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A TASTE OF HONEY

by Jane Leavell

CHAPTER FOUR

She must be going crazy. That had to be it.

Those MCP assholes at the station must have been right all along with all that bullshit about penis envy, because when she cracked up, she gave herself one. You didn't need mirrors or reflective surfaces to tell you you'd suddenly acquired a prick.

Before she had time to get really hysterical, there were all sorts of people in white coats swarming all over her, taking a needle out of her right arm, sliding all sorts of flashing lights and monitors into the walls and out of sight. Then they all scurried out of the room, except for this one black woman in an aquamarine dress, who kept saying soothing things in a calm, soft voice. The woman was obviously some sort of shrink, and she'd been committed to an asylum.

Just the same, when Honey really thought about it, none of this made any sense. The last thing she remembered clearly was going to Callahan's Saloon to celebrate when the bomb left at City Hall turned out to be some lawyer's forgotten briefcase. When had she flipped out? And why? Granted, it was a damned stressful job, but she'd been lucky. She hadn't lost any team-mates yet. And coming from a family of five brothers and one sister, Honey Zuckerman was used to stress. Lots of it.

Besides, if this was a nut house, who was the guy in the souped-up Popeye suit? He couldn't be a doctor, yet the shrink didn't stop him from spiriting her away. And why were they playing Hide-and-Seek?

Things were moving too fast, here.

Because she couldn't seem to come up with a coherent objection, Honey crouched down and followed her short, cheerful guide into some sort of lab full of high-tech equipment built out of glowing translucent Lego blocks. Were they going to give her electrochock treatments? No, they couldn't be, because the black-haired eccentric in the sailor suit signaled her to get on the floor and crawl past some sort of huge blue oval, like a Chinese gong, mounted into one wall.

Well, why should she expect madness to make sense?

Maybe I'm not crazy. Maybe this is all a trick. I had to get all sorts of clearance to get that training from The Company, and Flynn said we had to learn to stay cool in chaos--maybe this is some sort of test, to see if I get hysterical. That could explain the gunfire.

The sailor pointed to a cubbyhole. Honey took a deep breath.

Crazy or not, I'll show them I'm not a coward!

Someone fired at them as they ran, but the guy yelled something, and a metal door cut them off from the rest of the room. Honey took a faltering step or two down a short tunnel, and froze at the edge of a huge, echoing, empty warehouse.

Even the CIA wouldn't shoot one of their instructors to see if a cop would freak out. Would they?

She turned back to her guide and asked numbly, "Am I hallucinating? Is that it?"

He straightened up, grimacing, pressing hard against his side. As she watched, blood welled up around the fingers, stark red against his uniform. "No. This is really happening."

"That's real blood."

"You got that right. Hurts like the real thing, too." He made another face. "Too bad I wasn't wearing a bulletproof vest, but I was expecting tough questions, not guns."

"Am I being kidnapped?"

"No, Honey, they're trying to kidnap you--I'm one of the White Hats." With his right hand, he reached for her hand and squeezed it hard. "Now, listen, this is going to be really scary, but I'm with you, and I promise nothing's gonna hurt you."

The warehouse flooded with light, and a silky feminine voice said, "Link activation in five seconds, Admiral. And our visitors want to talk to you."

"Not until I'm linked with Sam."

Then she had proof that she had completely blown her mental fuses. Her whole body shivered, and she felt a wave of nausea and vertigo sweep over her, like a combination of the Demon Drop rollercoaster and her hour hugging the toilet after Joe's retirement party. It left her feeling limp and drained. Colors splashed over the warehouse, all around her, and then suddenly she was in the station-house: unwashed civilians, desks piled with papers, cracked linoleum, and all. But that wasn't right, either, because the station was noisy, full of curses and sobbing perps and ringing phones, but it didn't smell right. It didn't smell like sweat. It smelled like the empty warehouse.

"Close your eyes. Honey, close your eyes."

