Chapter Twenty "I'm surprised at you, Admiral." Al Calavicci stiffened as the smooth voice of Edward St. John came from behind him. His fingers, which had just extracted the key ring from his pants pocket, fumbled the object. Al watched as the keys dropped to the carpet and landed with the jingle of metal against metal. "I really am surprised," the other man continued. "An entire month has gone by since my arrival, and you have yet to say hello to me." With a slow, tense intake of breath, Al turned and faced St. John. The older man stepped back and watched as Al bent down and slowly picked up the keys. "I don't think we should be seen talking together," Al replied. St. John gave him a sympathetic look. "Yes, it would look bad for your friends to learn about your... shall I say, past mistakes?" Al grit his teeth. "The only mistake I ever made was listening to you." "I had hoped," St. John continued, "that you would assist me in this matter. Instead, you are turning out to be quite a hindrance to our plans. I'm beginning to wonder just where your loyalties lie." "You've wasted four weeks with this stupid committee." Al glared at him. "Why don't you just shut us down and get it over with?" St. John matched his angry look. "Well, if this were a completely military operation, it would be a lot easier. But there are civilians working here. If this isn't done properly, word might leak out about what's been going on here." He paused and cocked his head to one side. "And just what do you mean by 'us'?" "I think you're smart enough to figure it out." Al turned away and stuck his room key in the door. A second later, St. John grabbed his arm and spun him around, pushing his face close to Al's. "You are not going to back out on me!" St. John snarled. "It's taken me too long to get matters to this point--" Al pushed him back and held out one arm to ward him off. "You keep the hell away from me!" he hissed. He glanced quickly along the hall but only spotted one of the cleaning crew (Deanna, he reminded himself) as she paused at the corner, gave the two a curious look, then continued down the adjoining hallway. He shrugged his shoulders and lowered his voice. "I don't owe you a damned thing, and I know exactly who I'm loyal to. And you can't threaten me with anything, either. Sam already knows about Starbright." "But does he know about the retrieval system?" St. John pressed. Al swallowed, and St. John's eyebrows went up. "Ah, so you haven't made a total confession, have you?" Al hunched his shoulders as he turned his back to the other man, grasped the key in the lock and turned it with a sharp twist, then pushed open the door. As the door swung inward, he turned around again and started to speak, but the shocked look on St. John's face stopped him. St. John swallowed and stepped to one side, then gave Al an amused look. "Well, it's refreshing to see that you haven't changed," he said with a thin-lipped smile. "At least, not in one way. We'll talk later." Al watched with a mixture of confusion and relief as St. John turned and walked off, blinked a couple of times, then reached out to remove his key from the door. As he extracted the key and looked up, Al took in a quick breath as he saw someone seated on the bed. There, wrapped in a sheet that covered her from chest to legs, sat Deanna. As Al pushed the door shut, the seductive smile that she wore shifted to a humorous one, and she let out a burst of laughter. "Ah, I knew that would get rid of him!" she exclaimed. Al finally found his voice. "What the hell are you doing here? And like that?" He pointed at Deanna's bare shoulders. "Do you have any idea what would happen if Tina walked in here right now?" "I wouldn't worry about it," she sighed, still giggling. "Unless you say something, she wouldn't even know I was here." Deanna leaned forward and pulled the sheet over her shoulders, her right hand clutching the sheet to her chest. "She can't see me." Al swallowed again as he realized two things. He had just seen Deanna outside, and she could only have entered his room by the door he used. He also noticed that the mattress did not sag under her weight. With a look of suspicion, he took several cautious steps forward and reached for her arm. Al Calavicci's fingers passed through Deanna's right shoulder without resistance. With a curse, Al jerked his hand away and stepped back. In his excitement he tripped and fell, his butt smacking against the floor. Deanna, who had barely recovered from the quick departure of St. John, broke into a new round of laughter. "That's not funny!" Al winced and rolled onto his knees. "I'm sorry," she gasped as she tried to catch her breath. "I am, really." Al stood up slowly and studied her for a moment. "You're a hologram. But that's impossible. The Imaging Chamber isn't working any more. How are you doing this?" "Because I'm not from here," she explained. "I'm not in your time, you might say. I think I'm part of a different... dimension of time." Al thought back to the words he had used to the committee weeks earlier. "A different reality," he