Glitches in Time
by Noel Goddard
Original Pub. Date: September 1999
Summary: Sam leaps into some very familiar surroundings, with two Als.
As the leap-in faded, I became aware of the computer terminal in front of me. It seemed so familiar somehow. I dug into my somewhat unreliable memories to try to figure why I had such a creepy-crawly feeling of déjà vu.
From behind me a familiar voice called out, "Hey, Sam. Earth to Sam! Let's get this show on the road. I've got a hot date tonight, and I don't want to be late!"
I whirled to see Al standing behind me looking decidedly impatient. I just glared back, "Al, I just got here. How am I supposed to know what to do before you tell me?"
Al was now looking at me like I was from Mars, "Sam, me tell you what to do? I barely understand half of what you tell me. This is your show."
The knot forming in my stomach was getting tighter by the minute. There was definitely something funny going on here, and I just didn't get it. From above my head a disembodied voice spoke, "Dr. Beckett, your vitals signs are showing symptoms of stress. Perhaps we should postpone the test until tomorrow after Dr. Beeks has examined you."
Ziggy. That voice belonged to Ziggy. I was home at the project. And yet, part of me realized that this was not my project. It was not the right time. Nervously, I asked the question that I didn't want to ask, "Ziggy, what is today's date?"
The sultry voice answered immediately, "It is February 7, 1995."
I placed my head on my hands and sighed, "Oh boy."
When I raised my head, I was greeted by Al examining me closely. He seemed to be trying to figure out just exactly why his co-worker and best friend had seemingly gone off the deep end. Not knowing how to explain things, I just stared back at him. When he finally spoke, he did so with conviction, "You're ...not...Sam."
My jaw fell open as I responded incredulously, "What?"
Al just continued to stare back at me and elaborated, "You look like Sam, but you're not Sam. You obviously don't know what's going on here, and the last time I looked, Sam did NOT have those crows feet around the eyes or that much of a white streak."
With that explanation, I jumped up from the chair at the terminal and headed down the hall to the nearest men's room. Once inside, I looked in the mirror. It was eerie; the reflection was of my face. I had grown so used to seeing any face except mine over the years. Taking a closer look though, there were no crows feet and only a hint of white hair at one temple. My Swiss-cheesed memory suddenly reminded me that I had acquired that white hair after the procedure to link Al's and my neurons for Ziggy's neural interface.
Just then, Al caught up with me and burst into the men's room. As he stood in the doorway staring at me, I realized what was going on. I must have leaped into myself after the neural link was in place. Al was seeing me, Sam the leaper, instead of the present Sam. Oh boy.
As if to confirm my thoughts, my Al from the future picked that moment to open the imaging chamber door. He walked through slapping the handlink as usual, saying, "You'll never guess who you leapt into..." His words died in his throat as he came face to face with himself. The present day Al said one word, "Shit!" and slid to the floor in shock.
I hurried over to the man slumped against the bathroom door, "Al, are you okay? Al, it's me, Sam. Well, sort of. Al, are you with us?"
The man nodded slowly and swallowed before responding in clipped tones, "What the hell is going on here?"
Meanwhile my Al had realized that the man on the floor could see him, "Sam, he can see me! What is going on here?"
I reached up and ran a hand through my hair. My hair, I thought idly. "It's very simple really. I've leaped into myself apparently after the neural link was put into place. He," gesturing to the man on the floor, "can see me as a leaper as well as seeing you, the observer."
My Al just chomped his cigar a little harder as he thought out loud, "No way do I remember anything like this happening."
I nodded, "Must be another timeline change."
My Al groaned loudly at that prospect. The man on the floor stirred and asked tentatively, "So, let me get this straight. Project Quantum Leap works and you two are me and Sam from the future?" When I nodded, he started rubbing his temples furiously. "So, that means Sam, uh my Sam, is in the waiting room in the future?" I nodded again. I watched as he stood up from the floor and moved to stand a few inches from my face. Suddenly he ordered, "Well, use the damn retrieval program and get him back here! This is NOT funny!"
