Chapter Five The two Leapers met according to their plan, and right as June and Sam left Paddy's house, Al materialized in the backseat of the car, whistling loudly and lewdly. "I just cannot get over this girl," he admired. "You know, you get all the luck, Sam. She's beautiful, and what's more, she's a Leaper, to top it off. So you both know what you're getting into. As far as I can tell, you shouldn't have any moral qualms about-" "Al!" Sam interrupted, exasperated and grateful all at once for his true Observer's return. "Thank God you're back." "Al?" asked June. "I thought you said his name was Edward." The admiral raised an eyebrow at this one. "Well, Edward was temporarily filling in for Al. June, meet Al Calavicci." "I can't see him any more than I could see Edward," June replied. By now Al was thoroughly perplexed. "Sam, what is going on around here? Everyone's acting like I just got back from a vacation or something. You already introduced me to June back at the house. There's an introduction I can't forget, oh, baby, " "Al, please! Basically," explained Sam, "it looks like something temporarily altered the past so that you weren't there for awhile. I think it's connected to my last Leap. But I think things just got back to normal, at least, wait a minute, " Why was Al leching after June if he was married to Beth? Something was still wrong, Sam realized, between Al and Beth. June gave Sam a confused look. "Is something wrong, Sam?" Sam shook his head in an attempt to clear his mind. "I don't know. I think there may still be some loose ends somewhere in time, " "That's what we're here to do, aren't we?" asked June. With a glance out the window, she pointed out, "Hey, there's a nice-looking Italian restaurant over there, Antonio's. What do you think?" She began edging over into the right lane to turn. "Why not?" Right now Sam's stomach was rumbling and he realized he hadn't had a single bite to eat all day. What was more, Al could advise him as to what the best items on the menu would be. The pair of Leapers found a park and got out of the car. "Now as for dinner conversation," June suggested, "I would really to hear your story. I'd bet you have a really interesting one to tell." Sam laughed. "Not before you tell yours." "I see only one solution to this," replied June, a sparkle in her eyes. "It's a highly scientific, world-renouned method of solving indecision, got a quarter, Sam?" He fished one out of his jeans pocket, and handed it over. "You call it." "Heads." June tossed the quarter up in the air, caught it, and slapped it on her wrist. "Tails," she replied. "Looks like you're going first. But for now, I think we'd better get on the waiting list." "And speaking of that," Beckett replied just before they entered Antonio's, "we've got to remember to use our other names in public. Wouldn't do to have someone recognize me, well, my host, and then wonder why I'm calling myself Sam." A waitress approached Sam and June and put them on the list under the name 'O'Callaghan'. When they reached the table, Sam said, "Well, I promised to tell you my story. Al ought to fill me in on whatever I've forgotten." "Count on it," he replied with a wave of his ever-present cigar. "And I've got Ziggy running a background check on her to see if her story matches up with whatever records exist of her. Because I really hope a girl like that isn't in with Lothos." Sam didn't remember Lothos, but Al's tone made it clear that maybe he didn't want to. "So don't get _too_ detailed, Sam." He kept his voice low lest he be overheard by some unscrupulous individual, particularly a tabloid reporter, a variety Al had once described as sneaky, bloodthirsty little nozzles. He could see the headline now: 'Rock Star Claims To Be Time Traveler!' After a second he figured out where to begin. "Well, you may have recognized my name earlier because I'm a quantum physicist. I had a theory that I could travel within my own lifetime if you compared my life to a string, which begins in birth and ends in death. If you could take that string and ball it up so that every moment touched every other, then I could travel within my own lifetime. I built the Quantum Leap Accelerator for that purpose, and a parallel-hybrid supercomputer named Ziggy in order to give me the probabilities I need. What's more, as far as we can tell, she appears to be self-aware." At that the handlink squealed indignantly. "I think she is," Sam amended. "But by the time the Project was nearly completed, I was in danger of losing my funding." "Who was funding you?" Al was shaking his head in warning. Sam noticed the flashing band around his fedora, which bore quite a resemblance to Christmas lights. "I can't remember," Sam lied. "I can understand where they were coming from. I mean, to someone who isn't familiar with the theories, it would seem like a really outlandish idea. My backers wanted results, and they came to visit the Project in preparation to shut it down. To prove the Project's worth to the committee, I stepped into the Accelerator ahead of time. The retrieval program was incomplete, and what I had written was probably severely flawed. Apparently Someone decided that I'd volunteered