Chapter Eight Band practice on Saturday the 9th, 1980, was turning out to be even worse than the one he'd Leaped into the day before. Sam found himself completely unable to remember any of the songs they were supposed to perform except what he'd managed to pick up those few hours the day before. Whether or not he'd ever had any memory of their songs in the first place Sam hadn't even the slightest idea. Finally Lonnie Jackson, the drummer, cornered him. "Paddy, this is two days you've been acting a little . . . well, a little off. Is something bothering you? It's like you're not yourself anymore." [Very perceptive,] Sam thought. "Well, I guess maybe I'm just a little nervous this time around," Sam quickly improvised. Sam Blitzen, the other guitarist, set down his instrument and joined Lonnie and Beckett. "Hey, is something going on over here?" The Leaper could read clear concern on his face. "I already told you guys I don't think James is going to leave us after he does his solo album. Don't worry about it." The Door to the Imaging Chamber slid open and Al commented, "A solo album? There's nothing about _that_. Zip. Nada." Al was interrupted when the handlink blipped softly, drawing his attention. "Ah, correction. Ziggy just found some mention in a biography written after his death that mentions an album that he was supposed to record on the Friday the 15th of this month. And the strange thing is that there are no records of the songs that would have been released. I guess he just never wrote it down. You know, Ziggy says she just got your idea working-" Behind Sam and Al, there was a whooshing sound not unlike that of the Imaging Chamber Door, followed by a voice that neither of them recognized. "Buon giorno, Dr. Beckett. And . . . Al?" The voice sounded almost shocked at the latter, and Sam had a feeling it was Al's futuristic wardrobe. "That's right," replied the admiral, slightly disconcerted by the fact that someone other than Sam could hear him. What was more, if Al was remembering correctly from the occasional college lit class he'd been required to take, the man had been dead for almost 700 years. "I suppose you're right. Probably no big deal. Will you excuse me just a minute?" Sam asked the two bandsmen. "Nature calls." Once he had verified that there would be no one else around to hear him, he turned around to behold a figure straight out of the pages of a history book, once captured in a portrait by the Renaissance artist Giotto. "Call me Sam. I assume you're Dante Alighieri." The Leaper began to feel overwhelmed by this amazing presence, and he found his thoughts spilling out of his mouth like a runaway train. "I read 'The Divine Comedy' when I was ten, and I loved it! I didn't get to read it in Italian, though I would have loved to, but I've been Leaping for the past five years, so I'm sure you'd understand. I've got one question I just _have_ to ask; I can't resist. What's it like up there? Is it anything like you said it was?" Dante smiled at the star-struck Leaper, remembering his own admiration of the poet Virgil. He supposed he would have had the exact same reaction if he had met the man during his lifetime. "All I can say is that I was right about many things, and wrong about just as many others. It is impossible to put into words. No matter what I said, my description would fall short of the goal." "Why you?" Sam asked. "I mean, why were you, of all the countless souls He had to choose from, chosen to be June's Observer? Was it because of your insight while . . . back in your time?" Sam caught himself about to say 'while you were alive.' He wondered exactly how 'alive' ought to be defined under these circumstances. Dante was standing right there talking to him, even if he was a hologram. Besides, he wondered if reminding the poet of his own death might offend him. For all of his experiences while Leaping, dealing with someone who was technically dead was a first. "Perhaps you are right, Sam," Dante mused. "When I think about it, I see that what I am doing is much like Virgil's role. I guide June on her Leaps as Virgil guided me in the Comedy. I took on the very role I envisioned." For a moment, Dante appeared to become almost transparent, and Al whacked the handlink. To Al's annoyance, everything went back to normal just as he stopped hitting it. "I'm gonna go have a word with Tina and Gooshie about shoring up that link. I think they can get the bugs ironed out fairly quickly; just the normal new-program glitches. I'll be right back; looks like you're taken care of for the moment. And while I'm at it, I'll see if I can get Ziggy to cough up some odds about how to save Westhall. Catch you later!" With those words, Al disappeared. "He is . . . quite energetic," Dante observed after Al's departure. "Isn't that the understatement of the century," quipped Sam. The contrast between Al's excitable, unpredictable nature and Dante's calm, unwavering personality was almost laughable. "You know, I think it has something to do with the way you each get information. You remember how I said Ziggy is self- aware? Well, from what little I remember and what I've heard Al say, she seems to have an ego the size of Texas. Al practically has to pound things out of her sometimes. But for you, everything's really internalized. You get a vision that no one else can see, and it's up to you alone to interpret it. I don't suppose you get to talk to the Visitors, do you? I mean, the people June Leaps into." Dante shook his head. "So you don't get any outside help at all except for whatever you see while you're with June. You and Al are each suited to your methods." The hologram (Sam didn't feel quite comfortable thinking of him otherwise) nodded, a thoughtful look on his face. At that moment, James Westhall burst into the bathroom with a conspiratorial grin, and Sam turned around. "Took you long enough," remarked the bandsman. "You'll never guess what happened. Mac's finally done it!" "Done what?" Sam asked, confused. "He's gone 'round the bend at last!" As Sam recalled, the roadie Forester had seemed rather eccentric, but Sam didn't think he was insane. He had seemed overwhelmed by Damon Ramsay, so maybe he just had a major problem accepting criticism. But still, Sam couldn't dismiss the feeling that James was about to tell him something important. Something that could mean the difference between a successful Leap and a failure. Between the man's own life and death. "I just caught him talking to himself over by the snack machine near the dressing rooms." A distinct warning bell went off in Sam's head from Leaps long gone by, but he didn't know what was triggering it, or what it could mean. "Someone by the name of Chloe, or Joey or Zoey, or something like that. I don't suppose that's what's been taking you so long, is it Paddy? No imaginary friends back here, right?" Sam smiled facetiously, a difficult thing to muster with the shock that was just beginning to set in, singing a chilling, shrieking duet with returning memories. "None that I'll admit to." James laughed, a deep, good-natured sound. "Sometimes I don't know about you, O'Callaghan! Let's go; we've got work to do!" "Just . . . just give me a minute to tuck my shirt in, okay?" Sam fumbled. James glanced at him with his eyebrow raised in mock doubt, and finally left the Leaper alone. He turned to Dante and discovered that the medieval hologram had suddenly gone quite pale. Whether or not he was alive, he certainly gave a good impression of it. "Dante, I need you to get me in touch with June _right now_, I don't care how you do it. June indicated earlier that you two have had a run-in with them before, so you know what you're up against. Warn her there is to be _no_ physical contact with Forester, and to keep an eye out for other Leapers, because this time, we have the upper hand. I think that's it." When Dante saw that Sam had finished his message, he vanished with a sound that Sam couldn't quite describe, almost like windchimes and the rustle of leaves on a distant breeze, but that wasn't quite it. Sam's focus was not there. The Leaper was beginning to wonder if this might be the cause of the ominous warning during Transit. Somehow he had a feeling that only one side was going to Leap out of this alive.