A New Beginning
by Noel Goddard
Original Pub. Date: May 1996
Summary: Sam starts on his great leaping adventure, leaving Al behind Sequel to The Mistake.
"We did it!" That was my first thought of jubilation as I sat up in bed and looked at the clock in the morning sun.
"Did what?" The confusion suddenly filled my brain. "I can't remember. I can't remember anything. Where am I?"
Someone stirred in the bed next to me. A young blonde woman sat up and said sleepily, "I'll put the coffee on, Tom."
"Oh boy." I said out loud. Meanwhile my thoughts went by at light speed, "I'm in big trouble here. I don't even remember going to bed with this woman, whoever she is. And whoever she is, she's certainly pregnant...very pregnant."
She came over and kissed the top of my head tenderly and lovingly. Slowly, I slid off the bed and onto my knees in a state of profound shock and confusion. The blonde turned back and looked at me, "Are you okay?"
Nope, okay was definitely not an applicable term here.
Three days. Three very long days had gone by since Sam had gone and stepped into the accelerator and left me. We had no indication whether he was alive or dead. Ziggy had clamed up and wouldn't say anything. He was doing his best impression of the coldest, moodiest human you've ever seen.
Gooshie suddenly burst through the door and gasped his message out breathlessly. "Admiral! Dr. Beeks sent me to get you. Someone has arrived in Dr. Beckett's body in the waiting room!"
In my days at Annapolis, I had been quite a runner. I don't think I've ever covered any distance faster than I covered the few hundred meters from my office to the waiting room. When we built the project, Sam had insisted that my office be near the waiting room and imaging chamber, since presumably one day I would be the Project Observer and would need to be in close contact with the traveler and the visitor. Now I was really glad for the kid's foresight.
I crashed into the waiting room unannounced. The kid looked at me blankly for a moment and then saluted sternly. I suddenly remembered that I was still wearing my dress whites from my emergency meeting with the Senate subcommittee yesterday. As I returned the salute, it sank in completely. The body staring back at me was not Sam. It looked like Sam on the outside, but the eyes were different. The eyes were not Sam's deep knowing eyes. They were different and strange.
Well, it must have worked. This must be our first visitor. Oh boy.
"Admiral," the attractive African-American woman next to our visitor looked at me,"our guest here has refused to cooperate so far. I thought you might be able to be a bit more persuasive." She looked at me meaningfully.
In my best military voice, I barked, "Name, rank and serial number, soldier!"
The visitor responded quickly out of habit, "Captain Tom Stratton, sir! United Stated Air Force serial number..." His voice trailed off and a look of dismay crossed his face. "I can't remember my serial number, sir..."
That's odd. I wonder why he can't remember his serial number. Anyway, we're going to need more than a name if we're going to find the kid. "Soldier, my name is Admiral Calavicci, United States Navy. We're running some tests here on sensory deprivation. Your C.O. volunteered you for this operation. You were to be kept in isolation for a defined length of time to assess the effects of isolation on your mental status. Do you remember consenting to these experiments?" I was lying through my teeth, but I was taking the chance that this fellow would never question a superior officer.
Stratton looked at me, " Sir, I...sir, I remember consenting to these procedures. Yes, sir."
"Okay, soldier, we're going to start asking you some questions to test your mental status. What year is it?"
"It's 1956, sir. It's September, I think."
There it was again- that uncertainty about routine information. I looked at Dr. Beeks quizzically. She merely shrugged her shoulders and nodded for me to continue.
"Where are you stationed, soldier, and what is your function on base?"
Stratton was starting to unravel before my eyes. "Sir, I don't remember, sir."
Okay, try something a little less stressful. "Who is your next of kin? Are you married? Do you have a family?"
Stratton was now visibly shaking on the gurney. "I'm married, sir. Oh my God, oh my god, oh my god...." Stratton began to rock back and forth on the gurney, as he repeated the desperate plea to heaven.
"What is it soldier? What's wrong?"
