Chapter Seventeen







Doctor Steiner looked around at the confused faces of the committee,
cleared his throat and addressed Sam Beckett.

"I'm afraid you've lost us with this story," he said in a hesitant voice.
"Are you insinuating that Admiral Calavicci had some prior knowledge of
Project Quantum Leap? Not to jump ahead here, but in a later episode in the
Project's existence, he does claim to tell his younger self about it."
Doctor Steiner paused. "Would this bear some relationship at all to your
string theory?"

Sam nodded. "The string theory is the basis for quantum leaping. As I
stated in my brief, life is like--"

"'Life is like a string, with one end representing birth and the other,
death.'" Captain Adams glanced up from the paper in his hands, then
continued to read from it. "'If you touch the ends together, your life
becomes a loop. Crumple the string, and one day in your life touches
another out of sequence. It is this theory that justifies leaping through
time, or jumping from one area of the string to the other.'"

"We've already familiarized ourselves with the theory, Captain," Admiral
Peovis commented.

Adams gave the other man a look of irritation. "So how DO you explain
Admiral Calavicci's statement, Doctor?"

"My life," Sam explained, "even though I leap, continues to be a loop. The
string is balled up, but the loop remains intact. It's true, in a leap that
took place later in the Project, I went back and changed something in
Admiral Calavicci's life. But only when that happened did he know about it
in the present."

"And yet," Steiner pointed out, "the Admiral knew about this change during
your encounter in the medical ward, technically before you even changed
it."

"Subconsciously," Sam pointed out. "He didn't remember anything about it
later."

Al sighed. "Doctor Steiner, what we're trying to explain here are two, uh,
alternate realities. One is the base reality where Doctor Beckett never
interfered with history, and the other is the reality where he changed
history and affected my life and the lives of other people."

Peovis leaned forward. "Could one of these realities be labeled as the
dominant one?"

"Yes, this one," Al replied quickly. "The world that existed before the
start of our project is simply the ground floor, if you will, of time
travel." Under his breath, he muttered, "Shut up, Sam."

Sam hunched over and began to speak in a harsh whisper. "But we can't be
sure of that--"
"You see, Admiral," Al explained in a louder voice, blocking out Sam's
words, "the base reality and the reality that Doctor Beckett affected are
the same. The only difference is the sequence in which the events occur."

Doctor Levin spoke up. "So Doctor Beckett went back, changed something and
that altered past became our present reality?"

"That's right."

"But what if the string theory is incorrect?" Admiral Mirosa remarked.
"What if there is more than one level of reality in existence-- different
floors, if you will-- and Doctor Beckett's time travel experiment has
interfered with those?"

"Or created new ones?" Doctor Mayes interjected.

Sam looked between Virginia Mayes and Captain Adams, suddenly confused by
the flurry of questions. The string theory, incorrect? A lifetime of work
on an important basis for time travel... wrong? Even Sam had to admit the
possibility of it. He'd worked things out as best he could, but still--

"What would it matter?" he found himself asking.

Al shivered as a cruel smile crept over St. John's thin face.

"It might matter," Peovis said, "if those other realities interfered with
ours, just as yours has altered our original past."

"That's impossible."

"Not exactly," Doctor Levin interjected. Sam shifted his gaze to the man
seated beside Peovis. "The people in these other realities would have
access to your computer and your equipment, wouldn't they? In your absence,
it would make them capable of leaping through time, also."

"I suppose so," Sam replied slowly. "I hadn't really..." He paused and
blinked rapidly. "I guess so."

Admiral Mirosa looked around with an uncomfortable expression on his face,
then shuffled the papers in front of him. "I'm afraid we've lapsed into
theory and unproved facts, here. Doctor Beckett," Mirosa questioned him, "I
wonder if you could answer another kind of question for me? Something a
little less involved."

Sam hesitated, then nodded.

"How does the time factor work in your group's project? Time of observation
versus time of occurrence, and so forth. At least, how did your theories
start out and what became the reality?"

