Chapter 9 Sam was having a big problem. He couldn't get the baby to stop crying. He had gotten out of the car and was walking around, rocking her gently. He remembered his mother rocking Katie in much the same manner when she had become fussy. It seemed to work, as the baby was starting to quiet some with an occasional whimper. Sam wondered where Al was. He still hadn't figured out a reason for this leap. Without Al and Ziggy, he had no clue what to do. He began to fret. At least he wasn't in any immediate danger. He looked down at the baby he was holding. She had peach fuzz brown hair, and blue eyes. Her clothes were clean, but not new. The baby kicked one bootied foot at his arm and Sam wished again for Al's help. He rocked the baby a little bit longer, until she started to fall asleep. Sam was getting hungry, he figured that the baby must be too. He might as well head home, wherever that was. He placed the sleeping baby back in the carseat, and strapped her down. He closed the car door quietly, but firmly. This was not going to be an easy leap. Sam had no experience dealing with babies, and the thought of being responsible for this one sort of terrified him. He got in the driver's side and decided to learn as much as he could without Al's help. >From the driver's license he learned he was 5'3" and the address listed was an apartment. From the warning he was issued he learned that the date was July 10, 1988. So far, so good. Now if he only knew the baby's name. Sam reached over and opened the glove compartment to look for a map. He pulled out some junk papers before finding an old torn, stained map at the bottom of the stack. He carefully placed the rest of the papers back and unfolded the map. It wasn't hard to find his host's home, and soon he had the route memorized. Sometimes having a photographic memory helped. He refolded the map, and returned it to the bottom of the glove box. He started the car and carefully pulled out into traffic. He had barely gotten underway when the car began to stutter. Sam glanced at the gas gague and saw that it was on empty. Maybe that was why his host had been in such a hurry. He spied a gas station coming up and maneuvered the car into the correct lane. As he made the turn into the station, the car coughed once then quit. Sam used the remaining momentum to coast up to the nearest pump. He placed the car in park and turned off the ignition. Sam dug in the purse, looking for some money for gas. He came up with about $15 in bills and change. He decided to use $5 for gas and save the other $10 until he heard from Al. He had no idea if his host had a bank account or any other money. He removed the keys and got out of the car, slinging the purse over his shoulder. The thought that he was getting used to being a woman bothered him a little. He wondered briefly if he would ever be normal again when he got home. Sam was about to walk away from the car when he remembered the baby. He really didn't want to disturb the sleeping infant, but he didn't want to leave the baby in the car while he paid for the gas. He decided to take the baby with him. Opening the door, he once again unstrapped the baby and picked her up. Sighing heavily at the fates for giving him this assignment, Sam went to pay for the gas. ************* Al rushed into the Main Control Room. Verbena was waiting anxiously. Gooshie had a handlink out and ready. "Al! About time you got here!" Verbena spoke first. "I'm glad to see you too." Al answered wryly. He grabbed the handlink. "Gooshie is the chamber ready to go?" At Gooshie's nod, Al raced up the ramp. "Good. Center me on Sam!" He made it to the top just as the door opened. ************** Sam was heading back to the car with the now awake baby starting at him, when he heard the Imaging Chamber door and he jumped. He turned around to see Al, handlink in hand smiling at him. "Al!" "Hi pal." Al did a double-take when he saw the baby Sam was holding. He pointed to the baby. "She yours?" Sam frowned. "Aren't YOU supposed to tell me that?" He went to place the baby back in the car. "Where the Hell have you been? I've been worried sick. I've been here for hours!" Al shrugged. "I came as soon as I could." Sam finished with the baby and went to pump the gas. He noticed that Al didn't look at him. Not directly anyway. He also discerned a couple of other things. One was that Al was dressed rather conservatively for Al. Two, Al did not have his cigar, but that was hardly unusual. Three, Al looked like he had