"Oh my God, oh my God!! I can't remember the name of my wife!" Stratton bolted from the gurney and headed for the door.
"Guard!" I bellowed through the project intercom. Two guards were there as the door slid open in front of Stratton. Stratton was no slouch as a soldier. He took out one of the guards and was about to put the second one down when I knocked him out from behind. As Stratton slid to the floor, I couldn't help but feel some pangs of guilt. I was staring at the unconscious body of my best friend and more recently, my lover.
Dr. Beeks shook me from my reverie. "Admiral, if you could help me get him back on the gurney, please."
We lifted Sam's body back on the steel table and activated the built-in restraints. That had been another of Sam's brilliant foresights. He had suggested that some of our visitors might become violent in the shock and confusion of waking up in the waiting room. After securing "Sam" to the table, Dr. Beeks carefully gave him a sedative. She then looked at me sternly and announced, "I think that will be enough questioning for now Admiral."
Knowing better than to question Verbena, I turned on heel and left the room. I headed down the hall to my office. First, I decided that I needed to get out of my dress whites and into something else. Suddenly I was at a loss as to what to wear. I kept several outfits at the project since Sam and I often worked through the night and into the next day. I saw that my tux from the night at the opera three days ago was still hanging in my office. A tux, I thought. That would be a classy way to celebrate Sam's success and maybe make the kid a little more amenable towards forgiving me for my dreadful behavior the other day.
After I changed quickly, I strode down the hall and into the control room in fashion that said "No questions about the tux. Just do as you are told." It was this room where Sam and I had spent many hours perfecting the parallel hybrid computer to run PQL. I called out to our "child", "Ziggy, based on the information given by our visitor, have you located Dr. Beckett?"
A somewhat petulant voice answered, "I have targeted Dr. Beckett's location with 95% certainty."
As the butterflies in my stomach took flight again, I spoke with as much authority as I could muster, "Ziggy, center me on Sam." I strode towards and entered the Imaging Chamber. It was real. I was about to look back into 1956. My stomach lurched up into my throat as the room began to spin.
I had continued to wander through this life that was not mine. Eventually I found myself at an Air Force base in the middle of the desert with a crew of people including some intriguing officers nicknamed Bird Dog and Weird Ernie. I had figured out that my name was Tom Stratton; I was married with 1 and 2/3 children. I was now in the midst of what seemed to be a briefing about today's mission. I was trying with the help of Bird Dog to convince Weird Ernie that flying faster than Mach 2 was giving me memory lapses. God, I hoped it worked. Otherwise they'd lock me up and throw away the key very soon.
I glanced over across the room and noticed a new arrival. An older gentleman in a flashy tux and white overcoat and scarf. He was smoking a cigar and looking very amused with the whole proceeding. He looked directly at me and flashed a winning grin. There was something vaguely familiar and comfortable about that grin. I decided this must be someone that I was supposed to know, so I grinned back.
He walked over and spoke to me. "Oh, I like that guy. Kinda reminds me of me back in the old days."
I nodded and began to stand up since the meeting seemed to be over. As we left the briefing room, the man smiled at me again and exclaimed, "Ain't this a kick in the butt!"
I had no idea how to answer that one, so I just kept walking.
I stepped out of the Imaging Chamber after about 15 minutes. I was really getting nauseous in there. I really need to get Gooshie to work on fine-tuning the holograph, or I might never eat again until we get Sam home.
I can't believe it; I actually saw the kid back in 1956. Amazing. It had really worked.
"Ziggy, I want you to start analyzing all the information that Sam inputted before he leaped. Find a way for us retrieve him ASAP."
An irascible voice replied, "Yes, Admiral, but I must tell you that I predict the odds of retrieval are only..."
I interrupted quickly and ferociously. "Ziggy, I don't care what the odds are. Just do it."
"Gooshie, I want you to do some quick tunings on the Imaging Chamber. I nearly lost my cookies in there, and I've in the space program fer chrissakes. Fix it. Now."
