|A Leap for a Knight
Author: lucidscreamer PM
In order to stop an old enemy from destroying FLAG and changing the future, including Project Quantum Leap, Sam Beckett leaps into Michael Knight in the year 1986. With Al out of reach, Sam and KITT must trust each other to save the day.Rated: Fiction T - English - Mystery/Friendship - & KITT - Chapters: 2 - Words: 31,800 - Reviews: 91 - Favs: 35 - Follows: 41 - Updated: 11-05-10 - Published: 01-23-03 - id: 1195378
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
This is an edited version of the entire story to date, complete with the missing chapter. I've tried to make it less choppy and to make transitions easier to follow. ETA: The site has once again eaten many of my scene breaks and run some words together at random. I will fix this once I have the time and energy to tackle the task.
A Leap for A Knight
A Quantum Leap/Knight Rider crossover
By Lucidscreamer (formerly known as 'Cyberkat')
Originally published: 1999-2005
Revised: September, 200
Revised: December, 2008
Revised: August, 2009
Disclaimer: Glen A. Larson, Universal Studios, Donald Bellasario, Bellasarius Productions, and any other rightful copyright holders, own Knight Rider and Quantum Leap, respectively. This is purely for entertainment purposes; no profit is being made, nor should any be inferred.
Author's Note: This story borrows an idea from the Quantum Leap novels, namely that Sam swaps minds/souls with the person he Leaps into rather than physically taking their place. The descriptions of the Project are also extrapolated from those in the novels, just because.
Special thanks to: Janeway, Knightshade and the whole "Beta Round-up" - and to everyone who took the time to comment on LiveJournal or to leave a review at Fanfiction(dot)net. Thanks for everything! (Please note that the most recent chapters have not been beta'd, though I have spellchecked and edited as best I can on my own. As always, any remaining goofs are my own.)
A Leap for a Knight
"Theorizing that he could time travel within his own lifetime, Dr. Sam Beckett led an elite team of scientists into the desert…" - Quantum Leap
"…A shadowy flight into the dangerous world of a man who does not exist." - Knight Rider
On a dark desert highway
September 24, 1986
It was just past one a.m., and the highway was a black ribbon stretched from horizon to horizon. A lone automobile streaked across the desert, its high-beams cutting twin swathes in the darkness. Inside the car, the whine of its powerful turbine engine was muted. The lights of the digital dashboard cast strange, shifting shadows over the features of the handsome young man slouched in the driver's seat.
He fit neatly into what might have been a tight squeeze; the car's cockpit had been customized for his 6' 4" frame. He could reach any of the controls without straining, usually without taking his eyes off the road. Not that that was a major consideration. Not with this car.
Currently, Michael's hands were idle, folded comfortably across his stomach. The driver's seat was reclined to its fullest, permitting him to stretch out his long legs. He was snoring softly.
Clearly, this was no ordinary car.
There were few external clues. A casual observer might note the red sensor light set into the car's angled prow, and perhaps wonder at its function. But what the casual observer could not see was far more important. They could notsee that the car's glossy black surface was actually a specially formulated, molecular bonded shell capable of protecting car and driver from virtually anything short of a direct missile strike. Nor would the casual observer spot the most important difference between this and an ordinary street machine: the Artificial Intelligence currently controlling the modified Trans Am as it cruised along at a sedate 55 mph. His creator had named him the Knight Industries Two Thousand. His partner, dozing peacefully in the driver's seat, called him 'KITT.'
The brainchild of the late Wilton Knight, KITT had been created for a singular purpose: to protect the life of one man, the man Wilton had chosen as the heir to his dream. A firm believer in the strength of the individual, Wilton had dedicated his last days to ensuring the survival of that dream. The result was KITT-and Michael Knight, a man dedicated to proving to an often-uncaring world that one man could indeed make a difference.
Now, through discreet sensors in the cabin, KITT watched Michael sleep.
With nothing else to occupy him, KITT let his thoughts drift back almost five years to their first meeting. It had been an inauspicious beginning.
A former cop, Michael was headstrong, impulsive, and fiercely independent. He had resented the implications of a computerized partner, certain that KITT was little more than an electronic stool pigeon, reporting Michael's every move back to headquarters. Of course, nothing was farther from the truth, but it had taken time for Michael to realize that KITT was there for him and him alone.
For his part, KITT had been both hurt and confused by Michael's often-callous attitude. KITT had been programmed specifically for Michael-his basic personality was tailored to meet Michael's needs, his primary function was to protect Michael's life. In every way that mattered, KITT belonged to Michael.
It had never occurred to any of them that the man KITT had been created for might reject him, but in the beginning, Michael had seemed to think KITT was little more than a car with too many options. But KITT persisted in his duties-even when his helpful suggestions were met with a rude command to "shut up." But time passed, and with each new mission, Michael learned to appreciate his unique partner. KITT was far more than simply a talkative automobile; he could think, and learn, and grow. He and Michael had grown together, learning to respect and trust one another. Now, they were not only partners, they were also friends.
That happy thought warmed KITT as he steered around a particularly rough patch in the highway. Michael shifted a bit at the unexpected jostling and mumbled unintelligibly in his sleep. KITT watched him anxiously for a minute, but Michael didn't stir again, and the AI relaxed. Michael needed to rest.
Their latest assignment had been particularly rough on him. Michael had been chased, shot at, beaten up, and had narrowly avoided being run down by the bad guys. As a result, he'd gotten very little sleep over the last few days, and KITT's scans indicated that Michael's body was a mass of bruises. As usual, Michael had refused to see a doctor, an oversight KITT intended to rectify as soon as possible. He had called ahead to the Foundation; when they arrived, Dr. Alpert would be standing by to corral Michael and treat him to a thorough examination.
It was, KITT mused smugly, all part of his primary function. Even when Michael didn't cooperate. Or perhaps, especially when he didn't cooperate.
Even as the thought passed through KITT's CPU, something happened to Michael, something completely outside either partner's experience. If he had known to scan for it, KITT might have registered the invisible flare of energy that swept over Michael's body, wrapped every cell in an intense quantum surge, then vanished as suddenly as it had appeared. In less than a human heartbeat, it was gone.
And so was Michael.
As the blue-white surge of energy dissipated, Dr. Sam Beckett gradually became aware of his new surroundings. He was seated-almost reclining-on a plush yielding surface. It was dark and quiet, the only sounds the hum of a superbly tuned engine and the distant whisper of pavement beneath fast-moving tires. The seat cradling him rocked gently with the motion of the vehicle.
Yawning, he inched up a bit in the seat and peered curiously at the interior of the car, dark except for the glow of the dashboard instruments. There were enough lights, gadgets, and odd buttons for it to serve as a prop in a science fiction movie.
Great, he thought. I'm driving the Death Star. And then it hit him. Who was driving?Certainly not him; he had been asleep at the wheel.
With a strangled yelp, Sam bolted upright and made a desperate grab for the steering wheel. He missed by a mile-because the wheel, actually an aviation-style steering yoke, moved of its own accord as the car deftly negotiated a slight curve in the road.
"Michael?" The voice came out of nowhere. "Is something wrong?"
Sam looked around wildly, but he was alone in the car. Completely alone...with a disembodied voice. He shot a quick look up through the smoked panel of the sunroof, then caught himself. After all this time, it seemed unlikely that God, Time, Fate, or Whatever had chosen now to start communicating directly. And even if They had, how likely was it that God, Time, Fate or Whatever had a Boston accent?
"Michael?" Concern was beginning to creep into the mysterious voice. "Are you all right?"
Sam's startled gaze darted around the car's interior again, and was inevitably drawn back to the high-tech dash. For the first time, he noticed the small panel near the steering column. On the panel, a trio of graduated LED bars fluctuated in synch with the voice when it addressed him. He could feel his jaw beginning to drop.
"Michael?" Concern was yielding to fear; Sam could hear it plainly in the...well, it had to be car's voice, didn't it? "Michael, please. Talk to me!"
Sam shook his head. An Artificial Intelligence…in a car? Then again, why not? After all, he had put a parallel hybrid super-computer inside a man-made cavern in New Mexico-and used it to travel through time. Compared to Ziggy, a talking car was practically normal.
A wry smile formed. So Ziggy wasn't the only electronic kid on the block or, perhaps, not even the first. It was rather humbling. In this time, Ziggy might not be online or even built, yet. The thought brought him up short. He didn't know what year this was, had no idea how many more would pass until the fateful day he would lead his hand-picked team into the desert to begin construction on Project Quantum Leap.
But in the here and now, whenever that might be, another computer pleaded with him, its Boston accent becoming more pronounced as its concern grew. "Michael, if something is wrong, please tell me," it-he? the voice was male, after all-said. "Do you need a doctor?"
"Uh, no…." Sam had to stop and clear his throat. "No, I'm fine. I, uh, just had a bad dream."
"Oh." The computer sounded unconvinced. After a brief pause, it added, "If you're sure you're all right-?"
"I'm okay," Sam said firmly. As okay as he ever was at the beginning of a new Leap. "Really."
Apparently deciding to believe him, the computer said, "Then perhaps you should go back to sleep. We're still a long way from home, and you haven't slept much in the last 72 hours." The crisp voice softened noticeably as the computer added, "Frankly, I'm surprised you've held up as well as you have. According to my vital signs monitor, you're exhausted."
As if in agreement with that assessment, Sam's borrowed body picked that moment for another huge yawn.
"I rest my case," the computer said dryly. "And so should you."
Sam laughed. It even had a sense of humor, which was more than could generally be said for his creation. If Ziggy possessed a sense of humor, it was one Sam was in no position to appreciate. He smiled at the voice panel on the dash. "You may be right," he said, and settled back in the seat. It was surprisingly comfortable. "I am beat."
Not that he intended to nap, of course. But he had no idea where 'home' was or how to get there. Better to let the computer drive, at least until Al showed up for their traditional start-of-the-Leap briefing.
Gradually, Sam's head tilted back until it nestled against the headrest. Just because he was staying awake, didn't mean he had to be uncomfortable. And it wouldn't hurt to close his eyes. Just for…a…
Before the car had traveled another mile along the highway, Sam Beckett had begun a new Leap…fast asleep at the wheel.
"Michael, we're here."
The computer's soft voice nudged Sam from a peaceful doze. Blinking sleepily, he pulled himself up and peered through the windshield.
They were parked outside an impressive edifice, a stucco-sided mansion that looked as if it had started life as a private residence, despite the large bronze plaque near the entrance which proclaimed it to be the Foundation for Law and Government. Reluctantly, Sam climbed out of the car and studied the building's dark facade. Here and there, a lit window glowed softly in the pearly pre-dawn light.
Someone's working late-or getting a very early start, he thought, leaning against the car. He knew he would have to go inside eventually, but he had no idea what he was supposed to do once he got there. He looked around hopefully; now would be a good time for Al to show up...
"Michael, are you sure you're all right?" the computer asked, startling Sam out of his musings. "You're acting very strangely. Even for you."
Sam laughed. Without really thinking, he reached out and gave the car a friendly pat. "I'm okay. Just…tired, I guess."
The computer sighed. "After Dr. Alpert examines you, you should go straight to bed."
The fussy, mother-hen tone reminded Sam of Al at his most protective. Then the words sank in. "Wait a minute, I don't need-"
"Michael, you have quite literally taken a beating on our last assignment. My medical scans indicate at least one cracked rib, multiple contusions…I really must insist that you allow Dr. Alpert to examine you."
Now that he was up and moving, Sam was suddenly aware of the stiffness of injured muscles along his rib cage and across his abdomen. In fact, his entire body felt like one giant bruise; it hurt to take a deep breath. He winced. The computer was probably right about the rib, too. "Look, I'll see the doctor later, okay? Right now, I just want to crawl into bed and sleep for about a week."
"Dr. Alpert is waiting for you in the foyer." A certain smugness of tone indicated that the computer had been down this particular road before and wasn't taking any detours.
"Okay, okay..."It was Sam's turn to sigh. He started for the front door, then glanced back. "You'll be okay out here?"
"Of course, Michael." The computer sounded surprised, and amused, by the question. "Why wouldn't I be?"
Sam shrugged, unsure himself why he'd asked. It just didn't seem…right, somehow. You left cars in the driveway. He was mildly surprised to discover he'd already begun to think of the computer not only as a person, but also as a friend.
"Once you're settled in for the night, I'll go and recharge my power packs." The smile clearly audible in his voice, the computer added, "You aren't the only one who's tired, you know."
Sam found himself smiling in return. "Get some rest, then."
"Goodnight." Resisting the urge to add 'sleep tight,' Sam headed up the broad steps and into the Foundation.
The mansion's interior was every bit as impressive as the exterior, but Sam only had a moment to take it all in before a man in a white lab coat hurried forward to greet him. Dr. Alpert, Sam presumed with a faint sense of unease. How well did the two men know one another? Could Sam fool Alpert as he had the computer?
"KITT said you were home," Alpert said. "He also said you'd gotten banged up a bit this time out."
"Uh, yeah. A little." Sam tried to shrug it off, a move he immediately regretted as abused muscles twinged in protest. "All I really need are a couple of aspirins and a good night's sleep."
"Let me be the judge of that." Alpert frowned. "I happen to know that the practice of medicine is not on your resume, Michael. So let's head on over to the Medical Wing and get this over with, shall we?"
The sudden mischievous smile was startling on such a dour face as he added, "Besides, KITT would never forgive me if I let you talk your way out of this one. You don't want me to end up on your partner's bad side, do you?"
His partner? Sam wondered exactly what Alpert was talking about, but of course he couldn't ask. He also bit back the impulse to inform the other man that in addition to an MD, Sam had six other advanced degrees on his resume. Instead, he kept his thoughts to himself, and meekly followed Alpert to the Medical Wing.
After a brief but efficient examination, Alpert had walked Sam back to his room, thus saving Sam the frustration of hunting it on his own. Truly alone for the first time since Leaping in, Sam shut the bedroom door behind him, leaned his back against it, and breathed a heartfelt sigh of relief. So far, as the saying went, so good.
It was never easy, Leaping into an unfamiliar situation, where even the slightest misstep could make things worse or, at the very least, reveal him as an imposter. As it was, it was something of a minor miracle that he hadn't Leaped into the middle of a crisis-in-progress. Yawning, he decided he'd take his miracles however he found them. Especially if it meant a few hours sleep in a real bed. He was tired-and sore, as an injudicious movement reminded him in no uncertain terms.
What on earth had Michael been doing, anyway? Wrestling alligators?
Wearily, Sam shuffled across the dense carpet. He found the bed by the simple expedient of bumping into it, and collapsed across the mattress. Too tired to care about such niceties as pajamas, he curled up under the covers and was asleep almost as quickly as his head hit the pillow.
Project Quantum Leap
Stallion's Gate, New Mexico
April 2, 20-
When he awoke, his mind was nothing but a chaotic jumble of confused images and disconnected snippets of dialogue, like a Fellini film seen through a shattered lens.
Gradually, like bubbles drifting up from the gray ocean depths of his subconscious, coherent thought returned, bringing with it more questions than answers. Where was he? And more urgently, who was he?
He groped for a name and eventually found one. Michael. Was that right? He turned the name over in his mind, testing the fit. It felt…right, somehow. But, 'Michael' what?
Michael…Long? Was that his name? Michael Long. Conjured by the name, new images surfaced in his mind. Images of duty and service…and of a starry night in Nevada that dissolved in an acid-orange sheet of pain as a gunshot exploded in his face, taking it-and his old life-with it.
He had been Michael Long. But he wasn't anymore.
In his mind, a new image slowly took shape: an ebony chess piece. A knight? He held that image, considered it from all angles. And suddenly, as if the image were a key unlocking the vault of recollection, he knew. He was Michael Knight. With the name came the rest of his memories: names and faces, friends and enemies, the Foundation. All the trappings of his new identity.
Surfacing from his reverie, Michael looked around, for the first time really taking in his strange surroundings. He was in an all-white room, almost hospital-like in its starkness. Ranks of medical monitors and equipment, arrayed neatly along the wall behind the bed, only added to the impression. He really didn't want to speculate on their purpose. The air was cool and dry, and smelled faintly of disinfectant.
The big questions now were where was he, how had he gotten there...and why had he been brought to this strange white room?
Despite his earlier mental fog, he had a clear recollection of where he'd been before: drowsing comfortably in the driver's seat as KITT steered them toward home. One minute he was safe inside KITT and in the next, he was simply…elsewhere. Here, wherever the hell here was.
