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QUANTUM ISLAND

QUANTUM ISLAND

inflicted upon you by

Jane A. Leavell

OBLIGATORY DENIAL: I don't own any characters or concepts from either QUANTUM LEAP or GILLIGAN'S ISLAND. None of them visit me at home. None of them earn me any money. Congratulations to folks like Donald Bellisario and Sherwood Schwartz. Please don't reprint or link this without my permission, but feel free to praise it everywhere.

Dr. Samuel Beckett leaped from Nothingness into Paradise.

For a moment, the contrast between being in Limbo--a bit of human static floating nowhere and nowhen- -and standing at the edge of a sapphire-blue tropical lagoon in a place redolent of heavily perfumed flowers and a salty ocean tang, made him blink. Where was he? Hawaii, maybe? His heart skipped a beat at the thought that he might be able to see his mother and sister; didn't they live in Hawaii now?

But was this Hawaii? The sunlight was so overpowering that it reminded him of the time he was a concert pianist and blinded by photographers' flashbulbs.

"Gilligan!"

Startled, Sam swung toward the booming baritone voice. Unfortunately, in the process he also swung a long, thin, water-filled banana tree, and the trunk walloped a portly white-haired man in the belly, an admittedly large target. Horrified by this unintended violence, Sam dropped his end of the tree, which made the other end flip up and rap the stranger in the chin.

"Oh, boy," Sam muttered, quite inadequately.

The victim's full-moon face turned a choleric red, his eyes bugging out. Under other circumstances, Sam might have admired the hammy doubletake the man performed, as if trying out for a comic movie role. It was a masterful performance, so much so that Sam stared instead of trying to come up with some sort of excuse. Finally, when the tubby guy began belaboring him about the head and shoulders with his blue nautical cap, Sam threw up both arms defensively, ducked, and ran. It was the only strategy that came to mind.

Between his age, his bulk, and the banana tree assault, the middle-aged man couldn't maneuver easily through the dense jungle foliage. Within three or four minutes, even his exasperated shouts had dwindled until they could no longer be distinguished from the squawks of circling seagulls.

(Why do I always leap into trouble? Why me? Why me all the time?)

Sam waited, but God or Time or Fate, the cosmic movie director who controlled his Leaps into the past, showed no inclination to drop a copy of the script for his life into his hands. He couldn't even look into a mirror to find out what kind of person he had leaped into, for he saw no signs of civilization, only endless acres of vines and fruit trees.

Paradise? Not likely.

Soon, the parallel hybrid computer at Project Quantum Leap would lock onto his present location and link him with Al, the Project Observer. Between them, Al and Ziggy would help him figure out what he had leaped here to do. It would have been pleasing to be able to tell Al who he was and when he was without help, but for now all he could reasonably do was try to evaluate his surroundings and stop beating up the people around him.

Nothing could be deduced from his grubby but ordinary deck shoes, dark trousers, or red rugby shirt. His pockets contained three pretty stones, a feather, two small seashells, and a lint-covered half-eaten pear, but no wallet. At least shinnying up the nearest tree wasn't likely to damage his clothing, and tree-climbing came easily to an Indiana farm boy, as long as he didn't have to climb too high. Since his failed imitation of Tarzan as a preadolescent, he hadn't been able to stomach heights.

From a perch atop a small mango tree, Sam saw many more trees; smoke from a small fire to the northwest; a mountain range that, if his science studies served him properly, included a small volcano; and numerous streams and waterfalls feeding a lush lagoon. There was no evidence of a town anywhere, other than that small fire: no telephone poles or electric wires, no factories, no buildings at all. Nothing he saw seemed familiar, so he wriggled back down to the ground.

Standing here in the jungle swatting flies wouldn't do him much good, so he decided to work his way toward the sound of running water. A drink of water sounded very inviting in this heat.

(So why am I here? To improve the relationship between this guy and the man who hit me? If so, I really blew it. Hope I didn't break his jaw or anything.)

The humidity had him feeling like a damp washrag by the time Sam wriggled his way through the vines and over clumps of rocks, fallen coconuts, and other debris. With real relief, he followed the noise to a thundering waterfall whose mist painted a soggy rainbow above the lagoon.

Behind him, a neon white doorway outlined itself in mid-air, and the electronic door to the Imaging Chamber scraped open. His partner stepped through the holographic doorway with a jaunty air, as if he were actually proud of his melon shirt, watermelon pink tie, and forest green trousers held up by black sequined suspenders. No doubt he was pleased with himself for refraining from painting a naked woman on the tie. His smile congealed as his dark eyes focused on something over Sam's shoulder. The pupils actually dilated. "Oh, boy," Al sighed, with utter satisfaction.

"What?"

"I think you're in Paradise, Sam. Just look at those heavenly bodies!"

Sam spun around, and this time looked at the lagoon instead of the rainbow. How had he missed the nude mermaid leaning against a boulder, eyes closed, red tresses spread against ivory shoulders? Or the curvaceous nymph dancing the waterfall's spray, brunette pigtails bouncing, upthrust breasts glistening with water? Even as he felt the blush warming up his throat to his face, the brunette froze, staring at him. For a moment, Time seemed to stretch out...and then she screamed.

"GILLIGAN!"

Startled, the redhead sat up, saw Sam, crossed her arms over her chest, and slithered into the lagoon, shrieking like a teakettle boiling over.

"Oh, boy," Sam said, foreseeing a rerun of the start of this leap.

Trying to cover her entire body with her left arm, the brunette bent to scoop up a handful of mud and hurl it at him. More angry, or perhaps thinking more clearly, the redhead surfaced with rocks in both hands and hurled them wildly. Pulp and fluid oozed down his face, and for an instant Sam through he had a skull fracture, before realizing poor aim had preserved his head but squashed a mango dangling above him. As the redhead dove for more rocks, and the brunette added broken shells to her mudballs, Sam gulped and fled.

When at last, wet and weary, he felt it was safe to stop and count his bruises, Sam wasn't surprised to find himself alone. Two nude beauties in a tropical lagoon had to be part of one of his partner's more lurid dreams. He was probably drooling over them right now.

"Al?" He took a deep breath, threw back his head, and bellowed, "AL!"

A parrot flew off, complaining bitterly. Something rustled in the underbrush. Then Al's image materialized in the middle of a palm tree.

"You don't have to yell," he observed mildly. His expression was downcast. "They put on all their clothes. It's a sin to cover up bodies like that. I tell you, Sam, I thought you'd finally done it. But no."

"Done what?"

His eyes were dreamy at the very idea. "Leaped into a nudist colony."

Sam shuddered. "Don't give anybody ideas! Where have I leaped?"

"As far as we can tell, you've leaped into an unimportant, uninhabited little island a few days from Hawaii."

"It doesn't look all that uninhabited."

"Not at the moment, no." Hope lit up his dark eyes. "Maybe they're amateur nudists. You know, just learning the ropes? I learned all kinds of rope tricks in the Navy...."

"Al, just stop it! Why am I here?"

Al consulted his handlink to the Project computer, and shrugged. "We need more than the name 'Gilligan' to figure that out."

"Did you ask the real Gilligan, in the Waiting Room?"

"We're not having much luck with that, actually. He seems to be, well, sort of a goofball. Plus he thinks we're all evil aliens from some old horror movie, trying to take over the Earth, starting with him. When I left, he was standing on the bed, gibbering."

Sam rolled his eyes. "How can I do anything without even a hint? Whatever I do--or don't do--could make the situation, whatever it is, worse."

"You're have to wing it. You know, play it by ear."

"The last time I did that, I screwed up Time so badly that you died in the gas chamber for a murder you didn't commit."

Al's face paled. "Oh, yeah. That's true." He tried to smile. "Dr. Beeks is going to try to get Gilligan's fingerprints and run 'em through Ziggy; maybe that'll help. Meanwhile, you better head toward that campfire and see if you can find anybody who'll talk to you. More pretty girls, if possible."

"What good are you?"

Al preened. "I'm better than good. Just ask Tina." He punched the blue and red buttons on the handlink. "I'll check up on those two ladies, and meet you there." His holographic image shrank to a white line, and erased itself.

Somewhat resentfully, Sam plodded toward the tendril of smoke. It seemed unfair, somehow. He had six doctorates and a Nobel Prize, he invented a method to travel back in Time, and yet Al had all the fun, zipping instantaneously from one end of the this island to the other, while he had to sweat through the mud and foliage like a foot soldier.

The truth was, it wasn't Al he was irritated with, but Whatever had taken control of his leaps, using him to mend broken lives and repair mistakes in the timeline. For four years now, he had been shuttling back and forth within his lifetime, separated from his family, confused and embarrassed and endangered. Was it too much to ask for a little help getting started? Couldn't he Leap with a fortune cookie in his hand each time, reading "Get Gilligan some respect" or "Set up a romance with the brunette" or something equally helpful? He wasn't asking for overtime pay or supernatural powers or a halo and wings, just a tiny amount of cooperation. Instead, Whatever was running things seemed to take malicious delight in seeing him struggle against the odds.

