Episode 725

Fallen Hero II

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

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PREVIOUSLY ON QUANTUM LEAP

 

Sam has leaped into Jim Kidd, a Thoroughbred horse ranch owner in Virginia in 1977. On his arrival he finds one of the trainers is none other than Alia, another leaper from Sam's past that he has helped free from her evil partners ZoŽ and Thames. Alia has leaped into herself, and living happily in this time. Before he reveals himself to Alia, Sam must figure out why he is there.7y6

Meanwhile, Ziggy is under attack at the Project. Thames has leaped into the Project and inserted a chip into Ziggy that contains a piece of Lothos, the evil computer controlling Thames' leap. As part of the plan, Thames finds out where Sam has leaped, and joins him in 1978 as one of the ranch hands. With ZoŽ as his Observer, Thames' goal is to kill the good Dr. Beckett. ZoŽ is thrilled to find Alia at the same location, and they plan to kill her, too.

Sam finally reveals himself to a horrified Alia, and they both barely escape Thames. Ziggy is mostly incapacitated due to the infiltrator, and Gooshie finally figures out what has happened. In his effort to disconnect the evil computer chip, he is killed by a massive power surge.

It's up to Ziggy and the Project staff to stop and reverse the interloper, and Sam is on his own until that happens. Can he help save the Project while still in 1977? 
 
 

PROLOGUE

 

Sometimes in a leap, when you think that there isn’t a way to solve a problem, I’ve found that if you just sit down and rest for a moment that the problem becomes clearer. Usually the solution appears right in front of you.

 

Sam sighed and sat down on a rock. It was tougher than he thought to find the path Alia's horse had taken, especially since he was trying to be quiet about it. He stretched his neck muscles by moving his head back and forth and massaged the tense muscles of his neck with his fingers. He closed his eyes, then opened them and found he was looking at the ground. He couldn't help but smile when he saw the hoof-print two feet in front of him.

He followed the marks with his eyes and saw the broken and crushed path, freshly turned from pounding hooves. He looked around carefully knowing that Thames was after Alia as well, then started down the beaten down path. He hesitated when he heard a noise ahead. Ducking low, he crept closer, finding that the trees gave way to a natural opening protected by tree trunks. Lying in the opening was a large form with a person bending over it. It was Alia and the horse.

When Al suddenly popped in beside Sam his heart leaped into his throat. Startled, he placed a hand on his chest. "Al! You scared the life out of me! I thought you were Thames!" He whispered sharply.

Al’s shoulders straightened uncomfortably. "Don’t say that, Sam. The possibility is more likely than you think."

Sam’s eyes widened. "What?" He hissed as he retreated back a step into the brush, afraid he’d scare off Alia. "Why?"

Al took a deep breath as he nervously looked around. "We know what’s wrong with Ziggy. I’m afraid it’s not good."

Ziggy's sultry voice softly filtered down around him in the Imaging Chamber, unheard by Sam. "Admiral, I can’t hold him off much longer … not much time."

Al looked up toward the ceiling. "Just hang on for a little longer," he said almost pleadingly. Then to Sam, he said, "We’re running out of time here, Sam. Somehow, Lothos has infiltrated her and we are having a hell of a time getting him out."

"Lothos? In Ziggy? How’d that happen? Can’t Gooshie get him out?"

Al reacted instantly. "I don’t know!" Al shouted. Realizing he had to get his act together, he exhaled loudly to calm himself.

Sam snapped his mouth shut, shocked at Al's reaction. It had been a reasonable question to ask, and he didn’t understand why he had snapped so harshly. Softly, he said. "Al, you have to stop it. Gooshie has to stop it. This is serious." 

Al dropped his head at the mention of Gooshie and took a deep breath, held it for a second, then said, "We’re going to get Lothos out, Sam. But until we do, we can’t help you or Alia one iota. If we do, Lothos will find out our plans, and you’re both history."

The Imaging Chamber program shivered, reminding both Observer and Leaper that time was running out for the both of them.

Sam fought down the growing fear by running down a list of possible scenarios through his mind. It didn't take long for the scientist to come up with a thought. "Alia!" Sam looked at Al with a crooked smile. "Alia can help! She can get us to their Project, whatever it’s called, or at least get us a location. We can get him that way! That's probably why I was sent here!"

Al nodded even as Sam spoke. Neither one could help but notice how the reception was getting worse by the second. "Do whatever you can, Sam," he said as he glanced up. "Damn it, Ziggy! Hang on!"

The holographic colors in the Imaging Chamber slowly began to darken and Sam's world began to fuzz around the edges of the hologram as it ever so slowly dissolved toward the middle. "Al…" Ziggy said weakly, trying to get his attention. "Time all gone."

Al tensed at her choice of words. "I have to go, Sam." He started pushing buttons like crazy. "Hang on, buddy."

"Al… you’re getting all fuzzy…. I can’t hear you!" Sam said, his voice edged with panic. He reached out to touch Al knowing it was futile, but the action seemed so natural. "I’ll do what I can from this end! This isn’t the end, Al!" 

Sam didn't think his friend heard him, but the two exchanged glances that said everything. The image began to fade, turning into a fuzzy blur, then snapped out of existence, leaving one friend in the woods and the other in a distant, metallic room.
 

 

PART ONE

 

May 29, 1977

Outside Reston, Virginia

 

"Oh, boy." Sam thought as he stared at the emptiness for a few seconds, not wanting to believe what he just saw. He blinked, then turned to concentrate on his last chance, lying there on the forest floor next to a dead horse. He took a deep breath to control his shaking hands and stood. 

When he pushed through the brush and entered the open area, he could clearly hear her sobbing. He stepped closer, keenly aware of the crunching his feet made on the dry leaves. With each step his desperation came more under control and he began to feel empathy for her. He knew that she would not want to get back into this whole leaping gig again. Sam felt a flash of guilt about asking her to go back, but this was his only chance. He had already decided that he wasn’t going to beg. He stopped a few yards away. "Alia?" He said softly. "Are you alright?"

Alia’s head snapped up at her name. Without looking around for the source, she jumped up and began to run away from the downed horse. She only made a few steps before she fell down with a cry. Quickly, she tried to get up again.

"No!" Sam called fearfully. He bolted after her and grabbed her arm. "Stop, Alia, you’re hurt! Let me help you."

Alia jerked her arm away from him. "NO!" She tried to run again, but fell again a few feet away, still crying. "No…. They’ll only hunt me down and kill me. Leave me alone!"

Sam took a big step and grabbed her again, then pulled her into a bear hug to calm her down. "Shhh, Alia. I know you’re scared. So am I." He held her tightly and she wiggled lamely.

She felt safe in his arms, but knowing that she wasn’t safe anywhere as long as ZoŽ was around. ‘She’ll get her revenge,' Alia thought, and shivered at the memory of her last punishment.

Sam felt her shaking. "It’s okay. We’ll be okay. Come on, sit. You’re hurt." He loosened his grip and guided her to the ground. Her leg was obviously injured. Sam could see the blood staining her riding pants. 

She cringed as she sat down and jarred the leg.

Sam knelt down beside her and started a cursory examination, finding the wound on her leg. "Is it a bullet, or from the fall?" He asked, tearing at the hole to make it bigger.

"I think it was a bullet," she gasped. " It’s been stinging since Traveler jumped the ledge." Her nails dug into her thigh.

It was a bloody mess. He examined the whole leg carefully. "Well, the bone’s intact, and there’s an exit wound. I think it’s okay."

Alia clenched her teeth tightly as he probed the wound. "God, can you hurt me more, Dr. Beckett?" she complained.
"A little sore, huh?" He laughed shortly, and ripped off his sleeve. "I was always told I had a good bedside manner." 

Alia looked at him through slits. "This isn’t funny. You don’t have any idea about what's going on with Thames and ZoŽ, and you’re worried about this?" She asked motioning to her leg. "I didn't see her, but I know ZoŽ's around too. Why can't I see her?" She gritted her teeth in pain.

He wrapped the leg firmly, then checked her foot for a pulse. 

"I know exactly what’s going on with ZoŽ and Thames. My guess is that your brain waves have been altered somehow, so you and ZoŽ aren't linked anymore." Sam paused. "Increased Theta waves could do it. Maybe the hypnosis combined with the electrical surge from your last leap increased you Theta waves. That's just a theory, but I do know that we’re going to stop them both. Again."

"Again?" Alia asked, distracted by her throbbing leg.

"Yes. Only this time, we’ll both be free."

Without warning, Alia slapped him hard across the face. "I was already free… and you brought them back to me!" She painfully struggled to her feet, trying to avoid touching Sam.

"Me? I didn’t bring them! I just showed up here!" 

She twirled around to him, flailing her arms for balance. "And I’m supposed to believe that? Lothos placed me exactly where he wanted me. Surely your Ziggy has that ability, too." She took a few jaunty steps forward testing the leg.

He stood up and brushed off his pants, and took a big breath to control his anger and fear. "We don’t know who, or what, controls my leaps. But I’m always put somewhere for a reason, and you’re it!" Sam grabbed at her, trying to act as her crutch, directing her away from the lifeless horse. "And we gotta get out of here before we both die!"

Alia jerked away from him. She wasn’t going to argue with him about dying. She knew all about that subject. "No." She said doggedly, shaking her head in denial. "No… you aren’t here for me. I was fine and dandy before you showed up." She continued limping away from him. "But I’ll be damned before I let ZoŽ or Thames try to do anything to me."

Sam stood in place, letting go on her own and knowing he couldn't force her into anything. But she was his last hope. "Alia," He said forlornly. "ALIA!" He couldn’t hold the fear back any longer. "You don’t understand!"

Alia quickly turned around to him and snapped, "I understand that if you keep yelling like that that they’ll find us."

He put his hand on his forehead, physically trying to calm his thoughts. His hand was shaking visibly, and he tried to control it. "No," he said firmly and calmly. "You don’t understand. I’m not here for you, Alia." He took a deep breath and dropped his hands helplessly to his side. He stared at her directly in the eyes, his desperation clear, and he knew he had her attention. "You are here for me. I need your help."

