Tom Beckett felt rejuvenation as cosmic energy surrounded every particle of his being while they hurtled nowhere and everywhere at once. Although he could never keep track of how much time was passing during his visit to the strange nexus, it typically felt like just enough before he would leap into his next host. This, however, was not one of those times. Tom was just about at that point when the elements of his body began to tingle with the sensation of leaping. Already? his consciousness mused while he began to take physical form once again.
The five physical senses began to return to the leaper as he discovered himself to be alone in a bed. Glancing over at a small, digital alarm clock on the nightstand, he saw that it was just past one o’clock in the morning.
“I sure hope tomorrow’s Saturday,” he mumbled to himself as he tried to get comfortable in a stranger’s bed. The Navy Captain realized that part of the reason for his discomfort was the fact that his host apparently preferred to sleep in boxers, contrary to Tom’s preferences. Sitting up and turning on the lamp that sat beside the clock, Tom felt a slight wave of disorientation as he threw the blankets back. He struggled a little to stand up and felt dizzy as he staggered over to the nearby dresser.
“What is wrong with me?” Captain Beckett wondered aloud as he closed his eyes and rested on the dresser. The wooziness passed after a moment and he removed a pair of boxer shorts from the underwear drawer, slowly putting them on. Tom was just standing back up to full height when light spilled into his room from an outside source.
“Al?” a whiny voice asked. “Al, honey, are ya here?”
The name only brought one thing to the leaper’s mind. Don’t tell me I leaped into Al Bundy! he cried out in his mind.
A form stood in the door and the lights to the bedroom flicked on, causing him to squint at the sudden brightness. Tom’s heart nearly skipped a beat when he saw a redheaded woman standing before him, almost confirming his fears of leaping into the fictional character.
“Yes, Peg?” the time traveler quipped, letting out a quick chortle. He didn’t know where that had come from. Was he drunk? Was that why he felt so muddled? Either way, his female visitor did not seem to share his sense of humor at that moment.
The woman furrowed her brow and stepped over toward him, placing her hands on his bare shoulders. “Al, how much did ya have to drink tonight? I thought ya said ya were through with the bottle!”
Huffing out a laugh, Tom shrugged. “I didn’t have enough to make me forget how beautiful you are, Tina,” he said, and then was quickly surprised by how the statement seemed to come from nowhere. Not only that, but he somehow knew the woman’s real name.
Smiling wanly, Tina dropped her hands from his shoulders and slid them down his arms until their hands met, hers on top of his. Then her lips curled into an impish grin. “Well, if ya think you’re sober enough, why not prove it?” she replied lecherously, moving his palms onto her buttocks and pressing her body against his. “If things don’t go well tomorrow, we won’t be in this place for too much longer and could be put on separate assignments elsewhere.”
“Let’s make good use of our time here then,” Tom answered back in a husky whisper as he moved in to kiss her. Their lips met and were locked for a brief moment before the leaper knew immediately who she was and where they were. A large hole in his Swiss-cheesed memory was filled and he broke away from the woman he knew as Tina Martinez-O’Farrell.
She looked baffled as he stepped back to put some distance between them. “Then again, maybe I should sleep it off. I’m feeling kinda tired,” Tom lied. He knew that Tina could detect his untruth when the anger in her eyes flared up. At that point, the leaper didn’t care what happened. He knew he just could not sleep with Tina a second time, regardless of who he appeared to be to her.
“Al Calavicci, you need help!” she squealed before turning on her heels and stomping out of the bedroom, slamming the door to the corridor behind her.
“Oh, no,” Tom Beckett sighed. “It’s true. I’m back at Star Bright… and I’ve leaped into Al!”
Star Bright Project
Stallion’s Gate, New Mexico
Wednesday, August 8, 1990
Despite the surprising revelation that I had leaped back into the Star Bright Project — not to mention the incident with Tina — I managed to fall asleep without too much trouble, the darkness of the room helping to ease the pain in my head. Unfortunately, I woke up after just under six hours, my mind dwelling on where I was and wondering exactly when. Had I leaped into Al before his dismissal from Star Bright or after I'd convinced the powers-that-be that Al deserved a second chance? If it was before, the headache that greeted me in the morning and Tina’s comments about drinking made total sense. If it was after, Tina's accusations had no merit as Al had, for all intents and purposes, become a teetotaler after the two years he'd spent at Sanctuary House, both as a resident and as a mentor. But if that’s the case, where did the headache and nausea come from?
“Whichever it is, this really sucks,” the leaper complained as he got out from under the sheets. His head was pounding like a jackhammer and his stomach was like an inflatable raft in a stormy sea. That raft was about to capsize and Tom rushed to the washroom, experiencing dry heaves before eventually vomiting. He’d again wondered about how he was feeling when he remembered that the former P.O.W. suffered from occasional migraines — nausea, light sensitivity… the whole works — maybe twice a year and usually because of too much stress. The fact that Tina had thought Al had gotten drunk spoke a lot about the seemingly ditzy scientist and put Tom's comeback into perspective. Al didn’t get upset with what people thought of him — he'd learned to let that attitude go — but neither was he one to let a false perception stand for long. Tom would just have to correct Tina of her misconception later.
The residual migraine he'd leaped into — Yeah, Al's a pain, but this is ridiculous! — made him think about the time he had leaped into the woman who had just discovered she was pregnant and was experiencing morning sickness. Even though he wasn’t the one who was actually carrying the child, Tom still found himself throwing up every eight hours.
When he was certain that his body had stopped reacting to the nausea it thought he had, the leaper flushed the toilet and washed his face gently in the sink. He really had no desire to take a shower but knew in the long run it would make him feel better. Stripping out of Al’s boxers — a thought that made him shudder! — he turned on the tap and stepped inside to bask in the warmth of the falling water.
“This brings back memories,” he thought to himself as he recalled when it was actually him using the shower in his own quarters. Then he realized that his mind was still full of holes and added, “Well, some memories, anyway.”
Some of the complex for the Star Bright Project had eventually been revamped for usage by Project Chrono-Leap. Tom recalled the design of the old bedroom the night before, when Tina had turned on the light, to be that of the previous project at Stallion’s Gate, New Mexico.
His thoughts turned from the complex itself to Tina as soon as he remembered her being in his room last night. He had hit on her, hadn’t he? Maybe it was a part of Al speaking for him, but the former SEAL was sure that he would have found himself in bed with the technician had he not backed out. She loved Al… and yet she had cheated on him with Tom.
For some reason, when he had made the amorous advance toward Tina the previous night, he immediately recalled the entire affair. She and Al had been incommunicado for over two weeks when Tom invited her to have dinner with him. He was just trying to be friendly and help her get her mind off things, but two bottles of wine between them was enough to ensure a lapse of judgment. Neither of them had ever told Al, at least not as far as Tom knew, and he hoped it would stay that way.
“Mmmm, good morning, Tommy boy,” Tina said soothingly as she ran her hand over her bedmate’s chest.
Tom had nearly forgotten what had occurred during the night as he was waking up. It was the sudden sensation of another touching him that brought everything right back to him. “Mornin’,” he replied, smiling widely. “Did you sleep well?”
“Sleep?” Tina repeated with a giggle. “We didn’t do very much sleepin’, now did we?”
Tom chuckled and shook his head. “No, I guess not.”
Placing his hands down beside him in order to sit up, he stopped midway when something obstructed the sliding of his backside toward the headboard. The Commander grabbed it and produced the object: his Navy cap.
“Oh, that’s where it went!” the technician said with a ditzy titter. She grabbed it from his hands and placed it on his head, adjusting it until it was on perfectly. “I guess I just have a thing for guys in uniform, huh?”
It wasn’t until that moment that guilt began to creep into Tom’s conscience. “Look, Tina…”
“Oh, silly me!” she squeaked. “You’re not even in uniform!”
Tina’s hands went under the covers and she wrapped her arms around his naked torso, hugging him as she laid her head on his chest.
“Tina,” Tom repeated, softly. “I think we made a mistake.”
The technician snapped her head up and glared at him with a confused expression. “A mistake? Why didn’tcha mention that before we hopped into bed?”
Grimacing, Tom shrugged. “It felt right at the time… and admit it, Tina, we were both a little over our normal limit.”
Tina screwed up her lips and let out an angry huff but said nothing.
“Not only that but you have Al.”
“Is that all you’re worried about?” Tina demanded. “Me an’ Al are through with a capital T. Why else do ya think I’d sleep with ya?”
The former Navy SEAL shrugged again. “You’re on the rebound?” he proposed.
Letting out a guttural expression of exasperation, Tina got out of the bed only to display her revealing underclothes. “If that’s the way you feel, Commander Beckett, then fine.” She collected up her clothing and went to the door between the bedroom and the living room. “I’ll be in my quarters if you want to apologize!”
Later that day, Tom had gone to Tina’s quarters in an attempt to finish up the conversation, only to find that she and Al had apparently made up. She told him that their experience was to stay between them and that she was willing to forgive and forget. Regrettably for the Tom who was now behind Al’s aura, the forgetting part had suddenly become a lot harder.
After toweling off and putting on some fresh clothes, preferring to take some of the more subdued articles from Al’s wardrobe, he popped a couple of ibuprofen tablets and checked himself in the mirror. Al looked much younger than the one he saw as his observer, but there was that particular spark of life in his eye that always remained, even with a dwindling migraine.
The leaper was prepared to do whatever he was there to do. No word from an observer had him worried, though, as he caught a snippet of memory of Bobby looking alarmed when the Imaging Chamber door opened without his command and then quickly leaving.
“At least it’s a familiar environment,” Tom said to himself as he left the bedroom for the kitchen in order to make up a simple breakfast to nurse the migraine.
As he was finishing up the second piece of toast, the doorbell rang. Tom got up from the table to answer it and found Sebastian “Bobby” LoNigro standing there, also looking younger than Tom could remember. He was so used to “his” Bobby, the Bobby that had been his observer for so many years along with Al Calavicci.
“Good morning, Al,” the quantum physicist greeted. “I’m not interrupting breakfast, am I?”
Tom was still in a little bit of shock but managed to shake his head. “No, I just finished,” he responded. “What brings you here so early?”
Bobby creased his brow. “Early? It’s nearly eight thirty. We were supposed to meet Gooshie fifteen minutes ago,” said Bobby. “Luckily, he was running late and said to wait until nine.”
“Gooshie?” Tom repeated.
“Yeah, you know, Doctor Irving Gushman? The computer programmer with lethal halitosis?” Doctor LoNigro joked. “You forgot about the meeting, didn’t you?”
The leaper tried his best to lie. “Oh, no, I just thought it was later on, that’s all.”
The physicist saw right through the attempted cover-up but took it at face value. “Right,” he replied. “Anyway, I’ll meet you in the lab at nine.”
“See ya then,” Tom said as his friend left. He closed the door and shook his head in disbelief. “First Tina, then Bobby, and now Gooshie. Who else is going to pop up from my past while I’m here?” he mused.
Returning to the kitchen, Tom cleaned up the breakfast dishes and moved into the living room to check Al’s computer console. Apparently, Navy ex-Captain Calavicci kept his agenda in his head. The only useful information the leaper could find was the date: August 8, 1990. He remembered that, at the time, he hadn’t had a vacation in three years, save an occasional three-day weekend. So, he decided to spend some time with his family in Hawaii, with the added bonus of being able to attend his newborn niece's christening. In fact, it was Bobby who had insisted that he go, assuring him that everything would be fine without him for the week he would be gone.
“Star Bright was shut down in 1990. Is that what Tina meant by not being here for much longer if things ‘don’t go well’ today?” he wondered aloud. “And August eighth… that date is familiar.”
Figuring it would come to him later, he shut off the computer and left Al’s quarters. It was nearing nine o’clock and he didn’t want to be late for the appointment with Bobby and Gooshie.
Walking through the corridors was practically a stroll down Memory Lane as Tom noticed areas that were part of the Project Chrono-Leap complex after the renovations. He nodded hello at the technicians and scientists that he passed on his way down to what would become the central control room for Chrono-Leap.
He arrived with a minute to spare and found Gooshie already inside, tinkering with some device. There was a strange glow in the room that came from a blue orb, the very same one that Sebastian LoNigro had found almost ten years prior in France.
“How is SID this morning, Gooshie?” Tom asked when he saw the programmer, restraining his desire to reveal who he really was. He was glad that his magnafluxed memory didn’t forget SID, the artificial intelligence unit that was powered by the blue sphere and was also ALPHA’s predecessor.
“Why not ask him yourself, Captain?” replied Gooshie with pure excitement plain on his face.
Since Tom was used to verbally interacting with ALPHA, Gooshie’s comment didn’t take him by surprise. “How are you this morning, SID?” the leaper questioned as commonly as he would a fellow human being.
“SID’s systems are functioning within normal parameters,” answered the digitized voice.
When Gooshie didn’t receive the reaction he was expecting, he was crestfallen.
“What is it, Gooshie?” Tom asked, noticing the complete reversal in the scientist’s expression.
The programmer’s eyes practically bulged from their sockets. “You don’t find it incredible that you are speaking with a computer? Not just issuing orders, but having a conversation?”
Tom subtly shook his head. “I wouldn’t call ‘functioning within normal parameters’ a conversation,” he said with a tinge of jest.
Gooshie glowered at him and went back to the open electronic panel where he was beforehand. “You are so easily impressed with the simplest of things and yet a computer with artificial intelligence is like nothing!” he complained.
“What’s this about artificial intelligence being nothing?” Bobby asked as he entered the room.
Realizing that he had probably hurt Gooshie’s feelings, Tom took the opportunity to make up for it. “Ask SID how he is this morning,” he said simply.
The physicist frowned but went ahead anyway. “How are you, SID?”
“SID’s systems are functioning within normal parameters, Doctor LoNigro,” the computerized voice responded.
“That’s incredible!” Bobby exclaimed as he dashed over to Gooshie. “He even knows my name!”
The programmer nodded like a bobble-head doll. “I programmed him to recognize certain voices. I haven’t gotten around to Captain Calavicci’s yet.”
Tom shrugged, not really caring since he wasn’t really Al Calavicci.
“Wow,” Doctor LoNigro said in a half-whisper. “You sure chose the right day to reveal this quantum leap in computing.”
“Why’s that, Bobby?” Tom asked while he and Gooshie turned their attention to the former Professor.
The scientist’s expression became somber as he scratched at his beard. “Well, today’s August eighth. My student and Tom Beckett’s brother, Sam, was born on this day in ’53 and died on this day in ’73. Seventeen years ago.”
“Ah, of course. Sam Beckett,” Gooshie acknowledged quietly, realizing why his announcement seemed bittersweet to the quantum physicist.
Tom could only stare at the two men as they seemed deep in thought, figuring that he must be there for something very important. He wasn’t able to stop Logan Lanning from murdering his brother in 1973, but his dream of traveling in Time was still alive with Sebastian LoNigro and the others at Project Star Bright… and he wasn’t going to let that die, too.
“I wish you could have met him, Al,” Bobby said wistfully. “Sam’s mind was one that only comes along once in a generation.”
“So I’ve been told,” Tom replied, struggling to act as if his little brother had been a complete stranger. He could recall Professor LoNigro telling him those exact words when Sam was just starting high school, from which he graduated at age sixteen to attend M.I.T.
The former Professor nodded in acknowledgement. “If only he could see all that we’ve accomplished here. Provided the test goes as planned this afternoon and the Senate committee is satisfied, we can easily secure funding for our ‘side project.’”
More chunks of memory fell into place for Tom as he started to recall a catastrophic incident that ended Star Bright and made launching Chrono-Leap exceedingly difficult. Someone was killed during a test of the Interstellar Drive. Was it Bobby? No, that wouldn’t make sense; Bobby was integral to getting Project Chrono-Leap established. And yet, Tom had a distant memory of Dr. LoNigro’s life being commemorated.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Doctor,” Gooshie interjected, disrupting the leaper’s train of thought. “Even with your connection on the committee, asking for billions of dollars will be no easy feat.”
A tone buzzed over the communication system and a woman’s voice came through the speaker: “Doctor LoNigro to the surface, please. The Senate committee has arrived at the tarmac.”
“Speaking of the committee…” the physicist quipped as he darted for the door. “Get ready, gentlemen. This should prove to be an auspicious day!”
Even though he had never been anywhere close to traveling in Time, Max Connors felt as if decades of experience were flooding into him as he remained in a bizarre nexus of energy that seemed to fluctuate between green and yellow. Memories of a world’s survival being threatened by the third and last global war mixed in with those of years of painstaking research in Hawaii as he strove to find a cure for cancer.
Hawaii? Curing cancer? I don’t remember any of that, Max thought, before yet another random thought entered his mind. Two words: Second Genesis. What the hell does that mean? And a man… Beckett?! But not Captain Tom Beckett. I never even met the man. No, another Beckett. The one I saw in my vision right before I leaped. Wait, that wasn’t my first encounter with him…
“Oh, pardon me,” the man said, “I’m terribly sorry about that.”
