Chapter 10Maybe all he'd had to do was ask, or maybe the CPR just finally worked. Whatever it was, Mrs. Welles's chest suddenly heaved of its own accord and she sucked in a shaky breath. Sam scrambled to find the pulse. It was there, but weak and irregular. "She's alive," he reported to the others. "Where's that blasted ambulance?"
"Wade." The name was only a thin breath of air against his cheek, but it was enough to swing Sam's head around fast. Mrs. Welles's eyes had fluttered open, and were looking at him with confusion, and something horribly like accusation. "Quinn... why? Wade...."
*She thinks I'm Quinn, *her* Quinn, that he stopped her from committing suicide and joining Wade. Oh, man, what a mess. Unless....* His head suddenly jerked up, and he looked over his shoulder. Wade was standing in front of Arturo, her arms crossed hard in front of her, staring at them with desperate intensity. Her face exactly matched the one in the picture he'd shoved away minutes before. *Unless I can get her to mistake another double.*
"Wade, get over here," he snapped. Wade blinked uncomprehendingly up at him and the detached corner of his mind recognized the signs of shock, but the doctor in control didn't have time to deal with it. He stood, grabbing her arm and tugging her over.
"Talk to her," he said, low and intense. "You have to be her Wade and convince her to stay alive, or she's not going to make it until the ambulance comes."
She still stared up at him, breathing harshly. "Come on, girl," Rembrandt urged. "You got to do this."
She blinked once, slowly, then nodded, stepping past Sam to kneel next to her mother. "What do I say?" she asked, her voice small, but steady and determined.
"Anything." Sam stood to make room for her and get out of Mrs. Welles's line of sight. "Anything to make her want to live."
Wade nodded again and took her mother's hand, stroking her cheek with the other. "Mom? Mom, wake up."
Mrs. Welles's eyelashes fluttered again, and she looked up at her daughter through unfocused eyes. "Wade?" she mumbled. "Wade, honey?"
"Yes, Mom, it's me." Wade kept her hand moving in a steady motion over her mother's head, her fingers shaking only slightly. Her voice got stronger as she spoke. "Mom, listen to me, you can't do this. It's not your time to leave, you have to know that."
"So alone... Miss you...."
Wade's face spasmed, but her voice stayed firm. "I know, Mom. I miss you, too, so much." Wade's voice almost broke; she took a deep breath and kept going. "But I don't want this. You have things to do here, you can't leave just yet."
Mrs. Welles shook her head, her eyes drifting closed again. Wade leaned forward, taking her mother's face between both hands and shaking her again. "Mom, listen to me! Promise me you'll stay here, that you'll live. You have to live for both of us, Mom, or it'll all just be wasted. Please, Mom, promise me. Mom!"
Mrs. Welles's eyes were still drifting closed, but finally, Sam saw her nod. Her lips moved, shaping the word, "Promise."
Wade breathed out a sound that was half-laugh, half-sob, bending forward to hug her mother fiercely. "I love you, Mom," she whispered against her mother's hair. "I love you, on this world and every other."
"Love... you... Wade." Mrs. Welles's arm twitched once as if to reach for her daughter, then fell again to her side, limp. Wade moaned deep in her throat and held on tighter.
"Where's that damn ambulance?" Arturo muttered impatiently. As if in answer, the harsh sounds of sirens began to echo from the street.
"Sam, that's your cue," Al said, without looking away from Wade and her mother. His eyes were suspiciously moist.
Sam knelt again next to Mrs. Welles, moving Wade gently aside so he could check her vital signs. Her pulse was still weak but steadying. "What does Ziggy say?"
"Too soon to know for sure," Al said after a second, "but her chances of survival are up to 73 percent."
"Thank God." Sam closed his eyes for a moment on a very sincere prayer of thanks, before lifting Wade back to her feet. "Come on, everyone, we've got to get out of here before that ambulance comes, or we're going waste a lot of time we don't have answering impossible questions.
"Will she be all right?" Wade whispered, without taking her eyes from her mother. Her eyes were huge in her pale face, but the glazed shock was gone.
"We've done everything we can for her," Sam temporized. "Now, we have to leave it up to the ambulance guys."
He'd thought she would protest, would want to stay, but he underestimated her. She looked around at the living room once, then back at her mother. "I love you, mom," she whispered, brushing a kiss across her mother's cheek. Then she stood and started the long trip away.
Rembrandt took a moment to cover Mrs. Welles with an afghan from the back of the couch. "They're going to know someone was here from the call and the CPR," he explained at Sam's questioning look. "Might as well do what we can if we're already caught."
"Her odds just went up to 78 percent," Al contributed without looking up from the handlink.
Sam smiled at both of them as adrenaline started draining away, leaving him lightheaded. "Nice work, Rembrandt. You too, Al."
Rembrandt tucked the blanket in a little more securely, then stood, holding his hand out towards Sam. "You put on a pretty good show yourself, Doc."
Sam took that as the sincere compliment it was, firmly shaking the offered hand. Rembrandt left with one more look back at Mrs. Welles, and Sam followed behind, not going out the back door until the first footsteps pounded up the front.
"Al," he asked over his shoulder, as he jogged to catch up with the others. A crowd had formed out of nowhere as the ambulance pulled up, and they were losing themselves in it very well. "Al, we just changed history. Could this be what I was here to do?"
Al played with the handlink, his head tilted consideringly. "Ziggy says the odds are about 85.6 percent in favor. If it was, she says there's a 97 percent chance that you were supposed to Leap into the Quinn of this world and save Wade's mother through him."
"But if I've done what I'm supposed to do," Sam asked in confusion, "why haven't I Leaped yet? Why am I still here?"
Al shrugged, looking baffled and still punching buttons for all he was worth. "Ziggy says she doesn't... What the hell? Sam? Gooshie!"
Light suddenly flared from Al's form, swelling instantly to an almost painful brightness that nearly blinded Sam. He flinched back and, just as abruptly, the light disappeared, taking Al with it.
He was dead. He had to be.
One second, he'd been walking behind the others as they'd mingled with the small crowd of onlookers, wishing like hell he could talk to them and having to settle for the faint hope that maybe just knowing he was there would help them. The next second, there had been a intense, blinding flash of light, followed by total, complete darkness. There didn't seem to be any other explanation than death.