Halfway expecting to get hit in the head again, Sam stepped into a clearing and wiped his face on his forearm. This wasn't a city, yet it wasn't a temporary camp. Bamboo huts with thatched roofs were clustered in a circle around a campfire. Sprawled in bamboo lounges in front of one hut were a middle-aged couple, apparently wealthy tourists on vacation. Was this some sort of secret Club Med? The woman was delicately pretty, wearing a broad-brimmed straw sun hat but also demurely sporting a string of pearls under an orchid lei, as well as massive rings on several fingers. The man was a big, blustery type in a florid Hawaiian print shirt and Panama hat.

"Gilligan! You're late, my boy!"

Sam flinched, but the man showed no inclination to get up and hit him. "Late?"

"As my father always used to say, the early bird catches the worm and surprises the IRS spies. A Howell is never late. No matter how late the party lasted, promptly at one p.m. we report to work, and we stay until four. Unless there's a party that night, of course, then all bets are off." He stared expectantly at Sam. "Well, what are you waiting for? Two fresh drinks. Chop-chop!"

The woman raised a lorgnette and appraised the muddied rugby shirt with pursed lips. "But Thurston, darling, shouldn't he be more sanitary?"

"You just can't get good help these days. You'd think there'd be at least one Filipino houseboy out here for the asking, wouldn't you, Lovey?"

"Well, we all must make sacrifices, Thurston," Lovey said vaguely, patting his hand.

Grimacing, Sam, accepted two tall glasses in bamboo holders, adorned with somewhat wilted tropical flowers. Thurston gestured, and Sam backed into the nearest hut. Luckily, the door was open.

Inside, he found a teak-and-bamboo two-level serving cart, a set of candles and wicks, and a bamboo pitcher. To his left was a small guillotine and a pile of coconuts. To his right was what appeared to be some sort of exercise bike. Sam refilled the glasses, tried to brush some of the dirt from his shirt, and returned to the couple, offering the glasses with a flourish.

"Thank you, dear. Thurston, do you remember when I was the queen of the Pitted Prune Bowl?"

"Certainly, my dear," he rumbled absently, absorbed in a faded copy of the Wall Street Journal. "I've had an undeniable fondness for prune juice ever since." Without looking up, he sipped at his drink, did a double-take, and sprayed fluid all over the paper. "Are you insane? This--this is water!"

"You asked for a drink."

"More pina coladas, of course! Water never passes a Howell's lips, unless it's imported. Lovey, he tried to poison us!"

"I'm sorry. I'll, uh, see what I can do."

Lovey was fanning herself with one hand, looking confused. Sam snatched her glass away and fled.

"Hi, Sam!"

"Agh!" Taken by surprise, Sam dropped both glasses, turning the hut's clay floor to mud. "Al, don't do that."

Al shrugged, sticking his cigar in his mouth. "The ladies are in their hut, putting on makeup. They call each other Ginger and Mary Ann. They're still pretty steamed at you. What'd you find out?"

"Somebody named Thurston and Lovey want me to make a pina colada. Got any idea how I'm supposed to do that?"

"Should be simple for somebody who aced his chemistry classes at M.I.T."

"Look around you, Al. I can't even find the refrigerator. There's no electricity, no bar--"

Al strolled thoughtfully around the hut. "Well, if I were you, I'd start by using that guillotine there to chop open a coconut. Looks like there's baskets full of fresh fruit here, too."

"What am I supposed to do, stir it all together with a stick?"

Al crouched to examine the bamboo bicycle, scowling when his fingers passed through the pedal with no impact. "Of course not. You use this baby."

"A bicycle?"

"A pedal-powered blender." He shook his head, sucking on his lower lip. "Boy, would I like to talk to the whiz who invented this. You can work off the calories you're gonna drink while you're mixing the drink! Do you suppose there's more stuff like this around here?"

"Let me get rid of these drinks, and we'll see."

Al stood up. "Maybe I better scout out the other huts first."

"Looking for more naked babes?"

"A man doesn't get that lucky twice in one day," Al said regretfully. "But I'll settle for finding more equipment."

He walked through the back of the hut, leaving Sam to fumble with the guillotine. Since it was a small hut, it didn't take long to find the cache of dried gourd and coconut shell containers reeking of alcohol, each neatly labeled with a date and description. Someone had apparently set up a still that produced a potent form of moonshine and a yeasty homemade beer. A few minutes of energetic pedaling blended everything together in a wooden blender, then Sam stuck the wilting flowers back into the refilled glasses.

Thurston accepted the drink with a series of barely audible mumbled comments in a cranky voice, but Sam had been careful to add extra alcohol to his glass. After a sip, Thurston returned to his old Wall Street Journal, grunting absently as Lovey returned to reminiscing about her glory days and the values of cleanliness, the latter apparently aimed at Sam's soiled clothing.

Al joined them abruptly, full of enthusiasm. "Sam, come on, you really gotta see this!"

"I, uh, have to go now."

Thurston rattled the paper. "Don't expect a tip for slovenly service, young man. To climb in this world, you have to be a hard worker. Why, in my day...."

"Tell Mr. Magoo there to shut up, and follow me. This is great!"

Well, at least nobody hit him this time. Sighing, Sam followed his partner to a much bigger hut, partitioned into several rooms with purple curtains. The largest room, the one Al led him to first, was set up like some sort of primitive laboratory. In the center was a stone slate standing on a bamboo easel, with a complex chemical formula chalked onto the upper two-thirds. To the right was a potter's wheel and a collection of beakers, test tubes, and empty containers made variously of clay, stone, shell, wood, and glass. Along the back wall stood food lockers. To the left was a long teak table, stained and acid-pitted, littered with a variety of bizarre items: a bamboo stethoscope, bamboo syringes, and a complicated chemical distilling system painstakingly cobbled together from equally unlikely materials. Fascinated, Sam crouched to study it, noting that each container was precisely labeled.

"This is incredible."

"You think so? You should see the darkroom next door, complete with photo paper and enlarger."

"Al, look at this. Sulfuric acid, made from copper; glycerol from papaya seeds; potassium nitrate chipped from rocks...do you realize what someone is making here?"

"A really strong mixed drink?"

"A crude form of nitroglycerin!"

"I think they pour it in these shells. Homemade coconut grenades. And that's not all, Sam. Check out the study."

"Study?"

Al faded through the wall, and waited impatiently for Sam to follow more conventionally. "Look at that bamboo telescope by the back window. And he's got quite a library on those bookshelves, too."

He was right; if the owner of this hut had read all these books, he or she had a wide-ranging interest in a variety of fields. There were no fiction works, just scholarly tomes like Criminal Law, Carpenter's Handbook, Integrated Calculus, Rare Tropical Plants, The World of Insects, The History of Tree Surgery, Volcanoes and Their Destructive Powers, How to Tell a Mushroom From a Toadstool, and Four-Master Schooners I Have Known.

"Kinda looks like your library, huh?"

Only one book had no title on the spine. When Sam pulled it from the middle shelf and opened it up, he found it written in the same neat, precise hand that had labeled all the containers. "The Journal of Roy Hinkley," he read aloud.

Without being prompted, Al fed the title into his handlink. It made a muted burping noise, as if it had been fed too much data, and he squinted at its minute screen. "Ziggy says Hinkley's a pro."

"A pro what?"

Al bashed the side of the handlink with his right palm. "A professor. Geez, look at this alphabet soup. He got a BA from USC, a BS from UCLA, an MA from SMU, and a Ph.D from TCU, and he did it all by the time he was 25. And he's got a Master's in Psychology, too. Six degrees. And he's a Boy Scout leader." He cocked an eyebrow at his partner. "He sounds like your long-lost identical twin brother."

"I don't have a twin brother."

"Probably a good thing for the rest of us," Al muttered. Sam didn't pay attention; he was leafing through the early pages of the lengthy journal.

"According to this, Hinkley was a passenger on the S.S. Minnow, a tourist cruiser, for a three-hour trip in September of 1964, but a storm hit and they were shipwrecked."

Al nodded, his lips moving silently as he tapped various cubes. Leaping ate up bits of Sam's memory, so he didn't remember how the handlink functioned, even though he must have worked on the design with Al, but he couldn't see a keyboard on it. Nevertheless, Al seemed satisfied with the results of his finger jabs. "He wasn't alone, either. The newspapers say--oh, yeah, Sam, I remember this. Thurston Howell III, the billionaire, and his wife; a farm girl from Kansas; even a movie star, Ginger Grant." His expression melted into nostalgia. "I shoulda recognized her right away, 'cause I loved her in Sing a Song of Sing-Sing. She had a great pair of--"

"Al!"

"--handcuffs. She could put 'em on me anytime."

Trying to ignore that, Sam asked, "Who was the older man I dropped a tree on?"

Al fumbled, nearly losing the handlink. "You dropped a tree on someone? Is he dead?"

"Of course not. It was a small banana tree--they're light," Sam said defensively.

"Probably was Jonas Grumby, the skipper. Used to be a Navy captain in the South Pacific in WWII--had three ships shot from under him by the Japs, so he's used to sinking. Gilligan--that's you--saved his life by pushing him out of the way of a loose depth charge rolling down the deck of their destroyer, so Grumby probably felt like he had to look after the klutz."

Sam was still leafing through the journal, his puzzlement deepening. "Look, descriptions of homemade make-up: blackberry eyeliner, powdered hibiscus skin powder, blueberry mascara. With a man as brilliant as Professor Hinkley along, they should've built a boat and escaped within the first few weeks of being shipwrecked here."

"Maybe they didn't have enough material?"

Sam cast him an exasperated look. "They could build and stock a bar and a laboratory, but not a boat?"

