Assignments

by Lorraine Anderson

Call Albert. That's what the man had said. But he hadn't seen or talked to Albert in ten years and had only a vague idea where he was. He chuckled to himself. The television always portrayed Italians with large families and enormous family connections – not theirs. He and Albert were the last of their lines, unless Albert had somehow managed a son in the past few years.

He looked around the strange house. It was a comfortable house, lived in, a bit cluttered, perhaps. He looked out the front window... typical midwest architecture, forty year old ranch houses, lots of land. But he had found nothing here – or out there, pretty as it was – that would help him, especially not that skinny phone book he found. Or the computer in the corner.

The computer. He didn't know anything about computers. But... he snapped his fingers, then looked at them and shrugged... he knew a young man from church who did. And he remembered his telephone number. He picked up the phone and dialed.

#

She sat alone in the little New York apartment. Now what did she do? She looked out the window. City. Skyscrapers peeked around the corner of the next building. A water tower. Aerials. Hmmph. Well, what did she expect? She felt some doubt. So – she was supposed to tell her story to everyone she met? Where did she start? Go around knocking on doors? Go to the police? Go to the hospital? That's probably where she'll end up if she starts telling this story.

She looked around the apartment. Comfy. Overstuffed chairs, lace doilies on the arms of the chairs. Neat. No clutter. Well, it does figure.

She heard and knock and jumped, then grinned. Well, she guessed she'll start telling the story here. Pushing herself up, she walked unsteadily across the floor that seemed so incredibly far down.

She opened the door. A man was looking at her, looking concerned. One of Tonio's friends. "Hi, she smiled, "you aren't going to believe this, but –"

#

Al woke up as the plane touched down, then reached over and took Beth's hand. He was so glad she had decided to come, despite his protests – but her protests and arguments were more convincing.

After all of these years – most of these years that he was at Project Quantum Leap – to hear from his cousin. And what a story his cousin told. Tonio was a retired accountant, for God's sake – a devout Catholic and not prone to B.S. stories, even when he was a kid. What little he saw of Tonio when they were kids. Tonio had no imagination, so Al was never going to stick around him. He started appreciating him the older he became, particularly his calm demeanor that Al sometimes wished he had.

And for Tonio to mention the Project? And "Al's Place" in the same breath? The last place he had seen Sam. Years ago now.

God.

Did he dare believe?

They had lost Sam on that Leap. Or had they?

Beth nudged him. Everybody was moving out of the plane already. They got up, grabbed their stuff, departed the airplane and walked through the pitifully small gate area. Al noted with amusement that the airport only had four gates – and exited the area to the one and only baggage check. What a small town! And Tonio said he was located in an even smaller town...

"Albert?"

Al whirled, looking up, then looked down. He shook his head in disbelieve. "Tonio?" He closed his eyes.

"Yes, Albert, I'm Tonio."

Well, it certainly sounded like Tonio. He didn't know how that was possible, but that was Tonio's voice. But the body was that of a small, middle-aged woman, most definitely. Thin, with dark hair. Tonio was tall, thin, and grey haired, at least the last time Al had seen him.

Beth walked up. "Beth, this is..." He gulped. "...Tonio."

She extended her hand. Bless her heart, she didn't look ruffled. "It's nice to see you again," she smiled, "even if it is under strange circumstances."

Al turned back to Tonio. "What are you doing here? I thought I said for you to stay where you were."

"I made it here," Tonio smiled.

"Yeah, and you're a New Yorker. When was the last time you drove?"

Tonio shrugged calmly.

Al turned to Beth. "Am I the only one who saw disaster here?"

"Yes, dear, you usually are," Beth said. "Let's get a room for the night and worry about it later. We have to go to New York tomorrow."

"You know, Tonio," Al said ruefully. "You missed something by not marrying."

Tonio smiled again.

#

"It was a miracle, but no-one will believe me," Sam heard a woman say as he Leapt in.

Sam was looking out a window and saw a city skyline. Was that the Empire State Building? He didn't remember. He turned and saw a man on a bed, dressed, but it was obviously a hospital bed. The man looked up... it looked like he had been praying.

"When did you come in?" the man said. It was the same voice he had heard before, but now he could hear bass undertones. Odd. Very odd. The man obviously wasn't a woman, not with that mustache, full and gray. Tall, thin, gray hair. Sex-change operation?

