mgowriter's note: Quantum Leap has always been a personal/private thing for me, so I've had some doubts about posting a story, but I'm glad I finally did! I hope you enjoy :)
Looking up more than six stories at the windows that peered into the nighttime sky, Al found it hard to believe he had actually arrived. It had taken him the better part of two weeks to talk his way onto the guest list of the Senator's Ball, an annual black-tie event that masqueraded as the largest impromptu congressional session of the U.S. government. The Great Hall of the National Building Museum had been transformed into an elegant ballroom with rich accents of crystal and gold. Deals were made, laws passed, and alliances built or crumbled in one night. The top political players of the nation were all here, and Al Calavicci, director of project Star Bright, needed to convince no less than 40 million dollars out of them.
He stood in an immaculately pressed Navy dress white uniform, next to one of eight massive marble pillars that towered from floor to ceiling. A slow sweep of the crowd landed his eyes on a familiar face. Christopher Long, an old friend from his NASA days, was alone at the far end of the room. Al smiled to himself. His recent string of bad luck was changing already. The last he heard, Chris was a congressman for Nevada and one of the leaders of the Future Technologies Committee. His influence in scientific funding endeavors was quickly growing and it just so happened he owed Al a big favor.
Al approached the man in the black tuxedo.
"Al?" the other man said in recognition. "No way. Is that really you?"
"Chris," Al smiled in response. "It's been too long. How the heck are you? And what the hell have you been up to? Don't give me that space reconnaissance program crap because I know it's just a cover."
"Jeez Al," Chris replied good-naturedly. "It's good to see you, too. Cutting right to the chase, huh?"
Al shared a chuckle with his friend. "Well I could comment on how you look, but you aren't getting any prettier with age."
Chris, holding a glass of scotch in his right hand, motioned in mock submission. "We can't all have the Calavicci genes, right?"
Al was momentarily caught off guard by the flash of amber liquid against the crystal tumbler. His taste buds tingled as he updated the tally in his mind. He had been dry for the past twelve hours, a record in recent memory.
"Al?" Chris's voice pulled him back to the party.
"How's Maxie doing? She still wants to join the roller derby?"
"She's uh…you know, I don't really know. We divorced about a year and a half ago. She ran off with a brick layer, if you believe it."
Chris looked at his friend in surprise. Maxine was Al's fourth wife and now fourth divorce since he first met the man. She was good for him, though, unlike the one before. She had a crazy streak of adventure and passion that matched Al's almost perfectly. He remembered a yearlong stint when they would go to Vegas almost every weekend to "renew their vows." Chris shook his head. He had often wondered why Al went through so many wives. True, the guy was an unabashed womanizer, but he was also the most loyal person that probably every lived.
"Chris, I don't mean to seem like a jerk," said Al, "but I've gotta meet someone tonight and I don't know anyone in his circle, except you."
Chris considered this. "You're in some sort of a bind?"
"You could say that."
It was Al's turn to look surprised. "That's classified."
"I know. I only caught a glimpse of the project's budget, accidently and off the record, but it had your name all over it. Looks like you're not exactly doing space station operations research, either. The government doesn't spend 200 million dollars a year on that."
Al was silent for a moment. "You know, sometimes I feel like a chess piece in this game. Move forward a step, and skip back two; just a couple of pawns doing the dirty work. How the heck did we end up here?"
Chris waved him off, holding onto his drink. "It'll get better, trust me. Pretty soon you'll be looking down from the ivory tower. Besides, we can't help it. We're space boys. We've got the discovery gene turned up high." He paused to scan the floor. "So who is he? Which unfortunate guy is gonna to get an earful of you tonight?"
Chris gulped the sip he took hastily. "And what makes you think I hang out with the head of the most powerful family in Washington?"
"I saw you talking to him five minutes ago. The guy's got some kind of human wall around him. There're at least ten, fifteen people circling him at all times. Three of them look like thugs for hire. He's impenetrable."
Chris nodded. "You're absolutely right. But, I don't know him. I was only introduced myself a couple of minutes ago."
Al's brows furrowed in disappointment. "By who?"
