Man of the Century
by Russett McMillan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This story was supposed to be the sequel to another one, which I was never able to write to my satisfaction. All you need to know about the previous unfinished story is that an earthquake occurred at Project Quantum Leap, damaging some equipment, injuring Al, and causing a lot of confusion. I wrote this before seeing the final season of the show. I am following the show's convention that it's the body that leaps, and not just the consciousness, even though I prefer it the other way.
Dr. Beckett writes:
I found myself lying on a flat, cool surface. I moved my head cautiously; I was in a small room, and no one seemed to be around. When I sat up, I discovered that I was wearing a flimsy paper garment imprinted with flowers and sitting on a doctor's examining table. A desk against the wall bore a placard saying DR. McCULKIN. Above the desk was a calendar (May 1975, I noted automatically) and a small mirror. Moving my head in line with the mirror, I saw the face of a woman in her forties: a strong face, pleasant rather than pretty, framed by short dark curls.
So I was a woman again. Suddenly suspicious, I looked over the examining table I was sitting on. Sure enough, at the bottom a pair of metal stirrups extended invitingly before my feet.
"Oh, boy," I said to myself. Apparently I was here to be examined by a gynecologist. This would never do. I leaped off the table, pulled off the paper smock and snatched at the clothes lying neatly folded on a chair. I fumbled hastily with a bra, unsure how much time I had to get dressed. Just as I was slipping my feet into shoes that were blessedly low-heeled, the door to the office opened to admit a middle-aged man in a lab coat.
"I'm sorry, uh, doctor," I gasped. "I, uh, changed my mind about the exam."
He cocked his head. "Changed your mind? I see no reason to think the results we got are incorrect."
It sounded as if the test was already over. "Oh. Uh --" Resolutely I shut my mouth and sat down, trying to look expectant.
"Actually, I think we'd better have a talk about those results now." The doctor settled before his desk.
"Uh-huh?" Please God, I was thinking, don't let me be pregnant again.
The doctor frowned as if he didn't understand my reaction. I tried to look more serious. "As you already know," he began, "the radiation and the operation you had were not completely successful. From today's test we know that the tumor has metastasized. That means -''
"It split and is spreading to other parts of the body," I filled in. The bra I had strapped around my chest had one cup filled with cloth sewn inside it. "I had a mastectomy -- breast cancer," I realized.
"That's right," Dr. McCulkin said. "The new growth is in your lung. So far there's no evidence of other vital organs being involved, so I'd say you still have a few months. But the outlook is not very good. We can try chemotherapy . . ."
Chemotherapy wasn't very effective when it was first tried in the seventies, I remembered. "I'll . . . have to think about it." Maybe I could postpone my decision so that the woman I was in -- Mrs. Blaine, the doctor had said -- could decide for herself. Or maybe Al would have a chance to get some information to me. It seemed to make sense that my reason for being here was related to the cancer.
"It's a decision that should be made soon, otherwise it can't be much help."
"I understand that."
"You've been going to a support group?"
"Uh, yeah, that's right."
"Good, good. You should keep that up. And if you need any further advice --" He scribbled on a pad of paper. "-- here's a number you can call. They're very good."
He seemed obscurely eager to be getting rid of me, which puzzled me at first. A patient who had just received a fatal diagnosis needed more than a few minutes of counseling, even if she had been prepared for it. But, I remembered, communication between doctors and patients hadn't been so good in the old days. The emotional part of coping with a sickness was left to the patient to figure out. It was actually surprising that Mrs. Blaine had managed to find a support group. I gave a sigh of relief as I got out of the office, fumbling for some identification.
I was staring in bewilderment at the badge in Mrs. Blaine's wallet when a hand touched my shoulder. I blinked at the earnest young man beside me; he looked in his twenties, too young to be a husband. Son?
"What did the doctor say?" He seemed concerned, but not desperately worried.
"Uh -- well, he said --" I fumbled at softening the blow. "-- he said a few months."
His gaze fell. "I'm sorry, Sally. We were all hoping . . ."
That let out son, then. Co-worker? I glanced down at the badge again. It still said Chicago Police Department, and the accompanying identification still said Lt. Sally Blaine. "Well, I knew the chances weren't real great," I mumbled. A woman police officer? A middle-aged woman police lieutenant in the mid-seventies? This woman must have a lot of character.
My companion was leading me toward the door. I followed him bemusedly, still searching for clues. He didn't particularly look like a policeman, but then I tended to associate shoulder-length hair with the counter-culture, while in fact it was commonplace in the seventies. I was on the wrong side to see if he was carrying a gun under his jacket.
He led me out to an unmarked police car in a no-parking zone, and headed for the passenger's side. I rubbed my nose thoughtfully. What if he wasn't a policeman? "Uh, listen, do you mind driving? I don't feel, uh --"
"Oh, sure, Sally." He hurried around to the other side of the car. As he turned I could see the lump under his jacket. Co-worker, then. And probably junior to me, from the way he acted.
"So, Sally," he said when we were on our way, "do you want to go back to the department or should I drop you off home?"
"Well, uh --" The watch on my wrist said 4:15. "Might as well finish the day off, huh?"
I stared nervously out of the window of the car and thought about how little I liked leaping into a terminally ill policewoman. Which of this woman's problems was I supposed to solve? It might be anything. It might be totally unpredictable. I really wasn't going to enjoy being without backup support on this one. I wondered how long I had spent in between leaps, and how soon Al would get out of the hospital.