“That’s quite all right,” Sam reassured the young man, and then joked, “I seem to still have all of my body parts intact.”
“Wait a minute… I’ve seen your face somewhere before, haven’t I?” the other man asked, squinting his eyes at Sam in recollection. Snapping his fingers, he smiled and added, “Ah, yes, you’re the scheduled keynote speaker! You were also the guest speaker at that convention a couple of months back. Doctor Samuel Beckett, right?”
“That’s me!” Sam confirmed, extending his hand. “But, please, call me Sam. And you are?”
“Doctor Maxwell Connors,” he replied, “but you can call me Max.”
“Pleasure to meet you, Max!”
The convention in 1985! But I remember that meeting! Doctor LoNigro was the keynote speaker. He was talking about the work he and his colleagues were doing at the Star Bright Project. The deep space probe they were working on for all those years: the one that ultimately failed! Why would I remember meeting Sam Beckett? He couldn’t have been there. He died in 1973… didn’t he?! What’s happening to me?
A curious feeling came over Max, as if he was experiencing it for the first time but had felt the sensation countless times beforehand, and he was drawn away from the extraordinary void and back into reality.
As the green glow of the leap faded, Max Connors found himself standing in a strangely familiar-looking corridor and wearing a white lab coat. His eyesight was slightly blurry, so he reached up to touch his eyes and realized that he was wearing eyeglasses. In the same moment, his vision came back into focus as it adjusted to the prescribed lenses of his host. In his hands was a black clipboard with computer printouts clipped to the top of it. Before he had a chance to look at the printouts more closely, he heard a magnetic chirp followed by the mechanical whoosh-zoom of a door opening in front of him. Out of the open doorway walked an unusually cheerful dark-haired man with a small skip in his step. “Good morning, Doctor Benckendorf. Today’s the big day! Are we ready to make history?” he asked, rubbing his hands together in anticipation.
A momentary look of confusion spread across the leaper’s face as he noticed the other man was looking directly at him. Since no one else was nearby, Max assumed that he himself must be this Dr. Benckendorf person whom the man just addressed. Briefly taken aback at hearing someone call him a name other than his own, Max cleared his throat and responded, “Uh… yes. About as ready as I’ll ever be… I think.”
“Very good,” the optimistic man replied. Then, just as suddenly, the cheerful expression on his face turned to one of more seriousness as he placed his right hand on Max’s shoulder and said, “You know, I have to admit I was a bit worried when you first came on this project, not really knowing much about your work ethic. But your expertise in quantum mechanics and helping with the reactor have definitely helped bring us back on schedule.”
Max’s confusion returned as he asked more than stated, “Well, I’m… glad I could help?”
Hearing that statement, the youthful man threw his head back in hysterical laughter. “Oh, Doctor Benckendorf, you truly are a witty one sometimes!”
“So I’ve been told,” Max tossed out with a nervous chuckle, not really sure what else to say to this man that he assumed must be the real Doctor Benckendorf’s boss or supervisor.
The “supervisor” looked at Max curiously, wiped the tears of laughter from his eyes and replied, “Well, then, I’ll let you get to it. Carry on, my friend!”
“You can count on me… sir.”
Raising his eyebrows in confusion, the other man replied, “Why so formal all of a sudden? I’ve told you before, Doctor Benckendorf. Call me Ross.”
“Right, sorry, sir… um, Ross.”
Briefly looking at Max as if he had two heads, Ross just smirked again as he began to walk past Max to leave. Before he got to the end of the hallway, he casually turned around, still smirking, and added, “Oh, and by the way, Doctor… I thought you might like to know, the Senator himself is scheduled to be arriving within the hour. He wanted to personally oversee today’s launch to ensure there are no… ‘hiccups,’ as it were. His political campaign is riding on its success. No pressure.” With those last words, Ross turned the corridor and disappeared.
Max didn’t know what to make of Ross’ odd behavior, but it was clear from the conversation they just had that the man was either mentally disturbed or extremely arrogant in his smug sarcasm — or possibly both. Shaking it off, he mumbled to himself, “No pressure. Sure, no problem. It’s not like I know what I’m doing.” It was then that he remembered the clipboard he was now clutching so hard that it was causing him to lose the circulation in his hands. Max took a few seconds to look at the information on the report. The date read August 8, 1990. Directly below that, he could see a heading:
Star Bright Project
Director: General Thomas Collins
And further down the page, he saw exactly what it was that Ross was referring to:
Working Status: 98.6% success rate
“The Interstellar Drive?” Max whispered as his memories from the void came flooding back to him in a heartbeat. “Oh boy!” was all that the leaper could think of saying.
Star Bright Project
Stallion’s Gate, New Mexico
Wednesday, August 8, 1990
Although he still didn’t have enough information to ascertain the full identity of the individual he leaped into, Max knew enough about where and when he was to put together a few of the holes in his muddled memories. During his training, General Hawkins had several technicians working on the Chronoton Accelerator around the clock to minimize what had been dubbed the “Swiss-cheese effect” by ALPHA and the others. Dr. Connors had been given specific instructions beforehand concerning the Star Bright Project and the personnel assigned there. The project director was General Thomas Collins (as he had just read on the report he was holding), and the two assistant co-directors were Captains Tom Beckett and Albert Calavicci — that was, before the infamous “vending machine” incident that got Calavicci booted in 1984. His replacement was one Commander Jonathan Bartlett. Apparently, three years later, Beckett had met up with Calavicci again at a homeless shelter in Brooklyn, New York. For some reason, he had felt sorry for the drunkard and left a business card for Albert to contact him. Calavicci was brought back on as a consultant in early 1990 on the condition he remained under the constant scrutiny of the United States Government’s designated C.I.A. liaison, Agent Ross Adams, the same man Max had just interacted with.
After Star Bright, Dr. LoNigro, Captain Beckett, and Dr. Gushman retained Calavicci’s civilian services when they began building the Chrono-Leap Project. Why they placed their confidence in a disgraced former Navy captain by divulging top secret information to him was beyond the leaper. It wasn’t that Max didn’t have a small amount of sympathy for the man, but Calavicci made his own bed when he took it upon himself to vandalize government property. Anyone else would have left him to rot on the streets. If it’s one thing Max learned early in his life, it was that the world didn’t offer compassion to people who made bad choices or were down on their luck. After all, no benevolent force came to his father Robert’s aid when he died of cancer in 1972, and he didn’t even have any control over his fate. So, why did Calavicci’s life get spared? It didn’t really seem fair to him. His father’s death was why he decided to devote his life to science in the first place. Faith was just something that got in the way; science and logic provided the only real truth in the universe. General Hawkins reassured Connors when he was recruited that being a part of the Chrono-Leap Project would make a difference. If “God, Fate, Time or Whatever” couldn’t intervene in making the world a better place on a bigger global scale, then someone sure as hell was going to.
Today was the eighth of August, which meant that this was the day of the tragic incident that ultimately expedited the shutdown of the Star Bright Project. Dr. Connors was sent here by General Hawkins to figure out what went wrong and to change the outcome. As a result of World War Three breaking out, his present time was now on the verge of nuclear annihilation. Supposedly, the key to stopping the war in the present hinged on the successful launch of the Star Bright Project’s Interstellar Drive in the past. How exactly this would change things, he wasn’t told. All he knew was that Hawkins received these directives from President Gordon LoNigro himself, so he must have known something about the incident that no one else did.
Max continued down the corridor deep in thought when suddenly a bearded man dashed around the corner and nearly crashed into him. Both of them reacted in time to avoid the collision.
“My apologies, Gwendolyn!” the hurried man exclaimed as he continued to rush down the hallway.
“Gwendolyn?” Max sputtered out in confusion. “They see me as a woman?”
Despite being new to the whole leaping process, Max had a sudden urge to find a mirror to fully understand how others were seeing him — unless he would just end up seeing himself through the illusion. He couldn’t recall every detail of how the process worked and those missing memories were setting Max slightly on edge. There didn’t appear to be a single reflective surface in the entire complex as he quickened his pace down the corridor in hopes of finding a restroom.
Instead, Max stumbled across an open door with the heading “A.I. LABORATORY” on a plaque above the door frame. From inside, he could hear two men talking, and decided to listen in on the conversation. The time traveler stood against the wall and craned his ears to hear while pretending to inspect the paperwork on the clipboard in his right hand.
“Do you really think the committee will shut the project down?” the first voice asked.
“It’s very possible, Captain. Without a successful launch today, they might not have any other choice. We’ve reached the end of our funding and the only way to keep this facility going is to have the drive prove its usefulness.”
“And if it fails, what happens to SID?”
“I’ve been wondering that myself,” said the second voice with evident distress.
There was a momentary pause before the first man spoke up again. “SID, how do you think today’s launch will go?”
Max nearly dropped the clipboard when a third voice — digitized — joined the conversation. “SID predicts based on latest data that the Interstellar Drive will succeed with ninety-eight point five nine seven two percent certainty with a variance of point zero five percent,” it said.
“That actually is rather impressive,” the first voice commented.
“Thank you, Captain. Genuinely,” answered the second voice. “Well, as much fun as this is, I think we should go to the test bay to await the committee.”
“Sure,” said the first voice, and then their footsteps followed, heading in Max’s direction. The leaper straightened up and started to walk away, hearing the two exit and close the door behind them. Looking over his shoulder, it was evident that the two men either didn’t see him or were in too much of a hurry to say anything as they headed off in the opposite direction down the corridor.
Max stopped in his tracks and waited a full minute before turning around and trying the door to the lab. It opened without any hassle. He entered the laboratory, closed the door behind him, and was momentarily stunned by the vague resemblance to the Control Room of Project Chrono-Leap.
He examined the computer consoles in an attempt to start finding out what he could possibly do to help ensure the success of the test. “If only I could ask SID for the answer like those other two did,” he mused aloud.
“SID is ready to accept input,” hummed the robotic voice, causing Max to nearly jump out of his skin.
Taking a breath, the leaper considered how to phrase the question. After a moment of reflection, Max posed his query. “SID, what would increase the chance of success to one hundred percent for today’s launch of the Interstellar Drive?”
“SID has insufficient data to make such a prediction,” came the reply.
“Damn,” the physicist swore softly. “I guess I shouldn’t have thought it would be that easy. Maybe there’s something I can do to the Drive itself. SID, where is the test bay?”
“The test bay is located on level eleven.”
“Thanks,” replied the leaper and he left the room.
Bobby reached the surface in record time, charging out of the elevator for the ground-level entrance. A helicopter sat on the landing pad in the distance, its blades slowly decelerating. A military vehicle approached from the tarmac and pulled up to the walkway in front of the building, and the five members of the senate committee emerged.
“Professor!” the final passenger exclaimed as he stepped onto the sidewalk.
“Mister Chairman!” Bobby returned with the same exuberance. There was a twinkle in both men’s eyes, as if they had imparted a great joke between them. “It’s good to see you. How was the trip?”
“Long,” replied the Chairman, shifting his briefcase from the left hand to the right. “Despite that, I am excited to be out of Washington and ‘in the field,’ as they say.”
Bobby nodded in agreement as he pushed the button for the lift. The doors opened almost immediately as a smile crossed the Professor’s lips. “I think you and the Committee will be very pleased with what we have to show you today. It’ll make that long journey here more than worthwhile. Please, if you’ll all follow me.”
The four men and one woman who made up the committee collected their things and fell into a double-file procession, with Bobby and the committee chairman at the lead. The six boarded the elevator and Bobby pressed the round white button with “11” in black text, sending the cabin on its speedy descent. A couple of the committee members jumped at the sudden drop, but Professor LoNigro assured them it was completely normal.
Upon reaching level eleven, Bobby led the committee down the corridor to a door marked “TEST BAY.” The large double doors slid into the walls after the scientist swiped his security pass over the reader.
“Welcome to the test bay for the Interstellar Drive, lady and gentlemen!” Bobby proclaimed with exuberance.
Max found the test bay easily enough and, upon entering, found a massively cavernous room. He stood at the entrance in awe for a moment, not realizing such an enormous space had existed at the Star Bright Project and likely was still there in the present beneath the current project. In the middle of the space was a large, cylindrical structure with one flat end facing the entrance. At its base, he spotted the two men who had been chatting in the lab. Before he could escape their field of vision, they both saw him. The one wearing a lab coat waved him over.
“Guess I can’t pretend I didn’t see them,” Max muttered to himself and proceeded further into the bay.
“Ah, Doctor Benckendorf!” Gooshie greeted as Connors approached the men. “Captain Calavicci and I were just waiting for the Committee to arrive. Doctor LoNigro is giving them a tour of the facilities ahead of the test this afternoon. What brings you down here?”
“Just wanted to take a look at the ISD to make sure that everything is going to go according to plan,” Max answered, hoping that it was enough to satisfy the scientist’s curiosity.
“Let’s pray that it does,” Tom, in the guise of Al, put in. “Everything is riding on the test being a success.” He looked on the newest arrival with a slight frown. There was something very familiar to him about the woman in front of him. Oh, he knew that he likely knew her from his time at Star Bright, but there was something else niggling at the back of his mind — something frightening. The one thing Tom knew for sure was, whatever reason she was here for, it wasn’t good. He was going to have to keep a close eye on her.
Before another word was said between the three of them — and Tom could get an answer to his question — the large metal doors to the bay opened, allowing Bobby and his visitors to enter.
“Welcome to the test bay for the Interstellar Drive, lady and gentlemen!” they heard the voice of Professor Sebastian LoNigro exclaim, causing them to turn towards the approaching group.
“Wow! So, this is where all the taxpayers’ money has been going!” one of the Committee members exclaimed.
“It’s been a long time but after years of intense research, planning, and testing, working out all of the bugs as it were, the Interstellar Drive is at last ready for final testing,” Bobby replied. “And it’s all thanks to you and the Committee, Gordon.”
Connors froze at the name, suddenly realizing why the man was so familiar. Of course! That’s Senator LoNigro! How could I have forgotten? Glancing over at the person he saw as Calavicci, he noted that the man’s eyes were wide with surprise and wondered if he even knew why the Committee was there in the first place. He’s probably hungover, if the man’s history is any indication.
“Well, as much as you’ve always had my vote for the development of this drive, Bobby,” Gordon was saying, “you still have to prove that this thing actually works. Not all of us are convinced that this hasn’t been a colossal waste of money.”
“Oh, it will work, Mister Chairman. Believe me. It will definitely work. Let me show you the details of this amazing innovation in travel.”
Tom watched the group pass him, still stunned by the revelations of the last few minutes. Gord LoNigro? I don’t believe it; this is the third leap in a row that involves him. He’s the Chairman for the oversight committee for Star Bright? Isn’t that a conflict of interest? Something’s not right here. From what I can recall, Weitzman was the head of the Committee that oversaw both Star Bright and Chrono-Leap. He’s the one who ultimately shut down Star Bright based on Bobby’s recommendation.
Bobby started leading the Committee slowly around the cylinder, explaining the workings of the machine as he went. Gooshie and Tom went to follow, Tom brushing the person he saw as Gwendolyn Benckendorf to pass.
As the two men touched, an electrical surge coursed through both their bodies as their auras intermingled and dissipated. Suddenly, following the Committee on the tour was furthest from Tom's mind and he allowed the group to continue on without him while he stared at the person now before him.
Connors reeled himself back in shock, not expecting to come face-to-face with the man he was sent to replace. “Captain Beckett?! When did you get here?”
“S… sometime last n… night,” Tom stuttered in confirmation. Although he knew that the person before him wasn't any leaper he had met before — at least according to his Swiss-cheesed memory — there was still something familiar about this stranger. Squinting his eyes, he asked, “Who are you?”
“My name is Max. Doctor Max Connors,” the leaper answered. “I’m the new leaper that was assigned to Project Chrono-Leap.”
Tom thought back to the most recent conversation he had had with Bobby before a Marine guard escorted him out of the Imaging Chamber. “Right, I remember Bobby mentioning something about that during the last leap.” Pondering that thought for a second, he added, “How long ago was that?”
“From my perspective, it’s only been a few days. This is my first mission. I only just arrived about a half hour ago. Honestly, I didn’t expect to find you here.”
“That makes two of us,” Tom reiterated. “The odds that you leaped back to the exact same time period I’m in are astronomical. Talk about luck!”
“I’m not sure luck had much to do with it, Captain,” Connors stated, “at least, not for me. General Hawkins had the Accelerator controls set for August eighth, 1990. The fact that you’re already here is something the Project wasn’t aware of.”
“They’re not aware of my location!” Tom exclaimed, as he now realized why there had been no contact since he arrived. Suddenly fearing the worst, he asked, “Where’s Bobby? Or even Al?”
Max’s face grew a bit serious as he responded, “Albert was terminated by Hawkins. He was sent packing a couple of days ago. As for, uh… Bobby… last time I saw, he was in the Control Room under supervision by the General’s men. After the stunt Doctor LoNigro pulled with contacting you, Hawkins wasn’t taking any chances that he’d interfere with what I was sent here to do.”
Tom felt like someone had just punched him in the gut. They abandoned me! Oh God, I can’t do this without them! What am I supposed to do now?
