Episode 724

Fallen Hero I

by:  A. J. Burfield, M. J. Cogburn & Katherine Freymuth

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PROLOGUE  

 

"Dr. Samuel Beckett is an annoying complication. He needs to be dealt with. Permanently." The metallic voice echoed around the two figures, together in a silvery chamber. The walls of the room they occupied glowed crimson as they reflected the fiery red light flickering around them. 

"Look what happened the last time we tangled in Dr. Beckett's timeline," one of them wheezed quietly.

"What do you suggest?" The other asked, more boldly than he should.

"SILENCE!" The wrath of the voice instantly stilled their tongues. "I will handle this. You will follow my direct orders. I will stop him at the source."

"At the source?" The wheezing voice actually perked up a bit as the intriguing idea settled about her.

"What does that mean, exactly? What can you do? You're stuck here." The other questioned, not allowing any ideas to penetrate his mind.

"You can put me where I can cause the most damage."

The wheezing broke up into a choking laugh, seeing the vision.

Still uninspired, the other inquired, "And where would that would be?"

"From inside their precious Project. Never send a human to do a computer's job."

While the first fought to control her rickety laughter, the other's lips curled to a snarling smile with the thought.
 

 

PART ONE

May 28, 1977

Outside Reston, Virginia
 

A blue hue engulfed and took him on a roller coaster ride; twisting, turning, rushing him to his next point in Time without stopping for a breather. It plopped him back into another life rather quickly and his senses were disoriented for more than a few seconds. He blinked, trying to gather his wits about him, and was finally able to gather himself together and focus on his surroundings. 

The gentle rumbling noises around him became clear and he felt the sensation of being gently rocked and bounced. Realizing that he was in a truck, a big truck, Dr. Sam Beckett looked out the window to his right that framed beautiful countryside rolling past. Between the noise, motion and pleasing view, he was lulled into a sense on calm and allowed himself to relax. A glance to his left introduced a middle-aged man, the driver, whom Sam noted was experiencing the same calming effect. The driver's eyes were slowly closing and his chin drifting downward towards his chest. Alarmed, but not wanting to scare the man, Sam cleared his throat noisily and the man jerked his head up and began to blink rapidly.

The driver glanced at Sam and grinned sheepishly. "Sorry boss. Kentucky's a long way away. I'm sure those horses are just as tired."

'Horses?' Sam wondered to himself as he looked down and discovered a clipboard lying on his lap. He leafed through the pages, reading elegant names of probably elegant horses. He bit the inside of his lip. 'I hope that I'm not a jockey.'

Sam returned his attention to the view outside the window, trying to recapture the calm. The picturesque green pastures and their chalky white fences rekindled a memory and made Sam long for home. He so wanted to be back in Indiana, back on the farm and with his family.

The truck downshifted and slowed down bringing Sam out of his reverie. They turned in a paved driveway and passed under a carved, wooden arch that read: Kingswood Farms. Sam glanced back down at the paperwork on the clipboard and noted the same name on the letterhead. Yep, this is the place. Wait a minute. Did he call me boss? Am I the boss? Sam leafed through the papers once more. I must be Jim Kidd - the owner. Wow!

The winding driveway was awe-inspiring. It was lined with ancient oaks on both sides, their tops curving and touching overhead creating a panoramic arch. It was so peaceful and felt so much like home that Sam became nervous; he had learned from too many other leaps that nothing is as it first seems.

The truck stopped in front of one of the several barns within Sam's view, and the driver hopped out of the cab with a grunt. Sam slowly lowered himself as well, surprised to see several smiling faces coming toward them as he stepped out and away from the vehicle. He noticed some of the faces get a puzzled expression, so he stopped. 

The familiar whoosh of the Imaging Chamber door divided Sam's attention between addressing the strangers before him and his best friend and Observer.

"Hey, Sam, how's it going?" Al asked casually as he stepped out from the doorway, allowing it shut behind him. "Pretty nice place, huh?"

Sam rubbed his nose and looked down to cover his mouth as he spoke. "They're looking at me funny, Al." Sam held up the clipboard that he had in his hand and said to the people gathered before him, "I'll just take these inside," and turned his back to them. "Where do I go?" he asked quietly.

Al frowned at Sam a moment, not quite understanding his dilemma, then brightened. "Oh! Yeah! Sorry, Sam. Into that house over there." The hologram motioned to an elegant Victorian house at the end of the circular drive, approximately thirty yards from where they had parked. "Oh, and Sam, you'd better start limping. That's probably why they're lookin' at you funny. You need to favor your right leg."

Sam paused at the suggestion, and the driver's voice sounded, "I'll unload the horses, OK, boss?"

"Yeah, fine, go ahead," Sam replied with a wave, then carefully began to limp as instructed. He ducked his head so that he could talk to the hologram. "Al! I can't do horses! I was raised with cows!" 

Al raised his eyebrows. "Would you relax? You don't have to 'do horses'. You were injured awhile back, I mean Jim, was injured awhile back."

Sam gave Al a curious sideways glance. "Jim, that's me?"

Al brought the hand link up his face and read its small screen. "Right, Jim Kidd. You're fifty-two years old and you own Kingswood Farms -- over two hundred fifty prime acres in the middle of Virginia horse country. He's loaded to the gills."

As Al was describing the Visitor to the Waiting Room, Sam was admiring the land, the house and all of its natural beauty. Upon reaching the house, Sam hesitated and peered into the glass windows flanking the front doors and saw his reflection. Jim Kidd was a healthy man who obviously spent a lot of time outdoors. His skin was lined and tan, his hair trimmed in silver. It was a kind face. Sam grabbed the doorknob, then hesitated as a thought crossed his mind.

Al frowned at his friend's hesitation, and looked around, wondering what had spooked him. "What's the matter?"

"Well, you know, I just don't want any surprises," Sam said hesitantly.

"Sam, just open the door, will ya?"

"Holograms first?" Sam motioned with his hand.

Al chuckled and shook his head. "Sure, boss." He walked through the wall, and Sam heard his voice from the other side of the door. "No surprises here, Sam. What were you expecting? The Nightstalker?"

Sam let out the breath that he hadn't known he had been holding. "No, a wife, perhaps. Like I said, I don't want any surprises." He opened the door and stepped inside. "What a place!" Sam exclaimed. 

There were trophies and horse paintings lining the walls and comfortable leather furniture and stylish art everywhere. This guy was obviously good at what he did. Sam closed the door softly behind him and continued to admire the house.

Al looked around. "Don't fret, he's a widower. Nice, huh? It's nothing like the ranch that Beth wanted us to buy, though. Now that place…"

"It probably had a lot of bedrooms in it, right?" Sam interjected, then held up his hand in a stop motion. "Never mind, don't answer that."

Al ignored the request. "It would have to Sam, I have four children and I know that I'm going to have grandchildren by the tons. Don't you remember?"

Sam sighed. "No, I don't. But thanks for reminding me again about my Swiss-cheesed brain. So. What does Ziggy have on this guy? Does she know why I'm here?"

Al hesitated, then lifting an eyebrow in his friend's direction, replied, "Sorry, Sam, not much in that field. All we have right now is a little information on Jim and his gang out there, who are all probably still wondering about you."

Sam walked up the broad, curved staircase to the landing on the second floor. Large windows framed the landing, taking advantage of the view. A hallway lined with doors lead off one side. Sam peeked in the first door and discovered an office that overlooked the barns. Drawn to the window behind the massive oak desk, he looked out over a pastoral scene.

Al had followed Sam up the staircase continuing his narration of information. "Ziggy has basic info on the farm, how well it's doing at this time, things like that. From what we could tell, everything works out pretty well for this guy and the employees we could dig up." Al meandered over to the window to see what Sam was looking at. "Nice view."

"I kept the truck driver from falling asleep at the wheel earlier. If that's why I'm here, then why haven't I leaped?"

"I don't know. There wasn't an accident in the original history, either."

From their viewpoint, they could see most of the farm; the horse van was off to the right, more white fencing criss-crossed the land, and green pastures were dotted with horses grazing in every direction they looked. To the left was an arena with a couple of people riding and jumping brightly painted fences. 

"But what we do know is it's May 28, 1977, and you are in rural Virginia." Al concluded, slipping the hand link in his pocket with one hand and withdrawing a fresh cigar with the other.

Sam was drawn to the riders in the arena. He grabbed a pair of binoculars on the windowsill, and looked more closely at them. From this distance, even with the binoculars, he couldn't tell if they were men or women because of the baggy clothes and helmets. As he watched, one of them stopped their flashy bay in the center of the arena and dismounted. The rider ran a hand down a front leg, carefully probing then picked up the horse's leg and looked at its hoof. The rider then dropped the hoof, straightened, and pulled off the helmet, releasing shoulder length blonde hair. She shook her head as she tucked the helmet under her arm, then gathered the reins in her hand as she lead the horse to the arena gate.

