Is this = it?
A.J. = Miller
CHAPTER = ONE
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 He stood like a statue, staring down at the silent, still figure on the = bed. The smoke from his cigar provided a screen around his face, hiding the = intense emotions that played there.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 It had been too long, this time. Much too long. He had spent too many days = passing this room, gazing at this inert body. Nearly a month had passed since = the last time this body was animated, since the eyes shone with some life behind = them, since those muscles moved with a purpose. Nearly a month of nothingness. = And it was driving him crazy.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 At the beginning, nothing seemed strange about the quiet in here. it was = customary for this room to remain =93unoccupied=94 for a short time. But, as the = hours turned into days, and then the days turned into weeks, the ordinariness of the = situation began to change.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Maybe he=92s coming home!, was = whispered many times in the stark hallways of the Project. Soon, however, the = whispers turned into pronouncements of gloom as the gossips began to wonder if = this had indeed been the last one. For good. Of course, no one would dare voice = those sentiments around him, not unless they were ready to have their butts = chewed beyond recognition. Yet, even now, after all this time, even he was = beginning to doubt.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93No,=94 the man said hoarsely, =93I won=92t let you leave this = way.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Clamping down on the = cigar with his teeth, as if by sheer will power he could bring his friend home, the man closed = his , dredged his mostly clouded memory, and began to = pray.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Holy Mother, full of grace,=94 he intoned in a voice just above a = whisper.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 The silence in the room that had lasted just under 28 days was almost = cruelly broken by a petulant, female voice that seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Admiral, Dr. Beckett has leaped.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 He was unable to open his eyes. He didn=92t want to see who was occupying = the body now. At least when it was still he could imagine that his friend was = just asleep, just resting. the dream would be shattered if he looked into = those eyes, those eyes that were his, but held someone else behind = them.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Moving swiftly from the bedside, Admiral Albert Calavicci left the waiting room without a glance backward at the bed, not noticing that those long = stilled muscles were twitching with life, the silent voice now moaning softly. = Three purposeful strides brought him to the door. But, as he began to make his fourth, he paused, his hand tracing the sterile doorframe. He closed his eyes = again, tilted his head upward and whispered, =93Thank = you.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Then he was gone.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam landed softly this time. Usually Leaping in had the same affect on his = body as if he were rushing forward from about 175 miles up without a parachute. = He could feel gravity working against him, pushing him closer to the ground = and he didn=92t have anyway to stop himself, or at least impede his onward = rush. He would inevitably land with a crash, in a mental heap, wishing he could = have just a few moments for his stomach to catch up with = him.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 But, this time was different. He sort of floated in, like on a breeze. = Gently, almost serenely. And he gave a slight sigh. This is more like it, he thought to himself, Let=92s try to keep it this way from now on, = OK?
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 He suddenly became aware of his surroundings, that his eyes were closed = with his head resting on a desk, cradled within his arms. He sighed again; no = fists flying, no jealous boyfriends, no audiences blankly staring at him. Just = peace and quiet. I could get used to = this.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 No, not peace and quiet. There was a slight noise in the he background. A = noise that he couldn=92t place right away, but knew that he should be familiar = with it. a faint ticking sound, and a whirring. And the smells that assaulted his = nose were somehow recognizable. The aroma of chrome and = steel...and...and...
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Formaldehyde!,=94 he shouted, sitting bolt upright.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Harsh fluorescent lights bit into his eyes, bringing immediate tears. he = squinted at the desk before him; to the right sat a computer, telephone and a long = ago gone cold cup of coffee. Swinging to his left he saw a pile of paper. no, = stacks and stacks of green and white computer printouts that had apparently been = tossed on the desk in haste. He was obviously in a lab of some sort. That was why everything seemed so familiar, he had spent the better part of his youth = and college career in similar surroundings. it almost felt like = home.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 = Home.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 At the thought, a despair and weariness welled up inside of him that caused = the tears to spring anew. this was not = home, he berated himself, This is NOT = home. he let his head sag back to his arms as he fought the against the = tears.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Jet lag got the better of you, huh?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Peeking out from over his outstretched arm, Sam said, = =93What?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 A white lab coat came into view, as the voice sat down on the desk beside = him. =93I told you not to try and come in today. My God, Robby, your plane only = landed a few hours ago. The project will still be here even if you take one day = off.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Robby. Now, I know my first = name.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Looking up, Sam saw = a man in his late fifties, pale from his hours spent under artificial light. His = hair, thin and a pale shade of gray, was almost wisps that played across his forehead. By the expectant expression on his face, Sam could tell that a response should be forthcoming.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Well, I guess I was eager to start on, well, you know,=94 Sam said as he sat = up and took in the full view around him. It was indeed a lab, with people = scattered here and there engrossed in whatever experiments that were performed = here. The equipment was adequate, though not near the standard he had surrounded = himself with at the Project. He thought he could tell by the equipment that he = was somewhere in the early to mid-eighties. He only hoped that disco had = already died.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 The older man laughed and put a fatherly hand on Sam=92s shoulder. =93There = will be time enough for sleep deprivation and malnourishment in the week and = months to come. For today, at least, let=92s start out with a more humanly = pace.=94 He stood up, motioning with his hand for Sam to follow. =93I want to show you = around, meet the folks that you will be spending every waking moment = with.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Sounds great,=94 Sam said a little too unenthusiastically. It brought a look of = concern to the older man=92s face, and Sam quickly added, after a glance at the = man=92s lab coat pocket and the badge hanging there, =93I can=92t wait to get = started, Dr. Canady.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 A big hug around the shoulders brought Sam to the doctor=92s side. = =93That=92s my boy!=94=A0 Without = relinquishing his hand, Dr. Canady weaved his way through the tables with Sam in tow. As they = walked Dr. Canady explained the ins and outs of their current assignment.=A0 =93As I told you, the government = is looking over our shoulders, breathing down our necks for some kind of = breakthrough.=94 He paused to open a door, showing Sam he should take the lead. =93But, you = know how the government is when it comes to grant = money.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam laughed with intimate knowledge. =93Yeah, I = know.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Dr. Canady shared the laugh as he led the way down a narrow, white hallway, = his shoes squeaking on the pristine linoleum. =93We feel that we are so = close. Close enough to smell it. That is if you can smell antimatter. Here we are.=94 = He opened another door that was the exact replica of the one they had just = exited.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam grabbed to door, stopping its momentum. =93Did you say = antimatter?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 A frown crossed over the older man=92s features. =93Yes, yes I = did.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Roughly grabbing at the back of his jeans, he pulled out a wallet, from that a = driver=92s license. =93Dr. Robert Aldrich, Junior. Ph.D. Am I a = physicist?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 The frown had turned into genuine concern on Dr. Canady=92s face. =93I = should hope so. Undergrad in Physics at Harvard, masters and Doctorate at MIT in Quantum Physics.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam felt a giggle growing inside his throat. =93A quantum physicist? I am a = quantum physicist! This is unbelievable!