Sam suddenly realized he was expected to answer. Obviously this was another Leap where he had Leapt in as himself. These had happened more and more, ever since he had lost Al as his companion. Ever since the bar...

"You ok?" the man said.

"Sorry. I was wool-gathering," he said, truthfully.

He smiled. "I know what you mean. I've been doing that more and more the past few days."

Sam closed his eyes. "What makes you think it was a miracle?"

"Well," Sam could hear the smile in his voice. "These things just don't happen."

"What?" Sam opened his eyes.

The man cocked his head. "I guess you haven't read my file."

"I like... to get first impressions unencumbered by someone else's input."

"What's your name?"

What name should he use? "Sam," he said, without hesitating. "Yours?"

"My records say Antonio," he smiled. "But my name is Jane. You said yours was Sam." He looked at Sam sharply.

Sam felt uncomfortable by his stare. Was he in a mental ward? "Yes."

The man looked out into space and swallowed. "I haven't told anybody this part." He looked down at his hands. "I was sleeping when this happened."

"Sleeping?"

"Yeah. I dreamt I was in this bar. It seemed slightly dusty, although when I looked close, I couldn't see any dust. I looked out the window. The window said it was 'Al's Place.'"

Sam felt a shock go through him. The bar. The bar where he had last seen Al... his Al, his observer, before he had started Leaping on his own.

"A dark, overweight man with a mustache asked me if I wanted a drink. I asked for an iced tea – it was warm there. A man sat beside me." He looked up. "It was Antonio. He looked a little confused, but, then again, so was I. This was one of the more realistic dreams I had ever had. Antonio asked whether he was dead. I noticed he had an Italian accent, but spoke good English."

"'Ah,' the bartender said. 'You're both here. We can begin.

"Antonio and I looked at each other. I shrugged. I was going with the flow. I still thought it was a dream.

"'Is this a dream?' I asked, then drank my tea. It was the best tea I had ever tasted.

"'What do you think?' the bartender asked.

"'No,' Tonio said. 'This is not a dream, and you aren't what you appear to be.'

"'And who – or what – do you think I am.'

"Tonio is smarter than I am, or maybe older and wiser. Or maybe more religious. 'You are who You Are.'

"The bartender laughed, catching the capital Y like I did. 'I Am?' he said calmly."

"Jane" stopped and looked at Sam. "Most people would have laughed at this point." He looked closer. "Are you all right?"

Sam hadn't realized his reaction had shown on his face. "I think I should sit down. But please – go ahead." He pulled up the hospital chair and leaned his head back.

The man chewed his upper lip, then unconsciously licked at it. No, Sam thought, this person wasn't used to a mustache. He – She wiped at it with the back of her hand.

"The bartender looked at both off his while wiping at the bar. 'I have a job for you two. It should not take long, and the work is not – taxing.' He grinned at Tonio. I hadn't realized then that Tonio was a CPA.. 'It will involve a certain amount of embarrassment to both of you. It may or may not involve some notoriety.'

"'Do we have a choice?' I said.

"'You always have a choice,' he smiled. There was something in that smile that I had longed for, something I had already known. I made my choice at that point.

"Tonio sighed. 'I never thought I'd have questions when I met you face to face.'

"The bartender smiled. 'I think you've mistaken me. I'm just a messenger.'

"Tonio gave him a sharp look. 'I see.'

"'I'll do it,' I said. I don't know what prompted me. I had made my decision, but in one way, I still thought it was a dream.

"Tonio nodded. 'As will I. When? And what?

"'Now. And look into the mirror.'

"I looked. I saw Tonio look back at me. Startled, I looked down at my hands – Tonio's hands, Tonio's body. Somehow – I was comfortable with that."

She looked down, then fingered her mustache. "I still am. But he's right. It is a bit embarrassing to... um... use the facilities."

Sam laughed, then looked at the opposite wall. "Al's Place," he murmered. "Then what?"

Jane frowned. "Not much. He gave his some instructions before we... left, I guess is the word. I told Tonio to call his cousin. He told me that I wouldn't be believed, but I should tell everybody my story, but I shouldn't tell this part, until Sam joined me. You are that Sam, aren't you?"

Sam nodded numbly.

"He said to tell you that your journey is almost over."

Sam looked up sharply and felt years of time-travel sweep over him. They stared at each other.