Peeking over his friend's shoulder Al saw what had his attention. "Hey, she looks sort of cute, Sam, but I bet she smells like horse sweat. Not that that's a bad thing, but, any excuse to use the shower first…" Al stopped as Sam rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Well, you obviously have other things on your mind, so I'll just go talk to our Visitor." The Observer called up the Imaging Chamber door and stepped through. "Just try to stay out of trouble, will ya?"

Sam tilted his head to look at Al. "You know I'll try."

"On the other hand," Al's eyebrows wiggled up and down with a mischievous smile on his face, and he left the statement dangling as he shut the Imaging Chamber door. 

Sam shook his head with a sigh then continued to look at the young lady. She seemed familiar for some reason, but was still too far off for identification, if his Swiss-cheese memory would even allow it. Something about the way that she walked, or the way that she turned her head; he couldn't quite pin it down. His gut instinct was telling him that she was important in some way to this leap, and curiosity urged him to find out who she was. Sam put down the binoculars, then trotted out of the office and down the stairs two at a time. He slid to a stop at the front door.

He knew that she had to pass in front of doors to take the horse to the barn, so he calmed himself down with a deep breath then casually opened the door. He glanced to the left and saw her walking on the horse's left side, one arm resting on the animal's crest as the other held the helmet and reins. The gracefully curved animal's neck blocked his view of her face. Only when the alert ears of the horse pricked up in his direction and the chiseled head turned in his direction was able to glance at her face.

Sam felt his heart race at her familiarity. He knew her; and when her eyes turned in his direction, he sucked in a breath of shock as his heart leaped.

First she jumped slightly, then smiled broadly. "Oh! Good afternoon, Mr. Kidd. You startled me!"

Sam froze, unhearing and in total shock as his eyes fell on her face. "It's impossible," he murmured in a barely audible tone as pictures of past events flashed through his mind. A prison; a shotgun; a dark-haired man with sad eyes; a college library; a loud-mouthed punk in a letterman's jacket .. and a cape? He dared not move lest he break the chain of memories.

"Mr. Kidd?" The woman said, her forehead wrinkled with worry when he didn't respond. She took a step toward him, the horse shadowing her. "Are you OK?"

'She's calling me Mr. Kidd.' Sam's mind finally registered. 'She doesn't have any idea of who I am!' Sam replied shakily, "What? Oh! I'm fine."

"Are you sure?" She didn't look convinced, but her step slowed.

"Yeah. I'm sure." The urge to run away overcame him and suddenly Sam's feet began to move. "I…uh…forgot something." He bolted back into the house, carefully shutting the door and leaning on it, his head on his arms. His heart was pounding furiously. "Oh my God. That was Alia!" he breathed out loud.

Sam gathered himself together, and stepped to the window next to the door. Peering through the diaphanous curtains, he watched Alia lead the horse to the barn. She glanced back at the house several times as she walked. Sam let the curtains fall back into place, feeling self-conscience about staring at her. Thoughts began tumbling wildly through his mind. 'OK, she didn't recognize me. Or would she? Why do I see her? What is she doing here? I thought she was safe somewhere!' 

Sam peeked back out the window only to see her talking happily to one of the barn hands as they finished unloading the horses. He saw her hand off the reins to one of the men and toss the helmet next to the barn. Then, she turned in the direction of the house. Alarmed, he saw her jogging back to the house. "Ah, jeeze, she's coming back!" he groaned. 

Sam panicked; he couldn't allow Alia touch him until he figured out why he was here. He didn't know if she would see him as Sam on contact or not, but he couldn't take the chance. Not yet. He took the stairs two at a time, and raced into the office, slamming the door. He quickly located the personnel files. 

He heard a knock on the door downstairs, followed by a squeak as it was pushed open. "Mr. Kidd?" Alia's familiar voice called out.

Hesitating for a second, Sam yelled in reply, "Come in!" He skimmed the personnel files as quickly as he could. Her file had to be here somewhere. "Campbell, Barry; Davis, Andy," he read the names in an urgent whisper.

"Mr. Kidd?" There were muffled footsteps as she climbed the stairs.

"Yeah, up here." He finally came to the name. Novack, Alia. That had to be her! Sam heard footfalls on the landing and slammed the file cabinet shut, quickly settling himself behind the huge desk. He shuffled a few papers busily as he casually called out, "In my office!" and tried to catch his breath.

The door cracked opened and Alia poked her head inside. "I'm sorry to intrude, sir, but are you sure that you're feeling okay? You look… different."

"Hi, uh, Alia. Yeah, I'm fine. I think that I'm just tired from the trip." Sam made a mental note to try to keep objects between them -- big objects. The desk was a good start.

Alia approached the desk, concern etching her face. "I know how these buying trips wear you out, sir. You should take it easier. I've told you before that I'd be glad to help."

"No, I mean, yeah. That may be a good idea. Next time, maybe." 

Alia started around the desk toward the window, then suddenly turned back to Sam and stepped towards him. Sam bolted to his feet, keeping the chair between them, and covered his action by pretending to retrieve something from the filing cabinet.

"You know, Mr. Kidd, I've wanted to thank you for…" She stopped only for a moment when he popped up so quickly. "For letting me come to work for you. I must say that personally, I feel like you were the father that I never had."

"Well, Alia, I'm glad that you feel that way." Sam's smile was genuine, pleased at the thought of her happiness. She deserved that. 

"Things used to be so… so hectic in my life before I came here. I used to feel so unsure about myself." Alia seemed to be lost in thought for a moment as she backed away from Sam and circled around to the front of the desk. "But now, I feel so… at peace. The horses were just the thing I needed. I haven't been this happy in a long time." He eyes glowed softly as she spoke, and Sam thought about what she had said. 

She looked relaxed, happy and healthy, and his sense of accomplishment made him puff up his chest a bit. Unexpectedly, a feeling of envy washed over him, but he quickly pushed it aside. "I'm glad, Alia," he replied honestly. "We're happy that you're here." She was moving towards him again, so, trying to act casual, he turned his back on her and walked to the other side of the chair, again using it as a barrier.

"We?" Alia asked, pausing by the file cabinet. "Are you talking about Mrs. Kidd, before she died?" 

Sam felt like they were playing a game of tag. "Mrs. Kidd? Ah, no. I was referring to, you know, Andy and ahm, Barry, and the other workers." Sam quickly blessed his photographic memory.

"Oh." Alia looked confused for a moment, then smiled. "Well, I was worried about you. You've taken good care of me and it's time I returned the favor. Now, will you quit dodging me and let me feel your forehead?" She took a step towards the chair.
"My forehead? It's fine, really. I'm OK. But, uh, maybe they need help with those new horses? Will you check on them for me? I didn't get a chance." Sam put on his best smile and tried to stay in control of the situation by snatching up the clipboard at thrusting it towards her. "I'd really appreciate it."

Alia sighed and grinned, taking the board in defeat. "Alright. I will, but you have to promise me that you'll lie down for a few minutes."

"Promise."

Alia tapped the clipboard with her fingers, and headed out the door. She hesitated in the hall, glanced back at him with a brilliant smile, then disappeared down the hall.

Sam had given her a small wave then he collapsed into the chair when she stepped out of sight. He exhaled loudly when he heard the front door slam. "Oh, boy!"
 

 

PART TWO

 

Project Quantum Leap

March 1, 2000

 

As the quantum phasing dissipated, the Leaper looked around to find that he was in a rather large room, surrounded by people in white lab coats. He huffed and snarled quietly at them as he glanced down at the clipboard in his hands. 'Little, white lab rats,' he thought, instantly disliking them. He closed his eyes to try and think about why he was here. It was something important, he felt. In front of him stood a very colorful console and he curled up one corner of his lip in a wicked smile. 'It has something to do with this console. Something beautifully evil.' 

As he sought to remember the plan, he heard a familiar sound, the sound of a metallic swirl of a door opening. The feeling crossed his mind that he wasn't supposed to be on this side of that door, and he frowned.

A redheaded woman in a wheelchair emerged from the diffused red light of the doorway. She was slumped over as if she were very tired, or in pain, or both. Her pale face held a scowl aimed at him. "Thames," was all she breathed, the name filled with disdain. Laboriously she moved the little toggle under her hand and maneuvered the wheeled device through the doorway into his time and place.

"ZoŽ." Thames remembered her even if he couldn't remember exactly what he was supposed to accomplish here. She was too much of a thrilling irritant not to remember her.