=94 He spun around, arms raised in sheer = joy.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 The other doctor=92s concern turned to irritation at what he perceived to be = a childish stunt. =93Should I get you some music, that is if you=92re = going to continue to dance in the hallway?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93No,=94 Sam countered quickly, =93No, that won=92t be necessary.=94 He realized = that he would have to do his celebrating over his good fortune at a later time. Tight = now he had to be Dr. Robert =93Robby=94 Aldrich, Jr., quantum physicist and = scholar. =93The thought of antimatter being discovered just, well, got me a little = excited, that=92s all.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Dr. Canady took his colleague=92s apology at face value, deciding not to = press further. =93It has everyone a little excited, Robby.=94 Opening the door = again, he walked into the room. It was obviously a lounge; there were tables, = chairs, a refrigerator, a small microwave and a coffee pot that was in bad need of sandblasting. =93Even Frank here actually looked like he was going to = smile.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Just because I don=92t go around celebrating, drinking myself into oblivion, = running up and down the halls clad just in my lab coat when we make a small, but brilliant discovery, does not mean I can=92t have fun. I=92m a very fun = guy,=94 a pinched voice, that was obviously Frank=92s, pierced the stuffy = atmosphere of the room.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93No, it doesn=92t, Frank. But, it does mean that if you would just remove = your head from up your butt, you could see that we were just having a bit of = sophomoric fun. Even those of us with genius IQs need to act like the common man = once and awhile.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 By comparison, that voice seemed to drift in on a summer breeze, the kind = that you waited for all evening long, and no matter how brief it was, it still = left you refreshed and longing for more. He turned to see a head, buried in a = book. Hair the color or a roan=92s rump fell down around the slightly slumped = shoulders, smoke formed a ring around above.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93As I have insisted on numerous occasions,=94 the pinched voice of Frank cut = in again, =93I am not, nor do I want to be, a part of the common = man.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 In response, the summer breeze lifted a cupped hand and made an up and down motion. =93Whatever you say, Frank.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam recognized that hand gesture and blushed in spite of = himself.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Dr. Canady stepped forward, putting a stable hand on Frank=92s shoulder. = =93Frank, I would like you to meet Dr. Robert Aldrich, Jr. He will be helping up = with the project. Dr. Aldrich, I would like you to meet Dr. Francis Swilling, = another member of the team.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam held out his hand and shook the other doctor=92s hand. His grip was = limp, without life and substance. A big clue into a man, his father had always said, = was in his grip. After experiencing this man=92s grip, Sam agreed with his = father 100 percent.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93My lab time is always the same,=94 Frank whined as he slide from the room, = =938 am to 11 am. I don=92t take kindly to = interlopers.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam smiled sweetly. =93That=92s OK, Frank. I usually don=92t get out of bed = until noon. That is if I don=92t have an other pressing engagements to occupy my = time.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Frank huffed and the red head let out a belly laugh. Dr. Canady just shook his = head and sighed. Children, he = thought.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93So, if you=92re on our team, what position do you play?=94 The smoke = billowed briefly as the cigarette was squashed out.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Turning his attention back to the table, Sam said, =93I beg your = pardon?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Begging. I like begging. It=92s a good quality in a man,=94 the summer breeze = said. Turning around, Sam came face to face with her: with the brown eyes, the = freckles, the wire rimmed glasses that were perched halfway down her nose, the wry = smile that appeared to be permanently attached to her mouth. He felt a lurching = down deep inside. What it was he wasn=92t quite sure. But, I=92m sure AL would know, he thought to = himself.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Dr. Canady firmly pressed his fore finger and thumb against the bridge of = his nose and said, =93Dr. Aldrich, I would like you to meet Dr. Rebekka = Michaels.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Before Sam could respond, she stuck her hand out. Sam had no other option but = to shake it. Her grip was everything Francis=92 was not: firm, commanding and = slightly warm. Looking into her eyes, he could tell that he had held onto her = hand just a tad too long. Yet, in those eyes he couldn=92t tell whether he also = saw irritation or interest. She withdrew her hand slowly, letting her = fingers trail against his. The deep down feeling became more pronounced, and this time = he knew he didn=92t need Al=92s help to identify = it.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93I read your previous work. You know, the stuff on wave and stream length similarities. Unusual to say the least.=94 As she spoke she circled = around Sam cautiously. =93I would like to read = more.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Robby=92s most recent work in California has just arrived. I=92ve added it to our = data files, =93Dr. Canady interjected.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93I=92ll just have to give it a look-see, won=92t I?=94 She paused by the door. = =93It was nice to meet you, Dr. Aldrich. I=92m sure we will meet again.=94 And she was = gone.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam felt like the wind had been knocked out of = him.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Well, you=92ve met my senior staff,=94 Dr. Canady said quickly, trying to fill = the uncomfortable gap left by Dr. Michael=92s departure. =93The rest of them = will be here this evening. With everything so critical, we have been going = around the clock.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam had been unaware that his mouth was hanging open until he went to answer = Dr. Canady. Closing it quickly, he licked dried out lips and attempted a = reply. Not much came out.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Oh, by the way,=94 Dr. Michaels said sweetly, sticking her head back through = the door. =93I no know what position you will be playing on our = team.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam didn=92t have the energy to turn around to face her. Besides, he was = afraid that his mouth would drop open again.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 With a quick glance up and down Sam=92s body, she said, =93Tight end.=94 The = door closed behind her silently.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 As that deep down feeling rose completely into the light, Sam wiped sweaty = palms against his jeans and murmured, =93Oh, = buy.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 The petulant voice halted the Admiral=92s forward = momentum.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Things have changed, Admiral.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Every time Sam leaped things changed. Sometimes it was small, insignificant, = like rooming assignments or where the piano stood in the cafeteria. However, = large thing had changed, too, and for those All almost needed a road map. And = Ziggy.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 After taking a deep, long drag from his cigar, Al questioned the thin air. = =93Like what, Ziggy?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93UPN in now the number one network, the Steelers are thought to be a shoo in = for the Superbowl, and Bill Gates has just topped the 12 billion = mark.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 He knew Ziggy was toying with him. =93And?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 A slight pause was followed by a more subdued Ziggy. =93Tina and Gushie = are married, again, and Dr. Elessi is not here. A Dr. Aldrich has taken her = place on the Project.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Al began to walk again and when he entered the Control Room, he knew Ziggy = was right. Things were different. Not that anyone else would notice. No, = only he and Ziggy had the dubious honor of living outside of time. For Ziggy it = was just a matter of collating the data, putting it into the appropriate = files. But, for Al it was more difficult. Each time Sam changed something in = the past, Al had to act as if nothing had changed in the future, his present. As = if having his best friend lost in time was not enough, Al had to = instantaneously adapt to radical upheavals in his own time. It was enough to wear a man = down.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Like now, as he stood just inside the door to the Control Room. He saw the = woman he had made love to no less than three times in the past 18 hours standing = there holding another man=92s hand, whispering into his ear, giggling like a = little girl at his response. And nowhere did he see Donna, with her smiling, = yet haunted face. Her presence at the Project was a direct result of Sam=92s = leaping, and even though Al could remember a time when Donna hadn=92t been = around, he still felt her periodic absences deeply.