Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to Quantum Leap. This piece of fiction is for entertainment purposes only, and no money is being made.
Author's Note: As previously intimated, this chapter leads into the first episode of Season 3, "The Leap Home (Part 1)." I'm so sorry it took so long. I've had this almost done for about two weeks but couldn't seem to find the time to finish it off.
Sweet Home Indiana
As it turned out, Al got only one full day off, and that was only if you didn't count his session with Dr. Beeks. It was mid-morning on the following day when he got a call from PQL. To his surprise, it was the project psychologist herself.
"Is there a problem?" he asked, immediately on alert.
"No, not really," Dr. Beeks assured him quickly. "It's just…we think you should get over here as soon as you can."
"Why? Has Sam landed already?"
"Not quite, but Ziggy thinks he will within the next couple of hours. Dr. Gushman's checking the calculations now. And if they're right, I think Sam's going to need you."
"He always needs me," Al replied flippantly, but he was inwardly worried. There was something odd in her voice, and he didn't like it. He had a feeling he wasn't going to learn any more standing around there, though, so he ended the call and got his things together.
Al didn't waste any time when he arrived at project headquarters, going straight to the control room. The whole gang seemed to have turned out for this. Even Donna was there, and Al couldn't help but wonder what he was missing.
"Sam must not be going too far, this time," he remarked to Gooshie.
"No," the programmer replied. "It's still 1969, but now he'll be in Indiana."
"Indiana?" Suddenly, Dr. Beeks was at his elbow, and Al turned to address her. "So what's so special about this leap?" The psychologist drew him aside in an attempt to have a semi-private conversation.
"It's not just Indiana," she explained, her brow furrowed with concern. "It's Elk Ridge, Indiana. Right before Thanksgiving." She paused to let that sink in, and Al pondered.
"Why does that town sound so familiar?" he mused aloud.
"It's Sam's hometown," Dr. Beeks supplied.
Al's eyes widened at the implications. Sam's family had lost the farm long before his path had crossed with Al's, but he'd spoken about it. From my life into his?
"Who is he?" Al asked.
"Well, that's the strange part. Ziggy's certain that he's going to be a teenager named Sam Beckett."
"Okay, let me get this straight." Needing something to help him think, he pulled out a cigar and held it between his fingers. He didn't light it because that wasn't allowed in this part of the building. "Sam's becoming his younger self?"
"So it seems. We should have confirmation soon."
"Well, look on the bright side," he remarked. "He should know how to be himself." For once, he'd know the family and friends surrounding him.
"That's not what I'm worried about, Admiral." Dr. Beeks's eyes were pleading with him to understand. Unfortunately, Al found that distracting (he'd had a bit of a crush on her not so long ago), so he looked away. She was still speaking. "Think about it. You know Sam better than any of us, even Donna. This is Thanksgiving, 1969!"
And finally, after digging through his memory catalogue, Al understood what had her so upset. Thomas Beckett had died in Vietnam in April 1970.
"The last time he saw his brother alive," he murmured.
"So you think he's going to try to change things from his own life?" Like I did with mine, Al added internally but did not voice. Still, he suspected Dr. Beeks was thinking much the same thing. They'd just talked about it yesterday, after all.
"Yes," the woman said simply, and Al nodded his comprehension. He doubted that he'd be able to keep Sam from trying to do something foolish, but he might be able to convince him to accept that there were things he couldn't change. How ironic that this task would fall to him. However, Al suspected that it would be even harder for Sam because he was actually there with his family, able to affect certain things but not others. It would be enormously frustrating and probably painful. Maybe Al's recent and still raw experience with Beth would help both of them to get through this.
"Forewarned is forearmed," he quipped. "I'll do my best."
"I know you will, Admiral." Having delivered her warning, she returned to her vigil at the monitors while Al slipped out for a smoke. When he was done with that, he came back to the control room to get a briefing on the latest calculations. Ziggy was absolutely certain that Sam was leaping into himself. Of course, Ziggy had been certain plenty of times before, and not always justifiably. Still, Al saw no reason to doubt him this time and began running scenarios. The ones that Sam would be most likely to want, naturally, were the least probable. The best option was that Sam was supposed to help win a big basketball game that his team had lost. As much as he loved basketball, it seemed rather trivial to Al, at least compared to some past leaps. Still, that game turned out to touch a lot of lives, so maybe it was bigger than it appeared. In the back of his mind, though, he couldn't help but wonder if this would be more about Sam learning acceptance than changing the outcome of a single sporting event.
They'd just finished running and reviewing all of the scenarios they could think of when Sam landed, and the waiting room got a new occupant. As had become his habit, Al looked to the monitor showing the camera feed from the waiting room. He'd developed a pretty good knack for reading the people that came in there. They all looked like Sam to him, of course, but by observing body language and other nonverbal cues, he could often tell vital things about their personalities before he even stepped into the room with them.
This time was no exception, but what he saw took him by surprise, even though he'd more or less expected it.
