Chapter Twelve When Al's image finally appeared next to Sam, the Leaper was already in his car driving home. "Finally!" Sam muttered, glancing up as soon as he heard the Imaging Chamber Door slide open. The hologram was now hovering outside the car, and Sam lowered his window to speak to him. "Where have you been?" Sam looked more than a little touchy at the moment, but when Al thought of his own behavior, he decided to let it slide. He also decided that Sam was never going to find out about his close call, not now, not ever. [Well, _maybe_, when he comes home,] Al amended. "Well, the Committee's getting on my back again. And Beth, well, you know." He let his voice trail off, and Sam nodded in sympathy. "I just had some things to take care of." "Well, we need to start getting a plan ready for tomorrow," Sam informed the Observer. "June and I are going out to dinner again at seven, and I'm going to need you there to help us brainstorm. And whatever Ziggy has would be really useful, too. Please tell me she's found out some more about what happens to James." Al punched at the handlink, gnawing impatiently at the end of his cigar as he waited for the data to come up. "Okay. Ziggy just got access to the San Francisco police records, and his time of death is recorded as 1:32 PM of a single gunshot wound to the head. It looked like he was cleaning off his pistol at the time. The police report lists the cause of death as an accidental gunshot wound, but there are rumors that it was a suicide. And Ziggy says there was an eyewitness, Big Mac, 99 cents??" Al stopped and frowned at the handlink, slapping it angrily. "Okay. Here it is." He raised his eyebrow. "Well, well, well! What do you know? The eyewitness was Mac Forester, says James was playing around with it, and it just went off! Now there's no doubt anymore!" As Al finished that sentence, Dante momentarily materialized in the passenger's seat, somehow managing to appear as if he were actually sitting down next to Sam, except for a few places where his robes went through the seat. "June just asked me to make sure you were on your way," he said. Al nodded, and Dante vanished from sight as if he was never there. "Boy, that is strange," Al commented with a shiver, glancing at the spot where the medieval poet had just been. "I mean, you have no idea when that guy is going to pop in. I think I'm starting to understand why you get so jumpy when I show up. What I don't get is how he can actually sit down like that without going through the seat." "Well," Sam ventured, "I think it's because he's really _here_, even if he isn't here in flesh and blood. You're in the Imaging Chamber somewhere in the future, alive." Al shivered again. Supernatural phenomena always managed to give him the creeps. "That's even worse," he muttered. "The guy's just about seven hundred years dead, for crying out loud! He shouldn't even be here, hologram or not! But you've got to admit he can be awfully helpful. And he seems like a pretty decent guy, even if he's dead." Sam had to smile at the Observer's squeamishness. The guy could handle being a POW for three years (or was it three? He was too Swiss-cheesed to be sure.), but he couldn't handle another hologram. "That he is. But I wouldn't mention it in front of him. I don't know how he'd react to being reminded of that fact. Anyway, here we are," the Leaper announced as he pulled up to Harry's Diner, whatever that was, but according to Sam Blitzen, the backup guitarist, it was good. He just hoped that the other Sam wasn't there at the time. June waved at Sam to get his attention as he scanned the restaurant and could find neither his fellow bandsmen nor 'Mac Forester,' much to his relief. He sauntered over to the booth and greeted June and Dante, who was sitting next to her. "I guess I'll have to stand," Al grumbled good-naturedly, "seeing as I can't manage a stunt like that in the Imaging Chamber." "Ziggy has some new information," Sam began, and quickly outlined all of the data that the computer had just reported, as well as his conclusion that Alia was behind Westhall's death. "The question is, what are we going to do about it? In order to stop her, one or both of us is going to have to touch her and reveal ourselves. Lothos is out for our blood, so whoever touches her is probably going to end up drawing all of their attention. The last thing they'd expect would be to have both of us at the same place at the same time. And there's the question of Zoey. When we approach, we're going to have to keep from being spotted by Zoey. Ziggy can sweep the area for her and center Al on her to 'illuminate' her like he did the last time while you--" he