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Admiral,=94 Ziggy announced, =93I have located Dr. = Beckett.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Crossing to the large panel at the far end of the room, Al spoke to Ziggy with = clipped tones. =93About time. =93Where=92s the = handlink?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Tina produced the handlink and gave it to Al, her fingers barely brushing his = skin. Skin that had held hers in an intimate embrace only scant hours before. = Fingers that would be holding another man tonight. Almost in a jealous rage, Al = tore the handlink from Tina, growling, =93You two, get a = room.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Before anyone could respond, Al marched off toward the Imaging Chamber, = throwing, =93Gushie, center me on Sam,=94 back over his = shoulder.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 As the Chamber door slid shut with a loud swoosh, Ziggy commented, =93It = would appear that someone got up on the wrong side of someone else=92s bed = this morning.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 The comment drew a few twitters as everyone went back to their work. Tina = and Gushie again held hands and the work in the Control room resumed its = normal pace. The only one who knew that things were not normal, not as they = should be, was Ziggy. If she had been anything but a computer, she might have felt = a certain sadness. Since she wasn=92t, she silently filed away the data = under her ever growing file entitled =91Further mysteries of the human = psyche.=92
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Al stepped into the empty, white room, took his place on the disc, closed = his eyes and waited. The uncomfortable rush that went through him was something = he would get used to someday. However, he secretly wished that that would not be necessary. The vertigo slowed to a stop. Activating the handlink, the = door swooshed open and Al stepped from a white room into=85another white = room.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93What the hell?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Hi, Al,=94 Sam said over his shoulder. Usually the familiar whoosh made = Sam=92s heart leap, knowing that Al would step through bringing news from Ziggy, = information that he needed to finish this Leap and get on to the next, thus bringing = him one step closer to home. But, as he sat on the stool, watching the = technicians perform their final check on the accelerator, that desperate joy did not = swell. He was glad to see Al, always. Yet, he was having so much fun this time = around he hated to have his work interrupted.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93What the hell is going on here, Sam?=94 Al growled as he took a few tentative = steps forward and closed to door with a punch and a squawk from the = handlink.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam toggled the intercom. =93I=92ll be right back, OK guys? Just got to take = care of a little business.=94
=93Sure, Doc,=94 came the muffled, = tinny reply.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Don=92t start without me,=94 Sam added before closing the = link.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 The technician waved his answer then resumed his duties. Sam let out a deep = sigh, then turned and motioned to Al. =93Shall = we?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 He didn=92t wait to see if he was followed, but walked across the room, = through the door and out into the hall. Al shimmered into existence as he walked = through the wall.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93I=92ve got a heavy dose of d=E9j=E0 vu, here Sam,=94 Al said, looking up and = down the long barren hallway. =93This is too weird.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam was nearly jumping up and down with excitement. =93I=92m a quantum = physicist, Al.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Consulting the handlink, Al said, =93Yeah, that=92s right. Your name = is=85=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Dr. Robert Aldrich, Jr.,=94 Sam cut him off.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Al ignored the interruption. =93It=92s August 13, 1988. You are in = Covington, GA, a small suburb of Atlanta.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam frowned. =93I=92ve been to Atlanta, before. Haven=92t = I?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Yeah, but that was in 1956, and you were a professional wrestler. Ooh, = Atlanta,=94 Al said, excitedly punching the handlink. =93Damn, the Olympics aren=92t = until =9296.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93But, I=92m a quantum physicist! Do you know what that = means?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93You=92ve tried to explain it to me, but,=94 A; answered, absently waving his = hands in the air, =93Once you get to the part about the Henny Youngman theory, you = always loose me.=94
Glaring at his friend, Sam said, = =93That=92s the Heisenburg Uncertainty principal, and it=92s really quite = simple.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93For brainy nerds like you,=94 Al muttered under his = breath.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam clasped his hands in front of him, and Al could tell that he was in for = a lecture. =93All Heisenburg was stating was it is impossible to determine = both the position and momentum of a subatomic particle with arbitrarily high = accuracy. Take the case of the electron.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Sam=94, Al cut him off with a wave of his hand, =93Don=92t you want to know why = you=92re here?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Or better yet, take the case of the top quark,=94 Sam continued as if Al = wasn=92t even there. =93Otherwise known as the truth = quark.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Counting to three and dragging his hand across his face, Al shouted, =93Sam! Will = you shut up?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93You must begin to see the universe in relative terms, not absolutes before = you can, what did you day?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93I said, =91Shut up!=92 You were going on and on about quarks and electrons = and God knows where we would=92ve ended up.=94 Al punched the handlink for = emphasis. =93I can see that you=92re having a ball here, but I really think that it is time = to get down to business and let me tell you what the hell you=92re doing = here.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam grinned sheepishly. =93I=92m sorry,=94 he apologized and turned to give = his friend his full attention. =93It=92s just that my brain has been Swiss cheesed = for so long now, and all this information has bee lost to me. When I saw the = accelerator and the labs, it all came rushing back.=94 He sighed heavily and leaned = against the far wall. =93I=92ve just missed the science, that=92s all. This Leap = I don=92t have to pretend to be anything then what I am, a quantum physicist. I=92ll be = able to carry on conversations without the slightest hesitation. It=92s almost = like being myself. I=92m in my element. Understand?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Sure I do,=94 Al replied. =93It=92s like me going to Vegas and being a judge = at the annual Showgirl pageant. I actually had the honor one = year.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 = =93Al.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93What I enjoyed the most were the private = interviews.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Will you shut = up?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Al stopped abruptly. =93There is no need to get = snippy.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam just shook his head. =93What am I here to = do?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Consulting the handlink, Al said, =93Well, we already know your name, where and = when you are. Let=92s see.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam crossed and looked over Al=92s shoulder at the handlink=92s screen. = =93Don=92t tell me that Ziggy has no idea.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Oh, she has plenty of ideas, =93Al answered, slamming the heel of his hand = against the handlink. The result was a loud squeak. =93She=92s just having a = devil of a time sorting out all the data. Oh, here we = go.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 = =93Yes?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93In the original history, Dr. Aldrich worked for a private lab in California = until yesterday. That=92s when you, I mean he, joined a project that seems to = have been funded by government money. Whether it was ours, we=92re not sure. A = project called...now this is strange. That=92s where the information = ends.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Dr. Canady did say they were working on antimatter experiments. But, why = would the government fund=85=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93We=92re funded by the government, Sam,=94 Al reminded = him.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93But, antimatter was only a theory in the 80=92s. And vast amounts of money = have been spent here, if the particle accelerator is any = indication.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Like I said, Sam.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam held up his hand. =93I know, I know.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Our government funds some really strange stuff, Sam. I know what I=92m = talking about.