Teacher, May I Be Excused
by Noel Goddard
Original Pub. Date: May 2003
Summary: A story set in the Leap for Lisa universe.
A prolonged, loud noise woke me from a rare occasion of uninterrupted sleep. As I pried my unwilling eyelids open, I saw the guard standing at the door to my cell. He dragged his nightstick across the bars once more for good measure.
Seeing that I was awake now, he began the verbal jabbing that he felt was his duty as a guard, "So, Calavicci, what's on the agenda today?"
As I pulled myself into a sitting position on the bed, I deadpanned, "Oh, gee. I thought I'd go rape me a couple of the newbies and then head down to the mess hall and kill that fellow sitting in my place at the table."
The guard snorted, "Yeah, keep talking like that Calavicci, and they'll send your butt back to death row where you belong."
Ignoring that comment, I asked the obvious, "So, you got a reason to drag my sorry ass out of bed at this hour or are you just amusing yourself with the prisoners again?"
The guard bristled at the undertones of my last comment, "You're a sick bastard; you know that? You got to get up and get ready for school today, asshole."
Now I was confused, but it wouldn't do for him to know that, "School? Yeah, I'll just clean myself up and head right out the door. Let me go back to sleep, smart guy." I leaned back on my cot and began to fluff the thing they called a pillow.
The guard started to walk away from my cell, "Sure Calavicci, go back to sleep if you want to. This is just the tutor from the MIT Correspondence Program. Seems like somebody got all those letters you sent."
With that tidbit, I bolted from the bed, "Get back here." I stared at the guard; he was serious. It had been so long; I thought they must just have ignored all of my paperwork and requests. Now it was *real*. Looking down at myself, I could see and smell my filth. Knowing there would be a price to pay, I asked as nonchalantly as possible, " Is there any chance of me getting a shower first?"
The guard smiled wickedly, knowing that he now held the upper hand, "Sure, Calavicci, you can have a shower. The tutor's not due for about 30 minutes. All a shower will cost you is two of those fine cigars you got."
Grudgingly, I went and pulled two cigars from my stash and passed them through the bars. The guard knew that I got a box of good cigars a month from my one friend left in the service, Chip. Many times those cigars had gotten me out of trouble. I wondered idly if Chip realized that I usually only got to smoke one or two of them a month.
I was jarred from my thoughts as the lock opened in the door to my cell. Quickly I grabbed my other set of prison coveralls and headed to the showers. Once there I soaped myself quickly and wondered if I could be lucky enough to have gotten the engineering tutor I had requested. Too soon, my three minutes in the shower were up. I smoothed my new pair of coveralls and turned to stare at myself in the mirror. Pretty sad, Calavicci. If I were the tutor, I'd high tail it outta here. After fourteen years in the slammer, I was starting to look the part of the rapist-murderer. Here's hoping that the tutor could see past that.
I was early, but the guard let me into the visiting room anyway. In accordance with prison procedures for correspondence work, there was a large blackboard set up in the room. We weren't allowed pen and paper, because apparently some psycho had once stabbed his tutor with the pen. Well, after all the trouble I went to just to get my tutor, I sure as hell wasn't going to stab him.
Just at that instant, the door to the outside world swung open. A very nervous-looking kid was escorted into the room. He literally jumped when the door slammed behind him. Obviously, he thought I was going to stab him.
Once he was able to pull his eyes away from the door, he turned to look at me. His eyes widened just slightly as he took in what he saw. I returned his gaze, not believing what was in front of me. The kid was gorgeous. Yeah, he was still a bit gangly and young, very young, but if he ever grew into that body, he was going to be a real looker. He was tall, probably six feet or so, with sandy brown hair and green eyes that just made you want to get lost in there. I startled the kid by snorting out loud. I've obviously been in the joint too long from the way I'm checking the kid out. Time to get down to business, but first I had to know one thing. I broke the silence first, "How old are you, kid?"
The young man stammered back, "I'm 17, Mr. Calavicci. Now your letters said..."
I interrupted, stunned by what he had said, "You're 17?!? You're not even old enough to join the military! How in the hell are you supposed to tutor me?"
That got the kid's hackles up. Obviously, he'd been the butt of one too many jokes centered around his age. He spit back with venom, "Don't you worry about that. I'm halfway done with a double major in Physics and Computer Science at MIT. I've already been accepted into the MIT Quantum Physics graduate program as soon as I can finish my undergrad. So, don't you worry. I think I can tutor the likes of you."
