SEPTEMBER 2, 1977 CHAPTER ONE A hand touched his shoulder. "Excuse me, Dr Beckett." He swung around in his chair. A girl stood by him. "Yes," he answered automatically, trying to regain his equilibrium from the Leap, and failing miserably. "I'm sorry to disturb you, Dr Beckett, but you must get ready to leave. I have to close the library in five minutes." "Oh. Sorry." He stood hurriedly. His head swam and he grabbed the edge of the battered table in front of him. He swallowed hard, fighting the confusion whirling through his mind like autumn leaves and dust whirled by a wind. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the librarian watching, patiently, as though she was waiting for something, waiting for him to go. The table was littered with open books, pens and a lecture notepad covered in scruffy writing. They must belong to him. He piled up the books with fumbling, tired hands and heaved them into his arms. Here he went again, trying to pick up the threads of someone else's life, booted out onto the street before he'd even had a chance to find out his name, let alone what he was doing here. His name. "WHAT did you just call me?" "Dr Beckett. It is Dr Beckett - Dr Sam Beckett - isn't it?" The librarian smiled. A nice, friendly smile. The books slipped from Sam's fingers onto the table with a thud. "O-o-h boy." * * * * * The ground heaved. His legs buckled and he sank down onto the chair, staring up at the girl. She was young - very young, early twenties - with a pleasant, open face and curling red hair. Apart from her youth, she looked a typical librarian, neat and conservative in a pale-green blouse, navy skirt and sensible shoes. There was a slight lilt to her voice, not quite all-American, that he couldn't place. She was still smiling in a reassuring manner and it struck him that she was quite calm and relaxed, her hands clasped lightly in front of her. She had called him by his own name. She knew who he was. Sudden excitement lifted his spirits, filled his heart with joy. If she knew who he was he must be - "I'm sorry, Dr Beckett," she said gently. "You're not home. This is 1977, it's a Leap. It isn't home. I'm sorry." The joy was gone. He was consumed by the old longing, the gnawing, continuous ache for home. Of course this wasn't home. Nothing felt the slightest bit familiar. Though he probably wouldn't recognize home if it jumped up and bit him. He hadn't the slightest idea of where or when home was. He swallowed again, thrusting away his disappointment, forcing himself to concentrate on his current situation. The girl was still watching him. How could she know who he was if it was 1977? It was just not possible. No-one he met while Leaping knew he was Sam Beckett. "How - how do you...?" He couldn't even finish the question. "Know who you are? You told me," came the astounding reply. "You sent me a letter. In fact, I've been receiving letters from you since before I was born. I know quite a lot about you, Dr Beckett. I know about the Project and Ziggy, your computer. I know you're a time traveler and that you inhabit other peoples bodies. You call it 'Quantum Leaping'." Sam's mind reeled. "But you CAN'T know. In 1977 I hadn't even thought of the Project let alone Ziggy. I don't remember writing to you. I've never even seen you before. I don't KNOW you. At least," honesty compelled him to continue, "I don't think I do. Do I?" Another of the joys of Leaping, having a scrambled Swiss-cheese memory. Clear grey-green eyes regarded him steadily. "No, you don't," the girl reassured him, "but you WILL write to me. You just haven't done it yet." She paused a moment as if to let him digest this, then went on in a brisker tone, "It's about time I introduced myself." She held out her hand formally. "I'm Helen Carter." Hesitantly, he took the hand, automatically giving the conventional answer. "S-Sam Beckett. Pleased to meet you, Miss Carter." She wore no wedding ring. Even though his mind was a chaotic mess, part of him managed to function, to observe, assess and file away information. "Please call me Helen. I'm very glad to meet you at last, Dr Beckett. Welcome to Truro. That's Truro, Virginia - not Cornwall, England." "Th-thanks," stammered Sam, remembering belatedly he wasn't supposed to tell anyone who he really was; it was against the rules, his rules. But he hadn't told her, she'd already known. The grey-green eyes looked calmly down into his. "Call me Sam," he found himself saying. "I - I'm not used to Dr Beckett anymore." "Okay - Sam." She smiled again, shyly this time. He continued to hold her hand limply, frantically trying to make sense of the information she had given him. He'd written to her? Impossible. And if he was in a Leap, he couldn't be Sam Beckett. He must be someone else, he always was. His overtaxed mind refused to process the conflicting information. He'd file it away and think about it later, when he wasn't so tired. Helen saw bewilderment written all over Sam's face. Even