Al shrugged. "Their disappearance gets dredged up on In Search Of and shows like that almost every year. A couple people, like Wrong Way Feldman and Erika Tiffany Smith, that socialite with all the hubbies, have located them, so we knew they were out here somewhere, but there was never enough information to rescue them."

"That must be why I'm here. I'm supposed to help them escape this island."

"If this Professor couldn't do it, do you figure we can?"

"Why not?"

Al was distinctly uneasy. "I dunno, it's just. . .well, what if it's something like the Bermuda Triangle? Some sort of. . .you know. . .supernatural curse."

"That's superstition talking."

"That's a Project Observer and Navy Admiral who watched a mummy tear a man limb from limb talking."

Despite his conviction that reincarnation, crystal balls, channeling, and Tarot cards were nonsense, Sam had to admit that more than one of his leaps had taken on a supernatural tinge. A man who believed he was a force for Good--or God, or Time, or Fate, or some variation thereof--was on shaky grounds when it came to debunking anything occult.

If he admitted that, he'd spook Al even more, but before he could speak, they both turned at the creak of a door opening.

"Gilligan? What are you doing here?"

He hoped his face didn't look as guilty as Al's as he smiled at the sturdily handsome man in khaki pants, an oxford shirt, dark blue boat shoes, and yellow socks with a ring around the top. "Uh, the Skipper and I were working on the boat, and needed help." Trying to be unobtrusive about it, he held the journal behind his back and poked it at the bookshelves.

A small frown settled on the professor's manly features. "You know I spend three hours every morning cataloging flora and fauna."

"I knew you'd be back soon, so I waited inside, out of the sun."

Hinkley shucked his backpack and neatly piled samples onto the table, then dusted off his hands. "Certainly I'm willing to do whatever I can to help."

"Good. I know that with your help, we'll be off this island in no time," Sam said, directing the words as much to Al as to Hinkley. His partner still looked dubious. The contrast between the shady hut and sun-drenched clearing blinded him, and Sam stumbled, arms flailing. Somehow one arm knocked Lovey Howell's sun hat off. "Oops! Mrs. Howell, I'm sorry."

She gave him a sweet smile and patted his hand as the Professor retrieved her hat. "That's quite all right, Gilligan, I'm used to it by now."

Oh. Al wasn't kidding when he called Gilligan a klutz. His lack of grace must be bleeding through Sam's aura. That made him feel a little less embarrassed.

"The Professor and I are going to work on the boat. Are you coming, Mr. Howell?"

The billionaire was plainly taken aback. "My boy, a Howell does not do manual labor."

"Work never hurt anybody."

"Well, it never helped anyone, either." He hauled out a bulging leather wallet. "But never let it be said that a Howell shirked his duty. I stand ready and willing to pay anyone one hundred dollars an hour to take my place."

"Take it, Sam," Al urged. "I have a feeling Gilligan could use the money."

"What good will money do anyone on an uninhabited island? We all need to pitch in and work together if we're going to escape."

"I think that's a wonderful idea," Lovey said unexpectedly. "Just like the time the sorority girls pitched in to put on the cotillion after the Blenkinships got arrested. I'll ask the girls to make you all a nice pitcher of lemonade, shall I?"

"The women should be working on the raft, too," Sam said firmly.

Everyone but Al was shocked. Lovey put a hand to her heart and blinked. Thurston threw his arm around her shoulders in case she fainted. "Don't be ridiculous. Everyone knows a woman's place is in the hut!"

The brunette piped up, "Well, I wouldn't mind. I used to help my family do the farm work, back home."

"Why, think what it would do to our manicures!"

Al sighed. "Give it up, Sam. You gotta remember, they were shipwrecked before feminism."

Sam didn't want to give up. "It doesn't make sense to let two able-bodied adults go to waste. Mrs. Howell can make the lemonade herself."

"They've been shipwrecked almost twenty years; what's a few extra hours gonna matter? Just build the boat and get 'em all outta here. They've already missed Disco!"

Sam winced. "Maybe they'd be better off marooned," he muttered, but the Professor and the Howells were already on their way to the beach.

Al wiggled the handlink. "I'll go back and see what Ziggy can dig up on these folks. If Howell offers any more bribes--and he will--my advice to you is to snatch 'em up, Sam." He punched up the door the Imaging Chamber, then paused. "And if you get a chance, you might try to drop some hints about investing in time travel. If they get home, Howell might end up helping fund the Project." At Sam's disgusted look, he cocked an unrepentant eyebrow. "We need all the funding we can get, Sam."

The door whooshed shut, cutting off his image.

=+=+=+=

Apparently used to 'Gilligan' dropping things, the Skipper--far from nursing a grudge--welcomed additional workers. Within five hours of solid work, the castaways were putting finishing touches on a seaworthy craft. It was no cabin cruiser, but with the rudder salvaged from the Minnow, and a mast and sail added, the boat should be navigable.

Hinkley worked willingly and cheerfully, making Sam wonder all the more why these people were still marooned. They had two men who were familiar with boats and the ocean; plenty of muscle; and a brilliant scientist to create useful items, yet Al said they had been here nearly two decades. It was almost enough to make Sam believe in a curse.

(A curse is nothing more than a self-fulfilled prophecy. If you expect things to go wrong, you subconsciously arrange for disasters to happen. I do not believe in a curse.)

Two minutes later, he was ready to question his certainty.

As he stood on a rock and gave the Skipper his right hand to help the portly sailor from the boat, something hit Sam in the back with almost painful force. Grunting, he toppled over, slamming into the Skipper and driving him against the bottom of the boat.

"Gilligan!"

His first dazed response was (I could get real tired of hearing that name.) His second was the realization that the boat was filling with salt water.

"She's been holed!" the Skipper bellowed.

"It's not my fault!"

"Gilligan, it's always your fault!"

"Huh?"

"Remember that time you dropped firewood on the transmitter and broke it?"

Putting both hands on her hips, Ginger Grant added, "How about the time you drank the phosphorescent marker before the Professor could send it out on the raft?"

"Or the time you used our last signal flare on the Skipper's birthday cake?" Howell agreed. "You certainly didn't save any for my birthday!"

"Oh. Really, this time was an accident."

Ginger, her nose in the air, very deliberately passed lemonade to everyone but Sam, then picked up the bucket and scoop and sashayed away, her hips swaying in the floor-length green chiffon gown. The men, after a respectful silence, simultaneously sighed and turned back to the sinking craft.

"There's no point in hurling recriminations; it doesn't get the job done," the Professor announced. "Let's all buckle down and fix that leak before it's too late. You too, Gilligan."

He clapped Sam on the back with an encouraging smile and bent over to help Grumby to his feet. Sam reflected that Hinkley would come across as a decent fellow...if he wasn't the only person here who could have knocked "Gilligan" over in the first place.

=+=+=+=

By evening, the damage to the boat had been repaired and the water bailed out. Spirits rose as the boat did, and at sunset the Skipper poured moonshine over the hull with a coconut shell, christening the little craft the "S.S. Tadpole." Although Sam kept an eye on the Professor, he did nothing suspicious. In fact, he did more than his share of work and had an encouraging word for everyone.

Sitting down near the campfire, Sam accepted a bowl of turtle soup from Mary Ann, doing his best not to remember how she looked outside the low-slung denim shorts and gingham halter top. Instead, he convinced himself that Hinkley had knocked him over by accident and was just too embarrassed to admit it.

(Maybe he's afraid the Skipper will hit him with that hat.)

No one else noticed when Al stepped through the holographic doorway, realized it had opened in the middle of the fire, and stepped out, checking his green slacks for scorch marks even though he knew nothing in the Imaging Chamber could harm him. "Ziggy dug up plenty of data on these folks, not that I see how it'll do us any good."

Mary Ann was cheerfully distributing the main course, a succulent fish steak sauteed in pineapple sauce. It smelled delicious.

"Take Howell, for instance. Convicted of antitrust suits six--count 'em, six--times. Investigated for income tax evasion every year. He owns somewhere between six and twelve corporations, oil companies, Broadway shows, a Manhattan apartment building, you name it. In fact, he bought the oil company my Dad used to work for. He has homes in Palm Beach, Paris, Newport, New York, Monaco--" Al squinted at the handlink. "Basically, one in all 50 states. He's so rich, he blows his nose on fifties, not tissues."

"Here you go, Gilligan."

Sam stared in disbelief at the plate she handed him. "What's this?"

Mary Ann's brown eyes were earnest. "I know you don't like fish, so I made your favorite, a peanut- butter-and-banana sandwich."

"Oh. Swell. Thanks." Sam eyed the sandwich with disfavor, half-suspecting she was punishing him for seeing her nude bathing. The fish dinner looked far more appetizing.

"Now, Mary Ann there's just a sweet kid from Horner's Corners, Kansas. Hinkley you know about. And Ginger--ohhh, Ginger." Al gazed at the actress with a mix of worship and open lust. "Did you know she once won a loving cup as Miss Hourglass, for having all her sand in the right places?"

The homemade peanut butter was so thick that it practically cemented his mouth shut, so Sam merely rolled his eyes and went on chewing.

