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"Fires that Forge"
by Barbara E. Walton
"Whatever it takes, I'll get you out of this."
Al Calavicci, "Mirror Image"
Project Quantum Leap in Stallion Springs, New Mexico. 2000.
The Door closed.
Al didn't bother taking time to gather his thoughts; time was
something he didn't dare risk. There was a horrible, pressing
feeling on his chest, and he knew
(Is it my heart? Am I going to die?)
that time was running out very quickly.
He barely noticed that Tina had joined Gushie at Ziggy's
control panel, sleepy face floating above her peignoir. She was
such a part of his world now that he hardly noticed her at all.
He pushed past her, and put a hand on Ziggy's scanner. "We have
to get him out of there," he said, as the identifying beam shot up
between his fingers.
Gushie's eyes narrowed. "Why? What's going on?"
Al shook his head; he didn't know exactly what it was. After
hours of trying, he and Gushie had finally managed to lock onto
Sam, but the relief had been less than short-lived. Al had found
him in a bar, half-mad with confusion and maybe even fear. He'd
left him sitting beneath the stars, laughing or maybe crying, or
maybe something in between that Al didn't like at all. "He thinks
he's been talking to God," Al said.
"Are you sure he's not?" Tina asked.
The pressure on Al's chest tightened. "No God I want to know
would make him that hard for us to find. What's He afraid of?"
He shook his head. "I don't like this, Tina."
A light on Ziggy's panel began to flash wildly, and a high
pitched scream came from the speakers. Tina ran to the computer,
fully awake now. "He's Leaped!" she shouted. She looked over the
board frantically, shaking her head in negation, then looked back
up. "We've lost him, Al."
Al's heart was beating faster, and the world was beginning to
go dark. It was hard to breathe. "Get the Imaging Chamber ready,"
he managed, turning back toward the Door.
"But Admiral -- "
Then his world disappeared.
San Diego, CA. April 4, 1969.
She was looking up at him from behind a desk, her fixed smile
carrying two definite messages: she was his employee, and she
sensed that something had just happened to him. "Are you okay,
Dirk?" she asked.
Sam Beckett nodded vaguely, and blinked his eyes rapidly. The
Leap was over, and he was all the way here. "Yeah," he said.
"Just sort of... phased out for a minute there. You know."
Her smile tightened. "Sure," she said gently, then
straightened her papers and got back to business. "You have a
visitor in your office. A Beth Cal... " She bit her lip, and
tried to remember. "Calavicci... "
(It comes in and goes out like the flash of a camera, leaving
a bright space and nothing more in its wake; he knows the name.
From somewhere, he knows the name, and that bright space in the
dark is somehow frightening and comforting at the same time.)
" ...Beth Calavicci. She says you met at the marina this
weekend. I hope it's okay?"
Sam swallowed and nodded, the feeling passing away. "It's
fine." He smiled at her, and went around her desk to the dark wood
door behind her, where a tasteful gold plaque informed him that it
was the office of "Dirk Simon, Esq." He took a deep breath, and
The woman at the window turned when the door opened, and the
hazy morning sun that silhouetted her gave way quickly, letting her
features appear out of the shadows as she stepped across the room.
He thought he had seen her before, but there was no flashpoint, no
immediate connection. Her eyes were hyper-widened and glassy, her
smile stretched painfully across her face. Sam's first guess was
that she was on some kind of stimulant, but it didn't feel like the
She grabbed his hand and pulled him to the desk, then let go
like she was playing hot potato. "I needed to talk to you, Dirk.
"Good morning" -- he almost lost her name, then found it --
"Beth," he said.
She stood back and blinked twice, thrown off by the simple
greeting. "Good morning." She floundered for a moment, then her
smile widened again, and she got back on track. "I've had a
"It was after Jake left last night -- oh, we never did go out,
by the way, he left all of a sudden and didn't tell me why, but
that's okay -- I had the weirdest feeling Al was with me... I mean,
I've thought so before, but last night he really seemed to be --
oh, Dirk, I could almost feel his hands." She closed her eyes, and
crossed her arms over her waist, and was quiet for a moment,
Sam's brow creased. He'd gotten very little of the speech;
only one name had really stood out at all. "Al?" he repeated.
She opened her eyes, and seemed a little annoyed at the
distraction. "My husband, remember? I told you about him. He's
missing in Vietnam?"
Sam lost the thread of it entirely; he was used to such things
at the beginning of Leaps, and he covered instinctively. "Oh,
yeah. Of course. Your husband."
She was satisfied with it, and proceeded as if she had never
stopped. "I thought it was a ghost at first -- "
"What? No, no... that was before he came. I was sure that
it was my husband's ghost that was there. I thought he was dead,
and came back to say goodbye. I cried. And then I played our song
over and over, and pretended to hold him... " Her voice trailed
off, then she woke up. "And that's when he came."
"My visitor," she said, exasperated. Sam nodded dubiously,
and she went on. "I don't know who he was or where he came from,
Dirk. He just... appeared. Like an angel from the Bible. And he
told me that Al is alive. He promised that Al would be coming home
to me." She smiled radiantly, then added, almost as an
afterthought, "So you'll understand why I'll have to cancel for
"You mustn't let her do that, Samuel," a voice said from the
corner of the office, where the image of Edward St. John stood
comfortably in the shadow of the bookshelves.
Sam nodded at him as slightly as he could, then spoke to Beth.
"Look, we don't have to cancel... "
"Yes, we do, Dirk." She giggled nervously, then bit her lip.
"I like you very much. Too much, really. I can't let anything get
started here. I just... can't."
"Samuel... " St. John prodded, but Sam could find no words to
stop the onslaught.