When he shook her, she screwed her eyes shut, feeling tears leak beneath her eyelids.

"When I touch you, you'll see yourself, but don't panic. Nobody can see or hear you. Honey, are you a cop, or do you just work here?"

"Cop," she whispered.

"That's why you're taking this so well, then." That was so ludicrous that she had to laugh. The laugh twisted into a sob, and she choked it off. He patted her back gently. "It's okay. You're in my buddy Sam's body, and he's in yours, but just until he takes care of a little problem. Do you understand?"

"Problem? What problem?"

"No, don't open your eyes yet, it's too confusing. Give it time to sink in. Ow!" He shifted position, still holding her close. "I don't know what the problem is, exactly. Usually I have time to find out who you are, talk to you awhile in peace and quiet, and Ziggy digs up info on your life. Usually we're not being invaded and shot at." He sighed. "I'm not even supposed to tell you what's going on, but this is an emergency, and being that you're a cop, I can probably convince the Committee that your security clearance was good enough, if anybody complains."

"Security clearance?" Honey repeated. Maybe she was right, and this was a government test.

"See, what you're seeing when you touch me isn't real. I mean, it's three years ago, and to us it's just a hologram, you can walk right through it. To them--to Sam--you and I are holograms. Talking pictures. Look, I know this isn't making much sense, maybe it's because I'm sorta shaky right now. Do you read science fiction?"

"No."

"Too bad. Let's just put it this way. This is a top-secret government-run scientific experiment, and you've gotten stuck in the middle of it, but we're gonna do everything we can to get you back in your own body. Can you handle that?"

"Do I have any choice?"

"Nope."

"Well...it's better than thinking I'm loony."

"Fair enough. Open your eyes."

She opened her eyes, and was back in the station, watching a female officer in the blue skirt and jacket the lieutenant made her wear on public relations talks, the outfit he felt the well-dressed female detective should wear, standing in a hallway and looking lost.

"Hiya, Sam."

The woman looked up, and Honey moaned, realizing she was staring into her own freckled face and cat-green eyes. Then the eyes blinked, and her body dropped her purse to the floor.

"Al! You're bleeding!"

"Just a paper cut. We can't talk here, Sam. Find an office, so people won't hear you talking to yourself, okay?"

"Admiral Calavicci. Dr. Beckett. We seem to have a slight problem here," a new voice interrupted.

"Yeah, and you're it, buster," Al muttered. He released her hand, and the police station immediately vanished, leaving Honey swaying inside the empty warehouse again. It seemed to be the size of a small amusement park.

"Would you mind explaining what gave us away?"

Honey looked up. There must be some sort of P.A. system in the ceiling. Whoever this guy was, he had a clipped, pompous, vaguely Ivy League voice, a sneer personified; the kind of voice that made you itch to give him a ticket.

"In the Navy, we say `aye-aye,' and only j.g.'s are called `sir,' for starters." The gravelly voice full of kindness and good cheer had become the voice of a Mafiosa bigwig, utterly cold and definitely from the streets of New York. She was tired of transformations: her short thin body turning into a tall man, her guide turning into a tough guy--Honey shook her head, shutting down the thoughts, concentrating on what he said. "And we don't wear our hats indoors. Shoddy research. Amateur hour." He spat the words out with contempt. "I like to know who I'm talkin' to."

"You may call me Rick. I do apologize for the bungling. We truly didn't mean to do anything this...excessive. Indeed, we've been trying to collect you both quietly outside this project, but as nearly as we can tell, Dr. Beckett hasn't left this compound in three years."

"Four, but who's counting?"

Honey folded her arms to keep from shivering again, and felt dried blood on her arm where Al had shaken her. This time she really looked at him, undistracted by the `hologram' of the station, and realized he was standing awkwardly, cradling his left side. That side of his uniform was soaked with blood, and it was forming a small puddle at his feet.

Better act as though this is real. In about ten minutes, if we don't do something, I'm not going to have a guide to get me through this.