Cautiously, Michael swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood up-too quickly as it turned out. The room spun nauseatingly around him and, breathing deeply, he clung to the edge of the mattress until the room settled again.
Looking down at himself, he was surprised to find that his customary jeans and leather jacket had been replaced by what looked like a spandex bodysuit. It was as white as everything else in the place, and embarrassingly snug. In consternation, he stared at his unfamiliar attire for another moment, then reached instinctively for the commlink on his wrist. A chill went through him when his fingers closed on bare flesh. The commlink, his lifeline to KITT, was gone. For now, at least, he was on his own.
The white tiles were cold beneath his bare feet as he stood, more slowly this time, and surveyed the room. White floor, white walls, white ceiling…it was like being trapped inside an iceberg. An iceberg with a door… Which was, as he soon discovered, securely locked. No surprise there. He doubted he'd been brought here for the self-guided tour.
Quickly, he located the control panel set into the wall beside the door and sighed in frustration. It was an electronic lock. KITT could have had it open in seconds, but no commlink meant no way to contact his partner. The thought rekindled Michael's concern. What had his captors done with KITT? Under ordinary circumstances, there was no way anyone could have gotten to him while he was inside the car. Which meant that these were not ordinary circumstances. He could only hope that his partner was safe.
Michael had been FLAG's operative for five years now, and a cop for nearly a decade before that. He'd served in Special Forces in 'Nam, had been a prisoner of war. He was confident of his own ability to handle whatever was in store for him here. But KITT…
KITT's dominant program was the preservation of human life. If his captors wanted to control KITT, they had only to threaten Michael. Which meant it was up to Michael to get them both out of this mess. And that meant finding a way out of this strange white room.
He turned his attention back to the control panel. Wherever he was, however he'd gotten here, Michael Knight did not intend to remain a prisoner for long.
Los Angeles, California
September 24, 1986
Sam awoke and spent a few panicky seconds of existential uncertainty, trying to recall who he was, where he was, when he was. It was an all-too-familiar feeling. Gradually memory trickled back. He was someone named 'Michael' and he was at someplace called the Foundation for Law and Government. As for when-and more importantly, why…Well, he was still working on that.
He sat up slowly, stiff muscles protesting every movement, and began pulling off the wrinkled clothes he had slept in. Whatever Michael had been up to had certainly left its mark.
Make that marks, he corrected himself, eying the pattern of bruises decorating his torso.
Michael's body looked as if it had been used as a punching bag. Felt like it too, he discovered as he eased cautiously to his feet. For a moment, he was seriously tempted to crawl back onto the massive bed, pull the covers over his head, and leave the Leaping to someone who hadn't been severely pummeled. He wondered what God, Fate, Time, or Whatever would think about Its quantum mechanic going on strike.
Probably not a great idea, he decided reluctantly, and, with a groan, shuffled toward the bathroom and a long, hot shower.
He stayed under the water, letting it pound some of the soreness from his aching body, until his fingertips began to shrivel. Reluctantly, he turned off the water and toweled himself dry. With the towel wrapped around his waist, he rummaged in the medicine cabinet over the sink for aspirin, which he swallowed with a handful of tap water. He swung the mirrored door shut…and caught his first real look at his reflection.
A man in his early-to-mid-thirties looked back at him with bright blue eyes. Michael had thick brown hair, now curling riotously from his shower, and a lean, tanned face with high sculptured cheekbones and a generous mouth. It was a handsome face, but there was something hard, almost dangerous about it. Only the mouth, with its hint of sensuality, saved it from cruelty. Along the firm jaw, which was in need of a shave, an angry line of bruises matched those on his torso.
Oh, good, Sam thought sourly, eying the bruises. I have the complete set. He sighed. He couldn't do anything about the bruises, but he could take care of the five o'clock shadow….
A few minutes later, clean-shaven and refreshed, he wandered back into the bedroom and found the walk-in closet. He dug out fresh jeans and a polo shirt, and dressed quickly. As he fastened the jeans, a thought occurred to him and he scooped up his abandoned clothes from the night before. If he hadn't been so exhausted, he would've thought of it sooner, he reflected, rummaging through the pockets for Michael's wallet. It yielded several credit cards issued to one Michael A. Knight, a laminated card identifying him as an official representative of the Foundation for Law and Government, and sixty-three dollars in worn bills. No family photos, no handy 'To Do' lists. No clues as to who this man really was or what Sam might be there to set right.
With a disappointed sigh, Sam shoved the wallet into his pocket and tucked in the shirt. Almost as an afterthought, he strapped on the heavy black wristwatch he'd removed before showering. It promptly beeped at him.
Sam jumped, then glared at the watch. Why had the alarm been set and what was he supposed to do about it? And how did he stop it from beeping? He touched a likely looking button-and was surprised when the computer's Boston accent addressed him from a tiny speaker grill on the watch-face.
"Michael, if you've finally managed to drag yourself out of bed, Devon has breakfast waiting for you on the portico."
"Uh, yeah. Okay," Sam stammered, feeling a bit like Dick Tracy as he spoke into the wrist-communicator. "I'll be right there."
"I'll tell him you're on your way."
Sam stared at his wrist, then shook his head. First artificially intelligent cars and now this; he was beginning to wonder if he was really in the past or if he'd somehow Leaped beyond his own time. He glanced up at the ceiling. "I sure hope You know what You're doing…."
It took him almost ten minutes of wandering around, trying to look like he knew where he was going, before he stumbled across the French doors leading out onto a broad, covered porch furnished with several sets of tables and chairs. Only one of them was occupied…by a distinguished-looking older gentleman who sat reading a newspaper. As Sam approached, he looked up with a smile. This, Sam figured, was probably Devon.
"Good morning, Michael," he said, waving Sam to a seat. "I trust you slept well?"
"Like a log."
"Glad to hear it, my boy. Dr. Alpert assures me you're only slightly 'worse for wear,' as they say." He indicated the covered dishes on the table. "I took the liberty of ordering breakfast for you. All your favorites, of course. Do help yourself."
Sam studied the offerings: steak, scrambled eggs, fried potatoes. He could practically feel his arteries hardening, but the other man was watching him expectantly so he scooped a portion of each onto his plate. At least there was orange juice, a small token of good health in this paean to cholesterol.
Under the watchful eye of his companion, Sam took a bite of the eggs and chewed. They were delicious, light and fluffy with just the right amount of real butter. It brought back pleasant memories of breakfasts on the farm: his mother's home cooking, prepared with fresh butter and creamy milk still warm from the barn. He shrugged philosophically. One steak and eggs breakfast wasn't going to kill him. Besides, he had to stay in character. He'd pass on the greasy potatoes, though.
While Devon refilled his coffee cup, Sam stole a quick peek at the folded newspaper on the table between them. The date was just visible: September 24,1986.
"I'm glad that you and KITT are back, Michael. As much as I would like to give you time to recuperate, I have an urgent matter that requires your attention."
Uh, oh, Sam thought, swallowing his mouthful of eggs. "Why don't I like the sound of that?"
"It's as bad as it sounds, I'm afraid." His expression somber, Devon hesitated, toyed with his coffee cup, then said, "Jennifer Knight's life may be in danger. She has apparently been receiving threatening phone calls. Unfortunately, I have only just learned of them."
"Oh?" was all Sam could think of to say. He had no idea how the real Michael Knight would react. "Have you contacted the police?"
"Yes, of course. But with no real evidence of wrongdoing, the police can do little to help at this point. I suppose I could simply dispatch a couple of Foundation security guards, but…" Devon sighed. "Michael, I know that Jennifer is not, perhaps, your favorite person. I would be the first to admit that she can be…difficult. And I have not forgotten the trouble she caused us last year when she attempted to shut down FLAG."
With a sigh, Devon continued, "But she is Wilton's daughter-and I owe it to his memory to keep her safe. That's why I want you and KITT to go to the International Technology and Human Rights conference in Las Vegas, where she is representing Knight Industries, and escort Jennifer to the Nevada estate. At least then I can be sure she is well-guarded."
Misinterpreting Sam's confused expression, Devon added, "Of course, I offered her accommodations here, but…Jennifer felt she would be more comfortable elsewhere. I felt it best not to press the matter. She isn't happy to be leaving the conference."
"Okay," Sam said. "When do I leave?"
"I knew I could count on you, Michael." Some of the tension went out of Devon's posture as he smiled. He got to his feet and Sam rose with him. Devon walked with him back into the house. "KITT will brief you on the way. I'm afraid there isn't much to go on. But once Jennifer is safe, I want you to find the person responsible for this and put them behind bars where they belong."
"I'll, uh, do my best," Sam said, trying to sound more confident than he felt. "Thanks for breakfast."
Devon smiled. "Do be careful, Michael."
Sam was out the front door and standing in the driveway before it occurred to him that the black car wasn't where he'd left it the night before. Hadn't the computer said something about 'recharging'? Sam looked around helplessly. If he were a recharging station, where would he be?
He jumped, then felt foolish. It was his watch, again. He recognized the voice…and this time, from the hints Dr. Alpert and Devon had inadvertently given him, he thought he could put a name to it as well. "KITT?"
"Who else would it be?" came the acerbic response. "Are you ready to leave?"
"Yeah." Sam glanced around the empty courtyard. "Uh, I'm out in front of the house. How about picking me up?"
"On my way."
A few minutes later, the sleek black sports car pulled up next to him and the driver's door swung open invitingly. "Good morning, Michael," KITT greeted him cheerfully as Sam slid behind the wheel.
"'Morning, KITT." Trying not to be too obvious about it, he peered curiously at the high-tech dash. It was even more impressive in the daylight. He focused on the vox box near the steering wheel. "Sleep well?"
"As you well know, I do not 'sleep'," KITT said. "However, my power packs are fully charged and my systems are operating at peak efficiency."
"That's good to know." Sam smiled at the flickering red LEDs he'd already begun thinking of as KITT's 'face,' then shifted in his seat. He winced as the injudicious movement sent fresh spasms through his aching muscles. "Wish I were operating at peak efficiency."
"Perhaps you should try not to get beaten up next time."
Sam snorted. "I'm pretty sure I didn't try to get beaten up the last time."
They were nearing the main gates. KITT announced, "I've plotted our route to the conference." A map popped up on the video screen set into the dash.
Sam studied it for a second, committing it to his photographic memory. He relaxed a tiny bit; at least now he wouldn't have to ask for directions. In companionable silence, they headed for Las Vegas.
Crystal Swan Hotel
Las Vegas, Nevada
September 24, 1986
Jennifer Knight's fingers tightened around the beige plastic of the telephone receiver. "Who is this?" she demanded, willing her voice not to shake. The only reply was a chilling, distorted laugh…and then the shrill electronic dial tone.
Trembling, she hung up the phone. The calls were becoming more frequent…and more frightening. When the telephone rang again, she started and let out a little cry of fear. She stared at the innocuous lump of plastic for a few seconds, letting it ring, not knowing what to do. Finally, she lifted the receiver. "H-hello?"
This time, a familiar voice was on the other end of the phone-line. "Jennifer? Is something wrong? Are you all right?"
"Oh. Devon, no, I'm fine. Just..." She tried to laugh it off. "I'm just a little jumpy, I guess."
Clutching the receiver, she sank onto the broad arm of the overstuffed sofa and tried to pretend her knees weren't suddenly weak with relief. "The conference is going well. I really think it would be best if I stayed and-"
"My dear, I know how much this means to you," he interrupted gently. "But I must insist you move to a more secure location-either the Knight estate in Nevada, as we agreed, or here to the Foundation mansion."
"I appreciate your concern, Devon, but I want to stay. I should stay. It's important that we maintain a strong presence-"
"Jennifer, nothing is more important than your safety."
The unvarnished concern in his voice quieted her half-formed objections. She had always looked upon Devon as a sort of 'adopted uncle'. She had never been close to her mother, always preferring her father's company when he allowed it. She and her brother Garthe had been close as children, but he was addicted to danger, thriving on conflict and the rush of adrenaline, and his chosen lifestyle had driven a wedge between them long before that disastrous sojourn in Africa had left him rotting away in prison. His stay there had apparently warped his mind, as well, if the Foundation's files were accurate regarding his return to the States: a misadventure which had left Elizabeth Knight serving time in a Federal prison and Garthe, after tangling once again with FLAG-and Michael Knight-dead.
Since her father's death, Devon had become even more important to her, as the only real family she had left. Now, she gave in gracefully to his pleas. "You win, Devon. I'll go to the Nevada estate. But there's no need for you to send Michael and KITT for me. I can-"
"They're already on their way, I'm afraid," he said, sounding not the least bit contrite. "And given KITT's standard cruising speed, they should be arriving there shortly."
She toyed with the phone cord, absently wrapping it around her fingers while she studied the patterns in the Oriental carpet. "Very well. I'll call you when I get ho-to the estate."
Gracious as always, he overlooked the slip. "See that you do," he said, affection warming his stern tone. "Be safe, my dear."
"I will." Carefully, she hung up the phone. 'Carefully,' because if she gave in to impulse, she would fling it across the hotel room. Frustrated, she slid down onto the sofa and rested her head against the overstuffed back cushion. Michael was already on his way; there was no chance she could avoid him.
She kicked off her Ferragamo pumps. With their narrow toe box and three-inch heels, they looked great with her red power suit, but they pinched her feet mercilessly. She wiggled her toes with a sense of philosophical resignation. Physical discomfort in the name of fashion was one of the easier problems she had to deal with these days. She stared at her discarded shoes, but her mind was elsewhere. Or, more precisely, elsewhen.
She closed her eyes, her thoughts drifting inexorably back to her first meeting with Michael Knight a year ago in Chicago. Things hadn't exactly gotten off to a stellar beginning...
Knight Foundation Offices
September 21 , 1985
(one year ago...)
As Michael Knight entered the Knight Foundation boardroom, Jennifer got her first real look at him. Oh, she had seen the photographs of him in his official file, had even thought herself well prepared for this meeting. But nothing could have prepared her for the shock of seeing him in the flesh. Her breath caught in her throat as her gaze settled on his face.
Michael didn't merely resemble her brother-he was her brother, reborn.
He looked at her with Garthe's cold blue eyes-eyes that had always seen right through her-and she could almost hear the wheels of calculation turning behind those familiar, handsome features. Her stomach clenched, making her glad she had skipped lunch. She felt hot and cold all at once, and her fingertips tingled. She gave him a coolly polite smile, letting her gaze slide over his as if he were beneath her notice. Her façade was nearly perfect, belying her inner turmoil.
He stood near one end of the long conference table, a bit out of place in his jeans and battered leather jacket, a casual island in a sea of Armani suits. If he felt uncomfortable, it didn't show, not even when the chairman singled him out with a gesture.
"Gentleman of the board, Ms. Knight." The chairman, John Lloyd, glanced at each of them in turn. "I'd like to present the FLAG operative, Michael Knight."
All eyes, including hers, turned to Michael, who merely nodded. Cool under pressure, she like Garthe.
Lloyd continued speaking, asking Michael about Devon's unexpected absence. Michael explained that FLAG's executive director had been detained elsewhere by an emergency. Then Lloyd turned the floor over to her. Gathering her poise around her like a shield, Jennifer first focused her attention on Michael.
"Please be seated, Michael," she said. It came out as an order rather than a polite request. Well, she was the boss. The thought had a calming effect and, when she continued, condescension crept into her voice. "I hope you don't mind my calling you 'Michael.' I have difficulty attaching the family name to you."
His head came up at that, jaw tightening and blue eyes narrowing as he met her gaze. "Since your father saw fit to give that name to me, and since he had it long before you or I, I think we should both respect his wishes."
Jennifer felt her own jaw clench. How dare he invoke her father? In a tight voice, she said, "My father, as you well know, is dead. I'm not." Her chin lifted. "I carry the name now-and I refuse to have it attached to violence and a vigilante state of mind."
"'Vigilante state of mind'," he echoed incredulously, and now the anger was clearly visible in his eyes and in the taut line of his shoulders. "Now wait just a minute, lady. You have no idea what we do!"
"Mr. Knight!" Lloyd rapped sharply on the table. "I will thank you to follow Robert's Rules of Order."
"Gentlemen, I'll get right to the point." A smug expression leaking past her control, Jennifer reclaimed the floor. Her manner was brisk, fully in charge- of herself and of the meeting. She thought her father would approve. "Generous though the Knight Foundation's resources may be, they are finite. They demand choices."