myself for this job, and here I am. I just hope I get to go home someday." "What about Al?" "Our Project is located somewhere in the future, at least it's the future from our perspective. Al doesn't travel through time, except once or twice by accident. He's linked to me by Ziggy and appears as a neural hologram. Only I can see and hear him." With a wicked grin, Sam finished, "I believe it's your turn, June." June glanced over to the side, where Sam assumed her Observer was accompanying her. "It looks like you did things a whole lot differently than I did. It's hard for me to believe that you accomplished with science what I did through faith. I was born in 1967 and raised in a very poor neighborhood. My father died when I was two and my mother worked two jobs to support me and my little sisters Lisanne and Phoebe. And as you can probably imagine, the schools weren't exactly the best. To be honest, I don't think the teachers knew what to do with me." Al interrupted, "School records give her IQ as 198. That's almost as impressive as yours, Sam. Consider yourself lucky for the circumstances you were raised under. Because this sounds like a really, really familiar story." Al's childhood had been equally painful, if not worse in some aspects. "They barely bothered to teach the other kids; I think they'd stopped believing they could do anything to change the way things were. I made up for a lot of that in the library. There was one stroke of luck. I could have moved into that place. I'm sure you can understand that I wanted very badly to get out of my neighborhood, and I got several scholarship offers, but I had to stay and work because it was right about then Mom got fired from one of her jobs." Sam was confused. "How did you get started Leaping?" "One night, I think it was on my eighteenth birthday, May 26th, 1985." "Ziggy says all of the data on her pretty much goes blooie at that point," Al confirmed. "I think she's telling the truth, at least about _when_ she Leaped." "I just felt like my life was going nowhere. I prayed that something could be done; I wanted to _change_ things. Not my own history, mind you, although the thought did cross my mind in a selfish moment or two. I thought I could do so much more if I was given the chance. And then I saw a light of out of the corner of my eyes and this Voice spoke to me, and offered me a way to change things. And then the light surrounded me and whisked me away elsewhere. I've been Leaping for, four or five years now. Sometimes I Leap out of my own lifetime, but never so far back that I can't handle it." "Don't you ever miss your home?" June nodded. "Sometimes, especially once when I Leaped into myself, at least I _think_ I did; my memory's awfully shaky. But most of the time, I have very few regrets about what I did. I have a promise from God or Time or Fate or Whoever that everything's being taken care of back home." "So who's your Observer?" "You're not going to believe me," she answered. Sam raised an eyebrow in challenge. "Try me." "Dante Alighieri." Beckett was surprised at first, but from all appearances, it looked like June was dealing a lot more closely with the force controlling the Leaps (she seemed a bit more willing than he). It made sense that her Observer might be a little more, spiritual, in nature. "You mean the Dante who wrote 'The Divine Comedy'? How does he get the information you need if he doesn't have, well, all of the resources available to him that Al does?" June paused for a few seconds, listening to a voice that Sam could not hear. "The best he can explain it to me is that he has visions that tell him what I need to do, but because he's here with me in this world for the duration of my Leaps, the information he receives often becomes jumbled and incomplete. Most of the basic stuff about wherever I've arrived, the date, my name, where I am, and so on, comes easily to him, but it gets a lot more difficult for him when it gets more complicated, like _why_ I've Leaped somewhere or what I need to do. That can make for a very interesting Leap every so often! Right now, Dante hasn't got the slightest idea why I'm here. I know you're trying," June said, apparently addressing the invisible Observer, "but maybe Sam can help." "As a matter of fact," replied Sam, "I have a pretty good idea of why I'm here. Maybe you're supposed to help me." He quickly outlined the details of James Westhall's impending death and the terrible impact it was going to have on Overdrive if the Leapers couldn't do anything to stop it. June carefully considered everything that Sam told her. "Dante says that he saw you in his vision, but he didn't know who you were until that flash when we touched. He thinks we are supposed to work together on this Leap. But what really bothers me is this," she said. "For the whole time I've been Leaping, I've never been paired up with another Leaper, at least one who's on my side. And with Dante's particular trouble with interpreting his visions this Leap, I get the distinct feeling something major is going to happen. What kind of situation could be so bad that it requires _two_ Leapers?" That was not a situation Sam Beckett wanted to think about.