CHAPTER ONE He stood like a statue, staring down at the silent, still figure on the = bed. The smoke from his cigar provided a screen around his face, hiding = the intense emotions that played there. It had been too long, this time. Much too long. He had spent too many = days passing this room, gazing at this inert body. Nearly a month had = passed since the last time this body was animated, since the eyes shone = with some life behind them, since those muscles moved with a purpose. = Nearly a month of nothingness. And it was driving him crazy. At the beginning, nothing seemed strange about the quiet in here. it = was customary for this room to remain "unoccupied" for a short time. = But, as the hours turned into days, and then the days turned into weeks, = the ordinariness of the situation began to change. Maybe he's coming home!, was whispered many times in the stark hallways = of the Project. Soon, however, the whispers turned into pronouncements = of gloom as the gossips began to wonder if this had indeed been the last = one. For good. Of course, no one would dare voice those sentiments = around him, not unless they were ready to have their butts chewed beyond = recognition. Yet, even now, after all this time, even he was beginning = to doubt. "No," the man said hoarsely, "I won't let you leave this way." Clamping down on the cigar with his teeth, as if by sheer will power = he could bring his friend home, the man closed his , dredged his mostly = clouded memory, and began to pray. "Holy Mother, full of grace," he intoned in a voice just above a = whisper. The silence in the room that had lasted just under 28 days was almost = cruelly broken by a petulant, female voice that seemed to come from = nowhere and everywhere. "Admiral, Dr. Beckett has leaped." He was unable to open his eyes. He didn't want to see who was occupying = the body now. At least when it was still he could imagine that his = friend was just asleep, just resting. the dream would be shattered if he = looked into those eyes, those eyes that were his, but held someone else = behind them. Moving swiftly from the bedside, Admiral Albert Calavicci left the = waiting room without a glance backward at the bed, not noticing that = those long stilled muscles were twitching with life, the silent voice = now moaning softly. Three purposeful strides brought him to the door. = But, as he began to make his fourth, he paused, his hand tracing the = sterile doorframe. He closed his eyes again, tilted his head upward and = whispered, "Thank you." Then he was gone. Sam landed softly this time. Usually Leaping in had the same affect on = his body as if he were rushing forward from about 175 miles up without a = parachute. He could feel gravity working against him, pushing him closer = to the ground and he didn't have anyway to stop himself, or at least = impede his onward rush. He would inevitably land with a crash, in a = mental heap, wishing he could have just a few moments for his stomach to = catch up with him. But, this time was different. He sort of floated in, like on a breeze. = Gently, almost serenely. And he gave a slight sigh. This is more like = it, he thought to himself, Let's try to keep it this way from now on, = OK? He suddenly became aware of his surroundings, that his eyes were closed = with his head resting on a desk, cradled within his arms. He sighed = again; no fists flying, no jealous boyfriends, no audiences blankly = staring at him. Just peace and quiet. I could get used to this. No, not peace and quiet. There was a slight noise in the he background. = A noise that he couldn't place right away, but knew that he should be = familiar with it. a faint ticking sound, and a whirring. And the smells = that assaulted his nose were somehow recognizable. The aroma of chrome = and steel...and...and... "Formaldehyde!," he shouted, sitting bolt upright. Harsh fluorescent lights bit into his eyes, bringing immediate tears. = he squinted at the desk before him; to the right sat a computer, = telephone and a long ago gone cold cup of coffee. Swinging to his left = he saw a pile of paper. no, stacks and stacks of green and white = computer printouts that had apparently been tossed on the desk in haste. = He was obviously in a lab of some sort. That was why everything seemed = so familiar, he had spent the better part of his youth and college = career in similar surroundings. it almost felt like home. Home. At the thought, a despair and weariness welled up inside of him that = caused the tears to spring anew. this was not home, he berated himself, = This is NOT home. he let his head sag back to his arms as he fought the = against the tears. "Jet lag got the better of you, huh?" Peeking out from over his outstretched arm, Sam said, "What?" A