Episode 901

Leap From Hell II

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

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PRELUDE

Sam Beckett's descent into another life was as pleasant this time as he could recall from anytime in the past. That wasn't saying much, however, taking in to account the Swiss cheese effect that reduced his memory to bits and pieces, and the parts he did recall might not necessarily be his own life but one of some other person he had helped.

 

But at this point, it didn't matter what he recalled because right now he had to figure out where he was. He immediately realized he was on an airplane; that much was evident from the seat, the tray table attached to the seat in front of him and the steady drone. In another second he realized that his was First Class due to the legroom, the cloth table cover on his tray and the crystal glass of wine on the tray table. Sam had to keep from beaming; finally! Some comfort on a leap in! Gratefully he noticed the sole seat next to him was currently vacant, and moved his hand to take the glass. Suddenly the tray bounced and the glass teetered off to the side, sailing to the floor. Sam tried to grab for it, but the table leaped again, knocking the tin of Macadamia nuts to the floor in the wake of the wine.

It was then that he realized what had happened: around his wrist was a shiny handcuff! He froze in shock as his eyes followed the chain that led from the cuff to something below the tray. The chain had upset the tray table.

"Oh, dear! Here, let me help you!" The cheery attendant had appeared instantly at his side even before the last nut hit the floor.

"Huh? Oh, sure," Sam stammered as the attendant squatted down and gathered up the glass and nuts.

"Lucky you! The glass didn't break. I'll get you a clean one. And I'll just wipe off your case for you." She began wiping down an object at the end of Sam's wrist chain. It was a steel briefcase with impressive looking locks on the top.

"Thank you," Sam said with a tight smile, trying to appear like this happened all the time. The attendant had everything scooped up in no time and was off with a wink.

"Be right back!" she chirped. Sam smiled in return, and when she was gone he leaned down and dragged the case to his lap. 'Whatever's in here must be pretty valuable because this case looks like it would take a bomb to open it.' He inspected all sides of it and fiddled with the locks. It had two keyholes, and Sam flashed back on an old movie about launching missiles from some secret Military base where two very professional looking soldiers with separate keys kept their cool and averted a false launch. Or did they launch it by mistake? Sam shook his head in annoyance. Some lost details were enough to drive him nuts. 'Al will know what movie I'm thinking of,' he thought. His reverie was broken by the arrival of his seatmate.

"Oh," the beautiful woman said. "Looks like we had a little accident while I was gone!" Her smile was dazzling, and Sam momentarily forgot to speak. He was saved by the arrival of the attendant.

"Your seat is fine, Miss Swint. Mr. Bell just dropped his wine on the floor."

Miss Swint settled in her seat and Sam mentally noted her expensive, well-fitted business suit and hairstyle to try and place the decade. The lines were so classic it could cover both the 1980's and the 90's, possibly even later. The same could be said for the attendant's uniform, and Sam decided again to wait for his Observer before getting too deep in conversation.

"Well, we can't have that, now can we?" Miss Swint replied. "Seconds, Mr. Bell?"

"Um, sure," he responded. He sure hoped he wasn't supposed to know this woman. The attendant handed Sam his clean glass, which he gave to Miss Swint, and backed off so a second attendant could pour the wine. His seatmate thanked her as the first attendant returned with a second glass and more nuts.

As Sam's glass was filled his seatmate raised her glass. "Let's see; we need a little toast. How about 'to strangers meeting on airplanes'?"

Relief washed over him as he raised his glass. "Perfect. To strangers." They clinked glasses and took a sip.

"Now that we're introduced and stuck on a three hour flight together, would you like to chat a bit?"

"Actually, I was going to nap a bit. Long day." He hoped that didn't sound as lame to her as it did to him.

"I understand," she answered, patting his arm and settling back in her seat as she pulled a magazine from her bag. Sam turned to the window and looked out at the clouds knowing the lady-killing Admiral would be chastising him relentlessly at this point if he were here.

'I sure could use your company now, Al,' he thought, a bit miffed. 'How can I do this without you?' He mentally settled down to wait for his friend and Observer.

As they raced gracefully over the banks of brilliant white, cottony clouds that reminded him of Heaven, Sam wondered when Al would arrive to help him. He figured nothing could really happen in three hours, and let the serene cloud-filled horizon carry his mind away. He found himself reflecting on how lucky he was to have a friend like Al Calavicci to help him find his way.

 

 

PART EIGHT

 

The three-hour flight was quiet, allowing Sam to sleep fairly comfortably in the First Class chair almost the entire way. The pilot's announcement of their landing in Los Angeles International Airport woke him. As his awareness increased, an elbow nudged him. Opening his eyes he looked to find Miss Swint - he still didn't know her first name - giving him a smile.

 

"We're landing," she told him as she stretched in her seat. "I can't wait to stretch my legs before that long flight to Beijing. My sister better have a nice room ready for me when I get there."

 

"She's not meeting you?" Sam asked as he saw the familiar spider-like building that was a L.A. airport landmark grow closer though his window.

 

"No. She's in some remote lab. I'll be taken there after I get some sleep."

 

"Ah." Their discussion stopped as the plane touched down and approached the gate. Miss Swint was first on her feet, and retrieved her bag from the overhead locker.

 

"Well, it was nice meeting you, Mr. Bell. Happy traveling!"

