CHAPTER 1: PROJECT QUANTUM LEAP, STALLION'S GATE, NEW MEXICO Date: April 1,1999 She watched, stunned, at what was happening. Well, she didn't actually WATCH--she'd never had eyes to see. And she wasn't capable of being stunned in any other sense than knowing that the word meant 'as if not being able to move'. Then again, she supposed she WAS stunned, all the time. After all, she was about 300 feet long, and several thousand pounds heavy. Sam would have called her a 'big, beautiful lady' if he were home again. But he wasn't, and it looked more and more like he never would be. Al and Donna believed differently--but they weren't watching what she was (sensing electronically would be a better way to define her ability, but she had far too big an ego to admit to any weakness). Even worse, they couldn't calculate percentages as she did. Ziggy was terrified that she was watching Sam Beckett, her creator and father (again, metaphorically), disappear once and for all. She began to devote a great deal of processing ability to the problem... "Dammit, Gushie--get her back online NOW!" Al stormed around Project Quantum Leap's Control Room again, having paced the entire floor easily twenty or thirty times. "I don't care what you have to do, but get me the FUCK back to Sam!" Gushie looked up, stunned himself, at Al's use of profanity. Never had he heard Al use anything that strong, not in five years of watching Sam leap from bad to worse. And there was nothing Gushie could do to help Al, Sam, or the situation. Everything checked out--there was nothing wrong with Ziggy's programming. But for some reason they couldn't get her to respond to them--not verbally, not through the monitor. There was only silence. And without Ziggy answering, the door to the Imaging Chamber wouldn't open. Without Ziggy, Al couldn't get back to Sam at all. Gushie just didn't know what to do. He opened his mouth to say so. "Don't even THINK about telling me you don't know what to do, Gushie." Al's head whipped around, the cigar in his hand literally being crunched in two as Al leaned over the computer table. The burning end rolled slowly towards the edge. "Sam is in real trouble. Not our usual trouble either. Something is really different this time. You know how hard it was getting a lock on him earlier in this leap?" Gushie nodded, trying to understand Al's desperation. "I was the one who knew the answer, right? I knew it was his birthday, right? RIGHT?" Gushie nodded faster. "Well, I know what's going on here, too. Sam's someplace he's not supposed to be. Don't you get it? Sam's someplace WRONG, and they've tricked him and tricked me and he's being told a lie!" Al slammed his hand against the table, knocking the burning cigar end off the edge. It dropped to the floor with a hiss and rolled underneath the table. "But Admiral..." Gushie paused, confusion plastered across his face. "What are you talking about? WHO's tricked you? How can you tell something's wrong?" "I can tell, Gushie." Al's face was bleak, as if the future were already decided and the end was going to be one of grief. A decidedly strange reaction in a project where the entire point was that the future was never a written event. Gushie looked at Al for a long second, becoming--if possible--even more scared. "I'm sorry, Admiral," he said, "...I don't know what else I can do." Gushie watched as Al's face started to go red. Gushie had no idea what was coming, but he knew he was going to see Al angrier than he had ever believed he could be. He closed his eyes, praying for a miracle. "Admiral Calavicci--Gushie." The female voice came from everywhere at once. Ziggy's processing devoted a small portion to speaking finally, still trying to understand exactly what she had sensed from her creator when he was speaking to the bartender...who was apparently God. All she was sure was that Sam had chosen to fix something else. And that he was about to go there to do it. The odds of losing him had just jumped another 10 percent. "ZIGGY!" Al screamed. "Thank God! Open the Imaging Door NOW!" He ran for the door, hope lighting his eyes as he went to save his friend one more time. He reached the door and nearly ran into it, expecting it to already have opened for him. "Ziggy," he called out, "if you get temperamental on me right now I swear to God I will replace your ego with that of Michael Bolton. Now don't cross me--just open the damn door!" "I'm sorry, Admiral. I cannot." Gushie stared all over again, quite sure he heard tears in the computer-generated voice. "Sam Beckett has just leaped. I will have to re-locate him." Al turned around, shaking his head as he slumped against the gleaming, blue metal door. "He can't have leaped. He can't have. That means he fell for it. Oh, Sam...you're wrong this time." Al's voice rose, as he spoke to the ether, his voice trying to reach his friend through time and space and whatever caused the leaps. "Sam--you can't see it. You wanted the answers so many times, and when they gave them, you leaped for them, just like you've leaped every other time." Al's face was streaming tears. Gushie stood there, unable to understand the situation, but wishing he could find some way to help. "Sam," Al whispered softly, "he wasn't God. GOD IS NOT A BARTENDER!" Al's body began shaking, sobs overcoming him. Gushie wondered what that comment could possibly mean. A LEAP, SOMEWHERE, SOMETIME "I'm going to tell you a story," Sam Beckett said. The woman