"Lost Causes" Part IX April, 1992 Pomona, NE Derrick looked at him and Al couldn't read his expression. "I'm sorry. We'd better get back downstairs." Al didn't budge, staring at him, trying to figure out the man's angle, weighing his options. It was clear Derrick didn't want a repeat performance of yesterday, either. "Al, please..." Fighting the rising panic, he tilted his head up. "What do you want me to do?" Derrick dropped his hands to his sides as he realized what Al was offering. "I need to get into their computer system. I need information about them." He pulled up another chair, speaking eagerly. "They're going to start a project based on Quantum Leap and-" Al's eyes locked on his face, watching it go pale as he realized what he'd said. "Quantum Leap?" he repeated, his voice icy calm. "What do you know about Quantum Leap?" "Just...what they told me-" His emotions were plain now: he had slipped and now he was trying to cover. "You said earlier they didn't tell you anything." He rose to his feet, immediately on the defensive. Derrick rose, too, and grabbed his arms. Al jerked back violently, knocking the chair over and hitting the wall at his back. "Don't touch me!" he ordered. He didn't think he could take this back and forth much longer. "Okay, Al, just listen to me." He was speaking faster now, and his face held a new emotion: desperation. "Just listen. These people's only goal is to put an end to you and your project. With every piece of information you give them, however unwillingly, they have that much more chance to destroy you - and Sam. Al, you've got to help me stop them. You've _got_ to help me get the information for you to take back that could put an end to their project." "Why should I believe you?" Al demanded, fear seeping back into his demeanor. "Why should I accept this as the truth? How do I know you're not just using me to get at them?" His voice began to rise, but he didn't stop. "How do I know I'm not just caught up in the middle of some perverted feud?!" "In a way you are..." Derrick admitted slowly. "And you deserve better than that." Al swallowed harshly, his fingertips running against the rough surface of the wall at his back, and tried to calm himself. Derrick held his gaze steadily and Al squinted at him. "So you need to get into their system, huh?" he asked finally, hardly realizing what he was committing himself to until he'd said it. "All I need is a few passwords," he explained hopefully. "Just enough information to get into what they're doing - to get enough information to bring before the Committee. It has to be done now, Al. Five, ten years down the road, it'll be too late." "Why?" "They'll expose you and...you'll have to shut down." For some reason, this seemed a terrible fate, though Al couldn't imagine why. Yes, it would be a disappointment for Sam, but... "And you'll close down too soon, most likely." He stopped, his head cocked as if he was listening to someone. "Marcus is going to be back soon... We have to go." He didn't quite know what to do - believe this guy or not? Try to escape now, while he was still able, or wait and get the information Derrick claimed he needed? Instinct told him to wait it out a little longer; reason told him to run like hell. Derrick was giving him a moment to consider his options, though. Al took a heavy breath and nodded. "Let's get this over with." ~~~~~~ "Sam! What on earth were you thinking?!" In spite of the rage on the admiral's face, he was pale and shaking slightly as he paced. Sam stood in the center of the room, feeling nervous at Al's violent reaction. "We needed him to trust me, Al. We needed his help." "There has to be some other way to get it," Al proclaimed roughly. "Name one," Sam challenged. "It was my only shot." The hologram stopped abruptly and rounded on him. "First of all, you had him call from this building to a cell phone! I know you, Sam - you're probably trying to track that number to an address as we speak. Furthermore, if you keep doing these stupid things, our little friend from the future is gonna figure it out, if they haven't already." "Al, it's not Marcus - I've already touched him - it's one of those three people who came yesterday. They don't know of anything odd." "Oh, sure!" Al waved a hand in the air. "Except for you adamantly refusing to kill for any amount of money." Sam grimaced. "This is all gonna fall apart, Sam. They're gonna find you out and then they're gonna use me against you. I'd rather avoid that." "They won't find out," Sam countered. "Then no more of this stuff you've been doing - I mean it! You've got to stop thinking with your heart and start thinking with your..." His voice drifted into silence and he wavered slightly. It looked to Sam as if he was going to pass out. "Al?" Sam prompted quietly. Al looked at him and held up his index finger, but Sam wasn't fooled. "Al, sit down. Geez, why'd you come in here to read me the riot act if you weren't feeling well?" "It's not going to get any better as time goes on," he said grimly. "Sorry, Sam, it just...came up all of the sudden." He fumbled for the chair and sat weakly in it, his complexion still gray. "It has something to do with...ah...chronic inflammatory de - something or another." He shook his head. "Why is it you doctors have to create names so long it takes-" "Lean forward and put your head between your knees," Sam instructed, cutting off Al's ramblings. He knew it was a cover for how scared his friend was, anyhow. "That should help with the dizziness." He crouched in front of his friend and looked worriedly at him. "Al, are you okay?" And instant later, the Door opened and Verbena entered and hurried to his side. "Al, are you okay?" she echoed without realizing it. The admiral shook his head slightly. "I'm lightheaded and my legs are hurting." She rested a reassuring hand on his back. "I'm gonna go get you something - just sit tight, okay?" He nodded and she glanced at Sam, then left the Imaging Chamber. "You need to take it easy, Al," Sam scolded. "Easy for you to say. You're not dying." Sam looked up sharply. "Stop that!" he yelled. "My goodness, why do you always have to act like that?" Al sighed and mumbled something incoherent and Sam leaned in a little closer. "What?" "I'm scared, Sam," he whispered. "This is all happening so fast...I can't keep up." "You're going to be okay - I promise." Sam exhaled in frustrated helplessness. "Think hard, Al - when did it happen?" Al shook his head again. "Please, you've got to remember. You've got to help me fix this." Al sat up enough to rest his elbows on his knees. "I don't know - I just don't. I may have not even known that's what