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A BOY'S BEST FRIEND IS HIS HOLOGRAM

by

Jane A. Leavell

CHAPTER EIGHT

Samuel Beckett sat in his office, waiting to turn transparent and cease to exist.

Could you call it dying if you no longer had been born in the first place? Maybe he would just shrivel into a pile of dust motes. Never having been erased from a timeline before--at least, not that he was aware of-- he wasn't sure what to expect. He had to concede that it was ironic. If he hadn't invented Quantum Leaping, Zoe could never have warped his personality, and this Calavicci wouldn't have Leaped to erase him. His own meddling with the time stream was going to cause him to die. Disappear. Cease to be.

Lothos had been nearly out-of-control, screaming obscene threats that could never be carried out, since Calavicci--some sort of alternate Al, from another timeline--had Leaped somewhere/somewhen else. If dismemberment and death hadn't managed to stop him, Lothos's threats certainly wouldn't be enough to do it.

Once Sam managed to understand Lothos's hysteria, he had left the Control Room, reeling from the stench of burnt flesh and the echo of basso shouts, both of which pursued him down the hall. At first he'd made wild plans to thwart the Enemy Leaper, perhaps to Leap after him and kill him, but by the time Sam reached his private office, the paradoxes involved seemed overwhelming. Besides, arranging for someone to terminate a rival was something he could distance himself from, but he knew he wouldn't be able to personally murder another human being. Not even Zoe. He didn't have the stomach to fire a gun or stab with a knife, make the blood on his hands real instead of symbolic, hear the screams, watch the life end. So instead of accessing his computer link and setting up the algorithyms needed to program the Accelerator, he sat slumped at his desk, staring at the screen, where his secretary had recorded what she sent in his name for his mother's birthday. Heaven forfend that he should sound confused if Thelma called to thank him.

There wouldn't be a phone call from his mother, of course. Would this entire universe merely blink out of existence between one moment and the next, or did bits and pieces of it become more unlikely and drop away bit by bit as the unreality spread? If he tried to call her now, would anyone exist there in Hawaii to answer him?

Sam shuddered. This felt like being trapped in some Twilight Zone episode; any minute now, Rod Serling's voice would drone some ironic moral.

Vaguely, he wondered if this would be bearable if he got himself drunk. It had always seemed to make Al more cheerful, and if Lothos was right, he needn't worry about living to face a hangover. Oh, Lothos was determined to turn this disaster around, but from the fury with which he attacked the problem, it was obvious there was no real hope of success.

How did this happen? One short hour ago, he was sitting on top of the world; rich, respected, powerful enough that no one would hurt him ever again. No one, it seemed, except a time-travelling son-of-a-bitch.

"Dammit, I should've killed him!"

Slamming the desk top with one clenched fist was painful, but at least the pain indicated he was still alive. For the moment.

"Samuel? Why are you just sitting there? Why aren't you doing something about this?"

He swivelled in the executive desk chair to give her a smile that felt like a deaht's head grin, with the skin peeling away from his skull. "What would you suggest? Programming my computer to play 'Taps'?"

Her eyes flashed. It had been years since he'd seen this much energy in Zoe. Trapped in the body of a woman who was already an adult decades before Zoe herself was born, she had become a bitter recluse by the time Sam went to college, which he had considered a blessing. He wanted to wriggle from beneath her thumb, and to play the sex games she taught him with younger, prettier girls--girls his own age. After that, they avoided each other, except for the one time she forced her way back into his life, popping pills and making threats, ordering him to leave PQL and help create the Lothos project.

When the bitch returned the day after her younger self Leaped into Angela Fritz, she was faded and fat and desperate to get her 'real' body back. They hated each other with a passion, but Lothos wouldn't let Sam get rid of her.

"Why didn't you stop yourself from Leaping into Fritz? Or kill Calavicci before he could interfere?"

"Don't try to blame me for this, mister!"

"Wouldn't Lothos let you? Afraid the paradoxes would wipe us all out?"

"Don't give me any lip, Samuel Beckett." It was a brittle imitation of her old manner, the 'teacher mode' that had intimidated him when he was only ten. "You invented quantum leaping. If anyone can stop Calavicci, it's you."

"Maybe no one can. Have you considered that?"

"What's that supposed to mean?

"That this isn't just a battle between scientists. That this is some sort of cosmic battle between Lothos and...call it the Enemy. The Enemy who makes miraculous last-minute saves just when it looks like His side has lost. And it's beginning to look like I chose the wrong team to play on."

"Don't pull that sanctimonious holier-than-thou routine on me."

"Why not? I am. I was. I was a naive little boy when you hunted me down and corrupted me."