"Observation versus occurrence," Sam mused. He thought about it for a few
seconds. "For example, if the Observer's hologram is in the past with me
and we witness a car wreck, the time it takes for the incident to occur is
the same for both of us. It's an instantaneous thing. He can't leap ahead
and see the accident after it happens-- we're linked."

"And what about between your leaps?" Mayes asked. "How much time passes
between the leaps from one area to another?"

"Well, there is a difference for us in that matter. For me, it's an
instantaneous event. I go right from one person's life and their actions at
that moment into another."

"From our perspective here at the Project," Al said, "it was very
different. On some of his leaps, I'd be able to lock onto his location
right away, so the leap was over-- and another one began-- in the same
amount of time for both of us. Other times..." Al's voice trailed off.

"There was a delay?" Peovis prodded.

"Yes. You see, in order to find Doctor Beckett, we relied on the computer
to lock onto his neurons and mesons. An actual link could only be made
after he replaced someone in time. This exchange process sometimes took a
while."

"How long?" Levin asked.

Al paused and glanced at Sam, then back at Levin. "A while. Anywhere from a
matter of hours to... several weeks."

"Weeks?!?" Sam turned to Al, shocked, but Al steadfastly ignored him.

"What is the longest time," Steiner asked as he adjusted his reading
glasses, "that you, shall we say, misplaced Doctor Beckett?"

Al took a deep breath.

"How long?" Sam demanded.

"Four months," Al replied in a low voice.

The members of the review board began to mutter to one another, and Sam
clenched his jaw and looked away from Al.

"This is not in any our records," St. John snapped at them. He stared at Al
and tapped his index finger on a folder. "Why are there no documents
concerning such a delayed absence?"

"As Project Observer," Al replied tersely, "I felt that the information
results fell under my control. The loss of contact with Sam Beckett was
hard on everyone, and I wanted to keep that fact out of the records."

"Why?" Sam begged for an answer.

"There were a number of things that didn't go right for us." Al continued
to stare ahead. "Doctor Beckett's unexpected memory losses, problems with
the retrieval system, along with electrical problems and other difficulties
made our task hard enough. I didn't think anyone outside of the Project
should know about that four-month stretch. It was just another element out
of our control."

"That's all well and good," St. John said harshly, "but you also kept that
fact from us! There wasn't even a clue that--"

Admiral Peovis raised his hands for silence. "It seems we have strayed from
our original topic discussions. I hope perhaps next time, we might stick to
the subject at hand. If there are no further questions, I would like to
adjourn this meeting. And Admiral Calavicci, I strongly suggest you look
over your information for any more of these lapses. I would prefer not to
stumble across others. And that is not a request."

"Yes, Admiral," Al replied.

The committee members began to gather up their paperwork, with a few
curious glances at the two men seated in front of them.

Al dared to look at Sam and as he turned, he felt himself freeze as Sam's
cold, strange gaze met his own. Ignoring their unusual blue depths, he kept
staring into Sam's eyes as he searched for something familiar, some hint of
the friend he had known.

"You should've told me," Sam whispered.

"You never needed to know."

"The hell I didn't."

"Doctor Beckett," Al replied in a harsh tone, "I've got news for you. There
are things going on here that you don't even begin to understand."

Al pushed himself away from the table and straightened his uniform, then
snatched up his briefcase and headed for the door without a look back. Sam
remained at the table for a minute, his mind blank, then finally hurried
towards the exit. He searched the hallway until he spotted Al's white
uniform down the long passageway to his left, and trotted towards the
officer.

"I suppose you're mad at me because I didn't tell you about the time gap,"
Al said as Sam drew even with him.

"Why didn't you?"

Sam reached out to slow him down, but as his fingers wrapped around the
white uniform, Al came to an abrupt halt and glanced down at the hand on
his arm with a sneer. Sam paused as Al's dark, intense eyes met his own and
the words, "military bearing" flashed through his mind. This time, Sam
shuddered at Al's gaze and released his grip.

"Your concerns were for the success of the Project," Al replied coldly.
"The results were mine."

"No, they're ours. This is a team effort, and--"

"Oh, NOW it's a team effort? What about what you said before? 'This is my
Project,'" he mocked Sam. "You wouldn't even talk to me. Everything came by
memo from Ziggy."