"I really have to go now," Beth said, stepping lightly around
him and leaning on the doorknob. "I'm sorry that I let you
think... I'm sorry. Honestly." She fumbled the door open, then
backed out; Sam closed the door behind her.
"Interesting young woman," St. John said. "Perhaps you're
here to make certain she receives appropriate psychiatric
Sam shook his head and came further into the room. "No... no,
I don't think so, St. John. I can't explain it, but I believe her.
I almost feel like I know her. Do I know her?"
The Observer punched a few keys on the handlink. "I find no
record of Elizabeth Grady Calavicci. But -- oh, this is rather
fascinating -- you did Leap into her husband at one point. It
seems you saved him from an erroneous murder charge."
"That's why the name sounds familiar."
"Does Alpha know why I'm here yet?"
"Alpha seems to think you're here to play matchmaker between
this young woman and Dirk Simon."
Sam sat down and sighed. "Then her husband is dead. I guess
saving him didn't help much."
"Well, he did save a squadron of fighters before he was shot
Sam covered his eyes with his hands for a moment, then stood
and turned toward the window. The sunlight was getting brighter
between the blinds, unaffected by the dark clouds around Sam's
heart. "She's so happy," he said. "How can I take that away from
"Fires that forge," St. John mused.
Sam had little patience with the Observer's tendency toward
intellectual philosophy; he sometimes wondered if St. John was
completely human. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"We are all shaped by different events, Samuel. And many of
them are quite unpleasant. Elizabeth Calavicci has to accept the
loss of her first husband if she is to live the life she is meant
Sam shook his head. "I can't do it, St. John. Not if she has
any hope left at all."
St. John looked up sharply. "Samuel," he said, "what on Earth
makes you think you have a choice?"
La Jolla, CA. The Calavicci bungalow.
Ruthie waited under the arbor, examining a daisy that had
grown between the flagstones on the path. Beth's carefully tended
garden didn't interest her, and those tall white flowers that Beth
liked so much made her sneeze.
Actually, there wasn't much she liked about Beth at all, when
it came down to the line, but a promise was a promise, and Ruthie
would never let Albert down.
Beth's car announced itself before it rounded the corner, in
a blare of Supremes music and engine trouble; Albert had been
missing for over two years, Ruthie thought, and Beth still hadn't
bothered to learn how to take care of their car. She'd have to fix
it herself while she was here. Albert would have enough troubles
when he got home without a broken down car to fix.
Beth pulled up in front of the house, and parked and a
cockeyed angle to the curb. The driver's door popped open, and
she nearly jumped out. Ruthie sighed, and stood up.
Beth stopped halfway to the path, and clapped her hands
together when she saw Ruthie. "I wasn't expecting you to come down
here!" she said, moving in.
"I caught the first flight out of O'Hare," Ruthie told her.
"Do you want to tell me what's going on, Beth?"
"I told you. Al's alive."
"I know that. Did they find him?"
"No, I told you last night... "
"Last night, you told me an angel came to visit you."
"Don't you believe me? Don't you believe that Al's alive?"
"I've never doubted that." Her voice sounded more accusatory
than she'd intended, but there was no taking it back now, and Beth
didn't seem to notice. "But Beth, this other -- do you know what
it sounds like?"
Beth pulled back coolly. "I called you because I know you're
Al's friend and I thought you'd be happy. Instead, you decide I'm
crazy. Thanks a lot, Ruthie." She pushed past Ruthie and went on
toward the bungalow.
You could leave now, a voice whispered in Ruthie's mind. You
came, you checked on her, and if she's mad, no one would expect you
to impose yourself on her.
(And if she burns the house down in this ridiculous state?
If she crashes her car? If she God-forbid jumps out her window
because she thinks she can fly? How fast would you forgive
yourself? How fast would Albert forgive you?)
He wouldn't need to know.
(Yes, but you'd know.)
There was no answer to this. Ruthie turned and followed Beth
up the path.
Charleston, SC. 2000.
My name is Al Calavicci, he thought as he rose toward waking.
And I've seen the Earth rise from behind the moon.
But it wasn't true. No one had been on the moon. Had they?
He wasn't sure. It was all fading away into the night.
He opened his eyes in the dark, and waited for his vision to
clear. He had been half-expecting to see the thatched roof of the
hooch, with a few stars glittering through, untouched by the horror
beneath them. The last thing he clearly remembered was looking at
those tiny points of light after hearing two ominous gunshots
outside; it was better not to ask who had been on the receiving end
It might have been him.
That wasn't right; he knew it wasn't, just as he knew that he
wasn't really in Vietnam anymore. He'd had a lot of vivid
fantasies (his imagination was a long-time secret friend, and it
had proven its worth in the endless jungle nights) but never one
so real that he could feel the flannel sheets under his fingertips.
And he'd never, in his wildest dreams, imagined himself as he had
found himself two hours ago. He'd been in a room full of
strangers, all of whom were ostensibly friends and relatives,
celebrating his thirty-ninth anniversary (the banner had read "We
figured you'd expect it next year!"). A little girl had tugged on
his pants leg, and he'd picked her up. She'd kissed his cheek and
said, "I love you, Grandpa."
And then Beth had appeared, and she had held him tight, and
he hadn't cared anymore where he was or how he'd come to be here.
But now, the crowd was gone, the lights were off, and he was
beginning to care immensely where he was.
And who he was.
Beth was sleeping soundly beside him. He leaned over and
kissed her bare shoulder, then got out of bed, pulled a pair of
pajama pants and a bathrobe on, and went downstairs to look for
answers. He did not see the light under the door snap on as he
descended the stairs.