Alia finally noticed his shaking and the edge in his voice. The Sam Beckett she knew was strong and independent; this one was very scared and dependent on her. That alone was enough to scare the daylights out of her. "What?" she sputtered, almost losing her balance. "My help? I can’t help you, Sam! There isn’t any way for me to help you. I can’t get you home."

"Maybe not. But you can save my home." 

"Your home?" She hesitated, then took a step toward him. His eyes showed the fear he was trying to hide. "What do you mean? How could I help you?"

After a moment's consideration, he stepped to her and took her hands. She felt the clammy hotness of his grip.

"Alia. Ziggy’s under attack from Lothos."

Alia’s face went white in an instant. She knew exactly what Lothos was capable of. Her mouth opened and closed, wanting to say something but not knowing exactly where to start. Finally, she looked away shook her head sadly. "Then, Ziggy’s gone."

He gripped her hands tighter and pulled them to his chest. "Alia!" He pleaded, "You have to help me! I refuse to accept that. I won’t give up on Ziggy. Never. I'll do everything in my power to save her, and I can, with your help! That's why I'm here. The entire Project is in danger and all my friends could die! You know that!" 

Softly, she replied, "You don’t understand me, Sam. Ziggy is gone if Lothos was able to establish a strong enough link…" 

He threw her hands down. "I will not lie down and take it! And neither will you! You will never be truly free if you let this go, Alia, and you know that!" His voice dropped to a whisper. "You know I’m right."

Alia closed her eyes. He was right. He was always right. In resignation, she took a deep, shaky breath. "Do you know if he established a physical link to Ziggy?"

A flash of hope sparked in Sam’s mind. "I don’t think so. They’ve been able to work around whatever it is so far, but I don’t know for how long."

Alia sighed. She had suppressed the memories for so long that she actually wondered if she could recall them. "Well, you first have to realized who we are dealing with here, Sam. Do you remember Nathaniel Lothoman?"

Sam’s brow furrowed. Asking for a memory from him was usually a hit or miss affair, but that name was familiar. 

"You must remember him," she insisted. He stayed current with all of your experiments. Never wanted to be behind the genius of our time."

"Wait…" Sam was thinking hard. "He was always asking questions. I got the idea he was more than a fan. Almost a competitor."

Resigned, Alia nodded sadly. "More than you know, Sam. More than you know." 

Even as she said the words, her mind began to flash back to when she had been taken from the streets of Britain. She wished now that she had never run away from home, had never said yes to a lunatic…but she had. Even as she told Sam her story, she was reliving it.
 
 

PART TWO

 

Somewhere near the British Isle

 

The muscular man gently guided Alia into a large room, one of the many rooms in his personal island cave. His jet-black hair gleamed under the fluorescent lighting, accenting his glowing midnight blue eyes. His six-foot frame was formidable, stunning both in elegance and power. His smile showed brilliant white teeth. "Alia, do you know what real power is?"

"Real power? You mean, electrical or atomic, don’t you?" Her voice was full of wonder and awe at the machinery that filled the large room.

He shook his head at her naivetť, turning his smile towards a redheaded woman working on one the machines.

The redheaded woman seemed to feel his look, and responded by turning her head in their direction with obvious affection. "I have the power up and running like you asked." She spared a glance at the young teen beside him, and her expression turned to one of distaste. She snarled, "Who’s the brat?"

Taken aback by the reaction, Alia frowned at the comment. "Hey…" She said nothing else, but took hold of Nathaniel’s arm, gripping it tightly.

He patted her hand and chuckled. "ZoŽ, honey, be kind to our new resident." He looked at Alia meaningfully. She smiled nervously in return. "You are going to have to teach her."

ZoŽ rolled her eyes. "Oh goody," she said sarcastically. "Let me go get her a tootsie pop to suck on."

He stepped away from Alia towards the cheeky woman Alia pegged as his lover, and slapped her hard across the face. There was a look of anger in his eyes that frightened Alia, and she took a shocked step back. 

He grabbed ZoŽ by the hair on the back of her head, and pulled her face towards his mouth. Then, in a voice too low for Alia to hear, growled, "Teach this twerp like I tell you. She's expendable. You’re the best there is and I’m not going to risk losing you if this fails," then released her.

When she turned back to him, her face was void of expression. She knew better than to show pain. ‘Always keep them guessing, hon…always’, she thought to herself. "Yes, sir." She ran her fingers quickly through her blazing hair and looked at the girl behind him. "I’m ZoŽ. And you are?" She asked, her eyebrow lifting lightly as she examined the young lady up and down.

"Alia," she squeaked, then coughed and repeated more loudly, "Alia." Alia knew instinctively not to show fear to this one, and clasped her hands together in front of her to hide the shaking. She’d learn how to hide her fear when she was on the streets.

Nathaniel smiled at the introductions. It was a sickly, sweet smile that was obviously false. ZoŽ took the grin as a gloat, and couldn't fathom why he was happy to have this sappy little thing with him. But he obviously had a plan for her, and ZoŽ knew how to stay on his good side. 

"She’ll do," ZoŽ grumbled.

"I thought that she might." The dynamic man put his arm around ZoŽ's shoulders and walked her away from the girl. "Think of her as someone you can mold." He stopped at a computer station, knowing he'd just tweaked his lover's curiosity. Then, he then turned to Alia. "Come my dear, I want to show you something." He showed the way with the sweep of a hand.

"Okay." She replied, not immediately turning away from ZoŽ in another effort to show she wasn’t scared. Finally, she fell behind her leader.

ZoŽ stood her ground, watching the sickening pair – one unbelievingly ingenious and the other unbelievably naive. She shook her head as they walked away, at the same time instinctively knowing that someone had walked up behind her. She knew exactly who it was, and stated with a growl, "He’s one sick bastard, Thames," before the black man even made it to her side.

"Really? I hadn’t noticed." He said sarcastically on his arrival.

"And you follow a close second," she said as she turned to the tall slender man to her left. "When are you going to learn that you can’t sneak up on me anymore?"

Thames smiled widely. "Why don’t you teach me how, then?"

ZoŽ leaned very close to Thames’ ear, so close that she could smell the cologne that he was wearing. She lightly bushed her lips against his ear and whispered. "You’d like it way to much, you arrogant, annoying, sexy thing."

Thames smile widened at her tease. "Well, then, love, why don’t you do something I won’t like?"

It was ZoŽ’s turn to smile evilly as she leaned back away from him. "Then you’d be dead and of no use to me."

"Ooo! Ouch, baby! Ouch!" He winked at her, then feigned to go but grabbed her roughly instead. The kiss he deposited was void of affection, and applied as a challenge before he walked away as if nothing happened.

ZoŽ didn’t know whether to enjoy the kiss or be revolted by it. Licking her lips, she tilted her head as she admired the way his pants molded to his body. She shook her head to stop the distracting thoughts, and left to find her boss and the simpy girl.

Nathaniel and Alia were in the deepest part of the cavern, inspecting a large metallic box, which seemed out of place among the rest of the gadgets and gismos scattered around the room. The simple-looking box gave no outer indication of the complexity on the inside.

"Alia, do you know what this is for?" He asked carefully, indicating the box.

"No," she answered. "I've never seen anything like it." The streets of London were far dirtier.

"And you never will, dear. This odd box is going to change the world as we know it, making one person greater than any other on the face of the planet."

"Really?" She was genuinely impressed and curious at the same time. "What is it, exactly?"

"This is the start of the future, Alia. This is the beginning of the greatest computer ever to exist."

"Oh. I’m afraid I don’t know anything about computers. This isn’t the whole thing?" She touched the box lightly, then pulled back.

"No, this is only one module. The computer itself will surround it. Engulf it." He seemed ready to get into the box right then. "And, Alia, dear, you are going to be a part of the future this computer will create."

She smiled. That sounded good to her. The present sure wasn’t a rose garden, and the idea of a future created by this man, with her at his side, sounded more promising than anything she could ever hope for. "Sounds great!" She said admiringly.

"Yes," ZoŽ smiled hauntingly as she heard what Nathaniel had said as she walked up. "Our future." She slowly crossed her arms. "One of which you will learn to trust me, Thames and Nathaniel. We’ll keep you safe from harm."

Nathaniel turned to ZoŽ. "When will we be ready for integration?"

ZoŽ could read the excitement in Nathaniel’s eyes as he spoke of the integration process. She approached him, letting her hand trace his jaw. "Anytime you’re ready." She replied in the sultriest tone as she kept her eyes on his.

His eyes narrowed slightly. "With the computer, ZoŽ. When will the computer be ready?"

Realizing that the game of chase had been taken away from her because of this little girl beside him, she looked Nathaniel in his dark midnight blue eyes and smiled. "Like I said, dear, anytime you’re ready."

He took a breath. "Well, then…let’s get the module hooked up."

ZoŽ’s hand still lingered on Nathaniel’s shoulder and she leaned up toward his ear. "I’ll get it ready for you, darling." She lightly kissed his cheek and turned to go.

Before she could leave his side, he grabbed her hand and pulled her back. "Stay away from Thames," Nathaniel growled in her ear.

ZoŽ smiled at the hint of jealousy and wiggled up towards him again. "But Thames is in charge of the module. What do you want me to do? You know that I’ll do anything for you."

He smiled a bit. "Don’t even ask that, ZoŽ. I might take you up on that. Now, let's get this module hooked up, shall we?" He walked away from her and circled the box, brushing it with his fingertips in lustful desire.

Alia was taken aback by the interplay between the two, and realizing the gist of the unsaid things. She wasn’t stupid, just young. She had to admit she admired the cheekiness of ZoŽ, and wished she could be more like her; she seemed so sophisticated. And there was an attraction between ZoŽ and Nathaniel that she wished could be solely focused on her. Alia caught herself staring at ZoŽ.

ZoŽ tilted her head and gave Alia a sideways leer. "There’s not a chance in hell that you’ll ever have him. He’s mine." She snarled lowly enough so that he couldn’t hear.

Alia’s jaw dropped slightly, and she damned herself for blushing. The woman knew what she had been thinking! She ducked her head and quickly caught up to Nathaniel, embarrassed. 