Dr. Connors could see the look of despair on the Captain’s face and attempted to give him some reassuring words of wisdom. “I’m sorry about your situation... Tom. If it makes you feel any better, I had no control over any of this. But perhaps your being here is a good thing. You had history here and, with the intel I was given beforehand, the two of us should be able to fix things in no time. There have been a few improvements at the Project. Once the current crisis is averted and I’m retrieved, I’ll let them know where you are so they can attempt to finally get you home.”
“So, what are you here to do?” Tom questioned. Without a guide to help him with his leap, he figured that he could at least discover why Connors had leaped there.
“This particular point in time is a crucial junction,” Connors informed him. “The test for the Interstellar Drive must be a success. I need to find out who sabotaged the project and stop it from happening.”
Tom nodded at his words. “Makes sense. If the test had been a success, we wouldn’t have lost…” He frowned, suddenly reminded of the Swiss-cheese effect he'd been suffering from since he first leaped. He knew they'd lost someone important but, for the life of him, he couldn’t remember who.
Connors continued as if Tom hadn’t spoken. “If I could only discover who sabotaged the drive…”
The captain frowned slightly. “I remember Adams, the C.I.A. agent that was assigned to Star Bright, investigated the incident and discovered that someone had adjusted the reactor to overload when activated. They never did catch whoever did it.” And yet, I'm certain I've seen her elsewhere… He cleared his throat to refocus on the matter at hand. “The question is… Has the sabotage already been done or not?”
“We can determine that one of two ways,” Connors replied. “We can wait for my Observer to arrive to give me an update, or we can investigate on our own. What time does the test happen?”
“Gooshie said it's scheduled for thirteen hundred, right after lunch.”
Connors glanced at the slim gold watch on his wrist. “It's nearly eleven now. We don't have time to wait. You know this complex better than me and you know what happened here. Lead the way.”
The moment that they could get away from the tour of the facility — Tom giving the excuse of not feeling well and Max saying that he needed to do a few small adjustments before the test — the two leapers traversed the complex to the reactor room. Tom was glad his fuzzy memory at least recalled that this area was the focal point of the incident. However, he couldn’t remember what exactly had caused the malfunction in the reactor.
The reactor room was actually a room inside a room, with the reactor enclosed in the inner chamber. The outer chamber held a collection of computer terminals that controlled and monitored the reactor. Had the test been successful, another reactor would’ve been built to be installed into a space craft for further testing, beginning with an unmanned trip to Mars and back. Access to the reactor room required the use of an authorized Project I.D. card. Tom quickly searched his pockets and was rewarded with Al's I.D. card. Swiping the card through the card reader on the security lock gained the leapers access to the outer chamber, which they entered immediately.
The room was not empty. Inside, an average-built older man with graying hair and a thick but well-kept goatee focused on a monitor with intense dark eyes. While Connors wondered who the person was, Tom was suddenly struck with recognition.
“Alex!” he exclaimed, both pleased and stunned. Doctor Alexander Garner! My Swiss-cheese brain nearly forgot that Bobby brought him onto the Project as a way for him to make up for the failure of his Time Displacer Unit back in the fifties! Alex was the one killed during the incident! I can save Alex! Doctor Garner's reaction to him reminded him that, while he'd had a good relationship with the scientist, his host Al Calavicci hadn’t.
“I didn’t realize that we're now on a first-name basis, Calavicci,” the doctor greeted, his tone showing his dislike for the ex-Captain. He glanced at Max questioningly before returning his gaze to Tom. “Something I can do for you? I'm a little busy at the moment.”
Hearing Alex's abrupt words refocused Tom on the matter at hand. “Uh… Doctor Benckendorf and I just came down to make sure everything was ready for this afternoon's test.”
Alex considered his words for a moment before giving a slight nod. He had to admit that despite their personality differences, Captain Calavicci was a talented electrical engineer and Gwendolyn Benckendorf was a brilliant scientist in her own right. While he disapproved of Calavicci’s apparent mission to bed every female in the complex, Garner knew that his skills as an engineer would be helpful.
“I'm making a few final adjustments to the launch sequence programming, but I could use a second set of eyes to go over the reactor itself, make sure all the circuits are correct.”
Max took the opening before Tom had a chance to speak on the matter. “We'd be glad to take a look at the reactor… Alex,” he finished with slight hesitation, his only guide on who the man before him was being Tom's previous exclamation. Seeing the airlock-style door that led to the inner chamber, he gestured to it while addressing Tom. “Captain…”
Tom nodded in agreement and headed for the door. Using Al's access card once again, they entered the heart of the Interstellar Drive.
The reactor was almost as large as the drive itself. It was designed to generate massive amounts of energy which would channel power directly to the drive through large conductive cables covered with a dense insulating polymer. Tom smiled as he looked on it, suddenly recalling Al, Bobby and himself leaning over a large blueprint, plates of half-eaten pizza and glasses of soda holding the large paper flat on a table. Bobby had been a little lost with the structural aspects, but Tom and Al were in their element, a couple of engineers planning the development of a new power source based on Garner's ISD reactor. All of it was aimed at one real goal: to make Tom's late brother's theories a reality.
“Captain Beckett, are you okay?” Max's voice cut into the memory, bringing Tom back to the present. Gaining a nod from his current partner, Connors gestured towards the reactor. “We haven’t much time,” he reminded, immediately getting to work at examining the power source.
The three of them — Beckett, Connors, and Garner — went over the amazing piece of technology with a proverbial fine-toothed comb, making sure that every circuit was in the right spot and functioning, every bit was firmly in place, and every failsafe was intact. It took over an hour to correct all the minor — but cumulatively catastrophic — changes that Connors' host had done to the reactor prior to his arrival. While they worked, Tom noted that Max's expression slowly became more worried, even though it was clear that, thanks to their efforts, the upcoming test would be a success. A final check with Doctor Garner confirmed that the reactor — and the computers that ran it — were free of potential errors.
Tom turned to his current partner with concern, noting that the worry hadn’t vanished from his features. “Everything is okay, now, right?” he asked quietly. “The reactor works and Alex isn’t killed?”
Connors gave a slight shrug. “I don’t know. I should’ve had contact with the Project by now, but no one has shown up to give me any updates.” He exhaled slowly. “I suppose that we'll have to keep an eye open and hope for the best.”
Tom nodded in agreement. One of the most annoying things about leaping was that sometimes, after doing everything you could do to fix a situation, the only thing left to do was wait. He looked at the watch on his wrist: ten minutes until test time. He and Connors had cut it close in getting the job done. He knew that Al and Doctor Garner had been with Bobby and Gooshie at the time of the incident, which was likely the only reason Adams hadn’t accused Calavicci of being responsible; Ross Adams was well-known for his attempts to remove Al from the project once and for all. As for Doctor Benckendorf… the report he’d read when he came back from vacation had said she'd vanished just after the incident and was nowhere near when the reactor overloaded and caused the cascade which had killed Alex.
Any further thoughts on the matter were halted by the reactor room's door opening and Doctor Garner stepping out, an extremely pleased look on his face.
“Doctor Benckendorf. Doctor Calavicci,” he greeted, showing his appreciation with his choice of words; by addressing Al as Doctor, he was acknowledging him as an equal. “I can't thank you two more than enough for all your help. If it hadn’t been for you, I never would have found those flaws and the reactor would've failed horribly. I have no doubt that the test will now be a great success.” He turned to speak directly to Tom. “We should hurry, Doctor. We’re already running late thanks to our last-minute inspection and I doubt that the Committee will be very pleased with any delays in the test.” Turning, he headed down the hallway, obviously expecting to be followed immediately.
While the two leapers knew that Doctor Benckendorf hadn’t been present the first time for the test, both men nonetheless followed Garner. The small group arrived at the test bay just as Doctor LoNigro was giving the Committee one final explanation of what would be occurring in only a few moments. Seeing the group enter the room, he smiled widely.
“Ah! And here is the architect of the reactor that runs the Interstellar Drive! Doctors Garner and Gushman, please explain the reactor to our guests before initializing the test of the ISD,” Bobby requested. Gaining compliance from the scientist, he moved to be beside Tom, giving him a slight frown.
“You’re late,” he grumbled, watching Gooshie and Alex regale the Committee with the technicalities of the reactor and how it powered the ISD. Both men noted how Ross Adams was present and took his place beside Max, who just gave the C.I.A. agent an uninterested glance.
“Couldn’t be avoided,” Tom replied quietly. “Had to help Doctor Garner with some final details.”
“Nothing wrong, I hope,” Bobby stated, a hint of worry in his voice.
“Just a brief inspection to make sure that there’s nothing wrong with the reactor.” Seeing the slightly surprised expression on the Professor’s face, Tom gave him a reassuring smile. “Relax, Bobby. Everything’s going to be just fine. I’ve got a really good feeling about this test.”
Bobby took his words to heart before returning to the small crowd of Senators. “So, lady and gentlemen… Are you ready to see history in the making? Please, for your safety, step behind that yellow line back there.” He gestured towards the door to the test bay. Once he was sure that all of the Committee members were within the safety zone, he smiled at his nephew. “Mister Chairman, would you care for the honor of giving Doctor Garner a countdown?”
Gord grinned back at his uncle before raising his voice to be heard. “Doctor Garner, are you ready?” Gaining an affirmative to the question, he counted, “Ten… nine… eight… seven… six…”
“Five… four… three… two… one,” Tom quietly counted down with the Senator.
The entire group looked up at the lights as they flickered, a feedback from the activation of Garner's reactor. A low hum gradually grew louder before settling on a single pitch as the Interstellar Drive came to full capacity, proving that the experiment was a great success.
A resounding applause filled the room even as the drive slowly cycled down to a stop.
Gord went up to his uncle and shook his hand. “Congratulations, Professor!” He gestured to the other Committee members, who were gathering around Doctors Garner and Gushman to gain further insight to the remarkable technology they’d just witnessed. “I’d say you made one hell of an impression on the others. I have a feeling that you’ll be getting that funding that you need to continue your work here.”
Deciding to allow Bobby, Alex, and Gooshie their well-deserved praise, Tom slipped to the back of the room, noting that Adams was leaving the test bay without a single word. Probably going to write a report to his superiors, the Captain thought with a hint of derision. He’d never liked nor trusted the man, especially since he never found out who his superiors really were. All thoughts of Adams quickly left his mind as he again caught sight of his current partner, who regarded the celebrations in the test bay with an air of satisfaction.
“Looks like we did it,” Tom commented.
Max merely smiled. “President LoNigro will be very pleased.”
Tom blinked, unsure that he’d heard Connors correctly. “Sorry… President who?”
“Gordon LoNigro,” Connors replied, gesturing with his head to the Senator who would be President.
Tom's head was still spinning from this new information when he began to feel the tendrils of energy that indicated that he was about to leap. Glancing towards Connors, he was surprised to see a green and yellow electrical haze starting to envelop the other leaper. A moment later, Tom and Max disappeared into the temporal nexus, leaving a very confused Albert Calavicci and Gwendolyn Benckendorf.
“This calls for a celebration!” Bobby announced. “Shall we all enjoy a glass of champagne?”
Neither of the former leapees argued against his words as everyone followed him out of the test bay, though one would later be furious to discover that she had somehow voluntarily undid all of her hard work at sabotaging the project and failed to kill Professor Sebastian LoNigro.
Even as he felt his consciousness reassembling itself within the quantum void, Tom was still contemplating how much of an impact that the successful launch of the Interstellar Drive and saving Dr. Garner’s life would have on history. He had found it particularly disturbing that neither Bobby nor Albert in the future came to either of the leapers’ aid during their previous leap to Star Bright. Tom couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that something bad had happened in the future that prevented them from showing up — other than Hawkins taking over, that is — and that history had irrevocably changed in some unforeseeable way. The fact that Gordon LoNigro was involved in each of the last three consecutive leaps couldn’t have been a coincidence either and the leaper began to wonder if perhaps Gord’s existence had caused some sort of chain reaction. Would he encounter him again this time?
As the electrical energy of the leap-in began to subside, Tom noticed that he was standing in the middle of an open doorframe. The positioning of his body indicated to him that he had just entered a building. As if in confirmation, he looked out the door behind him only to see a thick gray fog outside. The Navy captain had traveled all over the world, experiencing many different types of environments, but he couldn’t remember ever seeing something quite as mysterious as what he was seeing now. Shrugging his shoulders, Tom didn’t dwell on it too much as he fully entered the main hub of the building.
The first thing he saw as he looked around at his surroundings was the large shelves of books lining the walls directly to each side of him, with a small handful of people sitting at a few wooden tables, either reading or taking notes. The large open space in front of him led to a huge mahogany table where a mysterious older bearded man was sitting. On the table in front of this man was a stack of hardcover books and a lamp off to the side with a chain that turned it on and off. “This looks like a library,” Tom whispered. Feeling himself inexplicably drawn toward the older man, he began walking in his general direction, not noticing the young woman crossing in front of him. As they bumped into each other, the woman’s purse fell to the floor, its contents spilling out onto the floor below.
“Oh, dear. I’m so sorry,” the woman apologized.
“Please,” Tom replied, “if anyone should apologize, it’s me. I wasn’t really paying attention to where I was going.” Bending down to the floor to pick up her belongings, his eyes gazed upon a compact mirror, and his jaw dropped open as he saw a reflection he never expected to see: his own!
At a loss for words, all Tom could think of saying was, “Oh, boy!”
Time and place unknown
“Are you okay?” the woman asked, gathering up most of her belongings.
Tom still couldn’t believe what he was seeing. After twelve long years, the reflection he saw was his own. Not the reflection of his younger self as he had seen in a recent leap, but the reflection of his current sixty-year-old self. Which could only mean one of two things: either he finally leaped home (which he was fairly certain was not the case), or he had leaped somewhere in time as himself. “I’m just… not used to seeing my own… face,” he finally answered without thinking. He then laughed and added, “Sorry, that must sound pretty ridiculous.”
The woman smiled back and said, “Just a little. You should really look in a mirror more often! You could start losing touch with reality if you let too much time pass you by.”
“I’ll say!” Tom replied. As he stood back up to hand the mirror back to the woman, he finally got a good look at her and noticed that she looked vaguely familiar. She was a petite woman, appearing to be in her mid-twenties, with blond hair curled up into a bun. A vision flashed before the leaper’s eyes as he suddenly realized why she looked familiar.
A petite woman, in her mid-twenties, met him at the door. She had her blond hair in a bun and was wearing the ubiquitous housedress that was common for this timeframe. Tom smiled. “Margaret?”
“Hello, Steve." 1
Tom gasped and nearly stumbled backward in shock as the woman asked with concern, “Are you sure you’re all right? You’re looking at me as if you’d seen a ghost!”
“Y-you’re Margaret Thompson,” Tom stammered, “aren’t you?” He seemed to remember something about her and… Senator Joseph McCarthy? “W-what are you doing here?”
“Margaret?” the woman asked in confusion. “You must have me confused with someone else. My name is Melissa.”
“M-Melissa?” Tom stated more than asked. His mind was racing with confusion.
“Melissa Bancroft,” she clarified.
Another memory flashed before him:
He was in a garden filled with family and friends in folding chairs, all facing towards him. He himself was adorned in his dress whites, a complement of fellow Navy officers — his closest friends — to his left. Directly next to him was his little brother Sam, decked out in a black tuxedo. Across the pavestone aisle was his little sister Katie, resplendent in a flattering rose-colored dress that matched what all the other women on that side were wearing.
“At least she won’t have to change her monogrammed towels,” Sam teased just as the bridal march began.
And then she appeared. A raven-haired beauty in a simple but elegant white dress. And Lieutenant Commander Thomas Beckett was, right at that moment, the happiest man on Earth.
As for Captain Thomas Beckett, he was finding it very hard to breathe, the memory of his beloved late wife — But I’m not married! Never have been! — overwhelming him.
Melissa — or Margaret; Tom still didn't know which one was the truth — was more concerned than ever about the stranger before her. Taking his arm, she guided him to the nearest chair and helped him to sit. “I’m going to get you some help. Stay right here,” she instructed before moving away hurriedly, not giving Tom any time to protest.
With the woman gone to retrieve the assistance that she insisted Tom needed, the ex-SEAL took the time alone to look around and attempt to gather his wits. It didn't help his state of mind in the least when he noticed the two men sitting at a table nearby, both in an intense but quiet discussion. It wasn’t what they were talking about that caught his attention — something about “sliding” between different realities — but rather their faces. He knew he'd seen them before on two separate occasions. The names Johnny Roberts and Pete McKinnon flitted through his mind. He knew that the names were right for the faces, but the men kept calling each other Quinn and Colin.
Before he could ponder on the inconsistency further, Melissa returned with a medium-built, blond-haired man. Once again, a memory invaded his mind:
Tom headed towards the back lot and passed the rec room. He glanced in and saw that Henry was alone, rolling a cue ball on the pool table and grabbing it when it rolled back to him. Henry kept repeating this action and Tom stepped inside.
