Chapter Two "Sam, you've only been back for two days..." Sam Beckett ignored Al's voice as they stepped out of the elevator, a slight smile on his lips and his bright blue eyes filled with excitement. "I want to get back to work," Sam replied in a firm voice. "Everything that's happened has helped me to understand Ziggy's programming errors, like situation analysis, the retrieval system..." Al gave him a troubled look. "Is that why you're down here? Or is it because of Donna?" Sam started walking. "I don't know." "You've hardly spent any time with her. Why can't you just relax and enjoy yourself for a while?" Sam shook his head. "You know, Al, it's amazing. My memory is perfect. I remember everything I've done, but when it comes to Donna... I just don't feel anything for her." "Nothing? Is there anything I can do?" "No." He slipped his hands into his jeans pockets. "It's probably just a residual from this last leap. It'll work itself out," he added with a touch of confidence. "Sure. Sure it will," Al agreed. Sam smiled and looked behind them, then nodded his head at the elevator. "Remember the time you went to lean against the doors and you fell between them?" "Yea." Al winced and rubbed his right hip. "The New Year's Eve party in ‘94. I spent the rest of the night dancing with the Carmichael twins." "I know. You had one under each arm." Sam's grin widened. "As I recall, you didn't seem to mind it that much." Al's bushy eyebrows went up. "Well, dancing wasn't all we did that night, Sam." "No, I imagine it wasn't." "We left the party early and went to my place for a game of strip poker. I won. Then they helped me into the hot tub, where we started to--" Sam held up his hands. "All right, enough!" "Talk about your physical therapy." Sam grunted. "Will you stop it, please? I swear, some things never change." Al flashed him a devilish grin before he turned towards Sam's office. He made it halfway down the hall before he noticed that Sam hadn't followed him, then he turned around. "Is something wrong?" he called back. "No," came the quiet reply. "You sure?" Al started to walk towards Sam. "Look at me." Sam stood by one of the mirrored pillars at the corner of the hall with a troubled look. He tugged at the white streak of hair over his forehead, then brushed his fingers along his face. "Crow's feet," he breathed. "And gray hair. And my eyes are strange. Why are my eyes so different." Sam squinted and moved his head forward to examine his almost luminescent blue eyes, then he studied his outline. "Musculature is altering due to the aging process," he muttered. "Ah, don't exaggerate," Al scoffed. He came up behind Sam and nodded at the reflection. "There's nothing wrong with you, kid. You're still young." Sam started to respond, but stopped when he looked at Al's reflection. Al had been older than him, yes, but now... Sam compared the reflection with a memory of Al during their first leap together. Since then, Al's hair had gone grayer, his hairline had receded, and his face held more wrinkles. Al caught Sam's shocked look, then pursed his lips and moved out of Sam's line of vision. "How old am I now, Al?" "You'll be forty-seven next month," came the terse reply. "Forty-seven! I've lost five years of my life in the leaps," he breathed. "So that means it's the year 2000?" "Yea. February the thirteenth. Takes you by surprise, doesn't it? Between the time I was captured in Vietnam and when I came home, I lost six years." Sam met the unusual eyes of his reflection again, then began to turn away when something at the end of the hall caught his attention. "What's that?" he asked. "What's what?" "That." Sam pointed to the diagonally plastic strip of yellow and black, then read the "DO NOT ENTER" sign taped across the Control Room door. He began to jog towards it. "Sam, come back here!" As he approached the door, Sam slipped his hand into a narrow opening in the wall. The device, designed to read his palm and fingerprints, did not glow green as he pressed his palm against the cold glass plate. He left his hand there, but it stayed dark. "Ziggy?" Sam called out. "Come on, let me in." The feminine voice of the hybrid computer did not respond, but Sam heard Al come up behind him. "ZIGGY!" "It's no good, pal. They've shut us out." Sam withdrew his hand and kept his back to Al. He felt a low-grade anger begin to burn inside him, and he clenched his hands, his gaze on the floor. "Did you forget to tell me something, Al?" "I couldn't tell you." "Why not?" he demanded. "Because I saw how you were when you came back, and how you didn't recognize Donna. At your party, you gave her the same look you gave to everyone else. Ziggy and I are the only things you remember, aren't we?" "I can remember everything," he said firmly. "True, but you don't feel any of it," Al interjected. "You've been talking to everyone like they were desk clerks at some hotel." "Well, you certainly have the experience for that