though he had acknowledged his own name, he was clearly in a state of complete confusion. She had obviously not convinced him she knew who and what he was. Gently disengaging her hand, she tried again. "I know about Al Calavicci, your Observer, too." She knew about Al? More impossibilities. Again Sam decided his poor, befuddled brain could deal with this at a later date. He hadn't even seen Al on this Leap yet. If he had, he'd know what it was he was here to do. Al always told him what he had to do. Maybe this girl would know what he was here for, she seemed to know everything else. "Do you know why I'm here?" he asked cautiously. Helen took a deep breath. "Yes, Dr Beckett - Sam - I do. You've had some pretty tough problems to deal with lately and the powers that be," she gestured heavenwards, "have decided you're in need of a little R and R. You're here to recuperate for a while, take a vacation." Sam's jaw dropped to his knees. If he hadn't already been sitting down, he'd have hit the floor. "TAKE A VACATION?" Suddenly, an image of a woman with almond eyes and black hair floated up out of the fragments of memory whirling in his mind. For a second, it hovered on the edge of his consciousness before collapsing back into the chaotic confusion. "Yes. Or a sabbatical if you prefer." The words provoked another memory. The Bartender had said he could have a sabbatical, but he'd changed Al's life instead, so there was no way this could be a sabbatical or vacation. "Please believe me," said the girl, leaning towards him, one hand on the table. "It's true. If you come with me, I can prove it. I can show you the letter you sent - I mean - will send me." Sam simply sat, staring up at her. "Look, I have a few things left to do before we go, Sam. Just stay here, I'll be back soon." She quickly piled up an armful of books from the table. As she did so, she gave him a concerned look. "Will you be all right?" He nodded, too confused to give a verbal answer. "I'll be as quick as I can," she reassured him. "Just sit here and wait." He nodded again. He didn't want to do anything except sit, anyway. He watched the girl quickly disappear between two rows of dark, wooden bookcases. Late afternoon sunshine slanted down through high windows. Sam watched dust dance in its beams while his mind jumped all over the place. Fragments of memory rose out of the vortex then disappeared before he could catch hold of them, turn them into sense. God, how long had he been doing this? God was probably the only one who knew how long he'd been Leaping. He certainly didn't. It was peaceful here - which made a nice change. So often he found himself slammed in the middle of a dangerous or embarrassing situation. In this quiet old place there was no danger or embarrassment. The only sound was the faint buzz of traffic penetrating from outside. The air smelled good, faintly familiar - musty old books and wood panelling. He should have felt comfortable, he always did when he was somewhere associated with study, with the quiet pursuit of knowledge. Instead his mind was in turmoil, still reeling from the effort of completing the previous Leap successfully. Why was he doing this? It was his own fault. If only he'd taken the time to conduct those final tests with Ziggy, then he might still be in control. Oh, the elation of those first, glorious seconds when he'd realised he'd done it. His theory was proven, he was in the past, he had traveled in time! If only it had worked properly. If only he'd arrived at his first destination in control, in his own body. Instead, without his knowledge, without his consent, it had become his job to live someone else's life, change that life, make it better than it had been originally. Something else - or was it Someone else? - was in charge, bouncing him around in time with the ease of a kid bouncing a rubber ball, sending him from one destination to the next, only allowing him to Leap when he had changed history for the better, altered crucial moments in people's lives. He didn't remember being asked to sign an employment contract - that's probably why he hadn't been given one - he'd never have agreed to accept the conditions. Or would he? Somewhere in the dim and distant past, the past of his own time-line, he had found Leaping very fulfilling, even enjoyable at times. Hell - some of it had even been fun! He was really able to help people, ordinary people. It had been very satisfying, but each time he felt himself Leap, a tiny part of him hoped he'd find himself back in his own time, able to be Sam Beckett once more. And then, on that weirdest Leap of all, he'd met the Bartender. The Bartender who'd said he controlled his own destiny, said it was up to him, that he had a choice. He could carry on helping people or he could go home. Home. Sometimes the longing, the need for home was so great he almost fell to his knees and shrieked aloud his want. But the longing brought something else with it. Guilt. Guilt that racked