"You're withholding information from me."

"I'm trying to save our necks. All you seem to care about is working out
the bugs in the system and continuing with the experiment. That's not what
all of this is about." Al gripped his briefcase tighter and began to walk
off, but Sam placed a firm hand on Al's shoulder.

"What do you mean?" Sam demanded.

Al pressed his lips together and looked around, but the hallway had cleared
out and they stood alone. He shrugged off Sam's hand.

"At this point," Al began sternly, "I don't give a damn about you, not with
the way you've been acting. But I do care about Donna and Tina and everyone
else. That's why I'm telling you this."

Al waited for a reaction, but Sam remained motionless.

"St. John is here to do what I couldn't. The committee doesn't care if
we're here to continue the Project or not. But St. John does. He wants all
our information so that he can pass it on to another scientist."

"They want to take the Project from me?"

"From us. Yes. My guess is that unless we can prove to these people that
we're indispensable, they're going to pull us off of it." Al sighed and his
shoulders slumped. "But it's much more than that, Sam. There's more at
stake than just Quantum Leap. Look, I'm military-- I know the different
ways I can be removed from a top-secret project, and all the options aren't
pretty. But you and Donna are civilians, with a life and a history outside
of this institution. To protect themselves, they could make you disappear."

Sam's eyes widened. "They'd kill us?"

"No, I doubt it. You're too valuable. They might change your identities and
relocate you, and keep you working in some program or project somewhere.
But the end result is that you two would be pulled away from your friends
and families. Maybe even from each other."

"They can't do that!"

"They can, and they probably will. Don't you see what this is all about?"
Al held up one hand, his finger and thumb pressed together. "The minute
we're able to consistently leap a person into exactly the right day, time
and place to change an event in history, the Project is out of our control.
We've given the government the weapon they want."

"Weapon?" Sam shook his head viciously. "No! It's not supposed to be--"

"Listen to me, Sam!" Al grabbed Sam's shoulders and stared into his eyes.
In that moment, Sam could see the controlled, determined man that had
advanced to Rear Admiral, and he marveled at the strong individual before
him.

"We've already done it on a few leaps. That's one thing against us, but
because we've had configuration changes since then, we've got a little
leeway with the committee. They want solid facts before they take over
something like this." Al swallowed and dropped his arms. "Whatever you do,
don't tell this to anyone else on the Project. We've got enough to worry
about as it is, and they don't need to feel the strain of this situation
any more than they do now."

Sam blinked and looked at Al's tense face in genuine surprise. How long ago
had Al come to that decision, to keep the real problems to himself? That's
something a leader does, Sam thought. He takes the burden on himself and
keeps it off others. Why haven't I done that?

"All right, it's just between us."

"Good. We're walking a fine line here, Sam."

"I understand." Sam studied Al's features carefully. "You know, I still
don't trust you."

"I know. You've got good reason not to. I don't care if you believe me or
not," Al replied in an exhausted tone, "but the truth is that this project
is important to me. It's like the last great cause I'm probably ever going
to fight for." He tilted his head and looked at Sam's tired face. "You look
beat. Why don't you get some sleep? We'll get together on all this
tomorrow."

"I guess we'd better, huh? Make sure that we're fighting for the same
side."

Al nodded and started to walk off.

"Al?"

He stopped and looked back. "Yea?"

Sam opened his mouth, then closed it again. His instinct to danger, which
had been strengthened by the leaps, spoke to him faintly.

"What is it?" Something inside Al also perked up as that unidentifiable
feeling emerged inside him, too.

Sam shrugged. "I don't know. Nothing, I guess. I'll see you later."

Al nodded again and continued down the hall in a stiff-legged march. For
the third time, it struck Sam how different he appeared in uniform, in both
dress and personality. He looked like the perfect example of
responsibility, honor, maturity and control-- a sharp contrast to the
opinionated, eccentric individualist in the Imaging Chamber.

What's wrong, then? Sam asked himself as Al disappeared around the corner.
He couldn't figure it out, but something didn't feel right.

Something definitely didn't feel right.







