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A BOY'S BEST FRIEND IS HIS HOLOGRAM

by

Jane A. Leavell

CHAPTER FIVE

Laden with a mismatched stack of old leather-bound books, the pretty coed rounded an aisle and nearly collided with a scruffy looking lurking male.

"EEK! Oh. It's you, squirt." Alyson put one hand to her throat, giving Sam an irritated look. "Where's squirt number two? About to jump out from behind another aisle?"

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare you."

"Well, what did you expect, popping out of those dark stacks like some sort of midget ghost? You're not supposed to be playing Hide-and-Seek in the out-of-print collection, you know."

"I'm not playing," Sam said with great dignity. "I'm looking for an old book."

"Well, so am I, so go away."

Instead of accepting the rebuff, Sam followed her down another musty aisle. "God bless you," he offered, when the dust stirred by their passing made her sneeze. "You don't really believe in ghosts, do you?"

"All I meant was that you startled me, okay?"

"But do you think there could be a ghost down here?"

"Somebody who died in line waiting to check out a book? Not hardly." Alyson glanced over her shoulder at him, and her face softened. "Were you kids up all night, scaring each other with ghost stories?"

"Sort of."

She rolled her eyes but bent to talk face-to-face with him. "Listen, slumber parties like that are lots of fun, but the stories aren't true, so don't worry your head about ghosts and monsters and things that go bump in the night."

"A lot of people believe in them."

"A lot of people are paying money to see Gidget Goes to Rome, but that doesn't make it living art. Look, you're a Christian, right? So you believe that after we die, we go to Heaven or Hell. Why would we take a detour to wander around graveyards making spooky noises at people? Does that make sense?"

"Not really," he admitted.

"All right, then. Instead of letting other kids scare you about stuff that's not real, you should be worrying about tomorrow's Latin test. Now that is scary. Put down those creepy comic books you guys read, and start studying." She stood up and made a face. "Darn it! You made me get dust all over my new tights." She flapped at the polka-dot stretch knit hose with both hands. "Now make like a flyswatter and beat it, okay?"

Sam nodded, watching her move on down the aisle, scanning titles, her lips moving. He figured he owed her. "Hey, Alyson, did you translate today's puzzle yet?"

"Not yet."

"'Avis est! Aeronavis est! Supervir est!' means 'It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Superman!'"

"Oh, God. That is so dumb. Where does she get this stuff?"

He pointed out smugly, "Reading comic books pays off."

"Thanks, munchkin. See ya."

Alyson's opinion of ghosts was reassuring. After all, she was practically a grown-up, even if she was a girl. But Alyson didn't see that weird guy walking through walls, either. It would make a believer out of even a New Yorker like her.

Chewing on a thumbnail, Sam decided to read up on ghosts anyway, just in case.

****

Getting his memory back might not be such a wonderful thing.

Somewhere inside, Al was fuzzily aware that he was in the grip of a flashback, a dream about something long over and done with, but in the way of dreams he was caught up in it, living it all over again.

He was in the jungle, back in the tiger cage, unable to stretch out or sit up, and he'd been there for a week straight. The thunderstorm washed the cage out two days ago, but now there were two days' worth of waste steaming in and around the cage, swarming with flies and starting to mold, and the smell was so bad he wouldn't have been able to eat the jackfruit the guard was snacking on even if it was offered to him. Which it wasn't.

The commandant came out to watch Al watch the other two prisoners being escorted to the creek for a bath. It didn't bother Al the way Tranh wanted, though. He'd drunk all the water he could catch during that thunderstorm, so he wasn't dying of thirst, and while the stench was overpowering, he took pleasure in knowing this makeshift compound was so tiny that his captors had to endure it, too. Served 'em right for not thinking their punishments through.

