Theorizing that one could time-travel within his own lifetime, Dr. Sebastian LoNigro set out to prove the String Theory that he had co-developed with his former M.I.T. student, Samuel Beckett — an incredibly gifted genius who was destined for greatness. After Sam’s sudden and untimely murder in 1973, a distraught Dr. LoNigro formed a strong bond with Sam’s older brother, Lieutenant Commander Thomas Beckett, and together, they both strove to ensure that Sam’s theories would not be forgotten.
Tom quickly rose in the ranks to captain and eventually aided Dr. LoNigro in the development of a top-secret government project code-named Chrono-Leap, which was based off of a combination of the String Theory, and the work of the late Dr. Alexander Garner and his failed Time Displacer Unit. During the initial test-run of the experiment, a malfunction occurred that endangered the lives of everyone inside the project. In a bold attempt to shut it down, Captain Beckett bravely stepped into the Chronoton Accelerator… and vanished.
He awoke to find himself inhabiting someone else’s body 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 Dr. LoNigro, who became the Project Observer in the wake of the Accelerator incident, appearing in the form of a neurological hologram that only Captain Beckett can see and hear.
Trapped in an alternate timeline, Captain Beckett finds himself leaping from life to life, putting things right that once went wrong. All the while, he is subconsciously aware that another leaper exists somewhere, lost in time like himself, who holds the key to restoring reality back to what it once was. Until that day arrives, Captain Beckett struggles to recall his lost memories of a “World Without Sam Beckett,” hoping each time to alter the hands of fate so that his next leap… will be the leap home.
QUANTUM LEAP: WORLD WITHOUT SAM BECKETT
PHASE I — ROGUE LEAPER
Sam leaps into a top-secret project known as the Second Genesis Project, headed by Dr. Maxwell Connors. As Connors’ assistant, Sam discovers that Max is using his String Theory to experiment on the human genome in an attempt to eradicate death. Knowing that Connors’ experiments will result in catastrophic failure, Sam saves the project (along with the lives of everyone in the complex) by stepping into the Quantum Accelerator and using his own body to harness and absorb the excess energies within. As the two men struggle within the chamber, both Sam and Connors vanish. (*See “Second Genesis”)
Sam subsequently finds himself temporarily trapped in a time loop when he “re-leaps” into Air Force pilot Tom Stratton. Meanwhile, Connors becomes a “rogue leaper” and inhabits the aura of “Bird Dog” Birdell, with the intention of sabotaging the X-2 so that Sam (as Tom) will not be able to eject, thus restoring history. Morpheus, the super-computer he had created to detect anomalies, is now permanently grafted onto Connors’ brainwaves, allowing communication between the two. With Al’s help, Sam is successful in preventing Connors from causing a time paradox, but not before Connors swears that he will return someday. (*See “Second Genesis, Part II”)
That day arrives when Sam leaps into an out-of-work actor turned superhero named Captain Liberty (a.k.a. Brad Bennings) in the city of Hope Springs, Virginia in 1985. As drug kingpin Darius Dreck, Connors orchestrates a bold plan to abduct the Sam Beckett of that time period (who was in Washington, D.C. at the time) and murder him in cold blood, thus preventing him from ever becoming a leaper in the first place. Sam, as Captain Liberty, races to his younger self’s rescue and convinces Connors that his plan is flawed and would only make things worse. In the confusion, Connors is then shot by the evil British scientist Dr. Braden, and leaps. (*See “True Callings, Parts II & III”)
Connors clashes with Sam a third time when he leaps into the aura of Sheriff Bill Boone in the town of Carlisle, South Carolina in 1960. After finding out that Sam has altered history drastically, Max allows a murderer, Tom Mulhill, to go free in order to repair the timeline as much as possible. Unfortunately, part of the new history requires the death of Tom’s youngest brother Paddy, which Connors successfully sees to by leaping into a pharmacist at the hospital where Paddy was admitted for pesticide poisoning. Although Max regrets having to kill Patrick Mulhill, he determines that it needs to happen in the new history and also tries to murder Sam in order to prevent any further disruptions to history. Sam leaps before any harm comes to him, however, and is left wondering why he couldn’t get there in time to save an innocent man’s life. (*See “I Left a Little Piece of Myself on the Farm, Parts II & III”)
PHASE II — LOGAN’S RUN
Sam leaps into serial killer Leon Stiles for the second time, while Dr. Maxwell Connors leaps into a U.S. Marshal that is escorting him to prison. A blond-haired woman, disguised as a reporter, attempts to kill Sam only to be stopped by Connors. On their way to Oklahoma State Penitentiary, the transport bus carrying the prisoners crashes in the middle of the woods leaving Connors gravely injured. As the two leapers put aside their differences and work together to get history back on track, Connors loses contact with Morpheus and detects a major anomaly forming in the time stream. He reassures Sam that he’ll look into it and leaps out. (*See “Killin' More Time”)
At the murder trial of Patrick Cromwell (Sam’s host), Sam meets a beautiful blond-haired woman who introduces herself as Lulu Logan. She is at the courthouse to show support for the Defense’s key witness, Pastor David McKinney, but seems to react weird upon first seeing Sam. After Sam is exonerated in light of new evidence, Pastor McKinney leaves the courthouse to get in his car when Ms. Logan calls out to him. As he turns around, Lulu stabs him in the arm with a cyanide-laced hatpin without provocation, causing him to die almost instantly. When Sam attempts to administer CPR, Lulu strikes out at him as well. During the struggle, she manages to escape — her whereabouts unknown. (*See “× 3”)
Sam’s brother, newly-promoted Rear Admiral Tom Beckett, fills in as his new temporary Observer after a series of consecutive leaps involving both Sam and Al ends with Al returning home and falling into a coma (as seen in “To Help a Friend,” “The Great Blue Yonder” and “Alcatraz”). Tom uses his military weight to get some classified information when Sam leaps into a special agent of the Naval Investigative Service (N.I.S.) in the year 1967. During the investigation of a gruesome murder, Sam is shocked to learn the identity of the victim: Lieutenant Commander Chip Ferguson, who was supposed to die while flying over Vietnam in the original history. The “Black Widow” was the name of the killer that N.I.S. was using to describe the string of murders that had been occurring the past few years with the same situation: men found dead from knife slashes to the torso and face following sexual intercourse. Sam eventually discovers it to be none other than Lulu Logan — now going by the name Loraine Logan — but fails in apprehending her. Tom then announces the devastating news that Sam is going to die in 1969. (*See “The Calm Before the Storm”)
Sam’s next leap takes him to 1993 as a homeless man named Danny Wallace just days before the bombing of the World Trade Center. Meanwhile, back in the present, Al has awoken from his coma, and Connors reappears at Project Quantum Leap, ravaged by the forces of Time. He warns Tom and the PQL staff members that he has been leaping through time for twenty years trying his best to undo the damage he has done. Before he dies from temporal psychosis, he reveals that he has managed to discover two major points of divergence that need to be averted to prevent a temporal shockwave from unraveling the space-time continuum. With Al still recuperating, Tom makes an executive decision to step into the Accelerator himself and leaps back to stop Logan from killing Sam. As Al visits Sam in the Imaging Chamber, both men are shocked to discover Tibido “Tibby” Johnson (from “Shock Theater”) is now homeless as well. Al realizes that time is quite literally running out as anomalies continue to pop up in both the past and the present. (*See “Shockwave”)
Tom’s first leap takes him back to Elk Ridge, Indiana on December 1, 1969, as one of Sam’s best high school friends, Sibby, nephew of Sebastian “Bobby” LoNigro. When Logan shows up in town on her deadly quest to find “Leon Stiles” (in reality, Sam when he had leaped into the serial killer), a confrontation occurs in the local bookshop as Logan takes young Sam as a hostage. During the confrontation, Lt. Tom Beckett, who has yet to ship out to his tour in Vietnam, is shot in the knee. Logan again escapes, but history has been changed so that Tom’s fate is no longer intertwined with Operation Lazarus. Meanwhile, in New York City, Leaper Sam discovers that he is there to ensure that Tibby is reunited with his family, thus getting him off of the streets. He also finds out that he has an additional side-mission to prevent Tibby’s brother-in-law from being killed during the bombing of the World Trade Center. As Sam completes his mission, the rapidly expanding temporal shockwave finally catches up with him and, instead of leaping, Sam’s existence is wiped away as Time tears him apart. With young Sam’s life still in danger, Tom once again leaps, this time into Sam’s former M.I.T. roommate Sean Alsterson while he and three other students, including a young Sam, are at Dr. Sebastian “Bobby” LoNigro’s cabin on August 8, 1973. Knowing that this is his last chance to save Sam’s life, Tom accompanies the group to celebrate Sam’s birthday at a local bar in Boston where, according to Al, Logan is apparently stalking her next victim. While Tom is conversing with Al about the mission, Sam disappears, having been seduced and drugged by Logan. Frantic to catch up with them, Tom leaves the bar and finds that Bobby LoNigro is also trying to find them, surprisingly armed with a handgun. Their search for Logan and Sam takes the men to the Back Bay Fens, a woodland park area where Logan is about to kill Sam with a pistol. Tom attempts to prevent Sam from being shot but it is Bobby who succeeds when he shoots Logan in the shoulder. The police come to take Logan into custody, but Bobby seems intent on killing Logan anyway. After talking him down, Tom catches Bobby as he slumps down to discover that Bobby is in actuality an earlier version of Connors from before he died in the PQL infirmary, who had leaped into Bobby in order to stop Logan’s murder spree. As the police start to take Logan away, she slips from their grasp using a hidden switchblade to kill one officer, grabs her gun and fires a shot at Sam, striking him in the heart. As Sam dies in his brother’s arms, Time begins to unravel. Connors comes to the horrific realization that he is the source of the shockwave that is enveloping Time, but it is too late to change it. Time shifts completely as Tom finds himself suddenly in a hospital with partial amnesia. He’s taken his brother’s place as the leaper for Project Chrono-Leap, a project based on the theories of Sebastian LoNigro (the Project Head and Chief Observer) and Sam Beckett, who was murdered in 1973. (*See “Shockwave, Part II — Severed String”)
PHASE III — WORLD WITHOUT SAM BECKETT
In a world without Sam Beckett, Tom leaps into one Franklin Benjamin, founder and Director of Sanctuary House, a homeless shelter in Brooklyn, New York, doubling as a work/rehabilitation program helping homeless men get back on their feet. Shortly after leaping in, Tom finds a desperately ill man unconscious on a grave in Potter’s Field and brings him to Sanctuary House. Later that evening, Tom is stunned to discover that the man is Albert Calavicci — a former colleague from the Star Bright Project who’d been dismissed due to issues related to alcoholism and anger. Feelings of responsibility towards Albert complicates Tom’s mission to save a Sanctuary House resident named Henry Voorhies from dying in an altercation on Monday, March 16, 1987. Meanwhile, back at what is now known as Project Chrono-Leap, ALPHA (the Artificial Logarithmic Parallel Hybrid Apparatus) is defying Bobby’s orders when it begins “remembering” the presence of Albert being in charge from the prime timeline. Back in 1987, Albert risks his own life to save Henry and is nearly killed in the process. This selfless act proves Albert’s willingness to enter the program to get his life back on track. In an amazing coincidence, the younger Tom Beckett of this time period is visiting New York and sees Al sitting on the front steps of the shelter after Al's act of heroism. He hands a business card to Frank (not realizing that he’s talking to his older self) and requests that Albert contact him once he “graduates” from the program. As Tom leaps, history shifts again as Albert is now working at Project Chrono-Leap (unofficially renamed Project Quantum Leap) as a consultant and fill-in Observer for Bobby. Albert also refers to ALPHA as “Ziggy” to give the computer more personality. (*See “Sanctuary, Parts I & II)
Tom continues leaping for a time, bouncing back and forth within his own lifetime to put right what once went wrong, all the while experiencing an odd feeling that something is not quite right with the reality he remembers (from “Draft Dodger,” “On Dangerous Ground” and “Un-American”). During his most recent leap, Tom is shocked when he finds himself back at Project Chrono-Leap and sees the reflection of his younger self staring back at him. The voice of Ziggy confirms what Tom is suspecting, telling him that the date is May 1, 1995, exactly one week before the Accelerator malfunction that initially stranded him in the past. The Albert of his time shows up and warns Tom that he can’t change the past, otherwise he risks unraveling the past twelve years. Tom receives a call from Bobby’s wife Donna asking him to come over for dinner to help her get Bobby’s mind off of work for one night. Upon arriving at the LoNigros’ home, Donna begins playfully flirting and seducing Tom. When she reaches out to touch him, Tom is shocked when he discovers another time traveler named Alia standing in place of Donna. She also sees the older Tom and they begin asking each other questions. Shortly thereafter, Alia’s Observer Vaughn appears as a hologram from the Lothos Project sometime in the near future. As Bobby arrives home, he sees Tom and Alia together (as 1995-Tom and Donna), and his jealous streak causes him to pull a gun on Tom. In that moment, Tom then leaps into Bobby and races up the stairs to confront Alia. In the struggle, the gun goes off injuring Alia, and as she tumbles down the stairs, she leaps out while Donna returns unharmed. Albert reassures Tom that history remains intact, and Tom then leaps out. (*See “Preemptive Strike”)
And now, the grand finale…
Somewhere within the endless maelstrom of the quantum multiverse, the enigmatic Keeper bore witness to the recent series of events that had been unfolding within the current space-time continuum. The Keeper had been watching everything unfold from the very beginning — always watching, never interfering — so that he could record the events and etch the words permanently into their corresponding volumes, as was tasked of him by the others of his kind. This particular scenario had been allowed to continue for far too long — much longer than originally anticipated. As was often the case in these types of situations, things needed to get worse before they got better. The Keeper found it ironic that the key to restoring order lay within the impending chaos. It provided a unique window of opportunity to alter Fate’s trajectory once again. Regardless of the final outcome, it was time for this grandiose story to finally reach its conclusion.