Rising, she looked each of them in the eye in turn, willing the board members to support her agenda. "We find ourselves on the cusp of a new age-an age of technology, of quantum leaps in pure research. Witness the discovery of Cernium-116. If we use this gift, we have within our grasp the resources to help change the world."
She put her heart into it, passionate belief behind every carefully chosen word- and it was working, she could feel it. They were hers now, nestled in the palm of her hand. She flicked a cool look at Michael, who sat rigid in his chair, brows furrowed as if he were trying to discern her motives.
"If we simply spend it, by continuing to fund a project like FLAG, what will we accomplish?" She reached for the control on the table. "To borrow a phrase, 'a picture is worth a thousand words.'"
The room lights dimmed and, on a stand at the far end of the table, a large television screen flickered to life. Images of Michael Knight and a sleek black car began to play on the screen. The Knight Industries 2000, her father's crowning achievement, she thought with a moue of distaste. And put to what end? Car chases? Demolition derbies? She winced inwardly as the screen showed the car crashing through a cinder block wall in a spray of fragments and cement dust.
"What you see here is a waste of resources, human and otherwise, " she said. She let her contempt enter her voice. "State-of-the-art technology used to support a…a James Bond fantasy run amok."
She touched another control. The lights came up quickly enough for her to catch the stunned expression on her adversary's face and she barely contained her triumphant smile. As she returned to her seat, she savored the feeling of victory.
Lloyd offered Michael his turn to speak. "Mr. Knight?"
In her lap, Jennifer's hands curled involuntarily into fists. 'Mr. Knight'…as if he were entitled to the name. Her name, Garthe's face…What was left to Wilton Knight's flesh and blood progeny, but empty memories and forgotten promises?
"I wasn't sure what to expect when I came here," Michael said. "I considered a lot of possibilities-all except an outright indictment of FLAG and the people who make it what it is." His voice dropped earnestly. "As it turns out, I'm glad Devon isn't here. This would break his heart."
"That's a cheap shot!" First her father, now Devon. She wanted to slap Michael for his temerity. How dare he-?
"I guess it's been awhile for 'Robert's Rules' for Ms. Knight, too," Michael goaded Lloyd, with a sharp glance at her.
The chairman frowned at her. "Ms. Knight, the rules of conduct apply to everyone."
Seething, Jennifer subsided.
"I don't have a Ph.D. in physics," Michael continued, turning his attention back to the members of the board. "I wasn't born to money, to influence-to privilege. I'm not exactly sure what 'cusp of a new age' means. Or 'quantum leaps.'" He crooked a half-smile. "Sounds great. I hope it happens."
There was a murmur of quiet laughter around the table and several heads nodded in agreement. Jennifer frowned. Was he winning them over?
"In the meantime," Michael said. "I agree that the world needs help. There's starvation, war, disease…Any feeling human being wants to see an end to that. I'm sure Wilton Knight felt the same way. He had to choose what to do with his resources, and he chose to save the basis of charity and caring-the law. Without it, there's nothing. No 'cusps' or 'quantum leaps.'"
For a moment, Jennifer almost found herself believing him, believing in the conviction in his voice. Sternly, she reminded herself to look for the angle. There had to be one. There always was.
"With it," Michael continued, "there's a chance. That's all we want-to guarantee that chance. If it takes going through a wall, we go through a wall. Walls can be fixed."
He sank back into his chair, seemingly impervious to the glower she leveled at him. Around them, the other board members conferred in hushed tones. Bitterly, she wondered how many of them he had swayed with his oh-so-earnest rhetoric.
Lloyd cleared his throat, regaining their attention. "This is obviously a complex and highly-charged issue," he said, sounding as if he were choosing his words carefully. "And due to circumstances, we've not yet had the benefit of Devon Miles' thinking. I therefore postpone a final decision until Friday."
He turned to Michael. "However, until that time, funding for the FLAG project is frozen…and its operative, Michael Knight, is hereby placed on suspension."
Michael's eyes widened. Seeing that small sign of dismay, Jennifer allowed herself a smile.
"What exactly does that mean?" he said, wary.
It seemed to Jennifer that Lloyd was holding back his own smile. "It means no more notoriety. No more car chases, no more stunts, no more 'James Bond fantasies.'"
Michael looked at her. For a second, the pain in his eyes was almost enough to convince her to reconsider. Then he stood abruptly and strode from the room, leaving her to sort out her thoughts on her own.
For Jennifer, it was a familiar place to be.
She came back to the present with a start. Someone was knocking insistently on the door of her hotel suite. For a second, she stared at the elegant furnishings as if seeing them for the first time; her memories had been so vivid, she'd half-expected to find herself at the Foundation mansion in Chicago.
With a sigh, she slid her shoes back on and went to answer the door.
Crystal Swan Hotel
Las Vegas, Nevada
September 24, 1986
Striding along the hotel corridor, Sam checked the room numbers on the doors as he passed them. KITT had provided him with a floor plan to the hotel as well as with Jennifer's suite number, so he should have no problem finding her. With a certain hologram long overdue for an appearance, Sam was doubly grateful for the computer's assistance. He wondered what was holding up the Project Observer this time: blonde, brunette, or redhead? No doubt this Leap was taking a backseat to Al's overactive libido.
The combination of Al, backseats, and libidos sent a flush of embarrassment rushing to Sam's face and he hastily turned his thoughts elsewhere. Four-ten, four-twelve...aha, four-fourteen. This was it.
Sam knocked on the door and waited. After a moment, he knocked again, a bit harder. Just when he was about to conclude that there was no one home, the door opened and he found himself face to face with Jennifer Knight.
As part of his briefing, the ever-thorough KITT had displayed a photo of the woman they were going to meet, so Sam recognized her at once. Again, he was struck by her resemblance to Michael. And if he'd had any doubts that there was a bond-blood or otherwise-between them, the look on her face when she saw him would have erased them, immediately.
A half-remembered quote floated through his mind: 'Happy families are all alike, but unhappy families are each unhappy in their own way.' From the shadowed look in her eyes, she fell into the 'unhappy' side of that equation. He wondered what her family was like...and how Michael fit into it. Her polite smile looked forced, as she stepped back to allow him into the room.
"Hello, Michael." She tried to hold the smile and failed. "I wasn't expecting you so soon."
He smiled and shrugged. "Devon made it sound urgent."
"Devon worries too much," she said, and her expression softened briefly. Just as suddenly, she sobered. "I know he means well, but this conference is important."
"So is your life."
Jennifer shot a startled look at him, as if his pronouncement surprised her. She shook her head. "Devon is taking these threats far too seriously."
"Or maybe you're not taking them seriously enough," Sam said. Her eyes flashed a warning and he held up a forestalling hand. "I'm sure whatever you're doing here is important to you, but-"
"You don't have a clue what this conference is about, do you?" She didn't wait for a response, the words coming out fast and angry. "Honestly, Michael! If it doesn't involve car chases and shoot outs, you just can't be bothered, can you?"
Sam blinked, surprised by the unprovoked attack. "That's not fair. And I think you know that."
He could see by her expression that he'd hit a nerve. She crossed her arms defensively, looked away. The uncomfortable silence stretched between them.
"I shouldn't have said that." Reluctantly, she glanced up at him, her eyes briefly meeting his before darting away again. Avoiding his gaze, she walked to the window and stared blankly out at the view. "I guess maybe the phone calls have effected me more than I realized."
"It'd be enough to make anyone edgy." He ambled over to join her at the window. "So, let's just forget it, call a cease-fire, okay?"
She sighed, leaned her forehead against the glass and, as if reminding herself, murmured, "You're just doing your job."
He decided to take that as an agreement. "Look, it's only for a day or two."
"Pretty sure of yourself, aren't you?" She shook her head. "The conference will be over by then. If I leave now, I'll forfeit my chance to participate."
"If you don't leave, you may be forfeiting your life."
She looked at him from the corner of her eye, and her mouth quirked into a reluctant smile. "You don't give up, do you?"
"It's part of my charm."
"I wouldn't go that far." She sighed. "I guess I should go pack, before I change my mind."
She disappeared into the bedroom. Sam looked around the sitting room and wondered sourly if Al was enjoying his latest conquest. "Al," he whispered. "Where the heck are you?"
Project Quantum Leap
Stallion's Gate, New Mexico
April 2, 20-
Despite the cheery exhortation on the yellow smiley face button Tina had insisted upon pasting on his lapel this morning, Al Calavicci was not having a nice day. Why, he thought sourly, was it always the damn computer?
"What do you mean you've lost the fix on Sam?" he demanded, glaring at Gooshie with such heat the programmer should've burst into flame. Tina, whose job it usually was to break the bad news to Al, was off somewhere in the bowels of the Project, buried up to her pretty neck in Ziggy's innards while she and a team of scientists tried to figure out this latest snafu.
Gooshie swallowed nervously. "We had a solid lock. But something, uh, happened. And now we…don't."
"Well, what the hell happened?" Al's voice was a growl. "How am I supposed to do my job if you don't do yours?"
"Sir! That's hardly fair," Gooshie objected, as strongly as he dared. "We do know where and when Dr. Beckett Leaped in initially. We just…can't get you to him, right now."
"Oh, is that all. What am I worried for, then?" Al's sarcasm could've sliced steel. He jabbed his unlit cigar at the flashing central console. "You get that billion dollar hunk of junk to do what it's supposed to do, and fast, or one of us will be looking for a new job. And I guarantee it won't be me."
"Yes, Admiral." Gooshie gulped and hastily retreated to the console.
Narrow-eyed, Al watched for a moment, then sighed mightily and rolled his dark gaze heavenward. Sometimes, God, Time, Fate, or Whatever really seemed to like making things tough on them. Chewing on his unlit stogie, he stalked toward the Waiting Room.
Since he couldn't get to Sam, he might as well make himself useful here.
It had taken a lot of patience and quite a bit of finesse, but Michael had finally forced open the locked storage drawers beneath the medical equipment. Most of them held first aid supplies: sterile gauze pads, alcohol swabs, tongue depressors. But in one drawer, he hit the jackpot-a scalpel, which he used to pry off the plastic cover on the electronic keypad beside the door. He studied the tangle of multicolored wires, debating which one to snip first. He had just decided to try the blue one when the door slid open on its own.
Busted, he thought, stepping back and sliding the purloined scalpel quickly out of sight.
A man came through the door-and Michael stared at him in amazement. He'd thought his own outfit was strange, but this guy took the cake. He was dressed from head to toe in silver lame, right down to his tennis shoes. And there was a bright yellow "Have a nice day" button on his lapel.
The newcomer peered at Michael's handiwork. Heavy black eyebrows drew together in a thunderous scowl, though-oddly enough-Michael got the impression the ire behind that stormy expression wasn't entirely directed at him. "Going somewhere, Houdini?"
"Yeah," Michael said. "Out."
"Not a good idea." The silver-clad man shot an accusing look at the ceiling. "Ziggy, what're you doing? Taking a nap? Or were you planning on just watching our guest go for an afternoon stroll?"
What sounded suspiciously like a raspberry issued from hidden speakers in the ceiling.
"Very funny. Now, wake up and reroute the door controls through the handlink and your, uh, I mean the main computer."
The 'admiral' threw a startled look upward, then muttered under his breath, "Oh, wonderful. Now she's having a nervous breakdown. Could this day get any better?"
Michael observed the exchange with interest. You never knew what might come in handy later, and anything, no matter how trivial, could be the key to escaping . He spared half a second to wonder if the unseen Ziggy had a body half as sultry as her voice. If he ever got out of this damned white room, maybe he'd get the chance to find out.
"Where are we?" he demanded. Startled, the admiral glanced up from his contemplation of the flashing device. Michael added, "Why did you bring me here? And what've you done with my car?"
The admiral's distracted scowl deepened. "I need some information."
"Welcome to the club." Michael's tone was arctic. "Too bad I'm not in a real talkative mood, right now."
"You may not believe me, but it really is in your best interest to cooperate with us," the admiral said, his reasonable tone at odds with his irritated expression.
"You're right." Michael scowled at him. "I don't believe you."
"No, you listen." Anger sharpened Michael's voice. "I want to know what's going on here!"
"I can't tell you that. But I promise you, we mean you no harm."
"I feel so much better now."
"Let's start with the basics," the admiral said, ignoring Michael's sarcasm. "What's your name?"
Puzzled, Michael frowned. They didn't know who he was? Then why had they grabbed him? He turned the admiral's question back at him. "Who the hell are you?"
"Call me Al."
"For now." Al waited expectantly, then, when Michael remained stubbornly mute, prompted, "Now, it's your turn. I just need to verify your name for our records."
Uh-huh. Michael had played the 'name, rank, and serial number' game before. With a mental shrug, he said, "Michael Knight."
"Now we're getting somewhere. And what exactly do you do for a living, Mr. Knight?"
"What'd you people do, pick me off the street at random?" Michael asked, sourly. His patience was at an end. "As for 'helping' me... How? By kidnapping me, holding me against my will, and interrogating me?"
"That's not what we-" Al looked suddenly a bit sheepish. "Well, okay, I know that's what it looks like. But our intentions are good." He chewed on his cigar for a few thoughtful seconds. "Look, there are a lot of things I can't tell you-who we are, exactly what we do. But I can tell you this much. No one here will hurt you... we only want to help."
"I wasn't aware I needed your 'help.'"
Al shrugged. His expression seemed to say that there was a lot Michael wasn't aware of. "Trust me."
"Just like that." Michael shook his head. "Somehow, I don't think it's in my 'best interest' to start thinking of you as my new best friend."
"That's too bad. Because right now you need a friend, Mr. Knight. And I'm all you've got."
They stared at one another, neither willing to give an inch. In the end, it was Al who flinched. He started back through the door, hesitating only long enough for one parting shot.
"Think about it, Mr. Knight. You need to cooperate with us."
"That's a good question," Al said, his dark eyes somber. "Let's hope we don't have to find out."
The door closed behind him, sealing Michael in alone with his troubled thoughts.
Crystal Swan Hotel
Las Vegas, Nevada
September 24, 1986
They were on the way out the door when the phone rang. Sam glanced at Jennifer, saw the deer-in-headlights look in her eyes before she turned away, and came to an instant conclusion. "Better let me. "
He reached for the phone, then hesitated. On impulse, he activated the commlink. "KITT? Can you trace the incoming call on this phone?"
"Of course, Michael." There was a short pause. "Trace activated."
Sam lifted the receiver. "Hello?"
Silence greeted him, as if the caller were thrown by the male voice.
"Hello? Is anybody there?"
"You can't stop me." The voice was strangely metallic, obviously electronically distorted. "I will win, no matter what you do."
"Who is this?" Sam demanded. "What do you want?"
"I will win."
There was a click, and Sam found himself listening to a dial tone. He clutched the receiver, frustrated and feeling the beginnings of real anger. What kind of person would do something like this? And how was he going to stop them?
He replaced the receiver, then remembered the commlink. "KITT? Any luck?"
"I'm sorry, Michael. The trace was incomplete."
"What about the caller…that voice?"
"Electronically distorted," KITT reported. "With a larger sample, I might be able to clean it up, but…"
"That's okay, you did your best. Thanks."
Jennifer waited anxiously in the doorway, a question in her eyes. Sam shook his head as he retrieved her bag. "Come on. Let's get out of here."
As she walked past him into the corridor, Sam heard her mutter, "'Day or two'… right," under her breath. She flashed him a sour look. "I suppose the Knight 2000 is waiting for us downstairs?"
"Well," he said, his tone deliberately light. "I'd have brought him up with me, but he wouldn't fit in the elevator."
There was a full second of silence, as if she couldn't believe what he'd just said, then she laughed. "Are you always this strange?"
"So KITT tells me." Sam smiled faintly, pleased to have relieved some of the tension between them. Now, if only Al would show up with some useful information…and soon. Gallantly, he offered her his arm. "Shall we?"
Shaking her head, a bemused expression lingering in her eyes, she accepted.
"Why do I get the feeling I'm going to live to regret this?" she asked, as if questioning the universe at large. But the hint of a smile lurked at the corners of her mouth, taking the sting out of her words.
Just as long as you live, Sam thought, determined to make it happen. Just as long as you live…
Half an hour later, they had left the city behind. Michael's polite attempts at small talk had fallen silent in the face of Jennifer's monosyllabic replies.