"It is Sam," he said in a near-whisper. Not only did the man in the waiting room look like Sam, he moved like him. The mannerisms were achingly familiar, despite the obvious fear and confusion that present-day Sam would obviously not experience at finding himself in a room he'd helped build. For a moment, Al could almost imagine that he had his friend completely back again. After the moment passed, however, he started to pick out small differences. This Sam moved as though his limbs were just a little shorter than they looked, and he didn't appear to carry as much weight. Other differences would doubtlessly become apparent when he was actually in the room with him.
"Well, I guess I'd better go greet our guest," he said, slipping the handlink into his pocket so he'd be ready to enter the imaging chamber when this interview was done. For once, he didn't really need to acquire information from the person Sam had displaced, but Al still felt a responsibility to set him at ease as much as he could.
The expected questions bombarded him as he entered the room.
"Where am I? What is this place?" said the young Sam. Despite his trepidation, the boy's eyes were curious, taking everything in.
"I'm afraid I can't tell you very much," Al gave one of his variations on the speech he gave to almost everybody who appeared in here. "Let's just say that you've become part of a government experiment. You'll be our guest for a few days. I promise you that no one will hurt you while you're here."
The green-gray eyes fixed on Al's, and he felt his layers of protection being stripped away and his soul laid bare. One of Sam's most unique traits was being able to see into someone's core that way, and it was more than a little unsettling that he'd already had the ability this young. At the same time, it was a familiar feeling to Al, so he didn't flinch.
"I believe you," Sam said finally. "Who are you?"
"I'm not an alien, if that's what you were thinking."
"The thought had crossed my mind," the boy admitted.
"Well, I'm just as human as you are. You can call me Al."
The boy's brow furrowed, and he tilted his head.
"Al?" he repeated.
"Something wrong with that?"
"No, it's just…I'm not supposed to call adults by their first names."
Al smiled, amused. Sam really was the stereotypical, polite farm boy. He hadn't been too far removed from that when Al had first met him back in the '80s, but this was an interesting perspective nonetheless.
"But I'm giving you permission, so it's all right," he assured the kid.
"I guess so." Sam paused and looked around again. "My name's Sam. Where's my family?"
"They're all safe in Indiana. They'll still be there when you get back."
"Won't they notice I'm gone? Who'll do my chores?"
This time, Al suppressed his grin. Typical Sam to be thinking about others at a time like this. That was one of the things that made him infinitely better at this leaping business than Al would have been.
"They won't notice." This was dangerous ground, and Al had to be very careful how he walked it. "My friend will be taking your place. Everyone else will see and hear you, but it will be him. I can't give you any more details."
"Okay," Sam nodded and began pacing around the room in a manner that Al recognized as indicative of working out a difficult problem. Al began to feel that he should get to the other Sam pretty soon, but he took a seat instead. He could rarely sit down while talking to the leaping Sam, so he might as well rest his legs now.
"Do you have any more questions for me?" he prompted after a short while. "I only have a few minutes. Then I have to get to work."
"Most of what I want to ask you probably can't answer." Young Sam paused. He pulled up a chair across from Al. "How long will I be here?"
"That's hard to say. It's usually several days, but it could be longer. My friend's on a…well, sort of a mission, and we don't really know how long it will take to finish it."
"That makes sense," said Sam. Then he chuckled nervously. "At least, as much as any of this makes sense. Are there other people here?"
"Yes, quite a few, but you won't see most of them. Some will bring you food and take care of anything else you may need. Then there's Dr. Beeks, our psychologist, who'll probably stop in to see if you want to talk about anything."
"Will I see you again?" Sam seemed a little embarrassed while asking this.
"If you want, I can make time."
"I do," said the boy shyly. "It's funny, but I feel like I already know you somehow."
"I know the feeling, kid." Al was thinking back to the first time he'd met an overeducated, highly intelligent lab rat named Sam Beckett. Despite the disparity in their ages and backgrounds, the two men had connected almost immediately. Maybe their friendship was one of those things that was just meant to be. Al found that thought comforting.
"You smell a little like smoke," the teen commented, and Al blinked at the change of topic. He was not immediately required to respond, however, as Sam went on. "Not cigarette smoke, though. Something different."
"Cigar," Al supplied. "I like cigars."
"My dad smokes cigarettes," Sam volunteered. "I sort of wish he wouldn't do it so much. He coughs a lot. That's probably not good, is it?"
"I…don't know," Al floundered, recognizing that he would need to make his retreat soon or risk revealing too much about Sam's future. His chest tightened as he realized that the boy in front of him had yet to experience real tragedy in his life. The Beckett family still inhabited the ancestral farm, Sam's father and brother were alive, and his sister was safe at home instead of married to an abusive alcoholic. In just a few months, though, the first change to those circumstances would occur.
I'd spare you all of that if I could, kid, Al thought earnestly. And Sam will want to try. He stood up abruptly.
"I'm sorry, but I have to go," he announced. "If you need anything, just ask the staff. I'll be back to check on you later."
"Okay. Nice to meet you, Al."
"Right back at you."
Without further ado, Al proceeded to the imaging chamber and stepped into a cornfield. Sam was nearby, and Al decided to play it light.
"A grown man in a teenage boy's body," he remarked. "Oh, the possibilities!"
Author's Note: I want to thank those of you who reviewed. I would normally respond individually, but I just don't have the time. I always figured the waiting room must have had at least one camera in it so Al and the others would have some idea what they were walking into.