 

Sam gave her a tired smile as she moved into the aisle and out the hatch. He followed in a more leisurely pace, stalling. Where are you, Al?  With now sign of the Observer, Sam decided to find out what he could on his own. He headed to the public bathroom and wrestled his plane ticket from his pocket, trying not to tangle himself up in the handcuff chain. It took some juggling, but he finally found the ticket and discovered that he, too, was headed to Beijing. He also saw his name was P. Bell.  The wallet in his pocket said he was Paul Bell from Virginia, and an accompanying passport confirmed it. A bit more satisfied, Sam left the restroom to look for his connecting flight gate. ‘You better have a good excuse for being so late, Al’, he thought. ‘I've been this guy for hours now!’

 

As if on cue the Imaging Chamber door opened practically next to him. He flinched in surprise, breaking his stride momentarily, and with a sideways glance, stopped in surprise.

 

"Hi, Dr. Beckett," Sammy Jo said in a slightly hoarse voice. "Sorry it took so long to get to you."

 

Sam glanced around and moved to the closest bank of phones and snatched up the first receiver. "Dr. Ferrell, right?" he said, looking at her. He noticed that her eyes were red as if she had been crying.

 

"Fuller," she corrected softly.

 

"Fuller. Right." He was having difficulty covering his annoyance. "Where have you been, and where's Al?"

 

She ducked her head momentarily, but the motion didn't cover the quiver of her chin. Getting the twitch under control, she raised her head. "We had an emergency arise, but the important thing is that I'm here now so we can get this leap over with." She brought up the link and nervously punched the keys. A tear trailed down one cheek, and she wiped it away quickly.

 

Instantly, Sam felt a knot in his stomach and his palms tingled in fear. Something was dreadfully wrong. He stepped towards her with the intent to comfort, but was stopped short by the phone cord. He reached out with the other hand, but the heavy briefcase attached to it cut that motion short. "What's wrong?" he asked in a low voice, afraid of the response.

 

A woman brushed by Sam, passing through the hologram, and gave the scientist an odd look. Sam realized the phone wasn't on his ear and he was talking to thin air. He clamped the receiver to his ear and bowed head to feign speaking into the device. He spoke in a low, firm voice. "What's happened, Dr. Fuller?"

 

The hologram opened her mouth, but nothing came out. She clamped her mouth shut and fought for control.

 

Alarms were now going off in Sam's head. "Is it Al? What's wrong?" He knew it had been too long; ‘the last time Al hadn't shown up for a leap he was being operated on,’ he thought. And another time, Al had been a hostage with a gun to his head. There was even a time he vaguely remembered where he was chasing someone to save Sam from a police shoot out. Dr. Fuller's silent weeping was not a good sign, and the urge to go home was never so strong.

 

Finally, Sammy Jo's eyes met with Sam's. She swallowed hard, tried unsuccessfully to speak again, and cleared her throat. Her voice was raw. "He's dead."

 

Sam stared at the hologram as if she was speaking in tongues. His brain refused to work for a moment, and he simply stared into her eyes in incomprehension. A bang made him twitch, and he realized he'd dropped the phone. He stupidly looked at the receiver swinging on the silver cord, and then looked at her again in total confusion.

 

"Who? Who's dead?"

 

Sammy Jo's jaw worked silently for a moment as she found her voice. She shook her head and blinked to clear her eyes from the tears and met Sam's shocked gaze. "Al." She managed to choke. The tears started silently anew, but she stood firmly.

 

"No." Sam didn't hear his own voice. His line of sight narrowed down to the single sight of the crying woman. His chest tightened to the point of pain, and he couldn't breathe. His knees wobbled and threatened to drop him to the floor, and he sagged against the phone bank, the swinging receiver long forgotten. The handcuff chain tangled with the phone cord and he was momentarily distracted in the fight to free himself.

 

He felt sick.

 

‘I can't do this without him!’  Was the only thought that occupied his mind as he blindly flailed at the cords holding him. Finally bursting free, he stumbled back into a nearby wall and sank to the floor, his head between his hands. ‘This can't be happening.’ His vision grew foggy with tears.

 

Sammy Jo tried to catch him, but Sam's body simply passed through her arms. She knelt beside him and spoke gently through her tears, not thinking about the words. "Oh, daddy, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry."

 

Sam forced his mind into some sort of order, and Sammy Jo's revelation didn't immediately strike him. "Tell me . . ." he choked, tears barely at bay. "Tell me everything." His tone was firm through the tears.

 

Bystanders began to join Sam to check on his welfare. The hologram stood fast with the bodies passing through her. With a fortifying breath, Sammy Jo spoke. "We . . . we don't know yet," she said quietly. "We're all still in shock and . . ." she took another breath and calmed enough to turn all business. She could see that Sam needed her to be strong for him. "We do know that it is imperative that you are on that plane to Beijing. Are you listening to me, Sam? You have to compose yourself and get on that plane. Ziggy insists."

 

Sammy Jo had to repeat herself, and became firmer with her voice. Sam heard her, but not exactly what was said. He saw faces bending over him, and was able to note that one was a security officer. "I'm all right," he rasped automatically, without thought and numb with shock. The crowd backed off when he repeated himself.

 

Al was dead.

 

Ziggy insists.

 

‘Ziggy says to get on the plane. That must mean this can change, and it's up to me, and the answers lie in Beijing. I have to hang on. Al is depending on me. Right now, in this time, he's still alive.’ Sam was so focused on these thoughts that he didn't remember getting on the plane, the take off, or when Dr. Fuller left.

 

The next thing he realized was he was in the sky, up in the clouds where his best friend loved to be. It was a constant struggle to keep from screaming, and the anger was overwhelming. Unable to sit any longer, Sam prowled around the huge plane with the case hugged to his chest. He stumbled across a lounge area where a familiar face made him pause.

 

Miss Swint was seated with a glass of wine. She smiled at him, and then frowned. "Are you all right?"