ZoŽ, however, was too involved with her own thoughts to even respond to Thames. A trip to this Project, even a holographic one, dredged up unwanted memories. 'Thanks to Admiral Calavicci, I'm trapped in this damnable chair. He had the audacity to shoot me in the back. What kind of person would do that?' She scowled even at her own thoughts. 'A person after my own heart, that's who. He's definitely not like the righteous Dr. Beckett.' ZoŽ had barely cleared the door when her body was rocked by a violent coughing fit; she was barely able to get enough air into her lungs for a moment. Finally, she got control of her failing body, but she continued to wheeze while she looked at Thames standing there looking like a nurse. 'God, I hate that color. Look at him standing there, looking almighty and forgetting that I know what it feels like to be in his shoes.' "What are you…you…looking at?" ZoŽ's sharp words were still labored as she regained strength from her coughing fit. 

Thames turned his head and stifled a smile. There was something about seeing ZoŽ helpless in the wheelchair that trilled him. She had been so stuck up on herself, but now… "You tell me, ZoŽ, baby. What do you want me to look at?" he replied as he looked her up and down, chuckling. He knew just how to egg her on and engage her fiery spirit and loved her for it; even knowing she was considered precious cargo to Lothos.

"Oh…shut up," She groaned again and coughed, "you imbecile. You can't even remember why you're here, let alone remember what it's like to hold anyone," she snapped with the intention of shutting him up.

Thames wouldn't let that happen. He lived to counter her at every possible opportunity. "Better than never being able to hold anyone again," he taunted with a grin.

ZoŽ's eyes slowly raised, her head following, the disdain on her face clear as she glared at him. She moved the wheelchair closer and growled slowly, "Careful, Thames, you're on the wrong end of this mission. You could be easily cut out of the picture with a tap of my finger." She pantomimed the movement that would cut the transmission and leave him caught in limbo forever.

Thames glared back in return knowing full well that it wasn't a hollow threat. He had to give her credit; even wheelchair bound, she still wouldn't back down from a fight. She always followed through. 

Thames finally looked around at the other lab technicians near him. The ambient noise level was high enough to cover his chat with the hologram. He wasn't worried about being caught with his hands in the cookie jar, so to speak; he was more worried about Time. "Let's get this over with, shall we?" Thames bent down, focusing on the colorful console in front of him. 

The Observer eyed the room with loathing. "So, this is the ever impressive Ziggy, is it? She doesn't look that intelligent to me," ZoŽ snarled as she put her hand to her chest. The constant pain dogging her there was becoming harder to disguise, and the automatic curse leveled at Calavicci crossed her thoughts.

Thames smiled at her comment. "ZoŽ, honey, if she were that intelligent she would have known we were here already." Thames slid an orange panel off, laid it on the floor, and studied the intense circuitry inside the panel. 

"Did you stop to think that she may know, but hasn't told anyone, you idiot? You can never tell, Thames, especially anything involved with that goody-two-shoes Dr. Beckett. Integrate Lothos quickly before she rats us out." ZoŽ watched as Thames looked inside the console. "What is it? Finish the job, you moron! Quickly! Can't you remember what to do?"

Thames reached into the guts of Ziggy as ZoŽ talked and isolated the green and yellow wires she was referring to. 'Damn! I hate the scrambled eggs memory of mine.' Thames glared at her. "As if you didn't blank out on your first mission."

ZoŽ tried to speak again, but her voice caught again in another coughing spell. 'Damn him. Damn both of them. This is entirely their fault and if Thames doesn't hurry and finish the job, they'll have the upper hand again. The only good that came from being shot and put in this, this thing, was getting the time to get back at both of them. All of those endless nights pouring over schematics, reading boring and endless crap about Project Quantum Leap and its funding, and to finally find the Project itself, have finally paid off. They'll be gone for good.' The joyous thought of revenge lightened her dark mood. "All right dear, do I need to tell you which wires to splice together for Lothos?" ZoŽ oozed back at him.

Thames rolled his eyes toward her as his mouth twitched with anger. "Not necessary now. Trust me," he said as he pulled out a pair of wire cutters from the lab technician's coat pocket. Hoisting the tool, he clacked the ends together in the air, making a threatening clicking noise.

"I don't trust anyone, Thames, you ought to know that by now." 

"Suit yourself," Thames said as he cut the appropriate wires. "Hurry up!" 

"Patience, gorgeous," he teased as he carefully re-routed the wire bundles.

Irritated at his remark, ZoŽ couldn't tell if he was just teasing with her or trying to irritate her. Whatever the case, it drove her absolutely nuts, and she clenched her jaw to the point where her teeth squeaked.

"There." Thames said as he stood and brushed off his pants.

"About time," she sneered in reply.

"Please, ZoŽ, you know I'm the expert with electronics here."

"How could I ever forget?"

"Because I won't let you." 

ZoŽ glared at him knowing what he said was true, but she did not want to give him the satisfaction of knowing that it was constantly on her mind. 

Suddenly, the red hand link on ZoŽ's lap squawked loudly. She looked down at it and an evil smile crossed her lips as she read the words. She raised her head and said to Thames. "Lothos is in."

Thames mirrored the horrid smile. "Good. A little reprogramming here and there and…" He sighed with satisfaction and crossed his arms across his chest. "It's the beginning of the end of their interference."

 

 

After a shower and a decent meal, Al walked down the corridors of the Project toward the Control Room. It had been an hour since he had seen Sam, and he knew Ziggy should have at a little more information than before. He retrieved the hand link from the control console, and acknowledged Gooshie squatting down beside it. "How's it going, Goosh?"

Gooshie looked up at the Admiral with the bewildered look that Al had come to recognize as the programmer's thinking mode. He had been totally mesmerized by the contents behind one of the console's panels. "Ahm, everything is ah…OK, sir." He frowned and looked back at the wireworks, murmuring to himself as he shook his head.

"Anything wrong?" Al asked noting the look. 

"I don't think so. I'm just double-checking behind some panels today. Routine."

Al nodded. "Fire up the IC. I need to give Sam the latest news."

"Yes, sir." Gooshie stood and his hands began to fly over the console to bring the Imaging Chamber online.

Al was part way to the Imaging Chamber when the lights dimmed briefly. He stopped, and frowned. That wasn't routine. He glanced back and saw Gooshie still at the console, apparently unaware of any problem. "Hmmm," Al thought as he made a mental note about it. He continued up the ramp, entered the Imaging Chamber and let the door shut behind him. Stepping on the launch sequence pad in the center of the room, he stood for a moment, wondering when Gooshie was going to start the program. "Gooshie, come on." He said impatiently, addressing the ceiling.

The twirling, nauseating whirlwind of images came up a moment later, centering him on Sam. Al could see him through the swirling colors, leaning against a barn, his back to him. Beyond him, horses were grazing in a pasture. The cacophony of images suddenly stopped, and Al couldn't help but grunt in surprise when a knife-like pain suddenly struck his gut. He couldn't help but double over, but forced himself to straighten up before Sam saw him. 

Hearing a noise, Sam spun around, spotting the shaky Al. Al returned the look with a weak grin, his alarm coming through even though he tried to hide it. "Hey, Sam."

"Al? What's wrong?" Sam moved closer to his friend, frustrated that he couldn't help. 

Al shook his head trying to ward off the pain. "I'll be fine," he tried to assure Sam, but knew that after what he had just felt, he would have a hard time convincing himself. 

"Are you OK? What's going on?"

He took a deep breath as the pain began to ebb from the center of his stomach. The breath made Al wince, and his face turned a shade of green. The pain was replaced with severe nausea. "God, Sam. I don’t know what happened."

"Your phase looks out of whack. Ziggy should be fixing that!"

Al looked up at the ceiling and realized Sam was right. Ziggy hadn't uttered a peep. In addition, Sam was blinking in and out of sight, which did nothing to quell the nausea. 

"Why isn't she doing something about it? It'll make you sick!"

"Already is, if you haven't noticed." Al doubled over, grunting in pain failing in his effort to appear all right.

"Admiiiiirrrrrraaaallll?" Ziggy purred quietly from all around him.

"Ziggy, what the hell is going on?" Al groaned.

"Something's not right here. This…. isn't right." Sam began to pace in front of the erratic hologram. He stopped in hopes to overhear Al's conversation with Ziggy, knowing full well that it was futile. Al had to relay.

"There's a…" Ziggy paused a moment before answering as if she were picking out the correct term that she should use. "The Imaging Chamber is is is is…" Ziggy's voice slowly dropped off, sounding to Al like Alice going down the rabbit hole.

