Prologue - The Two Scientists
AUGUST 15TH, 1991, SOMEWHERE ON THE ARIZONA/NEW MEXICO BORDER
The drifter was being beaten. He was always being beaten. He was *dead*, and so forced to take only the most menial of jobs, jobs that required no ID or other papers. Jobs that were hard to find nowadays and even harder to keep for any real length of time. Jobs that very often had the lowest sort of individual as co-worker. Many of these were on the run themselves, but for reasons far less legitimate than his. They were people who were quick to anger, and quicker still to hit. People who didn't like his tone, or something else, usually vague, about the drifter. It didn't matter. For his scientist's training simply hadn't prepared him for dealing with people like this, people who, for no good reason, just didn't like him. Before, in their anger, they didn't like him. Now, they would, with their fists and feet, make him angry. Yet they wouldn't like him any better now, though. They would learn in the hardest way never to make him angry. They wouldn't like him when he was angry.
He tried like hell to hold the demon back, for their sakes. He could never tell what his anger was going to do, and he did not wish to become a murderer. It had been too close a thing, far too many times. But he had a small comfort. He knew from harsh experience that their easily sparked but finite rage would be spent soon. Showing no resistance would disgust them and drive them away, while they scornfully called the bravest man they would likely ever meet for a craven coward. But which would happen first, the mundane exhaustion of stupid men or the unleashing of a brilliant man's righteous rage? Even as his face and torso were repeatedly slammed, he knew he couldn't afford the attention the latter option would bring. He also knew he was rapidly approaching the point of no return and no choice.
More than once, Dr. Kimble's twenty-year-old book on his hellish time outside the law had shown him the way to crawl along society's underbelly, to fit in where he was not supposed to. He had met and befriended many good people this way, people with whom he even shared his problem. Yet even the good contacts could in some cases prove a danger. While a man in his position by definition left few footsteps, so it was that every last such footstep was a potential obstruction in his search for an end to his life of false names and tearful goodbyes.
None of this mattered to his attackers, differing in names and faces over the years, but exactly the same in their insatiable itch for a fight which they always found and always regretted. The drifter's anger, which he always tried to shield these lowlifes from, still made him sloppy, and cost him valuable common sense and clear judgment. It made him believe that they should simply leave him alone. By the time he caught himself when they inevitably got annoyed by this perception, it was always too late.
As a child, he had lost his mother to an illness she was not strong enough to survive. His first wife he had lost to a simple car door fused shut by fire and impact, a situation no normal human could have altered, and yet he knew for a fact that some humans had done just that. His second wife had known his awesome secret, a secret that should have given her the strength to survive, yet it hadn't. It had all made him a certain way. He was what he was, his nature set in a hard stone even his anger couldn't smash. There was no going back to change the past, despite what the young couple at the university had always said, when he was their friend and student teacher.
Time was immutable, but strength could change things, if properly applied. He knew this for a fact. It was his mantra, his holy grail, his own grand unification theory of absolutely everything. But through his mourning for his first wife, his overdose, the death of his lover and colleague after his initial mutation, and his need for flight, this obsessive quest for strength had brought him the equally obsessive attentions of an ambitious tabloid journalist. It had also meant hard travel through a succession of more corrupt small towns than even chaos theory allowed for. Doctor David Banner was living the nightmare side of his experiments, sometimes feeling irredeemably lost.
Suddenly, he realized he couldn't even remember why these fellows were hitting him. With that, Banner realized he was in trouble. Yet this once, the trouble would pass, however briefly, without what he regarded as the inevitable consequences. The pain subsided. The thugs weren't there. He was in a small waiting area, with an unseen guard firmly urging him to just sit tight. The creature within him, always shouting in his skull, was at that moment a distant echo. Still there, but separated by a great deal more space than usual. Space-and, somehow he knew-time. Yet a man on the run does not trust the unknown willingly, and soon David Banner would insist on knowing where he was. This would prove to be one of several mistakes, while in his new surroundings.
AUGUST 15TH, 1991
He awoke to find himself in the past. The traveler through time began the internal monologue that calibrated and focused him in a life where one of the most basic things was completely out of focus, and perhaps an eternity beyond calibration. Eternity, as Doctor Sam Beckett knew all too well, was a very funny thing. Yet conversely, it also contained some very predictable patterns. Some could even be called redundant.