breathed. "A different reality." She smiled. "When I tapped into your world, I didn't realize it. The first place I saw was the elevator. I thought my hologram just went to another part of the building. I found out differently when I ran into you, though." Al dropped into a nearby chair and exhaled. "Just let me straighten out a few things, okay? You're from another reality, one tied to this project, obviously. You've got an Imaging Chamber there, and--" He shot her a suspicious glance. "Who did it?" Deanna looked at him, confused by the question, then raised her eyebrows and nodded. "Oh. Our Observer did the operation on me a month ago. It wasn't you, though." Al's gaze went to the hand that clutched the sheet, and he saw the inch-long scar on the top of her hand. He stroked his right hand as she said this, recalling the operation that Sam Beckett had performed on him almost six years earlier. Al had done the same thing to Gushie, but with less success; the cells hadn't been as compatible with Sam's brainwaves as Al's had been. "But I'm here," she added, "because I need your help. There's no one else I can rely on." "Who is your Observer?" Deanna looked down. "It doesn't matter. The man... well, died. He was sick for a long time, and rather than abandon the project for a while, he didn't get full treatment until it was too late to do anything." "I'm sorry." She shook her head and waved a hand at Al. "One thing at a time. I have to explain my situation to you. You see, as far as I can tell, I'm in your future... but chronologically, I'm within the same time frame. It's the same day, month, year and hour for me as it is for you." Al took in what she said. "For you to be our future," he said slowly, "but also to be living in the present time as we are, that would mean that something in your past has been changed from ours. And that would mean that Sam has to change history--" "Sometime in your future," she finished his sentence. "That's impossible. The Accelerator Chamber, the Imaging Chamber... everything's locked up." He hesitated. "But the power hasn't been secured yet." Deanna's interest perked up. "So it is possible for him to leap again?" "Possible, but not practical." With a sudden jerk, Al pushed himself out of the chair and began to pace the room, his eyes wide and the back of his hand pressed to his mouth. He muttered a few things to himself, then spun towards Deanna. "Since he's been back," Al began, "Sam has been working on something to do with re-designing the retrieval and accelerator circuits. I don't know what he's planning, but he's losing interest in this investigation. All of his energy is turning towards his work." He sat down again. "But to leap again, he would need to override the security system, reconfigure the Project equipment and leap before the committee can stop him." "What, do you think that would be hard for him to do?" Al pressed his palm to his forehead. "No, of course not. But if you're our future, then you know what's going to happen, right? Does he leap again?" "Your original history doesn't include any detailed record of the incident. Okay, sure, I can tell you that the committee does try to shut down Quantum Leap, and that Sam leaps again before they can stop him. And that, in my world, he remains trapped in time. But I think that Ziggy put me here to change something about that... otherwise, she'd never have told me about the changes and would've left things as they were." "But change what?" "I don't know." She looked at him with a blank expression. "But if you want a clearer explanation, ask Ziggy." Al thought about the numerous freehand diagrams that Sam had scattered around his office, about the long hours he worked, and about the distant look that came into his eyes whenever Al mentioned the committee to him. Sam's delusion of "whatever I do will be done alone" now made sense to Al. Sam didn't just believe that; in some way, Sam Beckett knew that he would leap through time again. "He is planning something," Al whispered. "But to get past the security barriers--" He needs my help, he thought. "So now what?" "Now we find out what Sam's up to. But first I've got to get dressed." Deanna pushed her left hand out from beneath the sheet and tapped at the glowing com bracelet around her wrist. Her image winked out and reappeared a minute later, clad in a pair of black jeans and a loose black sweater. "According to the dates supplied by Ziggy," Deanna said as she followed Al to the door, "Sam will leap again in about a month. Granted, things could change again before that--" Al turned the doorknob, then glanced at her. "Wait. Before we go, I've got to talk to Donna. There's something I need to tell her. I'd prefer that she heard it from me rather than... someone else." "Than from St. John?" Deanna nodded at Al's shocked look. "I heard what he said to you. Why do you think I was wearing a sheet? I had to get rid of him." She brushed at the lint on her sweater and avoided his gaze. "I don't know the whole story between you and him. Quite frankly, I don't care. There's