"Is what? Come on, you pile of useless bolts!" 

"What 'is what'?" Sam echoed, feeling completely helpless. "Al! What did she say? Gooshie!" He tried to grab his friend as Al fell to his knees with a cry of agony. Suddenly, Sam simply and completely blinked out of Al's sight, leaving him alone the Imaging Chamber. As soon as the Imaging Chamber blinked off, Al fell to the floor unconscious. 

"Admiral?" Gooshie squeaked as he watched the relay shut itself off. He instantly began to check the console in confusion. He looked up as Tina and Dr. Beeks came in the room, Tina's heels clicking noisily. "Admiral?" he called again, his voice tinged with alarm.

"What's going on?" Tina asked as she smacked her gum enthusiastically.

"There was a surge of energy in the IC." He explained, facing the ceiling. "Admiral? Can you hear me?" His hands flew over the console. "Tina, we need to get that door open. Now."

Verbena Beeks immediately stationed herself by the Imaging Chamber door, impatiently waiting for it to open. "A surge? Isn't Ziggy supposed to keep that from happening?" she asked as she pushed futilely on the door, worried about Al's welfare. 

"She is." Tina studied the console and noted the crazy readings on display. "What the…?" She asked. 

"Ziggy! Open the door!" Gooshie yelled.

"Looks like Ziggy's on the rag now," Tina said as the readings slid crazily up and down, not making any sense at all. 

"Admiral?" Gooshie continued asking as he tried everything he could to open the door with the controls. "On the rag is an understatement." Gooshie muttered to himself, trying to figure out what was wrong with the parallel hybrid computer.

"Wait…I think I know what to do." Tina dropped on her knees, eye level with control console. She removed one of the smaller panels. "Here… take this, you old bitch." She said as she tweaked one of the wires. The Imaging Chamber door slowly slid up.

Verbena ran into the ominously quiet room, going directly to the form on the floor. She gently turned him onto his back and checked his vital signs. Relieved, she found them to be strong. "Al, wake up, hon. Al?" She began to shake him slightly. "Come on, Admiral."

Gooshie and Tina stood together at the foot of the ramp as Beeks tended to Al. Occasionally, they shot worried glances his way, but continued to discuss how this could have occurred.

Al quivered slightly as if he was fighting a twinge of pain, his breathing slightly erratic. Suddenly, his eyes flew open and he quickly sat up. The hand link clattered to the floor.

"Whoa, fly-boy, lay back down and calm yourself." Verbena guided him back down and stroked his sweaty brow. "Are you okay?" She watched him carefully knowing that she could read him well. She could tell that he was in obvious pain just from looking into his brown eyes. "Where do you hurt?"

"You tell me, doc." Al said as he took deep breaths and winced.

"Being sarcastic won't help me help you, Al." Verbena said as she sat on her heels.

"OK, then, try 'all over'. What the hell was Ziggy thinking?" he asked with some anger in his tone.

Verbena helped Al to slowly sit up. "Ziggy? There was a surge, Al. I don't think that Ziggy had anything to do with what just happened. Do you, Tina?" She turned to Tina for confirmation when she heard heels click into the Imaging Room.

"I'll say," she breathed. "Either Ziggy has lost it, or something's seriously wrong." 

"Tina, honey, you can bet your best pair of high heels that there is definitely something wrong. I just spent the last five minutes in pain, trapped in this damn room! You can't tell me that Ziggy didn't have anything to do with it."

"I'll show you pain, buster. Lay off, OK?" Tina snapped, sure that Ziggy didn't have anything to do with the problem. 

Verbena shook her head at the two of them. "Now, Al, Tina, that's no way to act. We need to find out what is going on here and bickering won't help us in the least."

"We'll figure out what happened," Tina commented. "Gooshie has a theory, but he didn't say what it was; just that he needed to check some facts first." 

Al grunted, not convinced that Ziggy wasn't involved in the torture.

Verbena was helping Al stand when Beth flew into the Imaging Chamber directly to Al's side. "Oh, my God, Al! Are you all right?" She asked as she drew him into a warm, but worried, embrace.

"Hi, honey." He gave her a weak smile and returned the hug, loving the feeling of her next to him. "I'll be OK."

"What do I need to do, 'Bena? Does he need to get to the infirmary?" she asked, ignoring Al’s prognosis.

"I do not need to go to the infirmary, Beth. I just…I just needed a little help in getting on my feet."

Beth pushed him off of her, and faced him, hands on her hips. "You've never needed help in your life, Albert Calavicci. Stop arguing with me." Her stern face gave way to a smile, her relief obvious. "You know that I know you better than anybody else." She stepped forward and lightly kissed his cheek.

Al grinned knowing that she was right. Maybe he did need to lie down for a little while, just to make sure he was fully recovered from the mysterious malaise.
 
 

PART THREE

 

May 28, 1977

Kingswood Farms, Virginia

 

A red metallic hue passed over Mr. Kidd's handyman as he worked in a barn. Instantly, he was sent to oblivion where he didn't want to be, depositing in his place a tall, slim black man surrounded by the handyman's aura. 

Thames immediately wrinkled up his nose in disgust at the heavy smell of manure. Overcome, he ran outside to be sick. 

Behind him, he heard the throaty laughter of a woman as she wheeled herself from a red rectangle into view. "Thames, you are priceless. Look at you! Farmer Thames!" She began to laugh again, but set off a coughing fit. She pressed her hand flat to her chest to control it and the accompanying pain. Slowly, she took a long breath that was emphasized by wheezing. 

"Better to be Farmer Thames than stuck in that chair, ZoŽ."

ZoŽ looked up at Thames with animosity and snarled at him, "Get on with it!" She rasped.

Thames huffed as he looked around at his surroundings. "Be glad you can't smell this place, baby." He leaned against the barn door looking at the farm's expanse. "Where the hell am I exactly?"

She replied, "You're in the best place you'll ever be. You're here to kill the good Dr. Beckett." ZoŽ started to grin, thinking of the plan that she and Lothos had concocted, and jealous that Thames got to carry it out. "We need to find where he is. That is, we need to find Mr. Kidd."

Thames smiled at the assignment, and took a deep breath of clean air. "That shouldn't be too hard. You're sure he's leaped into Kidd?"

ZoŽ slowly moved the wheelchair next to Thames' side. She looked around outside, and spotted a man going toward the corral. She extended her arm and pointed at the man. "Yes. The information came right from precious Ziggy's mouth, so Lothos is positive on that one, deary. There." 

Thames chuckled lightly. "That's him, huh? I'm not impressed."

"What did you think you'd find, Thames? A young buck, owning a place like this? If only." ZoŽ's mind slowly slipped away from the moment at hand, a fantasy beginning.

"If only you could get out of your chair and buck that buck?" His voice teased viciously.

"I'll have you know that before Calavicci put me in this chair, that I was the best at…riding anything to the ground."

Thames gave her a wicked, lustful look. "Ooh, kinky."

"He'll regret the day that he hurt me. I will have my revenge." ZoŽ said maliciously, unhearing.

"We'll have our revenge, love. Remember, patience is a virtue."

She snapped out of her reverie. "Patience is a thorn in my side, Thames. We need action. Action that lets our adoring Admiral realize he will never be able to retrieve his friend. You need to get some firepower. Something adequate to do the ole boy in." 

Thames smiled at her tone as he looked across the yard at Dr. Sam Beckett. "Not a problem, baby. Trust me." He smiled widely as he turned back to her.

"I don't trust anyone, especially you, Thames." 

"Even you can learn," he tsked, then slowly walked away from the barn toward the house hoping to find the firepower that he needed there. He was sure that Kidd had something in the house. This was a working ranch, after all. They had to have something to put the useless beasts down with.

ZoŽ shook her head as he walked away. She laid her hand on the link in her lap and quickly popped in beside the Sam. She watched as he climbed to the upper rail of the arena fence to observe the riders putting the horses through their paces. "You'll get yours, Dr. Beckett." ZoŽ said through a tight, evil grin. "I'll make sure of that, my dear. You'll be dead very soon."

ZoŽ glanced at the people riding in the arena. Something clicked in her mind and she frowned, looking back at the female rider. There was something familiar there; but that wasn't possible. She watched as the young lady jumped the horse over an obstacle. She seemed ever so graceful, and it struck a sour chord in ZoŽ when she realized that she would never be able to ride a horse. She clenched her teeth together in an effort to control her own emotions from bubbling over, then she saw the woman's face. 