and tortured the fragments of his mind just as much as the longing. If he went home who would correct life's mistakes, help those who needed it? No, he could never put his own needs first. There would be no point in going home anyway, he would find no peace there. The guilt would consume him. HE had control? He almost laughed aloud. The Bartender had lied. He had no control, no choice at all. And why should he be the only one who had charge of their destiny? No-one else did. He took it away from them when he changed their lives. No, he was being controlled, manipulated, just as much as everyone else. The only difference was he knew it and they didn't. After meeting the Bartender each Leap had been harder. Each one physically and mentally more demanding than the last, as if he was being tested to see how much he could take. The Leaps came faster and faster, relentless, remorseless. Every new situation took more of his energies than before. He had no time to rest, his brain felt like cotton and he was making mistakes, just little ones, but they made it more difficult to complete the task he had been set. He couldn't take much more. His own personality, what made him Sam Beckett, was disappearing under the residuals of so many other personalities, tiny pieces of all the different people he had been. Sure, he knew some facts about himself. But that is all they were - facts. He knew he could speak six modern languages (and four dead ones) but didn't know when, how or why he'd learned them. He was a pianist, had performed at Carnegie Hall when he was nineteen, but what music did he like to play? He was a doctor of medicine, but where had he become one? Had he practised? Why did he stop? He was a farm-boy from Elkridge, Indiana, who had built Project Quantum Leap at Stallion's Gate, New Mexico, but he didn't know what these places looked like, what his life there had been like. The names, the words, evoked no images in his mind. What did he like to do? What did he hate? The few memories of life before he had stepped into the Accelerator were slipping away, fading. Soon there would be nothing left. He was an empty pitcher filled with someone else's life, then drained away, only to be filled again with a different life, a different personality. He was so tired. *I can't do this much longer. I want to be ME again. Have pity - please. I want to go home - wherever, whenever that is.* But he would never go home. The Someone was pitiless. Sighing, he rubbed his eyes and pulled himself together. He ought to work out why he was here, but he was too tired to move and the chair so comfortable. Where had that girl gone? Telling him he was here for a vacation was ridiculous. He needed Al. Al would tell him the truth. Only, of course, just because he was needed, Al wasn't here. He'd have to find things out for himself. He wondered who he was this time. That girl had called him Sam Beckett, making him believe for one ecstatic moment that the Someone had compassion after all and had sent him home. But he wasn't home, he was still Leaping. Perhaps he looked like himself this time. Perhaps he'd Leaped into his younger self again. Suddenly eager, suddenly hopeful, he looked down at himself, trying to assess the shape of the body beneath the clothes. A scruffy denim jacket and creased shirt, with a vile, loud pattern and huge collar, fitted tightly across a narrow chest. He couldn't remember how broad he'd been when he was younger. He looked further down. Faded jeans hugged tightly around a skinny waist and hips. He didn't remember being skinny, though he couldn't remember NOT being skinny, either. Hope trickling away, he noticed the jeans ended in wide flares - and he was wearing platform shoes. Oh, Lord! He'd forgotten about flares and platforms! Welcome to the Seventies - Decade of Disco and Medallion Men! He felt around his neck hurriedly, then murmured a fervent, "No medallion - thank you, thank you!" One of the books still on the table had a shiny, protective cover. He reached for it slowly, no longer so eager. His hand was large with long, bony fingers, ending in badly bitten nails, attached to an equally bony wrist. A nervous and flappy hand with a cold and clammy grip, no doubt. All hope gone, he tilted the book, bracing himself for an unknown face to stare back. As he realised he hardly remembered now what Sam Beckett looked like, a finger of ice ran down his spine. But there was no way he looked like THIS guy. He - that is the man he'd become - was in his late twenties, maybe early thirties, and had blond, straggly hair and unhealthy-looking skin with no hint of a tan. Definitely not someone who loved the Great Outdoors. Timid blue eyes, surrounded by pale lashes, peered at him from under pale brows. A receding chin, so weak as to be almost non- existent, covered in stubble, degenerated into a scrawny neck. Even allowing for the distortions in the plastic, it was the sort of face no- one looked at twice. He pushed all