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back in time

Chapter Text

“So you see, the future lies in the past,” Robert Doniger stated with a finality that wrapped up his presentation nicely. He gave a smile and a wave as the small crowd applauded his speech. Each member of the audience had been carefully selected, except for one. Al Calavicci stood at the back of the room, where he had wormed his way in by calling in more than a few favors and promising a couple more.

He had caught wind of what ITC was working on a few months back but had been unable to confirm it or reach anyone of importance at the company until now. With Ziggy’s predictions of the Project retrieving Sam at abysmal numbers, they had started to look to outsource. The problem was, even with the astounding numbers of secret government projects on everything from aliens to mind control, Project Quantum Leap seemed to be the only one dealing with time travel. Al had a feeling there was something else out there that they just weren’t digging deep enough to find so he put Ziggy on hacking duty and he started scanning any sort of network he could get into. ITC’s network was closed so it was stubborn, but luckily so was Ziggy. He managed to weasel out some lower-level reports and memos that spoke of the 14th century as if it were tomorrow. After taking a look at their payroll and seeing numerous quantum physicists, engineers, and historians, Al started making some calls.

That’s how he ended up attending this investors’ conference led by ITC’s president, Doniger. He may have had to imply that he was here representing the government’s checkbook in order to get there. Al hoped to catch Doniger after his speech and now was his moment, he was just finishing up shaking hands with some very interested private investors.

“Excuse me, Mr. Doniger, can we speak somewhere private?”

Doniger flashed one last smile to the crowd and turned to the admiral, putting a hand on his shoulder and turning him towards the door.

“Well sure, my office is this way. Admiral Calavicci I assume?”

Al nodded and held out his hand for a shake, which Doniger shook in the fashion all businessmen did: firm and obvious he’s had a lifetime of practice.

His office was very sparse and modern; abandoning the family photographs in favor of blueprints and bits of technology on display like trophies. He sat down in his chair and Al took the seat opposite, hand going for a cigar but stopping himself and instead patting his pocket absent-mindedly.

Doniger stared at Al like a shark. Emotionless, dangerous. It was clear he wasn’t starting this meeting so Al cleared his throat and opened his mouth to speak, which was right when Doniger cut in, knocking Al a little off balance.

“Admiral, I don’t know why you’re here but I do know it isn’t to invest in ITC. The big guys up at DC wouldn’t send some pseudo-retired posterboy for a job like that, no.”

Al was silent. He must have looked up his record and seen the 6 year gap, which was PQL, but that was too classified to even be listed vaguely.

“I saw your background in engineering and physics, could you be here to ask me for a job? What could make you want to abandon your lifelong commitment to the Navy? Is there something-”

“You’re right!” Al interjected, having heard enough and not liking a bit of it. For a man who said he didn’t know why Al was there, it sure sounded like he had a big theory cooked up. “Well, not about the second part,” he waved a hand dismissively, “but the first part I’ll give ya. I’m not here to pay you.”

Doniger leaned forward at the confession and Al took a deep breath.

“I’m part of a project-a classified project-that has a similar goal to your own. We’ve had-” he paused, thinking about how much he wanted to reveal to Doniger. How much chum to throw to the sharks. “We’ve had a little hiccup with ours and well, to be honest, we would ne-” he paused again. Need was too strong. “We would benefit from your help.” Doniger sat back into his chair and gave Al a onceover, as if seeing him in a new light. “I’m sure we have some tech that you could benefit from as well! Scratch each other's backs, you know?” He quickly added.

“I can’t say I’m not interested, Admiral,” The frequent use of Al’s title was starting to bug him, it was something in the way he said it. “But you’d have to offer us a hell of a lot to make this worth my time. Our system doesn’t get hiccups. So what can you offer me?”

This was the part of the speech Al had practiced. He launched into Sam’s wonderful little string metaphor and then parroted some of Gooshie’s words about how the Accelerator worked. Doniger was unimpressed and Al had expected as much, considering ITC’s take on the whole thing was a lot more advanced. His next move was to offer up the Imaging Chamber and holographic technology. He seemed a little more interested in this, but not there yet. Damn. Al had really thought that would grab him. Maybe he just needs to hear a bit more about it? Work out how incredible it is on his own. Yeah.

