Somewhere Between Cats and Dog Biscuits
By Lorraine Anderson
July 10, 1988
After the light faded, Sam looked around. He was in a bush, his arms straight out. Something cold and heavy was in his hands. He looked. . . a gun. Of course. He rolled his eyes and resisted the impulse to drop the detestable thing, then stared out through the bush to see exactly why he was drawing a bead on something. But he could see nothing. He seemed to be in a quiet residential neighborhood. . . and once again, he seemed to be in California. Red tile roofs, faux Spanish houses. . .
He lowered the gun and started to stand up, then heard a noise to his side. Instinctively, he dropped to a crouch, pointing the gun at the red-suited intruder, then dropped it, closing his eyes.
"Sam...? What in the world are you doing here?"
He opened his eyes and looked at Ralph Hinkley, who was staring at him with amazement. Of course, Sam thought to himself. He was wearing the super-suit, so he could see Sam, rather than the man Sam had Leaped into. But this was Ralph again? Ralph Hinkley, the teacher with the super-hero business on the side? Ralph, The guy who he just Leaped into last time? Ralph, the guy whose super-suit had been given to him by a little green guy in a UFO, and who went around catching bad guys with a FBI agent named...
Ralph started laughing. "Guess it's Bill's turn this time, huh?"
"Oh, boy." He looked down at himself. Suit, vest... gun holster... "Oh, boy," he repeated. Bill Maxwell. He had Leaped into ultra-suspicious FBI agent Bill Maxwell. Which meant that Bill was back at the Project with Al. This was not necessarily good.
He sat back on his heels and reviewed the Leap. Let's see... what did he remember? He had been Ralph on the last Leap. Boy, he had been disoriented! He Leaped in and looked around and here was a little green man... well, pale white actually... staring him in the face. Sam had been wearing the same symbol on his chest that the alien wore, only his suit was in red. A million thoughts had gone through his head, but when the Alien called him by name. . . ! Turned out that they wanted him to plant some nanites - mini-computers - into Ziggy, his Project computer, so that they could monitor his changes. Why he trusted them, he wasn't certain. . . perhaps some leftover mesons and neurons from Ralph.
But things had gotten a whole lot more complicated when they found they also had to rescue Pam, Ralph's fiancee, from a sicko client. And Al and Bill had been bickering - turned out that Bill was a former drinking buddy of Al's (and Al's ex-wife's cousin), but the two had split when Bill had tried to get Al kicked off of the astronaut program because of an unfounded concern for Al's sanity. After all. Al had gone into the astronaut program directly from his years of captivity in Vietnam. Sam couldn't blame Bill. He would've done the same thing. . . well, maybe not. He wouldn't have filed a report connecting Al with the Vietnamese Communists. He hoped desperately that the reconciliation between Al and Bill still held. Or else Al was going to be exploding through the Imaging Chamber door any second now.
He blinked. He remembered the Leap! Every second, practically. Especially when he and Ralph had been split up in the UFO and he was so damned frustrated. . .
Oh, boy. That was Bill's memory!
He sighed. Nothing he could do about that now. Ralph took his arm, leading him towards the car. "Well, as long as you're here, let me fill you in. . ."
Sam sighed again. "Right now, just explain one thing. Why do I have a sudden craving for dog biscuits. . .?"
Ralph stared at him. "Resonant neurons and mesons?"
"Ummm. . . yeah. Synergizing. I suppose. If Bill's part dog."
"Nah, he just likes dog biscuits. . . You know, I remember everything. Al didn't think I would."
"About four years. Pam and I got married a couple of years ago."
They reached the car. . . an old Buick Century that had obviously seen better days. Ralph noticed Sam's look. "Bill's rough on cars. The department doesn't give him the good stuff."
"So why am I. . . are we here?"
"That's the problem. . . I don't know. Bill called me and told me to be here now, if not sooner. Said there was a big scenario going down." Ralph smiled. "So far, all I've seen is you."
"Hmmm. . . no. In fact, I think you helped me out. In a couple of ways, in fact, besides the fact you rescued Pam."
"Bill's about as computer literate as that tree over there - well, ok, maybe a little better than that, but not much - but he's allowed me into the government databases, just to see if there's any reference to me. There isn't. In fact, I even made an entry in one of Bill's reports on 'a guy in a bright red suit who can fly,' etcetera, and so forth." He smiled. "When I got back a day later, the entry was gone, replaced by a standard pick-up and interrogate report."
"The nanites the aliens planted bred and migrated into the federal computers." Sam still wasn't entirely sure why the aliens wanted to plant nanites into Ziggy, but obviously it had some good.
Bill smiled. "I think so, too. And that 'crowd amnesia' trick you showed me came in rather handy, too. No more sneaking around. And the suit no longer shows up on video or any sort of pictures." He laughed. "Bill was my guinea pig. I made him forget all about me. He drew a gun on me and I reversed the amnesia real fast."
"Bet he loved that."
"But.. perfect anonymity. That's good!"
"Yeah, I guess. I would like to be thanked, sometimes."
Sam was silent a second. "Thank you."
Ralph smiled. "You're welcome." He hesitated. "And thank YOU for everything."
"You're welcome." He smiled at Ralph.
They heard a noise behind them. "Oh, God," choked a familiar voice. "They're bonding. Next they're going to go out in the woods and beat some drums."
Sam and Ralph turned around and started laughing. "Well, Bill," Ralph said. "At least we're not holding hands." He looked Bill up and down. "And love that outfit."
Bill looked down at the plain white Fermi suit he was wearing and jerked his hand away from Al's, disappearing. Al turned around, grabbed him by the arm, and he reappeared. "You're not getting out that easily."
"Sure I am. I saw Ralph, he's all right, I can go now." He struggled for a second, then turned around, artificially polite. "Would you MIND letting go of my arm?" he said through his teeth. "I believe you are leaving permanent grooves."
"Only if you grab my shoulder. You're going to stay here if you want to or not." The two glared at each other.
"Well?" Ralph said.
"You wanted to see Al again. Are you enjoying yourself?"
"This wasn't what I had in mind and you know it." He tried to jerk his shoulder away from Al.