Somewhat desperately, she surveyed the cavernous room. It wasn't quite as empty as she'd thought at first. There were wheeled stenographer chairs lined up against the walls at regular distances, and some glass cases mounted in the walls, too far away to see clearly. Fire extinguishers? Supply cabinets?

First things first. Honey grabbed the nearest chair and thrust it at Al. Surprised, he looked up at her, the fierce expression briefly melting into a smile that would even have warmed the cockles of her boss's heart--assuming he had one--then started trying to struggle out of the blood-soaked jacket, grimacing and grunting. She helped him shuck it, ignoring the way Rick's voice droned on overhead, and Al wadded the jacket up against his side, wincing. As he did so, a multicolored rectangular object clattered to the floor.

"Get that for me, will ya?"

"...unavoidably gaudy way. But if you'll both come out quietly, now, we can minimize the damage."

"Get stuffed," Al panted. "Ouch! Ziggy, center me on you-know-who, and cut off the sound so those weasels can't hear us."

"Nobody move!" Rick commanded.

"Ziggy don't have to move, he's a computer, you syphilitic, leprous, cock-sucking, mother-humping piece of camel dung."

There was no reaction from overhead. Al nodded in apparent satisfaction.

"Nice vocabulary," Honey observed. This time, her voice didn't shake, but it still sounded weird. She was used to being a soprano, not a baritone.

"What? No, not you, Sam, I was talking to that terrorist. Here. Meet Honey Zuckerman."

Al reached for her hand, and the warehouse was overlaid with her office at the station. Someone had neatened up her desk, stacking the used coffee mugs and sorting the files and loose papers, but her Dirty Harry picture still stood on the computer monitor, daring passersby to make her day. Matt and Ernie must be out; only Honey Zuckerman was in the room. She stared at herself, fascinated. She did a pretty good job on the make-up this morning, huh? Did her voice really sound that much like a Jewish American Princess debutante? No wonder the guys gave her such a hard time when she first got hired.

Her body reached out, trying to touch Al's side, but the fingers slid right through him, as if they weren't real. "That is not a paper cut." Hearing her voice shake with fury made her want to giggle, but the guy in her body was deadly serious.

"Well, a flesh wound, then."

Sam glared at him. "I suppose you're going to tell me Tina found out about you and Verbena and shot you?"

"What about me and Verbena?" Al seemed genuinely puzzled.

"Al!"

"Okay, okay. Some William F. Buckley clone called Rick got inside the project by posing as Navy brass that was supposed to get a tour. When me and Honey tried to sneak in here, one of 'em shot me. As long as I'm linked to you, not even Gooshie can make Ziggy open the door, and the IC's built to take a nuclear accident, so we're safe."

She was safe. The Admiral was as grey as official police sweats. Reluctantly, Honey released his hand, and her office disappeared. As she checked out the glass cases on the wall, she could hear Rick overhead, demanding their attention, and Al apparently talking to himself. There was indeed a first aid kit in the case, but before getting it out, she squinted at her reflection in the glass. Sam Beckett seemed to be a handsome man in his early forties, with a single white forelock in an otherwise brown head of hair. It was still hard to believe that was her, looking out of those hazel eyes.

"Sorry I can't tell you what you're s'posed to do on this Leap, Sam, but it's been really hectic here." She couldn't hear Sam's reply, but Al sounded pained. "What do you mean, not important?"

Kneeling beside him, Honey opened the first aid box. "I've never seen a kit this well-stocked."

"Dr. Beeks is real efficient." He shrugged, careful to use only his right side. "We've had a couple of strange Leaps, and it woulda come in handy." To the thin air in front of him, he insisted, "You were so worried that me linking with you on Leaps would hurt me--I got shot not Leaping. At least in the Imaging Chamber I'd'a been safe."

When she touched the Admiral's side, she was abruptly back in her office, but she forced herself to ignore it, concentrating on the wound. Christ, the real thing was a hell of a lot more gory than a paramedic training class. "The bullet's still in there, you know."