white lab coat came into view, as the voice sat down on the desk = beside him. "I told you not to try and come in today. My God, Robby, = your plane only landed a few hours ago. The project will still be here = even if you take one day off." Robby. Now, I know my first name. Looking up, Sam saw a man in his late fifties, pale from his hours = spent under artificial light. His hair, thin and a pale shade of gray, = was almost wisps that played across his forehead. By the expectant = expression on his face, Sam could tell that a response should be = forthcoming. "Well, I guess I was eager to start on, well, you know," Sam said as he = sat up and took in the full view around him. It was indeed a lab, with = people scattered here and there engrossed in whatever experiments that = were performed here. The equipment was adequate, though not near the = standard he had surrounded himself with at the Project. He thought he = could tell by the equipment that he was somewhere in the early to = mid-eighties. He only hoped that disco had already died. The older man laughed and put a fatherly hand on Sam's shoulder. "There = will be time enough for sleep deprivation and malnourishment in the week = and months to come. For today, at least, let's start out with a more = humanly pace." He stood up, motioning with his hand for Sam to follow. = "I want to show you around, meet the folks that you will be spending = every waking moment with." "Sounds great," Sam said a little too unenthusiastically. It brought a = look of concern to the older man's face, and Sam quickly added, after a = glance at the man's lab coat pocket and the badge hanging there, "I = can't wait to get started, Dr. Canady." A big hug around the shoulders brought Sam to the doctor's side. = "That's my boy!" Without relinquishing his hand, Dr. Canady weaved his = way through the tables with Sam in tow. As they walked Dr. Canady = explained the ins and outs of their current assignment. "As I told you, = the government is looking over our shoulders, breathing down our necks = for some kind of breakthrough." He paused to open a door, showing Sam he = should take the lead. "But, you know how the government is when it comes = to grant money." Sam laughed with intimate knowledge. "Yeah, I know." Dr. Canady shared the laugh as he led the way down a narrow, white = hallway, his shoes squeaking on the pristine linoleum. "We feel that we = are so close. Close enough to smell it. That is if you can smell = antimatter. Here we are." He opened another door that was the exact = replica of the one they had just exited. Sam grabbed to door, stopping its momentum. "Did you say antimatter?" A frown crossed over the older man's features. "Yes, yes I did." Roughly grabbing at the back of his jeans, he pulled out a wallet, from = that a driver's license. "Dr. Robert Aldrich, Junior. Ph.D. Am I a = physicist?" The frown had turned into genuine concern on Dr. Canady's face. "I = should hope so. Undergrad in Physics at Harvard, masters and Doctorate = at MIT in Quantum Physics." Sam felt a giggle growing inside his throat. "A quantum physicist? I am = a quantum physicist! This is unbelievable!" He spun around, arms raised = in sheer joy. The other doctor's concern turned to irritation at what he perceived to = be a childish stunt. "Should I get you some music, that is if you're = going to continue to dance in the hallway?" "No," Sam countered quickly, "No, that won't be necessary." He realized = that he would have to do his celebrating over his good fortune at a = later time. Tight now he had to be Dr. Robert "Robby" Aldrich, Jr., = quantum physicist and scholar. "The thought of antimatter being = discovered just, well, got me a little excited, that's all." Dr. Canady took his colleague's apology at face value, deciding not to = press further. "It has everyone a little excited, Robby." Opening the = door again, he walked into the room. It was obviously a lounge; there = were tables, chairs, a refrigerator, a small microwave and a coffee pot = that was in bad need of sandblasting. "Even Frank here actually looked = like he was going to smile." "Just because I don't go around celebrating, drinking myself into = oblivion, running up and down the halls clad just in my lab coat when we = make a small, but brilliant discovery, does not mean I can't have fun. = I'm a very fun guy," a pinched voice, that was obviously Frank's, = pierced the stuffy atmosphere of the room. "No, it doesn't, Frank. But, it does mean that if you would just remove = your head from up your butt, you could see that we were just having a = bit of sophomoric fun. Even those of us with genius IQs need to act like = the common man once and awhile." By comparison, that voice seemed to drift in on a summer