Not having company, that was hard. He missed being chained up in the hut with the other guys, even in this sweltering heat, exchanging life stories, passing the hours with bullshit and bluster. Days spent with no one to talk to were endless days. With his notorious bad luck, he wouldn't be let out of the cage until the new guys were shipped on to Hanoi. Other prisoners always got moved on. Al was the only lifer in this prison.

"Would you like to join them, Mong?"

It scared him that he hadn't heard Tranh creep up on him, and he snarled as he squinted against the sunlight at the immaculately uniformed officer. The smart thing to do was to hang his head and apologize, beg for mercy, even though they would both know it was insincere, but no one had ever accused him of a tendency to do the smart thing. So Al, like a total idiot, picked up a handful of shit and hurled it through the bars.

He regretted it the instant his fingers opened, because he really wasn't actively suicidal, but it was too late to turn his brains on now. There were things far worse than being penned in a tiger cage, and he'd undergone some of them already. What would happen now didn't bear thinking about.

Their noses wrinkled against the odor, the guards dragged him out of the tiger cage and started hammering on him, some with fists and some with rifle butts. When he finally passed out, he got an impromptu bath, a dousing from a water bucket that nearly drowned him.

Tranh was standing over him, a brown stain marring the chest of his uniform, his expression implacable, and that was more frightening than the pain. He tried to hide behind raised arms, but the guards yanked his arms behind his back and cuffed them, kicked in one of his ribs, and threw him up against the cage, slapping him because he couldn't stand upright. Then they backed up, looking expectantly at Tranh.

At a harsh command from him, they lowered their rifles and waited.

Staring down the gaping black muzzles, he knew he had screwed up big time. He was never going home to Beth after all. All those years he'd clung to life so stubbornly were pointless, because Tranh gave a final order, and smiled.

The roar of the guns going off nearly deafened him, and he screamed as he toppled to his knees, not feeling the pain yet....

"Hush. Hush, now. It's okay."

"Beth?"

"You had a nightmare, but it's over. I'm here."

Trembling, Al sat up, involuntarily shrugging her arm away. His body was soaked, as if he really had just emerged from the jungle, but this was Teri's room, and he was safe. Had been safe for years. "Aw, geez," he said, taking a couple of deep breaths. "It was a bad one. I was back in 'Nam. Mock execution."

"Vietnam? Thames, you're way too young. You weren't even born then, were you? Come on. Let me relax you."

She turned on the lamp on the plastic table between the sofa beds and leaned forward to massage his shoulders, but he shook her off again.

"It was real. I was there."

"Maybe you saw a movie about 'Nam lately, and it gave you a nightmare?"

"You're saying I'm crazy? That I just imagined spending five years in a tiger cage?"

She edged as far away from his rage as she could get, her whole body trembling, her face grey. "No, of course not, Thames. You probably went there after the war, as a diplomat or spy or something, only you got caught," she said placatingly. "You were there."

Al stared down at his right arm, at the hand clenched into a fist and the corded muscles aching to strike out, to punish her for doubting him. With an effort, he forced the fingers to open. "He told them to shoot at me, but miss," he said, unable to shake off the memory.

"I believe you!" She sounded hysterical. "Honest, I do!"

The muscles finally went limp, giving up. He made himself smile at her, even though it felt fake. "Hey, Teri, no big deal. It was just a bad dream, like you said. I had a little trouble shaking it off, that's all." He gazed at her appealingly through lowered lashes, trying for the penitent little boy look. "I could use some comforting right about now."

It was not unlike trying to befriend a wary wild animal, but with patience and coaxing he got her to cuddle against him, and finally her nervous tremors stilled. Concentrating on calming her down made him start to forget his own terror, but it wasn't quite enough.

"I could really use a drink right now," he said wistfully. "Maybe six or seven."

"Not before going on duty," she protested. Then; "I do have a stash in the john. Valium, mostly."

"Naw." He nuzzled her hair. "This is just as good."

"If I'm late, I'll get in trouble."

