February, 2000 Stallions Gate, NM Ziggy couldn't talk. Al, who was moving cautiously through the halls that called to mind a life he had never lived, was unable to lament too much over the absence of their customary verbal sparring. Sam had only been able to divert enough power to activate her terminals and get them on project grounds. Some things were different with the absence of Al's influence (the most notable change being that things were considerably less colorful), but, for the most part, the basics remained. Sam made his way immediately to the Control Room with Al trailing several steps behind, occasionally running his palm along a wall, as if trying to call back fragmented recollections. Sam scarcely noticed, but went directly to a terminal, sat down, and started communicating with Ziggy. Al observed his friend's actions without comment, waiting to see where Sam's priorities would lie, and feeling he probably already had a good idea. "She's working on correlating Gerald's activities with program records," the scientist announced after a moment and Al nodded, lifting a dusty handlink and examining it closely. "What else does she say?" Sam raised an eyebrow and then grinned slowly. "That she's missed you." He snorted derisively. "Su-ure she has. It's nuts, anyhow - a computer doesn't get lonely," he remarked, laying the handlink back down with uncharacteristic care. He read the screen again, then chuckled lightly, the sound resounding in the abnormal stillness. "She also says her audio monitors are active; she can hear you." He widened his eyes in a gesture as if to say, ‘How was I supposed to know that?' "What about the project? Does she say what happened?" he asked, turning to take in the entire room with one curious sweep. He couldn't quite bring himself to talk to her, yet. It was still too weird from where he stood. "We're getting to that, hang on." He manipulated some more keys and then frowned. "I leaped in 1995, same as before, but..." He stopped and the frown deepened. Al stepped in front of him, straining to read the screen between them. "What?" "Something went wrong with Ziggy and she couldn't get a lock. It must have been something she was missing because you weren't a part of the project." Al shrugged. "They declared the project a failure and the attempt at a hybrid computer a disaster." He lifted his gaze to meet Al's and the admiral sighed and walked over next to Sam, gently pushing him aside and inputting his own requests for information. "The project was shut down by the end of the month, you were publicly declared missing and then dead, and..." He blinked. "My project was started to try and successfully create a hybrid computer where they thought you'd failed. That's why Gerald was put on my committee: because he'd worked with you, but..." "But what?" Sam asked after a moment, his tone filled with dread. "She says Project Quantum Leap got shut down because your buddy there didn't show up at the committee meeting to speak on your behalf." Al slammed his palm sharply against the console and Sam flinched. "The nozzle didn't even try!" "Al-" "If I ever get my hands on him, I'll-" "Al!" Sam yelled. The admiral glanced up, startled, then saw Sam shaking. Acting quickly, he gripped Sam's arms and sat him down in a nearby chair. "Take it easy...you okay, kid?" Sam looked uncertain. "Yeah, I just..." Al studied him carefully. Sam was on the verge of recalling this timeline, he was sure. "I know, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to lose my temper." "You never do," Sam said dryly and Al released the breath he'd been holding. Al was about to reply when the terminal beeped and Sam, suddenly regaining control of his system, pushed past him. "What does she have to say?" Al asked, remaining where he was. Sam looked back at him, crestfallen. "He was out of town for the first three weeks when the money started disappearing. She's still trying to figure out where it went to..." "Impossible," Al declared, then stopped. "Sam, he shows up, two months later is out of town, and it starts happening. That's a touch too coincidental for my tastes. Have her track where it went to - a private account, what?" Sam shook his head. "I don't know, Al, maybe we were wrong." He exhaled heavily. He was right about this, he knew - he could feel it in his gut. Gerald was getting nervous and that's why he'd been in New York the day before, that's why... "I told you he came by the labs, right?" Al asked, then continued when Sam nodded. "Well what I didn't tell you was that he tried to blame it on you because he'd found your codes in the system from when you went snooping around." Sam stared. "Al, I didn't use my codes. I used yours." They exchanged a startled look and then Al joined him at the console. "Where's that money going?" "Um...she's found entries that match it penny for penny, but she can't prove anything. Up until a couple weeks ago...Ziggy traces it to a little lab in North Carolina." He shrugged and looked up. "I don't get it." Al gazed at the screen, then shook his head slightly in disbelief. "Oh, no... You know who worked in North Carolina until last week?" he asked, and pulled out the dossier he'd pocketed earlier. A black and white printout of Meredith Hasler's face smiled back up at them. Sam lifted the paper tentatively, glancing over the information. "Surely you don't think Meredith would do anything like this?" "I've only known her a week; I don't know what she's capable of. And you've only spoken to her, what, twice? And the second of those times you'd just been hit by a car..." Sam still looked hesitant to accept the theory. He always did have too much faith in human nature, Al recalled with a sad smile. "Yeah, but, Al-" "Patrick said there was a glitch in her security clearance, but I never asked what it