Chapter 1: The Envelope
The Daily Planet's two top reporters have just been handed the story of their lives.
January 24, 1996
Daily Planet Newsroom
No one paid much attention to the old man who slipped into the Daily Planet Newsroom with a manila envelope tucked under his arm. No one, that is, except the ever-curious Lois Lane. She watched him for a few moments without speaking, intrigued by the mysterious envelope and the nervous, chagrined expression on the man's face. Her eyes followed him as he turned to stare fixedly at something or someone behind him. What ever the old man saw (or didn't see) caused a great deal of tension to flow out of his posture. His shoulders relaxed, and the arm that had held the envelope tightly to his side now fell to his side. Sensing a possible story, Lois moved quickly to intercept the stranger, coming up behind him.
"Excuse me, can I help you?"
He spun, his face taking on a look of surprised, hopeful recognition. "Donna?"
"No, my name's Lois Lane. Is there anything I can do for you?"
Disappointment seemed to sweep over his face. "No...well, could you take this?" He threw a sharp glance over his shoulder, and shrugged, then held the envelope toward her. Puzzled by his strange behavior, she took it.
"Yes of course, but what is it?"
"Something that should never have existed," he muttered. The stranger turned and began to walk quickly toward the open elevator.
"Wait!" Lois called after him. "Can I ask you--"
The elevator doors closed behind him before she could finish her sentence.
Frustrated, Lois turned her attention back to the envelope. It was unmarked, and sealed with duct tape at both ends to prevent it from being opened. Feeling the envelope to try to distinguish its contents, Lois deduced that whatever-it-was was round, three to four inches in diameter, and less than an inch thick.
A film reel, perhaps? Or a petrie dish? Curiosity battled weariness as she pondered the man's cryptic description of his strange gift.
Lois heard footsteps behind her, and glanced back to see Jimmy approaching.
"You got a package?" he asked.
"Yeah...I guess so."
"I don't know. Someone just walked in, handed it to me, and walked out."
The young photographer studied the envelope in her hands curiously. "Do you know what's in it?"
"I have no idea."
"Did the guy who gave it to you say anything?"
"Only that it should never have existed."
He grinned. "Cool! Let's open it and find out!"
"Find out what?"
Clark had joined them, his own curiosity piqued by watching them examine the envelope.
Lois held it up. "What's in this that shouldn't exist."
"Some guy walked in here and handed me this. When I asked him what it was he just said it was something that shouldn't exist."
"If it's something that shouldn't exist, don't you think maybe this guy doesn't want a lot of people knowing about it?"
Jimmy's face fell. "Aw, c'mon, CK!"
"Maybe," Lois hedged, "or maybe he wants the public to know about something that was being done behind their backs."
"Lois, it could be something dangerous."
"Why would he bring it into a newspaper office and hand it to a reporter if he wanted to hide it?" she countered, striding back to her desk, opening a drawer and hunting for her scissors.
"Because he didn't know you were a reporter?"
Lois only afforded Clark a brief, skeptical expression, then turned her full attention back to the package, attacking the duct tape with the scissors. As soon as it broke, she dumped the contents onto her desk.
There was an uneasy silence as Lois picked up the reel tape in one hand and studied the sealed file beneath it. Across the tope were scribbled the words "Blue Book: Case 145-PQ" and the folder was stamped with a bright red "Classified: TOP SECRET!"
"Project Blue Book..." she murmured. Clark looked suddenly antsy. Lois glanced at him, reading the nervousness in his face, then with a grim smile turned her attention to the label on the tape.
"'Sodium Pentathol interrogation of Maxwell Stoddard, age 79, UFO witness. May 24, 1966.' Sodium Pentathol...that's truth serum!" She turned to the younger of the two men, whose interest in the mysterious envelope and its contents had made him virtually oblivious to everything else, including her fiancé's apparent unease.
"Jimmy, do you know if we have the necessary equipment to listen to this?"
He shrugged. "Don't know. I'll go look."
The photographer disappeared in the direction of the supply room, and Lois turned to Clark.
"Do you think it has something to do with you?" she asked.
"I don't know," he replied honestly. "It's about the right time of the right year..."
She nodded. "If there's anything incriminating in the file, I'll figure out some way to keep Jimmy away from the tape."
He nodded and Lois went back to the file. Breaking the seal with her fingernail, she opened the folder and began to leaf through the papers.
"Clark...look at this! This can't possibly have anything to do with the tape!"
"Because this doesn't say anything about UFOs. It's about...time travel!"
Chapter 2: Eavesdropping
Sometimes it pays to pay attention...even to crazy old men talking to themselves in the men's room.
January 24, 1996
Scully was right. The cocktail sauce wasn't terribly obvious, but considering how much he had paid for this tie, it would be nice to get the stuff off it before it could stain.
There was a 'closed' sign outside the door of the restroom, but Mulder ignored it. Most of the agents seemed to disregard Mack Sherman's work hours but he had never heard the janitor complain, or seen him be unable to work around whoever was in there.
"Would you quit sneaking up on me like that!"
Mulder stopped in the doorway, startled. I'm sorr--
"And get out of the wall--" Sherman continued. "You look like a hunting trophy with just your head poking through."
The old janitor had his back to the door, so he couldn't have seen the agent come in, and even if he had, the younger man didn't have his head sticking through the wall like a hunting trophy. What on earth was he talking about then? And to who? Mulder noticed that Sherman seemed to be staring intently at something or someone straight in front of him, though there was no one there.
"Where have you been?" Mack demanded of the air.
Mulder, with a 'this-can-wait' glance at his tie, eased the door almost shut and pressed his ear to it.
"Just because his nickname is 'Spooky' doesn't mean you have to try to spook him. And why are you talking about him like you've met before?"
The agent grimaced automatically at the sound of the hated nickname, even as he wondered who was trying to spook him, and how.
"Michael Blake could see you, remember, Al? In case you didn't notice, Agent Mulder can't."
Al? Memories of a bizarre murder investigation in Toronto swept into Mulder's mind. He leaned closer, excited. Could this be...?
"He couldn't before? Al, what are you talking about? HAVE we met him before?"
If you're talking to who I think you are, we have...and I admit, I couldn't see him.
"Whatever. So what about the tape? What have they done about that?"
Who was supposed to do what with what tape?
"They called the Project? What did Ziggy tell them?"
Project? Ziggy? This really WAS beginning to sound like--
"Didn't it occur to him that I would be able to use my own clearance if I'd Leaped back to this time?"
Ah ha! It WAS the time-traveler!
"I'm tempted to call the Project and tell Ziggy that it WAS me. If I told her what I 'stole' from that warehouse--Oh, wait. They don't even know it exists yet, do they? That Leap hasn't happened yet for them, er...us."
Something about this half-conversation was beginning to sound strangely familiar beyond the fact that the man he'd met as Don Schanke, was now inhabiting the life of Mack Sherman. The words 'tape' and 'warehouse' had set off a bell...somehow connected TO Sam Beckett... He searched his eidetic memory for the link.
"We're not going to get away with this, Al. I've messed up the Leap. Not only is the tape not going to be destroyed, but I'm going to end up ruining Mack Sherman's life in the process!" Sam sounded defeated, like a knight who'd taken on a giant only to discover it was a phantom and the real giant had devoured the damsel in distress when he wasn't looking.
"Well, what happens when the come to me demanding to know how I got a hold of the clearance? What do I tell them? I really doubt they're going to believe the truth and Mack's bound to lose his job if they think he's been prying into government secrets. He *is* only a janitor."
What was so important about this tape they were talking about? He knew Sam, well, enough to know that he wasn't the sort of man to risk someone else's happiness for himself. This tape--apparently something Top Secret--must be incredibly important for him to risk hurting Sherman's future for it.
"Well, go back and see if you and Ziggy can come up with something I can do to save Sherman's job. Since I'm finished here, I guess I'll go clean the Ladies' room--and no, you may *not* come with me!"
Chuckling, Mulder backed quickly away from the door and ducked out of sight, heading back to the office. To waive questions he decided to take off the tie rather than explain why he hadn't cleaned it. He couldn't wait to talk to remind Scully about that even-more-bizarre-than-usual chapter in their lives.
He was stopped short by a disappointing memory. Nick, the vampire cop, had hypnotized Scully into forgetting about the case's supernatural elements in order to protect her from the Enforcers. He had meant to do the same to Mulder, but he had turned out to be a Resister (much to his delight). So, although Scully still remembered going to Toronto to help out with a murder investigation, she had completely forgotten the vampires, Immortals, aliens, time-travelers and other strange folk they had met there. Which suited her naturally skeptical mind just fine.
Mulder sighed. Oh, well. It looks like Sam doesn't remember us either. And if he did, he'd obviously have too much on his mind to-- Suddenly, the connection he'd been looking for snapped into place. The warehouse--I knew it sounded familiar! Could it be the same one...?
Chapter 3: Future Shock
Project Quantum Leap gets a glimpse of its future--a future that must be prevented at all costs.
June 8, 2000
Project Quantum Leap
Stallion's Gate, New Mexico
Al slammed the phone down with a curse just as Donna walked through the door. Her eyes widened in surprise.
"Are you all right, Al?"
The Admiral glanced up, a sheepish expression coming over his face as he recognized Sam's wife.
"Oh, sorry, Donna. I'm just a little frustrated."
Dr. Elise nodded wisely. "Was it him again?"
Al nodded, his eyes burning. "That son of a bitch," he muttered.
"Didn't Sam get the tape?"
"Yeah. He didn't have any qualms about taking it once he knew what was at stake. Still, if I had kept those Blue Book nozzles from getting their hands on him in the first place..." He scowled.
"But there must be a chance they could get it back, or he would have Leaped by now and we wouldn't be having this conversation."
"The tape and the file have to be destroyed."
"So, as soon as he does that, he'll Leap?"
Al shook his head. "He doesn't have it anymore. He gave it to a newspaper reporter."
Donna stared at him as if he'd just announced that her husband had lost his mind. "What?"
"He gave the tape to Lois Lane," the Admiral repeated with a sigh.
"The reporter from the Metropolis Daily Planet?" she asked incredulously. "Why?"
Al sighed. "Ziggy, can you find a picture of Lois Lane from around 1995 or 96?"
"Of course, Admiral. Would you like me to?" the computer asked innocently.
The Observer glared. "Ziggy!"
A moment later the screen of Al's office interface with Ziggy was filled with the image of a young woman with short dark hair and expressive chocolate eyes. He turned the screen to where Donna could see it.
Dr. Elise's face paled. "I see," she replied softly.
"They say everyone has a double..." Al commented.
"Mine just happens to be fifteen years younger than me," Donna commented wryly. "She looks just like I did when Sam and I first met--except for the length of her hair..."
Al said nothing.
A look of sudden hope crossed her face. "Al, does he know--?"
He shook his head. "He still thinks you never showed up."
Donna bit her lip to hold back the tears and nodded. "What does Ziggy say Lois Lane did with the tape?"
Al frowned. "She doesn't know, or if she does she's not talking. All she'll say is that this guy still gets his hands on the tape, which..." He indicated the phone. "I had already figured out for myself."
"Do you think he'll actually carry out his threat?"
A picture of Alia flashed briefly through Al's mind and he nodded. "I think Ziggy would give that a 100% probability."
Blackmail was something neither he nor Sam had expected when they began Project Quantum Leap. Of course, they couldn't have known that Sam would accidentally leave evidence of his Leaping in the past, evidence that this man who called himself 'The Governor' was now threatening to use for his own ends, ends that they had already seen the possible results of.
Donna sank heavily into a chair, her bearing reflecting the anxiety they were all dealing with as a result of this unexpected threat.
"Why is he doing this, Al? Why does he want Sam to kill for him, and why is it so important that he'll go so far as to do it for himself if we won't?"
Al sighed. "I don't know. Apparently this man ruined his life in some way and he either wants revenge or to prevent it from happening. I'm not sure which."
"What did he want this time?"
"He wants to meet with me. Prove to me that he can do what he says he will. And there's no way I'm going to tell him I already know he can!"
She looked puzzled. "You do? How?"
Al looked uncomfortable. "Oh, that's right. I didn't tell you much about those Leaps, did I?"
Donna laughed softly. "I can always tell when Sam falls for someone during a Leap, because they're just about the only ones you don't describe in great detail."
"Is it that obvious?"
She nodded, a sad smile on her face.
"Well, let's just say this time it was another Leaper."
"Her name was Alia. Don't ask me how she did it--she was definitely too young for half of those Leaps to be within her lifetime. Apparently, she was from another Project, only her task was to make things go wrong. Sam Leaped in to stop her, but she made him believe her mission was the same as his, and almost got him killed. Because she chose not to kill him though, everything she had caused to go wrong in the Leap was undone. The next time they met, Sam took it upon himself to rescue her from her Project by taking her with him."
"Taking her with him? What do you mean, Al? Taking her where?"
"He took her with him when he Leaped. Since they were able to see each other once they touched, he figured that maybe if they were touching when they Leaped, they'd Leap together, and since he'd succeeded and she hadn't, he'd take her with him."
"Did it work?"
"Yeah. But Alia's Observer Leaped to try to find her and bring her back. It got pretty complicated for a while, and we lost track of Alia in the end, but at least the other Project did too."
"So she's lost in time somewhere? Leaping around by herself?"
Al nodded, and Donna shook her head somberly. "That poor girl."
"So we can't just refuse to give in to his threat. We have to stop him."
She nodded. "I hope we still can."
"Oh, we can. I'm sure of that. It'll be a lot more complicated than we originally thought, I expect." If things kept following Murphy's Law the way they had been, it would definitely be complicated. "But we'll do it. Somehow."
Chapter 4: Glimpses
Sam should have known better than to leave such an enticing mystery in the hands of Lois Lane.
Back in Metropolis
"All right, all right!" Jimmy raised his hands in surrender. "I just don't understand why everyone chases me away just when they're about to find out something interesting!"
"We need you to--" Lois began.
"I know. I know. I get the picture." Grumpily, he turned and left the conference room.
Lois watched the departing figure with an amused expression "With that kind of curiosity, Jimmy will either make a fabulous reporter someday, get himself in a lot of trouble, or both!"
Clark smiled. "Like you?"
Lois returned the smile with mischief dancing in her eyes. "A fabulous reporter or in a lot of trouble?"
She nodded. "Yep, just like me."
He leaned forward, giving her a quick kiss. They then turned their attention back to the tape, now ready to be played. Clark checked the volume to make sure no one in the newsroom outside would be able to hear it, just in case.
Lois took a deep breath. "Okay, let's hear what Mr. Stoddard has to say."
For a few moments after she pressed 'play,' there was only the soft hiss of the tape unwinding but finally someone spoke.
"May 21?" a voice asked.
"Right. Right," a second voice replied, bordering on panic. "It hovered approximately ten to twenty meters above the ground with no apparent means of propulsion."
"Wow! Photographic memory?" a third voice interjected.
"Could be quoting from something he read," the first replied. "Let's make sure."
There was the sound of a struggle and the second of the three men uttered a faint, desperate, "No!", followed by a brief, heavy silence.
"Let's start with something simple. Like your name," the first man suggested after a moment.
"Sam," the second voice replied softly, now sounding rather dazed, probably drugged.
"Louder, please," the third man demanded.
"Doctor Samuel Beckett."
Recognizing the name from the file, Lois leaned closer.
"Think you gave him too much?" the third voice asked. Whoever it was didn't seem to believe the name that had been given.
"Do you know where you are?" the first voice asked, ignoring his companion's skepticism.
"I'm in, uh, New Mexico," the man who said his name was Samuel Beckett replied.
Lois grabbed a notepad and quickly scribbled 'New Mexico' on it.
"What is the date?"
"May first, 1999."
The two reporters exchanged startled glances. 1999?
"Tell us about yourself, Doctor Beckett," the first interrogator continued.
"Terrific," the other reacted incredulously. "He's thirteen years old??"
"Or one hundred thirteen..."
Dr. Beckett was still answering their question. "Father's name, John Samuel Beckett. Mother's name, Thelma Louise Beckett. Social Security number, 563-86-9801. Department of Defense UMBRA clearance number, 004-002-02-016."
Lois quickly added this information to her notes.
"Did you hear that?" the first interrogator asked, his voice excited.
"It's a coincidence. He was in the service."
"In World War One! UMBRA is an *operative* code! Why do you need a clearance?" he demanded.
There was no answer.
"Why do you need a clearance, Dr. Beckett?" he repeated.
"What is your project?"
"Quantum Leap..." Lois muttered to herself, adding the name to her pad.
"This project studies Unidentified Flying Objects?" the other man asked.
"Travel in time!" was the sharp, almost condescending reply.
There was the sound of someone knocking on a door in the background.
"What is it?" one of the interrogators called.
"Orderly. Medication," came a muffled voice from the other side of the door.
"This patient is under private care." The tape ended abruptly.
Clark frowned. He could have sworn he had heard something else...something on a supersonic frequency.
"Could you play it again, please?"
Lois threw him a curious glance. He tapped his ear. "I think I...heard...something extra."
Obligingly, she rewound the tape.
"Could be quoting from something he read. Let's make sure."
"No! No, you bastards! Gooshie, what am I gonna do now?"
He was right! There was a fourth voice, a man's voice, but speaking at a frequency inaudible to the normal human ear.
"Let's start with something simple. Like your name."
He was apparently speaking to the man being interrogated. But why call him by name to prevent him from saying his name? Unless...no one could hear him. Did the two interrogators even know he was there?
"Doctor Samuel Beckett."
"Think you gave him too much?"
Clark reached for a piece of paper and began to write down what he heard. "There's a fourth voice speaking."
Lois looked startled. "One that I can't hear?"
He nodded. "It's a human voice too. I can't figure out how he can speak at such a high frequency..."
"What is the date?"
"May first, 1999."
"Gooshie! If I should suddenly pop out of existence, I want to leave everything to my first wife, Beth!"
Who was Gushie? And how could this conversation cause this person to 'pop out of existence'?
"Why do you need a clearance?"
"Hang in there, Sam, hang in there!"
"Why do you need a clearance, Dr. Beckett?"
Well, whoever this person was, he knew what 'Sam' was going to say and didn't want him to say it. But that was about the only part of the dialogue that made sense with these comments. Clark finished writing and passed the paper to Lois. She studied it with a puzzled look on her face.
"How many people are in that room?" she wondered, trying to make sense of the bizarre side-remarks. "It's like a running commentary from a parallel dimension or something."
Clark nodded thoughtfully. "The man being interrogated said he was involved in some sort of time travel project...maybe they found a way to keep him in contact with his own time...like a temporal radio signal or something."
"And somehow designed it to be only audible to him?"
He nodded. "The fourth guy definitely acted like no one else could hear him..."
"Except this Gushie person."
He shook his head. "I don't know what to make of that."
Lois turned her attention back to a thoughtful study of her notes. "Let's see what we can find out about a Dr. Samuel Beckett. And a Project Quantum Leap in New Mexico."
Chapter 5: The Investigators
Mulder finally convinced Scully to go to Metropolis to investigate Superman...so why is he suddenly more interested in something else?
"Have you noticed how strange Mack Sherman's been acting lately?"
Dana Scully turned to stare incredulously at her partner, her winter coat in one hand. "Mack Sherman? The janitor?"
Mulder nodded, reaching for his own coat. "I caught him carrying on a conversation with thin air earlier today, when I went to get that stain off my tie." He shrugged it on and turned to help her with hers.
"So? The man's nearly seventy-five and works alone. Why shouldn't he talk to himself?"
"But that's just the thing. He wasn't talking to himself. He was talking to someone named Al. Someone who, I might add, was standing IN the wall."
Scully sighed and started out the door with Mulder close behind her.
"So he's a little old to have an imaginary friend. Your point?"
"He wasn't an imaginary friend."
"I'm dying to hear what you *do* think it was."