slept in his clothes, as they were wrinkled and worn looking. All these things added up in Sam's mind that something wasn't right at the project. "Al? What's going on back home?" "Whatcha mean? Everything is fine here." Hunky-dory. Just fine, kid, except that we have been searching for you for months with no results. The ONE day I take off, you drop in our laps and we have just hours to figure out who you are and what you're here to fix with a computer that is sulking. Just fine, Sam. He thought these things but didn't say them. Sam shook his head. "No, something isn't right. Is Ziggy okay?" At the mention of her name the handlink squaked loudly. "Ziggy is Ziggy, Sam. Pouty and sulky, but fine." He looked at the data just now coming across the screen. "Your name is Jessica ....." Sam interrupeted him. " A. Marchecci. I am 22 years old, and I live in St. Petersburg, Florida. The date is July 10, 1988." Al's jaw dropped a bit. "How?" he started to ask. Sam enjoyed this moment of turnabout. He ticked off the details. "Driver's license, registration, Cop.." "Cop? Whatcha do, Sam? Can't I leave you alone for a second?" Sam finished pumping the gas and returned the nozzle to the pump. "When I leaped in Jessica had gotten pulled over for speeding. Luckily, she only got a warning instead of a ticket." Sam replaced the gas cap and got back in the car. He was starting to attract attention talking to himself outside the car. He tried to start it up, but it wouldn't start. Sam pumped the gas pedal and tried again. After the third try, the engine roared to life. Sam pulled out of the station as Al centered himself inside the car. Sam turned to look at Al as he waited for a break in traffic. "I know most everything except what I am here to do. And where you have been." A whimper from the backseat got Sam's attention. "Oh, and what that baby's name is." Al continued to type on the handlink which continued to protest. "We are working on that, Sam. I'll have some information for you shortly." Sam pulled out into the ever growing stream of traffic. "Al, what is really going on? And don't lie to me." Al scratched his head. "I already told you..." "Bullshit!" Sam exploded. He watched Al flinch. "Something is wrong there. You never show up this late, never dressed like you have been camping in your clothes, and hardly ever without your cigar. So don't tell me that nothing is wrong." Al was fed up too. He felt guilty enough without Sam dumping on him. They had caught the first flight out and had arrived back in New Mexico a mere 2 hours after they had left. After picking up his car from the lot he had left it at, it was a two hour drive back to the project. Al had hardly gotten any rest on the drive back. As a result he was cranky and not ready for Sam's outbusts. He tried to hold his tongue, but his anger won out. "Don't you go dumping on me, Sam. You have been missing for almost a year..." he stopped abruptly as he realized what he had inadvertently let slip. The same time Al's mouth stopped working, the handlink started squealing loudly. "Can it Ziggy!" Al shouted at the ceiling. Sam had paled at this information. He tried to digest it. A year? He had been in limbo for a year? He stopped at a red light, and tried to find the words to speak, but found his mouth suddenly dry. He licked his lips and managed a hoarse, "What else?" Al had watched his friend's reaction. He tried to soften the already hard blow. "Not much. Except the one day I take off the project to get some rest, " he avoided looking at Sam for this piece of information because rest was one thing he didn't get much of in Vegas. "You suddenly show up and we have to scramble to get the data you need. Satisfied?" The light changed and Sam resumed his course. The shock of the information was wearing off. "Okay, I'm sorry. I didn't meant to vent on you." Al tried to relax some. "Forgiven, buddy." They drove in relative silence for a bit with the only breaks being whimpers from the baby in the back. Sam glanced to Al. "Can you at least tell me the baby's name? I can't go around calling her 'baby'." Al grinned. "No, I guess you can't." He consulted the handlink. "Her name is Kelly Anna Marchecci. Born May 15, 1988." "Okay. Thanks." Sam found the apartment easily enough. It turned out to be part of a duplex. He pulled into the small driveway and turned the car off. As he got out of the car, he glanced around. The neighborhood was older, and kind of run down. His apartment was number 2 and Sam saw number 