The mess from the party had been cleared out of the living
room, though folding chairs were still scattered in small groups
along the walls. Rows of photographs lined the walls -- pictures
of Al, of Beth, of four girls (he'd thought it was three until he
saw a family portrait that showed identical twins in matching
school uniforms), of this strange, foreign life. There was a
wedding picture of one of the twins, and a baby picture beside it;
Al guessed that this twin was the mother of the child who'd called
A faint sliver of light was peeking out under a door at the
far end of the room. Al debated not going in -- wherever he was,
he had a feeling that he was supposed to be perfectly cognizant of
the situation, and a single misstep could land him in a straight
jacket -- but the hunger for information overpowered the fear of
He turned the door knob slowly, and leaned in.
There was a girl on the worn leather couch, curled around a
cheaply bound book that Al recognized, after a moment's thought,
as a scholarly thesis. Other books and notebooks were piled around
her, and when she looked up, her eyes were slightly puffy, and her
smile was weary.
She was his daughter.
He recognized her from the pictures, but the knowledge came
from a deeper, more visceral place. This girl, with her sharp,
crystalline features and warm brown eyes, with her curly black hair
barely held in check by the rubber band which pulled it back, was
his daughter; he could sense himself as a part of her, and he loved
"Daddy," she said. "What are you doing up?"
"I couldn't sleep." He noticed a notebook lying on a tattered
plaid chair, and it looked like there was a name on one corner.
He moved into the room, picked up the notebook
(Nonchalant... you're just moving it out of your way)
and sat down. He glanced at the notebook cautiously. The
school crest of MIT was emblazoned in gold on a dark blue cover,
and "Ethics in Invention" was scrawled underneath it. The name
"Nora Calavicci" was written in the same careless scrawl on the
corner. Al took a deep breath, and tried it out. "Am I in your
She smiled and shook her head. "No. I need a break from
paradox loops and inviable realities, anyway."
Al had been congratulating himself on a successful conclusion
to his game when something she said cut into his mind like a drill
bit. "Inviable realities?" he repeated. "What do you mean?"
She shook her head, and said gently, "No offense, Daddy, but
you don't have any background in quantum physics, let alone screwy
quantum philosophy. I'm doing my Masters thesis on it, and I don't
follow Beckett very well. He makes my head spin."
"Samuel Beckett, not the playwright. This" -- she tossed the
thesis she was reading to Al -- "is his doctoral dissertation on
string theory and the possibility of time travel." She wrinkled
her small nose distastefully. "My thesis advisor is a time travel
nut. She thinks that it's going to be the major ethical issue in
science in the next few years, and she wants me to analyze
Al began to flip through the thesis nervously. Equations
seemed to jump off the pages. Some were solved, some weren't...
but Al thought that he could find the solutions, or, more
accurately, that he could recognize them if he saw them. "And this
-- Beckett -- is an expert on time travel?"
Nora leaned forward conspiratorially. "They say that's what
he was doing when he disappeared. Mucking around in time."
A shoelace, hanging in the overcooled air; he can feel the
rough texture against his hands.
(One end of this string represents your birth; the other end,
your death. You tie the ends together, and your life's a loop...)
He dropped the thesis, and fumbled to pick it up.
"Daddy?" Nora bent down to him. "Are you okay?"
He picked up the thesis, and sat back in the chair. "Yeah.
I'm fine." He caught his breath. "You said he disappeared?"
She laughed. "Where have you been, Daddy? Samuel Beckett
disappeared five years ago. One minute, he's on the cover of Time,
the next, he's nowhere. Some people say he fried his brain doing
an experiment, and he's on life support somewhere. You can't
possibly have missed that."
Al was only half listening to her. It was the perfect
insanity to make all of this sane. "Maybe it's an inviable
reality," he whispered.
Nora leaned toward him, and waved to catch his eye. "What are
you talking about?"
Al grabbed her wrist with one hand, and gestured around the
room with the other. "This. I don't think this is my life... "
"Daddy," she said, gently extracting her hand from his,
"inviable realities can't exist. They're just Dr. Beckett's
eccentric solution to the grandfather paradox. If you -- "
"The grandfather paradox?"
Nora's eyes narrowed suspiciously into small, dark blue slits,
(how could I have thought they were brown?)
but she went on. "It's a hackneyed old time travel problem.
If you go back in time and kill your grandfather, you won't exist,
so you can't go back in time to kill him, so you exist, so you go
back in time, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. Dr. Beckett postulated
that an impossible reality -- where the time traveller exists
despite having negated his existence --- could temporarily form,
and give him a chance to repair the damage."
"And you don't think it can?"
Nora shook her head. "It would be like a river building a
bridge to keep someone from getting caught in a whirlpool. The
quantum universe would have to be sentient. That's not science,
it's theology." She took Al's hand, and smiled at him. "And
Daddy, I don't know what you're getting at. How could this be an
"What do you mean?"
She raised her eyebrows
(her eyes are brown, it must have been the light)
and laughed softly. "It would mean that one of us doesn't
exist. And if that one of us is you, neither of us exists." She
pinched his cheek playfully. "Does that answer your question?"
(it wasn't the light and you know it)
He pulled away from it. "Yeah, I guess that settles it." He
tried a smile. "I was just playing what-if, I guess. Trying to
help you on your thesis."
Nora kissed his hand. "I should've figured." She stood up.
"Your games are getting weirder in your old age, Daddy. But I love
Al stood up beside her, and hugged her tightly to him. "I
love you too, Nora," he said, and let her go. "Now go get some
sleep. If this is a viable reality, then your thesis will still
be here when the sun comes up."