ZoŽ noticed the reddening cheeks as Alia walked away. There wasn’t going to be any little girl coming in to take her man away from her. He was her ticket to power. She looked Alia up and down, well aware of her youth and better figure. 

"ZoŽ!" Nathaniel called out, just as Alia came up to him. "Help me with this. And get that idiot engineer over here!"

She smiled a tight smile of obedience, and searched out Thames with her eyes. Leaning that direction, she raised her voice to a commanding tone. "Thames, get over here."

Thames sighed as he looked up, then noticed she was heading to Nathaniel. He knew better than to go against Nathaniel, so he went over without comment.

Alia felt awkward and useless and was relieved to see another person joining them. Hopefully it would take ZoŽ's animosity away from her. She watched, staying out of the way, as they unloaded the contraption from the box.

Silently working together, they deftly checked the module, making sure everything was properly connected with the correct wires going through the proper holes, and the biochips were intact. They handled the device gingerly.

"There." ZoŽ said, satisfied, as she looked up into Nathaniel’s eyes. "It’s passed beta testing, and ready for the real thing."

Nathaniel stroked her chin slowly, a gleam in his eyes. "Hook me up, darling," he ordered, a tinge of sexual excitement edging his voice. He stepped back into a cubicle cut into the wall of the cave. 

It looked like a space capsule to Alia; all steel and dials. Thick bundles of conduit dangled from the ceiling and walls, all surrounding a chair that looked like a Star Trek biobed. She watched Nathaniel step inside and stand, impatiently rubbing his hands together. She could tell the anticipation was almost too much for him.

ZoŽ stepped in next to him, holding the module. It was a tight fit for the two of them. "Is there anything that you want before we connect you?" She asked in a sultry voice. She was feeding off his excitement, and had a glassy look in her eyes. 

"Are you asking me if I want a blindfold?" He asked her softly looking into her lovely blue eyes.

"No, my dear, more like a last request."

Nathaniel leaned over and kissed her firmly on the lips, making sure that Thames saw his actions, reaffirming his claim on the woman. "Just make sure that everything goes well."

"You got it, sweetcheeks." She lightly patted his hip then turned around to see Alia standing to the side. ZoŽ smiled at her, but her eyes told another story. She then looked at Thames. "Come on, Thames. Let’s get this show on the road."

Alia felt like a fifth wheel. She stepped back, afraid of the look that ZoŽ had given her. She had no idea what was going on, but if anything happened to Nathaniel, she would be alone and at the mercy of those two deviants.

Thames sighed at his lack of control when it came to Nathaniel Lothoman and stepped up to the portal opening. "Right. Dr. Lothoman, if you would prepare for the hook up." He picked up the necessary connectors and edged his way in. 

Nathaniel sat down in the seat, looking like a king settling on his throne. The hungry expression turned into one of sheer ecstasy as the module was positioned on he head. "Do it," he commanded.

"Thames, may I have those?" She asked with one eyebrow raised ever so slightly as she reached for the conduit bundles he held.

Thames looked at her and smiled slightly, willingly handing the connectors to her. "Be my guest." He said loudly. "I don’t want to be the one to blame if Lothoman gets fried," he thought to himself.

Taking the connectors in her hands, she inspected them carefully. "Honey, these look fine. I’m putting the connectors in place now." She inserted the first connector into it’s port, then nodded at Thames, who adjusted some dials on the wall of the cavern. A slight hum permeated the air.

Nathaniel Lothoman gasped as if he were in pain, or very excited. Alia couldn't really tell. 

He could feel the wires entering his body just as he had planned. The power! Oh, the power! It was more thrilling than he ever imagined!

Thames stifled a smile, hoping Nathaniel was in pain and that the whole thing would fail miserably.

Knowing the anger she would face if she stopped, ZoŽ continued on even as Lothoman writhed in the chair. The next connector was slowly put in, and instead of waiting she connected the rest of them quickly. 

He could feel the power surging through him, making the pain of the entwining wires fade away. His reach was enormous! The possibilities were endless! He had mutated Dr. Beckett's theories to the point where he had made himself omnipotent! This was so much better than being human! 

Suddenly, Nathaniel’s eyes widened, as the pain became overwhelming. Every limb stiffened and twitched; he breathing became ragged. His head jerked back and his mouth opened in a silent scream. The observers realized that something was very wrong.

Alia stepped up to the chair and knelt by Lothoman's side, placing her hand on his arm. His eyes were fixed and dilated, his breathing uneven. "Nathaniel?" She said softly as she petted his arm.

Thames scowled at the gruesome sight. He could see the wires as they were meeting under Nathaniel’s skin, how they disfigured his face and body, creating a grotesque characature of a man.

ZoŽ simply stood back after finishing the last connection, her eyes glazed with excitement. His power meant her power. It was thrilling.

"What’s happening?" Alia whispered out loud.

Thames turned to Alia and replied, "Nathaniel is gone, lady."

ZoŽ took one step towards Thames and slapped him hard across the cheek. "Shut up. He’s not gone."

Thames glared at her in response.

Alia then knew that her worst fear coming true. She was here with these two on her own. She gripped the writhing man's forearm tightly, begging. "NO! You can’t be gone!" 

ZoŽ roughly pulled her away from Nathaniel. "Get away from him!" She said menacingly.

Alia fell back. "You’ve got to stop this!" Alia actually stood firm, her fists clenched, not backing down from ZoŽ although she was scared to death. "Stop this!" She looked at the woman determinedly, feeling her eyes watering.

ZoŽ looked Alia up and down with a critical eye. "We can’t stop this, love. It’s too late."

"It can’t be too late. It just can’t." Alia stared, stunned. Trapped. She couldn’t leave this place now; Lothoman had been her guardian and the only way to leave the island. He had picked her up on the streets and promised her better, then abandoned her. 

With a tisk of her tongue, ZoŽ took Alia's place at Lothoman's side, and placed the palm of her hand on his cheek. She could feel the biowires growing, expanding under his flesh. She leaned over and lightly kissed his lips, then closed her eyes and placed her head on his chest. The convulsing body finally became limp, his face blank.

Without warning, a deep, metallic voice rolled through the room. "Such sentimental foolishness, my darling."

ZoŽ, Thames and Alia looked up and around the room, trying to locate the source of the voice floating around them. It seemed to be teasing them.

"Nathaniel?" ZoŽ asked hopefully as she looked back to the limp face of the man before her.

"He is here." The voice answered. "In part. Oh, ZoŽ, darling! It is truly amazing!"

"Nathaniel…" ZoŽ bit her lip his voice surrounded her. "I knew… I knew that you weren’t gone… you wouldn’t leave me."

"The Nathaniel Lothoman you knew is gone. I am no longer him. I am so much more than him. I am perfection."

She frowned. "No." She said softly as she slowly raised to her feet and backed away from him. "You’re still Nathaniel. You still…" She hesitated, unsure, the stated, "You still love me."

The voice laughed. "Love? Bio-technical computers do not know how to love, ZoŽ."

ZoŽ could have taken anything else that someone could have thrown at her and brushed it off, but this? This crushed the only part of her that accepted Nathaniel as a lover and as a partner. Thames was right. He was gone. 

She locked down the emotions trying to burst through. She wouldn’t act like a blubbering fool. ‘No one will treat me this way again and live to tell the tale,’ she vowed. Her face carefully wiped clean of emotion, she said, "Fine, Lothoman."

"That is the name of my creator and companion," the rolling voice boomed. "It is not me. I am…. Lothos."

Unnoticed, Alia found she had backed towards the cave entry, an intruder in this foreign world. But she didn’t want to go back where she came from, either. She was stuck between two impossible choices, and needed time to think. She dashed out of the cave, panicked. 

Hearing the footfalls, ZoŽ saw Alia running away. "Dammit," she cursed hoarsely, still unable to leave the side of what remained of her lover.

"I’ll get her." Thames spat, completely willing to get away. He caught up to her easily, and grabbed her arm, pulling her to a stop.

Alia tried to jerk free of Thames. "Let me go! I can’t live here!"

Thames raised his eyebrow. "You have no choice, lady. In fact, you’re coming back to the Control Center right now."

"Why? I’m of no use in there!" She again tried to pull away, but Thames had a strong grip. She struggled fruitlessly as she was drug back inside.

"Surely, you’re of some use or Dr. Lothoman wouldn’t have picked you up. He always has a plan." 

 

 

Finally able to step away, ZoŽ made yet another check of the connections and circuits as Thames dragged Alia back in the cave. She raised her eyebrow, impressed, and looked at Thames in a new light. He was physically here, at least, and taking control of that intruder. "At least he’s good for something," she mused out loud. She knew he was as much a part of Lothos’ plan as she was, and figured that the girl must fit in that plan somewhere. She was deep in thought about the possibilities, annoyed at the voice's interruption.

"ZoŽ." The voice commanded.

"What the hell do you want?" ZoŽ asked vehemently.

Without warning, a bolt of electricity hit her squarely in the chest. It threw her back against the wall, and she slid to the floor, completely bewildered; her breathing was labored. 

"You will give me the respect you gave Lothoman. He cared greatly for you and wants me to do the same. He is part of me and therefore I do have some interest in you. Perhaps even feelings. You are important to the Project, but I will not put up with disrespect." 

ZoŽ vowed to not forget that lesson. "Forgive me?" She asked softly, trying to retain her position in the Project. 

Thames missed the attack, and when he dragged Alia back to the Control area he found ZoŽ on the floor, gasping and definitely in pain. He stopped. "What the hell happened?" He whispered more to himself than to anyone else in the room.

"Forgiven for the time being," the voice rolled. "I have a task for you, ZoŽ. A very important task." The metallic voice sounded.

ZoŽ closed her eyes and tried to stand. She was very dizzy, and had to shake her head to clear the fog. "And that would be?"

"Lothoman asked you to teach Alia. Do so and continue the work. When we are ready, you will observe for her. Perhaps one day, you will even be favored for the Project. For the moment, however, you are far too important to risk."

Looking at Alia, ZoŽ said, "She’s very…" She paused wanting to choose her words carefully, "…very naÔve. I’ll do what I can. I’ll teach her as you ask of me, Lothos."