Sam smiled, then frowned. "We're losing sight of one important thing. Why am I here?" He turned to Bill. "Why were you crouching in a bush with your gun?"
"More than one way to have a good time," Al muttered. "By the way, Sam, Ziggy doesn't know anything yet."
Bill glared at him, then his face went blank. "I. . . don't remember. Was I behind a bush?"
"Most definitely. I almost shot Ralph when he landed."
Bill lurched forward, almost pulling his shoulder out of Al's grip. "Then what the hell are you doing standing in the open, then? Get out of here! We'll jabber later."
Sam looked at Ralph. "He does have a point." He looked past Ralph. I think I just saw somebody looking out that window." He looked around. "Where are we going?"
"Bill's place, I guess. Here, I'll ride with you." Ralph grinned. "Besides, Bill always has an extra change of clothes for me." Sam glanced at him. "No pockets, you know."
Sam looked at Al. "Hey, I just realized that you guys aren't echoing any more, like you did on the last Leap."
Al looked blank, then punched the handlink. "Ziggy claims that it's the nanites. Says she can utilize power more efficiently now and even boost the existing power to a certain degree."
"Huh." Sam looked bemused. "I wish we had that kind of technology." At Ralph's puzzled look, he added, "We on Earth, I mean. Especially biological nanites that could operate on hearts and lungs. . ." He fell silent, thinking of his deceased father.
"Will you guys get moving?" Bill shouted, waving his hands. "Jeez, teachers and scientists," he muttered. "Overeducated idiots. Not enough sense to get in out of the rain."
Joe Kelley stared out the window at the two men talking to the air, then ducked back behind the curtain. What in hell were those guys doing? Early Halloween? If it weren't for the guy in the red tights, he would've said the one guy was a Fed, but with that other bozo, man, no way.
He glared at the two. His mother's cat jumped up into the window, begging for attention. He petted it automatically while he thought about the situation.
Well, he didn't need any nosy Feds around his neighborhood. Hell, they had no authority over him. He didn't recognize the Federal Government, man, he was an independent state who only bartered with the government for trade. He said as much on his last trade agreement that he filed with his mother's accountant, and the government must've accepted, 'cause they didn't answer.
He rubbed a hand over his head. He'd have to wash his hair soon. It was straggling down his back in a greasy ponytail. But not today, man. Today he had to work on his anti-government demonstration device. It was almost finished. The FBI would love it. It was right up their alley. They'd love it. He giggled.
"This is your apartment, Bill?," Sam said in amazement. He looked at the traps, the tape recorder, and the guns and swords on the wall.
"Yeah," Bill said,. "Got something against it?"
"I don't think Sam is used to sleeping with so much armament, Bill." Ralph turned to Sam. "Maybe you should sleep on my couch?"
Sam chewed his lip. "What about Pam?"
"Hey, you saved her life. She likes you."
"She likes Sam," Al pointed out. "But won't she think it's a bit odd that Bill's sleeping on her couch?"
"But. . . oh," Ralph looked at Al. "Don't want to tell her, huh?"
"Not really. It's against all project rules."
"Ok," Ralph said slowly. "Works for me. We'll just tell her that Bill's apartment got flooded out."
"Well, grab some clothes and go!" Bill said. He turned towards Al. "Jeez, do they ever stop talking?"
Al, his wrist twisted to an almost painful angle, shrugged. "All I know is that we have to figure out something different."
"I have an idea!" Ralph smiled. "But you may not like it."
"What!" Bill narrowed his eyes at Ralph.
"Well, you know those wrist cords for overactive toddlers. . . "
Al barked a laugh. Bill's eyes became dark rocks. "Oh, no, you're not. . . "
Joe Kelley, driving down to the supermarket, swerved to avoid a couple of men walking into the street and looked into his rear view mirror with amazement. It was those same two guys! Yeah, sure, the blond had changed into a suit, but it was them. He was sure of it. Could they be following. . . naw, they wouldn't have walked in front of his car. A coincidence. It was, of course, man, just a fluke.
He told himself that all the way to the market.
"Hi, honey, we're back!" Ralph yelled as they walked into the door.
Sam looked around. It was a comfortable house, but definitely Californian. Tile floors and a vague SouthWestern theme. Not what he was used to, but very comfortable and nicely lived in.
"Hi, Ralph. Hi, Bill," came a yell from somewhere in the house.
"Daddy!" came another yell, and a clattering of small footsteps down the hall. A small, naked, wet bundle launched itself towards Ralph, and, grinning, he swung the dark-haired toddler around.
Sam smiled at the little girl regretfully. "Well," Ralph said. "Are you going to say 'hi' to Uncle Bill?"
The girl looked shyly at Sam, then twisted around to look at Bill and Al, who had come in behind Ralph. "Hi, Unca Bill," she said cheerfully. She then pointed at Sam, then Al. "Who dat?"
Ralph looked at her, confounded. "Did we ever tell you," Al said, "that little children can see us?"
"No," Ralph said slowly. "Well, so much for keeping it from Pam."
"Keep what from me?" Pam emerged from the hallway with a towel, which she handed to Ralph.
The little girl pointed at Bill. "Uncle Bill got my thing!"
"It's called a tether, Shannon," Ralph said automatically.
"It's the latest in fashion accessories," grinned Al, looking at Bill, who was looking away from everyone. Sam grinned at Al. If Bill hadn't so obviously been uncomfortable, Al would've griped just as much as Bill. He took a closer look and grinned even further. It wasn't a tether, it was one of Al's silver belts, fashioned to go around the wrists of both men. "Beats holding hands, doesn't it?"
Pam looked between Ralph and Sam, narrowed her eyes, and put her hands on her hips. "Sam?" she said to Ralph.
Ralph smiled. "No, hon, Sam's Bill, this time."
"Uncle Bill over der!" chirped the dark-haired girl. "He got a tether thing on." She giggled.
"Thank you, peanut," Bill grumbled, "For pointing that out to the counselor."
Shannon giggled again.
"Isn't it about your bedtime, sweetheart?" Bill said.
"No! Not my bedtime."