he was talking to, Beth, was the Admiral's wife. Ziggy watched as she always did, timelines changing with every word her creator spoke. Just once, she wanted to be able to interact with him. Just once, she wanted to let him know she was THERE, all the time, RIGHT BESIDE HIM. But interacting with the past was impossible for her--except through Al, who was so frustrating sometimes and who had a tendecy to abuse her equipment. Al thought it was hard for HIM to watch Sam, unable to help him in any physical way. It was worse, still, for her--she could not even whisper to the man who had created her. It was so upsetting that sometimes she wished she were dead, or deprogrammed, or memory erased or whatever it was that would kill her awareness. Sometimes she wished she's stopped Sam from leaping, whatever it would have taken. Sometimes she thought the only way she could had stopped him would have been to kill him before he started--or during that first terrible leap. Ziggy spent a great deal of time thinking of different theories. Sam had created her that way. "Al's alive, Beth. And he's coming home." Sam sat down next to Beth, and took her hands. She began to cry as Sam changed history one more time, saving his best friend's marriage as he couldn't do before. Ziggy was proud of him, as she always was, proud of the way her father gave himself selflessly over and over again. What he forgot--what he was never allowed to remember--was that people in the future needed him too. He was never allowed to remember Donna, had forgotten Sammy Jo as well. The past needed him to fix it--but the future needed him as well. The future needed him more than anyone else knew. Anyone except her. For she had looked into FUTURE years of Sam Beckett's lifetime as well. That was one of the few perks of being connected this way. She'd never told anyone what she saw there--doing so had a 98% chance of making it worse--but she was quite aware that without Sam coming home, Project Quantum Leap, his wife, his daughter and nearly everyone he loved were all in grave danger. If Sam didn't come home, the world was doomed. Of course, Ziggy suddenly realized, perhaps that was why God had materialized for Sam--so that he would be ready to come home when things went bad, so that he had the ability and the knowledge to return to the future and stop the destruction she saw there. Maybe she shouldn't be worried about this leap at all. That didn't change the amount of processing speed she was spending trying to understand why the chance of losing Sam's signal in time forever had just risen to 96%. Beth closed her eyes, tears streaming from them as Sam spoke to her. "Al's going to be here in no time at all," he said. "All you have to do is believe." Beth laughed, suddenly, her face smiling as if her life depended on it. Ziggy tried once more to reach through, to tell Sam that it was HE who's life depended on this--that by telling Beth the truth, he had added nearly 22% total to the chance that Ziggy would no longer be able to find him in time. As always, it wasn't enough. It was time to alert Al to what was happening, she decided--even if it made it worse, he had to do something. She turned on her microphones in the future--and heard Al screaming about a mistake, about someone lying and tricking him. Could that be? Ziggy had forgotten to check that possibility--she had believed as Sam had, that the bartender was the person--Time, Fate, God, whatever--responsible for Sam's leaping through time. She ran a quick calculation, and the answer terrified her. The percentage for the idea that Sam had been tricked matched the percentage for losing Sam's signal in time--exactly. And both numbers were less that 2 percent from 100. Even with her ego, she realized she might well have made a costly mistake. PROJECT QUANTUM LEAP, STALLION'S GATE, NEW MEXICO Date: April 1, 1999 "Admiral--I am opening the Imaging Door." Al looked up, startled, as Ziggy's voice reappeared. "You are correct in your thoughts--Sam has been tricked. I am not sure how or why, but you must tell Sam this and you must do it now." Al leaped to his feet, heading for the door. "Admiral--before you go in, however, there is something you need to know." "Forget it, Ziggy--just open the door." Al looked taller, now, as his chance to save Sam was regained. "Admiral--Sam is talking to Beth right now. He's saving your marriage this time." Al looked blank, then stunned. "I felt you should be ready for the situation." The door began to open. Al squared his shoulders. A LEAP, SOMEWHERE, SOMETIME Ziggy watched Sam kiss Beth on the cheek. Beth was denying his reality, afraid it was a dream somehow. Ziggy knew how she felt--she too was afraid this was a dream, even though she'd never experienced one before. She knew the definition of a nightmare, however, and this certainly fit such definition perfectly. 