Episode 608

I'll Be Home For Christmas I

by: A. J. Burfield

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PRELUDE

 

December 17, 1953

Outside New York City, New York

 

The moans are what he noticed first, before his vision cleared of the blue haze. Quantum leaping was like riding a runaway roller coaster sometimes; the last drop took his senses to the max and sometimes made him gasp in surprise as they trickled back to normalcy. Dr. Beckett dared not move until he located the noise, because even when his vision cleared he was caught off balance by his surroundings.

He was looking down at part of a white floor and white shoes that seemed to be on his own feet. Stealing sideways glances before looking up he saw an endless white hallway, the floor shiny with use. Finally daring to look up all the way, he saw sterile white walls that had yellowed slightly with age. There was a handrail that ran the length of the hall, interrupted only by the many doorways. Each door had a small window and each window was re-enforced with chicken wire. At one end of the hall Sam saw a pajama-clad person slumped on the floor, leaning against the wall. The moans werenít coming from that direction.

Raising his head fully, he squared his shoulders and discovered that he was holding some books under one arm, a cup of water in the other hand, and standing in the middle of the hall. ĎWhere was I going?í He thought to himself, ĎAnd where is that noise coming from?í 

The institutionalized feel of the place instantly set the hairs on the back of his neck on edge. He looked more closely at his clothing and realized it was a white uniform. A nurseís uniform. A female nurseís uniform. ĎAt least she has sensible shoes,í he thought brightly. Turning around in a circle to see his surroundings in their entirety, he felt his heart beat faster realizing he was in a hospital of some sort and the nursesí station was right behind him. Another nurse was scratching away on a medical chart, a dated cap on her head, and Sam watched as she angrily snapped on the radio next to her in an attempt to drown out the moaning noise. 

"How much is that doggy in the window?

The one with the waggly tail?

How much is that doggy in the window?

I do hope that he is for sale!"

The nurse started singing quietly to the familiar song, but the moaning could still be heard in the background. This place and time had an Ďoldí feel to Sam, and the addition of the nonsensical song added to the aura. In a slight daze, Sam found himself drifting down the hall, following the rise and fall of the mournful wail. When he reached a set of double doors at the end of the hallway, he took a deep breath and pushed them open with his hip.

The moaning was much louder in here and Sam stood stock still, surveying the large room and its occupants. He felt his mouth sag open. "Oh, boy," he whispered to himself. "Iím in the Cuckooís Nest."
 
  

PART ONE

 

I felt like Iíd been here before. The faces were different, but the place felt the same as Ö as what? Because of my Swiss cheesed memory I would probably never remember the details of a similar place Iíd been to in a previous leap. Or maybe it was the holiday setting that was striking a chord. I guess there were worse places to be for Christmas. Although at this moment I couldnít name one more depressing.

 

 The room was sparsely decorated for Christmas with worn garlands that barely glittered, and a tiny tree with a few ornaments. Christmas music played softly in the background, drowned out by the wailing woman rocking back and forth in a rickety wheel chair next to the far wall. Sam had been standing in the doorway for just a fleeting moment when he heard a voice speaking loudly over the wailing of the old woman in the wheelchair.

"Janeen!" It said, "Hey, Janeen! Nurse Perry! Hey!" 

Samís head rotated around trying to find the voice with the feeling they were calling him. He finally looked down at his nametag, which said ĎNurse Perry, Edgemoor County Mental Hospitalí. 

He spun around, and finally found the speaker glaring at him and struggling with a white robed patient into the day room doorway. "Um, yes?" he said, not moving.

"Help me here, will ya, for Heavenís sake?" The smaller nurse was doing all she could to keep the patient on his feet and moving into the room.

"Sure, yeah," Sam sputtered, putting the books and cup down on a nearby cabinet. He took the other arm of the young man who appeared to be heavily sedated. "Wouldnít a wheelchair be easier?" he grunted after half dragging the man to a chair.

The other nurse let out a grunt as she dropped the man in the chair. "Ha!" the nurse laughed. "Like we have a lot of those sitting around." She straightened her cap. "Thanks, Janeen. Want me to take those for you? Youíre overdue for a break." She indicated the cup and books. 

Since Sam had no idea where they were to go, he nodded. "Thanks," he said. The man they had dropped in the chair simply stared out the distant window, unresponsive, so Sam backed out the doorway to the hall as ĎOh Come, All Ye Faithfulí floated in the air. Suddenly, he felt suffocated. He needed to get some fresh air. Looking around briefly, he found an exit door with a wide set of stairs that led outside to the front parking lot. There was a bench off to one side of the lot, and Sam headed there, shivering. The sweater he wore wasnít quite enough for this weather; there was about a foot of old snow off on either side of the walkway. He decided if Al didnít show up in a minute or so he would have to go back inside. When he reached the bench he decided it was too cold to sit, so he stood, stomping his feet and rubbing his hands together.

It was like he rubbed a genieís bottle, because the sound of the Imaging Room door greeted him instantly. He turned to the noise and saw his friend and Observer, Admiral Albert Calavicci, retired, step through the bright opening. He was moving cautiously, which struck Sam as odd. Al looked carefully around before stopping his gaze at Sam. His face was neutral.

"Where am I, Al?" Sam said, his breath coming out as puffs of steam. "Itís freezing, and I need to get back inside."

"OK, then, start walkiní, because I donít have much." Al hunched his shoulders and flipped his collar up as he fell in stride next to Sam. He jammed his hands in his pockets. "Your name is Janeen Perry and youíre a nurse for County Mental Health. Itís December 17, 1953. Youíre just outside of New York City, in the County area. Ziggy doesnít know why youíre here yet." Alís voice was flat and unanimated. His clothing was even somber for him, made up of dark greens and gray. 

Sam turned his head slightly and studied his friend for an instant as they walked. His gut instinct was telling him that something was wrong. "Is there anything else I need to know? Should I know this place?" he asked, frowning, searching his Swiss cheesed memory without results.

Al answered almost instantly. "We really donít know at this point. Some of the records of this place were lost in a fire in early í58, so Ziggyís having a hard time with patient and employee information. She has to go through the County records, which are a mess."

Sam was back at the door again, and reached for the doorknob. Al stopped, and took out the handlink, instantly summoning the Imaging Room door. Sam opened his mouth to protest his quick exit, but Al was through the opening before he could utter a complaint. 

"Iíll get back to you when we have more information, Sam. Meanwhile, check the nurseís station for your shift times." The rectangle of light disappeared, leaving Sam standing there with his hand on the door and his mouth hanging open. 

ĎWhat was that all about?í He thought, giving the door a tug. The building was nice and warm compared to the outside and Sam headed for the nurseís station, hoping for something hot to drink and to locate the schedule. Sure, this place was depressing, but that was no excuse for his friend to ditch him like that. He made a mental note have him explain his actions when he saw him next. 

Sam wandered through a door behind the nursesí station desk that led to a break room and hot coffee. The schedule was posted on a bulletin board, and Sam noted happily that Janeen Perry was off duty at 3:00, which was only two hours away. He casually checked the small lockers in the break room and found Janeenís. Thank God there wasnít a padlock on it.

The next two hours actually went rather quickly. Sam kept busy helping other nurses when they called, so he didnít really figure out if he had regular duties or not. He was running around controlling situations, but never seemed to get the upper hand on any one thing. It was perpetual motion, and he admired the nurses for the job they did. 

About 2:40 Sam noticed an influx of nurses heading to the break room. He reasoned it was the next shift briefing for their rounds. He was standing at the nursesí station, shifting his tired feet and rubbing his back, when a matronly nurse stepped up next to him and started flipping through charts.

"Arenít you supposed to be in with Dr. Beech doing meds?" she stated pointedly.

"Oh," Sam replied, surprised. "Yeah. I forgot." He started to leave the station for the exam room heíd seen earlier when the nurse spoke again.

