Episode 1004


by: A. J. Burfield

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As soon as I stepped from the transport I knew this was going to be a special duty in more than one way. Bronson got to pick where he wanted, like all the rest of those first - in - their - class nozzles, but I got this and I can't tell anyone about it. I'm not even sure I have the right security level to set foot in this place, but I guess Command knows what it's doing.

I know Indian Summer means hot, but damn! I thought survival training was tough with its ugly terrain but this beats that all to Hell. No, this is Hell. Even with the reputation of this place, I'm still glad to be just be passing through. I hope. I have enough time for a cold one, but there sure doesn't appear to be any place around here for that kind of thing. After I situate my bag on my shoulder, I turn my attention to the Lieutenant J.G. that's here to greet us and note his nametag - P.R. Grayson.

"Welcome to Groom Lake, gentlemen. Follow me, please."

I wonder whom Lt. Grayson pissed off to get assigned here? If you're not a pilot, and he's not, this place would be, well, Hell. These other three from the transport must have to stay awhile, too, poor suckers. I'll be happy to see this place in my rear view; I just hope the 'temporary courier duty' on my orders really do mean I'm not stickin' around.

"Ensign Calavicci."

I know that voice. I turn around, snap to attention and automatically render a perfect salute. "Commander Jenkins, sir." What's he doing here?

"Follow me, Ensign."

I fall behind him and leave the little troop from the transport. He must be the reason I'm here. I thought he liked me - I hope I'm not wrong. Oh crap, I hope he's not gonna ask that I be his assistant or something! I wouldn't stay here for all the tea in China. At least he's taking me inside out of the sun - thank the Lord for air conditioning. At least now it doesn’t feel like this collar’s gonna choke me to death.

This is great - the photos on the wall are fantastic! Those planes must be a kick in the butt to fly!

"Those, Ensign, are the recent prototypes developed and flown here at Area 51. A bit radical, wouldn't you say?"

He sounds amused. "Radical isn't the word I'd use, sir. These look like something from science fiction."

He glances back at me and cracks a smile over his shoulder, the first smile I've ever seen on him. I guess he normally has to keep a stern face to try and scare the crap out of us cadets; I'm an Ensign now. Guess I’m privileged enough to see he’s human.

"Yeah, they are rather unique. You were briefed on security protocol? You can't name this place, confirm it exists or disclose that you've been here?"

"Yes, sir." I don't know anyone in his right mind that would want to come to this dump to stay, even with the reputation it has. Well - except maybe to fly those. "Sir? Those planes - do they really exist?"

There's that smile again.

"Yes, Ensign, they do. But not outside this facility."

I can play this game. "Yessir."

Commander Jenkins finds an office and hitches his hip onto a desk. He motions for me to close the door and I obey.

"You're probably wondering why you're here, aren't you Ensign?"

Yeah, that thought had crossed my mind about a zillion times since Pensacola. "Yes, sir, I was."

He took his time in replying and studies me for a minute. I don't look away.

"I noticed you in flight training, Ensign. You have talent, but are undisciplined to the point of almost being insubordinate. That's the only reason you placed 5th in your class."

Fourth loser, I automatically think. "Yes, sir."

"You are good behind the stick. You have a natural feel for flight that can be honed to a very useful skill. On the ground, however, you are a rogue and that's what will sink you if you don’t straighten up."

I can feel the old burn starting in my cheeks and will myself to stay calm. So what's wrong with wanting to live a little while I can? Did this guy have to get a surgical operation or was he born with a stick up his ass? As I thought before, I can play this game, buddy, just watch me. "Yes, sir."

"I know what you're thinking, Ensign."

About surgery? I hope not.

"I can see it in your eyes."

You'd like me to believe that, wouldn't you?

"I called you here to give you a little incentive."

Oh God! Not an assistant - a janitor!

"I want you to see what's coming for you - and the Navy."

Wait a second… huh? "Excuse me, sir?"

He hands me a photo. "Look at this."

It's a picture of the most beautiful thing I've ever laid my eyes on. Those lines, the profile! And what a pair of . . .

"I see you noticed the engines, Ensign Calavicci. She can hit Mach 2 without a shimmy and is as smooth as silk. She's called the A4 Valiant, and is the only one of her kind."

"She's a beauty, sir." And she is. Why are you teasing me? I can't fly this. I feel my anger flare, but keep my cool.

Commander Jenkins nods at the picture. "I'm flying this baby from here to Edwards in California. I want you in the second seat."

Oh my God, I've died and gone to heaven! 


Wolfsberg, New Mexico

April 10, 2005



No, no, no, no. Not yet.

"Al, honey!"

Go away. Ten more minutes!

"Al! Get up, dear! You overslept!"

Ooooohhhhh, I don't wanna. "Huh?" I rub my eyes in an effort to get them open. It's our fifth day here; we rarely get this kind of time in Wolfsberg and I'm really getting into this relaxation thing. Is this what retirement would be like?

When I finally crack my lids, I can see Beth standing next to the bed. Behind her is a large, arched window that is now open and letting in lots of sun. At first I curse the light, but as my eyes focus I can see that the sunlight goes right through the thin material of Beth's nightgown. Her beautiful body is perfectly outlined just for me, and suddenly I do feel like rising. Completely.

She stands with her hands on her hips and a cocky smile on her lovely face. Her hair is mussed and she looks absolutely perfect. I lift the sheet with a leer. "Come on, honey, and help me get up." I pat the mattress with my other hand.

"Al!" But she's giggling. "What am I, your alarm clock?"

"You certainly have my alarms going. Come on!"

