CHAPTER 1 The blurring began to fade from his mind, the world around him coming into focus rapidly. His hearing, as always, seemed to echo for several seconds after the leap in was finished. Glancing down at himself, he breathed a sigh of relief to see that he was wearing brown slacks and a gray and blue plaid, short-sleeved shirt. *At least I'm a guy, this time* he thought. Then he seemed to hear a male voice speaking near him, and he blinked and looked around for its source. He was sitting in a classroom and from his proximity to the blackboard, in the front row. A quick glance at the students on either side of him, probably high school juniors or seniors judging by their looks as well as the way they were dressed, told him he was the focus of attention. The male voice spoke again, this time almost on top of him, and Sam jumped, managing to knock the open textbook and notebook in front of him to the floor. "Huh?" was the first sound that came out of his mouth, and he felt the color rise in his face at the hoots and laughter aimed at him. The girl sitting to his left retrieved the book and held it out to him. "You better stop daydreaming, Perry," she whispered under her breath as Sam grabbed up the notebook before taking the book from her. Her brown eyes were as shy as her smile, and Sam managed a nod and a smile himself. "Right." "Mr. Kirkwood!" Howard Packard spoke again, the thinness of his patience evident in his sharp tone. Sam looked up at the tall man with thinning black hair. "Yes sir?" Howard Packard had been teaching chemistry and the basics of physics to the juniors and seniors of Willandale High School for more than twenty years. He had patiently, often wearily repeated the lessons to many teenagers who had no real interest in the subject except to get a passing grade in order to move up a class or graduate. He had fallen under the spell and fascination that chemistry had cast over him when he had received a chemistry set for Christmas at the age of twelve. The tall, gawky youth had realized he'd found something that not only was he interested in but in fact, was better at than anyone else in school. He had also discovered, while tutoring some of the kids who sought him out, a knack and appreciation for teaching his beloved chemistry. Though shy in social situations, Howard felt at ease when helping his classmates to understand his beloved subject, and by the time his senior year rolled around, he had decided to become a teacher. His astute sharpness and ever fresh fascination with the subject he taught had carried him through endless classes of teenagers such as the ones surrounding him now. But, every so often, the Fates rewarded him for his devotion to chemistry and to teaching by sending him a few students who had reaped the benefits of his knowledge, going on to higher planes of knowledge and professions because of him. The tall, good-looking if gawky young man blinking up at him from behind heavy tortoiseshell-rimmed glasses, was one of those special students who would go on to greater things. If he could keep him from daydreaming! He fixed the young man with a keen look and repeated himself for the third time. "Mr. Kirkwood," Howard spoke clearly, holding a tight rein on his patience. "Please go to the blackboard and see if you can finish the equations that no one else," he allowed his eyes to rove over the classroom, "seems to be able to complete." He held out a piece of chalk to Sam. Taking the chalk, Sam got up and went to the blackboard, then stood staring for a minute at the three incomplete equations. Despite the Swiss-cheese effect leaping had on his memory, the vast wealth of knowledge of chemistry and physics stored in his brain always seemed to stay with him. Though he wasn't able to draw on every aspect of it whenever he liked, in every instance when he needed it, enough bits and pieces of that area of knowledge were available to him, and right now he was grateful. What Perry (that was what the girl had called him) was obviously supposed to do was fill in the missing elements of the equation and then identify each substance by its chemical name. These three were simple. "Well?" Howard Packard, now standing at the back of the class, leaned against the wall and folded his arms across his chest. "Is there a problem, Mr. Kirkwood?" "Uh..no," Sam answered. "Just thinking for a minute." Then with a speed that amazed even the teacher, he completed the equations, writing the chemical name after each one. Laying the chalk down, he turned to go back to his seat, then stopped when the teacher spoke again. "Can you identify everyday items in which these chemicals are found?" Sam responded easily, turning to point to each equation. "All three equations are forms of potassium," he said. "The first is potassium bromide, and is commonly used in photography. It can also be used in medicine as a sedative. The second one is potassium nitrate. Some uses for it are in matches and fireworks. And the last is potassium hydrogen tartrate, but most people