"Corrupted you? You enjoyed every minute. When you found out you had your first sex bout even younger than Calavicci, you couldn't stop bragging about it, remember?"

"This is all your fault. If you hadn't interfered, led me astray--"

"I was trying to make a man out of you. Obviously, I failed."

The hate scorched his throat, stung his eyes until all he could see was his own life in fast forward, a life full of guilt and greed and pride. He'd alienated his family, cheated his co-workers, distanced himself from any possible friend...and for what? For this sneering, over-age, self-centered dominatrix? Was this what he had traded his innocence for?

"This is all YOUR fault!" she shrieked, and her hand flew up.

Sam had vowed when he was sixteen never to let her hit him again, so he automatically caught her wrist in one hand and twisted, making her gasp as much in outrage as in pain. "I could break it."

"You're too much of a wimp. Hiding in the dark, feeling sorry for yourself, when you should be hunting down that damned--"

He was almost as surprised as Zoe when her wrist snapped abruptly, but even as he heard the crisp sound he realized he had been wrong. It wasn't like turning into a pile of ashes or fading away, it more like a TV being shut o--

He'd always been as big a fan of chaos as the next guy, but right now things were too crazy for Papa Calavicci's little boy.

Not to toot his own horn or anything, but situations like this made Al realize how much help an Observer was. Things were pretty bad when he reached the point where he'd welcome Edward St. John's return, but there you are.

An Observer could have located the police station easily, while keeping tabs on both Zoe and R.J. so they weren't taken by surprise. An Observer could pass on useful information and projections from the computer to help them decide on the best course of action. Ziggy loved to tell you the odds on anything succeeding. Through an Observer, Ziggy could have theorized on what it would take to make Zoe and R.J. cycle back to their own time, freeing the real Arnie. Perhaps best of all, an Observer could have kept his morale up. At the moment, Al could really use some encouragement.

Taking shelter in the crowd of teens doing the Mashed Potato seemed like a good idea at first, since if he couldn't see Arnie than R.J. couldn't see them, but there turned out to be major drawbacks. The blast from the speakers kept him from talking to Sam, and twice the sweaty little hand nearly slid from his grasp as they tried to weave across the courtyard past oblivious dancers.

Several males felt that any girl with her skirt hiked up in her tights was asking to be pinched. They learned differently. Unfortunately, it would take two hands to adjust the clothes. If the record ever ended, giving them a momentary silence while the next record dropped onto the turntable and the needle swung back down, he'd ask Sam to help yank the skirt out, but he wasn't going to release that little hand, not even to avoid humiliation.

With a scratchy noise, the needle entered the blank grooves at the end of the single, but when Al turned to ask Sam for help and focused on that worried face, he dropped to his knees instead. Although he had plenty of experience at marriage, he didn't have the least idea how to be a good father--it wasn't like his own dad had been in line for a Father of the Year award, so he didn't have any good role models. Hell, he didn't even like watching family shows on T.V. But he couldn't just ignore that kind of pain.

"Okay, listen up. I won't lie to you, it's gonna be scary for awhile, Sammy, but everything's gonna be okay in the end. Bad people hate the thought of anyone being good, and they try to make everyone else as bad as they are, but it's not gonna work with you." Sam's expression was dubious. "No matter what happens, you're the son of John and Thelma Beckett." The needle came down on the next record, "Surfin' Safari," so Al lifted his voice to a low shout. "Even if things go wrong and it looks like the bad guys win, sooner or later those genes will pull you through. Becketts are good, brave, smart people."

Sam yelled back, "How come you know my parents?"

"Everyone knows John Beckett. Best dairyman in Indiana."

As Al rose, he felt a hand on his right butt. "Hands off, you little--" He spun around, only to lock gazes with Arnie.

As the two Leapers touched, the illusions fell away. Instead of a nerdy eleven-year-old dressed as an aspiring j.d., Al was staring into the face of a pouchy-eyed middle-aged man, his cheeks blue with unshaven stubble, his black hair greasy. Presumably seeing a similar transformation in the teenaged blonde, his blue eyes bulged out in shock.

"Admiral Cala--urk!"

A knee to the groin is a potent weapon. Al stepped away from the sagging form, explained, "Sex fiend," to the astonished students starting to flock around them, and pulled Sam away from the huddle.

"What did he say?" Sam asked, looked back over his shoulder.

"A cuss word. You'll learn it when you're older."

Since he hadn't gotten a clear shot at R.J., they better get out of here fast. 'Alyson' had lost the advantage her young appearance gave her. There were times when being moderately famous was a big pain in the wazoo.

"You hit Arnie," Sam piped up, sounding dazed.

