"Through memory we travel against time, through forgetfulness we follow its course." - Joseph Joubet


Chapter 24

Wards of Time

Sam continued on his way in preparation for the dangerous illegal border crossing. Al guided him to the streets they needed to take, to Woodrow Bean Transmountain Drive, which turned into Purple Heart Memorial Highway. This took them away from the traffic of El Paso. They went southeast, then curved again as the road turned into Joe Battle Blvd. It was a desolate place, and they saw signs of border guards along the way.

"Unfortunately for us," Al explained, "Operation Hold The Line has made crossing in El Paso tough. So we go to the worse, most dangerous area to cross, nothing but desert, so it's harder to patrol. Mr. Nyt was smart when he bought all those water jugs."

Sam only half listened as Al read off from Ziggy about crossing the desert. For some reason, he was remembering that day in the university, the student who rose and questioned him about the morality of time travel. He had been giving Father Time the middle finger for so long, he wondered if all of this, being trapped in the past, Leaping from life to life, was some sort of payback.

Was this his punishment for going against the Wards of Time?

"Well, just keep on this road," Al told Sam. "It'll be a couple hours, and no offense, but my head is still really hurting with all this sunlight." He opened the Imaging Chamber door and mumbled as he walked out, "I hope Doctor Beeks has something stronger." Then the door slammed shut.

Sam was left alone with his thoughts. He wondered what Theodore Nyt would do in Mexico. He wondered if he would leave Araceli alone. He hoped so. The future Al claimed she would have sounded enjoyable.

He also wondered just how far into this border-crossing he would have to go? Would he Leap the minute he stepped foot into Mexico? Did he have to cross the desert and get to civilization? Just how long would this Leap last? He was still in a lot of pain from his shoulder, the broken rib, the fingernail the Mafia goons had ripped out, and the gunshot wound. He didn't dare take any of the Vicodin he had, not with all the driving he had to do. He hoped the suffering was almost over.

Minutes ticked by with only the passing of sagebrushes marking any sort of tempo. The road was hypnotic without Al there to talk to him or Araceli's scent to distract him. Sam began to hum to himself. After an hour, that McDonald's lunch suddenly hit him. There were no buildings to be seen, so he pulled over to the side of the road to relieve nature.

Just as he was finishing up and walking back to the bike, Sam felt a crack against his head, fell to the ground, and saw a looming shadow just as darkness edged in on him.


It felt colder. He was inside a building, and the light coming from a cracked window showed it was late in the day. Sam shook the pain out of his head. He saw the hit man named Tony the Chopper laying unconscious next to him. He scrambled away from him fast.

"Oh, don't worry," came a soothing voice. "You're safe now. Got to you just barely in time. He won't wake up until long after we're gone, and according to what we know, he'll be dead by the end of the day for failing to get you."

Sam looked up to Latino features, a man dressed trim and clean shaved, but with a scar on his chin. He had long hair streaked with a few threads of silver and pulled back in a slicked ponytail.

Familiar!

"Do I...know you?" he asked haltingly.

"You do, and you don't...yet."

Sam rubbed his head. Out the window, the sun had turned the sky a bruised purple. The tops of the thunderheads already showed pink with their tops still a fluffy white. His time was running out.

"You don't have to worry about the mission," the stranger assured. Sam jolted at that, but the man had a placid smile. "Originally, you never did make it to Mexico. We've been working on this problem for decades, but it never worked out. This time, it should. Actually," he laughed, "we reverted to your own tactics...refined with my theories, if I may say so." He gave a modest laugh.

"Theories? Tactics?" asked Sam. Just how hard had he hit his head?

"I'll get this sleazy lawyer across the border, I promise. We've already been assured at 100% that he'll survive this time around. Theodore Nyt will live a wonderfully splurged life in Mexico constantly looking over his shoulder in terror and suffering from ulcers. Not what Nyt deserves, in my opinion. Then again, who am I to determine his fate?"

"Fate?" Sam asked in a daze. His head hurt. Was this man even making sense? Was it just him and his aching head?

"He marries a don's younger daughter and has three children, one of whom grows up to be a programmer on my own Project Continuum Leap. Quite a brilliant girl. Makes me wonder if some of your intelligence stayed behind. So yep, he will surely survive."

"Wait, what? Project Continuum? Like continuum theory?" Sam asked in confusion.

"You have no idea how hard it is to track you down, Doctor Beckett," the man said conversationally.

That name stunned Sam. His name.

My own name!

"All this Leaping around, here, there, all over the space-time continuum like a jack rabbit. Plus the physical traveling. You really get to see the world, don't you? It's taken me ten tries over the years until we centered in on Mister Nyt, same host we tried the first time...oh, I forget how many years back. Probably only a few hours ago to you. My colleagues tease me that I'm stalking you, but I'm glad we finally caught up again."

"Again?" Sam asked. Obviously, this stranger knew he was Sam Beckett, and he knew something about Project Quantum Leap. Where was this man familiar from? Was it another hole in his memory? The fogginess of pain made his own words sound like noise coming through cotton wadding.