"Alia." The name was barely audible through her clenched teeth. She fought to control the fury threatening to overcome her and her tenuous breathing, and realized that the tramp hadn't noticed her. Theoretically, she should be able to still see me, ZoŽ thought as she studied the girl. She looked damnably happy, but never took notice of the wheelchair-bound hologram. "Well," she said finally, licking her dry lips and smiling like a wolf. Trying to control her shaking hands, she concluded, "Isn't this interesting? Now we can kill two birds with one stone!" She looked down at the link lying in her lap and raised one delicate eyebrow as she tapped the link. "Oh, Thames, darling!" she sang as the device took her to him.
 
 

March 1, 2000

Project Quantum Leap

 

Gooshie put Tina and Sammie Jo in charge of investigating the problems that they were experiencing with Ziggy in the Control Room. They were quite capable of tracking those problems down. Gooshie, however, felt in his gut that something was terribly wrong. He walked down the corridor; his mind working overtime going through previous diagnostics from earlier in the day. He had even gone into his quarters and pulled out some diagrams of Ziggy's systems so that he could double check what he remembered as he walked. Something wasn't tracking right. "No," he said to himself as he flipped a page, and continued down another hall. He put his free hand on the wall panels as he passed, each one matching the diagram in his hand. He went into the first systems room where Ziggy's analytical relays were, and began checking them in sequence.

"Gooshie?" The whisper seemed to emanate from everywhere, and he smiled at the source.

"Yes, Ziggy. Glad to see that your communication relay is back online for the moment."

"Gooshie?" Ziggy repeated softly.

Gooshie frowned as he looked around the technician's station. He didn't like the way Ziggy sounded. "Ziggy?" He listened carefully for a moment, his mind working furiously to figure out what was going on. 

"Help me." The sound was even softer than before and he knew that the computer was in trouble. He had never heard Ziggy sound so vulnerable and weak. She had always been strong and determined and very talkative with her Barbara Streisand ego. 

"Oh no." Suddenly, something clicked in the programmer's mind and the pieces fell together. Had Ziggy been compromised? Was someone or something trying to infiltrate the Project? That would explain some of the anomalies. He looked back down at the diagrams in his hands and thought of the various systems centers. The only one that had been occupied prior to the first fluctuations had been the main conduits relay room in Section Four. He slapped an intercom and told the Control room where he was going. Setting his jaw, and with a firm grip on the diagrams, he headed toward Section Four.
 

 

Tina stood at Ziggy's console, frowning at the information before her. "Dr. Fuller, would you look at this, please?"

Sammie Jo walked over to see what Tina was looking at. "What?" She looked at Tina's tapping finger. "That has to be wrong…. that can't be."

Across the room, Beth and Dr. Beeks were helping Al to the corridor. He was wobbly, but walking with minor assistance. "We're taking the Admiral to his quarters," Beth told the scientists.

"I'll be fine, Beth." Al protested.

"You are the most stubborn man, you know that? You must want to take me to an early grave." Beth said as she laid her hand on his chest.

"No, honey, that was my dad," Al grinned.

"Al?" Tina beckoned again. Finally she raised her voice to get his attention. "Admiral Calavicci!" 

Al looked at Beth gently then turned quickly to look at Tina. He pushed away from Beth and wobbled to the console. "What is it, Tina? What did you find?"

"I don't know if I found Ziggy's problem or not, but I do know something. There's another leaper somewhere, I think… that's the only time we've seen readings like this."

Al moved around the console and read the graph himself. "Shit!"

Verbena moved closer to the group at the console. "Oh no."

"And there's another problem." Sammie Jo started. "We can't tell if the leaper is here or with Dr. Beckett. We need Ziggy to confirm that."

"That bucket of bolts nearly killed me in there, in case you forgot. Something is screwed up with her."

"It wasn't Ziggy's fault." Tina said hotly. "I think that's what Gooshie was saying"

Verbena intervened. "Well, I could have told you that. Ziggy may be just bolts and hardware, but she has never done anything malicious."

Al glared at Verbena. "Well, she has now. Or at least something is wrong enough with her to cause what just happened in the Imaging Chamber."

"Whatever." Sammie Jo stated. "I'm going to check the automated records from earlier, before Ziggy started freaking out. Maybe there is an outside influence."

"Is that possible Sammie Jo?" Verbena asked, confused. "I mean, we have security measures, how could anyone get in here to sabotage Ziggy in the first place? She would have announced a breech, wouldn't she?"

"I don't like the sound of all this." Al began pacing, upset.

Sammie Jo looked unsure. "I don't know." She said reluctantly. "Go find Gooshie and ask him. He's been backtracking the longest, and would be able to steer us in the right direction." She grabbed a clipboard and went off to another workstation to try and prove her theory from here.

Al glanced at Beth, unsure of what to do. This situation was reeling out of control. He nervously balled his right hand into a fist and used his left hand to pop his knuckles, then switched hands as he paced. He didn't like feeling out of control. "Where did Gooshie disappear to, anyway?" He asked finally.

"I think that he went to Section Four, where the maintenance conduit units are." Tina waved a hand in the direction that he should take. 

Beth approached her husband. "Al, honey, you're going to make yourself worse. Please sit down." She watched helplessly as he paced back and forth, then placed a hand on his arm to stop his four-step pace. "Al." 

Al acknowledged Tina's information, then looked at Beth with tenderness. He hoped that she understood why he had to push himself. "Keep working on Ziggy from here." He looked away from Beth to the hallway before heading toward Section Four. 

Beth turned to Verbena as she laid her hands on Ziggy's console only to shake her head softly. "You know, 'Bena, I think that sometimes he was dropped on his head at birth. Doesn't listen to a word I say."

"I know the feeling." They smiled at each other then headed off in hot pursuit to help in anyway that they could.
 

 

PART FOUR

 

Project Quantum Leap

Stallion's Gate, New Mexico

 

The Main Conduit Relay Room looked as if a tornado had struck. Multi-colored panels were scattered on the floor, the cause of which sat by the exposed conduit main grid. Starting at the left side of the grid and working his way to the right, Gooshie had stripped the wall of panels to view the circuitry in its entirety. He and Dr. Beckett had wired this section themselves, and now looking at the end result, he wondered why they hadn’t made it more simplistic.

He sat back on his heels absently rubbing his chin as he followed the main conduit with his eyes. The yellow color of the conduit was fairly easy to track as it mingled in with the other colors, but an unfamiliar object interrupted the pattern. He'd found it. 

"Son of a bitch!" Clearly, he saw where the conduit had been cut and was now wired to a lighter green outside line. He retrieved the test monitor from his pile of tools to test the line for a power source and prepared to hook up. The sound of people entering the room made him pause and look up as he connected one of the receptors. 

"What have you got, Goosh?" Al questioned. He stopped just inside the doorway due to the panels on the floor, backed by Beth and Verbena, when the programmer raised his hand for them to stop. Patiently, they waited for a response. It was difficult for Al to keep from tapping his toe impatiently.

Gooshie hooked up the monitor's second receptor, and was instantly showered with sparks. The wild haired programmer just had enough time to throw up his hands over his face when the monitor exploded beside him. Al jumped back in the hall as Gooshie kicked the monitor to the other side of the room. "Admiral, someone is accessing Ziggy from outside the Project!" he yelled over the noise. Ziggy’s plea for help was still fresh in Gooshie's mind as he reached into the exposed circuitry. He didn’t even think about the possible consequences.

"Gooshie, no!" Al hollered as he dove in the room from the hall.

Gooshie grabbed the conduit with both hands and pulled. As the connection broke free, a brilliant flash erupted in the room. The concussion threw Al backward into Beth and Verbena, bowling them all over. They were bruised, but still conscious.

Gooshie wasn’t so lucky. He received the full brunt of the blast, and was knocked back with a loud grunt. His body flew across the room and impacted the opposite wall with enough force to leave an impression. His hands were black and smoking, indistinguishable from the burning sleeves of his lab coat. His body slid down the wall and crumpled into a smoldering heap.

Al sat up and shook his head, his ears ringing. He blinked rapidly to clear the stinging smoke from his eyes, and tried to find Gooshie in the haze. The first thing he saw was the black hole where the conduit had been. "My God!" he whispered, then coughed and scanned the room, stopping at the crumpled form on the floor. "No!" He breathed, crawling into the room.

"Admiral? Admiral?" Ziggy’s voice floated through the room, strong and clear. "There is another leaper. Someone has leaped to the ranch with Dr. Beckett. I surmise that Dr. Beckett is in extreme danger."

Beth and Verbena stood slowly still confused from the jolt and staggered to the doorway in shock. Hearing Ziggy’s voice momentarily distracted them, then Verbena saw Al's motion. Instantly she saw his intent, and raced past him, reaching Gooshie first. Beth was close on her heels, and stopped to help Al to his feet.