She moves toward me and gets close enough for my arm too catch her waist. She laughs again, and puts her soft hands on my cheeks as she bends down to kiss me. I pull her down.

"You have morning breath!"

"So much the better to breathe down your neck with, my dear!"

Her laugh is throaty and inviting when the phone rings. Neither one of us acknowledges it and we continue our heavy necking. My hands slip under the diaphanous gown and all over her warm, soft body that always smells slightly of vanilla.

"Al, the phone," she mumbles between the kisses to my chest. Her lips are warm and damp and show little sign of stopping. Must be following my lead - oooh, this is heaven!

Neither one of us can hear the answering machine pick up downstairs. "The butler got it," I mumble between tastes of her skin and the feel of her hair between my fingers. The nightgown is now a feathery drift on the floor and my pajamas are somewhere loose in the bed. Beth's skin and mine meet and heat where they rub together, our hands exploring every inch of each other.

My Project wrist communicator makes a noise from the nightstand. I ignore it. Beth tastes wonderful and I find myself falling into that heavenly state of . . .

"Admiral Calavicci."

What? Ziggy? I disconnected Ziggy's voice in this house.

"Admiral Calavicci. Dr. Beckett has leaped."

But I didn't disconnect the communicator . . . I can't.

"Who? What?" Damn! Beth freezes in place, her breathing heavy on my chest, her legs tight against my hips. "Ziggy?"

"Admiral, Dr. Beckett has leaped and Dr. Beeks has evaluated the Visitor. It is important that you get here as soon a possible."

Suddenly my urgency has switched tracks. Beth retreats to the other side of the bed, her face flushed and simply. . . intoxicating.

"Admiral, Dr. Beckett is about to be involved in a plane crash."

"What?" I leap to my feet and grab the communicator, fumbling to attach it to my wrist as I glance hurriedly around for my clothes. My dear, sweet, sexy wife is doing the same. "What plane crash? What happens? Can't Sammy Jo cover for me until I get there?"

"You tell us, Admiral. It appears that Dr. Beckett has leaped into you - Bingo - again, and we can't get a whole lot out of Bingo Calavicci. I'm having trouble locating the details of this incident. We need you."

I freeze and stare at the device. The slight breeze from the window combined with the news cause goose bumps all over my body. A chill zings up my spine. My earlier excitement has instantly changed into cold fear. "What's the date, Ziggy?" My voice sounds flat.

"October 12, 1956."

"Good God," I whisper, scrubbing my face with my hands. It all rushes back to me and I feel sick. My knees wobble as I grope for the clothes Beth is holding out to me. I dress automatically as my mind races. "What time is it, Ziggy? Has Sam taken off yet? Are they in the air?"

"Dr. Beckett has leaped in during the preflight check."

"You won't find much on record, I can tell you that. I'll fill you in on what I know when I get there."

"Yes, Admiral."

"I'm on my way." I can just make it if I skip a shower and shave. The wrist device goes dark and the fear must be clear on my face because I can see exactly how I feel in Beth's beautiful eyes. She's just as scared as I am - and I hate the way it looks on her. I have to touch her face to reassure myself that I am here, in the future; I hadn't even met Beth yet in Sam's time. My touch causes a tiny smile to appear and some of the fear to dissipate from her eyes. "I have to go." My voice sounds husky.

Beth nods. "I know. I'll be in soon." She knows better than to ask details right now. "I love you, Al."

I get to the Project in record time and I'm sure I look like Hell. None of the guards give me a second glace - they're too well trained to do so. I finally contact Ziggy in the elevator.

"Ziggy? I'm here and going right to the Imaging Chamber."

"Edward has it ready for you, Admiral." Even Ziggy's intimate use of St. John's name doesn't faze me today. "I will inform Dr. Beeks that you are on site."

"Thanks. There's no reason for me to talk to the Visitor. I think I already know why Sam's there."

"When are you going to tell me?" There's a definite pout factor in Zig's tone. "I am having difficulty finding information on this leap."

"I doubt you'll find anything, Ziggy. I'll brief you after I speak to Sam."

No reply. She's definitely pissed.

The startled looks the civilian personnel give me are many; I'm not often seen in jeans and polo shirts. Hell, I don't even have socks on.  The glances in the Control Room are more amused than shocked. St. John holds out the link automatically and I take it on my way to the Imaging Chamber without pause.

"Hit it, St. John." 


Over the Nevada Desert
October 16, 1956

The words are barely out of my mouth when the world spins for a moment. When the vision settles, I find myself among the clouds. I can't help but smile - my second home.

"Sam?" There's the back of a jet seat in front of me. I know exactly where Sam is, and pass through the chair and turn around. My back is now to the pilot, and I can see Sam's wide eyes locked on me through his helmet goggles. He can't talk because he has his oxygen mask on. "Can you hear me?"

Sam nods. I can see he's not real happy to be here, I guess I can't blame him, but the pang of jealousy I feel lets me know that I'd switch places with him in a New York second. "I know you can't talk. You're hooked up to the pilot on intercom, right? Commander Jenkins?"

Sam nods again. I can see the questions in his eyes - he's ready to burst.

"Sam, I know why you're here. Do you know who you've leaped into?"

The familiar furrows form between his eyes, and he shakes his head. I'm not surprised - I'm sure all he's been called so far has been 'Ensign' and his nametag is under that flight suit. I take a steadying breath. "You're me again, Sam." Sam's eyes grow big again, but this time from shock. I'm sure that information only brought forth more questions in his mind. "It's 1956. I'm an Ensign in the Navy."

He nods slightly. I can read his mind: Why am I here? 