"Are you staying over tonight, Janeen? Next shift is short again," she sighed and shook her head slowly while reading a chart. "I donít think Iíd know what weíd do with a full shift. I havenít seen one in so long."

Sam stopped short. "I wasnít planning on staying," he said slowly. "I have, uh, something I have to do after work."

The nurse looked up surprised. "I never thought Iíd live to see the day! Janeen Perry turning down overtime!" The woman chuckled. "Itís OK, donít worry about it. Theyíll survive. Itís not like you havenít done your share." She initialed a chart, flipped it shut and went to the next one. "Dr. Beech will be here for a couple of hours and can distribute sedatives to ease the load."

Sam tried not to look appalled. "Yeah," he replied, keeping his voice neutral as he walked to the exam room. A Doctor sedating a patient to keep the nursesí workload down?

That went against all the training heíd had in med school, and it disturbed him. Heíd seen all sorts of mental illness here today. In his time, most of these patients could function at home on medications, or live in group homes, but none of that was available in this time. It was difficult to get used to. There were Downís Syndrome patients mixed in with bi-polar and paranoid-schizophrenics, and some Sam suspected were drug addicts or alcoholics suffering from withdrawals. They were all clumped together and labeled Ďcraziesí and dumped in an inadequate, understaffed County hospital. He knew he was here to change something, and a lot needed changing, but nothing alerted his instincts yet. His gut feeling hadnít been triggered about anyone heíd met yet and he was starting to wonder if there was a point to him being here at all. And where was Al?

When Sam rounded the last corner to the exam room he saw a short line extending out the door into the hall. He stepped in the room and saw a harried man in a Doctorís coat trying to move the line into the hall.

"Itís about time, Nurse!" he snapped. "Get these people out of this room and close the door!"

Sam did as he was told as he apologized for being late. The door had a sliding window in it where the medicines were dispensed. It was a lot easier keeping the crowd outside, but Sam was reluctant to be shut in the room with this man. He had an uneasy feeling about him that he couldnít pinpoint, and Sam blamed the feeling on Janeenís residual thoughts. He had to check the wristband of each patient while Dr. Beech found the chart, checked the doses, and issued his orders. Samís job was then to find the medicines and dispense them. It was difficult to hold his tongue on some of the orders, and he had to keep reminding himself that most of the drugs he would prescribe werenít even invented yet.

It was well past his quitting time by the time he got the meds set up for the room bound patients. There were more sedatives here than Sam liked to see, but there was nothing he could really do about it. He and Dr. Beech got in a comfortable rhythm and Sam actually got to like his manner. He was just as over worked as the nurses, he discovered, and donated a lot of his time to the facility and patients. He rotated his time here with two other Doctors, and none of them had too much one on one contact with the patients due to understaffing. 

After sending the trays loaded with medicines off to the next shift nurses, both Sam and Dr. Beech collapsed on chairs in the exam room. 

"Well," Dr. Beech sighed. "That was more of a fiasco than normal. What happened? You usually have everything ready to go before I get here. Bad day?"

ĎIf you only knew,í Sam thought immediately. "It got a little busy, and I lost track of time," he offered verbally. "Sorry."

"The holidays always get that way," he said, reaching over and patting Samís hand. "And this is only the beginning! The next two weeks will be worse. The patients know somethingís going on so tension increases. They are quite perceptive." He rubbed his forehead. Sam quietly slipped his hand into his lap so the Doctor wouldnít pat it again. "Iím scheduled to work Christmas Eve. The Curse of the Single Doctor!" He laughed a pleasant laugh, leaned foreword and patted Samís knee. Sam stood up abruptly, alarmed and perplexed.

Sam didnít like what his instinct was telling him. The last thing he wanted was to be involved in a romantic situation; being the man in that sort of situation was uncomfortable enough, but being the woman was really bad. He was sure he must have been in a similar situation before, but he couldnít recall any details and didnít really care to recall them. For once he appreciated his Swiss cheese memory. He inched his way to the door.

"Maybe weíll be spending Christmas Eve together." He smiled warmly at Sam. "Well, Janeen, how about the Beefeater for dinner tonight? Iíll meet you there. And maybe something to drink to warm our bones!" Dr. Beech stood up, stretched, and turned towards Sam.

Sam fought to control his panic as he grabbed for the doorknob, his hand sliding off the shiny surface. Dr. Beech was right next to him, slipping his arm around Samís waist. Sam closed his eyes and clenched his teeth, preparing for the worst. Dr. Beech simply grabbed the doorknob. "Here," he said. "Let me get that for you." He opened the door and stood aside, allowing Sam to pass.

Sam let out a breath he hadnít realized heíd held. "Thanks," he blurted, scurrying out to the hall. "And I think Iíll just go home." He started rubbing his back and looking pitiful. "My back is killing me. Maybe some other time?" He tried to make the smile look sincere.

Dr. Beech looked surprised then disappointed. "OK, then," he said with a small, perplexed wave. "See you soon, Janeen."

Sam waved back as the Doctor retreated down the hall. "OK, uh... Doctor?" He realized he didnít know the manís first name. Sam hoped he didnít mess up something for the real Janeen. One of the hazards of leaping, he thought.

It was past 4:00 before he actually got out of there. He got funny looks as he left, and receiving the impression that it was unusual for Janeen to leave work so early. He made his way down the icy stairs, holding his jacket hood closed around his face against the freezing wind. He had dug car keys out of Janeenís purse, and was cursing Al for leaving him in a lurch. How was he to know which car was Janeenís? Maybe her car wasnít even here! His thoughts became focused on nasty comments for Al when he heard the Imaging Room door open. As Sam jerked his head around to glare at his Observer, he slipped on the icy sidewalk and landed painfully on his rear.

"You gotta be careful, Sam. Itís icy," Al offered lightly. "You OK?"

"No thanks to you! Where have you been?" Sam struggled to his feet, the snug dress and his anger making it almost impossible. "Whereís my car, Al? Iím freezing!"

"Jeeze, Sam, no need to bite my head off," he replied shortly. Al tapped on the hand link as he chewed on an unlit cigar. "Itís the black one, over there." He pointed to the north end of the lot.

Annoyed, Sam brushed off the ice and snow from his legs angrily. He wanted to pace and yell, but knew either one was inadvisable. He wanted to grab and shake the hologram of his friend, but he knew that was impossible. The only thing he could do was glare at him.

"Theyíre all black," he growled between clenched teeth.

Al took a step back. "Boy, if looks could kill theyíd be digginí my grave!" He replied grumpily. He glanced around as if he was surprised to see what was around him. "Oh, yeah! So they are! Boy, was this a boring era for color choice. Come on, hers is over here. The Ford." Al pointed to a car just a few feet away. That was when Sam noticed Alís attire.

"Bermuda shorts? In December? And are those pineapples on your shirt? Whatís going on? A luau??" Sam stomped to the plain, black car and fumbled with the key before he realized that the car was unlocked. He yanked the door open and crawled inside, the seat cold against the back of his knees. He exhaled sharply at the shock of the cold seat on his nearly bare legs.

Al drifted to the seat next to Sam. "You forget that the temperature is controlled where I am," he explained with a patient sigh. "Yes, itís freezing cold outside, but Ziggy has taken control of the thermostat. She claims sheís conserving energy."

Sam shook his head as he fought to start the stubborn engine. "Youíre 14 stories underground. The temperature shouldnít vary that much due to the insulation from the ground! She canít be conserving that much energy!"

"Thatís not what I meant," Al replied, watching Sam struggle with the car. "Sheís conserving energy of the staff. They argue over the thermostat."

Sam looked at him, incredulous.

Al continued, not noticing. "Tina says itís too cold, Gooshie says itís too hot, Beeks changes sides daily, no, hourly. You think a shrink could make a decision." Al lit the cigar, then met Samís eyes. "What?" He shrugged. "I donít get involved! Hey, I think you flooded it."