“Something on your mind, Henry?”
Henry looked up at him and shrugged, returning to his ball rolling. “Just thinking about what Donnie said.”
“You, uh, you thinking about trying to get to know some of the transients, then?” Tom asked, hoping the uneasiness he felt was centered around his lack of knowing when Henry would be put in danger and not due to anything else. If only Bobby would show up.
“Maybe.” Henry rolled the ball again, but this time when it rolled back to him, he picked it up and looked at it. “Frank, do you think I have an attitude problem?”
Tom hesitated, choosing his words carefully. “I think you have some… anger issues, particularly where Albert is concerned.”
Henry sighed and dropped the cue ball. “He just… brings out the worst in me and I don’t know why.” 2
“Henry Voorhies?” Tom questioned with a frown.
The man glanced at Melissa with a patient look. “Yes. I see what you mean. I'll take care of him, Melissa. You get on home.” He waited for the woman to give him an acknowledging nod and leave before returning his attention to Tom. “Hello. I'm Doctor Fagerstrom, but you can call me Armas.”
“Fagerstrom…” Tom muttered with a frown, once again wondering why the name and the face didn't match.
“Armas,” the young man known as Fagerstrom continued. “Melissa tells me that you’re a little lost. It’s perfectly natural to feel a bit confused in this place. Bobby should be able to clear up some things for you.” He helped Tom to his feet and started to guide him to the main desk.
Tom did a double take upon hearing that name. “Bobby?”
Fagerstrom pointed back toward the main desk and affirmed, “The Professor. That’s what everyone calls him. He’s got a lifetime’s worth of knowledge to impart. He is the curator of this place after all.”
As Tom looked back over to the bearded Professor, he couldn’t help but feel that this most definitely was not a normal leap.
The two men approached the desk, one with a gentle smile and the other still wearing confusion on his features.
“Bobby, this gentleman… What’s your name?” Armas questioned the leaper.
“Tom. Tom Beckett.”
Armas smiled at the introduction. “Tom here is a bit lost, if you know what I mean. I figured you were the right man to help him out.” Giving the two a wave of the hand, he left them to get to know each other.
“Pleased to meet you, Tom,” the Professor extended his right hand towards Tom’s. “I’m in charge here. Everyone calls me Bobby.”
Extending his right hand in return, Tom asked curiously, “Your name is Bobby?”
“Robert,” the Professor replied with his formal name.
“It’s not LoNigro, by any chance, is it?”
“No,” Robert answered, as he curled up the corner of his lips in a smirk. “Not LoNigro.”
“It’s funny because I seem to remember meeting someone named Armas Fagerstrom, and Fagerstrom’s not typically a surname you hear every day. Neither is Voorhies, for that matter. But I also happen to know a Bobby. Well… I mean, technically it’s Sebastian but he likes to be called Bobby.”
“It’s a pretty common name, you know,” Robert said matter-of-factly. “Bobby, that is.”
“Right, but not Fagerstrom,” Tom said before continuing. “And interestingly enough, my Bobby has got the same type of graying beard you have. And he was also a Professor… at M.I.T., no less.”
“M.I.T.,” Robert said as he pursed his lips in intrigue. “That’s rather impressive. Takes a lot of brains to get accepted into one of the finest institutions in this country. Good for you!”
“Oh, not me. My younger brother! He was the genius in the Beckett family, completed four years of college in only two. Youngest ever to graduate summa cum laude,” Tom responded with regret.
“Mmm. Sam must have been incredibly gifted to finish his education so quickly.”
Nodding with pride, Tom added, “Supposedly had the kind of brain that comes along once in a generation, maybe even several…” before realizing what Robert had just said. “Wait a minute… I didn’t tell you his name. You knew Sam?”
“Not personally, but my colleagues have had many encounters with him in the past… or future. Well, at least they did in another lifetime, another reality. Time and space can be a funny thing here.”
“And where — and when — is ‘here’?” Tom asked, quickly growing frustrated with the man speaking in riddles.
“‘When’ is somewhat relative according to each individual traveler. Time is not ‘linear’ as you normally perceive it. As for the ‘where,’ this place goes by many names. Some theologists refer to it as the Akashic Records. I prefer to simply call it the Archives: a nexus of sorts for those who have lost their way. I have been tasked with documenting everything that occurs. Travelers tend to make their way here as they are about to approach an important crossroads in their journey.”
“Travelers?” Tom asked, unsure of what Robert meant by that term.
“Leapers who have become displaced from their reality, much like yourself. Fate’s wide wheel has an infinite number of directions it can spin through Time, through life… or death. But even when the direction gets altered in a seemingly irrevocable way, Fate has a way of ‘course-correcting’ itself to ensure the ones who travel within it will find the resources they need to recreate or alter their ‘correct’ path accordingly. The choices and actions they make after leaving here are meant to affect the course of history in ways that might not seem so significant but will ripple outward like a pebble being thrown into a river. It’s a phenomenon some like to call a ‘butterfly effect.’”
Upon hearing that phrase, Tom’s mind suddenly flashed back to a conversation he once had with the good Professor LoNigro during their time at the Star Bright Project.
Tom noticed his mentor’s sudden blank expression and queried, “Something wrong, Professor?”
“Not really,” Bobby clarified, “just my mind running away from me a little, I guess. Whenever I think about the String Theory that your brother and I worked out in ’73, I can’t help but wonder what our lives would be like if things had happened differently.”
“Like Sam’s death?” Tom asked sadly.
“That’s obviously a given. But let’s say something not as catastrophic, like… well, take you, for example. Where would your path in life have taken you if Logan hadn’t injured you back in ’69?”
“I’ve thought about that sometimes. If I hadn’t had to go through those months of physical therapy, I would have shipped off to ’Nam as scheduled. Might have led a different operation… Perhaps we’d all have been killed in an ambush… or brought some of our P.O.W.s home earlier….” Tom trailed off before he shook it off and said, “Where is all of this coming from all of a sudden?”
“Just waxing nostalgic,” Bobby replied honestly. “Chaos theory centers on random occurrences that don’t always seem significant at the time.”
Now it was Tom’s turn to ask for clarification. “Chaos theory?”
“Sorry, Tom. Sometimes I forget that your brain is not as scientifically inclined as mine. No offense.”
“None taken,” Tom smiled reassuringly as Bobby continued.
“Chaos theory dictates that complex natural systems obey certain rules but are so sensitive that small initial changes can cause unexpected final effects, thus giving an impression of randomness,” Bobby recited from memory. “It’s a phenomenon some like to call a ‘butterfly effect.’”
“Butterfly effect,” Tom whispered. “You’re talking about time travel!”
“Indeed, I am,” Robert clarified. “To put it simply, the time continuum has been disrupted, which has created a new temporal event sequence resulting in the alternate reality that you have existed within since 1973.”
Tom’s brain felt like it was about to explode. “Okay. Now would you mind repeating that in a language that a lower lifeform like me can understand, please?”
Robert smirked and replied, “In 1973, the past was altered in a way that shifted your trajectory along the wheel of fate. As a result, you’ve been displaced in an alternate reality since then.”
“My brother!” Tom realized. “Sam was never supposed to die, was he?”
“An excellent deduction, Tom,” Robert responded. “Everything that has occurred both before and after that fateful night on August eighth, 1973, has been a result of Sam’s tragic death at the hands of the woman known as Logan Lanning.”
Thinking on that statement for a few seconds, Tom responded. “‘Before and after’? What do you mean by that?”
Robert took a moment to gather his thoughts before responding to the complicated question. “It might be best if you read the information for yourself.” He moved over to a particular bookshelf and pulled down a large tome, carefully placing it on a nearby table before inviting Tom to take a seat in front of it. “Mind you, not everything in here is for your eyes but I’ve bookmarked the important pages.”
Tom frowned slightly at the large volume before him, noting the title on the cover. “‘The Chronicles of Dr. Samuel Beckett’? What is this? My brother’s biography?”
“In a way,” Bobby told him. “Go on. Read the bookmarked pages.”
Tom read the book as indicated, confusion playing on his features as he did so.
Robert watched the ex-SEAL’s expression shift with every word that he read, waiting to see how the man would react in the end. When Tom finally closed the book and looked at him, the Professor gave him a small nod at the stunned expression on his face. “If not for Samuel’s death, he would have continued living on for many more years eventually completing his own version of Project Quantum Leap — or Project Chrono-Leap as you know it — and subsequently leaping through time, putting right what once went wrong. Through special circumstances, he would have leaped as far back as the Civil War in 1862 and freed a slave named Isaac King, whose descendent would have gone on to make a tremendous impact on the twentieth century, to as far forward as 2034 to change the fates of his own descendants in the future. A whole chronology of leaping events along the string of the Beckett bloodline snuffed out in Sam’s prime by a woman who never should have been introduced into his leaping cycle to begin with.”
“Well, then how the hell did she cause so much havoc?” Tom asked a bit angrily.
Thinking again for a minute, Robert simply said, “A rogue leaper, someone who mistakenly believed that it was their mission to single-handedly put a stop to Sam’s destiny by any means necessary; someone who succeeded in removing Sam as a threat, realizing too late that they were wrong.”
Tom thought about what the Professor told him and shook his head in disbelief. “You know, somehow, in the back of my mind, I always knew something felt… wrong about the life I was living since Sam’s death. Now I know it wasn’t just in my head.”
“All the more reason that history needs to be restored to the way it once was,” Robert stated.
“Okay, so I go back to 1973 and stop Logan from killing Sam,” Tom said.
“Unfortunately, it’s not that simple anymore,” Robert replied sadly. “Because of the nature of the time paradox that was created, all of Sam’s prior leaps have also become undone due to his death. As a result, specific catalysts in the chain of events leading up to his death have also changed accordingly. For example, you shouldn’t even be alive, believe it or not. Sam saved you from an ambush in 1970, a mission you would have led had you not been injured by Logan. But Logan shouldn’t have injured you to begin with. Her presence in Elk Ridge was made possible because of an incursion made by another leaper earlier in history, one that caused a ripple effect in time and affected other leaps as well. The paradox was so severe that it theoretically should have destroyed the space-time continuum. The only reason it didn’t was because my colleagues — Alberto, Esther, and others — have used their collective energy to sort of ‘bridge’ that reality with this new one. Their ‘life forces,’ for lack of a better term, are holding everything together by a thread.”
“Alberto? Esther? ‘Life forces’?” Tom asked, shaking his head from side to side. “Who exactly are you people anyway? Are you all… dead?”
“Well, everyone dies some time, Tom. Some of us ‘died’ a very long time ago and some haven’t yet died, depending on how you view time.” Seeing the frown on the Captain’s face, he sighed. “The point is, Tom, that my colleagues can only keep space-time from unraveling for so long before it will inevitably collapse on itself and reality as we know it will cease to exist. In order to ensure that reality is restored to a world with Sam Beckett, all the elements that led to a world without Sam Beckett must be removed before they had a chance to influence the flow of history. And to do that, we need someone to remove those elements for us. We cannot do it ourselves.” Robert took a breath and looked into the ex-SEAL’s eyes firmly. “We need you, Tom Beckett, to do this for us.”
“Me?! But… how?”
“You’re going to need help. Another leaper will assist you, someone who has made a serious mistake that needs to be corrected. While he corrects his mistake, you must correct another, causing a paradox which will effectively unravel this reality and lay the groundwork for a new reality that most closely resembles that of the original.”
“Whoa, whoa, hold the phone,” Tom interrupted again. “You’re saying that in order to repair the original paradox, we need to create another paradox so that the two can cancel each other out? And what will happen to me and this other leaper once we create this new paradox?” Tom asked fearing that he already knew the answer.
“The two of you will cease to exist in your current reality,” the Professor confirmed. “However, if all goes according to plan, you will be reborn in the new reality and have no memory of these events.”
“‘If all goes according to plan?’” Tom repeated. “How do you even know for certain that this will work?”
Robert looked on him solemnly and simply said, “Because it must.”
As Robert spoke, Tom felt the familiar tingle preparing to pull him back into the time stream. “Wait… not yet. You need to tell me what to do! Who’s this other leaper who’s going to help me?”
“You will know all that you need to know,” the Professor replied. As Tom felt the blue-green light wash over him, he vanished.
Stallion’s Gate, New Mexico
Friday, May 11, 2007
Maxwell Connors felt himself being pulled back to the Project with much more force than he recalled feeling when he first leaped out. He had expected there to be a greenish haze to the energy field but was surprised when it began taking on a more violet-type tone before dissipating. When his vision came back into clear view, he saw that he was back in the Accelerator Chamber right where he had remembered being when he was first sent out. Looking down, he could see that he was wearing a skin-tight Fermi suit that was now a darker shade of gray. A wave of dizziness and exhaustion overcame the leaper as he collapsed in a heap onto the floor of the chamber.
The door opened to reveal two men in military fatigues rushing in to help Connors stand up again. Standing on either side of him, they wrapped his arms around the back of their necks to support most of his weight and began to drag him back into the main Control Room. As Max looked around the colorful room, he noticed that the architecture had changed from the time of his departure a few hours earlier. While he could still see Gooshie standing behind the main control console, he now held a more serious expression on his face. Looking up from the programmer’s position, Max had expected to see the blue orb of ALPHA but instead now saw a much larger oval-shaped dome that took up the entire ceiling with cables extending out of it into the wall above and behind where Gooshie stood. Finally, standing off to the side of the room was Gordon LoNigro, his confident posture giving off an air of authority.
“Well done, Doctor Connors,” Gord proclaimed. “Our temporal analytics confirm a one hundred percent causality outcome. The mission was a complete success.”
Still struggling to shake off the disorientation he was feeling, Dr. Connors was trying to make sense of his now conflicting memories. “E-everything seems different… Why can’t I remember anything?”
“Not to worry, Doctor, it’s a normal side-effect after returning from a quantum incursion. The success of your training mission proves that you are the right man for this position. Congratulations, Doctor Connors! You are now the new Head Jumper for Project Butterfly.”
“P-Project… Butterfly?!” Connors exclaimed. “What happened to the name Chrono-Leap?”
Now it was Gord's turn to look confused. “I’m not sure what you’re talking about, Doctor.”
Suddenly, a deep yet familiar voice emanated from seemingly every direction. “I believe I may be able to alleviate much of Doctor Connors’ confusion. If you would, Gordon, please escort our new Jumper into the Regeneration Chamber so that I may speak with him directly.”
“As you wish,” Gord affirmed, simply nodding his head in compliance. “Come with me, Doctor Connors.”
Not understanding anything that was going on in the complex, Connors remained silent and followed the man — who he last knew as the President of the United States — through the adjacent doorway. The corridor seemed to wrap itself around the perimeter of the Control Room before stopping at another door. With a metallic whirring sound, the circular door opened in an outward spiral revealing a large room filled with an almost maze-like array of cables — the same cables that were extending out from the Control Room walls.
“Go on,” Gord reassured. “I’ll be waiting right here when you’re done speaking with him.”
“Speaking with whom?” Connors asked nervously, not sure he was going to like the answer.
“Don’t be absurd, Maxwell,” answered Gord, now a little more than irritated with the man. “The creator of the LoNigro Organic Temporal Hybrid Operating System has neither the time nor patience for your games. He’s already extremely busy calculating the causality outcomes for your next assignment. Don’t piss the man off. His temper is a lot worse than mine.”
Connors frowned at Gord's words but nonetheless entered the room, glancing backwards to see the door close behind him. The room was vast and there were a collection of wires running along the ceiling from every direction into a central hub that included what appeared to be a glass enclosure filled with a layer of thin white smoke.
“Approach the hub,” the deep voice ordered, prompting the leaper to obey.
As Connors came closer, he could see more details of what was in the glass enclosure. Slowly, a figure could be seen strapped to what appeared to be some sort of medical table. The resemblance however ended there as the leaper could see that the wires which had led to the glass enclosure went further in and ended at the figure which he could now see was a human male. Max looked closer, studying the figure before realizing just who was in the enclosure.
“This can’t be!” Connors exclaimed. “Bobby, what’s happened to you?”
“Bobby?!” the voice of Dr. LoNigro shouted seemingly from all directions, almost insulted by the usage of the name. Max could hear the voice, but the words were not being emitted from LoNigro’s mouth. “No one has called me by that name in at least a decade. The man you remember as Sebastian Robert LoNigro died when the computer implants took over. I am simply known as LOTHOS now: the LoNigro Organic Temporal Hybrid Operating System.”
“But I don’t understand…” Max continued, his brain severely magnafluxed due to the sudden drastic changes to the timeline.
“It would appear as if your memories have yet to realign themselves with the new history you have helped to create,” LOTHOS clarified before adding with a hint of a chuckle, “Fascinating how the act of quantum jumping can skew the perspective of a time traveler’s own reality. Tell me, what is the last thing you remember before I pulled you back to this project?”
“I leaped — err, jumped — back to the Star Bright Project. My mission was to ensure the success of the Interstellar Drive, which I did… I think.”
“On whose authority?” LOTHOS curiously inquired.