"Damn you, Ziggy, what happened to you this time?!" Al shouted.
So much for being dead; the Imaging Chamber had failed again. Mild shock was replaced by (literally) blind rage. "Wade! Professor! Al, what the hell is going on this time?"
"Ask Ziggy!" Al shot back from somewhere across the room. "Gooshie! Ziggy! Dammit, open the door!"
The dancing aftereffect splotches began to fade from Quinn's eyes, and he finally saw what looked like a real point of light hovering about ten feet away. It bounced back and forth in time to the distinct sounds of slaps, which meant it had to be the handlink. But the light was steady, without the constant blinking and flickering he'd gotten used to seeing.
He crossed the room carefully, although he was pretty sure there wasn't anything there to run into. "Al? What happened, where is everyone?"
"You tell me!" Al snapped back impatiently. "The handlink's completely frozen, I can't talk to Ziggy, and no one's answering!" The last was directed in a shout at the ceiling.
Quinn's eye were slowly beginning to adjust, enough, at least, that the dim glow from the handlink illuminated Al's face and hands. Something in the back of his mind screamed at him that Wade needed him, to fight, to rage, to do whatever was necessary to get back to her. He shoved it away with all of his self-control, forcing himself to focus on Al. "That flash, just before it went dark -- it could have been another power surge."
"I thought you fixed that!" Al was pressing buttons at random, shaking the handlink as if that would get it back in touch with Ziggy.
"So did I," Quinn muttered. "At least, I thought Gooshie and my double fixed it. Dammit, what could have gone wrong this time?"
"Whatever it was," Al said through gritted teeth, "it's managed to totally cut us off from the outside. Come on, let's try the door from this side. There's an emergency release, if I can find the damn thing."
Quinn stayed as close as he could to Al as they navigated their way across the chamber towards the wall. There was a soft thump and a sudden stream of curses, and Quinn assumed Al had just found the wall with his nose. "You all right?"
"Oh, just swell." Al's voice dripped poisonous sarcasm. "Get over here and help me find the control panel.
Quinn, for once, kept his mouth shut and obeyed, kneeling beside Al and running his hands over the wall until he found a faint seam, about half a meter off the floor. "Got it, I think."
Al's hands touched his, following his fingers to the seam. "Yeah, that's it." The light was too dim for Quinn to follow his motions, but there was a click and a square section of wall came away in Al's hands. "Here we go."
Al raised the handlink so they could both see, dimly, into the interior of the panel. The manual release lever was located down and to the right, on Al's side; he grabbed it and tried to turn. The door groaned and moved a few centimeters, then stopped again.
"Did it work?" Quinn asked.
Al glared at him. "I don't know yet. Try sliding the door up."
But ten minutes of using flat palms to try to slide the door upwards brought no results. "Why didn't you... build in a handle?" Quinn panted, as he tried heaving upwards one more time. "We can't even... get our fingers... under the door!"
"I'll take it up... with the design committee." Al wasn't doing any better. "Haven't had to..... use it before. Wasn't supposed... to do this."
They finally gave up with a joint gasp of effort and defeat, sliding their backs down the wall until they were sitting side-by-side on the floor. "Next bright idea?" Al asked, pulling out a cigar.
"*Please* don't light that," Quinn groaned. The voice in the back of his head was getting louder, more insistent. *Must get out, must get back, must slide. Wade, Remmy, Arturo, must get back.* He stuffed it back down. "And this is your project -- how am I supposed to figure out what's happening?"
"We must have totally lost power," Al theorized, using the cigar to gesture towards the outside. "We'll just have to wait for Gooshie to get the main generators back on line."
"We can't wait!" Quinn shoved himself to his feet, and would have started pacing if he'd been able to see an inch in front of his face. "Every second we stay here means the timer could have run out and I could be missing the slide!"
"Well, don't yell at me about it!" Al shouted back, waving the handlink in one hand and his cigar in the other. The orange light of the handlink caught Quinn's eyes, and he went motionless as an idea hit.
"Al, why is your handlink still working if the power's out?"
Al looked confused at the sudden switch back to calmness. "It's got its own power supply. So?"
Quinn ducked past Al back to the open panel, hope and inspiration driving away everything else. "So maybe we can jury-rig the power supply to the door and get out of here!"
Al thought about it for a second, then scrambled back to the panel on his hands and knees. "I like the way you think, kid. Try it; what have we got to lose?"
"Don't even ask that," Quinn said grimly, starting the process of tracing wires. "We'd think of something."
They settled down quickly to the serious matter of tracing and teasing out optic fibers and hooking them to each other with anything that came to hand -- Al's metallic shoelaces served at one point. Despite a certain amount of bickering (arguing over which blue wire went where took five minutes), they discovered they actually worked well together. Al was impressed with Quinn's ability to concentrate on one thing to the exclusion of all else, and how fast he figured out the inner workings of the panel. The kid might actually have deserved the handle of 'boy genius' Al had hung on him.
Finally, they had a connection rigged up within the spaghetti maze of the door panel, three wires trailing out to the disassembled handlink. Two were already in place, the third ready to connect.
Quinn's hand was steady as he started to connect the last wire; then he stopped. "Al, I need a favor."
"Name it. Fast." Al said brusquely, leaning forward to supervise the process.
"If I don't get back before it's time for the others to slide, you have to tell them I said to slide anyway."
Al looked up at the kid in surprise. His face was lit from below with the orange light from the timer, the lights casting shadows that made his face a stranger's, instead of Sam's. "Don't think like that, kid. We're gonna get you out of this."
"I *have* to think like this." Quinn's face tightened and his eyes bored into Al's, intense and determined. "The last time they had to slide without me, I almost couldn't make Wade go. But she can't stay on this world, and neither can the Professor or Rembrandt; I won't let them sacrifice their chance to get home just for me and I know Wade, at least, is stubborn enough to try. I'm not going to be able to talk them out of it, so you and Sam have to. Give me your word you will."
"Maybe Sam can slide with them and Leap from the other world," Al protested weakly.