                              Chapter Eighteen







Deanna Calavicci watched from the back of the lecture hall as the
scientists of Project Engram settled into the gray plastic seats, talking
and laughing with one another about various events-- last night's baseball
game, the newest developments in their respective departments, or what
movies they saw over the past weekend. She glanced over the group, unable
to restrain her disappointment, then closed her eyes.

Part of her exclusion from their activities came from the uniform she wore;
after all, the outfit represented one of the organizations responsible for
the downfall of Project Quantum Leap. But part of her isolation could be
called self-induced, as she hid behind the persona of a stoic naval
officer.

Another factor came into it, though. Lieutenant Calavicci, an
extraordinarily young scientist arriving at a top-secret project had
automatically gained the prized assignment of Assistant to the Project
Observer.

But didn't Sammi Jo do the same thing? Deanna pondered. And everyone
accepted her right away, regardless of her age. But then, she's Sam
Beckett's daughter. They don't realize that, but in some way I believe they
know...

Deanna opened her eyes and looked down at the podium just as Sammi Jo
Trenton stepped up behind it, dressed in western-style clothing with a
large blue scarf around her neck.

They know her, Deanna told herself, because they know Sam Beckett. Nobody
here knew that my father was the Observer. Was? Is? Will be?

She straightened up in her seat and brushed the problem from her mind as
Sammi Jo began to speak.

"Well," Sammi Jo began in a clear voice, "I'm glad to see that everyone
could make it." She fixed Deanna with an even look, and Deanna gave her a
wide, cheesy grin.

Sammi Jo coughed and continued. "I suppose the first thing to do is to
break the bad news to you. Since we can't put them to any practical use,
the Accelerator Chamber and the Main Control Room have begun to be
dismantled."

Sammi Jo's face reflected her displeasure as the other scientists muttered
amongst themselves, but she kept it from her voice. "The equipment we're
removing," she went on to explain, "will be divided up between Doctor Eric
McCarthy's department and that of Doctor Zoe Baldez. Doctor Baldez will
inherit the equipment from the Accelerator Chamber, and Doctor McCarthy
will utilize the components from Alpha's mainframe."

Deanna scanned the crowd until she located Doctor Baldez' red hair in the
second row. The older woman bobbed her head up and down at Sammi Jo's
words.

What a waste! Deanna thought. How does she expect to use field generators
in electro-chemical brain experiments?

"That room will be a general storage area from now on," Sammi Jo added as
she shuffled several papers in front of her. Deanna shook her head at the
show, knowing that notes didn't have to support Sammi Jo's photographic
memory.

"All right. Now, an update on the main control room. Computer terminals are
scheduled to be installed within the next two months, so we'll be able to
access a variety of information from newspapers, magazines and various
public records from around the world. And if anyone was wondering? No, we
don't have access to top-secret files."

The group muttered again, and a few quick laughs echoed around the
auditorium.

I've got a surprise for you, Deanna thought as she turned her attention
back to Sammi Jo. Ziggy has access to a lot more than you think.

"Now, is there anything that anyone would like to bring up?"

An arm went up three rows down from Deanna, and Sammi Jo nodded in that
direction.

"Yes, Eric?"

Doctor Eric McCarthy lowered his arm. "I've got a few questions about the
use of the generators," he said.

The words carried around the room in his deep, clear voice, and Deanna
glanced approvingly at his handsome profile. "The field generators designed
by Sam Beckett were intended to displace matter, to move it from one area
to another along an etheric plane. How would they be useful for the work
being done by Doctor Baldez? Their spectrum is tuned to a much higher
level."

Deanna grinned. All right! At least someone else knows that.

Sammi Jo met Eric's brown eyes and held his gaze as she spoke. "Our
generators are based on those designed by Albert Einstein, as you know. The
man was a genius, but he created something that he had no idea of its
potential. They are capable of functioning in many different ways."

"But how can you use them for--"

"The generators," Sammi Jo interrupted, "are slated to be modified by Zoe.
She'll make whatever adjustments are necessary for her experiments."

With a grunt, Eric settled back in his seat and fell silent.

