THE TIME AND SPACE SCENARIO
by Lorraine Anderson
God, he hated this... he really did.
Bill stood in the middle of the dark room, forcing himself to stand casually, forcing himself not to assume a defensive crouch. He ran a hand through his pepper-gray hair. He knew nothing would happen to him the little green man needed them... well, Ralph. at least, with the super alien-designed suit which made him into a super guy with the strength, if not the grace, of a hundred guys... well, at least the alien said he did.
What if he didn't anymore?
And he hated it hated it! when he and Ralph got separated like this. He looked around, eyes wide, and tried a placating tone. "All right, fellow. We're here. Do you mind telling me what's going on?"
So much for the placating tone.
"If you don't bring Ralph out right now, I'll..."
Do what? Shoot up the UFO? For all he knew the little green guy had red laser stuff or freeze rays or something and he'd be as deaders as a cooked turkey. Not that his boss at the Bureau wouldn't like that.
"...I'll be very upset." He made a little noise of exasperation and turned around and around. God, this place was as creepy as a whole haunted house full of spiders and little bat vampire things.
Bill jumped. "Goddamit, Ralph, don't do that!" He took a closer look at the kid. "New fashion, kid? Where are your red super jammies? For that matter, where are your clothes?"
"I don't know, Bill," Ralph looked down and looked puzzled.
He took a closer look. Ralph was wearing a white jumpsuit that left nothing to the imagination. "This the new uniform of the day? You decide to dress like the little green guy?" He reached out to grab Ralph's arm and his hand went right through it. "Sweet Jesus in Heaven," Bill yelled. "What did the green guy do to you?"
Ralph was staring at his arm as if it had suddenly detached itself. "Nothing, Bill, I swear it!" He looked down and turned pale. He ran his hands down his body. "I can touch myself. It's almost as if..."
"Don't be ridiculous, Bill." But he only looked half convinced.
"Yeah, well, the white jammies, the arm..."
They heard a voice behind them and they turned to see the back of a man in a bright lavender shirt and black slacks. "He's here, Gooshie," the man yelled into a bright colored walkie talkie. He turned to find the pair staring at him.
Bill gulped. "Callavici? You're behind this?"
If it wasn't one thing, it was another, Al thought, as he picked up the handlink and looked at the Imaging Chamber door. He had yet to figure out just how their guest had vanished from the Accelerator Chamber to the Imaging Chamber, but the important thing was that Ziggy had located him... he supposed. Ziggy clammed up soon afterwards, which was not a good sign. Although it could be just Ziggy's guilty conscience, he supposed, for not tracking him sooner.
Still... the Accelerator Chamber attendant saw the Leapee disappear. And the man was not given to hallucinations or fantasy.
Al sighed. He was delaying. This Leap had him spooked already. He set down the coffee cup he had apparently unconsciously picked up and headed toward the Imaging Chamber.
The door opened. Odd. The Chamber was already running. He turned around and looked at Gooshie. "Did you start the program?"
Gooshie looked startled. "No, Admiral."
"Oh, shit," Al muttered under his breath. He walked in, and the door closed behind him.
He was in a white room. A bright white room, with aluminum diamond shaped doors. Rectangle windows... or maybe TV screens... lined the walls. If he hadn't known better, the room looked like it was part of the complex.
Well, he wasn't learning much here.
As he walked to the doors, they opened with an almost audible snap. He stepped through, not thinking much about it, then whirled in time to catch the doors shut behind him. He wiped his hand across his forehead and took a firmer grip on his handlink. Something told him this wasn't quite the place to start yelling for Sam indiscriminately.
He turned around again. He was in a large dark hall, barely illuminated by two rows of circular lights that led down to a viewscreen showing a picture of Earth. It was beautiful, but impractical. Was this a museum? Along the side of the hall were large white rectangles that looked like they might contain exhibits... but they were all dark.
He heard voices, so he walked down the hall, trying to ignore where he was and the dark openings in the walls. After all, he was a hologram here... wasn't he? He walked faster.
Sure enough, there was a blond man in a Fermi suit... and he was talking with another man in a grey business suit. He punched his handlink with relief. "He's here, Gooshie," he said, relieved.
Both men turned towards him, both looking rather pale. "Calavicci? You're behind this?" the suit gulped.
Al's retreated a step. "Maxwell?" He stared. Then, realizing that Bill Maxwell could see him, he started punching the handlink. "Gooshie, open the door... now!"
Bill Maxwell stared at Al Calavicci. "Calavicci, of all the slimeballs of the earth, why are you here?"
Al glared at him. "Gooshie, open the goddamned door now!" He punched the handlink, then jammed it into his pocket and chewed on his cigar.
Bill came up to him and started circling him. "Can't say I care for your tailor. And who's Gooshie? One of your pinko commie friends?"
Ralph tried to lay a hand on Bill's arm and failed, looking at his hand in apparent bemusement. "Bill..."
Bill looked at Al. "You're looking kind of rough, aren't you?"
Al looked around the chamber. "Yeah, well, dealing with nozzles like you will do that to a man."
"I should have locked you up when I had the chance."
Al looked at Bill, then stuck his hands through Bill's torso. He smiled. "Try it now, slimebucket."
Bill jumped back about five feet. "Judas Priest!"
Ralph looked at Bill, then he looked at Al with a speculative look on his face. He reached out and tentatively touched Al on the arm, then nodded to himself. Bill, catching the exchange, yelled, "You're both ghosts!"
Al grinned. "Hoooo, meeeee?" He shook his cigar at Bill.
Ralph looked at Bill. "I don't feel dead."
"That's because you're not," said a new voice.
Al whirled. "Sam!" He looked the newcomer up and down, then cocked his head. "Sam?"
"Ralph," Bill said. "He's wearing your red jammies."
Sam looked down. "Not by choice." He sighed and laid a couple objects he had been carrying on a shelf.. "Look... we have to talk."
"Sam... what in the..."
"ALL of us. The owner of this starship has been briefing me..."
"Starship? Sam, what in the world..." Al pulled out the handlink and started pushing buttons.
Ralph looked at Bill. "Are you guys our... replacements?"
"No," Bill paled. "They can't be..."
Al gave up on the handlink. "Sam, what's going on..."
