AN ORCHID FOR AL

by Lorraine Anderson

"Oh, no, Sam." Al retreated from the mirror. "You can't make me."

Sam continued to point. The hand link blinked balefully... or so it seemed to Al. "You have to," Sam repeated. "Otherwise, you and Randy will die..." he smiled, "... and you won't Leap. And you know I can't try out the modified retrieval program unless you're already Leaping."

"I know," Al almost whispered, then caught himself. "That's right Sam, don't worry about me, just worry about saving a test subject."

Sam pointed again, grinning. "Made you think, didn't I? Besides, there are worse things than... that."

"You're sure."

"Positive."

True. He was right. How hard could this Leap be? After all, he had been a POW in Vietnam, he had been through five marriages there would be a sixth when he got back if he had his way after those living nightmares, how hard could this be? He concentrated what Sam had already told him... the couple had died in a fiery car crash tonight. He had to keep the young man from getting drunk, which was probably the secondary cause of the pileup.

So, much as he hated it, it must be done if he were to save the two. Still, this Leap hit where it hurt.

"Besides," Sam continued, "you already have the underwear on." He looked like he was trying hard not to smile.

Al looked down at the tiny bra draped around his chest and groaned. "I have never ever been into cross dressing."

"This is not cross dressing," Sam smiled and looked pointedly into the mirror. "And it's not that bad. "Just a little uncomfortable."

"A lot uncomfortable." He flicked at a bra strap. "I remember the trouble you had."

"You do?" Sam looked uncomfortable.

"I haven't forgotten everything." He picked up the short red dress gingerly, then glared at the matching three inch heels. "I'll look sweet in this."

"No, Candy will look sweet in that."

"Sweet Candy?" Al raised his eyebrows.

Sam grimaced at his unintentional pun. "Sorry. What I meant is that everyone is going to see Candy, so you won't have to worry. Certainly, I know that I will enjoy seeing Candy..." He looked blank, then shook his head. "Your neurons talking again. What I meant to say is that I'll be enjoying every minute of it." He looked blank again, then glared at Al.

"You don't have to blame my neurons all the time, you know."

"Much easier."

"I hate paybacks."

"So do I," Sam grinned. "On my end. But I have a long memory." He looked speculatively at Al. "I just wonder whether it's yours or mine."

A blonde teenager peeked into the room, then shrieked. For a startled moment, Al though she saw him. He pulled the dress protectively in front of him.

The girl was looking at the dress. "Oh, Candy, it's lovely! Omigod, you're going to be the loveliest girl at the prom!"

"I... am?" Al stammered.

"Well, of course!" The teenager came into the room and led Al to a wall mirror. The glass was festooned with pictures of young men that Al couldn't readily identify although he thought one might be the singer Donnie Osmond. Oddly enough, however, there was a picture of Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly in Sailor suits autographed with their names, yet! with a small boy between them. He latched onto that picture, avoiding looking into

the mirror... he almost remembered that movie of course he would've been very young at the time...

"Al," Sam said. He looked down at the hand link. "This must be Candy's sis..." He looked frustrated, then gave it a wack. "...Candy's sister, Tammy." He looked at his hand, then the hand link, then glowered at Al.

With a sigh, Al shifted his attention to the mirror. He saw two teenage girls with long blonde hair. So. He... Candy and this girl were sisters. He filed this information for future reference, then realized the girl expected an answer. "Yeah, I guess I'll look alright."

"Tammy," came an older female voice from downstairs. "It's time to set the table. Candy, are you ready? Randy will be here soon."

Tammy rolled her eyes at Al. "I wish I was going to the prom, too! 'Specially with Randy. He's cute." She sighed heavily, then exited the room. "Coming, Mom."

"Candy?" the voice yelled."

"That's you... remember?" Sam pointed out.

"Oh." Al closed his eyes. "Almost ready... Mom." He yelled. He stared at the dress.

"Don't mess your makeup," Sam said.

"At least I know how to do that."

Sam looked at him blankly. "You do?"

"Tina... enjoys being made up." He shrugged. "So did Ruthie... and Janet..."

"Al..."

Al slipped on the dress. "Where's the neck to this damn thing? oh, here it is... But, Sam, I am not wearing makeup!" His head emerged from the neck of the dress, and he glared at the hologram.