I squirmed and shifted from one foot to another, "Well, it doesn't quite work the way we intended, um, Al." My Al meanwhile chomped harder on his cigar, "Yeah, kid, tell me about it."
The present Al looked back and forth between the two of us before asking with barely controlled anger, "What do you mean 'not the way it was intended'?"
My Al looked almost amused as I borrowed his explanation, "Well, it sort of went a little ca-ca."
Déjà vu kicked in again as the present Al asked, "How little ca-ca?"
As I paced across the restroom, I gave him the bare bones, "The retrieval program doesn't work. I don't control where or when I leap. In each leap, I have to set something right before I can leap again."
The present Al looked at me incredulously, "If you're not in control, who is?"
My Al and I simultaneously pointed upward without saying anything. The present Al turned on heel and started striding down the corridor back to the control room. My Al and I followed closely. The rest of the staff was gone, having assumed that the test was postponed indefinitely; we were alone in the room with Ziggy.
The present Al whirled at us accusingly, "I can't believe that what you're saying is true! Sam, um my Sam, would never leap until he was sure the retrieval plan worked." He questioned thin air, "Ziggy, have you been listening to our conversation?"
The voice answered, "Yes, Admiral."
The present Al quizzed the computer, "Is what they are saying possible within the parameters of Quantum Leap?"
There was silence for a few seconds as Ziggy calculated the probabilities, "It is my calculation, given the data at the present time, that there is a 98.9% chance that they are telling the truth."
The present Al slumped into a chair, obviously overwhelmed by the whole situation, "So now what?"
I glanced back over my shoulder towards the hologram, "Al?..."
I was rewarded with a "What?" in stereo from the two Al's.
I sighed, "Okay, first off, we're obviously going to have to do something like we did last time this happened."
I didn't think it was possible, but the present Al turned another shade paler. He asked timidly, "The last time?"
I just shook my head, "You don't want to know. My observer, Al, why don't you answer to ...oh say...Admiral" The admiral nodded. I continued, "That way you're Al," pointing to the man in front of the computer terminal, "and our guest in the waiting room is Dr. Beckett. Everyone got it?"
In stereo with the same voice, "Got it."
I turned towards the observer and smiled, "So, Admiral, what does Ziggy say that I need to do to leap out of here?"
The admiral slapped the handlink a few times, and it squealed in response. He started muttering various obscenities mixed with "Stupid pile of gummy bears..." Finally, the admiral threw up his hands in disgust, "This stupid pile of bolts says that you don't have to do anything, that if you just everything the way it was done the first time, you'll leap out in a week."
Al protested, "A week? We're up against a wall here right now. There are simulations to be run. We've got to get data by next week's funding review, or we're out of business. I need Sam, er ...Dr. Beckett, back now!"
I just looked at him and shrugged, "Well, I guess you'll just have to make do with me."
Al and I had spent the next seven days working feverishly on the retrieval program. We made some progress but not nearly enough. The admiral, my Al, had strangely stayed away for most of the leap. When I asked him about it, he said only that he and 'Dr. Beckett' were also working round the clock on the retrieval program.
As the latest string of simulation data poured from Ziggy, I leaned back in my chair and sighed loudly.
Al called from across the room, "What's the verdict Sam?"
I shook my head as I answered, "Not good. We're only up to 40% probability of retrieval."
Al tried to put a good spin on the situation, "Well, that's up from the 9.6% you told me that you had before."
I ran my hand through my hair, and I couldn't help thinking how good that felt. "Well, it was only that high after I made some modifications to the program during a leap..." My voice trailed off as I tried to grasp the fleeting memory of my one leap home during the years of leaping. It was gone as soon as it appeared.
Al was speaking again, "Earth to Sam? Am I losing you again?"
I shook my head to clear it, "No, no, I'm here. I was just trying to remember something."
Al nodded with understanding since I had explained the Swiss-cheese effect to him, "It must be really unnerving to be missing whole chunks of your life."
I nodded and looked off into space, "Yeah, sometimes I wonder what I'm missing from my life. Besides the obvious things, that is."