thoughts of the girl and what she had said out of his mind. Everything she had told him was garbage. Everyone he met would see this face, this body. Everyone would treat him as though he were this man. And he would have to convince them he was this - this - this wimp! "Sam, I think Ziggy's finally lost it. He's behaving REAL weird. I mean real weird." He jumped about two meters in the air as the loud voice broke the peaceful silence of the library. The voice didn't resonate as it should have in such a large room, but sounded as if it were in a much smaller space. He'd been so absorbed in the contemptible reflection and horrible clothes he hadn't even been aware that The Door of the Imaging Chamber had opened. He twisted around in his chair quickly enough to see Al walk through a bookcase. His brows snapped together. He knew Al wasn't really there, knew what he saw was a hologram, an image of a man in a room, many years away in a future time - his own time. But lately he'd found it totally irritating to see the image walk through things, anything - even people, even himself. Al looked so real. Especially in those clothes. Bright red trousers with matching narrow tie, crisp white shirt and smart grey suspenders encased Al's compact frame. Set at a rakish angle on top of lightly curling, dark hair, greying at the temples, sat a red fedora. Sam felt even more of a dork. "Are you trying to give me a coronary?" he demanded of the wiry, olive-complexioned man. "Why can't you make sure you open The Door where I can see you, rather than sneaking up behind me like that?" Al didn't bother to answer. This was one of Sam's regular complaints. Sam knew there was nothing Al could do about it, but he complained anyway. Al had come to the conclusion it helped the physicist to remind himself there were some things over which Al had no control. Sam had so little control over what happened in his own life. "I've never known Ziggy find you so fast," he said, his voice as gritty as a gravel path. "We've only just left the last Leap. It's almost as though he knew exactly where to look - and he keeps on burbling something about you 'having a nice time'!" "Don't tell me." Sam held up a long-suffering hand. "Let me guess - Ziggy's having another identity crisis!" Al didn't bother to answer that, either. Ziggy having an identity crisis or some such problem was also a regular occurrence. The computer's huge ego saw to that. Al stopped fiddling with the small, vaguely rectangular piece of multi-coloured plastic, so like a mass of old-fashioned, boiled candies accidentally melted together, that he clutched in one hand. He took a puff of the fat cigar he held in the other hand. "That last Leap was a real doozey, Sam," he commented, shaking his head. "One of the nastiest situations you've ever been in. A real close shave. You only just made the changes in time, according to Ziggy. Though, of course, you did it brilliantly - just like you always do." So far, he added silently. "Did I?" asked Sam vaguely. He couldn't remember and didn't really care, either. Al peered at him through a haze of cigar smoke. "You okay, Sam? You don't look so hot." Sam shook his head, trying to clear it. "Yes, I'm fine," he replied irritably. Just for once, why couldn't Al get to the point and tell him who he was and what he was supposed to do? Then he could get this job done and at least feel that faint spark of satisfaction that was all he got out of Leaping now. Al still thought he was in a hurry to complete a Leap in case he got home next time. Al hadn't believed him when he'd told him about the Bartender. It didn't matter anyway. Al didn't need to know. Al could still hope. Sam scrubbed his face with tired fingers, wishing he could scrub away the fatigue that threatened to overpower him. "Who am I? What have I got to do this time?" "Oh. Sorry, Sam. Ziggy found you so fast I haven't had time to retrieve the data yet." Al wedged his cigar between his teeth and jabbed at the handlink again. "Okay, here goes," he said, speaking around the cigar. "It's September 2nd, 1977. Your name is Brian Palmer. You're 28 years old and you write historical detective novels under the name of" - Al raised his eyebrows - "Josephine Merriweather. You travel around the country and base each novel in a different place." Al looked at the open books on the table. "You must be here to do research for a new book." "Oh God! Not English literature again," Sam groaned, exasperated. The Seventies AND English literature! "I HATE English literature. I'm a physicist. I don't do creative writing!" He relished the feeling of annoyance. It helped fight off the weariness that pervaded every cell of his body. Al wasn't listening. He had looked back at the handlink display. "Now this is what I mean by weird," he said, poking the multicolored rectangle with one finger. "Ziggy says it doesn't matter what Brian does as you're not here to fix anything for our budding author. In fact, he manages to