Gooshie nearly jumped out of his skin. "Yes, sir. I'll do it right away, Admiral."
"I'll be in my office."
After I got into my office, which had doubled as living quarters for the last three days, I dropped the command attitude that I used with the other project personnel. I stared at Sam's picture on my desk. He had seemed somehow distant. Granted, he was surrounded by other pilots. Sam could hardly hold a conversation with thin air while everyone was watching. Still, something didn't feel quite right. I had one of those telling knots in the pit of my stomach. Maybe Sam was still upset about what had happened between us. Maybe he was still upset at me for being such a nozzle the other day. Maybe, but somehow I don't think that's it.
The intercom broke into my thoughts. Geesh, I've really got to learn how to silence that thing for a little privacy, I thought idly.
Dr. Beeks voiced echoed through my office, "Admiral, I have discovered something quite disturbing. I continued the interrogation of our visitor under hypnosis, so that he would be easier to manage."
"Get to the point doctor." I was impatient for any information that could help Sam.
"Admiral, the visitor is suffering from some significant lapses of memory. His mental status is in question. Based on Ziggy's hypothesis of reciprocal physical and emotional phenomenon between the visitor and leaper that was derived from the simulation data, I would predict that Dr. Beckett might be suffering from the same fate."
My blood ran cold. No. Not the kid. Ziggy was wrong. He had to be. There was no way in hell that I was going to accept that the leap might somehow have damaged Sam's wonderfully unique mind. No way in hell.
We had managed to get through a test flight session and people still seemed to believe that I was Captain Tom Stratton. That was the good news. The bad news was that they were actually going to expect me to fly at some point. I groaned inwardly at the thought.
For now, we were relaxing at the local club on base. I must admit that Peg, my "wife", looked positively radiant. I suppose, if I had to, I could get used to this- a beautiful wife, two kids, a steady job. What could be wrong with this?
As I was dancing with Peg, the guy in tux appeared again looking decidedly more disheveled this time. He waved at me again as if he knew me. I decided to take the chance and ask, "Peg who's that guy by the jukebox?"
Peg looked up and answered easily, "That's Doug."
I was puzzled that she didn't seem to notice the guy in the tux. "No. No, the guy in the tux."
She looked again, seeming a bit confused, "A tux, in here?" She settled back into my shoulder.
I tried to keep the exasperation out of my voice, "You don't see a man in a black tux standing by the jukebox?"
Peg sighed, "Tom. Tom, everything is so nice. Let's not spoil it."
Either someone blocked Peg's view of the guy in tux, or the boogieman had arrived. Which ever it was, I was going to find out. I sat Peg down and headed to meet my fate, whatever it was.
I went to the jukebox, and the guy began talking to me.
"Isn't this great? I mean, isn't this just great? It brings back so many old memories. Hey, have they got 'BeBop A LooLoo' on there?" The guy in the tux gestured towards the jukebox. "Got me through some long cold nights at MIT. BeBop and a little Lithuanian girl named Anessa. She was in the Chemistry lab researching..."
The lecherous look on his face was making me very uncomfortable, so I interrupted him quickly. "Am I dead?"
He looked somewhat shocked, "What?"
"Dead. Am I dead? It would explain a lot. I could be in a reverse reincarnation that's entered in mid-life."
The older man laughed. "That's a good one Sam."
Suddenly I knew. My name was Sam. I knew, and he knew. "You know my name."
Again he chuckled, "I'm not that wasted."
I pounced, "Why do you know who I am and no one else does?"
The older man suddenly looked concerned. "Are you serious?"
I responded, "Dead serious. No pun intended."
I watched this man age ten years right in front of me. He ran his hand over his face. "Oh my God. You really don't recognize me do you?"
"Or remember the experiment?"
The older man looked at me strangely. "What do you remember prior to waking up this morning?"
I responded somewhat sheepishly, "Other than my name and a telephone number, not a hell of a lot. What experiment? If I'm part of an experiment, then this all isn't a psychotic hallucination, is it? Is it?"