“Right now, we just use the IC to look at the past,” True, if not entirely honest, “and it’s just hooked up for me, the director of the project, and the computer,” He had purposefully avoided mentioning Ziggy the entire time, he was one thing that couldn’t be turned over to a private corporation like ITC. Doniger appeared a little more interested.

“What do you mean, hooked up just for you?”

“Well the technology relies on our brain functions and since each person is different, it has to be tuned directly to our own neurons. It’s not difficult to tune in a new person though,” He hastily added, “In a pinch, the computer made it work for our technician although he had a hell of a time keeping him stable.” Hearing this, Doniger’s eyes lit up. It was as if he was waiting for those words.

“He?”

“Yeah, the technician. Sorry I can’t give you any names but this is all top secret stuff.”

“That’s not what you said.”

“Pretty sure I started off saying it was classified,” Al was getting a little annoyed now. Something in Doniger’s tone made Al feel like he missed the punchline of a joke.

“That’s not what I mean, you were talking about the computer.

The way he said that made Al’s stomach turn as he finally caught onto his meaning.

“Oh well, you must have misunderstood me. I was talking about Gooshie,” Oops. He let the name slip in his momentary confusion but Doniger didn’t look interested in that.

“You weren’t. You referred to the computer as he. What could you have meant by that I wonder?”

Al swallowed. Picked a quick excuse.

“Just a slip of the tongue.”

Doniger wasn’t buying it. This game of cat and mouse was almost over, his paw on Al’s tail. His expression shifted and his tone changed to one you’d use to help a child work out a problem.

“Who runs the project?”

“Me and the director.”

“You’re in charge, yes, but who runs it? Who controls the technology?”

“Well we have technicians for that, like I said-”

“No. You have technicians who run the thing that runs the project. You have an artificial intelligence, don’t you, Admiral?”

The floor dropped out from under Al and his skin lost all color. This was not going as planned. Al’s sudden silence and his ashen complexion were all the confirmation Doniger needed. The cat had caught the mouse, the shark had eaten the fish, the game was over.

He suddenly stood and brushed nonexistent dust from his shirt. Al snapped out of it and jumped to his feet, all pretense out the window.

“Look, I can’t offer you Ziggy, I just can’t. Even if I could he wouldn’t go along with it. He’s very difficult, ego the size of Manhattan,” He threw his hands out in a wide gesture to emphasize.

“Admiral, I’m going to be straight with you. We’ve got a quantum computer to rival Star Trek. We can time travel, we can teleport. Hell, I even have a colleague who can shrink people! Your little philosophical life-is-a-string theory are the smallest of potatoes to me. Your project is worthless. Except for that AI. That’s one walnut we haven’t been able to crack. I can tell you’re reluctant to give it up, so, name your price. What do you need in return? Say it and you’ve got it.”

Al’s head was spinning and the wristlink that had stayed silent the whole time gave a little chirp. Doniger glanced at it and smirked.

“Need to talk it over? You can have my office. I’ll go get some coffee,” He walked out the door and closed it behind him.

Al sunk back into the chair and gave the wristlink a tap, which unmuted Ziggy. He was uncharacteristically quiet for a moment.

“If I had to be turned over to anyone else, I’m glad he looks like that,” he said in a dreamy voice. At Al’s confusion, he sighed and added, “The camera in the corner? I’ve been watching the whole thing go down.”

“Ziggy… we’re not turning you over to anyone. We’ll have to find another way. How would we run anything without you?”

“You’d manage.”

“You’d really be okay with it?”

“For Dr. Beckett, I’d be okay with anything,” Suggestive tone in his voice aside, he sounded genuine.

In a hypothetical situation, Al would never give up Ziggy. Ever. He loved him nearly as much as he loved Sam. Which was the problem. He loved Sam. Loved him so much he would give anything to get him back home, and right now ‘anything’ included handing Ziggy over to some corporation with a sadist president. And this wasn’t hypothetical. This was a very real situation where after years of dead ends and false hope, there was finally a light at the end of the tunnel.

Al put his face in his hands and sighed.