have considerable popular literary success, even when it's discovered that he isn't some little old lady who invents murder mysteries whilst doing her knitting. Ziggy says it's very important that you DON'T change anything for Brian." Al's eyes widened in surprise. "In fact, you mustn't change anything for anyone. You've got to make sure everything stays the same." He banged the side of the handlink, muttering, "That can't be right." The handlink gave a squawk, as though objecting to Al's rough handling. "Aw, c'mon Al, that's crazy!" protested Sam, "I always have to change something. That's why I'm in this mess. I change something for someone, make it better, then I Leap. I change something for someone else, then I Leap again." Ad infinitum. Forever. The finger of ice turned into a dagger and inserted itself under his ribs. *No. Don't think of the future, concentrate on the present.* "I know it's crazy. I'm only telling you what Ziggy says. He says you're not here to fix anything for anyone, so you should go ahead and relax, enjoy yourself. You should have heard him in the Control Room, Sam. He's making the weirdest noise. Sort of like a cross between a wheezing donkey and a car that's jammed in the wrong gear. I know it sounds nuts but it's almost as if he's...well, as if he's giggling!" "You've got to be kidding!" Al shook his head. "Oh great! That's all I need, an hysterical computer!" Al stuck out his chin. "It's not my fault if Ziggy behaves like an egotistical maniac. You're the one who said it was necessary for the success of the Project for him to be programmed with a personality." "Okay, okay, so everything's my fault," said Sam wearily. "Can't Gushie do anything with him?" Gushie. Little nondescript guy with halitosis that could drop an elephant at twenty paces. Chief computer programmer at the Project. "He's trying to get Ziggy to look at the data again. We'll just have to wait a minute." Silence fell. Al cleared his throat. "By the way," he said casually, "the Committee coughed up enough cash for another computer technician so Gushie's got in this new guy. I haven't seen much of him yet - he seems to pull the graveyard shift a lot. He's very young, only about twenty, and Tina can't stop going on about how brilliant he is. He's supposed to have been some sort of child genius or something. You don't suppose he and Tina are - you know." Al made an expressive gesture and looked worriedly at Sam. Tina. She looked like a total airhead, dressed like a bad copy of Madonna during her sleaze period and had a voice that made nails on a lecturer's chalkboard sound melodious. She was an extremely clever programmer and communications technician, which is why she was employed by the Project, and had legs up to her armpits, which is why Al couldn't take his eyes off her. Sam gave Al a disgusted look. "Why do you always think everyone's at it like rabbits, Al? It's none of your business, anyway. Tina's Gushie's wife - not yours." She nearly had been Al's wife, before he had fixed the wrong in Al's life. Satisfaction washed over him at the memory of that particular Leap. Tina would have been Al's sixth wife - if they'd made it as far as the alter. But Al didn't remember that anymore. As his Leap had saved Al's first marriage and altered Al's life, so Al's memories had altered accordingly. As far as Al was concerned he'd always been married to just one woman, Beth, though he still loved to tell of the many exploits he'd had with women before his marriage. And his exploits had been legendary, according to Al. He remained the same irritating, exasperating, sex obsessed character he always had been, who loved to look at and lust over every female who appeared on the horizon, but it was Beth he went home to quite contentedly every night. Beth and his four daughters. He still took great interest in Tina though - to the extent that he got jealous every time another man so much as glanced at her. That must be due to some residual memory from before the Leap. Sam found it ironic that his Swiss-cheese brain should allow him to remember so much of Al's life from the first time around when Al couldn't - particularly when he could remember so little of his own life. "How should I know what Tina's doing?" he snapped. "I don't really care what Tina is or isn't doing as long as she and Gushie sort Ziggy out." Al looked hurt. "Are you sure she's doing anything at all with this guy?" Sam's voice dripped sarcasm. "Have you actually talked to her about him?" "Well, no, not exactly," admitted Al, "but I don't need to. I've seen her making these big eyes at him and give him that 'come hither' look. I don't like it, Sam. I know that breath of Gushie's must make her want to wear a gas mask every time they do the Oral Twist, but she shouldn't be cheating on him. He's a nice guy." Al looked genuinely upset. Sam took a deep breath, controlling his temper. "Hang on, you said you hadn't seen much of this new technician. How often EXACTLY have