The older man walked away from the jukebox with his head down, seemingly deep in thought. He groaned softly. He turned back to face me. "Ah, God. That putz Ziggy was right."
Another wave of memory hit me, "Ziggy. I remember Ziggy- little guy with bad breath."
At that moment, Bird Dog called out from the dance floor, "Slippin' pard! Nobody's gonna fall for that old talkin' to somebody who ain't there gag!"
I looked back around for the man in the tux. He was gone. Maybe he went outside. Finally, I saw him stalking away from the club muttering to himself. I heard what seemed to be a hydraulic door of some kind. Then he was gone. Not just blocked from my view, but gone into thin air.
I looked heavenward, "Please God. I'd like to wake up now."
I virtually stumbled out of the Imaging Chamber and down the hall to my office. The project personnel knew enough to leave me alone. I got to my office and collapsed into my leather chair and stared at Sam's picture. This was fast becoming a habit. "God, kid I wish you were here talking to me instead of back in 1956 with a memory like Swiss cheese."
He really doesn't remember me. I sat there motionless. Tears quietly began to roll down my cheeks. Damn you Beckett. I never used to cry. "See what you've done to me!" I cried out to the empty air of my office.
After a while, I began to think more rationally. The bad news was the kid, the most important person in my life, didn't remember me. The good news was that he also didn't remember what a shit I'd been. I wiped the tears from my cheeks. Okay Calavicci, let's bring his butt home. If he gets his memory back, then I'll spend the rest of my life making amends. If he comes back still Swiss-cheesed, then maybe this will give me.... No, give US the new beginning that we deserve.
I reached into my desk for my private stash of whiskey. "Sam, I promise I'll see you soon."
It was now Saturday, and I was out taking my "son" fishing. There had been no further signs of the boogieman. I had felt some weird pulling sensation this morning as I woke up, but whatever it was had passed quickly. Now, I was out in the woods enjoying a fine fall morning.
Suddenly I heard a voice behind me. It was the older man who was now in pajamas and a robe. "Is that a ginger-quilled spent wing or maybe a blue dunn? Ah, I've got such a damn hangover, it could be a Coors pop-top."
I reached out to touch this man who supposedly had not been there that night in the bar. Imagine my surprise when my hand went right through him.
"Don't yell. Please. I should've stayed in bed with Tina." The older man seemed to be looking for a reaction to that. When he didn't get it, he continued. "You still don't remember me, huh? That's sad pal, very sad. My name is Albert. Albert what, I can't tell you because it's restricted. Most of what you're going to want to know is restricted. So, it would be easier for us if you didn't ask a lot of questions."
I was still staring at him dumbfounded. "What are you?"
Al sighed, "That's a question Sam. I'm a man like you."
I put my hand through him again. "Not like me."
"Oh no, no. This isn't me. This is a neurological hologram. It's an image that only you can see and hear..."
A memory flashed, and I responded almost instinctively, "...created by a subatomic agitation of carbon quarks, tuned to the mesons of my optic and otic neurons."
Al smiled. "You got it."
I looked puzzled, "How did I know that?"
Al just ignored that question. "Ziggy has come up with five different scenarios to exp..."
I interrupted hastily, "Ziggy, Ziggy - a little guy with bad breath!"
Al sighed, "No, that's Gooshie. He programmed Ziggy. Ziggy's a hybrid computer."
I interrupted with what seemed to be obvious to me. "Hybrid computers and neurological holograms didn't exist in 1956."
Al agreed, "Only in theory."
Now I was becoming a bit annoyed. "But this is 56."
Al replied calmly, "Well, it is for you, but it's not for me."
I tried a different tact to get some information. "What's my last name?"
Al suddenly looked a bit indignant. "If you can't remember, I can't tell you."
I looked at him plaintively, "It's important."
Al seemed to weaken there for a moment. "But it's also on top of Ziggy's no-no list, with double stars."
I continued to push, "Why?"
Al seemed to be breaking down, "I can't tell you that either."