"If anybody gives you a hard time, you send 'em to me. They don't know what trouble is 'til they've seen me with a bad ass attitude."

She giggled around, twisting around to lick and nibble at his neck "Ain't that the truth? It's okay, me and Sharyl already took care of the big problem."

"Yeah? Who and how?"

"That big old bull-dyke of a supervisor in the Zoo, the one who's always hitting on me. We got heroin out of the storeroom and planted it in her quarters, and then turned her in with an anonymous tip on the computer network. Stealing from the Project, and doing hardline drugs, that's a double whammy. I bet she'll disappear before my shift's half-over, and I say good riddance to her."

"Remind me never to get you mad at me, sweetie."

"Oh, I wouldn't dare try anything with you." She shuddered at the very idea, but promptly forgot it, straining upward to lick his ear. "I like you so much better this way than the way you used to be."

His hands were empty, so he filled them with her ta-tas, round and bouncy and soft. "Me, too."

She sighed, pushing away from him. "So I want you to go on duty now, before you get in trouble."

"I'm not worried."

"Well, I am. Logos can't be crossed, you know that as well as I do." She rose, stretched right in his face to be sure he got an eyeful, then sauntered toward the bathroom, waggling her hips to keep his eyes on her. At the doorway, she glanced back at him. "You want me to come to your unit tonight?"

"I want you right now."

She giggled again. "Think how much more you'll want me by then."

The bathroom door closed with finality, leaving him alone with his own thoughts. She would have been surprised to learn that she didn't figure in them.

(She's right. I am too young to have been in 'Nam. And there's no doubt in my mind that I served there.) His fist clenched again. (What the hell have Zoe and R.J. done to change my past, and why?)

*****

Amnesia does not affect a man's basic personality, and Al Thames figured he had always been a stubborn man, so he was in no rush to report for duty. Instead, he tracked down the cafeteria and brooded over a cup of coffee and greasy burger.

(Why do I work on this Project? My partner is a vicious female canine. They bug my bedroom. Everyone's scheming to get everyone else in trouble. And they don't let you get a good night's sleep. No amount of pay is worth this.)

Granted, the interrupted sleep was making him grouchy. Sitting alone in the cafeteria while other people surreptitiously stared at him and whispered to each other was irritating, too. Didn't he have any decent friends around here? It didn't help improve his mood that the only co-worker who dared to approach his table turned to be a sleazebag who wanted him to pass Teri on when he got tired of her, like she was some sort of videotape to be briefly rented and used.

Actually, that conversation turned out to be sort of a Godsend, because he had been itching to take a swing at someone, and popping that drooling nozzle's nose was very satisfying. Of course, that might explain why nobody else tried to sit with him.

Teri wasn't much of an excuse for staying here, because he didn't love her. Sure, he liked her, and he liked sex with her, but mostly he felt pity because she was so emotionally fragile. Geez, he could quit this job and maybe get her hired on with him someplace else. So why hadn't he done that?

(It's not safe to make any big decisions when my brain's Swiss-cheesed.)

He rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands, then reached for the coffee again.

(The thing to do is confront Zoe, find out if she deliberately screwed up my past or if this mess is just a side-effect of some other time change they made. And then figure out whether I want to try changing it back. Maybe I'd rather stay young. But what does that S & M stuff have to do with all this time flux stuff?)

What he really needed to do was run the problem through a computer smart enough to give him some projections, but even with a smooshed set of memory cells he knew enough to play his cards close to his chest. Secrecy was the way to survive this Project. The last thing he needed was to be turned over to that Nazi doctor to have the holes in his memory probed, probably starting with a tube stuck through his penis and run through his bladder up to his brain.

Grimacing at the thought of such a bodily invasion, Al shoved his chair back. This would be easier to deal with if he had a friend he could count on to cover his back, but heck, any kid who grew up in an orphanage was probably used to looking after himself. Start with Zoe--the Dragon Lady--and work things out one at a time after that. No problem.