Sighing, the Keeper sat back down behind his desk and picked up the feathered quill pen in his right hand. As he dipped it into the bottle of black ink, he began to transcribe the words onto the blank page of the ribbon-bound hardcover book in front of him when his attention was drawn to the sight of a familiar-looking traveler who appeared inside the front doorframe and began walking through it. Although he always made it a point to remember the names and faces of every individual who passed through his establishment, this particular visitor was someone who had left quite an impression on the Keeper during their first meeting a while back. The fact that this person had returned now — of all times — was a sign that the final piece of the narrative had finally fallen into place.
“Welcome back,” the Keeper announced. “Did you find what you were looking for?”
“No, unfortunately,” the lost traveler answered despondently. “I don’t think it exists anymore. All things considered, I can’t imagine how it still could.”
“Nonsense,” the Keeper replied back. “It’s still out there somewhere, it’s just been… displaced, that’s all. Just as you have been. Nothing can ever truly be completely erased, as long as it remains in the hearts and minds of those whose lives were touched by it. You’ve heard the story of Oz, haven’t you? A storm came in and swept Dorothy far away from Kansas, but she eventually found her way back. All she had to do was see Kansas in her head, wish for it, and her dream became a reality.”
The traveler snickered and responded, “Somehow, I don’t think it’s as simple as clicking my heels together three times and saying, ‘There’s no place like home.’ And besides which, the stories of Oz are just fiction, a world made up by an imaginative writer.”
“Are they? Perhaps in your reality, they are just stories you read in a book or saw in a movie. But every story has its origins derived from some other reality, be it through the dreams of a single person or the imagination of a writer. Haven’t you ever woken up from a vivid dream and dwelled on how real it seemed? Dreams, more often than not, form the gateway into other planes of existence where infinite possibilities lie, no matter how absurd or whimsical they may seem at the time. They allow us to revisit the past, observe alternate versions of the present, or even glimpse into possible futures. Therefore, if you can picture an idea or a story in your head, then who’s to say it’s not real?”
“You’re saying that Oz is a real place that exists in some other parallel universe somewhere?” When the Keeper neither confirmed nor denied, the traveler scoffed and continued, “So, what does that make you, the ‘Wizard’?”
The Keeper laughed heartily and finally answered, “Far from it. I’m just an ordinary human being, much like yourself.”
It was now the traveler’s turn to laugh heartily upon hearing that statement. “Right, an ordinary human being,” the traveler replied sarcastically while gesturing with arms outstretched. “Well, then how do you explain… this place?”
The Keeper looked around and smirked. He then turned back toward the traveler with a curious look on his face as he said, “When you first showed up here, I wasn’t sure you were ready for more. However, I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that you found your way back here when the story is so close to the endgame.”
“Story? Endgame? What are you talking about?” the traveler demanded.
The Keeper remained silent for a few seconds, squinting his eyes as he thought about exactly how to respond next. “Yes, I believe you might indeed be ready. In fact, you may just very well be the right person for the job.”
“And what ‘job’ would that be?” the traveler asked, even more confused than before.
The Keeper just smiled as he got up from his chair, walked past the traveler, and over to a large bookshelf containing a multitude of ribbon-bound books, identical to the one he had been writing in at his desk. Perusing the titles for about ten seconds, he found the volume he was looking for, pulled it off the shelf, and blew a small amount of dust off of its front cover. “I believe that this should clear up everything you’ll need to know,” he affirmed, as he handed the heavy book to the traveler. “There’s a table to your right. Feel free to sit down and relax, you might be here for quite a while. I’ll be working at my desk if you need me.”
The traveler’s eyes opened wide with awe upon reading the title etched in gold lettering:
THE CHRONICLES OF DR. SAMUEL BECKETT
(AUGUST 8, 1953 – JANUARY 1, 2035)
Once again, Captain Tom Beckett found himself floating within the eternal green-yellow void that existed between leaps. It was there that the leaper could find respite and reflect on all of the good he had accomplished over the past decade. And yet, he was beginning to feel uneasy. How many more leaps would it take before he could return to the life he was forced to leave behind? How many more lives would need to be touched before God, Time, Fate, or Whatever decided that Tom had done enough? Was there some greater purpose he was meant to accomplish?
Over the past several leaps, Tom had begun sensing that something wasn’t quite right. It was more of a lingering thought that he couldn’t seem to define, but it was there, buried in the recesses of his Swiss-cheesed mind nonetheless. The best way he could describe the feeling to himself was that of a series of “false” memories, “shadows” of another life beyond his current plane of existence. Every time he had planned on asking Bobby or Al about it, he would either move on to his next leaping assignment or have his attention diverted to a more pressing situation. Whatever it was that was causing Tom’s memories to fluctuate, though, he speculated that ALPHA would be able to determine the cause.
Wait a minute… ALPHA? he thought. Why in the world would I be calling Ziggy “ALPHA”? Or for that matter, why does ALPHA have the name “Ziggy”?
Tom continued to wrack his brain, trying to come up with a reasonable explanation for why the project’s parallel-hybrid computer had two separate names. Okay… Bobby called it the Artificial Logarithmic Parallel Hybrid Apparatus when he first created it… but Al always hated the acronym of ALPHA because he felt it sounded too generic. So, he just decided to call it Ziggy to give it more “personality,” and it sort of stuck. But that still doesn’t explain…
Before Tom had a chance to finish that thought, a new series of images flashed before his eyes, triggering another lost “memory” from some forgotten reality.
“T-Tom?” Sam whispered.
“Hang on, little brother,” Tom urged as his eyes began to get wet. “You’re gonna be okay.”
Sam swallowed and said, “G-goodbye, Tom.”
Tom shook his head. “No, Sam! Don’t give up on me!”
Two haggard breaths later, Sam Beckett was dead.
“Nooooo…” Tom cried out in anguish as he saw the blood on his hands. “This can’t be happening! None of this is right! You can’t be dead! SAAAAAAAM!” 1
“Sam?!” Tom exclaimed as his being was brought back to reality — or, at least, whatever could be defined as reality within the void. What the hell is going on? I clearly remember being back in Elk Ridge when I found out Sam had been murdered in Boston… so why am I now remembering also being in Boston right before he died? That doesn’t make any sense. I couldn’t have been in two places at once. What do these conflicting memories mean?
Just as Tom felt that he might be on the verge of a key revelation concerning his time-traveling journey, the unmistakable tug of a leap became imminent. The void once again began to ripple outward like a stone being thrown into a pond as the warped swooshing sound of the leap drowned out the leaper’s remaining senses and drew him back into the time stream.
As the sensation of leaping subsided and the world reappeared around him, the whining sound in Tom’s ears was quickly replaced by a woman’s screams. His vision came back to him and he found himself in a place he never expected to find himself.
“Push!” a female voice encouraged, joining the struggled moans of the woman in the middle of baby delivery. Tom was still in shock at seeing the tiny head of a yet-to-be-born infant emerging from his (or her) mother.
“Doctor Agar, are you okay?” another feminine voice, closer to him, queried the leaper. He glanced over at the brown-haired nurse and saw the concern on her face. “The baby’s already crowning.”
Realizing that he was the doctor and would have to aid the new life into the world, if only to prevent his host from looking out of place, Tom replied, “Of course,” before he quickly reviewed what he knew of delivering babies. A split-second later when nothing passed through the time traveler’s mind, he mentally panicked. All he could hope for was some residual from the real Dr. Agar to help him through the procedure.
Gently placing his hands under the baby’s head, he carefully and lightly pulled the child along as the mother continued to bear down. Everything seemed to move in slow motion as Tom made sure that the baby — whom the Navy captain soon discovered was a boy — left the mother’s birth canal safely before ending up securely in his hands. As he held the tiny infant, he felt overjoyed that the baby seemed to be perfectly healthy and that he was there to hold this brand-new human being. The nurse beside Tom took a quick look at the infant and said, “It’s a boy, Mrs. Beckett.”
“Beckett?” Tom repeated before he looked at the woman who had just given birth, only to see his own mother in the bed, albeit many years younger from when he last saw her. He let out a wobbly breath before whispering quickly, “Ah, jeez!”
Newcombe Memorial Hospital
Elk Ridge, Indiana
Thursday, July 11, 1946
In all of my leaps through Time over the past twelve years, I had seen and experienced just about everything, but nothing could have ever prepared me to see my own mother — an extremely young Thelma Beckett — lying on a hospital bed and giving birth. Only one thought was running through my mind: Is this me or is it Sam? If the baby boy was actually me, then this was the farthest in time I had ever leaped back to — literally just seconds before my own birth. I hadn’t even thought such a thing was possible.
“Doctor, are you going to slap him?” the brunette nurse questioned, bringing Tom back to his current reality. “He has to breathe.”
Thinking back to what he had seen on television shows and in the movies, Tom lifted the newborn by his feet and gave a firm slap to the buttocks. The sound resonated in his ears for a brief moment before the baby began to cry. The nurse swiftly and tenderly took the baby from Tom and wrapped him in a blanket as another nurse joined her to remove the umbilical cord. He could only watch while the nurses tended to the newly born Beckett and gradually carried him over to his mother.
“He’s beautiful,” whispered Thelma as she took the baby into her arms, the tears in her eyes left over from the pain of birth being replaced by silent tears of joy. The look of contentment on her face reminded Tom of when Sam and Katie were babies and she would watch over them while they slept.
The leaper was caught up in watching his mother and barely registered the tug on his coat. “Doctor Agar, is everything all right? You should be letting the father know by now,” the nurse said in a quiet voice.
“I’m fine,” the time traveler replied in the same tone and forced a humoring grin. “I’ll go let him know now.”
Receiving a nod from the nurse before she turned away, Tom Beckett went toward the door that led out of the room, finding it hard to leave his mother at such a significant time in her life. His mind was racing as it tried to figure out why he had leaped into the doctor who had delivered either himself or Sam, and more specifically why he was there to aid with the birth. The former SEAL meandered down the hospital corridor in the aura of Dr. Agar, eventually happening upon the waiting area. There he found his father, John Beckett, who was pacing back and forth while an older couple sat in two of the chairs. Captain Beckett recognized the couple as his maternal grandparents, Grandma Netty and Grandpa Joe. All three turned their heads when they heard his footsteps and John approached him anxiously.
Tom wanted to address the man as his father, but forced himself to say, “Mister Beckett, you have a healthy baby boy. Mom is just fine, too.”
The leaper thought he had just given himself away and swallowed hard after referring to Thelma as his mother, but his father and grandparents took it as the doctor being friendly with them. The farmer’s face lit up at the news while Netty and Joe got up from their seats, all of them speechless with joy. “Congratulations,” Tom added with a smile when none of them said anything. It was almost like a dream to him, seeing these people who had been out of his life for such a long time alive and happy. They also looked much younger than he ever remembered them being, only adding to the sensation of fantasy. Seeing his father in his mid to late twenties was especially eerie considering how the resemblance between John and Sam was almost uncanny.
“When can we see him?” John asked with barely restrained excitement.
Imagining that there would be a nursery with observation windows, but not completely sure, Tom simply told them, “Soon. I’ll send one of the nurses to get you when the time comes.”
Nodding in understanding, John said, “Thank you, Doctor Agar.”
Tom tipped his head in response and turned to go back to the delivery room, still feeling like he was dreaming. Back in the delivery area, he found the nurses preparing Thelma to be moved to a post-partum recovery room. “Where’s the baby?” asked the time traveler.
“Annie took him to the nursery,” reported the other nurse who had been helping Thelma deliver. She hesitated before saying, “She said she’d bring the family to see him. It’s your lunch time anyway, Doctor.”
The leaper was beginning to get the idea that the nurses had noticed their doctor’s sudden incompetence. He pursed his lips for a moment and looked at his watch. “I guess you’re right,” he replied. “Let me know if I’m needed.”
“Of course,” the nurse replied with a smile. Tom left the room for the second time and found himself in the white-walled corridor once more. Instead of taking a short walk to the left and through the double doors as he did before, he made his way down toward the right, where he saw another corridor intersecting. He took an additional right at the end of the hall. It wasn’t until he heard his father’s voice that he realized that he probably should have followed the same course as before.
“That’s him right there,” Annie the nurse pointed out through the glass to John while Thelma’s parents looked on.
“Thomas Joseph Beckett,” John said quietly with pride in his tone.