 

Sam stood rooted, the somewhat familiar voice pulling him from his reverie. "Yes. No. I don't know." His thoughts calmed. "It's been a bad day," he finally admitted as he sank down next to her.

 

She studied him for a moment. His forlorn face tugged at her heart. "Do you want to talk about it? It might help."

 

A million thoughts ran through his mind, none of which he wanted to share with a stranger, but the idea of isolation scared him. "I . . . I just heard that someone close to me . . . has  . . . died." Saying it out loud did nothing to ease the pain, but it did help him focus his thoughts.

 

Miss Swint laid her hand sympathetically on his forearm. It was warm and soft and solid, and did more to comfort him than the words she spoke. "I'm so sorry."

 

"Thanks." Sam hugged the metal briefcase to his chest, illogically finding some comfort from it. "I just wonder if I could have prevented it," he said. ‘That's why I'm here,’ he thought, the briefcase suddenly becoming his focus. The woman spoke kindly, but he didn't hear. ‘What's in this case?’ he wondered. ‘Is there a clue for saving Al?’

 

The sound of the Imaging Chamber caught his attention, and he stood. He felt Miss Swint's hand slide from his arm, and turned to her as Dr. Fuller stepped from the doorway. He realized he hadn't heard a word of what the woman had said. "I'm sorry," he apologized to the Miss Swint. "I need to be alone for a few minutes." Miss Swint nodded in understanding, and Sam found a lavatory.

 

It was a typical airplane lavatory, small and confining. It also brought memories of the other times he was in such a place and it was Al speaking to him. He brushed the thought aside as Dr. Fuller's torso appeared on top of the sink. Sam couldn't help but snort a short laugh. ‘Funny how things change but stay the same,’ he thought.

 

Sammy Jo raised her eyebrow. "What?" Inwardly she was glad to see some semblance of a smile.

 

"Nothing. Listen, I must be here to save Al, and I think this case has something to do with it."

 

The handlink was poised in Sammy Jo's hand as Sam spoke, and she nodded. "Great minds think alike. That's what Ziggy's saying. It took awhile, though. She's been . . . depressed." She stopped lamely. Sam didn't notice her discomfort, and spoke confidently.

 

"So what's in it?" He patted the case.

 

She studied the read out. "Don't know. Ziggy says there's a 74% chance that you are here to keep whatever is in that suitcase from getting to its destination, though."

 

"Ziggy can't guess at what's in here?"

 

Sammy Jo tapped the buttons. "She says that Paul Bell, you, is a well known courier for hire. She found this out by going through delete e-mails of the appropriations committee. Bell usually deals in illegal documents. He was last seen in the same motel in D.C. as some of the members of the appropriations committee for the Project. Between that and the fact that you're heading to Beijing indicates a 25% chance that the case may contain secret information on the Project."

 

Sam blinked. "What does Beijing have to do with the Project?"

 

Sammy Jo sighed and pocketed the link, along with both her hands. She didn't need to ask Ziggy about that one. "A few leaps ago, there was a terrorist threat against the Project. The terrorists were mercenaries, and their contract was linked to the Chinese. We don't know if it was a private contract or if the Chinese government was involved. That's all we have to work with."

 

Sam looked at the case. "The Chinese knew about the Project," he said flatly. He was now sure as to what was in the case. "I can't pass this on. It more than likely contains Project information!"

 

"Ziggy can't confirm that. Yet. She needs more time."

 

Sam found that he was studying Sammy Jo as she spoke. Something was familiar about her; then he recalled something she had said in the airport. He frowned and waved his finger in her direction as she looked at him questioningly.

 

"You called me 'daddy'," he said simply.

 

She was caught completely off guard by the remark. Suddenly, the take-charge persona she had forced herself to wear, crumbled. Her mouth worked silently for a moment as she felt the tears building. Frantically, she pounded on the handlink.

 

"No! Wait!"

 

The Imaging Chamber door opened, and Sammy Jo Fuller darted through to keep her emotional distance.

 

PART NINE

 

It was a hot morning in Wolfsburg. Donna could already tell the day was going to top 100 degrees and it wasn't even 7:00 yet. The scrambled egg smelled good, but she just didn't seem to have an appetite in the heat of the summer. Of course, with all the tragedy going on at the Project, she hadn't felt very hungry lately anyway. If she didn't have to feed Stephen she wouldn't be cooking at all. In fact, she would probably be living at the Project. There was so much to do now that Al was gone…

 

Al…

 

Her stomach lurched at the thought of her friend. She was way beyond tears at this point; she'd cried them all out in the first day.

 

"Mommy?"

 

The sweet voice dragged her out of the morbid thoughts and she gave the eggs a final stir. "Almost done, Stephen!" She tried to sound cheery.

 

The small boy entered the kitchen uncharacteristically slow, like he was walking on eggs. His eyes were big and hazel, just like his father's, and he carried a tiny version of the handlink Tina had fashioned for him. "Mommy? Do you think Uncle Al needs this?" He held up the toy.

 

Donna blinked and her lips made a thin line as she clamped her mouth tightly shut to hold back a sob. After a moment she squatted down and took the item from the child's hand. She inspected it closely as her mind raced trying to figure out where the little genius was going with his line of thought. "Um." She cleared her throat. "I don't think so. Why do you ask?"

 

Stephen's expression was serious. "Well, he always had it with him at the Project, and we can't let him take the real one to heaven, so I thought it would just feel right in his pocket. Him being so used to having it and all."

 

She had to bite her lip to keep the tears back, and she couldn't keep the smile from breaking loose. She reached for her son and pulled him into a tight embrace. "Oh, Stephen. I know he'd appreciate that."

