Terror Firma

Chapter 10

Al was not at all happy about the way this Leap was progressing.

Sam had achieved his primary objective – William Donahue was safe. Yet Sam hadn't leapt. He had merely substituted one victim for another, and now the victim was to be David/Sam Beckett. He hoped Sam knew what he was doing. Back in his room, Al paced impatiently. Here it was lunchtime on a chilly November Wednesday, but to Sam it was Sunday evening, 6th August, and they had an assignation at midnight.

Although he'd told Sam to get some sleep, he doubted if his friend would be any more relaxed about the arrangement than he was. He pictured Sam measuring the floor of David's room in exactly the same way that he was pacing now.

He resisted the urge to go straight back and wait it out with Sam.

Another mistake.

He should have followed his standard practice and given in to his urges. But he didn't want his friend to know how anxious he was; didn't want to make Sam even more edgy than he was already.

Al made up his mind to get to the site ahead of Sam and have a good look round. He instructed Ziggy to keep running possible scenarios, to keep him informed, and to give him an alarm call when it was time for him to head back to the Imaging Chamber.

Then he set about inventing urgent matters that demanded his attention. Had he known even half of what was about to happen, he would have curbed his inventiveness.

In the Waiting Room, David Beckett had settled into a routine over the past couple of days. He was well fed, not ill treated, and although technically a prisoner, he did not feel oppressed in any way. His reluctant kidnappers bent over backwards to make his stay as comfortable as possible.

He received frequent visits from a woman who called herself Dr Beeks. She was pleasant and friendly: though obviously a shrink. She persisted is asking him all sorts of unnecessary questions, no doubt trying to determine if he was becoming unbalanced by his 'ordeal'. He kept trying to reassure her that to him the experience was not in the least traumatic. He felt as if he had stepped into the Twilight Zone, or been beamed right through the Bajoran wormhole. It was the most fun he had ever had.

They had made the room seem almost homely. He'd been provided with a TV and VCR and given access to endless tapes (though it was set so that he could only play tapes, he couldn't watch the news or anything.)

They had lent him some of Sam's favorite books from the Project library. Many were his favorites too. He was confident that his impersonator would not be taking liberties with his character.

After a bit of badgering, they had even been persuaded to dig up an old spare computer from a dusty office for him to use. They took pains to point out that they could not give him access to the very latest technology. That was the only annoying part. There he was, full of insatiable curiosity - just like the Elephant's child – about this Brave New World, but every time he asked leading questions, he was frustrated by evasive answers. His keen intellect was piqued.

They were not allowed to let him have details pertaining to the future in general, or his in particular, lest he should change it, wittingly or otherwise, through deja vu. In a bizarre contradiction, they also told him that he may well have no recollection of the experience whatsoever when he returned to his own time.

He wished they would make up their minds.

Still, he determined to live for the moment, and make the most of it. He even managed a few small triumphs, like being the first person, (among his contemporaries) to watch the video of the "Dr Who' blockbuster movie he'd heard so many rumors about. Admiral Loud-Shirt had decided that he knew enough about it already for it to be safe to allow him that concession. He was thrilled, although after all the speculation, the final choice of Paul McCann to play the Doctor had been surprising, and a little disappointing. He'd been hoping for someone with more international street-cred.

Now the Admiral really was a strange one.

He didn't fit any image of an Admiral that David had ever come across. (Unless perhaps it was a Red Admiral butterfly!) Not even in the weirdest Sci-Fi tale. His visits were rare and usually brief. He always looked annoyed, though not surprised, to find David still there each time he walked in. David noticed that he seemed unable to look him in the eye. He appeared uncomfortable whenever he was around David, as if he was looking at someone else, someone who wasn't there. The man whose face he was wearing, David supposed. It was certainly a weird situation.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Not quite.

The computer was the source of many a happy hour. It may be virtually obsolete by their standards, but it was State-of-the-Art to him. A couple of years can be several generations in hardware technology.

He began by messing about with a few basic programs to get the feel of it. It was very user friendly. His captors took a polite but vague interest, and didn't interfere. They left him pretty much to his own devices.

That was when he got The Idea.

Ever since that first visit, when the colorful Admiral had produced the small hand held implement, which he used to communicate with the main machine, David had been intrigued by the computer they referred to as Ziggy. He'd tried to puzzle out if that was an acronym for something, but had to give up: insufficient data.

