The Powers of Matthew Star/Quantum Leap
Standard fanfic disclaimer that wouldn't last ten seconds in a court of law: These aren't my characters. I'm just borrowing them for, um, typing practice. Yeah, that's it, typing practice. They will be returned to their original owners (relatively) unharmed. Originally published in the fanzine Of Dreams and Schemes #21.
by Susan M. M.
"It's not fair!" Matthew Star complained.
Walter Shepherd looked up from the papers he was grading and glanced at his ward. At sixteen, life is perennially unfair.
"I've got my regular homework for Crestridge High, my Quadren homework so I'm not a cultural illiterate when we get home, studying leadership and government so I can be a good king, studying military strategy and tactics so I can take over the resistance when we go home, chores, football practice, practicing my powers, plus trying to maintain a normal teenager's social life." The dark-haired boy tallied off the list on his fingers, and was forced to use both hands. "It's too much."
Shep chuckled. "There's no such thing as a 'normal teenager'."
"I'm serious. All this studying, all these chores … I've got no time left for myself."
"You've got no time left for Pam, you mean," Shep parried. The tall, bald Black man was Matt's guardian.
"I'm a red-blooded American boy. I have hormones," Matt protested.
"You're the Crown Prince of Quadris," Shep reminded him. "Preparing for the throne takes priority over taking Pam out for a movie and a hamburger. And if your schedule is too full, you could always drop out of the football team."
Junk food, football, dating … sometimes 'Walter Shepherd' worried that his ward was becoming too acculturated, too acclimated to American life. When their home planet had been invaded, his best friend, King Etaing, had entrusted his infant son to Shep's care. He'd sent them to Earth, a planet whose inhabitants were physically similar enough to Quadrens that they could pass for natives. And he'd ordered him to protect his son. The royal family had psionic powers, powers that could make a difference in the fight against the invaders. But a dead prince could not use those powers, so Shep had taken the baby crown prince to Earth, where the boy could grow up safely until his powers developed.
But sometimes Shep wondered which worried him more: the assassins that had followed them to Earth, forcing them to continually move from state to state, always changing identities, or that Matt was growing up more American than Quadren. It was a good thing he was bald, or he'd have gone gray with worrying, raising the boy. Matt preferred French fries and cheeseburgers to Quadren dishes. Matt was going steady with Pam Elliott, a very nice young girl, but not, in Shep's opinion, future queen material. And every time the boy played football, he was filled with dread, lest an accident send him to the hospital. Human and Quadren physiology was close, but an X-ray would immediately reveal their extraterrestrial origin.
"Drop football? No way!"
"Relax, Matt," Shep ordered. "You need to cool down. Why don't you go take the trash out? The garbage men come tomorrow."
Grumbling, Matt got up and headed for the kitchen. "I'll bet Prince Charles doesn't have to take the trash out."
*** *** ***
A blue light enveloped him, and Dr. Samuel Beckett leapt.
He found himself carrying a trash can, and set it down so he could figure out where and who he was this time. Well, it was twilight. It was warm. He could see palm trees. Maybe Hawaii or California, Sam thought, or Florida.
"Woof, woof, woof! Woof!"
Sam turned and saw a dog in the neighbor's yard barking at him. "Easy, boy. Nice doggie."
The dog merely growled.
Sam sighed. To a human, he would appear as whomever he'd leapt into. But a dog would see him as he really was. He must be freaking out the neighbor's dog. He felt his back pocket. Yes, he was in luck. There was a wallet there. Unfortunately, it was too dark to read the ID in it. There was enough light to make out the trash cans in the neighbors' yards, so he picked up the trash can and carried it to the alley.
Once in the house, he stopped in the kitchen and pulled out the wallet to see who he was this time. Student ID, driver's license. "Oh , boy," he whispered, "I'm only a kid." The ID showed an attractive teenaged boy, with black hair and blue eyes. According to the ID, his name was Matthew Star and he was a junior at Crestridge High.
"Matt? Is anything wrong?" he heard a man's voice call out.
"No, uh, just washing my hands after taking out the trash," Sam stalled. He followed the words with the deed, then headed in the direction of the voice.
"Well, you feeling more yourself?" a handsome Black man asked.