“Ziggy, old girl, are you really okay with this? Maybe we could find some way to get you back after…” He mulled over a couple scenarios involving lying, a fake Ziggy, and a team of professional bank robbers. Nothing was looking hopeful. “Any ideas, Zig?”

“Nothing that’s too promising. Perhaps we should call in another vote.”

The wristlink beeped a couple times before a blue light turned on and up popped a little holographic Gooshie.

“Any luck over there?” There was hope in his voice.

“He found out about Ziggy, Gooshie. He wants him. He said he’d give us anything in exchange.”

Gooshie reeled, easily surprised. He bumbled over words before turning quiet for a moment and then snapping back.

“Anything?”

“That’s what he said. I’d say it’s our best, and currently only, shot at getting Sam back.”

“If he’s that desperate for Ziggy, I’d say you’re in control of that negotiation.”

It was as if a light had turned on. The fog had cleared. He’d been so focused on the decision of Ziggy vs Sam, he hadn’t even thought about Doniger’s perspective. He had aimed for the moon but anyone aiming that high had to be prepared to hit lower.

“He said they hadn’t cracked the science of AI yet… What if we traded Ziggy’s specs instead of Ziggy himself? Maybe even some of Sam’s original notes.”

Gooshie started to answer, but Al heard the door start to open so he hung up on him. He stood to face him, standing tall with a new confidence in the plan. He started talking first, before Doniger could even sit down, so as to get in control of the conversation. Control was an important thing with a man like Doniger.

“I’ve talked it over with my colleagues. Unfortunately, we just cannot offer you our AI. However, we are prepared to talk about his specifications and answer any questions you have about creating one of your own.”

Doniger took a sip of the coffee he’d just brought in and looked into the distance.

“You have a deal. What do you need from me?”

Chapter Text

Al paced around the hotel room. It was dark out, and the lights in the room were off, the only light being supplied by the handlink’s holographic call with Gooshie, who chattered on about what questions Al should be asking tomorrow. Tomorrow he would tour the real facilities of ITC, not the boring circuit-factory he’d seen yesterday before the meeting with Doniger.

He didn’t know what to expect from it. Doniger’s presentation had carefully avoided talking about the technology they used to access the past. All the folks at PQL could work out was that it was quantum-based, which bid well for them. And the way he had talked about the Accelerator, Al could guess that whatever machines they were using were far more advanced. It gave him hope. And apparently Gooshie too, since he had been going on about it for over an hour without a single word from Al.

“Look, Gooshie, I’ll call you tomorrow if I need to. And if I really forget to mention something that important, I’m sure Ziggy will be happy to butt in,” He gave an affirmative squeak, “I’m going to bed. Night,” Al shut off the call without waiting for a response. Gooshie was used to being hung up on, especially by Al.

He sat down on the edge of the bed and stared at the wall. He was truly alone for the first time since getting concrete hope for Sam’s return and was feeling a lot of emotions at once. The day had been emotionally exhausting. Doniger playing him like a fiddle, almost saying goodbye to Ziggy, realizing he would do absolutely anything for Sam because he loved him. Whoa. He always knew that he loved Sam, it was a given in their relationship, but he had never confronted it before. And now that he’d said those words, even if just to himself in his inner monologue, it seemed so obvious. He really, truly loved Sam in every sense of the word.

He laid back on the bed, feet dangling over the edge. Now that realization brought up some more that he had been working to keep buried for many years. Realizing that he was gay had come on gradually but coming to terms with it had been the real struggle. He still wasn’t there. He got close, in the 70s, but then he went to work for the Navy again and he shoved it back down deep and got married. Again.

His whole life had been one big attempt to cover it up, either from himself or others, he wasn’t even sure which sometimes. He had thought he really loved Beth, and he did and does, but just not in the same way. It was easier to pretend he had though, now that she was gone from him. He loved each of his wives as well, but again, just not the same. A couple of them had even been more of a mutual arrangement than a marriage in that they were also gay. Being married to the opposite sex was a pretty convincing coverup. So he had admitted it a few times, to a few ‘wives,’ but he tried to believe he was lying for their sake. Just playing the role in order to get the girl. It was a weak lie but it was easier than facing the truth and fighting decades of conditioning.