He kept asking the Admiral – what was his name? Calavicci – if he could have access to it. It seemed like he was in charge, had the authority to make decisions. He always answered with a polite but firm No. He became officious and hinted at Official Secrets and Need-to-Know and Security Clearance. That, of course, just made David curioser and curioser. He refused to give up on his questions, and managed to get the little Napoleon to let a few things slip. It was a parallel hybrid computer, whatever that was supposed to mean – sounded more like a prize-winning plant! There was something about neuro-cells and bio-feedback. It was fascinating. From the little he'd heard, David thought that this Ziggy had to come the closest to achieving actual sentience of any computer ever created.

Evidently it was highly experimental; hence the monumental blunder which had led to David's being there in the first place. From what he could gather, the only person who had a hope in hell of sorting the whole mess out was the guy whose brainchild it had been. No one else understood it well enough.

Trouble was, that just happened to be the man who was currently walking a mile in his moccasins. Bit of bad management there somewhere. But David wasn't complaining. As far as he could tell, he had gotten the best side of the bargain. He tried to imagine what it must be like for this other Beckett, who had apparently been borrowing other people's lives for the past three or four years or more. David didn't know all the details, but he guessed that despite the thrill of the adventure, which at first he'd envied, by now the novelty would certainly have worn off.

For his part, David had to admit that while this was an incredible place to visit, he didn't think he'd want to spend the rest of his life here, especially not given the current restrictions. Still, he had definitely come out on top. If only he could find out more about this place and time.

He had no intention of trying to win a fortune betting on the known outcome of the next World Series, or making a killing on Wall Street, or stealing some new invention and claiming it as his own. He had much too much integrity for that. It was just that for his own personal satisfaction he wanted to find out as much as he could, particularly about the super computer.

So, in between the run-of-the-mill subroutines he'd been playing around with, he began working on a new program.

The Idea.

Hands flew like lightening over the keyboard. He worked on file handlers; he searched data files. He knew he could find a route, the complex was multi-linked and he quickly gained entry into the network. Then he began in earnest. All he needed was to penetrate the firewall (which was pretty impressive) and work out the right access code. And he had enough in common with the genius Dr Beckett that he stood an excellent chance of working out what it would be. So, as they say: Go figure.

Making sure he could switch to something innocuous if he were being observed, he proceeded to hack his way into the illusive Ziggy.

He knew it may take some time, it wasn't going to be easy, and there was the possibility he could be snatched back to his own time without warning before he succeeded, but what the heck, he was going to give it his best shot.

Just because it was there; and he thrived on challenge.

By this time it was Sunday evening, real time – by which he meant LA time. His environment had been maintained in the illusion of LA time to reduce disruption and, he suspected, to keep him in ignorance of much about where and when he really was. He was fed according to LA time, slept according to LA time. His hosts were very obliging, fitting in with a routine that was comfortable to him, even if it meant bringing him lunch at what seemed like 2am local time (judging by the yawns).

Even so, it felt like he'd been there longer than two and a half days. He got the impression that somehow time moved at a different rate outside his room. The continuum wasn't constant, but rather relative – like the dimensions inside and out of the TARDIS. He could turn this into a passable screenplay for 'The X-Files' or 'The Outer Limits' or 'The Twilight Zone', if only he could remember any of it. He suspected that the charade was perpetuated by some tricks they pulled while he slept. Perhaps his food was drugged so that he slept longer than he thought. Perhaps he was somehow being hypnotized.

He didn't know. But he felt no ill effects, so he didn't much care.

Let them play their time games. He was playing a few games of his own, and he had already eliminated numerous possibilities and broken down one or two preliminary barriers.

He minimized his program and flicked to a half completed game of Solitaire he'd left in the background as the Admiral came in, fidgeting nervously with his cigar as usual. He seemed even more distracted than normal, and David wondered if he had been discovered, if the entente was about to get less cordiale. He felt a moment's guilt at his ingratitude. Perhaps what he was doing was a bit underhand, when he thought about it from their point of view. But then again, it was their own faults. If they would just tell him what he wanted to know, sate his unquenchable thirst for knowledge just a little, then he wouldn't need to sneak around behind their backs trying to find out for himself. He didn't want to steal the system for heaven's sake, only find out what made it tick. He was just taking a professional interest, nothing more.

The Admiral ignored the computer, so David relaxed a little. He hadn't been detected.

