The essence of Project Quantum Leap was to undo history; to put right what once went wrong.
And so, while Sam was in the in-between time after he leaped out of one life but had not yet arrived at the next life (for him it was instantaneous, but in reality it was several hours), as usual, Ziggy checked Sam's future to see if this leap was the one to return him home. No one had any real hope, but it was habit and not checking felt like betrayal so they continued.
And this time, Ziggy saw that Sam would never return home.
She announced it, as mournfully as a computer could, and spirits plummeted, none more so than Donna's, who still believed her husband would return to her. He promised, after all.
In the interceding hours, they brainstormed, trying to figure out what had changed, but couldn’t come up with anything. In the end they decided that Al would ask Sam, see if he knew what had happened. Even though this course of action could very well depress him, if he had any idea what might have happened and how they could fix it, it was worth it.
Finally they got a lock on him, and Al went into the Waiting Room, finding a nondescript man who was panicking.
Al sighed. This was all too common. Almost all of them panicked when they first arrived. He started to go through the well practiced spiel to calm them down, got the information he needed, and left to go to the Imaging Chamber, to get to Sam where and when he was.
He found him alone in a room, and had fun scaring him by shouting “BOO!”. Sam jumped a foot in the air, and Al burst out laughing.
“That never gets old,” he said, still chuckling.
“Al!” Sam was quite indignant, as always, although, this time he calmed down much quicker. Al wondered why.
“What’s your wife’s name?” he asked, seemingly out of the blue.
“Aw, Sam, what’s that got to do with anything?” he was quite befuddled as to the extremely random question. “Your brain Swiss-cheesed even more, or something? You’ve never forgotten Beth before.” Suddenly Al was worried this was the reason Ziggy predicted that he would never come home, that his memory was tied into it somehow.
Sam slumped with relief. “It worked”, he muttered, elated. “It worked! Al, you’re married to Beth! She waited for you!”
“Sam, what the hell are you talking about? I've always been married to Beth. I think you’ve leaped too many times, your brain’s getting fried.” The words may have been flippant, but Al was genuinely concerned; especially after that weird and creepy leap into that bar.
“No, no, Al I... oh, never mind. I'm just glad it worked. So what’s this leap about? What do I have to do?”
Al proceeded to inform him of his task, all the while looking at him with deep concern.
He hesitated, but decided to ask anyhow. “Did something happen between the last leap and this one, Sam? Has something changed?”
“Everything’s changed, Al. everything. But you wouldn’t believe me if I told you what happened.” Sam was quite passionate.
Al decided to put the jokes aside. “Does this have something to do with Beth?” Al Calavicci was a lot of things, but stupid wasn’t one of them.
“Yes, Al. I changed history, your and her history. Did Ziggy say anything, you seem really shaken?”
“She said... Sam, she said you wouldn’t ever come back. Why would she know that? What happened? Whatever you changed, change it right back. You had a chance at coming back before that stupid Al’s Place leap. We have to get you home.” Sam had never heard Al beg like this. It was a huge divergence from the easy-going man’s typical behavior.
“I can’t, Al. If you having a wife you love means I can never go back home, I’ll take it. You deserve it, you deserve Beth.”
“Damn it, Sam!” he shouted, losing his temper. “You have a wife you love waiting for you, too! You deserve happiness so much more than I do that it’s not even funny, and there’s no way I’m not getting you home! I promised her that I would get you home, Sam. Don’t make a liar out of me. Please, undo whatever you did. Don’t worry about me.”
Sam had frozen at the beginning of his friend’s rant. He had a wife? Wouldn’t he remember something like that? He remembered his parents, his siblings. Why not her? He knew Al would never lie to him, but why would he forget his wife? How could he forget her, if he apparently loved her?
Al realized what he had let slip, and knew he would get hell for it from the others, but right now he didn’t care. If this is what it took to get Sam home, it would be worth it.
“Sam, come on,” Al wheedled.