As it turned out, I barely had time to meet Sally Blaine's co-workers before getting off shift. I found out that my partner was Frank Mason, newly promoted and transferred to this precinct. Because of her illness, Sally was mostly on desk work, but she was helping Frank with a few cases while she showed him the ropes. I didn't really have much chance to consult with Frank on those cases; I hoped they were simple.
Everyone knew the prognosis within a few minutes of our return from the hospital, although I didn't actually see Frank talking to anyone. I gathered from a few comments that if Sally stayed on the job for two more months she would complete her fifteenth year of service, which would make a difference to her pension. It seemed like everyone wanted to help Sally out; she had drawn a lot of respect from the other policemen here.
I've leaped into women before, I've been in a beauty pageant, and I've even been pregnant. It never mattered as little as it did when I leaped into Sally Blaine. She was an ordinary person, with problems which might have belonged to an ordinary man as easily as to an ordinary woman. But I sensed, from the way that her colleagues smiled at me and tried to comfort me, that Sally had made a very special impact on the world.
I managed to find the car that fit Sally's keys, blundered my way to the address on her driver's license, and found the right key to the door. It was a small house in a cramped lot, sparsely furnished but just messy enough to be cozy. I spent a while wandering through it -- feeling, as always, like a peeping Tom -- looking at photographs and trying to reconstruct Sally's life. There was a husband, it seemed, who faded out of the picture five or six years ago -- dead or divorced, I wasn't sure. Then there was a son. If I was dating the pictures correctly, he must be nearly twenty now. He didn't seem to be in residence.
I got a definite answer when, after I had fixed myself a macaroni and cheese dinner, the phone rang.
"Mom? It's me, Billy." The background was noisy.
"Oh, hi, Billy."
"Why didn't you call me like you said?"
"Oh, I, uh, it slipped my mind."
"Mom, are you OK?"
"Yeah, I'm fine."
"What did the doctor say?"
I swallowed. "Well, the -- the operation and the radiation therapy didn't really work . . ."
"I know that. What else?"
"Well, the, uh, the tumor has metastasized to, uh, my lung. The doctor thinks I should be good for, well, a few months, unless other organs become involved."
"It's OK, son. I was more or less expecting this."
"Do you want me to come home?"
I hesitated. This could be an important decision; what if it was the thing I was supposed to change? "Uh, don't you have other things to worry about?"
"My classes can wait."
"Oh, but, you must have exams coming up."
"Exams aren't important."
"No, Billy, they are. You study hard, and do well in those exams. For me. OK?"
"When the term is over you can come and give me a hand. There's time now. You just keep your grades up."
"Yes, ma'am." There was a reluctant smile in his voice. "You're OK?"
"I'm fine, Billy. For now. You come home later, when I need you."
I put the receiver down with a heavy sigh. I hoped I hadn't just muffed this leap. On top of everything else, Sally Blaine had a son in college. What was I here to do?
I put my scruples aside and started searching through all the papers I could find in the house. I needed any information I could get; there was no telling what might be important. I learned that what I had been saying all day was true; Sally expected the verdict she got today. She had a will dated just last month, leaving everything to her son Billy. I learned that her husband, also a policeman, had died and that Billy would receive his benefits as well as Sally's after her death. I found Billy's tuition bills and Sally's pension plan and figured that he would have to leave school after Sally died. Even with life insurance he probably wouldn't have enough to make it -- unless Sally died on active duty. I couldn't help noticing that the benefits in that case were much higher.
Now I was really confused. Was my mission here to prevent Sally from getting killed in the course of apprehending some criminal? Or was it to make sure that Billy had enough money to finish school? The two might be incompatible with each other. Or perhaps I was here for something else entirely.
I was getting a horrible headache and feeling very lonely for Al when I heard a horn honk outside. When I looked out the window I saw the car was in my Sally's driveway. I walked curiously outside.
A dark-haired woman leaned her head out of the window. "Did you forget the meeting? Hurry, we'll be late!"
"Oh. Yeah, just let me get my stuff." I grabbed a coat, locked the house, and slipped in next to her. "Sorry. I was a little preoccupied."
She slid a glance at me between stop signs. "You saw a doctor today, didn't you?"
"The, uh, prognosis isn't so good."
"Any liver involvement?"
I blinked. She seemed familiar with the details of Sally's illness, giving mixed cues of callous unfeeling and genuine personal concern. "Uh, no, not yet."
"Well, the lung."
"Not as bad as it might be." She grinned rather painfully. "You might have a few months on me, yet."
Suddenly I understood. She was also terminally ill. That explained how she could face it so calmly and yet so honestly.
I guessed before we arrived that the "meeting" we were going to was the support group Dr. McCulkin had mentioned. Most of the people there were women, with a few men among them looking as lost as I felt.
A very in-charge-looking woman bustled up to me as I tried to fade out of attention. "Lt. Blaine! Are you ready to give your talk tonight?"
"What?" I gulped. "No, uh, I kind of changed my mind about, about talking tonight."
She pouted. "Oh, how sad. I'm sure you have so much to share with us."
"Yes, well, maybe -- maybe another time. It's just that I'm not very good at public speaking, you know?"
"That's bullshit," the woman who had driven me whispered in my ear as the organizer moved away. "I've seen you give speeches plenty of times."
"Yeah, well, it's different this time, OK?" I hissed back at her. Apparently we were supposed to be friends. I wondered how I could find out her name. Something about her seemed strangely familiar.