Quinn shook his head slowly. "The Leap theory doesn't work that way; we can't take the chance. If he slides, both of us might get trapped, him in another world and me here; at least this way, only one of us will be stuck. Promise me."
The sacrifice the kid was willing to make to give his friends a chance staggered him; it shouldn't have, Al thought in the next second. Given the same options, he knew Sam would do exactly the same thing, and he'd already seen how very much alike Sam and Quinn were. Hell, he realized, he would have been surprised if Quinn had wanted anything else.
He dropped his eyes at last, reluctantly accepting the responsibility Quinn was giving him. "All right, Quinn," he promised, his voice echoing hollowly in the room. "We'll tell them to slide without you."
Quinn's entire body seemed to loosen. "Thank you," he breathed.
Al gripped his shoulder, trying to offer the kid what he could; the only thing he could do was try to lighten the moment, to refocus them on what they had to do. "If you're done with all the emotional stuff, can we get out of here now?"
Quinn almost grinned. "Yeah, we can. Here we go."
Slowly, Quinn connected the third wire to the handlink. There was a bright spark, and the handlink abruptly went dead, plunging them into total darkness. But at the same time, the Imaging Chamber door suddenly started moving jerkily upwards, letting pale light flood the room. It stopped two feet above the floor.
"All right, it worked!" Quinn whooped in triumph.
Al used the hand on his shoulder to shove the kid towards the door; pride and triumph aside, he wanted *out*. "Great, kid. Celebrate later."
Wearing a mad scientist's insane smile, Quinn squirmed under the door, Al following close behind.
They emerged into total chaos.
Chapter 11Rembrandt's voice rolled deep and rich through the room, flowing over and around the three others who sat and listened, for lack of anything better to do. He was singing something old and sweet, a gospel song Sam vaguely remembered from his childhood, although he couldn't have said when or where he'd heard it.
Rembrandt had started singing to calm Wade when they'd forced her to lay down on the couch to rest, after returning to the hotel twenty minutes earlier. She'd protested, saying she was fine and that she wanted to help, but they'd somehow managed to get her horizontal and Rembrandt's voice had done the rest. Sam could just see her face from the table; her eyes had closed in spite of her best efforts, and her breathing had evened out. Seeing the same thing, Rembrandt let the end of his song trail off into silence.
He'd been wandering around the room as he sang, pretending to look busy, but now returned to the table, and sank down into a chair. Sam and Arturo continued to stare into the back of the timer. "Anything yet?" Rembrandt asked quietly, careful not to disturb Wade.
"Not yet," Arturo sighed, taking off his glasses to rub his eyes. "Miss Welles is sleeping?"
"Like a baby. Sure wish I could."
"There's really no reason you can't," Arturo told him. "With all due respect, the only thing we can do now is attempt to puzzle out why the timer still refuses to function, and..."
"I know," Rembrandt finished for him, sounding resigned rather than upset. "The technical stuff ain't my strong point. But I couldn't sleep, not without knowing where Q-Ball is, or what's going to happen next."
He looked over at Wade, then back at Arturo. "Just doesn't seem right, you know, that this should all end because the timer breaks."
Arturo looked as if he wanted to agree. But instead, he reached out and clapped a hand to Rembrandt's arm. "Come now, Mr. Brown, it's not as bad as all that. Remember, 'The next way home's the farthest way about.'"
Rembrandt gave him a 'Who are you trying to fool?' look, which Arturo ignored magnificently. "Mr. Mallory will find his own way back to us; our job has not changed. We simply have to figure out what the devil has gone wrong with the timer."
"Nothing." Sam made his first contribution, without stopping his relentless poking at the inside of the timer. "From everything you and Quinn have said, this *should* be working. I just can't figure out what I missed."
The last part came out carrying a little more of his frustration than he'd intended; the other two men traded glances. "It's not your fault, Dr. Beckett," Arturo said. "It was Mr. Mallory who designed this contraption, and the universe which decided to break it. By supplying us with the means and knowledge to fix the timer, you've more than made up for whatever inconveniences your appearance caused."
"He's right, man." Rembrandt leaned back in his chair, kicking his legs out under the table. "We've been in some pretty tight situations before; having some help with this one's been a pretty nice change."
They had intended to make him feel better; instead, Sam felt worse. He just couldn't fight the steadily-growing conviction that this was all his fault. If he hadn't been Leaping, the timer wouldn't have shorted out, and they wouldn't be stranded here -- and the most technically proficient member of their group wouldn't be trapped in another time altogether. And Sam Beckett, great genius of the world, couldn't figure out how to fix the one thing that could save them. He couldn't even figure out how to Leap out and save himself.
Saving Mrs. Welles should have done it; it was exactly the sort of this whoever was controlling his Leaps usually wanted to see happen. But he hadn't Leaped.
*What do you want from me?* he asked the universe silently. *What else do you want me to do?*
There was no answer, but then, he hadn't really expected one, so he sighed and tried to pull out of his self-pitying guilt trip. He didn't usually indulge in them, and now was a bad time to start.
"Maybe we all just need to come at this from a different angle," Rembrandt was saying. "You've been sweating over this thing for so long, you're just kind of burned out. Start from the beginning and try looking at it another way."
Sam shrugged mentally; it was the best idea anyone had had for a while. "All right," he started again, pulling the timer closer to him and Arturo. "As far as we can tell, the voltage requirements are being met by the new power source, and then some. Maybe it's not the parts, but the connections we rigged."
Arturo nodded thoughtfully, as if they hadn't already gone over this ten times. "Perhaps. It may be as simple as a circuit not being completed, but we'd need some sort of... Wait a moment!" Sam and Rembrandt both jumped as Arturo's hand thudded to the table. "You've done it, Mr. Brown! Burned out, indeed!"
*Uh-oh, we've got a problem,* Sam thought, edging just slightly away from Arturo before he completely lost control. "Um, what do you mean?"
If Arturo knew what Sam was thinking, he ignored it, his face lit with scientific fervor. "Think, Dr. Beckett! It's not the wiring at all! We rigged the power regulator to carry a higher voltage and serve as adapter for the new power source. What if we succeeded too well?"
Sam still wasn't following. "If it succeeded, it should be working. Unless...."
