by Lorraine Anderson
"You saved them, Sam! A bolt of thunder interrupted Al. He looked up at the sky nervously.
"I did? How? Sam stared at the downed tree in front of his truck, then at the retreating tail lights through the driving rain. "By tailgating?
"Never mind that, Sam. Get into the truck and out of this storm. Now!
Sam turned to the truck. Suddenly a burst of light surrounded him, reached out to Al...
Sam found himself on the ground, temporarily blinded. He felt grass beneath his fingers, and heard... cars. Cars? In the middle of a forest? He closed his eyes, and shook his head. He must have Leaped. But it didn't feel like a normal Leap. He heard Al swearing beside him. Well, some things were normal... yet he didn't sound right. It must be his imagination...
Al? Did I Leap? He shook his head, trying to listen to the sound of his own voice. That didn't sound right, either...
I don't know, Al said. Can't see a damned thing yet. He started swearing again. You can't have Leaped. I'm still here.
I seem to remember a Leap that you stayed with me...
He heard Al gulp. I... would rather not think of that Leap, Sam.
He wondered why, than sat up experimentally and opened his eyes. He looked around, then looked up... and up... and up. I think I Leaped, Al. He looked over at the Admiral, who was still rubbing his eyes.
I told you. You didn't Leap. Al pulled a bright orange handkerchief out of his pocket.
Either that, or the Eiffel Tower has been moved to the middle of Indiana.
The Eiffel Tower...? Al opened his eyes and looked up. Oh... my God... He grabbed the handlink out of his pocket, started punching buttons, then looked at it with amazement. Sam, he said, with an undercurrent of terror. There's something wrong with the handlink.
Sam scrambled up and startled a elderly woman. He looked around at a park, and noted fountains to his right. Let's go over there, he said, thinking that the fountain's noise would cover any conversational noise. Al nodded his head, pale, as he continued to punch at the handlink.
As they walked, he looked down at himself. Blue jeans, white T-shirt, tennis shoes, watch... he seemed to have Leaped into a male. He hoped. He smiled slightly at a couple passing by, hoping that his tension wasn't apparent. They smiled back, then walked on, double-time, looking back at him with alarm. Sam sighed.
They found an open spot. Sam wished he could put a comforting hand on the arm of his friend, but he knew the gesture was useless. So he moved beside Al, trying to stare over his shoulder, and winced when he accidentally stumbled into Al's image.
What's the problem?
Al's Naval training had taken over by this time. He held up the handlink, and Sam examined it closely. It doesn't seem broken...
I know. But look at this, Sam. He punched a button and the display came on. Ziggy is speaking in gibberish. He punched another button. And that one is supposed to open the Imaging Chamber door.
Sam looked around. Al was right. No door was opening. Nothing was happening. He leaned in closer to the handlink... then gulped. Al... that's not gibberish.
What do you mean, Sam? A note of terror was back in his voice. I can't read it. It has to be gibberish.
That's not gibberish. He listened to the sound of his own voice. He knew something was wrong: now he realized what it was. That's not gibberish, Al, he repeated, wishing he knew a gentler way to break the news. That's English.
Al backed off and looked at him. That can't be English.
Al, I can barely read it myself... but that is English.
Sam... the only other language I know is Italian, and I sure as hell know I'm not speaking Italian!
Sam sighed. No. You're speaking French.
Sam... I don't know French. He smiled, but Sam saw the terror under his bravado. Well, maybe a few pet phrases I learned to get Tina in the mood... He stopped, puzzled.
No, you don't know French... but my... 'host' is a native speaker. Sam saw a beautiful woman on the other side of the fountain, and found himself undressing her in his mind. He shook his head violently. This only proved his theory. He and Al were synergizing... again? Where had that thought come from?
And you're saying...
The lightning bolt synergized our minds again? Sam looked at Al. My host's language apparently got zapped over to your brain.
But why can't I understand English?
Sam gulped. I don't... know. Maybe it will come back when I Leap out. He glanced again at the handlink. I can barely understand it myself. Apparently English is a second or a third language for him.
Al looked down at the handlink, which was blinking more and more rapidly. Ziggy is panicking.
Can she hear you?
I think so.
Talk to her.
And say what?
Three words: repeat after me. He took a deep breath. "Speak French, Ziggy."
You sure, Sam?
"Speak French, Ziggy."
The blinking stopped for a second, then recognizable words streamed across the link. Al looked disgusted. She said I sound better in French. He glared at the handlink.
Can she open the door? And why didn't she recognize French?