"Huh?" Sam realized what he was referring to. "I did not!" He twisted the key again, and the motor finally caught. Sam gave Al a smug look and wrapped his arms around himself as he let the engine warm up. Al shrugged. Sam then turned his eyes to his Hawaiian decked Observer. "Can you please tell me where I live? And how to get there? Iím not wild about driving in this weather, and Iím freezing. Be helpful for once on this leap!"

Al snorted. "OK, OK. Hang on a sec." He adroitly hung on to the burning cigar as he pulled out the handlink and started tapping away. "I had it here before. Oh, here we go."

The hologram guided Sam out of the lot, down the long, windy driveway to the main road. It was actually a nice drive. The two-lane roadway was practically empty and very pretty. The lanes curved gently back and forth between clumps of trees and open meadows, and after awhile, ran through a small business district. Sam followed Alís directions past the businesses and entered a housing area.

"This is a suburb of New York called Medfield. Thereís a small apartment building just off the main drive here, on a street called Maple. Isnít that quaint?" Al pointed out the turn, sounding almost cynical.

"So, how is the real Janeen doing? Is she any help?" Sam quizzed as he turned onto the street and looked for the address Al had given. Sam noticed that Al was studying something out of his window and did not hear the question. "Al? Hey!"

Al jumped slightly, then turned apologetically to his friend. "What? Sorry, I was looking around. Whatíd you say?"

Sam narrowed his eyes. Something was up, but he wasnít getting into it here. He wanted to get inside and thaw, so he slowly repeated his question about the visitor.

"Sheís very calm appearing, but her pulse rate gives her away." Al said, sounding rather mechanical. "Beeks thinks sheís avoiding a tranquilizer by behaving her self. Nurses know all those tactics." 

Sam hesitated a second, expecting a sexist comment about nurses in general, and was actually disappointed when none came forth. He glanced sideways at his sullen friend. Something else was on his mind. Should he say anything? 

He didnít have a chance to decide before Al tapped on the handlink once again.

"Janeen lives in number 14. Iíll be back in a little while, after youíve checked the place out." He hadnít even finished his sentence when the Imaging Room door opened, and he stepped through. Al left his best friend sitting alone in the freezing parking lot, his mouth once again hanging open in surprise.
 

 

PART TWO

 

Project Quantum Leap

Stallionís Gate, New Mexico

December 23, 2000

 

Al stood in the Imaging Room, unmoving, after the door closed. In the brief time standing here he could be all alone. No one demanding anything, no voices around him, none of that. It was a relief, a calm moment in an otherwise hectic lifestyle. There were so many emotions tugging at him from all directions of his psyche on this leap, it was difficult to center his thoughts. His peaceful moment ended with the sound of Gooshie.

"Ah, Admiral?" the voice asked apologetically via the sound system.

"Yes, Gooshie?" Al responded tiredly.

"Um, Dr. Beeks wants to see you? In her office?"

Al raised a suspicious eyebrow. Not so much at the request, but at Ziggyís silence.

"Why?" He asked slowly.

"She didnít say. She did say she would be expecting you. Especially since, um, she knows youíre clear now." Gooshie was obviously expecting a backlash from Al for notifying Beeks of his Ďreturní. Beeks must have pulled that Project Doctor rank thing on the programmer. Al also suspected Ziggy and Beeks were in cahoots about something, which would explain Ziggyís silence.

"Fine," Al snapped. She was the last person he wanted to see, and she obviously knew that. Al felt like he was getting cornered, and didnít like it. He stalked from the room and dropped the link at the main console, not bothering to acknowledge Gooshie who was now tending to some sudden and mysterious problem under the console.

He burst into the main hallway and the shocked look from a passing technician made him realize that he had to calm down. He forced himself to walk slower although his mind was racing with a mixed bag of feelings. Trying to focus on just one of the feelings was impossible, and Al concluded that heíd better get his act together before confronting Beeks.

Al ducked into the first room he knew would be empty: Samís office. It was a comforting room, filled with memories of getting the Project up and running, and Al took advantage of the ambiance by plunking down in the worn, leather chair and focusing on the photos on the wall. The one that held his attention was of himself, Sam, Donna and Beth, gathered close sharing a bottle of Champagne. They were all laughing, happy at the news of finally securing funding for the Project. ĎWe all look so young,í he thought. It was the womenís faces that held him. There was a feeling he couldnít pin down when he looked at their smiling faces; a feeling that it was a false memory, a forged photo. Like it hadnít always been like that.

The Observer knew these feelings may have validity, and it shook him to the core. He didnít really want to think about an alternative timeline, but isnít that what was bothering him now? It was time to be honest with himself. This leap was too close to home. Samís current date was too much of a coincidence. He felt he had to do something, but knew that it was against all the rules Sam had set for the Project: Donít Interfere With Your Personal History.

He felt himself getting worked up again when he remembered Samís specific orders in that area. Trying to get his mind focused and calm once again he decided to think about his sister Trudy and how the memory of her was affecting him during this leap. She was the basis of all his thoughts since the leap started, and no doubt the very subject on Beekís mind.

Where Sam was, Trudy was still alive and in another County institution only about 20 miles away. And she would die in less than 48 hours.

Al leaned back in Samís worn chair and put his feet up on the desk as he pulled out a chewed cigar from the festive shirt pocket, and lit it. The thought of Samís frowning face at his smoking in here made him smile briefly, but it was only a slight distraction to the memory flooding back into his mind. 

He recalled every detail of the reception area of the County Mental Health Office in Dearborn. He remembered the small, wrapped purple box he had and the new set of clothes he had brought for her. He recalled the pride he had in himself to have put away just enough money for these things, and finally being able to get her out of there on the eve of Christmas. She was finally coming home, just in time for Christmas. He wondered if his mother would be proud of him, and knew his dad would be. The Navy would pay him just enough to care for her now, but he wasnít fooling himself either. It would be difficult, she being mentally retarded and all, but keeping the family together was important.

For a moment, Al puffed on the cigar and examined the idealism of the young man he remembered. Heíd worked so hard for that goal. Since his dad died, he had worked towards it every minute, assuming Trudy would be there to reap the rewards with him. It wasnít to be, however, as he recalled the face of the nurse telling him his sister was dead. Pneumonia. His memory blurred at that point, not remembering signing for her things and leaving empty handed and empty hearted. He hadnít even been able to say goodbye; the County had cremated her per their policy, considering her an orphan. Al had been working so hard to save her, he hadnít been able to visit her in recent years, and the consequences of that decision would be impossible to live with. Thatís why he couldnít go inside the hospital where Sam was working Janeen Perryís job. It brought up too many bad memories.

Al rubbed his burning eyes and was mildly surprised to find his hand wet from tears. He laughed at himself, and put out the cigar. So much has changed, he thought. They even have a name for her affliction now: Downís Syndrome. Today she would live in a group home, and do a lot of things for herself. He could fix those past consequences during this leap. That had to be why Sam was there, wasnít it? But why hasnít Ziggy said anything? He was walking a fine line here. Was he supposed to interfere or not? 

Knowing this conundrum would never be solved sitting here; he pocketed the cigar and stood to go. He resolved to see how this played out, and take advantage of any opportunity. Now if he could only get by Beeks.

He gave the room one last glance and strode out with a sigh. Beeksí office was right next to the Waiting Room where Janeen Perry sat, trying not to lose her cool. Al knew how she felt. He announced his arrival on the intercom, and Dr. Verbena Beeks opened the door from her desk. The door sliding shut behind Al made him stand up straighter, ready to take her on. 

Dr. Beeks was behind her desk, neat stacks of paper on either side. A tiny Christmas tree flickered with fiber optic lights just behind her. She was a slight woman, but carried an air of authority about her that was only rivaled by Al himself. It was the gaze that stopped Al in his tracks, feeling like a kid caught stealing cookies from the cookie jar. He refused to show that insecurity, and held her look with his eyes.

