Quantum Backstep Part 1

By: Robin Margolin

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

You’re about to be let in on the most highly classified data America holds. We have a device that will allow us to send one human being back in time seven days.

 

Never Neverland, Nevada

Friday, February 11, 2000

 

“Come on buddy, up and at ‘em,” Craig Donovan shook Frank Parker by the shoulder. “We’re on full alert, intell should be rolling in 5 minutes.”

 “What happened? Did some bomb go off somewhere?” yawned Parker covering his eyes to the harsh light shining off of the bare white military walls of his quarters in Never Neverland.

Donovan’s eyes lit up in surprise. “How do you always know what’s going on?” he asked his friend.

“I was kidding,” groaned Parker. “Did something really go boom?”

“Talmadge called for everyone in the briefing room in 5 minutes. Get some pants on, Frank,” was Donovan’s only reply.

After the briefing was over, Parker sat at his computer reviewing the schematics of the sphere. Backstepping was hard enough but landing the sphere right where he took off from was going to be tricky. He’d only done it once before, a backstep he’d rather forget. The NSA was cutting this one close. Two days were already past since the explosion. The next day, when the time to leave came, he was suited up, data wafer in place and sealed into his time sphere. 

“Reactor at 90 percent, all systems ready. Reactor at 95 percent, control to manual. Reactor at 100 percent, good luck, Mr. Parker. Engage!”

The kick of the time sphere beginning its ascent into space always exhilarated and nauseated Frank Parker simultaneously. He watched the days count back: Saturday, Friday, Thursday, Wednesday, Tuesday, Monday, Sunday. As the sphere began its descent, Frank felt a strange sensation on his skin like static electricity mixed with someone walking over his grave. He pushed it aside and concentrated on controlling the entry point for the sphere. The feeling grew. ‘I’m definitely going to have to talk to Ballard about this.’ Frank thought as he was engulfed in a blue light.

 

**********************************

 

Theorizing that one could travel within his own lifetime, Dr. Sam Beckett stepped into the Quantum Accelerator and vanished. He awoke to find himself trapped in the past, facing mirror images that were not his own and driven by an unknown force to change history for the better. His only guide on this journey is Al, an observer from his own time who appears in the form of a hologram that only Sam can see and hear. And so Dr. Beckett finds himself leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong, and hoping each time that his next leap will be the leap home.

 

Sam Beckett had gotten accustomed to finding himself in strange surroundings but nothing prepared him for finding himself at the controls of a space ship. His body ached, blood mixed with sweat was dripping from his face and he had a pounding headache. The engine of the vehicle turned off automatically and Sam began looking for the exit. Suddenly the hexagonal hatch opened and a woman began to speak to him.

“Are you all right, Mr. Parker?” The words were English, but the accent was Russian. Had Sam leaped in during the cold war again, he wondered. “Here, let me help you out of that.” the woman continued as she unbuckled the safety straps that were holding Sam in the seat.

“I’ll be fine in a minute,” Sam said. Then he passed out cold.

 

 

CHAPTER 1

 

Sunday, February 6, 2000

Never Neverland

 

“Frank? Frank?”

Sam heard a voice calling as he came back to consciousness. A black man in army fatigues was standing over him looking very worried. “Man, Frank, you scared me for a bit there,” Craig Donovan said as he helped Sam sit up. He was laying in a hospital bed with cardiac electrodes attached to his chest and a pounding headache.

“Oh, I’m OK,” Sam responded, “Thanks, aahh...Donovan.” Sam read the name off the fatigue shirt and hoped it was right.

Donovan smiled, “What the hell were you doing, ruining my weekend? You owe me a beer, buddy.”

“Sure thing,” Sam said. Just once he would like to not feel clueless at the start of a leap.

“Not so fast. After four hours unconscious, Mr. Parker has at least one more physical before I release him,” said the Russian accented woman. She was about 5’7” and had auburn hair, alabaster skin and flashing green eyes.

“Ah, come on, Olga, have a heart.” Donovan teased. She frowned at him.

“O.K. O.K.,” he relented-- hands up in surrender. “Frank, I leave you to Dr. Vukovitch’s tender mercies,” Donovan said as he walked out of the door.

“Now that you are awake, Mr. Parker, let’s have a more complete exam,” Dr. Olga Vukovitch said as she snapped on latex gloves.

All Sam could think was ‘Oh, Boy!’

 

*******************

 

Stallion’s Gate, New Mexico

 

“Now this just isn’t fair,” Admiral Albert Calavicci was fuming. “I have a guest passed out cold in the waiting room, the imaging chamber is off line and Ziggy won’t talk to me!”

“Oh, I’ll talk to you, Admiral,” the rich alto of Quantum Leap’s Artificial Intelligence (Ziggy’s) voice echoed in the control room, “I just don’t have anything to tell you.”

“Where’s Sam?” demanded Al.

 “I regret to inform you,” Ziggy began, “that Dr. Beckett’s whereabouts are currently unknown.”

“I need a drink,” Al groaned.

 

**********************

 

“I need a drink,” groaned Frank Parker as he sat himself up. He was staring at four sterile white walls in a room with no discernable door. The only furniture in the room was the hospital-like gurney he sat on. This had been Frank’s second thought on returning to consciousness. The first was that the aliens had reclaimed their sphere and taken him prisoner. His flight suit was missing, replaced with a white body suit and the bar-coded tattoo on his arm was gone.  

 

**************************

Neverland

 

Having been determined to be “relatively undamaged” by Dr. Vukovitch, Sam was released from the infirmary and escorted to his quarters with the orders to get some rest “while Talmadge and Ramsey look over the data wafer”. ‘Whatever that means,’ Sam thought. The pounding in his head had dulled a bit and he needed a shower. 

As he helped himself to some clothes, he caught sight of himself in a mirror. A handsome man in his early thirties with dark brown hair and eyes looked back at him. “Hello, Frank Parker.” He waved to the reflection and noticed the bar-coded tattoo on his forearm. Now dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, Sam sat down at Frank’s computer and began to learn all he could about Frank Parker. “It’s February 6th,” Sam noted by looking at the clock on the computer screen, “Two Thousand!” Sam’s heart jumped in his chest. “I’ve leaped into the future!”

Sam was still in front of the computer an hour or so later when Donovan knocked on his door.

“What happened in the other timeline?” Donovan asked. 

Sam just looked at him, puzzled.

“I guess I’m about to find out,” Donovan shrugged. “Talmadge wants everyone in the briefing room ASAP.”

“Coming,” Sam said as he followed Donovan out the door.

In the briefing room, Sam began forming theories about where and who he was. He knew his name was Frank Parker and that the others around the table were coworkers of his in some military instillation called Never Neverland. The pretty Russian was Olga Vukovitch, some kind of doctor. The soldier, Donovan, called the G-man type in the cheap suit Ramsey and the balding bespectacled man in the wheelchair with the lollipop he called Ballard. A rather formal looking middle-aged man with a beard had called the briefing to order. Sam assumed him to be Talmadge, the one who had called the meeting.

“Let’s get up to speed on this folks,” Talmadge called for the briefing to begin.

“Shouldn’t we wait for Dr. Mentnor?” Olga questioned. The name ‘Mentnor’ got Sam’s attention.

“Isaac reviewed the data wafer as he downloaded it. He’s checking with his contacts about some scenarios,” Talmadge informed them. A hole in Sam’s Swiss cheesed brain began to twitch at him. “Frank?”

“Umm, what? Oh… sorry... I was...er...” Sam stalled and prayed for Al to appear in the Imaging Room and give him some information.

Olga chimed in, “What did the data wafer have on it?”

Thank you Olga,’ Sam thought.

Bradley Talmadge brought up the projection screen and began storytelling. “According to the data collected in the other timeline” ‘Timeline?’ Sam pondered. “In five days a government installation at Stallion’s Gate, New Mexico will explode, killing 287 people....”

Sam became aware of a heavy pain in his chest and suddenly felt nauseated.

“… of the joint congressional finance committee.” Talmadge was continuing, “The project instillation”

“Quantum Leap” Sam supplied, accidentally aloud.

“Yes, Quantum Leap,” Talmadge confirmed. “It appears that someone set a bomb off inside the facility.”

Sam sat transfixed by the image on the projection screen of Stallion’s Gate, his home for so many years, its top blown off-- looking like a smoking volcano. The photographs of four well-dressed people replaced the image.

