Hang onto your hats with this story! This was part 1 (written in 1997) of what was intended to be a trilogy, but I pulled a Douglas Adams and it became a 4-parter with an interlude in the middle. When I got to the 3rd story and realized it was going to be easily twice as long as the first 2, I cut it in half. The first story lays the ground work – not a lot of Sam (sorry, Sam fans), but he's in there and he has a much more prominent role in the next 3.

The first story has a pretty low confusion factor, I believe, but must this series absolutely must be read in order. As always, all my stories are complete before I begin posting, so you will never be left hanging with half a story. I hope you enjoy them and I LOVE feedback! Generally, I say I will not rework my older stories, but I am in the process of having them reprinted to fix old typos, so any constructive feedback may potentially alter the story slightly.

Enjoy!

Ann Marie

Chapter 1

January 1997

Los Angeles, CA

Christina Meth sat back from her desk and rubbed her eyes. She had been sitting there fiddling with equations, deriving, converting, and computing for almost five hours now. The one thing she wanted more than anything was a massage. If there was anyone remaining in the building at this hour, she would have sought him or her out to get one, but all people on normal hours had long since left for home. The dark, dank feel of the room she was in began to irritate her and she walked abandoned it to go outside into the cool air. A strong wind lifted her hair and swirled it around her face, obscuring her vision. She closed her eyes and breathed in the fresh scent of the out of doors. It was an incredible thing, she reflected, when Los Angeles air seemed fresh and clean, a sure sign that she was spending too much time in the office again.

She had a meeting tomorrow. Something about finances, no doubt. Her apprentice did all the corresponding with her sponsors; she let the woman do her job without taking any particular interest in it herself. Her apprentice...she ought to be in the building still. She rarely left before Christina herself did. Employee loyalties, she presumed, not that she was all that familiar with the concept. Her own employers were infrequent visitors in her labs.

Christina entered the building again and looked into the small room adjoining her office. A figure lay slumped over her desk, supposedly asleep. Christina didn't have the heart to wake her. Every so often, the scientist did come up for air and notice what was going on around her, contrary to popular belief. Besides, she was going to find something worthwhile to do, something that would make a difference. And once she did, there would be no need for people to look down on her. What good was it to be a genius if you didn't use your talents to help other people?

She abandoned the plainly exhausted woman and returned to her own sorry excuse of an office. She sat down at her desk and pulled out a magazine from the top drawer. Pushing aside pages of figures, she spread out the magazine on the desktop. Despite her care in handling it, it still showed creases from common usage and she smoothed them gently. Several other articles fell from the pages: newspaper clippings, print outs, and pictures. She pushed them out of the way and read the magazine again. Here was something to aspire to, really. She wasn't certain her sponsors agreed, but she was hoping to persuade them to see it her way. You couldn't take without giving something back. That is, if the man eventually had. The article was a little vague on that point, as all of the articles were. Her hands sifted through the newspaper clippings until she found the one she wanted. It seemed that Dr. Samuel Beckett disappeared off the face of the earth in early March 1995. Almost two years ago. What was really odd was that Dr. Beckett's colleague and friend Admiral Albert Calavicci could not be reached for comment.

She had her own set of theories on the matter, not the least of which was that he was doing what he had set out to do in the first place. How exactly what he was doing was benefiting anyone was one of the many matters on which she and her sponsors differed. Perhaps he had been silenced or perhaps he had given up on the prospect and was working on something else not nearly spectacular enough to catch the public eye, but she doubted it. She may be dense, but no one was that dense.

Christina pushed the articles back into the drawer and closed it softly. She really didn't care about what had happened to him in the long run. She supposed the same thing happened to him that would happen to any man of his intellect: either he was controlling the government or they were controlling him. But it wasn't her concern. She was more interested in his fascination with time travel. She had years ago read everything of his there was to read on the topic, but she could never quite get it. Unlike he, she had limited her talents to one area: quantum physics. She would spend hours upon hours trying to figure out his equations, but he often performed incredible leaps of logic that were difficult to follow. He apparently didn't write down what was obvious to him. In other words, there was a lot he didn't write down.

A noise from behind her caused her to turn in her chair.

"Still here?" her accomplice asked, rubbing her eyes. She slipped on a coat and headed for the door. "Well, I am going to do the unthinkable and leave while you're still here, if you don't mind. Four days in a row of this is just too much."

Christina laughed softly. "Of course. There's really no need for you to stay, especially if you're just going to fall asleep on the job."

The words were light and teasing, but the woman heard the underlying seriousness Christina could never seem to shake. It unnerved her and made it very difficult to be around the scientist. "Sorry," she felt compelled to say. "I'll see you on Monday? I hope you don't need me this weekend. Oh, I'm assuming you're working." It was a statement, not a question.

