Chapter Thirteen Al entered the Imaging Chamber in the company of Project psychiatrist Verbeena Beeks, who had insisted on supervising the procedure, as she called it. As long as she was touching Al, she would be able to see and hear Sam, although the reverse would not hold true. When Sam got his first glimpse of what Al was wearing, he let out a raucous laugh at the absurdity of the sight. This was almost worse than the bathrobe and bunny slippers, so out of character it was for Al. He was wearing a dark nineteenth-century suit that would have seemed more fitting on Edward St. John the Fifth than Al Calavicci, but there was a certain playfulness about it that made Sam change his mind. "I thought it might make Weitzman feel a little more at home," Al explained. Sam recalled the senator's Lincoln fixation. "And because I'm going to need this for you, Sam." He whipped an antique pocketwatch out of his suit pocket, and let it hang loosely on its chain. "My father gave me this before . . . before he passed away. He said _his_ father bought it in an antique shop in England. Says it dates back to 1894." "Impressive," Sam replied, approving. It was a shame Al couldn't give it to him for closer inspection. Though it might not have been 'real' in Sam's present, it would serve its purpose well enough. "Are you sure you want to go through with this?" Al asked. But Sam wasn't willing to dismiss the possibility that Al might be addressing the question to himself, considering the dubious look on his face. Sam squared his shoulders and with an unwavering gaze, answered, "I'm ready, Al." Al glanced over at Verbeena, whom Sam could not say, listened for a few seconds, and started explaining the process to Sam. "I'm going to have you look at this watch and count back from 50 to zero. Once you're done, just listen to me and I'll walk you through the rest of it. Nothing's going to happen to you, Sam, I promise you. I'm here, and so's Verbeena, and we'll take good care of everything. Now take a deep breath, relax, and keep your eyes on the watch." With a barely perceptible flick of the hand, the antique pocketwatch began to swing back and forth in a slow, soothing rhythm. "Now count with me." "Fifty . . . forty-nine . . . forty-eight . . . " Leaper and hologram chorused. Sam's eyes began to take on an eerie quality of either not seeing, or seeing too well; Al couldn't decide which. It seemed as if his senses had closed to everything else around him. The sound of cars moving around through Paddy's neighborhood was now being shunted aside as if they did not exist, but Sam's eyes locked onto the watch, following it back and forth. Al was sure that every detail of it was being etched straight into his brain. At last, they finished the countdown, and at Verbeena's instructions, Al began to deliver the preliminary suggestions. "Now close your eyes, Sam, and relax. You are now floating in a place beyond space, beyond time." Al placed special emphasis on the last two words. A curious look crossed Sam's otherwise impassive face, a fleeting remembrance, tinged with pride, and was that the tiniest trace of anger? "He's under, Al," Verbeena whispered. "He thinks he's Leaping, though, so we're going to have to phrase the next questions very carefully." Al quietly slipped the watch back into his suit pocket, eliciting no reaction from Sam. It was chilling for Al to see Sam in this state. He was so passive, so vulnerable, and yet it seemed as if he'd been boiled down to the very essence of himself, all of his strengths shining outward, as clear for Al to read as the print in a book. "I need you to travel back to a memory of a previous Leap. If you can't remember, don't struggle against it. Do you remember the name Alia?" "Yes," Sam replied in a nearly monotone voice. "How many times have you met her?" "Twice." Al realized he was going to have to rephrase the question to confirm just how much Sam remembered. "How many times have you been together for a Leap?" "Four times." [Whoops, guess I should've been more specific,] Al supposed. "Go back to the Leap prior to this one. Where are you?" "Mallard Correctional Facility for Women." "Who have you Leaped into?" "Dawn Taylor." "Who has Alia Leaped into?" "Angel Jensen." "How did she get there?" This answer was somewhat more in-depth, and much more in character for Sam. The deep emotions that Sam harbored from these Leaps became more evident. "I encountered her for the second time the Leap directly before that one, and I offered to help her find another way instead of being a slave. I was touching her so we could simo-Leap and hide her from Lothos. I ended up bringing her with me on my Leap." "Right," Al complimented. "But once you got there, there was something else you had to do in order to hide her. What was that?" "I had to hypnotize her into believing that she was Angel Jensen to alter her brain waves so that Lothos would have a difficult time locking on to her." "How were you planning on returning her to her own identity when it came time?" "I didn't plan it. You did." "That's right, Sam. What was the code word?" Sam paused and his brow furrowed with concentration. This answer was clearly buried under a deep layer of Swiss-cheesing. Al just hoped Sam could fill in the hole so that this exercise wasn't for nothing. Seconds stretched into two full minutes, and Al began to lose hope. "I can't rem--" Sam broke off all of a sudden as if sighting a light in the distance. "Rem . . . rum . . . Rumplestiltskin!" he burst out, finally. "That's it, Sam, that's it!" Al shouted, and for a moment he and Verbeena worried that he'd broken Sam's trance, but he still had that eerie look, watching Al and waiting for the next set of instructions. [Wish he was that easy to deal with on _every_ Leap,] Al thought, and dismissed the thought immediately. When he was this passive, there was definitely something lacking to Sam. "Now when I clap my hands, you're going to wake up, and all you'll remember of this discussion is the code word Rumplestiltskin, got it?" Sam nodded. "Okay, one, two, _three_!" At the sharp crack of Al's hands, Sam suddenly sat bolt upright in the chair, and his eyes blessedly returned to normal. "What happened?" Sam asked frantically. "Why haven't you started yet?" Al smiled and allowed himself a friendly chuckle. "It's over, Sam, just like that. Tell me, what do you remember?" Sam squinted as he thought about it. "Nothing . . . except for the word Rumplestiltskin. Is that it?" he asked, looking up at his friend expectantly. "That's right, Sam," Al replied. "I believe the operation was a success!" Perhaps now the hologram would find the long-needed rest he sought now that one burden had been temporarily removed from his shoulders. At least, Sam hoped that he would, because when the final strategy meeting arrived, he would need Al with his senses as concentrated as they could be. Unfortunately, Sam could do nothing more to heal the gaping wound in Al's soul. Nor could he prevent the shutdown of Project Quantum Leap if the Committee should so desire.