He was not told every detail of what was going on in 'his' life, but he did get the occasional update to help him pick up the threads when he got back. Calavicci had already told him what the other Beckett had done in his name on that first afternoon – definitely rather him than me, David had thought. Perhaps the Admiral had merely come to give him another progress report.

"Things are starting to move, kid. I guess you could be going home real soon now." Al told him. He refused to give David any information as to the direction in which things were moving. He was more than usually evasive on this point, casting his eyes downwards and clearing his throat nervously.

David didn't like it, and started to say so. The Navy man put on his best poker face then, and became dismissive, trying to sound casual. David wasn't convinced, but it was clear that the man wasn't going to be drawn. Since he was not in a position to do anything about it, he decided not to let it worry him. He supposed he would find out soon enough.

Admiral Calavicci then claimed a pressing engagement elsewhere, and almost bolted for the door. David wondered why he had bothered turning up in the first place. Still, he was grateful for the warning. If it was possible he could be leaving soon, he was not going to waste a moment of whatever time remained. With renewed enthusiasm, he closed the superfluous game of solitaire, restored his program and began tapping keys for all he was worth.

Barely an hour after Al had left David in the Waiting Room, he found himself back in his room. He had just changed his suit for the third time, and was looking round for something else to do, when a klaxon blared. 'Time to mosey on down to the corral' thought Al, trying to convince himself that there was nothing to worry about, that it was just Ziggy giving him his alarm call as instructed.

But it didn't stop.

It was too strident.

It wasn't just an alarm:

It was an ALARM.

Something was drastically wrong.

Al shot out of his room like a bullet from a starting pistol, almost knocking Tina flying. She had been racing to fetch him.

All along the corridors people were bustling hither and thither in a frenzy of activity, shouting incoherently at one another.

"Where's the fire?" cried Al, spinning Tina round to face him; putting out a hand to steady her; stunned by the look on her face.

"What in the name of Sam Hill is going on?" he was not at all sure that he really wanted to know.

Tina was panting, trying to get her breath back. Desperate and yet terrified to tell Al what had happened. Not that she could believe it. She was almost hysterical. Al thought about slapping her back to reality, but decided that it was not appropriate. This wasn't Tina – leggy lovely - whom he'd dated, and bedded on and off for years, having one of here girlish tantrums. The woman facing him now was the other side of Tina - Ms Martinez-O'Farrell, the pulse technician whose knowledge of Ziggy had been second only to Gushie's (apart from Sam of course) until Sammy-Jo Fuller had unexpectedly joined the team. Her technical expertise certainly far surpassed Al's.

He grasped her firmly by the shoulders and stared her straight in the eyes.

"Tell me!" he ordered, and then shouted over his shoulder,

"Someone switch that damned siren off. I can't hear myself think."

Someone hurriedly obeyed.

Al snapped his attention back to Tina, who was drawing in a deep breath.

"It's…it's Ziggy –" she began, eyes darting wildly from side to side like she wanted to escape, run, miles away, be anywhere but here, having to tell Al. Which was true.

"What about Ziggy?" asked Al in exasperation.

"SH-he's d-dead."

"WHAT!" whatever Al might have been expecting her to say, this didn't even come close.

"What the hell are you talking about?" his urge to slap her returned, (though he was not an abusive lover by nature) but again he resisted, Naval discipline lending him restraint.

"He.. she.. it's gone completely off line. We can't get a peep out of her. Total systems crash. Dead." She was sobbing now, limp beneath his grasp.

He propelled her down endless corridors, towards the room that housed Ziggy's mainframe. If this was some kind of joke, it was in very poor taste.

The room was dark, and eerie. It had always been – since the momentous day when Ziggy had first been switched on – a place of bright colored lights, and noise, and above all – as its name suggested - Control. Now Gushie and Sammy-Jo were pushing buttons frenetically, while engineers and technicians and electricians were fiddling with power sources and checking fuses and poking around with screwdrivers and doing anything and everything they could think of to regain some measure of control. Nobody knew what on earth they were looking for; they only knew they couldn't find it.

"What happened?" asked Al, incredulously. "How could this be allowed to happen?" he was Project Controller now, in charge and demanding answers. The one he most wanted was 'when am I going to wake up and find this nightmare is over?'

Three or four people started babbling at once, offering excuses, and trying to shift blame. Al silenced them all with a bark.

"Gushie?"

