"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. -Al 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, intent...everything." 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 be." "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 another. 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 moment. "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]