"I wasn't kidding," Sam said quietly. "Candy was wearing makeup when you Leapt in. You didn't notice?"

Al leaned forward and looked into the mirror. "Well, I'll be damned! I thought that kind of stuff Leapt along with the Leaper."

"Clothing doesn't. Rings don't. So it follows that something applied to the outside of the skin doesn't. Only one thing ever did, and only because of the lightning."

"The hand link," Al said ruefully, struggling to close the zipper of the dress. He remembered that all too well. It was that lightning strike that forced Sam and himself switch places. Well, that was past, and the present was hard enough. "Boy, I wish you could give a fellow a hand," he muttered, as he finally reached the top of the dress.

Sam applauded.

Al rolled his eyes. "You have an odd sense of humor."

Sam appeared to look inward. "Mostly yours."

"Oh, no, Sam. I distinctly remember you programming Ziggy to whisper me dirty jokes at one committee review..." He heard a doorbell.

"Candy," the girl's mom yelled. "Randy's here."

"Damn," Al said.

He heard the front door open, and Candy's mother exclaiming, "Well, now don't you look nice!"

Al grabbed the shoes, glared at them, then jammed them on his feet. They had a tendency to wobble, but he knew it wouldn't take long to get used to them. As a fighter pilot, he had a good sense of balance, and he hadn't lost that as he grew older.

"Walk like a lady," Sam said quietly. "Don't take big strides. I don't think Candy wears heels too often."

"How do you know?"

Sam looked a little embarrassed. "I peeked into the closet mostly flats so you won't have any trouble on that score."

"Thank God. And why were you looking in the closet?" Al combed his hair, marvelling at how the girl's long blonde hair in the mirror seemed to straighten out as well as his short hair.

He put the comb down and looked into the mirror. Candy was pretty, if a bit young. Made him wish he were years younger. He grabbed the earrings with a sigh thankful he could find a nice pair of clip ons in a drawer full of pierced earrings then snapped one on one earlobe, and winced at the slight pain and the unfamiliar pulling. Then he snapped the other one on.

"Beautiful," Sam said.

"Don't you have something better to do?"

"No, I mean it! Makes me wish I were years younger..." An odd look crossed his face.

"You're reading my mind again," Al said quietly.

"I think... I had better leave now," Sam groaned, "and find Dr. Beeks. Quick."

Al grinned. "Now you know how I felt." He picked up Candy's grip, then thought a moment and looked in it. As he thought... no ID. Locating Candy's purse, he picked out the driver's license and transferred it to the grip. Then, with a determined step, he exited the room and started down the stairs. He heard the Imaging Chamber door close behind him.

At the bottom of the stairs, his "mother" was talking with a dark haired young man Al presumed was Randy. Randy and Candy. Sounded like some kinky game... He quickly suppressed the thought and swallowed the laugh that was threatening. He squeaked.

Randy looked up. "Hi, Candy." He blushed, looking down. Apparently noticing what he had in his hand, he looked up again and shoved an orchid box at Al.

"Hello, Randy," Al replied. He stared at the box. "I think you're supposed to... pin that on me?" He barely avoided making the last statement an order. Randy reminded him too much of the raw Naval recruits he had seen.

"Oh. Yeah." Randy gingerly fingered the box.

"Oooh," Candy's mom said. "I just have to get a picture!" Al exhaled. "Must you... Mother?"

"Oh, yes," she said. "You just wait right there 'till I get my camera."

Al looked around. "Mom... where's Tammy?"

The woman was already disappearing. "She remembered that Joannie invited her over to supper tonight. She went over there." Terrific. That meant he was alone with Randy, the hormonal King. He looked the kid up and down, then decided he didn't have to worry. The poor boy was more nervous than he was. He almost felt sorry for the kid. Perhaps he should teach him the ropes... now wait a minute! He looked down at the dress, and decided that idea wasn't so hot, after all. Still, he could help in some way. God, he was a sucker.

But that was how he got involved in this in the first place. The kid was struggling with the plastic box. At this rate, the orchid would be crushed. Al took it from Randy and gently applied pressure to one corner. The box flew open.

"Thanks, Candy," Randy blushed.

"No problem," Al said. He saw a flash. The Wonder Mother was back.

