Two of a Kind
All characters belong to Belasarius Productions and Universal Studios.
The desert cooled off dramatically in the evening. It might be 100 degrees when the sun was at its full height, but as soon as it slipped below the mountains, the air took on a pleasant crisp feeling and sleep was easy. That was a good thing too, since a solid night's sleep at Project Quantum Leap was a premium Rear Admiral Alberto Michelangelo Calavicci hadn't had for some time. He lay next to his beautiful wife Beth, holding her gently and knowing he was always safe when they lay together.
This night brought the Admiral sweet dreams filled with images of dark skies studded with stars and the image of a distant, blue planet out a small, round window. He was back in the space program, awaiting reentry into the earth's atmosphere. Only a few people knew how profound his experiences as an astronaut had been for him. Not one to chat about the inner workings of his soul, Al was hard pressed to explain why seeing the earth from space seemed to negate the tragedy of the years just prior to his flight; the years he was beaten, tortured, and starved in a Vietnamese prison camp.
The spacecraft cocooned him in safety as it floated down from outer atmosphere. It was only a matter of minutes before he'd feel the rush of plunging into the ocean still encased in his magical spacecraft. Opening up the hatch and climbing up into the waiting rescue ship was an anticlimax for the Admiral. It ended his free fall from the stars. If he had his way, he'd fly into the stars and never return, but that wasn't possible.
Time travel wasn't possible either, so they said. Too bad the computer-generated voice waking him from his delightful dreams didn't know that. "Good morning, Admiral Calavicci, Dr. Beckett has leaped and you're needed in the Control Room as soon as possible." The voice belonged to the hybrid computer created by Dr. Sam Beckett.
With a groan, he stretched out his legs and arms before sitting up and asking, "What the hell time is it?"
Beth hadn't heard Ziggy, but Al's voice always woke her. She looked at the clock, "4:15, baby. Ziggy call?" She yawned.
"Yeah." Suddenly he sat bolt upright. The pit of his stomach tied itself into a knot that was foreboding. Something was wrong here, but there was no reason to warrant the strong response. "Damn it. Something's weird with this leap."
Beth knew her husband's instincts were usually dead on. She sat behind him and took his shoulders in her hands. Softly she massaged the tense muscles. "It's not good for you to start a leap like this. You'll be a mass of knots in no time."
Her hands felt good on his back, but there was work to do. "Babe, I got to go." He stood up and started toward the shower. Beth sighed, checked the clock again and crawled back under the covers.
The project corridors looked like a set from a Star Trek movie. While he liked clean lines, the bareness of it all was hospital-like and cold. The blood running through his veins felt cold as well. He had been accused of seeing the dark side of things far too quickly and he fought against being the harbinger of doom. After all, he hadn't even met the visitor yet.
Verbena Beeks, PQL Psychologist was waiting for him just outside the Waiting Room. He didn't bother with greetings. "Man or woman?"
Sam usually leaped into men and Al had an easier time of it when he did. It was disconcerting to see his best friend dressed like a woman and knowing that everyone in that reality saw a woman. Sam dressed in guy clothes, walking and talking like a guy just made life easier for him, Needless to say after years of observing the errant quantum physicist any bit of ease was appreciated. A deep breath later, Al opened the door to the Waiting Room and made his way toward the visitor.
Admiral Calavicci approached the prone male form quietly and with an easy step. This was always an awkward time. The person Sam Beckett leaped into was now a guest in the sterile blue and white Waiting Room inside the Project Quantum Leap Complex. It was an uncomfortable time for all involved.
With an instinct developed by years of observing Sam's leaps, Al sensed an intense seriousness in this mission. Something about this leap disturbed him and it wasn't being awakened at 4:15 in the morning. He was uneasy for a reason he couldn't make out. Looking down at the visitor's body, he saw nothing that explained his "creepy-crawly feeling." The man's eyes fluttered open and looked up at him. Al forced a smile and quietly said, "Hi there. How are you feeling?"
The masculine voice answered, "Okay, I think." Al could put money on the next words the visitor would utter. They were always the same. "Where am I?"
The stock answer was spoken by rote. "I'm afraid I can't tell you that. My name is Al. What's your name?"
The figure sat up a bit, and leaned back on his elbows. "Al what?"
Boy, this conversation was completely typical, but the uneasy feeling remained. "I can't tell you my last name either."
