"The Final Chapter" pt. III July, 2002 Santa Fe, NM "You ready, Amanda?" Melana nodded. "Here, you'll need this," Sandy said quietly, handing her her laptop. She accepted it slowly, hesitantly. Maybe this hadn't been such a good idea, after all. Goodness only knew what she was here to do, but it seemed more and more that it had something to do with whatever secrets these two were harboring. The only thing she could do was go along until she figured out exactly what was going on here. Once they were in the car and had cleared the complex by a good mile or two, Mason began talking. "Amanda, we've stumbled upon something incredible here. It seems there's more going on here than we had realized. A lot more." "I don't understand," she said, looking back and forth between the two women. "At the project. Things aren't exactly on the up-and-up." *No kidding!* "Like what?" Sandy sped up slightly, taking over the narrative. "Last night, when I had my double shift, it wasn't because I was a dedicated worker. Zoe had me working on some special programs on the lower part of the project." "So?" She clutched at the computer in her lap, wondering if this was going where she thought it was. "So, I'm talking about the lower sections nobody ever goes to." "The stories and rumors that come out of that place are incredible! And, oftentimes, ridiculous," Mason put in, gesturing with one hand in an expansive motion. "Stories that they're running experiments on people-" "There's even one," Sandy resumed with restrained excitement, "that says they have a woman locked up down there." Melana was starting to feel distinctly uncomfortable. "That's insane," she managed. And it was. Imagine, grown women fantasizing like children. These lower levels seemed nothing more than the equivalent of the haunted houses that seemed to inhabit any neighborhood where youth with active imaginations existed. "Of course it is! Idle gossip, and nothing more, generated by senseless people who have plenty of better things to do with their time, but who just don't put in the energy to find them," Mason put in. The leaper felt heartened somewhat by the open condemnation of the rumors. "So what's your point?" "'Manda, take it easy." Sandy eased the car onto a side road and pulled over, turning off the ignition. "This is what we wanted to talk to you about." She pulled out a disk from the glove compartment and handed it to her. "In a minute we can go someplace where you can read it, but we need to know first that we can trust you." They obviously weren't used to this sort of thing. That should have been the first thing they made certain of. "Of course you can. What is it?" The engine roared to life again and they rode in silence to a hotel. "Isn't this a little excessive?" Melana asked quietly of Sandy as Mason checked into a room. Sandy bit her lip pensively. "I don't know, but I do know this: we're both scared. And we may not be good at this and we may not be doing the right thing, but we have to do something. You'll understand." They proceeded up to the room and Melana hooked up Amanda's computer and slid in the disk. The screen filled up with numbers and data, flooding out at an overwhelming rate. "What is all this?" "Information," Mason responded, sitting down in front of the machine and manipulating the keys. "I don't think Sandy was supposed to find all this, but it's all an outline for a plan. And it contains what this project was really setting out to do." "It's Franklin's file, isn't it?" Melana asked, wondering at the sudden memory that had surfaced. All the pieces of what this project was were falling into place. She was surprised she hadn't figured it out earlier. "Yeah. Get this: not only is there another project out there with the same objective as ours, but I now know what that objective is and it's not just research." "The same objective?" Mason frowned at her. "Yes, well, that's the way it seems. At least, this other place is where they're going to get the information from. And, this is the driving point here, this project isn't on the up-and-up like we thought it was." That Melana definitely knew, but Amanda probably didn't. "What do you mean?" "It involves...time travel." She paused dramatically and then continued, disappointed that she had not received the reaction she expected. "Basically, the senator wants to send someone back in time and change things around to benefit him. And only him." "All right," Melana said firmly. It was time to get a handle on this situation. "Assuming I believe you, what do you plan to do about it and why are you telling me?" Mason pursed her lips. "I want to stop him. Don't you? He could hurt so many people." "Look, I don't think it's such a good idea to-" "To what? Do what's right?" Sandy interrupted angrily. "Okay, fine, how are you going to do it?" she demanded, sitting heavily on the bed next to the desk. The springs squealed in protest. "We hadn't thought that far," Sandy admitted. "Well you had damn well better!" she yelled, surprised at her own boldness. Her encounter with Thames had affected her more than she cared to admit, and she was still uneasy about it. "If he finds out what you know, you could be in a lot of trouble, and I'm not talking with the law. These guys, they don't mess around." Mason slammed the laptop shut with dangerous force. "We're going to put a stop to this and you can either help us or not. Tomorrow, we're going to talk to Franklin." "Hey," Melana said with as much calm as she could muster. She stood and snagged Mason's arm. "Don't make hasty actions because of my skepticism. I just don't want to see anyone hurt." "Yeah? Well, if he hurts just one person, it's on your head." "Okay, just listen a moment, will you?" Melana said firmly. It was time to get a handle on this situation. "I understand how you feel...really. And I think it's admirable that you want so much to right a terrible wrong here, but you're going about it the wrong way." Sandy seemed to be listening, taking her seriously, but Mason appeared to be brushing her words aside. So she focused on Sandy. "If you just go march into Franklin's office, do you honestly think he'll listen? He's _dangerous_, don't you get it? He's-" "Stop," Mason interrupted her. "All I want to do is wash my hands of the wrong I've inadvertently contributed to. And I can only do that by fixing this mess, or trying to. You don't have to help - we just thought you were the type of person who'd want to make a difference." The irony of her position was not lost on her, and yet she felt powerless to stop it. Sam and Al had tangled with them, and Beth had paid the price for it. How could these two woman, completely