“This is Senator Helene Mercer-Fuld, Congressmen Angelo Martinelli, Benjamin Fisher and Garrett Ho.” Talmadge supplied, pointing to each picture in turn.

“The committee members?” Donovan questioned.

 Bradley nodded and went on. The image changed yet again to a middle-aged Naval officer in uniform. “This is” Bradley began.

“Al” Sam interrupted softly.

All eyes in the room turn to him. “Admiral Albert Calavicci, the administrative head of Project Quantum Leap,” Sam expanded; his eyes bright with unshed tears.

“And the only way we have of getting in, in order to stop this from happening,” Bradley continued, “This is not just about the people in Stallion’s Gate.  The power source of the facility is nuclear and when it blew last time...”

“The radiation took out most of the southern United States and northern Mexico,” Sam finished Talmadge’s thought. 

“Yes,” Bradley retook the floor.  “Now, as a military officer, despite his current assignment, Calavicci can be ordered to fall under our jurisdiction for National Security. I’d like to get our people into the security force over there, tighten it up. Nate,” he turned to Ramsey, “I need fifty of your best.”

“Got it,” Ramsey said.

 “That’s not the way in,” an elderly voice said from the doorway. Isaac Mentnor entered the room looking grim. Sam looked at him with Frank Parker’s eyes. Isaac had aged well in the twenty years since he had been Sam Beckett’s physics professor at M.I.T. He had been fascinated by Sam’s time travel theory.

“...icci is eccentric but runs a tight unit. He won’t take kindly to commando tactics at his base.” Isaac was saying. “I’ve just been on the phone with a former student of mine who works at Quantum Leap. I’ve got an invitation. I’ll take Craig and Frank with me. Between the three of us we can do the reconnaissance.”

Bradley chewed this over for a moment before agreeing. 

“While you do that,” Talmadge continued, “Nate and I will get a command base set up at Socorro. It’s not enough to stop this bombing, people, we also need to catch the bomber.”

“It’s about 400 miles to Socorro,” noted Nate Ramsey. 

“Which is why we need to begin moving out as quickly as we can,” finished Bradley.

“I don’t think Mr. Parker is up to an 8 hour car trip,” piped up Olga.

“You are still looking a bit pale, Frank.” Ballard added.

Sam began to protest when Craig came to his rescue.

“Why don’t I bring Isaac and Frank by helicopter?” he offered. “It’ll take about 3 hours in the air.”

Bradley considered this for a moment and then agreed.

“We’ll leave in the morning,” said Isaac.

 

 

CHAPTER 2

 

Stallion’s Gate

 

A hidden door slid open and Frank Parker watched expectantly, interested to see whom, or what would come through it.

An attractive coffee-skinned woman entered and said, “Hello, my name is Verbena Beeks. I’m sure you’re quite confused by all this.” Verbena offered her hand to Frank to shake.

 “Lady, I don’t know what happened but you look human enough,” Frank stood but refused the extended hand. Verbena retracted her hand.

“Were you expecting something else?” the psychiatrist questioned. Before Frank could answer, they were interrupted by a man in a lime green suit entering the room.

“What have you got for me, Verbena?” he inquired.

“Not much I’m afraid, Admiral,” was the reply. Parker snapped to attention on hearing the rank and saluted Al.  Al used this to his advantage.

“Name, rank and branch,” he barked at Frank.

“Parker, Francis B., Lieutenant Special Ops., Sir.” [Where the hell did that come from, Parker thought.]

“At ease, Parker,” Al allowed. Frank relaxed.

“Permission to speak freely, sir?” Frank asked.

“Yeah, sure,” Al replied as he sent Verbena to Ziggy with Parker’s name and instructions to search military archives. Together the two men watched as Verbena sashayed out of the room.

“Nice” muttered Frank.

“Yeah” Al sighed. The men regarded each other for a moment, assessing body language.

“Admiral, I’ve got a ton of questions beginning with: Where am I and what did you do with the sphere?” began Frank.

“Sphere?” Al questioned before he caught himself. Then he changed the subject. “Nice to meet you, Parker. I’m Al Calavicci.”

“Frank”

“Frank,” Al began, “before I answer your questions I have a couple of my own.”

“R.H.I.P. Admiral,” replied Frank, “You go first.”

“What’s the last thing you remember before waking up here?”

“Wishing I’d kissed Olga good-bye,” answered Frank wryly. Looking for more useful information Al asked, “What is today’s date?”

“It’s February twelfth.” A fog began lifting in Frank’s brain. He looked at Al as if really seeing him for the first time. “You’re Admiral Calavicci,” he stated. Al just nodded.

“Then I made it,” Frank realized sotto vocci.

Noting that comment in his head and wondering where the Guest thought he had ‘made it’ to, Al moved on and asked the most important question. “What year is it?”

“It’s two thousand.” Frank answered. Then he noticed the man’s quickly covered expression.

“Admiral?”

Al hoped the horror he was feeling wasn’t showing on his face. Parker said that he is in the year 2000. That’s the first time Sam has leaped beyond when he stepped into the Accelerator Chamber that first time.

“Al, I’m currently attached to the N.S.A.,” Frank continued. “Is there a phone here I can use?”

Before Al could answer Ziggy’s disembodied voice called out to him. “Admiral, I have something you should see.”

“Coming,” Al responded to the air. Then to Frank he said, “I’ll be back.”

And Frank found himself alone again, with no information and his frustration rising.

 

******************

 

“What have you got for me, Ziggy?” Al asked as he was entering the Control Center.

“Frank Parker is at Hanson Island Psychiatric Prison.” Ziggy supplied.

“WHAT!?!”

“That’s the most recent thing we can find on him,” Beeks added. “Here’s the more complete biography.” She pointed Al to one of Ziggy’s multiple viewscreens. It said:

 

Parker, Francis B.   

Born: 1967, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Education: 1989 - B.S. Biology, University of Virginia.

Background: Former Navy SEAL, CIA Spec Ops Division.

Personal Information: Divorced, one son age 8.

Parker was remanded to the Division of Mental Services in

South Carolina after experiencing violent paranoid tendencies

during operations in Somalia. 

 

“Oh, I’ve got to get to Sam,” Al started. “Gooshie, bring up the Imaging Chamber and get me to Sam, NOW.” Al almost bellowed the last word.

“I regret to tell you, Admiral, that the Imaging Chamber remains offline,” Ziggy almost pouted.

“Well, keep working on it!” ordered Al.

Al’s shouting still ringing in the air, the door to the Control Center opened to admit Dr. Donna Elesee. “Is there a problem, Al?” she asked softly.

“The Imaging Chamber is still offline, Dr. Elesee. I’m working on it,” answered Irving Gershowitz, QL’s Alpha Techno Geek, better known as Gooshie.

“I’m sure Sam’s fine,” Al lied to Donna.

“In that case, you might want to, er... freshen up,” suggested Donna. “Company’s coming,” she reminded him.

As Al walked to his quarters to change his clothes his mind raced. ‘A psychiatric ward. No wonder this Parker thinks it’s next week. He’s nuts.

 

 

Neverland

 

Back in Frank’s quarters, Sam got busy searching Frank’s PC again about his mission and his coworkers. The data he found on the bombing was disturbing in several ways. First, the date of February 10th indicated an event that hadn’t even happened yet. Second, the phrase “Backstep” was used several times. What did that mean, exactly? And finally, just the idea of his Project being blown to bits was unnerving. In the process of researching past mission files to try to uncover the meaning of ‘Backstep’, he stumbled across the personal journal of Frank B. Parker. As Sam got comfortable for a long computer session he wondered when his holographic Observer would show himself.

 

********************

 

 

Stallion’s Gate

 

Al was very busy hosting a dinner party for members of the joint congressional finance committee. God, how he hated these things but he had to keep the funding for the project. If Quantum Leap was forced to close down, then Sam would never be able to leap back home, and that was totally unacceptable to Al.  So in dress uniform, the Admiral was wining and dining senators, congressmen and their aides. At his side was Dr. Donna Elesee, the lead quantum physicist of the project. She was with him for three reasons tonight. First, Donna could explain the most technical of details of the project in plain English. Second, she was a damn sight better to look at then he was. And Third and most importantly, Donna was the ever-present reminder of what and who they all have to lose if they were to shut down. She was Mrs. Sam Beckett.