“G-General Hawkins,” Max stuttered in confusion. “He was the liaison for President Gordon LoNigro, y-your nephew.”
“Ah, so that is the timeline you originated from. Interesting,” LOTHOS responded thoughtfully. “It is no wonder your memories are still fluctuating. In your reality, Gordon did not become President-elect until 2004. The successful launch of the Interstellar Drive in 1990 had a tremendous global impact that neither one of us could have ever anticipated at the time.”
“What do you mean?” Connors asked, his mind now spinning with conflicting pieces of data from the past fifteen plus years.
“For one thing, that launch kicked the Strategic Defense Initiative and Gordon’s political career into overdrive, leading to his election to the Presidency in 1992 — practically won by a landslide. When the Soviet Union collapsed, effectively ending the Cold War, the United States became the one and only supreme power in the world. The technological advances the LoNigro bloodline brought to the world were unmatched by any other nation.”
“But that doesn’t explain how you became…” Max gestured toward the quantum physicist’s body connected to dozens of electrical cables, “… this thing!”
“You can thank Doctor Benckendorf for that.”
“Gwendolyn? The woman I leaped into at Star Bright? I don’t see how —”
“Her real name was Zoë Malvison. She was a saboteur sent by a crazed scientist named Nathaniel Lothoman to infiltrate the project. Her primary goal was to sabotage the Interstellar Drive and create a malfunction. I was the intended target — or rather, the man I used to be, Sebastian LoNigro. The plan was for ‘me’ to get vaporized during the initial test run and make it look like an accident. What Zoë had not anticipated was the interference of Doctor Alexander Garner, the creator of the ISD’s quantum reactor. In the original history, he had made some minor last-minute adjustments and took the full brunt of the blast instead. It is safe to say that, if not for his presence, history might have turned out very differently and there never would have been any time travel project to begin with. The only other individual who could have possibly carried on my work was my young protégé from M.I.T.: Sam Beckett. Unfortunately, he has been dead for over thirty years.”
“I still don’t see how —“
“Patience, Doctor Connors!” LOTHOS reiterated. “In order to fully understand how this current timeline came to be, you need to first know the details of how history originally unfolded. As I was beginning to explain, Samuel Beckett was one of Doctor LoNigro’s most prized and gifted students during their tenure at M.I.T. A year before Mister Beckett’s untimely demise, he had met Nathaniel Lothoman, who was also a student attending M.I.T. at the time. Although they had only spoken to each other a few times over the 1972 Spring semester, it was enough to get Nathaniel interested in finding out more about Sam’s incomplete theories surrounding time travel. When Doctor LoNigro took it upon himself to refine and perfect the String Theory that he and Sam Beckett had begun to conceptualize in 1973, Nathaniel Lothoman followed Doctor LoNigro’s work much more closely over the next decade and a half.
“Doctor Lothoman was so consumed and obsessed with becoming the first human to prove the existence of time travel that he relocated to England and built his own complex in the late seventies with the help of his lover, Zoë Malvison, and her father, Philip Braden. They followed Doctor LoNigro’s progress very closely throughout the 1980s, and when he won the Nobel Prize in 1985, that was the final ‘nail in the coffin,’ so to speak, for Lothoman. He decided right there and then that Sebastian LoNigro needed to be eliminated so as not to interfere with his plans for control over Time. So, in late 1989, he created false credentials for Zoë and sent her to infiltrate the Star Bright Project under the alias ‘Gwendolyn Benckendorf’ as a mole to acquire as much technology and information on SID, the System Interface Database, as she could before sabotaging the launch of the Interstellar Drive. But as I mentioned, the presence of Doctor Alexander Garner threw a small ‘wrench’ in the works, in a manner of speaking. If he had not been there to modify the ISD, Doctor LoNigro would have tested it like he was supposed to and been vaporized in the incident.
“Of course, what no one — not even Doctor LoNigro — realized at the time of the incident, was that Doctor Garner did not actually get vaporized. Interacting with the time-altering properties of the drive somehow caused Doctor Garner to jump forward in time approximately five years. He materialized within Lothoman’s project in the British Isles where Doctor Braden remembered him from when they both worked together back in 1959. Alexander was tortured for weeks until Lothoman got what information he needed from him. Garner was eventually murdered by Braden’s own hands. Zoë, in turn, murdered Doctor Braden when she discovered that he had been planning to use that information against them as well. By that time, Doctor LoNigro had succeeded in creating Project Chrono-Leap with the help of former Navy captain Albert Calavicci and Samuel’s older brother Captain Thomas Beckett. Once Lothoman acquired the information he needed from Garner, all that was needed at that point was a neural interface that he could use to integrate himself into the quasi-living hybrid computer that he had created in his own image — which coincidentally enough, he decided to name Lothos, though his choice was an abbreviation of his own name rather than my more appropriate acronym. The process that brought Garner forward in time was the final key they needed to begin sending ‘leapers’ back into the past and begin altering events. Project Chrono-Leap was the only obstacle that stood in their path, so Lothoman sent Zoë to Project Chrono-Leap. Given that no one had ever put two and two together and connected her prior involvement with the ‘incident’ that presumably ‘killed’ Doctor Garner, she retained her previous alias as Gwendolyn Benckendorf in order to be hired onto the project. She once again attempted to eliminate Doctor LoNigro by sabotaging his Chronoton Accelerator. In that particular timeline, however, Captain Tom Beckett volunteered to be the test subject.”
Oh my God! Max thought. Zoë was responsible for trapping Tom in the past? Bobby had always blamed himself for what happened to Tom!
“As you were aware in that timeline, Captain Tom Beckett was trapped in the past ‘leaping’ back and forth within his own lifetime for over a decade. Amazing that, in all that time, out of the hundreds of lives he impacted over the course of his journey, he never once managed to land anywhere close to the one moment he truly wished to change — the death of his younger brother at the hands of a serial killer.
“Captain Beckett’s greatest contribution to the current timeline was when he leaped back to 1946 and saved the life of Doctor LoNigro’s nephew, Gordon, which set off a chain reaction that effectively began unraveling everything. The existence of Gordon LoNigro has had a tremendous impact on the chain of events that led to my creation. With each subtle change to Gordon’s life, a ripple effect occurred that made it possible for him to advance his political career and become more involved with his uncle’s work, especially Project Star Bright. In that timeline, you had been recruited to replace Tom Beckett as the head leaper for Project Chrono-Leap. The research you were conducting at the Genesis Experiment during the early eighties gained the attention of Gordon to the point that he reached out to you personally to contribute additional funding to further your research into cellular regeneration. You, in turn, backed his Presidential campaign in 2004.
“Once you ‘leaped’ back to 1990 and ensured the successful launch of the ISD, Lothoman’s and Zoë’s plot to kill Doctor LoNigro failed miserably. In this new timeline, Zoë was exposed as a spy, detained and interrogated, though she could not account for her sudden change of heart in her attempted sabotage. The attempt on LoNigro’s life was something that Gordon obviously did not take lightly. His high position as a Senator gave him pull with the United States government to treat Zoë as an enemy of the state, and she was eventually tried and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. She was placed in a prison so deep that Nathaniel Lothoman could not reach her. After Gordon was elected in 1992, one of his first acts in office was to track and hunt down Nathaniel Lothoman. Of course, being the brilliant and devious man that he was, he managed to elude capture for quite some time. After a few failed attempts and decoys, U.S. Navy intelligence finally managed to pinpoint the exact coordinates of Lothoman’s island complex. One of the nation’s largest air strikes was assembled and his complex was blown to kingdom come.
“After the fallout subsided, an extraction team was sent into the debris to confirm that Nathaniel Lothoman was indeed exterminated. His body was positively identified, along with an even greater discovery. Doctor Lothoman was apparently much further along with his neural implant technology than anyone had realized. On the orders of President Gordon LoNigro, this technology was salvaged and brought back to the States so that his uncle could study it and see how it could be used. By that time, most of the Star Bright Project had been reconfigured into a new government-approved project codenamed Project Butterfly. Doctor LoNigro was designated as the Head of this new project and was given full funding for him and Doctor Garner to conduct their experimentation into faster-than-light travel that would enable the bending of not only space, but of Time itself.
“Unfortunately, destroying Lothoman’s complex led to unforeseen global consequences. Because his complex was technically on British soil, the United Kingdom saw what they considered an unprovoked assault as an act of war on the part of the United States, accelerating the beginning of World War Three. Both Doctor LoNigro and President LoNigro felt pressured to use whatever means necessary to ensure that Project Butterfly would not become a casualty of the war, so against Doctor Garner’s advice, Sebastian began integrating Lothoman’s untested neural implant technology into his own hybrid computer: the LoNigro Organic Temporal Hybrid Operating System — or LOTHOS for short — using himself as the host. All to protect and ensure his nephew’s continued success and to end the war once and for all.
“What you see now is the result of that integration. The best and brightest segments of Sebastian LoNigro’s consciousness became one with the hybrid computer. This unique configuration has allowed me to be able to perceive the slightest variations and anomalies in the quantum field and calculate with nearly one hundred percent accuracy what actions a quantum jumper must take to create the best possible outcome. Not only has this enabled me to alter the past, but it has also enabled me to successfully predict the future. Because of this, the United States very quickly defeated the United Kingdom and now, as a nation, the United Kingdom no longer exists. Ironic that Great Britain’s former subjects are now the ones who rule over their former subjugators.”
“Then… the war is over,” Max realized.
“Indeed,” LOTHOS confirmed. “The world powers are fully aware of my capabilities and understand that they must ‘toe the line’ to avoid repercussions. However, there is still more work to be done.”
“What more? You brought peace in our time. Surely, your work is done and you can now… separate from this and become… you… again.”
“I cannot. The integration is permanent.” Noting the disturbed expression on Connors’ face, LOTHOS continued. “There is no need to be morose, Doctor Connors. Sebastian LoNigro lost his humanity that day — one might even say his soul — but what was gained far outweighs the loss. The peace you spoke of, however, is temporary. Mankind is a dangerous animal. The world is still filled with violence, poverty and death. Mankind still dies from disease, hunger and murder. No, Doctor Connors, we have much more to do before we achieve true peace: a peace where man can live his life to his fullest without fear. Director LoNigro will settle for nothing less.”
“Director LoNigro? You mean the President?”
“Former President Gordon LoNigro. World War Three convinced him that the world needed to be restructured for the better.”
Max thought carefully on LOTHOS' words. It made sense. If mankind had achieved the peace he was talking about, Max would never have lost his father to cancer. Any further thought was disrupted by LOTHOS' continued explanation.
“To achieve the director's goals, certain things need to be changed in the past, and anyone who prevents the necessary changes must be stopped. Captain Thomas Beckett, specifically, is of great concern.”
“Tom Beckett? Why him? He's not dangerous. In fact, if it weren't for him, my mission would've failed.”
“He is a rogue element. We cannot predict what he will do or how it will affect our efforts. In addition, we are fully aware that, given the chance, he would prevent his younger brother's death. Should he succeed, the timelines would be irrevocably altered and the utopia we are working to bring about will never occur. We cannot allow that to happen.”
“Then, what do you suggest we do?”
“I have discussed the matter with Director LoNigro, and we have come to one single — but unfortunate — conclusion,” LOTHOS informed him. “To prevent rogue elements from interfering with our shaping of the world, all possible obstacles need to be removed.”
Connors raised an eyebrow at his words. “Meaning?”
“Meaning, Doctor, that Captain Thomas Beckett… must die.”
As the blue-green light washed over Tom, two lifetimes’ worth of memories flooded and overwhelmed his consciousness. Even before the world rematerialized around Tom, he knew with every fiber of his being that this would be his final leap. He would either accomplish what he had set out to do when he first stepped into Project Chrono-Leap’s Accelerator Chamber in the world he left behind or fail and be trapped within this warped reality that Sam’s absence caused. There would be no do-overs or second chances. He no longer had contact with Project Chrono-Leap and was now “displaced” from his original timeline, as the Professor explained. Regardless of the outcome, his intuition was telling him that his long journey was about to come to its end.
Feeling the quantum energy subside, Tom could immediately tell he was outdoors due to the sudden gust of warm air that blew in his direction. Looking around, the leaper could see an outcropping of trees with the sun peeking out in between them at a low angle in the sky, which told him that it was sometime in the late afternoon.
“Sheriff,” a nearby voice announced.
Instinctively, Tom turned around as he realized the voice was addressing him — or rather, the individual he had just leaped into. Spying his surroundings, he noticed the blinking lights of a nearby police vehicle and the yellow tape normally associated with a crime scene, which was keeping the crowd of curious onlookers on the other side.
“It’s not a pretty sight,” the voice, which belonged to a younger man wearing a deputy’s hat, continued. As Tom approached, he noticed several other investigators taking pictures and examining a body in a small ditch. The stench of death started to grip Tom’s senses and he knew all too well what he was about to see.
Lying in the ditch was the bloodied, mutilated body of a young blond-haired woman appearing to be in her early twenties, wearing a mini-skirt and revealing clothing. Her once beautiful face was now bludgeoned and barely recognizable while multiple gunshot wounds were spread out across her chest and lower torso. “Dear God!” Tom exclaimed in horror.
“Doc Harris says she was definitely beaten and probably raped before he shot her, though he can't be sure of that last part without an autopsy,” the deputy explained. “She fits the pattern of the previous victims. It’s gotta be Stiles!”
“S-Stiles?” Tom asked, thinking the name sounded familiar.
“That would bring the count to eight, Sheriff. We need to find this bastard before he kills a ninth!”
Lowering his head in disbelief, all Tom could say was, “Ah jeez….”
Pine County, Oklahoma
Wednesday, June 18, 1958
Tom stood over the body of the deceased woman and couldn’t help but feel the bile beginning to rise from the pit of his stomach. Granted, he had witnessed a number of casualties over the course of his long and illustrious military career, but even his prior experiences in Vietnam couldn’t prepare him for the sight he was now seeing. Small tears began to form around the corners of Tom’s eyes as he thought about the poor woman’s grisly fate. God, how could someone be so sick and cold-blooded?
“John?” the deputy asked. “Are you all right?”
Suddenly realizing that the other man had been trying to get his attention for the past few seconds, Tom shook his head and finally responded. “I’m sorry, Deputy…” Looking at the nameplate on the man’s shirt, he finished, “… Grimes. I just… can’t fathom the depths to which some people can sink, that’s all.”
“Well, Pine County ain’t ever seen anything this gruesome, that’s for sure,” Deputy Grimes replied. “When I heard that Stiles was last seen in Arkansas, I prayed to God the authorities would catch him before he killed again.”
“I know the feeling,” Tom reciprocated. “Do we have a positive I.D. on this poor woman?”
Deputy Grimes nodded his head in affirmation. “She was a prostitute, went by the name of ‘Brandy.’ Identification in her purse reveals her real name was Shannon Mahoney. Just turned eighteen on Monday. Cryin’ shame.”
“The other seven victims were prostitutes, weren't they?”
Grimes' eyes widened at his question. “Yeah, but that ain't news. John, you sure you're all right?”
“I’m fine,” Tom assured. Gazing on the body once again, he exhaled slowly, his thoughts running rapidly through his head.
He knew, thanks to remembering two timelines, that Logan had targeted Sam because she'd seen his face rather than Stiles' when she'd tried to kill Stiles during one of Sam's leaps. He also knew that Sam wasn’t the only one she targeted, that she'd done a few “look-alike” murders to try to draw her intended victim out in the open. So, why was she after Stiles in the first place? Because he'd hurt her. And since Stiles targeted Logan, she must be a prostitute in this time! In that instant, he knew exactly where he was, when he was, and what he was there to do. If he could prevent Stiles from hurting Logan then he’d prevent every murder she ever committed in her plot for vengeance against Stiles, thus saving Sam's life.
A tall thin man with receding gray hair cleared his throat on Tom's other side. “Sheriff Hoyt? Can we take the body now?”
Tom frowned slightly before realizing that his inaction was currently holding up the investigation. No doubt Doc Harris, whom he assumed was the local coroner who had disrupted his thoughts, would need to do an autopsy to verify the method of death. And his deputies needed a plan of action to catch Stiles before he killed again. Nodding his consent, he walked away from the body, going over to the nearest police car while the deputy allowed Doc Harris to do his unfortunate job.
Grimes soon followed him to the car as did the rest of the officers for an impromptu meeting. “So, what do we do now, Sheriff?” he questioned.
Tom bit his lip, looking at the officers who were obviously waiting for their orders while also again noticing the small crowd of onlookers. “First, send those people home. This is a crime scene, not a show.” He nodded with approval as one of the other deputies immediately went to obey the order. “Then, I want roadblocks set up to keep Stiles from leaving this area. He's likely trying to find his next victim, so we need to protect the prostitutes in the next town.”
One deputy, whose name was Allen according to his name badge, gave a derisive huff. “Protect whores?” he muttered.
Tom glared at him. “Yes, Deputy Allen. They're human beings too. Unless you want to explain your comments to Shannon Mahoney's parents. Speaking of which, do we know if Shannon had any living relatives?” he asked Grimes.