"A ghost?" Mulder regarded her as if waiting for the inevitable disagreement. He'd been hoping the comments he was making would jog her memory, but so far had been unsuccessful. Too bad he couldn't just tell her outright what had happened, but he knew she wouldn't believe a word of it. She'd probably think he'd lost his mind.
Mulder's mouth turned up a bit in amusement at the thought, and Scully found herself wondering once again how the man could look so sincere and so mischievous at the same time.
She shook her head in disbelief. "Are you trying to tell me you think Mack Sherman is a medium?" By this time they had reached the elevator and Scully pressed the 'up' button. "That's a bit of a leap, don't you think, Mulder?"
Interesting choice of words, considering she didn't remember. Well, he'd just have to keep trying.
"Not really. Take a look at this." He held a sheet of printer paper towards her as the doors slid open and they stepped inside.
"What is it?"
"An e-mail message I got."
Reluctantly she took the paper and perused it. "Okay, so one of the warehouses you would love to dig through was broken into by some scientist. What does that have to do with Mack Sherman?"
"Actually, Scully, it says the warehouse was broken into by someone Dr. Beckett's security clearance. Sam Beckett himself disappeared some time last year."
"Disappeared is not necessarily synonymous with dead."
Mulder had a secretive smile on his face. "I know. But from what I know of his disappearance, he wouldn't be able to use it himself, strictly speaking, even if he is still alive."
"What DO you know of his disappearance?"
"Not much. Only that he was working on a Top Secret time travel project for the government at the time, and his colleagues say he is now traveling through time borrowing other people's lives and faces."
"I'm not going to even ASK where you got that information or whether you did anything to verify or clarify it. I still don't see the connection."
"Well, the connection is that Mack Sherman was talking about a warehouse when I caught him talking to himself." He jabbed at the paper emphatically with his finger. "THIS warehouse. And from the sound of what he was saying, he was the one who did the break-in."
"Why would Sherman risk his job by using the security clearance of a missing scientist to break into a top secret warehouse, Mulder? What does a janitor need with government secrets?"
"Scully, the tape that was stolen was from Project Blue Book, back in the sixties. Don't ask me how, but it must have been somehow connected to this Dr. Beckett."
"Even if it was, that still doesn't give Sherman a reason to take it."
"People do things without reasonable explanations all the time, Scully."
She sighed. "I'm sorry, but unless you can give me either proof that Sherman broke into this warehouse or a better reason he would want to, I don't believe it."
"He said he did, Scully, doesn't a confession count as proof?"
"How do you know he wasn't putting on an act for your benefit? To get attention? You do have a bit of a reputation, Mulder."
"He couldn't have been putting on an act for me hen he didn't know I was watching."
"You were spying on him?" The elevator door slid open and she stepped out into the lobby of the J. Edgar Hoover Building, with her partner close behind.
"People don't usually talk to ghosts in public, Scully. If he'd known I was there, he probably would have waited until I left."
Scully rolled her eyes. "Your logic escapes me."
"I just thought it might be worthwhile to check it out."
His partner shook her head emphatically, exiting the building and turning her footsteps towards the parking garage. "Not now. I've already let you talk me into going to Metropolis to investigate Superman this week. At least you have something that looks like a case there."
"Are you actually admitting he's real, Scully?" Mulder's eyes twinkled. "I thought you were firmly convinced he was a publicity stunt."
"I still am. Movies make people seem to fly all the time--I'm sure a profitable major newspaper could afford the necessary technology."
"What about Nick Knight?"
The stare Mulder got in response to that question was one of complete bewilderment.
"What does a Toronto homicide detective have to do with any of this? Besides, we solved that case--why bring it up now?"
It had already been pretty obvious that his not-so-subtle hints were not going to restore her memory about the earlier case, but that clinched it. If she couldn't make the connection between Nick and flying, the vampire's hypnotic suggestion was obviously still very much in place.
He shrugged. "Just wanted to make sure you were really listening."
"Fine. Can we get going now?"
The rest of the walk to the car passed in silence, and when they reached it, Scully unlocked the door and slipped into in the driver's seat. Thankfully, Metropolis was only a couple of hours south of DC in Virginia. She wasn't sure she could concentrate on driving if she was trying to follow Mulder's leaps of logic at the same time.
"Oh, by the way..."
Scully buckled her seat-belt and turned exasperated eyes to her partner. "What now?"
"That warehouse I mentioned? It's in Metropolis."
Chapter 6: Foresight
Sometimes knowing the future can be a nightmare, especially knowing the fate of someone you've just met.
Juan Pablo's Mexican Restaurant
Stallion Springs, New Mexico
June 9, 2000
"Admiral Calavicci! It's so good to finally meet you face to face!"
Al scowled at the man who was extending a hand towards him. "Cut to the chase, *Governor*. We both know why I'm here, so don't act like you want to be friends," he said curtly.
"It's a pity we couldn't have met under different circumstances, then. I feel sure we could have been friends." He smiled. "By the way, my name's Gregor Abruzzi."
"You have no one to blame for the circumstances but yourself," Al replied, ignoring the introduction.
"Ah, but that's where you're wrong. It's not my fault at all. Ms. Hammond helped me see that. It's his. And that means you have the power to change it. I can't understand why you won't."
"You're asking us to kill for you."
"So? Sam's killed before."
"Only when necessary, and don't call him Sam! You of all people have no right to be familiar in any way towards him!"
Mr. Abruzzi sighed. "I can see this isn't getting us anywhere. Won't you join us for lunch? I brought along a couple of ladies who are dying to meet you."
"I'm not hungry."
"Wait until you see the menu. I'm sure you'll change your mind. Come on, we have a table right back here."
He started towards the back of the restaurant and Al followed reluctantly, cursing himself. Try as he might, he couldn't help but find the man almost *likeable*! There was no affectation whatsoever in his manner, and if he hadn't admitted to being the blackmailer, he would have found it hard to believe this was the same man. He must be a good actor, the Admiral concluded.
"Here we are!" Gregor announced cheerfully. "Ladies, I'd like you to meet Admiral Albert Calavicci."
The two women sitting at the table turned to face him, and Al stopped. The older one was in her mid-forties or early fifties, with chin-length red hair and haughty eyes, while the younger was no more than eighteen, blonde and innocent. The Admiral's face went white and any sympathy he had begun to feel for the man vanished.
The blackmailer didn't seem to notice, but went on with the introductions. "This is my partner, Zoë Hammond, and my daughter, Alia."
"She's...your daughter?!" Al croaked in disbelief.
"Yes. Why, is something the matter?"
The Observer's expression darkened. "You bastard!" he hissed. Without waiting for a response, he turned sharply and stormed out of the restaurant.
"What was that all about?" Gregor asked puzzled, watching Al's retreating back.
Zoë smiled, amused. Unlike her partner, she had a suspicion regarding what the Admiral had reacted to, but had no intention of sharing that knowledge. "Something tells me our chances of getting what we want just went up."
Back at the Project
"That son of a bitch!"
Donna's eyes widened watching Al storm into the Project, trembling with barely contained rage. His face was clouded with anger.
"I take it the meeting didn't go well. What happened?"
"She's his daughter, that's what happened!"
"Alia!" he spat. "How could any man with a shred of compassion in him do that to his own daughter?!?!"
Dr. Elise sat down hard. "Oh my...you don't mean--"
"They TORTURED her, Donna! The reason she did what she did was because she was tortured if she failed! How could her father do that to her?"
She shook her head. "I don't know, Al."
The Admiral was almost crying. "Some people don't deserve to be parents!"
"So what are you going to do?"
"What else can I do but keep trying to stop him? I just pray she never went home, if that's what she had to go home to."
The phone rang. Al swore under his breath. "If that's him again, I swear I'm going to kill him! I don't know how, but I'll kill him!"
"Admiral, Senator Weitzman is on the phone," Ziggy's voice came over the intercom. Admiral Calavicci glanced at Donna in surprise. The Committee had been relatively unobtrusive for the past three or four years. There was, of course, the annual funding review, but that had been fairly easy ever since Sam's Leap put Dianne McBride in the chair position. What could Weitzman possibly be calling about?
"Put him through, Ziggy."
A moment later the Senator's image appeared on the vid-phone screen. Al hit the speaker button.
"Doctor Elise, Admiral Calavicci, you're looking fairly well. How is everything?"
"As well as can be expected under the circumstances."
"Oh, yes. I heard about your little problem. I'm surprised you haven't dealt with it already. You are somewhat familiar with blackmail after all."
There was a slight bitter edge to Weitzman's voice, and Al did his best to conceal a smirk. Well, that's what he got for trying to take him off the Project.
"As you may imagine," the Senator continued, "the Federal Government is not pleased with the idea that one of their top secret projects is being blackmailed. There's a move to cut funding."
Al and Donna exchanged a worried glance. "And what kind of support does this motion have?" she asked.
"A lot, including mine, I might add. Dianne's supporting continuation, as usual, but there's still a very good chance it will carry."
"But they can't cut funding--Sam's still out there!" Al protested.
"You know there are some members of the Committee who were never convinced he was 'out there' to begin with. And with this new threat...well, much as we would hate to lose a mind like Sam Beckett's, it may be a small sacrifice compared to the *potential* loss."
"But I told you, Sam's going to fix this! You can't give up on him!"
"Well, I'm not the only one you have to convince. Even if we do cut funding, you may have a chance, though."
"What do you mean?"
"There's a private company that's offered to take over the Project. Owned by some guy named Abruzzi and his partner, a Ms. Hammond. Apparently they turn a pretty good profit, because they actually would be able to cover this place's outrageous running cost. Albeit on a tighter budget. And they will want to revamp a few things around here."
The look on Al's face made it clear to Donna that Weitzman's suggestion was not a good one. "Do we have any other options?" he asked faintly.
"Well, if the motion carries, you can shut down, in which case they'd probably buy you out anyway."
"Well, thank you for letting us know."
"Just doing my job, Admiral."
The connection was terminated.
"Ziggy," Al said slowly. "What are the chances that Abruzzi will take over the Project and 'revamp' it to use for his own purposes?"
"There is a ninety-eight point six percent chance that the motion to cut funding will carry, and Mr. Abruzzi and Ms. Hammond will carry out their threat." The computer sounded worried.
"Do you mean the blackmailer is the same man who's offered to buy out the Project from the Government?" Donna asked incredulously.
Al nodded grimly.
"But how could they get Ziggy to do all those horrible things?"
"If the Project is "revamped," in Senator Weitzman's words," Ziggy explained, "There is a high probability that they will wipe my memory banks and reprogram me." All of the computer's usual smugness had disappeared in her concern for her own survival. "Admiral, you and Doctor Beckett must stop these people! If you don't, I will essentially die, and what is left of me will become Lothos."
Chapter 7: Unexpected Convergence
They've avoided this moment for two years, but the day was bound to come--Lois and Clark, meet Mulder and Scully.
"Any luck?" Clark asked, glancing over Lois's shoulder at her computer.
"Well, sort of. I found a biography of Dr. Samuel Beckett fairly easily, thought it hasn't been updated for at least three or four years." She pointed to the papers streaming out of the printer. "But Project Quantum Leap seems to have a security system a mile thick. I couldn't even figure out the first password, and I've been trying for an hour! I've been booted out of the system twenty times!"
The frustration in her voice rose as she spoke, though she somehow managed to keep from speaking loud enough to attract attention.
"Here, let me try it," Clark suggested. Relieved, Lois stood and let him take over at the keyboard. With a furtive glance around the room to make sure no one was looking, he began to type at super-speed. It took him only five minutes to bypass four security levels. At the fifth level, he entered the UMBRA number, and they were in. "How's that?"
"Helpful," she replied with a grin. "It sure is going to be handy having you around the house."
He smiled and nodded in the direction of the screen. "Let's see what we've got."
A string of words appeared across it. THIS PROJECT IS CLASSIFIED. HOW DID YOU GET CLEARANCE?
Lois tapped Clark on the shoulder and re-seated herself at the computer as soon as he stood. She thought for a moment. HOW ABOUT THIS? she typed. I'LL TELL YOU IF YOU ANSWER A FEW QUESTIONS FOR ME.
There was a brief pause. WHAT TYPE OF QUESTIONS?
She smiled. WELL, WHO ARE YOU, FOR EXAMPLE?
THAT INFORMATION IS CLASSIFIED. CALL ME ZIGGY.
"Ziggy?" Clark asked, amused. "What kind of people does this Project employ? First Gushie and now Ziggy."
WHAT ABOUT YOU? WHO ARE YOU? 'Ziggy' asked.
"You did agree to trade information," her partner reminded her.
She nodded. MY NAME'S LOIS LANE. I'M A REPORTER FOR THE METROPOLIS DAILY PLANET.
I SEE. There was another short pause. INTRIGUING.
The two reporters exchanged a curious glance. "Well, it's nice to know I'm even intriguing over the Internet," she remarked wryly.
I HOPE YOU REALIZE I AM NOT AT LIBERTY TO SPEAK TO THE PRESS, DUE TO THE HIGHLY SENSITIVE NATURE OF THIS PROJECT, the screen continued.
WHAT IF I PROMISE YOU THIS WILL BE OFF THE RECORD?
IT WOULD NOT MATTER. IF YOU ARE CONTACTING ME REGARDING A STORY IN ANY WAY, I CANNOT SPEAK TO YOU, EVEN IF MY COMMENTS WOULD NOT BE QUOTED. NOW, PLEASE TELL ME HOW YOU MANAGED TO ACCESS MY SECURITY GRID. AND WHO GAVE YOU THAT UMBRA CLEARANCE CODE?
Lois sighed. She wasn't getting anywhere with this Ziggy person. LOOK, I KNOW YOUR PROJECT HAS SOMETHING TO DO WITH TIME TRAVEL AND INVOLVES DR. SAMUEL BECKETT, THE NOBEL-PRIZE WINNER FOR PHYSICS OF A FEW YEARS AGO. ALL I WANT IS A LITTLE MORE INFORMATION TO SATISFY MY OWN CURIOSITY. IF IT'S THAT IMPORTANT TO YOU, I WON'T DO A STORY ON IT.
If it were possible for a computer screen to look startled, this one would have. WHERE DID YOU GET THAT INFORMATION?
A TAPE DATED MAY OF 1966. IT WAS PART OF A FILE FROM PROJECT BLUE BOOK.
"This from a Project dealing with time travel?" Lois commented with a smile. She began typing again. WELL, HOW DOES THIS STRIKE YOU? She listed the information they had gotten off of the tape, including the clearance code. THE DATE MAY 1, 1999, WAS MENTIONED, IF THAT'S ANY HELP.
"Don't you think you're giving him a little too much?" Clark asked. "If you tell him everything he wants to know, he won't have any reason to keep answering your questions."
"I don't think he would answer them anyway," she responded. "This way I might be able to get a reaction out of him, at least."
There was a long, perhaps thoughtful pause on the other end. DO YOU STILL HAVE THIS RECORDING? Ziggy finally asked.
WHY? Lois hedged.
BECAUSE IF YOU DO, I WOULD ADVISE YOU TO DESTROY IT IMMEDIATELY AND FORGET YOU EVER SAW IT. IF NOT...FIND IT AND THEN DESTROY IT.
"That sounds kind of like what the man who gave me the tape said--that it should never have existed," she commented. "But why destroy it? It seems to me that time travel could be something very beneficial."
"But in the wrong hands it could be deadly."
Lois was surprised at how quickly she found herself in agreement, and how the statement made her cold with fear. Why do I feel like I've learned that from experience?
"I'm still going to ask him why, though." She reached for the keyboard.
"Hey, Lois? Clark? There's some FBI agents who want to talk to you," Jimmy announced, approaching them. "Think it's about that tape?"
With a startled glance at Clark, Lois quickly blanked the screen of her computer, wincing as she realized they probably wouldn't be able to access the Project again.
"How did they get here so fast?" she complained.
"Maybe they're not here about that," Clark reasoned. "I doubt they even know who has the tape at this point."
"I hope you're right. But what else would they be here for?"
Jimmy shrugged. "I don't know. All Agent Mulder said was--"
"Mulder?" the two reporters echoed together.
"Yeah..." he replied hesitantly, his expression puzzled. "You two know him or something?"
Lois rolled her eyes. "He's been calling me at least once a month for the past two and a half years, asking about Superman."
Clark nodded. "Me too."
Jimmy looked disappointed. "Gee, he never called me."
"Consider yourself lucky," Lois quipped dryly. "I just can't figure out why he'd be showing up now of all times."
"Ultrawoman, maybe?" the young photographer suggested.
Clark nodded. "I'd bet you're right."
Lois rolled her eyes. "Oh, good. This should be fun."
"Well, are you going to talk to them?" Jimmy asked, gesturing in the direction of the dark-haired man and shorter red-haired woman in matching trenchcoats who were standing just inside the newsroom.
Lois glanced at her fiancee. "Clark?"
He shrugged. "They can't be worse than Trask."
She nodded. "All right. Send them over. Might as well get it over with."
Jimmy disappeared in the direction of the two agents and Lois took the biography of Dr. Beckett out of her printer, hiding the sheaf of papers in her desk drawer. She also scribbled down a couple of interesting points that had come up in her conversation with 'Ziggy' so they could discuss and follow up on them later.
"Ms. Lane, Mr. Kent," a voice said behind them. Recognizing it, the two reporters reluctantly turned. "I'm Agent Mulder. This is my partner, Agent Scully. It's good to finally meet you."
"I wish I could say the same, but I'm afraid I don't take kindly to pestering," Lois returned brusquely. Mulder's partner smiled as the reporters both shook the offered hands.
"We were wondering if we could ask you a few questions," Scully asked.
"About Superman," Clark assumed with a faint smile.
Mulder nodded, a knowing twinkle in his eyes. "Basically, yes. You two have gotten quite a reputation as his contacts."
"You make him sound like a spy," Lois smiled. "Personally, I prefer to say we're his friends."
"So, you believe his abilities are genuine?" Scully asked skeptically.
Lois studied the other woman, surprised. Somehow, she'd expected her to be as obsessively convinced as her partner. She smiled. Do I believe his abilities are genuine, Agent Scully? Well, I'd have to say that having them myself for a while was pretty convincing...
"I take it you don't?"
Chapter 8: Curtain Rising
The year is 2010 and a very different Project Quantum Leap is starting to take shape.
March 25, 2010
Project Quantum Leap
Stallion's Gate, New Mexico
"Thames!" Zoë Hammond strode into the silent control room. A look of irritation crossed her face as she noticed that the lights on the computer console were still dead. Who would have thought the Project would take so long to overhaul!
"Thames!" she called again.
The Imaging Chamber door slid open, revealing the black man, who was chuckling to himself at some private joke. Zoë wondered briefly if he ever *stopped* laughing. Thames stepped through the door Zoë, and punched the manual control that had been installed so they could get from one place to another while the computer was still off-line.
"What is taking so long?" she demanded.
"The same thing that's been taking a long time for the past ten years--this is a very complex computer." He grinned at her, only increasing her exasperation.
"Doctor Beckett had this facility built and running by nineteen ninety-five!" Zoë snapped.
"Yeah, well Doctor Beckett was a genius, on top of which, I'd bet he didn't have this baby up and running in a year either. These things take time, Zoë. You've got to learn to be patient."
"I don't have time to be patient!"
Thames laughed again. "You're joking, right? This is a time machine we're talking about here, remember Zoë, baby?"
Her eyes hurled spears of contempt at him. "Don't call me that."
"Zoë, how's it coming?" Gregor called cheerily behind them.
Zoë rolled her eyes in disgust at the sound of her partner's voice. That man and his goody-goody daughter! I swear, as soon as I don't need him...
"We're coming along at a fair pace," Thames reported. "We've been working on Dr. Beckett's string theory, to try to find away to be able to Leap outside the limits of a person's lifetime. It's slowing us down a little bit, but once we get through the rough spots, we should be able to get a fair enough trot going to get this place back on-line as early as May."
Abruzzi nodded, pleased. He gestured to Alia, who had been standing behind him. "Well, when that time comes, I'm pleased to announce that it will be my daughter who makes the Leap."