"Ok!" she said. "You can pin it on her now!"

Al wasn't looking forward to this. He was certain that he was going to be skewered. The boy moved forward and carefully drew the pin from the flower. Carefully looking at his hands, he placed one hand behind the fabric of the dress and started pinning it to the accompaniment to sudden flashes of light.

"Ouch," he said lowly, and Al sniffed. Oh, no. Not this. He had been drinking already? Was he going to have to play chaperone to a drunk?

Still, the kid didn't seem drunk. Maybe it was just something to buck his nerves up.

Right. And Al was a cross eyed pilot.

He glanced at Candy's mother... which was a mistake. The flash burned into his eyes. "Ok," she said. "Back to the wall. I want to take another couple..."

"Dozen," Al whispered. Randy grinned.

"...pictures." The mother finished.

"Must you?" Al said.

"This only comes once in a lifetime, darling." The woman came over, kissed Al's cheek, and backed the couple into the wall. "Ouch," Randy said as the woman repositioned herself. Al looked at him. "Doorknob in the spine," he muttered.

Al grinned slowly. As much as he hated to admit it, this was getting funny.

She took pictures of the couple in various poses, and Al thanked the heavens that the Committee wouldn't be able to see this. Hell, he was glad Sam wasn't here.

"Oh, darn," the woman said, glancing down at the camera. "I'm out of film."

"Darn," Al smiled. "What a shame." He struggled to keep the sarcasm out of his voice. "Guess we had better go, then." "You have a good time, darling." The mother walked over to hug Al. He was surprised, then chagrined to see the tears in her eyes. The woman meant well.

"We will, Mom, we will," he said, kissing the woman's cheek. "Bring her back safe."

"Of course," Randy said.

"I'll make sure of it," Al said. "See you later."

Well, he rather hoped he wouldn't see her later, but at least he would make sure Randy drove safely. If that was the problem. If it weren't something to do with the other car that he had no control over. He shivered, then walked determinedly out the door. If it were something he had no control over, then he wouldn't be here... would he?

God, self doubt was horrible.

Must be some of Sam's neurons. Couldn't be any of his. He grinned.

They walked silently out to the car. Al noticed absently that it was a 1967 Mustang, a bit old for the mid seventies. He reached for the door handle. Smoothly, Randy cut in front of him and opened the door. Well, at least the kid had manners. He smiled as he tried to settle into the car somewhat gracefully, then gave up and plopped himself down.

A three year old boy, walking down the sidewalk with his mother, giggled at him. "Look, mommy, look at that funny man with the dress on!" The mother looked at Al, then looked at the kid and shrugged.

"Don't knock it until you've tried it, kid," Al muttered. "Excuse me?" Randy said, sliding into the driver's seat. "I'm looking forward to tonight," Al said brightly. Like hell he was. He was looking forward to blisters on his heels! "Good," Randy said. "I hope we do."

Al glanced at him. "I hope we do... what?"

Randy blushed. "I mean, I hope we have a good time." Sure, kid. Sure. Ain't no way this kid was going to get close to him.

"Going to... slow dance?" Sam said. Al lurched forward, then glared into the back seat. Sam had an innocent face on. "Gee, did I startle you? Sorry."

Al rolled his eyes. Sure, you're sorry. And the Pope wears camouflage cassocks.

"Really! And face forward. Randy's looking at you."

Al cleared his throat. "Sorry. Thought I saw somebody I knew... um... who do you suppose will be at the dance?"

"Smooth maneuver," Sam said. "I think... anyway, Ziggy's come up with a new wrinkle. Now there's three bodies found in the car."

Al draped his arm behind Randy's head and held up three fingers.

"Three," Sam confirmed. "Randy, Candy, and... Tammy." Al looked over at Randy, his eyes looking back at Sam. He held his palm up.

"I don't know how she gets in the car, either."

Al thumbed at the trunk. "I don't think so... but I'll look." Sam's head disappeared through the back seat, then reappeared. "No, it's dark in there, and the trunk seems to be closed. If she were back there, she wouldn't have closed the trunk... I hope." Sam punched the hand link. "No, she was found in the back seat."

Al suddenly realized that Randy had asked him a question. Sam grinned. "He asked you about trigonometry homework. Whether you had gotten it done."