"Not hard enough. I think I got more stomach than I intended." Together, they worked through gyrating bodies, aiming for the other side of the courtyard. If they could get out of these lights and fade into the night, they'd have a chance. He yelled, "Hold on tight, Sam. Almost there."

Tempting fate like that was a big mistake. Hands closed around his waist and spun Al around. "Hey, gorgeous, why dance with a dwarf when you can have a real man?"

"You see any real men around here, let me know."

Al tried to reach for Sam again, but the idiot wouldn't give up, shoving his face up close and puckering his lips like he was a carp begging for treats. From the smell of his breath, he'd imbibed heavily from the punchbowl.

"I can make you twist and shout."

He had that much right, anyway. Roaring a burst of profanity he had learned in the Navy but usually kept locked up tight out of respect for Sam and from habit imbued by the nuns, Al wriggled free of the clutching paws. From the stunned look on the college kid's face, he understood at least some of the graphic terminology but couldn't believe it was coming from a girl's mouth.

The whole encounter lasted--what? A minute? Two? As quickly as that, Sam Beckett had disappeared.

Panicking, Al started shoving people aside. "Sam! SAM!"

His bellows made heads snap around, and started an irate chaperone headed his way, but he didn't spot Sam anywhere in the crowd. The kid was uneasy with 'Alyson,' but he wouldn't have run off, he was too scared. And with good reason.

(Not as scared as I am right now....)

Desperate, Al ran to the edge of the courtyard, where the covered lightbulbs cast faint pools of light, and scanned the darkness. There were one set of car headlights on in the staff lot by Hartman Hall. Had to be Zoe. Yanking the comb from Alyson's shoulderpurse, Al started running.

"Zoe! Wait!"

A slim form bending over the Falcon's trunk slammed the lid and turned toward him. "What did you say?"

"I'm a Leaper!" he panted, still running. "Lothos sent me. It's important!"

That caught her attention, making her hesitate. He was only a few yards away, but flat out of breath, when he slowed down, trying to think what to say next. The witch must've clunked Sam on the head and dumped him in the trunk.

"Lothos would send an Observer."

"Can't." He put his hands on his thighs and bent, gasping for breath, then started walking again. "Thames is dead."

"Dead?" That surprised her, but she had good instincts. "Stop right there. What do you have in your hand?"

"A comb," he said at his most innocent, batting Alyson's sole remaining false eyelash.

No use; her right hand snaked into her own brown leather handbag. What if she had a gun? Even Lazarus only got one resurrection from the dead; the next time he kicked off it was permanent. The rule seemed to be only one to a customer. Unwilling to take a chance, Al tackled her, jabbing upward with the rat- tail.

Because he was quick, the tackle rocked her back, and the whetted comb actually sank an inch or two into her right breast, but her borrowed body was so bosomy that an inch or two was worthless. He had needed to hit her heart, which was probably a minute target in Zoe's case.

Zoe was tough, give her credit for that. She backhanded him across the face, her eyes all whites and seeming to protrude as his own aura clashed with hers.

"You!"

"Yup. And I was Thames, too."

One hand touched the crimson spot on her dress, then she lunged forward, clenched a fistful of his hair, and tried to bang his head against the side of the car. Al punched her a couple times in the midriff. She arched her midsection back and clawed his face. He bit her fingers. This was rapidly turning into the kind of catfight Thames would have enjoyed watching.

When she pulled her right hand from the purse, she was clutching the switchblade knife Al had been wishing for, not a gun. Made sense; being quieter, a knife would attract less attention if she ever had to use it.

He parried her first slash with his comb, as if they were fighting a sword duel, but he was far wearier than Zoe, and between bleedthrough from inexperienced Alyson and his own not-so-young age, he was weaker than Zoe, too. Dropping the comb, Al grabbed her wrist with both hands, forcing it back. She bared her teeth in a grimace, but inch by inch the blade drove toward her chest.

For an instant it looked like he had won, and the Leap would end there in the parking lot, with Time flowing back on course. Then someone grabbed him from behind.

(I knew I didn't hit him hard enough!)

Trying to make up for his earlier lapse, Al dug backwards and down with both elbows. R.J. squealed in his ears like a rabbit dying and stumbled away, but Al dropping his hands gave Zoe the opening she needed. Twisting her wrist, she drove the switchblade at his chest. Al threw up his left arm as a shield, and grunted as the knife scraped bone.

His eyes locked with hers, and he felt his lips pull back in something between a smile and a snarl.

"I trashed Lothos," he whispered hoarsely. "Your Project's dead."

Shrieking with rage, Zoe twisted the knife, and he almost passed out then. But that shriek, if not the earlier struggle, had drawn attention. She stiffened, and he followed her gaze, seeing what looked like half the campus running across the lawn toward them.