Pam grinned. "I take it Bill asked a dirty question? Never say n-a-p to a toddler." She turned to Sam. "Won't you sit down? I have to get some clothes for our problem child here." She took the girl from Ralph.
Sam and Ralph sat down, looking at Al and Bill. Bill was testing the limits of the belt. Ralph grinned at Sam.
She disappeared down the hall. "What brings you here, Sam?" She called back.
"We're not sure yet, Mrs. Hinkley," Sam said.
"Call me Pam." She stuck her head out into the hall. "You're not sure?"
"No, hon," Ralph said. "When I got out to Bill, Sam was already there."
Sam looked at Al, who got the handlink out. "And Ziggy still knows nada. Or is saying nada."
"What about arrests?"
Al punched another couple of buttons. "She's saying the FBI computer is being rather uncooperative. . . like some people I know." He glanced at Bill, who looked away.
"I thought the nanites that the green guys planted. . . " Ralph started.
Al grimaced. "Apparently just a monitoring device."
"Which deletes all references to guys in super suits."
Al gave Ralph a startled look. Sam nodded.
"Well, I think," Ralph said, getting up, "that we should take advantage of Sam's photographic memory. . . if it still works. You said you read the manual for the suit?" Sam nodded. Ralph hesitated a moment. "I'll explain later, but first, can I get you something to drink?"
"Got a diet Coke? And. . . " Sam grimaced.
"I was about to say dog biscuits. Don't get me any."
"Ok." He disappeared into the kitchen. "Sorry I can't offer you anything, Al."
"'s'allright," Al was concentrating on the handlink.
Bill looked over his shoulder. "Are you playing Tetris over there?" Al glared at him.
Sam grinned, and Pam, who had just entered the room, looked at him. "Bill, what are you. . . ?" She shook her head. "Never mind. You know, if I hadn't seen you on the alien ship, I never would've believed this story. And did I ever thank you for saving my life?" Shannon toddled in behind her, dressed in her pajamas. Sam heard clinking from the kitchen. "I'll take a Seven-Up, Ralph," Pam called out.
"You're taking this rather calmly, counselor." Sam stopped short, a funny look on his face, and he glanced at Bill. "Synergization," they said together, and Bill got the same funny look. Al looked at him and dropped his head into his free hand.
"What?" Pam said.
"Bill and I just said the same thing at the same time. You see, when I Leap, some of our. . . " he looked blank.
"Neurons and Mesons," Bill said. He looked surprised, then looked at Al.
"Neurons and Mesons interchange. Sometimes it's like we interchange personality traits."
Pam took a long breath. "I see."
Ralph came in, put a Coke in front of Pam, and gave a Coke to Sam. "Like I said before," Sam said, "you're taking this rather calmly."
"I've seen some weird things since Ralph got the super suit. Seeing a Bill who's not Bill is one of the calmest things I've seen lately." She looked at Ralph, who blushed. "Although I've been trying to stay out of the heroing business since Shannon was born. A job and a toddler is work enough. My employer is liberal, but not that liberal."
"At least you're not working for Carlyle, counselor," Bill said. Ralph snickered.
Pam looked puzzled. "Who said what?"
"Let's try something," Ralph said, rolling up one sleeve of his shirt. "Take hold of my arm, Pam."
"Oh. Yeah." She grabbed hold of his arm, looked at Sam, then looked at Bill. "Hi, Admiral. Nice to actually see you."
"Hello, Pam." Al gave up on the handlink and gave Pam a smile.
"Hi, Bill. Cute suit. Love the accessory and the outfit," she said, looking at the belt around his wrist.
Bill looked down at the Fermi suit and blushed. "Hi, counselor."
"Well," Pam said, turning her attention back to Sam. "What are you going to do now?"
"Oh," Ralph said. "We never did get to why I brought Sam home. Would you mind if he slept on the couch?"
"No. Not at all. Didn't want to sleep in Bill's apartment, huh?"
"Not in that arsenal."
"Can't say I blame you."
"Me neither," Bill said. The foursome looked at Bill in surprise, who looked like he was going to drop into the floor. He pointed a finger at Sam. "This is all your fault!"
"That's what we've said for years," Al said.
Joe Kelley looked at the instructions that he got from one of his friends on the BBS. Let's see, this wire goes here, this one goes there. . . Yeah, this was going to be done on schedule. And it will fit in his backpack. Cool. The cat brushed up against his hand, and he automatically brushed it away. No use getting orange cat hairs on his invention.
He looked at the TV and his mouth dropped open. Oh my God, it was him! It was the curly headed blonde! He lunged forward and turned off the TV, shaking. No. He was a rational person, man. It couldn't have been him. Could it have? He turned on the TV. It was a Folger's commercial with a guy dancing across a bedroom. No, not that guy. That guy was a screwball. He turned back to his project, his thoughts whirling.
Sam stared at the TV from his position on the couch. "Ralph," he yelled. "Did you know you were on the news?"
Ralph appeared at the living room door. "Oh, yeah, I forgot the news team was at the school. Some sort of tax story."
Sam looked Ralph up and down. "So, you sleep in your red jammies?" he said sarcastically.
Ralph looked sharply at Sam, then looked down. "Resonant neurons and mesons, huh?"
Sam blushed. "Yeah. Sorry."
Ralph smiled, sitting down on the couch beside Sam. "Don't be. I've been there."
"You remember it all?"
"I remember all of that Leap, but some of the others. . . " He bit his lip and looked away.
Ralph put his hand on his shoulder and sighed. "Well, I thought we might get a head start tonight on the suit review tonight."
"Which ones do you know?" asked Sam, grateful to get off the subject.
Ralph told him. Sam mentally reviewed the list. Invisibility, crowd and individual amnesia inducing, farseeing. . . "What about telepathy and psychokinesis? What about foresight?"
"Some. Had a scary problem with the foresight once. Let's get started." He pulled out a notebook. "I'm taking notes this time."
They barely noticed when Pam came in, placed her hand on Ralph's shoulder, and said goodnight to them. "Goodnight, honey," Ralph said, concentrating on one of Shannon's sippy cups. It wriggled, then settled back down to the table.
"Try again. . . . goodnight, Pam."