"I was being beaten. I was always being beaten, punched, dunked, or some combination of the three when a leap first occurred. I only wish that the entire purpose of the leaps were to stop or prevent these beatings. But this violence always proves symptomatic. It's part of the price I pay for an arguably successful experiment. My scientist's training never prepared me for dealing with these kinds of people. Luckily my Tae Kwon Do training did.
I laugh when I think that it took becoming a mother to remember I had it. I stop laughing very quickly when I realize that I don't always remember past leaps, let alone my own past. Still, Swiss-cheesed memories or no, my martial arts skills always prove perfect for dealing with these *nozzles* as Al would call them."
"Learning Tae Kwon Do was part of rage management over my brother's death-No, wait-Tom's alive, and Dad, he lived until six months before I leaped, and Sis-her name?-is mayor of our little town back in Indiana. Damn! I still actually have to remind myself of the name Sam Beckett on occasion. The ironic part is, I can actually remember this *leapee's* memories better than some of my own. I-He was half-dead on a broken tarmac, when a beautiful woman spirited me away for recovery, where I-he-resumed a life on the run-from-what? A huge, ugly giant appears in my mind, and seems as close as my own breath, like anger wearing humanoid form-only-he's not all there. Weird. As I send the bullying jerks on their way, I remember why I learned the martial arts-it was for rage management. But not my own rage. A friend of mine, a biophysicist whose work was pivotal in making these leaps physically survivable, was so tortured by his wife's accidental death that it strangled his soul. Grief left him a recluse. I was frightened by it. Wanted to know how to rein it in after Donna left me-No wait, Donna -Donna-well, she didn't leave, I know that. There was an old man, my martial arts sensei Li Sung. He would've known how to cope with all this. Blind, but with eyes that could see the whole world. A master who knew his Tao as well as his sidestep."
"My friend never took those classes along with me and so missed that joyous old man's teachings, as valuable in physics as in a street fight. Yet did this man I've leaped into come to know Sensei later on? I feel he did. Synchronicity. I feel heartened by this. Sensei Li Sung, that old friend I failed to help, and that book had meant so much to me. All three played roles in what my life was to become, for good or ill. I can't remember their names, but I remember that book. *With One Arm At My Throat* by Richard Kimble. That, and *Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance* had been required reading for young physicists at the Institute. Even D-Dennis-Daniel? had loved Kimble's book, and after his wife's death, he could be humorless. Then I remembered-not my friend's name-but how he died, back in 77'. I attended his funeral-his and-Doctor Elena Marks-that's a breakthrough, of sorts, and it was said that a hulking green creature was seen leaving the scene of the fire that caused their deaths. A creature that looks exactly like the one in this guy's mind. In my mind, now. My pulse is racing, without my knowing why. This is absurd, I have control. Maybe not over my when or where, but I have this much control. Just–just not now."
There had been a recent rain, and so the traveler through time looked into a puddle, made reflective by the sunlight that always came back stronger than any downpour. As he expected, he faced a mirror image that was not his own. The man's features were familiar, but Beckett felt a lot like this was a face he couldn't possibly be seeing. The dates he had glimpsed in the other's mind spoke of the 1990's, almost his own time.
This face, he almost knew, was not one that should be around, even in the 80's. But that oddity was lost quickly as Sam saw that the man's eyes were badly dilated, looking both white and green as the feelings of helpless despair overwhelmed him. This rage did not care how much control the leaper had. It was going to come out, and his face was showing it. Sam saw his hands growing larger, and began to lose not merely consciousness, but himself. He managed to utter familiar words before he lost all coherence.
A few moments later, it could truly be said that Sam Beckett was no longer there.
AN EVER-CHANGING FUTURE
STALLION'S GATE, NEW MEXICO
Gooshie stared in horror at the readout.
"We've lost Doctor Beckett."
Al Calavicci shook his head.
"Goosh, don't you mean that you just don't have an exact lock on his where and when-abouts?"
"No, Admiral. I mean he's just nowhere to be found. I even scanned back into Elvis Presley's lifetime, to see if he went ahead in it, like he did with Oswald. No go. Admiral, Doctor Beckett has left the time stream."