Although Tom was curious to see the first moments of his life — as he finally recalled through his Swiss-cheesed mind that he had accompanied his parents to the hospital for both of his siblings’ births — he knew that interfering at such a crucial time may change things in his history that he couldn’t begin to fathom. He was about to turn around and walk the other way when he heard his host’s name being called out.
“Doctor Agar,” Annie addressed, “what are you doing here?”
John Beckett and his parents-in-law turned to look at Tom. “I’m just on my way to lunch,” the Navy captain explained.
Annie furrowed her brow. “The stairwell is that way,” she told him with a tinge of confusion, pointing the opposite direction.
“Oh, I know,” Tom lied, coming up with an excuse right away. “I wanted to first let Mister Beckett here know that Mrs. Beckett has been moved to the post-partum room.”
“Thanks, Doctor,” John replied with an appreciative smile that spoke more volumes than words ever could. The leaper recalled that his father had been that way as long as he could remember: more a man of actions than a man of words.
Making a welcoming nod, Tom took an extended glance at his infant self through the glass before turning around and walking in the direction given by Annie. He couldn’t help but smile as he walked along, thinking how God or Fate or Time sure had thrown him into such a unique and marvelous situation.
After receiving his free lunch in the hospital’s cafeteria, Tom sat down at an empty two-seat table and slowly ate his food. His mind was working so hard on figuring out why he had leaped into the doctor who had delivered him — during his very own delivery — that he had given no thought as to why one of his observers, Al Calavicci or Bobby LoNigro, hadn’t shown up yet to tell him what was next to do. All that was playing and replaying in his mind were the images and sounds of his infant self in the delivery room and in the nursery, accompanied by nostalgic memories of the farm that seemed to have surfaced through his magnafluxed memory.
“John, really, you shouldn’t eat so much. You have a long walk ahead of you,” Thelma Beckett scolded as she got up from the table. Her husband grimaced and put down his fork, watching her with a skeptical demeanor.
“I need my energy to get all the way into town, Thelma,” replied John. “I don’t want to get to Gary’s garage only to find out I’ll need a ride back because your delicious dinner has worn off.”
The family’s mode of transportation, a 1948 Chevrolet pick-up, required a new starter and the farmer did not fancy driving the tractor into town. Their neighbors were also busy with planting season and he didn’t want to bother any of them with what he saw as such a minor issue. John watched as his wife returned to the stove only to fill her plate up a second time. “‘Really, you shouldn’t be eating so much,’” he said in a joking tone when he caught her eye.
Thelma laughed and retook her seat, seeing the awed expression from their son Tom. He was obviously surprised at his mother’s sudden change in eating habits.
“That is a lot of food,” the six-year-old boy said quietly.
Chuckling again, the farmer’s wife replied, “I am eating for two now,” more to the young boy’s statement than her husband’s joke.
Cocking his head, Tom asked, “What does that mean?”
“You’re going to have a new baby brother or sister soon, Tommy,” Thelma explained with a glowing expression as she slowly moved her hand over her pregnant stomach, looking down as she caressed it.
“How soon?” the inquisitive youngster queried.
Thelma moved her eyes back up to meet her son’s. “About four months,” she told him with a warm smile. “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a little brother to play with?”
The last of the meager roast beef slid down the leaper’s throat, leaving his sky-blue plate empty. He then finished off the last few drops of coffee in the white ceramic mug before placing all of his dirty dishes on the cafeteria tray and taking it to the return bin. Tom had tried to stretch out the lunch break for as long as possible since his complete lack of medical knowledge could only land him in trouble if something serious arose that required Dr. Agar’s care and wisdom. He was lucky that delivering his infant self had gone so smoothly, thanks to the continuous prompting by the nurses.
As Tom took some brave steps out of the cafeteria, he decided to return to the floor where the nursery was. He remembered that there was a nurses’ station beside the waiting area where he had found his father and grandparents earlier and wanted to see what else was on his host’s agenda.
Reaching the third floor, he took a direct route to the station and found Annie behind the desk. “Hello, Doctor Agar,” she greeted him with a friendly smile. “How can I help you?”
“I’m just wondering, uh, what else lies ahead for today,” Tom told her, knowing full well that she would not catch the inside time-traveler joke, even if he was the only one there to understand it.
She checked a clipboard and shook her head as she handed it to him. “We have a few expectant mothers who have had due dates over the past three days, so they could be in at any time. There’s nothing for you to deal with at the moment.”
Noting that his host’s first name was Anthony and that the date indeed was July 11, 1946, Tom tried to commit the information on the clipboard to memory before handing it back. “Very well,” he said. “I’ll be in my office if I’m needed.”
Annie nodded and replaced the clipboard as she watched the doctor leave the desk.
Tom made his way to room 317, the number that was stated as Dr. Agar’s office, and was happy to see the nameplate on the door corresponded to the information on the timesheet. The door was unlocked and he entered the small office, closing the solid wooden door behind him as quickly as possible. He looked at the stacks of papers and folders on Anthony’s desk as he sat down in the leather office chair, quickly glancing at a sheet on top of one of the piles before it reminded him that medicine was not his field.
“What am I here to do?” the former Navy SEAL wondered aloud. As far as he knew, nothing had happened to him during his birth that required fixing. Not to mention, if something had happened, he likely wouldn’t have even been around to travel in Time in order to observe his own birth in the first place. He really did not want to start thinking about possible paradoxes. “It must be something else, someone else,” he concluded. “But who?”
Taking the same sheet that he had first looked over, Tom began reading names and forcing himself to memorize the data associated with each patient. Dr. Agar was an obstetrician, therefore dealing primarily with guiding mothers through pregnancy, as far as the time traveler could tell from the profiles he was poring over.
He had gone through at least ten folders before he came across a name that caused him to grip the current file tightly. “Della LoNigro?” he said in a hush as he forced himself to relax his hands. He knew that Bobby LoNigro, the man who had developed the String Theory after Sam’s death, was related to the LoNigro family in Elk Ridge, and he never expected that he would become involved with a family that was friends to the Becketts.
“Pregnant with twins… expected due date was July eighth,” he muttered aloud as he read the vital information. The LoNigros had four children in their family, from what Tom’s mind could recall, but none of them were twins. The oldest, a boy named Ron, had been two years ahead of him in school, and there was a daughter whose birthday was the same as Tom’s. The other two were younger, with Sibby being about a year older than Sam, and Sally about Katie’s age.
The leaper reread the information and reaffirmed his deduction that Julie LoNigro had not yet been born. What had happened to her twin was unbeknownst to Tom, but he was determined to find out.
Tom stood up from the desk with the intention of ensuring that he would be alerted as soon as Della LoNigro entered the hospital only to have someone knock at the door. “Doctor Agar, it’s Nurse Chapman,” a female voice called out.
“Come in,” Tom returned, remaining on his feet. He saw the nurse — whom he had only known as Annie up to that point — enter with an urgent look on her face.
“Mrs. LoNigro has been brought in and appears to have been in labor for a while now. We need you right away,” she reported speedily.
Without hesitation, Tom darted out of the room and followed the nurse down the hall, hoping that he would receive a sign as to what he needed to do.
Project Chrono-Leap (a.k.a. Quantum Leap), Conference Room
Stallion’s Gate, New Mexico
Saturday, May 5, 2007
Albert Calavicci walked through the doors of the project’s Conference Room, a clear expression of malcontent visible on his aged and scarred face. “Okay, does someone want to tell me why we’ve all been called down here so early on a Saturday morning?” he inquired as he quickly began searching for an empty seat.
Sean Alsterson looked toward the former Navy captain and replied, “We’re in the dark as much as you are, mate. All we know is that Ziggy issued a complex-wide alert that all senior staff members were to report to the conference room immediately.”
“I was right in the middle of watching a DVD of an old TV show I used to watch a few years back. It was up to a very crucial scene when something occurred that jarred me back to reality.”
“Ziggy’s announcement,” Gooshie assumed.
“Huh? Oh, no, not that, I was referring to the DVD… the cheap bastards took out a key song during a slow dance at the end of the final episode and replaced it with some generic crap that completely destroys the mood of the entire scene! It’s sacrilege, I tell ya!”
Tina and Gooshie just rolled their eyes at each other as the door opened to reveal Dr. Sebastian “Bobby” LoNigro who seemed very distracted and distant. Walking in behind him was a tall, bearded man, whose expression seemed to indicate that he was all business. A pair of security guards who were apparently escorting both men followed them inside, whereupon they then stood against the wall on either side of the door, standing at attention.
“Good morning, everyone,” Bobby greeted. “I appreciate you all coming down here on such short notice. Allow me to introduce you all to the acting Presidential Liaison to Project Quantum Leap, General Hawkins.”
The man known as Hawkins stepped forward and immediately began to speak in a deep commanding tone, attempting to assert his authority over everyone in the room. “Thank you for the introduction, Doctor. Everyone, please remain seated. We have a lot to cover and a short amount of time to do it in. There are going to be a few changes made to this project, and I will need everyone’s full cooperation to ensure the transition goes as smoothly as possible.” The general paused briefly, both to let that new information sink into everyone’s heads, and to size up any potential weak links in the team.
Carrying a manila folder underneath his right arm, Hawkins opened it and pulled out what appeared to be a series of notes and proposals. Among the clutter of papers was also a duty roster that held the names of all essential personnel for Dr. LoNigro’s project, which he understood was officially called Project Chrono-Leap. “First order of business: I need to familiarize myself with the main staff members and make sure everyone is present and accounted for. If you would all just please respond by saying ‘Present’ when I call out your name, we can dispense with the pleasantries and get down to the important matters.”
For the next five to ten minutes, Hawkins read and checked off the names of all senior staff members. Among them included: Dr. Sebastian Robert LoNigro, Co-Creator and Acting Director of Project Chrono-Leap; Dr. Irving Gushman, Head Programmer; Dr. Christina Martinez-O’Farrell, Pulse Communications Technician; Dr. Ike Bentenhoff, Head of Imaging Control; Dr. Verbena Beeks, Chief Psychiatrist; Dr. Sean Alsterson, Theory Director of Quantum Physics; and the list went on. Three names in particular stood out on the list as Hawkins noticed special notations next to each of them: Ex-Captain Albert Calavicci, Dr. Donna Elesee-LoNigro, and Captain Thomas Joseph Beckett. He knew about the special circumstances that brought Calavicci to the project, but he needed to inquire about Donna and Tom to make sure he understood their current situations. “Now, it says here that Doctor Elesee played a key role in the day-to-day operations of this project up until 2000, which is when Doctor Alsterson officially took over her position. She is still here but has stepped back from full-time duties, correct?”
“That is correct, General,” answered Bobby. “The two of us developed a close relationship while we were both working at the Star Bright Project, and we were married almost twenty years ago. She gave birth to our first child seven years ago, and we both agreed at the time that her attention should focus more on being a mother than a workaholic scientist.”
“That definitely sounds like a reasonable explanation to me for her absence. This nation needs more responsible and caring parents like you and your wife,” Hawkins replied with genuine satisfaction. “Now, as for Captain Beckett, it is my understanding that the reason for his absence is due to a malfunction of the Chronoton Accelerator that nearly destroyed this project during its initial test phase twelve years ago.”
“Yes, unfortunately,” Bobby confirmed. He relayed to Hawkins the events of that fateful day back in May of 1995 as if it had happened only yesterday. Bobby and Tom had devoted all of their time and energy into proving that a living, breathing human being could be successfully transported back through time and observe history. It was a dream that his prized pupil, Sam Beckett, had originally envisioned, and they both felt obligated to keep that dream alive, to preserve his “spirit” in a way. Of course, Bobby had always secretly known that Tom also had an ulterior motive for proving that the String Theory worked. Tom had held out hope that they’d be able to go back and witness firsthand what led to Sam’s murder at the hands of the infamous serial killer Logan Lanning. And maybe, just maybe, be able to prevent it altogether.
When the day had finally arrived for them to test the Chronoton Accelerator, Bobby had felt confident that his experiment would be a success, marking a dramatic new chapter in the pages of human history. Tom had volunteered to be the test subject, feeling confident in Bobby’s immense knowledge of quantum mechanics. ALPHA — or “Ziggy,” as Al had liked to call it — established the neural link between both Tom and himself. Everything had been going according to plan when ALPHA suddenly detected an “anomaly of unknown origin” which caused a tremendous power surge that began to overload the Accelerator. The power surge corrupted the leaping program just as Tom had become enveloped in the blue leaping energy. Bobby ordered Gooshie and the other technicians to shut the Accelerator down, but it was too late. From the Control Room, they could hear Tom screaming out in pain as the blue energy that surrounded him quickly began to warp and take on a more green-yellowish hue before ultimately rippling outward in a blinding flash. When the energy had subsided, Tom’s body was gone. It had been about a week before the project discovered that Tom was still alive but trapped in the past. From that point on, Bobby took it upon himself to be Tom’s observer until he could find a way to retrieve him successfully. The rest was history.