They blew a couple of circuits. And Ziggy apologizes for being confused and not recognizing French when she heard it. She's blaming it on the circuits. Al grinned. I still think she panicked. The hand link blipped indignantly.
Does she have any idea why I'm here? Sam said, backing away from Al and looking around the park.
Nada. They have no information yet. The Leapee landed unconscious, and, like I said, the lightning burned out a few connections, and, he snorted, nobody was able to talk to me. Gooshie is pitching a fit. Ziggy says she's reassuring him that we are both fine. Al turned pale again. So to speak.
Sam didn't like Al's color. Well, the situation shocked him, too, but Al was never usually the recipient of synergizing weirdness. Let's walk around. Maybe there's something we're supposed to do around here. He started walking toward one of the streets, and Al followed, looking lost.
Sam looked around the park, not seeing it, noting in the back of his mind the arguing couple approaching them. The situation could be good, he thought. Knowing French like a native could be an advantage in, say, a medical emergency, or perhaps talking to one of his host's friends, or... he thought, grinning, talking a suicidal jumper down from the Eiffel Tower. His grin faded, and he whirled to inspect the Tower closer. Was there...? He sighed. Nobody was going to jump... at least right now. He couldn't imagine how anyone could get in position to jump off, but stranger things had happened.
You ok, Sam?
God, he had rattled Al again. Just what he needed to be doing right now. Nothing, he sighed. Just a sudden thought.
Al looked at the Tower. Jumper?
God, I hope not
"Pardon me," said a loud male voice beside Sam. "Do you know the way to nootter daim?"
It was the arguing couple he had noticed earlier, and, judging by the venomous looks she was giving him, the argument was still going. He smiled uncertainly.
"Do you know the way to nooter daim?"
God. He was being asked a question. In English. In American, actually, judging by the middle-class-goes-on-vacation clothes. The man was large, florid, with a sharp, piercing gaze, and in a T-shirt and shorts, and Sam thanked the heavens that the man wasn't wearing a loud Hawaiian shirt.. The woman was thin, beautiful in a pinched sort of way, and wore a cotton shirt, a flowing skirt, and sandals.
"Do you know the way to nooter daim!" the man said louder, almost shouting.
"Je ne comprends pas," Sam said regretfully. "Répétez, s'il vous plaît?"
The foreigner theory, Al said suddenly. Sam glanced at him. If you speak loudly enough, the foreigner will understand English.
Nooter daim... nooter daim... Notre Dame! he said out loud. Do I know the way to Notre Dame! He smiled, and the woman nodded. Sam's smile faded as he searched his memory. "Non," he said regretfully. "Je suis désolé."
"Damn Frenchie," the man said, and the woman flushed and pulled him away with a force Sam didn't think was in her.
She looked back at Sam. "Merci," the woman said in a passable accent.
Sam smiled at her. The smile faded as they walked away. Al...
Al was back at the handlink, punching at it slowly. Hmm...
What if these were... the people I was supposed to help? And I couldn't because I didn't know English?
Al sighed. What if you helped them by not knowing English? Sam stared at him. The lady seemed like a weak little thing... maybe you embarrassed the wife enough so that she finally wins an argument with her nozzle husband? Or... maybe you delayed them so that they didn't get into an accident. He caught Sam opening his mouth. And no, Ziggy doesn't have a clue about these two. She's having trouble connecting with the French government database. He sighed. Like me and the English language.
You know, Sam said, millions of people speak French with no qualms at all.
Al snorted. It's the Sam Beckett speed-learning method that has me spooked. And the consequences. Look - you were already fluent in French. Why is this Leap affecting you this way? And why am I dragged into this?
Sam replied slowly. I'm fluent... but I'm not a native speaker. In fact, I've been told I'm hard to understand: I can't get the midwest twang out of my voice. And as for the second question: maybe to keep me company... His voice trailed off, and he swore under his breath and started running.
Stop! Sam yelled.
The small girl turned away from traffic to look at Sam, then her eyes widened as she stepped back on the curb. Papa? she whispered, and as Sam knelt to look her over, she ran past him toward Al.
She stopped short and looked up at Al. You're not Papa, she pouted.
Al knelt. No, I'm not your Papa.
Who are you?
I'm Albert. Who are you?
I'm Annette. I'm three and a half. How old are you?
Sam stood beside Al, amused. How old are you, Al?
Al ignored him. How old do you think I am?
Annette regarded him gravely. Ten. You're lots older than me.
Then I'm ten. Al looked around. Where is your Mother or Father?
Tears formed in Annette's eyes. They're lost.
I can't find them!
How did they get lost, dear? Al looked at Sam.