"Then I guess I can't tell you mine."
Al smiled and patted the figure on the arm. "Why don't you get a little rest. I'll be back later?"
"Wait." The visitor sounded anxious. He had a right to be. "Please tell me where I am."
Pushing buttons on the handlink, Al summoned Verbena. It was her job to keep the visitors in good mental health. "I know you're disoriented. You may not even remember your name, but you're not in any danger and you'll be home soon.
"You're an alien?"
Another typical response. Al thought it pretty amusing that the visitors thought he was an alien. "No, actually, I'm Italian." That usually got a small chuckle, easing the fear a bit. Dr. Beeks, the project psychiatrist, entered quietly and Al motioned her near. "This is Verbena. She's going to stay with you for a while to make sure you're okay."
Al knew Verbena could calm the most disturbing fears. She flashed a smile at the visitor and spoke quietly. "So you've met Al and you know my name. What's yours?"
The name wasn't hard to research, but Al thought it best to do that work away from the frightened man. Before he left, he said, "Thanks, Dan. I'm going to leave you in terrific hands here. She's one hell of a lady."
In the Control Room, Al turned into the Commanding Officer that he was. "Ziggy, where's Sam?" He stood still while a nurse took basic vital signs. SOP for the beginning of each leap. "Come on, Ziggy. I don't have all day."
"A more appropriate choice of words would have been 'I don't have all morning,' as it's only 4:40, but I'm sure you are unconcerned with this minor gaff. Now, I'll tell you about Dr. Beckett's current leap. I'm sure you'll be highly amused."
"Right now, I'm highly out of patience. What's happening?"
"Dr. Beckett is a professor in Chicago. The year is 1971. He is in class at this moment and I think you should just drop in. He'll be so glad to see you.
"Is he okay?"
"He's fine, but in an embarrassing situation, the kind you always enjoy so much."
Pulling a cigar from his pocket, he marched toward the icy Imaging Chamber. "Good. I need a laugh. Something doesn't feel right here. Do some digging into this guy's background."
The Imaging Chamber door slid open and he stood inside. The idea of being surrounded by a ring of radium never appealed to him, but there didn't seem to be any ill effects. The handlink was accessed and Al found himself . . .
The canvas bag in Sam Beckett's hand was warm and a soft, brown substance oozed from the hole at the bottom making small mounds of stuff in front of him. It was about the most disgusting thing he had felt and seen in a long time. Around him he heard giggles. He was teaching a class in something and it didn't look like anything he wanted to learn about. The brown goo still oozed, but the smell wasn't what he expected. This stuff smelled good, like chocolate.
"Chef Harrington, I thought you were showing us how to do lattice work. Even I can make messes like that."
Half a dozen very young men stood around him. They wore white jackets and toques. "Oh, boy." The neophytes stared at him and Al laughed from across the room. "I think I'd like to see what you can do first. Then I can pick up where your skills leave off." Handing the pastry bag to one of the boys, he said, "I'm going to let you all work here for a few minutes. I'll be right back."
Sam walked over to the hologram chuckling in the corner of the room. Al tried wiping the smile from his face but it was impossible. Sam gestured to the amused Admiral to follow him out in the hall. Al was still laughing when they were safe from spying eyes.
"It wasn't that funny. Al, I'm supposed to be teaching these kids how to cook."
Staring down at the handlink, hoping to quell his laughter he answered, "Actually, you're a pastry chef," Waving his arm in a very royal fashion he continued, "You teach them how to turn cream puffs into swans."
Panic set in almost immediately. "I can't cook, can I?"
"You cook as well as you pilot airplanes."
"But I don't know how to fly."
"So you get my point."
Sam tried to stem his frustration. "Despite the fact that I'm sure you were a chef at some time in your life, I doubt even you have experience with pastry."
"True, true, although there was that one night Beth and I were eating some zabaglione I made and it sort of got out of hand and onto toes and tummies, if you know what I mean."
"Al, please, not more stories about your love life." It was a typical opening conversation and as repetitious as it was, it served as a reminder that there was some sort of constancy in Sam's forever changing life. "Why am I here?"
The handlink moaned and whistled as Al beat his palm against his connection to the computer just a few yards away. "Not sure yet. Your name is Daniel Harrington. You're a pastry chef at Washington Trade School in Chicago. It's Friday, May 14 1971. You know, I love Chicago. They got the best pizza here. There's a restaurant in the city called Gino's . . ."