Hawkins listened intently to Bobby’s tale keeping a reserved expression on his face, not giving any indication as to what he was thinking. Once Bobby finished, the general took a few moments to process the information before he continued. “Hmm, I see. So, for all intents and purposes, this experiment should have been terminated as soon as it was deemed unsafe. It seems like no one learned anything from the catastrophe of Doctor Garner’s original Time Displacer Unit back in ’59. I was there at the New Mexico clean-fusion project. Garner’s experiment practically blew up in my face and killed a fellow cadet. I luckily escaped with only minor injuries.
“A similar incident occurred at Star Bright, if my memory serves. The fact that this project utilizes some of Doctor Garner’s flawed research and the Star Bright experiments should have clued someone in that a disaster was just waiting to happen. However… according to the official report filed in 1995, it was the opinion of then-President Bill Clinton that this project still held enormous potential for the betterment of our society.”
“Yes, General, that is correct,” Bobby confirmed, clearly wanting to steer the topic of discussion away from the aforementioned incident. “President Clinton himself personally agreed to meet with me after his inauguration in ’93 to discuss the limitless possibilities that this project had to offer. This was all mentioned in D.C.,” he added, more for the benefit of everyone else than Hawkins. Bobby knew the reason for Hawkins’ involvement at the project, but needed to let the general be in charge of the meeting.
As everyone sat waiting impatiently for the other shoe to drop, curiosity began to get the better of Gooshie as he decided to contribute to the conversation. “Excuse me, General, but you mentioned that there were going to be changes. When Doctor LoNigro, Captain Beckett, and I procured funding for this project, the Senate Committee assured us there’d be little to no involvement from their end because they had faith in Doctor LoNigro’s abilities. It also didn’t hurt matters that he was already a well-respected member of the government’s inner circle after winning the Nobel Prize. All they asked for in return was regular updates to keep them apprised of any major new developments. I don’t understand what’s changed.”
“September Eleventh is what changed, Doctor,” Hawkins explained. “In case you’ve forgotten, terrorists hijacked four planes and crashed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, the White House, and the Capitol building. The Twin Towers were destroyed, and President Bush was killed. Would someone remind me again of this project’s original mission statement? ‘To put right what once went wrong,’ or something to that effect? I don’t remember the exact words that were used.”
“To use the knowledge of our future to correct the mistakes of our past,” Gooshie clarified.
“Correct. And how has Captain Beckett been fulfilling that statement? I’ll cite some recent examples,” Hawkins stated as he picked up another sheet of paper, reading off the long list of Tom’s accomplishments. “Saving a busload of anti-war protesters and convincing a draft-dodger to report for duty; saving the lives of a group of Canadian soldiers during the Korean War; preventing the wrongful persecution of a housewife accused of being a Communist sympathizer…. All well and good, but not exactly the level of impact the government was hoping for when they signed off on this experiment. And with the recent upheaval in the Middle East and Al Qaeda operatives gaining a stronger foothold in Iraq, this country can no longer afford to sit idly by and let an important technological advance such as time travel be wasted on trivial matters such as the ones I’ve mentioned.”
“Trivial?!” Al blurted out. “Begging the general’s pardon, but doesn’t that seem a bit inconsiderate to say about the everyday, ‘ordinary’ people' this government claims to care so much about?”
Taken aback at the audacity of the man who up to that point hadn’t said a word, Hawkins asked, “And who are you again?”
“Albert Calavicci, former P.O.W., astronaut, and Captain in the United States Navy… sir.”
“Ah, so you’re Albert. I’ve heard a great deal about you, Mister Calavicci,” Hawkins shot back. “You’ve become somewhat of a legend in the annals of this nation’s Naval history: using unconventional and unorthodox methods to get what you’ve wanted, showing a blatant disregard for certain rules and regulation, defying figures of authority every chance you could get, having severe problems with alcohol…. In fact, if memory serves, it was that same alcohol problem that led to your dismissal from the Star Bright Project and general discharge from the Navy. Which, given that status, begs the question: exactly how is it that you are now working at a top-secret government-funded project?”
“If you refuse to address me by my last rank as a member of the United States Navy, the proper salutation is Doctor, as I do have a doctorate in electrical engineering. My ‘official’ position on this project is that of a freelance civilian contractor,” Al answered. “As for why I got the position… let’s just say Captain Beckett and I were reunited at a time when my life had hit rock-bottom and he owed me a favor. He gave me a chance to get cleaned up and to offer my services to any future endeavors that he might be involved in.”
Quirking his left eyebrow, Hawkins studied Al and then added, “So, you’re on the government’s payroll at the personal request of Captain Beckett?”
“That is correct,” Al stated simply.
“Too bad the captain isn’t here to personally vouch for you anymore, Mister Calavicci,” Hawkins responded, an almost wicked smirk appearing on his face.
“And just what is that supposed to mean?” Al asked, not liking where Hawkins’ inquiry was going and more than a little annoyed by his disregard of social protocol.
“I’ve been going over the personnel files and I’ve noted that you are here as Chief Electrical Engineer. Other than that, your duties on the Project are rather obscure. What exactly is it that you do here, Mister Calavicci, other than take a paycheck from the government?”
“With all due respect, General,” Bobby interrupted, “Albert’s position at this project isn’t the issue here. So, just cut to the chase and tell everyone why you’re here.”
“Very well,” Hawkins said succinctly. “To put it quite simply, President Cheney has asked me to step in and take control of this project. The United States Government’s objective is to assign a new leaper whose sole mission will be to prevent certain events like 9/11 from ever coming to pass. I will personally be overseeing these leap missions to ensure their success.”
“A new leaper?!” Sean exclaimed. “But what about Tom?”
“Captain Beckett is of no use to us as long as he is trapped in the past with no control over where we want to send him. Until we can change history and eradicate the Al Qaeda network, finding a way to retrieve Captain Beckett will have to be put on hold for the time being.”
All eyes in the room just stared at Hawkins in shock over this sudden disregard for the man who helped Bobby realize his dream of time travel. Al decided to tell Hawkins exactly how he felt, regardless of the consequences. “This is preposterous! Captain Beckett has done a lot of good for so many people. He’s a good, honest man who served this country in time of war and proved to be a hero! He is a true patriot, in every sense of the word, and this is the thanks you and your ‘superiors’ decide to give him — to just abandon him in the past and leave him to fend for himself? Pardon me for saying so, but that just plain sucks… General!”
Hawkins’ face turned bright red as Al made it a point to clearly show the air of defiance and disrespect he held toward him. “Mister Calavicci, I am not debating Captain Beckett’s character or the heroic deeds he has accomplished over the years; but he is an officer of the United States Navy and, as such, is listed as ‘M.I.A.,’ so to speak. He knew the risks that came with wearing that uniform, and although he might not have been lost in combat, he is lost nonetheless. And as Doctor LoNigro has pointed out to me before this meeting was called, his chances of returning to our own time are minimal, at best. Both the President and I have re-evaluated this project and come to the undeniable conclusion that there is nothing more we can do for Captain Beckett except to learn from past mistakes.
“That is why, effective immediately, all resources of this project shall divert their attention away from retrieving Captain Beckett in order to focus on training a new leaper. I have assigned a contingent of military scientists and technicians to help make this transition go as smoothly and quickly as possible. Most of you won’t need to worry about being reassigned… that is, except for you, Mister Calavicci.”
“Excuse me?” Al asked, feeling the growing anger inside him — which up until that point was being held under tight restraint — threatening to boil over.
“Your services will no longer be required now that this project is under the direct supervision of the President and myself,” Hawkins clarified. “To be blunt, I do not believe it is appropriate to have a former Navy captain, who was discharged from service for bad conduct, be part of a highly-classified top-secret project such as this one. You have twenty-four hours to gather your personal belongings and vacate these premises. The government will ensure you receive a reasonable severance pay for your ‘civilian’ services.”
It was at that moment that Al finally shot up out of his chair and unleashed his fury on the general. “Why you rotten double-crossing bastard! So, you think you can just barge in here, take control, and decide who stays and who goes? I should have some say in the matter, don’t you think?”
“Al, please,” Bobby pleaded as he reached out to grab the former P.O.W.’s arm in an attempt to calm him down. “Don’t make this any harder than it already is. We can work something out to make sure you’re fairly compensated.”
Al looked down at Bobby flabbergasted, not believing what he was hearing. “Wait a minute… you already knew about this, didn’t you? That trip you made to Washington last month… you made a deal behind our backs to keep this project going!”
“What else could I do, Al?” Bobby asked, slightly lowering his head in guilt. “This is my project… my dream! I couldn’t just let it die after all the blood, sweat, and tears Tom and I put into making that dream a reality. Compromises had to be made. I tried to get them to allow you to stay on, but they felt that you were only here as a favor to Captain Beckett and that you aren’t really needed. As much as it pains me, it’s a valid point. I… I’m sorry, Al.”
“I can’t believe I’m hearing this! You sold us out, sold me out!” Al exclaimed in disbelief. “After all we’ve been through together! The first couple of years at Star Bright, that ‘incident’ the general mentioned, and then this project… and this is how you repay me?”
Bobby was visibly stung by Al’s words. “You should know better than anyone the burden I bear regarding what happened at Star Bright. I’ve carried that weight and guilt with me nearly every day for the past seventeen years! And after what happened with Tom? I just can’t allow something like that to happen again, Al. Being Project Observer is my responsibility, not yours.”
The former captain simply nodded and said, “I see. Well, glad to know how I rate around here! Guess I’ll start packing my stuff.” With that, Al walked toward the door and stormed out in anger.
“Al, now wait just a damn minute,” Sean pleaded, shocked just as much — perhaps even more so — than his friend was. He began to get up to run after him, but Bobby grabbed his arm and stopped him.
“Let him go, Sean,” Bobby said. “He just needs to blow off some steam.” Then, with a slight whisper that only Sean could hear, he added, “I know what I’m doing. Just trust me, okay?”
Resigned to the fact that Hawkins was clearly in control of the current situation for the time being, Sean sat back down and remained silent, his arms crossed over his chest.
Apparently unfazed by the display of anger and betrayal that both Al and Sean expressed, Hawkins continued, “Well, now that that little matter is taken care of, we can get back to the business at hand. First off, I want to make it very clear to everyone working here that I expect certain formalities when addressing each other and myself during working hours. Quite frankly, the level of ‘casualness’ that I’ve noticed most of you seem to have with one another while on duty disturbs me, and as long as I am in command that behavior will not be tolerated. How you deal with each other off-duty is your business, but under my watch, everything will go ‘by-the-book’ and remain strictly professional. I trust that I’ve made myself clear?”
Everyone simply nodded or silently acknowledged the general’s new “rules,” no one saying a single word for fear of reprisal. “Very good. That being said, the formal codenames for this project and its computer need to be addressed. Now, I know it may seem like a minor detail to most of you, but I believe that formalities should also be applied to government agencies and property as well. I understand that Mister Calavicci thought it would be amusing to give the computer more ‘personality’ by calling it ‘Ziggy.’ I’ll admit the nickname is cute, but neither it nor its female voice seems necessary to me. I would appreciate it if everyone began referring to it as ALPHA once again. I trust Doctor Gushman can restore its original voice with little effort. Likewise, this project does not need two similar codenames. The original codename, ‘Project Chrono-Leap,’ is just fine. And besides, it sounds more unique than the generic term ‘quantum leap,’ in my opinion.”
The project staff members all looked at each other, not quite believing how quickly and suddenly things were changing. But they all complied as best they could, hoping that the general would eventually come around. That seemed highly unlikely, however, once Hawkins issued his next statement.
“Now that those issues have been addressed, I would like to focus the remainder of this meeting on this project’s new objectives and allow all of you to familiarize yourselves with the new leaper that will be replacing Captain Beckett.” Turning his head toward one of the Marine guards standing by the door, Hawkins ordered, “Corporal, if you would escort our new leaper in, please.”
The guard complied as he opened the door and led the mystery man into the conference room. The man stood at about six feet tall, had dark brown hair, and appeared to be in his early fifties. He studied his surroundings and seemed to be slightly disoriented, almost as if he had been there once before but not quite remembering how and when. Quickly realizing that it was impossible for him to have been there beforehand, he shook it off and stepped forward, anxious to assume his new assignment.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Hawkins announced, “Project Chrono-Leap’s new leaper: Doctor Maxwell Robert Connors.”
Connors stepped in front of Hawkins and swallowed hard, seeing all eyes in the room on him. Pushing down his nervousness, the quantum physicist simply said, “Hello, everyone. I look forward to working with all of you.”
Newcombe Memorial Hospital
Elk Ridge, Indiana
Thursday, July 11, 1946
Della LoNigro had been in the hospital for over four hours and all of her hard work was finally coming to fruition. Although Tom was tempted to ask for a replacement doctor for the birth, he knew deep in his heart that he had leaped into Dr. Anthony Agar in order to ensure that the delivery went according to a new plan in which both children survived. Despite having had no idea that Julie — the infant girl that he was about to help into the world — had lost her twin some time before Tom was old enough to remember such things, he felt that the least he could do was ensure that the accompanying baby was delivered safely and hope that it would set things right in his or her future.
The head of the first of the two twins began to emerge from the mother as Tom, running purely on instincts and hopefully some overlapping knowledge from his host, aided the baby out in much the same fashion as he did with his own birth earlier that day. There were four nurses assisting this birth at the request of the leaper and two of them took away the newborn girl after Tom had started her breathing. Della tried to keep her screams to herself during the entire process and followed her attending nurse’s directions precisely.