Then everyone was sitting down in the chairs arranged in a circle. I scrambled for a seat as the leader began speaking. A few members of the group shared the stories of their illnesses and how that had impacted their lives. I tried to be inconspicuous as the leader's gaze passed thoughtfully over me. Then she told us that she wanted to share an inspiring passage she had found. My driver/friend shifted in her seat, shooting me a mischievous glance. Suspecting a private joke, I twitched an eyebrow. That can always be interpreted several ways.
"Life," said the leader, "is like a journey, in which we travel not only through space but through time -- through our lifetimes."
Tell me about it, I thought, shifting my seat in turn. What I want to know is how to end my journey through time.
"The end of that journey," said the woman as if on cue, "is death."
"We must learn to consider death not as an abnormal truncation of life, but as the long-awaited completion of our journeys."
I glanced around the circle as she spoke. Everyone in the room was listening to her with absolute concentration. I had been pretty close to dying a few times in my life; a lot of those times had been during my leaps. I had always tried to avoid thinking about it, had always shied away from the subject. But now here I was in a circle of forty people all thinking very hard about the nature of death. It was a little hard for me to avoid the subject just now.
Inevitably, I started to envision death in the metaphor the leader had presented me, with my leaps through space and time being like the journey of life. In a picture like that, the end I was striving for -- leaping home -- could only be accomplished through death. Al had suggested something like that during my first leap, I recalled. Ziggy's first theory for how to get me home had been that I should fix a problem in the life of the guy I leaped into. That, as it turned out, was the way to finish a leap, but not the way to finish leaping. Ziggy's second theory was stopping all electrical activity in the brain -- death, as I had sarcastically pointed out to Al. The suggestion had never come up again.
My leaps, while essentially random, had a pattern to them that was statistically predictable; they were mostly clustered at the beginning of my lifetime. The time I had cross-leaped with Al, he had gone back near the beginning of his own lifetime. In all my five years of leaping, I had leaped once in the eighties and once in the nineties. At that rate, waiting for random leaping to take me back to my own time in 1999 could easily take another five years. Or ten. Or twenty.
I started to feel a little sick, thinking about it. Ziggy must have noticed this pattern already -- probably long before I did. Then why had Al never mentioned it to me? What was he trying to conceal?
"Sally." My friend patted my knee. "Are you all right?"
"Huh?" I looked around. People were leaving. "Sorry. Just -- thinking. Is the meeting over?"
"Yeah. Come on, I'll drive you home."
I was silent on the drive back, picking over my reasoning and trying to find a flaw in it. Apparently this disturbed my friend, because she invited herself in for coffee.
I puttered around for a while looking for things in Sally's kitchen and finally joined her in the living room with two cups. Coming into the room, I was again struck with the impression that I had seen her somewhere before.
"Are you sure you're OK?" she asked me. "You were looking a little pale at the end of the meeting."
"I'm fine. I was just, oh, worrying about my son. I don't know how he's going to be able to finish college."
She nodded. "I know the feeling. Mine are only two and four, and my husband left us enough money for everything, but I don't know what's going to happen to them when I'm gone. My parents are too old to take on two little kids."
"There's no one else you can turn to?" I realized that if we were friends I should probably already know the answer to that question.
She laughed. "Is that a variant on 'Met any cute guys lately?'"
I laughed along uncomfortably. I was never really sure how to act in these woman-to-woman conversations.
"Actually, I did meet a guy this week. But my instinct says not to trust him. He gets along too well with women."
"Ah." I tried to sound knowing. "The kind with a new girlfriend every week." Actually, it sounded a little like Al.
She shook her head. "I haven't met anyone like that since my first husband," she laughed.
Her words triggered realization and my amusement fell away. "My God. You're Beth Calavicci!" This was Al's first wife, the only woman he ever truly loved.
She stared at me, her face gone pinched and white. "How did you know his name?" she whispered. She backed into a chair and sat down awkwardly.
"I knew I recognized you from somewhere! I -- we've met before. Very briefly. You wouldn't remember. But what happened to your husband?" The last I knew, she was married to a man named Simons. But she had spoken as if her children had no father.
Misunderstanding me, she told me what I already knew. "I -- I thought Al was dead. I really did. He'd been gone -- MIA -- for three years. So I remarried. Then, a year later, a picture of some POWs came out. Maybe you saw it, it was famous, it won a Pulitzer --"
"Maggie Dawson's last photo," I remembered. I had had a chance to bring Al out of Vietnam three years early. Instead I had only gotten a photo -- and saved my brother Tom's life.
"I was going to leave Dirke, then. Have our marriage annulled. But I was pregnant! My son needed a father . . . I didn't know when Al would come back . . . I kept all his things ready for him, his favorite car, but I just never had the courage to face him again." She ran a hand through her hair.
"What about your second husband?"
"He -- died. In a car crash, two years ago."
"I'm sorry. Did -- does Al know?"
"I don't know. He had already remarried."
I struggled to remember Al's history. None of his other marriages had lasted very long. "But he's left her by now, hasn't he?"
"Yes." She laughed mirthlessly. "And married again, and left her too. Maybe I got lucky." She shrugged, on the verge of tears.
I took her by the shoulders. "Look -- maybe those other marriages were Al's way of trying to . . . recapture what he had lost. Recapture you."
"Do you think so?" She blinked hard.
"Yeah. Yes, I do. Have you talked to him at all, since he came back?"
"Does he know you're -- sick?"
"Don't you think you owe it to him at least to let him know?"
She dashed a tear from her eye. "Maybe."