Sammi Jo has spoken, Deanna thought angrily. That's it. The final word.

Sammi Jo looked over the room again, apparently undisturbed by Eric's
question. "Have there been any new developments or news this past month?"

After a few moments of shuffling and muttered voices, another hand went up.

"I think I have something," a man said hesitantly.

"What is it, Dave?"

Doctor David Kendrick paused again. "Well, I'm not too sure. It came out of
our system this morning." He pulled out a sheet of paper and cleared his
throat. "It sounds like a riddle:

'Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future, and
time future contained in time past.'

"But I'm not sure if it means anything," he added.

"Could you repeat that, please?" Deanna said, her hand poised above the
computer notepad.

Professor Kendrick repeated the sentence as Deanna quickly scribbled down
the words. When she finished, Deanna sat back and pushed a button, watching
as her messy black handwriting faded away, to be replaced a moment later
with neatly-printed words.

Kendrick turned around, his blank gaze on Deanna. "Do you understand it?"

Deanna swallowed. "It... sounds familiar," she said finally, "but... no, I
don't."

A tapping sound emitted from the podium. Deanna looked down at Sammi Jo,
who leaned forward with her gaze darting between her and Dave. For a long
moment her attention rested on Deanna, then she cleared her throat and
stood up straight again.

"All right," she said to everyone in a neutral voice. "Is there anything
else that anyone wants to add?"

Sammi Jo nodded at the silence that followed her words. There hadn't been
much progress in the past few months, and the lack of response from anyone
simply confirmed her suspicions-- the project had begun to wind down.

"There's just one last topic to bring up," she said with a sigh. She looked
down at her hands, then lifted her head and stared blankly ahead. "Doctor
Edward St. John suffered organ failure at nine o'clock this morning. There
will be a memorial service for him tomorrow afternoon in the second-level
meeting room, after which his ashes will be sprinkled on the project
grounds, as he requested."

"Dead?" Deanna's voice came out in a puff of air, inaudible to everyone but
her. Sh bent her head and stared numbly at the desk top, feeling everyone's
gaze turn to her.

"Which means," Sammi Jo added, "that Lieutenant Deanna Calavicci is our new
Project Observer."

Deanna kept her eyes closed as the meeting dispersed, and remained
motionless as everyone filed past her towards the exit. A hand touched her
arm, and she looked down at the strong, tanned fingers that rested there.

"If you need anything," Eric said in a low voice, "I'm here."

She nodded and closed her eyes again as Eric walked away. When the
shuffling noises ceased, Deanna swallowed a couple of times and lifted her
head. A slim figure stood in front of her, a few feet away.

"Are you all right?" Sammi Jo said in a low voice.

"Fine time to ask," Deanna whispered. "You couldn't tell me in private,
could you?" she snapped.

"Well, I didn't think the two of you were... that close," she replied in an
uncertain voice.

Deanna stood up abruptly and stuck her electronic notepad into the open
black briefcase beside her, then snapped the lid shut and stepped out of
the row of seats, headed for the exit.

Sammi Jo called out to her. "Deanna, wait!"

As Deanna whipped open the door in anger, her hand caught on a sharp metal
edge. She cried out in surprise and pain as she watched the blood pool in
her cupped palm, then winced and dropped the briefcase. She pressed her
hands together to try and stop the bleeding. Just as the tears started to
flow from Deanna's eyes, Sammi Jo approached her and unwrapped the blue
scarf from around her throat, then re-wrapped it around Deanna's injured
hand.

"Take it easy." Sammi Jo picked up the fallen briefcase and put her other
hand around Deanna's shoulder, then guided her down the hall. "Come on.
That looks pretty bad."





Sammi Jo walked over to the sink and tossed the red-stained scarf into the
basin, then plugged the sink and turned a stream of cold water onto the
material. She stood there for a minute, watching as the sink filled with
water, then shut it off and strolled over to Deanna, who lay quietly on the
triage cot.

She gestured towards Deanna's heavily bandaged hand. "Take it easy for a
while, okay? Doctor's orders."

"Orders," Deanna muttered. "Always is."

Sammi Jo looked at her, suddenly irritated. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing."