Then there was Sam. Looking back, it had been love at first sight. If he hadn’t been hammered at their first meeting, he might have noticed and been worried about hiding it. But as time went on, it actually got easier. Sam wasn’t the macho type so Al didn’t have to try so hard. He still made up girlfriends and even dated a few, but just being near Sam all the time was enough that he didn’t feel like he had to overcompensate too much.

And then he leaped. And Al was left to confront his feelings for Sam in his absence. He did his best not to, and threw himself into his work and random women to cope. What little he had come to terms with before had been lost.

The Prescott leap happened and Al fiercely overcompensated, dredging up memories of his time in active duty. He had been distracted, thinking about his feelings and whether or not he really loved Beth, and it had got half the squadron killed and the other half, including him, captured. Admitting it out loud, even if it was third-person and distancing himself from it, and hearing Sam’s open acceptance had settled something inside him.

And now this. Finally admitting to himself that he didn’t just love Sam, he was in love with Sam.

Chapter Text

Al awoke to Ziggy squawking from both the hand and wristlink.

“I’m up, I’m up…” He rolled out of bed and quickly got ready. This was something it would not be fashionable to show up late for.

He looked himself over in the mirror; admiral dress whites and tired eyes. Eyes a lot more tired than he remembered.

He took a cab to the ITC building, where a tall military-type was waiting for him. He held out his hand as he approached, forgoing the typical salute Al usually received from other armed forces, he guessed this guy was private military or something else altogether. His grip nearly crushed Al’s hand.

“Frank Gordon. Follow me.”

They walked through the lobby, where secretaries were typing furiously and a couple well-dressed men chattered quietly on phones. When they got in the elevator, Al half expected him to type in some secret code on the pad or put a key into a hidden slot but he just punched the button for the roof.

“The roof, huh?”

Gordon just grunted.

When they arrived, a helicopter was primed and waiting. Gordon leaned down and ran across the landing pad, Al followed; although he hardly had to duck. He was hauled up into the copter, shoved into a seat, and a headset was thrown in his lap. Gordon started to pull the seatbelt down but he yanked it out of his hands, he didn’t enjoy having him do everything for him when he was perfectly capable. He’d been in plenty of copters before.

“Hang tight,” a voice came over the headset and they were off.

It was an hour or so flight out of the city and into the desert. When he realized they were heading for Stallion’s Gate he started sweating, no one was supposed to know they were out there, but he relaxed when they flew right past with any indication they had even noticed.

They continued on to a section of the desert with some low buildings scattered about. Black Rock. PQL had almost been stationed at Black Rock along with loads of other top-secret projects, but in the end they decided on the secluded and unknown Stallion’s Gate.

Al shielded his eyes from the sand as they touched down.

“We’re here.”

They jogged over to the unlabeled building, which was deserted inside, and went straight to a freight elevator where Gordon entered a code into a keypad, I knew it, and the elevator lurched as it began a long descent downwards.

Gordon pressed his finger to his ear.

“Yes sir,” he said to thin air.

After what seemed like forever, they came to a stop and stepped out into a large open room with computer terminals lining the walls. On the far end of the room was a glass panel bathed in blue light that rippled as if underwater.

“Ah, welcome, Admiral!” Doniger trotted across the room, a professional smile plastered on his face. He shook Al’s hand and gave him a pat on the shoulder.

“You’ve got quite a place down here. How deep are we?”

Doniger laughed, “the scientists, they love their caves! I bet your little project is also underground. They say all the rocks and minerals shield unwanted interference. The details aren’t really my department though so I’ll hand you over to our head physicist, Joe Traub,” he gestured towards a short balding man with a grey beard. He had a wicked sunburn which stood out against the pristine white of the lab coat he wore.

“Hi, hello, call me Joe, I’ve been looking forward to showing you around! We don’t get many visitors that require a tour down here so it’s rather exciting to walk someone through the process for the first time. Really amazing stuff,” he was shaking Al’s hand the whole time he rattled on, speaking faster than Tina even.

“Yeah, uh, I’m looking forward to it, too,” Al pulled his hand back and tapped the wristlink, “Ziggy, Gooshie, you read me?” It was important they be apart of this, to work out a way to merge the technology at ITC and PQL.