"Let me tell you what happens and we'll take it from there. In about 15 minutes, this plane is going to crash." Panic makes his eyes huge. "You - Bingo - survive. You get ejected. So does the Commander, but he doesn't make it, Sam."

Sam blinks several times and starts to fidget. I'm sure he's probably feeling a little sick right now - I know I am!

The Commander’s tinny voice barks through the lines and Sam twitches, startled. "Ensign! Check the radar. Looks like there'll be some turbulence up ahead."

I nod at Sam to reply.

"Yyyes, sir."

I can tell Sam's pretty shook up. A rough ride isn't going to make this any easier - he's gripping the armrest so hard he's gonna rip 'em off. "Look there, Sam, while I talk. The radar screen. There." I point to the small, circular screen to his left. It looks so primitive, I note to myself. "Tell him there's cells gathering to the north, and he should change course two degrees south/southwest."

Sam repeats my words after a cursory check of the screen. He obviously has other stuff on his mind.

"Sam, now listen to me." I have his full, worried attention now. "This is what happens: We hit the turbulence and something goes caca. This is a prototype experimental plane, Sam, so I didn't know what happened back . . . er, then . . . now. . ." Sam rolls his eyes and I get my mind out of the semantics trap. "Anyway, all information on this design is non-existent. I never found out what really happened, but the 'official' statement was pilot error. That always ticked me off - blame the dead guy who can't defend himself. His reputation ended in a sour note, and he didn't deserve it."

Sam's eyes are now windows directly into his calculating mind: He's thinking fast and hard.

"I've never been able to find any report in writing about what happened. Now that I've been involved in secret projects, I know that it's still very unusual that nothing can be found. Sam, I think you're here to stop a cover up; one I've suspected for years but have never been able to prove. You’re here to clear Jenkins' name."

Sam cocks his head and puts his hand over his heart, patting his chest. I get what he means.

"I know you're a medical doctor and all, Sam, but I don't think you can save him physically." His eyes burn into me. "OK, I can't say that for sure, I don't know! I was a stupid, cocky Ensign with only basic first aid training and I was knocked senseless myself. You figure that part out when it comes, but for now I need you to look around and start using that photographic memory of yours. I'm gonna tell you what each gage and dial is for - well, those I know for sure anyway - and you need to remember what they read up to the point Jenkins ejects you. I think I can figure out what really happened, Sam. I think that's why you're here."

Sam’s eyes glare at me and he makes a circle motion with his hands. I don’t get it; I frown. He repeats the motion, and points to the radar, then way south out the narrow canopy window. He wants to tell the pilot to go around! I shake my head. “No way, Sam. No way the Commander is gonna listen to a cocky punk. This is gonna happen, whether you like it or not.”

A bump and a twist abruptly take Sam's attention from me and vanquish the glare; his eyes grow panicky again. "Sam! Listen to me! We don't have much time! Look over here!" I manage to drag his attention to the part of the console he can see. I point and name each component.

The ride is getting rough now. "Ziggy! Record these numbers!" I start reading dials and numbers that are in front of Jenkins that Sam can't see. Everything is swinging wildly and I start feeling a bit seasick from the motion. I see Jenkins grappling with the stick like it was a deadly, writhing snake, but I’m focusing on the indicators - they’re doin’ stuff that I’m glad I’ve never had to deal with.

We're over the foothills and the winds are creating havoc. "Sam! Check the readings!" I'm doing the same with my part of the console. In reality, I don't want to look into Jenkins face. All these years I believed he was confidant and determined to the very end - I don't want to see fear. The jet yaws sickeningly to the right and everything seems to be happening at a blinding pace. My fingers are dancing on the link to keep sightline on the controls. I keep reading out loud, ignoring all else. I don't want to think about how scared Sam must be. I see Jenkins' motion to the eject lever for Sam.

"Pull your arms in, Sam!” I scream. “Arms tight against your body!"

The words are barely out of my mouth when there's a deafening explosion and suddenly I'm in the middle of a tornado of rushing wind and noise when the canopy blows. I look over my shoulder and squint into the maelstrom - Sam's seat is gone. The vibration and rotation of the jet are abnormal and vicious; my gut rolls, but I keep on and focus back on the control panel.

I can see the mountains clearly in my peripheral vision and know that the end is near; Jenkins is probably preparing to eject. Instinctively I yell, "Arms in! Arms in!" as Jenkins disappears in another explosion. I can barely hear it in the roar of rushing wind.

The jet spirals and I can hear pieces of metal screeching in pain as they are ripped from the jet's frame. The spinning is so violent I can't see anything - there's a flash and a loud boom, and I can't help but cover my ears and duck.



The heat of the fireball and choking smoke don't affect me as I stand amongst the catastrophe. "Center me on Sam!" I yell to St. John.

In an instant the conflagration is far off to the right in the most barren, hilly desert I've ever seen. The only dot of color is the billowing canopy trailing from a still form not far away. "Sam!" He can't be dead, or I wouldn't be here, would I?

I sprint over and kneel by his side, wishing I could cut away the cords that could have held his shroud. "You okay, Sam? Sam?"

I can see that he's breathing and there are some red marks around his eyes. The goggles and oxygen mask were ripped off by the wind shear during ejection. His arms look okay - they could easily have been dislocated at the shoulder by the same shear. He must have heard me yell at him to tuck his arms in. His head rolls to one side in the dirt and he groans.

"Sam? Come on, wake up, buddy." In a natural movement, I try to shake his shoulder, but my hand passes right through him. "Damn! Sam?"

He groans again, and I see his eyes crack open. It takes a couple of seconds for his eyes to lock on me. "Al?"

"Yeah, buddy. It's me and you're okay. Can you move?"