was. She could have used your codes and shifted the money around." "How could Meredith know my codes?" Sam demanded, folding his arms. "And why would she single out your project to steal from? It doesn't make sense." Al squinted at the printout. He had to admit Sam had a point - several good points, in fact. "Maybe I should talk to her-" "Leave Meredith out of this," said a voice from behind and they both turned to see Gerald standing in the doorway of the Control Room. He was staring at Sam. "It is you," he managed, pushing aside his astonishment. "I don't know how you've come to be here, Doctor Beckett, but leave her out of it. She has nothing to do with any of this." "I figure she does," Al countered angrily. "She wasn't responsible for anything," Gerald insisted, eyes still locked on the leaper's form. "But you were," Al raged, "weren't you? You stole that money and set me up to take the fall for it!" "No," he said quickly. "No, I never set up anyone to take the fall. It just happened that way. I didn't know they'd find out so soon. And when they did, I changed all the records to show Dr. Beckett's access codes because I thought he was dead, anyway." "Why?" Al demanded, not noticing how silent Sam had been. "For Meredith. Her work was-" "It's not because of her work," Sam said softly, but Al missed the tremor in his voice, mistaking the unsteadiness for some kind of anger towards Gerald for never having faith in his theory. "She's...my daughter." "Your daughter?" Al echoed, astonished. "She doesn't know," Gerald said quickly, taking a rapid step towards them. "She thinks her father is the man her mother's married to, but it's not. And then her mother started demanding money, and I..." "You couldn't let them ruin your career?" Al challenged, moving forward from around the console. "So instead you risk ruining my _life_?" "I'm sorry, but-" "Al?" Al turned to see Sam leaning against the wall, his eyes distant and his body shaking violently. The memories were here and Al could see in Sam's eyes that they weren't good. He reacted instantly, bolting for his position, and Sam reached for his arm, clinging tightly to it both for support and a tactile anchor to reality. And just to remind himself that Al was there and he wasn't alone. "Okay, Sam, it's okay. Don't fight it," Al coached, remembering his own panic and adverse reactions when the same thing had happened to him. He was sure it had been seeing Gerald that triggered it. Gerald took several steps forward, a puzzled expression written across his face. "What's going on?" he pressed, but Al shoved him back roughly. "Keep away from him!" he snapped, Sam's gulping breaths filling his mind. "Admiral, this is not my fault! I didn't know he was alive - I figured this contraption had killed him!" Sam gasped and Al nudged him into the chair again, then looked up at Gerald, the fury unmistakable in his eyes. This was the man who, for whatever reason, with whatever intentions, had condemned Sam to five long years without any anchor to himself. Al hated him for it. "Dammit, I _said_ keep away from him! You're already going to prison and you don't want to start that sentence with a broken nose." Gerald hesitated, obviously still wanting to argue his case, but then backed off, and Al crouched in front of his friend. "Sam? Do you know where you are?" Sam raised his head slowly, not really seeing much of anything except the data he was receiving in his own mind. "Not yet..." Concern flashed over Al's features. "You're in New Mexico," he said evenly in the same tone that had been used to pull Sam through many crises before. "It's the year 2000. Do you remember?" Sam's hand convulsed on Al's arm and it was suddenly clear that there was one thing he _did_ remember. "Al, I don't want to leap again!" "I know, kid - didn't I tell you I'd take care of it?" "What's he talking about?" Gerald demanded, his voice standing out in the sudden stillness as Sam's breathing leveled. Al glared up at him, but didn't move from in front of Sam. "Didn't you _think_, you nozzle? Didn't you think maybe it had worked?! Didn't you think what it could do to him to be out there alone?!" His own hands trembled slightly with renewed fury. "Admiral, we thought he was dead! We couldn't get a lock on him, there was no body in the Waiting Room!" "So that's why you didn't go to the committee meeting to protest the termination of Quantum Leap?!" Al turned his attentions back to Sam, who was just beginning to appear more in focus. "What was I supposed to do? He was gone and even if we knew he was alive, he's probably the only one who could've figured out how to locate him! Doctor-" he continued, appealing now to Sam by laying a hand on his shoulder, but Al slapped it away and stood, pushing the man back several paces until his back met with the wall. "I'm only going to say it one more time: keep away from Sam. Don't touch him, don't talk to him - am I making myself clear?" "What was I supposed to do, Admiral?" Al took another step towards the man, practically in his face. "Am I _making_ myself clear?" Gerald appeared about to protest his innocence again, but then relented and Al moved away. "Al," Sam said hoarsely and Al turned. "It's okay." Al pursed his lips, unconvinced. He stared at the screen which he could just barely see from his position. "Ziggy's audio sensors are on, remember?" Al's brow furrowed. "So?" "So she's got your proof for you. The leap is done, I can feel it." He took a reflexive step forward. "Sam - no!" Sam met his gaze, fear tangible in his eyes. "Al, I can't make it alone - please don't make me do this alone..." Al wasn't sure if Sam was talking to him or Someone else, but blue light crawled suddenly over his figure and the admiral let out a cry of surprise and reached for him. His hand met with empty air.