"His daughter, Alice." He motioned towards a young woman standing about twenty feet away. She was facing away from them, talking excitedly to the woman next to her. "She heads the energy research facility in Prescott. Our two divisions just started working on a project a couple of weeks ago."
Al's face brightened visibly. He saw his way in before Chris could protest.
"No, Al, c'mon, she's like twenty-six years old. And not just a dumb blonde, either. What are you pushing, forty-six now?"
Al's gaze remained on the younger woman. "Have you ever seen a girl I haven't been able to get?"
Chris shook his head. He wasn't going to win this argument. When Al had his sights set on something, even something as unlikely as circling the Earth from outer space, he always found a way to make it happen. The truth is, he really hadn't seen a girl that didn't fall for the man in the end. Al had a profound appreciation for the female half, but they loved being around him even more. He didn't need to divide and conquer, as it were. They usually threw themselves at him in swarms.
"Just…don't go too far, okay? She's not a bad kid. There's more to her than just the family name."
"Relax, Chris. I'm not gonna harm your girl. I just want a meeting with Daddy, that's all."
Chris sighed. "All right. But you'd better be polished on your science. She tends to catch you off guard."
Al waved him off as he walked towards the waiter closest to where Alice stood. He grabbed a glass of champagne from the tray and took a sip. It tasted terrible to his trained tongue, but the alcohol content was undeniable, and it sparked a small flame inside. He set the glass back down. Careful, Calavicci. His attention focused on the voices to his left.
. . .
"I can't believe he actually had the nerve to say that at the meeting yesterday," Alice said to the other woman. "I mean, we're going to be in the middle of an energy crisis within the next thirty years, and he thinks nuclear is the way to go? I should've asked him what he was planning on doing with all that waste. Maybe we could build a dumpster in his backyard."
The woman laughed at the image. "You know that's what most of them are thinking, though. Nuclear is our best bet right now. Tim was talking about building containers to shoot it into space."
Al saw Alice's jaw drop from the corner of his vision. Perfect timing.
He turned to face the two women, and despite Chris' warning, was briefly caught off guard. Alice fully lived up to her reputation. She was nothing less than stunning, with perfectly manicured features, framed most noticeably by her dark blue eyes. They reminded him of the ocean, on days when you could stand at the bow of a carrier and see miles of water in every direction. The flowing black ball gown she wore hugged her curves with delicate precision and contrasted nicely with her golden hair. It took him a moment to clear his mind.
"I think," he smiled casually to the two women, "that you're absolutely right. Nuclear power won't fulfill our demands in thirty years. We have to think of something more sustainable."
Alice turned her gaze toward Al. He noticed the automatic suspicion in her eyes. This must happen a lot, he thought, men showing up at her doorstep.
"Hi," he extended his hand. "I'm Al Calavicci."
"Alice McKellen," she replied coolly, shaking his. "Do you have your bets on solar, then?"
Al shook his head. This was a test. "Not even combined with wind. I think hydrogen is the way of the future."
She tilted her head in curiosity, not expecting many people to know about the newer technology. "By water electrolysis?"
Another test. Al replied with confidence, knowing well how to play this game. "No way. That's a 1.5 to 1 ratio of energy expenditure. The best thing to do is to continue using fossil fuel reserves for now, while we develop a better system, most likely by reaction with a sodium or potassium metal. There's no point in using up resources to convert to a new system if it isn't sustainable." He knew he had her full attention now. "Can you imagine the possibilities? Energy to weight ratio, reduction on pollution, ease of production, the effects on global warming? They're endless."
Alice considered his comments and smiled for the first time. "How does a naval officer know so much about hydrogen energy?"
"I was introduced to it during my MIT days. We studied it extensively in the astrophysics department. I worked for NASA after that, and they were equally as interested, but also looking at helium."
Her eyes widened with surprise. Alice obviously preferred smarts to looks or charm. Al, well, he could offer any of the three.
"You were at NASA? Did you work operations or were you in the space program? What was it like?"
Al grinned inwardly. "I'd love to tell you. Do you mind if we grab a table?"
. . .