I released her shoulders. "Think about it. Maybe he can come up with a way to help your kids."
She laughed through her tears. "Al's not exactly the most responsible person in the world."
"Not responsible, maybe, but very dependable. Am I right?"
"Yes." She wrinkled her brow. "Do you know him?"
"I've -- met him. He's working up at MIT right now." In fact, that was where I had gotten to know him. "Take my advice. Call him and let him know what's going on. Tell him you still love him. It will make a big difference -- to him and to you."
"Maybe. Well, OK." She scrubbed at her eyes, blew her nose and called up a smile for me. "Thanks for the coffee. I should really be going now -- the baby-sitter won't stick around much longer."
As I watched her leave, I found myself waiting for a leap to prickle between my shoulders. If experience had taught me anything, I had just made a big change in Beth's life tonight.
Suddenly I felt cold. A big change in Beth's life might make a big change in Al's life. And while I had to hope Beth would bring Al some happiness and peace of mind, I couldn't help wondering if it would change his life right out of Project Quantum Leap. Now the chill between my shoulders was from expecting Edward St. John III to appear suddenly. I grimaced. If I didn't befriend Al, would I really fall in with a cold fish like that?
No one at all appeared that night, and I went to bed wondering whether to take that as a good sign.
The next morning, while I was sitting at Sally's desk poring over the details of Frank's latest case, Beth called.
"I did it," she told me.
"You did -- you called him? You called Al?"
"Yes." I thought I heard a sniff.
"What, did he -- was he mean to you?"
"Oh, no, Sally, he was so sweet. He --" Her voice broke. "-- He wants to have dinner with me."
"Tonight. He's here in Chicago, at a conference. He wants to see me tonight, Sally!"
"Well, that's great! Have you, uh, you know -- told him?"
"About my brain tumor? No. I thought it would be easier in person. Can you come with me?"
I boggled at the thought of being a woman going out to dinner with Al. Even with Beth to distract him, I wasn't sure I could handle that. "Well, uh, I -- I don't have a date?"
"Oh, I'm sure Al can bring a friend."
I had a sick feeling that he might bring a friend called Sam Beckett. We were working on the same project in '75 -- had I gone to a conference in Chicago? I couldn't remember. "Uh, I don't know if I'll be able to get away?"
"Oh, please, Sally. It's just -- I really don't know how to face him. It would be so much easier with a friend there. Say you'll come."
"Well . . . " She sounded pretty anxious. And, on second thought, if I was making a major change in Al's life I would like to witness it. "If I can, I'll come." I would be sure to find out the name of Al's friend before deciding.
"Great. The Plaza Hotel. Six-thirty. And -- don't dress too well, you know?"
"Beth, there's no way I can compete with you."
That was the right thing to say. She giggled, and hung up sounding much more alive than she had the night before. I went back to deciphering police reports, trying to figure out if there was anything behind the words that might be what I had come to change. Leaping without any backup was making me more than a little paranoid.
Admiral Calavicci writes:
I was just reaching the stage where I could enjoy my stay in the hospital -- one of the night nurses was really cute -- when my foster-son came to see me with a big pot of flowers.
"Donald?" I sat up a little straighter in the bed. "What are you doing here?"
"I had a little time off and I heard you were sick."
"From my sister. Your -- project head, or whatever, notified her when you were hurt." He put down the flowers.
"And what are those for?"
"For wooing the nurses, what else?" He grinned at me. "Don't I get a hug?"
"You're too old for hugs," I said, hugging him. I had always pretended I hated hugs, and Donald had never believed it. Ever since the first time I met the kid -- I caught my breath, remembering. Looking at Donald, I had the same sense of double vision that I got with Sam's brother Tom. I could remember a history where I had never met Donald, had never even seen his mother after my return from Vietnam. I had married a fourth time, and a fifth, trying and failing to forget her. But I could also remember a world in which the last few months of Beth's life were the most beautiful I had ever known, a world in which I married her again -- my fourth and final marriage -- the day before she died, so that I could adopt Donald and Lizzie.
I had spent as much time and money in the one history on custody battles as I did in the other on alimony. Certain kinds of fate just can't be avoided. I laughed at the thought, and Donald looked at me strangely.
"Something wrong, Dad? I heard you injured your head." He started to feel around the sensitive -- and recently shaved -- back of my skull.
"It still works just fine," I growled, slapping at his fingers. "And don't call me that. It was your real father's money that put you through college, and --"
"-- And don't you forget it," Donald recited with me. "Yeah, and it was Dr. Beckett's influence that got me accepted to medical school when I blew my grades. Maybe I should call him Mom?"
"Don't -- heh-heh -- don't joke about Sam. It's not funny." I tended to snap at people who didn't give Sam the proper respect -- acting as if he were dead, was the thought that inevitably occurred to me.
"How is Dr. Beckett? You keep him so incommunicado in that top-secret project out here . . . "
"Don't joke about the government, either. It could get you locked up. Sam's, uh, he's fine . . . " The meaning of my doubled memory hit me suddenly; no one else experienced it -- only me, because I was there when history changed, and because my brainwaves were linked to Sam's through Ziggy. Sam must have changed something in the past that brought Donald and Lizzie into my life. I felt a wave of gratitude and surprise; I had really gotten accustomed to the thought that nothing in my old unsatisfactory life would ever change.
Donald distracted me with questions about my injury and stories of Lizzie's progress through law school. It wasn't until he was gone and the nurse had brought dinner that I really had a chance to think about what Sam had done.
