CHAPTER 5 PROJECT REVISION, STALLION'S GATE, NEW MEXICO Date: April 2, 1999 "Samantha Fuller, report to Central Programming immediately. Samantha Fuller, report to Central Programming." The voice was came both quietly from the speaker in her room and also loud as it boomed throughout the Project and it startled Sammy Jo out of sleeping so quickly that she snapped into a sitting position. Unfortunately, she had turned in her sleep, and the snap upright overbalanced her right off the bed, leaving Sammy Jo in a tangle of sheets and comforters on the cold steel floor. "Shoot, Alpha!" Sammy Jo cursed, her voice muffled by the fabrics as she attempted to extract her limbs and head from the mass. "There are IMPLANTS in each and every one of us. You know exactly where not only I but also 679 other members of this project are at all times. There is absolutely no need for you to bellow my name across the entire complex!" "I am aware of the implants." Alpha's voice was, as always, without emotion. "I was aware that you were in your room, and of the fourteen different nightmares you experienced last night." Sammy Jo winced. The sheets were drenched with sweat due to those nightmares, as they were more nights than not. But now wasn't the time to let Alpha distract her. "If you KNOW all that," Sammy Jo growled as she finally got her head free, "then why did you still--" "Why did I announce that you are needed to the entire project?" Alpha cut Sammy Jo off. "I wished Gooshie and Tina to know that you have overslept today, the first time you have ever been given the opportunity to be in charge of my programming and, by extension, Project Revision's day to day performance." There was a pause as if Alpha were letting her decision sink in for Sammy Jo. Then, Alpha spoke up once more. "I do not believe you capable of handling me or this Project, and I wished them to understand my worries." Sammy Jo finally managed to get out of her sheets, her anger at Alpha's consistent ability to be ruthlessly self-aware giving her the power to rip the sheet entangling her left arm. "You tattled on me? Is that what you're saying?" Alpha's voice betrayed no emotion in her response. "It seemed a wise choice. It has a 65% chance of succeeding." "Over my dead body," Sammy Jo snarled and grabbed for the closest clothes in her room. Yanking jeans up and over her hips and snatching a baseball cap for her long, black hair, Sammy Jo dashed out the door. As it swung shut, Alpha remarked quietly, "The odds on that happening are actually higher than you know, Ms. Fuller." In the recesses of its memory banks, Alpha was far more worried than it had let on. Far more worried, indeed. Her predictions listed a 96.9% chance that Sammy Jo Fuller would be dead before the weekend was out. And Alpha had no idea why. PHOENIX, ARIZONA Date: April 2, 1999 Al Calavicci sat on the front porch of his ranch estate home and watched as his daughters practiced basketball. His head tilted slightly, amused, as he watched them constantly striving to get more and more reach with their shots. He laughed softly to himself. Two of the four daughters were already playing in school, and one of the last two was trying out the coming fall. Beth constantly growled to her husband that it was HIS fault they were all so determined to play sports. She said his lasting depression over never having any boys had influenced the girls into trying to be masculine in their pursuits. Their youngest daughter, Leigh, played harder than any of the other girls. But basketball wasn't what she wanted to do when she reached junior and senior high school. At the tender age of 7, she already knew that she intended to be Head Cheerleader. Beth said that was HER influence, finally winning out. Al chuckled again. God knows Beth had been pretty enough to be Head Cheerleader. If only it hadn't been for that nozzle Gregory Bolt Beth had told him all about how Bolt, the school's bully, had tripped her as she was stepping out onto the field for her try-outs. It was a trip that caused her to break her knee so badly she'd never been able to stand up to the grueling gymnastics that were a cheerleader's life. She told that story so many times Al felt as though he'd actually been there, standing right beside her, like a ghost or a …a hologram, watching the past as it unfolded in front of him. When was that, Al suddenly wondered? What year did Beth's accident happen in, anyway? While Al's memories (or rather, the dreams that seemed like memories) had been scaring him silly the past four days or so, he had never forgotten a date in his life. It was something he prided himself on being able to remember. It was Beth's first year in high school, so she'd have been 14-no, 15. In the late 50's, of course, just