". . . Beat Them Until They Are"
This Quantum Leap™ story utilizes characters that are copyright © by Bellasarius Productions and Universal Studios. No infringement on their respective copyrights are intended by the author in any way, shape or form. This fan fiction story is written solely for the entertainment of the readers and are not for profit. All fiction, plots, and original characters are the sole creations of the author
". . . Beat Them Until They Are"
Sam Beckett found himself alone in a box, a large wooden box about six by eight feet and no more than four feet high. The slats that kept him inside let in just a minimum of light and a tiny, padlocked iron grate served as the only entrance. The stifling heat and the smell of humid air seemed familiar. He'd seen enough in his years of leaping to know that he was in deep trouble, probably kidnapped and being held for ransom in some backwoods southern bayou. There was no mirror to check out who he was, so he started examining his clothes. He was wearing a Navy pilot's uniform: torn, dirty and stained with sweat and grime. So this wasn't the Deep South. This wasn't even the United States. Dog tags would give him a name, but a quick search for a chain came up empty.
In the distance he heard men yell in a language he didn't understand. Despite the heat, a streak of fear chilled to the bone. Then, in his mind, he heard Admiral Al Calavicci, his friend's voice saying, " ... a cage too small to stand up in, too narrow to sit down ... weevil infested rice and all the rain water you could catch in your mouth."
Sam had returned to Vietnam, this time as a prisoner of war.
"Oh, God. What am I going to do?" Though he had leapt into this pilot no more than five minutes earlier, Sam sensed a growing and paralyzing claustrophobia. Slow growing panic infiltrated his heart. On his hands and knees, Sam crawled to the cage door to look outside. What he saw attracted his attention the way a car crash ties up rush hour traffic.
Two VC guards and another man, a POW with his legs shackled by heavy iron, were barely in Sam's line of sight. He craned his neck to get a better look and the scene made his stomach tighten into a knot so tight he thought he might explode. The trio stopped under an open wooden frame. The soldier's wrists and elbows were tied behind his back at an angle that was painful to witness. Another rope at his wrists tethered him to the overhanging crossbeam. One of them pulled on the tether and yanked the POW's arms over his head, pulling his shoulders unnaturally backwards and bending his body over on itself. He was hoisted a foot off the ground. The other guard took a length of something that looked like a thin piece of black rubber and with incredible glee delivered God knows how many strokes to the man's bare back, chest and legs.
The dead space of Sam's cage started to echo with the sound of the whip as it tore flesh from the man's body. Sam stopped counting after the first 20 blows. He crawled into the far corner of the bamboo cage unable to watch any longer, but he could still hear and at least 30 more lashes found their mark before the POW's first sounds of pain tore through the air. The torment in his cries was plain. Tears fell from Sam's eyes. In a whisper bordering on a prayer he said, "Al, please, come soon."
For over an hour whips split the skin of the POW. Horrific screams became whimpers and finished as single plea for an end, but when the man asked to be set free, the sound of the strokes grew louder and more forceful. Sam crawled back to the iron grate, somehow compelled to watch. It was inconceivable that any man could survive a beating as villainous as what Sam witnessed.
Finally the rope holding the POW midair was untied. The unfortunate man dropped to the jungle floor. The rope pulled him up again and then let go. Over and over they toyed with this battered young man. Each time he crashed to the ground his shoulders twisted in directions God didn't have in mind. The pain had to be unbearable, but the POW endured the torture without any hope of it easing. Sam's eyes scanned the cell hoping to see the white light of the Imaging Chamber. "Help me, Al. I'm scared."
The man's body was now just a mass of open wounds. The torn and frayed khaki shorts turned blood-red. The cruelty continued now well over two hours, and still Sam could hear the POW trying to deny his agony. In whispers barely audible, Sam pleaded for the tortured man, "Please stop. He's had enough. Don't kill him. Please."
His words were unheard, apparently unheard even by a higher power, because the beating continued. In all his leaping, Sam had never witnessed violence this overtly ugly and brutal. The POW's body lay on the ground. One guard pulled his hair exposing the wounded man's face to repeated kicks. The silence from the victim and the thud of boots against flesh brought a deathly ache to Sam's heart. Speaking too softly for anyone to hear Sam begged, "Leave him alone, please. He can't do anything to you anymore." The guards chanted in thickly accented English, "Confess and live. Oppose and die. Confess and live. Oppose and die." Sam finally knew this POW's crime. He would not confess to their lies and unrelenting torture was his penance.