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Conceding the point, Sam moved on. =93What am I here to = change?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93In original history, Dr. Aldrich, you, worked on the project for, uh oh.=94 = Al punched the handlink a few times, obviously distressed by what he = saw.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93What, uh oh?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Five days from now, Dr. Aldrich nearly dies,=94 Al answered quietly, waving = around him, =93In this very building. Under mysterious = circumstances.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam swallowed hard. =93How?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93A fire in one of the labs. The official report said it was a freak = accident, one of those flash fires that burn intensely, then go out almost = immediately. Burned over 80% of your, uh, his body.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Shaking his head, Sam asked, =93Then I=92m here to make sure Dr. Aldrich isn=92t = anywhere near that fire, right?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Al didn=92t look up. =93Not exactly.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Not exactly?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93According to Ziggy, you=92re here to insure that the project fails,=94 Al answered = solemnly. =93And she projects an 83.25 percent probability that in order to do = that, Dr. Aldrich must die in that fire.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 = =93Ziggy=92s wrong!=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93I=92m only telling you what she says.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93And I=92m telling you she=92s wrong!=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam stood, hands on hips, eyes burning, facing the Observer. His shoulders = were set in stone, his face clouded with anger.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Don=92t take it out on me, =93 Al said, swiftly moving out of Sam=92s = glare.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93I can=92t have Leaped in here to insure that a man dies,=94 Sam nearly shouted, = =93It just doesn=92t make sense.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93You=92ve done it before,=94 Al reminded him.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Well, not this time. Ziggy=92s got to be wrong.=94 Sam began to pace the = hallway: six steps up and six steps back. Back and forth. He was beginning to make Al = dizzy. =93Go back and try again. Maybe Ziggy doesn=92t have all the pertinent = data. You said this was a US government project, start your research = there.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93I said =91a=92 government,=94 Al countered.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Fine. Just go back and go over the data, will = you?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Al punched the appropriate buttons on the handlink. =93Fine. Whatever you = say.=94 The Door opened and he stepped in.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Fine,=94 Sam snapped.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Fine,=94 Al repeated, then shut the door.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Fine,=94 Sam mumbled to himself.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93I think you would have outgrown imaginary playmates by = now.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam turned around a little too quickly. He was thrown off balance, and fell forward.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Whoa! I know you=92re attracted to me, but let=92s at least have dinner = first.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Realizing he was in the arms of a stranger, he scrambled back out, mumbling, = =93I=92m sorry, I=92m so sorry.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Don=92t worry about it, Dr. Aldrich, not everyone can be coordinated. I would be = more worried about your habit of talking to = yourself.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam looked down into those eyes again. =93Excuse me?,=94 was the only thing = he could think of the say. =A0Damnit! I=92m usually not this inept. What=92s wrong with = me?
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Dr. Michaels = smiled. =93You said, =91Just go back and go over the data again.=92 Then you said = =91Fine=92 twice.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 His guard immediately went up. =93I was, well, just having an argument with = myself.=94 When Dr. Michaels laughed, and his hackles went up. =93What, you never talk = to yourself?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Of course I do,=94 she answered, smiling even broader, =93but, I=92d never = have the guts to admit it to anyone.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Returning her smile, Sam relaxed. =93Where were you, anyway? I didn=92t see anyone = in the hall.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 She pointed to a door just down the hall. The sign said =91Ladies=92. Sam = blushed.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 If Dr. Michaels saw his embarrassment, she had the decency not to mention it. = =93I was going to come looking for you anyway. Dr. Canady has given me an extra assignment. Since you=92re new here, I=92m to be your tour guide. You = know, show you the sights, how to get 20 without killing yourself, which Kroger to = shop at, that sort of stuff.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Dr. Canady?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 She absently cleaned her glasses as she spoke. Her eyes were even browner = than Sam had first noticed. A deep brown, with no flecks to suggest any other = color. The purity of them amazed him.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Yeah, the old man knew you hadn=92t even taken the time to check into your = hotel yet, and since I=92m the only one on the team that has any social graces at = all, I was drafted.=94 She put the glasses back on, =93Not that I wouldn=92t have = volunteered.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam smiled his most winning smile. =93I would be = delighted.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Dr. Canady sends his regrets, but says he has so much work to do that he = would probably meet us coming in tomorrow = morning.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Tell him to have the coffee ready.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Dr. Michaels laughed as she began to walk away. =93I=92ll tell him, but I = really don=92t think you would want to drink what he makes. I=92ll meet you in your = office in, say, half an hour.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 = =93Fine.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 She waved her reply, then was gone around the corner.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam watched her disappear, then realized that he was holding his breath. = Not only am I a quantum physicist, I get the = pleasure of spending the evening with her. If it wasn=92t for that = nonsense about him dying in a fire, this was shaping up to be the perfect Leap. = Putting the distressing thoughts about Ziggy=92s probabilities aside, Sam set = off to find his office.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Stepping out of the Imaging Chamber, Ziggy was on him even before the door had = closed completely. =93Admiral, there is something I need to tell you about Dr. = Aldrich.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93No more about your fire and death theories, Ziggy. Sam nearly bit my head = off.=94 Al walked wearily down the ramp towards the Control = Room.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93It wasn=92t that Dr. Aldrich=85=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Where=92s Tina?=94 Al deposited the handlink in its place and suddenly noticed = that he was alone.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93She and Gushie, uh, retired early.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 But, the voice wasn=92t Ziggy=92s. Leaning over the console, he saw a pair of = jeans clad legs poking out from underneath. = =93Hello?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 A muffled voice answered. =93We didn=92t know how long you would be with Dr. = Beckett. I volunteered to stay, especially since Tina was, well, ya=92 know, so = exhausted. Besides, it gave me the free time to do some Ziggy = tweaking.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Al didn=92t recognize the voice, or the legs, but both were definitely = female.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 :Admiral, there is some important data that I need to discuss with you,=94 Ziggy = cut in.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Al gave the computer a =91Not now!=92 hand signal and slowly walked around the = console. =93Uh, do you need any help?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 The voice laughed softly. =93That is the first time you have ever offered to help = me when I had my hands inside of Ziggy. Did something happen to you in the Imaging Chamber?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Squatting down, Al peered under the console. He still couldn=92t see. =93No more = than the usual, I guess.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Admiral Calavicci, it is imperative that I speak with you = immediately.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Ziggy,=94 Al warned, =93I told you not now.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Go ahead, Bingo, talk to her.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Did she just call me = Bingo?