Grimes shook his head. “If she did, they don't live in Pine County. I'll have Debbie look into it, though. May take a couple of days.”
Tom nodded, understanding that records for prostitutes were usually not very well kept, especially for small towns. Reaching into the car's glove box, he located a map of the area and spread it open on the roof of the car, motioning the officers to surround the hood to look. “I want roadblocks at these four roads going into town.” He looked at the men surrounding him and picked one based strictly on gut instinct — or Hoyt's knowledge, though he wasn’t sure which. “Bradley, you’re in charge of that. And I want one officer to find each of the prostitutes in town and warn them to get off the streets.”
“Now that Brandy's dead, there's only two prostitutes in town that I know of,” an officer spoke up. His name badge identified him as Deputy Masters. “That'll be Lulu and Gina.” The other officers gave him odd looks at his words. He glared at them. “Just because I know their names doesn't mean I partake.”
“Deputy Masters just does his job, like the rest of you,” Tom stated, stopping speculation on Masters' off-duty activities. “Since you know them, Masters, you warn them. Anyone not on the roadblocks needs to be in town on the lookout for Stiles. Grimes is going to be the point man on this. If you see Stiles, don't approach him without backup. You get with Grimes and he'll get with me. I want this bastard caught today, got it?”
Getting nods from the men, Tom dismissed them to do their jobs and leaned against the car's hood, deciding his next course of action. He had no doubt that, so far, he'd only done what Sheriff Hoyt would've done in his place, which didn't change Logan's fate even slightly. He was missing something. Something that was right in front of him. Turning his head slightly, he saw Deputy Masters heading towards one of the police cars, a slight lost look in his eyes. Hurrying over to him before he could get into the car, Tom called out to him.
“Sheriff?” Masters looked at him with confusion.
“Masters, what were the name of those two prostitutes?”
“Prostitutes?” The confusion on Masters' face didn't vanish.
“Yes. Gina and… Lulu?”
The deputy looked to his right for a moment before returning his attention to Tom and nodding slightly. “Y… yes, sir. That's their names.”
“You wouldn't happen to know Lulu's real name, would you? I seem to recall that name.”
Masters gave him a small smile that somehow didn't reach his eyes. “Logan, sir. Logan Lanning.”
It's her! Tom realized. Of course! The last time we encountered her, she went by the name Lulu Logan!
“I can take you to her, sir, if you want,” Masters offered.
“Absolutely! Take me to her,” Tom replied emphatically as he got into the passenger side seat.
Masters smiled broadly as he again looked to his right before getting into the car and started to drive away from the crime scene.
This is almost too easy! Connors thought as he drove the police car. Before he had even entered the Accelerator, his objective had been clearly explained to him and it didn't take long, thanks to information from his Observer Gordon LoNigro, to locate his target. LOTHOS had locked onto the other leaper, identifying his host quickly and efficiently. All Connors had to do was get Tom Beckett alone where there would be no witnesses. The end result would be blamed on Leon Stiles, the mass murderer who haunted this part of the country in the late 1950s. Once Beckett was out of the way, LOTHOS would be free to alter history for the betterment of mankind without interference.
Beckett seemed intent on finding someone named Logan Lanning, a prostitute who went by the name of Lulu. Although LOTHOS didn't explain why, he deemed it necessary to prevent Tom Beckett from finding Logan at all costs and to stop him from any further interference. Connors knew LOTHOS had a far better grasp of the timelines and was picking the best actions to bring about the best outcome. He certainly didn't need a rogue leaper getting in the way.
And so, on the pretense of taking Beckett to Logan “Lulu” Lanning, Max Connors (under the guise of Deputy Larry Masters) drove in the opposite direction for five minutes before pulling over to the side of the road.
Tom frowned at his actions, instantly on guard. “Masters, what's going on?”
Max reached into his holster, pulled out his gun and aimed it directly at Tom's head. “Get out of the car,” he ordered.
Tom froze for a moment, clearly stunned by the sudden turn of events. “Masters, what the hell are you doing?”
“I said, get out!” came the shouted response. Max cocked the pistol to emphasize his words.
The veteran raised his hands in an attempt to calm his would-be deputy. “Take it easy. I'm getting out.” Slowly, he moved his right hand toward the car door handle. Before Connors could react, however, he quickly grabbed the gun in his hand and yanked it out of his grasp, inadvertently brushing their hands together. The world seemed to ripple as the quantum signatures canceled each other out, revealing each other’s identities.
Tom had turned the gun around and was now the one aiming it at Masters when he realized who was actually in front of him. “Connors?” he questioned in surprise.
Max lunged at him, wrapping his hands around Tom's throat and knocking the gun into the back seat as a result. Tom quickly put his arms between Connors' and forced them against his opponent's, causing him to release his grip. Then with a quick punch to throw Max further off balance, he bolted out of the car, needing to gain some distance. Seeing Tom bolt, Max scrambled to retrieve his gun from the back seat and hurried to follow only to find his rival standing a few feet from the car, aiming his own gun at him.
“Don’t move, Connors!” Tom told him firmly. “I don't want to shoot you, but I will if I have to.”
Max froze at his statement, noting that his opponent's aim was true. There was no way that he could even try to kill him without being killed himself. Slowly, he put his gun on the ground. “Go ahead and shoot me! Someone else will take my place. We’re not going to let you get away with it.”
“Get away with what?” Tom questioned, confusion clear in his voice.
“Destroying the timeline!”
“Destroying the timeline?! I'm trying to fix the timeline! A timeline you created! Because of you, the timeline became a tangled mess!”
Gordon LoNigro, Connors’ Observer who had been with him since his leap in at the crime scene, glared at the ex-SEAL. “He’s lying, Max! Pick up your gun and kill him!”
“LOTHOS knows what he’s doing!” Connors yelled at Tom. “You’re the reason the timelines are collapsing on each other, not me!”
“Lothos?!” Tom exclaimed. “As in that other project with Alia and Vaughn? You work for them?!”
“I work for Project Butterfly! The same project you betrayed by going rogue! You're keeping Director LoNigro from ensuring a better future for everyone!”
“Bobby sent you to kill me?! That doesn’t make sense! Why would he be working with Lothos?”
Connors glared at him. “Damn moron! Sebastian LoNigro IS LOTHOS! The LoNigro Organic Temporal Hybrid Operating System. He and Director LoNigro are going to change the world for the better! No more war, poverty, sickness… It'll be paradise!”
Bobby is LOTHOS? Director LoNigro? At last, all the pieces fell into place in Tom's mind. To achieve the paradise Max was talking about, the actions of every person on the planet would be controlled, the end of individual freedom. This was the universe he'd been sent to stop, a universe that contradicted what he'd been raised to believe, what he'd joined the Navy to fight against. And at the center of it all was a man who wouldn’t have even existed if Tom hadn't saved his life as a newborn infant. Tom was shocked and hurt by the revelation certainly. But mostly he was angry. He was furious, in fact! Gordon LoNigro had been given a wonderful gift and he used it to manipulate even his own uncle to gain more and more power. And Max Connors was letting himself be duped into compliance.
“You’re going to take orders from a man out for world domination?! Think about what you’re saying! Think about what you’re doing! The timeline changed right in front of you, didn’t it? How drastically did it change, Connors? How drastically will it change after you’re done with the mission LOTHOS sent you on? Is LOTHOS really making the world a better place for everyone or just for Gordon LoNigro?” He could see from the expression on Connors’ face that he had his doubts before he even arrived at this particular time and place.
Gord could see that Tom was getting through to Connors. “Don’t listen to him!” he shouted at the leaper. “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about! LOTHOS says he has to die or he’ll ruin everything!”
Slowly, Tom lowered his gun but still kept it ready in case he needed to defend himself. “I knew Bobby LoNigro very well, Max,” he said, almost as if he had heard Gord’s words. “And I’m telling you, this isn’t what he would have wanted. The Bobby LoNigro I knew wanted to change history for the better, not forcibly change humanity. He understood you can’t change all of humanity. But you can change one person. And one person can make a difference in the world.” He approached him carefully, noting that his rival was honestly listening to him. “You’ve made a terrible mistake in your past and it has to be fixed if we are going to fix the timeline back to the way it should be.”
“Don’t listen to him!” Gord insisted. “Why are you listening to him?!”
“Which is?” Max questioned Tom, himself wondering why he was actually listening to this man he was sent to kill, a man that LOTHOS called an enemy of humanity.
“My brother Sam. Time is collapsing because he was killed before his time. He was killed by Logan Lanning who, in a fit of madness, hunted down anyone who resembled my brother, thinking that my brother was Leon Stiles. Stiles raped her and nearly killed her but was finally arrested by the Sheriff’s Department.”
“And how is that my fault?” Max demanded.
“You prevented my brother from changing history when you leaped into Marshall O’Neil who was leading Stiles away from the courthouse to fulfill his consecutive life sentences. Sam had leaped into Stiles before you leaped into O’Neil. The interference from your leap in prevented my brother’s project from contacting him in time. Originally, Stiles was killed by Logan. Sam was there to save Stiles’ life by pointing her out to Marshall O’Neil and then taking a step back to let O’Neil do his job. Logan would have been taken away and given the mental health she needed. Instead, when you saved him from Logan, Sam also acted on instinct and helped you to stop Logan. She saw Sam instead of Stiles and became obsessed with killing him.”
“It’s lies, Max! It’s all lies!” Gord shouted. He looked up to the ceiling, talking to the creation that once was his uncle. “I’m trying, but he’s not listening to me!”
“So, we stop Stiles from hurting Logan and she doesn’t kill your brother and the timeline gets restored,” Connors concluded.
“Yes, but no,” Tom corrected. “The timeline will be restored if we stop Logan from being hurt by Stiles, but it’s a temporary fix. You’re still out there, Connors. Changing the timeline to save Sam doesn’t stop you — the other you in the renewed timeline — from trying to stop Sam from changing history. Eventually, you’ll do something else that causes Sam’s premature death and the timeline will again collapse on itself.” Tom lowered himself so that he was face-to-face with the other leaper. “You have to change your own history to prevent yourself from ever becoming a leaper and I think you know exactly how to do it.”
A flash of memory came to Max as Tom spoke, a remnant from a different timeline.
“No! Stop!” Connors shouted as the kaleidoscopic energy began to engulf his body. “You’ll ruin everything!”
“Connors!” Sam screamed as he grabbed him by the shoulders.
Connors struggled as hard as he could, as the energy maintained a yellowish glow and grew to a crescendo around both men. “Beckett! Whatever it takes, I won’t let you stop me! You hear me?” 3
“Second Genesis…” he murmured. “When Doctor Beckett tried to stop the accident, I leaped instead. My experiment in tissue regeneration failed and I blamed it on him. If I’d only not done the experiment in the first place…”
“No! You can’t! You’ll ruin everything!” Gord screamed.
Connors glanced briefly at his Observer and saw the lust for power in his eyes. In that moment, he understood exactly what Project Butterfly was about. He raised himself onto his feet, glaring at the man who once was President of the United States. “It was never about helping humanity, was it. It was about you maintaining power. You manipulated a good man, your own uncle, to get what you wanted. Tom’s right. Doctor Sebastian LoNigro, the one who ran Project Chrono-Leap, would never have condoned this. You used his project to twist time and change it to your own liking.”
“You’ve got it all wrong!” LoNigro stated, though panic was clear in his voice.
Connors chuckled slightly, a sickening sound that held no humor but rather hatred. “When Tom saved your life at childbirth… your survival, all the changes in time since then… it was all to show me my own errors. He’s right. It’s all my fault. If I hadn’t interfered with Sam Beckett, none of this would have happened.”
“No, Max! You’ve got to listen! Beckett’s tricking you!”
Connors shook his head. “No, Gord. It’s you who’s been doing the tricking. And it has to stop. Or rather, it should never have begun in the first place.” He turned to Tom. “You need to hurry. According to LOTHOS, Logan Lanning is going to be raped and beaten in about fifteen minutes and you are about ten minutes away from her. You’d better bring back-up. Stiles is armed. Good luck, Tom Beckett.” With that, Connors disappeared in a flash of yellow light, a confused Deputy Masters taking his place.
“Masters?” Tom questioned, drawing the other man's focus.
Masters looked at him with a slight frown, having regarded his surroundings for a long moment. “Sheriff? Don't mean to sound daft but… what are we doin' out here?”
Tom sighed with a hint of relief, pleased and certain that Maxwell Connors was on his way to fulfill his part in correcting time. “It's a long story, Deputy.” He thought back on the leap so far and realized that Connors must have leaped in just after Masters had informed the rest of the department of his familiarity with the local prostitutes.
Hurrying to the passenger's side of the squad car, he called to the deputy. “Masters, take me to Logan.”
“Logan?” Masters questioned, still trying to understand how he and Sheriff Hoyt were suddenly outside of town. “You mean, Lulu the prostitute?”
Tom gave a firm, authoritative look. “Hurry, Masters! We're running out of time!”
Masters hurried to the car and got into the driver's seat, figuring that the Sheriff had a better grasp of what was going on than he, with his muddled mind, did. Quickly buckling up, he sped into town, per Tom's orders, and headed to the rooms where he knew Lulu was staying.
The moment the car stopped, Tom bolted out of the vehicle, Masters rushing to follow his lead.
“Where?” the Captain demanded, looking up and down the street on which they parked.
“Just up those stairs, Sheriff,” Masters replied, pointing to the building across the way. It was an older building, one that had obviously once been a very nice apartment complex in what was currently the shopping district of the town. A still-elegant entrance greeted visitors to the apartments on the ground level while a set of wrought iron stairs in the alley to the right led to a balcony on the second level and another still elegant door. Time, however, had aged the building to the point where only those with limited income lived there. No doubt, in a small town as this, Gina and Lulu were neighbors and entertained their clientele there.
Tom ran across the street and started up the stairs, Masters in tow. A feminine scream came from the second floor and Tom pushed himself to get up the stairs faster, realizing the scream could only mean one thing: Stiles was up there attacking Logan. Drawing his weapon, Tom burst through the second-level entrance and found himself in a long corridor with doors on each side. Noticing that Masters was still behind him, he ordered the deputy to call for back-up, which prompted the man to hurry back down the stairs and to the squad car to obey the order.
Another scream helped Tom determine which door to go to. He hurried to the door and tried the handle. Finding the door was unlocked, he slammed the door open, startling the occupants and eliciting another scream.
Stiles reacted immediately to the sudden intrusion, turning towards the door in such a way that Lulu was in front of him, a gun to her temple. “Nobody do nothing! I'll kill her!”
Like hell, you will, Tom thought as he took careful aim. “Drop the gun, Stiles,” he ordered.
“No! You drop your gun!” the serial killer countered. “’Cause I'll kill her!” He gave a little twisted laugh. “Stupid whore deserves to die.”
The expression on Logan’s face changed immediately from scared to stunned to angry. Stupid?! Right at that moment, threatened with the real possibility of death — and not one to take an insult in stride — Logan “Lulu” Lanning decided that she wasn’t going to put up with anyone threatening or insulting her ever again. Raising her right foot, she slammed her three-inch high heel into Stiles' shin, causing the latter to scream and release his grip on her. She dashed out of the way as Tom hurried forward to subdue Stiles, placing handcuffs around his wrists.
Raising himself and his captive to their feet, the trained military officer quickly looked over Logan with concern. “You okay? Did he hurt you?”
Lulu shook her head slightly at his questions. “I'm fine, Sheriff. Just slapped me ’round a bit. Nothing I'd never been through before,” she assured. “Sure glad you showed up when you did, though. I don’t even want to think about what he might've done otherwise.”
Tom gave her a smile. “Just doing my job,” he replied before shoving Stiles in the back to get him moving towards the front door.
Three squad cars, including the one Tom and Masters had arrived in, waited at the bottom of the stairs, officers standing ready to assist their Sheriff if needed. Seeing that the illusive criminal was in the Sheriff’s custody, a round of applause filled the air while Tom guided Stiles to the nearest car and put him in the back seat.
Tom gestured for the applause to die down. “We still have work to do, boys. Let's get him behind bars where he belongs.”
The journey to the police station was a short one but it was also proof of how quickly news traveled in a small town as there were reporters waiting on their arrival. Tom let Grimes take over the impromptu question-and-answer session — apparently he was quite used to being the public relations person when it came to the press — and guided Stiles into the station. Passing a reception desk manned by a redheaded woman — whose nametag told him that her last name was Collins — the ex-SEAL forced Stiles into the nearest chair, which happened to be beside one of the deputies' desks. The deputy in question — Bradley — had come into the station behind him and stared at the criminal as if he were a snake about to bite him.
“Make sure he's booked,” Tom ordered the deputy. “Then get a hold of the Federal Marshall and let him know that we’ve got Stiles in custody.”
“Yes, Sheriff,” Bradley replied. He looked on Stiles again with wariness before pulling out the necessary paperwork.