Pam smiled wistfully, then released her grip on Ralph's shoulder. "This is why your landings are so rough. You're thinking of flying and psychokinesis as two separate operations," Sam said. Pam shook her head at the sight of Bill lecturing Ralph on the finer points of super-suit operation. "Try again." This time the cup floated a foot off the table and stayed there, rock steady. Pam shook her head again and went to bed to dream of bad guys floating in mid air and matching super-suits for the whole family, including Bill. Which, she reflected in the morning, was a frightening thought in itself.
Joe Kelley woke up and stretched, smiling. The cat gave him a disgusted look and dropped off the bed. Joe ignored him. Today was testing day. He turned on the news. . . there was the blonde again. He turned the TV off fast. It was the goddam government. It had to be, man. They were beaming things into his home, trying to torture him. They were responsible for Vietnam. He had been in Vietnam, man, and Vietnam messed up his head. But he got better, no thanks to the Feds. They were responsible for Jonestown, man. And he was paying for it every time they took taxes out of his paycheck. Well, he was going to protest. And protest loud.
But first he had to check everything out, man. He got up and stretched. He was going to have a long drive today.
"Get up, sleepyhead."
The gravelly voice cut through his dreams. He was target shooting at the FBI range, and he was getting a perfect score each time. "Go away," he growled, not opening his eyes.
"Well, aren't we the sweetie-pie this morning?"
It was that goddamn Al. "Listen, Calavicci," he growled. "Get out of my. . . " He opened his eyes. Al was looking at him with a bemused expression. "Sorry, Al," Sam said. "Bill and I are synergizing big time, huh?"
"I'll say you are. Bill woke up this morning with a new theory for the retrieval program." He paused. "Gooshie said it wasn't half bad, either."
"Hmm." Sam said, sitting up.
"Came up with a good algorithm for the hologram program, too."
Sam grinned. "And how does he like being Idea Boy?"
Al smiled. "He's hating every minute of it."
"Ziggy figure anything out yet?"
"She says she hasn't."
Sam shrugged. "Why would she lie?"
Al waved his hands. "Why does she do a lot of things? She thinks she's a tin-plated goddess."
"She"s a bitch." Sam realized what he said and blushed. Al glanced at him, then ignored the comment. "Anyone else up?" Sam murmured.
"Nope. Not even the kid. Did Bill call her a peanut? I thought you might like to get in the shower before everybody else."
"Yeah." He stretched, reached out, and got the clean clothes he had laid out the night before, then stood up and reached for the gun that he had put on the large china cabinet. Then he pulled his hand back, staring at it like it was a snake. Then he sighed and grabbed it up, and looked at Al, who was shaking his head. He shrugged. "Bill feels naked without it." He picked up a round thing from the dresser. "This, too. Ralph said it was a communication device for Bill and himself." He put it in a suit pocket.
Al shrugged. "Just keep the gun away from the kid."
"I'll lock the door." Sam headed for the bathroom. "You were rather quiet yesterday."
"Who could get a word in edgewise?" Sam stared at him. "All right, all right, the situation spooked me."
"Because these were back-to-back leaps?"
"Naw, because Bill was. . . is. . . Beth's cousin."
"Oh. Yeah." Sam had temporarily forgotten that Bill was related to Al's first, but still loved, ex-wife. "I'm sorry."
"Not your fault. Not Bill's fault. Nobody's fault, really."
"You talk to Verbena?" He got silence as he entered the bathroom. "Al?"
"I'll get through it."
"We can't pick our relatives, you know. Take Bill on his own terms."
Well, he had tried to talk to Al. Sighing, he hung the gun on the towel rack, and, not thinking, took the quickest shower of his life. As he was toweling down, he realized what he was doing and shook his head at Bill's image in the mirror. Then he shrugged, quickly got dressed, put the gun holster on, and walked into the living room. Al had left, and he felt a brief moment of relief followed by a moment of regret. Hell, forget Al, he needed to see Verbena. He turned on the TV, rapidly turning the sound to low. The news was on. . . and there was Ralph again. He grinned, then heard a noise behind him.
Ralph was looking at him, bleary-eyed, in just his pajama bottoms.. "Hi, Bi. . . Sam."
"Easy to forget."
"Ready to go?"
"Go take a shower. You stink."
"You sound like Bill."
Sam sighed. "I"m sorry."
"Not your fault." He disappeared into the bathroom, leaving Sam to wonder what was happening to him. Maybe he bonded with personality opposites faster. After all, leaping into Ralph was like leaping into himself. . . or maybe he just noticed it more when he Leaped into opposites. Well, the only thing he could do was wait it out. . . and hope that Ziggy came up with a reason for the Leap. And hope the super suit manual stayed in his head.
Damn. What a thought. He turned off the TV and reviewed the pages in his mind.
Joe Kelley looked around at the desert around him. This was perfect. No traffic, no cops, no feds, no nosy people, just rocks and more rocks and sagebrush and cactus and heat. This was great. He could do his tests in peace. He looked around again. No, nobody in sight. Well, maybe he should go up on the hill and look. . .
"Jesus, Ralph, what in the hell are you doing?"
Joe, halfway up the hill, dropped to his stomach and crawled the rest of the way up the hill. It was all he could do to keep from running down the hill at the pair. What the hell were they doing out here, man? They had to be Feds. They had to be following him.
Forget the test. He knew the thing would work. All he had to do was get to the appropriate place at the appropriate time and he would show them. He would show them all.
Still, his flesh crawled.
"Jesus, Ralph, what in the hell are you doing?"
"Exactly what you told me. . . . 'Bill.'" Ralph threw down the notebook he was carrying and glared at Sam. Sam blushed.
He glanced over at Bill, who shrugged and looked embarrassed. "I guess I didn't realize I was quite that direct." he mumbled. He rubbed at his wrist and glanced at Al. "Could you please not pull so hard?"
Al glared at him. "I'll pull as hard as I want."
Bill gave him a look. Al rubbed his forehead. "Oh, God. Sam, he's got your 'sick puppy' look."
"I'm glad Pam didn't come." Ralph muttered to himself. "On the other hand, I wish she had come. She would never believe this."
