September, 2000 - Original History Stallion's Gate, NM Gooshie shrugged helplessly, standing in front of Ziggy's terminal, as if afraid she might want to attack the computer. Verbena made up the offensive team, trailed mostly in the name of support by Beth, who had been shooed out of Al's room earlier. His condition was, at best, unstable. Beth had figured it was just her luck that after years of anger, then hurt and sorrow, after she had worked through all them to some measure of forgiveness and healing, and after she had reconciled with Al, that this would happen. Just after things became right between them again, after things became _anything_ between them again, she would lose him all over. She had lied to him earlier; she hadn't been in Nevada - she had been in the middle of work in Charleston and had dropped everything to get out to New Mexico in record time because he was a part of her life again and he was, if nothing else, a friend. If nothing else. Why she had been wasting time hanging around was a different matter altogether except that she didn't really consider it a waste of time. And now that Al's condition had gotten worse, she was glad she had. As for Verbena, she seemed to be doing a pretty good job of taking Al's place as the raging and unendless flow of healthy temper. It was because she was not in control of anything going on at the project and because she was at a total loss of what to do that her endless stream of calm and wisdom had been momentarily diverted. Gooshie was to wishy-washy to instill any confidence in her that things were being taken care of. Ziggy still predicted a 97% chance that Amber would kill herself in a matter of hours. She'd sent Donna to Washington DC in Al's place, but she worried there, too. And it was only Beth who caught, but didn't comment on the fact, that the psychiatrist had been crying. The admiral was her friend, too. She couldn't do anything about Al...he was in a real hospital getting the care she couldn't offer at Project Quantum Leap, but she could still help Sam. If Ziggy would ever start working, that was. "What do you mean you can't get a lock on Sam?" With the fire in her eyes and the hands planted firmly on her hips, she almost matched the level of intimidation Al usually generated. Gooshie wasn't used to seeing it on her usually serene face and, if anything, it made him even more nervous than the admiral ever had. "Well, it's not so much a matter of can't get a lock as _I_ can't get a lock to communicate with him." "So what's wrong with her?" "It's not her fault," he said, his voice almost a whine. "Gooshie..." *Someone is going to end up dead before the end of this day,* she thought furiously. The image of the admiral in the hospital bed, pale and unconscious, and the picture of Amber from the newspaper clipping she had seen materialized in her mind and quickly put a brake on that line of thought. "Well, you remember that bug we detected?" "What bug?" Beth asked before Verbena could respond with another sharp comment. If Gooshie went comatose from fear, they'd never get anything out of him. "It was before you were here. Franklin used it to distract us so he could download all Ziggy's files. We thought it had been completely purged, but..." "So purge it," Verbena snapped. Then she sighed a took a few deep breaths. "Why can't you just delete it?" she asked, calmer now. She was well aware that he knowledge of the technical systems of Quantum Leap was limited, but she couldn't help asking anyway. "I tried everything," the little programmer continued anxiously. "Really. And Ziggy tried, too, but it's going to take time and that's just not something we have a lot of." Beth watched the fire go out of Verbena's eyes and realized it had been the fire that was keeping her going. She deflated a little as she readjusted her gaze to some nondescript point on the wall. Beth melted up out of the background and took her arm. "Dr. Beeks, why don't you take a break?" Verbena sighed and nodded reluctantly. "Gooshie, just get it working, alright? Just....get it working." Safely in the psychiatrist's office, Beth leaned on the arm of her chair and pulled the ultimate role reversal. "Are you doing okay?" Verbena laughed without humor and her eyes were somber and downcast. "I can see why Al fell in love with you. You're perceptive as anything. And you'd need it with his mood swings." She coughed at that. "So are you?" "I was going to ask you that. I don't suppose I really have a choice, do I? Somebody's got to keep things going around here." "Doesn't mean someone can't help," she pointed out. "Look at this - the student teaching the teacher." Verbena threw up her hands in defeat. "What would you suggest?" Beth patted her arm gently. "Keep yourself going first. Then the rest of the world." ^----^----^----^----^ Februrary, 1989 - Original History San Diego, CA Sam lay awake in bed. The events of earlier played repeatedly in his mind like a reoccuring nightmare. He rolled over onto his back and folded his hands over his chest to stop them from shaking. It was the not knowing that was the worst. Al had had some pills, he