"Rebirth" Part VI July, 2002 Northfield, MN Beth's mother had died not long before she and Al had met Sam, and that was part of the reason Al was so reluctant to read her letters. He knew she'd continued to write them (she and her mother were always very close), address them, and seal them, then she'd tuck them away in a box kept expressly for that purpose. Al, who had never had any real relationship with his own mother - nor did he ever desire one - had once asked her why she bothered. "A lot of reasons, really," she'd replied. "It helps me put my life in perspective, looking at the overall picture, it helps me work through my problems, and...it helps me feel closer to her." Now, in the wake of Sam's departure, in the oncoming dusk, he stared at the pile of letters and the one he'd had for seven months - the note she'd dictated from the deathbed his absence had condemned her to. And he asked himself the same question he'd asked Sam not long after the incident at the vending machine: "If you can't go forward and you can't go home, where can you go?" There was no answer now, either. Just silence. "Oh, Beth," he breathed into the stillness, "I wish you were here - you'd know what to do. Everything's just - really messed up, you know?" He chuckled softly. "I'm really messed up. I can't tell which way is which anymore." He sat still for several more seconds, then tore open the first letter and started to read. Mom, April 14, 1988 It's been about a month now and, though it seems silly to do this, I really need someone to talk to. Normally, I'd just call you, but it's not going to work this time. I really miss you, especially now. Things aren't going much better than when you were still alive - Al's always away, immersed in work with this project of his or hiding out in town. He still won't talk to me or tell me what's wrong and I'm afraid that, for the second time, I've been contemplating things that won't be easy for any of us. I know you consider "divorce" a dirty word, but I guess when you're out of options, it can almost be a relief. He did come with me to your funeral and things almost seemed normal again, especially that evening. He can be very reassuring when he wants to be. But now, I'm afraid, we're back to square one. I don't know what to do - I'm at my wits' end. The girls seem okay for now, but they know something's wrong and I don't know what to tell them. I just heard the front door - I hope that means Al's home. I love you and I wish you were here. -Beth Al folded the letter and stuffed it back into the envelope. "Mistake," he muttered. The reminder of those days was the last thing he needed. Even in this history, with a wife and four children, Al had had his personal wars that seemed intent on destroying him. While Al himself had not been in as deep of a hole as before, he also stood to lose a lot more. And then Sam had come along and showed him that the happiness he had been so desperately searching for was right under his nose. Sam Beckett had been a faithful friend and a trusted partner in every respect for years. But all that had changed and Al was no longer certain if he himself had done what was right, or was merely justifying his decision. So was Sam right in doing what he had or wasn't he? Or did it matter? Al had to admit to himself that, had he known Sam was back, he would most certainly have gone off to be involved in the next adventure. How much did Sam really think he'd been protecting him, though? More importantly, did the death of his faith in Sam indicate the lack of validity of all his ideals? Either way, Al had learned a lot from the innocent farm-boy with the puppy dog eyes and he put it into practice now. What did he have? He had a home to go to, a daughter who loved him, and a family to welcome him. The main difference, he reflected, between then and now, was that now, he was going to seek out and cling to what he had left, instead of hiding from it. Al made a mental note to call the movers in the morning. ~~~~~~ Whatever small part of the summer that remained passed by without incident. Al sold the house where he and Beth had lived and moved up to Ely to help with preparations for the baby who, they eventually found out through ultrasound, was indeed a girl. Sam and Elane proceeded with work on the project as if Al had never been present to disrupt it. Sam tried several times to locate Al's new home, but to no avail. He found out the names of Al's daughters easily enough, mostly through his own scattered memory than with any help of the system, but he didn't know who Al was staying with and, of the two who had married, he didn't know married names. Had Ziggy still been assembled, the problem could have been solved in short order, but that wasn't going to be done until the time to test the new experiment drew nearer. Sam's relationship with Elane grew and expanded out of the professional, but never advanced into the degree of any romantic interests. She did, however, become a valued friend and advisor in the light of Al's absence. Even so, Sam felt the pain of that loss frequently and acutely. It wasn't until November or so that Sam began to be aware of pressures that felt painstakingly familiar. Even though they had dropped behind on construction, they were still pretty much on schedule and all costs were well within the proposed budget. If anything, things were going much more smoothly than Quantum Leap ever had. Admittedly, this was due partly to the fact that they set up base back in Stallions Gate. It only made sense - fewer alterations were necessary and all of Ziggy's components were still there. But suddenly the Committee wasn't happy. Interestingly enough, the complaints coincided with concerns Elane was starting to express - concerns reminiscent of those Al had mentioned to him. Now memos landed on Sam's desk nearly every week, demanding reports on the level of progress on a new wing, or the amount of calculations he had