 

**********************

 

 

Frank hated cells. He’s been in too many of them. Finding a way out was all Frank could think about all night. He wondered, ‘why hadn’t Al sent Verbena Beeks back to interrogate him further but rather armed guards?  Just how he was going to rush the door when it never opened with warning?  But no matter what, he was going to find a way to get out.

 

CHAPTER 3

Monday, February 7, 2000

 

Ziggy’s soft alto purred softly to Al at 0500. “Admiral, the Imaging Chamber is online but I can’t say for how long.”

“I’m on my way,” Al replied. 

 

Neverland

 

The leaping process and its unfortunate memory loss side effect had taken its toll on Sam Beckett. Real time had stopped for him that day in 1995 when he stepped into the quantum accelerator and vanished into the past. There was no tomorrow, no New Year’s Eve, no real concept of ‘the present’. For Sam, the present was wherever and whenever he was.

Sam had spent the entire night reading about Project Backstep and its chrononaut Frank Parker. It read like bad science fiction but was undeniably real. Using alien technology salvaged from the Roswell crash, the USA built a time machine with a one-week limitation and has been using it to stop terrible events from happening. ‘Just like I make right what once went wrong.’ thought Sam.

“Nice cell,” a familiar voice spoke from the doorway.

“Al!” Sam all but shouted. “Where have you been?” Sam assessed his friend's image and said, “You look like hell.”

“Thanks, Sam” Al returned after looking down at his rumpled bathrobe. “It’s good to see you, too. The Imaging Chamber has been offline and I don’t know how long it will stay up so we’ve got to talk fast.”

“Al, I’m at a secret government facility....”

“I know Sam, we’ve done some research on Parker. By the way, that’s you.” Al used the handlink to point to Sam.

“Frank Parker, chrononaut extraordinaire,” Sam said with glee.

“Frank Parker, nutso inmate is more like it,” said Al.  “Ziggy is still running scenarios so you’ll have to play this by ear.” The hologram was beginning to degrade. “Just be careful, Sam.”

Sam nodded. “But, Al ...” he called.

“I’ll be back, Sam. Gooshie, I thought you fixed this thing.” Al was saying as he faded away.

“...I’m in the future.” Sam finished to the empty room.

 

 

Stallion’s Gate

 

“Gooshie, I thought you fixed this thing.” Al was saying as he left the Imaging Chamber for the Control Center.

“I ... I … I did Admiral,” Gooshie finally got out indignantly. “It just fried a circuit board for no reason,” he continued from under the imaging matrix control station. “I’ll have it up and running again as soon as I replace it,” Gooshie promised.

 

 

********************

 

 Frank Parker was on his 253rd push-up when Verbena Beeks entered the room around 0800.

“How are you this morning?” she inquired cautiously.

“I’m fine, beautiful,” he replied as he stood up. “And how are you?” he asked turning on the Parker charm. Beeks had left the door open and the guard outside.

“Oh, just fine. I was wondering ...”

“If we could have coffee together?” Frank finished quickly. “I’d love to.”

“O.K.,” Verbena agreed after some consideration. Turning to signal to the guard, Verbena found herself pushed aside as Frank rushed the door. He hit the guard in a flying tackle and the guard’s head hit the floor knocking him out cold. Taking his gun, Frank ran off down the corridor in search of a phone.

 

************************

 

Al and Tina were having coffee in the mess hall when the general alarm sounded. Tapping the communicator on his wrist Al asked, “Gooshie, what happened?”

“Admiral,” Gooshie’s voice answered back, “We have a major programming problem with Ziggy and the Guest has escaped the Waiting Room.” He sounded panicked.

“Dammit!” Al said. “Sorry, Tina,” he called over his shoulder as he hurried from the room.

 

**********************

 

Neverland

 

Sam was in awe of everything he had read about Project Backstep on Frank’s PC. It was an engineering and scientific masterpiece created largely by Isaac Mentnor and John Ballard, the engineering wizard whose talents rivaled Gooshie’s.   Sam had long wondered why there was a deep man-made cave in a mesa at Stallion Gate. At first he had surmised that it was the result of a nuclear test, but it had obviously been dug, then abandoned in favor of the Nevada site for Never Neverland, long before Sam found it and realized this was the place to build his quantum accelerator. The history of Project Backstep also explained why the government placed Quantum Leap under ‘military protection’ and was only too happy to let Dr. Beckett have the military liaison he requested, Admiral Al Calavicci.

Heading out for an early morning run to clear his head and refresh his thoughts, Sam met up with Olga Vukovitch who was dressed in a tracksuit.

“Going for an early run, Mr. Parker?” Olga asked. Something in her tone gave Sam the definite impression she was miffed at something.

 

“Yeah, I thought I’d work off some of this nervous energy,” Sam hoped his answer sounded lighthearted enough.

“Well you’re late. We always run at 6 a.m. and it is now 6:20. We will have to cut our run short if we are going to take off on time.”

“Sorry, I ... ah ... forgot.” Sam stammered. “Shall we?” And the two ran off into the sunrise.

About four miles later the two runners took a short break for some water. Sam, winded and sweating, perched himself on a large rock staring out into the brush that surrounded Never Neverland while he tried not to guzzle the entire contents of the water bottle at once. Olga walked in circles while sipping at her bottle. 

Ja mnogo bi dala uznat’ chto ti sebe dumaesh’ (A penny for your thoughts),” Olga startled Sam.

Sam Beckett speaks seven languages fluently; unfortunately Russian is not one of them. ‘Does Frank speak Russian?’ he wondered silently. Then aloud he said, “Sorry, I didn’t get much sleep last night.”

“Was there anything in particular keeping you awake?” Olga asked.

As Sam watched the woman’s pale skin glowing in the morning sun he realized, ‘She’s flirting with me’. He weighed his options and decided on the better part of valor.

“I was wondering if Talmadge and Ramsey had the remote site up and running yet,” he said.

“And this kept you up last night?” she shook her head. “U menya i bez etogo zabot polon rot! (I can think of better reasons to lose sleep!),” she mumbled as she started her run back to the complex.

After a shower and a quick change of clothes, Sam met up with Mentnor, Donovan and Vukovitch. The four had a light preflight breakfast and took off at the pre-scheduled 0800. Whether it was the all-nighter at the computer, the eight mile run or the soft rhythmical whoop, whoop, whoop of the helicopter blades is uncertain, but which-ever it was caused Sam Beckett to fall fast asleep ten minutes after takeoff.

 

Temporary HQ, Socorro, New Mexico

 

In Socorro, Sam and Craig Donovan were assigned the same hotel room and had stowed their gear when Isaac knocked on their door.

“Ready?” the older man asked.

“Yup,” answered Donovan.

“If you don’t mind, Dr. Mentnor, I’d like to drive,” Sam said.

Although slightly surprised, Isaac agreed.

“Just don’t get any speeding tickets, Frank,” joked Donovan.

The drive was refreshing for Sam.  I’d forgotten how beautiful the desert is’ he thought as he drove the car south through the small town of San Antonio, New Mexico.

A few miles later Craig Donovan tried to start a conversation. “Just what is Project Quantum Leap? I mean, what does it do?” Craig asked.

Before Isaac could answer, Sam started running off at the mouth.

“Quantum Leap is based on the theory that if one can accelerate his atoms to a fast enough speed he can travel to any time in his life.” Sam looked back at Craig in the rearview mirror. Seeing a perplexed face, he continued,  “Consider a piece of string. Hold it at one end and let it hang. That represents the life of a person, birth to death. Now take that string and scrunch it up in your hand. See how many parts of it can touch at any time. That’s quantum acceleration theory,” Sam concluded.

The silence in the car was deafening.

Oh, boy, what have I said?’ he thought.

Isaac Mentnor looked quizzically over at him. “I’ve only heard the string theory explained so well by one other person. He was a graduate student of mine. I had hoped to persuade him to come work with me at Neverland but it was not to be.”

“What happened, Isaac?” asked Craig.

“His heart was way too committed to his dream. I felt it unfair to ask him to help me fulfill mine instead.” Isaac sighed.

“Is that who we’re going to meet?” Craig asked.

“No, Dr. Beckett is … otherwise occupied now,” said Isaac swallowing hard.

Another silence filled the car.

“Anyone want some music?” Sam offered, hoping to lighten the trip.

 

CHAPTER 4

Stallion’s Gate

 

After putting the base on intruder alert and reinforcing the Taser-only rule, Al set out to find Gooshie. He expected the computer genius to be in the Control Center but he wasn’t. Instead Gooshie was outside the Imaging Chamber, circuit boards strewn around and a laptop wired in to the motherboard imbedded in the wall.