you seen Tina 'making eyes' at him?" "Only once - but once was enough." "Oh, for goodness sake, Al, pull yourself together. She was probably just trying to make the poor guy feel welcome." He'd had enough of Tina's love life - real or imagined - and tried to get Al to concentrate on what he was here to do. "Hasn't Ziggy come up with any more information yet?" He shifted irritably in his chair, which creaked in protest. "All you've told me is that I'm some rubbishy crimewriter from the Seventies. For God's sake, hurry up, I want to get on with it." This time the unusual tone of Sam's voice really caught Al's attention. He stared hard at the physicist, his hurt feelings over Sam's comments fading as he noticed how drawn and tired his friend looked. "You sure you're all right, Sam? You look sorta pale and you've got these big, black circles under your eyes, like you had a real hard night on the town. Have you got a hangover? You look just like I -" "I don't know! I don't remember who I was last night, let alone what I did." Sam took another deep breath, pushing his irritation away. "Look, I'm fine, really I am." Al favored him with a doubtful look. "Honest, I feel great." Sam made himself smile and relaxed his shoulders, willing his friend to believe the lie. "You were going to give me some more information?" He gave a small laugh. "I mean, there's no way I can be here for a vacation like she said." "A vacation? Who said anything about a vacation?" Al stared in consternation. She said. Oh God, Sam must be really cracking up. What a helluva day. He'd got Ziggy cackling like a hyena at a comedians' convention, Tina panting after that new technician like a female dog on heat and now Sam tangling his Leaps. Sam must be thinking of the one with that clairvoyant - what was her name...? Tamlyn. She'd really bowled Sam over. Poor guy. He must be about at the end of his rope. "No, Sam. I don't think you're here for a vacation," he said gently. "I know that," said Sam with exaggerated patience. "I'm just telling you what she said." "What 'she'?" asked Al cautiously. "That girl. Didn't you see her? The librarian. She called me Dr Beckett, too. For a second I almost thought I was... It was odd, she knew all about the Project. She said she'd be back soon. She went down there." He waved a vague hand. Al looked around. There was no-one in sight. As he finally noticed where they were, a frown creased his forehead as something about the place stirred faint memories. Not quite grasping the tendril of thought, he shrugged his shoulders and decided to ignore it. He turned his attention back to the drooping figure seated at the table. Sam was definitely at the end of his rope. He must be so desperate to get home he was hallucinating, imagining people knew who he was. "There's no-one else here, Sam," he said firmly. He had to get Sam back on track again. He could do nothing else to help him. At least when he helped him complete a Leap, there was the chance Sam might Leap home next time. "I've told you, you're Brian Palmer and you're here to..." He frowned down at the handlink display. It was still unhelpfully blank. He walloped it. It didn't even have the courtesy to emit a whimper and he ground his teeth. He'd get some information out of Ziggy, even if he had to zap him with a cattle prod. "Well, you're Brian Palmer and you're in a library in..." Jamming the cigar back in his mouth, he punched the data request sequence again. "In Truro, Virginia," supplied Sam impatiently. "I know WHERE I am. She told me." Al threw him another concerned look. The handlink display finally lit and he read it thankfully. "A library in...Truro, Virginia!" He stared at Sam in astonishment. The elusive tendril of thought gave another tantalising wave. "Truro, Virginia," he repeated, trying to grab it this time. TRURO, VIRGINIA! As the name finally made the correct synaptic connections, all concern for his friend drowned under a torrent of long repressed memories. Sam watched Al's jaw drop and his cigar disappear as it tumbled out of his mouth. Color drained from Al's face as he looked wildly around. A variety of expressions chased across his face - disbelief, recognition, hurt and finally, blotting out all traces of other emotion, anger. "My God!" Al cried hoarsely. "I know this place - I've been here. This is where I met..." His voice trailed off and he swallowed convulsively. "SHE was here. She tried to... I... She - she wouldn't... Oh Holy Hell!" Al turned as white as a sheet as he stammered out the last phrase. His eyes nearly popped out of his head as he stared over Sam's shoulder. Then his image began to break up as though something was interfering with the hologrammatic transmission. "No - Ziggy - don't you dare pull the plug! Get me back there," Al yelled, frantically banging the handlink, which squawked in retaliation. "You can't do this. Get me ba-" His voice broke up into static, his image gave one last, violent shudder, then disappeared.