"More like a slam of my etiquette." Her expression softened. "Well, I
should apologize. You were right. I shouldn't have told you about St. John
like that." She crossed her arms. "Out of respect for him, for you, for
myself... I should've used a little more tact."

"You should've used more tact with the generators, too," Deanna added. "Why
Baldez, of all people?"

With a slight hesitation, Sammi Jo took a seat next to Deanna. "The
generators are still intact, in their original condition as constructed by
Doctor Beckett-- they're the only things that haven't been tampered with,
just used once and shut down. The rest of the equipment has gone through so
many alterations that they're almost unrecognizable. I know that an
experiment of this magnitude can never be tried again, but I want to take
those generators and try them out on other life forms."

"With gerbils? Mice? Earthworms?" Deanna interjected. "In other words, you
still want to do a time-travel experiment."

A dreamy look came into Sammi Jo's eyes. "You don't know how much I want to
try it out myself. To find out what it feels like to leap through time,
change things in the past..."

"And mess up the future," Deanna said with an edge to her voice.

"Why would you say that?"

"Oh, come on. Think about it. Why did Sam Beckett disappear?"

"Well, there could've been a dozen reasons."

Deanna shook her head. "No, there's only one."

"Hmph. So what's your theory?"

Deanna stopped. How could she explain Sam Beckett's mistake to her? St.
John had sworn her not to reveal anything, otherwise that spark of hope for
a working time machine for human use might be rekindled. At least using
rodents, as she planned to do, cut down the odds of her repeating her
father's mistakes.

"He's dead," she heard herself say. "At least, according to Ziggy."

"Ziggy?"

"I mean, Alpha," Deanna corrected herself. "I call her Ziggy."

"Dead." She weighed the decision in her mind. "Maybe. At first, Sam's final
absence didn't worry anyone. After all, he was known to drop off the chart
for weeks or even months, and there was nothing we could do about it. But a
month after I got here, St. John realized that he had lost track of him for
good. We had no contact, no leads about where he leaped into." She
shrugged. "I figure that it must've happened pretty fast, at least. Leap
in, get killed somehow... no clear path for Alpha to track him."

"That's how it happened."

"You sound so certain."

"I am. He was killed."

"The computer told you this?" Sammi Jo leaned forward. "Or did it tell St.
John? What happened?"

"It was a murder-suicide. Sam Beckett was stabbed to death."

Deanna immediately regretted her words. Sammi Jo's face hardened and she
stood up from the chair, her hands clenched into fists. Sammi Jo's painful
past came to Deanna's mind, and even though she had blocked out her
memories of it as the only witness, she had never blocked out the pain.

"I'm sorry," Deanna said. "I know about the stabbing... well, about your
mother, and how--"

"You don't know anything," Sammi Jo hissed. "Just drop it."

After a moment of silence, Sammi Jo checked the bandage on Deanna's hand
again, then turned and headed for the door.

"I have to check in with Doctor Baldez," she mumbled. "To see when she'll
be ready to take the generators."

"I still think it's a bad idea."

"You're just the Observer," Sammi Jo replied with a cold smile, "on a
project the government doesn't care about any more. You can say, or write,
or record whatever you want, but it doesn't matter. You don't have any
effect on me or my project."

"Sam Beckett's project," Deanna corrected her.

With a grunt of anger, Sammi Jo left the room.







                              Chapter Nineteen







Sam Beckett looked up from the white swirl of cream that floated along the
top of his coffee, then leaned back as Al Calavicci approached his table,
carrying a tray of food. Sam nodded at him and pressed his palms against
the warm ceramic of the coffee mug, and watched as the Project Observer set
the tray down and slid into the seat across from him.

Despite the strong distrust that he still felt towards Al, Sam had begun to
fall back into the rhythm of working with him again. Following the first
real confrontation with St. John and the committee, Sam had begun to
realize that he needed help that only Al could give him.

"Have you heard anything about the morning's agenda?" Al asked him. He
picked up his fork and stabbed it into the omelet on his plate. "I wish
they'd have the courtesy to tell us ahead of time."