"What do you think youíre doing?" she asked calmly, putting her pen down to wait for a reaction. She continued to observe him as she crossed her arms and leaned back in her chair. She sure didnít beat around the bush.

"Doing?" Al responded, trying not to reveal anything. He had to find out what she was thinking first.

"Donít play this game with me, Admiral," she answered humorlessly. "Ziggy has called to my attention an aspect of this leap we canít ignore."

"We? You and Ziggy?"

She raised an eyebrow. "ĎWeí as in all of us. Are you paranoid about something?"

"Paranoid? Me?" Al tried to look innocent. "Of course not. What Ďaspectsí are you talking about?"

Beeks sighed and dropped her eyes, reconsidering. She stood and walked around the desk, then sat on the edge in front of Al.

"OK." She sighed. "Let me start over by pointing out a few things. First, you know that Weitzmanís aide is due here this afternoon."

"Yeah. He should be here in a couple of hours."

"Second, Sam has leaped into a specific time that is sensitive to you."

Al frowned, placed his hands in his pockets and rocked on his feet. He fought to keep his face neutral. How much did she know? "It wasnít such a hot year, no," he admitted.

"Care to talk about that time?"

"No, not really. Is that why you pulled rank on Gooshie and called me in here?"

"Well, it would probably help you a lot, but, no, thatís not why I called you in."

Al became more guarded. "Would you mind telling me why, then, so I can get back to work? Is it about Sam?"

"No, itís not about Dr. Beckett." Beeks regarded Al for a few seconds as she tapped the desk with a well-manicured nail, gathering her thoughts. "Ziggy has supplied me with some information that she feels may affect this leap, and she isÖ concerned. Rightly so, I might add."

Al immediately thought of the picture in Samís office. Had he changed things before? "What does this Ďconcerní have to do with Weitzmanís aide?" It was almost insulting to ask. An idiot could figure it out. Although the memories of the original time lines faded from Alís memory like a dream, Ziggy had recorded it all, along with the decisions made at the Project during the time. She had obviously shared some records with Beeks.

"Admiral, Ziggyís records show you interfering with your personal timeline in a previous leap. It almost cost a police detective his life." She held her hand up as Al started to interrupt. "Ziggy has noticed similar behavior in you during this leap."

"Thatís ridiculous!" Al roared, waving his arms. "I havenít done anything to interfere!"

"No, not yet. But you havenít done much to help, either." She stood up, right in front of the furious Al. "Since this leap has started, you have been sullen and withdrawn. You wonít talk to me. Past history has shown you have interfered before when the timeline concerns your family. With Weitzmanís aide coming, I have no choice but to pull you from this leap."

"WHAT?" Al was shocked, furious and completely surprised. "You canít do that!"

"Yes I can, and you know it." The calmness of her voice was infuriating. "I find you unfit to handle this leap, at least while the aide is here. We canít take the chance that heíll observe something that could threaten the existence of this Project."

Al stormed around the small room. "This is absurd! I always protect the Project, and you know that! You canít do this to me!"

Beeksí eyes narrowed at that last statement. "What do you mean by that, exactly?"

Realizing what heíd just said, Al stopped his ranting. He was cornered, and there was nothing he could do but stand there and glare at her. "I didnít mean it like that!" He protested, controlling his anger by clenching and unclenching his fists.

"Iím not so sure about that. But I canít take the chance, Admiral, at least not right now. Iíve told Gooshie and heís preparing Dr. Fuller to be Dr. Beckettís Observer for the time being. Dr. Martinez will cover for Dr. Fuller. Itís not perfect, I know, but itís the only way I can think of to protect the Project and Dr. Beckett." She let that sink in for a few seconds. "And just think of the personal attention you can give the aide." 

Beeksí was actually using the authority she had as Head Physician of the Project, and Al knew she had every right to do that. But he was expecting it to be used against someone else, not him! "Iíll show him personal attention, all right," he mumbled.

"Excuse me?" Beeks said, not missing a thing.

"I said, is there anything else you want to punish me with?" 

"No. Come on, donít take this personally, Al. You must see that I have to do this."

He couldnít really see too clearly right now, but he knew she was doing what she felt was right. She always did, and thatís what made her a valuable part of the team. Maybe he was too close, but he wasnít giving up on Trudy yet. He just had to have some faith. It wouldnít be easy for an action-oriented guy like himself just to stand by and watch, but thatís all he had right now.

Al simply nodded and left her office. He hesitated in the hallway, and stole an angry glance at the ceiling where he always envisioned Ziggy lurked. "Traitor," he growled.

"I did what I thought was right, Admiral," the feminine voice purred defensively.

"Itís a 97.42% chance Dr. Beckett is not there for your sister."

"Well, who is he there for?"

"I donít have enough information to calculate that yet," she pouted.

"Well, you can at least keep me informed, canít you?" he asked sarcastically. Even his festive clothing couldnít lighten his mood as he stormed to his quarters.

"Yes, Admiral. The only area you are restricted from is the Imaging Chamber," Ziggy replied nonplused at the tone of his voice.

ĎThis will be the fasted inspection on record,í Al thought as he started setting up a schedule in his mind. The sooner this aide was out of here, the better.

 

 

Dr. Sammy Jo Fuller was shocked at the news of her assignment. She was so involved with the latest retrieval programming schematics that Ziggy had to call her twice, and even then asked Ziggy to repeat the message. Ziggy was not pleased at repeating herself, and took on an exaggerated tone of patience that made Sammy Jo smile.

As she headed to the Control Room, she couldnít ignore her excitement at seeing Dr. Beckett again. Would he remember her leaping to save him when he had leaped into disturbed twin teenagers? Would he remember she was his daughter? Always the professional, Sammy Jo knew she would have to keep these personal questions to herself. ĎIt must be tough to do that,í she thought. ĎHow does Admiral Calavicci cope with it, I wonder?í 

On her arrival Gooshie briefed her and fiddled with the implant that he himself had used the one time he had to fill in for Al. It didnít work well, but it worked good enough to get the job done. She asked if it would work better for her since she was genetically similar to Dr. Beckett. Gooshie and Tina conferred for a few minutes, and agreed that it should, which is why Dr. Fuller was selected for the job in the first place. She then waited patiently as the files were recalibrated for her bio statistics.

She had to force herself to keep from pacing in excitement. Among the thoughts shooting through her mind she wondered where the Admiral was at this moment, and if she needed to apologize to him for these circumstances.
 

 

PART THREE

 

Medfield, New York

December 17, 1953

 

Sam had bumbled his way to apartment 14, trying not to look lost. It really wasnít that difficult as it was only a two story building with only about 24 units in all. His place was at the top of the stairs, which were slippery with ice. As he unlocked the door he saw the curtains of the window next door sway as the occupant peeked out and smiled from behind the window. Sam smiled back then entered Janeenís apartment.

It was very neat and clean inside. Either she was always this neat, or she was rarely home. Sam thought either one of those ideas may be true as he quickly put on some water for a hot drink. While he was looking though the closet for something else to wear, the phone rang. "I would kill for some sweatpants!" he mumbled as he picked up the receiver.

"Hello?" he said cautiously

"Janeen! I wasnít expecting you home so soon," a womanís voice softly said. "I know you are probably tired, but can you come over for some nice, hot tea? Iíve even made my mulled cider that you like so much!"

"Oh!" Sam said, completely flummoxed. How was he supposed to know who this was? "That sounds wonderful, but, I, ahÖ"

"Oh, dear! You must have other plans. When I saw you at your door, you looked so tired I thought you would enjoy a quiet visit to unwind."

ĎThis must have been the lady next door who peeked out the window!í Sam guessed.

"Iím so sorry if I bothered you. Tomorrow, perhaps?" The woman sounded positively devastated, and Sam immediately felt guilty.

"Not at all!" he heard himself saying. "It would be very nice. Can I bring anything?"