under his control, possibly hope to do better? "I'm sorry, I can't put my life at risk for nothing." Mason glared at her and Sandy looked disappointed. "I guess we were wrong," Sandy murmured. "Come on," she said to Mason, "let's go back." She watched hopelessly as the two woman exited the room, wondering if they were going to wait for her while she unhooked her computer, or if she was going to have to somehow find another way back to the project. She didn't want to go back. What she really wanted to do was find her way to Quantum Leap and see Al; she needed something normal and secure. Because she was terrified. ^----^----^----^----^ July, 2002 Stallions Gate, NM "Al, do you have to see him yourself?" Al fastened the buttons on his shirt cuffs, sparing a fleeting glance at Beth. "We'll be in my office at the complex," he pointed out with a hint of impatience. She touched his arm carefully, hesitating before she spoke. "But I'm scared for you." "You're overreacting," he said flatly, still immersed in what he was doing. She dropped her hand and looked at him with pain-filled eyes. "Please don't let him come here," she whispered. This time he stopped and looked at her. "Beth, there's nothing left he can do. We've got the edge this time." She shook her head. "When you have two people fighting and one of them doesn't play by the rules, you don't have a fair fight. And he hasn't been playing by the rules since we came across him." He gently laid his hands on her shoulders. "We'll fix this once and for all. And we'll fix it today." But Beth refused to have her anxieties soothed. "Al, that man has hurt too many people. He's hurt Ssam, he's hurt Melana..." She paused and then touched his face lightly. "And he's hurt you. History may have changed, but I still see it in you. He hurt you deeply." A tear worked its way down her cheek, as if she was trying to shed the pain he could never express for himself. "I couldn't bear it if he hurt you again," she managed. "He won't, do you hear me?" She nodded and he pulled her into a tender embrace. *You don't deserve this,* she thought, but what she said was, "I pray that you're right." He pulled her away and held her at arm's length, capturing her gaze with his own. "I've got to go, so you just keep praying, all right?" She smiled in surprise with a touch of pleasure at the comment. "I'll be back soon." He kissed her once and then he was gone. Beth watched the door slide closed behind him and then looked upwards. "I sure do hope You know what You're doing," she murmured, then smiled again, as if sharing an inside joke. "I've read your reports, Admiral, there's nothing you can tell me that I don't already know." Al smiled and sat down behind the desk. Usually, sitting was a disadvantage, but this time it created the illusion of Franklin being the one under the microscope. "Actually," he said after a moment, "there is. I won't tell you where, but we have someone in your project in the past, and she's in a position to do quite a bit of harm before you could act upon it, either from there or here." Franklin smiled. "You really don't think you're going to win this battle, do you? I've won all the others, because ultimately I have more power in the system than you do. Let me outline my objectives for you. First, I wanted to start up a project. I did. Then, I needed the assurance that you would not interfere and I got it. There is only one thing I want now, and this will all be over." Al didn't respond, didn't ask. He just looked steadily at Franklin. Suddenly, he wondered if taking a seat had been such a good idea. Franklin leaned forward, placing his palms flat against the shiny surface of Al's desk. "I want Quantum Leap, I told you that once before. I want you and Dr. Beckett to abandon it and go work on some other pet project. He's home now; you don't need it. You retrieve this other leaper and there's no problems. But the last thing I need is someone out there undoing what I am trying so hard to accomplish." Al used the rage inside of himself as an excuse to rise to his feet, but the advantage was gone. His voice lost any semblance of courtesy. "Do you have a point, and, if so, do you want to get to it?" Al could play the game with the best of them, but the wave of panic that had risen within him had momentarily taken control, despite his best efforts. "You cooperate with me and you don't have anything to worry about." "How many times to you think that threat is going to work?" he demanded. "Indefinitely," Franklin replied, nonplussed. Al's gaze was steady, every outward sign radiating calm. But his eyes seemed to blaze with an inner fury. Franklin was still looking him in the face when he heard the click and his attention was immediately drawn to the weapon in Al's hand. He wasn't certain how it had gotten there, or where it had come from, but the admiral was completely in control, he saw, which was ultimately more dangerous. The panic which had flicked across his features was stilled with an effort and the senator drew in an unsteady breath. "What do you plan to tell them?" he asked. "Doesn't matter." The senator took a step forward and Al shook his head. "You should know better than that, Senator. I don't respond well to threats and if this is what I have to do, then this is what I will do. But I can't look Sam in the face knowing that I let this go on when I could have stopped it." "Al." Sam's quiet entreaty broke through the carefully riveted attention, but Al never took his stare off his adversary. "Sam, you don't want to be here for this," he said slowly. His voice was calm and rational. "You'll only make it worse on yourself." "Al, Beth's alive. He didn't kill her, remember?" "That's not the point." Al still sounded too sure of himself. "What's the point, then?" Sam persisted. "The point is that as long as he has any kind of power, it's going to be a battle with too high a price. Beth told me..." He paused for a moment, the first sign Sam had that he might change his mind about this. "She told me that as long as he didn't play by the rules that we could never win. And she's right. So now, I don't play by the rules, either. Right, Senator?" Franklin had remained quiet up to this point, and he knew better than to offer his input now. Al's finger squeezed on the trigger and Sam stepped in front of the senator. "Al, don't." He had been defeated by the person he was trying to protect. Enraged, he slammed the gun down on the desk, leaving the imprint of the weapon on its surface. For a moment, nobody spoke, then Franklin's harsh voice echoed through the room. "You should have let him shoot me, Doctor," he said, and left them alone in silence.