My name. My name is Sam.
Sammy Jo. Samantha Josephine.
A weight on my back caused me to look over my shoulder. A large triangle of cloth was wrapped around my back, supporting a baby. I'm a mother, then.
No--a flash of memory--I'm a daughter. I have a father, but he's not here; I'm looking for him. I'm trying to bring him home. That thought triggered others and I started walking down the dirt road between the fields, remembering. I'm Doctor Samantha Jo Fuller, working on the top secret Project Quantum Leap. The head of the project, Samuel Beckett, is Leaping through time, putting right what once went wrong.
He saved my mother's life, not once but three times: as her father, as her lawyer, and...as her fiance. He doesn't remember--can't remember, because of the Swiss-cheese effect of each Leap. I'm not supposed to know, but I inherited my father's IQ. I figured it out.
I started to sweat from the unaccustomed exertion. The baby was beginning to seem extremely heavy. In addition the road was leading uphill. I paused for a breath, then continued. I had to get information, find out what to fix. Yes, I had to fix something in order to Leap, but what?
Someone was supposed to give me that crucial information. A holographic Observer should have zeroed in on my brainwaves. After--what was it?--four years of going through the routine they ought to have it down pat. Where was I that they couldn't get a lock on me?
I finally crested the hill. On the other side the road led past a small shack. A man paced in front of it, hands clasped behind his back. He looked up when I drew near, his face tight with anxiety. He seemed young, in his twenties, but in that short time he must have seen a lot of life. His clothes were poor, as were the ones I wore, and they sagged on him as though he had suddenly lost weight.
"Did it work, Matty?" he asked, worry plain in his voice. "Did the fresh air bring her fever down?"
So, my host was named Matty. The young man, apparently her husband, spoke with a strange yet appealing accent. Maybe I could have placed it before the Leap, but even a photographic memory isn't much help when Swiss-cheesed.
I glanced at the baby slung on my back. "She's sleeping," I said. Without more information I could really mess up the Leap, especially by not knowing my--her--own husband's name.
The young man took the baby from my back. I rotated my shoulders with relief while I watched him feel the baby's forehead. His mouth set in a grim line. "She still has the fever, Matty. I don't think..." He broke off and shoved the baby into my arms. "Take her in and put her to bed."
I nodded and walked carefully into the wooden shack, all my concentration on trying not to drop the warm bundle. The interior of the house consisted of one big room with a fireplace and chimney on the left. The only furniture was a wooden table and chair set near the fireplace, a handmade rocking chair by the house's only window, and a large chest by a pile of blankets on the floor that was meant to be a bed.
I tucked the baby into the pile of blankets. She didn't look well. Her skin was almost as red as her hair and she felt hot, though she didn't fuss much. Her face was screwed up as though she had intended to cry but lost her energy before going through with the plan.
I nearly jumped when I heard the door to the imaging chamber open behind me. I had never heard it from this end before. "What took you so long?" I whispered, turning to Admiral Calavicci.
The Observer eyed me warily, holding the multicolored hand-link to the supercomputer Ziggy in one hand, a cigar in the other. "How much do you remember?"
"Enough to know that whatever I tried hasn't worked. What am I supposed to do, Admiral? I'm flying blind on this one. There aren't any convenient newspapers lying around."
He punched a few buttons on the hand-link, which beeped and squealed alarmingly. "You're a couple miles outside a little town in Ireland called Caltra. Your name is Matilda O'Keefe and the baby is your daughter, Anna. You have a husband named Shane, who should be around somewhere."
"We've met. He's outside. Why am I here? Is it the baby?"
He returned his attention to the hand-link. "Yes and no."
"Hurry up! I don't know how long Shane will decide to stay outside. If he comes in, I won't be able to talk to you."
The Observer sighed. "The good news is that Anna here recovers just fine. Ziggy says there's a ninety-five percent chance you're here to save the other baby."
"But there is no other--" I broke off when the hologram pointed his cigar-wielding hand at me. "Oh."
"It seems Matilda--"
"--Matty wears herself out taking care of Anna and catches cholera. The baby doesn't survive."
"Why doesn't she take Anna to the doctor?"
He wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. "Because you're in 1846, Sammy Jo. Ireland's entire potato crop--the staple diet of the poor people--is rotting in the fields. Nothing else was affected, but the poor couldn't pay as much as the British, so the poor were left to watch all the food being shipped overseas." The hologram was becoming increasingly upset. "Millions died of starvation and diseases brought on by their weakness, in the midst of plenty."