He used the hand-link to alert Logos, so the Control Room crew had everything ready by the time he reached the Imaging Chamber. "I told Zoe I'd report back now," he announced, assuming Lothos would be listening. "Activate the link."

For a wonder, he didn't get any arguments or new commands. An office formed in the center of the I.C. Zoe was sitting with her back to the desk, her legs crossed so that the demure blue skirt was tossed too far up her thighs, watching like a cat with a mouse as a dark-haired, clean-cut youth in a varsity sweater pleaded, "But I thought--"

"No, Matt, you didn't think. That appears to be beyond your limited capabilities." She shot Al a warning glance, acknowledging his presence but clearly determined not to be interrupted. She was enjoying herself too much to stop now. "Frankly, with a body like yours, I hoped your talents in bed would make up for your stupidity, but I was wrong."

The guy's face was white. He looked like he was going into shock, like a grunt in the field who's been shot and doesn't even realize it yet. "But last night--you and I--"

"A night alone with my vibrator would be more entertaining."

She might as well have taken a butcher knife to the boy's groin. Devastated, he took a faltering step back, then spun and fled the office, running right through Al, who staggered but didn't actually feel anything.

If Zoe were a cat, she'd be purring. "I'll bet two weeks' pay that I drive him to suicide before I Leap out," she said, immensely self-satisfied. "Deal?"

Al gagged on the words and just shook his head numbly, unable to believe he had just watched her verbally castrate her lover; not to advance the Leap, just for the malicious pleasure of doing it.

Zoe's smug expression twisted. "You seem even duller than usual, Thames. At least you used to have a taste for fun."

(I bet you used to borrow my tapes, too,) he thought sourly. He cleared his throat.

"You told me to report how the haunting went."

"Well?"

"I scared him. He was hiding under the covers when I left."

"Not a very detailed report," she complained. Al shrugged. "Did you use the hand-link?"

"No."

She looked thoughtful. "R.J. says he went to the library after class, presumably researching ghosts. Tonight, let's go for the full effect, shall we? He's never seen anything like the Halloween masks Hollywood produces now; combine that with some holographic images of snakes and spiders conjured up with the hand-link, and we should have him reduced to a puddle."

"Isn't that kind of going overboard?"

"I don't intend to spend a lifetime here, pleasant though it has been. The sooner we can start molding him to our liking, the better."

"How's making a little boy pee his pants gonna do any good?"

"R.J. will helpfully reveal that I am an amateur parapsychologist, the only help available to save him from the monsters."

She just didn't get it. "Yeah, but why do we have to break a smart little kid like that? He seems nice enough to me."

Rolling her eyes, she spun her chair around to yank open a desk drawer and snatch up a pack of cigarettes. "Don't play games with me, Thames. You know very well that converting Beckett now means all those times he interfered with our plans and changed things around will never have happened. The timeline will stay the way we originally crafted it, and the Other Side will be decades catching up."

"About changing the timeline--"

She was on a roll. Lighting the cigarette with jerky motions, she finished, "They'll be wiped out entirely if we manage to get rid of Calavicci and St. John, too."

Whammo!

It was like the zaps from the hand-link magnified by a factor of ten, or like being at ground zero when an atom bomb detonates, or like the time he was in Havenwell Asylum watching his partner endure electroshock when lightning struck them both. The tide of returning memories nearly swept him off his feet.

"...same staffing as I was," Zoe was pointing out. Incredibly, she didn't seem to have noticed anything was different, yet his entire reality had just flipped upside down.

(Oh my God, we're the Bad Guys!)

"Well?"

"Huh?"

"Get to work! I'm not taking the blame for your laziness." Her eyes narrowed. "I'm warning you, Thames, if you've been parboiling your brains with drugs--"

Al swallowed hard, raised the hand-link in a hand shaking so badly he almost dropped it. "Center me on Sam Beckett," he rasped, in a voice he barely recognized.