I could trace the double history back to the moment when Beth first called me at that meeting in Chicago to tell me she was sick. Of course, she hadn't actually told me during the phone call; she had explained it over dinner. She had told me -- I struggled to remember -- that she never would have called except for a friend of hers, who persuaded her to give it a try.
I smiled. That must have been Sam. He had talked Beth into calling me, and that had changed everything. Then my smile disappeared, as I remembered Beth on the phone in the restaurant, crying over the news that her friend had just been shot.
I found my clothes in the closet. The nurses tried to stop me from leaving, but within five minutes I was on my way back to the Project.
Dr. Beckett writes:
It was almost five o'clock by the time Frank and I finished interviewing the witnesses to the robbery on Eighth street. We were heading back to the department when Frank hit the brakes suddenly.
I caught myself on the dashboard. "What, what is it?"
"There!" he pointed.
Two teenagers were running out of a corner liquor store. They disappeared down an alley. A man came out of the store yelling and shaking his fist.
Frank was out of the car in seconds. I followed him, ready to jump in any direction. This was it, my thudding heart was telling me. It's about to happen, the Thing you're supposed to change. You'd better see it coming and stop it quick!
We pounded down the alley, too far behind the kids. I didn't really care about catching them; I was just trying to keep up with Frank.
When the alley debouched into a smaller street Frank pulled up, looking each way. "I'll go left, you go right!"
He stopped and looked at me.
What I really wanted to do was to stick together, but I didn't think he'd go along with it. "I'll go left, you go right," I gasped, desperate to change something.
I was the senior member of the team; Frank waved agreement and split off to the right. I watched him go and headed the other way with a sick foreboding in my gut. At the first alley I came to I paused and looked in. Something was strange; I realized that the fire escape on one of the adjacent buildings was ringing. When I put my hand on the railing I could feel the percussion of footsteps somewhere above. I looked up. "We should really have stuck together," I told myself. "I just hope they don't have guns."
I ran up the fire escape until I was almost at the top, then slowed down so I could move quietly. My heart was beating so hard I thought they might hear it; with all I've been through in all my leaps, I've never gotten used to this kind of thing. I had to nerve myself up a few seconds before I could stick my head over the edge of the roof.
There was no one there. I climbed over the parapet and dropped down slowly. The roof was studded with cooling vents and stairwell doors; they could be hiding anywhere. Or they could have left the roof, or jumped to another building. I took a deep breath and started slowly around the edge of the building, ducking my head below the level of the parapet so I wouldn't be silhouetted against the sky. Gravel crunched under my feet.
"I wish I knew if I was doing the right thing," I whispered to myself. "If I had to leap without Al, why did it have to be a life-or-death leap?"
I got three quarters of the way around the edge of the roof before I started to relax. They must have gotten away. It might mean I had failed the leap, but I felt a little easier about not being on a lonely roof with two desperate criminals. There was only one place left to check, in the shelter of the stairwell. Surely they wouldn't have hidden there the whole time I was looking for them. I straightened up and headed for the stairwell door.
I was halfway there when I heard the unmistakable sound of the imaging room door opening behind me. I turned quickly, a grin stretching my face. "Al! Thank God you're all right!" He was a little pale, and his clothes were rumpled, but he was still the same unstoppable Al.
He waved the handlink at me. "Yeah, Sam, I'm fine, but you got trouble. You --" He gasped at something behind me. "Duck, Sam, get down!"
Al leaped at me as if he would push me down forcefully, but before I could react I heard a shot behind me. A shove in my back threw me onto the gravel. For a moment I thought Al had somehow done it.
"Damn, Jack!" cried a strained voice. "Now you gone and killed a cop!"
"Let's get out of here!" Feet crunched across the gravel.
"You bastards!" screamed Al ineffectually. "You shot Sam!"
They must have been in the stairwell after all. I tried to roll over and get up, but as soon as I moved to my side I got dizzy. When I dropped my head the dizziness passed, and the pain started in -- the worst I'd ever known. I groaned.
"Sam!" Al gasped, coming closer. "Sam, can you hear me?"
I turned my head. "Yeah." I tried to concentrate. Warm liquid flowed over my hands. The smell told me it was blood.
"Sam, you've been shot. You've got to try to stop the bleeding. There's help on the way --" He stabbed at the handlink, making it whine, and cursed at whatever answer he got. "You've just gotta -- gotta hang on a little while, and, and you'll be fine."
"I don't think so, Al." It was hard to speak. "All this blood -- bullet must've nicked the aorta."
"Well, maybe if you can put some pressure on the wound . . ."
"No. If I move I could rupture it. I'd die in seconds."
"Sam, if you don't move, you're gonna die in a few minutes."
"I know, Al. Listen --"
"There's an ambulance on the way. I'll go see where they are."
"No!" I lifted my head and nearly blacked out again. "Al, stay with me."
He turned back and knelt at my side, his face contorted. "God, Sam. I never wished I could help you more."
"Is this what I was here to prevent?"
He blinked, startled by the change of subject. "No, uh, the kid -- your partner -- he was gonna get shot in the spine, and uh, paralyzed. The woman you leaped into, Sally, she was about to die in two months anyway."
A tension I hadn't noticed eased inside me. "And this way, her son gets the extra life insurance."
Al swallowed hard. "Never mind that now. Sam, if I could take your place -- that's it!" He started up. "I'll go into the accelerator chamber and leap into you. You'll leap into the waiting room, and -- no, it won't work. The accelerator was damaged in the earthquake."