I finally lost my temper, "Well, what the hell can you tell me?"
The anger seemed to pierce Al to the quick. As he spoke again, I regretted the harshness of my words, "Basically what you already know- that you're part of a time travel experiment that went a little ca-ca."
I tried to curb my raging temper in order to spare this man's feelings. "A little ca-ca? How little ca-ca?"
The pain on Al's face was beginning to etch lines around his eyes and mouth. "Well, you're here, which is a biggie. I mean, that's a first. It's Nobel Prize time. You should be proud of that."
I didn't think that I was going to like the rest of this. "And...."
Al responded slowly, "And, and... Uh...we're experiencing technical difficulties in retrieving you."
"That's great Al." The sarcasm was showing in my voice. I stalked away towards the trees. I turned quickly and retorted, "I wake up in 56 with a memory like Swiss cheese, and you're experiencing technical difficulties?! Whose brainchild is this? Yours?"
Al's eyes seemed to bore into my soul. "No, not mine." He paused, gave me quick longing glance, and then continued, "I haven't got a lot of time. I have to find out which of these scenarios can explain why we couldn't retrieve you this morning."
Suddenly I felt some hope, "You tried?"
Al looked almost hurt by that remark. "Of course we tried. You wouldn't leap!"
A strange sense of déjà vu washed over me. I really felt like I had had disagreements like this with Al before, in another time and place. Just as quickly as it came, the memory was gone. I decided to forge ahead with my gut. "So, now it's my fault?"
Al asked, "Possibly. Did you tell anyone that you're not Tom Stratton?"
Now it was my turn to look guilty. "Sorta."
Al groaned, "Aw, Sam. Retrieving you is dependent on everyone here believing that you're the person you replaced."
"They didn't believe me. How could they? I look in the mirror, and I don't believe me!"
"Well, that's to be expected. To us, Tom looks just like you."
Realization dawned on me. "He's with you?"
Al seemed more at ease now that the subject no longer focused on me and my feelings. "Of course. How do think we located you? When you went in, he came out. If it's any consolation, his memory is full of holes too. Now, everyone has to believe that you're Tom Stratton, if we're going to be able to retrieve you on Tuesday."
I smiled at the irony of it all. "Tuesday. Tuesday's gonna be a little late. I'm a..." I laughed nervously. "I'm scheduled to test fly the X-2 on Monday."
Al also looked nervous and quipped, "Did you ever think of taking flying lessons?"
I shot him a venomous glance.
"Just a thought."
Several weeks later:
I was relaxing in my office going over the reports from Sam's first two leaps. After many hours of consultations with Ziggy, Tom Stratton, and Sam, we had agreed that I would help him fly the X-2 without killing himself, so that he could leap. Can you imagine trying to satisfy the whims of fate just so the kid could leap? Anyway, I helped the kid through a nice bit of flying in the X-2, if I do say so myself. It just turned out that wasn't what caused him to leap. Oh well, sometimes you win; sometimes you lose.
Turns out he had to save the lives of Peg and her unborn child. It really was amazing how well the kid had responded to the situation. It had been years since Sam had practiced medicine. As I recall, Sam had told me that he got bored with medicine shortly before he joined Project Starbright. He kept his license current "just in case".
From there, Sam had leaped into a ballplayer on a losing team. I chuckled to myself. Sam was a great all-around athlete. He held black belts in more martial arts than I could remember. However, the kid couldn't hit a ball to save his life. I chuckled again. Still, only Sam could take a strikeout and turn it into a home run.
Throughout the two leaps, it became increasingly clear to me that Sam remembered nothing of our relationship, friendship or otherwise. While this was painful at first, I have since decided that this was as much a blessing as a curse.
This time I'm going to do it right. I'm going to avoid all the petty disagreements or at least try to avoid them. Sometimes the kid is so damn infuriating, and yet that's one of the things that I love about him. This time, I'm not going to break his heart.
No one could ask for more. A completely fresh start. A new beginning.