"What do you mean their bodies are found in the river? How? Both of them? Was it murder?"
The questions that had been churning in his head for the past half hour tumbled out of his mouth one after the other, the suspense killing him. He'd been dragged into Casey and Burt's conversation right after Al had spoken, giving him no chance to reply. Now he stood behind the store, out of sight, and didn't bother keeping his voice down in a whisper.
"That's the huge problem here, Sam," Al said. "It's all classified! One was drowned, the other... Well, it wasn't pretty. Other than that, all of the information was hidden by the government. There is apparently a lot that goes on in this valley that is kept under wraps."
"Classified?" Sam frowned in puzzlement. "But that- that doesn't make any sense. It's a tiny town in the desert, what-...Wait a second...you said I'm a scientist, right? A scientist of what?"
"All we can find is you are an advanced geneticist who graduated from Culver University," Al informed. "You're here to study the local flora and fauna."
Rosalita was just getting into town. She pulled up in front of Chang's and swung open the door to her small blue car. 'Roger's' shouting drifted her way, and she decided to check on him. She swore, if this was another Mixmaster issue...
She headed around the back, finding the man alone and looking rather... irritated. A bit worried even. But no one was there for him to talk to, which was quite strange. "Uh, Roger, who in the world are you talking to?"
Sam whirled in surprise. "Oh! Uh, yeah, no, I- I uh-...I was just...thinking...out- out loud...yeah."
"Oh? About what?" She asked, a bit suspiciously.
"Whoa, mama," Al said, walking around the Latina. "I love Spanish chicks."
"Oh for cryin' out loud, Al, do you have to do that now?" Sam snapped, glaring at the hormonal man.
"What?" Al said, putting up his hands innocently. "Beth says I can look but not touch. An' I'm looking. "
"Okay... Roger, you're freaking me out," Rosalita said, backing up.
"Oh, no, wait, look-" Sam paused, realizing he didn't know her name. "I'm sorry, I just- I-..." There was no excuse he could think of that she would buy, no way to get out of this. "Look, I'm fine. Really."
"You're in for it now, Sam," Al warned.
"Umm... Maybe I should get Casey..." she offered, turning around. "Stupid loco valley," she hissed under her breath, "Always have to deal with it first."
Sam sighed in annoyance as she left. "Nice goin' Al!" he whispered.
"You're the one who had to say something!" Al argued. He watched Rosalita walk away before opening the imaging chamber door. "I think I'll go talk to Mr. Garrett, see if he can help us figure out what the hell is going on in this valley."
Al puffed on a cigar absentmindedly as the door to the imaging chamber opened with a whoosh. He had gotten a little bit of info from the real Roger that could helpful, but what he saw surprised him.
Sam was sitting on one of the lab tables, looking a bit flustered. The red-haired hottie was standing next to him, asking questions and taking notes while the spicy Hispanic and the two men that apparently needed saving stood around the room watching.
"So, you think this has got something to do with Mixmaster, Case?" Tyler asked, looking at Roger in confusion.
"What is going on here, Sam?" Al asked worriedly, walking towards him and through a shelf full of supplies to look over the redhead's shoulder.
"I don't know," Casey replied, shaking her head. "I'm not sure how it would cause someone to go-..." she cleared her throat. "...mess with someone's mind. It's not supposed to affect humans. We'll have to wait for the blood test to finish."
"I don't like how this sounds," Al paced around the table.
"I swear to God," Rosalita assured, "He was definitely talking to someone who wasn't there."
"Sounds like hallucinations," Tyler said.
"Or he's just gone plain mental," Burt added, receiving looks from the others. "I'm just saying. It happens sometimes."
"Since when are you rooting for the Coincidence Team?" Casey asked. The man shrugged.
"I'm not mental," Sam added in a bored tone. He'd repeated that line a hundred times now, mostly in a strange, vain hope that they would eventually decide to believe him and forget the whole thing.
Casey offered him a comforting smile. "We hope not."
"I do," Tyler cut in. The girls looked at him in shock and he held up his hands before they could say anything. "Sorry, but I'm kind of with Burt on this one. If it's not just a mental issue, then-"
"-it means Mixmaster's changing," Burt finished curtly.
"Tell them it's not Mixmaster!" Al ordered. "Mixmaster is a top secret gene splicing compound and they CAN'T think it's that! They can't do blood tests on you, Sam."
Sam groaned and sat forward, hiding his face in his hands. "Too late," he mumbled quietly.
"They got your blood?" Al asked. "Oh, geez, Sam! They are going to see your DNA! They are going to bottle you up in this lab and you won't be able to rescue those two."
For a long moment the room was silent: The residents slowly realizing the horrible impact on their lives if the compound really had changed to affect humans and Sam trying to figure a way out.
Finally he sat up, dragging in a deep breath before speaking. Directly to Al. "What if we told them the truth?"
Casey started, staring that the empty space of air her friend was talking to. "What?"
"He's talking to himself again," Rosalita said.
Al shrugged, looking nervous. "I don't see any other option when they see you don't match Roger."
Sam glanced at the tan-skinned woman briefly before looking at Burt and Tyler. "Maybe not all of it though."
"All of what, Roger?" Burt asked, beginning to feel uneasy at the way he and his partner were being stared at.
Exchanging a last look with Al, Sam sighed heavily and began. "My name's not Roger."
Tyler sent Casey a questioning look, unsure how to deal with this latest development.
"Don't specifically mention Project Quantum Leap, either," Al warned. "According to records, it's still top-secret in '04."
"Then wh-" Sam cut off Casey's question.
"Sorry, but this would be easier if I just explained it first."