She wasn't trying to be unpleasant, she reassured herself for the tenth time in as many minutes. She really wasn't. But neither was she comfortable with him, and that made coming up with suitable small talk difficult. Her throat seemed to close up over the words, leaving her speechless, a malady that had not plagued her since her 'shy-adolescent' phase in high school. So, however unfair it might be to Michael, however much of a stone-cold bitch it made her seem, she simply couldn't help it. No, that wasn't entirely true. She was a grown woman. Of course, she could help it. She just wasn't quite sure how to go about doing it.
She sighed. 'Stone-cold bitch.' There were more than a few at Knight Industries who called her that, though never to her face. It was never wise to insult the founder's daughter, even if the founder was dead. She slanted a considering look at Michael. No doubt he had called her that a time or two, himself, especially after that fiasco in Chicago when she'd attempted to shut down FLAG.
Recalling the incident, she frowned, and found herself reconsidering. Michael wasn't exactly the type to keep his opinions to himself. A microscopic smile quirked the corner of her mouth. No, if Michael Knight thought she was being a bitch, he'd tell her-loudly and to her face. That he hadn't done so said something-about him and, perhaps, about her. She just wasn't sure what.
All she knew was that she really had underestimated him then.
Knight Foundation Offices
September 22, 1985
(One year ago...)
Jennifer had just finished one of the more lackluster games of tennis in which it had ever been her misfortune to participate. Her assistant, Jeremy, wasn't the most challenging of opponents, she thought, as she dabbed at her neck with a towel. At least she had worked up a decent sweat chasing down his wild returns.
Still in her tennis whites, she settled at her favorite spot, a wrought iron table on the brick terrace, and eyed the Foundation paperwork she'd left there, earlier. It had not miraculously completed itself while she was practicing her backhand, more was the pity. With a tiny sigh, she shuffled through the nearest stack of documents.
The sound of a shoe sole scuffing on the brick brought her head up, and her eyes widened in surprise as they met Michael Knight's angry gaze. She covered her shock with sarcasm. "Devon told me you were on a tropical vacation. Did you trade in your ticket for burglar's tools?"
"Okay," he snapped, impatience written in every taut line of his tall form. "You don't like me and, other than the fact that you're the daughter of a man I respected, I don't like you very much either. But there is one thing we have in common-"
"Yeah," she interrupted, instantly defensive and on the attack because of it. "We're both mammals."
"Back off, Jennifer. I don't have the time or the patience to deal with your cute little insults right now." With visible effort, he reined in his temper. "There's a group of people who are planning to steal your precious Cernium-116 from the vault."
"The vault is impenetrable."
"Nothing's impenetrable," he said, eyes flashing. "I know the machine they intend to use and I know the man."
He hesitated, a momentary chink in the armor of his certainty, then, in a softer voice, added, "The man is Devon."
She had to laugh. "You really should go on vacation. You need one."
"At least, he appears to be Devon," Michael said, as if she hadn't spoken. The certainty was back in his voice. "Jennifer, the man you're dealing with-the man you're trusting-isn't the real Devon Miles."
Bolting from her seat, she went to the refreshment tray the butler had left beneath a vine-covered pergola, hiding her outrage behind a coolly indifferent facade. "It's amazing," she said, struggling to control the anger that made her hands tremble as she poured herself a glass of iced tea. Pointedly, she did not offer him any. "It really is."
She spun to face him, her fingers white-knuckled on the tumbler. The glass was slick with condensation and threatened to slide from her too-tight grasp. "Not only do you look like Garthe, you think like him as well."
"That's why you dislike me so much," he said, in the tones of a man having an epiphany. "I remind you of your brother!"
"It's a good place to start." Goaded beyond control, she snapped, "You're virtually a reincarnation of him."
He had the gall to look puzzled. "Garthe was a criminal-"
"Flip sides of the same coin. Cops and criminals, sinners and saints." She shook her head, unable to believe that he could be so willfully blind. "Like Garthe, you're hooked on 'action' to the point of inventing it if it doesn't exist!"
It was nothing, compared to what she wanted to say, but he flinched, as if she'd called him a murderer. He reached into his pocket and she tensed-but he only withdrew a letter-sized, white envelope and held it up so that she could see it.
"I'm not inventing this," he said, in a voice gone strangely flat. He gestured with the envelope. "It's my resignation."
She reached eagerly for the envelope, but he pulled it back. Levelly, she met his hard blue gaze. "What do you want in return?"
"For you to believe me. That man is not Devon Mile." He drew in a deep breath, let it out slowly. "If this Cernium stuff is as valuable as you say, don't trust him."
"You're asking a lot."
"I'm offering a lot." He placed the envelope on the table between them. "Everything that's important in my life. Everything I've come to stand for..."
He seemed about to say more. Instead, he let the words die unvoiced, his fingertips resting on the envelope as if he were reluctant to give it up entirely.
She stared at the envelope, almost mesmerized by it. So tempting...Without him actively fighting her, implementing her plans for the Foundation's future would be a breeze. And she would owe him nothing but a transient benefit of the doubt. A part of her begrudged him even that much, but if it meant getting him out of her life, wasn't it worth it? Finally, she nodded. "All right, I'll do what you ask. But don't expect me to trust you."
"Your father did."
Her gaze leaped angrily to meet his and her expression hardened. "My father is dead."
Michael held her gaze for a heartbeat longer, then turned to walk away. He always seemed to be walking away from her. His parting shot floated back to her. "Not as long as FLAG exists."
FLAG. The Foundation for Law and Government. Wilton Knight's legacy, his final gift to the world. It still existed...no thanks to the best efforts of his children.
First Garthe had tried to kill Michael and destroy FLAG-not once, but twice, with the second attempt resulting not in FLAG's death, but in Garthe's own. Then she had attempted to shut them down. When she remembered how close she had come to succeeding, she couldn't stop the wave of shame that threatened to overwhelm her. Garthe's attempts on FLAG had involved overt violence; her own, a more subtle, political attack. Both had caused the FLAG team a great deal of pain, emotional and otherwise.
Garthe's hatred of FLAG had run deep. He hated the Foundation because it was their father's dream, and he had wanted to destroy not only it, but also the man who represented it. The man Garthe felt, perhaps rightly, that their father had 'created' to replace him. And what had Garthe's hatred earned him? An early death at the hands of the very man he had vowed to destroy.
Jennifer had resented Michael from the first, and still wasn't sure how she felt about him, but she didn't hate him as Garthe had. Garthe... Sometimes, it seemed as if FLAG had been paid for with her family's blood. Now, she could only hope it was worth it.
Jennifer felt her eyes burn with unshed tears and blinked rapidly, fighting them back. She would not cry in front of Michael, would not appear weak in front of him or anyone . That was simply not an option-not now, not ever. She felt his gaze on her and started to turn, intending to demand to know what he was staring at-
Instead, as bullets suddenly sprayed the rear windshield, she screamed.
Bullets spattered like metallic hail off KITT's rear windshield, scaring years off Sam's life and wringing a frightened scream from Jennifer. Both of them instinctively ducked. Sam crouched in his seat, his face inches from hers across the center console. She glared back at him, as if he had arranged for the gunplay just to annoy her.
"Someone's shooting at us!" Sam's heart was threatening to hammer its way out through his sternum and make a run for it. For all he knew, getting shot at was a daily occurrence in Michael Knight's life, but it was a novelty Sam could have done without.
"Thank you, Michael," KITT said, his dry, synthesized tone conveying sarcasm as well as any human voice. "I hadn't noticed."
Jennifer shrieked as more bullets ricocheted off KITT's armored exterior. "Do something!"
Like what? Sam wondered, then, in desperation, did the only thing he could do. He slammed his foot down on the accelerator. Obediently, the car leaped forward, the momentum shoving them both back against their seats.
"Can we lose them?" Jennifer risked a peek over the headrest, then ducked back down. She managed a nervous gasp of laughter. "What am I saying? I've read Dr. Barstow's reports. Even without the SPM modifications, this is the fastest car on the highway."
Well, that was good to know. Not for the first time, Sam wished Quantum Leaping came with a manual. Helpful Hints On Surviving Your New Leap. Of course, that was supposed to be Al's job. Where the heck was Al, anyway?
With the accelerator pressed to the floorboards, Sam watched the red digits on the speedometer quickly pile up past 80. Dragging his eyes back to the road, he risked a quick look behind them.
The pursuing car was a muddy gray sedan, doggedly hanging on to KITT's tail despite the sporadic traffic and KITT's sudden burst of speed. Heavily tinted windows hid the sedan's occupants from view, and the tag was- no doubt deliberately- obscured with mud.
Jennifer's shout snapped his attention back to the highway ahead just in time to avoid a collision with a Volkswagen Beetle that had appeared out of nowhere. Sam swerved, yanking the steering yolk hard to the left and dodging into the passing lane. KITT blew past the smaller car as if it were standing still.
The gray sedan was still following them. It caught up with them again and bullets spattered off KITT's rear panel, trailing sparks across the glossy black surface.
Great. Sam fought the urge to duck again. Just great.
While the bullets seemed unable to penetrate KITT's exterior, Sam doubted the other cars on the road were as well protected. A stray bullet could easily blow out a tire, shatter a windshield... or worse. Someone could wind up dead. Sam didn't want that on his conscience.
He slid a glance at his passenger. Clutching the edge of her seat with white-knuckled hands, Jennifer was scowling at him as if this was somehow all his fault. He frowned back at her. "…What?"
"Aren't you supposed to be good at this?" she snapped. "You haven't lost them, you haven't stopped them. You haven't even called the police!"
"I'm kind of busy right now," he shot back, teeth clenched. He threaded the car around a battered blue pick-up and a rusty-red El Camino. "Why don't you do it?"
"I have already alerted the proper authorities," KITT said, calm under fire. "I have given them a description of our assailants' vehicle. Unfortunately, the tag is obscured and the tinted windows prevent me from obtaining video of the driver."
He paused as a fresh spate of gunfire rattled off the windows. "I believe I may be able to secure a usable image of the gunman, however."
"Good work." Sam had a death-grip on the steering yoke. He wasn't sure how much longer he could keep up the Speed Racer imitation, though KITT was doing remarkably well in the role of the Mach 5. He hoped the cops arrived soon.
"Yes, good work, KITT." Jennifer glared at Sam as if to make sure he caught the slight. "Frankly, I'm beginning to wonder why you even need a partner. Especially one like-"
"Not. Now." Sam was seconds from shouting. He glared at the road. "Look, you can tell me how useless I am later. But for right now, just shut up, because I've got work to do and this isn't as easy as it looks!"
"Michael-" KITT began.
"Don't you start." Sam had had about all he was going to take, from either of them. As if being involved in a high-speed shoot-out on the interstate wasn't enough to deal with.
Sam jerked his gaze front and center-and added his own shout to the chorus. An eighteen-wheeler had pulled across the highway directly in front of them and its massive trailer now blocked both lanes. Sam's foot jumped instinctively to the brake pedal, even though he knew they couldn't stop in time. It would take the Jaws of Life to pry them out of the remains of the car.
The staccato sound of gunfire stuttered behind them.
Jennifer and KITT's voices overlapped.
"Do something, damn it!"
"Michael, the turbo-boost!"
The... what? Sam frantically scanned the bewildering array of controls, then shot an urgent look through the windshield, where the semi loomed like a metal dam thrown across the highway. There wasn't going to be enough of them left to fill a lunchbox. "KITT-"
An electronic tone sounded. The lights on the dash flickered as they changed configuration. The powerful whine of KITT's turbines increased in pitch-
-and a giant, invisible hand crushed Sam against his seat. He squeezed his eyes shut, hands locked in a useless grip on the steering wheel. KITT shot into the air, sailed effortlessly over the semi's trailer, and landed with a bone-jarring, double thump on the other side.
Behind them, the sedan skidded as its driver locked the brakes. Rear end slewing wildly as it practically stood on its nose, the gray car shuddered to a halt inches from the stalled truck. Safely on the other side of the impromptu roadblock, KITT sailed effortlessly down the highway.
Cautiously, Sam risked opening his eyes. They weren't dead? Well, that was… unexpected. Nice, but definitely unexpected. He craned his neck to peer behind them at the eighteen-wheeler receding in the distance.
They weren't dead. That was one in the 'plus' column. He straightened in his seat and tried to swallow his heart, which had lodged in his throat during the chase. Beside him, Jennifer dropped her head into her hands and groaned. She looked as if she couldn't decide whether to be angry or sick. Then she whacked him on the arm, hard enough to hurt. Looked like 'angry' was the lucky winner.
"You did that on purpose!"
"You have got to be kidding." He gave her an incredulous look. "You think I enjoyed that?"
"Oh, please." She snorted in disgust. "You live for that sort of thing." Crossing her arms over her chest, she slumped in her seat. "I can't believe you did that to me, Michael. It's so... so childish. "
Unfairly accused, Sam turned to his partner for help. "KITT, tell her I didn't - that I wouldn't-"
"Ordinarily, I would," KITT said, earnestly. "But you haven't been yourself and, frankly, Michael, I'm beginning to worry about you. Devon should have given you adequate time to recover from the injuries you sustained on our last mission before sending you out again."
Sam didn't think it was a good idea to go down that particular road. "Okay, maybe I'm not exactly at my best. After this is over, I'll request a week off. Okay?"
"You're injured?" Jennifer sounded calmer, almost contrite. "No one told me you were hurt."
"Don't worry about it. I'm fine."
"Don't listen to him," KITT said. "He really does need some time off."
"I'll speak to Devon about it when this is all over," she said, with another frown for Sam. At least this one seemed motivated more by concern than ire.
He opened his mouth to reassure them both, but an electronic chime interrupted him. He looked around the cabin, wondering which of the car's many devices was calling for his attention this time. Once again, KITT inadvertently came to his rescue.
"The Foundation is calling. It's Kathy."
Car-phone, Sam realized. He still had no idea which of the hundred or so buttons decorating the various consoles activated it, so he said, "Uh, put it through, will you, KITT?"
The slight hesitation before his assumed name made Sam frown, but he didn't have time to dwell on it. A television screen on the dash lit up to reveal an attractive woman. She was perhaps a few years older than Jennifer, with dark eyes and a cinnamon complexion. Her worried expression relaxed minutely as she focused on him through the two-way video link. "Michael, you're needed back at the Foundation, immediately. Something terrible has happened!"
"What's wrong?" Sam exchanged a puzzled glance with Jennifer, who was looking equally concerned.
"It's Devon. He...he's gone." Kathy didn't appear to be the type to upset easily, but right now her distress was almost palpable. She paused to swallow, visibly controlling her emotions, and drew a shaky breath. "Michael, there was blood on his desk. Dr. Barstow is reviewing the security tapes, but she said to call you and tell you-"
"We're on our way," KITT said, before Sam could even begin to frame an answer. The steering wheel suddenly developed a mind of its own, wrenching itself out of Sam's hands as the black car did a perfect 180 and rocketed back the way it had come.
Sam risked a glance at Jennifer, who seemed locked in her own thoughts and unaware of KITT's mutiny. He offered Kathy an encouraging half-smile. "We'll be there as soon as possible. In the meantime, try not to worry."
"I don't think we're in any danger. Security is...They said..." She shook her head, obviously frustrated with her own lack of composure. "It's just... It's Devon."
"I know," Sam said, his voice gentle. "We'll be there, soon."
Kathy nodded, and the video screen went dark.
Sam glanced at Jennifer. "Looks like we'll have to postpone taking you to the Knight estate. I'm sorry-"
"Don't be ridiculous," she snapped. Her eyes glittered with unshed, and unacknowledged, moisture. "Of course, I'm coming with you. Devon's the only real family I have left. I have to know if he's... I have to make sure he's all right."
"I didn't mean-"
She shrugged off his attempted apology. "Just get us there, Michael. As quickly as you can."
The black car had already aimed itself at L.A. Trusting KITT to get them there safely, Sam floored the accelerator.
Project Quantum Leap
Stallion's Gate, New Mexico
April 2, 20-
It had been hours since their first attempt at contacting Sam had bounced Al back from the past like a rubber ball against a brick wall, and it didn't look as if they were making any progress. Pacing the control room, Al directed his glower indiscriminately at the technicians scattered about the room. Most of them, heads-and sometimes shoulders-buried in Ziggy's inner workings, didn't notice the Observer's ire. There was one, however, who couldn't escape Al's wrath, even when he was halfway inside the center console.
"Gooshie!" Al stopped beside the console, careful of the delicate parts strewn haphazardly on the floor around it, and glared at the pair of legs protruding from the device. There was the sound of something metallic hitting the floor, a muffled curse, and then the legs shifted nervously.