breeze, the = kind that you waited for all evening long, and no matter how brief it = was, it still left you refreshed and longing for more. He turned to see = a head, buried in a book. Hair the color or a roan's rump fell down = around the slightly slumped shoulders, smoke formed a ring around above. "As I have insisted on numerous occasions," the pinched voice of Frank = cut in again, "I am not, nor do I want to be, a part of the common man." In response, the summer breeze lifted a cupped hand and made an up and = down motion. "Whatever you say, Frank." Sam recognized that hand gesture and blushed in spite of himself. Dr. Canady stepped forward, putting a stable hand on Frank's shoulder. = "Frank, I would like you to meet Dr. Robert Aldrich, Jr. He will be = helping up with the project. Dr. Aldrich, I would like you to meet Dr. = Francis Swilling, another member of the team." Sam held out his hand and shook the other doctor's hand. His grip was = limp, without life and substance. A big clue into a man, his father had = always said, was in his grip. After experiencing this man's grip, Sam = agreed with his father 100 percent. "My lab time is always the same," Frank whined as he slide from the = room, "8 am to 11 am. I don't take kindly to interlopers." Sam smiled sweetly. "That's OK, Frank. I usually don't get out of bed = until noon. That is if I don't have an other pressing engagements to = occupy my time." Frank huffed and the red head let out a belly laugh. Dr. Canady just = shook his head and sighed. Children, he thought. "So, if you're on our team, what position do you play?" The smoke = billowed briefly as the cigarette was squashed out. Turning his attention back to the table, Sam said, "I beg your pardon?" "Begging. I like begging. It's a good quality in a man," the summer = breeze said. Turning around, Sam came face to face with her: with the = brown eyes, the freckles, the wire rimmed glasses that were perched = halfway down her nose, the wry smile that appeared to be permanently = attached to her mouth. He felt a lurching down deep inside. What it was = he wasn't quite sure. But, I'm sure AL would know, he thought to = himself. Dr. Canady firmly pressed his fore finger and thumb against the bridge = of his nose and said, "Dr. Aldrich, I would like you to meet Dr. Rebekka = Michaels." Before Sam could respond, she stuck her hand out. Sam had no other = option but to shake it. Her grip was everything Francis' was not: firm, = commanding and slightly warm. Looking into her eyes, he could tell that = he had held onto her hand just a tad too long. Yet, in those eyes he = couldn't tell whether he also saw irritation or interest. She withdrew = her hand slowly, letting her fingers trail against his. The deep down = feeling became more pronounced, and this time he knew he didn't need = Al's help to identify it. "I read your previous work. You know, the stuff on wave and stream = length similarities. Unusual to say the least." As she spoke she circled = around Sam cautiously. "I would like to read more." "Robby's most recent work in California has just arrived. I've added it = to our data files, "Dr. Canady interjected. "I'll just have to give it a look-see, won't I?" She paused by the = door. "It was nice to meet you, Dr. Aldrich. I'm sure we will meet = again." And she was gone. Sam felt like the wind had been knocked out of him. "Well, you've met my senior staff," Dr. Canady said quickly, trying to = fill the uncomfortable gap left by Dr. Michael's departure. "The rest of = them will be here this evening. With everything so critical, we have = been going around the clock." Sam had been unaware that his mouth was hanging open until he went to = answer Dr. Canady. Closing it quickly, he licked dried out lips and = attempted a reply. Not much came out. "Oh, by the way," Dr. Michaels said sweetly, sticking her head back = through the door. "I no know what position you will be playing on our = team." Sam didn't have the energy to turn around to face her. Besides, he was = afraid that his mouth would drop open again. With a quick glance up and down Sam's body, she said, "Tight end." The = door closed behind her silently. As that deep down feeling rose completely into the light, Sam wiped = sweaty palms against his jeans and murmured, "Oh, buy." The petulant voice halted the Admiral's forward momentum. "Things have changed, Admiral." Every time Sam leaped things changed. Sometimes it was small, = insignificant, like rooming assignments or where the piano stood in the = cafeteria. However, large thing had changed, too, and for those All = almost needed a road map. And Ziggy. After taking a deep, long drag from his cigar, Al questioned the thin = air. "Like what, Ziggy?" "UPN in now the number