“Come on. Where are you?” he whispered while waiting impatiently for the second child to show itself.
“Do you see the other one yet?” Annie asked quietly over his shoulder, taking a look for herself.
The captain shook his head inconspicuously. The two of them waited as the seconds that ticked by seemed to stretch out to an eternity. Finally, another small head appeared and Tom ordered the mother to continue bearing down. Her nurse gave careful instructions and guided Della as the child began to crown. It wasn’t until the baby was halfway out that Tom saw a major problem.
“The umbilical cord is around his neck!” he hissed, noticing that Julie’s attachment to her mother was the culprit. The nurses got to work quickly and disconnected Julie’s umbilical cord in order to remove it from the infant boy’s neck. Once the boy was clear of the birth canal, the leaper attempted to perform the same procedure that he had on the baby’s sister. A couple of slaps on the bottom did not cause the boy to cry out.
“He’s not breathing?” Nurse Chapman questioned in a low voice.
“What’s wrong with my baby?” demanded the weary Della, who couldn’t see what was happening.
Swallowing the large lump in his throat, Tom Beckett shook his head in response to Annie’s query. He checked the baby’s pulse only to find none and his Navy training kicked into gear as he ordered a table brought over. Placing the baby on a blanket, he immediately began delicate cardiopulmonary resuscitation by first opening the airway. There was nothing coming from the boy’s mouth, so Tom covered the newborn’s lips and nose with his own mouth and gave two gentle, one-second-long breaths. He then proceeded to use two fingers in the center of the chest to perform thirty compressions.
“What are you doing, Doctor?” the nurse asked quietly as Della LoNigro continued to ask for her second child.
“Trying to save his life,” he replied curtly upon finishing the first set of compressions. When there was no breathing and no pulse, he repeated the careful breaths into the boy’s lungs. Annie bit her lip as Tom began the compressions again, praying that whatever procedure it was that her boss was performing would work to bring the newborn child back to life. He was counting to himself as he went along: “Eight… nine… ten… eleven…” when a tiny cough emitted from the infant’s mouth.
Again checking for a pulse, the leaper nearly shouted for joy when he detected the newborn’s heartbeat. Placing his head closer to the baby’s mouth, he heard the ragged breaths begin to quicken. The smile on Tom’s face widened until a loud cry blasted into his ear, causing him to cringe visibly. The attending nurses removed the umbilical cord with Tom’s blessing and both children, wrapped in white blankets, were presented to their mother.
“You have a girl and a boy, Mrs. LoNigro,” Tom announced proudly. “We’re going to have to keep a careful eye on the little lad, of course.”
Della’s eyes were welling up with joyful tears as she looked at her two crying children, before moving her gaze up to the leaper. “You saved his life,” she said with some jitter in her voice. “Thank you.”
Grinning widely, Tom knew that his mission was complete when the tugging at his extremities began and he quickly disappeared in a wash of quantum energy.
It felt like the leap was almost instantaneous. Memories of the hospital delivery room were just beginning to fade when Tom found himself standing in a public bathroom, his hands being soaked by warm water flowing from the faucet of the sink before him. His host, a Caucasian man in his mid thirties with dark brown hair and hazel eyes, was wearing a gray business suit and had his hair parted severely on the left. The time traveler turned off the tap and dried his hands on a couple pieces of brown paper towel. He appeared to be alone and was about to exit the restroom when the familiar sound of the Imaging Chamber door opening came from behind him.
“Bobby!” Tom exclaimed with both relief and annoyance. “Where in the hell have you been? I’ve already leaped and both you and Al were nowhere to be found. Come to think of it, I haven’t even seen you since that leap I made into Sanctuary House.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry about that, Tom,” Bobby replied. “I’m afraid it couldn’t be helped. There have been… problems going on back here and I had to wait for the right time to sneak off into the Imaging Chamber to check up on you.”
The expression on Tom’s face suddenly turned to one of concern. “Sneak off? What’s going on, Bobby?”
Taking in a deep breath, Bobby simply sighed and began explaining the situation to his friend. “This may be our last contact, so I’ll try to be as brief as I can: a four-star general from the United States Army has been authorized by the President to take control of Project Chrono-Leap and change its objectives. They agreed to continue providing funding for the project under the condition that the technology be used to help in the ‘war on terror.’ Unfortunately, that means retrieving you is no longer the project’s top priority. The general’s already assigned a new leaper to take your place. Testing of the new Chronoton Accelerator upgrades begins tomorrow. They plan on changing the events of September Eleventh.”
Tom was floored by this sudden “changing of the guard.” How could everything that he and Bobby worked so hard for have fallen apart so easily and so quickly? It was bad enough that Tom was starting to “remember” things that never happened to him, but to now discover that his only guide on his leaping string might not be able to return, leaving him truly alone, nearly drove him over the edge. “Who is this general that wrested control of the project away from you?”
“You probably wouldn’t know him. His name is Hawkins. General Hawkins.”
“Hawkins…” Tom said out loud, as a sudden “new” memory flashed across his mind:
“You asked to see me, General?” Tom asked.
“Yes, please, sit down, Commander,” Hawkins replied, gesturing toward the chair on the other side of his desk. As Tom complied, the general continued, “I think you’ll be pleased to know that due to certain… mitigating circumstances, I have decided to let the leapees go. I am convinced they do not pose a threat to national security.”
“That’s very considerate of you, General,” Tom replied back in a monotone voice. “You didn’t call me in here just to tell me that, did you?”
“No, of course not,” Hawkins responded, chuckling slightly before his tone became more serious. “It seems there’s still the little matter of your son and David Watkins going public with information concerning this project. This is not something that the government takes lightly, Commander, as I’m sure you’re well aware from your past service with the Navy.”
“With all due respect, General, I think both J. T. and David realize now just how serious their actions were. As reckless as they may have been with sharing their information, they meant no harm. They just wanted answers to a mystery that had been eluding both of them for years. They made a mistake, that’s all. And I’m sure you must remember making some foolish decisions when you were their age. I sure as heck do.”
“Yes, I do realize that, Commander. That is why I am willing to make a compromise as far as your son is concerned. I will personally see to it that J. T. serves a minimal sentence for his part in this fiasco if you agree to come work for me to supervise and oversee a new top-secret project I am developing in Washington, code-named Project Liberty. It is a time-travel project that builds upon the research of both your brother and Doctor Garner, who, if I understand correctly, was Sam’s main inspiration for developing Project Quantum Leap. President Bush has authorized me to go forward with this new project with the goal of combating terrorism on a global level.”
“Why do you need me?” Tom asked, a bit confused, but keeping an open mind.
“Your service in the Navy is exemplary, both as a former SEAL and a commander in the space program during the late 1970s. If you hadn’t retired at such an early age, you would most likely hold the rank of captain, or even an admiral, by now. Plus, your genetic connection to Doctor Beckett and similar brainwave patterns make you a valuable asset — one that I’d be foolish to pass up. To put it simply, you are the prime candidate for being my Head Observer at Project Liberty. You would be reinstated to active duty and be promoted to the rank of captain, with all of the rights and privileges thereof… with your permission, of course.”
Tom thought about Hawkins’ offer for a minute. He had to admit, the prospect of being more heavily involved in a time-travel project intrigued him. In a little over a decade, Project Quantum Leap still hadn’t found a way to bring Sam back home for good. Perhaps Hawkins could do what Al couldn’t.
“I’ll consider your proposal on one condition,” he said. “My son is an expert when it comes to computers and reading code. I’ll work for you provided that all charges against J. T. are dropped and that you give him a position at your project as a computer technician. He’d be a valuable asset that you’d be foolish to pass up.”
Hawkins looked at Tom, amused by the commander’s quoting of his previous statement. After pondering Tom’s counter-proposal, the general finally caved in and said, “You have a deal, Commander — or should I say, Captain?”
J. T.? Tom thought. I have a son?
“You all right, Tom?” Bobby asked when he saw the leaper’s eyes had glazed over as he stared into space.
Tom sniffed and tightened his lips. “Yeah, I’m fine. It’s just that I think I’ve met this Hawkins guy before,” he explained. “He’s not to be trusted, Bobby.”
The hologram made a humorless chuckle. “You don’t have to tell me that.” He didn’t want to tell Tom that Al had been officially removed from the project, so before Tom could ask anything further about the situation, he pressed onward with information about the leap.
“ALPHA has been loyal enough to give me information on your current leap. Since we’re forbidden to enter the Waiting Room right now, I had him quickly interview the visitor,” Bobby reported. Tom raised an eyebrow at the unorthodox method but said nothing, glad to know that his friends hadn’t abandoned him despite the ominous new force that was menacing them. “He could only really get your host’s name and the date, which is how we found you so quickly. You’re Harry Brightman and the date is September fifteenth, 1971.”
“Do you know where I am?” asked the leaper.
Bobby shook his head. “We were lucky just to get a lock on you so quickly. Harry is from Indianapolis so that’s where ALPHA thinks you are, but he hasn’t been able to verify it yet. Based on that assumption, ALPHA’s saying that you’re here to prevent the suicide of one Timothy McPhee.”
Tom creased his brow. “How does it happen? And what can I do to stop it?”
“According to the newspaper articles, he throws himself from a tenth-story window at the City–County Building, the city hall, tomorrow before noon,” the observer continued. He was about to press a button on the multi-colored handlink to bring up more information when the door to the Imaging Chamber opened without his provocation. Both men looked to the white light in surprise, although Tom couldn’t see who was standing there.
“You’re going to have to come with me, sir,” a Marine officer stated authoritatively. “General Hawkins explicitly stated that there is to be no contact with Captain Beckett while the new leaper is under training.”
Shaking his head and grinding his teeth in anger, Bobby turned back to his friend. “I gotta go, Tom,” he said while holding back his defeated feelings. “Take care, okay?”
Although he desperately wanted to know what was happening, the leaper nodded. “You, too.”
Doctor LoNigro took in a deep breath through his nose and turned to see the no-nonsense expression on the Marine’s face as he awaited the physicist. Bobby stepped through the rectangular door and it closed behind him, leaving Tom alone once more.
Although he was concerned about what was happening back at the Project, Tom forced himself to focus on the mission. Bobby’s departure was far from ordinary, but he knew that he could put his faith in the former professor along with everybody else who worked alongside him. Tom placed his hands on the countertop and looked at the reflection in the mirror. “My name is Harry Brightman,” the leaper whispered as he repeated the information to himself, “and I’m here to stop Timothy McPhee from committing suicide. But if he dies tomorrow, then why am I here today?”
His self-commentary was interrupted by another man entering the restroom. Pretending to have just been finishing up, Tom straightened his suit jacket and strode out of the lavatory into a busy hallway. There were people in business attire all around him, with seemingly equal amounts of people moving in both directions, so he just stepped in and went along with one flow of traffic. He had no idea what Harry did for a living. Did he work in this building or was he just a visitor? Checking his watch, he saw that it was five until one and figured that everyone was returning from lunch.
“Hey, Harry,” a younger man addressed him with a friendly grin. “How’s your Hump Day goin’?”
Perplexed by the idiom, Tom repeated, “‘Hump Day’?”
The man laughed. “It’s something a friend of mine in Minneapolis said every Wednesday when I was there last month. You know, it’s the middle of the work week so it’s the ‘hump’ you have to get over in order to make it to the weekend.”
“Ohhh, I get it,” the leaper replied lamely. He didn’t continue the conversation and just walked alongside the man who reminded him of someone he thought he knew, trying to recall where he could possibly have met him before. The other man eventually went to veer off to the right and bumped into Tom when he didn’t make the turn.
“Oops, sorry,” Tom muttered as he followed the fellow’s lead and they entered an office area full of cubicles.
“See ya later,” his temporary companion said with a smile. Captain Beckett nodded in response and went on the slow search for Harry Brightman’s desk. During his casual walk, he came across a cubicle with the label “T. McPhee.” Inside was a man who appeared to be in his late forties and had a definite air of gloom about him. Tom decided he might as well get a head start on finding out what had happened to the poor fellow that would encourage him to end his life the next day.
“How are ya doin’, Tim?” the time traveler asked in a friendly manner.
“You know. Same old, same old,” Tim said back with a frown, barely meeting Tom’s eyes. “But thanks for asking.”
“If you want to talk about anything…” Tom proposed but was quickly silenced by Tim’s severe shaking of his head.
The man sat in silence for a moment before saying quietly, “Just leave me to myself, Harry. Please. Lunch is over now anyway.”
The leaper could see that he would not get very far with the current approach, coupled with the restrictions of lunch hour, and nodded. “All right, Tim. I’m here if you need me, though,” he said and left to continue his quest to find Harry’s desk. All the while, he could guess that depression was the likely factor that caused the middle-aged man to consider suicide, but the root of that depression was still unknown to Tom.
Walking around some more, he finally found Harry’s desk, which was in a corner office with a nice view of the city, and sat down behind it to find out exactly where he was working and what his job was. The letterhead on his notepad told him that Harry worked for Unigov in Indianapolis. Assuming that it was the name of the municipal government, Tom deduced that the building he was in was indeed the city hall and that Tim would be committing suicide at his workplace.