analogy." "As soon as we found out," Al gestured clumsily at the barricade, "Verbeena advised me to bring you here and tell you the situation." "So why didn't you?" "I figured you should relax a little before you found out about the shut-down. The call came two days ago. Now that you're back, the government wants to pull the plug. They say this is a dangerous, costly experiment with no political benefits--" "Politics!" Sam barked. "--and that you were never authorized to use field generators." Sam suddenly spun around and headed back the way they came, with Al struggling to keep up with him. "They never laid down any guidelines. How can they tell me what I can and can't use?" "It's their money. I warned you that once the government got involved, you'd never get them out. They gave us funding to get proof of a scientific breakthrough in time travel, and we did it. But we can't control it, so it's too dangerous to ever try again." Sam stopped in front of the elevator. "That's ignorance." "That's sense," Al countered. "How can we continue with this when we can't retrieve you?" "I can fix that!" "It's too late. It's over." Al reached behind Sam and pushed the elevator button. "Can't we get a review board or something?" "We're not dealing with regular military channels here, Sam. As far as everyone is concerned, this project never even existed... but we do have to talk to some people. Let's go back up, okay?" Sam watched the elevator doors open, then shook his head. "No. Can I still get into my office?" "Yea. Only the Control Room, the Imaging Chamber and the Acceleration Chamber are sealed off right now." Al stepped into the elevator. "But you can bet it's only gonna get worse from here." "What kind of people do we have to face?" "It's for an evaluation of Quantum Leap. They want to close their file on us, and we have to account for everything we've done. They'll be here on Monday." The elevator doors began to slide shut, but Sam stuck his arm against them and they grudgingly opened again. "Account for what? We didn't do anything!" Al gave Sam an intense, meaningful look. "No," he replied calmly. The doors started to close again, but this time Sam backed away from them. "We didn't do anything," Al said. "We just changed history." The doors came together with a clank, and Sam Beckett found himself staring at the fuzzy, dark outline of his reflection in the warped metal plates. Chapter Three Sam Beckett walked slowly along the passageway, his hands clenched and his lips pressed together in a firm, ugly frown. He stared at the plastic barricade that hung across the Control Room door, then made a sharp turn and continued to walk towards his office. Locked me out, he thought angrily. I'm locked out of my own project. Sam hesitated in front of his office door, his hand balanced in front of the rectangular hole beside the door. He tightened his jaw muscles, stuck his hand on the glass plate, then sighed with relief as a warm green light scanned his palm. The door clicked, and he pushed down on the metal handle and opened it. Sam let the door swing inward and stood in the doorway, almost afraid to enter. He reached inside and flicked on the lights, then looked around the cluttered room. Every wall supported a bookshelf, each layer crammed with well-worn books, magazines and folders stuffed with newspaper articles. It's been a long time, he thought. He stepped inside and reached out to caress the enormous oak desk to his right, then rubbed his dust-covered fingertips against his jeans. I never kept this place clean, anyway. This was a room just for me, Al and Ziggy. Ziggy... Sam closed the door and moved to the other side of the room, where a computer terminal-- an extension of Ziggy's higher functions-- sat in one corner, squeezed between the bookshelves. He slid into a swivel chair and swallowed, then placed one hand on the terminal to energize it. The dark screen took on a grayer appearance, and a blinking white cursor popped into the left-hand corner, then moved along the screen and left a familiar trail of words behind it. USER: BECKETT, SAMUEL POSITION: LEADER, PROJECT QUANTUM LEAP CLEARANCE: HIGH ENTRY APPROVED. The words burst apart and the letters scattered across the screen, each fragment exploding into a colorful show of fireworks against a star-filled sky. "Hello, Ziggy!" "Hello, Doctor Beckett," came the smooth reply from the terminal's speakers. "In light of your situation, I'm surprised that you did not contact me earlier." "Well, I didn't know about our ‘situation' until Al told me a few minutes ago." The fireworks on the screen fizzled out, to be replaced a second later with a computerized image of a Scottish castle. The scene swept towards the wooden door with its enormous round door knockers. "I assume by the sarcasm," Ziggy commented, "that you are referring to the upcoming investigation. I am not." "What are you referring to, then?" Sam asked. "Your inability for emotional