The professor's office expanded into a much more spacious, even more book-filled floor of the library, but it barely registered on him. He wasn't in the library, by a study corral, he was walking in a park, his hand engulfed in a much larger, work-callused hand, while the man who seemed as tall as a lumberjack told him, "Calavicci is a proud name. We never had any money. We never had any luck. But we never give up. You remember that, Albert. You're a Calavicci."

(I'm not Thames--I Leaped into the nozzle. And the timeline's in worse shape than I thought.) Dazed by that realization, he raised his eyes to the little boy earnestly poring over a pile of books like the physicist he would grow up to be, so absorbed in reading that he didn't notice the spectral form leaning over the back of his table. Despite his turmoil, Al grinned. (How could I not have recognized him? I guess it's because he's so young. He doesn't even have that white streak in his hair yet.)

Even from here, he could see dark shadows under Sam's eyes. (Poor kid probably didn't get a lick of sleep after I showed up. No way am I gotta let those sick, sadistic creeps get their claws into an innocent kid like that.) A sick feeling swamped him. (Oh, boy. I already did. Instead of protecting Sam, I was helping Lothos!) Al pondered that very briefly, and shuddered. If by some miracle he survived this mess, he wasn't ever going to mention that to anyone; they'd never let him live it down.

Leaning closer, he squinted at the book titles and grimaced. His helpful little haunting excursion had already driven Sammy into researching the occult.

Zoe was busy, and not planning to start luring Sam into her 'rites' until tomorrow. What about the other Leaper? He studied the hand-link, decided it was a modified version of the one that Quantum Leap had been using just before he finagled control of the Project out of Abe Weitzman's hands, and coded it to center him on "R.J."

What had probably started out as a pale, weedy little nerd-in-training was standing in the john using a handful of Brylcream to mold a 1960's style j.d. hairdo. He was in the dorm, not the library, so they probably had at least a few minutes to themselves. Good.

Pushing two buttons erased Arnie and replaced him with the library again. Sam still didn't seem to notice him. Well, it made sense: without the training and implant, his image and voice would have to be fuzzy and indistinct, not to mention the fact that his brain waves were a lot different from those of a ten-year-old. Emotionally, he might be accused of being that immature, but his thoughts were generally on the adult, "R"- rated side. Maybe even "X"-rated.

Al examined the hand-link again, then tried a couple codes until he was pretty sure he had cut off the Project's audio link. This was one conversation Logos better not overhear.

Even though he knew the kid would at least see a blurred outline of him, he concentrated on projecting a clear image, the way he sometimes concentrated hard to affect animals during one of Sam's Leap.

"Give it up, Sam. Exorcism won't work on me."

Sam twitched, knocking over the tower of books. "You're back."

"Yeah, but I'm not a ghost. There's no such thing. Probably." Trying to be strictly honest, he had to concede, "Although we did meet a mummy once, and a--well, anyway, trust me, there's no ghosts around here. Zip. Nada."

His voice quavered, but it was clear that even as a youngster, Samuel Beckett wasn't the type to run. "You're not a ghost?"

"Nope. I'm a scientific projection, sort of like a movie that's projected onto air instead of a screen. You work hard and pay attention in school, and you'll be able to figure out how to do this someday."

Under the tan, some of the color that had blanched from Sam's cheeks started to return. "You--you shouldn't talk in a library."

"Nobody here can hear me, except you. Even without the equipment backing us up, our brainwaves are enough alike that you sorta notice me. That, and you're sorta like a six-year-old."

"I am not!" Righteous indignation boiled away the fear. He even forgot to lower his voice. "I'm ten! Intellectually, I'm older than ten!"

"Yeah, but not emotionally." That bitter stare was the same one Sam would use on him twenty years in the future. "Hey, it's a compliment, Sam. I just mean you're innocent. You know? Open to unusual stuff that other kids your age block out." Al glanced over his shoulder at a passing crewcut kid shoving a cart full of books to be reshelved. "Sit down, Sam, before a librarian comes to yell at us."