enough to worry about as it is. But I know you," she continued as she raised her head, "and I know you'll do the right thing for Sam." Al smiled and opened the door. "Thanks. I needed to hear that. Go and talk to Sam. I'll be down when I'm done." "See you shortly." Deanna tapped the com bracelet again, and her hologram disappeared. * "I can't make any apologies, Donna. I did what I had orders to do." Al sat and waited for Donna to react, his hands on his knees and his gaze on her pale face. From any other woman, he would've expected tears of hysteria, or even a slap across the face for what he'd just revealed. He had no idea what Donna would do. For a full three minutes, Donna simply sat there, her head down and her fingertips pressed to her lips. "I was supposed to sabotage the entire project," he continued, "but as soon as we'd finish a system, the alarms were energized. The only one that I could get to was the retrieval system, because Sam was never sure that it would work and was always tinkering with it." Donna nodded. "He barely checked it before he went into the Accelerator Chamber," she said softly. "It might not have brought him back, even if you hadn't damaged it." She locked her hands together on her lap and sat up straight, her dark eyes focused on Al's tired face. "Thank you, Al." Al blinked and sat back. "Thank you? Donna, I could've killed him! He was in a lot of dangerous situations, ones that he couldn't get out of because of me. How can you thank me for that?" "Well, I could say because it made Sam help a lot of people. You know how important his missions were and how many lives he changed. But, I guess it's because I'm selfish. You saved our marriage." Donna stood up and walked over to her desk, then picked up a framed picture of Sam that Al had never seen before. It showed the scientist in his office, surrounded by stacks of folders and books, his shoulders hunched and his attention focused on some papers in his hands. "I haven't forgotten what Sam was like. I don't think you have, either. I took this," she handed the picture to Al, "during the last week he was here. He was so engrossed in his work that he never even knew I was in the room. Tell me what you see." Al shrugged. "It's Sam. Working, as usual." "That's just it, Al. As usual. Look at his eyes. He looks obsessed." "He was, almost. Ziggy meant a lot to him in those final days." "And that's all that did." She took the photo from Al's hands and set it back in its place. "I could handle it when he leaped and wasn't here. It was better than when he was here, but worked all the time... like now." "Donna, you have to understand. Sam had a lot at stake with Quantum Leap. Did you know that originally, you two were never married? What happened with you, and his brother Tom, were two events that he was determined to change." "And he did. It's over now." Donna lifted her hands helplessly. "I don't understand why he can't be happy with things the way they are. He's back, he's alive, and he's gone through more than any of us ever will. Why can't that be enough?" "This is his dream," Al replied. "And it's not over, Donna. Not yet." Donna bowed her head and put one hand to her face, and Al watched as silent tears spilled down her cheeks. He stood up hesitantly and put an arm around her shoulder, then embraced her without a word. She turned in his arms and clung to him, her face pressed against his chest, and began to sob. Her hands gripped his shoulders and he could feel her desperation and sadness. "I want him back with me, Al," she cried. "Back for good." "You'll get him back," he reassured her. He hugged her and stroked her hair. "When all this is over, you'll have him back again. I swear." Her hug grew tighter as she strained to believe him, and al squeezed his eyes shut. He sighed, then opened his eyes and looked at her tear-streaked face. He drew his thumb along her cheek and wiped away the wetness there. I never could, Sam, he thought. Not with Donna. Not ever. "You'll get him back," he repeated. "But first, we've got to help him do something." Al Calavicci stepped back and took her by the hand, then sat her down in the chair again. As he began to explain the situation, Donna's look of confusion slowly turned to one of surprise and wonder. Chapter Twenty-One If Deanna Calavicci had taken a photograph at the very second she appeared in Doctor Sam Beckett's office, it would've been a spot-on match for the one in Donna Beckett's room. Sam sat at his desk in the exact same pose with an identical empty look, his work spread out before him. But, unlike the circumstances surrounding that photo, Sam didn't allow himself to sit there passive and unaware any longer. His mind had changed since then, throughout all the leaps and the dangerous situations he'd faced, and even in the depths of his thinking, he startled to consciousness as soon as his eyes registered Deanna's form. "What the--" Sam cut his words off sharply and stood up, his body tense and ready for action as his mind worked on the new mystery before him. Deanna, not underestimating