"Al, tell me things I need to know."
Not being able to let an opening slide by, Al said, "Always stir flour into a cake. Never use a beater." He was glared at with an impatience that Al always found amusing. "Hey, I told you what I know. I don't make the assignments. Listen, go back in there and dismiss class for the day. I'll try to get more information from Ziggy" Shooing his young friend back to the waiting students, he waved his hand, "Go on, go on, go on."
Ten minutes later, Al and Sam were outside the school and walking toward a car. "Okay, you know your name. You're 61 years old. You've been married since 1944. Your wife's name is Renee and you have six kids including a set of boy/girl twins. Your two oldest kids, Arnold and Leo are married and out on their own. The twins, William and Jillian are away at college. Hey, isn't that cute, Bill and Jill." Sam grimaced and Al continued, "It's better than Jack and Jill which I'm sure crossed their minds. Your last two are at home. Jeffrey," the handlink squealed incessantly, "Oh, excuse me. He prefers Jeff. Anyway, he's graduating high school and your youngest daughter Michelle is graduating from junior high."
Leaping into someone whose career made sense made life easier. Pastry wasn't on his list of skills. "Just tell me what's going on with Dan so I can leap out of here before someone asks me to really cook."
"Bake, Sam. You bake." They reached a big gold and black 1969 Olds 98. The sarcasm was purposeful. "Nice wheels, Sam. Geez, I've landed planes on things smaller than this."
Fumbling in his pockets for keys, Sam finally got himself inside the mega-car. "Would you like to tell me where I'm going?"
Al adjusted his holographic image and "sat" in the passenger seat. "You live in Park Ridge, a burb near O'Hare Airport."
"Well, that's a big help."
"Turn left at the corner."
The car pulled out of the school parking lot and started toward home. "So, what's the problem with the Harringtons?"
"Let's see what Ziggy has to say here." The handlink had been referred to as a collection of gummy bears, jujubes, Christmas lights, and other not so nice appellations. Today it responded with a minimum of squeaks and squawks. "You seem to be doing all right. You've got tenure at the school and are well respected in the cake and pie biz."
"Ha, ha. What's my wife's name? Renee?"
"Right Renee. She's a stay-at-home mom and with six kids that's a full time job. More pokes at the handlink and Al said, "Your oldest son Arnold and his wife Louise have a little girl named Ellen. He sells insurance and they're all okay. Let's check out Leo. He's married to a woman named Judy. They have two kids. He sells shoes and he's happy as a clam. Apparently Leo's not the brain surgeon in the family. Bill and Jill attend Southern Illinois University and are just about average students. They both graduate on time and they're fine."
"So far, you got nothing. This crowd is more saccharine than the Brady Bunch. I'm going to have to figure this one out on my own, aren't I." Al's face suddenly turned from carefree to careworn. It was a transition that Sam recognized. It meant something really wrong was about to happen, really wrong. "What's up, Al?"
"Ziggy's found your mission, It's Jeff, the youngest son. Looks like he never fit into the family. He's kind of an angry kid, always in and out of trouble."
"What happens to him?"
"He enlists in the Army right out of school, gets shipped to Vietnam and is killed there. His mother can't deal with his death and commits suicide by turning the gas stove on, all the burners and the oven, too. Dan is a professional chef, so the stove is a good one, lots of gas.
"There's more. The youngest kid, Michelle, comes home with two kids she's baby-sitting. One of them has one of those sparkler gadgets, you know those mechanical toy things that spin and make little sparks. According to the autopsy reports, the kids were playing with it when they walked into the kitchen. The room explodes and Michelle and the kids die, too."
The prospect of dead children shook both the Leaper and the Observer. It was a scenario they both dreaded and filled them with apprehension. "How am I supposed to stop all that, Al?"
"Keep Jeff out of the Army. That should do it. One less Vietnam casualty is okay by me, anyhow. I'm going to go back and see what I can dig up on Jeff. Maybe I can find some info that will help."
"Wait. How do I get home?"
"Keep going, exit at Cumberland, go half a mile north toward Devon, turn right by Mary Seat of Wisdom church, left on Brophy and you'll find it no problem. Goodbye, Sam." He disappeared into the white light, leaving Sam alone, driving to Dan's house.