"Okay. Just wrap it up tight."

"What did she say?" the guy in her body demanded. "Al, turn sideways and let me get a good look at it."

"Oh, she said it's a clean in-and-out. Nothing to it, Sam."

Honey rocked back on her heels. "The hell I did!"

"Watch your language. Sam's a prude from Indiana."

"Is he also deaf?"

"He can see you, but he can't hear you. Don't worry, I'll translate for you. It's okay, Sam, she says I'm gonna be just fine. Once she gets the Bandaids on, I'll see if I can access enough data from Ziggy to--aw, Geez Louise!" Honey paused, thinking he was in pain, but the Admiral was scowling up at the ceiling as Rick's voice reverberated there. Rick sounded like he was throwing a verbal temper tantrum. "Shut that nozzle up, he's giving me a headache."

"Me, too," she said crossly, pressing a pad against his side and watching it promptly turn limp and pink. "Hold that for me."

"No, wait, use the hand-link. That little computer I gave you. Yeah. Punch the green button, and tell Ziggy to turn the volume down."

Oh, swell. I'm lumbering around in a big man's body, there's a stranger up to who knows what in mine, there's madmen with guns trying to grab us, he's bleeding to death, and he wants me to play with computers.

Dumping the kit on the floor, she snatched up the rectangle. It was made up of miniature hardened Jello cubes, like the stuff in the main lab, and when she punched the first green cube, all of them lit up and began flashing like traffic lights out of sync.

"Uh, hello? Ziggy? Are you there?"

From overhead, drowning out Rick, the feminine voice snapped, "Where else would I be? If you're going to threaten me like everyone out here--"

"No!" So, should she talk into the hand-link thingy, or at the ceiling? Compromising, she held it over her head and did both. "The Admiral wants you to turn down the volume on, uh, Rick."

The voice sank to a barely audible level. "There. But it really isn't fair; I can't turn down the volume on all the people out here, and it's quite noisy. I find it very distracting."

"I'm sorry. Thank you."

"You're welcome."

Oh, great. Now they've got me apologizing to a computer.

The pad on the Admiral's side was already soaked through, so she dropped it on the floor, replaced it, and started winding a bandage around his torso. His skin felt cold. Did they keep any blankets in here?

"...schedule, I'm supposed to give a talk at an elementary school," Sam was telling Al. "How can I change a life doing that?"

"Maybe you're a better public speaker than Honey."

"In his dreams," she said absently. "Move your arm. There."

"Okay, so maybe you're supposed to spot drug dealers at the school, or save a kid from choking on bubblegum, or spot a case of child abuse, or something."

"Maybe he's supposed to make sure I get off work on time for once. That would be a bona fide miracle. Here. Take this."

He glanced at the pills with distaste. "Dry?"

"No. With this." Honey handed him a bottle of Perrier. "Sorry I can't find any ice."

"T'Beeks thinks of everything. She's half-Vulcan."

"Half what?"

"You weren't kidding when you said you weren't into sci fi, were you?" He tossed the pills into his mouth and swallowed half the bottle.

Closing up the first aid box, Honey said casually, "I don't know if this will help, but tell your buddy I work in the Bomb Squad."

Al sprayed the room with a mouthful of water. Alarmed, Sam demanded, "What? What is it? Al, are you all right?"

"Sure, I just, um, choked. Sam, I don't know how to tell you this, but...you're on the Bomb Squad."

Honey watched her own face turn pale. "Oh, boy."


Enter the Accelerator and Leap to Chapter Five.

Colonel Paul Ironhorse orders you to report to Jane Leavell's Fan Fiction Page for a little more quantum exposure.

Verbena Beeks thinks you should show emotional support for the author with a little feedback.

You may not catch Gooshie & Tina in a clinch, but you could see links and a guestbook by going here.

Copyright 1992 - 2013, Jane A. Leavell. All rights reserved.