His arms folded, Sam plopped back into his seat. "If you're not a ghost, how come you scared me last night?"

"It was a mistake, Sam. I apologize."

"That's not an answer."

"We're talking about top-secret stuff here, and you don't have security clearance. You will about 25 years from now, yeah, but anyway, the rules say I can't tell you what's going on. And if I did, it'd probably do awful things to the timeline, which is messed up enough already."

That lit a gleam in the kid's hazel eyes. "You're from the future?"

"Maybe."

Sam was still holding a grudge. "You're real fuzzy and hard to hear, whatever you are."

"We can do lots better than this, but right now I'm stuck using other people's equipment," Al said, his pride stung. That wasn't the only thing stinging; Logos was using the hand-link to demand attention, and clothing wasn't enough to protect his skin. "Listen, we don't have much time. The main thing is, you gotta stay away from that nozzle Arnie, and never go back to Latin class."

"Why?"

"Because the teacher is a real--she's a--she's a Bad Guy. You and me, we're the Good Guys, and we're in a lot of trouble."

"Miss Fritz is a good teacher. She's strict, but she makes up really neat homework. She's interesting."

What was he supposed to do, tell a kid who might not know the facts of life yet that Miss Fritz was screwing her students' brains out afterhours? "Sam, she lied to you about not seeing me that day in the classroom. She sees and hears me lots better than you do. And she's the one who told me to scare you. Tonight, she wants me to come dressed up as a real gross monster, and make you think snakes and bugs are crawling up your bed."

Sam swallowed hard. "Are you going to?"

"No! But tomorrow, when Arnie asks questions, tell him I did."

"That would be lying."

"Then just don't talk to him at all. That's the safest thing to do, actually. Right now, he's doing whatever that--whatever Miss Fritz tells him to do, but eventually he'll the be the way he used to be, won't even remember this stuff happening."

"Is she hypnotizing him?"

"Kind of." If the electrical jabs got any stronger, his pants would catch on fire. "I've gotta go now. Remember, you can't go back to her class."

"But I have to. Skipping class is wrong, and I can't drop out because this is really expensive."

"So transfer to a science class. Or Spanish; that's like Latin, and you'll catch up easy." Then he played his trump card. "Captain Galaxy would want you to do it."

"Captain Galaxy?" Sam was wide-eyed.

"Just think of me as Future Boy, all grown up," Al suggested, then felt the link being forcibly shut down from the other end. His partner's boyhood image was wiped out, leaving him in the empty Imaging Chamber. "Oh, boy."

"THAMES, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?"

Al turned in a full circle, palms up, elaborately innocent. "What? You heard me--I did exactly what Zoe told me to do."

The voice nearly burst his eardrums. "YOU TURNED OFF THE AUDIO! YOU WERE WITH BECKETT!"

"Of course I was with Beckett. Zoe told me to show up at the library and play ghost again, hoot in his ear and threaten him, stuff like that. You mean you didn't hear me?" Looking amazed, Al thumped the hand-link and then gave it a good shake. "I didn't turn this off. Were you having technical difficulties?"

"WHY DIDN'T YOU RESPOND TO MY SIGNAL?"

Pretending he didn't get any signals would just make Lothos boost the force. Besides, one look at his hip would show a dime-sized burn already blistering and prove he was lying. "I didn't want to interrupt once I got going. Hey, it worked like a charm. He was really cringing. I thought you'd be proud of me, Lothos."

When the I.C. door slid open, he wasn't taken by surprise. Al just held out one arm each to the goons.

"Report to the clinic for further exploration of the anomalies," Lothos said, much softer. He sounded smug.

Al had known when he shut down the sound that he was letting himself in for another session with the good doctor. At least this time he could see which way they were going, and knew what to expect.