Sam got a determined look on his face. "I'll tell you if you'll all just SHUT UP." The voice amplified beyond normal and echoed in the huge chamber. The other three clapped their hands over their ears.
Sam gulped. "Sorry."
"Don't mention it," Bill said, pulling at his ear. "The old hearing should come back in about a week."
"Like I was saying, I was talking to the owner of this starship..."
"The little green guy," interjected Bill.
"Oh, that's original," muttered Al.
Sam raised his voice. "...the little green guy. And he told me how you, Ralph Hinkley, and you, Bill Maxwell, have been interceding in Terran affairs for him in the past five years."
Al pulled away from Bill. "And you called me a commie?"
Bill glared at Al. "Yeah, well, it wasn't exactly my choice to get stuck with an overactive Boy Scout in super jammies."
"Gee, Bill, thanks for the compliment," Ralph muttered.
Al looked at Ralph. "Him?" He turned to Sam. "Serves you right. Anyway, nobody can be more of a Boy Scout than Sam."
Ralph smiled. "Watch out, Bill. Next you'll be doing some male bonding."
"I'd sooner kiss a gila lizard," muttered Al.
Bill stood to face Al. "That can be arranged."
Sam sighed and gestured to Ralph to move to one side. In a few quick sentences, he told Ralph about Project Quantum Leap and what the alien had told him.
Ralph looked at him in wonder. "Really," he smiled. "I'm in 1999?"
Sam smiled. "You're taking this rather calmly." Ralph looked around pointedly, then raised his eyebrows at Sam, who blushed. "You have a point."
"But I don't see how you, if you look like me, can infiltrate your Project Starbright."
Sam looked over at the arguing couple. "That's where your friendly FBI agent comes in."
Bill looked over at them. "Huh? What did I miss?"
Al looked at Sam. "I think we both missed something here."
Ralph looked at Sam. "Let's separate them." With one coordinated motion, they waved at their respective partners, then looked at each other.
"I didn't tell you about the mind merging and the swiss cheese memory effect, did I?" Sam said.
Ralph shook his head. "Let's deal with one problem at a time."
Bill looked at Ralph. "You're in 1999, and you're actually a holographic projection."
"You don't believe me?"
"Let's say I haven't bought the Golden Gate Bridge lately, kid."
Ralph swiped his hand through Bill's arm. "Then how do you explain this?"
"Well, um... I think I like my former theory best."
Ralph shook his head. "You would rather I be dead then in the future?"
Bill looked down. "Well, kid, put that way... no."
"But I still don't see how we're supposed to get into Starbright. Jesus, that project's got a gag order a mile wide."
Ralph looked over at the other couple. "That's where Sam and Al come in."
"That's a super suit." Al chewed the end of his cigar. "It's attuned to one wearer, and it's temporarily assigned to you." He punched the handlink, and looked up. "Why isn't Gooshie answering?"
"Because the alien is blocking the signal."
Al slapped his forehead. "Of course. I should have known that. Right."
Sam ignored him. "Do you remember the codes for the security guard to get into Starbright?"
"You don't?" Sam hung his head. "Well, at least something is the same on this Leap." He looked over at Maxwell. "But there ain't no way I'm going to give him access to Ziggy's guts to add a part. Even if it is Ziggy, Mark I. Why should we?"
"So he can keep contact with Ziggy. " Al stared at him. "No, he says he doesn't control the Leaps, and I believe him. It's just part of his monitoring program. Apparently, they never invented Leaping, even though they use Time Travel as a complement to their star drive. Einstein's Law still holds."
Al looked convinced, but looked at Bill. "I still don't think I'm going to give him access."
"Al... we have to. The success of the Leap..."
Al shook his head. "I know. I'm not talking about me, I'm talking about the younger me. Him."
Al studied the end of his cigar. "That will work as well as anything. Yeah. Him." He consulted the handlink. "However, Ziggy says that you are in Washington today. You should get back to the Project about noon. So at least you're not going to encounter yourself."
Sam paced a moment. "Which would be a really bad idea, because we don't know what 'I' would see. Or even 'you', for that matter. Well, we'll figure that out... What is your problem with Bill?"
Al's face closed down. "He investigated me once." He saw Sam had further questions, then turned away. "Aren't we wasting time?"
Sam looked hard at Al, then shrugged. "Hmmm... yes." He walked over to pick up the objects he had been carrying before, then started over to Ralph and Bill.
Bill watched the young man come over with some annoyance. "He explained it, Beckett... but I don't have to like it. Jeez, Calavicci, I don't like the idea of you messing around with my life."
Ralph smiled. "You don't have a choice, Bill."
Sam held out his hand to Bill. "The alien said for you to put these on."
Bill looked down. Sam was handing him a contact lens case and something that looked like a couple of hearing aids. He was also holding a small disk with a tiny aperture on top. He snorted. "Ha, ha. Very funny. Are you trying to imply that I'm over the hill?"
Ralph looked at Bill. "C'mon, Bill, you know better than that."
Sam kept his hand out and got a rueful look on his face. "I should have pointed out what these were. These will enable you to see Ralph and Al. The disk is what I need to take into Starbright, and I was wondering if you could put it in your pocket... since I don't seem to have any."
Bill spread his hands. "I don't need these things to see them. But I see them already."
"As long as you're aboard ship, you will. As soon as we leave the ship..."
"We'll disappear like your worst nightmare," Al said. He turned to Sam. "But how about Ralph?"
"Apparently, your neurons and mesons are so close together that you won't have to keep holding on to each other."
"Thank God," Al muttered. "I wasn't looking forwards to holding hands with him for the entire Leap." He turned to Bill. "Well, are you going to take them, are would you rather we disappear?"
Bill narrowed his eyes, then looked at Ralph. "Tempting as that may be right now, I want to keep watch of the kid." He took the objects from Sam...
...found himself in the white room...
...then found himself in the desert. He looked over at the man standing in front of him in the red suit, and noted there was no one else around. "Ralph?" he said. "What in the..."
"Put on the hearing aids on the contact lenses," said the blonde, curly-haired man in front of him.
He put the hearing aids in. "... can you hear me now, you poor excuse for a..."
Bill snorted. "I can hear you Callavici, and the same to you. Ralph? You there, kid?"
"Yeah, I'm here."
