"Lost Causes"
Part VII

April, 1992
Ainsworth, NE

The rain fell in a fine mist as he sat in the car, drumming his fingers
on the steering wheel. A two hour drive had brought him to the outskirts
of a small town in the middle of prairie country. Even now, he wasn't
all that close to the small complex where they'd taken Al; at his
observer's insistence, he was about five minutes away on foot. Verbena
was with his friend, though, he reminded himself, and if she thought
there was any real threat, she would let him know. At which point he
would narrow down those five minutes into a split second, if only by
sheer will power.

He glanced at his watch again. They'd been in there for two hours. For
the first time since the start of the leap, Sam found himself able to
sit down and think rationally about how to end it, do what he was
supposed to do so they could leap him back home. It hadn't been that
long, just a few days, but he missed it dearly.

In March of 2001, Sam had leaped home. Following the miraculous event
came his reunion with his wife, then immediate visits to see his mother,
Katie and her husband, and, finally, Tom. His encounter with his brother
had been filled with tears, though he was the only one who seemed to
know why. The weeks passed into months and he did little other than just
to travel and enjoy living his own life for a change. Several weeks were
spent getting to know his daughter, a process which included revealing
to her the truth Al had felt it prudent to keep from her until the day
Sam would be able to tell her himself.

Sitting there in the middle of nowhere, he could think back and pinpoint
the exact moment he knew it was time to go back to New Mexico. He'd been
in Hawaii with his mother, sitting outside in the night air. He'd looked
up, seen the stars stretching out in infinite majesty, and, for some
reason he couldn't quite explain, he knew he wasn't done yet. At the
same instant, he knew he couldn't leave his wife or his family again,
and he was immediately torn.

The next morning there was an e-mail waiting for him:

Sam --

Another year's funding is on its way to your pocket. I don't think I was
able to get as much as you'll undoubtedly want, but more will come in
time as you prove this project to them. The information on the retrieval
program is on your desk, as well as all the additions/brainstorms of
Sammy Jo's. I'll be back in Stallions Gate by the end of the week.


Sam had flown back the following day and, once again, they were in
business. He'd never questioned how Al had known he was ready to come
back - he'd just accepted that he had. When he'd come into work a couple
days later, Al was back from D.C. Sam walked into his office to see him
standing by his file cabinet, searching them for something. The admiral
looked up at his entrance and smiled slightly. "Did you have a good time
with your family?" he asked. At Sam's resounding affirmative, he nodded
in satisfaction and launched directly into his ideas to deal with the
budget cuts.

Eight months later, they were up and running again. The process still
had to be perfected, but it worked. Often, Sam didn't bother leaping
anywhere in particular, but just let God, fate, time, or whatever send
him where he was needed, then had the project retrieve him when he was
done. This time, however, he'd definitely done a pinpoint leap.

He would be so grateful to be retrieved from this nightmare.

There was another leaper here. Just one, Ziggy estimated, but she/he was
definitely here. Al certainly had _not_ been kidnapped the first time
around. Sam didn't know if his enemy was aware of whose life he'd leaped
into, or even if they knew he'd leaped back to begin with. And,
furthermore, he didn't know what they wanted. They knew how to leap,
obviously, and even if they were here to get their project off the
ground earlier than originally, they wouldn't need Al for that. If, by
ruining Al they were hoping to stop Project Quantum Leap, why had they
originally let him go? Maybe they did know he was here - maybe that was
why things had changed again and they intended to kill Al. Maybe by
leaping back, he'd condemned Al to an earlier death - maybe _he'd_
changed that.

Ziggy was constantly running the numbers on the admiral's potential
murder. They were steadily climbing, but, Verbena continually reassured
him, Al was still there in 2003. She'd also told him of his collapse,
but quickly added that he'd since been released from the infirmary and
was doing better.

Again, he looked at his watch. Only five more minutes had passed by. He
stretched the tired muscles in his shoulders and contemplated walking
around the area - anything to keep moving. Sitting still and doing
nothing had been the tune of this entire leap and he didn't want to do
it anymore.

The sound of Verbena popping in outside the car spurred him into instant
action. He grabbed for the keys, already dangling in the ignition, and
roared the engine to life. Her face appeared at the window (she wasn't
yet comfortable moving through things) and she shook her head. "No, Sam,
everything's okay!"

He felt foolish at his instant assumption, but only slightly. Had it
been an emergency, there would definitely be a call for fast action. She
manipulated the buttons on the handlink and found herself suddenly in
the passenger's side of the car, her head protruding through the roof.
She jumped in alarm, then forced herself to relax, and sat on the chair
in the Imaging Chamber. After years of doing the same thing for Al,
Ziggy didn't have to be asked to adjust her image so she was seated
beside Sam.

"What's going on?" Sam asked the moment she was situated. He was antsy,
anxious about what was going on behind closed doors.

Verbena laid the handlink in her lap; she'd known Sam would want the
blow-by-blow, and so she'd left while Al was alone. Still, she didn't
want to stay away too long. "They've been questioning him for the last
hour and a half," she said in a tight voice.

"About what?" he asked, sitting forward on his seat as if he could draw
the information out of her.

Immediately, she shifted into a calm intonation, the psychiatrist in her
coming out. "Anything and everything. Locations, passwords, data,

Sam's brow furrowed. "I don't understand... Are they planning to shut us
down? We're not even running at this point..."

