A PROJECT, SOMEWHERE, SOMETIME No matter how many times I do this, he thought, it never gets any easier. You would think after almost 30 years of planning--an entire lifetime of work, both for me and my father, we'd have found a better way to lock in on their brain waves. It just goes to show, I guess, how far ahead of his time Sam Beckett was. Even now, 10 years after we killed him (are going to kill him? Might kill him? -- sheesh, the English language simply isn't designed for fourth dimensional grammatics)--even now, his way is the only one that works. It really is a shame that he couldn't be turned. Had Alia done what she was supposed to do, we'd have the perfect agent for our plans. Instead, we've spent the last three years destroying his life and the life of everyone else who might have saved him...all just to make sure that he can't change anything else we want to do. He leaned backwards, stretching as he waited for word from the Control Room on the current state of events. The problem is, he thought, every leap we make to get rid of Dr. Beckett makes ripples in the time-stream. And every damn ripple seems to give him some way to continue surviving. It's as if God or Fate or hell, even Time itself, wants him to keep putting things right. God. We couldn't even stop him when we forced him to leap HERE and used the Imaging Chamber to fool him into thinking it was his BIRTHDAY. And that time, we even managed to steal his body right out from under his helpers' noses--all to help seal the idea that he had actually leaped into himself. All to force him to change the one thing Lothos predicted was left to change before Sam Beckett would be lost in time forever. And yet, even when we got rid of Sam's best friend, there was STILL another chance for him to be saved. Lothos had better be right this time. Sammy Jo had better be the last link to getting rid of Beckett. Or else there would be hell to pay. His Majesty Gingrich would not be pleased if we have to do any more tinkering--waking up and finding that Clinton's DNA was no longer on that dress was NOT a good way to keep the King from finding someone else to run this weapon. And losing one's job was not a good way to keep living. Only those with government jobs were even still allowed to vote or guaranteed housing. Sometimes, he thought, running the National Time Security Agency is more problematic than it's worth. "Colonel Hardin." His thoughts immediately re-focused on the course at hand as the voice came through the speakers in the Imaging Chamber. "Lothos," Hardin said to the air, "is Thames out of that hotel, finally?" "Yes, sir," Lothos replied. "He and the woman Tina are heading back towards Stallion's Gate." "Fantastic. Center me on him when he gets back there so I can continue observation. And send some nutrient paste through the suit mouthpiece. I'm starved." "At once, sir," Lothos answered. To most of those in this project, Lothos was something to be feared--and rightly so. With a wave of her electric hand, Lothos could kill a leaper or a hologram or torture them for days at hand. Colonel Hardin, however, was the Lead of the Project. Lothos worked for him. That Hardin had actually stepped into the Imaging Chamber was a sign of how important this leap actually was. Thames, of course, had no idea--he was already fraying, and giving him any more idea of how important he was would only make things worse. As the imaging chamber began it's customary swirl of images--Lothos re-orienting Colonel Hardin to the time and place of the leaper Thames--Hardin wished his father were here to see this. His father had been the one to learn of Quantum Leap, years before Dr. Beckett had actually started leaping--years before he'd even started building Project Quantum Leap. Beckett had been in the body of an older man--some UFO nut--and a truth serum that had been given to this nut to get him to talk about his UFO experiences had instead given his father a great deal more than he had asked for when he started. Hardin's father had then spent decades tracking Beckett down...only to die in the Iraq War of 2001 before he could finish funding or building his dream of mirroring Beckett's project. It was ironic, Hardin Jr. thought, to realize years later that the war happened because the father's son had made a mistake on one of his training leaps. Of course, the war had made the United States stronger, so the Project was forced to keep the leap as it had happened. He had killed his father, but he knew his father would understand the sacrifice. Over time, he had completed his father's work and finally they had their own version of Quantum Leap. A version directly controlled by the military at first, and then--after some leaps had made their version of the project even more secure--by the National Time Security Agency, of which he was the Director. It was a necessary job, and a necessary project. The world needed stability, and it needed the moral values and structure that he (and those behind him, such as Gingrich--once President and now King for life) could give it. There had been problems along the way, of course, and the end was not yet in sight. Growing pains were a given. Sure, the world was in a state of chaos now. There were problems, and crime, and a great many people were dying. But that's what happens when one is pushing for a greater destiny. And as soon as Dr. Beckett was destroyed--once and for all this time--they could turn