"Tonight, me and some of the crew are gonna have a special showing of Ginger Grant movies, in honor of this leap. We got copies of Belly Dancers From Bali Bali and her classic, The Hula Girl and the Fullback. Remember that?" Sam shook his head, still working on his first bite of sandwich. "I saw that one with Beth, at the old Palace, and afterwards we acted out the big climax ourselves, the part where he tackles--" Catching Sam's grim expression, Al broke off. "I guess if you never saw it, you wouldn't understand. Just trust me on this, Sam: Ginger Grant ranks right up there with Fay Wray and Xaviera Hollander as one of the most under-rated actresses of our time."

Across the fire, the Skipper tried to quench a huge yawn. "It's been a long day, but all our hard work is finally going to pay off."

Ginger batted those sea-green eyes. "It's hard to believe this is our last night on the island."

"I think we should make an early night of it, so we can load the Tadpole first thing in the morning."

"Good plan, Skipper."

Al grinned, his eyes lighting up. "Oh, boy, Sam, here's where we find out which girl you got. Personally, I think Gilligan's too goofy for Ginger, and Lovey's already spoken for, but Mary Ann looks like the softhearted type. You could get lucky."

The Skipper rose. "Coming, Little Buddy?"

Al's face fell. "Too bad, Sam." His eyebrows drew together. "You don't suppose you guys are, uh, that way, do you?" He eyed the Professor appraisingly. "Maybe him, too. That would explain why neither of the girls got knocked up."

He swallowed the still sticky bite of peanut butter, almost choking. "Hey!"

"Could be, Sam. You see a lot of that in the Navy, you know. Mostly on the submarines, not with the pilots, of course." He shook his head at the very idea. "I gotta go start up the projector. Let me know tomorrow what happened." Al thought that over, the frown growing. "On second thought, don't. Just thinking about it makes me queasy. 'Night, Sam."

He stepped back through the neon door, and was gone. Very, very slowly, Sam stood up and followed Jonas Grumby to the hut with the life preserver on the door.

=+=+=+=

Despite Al's weird sense of humor, the night passed uneventfully, except for when Sam flipped out of the top hammock slung in their hut and woke up the Skipper. This didn't provoke many guilt feelings in Sam, for a change, since the Skipper's bull elephant snoring kept him awake for most of the night.

No alarm clock was needed; approximately five thousand birds broke into a massed chorus at sunrise, drowning out even the Skipper's full-throat snorts. When Sam emerged, Mary Ann drafted him to draw fresh water from a bamboo pedal-powered pump.

"And then could you check the lobster traps? I'd like to make an extra-special lobster-and-spinach omelet for our last breakfast."

"No problem, Mary Ann. My stomach's growling already."

"I'll have Ginger put the water on to boil. The Professor already collected some eggs. Thanks, Gilligan, you're a dear."

The sleepy eyed Ginger, fully made up but clad in a kimono robe, looked helpless enough to burn water, so Sam gallantly filled a kettle and lit the fire for her before jogging to the lagoon. What he didn't see there drove all thoughts of lobsters from his mind.

"It's gone," he said blankly. He touched the water surface, as if that would somehow make things clear, then stood and sprinted for the camp. "Skipper! The boat's gone!"

"WHAT?" Jonas Grumby ran out, wringing his captain's hat between his big hands. "What do you mean, gone?"

Sam gestured helplessly. "Gone. Not there."

"You mean it sank?"

"No. It's gone."

The rest of the castaways, clearly disbelieving his report, rushed to the beach. Even from this far away, he could hear their dismayed wails as they realized he had been right.

"Sam? Did you pull an all-nighter, too?"

He gave his partner a surprised study. Al was wearing the same colorful outfit, but the tie was unknotted, one suspender was dangling, and the shirt was half-unbuttoned. "What happened to you?"

"After the movies, we held a Ginger Grant lookalike contest. I was the judge." He yawned hugely. "It was hard work, but someone's gotta do it."

"Why? Never mind. Al, the boat's gone."

"Someone stole it?"

"We're all still here. If this island is uninhabited, who does that leave?"

"Smart monkeys?"

"I doubt that very much. And last night, the boat nearly sank when someone pushed me. Al, I think the reason they've been stuck here so long is that someone is deliberately sabotaging their escape attempts."

Al stared at him as if he were speaking Swahili. "Why?"

Since the other castaways were returning, Sam could only shrug. Mary Ann was crying. Howell was muttering threats and imprecations. The others looked stunned.

"How could this have happened?" the Skipper kept asking. "I was sure I tied her up for the night."

The Professor said, "No one is accusing you of anything, Skipper. The rope must have come untied, and the Tadpole simply drifted away."

"Professor, I'm an old Navy salt. My knots don't just 'come untied.' And what about the anchor?"

"Perhaps there was an unusually high tide, caused by an underwater volcanic eruption. I have noted fresh signs of activity in the volcanic range here on the island. That could very well have snapped the ropes and swept the boat away."

"We're never going to get off this stupid island!" Ginger said petulantly. "We're going to get old and wrinkled and die here!"

"Oh, Thurston!" Lovey clutched at her husband. "Does that mean we'll be dropped from the Social Register?"

"That is simply not true," Hinkley announced in a confident, professorial tone. "I could express the odds mathematically, but none of you are fond of equations. Suffice it to saw that I know for a fact we will be leaving this island soon."

Grumby dredged up a patently artificial smile. "The Professor's right, everybody. Why, he already has a back-up plan, don't you, Professor?"

"Well, I...."

Without giving Hinkley the chance to pull his thoughts together, the Skipper told the others, "The Professor and Gilligan here made a pair of wings. He had Gilligan climbing all over the cliffs, collecting feathers."

"Wings?"

"Is that why Gilligan asked me to knit sweaters for his pet birds?"

The Professor adjusted the collar of his light blue oxford shirt. "It's not really ready yet. I'll admit I've considered...." His eyes slid toward Sam, then away again, in apparent embarrassment. "Well, only as a last ditch effort, you understand. This hardly qualifies...."

"If this isn't an emergency, what is?" From Sam's point of view, it was as if someone had flipped a switch labeled "SEX GODDESS" into the "on" position as Ginger walked--no, undulated--into Hinkley's personal space. His usual air of sturdy intelligent confidence crumbled and he backed away until brought up short by a palm tree. Unperturbed, Ginger put both hands on his shoulders, gazed into his eyes, and asked in a sultry purr, "You'll show me your little toy, won't you, Professor, darling?"

He swallowed hard and murmured in a strangled voice, "Of course, if you insist--"

One hand edged up to gently rub along the base of his throat. "Oh, I do. I do."

"I think she's hypnotizing him," Al noted. "I dated a hypnotist once. She kept trying to do it to me, so I finally let her believe I was programmed to strip us both whenever I heard the word 'swordfish.' That was a lot of fun, until we were at this classy seafood restaurant and she ordered the special." A reminiscent gleam danced in his eyes, as if some of the brown had turned golden. "What could I do? If I didn't start with the striptease routine, she'd'a known I wasn't really hypnotized all those other times...."

There were times--many times--when Sam regretted putting an audio mode in that Imaging Chamber.

"I--I guess it wouldn't hurt to show you the prototype," the Professor gasped. "It--it's in my hut."

"I'd just love to see your hut," Ginger cooed, slipping her hand in his. When he seemed confused, she said helpfully, "It's this way, remember?"

Docile as a bellwether sheep, he let himself be led away, and the rest of the castaways crowded close behind him. Al took a shortcut, phasing through the bamboo wall, and promptly re-emerged, shaking his head.

"He may have as many degrees as you do, Sam, but if he thinks this is gonna work, he must be a mad scientist. Maybe being stranded out here in the heat fried his brain. Or maybe it was doing without women all this time."

Sam wriggled past Lovey Howell and stood on tiptoe but couldn't get a clear view. When everyone turned and moved back into the sunlight, he was nearly trampled.

"The harness is constructed from leather, and the wings themselves are feathers embedded in wax."

The Professor held up massive wings that were a cross between giant condor wings and something molted by the Archangel Gabriel. Instead of the traditional pristine white, the feathers were a motley conglomeration scavenged from seagulls and pelicans, with occasional vivid blues and greens added by parrot plumage.

"You're kidding," Sam and Al said simultaneously.

Hinkley was surprised. "Gilligan, you know I never kid."

"Don't listen to him, Professor. Gilligan's just my assistant--what does he know? We have faith in your-- um--flight gear."

"Aerodynamically speaking, the engineering technique--"

"--is ka-ka," Al pronounced, flicking ashes from his cigar. "Trust me, I know, even without running the blueprints through Ziggy."

"--is sound. There is a substantial body of historical references to this sort of self-propulsion unit for a primitive form of gliding."

"And a really impressive crash." Al soared one hand through the air and then slapped it against the handlink. "Boom! Just like that."

Despite his confident air, the Professor was still giving Sam brief skittish glances, as if afraid to meet his eyes. "We haven't actually had a field test yet. Perhaps it would be best to explore other options first."

"Nonsense, Professor. We've explored every other option there could possibly be. It's time to take the bull by the horns, or the Democrat by the wallet, or something like that. Be a man! More than that--be a Republican! When's lift-off?"

"Oh, I'm not the intended aviator. Gilligan is."

"Me?"

"Well, after all, he is very skinny," Lovey observed.

"Why me? Why not Mr. Howell?"

The billionaire puffed up. "A Howell never flies in anything less than first class! The very idea!"

"And Thurston really isn't very skinny, either."