Sam was trying to sort out his thoughts. He figured he had plenty of time to think about what al had just told him, he needed to concentrate on the here and now. Changing things back was not an option, he wouldn’t leave al heartbroken, but apparently something about it had changed his own future. Now he just had to figure out what exactly. But how?
“Al, just let me get through this leap, okay?” His thoughts were taking him in circles, and he needed a break. Al recognized that – they knew each other extremely well – so he dropped the subject, for now.
Over the next few days, Sam tried to figure out what he had changed along with Al’s love life. But nothing seemed to fit. Nothing explained the 100% chance he would never return home.
He quizzed his friend until they had both just about gone crazy. At first Al was hesitant to reveal so much, but after speaking with the rest of the team, they had authorized giving Sam whatever information he wanted, anything that might help him come home.
Finally, just as he was leaping, he realized what had changed. After he had arrived at the next leap, he had several hours to think about it, and how he would explain it to Al.
When Al did arrive, he was still just as tense, but at least not all out panicking like last time.
This time it was Sam who was speaking quickly and excitedly. “Al, I figured it out. See, Gail was the one who got me to think about the little things in the retrieval program, but because now I had never met her, because you didn’t introduce her to me, I didn’t install the final touches of it, the sort of things I would never have thought of on my own, and I know it doesn’t work, but I’ve thought of other things that might get a higher percentage of success....”
“Whoa, whoa, kid, slow down. You have a solution?”
“I think so. You need to program things for me, because obviously I can’t do it myself, but I’ll tell you exactly what to do.”
Al visibly relaxed. “Thank god. Okay, lay it on me.”
Once Sam had finished explaining in great detail what he had to do, his head was swimming. He just hoped it worked.
He gave Sam his assignment, leaving him to carry it out while he attended his own task.
Hours later, the team surrounded Ziggy, and the question was asked. “What are the chances of the retrieval program working?”
Ziggy had to calculate, so it took a second. “63% chance Dr. Beckett will be able to return using the retrieval program.”
It took a second to sink in, but when it did they were just short of jumping up and down in ecstasy. The best it had ever been before was 9%.
They immediately set about getting Sam back. The tension grew and grew during the time it took to fire up. Usually this was the point where it would power down and fail.
But it didn’t this time.
The light kept getting brighter, until they had to avert their eyes, and then it suddenly faded. They were sure it had failed yet again, but they looked into the waiting room, and – there was Sam!
After the initial excitement faded, they started forward, letting the medical doctor, Tina Walker, through. He was lying on the bench, unconscious.
They had all gone through an emotional roller coaster today, and again were terrified. Gooshie and al carried him to the sick bay, and when they had lowered him down to a bed stood back and let Tina look at him.
All four of the core team (Al, Verbena, Gooshie and Donna) were in the room awaiting the verdict.
“I can’t figure out why he isn’t awake. The only thing I can think of is the shock of being home. Hopefully he’ll wake up soon.” She didn’t look happy not knowing what was happening with him, but neither were they.
Gooshie and Verbena left to get all the equipment organized, while Donna and Al sat at his bedside.
Donna reached out her hand, slowly, toward Sam’s face, as though afraid he would disappear. He didn’t, of course. She started raking through his hair. She had only seen him once in the nine years he had been gone, and that was one night five years ago.
She knew she wasn’t the only one to miss him, but all the others had people to lean on. She was alone without him.
Both Tom and Katie, his siblings, were married with children, as was Al. she was thankful she and Sam didn’t have children, she didn’t want to have to raise a child on her own, with the child not knowing his or her father.
They stayed there for hours, until Al got up and told her the committee would probably want to know he was back. She nodded without looking up.
She fell asleep there, but in the morning she awoke to see Sam staring at her with wide eyes and a wide smile. She sat up straight, grinning back at him.
“Do you remember me?” she asked straight out. He laughed and nodded.
“I don’t know how I ever forgot you, Donna,” he said.
She leaned forward, holding him and kissing him wherever she could reach. He sat up, returning the hug.