I could only stare at him. "Did you say 1846? What about the string theory--I thought I could only Leap during my lifetime. How could I get to 1846? And where's Dr. Beckett?"
"Hold your horses, kiddo. Sam Leaped into his grandfather, during the Civil War, just as we sent you after him. Apparently they're genetically similar. Ziggy says that since you couldn't join him in just any host that far back, you also Leaped into an ancestor."
"About twenty years too early. Well, no one ever said Leaping was an exact science." I shrugged. "So tell me, Admiral, if I can't take Anna to a doctor, what can I do?"
"That's where you have an advantage over Matty. You can bring down the fever without wearing yourself ragged with worry."
"I'm a computer programmer, not a medical doctor! At least..." I frowned. "I don't think I'm a doctor. I can't remember."
"Sorry, Miss Fuller. You have a respectable list of titles after your name, but M.D. isn't among them. You do, however, know more about health care than that poor girl in the waiting room and you're more emotionally detached. She's about to have a nervous breakdown."
I smiled. "Whereas I already know Anna's going to be all right. Thanks, Admiral."
He called the imaging chamber door. "I've got to check on Sam. You take care of that baby."
I gave him a mock salute. "Aye aye, sir." I watched the glowing door close behind the admiral with a twinge of apprehension. I wasn't as certain as he that my medical abilities were adequate, especially with the Swiss-cheese effect. Was the foreknowledge he gave me of Anna's survival a self-fulfilling prophecy, or could I bungle the job? If I killed my ancestress, what would happen?
No, change is possible in Project Quantum Leap, but not paradox. I recall that much.
Just then Shane walked in and stood by me. "Do you think she'll last the night?"
"Don't worry," I said, projecting all the reassurance I could. If I could play the lead in Brigadoon (what's Brigadoon?) I could certainly pretend to be calm. "I have a feeling she'll be just fine."
His shoulders slumped. "I've always trusted your intuition, Matty. If you hadn't warned me to save up our money rather than buy more land, we wouldn't have had what little food there is and we probably would have been evicted as well."
Run with it... "Then trust me now. A mother always knows when her children are in danger. My intuition tells me the danger has passed."
He nodded, then pulled me into a strong embrace. At first I felt awkward at hugging a stranger, but I reminded myself that with the aura of Matty's physical presence he thought I was his wife. "Damn the English!" he cried, releasing me. "They will never help us in our time of need, simply because we're Roman Catholic and they want us converted to Protestantism like those in the north."
I could only stand there and listen. My memory holes must be right through my history lessons, because all of this was new to me.
"At least the Americans can get food through to the Quakers, and they distribute it fairly. It isn't nearly enough, but it makes all the difference to those who get it." He turned a loving gaze on the baby once more, then went to tend the fireplace.
I followed him, mainly from a lack of anything else to do. He finished with the fire and sat on one of the chairs. It creaked even under his slight weight. "We can't stay here, Matty. Our money will run out soon, and if the blight on the potatoes continues, what will we eat?"
He took my hands and gazed into my eyes. I was afraid lest he discover I wasn't who I appeared, but he was too involved in what he was saying. "Let's go to America. They have plenty of food there, and land, and opportunity for a man willing to work hard."
I wanted to add, Yes, and thousands of other immigrants, and a war coming up in fifteen years, but these were my ancestors. They had to get to the United States somehow. "That sounds like a wonderful idea," I agreed.
Then the baby started fussing and I went to watch her while Shane took a partial loaf from the breadbox next to the fireplace. When time came for the evening meal, I didn't stint myself to feed Anna, since she would probably throw up solid food anyway. I mixed some sugar in water from the well out back for her.
I was somewhat concerned about the sleeping arrangements--I briefly wondered what it was like for my father, even if he didn't remember his wife waiting for him in the future--but the baby slept between us on the bed so we could give her our complete attention. I wished for a lemon or orange or some other citrus fruit to squeeze for her, but they were much too expensive. I had to rely on damp rags to cool her down.
I woke the next morning bright and early. Shane was already up and outside, whistling. He walked in, carrying a bucket of water but leaving it by the door when he spotted me sitting. He picked me up and swung me around, a smile lighting his face. "You were right! Anna's fever has broken."
I returned his smile with just as much joy. I had really become attached to the baby. Was that how my father had felt about me, before he prevented my mother's execution and Leaped? Well, the real Matty should be quite rested from her time in the waiting room.
"Now there will be three of us to face our new life in America."
"Four," I corrected him, and Leaped.