their sights on fixing the rest of it. Changing time so that his team would win. So that all that had once gone wrong could be put right. The images that had been spinning around his head in the Imaging Chamber suddenly expanded, from a swirl to a fully three-dimensional hologram. Hardin smiled. He was standing not 40 feet away from where he was in real life. 40 feet, and easily 20 years. Time sure was a funny thing. STALLION'S GATE, NEW MEXICO DATE: April 2, 1999 "Alpha?" There was no response. Sammy Jo waited 5 seconds, all she could spare given the lack of time she had and asked again. "Alpha?" Sammy Jo wondered if Alpha had a way of turning on her listening sensors without the lights coming on. Once, Sammy Jo knew all of Alpha's operational commands. But that was before the government had come in--before the Army had taken over the project. When Alpha had a different name and Sam Beckett could be found in his office almost any time. Sammy Jo looked at her watch. The watch clicked past 08:30 to 08:29. That was all the time she had left. To hope that Alpha hadn't been reprogrammed. To hope that she had wired her device together correctly. To hope that she was right--and that Dr. Beckett could STILL be found in his office. His body, anyway. Sammy Jo stood from her desk and took the device to the computer interface near the front door. With a quick snap, she plugged her device into the data port on the side of the interface. These had been installed so that information could be entered into the computer from any interface in any office. You never knew when you'd have only moments to enter relevant data when you were dealing with a time travel experiment. Sammy Jo thanked Dr. Beckett without words as the interface came online. His resourcefulness and forethought might well be the only thing that saved him now. She checked the readout on the computer. Perfect. The data was streaming into the computer's database--and there was no indication that the security override alarm had been triggered. If this worked, Sammy Jo knew, Alpha would soon find that Sammy Jo had been given access to Dr. Beckett's office by order of the President, under Priority Only Top Secret clearance. That clearance the highest in the country, even beyond Highest Priority, and Alpha would not be able to let anyone else know that it the order had even been given. In fact, that level of security meant that Alpha had to erase any knowledge she had of the order after making whatever changes were necessary--meaning that she would have to put Sammy Jo's fingerprints on the 'access allowed' list of Dr. Beckett's door and then erase any knowledge she had as to why she had done so. If it worked, Alpha would know that Sammy Jo had access, and that it had been given officially, but not have any way of remembering HOW or WHY. If it didn't work, Sammy Jo would not survive the day. She wondered whether Alpha would have odds on that possibility. She wondered if she would want to know what they were if Alpha did. The interface beeped. Confirmation of the order was being sent to the White House. So far so good. Sammy Jo had already inserted that order into the White House's computer--a much easier job, surprisingly. For unbelievably enough, the White House's computer system was far less intelligent than Alpha. Far less secure, as well. It was a good thing Sammy Jo had found those hackers a few years earlier. The things they had done were amazing--and she had learned a tremendous amount. The interface beeped again. Confirmation had been returned. As Sammy Jo watched, Alpha re-wrote the access list to Samuel Beckett's office and then deleted the order from her memory. It was done. She could get into the office now. Part 1 of her plan was complete. Now all she had to do was set up a way to get into the office without any record appearing on the security cameras. Blazer, she whispered to herself, I owe you a tremendous debt. Your camera-loop virus was a stroke of genius. She typed in the commands to set the cameras for a 20 minute loop and hit the enter button. 'CAMERAS DISABLED' read the program. Sammy Jo glanced at her watch to see how much time she had left before Alpha turned the monitors back on in her office. 01:30...01:29... She quickly entered one last program, which would remove all traces of this interface's use during her time here. One couldn't be too careful these days. She glanced at the program as it listed the time to erase all connection usage. It read '01:24'. Her watch read '01:15'. She wasn't going to make it. When Alpha turned on the monitors again, she's see the interface. Sammy Jo would be caught. '01:00' read the program. '00:50' read her watch. Sammy Jo thought quickly. Then she did the only thing she could think of to do. She slapped her hand against the door to her office and stepped outside. Two doors down the corridor was the nearest fire alarm. Like all alarms in this over-secure base, it was both a pull-alarm and a heat sensor. Sammy Jo ran down the corridor to the door next to the alarm. It was the smoker's lounge--allowed only because smoking outside was a breach of security to the base. She slapped her hand against that door and found she couldn't breathe as she waited for the door to slide open. Her watch read '00:30'. Inside the room, there were ashtrays and a lingering stale smell of cigarettes that the air-filtration system could never get rid of no matter how many times the filter was