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Terror Firma

By maddersahatter

Action / Scifi

Chapter 1

Smiles, laughter, congratulatory slaps on the back. Another job well done. General celebrations of a happy ending.

Sam Beckett knew all about this scene. It was one he had left behind many times. As he was embraced by his 'husband' he felt the familiar tingle which meant that at any moment he would be Leaping again.

He was responsible for the happy ending, his efforts had ensured it, but he was never allowed to sit back and enjoy it. The fruits of his not inconsiderable labors were for others to savor.

Yet the bitterness of this irony never stayed with him long. Sam would not have wallowed in self-pity even if given the chance. That was not his nature. But in any case, he had no time for looking backwards. He must look forward and discover who he would become in this latest Leap, where and when he was 'landing' and most importantly, why...

Leaping in always left him disoriented, and he was used to having to think on his feet. This Leap seemed almost relaxed, certainly uneventful - at first.

Sam found himself dressed in a pair of faded blue-jeans, a red plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and a bright yellow hard-hat. His feet were encased in heavy boots. For the briefest moment he dared to hope that he had returned once again to life of Jimmy LaMotta, the retarded boy whom he'd helped to get a job at the docks. But the scent that reached his nostrils now was nothing remotely like sea air. He wasn't sure what it was, although he knew he'd smelt it before. The one thing it definitely wasn't was a coastal breeze.

Incongruously, he was indoors, and carrying a clip-board with pages of figures on it, none of which made any immediate sense - but he was used to that. There was also a column which appeared to be some sort of a check-list and judging by the number of ticks, the verification was almost complete.

Since there were no reflective surfaces at hand to allow him to size up his new appearance...

"At least I'm a man again this time, oh boy how I HATE high heels!"

... he started to take a mental note of his surroundings.

He was walking along a bank of computer relays, of a complexity to rival ground-control at Houston. Could it be? No, he didn't think so. Well, at least he was narrowing down the possibilities. This sort of technology meant that he had not Leaped into the 50's or 60's this time around - nor yet the 70's.

In fact it was on a par with Ziggy and the Quantum Leap complex he'd left behind in New Mexico in 1999*. As far as he could recall, that was, which wasn't always as far as he wished.

Lights winked on and off at intervals and there was a steady hum. Gauges all registered normal as far as he could tell. He tried to match the data on the sheets with the information on the vast arrays before him. He knew how to handle most computers, Project QL would never have got off the ground if he hadn't been computer literate among his many other talents. But the configuration of this system was not standard. It would take him a while to iron out its quirks. He just hoped that he would be afforded the time to work it out before something went wrong, as it invariably did.

The place was apparently deserted, apart from himself (whoever he was). A quick scan of his environment failed to locate another living soul.

"Al?" His voice echoed round the vaulted ceiling.

Right now, Sam wanted to see a friendly face, especially that of Admiral Albert Calavicci, his one contact with the world he had left behind. He relied on Al to fill him in on the details he would need to fulfill his mission, but more than that, this vast complex devoid of people, and the faint aroma of - what?- unnerved Sam. Something wasn't right. He didn't like being the only one around.

"Beckett! You there, Beckett!"

Sam swung around, a little too fast, and hit his head on a conduit which transversed the corridor he had been walking down.

Lucky he was wearing the hard-hat, he thought, or he could have been looking at a concussion. It was not just the jar to his skull that confused him though.

Al always called his 'Sam', or perhaps 'you lucky dog' if he was in the company of a beautiful woman, but never the impersonal 'Beckett".

And no-one else was ever supposed to know who he really was. He had gotten used to answering to any name called, just in case it belonged to his new persona, but he had forgotten what it was like to react to his own name. It was like being back in school when they called the roll each morning. He half expected to have to stand and salute the flag and pledge allegiance. But this was no time to get homesick.

"Oh, boy!"

"What was that, Beckett? Who you talking to?"

The man approaching Sam was short and plump, balding, his high domed forehead reflecting the lights from the ceiling. He reminded Sam a little of the actor Danny DeVito (how come I remember him? wondered Sam) only nowhere near as friendly. This guy had all the charisma of a basking shark.

"Er, I said, Yo, Boss," improvised Sam. He was a trained observer and a practiced ad-libber. He was willing to bet that this man was his superior. Judging by the neat navy blue suit and air of authority, quite a bit superior. He spoke with a marked Italian accent, his tone as well as his manner led Sam to suspect that he could easily be in danger of losing 'himself' a job.

Where was Al? He desperately needed some background information to help him make the correct responses.

Experience had taught him that sometimes a hasty word or action at the beginning could significantly hamper the course of a Leap, changing things for the worse before he could find out how he was supposed to be making them better. A case of what he didn't know being more than capable of hurting him, and others.

"Very good, Sam."

At last, Al was there. Not really there of course, he never actually stepped out of the Imaging Chamber, but with him in spirit, so to speak. Sam found it amazing at times that no-one else could see his friend, Al. Dressed as he was - in a flamboyant lurid green suit with black lapels, multi-colored paisley shirt, lime green silk tie, topped off by a crushed velvet matching green fedora, and of course the ever present cigar- Sam thought he was kind of hard to miss.