"You should have seen it when Al and I switched places," Sam grumbled. "Talk about filthy minds. . . !"
"Yeah, well, I got stuck with the instincts of an overactive boy scout," Al said. "But this isn't getting anything accomplished, and my wrist is starting to chafe."
"Well, then, kiddies," Sam said, "we should get a few things accomplished here! C'mon, Ralph, just try again to float and lift that boulder. If I can do it, you can do it."
"Yes, Yoda," Ralph said. "Shall I try to lift my TIE fighter out of yonder swamp, too?"
Sam stormed up, then bit his lip and looked away. Then he stared. shaking his head. "Did you see something up there?"
Ralph followed Sam's gaze. "No. . . but I wasn't looking."
"The suit has binocular vision. Blink your eyes three times real fast and look up there." Ralph looked at him. "I'm not kidding. I think I saw somebody."
Al punched the handlink. "We'll go up and check." He and Bill disappeared and reappeared on the top of the hill.
"You're right," Ralph said suddenly. I feel like I'm right beside them."
"They're looking at something. Can you see through the hill?"
"I have figured that out. . . " Ralph squinted his eyes. "There's a man going down the other side. . . oh, Al and Bill are beside him."
"Does he look. . . um. . . "
"Flabbergasted? No, he looks rather angry. He's putting a box in his car."
Al and Bill reappeared. "It's a old hippie," Al said, "and he was muttering something about interlopers in his spot. He put a box in his car and looked like he was going to leave."
Bill was looking at the hill. "I don't think he saw anything, but I have a funny feeling about him."
"Yeah," Sam said. "So do I."
"Of course. Mr. Suspicious," Al mumbled.
"Well," Sam said. "Maybe we should forget about him, since he's going away. Try the floating thingie again, Ralph."
"Floating thingie?" Ralph smiled. "Next you're going to be spouting about bad guys and scenarios." His smile fell away as he watched Sam.
"That's what I'm afraid of," Sam muttered.
"Aw, c'mon, Sam, I'm not that bad, am I?" Bill asked.
"You just keep watching me," Sam muttered.
Joe Kelley woke up happy. Today was the day. Today was the day the Feds were going to pay for his wreck of a life. He was going to show them. He glanced at the backpack in the corner. He was going to miss the comfort the backpack gave him, but it was going for a good cause, man. He looked at the backpack again. It was missing something. Oh, yeah, man. He kicked the cat off the bed, then went to the kitchen and brought back a marker, ignoring the cat's anxious yowlings. He scrawled a message on a piece of scrap paper and stuck it in a pocket. Oh, yeah, that was better. "For Alice, with love, your son, Joe."
He looked up. "For you, Mama. For you."
"Sam. Sam. Time to get up."
Sam groaned and turned over. "I've had prettier alarm clocks, Calavicci." He grimaced. "Sorry, Al. I really don't mean to snap at you." He squinted at Al. "You're lookin' cheerful this morning."
"Bill and I had a long talk last night." He grinned. "Being partially you improved his disposition so that we could actually talk a few things out."
"I thought you had resolved everything the last Leap. And I thought you said that he reminded you of Beth." Sam grimaced. "Hard to believe with a face like that."
"He does. . . but Verbena made me realize that I had plenty of good times with him, too. And the. . . problem. . . with Beth I had was not his fault. I knew that once, but then he tried to get me barred from the space program because he thought I was trying to commit a fancy way of suicide, and well. . . "
"I remember," Sam cut in shortly.
Al looked sharply at him. "The last Leap or Bill's memories?"
Sam looked perplexed. "Both, actually. God, I'll be glad to get out of here."
"Hi, Unca Al! Hi, Unca Sam!" A little body burst out of the bedroom and Leaped onto Sam's lap. Both men smiled.
"Hi, honey," Al said, kneeling down. "Wide awake?"
"Yeah." Her face said "of course." "We going to the zoo?"
"I promised, didn't I?" Sam said. He looked at a smiling Al and shrugged. "Hey, I haven't been to a zoo in a long time and Ralph has to work today." He turned his attention back to the girl. "Lucky your mom has the day off."
"Yeah, you can turn on the TV." The little girl turned on the TV and settled down in front of it.
"Oh, Bill wanted to remind you that he didn't have the day off. But he did have a number of personal days coming. He also told you to watch out for someone named Carlyle."
"Who's that. . . a felon?"
"Naw, that's Bill's boss. You better call in."
"Ziggy talk yet?"
"No." He looked angry. "I swear I'm going to destroy her circuit by circuit using a sledgehammer."
"I'm not so sure."
Sam shrugged, then reached over, grabbed the phone, and dialed before he realized he shouldn't know the number. He looked perplexed momentarily, then shrugged. "Yeah, Pete. Can I talk to Carlyle?"
"He's not having a good day," came the hesitant voice from over the phone.
"Yeah, well, I'm about to make it a lot better. I'm taking the day off."
The other man whistled. "Wow. Did the devil just ice skate to work?"
"You have a wonderful way with words, Pete. You oughta be a writer. Just get me Carlyle, huh?"
"Ok, it's your head." Sam was put on hold.
Sam raised his eyebrows and looked at Al. "Carlyle's not having a good day."
"Bill says that Carlyle rarely has good days."
"Mr. Poopyhead," the girl spoke up loudly.
"I heard that, Maxwell," said the voice on the phone. "Subverting children early, are you?"
"What makes you think that, sir? She was watching TV. It's a. . . new program."
"Smooth recovery, Sam." Sam looked up at Al, but noted no malice on his face. In fact, he looked entirely too innocent. "Mr. Poopyhead. I've known a few in my day."
Shannon giggled at the TV.
"New TV program. Yeah, right, Maxwell. Pete said you wanted the day off. Are you sick?"
"No. . . I just wanted a personal day, sir. I'm entitled to some."
"Hmmph. Well, ok, you just made my day better. But I need you to pick up a file and review it tonight."
"No problem, sir. We can swing by the office."
"We. . . ?"
"The counselor and my goddaughter."
Al shook his head. "Your goddaughter. . . ? Bill didn't tell me that."
Sam rolled his eyes. He hadn't known either, until just that second.