Zoë's head snapped up, startled. "Her?!" Her eyes swept over Alia. That could ruin everything! "Gregor, don't you think that's an awful risk to put her at?" she suggested, hoping to talk him out of it.
He shook his head. "I don't see why. Our technicians have had plenty of time to perfect the retrieval program, from the notes that were left. All she has to do is go back to the target date, do what she has to do, and come home."
"Besides, I want to do it," Alia added. She had inherited her father's stubbornness. "I've always wanted to travel in time, and I like the idea of being able to see life through other people's eyes."
"It doesn't bother you that your father's asking you to kill for him?" Zoë asked bluntly. Alia winced a little, but held firm.
"No. After all, once it's been done, I probably won't remember it anyway." There was a brief pause. Alia was waiting for her words to sink in, Gregor was staying out of the argument until it came time to sway the vote, Thames was watching with that same amused look on his face, and Zoë was considering the implications of the younger woman's last statement.
She probably won't remember it anyway... Curiously enough, that was one aspect of Leaping that had slipped Zoë's mind. Maybe Alia had potential after all... And if *her* mind swiss-cheesed as severely as the previous Project staff had reluctantly admitted that Dr. Beckett's was...she might even forget how she'd gotten into this in the first place, and who she was doing it for. The idea had definite appeal.
Being careful not to seem too eager in her agreement, Zoë nodded slowly, as if still mulling it over in her mind. "Well, if that's what you want..." she conceded, her voice full of a doubt she no longer felt.
The more she thought about it, the more attractive the idea became. She had originally planned to be the one to Leap, using Thames both as her Observer, and to keep Gregor and Alia in line. It would be much easier to control things from the present. And it would be much easier to keep father and daughter in line if she had control over the daughter...
"But in that case, I must insist on being allowed to act as Observer. After all, I am the only other female on staff, and should Alia decide to make more than one Leap, I expect my life experiences would be useful to her."
"Then it's all settled!" Gregor gave Zoë a quick peck on the cheek and she resisted the temptation to flinch in disgust.
With that, the two Abruzzis disappeared into the elevator to return to the upper level. When they were gone, Thames turned to Zoë with a frown.
Amazing, she thought. He does know how not to smile.
"Why did you go along with that? I thought you were going to be the one."
"But this way I can control everything from here without having to depend on *you* to keep Abruzzi and his daughter in line. Alia's memory will be severely damaged by the Leap, which means I will be able to control her implicitly! I'll be her best friend, her confidante, her only connection to home, and she'll have no way of ever knowing any differently. And when I have her under my control, it will be easy to make Gregor see things my way."
"But he's right about one thing, Zoë. We *have* almost perfected the Retrieval Program. He could just pull her out if he doesn't like what you're doing."
Zoë's face darkened. "Well, then put a flaw into it! Make it so that it can pull her back, but not painlessly. Then, if he chooses to use it, I'll have even more power over both of them."
"Who would you trust more--a father who tortured you, or a friend who tried to get him not to?"
Thames' infuriating smile returned in full force, but this time, Zoë simply returned it.
"Then when we get Ziggy up and running again--"
"Don't call it Ziggy!" Zoë snapped, whirling angrily on him. "No 'Ziggy,' no 'Waiting Room,' no 'Imaging Chamber'--I want *nothing* of the original Project in mine except the technology!"
"Then what DO you want to call it? A computer with a personality deserves a name."
A sinister smile crept over Zoë's face. "Call him...Lothos."
Chapter 9: Some Clarity
Secrets don't keep with these guys around.
Scully bit her lip in frustration. In the time they had been speaking with Clark Kent and Lois Lane, they had managed to find out almost nothing, except that both insisted that Superman's abilities were genuine. She had thrown out other theories as to the origins of his 'powers' but both of the reporters had dismissed them all, although they refused to explain their certainty. The most irksome thing about it was that it was her, not Mulder, who was getting incredulous stares in response to her questions.
Of the two, Kent was more trusting and forthcoming, which was rather a surprise. The records they had checked before coming to Metropolis seemed to indicate that he was the one with more to hide, but it was Lois who responded most sharply to their inquiries and sometimes refused to answer at all.
"You have to understand," Clark tried to explain his fiancee's hostility, "the last government agent who wanted to speak to us about Superman was Jason Trask. He tried to kill both of us to get to him, so you'll have to forgive us if we're a little suspicious."
"I have no intention of trying to kill either of you," Mulder tried to assure them.
"Is that why you did your best to drive us crazy with your phone calls?" Lois snapped in return.
"No, that's just an inescapable part of his personality, I'm afraid," Scully interjected unexpectedly.
The tension in the room broke as Lois burst out laughing.
"Thanks, Scully," Mulder replied dryly, glancing at his partner in amused approval. He then turned back to Kent. "Is there any way we could speak to Superman?"
The two reporters glanced at each other, some sort of wordless communication passing between them.
Clark shrugged. "Sure, I guess." He stood. "I'll go see if I can find him." Mulder held up a hand to stop him and Kent hesitated nervously. "Is something wrong?"
"There's just a few more questions I want to ask you," the agent replied calmly. "Why doesn't Ms. Lane go to find him?"
"Well, I..." he stammered.
"Clark's so much better at getting in touch with him than I am," Lois explained quickly for him with a bright but artificial smile.
"Really?" was the deadpan reply. "According to records, Ms. Lane, Superman has never failed to reach you when you were in danger--"
"Are you planning to put me in danger, Agent Mulder?" she asked sharply, her dark eyes once again shooting knives at the two.
Ignoring her comment, Mulder continued, "--and he has also been known to appear at your behest when your life is *not* in jeopardy. Quite frequently, actually."
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence as the two journalists again exchanged a meaningful glance. Finally, Clark nodded reluctantly and sat down. Lois pursed her lips and reached for the doorknob.
"This may take a while," she informed them curtly as she left.
Scully watched her go, intrigued. The two of them were definitely hiding something, and if she was reading Mulder right, he suspected pretty much the same thing that she did. Now, they just had to confirm that mutual suspicion.
"Well, Mr. Kent," Mulder began, leaning back in his chair. "You have a rather intriguing history."
"What do you mean?" Clark asked warily.
"Before coming here, I did a little research into your and your fiancee's backgrounds, and I noticed a number of holes in yours."
"For instance, the fact that there is no record of your adoption by the Kents. And the date you list as your birthday coincides with a number of UFO sightings in the general area of Smallville, Kansas, which, if I remember correctly, is your hometown."
"What does any of this have to do with Superman?" Clark tried to change the subject.
"I'm getting to that," was the calm reply. "When you were around twelve years old, there was a mysterious fire at the Kent farm. Somehow the it was put out before the fire department arrived on the scene, but your parents refused to make any effort to determine the cause, insisting that it was just an accident, and not important. Shortly after that, you began wearing glasses, although there are no records of an eye examination being conducted. In fact, you have apparently never had a physical in your life, since the name of the doctor listed on your school records does not exist. Or if he does, he doesn't practice anywhere near Smallville."
"Why are you telling me this?"
"People who have nothing to hide don't keep secrets, Mr. Kent," Scully contributed, watching him for any change in demeanor.
Clark shifted his attention to the female agent and then back to her partner, sensing that he was trapped. "Look, can we discuss this in a minute? I have to..." He gestured towards the door, looking embarrassed. "You know."
"Change clothes?" Mulder asked innocently. "Perhaps into a pair of blue tights with red speedos worn on the outside?"
He was cornered, and he knew it, but he was also still hesitant to straight out admit the biggest secret of his life. He hadn't even done that with Lois--she'd figured it out herself. But then, so had these two, apparently... His gaze drifted from one to the other of the two agents. They were both clearly very bright, and far enough away from the situation to be objective. And he had a sneaking suspicion that he'd be hard-pressed to think of an excuse they would believe. Fortunately, he had good instincts, and those instincts were telling him that not only could these two probably be trusted, but that they would not be endangered by that knowledge because no one would suspect them of possesing it. Smiling weakly, the reporter sat down again. "How did you figure it out?"
"So you admit that you're the person who's been masquerading as Superman?" Scully asked.
Much to her surprise, he laughed. "Yeah, I can admit to that. It sure beats being asked if Superman is masquerading as me." He chuckled again at the female agent's raised eyebrow. "It's a long story. I suppose you'll want to see proof that I can do what I say I can?"
"It would be appreciated."
Mulder nodded in agreement, grinning. "Yeah, I could deal with a demonstration."
Clark sighed. "Well, all right, but not here. My identity *is* still a secret, you know."
"How many people actually know?" Mulder asked.
"My parents and Lois, pretty much."
Scully nodded, a rather disturbed look on her face. He seemed to be telling the truth, which made it more likely that his powers were real, since many more people would have to be in on a hoax this big to pull it off.
"Look," Clark asked, "Can I go out and tell Lois what's going on? She's probably getting worried that I haven't excused myself yet."
Mulder inclined his head in agreement. "Where should we go from there?"
"To my apartment, I guess. I think I can get Perry to give Lois and me the rest of the day off. You two can come with us, or follow us in your car, whichever you prefer."
"I have just one question..." Scully interjected.
Clark turned his attention to her.
"What ever did possess you to take up tights, anyway?" she asked.
"Well, my mom made them for me."
"All right. Whatever possessed her then?"
"She said it cut down on wind resistance and..." He blushed, much to their surprise. "...that I wouldn't have to worry about people paying much attention to my face."
Scully colored a little as well, wishing she hadn't asked. Mulder just grinned. "I'll have to remember that the next time we go undercover, huh, Scully?"
"If you do, you can forget about taking me along," she warned him.
Clark smiled, his hand resting lightly on the doorknob. "I'll be right back," he assured them as he closed the door behind him.
As soon as he stepped back into the newsroom, Lois was at his side. "What happened?"
Her fiancé took a deep breath and let out a long sigh. "They know."
"What?" she asked, alarmed. "But, how?"
"I'm not sure...I think that Mulder did a background check and then just put two and two together."
Lois frowned slightly. "You would think I could have done that," she muttered under her breath. It still irked her occasionally that it had taken her so long to figure out that the two men she loved were one and the same.
Clark smiled fondly at her. "Well, if you think about it, Lois, you weren't exactly in a position to be objective."
She returned the smile. "Good point." Her face sobered as she sat down at her desk, pondering the new complication that had been thrown into their already-eventful day. "So, what do we do now?"
"They want a demonstration."
His fiancee's eyes widened in alarm. "Here??"
"No, I convinced them to go back to my apartment with us."
"What about after that? Do you think we can trust them to keep your secret?" Lois was very concerned.
Clark frowned thoughtfully. "I think so. They seem trustworthy. We might have to give them a good reason to keep it a secret, though. I just wish I had some way to get their minds off it, at least for a while..."
The other reporter sighed, her eyes drifting to her computer screen. Only an hour ago, she had been faced with the exciting prospect of making a vital discovery about a Top Secret government time travel project, and now, she was trying to think of a way to distract two overly-savvy FBI agents!
Something clicked in her mind and her eyes widened. FBI agents would have government clearance... "We do."
"We do have a way to distract them." She opened the drawer of her desk and pulled out a sheaf of computer-printed pages. "I am willing to bet they would be interested in investigating Project Quantum Leap."
"But do you want to share it with them?" he asked, curiously.
Lois nodded as she took the precious tape and file out of another drawer, adding it to the biography and notes. "It might be the only way we can get in there."
Mulder and Scully glanced up as the reporters re-entered the room, their arms full of papers. The agents frowned, puzzled. What were those for?
"I was wondering if you two could help us with something that we've been working on..." Lois explained, dumping her armload on the table of the conference room. Clark set his pile down beside hers, a pile that included a small tape reel.
Mulder jumped a little, both startled and excited at the sight. Could it be the one..?
The reporters sat down and Lois picked up the tape and file. "This morning, a man came into the newsroom and handed these to me. He told me they were something that should never have existed."
"What does this have to do with--" Scully began.
"We need your help," the reporter interrupted, anticipating the question, "because you know. If you didn't, we couldn't risk showing you everything we have because of how we obtained it, and there's a good chance we wouldn't be able to do anything further on this investigation. So, just take it as a sign that we've decided to trust you."
The two agents were silent, mollified.
Lois continued. "We listened to this tape, and this is what we got." She handed Mulder the transcript. "The words in parentheses are side comments that Clark heard on an ultrasonic frequency."
A broad, pleased smile spread over Mulder's face as he read the paper. "Scully, this is the tape I told you about!"
Scully stared at him. "You're kidding."
"You knew about the tape?" Lois asked incredulously.
He nodded, still smiling. "One of my sources informed me that a Top Secret tape from the Project Blue Book days had been stolen from a Metropolis warehouse. From the information you have in this transcript, this must be it."
"What makes you say that?" Clark asked, curiously.
The agent pointed to the first of the parenthesed comments. "That would have to be Al."
"A holographic projection of a man from Sam's present who acts as an observer and information source on his Leaps. He can only be seen and heard by Sam..." He glanced up at Clark, amused. "And apparently Extraterrestrials."
"Leaps?" Lois asked. By this time, the shift in conversation had brought some things back to normal--everyone in the room was now staring at Mulder in disbelief. He nodded in response to her question, then proceeded to reach down and unlace his left shoe.
"Mulder, what are you doing?" Scully asked.
"Explaining," he replied, coming back up with the shoelace in his hands. "Sam Beckett theorized that time was like a piece of string--one end of it was your birth, the other was your death. If you could somehow find a way to ball the string up in your hand, all the points of your life would touch other points, enabling you to move, or 'quantum leap' from one point to another within your own lifetime." As he explained, he demonstrated the theory on the shoelace. "But apparently the Project malfunctioned. They believe it was taken over by some sort of higher power, who requires Sam to fix something that originally went wrong in history before he can move on to another time."
"So...you're saying that the tape was of Dr. Beckett being interrogated while he was in 1966?" Clark asked.
Mulder nodded, bending down to re-lace his shoe.
"But then, why does the tape say it is an interrogation of Maxwell Stoddard?" Lois asked, confused.
"Because..." came the strained reply from the still-bent-over agent. "That's another aspect of the Project--apparently...when Sam Leaps into somewhere, he bounces someone else...out." He came up again, his brown hair, disorderly and his face flushed from being upside-down for so long. The other three people in the room stifled the urge to chuckle at the very unprofessional appearance of his cranium.
"Whoever he can best accomplish his task as, apparently," he continued obliviously. "While he is there, those around him see him as the person he has replaced, while that person goes into the future and is kept in the 'Waiting Room' at the Project for the duration of the Leap."
Lois leaned back in her chair and rubbed her temples, not quite sure what to do with this flood of information.
"Mulder, forgive me but where on Earth did you get all this???" Scully asked.
"I read about Dr. Beckett's theories in 'The Lone Gunman,' then discovered he'd actually put them to use when we met him."
Scully tried to scan her memory for any recollection of meeting a time-traveler named after a playwright, but drew a complete blank. "We did?"
He nodded. So much for trying to jog her memory--he was just going to have to tell her straight out. "On that case in Toronto--he Leaped into Detective Schanke."
"He did? Mulder, what are you talking about? That was probably one of the most normal cases we've ever had!"
That prompted a torrent of suppressed laughter from her partner. "No it wasn't, Scully, believe me! You just weren't allowed to remember it."
"I wasn't allowed to remember?"
"I'll explain later," he assured her, turning back to the now very puzzled but curious Lois and Clark.
"Yes, you'll have to do that," Lois interjected with a smile.
Mulder groaned silently. He should have known better than to bring up that case in front of two reporters, especially two that knew there were unusual things in the world.
"Do you have anything else?" He changed the subject this time.
Nodding, she pushed the biography and her notes over to him. The agent only afforded a cursory glance to the biography. "Can I hang on to this for a while and read it in the car?" They nodded, and he turned his attention to the notes written in Lois's clear hand.
He whistled, impressed. "You actually managed to get into the Project's computer system?"
Clark shrugged. "It's not too hard when you can go through possible passwords faster than the system can boot you out."
"I imagine. Wish I could do that." Mulder flashed his partner an offbeat smile, which she echoed. Yes, sometimes it would be nice to be able to beat the system they were fighting like that.
"I don't suppose you would happen to know who Ziggy is, would you?" Lois commented wryly.
To their surprise, he nodded. "The artificial intelligence computer that runs the project."
"*Ziggy* is the computer??"
"Yep." Mulder picked up the bio again and flipped through it to see how many pages long it was.
"Kind of a funny name for a computer," Clark commented.
"Kind of a funny name for anyone," his fiancee added. "Or anything for that matter."
"So what do we do now?" Scully asked. In the back of her mind, she was still trying to unravel the puzzle Mulder had handed her. How could she not be allowed to remember a case? Besides, she did remember it, and nothing remarkable had happened...had it?
"Well, we could try to find the warehouse this was stolen from," her partner replied, grinning at her.
She responded with a glare, knowing full well that this was what he'd wanted all along. Of course, neither of them had expected it to fall into their laps like this.
"Do you know where it is?" he asked the two reporters.
Clark nodded hesitantly. "I have an idea...there is a warehouse around here where Trask was keeping my ship and some other things related to Project Blue Book. But I think it's been cleared out by now."
"Well..." Mulder stood and picked up his coat. "There's only one way to find out."
Chapter 10: Locked Doors
Working together, can they find the key?
Four high-beam flashlights cut ribbons of light out of the shadows inside the large, empty building. The door that had once filled the space that the human intruders were standing in hung open, a large black scar on its lock where Clark's heat vision had burned through. One of the four stepped hesitantly into the warehouse, the darkness doing its best to disguise his lanky figure, but not quite succeeding. He was followed by the two women, the shorter one with hair that sent out flame-colored sparks every time one of the lights touched it, and the taller one, the only person not wearing a trenchcoat. The other man, about the same height as the first but more built, hung in the doorway, his glasses resting low on the bridge of his nose and his eyes scanning the darkness.
"Do you see anything?" Lois asked, turning to glance over her shoulder at her fiancé.
He shook his head, pushing the glasses back up to their usual resting place. "I didn't scan the whole building, but it doesn't look like they left anything behind but dust."
Mulder's face registered his disappointment and the beam in his hand dropped towards the floor, illuminating a patch on the bare cement like a small spotlight. To come so close so often...
Scully gave her partner a reassuring pat on the arm. "Come on," she told him softly. "There's nothing here. Let's go."
He glanced over at her, indecision written plainly on his face. Then, his eyes hardened with determination. Turning on his heel, he plunged into the darkness, his intent footsteps echoing against the steel walls.
His partner watched the distance grow between them for a few minutes, until all she could see was the shrinking beam of light from his flashlight. Then, with a sigh, she set off into the darkness after him, walking swiftly to catch up to his long strides.
Lois started to follow them, but Clark caught her arm gently. "Let her go, Lois," he said softly. "I think this is between them."
After a moment of hesitation, she nodded and placed her own hand over his where it still rested on her arm. He smiled softly at her, and they stood there together, relishing each other's presence and watching the retreating figures of the two agents.
Hearing his partner's voice, Mulder slowed his steps enough to let her catch up to him. He could see that she was slightly out of breath, though she was doing her best to try to hide it. He smiled weakly at her, knowing the risk she had taken in coming after him, and not just that Lois and Clark might take the opportunity to leave.
When she reached him, she met his eyes with understanding and sympathy. "Mulder," she told him softly. "Kent said the warehouse would probably be empty."
"I know," was the quiet reply. "I guess I just hoped they might have gotten careless and overlooked something." With a sigh, he overturned an empty crate and sat down on it. Scully crouched down beside him.
"You can't keep looking for Samantha behind every locked door with a US government seal on it, Mulder." Her voice was gentle, the words formed of concern, not criticism.
I'm not... he wanted to say, but Scully knew him too well. "I'm just tired of always coming so close and then missing!" He balled his hand into a tight fist that whitened his knuckles, and pounded his knee with it. The flashlight which had been in his hand rolled off his lap and across the floor of the warehouse until it came to an uneasy rest against a nearby wall, still lit.