Al asked, "What obvious things?"
I smiled, embarrassed, "Well, I know that I miss my family, although to be honest, I'm not exactly sure who's still alive in my time. And, I guess what I miss most is being in the same place with you."
Al squirmed, just a bit, "So, how long has it been? Since we were in the same place, I mean?"
Until now, we hadn't discussed that subject. I weighed my options and decided that Al deserved to know what exactly he was getting into, "Well, as near as I can tell, I've been leaping for close to six years."
Al let out a gasp, "Six years?! God, Sam, how awful." He reached out and put his hand over mine and gave a comforting squeeze.
Suddenly feeling very self-conscious, I pulled my hand back and stammered, "Well, according to Ziggy's projections, I'm going to be leaping out sometime tonight. And well, since we're not making any progress here, why don't we just go out for some dinner?"
Al smiled back, "Sure kid. That sounds nice, real nice."
In about an hour, we were seated at the table at Al's house with the remnants of a huge Chinese dinner in front of us. Since we weren't sure when I would leap out, we decided that eating in would probably be better. Al was surprised by my suggestion for Chinese, but I explained that I'd really acquired a taste for it over the years of leaping.
Al looked at me thoughtfully, "So, Sam, what do you suppose the purpose of this whole leap has been?"
I just shook my head at him, "I really don't know. I mean, we didn't fix the retrieval program. Other than that, Ziggy never came with anything other than doing everything the way it was done the first time." I paused to look at the man who would become my lifeline for the next six years. With the younger, pre-leap version in front of me, it was easier to see the toll those years had taken on Al. When I spoke again, I had a hard time keeping the emotion out of my voice, "You know, I'm glad this leap happened though. Spending the last week with you, has been, well, " I smiled, suddenly shy, "well, really great."
Al returned my smile, looking mildly uncomfortable too, "I know what you mean. Meeting you and seeing what is to come has really made me think about a lot of things."
I returned the intensity of Al's gaze. I asked, not sure I wanted to know the answer, "What things?"
Al reached out and took my right hand in his. This time I didn't pull away. I couldn't have if I wanted to, it was taking all of my concentration just to keep breathing.
Al continued, "Knowing everything I know now, I don't want to leave anything unsaid or undone. I know that you aren't my Sam..."
I found my voice, hoarse and raspy, "But..."
Al looked at me with hope in his eyes, "But nothing." He pulled me close to him and kissed me.
I relaxed into the kiss and moved my arms to encircle the one person I trusted more than anyone else in the world. The kiss went beyond sensual; it felt right, natural. It felt like coming home. I parted my lips to allow Al's tongue entrance into my mouth. His tongue began to dance with mine as we both tried to merge with the other.
When we finally pulled back from the kiss, there were no words. Each of us knew that the other was thinking about the one we should really be with. Me thinking about my Al, and Al thinking about his Sam. We stared at each other with a lingering feeling of regret in the air.
Just then I heard the imaging chamber door open behind me. I pulled away from Al quickly as 'the admiral', my Al, came through the door. He wore a smile that positively radiated through the room. He said simply,"You did it, Sam."
I felt the leap pull me away.
As I landed from the leap, I landed on something hard. Every muscle in my body was sore. I groaned as I tried to open my eyes. I couldn't help thinking that just once I'd like to be comfortable on a leap-in. When I finally got my eyes open, I looked around. I was in a small, sterile room, lying on a cold metal table. I thought, "No, it couldn't be."
The door opened, and Al burst through the door yelling, "Sam?"
The tears started immediately for both of us. I drew Al into the biggest bear hug possible, and then I threw caution to the wind. I kissed Al deeply in full view of everyone else in the room.
When we finally came up for air, I looked to see who everyone else was. We were surrounded by Verbena, Gooshie, and Tina. They were all smiling back at me, but at the same time, they seemed a little confused by the intensity of emotion between me and Al.
After a moment, I turned to Al for an explanation, "Did the past Sam get the retrieval program working?"