"All right," said the voice on the phone. I hope I don't see you later." The phone clicked off.
"Charming to the last, sir," Sam said to the blank phone line.
Joe Kelley had studied the work patterns at the FBI building. He knew exactly when the heavy traffic times were and when he should position himself and where he should position himself. And what to do while there. He perched himself on a planter and studied the crowd. He even brought a sign for coloration: "Down with the government!" Yeah, it was about time. And he was always on time. Mama would be proud of him.
Mama. Mama was killed by the government, man, in a drug raid gone wrong. Mama had a bad heart, and when the feds broke through her front door looking for the drug lord who lived three houses down. . . she had a heart attack right there, and while she didn't die that day, it wasn't long afterwards. Sure, he got a payoff from the governmentand a fancy apology and a write-up in the paper, but that didn't bring Mama back.
Mama loved him. She took care of him after he came back broken from Vietnam. She bandaged knees and cooked dinners and kept him from screaming into the night when his papa died from the gun he was cleaning. And he loved Mama and he was going to show the world and teach the Feds. His blood would clean everything.
A car screeched up to the curb, and a pepper-haired man popped out. He went around the car and peered into the window. "I'll only be a minute, coun. . . Pam."
"Do you know where you're going? Maybe we had better come with you."
Joe started shaking. Man, it couldn't be. It COULDN'T. It was. It was him. It was the man that was wandering around with the blond freak with the red suit. He stared at the man and. . .
"NO!" He hopped off the planter, and before the two could react, grabbed the child the dark-haired woman had taken out of the child seat. He jammed the shrieking child's face to his chest.
"Shannon!" the woman screamed.
"I don't want to hurt her, man, but you gotta quit following me!"
"Give her back." The man was strangely calm.
"You gotta quit following me!"
He looked at his companion. "We weren't following you, buddy," he said, "unless you were at the zoo." He put his hand in his pocket.
"No guns! Drop your hands."
He put his hands out. "See? No guns."
Joe looked at him closely. As he looked, the man's appearance kept changing, man. An older man, a sandy haired younger man, an older man, a younger man. . . "And stop changing your face!" He screamed. "I'm going to use my device. My bomb. I am!"
The little girl squirmed. "Stay still, baby," the woman said softly.
"Why do you think we've been following you?" the man said loudly.
"Because you have, man! Everyplace I went in the past couple of days, there you are. You and your red-caped buddy, man." He giggled. Suddenly this was funny. "Superboy. We'll see how he likes it when I set off this bomb." Oh, yeah, that got his attention. "Yeah, man, I got a bomb. I'm tired of being messed with, man. The Federal government killed my Mom. They're going to learn."
The man closed his eyes. Suddenly, a bright square opened in front of him and two men. . . ghosts. . . stepped through. One was a compact, Italian looking fellow, and the other, in a bright white jumpsuit was. . .
He almost let the girl go. It was the same man who was standing in front of him. . .
"So how'd you like the zoo. . . ?" Al's voice trailed off as he saw the situation in front of him. Sam ignored Al and looked at the man holding Shannon, watching his eyes shift back and forth between Bill and himself. Damn. He was afraid this was going to happen, but on the other hand, maybe they could stall until Ralph got here. He hoped his maneuvering turned the walkie-talkie thing on, because he didn't dare try it again. The man was unstable. And while he believed that the guy truly didn't want to hurt the baby, he didn't want to force the issue.
How long would it take Ralph to get there?
And a crowd was forming. If this man truly did have a bomb, then he would get his wish. A lot of people were going to die with him.
"How did your Mother die?" Pam said softly.
"The Feds killed her," he said simply, his eyes wide.
"They killed her." Tears rolled down her cheeks.
"You have to kill a bunch of other people to make up for her?"
"They have to pay."
Sam looked over at Pam. Tears were rolling down her cheeks. "So you have to kill my innocent baby for your mother?"
He looked at the child in his arms and his eyes went cold. "If I have to." He looked at Bill, then at Sam. "It'll get rid of the both of you."
"You can't kill us," Al said suddenly.
"Yeah, I can."
Bill looked at Al, then a small grin showed on his face. "No, you can't. Because we're already dead."
"You're not dead." He pointed at Sam. "You're right there."
Pam leaned over to Sam. "Bill?" she mouthed. Sam nodded. He heard puzzled noises from the crowd.
Bill barely glanced at Sam. "That's my twin brother. Of course he's still alive."
"Prove that you're dead."
"C'mon, Al." Bill pulled the tether towards the planter, and he and Al walked through the plant.
The man looked at them in wide-eyed amazement. "You are! Groovy!" He thought a second. "Do you know Mama? Can I talk to her?"
"Well, uh. . . " Bill started. He looked at Al, and they both looked lost for a second.
Al's handlink started chirping. He pulled it out, looked at it in amazement. "Yeah, she's right here. This is kinda like a telephone." He read off the handlink. "She. . . um. . . wants to talk to you." He glanced at Sam and shrugged, then pointed the handlink at the brick wall.
"Joe?" said a female voice. A picture formed on the wall of a pleasant faced elderly woman. The lips moved. "Joe? Son, are you there?"
"I'm here, Mama. Can you see me?"
The eyes focused on the hippie. "Yes, Joe. What are you doing?"
"They're going to pay, Mama. They're going to pay for your death."
The image sighed. "You know what I told the Federal agents, son? You remember what I told the lawyers?"
"Yes. . . No, Mama! You were out of your head."
Pam leaned over to Sam. "What's happening now?" she whispered.
"Our computer is doing something I never knew she could do." Sam shook his head. "Can I invent or what?"
"I told the lawyers that people make mistakes, Joe. When they tried to ask for more, that's what I told them. I took enough to help you because I told them you had a little trouble from Vietnam, but I wasn't going to sue for more. You remember?"
Joe bit his lip.
"You know I don't want you to hurt people. I went to church, didn't I, son?"
"Yes, Mama. Every week."
"Does Jesus want us to hurt people?"
Joe's face got hard. "The Bible says 'an eye for an eye.'"
"That's not what Jesus said."
Sam felt a sudden breeze beside him. He turned. Ralph? He didn't see anybody.