The VC hoisted the body off the ground one last time. Over the next hour, Sam gazed at the twitching body, but finally it fell limp and dangled from the rope like an animal carcass. The POW died while Sam sat glassy-eyed watching it happen. The very real compassion he felt for the soldier was overpowered by a horrible fear that he was next. It shamed him that the tears he wiped from his eyes were shed for himself.
Sitting against the wall, he muttered, "Where are you, Al?" but Al wasn't coming. Sam waited and waited. No Al came to offer help. The fear paralyzed him. He had to get control over it. He had to wipe away the fear or it would kill him before the VC got their chance. He suppressed his shaking thoughts and concentrated on the Project and Al. But Al wasn't coming. A mean anger grew inside him. If anyone knew what this hell was like, Al knew. Why wasn't he coming? Sam pulled his shirt around him like a cocoon. Overwhelming panic assaulted his entire being.
More hours passed. No Al. An occasional glance out the tiny door showed the dead man still hanging from twisted arms. Sam's pleas for his Observer gave way to outrage, growing into an intense fury. It was incredible. Al was deserting him in this desperate situation. "He knows what this is like. What the hell am I supposed to do? I got to leap out of here before they kill me."
Sam's reason shut down. His mind started playing games with reality. He was writing the script for his confrontation with Al Calavicci. "Where the hell have you been? Do you know how long I've been waiting? I had to watch that POW die because you were too busy getting laid somewhere. His death is on your hands, not mine."
Some dark corner of his soul produced cruel thoughts, but he didn't care. After so many hours, Al's abandonment was too much to bear. Rage grew and grew. It wasn't fair. None of this was fair. He suffered this torment because Al was too self-centered. He always looked for the easy way out. Walls started closing in. "This box is so small. I won't be able to hide. I'm going to die."
He could picture Al hiding away now, at some secluded spot in the New Mexico mountains making love to some woman he'd just met, paid for, and whose name he didn't know or care to know, fucking her, no regard for Sam. It wasn't fair. Sam could see that, but Al never would. The Admiral was selfish. That was always his way. "God, how hot is it? I can't breathe."
If Al put as much effort into the retrieval program as he did screwing anything that ever wore a skirt, Sam would have been home. It was Al's fault and it wasn't fair. "He doesn't really care. My friend, right. He's been lying to me all these years. I can't stand this box. It's too small. I don't want to die in here."
Where was he? Sam held his knees to his chest and rocked back and forth. It was hard to catch his breath. Al deserted him to this hell. He watched a man tortured to death. Sam just had to sit and wait his turn. He knew the VC were going to murder him. He was next. It was going to be hideous and agonizing. He saw no other possibility. The dead soldier was too stupid to realize if he confessed, he would be safe. Sam was going to confess to anything. He wasn't going to die hanging from a tree.
Sam cautiously stared at the dead soldier still suspended by dislocated arms. "It was all his own fault. He got himself killed. It's not my fault he was too stupid to confess. There's no honor in this war. I won't die for it." Sam would say anything, do anything to keep from being tortured. So what if Al had gone through this. It wasn't Sam's fault. Why should he have to suffer because Al was too busy screwing some bimbo? "Damn him." If Al had shown up on time, then maybe Sam could have stopped that soldier's death. "If there was a way to make you pay, Calavicci, I'd do it is a second. All that talk about Vietnam and you really didn't care. You don't care that they're going to torture me."
By now, hours had passed and Al still hadn't come to give him information, to tell him his mission, to give him someone to talk to so that he wasn't alone in this tiny wooden box. In the darkness of his cell, Sam rocked back and forth with only destructive thoughts keeping him company. The hatred growing in his heart was destroying his will to survive and it had only been hours. It didn't matter that Al survived this for eight years. Eight years. The thought of living this life for eight years made him howl. "No!" Sam whimpered as he still rocked, and the words were simple: "Eight years, eight years, eight years."
The chant chipped away at his fear and pushed him toward a small ray of common sense. "Al did this for eight years." He still wanted to place blame on his friend, but he didn't know why. Al gave up years for Sam, years of something. Sam couldn't remember. He wanted to forgive his friend, but it wasn't going to happen. Eight years or not, the abandonment was almost as terrifying as the prospect of torture. Suddenly his mind exploded into images of a failed, bloody rescue mission. He remembered now. He leapt into a Navy Seal on April 8, 1970.