response." One of the door knockers raised up and fell back against the door, and a loud thump came from the speakers. "I am aware," Ziggy continued, "that your current leap has somehow affected you psychologically, and that you have not sought counseling for your condition." Sam shifted in his seat. "I don't need Verbeena. And how do you know I didn't see her?" The castle door creaked open, the screen went black as the scene moved inside the castle, then the Project building blueprints popped up in blue cross-section on the screen. "You do remember that Gushie programmed me to monitor security." A yellow dot blinked at Sam's location. "There is no record of your movements coinciding with Doctor Beeks since your arrival." Sam studied the diagram and frowned. "So you knew I was outside the Control Room just now?" Ziggy paused. "Yes, but I have orders to restrict access to all critical operations of Project Quantum Leap. My orders," Ziggy continued in a lighter voice, "also included the shut-down of all non-essential computers connected to me. But since no specific instructions accompanied the command, I decided which ones should continue to operate." Sam leaned forward. "You went against your commands?" "I wouldn't say that, Doctor. I simply complied with them from my point of view." The building's blueprints dissolved and a cartoon detective stumbled onto the screen. The detective looked around, then walked forward and tumbled into an uncovered manhole. Sam laughed. "Ziggy, you're incredible." "I know. Would you care to view the video introduction that I have prepared for the visitors?" The computer screen created a letterbox format, then began to run a video between the dark spaces. It began with an exterior shot of Project Quantum Leap's location at Stallion's Gate, New Mexico. Vista Point mountain, the area used by the complex, cast a bright blue glow on the twilight sky as a male voice narrated the video. Sam recognized the voice as that of Don Benettelli, the first man he met after his leap-- but without the stutter. "Project Quantum Leap began on April 6, 1994, with the energizing of the parallel hybrid computer designed by Doctor Samuel Beckett." The scene dissolved to an interior shot of the Control Room, then tilted up to take in the glowing silver ball that contained Ziggy's higher components. "The hybrid computer is the first of its kind to establish a connection between organic material and electronic components, a process which is used to augment the computer's level of artificial intelligence. Project Quantum Leap also marks the first successful use of field generators, which utilize magnetic fields to shift, alter the location of and accurately reassemble living matter at another location in time." The picture changed to a shot of Sam Beckett, clad in a white body suit and positioned in the Accelerator Chamber, his feet spaced apart but still within the energizing rings above and below his body. "Doctor Beckett," Don's voice continued, "forced to either prove the validity of his experiment or lose government and private funding, took his place in the Accelerator Chamber and activated the generators." Sam sat in the office and watched his first leap, fascinated by the white whirlwind that began to engulf the dark outline of his body. "The Chamber, surrounded by an electromagnetic field, created a disturbance between the biochemical composition of Doctor Beckett's body and the electronically-charged atmosphere supported by the field generators." The smoke-like substance that surrounded Sam's image began to glow and light up the dim room. It's vapor, he reminded himself. It's vitreous-- the excess or "used" electric fluid, created as my body absorbed the residuous or "electrified" effluvium. It's visible because of the electromagnetic field. The position of the camera, put in the chamber for security reasons, had been a poor one. Sam squinted as his image became absorbed by the bright light, then the room began to fade to black again. "After the initial leap," Don's voice commented, "no direct contact was possible with Doctor Beckett. However, he had foreseen this possibility." The picture cut to a shot of Al in the Imaging Chamber, apparently talking to thin air. "Doctor Beckett's activities are monitored by the Project Observer, Rear Admiral Albert Calavicci, who tracks Doctor Beckett through time via his brain waves. Only Admiral Calavicci, the co-creator of Project Quantum Leap, can see him. A hologram of the Admiral is transmitted in Doctor Beckett's time, and is visible only to him, animals, children under the age of five and other individuals whose minds are balanced in an abnormally sensitive alpha state." "Hold it, Ziggy." The video froze at Sam's command. "You're explaining everything in the present. ‘Are monitored.' ‘Is visible.' My leaps are over now. I'm home." "It is rather hasty to assume that your adventures are complete, is it not?" The picture