He had been sitting only for a few minutes before there was a knock at his open door. Looking up, Tom saw the young man that had been talking to him before. “Harry, I need your help for a second. Do you mind coming to my desk?”
“Not at all,” the time traveler replied eagerly. He followed the man to his cubicle, noticing the nameplate outside read “G. LoNigro” in white lettering on a black background.
“LoNigro? Ah, jeez,” he gasped.
Wednesday, September 15, 1971
“What’s that?” G. LoNigro asked, not hearing exactly what Tom had said aloud when he recognized the man’s surname.
Tom Beckett shook his head. “Nothing,” he lied. “Now what was it you needed help with… G?”
“‘G’?” the younger man chuckled and gave Tom a quizzical look. “Only my little brother Sibby calls me that. Everyone else just calls me Gord.”
It dawned on Tom that this man talking to him had to be the same baby boy he helped survive birth, an experience that took place in what was no more than fifteen minutes ago from the leaper’s perspective. While he pondered what the connection must be — Could it be a coincidence that I have leaped into his life again so soon? — the older brother of Sibby LoNigro went on to describe his problem, something about dealing with the proposition of a controversial rezoning of an area of the city that went way over the time traveler’s head. He obviously wanted some ideas from Harry Brightman, whom Tom was assuming must be Gordon’s supervisor or mentor, but certainly wasn’t going to get anything constructive from the leaper who had been in the military for most of his life.
“What have you come up with so far?” Tom asked, trying the old trick of replying to a question with a question.
“I was working on this with Tim McPhee, since he used to do this kind of thing, but he’s been so depressed since his wife died,” replied Gord. “I don’t know why he refused to take the time off that Mister Carpenter offered him.”
Tom’s expression turned more somber upon learning the key piece of information. “Some people try to work off their grief, I guess,” he said, knowing that it was one way he had tried to get over Sam’s death, which had been followed about a year later by his father’s fatal heart attack. “What did Mister McPhee have to offer?”
The LoNigro twin shrugged. “He seemed apathetic toward it, but he said that we shouldn’t side with a developer if it’s upsetting the community to this degree.”
“And you don’t think that his advice is good enough?” the leaper pressed on.
“That’s not it,” Gordon said with some nervousness. “It’s just that you’re my boss and I wanted to clear it with you first. I’m supposed to present the ‘pros and cons’ of the proposition later this afternoon to Nelson’s committee. Right now, they are favoring going ahead with the development.”
A trickle of his military training kicked in as he responded to the young man. “Just because I’m your boss doesn’t mean you have to clear every single little thing with me, Gord,” he stated, trying to boost his confidence. “If you’re totally lost, that’s when you should come to me. There’s nothing wrong with getting advice from your co-workers. If you think that rejecting the proposal is the way to go, you’ll just have to convince the committee of that.”
Nodding at the time traveler’s words, Gord LoNigro smiled. “Thanks, Harry,” he said with gratitude.
“No problem,” Tom replied. “Is that everything?”
“I guess so,” Gordon answered.
Although Tom Beckett really wanted to strike up a conversation about old times back in Elk Ridge — even though his memories contained nothing about Julie’s twin brother — he knew that he had other work to do. “Good,” he said and left the cubicle. He purposefully took a detour back to Harry’s office in order to pay another visit to the man with self-slaughter on his mind.
“I don’t care what’s going on in your mind, McPhee,” a voice said in a half-whisper as Tom approached the cubicle. The leaper stopped beside the entrance and eavesdropped on the conversation. “I just want you to do your job. I told you to take some time off, but when you refused, I assumed you could handle yourself.”
“But…” Tim started, only to be cut off.
“No ‘buts’ about it,” the admonishing voice continued. “Either you come into this office tomorrow ready to work or you don’t come back at all.”
He could hear Tim stammering to say something but didn’t get a chance to formulate any kind of coherent word. His “reprimander” exited the cubicle and nearly bumped into the waiting Tom. The Navy captain stared at the man with graying hair with resentment as he pulled Tom further along the hallway.
“I know what you’re thinking: mean ol’ Carpenter is at it again,” he said to Tom in a hush. “I’ve tried my best to help him out, but he’s just getting worse as the days go by.”
“So that’s your excuse for yelling at him?” Tom replied in an equally quiet voice.
Carpenter shook his head slowly. “You know how much of a ‘softie’ I am, Harry,” he said. “I hate having to be hard on people, but too many others in the office are having problems with his constant gloom. I can’t have everyone’s productivity drop because of one sad man.”
“He lost his wife,” the leaper retorted incredulously.
“I know. Cancer is a terrible thing,” Carpenter commented before glancing at his watch. “Anyway, I gotta get going. See you later.”
Upon hearing Carpenter mentioning the word “cancer,” another “lost” memory resurfaced in the leaper’s mind.
Tom Beckett looked down on the sunken cheeks of the bald woman that lay in the hospital bed in his living room and saw only the raven-haired beauty he had married in 1977. When her eyes drifted open, there was a moment of clarity around the massive doses of morphine coursing through her system. Her smile was a mere twitch at the corner of her lips, but her husband of twenty-two years saw the same radiance that had attracted him so long ago. He managed a slight squeeze of her hand and gently caressed the papery skin along her sunken cheek. He leaned close so she could not see his tears.
“Hello, my sweet,” he whispered gently in her ear as he brushed her forehead with his lips.
“Tom.” He heard her only because he was leaning so close. The word was barely audible above his own breathing.
“Yes, my love.” His voice sounded husky to him, but he knew she didn’t notice.
“Find him, Tom,” she uttered quietly, her breath as fleeting as butterfly wings. He wasn’t quite sure what she said at first, being so centered on his own fight for control.
“What?” he replied gently, still stroking her cheek with his fingertips and caressing her forehead with his lips.
“Find him. Family. He’s family.” The effort exhausted her, and the pillow beneath her head compressed slightly as she sank back, her eyes drifting closed.
Tom pulled back, his tears under control for the moment. He knew whom she meant; they’d had this discussion before in Japan, in Italy, in Hawaii, and in every other city and country they’d lived in during his career. He had tried before, but not whole-heartedly; he had his own concerns, what with his Navy career, raising children and making sure his mother was cared for. After all, Sam could pick up a phone as easily as he could, and hadn’t really made any effort either, as far as he could see. Over the years, it just became easier to not try.
Only Melissa knew how deeply the separation cut her husband. She knew he was incomplete because of it. Gently, but persistently, she hadn’t allowed him to let go completely. She knew it wasn’t impossible, and she knew that her tough, Navy SEAL husband would never be truly happy until he was reunited with his brother. And now she was leaving him. She couldn’t bear to leave, knowing he wasn’t complete.
“Promise me,” she whispered, using every ounce of energy she could muster. She’d already said her goodbyes to Tom and her children. This was the only unfinished business that vexed her, and she knew there wasn’t much time. “Promise me you’ll find him.” That took it all out of her. The response was lost in the swirling wave of fatigue and weakness; she felt herself being swept away. In her mind’s eye, she saw herself waving coyly at her lover and husband and her dear, sweet children from a distant shore, not unlike all the other goodbyes she had given him when he left on all those Navy cruises. Now it was her turn to leave.
“I promise,” Tom croaked, wiping the tears from his eyes as the monitors all fluctuated and fell. “I promise, my love.”
He stayed by her side until her hand was cold hours later, wondering how he would go on. 2
As the sudden memory of his late wife Melissa emerged from his Swiss-cheesed mind, Tom felt a wave of despair wash over him as well as he tightened his lips and nodded a brisk goodbye. In his heart, he knew that Tim’s supervisor was trying to do the right thing, but all he could think of was how it would affect the depressed man’s already-fragile state.
He walked back toward the cubicle and saw Timothy McPhee back to work at his desk. “You okay?” questioned Tom.
“John sure sounded serious this time,” Tim said. “But he can’t keep me from working. It’s the only thing that takes my mind off of my wife.”
“Why don’t you just stay home tomorrow and have some time to yourself? Maybe do some yard work?” suggested the time traveler.
Tim shifted in his position and looked down. “Maybe. Thanks.”
“Any time,” Tom replied and slowly stepped out of the cubicle to leave the man to his work and his thoughts.
Tom had spent most of his afternoon planning the route home using the multitude of city road maps that were in Harry’s office after he found his host’s address inside a well-worn brown leather wallet. There was a photograph of a 1970 Pontiac LeMans on the desk, with the license plate quite readable, so the leaper predicted no trouble with finding Harry’s means of transport.
When quitting time arrived, he managed to locate the vehicle after a few minutes of wandering around the parking lot and got to experience rush hour in yet another busy city. The leaper was ready to relax for the evening and plan his next day in case Tim decided to still go into work. Considering he had yet to leap, Tom fully expected to see the mourning widower the next day. He entered Harry’s apartment slowly, put down the briefcase by the door, and removed his shoes, which were a little tight compared to Tom’s actual shoe size. He noticed that the place was a bit messy, and yet what stood out to him the most was what adorned the top of a pile of clean laundry: a skimpy piece of red lingerie.
“I’ll take it Harry doesn’t live alone,” Tom commented as he approached the clothing. Upon closer inspection of the scarlet undergarment, he could see why Harry didn’t want to live alone. However, there was no apparent presence of anybody else in the apartment. It was dead silent and all he could smell was a unique scent that came with all living quarters. This one felt somehow familiar, perhaps a residual from his host.
After searching all of the rooms, which came up devoid of any life forms aside from various potted plants, Tom Beckett returned to the bedroom to disrobe and use the adjoining washroom’s shower. He left the door open to allow the steam to escape and slid back the shower curtain, tugging on it somewhat to close when he was standing in the tub. He enjoyed the sensation of the hot water running down his body for a good five minutes before he started to lather the shampoo into his hair. When he was just about ready for soap, the shower curtain slung open without warning and he took on a defensive stance.
“Oh, Harry, I thought we were going to do this after dinner,” pouted a beautiful, and naked, woman who was about Harry’s age and had curly reddish hair. Tom’s defenses dropped right away as he took in the sight of her, only able to gulp the lump in his throat as she stepped into the tub and closed the curtain behind her with ease.
Tom was glad to find out that Harry and his female companion had only just started living together and were neither engaged nor married. Although on some of his leaps he had to play the romantic fiancé or husband in place of his host, there was always a touch of guilt about having slept with another man’s wife (or wife-to-be). The next morning as he drove to work, albeit a few minutes behind Harry’s regular schedule, he reminisced about the previous night very fondly. Dinner had come much later than Tom had anticipated and the alternate plans that Diana O’Keefe had in store made up for his stomach’s hunger a hundredfold. Not only that, but she had satisfied another of his hungers that had been starving for longer than he could remember… twice.
Making his way back up to the third floor of the building, the grin on the leaper’s face quickly faded as he heard a commotion in his office area. Damn, I knew I should have gotten here earlier! he cursed inside his head. How could I let my libido get in the way?
Tom rushed up the corridor, taking a quick survey of Tim McPhee’s cubicle before continuing on. He had to stop hard in his tracks when he realized that Tim was in his cubicle, safe and sound. “What’s all the commotion?” he asked aloud.
“Oh, it’s John Carpenter’s birthday,” Gordon LoNigro said as he came up behind Tom. “What’s the rush? Did you forget?”
“You might say that,” Tom answered. “It’s not the only thing I forgot today, I guess.”
Gord chuckled. “Well, we just finished having a quick song of ‘Happy Birthday’ and some morning birthday coffee. Sue mentioned that there’ll be a big cake at lunchtime.”
Rolling his eyes to himself for getting upset over nothing, Tom continued on to Harry’s office and tried to look busy as he kept his eye on the corridor. Bobby hadn’t come back with any further information, not that he was expecting to see his observer again any time soon with the way he departed during their last conversation. All the leaper could do was ensure that whenever Timothy McPhee was preparing to defenestrate himself, he would be there to stop it.
The morning crawled by and Tom’s focus was shifting, as he wanted more sleep. Diana had kept him up until two in the morning, despite the time traveler’s better judgment to get a full night’s rest. A few minutes before noon, people started to rustle throughout the office and a crowd began to form as they left for their lunch. Standing up from the lightly stained desk, Tom stretched and sauntered to his doorway to observe the exodus. He saw Gord coming toward him and greeted the young man with a smile.
“Thanks for the advice yesterday,” he said excitedly. “The committee thought that siding with the community was the right thing to do in this case. I’ll have to thank Tim McPhee as well.”
“That’s a great idea,” Tom rejoined without really looking at Gord. He was busy surveying the entire office, trying to locate Tim. “I’m sure hearing something like that’d really lift his spirits.”
Gordon nodded in absolute agreement. “Ready for lunch?” he questioned, uncertain as to why his supervisor was glancing around in such an odd fashion.
Before he could answer, a woman called out, “Help! Someone, stop him!”
The two men ran in the direction of the voice, along with a small group of other office workers. They all gasped when they saw Timothy McPhee standing on the ledge outside of the window.
