Episode 918

The Valley Of Death II

by: R. Joy Helvie

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Previously On Quantum Leap

 

Sam has leaped into a familiar face in a remote wilderness retreat, and discovers he is Al's half brother. Also at the retreat is Al's mother Jillian who Al has never forgiven for leaving him and his sister when they were very young. Sam discovers he's there to save Jillian's life, and Al doesn't really care if Sam is successful. Will Al ever be able to move beyond his anger? And how can his half-brother help?

 

PART FIVE

 

A terrible, deep throbbing in his head brought him back to the world of the conscious. Al Calavicci tentatively opened one eyelid, allowing for his eye to adjust to any strong light that may greet it. Fortunately, it was dark wherever he was. He opened his other eye.

 

His eyes having been closed, it was easy for his vision to become focused in the dark. It wasn’t completely dark where he was, but it was thankfully close. He glanced to and fro, trying to determine where he was. Finally, he figured out that he was in his own quarters.

 

“Beth?” he called softly, knowing that it was probably she who had brought him here.

 

“So, you’re awake,” came Beth’s voice in reply. She didn’t sound happy.

 

“Yeah, I’m awake... but I’ve got a bad headache.”

 

“Well, I wonder why!” Beth said in exasperation. “What the hell were you doing, leaving the Project like that? And drinking?! When did you decide to take that up again?”

 

Al winced. “Could ya please keep it down?”

 

“I will not.”

 

“If you’re going to try and figure out what’s wrong, don’t waste your time. You ain’t gonna get anything out of me.”

 

Beth sighed and stood. She walked into the kitchen, and a few moments later, came back to the bed. She handed Al a glass.

 

“What’s this?” Al said as he tried to see what color it was. If he didn’t know better, he’d say it was blood in the glass.

 

“A secret concoction that St. John gave me the recipe for. It’s for your hangover.”

 

“What’s in it?”

 

“That’s a secret. I promised St. John I wouldn’t tell.”

 

Al frowned. Sure, he had come to tolerate St. John’s presence, but he still wasn’t comfortable enough about Gooshie’s replacement to drink something he had formulated.

 

“Oh, come on, Al. You do want to get rid of this hangover, don’t you?”

 

“Yeah...”

 

Al put the glass to his lips, hesitated a moment, then gulped down the drink. Surprisingly, it didn’t taste bad at all. In fact, he rather liked it.

 

“Do you still have the recipe?” Al asked quietly.

 

“Yes.”

 

“Good... You’ll have to make this again sometime. It tastes great.”

 

“I’m glad you liked it.” Beth took the empty glass from Al and set it on the side table. “Now, tell me what’s going on.”

 

“No.”

 

“Albert Calavicci, you will not leave this room... you will not leave this bed until you tell me exactly what is wrong with you. Is it something to do with Sam’s Leap?”

 

“I can’t tell you.”

 

“Why not?”

 

“I can’t tell you.”

 

“Why can’t you tell me?”

 

“I can’t--”

 

“Albert!!!”

 

Al sat up and looked Beth in the eye. “Don’t Albert me, Elizabeth O’Dwyer Calavicci. Don’t even.”

 

“You know, you’re lucky Teresa was at that bar. If she hadn’t been there, I would never have known about this happening.”

 

“What was she doing there anyway?”

 

“She was meeting with a patient.”

 

“At a bar?”

 

“It was a patient she had previously worked with. They became friends and Teresa was invited to spend the weekend so they could do some shopping.”

 

“So, did Teresa call you?”

 

“Yes, she did. You are very lucky that she cares so much about you. She once told me you are her role model... and now look at you. What kind of example does this set for someone who looks up to you so much?”

 

“Well, maybe she shoulda chosen someone better to look up to... like Sam.”

 

“Ms. Calavicci?” Ziggy’s voice interjected.

 

Beth sighed deeply. “Yes, Ziggy?”

 

“Sam will be in need of some assistance when he wakes up.”

 

“I’m on my way,” Al said, jumping from the bed.

 

“No, you aren’t,” Beth protested. “Ziggy, have Sammy Jo temporarily take Al’s place.”

 

Al straightened the jacket of his dress whites, which Beth had not changed him out of after last night, and headed for the door. “Belay that order, Ziggy. I’m reporting to the Control Room immediately.”

 

Beth moved to intercept, but Al was out of the door and down the corridor before she could reach the end of the bed. She sighed in frustration and crossed her arms. She shook her head. When would he ever learn?

 

 

7:00am

June 27, 1982

Happy Valley Conference Center

 

Screeeeeeech!!!

 

Sam cried out and sat up straight. “What the hell?!”

 

“Wakey, wakey, Sammy boy,” came the response.

 

“Al! Do you have to do that?”

 

“Well, if you’re gonna get up in time to raise the flag... yes.”

 

Sam looked at his friend, and glared at what he saw. The Admiral was standing at the side of Sam’s bed, trying to stand erect, but very obviously swaying. He was adorned in his dress whites, but they were crumpled and dirty. Al himself did not look any better. His eyes were bloodshot and struggling to stay open, his hair was pointing in all directions, and his face was pale. He had obviously been drinking.

 

But instead of asking what was wrong, which Sam could very well guess anyway, the Leaper inquired, “I’m supposed to raise the flag?”

 

“Yeah, Robert volunteered for today before you Leaped in.”

 

“Okay, well, let’s go.”

 

Sam took five minutes to wash up, put on some fresh clothing and walk to the lodge. Al followed behind, taking his steps one by one, very slowly. Eventually, Al just gave up and centered himself at Sam’s destination. Sam figured Al was not paying attention, since he did not seem to give any reaction to Jillian going along with Sam to the lodge.

 

Several minutes later, after the flag was properly raised, breakfast was ready. Sam turned to Jillian. “You go on ahead of me, okay?”

 

“All right, sweetie.”

 

Jillian walked up to the door and stepped inside. Before she let the door shut, however, she got a strong urge to look back at Robert. Standing beside him was a man in dress whites. She gasped as she studied the face of this man. It was kind of blurry, and from this distance, she couldn’t make out exactly what he looked like, but somehow the man reminded her of her dear late brother, Steve, who had died in a tragic mining accident more than half a century ago.

 

This was extremely strange. She reminded herself to ask Robert about it later. Perhaps he could tell her who that familiar man was. She turned around and went into the kitchen.

 

Meanwhile, Al was making ready to leave. “Beth is insisting that I tell her what’s going on with the Leap,” he told Sam.

 

“Then tell her.”

 

“Sam... I can’t tell her.”

 

“Why not?”

 

“Because... I don’t want her to know about this.”

 

“You mean, you’ve been married to Beth forty years and you’ve never told her about your mother?”

 

“Of course she knows about my mother... I just don’t want her to know about this.” He gestured about him. “I don’t want her to get all sympathetic with me and make me go talk to Verbena.”

 

“Fine. But could you at least lay off the booze?”

 

“How’d you...?”

 

“No offense, but you look like shit.”

 

“No offense taken. Hell... I feel like shit. Might as well look it, too.” With that, Al punched in the code to the Door. “See ya later.”

 

 

4:07pm

June 27, 1982

Happy Valley Conference Center

 

The day had been quite eventful for Sam. Following breakfast was the dedication service for the outdoor Cathedral. After that was a softball game to kick off Family Fun Day. Swimming relays were next, then lunch--a barbecue held in picnic style out on the field--was served.

 

Rest Time came after lunch; Jillian and Les slept, but Sam picked up a book Robert had brought along for the trip. So, he spent his rest time reading “The Time Machine”.

 

After Rest Time, Sam partook in relay races and an obstacle course. He won second place in the obstacle course, with Denise in first.

 

Al showed up briefly as Sam was getting ready to participate in a volleyball game. The Observer looked much better than he had in the morning, and he told Sam that Beth was pumping him with any and all drinks that did not contain alcohol. Sam was relieved; he hated seeing Al drunk.

 

“So, do you have any more information on the Leap?” Sam asked as he made his way toward the flagpole for the lowering of the flag.

 

“No, not yet. Beth’s insisting that I go talk to Robert, but I just can’t bring myself to come face to face with him. I mean, he’s my half-brother, and he looks just like me. It’d be too weird.”

 

“Al, just talk to him. You of all people should be able to get more information out of him. In fact, he’ll eventually find out who you are anyway, so why not go ahead and tell him? It may help him be more comfortable with his situation.”

 

“Okay, I’ll do that. But before I leave, I’ll help you with the flag lowering.”

 

Sam let Al guide him in the procedure then shooed Al along. The Observer reluctantly left, and Sam went to dinner.

 

 

Stallion’s Gate, New Mexico

Project Quantum Leap

 

Al closed the Imaging Chamber door and looked over at Beth. The damned woman had been hovering over him like a vulture over its prey since morning.