The Admiral immediately bowed to Verbena and Beth's expertise, and instinctively took command of the situation. The Project was clearly under attack. 

"Ziggy, get the Imaging Chamber back online and get the medics down here STAT," he barked. Al looked at the downed programmer as Beth and Verbena hovered over him, checking his vital signs. He issued orders rapidly to the staff as they showed up, and only allowed the medics to enter. He had to warn Sam, but he had to make sure the Project was secure first. He delayed his departure to the Imaging Chamber until Julianna arrived, backed by heavily armed Marines. He released the scene into her capable hands, and with one more glance in Gooshie's direction left for the Control Room. He could hear Julianna and Verbena barking orders behind him.

"Admiral?" Ziggy asked softly as Al jogged down the hall.

"What?" Al replied his mind busy.

"I haven’t lost a friend, have I?" Her voice was almost a whisper.

Al took a deep breath and slowed to a walk, the other thoughts forgotten. Had she? He didn't know, and couldn't afford to think about it now. "I hope you haven’t, Ziggy. I don't know." He squared his shoulders and pushed the thoughts aside, and strode quickly into the Control Room. He was met with the wide eyes and questioning looks of Sammie Jo and Tina.

"Ziggy should have the Imaging Chamber ready to go." He snatched up the hand link, trying to think of what to say. He stopped, and met their eyes. "There was an explosion. Gooshie's hurt." The two women gasped in unison. "I don't know how bad. Ziggy says there's another leaper with Sam and I have to warn him before it's too late. It looks like Gooshie was right about an interloper." The pair dropped their heads, stunned, and started working the controls. They knew what was at stake, and time was of the essence.

Al approached the Imaging Chamber door. Ever so softly, the humming of the Imaging Chamber began and Ziggy’s soft voice floated throughout the Project. "Thank you, Gooshie. You saved me."

Al entered the Chamber somberly.

Tina's voice emitted from the intercom. "Admiral," she said, her voice cracking with emotion, "Ziggy seems to be fine for the moment, but I don’t know for how long."

Al nodded at the information and pushed back the welling emotions from Ziggy’s soft thanks. "Center me on Sam, sweetheart."

"Yes, Admiral." 
 

May 28, 1977

Kingswoods Farms, Virginia

 

From his perch on the upper rail of the arena fence, Sam watched Alia and the other riders jump horses over brightly painted fences. He studied Alia for several minutes, admiring her gracefulness and control. In his mind he knew she integral to the happenings at the Project, and the thought was counter to the peaceful scene before him. 

Having Al pop out so dramatically had greatly disturbed him. Sam was determined to confront Alia at first, but during the walk to the arena he had reasoned himself out of it. Talking irately to her wasn’t going to cut it, and he knew it. So, he calmed himself down by just watching her and waited for the right opportunity.

The sound of the Imaging Chamber door startled him right off the fence into the arena. He turned to look outside the fence and saw a bright spot of light trying to grow to the size of a door. Sam squinted into the white blur of light. "Al?" he whispered.

Alia noted her boss' tumble from the fence, and reined her horse to a stop. She saw him lean over the fence, and thought he was in pain. Nudging her mount in his direction, she felt the horse stiffen, and saw his ears lock forward. His steps became hesitant, and he shied to one side. He didn't want to go near the man. Her concentration switched to calming the horse down. Her job wasn't going to be any easier when the horse saw a bright, red rectangle appear close to Sam. The animal planted his feet, and refused to move.

When ZoŽ maneuvered her way through the door and saw the horse, she grinned a wicked grin and threw both of her hands up and said, "BLEEAH!" The terrified animal spun and tried to run, but Alia pulled his head around and forced him into a tight circle. ZoŽ laughed a throaty laugh, and turned her attention to Sam when she heard him talking. 

Al tried to focus on his surroundings, and double-checked that his face was void of emotion. "Hey, Sam!" he called out loudly. "Sam, where are you?" 

"I hear you, Al." Sam whispered. "Where are you?" 

"Oh, is your friend here, now, Dr. Beckett?" ZoŽ questioned as she tilted her head every so slightly to listen to his one-sided conversation. 

"Terrific," Al muttered to himself. "First the cramps from hell and now this. I’m standing right beside you, Sam. At least, I think I am. This isn’t good. I can’t make heads or tails of anything here." He started in on the hand link.

"Al? What’s wrong?" Sam tilted his head, trying to zero in on his Observer's voice, and saw a flicker of light. "I… wait… I can barely see you. What’s wrong with Ziggy?" Sam glanced over his shoulder, and saw Alia working her horse in a tight circle nearby, and turned his attention back to Al.

Slowly Al began to visualize Sam in the Imaging Chamber, faintly at first but it was slowly getting clearer. "We’re not sure about everything yet. G… we’re working on it." Al was making some fast decisions. How much did Sam need to know? What was his gut telling him to say? "Ziggy's been acting weird."

" 'Weird'? How weird? What do you mean, 'weird'? What's she saying?"

ZoŽ snorted a laugh. "Probably, 'Please, Lothos, don't cut off my power supply!' " The comment made her fall into another coughing fit.

Al took in a deep breath. "Sam, Ziggy also says there's another leaper here with you."

"Another leaper?! Here?" Sam turned in a circle, and saw Alia had stopped the nervous horse just a few feet away. Her head snapped up in astonishment. 

"Dammit," ZoŽ said hotly. "They know! How’d they know?"

"What did you say? Leaper?" Alia’s eyes began to blink rapidly. Her mouth dropped open as she studied her employer with a fearful eye.

"Alia," Sam started in a pleading tone, his arms out to his side.

"Alia?!" Al shouted, suddenly noticing the woman on the horse. Her face wasn't very clear, but he recognized her. He pounded on the hand link in his hand, trying to get more information from Ziggy but not getting anything other than gibberish.

She stared at the aura of Jim Kidd, open-mouthed. "Sam?" she said in a quaking voice.

Sam decided not to approach her. "Alia…." The horse started to fidget. "It’s me, yeah. Sam Beckett. And I think that you’re why I’m here." 

"Oh, bloody hell!" ZoŽ raised her hands to scare the horse.

The horse jumped backwards at the commotion and threw Alia off over his shoulder. She hit the ground shoulder first, and rolled into a sitting position. She scrambled backwards as Sam approached. "What? What about Thames? And ZoŽ? I thought I was free of them!"

"Not yet, you bitch." ZoŽ said hotly. "I’d kill you myself if I were there, Alia. Thames! Where have you been, you idiot? They know about you."

Thames dropped into the arena behind Sam, smiling wickedly. He had left the shotgun leaning on the outside of the fence hoping to get as close as possible first. That plan was blown now that they knew about him. "Oh, what an introduction," he said warmly. "Did you miss us, Alia?"

Alia got to her feet, finally noticing the dangerous glint in ranch hand's eye as he entered the arena. "Thames?" she whispered.

"That's our leaper, Sam!" Al confirmed, his view flickering. He swore under his breath and he tapped the keys of the hand link rapidly.

"Thames?" Sam echoed turning and preparing to fight. "Alia! Get out of here! Go!" Sam motioned towards the woods.

Alia hadn't moved. "No, Sam. I’m not going to run away from them anymore. I’m facing my demons." She realized the term accurately described whom they were dealing with.

"Interesting choice of words, my dear. But you really don’t even know what demons are. Yet." Thames said hauntingly.

"I know exactly what I’m talking about," Alia growled, moving in for a fight.

"Quit talking and kill them, you idiot!" ZoŽ snapped hotly.

Thames' glare turned into a sickly smile as he thought of how he would love to hear her scream in agony. "You think so?"

"Damn it, Sam! Get the hell out of here! Now!" Al realized that Ziggy was starting to fail again. 

The other rider in the arena heard the ruckus and started over to the group.

Alia was undaunted. "Listen, Thames. You don’t have the balls to try something. I know that look. You won’t do anything. You’re all blow and no go."

Sam took the split second opportunity of Thames' distraction and charged at him. "Alia! Run!"

Sam tackled him and they both went rolling, fighting for the upper hand.

"Look out for the fence, Sam!" Al hollered.

"NO!" Alia cried. "Sam!" 

It was a sickening sight for the leapers and Al as their auras undulated weirdly between them. Sam blurred into and out of Jim Kidd, and Thames' alternated between a heavyset white man and a thin black man. They rolled under the fence as one tangled mass, one man intent on defeating and the other intent on killing. 

Alia moved with them but then the other rider arrived and stopped her with a firm hand on her shoulder. "No. You don’t want to be in the middle of that," he said. 