I don't know. I was in a shop and I got bored and I wanted to go out to play and I walked around the block and I saw a big park and I played for a while and then I couldn't find my way back and my Mama told me that children don't get lost, only parents get lost. So they're lost. Annette stood with her hands on her hips, daring Al to doubt her.
Parents have a way of getting lost, Al said gravely.
Sam grinned. He reflected again that it was a shame Al didn't have children. Annette, honey, I'm your guardian angel that only you and my friend here can see. If you can tell me your last name, I think I can find your parents for you.
The girl thought a moment, chewing on her brown hair. Millet. That's my last name. Are you really an angel?
Al held out his hand. Your very own. Touch me.
The little girl tentatively reached out her hand. Al gently put his hand through hers and Annette shrieked and jumped back. Are you a ghost?
No, I'm an angel. An angel is a friendly ghost.
Ok, Casper, Sam muttered under his breath. Al cocked an eyebrow at him.
The girl digested this, chewing on her hair. All right, she said doubtfully.
The handlink chirped. Al pulled it out of his pocket and lifted his eyebrows, looking at Sam and nodding. My friend here, Dr. Henri DuBois, will take you to your parents. He gave Sam a significant look. We want to make sure that you don't walk in front of any more automobiles.
Sam nodded, understanding. This had been what he was there for - to save Annette.
Al leaned down again, looking at the girl. Where were your parents?
There were lots and lots of stuff, Annette said. I wanted to look at the toys, and Mama said yes, so I looked at them, then I left.
Al looked down at the handlink, then up at Sam. There are a lots of tourist shops around here. He pointed at the girl with the handlink. This could be a problem. He crouched down by the girl. Did you pass a lot of shops, cherie?
She thought a moment. No... I just went across the street.
Sam looked at the girl, then at Al. Which one is closest?.
Al looked back at the handlink. At this date, Bric-à-brac of the Tower. Sam squinted at Al. Hey, I just report the facts, I don't make up the corny names.
Sam offered a hand to Annette. I was thinking of the date. What date is it?
Al looked uncomfortable. Sometime after 1995.
I know the date, Annette piped up.
Henri and I were just playing a game, dear. He doesn't need to know the date.
But I do! It's Mama's birthday!
Al looked startled and Sam grinned. I guess she does know the date, Al muttered.
They reached a sidewalk alongside a street. Which way?
Al chewed his cigar. Left.
Suddenly, Annette pulled out of Sam's grip. Momma! Poppa!
Annette! Sam yelled, and started to run, then realized she was racing down the sidewalk toward a couple. He slowed down as he saw the man pick up Annette, whirl her around, then set her down again. He smiled and approached Annette's parents. She was right: her father did look a little like Al. Hell, a lot like Al. I found her crossing the street.
Annette! her mother looked sternly at the girl. You know you weren't supposed to leave the store!
Annette wriggled, looking down at the ground. I was bored.
I usually am in stores, too, Annette, Al interjected. Except maybe clothing stores, he added thoughtfully.
Annette giggled, looking at Al's bright shirt.
Remember, your Mama and Papa can't see me, dear.
She looked at Al, then looked at her papa and sobered.
We will have a talk when we get home, my little Miss.
You have a lovely little girl, Mr. and Mrs. Millet, Sam said.
Thank you, Mrs. Millet said, Even though she is a bit naughty. Annette looked down again.
Mr. Millet smiled. I'm afraid you have the advantage of us, Mister...
DuBois. Henri DuBois. Sam reached out to shake his hand, and felt the beginning of the Leap.
Al smiled Henri and the Millets become friends. In fact, Mrs. Millet has a single sister, and Henri and Marie get married next year. He grinned. Get ready to leave, Sam. And I hope the next Leap is in English, Al muttered to himself.
Nice to meet you, Mr. DuBois... The Leap took him.
Sam looked up from the hole he was digging. "Al, where have you been?"
"Verbena?" Sam looked at Al. "Oh. The French Leap."
"You remember?" He looked at Sam and grinned. "Tu te rappelle?"
And you remember your French, Sam said in the same language. He looked surprised, then furrowed his eyebrows. How?
We don't know, Al said, and chewed on his cigar. "But I have my English back."
Maybe a future Leap?
My God, I hope not! Al looked shocked, then grinned. I prefer to believe that Whatever allowed me to keep my French so that I can service Tina.
"Al!" Trust Al to find the filthy part of any situation, Sam thought. Still, why did they keep their knowledge of French? Sam shook his head. Maybe there were some things he'd rather not know...
L'histoire est finit ... peut-être...