 

“Come with me,” Beth said tersely, gesturing for Al to follow her.

 

“Where are we going?”

 

“The Waiting Room.”

 

Al unwillingly followed. He didn’t know how he was going to get through this. He followed Beth down the corridor to the Waiting Room. As the door slid open, Al braced himself. Inside, he found Dr. Verbena Beeks talking with the Leapee. Al’s attention moved from the doctor to the Visitor.

 

Sure enough, Robert Giovanni Walker bore such a strong resemblance to Al, that had they been the same age, even Beth wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. Al stood there for a few moments, looking at his brother in awe.

 

Brother, Al repeated in his mind. He couldn’t believe it. He actually had a brother. He’d always wanted one, and his wish had finally come true.

 

Beth led Al to the medical table in the middle of the room, where Robert and Verbena were sitting. Verbena stood and smiled.

 

“Hello, Al,” the doctor said cheerfully. “Feeling better?”

 

“Yes, Beeks,” Al replied.

 

“Who are you?” Robert asked softly.

 

“I’m Al. You could say that I run this place.”

 

“Could you tell me what this place is? Dr. Beeks won’t tell me anything.”

 

Al gave a glance at both Beth and Verbena, a look that they knew well. They both excused themselves and made their way out of the room.

 

“Now,” Al said, taking a seat next to Robert, “where were we?”

 

“I was hoping you’d tell me where I am.”

 

“Well, I can’t divulge that information, but I can tell you that you’re perfectly safe.”

 

“I kinda figured that. So what is this, some sort of government run place?”

 

Al smirked. “You could say that.”

 

“Cool. Uh, this guy I’ve traded places with. Is he your friend?”

 

“Yes, he is.”

 

“You’re lucky to have met him, much less be friends with him. I’ve always been fascinated by his writings.”

 

“Oh, so you’ve heard of Dr. Beckett?”

 

“Who hasn’t? Ever since he won that Nobel Prize two years ago, everyone’s been talking about him.”

 

“Yes, well, he was definitely popular back then.”

 

“So what year is this, anyhow?”

 

“I can’t tell you.”

 

“Okay, fine. I’ll guess. Uh, let’s see. 2004?” Al’s jaw dropped before he could prevent it. “Ah-ha. I was right, huh?”

 

“Uh... you’re awfully close, I can tell you that.”

 

“Well, you were born in 1934, so I figured you had to be somewhere in your upper sixties.”

 

Al was completely stunned and could say nothing more than, “What...?”

 

“I know who you are, Al Calavicci. You’re my half-brother.”

 

“No. No, I’m not.”

 

“Oh yes, you are. You look just like me. And your age is just right to be him. And your name is Al. There’s no way it couldn’t be you.”

 

Al sighed and raised his hands in defeat. The man had figured him out. Not only was his brother good-looking, young, and lively, but he was smart to boot. He took after his mother, no doubt about it.

 

“Okay, okay, okay. You’re right. I’m... your half-brother.”

 

“My God. This is amazing. You know that? This is absolutely, freaking amazing! Do you know how much I’ve heard about you in my life?” His voice began to take on an offensive tone. “That blasted woman could never stop talking about her precious little ‘Allie-cat.’ She compared me to you constantly. When she found out that I wanted to fly, she was thrilled because you were interested in planes as well. When she found out that I had a weakness for women, she immediately mentioned you. I’ve had to live up to her standards all my life. If I couldn’t do something right, she’d go off about how well her Allie-cat could do it. You, brother, have made my life a living hell!!!”

 

Al jumped up, not in anger, but instead to distance himself from Robert’s tirade. Had he really caused this man that much pain?

 

“I... I’m sorry. I didn’t know. She--”  

 

“Save it for someone who cares!” Robert exclaimed. “You were lucky she left you when she did. You never had to grow up listening to her complaints when you couldn’t do something as good as she expected you to.”

 

“I--”

 

“So, what is it Sam’s there to change? Verbena did tell me that he’s supposed to change something in history.”

 

“He’s there to save Jillian from dying of a heart attack.”

 

“Are you sure there isn’t anything else for him to do? ‘Cause my mother deserves to die for all the pain she’s caused me!”

 

Al stepped away, taken back by the words coming from Robert. They sounded just like his from the day before, and he realized how horrible they really sounded.

 

“My god....” Al whispered ashamedly. “My god, what have I done?”

 

Robert seemed to be a bit surprised by this reaction. He raised an eyebrow. “Al?”

 

Al looked up at Robert, his mouth open, but no words coming out. He stood there silent for many moments. Then he spoke. “I... Thank you, Robert.”

 

“Thank you?” Robert glanced at him incredulously. “For what?”

 

“For showing me what a horribly unfeeling bastard I’ve become.” Al strode to the Waiting Room door. The door slid open. Al turned to get one last glimpse of his brother. “You need to rethink your attitude.”

 

With that, Al left the room. He whizzed past the door to the Waiting Room observation deck. But before he could take two more steps toward the Control Room, he felt someone seize his arm. He spun, surprised.

 

It was Beeks. “Oh, no,” Al said, struggling to get out of the doctor’s iron grasp. “No way.”

 

“Yes way,” Beeks growled. She tugged at Al’s arm. He tried to resist, but he was still a bit weak from his little outing the night before. He gave up and allowed her to lead him to her office.

 

Once Al was settled on the couch in her office, Verbena sat in the armchair nearby. Al tried to sit up, but Verbena pushed him down. “Stay still.”

 

Al was in a terrible mess. She couldn’t believe he had allowed himself to get this way. She couldn’t even begin to imagine what sorts of things were happening during this Leap that would cause such strong reactions to come from the admiral.

 

“Now, tell me what’s going on, or I’ll order Ziggy to have Sammy Jo take over the role of Observer on this Leap.”

 

Al shook his head. “I can’t tell you, Beeks. It’s just... it’s too personal. It’s none of your business.”

 

“It is so my business, Admiral Calavicci. The effects of a Leap on the psyche of the crew of Project Quantum Leap are always my business. Now, do you want me to pull you off-duty, or are you going to open up?”

 

Indecision was in his eyes. He looked ready to bolt, but Verbena’s harsh, cold stare kept him firmly in his place.

 

“Fine!” Al finally burst. “I’ll tell you! But can I please sit up?”

 

Verbena nodded, and the admiral slowly lifted himself up on the couch. She waited until he was fully settled and then gave him her undivided attention.

 

“As you know,” Al began slowly, “Sam has Leaped into my half-brother.”

 

“That much I know for sure.”

 

“Well, see, Robert’s not the only relative of mine where Sam is...” He hesitated then whispered, “My mother’s there.”

 

Verbena gave a quick, satisfactory smirk that she executed after Al lowered his head. She had guessed it had something to do with Al’s mother, considering she would be the parent likely to have given Al a half-brother. “And?”

 

“And... I guess I haven’t forgiven her for what she did to me and Trudy.”

 

“Abandoning you.”

 

“Yeah... abandoning us. I just--I just don’t get it, ya know? Why the hell would she do something like that? What provoked her? She and Papa were in love. Then one day, they had a fight, and the next thing I knew, she was gone.”

 

“So, this is the first time you have seen her in over fifty years.”

 

“Yes. And it’s killin’ me, Verbena.”

 

The doctor raised an eyebrow. Al normally only used her full first name when in extremely good spirits or when he was beginning to feel comfortable about opening up to her. She remained silent so that the admiral would not feel threatened and stop talking.

 

“Sam’s there to save her life,” Al continued, swiping a hand across his face. “But I told him I wish he wasn’t.... I told him that I wish she would die. Robert said that, too. And now I’ve realized how brazen I’ve been. I don’t know what to do, Verbena. On one hand, I hate my mother with all I have in me for leaving Trudy and me, but on the other hand, I would never wish death upon anyone.”

 

“Seems to me that you’ve been harboring this anger toward your mother for so long, it’s begun to eat away at your own inner morals.”

 

“But she left us. She didn’t leave a note... nothing... nada, zip, zero...” He hesitated for a second. Then he gave a quick smirk and added, “...zilch.”

 

Verbena couldn’t resist giving a quick smile at Al’s weak attempt at humor during such a serious conversation. No matter what happened, Al Calavicci would always be Al Calavicci.

 

“I think I can tell you what you want to know.”

 

Al looked up. Tears were forming in his eyes. This was truly haunting the poor man. “Really? Could you?”

 

“Yes, I believe I can make an assumption. You see, back in the Depression Era, people were losing their jobs. This meant they were losing money and couldn’t care for their children properly. When a mentally ill child was born into the family, there was no hope for a treatment. One, because there was little or no money to pay for treatment. And two, because many forms of mental illness, including Down Syndrome, had either not been ‘discovered’ or had not been researched thoroughly enough. Most families put their ill children in an institution and left them to the care of the government. Most of those children died.