Last time, concentrating on hate seemed to strengthen Thames' vibes, since he was a hostile kind of guy to start with, so that was his plan for survival. Push this body's brain waves to the forefront, and tamp down any Al Calavicci thoughts, and he should fool them again. Hopefully.

Since he had aroused more suspicion this time, what ensued was more like an interrogation than a brain wave analysis, especially since attaching electrodes to gonads and firing them up wasn't likely to record much brain wave activity. It did give the doc a lot more opportunities to smile. The pain was nasty, but trying to think like Thames, heavy on torturing other folks, left him feeling slimy inside, which was worse. Even if he was only faking it, it was repulsive. So was the constant flashing of the doc's pearly teeth.

Somewhere along the line the interrogation got a little carried away, so he didn't remember getting dumped in his unit again. After a few hours he awoke, still twitching, and stared at the ceiling for awhile, trying to figure out what to do now. He knew he hadn't said anything incriminating under questioning, and he must not have talked in his sleep, because Lothos would have immediately hauled him out of this semi-comfortable bed if he had. It was kind of a surprise to find out that even at his age--which was decades older than Thames' body--he still had the spine to resist.

Spine or no spine, every minute he spent in this hellhole increased the odds he would slip and give himself away. Wouldn't Lothos be thrilled to have Admiral Albert Francis Calavicci trussed up and ready for mental dissection? Sure, Al made it through today's session, but they weren't trying to destroy their precious Observer, just making sure Thames didn't have some underhanded scheme of his own going on--this was a game of pattycake next to what they'd do to the co-director of the Quantum Leap project.

On the other hand, the Good Guys knew absolutely nothing about these vermin, and he was in a perfect position to find out more. So far, he didn't even know if a computer was running this operation, or if some nozzle named Lothos was running the computer. On still another hand--he had a vision of an octopus, counting off options--asking questions was a good way to get himself caught.

(No. The important thing is to save Sam. Telling him to avoid Zoe and R.J. is just a stopgap. But if I stop Lothos, I stop them, too.)

With his memory back, how hard would it be to come up with a worm program that would keep the computer from ever locking on to Sam or PQL in the past? Programming was Sam's forte, and he was better with hardware and financing, but he should be able to cobble something together. Physically wreck the computer, and they'd be years recovering, then when they finally did, the worms would come to life. Beautiful.

Groaning, Al sat up and began searching for paper and pens. It was hard to believe that stuff that left no visible marks could also leave you feeling like you had just been repatriated from North Vietnam, but it did. That slowed him down some, and not having access to a computer was a handicap, but he specialized in overcoming handicaps, some of which were his own fault to begin with. At least this time he was sober.

Two hours later, Al had a sheaf of diagrams and some hope, both of which he tried to hide when he heard the door open.

"Thames? It's me. Are you okay?"

"Teri. Oh. Is it that late?"

She edged into the room, holding a steaming tray in front of her as if she might need a shield. "Monty told me you had to go to the clinic, so I brought you some food. God, you look terrible! Can you eat something? Was it really bad?"

"It was sort of ironic," he said, which was true, except he shouldn't have had to share the experience when Thames was on the receiving end of his ugly little hobby for a change. "I am hungry, though. Food will help. Thanks, Teri."

"I brought your favorite."

"Chitlins?"

That surprised her. "No. Burritos."

"Sounds yummy."

She set the tray down on the table beside him and stood there twisting her hands together. "Maybe, after you eat, I could give you a massage or something? I mean, if you think it would help?"

He was feeling perkier by the moment. "You could help me take a long, warm, relaxing bath. Do we have any bubble bath, talcum powder, champagne, and big soft towels...?"


Fire up the Accelerator Chamber for Chapter 6.

Take me to Jane Leavell's Story Page, because I've got a hot date with Al Calavicci in another story.

I want to Leap to the main page

Copyright 1999 - 2013, Jane A. Leavell. All rights reserved.