Sam and his five track mind. Or something. Al seemed to remember Sam concentrating so hard that he practically had to get a crowbar to get him away from the computer.

"I don't think so," Al fudged.

"You don't think so?" Randy said.

"Well," Al said. "You know trig. This chapter was rather hard. I'm not sure whether I got the answers right."

"Yeah, don't I know it!" Randy laughed. He seemed relaxed for the first time that evening.

"Maybe we should study together."

"Yeah." Randy looked startled. "You mean it?"

"You seem surprised."

"Um... no. I'd like that. I need all the help I can get." They drove a few miles, Al talking about school in general terms, then Randy turned the wheel. "We're here. I'll let you off at the sidewalk and I'll park the car."

Al looked up at a massive brick building and shivered. Sure looked like a high school... grim and foreboding. He was always rather glad he missed most of it... in spite of the fact he had to make up so much of it later to get into flight training.

Randy stopped the car at the curb and practically ran around the car to open Al's door. "Really, Randy, that's not necessary," Al objected.

"My pleasure."

Sam snickered in the back seat as Randy extended his arm. Al took it as gracefully as he could and climbed out of the car. He had to admit, with the heels on, he needed all the help he could get.

Randy got back into the car and pulled away. Sam appeared beside Al.

"Why don't you do something useful?"

"I am," Sam grinned. "I'm being amused." His face sobered. "Frankly, I was thinking of doing some spying around the gym. Maybe I can find some clues as to why Randy got so drunk." "Alcohol will do it."

"Randy doesn't seem drunk."

"You didn't smell his breath... but you're right." Al looked at the approaching teenager. "Maybe it's something else." Randy came up to Al. "Did you say something?"

Al stared at the teenager, point blank. "Have you been drinking?"

Randy blushed. "My dad gave me a sip of his scotch before I left. He said I looked pale." He looked at Al. "I don't drink. I don't want to drink, after Bobby's parents..." He gulped. "Bobby was my best friend."

"Bobby?" Al pressed.

"You remember Bobby Jameson, don't you? His parents had been drinking and drove into a train?"

Al chewed his lip. Oh, God. That reminded him of a couple of near misses he had been in. "Yeah, I remember," he said thoughtfully.

"I'll go to the gym," Sam said, looking thoughtfully at Randy. "There must be some other explanation."

"Yeah," Al said. He looked at Randy. "Well, are we going in?" Let's get the inevitable over with.

Randy smiled. "Let's make our entrance."

Lovely way of putting it. Al hoped he wouldn't trip. #

"Oh, God," Al moaned.

"Yeah, it is kinda nice, isn't it?" Randy said admiringly. Sure, Al thought, if you liked neo Southern ante bellum, with a cardboard grand entrance and painted paper walls. Tony Orlando and Dawn ended singing "Knock Three Times" and the Carpenter's "We've only Just Begun" was cued up. Hopefully, that wasn't going to be the theme of the evening.

"Care for some punch?" Randy whispered.

Al needed something. He had liked disco, but that period just before it... he needed some sort of bracer. "Yes. Please." "I'll get it." Randy wandered over to the punch and cake table, at the other end of the gym.

"Hi, Candy," a girl said. She looked Al up and down. "I like your dress. Where did you get it?"

"I don't know," Al said. The girl looked confused. "I mean, my mother got it for me. It was a surprise."

"Gee, your mother has good taste. My mother wanted me to wear the ugliest thing!" She started to go on, but a young man came up to the two. "Hi, Jimmy," she drawled. "Where's your slut?" Al whistled to himself and raised his eyebrows. Strong terms.

Jim glared at the girl, then gave Al the slow once over. Al shivered involuntarily. He didn't like the looks of this one. Physically, he was alright, Al supposed, if one liked thick necked football players. However, he didn't like the look of possessiveness that the young man gave him.

Jim noticed his shiver, and a slow smile crawled onto his broad face. "So," he said. "You do still feel something for me. When are you going to dump that creep you came with?" He reached a hand towards Al.

Al danced backwards. "Certainly I feel something for you... I believe utter disgust covers it, you nozzle."

Jim put a hand over his heart and rolled his eyes. "I'm struck!" He looked at her. "You know you still love me." He lunged forward and grabbed Al's arm.