“I don’t have any holes in my memory anymore.” She was very happy to hear that, and thought it explained his unconsciousness, his brain was getting used to the overload of memories and information.
“I want Tina to check you over, and then we’re going home,” she declared.
The next day, Sam and Donna returned to the building which housed Project Quantum Leap. The former evening, they had gone straight home and greetings between Sam and the others had been minimal at best.
This morning, though, there was an almost party like atmosphere. Sam reunited with his friends and coworkers. He was welcomed back as a hero, even though it embarrassed him. He was of the opinion that he didn’t do anything special, just put right what once went wrong.
A few hours later, as the party was winding down, the core group sat down for a discussion. This group consisted of Sam, Al, Donna, Gooshie, Verbena and of course Ziggy.
They discussed what they would do now, and while almost everyone thought Sam had done enough and should rest, he himself didn’t think so. "You can retrieve me easily now, can’t you? Say a week at a time, or a set amount of leaps. I can go back and forth. I can be home with the people I love, and alternately leaping and making the world a better place."
Everyone knew it was really Donna's decision, and Sam spoke directly to her, trying to convince her.
"There is no guarantee the retrieval will work again, it is only a 63% chance. We were very lucky it worked once, what if it doesn’t again? I won’t be able to handle losing you again, Sam. I can’t."
"I'll work on it. I'll make sure it works, but I can’t abandon my work now, Donna. There is still so much I can do, so much I can fix."
"Then let someone else do it," she implored.
"I'm used to it, it wouldn’t be fair to have someone else go through it when I am perfectly capable. I know how things work. Besides," he continued, seeing both his wife and Al open their mouths, "what about the evil leapers? I know how they work. Even Al wasn’t there all the time."
This deflated them, and verbena asked, "What are you planning on doing about the evil leapers? What can you do?"
"I'm going to find out everything I can from this side. Hopefully there will be something I can use against them, some weakness."
"Did Alia tell you anything about them?"
He shook his head. "Nothing important. Have you found out anything about them?"
Gooshie nodded. "They started about three years ago, in 2005, and are located in Montana. Alia was the first leaper they sent, but when she abandoned her mission, they sent Zoey instead. We don’t know much about their crew, only that their computer was christened Lothos. We only know about Zoey and Thames, her hologram companion – your Al. we don’t know anything else, not where they got the theory, or why they are trying to sabotage you, nothing."
"Do they know about us more than we know about them?"
"No. They only know about you, Al and Ziggy. No one else."
"Okay, so if we send someone to Montana, as long as it’s not me or Al, they won’t know we're investigating them?"
"But Sam, it’s not public knowledge; someone visiting them would have to be either from us, the military or the government."
"The committee is supporting us, right? So anyone trying to stop us would have to be stopped themselves, because they would be against the government."
There was a pause as everyone thought over the crazy proposal Sam had given. Reluctantly they agreed that it was the best way to get information.
Then Sam revealed what clinched it for them. "I figured out how to control my leaps. I can go to when and where the evil leapers started; maybe I can stop them from ever existing."
"How?" Donna said, astonished.
"I don’t know exactly how it works, but if I think about a time and place I can go there. This is only ever since Al's Place, but I haven’t been controlling the last couple of leaps, just letting God, Time, Fate or whatever decide."
After ironing out a few details, such as how to approach the committee and convince them to send someone, and when and where Sam would go, the meeting dispersed and less formal greetings were exchanged between everyone and Sam.
It took a few weeks to get back an answer from them, and then for the information to get back to the team, so Sam had a few weeks to reacquaint himself with the world and Donna.
After he had a basic grasp on the newest advances and the outlines of what had changed, he and Donna went to visit his family, who had been told he was on a top secret mission for the government the past nine years.
Because of his leaping, he had changed history so that both his parents as well as Tom were still alive, and Katie hadn’t married someone who abused her.
They didn’t know he was back yet, so he decided to surprise them and turn up unannounced. He was extremely keyed up and excited during the flight from New Mexico to Indiana, amusing Donna.