Bill went over to the car, popped the seal over the contact lenses and looked at them. Looked like those he had looked at before. After some fumbling, he put in one, then the other, then turned. Sam was once again wearing the jammies, and Ralph was looking at him. Al was studying his cigar.
"Ok, they're in." Bill looked at each of them in turn. "So what do we do now..." A noise above him made him look up. The spaceship was going straight up slowly. When it got to be the size of a quarter, it streaked off across the sky.
"Sweet Mary in Heaven," Al said under his breath, and as he noted Bill watching him, he feigned nonchalance.
"So, you see a lot of little green men in 1999?" Bill said.
"I've seen a lot of odd things," He stared pointedly at Bill.
"Never mind," Sam interrupted. "We have a long drive to Stallion's Gate ahead of us..."
"Why don't you fly?" Ralph interrupted in turn. He looked pointedly at the suit. "You said you had read the instruction book, which is ... um... more than we managed to do." He looked at Bill.
Bill pointed at Ralph. "You were the one that kept losing the book."
"Anyway, wasn't there stuff in there about lifting cars...?"
Sam had turned white.
"Sam's afraid of heights," Al explained.
"I read the book, but I didn't get to practice," Sam said, glaring at Al. "And at least I'm not on a trapeze or the side of the building."
"You're still white," Al pointed out.
"Yeah, well, flying will come later," Bill said. "And besides, unless you got a hell of a lot better night vision than Ralph ever had, I don't think I want you flying me to Stallion's Gate... where is it?"
"New Mexico," said the other three together.
Bill looked at Ralph. "I guess I must have read it someplace," Ralph muttered.
"Merging neurons," Al looked at Sam.
Bill opened up the door of the car. "Are you coming, or are you three going to be running on behind?"
Sam had been looking around. "Wait a minute... you notice something, Al?"
Al was looking at Sam, then looked at where Sam was pointing. "What?"
"Doesn't that look familiar? And that? and that?" Sam turned slowly, pointing out various landmarks, barely illuminated by the moonlight.
Al looked and chuckled ruefully. "Never mind who's driving, old man... You're already in New Mexico."
Since nothing seemed pressing... and Ralph insisted he was tired and wanted to sleep, Bill compromised on the argument by driving to a motel Al insisted was "around the corner." He went in after insisting that Sam stay in the car. "You need to change your clothes," he said. "I am not checking in with Superman."
"Didn't seem to bother you before," Ralph said, as they followed him in.
"Will you shut up?" Bill said, and a curious head poked up from behind the counter.
"I wasn't talking to you," Bill explained.
The woman... older, with unkempt hair and a permanent crease in her forehead... looked around, then let her doubtful eyes rest on Bill. "Whatever you say, hon," she shrugged.
Bill wished he had let Sam come in.
"Why, Bill," Ralph said. "She's just your type."
Bill turned around and glared at Ralph... and at Al, who had started chuckling. "Secret Agent Man," he said sweetly. "Your date is wondering what's going on."
Bill closed his eyes, shook his head, then turned around. The woman, a vague sense of alarm on her face, had one hand on the telephone, and the other hand was hovering around the phone number of the local police. Bill pulled out his identification, flipped it open, and showed the woman. "Bill Maxwell, FBI. I'd like a room for two."
"Does he always pull rank?" Al commented to Ralph.
"Most of the time," Ralph said ruefully.
"FBI, huh? Going to investigate that government operation they have up in the hills? We were wondering about that thing."
"Starbright is supposed to be classified and top secret. How did she know there was an operation?"
"I'm afraid I can't talk about it," Bill said, signing the register.
The woman's face crinkled into a delighted smile. "Yeah? Those ear thingies you got... are you in contact with your base?"
"Actually," Bill said, handing the register back to her, "they were given to me by a little green guy on a UFO."
She tittered. "Can't talk about it, huh?"
"'fraid not, darling."
"Call me Annie." She puttered around a moment, then came up with a key. "The only thing I have is has a queen sized bed. Is that alright?"
Bill winced. "Not really. Don't you have anything with two beds?" He looked back at Al and Ralph, who were laughing.
She shrugged. "Lot of you government types here this weekend, and we're the only motel around. Most of the rest seem to be scientific type, though."
He glanced back at Al again. "She's right. Matter of fact, I stayed here."
Bill grimaced. "We'll take it." He grabbed the key and headed out the door.
"Have a nice stay," Annie called out after him.
"Have a nice stay. Have a nice stay, she says. You start the day out in California... a nice, quiet day, just reports and catching one bad guy, next thing you know, you're kidnapped by little green guys and partnered with a substitute boy scout who doesn't even know how to fly and followed by a couple of noisy holograms who can't even keep their mouths shut when a man is trying to talk, and, not only that, we can't even have separate beds."
"Works for me," Ralph said.
Sam poked his head up from the back seat. "Did you say something?"
"Not a thing," Bill said. "Not a damn thing." He opened the back door. "Come on. I need to show you to our honeymoon suite."
Bill awoke to find Al leaning over and staring him in the face. He jerked back, almost pushing Sam out of the bed. "Sleep well, darling?" Al said.
Bill pursed his lips and looked around the small room. "Where's Ralph?"
Al studied the end of his cigar. "Do you normally sleep in your contacts and your hearing aids?"
Bill sat up. "No, I usually sleep with my hawser and my teddy bear. Where's Ralph?"
Al looked at Sam, who had recovered from being woken up out of a sound sleep and almost dumped on the floor. "Finishing breakfast. Cheddar cheese omelet. His request."
"You normally serve gourmet food in a top secret government operation?"
"It keeps our involuntary guests happy... at least relatively calm. Home cooking helps, although we did have some trouble with collard greens once."
"Jesse," Sam piped up.
Bill got out of bed and paced the room. "Enough of old home week. Question is... what is the scenario and what do we do now, kiddies?"
Al looked at Bill. "I would suggest a shower. You stink."
Bill looked over at Al. "You got smellovision now?"
Al grinned. "I just wanted to say that."
Bill saw a bright light that looked like a door opening, and flinched back as a person in white came through, then relaxed. "Oh, it's just you, Ralph."
Ralph smiled. "You were expecting the Loch Ness Monster? Aren't you a bit nervous, Bill?"
Bill sighed. "Do I have to mention the obvious?" He picked some clothing out of a small suitcase. "I'm taking a shower... and I'd appreciate it if I didn't have any company."