"Uh, yeah, I guess so." Sam wondered who the man was. It couldn't be his father; Sam had leapt into a white boy. Too casually dressed for a butler, and Matthew Star was too old for a babysitter. Stepfather, perhaps?
"Get your homework finished," the man ordered. His voice was firm, but kind.
Sam saw a desk with books and papers. He sat down and skimmed through the papers and folders. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw Matthew was an organized student: the folder listed all his classes and teachers, his room numbers, his homework, etc. He spent a few moments studying the map of the school on the back of the folder to make sure he could find all his classes tomorrow. Then he turned to 'his' homework. Algebra was a piece of cake for a man with a Ph. D. in mathematics. He quickly finished the math and turned to American literature.
The Black man was engaged with paperwork of his own. He glanced over at Sam from time to time, smiling approvingly at his industriousness. "Need any help?"
"No, I'm doing fine, thanks," Sam replied. He wondered when Al would show up to give him some information about this leap.
*** *** ***
Dr. Verbena Beeks, an attractive African-American woman, held up three fingers. "How many fingers do you see?" the psychiatrist asked.
"Three," replied Matt.
"Good," she murmured. "What's the date?"
"Uh, Tuesday. March 3."
She wanted to ask him the year, but feared arousing his suspicions. "Who's the president?"
"Ronald Reagan. What's wrong? Where am I?"
"It's all right. There's nothing to worry about. My name is Dr. Beeks; what's yours?"
"Matt – Matthew Star," he replied automatically. He suddenly realized that her questions were the sort that people with concussions were asked. "Is this a hospital? I need to call my guardian." He tried to sit up. He knew he had to get out of there; he didn't dare let a human doctor examine him.
"You need to rest," she told him. "You mentioned a guardian. Whom should we call?"
"Walter Shepherd," Matt answered. He recited the telephone number.
Dr. Beeks nodded, but didn't lie and say she'd call him. "By the way, Matt, how old are you?"
"Sixteen," said the boy inhabiting Sam Beckett's body.
*** *** ***
Sam breezed through Matt's homework – eleventh grade work was hardly challenging to a man with six doctorates – and wondered what to do with himself. He still didn't know who the man sitting doing paperwork was, nor how to address him.
Luckily, there was a flash of blue light, and Al stepped through the door of the Imaging Chamber into the living room. Sam breathed a sigh of relief. Al Calavicci –or at least his holographic image – was Sam's link to Project Quantum Leap. He was Sam's only connection to his own time, to his time travel lab in New Mexico, to sanity.
"Excuse me a minute," Sam muttered. He walked down the hall to the bathroom. Since Al's holographic image was attuned to Sam's brainwaves, only he could see Al. He'd learned to avoid talking in public to someone that other people couldn't see.
"Al, am I ever glad to see you," Sam said. "Why am I here?"
Al reached out to lay a comforting hand on Sam's shoulder. Being only a holographic image, his hand passed through Sam's shoulder. "Well, your name is Matthew Star, and as near as Ziggy can tell, you're here to prevent a double murder."
"Today is March 3, 1983. On March 6, Matthew Star and his guardian, Walter Shepherd, were both killed … we think."
"You think? Ziggy doesn't know?" Sam was astonished. Ziggy, the project's super-computer, usually knew everything.
"Well, it's definite that the kid and his guardian will disappear this weekend. The first reports said they were killed. The later newspaper reports simply say 'missing,' and the police reports were confiscated and classified by …" Al hit the handlink as it stalled again. The hand-held computer link was notoriously temperamental. "Classified by General Tucker. Hey, I know him. Knew him; he died in '93."
"Why would a general classify a murder? Matthew and his guardian didn't have anything to do with the army, did they?" Sam asked.
"Air Force," Al corrected automatically. "Bill Tucker was a major general in the Air Force. Big supporter of the space program."
"Why would anyone want to kill a 16-year-old kid? And why would an Air Force officer cover it up? Or is it the guardian they're after, and the kid was just in the way?"
"That's the weird thing, Sam. It's as though Shepherd and Matt just appeared out of nowhere, and then disappeared again. No birth certificates, no school records, not even a traffic ticket," Al shook his head, baffled. "Part of the protected witness program, maybe?"