"We're trying, Admiral." Gooshie's voice was muffled by the piece of machinery that appeared to have swallowed his upper body.
"You've been 'trying'," Al snapped, leaning over and attempting to peer underneath the table-like machine. "I'm fed up with 'trying'! I want to see some succeeding. Pronto!"
"But...uh, yes, sir." The legs twitched, as if Gooshie was trying to draw them up protectively. Al was sure Gooshie would have retreated completely under the table-like device if there had been room.
Al sighed and automatically patted his pockets, looking for a cigar. Dammit. Just...dammit.
They'd finally gotten a handle on Sam's whereabouts, only to find they couldn't get Al to him. Gooshie was sure the problem lay with Ziggy, rather than with the timestream itself. For his part, Al wasn't sure which option he found more terrifying. On the one hand, without Ziggy in proper working order, he had no way of reaching Sam. But Ziggy was a machine, and machines could be fixed. Time, on the other hand...Well, the only quantum mechanic Al knew was currently otherwise engaged.
He scrubbed a weary hand over his face, feeling the scratch of razor-stubble against his palm. Had it really only been hours since the start of this Leap? He shook his head. Between the irrational computer and their recalcitrant Visitor, it had already been one hell of a Leap-and he hadn't even gotten to talk to Sam yet. When this was all over, he was taking Tina and hitting Vegas for a well-deserved long weekend, Project Quantum Leap be damned.
Al turned and trudged back up the ramp into the Accelerator. He called back over his shoulder, "Gooshie! We're trying it again."
"Whatever you say, Admiral!"
Not giving himself time to change his mind-the last two attempts had been extremely unpleasant and not something he was eager to repeat-Al hurried into the Imaging Chamber and tried not to wince as the door sealed behind him. He raised the handlink.
"Okay, Gooshie," he said, the determination firm in his voice. "Once more with feeling."
Los Angeles, CA
September 24, 1986
There was a uniformed guard at the Foundation's front gate. Sam lowered the car window and exchanged a few polite words with her as she leaned down to check his I.D. and give KITT's interior a quick once-over before nodding a greeting to Jennifer, and waving them through. Luckily, she was oblivious to the third passenger, half-standing, half-crouching in the backseat.
Sam nearly leaped out of his skin as Al's familiar, gravelly voice hissed his name from somewhere near the headrest of Sam's seat. He darted a quick look over his shoulder and was vastly relieved to see the Project Observer peering back at him, a crooked grin on his lips.
"Good to see you, too, Sam," Al said, smiling as he correctly deciphered the look on Sam's face.
A moment later, the car pulled up in front of the Foundation mansion. Jennifer didn't wait for him to open the door for her. She was halfway up the Foundation's steps before he had even gotten completely out of the car. He paused, one hand still on the top of the car door. Sam started to speak, then remembered KITT and simply watched Al glide through the side of the car.
"Sam, you wouldn't believe the trouble we've been having!" Al said, gesturing broadly with the hand that held the handlink. Unnoticed by the hologram or Sam, one of the instruments on KITT's dash lit, the read-out fluctuating in time with the lights on the handlink. "Ziggy's going nuts! Gooshie has no idea what…"
Sam cut his eyes toward the building, trying to indicate that Al should save the conversation until they were alone…although, as far as Al was concerned, they were alone. At the same time, the door beneath his hand jerked itself from his grasp and shut with a decisive click. Sam glanced down at the roof of the black car in surprise. "KITT?"
Al looked startled by the seeming non sequitur. "…Sam?"
"I believe I should recharge," KITT said, already restarting his engine. "I will have Bonnie run a systems check, as well."
"Um, okay," Sam said. Ignoring Al's open-mouthed stare, he watched the car drive away. Something didn't feel quite right…
"What the hell is going on, Sam?" Al's demanding voice snapped Sam's attention back to his holographic companion. "That car-"
"-is a long story." Sam sighed. "One we don't have time for right now." He shot Al a pleading look. "Please tell me you have some idea why I'm here. Or what happened to Devon Miles."
Al frowned at his commlink in confusion. "Who's Devon Miles?"
Sam rolled his eyes skyward. "Wonderful."
Al followed Sam into the mansion, not really paying attention to the words Sam was grumbling under his breath, just relieved to be hearing Sam's voice again. In the meantime, he punched the name 'Devon Miles' into the handlink and waited impatiently for it to relay the information. He looked up to see that Sam had stopped at the foot of an impressive staircase and was speaking to the woman who had been with him in the car.
"…should've refused," she was saying fiercely. "I was fine, it would've been fine. Devon-"
"Devon was worried about you," Sam said quietly. "He thought you were in danger. I happen to agree with him."
"You! You should've been here! Doing …whatever it is you do here." She choked on a quickly stifled sob. "If you'd been here, Devon would still be…"
"He's all right," Sam said, trying to sound like he believed it. "We'll find him."
"How do you know?" she demanded hotly. "You don't know. You can't!" She shoved him away and fled up the stairs.
Sam ran a frustrated hand through his hair. He turned to Al just as the handlink beeped.
"Devon Miles. Chairman of the Foundation for Law and Government. Disappeared September 24, 1986…" Al read from the tiny screen. He frowned. "…Body discovered September 26, 1986. The death was ruled a homicide."
Sam closed his eyes. When he opened them, they were haunted. "I have to find him."
"We're on it," Al assured him, punching rapidly at the handlink's controls. The device emitted an earsplitting screech and all the lights on its left side went dark. Al spat out a virulent curse and slapped it against his palm. "Ziggy!"
The hologram flickered. The lights on the left side of the handlink came back on…and the ones on the right went out. Static distorted Al's image. He growled and shook the handlink, worsening the distortion. "Sa-"
Al winked out like a defective picture tube, leaving Sam to blink at the empty air where the hologram had stood only a second before. He was on his own, again.
Project Quantum Leap
Stallion's Gate, New Mexico
April 2, 20-
Al stormed out of the Accelerator in no mood for an argument. Pointing the handlink at Gooshie, he snapped, "Get it fixed! I don't care what it is. Whatever it is, get it working again!"
Still in full admiral mode, Al continued, "And get me some useful information on one Devon Miles. Works for the Foundation for Law and Government. He may be the reason Sam's there, so I don't care if you have to send someone down to the local library and look it up the old fashioned way. Just find me something I can use to help Sam!"
Shoving an unlit cigar into the corner of his mouth and chomping down hard on the end, Al stormed out of the room under full steam. Behind him, Gooshie ran a shaking hand over his forehead, sagged against the main console, and tried to remember how to breathe. Then he dispatched underlings to do the admiral's bidding, huffed once into his scraggly mustache, and dove back into the super-computer's innards.
Michael was confused. After his escape attempts, he had expected to be moved to a more secure location, or to at least be restrained in this one. Neither had happened so far, which worried him. Did his captors have some reason for wanting to keep him in this particular room? And, if so, what could it possibly be? He looked around at all the dormant medical equipment pushed up against the hospital-white walls. When he had first seen it, the ranks of machines had conjured unwelcome images of a high-tech torture chamber. But there had been no torture, beyond the mundane torture of enforced tedium. Al and Verbena were astonishingly gentle- if somewhat inept- interrogators. Verbena in particular seemed more concerned with his well-being than with getting the answers to any question more pressing than 'how do you feel?' And Al…
Michael wasn't quite sure what to make of Al. The man was… odd. Short, stocky, bellicose (and a bad dresser) - with surprising intelligence shining in his dark eyes. He carried himself like a soldier and dressed like a clown. He seemed almost desperate to know… something. But his questions seemed to indicate that he had only the vaguest of notions who Michael was or what he did. Michael shook his head, unable to make sense of the confusing puzzle of contradictions.
His gaze wandered back to one blank white wall. A part of him kept expecting KITT to burst through the wall in an explosive shower of plaster and lathe, as his partner had done on so many previous occasions. KITT was the ultimate 'get out of jail free' card. And Michael had played that card plenty of times before, starting with their very first mission together.
Michael's thoughts drifted back a few years, remembering. He had been on his first assignment for the Foundation, tracking an industrial spy by the name of Tanya Walker. In the course of the investigation, he had managed to get himself thrown in jail, putting a damper on his investigative activities. That night, KITT had crashed through the brick wall of his jail cell, freeing Michael and getting the investigation back on track. It was the first time KITT had rescued him; it would not be the last. But, this time, there was no sign of KITT riding in like the cavalry, to save Michael at the last minute.
Absently, Michael rubbed his fingertips across his forehead. Thoughts of Tanya Walker always made his head ache, a little reminder of the point-blank shot she had put into his forehead. The small caliber bullet had struck the metal plate in Michael's head, saving his life but shattering his face. Of course, it wouldn't have saved his life for long - If it hadn't been for the intervention of Wilton Knight, Michael would have bled to death under the clear, cold sky in the Nevada desert on that long ago September night. Wilton's surgeons had rebuilt Michael's ruined face, healed his injuries, and given him the chance at a new life.
At the time, Michael had been completely unaware that the new face he had been given already belonged to someone else - Wilton's estranged son, Garthe. The subsequent meeting of Michael and Garthe (and the unwanted revelation of his "twin") had been nothing short of cataclysmic. Both Michael and KITT had suffered, nearly losing their lives at the hands of Garthe and his killer truck, not once but twice.
A new thought occurred to him: Could these people be working with Garthe? Granted, he was presumed dead after their last encounter. Garthe had driven his armored semi off a cliff into the Pacific Ocean, but no body had ever been recovered, despite an extensive search by both the Coast Guard and the Foundation's own divers. Michael had learned the hard way not to underestimate the strength of Garthe's madness. As long as Garthe was alive and capable of seeking revenge, he would return until one of them was truly dead. And Michael would not believe Garthe was dead until he had personally identified the body. Still, this set-up didn't really feel like Garthe's style. If Garthe were behind this, Michael was certain he would have been subjected to something a lot more painful than frustration and boredom by now.
He lay back on the hospital-style bed and forced himself to relax. He needed to be alert, his head clear, ready to take any chance that presented itself for him to escape his captors and he couldn't do that if he wore himself out with fruitless worrying. He had to conserve his resources, find a way out of here, and locate his partner.
He just hoped that KITT was still in one piece when he found him.
Los Angeles, CA
September 24, 1986
The building was as large as an aircraft hangar. In fact, it had once been an aircraft hangar, back when Wilton Knight had first begun developing the new technology that would eventually culminate in the creation of the Knight 2000. The jet Wilton had designed and built would have revolutionized the aviation industry…had it ever seen the light of day. But forces beyond Wilton's control had taken the airplane away from him, hidden the revolutionary designs away. The setback might have broken a lesser man. It had merely made Wilton Knight all the more determined to succeed and taught him a valuable lesson-the time was not yet ripe for the widespread dissemination of the new technologies Knight Industries was creating. So, when he turned his genius toward automotives rather than avionics, Wilton was careful to work in secret.
Now, the building that had once housed the Knight Industries jet served as the repair and maintenance facility for the Knight Industries Two Thousand. The massive doors at one end of the hangar opened at KITT's electronic command and the car rolled easily inside the echoing space. A bay at the near end of the building housed several banks of diagnostic computers, tools, and a workbench behind which KITT recognized the familiar figure of Bonnie Barstow. Dressed in her usual work coveralls, Bonnie was pacing the concrete floor, her normally smooth brow furrowed with worry. She looked up in surprise as KITT pulled into the space designated for him and managed a faint smile of greeting.
She gave him a quick visual once-over. The sleek black chassis showed no obvious battle scars and car's powerful turbine engine sounded as finely tuned as ever. That meant that any damage he might have come to report was of the more subtle kind, a problem with his complex electronic systems or the delicate components that made up the computer itself. "Are you all right, KITT?"
"I believe so, Bonnie. However…" KITT hesitated. His internal diagnostic programs showed nothing amiss with his systems, yet he had registered several anomalous readings since entering the Foundation grounds. Readings he could neither duplicate nor explain. "I think you should check out my sensor array, particularly my bio-sensors."
"Why? What's he done to you this time?" Bonnie demanded, eagerly accepting the chance to direct her nervous energy, worry, and frustration toward a more tangible target than whoever was responsible for Devon Mile's disappearance. She grabbed a diagnostic wand from the workbench and advanced on KITT, who obligingly popped the hood without being asked.
"Nothing, Bonnie," KITT responded calmly. "But… I've been getting strange readings. And…I think there may be a glitch in my sensor array."
"A glitch?" She paused in the act of checking under the hood. "What kind of glitch? We went over all of your systems after your last mission. Everything should be in top shape."
"I… am not certain," KITT confessed quietly. "I picked up some kind of electronic signal a few minutes ago in front of the mansion - and earlier, when we entered the grounds."
"What sort of signal?"
"I don't know, Bonnie, that's what is so strange about it. I almost dismissed it as static or some kind of electronic interference, but-"
"But your systems are hardened against most kinds of interference and there's no reason for you to be picking up static, especially here." Bonnie looked troubled. "Anything else? Any other anomalies?"
Again, KITT hesitated. For a moment, he was silent except for the steady sweep of his forward scanner as he attempted to order his concerns. He needed to express them in a way that Bonnie would understand their import, but not so that she would immediately suspect the worst of his partner. His concerns about Michael were even harder to quantify than the anomalous readings and, for KITT, far more worrying. "I am concerned about Michael. He is not himself."
She straightened to peer around his hood. "What do you mean?"
"Perhaps it is nothing," he hedged. "I'm not sure if it's anything, really. Michael has been under a great deal of stress and should be resting after our last mission."
"KITT? What does any of this have to do with Michael?"
"He…Bonnie, he is behaving very strangely, even for Michael."
Reacting to the distress in KITT's voice, Bonnie left off checking his sensors and came around to the driver's door. KITT opened it for her and she slid carefully behind the wheel, where she could easily see his vox box, a useful barometer of KITT's emotional state. She reached out and patted the dashboard in an unconscious gesture of reassurance.
"Okay," she said soothingly. "What does Michael say?"
KITT gave the electronic equivalent of a heavy sigh. "He says he's tired."
"You don't believe him?"
"No, I do. My bio-medical sensors indicate physical exhaustion and he has not yet fully recovered from the injuries he sustained on our last mission."
"I'm sensing a 'but' here."
"He is not himself! He is…distant. At times, he acts as if he barely knows me and he seems to have forgotten how to activate even my simplest functions."
Bonnie's eyes widened. "What do you mean?"
"He didn't even remember the turbo-boost!" KITT said plaintively. "Michael would never forget the turbo-boost, Bonnie. Something is very wrong."
"You may be right," Bonnie said, feeling a shiver work its way along her spine.
First the threatening calls to Jennifer Knight, then Devon's disappearance. And now this. Was Michael ill? Or was there an imposter in their midst? She had been spared a personal confrontation with Wilton Knight's son, Garthe, but she had read the files on his two, nearly fatal confrontations with Michael and KITT. Officially, Garthe was considered to be dead, his body lost to the strong currents off the Pacific coast. Unofficially… Well, she knew that she wasn't the only one at the Foundation who expected Garthe to return like a bad penny.
"KITT…" Bonnie sat up straighter. "Show me the last scan you took of Michael."
His electronics humming, KITT complied.
Sam hesitated outside the door, uncertain whether or not to knock or to simply barge right on in. He settled for rapping his knuckles once on the door frame and then swinging the door open without waiting for an invitation to come in. The logic of this strategy was proven when an angry "Go away!" greeted him as he stepped into the room.
"Which part of 'go away' don't you understand? It's a simple imperative sentence. My God, that's on a Dick and Jane level! I can't make it any simpler!" Jennifer retorted, glaring at him with a fury all out of proportion to the transgression.
Taken aback by the unprovoked attack, Sam could only stare at her for a long moment. Then he blurted out the first thing that came to mind, the thing that had been bothering him since meeting this woman. "Why do you hate me so much?"
She froze. She stared at him with wide, stricken eyes and backed away slowly. "I don't-" She swallowed heavily, shaking her head in denial. "I don't hate you."
"Please," he said softly, one hand reaching out to her. She flinched away from him. "Talk to me."
She didn't seem, at first, to even hear him. Her eyes were unfocused, staring at something only she could see. Still shaking her head, she pressed the fingers of one hand to her lips and whispered, "I don't… hate you. Not… you. I don't…"
"Jennifer." Gripping her arms, Sam gave a light shake, forcing her attention back to the here and now. "I can't help you if you won't talk to me."
She blinked up at him, absorbing his words slowly. Then she laughed, short and sharp. Startled, Sam released her.