"Don't worry," Al informed him. "You're not my type."
Bill started to say something, then looked hard at him and shut his mouth and disappeared into the bathroom. Al's eyes had become slits, and his mouth was pursed. Sam looked at Ralph, and they both shrugged simultaneously.
Al shivered. "Stop doing that!"
"Sorry, Al." Sam picked up some clothing, then thought a moment and reached for the red suit. He looked toward the bathroom.
"Bill will be out in five minutes," Ralph said. "I think he just waves soap over his skin when he showers. He said something about feeling defenseless in the shower."
Al poked his head in the bathroom. "He's got his gun hanging on the towel rack."
"So what is our scenario?" Sam said, putting on the pants of the red suit. "You come up with anything, Al?"
Al looked at Sam. "Aren't you the one that was supposed to be controlling all of the shots here? I didn't even check."
"Well, yeah," Sam's head was muffled in the shirt, "but it's rarely that simple. Does Ziggy have anything?"
"I'll look." He looked at the handlink. "Ummm... Ziggy's miffed."
"So what else is new?"
"She's cussing me out. She's picked up some new words... I think she's been listening to the security staff again." He looked at Sam and started laughing.
"Do you realize how ridiculous you look?"
He was glared at from two directions. He cleared his throat and peered down at the handlink. "Now we're getting somewhere. Ziggy is reporting that there was a murder about ten miles away this morning." He looked up. "I remember that. It was in the newspaper for a couple of years. Quite a brutal slaying. A divorce attorney was kidnapped from California by one of her clients."
Sam thought, then shook his head. "What was the name?"
"Davidson. Pam Davidson from... your town, Ralph. Do you know... Judas Priest!"
Ralph had turned white. Bill, still rubbing his hair, came out of the bathroom. "Did you say something about the counselor... Ralph, what's wrong?"
"They just said that Pam was going to be killed around here."
"Oh, c,mon. She's miles away from here. We left her home, remember?"
"She gets kidnapped."
Al went over to Ralph, grabbed his arm, and looked him straight in the eye. "You know this Miss Davidson."
Ralph nodded his head miserably. "She's my fiance."
"So what's the problem?" Bill said. "We go over, rescue the counselor, put the bad guy in jail, then come back here and get your little job done, Ralph pops back, and all is hunky dory."
Ralph managed a small smile. "You always make it sound so easy, Bill. And it never is." He whirled around. "And I can't do anything."
"Sure, we can," Al said slowly, as if trying to convince himself. "We can watch over Miss Davidson."
Ralph turned to him. "And do what?"
Al lowered his eyes. "That always has been the hardest part of this job." He raised his eyes to match Ralph's. "To report back to Sam. To nudge him on. To get a heart attack every time Sam gets there just in the nick of time." He caught Sam looking at him. "It's never your fault, kid, but just once I wish you could get there before things come to a head."
"I'm always doing three things at once."
Bill had just put on his pants by this time, and he looked up. "If you three are over your guilt trips, how about if we actually go out and do something!"
"How much time do we have before I... um, he gets back?" Sam said.
"Noon. About four hours. We should have went last night."
Sam shook his head. "You know the policy. No visitors at night. And how long before Miss Davidson arrives?"
"Police reports say she was killed anywhere from twelve to two."
"Can you zero in on her?" Sam shook his head. "No, you can't. You haven't been near her to record her mental signature."
The handlink beeped, and Al's face lit up. "Ziggy says that he can get a link on the murderer, though. The guy had so many EEG's, the printout could fill a room." At Ralph's look, he pointed his finger at his head. "Looney Tunes."
Bill had finished tucking in his shirt and was putting on his tie. "Well, why don't you and Ralph go and tune in on the counselor or whatever you do, and Sam and I can crash Starbright."
"One problem." Sam shook his head. "I don't have a FBI ID."
Ralph grinned. "Didn't look in your suit pocket, did you?"
Sam got a blank look, and pulled out a convincing looking ID. He raised his eyebrows. "Isn't this illegal?"
Bill blushed. "Yeah, well, the ends justified the means," he mumbled.
"And he was complaining about us going around and messing with people's lives." Al stuck his cigar in his mouth and smiled. "Sounds like he's deceived a few people too."
"At least I'm not sneaky about it," Bill mumbled.
"By having a secret partner with a super suit who can turn invisible at will?" Sam said, then he blushed. "Sorry. I don't know why I said that."
"That was me talking," Ralph said.
"Invisible?" Al said.
Sam put his hands in front of him, like he was praying... and disappeared.
"Wow," Ralph said. "I guess you did read the book."
"Yeah," Bill muttered. "Very impressive. Meanwhile, time is passing. Ralph, why don't you and Calavicci focus in on the counselor, or whatever you do, and Sam and I will get the job done over at the project... Sam?"
Sam reappeared beside him, and Bill jumped. "I wish you wouldn't do that."
"Aw, Pam." Ralph reached out to stroke the hair of the frightened woman beside him, and his hand went through her head. "Dammit, Al, can't we do something?"
"We are doing something." Al's voice sounded strained in the back seat, and Ralph turned around to look. Al was trying his best not to look concerned. "We're with Pam. We're making sure the scenario doesn't change." He shook his head. "Now he's got me doing it," he muttered.
Ralph stared at him. "But we can't do anything! How do you know that she wasn't murdered somewhere out here and her body dumped in town?"
Al sighed. "Blood stains."
Ralph turned white.
"The blood from her jugular spurted across the road. Wouldn't have done that if she were dead."
"Oh." He looked at Pam and made another effort at stroking her hair. "Still, I wish we could do something."
Al sighed. "I know, kid. I know."
"Ok. We're here. So what do we do now?" Sam sat back on the seat, looking at Bill, who was looking at the totally unassuming warehouse.
"This is Starbright? Kinda... um... drab, isn't it?"
Sam smiled fondly. "Just come inside." He started to get out of the car.
"Just a minute... I'm the senior agent here. Let me handle them." He walked up to the sleepy eyed guard... deceptively sleepy, as Sam remembered. That sleepy, stupid-looking facade hid one of the best security guards Starbright... and PQL ever had. He wished Jake hadn't been on duty today... so he came up behind Bill, almost treading on his heels as he stopped suddenly. Bill glared at him and turned his attention to the guard.