"Then start explaining," Burt said.
"...My name's Sam Beckett. I'm a...time traveler." Several eyebrows went up at that. "In my own mind, technically. Jumping from person to person. Except even in that other person, I'm still...me. Sam." A small beeping alerted them that the blood test Casey was running had finished. "Check the blood sample and you'll see. I'm not Roger."
Casey cast him a dubious look but checked the results anyway. She stared at the computer. "He's...right! This says it isn't Roger's blood."
Almost immediately the others lost their nervous worry for their friend and instead became suspicious of this sudden new stranger.
"That's good, Sam," Al said. "They believe you. Let's just hope they aren't that angry."
"You expect us to believe your some guy from the future?" Rosalita said, seemingly not buying the genetic difference.
Al grinned. "Won't you be surprised, Chica."
"No," Sam replied calmly. "I'm actually from the past. Born August 8th, 1953, started travelling in 1999."
"That's crazy," Tyler said, furrowing his brow.
"So what are you doing here?" Burt demanded.
Sam shrugged. "Don't know. The experiment didn't work out quite as I expected it to. I can't control the leaps, or return home. And I have to correct something before I can leap again."
"What do you mean?" Casey asked.
"Well, sometimes it's making sure someone gets a certain job, or falls in love with the right person or...making sure someone doesn't die. Sometimes it's as simple as rescuing a cat from a tree."
"Who were you talking to?" Tyler questioned. "Or are you just a crazy time traveler?"
"Oh, that would be my bestfriend, Al Calavicci. He helped me on my little project and appears to me as a hologram from this...imaging chamber thing. Only I can see him, along with kids, animals, and some mental patients. He helps me figure out what in history I need to change, though it's harder in the future. I'm technically not supposed to be able to travel outside my lifetime."
Tyler looked skeptical. "A hologram?"
"You bet on it, buddy," Al responded, though knowing the tour guide couldn't hear him. "Hey, you should mention your seven doctorates to the cutie over there," he added, pointing to Casey. "She looks like the kind of girl who appreciates intellect."
"Yes," Sam replied, shooting a glare at his friend. "And too flirty for his own good."
Burt's frown only deepened and he turned to Casey. "What do you think?"
Casey sighed. "I don't know...I mean...going by the blood it sort of makes sense. It definitely isn't Roger's...wait, where is Roger then, if you're not him?"
"Back in my body, so to speak. Safe and sound, I assure you. Al was just talking to him in fact. Getting information on what goes on here and this..."Mixmaster" compound. How did you do that?"
"We didn't create Mixmaster," Tyler said. "Believe us, we wish it never existed."
"Well who did then?"
"It's classified," Burt said shortly.
Sam frowned. "So's my project, but I told you."
"Not all of it."
The time-traveler bit his lip. Al hadn't been kidding when he said the man was suspicious. He was good too, apparently.
"Doesn't really matter much," Tyler interrupted. "All we really know about them is they were called Proudfoot. It's not like you would know more."
"Actually, you would Sam!" Al said excitedly. "At least, if your mind wasn't so Swiss cheesed."
Sam looked at him in surprise. "I would?"
"Proudfoot offered us funding for Project Quantum Leap," Al said, "And you said 'no' because of the conditions they had." He punctuated the statement with his cigar.
"Talking to your invisible friend, Mr. Beckett?" Tyler asked.
"Uh, apparently Proudfoot offered to fund my project but I turned them down," Sam replied slowly. He turned back to Al. "What was wrong with their conditions?"
"You mean you don't know?" Burt asked, looking skeptic.
"Another fallback of the leaping. A lot of my memories are gone. We call it the 'Swiss Cheese Effect'."
"Hmph. Great project."
"Well, buddy," Al said in Burt's direction, "I'm living, breathing proof this is one hell of a project." He turned back to Sam. "Something about incorporating their scientists and using the project as 'a poorly guised attempt for personal gain'."
"Personal gain?" Sam shook his head. "They sound like stereotypical government stooges."
"Pretty much," Casey replied. "But they went rogue with the Mixmaster. Sold several creatures on the black market. No one knows to whom or for what purpose."
"If it was for public or war use we'd probably have heard about it by now," Burt commented.
"The nozzles," Al grumbled.
"And they left it behind so the valley is riddled with it," Tyler added.
"Well, what happens to the animals that come into contact with it?" Sam asked.
"Their offspring's DNA mixes with whatever the parents have eaten, basically," Casey explained. "Random, absurd mixtures. Most die but a few live past birth. And they're usually incredibly dangerous."
"Termite-cicadae-maggot bugs, acid-spitting animal-plant, giant shrimp..." Burt listed off. Tyler made a disgruntled noise at the last one.
Sam looked at them in shock. "And the government does nothing?"
"They could," Tyler said, "But we aren't really into napalm around here." Sarcasm dropped from his voice.
Al chuckled. "Hard to believe with bombshells like these two," he motioned towards the girls in the lab.
"Al, shut up," Sam said tiredly.
The others glanced at each other, still not sure on the whole "my bestfriend's a hologram" story. To be fair, it was rather out there.
"Okay. So, what now?" Rosalita asked.
"You're here for a reason, right?" Tyler asked. "I don't buy that you haven't figured it out yet. I think we deserve to know what it is."
Al and Sam shared a look. "Oh, boy," the quantum physicist mumbled under his breath.
Ooooooo, suspeeeeense. Do they tell them the truth? Do the boys accept it? Do the girls get overprotective and worried? Find out next time! And Kiniki, stop trying to type, you don't know how to. The keyboard is not a playground -_-'