Sam's intelligence, simply stood in one place with her hands clasped in front of her and smiled. "Hello, Doctor Beckett." Sam moved around the desk and circled Deanna. He knew that she hadn't been there a moment ago, and as he finished the short walk around her, Sam broke out into a grin. "A hologram!" he exclaimed. His brow furrowed. "From this project, or is there..." "Oh, it's from this one. As far as I know, your site is the only one of this scale--" she indicated her perfectly-aligned dimensions-- "in existence, actually." "Yea, it is." He rubbed one hand over his mouth. "Do I know you? You look familiar." Deanna's mind caught in a web of panic for a moment at his comment, but she shrugged off his comment. "No, we've never met," she answered in a calm voice. "I just have one of those faces." "Yea, okay. But you can't be in the Imaging Chamber, though. It's closed down. So where are you coming from?" He leaned against the desk and crossed his arms. She let out a quick laugh. "Ready for a long story?" Sam gave his head a quick shake. "Well, this ought to be a good one." * "I'm gonna tell you everything, because you have to know what I know in order to go on from this point. Everything about the project for you right now is different than what your experiment is for me. There's one major factor that I can attribute this to, and that is your choice of Project Observer. You have Al Calavicci, we had Edward St. John. Now, I don't know just how they influenced you in the construction of Ziggy and all her parts, but the results have been a lot different. I don't have to go through and explain what's going on right now for you. That's pretty clear. "I'm in a project called Project Engram, which is a kind of hybrid of Quantum Leap. We've got Ziggy, we've got your facilities and we've got all your original equipment. But we don't have you. Now, I don't know just how to go into details about it, but for us? You're dead. You were killed in a leap where you met Leida Aiders on the day she committed suicide. It's just another example of how the past was altered by Quantum Leap... or, how it will be altered. "I believe that we're coming up on a critical juncture in your project's history, one which is going to create my history. For a few years now, I've been poking around, trying to get some information from Ziggy, and she refused to give me any facts. Then, all of a sudden-- boom! I get hit with a ton of information about Quantum Leap, but it's not the one we know. She's telling me things about leaps we have no record of, about people and places that our project never touched, about visitors to the holding chamber-- what you call the waiting room-- and all sorts of other stuff that simply does not exist. But it does. It exists for you, here, right now. So whatever's going to happen to change your future to ours is gonna to take place while you're back home and able to make adjustments to Ziggy." Sam pondered what she said. "My future is your past." "Basically." He remained silent for another few moments. "I'm going to leap again, then, and change something?" "Most definitely." She gave him a knowing look. "Did you ever suspect that you wouldn't, Sam?" He paused and finally shook his head. "No, I guess I knew from the day I got back that I would--" Sam suddenly spun around and snatched up a handful of papers. "Then what is this?" he demanded. "I've been working on this every day, and I don't have the slightest idea what I'm doing. It's like there's a part of my mind telling me what I have to do, but I don't know what it's for." He held out the drawings for Deanna to examine. "How am I supposed to know about it? This project is your baby." She studied the system sketches more carefully. "The retrieval system, huh? Doesn't yours work?" "Well, it should. It got me back here. But this is different. The equipment is tied into the retrieval system but the pathways are also linked to Ziggy's data banks, specifically the history archives section. I don't understand it. I'm just drawing it." "History?" She thought about the word. "History," she repeated. "The only thing I can think of is that it's about the committee, about something Al said to me earlier. He said they wanted to be able to control a leaper's direction, and until now, the leaps have been left up to blind chance. The second I got back, I started visualizing this. It seems to be a kind of a reversal of the retrieval process. Almost a directional device." "So by creating this thing, you're making just what they want?" "I... I never thought about it. I just did it." "The tragedy of genius," Deanna muttered. "You create without forethought." "Well, it isn't real yet. I was going to start building it this afternoon." "No, I think that WE are going to build it. Ziggy got me here for a reason, and this might be it." She looked at the scrawl of ink on the pages again and shrugged. "Then again, it doesn't look like it's up my alley. But I've got to be here for something, so I'll have to stick by you and Al until I find out what that reason is." * Sam and Al didn't