"Okay, Daddy," she said.
Al watched her disappear into the moonlit living room, then
opened the thesis she had left behind and began to read.
There is wind, and the steady squeaking of a rope moving
against wood, the slow, painful sound of rusty door hinge. Sam can
feel himself swaying in the breeze; it is comforting, even though
the bamboo is cutting into his back and his arms, and his legs are
too numb from the prolonged position to feel anything at all.
There is someone nearby, next to him; he can feel it in the
air. The wind changes, and the cage turns.
The other man is looking out at him, lonely and frightened,
forlorn and lost. His young/old face is haunted. He looks up, and
their eyes meet.
(If they shut down the Project, you won't be able to contact
(I was thinking of trying a couple of tin cans on a piece of
(I don't think I can make it without you, Al... )
He understands. The other man looks down at his hand, and
then holds out a key.
(Just remember, you've got an ace in the hole: me.)
Sam reaches out slowly for the key, and the other man
stretches as far as he can, but the wind blows the cages further
apart. Sam looks down at the chasm between them, and then back up.
The other man holds the key out again, and Sam reaches out
with all his might; he feels the smooth metal against his
He smiles, and the other man smiles back.
And lets go.
Sam tries to grab for the key, but it tumbles, end over end,
into the blackness.
Sam looks up. The other man's face has gone white, and he is
shaking his head. His mouth is forming the word "No" over and
over, but no sound comes out. Sam feels nothing; he could be the
chasm. He looks down after the key, but it is gone.
There is no way out.
The door is closed...
"NO!" Sam awakened, his hand over his heart. The dream was
slipping away quickly, but the horrible, trapped feeling would not
St. John was standing at the end of the bed, the handlink a
meaningless pattern of light in the darkness. Sam took a deep
breath and pushed his panicked feeling as far away as he could.
"What is it?"
"I might inquire the same of you."
"It was... just a dream."
"Yes. Have you given any further thought to your assignment?"
"Do they ever find her husband's body?"
St. John paused thoughtfully. "Would the situation be
different if I told you they did?"
"Well, yes... I could -- " Sam stopped, unsure of himself.
He didn't know why it was important to him to know the whereabouts
of the body of Beth Calavicci's husband. The question had been
completely unexpected. "They do find him, don't they?"
"Yes," St. John said. "They find him."
"I can't stay here for four years... can I?"
"I shouldn't think so, no."
"And Alpha is sure that I'm here to convince Beth that he's
"Alpha postulates that there is a ninety-six percent chance
that you're here to make certain that Elizabeth Calavicci marries
"A fascinating question, Samuel, but one that I can't answer."
St. John disappeared with a small flash of light from the handlink,
and Sam closed his eyes again to wait for the dawn.
Ruthie woke up slowly, night images breaking lazily away into
reality. Albert had been with her, and there had been another man,
and a locked door.
I have the key, she thought fuzzily, then opened her eyes.
The early morning sunlight was dancing on the living room
wall; from the kitchen, off to the right, Ruthie could hear Beth
singing quietly under the sound of running water. She pulled
herself up from the couch, and went to the bathroom to splash some
cold water on her face before the day began. She and Beth had
stayed up talking until almost five; it couldn't be later than
When she got into the kitchen, she found Beth in uniform,
filling a coffee filter and singing "Reflections" along with the
radio on top of the refrigerator. On the stove, a griddle was
covered with a steadily blackening goo that might have once been
pancake batter. "Good morning, Beth."
Ruthie took a few steps into the room. "You still didn't
sleep, did you?"
Beth shrugged sheepishly. "I tried to. Honest."
"You're going to burn yourself out, Elizabeth."
"I'll be fine. Everything will be fine, you'll see." She
wrinkled her nose. "And don't call me 'Elizabeth.' It makes me
feel like an ugly old queen."
"'S okay. I was getting some breakfast before work. I think
there's enough -- "
"You're going to work?"
"Of course I am."
"Wrong," Ruthie said. "If you want to wander around your
house in a cloud, that's your business. But are you seriously
planning on taking care of patients like this?"
"And you're short-minded. You have no more business on a
hospital ward like this than you would dead drunk."
Beth stopped for the first time since Ruthie's arrival, and
considered this carefully. "I guess... " She blinked rapidly.
"Well, as long as you're up, I made some pancakes... "
Ruthie looked at the smoking skillet. "Go ahead. I'll...
I'll grab something later."
Beth's eyes followed Ruthie's, then grew wide. "It's burned!"
She ran to the stove, and pulled the skillet off. It hissed as she
dumped it in the sink, and she stared at it with a kind of puzzled
betrayal in her eyes. "When did that happen?"
Ruthie pulled out a chair and guided Beth into it. "Sit," she
said. Beth did so, reluctantly, and Ruthie went to the sink to
clean the skillet. "Now, I'll take care of breakfast."
"I'm serious, Beth." She scraped the skillet with a metal
spatula, then took steel wool to it. "You really have to get some
sleep. You're going to make yourself sick."
Not to mention, she's going to make you crazy.
(Stop it right now.)
The skillet was as clean as it was going to get; Ruthie set
it in the drainer to dry, and reached into a cupboard under the
sink to get a fresh mixing bowl. "When Albert first brought you
home to Chi, I told him, 'Albert, you're going to have to keep an
eye on this girl, 'cause she's pretending to be about twice as
tough as she really is... '" Ruthie waited for some kind of
protest, since Beth almost never dropped the pretense, but it
didn't come. "Beth?"
She turned to find Beth out like a light, her head cradled in
her arms on the kitchen table. Ruthie shook her head, and looked
out the window behind the sink. "Oh, Albert," she said to a cloud.