“So, what’s up, Gooshie?” Al called out to the techie-guru.

“Shhhh,” Gooshie warned.

“Why shhhhh?” Al asked.

“I don’t want her to hear us.” Gooshie looked around nervously.

“Her who?” Al demanded in a whisper.

“Ziggy,” the techie said. “She’ll cut off my bypass if she finds out what I’m doing.”

“What are you doing? And what’s with the laptop?”

“While running a diagnostic on the imaging chamber I came across a hidden subroutine. It is why the Imaging Chamber is offline or rather why Ziggy is keeping the Imaging Chamber offline. I can bypass it for just a few seconds using the laptop, I think.” Gooshie finished.

“Let’s do it,” Al volunteered as he stepped into the Imaging Chamber. 

Gooshie began typing furiously on the laptop and after a confirming nod from Al, pressed enter.

Instantly the room around him dissolved and was replaced by the inside of a car and the sound of Clint Black singing. Al looked around for Sam; he was driving. No sooner had Al opened his mouth to talk to Sam, the image cut off.

“What the hell happened?” Al roared at Gooshie as he marched out of the room.

“I’m sorry, Admiral Calavicci. The Imaging Chamber is not online.” Ziggy’s voice responded to him.

Al stomped off to the Control Center to have it out with Ziggy.

 

****************************

 

Why Frank knew he had to get to a phone was hazy, but he knew he needed to call in to ... to … “Damn,” he swore to himself. The memory was just out of reach. What Frank did remember was the schematic of Quantum Leap that he studied before the backstep and had used that for three hours or so, to elude capture by the M.P.’s on his trail.

He made his way carefully to the staff quarters and went through a door bearing the name Christina Martinez-O’Farrell. The quarters were incredibly pink and frilly, Frank noted. There was a picture on the dresser of two young women, one in a cheerleader outfit, pink and purple pompoms waving, the other looking off into space. Sisters, Frank assumed due to the resemblance between the girls. In a second photograph, the same two girls, one in a graduation cap and gown, the other in army fatigues, were posed with an older couple that Frank presumed to be their parents. On the bedside table was another picture of the cheerleader, this time dressed in a bikini and laughing with a swimsuited Admiral Calavicci.

Behind this picture was the phone.

On autopilot Frank lifted the receiver and dialed. “Conundrum,” Frank said to the communications officer.

 

*********************

Temporary HQ, Socorro

 

“Sir,” the communications officer paged into Bradley’s makeshift office, “I have Conundrum on line 3.”

Bradley Talmadge looked up from his conversation with Olga Vukovitch. She volunteered to check with the flight center in Nevada to see if the sphere was gone. She returned a moment later and confirmed what Bradley had known, the sphere was still there and Frank had left with Craig and Isaac 10 minutes ago.

“Bradley Talmadge,” he barked into the phone.

“Conundrum,” repeated Frank in Sam Beckett’s voice.

“Who are you?” Talmadge demanded.  

The only answer was a buzzing sound followed by a low moan, a thud and then the line went dead.  The call was way too short to trace, but Talmadge did so anyway, his mind racing. To say he was concerned was the understatement of the year. He just hoped his team had reached PQL to solve this quickly.

 

*******************

Stallion’s Gate

 

Al strode down the hall purposefully toward the Control Center. He had been sidetracked from his talk with Ziggy by news from the security chief that the guest had been caught in Tina’s quarters, by Tina. Al had gone to check on her first. She was fine and very glad now that he had insisted on EVERYONE being armed during an intruder search. Rather than argue with Al, Tina had accepted the day off he offered saying something about lunch with her sister in town.

As he turned around a corner, Al almost collided head on with Donna Elesee.

“Whoa, hey Al, where’s the fire?” the physicist questioned the admiral.

“Under Ziggy as soon as I light it,” came the miffed reply.

“Is this the Imaging Chamber problem again?” Donna asked. Al nodded. “I thought this might happen someday. I knew I was right to write that subroutine for Sam.”

 Al’s eyes opened so wide he thought they might pop.

“You wrote the hidden subroutine that is keeping the Imaging Chamber offline.” Al couldn’t decide whether to be angry or relieved. “What is it and what does it do?” he asked.

“It’s a time paradox fail-safe routine,” Donna began.

“A pair of who?” questioned Al.

“A time paradox fail-safe routine,” Donna repeated. “Think of it as protection for the future. In theory Sam can travel anywhere within his own lifetime. Some of that lifetime will extend, hopefully, beyond Project Quantum Leap.” Donna watched Al to see if she had lost him.

“Go on,” he prodded.

“It is too dangerous for each of us to know our own futures, so if Sam ever leaped into either our future or within 3 months of our past, I programmed Ziggy to follow his progress but keep the Imaging Chamber offline,” Donna ended.

“But what if he needs us? I don’t want him to feel like I’ve abandoned him.”

“Ziggy won’t let anything too dangerous go down without telling us, Al.  This was Sam’s order, just like not telling him what he doesn’t remember about us,” Donna reminded Al.  The pain in her voice was very evident.

“Dr. Elesee?” Ziggy’s voice called out to her.

“Yes, I’m here.”

“Dr. Elesee, there are people here to see you on level one,” Ziggy told Donna.

“Thank you, Ziggy.” Donna acknowledged the computer. “I know how frustrating this is for you,” Donna said softly to her friend.

Al swallowed down the lump in his throat. He knew how hard this was on her. “Go on,” he smiled weakly at her, “you have people waiting.”

 

 

Stallion’s Gate

 

While Sam, Craig and Isaac waited at the reception area, Sam was trying desperately to fill in the holes in his swisscheesed brain. He knew this place as well as the farm in Indiana, the faces; the voices all stirred up warm memories for him. But just on the outside of all these warm memories, an uncomfortable yearning pulled at him.

Isaac Mentnor was also lost in thought. ‘How could I have let all these years go by without calling her?’ he chastised himself.

“Dr. Mentnor?” her warm voice called him from his thoughts. He stood to greet her.

“Donna Elesee, how have you been, my dear?”

“Isaac, it’s good to see you. You’re just as handsome as ever,” Donna said as she embraced her former professor.

“I heard about what happened to your husband, Donna. I’m so sorry.” Isaac extended his condolences as the embrace ended.

“Thank you, Isaac. I’m fine,” she responded automatically.

Two men stood up behind Isaac and he turned to introduce them. “Dr. Donna Elesee, this is Craig Donovan.”

 Donna extended her hand. “Nice to meet you,” she said.

“Same here,” came Donovan’s reply as they shook hands.

“And this is Frank Parker.” Isaac introduced the other man.

 Donna began to extend her hand to Parker as she had greeted Donovan and stopped cold. She looked into the face of Frank Parker and something inside her went PING.  She stared into his eyes and felt as if she could see his soul; a loving man with a sensual laugh and a desire began in her she hadn’t felt in years.

Sam looked at Donna and froze. He had never believed in the myth of love at first sight, until now. He met her eyes and fell into them willingly. She was exciting, sexy and oh, so beautiful.

He wanted to stare into those eyes forever. A soft poke from Donovan returned Sam to his senses and the realization that he had a job to do, stop a bomber. He willed himself to pull back his gaze and spoke the first words that came into his mind.

“If I had met you when I was an undergrad, college wouldn’t have been so lonely.”

As soon as the words left his lips Sam wondered where they came from.  He watched Donna’s features harden. Her gaze, soft and inviting a second ago was now cold and distant.  Sam instantly felt guilty and slightly embarrassed.

“Mr. Parker,” she both acknowledged and dismissed him with a nod.

Turning to Isaac Donna began the standard “Welcome to Quantum Leap” speech she had given the congressional party yesterday. Before she got too far she was interrupted by a request for the ‘head’ as Donovan put it.

“Why don’t you and Dr. Elesee get started, Isaac.” Sam suggested after Donna indicated where the tour would begin. “I’ll wait for Donovan and catch up to you.  Part of him wanted to follow the woman anywhere, but he forced himself to focus on his job.

“Good idea, Frank.” Isaac said. “They can’t get too lost, now can they, Donna?” he pushed her gently to his point of view.

“Sure, Isaac. This way.” Donna placed her hand on Isaac’s elbow and led him off down the corridor, happy to put distance between herself and that disturbing man called Frank Parker. 