They took a taxi to the house from the airport, and as soon as they got out, the door opened and his parents came rushing out of the house.
“Sam! Oh, Sam, you’re back! Is it really you? We’ve missed you!” his mother hugged him tight, only releasing him long enough to hug Donna and to let his father hug him. “Come inside, both of you! What were you thinking coming here dressed like that? You must be freezing.”
They sat down in the living room, cups of tea or coffee in hand.
“I returned a couple days ago, Donna’s been updating me on what I've missed the past nine years. Did anything happen family wise?”
“Yes, Annabel is married and has an adorable 2 year old daughter Alexis. Michael just got engaged, but they still haven’t decided on the wedding day.”
“Annabel and Michael as in Katie’s kids? I think it’s just hitting me how much I’ve missed. They were 17 and 15 when last I saw them.” He put his head in his hands. Donna rubbed his back to comfort him. When he had returned home, he still had his memories from before changing everything but he also had additional memories of the same events. He remembered the same holidays both with and without Tom, both of Katie’s marriages, both sets of kids, etc.
There was a small pause while Sam collected himself, and then he asked about Tom.
“He was promoted to captain a couple years ago.” His father was the epitome of a proud parent.
After a few hours catching up and simply basking in his parents presence, his mother asked, “will you have to leave again?” she was very nervous about the answer she would be getting.
“Most likely yes, but never as long. Maybe a few months at a time?” he looked at Donna, who nodded, albeit reluctantly.
“Oh, thank god!” Thelma Beckett dissolved into tears and pulled him into a hug. “It was far too long, Sam.” His father nodded seriously from behind her.
It took a while to calm her down, and by then it was dinner time, and Katie and her husband Jim arrived. Again there were hugs all around and catching up to do.
The week Sam was at Elk Ridge flew by, with his niece and nephew dropping by and seeing how the town had changed. The only fly in the ointment was that Tom was out of the country, but Sam promised he would be home at Christmas in a month, and Tom would also be home then.
He and Donna then returned to New Mexico to see if there was any new information on the evil leapers.
The moment they walked through the door the morning after having returned, Gooshie told them the good news.
“They got the theory because one of those who saw your initial work is with them; he took your theories and started his own project quantum leap. He approached greedy people for help and that’s how they became “evil”. They wanted to be able to earn money from manipulating the future, and you were stopping them from achieving their goal. That’s why they went after you, Sam.”
“What about Alia? She wasn’t greedy, she just wanted out.”
“Alia was the daughter of Henderson, the one who stole your theories. Best guess is that he forced her into it.” He shook his head sadly while saying it, but Sam and Donna had much stronger reactions.
After calming down, Donna asked Ziggy if she was safe.
“She is wandering through time, not knowing her own name. If that is what you call safe, then yes, doctor Eleese.”
Her eyes widened. “Can you bring her back with you?” she asked her husband.
He hesitated. “I've leaped with her before, but I don’t know if the retrieval will work on both of us, and that is if I even find her. Ziggy, what are the chances of us both being successfully retrieved?”
“13.4%, Dr. Beckett, and finding her would be 19.7% chance. The chances of both happening would be 2.6%.”
There was silence for a few seconds while that information sunk in.
“I’ll, uh, go see if I can update the retrieval program anymore,” Sam said, needing to do something to distract him from the impossibility of getting Alia to safety.
“What if Sam leaps into this Henderson, and stops him stealing his theories?” Although Donna was against him leaping again, she knew he felt responsible for Alia’s circumstances, even if it wasn’t in any way his fault.
“That would cause the evil leapers to not exist and to Alia never leaping, therefore not needing to be rescued,” Ziggy answered promptly.
Both Donna and Gooshie breathed a sigh of relief. “So with Sam updating the retrieval program, the percentages of successful retrieving will only go up, and then the evil leapers will cease to exist.”
So, in the end, Sam returned home, was reunited with his family, caused the evil leapers to stop existing, while making sure Al also got his happily ever after right alongside him.
They really did put right what once went wrong.