Part I February, 2000 New York City, NY Sam stumbled over his own feet as he appeared in mid-stride, catching himself on a newspaper dispenser to his left, bolted down to cold concrete near the edge of the sidewalk. He stopped and the considerable flow of pedestrian traffic hiccuped for an instant, and then moved to branch around him, trickling off into the distance. He noticed several peculiar looks as people moved around him and wondered the cause of them. A few people even looked continuously back as they advanced onward, their expressions as curious as if he'd just dropped out of a spaceship. *Oh, what now?* he wondered, glancing himself over. He seemed normal - dressed in a gray turtleneck with a brown leather jacket over it, a pair of brown slacks, and dress shoes. A watch and a wedding ring weighed down his left hand and he fingered the ring briefly. Nothing abnormal, as far as he could tell. Eventually, the few people who'd paid him any notice were gone and it was back to how Sam remembered a big city being - a lot of individuals for whom no-one else was even visible. He ducked around to the other side and looked at one of the newspapers: New York City, Friday, February 18, 2000. His eyes widened and he put a hand on the biting cold metal in front of him to steady himself. He'd never leaped this far forward, had he? It sounded awfully close to what Al's time would be. Even if it wasn't, the project would still be going on and he wished he'd leaped in closer to New Mexico. Hoping he didn't have to be anywhere soon, he pulled out the wallet in his back pocket as it seemed to be the only thing on him he could use to gather any information until Al showed up, and opened it up, then dropped it as if he'd been stung. It fell in slow motion, hitting the edge of a puddle, splashing greasy liquids and slush onto Sam's shoe. His own face smiled back up at him on a New Mexico license, just like it had when... He scooped it up before anyone else could and held it in his hand, straining to remember. ^"I think this is where it all started." "What started?" "Quantum Leap," Sam explained excitedly. Al gave him a funny `I think you've flipped, Sam' look and cast a quick glance around, as if suspecting Ziggy had been lying. "This - this isn't New Mexico."^ "I've leaped as myself again," Sam mused aloud, a curious relief flooding his veins. He wouldn't feel better until he saw a mirror, though. Maybe he didn't have anywhere to be, then, but there had to be someone he was supposed to help. Unless the person presented himself or herself, he would just have to wait for instructions. Sam found all the basics in his wallet: some cash, a couple of credit cards, a phone card...and his Project Quantum Leap ID. He slipped inside a nearby cafe and ordered some breakfast while he combed through the rest of his belongings. There didn't seem to be anyone around who looked particularly distressed or in need of medical help, so he opened the wallet and began laying the contents out on the table. There were a couple receipts dated in 1995, a business card from some car dealership, and two wallet-sized pictures. Sam slid out the first one and inhaled sharply - it was of him...and Donna. He stared at the photograph while intense, clear memories washed over his vision. He could remember it being taken, remember the day as perfectly as if it was yesterday. If he could forget something like this, how many other important things had he forgotten? She was seated on a park bench, smiling, and he stood behind her, one hand on her shoulder and the other clasping hers. He flipped it over to reveal a date: July 25, 1990. The second photograph was tucked into a folded slip of paper that had the words `Al - office' scribbled on it, and then a number. He recognized Al's barely legible handwriting and grinned. If Al hadn't shown up by the time he finished his breakfast, he decided, he'd call the number. It had taken them a long time to find him the last time he'd leaped as himself and it couldn't hurt to let Al know where he was. The second picture was, as he expected, of him and Al, taken at what looked to be some kind of celebration - they each had a glass of champagne in hand and Sam had his arm slung around his partner's shoulders. Then Sam remembered - it had been the day they'd broken ground for Quantum Leap. Sam's food arrived and he sifted through the rest of the contents while he ate, finding nothing else of particular interest. His attention was continually drawn back to the two pictures, a reminder of a life he'd voluntarily left behind. By the time the plate was cleared, he was convinced that calling Al was the right thing to do and he made his way to a