one network, the Steelers are thought to be a = shoo in for the Superbowl, and Bill Gates has just topped the 12 billion = mark." He knew Ziggy was toying with him. "And?" A slight pause was followed by a more subdued Ziggy. "Tina and Gushie = are married, again, and Dr. Elessi is not here. A Dr. Aldrich has taken = her place on the Project." Al began to walk again and when he entered the Control Room, he knew = Ziggy was right. Things were different. Not that anyone else would = notice. No, only he and Ziggy had the dubious honor of living outside of = time. For Ziggy it was just a matter of collating the data, putting it = into the appropriate files. But, for Al it was more difficult. Each time = Sam changed something in the past, Al had to act as if nothing had = changed in the future, his present. As if having his best friend lost in = time was not enough, Al had to instantaneously adapt to radical = upheavals in his own time. It was enough to wear a man down. Like now, as he stood just inside the door to the Control Room. He saw = the woman he had made love to no less than three times in the past 18 = hours standing there holding another man's hand, whispering into his = ear, giggling like a little girl at his response. And nowhere did he see = Donna, with her smiling, yet haunted face. Her presence at the Project = was a direct result of Sam's leaping, and even though Al could remember = a time when Donna hadn't been around, he still felt her periodic = absences deeply. "Admiral," Ziggy announced, "I have located Dr. Beckett." Crossing to the large panel at the far end of the room, Al spoke to = Ziggy with clipped tones. "About time. "Where's the handlink?" Tina produced the handlink and gave it to Al, her fingers barely = brushing his skin. Skin that had held hers in an intimate embrace only = scant hours before. Fingers that would be holding another man tonight. = Almost in a jealous rage, Al tore the handlink from Tina, growling, "You = two, get a room." Before anyone could respond, Al marched off toward the Imaging Chamber, = throwing, "Gushie, center me on Sam," back over his shoulder. As the Chamber door slid shut with a loud swoosh, Ziggy commented, "It = would appear that someone got up on the wrong side of someone else's bed = this morning." The comment drew a few twitters as everyone went back to their work. = Tina and Gushie again held hands and the work in the Control room = resumed its normal pace. The only one who knew that things were not = normal, not as they should be, was Ziggy. If she had been anything but a = computer, she might have felt a certain sadness. Since she wasn't, she = silently filed away the data under her ever growing file entitled = 'Further mysteries of the human psyche.' Al stepped into the empty, white room, took his place on the disc, = closed his eyes and waited. The uncomfortable rush that went through him = was something he would get used to someday. However, he secretly wished = that that would not be necessary. The vertigo slowed to a stop. = Activating the handlink, the door swooshed open and Al stepped from a = white room into...another white room. "What the hell?" "Hi, Al," Sam said over his shoulder. Usually the familiar whoosh made = Sam's heart leap, knowing that Al would step through bringing news from = Ziggy, information that he needed to finish this Leap and get on to the = next, thus bringing him one step closer to home. But, as he sat on the = stool, watching the technicians perform their final check on the = accelerator, that desperate joy did not swell. He was glad to see Al, = always. Yet, he was having so much fun this time around he hated to have = his work interrupted. "What the hell is going on here, Sam?" Al growled as he took a few = tentative steps forward and closed to door with a punch and a squawk = from the handlink. =09 Sam toggled the intercom. "I'll be right back, OK guys? Just got to = take care of a little business." "Sure, Doc," came the muffled, tinny reply. "Don't start without me," Sam added before closing the link. The technician waved his answer then resumed his duties. Sam let out a = deep sigh, then turned and motioned to Al. "Shall we?" He didn't wait to see if he was followed, but walked across the room, = through the door and out into the hall. Al shimmered into existence as = he walked through the wall. "I've got a heavy dose of d=E9j=E0 vu, here Sam," Al said, looking up = and down the long barren hallway. "This is too weird." Sam was nearly jumping up and down with excitement. "I'm a quantum = physicist, Al." Consulting the handlink, Al said, "Yeah, that's right. Your name is..." "Dr. Robert Aldrich, Jr.," Sam cut him off. Al ignored the interruption. "It's August 13, 1988. You are in = Covington, GA, a