 

“Some families, however, decided to keep their sick child and raise him or her on their own. This is what your parents did with Trudy. They thought they could raise her without any help. But just as it happens now--though it isn’t as terrible now as it was--the children were teased and bullied and even the adults would snub their best friends if they had a mentally ill child.

 

“This is probably what happened to your mother. Her friends deserted her, the children teased Trudy, and you were always getting into trouble defending your sister. Your parents’ marriage was probably not as perfect as you thought. If they had a significant fight, and she had had enough, it’s quite easy to see how for just one moment, she felt the urge to leave. She did, and then immediately regretted it. But seeing as how she couldn’t get the courage to go back, she stayed away to save you from any more heartache.”

 

Al sniffed. “She stayed away to save me from more heartache? Yeah, right.” He laughed humorlessly. “You probably didn’t know this, but I taught Trudy how to talk. I wanted her to be able to defend herself in some way against bullies. She may have been a little mentally disabled, but she was a fast learner... But she stopped talking after Mama left. Except... you couldn’t possibly know what it was like when Trudy would look up at me with those sad eyes and ask, ‘Allie? Will Mama be home soon?’ And I would answer, ‘Soon, Trudy.’ It was the only thing she ever said for several months after Mama left. And she would repeat it, over and over and-- Do you have any idea what I went through when Trudy went to the hospital? She asked me again, ‘Allie? Will Mama be home soon?’ And I had to answer... truthfully... ‘No, Trudy.’”

 

Al squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. Moisture leaked from the corner of an eye. Al buried his face in his hands and his body shuddered. Verbena hastily took a seat next to him and put her arm around his shoulders. At first, Al tried to move out of her grasp, but as the seconds progressed into minutes, he slowly leaned into Verbena’s arms. She embraced him tightly as his body violently shook with every sob.

 

After a few long moments, Al’s head slowly rose. His cheeks were flushed and tear-stained. His eyes met Verbena’s for a brief moment. They reflected a pain so deep, a sorrow so intense, that she had to glance away. Just then, the intercom bleeped.

 

“Admiral Calavicci?” Ziggy unashamedly interrupted. “Dr. Beckett is in need of your assistance. Please report to the Control Room immediately.”

 

Al slowly stood, Verbena giving him a helping hand. “Will you be all right?” Verbena asked with concern.

 

“Yeah, I think I will be. I had never thought of the motives.... I had never realized how painful raising Trudy must have been for Mama. I still don’t fully understand why she left, but you’ve helped a great deal. Thank you, Verbena.”

 

Verbena smiled and nodded. “You’d better get going.”

 

 

PART SIX

 

9:30pm

Happy Valley Conference Center

 

Sam was in a dilemma. Denise had just informed him that he would be assisting her in a snipe hunt. But there was a problem: he didn’t know what a snipe hunt was.

 

So, now, he was standing outside his cabin, Denise and her sisters at his side, with several eager young children surrounding him. The kids had been quite well behaved during the day, but that was probably due to their keeping occupied with the games. Sam could only imagine what it was going to be like in the classroom tomorrow morning.

 

“Hiya, Sammo!” Al exclaimed in Sam’s ear. The Leaper jumped, and when he did, several of the younger children giggled, having seen what Al had done.

 

“Would you not do that, please?” Sam pleaded out of the corner of his mouth.

 

“Oh, sorry, Sam. I didn’t think you were going to be so jumpy.” Sam looked over at Al, and the Observer smirked and gave him a wink.

 

“What’s gotten into you?” Sam whispered.

 

“What d’ya mean?”

 

“You’re... cheerful.”

 

“Yeah, so?

 

“What happened to so drastically change your behavior?”

 

“I found out you’re going on a snipe hunt. I love snipe hunts!”

 

It was an obvious lie, but Sam let it alone. Al was in a better mood, and that was all that mattered at the moment.

 

By now, Denise and her sisters had led the kids down the sidewalk, their flashlight beams moving eerily through the shadows. Denise called out to Sam, and he called back, “I’ll be there in a sec!” He turned to Al. “I don’t know what a snipe hunt is!”

 

“Oh, it’s easy, Sam. A group of adults take several children into the woods, armed with flashlights, toothbrushes, and small paper bags. You have to keep the flashlights off most of the time because snipes are afraid of the light; which is why you can only hunt them at night. You capture the snipes with your toothbrush and put them in your bag. Once everyone has caught at least one, you all head back to the cabin. You go into the bathroom, shut the door, and let the snipes loose so you can see them.”

 

“And what do snipes look like? I’ve never heard of them.”

 

“I dunno.”

 

“You don’t know?”

 

“I’ve never caught one.” He nodded in Denise’s direction. “You’d best go catch up with everyone. I’ll be back in a while to check up on your progress.”

 

Sam hesitantly walked off, and Al punched out. He walked out the door and into the Control Room.

 

“That isn’t very nice, Admiral,” Ziggy reprimanded.

 

“Ah, c’mon, Ziggy. I’m having a tough time with this leap as it is. Can’t I have just a little fun at Sam’s expense?”

 

“I suppose, Admiral. But it still is not very nice.”

 

 

“Let’s sit on this bench and rest a while, okay?” Denise patted the empty area next to her.

 

Sam sat. It had been fifteen minutes since the hunt began. Only one person had had any luck capturing an elusive snipe, and Nicole was pretty excited to be the one to do it. He and Denise had followed the kids and their escorts through the trees until Sam couldn’t stand it any longer. He had to somehow separate himself from Nicole, who had been hanging on to his leg for the whole fifteen minutes.

 

He and Denise feigned restlessness and let the rest go ahead into the forest. So now, he and Denise were seated on the same bench where Sam had first encountered Denise.

 

“So, have you thought it over?” Sam asked.

 

“Thought what over?”

 

“Pursuing your writing career.”

 

Denise laughed. “Yeah, actually, I have. You seem so interested in me writing a book, I figure that I’ll already have one fan when I get published, so why not? And I think I know who I want to write about first.”

 

“Who?”

 

“Well, you don’t know him, but I met this awesome guy at a party in San Diego. It was a bash being held to celebrate the start of some new government project. I was there as a reporter for my school newspaper. Anyway, I met this guy who has done so much in his life and has gone through so much. We talked for hours.

 

“He used to be a pilot and an astronaut, and he fought in the Vietnam War and was a prisoner of war for several years. He came home, and his wife was still waiting there for him--one of the few happy stories in that era. He told me about his short time on the road as a young man, at the height of the beat generation.

 

“Robert, this guy has done everything. Now he’s a decorated two-star Rear admiral in the Navy. He’s accomplished so much. I have decided, I want to one day write his story. An ordinary guy who has done extraordinary things.”

 

Sam sat there in silence, absorbing what Denise had said. He wasn’t sure quite what to make of it. Was she talking about the man he thought she was? Or was it just a huge coincidence? Sam settled on the former. It was too much to be mere coincidence. Before he could reply, however, Denise stood.

 

“I’m gonna go see how much longer everyone’s going to be. You just stay right there. You still don’t know your way fully around this place, and you would get completely lost in the dark. I’ll be back for you in a minute or two.”

 

“Okay.”

 

 

“‘I’ll be back for you in a minute or two,’” Sam huffed a half-hour later. “Yeah, sure.”

 

The Imaging Chamber door opened and out walked Al. He gave one glance at Sam, looked at the empty seat beside him, and burst into laughter. He slapped his knee. “Ha ha! We gotcha good!!!”

 

Sam frowned and narrowed his eyes. “What do you mean, ‘we gotcha good’?”

 

“Saa-aam... There’s no such thing as a snipe! Even you with that swiss-cheesed brain of yours should know that! It’s all a game.”

 

“A game.”

 

“Yes, a game. You take several kids with you, a few adults who have played before, and one adult who has never been on a snipe hunt. You take them into the woods, con ‘em into staying put while they go ‘check on the others’, then they hightail it back to their tents or cabins! It’s a hoot!”

 

Sam didn’t look so enthusiastic about this. Al stopped laughing and shook his head. “All right, all right. I’ll show you the way back.”

 

A few minutes later, Sam was back at the cabins. He entered his, and awaiting him was the entire hunting party. There was a moment of silence, then everyone began to laugh. Al gladly joined in. Sam took it in stride. He finally got everyone to calm down, and sent the kids and adults off to their cabins. He then told Al to go away and let him sleep. Al obliged, and Sam curled into bed for a good night’s sleep.

 

 

Stallion’s Gate, New Mexico

Project Quantum Leap

 

“I’d like to apologize for my behavior.”