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 A hand stretched = out from below. =93But, give me a hand up first, will ya=92?=94 Al was more than willing to oblige. He grasped the hand and = pulled. =93You know she won=92t quit until she=92s had her way. Bother you all = night. And if I remember correctly, you have other plans this = evening.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Admiral Calavicci!,=94 Ziggy nearly shrieked.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 The computer=92s shrill voice momentarily distracted Al from his task. With = one tug he sent himself flying backwards, landing in a heap with the mystery = woman on top of him.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93We=92ve never done it in the Control Room before, but I=92m willing to try = anything. Once.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Al=92s protest of innocence was cut short as his mouth was suddenly assaulted = by moist, warm lips and a tongue that tasted like ginger snaps. Her body = was warm, no, hot, against his, and as her hips began to grind, he found himself = growing less aware of where he was then with whom he was = with.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Oh, Bingo,=94 she breathed in his ear.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 She called me = Bingo!
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 His arms encircled her back, pulling her closer, deeper into him. The burning = question of who this woman was was momentarily lost as the rushing in his ears = grew louder. He was on autopilot now, his conscious mind having shut off just = about the time she began to unbutton his shirt. Why did she call me Bingo?
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Excuse me,=94 Ziggy spoke up. =93Far be it from me to interrupt , but I thought = that you, Admiral and Dr. Aldrich, would like to know that in exactly 4 minutes = and 12 seconds you will no longer be alone in the Control = Room.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Oh, damn,=94 she said, rolling off. She began to button her flannel shirt. = =93Talk about lousy timing.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93It would appear that Admiral Calavici=92s timing was off a bit, = also.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Ziggy,=94 Al growled as he pushed himself up into a sitting position. Whereas = moments ago strength and vitality had coursed through his limbs, now he was weak and = shaky.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93I only comment on the obvious, Admiral,=94 Ziggy cooed. =93You now have 3 = minutes and 38 seconds of solitude left.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Fully clothed again, Dr. Aldrich curled herself into Al=92s lap and = straightened his tie. =93We=92ll finish this later.=94 She brought her mouth to his, = gently tracing her tongue across his upper teeth.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =932 minutes and 3 seconds.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Ziggy, couldn=92t you be just a little less intrusive,=94 Dr. Aldrich said to the ceiling = as she stood up. =93Sometimes I feel like you watch = everything.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Only what happens in public places,=94 Ziggy replied smugly. =93And from = those observances, I could write numerous volumes about human behavior. Normal = or otherwise.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Laughing, Dr. Aldrich held out her hand to Al, pulling him up without much effort. = =93Just make sure you spell our names right.=94 Wrapping her arms around him, = she emphasized each letter with a squeeze. =93That=92s B, I, N, = G=85=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Oh!,=94 Al exclaimed when her hand pinched his butt.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93See ya=92 later,=94 she called behind as she walked = away.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Al stood there limply, not really sure if what happened had, in reality, just = happened. =93Ziggy,=94 he began, but didn=92t know which question to ask = first.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Admiral Calavicci, I would like you to meet Dr. Libby = Aldrich.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Who said computers don=92t have a sense of humor. =93Why didn=92t you tell = me?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93As you recall, Admiral, I did try. You wouldn=92t = listen.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93And Sam changed all this?=94, he asked as he absently buttoned his shirt. = =93He=92s only been there 6 hours, for Christ=92s sake!=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93There are many variables at play against each other in this leap, Admiral. I = am not quite sure yet which ones are correct.=94 Ziggy almost sounded = wounded.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Approaching footsteps could be heard coming from the far hallway, and Al knew that = his 4 minutes and 12 seconds were up. Smoothing his hair back into place, he = walked nonchalantly past the entering technician, nodded his greeting, then = passed out of the Control Room into the main corridor. It was there that a thought = struck him and he stopped. =93Ziggy?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Yes, Admiral?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Sam=92s name in this Leap is Aldrich, right?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Yes, Admiral.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Unwrapping a cigar, Al rolled it back and forth between his fingers. =93And we = suddenly have a Dr. Aldrich among us.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Right again.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Seems like more than a coincidence.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93One could say so, Admiral.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Check it out, will ya=92, Ziggy? I have a funny feeling this will be = important.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Anything you say, Admiral. In fact, I have already started.=94 Ziggy gloated. = =93When I find something I will contact you = immediately.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Stopping to light his cigar, Al said, =93No, Ziggy, that won=92t be necessary. = It=92s late, and, well, I think I=92ll turn in now.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93It would seem that we both will be working on the Dr. Aldrich problem = tonight.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Al glared upward. =93Ziggy=85=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Pleasant dreams, Admiral.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Taking advantage of Robby=92s recent arrival, Sam asked a few questions and was = standing in Dr. Alrdich=92s office within 10 minutes, enjoying the new smell = emanating from the furniture. There were suitcases on the floor, but Sam wasn=92t = sure whether the real Dr. Aldrich had put them there or whether they had been dropped off by someone else. He guessed it didn=92t = matter.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Deftly bypassing the suitcases, Sam went straight to the computer. He was very = anxious to see what kind of research being done here. It booted up almost instantaneously and Sam was suitably impressed. Someone is shelling out the big bucks, that=92s for = sure. Quickly scanning the menu, Sam memorized as he went; he couldn=92t help = it. His memory was photographic and he remembered everything that he read. = Within recent history, that is. And he remembered only those things that his = Swiss cheeses brain allowed. Of course, there were some things that he wished = he didn=92t remember, and many things that he wished he could. It was the = kind of mental round puzzle that would drive him crazy if he allowed it = to.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Opening and closing files quickly, Sam soon garnered that this lab was run just = about the same way that his Project was. There were word processing programs, accounting programs, inventory programs, all the mundane stuff that = Ziggy deemed herself too good to deal with. Early in the Project Sam had had = the foresight to install a separate server to handle the administrative = duties. It was this system that the majority of the Project=92s personnel dealt = with. Ziggy was everywhere, of course, and known to everyone at the complex, but = only a select few were privy to what made Ziggy so unique. He came across files = with Aldrich=92s name and book marked them to peruse = later.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Well, no this is interesting.=94 Sam perked up as he came across a restricted = file. That in itself wasn=92t unusual; there was always information that = shouldn=92t be left lying around for the masses to see. That was just good business. = However, try as he might, Sam was unable to break = through.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93What=92s in you that is juicy that an iron wall has been constructed to protect = you?,=94 Sam asked the closed file abstractly. =93Perhaps we can go in = sideways.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 He opened an accompanying file, one that could possibly draw data from the = restricted one. Not that way. He tried another, but still met with defeat. = Frustration began to rise. His fingers began to beat the keys a little harder as his = plan was going up in flames. Even though Sam had never taken the time to = truly hone his hacker skills, not like Gushie, he liked to consider himself = superior to any software program. But, the locks on this file were impenetrable. It = had come down to trying passwords at random. He didn=92t hold out for much = success, but it was his last resort.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Canady,=94 he said aloud as he typed the name.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Access denied flashed across the screen.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 = =93Swilling.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Access denied.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 = =93Michaels.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Access denied.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 = =93Sonofabitch.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Access denied.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 = =93Quantumleap.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 File open.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93What are you doing?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Oh shit,=94 Sam said under his breath as he blanked the file. Spinning = around he said innocently, =93Nothing. Just playing = around.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Dr. Michaels stood in his office doorway. Her arms held tightly around her = chest, a scowl etched her face. The openness that had previously defined her had completely vanished. In its place was a woman as closed as the file Sam = had just tangled with.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Is there something wrong?,=94 he asked, putting space between himself and the = computer.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 She held her stony glare for a few moments, then shook her head. =93No, = nothing.=94 Leaning down, she picked up one of the suitcases. =93I don=92t feel much like = going out this evening. I=92m just going to drive you to your hotel, then go = home.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Sure, whatever you say,=94 Sam said as he grabbed the other suitcase. What the hell = happened?