Arturo smiled, leaning forward as if delivering a crucial point in a lecture. "Yes! Unless the system was, in fact, working too well -- and the increased power flow, coming on top of the initial power surge, burned out the bloody displays!"
Sam felt his jaw dropping and knew he looked like an idiot, but he couldn't do anything about it. It was so simple! "I think you're right, Professor," he said slowly. "And if you are... then the timer is already working! All we need to do is replace the digital time readout so we'll know what it's saying!"
"Exactly!" Arturo said triumphantly. Sam had the impression he was resisting the impulse to jump up and down, or break into song, or something equally undignified, and had to fight down the same impulse himself. They both settled for smiling widely at each other.
"But where are you going to find a digital display?" Rembrandt asked. He wasn't slumped anymore -- the other men's excitement seemed to be contagious -- but he also hadn't completely lost his grip on reality.
It was Sam and Arturo who exchanged glances this time. "I... don't know," Sam admitted, his jubilation fading a little. "Almost everything here is LCD, from what I remember, and it would take a while to make a liquid crystal readout compatible with the digital wiring."
"How about using a watch?" Sam had the satisfaction of seeing Arturo's jaw drop this time. As one, all three of them turned to look at Wade, who was sitting up and looking back at them sleepily over the top of the couch. "After all, the timer's pretty much a big complicated watch, anyway," she said through a yawn.
"A bit more than that, Miss Welles," Arturo finally forced out, "but the comparison is not, for our purposes, inaccurate. Do any of us possess a digital watch?"
Wordlessly, deliberately, Rembrandt shoved his shirtsleeve back, and unstrapped a black sports watch, holding it out. "Picked it up on Gillian's world," he said with supernatural calm, "when mine got broken getting into of that warehouse. It was about as high-tech as that world got. I kept meaning to replace it but it sorta had sentimental value, you know?"
Arturo accepted the watch with the same super-controlled composure. "Saved from high-tech by a world of low-tech. I never thought I'd say this, Mr. Brown, but thank God for your sentiments."
"Amen!" Sam echoed fervently, and they got down to business.
*Yeah, the lights went out, all right,* was Al's first thought as he looked around. The emergency lighting cast the room into a surreal orange glow, leaving strange shadows behind the techs who rushed around the room. Three of them had been crouched beside the Imaging Chamber, and were still gaping at the door with open-mouthed surprise. Al ignored them and strode down the stairs towards the dark, dead bulk of Ziggy's body, trying not to let his deep dread at the sight of her show on his face.
"Admiral!" Gooshie's shout came from across the room; he immediately started pushing his way through oblivious workers. "How did you get out? Never mind, it doesn't matter," he said rapidly, his words falling all over themselves. "Ziggy's gone, Admiral, completely off-line, the power surge just came from nowhere, it took out half the mountain, three people were electrocuted, they're all in the infirmary--"
"Gooshie!" Al's roar cut the computer technician off in mid-babble. "What caused the surge? Why is the main generator off-line, and what are we doing to fix it? We're on a deadline here!"
"We're looking, Admiral!" Gooshie said desperately. "Louie has people in every power room and junction, trying to find all the shorts, but we just can't get the power back! Louie wants to talk to you, I just don't understand, we fixed the computer and replaced --"
"All right, all right!" Al shoved his forgotten cigar back into his mouth. "I'm going down to the main power room. Quinn! Stay here!"
Without waiting for an answer from either of them, he was out the door, stalking through the halls once more towards the power room. Without even bothering to salute the guards this time, he went in.
It was even more chaotic there, if possible. The acrid smell of melted plastic and burned wire filled the air, along with the wisps of dull gray smoke that the ventilation system hadn't been able to deal with yet. Louie's voice rose over the loud hum of twenty voices talking at once, barking orders alternately into a radio and at the room at large.
"Louie! Tell me good news!" Al shouted, trying not to trip over any wires or techs as he crossed the room.
"When I find some, I'll tell you," Louie shouted back, reaching out one big hand to pull Al closer. "I've never seen anything like this," he said more quietly, his broad, sweaty face completely baffled. "There was no reason for this, no lightning, no Leap, no nothing. All of a sudden, the whole system just overloaded, for no goddamned reason!"
"That's impossible," Al said flatly. "There has to be a reason and we're damn well gonna find it, *before* we lose track of Sam for good."
There was no way they could have been heard over the noise around them, but Louie dropped his voice still further anyway. "There might be a reason, but you're not going to like it."
"Try me," Al replied, unconsciously repeating Quinn's challenge of that morning.
"Ziggy might not have broken on her own."
The words sounded odd to Al; it seemed to be a long time before they quite made sense in his head. "Are you saying," he said finally, slowly and carefully, "that someone is sabotaging the project? One of Sam's people? You expect me to believe that?"
Louie took a step back at Al's low, fierce tone, his eyes hardening slightly. "Believe what you want, Admiral, after you see this." He turned on his heel and strode away, deeper into the bowels of the power room. Al, his mind still reeling at the idea that *anyone* could deliberately have caused this much damage, followed.
Louie stopped in front of a panel and took the protective grate off of it, setting it aside and shooing away two techs who'd been pretending to work in front of it. "Didn't want anyone else to see," he explained shortly over his shoulder. "Not until I showed it to you. Take a look."
Al found himself on the floor again; it only took a moment to see what Louie was talking about. Where there should have been a solid bundle of covered wires, the cables were spread out, touching the bundles above and below them at several points. And where their plastic cases should have been smooth and impenetrable, the wires were stripped, down low where they were invisible to casual inspection. They hovered only centimeters away from other bare spots.
"I found four, five other spots just like this, the wires melted and fused into each other where power from an overload crossed the gap and caused a major short circuit," Louie said expressionlessly. "Might not have thought anything of it, just defective wires or a power surge that was too high for design specs to handle. Then one of my techs found this. Maybe the wires weren't close enough, maybe this bundle just didn't get enough power shunted through it. Whatever happened, this one didn't short circuit. The rest of them did. Boom. Good-bye generator, good-bye Ziggy."