"If you have any of those wonderful cookies from the bakery near your work that would be lovely!"

"All right, then," Sam said, glancing into the kitchen. "I need to change first."

"When ever youíre ready, dear!" the woman replied, then hung up.

Sam replaced the receiver and dug through the drawers, finally finding a pair of womenís trousers and long under wear. He put on the thermal undershirt after taking off the uncomfortable bra. 

"Hereís my contribution to womenís liberation," he growled as he tossed the offending underthing on the floor and pulled a bulky sweater over the thermals. He put on the white tennis shoes in the closet, thrilled at the fact he didnít have to wear high heels. 

Turning on the wall heater in the living room to take the chill off, he turned off the stove and started going through the kitchen to find cookies. It was amazing how organized this woman was. All the spices were alphabetized and all the paper bags neatly folded and filed in a drawer. Sam was almost afraid to disturb anything. He finally found a small bakery box filled with little, white cookies in the small pantry. ĎI hope this is it,í he thought as he put his coat back on and secured the box under his arm. Then he took a deep breath and slipped out the door.

His neighborís door opened as he prepared to knock. 

"Get in here, Janeen! Itís cold out there!" 

Sam pushed the door open further and stepped inside a very cozy apartment. There was a tiny, older woman in a flowered dress shuffling away from him towards the kitchen, humming happily to the big band tune on the radio. There were shelves on every wall, filled with tiny knick-knacks and books, and a lacy doily on every piece of flowered upholstered furniture. There were throw rugs all over the wood floors. The teapot whistled happily in the kitchen, and the comforting smell of cider hit his nose. Sam felt like he was in his grandmotherís house, and a broad smile crossed his face. He raised his eyes to see the woman, her hair piled up in a braided bun on her head, pouring the water in a teapot.

"Here!" Sam stepped up, taking the kettle from her. "Let me do that."

The woman laughed and took the box from Sam, "Iím not an invalid, Janeen, but I will take care of the cookies for you. Shall we sit in the parlor instead of the kitchen? Itís so much more comfortable."

Samís smile got bigger at the parlor comment. ĎShe must mean the living room,í he thought. ĎI havenít heard the word Ďparlorí in, gee; I donít know how long!í "Sure," he replied with a nod.

The woman carefully laid out the cookies on a flowered china plate and Sam followed her carrying the tea tray. She primly set the cookies on the coffee table, and Sam followed with the tray containing a mug of mulled cider and the tea set. Sam wished he knew the womanís name; he wanted to thank her properly when he left. The woman was pouring her tea when there was a knock on the door.

"Miss Emma!" A manís voice called to Samís relief. "Itís Larry! Just want to say hi!"

Miss Emma put the teapot down, smiling. "Oh, that Larry!" she chuckled. "He worries so! Excuse me, dear, will you?"

"Certainly!" Sam answered, picking up the poured cup to warm his fingers while Miss Emma shuffled up to the door.

"Larry, dear, Iím just fine!" She pulled he door open just a crack. "Would you like some tea? Miss Janeen is here, and we would love your company!"

"Why thank you, míam, but I was just on my way out. I wanted to know if you needed anything. Weather report says a stormís coming in tomorrow and I want to be sure you have enough supplies."

"Thank you, dear, thatís so sweet. I do need some more candles. Let me get you some money!"

"No, itís all right. Iíll pick them up and you can pay me then. Will one box be all right?"

"Yes, thank you, that would be fine. You are such a gentleman!"

Sam heard the man chuckle as he said his good byes and walked down the stairs. He was starting to form an idea about Miss Emma, which he decided to check out.

"These are the cookies you asked for, arenít they Miss Emma?" he inquired, sipping at the tea.

"Why, yes," she replied as she shut the door firmly and shuffled over to the overstuffed chair next to Sam. She sighed. "I do wish they delivered. But I understand, with the distance and all."

"You have all your supplies delivered, donít you? I mean, you donít have any problem with getting what you need?"

"No," she said as she settled down in the depth of the chair, almost disappearing in its softness. "Everyone is so kind. I manage to get just about everything thanks to the Lord and the wonderful friends he has given me."

Sam smiled at her. "When was the last time you were outside?" he asked softly, and immediately regretted asking when he saw his host squirm a bit and frown. It was obviously a touchy subject.

"Letís talk about the storm instead, shall we?" Miss Emma was going to forgive him the gaff. "They say we should get several feet of snow."

ĎSheís agoraphobic,í he thought to himself, getting that familiar gut feeling that she was the reason for his leap. ĎI wonder how long itís been since sheís been outside?í 

"Iím sorry if I embarrassed you," he apologized out loud. "Letís talk about the storm."

Sam gladly stayed, thoroughly enjoying himself. Miss Emma was an excellent conversationalist and well traveled in her youth. She was well bred and from a prominent family originally from upstate New York. He realized that two hours had passed in no time, and asked if she needed help with her dinner. She was responding when Sam was distracted by the Imaging Room door swooshing open, creating a bright rectangle right behind her. 

It was difficult to contain his astonishment when a pretty, dark-haired woman wearing a white lab coat stepped through the rectangle of light and looked right at him. He felt his stomach lurch into his throat, and choked back a gasp. What had happened to Al? What had he changed in this timeline to make him disappear? The woman returned the wide eyed look, then put her hand out to the wall beside her, smiling as it passed right through.

"Itís not that difficult to make, Janeen! Goodness, you look like I suggested making dinner for the Queen of England! Would you like to stay and join me?" Miss Emma started clearing away the tea items. 

"I... I have to go now," Sam sputtered, tearing his eyes away from the hologram and jumping up. "I appreciate the invitation, but I have some things to do. Thank you, though."

His mind was racing as he forced himself to calmly walk to the door, pulling on his coat and giving the young woman a sideways look. She had stepped forward, looking at the furniture, and passed her hand through the flowered chair Miss Emma had just vacated. Miss Emma then walked right though her on the way to the kitchen. The hologram just smiled and politely stepped back so Miss Emma didnít pass through again as she let Sam out of the door. Sam felt his heart pounding in his ears.

Miss Emma opened the door. "Oh! Let me get the rest of your cookies!"

"No, you keep them," Sam said quickly. "After all, Iím only next door!" He looked at the Observer as he said this, and she obviously picked up the clue because she nodded. "Thanks again. And good night."

He showed great restraint as he held himself back from bolting out of the door to Janeenís place. He fumbled at the doorknob, glad he hadnít locked it, and exploded into the room. The woman was standing next to the wall she had just walked through from Miss Emmaís, and was curiously looking around. Sam saw that her colors were more faded than Alís, and she wasnít as sharply defined. At some points he could almost see through her, but still, there she was!

"All right," Sam demanded, keeping his voice down. "Who are you and whereís Al?"

A momentary look of surprise, then sadness, passed through the womanís eyes. She pulled out the blinking handlink from the coat pocket and calmly regarded him, her expression neutral. "Iím Dr. Fuller. Admiral Calavicci is here at the Project, and just fine. There were some... duties... he had to fulfill, so Iím covering for him. Weíve done this before, Dr. Beckett. Donít you remember?" That was a slightly misleading statement. Gooshie had filled in for Al once before, but not for something as routine as an inspection. Gooshie had to step in when Al left the Project grounds to pursue a killer that had escaped from the Waiting Room, but Sam didnít need to know those details. She hoped the Swiss cheese effect of Samís mind would save her any further explanations. 

For some reason, her statements werenít reassuring, but there wasnít a thing he could do about it. "Oh." Was all he said. "Whatís going on? At the Project, I mean."

The handlink beeped a few times and Dr. Fuller read the screen. "Ziggy says I canít tell you anything currently happening at the Project, but thereís nothing to be concerned about. Routine stuff. Now, what do we have here?" She adeptly cut off Samís line of questioning by giving him information. "Ziggy has run a check on this address, and has a reason for your leap. It seems that there is a fire at this building late tomorrow, and many people are hurt. One person dies."