 

He threw his arms around her neck in response and they held tightly to each other. "Mommy?"

 

"Hmm?"

 

"The eggs are burning."

 

"OH!" Donna let go and leaped to the stove. "Oh no!" The pan's contents were a total loss. She quickly dumped it in the sink and turned on the water, which hissed loudly as soon as it hit the pan. She stared at the mess and tsk'd her tongue. "Some chicken put her all into that egg," she commented. "And now it's food for the garbage disposal!" Stephen giggled, and Donna smiled slyly at him. The kitchen was growing too hot anyway. "How about letting Denny's do the cookin', honey bunch?" She wiped her hands on her jeans.

 

"Grand Slam!" he yelled excitedly.

 

"You got it!" She picked him up, grabbed her purse from the table and headed for the door. "And you already have shoes on for once! What's up with that?" She pulled open the front door and nearly ran into the man standing there. "OH!" She squeaked in surprise and slid to a stop.

 

"Uncle Tom!" Stephen shrieked. He launched himself from Donna's arms to the surprised Tom Beckett. He caught the boy instantly.

 

"Whoa! What a greeting!" he laughed cheerily. He held the boy aloft and jiggled him. Stephen giggled uncontrollably. "Good grief, you're getting big! I can't do this anymore!" With an exaggerated gasp he dropped the boy down to the porch and squatted in front of him.

"My gosh, Tom! Why didn't you tell me you were coming?" Donna collected herself quickly. "Please, come in!"

 

"Mommy! Denny's! I'm hungry!"

 

"Hungry, huh?" Tom laughed. "Allow me! My treat. Is that OK, Donna?" When he turned to face Donna with the question, she saw something in his eyes. This wasn't a simple visit, and Tom Beckett would get around to tell her why he was here as soon as he was ready.

 

"Um, sure! I don't cook either way, so I'm happy!"

 

He returned his gaze to the boy, still eye to eye, his face serious. "OK, then. You driving?"

 

"Can I? I drove the tractor once, remember? Can I?"

 

Donna laughed. "Tom!"

 

"Oh, yeah. That's right. You have to be old to drive here, huh?" Tom stood with a grin and took Stephen's hand.

 

"You mean I could drive if I lived in Colorado like you? Mommy? Can we move to Colorado?"

 

"No, dear. Not today. But you can visit Uncle Tom in Colorado and he can teach you!" With a smug, I-got-you-now smirk at Tom she secured the boy in the back seat of the Jeep.

 

"Guess I'm in trouble now, huh?" Tom said good naturedly as she shut the door on the boy. She smiled back at him. More seriously, he took one of her hands. "How are you Donna? I heard about Al."

 

"It's not good, Tom." She dropped her eyes and again fought back tears.

 

"I'll drive." He took the keys from her. "We'll talk later, OK?" He opened the door for her and she slipped into the passenger seat. After trotting to the driver's side, he jumped in the car. "OK, now!" He said cheerily as he started the engine. "Off to school!"

 

"School? No! Denny's!" Stephen laughed.

 

"What? No school? Aren't you going to Indiana State yet?"

 

"I'm only in third grade! Denny's! I want pancakes!"

 

"Oh, yeah! I forgot!" He winked at Donna and backed from the driveway. Donna felt a bit of the load lifted from her shoulders already without knowing why.

 

For the first time in like what seemed like forever, Donna had a good time. Tom kept up the banter with Stephen and kept him giggling most of the time. After the meal, Donna shoo'd the boy to the restroom to wash the syrup from his hands. She and Tom waited for him outside the restroom.

 

"When's the funeral?" Tom asked quietly.

 

Donna, more relaxed than she felt in days, was able to talk without tears. "Memorial, actually. Three days. They invited him to be buried in Arlington, but Beth said that he wanted his ashes spread at sea by a Naval aviator out of Coronado. He's being cremated tomorrow."

 

"That sounds appropriate. He was quite a guy. He did manage to get my goat, though, I have to admit."

 

"Yeah. He was a unique individual. We can't believe . . ." her voice caught, and Tom gently laid his hand on her shoulder.

 

"Donna, I want to help."

 

She managed to stop her tears and frowned at him. "Help?"

 

"Yes. I know how much the Project relied on him. I investigated it myself, remember? Well, now that I'm retired, I have the time and the talent. I'd like to help fill in the void."

 

Donna blinked at him in shock. That was the last thing she'd expected, but for some reason she couldn't find anything wrong with the offer.

 

Tom continued. "I have the same experience as the Admiral in staff supervision, paperwork and dealing with the government. I know D.C. I know the Project . . ." The skeptical look on Donna's face made him smile. "OK, I don't know the Project as well as Al, but I do know what it's all about. And I know you, and vice versa. And I know my brother." The sound of the bathroom door swishing open made him pause.

 

"Let's go!" Stephen yelped happily as he raced by. "Can we go to the museum? Please?"

 

Donna and Tom fell in behind the boy.

 

"I have to get back to . . ." Donna started.

 

"I can take him. I'd like to spend the day with him." Tom smiled at the boy as he shrieked in pleasure. In a lower voice, he said. "Is there anyone else you could trust to help you? Think about it." He secured Stephen in his booster seat, and opened the door for Donna. "Take my car to the Project. I'll keep the kid and the car."

 

"Oh, boy!" Stephen said. "Dinosaurs and atoms!"

 

Donna laughed at Tom's perplexed expression. "He likes just about everything at the Natural History and Science Museum. You won't be bored."

 

Tom shook his head. "Just like his dad. Too much information is not enough. OK, Stephen, let's go dump the chick and have a mans' day out, shall we?"

