"Basis of Control" pt. II October, 1999 Stallions Gate, NM Beth entered her quarters slowly and saw Al standing in the corner of the room, his back to her. The tension in his shoulders gave her pause, but she pressed inward, closing the door silently behind her. He was leaning forward, bracing himself on the small table pressed up against the wall. She came up slowly behind him, wondering if he even knew she was there. She stopped a few feet away from him and hesitated. "You heard?" he asked suddenly, his voice harsh and raspy. Beth cleared her throat and blinked rapidly. "I heard about the accident and I know she was rushed to the hospital. But I don't know any of the details." Al turned to face her, then, and she caught her breath at the sadness in his eyes. She reached for his hand, falling just short of making contact. "She's dead, isn't she?" He looked as if he was about to answer, but then changed his mind. He didn't have to - the question didn't really require a verbal response. "Do you mind if we sit down?" he asked. "I mean, before we get into this?" She took the hand he now offered and let him lead her to the couch stationed in the center of the room. Al seemed greatly ill at ease and she really couldn't blame him. As for her own emotions, Beth knew that she hadn't really known about the tragedy long enough for it to sink in and really hit home. "What happened?" she asked softly. Al released her abruptly and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. "She - ah - she was shot once. In the leg." Beth bit her bottom lip and then swallowed harshly. The lighting was beginning to seem a little too bright and the normal hum of the project a little too loud. "I don't understand..." "Well, she...fell down the stairs when she tried to get help. We think it was the fall that killed her." His words were spaced by deep breaths, as if he was having trouble inhaling. She caressed his hand, her touch gentle, each release of breath a whispered prayer. They sat in silence a moment longer and then Al finally sat up, reached over, and embraced his wife. Beth held onto him tightly, trying her best to offer comfort and receive it in the same instant. The sound of the door chime interrupted the moment and Beth pulled away and rose automatically, crossing the room to open the door. It was Verbena. "Sorry to intrude," the psychologist said quietly, staring Beth in the eyes, "but I wanted to let you know that Donna just died on the operating table." "I know," Beth said in equally subdued tones. "Al just told me." Verbena looked past her to Al, still sitting on the couch. "Is he okay?" she whispered. Beth nodded minutely. "So far." "What's he going to do? I mean, about Sam?" "We haven't reached that point yet. Besides, what _can_ he do?" Verbena shook her head and stifled a sigh. "Did he tell you that he found her?" Beth's eyes widened slightly. "No, he didn't. Oh, no..." Verbena patted her friend's shoulder warmly. "I'll leave you alone to talk. I just wanted to make sure you had heard." "Anything on Ziggy yet?" Her companion frowned deeply. "Nothing. I have a feeling we're in for a rough ride." Beth felt inclined to agree, but she didn't say so. The last thing they needed was more negativity. "Well, just make sure people keep Al updated or he'll start climbing the walls." The psychiatrist smiled slightly and waved absently with one hand as she left the Calaviccis' doorway. Beth rejoined her husband on the couch. "Verbena said you found her." Al squeezed his eyes shut. "Yeah." "Is there gonna be a memorial service, or..." "Soon. Within a couple days, at most, depending on Sam's leaps." She swallowed tightly. "Where...is she? I mean, we don't really have a morgue or anything..." He opened his eyes and gazed steadily at her. "She wasn't taken to Quantum Leap. They took her to the hospital in Santa Fe." Beth gaped at him, feeling like a fish suddenly pulled from water. "You're kidding! What about top secret? What about keeping-" "It had nothing to do with PQL," he interrupted, shrugging wearily. "Al, she was _shot_. Probably by the same guy who knows about us." She was hard-pressed to temper her incredulity. He avoided her eyes. "It was out of my hands." He ran his hands uneasily along the couch and then stood up. "Listen, I need to keep on these problems with Ziggy." She looked at him, trying not to become angry at his avoidance of her questions. And the ones he _was_ addressing were being answered with bottled responses. Why on earth _had_ he brought her to Santa Fe? Surely Verbena had to be wondering the same thing. "Verbena promised me they'd keep you updated. Why don't you get some sleep?" He turned a frustrated gaze on her. "What good would that do anybody?" he demanded, then sighed deeply, relenting. "I'm sorry, sweetheart. I...I should really get some work done," he finished, exactly as she'd known he would. Well, at least that was normal, familiar. "What are you going to tell Sam?" she asked softly, looking for words to fill up the silence, trying to keep him in the room. Why, she wasn't sure, but she had the feeling other thoughts still craved expression. "What can I tell him?" Al said passively. "Would telling him he had a wife and