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
  "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

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
  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
  "Take it easy. We'll straighten this out."
  "No. It came straight from the top. It's over."