"I don't care if I'm skinny, it will never work. Here." Sam grabbed the huge patchwork wings, shrugged them onto his shoulders and arms, and bent his knees, flapping enthusiastically. "You see? Both feet are still solidly planted on the ground."

"Well, of course they are," Hinkley said mildly. "It's meant to perform as it does in nature. You first leap from a sufficiently elevated cliff, catch an updraft, and work with the wind current--"

"--all the way to the bottom of the cliff. Splat." Al demonstrated a spiraling crash with one hand. "Fresh squab."

"Professor, have you ever heard the story of Icarus?"

Hinkley was taken aback. "Yes, of course. Have you?"

"From what I've seen of Gilligan, Sam, I doubt it."

Nevertheless, Sam pressed on. "Icarus flew too close to the sun, and the wax in his wings melted, so he crashed."

"I could work on a heat-retardant additive for the wax."

"Don't bother. There's no way you're going to get me into this rig."

"You're in it already, Sam," Al pointed out. "Howell and the Skipper are liable to snatch you up and toss you off the nearest cliff."

Immediately he began shucking the wings. "This isn't safe."

"Gilligan! You know the Professor wouldn't ask you to try this if it wasn't safe," the Skipper reproached him.

Sam thrust the wings at Hinkley. "Prove that it works. Jump off the cliff, and demonstrate for me how it's done. Until then, leave me out of this."

Leaving the others in flabbergasted silence, he stalked out of the clearing, heading back to the beach. Checking on the lobster traps should give him a chance to talk to Al; besides, he was hungry. If Mary Ann was no longer in the mood to prepare a big breakfast, he'd settle for a lobster lunch.

As he stalked to the water's edge, he muttered, "Something's wrong, Al."

"You got that right. If you won't do the Icarus bit, you'll never get anywhere with Ginger Grant. The movie star."

"I'm serious, Al. Deadly serious. First the Professor deliberately pushes me and nearly sinks the boat, and now he's trying to kill me with this flying idea."

"Maybe he's jealous. You two are the youngest men around; maybe you've got dibs on the foxiest babe. Or on both of them."

"I don't think that's it."

Al grimaced. "Me either. I don't see anybody falling for the geek we've got in the Waiting Room. Now, if it was me who got marooned with a couple of beauties like that--"

"No, I mean there's more to this than just a grudge. Maybe the Professor's deliberately sabotaging all their escape attempts."

Al's eyebrows flew up. "Why would he do that?"

"I don't know."

"Sam, the guy's a genius. Back home, he could have his pick of job offers: foundations, universities, corporations, the government--"

"Maybe he doesn't want that."

"Who wouldn't? Besides, if he wanted to commune with nature, he could do it alone, not stuck with these folks. Howell's a pompous ass and a bully, and Gilligan can really get on your nerves, believe me."

Sam had no logical argument to counter those points. For Roy Hinkley to deliberately keep himself stranded here made no sense. He bent over to examine some ropes trailing into the water. "But think about this, Al. The Professor's the only one in a hut by himself. He could sneak out to untie the rope mooring the Tadpole and no one would notice."

"Maybe he's right, and the knot just came untied."

"You don't believe that, do you?"

"No. The Skipper's all Navy." He gazed past Sam toward the camp. "Watch out, Sam. Here they come."

Sam concentrated on the rope in his hands, hauling a lobster trap out of the water. He didn't even look up when Mary Ann caroled, "Hello, Gilligan! Since I'm the one making breakfast, I thought I should come give you a hand." She watched as he removed a small lobster from the trap and wrapped string around its claws. "Having any luck?"

Sam put the lobster in a small bamboo basket, lowered the trap, and moved on to the next one. Mary Ann dogged his footsteps, very nearly wagging her tail. "You know, back when I worked at the Winfield General Store, I never would've dreamed I would eat lobster morning, noon, and night, for free. Maybe I should be a little more grateful for getting to eat crab and lobster, and swim year round, and enjoy wonderful weather. But the truth is, Gilligan, I really miss Kansas. The changing seasons, talking to my neighbors on shopping day, going to 4-H Club meetings, chatting with my Uncle George and Aunt Martha--there's no place like home. If I can't find happiness in Horner's Corners, Kansas, then I'll never find it anywhere."

Even though she was trying to tug on Gilligan's heartstrings, her feelings were a mirror of his own. Looking away, he said, "I want to go home, too. There's nothing I want more. God, I miss my family so much. It's like a physical ache that's always with me. Whatever else I might forget, I can't forget how badly I want to go home, right now, no matter what it takes."

Al winced. "Sam, listen, we're trying to get you home. I swear it. I don't talk about it all the time, but there's people working on retrieval systems round the clock, even when you're between leaps. We'll get you home, buddy. I promise."

Sam nodded, putting another big lobster in the basket and then staring back at the water. What he saw there wasn't his own face, but a skinny, black-haired man with a big nose and a childish expression. It had been so long since he saw his own reflection, would he even recognize his own face? Glumly, he dropped the rope to the next trap, shattering the image into little ripples.

"Gilligan." Mary Ann touched his shoulder. "I'm almost as thin as you are. I'll ask the Professor to let me use those wings, okay?"

"No. It's not safe." Meeting her big brown eyes, he saw tears clinging to the long dark lashes, just as they were stinging his. "Besides, if you ask the Professor, I'm sure he'll tell you it was calibrated to my body. A substitute wouldn't work."

"If there's anything I can do...?"

"Sure." He thrust the basket at her. "Fix breakfast."

She made herself smile. "Coming up!"

They watched her leave, with Al not even summoning a leer. "Nice kid," he said mildly.

"I know. It makes me feel guilty."

"Sam, everything makes you feel guilty. If the wind shifts in direction, you blame yourself for not making it come in another direction. Believe me, jumping off a cliff isn't gonna help these people."

"Can you go back and work with Ziggy? Maybe come up with an escape attempt that will work?"

"Sure, Sam. I'll give it my best shot."

Sam waited until he heard the Imaging Chamber door shut before lifting his head again. The way he felt right now, if he saw the love and pain that he knew were in his best friend's eyes, he would burst into sobs.

Leaping was a very lonely way to live. Without Al there as a lifeline, reminding him there was a home waiting for him and people fighting to bring him back, he'd have gone insane years ago. Al was a one-man USO, full of outrageously creative stories, entertaining remarks, and helpful suggestions, always ready to distract anyone who seemed depressed. Anyone who ever worked with him knew Al was tenacious and loyal to a fault. No matter how long it took, or how much it cost, he would get Sam back.

"I don't tell him that often enough."

"Talking to yourself, Gilligan?"

Sam was so startled that Gilligan's reflexes took over his neural network, making him throw out both arms, sway, and topple from the boulder into the ocean. The shock of hitting cold salty water brought back his physical control, but he stayed thigh-deep in the water, gaping.

Ginger Grant was standing at the water's edge in full Movie Star mode. Her auburn tresses were perfectly coifed, her green eyes shadowed by a matching green powder, her lush lips painted red. Instead of a kimono, she was glued into a green sheath gown, split high to reveal legs as long as government meeting and cut low to show off alabaster shoulders and swelling breasts.

"Oh, Gilligan, I'm so sorry," she said breathlessly. "Are you all right?"

"Fine. I'm fine."

She leaned over to help him from the water, practically thrusting her bosom into his face. All he could think was that it was a real shame that Al missed this. Then Ginger's hands were running up his torso, and he fought to defend his honor, yanking his rugby shirt back down as Ginger offered, "Let me help you out of those nasty wet things before you catch a cold."

"It's in the eighties. Besides, I'd be even colder nude."

"I'd be glad to help warm you up."

"I don't think that's a good idea."

"You never know until you try. I'm very good at giving massages; I once played a masseuse on a soap opera." One manicured hand trailed down his spine. "You scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours."

"My back isn't itching," he said weakly. Why did women like this reduce him to a tongue-tied boy? Hadn't any of Al rubbed off on him over the years?

"Oh, Gilligan, you silly boy," Ginger said, reinforcing his fears about how he was behaving. "I've always said you remind me of a shy, frightened fawn, haven't I?"

"Uh, I guess so."

"I just wanted you to know that if you would agree to fly off this desert island to a ship somewhere and get us rescued, I'd be very, very grateful."

Was there steam coming off his wet skin? Sam tried to edge past her. "That wouldn't do my corpse much good."

Apparently the mental script she was following didn't allow for ad-libbing, for she continued as if he hadn't interrupted. "With my connections, I could get you a good deal on the movie rights. You'd be the hero, too. Why, Gregory Peck or Kirk Douglas would probably play you."

"I'll bear it in mind, Ginger, but I think I'll hold out for Harrison Ford."

She paused. "Who?"

"It's not important. What I'm trying to say is that I'm not going to jump off a cliff. Not even for you."

"But you have to, Gilligan. Don't you understand? An actress's good years are very short. By now, my agent has probably forgotten my name. If I don't get back to Hollywood now, my career is over!"

"And if I put on those wings, my life is over."

Judging from the way the starlet stamped one foot, Ginger didn't see that there was any comparison; hers was the real tragedy in this movie scene. Sam decided the only way to survive was to cast himself as the villain, push her aside, and flee.

"Gilligan, wait!"