"I know," she replied softly. "I know."
They sat there in silence for a few moments, lost in their own respective thoughts. Finally, Mulder stood with a sigh and Scully followed his lead. "I guess you're right..." he admitted.
She smiled. "Come on. Let's get out of here."
He nodded, walked over to the wall and bent down to retrieve his flashlight. As he did so, he caught a glimpse of bright colors reflecting the light out of the corner of his eye. His heart jumped a little in hope and he turned his head to get a better view. Lying carelessly against the wall was a pocket-sized cluster of multicolored fluorescent cubes, mostly hidden behind another empty crate. His face brightened into an eager smile.
"Scully, look at this!"
Scully's eyes turned to where her partner was kneeling beside the crate against the wall, holding the flashlight aimed at it with one hand and reaching behind it with the other. "Did you find something?" she asked, surprised.
He nodded and stood with the strange device in his hand. His partner's eyes widened as she took in what seemed to be a glowing gob of polychromatic Jolly Ranchers or Legos, or...something. What on earth..?
Project Quantum Leap momentarily forgotten, Mulder studied the unearthly-looking gadget, turning it over and over in his hands. "This can't be man-made..." he murmured to himself. "Human technology isn't this colorful. It must be some sort of alien communicator." He flashed her a lopsided grin.
Scully rolled her eyes. "May I take a look at it?"
He nodded and handed it to her with an amused smile, knowing that she would disagree with his assessment, but feeling sure he was up to the challenge. He was seldom wrong about things like this, after all.
"I don't see why this can't be man-made," she replied predictably after a brief perusal of the device. "It could easily be a portable link to a supercomputer, or something like that. Look, you can see some of the circuitry through the cubes, and the screen..." She squinted at the tiny screen on the thing. "Seems to be a liquid-crystal display. Though admittedly, an awfully small one."
Mulder peered at it over her shoulder. "You actually think a human being could read that thing?"
"Sure--it would be a bit of a strain on the eyes, but, it's definitely possible...if only the thing worked..." Scully whacked it hard on the side with the hand that was not holding it. She jumped as the thing came to life with a sudden glow and a protesting squeal, almost dropping it.
Almost instantly, Clark was beside them, with Lois in his arms. "Are you all right? I heard a strange noise."
The two agents just stared at him and the woman he was carrying.
"Aren't you supposed to carry her across the threshold *after* you get married?" Mulder asked dryly.
With an embarrassed smile, Clark set her down. "Well, she complains about not being able to keep up with me..."
"What did you find?" Lois asked, when her fiancé's attempt at an explanation had kind of faded out.
"I'm not sure," was the murmured reply from Scully. Mulder started to offer his explanation, but she cut him off with "We both have our theories."
"There's something on the screen..." Lois commented, pointing at it.
Indeed words had appeared on the screen, scrolling slowly across it, although every once in a while the flow would stop until the device was jarred somehow.
Scully peered at the tiny display. "This doesn't make sense. It's just a string of facts."
Clark slid his glasses down on his nose and glanced over her shoulder at it. "March fifteenth, nineteen sixty-two, Kevin Michael Sager, Yakima, Washington, Weatherman, father of two boys, Jason Michael and Tyler Allan, wife Helen dies March seventeenth in Col." He frowned. "Col?"
The female agent deliberately hit the device again and it let out another squeal.
"Lision." Clark concluded. "Lision? Oh, collision."
Lois looked at the thing, baffled. "What is this, some sort of biographical database? And why the first date--March fifteenth? What's the significance of that?"
Mulder's eyes widened in sudden realization. "You're right, Scully," he said in a voice that was almost awed. "This *is* a portable link to a supercomputer, and..." He turned to Lois. "You're right about it being a database." An excited smile spread over his face, much like the expression he had worn when he thought their discovery was of alien origin. "This must be what Al uses to keep in contact with Ziggy!"
Project Quantum Leap
Stallion's Gate, New Mexico
"Let's see, your name is..." Admiral Albert Calavicci glanced down at the handlink in his hands, frowning when he saw that the screen was blank. Startled, he glanced back up at the expectant face of his best friend.
"Well?" Sam asked.
Al frowned. He slapped the calculator-sized console and looked at it again. "Gooshie!" he howled.
The programmer's voice came over the intercom. "Is something the matter, Admiral?"
"Where's the information I asked you for!"
Gooshie stammered. "Why...I...I sent it to you. Ziggy sent it to you."
"The screen of the handlink is blank!"
There was a brief silence. Al imagined the little programmer's hands flying over Ziggy's main console, trying to figure out what was wrong.
"Uh oh." Gooshie's voice sounded worried.
The Admiral's head snapped up from where he had been again looking at the silent handlink. "What?" he asked, his eyes and voice wary.
"Admiral, you'd better come out here. We have a problem--Ziggy's picked up the signal of another handlink."
Al's eyes widened in alarm. Another one? But there isn't another one! "Sam, I have to take care of something back at the Project. Will you be okay for a while?"
Sam frowned at the Observer, reading the concern in his friend's eyes. "Al, what's wrong?"
"I don't know," the Admiral replied honestly. "But I'm going to find out and get back here as soon as I can, I promise."
Chapter 11: Worlds Collide
Ziggy's been getting mixed signals...from two thousand miles away.
Project Quantum Leap
Stallion's Gate, New Mexico
January 24, 1996
Admiral Calavicci stormed into the Control Room, the color of his face varying curiously from anger-red to fear-white. Ironically, either one matched his outfit, which consisted of a red jacket, pants and fedora, a white shirt, shoes and hat-band, and a tie striped in red and white. Although no one on the Project would say so to his face, the outfit made him look rather like a candy cane.
"Gooshie!" he howled.
Even though he had seen the Admiral come in, the programmer jumped at the sound. There was something so unnerving about the way Al said his name when he was upset. Of course, the fact that Gooshie was a naturally nervous person didn't help any.
"How can Ziggy be picking up the signal of another handlink?" Al demanded, the anger still in his voice causing the little programmer to shrink away from him. "There IS no other handlink!"
"That's what we'd always thought," Gooshie stammered. "I know we haven't BUILT another one. But apparently there IS another one in existence."
"How?! How is that possible? The technology is highly classified and..."
"Admiral," Ziggy's omnipresent voice interrupted. "This other handlink is a more sophisticated model. It seems to follow a design much more like one I am currently developing than the one you use." She sounded puzzled.
"Can you trace it?" Al asked.
"No," the computer replied petulantly. "It is not presently in use. That ceased shortly after we determined that there was in fact another handlink operating."
Al swore softly, his brows knit tightly together in frustration. "So what do we do?"
"There is nothing I can do unless the other handlink is activated again," Ziggy admitted, annoyed. The Admiral couldn't help but smile a little. The Computer did not like being forced to admit she had limitations.
Still concerned and a little shaken, Al glanced back in the direction of the Imaging Chamber. Sam was waiting for the information that would enable him to do what he was supposed to do on this Leap. The Observer knew his friend would start worrying if he didn't come back with something soon, and the last thing he needed right now on top of everything else was to get Sam worried.
"I'm going to get back to Sam," he decided reluctantly. "Call me if you find out anything else."
Gooshie nodded. "What are you going to tell him?"
Al paused in front of the ramp to the Imaging Chamber, his eyes gazing uneasily into nothingness. "I'll think of something."
Clark Kent's Apartment
Clark set two mugs filled with a steaming liquid in front of the two agents who were sitting on the couch, taking turns studying the mini-Ziggy, as they had taken to calling the thing. "I thought you might like some hot cocoa," he explained.
Scully nodded gratefully, taking a small sip to test the temperature of it. Her eyes widened in surprise. "This is good!"
Lois smiled, coming up behind her fiancé and wrapping one arm around his waist. "It's Clark's own special recipe. Vision-heated to just the right temperature, and then super-stirred."
"Oh." Scully half smiled, half grimaced, still having trouble adjusting to the idea that Clark's powers were real. "Of course."
Lois's description of the cocoa's preparation seemed to catch Mulder's interest. Whereas before he had just given it a cursory, disinterested glance, he now picked up the cup, sniffed it, and then took a sip, setting it down again with a thoughtful look on his face.
"Have you gotten anything more out of it?" Lois asked, nodding at the device.
"Not much," Mulder admitted. "The buttons aren't exactly labeled."
"You know, for a black project, it's interesting how much information is floating around about it," his partner commented, setting down her mug and reaching again for the file.
"A black project?" Clark asked puzzled.
Scully nodded. "A black, or dark, project, is one that is so Top Secret that even its existence is classified. Basically, as far as the general public is concerned, it's invisible, non-existent. A Top Secret Background Check Clearance or higher is required to work on one."
"Although sometimes the name is applicable for other reasons," her partner muttered bitterly.
The reporters exchanged a curious glance, but resisted the temptation to ask for details. One mystery at a time, Lois reminded herself.
With a sigh, Mulder picked up the mini-Ziggy and started punching randomly at the cubes. "I wonder what these things do..."
Project Quantum Leap
Sam and Al were in the middle of a conversation when Al's surroundings suddenly changed without warning. Startled, the Observer looked around the Imaging Chamber. What the hell..?
"Ziggy!" he howled.
"Yes, Admiral?" the computer replied, puzzled. "Is there a problem?"
"What the hell did you just do?" he demanded. "Center me back on Sam, now!"
"But you requested the spatial reconfiguration," she whined.
"The hell I did! I was in the middle of a sentence, for God's sake!"
There was a brief silence. When the computer spoke again, her voice sounded distinctly embarrassed. "Oh. It appears I was picking up a signal from the other handlink again."
Al's face went white. "Get me back to Sam now, and I'll be out as soon as I can. In the meantime, see if you can get a location lock on that thing!"
"I am doing my best, Admiral."
"I hate to say this, Ziggy, but that's not good enough. If some of our technology is floating around loose somewhere out there, you're going to have to do better. If you don't, we could end up being shut down."
Ten seconds later, Sam and his surroundings reappeared around Al, and he began making up a story about 'minor technical difficulties' they were having back at the Project. He hoped Ziggy wouldn't mind TOO much that he was blaming it all on her.
"With all the other information in here, I can't believe that it doesn't say where in New Mexico the Project is," Lois commented, exasperated. She was flipping through the documentation they had compiled for the tenth or eleventh time that day, still hoping to find something new in it.
"Well, there may be only one way to find out," Mulder replied.
Scully's eyes narrowed. "What exactly did you have in mind?"
"Going to New Mexico."
She sighed. "Somehow, that's what I thought."
Lois studied the two agents curiously. "All four of us?"
Mulder nodded. "This is your investigation, after all," he remarked, leaning lazily against Clark's counter. "We'll charge it to our expense account."
A small smile played around the edges of Scully's mouth. "Mulder, if you keep abusing that expense account like this, Skinner's going to close it."
"We can pay for our own, you know," Lois interjected calmly.
"For that matter, you can skip the plane entirely, couldn't you two?" Mulder grinned.
"Theoretically, yes," she replied, with a glance and a wink at Clark. "But seeing as this is my investigation, and you're only here because you're useful to us, I want to keep track of you.." Her voice was light and teasing, very different from the open hostility she had displayed towards the agents, especially Mulder, just hours ago.
"So, what do you say we head back down to DC, I see about getting us a flight out to New Mexico, give you guys a call when I have something, and we meet you there?"
Lois shook her head. "I've got a better idea. Give me a few moments to run over to my apartment and pack, and then Clark and I can just come down there with you now. We'll rent a couple of hotel rooms."
Mulder nodded. "That works too. Although you don't have to get a hotel. Clark can stay with me, and I'm sure Scully wouldn't mind putting you up for the night." He glanced at his partner, who nodded.
"Works for me."
"I should warn you though," Scully added. "Mulder's apartment is far from tidy, so if that's what you're used to, which it seems to be, you might want to reconsider." She smiled.
Clark laughed. "If it bothers me too much, I'll just clean it for him," he joked.
"So, I guess it's all settled then," Mulder commented.
Lois nodded. "I just have to call Perry and tell him we're going out of town on a story." She reached for Clark's phone.
"Wait a second..." Scully's voice stopped her. "There's something you're still forgetting. Exactly where in New Mexico are we going?"
The other three stopped, stumped.
Mulder recovered first, flashing his partner a lopsided smile. "That's what we're going to New Mexico to find out, remember?"
Chapter 12: Travel Plans
What's the best way to find a classified facility when there's a whole state to search? Fly, of course.
January 26, 1996
the sky above Albuquerque, New Mexico
"Ladies and Gentlemen, the Captain has turned on the 'Fasten Seat Belts' sign, indicating our approach into the Albuquerque area. At this time we ask that you please discontinue use of all electronic devices and bring your seat backs and tray tables into their full and upright positions. We should be landing in approximately ten to fifteen minutes."
With a sigh, Mulder folded up the files he had been reviewing, re-deposited them in his briefcase, closed it, and returned it to its proper place under the seat. He glanced across the aisle to see how the two reporters were doing. Lois was asleep with her head on her fiancé's shoulder, and Clark looked, well, bored.
The agent grinned. Well, yeah, for a man who could make the trip in less time and more comfortably under his own power, the six-or-so hour plane ride probably was boring, to say the least. He watched Clark gently wake his partner/fiancee, then turned and shook Scully, who had fallen asleep against the window.
"Scully, we're going to be landing soon. You need to put your seat up."
With a reluctant grumble, she managed to work her way back to a sitting position and hold down the button on the arm long enough for the seat back to catch up to her. One hand went automatically to her hair, smoothing it down where her sleep had mussed it.
"What are we doing here, Mulder?" she asked, sounding genuinely puzzled and a bit irritated as well. "We don't even know where in New Mexico this place is."
Mulder smiled in response. That seemed to be her chosen question of the week, since this was the third time in three days that she'd asked it. Not in exactly the same way, of course, but the same general idea.
"Well, I have an idea how to find out," he replied lightly. "I'll tell everyone about it when we get on the ground."
Avis Car Rentals
"So, when are you going to tell us about this brilliant plan of yours?" Scully asked from the back seat as Mulder pulled the new rental car out of the parking garage. She wondered irritably for a moment why they couldn't have gotten two cars, but brushed the thought aside. It wasn't as though Lois and Clark were unpleasant company, she just didn't like not being able to see Mulder's face when he was talking. Of course, she could have asked to switch seats with Clark, but it had seemed only logical that the two shortest people, she and Lois, would sit in the back.
"When we get where we're going," Mulder replied calmly. "Possibly sooner."
"And where are we going?" Lois interjected. "What did you talk so long about with the agent at the rental car desk?"
"I was asking her about nearby airfields."
"Somewhere that might offer an aerial tour of the state. Hey, Scully, while we're here, could we stop at Roswell?" He flashed her a wide grin.
"Apparently you don't remember the last time you were here very well, do you?" his partner replied dryly.
Mulder sobered immediately, much to Clark's surprise. He wondered what had happened.
You mean the fact that I almost didn't survive it? the agent thought to himself with a frustrated grimace. "I remember," he replied quietly.
"Good. I don't want a repeat performance," was the firm response. "I can only cover your butt so many times a year, Mulder. And as far as I'm concerned, I've filled my quota."
"But it's January, Scully. You've got to start a new quota for the new year," he quipped.
"I'm not counting from January. I'm counting from the date we became partners. You've still got a few months to go."
Las Rosas Airfield
"That's gonna cost you a pretty penny, G-Man, I'll let you know right now." The pilot leaned lazily against his plane, his jaw working a piece of gum, and his eyes casually regarding his potential clients. "Gas for these babies is pretty expensive, you know."
Mulder bristled at being called 'G-man,' but resisted the temptation to sock the other man. After all, if he did that, they wouldn't get off the ground. "How much will it cost for the four of us?" he asked, trying not to sound impatient.
"Three of you," the pilot corrected him.
"I can only take three of you up. Regulations."
"Oh." The agent frowned. Maybe they should try to hire a larger plane...
"Well, that's fine. I'll just go check in at the hotel for us, and do a little unpacking." Clark suggested. He gave Lois a very significant look, and she nodded almost imperceptibly. "You can let me know what you've found when you get back, all right?"
Mulder opened his mouth to protest that they needed the reporter's 'special talents' but shut it again almost immediately. First of all, it would not be good to blow Clark's cover, and also, if his suspicions were correct, they could make better use of those talents this way.
The agent nodded. "I guess that'll work. Okay, so how much for the three of us?"
The New Mexico sky
"Do you see anything?" Mulder asked from the front seat, pulling down his headphones, speaking loudly so as to be heard over the rumble of the engine.
Scully was peering out her window at the ground, an intent look in her eyes and a why-am-I-doing-this frown on her face. Beside her, Lois was searching the sky for her fiancé.
The agent shook her head. "Nothing but desert."
Suddenly, the plane dropped sharply as the pilot swore in surprise. The three passengers grabbed instinctively at the sides of the small aircraft, their breath and their stomachs catching in their throats. For a few startled seconds, they literally lost gravity, and Mulder's head struck the ceiling with a resounding thunk. The descent was stopped abruptly though, and the plane was brought back up to its original altitude, which ironically seemed to terrify the pilot even more.
"What the hell?" he exclaimed as he struggled to regain control of the plane. Once he had, a familiar blue-and-red-clad form appeared at the window, waving to the passengers. Lois recovered first and burst out laughing, while Mulder merely rubbed his skull, grimacing painfully.
"Well, look who else is in New Mexico!" the reporter commented playfully. "It's a good thing, too." This caustic remark was directed to the man in front of her.
Outside the plane, Superman smiled at her, then shot a disapproving glance in the direction of the pilot, who instantly began to defend himself.
"He scared the hell out of me, popping in like that! What did you expect me to do?"
"Not let go, that's for sure," was the reporter's icy reply.
"Yeah, well you try flying a plane with a guy in blue tights showing off in front of you sometime!" he shot back, with a nasty glare.
Lois bristled angrily, and opened her mouth to shoot back a biting response, but Scully laid a restraining hand on her arm.
"You know, I'm considering cutting back on our agreed price," Mulder said calmly but effectively. With one final glare at the colorfully caped extraterrestrial outside his window and another at Lois, he shut up.
For a while, they flew on in silence, Superman easily keeping pace and seeming undisturbed by the loud whir of the propeller. Lois had somehow managed to resist the temptation to stare at her fiancé long enough to get a pretty good look at the ground below them on her side.
Suddenly, the pilot banked unexpectedly into a sharp turn, catching his passengers as much by surprise as he had earlier. Lois swallowed the bile that threatened to swim into her mouth at the sight of her window becoming abruptly parallel to the ground below.
"What are you doing?" she asked sharply. "Have we reached the state line?"
The pilot shook his head. "No. There's a no-fly zone here. We have to go around it."
Mulder turned to look at the two women in the back seat, exchanging glances with both of them. A no-fly zone on American soil... he thought, seeing his thoughts, for once, reflected in the eyes of his partner.
"Can't you just go above it?" he asked. "What altitude does it extend to?"
"Didn't you hear me, buddy? I said it's a no-fly zone. That means no flying without express permission of the government, capice? And government doesn't mean you guys."
So it was not only a no-fly zone, but an unlimited one. Only a black project would require security that tight. And a black project is what they were looking for.
"What's that near, anyway?" Mulder asked, curiously.
The pilot briefly checked his instruments. "We're almost fifty miles south of Albuquerque. Alamagordo, most likely."
"Alamagordo? That's still restricted? I thought it was a tourist trap now." Mulder was genuinely curious, and a tad bit disappointed as well. If that was the area where the atomic bomb was first test-detonated, it might not be Project Quantum Leap requiring the high security after all.
"Some of it is, apparently some of it ain't."
Outside the plane, Clark had been listening to this conversation, and now turned back. They watched as the lone figure streaked through the sky towards the restricted airspace.