Al smiled, "In a way, yes. What did I tell you was the purpose of that leap?"
Now I was really confused, "You said that I just had to do everything the same way it happened the first time."
Al nodded slowly, "When you leaped the first time, the odds of the retrieval program working were at 75% percent."
Stunned would have been an understatement for my feelings. "What? Well, why didn't it work?"
Al looked at the wall behind as tears welled up in his eyes, "We had a fight that day Sam. A bad one. I wouldn't agree to retire so that we could go public with our relationship." Al and I were both so focused on each other that we had missed when everyone else left. We were now alone in the Waiting Room. He continued, "Anyway, you were so angry. You left in a huff. I didn't know where you had gone. I didn't care. The fights had been getting worse and worse, and we were in danger of losing funding for the project. I don't know Sam. I think we just lost sight of what was really important."
I reached out and held Al's hand tightly, "What happened Al?"
He was shaking as he continued, "I guess you decided that I wasn't going to come through with the funding, or that maybe I wasn't worth sticking around for, or hell I don't know what!! You leaped without telling anyone. When you keyed in the leap sequence, you disabled the retrieval program. We tried to fix it Sam, but..." The tears rolled down Al's face, leaving wet streaks behind.
The memories were flooding back into my mind. I remembered feeling desperate - there was no more money, I was losing Al. I just had to know if it worked. If I got stuck back there or even if I died, I had to know once and for all if it really worked. I remembered standing over the control panel keying in the sequence with tears of my own streaming down my face, blurring my vision. I had disabled all of Ziggy's safety checks, so that I could leap without being stopped. When I was keying in the sequence, I must have..."Oh God, Al. It was just a mistake, a dumb mistake. I was so tired, and I was crying. I turned off all the safety checks. God, Al, I never meant to leave you for so long."
I held Al close to me as my words sank in. Al looked up into my face as he continued with the story, "The timeline kept changing with everything that you did. First, you got Donna back for yourself, then you gave me back Beth. Only Ziggy and I remembered the way it used to be. I thought that, well, that must be the way you wanted it."
How could I ever begin to make it up to Al? God, the pain that I had caused him in the last six years was enough to tear my own heart in two. "Oh Al, I didn't know! You never said anything..."
He smirked at me weakly, "Well, you had amnesia so bad during the first two leaps, and then bang! I walked out the control room after the third one to find Dr. Donna Alessi asking me how her husband was!" Before I could apologize again, he continued, "So, when you leaped back into you, Ziggy's real prediction was that you were there to prevent yourself from disabling the retrieval sequence when you leaped. I just hoped like crazy that maybe if I knew then what I know now that maybe I wouldn't be such as ass to you, and you might not..." His voice trailed off.
I stroked the side of his face gently, "So, what happened to get me here?"
Al laughed, "Oh Sam, it's just so confusing. All these timelines give me a terrible headache!" I laughed along with him. "I came out of the Imaging Chamber when you leaped this time, and Gooshie informed me that you had landed in the Waiting Room. I just got here as soon as I could." He smiled at me, and I returned the smile.
I spoke out into the empty room, "Ziggy?"
A feminine voice purred back, "Yes, Dr. Beckett?"
Still smiling at Al, I asked, "How long have I been leaping?"
The voice answered, "In the current timeline, you have been performing quantum leaps for five years, four months, and seventeen days."
Al looked confused, but I pressed a finger to his lips to silence him. I asked a more specific question, "When was the last time I was home?"
The voice answered matter-of-factly, "You were last in residence at Project Quantum Leap seven days ago. In the current timeline, you return home after each leap."
The tears started to flow again from both me and Al. As we held each other closely, Al asked the one question he needed to know, "Ziggy, what is my relationship to Dr. Beckett?"
When Ziggy responded, she sounded almost proud, "Admiral, you and Dr. Beckett were married on February 14, 1996. Today is your fifth wedding anniversary."
Al's eyes glowed, "Happy Anniversary, kid."
I responded in kind, "Happy Valentine's Day, Al." I pulled Al into a kiss that I hoped would last forever.