Al confirmed that Sam's hunch had been right:

"This is Luigi Ruggiero, head honcho of this huge establishment and most definitely your boss. You are... " he punched a series of keys on his com-link, trying to coax the information from a reluctant Ziggy.

"Here we are, you are David oh! Beckett!"

His eyebrows raised and he tilted his head to one side as he glanced at his friend, Dr Samuel John Beckett. The implications of this coincidence had not escaped him either.

Sam felt the apparent silence, the one between David Beckett and his boss, was getting oppressively long. He searched for something 'safe' to say.

"Is there a problem, Mr Ruggiero, Sir?" he asked, with as much deference as he could muster, and praying against all expectation that the answer was 'No'.

"You tell me, boy," snarled Ruggiero, "Haven't you finished those safety tests yet? We go on line TOMORROW you know. Construction has to begin at dawn on the 7th or I stand to lose a fortune."

Sam didn't have the faintest idea what the man was talking about, but he felt sure that the one thing calculated to rub him up the wrong way was the thought of losing money. Luigi fiddled with his gold cufflinks as if to emphasize the point.

"And if anything goes wrong at the Press Conference tomorrow…."

He didn't elaborate, but Sam predicted it wouldn't be pleasant for him. He threw a look at Al, which said 'Let me get rid of this character so you and I can talk.'

Al said "I'll see you in the next aisle." and vanished, not in a puff of smoke, but through a doorway of light.

Sam made a big show of studying his clipboard.

"Almost done, Sir," he reported, "Everything checks out so far, I'm just making sure…." He paused, hoping he wouldn't have to elaborate on what he was just making sure of. He was a shrewd judge of character. Ruggiero had heard all he wanted to hear and headed off with a parting shot:

"Just have that report on my desk within the hour, Beckett."

'Yeah, if I can find out where your desk is.' Thought Sam ruefully, staring intently at the instrument panel nearest to him, in the hope that it would start to make sense and that Ruggiero would be convinced that he knew what he was doing.

As soon as he was sure it was safe, Sam rushed to his rendezvous with Al.

"Well?" he inquired, "I hope Ziggy's going to come up trumps for once, Al, 'cos I've got a bad feeling about this one. Something doesn't smell right."

Al would have liked to make light of it, tell Sam that this was going to be an easy one. Trouble was, he had an uneasy feeling too. He tried not to let it show.

"You are in Los Angeles. It's Friday August 4th 1995."

Sam had been right about the technology being recent.

"David Beckett is Chief Computer Technician at Ruggiero and Sons. Ever heard of them?"

"Should I have?" it was a question Sam often had to ask, in one form or another, and it always annoyed him.

Al picked up on the tone, and didn't need to comment on it. He continued:

"It was a pioneering Construction Company in the mid 90's. Came into its own following the earthquakes early in '94. Ring any bells now?"

Sam was frequently frustrated by his Swiss-cheese memory, but when he concentrated he could sometimes retrieve information that he had once taken for granted.

"Los Angeles, '94. Yeah, as I recall they did a lot of damage, but the casualties were light. (That sort of detail always impressed itself on Dr Beckett.) It took years to rebuild some parts of the city. Some company made a fortune on a government contract by using automated construction techniques and specially designed quake-proof materials…" Al could almost see the grey cells at work.

"Ruggiero & Sons!" they both said, in perfect unison.

"And it's the grand unveiling tomorrow." continued Sam; always happy to prove he could find some things out for himself.

"Is that why I'm here, Al? To make sure it goes smoothly tomorrow. Does this gear malfunction or something?" He gestured at the complicated technology surrounding them, as if he expected a needle to waver into the 'danger' zone at any second.

Inaugural flights, maiden voyages, opening nights – all had the potential for disaster, as he'd had cause to discover.

"Ziggy doesn't have any data on that," Al countered, with no originality whatsoever. "He predicts there is a 77 chance that you are here to help a guy called…", he nudged Ziggy's com-link, which squealed and blinked, "William Donahue, one of the construction maintenance workers. According to the records he is going to disappear sometime between tomorrow and Tuesday morning."

Sam's face fell at the word 'disappear'. It was going to be another one of those Leaps.

"Don't do this to me, Al. How does he disappear?"

"We don't know how, Sam. You'll just have to keep your eyes and ears open and get as close as you can to Donahue. I'll go back and see what else Zig can dig up. Run a few scenarios. Catch you later."

Sam gave Al a look that said 'The more things change, the more they stay the same!'

Al knew exactly what it meant.

Usually at this point, Al would just summon up his doorway and vanish unceremoniously back to the Imaging Chamber. For some reason, which even he could not explain, this time he felt a compulsion to turn to Sam and say:

"Take care of yourself, partner." He tried to make it seem lighthearted by pretending to shoot Sam with his cigar, firing from the hip in best cowboy tradition.

(*Note, I know canon says his first leap was 95. For my stories, the date he gives in Star Light of 1st May 99 is the last day of his 'real' life that he remembers, so all dates are based on that. Inconsistent? So was Don, so I'm in good company!)

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