Sam managed to stop their momentum while he was on top of Thames' chest, and threw several punches in a row. His knuckles were bloody, as was the Thames' face. With a roar of fury, Thames had a burst of energy and threw Sam aside, holding him firmly by his collar. He unleashed a mighty undercut to the gut, throwing Sam backwards. He landed hard on his head and the world spun crazily for a few seconds. He rolled to his knees, unable to protect his kidneys, and Thames zeroed in on the opening with hard kicks. 

"Sam! Don’t let this nozzle do this! Get up and hit him!" Al fuzzy voice rang out as he danced like a shadow boxer, his holographic image fading in and out. 

"Come on sweetie, don’t let me down! Kick him for me, for you, for anything you want, baby, just do him in!" ZoŽ cheered hoarsely as she watched from the sidelines.

Sam rolled away from his adversary, and used that momentum to grab the attacking foot kicking and twist it violently. There was a popping sound, and Thames yelled out as he lost his balance and fell to the ground with a thud. 

"Why are you letting this leech get the better of you? Fight, you wimp, fight!" ZoŽ raged.

Alia managed to get away from the other rider and ran towards the pair. Sam quickly took the advantage of his downed adversary and threw himself over Thames, grinding his elbow in the man's neck. "Alia!" he gasped, "Get away! Run!"

Alia wasn't the only one making her way to the fracas. A drumming of feet heralded the inevitable arrival of the other barn workers, all eager to help their boss. When she got to Sam's side, Thames let loose with a mighty roll and the pair knocked her off her feet. A wild, stray kick from Thames hit her squarely across the face, bowling her back to land hard on the ground. She clamored up to her feet, a red mark prominent on her face.

She stood for a frozen second, her hand on her throbbing face. She took in the dusty battle, and in an instant realized that ZoŽ must be here somewhere, too. Fear and panic washed over her; she glanced up to the approaching barn crew and made the decision to leave Sam in their hands. 

Alia scrambled back through the fence into the arena and was able to catch the loose horse that still trusted her. Mounting up, she intended to do exactly what Sam had said… run. Gathering up the reins, she glanced back at Sam one more time then urged the horse to fly away.

"Good girl! Run!" Al urged, his voice static.

"Dammit! She’s getting away!" ZoŽ observed loudly. "If only I wasn’t in this wheelchair." She looked back at Thames as he once again got the upper hand on the tiring Dr. Beckett. Thames was now on top of him, his hands locked around Sam’s throat. "Squeeze, baby squeeze!" ZoŽ said, her eyes glazed in ecstasy over the shocked look on the good Doctor’s face.

"Come on, Sam! You can’t let him do this. Come on!" Al was hopping up and down now, flustered that he couldn’t help his friend. He got on his knees by Sam's head, knowing that he couldn’t help, but wanting Sam to know that he was there for him. "Sam…" The Observer was alarmed by the redness of Sam's face.

Sam was fighting for breath, his vision fading to black, as he tried to break Thames’ grip on his neck. He locked eyes with his Observer and best friend, using them as a focal point. Suddenly, Al's face disappeared. Almost instantly, Thames’ grip vanished. He took a great gasp, and blinked repeatedly to clear his vision, but Al was nowhere to be seen. He rubbed his neck and turned around in time to see Alia and her horse sail over the arena fence and gallop off into the distance. 

"Dammit, Thames! We almost had him!"

Sam choked a thanks to the workers who had pulled Thames off. Unable to speak anymore, he stumbled to the nearest Jeep, and to the puzzlement of the workers, climbed in and drove off spewing rocks and dirt as he went after Alia.

Thames continued to thrash in his captors' grip, finally getting away when they saw their boss was safely away. Thames ran to the shotgun against the fence, grabbed it, and made a beeline to another ranch Jeep parked by the barn. He jumped in to the shouts of the workers, and followed the trail of dust.
 

 

PART FIVE

 

Sam tore down the lengthy driveway, his neck a throbbing reminder of what was behind him. He turned down the highway in the general direction he last saw Alia. Almost immediately, he spotted a small paved road off to his right and he took it, relying on his bump of direction. He calculated that he could head her off, and that she wasn’t that far ahead of him. The road made a sweeping curve around the base of a hill and when he rounded the apex of the curve he saw a valley open up off to his right. 

The motion of a running horse in the corner of his eye immediately caught his attention. He pulled off the road, hiding the Jeep in a bunch of trees, and headed back to the valley on foot. Swallowed by the trees, he couldn’t see her, so he crossed the narrow road and climbed to a ridge above the highway just in time to see Alia come out of the brush edging the roadway. She was almost across from him, but he wasn't sure if she was in hearing distance and debated yelling to her. He opted to hold his tongue when he heard the sound of a car on the highway, and was glad he did when he saw it was Thames. He realized he had no time to warn her.

Alia was galloping down the side of the highway when she heard the sound of the vehicle behind her. She looked back over her shoulder to see who it was, and when she saw Thames, she spurred the horse on and pulled the reins toward the roadside guardrail which was there to protect cars from going off into the valley below.

Sam watched in horror as he saw her position herself to make a jump. His eyes widened in awe as the gelding barreled confidently down the straightway, like this was a walk in the park.

It seemed an impossible jump from Sam's view. He saw the big, bay gelding's ears perk up as he gauged the distance to the roadside guardrail. The rail itself wasn't that high, only a couple of feet, but the drop on the other side was practically vertical. In addition, the ground looked hard with loose rocks spread across the slope, staying in place by unknown means. The dirt easement next to the roadway was in the same condition and Sam could hear the gelding’s hooves pounding on the ground even from his distance. Alia was in a perfect two-point position, her hands low on the horse's neck, weight in her heels, and her body balanced to the galloping rhythm and raised slightly off the animals' back. Her face was set in concentration, totally aware of the danger following her, but not allowing it to distract her. She knew her life depended on the horse's ability. 

The bay's neck lowered slightly as he gathered his hindquarters under himself, setting his feet for a firm take-off. Time seemed to slow as Sam saw the gravel flying from the horse's hooves. He was awed that the animal could keep his feet, let alone make the jump he was angling towards. The following Jeep was moving at a good speed, slipping slightly sideways as it transitioned from the roadway to roadside, trying to close the gap between them. Sam saw Thames leaning out the window, his elbow hooked on the doorframe for stability as he leveled the gun on the galloping couple. The Jeep was entering the straightaway Alia was on, and he would have a clear shot in seconds. There was a pinging noise from rocks striking the metal guardrail and a screeching of tires mixed with the thunder of the bay's hooves. The Jeep spewed a cloud of dust from beneath the two tires on the roadside.

Sam focused back on Alia and whispered, "NO!" protesting the planned gunshot and the imminent leap of the gelding. As he raised his hands to his mouth to warn Alia, the animal jumped. Sam held his breath.

It was a graceful arc, the gelding's head raised up, ears forward. He seemed to float over the guardrail, feet tucked neatly, then angled sharply down. As his hindquarters cleared the rail and the pair sank down out of sight in a puff of dust, a gunshot rang out. It was a wild shot, considering how the Jeep was fishtailing.

From his higher viewpoint across the road Sam saw the horse slipping down the hill, amazingly keeping his balance by sitting on his hindquarters while stretching out his front legs and delicately using them to steer. Alia was molded to his back as if they were one unit. It would have been a beautiful sight to study if it weren't for the Jeep sliding to a stop at the horse's take off point. 

"Shit!" he heard Thames shout at the audacity of such a feat. Thames jumped from the car and sprinted to the rail to draw a bead on Alia. He wobbled for a few seconds as his feet found purchase on the rocky ground, then aimed the gun in her direction. The dust from the fleeing pair slowed his target acquisition, giving them a precious few moments to escape.

Alia was firmly in control of the horse, guiding him gently. There was a ditch at the base of the hill with heavy brush on the far side; beyond that was forest and cover. Sam could see she had the slimmest chance for escape. 

The magnificent animal used his front legs to position himself for the jump at the bottom. He was alert, again gauging the distance, ears pricked forward like he did this every day. As he pushed off the hill, he raised his knees gracefully and sailed over the ditch. On the roadside, Thames squeezed the trigger as the horse rose out of the dust. The shot was loud in the absence of pounding hooves and squealing tires, and it made Sam flinch.

As the horse landed on the opposite bank he stumbled, nearly going down headfirst. Sam, horrified, watched as the horse's legs flailed in the loose dirt. Alia grabbed fistfuls of mane and she lost both stirrups, fighting to stay aboard while the horse fought to stay on his feet. With the reins free and flying, the animal managed to stay upright and crashed through the brush just as another shot tore through the air. The horse and rider were a frantic blur as they entered the woods. Sam just saw a glimpse of Alia clinging to the horse's neck as they disappeared to the sound of yet another shot. He couldn't tell if they had been hit or not; he was still shocked they survived the jump.