"FBI," Bill said, whipping his ID out. Sam belatedly followed suit.
Jake looked heavy lidded at them. "So...?" he drawled.
Bill blinked at the guard. "So... we'd like to be let in to see your head man."
"He ain't here."
"Then your second in command."
Jake shook his head. "He don't like being disturbed."
Sam stepped forward. "Let me clarify things. Starbright's authorization code is 34345 Alpha Zeta 123. Your head is Dr. Samuel Beckett, social security # 380 72 ..."
"That's enough." Jake opened his eyes wide, looked them over, then went inside a booth and picked up a telephone.
"Wise guy," Bill said.
Sam grinned. "Good thing he stopped me. I never knew Al's SSN."
Jake came out. "Admiral Callavici will see you." He opened the door with a key to show a startled woman entering a door.. "Dr. Elissi will take you."
The door closed after the two men with a clang, and Dr. Elissi glared at the door. Sam was staring at Dr. Elissi. Bill glanced at Sam and stepped forward. "Dr. Elissi, my name is William Maxwell, FBI. My companion is Ralph Hinkley."
"Hi," Sam managed.
Dr. Elissi shook her head. "Sorry, gentlemen. Jake makes me mad sometimes. He still thinks I'm some overgrown secretary." She held out a hand. "Mr. Maxwell, Mr. Hinkley. Welcome to Project Starbright."
Bill shook her hand. "You're one of the Project Scientists?" She smiled. "I am. But you wanted to talk to the Admiral."
Sam shook his head slightly. She was as beautiful as he remembered... and quite unattainable, like she was the last time he saw her, on a previous Leap. He smiled. "We aren't in that much of a hurry," he said, in spite of himself. Donna's eyebrows went up.
Bill kicked him on the ankle. "We have that appointment later this morning... remember?"
Sam's face fell. Actually, he had quite forgotten when he saw Donna. "I do," he smiled at Donna. "Maybe later." He saw Donna look at him, squinting her eyes, then she shrugged and said, "Follow me, gentlemen."
Sam allowed one moment for himself to watch her walk, then he ran to catch up with her. "Starbright deals with Imaging technology, doesn't it?"
She looked at him, surprise obvious in her face. "Yes, it does. Starbright is working in conjunction with the Hubble Project... the space telescope. We hope to clarify Hubble's images beyond what a mirror and flat images can tell us."
"You're hoping for proof of Extraterrestrial life, aren't you?"
Donna smiled ruefully. "We are... which is the reason for our secret status. Can you imagine the press with this?"
"Extraterrestrial life?" Bill managed.
"In fact," Donna said, nodding a hello to a passerby, "we did see a couple of blips last night. Nothing conclusive, but not weather balloons, either." She looked at Bill, whose face was unreadable. "You look as if you doubt me."
Bill swallowed. "Just the opposite, in fact, Doctor."
Donna stopped in front of an office and held up a hand. "Better let me go in first. He's doing paperwork today, and paperwork always makes him grumpy."
Bill looked at Sam. "Maybe I shouldn't go in at all." Donna looked at him. "Albert and I... have a history."
Sam gripped his arm. "You're going in."
Donna opened the door, while the two men stayed out of sight. "Al... a couple of FBI men are here to see you."
They heard an growl. "Now?"
"Al... when is a good time?"
They heard a chuckle. "Never. Let 'em come in."
Donna came out and nodded at them. Sam watched her go down the hall, then sighed. "Old fiance," he whispered, at the look on Bill's face.
"Well, are you coming in?" came the gruff voice.
Bill stepped into the doorway, Sam not far behind. Al, pen in hand, stared at Bill, then slammed the pen down on the desk. "It wasn't my idea, either, Albert, but when the man says jump, you jump."
"What are you here for?" Albert turned to face the window.
"We were told to inspect your computer," Sam said.
He turned back. "Our computer? Why?"
"Russky technology," Bill growled. "How the hell should I know?"
"Still on the Commy thing," Al said, leaning forward. "Well, go ahead. Inspect it." He turned and saw Sam for the first time. "I'm sorry, Mr..."
"Hinkley," Sam said. "Ralph Hinkley."
"Pleasure to meet you." Al got out of his chair and extended his hand. Sam shook it, then felt a small shock go up his arm. "Uh, oh," he said, under his breath.
Al sat back hard, looking at Sam. "What the hell...?"
"Close the door, Bill," Sam said. "The jig is up."
"Huh?" Bill said, while closing the door.
"I was afraid this would happen," Sam said, hanging his head.
"Sam...?" Al said. "How?" He shook his head. "You're in Washington."
"Yes, I am," Sam said.
Sam sat down. "No. I don't want to tell you too much, but the string theory works."
"Jesus." Al put one hand over his mouth, his eyes wide. "I thought you looked older."
"He can see you?" Bill said.
"The string theory works. Time travel is possible." He rubbed his face. "I know you don't want to say too much, but what are you doing with Bill?"
"Tell him he'll find out in a decade," a new voice said.
Bill and Sam turned to look at the older version of Al. "What are you..."
"The kid needed to take a potty break, so I forced him. Miss Davidson is all right, and I'll go right back."
The younger Al was looking at Sam. "What are you looking at?"
Sam turned to him. "Never mind. You'll find out in about a decade."
Al smiled. "So I'll live about another ten years?"
"That's why I came," the older man said. "I had a feeling Bingo would see you. I wanted to make sure you remembered to tell him that time is changeable."
Sam nodded. "You'll live another ten years... if you take care of yourself. Time is changeable."
Al chuckled. "So don't dive into an active volcano, huh?"
"You got it."
The older Al looked around. "Gotta go now. Ralph's back." He disappeared.
"What do you need to do with Ziggy?"
"I just have to add something."
"Why?" Sam looked at him. "I know, I'll find out."
"You were going to investigate Maxwell and Hinkley, weren't you?"
Al sat back. "Of course. We usually don't see FBI agents at our door without advance warning."
"You would've found Bill, but Ralph's a schoolteacher," Sam said. He smiled. "So don't investigate, ok, pal? They have a secret to keep, too, and I owe them a lot."
Al glared at Bill. "For your sake, kid."
Sam reached over to grab Al's hand. "Thanks."