“Yes, we’ve got a little interference but I think we can make it work,” Gooshie replied through a layer of static.

“Ziggy, see if you can clear that up any.”

“Yes, sir,” he answered in a mocking tone.

Joe and Doniger exchanged a glance but made no comment. Usually no signal could reach the surface unless hardwired, maybe he had underestimated PQL’s tech after all.

“Well,” Joe clapped his hands together, “Let’s get started!”

Gordon and Doniger went to sit at a desk in the corner of the room, Doniger turning his attention to a computer and Gordon keeping a close eye on the room. Joe walked Al over to a wall that would have looked at home at JPL. Floor to ceiling; dials and knobs and buttons and flashing lights. A row of computer terminals ran the length of the wall, each showing complicated graphs and numbers. The screen at the end was cycling through a series of photographs: sand, a desert landscape, the night sky. Al leaned over to try and read one of the graphs.

“Don’t touch that!” Joe stuck his hand out to block him from the terminal and Al held his hands up in defense.

“Alright, Alright! So what’s all this do? How does it work?”

Joe broke into a grin and Al could tell this was going to be a little hard to follow.

“Our whole project runs on quantum foam. Inside the foam, there are microscopic gaps that we’ve discovered act as wormholes. The wormholes are small enough and the foam is firm enough that they’re fairly stable and reliable. We wanted to harness that and use it for teleportation.”

He walked over to a table in the corner that held two cages, each about a foot tall and linked by a thick cord.

“We figured that if we could somehow squeeze something through the wormhole, we’d be able to send things anywhere in the world, instantly. Like a fax, but for objects! Also like a fax, we had to find a way to break down the object and encode it so it could fit through the wormhole.”

He flipped a switch on a panel and a pink circle of light appeared at the top of one of the cages.

“We worked out a way to scan the object with quantum lasers, which would break down the object as it scanned it.”

The pink lasers moved down the cage and then shut off once it reached the bottom.

“That data is then compressed using a parallel supercomputer and sent through the wormhole. It was supposed to then reform at the other end,” he pointed to the second cage, “but it never did. A few minutes later it would appear in the first cage as if it had never left. At first we thought the data just wasn’t sending, but then we had the idea to send a camera on a timer.”

He nodded towards the photographs on the monitor.

“That brought us pictures of the desert; this desert. But no buildings or any sign of civilization. So we turned the camera up and used star charts to date the photographs. That’s when we realized this wasn’t teleporting the objects in space, it was moving them through time.”

He paused to let Al soak it in. It was sounding somewhat promising, but he couldn’t see how this could bring Sam back without stranding whoever he leaped into back in the Waiting Room. Maybe Gooshie or Ziggy could think of some way to use this.

Joe moved over to the window and waved Al over.

“These are the machines we’re using now. We’ve already sent a couple teams back, for observation purposes, with great success.”

Al leaned into the window to get a better view. It was a room lower than the one they were in, so he was looking down into it. In the middle were three larger versions of the cages with the lasers, only these weren’t attached by a cord. They were arranged in a triangle and surrounded by enormous curved tanks in three layers that were filled with water. The light passing through the tanks cast blue ripples over the whole room and gave him the impression he was underwater.

“What’s the deal with the fish tanks?”

“Those are to block certain wavelengths that have… interfered with the process in the past. As long as we have the shields up though, there’s been no transcription errors!”

“Transcription errors? You mean people getting put back together wrong?”

“Oh no, that makes it sound much worse than it is! It’s just that sometimes, before we put up the water shields, things would…” he made a ‘so-so’ gesture with his hand and winced, “look a little different when they returned. Maybe a little shorter, a streak of different hair color, that kind of thing. But that’s in the past!” He chuckled at the pun but Al wasn’t amused.

“Do you have a room I could use to talk this over with my colleagues? See if this is gonna work for us.”

“Oh sure!” Joe showed him out of the control room and down a short hall where he left him in a small conference room. There were chalkboards lining the walls, a computer terminal in the corner, and a half empty box of donuts on the table.

Al pulled the handlink out of his pocket and called up the project.

“You get all that over there?”

The link crackled and Al gave it a good whack. Typical.

“I think so, and we’ve got an idea!” Gooshie sounded excited.