Sam knew whom she was referring to before she even said it. "Itís a woman named Emma, isnít it?"

Dr. Fuller looked up, surprised. "Why, yes. Emma Pothier, to be exact. Thatís your neighbor here, isnít it?" She nodded her head in the direction of Miss Emmaís. "Janeen Perryís place is destroyed, too, but she isnít here at the time. Ziggy says itís a 96.8 % chance thatís why youíre here. To stop the fire from starting."

Sam found himself staring at the woman with an odd feeling of deja-vu. The face, the eyes, they seemed so familiar. "Have we met before?" he asked awkwardly.

The hologram smiled kindly. "Yes, we have, but if your Swiss cheese memory doesnít recall where, I canít tell you. The rules, you know." She looked a little sad.

Sam was uncomfortable with the feelings he couldnít identify. "So, when will Al be back?"

"Soon," she replied evasively. "And I can tell you he wasnít happy about handing this one over, but he saw that he was the only one who could complete the other assignment. Shouldnít take long. In house stuff." She felt bad lying, but it was partially true. "Ziggy says all you have to do is leave work on time tomorrow. Originally, Miss Perry stays over to cover the next shift and gets stuck at the hospital when a big blizzard hits the area. Power and phones go down all over the area. The Fire Department thinks the fire starts with a candle in Miss Emmaís apartment. You just have to prevent it."

"Thatís it? Stop a fire?" He sounded suspicious. "That sounds too easy."

"Ziggy says itís closer to 99% now. Youíll save three lives, really, because two of the previously injured people die later because of the wounds suffered tomorrow. This is according to the newspapers."

"When does the fire start?"

"Well, the storm hits a little before 4 PM, and the power and phones go out around 6:30. The Fire Department arrives around 9, but the building is fully engulfed by then. Ziggy estimates the fire starts between 7:30 and 8:30."

"OK," Sam answered. He stood awkwardly, not knowing what else to say to this semi-stranger. Dr. Fuller, picking up on his body language, called for the Imaging Room door.

"Well, I guess Iím outta here for now, Dr. Beckett. Iíll check back with you tomorrow. Have a good nightís sleep!" She was making an effort to be cheery, but Sam could tell she really didnít mean it, and that puzzled him.

"All right. See you later."

Sammy Jo Fuller kept her chin up as she stepped through the portal to the year 2000. She still felt in her heart that her father remembered her.

 

 

Project Quantum Leap

Stallionís Gate, New Mexico

December 23, 2000

 

When Sammy Jo stepped from the Imaging Room into the Control Room, it was a bustle of activity. She watched a pair of techs hustle by as she dropped the handlink off with Gooshie and Tina at the main console.

"Whatís going on?" She asked, looking around. "A drill?"

"No," Gooshie sighed, much to her chagrin as she stepped back from his foul breath. "The Admiral is on a rampage about this inspection. He wants everything perfect and presentable 15 minutes ago."

Sammy Jo suppressed a smile. "Iím not surprised," she laughed. "Guess Iíd better straighten out my lab."

"Only after you debrief him first. Orders." Gooshie looked apologetic.

"And tell the Admiral to take a pill, wonít Ďcha?" Tina quipped between snapping her gum and adjusting readings on the console.

Sammy Jo laughed and went off to find Al. When she entered the main hallway she dodged another technician and directed her voice to the ceiling. "Ziggy, where is Admiral Calavicci right now?"

"The Admiral is currently in his quarters changing clothes." She sounded annoyed.

"When is he going up to meet the aide?"

"Fifteen minutes. And inform the Admiral that I have finished my self diagnostics as he requested."

"Why donít you tell him?" Sammy Jo started down the hall.

Ziggy had a haughty tone. "I have told him three times. He tells me to do it again each time. I find the repetition boring and poor use of my abilities."

Sammy Jo suppressed a smile. "Fine. Iíll tell him."

She was just about to announce herself at the Admiralís door when it swooshed open in front of her. The Admiral, resplendent in his full dress whites and extremely intimidating in his demeanor, stepped from the doorway and met her eyes. There was no mirth there, and Sammy Jo had to fight the urge to salute and back away.

"Follow me," he snapped, striding in the direction of the elevators. She obeyed without question, resisting the automatic Ďyes, sirí poised on her tongue.

She had to lengthen her step greatly to keep up with him. People parted like the Red Sea in front of him as they approached the elevators. Two Marine guards waiting for him snapped to rigid attention and saluted as soon as Al was in their sight. The Admiral barely acknowledged them. "Letís go," he ordered. They called the elevator for him.

Sammy Jo noticed that there were dark bags under Alís eyes when the entered the lighted elevator. Under that professional demeanor, he was tired. Or stressed out. 

"Whatís up with Sam?" he asked in a calmer tone on the ride up.

She briefed him on Ziggyís findings and the reason for the leap, and where Dr. Beckett was at this time. 

"Keep me informed on his whereabouts," he ordered.

"Yes, sir," she responded, taken aback by his formality. 

He must have noted her surprise. As the elevator slowed he leaned over and said a bit more softly, "This inspection will be over before the day is out, Sammy Jo. I plan on being back on the job as soon as this nozzleís outta here. But Iím glad you got to see Sam."

"So am I," she softly replied, relaxing a bit.

Al straightened up as the doors open his command presence was again fully in place. He barked orders left and right to the guards, who scurried off to carry them out. There was a double line of three fully decked out Marines at the door when Sammy Jo heard the helicopter land outside. When Al figured most of the dust was blown aside, he ordered the door open. His timing was impeccable. The aide and his assistant were at the door as it slid open, and they stepped in along with a blast of frigid air. The aide was not the least bit intimidated by the Admiral, and stepped right up to him, extending his hand.

Sammy Joís first impression was that he looked like a ferret.

"Admiral Calavicci, Dan Wringer. We met in Washington last year."

Al shook the hand formally. "Yes, Mr. Wringer, I remember. Is there a reason this inspection has to be carried out now, so close to Christmas? Isnít the Senate off being good boys and girls somewhere?"

"Senator Weitzman feels that the press shows less scrutiny this time of year. Itís easier to move around unnoticed."

"Then shall we carry on?" Al didnít give him any time for further chat. 

The poor man and his assistant were destined to try and play catch up for the rest of the inspection. Sammy Jo had to put her hand over her mouth, pretending to cover a cough, as she controlled her giggle. They didnít have a chance.
 

 

PART FOUR

 

For the next several hours Al kept up a hurricaneís pace. Wringerís assistant finally had to plead for a break to catch up on his notes. Al never broke out of his Admiral role, taking command of the inspection as if it was his own. Wringer himself didnít say much, and kept his face neutral and his mouth clamped shut. The illusion furthered Sammy Joís ferret impression. She slipped away to straighten up her lab after watching how Wringer inspected other labs. By the time the team breezed through her lab, she was ready for bed.

She told Ziggy where she was going, and when she would be back to enter the Imaging Chamber, then collapsed in the quiet of her quarters, immediately falling asleep.

Three hours into the inspection and right after the break, Al was leading the small entourage into the actual Control Center. Gooshie gave his canned presentation to a quiet Wringer and his yawning assistant. Questions were minimal. It was close to 9:30 and after midnight to the D.C. based pair. During Gooshieís presentation, which Al knew by heart, Al kept his mind alert by calculating the time where Sam was, figuring it to be about 4AM. Trudy had about 30 hours left to her; Al started to fidget, his concentration broken for several minutes as he thought about her.

Wringer must have noticed Alís break in demeanor. When Gooshie paused in his tour, Wringer took the chance to get in the Admiralís face. "Admiral Calavicci. Senator Weitzman will no doubt appreciate the extent and speed of this inspection so far. You are well prepared. But I still have several concerns I wish to discuss more in depth. As you know, funding for a project of this size must be well tracked and accounted for. I intend to do that to the full extent of my ability, but not in one night. If you will show us our quarters now, we would like to continue in the morning. Say, 0800 hours?" It was not phrased as a request.

