HOSTILE TAKEOVER

BY AJ Squaredaway

PART EIGHT

Project Quantum Leap

Stallion's Gate, New Mexico

Gooshie, Tina, Donna, Dr. Beeks and Billy Takeshta were gathered in front of the screen. The picture screen showed a team of men trotting down the stairs of the Command Post. The picture was fuzzy and a little bouncy, obviously taken from a distance away. Donna's first impression was how they looked like a bunch of turtles; they were thick and round from the amount of armor they wore. Only their heads were uncovered, their helmets and gas masks tucked under their arms for now. The camera zoomed in to the faces of the men, one at a time as they passed the camera. The Visitor whispered each man's name as they passed, and ticked off the count on his fingers. When they were finally assembled in front of their supervisor, obviously getting last minute instructions, Billy said, "That's the first string right there. The diversion group must be assembling somewhere else." He pointed at the screen. "These are the guys this is all riding on. I bet the diversion team will stabilize the
van while these men neutralize the targets holding the hostages."

"How can you tell?" Beeks asked, squinting at the screen.

The Visitor smiled. "I know these guys like my own brothers. I know their strengths. They want the bigger guys to take down the target holding the deadman's switch, and the more maneuverable men to infiltrate the hostage scene. Can you show the two cameras side by side? The fiber optic and this news feed?" He asked Beeks, but she answered by glancing up.

"Ziggy?"

Ziggy did the computer equivalent of an insulted sniff. "Of course I can," she snapped, and the screen split.

The Visitor reached up and put his fingers on the screen, touching the group of men. It was like a dream. He wondered again if he was dead, and this was perhaps a chance to redeem himself? He shook his head to stop that train of thought, and noticed the nagging feeling that there was a vital piece of information missing on this action. He started running everything he knew through his mind once more. "Could I run through some of those photos again?" He asked. Tina handed him a fat file, and he started through them, one by one, while the others watched the drama unfold. The entry team moved away from the camera, donning their headgear. The assault was about to begin.

"All right, are we all set? This isn't going to be easy. We have to pass on information instantly. Every second counts." Donna shifted nervously as she spoke.

Everyone nodded, and Gooshie notified Sammie Jo. "She said she's going to stick to Dr. Beckett like glue," Gooshie reported.

"She'd better," the Visitor said. "After that helmet's on, everyone looks alike. And she has to yell. He has ear plugs on for the explosives." Gooshie passed on the information.

When the men disappeared from the screen, the view got a little boring. On one side was the fuzzy image of the hostages, and on the other the news camera view of outside the Command Post. Donna was glad the volume was turned down and didn't have to listen to the inane comments she was sure the reporters were tossing out to keep the viewers tuned in. It seemed like forever, sitting there waiting for something to happen with the sound of the Visitor flipping through the stack of photos. He was unflappable. Those were his best friends heading off into who-knows-what, and he didn't appear to notice.

After awhile the sound stopped abruptly, and Donna glanced his way. She saw his head slowly rise up after studying one particular photo, a puzzled look on his frowning face.

"Oh my God!" Tina screamed, snapping Donna's attention back to the screen. "What happened?! Oh, God, it exploded! Al and Beth!" Her knees wobbled and Verbena kept her from collapsing to the floor. Donna felt the blood drain from her face.

The television picture shook violently as the screen filled with black and yellow, then static. It took a few seconds for the studio news crew to realize what had happened and cut back to the studio. Feeling sick, Donna leaned forward and turned up the volume.

"There's been an explosion! We have no details yet, but it appears there has been some sort of explosion. We are unable to contact our crew on the scene at the moment..."

The Visitor's eyes were locked on the screen, his hands still gripping the photos. "A back up detonator! That's it!" He flipped quickly through the photos, tossing all but three aside. He jumped to his feet, and slammed the photos down on the console. "They immobilized the target in the van, who had a detonator." He pointed to the suspect's hand, gripping something tightly. "It's either a dummy detonator, or they gang wired a second one in the subway, tied into the same explosives!" He was talking excitedly now, pointing to a second picture from the tunnel, taken by the remote camera. "Here. That guy has it. I assumed it was a grenade of some sort, but something didn't look right and it's been bothering me."

He pointed out the device to Gooshie and Donna. "See? I bet both are wired to the same pile of explosives, or the one in the van is a dummy. That explains the passiveness of the van driver. Did you notice how he wasn't the one giving the demands? This one," he tapped at a fuzzy picture taken of a suspect in the tunnel, "will insure detonation. A back up system! You've got to tell your man! Where is he right now?" Billy Takeshta had gotten a grip on this time travel concept, and wasn't wasting time mourning over his currently dead friends when he knew he could save them.

Gooshie's hand flew over the controls. "They're entering the sewers now. We have..uh...85 seconds until the explosion."

"I need to see a replay of the remote camera feed! We've got to locate this guy!" The Visitor waved the picture above his head.