Al smiled, then disengaged his hand. "Let's see Ziggy."
They left the office and walked down the hall, silently. Al opened the door to the computer room and motioned the other two men in. Gooshie, the short computer programmer Sam remembered from Project Quantum Leap, looked at them, then turned back to his screen.
"Where?" Al said.
"Over here," Sam said. He smiled at the antiquated technology... in just ten years!... then pulled the disk the alien had given him out of his pocket. He opened the aperture and set it against the machine.
The disk fell on the ground.
He picked it up, looked at it, then held it against the machine again. Then he set the disk on the ground. "I'm an idiot," he said.
"What?" Al said.
"Nanites!" Sam whispered.
Al's eyebrows raised up to his forehead. "Technology has progressed..."
Sam cut him off. "Not exactly."
"What are...?" Bill asked.
"Tiny mini machines," Al replied. He squinted into the machine. "Molecule size. I always knew that thing had a bug in it."
Gooshie looked up as they laughed, then applied himself back to his terminal, not knowing that nanites had attached themselves to his skin in preparation for the next version of Ziggy.
"Where do you go now?" Al said, after they had walked back to his office.
"I have to rescue Hinkley's fiance," Sam said, somewhat distracted. "She's going to be murdered not far from here."
Al sat back, eyes wide. "She's going to be murdered...?" He stared at Sam. "How do you..." He slapped his forehead. "Dumb question."
Sam walked around to face Al. "I'm going to have to make you forget about this."
Al squinted his eyes. "How? You suddenly develop super powers or something?"
Sam smiled ruefully. "Something like that. You'll remember in about ten years or so."
"Yeah, right, I'd like to see you try."
Sam opened his collar and touched the red suit. As Al stared at him curiously, he touched Al's forehead and whispered a word in his ear. He stepped back and retreated to the front of the desk, as Al sat back, stared blindly, then shook his head and turned to face Bill and Sam. "I'm sorry, gentlemen, I guess I need more sleep. You were saying, Mr. Hinkley?"
Sam smiled as Bill stared at him. It was too bad he couldn't have warned Bill, but he hadn't thought of it himself until a few seconds before. Nothing like speed reading a manual before trying a new gadget out.
"I believe we've seen all we need to see," Sam said. "Right, Bill."
"Hmmm?" Sam cocked an eye at him. "Um. Yeah. Right." Bill got up. "Yeah, we really should be going. Right, Ralph?"
Al was looking at Bill curiously. "You still look like someone I should know..."
"Remember?" Sam said. "We went over that. No relation."
"Um. Yeah." Al sat back, looking puzzled. "Can you find your way out, gentlemen? Would you mind if I didn't see you to the door?" He looked with disgust at his desk. "Paperwork."
"Not at all." Sam said. He pushed Bill through the door, closing it behind him. Bill opened his mouth; Sam raised his hand. "Outside." He whispered.
They exited the building without incident, although the guard looked at them with slit eyed suspicion. As soon as the pair were in the car, Bill turned to Sam. "What in the world did you do in there? Hypnotism?"
Sam smiled. "You don't look like the type to believe in hypnotism."
"Yeah, well, I got my nose rubbed into it once. But what..."
"It was in the manual." Sam started taking of his street clothes. The guard looked incredulously at them, then Sam looked at the guard, and the man shook his head and sat back down. Bill looked at Jake, then Sam. "Limited mind control, with emphasis on recent memories. Said you could do a whole crowd that way. Ralph didn't read the manual at all?"
"We... kept losing it." Bill looked down at his watch. "Shouldn't we be getting to the counselor now?" He started the car and rushed down the street.
"Wrong way," Sam said. "Take a left, go two blocks, take another left, go ten miles. And besides... we got an hour."
"Smart aleck," Bill mumbled under his breath.
Al popped in. "You gotta move it, now! Pam said something to the nozzle, and all of a sudden, he could see Ralph and me and really started going nuts!"
"Oh, God, the insanity factor." Sam put his head in his hand.
"What?" Bill said. "Where's Ralph?"
"I pushed him out of the Imaging Chamber. God, Sam, you're nowhere close!"
Bill stopped the car. "You gotta fly."
Sam stared at him. "I can't."
"You read the manual. That told you, right?"
"You wanna save Pam? Go."
"I'll go with you," Al said. "Just keep going on this road, Bill. I'll fetch you when I get Sam delivered. He's way off road."
Sam got out of the car. "I have a bad feeling..."
"Go!" Bill screamed.
Sam closed his eyes, took two steps, then hopped, raising both hands over his head. He felt wind going by, then cautiously opened his eyes. "I'm flying."
"Bill said you could." Al was floating beside him, standing, but matching his velocity. "Bill may be a deluded SOB, but he doesn't usually lie."
"Where are they," Sam said tersely.
"Lemmee lead." Al went ahead, consistently making small adjustments on the handlink. Sam appreciated Al's seemingly calm demeanor. If Sam had had to drive, Al would have been all over him, but he knew this time Sam would be panicked. He knew that as soon as this crisis was over, Al would collapse with relief, but he appreciated the coddling now.
"There!" Al pointed down.
Sam pointed his hands down, and his body followed suit. "Let Ralph back in! Maybe he can help!"
He saw a man and a beautiful woman heading out through the brush. As he watched, the woman tripped and fell, glaring up at the man. He jerked her up, and he heard her cry of pain. He pushed her away from him, the raised the knife and started toward her.
He was falling. How was he supposed to land? Tuck and roll. Right. Forget it. Don't land.
Barely slowing down, he struck and grabbed the man. He had just a glimpse of thin features, blond hair, and then he was rising again, the man controlled in a block around his chest. The man looked down at the ground and gasped, then looked back. "Who the hell are you?" He looked at the arms. "Red is the color of the devil. White is the color of God. Which are you?"
"None of the above," Sam replied. He looked down at the women. "Pam. Are you ok?"
"Ralph! How did you get here?"
"He's back in the car."
She sat down heavily on a rock. "Cavalry's coming huh?" She looked curiously at him. "Ralph, when did you learn to do that?"
Sam looked down. Without knowing it, he was stationary, floating in mid air twenty feet up. "The manual?"
The man twisted his head around. "You're of the devil, you are. That white hair is his kiss."
"White hair?" Pam said.