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 He followed her silently down the hall, watching her back and trying to = engage her in conversation. But she remained quiet until the parking lot. Motioning = to his suitcase, she said, =93Just put them in the = back.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 The drive was as silent as the walk to the car and when she finally dropped him = off at the hotel, Sam was more than glad to leave this moody woman behind. = Weariness overwhelmed him as he entered the lobby. Maybe not going out tonight was a good idea after all, he thought = as he signed the register. A good = night=92s sleep and everything will be back to normal. But as the elevator = rose to the 7th floor, Sam didn=92t want to pin his hopes on = normal.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 The voice cracked. =93We=92re making progress. I told you that. It=92s all in my = report. Didn=92t you read it?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Yes, I did,=94 the soft voice on the other end of the phone said, =93Every = word.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Nervous laughter sped across the line. =93Well, then you know how close we = are.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Doctor, I have been in this business long enough to know that words on paper are = just that, words.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 The man paused and twin lines of smoke trailed upward on each of the = line.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Success is imperative, Doctor.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 White knuckles began to appear on the hand that held the receiver. =93What it = if can=92t be done? Did you and your friends ever think of = that?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 The already cool voice turned icy. =93That is not an = option.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 The sound of exhaled smoke whispered through the phone. =93I have the utmost = confidence, Doctor. We all do.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Thank you,=94 the reply was said with a shaky = voice.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93It wasn=92t meant as a compliment, Doctor, merely a reminder.=94 Another = drag, then, =93Please do not disappoint us.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 The line went dead.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 = =93Undergraduate degree in physics from Harvard, Masters and Doctorate in Quantum Physics from = MIT.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Al sat in his office the next morning listening to Ziggy. It was quite early in = the morning, in fact. Even after retirement, Al could not grow accustomed to sleeping in. his internal clock, having been set by the Navy eons ago, = would not allow him to watch the sun rise in a prone position. Not even this = morning, not even after he had had the most restful nights sleep in = years.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93She worked for private firms from the Midwest to the West Coast and became a = part of the Project 18 months ago.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Fingering his unlit cigar, Al asked, =93Who hired = her?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93You did, Admiral,=94 Ziggy answered. =93You do all the hiring of Project = personnel.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93But, I didn=92t hire her. At least I don=92t remember hiring her.=94 And believe me, I would remember = her.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Last night was one for the record books. Not because of sex, those books were = over flowing with stories and conquests. No, last night was special because = there had been no love making between them. Only caressing, holding and = comforting. Al had almost forgotten how wonderful just holding a woman closely could = be. They had fallen asleep like that, in each other=92s arms, like two = spoons in the kitchen drawer. He discovered when he awoke at 5 am that she liked to = sleep on her back, mouth open, snoring softly with each breath. Even like that = she was attractive. He hated to leave her, the peace and contentment he had = found, but, as always, he was duty bound. And so he found himself sitting in his = mostly barren office at 06:00, listening to Ziggy drone = on.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 = =93Admiral?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Uh, what?=94 Al was brought back to the present. =93What did you = say?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93I am not accustomed to being ignored,=94 the feminine voice = complained.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Now, that=92s the type of woman I=92m used = to dealing with.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93I=92m = sorry, Ziggy,=94 Al soothed, =93I was just contemplating our current problem, that=92s = all.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93You were contemplating Dr. Aldrich.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Al chuckled as he finally lit his cigar. =93You sound = jealous.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Ziggy humphed. =93I have never been jealous of any of your previous affairs, = why should I start now?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Watching the flame slowly consume the tobacco on the end of his cigar, Al = soothingly said, =93In the future, I will try to be more = attentive.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93See that you do,=94 Ziggy pouted.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Now, where were we?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Dr. Aldrich, and that=92s where the problem = arose.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Yes, Dr. Aldrich.=94 He took a long, deep drag, exhaling the smoke leisurely. = =93Why does she call me Bingo? Nobody calls me that = anymore.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Dr. Beckett was currently in 1963, during the Leap that concerned you, when = she first arrived at the Project.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Al frowned. =93But, that is classified information, = Ziggy>=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93She has access to all my data, Admiral,=94 Ziggy said matter of factly. = =93Everyone with her security clearance does.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 All stiffened.=A0 =93What was she = hired to do?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93You hired her to work on the retrieval = program.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93But, that=92s Donna=92s area,=94 Al protested.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Dr. Elessi is not in this time, Admiral,=94 Ziggy reminded = him.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93I don=92t like someone I know nothing about having access to = you.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Ziggy sighed softly. =93But, your signature is on her security clearance. You = must have trusted her enough, or you won=92t have = signed=85=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Al slammed his fist down hard on his metal desk. =93I didn=92t sign = anything!=94 He waited until the echo died away. =93At least I don=92t remember signing = anything. You of all microchips should understand = that.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 If Ziggy felt any sympathy for the Admiral=92s predicament, the hybrid computer = did not show it. =93If you would like to see the hard copies, they are in the = personnel office.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93No, that won=92t be necessary, Al dismissed the thought with a wave of his hand. = She was here, so he must have trusted her, believed in her enough to bring her = into Sam=92s secret world. At least in one time he did. God, how I want to trust = her.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93What time is it where Sam is?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =937:43 am.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Pushing himself away from his desk, Al began to walk out of his office. =93Have = the Imaging Chamber ready, Ziggy. I=92m going to pop in on = 1988.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93I would extinguish the cigar before leaving your office,=94 Ziggy suggested. = =93You know how Dr. Beeks dislikes the smell of cigar = smoke.=94
Al winced. Too many friendly arguments with = Verbeena about his smoking had resulted in a compromise: Al smoked in his office, = in his quarters and in the Imaging Chamber only. And the good doctor saw to it = that Al adhered to their bargain.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Is she awake?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Just entering the cafeteria on her way to the coffee maker,=94 Ziggy = replied.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Al quickly snuffed the cigar out.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Admiral, I have a few personal phone messages that where taken for you by the = front office. Two are from lawyers and the third one is from a very strange = man claiming to be with=85=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Not now, Ziggy,=94 Al cut the computer off, =93I=92ll handle them later. Right = now, it=92s time to see Sam.=94 He exited his office without turning off the light. He = never turned off anything; Ziggy always took care of that. Ziggy took care of everything.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam had long ago become accustomed to seeing another face in the mirror. A shock = at first, but now he looked at the strange reflection with = fascination.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Piercing blue eyes blinked back at him from the bathroom medicine cabinet. Curly = black hair framed a better than average face. It wasn=92t gorgeous by any = means, but it was not completely unattractive either. Because of the dark hair, this = face looked like it needed a shave even though Sam had just finished that = task. The ruddy skin shone.