Chapter Ten If 'Mac Forester' had stayed around any longer, Sam was sure he would have passed out from the swirl of emotions that raged through him. Sam had hinted to Alia about the Leaping effect, which had appeared to set her free after his last Leap with her, but she had no memory of it. So Lothos tracked her down again and purged whatever memory she had of it. He glanced into a mirror in the men's room right next to the snack machines, and scrutinized his host's features for the first time this Leap. Paddy stared back at him with his piercing blue eyes, and his pale face was framed with wavy strawberry-blond hair that grew about as long as Sam's. [Are you sure, Sam?] he thought. And then a chilling thought hit him: [I don't remember what I look like.] Yet his latest image also gave a certain measure of relief to him. It was his appearance only that shielded him from discovery by the evil Leapers. Dante watched the new Leaper with a mixture of fascination and sympathy as he gazed into the mirror at a reflection that was not his own. He realized how total the illusion seemed to anyone who was not specially linked to Sam by Ziggy or by the 'magnetic convergence field.' Until June and Sam had touched, there had been no doubt in his mind that 'Paddy O'Callaghan' was himself. Sam had indicated that his first Leap had been not of his own volition, or at least not his conscious wish, and it occurred to Dante that Beckett must be awfully lonely at times when he would look in the mirror and realize that he was no longer in his own body. He wondered what thoughts must run through the Leaper's mind. It looked to him that Sam had 'reached the end of his rope,' as June would put it. Sam turned away from the image in the mirror and nearly walked straight through Dante, but he didn't even notice, so caught up in thought he was. He dredged up snippets of memories from his earlier Leaps with Alia, and recalled an effort to shield her from Zoey. While it had failed ultimately, it had given Sam the time he'd needed to set Alia free. Suddenly he recalled that he when he had put Alia under hypnosis, he had left some kind of suggestion that would allow him to return her to her true identity. Perhaps he could use that 'trigger' in order to circumvent whatever brainwashing she had undergone. Unfortunately, he could not remember what the code word, and the rules of Quantum Leap specifically stated that Al could not reveal anything about Sam's past that he could not remember on his own. [What would I have said?] Sam asked himself, attempting to retrace his thought processes. [How would I have done it?] With luck, he could recover his memory that way. He closed his eyes in order to concentrate better. The memory he _did_ dredge up was not welcome at all. He had not been the one to assign the code word. It was Al. So there would be no retracing of thought processes with this one. He knew his friend well, and had an insight gained from several Leaps around and even into Al, but it was not enough, for Someone had Swiss-cheesed all but the barest outlines of these memories out of his mind for the duration of this Leap. And Al was not likely to be very willing to give him the code word from a previous Leap. Besides, there wasn't even any guarantee it would work, anyway. So he was back to Square One. Unfortunately, Sam wasn't the only one so deeply shaken this Leap. Al was disturbingly close to giving up on Beth . . . in his mind, at least. His entire heart shrieked in protest, and probably would continue to indefinitely. He could remember another timeline, although hazily, in which he had been married five times. He hadn't _really_ loved those women, not like he loved his Beth. That was the maddening thing about this. Albert Calavicci loved Beth dearly, even now, while she was rejecting him. His heart was inextricably bound to hers by a tie so deep that it ran beyond time, and now she was putting him through a mental wringer, and if this were anyone other than Beth, he'd say she didn't even care. Trudy Danielle, who had every bit of her father's determined, forceful personality (and his deep, dark eyes to convey it), probably thought she didn't. Worse, a message on the handlink had just warned Al that Ziggy was receiving an incoming call for him. "Tell whoever it is to write his complaints down on a piece of paper, put it in a bottle, and throw it out in the deepest ocean he can find," Al grumbled. "In the middle of a typhoon." "That would be counterproductive," replied Ziggy. She paused, ominously, Al thought. Al shivered. Sometimes she could be _too_ lifelike. "It is Senator Weitzman. He says it is urgent." Al sighed. "Put it through in here," he muttered. "Things are kind of critical around here, in case you haven't noticed. Just make sure Sam can't hear Weitzman's end of it, in case he comes to me. I don't want to scare him more than he already is." The handlink chirped with Ziggy's agreement. There was an audible click on the speakers as Ziggy switched the senator over to the Imaging Chamber. "Admiral Calavicci here." "This is Senator Weitzman. I'm calling to give you a bit of a heads-up; it looks like the Committee is about to call a surprise visit to the Project. This does not bode well, Admiral." Sometimes Al just couldn't decide whose side Weitzman was on, anyway. On one of Sam's first Leaps, he'd had Al temporarily fired over a minor infraction of the rules when he gave a Swiss- cheesed and frightened Sam his last name and a little personal information, and once when he helped Sam to change history and bring his wife back. In order to get his job back, he'd set Weitzman up with Tina and then blackmailed him. Al supposed Weitzman was still scared that he might find his encounter broadcasted nationwide if he didn't stay on Al's good side. Al just barely held back a sarcastic 'You're telling me,' and replied more neutrally. "It doesn't sound that way. Just how bad is it?" He wasn't sure if he really wanted to hear it, but if Weitzman was going to do him this small favor, he needed to know exactly what he was up against. "Well, let me put it this way. They want concrete proof that Dr. Beckett is actually Leaping around in time, and they expect it immediately when they arrive. That's not to say I don't want proof either, but from what little I can make out of Sam's theories, I understand that may be a difficult thing to conjure up at a moment's notice without irreparably damaging history. I don't think any of them ever bothered to read his paper," Weitzman complained, " . . . except maybe McBride, that is." Al thought the complaint sounded reasonably sincere. "All right," Al replied. "I'll tell you up front that you're right. There's not much we can do right now. And worse, it looks like Sam may be up against the evil project again." He'd been required to report that encounter to the Committee, which promptly had the file destroyed in hopes of preventing other evil time-travel projects from cropping up in the unlikely instance that someone discovered the file. He could hear Weitzman's involuntary gasp at the other end of the line. "I've taken all the precautions we can, because Sam was alerted to their presence first. They haven't spotted him at all. I've forbid physical contact between the two Leapers for now, so when Sam reveals himself, it'll be on _our_ terms this time. And we've also encountered yet another Leaper, but this one's paired up with Sam to help him accomplish his purpose. To put something right," he clarified, lest Weitzman become unnecessarily alarmed. Al paused for breath, and then summarized, "Do whatever you can to keep them from pulling the plug. Remember our little deal," Al said for the first time in five years. But he was desperate, and felt justified in doing it. He savored the mental image of Weitzman squirming at the words. "We'll have the place spit-and-polish by the time you get here, but it's up to you to hold off the dogs." "I'll do what I can," Weitzman answered, "but I don't know if it'll be enough. They're really serious this time. And . . . I wish Dr. Beckett luck. It sounds like he has, well, a lot to deal with on his end." Al snorted in disbelief. [That's putting it mildly,] he thought. There was a click at the other end as Weitzman hung up in his usual abrupt manner without even saying goodbye. First Beth, now the Committee. If they dared to cut him off from Sam, especially now when the Leaper needed him more than ever . . . and when _he_ needed Sam's support so much, what with Beth and all, then he swore he was going to wring every single one of their scrawny little necks, starting with Weitzman. Al let out an awful moan at everything that had conspired to happen all at once, kneeling and putting his head between his hands, as Sam wasn't around to see him this way. His ever-present, unlit Chivello cigar dropped out from between his fingers and rolled somewhere beyond his notice. At last the terrible heaving in his stomach overcame him and he ran desperately for the head before he retched all over the floor of the Imaging Chamber.