"Quiet, slut!" Sam's grip tightened, and the man gasped.
"Good choice of clients," Sam said.
"Why do you think I dropped his case? No amount of money is worth this."
"Don't grip too hard," Ralph said beside him. "You'll break his ribs."
Sam almost dropped the man. He shrieked and held on convulsively. "Oh. Sorry."
Pam was getting pebbles out of her shoe. "What?"
"I'm sorry I didn't get here sooner."
"How could you know?"
"Al," Ralph said. "I want to see Pam."
"The devil and his minions," the man said, looking wild eyed from side to side. "The devil and his bitch."
Ralph took a swing at him. His fist passed through the man's chest. The man shrunk back in Sam's grasp. "You're infecting me with your touch!"
Sam glared at Al, and Al obediently lowered Ralph and himself ground level. Ralph went over to Pam and tried to touch her. "God, she's still so pale. Are you sure you're not hurt, honey?"
Sam echoed Ralph. "No, Ralph," she said, looking up. "Just a little shaken." She smiled. "I'm still happy you got here in time, honey. I don't know what he would've done."
"So am I," Ralph smiled. His smile faded. "So am I. God, I didn't even know she was gone! Thank you, Sam."
"Don't thank me. I had a little help." Sam looked up.
"The little green guys?" Pam said. "You're kidding."
"No, I'm not kidding, but I was thinking of another kind of help."
"Your demons," the kidnapper said.
Al, who had been on a rise, cocked a cigar at him. "Yeah, scumbucket. His demons."
"I'm afraid that I'm going to fall if I turn to look. Can you see Bill coming?"
Pam stood up and climbed to stand by Al, overlapping him a little bit. He flinched and moved to one side. "I see him," she said.
"Yeah," Al said. "That's why I was so long getting back to you. I had to go back for Bill."
"Oh, yeah. I forgot."
"Forgot what, honey?"
"That he sent one of his demons back to get this Bill," the prisoner said. "Can't you understand plain English?"
Pam ignored him, watching Bill, who was bouncing along the desert. The car stopped with a jerk, and Bill got out, swearing. "When I catch that Calavicci..." he muttered.
"Try," Al said.
"I'll do more than try," Bill retorted. "That route you gave me... I think all of my shocks are gone."
Sam cleared his throat, looking pointedly down at Pam.
"I see you got him, Sam. Neat trick. You'll have to teach Ralph that, along with that mind control trick thingy." Sam shook his head and looked away.
"Bill," Al said, looking at the end of his cigar. "I hope Pam is going to understand this. Remember who she's seeing... and not seeing?"
"Bill, who are you talking to?"
Bill put on his best innocent face. "Nobody, darling. Did you think I was talking to anybody?"
She walked up to him, looking him in the face. "Right. Who are you talking to?"
"Better tell her," Sam said.
"Get down here, first. Counselor, I'll explain when the scumball is out of the way."
Sam tried to lower slowly, but ended up in a heap. The prisoner scrambled away from the mess, but Sam took an iron grip on his arm. Bill put cuffs on him and took him to the car, murmuring to him threatening all the while. Pam looked at Sam warily, not approaching him. Ralph stayed next to Pam, looking helpless. Al looked at the scene with quiet amusement, smoking a cigar.
When Bill came back, he turned to Sam. "Can't you do that mind control thing on him?"
"I don't think I better try, Bill."
"How about the counselor..."
The woman stepped in front of Bill. "I don't know what you're talking about, but nobody is doing anything to me." She looked startled, then turned Bill's head. "Since when have you started wearing hearing aids?"
Bill cleared his throat. "Since Ralph is really Sam Beckett, and Sam is from the future, and brought along my annoying ex cousin in law as an invisible pal. And they took Ralph to the future with them, but he's here as a hologram, too."
Pam nodded her head. "Right. And I'm one of the little green guys."
Bill laughed nervously. "You're prettier."
"Nice explanation," Al said.
"Can you do any better?"
"Ralph, what's wrong with Bill?"
"Unfortunately, he's telling the truth."
Pam stared at him. "Honey?"
"Not me." Sam sighed. "Bill, give her one of your hearing aids."
Bill pulled one out and handed it to Pam. She stared at it. "This is pretty disgusting, guys." She put it in one ear.
"Ralph, say something," Bill pleaded.
Ralph grinned. "Hi, Pam. Bill wants me to talk to you."
Pam looked up, stared at Sam, who shrugged and said, "Wasn't me." She started, feeling at her ear.
"I was worried about you, Pam," Ralph said. "But I couldn't do anything."
"Holograms are pretty low on the doing anything scale. But he was with you almost every step of the way," Al commented. "Hello, I'm Al Calavicci, Miss Davidson."
Pam's eyes were wide. "Call me Pam." She thought a moment. "Admiral Calavicci, the astronaut?"
"You know me?"
"Ralph's son talks about you. You're a time traveler?"
"No, Sam's the time traveler. I'm just watching."
"Look," Bill interrupted. "Is old home week over? I got a criminal cooking in the car, and I'm starting to fry."
"That's my Bill," Ralph said.
"You three ride in the car," Al said. "We'll meet you in town."
"Is that a threat or a promise?" Bill said.
"Whatever," Pam said. "But whoever is in that super suit had better get dressed."
Sam blushed and looked down at the bright red suit . "Oh. Yeah."
After Bill had turned the man over to the local police and had gotten all the legalities out of the way. It was night, but Pam insisted on going back to California, so the five of them piled into Bill's car for the return ride. Pam, exhausted, leaned back on the seat, Ralph's arm around her, but not touching. He told her so, and she smiled contentedly and closed her eyes.
"So when do you... um... Leap?" Ralph asked nervously. "I'd kinda like to get out of this white suit. Not that I haven't enjoyed your company."
"I don't know," Sam said. "There must be something unresolved yet."
"What?" Bill said. The car lurched forward.
"Bill," Pam protested. "I was almost asleep!"
"Um, kiddies," Bill said, looking down at the wheel. "I didn't do it." He dropped his hands from the wheel, which was turning by itself.
"What?" Everybody leaned forward, Ralph knocking heads with Al.
"I mean," Bill said, "we're going for another wild ride."
"To California?" Pam said.
"Naw," Al said. "There's a place about fifteen minutes out."