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Glancing down he saw the beginnings of a pot belly, not too pronounced, but if = Dr. Aldrich didn=92t start exercising in a few years his belly would begin = to proceed him as he went around corners. Sam had always taken the time to = exercise. In fact, he had taken the time to become a master in several different = martial arts disciplines. Sam felt that a body should not be neglected for the = sake of the mind, (The other way around went without saying). He realized that = not every academic had the time he had. Most people spent their whole lives achieving the academic status that he had done seven times over. But, = even when things in his life had been the most hectic, his residency for one, he = had made, grabbed, snuck time to exercise. Grabbing the slight gut and = giving it a shake, Sam could tell that his host did not feel the same = way.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93I have two words for you: Low Fat.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam looked up, but knew that he would not see another reflection in the = mirror Holograms don=92t cast them. =93Good morning, Al,=94 Sam said cheerily = as he turned and walked out of the bathroom.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Good morning, Sam,=94 Al returned the greeting. He stepped aside to allow his = friend to pass. Sam could have walked through him, being a hologram and all, = but Al knew that Sam liked to preserve as much normalcy as possible, given his = ever changing situation. So, Al obliged him with acting like he was solid. = =93Good night=92s sleep, Sam?=94 Al asked as he watched Same get = dressed.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Very restful, thank you. And you?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93The same.=94 Al bounced on the balls of his feet waiting for Sam to ask the inevitable. Only Sam didn=92t. He just went about his business of = getting dressed as if nothing was unusual. Watching Sam summarily ignore him and = remembering the argument they had had yesterday, Al grew impatient. Suddenly he = shouted, =93Well, don=92t you want to know what Ziggy = says?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93No,=94 Sam replied while slipping on a pair of worn penny = loafers.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Al crossed to the bed where Sam sat. =93Why not? I mean things could have = changed since yesterday.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam looked up. =93Have they?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Al didn=92t need to consult the handlink. =93No.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Then there is no need to discuss it,=94 Sam said, standing up quickly, =93I = know I didn=92t Leap in her just to make sure a man dies in some freak accident. = Ziggy=92s wrong.=94 Sam walked out to the other room of hotel suite with the = Observer right on his heels.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93But Ziggy gives it a 92% probability.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam turned around. =93Last time it was only = 8325%.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93You must have changed something.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Grabbing a coat from the extra bed, Sam snapped, =93I didn=92t do anything = yesterday. I Leaped in, played a little with the accelerator, talked to you, got = caught talking to myself, again, tried to break into a restricted file and = managed to piss of Dr. Michaels. God only knows = how.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93A restricted file?,=94 Al asked, his interest = piqued.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Yeah.=94 They left the hotel room and headed toward the elevator. =93I came = across it as I was playing with the lab=92s computer. Whatever information is in that = file, people want it to stay hidden.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Then you didn=92t get in?=94 Al sounded = disappointed.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 The elevator doors opened, Sam stepped in. Even Al entered the car before = the doors shut, a fact Sam was grateful for. =93No, I got in. I just didn=92t have = the time to see what was in the file. Dr. Michaels walked in and I had to blank = the screen.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Who=92s Dr. Michaels?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam wasn=92t able to answer Al until he had crossed the lobby and exited the = hotel. =93Just a colleague, that=92s all.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Al stood beside Sam in the hazy August sun. =93Not to change the subject, but did = you get all dolled up just to stand around?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93I=92m going back to the lab. I called for someone to pick me up. They should = be here any minute.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Ah,=94 was all Al said.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Guess what the password for the file was,=94 Sam said, breaking the moments = long silence.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93What?,=94 Al asked, absently punching the handlink.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Quantum Leap.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Quantum Leap,=94 Al repeated. He went back to punching the handlink. Suddenly it = hit him. =93Quantum Leap! That=92s ours!=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Waving and approaching van over, Sam said, =93Seems kind of coincidental = thought, doesn=92t it? What with the research and = all.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Coincidental, my ass!,=94 All fumed.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam paused before getting into the van. = =93Coming?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Al shrugged. =93Why not?=94 Sam entered the van via the front passenger = door while Al entered his usual way: walking straight = through.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Good morning, Dr. Aldrich,=94 the driver greeted Sam. The person behind the = wheel couldn=92t have been more than 17 or 18, hardly old enough to get a = license.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Kinda=92 young, isn=92t he?,=94 Al noticed from his perch in the backseat. = =93Doesn=92t lend an air of confidence.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93How old are you=85?,=94 Sam asked the driver, purposefully leaving the question = hanging in the hope that the kid would fill in the appropriate answer: his = name.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Name=92s, probably Johnny or Timmy or Junior,=94 Al = quipped.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Alex,=94 the kid said, offering his hand even as he merged with the speeding = traffic on the highway. =93And I=92m 22, Sir. I just look young for my age, = that=92s all.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93That=92s an understatement,=94 the Observer mumbled.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93You work for=85?=94 Sam wasn=92t sure of the name of the project he had leapt = into let alone the name of the lab. =93The lab?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Veering to the left without signaling, Alex answered, =93In a manner of = speaking.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Al spoke up. =93What kind of answer is that?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93And is driving all that you do, or do you have other = duties?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Alex stole a glance at his passenger. =93I=92m afraid I can=92t tell you = that, Sir.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam blinked in surprise. =93What?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93That information is given out only on a need to know basis, and as far as = I=92ve been told, you don=92t need to know.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Then who does need to know, Alex?,=94 Sam asked, his skin beginning to = prickle.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Alex began to chuckle. =93That I can=92t tell you = either.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93On a need to know basis again, and I don=92t need to know, = right?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93In a manner of speaking, Sir.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam=92s stomach began to churn as he listened to they young man=92s doublespeak. = =93Who are you?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Making a rude gesture out the window to a car that had just cut him off, the = young man replied, =93You work for the lab, for the = government.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93And you don=92t?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Alex smiled. =93In a manner of speaking.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93What=92s this kid talking about?,=94 Al said, leaning = closer.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93I=92m sorry, Alex,=94 Sam said, trying to sound sincere, =93But I don=92t = understand.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93And I thought you brainy types understood = everything.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93We both work for the lab, right?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93In a manner of speaking, that=92s right, Sir.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93I wish he would stop saying that,=94 Al said = angrily.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93And the lab is working for the government,=94 Sam continued, trying to set all = the non-facts he was getting straight in his = mind.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93If that=92s what they told you, Sir,=94 Alex said as he pulled into the = lab=92s driveway.