"Why would you even want to help me?" she demanded, her eyes glittering with unshed tears. She laughed again, dismissively. "Look at me! All I've done is snipe at you and Devon-"
The name seemed to shatter her fragile composure. She sobbed, hugging herself tightly. "Oh, God. This is all my fault. If you had been here instead of playing nursemaid for me-"
"I was where Devon needed me to be," he said firmly. "He wanted to make sure you were safe. It was important to him. And to me."
Her head jerked up and she stared at him, tears staining her cheeks. She shook her head. "Why? Why do you care? After all I've done, all I've put you through-"
Sam had a feeling she wasn't just talking about the trip from Vegas to Los Angeles. He spared a brief moment to wish for Al's reappearance, then soldiered blindly onward. "Nothing you've done could make me want to see you dead."
She eyed him with obvious disbelief. "Michael, I tried to shut-down the Knight Two Thousand project. I tried to take KITT away from you. If I had succeeded, you would be making a living as a rent-a-cop or a lifeguard or something. You wouldn't be working for the Foundation for Law and Government. You can't tell me that you don't resent that - and me - at least a little."
"Well…" Sam hesitated. No doubt the real Michael Knight would harbor at least some resentment over the actions Jennifer was describing to him. But it was in the past, and he wasn't the real Michael Knight. He had a job of his own to take care of and in order to do it, he needed Jennifer to confide in him. "Maybe just a little."
He tried to make light of it, but his mind was racing. Could it have been some lingering resentment -such as she seemed certain must exist- that caused Michael to, perhaps, be less than diligent in the pursuit of his own job? Was that what he was here to set right?
"Things worked out okay, right?" he said. "I'm still here, after all. I still work for the Foundation. And I still have KITT."
"No thanks to me," Jennifer mumbled. She wiped her eyes, careful of her makeup, then frowned at the mascara that nonetheless stained her fingertips. Sam produced a clean handkerchief and offered it to her. "Michael…" She took another deep breath, then released it in a sigh. "I'm sorry. For everything. At the time, I thought I was being so logical, so reasonable. I convinced myself my motives were pure, that I only wanted what was best for my father's legacy. But…"
She took another deep breath, then squared her shoulders and continued. "But I wasn't being logical, at all." She laughed derisively, twisting the handkerchief between her fingers. "On some level, I was being a jealous little girl, unhappy because her daddy was paying more attention to someone else. It doesn't help that you look exactly like… like my brother, Garthe. I know what he was. I'm not that much of a fool. I know what Garthe was capable of. But he was my big brother. I may not have …liked the man he became, but we were close enough as children. And looking at you, wearing his face…"
She forced a half-hearted smile. "I know you aren't him. Despite what I said when we first met, the two of you are really nothing alike, not where it counts. But every time I look at you, I see him. And it…it hurts."
More confused than ever, Sam could only nod helplessly. He had thought he was starting to get a handle on the complicated relationship between Michael and Jennifer, but now…
Sam touched his cheek thoughtfully. He was accustomed to wearing someone else's face (and body), Leap after Leap. But how did Michael feel about having another man's face as his own? And wouldn't he resent being judged not on his own merits but for his resemblance to another man - one who, from the sound of it, wasn't exactly a pillar of the community. What Sam couldn't quite figure out was - who exactly was Michael Knight? And who was he to Jennifer? Not her brother, she had made that much clear, at least. An adoptive brother, perhaps? A… cousin? A stranger who just happened to share her last name, work for her family's company, and who looked exactly like her estranged brother? And where did the Foundation and KITT fit into the puzzle? It was enough to give him a raging headache just thinking about it.
"Jennifer," he said slowly. "There's nothing I can do about the way I look. I'm sorry if it causes you pain, but-"
She held up a forestalling hand. "I know that. I'm not blaming you. I know that it was my father's choice to give you that face. I just wish…" She shook her head sharply. "It doesn't matter, now. What' s done is done. I'll just have to… try harder to learn to deal with it."
"I'll help in any way I can."
"You already do. Just by… being yourself." She looked up at him. "You're so different from Garthe. I'm sure one of these days I'll get it through my thick skull that you're really not him. But… It's something I'll have to do on my own."
Sam watched her for a second, then nodded slowly. "You're right. And I think you're on your way to doing just that, Jennifer. You're a strong woman. I know you can do this."
"Thank you." She smiled. It was a bit watery, a little self-derisive, but it was a genuine smile. And it held hope. "That means a lot to me, you know."
Sam smiled back. "I'm glad." He just hoped it would be enough. "Now… Let's go see what we can do about getting Devon back, shall we?"
Eyes gleaming, Jennifer nodded. She took the arm he offered her and they walked out the door arm in arm. "Let's go save Devon!"
Project Quantum Leap
Stallion's Gate, New Mexico
April 2, 20--
Al stormed into the room looking ready to chew Michael up and spit him out at the least provocation. "What have you got against Devon Miles?"
Michael frowned. "What're you talking about?"
"Unless you start cooperating, Devon Miles will be dead in less than 24 hours."
"Is that a threat?"
"Hardly." Al snorted. "I'm trying to save his life. But I need your help to do it!"
Thrown completely off-guard by this information, Michael considered what Al was saying. "What kind of help?"
"Information," Al said promptly. "Does Mr. Miles have any enemies, people who might want to see him dead?"
"A few," Michael said cautiously. "How can I be sure you're not one of them?"
Al sighed. "You are a very suspicious man, Mr. Knight."
Al switched tacks. "Tell me about your occupation, then. What exactly is it you do for the Foundation for Law and Government?"
"Back to that again, are we?" Michael shook his head. "What kind of operation is this, anyway? You just snatch people at random and hope for the best?"
"Something like that." Al muttered something under his breath about time and fate that Michael couldn't quite catch. He stuck his unlit stogie in the pocket of his shirt and continued gruffly, "What do I have to do to convince you we're on your side?"
"Let me go."
"No can do, son." Al looked genuinely regretful, but Michael knew that appearances could be deceiving, so he didn't put too much stock in the impression. "You'll get to go home as soon as possible. But not now."
"Then let me see my car."
Again, Al shook his head. "I told you already, we don't have your car. I can, however, tell you that it's safely back at your Foundation HQ - and it's a lot chattier than you are, I might add."
Michael frowned. On the one hand, he wanted to believe Al, wanted to believe that KITT was safe and well. But... "KITT would never abandon me," he said, half thinking aloud. "If my partner's out there, he's lookin' for me and he won't give up until he finds me."
Al toyed with the end of his tie, a translucent thing that had tiny LEDs scattered through it so that it was lit from within. Michael thought it looked like something out of an episode of Star Trek. "What if he didn't know you were missing?"
"How could he not know-?" Michael began, then stopped abruptly. His eyes widened in dawning horror. Maybe he hadn't been so far off the mark when he had wondered if these people were in Garthe Knight's employ. "What have you done? Replaced me with-? Why would KITT not know I'm missing?"
"No one knows," Al said complacently. "No one will have to know, if you'll just help me out a little. You'll be back where you belong in no time flat."
"It won't work," Michael said suddenly. He straightened his shoulders, confident in his new conviction. "Even if your imposter is good, KITT will know the difference."
"I wouldn't count on it," Al mumbled. "Still... I need your cooperation and I don't have a whole lot of time to get it." He fumbled in a jacket pocket and came up with a small hand mirror. "I don't usually do this, but I think there's something you need to see."
Cautiously, Michael took the proffered mirror. With a feeling of genuine, if non-specific, dread, Michael steeled himself to look into the glass. He studied Al a moment longer, then raised the mirror... and stared, wide-eyed at what he saw there.
It wasn't the first time Michael had looked into a mirror and seen a face not his own. But the shock was as great as it had been the first time. Over the years he had finally grown accustomed to the face in the reflection. Now... Now he looked at a stranger's face once more. Unlike that first time, not even the eyes of the man in the mirror were the same. The stranger had light brown hair with a prominent white streak over one brow. The entire shape of his face was different, as were the hazel eyes staring back at him from the glass.
"…How is this possible?" Michael whispered, unable to wrench his gaze away from the mirror. There were no scars or other signs of plastic surgery and there was no way this face was the result of trickery with appliances and special effects makeup. "How long have I been here? How did you do this to me?"
"You haven't been here that long, only a few hours," Al assured him. "And don't worry. When this is over, you'll go back to looking like you always have. We haven't done anything to change your actual appearance."
Michael gaped at him. "Then what do you call this?" He gestured emphatically to the reflection. "That's not my face in the mirror, I can tell you that!"
"No... I shouldn't be telling you any of this. But with things going the way they have been, you may be our only hope of pulling this out of the fire." Al sighed dramatically and met Michael's gaze head-on. "This facility is part of a top secret government project known as Quantum Leap..."
After Al explained, in vague terms, Sam Beckett's theory of time travel and how it had gone wrong, he went on to tell Michael how Sam had begun leaping into the lives of people in need and attempting to 'set right what once went wrong.' Now Sam had leaped into Michael's life and he -and the Project that supported him- desperately needed all the help they could get to find out what had gone wrong the first time and how Sam could put it right.
Michael listened in amazement, uncertain how much (if any) of the incredible explanation he should accept as fact. "That's some story. Time travel. Body snatching. You really expect me to swallow all that?"
"You wanted the truth." Al shrugged. "Don't blame me if you can't handle it." He looked hopeful. "Will you help us, now?"
"I'll… think about it." Michael stared again at the stranger's face in the hand mirror. He had a lot of thinking to do.
Al was awakened from an uneasy sleep by the squawk of the intercom speaker calling his name. He blinked his eyes open, confused as to why the voice over the speaker sounded so strange. It took him a few sleep-fogged seconds to realize that the reason the speaker sounded strange was that it wasn't Ziggy's sultry voice calling him. Instead, it was the rather less-appealing voice of the Project's chief programmer insistently calling for his attention.
Grumpy and confused, Al rolled off the bed and padded into the outer room. If he had to speak to Gooshie first thing upon waking, he refused to do it in his bedroom. "Yeah, what is it, Gooshie?" he called, scrubbing a hand over his face and into his sleep-mussed hair as he scuffled across the carpet toward the promised mana of the coffee maker. "You found a way to get me back to Sam, yet?"
"Um. Not…as such, Admiral." Gooshie sounded more hesitant than usual. "However, I think we've uncovered the culprit behind these latest malfunctions."
"That's good." Suppressing a yawn, Al glanced up at the ceiling where the nearest speaker grill was set and frowned as though Gooshie could see him. Then the odd note in Gooshie's voice really registered and he added hesitantly, "Isn't it?"
"Uh, not really, sir." Gooshie's gulp was audible even over the intercom. "I think you had better come down here…"
"I'm on my way." Deciding he would have to do without the congenial services of Mr. Coffee despite the unholy hour - three a.m. by the digital numbers of the clock on the wall - Al turned and hurried back to the bedroom. Not caring about his appearance, he grabbed the first thing his hand touched in the closet, threw on his clothes, and hurried toward the Control Room.
Gooshie was waiting anxiously by the doorway for him, so when Al arrived, he was immediately accosted by the other man. "Admiral! Thank goodness!"
"Calm down," Al said, stepping back in automatic defense from the other's almost lethal halitosis. Working so many late hours was doing nothing to help Gooshie's infamous bad breath. "You said you've figured out the problem? What is it? And how long is it going to take to fix it?"
Al felt a chill start in his stomach and work it's way through his guts. "What is it?"
"We think we've isolated at least part of the problem," Gooshie hedged. "But…"
Why was there always a 'but'? Al turned a rather unfocused glower on the entire room. Most of the technicians were gone, probably catching a few well-deserved Zs, and the floor was no longer littered with delicate and expensive computer parts. Somehow, in light of Gooshie's hesitations, none of that made Al feel any better. "But…what?"
"Part of the problem is that some of Ziggy's crucial components… are disappearing," Gooshie blurted out, then cringed as if he expected the admiral to physically take out his frustrations on him. When Al simply gaped at him, Gooshie continued a bit more slowly, "We're doing the best we can to fabricate or find replacement parts, but it's difficult and-"
"What do you mean some of her components are disappearing?" Al demanded abruptly, his dark eyes wide with shock. "Is it sabotage?"
"No… At least, I don't see how. I mean, the saboteur would have to be in the past, where Dr. Beckett is."
An Evil Leaper? Al's thoughts raced. Could it be? So far, there had been no real indication of such, but… He shook his head. Better not to borrow trouble. If Gooshie had meant this was the work of an interfering Leaper, surely he would have said so. When questioned, Gooshie confirmed Al's assumptions; as far as they knew, this was not the work of a deliberate saboteur.
"Then what is it?" Al asked. "How can parts of Ziggy just vanish?"
"They can if they were never manufactured, sir," Gooshie said, frowning and tugging absently at the ends of his mustache. "Which seems to be the case."
Al stared at him, aghast. Never manufactured? "Where do these parts come from? Who manufactures them?"
"Knight Industries?" Al echoed uncertainly. "What do you mean? Did Sam do something so that the company no longer exists in our time or what?"
"No, the company still exists. It just… no longer manufactures the same kind of products." Gooshie looked at Al, his watery eyes troubled. "Admiral, I could have sworn that Knight Industries was involved almost solely in high-tech applications like cybernetic systems and artificial intelligence. But…"
"But what?" Al prompted impatiently. He was beginning to hate that word.
"But when I checked, I found that Knight Industries is a major contractor with the Department of Defense. They are primarily geared toward the military application of high technology."
"Military, huh?" Al sighed thoughtfully. "Tell you what, Gooshie. You see what you can do about getting those replacement components fabricated. I need to get back to Sam ASAP and the sooner we have Ziggy up and running again, the happier I'll be. In the meantime…" He turned purposefully and strode back toward the Waiting Room. "I'll go talk to our Visitor and see if he's decided to cooperate."
When Al strode into the Waiting Room, he found Michael Knight reclining on the bed, one white-clad arm thrown over his eyes as if to shield them from the muted lights. At first, Al thought that the man was sleeping. But as he approached the bed, Michael lowered his arm, rolled onto his side, and propped himself up on one elbow to look at him tiredly.
"Oh. It's you," he said, eying Al's latest sartorial choices with obvious displeasure. "I'm not sure I can take that outfit at this time of the morning."
Al glanced down at himself. He had grabbed the first thing handy out of his well-stocked wardrobe and was attired in a splendid canary-yellow suit with a coordinating watered silk shirt in a muted, Pollock-esque design. He raised an eyebrow at Michael's lack of taste, but refrained from comment. Instead, he said, "Sorry to wake you."
"I wasn't asleep." Michael sat up with a groan, one hand going automatically to the small of his back as he absently tried to stretch out a kink. "What do you want?"
"Do you know if Knight Industries holds many military contracts?" Al asked without preamble.
The surprise on Michael's face was unfeigned and unguarded. "What? No. In fact, I don't believe Knight Industries holds any military contracts at the moment. Why?"
Ignoring the question, Al countered with another of his own. "None? Is that unusual?"
"No." Michael stared at him, as if trying to fathom Al's motives for this odd line of questioning. "Wilton Knight, the founder of Knight Industries, preferred to pursue the more peaceful uses of technology. He was a firm supporter of a strong military; he simply preferred to keep his company on the civilian side of things. And his successor believes in holding Knight Industries to its founder's standards."
"You're sure about that?" Al pressed. It wasn't that he didn't believe what Michael was telling him. It was just that, if Michael was right, then something had gone very wrong in order to bring them to where they were now.
"Yes, I'm sure," Michael said firmly. He crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes at Al. "You want to tell me what all this is about?"
"On one condition," Al said. He was resigned now to breaking the rules. With Ziggy on the fritz and the Leap affecting their present, he needed whatever help this man could give him. If Al had to sidestep a few regulations to do it- to help Sam- then he would. "I'll tell you as much as I can, as much as I know. But you've got to agree to work with me. We've both got friends on the line here, Mr. Knight. For their sakes, we have to work together."
Michael studied him for a very long moment. Then, slowly, he nodded. He took a deep breath, let it out in a rush, and said, "Okay. Tell me what's going on."
For the first time since he had been pulled precipitously from Sam's side, Al smiled.
Los Angeles, CA
September 24, 1986
Sam had gone over the security tape, but found nothing. One minute the tape simply showed Devon working at his desk, the next the office was empty and there was a small smear of bright red blood staining the surface of the antique oak desk. Obviously, someone had tampered with the security cameras -and not just the one in Devon's office. None of the cameras surrounding the Foundation mansion or covering the expansive grounds showed anything out of the ordinary.