"It would be nice," Sam muttered.

Sam studied Al's tired face, and knew that his own didn't look much better.
He'd spent almost the entire night going over old blueprints and notes as
he turned back to the early ideas and concepts, searching for something
that would give him a clue as to exactly how he wanted to revise the
project now. The work load, coupled with the interrogation process from the
committee, had begun to take its toll on him.

Al, however, had the tougher role than Sam did. He'd been forced to account
for nearly every expense and breach of procedure they could find, and more
than once, Sam heard Al talk to himself about how he should've kept
government funds away from the project. Not that they had had a choice back
then-- if they hadn't used government sources and money, the project would
still be on paper, untried, unrealized.

"I heard them talking in the hallway," Sam said. "This morning, when I came
up from my office. They said something about studying the first leap, I
guess. I don't know for sure."

Al's fork became still, and Sam watched as he set the utensil aside and
lowered his hands into his lap.

Sam blinked. "What is it?"

Al turned his head. "Nothing."

"Al..."

"Well, it's just that when you leaped out of here that first time, you made
things pretty complicated for me."

"For you?" Sam laughed. "I was the one leaping through time. My whole life
got turned inside out."

"That's not what I mean, Sam. It got complicated because the leap occurred
when only you and Gushie were there. I wasn't. It was an unsupervised
leap."

Sam leaned back and became unnaturally calm. "I don't see how I did
anything wrong. It was what I wanted. I knew that I had to leap that night.
I knew it, somehow."

That strange, distant look returned to Sam's eyes and his face, which
displayed signs of emotion before, grew neutral again. Al realized that Sam
had shut himself off from his feelings again, and he gave his head a quick
shake of irritation as he turned his attention back to his breakfast.



                                     *



"He's leaping! Sam is leaping!"

Gushie's frantic voice came over the car speakers, his words canceling out
the compact disc of jazz music and blasting around all in clean, crisp
surround-sound intensity. The advanced sound system automatically made a
quick adjustment of the volume and lowered the decibel level, but Al,
stunned by Gushie's words, didn't notice the shift in volume.

Leaping? Al gripped the steering wheel tighter and stared up into the
starry New Mexico sky, then lowered his gaze to look at something else.
Just over the horizon, a blue-and-white light rose up from behind a distant
mountain range.

Al's passenger, a long-legged brunette he'd "rescued" from the desert, had
commented on the light just seconds before. Although Al knew what she
referred to, he'd used the feeble excuse, "Oh, that's sheet lightning." At
the first sign of the light, though, an uneasiness settled into Al's mind,
and Gushie's sudden call over the car phone confirmed Al's suspicions.

"He can't leap!" Al shouted.

Not by a long shot, his mind added. The first test of the equipment,
according to the schedule, would take place with Al's friendly but
not-so-bright golden retriever, Tiger, in a week. Under the pretense of
using Tiger as a lab animal, Al managed to move his pet to avoid eviction
from his apartment. Using his beloved dog for the test seemed risky enough,
but for Sam to do it...

"We're not ready!" Al added.

"Tell Sam that!" came Gushie's frantic reply. Al noticed that his voice had
an odd quality to it, almost as if he stood in a wind tunnel, shouting
against the breeze.

"Put him on," he ordered.

"I can't! He's in the Accelerator Chamber!"

Al suddenly understood why Gushie's voice sounded so unusual. With some
resentment but by government order, Sam Beckett had redesigned the
Accelerator Chamber with a window, to allow those in the Control Room to
witness his leap. In order for the wind-tunnel sound to be in that room,
the power from the Accelerator Chamber must have broken the window.

That meant that the equipment had been energized and put at its maximum
power level in order to accomplish a leap.

Al glanced at his watch, then at the digital map on the dashboard and did
some quick math. "Hang on," he told Gushie. "I'll be there in two minutes."
He glanced at the brunette beside him. "Hang on, beautiful."

The woman nodded and drew her seat belt across her lap.

Fifty-five-year-old Admiral Albert Vito Calavicci, decorated naval officer,
scientist and co-founder of Project Quantum Leap, regressed back to a
19-year-old college kid as his size nine shoe slammed against the gas
pedal, and his vehicle shot forward along the deserted highway at 130 miles
per hour.