The first time Sam came to Vietnam he leapt in to save his brother's life so he thought. On that leap, Sam broke the primary rule of Quantum Leaping; he changed things for his own benefit. The leap wasn't clean though and a photojournalist, Maggie Dawson, died after tripping a booby tap, and Al, who already had been MIA for three years, sacrificed freedom just so Sam could have his brother back; eight years living in a cage like the one Sam was in now and witnessing atrocities beyond the ken of civilized man.
"Eight years, eight years." The pain here was simply too much for the Observer. "Eight years, eight years." Sam rocked and chanted himself into an understanding of Al's absence. "Eight years. "
Transcendence finally came. An epiphany and he finally understood his role in this leap. Sam didn't leap into an anonymous Navy pilot. He leapt into Al. He was living Al's hell. It was poetic justice. Al gave his freedom to save Tom Beckett, so it was only right Sam understand the enormity of that gift.
Shame and guilt permeated his consciousness. The few deep breaths he managed to suck in didn't help. Humidity made the air heavy and the smell of rotting jungle and the fetid waste bucket in the corner congested his lungs making his brain pound. Not long ago he envisioned himself killing his best friend, a man who had endured this torture for Sam's brother. Sam begged aloud for forgiveness. "I'm sorry, Al, but please come to me, if you can. Please. I'm scared, really, really scared."
More and more time passed. No miracle occurred. Judging by the position of the shadows, Sam figured at least eight or nine hours now had gone by without Al's much needed guidance and encouragement. Outside the hovel, Sam heard noises. The VC cut down the dead soldier and dragged the lifeless body toward Sam's cage. He backed himself into a corner, fear invading his soul so badly that his body shook. The guards unlocked the tiny door, threw it open, and stuffed the dead soldier inside; the door was again chained shut. The VC guards took up their chant again, "Confess and live, Oppose and die."
The dead soldier lay in the room. Sam was afraid to get near him. As a medical student, he had seen his share of cadavers, but this man was different. Sam had watched and listened to this man's life ebb away, powerless to prevent the torture. This pitiful man lay there for almost 15 minutes before Sam found the courage to get closer. Wanting to finally see the sad face, Sam turned the body onto its back pressing the bound arms against the floor. A sudden noise from the body made him dart back. He approached the man again, his shoulders grotesquely dislocated, his body caked with dried blood, the bones in his shackled legs and feet broken. Sam looked into the man's face. The beating made him barely recognizable as human, his eyes swollen shut. Another small sound came from the man. Sam again retreated. He couldn't do anything, but pray. "God, tell me what to do."
As if he was begging not to die alone, the soldier made more sounds and Sam finally realized his responsibilities. Al wouldn't let this man die without a friend and neither would he. If he couldn't help medically, he could hold the man's hand and let him know someone cared, even if it was a stranger. Summoning up all the courage he thought he might possibly have Sam inched closer and began to talk. "I know you're hurting real bad," he said, "but maybe I can help. I'm going to untie the ropes around your arms, okay?" Sam took the small moan as confirmation. The man's hands were black and an ugly purple. Untying the bonds seemed to be as painful as leaving them tied, but Sam knew circulation had to be restored to the limbs or they'd become gangrenous. "I know it hurts, but I know what I'm doing. You have to believe me, okay?" As elbows were released from the bonds, more and louder noises of pain emerged from the disfigured, distorted face. "I know, I know. I'm really sorry. I'm a doctor. I have to do this." The open wound of a man still said nothing. Sam figured he couldn't, in the condition he was in.
"Listen, I'm going to help you, but it's going to hurt. Just hang in there." The words sounded hollow even to him and he only had to say them, not hear or believe them. With pain in his heart, Sam quickly, mercifully snapped shoulders back into alignment. The man screamed. Sam just talked to him. "I can't begin to imagine how much you're hurting, but I had to put your shoulders back in place. The pain should lighten up a little bit now."
The man muttered the first intelligible words Sam heard him say. They came out in a fragile, stuttering voice, "I . . . I . . . I won't . . . won't . . . sign."
"No one is asking you to. I'm an American like you. You're with me, now. The VC are gone. They won't hurt you anymore." Sam figured that was a lie, but at this point, the POW needed all the good news he could hear.