"Naturally. So much to do so little...time," she responded anyhow.

The woman was slowly edging her way out the door. "Right. Well, see you then."

"Sure," Christina said to empty air. "See you then."

September 2000

Stallions Gate, NM

Al Calavicci walked the halls of the project slowly. He was feeling a little run-down as of late and then last thing he was in the mood to do was to hear the proposal for another dead-end retrieval program. But he'd said time and time again that he wanted to hear as soon as anyone got anything and he couldn't change his mind now. Besides, he really did want to know, he just didn't want to trudge through the administrative drudgery to get the funds and personnel to test the theory.

He rounded the corner and almost ran into Tina, which was a pleasant surprise. "Where are you going in such a hurry, Al?" she asked in smooth, silky tones.

He slid an arm around her waist in comfortable familiarity. "Aw, Sammy Jo has a new theory she wants to run by me. Sam landed yet?"

She snuggled a bit closer. "Nah. He's only been gone for about two days. Hopefully we've got a couple days left."

He kissed her lightly and released her. "Well... I had better go. I've got some paperwork to get out of the way, but are we clear for dinner?"

"Sure. I made us reservations at some classy restaurant in town. Can't remember the name, but it's supposed to have a nice dance floor." She looked at him wistfully. "It's been a while since you took me dancing."

He grinned, pulling out a cigar. "Well, we'll have to do something about that. Talk to you later honey."

She walked away and he paused a moment to offer an appreciative glance before lighting his cigar and taking off in the opposite direction.

Al always felt faintly uncomfortable talking to Sammy Jo. He spent an unusual amount of time with Donna, though, and knew her well enough that he had made the decision to keep Sam's secret from the both of them. Now, he listened patiently as Sam's daughter outlined her new theory. He had to admit, as he listened, that it was certainly the most plausible solution he'd heard so far, but it was still, in part, way over his head. He gave nods where he thought appropriate, supporting her desire to get Sam home if nothing else.

"Well? When can we get started?" she asked breathlessly, having finished her explanation.

"I'll get the paperwork filled out in the morning and we can hopefully start within the week," he responded.

She smiled and he was about to rattle off a list of forms he needed her signature for when Ziggy interrupted with her usual lack of consideration.

"Admiral? There was a message left for you in your office. I think you ought to see it. It sounds serious."

"What kind of message, Ziggy?"

There was a small pause. "Well, if I didn't know better, I'd say it was almost a ransom note. Is there something that I don't know about?" she asked in a manner that clearly indicated her disgust that he could be involved in something of which she was clueless.

"Ransom?" he asked, startled onto his feet. Sammy Jo moved uneasily at his elbow. "What do you mean ransom?"

"I do believe you need your ears cleaned out. Or do I need to repeat it again?" Ziggy's voice sounded superior and injured.

Al knew better. "No, Ziggy, you need to repeat that about as much as you need to be more assertive with your opinions. I'm on my way up to my office. We can talk again there." He gave a little sigh and turned to Sam's daughter. "Sammy Jo, we'll talk later, okay? And I'll still see about getting that stuff filled out tomorrow. I don't know what this is all about, but it is obviously someone's sick idea of a practical joke, or a case of mistaken identity." He patted her lightly on the shoulder.

"No problem. There are always bugs to be worked out in the theory, and I'll just work on that. I have a good feeling about this one." He smiled but didn't comment; she said that every time.

Up in his office, Al examined the computer printout of the message Ziggy had taken. He sat down in his chair and frowned.

Admiral Albert Calavicci: You will meet us at the warehouse off of Plantation Drive in Santa Fe at exactly 11:00 PM tomorrow night. You will enter the building alone and unarmed. We have a hostage and she will be executed in the case of deceit. Thank you for your time.

"'Thank you for your time'?" he mouthed in utter amazement. Had it not been such a serious security breach, he might have laughed. And then, aloud, "Ziggy, what the heck is this?"

"Admiral, I informed you earlier that it is a ransom note. The message was received through a fax and the call could not be traced. That is all I know."

The first thought that ran through his mind, aside from the obvious, was that he had no idea who could possibly want to speak with him so badly that they thought a hostage was necessary. Had somebody got wind of their project? And if they had, why all the fuss? He realized with a start that he also didn't know what they wanted him for. He shook his head and stared at the wall. "Ziggy? Put a call through to Admiral Payne. I don't know why I was sent this note, but I certainly can't ignore it. And I also can't just go to a warehouse to help a potentially non-existent hostage for no apparent reason." He sighed. "Let's just wait and see if she has any ideas."