"Basis of Control" pt. IX October, 1999 Santa Fe, NM By the time Dave got to Project Quantum Leap, Al's daughters were just leaving. He didn't know exactly what he was intending to do, but as he drove, a plan began to form in his mind. His two daughters had been killed as a result of a change Dr. Sam Beckett had made. They'd been having trouble with the car, he and Miriam. The brakes hadn't been safe since the day they'd driven the car off the lot. He hadn't even been in the car during the accident - Miriam was driving - but he'd been the one to take it to the mechanic the day before at her urging to make sure everything was in shape. A mechanic Dr. Beckett had saved from certain death several years before. But he didn't know that; how could he? Senator Bartlett had told him that later, back when the psychiatrist had been telling him and Miriam that no one was to blame, that it was a tragedy. That that was the definition of "accident". It was only an accident that the brakes failed, they said. But it was no accident, he was sure of it. Dave had never bought that explanation and, with the findings of Bartlett, he was proven correct. Andrew Bartlett and Dave Tucker had been close friends for years. The man had even been at the funeral for his daughters. When Admiral Calavicci made his last report to the committee, what the senator had discovered was privileged information. Bartlett shared it with Dave anyway. And Dave didn't care what anyone said: Admiral Calavicci was _not_ a scapegoat. That implied he was innocent. He followed the car all the way from the project into the heart of the city, from place to place. Apparently, the admiral's daughters had some heavy-duty shopping to accomplish. Eventually, they stopped in a large, nearly empty lot and he parked on the opposite side from them. The instant they went into the store, he started rummaging through the tools he had on hand. Surely there was something he could use. Despite his radical ideas of justice, despite his intentions and the fact that Dave could not see any logical explanation why he shouldn't proceed, he was still unable to justify it while looking at the two women. He couldn't face the victims - they were innocent. Like Claudia and Mary had been innocent. They were three and five. Now they always would be. They had yet to learn what life _was_ before it was taken away from them. And now they would never know. Claudia had been killed instantly, but Mary had been pinned inside the car, screaming, for hours while the highway patrol had fought to free her. Just shortly before being rescued, she lost consciousness. She was brought to a hospital where internal injuries freed her forever. Taking in a deep breath and silencing the tiny voice of reason with the ease of habit, Dave picked out a few choice tools and crossed the lot. As he worked, he failed to see someone opening the hood of his own car. However, when he finally wriggled free of Beth's car, he could see Jonathan clearly. Getting to his feet and pushing back the anger that automatically rose in his chest, he ran across the lot. He hated that he could no longer trust his own brother. And he hated that he could no longer feel any love for him. Jonathan glanced up just in time to note his arrival, but not soon enough to brace himself for the shove Dave directed at his arm. Jonathan staggered away from the automobile. "How did you find me?!" Dave yelled. Jonathan's face was unusually passive. "I followed you in a cab." He rubbed absently at his head. "You didn't hit me hard enough." "I guess not," Dave retorted angrily. "It's because you're my brother and I didn't want to hurt you. I won't make that mistake again." He climbed into the driver's seat and attempted to start the car. He failed. "What did you do?" he demanded, no longer yelling, but fire still shooting from every word. "Don't know too much about cars. I just started pulling things." Jonathan moved forward, slammed the hood down, and planted his hands on it, leaning in towards the windshield. All patience had vanished. "Now...what did _you_ do?" "Gee, I'm not too much of a mechanic myself. Can't really recall." "That's why you worked in a garage for six years? What did you _do_?" At Dave's responding silence, he cursed loudly, slapping his palm against the hood, and then taking off at a full run to Beth's car. Dave didn't even pause to think, but took off after him. ^----^----^----^----^ October, 1999 Stallions Gate, NM Beth wasn't anything more than vaguely concerned until Al began to become increasingly