"You lose."

Zoe hastily stood, made an abortive movement toward the car, realized there wasn't enough time to escape, and threw out one arm, pointing at Arnie as he writhed on the pavement, clutching himself.

"Help! Someone help! He stabbed us!"

(So much for partnerships,) Al reflected fuzzily. He tried to roll onto his right side and get up, but his head was spinning. Looking at the switchblade sticking out of his left arm didn't help.

Zoe dropped to her knees, wailing, "Alyson, my God, what did he do to you?" With her head bent over him like that, only Al could see her malicious grin as she grasped the switchblade, wriggled it hard to maximize the damage, and yanked it free. As if someone had pulled the plug from a water pipe, blood sprayed out. "Someone call an ambulance! Hurry!"

"Sam...." Al tried to say, but his words were drowned out in the hysteria of the students thronging around them, and then all the hubbub just dimmed into silence.

A rush of new contradictory data flooded Ziggy's banks, and she took an instant from assimilating the Salt Lake City LDS genealogical library data, reading the collected works of Charles Dickens, and preparing a gambling scheme for Al for a Las Vegas trip all at the same time. In that instant, she noted that the timeline had shifted yet again.

Very briefly, Timeline B, the one Dr. Beckett and the Admiral considered true reality, had returned, but now Edward St. John and Dr. Fuller were screaming at each other again. Something must have gone, as the Admiral would put it, 'seriously ka-ka.' Of course, the odds had never favored success. Still, Ziggy was disappointed. Whatever the timeline, Al had a history of unexpectedly defeating impossible odds.

Ziggy devoted a tiny portion of consciousness to listening to the quarrel. St. John was peeved that rules had been flagrantly violated and equipment was failing. Dr. Fuller, as usual, was worrying about Al. In this particular timeline, her relationship with Al was much like her father's in Timeline B. They often made a united front against their co-directors, providing what little amusement this version of reality had to offer. No matter what timeline Leaps into the past created, it had been Ziggy's experience that Al Calavicci retained his quirky sense of humor. If he had died, the loss of that eccentric behavior was what Ziggy would most regret. All human beings were occasionally unpredictable, and thus interesting, but Al more so than usual.

Even for an intelligence as massive as Ziggy's, keeping track of the flowering timelines was a difficult task. Frequently Ziggy noted minute changes that the humans around her never commented on: changes in hair styles, TV shows that didn't get canceled or never got made in the first place, minor employees who shifted position or shifted sexual partners or even shifted from one sex to the other. Cataloging the myriad results of a Leap, comparing these changes to previous timelines, making predictions based on the experience of several lifetimes--these were what kept Ziggy occupied on a daily basis. If Sam and Al continued to affect Time, even Ziggy would eventually run out of memory to keep track of it all.

On the other hand, given the present return of General Ross and his co-directors, there might be no further time changes from Dr. Beckett and Admiral Calavicci to record. That would be regrettable.

Dr. Beckett was Ziggy's father. He had designed and created her, giving her life. As human children would share elements of his genetic makeup, Ziggy shared elements of his personality. Furthermore, he was Ziggy's teacher, feeding her knowledge, willing to converse freely with her, to answer questions honestly. He and Dr. Fuller were among the few people whose conversations could hold Ziggy's attention. It was inappropriate to allow Dr. Beckett to be harmed, quite apart from what such a drastic time change would do to Ziggy herself.

{I told him to find a way to include me in each Leap as an active participant. The implants are virtually pre-technical, compared to me. If he waited until he could perfect a technique to take a part of my consciousness with the Leaper, while maintaining a link with the Project, I would know what has gone wrong now. I could take an active part in affecting the past. But would he listen? Of course not. Humans!}

Since the Admiral appeared to be having considerable difficulty accomplishing the timeline rectification on his own, the obvious solution was to send someone else.

Ziggy had long ago noted that Dr. Fuller made a far more compatible brain wave match to Al than anyone else on the current version of Quantum Leap, but Ross and St. John insisted she was too valuable to risk in Leaping, and that she was needed at the base inventing a way to take over the Logos Project, not working as an Observer. As a result, much time and energy was spent trying to maintain an often irritatingly blurred link between two grossly incompatible humans.

Dr. Fuller yearned to Observe, and was already worried about Al. She was the logical choice now. Ziggy sent a message to her comm link, flagged it as urgent, and began to plan.


Fire up the Accelerator Chamber for Chapter 9.

Take me to Jane Leavell's Story Page, because I've got a hot date with Al Calavicci in another story.

I want to Leap to the main page .

Copyright 1999 - 2013, Jane A. Leavell. All rights reserved.