Al didn't generally spend too much time making up his mind about anything. Sam was the deep-thinker, the one who considered every possible outcome before he did anything -- and they were still paying for the one time he'd Leaped before he'd looked. Al was the impulsive one, the one who jumped blindly ahead, into romances, adventures, and everything else. He'd trusted his instincts every time, and he trusted them now.
"Sonuvabitch." It was a sign of his real anger that, for once, he didn't yell. "Louie, I'm going to send Marines to every one of your work crews. Get those patches put on and no one but your techs touches them this time. And check the duty roster; I want to know everyone who's been through here since the last inspection, stat! Marines!" Now he bellowed, and the two guards from the door of the power room came running. "Tell two of your buddies to meet me in the Leap chamber, now! And no one comes in or out of here without Louie, Gooshie, Sam or me!"
The Marines, bless their obedient little jarheads, nodded and swung into action. Al didn't stop to watch, but ran for the door. "Louie, I owe you a case of beer!" he shouted over his shoulder.
"Two cases!" Louie shouted at his back.
Quinn sat on the steps of the Imaging Chamber feeling helpless; it was a feeling he hated, and always had. He'd been helpless to save his father, years ago, helpless to stop his mother's grieving. And since that first slide, he'd too often been helpless when his friends were in danger -- unable to save them, much less himself.
He was perfectly happy to be in a bad situation, as long as there was something he could do to get out. If there was a problem he knew how to solve, an obstacle he could figure a way over, or just someone could get past with words or fists, then he could deal with that. But when there was nothing he could do but watch and wait -- that was when he went crazy.
And that was all he could do now. There wasn't any busywork, this time; every inch of Ziggy's mainframe was crawling with people who knew more about what was going on than he did. Only a few computer terminals were actually working, and each one had five people clustered around it. His double was swallowed in one such crowd; Quinn had caught a brief glimpse of him across the room. It had been a long time since he'd envied anyone so much.
So he sat on the steps and watched, and tried desperately not to remember Wade's face as Sam and Rembrandt had worked to save her mother's life. He hadn't been able to help with the CPR; he hadn't even been able to touch Wade, to comfort her. He'd just hovered around uselessly as she'd cried. Somehow, that made him more miserable than almost anything else he'd ever slid into.
"Gooshie!" Quinn jumped as Al came slamming through the lab doors -- they slid aside like every other door in this mountain, but the sheer force of Al's entry was a slam in itself. Behind Al were two Marines, complete with sidearms, and Quinn suddenly had a very bad feeling about this. He made it down the stairs in one jump.
Everyone else in the room paused to look as Al shoved his way to Gooshie and pulled the short man into a low-voiced conference. "...messing with the wiring," Al was saying as Quinn got himself into earshot, "so it shorted out as soon as a power surge came through. But the surge suppressers should have kicked in -- why didn't they?"
Gooshie was open-mouthed and blinking rapidly. "I-I don't know Admiral," he stuttered, frustration coating every expelled word. "We replaced those suppressers completely, all of the hardware, and the software glitch was fixed. They *should* have come on-line!"
"Unless someone took them off deliberately."
Al and Gooshie blinked and looked at Quinn, as if they hadn't noticed anyone else was listening. The orange lighting turned Al's suit a frightening shade of brownish-purple; if he'd been paying attention, Quinn might have flinched back from the equally-frightening rage in Al's eyes. But all of his concentration was focused across the room, where his double was extracting himself from the group of techs around his terminal.
Their eyes met across the room, and Quinn suddenly heard his own voice, replaying endlessly in his head.
'The regulator codes are my pet project.... Dr. Beckett might not have anticipated what a power hog Ziggy is..... I was hoping to get a government grant to pay some of the bills so I could work on making the theory practical..... Guess they didn't have enough funding for two wildly theoretical interspatial travel projects.... I was the only one who walked away..... Guess I was just meant to do something....'
The image of three headstones flashed in front of his photographic memory, and he heard Wade's voice as she bent over her mother. 'You have to live for both of us, Mom, or it'll all just be wasted.'
"Al," he asked hollowly, "what day is it?"
From the corner of his eye, he saw Al look confused, then annoyed. "This is a helluva time to get curious about the date, Quinn; in case you hadn't noticed, we've got other problems."
"What day is it?" he repeated, without ever taking his eyes off the other Quinn, who was still standing motionless, his eyes curiously blank.
Al thought for a second, then, obviously unable to come up with the date, turned to Gooshie for a short consultation. Finally, a tech with a Swiss Army watch was dragged in; Al's face went back to confusion as he read the date. "I'll be damned.... Quinn, it's January 27."
Quinn's chest hurt, and he realized he'd forgotten to breathe. It was a wild hunch, so terrifying that he almost tossed it aside; anything would be better than having to deal with this. But it was one too many coincidences -- and he knew, with a bone-deep certainty, just how far he might have been willing to go if anyone had tried to keep him from sliding.
He heard his own voice as if it was a stranger's, echoing with strange clarity in the noisy chamber. "Quinn," he asked himself, standing across the room, "what did you do to Ziggy?"
Chapter 12The silence seemed to ripple out from the path between Quinn and his double. One by one, the techs stopped moving and talking to listen.
Quinn didn't really notice, couldn't tear his eyes away from his double's face. And as they stared at each other, he knew he was right.
He recognized the expression which crept across the other's face; he'd felt it on his own often enough, at those times when he thought everything was over, just before he gave up. Now, he tried to see past it, into the other's head. "Why, Quinn?" he asked with simple curiosity. "This won't bring them back, you know that. Why attack Quantum Leap?"
The other Quinn tried to appear confused, but looked as if he simply couldn't summon enough energy. "What are you talking about?"
Quinn shook his head. "Al, who was on duty the last three days in the main power room, and the other places that shorted out?"
After a quick conference over the intercom, Al said, super-calmly, "Quinn Mallory volunteered for duty in all of those places in the last week."
Quinn gestured slightly at his double, a 'that's what I'm talking about' motion.
The other Quinn shrugged in return, all secrets suddenly gone. His eyes burned with cold ice. "It's not about bringing them back," he said dispassionately. "It never was. It was just... making it worth it. They couldn't have died for nothing. I couldn't have walked away for nothing."