pay phone in the corner, pulled out the calling card and the number (in spite of the fact that he remembered it after having seen the paper), and dialed. It wouldn't accept his card number, which, he decided, made sense. He hadn't paid a bill in five years. Except...Donna... Sam took a calming breath and inserted the money for a long distance call. It rang once and then someone picked up; Sam assumed it would be either Ziggy or Al (wouldn't _they_ be surprised?), but it turned out to be neither. "We're sorry, but the number you are trying to reach has been disconnected. Please check your number and try again, or dial `0' for operator-" Puzzled, he hung up and tried again, but got the same response. Sam frowned and stood by the phone, trying to remember if Al's number had changed before he leaped out and if there was any way he could remember it. He couldn't recall any other numbers to try, except that of his mother in Hawaii. He smiled faintly and figured his family would be thinking it was about time they heard from him. "Hello?" "Is Thelma Beckett there?" he asked. "I'm sorry, there's no-one here by that name," a mild female voice informed him. "Oh... Well, did you buy the house from her, by any chance?" She hesitated, then apparently decided the caller was harmless. "I'm sorry, sir, I've never met a Thelma Beckett." "Sorry to have bothered you, thanks." Sam hung up and, noticing that there was someone else waiting for the phone, he smiled uncertainly and went back to the booth. He knew there was no reason to worry, no reason why anything would have happened to his family, but he couldn't help himself. He fingered the photographs, thinking. He was himself in, for some reason, New York City, he couldn't get hold of the project, and he felt very confused and terribly alone. He paid for breakfast, grateful he had a decent amount of cash in case the credit cards turned out like the calling card. He stepped back out into the cold, wondering what he was going to do if night came and he still hadn't figured it out and Al still hadn't made an appearance. He wandered for an hour or two around the city, watching for any signs of things that normally happen in New York, and came up (surprisingly) empty. By the time lunch time rolled around, he was tired and disheartened and there was still no sign of Al. He sat down on a bench and watched people walking by. There was a woman with a baby, a man in a power suit with a briefcase, a couple teenagers probably cutting school...nothing that seemed particularly threatening or needful of his intervention. So he sat. And waited. And worried. ~~~~~~ Meredith Hasler peered in the door, hesitating. He was on the phone. The man in the gray double breasted suit glanced up, noticed her, and beckoned her in. She hesitated an instant before obeying, laying her briefcase against the leg of the chair, sitting down slowly. Truth be told, he intimidated the heck outta her, and thus far they'd only spoken on the phone. "Yeah," he was saying, nodding slightly at her to indicate he'd be done shortly. "Well tell him he'd _better_ go through me! He's just about to cross the line with me. Arrogant jerk," he added sourly. "Tell him to call me, you got it?" He nodded again to her and she could feel herself shrinking into the seat. "I pay for what I pay for and that's it. He wants to expand the program, have him send me a proposal." He slammed the phone down and offered her a tight smile. "Now. What can do for you?" "Uh, Mr. Chapelle, my name is Meredith Hasler - we had an appointment." "Oh, yes," he said cordially, extending his hand. She shook it, trying to relax. "You wanted to see me about..." He started to flip through papers. "The opening. I was sent up here from the crew in North Carolina. There was a spot you had for me," she reminded him, beginning to feel discouraged. He nodded. "I'm sorry, Ms. Hasler - it's been a hectic day. Yes, we sent for you, but not to this division is all. I didn't expect to see you here." "Oh? Where exactly am I being sent?" "The experimental department, per your request," he informed her, as if it was obvious. She blinked. "My request?" He didn't seem to notice her confusion. "Yes. Or...maybe it was them that requested you." He squinted at her, then shrugged. "Either way, that's where you're headed. You've been scheduled for a trial basis and if they like your work and you want the job, we'll make it permanent." She swallowed, trying to absorb what she was being told and how that affected her life. "Thank you, I'm sure that'll work out well. So where exactly am I going, here?" He gave her directions, assuring her that it was only about five or six blocks away, and a badge to