"NaÔve?" Alia snapped at ZoŽ. "You don’t even know me!" She struggled in Thames' grip, not liking the sound of this conversation.

The voice agreed with ZoŽ. "Her naivetť makes her perfect for the job. She should be easy to train."

‘Train?’ Alia thought, horrified. 

"Forgive me, Lothos, but won’t her naivetť be her downfall?"

"That’s is why I am relying on you. She will be the first in case anything unexpected arises."

"So, if she fails, I fail…I fail you." ‘Interesting,’ ZoŽ thought as she put her hand to her chest wondering exactly what kind of punishment to expect if she was disrespectful again.

Alia interjected loudly, "And what is this… this plan you keep talking about? I sure didn’t agree to any plan! And you two," she pointed at Thames and ZoŽ, "have no claim on me!" She finally threw off Thames' grip, and stood firmly.

Another lightning bolt shot out from the conduit and hit Alia as it had hit ZoŽ, square in the chest. Alia’s body flew back against the wall, knocking her out. "She is far too insolent."

"Holy shit!" Thames cried, backing away from Lothos in obvious fear.

ZoŽ snickered. "Far too insolent, indeed. And what of Thames, Lothos? Is he important for the project as well? Am I to train him too?" ZoŽ wanted to make sure of where she stood.

"Of course. Thames must maintain my electronic systems and my biological systems as well." 

Thames didn’t like the sound of that. "Biological systems?"

"Yes, Thames," ZoŽ purred. "Keeping Lothoman alive so that Lothos could survive." She turned to look at him so that he could see her eyes and the emotions there. This scared her; scared her and made her mad all at the same time.

Thames wasn’t much into caring for anyone but himself, yet the look in her eyes made his heart go out to her, especially since it scared him, too.

"ZoŽ." The voice uttered again with authority.

Closing her eyes, she turned back to Lothos and physically humbled herself. She bowed her head and went to her knees in front of the physical form left behind. "Yes, Lothos?" She asked quietly as her fingers touched at the charred hole in her shirt.

"Take Alia and place her in a cell. Humble her to obedience. If she argues with you, I will punish her."

A small smile crawled onto her face. "Yes, Lothos. It shall be done." She quickly stood, wiping the smile from her face. She motioned Thames for assistance and moved Alia to another part of the Project.

Her nightmare was just beginning.

 

 

Alia shook her head to bring her back from the memories. She blinked back the fear that she recalled. She gripped Sam's arm tightly. "Sam, you don’t want to be involved with this. It’s best if you just walk away alive."

Sam held back his feelings of nausea and pity for her. "I can’t. There is no way I can turn my back on this. Everything I know and love is in jeopardy. I have to stay with this to the end." He patted her hands. "He’s attacking me, personally."

"And when he attacks, Sam, he attacks with everything he has. You can’t stand up to him. Believe me, I’ve tried and failed! All have failed!"

"He’s never dealt with something like Ziggy, and Ziggy has me and everyone in the Project. Hey, we win with numbers alone." He stood. "But you, Alia don’t need to give anymore. I have what I need; you can continue on here, like you deserve. I just have to make sure you’re safe." 

Alia stood and looked into his eyes defiantly. "I am capable of taking care of myself."

He looked her in the eyes as he put both hands on her shoulders. "I know you are. I never said you couldn’t." 

"You assume the role of my savior, one that I don’t need. And you still don’t understand. He’s out for anyone who is against him. And that includes me."

"Only after he gets me, Alia. Only after he gets me. And he won’t."

Alia turned her back to him and started to wobble away from him. "How can you be so sure?" Alia asked as she looked to the ground.

Sam answered softly, confidently, like there simply wasn't another answer. "Because I am," he said.
 
 

PART THREE

 

Project Quantum Leap

 

When the Imaging Chamber walls appeared once again, Al knew that the situation was getting worse. He stormed out of the Imaging Chamber with a vengeance. There was no way in hell that damned computer was going to take over this Project and leave Sam defenseless against Thames and ZoŽ.

"Tina, status!" He commanded.

Tina’s hands were definitely busy on, under and around the console, and she didn’t even look up as she spoke. "We’ve got internal meltdown everywhere, Admiral. We’re trying to locate the main system that the infiltrator is working from, but there are so many false leads, it’s almost impossible. Donna’s over in Section Four working on leads. We’re gonna need a LOT more power!"

Al began to pace as she spoke. When she mentioned the need for power, he turned and saw Sammie Jo entering the room.

Sammie Jo bustled right to the console doing her own little modifications here and there. "Just tap into another power source. Let’s see…the biggest around here would be… Las Vegas." She mumbled not necessarily talking to anyone in particular. Her mind was in chaos, and the only thing that she could do to calm it was to talk things through. "Las Vegas. Hoover Dam." She said softly.

"I don’t care where you get the power, just get it," Al told them firmly, pacing once again. He turned to both of them. "Take the whole damn state," He ordered.

Sammie Jo looked up at Al in surprise. "That’d do it." She said as she finished her entry code without looking at the screen.

"And if it doesn’t, try Los Angeles too," he added. "I’ll be damned before we run outta gas…" He almost smiled at the illustration. "Kind of like siphoning gas from your neighbor’s car. You want the gas, but you sure as hell don’t want the neighbor to find out what you’re doing."

Tina had ducked under the console at the last sentence. Her words were muffled. "That’s right. We don’t want our neighbor here to know what we’re doing. Hmmm. We may be able to run most of the lines into one area and trap it; but gee, that’s a lot of lines."

Sammie Jo looked down at a screen and typed in her command to execute, and smiled as she listened to the Admiral and Tina. "We may have Ziggy back faster than normal," she mumbled.

Tina stood, looking blankly at the Admiral as her mind worked. Her lips moved, silently calculating. "For this to work, we need power and we need Ziggy. We need her for just a few seconds. If we distract the intruder, she can execute the command."

Sammie Jo glanced at Tina instantly understanding what she meant. "Oh… yeah…" she said shaking her finger toward Tina knowingly.

Tina grinned, her white teeth flashing. "If we can get the geometric processes of the intruder going in a circle...like Mobius strip or somethin'...that might be enough for Ziggy to get the job done."

Tina crossed the Control room and yanked off yet another panel. She reached in, and began to tweak the wires inside. "I need somethin’ sharp... wait!" She yanked off one of her dangly earrings that looked like an ancient TV antenna, and stuck it in the portal. "There!"

"Come on you big bolts of junk. Talk to me." Sammie Jo whispered. Seeing how Tina had tweaked the panel, she hoped that it would work. "Ziggy? Ziggy, can you hear me?" Sammie Jo turned to the sphere and smiled hoping that they would hear that sexy voice again. 

"Yyyeeeessssss?" Ziggy purred her voice resonated through out the project. "What do you need Dr. Fuller?"

When Al heard Ziggy's voice purring through the room, he grinned like the Cheshire cat. "YES!" he exclaimed with a raised clenched fist.

Sammie Jo smiled at the voice. 

"Ziggy, we need to know how we can get that tin of metal out of your programming once and for all and we need to know fast before Lothos can get connected again," Al spoke as he started for the Imaging Chamber. 

"Disconnect at the source. That is the only way to keep him out."

He stopped and turned to look at the sphere. "You don't mean the source here, do you." He stated, realizing what she really meant. He didn't wait for a reply. He just hoped that Sam would be able to get that information from Alia. "Center me on Sam, Ziggy." He stepped into the center of the Imaging Chamber and waited with baited breath.

The lights dimmed and Ziggy responded. 

"We’re almost out of time, Admiral." Tina said as she looked at the panel in front of her. "I don’t know how long this diversion will last. Hurry!" 

"Come on, come on," Al whispered impatiently, knowing that Ziggy was doing the best that she could given the circumstances. 

The entire project went to emergency lighting and power as the Chamber fired up. Tina ripped off her other earring and jammed it in the portal alongside the remains of the first one.

The Imaging Chamber slowly came online; the whirling sluggish for a brief moment as it tried to connect. "Admiral…" Ziggy began. "There." Suddenly the link connected and he saw Sam and Alia cautiously traveling along a deer path, well concealed by the brush.

"Sam!" Al exclaimed seeing his friend, and grateful that he wasn’t hurt.

Suddenly Sam stopped. "Al?" he whispered, turning in a circle. "Al!" where are you?" 

Al waved a hand towards him. "Over here."

Sam faced the voice. "I can't see you, but I hear you..." Alia also turned around as Sam called out the hologram’s name.

"Damn!" Al complained, knowing it was a moot point. "Sam, we don't have a lot of time. Ziggy says that you have to kill the connection at the source. Somehow, you've got to get to Lothos directly."

Sam reached for Alia's hand and gripped it tight. "I was hoping it wouldn't come to that."

Alia looked at Sam wondering what he is talking about. "What? That it wouldn't come to what?"

"Sam, it's our only shot!" Al exclaimed vehemently. "We losing the battle here, Sam." He looked around at his surroundings as they began to flicker and slowly vanish inch by inch.

"Don't let them get Ziggy, Al. If it means destroying the whole Project, don’t let them get her. I'll do what I can. Al? Did you hear me?"

Al’s voice came to him in fragments. "I... ill... o... wha... ca.... jus... ang... Sam...." The voice vanished.

Sam dropped Alia's hand and stepped forward, turning around, searchingly. "Al? I'll find Lothos, Al!" All Sam heard were birds chirping and wind rustling the brush. He turned to face Alia. "He's gone." Sam’s expression was one of disbelief.

Alia looked at Sam and shook her head. "She’s probably already gone."

"YES!" ZoŽ said as she wheeled herself into the touching scene where she had finally found them. She moved the wheelchair in a lazy circle, tossing her head back into the air. "THAMES, DARLING! OVER HERE!" She yelled out happily.

Sam took both of Alia's hands firmly in his. "No. I won’t let it happen, Alia. You're my only hope."

Alia looked at him not understanding. "Your only hope? What? Hope for what?"

"I’ve got to stop him at the source. I’m going after Lothos. Tell me exactly where Lothos is."