Sam chewed thoughtfully on his lower lip and wondered if that meant it was an inside job. At the very least, it seemed likely that whoever had taken Devon had done so with the assistance of someone from within the Foundation itself. How else could they have so thoroughly bypassed the security measures? He glanced over at Jennifer and saw the frown drawing her brows together. No doubt the same concern had occurred to her, as well.
"What do we do, now?" she asked, turning to look at him. She seemed to have every expectation that he would know what the next step should be.
Before Sam could fumble together a suitable answer, Kathy stepped in. "We've already alerted the police, of course," she said, glancing between Jennifer and Sam as she spoke. She seemed anxious to assure them she and the other Foundation employees had done everything they could as soon as Devon's disappearance had been discovered. "Security has been over the office and the grounds with a fine-toothed comb and has reviewed the tapes…"
She gestured helplessly. "Which, as you can see, don't really reveal anything useful. Maybe if KITT went over them…"
"That's a good idea," Jennifer seconded eagerly, sitting up straighter in her chair. She looked at Sam. "You should have him go over the grounds, as well. His scanners may pick up something that the security teams missed."
"Okay," Sam agreed readily.
He was anxious to do something useful, and this sounded like something the real Michael Knight would be expected to do, anyway. Although… Now that he thought about it, wouldn't the real Michael have done so in the original history? And, if he had, it apparently hadn't helped. Devon Miles still died. He shook his head as he followed Jennifer back downstairs. He would ask for KITT's help, of course. If nothing else, it would look strange if he didn't do everything he could to find his missing boss. But there had to something else, something he was missing. Something that he could do that the real Michael Knight couldn't.
He wished Al were here to tell him what that something was.
Sam used the wrist communicator to contact KITT and request his aid in searching the grounds for any clue pertaining to Devon's disappearance. The computer agreed readily enough, though Sam thought he heard some hesitation in KITT's voice. And, when the black car rendezvoused with him outside the mansion, KITT was not alone. Sam was startled, when he went to get into the driver's seat, to find an attractive brunette sitting in the passenger seat.
She offered him what looked like a rather half-hearted smile. "Hello, Michael. I hope you don't mind. KITT and I were right in the middle of maintenance when you called, so I decided to tag along."
Maintenance? Automatically, Sam's gaze roamed over her, taking in the thick brown hair, wide intelligent eyes, generous mouth, and - beneath a utilitarian coverall- nicely rounded figure. This was a mechanic? He was almost glad when Al didn't reappear to voice his very vocal appreciation. He knew no one else could hear Al's sometimes-embarrassing remarks, but still…
Sam smiled a greeting and settled behind the steering yoke. "Is KITT all right?"
His concern for his partner seemed to reassure her about something; the line between her brows disappeared and her smile relaxed into something a bit more genuine. "He's fine. Although…" She bit her lower lip, then forged onward. "He's worried about you."
"About me?" Sam shot a surprised glance at the voice box on the dashboard. "KITT? Is that true?"
With reluctance audible in every tone, KITT replied, "I'm sorry, Michael. But you have not been yourself. It is very… unsettling."
"I'm the one who's sorry, pal." Sam reached out and laid a hand against the dash. "I didn't mean to worry you. I'm just… tired."
"Are your ribs still sore?" KITT asked solicitously. "My scanners indicate the bruising is quite extensive."
"Yeah. No need to remind me of that!" Sam leaned back in the seat, fidgeting a bit as he tried to find a comfortable position. "Nothing I can't handle, though I wouldn't mind spending about a week relaxing on a beach somewhere sunny when this is all over."
The brunette was still keeping a watchful eye on him, though most of the tension had gone out of her shoulders and she seemed far less suspicious than she had at first. Now, she said, "I'll let you two get on with it, then." She opened the door and started to slide from the car, then glanced back at Sam. "I thought you should know, I went over the security tapes. They haven't been tampered with. Someone managed to turn off the relevant cameras as needed, then switch them back on afterward."
"Any idea who could have done that?" Sam asked, frowning. More than ever, it seemed like an inside job.
The woman shook her head. "No. But it had to be someone familiar with our routines and who had access to the security room at some point. The switching could have been accomplished by remote control, but the culprit would have to have had our security codes in order to actually affect the cameras. The codes have been changed, of course, but…"
"But it's like locking the barn door after the horses have been stolen," Sam concluded. "Okay. We need to look at personnel records. See if we can find out who's been handing out security codes. A new hire, maybe - or someone who's been fired, maybe has a grudge against Devon or the Foundation?"
"I'll get right on it," she promised.
Sam nodded. "KITT and I will have a look around, see if we can turn up anything the others may've missed."
"My scanners are at your disposal, Michael," KITT said, readily enough. But there was something in his voice that told Sam he had better be careful from now on. KITT knew that something was wrong with his partner. He had said that Michael wasn't himself. Sam just had to make certain KITT didn't find out just how right he really was.
The results of their search efforts were disappointing. KITT's scanners had located a few traces of blood that led them to a little-used rear gate, but there the trail went cold. There had been too much traffic on the street outside the gate to allow them to pick up anything specific to the kidnappers' vehicle. Sam sighed in defeat. They were right back where they had started from and he wasn't sure what he should do next. His steps dragged as they carried him back inside the Foundation mansion. He could only hope that Al would be able to return soon with something to help.
Devon's location would be really useful, Sam thought tiredly. It had been a strenuous and stressful day and his injuries were bothering him. He pressed a hand to his aching ribs as he started up the grand staircase. Dr. Alpert had offered to tape them, but Sam had declined. He was beginning to wonder if he should have let the other doctor have his way. At the very least, he was going to head back up to Michael's room, where there were a couple of aspirin with his name on them. He made it as far as the landing before someone called his name.
Turning carefully, Sam looked down to find the brunette from earlier standing at the foot of the stairs. There was what looked to be a concerned frown on her face as she watched him. "Michael? Are you all right?"
"Just a little stiff," he said truthfully. "And sore. I'm gonna go find some aspirin-"
"Maybe you should let Dr. Alpert have a look at you," she said.
"Already did, last night." He gave a little smile. "KITT insisted."
"I see." She tilted her head slightly, looking up at him. "You didn't find anything, did you?"
He shook his head. "Nothing we could follow. We'll have to think of something else."
"Michael… Do you think Devon is-"
"I think he's fine," he said firmly, ignoring his own doubts. "I think we're going to find him and everything will be okay."
She smiled a bit at that. "I hope you're right."
So do I, Sam thought, doing his best not to let his real worries show on his expressive face.
So do I.
September 24, 1986
Devon Miles made one last round of the cramped, under-lit room that served as his prison cell. The four walls were constructed of cinder blocks that had, at one time, been painted a dingy white. Now the paint was peeling or missing altogether and the walls were stained with dirt and mildew. The floor was bare concrete, cold beneath his stockinged feet. The distant ceiling was laced with exposed pipes and wiring; the only light came from a single bare light bulb dangling just out of reach overhead. There were no windows and the one door was bolted firmly from the outside. The only furnishings were the plastic bottle of water in one corner, a threadbare wool blanket next to it, and, in the opposite corner, a rather smelly bucket that served as the 'facilities' should he grow desperate.
His captors, whoever they might be, were obviously taking no chances. Devon raised a hand to his head, fingertips skimming over the bandage wrapped inexpertly around it. The wound was small, he thought, but had bled quite a bit. Even now, he could tell the bandage required changing, as blood had soaked through the thin strips of cloth. His head hurt, not just where his assailant had struck him, but all over. He thought he must have been handled rather roughly; he could have pointed out several additional areas of soreness had there been anyone present to ask how he was feeling. In addition to the headache that squatted like an unwelcome visitor behind his eyes, nausea sat unpleasantly in his stomach, flaring to life with the least injudicious movement. He thought he probably had at least a mild concussion.
Devon had no real idea how much time had passed since his capture. His watch had been confiscated, as had the contents of his pockets, his jacket, his belt, and his shoes. He had not seen the face of the man who assaulted him at the Foundation, and he had seen no one since. He had no idea who had kidnapped him, nor what they might want from him. But, even sick and apparently helpless, Devon Miles was not afraid. Not for himself. Rather, he was worried about what his captors intended and if those intentions meant harm for the Foundation - and the people he had come to regard almost as family: Michael, Bonnie, even KITT.
More than anything, Devon was determined to find some way to win his freedom. Being held captive was, unfortunately, not exactly a novel experience for him. Since taking over the task of running the Foundation, he had been kidnapped, falsely jailed, taken hostage. In Chicago, only a year ago, he had been captured and held prisoner while an imposter took his place in hopes of stealing the rare element Cernium One-Sixteen. But the one experience that remained emblazoned in his mind had taken place the year before that one, when a man they had all thought imprisoned for life returned once again to haunt them. He had been held, along with April Curtis, by Garthe Knight as a hostage to lure Michael and KITT into a deadly trap. That time, he had almost managed to escape - with a bit of help from April and Garthe's other victim, a Swedish scientist Garthe planned to sell to the highest bidder - only to have the attempt foiled when freedom was almost in their grasp. But he had not been a passive prisoner then and he did not intend to be one now.
Thinking of that ill-fated attempt brought his mind back around to the puzzle of who his captors were and what they could want. Ransom? Blackmail? To use him as bait, as Garthe had? Of course, Garthe's motives were never so simple; Garthe's twisted mind had also sought vengeance for slights -real or imagined- committed against him by Devon in his capacity as Wilton Knight's trusted friend and employee. Remembering sent a chill along Devon's spine. He had not truly considered it before, but… Was it possible that Garthe had somehow returned to finish what he had started?
Staring at the blank walls surrounding him, Devon Miles suppressed a shiver not entirely from the cold, and drew his meager blanket around his shoulders. He looked up as the door to his cell shrieked open on rusty, disused hinges.
A tall figure stood silhouetted in the doorway and, for a moment, Devon felt his heart try to lodge itself in his throat. Could it be-? Then the figure moved into the cell and he saw the blond hair and freckled face, and found that he could start breathing again.
"C'mon," the blond man snapped at him impatiently when Devon remained where he was. "Boss wants to see ya."
Reluctantly, Devon decided he had no real choice but to go with the man. The blond was bulkier and in far better health than Devon was at the moment, when every incautious turn of his head made him feel as if he were about to lose the contents of his stomach and his head felt as if an entire marching band had made its home inside it. Then there was the gun the man held casually in one hand - and the fact that another, equally bulky guard was lurking just outside the open cell door.
When Devon didn't move fast enough to suit him, the blond man reached down, grabbed him roughly by the arm, and hauled him to his feet.
"Get goin'! I ain't got all day." He gave Devon a none- too-gentle shove toward the doorway. "Move or I'll move you."
Not deigning to respond, Devon squared his shoulders and, drawing his dignity around him like a protective cloak, walked out of the cell under his own power, concussion be damned. His captors seemed unimpressed.
The blond and his partner in crime herded Devon up a rickety flight of wooden stairs and into a rundown kitchen. Only then did Devon realize he had been held in the basement of a house. From the looks of the yellowed linoleum on the floor and the dingy paint on the walls, it was an older house and not one kept in good repair by its owner. His feet caught on rough places in the flooring as they moved from the kitchen into a living room made cave-like by the heavy draperies covering the windows. In the dim lighting, he could just make out another figure coming toward him. It stopped by a side table and switched on a small lamp, then stepped into the circle of light it provided.
Devon couldn't help himself. He gasped when he recognized the familiar face, now twisted by a cold smile of satisfaction. "You!"
"Hello, Devon. Miss me?" his captor asked, and laughed.
Los Angeles, CA
September 24, 1986
"Michael," KITT said over the wrist communicator just as Sam was downing his aspirin. "Can you meet me out front? There's something I need to talk to you about."
Uh-oh, thought Sam. Aloud, he said, "Sure, buddy. I'll be there in a minute."
"Thank you, Michael."
Still turning the problem of finding the missing Devon Miles over in his mind, Sam hurried downstairs. He made it as far as the foyer before Jennifer and the brunette whose name he still hadn't learned waylaid him.
"Michael!" Jennifer exclaimed. "We were just coming to look for you."
"Have you heard something from Devon's kidnappers?" he asked hopefully.
"Unfortunately, no," the brunette said. "We were hoping you had thought of something we could do besides sitting around and waiting for them to call."
Sam shook his head. "KITT wants to talk to me. Maybe he has an idea?"
Before either woman could respond, Kathy appeared in one of the doorways leading into the foyer. "There's a phone call for Ms. Knight."
"Excuse me," Jennifer said and went with Kathy to the phone in the nearby reception area. Something prompted Sam to follow and he wasn't at all surprised when the brunette tagged along as well.
They arrived in time to see Jennifer freeze as she recognized the eerie, distorted voice coming through the receiver. She started to slam the phone down, but Sam beat her to it, grabbing the receiver and covering the mouthpiece. He thrust the phone at the brunette, then moved out of range, activating the wrist communicator.
"KITT? There's another phone call. Can you trace it?" he whispered into the tiny microphone pick-up.
"I'll try, Michael," KITT said at once.
A moment later, the brunette was shaking her head. "Whoever it was, they've hung up," she reported, replacing the phone on its hook. "Was KITT able to get anything?"
Sam immediately raised the wrist communicator to his mouth. "KITT? Anything?"
"I was unable to trace the call," KITT responded apologetically. "However, I was able to analyze the voice more thoroughly thanks to the larger sampling."
"Enough to identify the caller?" Jennifer asked. Sam relayed the question to KITT.
"I'm afraid not," KITT said. "I can, however, tell you that the caller is female."
That surprised them all, judging from the expressions on their faces. Sam looked at Jennifer and asked, "What did the caller say this time?"
"Pretty much the same as before," she said, her voice shaking just a trifle. "That she'll win and we can't stop her."
"Any idea who it could be?" Sam persisted, watching her closely. "If this is related to Devon's disappearance, any clue could be the one that tells us where he is."
"Do you think so?" Jennifer asked, her question overlapping with the brunette's. "You think they're related?"
"The two incidents must be related," Sam said. "I find it hard to believe that Jennifer is being coincidentally harassed at the same time that Devon is kidnapped. The timing is too perfect. I had thought that the phone calls were just a ruse to ensure KITT and I were out of the way while Devon was grabbed, but…"
He narrowed his eyes, thinking about it. "Now it looks like frightening Jennifer is an on-going part of it. After all, if the only purpose of the calls was to get me out of town, why continue them once they have Devon?"
"Good point," Jennifer said thoughtfully. "To be honest, I had begun to think it was… Well, a ghost from my past, returned to haunt me."
"Garthe?" asked the brunette, in a knowing tone of voice.
Jennifer nodded. "But if the caller is a woman…" She shook her head, crossing her arms protectively. "I really have no idea who it could be."
Sam looked at the brunette, wishing he had a name to put with that lovely face. "What about it? Any ideas? Know any women with grudges against the Foundation?"
The brunette's gaze flickered, momentarily lighting on Jennifer. But she shook her head. "I can pull up our old case files and see if anything seems likely."
"Do that," Sam said briskly. He offered them both a slight smile. "In the meantime, I'll go and see what KITT wants to talk to me about." And hope Al shows up again before it's too late.
"All right, Michael," the brunette agreed. "I'll contact KITT if I find anything."
"I'll help," Jennifer offered. The brunette nodded and the two of them left together.
Sam turned and strode toward the front door. He wondered what KITT wanted to talk about - and hoped it wasn't something that would finally expose Sam as the imposter he was.
September 24, 1986
Devon stared at the smiling woman confronting him. Unlike the last time he had seen her, she was not adorned in haute couture and jewels. There were new, deep lines on her face that her flawless makeup worked a bit too hard to conceal. Nothing could have hidden the raw malice glittering in her bright, cold eyes. He felt his heart sink. "Elizabeth…. What's happened to you?"
Elizabeth Knight's smile hardened, tiny muscles in her cheeks twitching faintly with the effort of holding the false expression. "You have the audacity to ask me that? After all, dear Devon, you were the one who sent me to prison."
"I was under the impression that your stay was going to be a good deal longer than… " He frowned. " How did you escape from a federal prison?" Garthe had done it once before, but Garthe had had a massive semi armored with KITT's molecular-bonded shell to break him out.
Elizabeth laughed, throwing her head back dramatically and almost cackling with forced mirth. "Oh, my. Can you really be so naive at your age? They're called 'lawyers,' Devon darling. The best money - and an old family name - can buy."