 

It was Stephen's happiness and comfort with Tom that made up Donna's mind, and she instantly felt relief. Tomorrow, Quantum Leap was going to have a new co-administrator.

 

 

When Donna arrived at the Project she felt better than she had in days. She was calmer and her mind more ordered. Already, she was dividing the workload and found it surprisingly easy. She'd have to get his security clearances today, and hold a staff meeting, but she didn't expect any problems. If Tom's presence had the same effect on everyone else, that would be an added bonus.

 

Her mind was racing with plans as she descended to the Control Room level. When the doors opened, she stepped into the hall with confidence and was practically mowed over by Sammy Jo.

 

"Oh, I'm sorry," Sammy Jo sniffed.

 

Donna looked at the woman in shock. She looked terrible - her eyes were red and bloodshot, her face pale, and when Donna put her hands on her shoulders to steady her, she could feel her body shaking.

 

"Sammy Jo, my God, are you all right?"

 

The eyes that met Donna's were so mournful she couldn't help but pull her stepdaughter into a tight hug. That's when Sammy Jo broke down, sobbing. Over the crying woman's shoulder, Donna saw St. John and Tina in the Control Room doorway looking on in concern. Donna motioned them away and escorted Sammie Jo to her office nearby.

 

After settling her on a couch and sitting next to her Sammy Jo started showing signs of calming down. Donna offered her a box of tissues, which were gratefully accepted.

 

"I'm sorry." Sammy Jo dabbed at her eyes. "I think all the stress has caught up to me. I couldn't handle it. I'll be OK." She sniffed, and Donna patted her shoulder. She shyly looked at Donna and fiddled with a tissue. "He knows I'm his daughter. I sorta let it slip and called him dad."

 

"Really?" Donna said. ‘Here's a new twist,’ she thought.

 

"Yeah. Usually, when he does figure it out, it's just before he leaps, then forgets again. He's gonna know the whole leap this time. It sorta shook me up."

 

"I guess it would. We need to talk to Verbena on how to handle it."

 

"That's a good idea." She hiccupped as the tears faded away. "I just can't think anymore right now, Donna. I'm not handling this very well. I miss Al." Her eyes began to water anew.

 

Donna, on the other hand, felt stronger. "We all miss him. But things will continue here, and so must we. It won't be easy, but it will all work out. You have a lot on your plate, Sammy Jo. I don't want you to feel that you have to fill the Admiral's place. It's going to be a team effort." She waited a moment then continued. "I'm going to bring in Tom Beckett to help in the administration area. He's already offered."

 

Sammy Jo's head snapped up. "Really?" Her red eyes sparkled for a moment. "That . . . just may be a good idea. He doesn't know I'm his niece, does he?"

 

Donna's face was thoughtful, and then she grinned. "No, I don't think so. Boy, he's getting more than he realizes, isn't he?"

 

They both laughed, and Sammy Jo filled in Donna on Sam's leap. As she relayed Sam's reaction to the news, they both nearly broke down again but managed to contain themselves. It was obvious that Sammy Jo felt better after the cleansing crying spree. Donna called Verbena and sent Sammy Jo to the psychiatrist's office. "Take a nap after that. Sam's stuck on a plane for about 13 hours, so he's not going anywhere. You have to re group."

 

Sammy Jo nodded and left the office. Donna settled behind her desk and reflected on the situation. Somehow, everything didn't seem as dire as it did the day before, and with a lighter tone in her voice, she began making arrangements for a staff meeting.

 

 

Sam was long enough in the lavatory that the flight attendant tapped on the door and asked about his welfare. He assured her everything was all right and returned to the lounge. There were more people there, all tired of cramped seats and taking advantage of the space. Miss Swint was chatting happily with two young men, but paused to acknowledge Sam with a nod. Her expression asked if he was all right, and Sam managed a small smile and nod.

 

Not in the mingling mood, he returned to his seat and decided to take the time and investigate the small carry on bag tagged with Paul Bell's name. He pulled it into his lap and riffled through the personal items, pulling out a bottle of prescription pills. Sleeping pills. ‘That's one way to deal with jet lag. There's nothing I can do until we land, anyway. Might as well sleep now.’ What he was careful not to admit to himself was that he was simply tired of thinking. His thoughts of Al and Sammy Jo were all tumbled and intense; he needed the break. Without a second thought, he rang for the attendant, and poured out a pill. He had recapped the bottle and stowed the bag by the time the attendant came. Sam requested water, and the perky girl came back with it in record time. She even brought a pillow and a small blanket.

 

"Not uncommon for frequent overseas passengers to take those," she said knowingly, indicating with a tilt of her head the sleeping row next to Sam. "Sweet dreams!"

 

Feeling a little better, Sam downed the pills but didn't respond to the attendant. There was no way he wanted to dream; he was hoping for total blackness.

 

PART TEN

 

Sammy Jo woke after a solid sleep of seven hours. She felt guilty for a moment, but when she realized how much better she felt, the guilt dissipated. By the time she stepped from the shower she felt like a million bucks, and for the first time today, felt hungry. She tossed on casual clothes and was getting ready to head to the cafeteria when Ziggy paged her.

 

"Yes?" Sammy Jo, like most people in the Project, looked upward as she spoke.

 

"Staff meeting in one hour. And I note that Dr. Elesee seems much happier."

 

"You could tell by her voice?"

 

"Yes. But Mrs. Calavicci doesn't sound any better. I listened in on a phone call Dr. Elesee made to the Calavicci house."

 

"Ziggy! You eavesdropped? Shame on you!"

 

Ziggy let out a computer version of a sigh, and her voice took on a pouty tone. "I don't feel my study of human grief has any boundaries. It helps me cope."