1 had an eviction notice taped to it. An older car was parked in the driveway of that one, but there was no sign of the owner. He realized that some people didn't get a good start in life. Not everyone had a good home on a farm. Some people were lucky to have a roof. Sam went to get his purse and the baby from the car. As he was heading in he heard Al shout, "Don't forget the diaper bag." Diaper bag? He threw Al a puzzled glance. "Where?" "In the car." Sam walked back to the car and found a large pink bag decorated with pastel bears, bunnies, and blocks. He slung the bag over his shoulder and cradled the baby in the other arm. He fumbled for a moment for the house key, but managed to get the door unlocked. There was a light switch by the door, and he flipped it on. Night was beginning to fall outside, the apartment was dim. He placed the diaper bag and his purse on a table by the door as he stepped inside. The apartment was small, only three rooms in it. Sam went to investigate. One door led to a small bedroom which contained a single twin bed, a dresser and a small bassinet. There was a small closet set in one wall of the bedroom. Sam left this room and went to see what was behind door number two. It turned out to be a bathroom. The toilet was so close to the sink that you could wash your hands while sitting on it. The tub looked cramped and was stained. As he left the bathroom Sam noticed a small alcove which doubled as a linen closet. The last room was the one he had entered from and was the largest by far. It was the combination living room and kitchen. On the kitchen end of it, there was a small refrigerator, and a stove next to the sink. The sink was full of dirty dishes. On the living room side, held a small couch and a rocking chair. A table held a 19" TV. A stroller was folded up and pushed against one wall. Sam found a baby seat next to the couch and he strapped Kelly into it. The baby was not happy and began to cry. Al was standing in the middle of the living room. He watched as Sam plopped down on the worn sofa. He had not seen Sam this tired in Leaps. The baby began to cry loudly. Sam didn't know what to do. He looked to Al for help. "She might need a diaper change, Sam, or she may be hungry. I'm guessing hungry because of the way she is sucking on those fingers." "So what do I feed her?" Al couldn't resist the dig. "Well you better hope she isn't breast fed." He stated with a twinkle in his eye. "Cut it out, Al." Sam was not amused. Neither was Kelly. Her screams were short and sharp. Al went poking around the kitchen. "Well, Sam I see bottles here, so I'm guessing she is fed formula. Check in the diaper bag and see if any are made up yet." Sam retrieved the bag and unzipped it. Inside he found dipaers, wipes, changes of clothes, poweder, toys and two empty bottles. He brought those to the kitchen where Al was waiting. "Empty, Al." He put the bottles near the sink full of dishes. "Check the fridge, Sam." Sam opened up the small fridge and found two bottles inside. He grabbed one and shut the door. As he took the cap off he did a double take. The nipple was inverted and there was a disc covering it. In the other room the baby continued to cry. Al couldn't help laughing at Sam's lost look. "AL!" Sam was getting frustrated. He went to get the baby, leaving the bottle on the counter. The baby quieted a little in Sam's arms. Sam returned to the kitchen and the puzzle of the bottle. "Remove the ring, Sam, and take the disc out. Then invert the nipple through the ring and screw it back on the bottle." Sam tried to do it, being careful not to either spill the formula, or drop the baby. "Oh, Sam! And don't touch the nipple itself. It has probably been sterilized." Sam shot Al a 'now you tell me' look. He finally got the bottle put together correctly and was about to feed it to Kelly when Al interrupeted again. "Not yet, Sam. You gotta warm it up first or she could get cramps." "Gee whiz, Al. It's a wonder babies ever eat with all the preparation that needs to be done." Al guestured with his hands. "You get used to it, Sam, and start to prepare well before hand." He pointed toward a pan. "Put some water in that and put the bottle in to to warm on the stove." Sam followed his directions and soon the bottle was warming on the stove. Kelly was still fussing. Al had another twinkle in his eye. "You better change her, Sam, before you start. She will probably fall asleep while feeding or shortly afterwards." "Al, I do belive you are enjoying