A tight sheath gown and heels made pursuit impossible. Sam left her on the beach, wondering jut how unpopular this Gilligan was. So far, no one seemed especially interested in letting him live. On the other hand, if he really did foil their escape attempts numerous times in the past, they might feel that he owed them, say, twenty years apiece, which would come to 100, far more than his probable lifespan.

Had Gilligan blocked their escape attempts on purpose? That would mean there were two saboteurs on the island, an unlikely proposition. What if whomever untied the boat and pushed Sam had also framed Gilligan for those other failures? Perhaps not all the problems could be blamed on someone else--Gilligan did seem to be klutz--but surely clumsiness and impulsivity alone couldn't have trapped these people for so long.

(So am I here to clear Gilligan's name? To get these people back to civilization? Or both? This is one of those times when I could use a hint, You know. Ziggy's access to government and media statistics will tell us absolutely nothing about what happens on this island, so I can't even turn to her for help.)

Everything in Sam Beckett's life had always centered around facts. If you followed the musical score, you got the tune you wanted. If you followed the correct lab procedure, you got the expected reproducible results. Working blindly, without a formula, rankled.

"Gilligan!"

(I could really learn to hate that name.)

With an effort, Sam plastered a smile on his borrowed face. "Yes, Mr. Howell?"

"Come into my humble abode, my boy." Howell threw an arm around his shoulders and steered him into the most secluded of the huts. Dazed, Sam realized it was even a mansion, complete with cuckoo clock, pottery, and a chandelier made from coconut shells. "Have a seat, Gilligan. Take my lounger."

"Uh, no, thank you."

"Suit yourself. I was, er, wondering if we could move up my golf outing." A hearty chuckle. "Couldn't manage without the best caddy on the island, now, could I?"

"Could I have breakfast first?"

"Of course, of course. Mary Ann's rustling it up now. Let me get you a drink to go with it. I think I have one bottle of champagne left, and the sun's way over the yardarm somewhere in the world, right?"

Although he had been here less than 24 hours, Sam knew this jovial bonhomie on Howell's part was unnatural. Up to this point, the fellow had treated him like a serf. "Mr. Howell, why can't you golf at your usual hour?"

"Call me Thurston. Why, I have an appointment."

"With whom? The witch doctor?"

Howell twitched. "Those natives from the other island aren't back, are they? No. I see you're too canny for me, Gilligan. With that sort of razor-sharp business acumen, you could have a marvelous career ahead of you."

"As a grocery store clerk?"

A bellow of laughter greeted this sally. "Ha-ha! That's rich, and who would know better than me? The truth is, I wanted to have a business discussion with you. Let me be your mentor, Gilligan. I'll see that your, shall we say, initial investment grows to a fortune, while Lovey, with her social contacts, makes you the premier swinging bachelor. You'll have bankers singing your praises, and debutantes at your feet. Just say yes, and the world is yours!"

"Say yes to what?"

"To my offer of one hundred thousand dollars. Will you take a check? Howells never carry petty cash."

"Why would you give me one hundred thousand dollars?"

"What a negotiator! Very well, Gilligan, you've backed me into a corner." With a flourish, he piled stacks of greenbacks on the table between them, until Sam could barely see him over the piles of money. "One million, but that's my final offer."

His gall was unbelievable. "You're offering me a million dollars to kill myself in the Professor's contraption?"

"Of course not! How could you insinuate such a thing? Why, the Professor is a brilliant man of science. I saw the potential immediately. I intend to manufacture those wings of his and start the country's next sports craze, the moment we get home. There'll be people flapping their way to work instead of polluting the environment with cars. And you, as the pioneer, will be called--"

"--a birdbrain. No, worse than that, a dead birdbrain." Sam peeled the older man's fingers off his shoulder. "No, Mr. Howell. Nothing on earth will get me into that death trap. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'd like to have breakfast."

Not even the real Gilligan could have overlooked Sam's unpopularity when he tried to join the others in the center of the camp. Although Mary Ann supplied him with a clay plate laden with omelet and fresh slices of melon and papaya, everyone else in the clearing--Ginger, the Skipper, both Howells--silently but ostentatiously rose and moved away. Nevertheless, the food smelled too delectable to be ignored, so Sam concentrated on his food and fruit juice, while considering Gilligan's new pariah status. So far, he had only succeeded in making his "host's" situation worse. Of course, their reaction was understandable. The castaways had been isolated so long that it was a miracle they weren't even more dysfunctional.

"This food is wonderful, Mary Ann."

"That's easy to say--after all, who do you have to compare me to?"

"Well, I know that I couldn't make anything so delicious."

Her smile put dimples in her cheeks. "Bring me some fruit and I'll make that guava jelly you like."

"Mary Ann!" Lovey trumpeted, scandalized. "How can you talk to that--that traitor?"

"Mrs. Howell, Gilligan wants to go home just as much as the rest of us do. It's not his fault we lost the boat."

"But he won't even try to rescue us!"

"You're pretty close to Gilligan in size. Why don't you volunteer?" the younger woman asked pointedly, and snatched Sam's plate. "Here--let me fix you a second helping, Gilligan."

Accepting more omelet, Sam wondered whether Mary Ann was just a decent kind-hearted woman or whether Al was right and at least one of the women here was romantically involved with Gilligan. None of them seemed to have produced children, but Hinkley might have concocted an herbal contraceptive or built some sort of diaphragm or....The whole subject made him blush. Apparently the only parts of Al that had rubbed off on him were the embarrassing ones.

Since the Howells were ostracizing him, Sam decided not to pursue Gilligan's caddy duties. Instead, he borrowed soap and seaweed shampoo from Mary Ann--more of the Professor's creations--and went to the lagoon for a cold bath. While splashing under the waterfall, he tried to think of a way to secretly arrange for a rescue. Building a boat alone was not high on the list.

An admiring whistle made him duck behind the waterfall, but Al stuck his head right through it, dry and smirking. "No muscles to speak of, but nice buns."

"That's not funny, Al."

"If they saw you instead of Gilligan's aura, you'd have to beat all three women off with a stick." Al cocked his head. "Me, I can think of much better things to do with two nubile chicks and a former Miss Prune Queen. Hey, Sam, did you know you can blush all the way to your toes? Kinda cute."

Sam plunged back through the waterfall, spluttering, to hide himself in a towel. "Give it a rest, okay? Did you find out anything helpful?"

Al had changed clothes, and was now wearing trousers done in a vaguely Hawaiian floral print and a deep red low-cut tee-shirt. Without glancing at the handlink, he said, "Ziggy's still working on it."

"I thought I saw a transmitter in the Professor's hut. After all this time, the batteries are probably dead, but I was thinking, I could make a battery re-charger. All I'd need to do is set up metal strips, pennies, and coconut shells full of water to be stirred--"

"If Hinkley's sabotaging escape attempts, he'd snap off the antenna or pull out some wires."

"Not if I hide the radio in the jungle."

Al conceded, "It's worth a try, Sam. But Ziggy says there are no ships or planes in the area, not for a couple weeks. Oh, listen, Gilligan's driving us all crazy, worrying about his pets. I guess he's got ducks and parrots and a frog behind the hut he shares with the Skipper."

"Tell him I'll feed them. You know, I looked through his stuff in the hut. He brought a pocketknife, baseball cards, a library card, a bank book, a calendar, two marbles, seven cents, a lucky charm, a rabbit's food, a secret-compartment spy ring, Yogi Bear bottle tops, a yo-yo, skateboard wheels, a Manny Moose wristwatch, a high school graduation ring from Girls High, and comic books. How old is this guy, anyway? Ten?"

"Come on, Sam, with a stratospheric I.Q. like yours, you can probably build a rocket ship outta all that stuff. Just think of everything McGyver could do with the pocketknife alone!"

"Build a raft out of baseball cards, with the knife for a rudder?"

Al waved one hand placatingly. "Okay, okay, I can check out some of the other huts for you, see what's available. Meanwhile, you better get dressed, before the girls come to pay you back for peeping at 'em yesterday."

That was such a horrible thought that Sam almost dropped the towel. "They wouldn't! Would they?"

Al just grinned as he punched a button and relocated. With frequent glances over both shoulder, Sam yanked on Gilligan's clothes. There was no point in lingering here, since Ziggy could lock Al's hologram onto his coordinates if he moved on, so Sam tried to do some exploring.

No doubt the abundant fruits he found helped explain the castaways' survival. Bananas, a breadfruit garden, mangos, coconuts, papayas, pineapples, guava, watermelon, blackberries, blueberries, pears, avocados, grapes--the bounty was overflowing. Combined with ample fish, and perhaps some bird meat, the fruit provided enough fiber, vitamins, and proteins to keep everyone healthy.

Approaching voices made him slow down, because he didn't want to run into the other castaways, but Sam sneaked close enough to see part of Thurston Howell III's private golf course, where Howell and the Skipper were trying to escape a quicksand trap that kept engulfing their avocado pit "balls." The Skipper nearly fell in when he tried to scoop one out with a "golf club" that was just a clam shell tied to a bamboo pole. He couldn't see the contents of their golf bags from here. Were those the woods, or the irons? Or were all the clubs the same?

A voice said in his ear, "Geez Louise, Sam, have you seen Howell's hut?"

With an effort, he restrained a convulsion that would probably have propelled him right into the quicksand, and backed away from the golf course. "If I'd seen more than the front room, why would I send you to check it out?"