Time snapped back to real speed as Sam realized he was an open target standing on the hill. Flopping down on his stomach, he parted a bush with his hands so he could watch Thames' reaction. He heard the crackling sound of breaking brush fading in the distance as Alia and her savior retreated. Thames cursed loudly and waved his arms angrily as he stormed his way back to the Jeep and Sam was grateful for at least the illusion of safety behind the skimpy brush. He watched the evil leaper fire up the car and start the hunt for a way into the woods. Sam knew he had to find Alia quickly and get her to safety, wherever that may be.

 

 

"Dammit, dammit, dammit!" Al ranted when he found himself surrounded by the Imaging Chamber again. "Get me centered on Sam now, Tina! Move it!"

"We can’t, Admiral. The power’s been cut off to the IC…" Tina started.

"I don’t want to hear excuses! Sam’s in danger!"

"We know, Al." Donna snapped, her fingers flying over the console. Her eyes were red, but her voice strong. "Tina, check the main grid. Something is blocking the power flow. Gooshie said," her voice caught, then she got it under control. "Gooshie said there was an outside interface taking over."

Al bit his tongue at the revelation. The last thing he needed to do was make Donna more worried and jump down everyone's throats.

"Let me trace it down." Her normally plucky voice was shaky, trying to forget what she had seen, and knowing Sam’s life was in the balance. 

A barely audible whisper floated down once again. "Danger. Shut. Down."

"What?" Al shouted towards the ceiling. "Ziggy, what in the hell are you saying?"

"Saaam, shut… down… danger." Ziggy’s voice grew louder and louder until it sounded like a freight train running through the room. "SHUT DOWN!"

Al blocked his ears, wincing at the noise. Donna and Tina slapped their hands over their ears too, their eyes watering. Suddenly, the room was deathly quiet.

Al removed his hands before marching back to the Control Room, relieved the door worked at least. "What the hell happened?"

An ashen-faced Sammie Jo entered the Control Room, her red-eyed paleness a clear picture of how Gooshie’s accident was affecting everyone. Sammie just shook her head. "I think it’s obvious, Admiral. Ziggy just said to shut her down. I shut her down."
"And you listened?!" He waved his arms frantically.

Sammie Jo winced at the tone, but understood his annoyance. "That’s right. I did. This morning, Gooshie was talking about the main grids. He was trying to save Ziggy. You know how much he cared for this project. Ziggy was his baby, and he was doing everything he could. So when she says to shut down, I’m going to shut her down. She was asking us to. She might be able to fight it now. I… I don’t know for sure, but we have to give her a chance." A tear slid down her cheek but she didn’t bother to wipe at it.

Al looked at her with a frown. "Do we know how, what-ever-it-is, is trying to control Ziggy?" 

"No, not yet." Sammie Jo said softly. "But if you give me time, I can…"

"Damn it, Sammie Jo! We've probably lost Gooshie and I’ll be damned if we lose Sam too!" Al knew the moment the words passed his lips how that sounded, and he wished he could take them back.

Sammie Jo stormed up to Al and stopped mere inches from his face, her anger clear. "I’m not going to lose my father, sir. Understand?" Sammie Jo set her jaw as she looked at him. "When it's time, we'll turn Zig back on, and get the IC running. I know that you want to see Sam and make sure that he’s okay. I know that! But remember that dad knows some awesome Karate moves and can handle himself." Spent, the emotions of the day suddenly set on her and she broke down, sobbing.

Al’s face softened at the sight, but his frustration was still there. And of all times for her to start looking like Sam when he’s making a point. Al closed his eyes and exhaled. He reached out to her, and tilted her chin to make her look up at him. "Okay, Sammie. Okay. We’ll do this. We’ll make it happen."

 

Donna and the others brainstormed a plan of action, and set of in their search and destroy missions. The infiltrater had to be isolated and stopped. They weren't even sure the extent of the infiltration, but they had to start somewhere.

With the scientists in control, Al had a break from the action, and reluctantly headed toward the infirmary. He felt like a heel. He had gone off in full-bore fighting mode, and hadn’t dared think about Gooshie since leaving Section Four. He rounded the final corner to his destination and hesitated just short of the door. He prepared himself mentally, and walked into the infirmary.

It was quiet. A feeling of foreboding overcame him, and he dropped into the nearest seat, suddenly drained. Verbena must have heard him enter, because she appeared from another doorway like she was expecting him. The redness of her eyes and cheeks hinted to report, and Al hoped she wouldn't speak at all. 

She looked at Al with shiny eyes, her chin quivering. "I’m sorry, Al," she said hoarsely. "G… Gooshie didn't make it." She didn’t wait for a response. She simply collapsed in a chair near him, silent tears running down her cheeks.

Al gritted his teeth at the confirmation of his unspoken fear. He closed his eyes and bowed his head for a moment, then sat forward and buried his face in his hands. 

Beth emerged from the inner room, tear marks staining her cheeks, but she wasn't crying at the moment. She regarded her husband with a sad expression. Shock had set in and she moved toward him not cognizant of what was really happening around her. She sat down beside her husband and placed a hand on his back. "We did everything humanly possible. We did all we could, and it simply wasn't enough."

Al gently wrapped his arms around her, brushing her hair absently. 

She blinked twice letting his embrace close around her. Then the tears came again, her body shaking in his arms. "Oh, Al… I’m so sorry."

"It’s okay, baby." He whispered softly, forcing his own feelings down yet again. He held her a little more tightly, trying to stave off the guilty feeling that he hadn't done enough. "Everything will be okay."

"I know it will. It has to be. He can't have died for no reason. He was your friend." 

Al huffed slightly. "He was a pain in the neck," he quipped, trying to push off his feelings of loss.

Having seen it before with other family members who had passed away, Beth understood what he was trying to do. She lightly kissed his cheek. "I’ve already said my good-byes. Perhaps you should do the same."

Al blinked back some tears, not wanting to show the pain he was feeling. "I can’t," he said softly.

"Yes, you can." She sniffed, her crying under control. "You may act like the hard ass that you want everyone to think you are, but I know your heart. You have to have closure on this. I’ll come with you, if you'd like." She stood beside him and offered her hand. "Al?"

Al took her hand, and squeezed it as he slowly stood up. He took a deep breath and followed her. "I don’t… I … you know."

Beth sighed softly. "Baby, I know." Fresh tears fell down her cheeks again and she softly tugged on his hand again with a sad smile. "You can do this."

Al looked at her lovingly before he allowed himself to be led into the room. It was cold and eerie, and he wanted to flee right off the bat, but he stood his ground both mentally and physically as he approached the body.

Beth gently folded back the sheet from Gooshie’s face as 'Bena had done for her. He looked peaceful, almost as if he was sleeping. She kept her eyes downcast at Gooshie's face, trying to give Al an illusion of privacy.

His jaw muscles worked quietly as he spoke through clenched teeth, the words directed at the still body. "Damn it, why’d you have to be so…"

"Heroic?" Beth finished for him.

"Yeah." He whispered, letting out a breath as he looked down on Gooshie. He felt responsible. If he had only reached him sooner, this wouldn’t have happened. 

Beth read his thoughts. "You can’t blame yourself, Al. Gooshie did what he had to do. He… he loved her, Al. He put his life into Ziggy. Ziggy was his reason for getting up in the morning. He…" Beth choked, unable to talk.

Al knew that Beth was right. He couldn’t blame himself. Now, he couldn’t stop the tears. They fell silently from his eyes, and he quickly wiped them away, only to have fresh ones take their place. "He was… was….jeeze, Beth, he drove me nuts." Al pulled her close to stop his own quivering.

A small laugh burst out from her sorrow. "I know. And his breath…" She wiped at her own tears in Al’s embrace. "It could knock over a cow! But, I’ll miss his coffee, and his chatter, his absent mindedness and his quiet way."

Al chuckled softly behind the tears. "Who’s going to drive us up the wall now? He'll be missed. It’s just…" he shook his head, unable to continue, and simply held her. 

Beth held him as tightly as he held to her. Together in their grief, they stood in the room saying good-bye in their own way. Beth finally stepped from the arms of her husband and looked at Gooshie one last time. She laid her hand on top of his. "Good-bye, Gooshie. Watch over us."

Al’s gaze followed her, but he stepped back smartly, and snapped into well-rehearsed attention. With all the respect he had for his friend and colleague, he swallowed hard, and executed a perfect salute to the fallen hero.

 

To Be Continued

 

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