Despite his promise to Beth and the girls, Al pulled out his cigar, lit and puffed on it. His nerves had just gone into overdrive.
"Ziggy? Clue me in, here. Wouldn't basic conservation of matter and energy mean that, even if Sam were dead or destroyed, we'd pick up something?"
The device that had redefined the term 'super-computer' a dozen times over responded in its usual manner.
"To truly clue you in would drain even my considerable resources, Admiral. But in this you are correct. Doctor Beckett should be there, even if our capacity to lock onto him is in question. No matter his condition, the evolution of our ability to find his basic presence is no longer in doubt. So I do not believe he has been destroyed. Rather, I look to the corollary of the laws you truncated in your quote. Energy/matter may be neither created nor destroyed. Yet it can be changed."
Al rolled his eyes and put his cigar aside. There wasn't enough good tobacco in the world to help him deal with Ziggy.
"Sam is always changing. When he leaped into that pregnant girl, he underwent a hysterical pregnancy, even though guys aren't designed that way."
"Oddly, Admiral, you may in fact be on the right track. But I believe that Doctor Beckett's current change may exceed mere sympathetic physical reactions."
"So what happened to him?"
"Admiral, I project a ninety-five percent probability that Doctor Beckett has suffered a perhaps catastrophic mutation, altering his body chemistry. I suggest you risk engaging the party Doctor Beckett has leaped into."
Al looked at the waiting area doors, now triple-reinforced after a spree killer Sam had leaped into escaped the project, nearly causing untold disasters.
"That, Zig, is a risk I'd prefer not to take, even for Sam."
For Sam Beckett, Al would literally do anything. The young scientist had saved his marriage back in the late 70's, when post-traumatic stress disorder had rendered Calavicci a nearly-worthless drunk, one even Beth was preparing to give up on. He was a man dwelling in a nightmare, and having even worse ones, ones in which Beth did not wait for him to come home from his captivity in North Vietnam, and Al had become a loser with a succession of bad marriages. Sam Beckett had never given up on him, even choosing to help his new friend Al over his old friend, a widower scientist who had become a recluse.
"But since it is for Sam, my preferences mean exactly jack squat."
Before Al could request entry, yells came from inside the waiting area.
"Beeksy? Who do we have guarding the leapee?"
Doctor Verbena Beeks had been preparing to enter the area herself, to begin some limited questioning of the new arrival. As Al was for the escaped spree-killer, so was she for a thankfully short-term 'leapee' who had taken one look at her, and then asked in a dismissive voice whether Beeks was the facility's maid. History contained some things she wished Sam Beckett could wipe out forever.
"It's Officer Talbot, Al."
Al felt his nerves start again.
"That nozzle? Wasn't he suspended?"
"His lawyer has that under review."
Al's eyes went wide.
"We're a top-secret facility! How can we not have the ability to hire and fire who we want?"
The yells became louder.
"I SAID SIT DOWN! You want some more of this nightstick? You–you crushed it?"
Talbot ran out at lightning speed, and this time no lawyer could save his job.
"The guy's nuts! Completely nuts!"
Al sneered at the guard, cowering in the corner, while he acted to prevent another escape.
"Well, he's also not getting out. I just secured the three doors by remote. They're magna-locked, and made of solid..."
A series of crashes from within the waiting area contraindicated whatever Al was about to say. For the man inside had somehow proven more solid. If in fact it was a man.
"Ziggy! Pull your vitals down behind the disaster shields. Do it now!"
Certain components were recessed, others closed over, and the accelerator sank into the ground below, to theoretically secure quarters. That theory would now be put to the test. Despite all logic, the third and final door leading out from the waiting area broke open and nearly went off its hinges. Al saw a dark-haired, middle-aged man of average build emerge. Everyone else of course, saw Sam Beckett. But one and all saw the man's face contorted in open rage, and all heard him roar like a wild animal unseen since the Earth was new. Al gulped to see the heavy door now fly away entirely, like a porch's screen door during a July 4th gone wild. Ziggy's slightly muffled voice gave off a reading that would only be useful later.
"Admiral, this individual is causing a gamma radiation spike that is non-lethal, but verifiable."
Like many another time, Al prepped himself for quite literally whatever.
"Sam? What the hell did you get us into?"