 

Robert looked at him curiously. “Please, don’t. I’m the one who should be apologizing. I realize how much you must miss your mother. I should never have said that.”

 

“No, believe me, it was actually good that you said it.” Al sat next to Robert. “It showed me how bitter I was becoming. You actually helped me.”


“Well... I guess I’m glad that I did. But I still shouldn’t have said it.”

 

“No, probably not, but that’s in the past now.”

 

“So, uh... you gonna tell me any more about what I’m doing here?”

 

“I... well...”

 

“You may have permission to speak with Mr. Walker about the basics of this Leap so long as you do not give out any important information.”

 

Robert widened his eyes and looked about, trying to find the source of the sultry voice. “Who was that?”

 

“Oh, that’s just Ziggy. She’s the computer that runs this place.”

 

“A computer that talks? No way.”

 

“Yup. You’d be amazed at what kind of stuff is in store for you in the future. Anyway, on to the important matters. As you know, Sam is there to save my mo--our mother, from dying. It won’t happen until the day after tomorrow, but I figure I should prepare you now. Sam will likely stay in 1982 until the danger of Jillian dying has passed.

 

“When you Leap back in, you’ll likely be in a hospital. What I want you to do is make sure that you contact me in your present and fill me in on what’s going on, okay? If I’m stubborn at first, let Jillian talk to me. Tell her that she can tell me everything she knows about me. It shouldn’t jeopardize my future since by 1982 I’ve already met Sam and he’s probably already telling me about his theories anyway. Just as long as she can get me to listen and to forgive her at that point of time... it should be easier for me at this point in time.”

 

“Don’t worry. I’ll be sure to do that.”

 

“Now, you might not remember anything that went on here. But, just in case you do--considering you’re genetically related to me--don’t say anything about what you’ve seen and heard here. This is a top-secret government project, and it could harm it immensely if you say a word about it. Besides, people would think you’re nuts.”

 

Robert laughed, and Al couldn’t help but join in. Al spent several more hours with Robert, talking and laughing and getting to know each other a bit better.

 

It was so much like the time that he had actually talked to his own younger self when Sam had Leaped into him. It was great. They bonded, which was easy with having so much in common with each other. Al felt that he was really ready for whatever may lie ahead with Sam’s Leap... and he was glad.

 

PART SEVEN

 

10:18am

July 28, 1982

Happy Valley Conference Center

 

Sam was having a heck of a time getting these kids to calm down. Luckily, they hadn’t played as many “new teacher” tricks on him as he had expected. Just some tacky glue on his seat, a worm in his apple, and his favorite--filling the desk drawer with pop-out snakes and nailing it shut.

 

But, now, the kids were arguing and had taken sides. LJ and the kids who were too old to see Sam for who he really was, were on one side of the room, Nicole and the kids who could see Sam were on the other. They were arguing about whether this was Robert or not.

 

Al arrived, and Sam breathed a sigh of relief. Hopefully, Al would know what to do. “I can’t get them to sit down and shut up. What should I do?”

 

“Take them on a nature walk,” Al suggested.

 

Nicole heard this and nodded her head. “Yeah! I wanna go on a nature walk!”

 

The other kids heard her exclamation and they agreed. Sam was grateful the kids were so interested. He nodded his head and raised his hands. The kids quieted.

 

“Okay. Joey suggested the other day that we go to Tiona. Does everyone else agree?” Everyone nodded their heads. “Okay, so, let’s go.”

 

Sam marched the kids outside. He looked at Al. The Observer nodded. “Ah, okay... I’ll get the directions for you.”

 

Ziggy fed the directions to the handlink, and Al conveyed them to Sam. “Thanks,” said Sam, a warm smile on his lips.

 

“No problem. Uh, I’m gonna go check on Jillian... just to, uh--you know, keep an eye on her. I’ll see ya later.”

 

“Okay, Al. See you in a bit.”

 

Al punched in a code and vanished.

 

 

Jillian was kneeling at the front of the Cathedral, her hands clasped tightly as she whispered solemn words of prayer. This was the scene that welcomed Al when St. John finished centering him where he had asked to go. Al sighed deeply as he watched Jillian praying.

 

Jillian somehow must have heard that sigh, for she immediately whirled in Al’s direction. When her gaze fell on him, a gasp escaped her mouth and she put a trembling hand up to touch her lips.

 

“Allie...” she whispered.

 

Al’s eyes became saucers. “Uh... St. John?” he called out. “What the hell is happening?”

 

Before St. John could utter a word, Ziggy replied to Al’s question. “Due to you and your mother having almost identical brain waves, and the pockets of magnetic and gravitational disturbances in this area, your connection with Sam has become a little... wacky, for the lack of a better term. Thus, for these reasons, I postulate that Jillian can see and hear you.”

 

Jillian rose from her position and slowly made her way over to Al. “You’re old,” she said in amazement, bringing Al’s attention back to her. “Are you a ghost?” At that thought, she quickly touched her forehead, breast, right shoulder, and left shoulder.

 

“No, I’m not a ghost,” Al answered.

 

“You’re visiting from the future, then, aren’t you? You’re here to exact revenge on me.”

 

“I don’t want revenge, Mama,” Al said, gesturing for Jillian to sit on a pew. He knelt, facing her with an intense gaze. “I’m here to help save you.”

 

“Save me? What are you going to save me from?”

 

Al pocketed the handlink and sighed. “Well, actually, my best friend is going to save you. See, he’s a scientist who travels through Time. One of his experiments went wrong, and now he occupies other people’s bodies in the past and must change something that once went wrong. This time, he’s here to save you from dying of a heart attack.”

 

“So, he chose to come save me?”

 

“Well, actually, he doesn’t have a choice as to where he goes. Whatever higher power is keeping him leaping is the one who chooses where he goes.”

 

“God chose him to save me,” Jillian said as more of a statement than a question. “I didn’t think I was worth it, after all I’ve done.”

 

“Mama, you’ve done nothing wrong.”

 

“I abandoned you... your sister... your father. How much more wrong can you get?”

 

“I know you left us, but I’ve come to understand that you still loved us...” Al had so much to say, and so little time. He decided to say everything he had on his mind. “But I still wonder exactly why you left.”

 

“I couldn’t handle Trudy,” Jillian replied instantly, then immediately looked guilty for the answer. “I know it sounds awful, but in those days, help for parents of Down Syndrome babies was extremely limited. I was young and naive. My friends ignored me... made hurtful comments and jokes. They thought she was hideous.”

 

“But why did you run off with Les? You said you loved Papa.”

 

“I did... when I married him. But by the time your sister was born, your father and I had grown apart. He was always at work while I was at home taking care of you and your sister. I resented the fact that he didn’t have to deal with the ignorant and hurtful things people would say about Trudy. He was never around enough to help me deal with caring for your sister.

 

“Then Les came to the door one day. You were at a friend’s house. I was holding Trudy when I opened the door. Les thought she was adorable. He didn’t run from the sight of her. We chatted, and though I had no money to buy books from him, I still invited him inside to talk. We talked for hours. He told me about where he was from, what church he went to, and we talked about Trudy.

 

“You didn’t know it, but Les began to come to our house every week. Soon, he was there every day. He could give me what your father never had. Excitement, mystery... love. Then your father and I had a fight--”

 

“The day before you left,” Al interrupted in a soft whisper.

 

“Yes. I don’t even remember what it was about. But he had me so angry... The next day, Les told me he was moving back to his hometown in California. I wanted to get away from your father, from your sister, from my life. So I left Trudy at Bill and Jan’s and left with Les without ever looking back.”

 

“I was at Tony’s house,” Al said quietly, the hurt and pain of that fateful day slowly creeping into his heart. “Papa picked me up that evening on his way home from work. We came into the house, wondering why the lights were off. We looked everywhere for you and Trudy...” Al caught his breath, trying to swallow the huge lump in his throat. “There was no note... nothing. You... you...” A single tear rolled gently down Al’s cheek, and Jillian reached out her hand to wipe it away.

 

But, alas, her hand swiped through Al’s face. As a look of shock, then sorrowful disappointment, crossed Jillian’s face, Al could no longer hold back the tears he had been trying so hard not to show in front of his mother.

 

“You didn’t say goodbye,” Al mumbled between sobs.

 

Jillian tilted her head. “Pardon?” she said, indicating she had been unable to hear Al’s quiet comment.  

 

“You didn’t say goodbye, Mama!” Al repeated loudly as he swiped at his eyes. A sob caught in his throat, and a fresh wave of tears poured from his eyes.

 

“Oh, Allie-cat...” Jillian said, her own eyes welling with tears. She held out her hand to touch his face, but restrained herself.