it was when they stuck me. I don't _know_, Sam." The leaper stood up, suddenly angry. "That does it - I'm going to let him go and then I'm going to do this myself, which is what the plan _should_ have been in the first place." Al's head shot up. "Sam, no!" He lifted one hand in a familiar gesture. "You'll never be able to do that. If you'd been able to make the leap into someone else, maybe, but you'll get yourself hurt, or killed!" "Al, please... Let me do this." The plea sounded vaguely ridiculous as there was, in actuality, nothing Al could do to stop him. "No. The odds of me dying froze at 79% a couple hours ago. I'll take those odds because I know you won't let it happen, but if something happens to you, there's nothing I'll be able to do about it - from that end or this one." Sam shook his head, thinking about the man downstairs, about the look in his eyes when he listened to Sam explain the problem. And the leaper knew that that man trusted him. Against his better judgment, perhaps, but he still did. "I think you're still underestimating yourself. Eleven years later and you're still misjudging the man you were. I think you look back and still can't figure how I saw anything worth salvaging." "Maybe," Al conceded, "but, then, you always were better at seeing into people than me." Sam knelt by the illusion of his friend again. "I know you're scared, Al. I am, too, but, if there's any way to help, I'll do it." Al smiled weakly, obviously surrendering the earlier argument (from weariness or faith in Sam's better judgment, neither was entirely certain), and closed his eyes briefly. "I know. Thanks, Sam." ~~~~~~ Thames watched with anything but silence as Dr. Beckett talked in low tones to empty air. "Isn't this touching?" he gushed. "I guess Zoe was right - it's not the toad after all - it's Prince Charming himself." He hung the cane on his arm and considered the man in front of him. "Or maybe he is a toad." He smiled. "Either way, baby, I am _so_ glad I found you. Come to find your dear admiral, have you?" He contemplated the blank space. "And would that be him?" He chuckled. "I must admit, when I met him in 1992, he didn't look quite as I'd expected him to." He circled Sam and his hologram completely, then lifted his handlink. "Don't worry - I'll be back." He keyed in a command and vanished. ~~~~~~ There were voices, all around him. People, pressing in so he could hardly breathe. Hands pushed down on his arms, his chest, his legs... And there was a woman with short auburn hair and empty eyes, smiling at him. Her smile made his skin crawl and he struggled, then squeezed his eyes shut, but her image was still there. So he fought harder, but he couldn't move, couldn't breathe, couldn't even cry out for help. He knew, even though he had never seen her before, that she meant only harm and that he was in terrible danger. He tried to jerk back from her, but he couldn't. Then, in the background, he saw a figure. He couldn't make out who the person was, or even if it was male or female, but he/she seemed to glow in a blue light. The woman turned to look at the newcomer, then faced him again. Without warning, she lifted her hand and struck him down. Pain exploded through his head and he tasted blood. Al jolted awake to see Marcus standing over him. "One more time," he warned, his voice shaking with anger, "and I'll gag you. No - I'll kill you myself." He left the room, slamming the door behind himself. Al winced at the sharp noise and tried to calm himself. He'd been doing so well earlier, but somehow talking to Sam had done as much harm as good - he could still hear the man's controlled anxiety as he tried to adapt to the nightmare that Al himself still had difficulty believing was actually taking place. Absently, he wondered where Derrick was. Out or asleep, no doubt. Either way, Al was envious. Minutes ticked by during which he just concentrated on steadying his breathing and his mind. He was rather unsuccessful at both and he realized it wasn't flashbacks to Vietnam that led to his panic attacks anymore. He wasn't sure what the cause was, but this place in and of itself really should have been enough, anyway. Some length of time passed in silence and then the door opened quickly. The light in the hall was on and the bright light shone in his eyes. He squinted and saw two men he didn't recognize enter. Following them was the woman who had been questioning him and he felt a flash of pain and panic at her appearance. He was reminded instantly of the woman from his dream when he saw her, though he wasn't sure why - they didn't look anything alike. The men untied him and jerked him to his feet, holding him there, for which he was almost grateful; he was still unsteady. She smiled at him and touched his face lightly. He flinched and his heart started to race faster. "Good morning, Admiral. Won't you accompany us? It's time to bait the hook." Her eyes were dancing and she looked past his hard expression, his finally regained composure, into the small scared part of himself that seemed to lead his actions more and more within the past couple years. He flinched again at the mental intrusion. "You don't know what's going on, do you?" She laughed lightly. "He hasn't told you a thing! How delightful..." An instinct told him not to let her know she'd guessed the truth about that. "You really should choose your friends more carefully, Admiral. Well, you're a bright man." She stepped closer, her thumb caressing his jaw. "You'll figure it out." She raised one eyebrow, her smile still present, then backed off. Al was almost angry at himself about the amount of relief he felt when she removed her fingers. They were halfway out the door when Derrick came rushing into the hallway in sweat pants and a T-shirt. "What's going on?" he demanded firmly. Al wanted to ask him to stop them, wanted to tell him that the deal was off and he just wanted to go home. Something told him that if he just asked, Derrick would end it. But he didn't. It had been years since he'd let what he felt was right determine what he did and it was high time to respect himself enough to do it again. It was the woman who spoke; she was obviously in charge of this bunch. "Mr. Adams. On behalf of Mr. Porter, the remainder of your money will be delivered this afternoon." She turned to go. "Wait! I thought the job wasn't done. I thought you wanted us to kill-" "Mr. Porter tX-Mozilla-Status: 0009to you on that. He has." Once again, she tried to leave, but Derrick stepped forward quickly. She pulled a gun on him. "I wouldn't. I'm not done with him, yet." With the weapon trained on Al's only ally, they left the building.