*** *** ***
"I'm holding up his GPA, but I may be ruining his social life," Sam complained to Al as he washed dishes. Not knowing which of a hundred teenage girls at Crestridge High was Matt's girlfriend, he'd walked past Pam without even saying hello. "I really upset his girlfriend. I have a feeling he may not be going steady when he gets back. Does Ziggy have anything yet?"
Al shook his head. "Nada. And Dr. Beeks is beginning to doubt the kid's sanity. Yesterday he just started screaming and yelling that we could kill him if we wanted, but we wouldn't get any information from us. Then he started gesturing and waving his arms like Mandrake the Magician, and seemed real surprised that nothing happened. And today, he's just sitting quietly in the Waiting Room, watching videotapes of old movies without a word of complaint."
"What about General Tucker? Was Ziggy able to download Pentagon records?"
"Ziggy can only hack into other computers. If Bill Tucker's files were never entered onto computer, either they're sitting in manila folders in a file cabinet in the Pentagon basement or else they were shredded before they could be inputted."
"We don't know who this kid really is, we don't know who's after him." Sam frowned. He hated feeling so helpless. Leaping through time was bad enough, inhabiting other people's lives, trying to set right what once went wrong. Trying to constantly imitate other people was exhausting and confusing; he spent most of his time hemming and hawing. But leaping into other people when he couldn't help them was worse. "And he dies or disappears tomorrow."
"Did you say something, Matt?" Walter Shepherd called from the other room.
"Uh, no, just singing with the radio," Sam fibbed.
In the living room, Shepherd paused as he graded papers for his science class. Talking to himself was a bad sign, and this was the second time he'd caught Matt doing it this week.
When the dishes were done and Sam returned to the living room, Shep announced: "Matt, I was thinking about what you were saying the other day."
"Oh?" Sam wondered what Matt had said.
"Maybe I am pushing you a little too hard," the Black man conceded. "Let's ease up on your schedule a bit."
"I'd appreciate that," Sam agreed readily, although thus far he hadn't found the teenager's schedule too difficult to handle. On the other hand, he'd earned five Ph. D.s and one M.D. before he was thirty, so he had a unique interpretation of 'overwork.'
"Since Pam's family is going out of town this weekend, why don't we have some two-of-us time? No practicing, no tutoring, just … relax."
"It'd be nice to just relax," Sam admitted. He was tired of jumping into the middle of other people's crises.
Shep thought a minute. "Why don't we drive down to Julian? Do a little sightseeing, maybe go hiking in the mountains?"
Sam tried to remember if he'd ever been to Julian, California; the name sounded vaguely familiar. An image of mountains flashed from the depths of his Swiss-cheese memory, along with the mingled scent of pine trees and apple pie. He thought perhaps he had been there …Yes! A physics conference at UCSD, followed by a romantic getaway with – with whom? He had images of antique shops and bed-and-breakfast hotels, but no picture of who had been with him there. An embarrassing thought interrupted his reverie. If a teenage boy and an obviously unrelated adult male checked into a hotel in a mountain retreat known for romantic B&Bs, people might get the wrong idea. Since they were going to be in the mountains anyway ….
"When was the last time we went camping?" Sam asked. He tried to keep his voice casual. He had no idea if Matt had ever been camping, if he hated camping, or if they'd been camping just last week.
Shep smiled. "It has been a while, hasn't it?" He paused a moment, as if in thought. "Besides, roughing it will get you ready for when we go home."
Sam looked up at him, confused. Wasn't this their home?"
Noting the expression on Sam's face, Shep asked, "What, you expected to move into the palace immediately?"
"No, of course not," Sam replied. Palace? What was that all about?
*** *** ***
Al appeared in the bathroom as Sam was brushing his teeth. "Al!" Sam spit out the toothpaste. "Where've you been?"
"Brunch. I have to eat, too," Al said defensively.
"Brunch? At this hour?"
"It may be 10:00 PM in Crestridge in 1983, but in White Sands, it's 11:35 AM," Al pointed out.
A sheepish expression appeared on Sam's face. He'd forgotten that there was little or no correlation between the time of day when he was in the past, and for Al, back in the present. How many times, he wondered, had his friend gotten up in the middle of the night just to be there for him, or had his schedule turned topsy-turvy so he could aid Sam? And how often had Sam bothered to express his appreciation for Al's efforts?
"Sorry. Forgot," Sam murmured. "Al, have I ever been to Julian?"