Walking arm in arm with her mentor, Donna prattled on about the history of Quantum Leap, contributions by other scientists, basics of computer technology; the usual ‘visiting dignitary’ tour guide script. Her mouth worked independently of her brain. Her brain was busy with self- flagellation and anger about the way Frank Parker had affected her mixed with guilt about betraying Sam like that. ‘What would make him choose those words?’ she wondered.

Isaac allowed Donna to continue mindlessly on with the scripted tour for two very different reasons. First, it allowed him to separate her from Parker and Donovan, giving them free rein within the compound. Secondly, Isaac could see how rattled Parker’s come-on had made her and made a mental note of her reaction.

 

 

CHAPTER 5

 

As soon as Isaac had taken Donna out of sight, Craig and Sam made their move. The two men quickly strided up the main passageway through the heart of Quantum Leap chatting as they moved to avoid suspicious looks.

“I’ve seen you hit on women before, Frank, but what the hell was that? ‘College wouldn’t have been so lonely’?” Donovan kidded the Parker persona. “You were the biggest party animal that U.V. ever saw.”

 Sam shrugged. “It sounded good at the time,” he said, hoping against hope he'd hidden his embarrassment and sounded like Parker. The former Navy SEALS had mapped out their search pattern in advance and separated on level three. Donovan headed to the parking facility where the remains of the primary trigger bomb had been found. Sam was supposed to be going to the power plant where the secondary but more deadly explosion had occurred (was to occur?) but instead his gut drew him down to level ten and the Control Center.

 

********************

 

A short time later, Isaac and Donna came upon a small ‘break room’. Donna had begun to explain ‘string theory’ when Isaac felt it was time to take action.

“Donna” he interrupted her train of thought.

“Yes? Oh,” Donna suddenly realized what she had been saying. “I’m sorry, Isaac. You of all people don’t need Quantum Acceleration theory explained.” Seeing that they were in front of a break room, she invited him in for a cup of tea. Isaac smiled as he accepted. It was time to truly get caught up with his former pupil.

After they had been seated Isaac waited for Donna to start.

“I’m so caught up in these finance committee meetings I sometimes forget who’s heard what part of which speech,” she tried to laugh it off.

“That’s all right, my dear,” Isaac said as he patted her hand. “Are you really ‘fine’? I’m sure it’s difficult on both of you being separated like this.”

“It is and it isn’t,” Donna explained.   “One of the unforeseen problems we encountered with the first leap is an amnesia effect. Admiral Calavicci refers to it as ‘Swiss cheesed brain’.” Donna smiled. “There are huge gaps in memory with no pattern, rhyme or reason. Sam doesn’t remember me at all,” she added sadly. “ I’m aware of his,” she searched for the word, “exploits as a project member. I just can’t face the Guests,” she concluded.

“Guests?” Isaac questioned.

“When Sam leaped all the important things went, his mind, his heart, his soul. But his body remained here.” Donna stopped and studied Isaac’s face. Seeing acceptance, she went on, “Sam switches places with someone in the time he’s at. That person inhabits Sam’s body while Sam inhabits theirs.”

“It must be very painful to see someone who looks like Sam and sounds like Sam who isn’t Sam.”

 Donna nodded. “It’s also difficult on our ‘observer’, she said. 

“Observer?”

“A member of our team who is linked to Sam via a neural implant.”

It was Isaac’s turn to smile. “A benefit from the Star Bright Project, no doubt.” he said.

Donna smiled her confirmation then went on, “He can see the real Guest and can see and talk to Sam while in the Imaging Chamber. He’s Sam’s only connection to home.” Donna finished.

“I’m sure the stress is enormous,” Isaac said. Donna nodded again.

Isaac continued, “I feel I should apologize for Frank...”

 Donna put her hand up to stop him. “Don’t bother,” she said. “He couldn’t possibly have any idea that he spoke the exact same words Sam did the first time we met in your office, Isaac. Besides, I’m all grown up now.”

“You were all grown up then, too,” he reminded her. “I’m glad you came back to M.I.T. for your Ph.D.” Their tea finished, the two old friends continued their tour.

 And Isaac began to put some strange thoughts together.

Craig Donovan silently searched through the parking level at Stallion’s Gate. He checked license plates against his list of Project personnel. He noted any plate not on his list for later DMV search. Several people came and went and Donovan took the opportunity to observe the Gate guards on duty. They were efficient, nothing more, nothing less. As Craig watched, a navy blue Saturn LS approached the Gate. The driver was a pretty woman in her late 20’s, wearing a wide brimmed cowboy hat and sunglasses. The guards seemed not to know her and called someone for clearance before allowing her to enter the garage. She parked in a visitor spot near the elevator and perched on her car, waiting. Eight minutes had passed, by Donovan’s watch, when another woman emerged from the elevator. The second woman was a dark redhead with the same coloring and cheekbones as the Saturn driver. The two women embraced and got into the car. They passed the checkpoint on their way out with only a wave to the guards by the redhead.

Just after they left, a wild-haired man in a lab coat exited the elevator in a run. He slowed his pace when he realized he had missed whomever he had been chasing. Donovan moved closer to the guard hut to listen in as the lab-coated man approached the guards.

“Did … Doctor… Martinez … O’ F … Farrell… leave … yet?” he managed to get out trying to catch his breath.

“Yes sir, Dr. Gershowitz. She left with her sister just a few minutes ago,” one of the guards replied.

“Drat,” was Gershowitz’s only response as he turned to walk back to the elevator.

Donovan added conversation notes next to the Saturn’s ID he’d written on his license plate list. 

 

*******************

 

Sam made his way through the inner corridors of Quantum Leap. He noted the M.P.s on duty outside the Waiting Room and kept out of their sight. Sam entered the control center only to find the room strangely deserted. ‘Where is everyone?’ he wondered. The swirling, glowing light in the orb above his head drew his attention. He walked around the center console and placed his hand on the peach colored rectangular interface. The orb brightened and swirled faster.

“Hello Ziggy,” Sam said.

“Hello Dr. Beckett,” Ziggy almost purred. 

“Could I have a status report, please?”

“I am functioning at 99.82% of optimal.” was Ziggy’s reply. Sam rubbed the back of his neck and sighed. It was his own fault, he realized. He had infused his Artificial Intelligence with a well-developed ego.

“Could I have more useful information?” Sam requested.

“I automatically sent a silent alert when you entered the room and a squad of M.P.s is on their way,” Ziggy calmly reported. “Admiral Calavicci has also been alerted,” Ziggy continued.

Sam began looking for a way out immediately as he heard footsteps from the corridor. He thought he had managed to escape detection by ducking into a room off to the side. He was wrong.

***************

 

“All right buddy, hold it right there,” ordered Al Calavicci to the fleeing figure as it ran out of the Control Center.  Signaling the MP’s to wait and drawing his gun, Al followed the intruder. 

“I said freeze,” he barked again, gun aimed. 

The intruder stopped in front of an open door, hands in the air and turned to face him. Al looked into the face of Frank Parker.

“Parker?! How did you get out?” Al asked closing the gap between them. 

At that moment, Parker stepped back, through the open door into the Imaging Chamber. In his place stood Sam Beckett.

Simultaneously the two men spoke.

Al said, “What the hell...?”

Sam called out, “Ziggy, door,” as he kicked the gun out of Al’s hand and pulled him into the Imaging Chamber with him.

“Ow,” Al complained rubbing his hand as he picked himself up off the floor. “That hurts, Sam. Sam!” Al called out as he hugged and slapped the back of his best friend.

“The Imaging Chamber is secure, Dr. Beckett,” Ziggy reported. 

“Thank you,” Sam replied to the disembodied voice. He looked around the Imaging Chamber as he and Al separated. “Is this really what this room looks like?” he asked Al.

Al looked around. The empty room resembled, more than anything else, the inside of a soup can; gray and featureless. “Yeah,” Al said, “I’ve never needed anything left here and you always provided the color.”

“Al, listen to me.” Sam got very serious. “I can’t tell you how I know this but a bomb is going to explode here in three days.”

“In the Imaging Chamber?”

“No, in the Project!” Sam gave Al one of his ‘get real’ frowns. “We need to evacuate the facility…”

“No, Sam, we can’t. We can’t leave the power plant on and unmanned.”

“So turn it off.” Sam offered.