ZoŽ glared at the two of them suddenly realizing what Beckett meant. "You won’t be able to stop him, my fine specimen. You’ll be dead in a matter of minutes."

"You’re what?!" Alia shook her head and backed away from him. "You’re crazy, Sam."

Thames stated to make his way through the brush quickly following ZoŽ’s voice. He finally came close enough to hear the two talking as well. Raising the rifle, he took careful aim with an evil grin. "Bullseye Beckett," he murmured as he fired.

Sam saw a flash of metal out of the corner of his eye, and reacted without thinking. He launched himself at Alia, knocking her flat, and heard the bullet whiz over his head. He rolled her behind a downed tree and took off to circle around to Thames' back. 

"How could you have missed? He was ten feet away from you!" ZoŽ yelled at Thames.

"Damn!" Thames angrily exclaimed. He leveled the rifle again, searching quickly for his prey through the sights. "Find him, damn it, ZoŽ!" He ordered her. 

ZoŽ looked at the hand link in her lap and began to point. "He’s making a circle around there. He’s trying to distract you from Alia." 

Thames frowned. "Who give a damn about Alia right now!" He growled with clenched teeth. "We get rid of Beckett, she’s an easy target." He raised the rifle again, seeing a sliver of Sam. Firing, he missed again.

It was then that Sam pounced. He landed on top of the man and they tumbled to the ground. The rifle flew off to the side and Sam started punching as hard as he could. They began to roll back and forth, Sam trying to reach his neck. He struggled to his knees.

Thames struggled against him like a wild animal. Sam believed he could rip him to shreds with just his fingers. 

Sam pushed him off and managed to get to his feet and aimed a round kick at Thames' head. Thames stumbled back at the kick and fell to the ground. He quickly got back on his feet, a rock in his fist. 

Sam spun for another kick, but this time Thames dodged it and followed through to clobber Sam’s head with the rock. Sam stumbled, stunned, and tried to fend off the blows with his arms. He was forced down to his knees by the attack.

His attack continued with vengeance, each blow opening a new wound on Sam's forehead and arms. Thames grinned like a hyena

ZoŽ watched with an evil grin, excited with what she was witnessing. Finally, Dr. Samuel Beckett would be no more!

Sam backed against a boulder, weakly trying to fight back, but clearly stunned and unable to find an opening in the wild man’s attack. All he could do was protect himself and try to stay on his feet. 

Suddenly, two shots echoed through the valley.

Sam felt wetness splash on his face and the blows stopped abruptly. He looked glanced over his arms and saw Thames stiffen, the bloody rock slipping from his fingers and an astonished look on his face. He collapsed forward on top of Sam.

"NO!" ZoŽ exclaimed as she saw Thames fall. Thames was unable to see his holographic Observer as she snapped out of existence in this time. 

There was a moment of silence as Sam felt Thames' last heartbeat against his own chest. A red hue dissipated in front of him, and the undamaged body of one of the hired hands slid down to the ground. Sam saw the innocent man was still breathing and looked up to see Alia, the rifle still leveled, her hair blowing wildly around her face as the wind picked up. 

Slowly, Alia fell to her knees, the rifle's barrel falling to the ground but her grip still tight on the weapon.

Sam went to her and wrapped his arms around her trembling body. "Everything will be okay, Alia. Trust me…" He felt the familiar tingling in his extremities and squeezed his eyes shut, brushing her ear lightly as he spoke. "Trust me," he whispered again as he leaped.

 

 

Island off of the British Isle

 

The past was gone in a flash of red light. ZoŽ found herself in mid scream, and was moving the wheelchair even before her surroundings settled into solidity. She moved frantically to the Imaging Disc even though the pain in her upper body was excruciating. She had to know. 

From across the room she could see that he was down and unmoving. Wheeling herself up to him, the frozen, startled look of surprise on his face confirmed her fear. Her shoulders drooped and she lowered her head in shock as her eyes followed the trail of blood draining toward the innermost part of the room. 

One single solitary tear slid down her face, but when her head finally rose, her teeth were clenched, the snarl plainly evident as she looked up at the thing that she had once called a lover. "How DARE you just let him die!" She accused through teeth clenched in pure hatred.

"No one man… is more… important… than… the mission." Lothos’ voice boomed in a kind of staccato, strained from the energy drainage from Ziggy.

"You don’t seem to get it through your thick…" ZoŽ stopped for a moment thinking about what she was about to say. He wasn’t human anymore.

"Skull?" Lothos supplied when she hesitated.

"Circuits." ZoŽ said vehemently. "You…" 

"I… am more… than circuits… my love," he replied. "I could… not prevent … Thames’ death. It is… quite regrettable."

ZoŽ cringed at his endearing term. She wasn’t his love anymore even though her love for Lothoman did still exist in her heart. "Ha! Regrettable is right," she snarled, dashing the emotion. "I can’t do both Observing and Leaping. I can’t even walk, remember? I can’t even…" She stopped and looked up at the person/thing that he had become. "I can hardly breathe properly!" she coughed.

"ZoŽ," Lothos said as seductively as a biomechanical computer could. "You… are… the most… important one to me… you will succeed… where all others… have failed."

ZoŽ looked up at the thing that was still imprisoned there. "If I can't breath..." she talked over him, "I will FAIL! I’LL BE DEAD, YOU IDIOT!" The fear of probable punishment for her outburst was overridden by a choking coughing fit. Lothos waited until the fit subsided and she could hear him over her gasping.

The response was less than friendly. "You think you are in pain now… wait…" There was a long pause. "Dr. Beckett." Lothos said as if a thought had occurred to him, distracting him from his intent to punish.

"What about him?" She whispered with a raw throat. "He doesn't matter anymore. Nothing does." 

"Nothing will… unless… he’s dead," Lothos corrected. "You will have… a chance again… my love."

"Stop." She said softly, hoping that he couldn't hear her. "Don't call me that anymore."

"You may not… be able to… accept the truth…" He let the sentence fade. "He is coming," he stated firmly.

"Who?" She asked, raising her head at the statement.

"Beckett." The name was spit out with tangible hatred. 

ZoŽ smiled at the thought. "I welcome it." She said vehemently as she wheeled herself toward a compartment carved in the wall. She unlocked the metal door by tapping in a code, and retrieved a handgun stored there. She handled it thoughtfully. "I'll have my revenge... my love..." she said, accenting his term of endearment. "And I'll do it myself this time."
 
 

PART FOUR

 

When the tingling blue dissipated, the first sensation Sam felt was cold. Damp coldness all around, especially in his nose as he breathed. He blinked, clearing the fog, only to find that he was, in fact, in thinning fog, and began walking up the cracked and weedy path to a reinforced opening of a tunnel in a mountainside.

He had no idea where he was; there was nothing to give him an idea of time or place. No cars, no music… no people. Turning around he saw a dock and a small boat pushing off, and a mainland in the distance. Mainland? Was this an island? He again faced the opening, and then looked down at himself. He found a picture ID tag hanging from his neck and a white lab coat on his lean frame. His last name was Gabriel, and his first name was Anthony. And there was a 'LEVEL I" stamped on it. Curious, he continued up the path.

Suddenly, he had several flashes of what could only have been a bad dream... A familiar woman… Alia! He thought...a gun… an angry black man coming at him with a pitchfork... and a mixing/melding of faces when he defended him and pushed the man.... Thames... away.

Sam was in a cold sweat at this point. He was here for a reason involving those... two... what was it? The memory was right there on the tip of his brain. And before he even thought 'where was Al?’ he already knew that he wouldn't be there to help this time. 

When he reached the top of the path, there was a small group gathered at a security gate. He joined them, feeling like a fraud. A very scared fraud, and glanced at a security camera. The security gate was waiting to be opened at just a command; cameras aimed at the entrance to record any and all interlopers.

"I guess there was a security problem," one man mumbled. "This gate is never locked."

"I don't care if I ever come back, " a woman replied quietly, then looked around, afraid.

"DID YOU THINK THAT I AM UNAWARE OF YOUR WORDS?" A loud voice demanded viciously from inside the cave. "ENTER IMMEDIATELY AND REMAIN SILENT!"

Suddenly, it was quiet and the crowd cowered as one. Sam tried to fade in, oblivious to any consequences. The guards were thick as the gate slowly opened. The group moved as one through the opening, Sam feeling safe in the center. He looked at some other tags worn by nearby people, and found another Level 1, and tried to look inconspicuous as he followed him. Everyone's ID was checked before they were allowed in the cavern.

Again, the voice boomed as Sam entered the cavern, his ID having already been checked. "Gabriel, you are required on Level 1 immediately."

Sam hesitated, then looked up at the speaker. "Uh, yes, sir." Great. Where was that? 

Fortunately, when he got inside, the cave sections were clearly labeled and painted. Each level had a color, and his tag was yellow. He headed to the yellow area up and toward the back of the corridor. He passed through three more checkpoints before encountering the entry guards with "Level 1" stamped on their tags. They regarded him carefully as he stepped through the portal to the yellow section.

He walked back to a group of white lab coats crowding behind a tall cabinet. They were trying to keep out of sight from something, or rather, someone. Sam peered around the corner and saw a red-haired woman in a wheelchair next to a black man crumpled on the floor. His heart jumped into his throat as he recalled the man: Thames! That's who he fought with...when? Then the pieces went together, and Sam was horrified to realize where he was. The voice that seemed to come from everywhere must be Lothos!

The aura of the place suddenly struck him. Although Ziggy was also in a cave of sorts, the atmosphere of his Project was cheery and professional, camaraderie high. This cave had a lot of natural light that his Project didn't, but even the sunny brightness failed to bring any cheer to this place. Sam could feel the tension and the stress all the way to his bones. Where PQL was run with eagerness, this place was run by fear. Sam suppressed a shiver from the perceived chill.

The voice that had ordered him this level was speaking in a very low tone to the fiery-haired woman. "Be cautious, ZoŽ. He is here somewhere." 

‘Oh, no! I’ve been detected!’ Sam thought, alarmed.

As Sam froze, he realized that he hadn't been singled out yet when the voice commanded, "Step forward!" to the rest of the technicians. He ducked his head and blended in to the sea of white coats as he stepped from behind the cabinet with the crowd, trying to ignore the crew cleaning up the remains of Thames in the background.

