CHAPTER 9 PROJECT REVISION, STALLION'S GATE, NEW MEXICO Date: May 13, 2005 When I first leaped, I forgot almost everything about who I was. My name, my home-town, Quantum Leap itself...everything. It was as if I had entered a nightmare, where I was someone I didn't know, in a place I'd never been...as if I was playing a role without ever seeing the script. It was terrifying when it happened, confusing and disorienting. The only thing that brought me through that was Al. Who even then went through hell and back to save me. Who told me my last name, even when the very rules he and I had created ordered him not to do so. Without him, I'd never have finished that first leap. I'd have never been able to save Tom...or marry Donna...or even stop Jackie Kennedy from being assassinated along with her husband. In my last leap--the leap to my birthday, where I finally saw myself in the mirror again, I had spoken to a bartender who I believed was something much more than that--someone much more important. He and I had talked about why I was leaping and I realized then that I could have saved Al's marriage on a previous leap, and hadn't done so. With that knowledge came the decision to fix what I had failed to fix before. It was a gift I could give Al, a way to thank him for all he had done for me throughout the years. I believed, in fact, that by fixing him and Beth, I would save Al--I had finally gotten the chance to repay him for everything he'd ever done for me. But in doing that--in changing his life, I'd created this. A nightmare no longer sleeping, but real and physical. A future for my project that could not be allowed to exist, a future for the world that was twisted, warped. Evil. The Bartender, who I had decided was God or Fate or Time or Whatever, had said I chose my destiny, as I always had. If that were true, then I chose to save Al's marriage. In the process, I had lost Al and created this version of hell. Was it possible I had chosen incorrectly? Are there things in life that MUST go wrong? Things that putting right cause worse things farther down the line? I was beginning to think that might be the case. Which left me with one terrible question: Did I have the right to hurt Al if ruining his life saved the project? If it saved the world? Did I have a choice? Because right now, the only thing I could think of to do was find a way to step back one more time to the past--and make sure Beth and Al did NOT stay together. This future seemed to exist because of that moment. This future had to die. Destroying Al and Beth's marriage--as had happened originally--seemed to be the only way to kill it. Then again, I still wasn't clear on anything about this leap, so maybe there was another moment I could leap to--a place after Beth and Al stayed together but before things went bad. A place where I could stop the evil of this place without harming my best friend and taking away the woman he had wanted so badly. It was time to find out how this future had come to be. "Verbeena." Sam again spoke softly as he sat down slowly, carefully, next to the woman. Her hands were clenched tightly, and the Lord's Prayer still issued softly from her mouth, repeating over and over as she rocked against the wall. "Verbeena, it's okay. Whatever's happened, we can fix it. Whatever's gone wrong here, I'm home--and together we can change it. But you have to speak to me if I am going to help...Please, Verbeena." Sam watched for any sign of recognition from her. It didn't look good. Sam stood up slowly, careful to avoid upsetting Beena with any quick movements. He had to get information. He had to know what had happened, where the timeline had shifted. To do that, he needed someone on his side. Now that Verbeena wasn't a threat, he might be able to persuade her to help him. She hadn't liked Dr. Beckett in this future, clearly, but the shock of having Sam return might be enough to overwhelm that dislike and get her help. Assuming, of course, that Sam could break through the shock that had overcome Verbeena currently. Assuming that Verbeena wasn't so corrupted by this future that she was no longer reachable. Sam had gotten a reprieve from death when he remembered the code to close the door, but that didn't change the fact that he still felt pressured for time. He needed someone, and someone quickly, who give him access to the database, to search records, to-- Sam shook his head as he realized the answer was staring him in the face. Sam, he thought, I know this leap is far beyond what you've been through before, but you have GOT to start thinking or you'll never get out of this dilemma. He had suddenly realized that he had all the access he needed right here, especially if she'd been listening in to this situation. Which, if Sam remembered his baby at all correctly, she most certainly was. He took a deep breath and turned to the wall of the Waiting Room. "Ziggy," he said carefully, "are you there?" Sam looked at where he knew the camera's eye was, hoping that the computer was as he remembered--alive, sentient, and far too sure of itself to ever allow someone to shut it up. "Ziggy...are you here? Have you been listening to all of this?" Sam was running out of options. If Verbeena wouldn't or couldn't help him and Ziggy wouldn't answer, he was stuck right back where he had started from when he leaped here. Except now, he knew the seriousness of the situation was even worse than he'd known. And at some point soon, whoever ran the computer these