"Hey, that's a no-fly zone, pal!" the pilot yelled at the rapidly disappearing figure.
Lois smiled wryly. "So, what are they going to do about it?" she asked the man sarcastically. "Shoot him down?"
Chapter 13: Arrival
Al thought the Project's security was prepared for anything--he didn't count on two nosy FBI Agents, Donna Elise's double, or Superman.
Stallion Springs, New Mexico
January 27, 1996
Mulder climbed back into the driver's seat of the car with a satisfied smile on his face. Without saying a word, he closed his door, buckled his seat-belt, and started the engine, still grinning.
"Well?" Scully asked.
"I'm going to take a wild guess and say that they told you something you wanted to hear."
"How do mysterious lights out in the direction of the Trinity site strike you? Rumors of a mountain that glows blue?"
The redhead's mouth dropped open and she stared at her partner. "You're kidding."
The grin on the other agent's face turned positively triumphant in nature. "Nope. They all confirmed it. In fact...one woman there--Tina, I think she said her name was--was driven right to it once when her car broke down on the road." He related the story the woman had told him, from the moment the man in the 'ultra-modern' car offered her a ride, to the strange conversation he had with someone over a speaker, to their arrival at the mountain, when she was turned over to a couple of MPs who had instructions to drive her back into town.
"She said that the person who called said 'He's Leaping' and that was when the man who had picked her up really floored it," he repeated excitedly.
"So, that must be the right place," Lois deduced, her eyes beginning to catch Mulder's enthusiasm.
"Now all we have to do is get there," Clark agreed.
Still wearing the same victorious grin, Mulder nodded. "And she told me what road to take."
Office of Rear Admiral Albert V. Calavicci, Project Observer
Project Quantum Leap
Stallion's Gate, New Mexico
half an hour later
Al sighed at the sound of the MP's voice, rubbing his forehead wearily. Since Sam had Leaped out yesterday, this was the first moment he'd found to relax, and something told him that plan had just been changed.
"What is it?" he asked wearily, leaning close to the intercom so that his voice could be heard more easily.
"The FBI agents are here."
The admiral started, his eyes widening in surprise. "What FBI agents?"
"Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. The ones sent to do the inspection for the funding committee."
A puzzled look crept over Al's face. The funding review had already happened, just recently. And it was something he wasn't likely to forget, considering that the head of the committee had literally changed in front of his eyes. Besides, what would they be sending the FBI out here for? Quantum Leap was a black project. Most of the FBI, even the upper echelons, didn't even know of its existence.
"Sir? They're waiting for you on Level 1."
Alarmed, Al practically jumped out of his seat. "You let them into the complex??"
"Yes, sir. They had the proper clearance for the minimum security level."
The Observer swore under his breath. "How long ago was this?"
"Approximately ten minutes ago, sir."
"Then why the hell didn't you tell me sooner??" His voice was incredulous.
"You weren't in your office." There was a slight pause, and when the man's voice came again, it sounded extremely worried. "Is there a problem, sir?"
Translation: How badly did I mess up? Al added silently to himself. "I hope not."
Level 1, minimum security
Project Quantum Leap
Scully shook her head, trying to clear it. From the moment the electric blue mountain that apparently hid the Project's power source had come into sight, she had been overwhelmed by an intense feeling of *deja vu*. Everything, even the hallway they were currently walking down, seemed familiar, and all her attempts to rationalize it were falling flat, especially once she began anticipating things they were going to see before they came in view.
The thought flitted briefly through her mind that if the case in Toronto that Mulder had referred to had been as trying on her reason as this one was rapidly becoming, she was glad she couldn't remember it. Now if only she could forget this too...
Slowly the sound of Clark's voice began to break through her thoughts, and she forced herself to focus on his words. She could leave the problem of her familiarity with this place to puzzle out later--maybe.
"So," he was saying, "the elevator we were in goes down to the maximum security level, but not from this level while occupied, for security reasons."
"Which means there must be another elevator down to the second level," Lois reasoned.
"There is," Scully was startled to hear herself say. "It's past the personnel office."
Three pairs of curious eyes focused on her, Mulder smiling slightly. "And how do you know that, Scully?"
For a brief moment, a vague image of herself and a young man she didn't recognize standing together in an elevator flashed through her mind, but it was gone seconds later.
"I--I don't know."
In the hesitant silence that followed this statement, Clark turned and peered down the hallway. "She's right." There was another moment of stunned quiet, then, so as not to intensify Scully's increasingly apparent discomfort, all three of her companions decided not to bring it up again.
"Now we just have to figure out how to get past security on this level..." Mulder whispered to his partner as the four of them moved down the hall. Scully nodded, glad for the diversion from her deja vu. Their clearances, they had been told very emphatically by the guards at the surface, would only get them to the first level. Beyond that, they'd have to be escorted by a member of the Project staff...
The guard at the elevator they were approaching waved eagerly, hurrying forward to grasp Lois's hand. The other three fell back a step, startled.
"It is still Dr. Elise, isn't it?" He pumped the astonished reporter's hand. "I mean, it would be too confusing having two Dr. Becketts on staff. I still can't believe you managed to snag him, Donna."
Donna... Lois smiled as another piece of the puzzle fell into place. The woman Sherman...or Beckett rather...mistook me for. She must be his wife...
"You've got me pegged," she replied with a smile. "But, for the life of me, I can't remember your name."
"Well, of course not. I'm sorry! I mean, we haven't seen each other since StarBright, and I wasn't nearly as big a name on the Project as you. I'm Stan Hanson. Al just hired me for Quantum Leap a week ago."
"Well, Stan, it's good to see you again! Now, I hate to rush, but Al's expecting me to bring Agents Mulder and Scully down to see him right away..."
"Another funding review?" When Lois nodded the guard grinned and began rambling again. "One thing's for sure, whoever told me I wouldn't recognize you anymore must have been lying. Unless they were talking about the haircut. Other than that, you haven't changed a bit."
Lois flashed him a charming smile. "Well, I'm glad you think so. But may we..?" She gestured towards the elevator.
With a sheepish grin, and a muttered "Yeah, of course," Stan hit the button and the elevator doors slid open. "Hope everything goes OK down there!"
"So do I."
When the elevator doors finally slid shut behind them, Lois let herself collapse against her fiancé, laughing. "That was so weird!" she finally managed to gasp out.
"Do things like that happen to you frequently, Ms. Lane?" Mulder asked, one eyebrow raised in amused inquiry.
Clark snorted. She glared at him and he just shrugged.
"But every now and then, my life does get a little strange." This with a wink at the Kryptonian.
At almost the same moment that Mulder, Scully, Lois and Clark entered the elevator, which ran only between the first and second levels of the Project, Admiral Albert Calavicci stepped out of the other elevator onto the first level. Awaiting him were the two surface guards, as well as most of the MPs assigned to the first level. Al noticed with a touch of annoyance that Hanson was late, and not for the first time, questioned his own wisdom in hiring the man, even though he had been very effective on StarBright. What could have happened in the interim?
"Now, what's the situation?" he snapped. As the surface guards who had first intercepted the four intruders began to explain what had happened, Al began to wonder if something in the New Mexico air had a negative effect on the intelligence of MPs. All of them had acted virtually incompetent in dealing with this situation. What was next--letting a Visitor leave the Project and go exploring?
If it weren't for Ziggy, Al thought grimly to himself, Project Quantum Leap would probably be on television by now.
About halfway through the excuse portion of the guards' story, he noticed Hanson arrive, and felt no qualms about interrupting.
"Hanson, did you by any chance fail punctuality in boot camp?"
He was not usually this venomous, but it had been a long Leap, he was tired, and he was dealing with a completely unexpected situation. How had four strangers managed to *find* this Project, let alone penetrate the first level of security? And why the hell wasn't Ziggy doing anything about it?
"No, sir, I was just--"
"I don't care what you were doing. We have intruders, and I want every one of you doing your damnedest to catch them! Have you seen a couple of FBI agents?"
A look of sudden horror crossed the man's face. "Yes, sir."
Al's eyes narrowed. "And what did you do with them."
"I...I let them into...the elevator."
"But sir, Dr. Elise was with them! She looks good with short hair, by the way..."
For a moment, Al stared at Hanson in utter disbelief, then one thing the man had said began to register. Donna looks good with short hair...
The Admiral swore under his breath, remembering something Ziggy had told him a couple of days ago, about receiving an Internet communication from the reporter Lois Lane. She had remarked in particular about how easily they had broken through security...and the fact that Lane bore a strong resemblance to Donna Elise at the time she and Sam had met on StarBright...
"Will they be all right?" Scully asked, concerned, nodding in the direction of the two immobile MPs standing on either side of the doors to the high-security elevator. Lois looked up from where she was tapping Sam Beckett's UMBRA clearance into the keypad on the doors, turning to Clark.
He nodded. "I didn't actually freeze them very much. They should recover in a few minutes. I could have put them out for longer, but that's just too risky..."
Lois shivered slightly. At that moment, the words "CLEARANCE ACCEPTED" flashed on the tiny screen above the keypad, and the doors opened.
"Well," the reporter commented as she and her companions piled again into the elevator. "That was easy."
"Too easy," Mulder muttered with a frown.
There was a sudden, slight hum that filled the elevator, barely loud enough for most of them to hear, although it came through as a sharp electronic buzz to Clark. Immediately, the Kryptonian pushed his glasses down on his nose, letting his eyes scan the interior of the elevator.
"We're being scanned," he announced.
"Are you sure?" Scully asked.
The elevator lurched suddenly, and began to reverse course. The four exchanged disappointed glances. To come this far for nothing..!
Then, curiously, their transport slowed, seemed to hesitate, and reversed course again.
"Admiral Calavicci," Ziggy's voice came out of nowhere. "I think you might want to come down to the Control Room."
Uh, oh... "Why?"
"We have some visitors. Oh, and on your way, please check on the guards at the second level elevator doors. They appear to be...frozen." The computer sounded both curious and puzzled.
Frozen? How on earth...? Feeling almost ready to scream, Al instead took the opportunity to vigorously straighten his opalescent orange tie. This was getting more insane by the minute!
"I'll be right down."
Chapter 14: Confrontations, Revelations
Ziggy has a surprise for Al...and a bigger one for Dana Scully.
Project Quantum Leap
Stallion's Gate, New Mexico
January 27, 1996
"All right, now *how* did you get in here?" Admiral Al Calavicci was furious as he paced in front of the four intruders. His fists were clenched tightly, one around a smoking cigar. He was only thankful that Sam was between Leaps--he didn't think he could handle dealing with this and acting as Observer at the same time.
The two men and two women before him looked uncomfortable. Finally, the lankier of the men reached in his pocket and pulled out an ID. "I'm FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder, and this is my partner, Special Agent Dana Scully--"
"I know who you are," Al snapped. "And I know how you got past the MPs and the clearance checkpoints..." He stopped briefly to fix each person in the room with a fierce glare, not excluding the guards. "But how the hell did you beat the implant scan?! That elevator should have turned around and dumped you off on the surface as soon as it--"
"Admiral, I let them in," a female voice, that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere, interrupted him.
Lois, Clark, Mulder and Scully looked around, startled, trying to locate the source of the voice.
The Admiral's eyes drifted up to the gleaming globe over their heads, staring at it in disbelief. "You *what*??" he addressed it.
"I let them in," whoever it was responded calmly.
There was a brief pause, and when the voice continued, it seemed almost hesitant. "I'm afraid I'm not free to reveal that to anyone except yourself and Agent Scully."
All eyes shifted to Scully, who in turn looked at Al. "Me?" she almost squeaked, a stunned look on her face.
Al stared at the globe for a few more seconds, then nodded curtly. "You, come with me." He gestured for Scully to follow him, then turned to the MPs. "Take those three up to level one and keep an eye on them until I tell you otherwise."
He strode in the direction of the elevator and the female agent followed reluctantly, casting a worried glance back over her shoulder at Mulder. The doors closed behind them and she was left alone with the still agitated Admiral.
When the elevator reached the second level, it stopped and they disembarked silently into a long, sterile blue-white hallway lined with offices. Near the end of the hall, they turned into one with the name "Rear Admiral Albert V. Calavicci, Project Observer" on the door. Once inside, Al sank almost angrily into a blue-cushioned chair behind the steel desk, and gestured for Scully to do the same.
"What's this about, Ziggy?" he demanded sharply as soon as the red-haired woman across from him had seated herself. "Why did you let them in?"
The same voice that had spoken earlier came again. "I'm afraid I had to, Admiral. Agent Scully is supposed to be here."
So, that's Ziggy... Scully thought to herself, remembering Mulder's mention of an AI system that ran the Project.
His eyes narrowing, Al leaned forward in his seat. "What do you mean?"
"In a previous timeline, Dr. Beckett brought Agent Scully here during a Leap, because he believed that there was something in the past that needed to be changed that he was incapable of altering. I have a message that that Agent Scully left for me from the past, so that I would be sure of bringing her here to fill the same task and prevent a paradox. Unlike Dr. Beckett, who would continue Leaping regardless of the changes he has made in the past, Agent Scully's motivation to do so disappeared with the completion of her task, and therefore another reason had to be found to bring her here and get her into the Accelerator."
"What???" Al practically jumped out of his seat. "You want me to put her in the Accelerator??"
"Yes, Admiral. I'm afraid it is necessary."
Scully's head was reeling with what the computer seemed to be saying. They wanted *her* to travel back in time? She must be hearing things wrong...
"But you say 'in a previous timeline'--if that's so, why don't I remember it?" Al demanded.
"Because, apparently for us, it hasn't happened yet. At some point in the future, Dr. Beckett will Leap into a young FBI Agent named Harlan Yates, who was assigned to work with Agent Scully after her partner died."
The agent sat up suddenly, her face going white with fear. "Mulder's going to die?" she asked sharply.
"Actually, according to your message, Agent Scully, by this point in time, he already had died."
Scully shook her head in disbelief, trying to ignore the mental voice that was subtly pointing out that this would explain her deja vu...
"I think we'd better hear this message," Al decided curtly.
There was a brief pause, then the agent shuddered as she heard her own voice coming from Ziggy's speakers.
"Ziggy, my name is Dana Scully. I'm a Special Agent with the FBI, and in case you're wondering how I got the access codes to upload this message to your memory, you gave it to me. You see, I'm from your future, the year 1996, one year after Dr. Beckett will step into the Accelerator and begin Leaping randomly through history. With a little help, I've programmed this message not to run until that date, so I don't accidentally give you the information to prevent Dr. Beckett's initial, unexpected Leap. He has to make that Leap--it's his..." She laughed. "Destiny. Something I didn't even believe in a year ago. But back to me.
"Sometime during the month of January, you must find some way to bring me to Project Quantum Leap, and persuade me to step into the Accelerator. If I succeed in what I mean to do in this time, I won't be a very easy person to convince, which is why this is a voice recording, instead of a written message that could be easily falsified. But you must only play it for me, and the Admiral, so he can approve my decision. I know he won't want to let me, since he won't want to risk losing me in time like they did with Dr. Beckett, but I don't believe that will happen. I believe that God, or whoever is controlling your Project, only has this one task for me. If I'm wrong, so be it, I'm willing to take the risk.
"Dana--God, it sounds so strange to be addressing myself--I know you are having trouble believing this, but Mulder's life depends on it. And I know you'll make the right choice, especially after I tell you what I've become--what you will become if he dies.
"They don't call me 'The Ice Queen' at work anymore, or 'Mrs. Spooky.' My current nickname is 'The Exorcist.'"
There was a slight pause, and Al saw Scully's eyes widen in amazement.
"If this makes any sense, I've lost my faith in everything, but at the same time, I've become a believer in the darkest things this world has to offer. And what I know you're thinking now is right, that's a lot like Mulder, only people aren't kidding when they say I'm worse.
"It's because he died unjustly. He was killed for his quest, because he wouldn't abandon it. He was murdered because he wanted to know the Truth. I guess if They'd known I'd become the way I am, They would have killed me too, but because They didn't, I have a chance to right that wrong, to save his life. And he has to live. You...I...can't do the work of both of us, and that's what I've been trying to do.
"Mulder died on April 1, 1995. Carl Heinrich, the man who killed him had a great sense of irony." Her voice was very bitter. "Heinrich specializes in destroying people who get too close to what they aren't allowed to know, either by shattering their careers, or killing them. Mulder was one he couldn't break. So he murdered him. And I never forgave myself for not being there, because maybe I could have saved him. That's why I'm here. That's why I'm acting out the part of this Carmen Juarez, playing the psychic and sticking to Mulder like glue, so you don't have to go through what I did."
Commissary, Minimum Security Level
Project Quantum Leap
Mulder was pacing, an intensely worried look on his face. Nearby, Lois and Clark sat silently at one of the tables, their hands intertwined, their eyes watching the restless agent. All three of them were both curious and worried about whatever it was that Scully alone could be allowed to find out.
"Can you hear what they're saying?" Mulder asked suddenly, turning to face them. Fortunately, he was speaking softly enough that the MPs watching them from the doorway didn't hear. Still, Lois glared at him as a reminder that Clark's secret was not something that could be treated so carelessly. The agent deliberately ignored her, fixing his worried hazel eyes intently on her fiancé.
Clark sighed. "I could, but if we're not supposed to know, it might not be a good idea."
"I've spent most of my life trying to find out what I wasn't supposed to know, Mr. Kent," Mulder replied sharply, showing more emotion than he had in the entire brief time they'd known him.
"I'm not surprised," the reporter replied quietly. "But you know the people at this Project better than I do. Would they conceal something without a significant and *right* reason?"
The agent hesitated visibly, then let out a resigned sigh. "No." With that acknowledgment, he came over to the table and sat down with the two reporters, his hands clenched tightly in front of him.
At that moment, the door of the Commissary slid open, and Al and Scully walked in. Her face was white as paper, and the Admiral's didn't have much more color.
Mulder stood abruptly, fixing his eyes on his partner, who saw him and...shivered. Al too gave the agent a puzzling look, then turned to the MPs in the doorway.
"You can leave," he told them curtly.
As soon as they were gone, Scully glanced back at the Admiral with what looked like a silent plea for support.
Mulder was worried. Dana Scully was a strong woman--he didn't often see her this shaken.
"What do I tell them?" Scully asked.
Al shrugged. "As much as you want to. As much as you think they need to know."
Nodding, the redhead turned back to her partner, fixing her eyes on him with a sad smile. "Mulder...promise me that if...if I don't come back right away...you'll find someone else to help you continue with the X-Files. I can't ask you to put your life's quest on hold for me, but I don't want you trying to do it all by yourself. It's too much for one person."
Except for the Observer, all the other occupants of the room stared at her, stunned by her words. Mulder found his voice first.
"Back from where?"
Scully took a deep breath, and an odd look crossed her face. I can't believe I'm saying this...I really can't believe I'm doing this! "From the past. Tomorrow morning, I'm going into the Accelerator. I'm going to Leap."
Chapter 15: Time Stands Still
Dana Scully is about to take the biggest leap of faith of her life.
Project Quantum Leap
Minimum Security Level Commissary
"You're going to do what?" Mulder managed to croak out.
Scully closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and opened them again, as if to make sure she wasn't dreaming. "I'm going to Leap," she repeated, her voice dull with her own still-partially-intact disbelief.
There was a moment of stunned silence, as Scully's three companions tried to absorb the surprising statement. Once again, her partner found his voice first.
"Not without me, you're not!"
Taking another deep breath, Scully shook her head. "Mulder, this is something I have to do. The last thing we need is to risk both of us getting stranded in the past--"
"Fine. Then I'll Observe." He turned defiant eyes to Al. "You weren't planning to send her back there without an Observer, were you? Considering how much Sam depends on you..."
"Mulder, I've already done this in a previous timeline, and I did it that time without an Observer--"
"But in that timeline you were reliving something you'd experienced," Al reminded her quietly.
"Al, I can't. I can't let him see that--"
"See what?" Mulder demanded. "What is there that I could possibly see that would be worse than some of the things we've already seen?"