left, memos he used to go running to Al with. Inevitably, Al would calm him down and assure him it was nothing, just "routine nosiness from the nozzles in the capital", and then send him home to get some rest. Sam would argue for a while before meekly obeying. It was about the third time Sam came back the next morning to find Al still dressed in the same clothes and looking as if he'd been hit by a bus when the scientist finally realized it _wasn't_ nothing - far from it. The fifth time it happened, he sent Al out the following evening for a night on the town with Beth. Then he leaped. Things were different this time, though. For one thing, one of the issues he was arguing with them about was who was going to leap. Sam voted for himself; he didn't have anything holding him back - Donna was dead, Al was gone... The Committee said `no'. He put Elane's name in the pot. The Committee said `no'. More to see what would happen than anything else, he suggested Al. This time, the answer came back twice as quickly: `NO!' With that, Sam knew Al had been right - they'd lied from the start. All of his badgering only served to confirm that Al had been right and they had never intended to leap him anywhere. If only he hadn't been so damned confused and sick and torn up over Donna's death when he agreed to everything... So now they were nearing a stage they might never get beyond. The group of senators wanted to send a Dr. Martin Boyd, a man Sam had met several times. Dr. Boyd had a Ph.D. in quantum physics and was a genius in every sense of the word. He had done extensive studies into many of Sam's pet projects and was the perfect candidate in every way: historian, scholar, even had a Masters in psychology. As far as his bio was concerned, Sam would have been a fool not to agree on the spot, except for one problem: the man didn't have an original idea in his head. Not one. He could recite, he could analyze, he could explore a laid out scenario into as much depth as anyone could hope for, but he was not a dreamer, not a visionary. In other words, he was an extension of Weitzman. The wisdom of Al's warnings were becoming clearer by the day. And as each of those days came to a close, he realized there was less and less he could do about it. Weitzman had set things up too perfectly. He'd told him of his wife's passing, their plans to use Al in whatever scheme was being cooked up, then they gave him a new dream and the money to go along with it. As he thought back, he realized the people he'd hired to come onto the project he actually hadn't chosen. Weitzman had found them. Not that they weren't qualified - far from it. But they were all followers, they all played by the rules. Even, to some extent, Elane. And that, Sam realized, was the difference. Al knew the ropes, could anticipate and see through any attempts of Congress to gain a stranglehold, and he _never_ played by any rules but his own. Dr. Beckett could weave numbers into a complex pattern Al couldn't even hope to understand, but Congress had created a trap for him that he hadn't even seen, much less been able to negotiate a mode of escape from. So he had to face one terrible fact: he was stuck. He and Elane were going to have to break all the rules, and perhaps put an end to the project, to get unstuck. ~~~~~~ December, 2002 Ely, MN Marina sighed heavily and tried to adjust into a more comfortable position. She was eight months pregnant and she felt every bit of it. It was at the point now where she was counting down the days, just ready for the whole darn thing to be o-ver! David paced in front of her chair in their bedroom. He was a little agitated with her, she knew. After all the plans to move her father into the spare room, after all the work and effort, she was now pulling this on them all. "What," he asked slowly, stopping his pace and turning to face her, "do you mean, `He's not happy'?" She shifted again, anxiously. "I mean he's not, David." "Well, did _he_ tell you that?" "No," she admitted. David threw up his hands. `So?' the action said. "Look...you don't understand. Dad's never been one to sit by and let everything happen in front of him without involving himself, for better or worse. I remember when I was a kid, he'd go on endlessly about the idiots - excuse me - nozzles he'd have to put up with. About how some lieutenant wasn't doing his job right or how the liaison he was dealing with wouldn't listen. I used to ask Mom what was wrong with him and she'd say, `He's just having the time of his life.' He was never happy unless he had some hopeless cause to fight for, from getting Dr. Beckett on his staff to saving the environment single-handedly." "So why did you want to drag him up here in the first place?" Marina glared, suddenly angry. "Because I wanted him to be around family," she stated, as if her logic was obvious. He seemed about to retaliate, then he sucked in a calming breath. "Okay," he said tensely, "fine. What do you want me to do about it?" She hadn't gotten that far. She'd assumed, she supposed, that she just expected he'd know how to correct the situation. David rolled his eyes and left the room before she could protest. Thirty seconds later, he came back in. "Come here," he said, extending a hand to help her up. By this point another mood swing had hit and she felt close to tears. "Why?" she said shakily, ignoring his offered assistance. "Because I want to show you something." Reluctantly, she grasped his hand and he led her to the doorway and pointed. Stretched out on the couch was her father, fast asleep, his face smoothed into an expression of peace. Snuggled up next to him was Jay, laying half on the couch, half atop Al, one small hand grasping the fabric of his grandfather's sleeve. Despite herself, a small smile rose to her face. "Still think he's unhappy?" David whispered in her ear and left her standing there while he went to start dinner. Her smile faded slightly. "Yes," she murmured sadly.