If anything, Gushie's mousy brown mustache looked limper than ever. His lab coat was done up on the wrong buttons. Al could never reconcile the image of this pathetic little man with severe halitosis to the role of Chief Programmer, whose working knowledge of Ziggy was legendary. Now, Al dismissed his criticisms of Gushie's personal hygiene. It was his mind he was interested in.

"I – I –I d-don't know, Admiral." Stuttered Gushie, despair in every syllable. "We – we were running options, just as you instructed. Then suddenly Ziggy started side tracking, feeding out garbage. We tried to adjust it, but it was like we weren't in control. The more we tried to correct the glitch, the worse it got. Ziggy was talking gibberish, gabbling something about someone being inside her head and she had to get them out. I know Dr Beckett programmed her with a personality, but I didn't know she was capable of having a nervous breakdown. Cos that's what seemed to happen. Before we knew what was going on Ziggy had shut down all her systems. We can't get anything out of her at all. Not a flicker."

Ziggy was self-energized, they couldn't pull her plug against her will, nor power her up without her consent.

"What Nothing? Zero? Zip? Zilch? Nada? On any level?"

This was so far beyond the realms of possibility for Al that he couldn't grasp the concept. He drew out his COM link, clutching at it as a drowning man clutches at straws. It was silent and unlit, as lifeless as a solar powered calculator during a total eclipse. He pressed each and every button in turn, searching for any glimmer of a reaction. He got neither sound nor light.

"You must be able to get something?" he was pleading now, as the implications began to sink in.

Without Ziggy, they couldn't keep tabs on Sam.

Without Ziggy, Al couldn't help and advise him.

Without Ziggy, Sam was Lost.

Irrevocably.

Most immediately, without Ziggy, Al couldn't walk into the Imaging Chamber by Midnight – Sam's time – and be there to watch his friend's back as he snooped round the complex.

Al Calavicci was not a happy man.

"We're working on it, Admiral." Tina assured him. When she called him Admiral he knew things had hit rock bottom. Usually her references to him were much more intimate than that, even in public.

"Work faster, dammit." He snapped, and turned on his heels.

When he reached the door, he froze, and then wheeled about. He looked from Gushie to Tina to Sammy-Jo to the horribly silent Ziggy. He looked again.

"Admiral?" Gushie saw the double take – didn't understand it.

Al's mind was working furiously. He was an ex-Naval Officer, jet-jock, ex-astronaut, man of action. He didn't pretend to be a computer expert. But he'd been around Sam and the others long enough to pick up some of the jargon. Now, two possibilities suggested themselves to him, and he didn't like either one of them. He rubbed his temples, searching for the correct phrases.

"Could it be a – a virus?"

That was it; Ziggy was sick. Just a bit under the weather. A quick dose of whatever computers used for antibiotics and he would be fine. No problem.

"First thing we thought of when he started on the gobbledegook." Said Sammy-Jo, trying not to sound too patronizing.

Al swallowed convulsively. That left the other option. The one he had been most afraid of. 'Please tell me I'm wrong' he prayed silently, as he voiced his suspicion.

"What did you say Ziggy told you?" he asked Gushie again.

"He was babbling; it was utter rubbish." Gushie hadn't seen where this was leading, but he was beginning to even as he spoke.

He was trying to convince himself it couldn't be happening. It was unthinkable.

"Tell me!" snapped Al, aware of the seconds ticking away, seconds which could be crucial for Sam. Painfully aware of Ziggy's last coherent prediction, and the overwhelming odds. Odds that he suspected had just got even worse.

"She said … said that someone was inside her head." Gushie was whiter now than his lab coat, stained with the candy bars that were his staple diet these days.

The truth dawned on them all, and there was not an iota of difference in their expressions as Al, Gushie, Sammy-Jo and Tina stared at each other in horror and disbelief. Al broke the deadlock. It was like a shattering of mirrors.

"I'll KILL him." He snarled, as the others turned their attention back to Ziggy. Now they knew the root of the problem, they could set about finding a cure.

Al stormed back to the Waiting Room, pushing past several project personnel as if they weren't there. He burst through the door, as if he'd used dynamite to open it.

If he'd had any to hand, he probably would have done.

David jumped visibly.

His elation at finally gaining access to the computer called Ziggy had been short lived. The computer had detected the intruder, and when it had failed to lock him out again, it had simply shut itself down. Gone off line. Switched off. It was the most brilliant and complete piece of protection he had ever encountered, but it was bitterly disappointing.