"There isn't enough time anyway. Al . . . what does Ziggy say happens if I die?"
He bit his lip. "You leap -- your body leaps back to us."
"And my chances of leaping back any other way?"
"Well, they're -- they're not so bad, really, Sam."
"What are they?"
"Ziggy, uh, well, Ziggy puts it at about six percent."
"That's what I figured. I'll never leap home--" I winced at a surge of pain. "-- until I die. How long have you known?"
Al's face was like stone. "Since your second leap."
"You should have told me." My voice was fading to a whisper.
Al stirred. "Sam, you gotta do something to stop that bleeding."
"No," I breathed.
"Sam! I know you want to get home, but you can't give up now! It isn't worth dying for."
I felt a smile cross my lips through the haze of pain. Somewhere, I found my voice again. "Al, the emergency medical equipment at Project Quantum Leap is a hell of a lot better than what they've got in the seventies."
Al stared at me, suspended by hope. "Would that work?"
"I don't know. But the paramedics in that ambulance can't resection an aorta, or suspend life until I get to the hospital. It's my best chance." I was getting weaker. I forced my eyes open with difficulty. "Al, if I don't get to speak to you again --"
"No, Sam, don't even say it!"
I swallowed. "I never thanked you, Al . . ."
"Sam!" There were tears on his cheeks.
I could feel it coming, tingling at the edges of my vision like the moment before a leap. I raised my hand, forcing it against an overwhelming weight to reach toward Al. "Tell Donna . . ."
Admiral Calavicci writes:
Sam reached out his hand to me just as he leaped. He started to glow blue, everything around me turned blue and dissolved into the imaging chamber, just like usual during a leap. But instead of finding myself alone, this time I felt a hand materializing in mine, and when I looked down, Sam was lying on the floor of the imaging chamber with blood spreading beneath him. It wasn't spreading very fast, though -- in fact, it stopped spreading as I watched. Sam's grip on my hand loosened.
"Guschi!" I yelled. "Get a medical team in here now!" The control room was supposed to monitor the imaging chamber continuously. I hoped they were prepared for emergencies.
I grabbed Sam's shoulders and half lifted him before I remembered what he said about rupturing the aorta. It might be better to leave him in place, but I settled his head in my lap. There was blood everywhere, but no pulse in his neck.
The door opened and Guschi looked in. "Oh!" he gasped. "What's Dr. Beckett doing in here? He's supposed to be in the waiting room."
My hands clenched in frustration. "I don't know why he's here, but he needs help NOW!"
"Yes -- yes, Admiral, it's on the way. The, ah, earthquake caused some confusion in inventory, but we're tracking down the equipment."
"Go help them!" I yelled. My head was starting to ache again. I thought of everything I knew about first aid, but there was no use pounding on Sam's heart if he didn't have any blood in his body.
Then Donna ran in carrying a small kit. She knelt by Sam's side, opened the kit, and began to set up an IV. There were tears streaming down her face, but she kept up a constant flow of instruction. "Put his head down, Al, and raise his feet instead. This saline will bring his blood pressure up a little, but he'll need a transfusion fast. Dr. Beeks is on the way."
"He said he thought the aorta was cut, and it might rupture."
Donna's hands trembled. "Right. OK. We'll have to to move him onto the gurney without jostling." She moved quickly and got the saline flowing just as Dr. Beeks appeared with the real equipment. "Get some blood into him, fast," said Donna as she ran for the door. "We may have to put him under suspension."
They moved fast. I knew that Donna had been preparing for this ever since Ziggy predicted what would happen if Sam died. I didn't know that she had thought up so many scenarios. I wondered how fast they would have been if we hadn't had our inventories and work schedules scrambled by an earthquake. They got Sam under suspension within ten minutes, eased him onto a gurney and packed him into an ambulance. I just stood by and watched, feeling helpless.
Dr. Beeks called ahead to the hospital and warned them to get ready for an aortal resection. When they tried to tell her they were too busy after the earthquake to attempt a low-success-rate operation, I took the phone. I invoked national security, pulled rank like it was taffy, and released all my tensions over the phone line. After a few minutes of that, they told me an OR was standing by.
I got in my car to follow the ambulance to the hospital, but when I got there I couldn't make myself go in. I kept remembering the way Sam had fallen when he was shot -- the surprise on his face, gradually turning white and waxy and then grey. So much blood . . . I realized, staring at the looming hospital buildings, that I didn't think he would make it. I had spent too many years waiting for Sam's return, struggling for it and never really believing. When Ziggy had predicted that Sam couldn't return unless he died, I had gotten blind drunk for three days, until Sam made his next leap. Then I had gone back to the imaging room to help him -- never telling him that his hope was gone. Now I turned my car out into the desert and drove over the endless black roads that crossed it, until dawn colored the world stark and relentless.
When I got back to the lab I learned that after hours of surgery Sam's heart was beating on its own, although he was in a deep coma and still on a respirator. Project Quantum Leap was one big party for the next twenty-four hours, and a mass hangover the following day. It took us a while to figure out he wasn't coming out of the coma.
Donna was at the hospital every day, holding Sam's hand and talking to him, waiting for a blip on the EEG. I suspected that she cried herself to sleep every night, but it never showed in her voice or actions -- just in the bags under her eyes. When the CAT scans, PET scans, EEG, and neural activity measurements all came up negative, even Donna had to admit that he was gone. But she was determined to keep him alive as long as possible.
"I've waited five years," she said, "I can wait a few more. He'll come back."