Al grabbed the boy's little finger and bent it back. "Up your..."

"Al!" Sam said, appearing beside him.

"...nose with a rubber hose," Al said innocently, while Jim slowly turned pale and loosened his grip.

He rubbed his hand, staring at Al. "Come on, Candy. Don't be like this. You know I love you. Susie just... caught me in a weak moment, that's all."

Al took the girl's arm, who had been quietly gaping at Al, and started walking away. "Do you hear something?"

The young woman grinned. "Not a thing, Candy. Not a thing." Sam looked at Jim. "I don't trust this guy, Al. I think I had better tail him."

Al nodded.

They met Randy coming back as they strolled away. "Sorry I took so long. The guys were talking basketball, and, well..." "That's ok," Al grabbed the punch out of Randy's hand and took a sip. So far, so good. The punch didn't seem to be spiked. He knew that the dance was supposed to be chaperoned... but he didn't really trust the chaperones that far. He turned back to Randy. "You didn't miss anything. Just girl talk."

The young woman choked.

"You alright, Treece?" Randy asked.

"I'm ok, Randy." Treece... short for Theresa, Al supposed... looked around. "Have you seen Bill lately?"

Randy smiled ruefully. "Over by the punch table. Want me to grab him for you?"

"No, that's alright," Treece grinned. "I'll get him. He's gotta dance with me sometime tonight."

Al paled. Dammit, he's going to have to dance with Randy. Well, there could be worse things, he supposed. But Sam was never going to let him forget it, and neither was anyone else back at the Project. Thank God it was a top secret project.

He shook his head. He was getting carried away. He'd just pretend he was... instructing the boy to dance. Yeah, that was it. Somehow, it didn't help. His homophobia ran too deep. He knew that, but he couldn't help himself.

"Candy?"

Al looked at Randy. "Sorry, just thinking about something else. Did you want to dance?"

Actually, it wasn't too bad, when they finally got to the dance floor. He always had enjoyed dancing. The high heels didn't bother him a bit. Still, he begged out of the slow dances. He even smiled as they went through the Grand March, then had their picture taken. After all, he reasoned, he had to smile. Poor Candy wasn't going to have any memory of this prom... she may as well have the pictures.

He sat on the bleachers, looking over the young crowd. Sam appeared beside him. "How's it going?"

Al put a scowl on his face. "I've had better times."

"I saw you grinning. You were enjoying yourself, weren't you?"

Al smiled slowly. "After a fashion. I just had to remember not to do those deep splits that used to drive the women wild." He frowned down at the dress. "Why, I remember when I was in a nightclub... just about in this now, as a matter of fact..."

Sam sighed.

"Ok, I'll skip the story. How's your boy?"

Sam looked apologetic. "Actually, I'm not sure. I had to slip out of the Imaging Chamber a second."

Al felt alarmed. "Anything wrong?"

Sam cleared his throat. "Call of nature." He punched the hand link. "I'll check on Jim now." He disappeared.

...and reappeared. "You have to get to the men's room, now! A bunch of kids are forcing vodka down Randy!"

Al swore to himself, then jumped up. "Where?"

Sam pointed.

Al ran across the dance floor, oblivious to the stares in his wake. He rushed out into the high school hall, located the men's room door, and slammed it open. Sam was right. Randy was struggling in the middle of a group of five young men... four were holding him, and Jim was pouring the bottle into Randy's mouth, while holding it open. "That'll teach you to steal my girl," he muttered.

Al cleared his throat.

"Hey," one of the guys said, looking up. "You can't come in here. This is the men's room."

Al kicked Jim's arm, and the bottle shattered on the floor. Randy spat out what was in his mouth. "Wrong. This is the little boy's room. There are no men here." Unconsciously, he had slipped into "Admiral" mode. "It's very obvious what you're doing here. Let him go." They looked at him. "Now!"

Two of the young men let go, then Jim grabbed Al's arms and turned him. "Make us."

Sam appeared. "I think I went to school with this kid. Guess bullys are the same all over."

Al barely gave Sam a glance. "You'll regret it." "I doubt it," the young man grinned.

Al smiled. "Sorry." Suddenly, Al's knee went upwards, and Jim dropped, clutching himself. Al whirled, threw a punch at one young man, then knocked the other one backwards with a foot. They looked up at Al, wide eyed.