“Great! Let’s hear it then,” Al picked up a donut.

“Since Dr. Beckett is physically swapping places with the leapee and the ITC machine physically transports people-”

“We just have to send the leapee back and replace Dr. Beckett with them!” Gooshie interrupted Ziggy, who gave a huff at his rudeness. No doubt he’d pout about that for a bit.

“I was saying, is that all we’d have to do is get the leapee from the Waiting Room to ITC, into a machine and back to their own time with Dr. Beckett and send Dr. Beckett back to our time in their place,”

“What about the auras? Won’t Sam and leapee still look like each other?”

“In theory, no, since the auras are just that: auras. The machine shouldn’t even pick up on them, so it wouldn’t encode it, and it wouldn’t send it through time.”

Al thought as he chewed the stale donut. This all sounded very hopeful and he struggled not to bounce right up and fly over to PQL and grab the leapee himself.

“I’ll run it by Joe right now.”

When he entered the control room again, he wasn’t noticed. Gordon, the watchdog, was focused on a conversation between Doniger, Joe, and a tall brunette. Their backs were turned to him and they were all leaned in close, talking in low voices.

“Look,” the woman was saying, “the 13th-”

“14th,” Joe interrupted.

“The 14th century is interesting and all but not when it’s a bug. You can’t take this commercial when you’ve got a flaw like that! The investors are already asking about specific times. What do you want to tell them, that you can only send them to Camelot?”

Doniger looked pissed.

“It is not a bug, we have control over it. We can send them to any goddamn time period they want.”

“That’s not what I heard,” the woman glanced at Joe, who looked like a guilty child. Doniger glared at him.

“I thought she had a right to know, sir, that the machine seemed drawn there. Even when we tried to send them somewhere else, they always popped back there after a few hours. I can’t explain it.”

“That’s why we need that AI. It could explain it and probably fix it,” the woman poked a finger at Doniger’s chest, “don’t screw this up.” She straightened up and stalked across the room, barely glancing at Al as she shoved past.

Doniger leaned back and sighed, turning to watch her leave, which was when his eyes landed on Al. His face darkened and he waved Al over, throwing Gordon a dirty look that said ‘you should have been paying better attention.’

Al had a bad feeling about this.

“I- uh- wanted to discuss our plan with Joe. Get his input on it,” he waved his hand towards the scientist for emphasis.

Doniger smiled.

“Of course,” he turned to Joe, “Dismissed.”

Joe and Al walked back to conference room in an awkward silence.

Al explained the plan. He tried to leave as much about Sam out as possible but ended up having to share a lot for it to make sense.

“What do you think? Will it work?”

Joe winced and rubbed his neck.

“It sounds pretty solid to me…”

“But…?” Al lead on after the pause.

“But, as you probably overheard, we are having a little hiccup with our machines.” Al gave a dry chuckle at the use of the word hiccup. “But everything should work out fine! We’ll just prepare you for the worst and hope for the best.”

“Those are words that should be used at Vegas, not in a scientific experiment,” Al said grimly. Joe just shrugged.

“Look, the deal is this. The machines gravitate towards medieval France, during the 100 years war, we don’t know why and we can’t control it 80% of the time. We always get them back though. In your case, it’d be such a quick stop you wouldn’t even realize it. We’d give you attire for the period just in case though, we can’t have you standing out.” Al laughed inwardly at that, he was dressed in Admiral whites again today, the tamest outfit in this closet.

“Well, that doesn’t sound too bad,” it actually sounded very bad. But Al was, and he hated this word, but he was desperate. This was the best chance at getting Sam back and by God, Time, or Fate, he was going to take it.

Chapter Text

They agreed to let him use the copter to transport the (sedated) leapee from PQL to ITC. Which means they now knew where the project was located and more about what exactly was going on there, but Al was so close to reaching Sam he couldn’t care.

Sam was currently on a rather boring leap and had been for about a day. He was a bartender named Henry Denvers in the 60s, and Ziggy predicted he was there to stop a patron from driving home drunk which resulted in an accident and death of a couple people in the original history. With Al busy, Gooshie had taken over as observer. Sam didn’t know what Al was up to, he thought he was away on a spur-of-the-moment Vegas trip, which was what Al often used as an excuse when he had to deal with bureaucrats and didn’t want Sam to worry. This time, he didn’t want him to get his hopes up.