98.9 percent and rising. Ziggy hoped she hadn't taken too long warning Al. PROJECT QUANTUM LEAP, STALLION'S GATE, NEW MEXICO Date: April 1, 1999 Al watched the door rising impatiently. WHY was it moving so slowly? Al had never in his life been this scared about Sam. When the shock treatment in one leap had split Sam's mind, Al was terrified. This feeling inside him was a million times worse. If he didn't get in that room, Sam was going to die. Al could just feel it. He couldn't explain why or how--but he knew that everything that had happened to Sam since leaping into his birthday had been a sham. Al couldn't understand his gut reactions, but he had always trusted them in the past, and he wasn't about to change that pattern now. The door opened, and Al stepped inside. A LEAP, SOMEWHERE, SOMETIME Sam Beckett felt the softness of Beth's cheek as he kissed her. He was glad for what he was doing, so glad he could finally give Al his wife back. It was wrong that he hadn't done it before. He could have, if he had tried hard enough. He knew that, now. After all, God had told him. Beth smiled at him, and started to say something. At that moment, however, all hell broke loose. Her face distorted, warped, melted into something else. Sam blanched, fear racing through him. He'd seen this happen before. It happened any time he touched another leaper. He started to react, only to feel something else happen he recognized. No, Sam thought desperately, God, No! Sam panicked, trying to stop it long enough for him to understand what was happening here. But as always, he had no control. Sam Beckett was leaping. The other leaper, a black man who reminded Sam of Al somehow, began to laugh. And then Sam saw nothing else but blue. PROJECT QUANTUM LEAP, STALLION'S GATE, NEW MEXICO Date: April 1, 1999 Ziggy screamed, internally and through every speaker in Project Quantum Leap. In her head, she watched the percentage: it read 100 percent. And it was not changing. She had lost Sam Beckett. Al Calavicci closed his eyes as the images began to circle around him. He was saving Sam and then devoting himself to getting him home. This was not something he was going to stand for any longer--regardless of what some con artist God wanna-be tried to tell Sam. Nothing would stop Al--not God or Fate or Time or any other damn thing. And that was when he felt it. Deep inside, something went wrong. He could tell, without a doubt, that Sam had made the mistake. He had done what he shouldn't--had changed what was not supposed to change. He had failed. Al had also failed. When he best friend needed him most, he had failed to be there. Sam Beckett had died alone, forever, without seeing those he loved. And Al knew exactly what that felt like--lost, alone, and with no hope of ever coming home. "Honey? Have you put the burgers on the grill yet?" Al opened his eyes and saw his wife, Beth, coming out the back door of their suburban house. "Oh, honey," Beth chuckled. "You didn't fall asleep AGAIN, did you?" She grinned as she walked over to the grill. "I swear, you're getting to be a complete log in your later years. Well, at least the charcoal's still going hot. Come on, dear, let's get ready for the kids." Al got up from the hammock, and stretched. Man, he had fallen asleep hard. He'd had some really strange dream, too. Something about a man named...Beckett? "What about Beckett, dear?" Beth looked at Al curiously. Al realized he had said the name aloud. "Oh, nothing, really," he muttered. "I just had this dream about a man named Sam Beckett." "How funny! You dreamt about an existential playwright." Beth grabbed Al's hands and lifted them to the sky. "My husband, friend to the greats in his dreams." She giggled, and he joined in, stepping close to his wife of so many years. She wriggled gently against him, and he smiled. "How long do burgers take?" he said softly. She turned and kissed him on the mouth, her tongue slipping inside. Around their kiss, she murmured, "Long enough." Then they spoke no more. PROJECT REVISION, STALLION'S GATE, NEW MEXICO Sammy Jo Fuller watched, interested, at the computer monitor before her. Just minutes ago, there had been a spike in the data, a huge change in the timelines that this project devoted itself to fixing. Far larger than any of the revisions they were currently doing should have caused. She turned to her supervisor, a man named Gushie. She hated talking to him at all, because of the terrible breath he always had. "Gushie? Could you come look at this, please?" Gushie came over and Sammy Jo showed him the spike in the data. "Interesting," was all he said. Man, she hated him. Not only did his breath smell, but he was a complete and total nozzle as well. "You will vacate your seat while I examine this," he said to her. "I am sure that you have calculated the information incorrectly." He practically shoved her out of her seat, pushing her with his hands. She stumbled and almost fell over, her head dropping below the computer table here in the Control Room. That was when she noticed something very interesting. Underneath the table was a cigar end, burning brightly. This was a non-smoking facility...so where did that come from? And why hadn't she smelled the smoke--she was allergic to smoke, and always knew when it was around her. Was it part of the change--part of the spike in the timeline she had just read on the monitor? How could that possibly be? Intrigued beyond herself, she grabbed the cigar and quickly doused it in a coffee cup full of water she always had with her. She looked to see if Gushie had seen it, but apparently he was too engrossed in the data. Trying to think how she could research the timeline implications of a burning cigar, Sammy Jo Fuller pocketed the enigma, and walked out the door for a break. It was too hard for her to watch Gushie. Because if for some reason she HAD miscalculated data, it would hurt her chances. That was something she didn't need. Not when she was about to solve the biggest mystery of all time and save the world in the process.