The man only smiled. "At least this proves my theory on tracking the spacial coordinates of space-time anomalies. I couldn't have done all this without your research, Doctor Beckett. And now, I want to prove your own test, and the retrieval program your crew later invented but never got to use." He laughed blithely. "It better work, or that old hag Tina is gonna flay my hide. For your own sake, I hope it works in your time, so I can come to know you in my time." Then he looked at his watch. "And talking about time, time's up. I hope to catch up with you again...some time." He chuckled at his own joke. "Before you leave, I just wanted to tell you, of all the theses you've written, Wards of Time was far and away my favorite. I was still in college when I read it, and it spurred me on in this field. I'm honored that you took my question seriously."

"Question?"

Suddenly, the face came to him.

The student at a lecture who asked if time travel was a middle finger to Father Time.

Sancho from Carrizozo.

Doctor Sanchez.

The immigrant at the McDonald's.

Different ages, but all had the same looks to them.

"Sancho...Sanchez...?"

"Doctor Sancho Faramundo Alejandro Sanchez-Hernandez, at your service," he smiled. "And a pleasure to meet you, Doctor Samuel Beckett."

This man was not only a Leaper, but he was physically there. What had he said about reverting to his own tactics...to Leaping into a person? "Continuum Leap! Not a minimal amount of interaction by means of observation but...but full interaction. Physical interaction."

"Leaping body and aura," Doctor Sanchez nodded. "You unintentionally almost did it, Doctor Beckett, but you were attempting something far more elementary. Your body and aura sundered, and your retrieval program was incomplete, since you were not aiming for full-body acceleration. Perhaps with a couple more years, you would have discovered the exact same thing I did. If this works, perhaps you'll change my timeline, return home, and get a chance to perfect the program. I don't mind if my past is changed, so long as it means that you get to go back home to those who love you. With any luck, we'll work together on something greater. That's my prayer."

"You...you're planning to Leap...into me?"

"Into Theodore Nyt," Sancho Sanchez corrected. "See, in my time, you died on this Leap and never made it home. I've been struggling to correct that, but three times now, although I fixed the error, something else happened, and you still died. My colleagues said that maybe God wanted you to die, but I refused to believe that, because every time I traveled back, my goal worked. You survived. Be it freeing you from a Mafia torture house, or healing your gunshot wounds, I succeeded. But this time, you were captured right on the verge of success. I'm not taking any more chances," he said adamantly. "Like what you did, I'm throwing myself into the fray, just to prove my theory. Using your calculations and the 'caca' mistake that spurred my research, I can Leap into you—body only, not the aura—and you'll either Leap home, with all luck, or continue Leaping, hopefully without any more trouble. Otherwise," Sancho laughed, "I may spend my whole life chasing you down and correcting your mistakes, one Leap at a time."

"Why?" asked Sam. Could this man truly be a Leaper from his future? Someone inspired by him? Someone in the future...working to get him home!

"Why? Because I admire you, Doctor Beckett," he answered as if it was obvious. "Maybe I can't play God and get you home all on my own—there's a theory that only you can bring yourself home—but my goal was merely to give you better odds, a chance of survival, so that you can decide for yourself what your fate should be." He looked up at nothing. "All right, Triggy, let's do this!" Sancho dipped his head in respect. "Until we meet again, Dr. Beckett."

He saw the man in front of him light up in a blue flash and sparkling energy, the distinct sound of the rending of time and separating bodies from their auras. Sam was stunned beyond all rationalization. Was this what he looked like? Was this a Leap?

As he felt the tingle begin in his own body, Sam could think of only one thing to say.

"Oh, boy!"

The End


A/N: Well, that's it. Good twist? Maybe it didn't end with the bang I was hoping for, but at least it's completed. I'm happy everything tied together so well.

I tend to obsess with names. Araceli means "altar of heaven" and "de la Rosa" means "of the rose," invoking beauty and mystery. Theodore means "God's gift," as in Sam's bouncing around time is God/Time/Fate/Whatever's gift to those who didn't live as good of a life as they were meant. Nyt isn't a real surname as far as I know, but it's a play on the words "night" (as in "Desert Night," this story's title) and "knight" (the idea that Sam is a knight errant). This was inspired by my husband saying Sam Beckett is like Michael Knight from "Knight Rider," one man out to help those who no one else is willing to protect. Minus the awesome car! That's also why I referenced "Knight Rider" in Theodore Nyt's law practice with his wife, Nyt-Ryder.

Sancho's full name was the best. Sancho Faramundo Alejandro Sanchez-Hernandez means "sacred" "journey protection" "defender of mankind" "son of the sanctified one" "son of the bold voyager." I wanted to evoke the idea of one man journeying into the unknown on a sacred quest to save others; in this case, save Sam from what in his timeline was a terrible death. Plus I like that his name is Sancho Sanchez, since Sanchez means "son of Sancho." It's like someone named John Johnson (don't laugh, I have a friend named that).

Thank you wtchcool and LA Suka for reviewing so frequently. I enjoyed chatting with you and getting ideas. And thanks to my husband, who caught all sorts of misspellings and grammar issues, as well as encouraging me to finish this before 2012.

I hope you enjoyed this little journey. Everyone who reads this, either following my updates or randomly clicking on it in the future... thanks! It was a lot of fun to write. Let me know if you liked it, and I hope I can write more stories in the future.

This is Rhov, signing off!