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam had not noticed the lab=92s exterior when he had left the previous evening. = His attention was focused on Dr. Michaels and her bizarre mood swing. This = morning, however, his attention was riveted. As they pulled past the front of the building, he saw that it was nondescript, it looked like a thousand = other buildings in a hundred other office parks across the nation. A parking = garage loomed between each pair of buildings and was busy with people hurrying = to work. What struck Sam as out of the ordinary was that none of the = buildings were marked, not with numbers, letters or even logos of the businesses = housed within. The whole place had a utilitarian feel to it, and the high = shrubs that hid the offices from the street only added to that = feeling.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Here we are, Sir,=94 Alex announced as they arrived at the front of building 2. = Well, it was the second one on the right and in Sam=92s mind it should have been = number 2. =93Will ya=92 need me to drive you back to the hotel this evening, = Dr?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93I would say that was a big NO,=94 Al muttered, walking through the side of the = van and out onto the sidewalk.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93No, thank you, Alex,=94 Sam said as he opened the car door. He paused, one = leg on the pavement, the other still in the passenger compartment. =93you still = haven=92t answered my initial question, Alex.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Alex stared back at Sam with an expression that was too hard for his young = face. His face may have been young, Sam suddenly realized, but those eyes were = many years ahead. =93As you well know, Doctor, there are many different parts to = one equation. The more complex, the more parts there are. All those parts = sometimes work independently of each other, sometimes without even knowing the = other even exists.=94 He shrugged. =93When it all works out right, who cares what = those parts were anymore. Ya=92 see?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93In a manner of speaking,=94 Sam said.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 He stood on the sidewalk and watched the van drive away. He knew he had just been = handed a large piece of the puzzle of this Leap, but he didn=92t even know what = picture he was trying to recreate. He balled his fists in frustration. =
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Well, that was an illuminating conversation,=94 Al said = sarcastically.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam whirled around and headed into the building.=A0 =93Come with me, Al.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Al had to run to keep up with Sam. Instead of heading to his office, like Al = assumed, Sam headed through the front doors and directly into the = bathroom.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93You were supposed to take care of that before we left, Sam,=94 Al shouted his = irritation, =93And if you=92re going to the john, why do you need my = help?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam ignored the crass remark. =93Something is not right here, = Al.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93You=92re telling me.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Keeping his voice low, he motioned to his partner with a curt nod of his head = and drew them to the far corner of the bathroom. =93I want you to check out the = others in this lab. Nine ways to Sunday. I want to know what elementary school = they attended, what their blood type is and in the case of the males, whether = they have been circumcised. Everything.=94 This sudden paranoia startled Sam, = but his gut told him to tread with one eye ahead and the other on planted firmly = over his shoulder.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Al coaxed the information out of Ziggy. =93Canady, Swilling and Michaels.=94 Sam = nodded, =93What are you going to do now?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Break into that file again.=94 Sam paused at the door and glanced back at his = friend. Al had already opened the Door and was nearly swallowed up by the = incandescent light. =93I don=92t know what I=92m going to find. But, suddenly it = scares the hell out of me.=94
Sam didn=92t think he would be able to find = any blank discs in his office since it had first been occupied only yesterday. = But, after a quick search through the desk, he found a package of 10 unopened, = formatted discs ready for data input.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 After checking the hall and seeing that it was empty, Sam closed the door. He = was a little irritated that there was no lock, but by positioning a chair in = just the right way, it would give him a slim warning if someone was entering his = office, and that was all the time he would need.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 The computer was slower to boot this morning; more people working than = yesterday evening. The menu flashed and he immediately chose the forbidden file. = =93Quantum Leap.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 File open.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Shoving the disc into the hard drive, Sam ran through the steps to copy as fast = as the computer would let him. A little bar graph appeared on the screen and = through some agonizing moments, Sam watched as the percentage of copied data = grew higher and higher.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Come on, come one,=94 Sam whispered under his breath. He heard voices out in the = hall and he couldn=92t tell if they were just passing by or they were headed for = him.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 65% complete.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 A cold sweat began to trickle down his back. The voices were coming = nearer.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 78% complete.
As he watched the thick blue line move at a = snail=92s pace from left to right, Sam=92s conviction that this file was the = answer to his Leap grew. He didn=92t even know what was in the file. Maybe it was just somebody=92s little black book of numbers, or somebody=92s under the = table accounting records. Or maybe it was something else. Something that could = and would affect him very personally. Or maybe the kid in the van had just = spooked the hell of out him.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 81% complete.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 The voices stopped outside his office.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Why Quantum Leap? That phrase had been part of the English vernacular for = ages. Why should the use of those two simple words unnerve him so much? Could it = be that they were working on blackbody experiments here? Because there was = obviously someone else=92s hand in this than just Uncle = Sam.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 93% complete.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 A knock sounded on his door.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Just a minute,=94 Sam croaked, his hand poised over the = keyboard.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 97% complete.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Dr. Aldrich, may I come in?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 100% complete.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam tore the disc out of the hard drive, shoved it in his pocket and didn=92t = even bother to close the program; he just simply just down the = computer.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 The knock came again. =93Dr. Aldrich?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Coming!,=94 Sam rushed to the door, pushing the chair out of the way. He literally = flung the door open, startling the young woman on the other side. = =93What?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 She instinctively took a few steps back and held her hand up in self- = preservation. =93I=92m sorry to have bothered you, Dr. Aldrich, but your phone is not = hooked up yet, and there are some forms I need you to fill = out.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam let out the breath that he was holding with a big rush. All his tension of = the past few minutes exited his body and he found he had to hold onto the = doorframe to keep himself upright. =93Forms?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Yes, Sir,=94 the young woman answered, still staying on the opposite side of = the hall, =93Social Security number, next of kin, that sort of thing. I need those = filled out before I can put you into the = system.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam stared blankly at the young woman.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93That is, if you want to get paid,=94 she added.
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Oh, yes, of course,=94 Sam laughed, trying to sound casual while he wiped the = sweat from his forehead. =93Sure, I want to get = paid.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 The young woman smiled back. =93Then, if you would just come with me, we can get = this out of the way.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sam reached behind him and pulled the office door closed. =93Whenever = you=92re ready, Ma=92am.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 She lead the way down the hall. =93Please don=92t call me ma=92am. It makes be = feel so old. My name is Shelia.=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 =93Nice to meet you, Shelia,=94 Sam said, smiling his most wining smile. Sliding = his hand into his lab coat pocket, he wrapped his hand tightly around the disc, confirming its presence. =93You probably get tired of all those forms, = all the paperwork, don=92t you?=94
=A0=A0=A0=A0=A0 Glancing to her side, she looked up into Sam=92s eyes. =93In a manner of = speaking.=94