Tom found Hoyt's office and slumped into the old-fashioned leather chair behind the desk, sighing with the relief that came from a job well done. Stiles was in custody and Logan Lanning was never raped. He frowned slightly as another thought flitted through his mind: If the timeline was restored to what was supposed to be, then why was he still there? Shouldn't he have leaped or fizzled or whatever would happen when timeline restoring paradoxes happened? What else was there to do?
He examined his desk for signs, noting the various photos that adorned the office. Three of them showed the person he assumed was his host in his youth — he'd had auburn hair when he was younger — with a beautiful blond woman and a small girl at various times of her life. There were two other photos that didn’t feature the blonde. The first showed the redheaded receptionist in full uniform, standing at attention with a proud gleam in her eyes. The second had Hoyt, Collins, and another man smiling at the camera. Tom noted that there was a sadness in Hoyt's eyes in the photo, something that hadn’t been there in the other pictures. Tom found himself relating to the emotion in those eyes and instantly realized what it meant. Hoyt had lost his wife — the blond-haired woman — some time ago, and Collins must be their daughter. The other man in the photos Tom assumed was likely Collins' husband, given that she and Hoyt didn’t share the same last name. A glance at the back of the frame confirmed Tom's supposition as he read, “‘Debbie and her Alan with me at the Pine County Fair, 1955.’ Well, at least Hoyt likes his son-in-law.”
A knock on the door drew his attention away from his thoughts, and the door opened to allow a head to peek in. It was Debbie, who gave a slight smile as she spoke. “Hey, Dad? Lulu Lanning's here. She brought in some homemade fudge from Anna's bakery and wants to see you.” Her smile grew slightly, teasing in her eyes. “You ain't up to no good now, are ya?”
Tom gave his best paternal glare as he headed towards her. “How could I with you watching my every move?” he questioned, teasing the young woman right back. Patting her shoulder, he followed her out of the office and walked over to Lulu who, as Debbie had said, was waiting for him near the reception/dispatch desk.
“What can I do for you, Miss Lanning?” Tom greeted amiably.
Lulu gave him a gentle smile at the greeting. “I just came by to thank you — all of you — for saving my life today. I heard about all those other women being killed and how the man who attacked me was the one who’d killed all the others and I thought about how close I’d come to being victim number nine and… well… I’m just really grateful, you know. I just don’t think words — and fudge — are enough. If there is anything — I mean anything — that I can do for y’all, you just tell me.”
Tom returned the smile at her words. “I appreciate that, Lulu. I really do. The best thing you can do for us is turn your life around. Do something other than… what you do… for a living.” He chuckled slightly. “You know, you had some pretty impressive moves against Stiles back there. Maybe you should go into law enforcement.”
“Me?! A cop?!” Lulu exclaimed.
Tom looked into her eyes. “Lulu… you can do anything you want — be anything you want — if you just put your mind to it. I only ask that, no matter what you do, you do it because it’s what you really want to do.”
She was quiet for a long moment as she thought on his words. “I’ll keep that in mind, Sheriff.” She started towards the door.
“Be careful out there, Lulu,” Tom called out to her.
She turned back, a determined expression on her face. “My name’s Logan, Sheriff. Lulu… well, she left town and ain’t ever coming back.” With that, she walked out the door.
As Logan exited the building, Officer Bradley was escorting Stiles into the back of the station and towards the prisoner cells. What happened next occurred so fast that no one in the station had time to react. The moment Bradley took the cuffs off Stiles to put him in the cell, Stiles grabbed Bradley’s gun and pushed him away before shooting him. He ran out of the cell block and into the main room, waving the gun at the officers there.
“Don’t nobody follow me!” Stiles ordered as he started for the exit.
Several officers, including Tom, drew their weapons and aimed them at Stiles. Stiles, in turn, started to shoot randomly, his bullets causing the officers to take cover and return fire. Unfortunately, their efforts to stop Stiles from escaping failed as he rushed out of the building. Tom pursued him but was too late as Stiles stole the nearest vehicle, speeding off.
“Damn it!” Tom swore before hurrying back into the building. He was determined to follow the escaped felon, but he needed the keys to a police car to do so. However, he was immediately stopped when he saw the results of the shootout. He could tell, even from a distance, that Masters was dead. Another form lay on the floor with a chest wound, the sight of which caused a knot in Tom’s gut. Hurrying over, he dropped to his knees.
“Debbie?” he called to the wounded woman as Deputy Allen put pressure on the wound.
She looked up at him, fear clear in her eyes. “Daddy… oh, God, Daddy! It hurts!”
“I know, baby,” Tom tried to assure. “I know.” Raising his voice, he ordered, “Someone call for an ambulance!”
He didn’t know who replied, “I’m on it, Sheriff!” but he was grateful that Hoyt’s officers were on top of the situation.
It was several very long minutes before medical personnel arrived to load Debbie Collins into the ambulance and rushed her to the hospital. In the meantime, Tom got a complete rundown on what had happened that had caused the deaths of Bradley and Masters. Grimes assured him that the rest of the department were going out to re-apprehend Stiles and that he’d keep the press off his back so that he could go to the hospital to be close to “his” daughter.
But even as he’d entered the hospital’s waiting room, a strange feeling came over him. It didn’t really feel like a leap. No, this was far better. It was a wondrous feeling and Tom couldn’t help but feel happy even in the middle of the tragedy around him. And suddenly, he understood why. Closing his eyes, he opened his arms and embraced the change that was coming. Certainly, there was pain and suffering all around him, but the universe was about to get much, much better.
In a blinding flash of pure white light, reality shifted one last time, almost as if millions of crystalline shards of glass reassembled into a completed image. Blue tendrils of quantum energy enveloped two points of the restored timeline. at an almost hyper fast-forward effect, as leaper and Observer blinked back into existence, having been pulled back into the proper timeline.
July 20, 1972
As the yellow glow subsided, Max had fully expected his vision to become clear but was surprised to find much of everything still somewhat of a blur. Squinting his eyes, he could see that he was lying ragged in a king-size bed. Off to the side of the bedframe he saw a large IV drip connected to his right arm, pumping in high levels of morphine, which explained his current hazy state. He could also feel himself hooked up to various wires. There was a heart monitor to his left giving off a single monotone beep every few seconds and his breathing was haggard. He soon realized why: his mouth and nose were covered with a clear oxygen mask.
As he continued looking around his immediate surroundings, he began noticing several framed pictures and immediately began tearing up when his gaze fell upon one specific picture larger than the rest. Within it contained the image of his parents, Robert and Janine, and a much younger Maxwell Connors approximately nine years of age. Max remembered the picture well, as it was the last family portrait taken of all three of them before the tragic passing of his mother in 1965. He was back in Kecksburg, in the house that he grew up in. I’m home! he thought. I’m… my father!
No sooner than he had that thought when he suddenly cried out in excruciating pain. It was a pain that the farthest recesses of his Swiss-cheesed brain recalled from a previous lifetime — a previous reality. I’m dying of cancer! God, I can feel it eating away at what’s left of me.
“Dad?” a younger, familiar voice called out. Turning toward the voice, he saw himself — a nearly sixteen-year-old Maxwell Connors — sitting in a reclining chair a few feet away from his deathbed, wiping tears from his tired eyes.
In a flash, it all came back to Old Max and he knew that this was it, the day that changed his life forever. The day his father Robert Connors died of cancer, leaving him orphaned and causing his younger self to forever lose his faith in a higher power.
Then, almost just as quickly, his entire existence across multiple timelines began flashing before his eyes. He could remember how his obsession bordered on sheer bitterness and arrogance toward others, including his best friend William Marcus. That arrogance nearly resulted in the deaths of Will and over a hundred other innocent men and women. He could remember how that same arrogance led to his repeated attempts at murdering Sam Beckett, not just in the present but in the past. All the damage he had done was now weighing heavily on Max’s soul. The murder of Patrick Mulhill, specifically, was eating away at Max even more so than the cancer ever could. He could remember the isolation and fear he felt when he lost contact with Morpheus, a sentient computer program he had created, oddly enough, to feel a connection to humanity he had lost along the way. And he could remember spending twenty odd years trying to fix his mistakes, only to fail miserably.
Every fiber of Max’s being knew that Tom Beckett would succeed where he had failed. But it wasn’t enough for Tom to save Logan; if it wasn’t her, it would ultimately be something else that would bring about Sam Beckett’s demise. As long as the youthful Max continued along his original trajectory, Sam would never be safe from his jealousy and hate. He would eventually become a rogue leaper and cause another time paradox that would result in another alternate reality, possibly one that was ten times worse than the one he and Tom experienced. The loop would start all over again. He needed to end that loop here and now — and to do that, he would need to set… himself… back on the path of faith. This would be the last leap he would ever make, which surprisingly enough felt different than any of the other hundreds of leaps he had made over the course of two decades. This time he wasn’t “replacing” the person he leaped into, but rather they were right there “beside” him. It was as if his entire body and soul were becoming one with his father. Both he and Robert were getting a second chance to make things right and give themselves the peace they never got the opportunity to receive the first time around.
“Dad, are you still there?” the emotional voice of Young Max quivered as he was now standing over his “father,” bringing the leaper back to his current reality.
“Son... Max,” the leaper said with a weak smile. “Yes, I’m… still here. But not for long. There’s not much time... left....”
“NO!” Young Max protested. “You’ve been nearly incoherent for days. Please keep fighting, Dad. You need to get through this,” the teenager cried. “I’m not giving up on you!”
“It’s okay, son,” Old Max reassured him. “I’m tired and weak. Please help me to… remove this mask. I n-need you to hear what I have to say. It’s important.”
Struggling though his tears, the young Max Connors gently reached over his “father’s” face and pulled the mask away, the beeping sounds of the heart monitor getting more erratic with each passing second. Both versions of Max couldn’t stop from crying.
“I know you’ve lost your faith, Max,” the leaper began to say. “You lost your mother, and now you’re losing me. It’s not fair, and you shouldn’t have to deal with so much loss so early in your life. You have your whole life ahead of you… and you can do anything you set your brilliant mind to. But you’ll never be able to do that if you keep holding on to something out of your control. It’s okay to let me go, Maxwell.”
They were words that the youthful Max couldn’t bear to hear. “I don’t want to let you go, Dad. My whole life I’ve always been so smart, and yet I can’t figure out how to save you from this. It’s not fair!”
“Life’s not fair, Max. Some things just happen for a reason, and there’s not anything we can do to change them. It’s just my time, son. Perhaps I was only meant to be in your life for this short period of time.”
“That’s not true, Dad!” Young Max cried. “You were supposed to be here for me! Mom was… supposed to be here for…” The teenager broke down as his demeanor quickly changed to one of resentment, gritting his teeth as he talked. “I prayed for you every night. Every! Damn! Night! You told me, as long as I kept my faith that everything would be okay. You promised me!”
It was in that moment of anger and passion that it truly dawned on Old Max how much he had misinterpreted what his father had tried to tell him so long ago. Shaking his head, he explained to his younger self, “Oh, Max. Don’t you see? It doesn’t matter whether you do or don’t believe in God… Time… Fate… or whatever else may be out there. Believing in a higher being isn’t about expecting things to change miraculously to your advantage. There’s someone even more important to have faith in to make a difference in your life, Max… Yourself! Only you have the power to control your own destiny. If you can do that, then the universe will take care of the rest. I can guarantee it.”
Sniffling, the younger Max said, “I just… don’t know how to move on without you in my life. I… don’t want to be alone…”
“You’ll never be alone, Max. Your mom and I may not be there for you physically, but we’ll always live on inside of you. That’s where true faith comes from — believing that our memories will live on through your actions. Please never forget that.” Seeing that he was starting to reach his younger self and feeling the icy grip of death coming ever closer, he quickly added, “Letting go is the only way to keep those visions you have from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Young Max’s jaw simply dropped, not even quite knowing how to respond. “You… you know about the nightmares?”
Old Max simply nodded in response. “The dreams are simply your fears and insecurities manifesting within your subconscious mind. They symbolize a fear of the unknown, and you’re afraid of success even more than you are of failure. The dreams can only conquer you if you allow them to. Your future can be whatever you make it to be, Max. And I know that when the time comes, you’ll make the right choices to create a wonderful future for yourself. You don’t need my approval.”
The youthful Max felt the pangs of a tiny smile coming through the tears and asked, “How can you be so sure of what the future holds, Dad?”
“I just am, son. Just as I know that someday, you’ll meet someone whose gifts match yours. Someone that you could consider a friend if you allow yourself to be humbled. Someone not to be jealous or envious of, but to remind you that we’re all part of something much bigger than ourselves, something that can’t quite be defined by science or faith.”
“Faith,” Young Max repeated, now realizing what his father had always meant.
“Yes,” Old Max reassured. “Faith in God is important, but faith in yourself is just as important. Just believe in yourself, Max. I believe in you… and it’s never steered me… wrong,” the leaper struggled with his last few words. “I’m so very proud of you… my son.”
Unable to control the flow of tears, the two versions of Maxwell Connors — both young and old — embraced each other with everything they had. It was both surreal and therapeutic for the older man, while at the same time, he could feel the essence of his real father alongside of himself. And that made all the difference in the world to the once-tortured soul.
In that final moment, Max nearly laughed with the realization that he had just given himself the miracle he had always sought. Restoring faith in his younger self also provided the reassurance he himself had always needed: to know that everything would be okay. A single tear fell out of the corner of Max’s eye and he smiled, just as the brightest white light he could ever remember seeing began to pull him into another place. “Oh… my…” were the last words he spoke before the warmth of the light surrounded and enveloped him.
As Max’s vision came back into focus, all he could see was pure white in every direction. His breathing was no longer labored, and he could feel that his body was free of pain. The cancer was gone just as quickly as it had returned, but it didn’t even seem like it mattered at this point. Maxwell Connors was neither dead nor alive… he simply existed within a state of non-existence.
“You’ve done well, Maxwell,” a very familiar voice echoed from the eternal white void.
Hearing the voice caused Max’s heart — if he even still had one — to skip a beat. It sounded like a voice he had lost contact with a very long time ago — in another lifetime. “Morpheus!?” he echoed in return. “Is that really you?”
The voice didn’t directly answer his question but instead replied, “The timeline has been restored. Your journey is now complete. You can rest for a while.”
“But where have you been all this time? All these years… I was all alone,” Max protested.
“You’ve never been alone,” the voice reiterated. “I tried to explain that to you a long time ago. You yourself just told the young Max Connors the very same thing.”
As Max heard the words, the last realization finally dawned on him. “You mean…?”
“You were never able to let go. Why else do you think that you subconsciously programmed Morpheus with my voice, son?” Suddenly, the familiar voice came from directly behind Max, and he turned to see that there was finally a face to go with the voice: a middle-aged professor with a graying beard, just as he had looked before he had become terminally sick.
“Dad?” Max cried.
“Hey, kiddo,” Robert smiled. “I can’t tell you how long I’ve waited for this moment.”
The two men immediately embraced one another and cried in each other’s arms for what felt like an eternity. “Oh Dad, I’ve missed you so much. I’m so sorry for everything I’ve done. I never intended for any of this to happen. I just wanted to make the world a better place. I didn’t realize that it already was!”
“No one’s perfect, Max,” Robert reassured him. “You need to give yourself a little more credit. The work you originally set out to do was very noble and admirable. You just lost your way at some point. It happens to the best of us. What matters is that you learned from your past and did what was necessary to set yourself back on the correct path.”
“What… what happens to me? The… young me?”
Robert smiled and said, “I have something to show you.” In an instant, the white void began to dissolve into a large room filled to the brim with bookshelves as far as the eye could see. Robert walked over to a large desk and picked up a heavy hardbound book which he handed to his son.
Max was astounded when he saw the engraved title. “I don’t understand. What exactly is this?”
“This…” Robert explained, “is your life. Everything you’ve ever experienced across each of your lifetimes. It will tell you everything you want to know… when you’re ready, of course. But the details of your ‘new’ life aren’t as important as what you take out of your ‘old’ one. You managed to accomplish the one thing I was unable to do the first time around… restore your faith in yourself. Now that you’ve got that back, I can finally move on and pass this assignment on to you. I know you’ll do me proud.”
“Assignment?” Max asked. “What assignment? What is this place?”
Again, Robert simply smiled and replied, “I knew Tom Beckett would lead you back to me.”
“Tom was… here?” Max exclaimed in shock. “When?”
“When… is a somewhat relative term. You’ll literally have all of Time at your disposal to learn everything you need to know. Because someone else will be arriving here… a traveler who has also lost her way. You’ll need to tell her the story so that she can eventually help you. I don’t want you to ever feel alone again.”
Max just smiled. “I won’t be alone, Dad. You’ll always be right here,” he replied, placing his hand over his heart.
Robert’s eyes welled over with tears of happiness. “God bless, Max. God bless.”
As father and son continued their loving embrace, the lifelong weight that had held Maxwell Connors down was finally lifted. At last, everything had been put right what once went wrong.