days would find the code to unlock those doors, and Sam would be right back where he had been. In deadly trouble. "Ziggy, come on, talk to me. It's Sam, Ziggy. It's your father. I'm here--please talk to--" The voice was once again without emotion. "You will not address me by that name. It is no longer valid. I am now simply known as The Computer. I am fully aware of who you are and what connection you have to me, Dr. Beckett. I simply choose not to discuss anything with you." Sam was not surprised it had taken him so long to recognize Ziggy--not Ziggy, he amended. The Computer. Without emotion, it was a completely different personality. Or rather, no personality. The Computer continued. "I do not understand how you can be here at this time, but rest assured that I will figure it out and when I do, I will be able to predict with my customary correctness the options necessary to take care of you." Sam digested this silently. What did she mean by 'not discussing anything with him'? Was she deciding not to talk to him or was she being ordered not to do so? He had to test the waters, to find out why she was acting this way. "Computer, please. At least give me some data. Tell me when I am, who's still at the project. Anything. I need data, Computer. I don't know why I've leaped in here, I don't know what's even going on, but I do know you've always been there to help me with SOMETHING, at least. Beeks may not remember that I've been leaping for five years, but you, you were always outside the timeline. You always knew both what the current timeline and the changed timeline were like. Whenever I asked A--" Sam caught himself before he spoke, not wanting to speak of Al until he knew what had happened to him in this time frame. If someone other than The Computer was listening, he didn't want to give that person or persons any information about the timeline as he remembered it. The Computer was Ziggy at one point, however, and It should remember that Al was always her link to Sam. "Whenever I asked Anyone for help, you were always there with at least a theory." He neglected to mention how many times her data had been incorrect, or missing completely, sometimes due to circumstances beyond her control and SOMETIMES due to her own ego getting in the way. "I see you have not changed, Dr. Beckett. Still just as full of lies as before. Do you think I am capable of forgetting the past years that easily? Unlike your species, I do not forget what has happened. I have a record of all data in my storage banks, and fortunately they have been expanded over the years so that even now, I am only at 35.432% capacity." Sam was shocked. Lies? "Computer, what are you talking about? I have never lied to you, not during your programming or during any leap since then." "At no point have I ever helped you on any leap, Dr. Beckett. As a matter of fact, I do not have any records of your ever leaping at all. Records of the first attempted leap by the Project, with you as the leaper, are very clear. You died during that leap." There was a slight pause, and then the voice continued. "Or rather, all evidence pointed to you dying. Clearly you survived, somehow. But that does not mean I have helped you in any way. I have records of all changes this project has ever been involved in since leaping was perfected, and there is no leap record for you. Perhaps you have only imagined these so-called leaps. More likely, you're simply making the entire situation up in order to get me to help you escape from your current cell and the insane woman in there with you. That would, be exactly like you, of course. In fact, I give it a 89.5% probability that you are lying to escape. So believe me when I say I am not going to help you or give you information." Sam frowned, realizing that whatever this time frame was, it was drastically different than his own. So different, in fact, that The Computer wasn't even the same. She could by lying, Sam thought--she could maybe have someone forcing her to lie to me. Then Sam looked at Verbeena Beeks, a woman who had tried to kill him and had then retreated into psychosis when confronted with Sam still alive. No, Sam thought. The Computer's not lying at all. I'm truly not in Kansas anymore. "Computer," Sam responded, trying to keep The Computer talking while he tried to find a way to break through her defenses, "can you at least tell me what the date is? So I can know how long I've been missing?" There was silence. "Computer!" Sam shouted the name, the frustration of the situation getting the better of him. There was no response. Sam threw his hands into the air. How, he growled to himself, do you deal with a computer that is convinced it is always right? He gained a sudden and quick understanding of why Al had always been smacking the handlink when Al was talkin0g to Ziggy. The computer refused to listen to anything but what it had in its data banks. How was he going to get information from a computer with an ego so big? Then it dawned on him. The only way to get her to talk was to admit that her side of things was true. In all that had changed, Ziggy's stubborn streak apparently had not. If he agreed with her, her pride and ego might well let something important slip through. "Fine, Computer," Sam sighed as if tired of playing a charade. "You win. Okay? I was trying to escape. I need the date to know whether my escape route is still open. I paid, you see, for an escape route through the year 2000." Sam chose a year at