get her in the door. She was never more grateful to leave someone's office before. Wrapping her coat tightly about herself, she went back outside and started walking. She went a full ten blocks at least without locating the right street to turn off onto. "Just perfect," she muttered, "now they're going to think I'm incompetent. If they don't already." She glanced around and saw a man sitting by himself on a bench. He didn't seem to have any belongings with him, but he was fairly well-dressed and he looked...bored. She took in the immediate street signs once more and then walked up to him. "Excuse me." He looked up at her, startled and maybe even a little eager. "Yes?" "I'm lost and I wonder if you could help me..." He smiled brightly, as if she'd just made his day. "If I can." His outwardly pleasant attitude made her relax slightly. "What are you looking for?" "The Jefferson Building." The stranger closed his eyes briefly, as if playing back his travels throughout the city. "I remember seeing that. Big skyscraper, gray, with huge windows on the ground floor?" "Oh... I don't know, actually," she explained, tucking the handwritten directions into her jacket pocket. "It's my first time going there." If possible, his face became brighter. "Oh, well, come on. I'll show you. My name is Sam, by the way," he added as they walked side-by-side. "Oh - Meredith. I really appreciate this. It's my first day on a new job and I really wanted this one. They're doing cutting-edge stuff." "Really? In what area?" She flushed slightly - when was she ever going to learn to keep her big mouth shut? They'd boot her out of the program for sure if they knew she was handing out information to some guy she just met on the street. Briefly, she prayed that she wasn't getting in over her head. "Oh, it's work for the government," she hedged. "Really prime spot. Pure science, y'know?" A longingness appeared on his face. "Yeah..." "Anyhow," she continued, somewhat flustered. "apparently some of my research made it up here and the director specifically asked about me. We spoke once on the phone and then he offered me a job. So I came." "From?" "Oh, Raleigh, North Carolina. Had a lab down there. I guess I was ready for a change of scenery, though." Sam nodded. "It's right up here." Sure enough, as soon as they came around the block, the Jefferson Building loomed in front of them and she began to feel nervous again. "Oh...thanks." "Do you want me to come in with you?" he asked kindly. Even though she knew the suggestion was odd and unnecessary (he seemed to want to continue the conversation), she was tempted to say `yes'. But she didn't. "Oh, that's all right. Thank you so much for all your help." With that, she took a deep breath and entered the building. There was a huge lobby area just inside and she stopped the first person she saw to ask for help. He was a pleasant-looking man, perhaps in his late 30's, but it seemed as if he had a lot on his mind. "Uh, excuse me," she said hesitantly. "One minute," he said tensely and pulled out a phone, dialing hastily. She crossed her arms anxiously and caught sight of another man emerging from the elevator behind them. He jumped, then reached into his jacket, pulled out a phone, and smiled slightly. She couldn't hear it across the busy room, but it was probably ringing. He caught her eye and the gesture turned into a full-out grin as he advanced to their position. He winked, then held the phone behind the caller's head. The man turned, startled, and looked disapprovingly at the both of them, as if they had planned it. "Where have you been?! I've been after you all day!" The other individual replaced his phone, still looking towards her. "I had meetings, you knew that. You need to learn to take it easy, Patrick. You also need to learn to be more polite." He started to address her, but Patrick cut him off. "Chapelle's been chewing _me_ out all morning because he can't find you and he's to the point where he doesn't care who he's screaming at, as long as he's screaming. To top it all off, the new guy we were supposed to be getting yesterday never showed and-" "Excuse me," Meredith interrupted sweetly, "I believe I'm your new `guy'. And I was told to arrive in town today." The man (maybe he was the project director?) laughed. "I've been waiting on you. I had your bio," he added confidentially, shaking her hand. "I believe we spoke on the phone a month ago. I'm so glad you decided to join-" His introductions were cut off by the screeching of tires and a horn honking. "What the hell...?" Patrick started. The director looked out one of the story-high windows. "I think they hit someone," he said tensely and headed for the door.