There was an odd look on Al's face, one Sam couldn't decipher. "Why do you ask?"
"Shep and I are spending the weekend in Julian. He thinks we need some down-time. It seems familiar. I've been there, haven't I?"
"Sam, you know I can't give you information like that. Your own rules."
The time traveler frowned. "I've been there, and I think I was there with somebody. Somebody special. A woman."
Al bit his lip. The last time Sam Beckett had been in Julian – the only time, as far as he knew – Sam had been with Donna Eleese. It had been right after they'd gotten the news that the grants for Project Quantum Leap had been approved. Changing the subject, he commented, "If the killer is looking for Matthew Star and Walter Shepherd in Crestridge, it's probably a good idea for you to be two or three counties away."
Try as he might, Sam could get no further information from Al regarding Julian, or with whom he'd been there …although Al paled when Sam announced that his companion was blonde. Eventually, Sam gave up and went to bed.
*** *** ***
"Good morning, Dr. Beeks." Al pointed at the one-way mirror, to the boy wearing Sam Beckett's body. "How is our guest doing?"
"He seems to be enjoying a swashbuckler marathon," Dr. Verbena Beeks replied. "Adventures of Robin Hood, Black Shield of Falworth, Captain Blood. I told him he had to give his eyes a break. The closed-circuit TV gets shut off for two hours when this movie ends. He needs to eat lunch and take an exercise break before he can see the next movie on his request list. Which is," she glanced at her clipboard, "Prisoner of Zenda – the Stewart Granger version."
Al nodded. The Waiting 'Room' was actually a suite: bedroom, bathroom, small gym. The people Sam displaced were encouraged to keep Sam's body healthy. They were provided with books, movies, jigsaw and crossword puzzles, etc.
"Has he tried any more mumbo-jumbo?" Al asked.
The psychologist nodded. "Late last night. Much more quietly, almost experimentally."
"I take it his experiments failed?" Al inquired dryly. The question wasn't entirely facetious. He'd seen too many weird things since joining Project Quantum Leap to take anything for granted.
"No observable results," she said. "At least, none I was able to observe."
Al bit his lip, hesitating a second.
"Is something wrong, Admiral?" Dr. Beeks asked.
"Sam is having memory flashes. He almost remembered Donna."
Dr. Beeks inhaled sharply. "Did he, now?"
*** *** ***
From Crestridge to the Cuyamaca Mountains was a two hour drive. By the time they arrived at the state park just outside Julian, both Shep and Sam were eager to stretch their legs. They began hiking almost immediately.
The mountain air was fresh and clean. Shep and Sam tramped merrily along the path, stopping now and then to observe a mother quail with four chicks or to read a sign explaining the local plants and how the Kumeyaay Indians had used them. After a while, they stopped to rest their feet and drink some water.
Shep glanced at the stream gently flowing beside them. "Pretty. Reminds me of the Belarra Mountains back home."
Sam just nodded.
"What's the nearest city to the Belarra Mountains?" Shep snapped out the question like a drill sergeant.
Sam, who'd never heard of any mountain range by that name, tried not to show his ignorance. "You said no tutoring. That includes no geography."
Shep laughed. "Fair enough." He turned his head suddenly, hearing footsteps. "Someone is coming."
Sam shrugged. "It's a public park."
Shep reached down and grabbed something. Then he stood, and gestured to Sam to do the same. The time traveler did so, but he wondered why Matt's guardian suddenly seemed so … Sam wasn't sure what the difference in Shep was, but there was a difference. His eyes, his stance, his whole being seemed somehow subtly altered.
A moment later, another hiker appeared on the path. "Hello," he greeted them. He was a tall, slender man. He looked vaguely Oriental, but Sam could not place his ethnicity any closer than that. He wasn't Korean, nor Japanese, nor Chinese. And his accent, too, was unfamiliar, not like any Asian accent he'd ever heard.
"Hello," Shep said cautiously.
"Great day for a hike, huh?" Sam asked.
"Indeed," the stranger agreed. "And a better day to die." He glanced down at a small device in his hand – Sam assumed it was a pedometer or compass – and inhaled sharply. "This is not Prince Ehock."
Shep pushed Sam behind him.