"Yeah," Ralph said. "Maybe we're taking the short way back."
After a few short minutes, the car stopped. The spacecraft descended, until it was twenty feet ahead of them and one hundred feet up. The radio dial turned crazily, spurting words from various stations in a static frenzy. "Please... everybody... get... out of... the car... into the light."
"I'm never going to get used to this," Al said.
"You and me both," Bill muttered.
"Do I have to go?" Pam said. "I mean, I never had to before."
"He said everyone, counselor, and the little green guys are running the shots here," Bill said.
They got out of the car and stepped into the light that emerged from the ship. Instantaneously, they found themselves in a white room, surrounding something that looked like an examining table. Pam gasped, started towards Ralph, then looked him over and started giggling.
Ralph looked away, flushing.
"Oh, I'm sorry, honey, but that looks worse than the red suit."
Al looked around. "Speaking of which... where's Sam?" He started punching his handlink.
Bill jumped on the table and sat. "My guess is that he's been taken to debriefing. Probably they gotta change the controls of the suit."
"Yeah... yeah!" Ralph said. "That suit's set for me, and the green guys have to reset it to my body chemistry." He concentrated a moment. "Yeah, that's what they're doing. I can almost hear him through the link."
Pam looked puzzled. "Link?"
"Resonant neurons and mesons..." Ralph explained.
"Never mind," Al said. "They'll explain it to you later."
They sat for a while, then the door opened and Sam came striding in. "They were re-tuning the suit," he explained.
"No more wild rides?" Al said.
"Not for me." He caught Pam looking him up and down, and he looked away, flushing. She glanced at Ralph, who was blushing a deep red.
"Resonant neurons..." he started. She shook her head.
Sam looked at Al, then at Bill, who were standing at opposite ends of the group. "They also want the two of you to make up your differences."
"Oh, this should be good," Ralph smiled.
"What difference does that make to them?" Al spouted.
"Yeah. Why?" Bill echoed.
Sam shrugged. "Got me. Maybe they want us to work together again. Maybe to make me happy. It hasn't been pleasant listening to the two of you snipe." He paced a moment, stopping in front of Al. "What is your problem with Bill?"
"He wrote a report on me when I was trying to get into the space program."
"He recommended that I not be assigned because of my communist connections. He thought I had been brainwashed by the Vietnamese and would fly the capsule into the Pentagon, I guess."
"Now, wait a moment. I didn't believe in hypnosis and that brainwashing crap until much later," Bill interjected.
"Yeah," Pam smiled. "He kept falling asleep when he heard the word 'scenario.'"
"He must have been going in and out like a bad neon sign, then," Al muttered.
"Al... how did you find out about this report?"
"I found out about it when I was called into Admiral Johnson's office. It wasn't hard to surmise who wrote it. Bill Maxwell was about as subtle as a bulldozer in a ballet."
"Hey, I can be sensitive..."
Ralph turned to smile at Bill.
"What! Is this 'smash on Bill' day!"
"But aren't those reports supposed to be anonymous?" Sam said.
"Yeah, well..." Al turned to glare at Bill. "We used to be friends before I left. Drinking buddies. He was a cousin of Beth's."
"Maybe he thought he was protecting you."
"Huh? By slandering me?"
"You came back from 'nam, then plunged practically head first in the space program," Sam said slowly. "I wondered about that myself. Does it make any sense that a man who had spent almost a decade in a small cage with other men would want to spend the next few years in a small space capsule?"
Al looked surprised. "Never bothered me. I always thought as the capsule as freedom. I never ever thought of it that way."
Bill bowed his head. "I was trying to protect you. I thought you were trying a fancy way of committing suicide. After seeing all those broken men Beth was taking care of... and then Beth remarried..." He looked disgusted. "And then you took it overboard and didn't talk to me. Wouldn't even listen to my explanation."
"You didn't try very hard."
"I wasn't going to talk through a double-locked door or skulk around your house like a two-bit thief." He looked down. "At least, I wouldn't back then. I learned a few things."
"Bill," Pam said. "You care after all."
"Yeah, well, don't let it get around. Bad for my reputation."
Sam stood before Al. "Do you forgive him?"
Al sighed. "In his own twisted way... I can see his reasons. Yeah, I forgive him," he said reluctantly.
Sam walked over to Bill. "Do you forgive him?"
"I do." Bill shook his head. "Jeez, now I sound like a bridegroom."
"Shake hands," Sam said. The two men stared at him, then he realized why. "Ok, act like you're shaking hands. I know you can't touch each other. It's the symbolism here."
Reluctantly, the two of them faced each other, and stuck their hands out. When they kept shaking out of synch, Al snorted and Bill grinned.
The room filled with light.
Ralph, wearing the super suit, blinked and looked down. "I guess they're gone now, huh?" Pam smiled and moved into his arms.
Bill looked slightly crestfallen. "Yeah." He squared his shoulders. "Ah, well, who needs them?"
As he was finishing his sentence, he found himself on the desert floor. The trio looked up as the spaceship receded out of sight.
Ralph smiled. "I don't think we should visit Project Quantum Leap before until after 1996, do you?"
"When are we going?" Bill said, getting into the car.
"How does ten years sound?"
"Like too damned long. But it'll do." He smiled. "Maybe we'll see them before that."
After the light faded, Sam looked around. He was in a bush, his arms straight out. Something cold and heavy was in his hands. He looked... a gun. Of course. He rolled his eyes and resisted the impulse to drop the detestable thing, staring out through the bush to see exactly why he was drawing a bead on something. But he could see nothing. He seemed to be in a quiet residential neighborhood... and once again, he seemed to be in California. Stucco roofs, faux Spanish houses...
He lowered the gun and started to stand up, then heard a noise to his side. Instinctively, he dropped to a crouch, pointing the gun at the intruder, then dropped it, closing his eyes.
"Sam...? What in the world are you doing here?"
He opened up his eyes and looked at Ralph, who was staring at him with amazement. Then Ralph started laughing. "Guess it's Bill's turn this time, huh?"
"Oh, boy." He looked down at himself. Suit, vest... gun holster... "Oh, boy," he repeated.
Ralph took his arm, leading him towards the car. "Well, as long as you're here, let me fill you in..."
Sam sighed. "Right now, just explain one thing. Why do I have a sudden craving for dog biscuits...?"