After nearly an hour of conversation touching on subjects ranging from subatomic particles to missions to Mars, Al saw his opportunity approaching from the corner of his eye. Senator McKellen and his entourage arrived at their table.
"Alice, my dear," said the older man. "Your mother has been looking for you. What have you been up to?"
Alice stood from her seat, along with Al. "Dad, I'd like you to meet someone. This is Admiral Al Calavicci."
Al extended his hand. "It's a pleasure, Sir."
The senator's lips remained pressed. His eyes scanned every inch of Al's uniform in the time it took to return the handshake. Al didn't blame the man. He had a beautiful daughter.
"Al used to fly missions for NASA," Alice said. "He's on the space station project."
"Ah, a fellow scientist," the senator replied. The smile never reached his eyes. "I hope Alice hasn't been talking your ear off all this time."
"Not at all," said Al. He hesitated, knowing it was the only chance he would have. "In fact, I was just about to mention a side project that I've been working on. Star Bright. Have you heard of it, Senator?"
McKellen raised his eyebrows, the only indication of surprise. "I'm vaguely familiar with the name. It hasn't come across my desk for review."
Al knew for a fact McKellen knew more about the project than he was letting on. The promises were big, if the technology came through. Better, smaller, faster computers capable of networking and building a collective data base, making every unit a smarter version of itself without the need for updating hardware or software. The military applications alone were worth the investment. He hoped the hook was sharp enough to catch McKellen's interest.
"If you're interested, sir," said Al, "I'd like to fill you in on some details."
McKellen nodded. "Why don't you give my office a call. Have my assistant set up a meeting."
"Thank you, Senator. I'll do it tomorrow morning."
McKellen gave Al one last look before turning to his daughter. "Go see to your mother, dear. Don't keep her worried." He nodded at Al and was gone as quickly as he came, disappearing into the crowd that surrounded him.
After bidding goodbye to Alice, Al finally allowed himself to relax the tension in his shoulders. He was on the path to saving the project, and the more than 200 people who depended on it for their jobs. The fact that the senator was a ruthless businessman and politician didn't bother him. Back in his circus days, he had once sold a terminally ill elephant to a traveling salesman who was trying to sell him a vacuum cleaner. Freddy, the ringmaster, said if he could do that, then he could sell anything. He just had to work on his pitch very, very carefully. He was about to light a celebratory cigar when he felt a familiar hand on his shoulder.
"You old dog! I can't believe it. Do you know how many people have tried and utterly failed to get in with the old man?" Chris asked with a grin. "Thousands. No, probably tens of thousands."
"It was no big deal," said Al with mock nonchalance. He rocked on the balls of his feet. "Nice girl, though."
"Too good for you, huh?" Chris bantered back, pointing out the obvious empty space beside him.
"Nope," Al countered with a grin. "Too good for her."
He was reasonably sure he could have gotten the younger woman to spend the night with him, but he wasn't feeling up to much of anything tonight. He would've usually welcomed the thought, if only to feel a warm body on the other side of the bed. He couldn't pinpoint what was bothering him exactly. It was something about the city; the every-man-for-himself boxing arena was really starting to wear on him.
Chris rolled his eyes. "Right, well, speaking of too good for you, I have someone I want you to meet. Now, she's the wife of a friend, so don't get any ideas, okay? But she says she was former Navy and stationed in San Diego for a while. Isn't that where you were, back in '68 or something?"
Al looked up from the lighter he was playing with. "Yeah, I was stationed there twice, actually. The women in California are a whole different breed." He grinned, enjoying the back and forth with Chris.
Chris looked at him sternly.
"Okay, okay," he said, motioning with his hands. "No ideas. Just conversation. I promise I'll behave."
Al decided it wouldn't hurt to at least try to be more social. By the rate he was going, he'd need a whole new set of friends to ask for favors soon.
Chris led him towards the middle of the ballroom. They walked up behind a stunning figure standing in a blue silk dress with a plunging back. Her dark brown hair was in an elegant updo. She had a hand on her chest, and was leaning forward with laughter. The people standing next to her were chuckling at the same joke.
Chris tapped her on the shoulder. She turned around, still smiling. "Oh hi, Chris," she said. "You just missed the story of the party."