Quinn shook his head, having to force the movement into muscles that seemed frozen with shock. "You can't walk away from this, Quinn." *We sound like one of those b-grade movies I used to laugh at. Any second now, someone's going to yell 'Cut!'*, he thought crazily. "You'll never be able to get far enough away."
The other Quinn seemed to consider that. "Maybe not," he said eventually, closing his eyes as if in exhaustion. "But I had to try."
"The lead goes to the right contact, the ground to the left."
"Green wire or red wire?"
"Red, Mr. Brown, red. Now hold that steady while I make the connection." A spark jumped the two wires, and everyone flinched. "Blast!"
"One more time, professor," Sam said with a calm he didn't feel. "This time, connect the ground first, then the power supply."
"Yes, of course." Arturo shook his hands out, the weariness beginning to show on his face. Wade lit a lamp as the sunlight through the window began to fade. "Again, gentlemen. Let's try this again."
"Why?" Quinn demanded again, softer this time. It didn't matter; the rest of the room was utterly still. Time itself seemed to be holding its breath.
"It had to be worth something," the other repeated, as if to himself. Then he opened his eyes, focusing them on Quinn's with a kind of manic intensity, a plea for understanding. "If I could have figured out sliding, made it work, then it would have been worth something. There would have been a *reason*."
"A reason for what?" Al demanded. "For playing God with Sam's life? With his?" He made one jerky gesture towards Quinn.
"No!" The denial burst out of the other's mouth as if propelled. "No, I never meant to hurt Dr. Beckett! I just wanted... just needed..."
"To slide," Quinn filled in. His muscles were slowly unfreezing, allowing him to take the first step towards his double. "You needed to slide, to prove you could. To make your mark on this world, no matter what. So that someone would."
The other's face softened. "Exactly," he nodded eagerly, finally finding someone to agree with him. "They wouldn't give me the funding, they only had time for Dr. Beckett, and it was all wrong!" He half-turned, facing the others, arms held out from his side. "Leaping doesn't really work, you can see that! Only for Dr. Beckett -- no one else can ever try, but there'll never be enough funding or attention for any other methods, as long as Project Quantum Leap exists!"
His eyes changed, took on a canny gleam. "But if the project failed... there'd be room. They'd have to listen to me! All I had to do was change the coding and make sure the wires blew, and I could have my chance. I could make it up to them, to all of them. It wouldn't be wasted."
"Green wire, *then* red wire, *then* reconnect the power supply." Sam leaned close. "You'll have to secure it, the next world might not believe in digitals either."
Arturo's hands were steady, though sweat spotted his forehead. The wires touched and clung, then were twisted in place with one deft movement of the jeweler's pliers. "One down."
"Two to go," Rembrandt muttered. "Work, baby, work."
"You need to prove sliding works, to make a name for yourself; and prove there was a reason you walked away from that car crash, that it wasn't just sheer luck." This was between the two Quinns; Al was silent now.
"But what if your theories are wrong?" The distance between Quinn and his double closed; Quinn circled slightly, keeping himself between his double and Ziggy. "What if sliding doesn't work? What if you've done all of this damage, hurt all of these people, including Dr. Beckett, for no reason?"
"It'll work." His double didn't seem to notice Quinn was moving; his eyes still had that manic gleam. "I know it works. I wasn't in San Francisco when Wade's mother tried to kill herself; I wasn't there and Wade wasn't there, no matter what her mother believes. But someone was, other people saw them at the cemetery -- it *had* to have been sliders, like me, there's no other way. It works, I just have to prove it! I'm going to prove it!"
With an abruptness even Quinn hadn't expected, his double suddenly lunged through the crowd of staring techs towards the main chamber door.
"Two down. Where's the blasted power supply?"
"Right here, professor."
"Take your time, professor. If this one blows..."
"I know." They held their breaths and Wade whispered a wordless prayer, as Arturo carefully touched the wire to the power supply.
Quinn didn't know where his other thought he was going, or how he was going to get out of the mountain. He didn't have time to think about any of that, he just moved.
A long time ago, Quinn Mallory had played football. He'd been pretty good at it, too, dreamed of the NFL like all boys on the playing field. But an over-enthusiastic tackle had left him with a scarred-up knee and a new respect for Newton's law, the one about equal and opposite reactions.
His knee didn't bother him as he catapulted across the chamber, landing with his arms wrapped around his double's shoulders. Quinn hit him high and Al, barely a step behind, hit him low, and they tumbled on the ground in a struggling, breathless heap.
The other Quinn fought them for only a moment before he gave in, going utterly limp beneath them. His eyes squeezed shut as the Marine guards raced up, too late. Quinn waved them off -- this was his problem to deal with. "Where's the disk, Quinn? Where is the safe coding for Ziggy's power relay programs?"
The other didn't seem to hear; his eyes were still closed, his head lolling back on his shoulders against the cold tile of the floor. Quinn abruptly lost whatever control he'd been clinging to, grabbing his double's shoulders between his hands and shaking him. "Where are they, damn you!"
"You'd understand." The other Quinn opened his eyes once more, staring past Quinn into nothing. "You'd understand if you were me. I lost them all, you don't understand."
Quinn shook the other again, then lifted his shoulders inches off the floor, forcing him to meet his eyes. "You don't get it," he said through gritted teeth. "I *am* you! And I'll *never* understand."
The double held his gaze for what seemed like a long time. Then he started to smile, then, insanely, to laugh. "Dr. Beckett... Leaped into me," he gasped out, barely able to breath. "Leaped into me... to stop me! No fair. That's just not fair."
"Maybe not," Quinn said grimly, "but that's how it is. Where's the goddamned disk?"
His double never stopped laughing as he told them, even when the guards came to lead him away.
Quinn stood alone as the doors slid shut again, feeling every eye on him. He didn't care; he was too tired to care about anything now and he didn't *want* to care. He wanted to curl up in a corner somewhere and pretend it had never happened. He wanted his friends. He wanted to go home.
Carefully, he opened his double's wallet, and extracted the small cd- rom from behind the picture of Wade, handing it silently to Gooshie.
He barely noticed when the lights flickered back on, he paid no attention to Al, passing out low orders behind him, and he didn't jump when a strong hand landed on his shoulder. "Quinn? You all right?"