small suburb of Atlanta." Sam frowned. "I've been to Atlanta, before. Haven't I?" "Yeah, but that was in 1956, and you were a professional wrestler. Ooh, = Atlanta," Al said, excitedly punching the handlink. "Damn, the Olympics = aren't until '96." =09 "But, I'm a quantum physicist! Do you know what that means?" "You've tried to explain it to me, but," A; answered, absently waving = his hands in the air, "Once you get to the part about the Henny Youngman = theory, you always loose me." Glaring at his friend, Sam said, "That's the Heisenburg Uncertainty = principal, and it's really quite simple." "For brainy nerds like you," Al muttered under his breath. Sam clasped his hands in front of him, and Al could tell that he was in = for a lecture. "All Heisenburg was stating was it is impossible to = determine both the position and momentum of a subatomic particle with = arbitrarily high accuracy. Take the case of the electron." "Sam", Al cut him off with a wave of his hand, "Don't you want to know = why you're here?" "Or better yet, take the case of the top quark," Sam continued as if Al = wasn't even there. "Otherwise known as the truth quark." Counting to three and dragging his hand across his face, Al shouted, = "Sam! Will you shut up?" "You must begin to see the universe in relative terms, not absolutes = before you can, what did you day?" "I said, 'Shut up!' You were going on and on about quarks and electrons = and God knows where we would've ended up." Al punched the handlink for = emphasis. "I can see that you're having a ball here, but I really think = that it is time to get down to business and let me tell you what the = hell you're doing here." Sam grinned sheepishly. "I'm sorry," he apologized and turned to give = his friend his full attention. "It's just that my brain has been Swiss = cheesed for so long now, and all this information has bee lost to me. = When I saw the accelerator and the labs, it all came rushing back." He = sighed heavily and leaned against the far wall. "I've just missed the = science, that's all. This Leap I don't have to pretend to be anything = then what I am, a quantum physicist. I'll be able to carry on = conversations without the slightest hesitation. It's almost like being = myself. I'm in my element. Understand?" "Sure I do," Al replied. "It's like me going to Vegas and being a judge = at the annual Showgirl pageant. I actually had the honor one year." "Al." "What I enjoyed the most were the private interviews." "Will you shut up?" Al stopped abruptly. "There is no need to get snippy." Sam just shook his head. "What am I here to do?" Consulting the handlink, Al said, "Well, we already know your name, = where and when you are. Let's see." Sam crossed and looked over Al's shoulder at the handlink's screen. = "Don't tell me that Ziggy has no idea." "Oh, she has plenty of ideas, "Al answered, slamming the heel of his = hand against the handlink. The result was a loud squeak. "She's just = having a devil of a time sorting out all the data. Oh, here we go." "Yes?" "In the original history, Dr. Aldrich worked for a private lab in = California until yesterday. That's when you, I mean he, joined a project = that seems to have been funded by government money. Whether it was ours, = we're not sure. A project called...now this is strange. That's where the = information ends." "Dr. Canady did say they were working on antimatter experiments. But, = why would the government fund..." "We're funded by the government, Sam," Al reminded him. "But, antimatter was only a theory in the 80's. And vast amounts of = money have been spent here, if the particle accelerator is any = indication." "Like I said, Sam." Sam held up his hand. "I know, I know." "Our government funds some really strange stuff, Sam. I know what I'm = talking about." Conceding the point, Sam moved on. "What am I here to change?" "In original history, Dr. Aldrich, you, worked on the project for, uh = oh." Al punched the handlink a few times, obviously distressed by what = he saw. "What, uh oh?" "Five days from now, Dr. Aldrich nearly dies," Al answered quietly, = waving around him, "In this very building. Under mysterious = circumstances." Sam swallowed hard. "How?" "A fire in one of the labs. The official report said it was a freak = accident, one of those flash fires that burn intensely, then go out = almost immediately. Burned over 80% of your, uh, his body." Shaking his head, Sam asked, "Then I'm here to make sure Dr. Aldrich = isn't anywhere near that fire, right?" Al didn't look up. "Not exactly." "Not exactly?" "According to Ziggy, you're here to insure that the project fails," Al = answered solemnly. "And she projects an 83.25 percent probability that = in order to do that, Dr. Aldrich must die in that fire."