she's now dead be any better than telling him he had one while she was still alive?" Beth didn't have an answer for him, but she didn't think he really expected one. "No," he continued after a moment, "it's better just to keep this to ourselves." Beth drew in a deep breath through her nose. "Can you do that?" Some of the detachment melted away as he peered at her and she relaxed minutely. "Do what?" "Keep the truth from Sam." Al exhaled heavily. "If I have to. I kept the truth from him this long, didn't I?" She just looked sadly at him, watching him consciously shouldering the weight of his position again, a wordless end to the conversation. ^----^----^----^----^ October, 1999 outside Santa Fe, NM Beth Calavicci paused at the door to the Beckett home. She wasn't sure exactly why she'd come - there was nothing to do here. Al had insisted that they not sell the house, that it still be there in Sam's name until the owner was there to put it on the market himself. Al and Beth were pretty much living off of the government anyhow and could more than spare the money to keep Sam's home maintained; Al wanted to keep everything as close as he could to how Sam left it. Beth had just listened to Al's concerns and readily agreed, knowing how much Sam and Al meant to each other and knowing how important it was to Al to invest every hope in Sam's eventual return. Beth and Donna, on the other hand, had never been especially close. Their areas of expertise were so vastly different that they rarely worked together and, in spite of any similarities the woman's situation had with Beth's past, she always seemed more comfortable with Al. And, because Beth had already been through what Donna had been experiencing, she could easily understand (and accept) the woman's desire to be near anyone who had contact with her husband. Beth turned the extra key Al owned and entered the house slowly, letting the screen door swing shut after her. She left the front door to stand open and advanced inside. It was painfully silent and Beth went back into the kitchen and turned on the radio, releasing a breath she didn't even realize she'd been holding as she did so. Tension from her conversation with Al still vibrated around her - the uneasiness with which he'd spoken to her, the way he refused to meet her eyes while they spoke... All of it was decidedly uncharacteristic. Then again, it was an uncharacteristic time. She was probably just reading too much into it. The oldies music filtered through the small room and Beth absently washed the few dishes resting in the sink, more to give herself something to do than anything else. She went from room to room throughout the house like that, straightening a stack of papers in the study, putting away a book in the den, wondering what exactly she was looking for. By the time she got to the bedroom, she was starting to feel frustrated and disheartened. She was finally ready to give up. But when she entered the room, the thin mattress on the floor beside the bed gave her pause. She'd be lying to herself if she said she was fond of the fact that Al slept there at least once every couple of weeks in an attempt to soothe Donna's fears and loneliness, but she certainly could understand it. With a small sigh, she rolled up the makeshift bed and stood it up in the closet, and then she began to realize why she'd come. Beth was looking for grief, puzzled at her own inability to feel any. She felt the anguish of Al's position more keenly than any sorrow of her own and there was a small voice inside her that told her it was wrong. But as the first feelings of any constant in a world of inconsistencies began to envelop her, Beth was suddenly aware of a mental twinge. "It" was like a fuzzy blur on the edge of her vision which vanished when she turned to look at it. Something was definitely wrong. The question was: what? ^----^----^----^----^ January, 1989 Cleveland, OH He was whistling. The tune faltered and then died as the passing of the torch was completed and the last essence of the host slid from Sam Beckett's body. He unpursed his lips and bit his bottom lip instead as a sudden, sharp pain registered. "Shouldn't you flip that? It's gonna burn," advised a voice to Sam's immediate right, just on the edge of his vision. With his customary lack of preparation, Sam remained flustered until he realized that he was standing over a pan where three pancakes were turning a gold brown. The other was now distinctly black. Not only that, but the mysterious pain he was in seemed to be growing. Making a noise of uneasiness, Sam removed the charred mess and, for lack of a better place to put it, flipped it onto a countertop, accidentally brushing the hand of the boy standing beside him. The kid (couldn't have been more than 10 or 11, by Sam's estimate) yelped and jerked back. "Oh, geez, I'm sorry, I..." Sam braced himself for a tongue lashing as he fumbled into incoherency, but all he got was a puzzled glance and a muttered, "Gotta have something to tell the shrink," as the boy turned away to nurse his hand and run it under cold water. Sam looked down at himself - jeans and a t-shirt. He sighed in relief until a bracelet on his right wrist caught in the light