For a horrible moment, he felt the laughter bubbling up inside him, and forced it down with an effort that brought tears to his eyes. His head sank forward into his hands. Al seemed to understand; the grip on his shoulder tightened, and Quinn clung to that grip as the only stable thing in a universe gone mad.
"It wasn't you, kid," Al said quietly. "No matter whose face he was wearing, that wasn't you, and you know it."
Quinn wasn't buying it. He understood, now, why Wade had been driven to visit her double's grave, what she'd felt she owed.
"It *could* have been me, Al. If I had lost everything, if everything I love had been stolen from me in a moment, it could have been me. He had to watch Wade and his parents die, and live with the guilt, even if he didn't cause it, and he never had the Professor or Rembrandt to lean on. He didn't even have sliding -- they took that from him, too."
He ran one hand through his hair, then let it fall limply to his side. "I lied, Al. I do understand him. Too damn well."
Al didn't say anything else, but his hand tightened once again on Quinn's shoulder.
A humming noise suddenly filled the chamber, and the lights flickered on overhead. "Admiral?" Ziggy's voice asked. "I have had a most interesting experience. May I ask what it was?"
Her voice was composed and surprised, and Quinn found himself doing what he'd thought for a moment he'd never do again -- laughing. He turned to look at the computer, and saw Al watching him, his face creased with the force of his smile. Their eyes met, gleaming with shared, rueful amusement at the utter absurdity of the universe.
Then the lights flickered again, gradually turning a soft, glowing blue that swelled around Quinn, outlining him with electric light. He was baffled for a moment, terrified, until he saw the surprise and dawning pleasure on Al's face.
Before the haze completely enveloped him, he saw Al mouth something that could have been 'Good job,' or 'Thank you.' Or it might just have been 'Good-bye.'
Then there was nothing.
As the wire touched the power supply, something sparked, and Sam's heart stopped. He was afraid to look.
Arturo stared down at the bottom of the timer, his face frozen. "Dr. Beckett," he said slowly, ponderously. "Would you do the honors?"
Sam nodded, and took the timer from Arturo's hand. He took a deep breath and, in one quick move, turned it over.
Sudden frustration surged through Sam's body; unthinking, he smacked the timer against his hand in anger, as he'd seen Al do so many times with the handlink. The readout flickered.
Then the timer beeped and green numbers flashed on the face of what had been a watch, counting down inexorably downwards.
"It works," he breathed. Then he shouted. "It works!"
Rembrandt's whoop echoed his, Wade's cry of delight breaking over them both. Arturo's hands came down on the table as if to support him; his head bowed forward in exhausted relief. So it was Sam who finally actually saw what the numbers were saying.
"Oh, no. Not yet," he said desperately. "Not yet, it's not time yet! I have to Leap first!" Panic bubbled up in him, replacing exhilaration; they'd come too close to have to make this choice now!
"Sam?" Wade's eyes, which had been bright with joy, were now wide with fear. She grabbed his arm. "What's happening?"
Sam tried to find the words to tell them, to make them understand that it hadn't been enough to save Quinn. Before he could force the words out, he saw Wade's brown eyes turn to electric blue and felt the familiar tingle begin to rise around him.
An odd serenity replaced the panic. Whatever had gone wrong, was now right. And it was time to go.
He pushed the correct button, and a stream of colorless something shot out of the front of the timer. As three pairs of astonished eyes turned towards him, he smiled a slightly regretful farewell through the blue haze. "Tell Quinn I said good luck."
There was only enough time to see the wormhole form, only a moment to appreciate the wild beauty of Quinn Mallory's discovery, before his own invention carried him away.
The dizziness hit him first, almost knocking him off his feet. Dimly, Quinn was aware of someone shouting, and a strong wind tugging at his clothes. Looking up, he saw the wormhole, obscuring part of a wall in what looked like the Dominion hotel. *How the hell did I get here?*
Something tugged at his sleeve, but it was a bit too much effort to try and figure out what. His head throbbed annoyingly.
He tried to lift his hand to rub at his aching forehead; his body moved oddly, tiredly, and he didn't know why.
"Q-Ball? Come on, we're gonna miss the slide!"
Something in the last shout caught his attention; he tore his gaze away from the wormhole and saw three blessedly familiar faces clustered around him, staring at him with worried, relieved, cautious eyes.
He blinked and tried to focus; a neat trick, since his mind persisted in jumped around quickly enough to make him motion sick. "Um, guys?" he asked cautiously. "Didn't we just do this this morning?"
"He's back!" Wade shouted happily, throwing her arms around him. He returned the hug automatically, dimly aware that something terrible had just been averted, but without a clue as to what it had been.
"Welcome back, Mr. Mallory," Arturo said, with no less sincerity than Wade, but a good deal more impatience. He pried something out of Quinn's hand and Quinn realized he'd had a death grip on the timer -- which looked very odd. "However, as we have only 30 seconds until the wormhole closes, I believe we should save the celebrations for later."
"In other words," Rembrandt said, a huge grin splitting his face as he tousled Quinn's hair roughly, "we are leaving!"
With two running steps, Rembrandt was across the room and into the wormhole. Arturo clapped Quinn once on the back, then made his own sprint, following Rembrandt in. Wade grabbed Quinn's hand and started to pull him along behind her.
As he was dragged, Quinn saw the mess the room was in: electronics all over the table, newspapers covering most of the couch (where they hadn't been blown to the floor) and blackened towels filling one chair.
*I missed something,* he concluded. *Big time.*
He pulled away from Wade just long enough to lunge for the one thing in the room that looked familiar, lying half-hidden under the newspapers on the couch, and shoved it into his pocket on the run. Then he was following Wade into the wormhole, beginning the familiar slide through the universes.
Endless seconds later, he landed with an "oomph!" on soft grass topping hard ground, sprawling on his face in the dirt inches from Wade. It took another long moment to get his breath back, but he finally managed to roll over onto his back, sitting up enough to stare around him and try to figure out just what the hell was going on.
Before he could come to any conclusions, his breath was knocked back out as Wade's flying hug carried them both over backwards again. "Quinn! You're back!"
