretty young girl looked up at him. He blinked and the girl blinked back. He raised a hand and the girl did the same. The girl reminded him of someone... someone close to him. A name tickled the back of his brain. He turned back to Al. "Okay, I look like a girl, now please tell me why." "Do you think you can handle this? It gets complicated." "It would be better to know, don't you think?" Sam crossed his arms over his chest, then thought about that and uncrossed them. "If I go to far or say something you don't understand, stop me. Okay?" When Sam nodded, Al continued. "You're part of a time-travel experiment that went a little to far. You obviously remember Ziggy, right?" Sam nodded again. "The supercomputer I am building for project Quantum Leap. Wait a minute.. are you telling me that somehow what is going on here is related to the project?" This time it was Al's turn to nod. "Exactly. You were pressured to prove the project works, so you jumped into the Accelerator before it was fully finished. Instead of just observing the past, you ended up stuck in it. Basically you leap from person to person putting right what once went wrong. When that is done, you leap on to the next person." Sam relaxed back into the pillows. "Well that explains some. But that doesn't explain what I am doing in a hospital. Or why this person looks familiar to me. Have I met her in my life somehow?" Al shook his head. "No. Not to our knowledge. Now as to why you are here, hmmm.. this one is tough... You were driving back home, well not to your home, but Jessica's home." He pointed at the reflection. "And on the way, you were involved in an auto accident." He finished his cigar and tossed the butt into a standing ashtray kept in the Imaging Chamber just for this purpose. "Did I cause the accident? Was anyone hurt?" Sam was worried. "No, you didn't cause the accident. A drunk driver did. And the only one that was seriously hurt was you. The other people in the car had some minor injuries, but you were put into a coma. You just woke up from it." He hoped that explanation would suffice for the time being. Sam closed his eyes, trying to remember anything at all. The name that had been bugging him suddenly came to him in a flash of insight. "DONNA!" His eyes flashed open at the name. Al was unprepared for that little quirk. Of all the things he had to remember. "Al? How is Donna? I mean, where is Donna? " Sam was eager for information. Al typed some information into the handlink. He was paging Donna to the main control room. He didn't know what to say or how to say it. He wanted her to answer these questions even if it was through Ziggy. "Next question, Sam. We will get back to her in a bit." Sam didn't like that idea. "Why?" "I can't answer every question the way you would like. I've given you a lot of information now as it is. A lot more than was ever given to you on your first leap. So let that one question rest for the time being. I'll tell you what I can. Okay?" He hoped Donna would hurry. Sam dropped it for now. "How long have I been Leaping?" He figured it couldn't have been very long. Maybe a year or two. "I was hoping that you wouldn't ask that. Does it really matter? We can now try to bring you back, now that you have woken up from the coma." "Al, just tell me. I mean so what if it has been a year." He watched Al's face. "Or two." Still no sign. "Three years?" Al turned away. "More? It has been more than three years?" Al looked at the floor. "Try five years. In one month it will be five years to the date that you leaped." "Five years??? Why haven't I been brought home?" Al stood. "We tried, Sam. Time and time again we tried. The problem is, the only person who could bring you home was you. But your brain got so swiss-cheesed from the Leaping that you couldn't help us. We are going to try again real soon." Al was about to begin pacing the room, when the handlink beeped for his attention. He glanced at the small screen and was surprised to read what he saw. He better prepare Sam. He turned to look at his best friend. "Sam. Sam, so many times I've wanted to do what I am about to do now. Please look at me." Sam had been staring at his hands after the last shock dropped on him. He looked up at Al. "What?" "Even if you never remember again what I am about to do, Ziggy will. Sam, Donna is here. I'm going to bring her in now." He hit the keys that would open the door, and waited while Donna entered the room. Sam couldn't see her, of course until he was to hold her hand. Donna entered the room and was amazed at the size of it. She had never been in here, but she hadn't figured it was so large. What she got the biggest kick out of, was the look of total disbelief on Al's face when he realized that not only did she intend to let Sam see her, she was also going to let Sam see his son. She went to stand by Al's side. "Al, Gooshie says the new upgrade will not only let me see Sam as Sam, but also will let him hear me as well." Al recovered from the bomb that had just been dropped on him. "Donna, why?" He motioned to the baby in her arms. He was careful not to touch her just yet. "Because now he remembers me. And because of something you said. We can talk about that later. Right now I want to see Sam." She shifted a bit and settled the baby in her arms. Al looked to Sam who was watching him carry on a conversation with empty air. "Are you ready, Sam?" Sam nodded and watched as Al took the hand of the woman standing next to him. Donna popped into full view, baby and all. Sam's jaw dropped open. Then he did quick math in his head. The baby was only a couple of days old, if that. Subtract nine months, and well, you didn't need a rocket scientist to figure out that something wasn't kosher. Tears had built up in Donna's eyes. It had been so long since she had seen Sam. "Hi, Sam." He looked at her a mixture of pure love and anger in his eyes. "Hello, Donna." He dropped his gaze quickly, and looked away. When he looked up again, the anger was brighter. She was taken aback by his response. "Sam? What's wrong? I mean besides the obvious. I thought you'd be happy to see me." Sam reached out a hand to touch her, then remembered that she was a hologram to him too. "I am. I mean I would have been, but... oh Donna, how could you???" He stared at the baby she was holding. Al whispered in Donna's ear. "I know why he's mad. He thinks he hasn't been home for 5 years. You do the math." Donna looked from Al, to the baby and to Sam. Then she broke out laughing. "How can you think it is funny, Donna? I find it insulting, to say the least." Sam looked at his laughing wife angrily. "Sam, believe it or not, this baby is yours." She took a moment to catch her breath. "You leaped home briefly, and well as they say it only takes one try." She composed herself and went on. "It's a long story, but the end result is you had to Leap again to save Al. But it was enough that he was the result." She looked at the baby in her arms. "Sam, I want you to meet your son, John Albert Beckett." Al helped her unwrap the baby some, so Sam could get a good look. Sam looked at his son, then looked at Al. "Really? He's mine?" Al nodded. "He's yours, Sam." Sam would have said more, but the nurse chose that time to show up. "Jessica? Your room is ready." She wheeled in a wheelchair. "We will be moving you now." Al decided this was more than enough for Sam right now. He would let Sam get settled, then come back. "Sam, we are going to go for now. You get settled and I'll come back in a couple hours." At Sam's crestfallen look he added. "I'll bring Donna and Johnny too." Sam grinned. It was the happiest Al had ever seen him. "Okay." The nurse had gone to get a blanket to cover Sam, so he chose that moment to say his good-byes. "I love you, Donna. See you soon, Al." Donna smiled even as a tear tracked its way down her cheek. "I love you too, Sam." Al punched the code for the door, and they left.