and glittered innocently at him. "Oh, boy," he muttered under his breath. "I _hate_ being a woman..." "Aw, geez, Sam, can't you even cook pancakes right?" Al made a disgusted sound as he popped in, bent over the pan from the other side of the counter. Sam glanced up to see his holographic partner, phasing in and out of clarity. "Al," he hissed sharply, finally understanding his previous sensations, "I've got pierced ears!" "Mom?" the boy asked. "Who...are you talking to?" Al looked pointedly at Sam. "Hey, Einstein, do you wanna go somewhere so we can talk before your family locks you away?" Sam fumbled for a moment before realizing any excuse he offered the kid would be inadequate. He finally handed the spatula off to the boy, ignoring the question entirely. "Uh...can you take care of this? I need to, uh, take care of something in...the back." He glanced back at Al, but the admiral was engrossed in relations with Ziggy via the handlink. As Sam wandered back through the house, he watched Al's image become less erratic and then stabilize. "What's wrong, Al?" he hissed as they ducked into what was obviously the master bedroom. Sam checked the adjoining bathroom to make sure "Dad" wasn't around. "Wrong?" Al hedged, "nothing's wrong. This handlink-" he waved the offending device through the air "-just needs a tune-up or something." Sam stood silently by while Al fought the 'link for a few more minutes and then sighed and dropped the hand with the terminal to his side. Sam was tempted to press (there were obviously technical problems back at the project), but the rigid stance in Al's posture and the way his friend avoided his eyes made him think twice. "Okay, Al, okay." He took a deep breath. "What's the story this time?" Al looked distinctly guilty. "Story?" "With this woman I've leaped into. You know...the woman with the pierced ears..." He grimaced and rubbed at his earlobes, muttering something about primitive cultures and the beauty of clip-ons. "Oh, right." He relaxed visibly and lifted the handlink again. "Let's see...it's January 7, 1989 and you're in Cleveland, Ohio. Your name is Sylvia Landers and you're the housewife of Aaron Landers. He's a field technician for a construction company a few minutes south of here. You're 33 years old and you have two children: Matt and Christina. Matt is 9 and Christina is 4." Al stopped and Sam raised his eyebrows. "So what am I here to do? Does one of them die, or get in trouble, or what?" Al shrugged and waved the 'link around again. "We don't know yet, Sam. It's gonna take a little bit of time to track down their personal histories, but as best as we can figure, nothing in the immediate future happens to this family." "What about friends or relatives?" Al started to pace as he read. "Well, that'll take even longer to figure based on who you guys associate with. That's a little harder to find information on, you know. But we'll keep running scenarios and as soon as we find out, you'll be the first to know. As it stands right now, the best Ziggy can give me is that it has something directly to do with you - uh - Sylvia." "What are the odds?" "Ah...78%." "That's not bad," Sam mused, rubbing at his cheek absently. "But, Al, in the meantime, I have to..._live_ with Sylvia's husband." "Aaron," Al supplied. Sam wasn't comforted. "Yeah, well, whatever his name is, I have to pretend to be married to him, don't I? I can't do that!" Al nodded sympathetically and then frowned. "Huh. Sam, according to Ziggy, that may not be a problem. Apparently, this guy isn't around a whole lot. He does a lot of travelling with the company and he's pretty dedicated to his work, if you know what I mean. He - geez!" "What?" Sam was suddenly alert. "He wouldn't even leave a meeting when his daughter was born because he had to close a deal or something." "You're kidding." Al waved his hands in front of Sam's face. "You're married to a real nozzle." "Maybe I'm here to-" "Wait, here it comes," Al interrupted. "Two years from now, Sylvia and Aaron get a divorce. Ziggy estimates that whatever happens to cause that starts here." "Any more specifics than that?" Sam asked, leaning in towards his partner. Al glanced at the readout. "Nada," he stated. "Maybe," he added, some of the familiar glint coming back into his eyes, "they were having a rough sex life." Sam's glare could have melted steel. "Funny, Al. Very, very funny..." He was about to keep talking when the distracted expression on Al's face told him his focus was elsewhere. "What?" he prompted. "Uh, yeah, Gooshie," Al said, speaking over Sam's words and staring upwards. "Tell her I'll be there in a half hour and not to move. Sam," he resumed, "I've got to go. Just do a little nosing around, find out what you can, okay? And I'll be back as soon as I can." Sam's brow furrowed. He _hated_ being left in the dark. "Is everything okay?" "Sure. Beth just wants me to look at some wallpaper or something for our quarters. You know women: they've got to change everything around every three months. Everything's fine. I'll be back real soon, no problem." Al's excess reassurances hinted at the severity of his problem, but before Sam could pester any further, the Door opened and he was gone.