And then all hell had broken loose. Alarms had gone off all over the place: deafening; reproaching. He'd heard all the running and shouting, and knew it was his fault, but he didn't know what to do about it. He was scared. What would they do to him if they found out?

Now a sound like thunder announced he was about to discover what they were going to do to him, and he backed away from the door, certain he was not going to enjoy it.

The Admiral barged in, his face as puce as the suit he was wearing. The eyes were glazed, mad. The fists were clenching and unclenching. The jaw was working as he struggled through rage to find his voice. He closed the gap and David found himself cowering in a corner.

"Do you have any idea what you've done, you blasted moronic HACKER?" he bellowed, grabbing at David's shirt and pulling him forward so that David could smell the tobacco on his breath.

"I'm s-sorry." He whispered. It sounded pathetic, even to him.

"I d-didn't mean to. I didn't know. I only…" he was scared witless. The Admiral, who had always seemed small and rather ridiculous in his jester's outfits, now towered over him menacingly, and David felt the full weight of his wrath descending upon him.

"Don't you realize, whatever happens to Sam, affects you too? You've trapped him, in God knows what danger. You stupid little…"

Words failed him.

Even a colorful Naval vocabulary failed to find an adjective strong enough to adequately describe just how stupid Al thought he was. The Admiral was verging on apoplexy.

"I ought to…" he drew back his arm.

'Here it comes.' Thought David, bracing himself for the blow he knew he deserved, flinching, closing his eyes.

It didn't come.

Instead, Calavicci diverted the blow, and slammed his fist into the wall behind David's head, not caring that he grazed his knuckles.

David dared to open one eye, then the other. The old man was tearing up, still holding David by the shirt, but with a less tense grip.

He looked like he'd totally lost it.

"I can't even hit you, you bastard. Not while I can still see so much of Sam in your eyes. But if anything happens to him, anything, so help me…"

David didn't need it spelling out. He felt a complete and utter heel.

It wasn't meant to be like this. This wasn't what he'd wanted. He'd spoiled everything. And the Admiral had said that Dr Beckett was in danger.

He wished he knew what was going on back in the City of the Angels.

So did Al.

"I'm real sorry." David said again, knowing it was inadequate but needing to say it nonetheless.

"You just better hope we can get Ziggy back boy, before it's too late."

He released his grip, pushing David back against the wall in a dismissive gesture, looking at him like he was sorry he'd sullied his hands by even that contact. David thought he looked easily ten years older than when they'd first met only days ago.

You could have cut the atmosphere with a knife. David felt he had to do something to make amends.

"There must be something I can do to help," he ventured, hesitantly, making a move towards the computer terminal. Admiral Calavicci intercepted him, and yanked the plug out. He disconnected the keyboard and tucked it under his arm.

"Don't you think you've done more than enough already?" he spat, and stormed out.

He went back to Ziggy, but Sammy-Jo and Tina made it quite clear he was just getting in the way.

He returned to the Imaging Chamber, but it might just as well have been a padded cell without Ziggy to activate it.

He tried going back to his room, but it didn't welcome him.

He was out of place wherever he went: A spare part, redundant.

So, he went where no one ever went: The Inner Sanctum.

He let himself into Sam's private quarters with a Security pass key, as if contact with Sam's possessions could somehow bring him contact with the man.

The room had been kept sealed, preserved almost like a shrine, exactly as Dr Beckett had left it on that fateful May 1st. It looked as if its owner had just stepped out for lunch, and would be back at any moment. Al looked around, taking in the familiar details, the family photographs, the books; the essence of Sam Beckett.

Sam was a very private man – Al was one of the few people who had been honored with an invitation to his personal retreat. Al stared at the door now, as if he could will his friend to walk through it, smiling and bubbling with enthusiasm, as he had been the last time they were together in this room. The door remained firmly and stubbornly shut.

Al felt lost and alone and useless and old.

Secure in the knowledge that there was nobody to witness his sentimentality, Al opened a drawer and picked up Sam's favorite sweater – a deep rich green woolen turtle neck, which his mother had knitted for him one Christmas. Feeling its softness and the weight of it in his hands, Al sank onto Sam's bed. His lips quivered.

"Oh, Sam," he breathed, "Please don't do anything hasty. Wait for me, Sam. Don't go without me. Please, Sam."

He shook his head in utter inconsolable despair.

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