 

“Jan saw Papa and me arrive home,” Al continued through his receding sobs, “and she hurried over with Trudy. We were so relieved to see her... After that, Papa tried to stay home with us, but his work kept him away too much. So Jan watched us during the day. Then Papa had to go to the Middle East when I was nine. He dropped me off at an orphanage and Trudy at an institution, promising to be back soon.”

 

“He left you?” Jillian exclaimed. She lowered her eyes and shook her head.

 

“Just for a while,” Al replied immediately, trying to defend his father. “He did come back.”

 

“When?”

 

“Almost a year later... But, he, uh... He got cancer.” Al squeezed his eyes shut and ran his hand over his face. “He died soon after.” He took a shaky breath. “I stayed at the orphanage ‘til I was eighteen. And then I joined the Navy... as a pilot.”

 

Jillian smiled warmly. “I always knew you would be a pilot.”

 

“I’m retired now, Mama,” Al said, gesturing at the shoulder bars on his uniform. “A two-star Rear-admiral.”

 

“Good Lord! You’ve had a good life, then, hmmm?”

 

Al smiled wryly. “Mostly. Except I went to Vietnam, was shot down, captured and remained a POW ‘til 1975. But my wife was still waiting for me when I got back. We have four daughters now.” Al wiggled an eyebrow, and Jillian laughed.

 

“What about Trudy?” Jillian asked, suddenly becoming somber once more.

 

“I’ve taken care of her ever since Papa died. Beth--my wife--visited Trudy at the special home where she was living while I was away in Vietnam. Trudy lives nearby now, and we see her during holidays.”

 

Just then, the handlink squawked. Al didn’t want to use it in front of his mother, but Ziggy was becoming more and more insistent. Jillian looked at Al, questions in her gaze. Al sighed.

 

“It’s a hand-held computer,” he explained as he drew the handlink out of his pocket. “It gives me information about what my friend needs to do to leave.”

 

“Who is your friend? What is his name?”

 

“Sam. He’s a really, really brilliant scientist.”

 

“Sam...” Jillian echoed, her tone becoming thoughtful. “Sam Beckett, isn’t it?”

 

Al raised an eyebrow in subtle surprise. “Yeah, Sam Beckett.”

 

“I’ve heard a few things about him. He’s supposedly the smartest man in the world, with an IQ that’s off the scale.”

 

“That’s right, Mama. He’s been called the modern-day Einstein.”

 

“He’s occupying Robert’s body, isn’t he?”

 

“Yes, he is, as a matter of fact.”

 

“I knew it. There was something about Robert that seemed to change after we got here.”

 

Al glanced at the data scrolling across the handlink’s screen. Ziggy was urging him to do something, because the odds on Jillian surviving had not ascended at all during the conversation.

 

“Mama,” Al began, his gaze boring into hers. “You have to promise me something.”

 

“Anything, Allie-cat.”

 

“Stay close to Sam. He’s also a doctor, and he can help you when you... when...”

 

“I know, honey. You don’t have to say it.”

 

“I have to go right now, Mama, but I’ll be back, okay?” Al stood and made ready to punch in the Imaging Chamber Door code. Jillian stood as well. She approached Al and sighed deeply.

 

“Please forgive me,” she said in a hushed voice.

 

Al tilted his head and lifted his hand to Jillian’s cheek. Blue sparks of light filled the air, and Al’s tingling hand came in flesh-to-flesh contact with Jillian’s cheek. Jillian’s eyes brightened as she lifted her own hand and patted Al’s.

 

“Ziggy...?” Al whispered, frightened at this strange phenomenon.

 

“Shhh,” Jillian quieted Al. She closed her eyes and whispered to him.

 

Al smiled at the Russian phrase his mother had whispered to him every night when she tucked him into bed. “Do not question a miracle,” is what it translated into. He understood now what it meant.

 

“I forgive you, Mama,” Al said in a hushed and teary voice. “I forgive you.”

 

“There now.” Jillian let go of Al’s hand, and he let it drop to his side. More sparks of blue light emitted from his hand as it tingled yet again. “You go do what you need to do. I’ll go and stay with Sam.”

 

“Thank you, Mama,” Al murmured. He called up the Imaging Chamber door, took one more sorrowful glance at Jillian, and then the past was gone.

 

 

1:30pm

Happy Valley Conference Center

 

Sam Beckett was in deep thought. He was sitting alone next to the campfire, and he stared silently at the ashes in the fire-pit as he let his mind wander.

 

Al seemed to have been in a better mood the last time he had seen him, and Sam was thankful for that. Al would likely never know how hard it was for Sam to go through a leap that directly related to the admiral. It was hard for Sam to watch his friend suffer so.

 

A whoosh of air came out of the leaper’s mouth as he sighed. He was bored, and he wondered why GTFW had chosen for him to leap in so far before his mission was to be fulfilled. Then again, he seemed to recall a leap during which he had spent the better part of a month waiting for his leap to be completed. He wondered if he would ever remember why that particular leap had been so long.

 

Sam twisted his body around on the bench and maneuvered himself to lie on his back. Because the campfire area had been gutted of trees in a circular fashion, when you looked straight up, you could see an almost perfect circle of light that the tall trees surrounding the area created. Within that circle of light, Sam could see a crystalline blue sky.

 

So peaceful. So beautiful. If there were one place from all his leaps that he hoped he would remember, it would be this wonderful place. He felt as though he could talk to God and actually be heard. There was such serenity, such quiet.  And yet, if he lay still and listened carefully, he could hear the forest become alive. The birds squawking, the tree branches creaking, the creek rushing.  A large blue jay flew over and rested on the back of the bench. Sam sat up slowly and looked at the bird.

 

“Hello there.”

 

The bird twisted its head, so that one eye gazed pointedly at Sam. It tipped its head curiously.

 

“You must really love your home, huh?”

 

The bird seemed to nod as it dipped its head, its eye never leaving Sam.

 

“I can understand. I would love to live in a place like this. When I get home--” Sam paused as he realized he had used the word “when”, not “if”. “--I want to visit this place again. Bring Al and Beth and their daughters. And maybe even...”

 

He had the name on the tip of his tongue. A vague image of a middle-aged woman with long dark hair flitted through his mind’s eye, and he could almost hear the mellifluous Southern-accented voice. He knew she was someone significant, but was sure he would never know fully who it was until he returned home.

 

The bird gave a small chirp, bringing Sam back to attention.

 

“You know, Mr. Bluejay, I’ve noticed that my swiss-cheesing hasn’t been as bad this leap. Kinda funny, too, considering how swiss-cheesed Al said Robert was. Maybe it’s this place. Denise did mention that the gravitational and magnetic forces around here are a bit wonky.” He laughed at the word Denise had used.

 

Just then, Sam heard the Imaging Chamber Door grate open. The bird heard it as well and, startled, it took to flight. It made one round about the campfire, then vanished into the trees.

 

“Hey, Sam.” Glancing up at the circle of light and then around the small clearing, Al smirked. “Looking for your fairy friends, Frodo?” He was beginning to sound like himself again. Sam smiled in gratefulness for his friend’s sake.

 

“Hi, Al. I was just enjoying the scenery.”

 

“Yeah, it is a nice place, isn’t it? I think I’ll have to bring Beth here for our next anniversary.”

 

“I’m sure she’d love it...” Sam looked about. “So, anything new?”

 

“Not really. Oh, except that you’re supposed to sing at the talent show tonight.”

 

“I am? Les hinted that Robert can’t sing.”

 

Al laughed. “Well, he probably can’t, but you can. Ziggy said that Robert had signed up to sing. I guess he’s more confident in his talents than everyone else is.”

 

“I guess so. Will you be here?”

 

“Of course.” Al bounced on the balls of his feet. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world. Ziggy told me that the kids will be performing a song together.”

“I’ll certainly be looking forward to that.” Sam stood. “Is Ziggy sure that there is nothing else I’m supposed to change while I’m here? I mean, sitting here waiting just seems to be a waste of time.”

 

“Maybe GTFW decided to give you a sabbatical.”

 

Sam halted at Al’s use of that word. He suddenly heard a voice softly say in his mind, “...but they can also take sabbaticals...” Sam shook his head. If there was one leap he didn’t want to remember right now, it was that one. He just wasn’t up to thinking about it right now.

 

“Yeah, maybe he did,” Sam replied, “but I just can’t help but feel that there’s something more. I changed Denise’s choice of groom, encouraged her into pursuing her writing, and will save Jillian. But I feel like I need to change something else.”

 

“Well, if there’s something else for you to do, I’m sure you’ll figure it out soon enough. But, in the meantime, I’m gonna go freshen up then I’ll be back in time for the show.”

 

Sam nodded as the Observer poked at the handlink’s buttons and proceeded to step through the rectangle of light.