"I hope she's worth it to you."
He didn't answer, either.
While Beth slept (for a grand total of four hours), Ruthie
cleaned the kitchen around her, made both beds, and did a quick but
thorough check of the house for any substances that could
conceivably have caused her to see an angel in her living room.
(Ruthie had nothing against angels, and she didn't exactly not
believe in them, but the litany of Jewish history that she'd been
raised on -- from Simeon bar Kochba to Sabbatai Zvi -- had taught
her to treat any claim of revelation with extreme skepticism.)
"What are you doing?"
She looked up from her inspection of the end table to find
Beth standing in the kitchen doorway. "I was just looking for
something to read while you were sleeping."
Beth nodded. "Well, I'm awake now."
"I can see that. You really shouldn't be."
"I don't know why you think I'm your responsibility, Ruthie.
But I'm an adult, and I can take care of myself."
"You were sure doing a hell of job of it earlier. I don't
want Albert to come home a widower."
Beth smiled, giddy again. "Me, neither," she said, and
started straightening the cushions on the couch. Ruthie listened
to another account of her Visitor (it was the sixth run-through,
if her count was correct), and an elaborate plan to celebrate Al's
homecoming, then Beth suggested that they go out to lunch, as long
as Mexican was okay.
Ruthie had no objections to Mexican, though she did object
(unsuccessfully) to Beth taking the driver's seat. There were no
dire consequences, however, and they arrived safely at the
restaurant only twenty minutes later.
"You see?" Beth said. "It's not all that bad."
"Sure." Ruthie wasn't paying much attention to their
surroundings, and she opened her door without looking. There was
a thud, and the clatter of metal on concrete. She looked down and
saw a set of car keys lying beside a pair of expensive-looking
shoes. Above the shoes, a pair of cotton slacks stretched upward
toward the sun, which was blocked by the hulking shadow of a tall
man. Ruthie picked up the keys, and offered them to him. "Here...
I've got your keys."
The man bent down, and smiled at her. He was pleasant
looking, and there was something familiar in his eyes. Ruthie
couldn't place it.
Then Beth was out of the car and around the front, saying,
"Dirk! We've got to stop meeting like this."
The man she called "Dirk" paused for a moment, an intense
expression on his face, like he was listening to an important
newsflash that only he could hear. Then he patted Ruthie's hand
and stood up. "Hi, Beth," he said. "What's next? Our eyes
meeting across a crowded room?"
Ruthie went cold as she pulled herself up out of the car.
Whoever this man was, and however pleasant he seemed, the tone of
his voice suggested that he was far worse trouble for Albert than
the vague possibility of Beth burning down the house.
"You can't talk like that, Dirk," Beth said. Ruthie looked
at her closely, and noticed that her face didn't exactly match her
words. She was blushing like a debutante caught on the balcony
with a bachelor at her first ball. "I don't think my husband would
"I guarantee it," Ruthie muttered.
"This is my husband's friend, Ruthie Minkin," Beth said,
drawing Ruthie forward. "She came to stay with me because she's
afraid I'm going to drive my car off a cliff."
"That's very conscientious." Dirk extended his hand; Ruthie
did not offer her own in return. He let his hand fall to his side.
"It's nice to meet you, Miss Minkin."
"Ruthie," she corrected.
Dirk's face went white and blank for a moment, then he blinked
quickly and smiled. "Ruthie," he said. He turned back to Beth.
"Look, I was thinking; there's no reason we can't be friends, is
there?" He pointed at the car door. "It looks like Fate isn't
going let you avoid me."
"I guess not," Beth said.
"Didn't you want to get something to eat, Beth?" Ruthie
Beth nodded impatiently. "Yes, I... " She shrugged and
smiled at Dirk. "We really should eat something. It's been
"By all means, eat."
Beth started toward the restaurant, then turned back around.
"Look, Dirk -- why don't you come over for dinner tonight?"
Dirk raised his eyebrows, surprised. "I could do that."
"Beth!" Ruthie pulled her aside. "What are you doing?"
"Inviting a friend to dinner."
"Are you sure?"
"Is something wrong?" Dirk asked.
Beth smiled tightly, and looked over her shoulder. "Nothing.
Can you be there at seven?"
Beth grabbed Ruthie's arm and pulled her inside the
restaurant. Outside, they heard Dirk's car pull out of its space.
"I don't like what you're implying, Ruthie," she said quickly. "I
don't know where you come off with it. I guess it's some kind of
loyalty thing you have with Al, but I never put up with that kind
of attitude from him, I'm certainly not going to put up with it
from you in lieu of him. Are we clear?"
"Good. Because I need company right now; I know that. But
you are not going to make veiled accusations against my friends
while you're staying in my house. Do you understand?"
"Yes, I understand. But I want you to understand something,
Beth: Where Albert and I come from, loyalty isn't just some 'thing'
that we put on in the morning and take off when it gets a little
uncomfortable. I owe Albert my life, ten times over. And if I see
something coming at him to hurt him, I'll do whatever I can to stop
"I'm not going to hurt him, Ruthie," Beth said.
"I hope not."
"That was terrific," Sam said honestly, cleaning the last of
the pie from his plate.
"I'm glad you liked it," Ruthie said. Her tone was warm
enough, and her smile might have fooled a second-rate drama critic,
but Sam had walked too many moons in too many moccassins to be that
poor a judge of human nature. Ruthie considered herself a
gatekeeper of some kind, and she perceived Sam as a dark knight
trying to storm the castle. The thing was, Sam had a feeling that
she resented this function, that she'd taken it on for reasons that
were not at all pleasant to her.