agitated. "Al, they just went to run a couple of errands in town. I sent Mark Collins behind them - he'll keep an eye out wherever they go. I was just a little concerned because they've been gone a while, but there's no reason yet to become alarmed and expect the-" Al gripped her shoulders with such fierce intensity that she gasped slightly. "Don't you get it? Someone who knows this guy - whose trying to do the right thing - warned me. Told me not to go into Santa Fe." "Okay! Okay, Al, just calm down for a minute, okay? Their last stop was in the square just off Bianca. I'm sure Mark has a phone on him that-" "Call him!" Al turned and strode towards the elevator. "I'm going to go find them." "I'll come. Al, wait!" He turned to her in front of the elevator and she froze. "No," he said steadily. "And that's non-negotiable." "Al!" Beth called, running to catch up with him. "Wait!" The door slid shut before she reached it. Halfway to Santa Fe, Beth called Al to tell him Mark had said the girls were fine and they would be on their way home within the hour. It failed to reassure him. The instant he pulled into the square and saw the two cars - Beth's and Mark's - he slid into the nearest parking space and went into the store. Five minutes of panicked searching finally found Marina and Julia safe with Lieutenant Collins picking up some drinks for that evening. Marina saw him first. "Dad? What are you doing-" The rest of the question died on her lips at the expression on his face. He bent forward and kissed her once on the cheek, then did the same to Julia. "What's wrong?" "I thought something had happened to you." "We're fine," Julia protested. Marina's earlier conversation with Al had given her a better look at how scared Al was for them, but Julia had nothing else to go on except the original talk he'd had with all of them together. "Right," Al said without much conviction. "Let's get outta here and go home." Al led them out into the bright sunlight, just starting to fade from the sky, and glanced up to see two men arguing heatedly by Beth's car. "Is that him?" he hissed at Collins. The lieutenant squinted and then shook his head. "I really can't say for certain, sir. I only saw him for a moment and we're so far away..." Al's expression tightened. "Fine. We'll leave the car here. Marina and Julia, you're both riding with me. Lieutenant, we'll meet you back at PQL. Got it?" "Yes, sir." Dave glanced up just in time to see Al's car pull out of the parking lot. He stared and cursed, drawing Jonathan's attention away from their fierce argument. Dave pushed his brother aside and broke into another car, kicking out the door just as Jonathan came at him again. "What are you _doing_?" Jonathan demanded, scrambling back to his feet as Dave reached inside his jacket for a gun. Holding his brother at bay, he hot-wired the car. "Laying everything to rest," he responded. Jonathan was left standing in the oncoming dusk next to a car...with the brake lines cut. ^----^----^----^----^ January, 1989 Cleveland, OH Sam Beckett sped along the highway faster than the speed limit would allow. He tapped one finger anxiously on the steering wheel as he drove. "I wish you were here, Al," he muttered under his breath. He was just about to give up and find a place to pull over and call the police when, far in the distance, he spotted a set of tail-lights. As he drew closer to the vehicle, Sam's photographic memory was telling him it was the plate number of Aaron's car. *Now what?* Speeding up still more, Sam sought to gain ground before they hit city traffic. Coming up on Aaron's left, Sam honked the horn and faked a swerve at him, hoping he'd be intimidated and stop. If anything, Aaron sped up even more. Sam bit his lip in frustration and tried to pass Aaron. Again, he sped up, matching Sam move for move. *He's nuts!* Sam thought frantically. *He's trying to get himself killed.