Al started to have an inkling that he may have underestimated Mr. Wringer. "That would be fine. Guard." He instructed the guards on where to take the guests, and they parted company. When they were out of sight and he was alone in the hall, Al sagged against the wall. He was more tired than he cared to admit. He rubbed his eyes, then continued to his quarters. It would be both pleasing and comforting to snuggle with Beth for the night, but he knew that good sleep would be elusive. He hoped she was still awake for a little talk, which would relax him, and walked with a little more bounce in his step thinking of her. Knowing she was the only one who would understand how he felt, he also hoped to get an idea on his next step to save his sister, or if he should even try. All he really wanted was for his brain to stop whirling for awhile.

When he entered his quarters the only lights greeting him were sparkling on the holiday-decked mantle and tree, and the flickering candles on the small dinette table. Ray Charles was playing softly as he loosened his dress jacket and let it slip from his shoulders. When he tossed it on the love seat along with his hat he heard Beth humming with the music and the clink of glass from the kitchen. A moment later she swayed into the room with two glasses full of dark wine in each hand. Her eyes were sparkling at him, and she wore a diaphanous robe that showed her still perfect figure along with a teasing grin and a Santa hat. 

"Oh," she said softly as she handed him a glass and started to unbuckle his belt for him. "You must be here for the inspection!" He couldnít help but smile, every thought he had flying from his head. 

Admiral Albert Calavicci had finally met his match at hand to hand contact.

 

 

Al was arrived in the briefing room promptly at 0800 hours rested and refreshed, clad in clean dress whites. His night with Beth had been both stimulating and cleansing. She had helped his reaffirm his belief that God, Time, Fate or Whomever was the best one to direct Alís actions. He wasnít used to placing his faith in something unseen, but knew that Beth would be there to comfort him if an opportunity to save Trudy didnít show itself. Beeks had been right; it was too tempting to take the initiative, and he would tell Beeks that very thing himself as soon as this weasel Wringer was off his back.

Doing a little research, Al had discovered that Wringer was a veritable wiz on Capitol Hill at tracking funds. No wonder Weitzman sent him for a year-end check up. Nothing would look better than a Senator suggesting a tax cut just before April 15, and the best way to cut taxes was to cut funding anywhere he could. Wringer would be a bulldog. There was no one else near his caliber on Capitol Hill.

Before arriving at the briefing room, he got the rundown from Ziggy as to Samís whereabouts, knowing it must be close to the end of Janeen Perryís shift as well as close to the time Sam should be leaping. He hated not being the one there. Sammy Jo had already briefed Al on her visit with Sam this morning. Al had then allowed her to go Christmas shopping far away from the Project so he could stall any request for observing her as she interacted with Sam. Actually, he Ďstrongly suggestedí she go, and Sammy Jo picked up on the hint. Hopefully, Sam would leap and nix any observation scenarios completely. 

Wringer was waiting for Al, a list of questions in his assistantís hand. As Al went over the list, he again thought of Sam and what he must be doing. It was only natural after being his Observer for so long. As expected, high on the list was a request to monitor the Observer doing their job. Al clicked his tongue and expressed his apologies at the impossibility of that task. The meeting went down hill from there, and Al saw his hopes of finishing this inspection quickly vanish. This was now a war of wills, and he didnít plan on losing.

 

 

Edgemoor County Mental Hospital

December 18, 1953

 

Samís day was as hectic as he expected, again quelling little disturbances before they got out of control. Being close to the holidays just made it worse, so he understood from the other nurses. It would be like this until the New Year. The County would take in numerous patients, and shuffle them back and forth between the various Hospitals, trying to keep the workload even all around. There was always a shortage of nurses, but there was a shortage of Doctors, too. They ended up taking turns rotating weekends and hospitals. Tonight Dr. Beech would be here, and stay for the weekend, so any emergency cases from the other hospitals would be shipped here if he couldnít handle the orders over the phone. It seemed to be an efficient use of manpower, but a pain in the neck for the nurses. Since there was a big storm expected late this afternoon, several new patients were transferred over early before the roads were impassable. In addition to that, some nurses were leaving early for the County Christmas Party in New York. It had been going on since noon so the two day shifts could take advantage of it, and it was expected that part of the next shift would arrive late because of it. Dr. Beech got there early in the afternoon, ready to dispense sedatives at the 2:30 meds call. It was already a zoo.

 

 

The 10th Annual County Medical Services Christmas Party was very well attended. The ambulance drivers arrived a bit late because of all the between facility transfers at the last minute.

"A blizzard on a Friday night," Stan Markum noted. "What timing. Iím pretty sure weíre all caught up on the transfers, so it should be a quiet night for us!" Stan was the ambulance supervisor, and had scheduled all the last minute runs. He was at this moment surrounded by his crew near the punch bowl, finally getting a chance to relax. He stuck his hand in his pocket and felt a crumpled piece of paper. Pulling it out stimulated his memory.

"Oh, damn!" He murmured as he unfolded the note he had written to himself. "I forgot about this. Dan!"

A young man still in uniform turned to face him. "Yeah?"

"I got this transfer request as I was walking out the door. Since youíre on call, you get to handle it." Stan handed him the paper. "Actually, it wonít take too long. You should be back here in no time. Youíll probably even beat the storm here."

Dan slipped the flask of brandy heíd been sipping into his back pocket, out of his supervisorsí vision, and took the paper. "Dearborn to Edgemoor, one female. Paperworkís all ready to go, I hope?"

"Yup. It's an easy one. Medical transfer, so sheís pretty dopey. Shouldnít be a problem at all."

"All right, then. Iím off. Save me some snacks, will you?"

The rest of the drivers promised they would, happy they werenít the one on call for the night. Dan trotted out the back to the County parking lot, hopped in the stand-by ambulance and started it up. He pulled out the flask once more as the vehicle idled. 

"I might as well warm up, too," he mumbled, taking a sip. 

 

 

Project Quantum Leap

Stallionís Gate, New Mexico

December 24, 2000

 

They battled their way down the list. Wringer, fighting for every scrap of information, had to word his questions very carefully. Al answered exactly what he was asked, using minimal words. The last item left was observing the Observer, and Sammy Jo still hadnít returned. Inwardly, Al applauded her, but he also knew that Wringer wouldnít give up. Finally, Al relented knowing Sam would be leaping anytime anyway, and told Ziggy to ready the Imaging Chamber. The sooner this jerk was on a plane, the better. 

Entering the Control Room, Al turned Wringer over to Gooshie with an inwardly sly grin. ĎBreathe that, you nozzle,í he thought as he picked up the handlink and escorted the assistant from the room against Wringerís wishes. Al quoted the security level of this event, and that the assistant wasnít cleared at that level. Wringer had to concede. It was tough to tell who was winning this whole confrontation.

With the assistant in the hall, Al heard the handlink beep and looked down. Ziggy was reminding Al of Beekís orders on the screen. ĎShe knows when to be discreet,í he noted. Al typed in a response, basically telling Ziggy that he was over riding that order, and Ďshe could contact Beeks if she wanted, but to open the Imaging Room right now. Sam was about to leap anyway, so what did it matter. Unless, of course, your calculations were wrong.í Insinuating incompetence always got her gears going.

"Imaging Room ready," Ziggy purred out loud. Only those well tuned to her voice patterns picked up the insulted tone. 

Gooshie looked at Al quizzically. "But arenít youÖ." he started.

Admiral merely shrugged in return. "Orders have changed. Feign ignorance," he quietly suggested to the programmer.

"Admiral," Wringer said in a toned down voice. "I hope you understand why Weitzman insists on this observation."

ĎWeitzman, my ass,í thought Al. ĎThis is your idea.í 

"And what reasons are they, might I ask?" Al politely said out loud.