Now, this could be fun. I leaned back in my chair to gaze at the young man fuming across the table, "Okay, kid. I got the picture. Why don't you just tell me your name and what the hell a kid like you is doing here? Then we'll get down to the serious business of studying."
The younger man squirmed in his chair before answering, "They told us we didn't have to give our names, but I guess there's no harm in it. My name is Sam Beckett, and I'm here to work off the community service hours the Dean gave me."
His voice had trailed off near the end, leaving me to do my own detective work. I knew that many of the tutors were working off punishments of some sort, so I went with that idea, "So, Sam, what on earth did you do to deserve this?"
It was just a mumble, so soft that I could barely hear it. "I streaked across campus..."
Now, there was a shocker! I smiled broadly, "You streaked? Good job, kiddo! For that you have to come deal with an asshole like me, eh?"
Sam smiled back weakly. I could see the question forming in his eyes, but I was sure that he didn't have the guts to ask. So, I answered it for him, "I'm in serving life for the rape and murder of the wife of my commanding officer. And NO, I didn't do it."
Sam just stared. Already, I could tell that he didn't believe me. Still he seemed to want to know more, and he asked incredulously, "You were military? My brother was in the military." He began to study the walls of the visiting room again.
I nodded in answer to his question, "Ensign, US Navy. I was a pilot."
There was still disbelief in his eyes and voice as he spoke, "My brother was a SEAL."
The way he kept talking about his brother in the past tense was giving me the creeps, "Did your brother die in 'Nam?"
The kid just nodded and began to pull books out of his backpack and place them on the table. I felt bad for the kid, but I really couldn't muster that much sympathy. My self-pity got the best of me, "At least he died a hero, kid, and not stuck in some hellhole like this."
That really seemed to set the kid off, "My brother died a pointless death in a stupid war. We've got no business even being there. At least you're still alive!"
I shook my head slowly, "Trust me, kid. I ain't really alive."
The silence filled the room as we stared at each other. Finally, I moved us ahead, out of our respective blues, "Well, we'd better get started before they come and haul your ass out of here. So, what do you know about engineering?"
With that we began an exciting, but tense, session exploring the wonders of engineering. The kid was good, real good. Even though it wasn't even his major, he could run rings around me at engineering. I quickly learned that while I understood a lot of the basics, I was going to need more math if I wanted to get into any of the complex things. So, Sam said he would arrange to have some advanced math texts sent down to the prison library.
With the session at its end, I asked the question I was afraid to ask, "So, when will you be back?"
He squirmed noticeably, "Well, we did about two hours today, so I've got another 18 hours to go. So, I guess I'll be back a few more times." He smiled weakly.
I returned the smile, trying my best to make him comfortable, but I still had to know, "That's good, kid, but when?"
Still uncomfortable, Sam spoke quietly, "I don't know. I've got finals next week, and then there's the beginning of summer school."
I felt my heart sink down to my toes, "Oh. Well, good luck on your finals. I know you'll ace 'em all."
Sam just nodded and rapped on the door to signal that he was ready to leave. Without a second glance back at me, he was gone.
I felt myself spiraling back into the despair of my life. I already knew; the kid wasn't coming back.
The days passed slowly as always around the prison. Sam was true to his word though, and the math texts arrived in the prison library two days after his visit. I dove into them with a vengeance. I had long since finished all the science and math texts in the prison library, so new books were like food to a starving man.
Within three days of their arrival, I had plowed through them. A whole new world of possibilities now seemed to open before my eyes. Now, I could begin to truly understand some of what the kid had been talking about in our last session. If only he would come back, we could talk more about the complex ideas we tried to discuss last time. The key part of that being if only the kid would come back. It had been five days; he was probably knee deep in finals. Damn.
Damn! That noise was back. Just to be sure, I cracked an eyelid, and sure enough the guard was back at my cell door, grinning from ear to ear.
I growled from my cot, "Whaddya want?"
His grin stayed, "Boy, that's sure one pretty tutor you got there. Shame you can't get conjugal visits with him."
I buried my head back under my threadbare blanket, "Just stuff it." Then reality set in, and I called out from my burrow, "Is he back?"
The guard kept grinning, "Yep, he's back and waiting for you. For another two cigars, I give you a shower and breakfast before you meet him."
It was the end of the month, and I only had two cigars left. So, I made my decision, "One cigar for the shower."
The guard shrugged, "Your call, Calavicci."
The cell door swung open, and I hurried down the hall after him. Sam was back. Somewhere in the pit of my stomach, I knew that since the kid was back, everything was going to be okay.
This time, Sam was waiting as I went into the visitor's room; he was staring at some calculations on the black board. They were unlike anything I'd ever seen.