"I guess Gilligan's not exactly in their strata of society," Al conceded, "but you mighta been sent in to sweep the place up. You should see the stuff in there. A typewriter, an anniversary clock, a hairdryer, more jewels and furs than all of my ex-wives put together, nine bottles of perfume, a teddy bear, a chef's hat, a solid gold camera, two fencing outfits and sabers--" He broke off, mulling that one over. "You suppose that's a his/her set for when they have a fight? If my second wife, what's-her-name, had one, I'd'a been shishkebob long before the divorce was over. Anyway, there's about 20 trunks of stuff piled up in there. I can't open 'em up to see, but they can't all hold clothes, so you might find something useful."

"Who takes twenty trunks along on a three-hour cruise?"

"Somebody who worships conspicuous consumption, I guess. The girls mostly have make-up and stuff, but there's one storage hut that has stuff they scavenged from the Minnow, like a toolbox and a wet suit. That's probably your best bet."

"FORE!"

An avocado pit zoomed through Al's face and cracked against the tree by Sam, who winced. "This leap is really giving me a headache."

"You? What about me?"

"You didn't feel that."

"No, but it startled me. How would you like to have fruit pieces zipping through you?" Sam rubbed his own temples, as if feeling that very pain. His voice softer, Al told him, "Look, Sam. You're on a tropical island with great weather and beautiful scenery, you're the youngest guy on the island, and you've got your choice of a sweet down-home girl or a movie star. Nobody's trying to kill you, for a change. Why not just relax and enjoy yourself?"

"I can't relax until I know what I'm here to do. Improve Gilligan's relationships with the others? I've already blown that. Help them get off the island? Expose the saboteur?"

"Start up a romance?" Sam snorted, and Al looked offended. "Give the kid a break, Sam. I doubt he'd ever get anywhere with those women on his own."

"Gilligan?"

(Doesn't this guy even have a first name?)

Sam turned around and realized, from the strange expression on Roy Hinkley's face, that the Professor had overheard at least some of his conversation with Al. Now what? "Uh, hi, Professor. I was just going to offer to caddy for the Skipper and Mr. Howell."

"Gilligan, were you talking to someone? Someone I can't see?"

"No, of course not! That's be crazy. Right?"

The Professor's expression was unreadable, shaded by the foliage around them. "Perhaps."

"You're the psychologist, so you should know, right? No, I was just...um...thinking out loud. With everybody ignoring me, it gets kind of lonely, you know?"

"Good save, Sam," Al murmured.

The other man still hesitated. "I could try to convince them to forgive you, in the interests of group harmony and fair play. You know how tempers flare in this heat. I'm sure by tomorrow it will all settle down again."

"Even if I don't jump off a cliff?"

Hinkley looked stricken. Perhaps his conscience was bothering him.

"I'll go try talking to Gilligan again, Sam, but I'm tellin' you, the guy's a real cave-brain. And be nice. This isn't like you. You and him have a lot in common, you know."

Sam shrugged uncomfortably as the Imaging Chamber door slid shut, turning away from the Professor. Maybe he was getting a little testy, but let's face it, Roy Hinkley did seem to be trying to get him to commit suicide.

On the other hand, to be fair, he had to wonder whether jealousy was a factor. This was the first time he'd faced someone as intelligent as he was, so perhaps he was feeling threatened. He had to wonder whether he could have survived almost 20 years stranded here, even if the island was nearly Paradise. Sam seriously doubted he could have survived even five years trapped in one place, as Al had done in his years as a P.O.W. in Vietnam. Seeing how remarkably Roy Hinkley had coped left him feeling small. Inadequate.

Resolved to show more patience, Sam worked his way back to the camp. Lovey and Ginger went out of their way to snub him, parading by him with their noses in the air. Mary Ann was nowhere about, perhaps getting dinner started or sunbathing somewhere. On an impulse, he casually strolled toward the Professor's hut. If he could read the journal, he might understand what drove a Boy Scout leader and teacher to risk Gilligan's life in such an unlikely escape attempt. That plan, however, was foiled when he glanced back and realized the Professor had followed him.

Veering away from the hut as if he had never intended to raid it, Sam went to the beach instead. At least there he could watch the waves roll in, and relax, and try to achieve a mellow attitude. Al was right. This really wasn't a stressful leap, there appeared to be no time deadline he had to meet, and he was in a truly beautiful setting. Instead of worrying and sniping, he should be enjoying himself. The next leap might throw him into a marathon race, or hang-gliding, or a war somewhere.

Watching the sunlight turn the water into bits of sapphire, turquoise, and diamonds was better than any deliberate meditation. Sam let his irritation flow away with the tide. So Ziggy couldn't give him any useful data or predictions on this leap; so what? Many times he had ignored her advice, and things worked out fine. Although these people would treat him rudely, they weren't going to grab him and chain him to that absurd wing apparatus. All he had to do was solve the mystery behind Professor Roy Hinkley's failure to help these people escape, and he enjoyed solving puzzles.

A hand dropped onto his left shoulder and squeezed. "How ya doing, Little Buddy?"

"Skipper?" Sam squinted up against the sunlight at the older man's round face and twinkling blue eyes. "I, uh, thought you were playing golf."

"Well, I was, Gilligan, but I thought I'd check on the nets. You want to help me?" He waited, bouncing forward on his toes and back again, his smile just a little strained.

(He's trying to apologize to his friend.)

Sam scrambled to his feet with a grin. "Sure, Skipper. What do you want me to do?"

Grumby led him to a long, narrow bamboo wharf that extended from a cluster of boulders at the mouth of the bay and into the ocean, with an ingenious pulley system undoubtedly concocted by Hinkley. Hauling in the nets was wet work, but the Skipper sweated it out beside him, and despite his bulk, he moved with a gliding, broad stride. When Sam stopped to mop salt spray from his eyes with his right arm, the Skipper grinned at him.

"Almost done. That's the Navy can-do spirit, right?"

(Oh, boy. Now comes the speech on sacrificing one's self for the good of others.)

So alarming was this thought that Sam's control slipped. He sincerely hoped it was bleed-through from the real Gilligan that made him twitch on the pulley, swinging the laden net into first the air and then the Skipper's earnest face. With the word "courage" on his lips, he toppled into the water. Reaching to catch his hand, Sam released the pulley rope, dropping the writhing fish onto Grumby's head. Babbling apologies, he hauled the sputtering captain ashore just as Al returned.

"Geez, Sam, have you got a grudge against this guy, or what?"

"It was an accident! I'm really sorry!"

The Skipper glowered at him. "Never mind, Gilligan. Just help me get the fish!"

Al was staring in utter fascination at his blue-clad, twitching belly. "There's something in there, Sam."

The Skipper had noticed, too. Fuming, he dug a flopping, wriggling fish from beneath his shirt and tossed it ashore. Shamefaced, Sam grabbed the now half-empty net and struggled to haul it back out of the water. After shaking minnows from his trousers, the Skipper joined him, reaching into the net to yank out the largest specimen.

"Be careful--that's a shark!"

Grumby rolled his eyes. "I know that, Gilligan!"

"No, I mean, that's a small spiny dogfish shark. Order Selachii, Family Squalidae. The spines in front of the dorsal fins have a weak venom. It wouldn't kill you, but it would hurt."

The Skipper took off his hat, releasing a small shower of water. "How would you know that, Gilligan?"

"Yes, Gilligan. How would you know that?" another voice asked levelly.

"Uh-oh. Hinkley just showed up."

"I, uh, was reading about sharks in one of the Professor's books."

"You? Reading?"

"Well, sharks are scary. Big teeth. And the book had neat pictures."

"Another good save, Sam," Al conceded. "But I think Hinkley's ready for a showdown."

Keeping his gaze on Sam, the Professor told Grumby, "Mary Ann is waiting for the fish so she can plan tonight's dinner. Why don't you take her a couple, and I'll help Gilligan secure the rest."

Al walked around the Professor, eyebrows lowered. "Maybe this is a good time to find out what this guy's up to. Go ahead, Sam. Ask him why these folks are still stuck here."

Sam was more than willing, but as soon as the Skipper dripped his way from the wharf, Roy Hinkley asked, "Are you a time traveler, too?"

"Oh, boy. Oh, boy." Al began frantically punching cubes on the handlink. "Ziggy doesn't know anything about Hinkley being a time traveler. He's bright, like you, but how could he build an Accelerator out of bamboo?"

"Too?" Sam said. "Professor, are you saying you're a time traveler or something?"

"Of course not!"

"Oh. Good."

"But I've met one. Two, actually."

"Oh, boy," Sam and Al said simultaneously. As if in agreement, the handlink shrieked once, then buzzed like an alarm clock on the fritz.

The Professor waited patiently. When the blank expression on Sam's face remained static, he prompted, "With some exceptions, your movements and speech are unlike Gilligan's. You are smarter than he is. And you seem to talk to an invisible companion, as the second time traveler did."

"Sam. Sam, you know the rules. You can't tell him about Leaping."

"He already knows," Sam pointed out, and turned back to the Professor. "Yes. I'm a Leaper from the future. My name is Dr. Samuel Beckett. Have you met me before?"

"Sa-am!" Al wailed. Exactly which complaint to start with seemed to have him stymied; finally he settled on, "How could he have met you before? This is our first time here."

"Maybe in the future we'll leap back to this island a few years before today."