bother to explain Deanna's presence to the others in the workshop, but the week ticked by, even Tina began to suspect that they aimed their random comments at someone besides her, Gushie, Don Benettelli, Donna Beckett and Sammi Jo Fuller. The seven of them worked feverishly on an oblong black box that they began to call the Controller-- partly, because the device occupied so much of their lives that even the committee's probing became secondary. Finally, six days after Sam Beckett had encountered the holographic form of Deanna, they completed construction of the device. As they cleaned up and destroyed the paperwork and spare components of the box, everyone formed a half-circle around the workbench on which it sat. The cover of the black box, constructed of a dark aluminum metal, seemed to swirl under the florescent lights in a myriad of dark colors. "God, it's ugly," Deanna remarked. "Yea, it looks pretty weird," Sam replied. "But it's done. It's what I envisioned." "Now," Donna asked, "what do we do?" Al drew in a long breath. "Now, we get it into the Control Room, hook it up and see if it'll do what it's designed for." Sammi Jo tapped the top of the box with one fingernail. "That's all wonderful, but just how do we get in there? Everything's secured. We don't know what password they've got it secured under." "Leave that one up to me," Al said softly. "I know what to do." She shot him a strange glance, but said nothing. Sam, sensing the hostility of the group as it turned towards Al, cleared his throat. "We're going to have to do this right away," he said to get everyone's attention. "This isn't going to stay a secret for long. I'm sure that a few of the committee members have already noticed we're up to something." "That's for sure," Gushie remarked. "I had to dodge a couple of them on the way down here today." "Which ones?" Al inquired. He shrugged. "I didn't turn around to look at them. But I knew they were following me." Al nodded. "Okay, then. How about right now?" he asked Sam. "The sooner, the better." "Can you get us in there?" "Sure. Just meet me at the Control Room in about twenty minutes, okay?" Sam and Donna Beckett nodded, but the others regarded Al with sharp suspicion. Al glanced at their faces, then turned his back on them and walked out of the work room, closing the door behind him. "I still don't trust him," Sammi Jo muttered. "Neither do I," Gushie added. "Me, neither," Tina squeaked. "He's our only hope," Sam said with a note of resignation in his voice. "We have to leave it up to him to make this work." "Or take it down completely," Sammi Jo shot back. "We could lose everything." Sam remained silent and simply nodded. He didn't know how to tell them that they would lose everything, anyway. Chapter Twenty-Two "I need to talk to you," Al said in a low voice. Edward St. John stepped back from the doorway and allowed Al Calavicci to enter his quarters, then closed the door and crossed his arms. "I'm surprised to see you," St. John replied in a neutral tone. "You and Doctor Beckett have become extremely secretive over the past week." Al shrugged. "We've been studying our case." "Case? What case? You know damned well this is just a formality. Why waste your time on such a thing?" He paused and flashed Al a crooked smile. "Or maybe you're here to tell me something?" St. John crossed the room and picked up several papers from his desk, then waved them at Al. "I've got a list of your nighttime activities, as well as those of Doctor Beckett, courtesy of your precious computer's memory banks, I might add. The two of you have been meeting in the work room-- hardly the place for legal discussions." Al remained unfazed by the words, and stuck his hands in his pockets. "So tell the committee. The work room isn't off limits." St. John slammed the papers back down. "This committee is a sham. The project will be shut down, as you well know by now. We're just here to secure it for ourselves, to be used as we wish." He leaned forward. "My plans will not be destroyed by a backstabbing traitor such as yourself." "I'm not a traitor," Al replied with an angry glare. "So then, tell me. What is Doctor Beckett up to?" "We've been building something. Every day, after that little inquisition of yours, we've gotten the team together-- Tina, Gushie, Donna and Sammi Jo-- and we've built something." "And just what might that be?" "What you and I wanted to begin with. A way to control a leap." Al felt his muscles tense up as the expression on St. John's thin face shifted from anger to greedy excitement. He tried to remain calm, but it took every bit of control he had. He felt like a traitor, giving away the Project's last secret in such a manner... But it's the only way, he reminded himself. This has to work. St. John took a step towards Al. "It's finished? Does it work?" "We think it will, but we won't know until we try it out on Sam's next leap." The grin faded. "Next leap?" Al put his hands behind his back to hide his tightly-clenched fists. "Well, who else do you expect to try it out?" "Not him," St. John