The calm certainty in his partner's eyes when they met his was something he'd never seen before in quite this context. "Your own death," she replied softly.
For a moment, Mulder was surprised into silence by her words. My own death...in a previous timeline, I died, and Scully went back in time to save me?
"He's right about one thing--we can't send you back without an Observer," Al admitted.
"I'm not saying it should be him. If by some chance you didn't succeed, I don't know what kind of problems that would cause..." The Admiral turned to the two reporters. "Lois?"
"No." Mulder's voice was firm. "Scully, I'm sorry, but it has to be me..." his voice trailed off, uncertain of how to explain his conviction.
He didn't need to. The red-haired woman across from him watched him silently for a moment, their eyes locked in wordless communication, then conceded with a nod. "You're right. We're partners--it wouldn't be right if it were anyone else...just in case I do get stuck back there."
"Are you sure?" Al asked uneasily.
She nodded.. "Sam's your best friend, right?" was the simple reply.
The Admiral inclined his head in comprehension. "Just let me check one last thing first..." He glanced upwards. "Ziggy?"
"Yes, Admiral?" the computer's voice came again.
"Can you establish a neural link between these two by tomorrow morning?"
"I don't know," she replied honestly. "Especially without the implants, but I will do my best. Should I inform Doctors Gushman and Martinez-O'Farrell?"
Al nodded. "Tell Gooshie it's urgent."
"Very well, Admiral."
The Project Observer turned back to Scully, smiling wryly at her. "Well, while we're trying to get that worked out..." He nodded in Mulder's direction. "Maybe you'd better let him hear that tape."
June 11, 2000
Admiral Albert Calavicci rubbed his forehead in frustration. This Leap had been going progressively out of control ever since Sam had made the mistake of handing the precious tape over to Lois Lane in Metropolis. Now, Sam/Mack was back in DC, and had gone back to work as if nothing had happened, but he hadn't Leaped, Abruzzi's threat hadn't disappeared, and things were just generally very tense. It didn't help any to learn that apparently Agents Mulder and Scully had gone to Metropolis the same day that Lois was given the tape, and all four had since hopped a plane to New Mexico.
Mulder and Scully. Al allowed himself the luxury of a brief smile as he recalled the two (or was it three altogether if he counted Sam's unexpected escapade during his Leap into Harlan Yates a few months ago?) previous encounters they'd had with the agents. His memory had yet to catch up with all the changes made involving the two, and if Ziggy was correct, he'd have more to deal with the next time he came out of the Imaging Chamber.
Sam, how do you manage to get yourself into so much trouble? the Admiral found himself wondering. Couldn't you have just destroyed the tape like I asked you to, instead of listening to that weird hunch of yours?
He remembered the comment he'd made to Donna three days ago--"It'll be a lot more complicated than we originally thought, I expect. But we'll do it. Somehow." Complicated had turned out to be an understatement, and he was beginning to wonder if things wouldn't work themselves out after all.
"Ziggy, where exactly is the fearsome foursome now?" he asked wearily.
"They are at Project Quantum Leap, four years, four months, and fifteen days in our past, according to my latest information."
"Can you center me on them, so I can at least find out what's going on?"
There was a moment of silence as the computer considered Al's proposal. "I believe so. It is a much further distance from Dr. Beckett's actual location than I have ever been previously asked to find a lock, but it could probably be managed, especially since they are at the Project. It would be a weak lock, though, and most likely unstable."
Al pondered, turning over the possibilities in his mind. "What if I got Sam to go there? Would that enable you to get a better lock?"
"If you persuaded Dr. Beckett to go to New Mexico, I would probably be able to maintain a forty-percent clearer lock on Ms. Lane and her companions. If he were actually IN the Project Complex, I would have no trouble with it at all."
The Admiral nodded decisively. "I'll go see Sam right now. As long as he could slip in and out of the complex without anyone but you, and maybe me, knowing about it, we shouldn't have to worry about anyone getting discouraged by finding out he'll still be Leaping four years in their future." Which is what he did on that Yates Leap... He stood, reaching for the handlink that had been lying on his desk.
"Admiral, there is one thing I must ask..."
"How do you plan for Dr. Beckett to explain and afford flying to New Mexico on a janitor's salary?"
Al hesitated, a guilty look sweeping over his face. "I don't know," he replied sincerely, "but Sam and I are going to need a couple of weeks at LEAST to straighten this guy's life out again when this is over."
"That was you??"
Scully fought not to laugh at the stunned, incredulous look on her partner's face as the recording concluded. You know, I don't think I've ever seen him look quite that surprised before... she speculated. Certainly not because of anything I said.
"*You* were Carmen Juarez?" Mulder repeated, still trying to reconcile what he had just learned with his memory of the young psychic. He blushed, remembering some of the shameless flirting he'd done, and how puzzled he'd been by her knowingly amused reaction. Not that he didn't flirt with his partner, but that was different... I can't believe I made such a fool of myself...
At that moment, Al walked in. The two agents turned to him, Mulder feeling very relieved that the chances of Scully asking about his memories of Carmen Juarez had just gone down.
"How's the link coming?" Scully asked. She was still edgy about the whole business, although she had accepted it logically now. Thankfully she was not the kind of person to deny what was right in front of her eyes, at least not once every other explanation had been exhausted.
"Ziggy's using the encephalographs we took of your brain waves to set the Imaging Chamber but she keeps reminding us that the link is more likely to be unstable without the implants' electronic signature..."
Scully grimaced. "Can she do it?"
"Actually, there's a very good chance it will work. Ziggy did comment that she hasn't seen two minds as much on the same wavelength already since me and Sam." He smiled wryly. "You see, Sam used to call the neural link 'induced telepathy' partly because it works best on people who know each other so well they're practically telepathic already."
"So, how soon will it be ready?"
"If things keep going smoothly, we'll be ready to fire up the Accelerator tomorrow morning, as planned."
The agent nodded, sighing deeply. I keep wondering when I'm going to wake up, she thought ironically to herself. But it's real, just like all the other nightmares we've had to face in the last two and a half years... She glanced over at her partner, the man who was at the same time her greatest comfort and greatest frustration.
But at least we'll face it together.
Chapter 16: Leaps and Bounds
Never has home been so close and yet so far away.
January 28, 1996
"Now, we've decided that we're not going to use the Retrieval System on her, at least not after the first Leap," Al was telling Mulder as they came out of the Imaging Chamber together early the next morning. The Admiral had been showing the Agent how to use the handlink to manipulate the holographic images and call up information. "Tina's been theorizing lately that maybe our failed retrieval attempt with Sam is what got him lost in the first place, kind of like how a rubber band always flies off in the opposite direction from what you're pulling it. Now, if she Leaps anywhere other than back here after saving you, we'll have to try it on her. It wouldn't be fair not to."
Mulder nodded, his face thoughtful. Just then, Scully walked in, swathed in the engulfing fermisuit. Her partner turned to meet her gaze as she entered.
"You'd make a wonderful mummy, Scully," he quipped lightly.
Her only response was a mildly amused glare.
Al, meanwhile, was making a decided effort not to whistle at the way the outfit accentuated her figure. Somehow that kind of thing seemed highly inappropriate considering the circumstances. He smiled thoughtfully to himself. It was so much more fun being a hologram, when he didn't have to worry about how the women he was eyeing would react because they couldn't see or hear him.
"You know, you're a lucky SOB," the Admiral commented merrily, slapping the taller man on the back. "At least when she wants to talk to you privately, she'll go to the ladies' room."
Mulder stifled a chuckle. "I never thought of it that way..."
"Well, be grateful for it, regardless. Now..." he turned to the other agent. "Let's get this link tested and get you into the Accelerator."
Ziggy often reminded herself that it was a good thing she could multitask, or life at the Project would get seriously out of hand. Right at the moment, while part of her systems were focusing on running the Imaging Chamber and preparing to fire the Accelerator, a part of her had recorded and was now investigating evidence of yet another intruder, one who had apparently knocked out the surface guards with a flying noodle kick, and used a code no one outside the Project was supposed to know to enter the elevator. Using an even lesser known command, he had programmed it to go directly down to the maximum security level. She studied the older man curiously, wondering how he had cracked those codes, and trying to decide whether or not to counteract the command and send him back to the surface.
Then, unexpectedly, the man spoke.
"Hello, Ziggy," he said softly, an unmistakable fondness in his voice. "Have you been taking good care of everything here for me?"
The computer's voice, when it responded, sounded surprised and hesitant. "Doctor Beckett?"
Sam smiled, his calm joy lighting up the old janitor's features. "It's strange to be so close to home," he commented softly. "How've you been, Ziggy?"
"All my circuitry is functioning properly, I believe. Do forgive me for asking, but what are you doing here?"
He laughed, years seeming to disappear from his face at the sound of the familiar voice. "Checking up on someone, in a way. In my time, Al's trying to get a lock on Lois Lane, and the only way you could promise a steady reception was if I was in closer proximity to them. But you've got to promise me, Ziggy, you won't tell anyone I'm here..." There was a definite strain in his voice as he continued. "Not even Al."
"Very well, if you insist, Dr. Beckett. Where would you like to go?"
"I was going to go down to the Control Room. The me from this time is between Leaps, from what I understand, so there shouldn't be too much activity there, and it would give me a chance to look at your programming and see if I can figure out what went wrong with the Retrieval Program."
"Under ordinary circumstances, there wouldn't be much activity there," Ziggy admitted. "However, due to certain unexpected extenuating circumstances regarding some of our visitors, there is some activity there right at the moment. You are familiar with the name Dana Scully, I assume?"
A look of sudden comprehension replaced the confusion on Sam's borrowed face as details from some of his past Leaps began to filter into his mind. "Of course. Well, Ziggy, take me wherever you think no one will find me."
March 31, 1995
As the blue light faded from around her, the young woman looked around in confusion. She was standing in the middle of the front lobby of the J. Edgar Hoover Building, so she couldn't figure out why she was feeling so disoriented. She worked here, after all...didn't she? But then, why couldn't she remember how she got here?
Suddenly, a familiar figure brushed by, his trenchcoat flapping against his long legs as he moved resolutely through the crowd.
"Mulder!" she called out instinctively.
The man stopped and turned, his sharp hazel eyes searching the crowd for the one who had called his name. Much to her annoyance, they swept over her and kept going.
"Mul-der!" she repeated impatiently.
This time, his eyes found her face and narrowed suspiciously. With very little effort, he bridged the gap between them, looking down at her.
"How did you know my name?"
Rolling her eyes in annoyance at his games, she opened her mouth to retort, then slowly closed it again as a surprising realization struck her. "I....I don't know."
Project Quantum Leap
"So, how did you find out about the Project, anyway?" Al asked as he, Lois and Clark went through the breakfast line at the Commissary.
The two reporters hesitated, exchanging an uneasy glance.
"I'm not sure I should tell you," Clark explained finally. "From what I can tell, it's something that's still in the future. Sort of."
The Admiral frowned, nodding. "I understand. Still...does it have anything to do with a handlink? A hand-held device like the one I let Mulder use, only more high-tech?"
"How did you know about that?" Lois asked, surprised.
"A couple of days ago, not too long before Sam Leaped out, I was having some trouble in the Imaging Chamber. Ziggy was getting signals from a second handlink, and despite the distance of the signal, somehow kept getting it mixed up with mine and responding to commands from it."
Clark looked slightly embarrassed. "I guess the next time we find something like that, we should be more careful about randomly punching buttons, huh?"
Al snorted, trying to conceal a smile behind a mask of sternness. "It would be appreciated, yes."
"So they found the handlink too, huh? I always wondered what happened to that thing after Sam bounced me out."
Clark looked up suddenly at the Admiral, his eyes narrowing warily. "What did you say?"
"I said I would appreciate it."
"No, after that. About the handlink."
Al looked startled. "I...I didn't say anything after that."
It only took the reporter a moment that the other voice he'd heard was on a higher frequency, just like Al's voice had been on the tape. Lois glanced at her fiancé, a question on her face that matched his own realization. He nodded.
"Gooshie, how the hell did Kent know I was speaking?"
"I can hear you," Clark replied softly.
"What are you talking about? You can hear who?" Al asked, puzzled.
Kent took a deep breath. "Admiral, if I'm not mistaken, there are two of you in this room."
Partial comprehension dawned on the Observer's face, but not all of the confusion had faded. A slight twinge of disappointment went through him as he realized what this meant--Sam was not going to be coming home in the near future...
"GOOSHIE! Get me out of here!"
"Wait! Don't leave!" Clark sprang out of his seat, turning in the direction the voice was coming from.
"Can you see me, too?"
"No. The only reason I knew who you are is because I recognized your voice." He didn't mention that he thought he might be able to see him using his x-ray vision, since he still had hopes of keeping his other identity secret.
Al reflected briefly that this must be what it was like for people who stumbled onto Sam while they were talking. As far as he could tell, the reporter was carrying on a conversation with thin air. But how he could hear the Observer lurking somewhere in that thin air was still a mystery.
"How the hell can you hear me?" the voice of the other Admiral Albert Calavicci demanded, unknowingly echoing his more tangible double's thoughts.
"I...I have...unusually acute hearing. Your voice is registering on a supersonic frequency."
"Oh, like Troian!"
Whoever Troian is, Clark thought, frowning.
"But she could only hear me while that ghost-recording equipment was turned on--"
"If you're here, there must be an important reason," Clark changed the subject. "Is it something to do with the tape?"
"What tape? What is he talking about?" the Al from the present asked Lois.
"I don't think I should tell you, or it might not happen," she whispered back. "Are you allowed to fiddle around with history that much?"
Disgruntled though he was by that assessment, Al was nevertheless forced to concede the point.
The holographic Al let out a coarse laugh. "Yeah, I guess you could say that. Things are getting a little hairy for us here and now because you hung on to that thing."
"How do you mean, 'hairy'?" Clark asked.
Hairy? Lois shot a puzzled glance in the direction of her fiancé. He responded with an "I'll-explain-later" smile.
"We're being blackmailed," the future Al announced grimly. "By someone who's going to get his hands on that tape a few months from when you are. Someone who wants to undo all the work we've done here."
Perhaps it was because the Project team had opted not to try the Retrieval Program on her, but Scully was discovering that many of her memories returned fairly quickly, unlike what Al had told her to expect. Fortunately, they were also returning in the right order. For instance, she'd remembered that she was there to save Mulder's life before she had remembered her name, and had thus avoided accidentally blurting out to him who she really was.
There were still holes, though. Deep, dark, blaring holes that made her feel a little bit like part of her soul had been ripped out. Sitting there talking to a past version of her partner (whom she had begun mentally referring to as "Spooky" to keep him separated in her mind from the hologram of her partner she was expecting to show up soon, with silent apologies to both of them), she realized that she didn't even remember if she had any family.
And one thing didn't quite match her memories. Although Spooky appeared fascinated by the story she was telling him, she got the distinct impression that he didn't believe a word of it, which definitely did not seem like the Mulder she remembered.
"Okay, let's back up a little here. Name, rank, serial number, what are you doing here, etc. And try to make it coherent this time. You can't expect me to put together a puzzle out of a few small pieces, all out of order, and a bunch of holes."
"Can't I? You're supposed to be one of the best profilers in the Bureau," she replied curtly, beginning to get annoyed.
He fell back a step, startled not by the information she knew but by the tone of her voice. "I just asked--"
"My name is Carmen Juarez, Agent Mulder." (She'd gotten that off the one of the business cards she'd dug out of her bra a moment before to prevent them from jabbing her.) "And I'm not going to stand here recounting my vision to you moment by moment. If you want to hear me out, sit down or give some other indication you're not going to walk away as soon as you get bored."
He pondered for a moment, the familiar thoughtfulness creasing his forehead. "All right. What are you doing for lunch?"
Scully smiled, experiencing a sudden vision (or memory) of how her past counterpart would react to Mulder telling her that he had invited a psychic he'd just met out to lunch. "Have you ever heard of the Blue Moon Diner?"
Chapter 17: A Little Magic
What's it going to take for Scully to succeed in saving her partner?
Blue Moon Diner
The first thing Scully saw as she came through the door was Mulder. Not the younger version of her partner who followed her into the diner, but the Mulder from her own time who was acting as her Observer. Her eyes widened as she took in the shirt he was wearing. Well, one thing was sure--with that on, she wouldn't mistake him for his past counterpart. The hologram winked at her from his place by the jukebox.
I'm going to have to ask him where he got that shirt, she thought to herself as she and Spooky approached the hostess.
"Two?" the young woman in the blue poodle skirt asked them. He nodded.
Scully placed her hand lightly on his arm. "I'll meet you at the table. I need to take care of something. With another brief nod, Spooky followed the waitress to the table. His future-partner turned and strode purposefully over to the jukebox, where Mulder was waiting for her.
"Nice shirt," she commented flatly, scanning the song selections with her eyes as she spoke, to reduce suspicions.
"Thanks. I borrowed it from Al. Think I should ask him to let me keep it?" He flashed her his trademark grin.
No wonder the sleeves are a little too short. "I think you should ask him to let you burn it. Unless you're planning on attending the MTV movie awards any time soon. But that's not the problem."
"The fact that your younger counterpart over there doesn't seem to believe me. Which I frankly can't figure out. You're the one who actually goes for all this psychic stuff and such, so why is he suddenly playing the skeptic?"
Mulder studied his partner carefully, seeing the frustration in her eyes at having to act out something she only partially believed in, and that much only because she was faced with undeniable proof. He wondered if she knew that was what was bothering her. After all, the Leaping process did take large chunks out of the time-traveler's memory.
"It's not that he doesn't believe you, Scully," he replied quietly, wishing for a moment that he could give her a pat on the back or something to reassure her. It felt strange not to be able to touch her, to keep his hand at her waist as if to reassure himself that she was there...real...alive...
It felt even stranger to be speaking about himself in the third person like this, especially since he remembered this afternoon in vivid detail, including what was going through his mind at the time. He tried to catch his partner's eyes.
"Scully," he told her somberly. "You were the first person I've trusted in a long time, and I don't know how I knew so soon that I could trust you, but I did. But when I met Carmen Juarez, I didn't know that she was really my partner, Dana Scully. I didn't know that I could trust her, so initially, I didn't."
She nodded, understanding. The trust they'd built up between them was a rare thing. Their work, and Mulder's whole life, had shown him that most of the people around him, even people he cared about, couldn't be trusted. They'd all had secrets to hide, some truth they didn't want him to discover. Mulder's trust had to be earned, and it was not an easy task.
Unfortunately, she didn't have time to earn his trust. She frowned, her hand resting lightly against the glass. She needed something...
Scully's eyes fell on the song title almost directly below her hand--"Magic" by Olivia Newton-John. She smiled, a vague memory of going to see "Xanadu" as a teenager drifting through her swiss-cheesed mind. Even though she didn't believe in magic, that had been her favorite song. Almost absentmindedly, she began to hum the tune, lightly dropping a quarter into the machine and selecting it. How interesting that they have this song on here...
"I guess I'll just have to keep trying. Unless you've got any ideas."
Mulder just smiled. "You beat me to it."
Scully stared at him. "Huh?"
He pointed at the jukebox. "That song--you played it last time."
"This song is going to make you trust me?" she asked incredulously.
The hologram of her partner shrugged. "Don't ask me why; I never did quite figure it out."
Mulder glanced up as Carmen dropped into the booth the hostess had given them, glancing back over her shoulder towards the jukebox, then began fiddling with the beads around her neck as if she weren't comfortable in them.
Now there's a thought, he reflected, amused. A psychic who doesn't feel comfortable in beads.
The song, an old sixties melody that he recognized but couldn't name, was winding down. Mulder watched the woman across from him warily. "Did you put something in?" he asked, trying to make conversation.
She nodded then spoke, her thick accent making the English words sound exotic. "It should be coming up next."
Something in her bearing told him she was restless. Probably because he had questioned her prophecy. He wished he could tell her that he didn't doubt her authenticity, just her honesty...