"Carpenter. Project status," Lothos ordered firmly.

Carpenter happened to be the woman who had talked out of turn at the gate. She cowered at the console as she read the information. It wasn’t good news, and she cringed at being the messenger. "Sir, we know that Dr. Beckett is here with us, but we don’t know what level he leaped into."

Sam perked up. He feigned interest in a clipboard and walked up behind her and read the screen himself. The energy spike that had announced his arrival was obvious, but not localized.

"DID I ASK ABOUT DR. BECKETT?"

The voice made it impossible not to jump. Another technician walked up to Sam and passed him some papers acting like nothing was going on. Only the dampness of the papers where his fingers had been gave him away. 

Carpenter bowed her head and clasped her hands together in front of her. "No, sir. You... you didn't. F… Forgive me… sir... I'm sorry." Carpenter knees were visibly knocking. "May I try again?"

Sam found it difficult to ignore the poor woman's trial, but everyone else didn't seem to have that problem. This must happen all the time. Sam forced himself to look at the papers containing power consumption charts, relay inspection tables and interface junction performance levels. He could use all this, he realized. Now if he could only find their version of the Accelerator Chamber there was a way to mess things up. And where was the central mass? At PQL, it was the orb that hung above the console. Was there a similar thing here? 

There was a long pause, as if the voice was considering the poor woman's request. "You may try." It was obvious there was doubt Carpenter could succeed by the way the other workers distanced themselves from her.

Sam glanced up and noticed the horrific smile and glowing eyes of the chair-bound woman as poor Carpenter was grilled. Sam let his eyes wander above and beyond her, and was shocked to see another set of eyes behind small window in a door recessed in the cave wall. The eyes were unseeing, and the body appeared to be in a comatose state. Sam was drawn to the eyes, not knowing why, and realized the face was surrounded by inter-twining masses of wire, which gave the head a Medusa-like quality. Sam felt his hands grow cold when he saw the major conduits running from the very portal where that person was. He'd found the central mass, and the idea of it made his sick. Where he'd used a few human brain cells, Lothoman had used and entire human. Sam couldn't help but wonder who the poor victim was.

Carpenter blinked and swallowed as she moved to look at the grid once more. Sam's attention was again drawn to her, and she nervously licked at her lips. "Status on the infiltration, sir, is..." she was hesitant to answer not wanting to be punished. "Is..."

"IS WHAT?!" Lothos demanded.

"Is... Ahm...is" She jumped at his demand. "Is unsuccessful, sir." She finally supplied knowing that this information wasn't what he wanted to hear. 

"What did you say?" The voice was low and incredulous, as if Lothos wasn’t sure he'd heard the right answer. Then, a low growl filled the room, and ZoŽ’s smile widened as she focused her attention on the woman.

Carpenter's chin quivered as she locked eyes with ZoŽ, but she stood up straight, already accepting whatever the punishment would be not going to have someone say she wasn't brave. She closed her eyes in resignation.

Sam felt the hair on his body rise as an overdose of static electricity built in the air. He heard a grotesque laugh from the woman in the chair, and his eyes were locked on the eyes in the portal when lightning struck from somewhere. Sam dropped to the floor as Carpenter's body flew back and slammed into the wall behind her.

"That is incorrect." Lothos said calmly.

Carpenter's chest was a smoking, black hole. It became quite evident when a trickle of clear fluid began to flow down from her ear that the electricity had been sent not only to her chest, but also through her to a specific area in her body – her brain.

Stunned, he stared at the down at the smoking woman, black, crispy burns making up her torso as another clean up team appeared from nowhere and prepared her for removal. The brutal murder was secondary in his mind when he realized that the lightning had come from the portal. Then it hit him, and he realized in an instant who it was behind the protective door: Lothoman himself. Alia's story came back to him in a flood, and he was glad he was on the floor. He wasn't sure his knees could have held him. This monster had to be stopped.

 

 

"Are you…the only one...who…will not fail… me, ZoŽ?" The mechanical voice almost sighed.

ZoŽ twisted her head to look up at the portal that contained the bioparts of Lothos. "I will succeed or kill myself for you," she murmured actually surprised at the depravity of her devotion to the one she knew as Nathaniel Lothoman. She also knew that he was gone forever, and that nothing mattered anymore -- nothing except killing that arrogant, bold, all loving Dr. Beckett, the cause of all her losses.

Observing the clean up going on before her, ZoŽ laughed lightly. "Love," she said softly. "Now, we need a new assistant. Or shall I say contestant?"

A sickening mechanical chuckle emanated from all around. It was a chilling sound that caused the workers to hunch their shoulders in an effort to grow smaller. "Yes. But first…..find…. Beckett."

"I know he is here," ZoŽ said firmly. "I can sense him just as you can." She studied each face in the area, her hand lazily fondling the gun in her lap. "I will find him, Lothos." She said softly, squinting at one technician in particular.

The man called Gabriel was just rising to his feet as Carpenter's body was carted off like so much trash. He looked rather dazed, and was studying the wiring around the portal with interest. His eyes dropped immediately when he saw her studying him and returned his attention to his clipboard. He had just flagged another technician over to look at the board when ZoŽ called to him. 

"Gabriel," she spoke sharply.

He looked up quickly. "Yes?" he replied carefully, his tone casual.

"Gabriel," Lothos addressed him sternly. 

ZoŽ eyed Sam suspiciously, one eyebrow arching up, and glanced at the portal as Lothos spoke.

Sam-in-Gabriel looked up at the ceiling, his eyes widening. "Yes, sir?"

"You… will give her…. the respect….she is due." His voice was intensely threatening. "Or… shall I give you… a reminder?"

"Yes, sir. Ah, no, sir. A reminder is not necessary, sir." 

"Now, Gabriel…" ZoŽ addressed him again.

He faced her again, his expression grim. "Yes, ma’am?" He dropped his head and shoulders in a submissive manner. 

"What exactly are you reading that is so interesting to you?" She asked softly wheeling her chair toward him. She'd never seen him so curious before.

"It's the… er, some performance charts. I was wondering if the levels would ah... indicate the interloper: the one Carpenter saw on the monitor. If the interloper was moving around, I was trying to figure out a way, using the existing power cables, to rig up a tracking device. I'm not sure how to do that quite yet. I… I was just trying to come up with a possibility..."

ZoŽ interrupted him. "So… you were actually using that precious little thing that God gave you… your brain?" She asked sarcastically.

"Yes, ma’am. Just trying to help. Ma’am." Sam kept his arms by his side, appearing innocent and somewhat relaxed. Could she see me in Gabriel’s eyes? He thought. He could see she was suspicious. "Well, ma’am, like I said, it was an idea, but I'm not sure how to implement it, or if it's possible. I'd have to do some measuring of the ambient power levels in the different parts of the cavern to see if there's even a sufficient field to be interacted with and tracked..."

ZoŽ nodded looking at him warily. Something wasn’t setting right with this. Gabriel possibly could have a brain, but she had never seen it being used unbidden. Why would he start now? She asked herself. "What do you think about his idea, my dear?" she said out loud to Lothos, but continued to study Gabriel. "Shall we let him try his little idea?"

There was a silence from Lothos for a moment as he considered the theory. "I am… wary.. of anyone making any. ….adjustments ...to my system." Another long moment passed. "Allow it…. But...watch him carefully."

Gabriel's eyes glanced in the portal's direction. "Thank you, sir. I'll do my best." 

"Do not….. thank me, Gabriel," Lothos told him firmly. "If you….make…. one mistake, you're….doomed." 

"Yes sir." The technician glanced at the black spot where Carpenter had collapsed. "I understand."

ZoŽ warily looked him over once more. Something still felt very wrong about this. She traced the gun with her fingertips as she looked from Gabriel to Lothos. "Where do you want him to start first, my pet?" She asked lovingly, using the endearment for show for the others around. She didn't want Lothos to know about her revulsion to what once was her lover, because she didn't want to face the consequences.

"Let him… decide." The tone made it clear that he was giving the technician enough rope to either save or hang himself. Quietly, and only for ZoŽ, he whispered, "I… do not… trust ..him. Watch him...my dear."

In the same hushed voice she soothed, "I’ll take care of it. You trust me, don’t you?"

"How.….can I not?" Lothos’ voice responded silkily. "I…love you."

In another time, those words would have meant everything to her. Now, it was a time nearly forgotten. She sighed sadly, resigned to her fate. "Same here, love."

The interplay between ZoŽ and the cyber-man made Sam queasy. He didn't hear most of it, but could tell the content by her face. He knew he was being scrutinized, and his life depended on appearing completely non-threatening.

Sam tucked the board under his arm and opened a tool chest near him. He picked out a hand held meter for measuring the atmosphere, another meter for checking wire bundles, and managed to slip in a pair of wire cutters to his coat pocket. With a calming breath, he stepped up to ZoŽ.

"Where will you check first?" She questioned, her eyes locked on him.

"It would be best to start at the main entrance and work my way in," Sam replied, turning to go.

ZoŽ cocked her head to the side. "Stop. Since the intruder is already in the complex," she said slowly, "wouldn’t it be best to have the most precious guarded first?"

"I need to record a base line, ma'am. It's like drawing a spider's web. I can tell by the warping of the 'web', where the initial impulse went. Like a dent in fabric." 

Another whisper from the ceiling drifted towards ZoŽ. "He is speaking….nonsense."

"Or, I can start here," Sam interjected quickly, sensing the suspicion. "It doesn't really matter."

Without taking her eyes from him, ZoŽ picked up the weapon leveled it at his chest. "You protect the one that you serve first," she stated, eyes glimmering.

He looked down the barrel of the gun and nodded tightly. "Yes ma’am. Protect the one you serve first."

ZoŽ laid the gun back down on her lap and watched him go to work. She was determined to protect Lothos; it was all she had left. He was her last chance for a normal life. Someone could still leap back and keep Calavicci from shooting her, and maybe Thames would still be alive.