"We have to make sure a project with this... unique ability isnít misappropriated. There are some that donít really believe what is happening here. I, for one. But itís not my place to make those judgments. My job is to make sure everything works the way it should, and for the reasons I am given. Iím sure you understand, being retired military." He slightly stressed the word Ďretiredí.

Al thought, ĎYeah, I understand everyone keeps their own secrets to better their position, you rotten bean counter,í but said out loud, "I understand completely."

They both stepped in the Imaging Chamber. Wringer was directed to stand away from the silver disc and to keep his eyes shut until contact was made. He didnít look convinced at that last suggestion, like he was the butt of some sort of joke. Al said he didnít really have to keep them shut, but if he blew chunks on the floor, he was going to clean it up himself. Wringer turned his back to the disc and shut his eyes.

"OK, Gooshie, weíre ready!" Al called. 
 

 

PART FIVE

 

Outside Edgemoor Hospital

December 18, 1953

 

It was difficult to leave the hospital on time. Staffing was critically low, but all the scheduled nurses finally showed, tearing themselves from the County Christmas party. They would all have their hands full tonight. 

Sam hesitated at the exit door. Although he hated thinking it, he rationalized that Dr. Beech could tranquilize the problem patients if it was called for, relieving the staff somewhat. Sam shook guilt out of his mind as he pushed the door open; heíd trade inappropriate use of sedatives with saving a live. No contest there.

Carefully descending the icy stairs he could feel the cold of the iron railings even through his mittens. He pulled the knit cap over his forehead and ears and turned up the furry coat collar against the wind as he awkwardly fumbled with the car keys. He noted the dark clouds threatening snow and hoped the car would start without any trouble. Night was falling early in the typical winter way but the ominous clouds seemed to make the onset of darkness happen more quickly. By the time Sam coaxed the reluctant engine to start, it was both black and snowy.

He could see his breath inside the car where he decided to wait for a breath of heat from the vents before shifting into gear. Driving very slowly out of the parking lot he noted how beautiful the snow was as it drifted down through the carís headlight beams. It wasnít too heavy yet, and he hoped Alís prediction was right because he should be at Janeenís apartment before the heavy stuff hit. How could he not be right? This history had already happened! Sam finally identified his worry with the fact that this leap seemed too easy. Although he felt he deserved a simple leap, he had learned to be careful for what he wished for. After all, God, Fate, Time or Whomever was running things here.

Finally feeling a hint of heat on his exposed ankles, he slipped the car into gear and slowly exited the parking lot. He tempered the urge to hurry, knowing he had plenty of time, but was unable to suppress the urgency he felt. The gripped the steering wheel tightly and forced himself to focus on the roadway. 

The bucolic scenery was covered in a black and white blanket of snow and night. The clouds still spilled a dusting of the white stuff, but it wasnít bad. The tracks of the last cars on the winding road were still visible and Sam followed them carefully. He would be back at the apartment in plenty of time to head off Miss Emmaís accident, and smiled at the thought of her. Such a nice lady; she was lucky to live where she did. Between Janeen and the other neighbors she made out all right, agoraphobia and all. Her life was really quite fulfilling for someone who never left her home. The neighbors made sure of that.

He turned from the long driveway onto the two-lane highway, and settled on a safe speed. Again, there wasnít another car on the road. Over half way to his home, Sam began feeling quite pleased with himself in this leap. It was a physically difficult one, what with all the patients and all, but rewarding in all aspects so far. He was running the details of a few patient histories through his mind when something in the roadway caught his eye; a set of tire tracks headed off the asphalt towards the woods in one of the turns. The tracks looked fairly new, and knowing how seldom traveled this road was, he slowed to look for signs of tracks getting back on the roadway. There were none, and the tracks were rapidly disappearing in the snowfall. He braked slowly, his palms starting to sweat as his heart raced.

His instincts told him this was something he had to investigate. As his car came to a stop at the point where the tracks left the road, he peered into the brush to let his eyes adjust to the darkness. All he noticed was a big, dark hole in the other wise snow-dusted foliage. Something big had made that hole. He repositioned his car so the headlights filled the hole, and he saw the reflection of a car taillight. Who ever it was, they were lucky Sam had come along when he did. The tire tracks were now covered in a blanket of new snow, and it was starting to come down faster.

He slammed the car into park and leaped out, not immediately noticing the cold, and walked to the edge of the road. "Hey!" he called. "Anyone in there? Are you all right?" The taillight was at an odd angle, and Sam realized that the car was nose down in a culvert. As he buttoned his coat he looked for footprints and didnít see any. Before starting down the icy slope Sam stood on his toes to see if any doors were standing open. He didnít notice the doors; he did notice the word ĎAmbulanceí painted on the side. It must have been heading to the hospital!

Sam tried to be careful as he started down the hill, but the skirt minimized his leg motions and he found himself sliding on his side along the driverís side of the car. The thick brush and car side mirror bumped him to a stop. The lights didnít reach down this far, but he could see that the hood of the vehicle was crumpled up to the windshield. The driver window was shattered, and Sam felt the interior with his gloved hands. He found a form bent over the steering wheel and tore off his gloves to feel for a pulse. The coldness of his fingers didnít match that of the driver. Sam mentally ticked frostbite as one of the problems the driver would have. The pulse was very faint. This man needed help fast, and Sam noticed that the rising wind and the falling temperature would make this a difficult rescue.

Sam worked to get the door open. The sound of the Imaging Room door didnít even phase him, but on hearing Alís voice he struck a crooked smile, pleased. Things were looking up after all. 

"Hey, Sam, Iím back!" Al said, glancing nervously over his shoulder. "What are you doing? Youíve got to getÖ.hey! Whatís this?" Alís voice was closer to Samís ear as the hologram leaned over his shoulder. "Is he dead?" Al whispered.

"Not yet!" Sam grunted, the car door screeching as he tugged on it. "Iíve got to get this open!"

"You have less than a half hour to get home before the blizzard hits I hope you remember."

"I know that, but I canít leave him here!" Sam used his legs to push the door open just enough for him to do a better exam. "Check in back, will you? I think this is the only one in front."

"Gladly," Al said with a shiver. The guy looked dead to him.

Al punched the handlink and found himself behind the driver area, but it was too dark to see anything. He fiddled with the link, trying to access a light source as he heard Sam going over the driver.

"Heís got a head injury, possible broken ribs and arm. I think his legs are OK, but I need to warm him up. Is there a blanket back there?"

"Just a sec," Al replied. "Iím trying to get a light back hereÖ" Just then a bright beam shot out of the hand link. "There we go. Yeah, thereís a blanket. And Sam, thereís a patient here, too! I can see a leg." Al moved the beam up the leg towards the sound of raspy breathing. "And the breathing doesnít sound too good." 

The patient had been on a gurney, which was now on its side and jammed cross ways in the vehicle. ĎThe patient must still be strapped to it,í the Observer thought. One leg was hanging over the side of the gurney, and part of a blanket dangled next to it. The rest of the person and blanket were caught between the gurney and the driverís cab area. Al peeked over the edge of the gurney, reluctantly playing the light in the area where he thought the patientís head would be.

"Is he hurt?" Sam grunted as he tried to move the driver. He could feel glass and sharp metal scratching his legs as he moved and cursed the snug dress out loud.

"I donít know. I donít see any blood yet," the hologram replied, "and Ďheísí a Ďsheí by the looks of Ö.." Alís voice abruptly stopped. "Oh, my God!" Alís voice caught, and he gasped out loud. 

His friendís tone immediately caught Samís attention; heíd never heard him sound like that before. Well, there was one time, but he frowned when he couldnít recall the exact circumstances. 

"SAM! Get back here, quick! She needs your help!" Al was frantic, and his voice cracked. "Oh, honey, are you all right? Trudy? TRUDY! WAKE UP! Youíve got to hear me! SAM!!" 
 
 

To Be Continued

 

 

 E-mail A. J. Burfield