"Good job, Al!" Sam cheered. "My neurons are paying off for you."

Randy looked embarrassed... to be shown up by a girl, Al supposed. "I'm sorry, Randy," Al said. "I couldn't figure out what else to do."

Randy smiled. "Hey. No problem. I like tough girls."

Applause came from the door. An older man stood there, grinning from ear to ear. "Mr. Fuller," Jim groaned from the floor.

"Mr. Houston," the man looked down. "I saw just enough. You... all of you... are in deep trouble. I will personally call your parents to pick you up." He turned to Al. "I'm glad I followed you. I was curious to see where you were going to in such a hurry. Where ever you learned that, keep it up. Women need to know self defense nowadays."

"Thanks for getting us in trouble with the principal," Jim muttered.

"You got yourself in trouble, this time," Al said.

Another chaperone came to the door. "John!" Mr. Fuller said. "I need you to help me to escort a few young men to my office."

"What in the world..." the other man looked questioning at Mr. Fuller.

Mr. Fuller grinned at Al. "I'll tell you later." He glanced sharply at Randy. "Perhaps you two had better call it a night, too. I'll call Randy's parents to tell them what happened, so you won't get in trouble."

Al sighed and looked at Randy. He was beginning to look a little woozy. "Thanks. And I'll drive." Fortunately, he remembered that he had dropped Candy's license in the little grip.

"I can drive!" Randy protested.

"Not for much longer," Al said sharply, then his voice softened. "Look, I know it's Prom night, but we'll be safer if I drive. Ok?"

"Well..."

"She will drive," Mr. Fuller said definitively. "No macho man heroics."

"I guess you'll drive. Dad can drive you home." He still didn't look happy.

#

Randy sat back in the weeds, hard. He still looked green. "Sorry, Candy."

"Poor kid," Sam said. "I remember the first time I experimented." His face turned blank. "Was that me or you?"

Al smiled ruefully at Sam. "I guess I should have insisted that we stay at school until it hit bottom. You think you'll be ok now?"

The young man closed his eyes. "The world's still spinning. I thought this stuff was s'posed to make you feel good!"

Al shook his head. "Not necessarily. Alcohol is a depressant. Usually it makes you feel nothing."

"You talk like you know."

"I've... studied it. In school." Well, it wasn't an entire lie. He did drink in flight school.

Randy opened his eyes and looked at Al, puzzled. "M'be there's something else in that bottle. You kinds look like a guy, if I close one eye. In fact, you look kinda like that astronaut... um... Cala... um..." He pointed at Sam. "And I can see through him."

Al looked at Sam, raised his eyebrows, then back at Randy. "Hallucinogens. I wouldn't put it past them," he sighed dramatically. "You should be all right in the morning. Just don't believe everything you see and hear tonight." He turned to Sam. "Right?"

Sam blinked. "Right. I'm just a hallucination. Don't pay any attention to me."

Randy had his head down again. "Ok."

Al turned to Sam. "What've you got?"

"What have I?... Oh." Sam punched the hand link, then looked up. "There's no change."

"What?"

"And here comes trouble."

"Huh?" Al turned around to where Sam was pointing. "Oh, damn."

"Candy, Randy... what are you doing here?" Tammy said, walking down the side of the street. "I thought you were at the prom." She looked down at Randy, curiously.

"Excuse me," he mumbled. "Had a little... accident."

"Jim Houston and his friends... poured at least half a bottle of vodka down Randy."

"Because of you."

"Because of me."

"I told you you never should've went out with that jerk in the first place!"

"Yeah, well... what are you doing here?"

"Joanie is Jim's sister... remember? I got sent home, because they had to..." She looked at Randy. "Oh. Yeah. They had to pick Jim up at the prom."

"Why didn't they take you home?"

"Well, they offered, but it was only a mile, and they were too upset to insist. And Joanie can't drive either. So I said I'd walk."

"Well... ok."

Al looked at Sam, who shrugged. "It seems like you're going to get in an accident tonight, regardless. Waiting around here isn't going to stop it."

Al sighed. "Well, we still have to take Randy home. He's in no condition to drive or to walk."

"Amen," Randy mumbled, and looked around. "We're 'bout home, anyway."