"I want you to put Shannon down, honey."
"No." But he sounded unconvinced, and Joe loosened the grip on the little girl. . .
. . . who was suddenly jerked to one side and then floated in mid-air to Pam. She grabbed the girl reflexively and gasped. "Ralph?"
"Can't talk, hon," the air said. The next second, Joe was on the ground, the backpack beside him, his hands behind his back. "Sam? Got some handcuffs?"
"Always!" Sam rushed up to the man, knocked into Ralph, who turned visible and held the man's hands up. Sam blinked to see him and cuffed the man on the ground. The puzzled crowd burst into applause. Ralph took it in for a second, then closed his eyes and turned invisible. For a second, Sam believed that he himself had rushed the man and knocked him down, throwing the child into Pam's arms, then he felt a touch on his forehead and remembered the whole thing. He jerked the man off the ground.
"You can't do this! Mama wouldn't like it. Tell him, Mama," Joe said, twisting around to see the wall, which was now blank. "Mama. . . ?"
"Try my patience, scuzzball," Sam growled into Joe Kelley's face. He heard sirens and three police rushed through the crowd. Sam pulled out Bill's ID. "You're just a little late, guys. Bill Maxwell, FBI."
"This part of an investigation?" one policeman said.
"No, officer, oddly enough, we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time." He glared at Joe. "Read him his rights and get him out of here." The second policeman grabbed Joe and hustled him to the car.
"The bomb, Sam!" Al said.
Sam turned to the policewoman. "Oh, yeah, and he said there was a bomb in his backpack. We need to clear the area and get the bomb squad."
The policewoman looked at Sam, wide-eyed, then started yelling to the crowd to disperse, there was a bomb in the area. "We'll be down the block when you need us." She nodded tersely, and Pam, with a still sobbing Shannon in her arms, and Sam started pushing through the crowd, followed by Bill and Al, who were under no such crowd constraints. "There's no threat," Al said. "Ziggy just told me the bomb was no good. Joe Kelley was so shook up by the past few days he forgot an essential part. . . the trigger."
"The bomb was no good?" A voice came down from above, and Sam and Pam jumped. "Sorry. It's Ralph. I went back to sneak clothes out of Bill's car, and now I'm floating right above you. Let me put a hand on your head, Pam, so you can see Bill and Al."
Pam looked over at Sam, wide-eyed. "You guys covered a lot, didn't you?"
"Mmmm. . . . yeah. Argued some, too."
"The way you've been acting today, I'm not surprised."
"Just how have I. . . " Sam blushed. "Sorry. Again."
Bill looked sideways at Sam. "I wish you'd stop apologizing for me. I may be direct, but I'm not that bad. I think."
"Anyway," Al said. "The bomb was no good."
"And now Ziggy is talking."
"Yeah. And I'm coming after her, I swear." The handlink beeped. "She wants to explain it herself. Why didn't you do this before, Ziggy?. . . Yeah, well, same to you. 'Power constraints.' Bah." Al looked around, noted the crowd had thinned out, then shrugged and pointed the handlink toward a wall.
"Put your hand on my head, Pam," Ralph muttered. "I'm going to get dressed." A pile of clothes appeared on the sidewalk, then disappeared as he picked each item up.
A colored circle appeared, which shifted colors as the computer talked. "Hello, Dr. Beckett. Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Hinkley."
"Who are you?" Pam said.
"I'm a lot of things, but to put it shortly, I'm the project computer, Mrs. Hinkley. I shouldn't explain any more than that to you."
Pam shook her head. "Okay. I guess I didn't want to know anyway. Works for me."
"I apologize for deceiving you, Dr. Beckett." Was Sam imagining things, or was there an apologetic tone in Ziggy's voice? "When you first Leaped in and saw the face in the window, I had a positive ID on Joseph Alan Kelley. There was an eight-five percent chance of a successful Leap if I told you nothing."
"And if you had said something?"
"The percentile dropped to ten percent. Dr. Beckett would have been killed, along with Mrs. and Miss Hinkley." Shannon burped and looked at the colored lights. Ziggy hesitated a second - for effect, Sam knew. "You designed me with a certain amount of discretion in these matters, Dr. Beckett."
"Yeah, well, you'd never know she had discretion," Al muttered.
"Beside the point, Admiral. Dr. Beckett's safe return is paramount."
"How did we shake up Joe Kelley?" Sam asked.
"By doing nothing, Dr. Beckett. You were merely in a few places that Kelley happened to be. He saw you and assumed you were following him. Had I told you his plans, you would have followed him, and he would've been driven to desperation. At this point, he was, in common parlance, merely 'shook up'."
"The man in the desert," Bill and Ralph said at the same time. Bill looked at where he thought Ralph would be.
"Mr. Kelley was also the target of Mr. Maxwell the day Dr. Beckett Leapt in."
"I knew I was doing something important there."
"In fact, Mr. Kelley had been followed by Mr. Maxwell, but far more discretely than he supposed. Mr. Maxwell had prior information, mostly from the stores that Mr. Kelley patronized, that they thought Mr. Kelley was planning a bomb. He had assumed, because of Mr. Kelley's prior history with the government, that he had planned to set it off in a public place. Had Mr. Maxwell been allowed to raid Mr. Kelley's at that point, the house would have exploded and Mr. Maxwell would have been killed."
Bill gulped. "How? You said the bomb didn't have a trigger."
"At that point, it did. Mr. Kelley took the trigger off when he wasn't working so that his cat wouldn't set off the bomb accidentally."
"Oh," Bill said silently.
"Dr. Beckett?" the voice pleaded.
"I'm sorry I had to lie to you. I am in conflict with Asimov's laws. I could not allow you to come to harm, but lying harms you. Please resolve. May I be forgiven?"
"This is a first," Al muttered. "Ziggy's asking to be forgiven? I've lived too long."
"If you tell me how you did. . . this." He pointed towards the wall.