"I was gone?" he asked on a breathless laugh, holding Wade as close as he could. Dim memories were beginning to surface, a white room and a dark-haired man with kind, impatient eyes. Staring at himself.... Had they run into trouble with another double, like Logan? A cemetery, and standing helplessly as Wade cried....
He lifted his arms enough to cup Wade's face between his palms, staring anxiously into her eyes. "You're all right? Something happened, didn't it?"
She stared at him, her face caught between joy and confused curiosity. "You don't remember?"
For her sake, he tried, he really did. "Just... flashes. I was somewhere else, except I was with you guys at the same time. Then I wasn't."
"Sounds like more than the timer got scrambled." Rembrandt lent a hand to pull both Quinn and Wade to their feet, then enveloped them both in a close bear hug. "That's all right, Q-Ball, long as you remember us!"
"Like I could forget," Quinn laughed, pulling Wade just a little closer so he could bury his face in her hair, and wrapping his other arm more firmly around Rembrandt's neck.
They broke apart before any of them could do anything embarrassing like start to cry; the second Wade's arms were free, she hauled off and punched Quinn's arm.
"Hey!" Quinn protested, rubbing his arm, which was now throbbing to match his head; Wade's left hook was improving. "What was that for?"
"You scared us!" she informed him angrily. "*Never* do that again!"
"As soon as I figure out what I did, I promise not to do it again." That sounded ridiculous even to him; it made Wade start to laugh in spite of herself. She wrapped her hands around his arm, letting her forehead fall against the spot she'd just hit.
"Welcome back, Mr. Mallory." Now that the sloppy sentiment seemed to be over, Arturo got close enough to offer a handshake to Quinn. He accepted it, then, urged on by those same vague feelings of averted disaster, pulled Arturo into the same bearhug Rembrandt had given him. Arturo didn't fight it, but clapped him on the back with both hands.
"Welcome back, indeed, my boy," Arturo smiled broadly as he stepped back. "You were sorely missed. Now, may I suggest we move this reunion to someplace a little less public, so we can begin reminding Mr. Mallory of what he missed? Among other things, we need to do a proper job of fixing the timer before our--" He consulted the timer, which seemed to have, of all things, a digital watch wired to the front. "--37 hours on this world are up."
Quinn started to agree, then remembered something else. He checked his back pocket and grinned widely when he discovered that his last- minute grab was still there. "Just a second, Professor; there's one thing I've got to do first." He pulled out the mystery he'd been reading what seemed like days ago, and flipped towards the end. "I've got to find out how this ends."
Wade started laughing again. "Well, at least we're sure it's him this time."
Arturo and Rembrandt started chuckling as well, but Quinn ignored all three of them, focusing his full attention on the book. A few seconds later, he shouted, "The coroner! I was right!"
"Congratulations." Wade yanked the book out of his hand and tossed it at the nearest trash can, scoring a direct hit, then pulled him along behind her as they started to walk away. "Now let's go!"
Quinn started to object, then thought better of it; grinning crookedly down at Wade, he tightened his grip on her hand and matched her step as they joined the other two, who were staring at the rather incredible sight of three people walking down the street, entirely swaddled in long, Arabic-looking robes and burnooses. A few feet off the pathway stood an electronic billboard, scrolling the words "UV Alert: Extremely High. SPF 300 recommended for all outdoor activities."
"Looks like we could get a pretty good tan on this world," Wade cracked. "Come on, Quinn, let's get inside before we fry."
"I'm coming." For a second, as Quinn joined them, he saw the dark- haired man's face again, split in a broad grin, and felt a quick stab of something like loss. Then the image faded, and he was with his friends again.
*Home,* something in the back of his mind whispered. *Home again.*
EpilogueSam's body rested quietly under the hospital sheets, his eyes closed and his face slack. The various monitors attached to it beeped quietly, the only real evidence that the body was still alive.
Al sighed and adjusted the sheet around Sam's chest, unable to stop himself from checking to make sure it was still moving. It had taken two Marines to carry Sam back to the Waiting Room after Quinn had Leaped out, leaving the body empty again.
He missed the kid, Al admitted to himself. For a while there, it had been almost like having Sam back; all that enthusiasm and determination, the quick intelligence and the embattled humor. Yeah, he was going to miss having Quinn around.
The other Quinn Mallory had been turned over to the military police the day before, shortly after the Leap. It was unlikely any charges would ever be pressed, and Al intended to make sure the young man was taken care of, for his Quinn's sake, if nothing else. He'd also told Ziggy to check on Mrs. Welles regularly, and see if she was doing all right since her failed suicide attempt two years before. Just to make sure.
Someday, when Sam was home, maybe they'd sit down and figure out what had happened, just what the universe had really intended. Had saving Mrs. Welles' life turned the trick, after all? Or had Quinn been intended to save Ziggy and Project Quantum Leap from himself? Or maybe it had all somehow been about that damn timer?
Al rubbed his eyes, still tired after ten hours of badly-needed sleep, and accepted that he'd probably never know, just as he'd never know whether Quinn and his friends had ever gotten the timer fixed, if they'd ever made it home.
Sam's body twitched once, and something resembling life seemed to return to it; if he looked just right, Al could almost see the blue aura surrounding his friend's skin. He moved back a step, and waited.
The door swished open behind him right on cue. "Admiral?" Al didn't even turn around at Gooshie's hesitant voice. "Admiral, we've confirmed that Dr. Beckett has completed his Leap; he's somewhere in Missouri, 1974. Ziggy is showing no signs of power strains, and Louie expects to have the final repairs made by this afternoon."
Al nodded in acknowledgment, still without turning around. "Thanks, Gooshie. Get the Imaging Chamber and the new handlink ready; I'll be there in a few minutes."
Gooshie's footsteps started backwards, then paused. Al stared down at Sam's face, impassive, and the door finally closed again. But it was only a few moments before he heard the doctors, alerted by the monitors, begin to cluster outside the other Waiting Room door. He gave the sheets one last twitch, and turned to go.
But, like Gooshie, he paused in the doorway, looking back over his shoulder. "Good luck," he said quietly to the air. "I hope you make it home soon."
The door slid shut behind him, leaving Sam's body alone in the dim light.