* Finally, after having to retreat two times because of oncoming traffic, Sam did the only thing he could do: he ran Aaron off the road. Gritting his teeth and thinking a silent prayer, Sam swung to the right and made contact with Aaron's vehicle. Three more times he acted, pushing the man further and further onto the shoulder until, rather than hit something, he slowed down and eventually stopped. He didn't wait for Sam to even park in front of him before he was out of the car and yelling. Sam turned off the engine and got out to face Aaron head on. "Are you crazy?" Aaron cried. "You could have gotten us both killed!" "Me?! I'm not the one who abandoned my wife and family to play chicken with a bunch of trees." "I won, didn't I?" he grumbled. Aaron leaned against the car door. "I just don't understand, Sylvia. I don't understand you. I don't even know you anymore," he said suddenly, pushing himself forward as if his arms were springs. "I mean, are things so bad?" "Aaron," Sam said calmly, stepping forward, "do you realize this is the first time you've spoken to me as if I was a thinking human being in...who knows how long?" "I talk to you," he insisted automatically. "No," Sam countered, "you talk _at_ me. And, most importantly, you don't listen. Sylvia has been trying to tell you what she needs - why won't you listen?" "I do!" "No," Sam repeated. "I tell you I want to spend time with you and you brush it off. I take an interest in your work and you dismiss me. I tell you Matt and Christina need some quality time with their father and you say they'd rather be with friends." "I have a job, Sylvia. It doesn't do itself." "See? Listen to yourself, Aaron. You're doing it again - you're talking down to me." "No." "What does it take to make you _listen_?!" Sam cried out, his supply of patience depleted. There were several moments of silence and then Aaron said, softly, "Does Martin have kids?" "Yes. He has two sons." "Does his wife know? I mean, about you?" "His wife is dead," Sam replied quietly. "Well, at least he isn't teaching his kids that adultery is right." "Yes, he is," Sam answered. "Those boys are learning that it's okay to be on his end of things and that clouds what is right." The fact that Martin's sons were older crossed Sam's mind, but he didn't say anything - this was the most open communication he'd had with Aaron since he'd leaped in. "Aaron, you seem to be finding ways for this to be my fault and it is. You have a right to be angry, but you don't have the right to make it _all_ my fault. It's not mine alone. You wouldn't listen, Martin acted as a willing tempter, and I made a mistake. You can't deny the truth, Aaron, but you've become very good at trying." Aaron closed his eyes. "Do you want this marriage to work?" Sam asked simply. "Do you really want it to be something worth having?" "Yes, Sylvia. I really do," he replied honestly. "I do love you." "Maybe you just need to say it more often," Sam suggested. "I just don't understand what good that'll do." "It would be a start. Aaron..." Sam sighed and rubbed at his eyes. "A marriage doesn't have an annual efficiency report that goes with it. I'd want you to say it because sometimes your wife just needs to know that you love her. Isn't that reason enough?" A few tears skipped down Aaron's cheeks and Sam reached forward to embrace him... And leaped. ^----^----^----^----^ October, 1999 Stallions Gate, NM "I'd estimate another two hours before someone at this project blows," Al muttered to himself as he crossed the Project Quantum Leap parking lot on his way to get one of the few project-owned cars until they could get Beth's back and fix whatever was wrong with it. "And I wouldn't want to hear Ziggy's odds on it being me..." At least Sam had leaped out. He stopped walking and fished his keys out of his pocket, taking deep breaths to calm his jumping nerves. Things had almost happened several times now - maybe he was making too much of the whole darn thing to begin with. Except... Except if there was one thing Al had learned, it was to trust his instincts, and his instincts were still telling him that not only did he need to watch over everyone he loved, but he had to watch his own back, too, before- *Thud!* A blow across Al's shoulders and upper back quite literally jarred him out of his thoughts. He staggered against a nearby car, grabbing for the side mirror while he regained his equilibrium. When he looked up, a man was standing several feet away, wielding a long metal bar such as the kind found in your better junk yards across the country. In an instant, Al realized two things: first, that the initial blow, while it didn't seem to have broken anything, was going to make it that much harder to defend himself, and, secondly, this was the person- "You're him, aren't you?" Al gasped out, blinded more by anger than pain. "You son-of-a-" "How long until security realizes you've been gone too long and comes out looking for you?" the man interrupted harshly, brandishing the pole as a reminder. Al backed against the car door. "When they see you out here with me with that thing, they're gonna start shooting." The man nodded. "Let's hope they're good shots."