 

One of these days... Sam thought. One of these days, I’ll be able to actually walk through that door and go where he gets to go every time.

 

He heard a bluejay call out in the distance as he turned to walk up to the cabins.

 

 

7:06pm

Happy Valley Conference Center

 

Jillian willed herself to calm down as more people wandered in and took their seats. It was hard for her to keep still. She was so giddy after having been able to speak with Allie. She could not believe he was really there. At least now she knew who the man that looked like her brother was. She was amazed at the resemblance between Al and his uncle.

 

As she watched the performers prepare, Jillian smiled softly. Robert, or rather Sam Beckett, was insisting that he perform in the talent show. She knew that Dr. Beckett could sing; she had watched his performance at Carnegie Hall on PBS. But she didn’t know if his talent would come through Robert’s aura. She hoped for his sake that it would.

 

Jillian glanced around and caught sight of Al standing in the doorway, speaking with Dr. Beckett. It was odd to see her own son in the flesh while knowing that inside it was a complete stranger. She waved at Al, and he waved back as he grinned. Dr. Beckett said something else to Al then walked off. The older man made his way toward Jillian.

 

“Hello, Mama,” Al greeted her as he seemed to sit on the chair next to her.

 

Pointing at the chair, Jillian began to ask, “How--?”

 

He looked down and chuckled. “I’ve got a chair with me in here so I can sit down and look like I’m sitting. It proves useful when Sam’s driving a car and stuff.”

 

“I like it. It makes you seem all the more real.”

 

Les walked up then and began to sit in the seat Al was “sitting” on. Jillian stood and held her husband back. “No, dear. Sit on the other side.” She patted the chair on her other side. “Right here.”

 

Les gave a look of questioning, but remained silent as he moved to the other seat. Jillian took her seat once more, giving a quick smile to Al as Stacey Calahan tapped on the microphone up front and spoke into it.

 

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” the woman said cheerfully. “I would like to welcome you all to the Redwood Cathedral Camp Talent Show. We’ve got a great show in store for you, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.”

 

Several of the participants were the children. Lee Jr., Joey, Jeff, Greg, Jessica, Tracy, and Erin--costumed as Han Solo, Lando Calrissian, Luke Skywalker, Yoda, a Stormtrooper, a Rebel Trooper, and Princess Leia, respectively--sang a humorous Star Wars song parody called “Rebel Nights”, which was set to the tune of “Summer Nights”. The performance garnered a healthy round of applause and plenty of laughs.

 

Nicole sang a beautiful rendition of “America the Beautiful”. She continually glanced at Dr. Beckett, and Jillian wondered if the young girl could actually see through Robert’s aura. The girl hadn’t seemed to have much interest in Robert before Dr. Beckett had arrived.

 

Then it was Dr. Beckett’s turn. Jillian glanced over at Al, who grinned and winked at her.

 

It turned out that Dr. Beckett’s talents were not in any way hindered by occupying Robert’s aura. It was the first and only time Jillian had ever heard her son sing “Amazing Grace” with such beauty and perfect tonality. Looking at Al, she could see that he, too, was affected by Dr. Beckett’s singing. Her son’s eyes were moist, and he was sneaking a sniffle here and there, trying to hide his reactions however unnecessary. Dr. Beckett’s performance got him a standing ovation. Jillian applauded as hard and long as she could.

 

Mae and Wayne were next, the last performance of the show, and they had everyone clapping and singing along to a medley of old-time country and gospel songs. The show ended with a prayer and everyone was then able to mingle.

 

Dr. Beckett came over to Jillian and shook her hand. She whispered in his ear, “You sing wonderfully, Dr. Beckett.”

 

He gave her a confused look, glanced over at Al, then smiled in realization. He leaned over and whispered back, “Thank you, and you can call me Sam.”

 

Jillian nodded her agreement then took Les’ hand. “Well, Les, I think it’s about time for us to go to bed. Tomorrow is our last day here, and I’d like to be rested up.”

 

“Okay, honey.” Les patted Sam on the shoulder. “Well done, son. Whatever you did to yourself, keep it up.”

 

“I’ll try,” Sam replied with a laugh. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

 

“All right, sweetie,” Jillian said to Sam. “Good night, and God Bless.”

 

She and Les left the building. Les turned on his flashlight and they headed up to the cabins to sleep. Jillian had a feeling that tomorrow was to be a big day for her... and everyone.

 

 

PART EIGHT

 

7:38am

July 29, 1982

Happy Valley Conference Center

 

Al knelt at the altar that stood at the front of the Cathedral of the Redwoods. He folded his hands neatly in front of himself, setting them gently in his lap. He turned his face upward and closed his eyes.

 

“It’s been a while since I’ve done this, God. I’m really not sure what to say. Sure, I attend church every once in a great while, but usually, prayers there are more formal and almost seem rehearsed. I’m not used to talkin’ to you personally like this.

 

“But I really felt like I needed to tell you how grateful I am that you sent Sam here. The events surrounding my mother’s ‘disappearance’... well, it’s all been a burden on my shoulders for a very long time. And I just wanted to thank you for allowing me to finally deal with everything.

 

“I know that today is going to be hard on everyone, including myself and Sam. Please give Sam the strength to do what he needs to do. Let him be able to remember enough of his medical stuff to keep Mama from dying.

 

“Please, let Mama not suffer too much. Please send any angels you can spare to help comfort her in her time of need.

 

“Let Robert remember at least some things about his visit to the Project. If not the Project itself, then just me... our conversations. It was really nice to have a brother to talk to.

 

“Oh, yeah... could you somehow let my past self have some sort of idea of what’s going on when he’s contacted by Robert? I don’t want something to go wrong and ruin things here in the present.

 

“And, while not completely affected, could you please send some extra angels to watch over Trudy? I’m really sorry about not being able to see her more often. It’s just that this work is really demanding. If I had the choice, I’d see her every day.

 

“Thank you for taking time out of your very obviously busy day to listen to a puny human like myself. Talkin’ to you out here makes me really feel as though you’ve heard me.”

 

Al paused, swallowed hard, then finished. “Thanks bunches, Lord. You’ll never know--”

 

“Al?”

 

Al jumped up and twisted about at the sound of Sam’s voice. “Oh, hey, Sam.”

 

“Good morning, Al,” Sam greeted. “Did we interrupt you?”

 

Jillian was standing next to Sam, a gentle smile on her face. She looked perfectly healthy, and Al wondered how she could possibly be destined to suffer a heart attack.

 

“No,” Al replied. “Not at all. I was just finishing.”

 

Jillian frowned and narrowed her eyebrows. “If I’m going to be having a heart attack today, why don’t you just drive me to the hospital right now?”

 

“The heart attack was unexpected,” Sam began to explain.

 

“Ziggy says your medical records have you in top health at this moment in time,” Al interjected.

 

“Because of that,” Sam continued, “if we were to take you now, you would be tested and then sent away because there would be nothing wrong with you.”

 

“So we’re going to take you to the hospital about twenty minutes before the estimated time of death,” Al stated. “When the symptoms begin to appear, we’ll take you into the hospital.” He glanced at the handlink. “Ziggy says that’s the best way.”

 

Jillian nodded somberly. “It is a rather odd feeling, waiting to die.”

 

“You’re not gonna die, Mama.” Al rubbed the side of his nose with his thumb. “We’re gonna make sure of that.”

 

“I know, honey, but it still feels awkward knowing I could have died had you not been here.”

 

“Believe me, I know how it feels.” Al smiled. “I’ve found myself in that position a few times over the course of the past few years.” He looked over at Sam. “My friend here seems to have a knack for leaping into situations that put my life in danger.”

 

Sam gave the Observer a playful-angry glare and chuckled. “Not my fault.”

 

“Yeah, I know.” Al checked the handlink. “Oh, well, St. John needs me to help him with something. Tina’s still in bed, so he’s the only one workin’ in the Control Room right now. I’ll be back later. I promise.”

 

Jillian and Sam nodded their good-byes. Al punched in the appropriate code, and within seconds, he vanished.

 

 

2:45pm

Happy Valley Conference Center

 

Sam never let Jillian out of his sight for one second during the day. He had her help him with his class, eat lunch with him, and he stayed awake while she slept during Rest Time. The Leaper could not get rid of the feeling that something wrong was going to happen. That something history was not telling Ziggy and Al was going to occur. He wanted to be prepared for anything.

 

Sam was now walking with Jillian to the cafeteria. They still had several hours before anything was to transpire, so they had decided to spend their time mingling with the children.

 

“The children told me yesterday that they wanted to practice their singing,” Jillian informed Sam as they entered the cafeteria. All the children were in here, spread out as they performed different activities. LJ and Tracy were in the adjacent room, playing Ping-Pong. All the other boys were on the floor with several board games scattered about. Erin, Jessica, and Nicole were in one corner, trying on several shades of their mothers’ makeup.