My friend moves slowly, obviously in pain, and I tell him how to disconnect the parachute. He fumbles, but finally gets it undone. In jerky motions, he pushes himself to his hands and knees, his head hanging down.

"Oh, my back," he groans.

"Yeah, it's a rough landing, but you'll walk away. Jenkins’ must have ejected you earlier. When it was me, I couldn't move for hours." That memory has always been vague to me; typical, I guess, of the injuries I had. "Looks like you fared better, Sam. You probably just pulled something."

Sam pushes up to his knees and lists to one side with a sharp hiss. He slowly straightens and unbuckles the helmet which falls to the ground with a dusty thump. He squints, his attention drawn to the roiling black smoke of the crash site. Suddenly, his eyes widen and he struggles to his feet.

"Where is he, Al? The Commander! Where is he?" Before I can answer, he sees the flapping silk of another parachute and stumbles in that direction. He’s not walking very well and tends to pull to the right.

"Sam, I don’t think there's anything you can do! He ejected too late in the original history. He was dead on impact." I frown. "That's what I was told, anyway."

My very stubborn friend continues on, grunting and puffing, supporting his back with one hand and dragging a leg like Quasimoto as he goes. Or is that Igor? With a shake of my head I center myself on the Commander. He’d ejected too late and didn’t have time to separate from his seat – I remember he’d died in the pilot’s seat. Looking at him now, I see that his mask and goggles have also been ripped away. I look a bit closer and am shocked to see motion in his chest! "Sam! Hurry up! He's still alive!"

It takes Sam awhile to get to his side and when he finally does, he's immediately in doctor mode. His lips are in a tight line as he checks for broken bones and I can tell by his expression that things aren't good. He checks Jenkins' eyes three times before gently placing his hands on the man’s shoulders; his glance to me is filled with sorrow.

"The pupils aren't responding equally. He has severe head trauma. The way he's breathing and the uneven heart rhythm indicate there’s swelling or direct injury to the brain and the autonomic systems are starting to be affected. There's nothing I can do, Al." His eyes are wide, shiny and full of sympathy when he turns to me. “I can’t save him. I’m so sorry.”

"I know.” My voice sounds gruff. “Talk to him, Sam. Let him know you're here, at least," I gulp, shaken to the core. I wasn't expecting this; my eyes are burning and my throat has seized up.

Sam turns away and ducks his head so he’s eye to eye with Jenkins. "Commander!" he calls softly. "Commander Jenkins!"

Slowly, the man's eyes open and I see what Sam means by the uneven pupils; I've never seen that before, and I feel myself staring. Even through my watering eyes I can see that his breathing is uneven and ragged.

The commander rolls his telling eyes to Sam. His mouth gapes for a moment, and Sam leans in closer. "What?" Sam asks him.

Jenkins' mouth works silently, and his eyes wander from Sam to me. He looks directly at me, right into my soul, and I automatically straighten up and salute because I don’t trust my voice.

He hisses something with his last, rattling breath. He says it directly to me as his eyelids slide shut, but it was too soft for me to hear. After a few long seconds, his broken body relaxes into itself like a sigh. Sam doesn't have to tell me he’s just died.

Sam checks his carotid pulse and shakes his head. "I'm sorry, Al."

Like he could do anything about it. I nod anyway and keep the burning tears from falling by grinding my teeth until it hurts. When I think I can talk again, I say what I have always believed. "I thought the shift two degrees south would keep it from happening." My voice sounds gruff to me. “I’ve always thought that. I’ve relived those past minutes a million times, and always thought that would do it, that it wouldn’t have happened.”

Sam hesitates a second, then leans carefully over Jenkins and pulls in the silk to drape it over the body in respect.

"Makes the term 'shroud lines' a little more clear, doesn't it?" I say lowly after we both observe a moment of silent respect for the man.

“Well, you did say he died on impact last time,” my friend says softly. Sam, on his knees and supporting his aching back with both hands, turns his attention to me. "Maybe his living this long was the difference you made.”

“Or maybe everything I heard was a lie.” The bitterness in my voice results in Sam studying me for a moment. I notice he’s lookin’ awfully pale. I was going to ask him if he’d heard what Jenkins said, but suddenly Sam’s swayin’ in the wind. “Sam? You OK?”

He nods shortly and sinks to the ground, but stays seated. He rubs his head.

"What happened next?” my friend asks softly. “In the other history, what happened?"

Reaching into the dark recesses of my mind, I try to separate out fact from fiction. I've learned over time how memory can be fooled, and it didn't help that my chimes were rung pretty hard that day. "I was recovered much later. It took awhile because it was a super secret mission, and we were on radio silence. Very few people knew what we were doing. Very few people were allowed out here." I begin to pace a small circle, and I can feel Sam's eyes on me. I give him a sideways glance. "You know how you feel now, Sam?"

He nodded after a moment, and continued to massage his back. "I feel like I've gone a few rounds with a truck," he says quietly.

"Well, multiply that by ten or so. I couldn't get off the ground. They found me where I fell when they finally got here. Even breathing hurt like hell. I wasn't able to walk for days, and was on heavy meds, so my personal memories are foggy. I only know what I was told."

"Which was?"

This part I know well. I've gone over it more than a couple of times in the past years. "When the recovery team got here, they collected the pieces they could find, including me, and took it all back to Groom Lake where it was examined and the cause of the crash determined. They rebuilt the jet and it was renamed the Vigilant."

Sam’s head dropped wearily, but I was on a roll now and begin to pace in front of him. “Usually jets aren’t renamed unless they’re redesigned, and that's a point that's been bugging me all these years, “I gripe.” They said no, they didn’t change the design. But historically, they don't rename it unless it's redesigned. I couldn't find anything on the prototype for comparison. Even now."