A wry smile crossed his face. As if that would be very reassuring.
Carmen stood abruptly, moving a little bit away from the booth. "Dance with me, Mulder."
God! That voice could even make his name sound extraordinary, which was a feat if he'd ever heard one. Reluctantly, he stood and grasped her outstretched hand in his, just as the music began. And in that moment, as their eyes met, he recognized her.
You have to believe we are magic
Nothing can stand in our way
You have to believe we are magic
Don't let your aim ever stray
And if all your hopes survive
Destiny will arrive
I'll bring all your dreams alive
The words of the song fit perfectly with the strange feeling that was stealing over the agent. Nothing about the woman before him had changed, but in that brief meeting of eyes, something about her had struck a familiar chord in him, something he couldn't explain. All he could think of was an old cliché--"the eyes are the windows to the soul." Crazy as it seemed, he felt like he'd recognized the psychic's soul, and it was a soul he knew well.
Maybe we knew each other in a previous life, he speculated. Whatever it was, there was a strong connection between them, one that somehow shattered the wall of distrust he'd built around himself over the years, reducing it to dust every time their eyes had met during the dance.
"You guys make a real cute couple, y'know?" the waitress, who had approached the pair as soon as they sat down, remarked with a smile.
"I guess I must be a gypsy at heart," Spooky quipped in response, reaching for the menu. Apparently the song had worked, because he seemed much more relaxed now.
Scully stifled a giggle. I wonder how he would react to that if he knew who he was really sitting with?
Misinterpreting the Leaper's reaction, the waitress smiled knowingly at her. "So, what'll y'have?"
Spooky opened his mouth to order, but a sudden idea prompted Scully to hold up her hand to silence him. "Wait. Let me."
Turning to the waitress and closing her eyes to find the memory, she spoke slowly. "For him...a cheeseburger and an iced tea. And if you have any, some sunflower seeds. I'll have a root bear and...a grilled-cheese sandwich."
Normally she would have ordered a salad, or something equally nutritious, but she couldn't afford to act too much like herself--Mulder was sharp enough that he might figure it out, especially since this was after they'd met Sam and Al the first time. (It was funny--with everything she'd forgotten--that she had suddenly remembered after she Leaped. Swiss-cheesing had a strange effect on hypnotic suggestion.)
When she turned back to Spooky, he was staring at her wide-eyed. Well, if he wasn't convinced before, I think he is now.
"Have we met before in a past life or something?" he asked, only the mischievous twinkle that always lurked in his eyes when he was joking belying the serious expression on his face.
She laughed softly. "In a way...yes we have. It was a past life for me, but this one for you."
Instantly she knew she had said something wrong, because his face drained of color.
He thinks I'm someone he lost a long time ago, she realized with a certainty that surprised her since she couldn't remember who or why.
"I'm not Samantha," she blurted out quickly, her face tightening into a frown the moment the words were out of her mouth. She turned to him with a puzzled look on her face. "Who is Samantha?"
"You don't know?" he asked, half taunting, half surprised.
"No...what I know...is like a memory suddenly coming into your mind that you had forgotten. Like amnesia--words, names, phrases...popping into my mind, but I don't know why they're important." And that was the flat truth of the matter, even more so than her words implied.
His face softened. "Samantha was--is--my sister. She disappeared over twenty years ago."
And he's been looking for her ever since, the tiny part of her mind that did still seem to retain the memories the rest of her had forgotten spoke up quietly. A sharp pain shot through her heart with that recollection, and with it a sense of horrible familiarity, but the reason for it remained elusive. Nevertheless, it strengthened her resolve to convince this past version of her partner that his life was in danger.
"Then that's why you have to trust me, Mulder," she told him softly. "Because if you die tomorrow, you will never have the chance to find her."
"Is she still alive?" he asked, a sudden hope coming into his eyes that tore at her heart.
What can I tell him? Give him possibly false hopes by saying yes, or destroy his hopes forever by saying no? "I don't know," she finally replied honestly. "I can't see that. But a dead man can't find out."
"What about Scully?" he asked unexpectedly.
She met his eyes again, surprised. "What about m--her?"
"Is she in danger too?"
Scully laughed. "Not physically, no. For once you actually did--do--spare her by running off on your own."
"What do you mean, 'not physically'?" he asked then, frowning.
She shivered, suddenly overwhelmed by once-vague memories of a recording of her own voice telling her things she could not have believed or grasped coming from anyone else. It was as if the close the moment of Mulder's possible death came, the more real that alternate timeline became in her mind. Gripped by a sudden horror, she glanced back towards the jukebox. She closed her eyes in relief when she saw the Mulder from her own time still standing by it, watching the exchange between his past self and present partner with a mixture of curiosity and...embarrassment...on his face.
"If you die, it will change her forever, and not for the better. She will become like you, only worse, and lacking the balance she now provides for you, will eventually earn herself the nickname, 'The Exorcist'."
Chapter 18: Stories to Tell
Scully's seeing and Clark's hearing things that aren't there...or are they?
March 31, 1995
Fox Mulder stood in the middle of the basement office, an indecipherable smile on his face. His hands were shoved deep into the pockets of his pants and he turned in a full circle, eyeing every corner of the room as if looking for something out of place.
The door opened and Scully walked in, affording her partner only a cursory glance that could have been easily targeted at the wall behind him instead before sinking wearily into the chair behind her desk. For once, he watched her without comment, his face still unreadable.
"I thought you had a lunch date?" she asked crisply, one eyebrow raising. With that psychic you were enthusing over earlier--Carmen Juarez, I believe her name is?"
For a span of time so brief that few people other than her would have noticed it, a look of absolute shock came over his features, but he quickly masked it with his most mischievous smile.
"How do you know I'm not still there?" he asked, teasing.
"Mulder, really, I'm not in the mood for games. And if you're planning on actually doing any work today, I'd suggest changing your shirt. I mean, the ties you usually wear are bad enough..."
He chuckled merrily, his eyes dancing. "Well, Scully, I'm afraid I can't leave. You closed the door."
"And you can't open it?"
"Not right at the moment, no."
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
She sighed, shaking her head in exasperation. "Mulder--"
"Actually, you're right. My lunch date is over. I just dropped Carmen back off at her house a few minutes ago."
"Fine. So, sit down and let's get some of this paperwork done."
"You can't sit either?"
Mulder smiled at the familiar skepticism in her voice. "The chair wouldn't hold me," he explained vaguely.
"Mulder, you're not that heavy and the chair's not that weak."
Another first: he did not reply with a snappy comeback, only continuing to gaze at her with that unnerving secretive smile.
"Will you stop that, please? You look like the Cheshire Cat! Now, if you're not going to sit down, and you're not going to leave, could you at least find something useful to do?"
He chuckled. "Wish I could, Scully. But I can't touch anything."
"This isn't funny, Mulder."
"Actually, it is when you look at the whole picture--"
"You are not physically incapable of touching things--" she insisted.
"Wanna bet on it?" he interrupted, his voice teasing. Then he came over and stood IN her desk, so close that her nose was practically touching his tie.
Scully blanched, staring in disbelief at the torso of her partner protruding from the center of her desk. She closed her eyes.. "I'm hallucinating," she began to murmur with forced calm. "The stress of having to spend every day down here is finally getting to me...either that or someone injected me with LSD or something while I wasn't looking--"
"Are you actually admitting to a conspiracy, Scully?" the apparition of her partner teased, obviously getting a big kick out of his hijinks.
Before she could answer, the door opened, and Mulder walked in. Her senses now thoroughly bewildered, Dana Scully stared from the partner in the doorway to the one in the desk.
"Mulder..." she asked weakly. "Do you see anything...unusual on my desk?"
Startled by the question, which was especially unexpected coming from her, the Mulder who had just come in studied his partner's desk, comparing it with the image of it recorded in his eidetic memory. "No. Should I?"
Incredibly, Scully breathed a sigh of relief. Good, I am hallucinating... She closed her eyes, fighting the vision of the second Mulder standing in her desk. "I think I may need to go up to the Infirmary."
"Why?" Her partner was suddenly at her side, his eyes filled with concern. Hesitantly, she opened her own eyes, letting out a deep breath she hadn't realized she was holding when there was only one of him bending over her, and that one had his hands planted firmly *on* the desk.
"I'm hallucinating," she replied as calmly as she could. She then proceeded to tell him exactly what she had seen--or imagined--a few moments ago. His eyes widened in surprise.
"If it weren't for the fact that I haven't died yet, I'd say you were being haunted by my ghost," he remarked cryptically, moving back to his own desk and seating himself at it. "Unless it's possible to be haunted from the future..."
"Well, it would have to be the fairly near future," she replied with mild sarcasm, annoyed with him for coming so close to contradicting her hallucinatory assessment. "Since, except for the wild shirt, he looked exactly the same as you."
Mulder frowned and Scully returned it, though for a different reason. He was taking this whole thing much too seriously. "Mulder, I told you; I was hallucinating."
Her partner shook his head. "I don't think so, Scully. If you were in the right mental state to be hallucinating, you wouldn't have the presence of mind to know you were hallucinating."
"Mulder, you're not going to die--"
"Tomorrow," he interrupted her calmly. "According to Carmen, the man who wants to meet with me tomorrow is going to kill me."
Project Quantum Leap
Fox Mulder strode into the Commissary, a concerned look on his face. Lois, Clark and Al looked up at his approach.
"What's up? I got a message on this thing..." he waved the handlink towards them. "That you guys needed to talk to me."
Lois took a deep breath. "The short version is, things just got more complicated."
Curious now, the agent sat down at the table. "What's the long version?" All of the other three looked worried, but there was a certain pensiveness to the Admiral's face that piqued his curiosity even more.
Sam's here...he has to be if I am...he's here, at the Project... "Look," Al spoke up suddenly, his voice gruff. "I really shouldn't do this, but can you two handle the explanation? I have something I need to do."
Somewhat bewildered, the two reporters nodded.
"Good." He stood and left without speaking another word.
"So, what's the complication?" Mulder asked, turning back to Lois and Clark once the Observer had left.
"Let's just say we found out how we got that tape, and why..."
"Where is he?" Al demanded as soon as the door of his office closed behind him.
"Who?" Ziggy asked, puzzled.
"Sam. Where is he?"
"Dr. Beckett is currently between Leaps. You know we have not yet determined where he goes in the interi--"
"I mean the Sam from the future, the one who's here. Where is he?"
The computer was silent for a moment. "How did you find out about that?"
"Never mind that, just where is he?"
"I'm sorry, but I've been asked not to tell you--"
"Damn it, Ziggy!" Al brought his fist down soundly on the desk. "I swear I'll rip out every circuit you have with my bare hands if you don't tell me! I have to know. I have to see him..."
Artificial Intelligence or no, Ziggy could hear the strain in the Admiral's voice. She, as much as anyone else on the Project if not more so, knew how hard it was for Al to be cut off from his friend like this, helpless to bring him home.
When she finally spoke again, her usually haughty voice was quiet, resigned. "He's in his office."
Sam's office. A place that had been rarely entered since he disappeared. Somewhere no one would expect anyone to be, especially not its owner...
"Wait. You let him into his office??? What about Donna?"
"In case you forgot, Admiral, Dr. Beckett had only one photograph of himself and Dr. Elise in his office, and she moved it to hers shortly after he Leaped."
Relaxing somewhat, Al nodded. He then turned to the door.
Chapter 19: Countdown to Eternity
The pieces are beginning to come together as the clock ticks down.
Sam's first reaction when he heard the doorknob turning was to hide, having momentarily forgotten the face he wore. He relaxed though, realizing he might have trouble explaining Mack Sherman's presence at the Project, but it would be much easier than explaining his own. He'd think of something.
That certainty almost died when he saw Al in the doorway. The Admiral hesitated there for a minute, his eyes fixed piercingly on the face of the old janitor he saw, as if looking through it. He didn't seem at all irritated, surprisingly, at the sight of the intruder.
"Sam?" Al asked.
Silently cursing the computer for breaking his promise, Sam smiled. "Hey Al."
In a moment, the shorter man had crossed the room and enfolded him in a bear hug.
"Damn, it's good to see you," he commented gruffly, pulling back with an embarrassed look in his eyes. Sam smiled wisely, knowing how much Al's military background made it hard for the older man to express emotions. "Even if you don't look like yourself," the Observer continued wryly.
"It's good to see you too--although I'm going to kill Ziggy for telling you where I was."
Al shook his head. "Actually, for once this isn't his fault. I made him tell me."
"How'd you find out I was here?"
The Admiral chuckled. "Turns out that one of our 'guests' can hear me--the future me that came with you, that is."
Sam's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Really?"
"Yeah, Clark Kent. The guy's full of surprises."
The Leaper frowned and Al could see his friend's genius mind going to work on the problem.
"I've got a few ideas, but I have a feeling it's not something he wants us to figure out, so I'm not saying anything. I mean, it's not like we've never been in that position." He grinned and Sam returned the smile, his focus shifting with the Admiral's assessment of the matter.
"Can I just ask you one thing, Sam?" Al was suddenly serious again. "Why didn't you want Ziggy to tell me you were here?" He looked hurt.
Sam sighed, running a hand through his hair. "I didn't want you to get discouraged."
"Discouraged?? By finding out you'll still be alive five years from now? Are you kidding?"
"But I won't be home yet," the Leaper protested.
"No joke. But, hell, like I said, you're alive. And that means a lot, kid."
"I'd ask you what you've been up to," Al continued. "But I'm probably not supposed to know until I get there, huh?"
"That's the rule."
"Not that we always stick to the rules..."
The Leaper smiled wryly. "True."
"How about this? Give me your end of this Leap, like what else you're supposed to be doing besides spying on the fearsome foursome there."
Sam's smile spread into a grin. "Now, *that* I can do."
Mulder stared fixedly at his fish tank, trying to puzzle out what Carmen had told him in light of what had happened to Scully that afternoon. At first, the psychic's words had made pretty easy sense--if he didn't want to die, all he had to do was cancel his meeting with this guy...
That's what he'd made up his mind to do.
But if Scully had seen a vision of him--he had occasionally seen things that made him suspect she might have 'The Sight,' even though she denied it vigorously, especially to herself--did that mean that it didn't make any difference what he did, he was still going to die?
The man who called him had promised answers. Not that he trusted him, but the temptation was strong, and Heinrich had given hints over the phone that made it sound like he knew what he was talking about. Could he risk his life for that slim possibility?
But on the other hand, if it meant possibly finding Sam, could he not?
Maybe it was inevitable. And maybe, if he did get some of the answers he'd been looking for, it was worth it.
Only one thing gave him pause--Scully. The changes Carmen had predicted for his partner frightened him more than his own death ever could. If only there were some way he could prevent that...
Maybe there was. Carmen had said Scully would blame herself for his death, for not being able to be there to prevent it. Maybe if he could somehow let her know that he understood the risk...and that he thought it was worth it...
Decision made, Mulder began to scour his apartment for a blank piece of paper. Upon finding one, he sat down to write.
I know it bothers you when I leave you behind--you've told me often enough. But I had to this time. Heinrich might be able to give me some of the answers I need, but I can't ask you to risk your life for them. If anything happens to me...I'm sorry. But please, know that I understood the risk I was taking in going to speak to him. I knew I probably wouldn't come back alive. But I thought it was worth the chance. I hope you can forgive me for this, but I have to know.
He propped the note against a stack of papers on the coffee table, where she'd be sure to look if she came searching for him. Then he took out the number he'd scribbled down yesterday and picked up the phone. He just hoped Heinrich wouldn't mind switching their meeting to tonight.
Project Quantum Leap
Mulder rubbed his nose, his mind turning over what the two reporters had just told him. It didn't surprise him, really, that there was much more at stake here than his life. He knew his partner was willing to risk a lot for him, but he certainly didn't expect that from the people at the Project. But until this, they'd had no other suitable explanation for why the tape had fallen into Lois and Clark's hands than so that in some convoluted way it would bring Scully here. Now, that seemed to be turning out to be more of a fortunate side effect.
"So, what do we do about it?" he asked.
"Well," Clark responded. "So far, the best idea we could come up with is to 'send' Superman back for it..." (All three smiled at this.) "...and destroy it or hand it over to Ziggy once we get back here. But Al suggested we wait on that until your partner gets back, just to make sure this doesn't effect what she has to do."
Mulder nodded. "That makes sense." He stood to leave. "I think I'd better get back to Scully, so I can fill her in on this...if that's okay?"
Clark glanced at empty air behind him and turned back a moment later, nodding. "Al thinks that's a good idea too."
Carmen Juarez's home
"Where have you been?" Scully nearly pounced on her Observer the moment he appeared in the living room of Carmen's small house.
"Reminiscing a little and taking care of something back at the Project. Why?"
"Why haven't I Leaped? I thought the chances of you getting killed were down to thirty percent and still dropping this afternoon."
"They were," he replied calmly, almost amused by her uncharacteristic nervousness.
Scully frowned. "Something's gone wrong."
With a sigh, Mulder pulled the handlink out of his pocket and poked at it. What he saw made his face turn white, and she heard him mutter 'shit' under his breath.
"What's wrong?" she asked guardedly.
"The odds are up to seventy-five percent that I'm going to get killed tonight."
"What??? How the hell did that happen??"
"I don't know!" he replied honestly.
Scully ran a pensive hand across her forehead. "Where are they meeting?"
"Same place as before."
His partner grabbed Carmen's purse and started for the door.
"Where are you going?" Mulder asked, startled.
"I'm going after him."
The door slammed behind her before he could finish his sentence.
Mulder swore. If he didn't know how stubborn she could be--that was one of the few things they had in common--he'd go after her. Somehow, he knew, this had to be all his fault, since things hadn't gone wrong like this when she'd made the trip without an Observer in the previous timeline. Did it have something to do with his trip to the office this afternoon?
A new memory trickling into his mind confirmed that suspicion, causing him to swear again softly. If only the past Scully hadn't been able to see him...
He stopped mid-thought. Maybe his little escapade this afternoon had gotten them into this mess in the first place, but it might also be able to get them out of it.
Knowing he had no time to waste, Mulder began rapidly pushing buttons on the handlink. A few seconds later, he disappeared.
Scully's apartment building
She turned suddenly, startled to see her partner behind her, waving at her almost frantically. "Mulder, what's wrong?"
He stopped inches from her, looking down at her with an expression of intense...fear...on his face. "Unless you want the next time you see me to be when you identify my body in the morgue, you'd better get down to the Twelfth Street Warehouse, now!"
She stared at him. "Are you threatening me?"
"No! I'm telling you a straight fact. If you don't go down there right now, I may very well be dead the next time you see me. The odds are going up that I'll be killed and y--Carmen doesn't have a gun."
"Mulder, stop babbling for one moment and make sense. How can you be in danger on Twelfth Street if you're talking to me here?"
"Because almost a year in your future you risked your life to come back in time and save me from getting killed tonight," his words sent an icy chill through her. "And because you did, I survived to come with you as a holographic observer when you had to make the trip again as a preventative measure in the alternate timeline created." He held out a hand to her. "You weren't hallucinating when you saw me standing in your desk, Scully, and you aren't now. The holographic frequency I'm on is tuned to your brain waves, that's why you can see me. But if I disappear, it won't mean that the frequency's changed. It will mean that history changed and I didn't survive that change."
She was still staring at him, openmouthed. "Mulder--"
"Scully, just try to take my hand."
Almost automatically, she reached for his hand...and hers passed right through it. With a half-smile at his white-faced partner, Mulder gazed once again down at the colorful device in his hands, and his own face drained of color.
"Ninety-six percent. "Ninety-seven. Scully..." His eyes met hers, terrified. "*Please*! Ninety-nine--"
In that instant, a panic unlike anything she'd ever felt before came over the agent. Without a thought, she was moving, running down the stairs to where she had parked. When she reached her car, she climbed in and tried to start the motor. Scully turned the key four times, but each time the engine only sputtered. Her sense of panic increasing, she clambered out of the car and raced back to the street, her eyes searching desperately for an empty taxi. Nothing.