The man shivered despite the heat. Sam took off his shirt to help keep him warm. It dwarfed the wasted-away soldier, but the cover helped ease the shaking. Sam moved to the side of the box to watch his guest. Where in God's name was his Observer? But the plea now was different. "Al, he needs you. Please come."
Another half hour passed during which time the man didn't move or make a sound. If Sam stared hard, he could see the thin chest move up and down in staggered, shallow breaths. Sam was about to fall into a fatigued asleep by the time the door to the Imaging Chamber opened. A somber Al Calavicci stepped out and adjusted his holographic image so he was seated cross-legged in the far corner of the cell. "Sorry it took me so long to get here, kid."
Sam scrambled toward the hologram. "Al, thank God."
The Admiral couldn't look him in the eye. "Thank Verbena Beeks. The good doctor finally talked me into coming. This one is hard for me, Sam, but I shouldn't have left you alone this long."
"It's okay, Al. I know what's happening. I'm here for him, right? I mean, I have to be. He's is bad shape. His body is a mess. His legs are broken. His shoulders were dislocated. Look at his face. My God, even his own mother wouldn't recognize him."
"He can't weigh 100 pounds. How did you survive this? This cage is so small."
"Sam, this isn't a cage. This is one of the bigger rooms. There's space here for three or four men." Al tried but couldn't look at the POW's face.
"Cages were smaller?" The answer came in the form of a slight nod. "Al, I leapt into you, into Bingo again." A finger pointed to the injured soldier, "but what can I, I mean you, do for him? He needs a lot of medical attention and I don't have anything to work with. I don't even have water to clean him up."
A puzzled expression plastered itself on the Admiral's face. It took a few seconds for him to be able to speak again. "How did you figure you're me?"
"The uniform is Navy and it just makes sense."
"Look at him, Sam. Get close and look at him."
Sam crawled over to the POW. If it wasn't for the curly, brown hair the slight man would be barely recognizable as a human being. Curly brown hair, slight - and Sam suddenly realized this dying man was his friend. If he could have howled away his anguish, he would have. "No, please, this is you?"
"Bingo in all his glory."
Guilt was throbbing through his entire body. "Al, what's the date?"
Bingo let out a long cry of continuing pain. The Admiral cringed and looked away. "The date doesn't matter."
Sam barked out, "Tell me," his anger center on his own arrogance.
"What's the year?"
The Admiral growled, "It doesn't matter."
"It does to me." Sam said a quick prayer to himself. "Please, let it be before 1970. Don't let this be my fault."
Reluctantly Al mumbled, "It's 1972." There was nothing to say. Sam buried his face in his hands unable to stop the voice his tears finally found.
The last thing Al wanted was for Sam to dwell on Bingo's past. In any case, he didn't want to do much talking about it, bad enough to see his tortured body from this new perspective. "Don't worry about Bingo here. Obviously, he makes it. I wouldn't be here if he didn't." He sighed and started pushing buttons on the handlink. "You're Commander Daniel Cellars, a career Navy pilot, 44 years old. Ziggy says you have to make sure Cellars gets back his will to live. You were captured three weeks ago. In the original history, the Commander never made it home and his oldest daughter Emily couldn't deal with his death. In 1978, she tried to commit suicide by driving off a cliff. It didn't work. She survived, but ran a school bus off the road. Fourteen kids were killed. Three others have lifelong disabilities. Emily really lost it then. She blew her brains out with a shotgun the day before she was arraigned."
This kind of leap was the hardest for Sam. Exactly what could he do that would give this man a reason to survive the war? "Is Verbena talking to him in the waiting room?"
"Sure. I talked to him, too."
"Did you tell him who you were?"
"He knows I'm an Admiral and that I was MIA, but I don't think he could handle time travel theory right now and there was no way he could recognize me." Al lowered his head and with uncharacteristic timidity said, "Even you didn't recognize me." Then gaining some false bravado, he added, "The bottom line is you have to get Cellars through the night here. If he can get through this with some hope, he'll make it."
"What about you?" Sam pointed to the injured Al. "That you. Do you remember this?"
The Admiral moved a few inches closer to his young self, gathered his courage and stared down. "You thought he was dead, didn't you?" Not wanting to admit that he had neglected Bingo for so long, Sam flinched a little in answer to Al's question. "The real Commander Cellars never came near me. I can't figure how I managed to stay alive. Tomorrow morning another man is going to join our little commune here. He's a medic, an Army Corporal named Bill Langston. He's the one that started caring for me." Sam's shame was complete. "Listen Sam, Commander Cellars honestly thought I was dead, so when in the morning he finds out I wasn't I guess that brought him down even more."