“It takes too long to come back to full if we shut it down. Besides, there’s a congressional finance contingent here to assess the project for continued funding. We can’t afford to have ANYTHING look wrong.” Al returned. 

“So, what options does that leave us?” Sam wondered aloud.  And are the congressional visit and the bomb related?’ he added silently.

 

 

***************

Backstep HQ  

“Sir, we got a partial on the phone trace.” Ramsey said looking concerned. All the faces of the Backstep inner circle looked expectantly at him.

“Give it to me,” Talmadge said.

“It’s local to south central New Mexico and federally assigned.” Ramsey gave the bad news.

“What’s around?” John Ballard questioned. “Alamogordo?” he offered.

“Cannon Air Force Base?” Olga questioned.

Ramsey and Talmadge looked at each other. Simultaneously, they said, “Quantum Leap.”

 

 

Stallion’s Gate

 

 “O.K., Sam, tell me everything you know about this bomb.” Al said.

“Well, I’ll tell you everything I can. Ziggy,” Sam called out to the computer, “you’re not going to have any of this in your database so keep this out of the main library.”

“Why won’t Ziggy have this?” Al asked.

“Because I’m in the future,” Sam answered with a certain smugness in his voice. “It really does work in both directions.” he ended triumphantly.

“No, you’re not.” Al said. 

“Sure I am,” Sam countered. “I took my first leap in 1995 and now I’ve leaped into 2000. This is my future.”

Al looked like he had a pain somewhere. “Sam,” he said quietly, “Do you know how long ago that first leap was?”

Sam shook his head. “It couldn’t have been that long ago,” he protested. “Ziggy,” Sam said to the computer, “how long has Project Quantum Leap been active?”

“Project Quantum Leap has been continually active since May 8th 1995, four years, eight months, twenty-nine days ago. I’m sorry Dr. Beckett.” she finished.

Sam sank to the floor with the weight of this news. A minute or so later he looked over at Al sitting near enough to offer support but not enough to intrude. 

“I’ve really been gone almost 5 years?” Sam needed Al’s confirmation. Al studied his friend’s face and slowly nodded. Sam threw his head into his hands and wept.

Al slowly got up and made his way toward the door. He spoke softly into the wristband that all Quantum Leap senior staff wore. After a confirming beep from Ziggy, Al went back to his friend’s side, and waited.

 

CHAPTER 6

 

It was only because he was ‘Isaac Mentnor’ that Donna allowed Isaac access to level ten to see the Waiting Room and observe for himself the Guest within. She herself stood with her back to the one-way window.   In five years she had never seen a Guest, although she’d seen Sam between leaps. Donna convinces herself that he is just sleeping when she sees him lying there, unmoving. Once, about two years ago, a leap occurred just as Donna was leaving and the Guest called out to her. Hearing Sam’s voice, knowing it wasn’t Sam, was devastating.

The waiting room, and its occupant, were usually tended to by members of Dr. Beeks psychiatric staff. Finding M.P.s at the door was very unusual but not unheard of. Finding armed M.P.s at the door was.

“What do you know about the current Guest?” Isaac inquired. The body of Sam Beckett was sitting cross-legged on the floor, rocking as if in an invisible rocking chair.

“I know nothing about him.” Donna answered, “but Verbena Beeks will. She’s our lead psychiatrist and keeps a profile on all our Guests.”

“I’d like to meet her, if I may?” Isaac requested. 

Donna tapped the band on her wrist. “Ziggy, where is Dr. Beeks?” she spoke to her wrist. 

A moment went by and then Ziggy’s soft alto replied, “Dr. Beeks is outside the Imaging Chamber with Admiral Calavicci.”

“Sorry, Isaac, Verbena is unavailable now.” Donna reported. “Why don’t we go into the main Control Center? I’m sure Gooshie would love to show off his work.”

I guess he found away to bypass Ziggy.’ Donna thought to herself.

 

 

 ***************

 

Verbena Beeks was seldom paged by Al Calavicci about occurrences during the leap. Her job focused mainly on the Guests. Verbena’s supposition from the page alone, that the situation was truly horrible, was confirmed by the dead serious look on Al’s face.

“What’s up, boss?” she questioned.

“Circumstances made it necessary to tell Sam just how long he’s been out there.” Al said.

“That’s contrary to all our established guidelines,” Verbena began to berate Al.

“I know, I know, but I had to.” Al defended himself. “He’s overwhelmed by the news. I need something to say to him. He can’t afford to lose focus where he is.”

“Hanson Island,” Verbena suggested. Al didn’t contradict her.

“Let me come in and talk to him with you,” Verbena offered beginning to key the entry code.

“NO, no,” he raised his hand to the keypad and stilled her hand. Verbena stared at him. Al had never raised his voice to her, not in six years. Al tried another approach. “’Bena, please,” his voice was calm and quiet. “I can’t let you in the Imaging Chamber right now. It’s too … temperamental.”

Verbena sighed, “O.K. Al.  Remind Sam of all the good he’s done, that it’s been time well spent. Try to assess how much he is remembering about the Project and personnel, WITHOUT telling him anything he doesn’t already know.” Verbena warned Al. 

Al nodded his agreement. “And one more thing, ‘Bena.”

“Yes?”

“Keep this under wraps for now, especially from Donna.” Al requested. Verbena agreed.

Al reentered the Imaging Chamber and found Sam had pulled himself together reasonably well. He was discussing the specifications of the bomb, it’s placement below the power plant, and possible triggering mechanisms with Ziggy. The conversation stopped when Al came in.

“What?” Al asked.

“Uh … just feeding the dull dry stuff to Ziggy,” Sam said. 

Al looked at the purposefully innocent looking face his friend was attempting and decided to let it go. “Can’t we just disarm the thing?” Al asked.

Sam shook his head. “No, what would stop a second attempt if we did? Nothing. We have to catch the bomber.”

“Dr. Beckett, did anyone come forward and claim responsibility?” Ziggy asked.

“No,” Sam answered automatically, then caught the mystified look on Al’s face. He decided to change tack. “Al, has Parker said anything useful?” Sam asked him.

“Huh?” Al was chewing over the past tense in Ziggy’s question. “Parker is a nut job. He went on about being attached to the NSA,” Al said dismissively. “Anyway he … I mean you are supposed to be in chains on Hanson Island. Wadjado, break out?”

“No, I didn’t break out,” Sam replied indignantly. “Parker IS with the NSA. There are … a bunch of things that you’re just going to have to take on faith, Buddy. I can’t tell you why, your security clearance isn’t high enough.”

“My security clearance isn’t high enough?” Now Al was indignant.

“Well, I could tell you ...”

“Aha!” Al interrupted.

“But then I’d have to kill you.” Sam finished. Sam wasn’t smiling at the old joke.

O.K.” Al agreed disgruntled. “So now how do we proceed, Mr. NSA?”

“Let me handle the bomber. I’ll let you know where the bomb is so you can have it disarmed. In the meantime, go on as usual.” Sam proposed.

“What should I do with Parker?”

“Try to get information on the particulars of the day the bomb went … will go off. He may know something I don’t.”

“And after you catch the bomber you leap out of here, right.” Al said.

“Right, oh and Al, Frank Parker is a unique person. I’ve read some of his personal journal...”

“You read his Personal Journal? Tsk, Tsk,” Al teased Sam.

“I had no choice, you weren’t there to tell me anything.” Sam protested. Al just smiled at him.

“What I was going to say was, he reminds me a lot of someone I know. You should check him out.” Sam recommended to Al.

“Dr. Beckett?” Ziggy interrupted.

“Yes, Ziggy.”

“There is another alternative.”

“Another alternative?” Al questioned.

“Dr. Beckett, you presently exist within the normal time frame. You could allow the bomb to explode and remain here. You are home.”

Donna Elesee and Isaac Mentnor entered the Control Center as if the pair were taking a casual stroll through a park rather than a tour through a high tech secret government time experiment. Isaac was chatting on about his granddaughter Rebecca in Nevada.

“I can see that she’s just the light of your life, Isaac.” Donna said. “She’s nine already. I remember when we got her birth announcement in the mail.” Turning her attention to the bespectacled man in the room she said, “Have you made any progress with the Imaging Chamber, Gooshie?”

“Not much, I’m afraid.” Gooshie replied as Verbena Beeks entered the Control Center from the opposite side of the room.

“Don’t worry about it,” Donna consoled the programmer, “It’s doing what it’s supposed to do.”