replied sternly. "But it's perfect. Sam tries it out, and then takes the fall if it doesn't work." "No. We can't allow him to leap again, especially with the committee here.." Al bowed his head. "Then we have to stop them. They're downstairs now, trying to get into the Control Room. Sam could be gone within an hour." "Tonight? They're trying it tonight?" St. John's mouth dropped open. "Is everyone down there?" "Yes." "This is perfect!" he cried. "We can have them out of the way, take possession of the device and wrap up this entire matter by next week." "The Controller," Al reminded him, "is with Sam. If they're taken into custody, the device falls into the hands of the committee, who'll probably carry it off for further studies. And there's no way we can duplicate the device. It's too complicated." Al studied St. John carefully. Everything depended upon his reaction. If St. John sent security down after Sam, then everything would go sour all around. If he let Sam leap, the committee would shut down the entire project immediately and the equipment would be useless to everyone. Al waited until St. John looked back at him. "So what do we do?" St. John asked. "I do have a plan," Al said quietly. * Sammi Jo Fuller pressed her palms against the wall, her attention on the closed doors of the elevator at the end of the passageway. Sam Beckett leaned against the opposite wall, straddling the ugly black box of the Controller between his feet. Donna stood beside him, and Tina leaned against Gushie with her tiny hand in his. "He's always late, Sammi Jo," Sam replied. "Let's just hope his idea works, and we can get this thing inside and hooked up without any problems." Sam tapped the box with his foot, then glanced up as he heard a low beep. Everyone watched as Al Calavicci stepped into the hallway, followed closely by Edward St. John. He and Al came to a stop a few feet from Sam Beckett. St. John wore a smile of triumph, and Al avoided everyone's looks. "So, did you think that you'd get away with this little scheme of yours?" St. John remarked. "I thought you'd have been smarter than to overlook this little matter." He gestured towards Al. "Al?" Sam looked at Al, but the other man refused to lift his head. "We have a certain amount of interest in this project, my partner and I," St. John continued, "in which we stand to make a substantial profit from your failure, Doctor Beckett." Sam frowned. "So that's what this is all about? Money?" St. John's eyebrows went up. "No, not really. The money will fall our way, of course, but mostly it's about history. Surely, you can respect the power associated with time travel. The idea of changing the most significant events and bringing about different results is of an unending interest to me. Your little toy," he added as he looked down at the Controller, "will help us do just that." "You're not getting your hands on this," Sam hissed. Sam pushed the box behind him with one foot, then started forward. Just as he came within arm's reach of St. John, however, he felt the cold barrel of a gun pressed against his jaw. He froze, then looked over at Al, who stood beside him with one arm extended and the .45 in his hand. "Al, no." Sam swallowed nervously and slowly moved his head until he stared into Al's eyes, but the dark, empty look that met his gaze showed no signs of emotion or recognition. "I must admit," St. John interjected, "that had it not been for my associate's intimate knowledge of your activities, this plan of mine wouldn't have worked. Thank you ever so much for your input," he said to Al. "Yea, well, you're not welcome!" With these words, Al Calavicci suddenly pushed St. John against the wall and switched the gun from Sam to St. John. He moved his face to within an inch of St. John's and stared at him. "Did you think," he growled, "that you could make me betray these people? I've gotten more from them than you could ever imagine." Sam placed a hand on Al's shoulder. "Al, let him go." "Not until he opens that door." Al grabbed St. John's arm and twisted it behind his back, then pushed the shocked man past everyone and towards the Control room. "He's the one who gave the order to secure this place, and he's the only one that Ziggy will allow to open it again." Sammi Jo stepped forward. "How are we supposed to believe Al?" she argued to everyone. "What if this is all a trick to get us in there and then call security?" Al shoved St. John up to the door and forced his hand onto the scanner. A green line of light moved up, then down, the dark screen. With a hiss, the Control Room doors slid open. Al turned his head in Sam's direction as he tightened his grip on St. John. "You'll have to trust me, Sam," he said softly. "I'm with you on this." Sam Beckett hesitated, then bent down and swept up the black box from the floor. "Let's get inside," he ordered. Sam followed Al and the unwilling St. John, who spouted insults and curses at Al as he fought against the other man's grip, into the Control Room. The rest of the staff followed them inside, with Sammi Jo trailing the others. With