as it was with Al. It must have been '58. No, '59. That's right--it was 1959. Right after Beth divorced Al to marry someone else. Al sat straight up in his chair, his lemonade flying off his lap and shattering on the planks of the porch. DIVORCED? What in the bloody hell was he talking about? In 1959, they'd not even MET, much less been married-and they'd never been divorced at all! Al, buddy, you gotta shake this whole lapsing fake memory thing, Al warned himself. Someone's going to think you've gone a little kaka. And yet, it was there, suddenly, in his mind. He had been a prisoner of war in Vietnam. It had taken years for him to get out, and the only thing that had kept him going was the love he felt for Beth. When he was finally released, the eternity of his flight home had seemed longer than the entire time in the camps…all because he wanted to see Beth so very badly. And then, when he had finally seen her…there had been another man there. She had cried, and he had been stoic and reserved (never show them your tears), and he'd learned that she had declared him dead, and married another man. It was the entire reason Al couldn't be faithful to the women he married after that. "SHUT UP! THAT NEVER HAPPENED!" Al didn't even realize he had spoken aloud, much less screamed, until his daughters turned to him, confused and a little worried. Al raised a hand quickly, waving to them and plastering what seemed like the world's most disgusting grin on his face. THAT did NOT happen, he repeated to his mind. I returned home, and Beth was there-ALONE. She was crying, yes. Because she LOVED me. Not because she had married someone else. Had she done that-had she actually done what you're telling me she did-it would have been the end of me. Without Beth, I'd have been nothing, and I'd have destroyed myself. I didn't, because she didn't leave. So whatever that memory is, it's an illusion. A crock. It CANNOT be anything but a momentary vision-an alternate reality glitch maybe-but there is no truth to it. THIS is the version I lived, and I am as happy as can be here. Beth appeared at the door, her voice as lovely as ever when she asked if anything was wrong. "No, no, honey," Al quickly said, smiling again with just as little desire to do so. "I just dropped a glass of lemonade." And apparently created an entire false memory of you divorcing me and marrying someone else, he added to himself. Other than that, everything's just peachy keen. "Then why were you yelling 'That never happened', honey?" Beth moved to pick up the shattered glass shards, her tone light and amused. But Al was smarter than that, and he watched her as she turned away. There was a look in her eyes, one that Al knew from his days in the camps of Vietnam. It was the look you gave a man who was losing control-a man you were afraid might snap at any moment. She can see it, he thought. She knows something's wrong…and it's wrong enough that it's worrying her. I can't let that happen. Al Calavicci, it's time you admitted something is happening. It's time you got help. "Beth?" Al's voice was quiet as he leaned forward in his seat. When she turned back, he patted his knee for her to come over. "Beth…there's something we need to talk about." She nodded, the look on her face getting more worried by the moment. Al noted it, and wondered to himself what she was worried he was going to say. If you wanted to be paranoid, Al-his inner voice told him-it could be that your memory of her leaving is TRUE and the rest of this is just a dream. Or an experiment. Maybe you never even left Vietnam and the rest of this is caused by drugs. And maybe she's afraid you're developing resistance to them. Maybe, the voice whispered, she's worried because she knows you know the truth. SHUT UP, I SAID, Al demanded mentally. As you wish, his darker side answered, just as it had all of those years in Vietnam. Those years when despair tried to make him give up, when Vietnamese soldiers tried to wear him down. When life seemed to want him dead and this was the voice that said it sure would be easier than fighting back. Al hadn't let it win then, and he wasn't about to start now. "Beth…you know the nightmares I have been having?" She nodded. "The ones about Sam." Al nodded as well, while in his head he saw hair…brown with a streak of gray. I think that's what he looks like, he thought. "Well, they have been getting more pronounced, honey. They're getting worse, and I'm…I'm starting to have them even when I'm awake." She nodded again. "I could tell. Especially when last night you screamed in your sleep." Al blanched, with no memory of having done so. "What did I scream? Did I say anything coherent?" Beth's face scrunched up in the cute way she had of trying to remember. It