"Hidden Agenda" Part I November, 2000 Stallions Gate, NM Al was halfway to his office when Ziggy contacted him to notify him that Sam had leaped in. After confirming that Sam's entrance to another life seemed relatively passive and posed no immediate, detectable threat, he altered course to go to the Waiting Room first. As he strolled down the sterile hallways that made up Project Quantum Leap, he reflected that it had been a good week. Sam hadn't been between leaps for more than a day, much less seven, for a long time, until now. Al and the rest of the staff had taken the opportunity to catch up on much-neglected paperwork, phone calls, and updates to Ziggy's system. When all that was completed within the first three days, Al gave the entire staff a vacation in shifts and then _he_ went on...vacation. Vacation for Al rarely consisted of actually leaving project grounds. This time, it didn't seem to require his leaving his quarters. He smiled slightly, wondering if he should wake Tina, then decided to let her sleep. If this leap was off to a steady start, her staff could handle things just fine. He approached the observation deck to the Waiting Room and saw Dr. Verbena Beeks already inside, talking to the guest. The smile widened just a fraction. He was fond of Verbena on general terms, but he was especially pleased when she was busy psychoanalyzing someone _else_. The one disadvantage to an entire week, he reflected, was that she took the opportunity to turn her sights on the staff. Al stood watching for a few moments, trying to gather any information through conversation content and body language. He reached forward and nudged up the speakers so he could hear what they were talking about. Sam had leaped into a woman this time, an elderly woman, it seemed. She was short, maybe about 5'1", with graying hair curled in at shoulder-length. She was pleasantly rounded, giving her a grandmother appearance, and she was smiling and talking calmly with Verbena. "So what we need to know now is what year it is," Verbena was saying as she made a notation on the clipboard. The woman placed a hand on Verbena's arm, patting it lightly. "Miss, I would be glad to answer all your questions, but I really must get back. I have a little girl I'm looking after and I don't want anything to happen to her while I'm gone." Verbena made another note, hastily. "Oh, she's being taken care of, I assure you. Just relax - we'll take care of everything, I promise." "She's a very sensitive child," she insisted, still soft-spoken and centered. Al took a drag on his cigar and sat down in the seat. Already, he'd taken a liking to this woman. "I'm sure she'll be fine. Can you tell me what the date is Ms. Devlin? And the year?" "Bernadette," she corrected with a gentle smile. "And it's..." She hesitated, suddenly not as sure of herself and Al recognized swiss-cheese when he saw it. "I know it's the fifth, but I - the fifth of some month, 1998." "Well, that's still very helpful Ms. - Bernadette." Verbena nodded at the woman. "Now, this girl you're taking care of, why don't you tell me about her?" Bernadette sat on the bench behind her and folded her hands in her lap, looking vaguely ridiculous with her legs hanging down over the edge. "Her name is Tabitha. Tabitha Kesey, but everyone calls her Tabby. She's a darling child." "Kesey." If she was a little girl, chances were she didn't belong to Bernadette, but still the difference in last names was a little surprising. "Did you adopt her, then?" "Well, her mother passed away a few months ago. I was her great-aunt." Bernadette shook her head sadly. "She was a dear, kind woman. Her husband died when Tabby was still a baby and so she was sent on to live with me. It was the perfect arrangement: Tabby knows me well. They were always over to visit and she's comfortable around me. I think a part of that girl still doesn't understand that her mother's never coming back." "I'm sorry to hear of your loss." Bernadette dropped her eyes. "Yes..." she agreed slowly. "So you understand why I need to get back as soon as I can." "We'll do our best," the psychiatrist promised her. "In the meantime, I'll send someone down with something for you to eat." "That would be very kind, thank you." Verbena nodded and walked out of the Waiting Room straight up to the observation deck. "I thought you'd be up here," she commented to Al as she entered. "Yeah. Seems like a nice lady." He rolled the cigar between his fingers and eyed Bernadette through the two-way mirror. "Very helpful. Her memory's remarkably intact, too. One of the best, most calm visitors we've ever had." "What's our location, here?" Al asked, pulling out the handlink to enter the data. "She's not sure, exactly, but she seemed to think it was somewhere around the Kansas/Oklahoma border. As far as I can tell, she lives alone with this girl, Tabitha." "Okay." Al nodded in satisfaction. "Sounds like it's time to go see how Sam's doing." "Good. And, Al, tell him to keep an eye on Tabitha. If her mother just died, she's probably not doing so well about now. And depending on how young she is..." Al slapped his forehead. "You're right, I forgot. Poor thing..." ~~~~~~ October, 1998 Hardesty, OK Al popped in to see Sam pleading with a door. Kneeling beside a solid oak barrier, Sam was talking in low, soothing tones. Al stood behind him, watching. "Honey, it's okay. I'm...a friend and I'm just going to take care of you for a while, okay?" The only response was a small wail from the room on the other side. "Oh, don't cry... Your mommy'll be-" "Sam, no!" Al snapped suddenly and Sam jumped violently. "Al," he hissed angrily, "are you trying to kill me? You're going to give me a heart attack. How long have you been there?" "Long enough to see you have no way with children," Al responded tartly. "And don't mention her mother. Her mother died a couple months ago - you've leaped into her great aunt." Sam put a hand against the stained wood, as if he could offer comfort to her that way. "Oh, the