"Oh. I had a picture of Mr. Kelley's mother and a copy of the statements, written and oral, she had made to her lawyers and the Federal Government. Also, I knew from her tax records that she made contributions to a church. When Mr. Kelley saw the Admiral and Mr. Maxwell, I knew that he would be able to see the pictures I project. We've done it before, remember?" Sam shook his head, while Al nodded. "The Admiral remembers. Anyway, it was child's play to manipulate Mrs. Kelley's picture and mimic her voice. I knew if we delayed long enough, Mr. Hinkley would arrive."
"To save the day," said the voice beside Pam. Ralph blinked in. . . he was wearing a suit and was adjusting the tie he was wearing.
"May I be forgiven?"
Al scratched his head. "I still don't believe it."
"Believe it, Admiral," Ziggy said.
"You're forgiven, I suppose," Sam said. "However, next time I want you to confide in someone on the Project."
"Must it be the Admiral?"
"Geez, Louise," Al said. "Now I'm being snubbed by the bucket of bolts!"
Sam ignored him. "Verbena. Gooshie. Tina. I don't care. This Leap came out all right. But everybody, even computers, need to consult with other people to judge whether their actions are correct."
"Yes, Dr. Beckett. I will." The circle blinked out.
"Now he sounds like the old Sam," Al said, looking at Bill, puffing on his cigar.
"Yeah, Mr. Goody Two Shoes," Sam said.
Al closed his eyes and shook his head. "And you were doing so well."
Ralph peered down the block. "I think the police would like us back."
"Ok, kiddies, here's the scenario," Sam said.
"The scenario?" Pam whispered to Ralph. Ralph grinned.
"I don't see any reason for you holograms to hang around. In fact, Bill should get back to the Waiting Room, and if Ziggy can project herself here, then she should be able to project our pictures into the Waiting Room, so that Bill can watch Pam and me testifying to the cops." The handlink beeped affirmatively. "And then it'll be que sera, sera time."
"Que sera, sera?" Ralph whispered.
"What will be, will be," Pam smiled back.
"I don't understand why you haven't Leaped," Ralph said, sitting on his living room couch. Pam held the sleeve of the suit.
Sam paced the room. "I'm. . . not sure. I testified to the cops, I taught you everything I remembered from the manual, I said goodbye to the peanut. . . " he glanced down the hall towards the sleeping girl's room, ". . . I picked up Bill's report, I argued with Carlyle. . . " He grinned. "Carlyle was fit to be tied when he found out I was part of the scenario in front of the building. But I set him straight, rather forcefully."
"That wasn't too great an idea," Ralph whispered. "Oh, well, that's Bill's problem."
Pam looked thoughtful. "Didn't. . . um. . . Ziggy say Joe Kelley had a cat?"
Ralph looked at her. "Yeah. She did. You don't suppose. . . ?"
Al stepped through the front door. "Jeez. Are you still here, Sam?"
"Yeah, Calavicci, I'm still here."
Al lifted his eyes to the sky. "We have to get you out of here."
"Ziggy said Joe Kelley had a cat?" Sam said.
Al blinked. "I. . . think she did. Why?"
"Does Joe Kelley have any living relatives?"
"A couple of second cousins. Elderly."
Ralph turned to Pam. Pam nodded her head. "We'll take the cat. Can you get him. . . "
Al looked at the handlink in amazement. "That's it, Sam. You're going to Leap."
Sam felt the Leap starting and grinned. "Why not? I don't think a cat is evidence. Bill will get him in the morning. Remind him." He disappeared, leaving Bill Maxwell in his place.
Bill closed his eyes. "I don't recommend that way of travelling."
Ralph grinned. "Bill? How do you feel?"
"How should I feel? I've been stuck with the personality of a goddam genius boy scout the past few days. I feel much better."
Pam snickered. "And I'm sure the reverse is true."
"What did you say, counselor?"
"Nothing, Bill. Nothing. And, by the way, Bill. . . " she continued. "You have to arrange to get us a cat in the morning."
Sam looked down at the manure he was mucking out of the stable and had a sudden wave of homesickness. He had hated cleaning stables at his parent's farm, but he gradually got used to it. After all, it got him away from the family and he could think all he wanted and the smell of manure wasn't that bad, really. And that kind of dirt washes off.
Otherwise, so far, this Leap wasn't too bad. He had found himself in the barn, obviously just before dawn. So, rather than wandering around, trying to find a problem, he just got to his chores. It helped clear his mind out from the last Leap. Bill Maxwell was a good man, but you would never know it from his attitude. . . and he was getting a little tired of that attitude. Ah, well, he was somewhere else now. Pennsylvania? Michigan? Northern Indiana? It didn't make a bit of difference.
He pushed back his black, broad brimmed hat and looked at the lantern hanging from the hook, then grinned down at his sensible boots, his white shirt, and his blue slacks. Old order Amish, obviously. He hadn't had a chance to find a mirror. . . he wondered whether he was supposed to be young, old. . . Well, there was time. He'd figure it out.
"Hi, Sam." Sam turned around and smiled to watch Al walk through the Imaging Chamber door. "How are you feeling?"
Sam shook his head, grinning ruefully. "Much calmer. I think this Leap has already done me good." He looked at Al closely. "You know something, don't you?"
Al grinned. "I have a surprise for you. But we can't do this for long." He held out his arms. Ralph and Pam appeared on one side, Bill on the other.
"Hi! How did you get clearance. . . ?" His voice trailed off. "The nanites?"
"Naw, I got a little pull," Bill said.
"Are you still. . . ?"
"No, we passed the suit on to a younger duo a couple of years ago. Shannon's a teenager, and she was asking awkward questions. Not to mention her little brother."
Pam smiled. "And both Ralph and Bill are slowing down a bit."
"And I was getting very tired," Ralph said. "I wanted to retire and actually stay home some evenings. The aliens concurred."
"Speak for yourself," Bill grumbled.
Al looked to either side of him. "Well, you guys have to go now. We're dimming the lamps in Alamagordo. . . "
"The lantern!" Pam yelled.
Sam whirled. As he watched, the nail moved downwards and the lantern started slipping towards the ground. He reached out and grabbed the handle and watched dumbly as it swayed in his hand. He looked at the hay on the ground. "If that had broken. . . "
Al pulled the handlink out of his pocket. "Bye, Sam. . . "
Sam watched the quartet disappear into the light as he Leaped.