"You surprise me, Lord Dehay. I thought you were too soft to use a human boy as a decoy. The resemblance is uncanny. No matter. Once I have killed you, there will be no one to protect the prince."
Shep threw a handful of dirt into the assassin's eyes. "Run, Matt!"
The assassin drew out a strange, vaguely pistolish weapon. He fired, but the dirt in his eyes fouled his aim. Shep rushed the assassin, grappling with him for the weapon. The assassin pushed Shep to the ground. He aimed his weapon again.
Sam kicked the assassin from behind. He was confused. Who was Dehay? And why did the assassin refer to him as 'a human boy'? Despite his confusion, his body remembered his black-belt training. He knocked the assassin to the ground.
The weapon flew from the assassin's hand. Shep knelt beside the assassin, seized his neck, and twisted. It broke with a sickening sound. Shep found the weapon and fired. Sam watched in horror as the body disintegrated before his eyes.
"Well done, my prince," Shep congratulated him.
"You killed him." Sam breathed the words, barely speaking them aloud.
"Such is my duty and my honor, my prince." Shep looked at him curiously. Why should Matt be surprised that he'd done so, when he'd killed the prince's enemies before, and doubtless would again? "Well fought, but why didn't you use your powers?"
Powers? Sam thought quickly. "Everything happened so fast; I didn't have time to think. I just … acted on reflex."
"Your reflexes should include your powers, Ehock. You could have killed him yourself. I won't always be there to protect you." The Black alien sighed, exhausted. "But next time I tell you to run, run."
"I will," Sam promised. A line from Ghostbusters jumped through one of the holes of his Swiss cheese memory: If someone asks you if you're a god, say yes. That conjured up the codicil: If someone tells you to run when there's an assassin around, run.
"I wonder why his sensor malfunctioned and said you were human?" Shep mused aloud.
Sam's left eyebrow rose. He thought quickly. "Uh, made in Japan?"
A blue flash of light, and a door opened out of nowhere. Al stepped out of the Imaging Chamber and onto the mountain trail.
Shep laughed. "Glad you've kept your sense of humor, my prince. Melkari mercenaries generally work alone, but perhaps I should backtrack our trail and make sure this fellow wasn't the exception to the rule. You'll be all right by yourself for a minute?"
"Melkari mercenaries?" Al asked.
"If anyone else comes before I get back, what do you do?" Shep grilled him.
"Run and hide first, use my powers second, and save karate for a last resort," Sam replied, like a child reciting his catechism.
"Powers?" Al repeated.
"I'll be back in a minute," Shep promised.
"Why do I get the feeling I missed something very interesting?" Al asked.
"Only if you're thinking of the Chinese curse 'may you live in interesting times'," Sam replied. He sat back down on the rock. "The assassin was just here. Shep – my mild-mannered, schoolteacher guardian – killed him and disposed of the body."
"Any idea why anyone was trying to kill them in the first place?"
Sam hesitated, not sure what to tell his project observer. He didn't know how much Al would believe. He wasn't sure how much he believed, and he'd lived through it. "They're incognito. The assassin –"
"The Melkari mercenary," Al interrupted.
"The assassin referred to Matt as the prince, and called Shep Lord Something-or-other. They're … not from around here.
Al checked his handlink. "Whoever they are, they're safe for the moment. Ziggy says you did it."
"What happens to them next?" Sam wanted to know.
"Matthew Star lives to graduate from Crestridge High with honors. Then two years later, he just disappears."
"Disappears?" Sam asked.
"He was a polysci major at a local college. A+ student, but dropped out without a word, disappeared without a trace, no record of him or Shepherd … as if they vanished from the face of the Earth," Al reported.
Before Sam could reply, he sensed rather than saw the blue light, felt the familiar tug, and leapt.
*** *** ***
"Alice, did you get my dress for the school dance tonight ironed?" asked a blonde teenaged girl.
"Alice, are you good at times tables? Can you help me with my homework?" asked a small boy with dark hair.
"Alice, will you tell Peter it'shis turn to give Tiger a bath?" demanded another blonde girl, about junior-high age.
"Alice, will you tell Jan I gave Tiger his bath last time, and it's her turn," retorted another dark-haired boy.
Sam glanced at the window, and saw a reflection of a middle-aged woman wearing a blue uniform and a white apron, surrounded by children. "Oh, boy."