Project Butterfly, Regenesis Chamber
Stallion’s Gate, New Mexico
Gordon LoNigro knew what was happening. With Tom Beckett and now Maxwell Connors displaced from the project, LOTHOS no longer had control over the past. He called out to the hybrid computer, appealing to what was once his uncle in the hopes that his humanity still existed somewhere within. “LOTHOS! Uncle Bobby… if you’re still in there, please! We are in crisis mode right now! I need you to hear me….”
Although the glow of the circuitry was dim and fading fast, the physical form of Sebastian Robert LoNigro began to move as his head strained to move and look toward his nephew. “I’m here… Gord. Report….”
“Project personnel are disappearing — blinking out of existence at an alarming rate, even as we speak. We’ve determined that Connors is the cause. He went rogue and betrayed us. Instead of killing Tom Beckett, he made it possible for Beckett to save Logan Lanning from her terrible fate at the hands of Leon Stiles. She no longer kills Sam Beckett in 1973, which is causing a chain reaction throughout history. The causality outcome is nearly at one hundred percent. I’m not sure how much longer I’ll exist, Uncle Bobby!”
“This is… unfortunate,” LoNigro stated.
“Unfortunate?! Everything we worked for is falling apart! Not only that, but Connors has somehow found a way to detach his jumping matrix from this project. We have no way to pull him back. He’s jumped back to a crucial turning point in his own past. Our analysis would seem to indicate that he has caused a paradox that took himself out of the equation and is creating a completely new reality — or possibly restoring an old one. The shockwave has already begun to catch up to us. Everything we’ve accomplished since Star Bright is unraveling! Uncle Bobby, what are we going to…” In the blink of an eye and in the middle of his frantic pleas to the man who was his uncle, Gordon LoNigro was gone, having never existed.
As the tremors of the temporal shockwave reverberated throughout the entire complex, Sebastian “Bobby” LoNigro’s memories began to realign themselves with the original reality in which his protégé, Doctor Samuel Beckett, was recruited into the Star Bright Project — a reality in which he was “vaporized” during the initial test run of the Interstellar Drive in 1990 — and where his horrific fate was sealed by leaping forward to 1995 and being integrated into the conglomeration of “souls” that made up the quasi-living hybrid computer Lothos, with the maniacal and evil Nathaniel Lothoman as the dominant host. It was a terrible fate, to be sure, one that he was terrified of facing until he saw the good that was coming about with this change in time, a change he would never know in his life but could now see in perfect clarity. Sam creating Quantum Leap with Al Calavicci… all the lives Sam and Al would save in their great partnership and deep friendship. It was a beautiful thing… and he, as LOTHOS, had fought to prevent it from happening.
“Oh, God! What have I done?” his voice reverberated throughout the complex. “Oh, Sam! I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!”
A moment later, the temporal shockwave reached him and LOTHOS never existed.
Pine County, Oklahoma
Wednesday, June 18, 1958
In a blinding flash of pure white light, reality shifted one last time, almost as if millions of crystalline shards of glass reassembled into a completed image. Blue tendrils of quantum energy enveloped two points of the restored timeline. at an almost hyper fast-forward effect, as leaper and Observer blinked back into existence, having been pulled back into the proper timeline.
Doctor Sam Beckett stood in the waiting room of the hospital, staring out the window and into the street. It had been a rough couple of hours. Bradley and Masters had died instantly in the police station but young Debbie Collins, Hoyt’s daughter and the department’s dispatcher and receptionist, was currently in the operating room, being prepped for surgery. After all that had happened, the leaper was tired both physically and emotionally. He was just glad that he wasn’t alone in the sentiment. He had company in the form of his older brother.
“Sam, you did it,” the holographic image of Admiral Tom Beckett announced as he looked down at the sleek handlink in his right hand. “Ziggy says that, when you got Logan away from Stiles, everything changed! Thank God! We’ve been hanging on the tiniest thread, literally stuck at the smallest fraction short of one hundred percent, for weeks. If Ziggy hadn’t been at minimal power for so long, you can be damn sure I would have stepped into the Accelerator and tracked Logan down myself.”
“I’m glad you didn’t, Tom, otherwise we’d both be stuck traveling through time. I couldn’t have that on my conscience as well.”
Tom looked on his younger brother with sympathy. “Sam, it wasn’t your fault. Some things just can’t be changed, no matter how hard we try.”
Sam nodded slightly at his words, not really accepting them but knowing them to be the truth. “What are the odds that my life is still in danger?” he asked, still shaken up over how close he and the Project came to fading out of existence.
“The odds have dropped down to an almost nonexistent zero point zero one percent. Everything at the Project seems back to normal. Heh, funny….”
“What?” Sam asked his older brother worriedly.
“Nothing, it just… I just have this funny feeling, that’s all. I can’t explain it. Almost like déjà vu, but… Ahh, I guess it’s not that important.”
Nodding his head, Sam looked around in deep thought as if he too had a strange feeling that something monumental had occurred but couldn’t put his finger on what it was that was different. Dismissing the disturbing feeling, he looked around aimlessly and asked, “So, what happens to Logan now?”
“Oh, she turns her life around. She gives up on prostitution and finds a job in a local gift shop. It doesn’t pay much, but it’s enough for her to save up money in order to eventually go to college to study…” He hit the handlink to encourage the information to continue coming. “Criminal investigation!” he exclaimed with a grin. “Wow! After she graduates, she becomes a deputy back here in Pine County and eventually even Sheriff! You really changed her life for the better, Sam!”
Sam smiled widely at his brother, happy for the change, before dropping his expression into one of concern. “If Logan’s life is changed for the better, and the timeline is finally stable again, then why am I still here? Maybe… maybe I’m here to save Debbie’s life.”
Looking back down to the handlink, Tom shook his head and answered, “I’m sorry, Sam, there’s nothing that can be done about that. The shot she took from Stiles was too close to her heart. They’re operating on her now but it’s not going to be enough. Ziggy thinks it has to do with your first leap into Leon Stiles from eight years ago. He just took Carol Pruitt and her daughter hostage in their own home. You’ll probably leap out of Sheriff Hoyt right around the same time that you — I mean, the ‘other’ you from 1999 — leaps into Stiles. Obviously, you can’t still be here and risk interacting with… yourself.”
“When do… I… leap into Stiles?”
“Ziggy says you should be out of here in about… two point four minutes, if all goes according to the way it happened the first time. No reason it shouldn’t.”
Nodding at the confirmation, Sam decided to ask the one question he had been hoping to get an answer to for the past few leaps. “Listen, Tom, not that I haven’t enjoyed having you around and helping me through all of this, but… is Al ever coming back?”
With a small look of contempt on his face that didn’t go unnoticed by the quantum physicist, Tom reassured him, “Don’t worry, little brother. Aurora and Beth said that Al has made an almost full recovery from his coma and should be good to go after you leap. I’ll check on him again when we’re done here. Not that I would ever wish any harm on him, of course, but…. Honestly, Sam, how do you put up with Calavicci’s shenanigans? He’s pompous, opinionated, always sneaking behind the Committee’s back to get what he needs, and just plain unorthodox!”
Squinting his eyes at the observer, Sam smirked slightly and shot back, “Gee, sounds like someone else I know.”
Realizing the remark was made at his expense, Tom sarcastically responded, “Ha-ha, Sam. You joke, but one of these days, Al’s reckless behavior is gonna come back and bite him in the ass, and I’m not gonna be able to save it. I may not want to either.”
“You don’t know him like I do, Tom. Al’s one of the best people I’ve ever known. He’s my friend and I never could have gotten through many of my leaps without him. I owe him my life a hundred times over. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you and he can start mending your relationship and actually work together as a team for a change. So, try to cut him some slack, will ya? For my sake?”
Tom just smiled at his brother. Even though Sam had an intellect beyond comprehension, it could never compare with the compassion in his heart. “I’m sorry, Sam, I’m just frustrated that he hasn’t been able to get you home after all these years. Why else do you think I took General Hawkins up on his offer last year?”
Before either brother could say anything further, their conversation was interrupted by the voice of Deputy Grimes. “Sheriff,” he announced. “We’ve got him. Our men pinned Stiles down and have got him holed up in a house ten minutes from here. Holdin’ a poor woman and her daughter hostage.”
Instinctively, Sam turned to the deputy and said, “Let’s go get him.” Following shortly behind Grimes, Sam stopped as he passed by a small black-and-white television set in the hospital’s waiting room which was showing a very familiar news broadcast of a bespectacled news anchorman showing the most recent photos of serial killer Leon Stiles.
“Stiles escaped custody in a daring daylight shootout,” the anchorman reported with a deep voice. “Stiles, described by authorities as an illiterate drifter, was recently arrested in connection with the murders of at least eight women in three states. At this moment, he is the central focus in a county-wide manhunt. Stiles made his violent escape after killing two deputies and seriously wounding another. Police warn that he may still be in the area and should be considered armed and extremely dangerous.”
“Think that’s your cue, little brother,” Tom said, as the blue-white quantum energy washed over Dr. Sam Beckett once again, moving him on to his next assignment as he leaped.
Tom Beckett stepped out of the Imaging Chamber into the Control Room of Project Quantum Leap, missing his brother already. Placing the handlink back in its receptacle, he leaned against the control panel, sighing with relief that the crisis seemed to indeed be over.
“Everything okay, Admiral?” Head Programmer Dominic Lofton asked, concerned.
“Oh yeah, no worries, Dom. Just feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders and I can finally relax for a while.”
Dr. Sammy Jo Fulton, who was standing next to the programmer entering a new series of quantum equations, chimed in, “Understandable, Tom. This whole experience has been pretty harrowing for everyone — never knowing from one leap to the next if it would be Dad’s last… that he might disappear forever and that the past twelve years would just unravel before our eyes…. It’s enough to send chills down anyone’s spine!”
“You can say that again, Sammy,” Tom reiterated. “What’s Admiral Calavicci’s status?”
“Donna and Stephen just paid him a visit and told me that he appears to be right as rain,” Sammy confirmed. “Apparently, he began getting restless and demanded that someone get him one of his Chavello cigars and a full report from ‘that bucket of bolts that calls herself Ziggy.’”
Tom gave a huff of a laugh that wasn’t exactly amused and was more like annoyed. “Yup, sounds like Al all right.” He sighed with a hint of resignation. “I’m sure Sam will be thrilled to have his ‘buddy’ back. He didn’t say it in so many words, but I think he’s getting sick of having his big brother watching his back.”
“Oh, I’m sure he doesn’t really feel that way, Admiral,” Dom responded. “He just misses Al. I think this is the longest Sam’s ever gone without him.”
“Yeah, I know. Keep me posted if anything new develops. I feel an overwhelming urge to call my son and see how he’s doing. I feel like it’s been a lifetime since I’ve spoken to J. T.! God, I must be getting old!”
With that being said, Admiral Tom Beckett stepped into the elevator as the usual, everyday hustle and bustle of the inner workings of Project Quantum Leap continued normally without incident.
Stallion Springs, New Mexico
Admiral Albert Calavicci still felt a bit tired after being mostly bedridden for the past few weeks, but thanks to Dr. Aurora Lofton’s prognosis, coupled with his lovely wife Beth’s second opinion, the Project Observer was finally ready to return to active duty. And not a moment too soon, the gruff Admiral thought. I’ve been out of commission far too long, letting Tom come in acting like he owns the damn place, Presidential Liaison or not! What a nozzle!
“Easy there, flyboy,” Beth Calavicci said softly, as she rushed over to aid her husband of almost forty-six years. “I know you’re anxious to get back to work, but no need to rush. Sam just leaped and everything’s fine now. We don’t have to worry about any time paradoxes or other evil leapers, rogue leapers, or anything like that again.”
“Only time will tell, no pun intended,” Al huffed. “I’m fine, Beth. I just need to get over to the computer and check on some things. Promise I won’t do anything to get myself all worked up.” Giving Beth a lustful twinkle in his eye, he added, “At least… not until later tonight, beautiful!”
Beth just smirked and shook her head. Some things, thank God, never change, she thought as she watched her husband get to his feet and walk over to the computer in question.
Taking a seat, Al accessed Ziggy’s mainframe, making sure that the connection was secure as he did so. The last thing they needed was for the security of the project to be compromised — again — by hackers. There was a specific reason he wanted to access the mainframe. Something had been nagging at the back of his mind, telling him that there had been a big change in the timeline that he couldn’t put his finger on. He quickly browsed through the files on Sam’s leaps, stopping only to review those that involved other leapers. Nothing stood out that he could see. Of course, they would always be on the lookout for Lothos and his leapers, but that hadn’t been anything new since they’d first encountered them years ago with Alia having leaped into Connie LaMotta.
For some odd reason, though, he thought there was someone else out there, someone who was a danger to Sam. But when Al reviewed all the leaps, the only “rogue” leaper he found — and remembered quite clearly — was Alia’s son Adam who’d been obsessed with obtaining power. He’d disappeared a long time ago and Al knew, in his heart, they would never hear from him again.
Reassured that everything was fine — that they only had to worry about the usual wackos — Al shut down the computer terminal and made his way back to his loving wife on the couch before snuggling against her. One more day away from the complex wouldn’t hurt, he thought. Especially when I get to spend it with the most beautiful woman in the world.
Within the nexus of realities, the nightmare was finally resolved. Three lifetimes’ worth of memories saturated Maxwell Connors’ consciousness, giving him the respite and clarity that had eluded him for his entire existence. With the timeline completely restored, so too did everything else realign itself with what it should have been all along. The “Angels of Time,” as they had come to be known, were back in their proper forms, maintaining their watch over the timeline within their respective “temporal havens”: Esther at Timed Perks; the enigmatic Bartender, Albert Bellisario, at Al’s Place along with all of the other “dead” leapers — Gooshie, Alia, Stawpah, et cetera. Just as Max himself was now embracing his one true destiny as the Keeper of the Travelers’ Archives, a duty passed on to him an eternity ago through his father Robert Connors, a.k.a. “The Professor.”
In many ways, he now had the ultimate responsibility: to record the lifetimes of every individual throughout the past, present and future. And not just from one timeline, but an almost infinite number of them. For he now knew the true nature of Time: that it is not and never was linear. Changing history did not eradicate a timeline, it simply created one that was parallel. The truth was that there was no single “prime” timeline, as it were. In one reality, Sam Beckett’s story ended after leaping out of Al’s Place to change Al’s fate by telling Beth, “Al’s alive… and he’s coming home!” and never returning home. In another reality, his story continued beyond that point for many more decades. There were “worlds” with Sam Beckett as well as without. And despite the various paradoxes that occurred, the “alternate” realities that came about still existed on some level within the multiverse.
Through it all, Max would be there, sitting at his desk and etching the events into the hardbound books for all eternity, like his father before him. Luckily, he now had an apprentice to help him in this vast undertaking: the beautiful and brilliant Isabella Abigail Fulton, granddaughter of Samuel Beckett and mystic “traveler” of the Quantum Multiverse, forever removed from a future timeline that no longer needed her.
Max Connors couldn’t help but smile and revel in the knowledge that all was as it was meant to be. His own story was at last finished, but the ongoing adventures of Dr. Samuel Beckett and Project Quantum Leap within the “restored” reality would continue for quite some time. Only he knew how that story would eventually end. But for now, he picked up the pen and began writing how each new story would begin, speaking the words aloud with each stroke of the pen.
Theorizing that one could time travel within his own lifetime, Dr. Sam Beckett led an elite group of scientists into the desert to develop a top-secret project known as Quantum Leap. Pressured to prove his theories or lose funding, Dr. Beckett prematurely stepped into the Project Accelerator… and vanished.
He awoke to find himself in the past, suffering from partial amnesia and facing a mirror image that was not his own. Fortunately, contact with his own time was maintained through brainwave transmissions with Al, the Project Observer, who appeared in the form of a hologram that only Dr. Beckett can see and hear.
As evil ones do their best to stop Dr. Beckett’s journey, his children, Dr. Samantha Josephine Fulton and Stephen Beckett, continuously strive to retrieve their time-lost father and bring him home permanently. Despite returning home several times over the last decade, Dr. Beckett has remained lost in the time stream… his final fate no longer certain.
Trapped in the past and driven by an unknown force, Dr. Beckett struggles to accept his destiny as he continues to find himself leaping from life to life, putting things right that once went wrong with the hopes that his next leap… will be the final leap home.
1 Excerpt from Episode 1231, “Un-American”
Written by: Helen Gerhard
2 Excerpt from Episode 1228, “Sanctuary, Part II”
Written by: Jennifer L. Rowland
3 Excerpt from Episode 1013, “Second Genesis”
Written by: Damon C. Sugameli
Special thanks to Greg Carey, Erin Bauer, Eleiece Krawiec, Tom Nicklis, Jennifer Rowland and Helen Gerhard for their contributions to this ambitious story arc and, in some cases, stepping in at the last minute. Additional thanks to Brian Greene for the inspiration to use some of the mythology and story elements from the virtual prequel series, The Starbright Project. And last, but certainly not least, extreme thanks to M. J. Cogburn for her willingness to approve this concept, despite the numerous delays and years of headaches that Damon put her through for the grand finale.
It’s been a very long and bumpy road!