Beth stood up and started to clear the table. "Could you give
me a hand with this, Dirk?" She leaned over as she picked up Sam's
plate. "We can talk in the kitchen." Sam nodded, and started
gathering dishes; Beth looked over at Ruthie. "Would you mind
putting the tablecloth and napkins in the washer? I don't like
them sitting around with food on them."
"Mm-hmm," Ruthie said, not even starting to believe it, but
offering no resistance.
Beth led Sam into the kitchen.
"I'm sorry about Ruthie," she said when the door swung shut.
"She's... Well, I don't think she's quite gotten it through her
head that a woman can be friends with a man without there being
any... compromising situation." She shook her head. "Though she
and Al were close friends for years. You'd think she'd know
Sam didn't bother to point out the obvious explanation -- that
Ruthie and Beth's husband had been, at least at some point, in a
"compromising situation," so their relationship was not an
effective point of reference. If Beth didn't know that, either it
wasn't true, she didn't want to know, or she had been purposely
deceived. In any case, it wasn't Sam's place to put the idea in
"I guess I think of her as an in-law. Al always said she was
the closest thing he had to family, after his sister died -- "
(I never really appreciated my family until after Ruthie was
Sam blinked. This phrase had flashed through his mind
earlier, when Beth had first introduced Ruthie, and it hadn't made
sense. It made less sense now; how could he flash on something
that Beth's dead husband might have said? Even if he'd Leaped into
the man once, they'd never met.
(It's a word that my third wife, Ruthie, used to use... she
never used it about me, though...)
The voice was not his own; that much he was sure of. But it
was a known voice, a comforting voice
(I think it's damn fair)
even when its words chastised him. It came out of an empty
space in his mind that he had not even suspected, and he felt some
inner piece of bedrock begin to shift.
" -- even though I think he had a real uncle named Jack or
Jock or something, who I never met, and I don't think Al's seen him
for a very long time... Dirk?"
Sam felt Beth's hand on his cheek before he really heard her
speaking again, a warm, soft touch to draw him from the yawning
chasm that was opening in his mind.
"Dirk?" she repeated.
Sam took her free hand, more to regain his footing in reality
than anything else. He felt the fingers of her other hand moving
though his hair.
And then somehow she was in his arms, or perhaps he was in
hers, and it seemed he could never draw her close enough, and she
could never draw him close enough, and
(Beth is the only woman I ever really loved, the only one I
wanted to grow old with... )
Sam pulled away.
"Oh," Ruthie said from the door, "don't let me interrupt."
Beth drew in her breath sharply. "Ruthie, listen -- "
"No." She turned on her heel and left. Sam and Beth heard
the front door slam open and swing shut.
"I... " Beth started. "I didn't... I shouldn't have... " She
shook her head. "I'll go talk to her."
Sam put a hand on her shoulder. "She won't talk to you. I'll
He found her at the end of the garden path, breathing slowly
and deeply. She looked up when she heard the door open, and
started walking as soon as she saw him come out.
"Wait, Ruthie, please... "
She didn't wait, and Sam had to run to catch up with her. She
didn't acknowledge his presence until he actually grabbed her arm
to physically stop her.
He had expected her to try and pull away, or perhaps to throw
a punch at him. What he did not expect was what she did.
She threw her arms around his neck, and kissed him deeply.
"I'll do anything you want," she whispered when he broke away from
her. "Just tell me. I don't have any hangups. If you want me to
be Beth, I can do that. Just stay away from her."
"Why are you doing this?"
"Because she's Albert's wife, and he loves her. I don't know
why he loves her, but he does. I can't let you do this to him."
"It's possible that Albert is dead," Sam said gently. "Do you
think he'd want her to be -- "
"No! He's not dead. I'd know if he died."
"I just... would."
"You're in love with him, aren't you?"
"What was your first clue?" She stopped suddenly, and turned
to him, her eyes wide. "You can't tell Beth that. She doesn't
know. She can't know." She turned away again, and started walking
slowly. "I almost ruined it for him once. I let... " She wiped
her face. "Well, once I let something happen that shouldn't have.
We couldn't stop. That's why I left the last time; he asked me to
leave. He was scared that he'd lose Beth, too."
"Albert never had really good luck with people. His mother
abandoned him, his father went away for a long time, then came back
and died. Then he lost his sister. And his uncles... they never
bothered with him at all. He grew up in an orphanage -- "
He had a pet cockroach named Kevin; the kid in the next bed
had a pet lizard. "And he ran away all the time," Sam whispered
"He did, didn't he?"
"Yes. He... " She shook her head. "I shouldn't be telling
you any of this. It's personal, and it's none of your business.
But that's why I can't let Beth leave him. She's the only person
he loves who hasn't left him."
"What about you?"
Ruthie smiled sadly. "Well, I haven't left him, anyway."
She went on down the street, and left Sam alone with the
voices from the abyss.
Charleston, South Carolina. 2000.
She looked up quickly, spilling a handful of maps and
registration papers that she had been pawing through in the glove
compartment. Her hands were shaking violently.
Al knelt down beside the car, not paying attention to the grit
on the garage floor that dug into his knees. "My God," he said.
"You don't know, either, do you?"
She put her hand over her heart, and breathed in deeply. "I
thought I was going crazy... "
"You might be," Al said. "But if you are, you're not going
"I was so scared, Al. I was in this room full of people, and
I didn't know anyone, and then I saw you... I was so happy to see
you. I've missed you."
Al got into the car, and put his arms around her shoulders;
she nuzzled against his chest. "What's the last thing you
"I was... It was bad weekend. I'd lost a patient. His name
was Andy. I -- " She stopped.