"Of course." Devon's tone was sour. "The very sort of abuse of the system Wilton dedicated his last remaining years to combating."
"Feh." She curled her lip in disdain. "Don't start spouting that old chestnut." A dismissive wave of the hand, and she turned to find a comfortable spot on the faded sofa. "Wilton's sanctimonious do-gooding was, as you well know, one of the many reasons for our estrangement."
"As, no doubt, were the many other men you encouraged to pay court to you," Devon returned with more than a hint of venom in his cultured voice. It rankled that one of those men had been himself, though he had never allowed himself to act on the attraction he had felt for her in their younger days. It still felt, to a degree that he found disturbing, as if he had betrayed Wilton's trust and friendship, in spirit if not in deed. With a flash of resolve, he turned his mind to more immediate concerns. "Why have you brought me here, Elizabeth? I sincerely doubt it was to reminisce about old times."
"Oh, but you're quite wrong, Devon." Her smile returned to its previous wattage. "I want to take this opportunity to relive old memories, talk about old times… After all, it will be our last chance to do so."
A chill slithered down his spine, and he frowned at her. "What are you planning?"
"Why, what else?" Her smile turned predatory. "I intend to finish what my son started - the total destruction of Wilton Knight's dream."
For a moment, he couldn't speak. When he found his voice, it was to declare, "I won't let you! And if I somehow fail, Michael will stop you."
"You won't have a choice," Elizabeth said calmly. "And neither will he. You see, Devon, you - and Michael Knight - will be quite dead."
Los Angeles, CA
September 24, 1986
Sam found KITT waiting for him outside the front entrance. Stifling a sense of unease, Sam hurried out to the car, which opened the driver's door for him in invitation, and slid behind the wheel. He looked immediately to the vox box on the dashboard. "Have you found something?"
"You could say that," KITT replied. The soft snick of the door locks engaging startled Sam.
"KITT? What's going on?" Sam's hands tightened instinctively on the steering grips. His eyes widened as he stared at the silent dash. "What are you doing?"
"I'm getting some answers." KITT's engine roared to life. With no input from the man in the driver's seat, the Trans Am cruised away from the mansion - and potential witnesses.
"What do you mean?" Sam's heart beat faster as he wondered if the jig was up. "KITT-"
"Who are you? Who are you and what have you done with the real Michael Knight?"
Fighting back a sigh, Sam slumped in the driver's seat. KITT knew. Still, he had to at least try to bluff his way through this. "What makes you think I'm not the real Michael Knight?"
"Quite a number of things, actually," KITT said. "But the most relevant is the fact that your brainwave patterns do not match those on file for Michael. The only other option is that something has happened to you to drastically alter your patterns. However, I believe the simplest solution is, in fact, the correct one. You are not Michael Knight."
For a long moment, Sam didn't say anything. He sat and stared at the vox box on the dash, then heaved a deep sigh. "You're right. I'm not Michael Knight."
"Who are you?" There was a distinct note of tension in the computer's voice. "Who are you working for?"
"My name is Sam Beckett. I'm a physicist." Sam offered a somewhat sheepish smile. "Believe it or not, I'm here to help."
"I don't believe it."
"Most people don't," Sam muttered under his breath. He sat up straighter in the plush seat. "Look, I really am here to help. I know it sounds crazy, but… I'm from the future. Something went wrong in the original history and I'm here to set it right."
When KITT didn't respond, Sam pressed onward with his outrageous explanation. "I built a computer that can project my consciousness back in time. I 'leap' into someone in the past, temporarily replacing them so that I can change history. Then I leap out and the consciousness I replaced returns to its original body."
"Are you trying to convince me that Michael is… in the future? In your body?"
"It's the truth," Sam said quietly. "I know how it sounds, believe me. If I were trying to deceive you, don't you think I would've come up with a more convincing lie?"
The screen on the dash flashed to life, displaying a colorful graphic. Sam peered at it, then blinked in surprise. "A lie detector?"
"Exactly," KITT said. "Obviously, you believe what you're saying. But that doesn't make it the truth. Perhaps you are merely delusional."
Wonderful. The computer thought he was crazy. Sam sighed. This wasn't going very well for him. If only Al would show up again, maybe he could convince KITT he was telling the truth… Wait a minute. Al! "KITT… Have you detected any unusual readings in the last 24 hours? Say…electrical disturbances, maybe?"
There was a lengthy pause. Sam knew he was onto something. "You have, haven't you? Do you have any idea what's causing them?"
"No," KITT admitted. "I suppose you do?"
"Yes." Sam smiled. "Quantum Leap."
"I beg your pardon?"
"My project. The thing that makes time travel possible: Quantum Leap."
"Prove it," KITT challenged.
"All right," Sam said confidently. "I will."
Fifteen minutes and several pages of mathematical equations later, Sam had at least convinced KITT that he was a quantum physicist. The rest of the explanation still seemed up for grabs, but at least the computer appeared willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. For now. Sam knew that KITT would be observing him closely, watching for any slip-ups, anything to prove that he was working with the people who had kidnapped Devon. He was under no delusions that the computer trusted him. And, while it might make his task more difficult, Sam found that he couldn't really blame KITT. He knew how he would feel if their situations were reversed and Al had suddenly been replaced by someone claiming to be there "to help."
Both of them would simply have to make the best of a bad situation. They needed each other - to do what had to be done in order to save Devon, and get Michael home.
Without being ordered to do so, KITT returned to the mansion. If the questions he kept directing at Sam were any indication, the computer was still mulling over Sam's story, looking for any possible loopholes in his explanation. As the car pulled up to the front entrance, KITT was saying, "…anomalous signals are caused by your friend Al's 'arrival' in this time period?"
"Most likely," Sam said. He suppressed a sigh. Al hadn't reappeared yet, and Sam desperately needed more information - anything that might help them to find, and rescue, Devon. "Al is my contact with Quantum Leap. He usually pops up to tell me what Ziggy - our supercomputer - comes up with in regards to changes in the timeline. Ziggy analyzes all the available data and makes projections based on the known information. The rest is up to me."
"Hmm," KITT said, and Sam was once again slightly amused by the level of, for lack of a better term, 'humanity' the artificial intelligence displayed. "Since you are, for whatever reason, currently out of contact with Al, and therefore, Ziggy, perhaps I can serve in their stead."
"That'd be terrific. Thanks."
"The only problem is, of course, that I do not have access to 'future' data, as your project computer does."
There was that. Sam sighed, deflating a bit. "That's true. But you can still analyze the data we do have - and if Al shows up again, I can relay whatever information he gives me to you, as well."
"I will do my best to help you, Dr. Beckett," KITT said quietly. "I want both Michael and Devon home safe."
"Of course you do." Without thinking about what he was doing, Sam reached out and gave the dashboard a little pat. "So do I. And, call me 'Sam'."
"…Very well. Sam."
"Ms. Knight?" Kathy stood in the doorway, an apologetic look on her face and telephone in her hand. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but there's a phone call for you."
For a second, Jennifer's heart tried to leap into her throat. Then common sense reasserted itself and she realized that this could not be another of the anonymous, threatening calls. She rose to take the phone. "Thank you. If you'll excuse me for a moment, Dr. Barstow?"
Jennifer's assistant was on the other end of the line. He sounded agitated. "You have to come back to Las Vegas, at once."
"What? Why? What's wrong?" Her fingers tightened around the receiver. "Has something happened at the conference?"
"You could say that. Oh, not officially. But you know the real work at these things goes on after hours and behind closed doors."
"Yes, I do know. So, get to the point. What's happened?" Jennifer didn't mean to be so short with him, but her nerves - and temper - were frayed to the snapping point.
"I don't know the details. I'm just an executive assistant, after all, I don't have the clout to -" He broke off with a frustrated noise. "Never mind. Look, several of the representatives from El Santoro and Mocambia have been meeting with a mysterious would-be benefactor…"
"And who is this 'benefactor'?"
"No one knows. Or, if they do, they're not talking. No one will admit to having seen him or her…" He exhaled a frustrated-sounding sigh. "Something's going on, Ms. Knight. Something that feels… hinky. I have a feeling that all the good the Knight Foundation has accomplished up to this point is about to be swept away like flotsam in a typhoon."
Jennifer swallowed hard as she considered her options. A big part of her wanted - needed - to stay here and help find Devon. But she couldn't stand by and let everything the Foundation had worked for with this conference to simply go down the tubes. Not without a fight. In an instant, she made up her mind. Briskly, she said, "Do what you can to control the damage until I get there."
"You're coming back?" His relief was obvious in his voice.
"I'm on my way."
"She did what?" Sam couldn't believe his ears.
"I'm sorry, Michael, but I couldn't talk her out of it." Bonnie shook her head. "She said something about the conference being in danger."
"She's the one in danger." Sam ran his fingers through his hair, already messy from several previous passes. He paced past Bonnie to peer out the window, as if hoping to spot Jennifer out for a stroll on the lawn. The view, though attractive, held neither the elusive Ms. Knight nor an answer to his problems. "I'll have to go after her."
"What about Devon?" Bonnie demanded.
"Keep searching the Foundation's records. The minute you find something - anything - call KITT." Matching actions to words, Sam spoke into the commlink strapped to his wrist. "KITT, I need you. Meet me out front."
"On my way," came the prompt response.
Bonnie followed him to the door. "Michael-"
"Check the records! And keep working on those phone calls that Jennifer has been getting. We have to find out who our mystery woman is." Sam headed for the front of the house at a fast jog. "I'll check in as soon as I find Jennifer."
Sam acknowledged the wish for his safety with a wave. He dashed out the door just as KITT stopped on a dime at the base of the front steps and swung his driver's side door open allowing Sam to slide behind the wheel without slowing. The door clicked shut, the car's wheels spun, and KITT raced toward the gate all in the time it took Sam to catch his breath.
"Where are we headed, Sam?" KITT asked.
Las Vegas, Nevada
September 24, 1986
Jeremy Taylor, Jennifer's assistant, met her on the taxi-way and ushered her into a waiting car. He was almost pathetically relieved to see her. "Thanks for coming so quickly, Ms. Knight. Things are really starting to heat up. I think you'll need to play fireman to get everything back under control."
"That's why I'm here." She managed a tired smile that faded almost as soon as it appeared. "So, fill me in."
"All right. It all seems to have started with the delegation from…"
He droned on for several minutes about the goings and comings of various conference delegates. Her attention on the recitation, it was several more minutes before Jennifer glanced out the car window and realized they were heading out into the desert, away from the conference center at the Crystal Swan. She turned startled eyes on her assistant.
"What's going on? Why aren't we going to the conference hotel?" she demanded, suspicion and betrayal warring for expression in her voice. The look in his eyes said it all. He had betrayed her trust. "Why? Why are you doing this?"
"I have no choice." He couldn't meet her gaze. "I'm sorry, Ms. Knight, but I'm only doing what I have to do. They… they threatened my family."
"They? Who are you talking about? Who's behind all this?" She leaned toward him, one hand half-outstretched in appeal. "Please, you have to tell me. They have Devon Miles!"
"Mr. Miles?" He shook his head. "I'm sorry to hear that. Really, I am. But there's nothing I can do. As for who they are…." He sighed, and then shrugged. "You'll find out soon enough, I'm afraid. I'm taking you to them, now. Just sit back and… well, I suppose it would be silly to tell you to relax. Just be patient. We'll be there all too soon."
Jennifer looked carefully around the car's interior. The doors were locked and the privacy screen was up between them and the driver. With no other choice, she slumped against the seat and resigned herself to waiting to see what happened next.
Project Quantum Leap
Stallion's Gate, New Mexico
April 3, 20-
Al had spent an instructive hour with Michael Knight, asking questions and actually getting answers for a change. Now, the Observer made his way back to the Control Room, which he was surprised to find apparently deserted. Al glanced around curiously. Then, with a caution born of long experience, called hesitantly, "Uh, Ziggy? You there?"
There was no answer. Al frowned, looked around one last time -including checking under the central console- but there was no sign of anyone, least of all Gooshie. Grumbling under his breath, he headed briskly out into the main corridor. With Ziggy offline, he couldn't simply ask the super-computer to check for Gooshie's location. He returned to his office and used the intercom to page Gooshie, asking the programmer to check in. A few minutes later, Al's phone rang.
Instead of Gooshie, however, the voice that came over the line was that of one of the technicians drafted into doing research this Leap, since Ziggy had proven unreliable. Al listened to her for several minutes.
"All right," he said into the receiver. "I need you to get that information over here ASAP."
When the lab-coated cybernetics technician burst into the Control Room carrying a thick manila folder of photocopied newspaper clippings, Al almost leaped at her in his impatience. "What have you got for me?"
"Obituaries, Admiral." The woman - a petite, attractive redhead, he noted with a kind of knee-jerk lechery - offered him the relevant pages. He took them automatically. Then her choice of words sank in.
"Yes, sir. For Devon Miles and Jennifer Knight."
Spitting out a curse, Al scanned the pages with a quick sweep of his gaze. The news wasn't any better in print. When he looked up, the technician was still there. It took him a moment's thought to place her, altered memories sliding into place. The last time he had spoken to the person holding this particular job title, he had been a balding New Yorker named Harding. New images overlaid the old, of a job interview and hiring the pretty redhead in Harding's place. "Yes… Curtis, isn't it? You've got something else for me?"
"Maybe. Admiral, I used to work for Knight Industries - specifically, for FLAG." Her slender, manicured fingers tightened on the folder she still held. "If you'll allow me, I think I can help."
Al's gaze turned calculating as he studied her. Petite, trim, curves in all the right places, a few fine lines around her mouth and a pair of sharp, intelligent eyes. He would've bet a month's salary that she'd been a real looker in her younger days; she wasn't bad, now. "How much do you know about our current situation?"
"Not enough." Frustration rang clearly in her tone. "I have a pretty good idea of Ziggy's status, since that's part of my job as a cyberneticist. But my clearance level doesn't include… well, your area of expertise, sir."
She had worked for FLAG. She knew the people they were trying to save. She might be exactly what he needed, not only to get through to Michael, but to sort through the scanty data and fill in the gaps. Al nodded decisively to himself.
"You do now, Curtis." Taking her arm, he hustled her across the room, heading for the Waiting Room. "Did you ever work with a man called Michael Knight?"
Michael looked up as the white door slid open. Al's entrance was expected; the presence of the woman beside him was not. She was a little older, but Michael would have recognized her anywhere. "April?"
The next thing Michael knew, he had his arms around April Curtis, returning an enthusiastic hug that threatened to cut off his ability to breathe. When she pulled back, April's face was wet with tears.
"Oh, Michael… I can't believe it's really you!" She clung to him for another moment, her fingers digging into his arms as if she was afraid he would disappear if she let go. "All these years, I thought you were dead."
"What? April-" Gently, Michael held her at arm's length and forced her to look at him. "What are you talkin' about?"
Her eyes still glistening with unshed tears, April visibly fought to bring herself under control. She stared at him, one of her hands covering her mouth, then made a soft, strangled sound between a laugh and a sob.
"It's so strange to see you like this." She indicated his borrowed body with a vague gesture. "Or to see you at all, really. Michael, it's been well over a decade since I last saw you. After Devon's murder, you just… vanished. It was as if you had fallen off the face of the earth. Bonnie contacted me with the news about Devon and Jennifer Knight. After the funerals, I stayed around to help with KITT and to help search for you, but…"
"Wait." Michael held up a hand. "What happened to Jennifer?"
"You don't know?" April shot a puzzled, annoyed look at Al. "You haven't told him?"
"I just found out about it myself," Al reminded her. "My normal source of information is on the fritz, remember?" He turned to Michael. "Now it's not only Devon Miles' life on the line, but Jennifer Knight's, as well."
"Not to mention KITT and FLAG, and even Knight Industries." April wrung her hands. "And you, Michael. I may not know exactly what happened to you all those years ago, but I do know you would never have stood by and watched as they destroyed Wilton Knight's dream. That's when I knew -" Her voice caught. "- that's when I knew something terrible had happened to you, too."
Michael exchanged a look with Al. All this time-travel stuff made his head hurt, so he shoved that to the side and concentrated on what mattered - figuring out how Sam could make sure that whatever had gone wrong the first time didn't happen again. He shoved his fingers through his hair, not even noticing the different texture anymore, and sighed. When all this was over, he and KITT were going on a long, beach-filled vacation, no matter how strenuously Devon objected. All Michael had to do was make certain Devon would be around to object.
He turned back to April. "Tell me everything you remember."