some hesitation, she stepped inside and closed the doors, then set the electronic lock. "Security will be down here any second!" St. John threatened them as he squirmed to try and escape Al. "Will they?" Tina asked in a timid, nervous voice. "The cameras," Gushie moaned. Everyone's gaze went to the corner of the room and settled on the black shape of a surveillance camera. Sam squinted, then approached the camera and smiled. "The light's not on," he reported. "I know, Doctor Beckett," Ziggy replied. Her warm voice carried over the nervous crowd and eased their tensions. "The security force is unaware of your activities at this time. They are currently viewing previous footage of the passageway taken an hour ago." Sam cocked his head. "Doesn't that go against your programming, Ziggy? Not showing the guards what's on the cameras?" "Oh, but I am, Doctor Beckett... I'm showing them what I'm required to. There just happens to be a bit of a tape delay." "Ziggy, you're a wonder," Al said with a tight smile. "But someone's going to find us soon," Sammi Jo pointed out. "We'd better get started." Sam glanced at his daughter, then nodded and headed for the control panel. "You're right. Come on, help me get the Controller installed. You know Ziggy as well as I do." * "I still don't think it's right, Sam." Sammi Jo Fuller bent down and stared at the black box tucked under the colorful squares of the control panel and shook her head. "I mean, it took all this time to get you back, and now you want to leap again." She closed her mouth and looked behind her at Donna, who paused in her activities at a nearby computer terminal. Her head swiveled slowly to one side, then she turned her back on Sam and Sammi Jo again and resumed typing. "Do you really want to do this?" Gushie asked in a low voice. Sam shrugged. "It's the only way. It's the only chance we've got left." Sam stood up from his crouched position and nodded to Gushie, who took his place behind the control panel. Tina stepped up next to him without a word, and together they began to energize the system. Sam turned around. "Al?" Throughout the hour-long installation process of the Controller, Al Calavicci had kept the gun aimed at Edward St. John, who sat slouched in the corner. "How's it going?" Sam asked as he approached them. St. John spoke up, a grimace on his face and his hands clenched at his sides. "I will have you arrested for this!" he seethed. Al flashed Sam a half-smile. "Just fine, can't you tell? How's the gizmo?" "It's in. As soon as Gushie gets it operating, we'll be ready." He pressed one hand against his stomach. "Do you think I can leap in my clothes? All the leap suits have been confiscated." Al looked him over and shrugged. "I don't see why not." "Look sharp," said a voice behind them. "We're in trouble." Al and Sam moved apart as Deanna Calavicci walked between them. She stopped and stood next to St. John, her arms crossed and the com bracelet around her wrist flashing rapidly. She gestured with her head and eyes at the security monitors against the wall. Black-and-white images of Marine guards moved along the passageway. The soldiers, dressed in riot gear, seemed to flow in an endless line from the stairwell to the closed doors of the Control Room. St. John stared at Deanna in confusion. "Who are you? Where the hell did you come from?" Deanna ignored him and looked to Sam. "Are the doors locked?" "Yes, but they won't keep them out forever," he admitted. "Come on, Al. I need you for the next step." Al's eyes widened. "Oh, no, you're not hooking MY brain up to that thing again!" "Al, there's no time to argue about this!" Sam swallowed and glanced at the closed doors as he remembered Al's first time hooked up to Ziggy. Something had gone wrong, then-- nothing major, but whatever had happened during the brain analysis that the computer conducted on him, it had sent Al into a screaming fit. He didn't have any restraints in the Control Room, and unless Al submitted to it voluntarily... Sam grabbed his arm. "Let's go!" "The hell! I won't do it!" he shouted. "You're out of your mind, Sam!" "You're the only one I can use--" "No--" "No," Deanna interrupted. "No, he's not." Deanna's calm, firm voice made Sam and Al stop their argument and look in her direction. She stood with her head turned to one side and her eyes bright, then raised one arm and pointed to her right. Now I know why I'm here, she thought. Deanna pointed to the crouched, startled figure of Edward St. John the Fifth. "Use him," she ordered. A look of fear began to spread across his face and St. John held up his hands, shaking his head from side to side. "Th-this is absurd! You can't possibly--" * "Sam!" Al's voice, sharp and commanding, jerked Sam's attention away from he control panel. Sam placed one hand on Gushie's shoulder. "Keep going, Gushie," he instructed. "We still have a shot at this." "Yes, Doctor." Gushie nodded absently, his fingers flying over the familiar controls of the panel and his bugged-out eyes taking in the data that Ziggy spilled out to him. Sam checked another