"What is it?"
"I named my son Andy," she said. "After him."
"There are no picture of any boys in the family."
"I know. After the party, there were daughters, and a son-
in-law. We were cleaning up in the kitchen. One of the girls --
the one who has her own daughter -- said 'Who says you need sons?'
or something like that. But I have a son. Named Andy. After a
Marine who died of third degree burns over most of his body the
weekend that I met -- " She put her hand over her mouth and pulled
away. "The weekend I met his father," she finished. "Oh, Al...
he wasn't your son."
Al looked down at his hands, resting lightly on his knees now
that Beth had moved away. They hadn't changed since he'd last
looked at them. The garage around him hadn't changed. Even the
old, dusty smell of the station wagon hadn't changed.
But something had changed.
"Al? Are you okay?"
"You... weren't there when I came home, then."
"But I had to have been. We're here. I was talking to the
girls last night!"
"You weren't there," he said again.
Beth bit her lip and looked out the window at the corner of
the garage. "No," she said. "I wasn't." She put her hands over
her face, and her chest hitched. "I'm so sorry, Al... I couldn't
He shook his head, and tried to make his voice sound as calm
and rational as he could. "We don't need this, Beth. I think
we've got enough to worry about without you beating yourself up
over something you apparently never did."
"Then how can I remember it?"
"Come on," he said, getting out of the car. "I want to show
you something." He led her into the study, where he'd left Samuel
Beckett's dissertation open on his desk. He picked it up and
handed it to her. "I had a talk with one of the girls last night
myself. Her name is Nora. She's a great kid."
"Which one is she?"
"The youngest one. She was wearing a college sweatshirt at
"Oh -- the one with green eyes, like my brother's." She
started to flip through the thesis.
Al didn't answer. "She gave me that. It's part of her thesis
"'String Theory, Time Travel, and Paradox: An Ethical Study
of LoNigro and Beckett's Temporal Postulates,'" she read. "Time
"It makes sense, Beth. Think about it."
"No it doesn't. It's... well, it's impossible."
"I don't think so." Al took the paper back, and put it on the
desk. "I think I know this Beckett. I think he's done it. And
I think... I think he changed something for us. I think he did it
"Fine. Great. It had to be a mistake the first time, because
I wouldn't leave you, I just -- "
Al put his hands on her shoulders. "It wasn't a mistake,
Beth. Maybe you didn't mean to do it, but it wasn't a mistake."
"I don't believe that. We're happy here, or at least I think
"I was in the space program," Al said. "And I went back to
"Maybe you did that here, too."
"I don't think so. I think -- Beth, I don't think this is my
life. I don't think it belongs to either one of us."
"But what about the girls? Al, you can't just say they don't
"Nora's eyes were brown," he said quietly.
"It's not real, Beth. Your son Andy was real. Maybe one of
the girls is... But, like Nora said, that's not science, it's
theology. The only thing that makes any sense out of all of this
is this Beckett going back in time and changing our lives."
"No," she insisted. "If that were true, we'd just remember
everything the way he fixed it."
"No, we wouldn't."
"Because I don't think he was supposed to." He put his finger
under her chin. "And Beth... I think he's going to have to change
"No!" She ran from the room, and left Al alone with the
He picked up the phone. He was never sure later if he meant
to dial a particular number, or if he just meant to see if anything
came to him. Neither happened, because when he put the phone to
his ear, he didn't hear the comforting sound of a dial tone.
Instead, he heard nothing at all.
He closed his eyes slowly, then opened them again. It was
almost over; he felt it. He went out to join his wife.
In a vast and empty cavern under the New Mexico desert, a
scorpion made its nest.
San Diego, California. 1969.
"He's alive, isn't he?"
St. John put the handlink in his pocket. "Hello, Samuel."
"Answer me, St. John. Albert Calavicci is alive, isn't he?"
Sam slammed his hand against the steering wheel of Dirk
Simon's car. "And I know him."
"No. Actually, you don't."
"Yes, I do. What happens to him?"
"He comes home to Beth, and they have a family. He resigns
his commission from the Navy to spend more time with them, and has
spent the last twenty five years working as a mechanic for Trans-
Southern Airways. Their youngest daughter is a rather gifted
physics graduate student at MIT."
"And you want me to destroy that?"
"Samuel, I want you to listen to me."
"Are you going to tell me the truth?"
"Yes." Sam nodded, and veered left onto the freeway. St.
John went on. "There has been a change in history. I can't tell
you the original history, but at the time Elizabeth Calavicci
claims she was visited by an angel, your chances of Leaping home
dropped to zero. Do you understand that, Samuel?"
"So it's them or me?" Sam asked.
"No, Samuel. It's them or *everything else.*" St. John took
out the handlink and started to play with the buttons, then shoved
it back into his pocket in disgust. "Something was changed in
history that was not meant to be changed. There has been a... a
rip in time. A paradox. You appear to have caused it by altering
the fate of the Calaviccis' marriage."
"Me? I never met them until yesterday."
"As you yourself pointed out, that is apparently not quite
Sam shook his head. "But my job is to make people's lives
better. How can I destroy Al's?"
"Your job," St. John corrected, "is to put right what once
went wrong. That is usually synonymous with mending broken hearts,
but not always. And not this time."
"It's not fair."
"No," St. John said regretfully. "It isn't fair. I wish it
could be fair. But some things must happen."
"Fires that forge?" Sam guessed.
"Yes," St. John said simply. "And what was forged in this
fire was a key, Samuel. Without it, a thousand doors will remain
Just for an instant, reality flickered away.