She soon tired of Gabriel's mundane activity. She couldn't really blame him for being so cautious, checking every wire around the portal, but she knew the amount of wiring there and steeled herself for a boring time. Physically, she felt exhausted, and part of her welcomed the break. Her weakened body couldn't take the activity of her former lifestyle, and even now she required many rest breaks. She hadn't had one for awhile now, and her body was growing fatigued. She could tell by the difficulty she was having concentrating. Her mind began to wander. 

Meanwhile, Sam himself was having difficulty keeping the mundane repetition going. He saw ZoŽ's scrutiny falter, and took a chance. He slipped the clippers from his pocket and snipped a few colored wires here and there, and put it in his routine. Read meter, record numbers, snip. Read meter, record numbers, snip. He checked the clipboard to confirm his proximity to the main power bundles, and continued on. 

ZoŽ tried to pull herself back into awareness. "Are we winning, Lothos?" She crooned, shifting the gun in her lap. The delay in his response broke her dreamy spell. "Lothos?" she queried sharply, grasping the gun tightly. 

"Losing … power!" Lothos hissed. "It’s Beckett! Kill…him!"

"STOP!" She screamed as loud as she could, fumbling for the gun, and raising it with weary shoulders towards Sam. 

Sam acted instantly, flipping the clipboard towards her face. When she jerked aside, Sam moved his feet. The kick was aimed at the gun, but ZoŽ's being in a wheel chair made the kick a bit higher than it should have been. He caught her hand with his heel as he spun; ZoŽ let out a grunt at the contact, and her hand cracked into the chair's arm. Sam realized he hadn't made full contact, and followed through the spin by reaching out and grabbing her wrist. He forced her sideways in the chair, spinning the device in a tight circle as they grappled for the gun. 

Even the loud report of the gun going off didn't break their grip, and ZoŽ emitted an animal growl as she continued to pull the trigger and fight. Sam was amazed at her strength, and lost count of the shots. He wasn't sure if the ringing he heard was from damaged eardrums or damaged equipment in the room. At this point, he was thinking of survival only. 

ZoŽ continued to fight for the gun. Sam could hear her winded wheezing, but she was still able to make Sam see stars when she butted his cheek with her head. Sam continued to twist the woman's deceptively strong grip, feeling each blow to his face, then simply yanked her from the chair. ZoŽ’s lower body was limp, but her grasp on the gun and Sam’s arm was impressively strong. He could hear her struggling to get her breath, and knew she was functioning on pure adrenaline. The chair flew out from under her, and Sam heard a collision then smelled something electrical burning. 

"ZoŽ!" It was an inhuman, mechanical voice, wrought with static and pain echoing off the walls. There was another noise, too, that took Sam several seconds to identify, as his ears were still ringing from the shots; it was the thundering sound of retreating feet. The other technicians had grabbed the opportunity to flee from the cave and the raging, possessed woman. Security had joined the retreat. 

Sam went down from the weight and struggle, and rolled the furious woman under him. He repeatedly smashed her hands on the floor until the gun flew from her grip and skittered across the room. Sam left her writhing on the floor and fell on the portal. He had to act before lighting struck.

Lothos' scream was high-pitched and tinny. "ZoŽ!"

Feeling around the edges of the portal door, Sam found the source keeping the airlock engaged, and yanked it from the wall. The sound of escaping air hissed by his ear and the door loosened in its jamb. He pulled the clippers from his pocket and pried at the crack. He could hear the sound of the seals popping as the door grudgingly cracked opened.

"NO!" Lothos and ZoŽ screamed in unison.

Sam felt the hair on his body raising as electricity started to build up in the air and knew he was running out of time. The door popped out a few inches and he grabbed the edge and pulled. It opened slowly, reluctantly, not used to the motion. The air inside was sour.

ZoŽ had dragged herself across the floor to get to him, but the struggle for a full breath made her woozy. She watched helplessly from where she lay on the floor, hoping to kill Beckett with a look.

"You ..will die.. with me!" Lothos' voice was weak with static, but Sam could still feel the energy building. 

Once in the cramped portal, Sam scanned the wires around the emaciated seated form. The eyes, which had appeared unseeing, now had a slight glow and Sam was sure he was being observed. The face surrounding the eyes could hardly be called human. Sam could see the wires just under the skin of the skull, and it made his skin crawl. Recalling human anatomy, he gripped the bundles that appeared to lead to the most active parts of the brain, and pulled. They were stuck fast, skin adhering to the cables. He braced his feet and pulled again, starting trickles of blood. The room was hot with building energy, and Sam knew time was gone. He gritted his teeth and pulled hard, and two bunches of cables pulled free with a sucking sound. Blood spattered the portal walls

"NO!" The scream was more like a deafening feedback squeal, and Sam automatically clamped his bloody hands over his ears.

"LOTHOS!" ZoŽ gravely plea was barely heard above the inhuman shrieking.

Blindly, Sam reached and pulled, desperate to stop the painful noise. Four cables later, the noise began to dwindle. Sam’s hands were sticky with blood. He felt around the atrophied human form looking for more cables, pulling them as he went. There was no resistance. When he thought he had the last one, he leaned back and looked Lothos in the eyes defiantly.

Sam didn’t feel anger. He didn’t feel hate. All he felt was pity, and he was sure it was clear in his eyes. There wasn’t anything he could do for him; there was nothing human left to work with. He wondered if his Project was safe now.

The gleam in the eyes faded, and turned milky. Fixed and dilated, they stared at nothing, and the body slipped into a pile of disjointed limbs with his last hissing breath.

Sickened at the sight, Sam stepped from the portal and gulped in great breaths of fresh air as he wiped his sticky hands on his pants. He watched as ZoŽ slowly removed her hands from her ears and forced herself to look at the open portal behind him. 

The cords that were once connected to Lothos were now dangling, dripping with dark blood. The once commanding form of Nathaniel Lothoman was now a shriveled, shrunken pile in the chair.

"No." She growled, knowing her love was gone forever. 

I'm not of the woods yet… I can't leave her here. She can't take care of herself. And I doubt that any of the former employees would be willing to help. Now what? Sam thought as he watched her. 

ZoŽ dropped her face into the crook of her arm, and was quiet for a moment. "Please, help me," she said weakly. 

The plea for help caused the hair to raise on the back of his neck. Alarms were going off in his head and the first thing he thought was, 'Al will kill me, but I can't just leave here there.' Cautiously, he stepped towards her, very aware of the sticky blood on him was from her lover.

"I've been trapped here for so long. I'm finally free of him!" ZoŽ whimpered as she looked up into his eyes.

Almost as if he were in the room, Al's voice seemed to go through Sam's head. 'She's evil! Don't believe her!'

'Al always called me a Boy Scout,' he thought, ' and he had a right to.' Against every little voice screaming in his head, Sam approached her. After all, he hadn't leaped yet; there had to be something else to do, and she was the only possible candidate.

A coughing fit overtook ZoŽ, causing her to double up in pain. Sam knelt next to her, but not too close, and saw that her lips were slightly blue. He went to the chair and had a time untangling it from the wires that left scorch marks on the metal frame. As he gently separated the chair from the mass, he saw the bullet holes in the wall panels that had been the beginning of the end for Lothos. As he pushed the chair over to her, Sam tried to note any other main relays he should put out of commission.

Sam parked the chair next to her and locked the wheels. Then he walked around to the other side and kicked something that slid away. The gun! He felt around for it with his toe, retrieved it, and placed it safely in his pocket. He pulled the woman into the chair. Sitting up helped her breathing, and her color returned slowly. 

"Thank you," she whispered.

Shocked at the thanks, Sam went even more on guard. This woman has a knack for doing that to him. Carefully, he leaned down and unlocked the wheels. He could hear her wheezing and felt her trembling arms. He was trying to decide if the trembling was from shock or anger when the sound of the Imaging Chamber door greeted his ears.

Al frantically rushed in. "Sam! Sam, are you okay?" Al looked around quickly, noting the chaos. He squinted at what remained of Nathaniel Lothoman and gasped. "Ew! I hope that's the nozzle that was attacking Ziggy!" 

"Hey, Al!" Sam greeted, panting as he stood up from the chair wheels. "Boy, am I glad to see you! How is Ziggy? Is she functional now?"

The hologram's eyes widen in shock as he turns to his friend and takes in his actions. "Sam, what the hell are you doing?"

"Well, I couldn't just leave her there on the floor!"

"Why the hell not?! That bitch tried to kill you! Not to mention my own daughter! Or did you forget that?" Al noticed the stains on Sam's shirt, and figured that the blood wasn't his. He wondered what had gone on here.

ZoŽ looked at Sam in a daze and realized he was talking to his hologram, the very same hologram that had put her in this chair. She placed her trembling hands in her lap and dropped her eyes, not wanting to give away the hate she felt for both of them. Sam was bringing Al up to date on his actions, both of them momentarily distracted and unconcerned about the disabled woman. She slipped her hand to the edge of the seat cushion, and felt in the crevasse for the knife she always kept there. Being disabled didn't mean she was helpless; any worker here could have told the unsuspecting men. 

"Dr. Beckett?" she beckoned quietly, her head tilted in a coy manner.

Sam broke off his conversation and turned his attention to her. "Are you all right?" he asked, starting to crouch down next to her.

Al’s eyes locked on to her, suspicious. He saw the movement of her hand. "SAM! LOOK OUT!"

ZoŽ pulled out the knife in a jabbing motion, and it caught his shirt, ripping open the side. It was a clean miss. "NO!" She shrieked, blindly stabbing at him. She knew she didn't have much left. The hope of killing Beckett in front of his best friend was fading as quickly as her strength.

Instinctively, Al reached for the knife to get it out of her hands, but his image passed frustratingly through her.

Sam slammed his hand down in a blocking motion and kept the knife from drawing blood. His next grab was for her hand. She moved fast, faster than he thought possible, and she managed a few shallow cuts on his forearms before he had both of her wrists firmly in his grip. He was amazed at her strength. He bent her wrist into a painful position that loosened her grip, and the knife clattered to the floor.

"Why are you doing this?" He breathed.

Al exhaled with relief seeing ZoŽ was now unarmed. "Because she's evil, Sam," he told him firmly.

"Can't you see that you're free now?" Sam insisted.