replaced. She frantically searched the ashtrays for any matches or a lighter. SOMETHING she could use to start a fire. '00:20'. Finally she found one match, bent almost sideways in its book, the sulphur on the head almost gone. Someone had already tried to use this match. Sammy Jo grabbed it and ran out the door. As the door slid shut, she realized she had nothing for the match to burn even if it did light. '00:10'. She slapped her hand back against the smoking room door, knowing it was too late, knowing that everything she had worked for, all the time she had spent to save Dr. Beckett, was lost. She grabbed the match and lit it, hoping that the flame might be enough on the sensor. Her other hand futilely fell to her side. And hit the half-smoked cigar still in her pocket from yesterday. The cigar that should never have been there. Sammy Jo slammed her hand into the pocket, holding the match and thanking God or Fate or whatever that there were no drafts in this corridor. She held the cigar to her mouth and inhaled, willing herself to ignore her allergies, forcing herself not to cough as the cigar lit brightly from the match. The hand holding the cigar also wore her watch. It read '00:03'. She slammed the burning end of the cigar against the sensor and immediately an alarm burst through the facility. Soldiers were automatically called to grab fire extinguishers. The doors at the end of the corridor were automatically sealed to contain the fire. And to protect against any chance fire could damage the wiring of the computer and cause corruption to data, all power to the corridor and to the rooms whose exits opened onto the corridor that had been locked down were immediately cut off. Sammy Jo was plunged into darkness. Running as fast as she could, her hands trailing the wall to feel the doorways, Sammy Jo ran for her office. The door opened on its own, the security locks freed with the power down. As she leaped inside the doorway, Sammy Jo yanked her makeshift device off the interface and tore it into four pieces. Each piece went into a different desk drawer. She prayed that Alpha would remain focused on the fire as her programming would force her to do. Fire was one of the most dangerous disasters for a computer, and she had--at least once upon a time--been programmed to focus on that problem before all others. Thirty seconds was all she needed to erase any sign of the device. She got forty. Then the monitor came on. Sammy Jo glanced towards the interface and saw the words "Program Complete" on it. Her device had worked--there was no record she had touched that interface at all. "Alpha? What the hell was that alarm?" Sammy Jo made sure she sounded angry--and sleepy, as though she's been awakened from a nap. "If you had chosen to remain at your post," Alpha replied haughtily, "as you were ordered to do, you would be aware that there was a false alarm in the corridor outside your office." "A false alarm? What happened?" Sammy Jo suddenly realized that her actions would show on the tape. She'd done all that work for nothing. "It appears that the alarm simply malfunctioned. The security tapes were checked immediately and show no sign of anything occurring in the corridor." Sammy Jo was so surprised she almost started laughing. The tapes--of course--the cameras were on the 20 min-loop delay. Blazer's program was more effective than she'd thought. She promised herself the next time she tracked him down, she'd give him anything he wanted in return for his program. Even that date he'd begged her for each day he saw her. "Is everything under control now?" Sammy Jo forced herself to remain annoyed in tone. "Of course. I am far more efficient at such things that you are." "Then why don't you just do what you've wanted to do for years anyway, Alpha? Why don't you just stay in charge the rest of the night? That way you won't have to deal with someone as _inefficient_ as I am. I'll just play by myself here until 6:00 tomorrow morning." Sammy Jo kept her voice ironic, her tone arrogant and abusive. All the signals she knew would get Alpha to want to prove Sammy Jo wrong. "Since you have offered, Dr. I will return control to you at 6:00 am tomorrow. Assuming I have not found a better way to deal with you before then." Sammy Jo snapped out "Fine! You do that, Alpha. And leave me alone!" No matter how important it was to get Alpha to leave her alone, Sammy Jo was not happy at the way Alpha treated her. She was also aware that the commands she was making tonight would look terrible on her record if she failed. She only hoped that by the time she was done, this future would no longer exist and her record here would be irrelevant. "This conversation has been recorded and will go on your record," Alpha said, and Sammy Jo could swear she heard a gleeful tone as the computer seemed to read her mind. "Have a nice morning." The monitor snapped off. Sammy Jo knew she'd have to worry more about Alpha and the fact that Alpha now controlled the project before her plan was over. But right now, she'd gotten everything she wanted. Alpha was elsewhere, the cameras were turned off, and Sammy Jo had access to Dr. Beckett's office. She wasted no time and headed for the door. Outside, she glanced to see if anyone was still lingering around the alarm. No one. Taking a deep breath, Sammy Jo headed to the end of the corridor. She touched her palm to the pad outside his door. It slid open with a sigh. She entered.