 

"Cope?" ‘That's a new one,’ Sammy Jo thought, slightly amused. Then she sighed a human sigh. "Well, we all need to cope, I guess. But don't listen in on any of my phone calls, OK?"

 

"Fine. Dr. Beckett's brother is coming to the Project."

 

"I know. I think it may be a good idea."

 

"But he's not Admiral Calavicci."

 

"I know. But you got used to St. John after Gooshie died. You'll get used to Tom. I'm leaving now, Ziggy. I'm starving."

 

"Maybe Dr. Beckett will change things so the Admiral will be back."

 

"That would be nice, wouldn't it?" Sammy Jo slipped from the room. Ziggy had been in quite a funk for the past few days. It was nice to hear her voice again.

 

Sammy Jo was so hungry, the food in the cafeteria even tasted good. She had seconds on the chili and cornbread, and a huge salad. By the time she finished, it was time for the meeting.

 

Donna was already seated, as was St. John and Tina. Sammy Jo entered the room with a couple of head technicians and Verbena Beeks. The room didn't quite seem filled, and everyone knew why. The chairs usually occupied by Beth and Al seemed to be larger than the rest as they stood side-by-side, empty. Donna cleared her throat to signal the start of the meeting.

 

The announcement of Tom Beckett being brought on board was met with silent approval. They realized the need, but didn't want to acknowledge the reason. It was as if they were all battle weary. With Sam on the plane most of the day, Donna had seen to it that most of the staff got some rest, so their eyes weren't as red. The evidence of grief was still clear, however, and Donna decided to touch on the subject of Sam's current leap.

 

"Ziggy says there is a possibility that Dr. Beckett's current leap may bring Al back to us, but we have no guarantee, as you know. All I ask is for all of you to work as hard as you always have, and give Tom Beckett all the help you can.  If the leap doesn't fix this," she hesitated to make her point clear. "We will all continue to function as we always have - like a family. Thank you, that's all I have to say."

 

When the group left, Donna was relieved to know that at least they had something else to think about for a while. Meanwhile, Donna knew she had to work on a task she had been putting off: Deciding who could go to the Albert Calavicci's memorial.

 

 

Sam awoke with a start and a strong feeling of deja vu. There was an announcement for their descent into Beijing, and the passengers started readying for landing. Sam put his seat upright and tried to rid his neck of the crick he had developed. He still felt groggy from the pill, and second-guessed his decision of taking it. They were just about to touch down when he heard the Imaging Chamber door swoosh open next to him.

 

Unable to talk because other passengers surrounded him, all Sam could do was give Sammy Jo his attention. ‘I don't know why I didn't see it before. She has my eyes and Katie's face.’ He thought. But then a whole new area opened to him: ‘Who is her mother?’ he thought.

 

"Hi." Sammy Jo, now rested and confidant had decided to take the bull by the horns. "I know you can't talk, so I will. Yes, I'm your daughter. My mother is Abagail Fuller, a woman you helped in three successive leaps in 1955, 1966 and 1978. In 1966 you leaped into my mother's fiancÚ, and, well, made me." She blushed momentarily as she stuttered out the explanation. The vision of a dark haired beauty flashed in Sam's mind as she spoke.  "Abagail does not know you are my father. She still thinks Will Kinmon, her fiancÚ at the time, is. I've worked at Project Quantum Leap since 1996, shortly after you leaped. I found out by mistake that you were my father by a slip of the Admiral's tongue. I think he did it intentionally, though. It was a dire situation." She could see the questions in her father's eyes. "I promise I'll fill in the blanks when you can talk. Now it's time for you to get off this plane and save Al. And maybe, just maybe, you'll remember who I am next time."

 

Sam felt choked up with emotion. He had a daughter, a confident, intelligent daughter that was working by his side. He blinked. Well, sort of. The weirdness of his life deflated him for a second but he was distracted by the hustling crowd debarking the plane and moved past the thought. He still felt a bit foggy from the sleeping pill he'd taken, and the events of the day just seemed more surreal.

 

Sammy Jo stayed right by his side the whole time and guided him through customs, which he thought would be more problematic with the locked case. Apparently, they were expecting him, and he was passed without a fuss. This made Sammy Jo suspicious, and she entered the information in the handlink.

 

Sam couldn't wait to be alone with his daughter. He had so many questions; he hoped she'd answer him and ignore that blasted rule about 'if you don't remember, I can't tell you' that Al always quoted.

 

Al. That was another sore subject he wanted to tackle. Sam bit his lip, and realized that he had passed the last hour in a complete fog as he willingly followed Sammy Jo's directions.

 

He was so tired. The case attached to his wrist had become sort of a shield, something solid he could hold on to. He hugged it close to his chest getting some measure of comfort from it, his inner gut telling him that it was his only chance to save Al. His body heat had warmed the coldness of the metal case until it felt like it was part of him.

 

As he picked up his bag with his free hand and Sammy Jo began to tell him where the exit was, he felt a hand on his shoulder. Sam turned and found himself face to face with Miss Swint.

 

"Hey, I just wanted to see if you were all right. You look pretty groggy, my friend." She smiled a kind smile.

 

"Uh, thanks. I'm doing better, I think." He hugged the case closer.

 

She pressed a card in his hand hugging the case. "Listen, we're both a long way from home. If you feel like you need to talk tonight, call me. My name and where I'm staying is written on the back of the card. I'll be leaving the hotel tomorrow around 11:00. Take care of yourself, Mr. Bell." She patted his hand.

 

"Thank you, I . . . will."

 

She moved off in the direction of a line of cabs and was lost in the crowd.