readout, then pushed himself away from the table and trotted towards Al. "Security," Al muttered. He pointed towards the monitors with his free hand, the other still wrapped around the gun and the gun still aimed at St. John. The experience of linking St. John's mind with Ziggy hadn't been much better for him than it had been with Al; still shocked by the procedure, the man had only stopped rocking himself minutes before. He still grasped his hand, the one they had taken the nerve cells from, and stared numbly at the fresh wound. Everyone watched as two lines of Marines positioned themselves strategically outside the control room as several men carried a heavy metal ram along the passageway. "I guess our time is up. I don't think the door will stand up to that. It wasn't built for it." Sam looked back at Gushie. "How much longer?" "Another minute. You'd better get in there." Sam headed for the ramp that would take him to the Accelerator Chamber, then he stopped, turned and looked at the woman who stood nearby. Donna. The word filled his mind and his heart with a painful warmth. She had helped him all through the progression of the project. She had been there in his absence during the leaps, waiting for his return. She remained with him, even now, more than aware of the risks that he and everyone else faced. Just as his memory of the past had returned on his initial leap, Sam Beckett now felt the rush of love and compassion he had for Donna return to him. "Oh, Donna," he sighed. He pulled her to him and hugged her. "I'm so sorry." "I understand, Sam." She squeezed him and leaned back. "But you've got to go." "Again." "I'll be here, Sam." She kissed him gently. "I'll always be here for you." "Sam," Deanna called, "looks like they're getting serious!" Following her words, a tremendous crash echoed through the room and everyone jumped. Tina let out a quick, frightened scream. The metal doors buckled slightly. Sam pulled himself out of Donna's arms and ran towards the Accelerator Chamber door. He pressed the button to open the door, then paused at the top of the ramp and looked behind him. St. John leaned against the far wall, pale and shaky but with a look of growing anger in his eyes, while Al stood over him with the pistol. Al noticed Al's hesitation and spun in his direction, accidentally putting his body halfway through Deanna's holographic features. For a second the familiarity of the double image-- same height, eyes, hair, shape of the face-- froze Sam in his tracks as the realization struck him. "Sam, get outta here!" Al ordered. "They're gonna break through!" "Go, Sam!" Deanna shouted. "Now!" Sam cast one last look at Donna, who still stood at the foot of the ramp. A single tear slid down her right cheek as she returned Sam's gaze. "I love you, Donna," he whispered. "Don't ever forget that." "I love you, too, Sam. Now, go." Sam Beckett turned and charged into the darkness of the Accelerator Chamber, and as soon as the door closed behind him, Gushie began to start up the equipment. A short time later the guards burst into the Control Room, followed by Admiral Mirosa and Doctor Levin. Al looked at the two men and nodded to himself. Those two had been the other ones, beside him and St. John, in on the attempt to secure Project Quantum Leap; he'd heard about it, but hadn't been able to confirm his suspicions until he saw their furious glares. "Where is he?" Mirosa demanded. Al tossed the .45 away and held up his hands, locking his fingers behind his head. He glanced casually at Mirosa's red face and narrowed eyes as St. John struggled up from the floor and pointed at the Accelerator Chamber. "In there!" he gasped. "He's going to leap again. You've got to stop him!" "You can't go in there," Al replied calmly. "The power from the generators will kill anyone not directly centered in the room." "He's lying," St. John retorted. Al gave him a cold smile. "Am I? You think that much power won't fry you? Rearrange your atoms so you can walk through walls? Put you into another time dimension?" "Unfounded theories!" he sputtered. "So, you go in and stop him." St. John's eyes widened and he looked at the closed door with undisguised fear. As the guards prodded Sammi Jo, Donna, Tina, Gushie and Al into a line against the wall, the room began to hum and vibrate as the energy from the field generators surged throughout the building. "Stop it!" Levin demanded. "There's got to be a way to--" An unexpected roar of electricity filled the room as the power swept over them, causing a few guards and Admiral Mirosa to lose their footing, more from the suddenness of the blast than any physical injury. Deanna, unaffected by the holographic images around her, remained standing straight and certain and kept her gaze on the monitor that covered the Accelerator Chamber. She watched in amazement as blue lightning surrounded Sam Beckett's body, crackled across his muscular frame and grew to cover him completely. Just as quickly as it appeared, the light diminished and left the room empty again. Doctor Samuel Beckett had leaped. Again.