Ziggy instantly cut the news room scene so the fish-eye distorted, black and white remote camera view took up the whole screen. The picture rewound, and the Visitor studied it carefully as the seconds ticked by. Sam and Al's lives, all the lives on the screen, depended on the expert eye of Billy Takeshta. The murmur of barely controlled, current-time hysteria could be heard on another television screen across the room, but the Visitor was cool and professional.

"They've set the explosive to enter the tunnel," Gooshie reported.

The Visitor barely acknowledged him as his eyes were tuned to the screen. "Filter out some of the black," he ordered. Ziggy complied without hesitation, and the screen lightened a bit. "There!" he barked, finger jabbing the screen. There was about a second of movement in the lower left part of the screen. "I've accounted for everyone else. That's him. The team will enter off to his left, so your man has to duck right immediately and grab this guy!"

"They're entering the tunnel!" Gooshie breathed.

"Tell him not to shoot!" Billy ordered, spinning to face the programmer. The man's face was right in front of Gooshie's, oblivious to the programmer's halitosis. "Don't shoot him! His hand has to be immobilized! It's a deadman's switch. If he lets go of it, everything goes!"

Gooshie was passing on the information as it left the Visitor's lips, and Donna proceeded to drag the Visitor back to the Waiting Room praying for an impending leap.

Senate Subway

Washington, D.C.

All Sam could hear was the pounding of his heart in his ears, and his own heavy breathing. His fingers tingled with fear as he followed the team. He recognized the final section from the reconnaissance photographs, and he felt the fear change into determination. It was up to him to save Al and all the others. Failure was not an option. He flexed his hands, loosening his death grip on the rifle. Visibility was poor through the mask, but he had a clear idea of what to expect once inside. It was now or never. Voices crackled in his ear.

"Nothing's changed. The hostages are still in place. Ready on my count. First diversion is underway." Sam's heart jumped to his throat, and he willed it back down. This was it.

"First target neutralized! Go!"

Instantly, the team leaped forward, the wall caving in from an expertly placed explosion. They spilled into the tunnel, right into the side of the rail car as planned.

Then Sam heard Dr. Fuller screaming at him. As he entered the opening, he instinctively turned to his right, realizing afterwards that that's what she had been yelling. His body followed her directions before his brain had time to make sense of them, and found himself grappling with one of the terrorists. Sam had dropped his rifle, and it was dangling by the shoulder strap as he wrestled the masked man.

Sam realized now what he was doing as he tried to maintain his death grip on the terrorist's fist. They crashed to the floor and rolled over and over in the darkness. All he could hear was, "Don't let go! Don't let go!" and the snarling of the suspect. He felt himself yanked up, then slammed onto the side of the tram, the bare area of his neck just below his helmet cracking on the edge of one of the seats. He saw stars. His adversary slammed him into the seat again, and Sam started to see black edges surrounding the stars. Sam poured all his fading strength into his grip.

After what seemed like an eternity, Sam felt his adversary jerk back and a tug on his rifle's shoulder strap. "Hang on tight, kid!" A familiar, gravely voice beckoned from the closing darkness, and he complied. There was a short burst of fire that deafened Sam, and his arms were about yanked out of his sockets as the terrorist fell lifelessly to the floor, dragging the scientist down to land with a thump on top of the masked body. Sam still had his grip on the deadman's trigger, and he felt his rifle clank on the floor next to him. It smelled strongly of gunpowder.

"Ya did good, kid," coughed the voice of Al Calavicci close to his ear. Sam tried to look at his friend, but the gas mask made it impossible to turn his head. He couldn't let go of the trigger to face his friend, and by the time his woozy brain cleared and he was able to speak, Al had moved off to brief the agents on his information concerning the Chinese.

"Dr. Beckett!" Sam hardly heard the hologram next to him. "Ziggy says you've done it! Looks like the Admiral uncovered more than just a terrorist attack. There's a conspiracy to steal American technology, too! They know about the Project!"

"I want to see Al!" He choked, his eyes watering.

Another team member with 'Bomb Squad' embossed across his body armor knelt by him, and took over control of the switch. "I got it. Good job, Billy!" Two more technicians joined him, and Sam was finally able to loosen his cramped fingers and back away. He struggled to his feet.

The smoke was clearing slowly, and he ripped off the gas mask. There was a stinging in his eyes and throat as he searched the rail car with his eyes. Just as he located his friend in the darkness, Al turned and met his eyes. The older man smiled slightly, stood up straight, gave Sam a crisp salute from across the car, and turned back to the agents. Apparently he didn't see the Observer in the smoke.

"How did the Chinese find out about the Project?" Sammie Jo asked the beeping handlink.

Sam felt the tingling of the impending leap, took a step and reached out to his friend. "Al!" He coughed, and then an electric blue cloud engulfed his vision.

FINIS