Feeling decidedly good this morning, I joked, "You planning on traveling in time, kid?"
Sam jumped and turned. The reception in his eyes this time was completely different, and I do mean different. He greeted me warmly, "Al, it's good to see you!"
Now, I was confused. When did he start calling me Al? Oh well, maybe his finals went well, and he wasn't feeling as skittish anymore. Whatever the reason, I liked the change. He seemed older, more confident somehow. I pressed again, "So what's with the hieroglyphics on the board?"
The nervousness seemed to return for just a flash, as he quickly erased the calculations. He tried to blow it off, "Oh, nothing. Just some thoughts I had for a project someday." He paused before continuing, " Before we get started with the tutoring, can I ask you some more questions?"
Oh boy. Here they come. I knew that this was too good to be true. I sighed and resigned myself to a lecture on the evils of my ways, "Yeah, sure, kid. Fire away."
Sam was clinical, almost lawyer-like in his questioning, "So, Al, you were military, right, and subject to a military court-martial? Right? So, how'd you wind up in a civilian prison in Massachusetts instead of a military one or..."
I finished his sentence for him, "the gas chamber? Well, I got lucky. I was in the wrong place at the right time."
Sam looked at me quizzically as I continued, "Well, actually I was court-martialed and sentenced to die in the gas chamber. My lawyer was a big Hollywood hotshot lawyer who was in the reserves. He did his damnedest for me both during and after the court-martial. Anyway, while I was on death row, a prison riot broke out. During the riot, I saw one of the guards systematically kill three of the inmates. These guys weren't even part of the riot. It was like this guard decided it was time to clean up the scum or something. Anyway, I told my lawyer about it, and he worked me a deal. I testified against the guard, and the military commuted my sentence to life in a civilian prison. For my own safety, they moved me here to MCI Walpole."
After a moment of thought to digest my narrative, he began with the questions again, "Do you still have that same lawyer?"
I shook my head, "Nope. He got out of the reserves, and I hardly have the money to pay his usual fees. Since then, I've been through a whole string of civilian public defenders. All of 'em are overworked and underpaid and have long since given up caring."
The young man seemed shaken by that, "God, Al. I'm really sorry. There must be some way to prove your innocence."
Now it was my turn to be shocked. I sputtered, "What? Now you believe I'm innocent?"
The kid looked at me incredulously and then almost as if he was listening to someone else, realization dawned on his face. He spoke slowly, "God, Al, I'm sorry for not believing you before. I do believe you now though, and I want to help."
Amazing. This innocent actually thought there was something he could do to help. Maybe there had been, fourteen years ago, but now? No way. "Sorry, kid. You're about fourteen years too late."
Sam winced, but he kept pressing, "There must have been something, Al. Anything."
I shrugged, and after a moment, the kid asked me another question with great intensity, "When they checked your car in 1957, what did they find there?"
I shrugged again, "Nothing much, really. Just some random flight plans, chewing gum wrappers. I don't know, kid."
He seemed to be listening again. This was just getting a little too weird for me. Maybe the stress was getting to him. He asked again, more pointedly, "Did they ever mention finding a cigar butt in the ashtray?"
I thought about it. Seems like my lawyer did say something about that. I always thought it was a bit odd, since I didn't smoke in those days. I gave him that, "Yeah. I think they did, but I didn't smoke back then. I never gave it much thought."
Sam looked like a cat that swallowed the canary, "I thought so! Who did smoke cigars back then?"
I reached up to rub my temples, a nervous tick of mine when I was annoyed, "Gee, kid. That was a long time ago. Let's see. The only person I can think of is Chip. That's probably why I never thought about it. Chip was always smoking in my car."
The kid seemed to almost glow before he said simply, "Thanks, Al. That's all I needed to know. Are you ready to get down to studying?"
I shook my head. This sure is one weird kid, but you couldn't help but like him. I smiled back, "Sure, Sam. I got through those math books you sent, and I'm really chomping at the bit to apply some of that stuff."
We spent the next two hours in deep discussion about a new technology that had Sam all excited. It was something called holography, where you used light to create a lifelike image of something in thin air. It really was fascinating, and in just two hours, the two of us had come up with the rough plans for a holographic projector that was ten times more energy efficient than the prototype models.
We were interrupted by a knock on the door from the guard to let us know that our time was up. Sam's eyes twinkled as he looked at me, "We make one hell of a team, don't we, Al?"
The kid's excitement was infectious, "Sure, kid. Come back next week and we'll design a machine to travel in time."