on the screen dissolved into a beach scene of restless ocean waves, where a seagull glided across the orange ball of the sun. Sam brushed one hand across his upper lip. He understood Ziggy's words, but couldn't find a way to reply to them. "After all," Ziggy added, "the future is unpredictable. It goes beyond even my estimations." Chapter Four Edward St. John straightened up in the chair and groaned, then dropped the scalpel into a metal tray and pulled off his rubber gloves. He tossed the gloves into a red container marked, "CAUTION: Medical Waste" as he stood up and headed for the sink. "I hope I do this right," he said over his shoulder. He turned on the water with the foot pedal beneath the metal basin, then scrubbed his hands under the thin stream of water. "I'll have to check with Alpha to be sure." Deanna Calavicci nodded and pressed down on the bandage across the top of her right hand, feeling the sting of the operation over the local anesthetic. She glanced at the pale nerve cells that lined the petrie dish and shuddered. "Can't you tell me what you need the cells for?" "Not yet," he replied. "I have to be sure it will work before I can begin to explain." He stepped away from the sink and reached for a towel, his thin, nervous fingers bunching up the white material. Deanna looked away. "In other words, you don't trust me." St. John hesitated, then returned to his chair, one hand on his hip and the other still clutching the towel. He gave he a concerned look, set the towel across one knee and carefully grasped her bandaged hand. "It's not that," he replied soothingly. "Doctor Beckett performed this operation on me in the strictest of confidence. I want to keep that trust that Samuel had in me until I can be sure this works." With a sigh, Deanna turned her attention back to St. John. "Fine," she said in an even voice. "And if it does work, then I'll find out all about it, right? You promised that." "And I intend to uphold that promise." St. John patted her hand, then jerked away from her as the lab door clicked open behind him. The towel slid off his lap and he nearly tipped over his chair as he spun around to face the door. Sammi Jo Trenton stepped in and acknowledged him with a nod of her head. She glanced at the surgical thread and Deanna's bandaged hand and blinked slowly. "I wasn't aware that you hurt yourself," she said. Deanna fixed her with a cold look. "I wasn't aware that you gave a damn." With a sniff of disgust, Sammi Jo ignored the comment and looked at St. John again. "Another message came through today. Have you had any luck yet?" "None so far." St. John glanced at Deanna, then stepped forward to whisper something to Sammi Jo. Deanna turned away as his words, too faint to hear, slipped past her. He doesn't trust me, not really, she told herself. What have I done wrong? I've followed every order he's ever given me, but he still keeps his distance. Is this project so precious to him that he can't even share information with his own assistant? Sammi Jo whispered something else and moved away from St. John, back towards the door. She stopped with her hand on the knob, then glanced at Deanna. "By the way, your request for transfer was denied." "What?" Deanna gaped in surprise. "How?" Sammi Jo flashed her an empty smile. "On the basis that I decide who stays and who goes. I feel you're doing a good job here and that you're irreplaceable." "You hardly know I'm alive. Why did you do this?" She shrugged. "Do I need a reason?" "No, I guess not," Deanna replied with an angry glare. "I guess being a bitch is enough of a qualification." Sammi Jo stormed out of the room without another word, an expression of distaste on her face. The lab door slammed shut behind her. "I'm not sure which one of you enjoys these little games more," St. John muttered. "Well, I don't enjoy it," Deanna snapped at him, "but it's the only way to get her attention. Otherwise, she hardly listens to anything I say." St. John blinked and turned towards her. "Huh? What?" She gave him a look of irritation and stood up. "Exactly," she hissed as she started to walk away. He started to speak again, then walked over and put one hand on her shoulder. Deanna turned around, her arms crossed, and took in a deep breath. "What?" she asked sullenly. "I'm sorry, I wasn't listening." "So what's new?" Deanna glanced at his stricken face and felt a stab of guilt at his hurt expression. She gave him a slight smile as an apology. "It's all right. I'm kind of getting used to it." "You shouldn't have had to. I just never realized..." "But you do now, because I might be important to you , right?" He started to protest, but gave up and nodded. "I guess so. Before, you were just another body working here, and not essential to my purpose." "So what changed your mind?" "You've helped me. You've been here every day, without fail. Also--" His abrupt interruption caught Deanna's attention. "What else?" she persisted. "It's