The presence of Commander Jenkins' body was both eerie and satisfying. I usually don't like dead bodies, but for some reason its like he's there with us in the conversation - maybe he is. I get the feeling that he appreciates our being here. It takes me a second to realize that Sam is awfully quiet.

“Sam? You OK?” I’m just about to go get a closer look when he suddenly keels over to the side. “SAM!” I’m next to him in a heartbeat, and see that he’s out cold. “Ziggy! How long before help gets here?”

“43.46 minutes, Admiral.”

This leap is going all caca. “Just what is the point of this?” I yell to the heavens. “Why are you torturing me with this again? Why? What can I do?”

My own words suddenly strike me. I can’t help Sam right now, and I certainly can’t get the help here any faster.

But I can walk where no one else can tread.


With a determined stab at the handlink, I put myself in the middle of the smoking remains of the jet. There has to be something here. I’ve got a few crash investigations under my belt now and a much more experienced eye.

“Ziggy, start a simulation with the numbers I gave you. When Sam is able to give you his information, we should have a good picture as to what happened. The 50’s sure didn’t have the advantages of computer simulations; let’s see what we get.”

"It seems there's no information on the Valiant design of this aircraft in military records, Admiral. I will have to compare the matrix to the Vigilant design."

I can tell Zig is pissed. "Fine, that's fine for now." I pocket the handful of components that look like the mashed Gummi bears I've seen on the floor of the cafeteria thanks to little Stephen Beckett. My mind is pulled from the frivolous thought - something that Zig just said bothers me, but I can't pinpoint what it is. It must be the fact that I've had this whole affair in the back of my mind since 1956, and dredging it up again disturbs me. I shake my head in a surprised realization: Good grief, I sound like 'Bena!

I’m among the burning carcass where no man can tread, trying to piece together a puzzle with a million flaming parts. The brain of this Project is passed out in the dirt, and Ziggy is in a snit. How much better can this get?

As I walk through the jet graveyard I study each piece, surprised at how many I recognize - some things just never change I guess. There has to be a clue here. My eye is drawn to a large section of wing and I try to correlate what I remember on the gages without much luck.

A flash in the distance catches my attention. It’s the cavalry, storming across the desert in a long, dusty row. By the time they reach the site, I have a good mental picture of the wreckage. Anxious about Sam, I pop back next to my friend and tell him help is here even though he can’t hear me right now.

I try to pick out who is who. The docs are easy enough to pick out, because the bee line to Sam and Jenkins. I know I need to see how Sam is doing, but there’s something about the rest of the arrivals that bother me. I study the dozen men carefully, and then a thought strikes me.

“Ziggy, read off the names of the recovery team - these guys that just arrived.”

In a bored voice, the egotistical number cruncher begins the list: “Alexander Streeter, base commander, Gregory Allen, squadron commander, Milton Ritter and Lesley McCain, Mercury Aeronautical, James Carvelle, Paul Litton and Steve Ellis, all lieutenants. The Medical staff members are . . .”

“OK, that’s enough. I knew that guy looked familiar.” James Carvelle, the guy that rose through the ranks like lighting. He’s a four star Admiral now and doesn’t need to be. He’s got enough money to run a small nation, but stays on as a lobbyist for the Military for shits and grins. He’s good at what he does - his lifestyle proves that.  I’ve dealt with the man several times and always feel dirty afterward. He’s never mentioned he was here; then again, this jet isn’t supposed to exist, either.

I find my eye attracted to the man, and some unanswered questions in my mind start to fall into order, ending in a bit ‘what if’ scenario that I’d rather not believe. Snatches of scuttlebutt I remember hearing at the time float into my brain as I follow the small parade around in the debris. I try to recall anything I heard about the original report that I never saw. I try to put this all together as I walk through thick smoke and plane parts.

Sharp orders in Sam’s area get my attention. They’re getting ready to move him, and I know I have to stay with him. An ambulance backs up, practically running over Sam, and they load him in the back on a stretcher. He’s still not awake yet, and now I’m beginning to worry. But I’m still here . . . I lay my hand flat on my chest to acknowledge my existence.

I pop into the ambulance, which is asses-to-elbows with hovering docs. They brought enough staff to treat two men, but reality strikes and now Sam is benefiting - I think - from over-doctoring.

“Cut the suit,” one man orders and a medic jumps into action. Another is fitting Sam with an oxygen mask and the two docs are hovering over his lungs and checking his eyes.

The memory of Jenkins' eyes gives me a chill. I’m relieved to see that Sam’s look normal. My friend’s body jerks a little as the final leg of the flight suit is laid open like the pages of a book.

And Sam’s body tells a story that slaps me in the face - hard.

As soon as I see the huge bruise, everything -the scuttlebutt at the time, the redesign question, all of those questions that have plagued me since 1956 - comes together in a snap. I feel my fury start to rise.

It adds to one big lie, and I plan on exposing it to the world. It wasn’t pilot error.

It was a cover up and I’m pretty sure I know who orchestrated it.


Project Quantum Leap
April 10, 2005

All I need are facts and those are best found with Ziggy’s simulation. The absence of the official report doesn’t help much, either, but I have a hunch about where I may find a copy. But first I’m putting together two and two.

“OK, Zig, let’s see the show.”

With me for the holographic simulation are Tina and Sammie Jo. A floating picture of the pre-crashed jet hovers in the Imaging Chamber.

“That’s a Vigilante,” I note out loud.