Sam grinned as he answered, "I'll do that, Al. You never know. It might actually work." With that thought, Sam gathered his books and walked out the door.
Goddammit!! That son-of-a-bitch guard was back, banging on the bars again. I groaned before he could start in on me, "Go away. The kid was just here two days ago. He won't be back 'til next week."
As I cracked an eyelid, I saw that the guard did not look happy. He snarled back, "Just get your ass up and come with me. Seems there's some hot shit Hollywood lawyer here to see you."
Now I was awake, "What the hell?"
The guard just shook his head, "Maybe your boy-toy tutor hired him for ya. C'mon. And no shower for you today. You just had one."
I stumbled out of the bed and wandered down the cellblock, wondering exactly what was going on. I was ushered into the visitor's room and was greeted with a welcome sight, my lawyer from the first trial.
He turned to greet me, "Well, hello there, Ensign. You're not looking too bad for your ordeal."
I was still too stunned to say much, "What are you doing here?"
He smiled, actually smiled back at me, "Well, two days ago, I got a call from your tutor, one Sam Beckett, and he convinced me to get involved in your case again. At his urging, I paid a visit to one Lieutenant Chip Fergeson. Well, once I brought up the cigar in your car, the Lieutenant cracked and confessed to committing the crimes you were accused of fourteen years ago."
I sat down hard in the chair next to the table. I felt like Alice in Wonderland; everything in my world was topsy-turvy.
My lawyer continued speaking, "I spoke to the governor this morning, and you've been granted an official pardon. Mr. Beckett has made arrangements for you to start classes this summer at MIT in their engineering program. Congratulations, you're a free man!"
Chip. I can't believe that Chip was the one who was responsible. He was the one who'd been sending me the cigars all these years, almost like he hoped I'd figure it out. I had to know, "What's going to happen to Chip?"
My lawyer shrugged, "That's a bit more complicated. Your case was dismissed by the military tribunal when you were sent to Walpole. So, the case can't be reopened in the military court. However, he will be discharged dishonorably for conduct unbecoming an officer, and then he faces state charges for the rape and murder of Marci Riker."
Sam did this. I couldn't believe it. In the 10-day period since I had met him, I went from hardened prisoner to college student. I'll be damned. I turned to my lawyer, "So, now what happens?"
He smiled, "What happens is that you go pack up your stuff, and we leave. There's someone waiting for you on campus. Seems like he's found a small apartment in his building that's up for rent."
I'll be damned. The kid really did it.
When I came through the Imaging Chamber door, Sam whirled around as he was expecting to see someone else. He had tears in his eyes as he whispered, "Al?"
I smiled back at him, "Yeah, it's me, kid. You did it, Sam."
I paused to let my words sink in. Sam paced around the small apartment that he had picked out for me, umm Bingo. Ziggy said that once Bingo was processed and released then Sam would leap. The new timeline was rapidly filling my mind. I remembered this apartment. I remembered going to school with Sam this summer; it had been quite the summer. Shaking my head to clear it, I continued, "Bingo will be released from the Massachusetts Correctional Institute at Walpole in just over an hour. He enters MIT and gets both his bachelor's and doctorate in engineering. In 1985, he, um I, join you on Project Starbright, and in 1991, we obtain private industry funding for our own project, Project Quantum Leap."
Sam looked like he was deep in thought and mused, "What do you remember from this time, Al?"
I waved my hand aimlessly as I answered, "I remember meeting a really intelligent young man who saved my butt from a fate worse than death."
Sam stared at the floor, "Do you forgive me, Al?"
Now it was my turn to be confused, "Forgive you for what?"
Sam shivered from head to toe, "For screwing things up the first time. If I'd let Lisa testify, then you never would have spent fourteen years in prison."
God, I wished I could touch the kid. I reached out with my hand and put it as close as I could to his shoulder without going through the hologram, "Aw, Sam. Look at it this way, you saved me from some pretty awful shit." When Sam looked confused, I filled him in on that timeline, "In the original history, I spent six years in a POW camp in Vietnam. My first wife had me declared dead and married someone else. I bounced from wife to wife after that, racking up a total of five ex-wives. I also spent the next ten years drowning in a bottle until you pulled me back out. I for one am perfectly content to have avoided all of that."
Sam smiled back at me, "And in this timeline, how many times have you been married?"
I smiled back at him, my eyes full of love, "Just once, Sammy. You're the only one for me this time, Sam. I love you, kid."
Sam smiled back, "I love you too, Al."
The leap took him, and I said my silent prayer once more, "Please God. Keep him safe and bring him home soon. Amen."