The walls of the house became transparent, the gentle sounds
of the world outside were stolen entirely. Beth reached
impulsively for Al, and he held her.
Then the world came back
"What was that?" Beth asked.
"It's changing, honey," Al said. "He's back there."
"Are you sure?"
"I almost remember."
"The other life... is it coming back?"
"Did you remarry?"
Al smirked, though he didn't feel at all amused by the
question. "I think I made an artform of it.
"Oh. Kids?" He didn't answer. "Al?"
"I don't remember yet," he said quietly. "Let's just hold
onto this life, before it disappears."
"Will you be sorry when it does?"
"We won't remember when it does."
He could hear the shouting from inside Beth's house before he
turned off the engine of Dirk's car. The words weren't clear, but
the tone was unmistakable.
There was a crash as something in the front room shattered,
then the door flew open and Ruthie backed out onto the porch.
"One of these days, you're gonna remember who you're really
married to!" she shouted inside. "If you ever knew in the first
The door slammed, barely missing Ruthie's face. Ruthie
stormed down the path, then stopped under the arbor, her self-
righteous denunciation fading into horror. She ran back to the
porch and pounded on the door. "I'm sorry, Beth. I lied. I made
it up. I was just mad. I was jealous... "
Very clearly, from the other side of the door, "Go away!"
"Did this happen before?" Sam asked.
St. John shook his head. "I'm not sure. The odds of Beth
Calavicci marrying Dirk Simon increased modestly in the last few
minutes. But you have to go inside. You have to do it before
Ruthie can find a way to make amends."
"Why is she so important?"
"Whatever you did was a catalyst," St. John explained. "You
let Beth start believing in her husband again. But, if the data
are at all demonstrative, it was Ruthie Minkin who kept that belief
alive. If she is removed from the scenario, the chances of your
success reach nearly fifty percent."
"You need to be there for Beth after Ruthie leaves."
Sam hesitated. "I can't do this, St. John."
"I wish there were another way. But there isn't."
"There has to be. This isn't fair."
(I think it's damn fair.)
"You've given him a gift, Samuel," St. John said, green eyes
fading into dark blue, then into brown. "A precious one. But one
which he cannot keep. He is willing to let go. Are you?"
Sam nodded, and got out of the car. He went to the door,
where Ruthie was still pounding her open palms against the window.
He took her hands. "What happened?"
"I lost my temper," she said. "I told her everything. What
have I done?"
"You made a mistake. Or maybe you did what you had to do."
"But -- "
"Let her cool down, Ruthie. I'll take care of it."
"I can't let you do that."
"Ruthie," Sam said, "go home. Let it go."
"I'm so tired... "
"I know you are. You've been doing something you hate for a
lot longer than the last few days, haven't you?"
"Then go home. I'll make sure you get your things."
"I don't care."
The door opened, and Beth looked out. "I'll send your
things," she said to Ruthie. "Just get off my property, before I
call the police." She took Sam's hand, and pulled him inside.
"I'm sorry you saw that," she said when she'd closed the door.
"I always knew... " And she started crying. It was a sudden
cloudburst, from behind her cool mask. "I knew they were together.
Al told me that. But I let it go. I loved him, Dirk. I did."
"I know you did."
"But he hurt me."
"And now he's gone. It was all for nothing. I... "
"Shh..." Sam put his arms around her instinctively, and she
held on to him tightly.
"The odds of the reparation of the Simons' marriage have gone
up to ninety-three percent," St. John said quietly.
Sam shook his head. He wanted to be anywhere but here -- but
he couldn't leave Beth alone like this.
"It was supposed to be perfect," she whispered. "Why couldn't
it be perfect?"
"I don't know."
"Ninety-seven percent," St. John said.
Sam closed his eyes, and held her tighter.
Charleston, South Carolina. 2000.
"It's close," Al said.
"I loved you, Beth. I still do."
"I loved you, too."
"It wasn't enough."
"No." Beth sighed. "When you get back to where you belong,
will you find me again?"
Al didn't answer.
The world was filled with blue-white light.
Project Quantum Leap at Stallion Springs, New Mexico. 2000.
The Door opened.
She ran to him, smelling of bubble gum, conditioner, and a
kind of sweet perfume that he had never known anyone else to wear.
"Oh, honey," she said. "I'm so glad you're here."
"Things just got, like... weird... when you went back in. But
everything's okay now. We found Sam."
Gushie looked up from behind the terminal. "Yeah. He's in
Boston, in 1990. There's a college kid in the Waiting Room. It
only took us a couple of minutes to find him this time."
"Nineteen-ninety, huh?" Al pulled a swatch of Tina's hair.
"Sounds like your generation. You want to do the honors?"
"Okay," she said. The tone of her voice told Al that she knew
he was sending her away, but she didn't refuse. He watched her
disappear down the corridor that led to the Waiting Room, then
turned back to Gushie. "How 'like, weird' did things get?"
Gushie shook his head, bewildered. "After Sam Leaped out
of '53, there was some kind of power surge. And then... " He threw
his hands in the air. "Something happened. I'll be damned if I
know what it was."
Al nodded. "Look, why don't you get some sleep? Tina and
Beeks and I will get started on the new Leap."
"Twist my arm," Gushie said dryly, and left.
Al looked at the gentle, starlight patterns of Ziggy's lights,
and thought of eyes that might have been brown, or might not have
been. He thought of a little girl, holding out her arms to him.
He thought of the smell of a memory under the light of the moon.
When you get back to where you belong, will you find me again?
But it was slipping away, and he wasn't sure he could get it
back. A part of him wasn't sure that he wanted to.
"Nothing," he said. "Let's get back to work."
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