 

“It’s amazing how children kept themselves so busy before computers became household appliances,” Sam said in wonder.

 

“It is always good when a child can expand his or her imagination,” Jillian replied softly. “These are the next leaders of the world.”

 

Nicole saw Sam and Jillian and ran up to them. “Hi, guys!”

 

Sam ruffled Nicole’s blonde hair. “Hello there. Wanna practice some of your singing?”

 

“Yeah!” The girl bounced in glee and turned to the others. “Hey, Sam’s gonna play piano for us!”

 

Jillian furrowed her brow. “She knows who you are?”

 

“Any children six and younger can see me and Al. It has something to do with them being in an Alpha state; basically, they’re still innocent.”

 

“Ah, I see.”

 

Sam went over to the piano, and soon all the children, including LJ and Tracy, were gathered around the piano.

 

“Okay,” Sam told the children. “Let’s start with a simple song. How about... ‘Amazing Grace’?”

 

Everyone nodded, and Sam began to play. He was amazed at how harmonious the children were together, especially the children from the Conover family. The others were doing a good job as well. But he noticed that Joey was singing completely off-key and out of sync with everyone else. Sam stopped playing and scrutinized Joey.

 

“Joey, you’re not staying in sync with everyone else.”

 

The young boy looked at him with questioning in his eyes. “What’s ‘in sync’?”

 

“It means that everyone is singing the same tune at the same exact time.”

 

“Oh... okay.”

 

Sam continued his playing, and this time, Joey hit every note in-tune and in-sync. He learned fast, Sam noted.

 

After playing some requests, Sam took Jillian into the kitchen to get some snacks. They talked with the Conover sisters, discussing everything from the weather to the stock market. Then Sam and Jillian challenged LJ and Tracy to a game of Ping-Pong.

 

“I’m not very good at this,” Jillian admitted as LJ handed out the paddles.

 

“Don’t worry,” Sam assured her. “I haven’t played it in a while myself.”

 

“You played it with Teresa’s brother, Kevin,” Al’s voice provided.

 

Sam had to physically stop himself from jumping at Al’s sudden appearance. He wondered how many more times his friend was going to sneak up on him this leap. He gave Al “The Look”, silently reminding the hologram that LJ and Tracy could not see him as himself. Al took the hint and turned to Jillian.

 

“How are you holding up?” Al asked, concern clear in his voice. Jillian flashed a bright smile, her eyes twinkling, showing him her answer. Al smiled in relief. “That’s good.”

 

The handlink beeped. Al read the data to Sam. “Hey, Sam, Ziggy has an idea of why you feel like there’s something left to do. Apparently, Mae and Wayne have wanted to start a family show down in Branson, Missouri, for quite a while. They just haven’t had the motivation to do anything. Ziggy says that if you can get the kids interested in being in a stage show, they can convince Mae and Wayne to go through with their plans. Ziggy says that Branson isn’t extremely large in 1982, but in the present, it’s called the Music Capitol of the World. Every major old-country artist performs down there.”

 

Sam tipped his head, covering with a sneeze. He dropped the ball on the table to serve to LJ. “So, ah, LJ... You kids sounded pretty good together.”

 

“Thank you, sir. Our family’s been singing since before I was even born.”

 

“You know, there’s a great little town in Missouri called Branson. They have theaters out there where people perform songs for tourists. It seems like a great place. Maybe your whole family should start a show down there.”

 

“Really? That’s cool! We’d get to perform in front of tons of people, wouldn’t we?”

 

“Yes. Millions.”

 

“MawMaw and PawPaw have always wanted to perform for lots of people. That would be really cool for them.”

 

“It would.”

 

LJ grinned. “I’ll be sure to tell them about it!”

 

“I’m sure they’ll like--”

 

Jillian cried out. Everyone’s attention turned to her as she began to clutch at her chest. Al froze and a terrific horror flared in his eyes. Sam grabbed hold of Jillian as she collapsed. He laid her on the floor and began to administer CPR.

 

“Denise!!!” Sam called frantically in between breaths. “Get in here!”

 

Denise came running, her sisters not too far behind. “What’s the matter?”

 

“My mom’s having a heart attack!”

 

“Oh, my god.”

 

Sam gazed pointedly at Denise. “Listen. Do you have any Bayer aspirin with you?”

 

“I’ve got some in my purse,” Edie said. “I’ll go get it.”

 

“Good. Now, Denise, go call 911.”

 

“Got it.” She ran out of the room as Edie returned, a medication bottle in her hand. Sam could hear the pills shaking slightly, and noted that Edie’s complexion had become extremely pale.

 

Sam took the bottle from Edie and quickly snapped off the lid. He poured several pills into his hand and administered two to Jillian.

 

“What’s happening, Ziggy?!” Al demanded as he watched Sam try to revive Jillian. “She wasn’t supposed to get sick ‘til tonight!”

 

“I cannot explain what is happening,” Ziggy replied calmly. “There is no reason for this to be occurring.”

 

“Well, try to find out why this happened,” Al threatened as he dropped to his knees beside his mother.

 

Jillian looked up at Al, her eyes amazingly clear when in so much pain. She could not speak aloud, but she managed to whisper gently, “Allie-cat...”

 

Al held back the tears. He had to be strong for Jillian; he had to keep a cool head. However, he couldn’t think of a way to keep himself calm.

 

“Psalm...” Jillian whispered hoarsely.

 

Al understood the request. Summoning his courage, he folded his hands and began to recite his mother’s favorite scripture. “‘The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.’”

 

At the moment that Al finished, paramedics rushed into the building. Things became a blur after that. Al tried to keep up with everything, but they worked too fast. He was grateful for the swiftness of the response.

 

Soon, Jillian was loaded onto the ambulance and was being hauled quickly to the nearest hospital. Al stayed with Jillian while Sam, Les, and Denise followed in Les’ car.

 

Two hours later, Al was still pacing in front of the room Jillian had been taken into. Although he knew he could look in at any time, he couldn’t bring himself to see the doctors working on Jillian.

 

“You need to sit down,” Sam whispered, hoping Les and Denise would not hear him.

 

“I can’t,” Al replied as he began his trek across the hall for the hundredth time. “I have to move.”

 

Sam stood. “I’m going to the bathroom.” He gave Al his other “Look”, and Al reluctantly re-centered himself in the nearest men’s restroom.

 

Sam entered, made sure the room was empty, and locked the door. He turned to Al.

 

“Does Ziggy know when I’m gonna leap?”

 

“Sam, does it look like I’ve had the time to check? My mother might be dying, and you want to know when you’re gonna leave?”

 

“I didn’t mean it that way, Al, and you know it.”

 

“Sorry, Sam. I’m just... well...”

 

“I know, Al. I know. I’m going to go back out there. You can come with me, but only if you promise to calm down.”

 

Al dipped his head in acknowledgment. “Okay, okay.”

 

Sam left the restroom and ran right smack into Les.

 

“Oh, there you are, Bobby!” Les said frantically. “The doctor came out to give us an update, but I wouldn’t let him speak ‘til you came back.”

 

“Well, let’s go see what he has to say.”

 

“Yes, let’s do,” Al pleaded.

 

The men walked to the waiting room and greeted the doctor.

 

“I am happy to inform you,” the doctor told Les, “that your wife is out of danger and will fully recover from her ordeal.”

 

Les let out a deep sigh, Sam smiled in relief, and Al burst into joyful tears.

 

“Now,” the doctor proceeded, “she will still be a little weak for a while, and you will need to help her with any strenuous work, but she will feel fine after a few more weeks. I do advise that you help her avoid overly-fatty and greasy foods, as that could cause another attack.”

 

Les continually nodded as the doctor spoke, soaking in all information he was given.

 

“If you want, you can go see your wife. However, I would like for it to be one at a time, and keep your visits short.”

 

Les was out of the room within five seconds. He came back fifteen minutes later and told Sam that he could now visit with Jillian.

 

Sam went to Jillian’s room and cautiously opened the door. He peeked around the door. Jillian saw him and grinned. “Come on in.”

 

Sam entered, and Al walked quickly through the wall, intent on seeing his mother. Jillian laughed softly, careful not to cause more pain.

 

“How are you, Mama?” Al asked immediately.

 

“I’m doing wonderful, Allie. I’m really grateful you were there for me. And I would like to thank you, Sam, for saving my life.”

 

“All in a day’s work,” Sam replied.

 

“Allie, I need your phone number... I mean, the one you have in my time frame. I want to contact... you.”

 

Al shrugged and tapped on the handlink. “Okay. It’s area code 619-555-3536.”