They all kept at her. Project Quantum Leap was closing down. The fiscal year was over, the next year's budget very small. We couldn't afford to keep a corpse animated. The only time I saw her react was when they suggested freezing him.
"In the future, they'll find a way to recover what's been lost in a damaged brain," said the eager representative of Project CryoLife. "They can take him out of cryogenic suspension and heal him. Think of it! The greatest brain of this century, in store for the next."
Donna dropped her head into her hands. Her shoulders began to shake.
"Oh, God, no!" I said. The idea made me sick. "The man has spent five years living other peoples' lives in the past with no familiar faces except mine. All he ever wanted since the project began was to come home. And now you want to send him into the future, where he'll have no familiar faces at all? No!"
Donna squeezed my shoulder hard.
I'm not sure what finally changed her mind. Maybe she decided she had waited long enough. She kept quiet about it, like everything. Maybe she told Dr. Beeks. But I'm not the typical confidant of the intellectual woman. Something happened to change her attitude, and a few days before Christmas she let the doctors remove Sam's life support.
I didn't object. I didn't think I had much to say, since I wasn't a relative. As far as I was concerned, Sam had been dead for three months. I wasn't even going to go to the hospital -- what did they need me for? I found myself wandering through the empty corridors of the lab, until finally I came to the imaging chamber. Its walls were blue and silent, as if Sam were between leaps. But this time, he wasn't coming back.
I kept feeling that it was my fault. If I had warned Sam sooner, if I had gotten out of the hospital sooner, if I had helped him with the leap instead of flirting with the nurses, he would still be alive. If I hadn't gotten into trouble on the one leap where we switched places, Sam wouldn't have had to switch back, and he would still be alive. If I had done any one of a dozen things better, Sam would still be alive -- would maybe even be finished with leaping, if I had gone in his place. God knows I wouldn't be as much of a loss to the world as Sam Beckett.
I realized that I was here in the imaging chamber because I wanted some way to reach Sam -- to say goodbye, to apologize at least if I couldn't help him. But Sam wasn't here. Not even his image was here. Sam was at the hospital, and I hadn't seen him since the night he was shot.
When I reached the hospital and found the right ward, I discovered a crowd of people there. Donna was off in a corner by herself, filling out some forms. Everyone was carefully not watching her, as if she had asked them to leave her alone. Guschi glanced at me and looked down. Sam's brother Tom saw me and came over.
Every time I saw Tom I had a feeling of ambivalence. On the one hand I could remember meeting Tom a few years after my first acquaintance with Sam, and enjoying his company; he was certainly less of a prude than his brother. But on the other hand I could remember a day in Vietnam -- a flat Vietnam without the heat, the insects, or the smell of brackish water -- when I had given Sam a chance to save his brother's life, and had lost my own chance of getting home two years early.
I was easier to meet Tom's eyes now, as the adoptive father of two children, than it had been when I was just a five-times failed husband. "They already did it?" I whispered.
He nodded. "Ten minutes ago. He -- the body is still there, if you want to --"
"Yeah. Which room?" My whisper was getting rough.
"570." Tom pointed.
The hallway seemed endless. I thought maybe I shouldn't have come, but it was too late to back out now. The power of wishful thinking is amazing; I even imagined a blue flash, like part of a leap, as I approached the room.
Dr. Beckett writes:
I leaped. When the tingle released me, I found myself in a hospital bed. Something was fuzzy in my memory; I felt almost as confused as during my first leap. I looked around. Various critical life-support equipment was arrayed in the room: a respirator, an IV, a heart monitor and an EEG. None of them were turned on or attached to me, although I had IV marks on my arms. It looked like I had leaped into a patient about to be released. The equipment was pretty modern, too -- this might be a welcome break from my usual leaps far in the past.
There was a mirror on the wall. I'm always curious to know what sort of person I've leaped into -- sometimes it's important to find these things out early in a leap. I pushed back the covers and stepped out of the bed. I felt shaky enough to be a pretty convincing hospital patient; just sitting up made me feel dizzy. My last leap must have been pretty exhausting. I frowned for a moment, trying to remember, then gave up and headed for the mirror.
I had leaped into a guy in his forties, kind of pale, brown hair with one white lock -- very familiar. It took me a long moment to realize that I was seeing my own face. I rubbed my chin reflexively, blinking. The face in the mirror rubbed and blinked back at me, but they all did that anyway. I couldn't figure out why I was seeing my own face instead of the person I had leaped into. Then I saw Al over my shoulder in the mirror, standing in the doorway.
"Al! Come look at this, this is really weird!"
Al looked pretty pale, too. "Sam?" he whispered.
"Yeah, look, I can see myself in the mirror. Hey, I can see you, too!" I spun around, too quickly, and got dizzy again.
Al caught me by the arm as I stumbled. "Sam?" he repeated.
I sat down on the edge of the bed. "Thanks. Why am I here?"
Al stared at me wordlessly.
I waved my hands to get him started. "Who am I, what year is it?"
Al's poleaxed expression began to turn into a grin. "It's December 20, 1999," he said slowly. "You've leaped into, uh, a scientist who --"
"You touched me."
"Yeah." He wasn't using the handlink. " . . . A scientist who was involved in a secret government project for the past five years. He was admitted to the hospital three months ago with a gunshot wound --"
"You touched me! Al . . . " I hardly dared to form the words. "I'm home?"
He laid a hand on my shoulder. "Yeah, Sam. You're home."