“I told you I had to use this, Admiral.” Ziggy’s silky voice snaps giving the clear impression that she’s not happy dealing with idiots.

The women look at each other, then at me with carefully neutral and expectant faces. Wisely, I bite my tongue. This is too important. “OK, then go.”

The jet moves and bounces, caught in the imaginary turbulence. I mentally recall what I saw with what I’m seeing. Something doesn’t match. “Zig, can you enlarge this and put me in the pilot’s seat?” Instantly I’m surrounded by pitching, yawing aircraft. The girls let out a simultaneous squeak of surprise. I can’t help but grin, but my attention is elsewhere. The quivering holographic stick is in my hand and I watch it carefully as the world around us explodes silently into a mountain. “Ziggy, something is off with the roll.”

“Roll?” Tina questions in that weirdly sexy-annoying-lusty voice of hers.

“Yeah,” I reply automatically, my eyes locked on the dials. “There’s pitch, roll and yaw. The elevators control pitch, the rudders control yaw and the ailerons control roll. The roll readings on the gage aren’t right.”

“I can only work with what I have,” Ziggy explains in a tone reserved for the imbeciles of the world. “I extrapolated unknown data from known data.”

“Using the Vigilante design specs,” I finish. Another puzzle piece falls in place in my mind and I look up to see two sets of very lovely, but very confused, eyes. “The stick action doesn’t match the bruise I saw on Sam’s body. The stick should be locked to the right. His entire right leg has a very vivid bruise from the stick from when he was ejected.”

“. . . and this means?” Sammie Jo questions with a come-on roll of her wrist.

“It means there’s fox in the hen house. A very rich fox that I intend to trap.”




My buddy rolls his head slowly with a wince. He’s hurtin’, and I can sympathize. I just gotta get a couple pieces of information from him before they dope him to the gills. Medical staff buzzes around him like bees.

“Sam! Look at me!”

His eyes crack open and I can see they’re still clear. I got to him in time. “Sam, you gotta remember something. Sam? Hear me? I think I have this figured out!”

“Wh . . . what?” The stubborn scientist tries to sit up but a medic carefully pushes him flat again.

We’re in the Groom Lake sick bay, where he . . . I mean, me . . . will be for awhile. They have to make sure my faculties are fully intact before I go so I can perpetuate the illusion that this never happened. God, I’m beginning to hate secrets.

“Sam, don’t move or they’ll shoot ya full of knock out stuff. Look at me.”

He does so, his hazel eyes bright with curiosity, put the tiny lines that surround his eyes tell of the pain he’s in.

“I know you hurt and I know it’s hard, but you have to remember something for me. The gages on the jet, the ones I told you to memorize?”

A short nod indicates he understands. He also twitches as a medic inserts an I.V. line; I don’t have much time.

“Tell me what they read.”

Sam begins to mumble degrees and speeds and other numbers that designate speed and direction. The damn medic must think he’s nuts because he’s patting Sam’s cheek and calling my name. Sam keeps his eyes on me, ignoring the distraction until he’s done. Then he turns his attention to the medic and gives him a look that does me proud. “Atta boy, Sam. Let ‘em know I’m not nuts. One more thing - did you hear what Jenkins said before he . . . you know . . .”

“Hail,” Sam says immediately.

Hail? I run the word over my tongue and a sudden grin jumps on my face. “Ail. Could it have been ‘ail’?”

Sam nods. “You know what it means?” he asks softly, obviously in pain. The medic gives him a worried look; his patient is speaking to thin air.

“Oh, yeah. That’s the missing bit I needed. Good job, Sam!” I punch the handful of electronic mashed Gummi bears in my hand and bark commands. “Ziggy, I want you to check the files of Admiral James Carvelle. Specifically, any old personal files he may have and any banking details in this period. Correlate the two by date, and pull the contracts being handled by Mercury Aeronautical at the time. Take these numbers,” my fingers fly as I speak, “and input them into the simulation. It will stray from the Vigilante specs. And lock me on to Carvelle’s location.” I turn to Sam just as his eyes begin to droop from the freshly injected medication, but I see a satisfied smile on his lips. “Sit tight, Sam, I’ll be back.”

Instantly I’m at the scene again. As I expected, Carvelle and the Mercury Aeronautical guy - Ritter? - are noggin to noggin over by the jeeps. I barge right in and begin to take notes.

“Well, I am the lead investigator,” Carvelle says boastfully. “That’s excellent insurance. It should be incentive enough for you to take care of this. Your company would lose a lot of money if this contract were lost. I don’t think the amount I named is anywhere near what is at stake for Mercury.” The bastard checks his manicured nails like he’s at a cocktail party instead of Commander Jenkins impact crater.

“I. . . I don’t know. This doesn’t seem right . . .” Ritter is wringing his hands and glances over his shoulder to his partner.

“So what’s not right? You’re going to fix this problem so it doesn’t happen again, right?” Carvelle tilts his head toward the seat of the jeep. “You are going to save lives. Isn’t that worth something?”

I clench my jaws in anger and glance in the jeep. Sitting on the seat is the charred, pitted remains of the aileron actuator - the reason the jet rolled into the mountains and clear evidence that the crash wasn’t pilot error. The ‘ail’ of Jenkins’ last words. He told me himself the cause of the crash.

“But what about that young man’s career? The one in the second seat? Isn’t it pretty much ruined if we call it pilot error?”

Carvelle laughed. “He wasn’t a real pilot yet. Calavicci was only along for the ride. And I can make sure he’s out of the investigation completely. He’s not important.”

That’s it, I’ve heard enough! I pound the link and yell at the sky. “Ziggy? Let’s nail this bastard!” Then I turn my eyes on one lousy excuse of a Naval officer. “Say hello to your worst nightmare, buster.”