recalled abruptly, which indicated he was not entirely unprepared for this. Al had never been overly concerned about his health, but neither had he ever been out of shape. And the wheelchair.... Sam turned back onto his other side and rubbed his face. They wouldn't have a wheelchair nearby unless they expected to use it. Verbena, as well, had been quick to enter the chamber at the first signs of trouble. Verbena and....Beth. Now that he thought of her, he was going to have to face the fact that she was there. He wondered if something he had done had caused her to come back. Thinking back, with the aid of a photographic memory, he realized she hadn't been wearing a wedding ring. He had been a bit distracted at the time, to say the least, but he could call up an image of the past as easily as Al could when he walked in through the Imaging Chamber door. At least, he could with the packets of information between the holes. And he was certain she hadn't had a ring. He couldn't recall something as basic as Gooshie's last name, but that he remembered. Fine. So what was she doing there? Had Al gone back to see her? Sam was certain he still knew where she was; he was not the type of person to let something go that easily, for better or for worse. "Exactly," Sam murmured in the darkness. "Jake?" There was a soft rap and Amber cracked the door, allowing a thin finger of light in, shining across the bed. He blinked against the brightness. Sam sat up, propping the pillow against the wall behind him. "Amber. Come on in." She slipped through the door and closed it quietly behind herself. "I was wondering if we could talk." "Sure." He smiled at her in the dim lighting and patted the bed beside him. "What's on your mind?" "I really didn't know who to talk to, but you were so understanding this morning and I'm just not used to that from you." Sam rubbed her back affectionately, hearing the catch in her voice and wondering how she had captured both his love and respect in such a short time. Instinctively, he knew there would be tears before she left the room. "Sure. Are you okay?" She shook her head, her hair brushing against the back of his hand still resting on her shoulder. "Not really. I wanted to go to college, Jake, college! How can I possibly have that option now?" "It's possible," Sam offered. "No way." She wasn't going to be comforted on unfounded hope and his respect for her crept up another notch. "Not with a kid." "I didn't say it would be easy, just possible. Where there's a will, there's a way." "Great, cliches," she muttered, picking absently at the blanket. "Jake, I - I'm scared." "What? Did you expect not to be?" Her tone grew just the slightest bit defensive. "Well, not exactly, but it didn't seem quite so bad at first, you know? I mean, I thought of ways we could work stuff out and all, but it's just...." "Just what?" he prompted. Her brow furrowed as she fought to express what she was feeling. "I feel like it's me against the rest of the world and no-one's on my side of things. Like I have to carry the weight for everyone, not just me." "Well," he said slowly, "maybe a part of that is mom, but that's not the way it is." "I know. It's just the way it feels, and I can't help how I feel, can I?" "Amber..." he started, but was left uncertain of what to say. Words couldn't make this right. She fought the tears valiantly for a moment and then Sam touched her face gently and they broke free. He pulled her close and held her tightly, hoping this release would be enough to stop her deadly decision the following day. ^----^----^----^----^ September, 2000 - Original History Washington D.C. "If the admiral's having medical problems, then it's probably not a good idea for this to continue anyhow. I'll tell Senator McBride you're here on his behalf and she'll send for you if she wants to hear what you have to say." With those sharp, unfeeling words, Senator Franklin shut Donna into his office and walked down the halls to the large room at the end. He nodded slightly to McBride. "Senator, the admiral sends his regards. He has a bit of a situation to tend to, or so I'm told." She looked down at him from her tower, pausing a moment to clear the regret from her mind. "I understand. I had thought he understood the gravity of this situation, but I see I was wrong. And if he thinks his absence will forestall our decision and buy him some more time, he is sadly mistaken. Therefore, I have no option but to declare the funding for Project Quantum Leap, as of this moment, severed. Call the admiral and notify him that he has three hours and then the power is cut." "Yes, Senator." Franklin offered a sad smile. *I told you I'd win, Admiral.* ^----^----^----^----^ September, 2000 Stallion's Gate, NM "Dr. Beeks?" Ziggy sounded almost hesitant and Beth, still talking with Verbena in her office, jumped slightly at the sound of her voice. "What is it, Ziggy?" "I just took a message from Dr. Elysee. We have three hours and they're cutting the power to the project. To _me_!" There was definitely a note of panic. "Take it easy. We'll straighten this out." "No. It came straight from the top. It's over."