probably just my imagination, but it's because your last name is Calavicci. I've heard your name before, and, well, I can't explain it any further. Let's just say I believe that you're supposed to be here." Deanna felt herself begin to smile at his words, as she sensed something familiar in his secrecy. She tapped her fingers against her leg impatiently. "But you can't say why?" He shook his head. "And how about if I tell you the reason?" He gave a friendly shake of his head. "I doubt very much that you could." Deanna grinned wider than before and gestured to the door. "Let's go and see." Edward St. John set the papers down on the desk blotter, then passed one hand over the top sheet to smooth it out. He swallowed and looked up from the handwritten notes, gripping the edge of Deanna's desk. "How long have you known all this?" he asked quietly. "For a few days." She pointed to the stack of papers. "Is that information accurate? About the leap into Ensign Calavicci?" "Accurate? Oh, yes. This described Doctor Beckett's leap perfectly. One would have to have been with to get it any closer." Deanna smiled. "I wasn't sure that I got half this stuff right. The computer spit out a lot of information on all these different leaps, but it wouldn't let me print them out." St. John waved one hand. "Of course not. With the exception of this one incident, none of the events you describe ever occurred for us." Deanna's smile faded. "There is a problem." "What is that?" "By our records, Sam Beckett disappeared after his first leap attempt in 1995. Dead, supposedly." She locked her hands together in front of her. "So if he's never been in touch with us, how could you two have shared that leap?" St. John clenched his hands and bowed his head for a minute, then met Deanna's gaze. "Sammi Jo and I agreed that we couldn't risk anyone finding out about Doctor Beckett. In order to keep the project funded, we had to maintain that he had died." "But why?" "Haven't you noticed? In these notes you talk of visitors to the holding chamber--" "Waiting room." "--but we've never had any. This leap says that Ensign Calavicci came here, but I don't recall meeting him. That's something that happened in their world, where your father was the Observer and there was obviously some kind of... temporary transplant between him and I." He leaned forward. "If we had ever claimed that Doctor Beckett was alive, traveling through time, we'd need solid proof. We don't have that. There are no visitors here and never have been, and any changes to history can easily be chalked up to our imaginations." Deanna nodded. "They'd say the project was a fake, all of this was imagined, and they'd shut it down." "Exactly. Samuel would be trapped in the leaps alone, with no observer and no hope of ever returning." He paused and placed one hand on the stack of papers. "Now that you've told me this, I can tell you what those nerve cells are for. The operation integrates cells into the computer. I'm hoping that you will be able to go to Doctor Beckett as a hologram." Deanna drew in a quick breath. "Then he is alive?" "As far as I know, but I haven't seen him for several months. I was hoping that in using your nerve cells, I could re-establish our connection to him. You see, ever since our contact with Samuel was severed, I have tried different methods to correct the action. You are my last hope." "Because my father was his observer?" "I'm not sure if that will make a difference, but we can only hope that it will. I should have the nerve cells into the computer this afternoon. Then, we can begin experimenting with you and see if the process will work. Perhaps you can find Samuel." Deanna smiled. "Great! I finally get to do something worthwhile around here." "Whatever you do, though, I must caution you against one thing. Please don't tell Sammi Jo about any of this. If it didn't work, I'd planned to keep this from her as well." "I wouldn't worry about it," Deanna replied tersely. "I don't tell her anything that goes on down here." "It's important that she doesn't find out about this other time that Doctor Beckett seems to be existing in. At least, not until the Accelerator Chamber is dismantled." Deanna picked up the papers and put them into a folder. "I don't understand, though. Why get rid of the equipment? There should be some way of using it to bring Doctor Beckett back." "The possibility of retrieving him is minimal. Too many configuration changes have taken place. Besides, it's too dangerous to keep operational, and it is too tempting for Sammi Jo, as well. I think if given half the chance, she would do the same thing he did. With the same results, no doubt." Deanna grinned. "So what's wrong with that?" St. John sat back and rubbed his temple. "Deanna," he said in a frustrated tone, "this is serious." "Okay, I'll be nice." She picked at a corner of the folder, then looked up. "But couldn't we at least lose her for a little while?" "Deanna!"