glanced at Dante, "-can watch over us directly, since I assume you can't center on a hologram you're not linked to." "What worries me," said June, "is that you said Alia has been brainwashed. Can't we help set her free somehow? I can't stand to see her enslaved like that. When I met her, I got the feeling she was actually a good person at heart. I'll bet she didn't even know what she was getting into when she Leaped." Sam paused for a second, reluctant at first to present his idea to Al. It was a long shot with the Committee about to pull an inspection on the Project, but perhaps Al would see fit to give him the missing piece of the puzzle. "Well, I remember hypnotizing her once to make her think she was actually her host . . . Angel was her name, I think. And I included a code word that would return her to her own identity. I was thinking I could use that to snap her back to the way she was before Lothos brainwashed her." He paused and gazed deep into Al's eyes, giving him the famous Beckett 'puppy-dog look', and admitted, "But I can't remember it. And I need you to help me." Al looked at Sam and sighed. "Sorry, kiddo. What you can't remember, I can't give you." Sam's expression became pleading. It hurt Al terribly to have to do this, like it did every time, but there was too much at stake now, what with Weitzman's warning. The Committee looked like they were really out to pull the plug this time, but if they did that, then Sam would be stranded in time without a hologram to help him. Al could not condemn his friend to that fate. [I'm between a rock and a hard place,] he thought. "Please, Al," Sam begged, his voice dropping to a desperate whisper. "I need you to help me. This isn't for me. This isn't me trying to change my own past. This is about setting a young woman free, someone who is being tortured and abused, forced to participate in wrongdoing against her will. She can't even remember that she wants to fight them, because of what they've done to her. If it's the Committee you're worried about, they'll understand. All I need is one word." Al shook his head reluctantly. Somehow Sam always managed to make him feel awfully guilty whenever he had to do this, but whether it was intentional or not, Al would not even hazard a guess. "No can do," he stated in a tone that brooked no argument. [What I can't remember, he can't give me,] Sam thought, grasping at straws. [I remember things from those Leaps. But I don't remember the right things. I could use what I _do_ remember to access what I can't, but the Swiss- cheesing is too much. I won't remember in time. If there were a way to speed the process up . . . the same trick could work twice, but in reverse!] If he could talk Al into it, Sam realized that he now had a way to retrieve the memory he needed, while possibly allowing Al to escape the Committee's wrath at the same time. "All right. You don't have to tell me," Sam started. "But there is something you _can_ do. Put me under hypnosis, just like we did to Alia, and have me relive that Leap. If the memory is there, it'll surface on its own without any help from you, but if it isn't there, then I won't ask anymore. I promise." "Sam! I'm not putting you under hypnosis! There's no telling what that might do to you! I'm not an expert in this! We got away with it once, but I don't want to hurt you, buddy, if I foul up somehow." The Leaper could tell that Al was quite sincere in his worries. "And I can't do it at the risk of dredging other memories up that you shouldn't have." He sighed, realizing that Al had a point. "This is _my_ decision, Al, and I'm willing to take the risk. And if it helps you feel better about it, I'll let you plant a suggestion that will prevent me from remembering anything else I might recall under hypnosis." "All right, Sam," Al replied grudgingly. Why did his friend have to make so much sense? "We'll give it a try. But if you don't remember, I'm going to hold you to that part about not asking anymore. Got it?" Sam nodded, with a satisfied smile on his face that seemed to say, 'I won.' [How do you always manage to do this to me?] Al mourned. [I say I won't help and then you always manage to talk me into something.] But then again, Al didn't want to see Alia as a slave of Lothos any more than Sam did. Weitzman and McBride would probably stand up for his decision if the matter came to light, he rationalized. "I don't want anything or anyone around that might interfere. Tonight. We'll give it a try then. I hope this works," Al said, realizing that he'd always wanted his friend to succeed even as he'd tried to deny it. They had gone through too much together for him to think any other way.