"She doesn't give a damn about that!" Al exclaimed. 

ZoŽ looked up into Sam's face. "I'll only be free when you're dead," she wheezed.

Al glared at her. "Then you're going to be a prisoner for the rest of your life, you bitch, because I am NOT going to let you hurt him." The words were spoken with conviction. Sam knew Al would follow through with them, even if it meant his own life.

Sam released her hands and stepped back. The chair wheels were still locked; her arms were lying limp in her lap. She wasn't going anywhere. 

"I don't see the point in this," Sam reasoned. "There's nothing left to fight for. You have a chance to change your life. You can't throw it away!"

There was a short silence, then Al said, "You can't save her, Sam."

"Then why haven't I leaped, Al? Is Ziggy fixed or what?"

Al pulled out the hand link, and tapped the keys. "Uh... yeah. Ziggy's pretty much back to normal, or at least as normal as she can be given the circumstances. As for why you're still here...." He shook his head. "I don't know."

"Well, then, if Ziggy’s fixed and everything’s OK, and I haven't leaped, she must be the reason for me being here!" He insisted, pointed at the chair bound woman.

Al looked at him sadly. "She doesn't want to be saved." 

"Well, maybe I’m here to change that."

"I really doubt that, Sam." Al couldn't believe it but he almost felt pity for the witch. Almost.

ZoŽ pushed the lever that ran the chair and tried to move, but the wheels were locked and the motor hummed uselessly. ZoŽ continued to hit the button, making the chair jerk each time. "Nathaniel." She said in a defeated whisper. She continued to hit the button, trying to will the chair to move.

At the sound of her voice Al and Sam turned to her in unison. "Let her go, Sam. It's time to leap," Al said quietly.

Sam saw what she was trying to do. Her eyes were locked on the portal. He moved behind her and unlocked the wheels. ZoŽ moved away before he could push her, so he stood and watched her wheel to the form of her dead lover. 

Al took a few steps towards her, wondering what she was up to, worried that she might have something else up her sleeve. She did, but he didn't know what exactly it was. When she got as close as she could to the lifeless form, he saw her take out two metal objects from her pocket, and pop one in her mouth. The other she fit into a receptacle in the portal chair.

"Sam," Al warned. "She's up to something!"

ZoŽ turned and looked blindly into Al's eyes. She grinned a wolfish grin, and Al swore she could see him. "Perhaps another day, Tonto," she sneered. She twisted a ring on her finger around so the circular design was in her palm. 

"Hey!" Sam yelled, starting to make his way to her.

The moment Sam moved, Al raised his hand to indicate that he should stop. Seeing what she was planning, he turned his head from the sight, and look directly at Sam. "Turn around, Sam!" he barked. "Go back!" 

ZoŽ saw Sam hesitate. "One last handshake, Dr. Beckett?" she crooned crazily, as she placed her palm over the chair's arm, fitting the ring key into the chair's matching receptacle. With the other hand, she reached for Sam in a lady like fashion. The hate was now clear in her burning eyes.

"Sam, now!" Al pleaded, waving his arms and bouncing up and down. "You don't want to see this!"

Sam knew better than to touch her, but he got down on his knees as close to her as he dared. Her extended fingertips were just beyond his nose, one lunge away. 

"Don't!" Al begged his friend.

ZoŽ regarded Sam, playing the emotions to the end. 

"Stop this, ZoŽ. You don't have to do this. There's so much more out there!" Sam tried to reason. 

ZoŽ saw the instinct in his eyes to try and stop her, and she grinned at him. Her hand wavered in front of Sam's face.

"Not for her, there isn't," Al said snapped.

Al's paranoia had managed to imbed itself into his brain, and Sam realized that she was waiting for him to touch her, to kill both of them. 'Could anyone be that soulless?' he thought, astounded.

For a moment, her eyes flickered. For a moment, Sam thought he saw her accept the reality of her life, that she was responsible for her actions every step of the way. And for a second, he was sure he saw the idea of redemption cross her mind. But as her hand dropped to her lap, he saw the hopelessness that replaced the fear. 

"Unless you want to die Dr. Beckett, you'd best get away from me."

Al was shocked. She was letting him go! She was actually letting him go! "Do it, Sam!" he insisted. "Walk away now and don't look back!" 

The coldness of ZoŽ’s voice made Sam back off, incredulous.

"This is the only way I'll be free," she said, indicating her palm hovering over the plug with a nod of her head, a crooked grin on her lips. "Ah, the good Dr. Beckett. Always getting his wish." She turned away from him with a throaty chuckle, and slammed her palm on the receptacle. 

Her body became rigid from an electrical punch, and smoke started coming from her ears. Sam jumped back and turned away, smelling the burnt flesh and hearing the crackle of an electrical overload. He stumbled from the portal, then from the room, sickened.

Al joined up with him as he strode from the cave.

Sam was shaken. "Some people cannot be saved, I guess," he said simply. 

Al exhaled slowly, just wanting this leap to finally be over. He walked by Sam's side, not looking at him. If there was one thing he would never be used to, although people would expect it from his experiences, it was seeing someone die. He'd watched ZoŽ until he was sure she was dead, and was surprised that all he felt was pity. "It’s over now."

"I’m glad," Sam said tiredly as he felt the familiar tingling in his limbs. 

 

 

The leap was instantaneous. Sam didn't recall any floating, any fading in of details, any blue haze. It was amazingly quiet and peaceful. A warm breeze tickled his cheek and he heard trees rustling softly overhead. Birds sang cheerily, and Sam knew instantly that it was springtime. The smell of freshly mown grass made him look down, and he saw that his feet were in brown work boots sunk in a luxuriously thick lawn. Glancing to his hand he saw he held a rake. Cautiously, he looked around and admired the well-trimmed landscape of a park. A very peaceful park and he realized that he was the gardener. Relaxing, he tilted his face to the sun and closed his eyes with a smile. Behind him he could hear the distant laughter of children playing.

Then he heard murmuring. He opened his eyes and looked around recognizing the sound of someone's muted talking. Following the sound, rake in hand, he rounded a tall hedge and saw a white park bench under a beautiful, full tree which overlooking the grassy, rolling hills of the park. The scenic beauty was lost on the two men whose backs were to him as their heads were bent together deep in conversation. The taller man's hands were animated excitedly as he spoke.

Sam frowned. A very strong feeling of deja-vu washed over him as he watched the men. Just then, the sound of the Imaging Chamber door distracted him.

"I've been here," Sam said softly out loud, knowing Al would hear him. He couldn't take his eyes off the men on the bench.

"I know." Al replied just as softly.

There was a sinking feeling as Sam felt the last of the peacefulness drain away. His head began to spin, and the whole scene became surreal. "That's me," he said matter-of-factly, nodding towards the taller man.

"Yeah. I know." Al replied.

Then the memory came back. "And that's Gooshie!" Sam whispered, unable to move. Why didn't he see that before? No one had hair like Gooshie.

Sam heard Al shift uncomfortably. "Sam," Al said after a moment. "We need to talk." 

And Al told him of the events at the Project and the loss of the brilliant programmer. He told the story softy, in an even, unbroken voice, clear in every detail. He'd already said his good byes, he said, and it was time for Sam to do the same.

Sam's vision was blurry from tears as he watched himself pull out the familiar string from his shirt pocket. The wild-haired programmer was rapt attention as Sam saw himself talking and tying the string's ends together. Then he crumpled the string in his fist, and Gooshie's eyes lit up as he took over the conversation. Sam saw himself lean slightly back from the halitosis Gooshie was known for.

"Good bye, Gooshie," Sam whispered, raising his hand is a small gesture of farewell. "I'm so sorry." He couldn't hold back the feelings of guilt that washed over him at that moment. 

As he felt the blue fog engulf him, his last sight was of a laughing Gooshie and a smiling Sam shaking hands forever sealing a successful partnership.

Then he leaped.
 

 

EPILOGUE

 

Sam Beckett found himself holding what his mother used to call a compact. One of those hand-held mirrors that film stars of the sixties were always seen preening themselves in.

The reflection looking back at him was a sallow skinned woman, perhaps in her thirties. She was quite nice looking, certainly enough to make Al come out with half-a-dozen Calavicci classics when he arrived. 

Sam looked up and around, and decided he was in the middle of an industrial or business park, with tall buildings all around him. He could see many people walking around; some carrying small paper bags emblazoned with what looked like the logo of a baker or a deli. 

It must be lunchtime, Sam thought. 

He wasn't sure whether he was hungry, or whether his host was hungry. Either way, Leaper or host, man or woman, he was going to have something to eat. 

Having leaped in to a woman for perhaps the sixth time, Sam was relieved to find he wasn’t fazed by the event this time. He had an inkling of what to expect. Calling up memories within Swiss cheese parameters, he decided certain things were a given. Longer lines for the john, accusations of bad driving and that his host would be carrying a handbag. He felt under his left arm, and true to form, there was a handbag. Sam observed a bench near by, and went and sat down at it. He opened a handbag, placing it on the bench, and looked in his host's purse. 

Instead of seeing the features of various American presidents, he saw an image of Florence Nightingale on one note, and of (of all things) a cricket match, from a novel by Charles Dickens. 

Sam thought about this. He ought to recall which currency this was, without any trouble. Initially, he couldn’t. Swiss cheese. He hated it. 

Fortunately, this time, he was only served up with a small piece of Swiss cheese. He put the two images together, and recalled that British currency stemmed from Roman coinage, and that the "L" in "L.S.D." had been converted into the symbol for the British pound. 

Looking out onto the nearby road, Samuel Beckett realized that for the very first time, Swiss cheese permitting, he was in the Capital of the World; Sam had made another transatlantic leap. 

Sam Beckett looked up at the skyline, and recognized something from the back of his memory. He was looking up at 50 stories of tower block. He was looking up at Canary Wharf. 

Sam was in England. In London, no less. In the East of London, the home of the Cockney.

Resisting the temptation to speak as Dick van Dyke had once portrayed the indigenous population, (Gor Blimey, Mate!) Sam settled for an Indiana twanged rendition of his regular phrase. 

"Oh, boy!"

 

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