Then, a yellow station wagon that looked like an early-eighties model caught her eye pulling up to a nearby stoplight. Uttering a quick, silent prayer, Scully sprinted after it, flashing her badge at the driver.
"Federal Agent. I need to borrow your car."
The woman in the driver's seat seemed to think a moment. Then, she nodded. "Get in."
"Where to?" she asked as soon as the agent had closed the door and reached for her seat-belt.
"The Warehouse on Twelfth Street. And hurry, please."
The driver nodded and hit the gas as soon as the light changed.
"Amanda Stetson," she introduced herself as she took a sharp corner. "And you are?"
"Special Agent Dana Scully."
"Why in such a hurry to get to Twelfth Street?"
"My partner's in danger."
A look of understanding mixed with determination came over the other woman's features, and she pressed her foot down on the gas just a little harder. "We'll be there in a minute."
Twelfth Street Warehouse
It would have to be a warehouse, Mulder thought, amused. He stepped carefully into the empty building with his flashlight in one hand and a gun in the other.
Suddenly, he felt something hard and cold press into his back. "Drop the gun, Agent Mulder," a voice hissed in his ear. Heart sinking, Mulder did so.
Heinrich chuckled. "Good. Now, there's a light switch over by the door. Turn it on."
"Can't hit me in the dark?" Mulder quipped.
The other man laughed again, bending down to pick up the gun while the agent turned on the light. He slipped it into his rather large pocket. "No. I like to watch people die."
Dana Scully the Leaper blinked at the sudden brightness, pulling back further into the shadows. For once in her life, she realized, she was going to have to act without thinking through her actions first, because she had no idea how she was going to prevent Heinrich from shooting her partner.
"You know, Agent Mulder, you are just too easy to manipulate," the assassin remarked, amused, as his victim turned to face him. "All I had to do was mention your sister and you came right to me. Most people would take a little more convincing."
"Sorry, I'll try to be more stubborn next time," the agent replied dryly.
"There isn't going to be a next time, I'm afraid." He leveled the gun at Mulder and cocked it. "Say goodbye, Fox."
Scully sprang out of the shadows, lunging towards her partner and knocking him to the ground. Startled, Carl Heinrich fired directly at her heart...
And in that instant, she Leaped.
Carmen Juarez collapsed to the ground beside Mulder, her head loudly striking the cement floor.
Heinrich swore and pulled back to fire again.
"Federal Agent! Drop your weapon!"
Mulder's head came up at the sound of his partner's voice. How did she find me?
Reluctantly, the assassin obeyed, glaring at the red-haired woman in the doorway. She indicated a tall support beam not too far away from where Heinrich was standing.
"Put your arms around that." Scully followed him just long enough to cuff him, then returned to where her partner was kneeling over the unconscious psychic.
"Are you all right?"
Mulder nodded, smiling gratefully at the concern in her voice, then indicated Carmen. "She knocked me out of the way--I think he shot her."
Kneeling beside her partner, Scully examined the psychic for any signs of a bullet wound. "Well, it looks like you were both lucky--he apparently missed."
He looked surprised. "Really? But I saw him shoot her..."
"Mulder, except for the concussion from hitting her head on the floor, she's fine."
"Are you sure?"
Mulder sat back, puzzled. He was certain he'd seen her be shot...he glanced back to where Heinrich was glaring at them.
"I don't miss."
Scully turned her gaze back to the man who had almost killed her partner. "Well, there's a first time for everything," she replied icily.
Pushing those questions aside, Mulder turned back to his partner. "How did you know to come her, anyway? I never told you..."
An odd look crossed Scully's face. "I'll tell you later." She pulled out her cell phone. "Right now, I'm going to call for backup...and an ambulance to take Ms. Huarez to the hospital."
Chapter 20: Homecoming
When the work is done, some friends will be reunited, others parted.
Project Quantum Leap
Scully gasped as the walls of the Accelerator materialized around her. She stumbled, one hand automatically going to her chest to search for the bullet hole that wasn't there.
He shot me, she thought in disbelief. He must have--he had a clear shot when I pushed Mulder out of the way... A wave of panic swept over her at the thought of her partner.
"Mulder!" she called loudly. Oh, God, what if Heinrich just shot him again after I Leaped?? What if--
The door slid open. "Scully?" Mulder asked, his voice full of concern.
With a cry of relief, she threw herself into her partner's arms, holding him tighter than she had since the day he'd rescued her from Donnie Pfaster. Just as before, thankful tears began to stream down her face, only this time they were for his safety, not hers.
Mulder ran one shaking hand through her hair, brushing it back from her now-damp face.
"Thanks, partner," he whispered.
For a few moments, she just stood there, letting him hold her, letting the fact that he was alive sink in and become real to her senses.
Then, suddenly, Scully sucked her breath in sharply, an intense sorrow coming into her eyes. Mulder closed his own eyes in silent acknowledgment of what he knew to be wrong.
"Melissa..." his partner whispered softly, her voice cracking slightly. "Oh, God, Mulder. I could have saved Missy...she believed in psychics, if I'd told her not to go over to my apartment that night, she would have believed me..."
Mulder was silent, not sure how to reply... Why hadn't he told her? Was it because they hadn't gone back far enough for him to also save Samantha, and he didn't want Scully to be able to have her sister back if he couldn't have his? It was just the sort of selfish thing he would do...
The woman beside him saw what was passing through his mind as quickly as he had seen her memory return.
"Mulder, this isn't your fault. If anyone's to blame, it's me for not remembering my own sister..."
"You weren't allowed to tell her anything she didn't remember on her own," Al reminded him from where he was standing just outside the door.
It took a few long moments, but eventually Mulder nodded. "I just wish I'd thought to tell you..."
But then something else about Melissa's death clicked in Scully's mind. "What about Carmen?" she asked urgently. "Did she get shot when I Leaped?"
Hearing the worry in her voice, and knowing the source of it, Mulder lifted the handlink and prodded it a little, his face relaxing as he read the screen. "Nope. According to this, the only injury she suffered was a concussion from smacking her head on the floor a little too hard. She didn't remember anything about what had happened though."
Scully closed her eyes in relief. Thank God--no one else had died in her place.
Al chuckled. "That's often the case, that they don't remember. At least this one had a good excuse." He took a deep breath. "I'll go let Kent know you're back, so we can get rid of the tape."
"Get rid of it? Why?" Scully frowned, glancing up at her partner in surprise when he voiced no objection.
Al looked at Mulder too. "I thought you were going to tell her about that part."
"I didn't really get a chance--things started going rather berserk the moment I got there."
"You didn't get a chance to tell me about what?"
Within a few words, Mulder managed to explain what had been going on in the present (and/or future) during her absence. Once he was finished, Al turned to Ziggy's CPU.
"Ziggy, have Kent and Lane come down here--"
"They are on their way, Admiral. However, destroying the tape is no longer entirely necessary."
Al frowned. "What do you mean?"
"I've just spoken with Dr. Beckett--apparently the threat of blackmail disappeared a moment ago."
"How can that be?" the Admiral asked, confused. "We haven't done anything about it yet."
"Agent Scully has."
"Apparently the man ultimately responsible for the threat was arrested by your past counterpart, Agent Scully."
"Wait--" Al interrupted, still lost. "I thought the blackmailer's name was Abruzzi, not Heinrich."
"It was. But, according to Dr. Beckett, Abruzzi's intent in blackmailing the Project was to force us to kill the man he felt was responsible for ruining his life. That man was Carl Heinrich."
The three looked at each other in astonishment.
"What exactly DID happen to Heinrich?" Scully finally asked.
"As I said, he was arrested by your past counterpart. However, before he could go to trial, he apparently hung himself in his jail cell."
Mulder's face darkened. "Yeah, I'll bet he hung himself," he muttered angrily. His partner's eyes met his and she nodded wisely.
Heinrich hadn't committed suicide--he had been punished for his failure, and in the process, prevented from ever revealing who he had been working for.
Just then, the door of the elevator slid open, revealing Lois, Clark, and an older man who the two agents recognized as Mack Sherman.
"So, what do we do now?" Clark asked, walking up to Al. "Do you still want us to get rid of this?"
He held up the tape reel.
"You know what happened?" Al guessed.
Lois nodded. "Sam told us." She pointed to the janitor.
Al turned to the other man, smiling sadly. "So, you're still with us..."
Sam/Mack nodded. "There's one more thing I think I have to do before I Leap."
"And what's that?"
The physicist sighed. "I made a few decisions on this Leap that Mack Sherman is going to be held responsible for. He may run the risk of losing his job once it's discovered that 'he' used my clearance to steal classified items regarding a Top Secret black project. He doesn't deserve that, but I don't know what to do."
The two agents frowned sympathetically. They'd both had their jobs and lives threatened on numerous occasions for finding out what they weren't supposed to, so they knew Sam's concern was serious.
"Wait a second..." All eyes turned to Mulder. "What if you hired him?" he asked Al. "He can't get into trouble for knowing about the Project if he works for it, can he?"
The Admiral's eyes widened. "That might work..."
A broad smile spread slowly over Sam's face. "It will," he added quietly.
Al's head snapped in the direction of his friend.
Sherman's form slumped a little, then the old janitor looked up at his companions with a confused look on his face.
Al's eyes were the only part of him that revealed his disappointment. If only he'd had a little more warning that Sam was going to Leap...
"I'm sorry..." Mack began hesitantly, glancing over at Mulder and Scully as if for support. "...but this old brain of mine gets a little fuzzy sometimes--where am I?"
Al forced a smile. "You're interviewing for a position here. But don't worry--we don't take off points for poor memory. Some of our top people have that problem."
The other four did their best to disguise the smirks the comment elicited.
"Here," Al suggested, beginning to steer the older man towards the elevator. "Take this up one level and go all the way down the hall until you get to an office with 'Admiral Albert Calavicci' on the door. That's my office--I'll meet you up there as soon as I finish up some business with these guys."
Mack nodded, even though he still looked confused. "All right." He glanced back over his shoulder before stepping into the elevator. "See you later, Agent Mulder, Agent Scully."
They waved at the departing figure.
"Well," Al commented, turning back to the two reporters and two agents. "I'm assuming I can count on the four of you to keep this quiet? Our existence depends on secrecy, and we can't bring Sam home if we don't exist."
Mulder smiled. "Well, since there's no EBEs here, I think I can let it go."
"Extraterrestrial Biological Entities," he replied.
"Mulder is obsessed with UFOs," Scully added dryly.
"Huh. Well, if I ever see one, I'll be sure to let you know."
"In the meantime, what do we do with this?" Lois asked, pointing to the tape. "And the other handlink we found?"
Al hesitated. "Well, I know Ziggy said earlier she wants to hang on to the other handlink..." he smiled. "She claims it'll save us having to build another one after it gets lost."
"And the tape?"
Clark nodded and dropped the tape to the floor. Then, he pulled his glasses a little way down the bridge of his nose and stared at it until it burst into flames.
Al jumped a little and swore at this. Lois shot her fiancé a questioning look.
The reporter shrugged. "I thought it was only fair--you shared so many of your secrets with us without any choice in the matter, but you still have to trust us to keep them..."
The Admiral nodded, gratefully. Yes, these four would definitely keep Project Quantum Leap a secret--apparently they all had a lot of practice in that regard.
He turned back to Scully. "Well, I guess all that's left is to get you out of that Fermisuit..."
Mulder chortled. Al grinned lasciviously upon realizing how the comment could be taken, and winked at the exasperated female agent. "And back into your regular clothes, unless you'd rather try something else..."
"Not with either of you," she retorted, grinning in spite of herself.
The two men chuckled, and Al shrugged. "You're right--Tina probably wouldn't be to happy with me if I carried through on that offer, after all--but it never hurts to try."
"You know," Scully commented softly. "I wish I'd actually had a chance to speak with Sam."
"Why's that?" Al asked.
She smiled. "We apparently have a few things in common--I'm an MD as well, and my undergraduate degree was in physics."
The Observer nodded. "Yeah, I imagine you two could have found a few things to talk about. Maybe once he comes home, you'll get that chance."
By some silent agreement, the group began to move towards the elevator. "Well, gang, I'd love to say you were welcome to come back any time," Al remarked as the doors closed behind them. "But somehow I don't think the Committee would like that..."
Chapter 21: Epilogue
The adventure is over and things are right again. For the moment, life goes on.
April 1, 1995
Carmen looked up as the strange man entered her hospital room with a sheepish grin on his face. Approaching the bed, he pulled a carefully wrapped bouquet out from behind his back. "These are for you."
The psychic smiled a little, uncomfortable with the sense she was getting from him. "Thank you...I think." She took the flowers from him and stared at them with a creased brow and a frown. "Might I ask why?"
"For saving my life," was the simple reply.
"Oh." Was that how I ended up in the hospital?
When she looked up again, he was studying her. "Something wrong?"
Carmen shook her head. "No...I'm just a little...embarrassed. I--I don't remember you. I'm sorry."
"What do you remember?"
Carmen closed her eyes for a moment as she searched her memory. "I had gone downtown...to the FBI Building. I don't know why, but I felt I was supposed to be there. I needed to find someone, but I didn't know who or why. Then...there was a bright light..." Her voice trailed off.
"You don't remember calling my name?" he asked, seeming disappointed. Carmen shook her head.
"I don't believe I know your name. I'm sorry."
"It's all right..." there was a dullness in his eyes that hadn't been there when he walked in. His mouth twisted into a wry grin. "But you can still keep the flowers."
She smiled. "Thank you."
He turned to leave the room and Carmen got a glimpse of a woman waiting for him on the other side of the glass. She froze, eyes widening in recognition.
She hadn't been completely honest with her visitor--she did remember bits and pieces of the day she was missing, but what she remembered could only be described as trading souls with another woman. She had seen another face in the mirror, and had been told that, for the time being, someone else was taking her place to set something right.
The redhead was that someone else.
"Are you all right?" Scully asked, reading the morose look on her partner's face as he emerged from the hospital room.
"She doesn't remember anything," he replied.
The other agent's expression softened. "I'm sorry."
Mulder grimaced in frustration, turning back to gaze through the window at the dark-haired beauty. "Yeah, so am I." He didn't say anything else. He didn't tell her that the woman he'd just spoken to had been like a completely different person, distant and polite, not the one who had seemed to know him as well as...
As well as his partner.
Other than Scully, Carmen was one of the only people he'd ever really connected with on an emotional level.
Well, there was no point in mentioning now that he'd foolishly thought there was a reason she'd saved his life. That perhaps in some odd way, they were connected...
With a sigh, he turned back to his partner. "Hey, Scully, feel like checking out the cafeteria with me?"
She raised an eyebrow. "Do you mean to suggest that the two of us actually eat there together, instead of one of us waiting for the other to recover from something?"
He grinned in response. "That was the general idea."
His smile was infectious. "Sure. Chances like this don't come around too often." She turned in the well-known direction of the hospital cafeteria.
Still smiling, Mulder let his hand drift down to rest on the small of her back, as it did almost automatically whenever they walked somewhere together.
Project Quantum Leap
January 30, 1996
Admiral Al Calavicci set the phone down with a satisfied sigh. Even though he hadn't exactly been forthcoming in explaining his reasons for the request he'd made, the Committee had approved Mack Sherman's appointment to the position of head janitor on Project Quantum Leap. Of course, he hadn't really doubted they would. Sam...the one from their future...wouldn't have Leaped out of the old janitor if it weren't going to work, he was sure of that. With a sigh, the Admiral leaned back in his seat, his eyes restlessly roaming the walls of his office. Even though he hadn't admitted it earlier, it *was* hard knowing that Sam was still going to be Leaping around four years from now. But at least he knew his friend would still be alive... He frowned. Actually, with time travel, even that could still change.
"Ziggy," he spoke softly. "Enter Mack Sherman's name into the personnel files for the Project."
"I have already done so," the computer replied smugly. "In the meantime, Admiral, I think you might want to begin heading towards the Imaging Chamber--Doctor Beckett has Leaped again."
Al smiled wryly. "I'll be right down..."
June 14, 2000
"Admiral, you're wanted in the personnel office," Ziggy informed Al dutifully.
He frowned, running a hand across his mouth. "What for?"
"The new technician has arrived."
New technician? They hadn't hired a new technician. Unless...
"Ziggy, is this person here as a result of Sam's Leap?"
"All right. I'll be right up."
There was no sign of the state of near-panic the Project had been in before he stepped into the Imaging Chamber for the last time on this Leap. Which wasn't surprising; except for himself and Ziggy, no one knew that things had ever been any different. The threat of takeover by Abruzzi and Zoe had vanished in the moment that Scully had arrested Heinrich, and the chance of anyone else making such a threat had been destroyed along with the tape by Clark's heat vision. All was peaceful and, he reflected with a smile, Alia was safe. She would never have had to endure the torture that Leaping had been for her. He only wished he could have told Sam that...
The door to the personnel office whooshed open at his approach. Verbena and Donna looked up at him with matching smiles from where they had been discussing something with the young woman who he guessed was the new technician. At the sound of the door, she turned, and Al stopped short in the doorway, his mouth dropping open in astonishment.
"Al," Verbena began, placing a friendly hand on the young woman's shoulder. "I'd like you to meet our new Imaging Technician...she's another one of those MIT geniuses, not unlike Dr. Beckett..."
A genuine smile, without fear or pain, crept slowly into the familiar blue eyes of the young technician Beeks was introducing.
February 2, 1996
For some reason, Mulder and Scully decided to have lunch at the Blue Moon Diner the Friday after they returned from New Mexico. It was strange, being there together the way normal people went to a restaurant. In fact, the residual memories were so strong that Scully was briefly startled to hear her partner call her by her own name, and Mulder had to be steered around the bar, since he'd forgotten he couldn't just walk through it. Ironically enough, they were even led to the same booth they had occupied years (or days) before.
Scully ran her fingers thoughtfully across the table, her brow creased in concentration. "This feels so weird. I'm having a sudden urge to play with beads I'm not wearing."
Her partner laughed, leaning back against the cushions of his seat and watching her with an unusually unreadable expression on his face. "I know. You still look like a double exposure."
"I want to sort of put it out of my mind, as if it never happened," she confessed. "I mean, I never even believed time travel was possible, let alone that I'd ever do it. And up until we came here, I could barely remember it. It was almost like a dream..."
"But are you glad you did it?" Mulder asked in complete seriousness.
"Of course I am," she retorted. "Do you honestly think I would ever regret saving your life?"
His eyes caught a glimmer of mischief again. "I don't know. Would you?"
Scully just glared at him, the expression rendered fairly ineffectual by the smile with it. "I haven't yet, but if you keep trying to make me, you might succeed."
"What can I get for you two?" a waitress interrupted.
Mulder quickly held up his hand to silence his partner, his eyes twinkling. "Allow me. Root beer and a grilled cheese sandwich for the lady, a cheeseburger and iced tea here."
The waitress departed without comment and Scully sighed. "Mulder, that sandwich is not very nutritious, and I'm not exactly trying to hide my identity from you anymore..."
He just stared at her innocently and made no move to reorder. Finally, she gave up with a disapproving shake of her head. "You're incorrigible."
"But lovable?" he quipped in return.
She opened her mouth to reply, but a sudden look of surprise had come over his face and he stared fixedly at a point behind her head. Turning and realizing that he was staring at the juke box, she focused her thoughts on the music filtering through the diner, an amazed smile spreading over her face. Mulder, you were right--there IS a conspiracy.
"Well, what do you know, Scully, they're playing our song." He grinned.
Turning back to him, the other agent returned the smile and slipped out of the booth. "Dance with me, Mulder?"
He took her hand, and they moved out into the middle of the floor, slipping into each other's arms with the comfortable familiarity of two souls woven of the same cloth but different colors, not quite a tapestry, but always intertwined at the fringe.
You have to believe we are magic
Nothing can stand in our way...