"So, if I help Cellars care for you, then he'll get out of here okay."
"Ziggy isn't sure what makes him turn around, but I know Bingo sure could have used a hand, something. This was my third beating like this, so I was . . ." He stumbled through his own thoughts needing distance. "I mean, Bingo was pretty low."
Sam put his hand gently on Bingo's arm. "Al, is he conscious?"
"Sort of, but he thought he was dead." He let a small, grim chuckle escape. "He thought he was in hell, that his punishment was never being able to leave Vietnam." Looking up at nothing, he laughed harder, "Pretty stupid, huh? It made sense to me at the time."
Something needed saying, but Sam had trouble getting started. "Al, I never thought. . . If you'd told me, I wouldn't have done . . ."
Regretting the past wasn't Al's way. "It was my choice."
"In the original history, did this happen to you?" The lack of an answer confirmed Sam's fears. Saving Tom brought this torture on his friend. In his own thoughts Sam asked, what did I do? He wanted to throw up, but he looked deep inside for the kind of strength his friend, both incarnations of his friend, was displaying. After a deep breath he said, "Bingo told me he didn't sign. Does that make sense?"
Al's anguish at witnessing his young tortured body stirred up memories that he wished he could forget. "They used to try and force us to sign confessions. They tried to make me sign and I wouldn't. I was a good little sailor. I believed in the military code of conduct back then." He looked around the wooden cell. "You know, I can almost smell the stench here, feel the heat."
Outside in the distance VC guards were making noises. Looking out at the source of the sound Al had to shake his head. "Shit, don't they ever stop talking? They never stopped throwing that God damn ideology at us. They just kept repeating those stupid mottos over and over. My personal favorite was 'If they are not guilty, beat them until they are.' That was the way it was here, especially for MIAs. You know, not that they had it easy, but a lot of the torture of POWs ended when the Big Ho died," Sam looked confused, "Ho, as in Ho Chi Minh. But since we were MIA, we got special treatment."
"When did you get home in the original history?"
"I got home," Al started shaking his head.
Bingo started to shiver again. Sam put his hand to Bingo's head. "It's not fever, yet, but it will be."
"It's 8,000 degrees here and he's cold?"
"With the amount of blood you've . . . he's lost, I'm not surprised." Sam looked into the Admiral's eyes and saw fear, true fear. There was nothing he could do for the Admiral, but the lieutenant needed warmth. Sam gently lifted Bingo off the wooden floor. He put the bloodied, gaunt man across his lap and held him in an attempt to share the warmth of his own body. Bingo's battered head fell back. The Admiral skittered as far away as he could. Sam felt his friend's young body quiver with pain, fear, and desperation. "Stay in close, Al. You'll warm up."
The frightened pilot haltingly whispered, "I didn't sign, Commander." The holographic Admiral put his hand to his face, hiding his expression.
"I know. You did good. I'm proud of you." Sam pulled Bingo a little closer. "You have to think of the future, Lieutenant. I got a feeling that maybe you'll pilot space ships someday." Bingo had to laugh, but the effort made him double up in pain. "Take it easy." Sam helped Bingo settle back. "I'm not kidding, Lieutenant. There's a future out there for you, a really remarkable future."
Bingo put all his energy into his words. "My Beth."
Silently Sam and the Admiral decided there was no need for Bingo to know Beth wouldn't be a part of that future. No need at all.
The Admiral started punching buttons on the handlink. "Sam, I got to go. You hang in there. According to Ziggy, you're doing fine. Cellars is a POW." Pointing to his doppelganger he continued, "So the VC don't do this to you and you get transferred out of here in two days. The odds are up to 90 that Cellars gets home in '73 and Emily doesn't attempt suicide. If there are any changes, I'll be back."
Before Al left, an unspoken conversation took place between him and Sam. It had something to do with the depth of love the two men felt for each other. The haunted eyes of both Als gazed at Sam. Bingo buried his young head in Sam's chest.
The Admiral smiled a melancholy smile, then closed his eyes to block out the picture and spoke quietly, "Gooshie, I want to come home," and the white glow of the Imaging Chamber door appeared behind him.
Author's Note: The mottos and torture methods used in this story are as described by the men who were imprisoned in Vietnam.