poor thing..." "Yeah." Al disposed of his cigar and tucked the handlink away. "Here, let me try..." He walked through the door and saw what he could only describe as a darling little girl, clutching a stuffed teddy bear and sobbing quietly. Al crouched down to her level and tried to look as unintimidating as he could. "Hey, Tabby." Her crying slowed somewhat and she stared at him with big blue eyes, gazing between the ears of the bear. Encouraged, he sat down cross-legged on the floor in front of her. "My name is Al," he volunteered. Still no verbal response. He smiled faintly and leaned a little closer to her. "You don't have to be scared, baby. The man you saw is Sam and he's a friend of mine. He and I are going to hang around for the next few days and make sure everything is okay here. And I'm going to keep you company, would that be all right?" She nodded, wide-eyed. "I want Aunt Bernie." He gazed mournfully at her. "I know you do, sweetheart, but she can't be here right now. That's why I'm here - to take care of you." He waited until she nodded again before continuing. "Now Sam's a nice man and he just wants to help you, so why don't you go unlock the door and let him in for me, can you do that?" Dutifully, if reluctantly, she marched to the door and opened it, backing away in surprise to find Sam right there in front of her, almost at eye-level. Sam smiled gently at her. "Hi..." "Tabitha," Al supplied. She glanced shyly towards Al. "Tabby," she corrected and he broke into a grin. "Hi, Tabby," Sam greeted her. "I'm sorry I scared you." Al stood up, brushing off his slacks. "Honey, why don't you play in here for a few minutes and I'll be right back, okay?" "K." He wished he could touch her, just to give her a hug. "That's my girl," he said and winked at her. Almost reluctantly, she giggled, and then proceeded to play with several items already scattered across the floor. He gestured towards the living room and followed Sam in. "Okay, Sam, here's the rundown. It's October 5, 1998 and you're in Hardesty, Oklahoma. Your name is Bernadette Devlin and you're the great-aunt of Tabitha Kesey. Her mother died and you received custody of the girl." "What about the father?" Sam asked, leaning against the back of the couch. Al paced in front of him. "No, he died several years ago. Tabitha has other living relatives, but this is who her mother wanted her to live with. Bernadette says they were very close." "Okay, so what am I here for?" Al shook the link, eliciting a series of squeaks from the small box. "We don't know, yet." Sam rolled his eyes as if to say, `naturally'. "But the future on Bernadette is pretty sound so far. She lives here for another six months and then moves up into Kansas to live with her own daughter until now. So it's either something with Tabitha, or someone else we haven't encountered yet." Sam shrugged. "So what am I supposed to do?" "Well you don't work, so just keep an eye on the little one." >From her bedroom, they could hear the sounds of her talking aloud as she played and both men smiled. "I will," Sam vowed. ~~~~~~ November, 2000 Stallions Gate, NM "Gooshie," Al snapped as he came down the ramp from the Imaging Chamber, "vacation time is over. Get Tina up here to do her job and I want to know what, if anything, is going to happen to that little girl. If nothing, find out what Sam _is_ there to do, got it?" "Yes, sir," Gooshie responded timidly. Al sighed deeply, realizing he was getting angry at his staff for no apparent reason, but he had a bad feeling about this leap already, and nothing really had happened yet. "Good," he stated, more calmly. "I want the results of your search on my desk in an hour, got it?" "Admiral?" Ziggy cooed. He raised an eyebrow towards the orb in the center of the room. "Yes, Ziggy?" "There's a phone call on line 2 in your office." "Oh, yeah?" He headed out of the Control Room, pulling out a cigar as he went. "Who is it?" "She says her name is Celia Gray." *Celia?* Al thought for several seconds, trying to place the name. It was a beautiful name, he decided, and distinct enough that he felt sure he'd remember hearing it before. "What does she want?" "To speak with Dr. Beckett." He groaned. He hated these calls. "Why didn't you say that to start off with?" She sniffed. "I enjoy watching the gears turn." He approached his office and palmed the scanner to unlock the door. "Keep it up and we'll see whose gears will be turning. And grinding." There was no verbal reply, which was response enough in and of itself. "What does she want? An interview? Payment for an overdue bill? To sell him a 12 month subscription to Scientific American?" "She didn't say." Al sat down at his desk and laid a hand on the receiver. "Yet again, for a machine of your level of intelligence and foresight, your incredible lack of common sense is rivaled only by Sam's." "She's been holding for quite some time now. She may be irate." He rolled his eyes. "I'm gonna take something apart this afternoon. Just for kicks." Before she could respond to that, he picked up the phone and leaned back. "This is Admiral Calavicci. Is there something I can do for you?" "Is your name also Dr. Beckett?" a woman asked in tart tones. Apparently, he thought, the melodic beauty of her name didn't match her personality. "Not today," he responded, grinning at the double-meaning only he would pick up on. "I need to speak with Dr. Sam Beckett, please." "He's busy right now, but maybe it's something I can take care of," he suggested casually. Now she laughed. "I wasn't aware he hired admirals for his secretarial work." Al stuck the cigar in the corner of his mouth and lit it. "Granted, he doesn't pay me enough, but it's a job. And what did you say I could do for you?" he hedged. "When will he be available?" she questioned, not easily sidetracked. "Oh, he works at all hours, so it's hard to tell. You just have to kinda get lucky. In the meantime..." "No, it's nothing you can help me with, thank you," she responded quickly, and hung up.