A dark-haired woman walked into the room. Sam glanced at her, then stared. "Beth," he breathed."

Beth Calavicci gaped at him. "Sam?" She turned and ran down the corridor. "Al! It's Sam!" Sam ran to the door. Jane watched bemused from the bed.

Al was guiding a middle-aged woman. He caught sight of Sam and ran to grab him. "Sam, whatever are you doing..." He glanced at his hands, as if he couldn't believe he had actually touched Sam.

Al glanced at the woman beside here. "Never mind, I know why you're here." Al grasped Sam's arms. "Oh, God, Sam, it's good to see you. It's been so long..."

"The Project? I was so afraid when I didn't come back that the project..."

"Sammy Jo. Remember her?"

Sam didn't, then he did. "Yes." His daughter.

"It's still going. Just not with you or I."

Sam turned to the woman. "Tonio, I presume?"

He nodded and turned to Al. "Albert, who is this?" he said in accented English.

"Ah. Tonio, this is Sam Beckett. This is the reason I believed you."

Tonio extended his hand. "A pleasure to meet you."

"And you," Sam looked around. A number of people were looking at them. "Perhaps we should move this into the room.

Tonio led the way. "Hello, Jane," he smiled.

"Hi, Tonio," Jane waved. "Find everything all right in my house?"

"Of course. I hope you don't mind that I drove your car."

Jane looked bemused. "You did? Of course not..."

Sam, Al, and Beth looked at each other. "You're both taking this calmly," Beth said.

"We were assigned this from God," Tonio said. "What is the use of getting excited?"

"A miracle," Al exclaimed. "You didn't mention this before. You have gotta be kidding."

"Do you have a better explanation?" Jane asked.

Sam and Al looked at each other. "Well," Sam said. "I've done much the same thing for the past few years as a result of a scientific experiment."

"Project Quantum Leap," Tonio said. "We know."

"You know?"

Al nodded. "How do you think he got me here?"

"You see," Jane said. "I didn't tell you everything."

An older woman walked in. "They didn't tell you that I was also there in Al's bar."

Al did a double-take. "Senator McBride!" Sam recognized her as Diane, from one of his earliest Leaps.

A distinguished looking black lady walked in, followed by a youngish woman with a merry grin. "Sammy Jo," Al said, "how did you know..."

"And Nell Tyler," Sam said. Another woman he had saved in his travels.

Al gave her a sharp look, then turned back to Sammy Jo Fuller. "I was there, too, Al. I knew where you were going when you suddenly left." She looked at Sam sharply. "And I was told to bring along a friend."

Another woman walked in tentatively. She seemed tired, with a million questions in her face when she looked at Sam. Sam looked at her blankly for a minute, then fell back into his chair. "Oh, my God, Donna. I had forgotten you. How could I forget my wife?"

Donna smiled, suddenly looking less tired. Her eyes stayed sad. "We'll talk about your... convenient memory later." Sam rushed into her arms.

"But," Al sputtered. "What are all of you doing here?"

"We're taking over," Nell grinned.

"Essentially right,"Diane McBride said.

"You mean – they're going to be Leaping?"

Jane and Tonio looked at each other and smiled. "Not exactly," Jane said. "But the bartender said you were trying to make the world better. We are to set the world to thinking."

"About what?" Sam said.

"About miracles, for one things. And maybe about many things, like cabbages and Kings. I don't know. But the bartender told us that you helped this to happen." Jane smiled ruefully. "Didn't you wonder how you started Leaping without changing places with anyone? You started the momentum that made it possible for this miracle to happen."

"I am not a scientist," Tonio said, "But I've often wondered about miracles. It seems that some start with what humans believe will happen." He shrugged. "And others start with science."

"But what now?" Sam said.

"Now," Diane McBride said. "You go home. We don't know what's going to happen, but we'll take it from here."

"Thank you for everything," Jane said. "And for..."

"For what?" Al said.

Jane looked down. "I never thought I would know how it feels..." Looked up and felt her upper lip. "To have a mustache."

She caught the various expressions and looked around, puzzled. "What did you think I was going to say?"

Diane McBride looked at Jane as if wondering about her assignment, then she turned around to Sam. "Go home."

Sam smiled broadly and squeezed Donna. He smiled at Al and Beth. "Gladly."

The four walked out of the hospital room and into a very different future.

END