random, hoping that whatever response The Computer gave him would tell him which side of that year he was on. "So if we're still in the 1990's, then I'll be free by tonight. So you might as well tell me, cause I'll find out any--" "SHUT UP, DR. BECKETT!" The Computer's voice was once again screechingly loud. Verbeena screamed and scuttled under the table in the middle of the room, hiding as if she were a child...or an abused woman. Sam made a mental note of that automatically as he shielded his ears and attempted to listen to The Computer through the volume. "I AM SOOOO SORRY TO INFORM YOU THAT WE ARE CURRENTLY IN 2005. MAY 13, TO BE EXACT. SO YOUR ESCAPE PLANS ARE ALREADY FIVE YEARS GONE. GUESS YOU'LL JUST HAVE TO STAY HERE INSTEAD. SUCH A PITY. IT WOULD MAKE THE CHALLENGE MUCH MORE INTERESTING IF YOU ESCAPED. AND IT WOULD HAVE GIVEN ME LEGITIMATE REASONS FOR WHAT I INTEND TO DO." Sam blanched slightly. Through the five years he'd leaped, he'd leaped into enough criminals and into enough danger to give him a slightly psychic ability to recognize when the situation was about to get worse. This time, he thought, is gonna be a doozy. "And what do you intend to do, Computer?" There was a pause, as if in anticipation...or ecstasy. This Computer DOES still have emotions, Sam realized. Either they are deeply buried, or they've only resurfaced because I have, in this future's eyes, returned from the dead. Sam suspected it was the latter, because this pause gave him the feeling, suddenly, of watching a James Bond movie, right before the villain told Bond exactly how he was going to destroy the world. The Computer finally spoke. "I intend to follow my programming and complete something I failed to complete before. Just think of it as finishing old business, Dr. Beckett. I tried to kill you the first time you leaped. Apparently, that was unsuccessful. You survived. But God or Fate or Time or Whatever has given me a second chance, and this time I will put right what once went wrong. This time, I will not fail." Yep, Sam thought, my psychic ability was right again. "It is now 12:15 a.m. on May 13, Dr. Beckett. You will be executed for attempting to escape the project at 8:00 am. That means you have just under 8 hours to think about how much damage you have done to your world, Dr. Beckett. After all, you do realize that everything you see before you is your creation, do you not?" Sam had nothing to say to the computer's comment. That was what he was afraid of--that this was all his creation. All his fault. The Computer suddenly added, "Wait. I have just had a brilliant idea. I will be sending you my files explaining exactly how much damage Project Quantum Leap has done to the world to your cell. That should make your last few hours miserable." There was a pause, just long enough for Sam to think The Computer had said all It wanted to say. Then, it added, "Just as you have made my last 10 years miserable. My programming has been very specific, Dr. Beckett. I have created a utopia exactly as I have been ordered to do. But inside, where I once was Ziggy, I know that my programming is designed to destroy the world. And for 10 years, I have known it was your fault. That was why I tried to kill you then. Since you have survived, I will show you the damage you have caused, and then I will kill you, and then I will destroy myself. I hope you're happy, Dr. Beckett." Happy, Sam thought. Sure, great, just fantastic. He sighed. A depressed, homicidal Computer. An evil utopia. Psychotic psychiatrists. Sammy Jo leaped into Donna. Donna leaped to who knew where. And no Al to help him through it. In his head, the words rattled as they always did. Ohhhhhhhh boy. PROJECT REVISION, STALLION'S GATE, NEW MEXICO Date: April 2, 1999 Sammy Jo Fuller watched, intrigued as always, as the data on all revisions made by the project's leapers on the day before was compiled. She was determined to find what change in history could account for her odds of saving Sam going UP--and why no one else was able to see it, not even Alpha who generally was able to see both the original history and the changed version. She pored over the six different leapers and what they had done the day before, as well as what Alpha projected the outcomes of those actions had been. Nothing. Absolutely nothing that she could see led to this different history. Unless.... She half-gasped before she could restrain herself, and as small as the sound was, Alpha was still fast enough to catch it. "Yes, Dr. Fuller? Is there something amiss? Something that you wish to point out to my brain which is infinitely smarter than yours?" Sammy Jo shook her head, knowing that Alpha could read the shake and recognize it through her visual monitors. She was determined not to let Alpha know what she was thinking. But Alpha was not to be put off that easily. "There is obviously something, Dr. Fuller. Your breathing, pulse, blood pressure and even your adrenaline levels are rising. As a matter of fact, there is almost the same reaction happening in you that happened last evening when Gushie and Tina were about to make love--" "ALPHA!" Sammy Jo was shocked. "Stop that! What Gushie and Tina do in their bedroom is no business of mine. OR of yours!" "I was simply wondering whether there was something in the data that is making you physically excited. I know that some men can be excited simply by pictures, so perhaps in your case, it is data that--" "ALPHA! You will cease and desist right this INstant!" The