this." Sam tossed Al a sarcastic look. "Awww Sam, that hurts." Sam retrieved one of the disposable diapers from the diaper bag. Al grimmaced at the sight of it. "Landfills are full of those, Sam. Worst thing man ever invented." Sam also retrieved the powder, wipes and a clean sleeper from the depths of the bag. Finding no place else, he placed the baby down on the couch. Al squatted next to Sam, ready to lend a hand of need be. Well not really, but he could offer moral support. Sam removed the booties, and the panties. Very carefully he undid the buttons on the dress. Now Kelly lay in nothing but her diaper. She didn't like it very much as her screams had started up again. Sam unfastened the tapes on the diaper and removed it. He took the clean diaper and placed it under the baby. Grimacing, he took a diaper wipe and cleaned the diaper area. He glanced to Al. "You're doing fine, Sam." Sam took the powder and sprinkled some on Kelly. A little too much, he thought as a white cloud rose over the baby. She sneezed. "Bless you." both men said in unison. Sam smoothed the powder over the baby with one hand. He then fastened the diaper down and dressed Kelly in the sleeper. Now warm and dry, she quieted some. Sam took the baby in one arm and the dirty diaper in the other hand. He returned to the kitchen and disposed of the diaper in the trash pail that was almost overfull. He turned off the stove and took the bottle out. Kelly wriggled at the sight of it. "Test it first, Sam. On your wrist. Make sure it's not too hot." He gestured with his hands the motions he wanted Sam to follow. Sam did so. "It's not hot. May I feed her now?" Kelly was sucking on one fist hungrily. "Not yet, Sam." Al guestured to one of the cloth diapers Sam had taken out of the diaper bag in his quest for a bottle. "Take one of these first." "What for?" he frowned. "Humor me, willya?" Al was grinning. Sam took one and the bottle back to the living room. He sat in the rocking chair with Kelly in his right arm. He held the bottle to her mouth and she began to drink hungrily. Sam began to relax as he watched the baby eat. This wasn't so bad after all. He looked deep into her trusting eyes. "I bet you miss your mommy." He sighed and turned back to see Al watching him curiously. "Have you found out why I am here yet?" Al tapped the glowing handlink. "No, not yet. But Ziggy is still working on it." Sam checked the bottle. It was half empty already. "Uh, Sam. You better burp her." Sam removed the bottle from her mouth. "Take the cloth diaper and drape it over your shoulder." Al stated simply. Sam did so, then putting the baby against his shoulder, he patted her back gently. He was rewarded with a loud burp. He rubbed her back and a smaller burp resounded. Al smiled. "Good job, Sam." Sam smiled back. "I'm kind of enjoying this." He lay the baby back down and resumed feeding her. Glancing from the baby to Al and back again, he couldn't help but wonder. "Al?" "Yeah Sam?" "I know I'm not supposed to ask, but do I have any kids of my own?" An expression crossed Al's face, but it was so fleeting, Sam caught only a glimpse of it before it was gone. "No, Sam." He had wanted to mention Sammi-Jo but thought better of it. Sam knew Al was hiding something from him. He decided to let the subject drop. "Then how come you know so much about babies?" Al smiled broadly. "I got four girls of my own." Sam felt a twinge of disappointment. He had so much wanted a son and daughter to call his own. A wife to love. Al noticed Sam's quiet reaction. Al wanted to tell Sam that Donna was expecting any day now. But he couldn't. He wouldn't do that to his friend. No one knew when Sam would be returning home again. To break the news that a baby was expected and that Sam would not be able to hold or love his own child would devistate him more than the momentary joy such an announcement could bring. Besides, Donna had forbidden him to tell. Snap out of it, Calavicci, he warned himself. You're gonna make Sam suspicious. He busied himself with the handlink, more for something to do than for the meager data it provided. Sam had finished feeding Kelly and had burped her once more. Now he sat there just rocking her quietly. "Al?" "I'm still here, Sam." "Go see what you can find out. There isn't much else you can do here." Al nodded. "Get some rest, Sam." He hit the buttons for the Imaging Chamber door. "I'll check on you tomorrow." Sam looked Al in the eyes. "Nite, Al." "Nite, Sam." He left, closing the door behind him.