Gooshie looked at her in surprise. “Read section 58 lines 483 through 501,” she told him, “in FORTRAN.” Gooshie gave her a look of sudden comprehension. Practically all of Ziggy’s programming was written in Sam Beckett’s original machine language. 

“Dr. Irving Gershowitz, Dr. Isaac Mentnor,” she introduced the two men.

“Pleasure to meet you”

“Always nice to meet a friend of Dr. Elesee’s” they exchanged pleasantries.

Signaling to Verbena, Donna continued the introductions, “And this is our lead psychiatrist, Verbena Beeks. Verbena, Isaac Mentnor.”

“Very pleased to meet you, Dr. Mentnor,” Verbena said casually.

“And me you, Dr. Beeks.”

“I’m sure Dr. Elesee has everything well in hand here,” Verbena said, “so if you’ll please excuse me I have to check on our Guest.”

“Something I need to know about?” Donna inquired.

“Al is with Sam and needs some general info. It’s nothing major.” Verbena said. She hates it when she has to lie to Donna, but there are some things better left unsaid. “But the Admiral is going to be tied up for a while,” Verbena concluded as she left.

“There’s not much more to see here, Isaac. Shall we continue on?” Donna suggested as she led him verbally and physically from the room.

 

*******************

 

“Dr. Beckett, you presently exist within the normal time frame. You could allow the bomb to explode and remain here. You are home,” Ziggy said. A minute or two went by while the men considered what the Artificial Intelligence had stated.

“But this is not my body,” Sam said. “What about Frank Parker? He does have a life.”

“Maybe he’ll agree to switch places,” Al suggested, grasping at straws.

“I can’t ask him to do that.” Sam stated.

“I could,” Al offered.  “After all, possession is 9/10ths of the law.”

“No.” Sam gave his friend an exasperated look. 

“Ziggy, what are the odds of leaping back to my own body next time?” Sam asked his brainchild. “No, never mind. I don’t want to know. Is the hallway clear?” Sam asked consulting his watch.

“The corridor outside the Imaging Chamber is unoccupied.”

“I’m going to be missed soon.” Sam said to Al.  “ Ziggy, door please.”

The friends walked though the Imaging Chamber door together. Just past the threshold, the face of Frank Parker returned on the man Al now knew to be Sam Beckett.

“How am I going to get a hold of you?” Al wondered. 

A wicked grin spread over Sam’s face. “Al, there’s this great new invention. You might have heard of it. It’s called the telephone.”

 

**********************

 

Having completed his reconnaissance in the parking facility, Craig Donovan began making his way back to the central meeting area. Frank and Isaac should be there in 20 minutes if they had timed this out right.   Directionally impaired is not a term usually applied to Donovan but the tunnels and catacombs at Quantum Leap could confuse even the most experienced navigator. With all the back and side tracking he had to do to avoid detection, Donovan found himself in a hallway on a level he didn’t expect. Crouched behind a desk at what appeared to be a checkpoint, he was across from a doorway. A doorway guarded by armed MPs. Wondering what that was about, Craig began to leave when he heard voices and footsteps coming up the hall. Staying in one spot seemed the most prudent course of action. 

“… pacing like an angry cat,” the male voice said. He was an Asian in his mid twenties, wearing casual clothes and a lab coat.

“Angry? I’ll bet he is. I’d be in his place, wouldn’t you?” a female voice asked. She was an African-American in her early thirties. Dressed similarly to the man, she carried a clipboard that she appeared to be studying. “I’m going in to talk to him.”

The Asian looked concerned. “Dr. Beeks, are you sure that’s wise? Maybe he will respond better to a male?” he questioned. 

Dr. Beeks looked at her newest nurse with a bizarre mix of anger and amusement on her face. “You don’t need to protect me, Nurse Ohara. I can do that just fine myself. Besides, I need to show that SOB that he didn’t hurt me this morning,” she finished ruefully. 

As she was speaking she turned to face Ohara and Donovan could see her face clearly. She was beautiful in an un-obvious way, flawless skin, high cheekbones and incredibly serene eyes. Her body language spoke of a polished professional with a generous heart. Donovan wished he weren’t in the middle of a covert operation. 

“Open it up,” Dr. Beeks ordered the M.P. on duty. He pushed a code into a pad on the wall and the door slid up into the ceiling. Donovan looked past Beeks to the interior of the room. He saw a man in his early forties, about six feet tall with sandy brown hair and very tense posture.

“Have you quite recovered from your adventure this morning?” Beeks was saying as she walked into the Waiting Room. Frank Parker wasn’t listening to her. Instead he was staring past her into the hall. There was someone trying to hide behind that desk and it looked like…

“Donovan!” Frank yelled. “Craig Donovan! Help me! Get me out of here!” he continued to yell as he rushed toward the door. This time Verbena Beeks was ready for him. She quickly took him down with a knee to the groin followed by a large syringe full of tranquilizers.

Donovan took off down the corridor to the nearest stairwell. The M.P.s were too busy assisting Dr. Beeks to follow him. His mind was moving even faster than his body with a thousand questions. Who was that guy? Why was he in a guarded room? And how did he recognize me, even use my first name? Craig promised himself answers to these questions later.

 

 

****************

 

 

Al Calavicci and Sam Beckett were headed to the main elevator shaft when they heard the commotion coming from the Waiting Room. The M.P.s were placing the still struggling Frank Parker in bed and in restraints. Al watched his friend’s face as Sam witnessed his body being tied down to the bed. Sam looked sad and angry at the treatment he saw. Despite this he assured the Observer that he understood.

“Parker isn’t taking this well.” It wasn’t a question. “I’m not surprised, given what I’ve read in his file and his journal,” Sam commented.

“This is very uncommon for a Guest,” Al rushed to defend his staff’s actions.

“I know.” Sam admitted softly. “Still...”

“We’ll take it easy on him,” Al agreed to the unspoken request. They continued to watch a moment more then continued on to the exit.

“Here,” Sam said as he thrust a business card into Al’s hand.

“What’s this?”

“The phone number of the hotel I’m staying in.”

“Thanks. Hey listen, there’s a reception for the congressional committee on Wednesday evening.” Al remembered. “If you need to get back into Stallion’s Gate that would be the night to do it.”

“I’ll remember that.” Sam truly appreciated his friendship with Al now. The elevator slowed on its approach to the main entry point. The doors opened and Al began to walk out. Sam stopped him. “I don’t think we should be seen together just now.” Sam warned.

Al conceded the point. “I just hate to see you out there alone.” he told Sam.

“I’m not.” Sam assured him and he went out to meet up with Mentnor and Donovan.

 

CHAPTER 7

 

Socorro

 

The trio rode back to the makeshift Backstep offices in Socorro in silence. This was S.O.P. for a reconnaissance mission, each man would be debriefed separately so as not to contaminate each other’s data. Then after the data was reviewed, all parties would come together to come up with a battle plan. On arrival, they were met by a very apprehensive looking Bradley Talmadge. 

“We may have a bigger problem,” he said to Isaac Mentnor as he escorted the doctor away to the pseudo-briefing room. Donovan went off with a laptop to type his notes from the mission. Sam waited for some clue as to where to go next. Olga Vukovitch and Nathan Ramsey strode up to him less than a minute later.

“What was Quantum Leap like, Mr. Parker?” Olga wanted to know.

“Later,” Ramsey cut her off. “Did you get everything we need about the power plant or is this going to be another in the famous Parker screw-ups?” he challenged Sam.

“I get it, Ramsey,” Sam responded neutrally. He was still unsure of the interpersonal dynamics of this group.

“Does this debriefing have to be confrontational?” Olga quickly intervened.

Sam picked up on her unintentional cue. “Not if Ramsey doesn’t start with me,” he growled.

“Good. Let us proceed then.” And the group went off to an unoccupied office where Sam provided the dimensions; power source and other crucial information needed about the power system at Quantum Leap that he had gotten from Ziggy while alone with the super-computer in the Imaging Chamber.

 

Stallion’s Gate

 

Telling Sam about the reception on Wednesday reminded Al that all this finance committee business had created a two-foot high stack of paperwork on his desk that he HAD to do. He placed a soft jazz CD on and settled down at his desk to play paper jockey. After whittling the paper stack down to just above three inches, the admiral paused for a stretch.