“Tim! Don’t do this!” Tom called out. The suicidal man was glaring at him through the window and made no verbal response. The leaper could see tears in the corners of Tim’s eyes as he turned back to view the ground below him.
“You can’t let your depression kill you,” Tom pressed forward. “Your family needs you at this time.”
“I don’t have any family! Gloria was all I had!” he cried out. People were beginning to collect below him as they gazed up at the delirious man standing outside of the tenth-story window. “I just want to end it now!”
“We’re your family, then, Tim,” said Tom as he slowly stepped closer to the window. He hoped that if he couldn’t talk the man out of it, he could at least physically force him back inside.
“Mister McPhee,” Gord piped up, “it was your suggestion that helped me with a difficult decision yesterday and it’s going to have a positive impact on this city for years to come! A lot of people will be happy because of your advice.”
The words of encouragement didn’t seem to faze Tim McPhee as he continued to stare at the ground. Tom heard the woman on the phone with the police and was nearly at the window when Tim suddenly turned his head around and glowered at them all through the glass. “This is the only way,” he shouted. “I don’t want to wait for Fate to decide when I’ll see her again!”
Inspired by the recent memory of Melissa that flashed across his mind the day before, Tom decided to share his feelings with the despondent man, not caring if it contradicted something from his host’s life. “Tim, I know what you’re going through. Many, many years ago… I lost someone who meant a great deal to me. Cancer also took her away from me far too soon. But I know in my heart that I’ll see her again someday. She’ll wait for me, but only when it’s the right time for me to leave this earth. Gloria will wait for you, Tim,” the Navy captain said encouragingly. “Ending your life now won’t make it any better for her.”
Tom knew that the man was torn between going through with the jump and just crawling back inside. If he had been completely certain about committing suicide, he would already have been a splat on the ground and wouldn’t be listening to the words of his co-workers.
“Don’t let pride stop you from coming back in here,” Tom said when Tim looked up at the sky. “You have a meaningful life ahead of you. Trust me.”
Timothy McPhee swallowed hard and grasped onto the window frame. His muscles were telling him to hold on and guide him back inside, but his head was trying to force them to release and allow him to fall to the green grass below. The sound of police sirens only put more stress on the man.
“Come on, Mister McPhee,” Gord interjected. “Our city needs you. Make Gloria proud by helping build a better Indianapolis.”
Slowly, Tim seemed to slip down into a crouching position. Tom grabbed him around the waist and aided him back inside as he began to sob uncontrollably, collapsing on the floor with Tom still holding him. The spectators both in the office and ten floors down began to applaud.
“I guess it’s a good thing I took your advice, huh?” Gordon said in a hushed tone. “Maybe I don’t have to clear everything with you.”
Tom chuckled as he began to get giddy and nodded at the young LoNigro’s statement. “It was your words that convinced Tim to come back from the ledge,” Tom said with a wide smile while he slowly let go of Tim and placed his hands on the broken man’s shoulders. Gordon helped Tom back to his feet while other colleagues surrounded the sobbing McPhee.
“By the sounds of it, you can speak pretty well for yourself. Not only did you save Tim’s life, you credited him for the committee’s decision to reject the development.”
“I’d like to think my personal charisma helped with that, too,” Gordon joked.
Tom chuckled. “Maybe you have a future in politics instead of planning?”
“Really? You think so? I’ve always thought about running someday, but nobody’s ever suggested it to me before.”
All the leaper could do was clasp a hand on Gord’s shoulder before the sensation of leaping began to envelop him. A sense of euphoria filled his being and Tom Beckett returned to his inter-leap nexus.
Project Chrono-Leap, Control Room
Stallion’s Gate, New Mexico
“Well, Doctor LoNigro,” General Hawkins said menacingly, “despite your act of insubordination, I still need you for this project. I guess I’m going to have to keep a closer eye on you.”
“I was doing my job,” Bobby protested. The guard who had removed him from the Imaging Chamber was still beside him, standing at attention. “It is my duty to aid Captain Beckett in his journey whenever possible.”
Hawkins gritted his teeth. “Not when I explicitly ordered you not to, Doctor!” he grumbled. “I can see that I have to go through with my plan of assigning Corporal Renault to be your permanent escort.”
“You can’t do that!” Gooshie interjected.
“Shut up, Gushman!” the angry general retorted as he turned around to meet the voice. The Chief Programmer clamped his mouth shut and flared his nostrils, saying nothing further as he stood at the main controls.
“You can’t treat us like this, Hawkins,” the project director said, feeling his blood pressure rising.
The general chortled at Bobby’s statement. “As the Presidential Liaison, I have authority over this entire project. And it’s a damn good thing too! Before coming here, I reviewed Captain Beckett’s recent leaps and found out that you had Calavicci act as his Observer occasionally. Someone had the audacity to try to cover it up as well, redacting the files to remove all reference to Calavicci, a man who had no qualifications to be Observer! The whole thing stinks of nepotism and corruption! If I didn’t need you, none of you would still be here. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a meeting with the scientists from Imaging Control. You had better continue reconfiguring ALPHA for Doctor Connors’ brainwaves.”
Too frustrated to say anything further, Bobby LoNigro watched the pompous Army general leave the Control Room with contempt. He began walking toward Gooshie from the bottom of the Imaging Chamber’s ramp, stopping when Corporal Renault fell in step right behind him. When the Corporal stopped as well, Bobby silently chuckled. “The perfect shadow. No wonder Hawkins chose him.”
Dr. LoNigro continued on, trying to ignore his new companion. “How far along are we with Max’s alignment, Gooshie?”
“Well, half of the staff stopped to aid us with contacting Captain Beckett, so we are behind schedule. ALPHA does have some… interesting information for you before we continue on,” replied the programmer. He was wary of the corporal, but he seemed to be without a tongue as he watched them interact, as if it were some sort of experiment.
Gooshie’s statement definitely received Bobby’s attention. “What is it, ALPHA?”
“You may or may not be aware yet, Doctor LoNigro, but after reintegrating my databases with the two updated histories, at least one of which Captain Beckett has created,” the male-sounding voice of the hybrid-computer started, “I have detected something that affects you personally.”
The former professor waited for a moment, expecting the computer to continue. “And? What is it?” he eventually demanded.
“Your brother’s wife, Della, originally had one of her twins die in childbirth on July eleventh, 1946. I cannot be completely certain, but I suspect that Captain Beckett leaped into the doctor who delivered the children and saved Gordon LoNigro from dying during birth,” the velvety voice reported. Bobby seemed to have an instant headache, recalling the fact that one of his brother’s children had died but having no new memories of Gordon yet.
The computer continued on. “In the previous leap, Captain Beckett managed to save the life of Timothy McPhee. The police reports say that Harold Brightman, along with the aid of Gordon LoNigro, managed to talk him out of committing suicide.”
“Wow! A nephew I didn’t even know I had was involved in two of Tom’s leaps, right in a row?” Bobby exclaimed.
“That is correct, Doctor. There is more, however,” ALPHA said, his tone bordering on cautious.
Bobby cocked his head as he quickly glanced at Gooshie, seeing the confused look on his face as well. “Go right ahead,” the quantum physicist encouraged.
“Your nephew originally worked in the planning department for Unigov, the municipal government for Indianapolis and parts of Marion County, and launched a failed bid for a council seat in the City–County Council of Indianapolis and Marion County in 1992. After Captain Beckett’s most recent leap, history has changed drastically for Mister LoNigro.”
“How so?” Bobby pressed.
“In our current timeline, Gordon LoNigro decided instead to run for mayor of Indianapolis in 1975 and won, which eventually led to his election as a senator for Indiana. As strange as this may seem to you all at the moment, Senator LoNigro was elected President of the United States in the 2004 election when President Cheney decided against running for a second term,” the computer conveyed.
Dr. LoNigro’s eyes nearly bulged out of his head. “My nephew is the President?! Hell, can’t I pull some strings with him to let me keep in contact with Tom?” he declared. Corporal Renault shifted in his position, keeping aware of any possible mutinous statements.
“No, Doctor,” ALPHA replied seriously. “The reason General Hawkins is here is so that he does not have to concern himself with such things. There is a more dire event happening in the world.”
Bobby felt like ALPHA was dragging him up from the mud only to throw him back down into it. “A ‘dire event’?”
ALPHA paused before answering with a grave tone. “It has been officially dubbed ‘World War Three.’”
Somewhere in Time…
The traveler closed the book with a heavy thud, unable to even speak after reading the contents within the massive tome. The sound of the book closing didn’t go unnoticed by the Keeper as he got up from his chair and walked over to take the heavy volume and return it to its rightful place upon the shelf. “I know it’s a lot to take in,” he said, “but you should now have a pretty good idea of everything that’s happened up to this point, I think.”
The traveler remained speechless for several minutes before finally responding in amazement, “This defies all sense of logic and scientific facts! I shouldn’t even exist, and yet here I am, none the worse for wear.”
“It’s as I said earlier, nothing — and no one — can ever be completely erased from existence. The multiple layers of space and time are so much more complex and non-linear than any human being can even begin to comprehend within the normal confines of their lifetime.” The Keeper paused, a look of sadness and regret falling over his face before continuing, “This whole thing could have been averted had it not been for that misunderstanding of space-time’s true nature. None of this would ever have happened and we wouldn’t be here having this conversation right now.”
The traveler turned to the Keeper in shock, denial over the words that had been spoken. “Look, I know I’m relatively new to this whole thing,” the traveler explained, “but based on what I now know, I can’t imagine that anything would have stopped the shockwave from happening. Everything was set into motion when the Accelerator was activated all those many years ago. It was inevitable that something catastrophic would eventually happen. Granted, the best of intentions were there: to make the world a better place. But those intentions were misguided. It began in a moment of weakness for fear that the experiment would be shut down. It happens. We’re all only human, as you so aptly reminded me before.”
“How could I forget?” the Keeper replied with a hint of laughter. “It’s human frailty that brought me to the end of my own mortality and led me here to this… way station, as it were, to take my place among the others of my kind.”
The traveler almost did a double take upon hearing that tidbit of information. “There are others like you?”
“Well, not exactly like me. But yes, there are others, each maintaining watch over their respective realms within the space-time continuum. Collectively referred to as the ‘Angels of Time,’ for lack of a better term.”
“‘Angels of Time’? You mean they’re all dead?”
“‘Dead’ is a somewhat relative term,” the Keeper almost chuckled. “Their status can’t really be defined in the practical sense of ‘life or death’ as we know it. Trying to explain the nature of their existence would probably take up an entire one of these rooms for each one of them. My assignment here, however, is more one of redemption… to make amends for a mistake I once made a very long time ago. And it’s also an assignment that is temporary. I do this job for as long as I can, until someone else replaces me. Just as I replaced the one who came before me. Everything comes back around in Fate’s wide wheel.”
The traveler felt a pang of familiarity at the Keeper’s last three words. “Where… where have I heard that before?” The Keeper just smiled in response, knowing that the traveler’s memory would eventually return on its own in time.
“So, what happens now?” the traveler asked, seeing that an answer to the query wouldn’t be provided.
“We watch and wait to see how everything unfolds. If there is but one absolute in this universe, it’s that to everything there is an end. Every place, every time… every living being has their own unique story that needs to be told and recorded within these halls — a story that begins… and ultimately ends.”
“And how does this particular story end?”
The Keeper squinted his eyes and replied, “You’ve been here for quite a while already. Are you sure you wish to continue?”
“I’ve always been a seeker of knowledge and truth. It’s in my very nature to discover the answers to many questions, especially ones that lie beyond our earthly plane. I want to know everything!”
“Only God knows everything,” the stranger simply stated with a wink. “Now, let’s get to work!”
Project Chrono-Leap, Control Room
Stallion’s Gate, New Mexico
Monday, May 7, 2007
“Wh-what?” Dr. Sebastian LoNigro stuttered out, trying to choke back the panic that was rising within him. Throughout his lifetime, ever since he was a child, Bobby had always associated World War III with nuclear weapons. He looked at Gooshie for confirmation but saw that the programmer was just as baffled as he was.
“Perhaps your memories have yet to integrate with the new history, but it is true, Doctor,” ALPHA confirmed. “Nearly a year ago, after the failed invasion of Iran by the United States, the ensuing dispute has escalated nearly to the point of nuclear war. Many Western nations are on the battlefront on the border between Iraq and Iran, fighting against a great number of Islamic countries plus China and North Korea. The United Nations was officially disbanded six months ago.”
The quantum physicist shook his head in disbelief. “How could this have happened?”
The computer sighed artificially. “As with most world events, it is a collection of small incidents that gave rise to such a terrific result. It is sometimes referred to as the ‘butterfly effect,’” ALPHA answered. “We must ensure that Doctor Connors leaps soon should the president of Iran keep his word.”
“What ‘word’ is that, ALPHA?” Gooshie questioned nervously. Corporal Renault eyed both men suspiciously, not understanding the intricacies of time travel and how it affected the permanent staff at the project. From his perspective, World War III had been the buzzword of the media for nearly eighteen months.
The glittering sphere of energy that was suspended from the high ceiling of the Control Room sparkled differently from its regular fashion for a moment before ALPHA replied. “He has stated that if the Western Allies do not pull back from the Iraqi-Iranian border by midnight tonight, they will launch an attack against the homelands of the Allies.”