                                     *



"So there you were," St. John said, "standing in the Quantum Leap Control
Room and staring through a broken window at a dark, empty Accelerator
Chamber."

Al nodded.

"What a shame." St. John shook his head. "The Project Observer wasn't even
there to witness his own experiment."

"Doctor Beckett's actions were totally unanticipated," Al argued. "He
brought the programmer to the Control Room and said that he wanted to run
another test. Gushie didn't have any idea what Sam was up to until it was
too late."

"Your programmer didn't think the circumstances were unusual?" Doctor
Steiner adjusted his glasses. "They were celebrating the completion of the
project, and suddenly the programmer is told that he must run another
test?"

"We have Mr. Gushie's personal testimony about the incident," Admiral
Mirosa remarked as he picked up a piece of paper. "He was injured when the
window shattered and required twelve stitches to his face. If he'd foreseen
Doctor Beckett doing such a thing, he probably wouldn't have stood right in
front of the window. There's no doubt about his innocence in the matter,"
he added.

"But there is considerable doubt about Doctor Beckett's!" St. John argued.

Beside Al, Sam Beckett flinched and looked down. He'd never heard the
details of the first leap, not until Al just explained it to the committee,
and Al knew Sam well enough to surmise what the man felt. Guilt, perhaps,
over Gushie (both from not telling him about his unplanned leap and for the
injuries from the flying glass), and anger that he should have to justify
his actions to total strangers.

"Doctor Beckett is responsible for a number of violations against the
orders issued to him. In his overzealous attempt to keep the project alive,
he leaped back in time with an untried system."

Al tensed up and stared at St. John. "Do you intend to press charges of
some kind?" he inquired in a sharp tone. "If not, then can we please move
on to another subject?"

St. John gazed in Al's direction for a long moment, his gray eyes locked
with Al's dark ones, then a look of resignation came over him and he
dropped his gaze. "There will be no legal action due to the top-secret
nature of this project," he replied.

"I agree about the change of subject matter." Admiral Peovis addressed Sam
Beckett. "Yesterday, you showed us diagrams to various systems and
explained the way they worked. Perhaps now you could tell us exactly what
is wrong with them, how they've been altered?"

"During my absence," Sam began, "the entire system has been reconfigured by
the scientists working here. I really don't understand exactly what's been
done."

Liar, he told himself. Sam tried to keep the guilt off his face. If you
didn't know, you wouldn't be able to build a--

"You can't be serious," interjected Doctor Levin. "How can you not know
your own project?"

Al came to Sam's defense. "Our changes were made under duress and without
precise documentation. In order to explain the problems with the computer,
I'd have to go and study the systems, re-draw the diagrams and then compare
them to the original blueprints."

Doctor Virginia Mayes tapped her pen against the table. "I think we can all
agree that would be too long of a process to take, since it's apparent that
every piece of equipment has been altered without Doctor Beckett's
knowledge or consent."

"And that Admiral Calavicci was slack in several of his duties," Doctor
Levin. "proper documentation, abiding by the codes and standards set by
Doctor Beckett and the government, and security procedures were all pushed
aside."

Al started to protest, but Captain Adams intervened. "You can't deny it,
Admiral. We have one example of these violations after another, all of them
documented by your computer."

"Records? What records?"

With a pained expression, Sam leaned towards Al. "Last week, I printed out
the leap records for them."

"Aw, Sam..."

"I thought you wanted to tell them--"

"I didn't mean EVERYTHING--"

"Gentlemen!" Admiral Peovis barked. "That's enough."

Sam and Al settled back in their seats.

"Now," Peovis continued as he tugged on his shirt cuffs in irritation, "the
issue at hand is the aftermath of Doctor Beckett's first leap. We know that
he went to 1956 as Captain Tom Stratton, a test pilot with the U-2
experiments. His so-called "mission," as determined by your computer, was
successful in that he completed the first run to break the sound barrier,
and that he also introduced new medical procedures when he prevented the
premature birth of Stratton's child..."