She bit the inside of her cheek and looked thoughtful. "Unless they're
not planning to do anything _now_."

He looked up in alarm. "2003?" She shrugged. "I always assumed...they
knew it all already. To be honest, I wondered why they didn't just use
the direct approach and target the source of the ‘problem'. Wait a
minute." He rubbed his forehead - he could feel a pounding headache
coming on. He also felt he had lost sight of his main concern in light
of the speculation. "How's Al?"

Her professionalism slipped a degree. "Not so good. He's..." She folded
her hands tightly, trying to push out all emotion and find the words she
was searching for. "I think he feels like he's betrayed you."

Sam shook his head, a denial on his lips. "No, how can he-" Realization
flitted across his features and he sank back against the seat. "He told
them what they wanted to know, didn't he?" His dismay turned just as
quickly back into rage. "What did they do to him?" His hand strayed
towards the keys again.

"Calm down, Sam. They used truth serum."

Not as bad as he'd feared, but the fury still boiled within him. "What
about... Al said he remembered a woman yelling at someone, but he
couldn't remember anything else about it."

She frowned. "Well, that woman who came to get Al got upset earlier."

"Not at him?" Sam was still wary, worried there was something Verbena
wasn't telling him about Al, worried that they had hurt him more than
they had already.

"No," she assured him quickly. "No, they were having difficulty getting
into some of the files. Al didn't have a few of the codes to get in. I
think they were your files."

He nodded slowly. "My passwords would be the only ones he wouldn't know.
He never knew mine, I never knew his."

"So, there, you see? He'll be fine." The confidence in the words was not
reflected in her tone, however, and Sam knew it as well as she did.

"Earlier you said he wasn't doing well."

"Sam..." She was uncertain of what to say that would make either one of
them feel any better. "It could be a lot worse - you thought it would

"It's not over, yet," he reminded her bitterly. "What are the odds on
them killing him?"

She glanced uncomfortably at the handlink screen, knowing what she would
see there. "Still rising," was all she would say.

"Rising to what?" he demanded angrily. He wasn't going to take this from
her as well - she was supposed to be _helping_ him in one fashion or

She started to protest, then stopped again, realizing it would be
hopeless. "67%."

He exhaled heavily. He had to do something. "Verbena, this has to stop.
I have to stop it. We have what information we need, right?"

"No, you don't, Sam. Once they let him go, if they do, they'll be gone.
How are you going to warn anyone if you can't find them? You'll be back
to square one."

"And how are we going to find that out, Verbena? They're sure as hell
not going to tell Al what they're doing. He's just involved in this
because they needed him." His anger was rushing out into his words, into
the way he sat and moved and felt. "He's just someone they can use and
then discard! The whole world sees him as some kind of lost cause -
well, dammit, he deserves better than that!"

"I know he does," Verbena said quietly and Sam looked up quickly,
realizing he was complaining to the wrong person.

"How is he back there?" he said, needing to change the topic for a

"A little too well, if you ask me. I should probably send him along to
talk to you again soon."

The leaper nodded, understanding what she meant. "Well you tell him that
he doesn't need to worry - I'm going to fix this. All of it."

Verbena smiled slightly at his resolute statement. "I honestly don't
think he's worried about this. He believes in you."

"Oh, yeah?" Sam demanded. She nodded. "Then go tell _him_." He gestured
down the street. "Doesn't matter if he can't hear you. You've been away
too long, anyhow. Go tell him not to worry, that everything's going to
be all right."

"I will," she promised, and vanished.

April, 1992
Pomona, NE

Sam landed in Pomona late that afternoon, and he had no clue where to go
from there. He checked into a hotel and found the town to be small and
in the middle of nowhere. The further he involved himself in whatever
was going on, the more apprehensive he felt about the whole thing. He
didn't have a clue what he was looking for or where he was going. The
tour of the town in a rental car only took an hour or so, but that was
still a lot of ground to cover when looking for one person in a strange
place. He was beginning to wonder if this was such a good idea.

Then he remembered the harsh words he and Al had exchanged the last time
they'd seen each other, and his shame and worry from that alone spurred
him on.

He returned to his hotel room, called home for a few encouraging words
from Donna, and then pulled out a map and a phone book. What he was
going to do, exactly, he wasn't sure, but he had to start somewhere.
Tomorrow he could go out and just talk to people.

After calling all the hospitals in the area as well as the police
station and, reluctantly, all the bars, he settled back and tried to
evaluate the situation. He had to assume Al wasn't up here of his own
accord, that he hadn't left the false trail to Las Vegas himself, but
that someone else had done it for him. It was a little paranoid, he
knew, but it just wasn't like Al. Everyone else would think it was,
especially after their fight and after his car had been found at The
Pool Cue, but they didn't know him. They just saw what was on the
surface, the image Al projected of a man who didn't care for anything
anymore. In reality, it was the opposite. He almost cared too much, if
such a thing was possible - and it was killing him.

It was starting to get late out and he knew he wasn't going to have any
more luck that day, so he dressed for bed and settled down for the
night, knowing he wouldn't be able to sleep.

"I'll find you, Al," he vowed into the silence. "You can't get rid of me
this easily." Feeling suddenly better, he drifted to sleep.

[Still pumping them out as fast as I can.  Comments, questions, and
protests to my cruelty may be sent to:  Thanks to
those who have taken the time to write me already! -amkt]