When they arrived at the lab, the three machines were divided among the leapee, Al, and Gordon; he was sent along to make sure it all went smoothly and to operate the machines, which Al had been quickly briefed on (and given a marker, which was a small ceramic button that would be used to recall the machines) but they were expensive and it was safer to let someone from the company deal with them. The plan was to pop in around 11pm in a nearby abandoned lot a couple blocks from the bar where Sam was, leave Denvers sleeping peacefully in the backroom as he often did, and bring Sam back in the machine they’d used for Denvers. Simple enough.

When Al asked about the 14th century problem he and Joe had discussed, Gordon gave a dry chuckle and Doniger simply said “It’s taken care of.” Al wasn’t convinced but Joe had said it shouldn’t interfere much, so that was it.

They were each standing in a cage, Gordon looking very threatening, Denvers snoring lightly, and Al shifting his weight nervously from foot to foot. He wasn’t thrilled about being in another cage but he would do anything for Sam. Joe entered with three backpacks and made his way over to Al. He passed him two of the packs.

“Just in case, here’s some clothes and currency for the time period,” he said in a hushed voice.

“I thought these clothes would be alright, who didn’t love some denim-on-denim in the 60s?”

“Not that time period, the other one. Just in case.”

Al was silent at that. Better safe than sorry, he reasoned. Joe gave the third pack to Gordon.

The room was cleared and Al could see Doniger and a couple technicians looking down at them from the control room. He gave a shaky thumbs up.

The lights were shut off and the room was lit only by what shone down from the control window and the blue light that seemed to glow off the water tanks. A loud whirring sound began and a speaker came to life.

“Stand still… Eyes open… “

A kind of liquid fog rolled through the room and licked at his feet, it was freezing and the metal creaked at the temperature drop.

“Deep breath… Hold it…”

A clunking noise started which quickly grew to deafening volumes. Al winced but as soon as it started, it stopped, and the room seemed even more deafening in silence.

“...Now.”

A pink light appeared at the top of the cage, and with a final clunk it descended downwards. When it shone in his eyes, it briefly blinded him. He had to resist the urge to blink it away. When it faded on it’s own, he looked around and realized the lab was gone and replaced by an urban setting. The shock of it was dulled by years in the IC, which left him with a similar disoriented feeling. He was snapped out of it when he was hit with a cold breeze.

Gordon was already out of his machine and Al followed him over to Denvers, who Gordon slung over his shoulder fireman-style. Al could do a lot of things but carrying people wasn’t really one of them.

They walked the few blocks to the bar in silence and only passing a few other people, who probably assumed Denvers was drunk. When they reached the bar, they entered through the backdoor, which led into an empty storeroom. Al put a hand out to stop Gordon from leaving the room. It would sure look strange to the patrons to see two Denvers. He told him to wait there, and he’d go get Sam.

Al stood in the doorway between the back room and the bar and looked around. There was a small crowd and Sam was busy talking to someone at the other end of the bar. He lit a cigar. He had thought being here would be the same as when he visited Sam as a holographic and was surprised to find it felt very different. The smell was the main thing. He could smell the alcohol and the dirt and air that wasn’t stale like in the IC. It was a jarring reminder that this was real, he had time traveled, and Sam was right there in front of him. He was getting antsy just waiting for his attention and was about to interrupt when Sam turned around and met his gaze. He grinned and made his way over.

“Al… I thought I’d be stuck with Gooshie as my observer forever!” Sam whisper-yelled as his usual attention-drawing welcome. It’s a wonder people didn’t question him about it more.

“Well, Sammy, today’s your lucky day because you won’t be stuck with any observer from here on out!” Al smiled as he waved his hand in his typical fashion to articulate.

“You’re leaving?” Sam looked confused.

“What? No, Sam! You’re coming home!”

Al had thought it would be fun to surprise him with the news but at Sam’s look of doubt, it didn’t seem worth it. He reached out and grabbed his shoulder and gave him a shake.

“I’m here! Not a hologram!”

And Sam fainted.