Tapping lightly at the keyboard on his desk he checked on all the vital functions and personnel at the Project before calling it a night. Drs. Elesee and Beeks had signed out for the evening and the Guest was being seen to by Matthew Davis, the project’s relief psychiatrist. As for the Guest, Parker was doing an admirable job of looking distracted and disinterested while keeping totally aware of everything going on around him.

Gooshie had ordered food from the mediocre Chinese/Mexican restaurant in Bingham with the atrocious name of Casa Pagoda and was eating in front of his laptop. The growling of Al’s stomach prompted him to glance at the clock on his desk. 1830, no wonder he was hungry! Lastly, but most assuredly not least to Al, Tina Martinez-O’Farrell had returned at 1650 and was in her quarters. After turning off the lights, Admiral Calavicci headed to Tina’s to ask her to join him for dinner.

 

********************

HQ

 

The Backstep personnel met for a strategy meeting later that evening.

“Between the specifics Frank and Craig brought back of the spider’s web of corridors within Stallion’s Gate, the access ways to and from the primary bomb location and the power core,” Talmadge paused and nodded his thanks to the two men, “Nate and I have developed an attack plan.” Turning to the wheeled chalkboard at the front of the room he continued. “The car containing the primary explosive was parked in one of these spaces.” Talmadge indicated three spaces to each side of the internal door of the complex. “These two,” he said pointing to the two spaces closest to the right of the door, “are our most likely targets. They are guest spaces. This one,” indicating the next space on the right, “is designated for Admiral Calavicci. The three on the left are similarly designated for senior Quantum Leap staffers Drs. Beeks, Gershowitz and Elesee.”

Donovan slapped Sam lightly on the arm to get his attention. He mouthed, “Elesee?

The ice princess” and grinned widely at his buddy. Sam just frowned at him.

Nate Ramsey had taken the floor. “Bradley and I are taking a small squad over to Stallion’s Gate in the morning, unannounced, to pay a visit and officially inform Admiral Calavicci about the bomb threat. Donovan, we want you to come with us. The plan is to get Calavicci to accept our men into they security detail over there. While we are there we’ll have the perfect opportunity to search the place for the source of the phone call.”

“What phone call?” Sam asked.

“While we were in transit this morning Bradley got a phone call from ‘Conundrum’,” Isaac answered.

“Conundrum?” Sam questioned. “Why do you think it came from Quantum Leap?”

“We traced it as far as we could. The exchange leads back to Stallion’s Gate,” Ramsey answered hotly.

“Why don’t I go with you,” Sam offered trying to sound nonchalant.

“No,” John Ballard said. “I’d like you here, Frank, to look closer at the...” he faltered. Ballard is a lousy liar.

“The power plant,” Olga finished rapidly for him. “You were there and can be a big help in working out a plan to shut it down if we need to.” She smiled disarmingly at him.

Sam realized he wasn’t going to get anywhere with this group so he let it drop. He listened intently to the rest of the meeting, making mental notes on the raid so he could call and warn Al as soon as he could get away.

 

 

CHAPTER 8

 

Stallion’s Gate

 

Tina and Al’s on-again, off-again relationship was currently on and running smoothly for a change. Tina had anticipated Al’s mood; she knew how much he hated the rigmarole of proving the need for continued funding. She wore her lavender cashmere sweater-dress with the plunging neckline, kept the lights low and the conversation light.

“Al, honey, I want to thank you again for giving me the day off. Dee and I had a wonderful time in Socorro.”

“How is Delilah?” Al asked not so much because he wanted to know about Tina’s sister but in order to keep Tina talking. The combination of her lightly nasal voice and the view across the table were working wonders at keeping the stress of the day at bay.

“Still dating that boss of hers, you know, the married one. No matter what I say she won’t listen. Al honey, you should have heard her, ‘But Tee, he can’t leave his wife now. It’s an election year and his platform is all about family values.’” Tina rolled her eyes. “Honestly it’s enough to make you cry.”

Al chuckled at Tina’s impersonation of Delilah. If Tina was the perfect combination of brains and bimbo (and she was) then Delilah was truly 100% bimbo. Al had met her only once, several years ago. Delilah had been the cause of one of the couple’s off-again times.

“So, where did you girls go after lunch?” he asked.

“Shopping of course, silly you,” Tina teased her paramour. “I got the perfect dress for the party on Wednesday. It’s scarlet red with … No, I won’t tell you.” Tina decided mid-sentence. “You’ll just have to wait and see,” she said slowly, her eyes promising that the wait would be worth it.

The couple rose from the table, carrying their wine glasses with them to the well-hidden balcony. They stood together looking up at the starlit sky, Tina leaning back against Al’s chest, his arms surrounding her. They treasured moments like this. They were so rare. Afraid to spoil the mood, Tina hesitantly inquired about Al’s day.

“The most important thing about today,” he said kissing her neck, “is that it’s over.” He kissed her neck on the other side.

“Oh no,” Tina replied huskily, “This is far from over.” She turned to face her man. He held her close as the two, kissing, slid to the floor to make love.

 

*************

 

Socorro

 

Getting a moment alone to call Al was a lot harder that Sam had thought. As Parker, he was always escorted by ‘Salt and Pepper’ as Frank had named them in his journal. He had tried to get out to a pay phone. No dice. He went to the hotel bar and tried to slip out through a bathroom window. No luck. His only recourse was to hope that the phone in his room wasn’t bugged. Using the phone in his room was tricky, too. Craig Donovan was already there, reading a local newspaper. 

“Hey, Frank,” Donovan greeted him.

“Ah, hi,” Sam returned. Donovan had laid claim to the bed nearest the door so Sam pulled the small duffel he had packed Frank’s clothes in onto the inner bed and began pulling toiletries out of it. Donovan watched his every move from behind the sports section.

“What?!” Sam demanded.

“Did everything go O.K. in the sphere?” Donovan asked. “You’ve been … I can’t put my finger on it … just different, man. You know, like it’s not really you.”

Sam thought fast. “And who am I?” he challenged good-naturedly. Sam picked up an air guitar and struck a pose. “Elvis returned from the grave?” He offered a bad imitation.

Donovan laughed. “Never mind.” Putting the paper down, he got off the bed and headed for the bathroom saying, “I’m going to shower unless you need...”

“No, I’m fine. Go ahead.” Sam answered, releasing the breath he didn’t realize he was holding. He waited for the sound of the shower running. Then he picked up the phone and dialed the number Ziggy had made him memorize earlier. The voice mail system announced an innocuous fictitious company name and began to recite a list of names and extensions. Sam hit the combination to Al’s office and waited. Ziggy’s voice answered with the message that the Admiral was unreachable at this time. Sam entered the bypass code.

“Good evening, Dr. Beckett.” Ziggy said.

Sam quickly relayed all the information on the raid and the ‘Conundrum call’ to the Artificial Intelligence with instructions to deliver it to Al as soon as possible. He went further telling Ziggy to allow the Admiral access to all files on Frank Parker and Isaac Mentnor that were available. He was just hanging up the receiver when the door to the bathroom opened and Craig Donovan, wet and wearing a towel, stepped out.

“What was that?” Donovan demanded.

“What was what?” Sam responded, trying to sound innocent.

“Who were you on the phone with, Frank?”

“No one.”  Sam recalled the name of Frank’s estranged son,  “I … I thought about calling Jimmy and then … realized the time difference, so I hung up.” Sam finished sounding, he hoped, sad.

Donovan looked chagrined. “Sorry I jumped on you. Ramsey has us all seeing spooks everywhere since that ‘conundrum’ call today.” he explained.

Sam smiled. “Please, no, not Ramsey,” he said in false horror. Which sent Craig Donovan laughing back into the bathroom to get dressed for bed.

Feeling that he had dodged a bullet, Sam started to get ready for bed. He pawed through the duffel twice looking for pajamas and came up empty. He figured that he had simply forgotten them since he packed half asleep.    He was starting to do a third duffel search when Craig returned to the room.

“Bathroom’s free if you want it,” he casually offered. Sam picked up his toothbrush and paste and headed off to the bathroom. “Frank?” Craig called after him. Sam turned around to face the other man. “I’m turning in,” Craig continued, “try to sing softly in the shower, will ya?”

“I ...ah... I’m gonna shower in the morning,” Sam said. “I know you have to get up and out early in the morning.” Seeing surprise on Donovan’s face, Sam followed that with, “and besides, I know what a fan you are of my musical talents,” as he closed the bathroom door behind him.

 

To Be Continued

 

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