Bobby felt dizzy for a moment as he began to realize the new timeline and gradually forget the old one. It was something he was familiar with but would never get used to. Gooshie appeared to encounter the same phenomenon as both scientists leaned on the control board for support.
“All right,” Bobby said with conviction, “let’s get down to business. We have to leap Max out of here before it’s too late.”
The door to the Chronoton Accelerator opened and a form dressed in a skin-tight gray suit stepped out. “Too late for what, Doctor LoNigro?” questioned Dr. Maxwell Connors, the quantum physicist chosen to replace Captain Tom Beckett as the leaper for Project Chrono-Leap.
“I think you know as well as the rest of us, Doctor Connors,” replied Bobby. “What are you doing back out here anyway?”
Max chuckled despite the serious situation. “I’ve been in there for hours. How much longer is this alignment going to take?”
“A lot longer if you don’t get back in there,” Dr. LoNigro retorted in a frustrated tone, giving his fellow quantum physicist a no-nonsense glare.
Any light-heartedness that remained in the Control Room was immediately quashed as Max shrugged his shoulders and then went back into the Chronoton Accelerator wordlessly. Just before the door closed again, he quipped loudly, “You LoNigros really need to learn how to handle your temper.”
Bobby stared at the closed door and gritted his teeth at the comment, knowing full well that many people blamed his nephew, Gordon, for the conflict with Iran. Gooshie put a hand on his friend’s shoulder and offered a sympathetic smile. “Let’s get back to work,” said the Chief Programmer.
“Right,” responded the former professor. He found himself wishing, just briefly, that he had never decided to continue on to implement the theories that he had developed with Sam Beckett so many decades before. Shaking the doubt from his mind, he asked for an update. “How far along are we?”
“Only a couple more hours of realignment should be required,” Gooshie answered. “After the general is finished meeting with Doctor Bentenhoff, the Imaging Control team should be prepared to make the finishing touches to the Imaging Chamber.”
Doctor LoNigro acknowledged the information with a quiet hum. He was about to comment on the status of the radium accelerator ring when the familiar chime of a visitor arriving in the Waiting Room sounded throughout the complex.
“Tom has leaped again?” Bobby asked to nobody in particular.
“That is correct, Doctor,” soothed the voice of ALPHA.
“At least these changes won’t interfere with our current visitor,” he commented. “And what about Sean? He should be helping us out with this.”
The programmer shrugged but appeared nervous. “I haven’t seen him,” he said, twitching his eyes as a telltale sign that he wasn’t giving out any secrets. Bobby knew that with his new chaperone, he wouldn’t be able to get the truth out of Gooshie and would just have to wait and see what the programmer was hiding.
Office of the Presidential Liaison
Stallion’s Gate, New Mexico
“Couldn’t he have waited until after we sent out Connors?” General Hawkins grumbled to himself while he sat in his office. He was referring to the fact that ALPHA had just told him that Tom Beckett had leaped into somebody, a mere half-hour before Max Connors was to enter the Chronoton Accelerator and only seventy minutes since he had leaped out of Harold Brightman.
“I do not believe that Captain Beckett has full control over his leaping abilities, General,” ALPHA replied to the self-directed comment.
Hawkins rolled his eyes at the computer’s response, which only fueled his annoyance. “What kind of impact will this have on Connors leaping?” he asked pointedly.
“It should have no effect on the leaping process. Since you have eliminated the need to locate Captain Beckett’s signal in time, no additional resources are required to deal with this visitor aside from keeping him or her alive so that he or she may be returned to his or her own time.”
Again, the Army general felt like slapping the computer upside the head… if it had been constructed with one. He had come to the conclusion that such a verbose machine could only have been developed as a means to keep the staff so annoyed that they would refrain from asking any questions of it.
“Regardless, nobody is to enter the Imaging Chamber or the Waiting Room. Alert me personally should anybody attempt otherwise,” Hawkins reminded the computer. It had only been a little more than twenty-four hours since Corporal Renault had to remove Bobby LoNigro from the Imaging Chamber.
Content that the complex was under his control, Hawkins stood from the desk and stretched. “Well, I should go down to oversee the leap,” he said to nobody in particular, and then left the office with a sincere amount of self-satisfaction.
Sean Alsterson, Theory Director of Quantum Physics at Project Chrono-Leap, bade his time and managed to keep himself awake by doing minor maintenance on ALPHA’s power systems on the level below Control, lingering until Tom had leaped out of Harold Brightman. He had told only Gooshie his plan of infiltrating the Waiting Room, where he was now crouched in the “ditch” area that ran along the perimeter. It was the ditch that gave the center of the room a raised appearance and necessitated the ramp up from the octagonal entranceway.
Knowing that General Hawkins was only posting guards while there was a visitor in the Waiting Room, Sean waited out Captain Beckett’s eventual departure, which in turn sent Harry back to his own place and time. ALPHA announced the end of the leap with a subtle noise that filtered throughout the complex, which was standard procedure. Upon hearing the sound, the physicist gave himself ten minutes, which passed excruciatingly slowly, before cleaning up the tools and securing the area before he left.
He dropped off the equipment in his office, as well as his communications bracelet, and casually made his way to the Waiting Room. The corridors were devoid of Hawkins’ cronies at that point and, to Sean’s ultimate joy, so was the entrance to the Waiting Room. Using his security clearance to enter, the light that glowed from within was welcoming as he stepped inside. The door closed at a leisurely pace behind him and he walked the perimeter around to the opposite side from the door, setting up his base of operations.
The room was empty aside from the table-like bed that sat in the dead center of the large chamber and it gave Sean a bit of a chilling effect. The room was typically Verbena’s territory and he was unused to being there alone, but he was determined to help out Tom in whatever way possible. Hawkins was not going to gain complete control of Project Chrono-Leap — not on his watch.
Nearly a half-hour passed, and the scientist decided to get some rest. After removing the rations of food he had placed in the pockets of his lab coat, he rolled the white garment into a pillow and got settled on the floor. As he was just about to fall asleep, something made him wake right back up. Carefully, he raised his head and looked over at the visitor’s bed.
“Hello?” the person behind Tom Beckett’s aura called out. “Where the hell am I?”
Sean gulped. He thought he would have been prepared to interrogate Tom’s next leapee, but he was starting to second-guess himself. However, he gathered his thoughts quickly and stood up before the visitor discovered what appeared to be a crazed scientist spying on him… or her.
“Uh, hello,” Sean replied, seeing the leapee spin around quickly, a shocked expression on Tom’s face. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“Who are you? What is this place?” the confused person asked.
“Well, you can call me Sean,” the physicist started, “and this place…”
Sean had let the sentence trail off and before he could resume, ALPHA interrupted his attempt at an interrogation. “Doctor,” the synthetic voice said.
“What is it?” asked Sean, being cautious not to reveal any details about the Project, even if the visitors typically didn’t, in theory, remember anything about their stay in the Waiting Room.
“I suggest that you leave immediately,” replied the artificial intelligence.
The scientist was bewildered, as was the visitor, but Sean shrugged anyway and gave the leapee a comforting smile. “Someone will be right with you,” he said. The person who temporarily looked like Tom watched, speechless, as Sean Alsterson walked away from him and was just about at the airlock-style door when it opened, revealing two Marine guards. Their surprise appearance took Sean off guard and they each took one of the scientist’s arms as he fought to be free, the last image that the visitor saw before the door closed.
“General Hawkins is threatening your life if you do not report to the Control Room instantly,” the computer relayed while Doctor Alsterson was being restrained. “We are almost ready for Doctor Connors to leap.”
Clenching his jaw at the failed attempt to interrogate Tom’s leapee before Hawkins could discover his presence in the Waiting Room, the quantum physicist stopped struggling in the hands of his captors. “I can walk there myself, mates!” Sean exclaimed. They both released their grip and one followed him toward the Control Room while the other remained to protect the quarantine order on the Waiting Room. They were just about at the entrance to the Control Room when the door slid up into the ceiling.
“I’ll find him myself!” the booming voice of General Hawkins said as he barged out of the project’s nucleus. He stopped in his tracks, however, when he saw the object of his anger standing before him.
“You were looking for me, sir?” said Sean with a snide smirk.
The general narrowed his eyes. “Where were you?” he asked suspiciously.
“He came out of the Waiting Room, sir. We never saw him enter it,” reported one of Sean’s escorts.
Hawkins’ eyes went from narrow to wide open. “The Waiting Room?! ALPHA, I told you to inform me if anybody was attempting to get in there!” he hollered.
“I am afraid that you issued that statement after Doctor Alsterson was already in the Waiting Room, General,” the computer replied with a tone that indicated there was no way to debate the logic.
Knowing that he would not win against ALPHA this time, General Hawkins set his jaw. “Get the hell in here, Alsterson! We’re minutes away from the first major step in our new mission.”
Hawkins turned around to go back into Control with Sean and the Marine behind him. “You mean your new mission,” the physicist muttered under his breath.
Turning right on his heels, the Army general spun to meet Sean face to face. “What did you just say?” he demanded, seething.
Everybody had turned their attention to the two men in the doorway. Dr. Alsterson moved his gaze away from the general’s eyes and glanced at everyone who was watching. “Let’s just get this show on the road,” replied the Australian.
Making a grunting sound that resembled an angry boar, Hawkins stomped his way back to the main controls, standing behind Bobby and Gooshie. Sean followed and took a place at his assigned station, getting a worried look from the chief programmer when he saw that two of his friends now had Marine guards watching them. Connors was standing outside the entrance to the Chronoton Accelerator with a demeanor of intense anticipation adorning his face.
A full complement of staff had been working on the finishing touches before sending Maxwell Connors back into Time, all under the close scrutiny of General Hawkins and his direct subordinates. Their work was about to be put to the test.
“Doctors, prepare the Chronoton Accelerator,” Hawkins ordered almost softly. The three scientists at the panel did as ordered while, slowly, the humming sound from ALPHA’s systems continuously got louder and the entire team in the Control Room ensured that the process moved along smoothly. The voice of ALPHA began to count down as the door to the Accelerator opened ominously.
The general turned to his handpicked leaper. “Time to go, Doctor,” he said with an ostentatious grin. Max tipped his head and smirked back, nearly running up the ramp to the chamber that would send him into the past.
Once inside, he stepped onto the disc in the middle of the room and waited. Mist was filling the room and the air began to tingle. The computer’s countdown was audible and once it reached three, a huge surge of energy began to course through his body, giving him a sense of euphoria. Just as quickly, a brief vision of a lifetime beyond his comprehension instantly flashed before his eyes.
“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
W-what was that? Max thought, taken aback by the abrupt vision. He had barely a millisecond to register its significance as the last remaining atoms of his body were accelerated by the greenish mist and sent him into the past.
“Did it work?!” Hawkins demanded when the streams of electricity in the Control Room ceased.
“Doctor Connors is no longer in the Chronoton Accelerator,” ALPHA said simply.
Hawkins cheered along with many in the room. The three men at the control board exchanged glances, relieved that Dr. Connors had leaped safely but disheartened that it may have indeed spelled the end of their assistance to Tom Beckett.
Moving to the end of the control panel, Hawkins met his gaze with Doctors LoNigro, Alsterson, and Gushman. “Let me know as soon as he leaps into someone,” he stated. They nodded in reply and the general turned to leave the room.
An urgent alarm suddenly began to ring on every level of the Project Chrono-Leap complex. “A nuclear warhead has just exploded near Alamogordo,” ALPHA announced urgently.
Everybody froze in fear, knowing that Alamogordo was practically in their backyard.
“Is there any danger to the Project?” Hawkins asked shakily.
“Not from the missile that hit Alamogordo,” replied the computer in a cryptic tone. “Although, it appears that the Chinese will fulfill their warning about eliminating a ‘key target’ as part of their war against the United States.”
“Which is…?” Bobby asked, swallowing in an attempt to be rid of the tightness in his throat.
ALPHA paused for a moment before replying sadly, “Us.”
The words had barely registered with the staff in the Control Room before an unbelievably horrendous boom came from above while the ground shook. The alarm that ALPHA was sounding doubled in frequency while rocks began to fall from the ceiling of the cave in which the Control Room sat. Everybody dashed for cover, most of them finding insufficient protection under computer consoles.
“No! This can’t be happening! Not when we were so close!” Hawkins cried out as he protected his head with his hands.
Bobby was crouching beside him, praying that Tom would somehow fix everything. “I guess Tom and Max are both on their own now,” he said, more thinking aloud than responding to Hawkins’ panicked statement. “Godspeed, gentlemen.”
The last thing anybody in the Control Room heard were screams of absolute fright as ALPHA’s orb dislodged from the ceiling and crashed to the ground, joining the barrage of boulders that would smother the life out of every last person in the room.
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!”
TO BE CONCLUDED…
1 Excerpt from Episode 1226, “Shockwave, Part II — Severed String”
Written by: Mike Bloxam & Damon C. Sugameli
2 Excerpt from Episode 819, “Brotherhood, Part I”
Written by: A. J. Burfield
3 Excerpt from Episode 1013, “Second Genesis”
Written by: Damon C. Sugameli