was one of the things Al loved most about her. One of the things he couldn't live without. "It was hard to make out most of it. But I do remember you saying 'Tell him to stop! It's not ready!' Do you have any idea what that was about?" Al shook his head, mechanically. Inside, he saw a mountain range in the desert. He saw an elevator in a shed. He saw a security checkpoint. And he saw something that looked like a giant LEGO. "Did…Did I say anything else?" Beth touched his face gently, trying to comfort him. "Nothing that made any sense. Just the words "He's leaping." Al slammed his eyes shut, knowing that the fear those words caused him would show on his face just as clearly as her worry had shown to him. Very carefully, very quietly, making sure to sound calm, Al said, "Well, the nightmares are getting too much to take, Beth. I am going to make an appointment with Dr. Gyore and see if he can help me find a way to stop them." Again, Al felt his wife's (not true, never true, the dark whispered) hand caress his cheek. "If that's what's made you so jumpy, darling, then please do. I have to admit I was worried, myself. But not over the nightmares. I thought they were an indication of something worse." "Worse?" Al's eyes opened and he looked up at his wife's brilliant blue eyes. "What on earth did you think was wrong?" Beth couldn't help it. She began to giggle softly. "Believe it or not, I was worried that you'd been having an affair. I thought the nightmares were from the guilt over it." "An affair?" Al was genuinely shocked, but started laughing at how ridiculous that was as well. He rubbed his eyes, and kissed his wife, and wrapped her tight in his arms as he sighed, "An affair. Oh, boy." A PLACE, SOMEWHERE, SOMETIME The patient slept. Verbeena Beeks looked through the window and Observed the woman as she rested. Beeks had been having trouble sleeping--nightmares again. Sometimes Beeks was able to take care of the dreams with pills, and sometimes she chose to stay awake instead--there were always things a single, attractive black woman could do if she put her mind to it. Especially if she was willing to give a little pain in the process. Or take a little. Sometimes, however, the dreams were too severe. A side effect of the revision process, The Computer had explained when she asked about it. When timelines shifted, sometimes the effects weren't complete for several days--and those who were connected to this Project felt them for far longer than anyone else. This time, the dreams had been monstrous. Huge, devastating creatures had haunted her through the night, desperately trying to eviscerate or violate her as repayment for the sins she had inflicted on the souls in the Waiting Room. The dreams were not something she was willing to go back to tonight. They were also NOT something she was going to let get to her. She was stronger than anything her subconscious could throw at her, more powerful than any ripple in time could ever be. She'd show those dreams who was boss. The easiest and strongest way to do that was to commit yet another sin. It was time to kill again. She pulled out her ID card and unlocked the door to the Waiting Room. Before it opened, however, she whispered to the computer. "Silent open, please. I wish to take readings from our guest." The computer complied, as even what Beeks liked to do in her spare time was interesting for its data. Beeks looked down at the syringe in her hand. One injection and the body in the Waiting Room would die a slow and torturous death-without leaving any residue for autopsies to find. What a brilliant thing it was she'd dated that pharmacist. She wondered if they'd ever located his body. Beeks twitched, anticipation already running high, as it always did when she killed a Waiting Room body. Sure, that locked the leaper into the body of the past, and killed the aura of the person who was leaped here. But it was always possible to fool the leaper into finishing the revision before they leaned of it, and after that who cared? The computer always replaced the visual logs of her kills with clean footage--both she and the computer enjoyed discussing them in detail, frame-by-frame, in Beeks' days off. So that was covered. There was really no reason NOT to kill this body. She remembered Donna Beckett-the woman had been a mousy, stuck-up snob. Destroying her aura would be a welcome relief-it might even change the past to one where the woman was dead even FASTER and out of everyone's way. And besides, it locked the current leaper in the past. That pleased Beeks even more. As the door to the Waiting Room slid silently shut, Beeks turned towards the guest and smiled to herself. Yes, she thought, that pleases me most of all. I never DID like Sammy Jo Fuller.