 

"Well, she was nice." Sammy Jo commented. "Met her on the plane, I take it?"

 

"Yes. She was very kind to me." He looked at the card tiredly, but had to smirk at what was written there. "Now there's an odd name. Siren Swint."

 

Sammy Jo froze. "What did you say her name was?"

 

Sam glanced at her, perplexed. "Swint. Siren Swint." He held the card up for her to read.

 

"Oh my God." Sammy Jo yanked out the link and input the name and the company printed on the card. The handlink shrieked in response. "Dad, it's very important you talk to her, you hear me?" She was bouncing on her toes with excitement as she read the handlink, and near tears. "Ziggy says the odds are now 98% that you are here to save the Admiral, and she's an important part. You have to meet her again and get her to help you!"

 

Without a second thought Sam pushed all his other questions from his mind and headed for the door, suddenly energized. He scanned the crowd frantically.

 

"Over here!" Sammy Jo waved him over to the line of cabs.

 

Sam pushed his way through the crowed just in time to see Siren slide into a cab and drive away.

 

"Follow her, dad! Get a cab!" Sammy Jo yelled.

 

Sam began to wave his arm and run to the cab line when he felt someone grab his arm. "Hey!" He yelped as he was spun around by his assailant.

 

"Mr. Bell?" The voice was low and heavily accented Chinese.

 

"What?" Sam barked, trying to free his arm from the iron grip.

 

"Dad! You can't let her get away!"

 

"Mr. Bell, come with us now, please. Our boss wants the papers to be safe until morning." The man speaking was one of a pair of well-dressed Chinese, backed by two armed security guards. The man's grip on Sam's arm tightened. "We insist."

 

Sammy Jo's jaw dropped when she saw the interaction, and began peppering the link with jabs. "Ziggy doesn't know who they are. You have to get out of here, dad!"

 

The security guards flanked the squirming scientist, and one of the well-dressed men relieved Sam of his suitcase. They forced him to walk to a waiting black sedan with tinted windows, and they all slipped inside.

 

The sedan drove off in the opposite direction of Siren's cab and all Sam could do was sit quietly, wedged between the security guards, and look helplessly at the figure of his daughter frantically pounding the handlink.

 

PART ELEVEN 

Sam watched the unfamiliar streets of Beijing pass by the darkened windows of the sedan in nervous silence. He hugged the case to his chest. The security guards kept their eyes forward and their hands on the butts of their holstered guns. Sammy Jo floated in front of the scientist, hammering on the hand link. 

“Dad, you have to listen. I’m going to tell you why Siren is so important. It’s not going to be easy,” her voice cracked on the last word, but she swallowed hard and controlled her emotion. “But you need to know. You are going to have to appeal to her altruistic side, and appeal hard. She has to betray her sister. She already has . . . er . . . does eventually but she needs to do it now.” 

She paused her speech and her fingers, and met her father’s eyes somberly. “This won’t be easy to hear, dad, or to tell. So prepare yourself.” 

With that, she relayed what the police report had told them, and what they had personally experienced from the first contact on Julianna’s front porch, Siren’s revelation of Talia and her motives, Julianna’s death as Siren listened on the phone, and the discovery of Al’s body in the remote shack. 

Sammy Jo was right. It wasn’t easy to hear and Sam ground his teeth and ducked his head to keep the tears at bay. So Tala was the point of all this and Siren was the key, Sam thought. He took a bracing sigh, and one of the guards tilted his head curiously in his direction. “Tired,” Sam explained. The guard looked forward again.  

Sammy Jo just glared at the uniformed men. “Well, aren’t they the life of the party,” she snorted.  

The sedan pulled into the driveway of a large hotel as Sammy Jo finished supplying the background. Sam was resolved in finding Siren, and stepped from the car with a new eye; his mind was on escape. He was escorted into the hotel, flanked by the twin guards and his holographic shadow, and directly to the elevator. One of the well-dressed men stayed with him and the other handled Sam’s bag. He was whisked to the 7th floor of the Jin Guang New World hotel and into a room near the elevator banks. After checking the room, the guards stepped into the hall. 

“Wow, nice place, dad.” Sammy Jo walked through the well-appointed suite grateful to have something of a lighter nature to talk about. 

“They will stay the night outside your door.” The talkative well-dressed man indicated the guards with a sweep of his hand as they closed the door. His silent twin left Sam’s bag in the bedroom and posted himself by the exit as his partner continued. “You will not leave the room. It is for your safety. Order what ever you need, but stay inside until the meeting tomorrow. We will pick you up at 8:00.”  

“That’s when whom ever is in charge gets this, right?” He held the case aloft. 

The man bowed his head slightly in a positive response. “After that, you will be taken to the airport. So have your bag ready when we pick you up.” 

“What?” Sammy Jo exclaimed shortly. “No tour of the city? No lunch? No complementary cocktails? How rude.” 

The silent twin opened the door and with a short bow, they both stepped outside leaving Sam alone with his Observer.  

There was an awkward moment of silence. Sam moved to the window and took a moment to appreciate the sweeping view of Beijing in the fading daylight and roll over in his tired brain what he’d learned in the past several hours. He felt shell-shocked.  

“Hell of a day,” he said softly. 

“No shit. Oops, sorry.” Sammy Jo covered her mouth with her hand and smiled. “Mom always said I had a potty mouth." 

Sam looked at her and smiled a sad smile. “Abagail. I think I remember her. Dark hair about this long?” He used his hands to indicate a length somewhere below his shoulders. What he didn’t tell her was the tingling of desire he felt when he thought of her. He turned back to the view to hide the blush he felt rising. 