The handlink moaned in falsetto. "Sam, you're giving me and Ziggy headaches. Big ones."

Hinkley was shaking his head. "The people I met were women."

Sam squeezed water out of his pants and sat down on the edge of the wharf. "Maybe you'd better start from the beginning."

"Very well. A few days after we were marooned here, a woman possessed Miss Grant. At first I thought it was merely a hysterical reaction to our predicament, but she insisted that her name was Edna Calavicci, and she was here to prevent a death."

Al rasped, "That's a damned lie!"

Calavicci? Al had a younger sister, but her name was Trudy. One of his five wives? (Let's see, there was Beth, Ruth, Sharon, Maxine--maybe she's the one he always calls "What's-her-name"?) Sam rubbed his right temple hard. (What does it matter? How could one of Al's relatives be a time traveler?)

"Sam, this guy's a louse, don't--"

"Hold it. Al, who's Edna?"

The glare he was directing at Hinkley could solder metal. "My mother."

(Oh, boy. His mother, who couldn't face having a daughter with Down's Syndrome and ran off when her son was eight. This is going to be a problem.)

The Professor kept staring raptly at the space beside Sam. "Are you talking to your partner now?"

"Don't tell him anything, Sam!"

"Professor, did she tell you how she 'possessed' Ginger? How did she convince you she was telling the truth?"

"She said that someone else controlled what she was doing, using her to change flaws in the timeline, and that Miss Grant was not so much sublimated by her personality as temporarily replaced, an exchange of bodies. The fact that she exactly resembled Miss Grant she attributed to something she referred to as an aura. She claimed Ginger could not return until her mission was accomplished." His expression was vaguely dissatisfied. "Although she would not offer me a scientific explanation, she did offer an astonishing amount of data about my own life, and the cause of our shipwreck."

Al yelled, "It never happened!"

Sam sighed. "Maybe not. We have to hear him out before we can decide. If this was a Leaper, like me, what was her mission?"

"She said...." The Professor swallowed. "She said I had to prevent any rescue or escape from the island for at least six months, because of Gilligan. If he and the Skipper returned to Hawaii and started their cruises again, Gilligan would accidentally kill a future President of the United States."

"And you believed her?"

"Well, Gilligan did get us shipwrecked here."

Sam looked at Al. "He has a point there."

"My mother wasn't a quantum physicist, Sam. She didn't work on a government time travel project. She dumped us kids and my dad and ran off with an encyclopedia salesman!"

"Did you ever see that salesman? Or is that something your father said to explain your mother's disappearance?"

Al's eyes were aching with betrayal, old and new. "It doesn't make sense, Sam. How could she leap?"

"Whatever took over my leaps appears to be controlling it without an Accelerator or any form of material back-up."

"And you think a God who wants to help people and fix mistakes that ruined their lives would make a mother dump her little kids--one of them handicapped--to do it? Real logical, Sam."

"Logic. Good point. Professor Hinkley, the six months have long been over, yet you're still here. Why?"

The scientist looked even more haggard. "Because of the second time traveler."

"What is this, Cosmic Grand Central Station?"

"Al. Please." Not since their encounter with Al's beloved first wife had he wanted so desperately to be able to touch his best friend. The man needed a hug. On the other hand, Hinkley, who was not a hologram, looked almost as upset. Hesitantly, Sam patted his upper arm. "Tell me about this second time traveler."

"We were on the verge of escaping, because the six months were finally over. This time Mrs. Howell came to my hut. I was quite surprised. She told me that I must not allow us to leave the island. Ever."

"This was Edna Calavicci again?"

Al threw up both arms. "Aren't you listening to me? It was never my mother!"

"She said her name was Alia."

Al froze. Very slowly, his head turned, and his eyes met Sam's. "The Evil Leaper?"

"She wasn't evil, Al."

"She tried to frame a kid with Down's for rape, Sam. Shirley Temple wouldn't do that."

"She gave it up. People change, Al."

"Did she leap here before that change of heart...or after?"

The Professor was trying to keep up, not easy when he could only hear Sam's end of the conversation. "You know this woman? She works with you?"

"I know her."

"She did have a partner, like you. I believe her name was Zoe."

"I am nothing like Zoe!"

"I agree. You're much cuter," Sam told him, which temporarily shut him up. "Did Alia say why you couldn't leave the island?"

The Professor nodded glumly. "Gilligan. She said there was a 97.8% probability that if he ever returned to civilization, he would cause a terrible disaster. She mentioned a nuclear submarine explosion. She was quite believable. Unlike the first time traveler, she was willing to discuss some of the theoretical underpinnings of her time travel method, and I found it quite fascinating. Have you ever heard of something called the string theory of quantum physics?"

That added fuel to Al's ire. "Sam invented that theory! She stole the idea from him!"

The full horror of what had been done to this man was beginning to sink in. It certainly explained the Professor's shamefaced attitude. "You've spent the last 20 years deliberately sabotaging every attempt they made to escape."

"It was awful. I had to be completely dishonest, yet keep their hope and morale up, so they didn't commit suicide from despair, or kill Gilligan for revenge."

"You framed Gilligan for all the failures?"

"Actually, that wasn't necessary. He frequently ruined attempts entirely on his own, which seemed to confirm Alia's warnings. On other occasions, I prompted him--he was a perfect subject for subliminal conditioning and hypnosis."

Nearly 20 years of betraying every moral principle he believed in, of denying himself freedom, in order to preserve anonymous tens of thousands of people...it must have been hell. Worse yet, it had probably been an unnecessary hell.

"Professor Hinkley, my project was funded to let us study the past, not change it. Through circumstances beyond our control, that changed, but when we interfere in someone's life, it's to prevent a tragedy--to save a marriage, a career, a life. But there is another group we've run into that has a different agenda. They like to sabotage all those things, to make sure things go as wrong as possible. I don't know about the woman who called herself Edna Calavicci--"

"She was one of them," Al gritted. "It was their idea of a sick joke or something."

"I don't know," Sam repeated. "But I think Alia lied to you, and we're here to release you."

"Why would this Alia person want to trap us here?"

"Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think Gilligan was the focus here, it was you. My partner pointed out to me that you and I have a lot in common, Professor Hinkley, and I've seen the evidence in the life you've cobbled together here on the island. If you weren't trapped here, you might have built our Project yourself."

Al objected, "That's going too far, Sam. Sure, he's a bright guy, but if you think he can even hold your slide-rule--"

"Maybe you would at least have speeded up the process for us." Sam raised his voice to drown out the protests only he could hear. "Whether or not the first Leaper told the truth, the second one lied."

The Professor seemed too stunned to respond emotionally. No doubt it would take time to deal with the rage and sorrow engendered by 20 years of blocking their escape, for nothing. "You mean...we can go home?"

"Yes. You can."

"But...if we never needed to stay here, and you can travel through time, why didn't you come to me years ago?"

"I don't have any control over when or where I leap."

Al said quietly, "But Someone does."

Great. Now he had two unhappy budding atheists on his hands. Fumbling for a quick answer, Sam suggested, "Maybe the first time traveler told the truth. Gilligan did screw up some escapes on his own, after all; he probably was a danger, at first. But over the years, he matured into a less clumsy, less impulsive man, so that now he isn't likely to cause an accidental death or nuclear holocaust."

Al was still dubious. "I've talked to this doofus, Sam. The word 'mature' does not come to mind when you meet him. Trust me on this."

"You have a better explanation, Al?"

"Someone's protecting the world's economy against Howell?"

"Or moviegoers from another Ginger Grant classic."

Al acted elaborately outraged. "Give me a break, Sam. With your Swiss-cheesed memory, you don't remember, but she did some wonderful movies. How about the one with Rock Hudson?"

"How about it?" Sam turned back to Hinkley. "I'm sorry it took so long, but I'm sure that Gilligan isn't a threat now. You can go home now. Today."

"It will take a little longer than that to arrange," Hinkley mused, his eyes abstracted, no doubt already pondering potential escape plans.

He had solved the mystery of the castaways' lengthy maroonment, and had accomplished the goal of this Leap, but there was still the problem of Edna Calavicci, Al's mom--or a leaper posing as his mom. Sam turned back to his best friend, but somehow his elbow flapped out, slammed Hinkley in the ribs, and propelled him off the edge of the wharf. As a wave of salt water engulfed Sam, Al cocked his head and smirked.

"Less clumsy and impulsive, eh, Sam?"

Sam opened his mouth, but before he could come up with a scathing report--or at least spit out some water--Paradise disintegrated around him. An indeterminate amount of time later, another landscape was painted in around him, this one a garage, very neat and clean, with feminine touches like gingham curtains on the windows.

The Imaging Chamber door opened. Al stepped through. Focusing on Sam, he dropped his cigar, which promptly disappeared, and his eyes first widened, then narrowed. Deliberately, he walked around Sam, not speaking.

"Well?" Sam finally snapped. His voice sounded high-pitched.

"The bad news is, you're a woman again, Sam," Al observed judiciously. "But the good news is--you're a woman reincarnated as a really beautiful classic car. What a fantastic pair of headlights!"

Sam closed his eyes, or at least lowered his headlights.

"Ohhhhhhhhh, boy...."

-----Copyright J.A. Leavell, Sunday, September 6, 1993--2013. All rights reserved.

Golly, Skipper, read me some more neat stories!

Gosh, Professor, do you know how to send feedback to the author?