I grabbed his arm. It was strange to touch Al after five years of watching him walk through solid objects. Irresistibly my eyes were drawn to the door. All I could see was a hospital hallway, but somewhere out there were the other people I loved. I got up.
"Sam, wait." Al restrained me. "You should know, when you, uh, leaped back . . ."
I turned. "What?"
"Well, we, uh -- you see, we tried to resuscitate you, we put you under suspension and got you to the hospital as fast as we could..."
"Well -- it didn't work, Sam. We had you on full life support, but there was no brain activity at all. No response. Worse than a coma. We waited three months, and then, well, uh, we -- that is, Donna, and, uh, your family, uh, with the advice of your doctors -- and lawyers, too -- decided to, to pull the plug. Remove the life support."
"So? What made you change your mind?"
"Well, uh, I -- it wasn't my decision!"
"Al, will you just tell me?"
Two attendants appeared at the door with a gurney. They looked in bafflement at my hospital gown and the empty bed. "So, where's the stiff we're supposed to take to the morgue?" asked the first.
Al shrugged at him. "We didn't change our minds," he said to me apologetically. "They pulled the plug ten minutes ago, and the doctor declared you dead."
I blinked. "But -- I just leaped in here. Before that, I was ..." I tried to remember.
Al looked at the floor. "Last time you were conscious, you were on a rooftop in Chicago in 1975, and you were, uh, bleeding pretty heavily."
"I remember that. But, no, afterward. I leaped out, and I was... I can't remember exactly, but -- my parents were there, and... "
"Sam. Your parents are dead."
I looked at him. "Well, so was I. Wasn't I?"
"Sam, you don't mean you were --" Al pointed at the ceiling.
"Uh, look," said the second attendant. "If you guys could take a break from the fairies and little green men, we got a job to do?"
"So, go do it!" said Al exaggeratedly.
"We got a body to pick up in room 570." She waved at the number on the door.
Al pointed at me. "Does he look like a corpse?"
The first attendant threw up his hands and stomped down the hallway.
"Al," I said urgently, "where's Donna? If she thinks I'm dead..."
"That's what I was trying to tell you, Sam. She's gone to fill out some forms. We got to figure out a way to break this to her gently."
The first attendant reappeared in the doorway with a doctor in tow. The doctor took one look at me, cried, "Oh, my God!" and ran back down the hallway.
"Too late," said Al. He released his hold on my arm.
"Al, will you give Donna a little credit for being able to handle surprises?" I was halfway to the door when my wife appeared. She was appallingly pale for her complexion, but her face lit up when she saw me. A moment later I was lost in her kiss.
"Sam." Al tapped my shoulder.
"Hm?" I didn't open my eyes. Al is the last person I would expect to interrupt a good kiss.
"Sam, if you got a minute, there's a few other people here who'd like to say Hi."
I opened my eyes. Crowded in the doorway wearing various expressions of surprise and delight were Dr. Beeks, Guschi, Tina, and -- someone else. I lost my grip on Donna's mouth as my jaw dropped. The last person shouldering his way into the room was my brother Tom, a middle-aged Tom that I didn't remember seeing before.
As I looked at him, half a lifetime of memories came flooding in. I could still remember a version of reality where Tom had died in 1970, but I could also remember attending his wedding, playing with my nephews and nieces, supporting him when his wife died. My brother was alive! Donna generously made room for him to embrace me, and tears of happiness filled my eyes.
He held me back for a look. "Hey, little brother. I'm glad you're back."
"Hi Tom," I whispered hoarsely. My eyes went to Al. Had he ever told anyone what really happened on that leap?
Al was fading to the outside of the circle of unmourners. He had never been comfortable with displays of affection. I reached out, snagged his arm, and did what I had wanted to do more than once in the past five years, when Al was my only link with home; I hugged him. Al objected loudly and tried to pull away, but the room was packed with people. In the minutes which followed, there was talking and crying and laughter and hugs all around. Al did consent to embrace Tina. And Dr. Beeks. And Donna.
When the tangle of people sorted out, the doctor examined me and declared me not dead. I used my own medical authority to sign myself out of the hospital, against the doctor's advice, and took the death certificate as a souvenir.
"She didn't put up as much resistance as I expected," I whispered to my wife as she pushed me down the hall in the obligatory wheelchair. "I wonder why not?" I squinted down the hallway at a huge crowd of people clustered before the doors of the hospital.
Donna gave me a strange look. "Of course, you don't know. That doctor is in awe of you. You were already the best publicly-known scientist five years ago. In the past three months, since the truth about Quantum Leap came out -- well, some of it anyway -- you've become a national hero. Time Magazine is declaring you their man of the century."
"Hold on, Donna," Al forestalled her. "Don't leave by that door; you'll be mobbed by reporters." He waved at the crowd.
"We'll be mobbed anywhere," she replied. "We might as well get it over with."
"Naw, they're expecting a grieving widow, not Sam alive and well. You go out the side door; I'll go talk to the reporters." He sighed tragically as if he had just offered to lead a suicide mission. Then he winked at me. "Merry Christmas, Sam. And have a good night." He waggled an eyebrow at Donna in a way that I could only consider insulting, and headed jauntily for the door.
"Do you think you should go back him up?" I asked Tom.
"Hell, no." He grinned. "Half those reporters are female. I think he's planning to enjoy himself. Let's get out of here before they find out what really happened."
As we snuck out of the hospital I thought to myself that I have the finest wife, the greatest brother, and the best friend in all the world. And I've never been happier to be anywhere, any time, than I am to be home now.