“Yeah. There’s a some grey now, but she still has the same good figure.” Sammy Jo’s eyes sparkled. She’d noticed the flush in his cheeks. “Any way, we have to figure out how to get you out of here and meet Siren.” 

Sam spared one last look outside and stepped back in surprise as he noticed for the first time how high they were and how close to the window he was standing. His fear of heights made his stomach lurch. “I’d say out the window is out of the question.” 

The handlink squealed and caught Sammy Jo’s attention. She took a moment to read the screen then let out a short laugh. “Ziggy! Have you been watching late night movies or something?” 

“What?” Sam asked, smiling weakly. 

She gave Sam an up and down sweep with her eyes. “Ziggy says that this Bell guy is about the same size as your average Chinese man.” 

He looked perplexed. “So?” 

“How much money is in your wallet?” 

Sam pulled out the worn leather wallet and opened it. It was fat with bills. “Looks like, let’s see, there’s a couple of hundred dollars here.” 

“Good. Ziggy suggests some room service.” Sammy Jo’s grin helped him figure it out. “Then you sorta ask the waiter for a favor." 

“I’m supposed to order room service and bribe the waiter to switch places with me.” 

“Should work like a charm. Most of the hotel workers are poor, working class guys that would probably relish wallowing in this for a night!”  

The plan seemed too easy. "To get Siren to believe me, I need to prove myself to her. Put yourself in her shoes; it's a far-fetched story. Give me something to convince her." 

Sammy Jo nodded and tapped away at the hand link. "Let's see. All I can do is give you her bio. We can predict from what we know where she's going and what she's going to hear. You can use that." 

Sam paced the room suddenly nervous. "That doesn't seem like enough." He frowned in thought. "We've discovered that minds with specific theta and alpha waves can see me as I am. Is there a way I can use that? Hypnosis, perhaps?" 

Now it was Sammy Jo's turn to frown as she put in the information. "Boy, talk about pushing a first date. This goes beyond the one night stand." Her chin jerked up and she blushed when she realized what she'd said. "Um, not that I'd know anything about ... uh... that." 

Sam shared her grin and looked for the phone. “What do you suppose is the specialty of the house?” 

 

Sammy Jo stepped from the Accelerator Chamber with a bounce in her step. She felt more optimistic now than she had in days, and was determined to keep her attitude positive. “St. John! Get Dr. Elesee and Tina in here. We have to talk, pronto.” 

She paced, frowning in thought the whole time it took the two women to arrive. Along with St. John at the console, she lay out the plan. 

“We need to alter PQL’s programming on paper, and we need to do it tonight. We have one opportunity to fix this. When Sam gets Siren’s help, she needs to know how to alter the programming when the time comes.” 

“Won’t she forget all of this when Sam leaps?” Donna asked. 

Sammy Jo’s elation came to a screeching standstill. Donna looked apologetic. Tina popped her gum, and then chewed furiously. Everyone at the Project had learned that when this particular scientist abused her gum at a faster speed it usually meant that she was on the trail of something interesting, if not brilliant. The other three turned their attention to her as she spoke between chews. 

“Well,” she twanged in her nasal tone. “It doesn’t really matter if she remembers or not. The new program is going to be needed at some point if we are to believe that Dr. Beckett’s there to stop Tala, am I right?” After a moment everyone nodded in agreement.  

“We have to believe that,” Donna said softly. “Otherwise, there would be no point to this leap. We have to believe that for Beth and the rest of us.” 

Tina slapped the counter with her palm. “Then let’s do it. We can guess what’s in those papers - right? - according to the date and where they came from? We’ll just take it from there.” 

Sammy Jo grinned again, revived. “It’s gonna be a long night.” 

“I guess I’ll call in Tom to cover for us. If we’re pulling an all nighter, I don’t want to be disturbed.” Donna moved to the secure landline. “Good thing his security clearance came in so fast. I bet he never planned on getting his feet wet so soon.” 

Sam found it surprisingly easy to talk the waiter into swapping clothes. Sammy Jo was right; not only was the working-class young man thrilled to bask in luxury for awhile, Sam thought his eyes would fall out of his head when he offered him money on top of it all. By the time Sam adjusted the towel over his manacled wrist and stowed the case under the cart, the young man was happily flipping through television channels with his feet up, nibbling on the meal Sam had ordered. 

With his head ducked, the guards outside the door never gave Sam a second glance. 

He stashed the uniform cap and jacket on the food cart and stuffed everything in a utility closet near a back entrance. He pulled the address Siren had given him from his pocket and waved down a taxi in the surprisingly crowded street.  

The ride to the Palace Hotel was wild. Sam had to brace himself with every limb as the driver cut, swerved and weaved his way through the mob. By the time they bumped to a stop at the Palace, Sam's heart was making itself well known. Shakily, he left the cab and threw some money at the driver. 

Sam stepped into the lobby and took a moment to stop his knees from shaking. The stress, both physical and mental, was starting to show. He felt a little sick - but quite determined - pressed on, and approached the front desk. The clerk rang Siren's room for him and indicated the house phone to speak with her. With shaking hands, Sam picked up the receiver. 

"Hello?" 

"Hey, Mr. Bell. I wasn't expecting to hear from you so soon! Stay there, I'll be right down. Have you eaten?" 

"Ah, no. I haven't." Sam wasn't thrilled about speaking with her in a public place, but then again getting her to invite him to her room would be a trick. It dawned on him just then how hard this conversation was going to be. 

"Good. I hear the food is delicious in the hotel restaurant. Give me 15 minutes." The phone clicked as she hung up, leaving Sam to wait the longest quarter hour of his life.

TO BE CONTINUED

 

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