Project Quantum Leap

April 15, 2005  

It’s been an eye-opening five days since Sam leaped from that Hell hole called Groom Lake. Well, five days for me. As for Sam, who knows where he goes in the between times? It used to be a heavy subject of debate in the first years of the Project. Now, I think we all have our own ideas that give us comfort.

I’m dressed in my choker whites looking over the dog-eat-dog part of the United States called Washington D.C. from my hotel suite. Beth is putting the final touches on her perfect hair, and I’m taking the time to order my thoughts.

I’ve had several days to cool down and plan. Today is the perfect day to bring a sleezeball to justice. Everything fell in place like an orchestrated play, and I have the final part to act out.

With her breathtaking smile, my beautiful bride walks in and takes my hand.

“Ready?” She smiles.

I grin back. “More than ready.”

We leave the hotel and walk to the office buildings where I have an appointment to speak with Admiral James Carvelle, Lobbyist and Black Hearted Soul. I leave Beth on a sunny bench outside and kiss her cheek.

“Go get ‘em tiger,” she urges.

“I’ll show ya tiger later,” I leer with an evil wink. She giggles and pushes me toward the doors.

The lobby is opulent marble and mahogany and I don’t give it a second thought. I breeze through security and take the elevator to the fifteenth floor where the silver doors slide open to a classy waiting room handsomely appointed. An attractive blonde greets me with her perfect smile and welcomes me by name. I’m polite in return. Even her barely proper low slung blouse fails to pique my interest.

I’m here for other game.

After I pretend to admire the wall hangings and porcelain pieces artfully decorating the reception area, the perky blonde motions for me to follow her down a short hallway. I do, noting how our footsteps are muted by the thick, expensive carpet.

I can only think that it was paid for with Jenkins’ blood.

She opens a heavy door and I step inside to a private receiving area. There are two overstuffed chairs flanking a round mahogany table and fresh flowers adding a touch of class. To one side is a door that I know leads to an inner sanctum, a place I don’t think I’ll be seeing today. This outer area is the staging place; this is where Carvelle decides if you’re friend or foe. Only friends make it to the next level. I stand by the door so that when it opens I can see inside the lion’s den.

The door opens and there stands the enemy with a well practiced smile. I look beyond him and see the stack of files and papers I had delivered by courier the day before. When I look back at Carvelle, I’m satisfied to see a hint of darkness under his eyes. I don’t think he slept too well last night.

“Admiral Calavicci,” he says formally without a hit of emotion as the door closes quickly behind him.

Admiral Carvelle,” I respond with little respect in my tone.

He indicates one of the chairs. I take the other one so he can sit in the corner and feel trapped.

“I will dispense with formalities, if you don’t mind.” His voice has turned to ice, his smile gone. He’s read my body language quite clearly. “What is the meaning of this visit?”

“Cutting to the chase, I see.” I take my time and pull out a cigar. I offer him one but he refused with a sharp motion. Slowly, I prepare the smoke and light up. “Meaning, huh? So you’re looking for meaning?”

“I don’t know how you got the documents you sent me, but I can have you arrested so fast it would make your head spin. Half of it is highly classified and the other half is illegally obtained personal records.” He leaned forward to drive his point home. “I can have your butt in Gitmo tomorrow.”

“Well, Carvelle, Guantanamo weather is quite nice this time of year. I’m sure you can be enjoying it with me.” I lean back and blow smoke at the ceiling. His threat is worthless and he knows it. There’s no way he’s going to allow any of that stuff tobe seen by anyone, even the people that could get me shipped to Gitmo. His bluff has been soundly called.

“What do you think you’re proving, anyway? Nothing there proves anything.”

His second attack is as weak as his first.

“Individually, maybe not. But as a whole, there’s enough there to get you sued six ways to Sunday because you’re the only one left. Ritter’s dead, Mercury Aeronautical is long gone since it merged with Lockheed. You’re on your own, Carvelle.”

He leans back with a smug grin. “The minute you release classified documents to the public, you are ruined, too, Calavicci. No more secret projects for you.” His eyes shine. He’s done his homework since yesterday.

I nod in agreement and raise my eyebrows. “True now. Not true in 18 months.” His eyes turn hard and I lean in to meet them straight on. “In 18 months, it will be 50 years since the crash and the documents become declassified. Anyone can get their hands on them. I plan on making them very public at that time.”

I can see the muscles of his jaw working furiously.

“And the contract awards at the time have always been public. It’s funny, you know, how your bank deposits correlated directly with the contract awards. And it’s also pretty funny how one particular part of that crashed jet is unaccounted for, and that’s exactly the area that was redesigned in the Vigilant. The trim actuator seems to be missing from the recovered Valiant debris. And my medical records at the time prove that the actuator is what failed and caused the crash. Not pilot error.”

His mouth is still clamped shut. His lips are a tight, quivering line. I lean in even more and drop my voice, forcing him to get real close.

“And we both know when the trim actuator fails it locks the stick to one side or the other. When I was ejected, I was lucky to only have bruising. Jenkins’ entire right leg was shattered all because of one faulty part that you covered up.”

“You can’t . . .” he starts. His face is turning the most beautiful color of red.

“I can. Easily.”

His mouth works in silent fury. Finally, he is able to growl, “What do you want?”