"Grab one side, huh?" Al took hold of Randy's right arm and Tammy took hold of the left. Together, they managed to lead him to the car. He laid down in the back seat.

"Tammy," Al said. "Why don't you sit back there with him and make sure he's all right. Randy, sit up and put on your seat belt."

"Why?" Randy mumbled.

"It's safer. Ok?"

Randy gulped and sat up, looking green. "Here," Tammy said, sliding in beside him. "Lay your head on my shoulder."

"Alrigh'." He buckled his belt, smiled at Tammy, then closed his eyes and leaned on her.

Sam positioned on the front seat, keeping an eye on the hand link. "Do me a favor. Drive very slow. I want to see what it does for the averages." Al inclined his head, started the car, then crept away from the curb. "Yeah. That's it. The averages are going way up. Try going extremely slow."

Tammy looked puzzled. "Why are you going so slow? That's not like you."

"I... um... think there's something wrong with the car." Al concentrated on the car. Come to think of it...

He hit a pothole and knocked his head on the side window. Tammy squeaked. Automatically, Al hit the brakes... which went all the way down to the floor. He pumped the brakes. No response. He glanced at the stop sign coming up, then steered for the sign of the road, putting on the emergency brake. The car bumped into the sign, then stopped, just as a truck roared down the cross street. Al saw Tammy's mouth drop open in the rear view mirror.

"What's goin' on?" came a weary voice from the back seat.

"Kid... this just ain't your evening. The brakes just went out." He felt the side of his head. "Ouch."

Randy sat up, alarmed. "What?" He laid back, holding his head. "Oh, damn."

Tammy was staring at the cross street. "We could've...?"

"That's right," Al said wearily. "We could've."

"You did it," Sam crowed. "Candy becomes an actress in New York, and Randy marries Tammy and they have three kids..." He realized what he said, and grinned, puzzled, at the two. Al shrugged. "Well, anyway," Sam said. "I'll get back to the console so I can try the retrieval program. You can Leap any time." He stood up, walked out of the car, and opened the Imaging Chamber door.

Right, Al thought, watching Sam. As if he had any control over Leaping.

A woman was running down the lawn and ran through Sam. He grinned at the woman bemusedly, then went through the Imaging Chamber door, which closed behind him. "Are you all right?" the woman said.

"Hi, Mrs. Henderson," Tammy said.

"Yeah, Mrs. Henderson," Al said, looking at Tammy. "We're ok. The brakes went out. Better call the police."

She nodded back at her house. "My husband's doing that. You better get in the house. It's getting cold out here. And you aren't dressed for the weather."

Al looked down. He had forgotten he was still wearing that short red dress... and his legs were freezing. He blushed. "Thanks." When was he going to Leap?

#

"So why haven't I Leapt?" Al paced back and forth in Candy's room. He had put on Candy's pajamas. At least they were slacks.

Sam sighed. "How should I know?"

"You have the hand link." Al looked at the picture of the sailors at the side of the mirror.

"But Ziggy's not coming up with anything." He pounded on the hand link absentmindedly, and Al grinned. "You know," Sam said conversationally. "That's an odd picture for her to have up. That's not even her generation."

"Yeah," Al said. "That's more mine. Who's the kid, anyway? I've kinda thought I should recognize him."

Sam looked puzzled. "The kid? Let's see." He punched the hand link. "Ziggy, never mind why I want the information. So it's trivial... oh, yeah. That's right, he was a child actor."

"So?"

"Ziggy thinks that's why you haven't Leaped. You have to write the kid's name on the picture."

"But I can't remember..."

"Ziggy says I can't tell you." Sam grinned. "So there."

"You're getting petty on me, Sam," Al grumbled. "Well, let me see... oh." He wrote a name on the picture, then looked at Sam for confirmation.

"You got it."

Al felt a strange tingling. "Uh oh. I'm going to Leap."

"I guess Ziggy was right. We had to identify that actor." Sam looked up at the ceiling. "His ways are mysterious." He bent over the hand link, then rushed out the Imaging Chamber door. "Gotta get that retrieval program going before you Leap!" he yelled over his shoulder.

Al snorted after Sam. "His ways are mysterious? Incredibly obscure is more like it." Then he Leapt. End