 

“Thank you.” Jillian grabbed the receiver off the phone next to her bed and dialed the number.

 

Al stood quietly, waiting. Jillian smiled as she apparently heard Al’s voice on the other end.

 

“Hello?” Jillian said tentatively. “Is this Albert Calavicci? This is... My name is Jillian Walker--I’m... I’m your mother.”

 

Jillian hesitated, obviously listening. Sam sat down beside Jillian’s bed and listened as Jillian tried to explain herself to the Al of her time. It sounded as though she was having a hard time convincing Al that she was being truthful.

 

After several minutes, Jillian patiently laid the receiver onto its base.

 

Immediately, Al the hologram made a sound of surprise. He had been wearing a red suit with an orange tie and yellow fedora... but now he was donned in a black suit and tie. His eyes widened in shock, then he took a sharp intake of air.

 

“Oh, my god...” he whispered, his eyes glazing. He looked past Sam, as if looking at someone else. Sam guessed it was Beth.

 

“What’s the matter, Al?” Sam asked in concern.

 

“I... uh, history’s changed, Sam.”

 

“Well, what is it? What changed?”

 

“Everything. The original history has just now shifted.” Jillian looked at the two men in confusion. Al noticed and gestured toward the door. “Ah, Sam... let’s go out there for a moment. There’s some stuff I gotta tell you. Sorry, Mama, but this concerns the future, so I can’t let you hear this stuff.”

 

Jillian dipped her head in response. Al walked through the wall while Sam used the door. As soon as the two men were back in the restroom, Sam was asking Al what had changed.

 

“Okay, here’s what I know, from the new memories,” Al started. “Les died in January 1983 after a fatal car accident. Mama moved in with Beth and I. She lived with us until I had to move to New Mexico for the project. Mama moved into a rest home in Alamogordo.”

 

He hesitated, looking down at his clothes. He sniffed, and he took a deep breathe before continuing. “Mama died three days ago... right after you Leaped in here.”

 

Sam remained silent, but his sympathy was very apparent in his eyes.

 

“The funeral is in a few hours...” Al clarified. “That’s why I’m dressed like this.”

 

“I’m so sorry, Al.” That was all Sam could think of saying.

 

Al shook his head. “Don’t be, Sam. I... I’ve got a lot of wonderful memories of my mother now. We were mother and son for about two decades. That’s all I ever wanted--to have my mother back.”

 

“I’m glad for you, Al. I really am.”

 

The handlink bleeped and blinked, and Al lifted it up. “Ziggy’s telling me I need to tell you what else has changed. I’ll start with Denise.” He lowered the handlink and continued from memory. “She and Robert got married, of course. They’re living in Dallas now, with their two kids... my two nephews.” He smiled. “Denise ended up attending college, and now she’s a world-famous author. At this very moment, Bobby, Denise and the kids are staying at my place off the Project. Denise is currently working on her newest biography...” Al grinned and revealed the next bit of information. “It’s my life-story. You wouldn’t believe how it happened, Sam! I had ended up meeting Denise at a party celebrating the opening of Project Star Bright. I guess she found my stories fascinating and wanted to write my biography.”

 

Sam laughed. “That’s great, Al. She told me about that, but never said who it was. I had guessed as much, though.”

 

“Oh, Lee Jr. told Mae and Wayne about his interest in starting a show in Branson, and with a little convincing done by the kids, they moved to Branson and now they and the families of Denise’s sisters have a huge family show down there. It’s the biggest show there. And it’s wonderful... Beth and I went there not too long ago.”

 

The handlink whirred and Al consulted it. “Ziggy wants you to know that she found out who Joey is...” As Al read the data, he began to laugh heartily. “You’re never gonna believe this! Joey’s last name is Fatone... He’s the Joey from the boyband *N SYNC!” Al slapped his knee.

 

“*N SYNC?” Sam looked downright amused. “Please don’t tell me he was the one that named the band.”

 

“Well, as a matter of fact, he was the one to first suggest the name. But all five came up with the spelling.... Oh, that’s right! You leaped the same year the band got together. You probably don’t even know who *N SYNC is.”

 

Sam laughed. “You’ve got that right.” He flinched. “Ah... Al? I, uh, think I’m about ready to leap.”

 

Al raised his eyebrows. “Oh, please, Sam... not yet. Not just yet!”

 

Sam hurried out of the restroom into Jillian’s room. Al re-centered himself, getting him there ahead of Sam by a few seconds.

 

“Jillian?” Sam called softly, testing to see if the woman was awake. She was.

 

“Hello, Sam.”

 

“I think I’m going to be leaving soon, so I came to say goodbye.”

 

“Oh... I really wish you could stay longer.”

 

Sam walked over to Jillian and took her hand in his. “I wish I could, too, but I have to go on to other places... other times. I’ve gotta go put right some more wrongs. But I’m willing to bet that you’ll eventually meet me as me in your future.”

 

Jillian beamed. “See you later, then. God Bless, Sam Beckett.”

 

Sam stiffened slightly, but didn’t let the familiar words get to him. He leaned over and hugged Jillian then left the room, leaving Al alone with Jillian.

 

Al slowly made his way over to Jillian’s bed. His heart was heavy, knowing that he had just lost this sweet woman just three days before. He know this would be the very last time he would ever see her alive.

 

“Thank you, Mama, for everything.”

 

“I didn’t do anything.”

 

“You will, Mama... you will.”

 

Jillian looked confused, but then seemed to understand the implication. “I will miss you.”

 

“You don’t have to. You’ll be seeing me really soon, remember?”

 

“Your past self, you mean. I mean that I will miss you as in the you I am talking with at this very moment. The mature man who has grown much over the past few days.” She eyed Al’s suit. “From what I have seen of you, and from the way Sam reacted, I would venture to say that you do not normally dress so conservative.”

 

Al sighed deeply. “No, I don’t usually.”

 

“It’s my funeral, isn’t it?”

 

“Oh, god, Mama... you are way too smart for own good.”

 

“I take that as a yes.”

 

“Three days ago,” Al said simply, nodding his head gently.

 

Jillian accepted this. “At least I will have many years to come to spend with you. To get to know you.”

 

“Believe me, it will be highly worth it. The memories I have of our life together are all good. I can’t seem to recall even one significant fight between us. We got along great.”

 

“I am so glad to know that, honey. I look forward to it.”

 

Al began to feel the energy and knew Sam was beginning to Leap. He stepped closer to Jillian’s bed and leaned toward her. “I’ve gotta go now, Mama. I love you with all my heart.”

 

“I love you, too, my Allie-cat.”

 

Al bent over, and as blue sparks flew through the air, he lightly brushed his lips against Jillian’s forehead. He reached for her hand. He touched it and held on as the world burst into a million pieces of energy and the Leap took over.

 

EPILOGUE

 

Blue flashes of the cosmic equivalent of static electricity danced up and down the body of Sam Beckett. Sam drifted into the disorientation that started each and every leap across the vacuum of time and space. Crackling sounds danced in his ears as Sam swayed to and fro being thrown side-to-side and bounced up and down. Surrounded by men dressed in desert khaki outfits, they were uncomfortably sitting in the back of a canvass-covered truck driving through the desert along a very rough road. Behind them was a very dust-covered HMMV driven by two United States’ Army soldiers in full battle dress, helmets and goggles. The men in the truck appeared to be civilians in various states of slumber and weariness.

 

An explosion behind them shook the vehicle, sending a shower of dust and dirt into the back of the two and one half-ton Army truck.

 

“Sure scared the boomers off me, mate,” the thirtyish gentleman said next to Sam. Sam nodded in agreement and pulled his arms tight around himself until he saw the clear fingernail polish on his fingers. Pulling at his shirt he realized it was tied high on his waist as many women did in the hot summer months back in New Mexico.  Another visit to the feminine side, thought Sam as he held himself tighter and leaned back against the hard board that barely made an adequate seat back.

 

Watching the dust kick up behind the truck Sam thought he heard a high whine over the racket made by the truck. As the whine became even higher and louder the Army officers behind them looked up into the sky and yelled something that sounded like “Incoming!”

 

The truck stopped with one massive jerk throwing a couple of occupants to the floor. Everyone exited the vehicle pushed and shoved their way to the ditch on the side of the road. The whine was very high overhead as Sam was thrown into the ditch on top of large, flat rock.

 

Just as his head impacted the hard ground an explosion ripped through the convoy just ahead of them throwing up flames and debris from at least two different vehicles. Cries of humans could be head as the man next to him provided a very good knowledge of his mother country’s curse words and finished with, “That SCUD was too damned close!”

 

Sam raised his dirty, dusty, bloody head, spit out some dust and mumbled, “Oh boy!”  

 

 

Email R. Joy Helvie