I lean back and tap the ashes from my cigar onto the very expensive carpet. “What do I want? I’ll tell you what I want. It’s simple, Carvelle; I want justice. I want you to get it on record that Jenkins was not at fault. I want you to personally hand deliver a letter to every existing family member of Commander Jenkins that exonerates him from fault -. every child, every grandchild, every aunt, uncle, brother, sister, cat, dog and goldfish that ever was and is related to Jenkins. He’s to be a documented hero. Then I want Jenkins to receive the Medal of Honor posthumously on the anniversary of the crash.”

I rise to my feet without waiting for an answer. I know what it will be.

“I’ve given you 18 months to get it done, Carvelle. And to protect me, I want you to know that everything I’ve shown you and told you is spelled out in detail in a package I’ve put together and given to my attorney, who, by the way, was also a Navy aviator.” I smile slightly. “Brothers by rank, so to speak. The package will be destroyed upon your death. And if I or any of mine die under odd circumstances, it’s open season. You understand?”

He nods. I can practically see the steam rising from his collar and he’s the color of a roasted Maine lobster. I hope he doesn’t die of an aneurysm before he finishes his task; that would spoil everything.

I lean over and grind my cigar out on the shiny mahogany table. “I’ll just let myself out. Nice to see you again, Carvelle.”

When I walk out into the clean air and sunshine, the love of my life rises to her feet. I take her hand, and we stroll happily away from the building.

“Everything go well?” she asks.

“Couldn’t have gone better,” I reply.

“So he’s off the hook in 18 months?” she asks. That part of the plan has always bothered her.

“Not really.” My enigmatic tone makes her face light up.

“I knew it! I knew you had another ace up your sleeve!” She grabs my arm excitedly. “What is it? What didn’t you tell him?”

I look at her and again marvel at her being in my life, then let her in on my ultimate plan. “Well, today’s date should give you a clue.”

Her forehead furrows in a most delicious manner. I want to kiss the lines away, but control myself and settle for putting my arm around her shoulder.

“April 15. Tax day.”

“Yup. I wonder if he’ll pick up on that?”

Her perfect eyebrows arch. “You’re going to turn everything over to the IRS, aren’t you?”

“Well, not everything. Just his bank records and the graph Ziggy prepared that correlates his income to contract awards. I’ll do that when Jenkins gets his Medal of Honor and his name is publicly cleared.”

She giggles evilly. “All that undeclared income! They’re going to freeze all his assets from here to Tahiti!”

“And back again.” I pause and look up to the clouds. I’ve always felt a certain affinity for clouds; being among them as a Naval aviator and passing through them as an astronaut made me feel at home. I’m sure Jenkins felt the same way.

Beth tilts her head and squints at the sky. “What do you see, my love?” she whispers as she lays her head on my shoulder.

I take a moment to feel her heartbeat against my side, and the softness of her hair against my cheek. “Justice. I see justice.”


Stallion’s Gate, New Mexico

April 23, 2004


Stallion’s Gate, New Mexico in the spring. Wildlife that normally forgoes the daylight heat of the desert was out foraging for food in the moderate April temperatures. Little yellow wildflowers grew everywhere before the scorching heat of summer ended their brief lives. Some of these wildflowers blew in the breeze as Samantha Josephine Fuller pulled up in front of the Crossroads Diner on the outskirts of Stallion’s Gate. Many a time she had eaten there at odd hours on her way to and from the project. Today, she had an invitation to lunch. Walking through the glass door a smartly dressed woman in her early thirties immediately greeted her. 

“Doctor Fuller! It’s a pleasure to finally meet you,” said Susan Forrester smiling at her with one eyebrow cocked up slightly.

 “Good to meet you, too! First, it’s not that much trouble and second, please call me Sammy Jo. I never hear the “doctor” title. We’re pretty informal around here,” Sammy Jo said shaking her hand and then slipping into the booth seat across from her.  

“Then you must call me Sue, um.. Sammy Jo,” she replied a little uncomfortably. 

“So, Sue, how is your book coming on? Tackling the great minds of the twentieth century is quite a project. I look forwarded to reading it. I hope I can help you out in my own little way. I don’t think that anyone REALLY knows the good Doctor Beckett,” explained Sammy Jo as she folded her hands and looked into Sue’s eyes that seemed to twitch just a bit. 

Susan caught the twitching and looked very determined at Sammy Jo. “It may be quite a while before THAT particular book sees a publisher. You see I really work for The National Inquisitionor though it is Doctor Samuel Beckett that I am interested in, Sammy Jo.”

“Whoa! What the hell are you talking about? So I’m here under false pretensions? I shall not be a party to digging up dirt to soil Sam Beckett’s good name! And I do not appreciate being used and taken advantage of. This interview IS terminated. Goodbye, MISS Forrester!” Sammy Jo declared as her the color in her face flashed crimson. 

Sammy Jo angrily picked up her purse scraping her knees on the table. Taking three steps toward the door Susan Forrester called out, “Doctor Beckett is the person I am really want to speak to. Have you seen him lately?” 

Sammy Jo stopped and turned, as the anger in her eyes did not show her concern at the question. “Doctor Beckett is extremely busy in his work and does not give interviews to members of the press!”
         A slight smile came to Susan Forrester’s lips. “The Doctor’s address is 245 West 34th Street, Stallions’ Gate, New Mexico and yet in two weeks of investigation I have not found one person who has seen him. Not one person in over nine years. He is not here in Stallion’s Gate, DOCTOR Fuller. No one has seen him or has any idea where he is at present. In most states that reason is sufficient to have someone declared legally dead. Dr. Fuller, you don’t want that to be the angle of my story do you? Um? His death and demise. WHERE IS DOCTOR SAMUEL BECKETT?” 

Sammy Jo’s mouth dropped opened as she looked up to the ceiling uttering a familiar family phase,  “OH BOY!”


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