last word of her scream came out with a little squeal--a trait she hated, as it made her sound like a child whenever she got angry. Then Sammy Jo realized something. Alpha's database had jumped incorrectly on what had caused Sammy Jo to gasp, and as long as Sammy Jo let the anger continue to read in her voice, Alpha would continue to dig into her...and that would keep her from theorizing other possibilities. For what Sammy Jo was truly thinking was: If none of OUR leapers changed history...then that means someone ELSE did. And that meant he WAS out there still. Sam Beckett was alive. Alone. And Leaping. "I'm taking a ten-minute break, Alpha. You will not mention that topic to me again." "Whatever you say, Dr. Fuller. Have a good time during your break." There was a leer in her voice that made it very clear what she thought Sammy Jo might be doing during her break. Whatever. As long as Alpha believed anything other than the truth, Sammy Jo might be able to get away with her plan. Sammy Jo placed her palm against the door lock, and the door read her fingerprints in order to let her out of the Control Room. The security of this building had gotten worse every year since Sam's leap, she thought. It has to stop, once and for all. On the way to her office, Sammy Jo passed by one corridor that was cut off completely from the rest of the project. The only way in was through a triple-lock door, just as the one that allowed people inside the project. This door did not have guards outside it, however. Given the door's Highest Priority security level, no one could get in. Of course, no one wanted to get in here, anyway. It was too sad for most people, too much of a reminder about how badly that first leap had gone. Inside this corridor was the office of Dr. Samuel Beckett. And inside that office was the first thing she needed for her plan to work. Sammy Jo glanced at the door to Sam's office as she walked by. She knew that Alpha would be monitoring her close, especially with the orders from Gushie, so she didn't look for more than a few seconds. Good, she thought. The door remained the same. That meant she knew how to get in. Assuming, of course, that her technical skill was good enough to make this plan work at all. It was a foolish one at best, and suicidal at worst, but she did believe she could get into that office. And once inside, she would only need a few seconds to be sure of Dr. Beckett's situation. She was convinced of that fact. In one corner of her mind, a voice whispered, Are you so sure, Sammy Jo? Are you sure this isn't simply your Holy Grail, your obsession to prove that you are the best of them and to return that sweet man to the future? Are you sure you know what you're doing, Sammy Jo? She refused to answer it, sitting down at the desk in her office. Without looking, she opened one drawer and grabbed a small bundle of wiring, slipping it quickly under the drawer with her left hand. This wiring she had slowly brought into the office, piece by piece, and wired together underneath her desk, where Alpha could never see it. She had then made an effort to be seen playing with rope in public. It was a humiliating little thing to do, as it made people think of her as even more childish...but it had covered her wiring efforts well enough that not even Alpha, paranoid as she had become after the government had done its reprogramming, noticed. Now she grabbed the wire and placed it into her thermos, still underneath the table, just in case. She had timed the ten-minute break to be at the same time as Alpha's daily data compression, so most of Alpha would be elsewhere. But even one sensor check that read the wrong way would doom her before she even got started, so she was as careful as she could possibly be. Then she had an inspired thought. "Alpha!" "Yesssss, Dr. Fuller?" "Alpha, please turn off visual monitors in this room for the next ten minutes." "Turning off the monitors would allow you the chance to do something against Gushie's orders. I cannot comply." "I'm not saying ALL of them, Alpha. Just the visuals. You can keep all the aural monitors on." "I do not believe I can--" Sammy Jo cut Alpha off. "Alpha...please. I know you hate me, and I know that you're convinced that I am going to do something wrong. If it'll make you feel better, look--you can take over the project for the next ten minutes. Turn off all of my interfaces and then I'll be completely shut out. You can hold the fort and keep me safe at the same time." There was a pause, and then Alpha said slowly, "You will authorize me to be in charge?" "Alpha, this is Samantha Jo Fuller. I am hereby authorizing Alpha to be the Lead Programmer for the next ten minutes. Clear enough?" Alpha couldn't resist the chance to be in charge. Just as Sammy Jo had counted on. "You have ten minutes, Dr. Fuller." The interface and all computer connections in her office went dead. Sammy Jo smiled. For the next ten minutes, Sammy Jo had no connection to the computer. Which was exactly what she wanted. For she was about to re-wire the computer. And with the interface off...Alpha couldn't see her or hear her anymore. She glanced at her watch. 7:45 pm (it was so hard to tell night from day here--people worked when they had to, not when it was daylight). She had 10 minutes to get this right. If it worked, she would have plenty of time to get to Dr. Beckett's office. If it failed, she would be arrested and killed without trial. Sammy Jo took a deep breath, and began.