know it as cream of tarter." He met Howard Packard's gaze and waited. He knew he was right but felt it best to let the other man have the last word. "That's correct," the teacher said slowly. Then, gathering his thoughts together said, "Imagine what you could do if you didn't daydream!" Sam and the teacher passed as they returned to their respective places, and amidst the hoots of laughter, Slipping into his seat, he glanced at the girl beside him; her smile told him she wasn't laughing at him. He mouthed the words, "Thank you." Then the bell sounded for the end of the class, and Sam made sure he was among the last to leave. The girl who been his quiet ally was in the doorway when he put a hand on her arm. "Uh...thanks..for the book," he said, stumbling over the words. Without knowing her name Sam was at a loss to know what else to say. A plump girl with short red curls, and dressed in a bright pink skirt and short-sleeved white blouse wedged her way between Sam and the girl and hurried out the door. "Come on Margie," she called over her shoulder as she turned left, into the crowded hallway. "We've got that test in Caldwell's class in seven minutes." "Be right there, Cathy," Margie called after the girl. She turned back to Sam. "Were you getting one of your headaches, Perry? Is that why you didn't hear "Pack"?" "Yeah," Sam grasped at the handy explanation. "But, it's better now." He looked up when a warning bell rang. "We better get to Caldwell's class. Don't want to be late for that test." Her odd look told him he'd goofed. "Funny," she said, her brown eyes laughing. "I don't recall seeing you in any of Mrs. Caldwell's Home Ec classes before." "I..I just meant, I'll walk you to her class," Sam fumbled desperately, "on my way to my next class." He followed her into the hall, then felt his face get hot again when Margie pointed down the hall in the opposite direction. "Home Ec is just around the corner, but the gym is that way," she teased. "All the way to the end, then turn right. If you run, maybe Mr. Smith won't give you five more demerits for being tardy." By the time the last bell of the day rang at three forty-five, after gym class, followed by classes in American history and English, Sam's head was indeed pounding. The headache Margie had asked about in chemistry class had become a reality. Sharp points of pain like hot needles stabbed through his temples and into his eyeballs, his head felt like it was going to explode, the back of his neck stiff with tension. He had quietly followed Margie to his locker, giving silent thanks for the discovery that his locker wasnext to hers. Another garbled prayer tiptoed carefully through his head when he saw a small padlock on the locker, instead of a combination lock. Digging in his pocket he found a small key amongst the few coins, opened the full length locker and put his books away. For a moment Sam closed his eyes and leaned his forehead-against the cool grey-green metal door. He longed for some quiet corner to hide in until the pain released him. Only when he heard the sound of the Imaging Chamber door opening nearby did he open his eyes and look around. Looking past Margie, who was talking to another girl, he saw Al step out of the Imaging Chamber. Just glancing at Al's bright red suit and black shirt with red and silver stripes and a red fedora with a green feather added to the throbbing in his head. Seeing the drawn paleness of Sam's face caught Al's attention, and he moved closer to him. Throughout the years of leaping, he had seen his friend in many unusual situations, seen him hurt and in pain on many leaps. But something about the pain he saw in Sam's face now was different. "What's wrong, Sam?" he asked. "Please, don't yell," Sam whispered as he pressed his fingertips against his temples and squeezed his eyes shut. Al's eyes narrowed; though a little sharp from concern, his voice was within his normal speaking level. "I'm sorry, Perry," Margie said, turning to the silent young man beside her. "Rita just told me..." She noticed his paleness, and put a hand on his arm. "You're having one of your headaches, aren't you Perry? Did you forget your medicine again?" The pain was steadily increasing as Sam nodded carefully. "I need to lay down," he whispered. "Come on," Margie slipped an arm around his waist and started for the door. "Mom's waiting for me. We'll take you home." Al had remained silent, gathering whatever information he could from the stilted conversation. At the mention of medicine and home, he said, "Ziggy, have Verbena check with the new visitor. Find out about any medication he's taking for headaches." He listened a moment, then stabbed another button on the handlink and snapped, "No! From the looks of Sam right now, we're probably talking serious migraine. And keep me centered on Sam." Outside, at the curb, a red 1961 Chevrolet waited, a woman sat behind the steering wheel. Spotting the two teenagers coming out, she waved, then, seeing who was with her daughter, got out and came around the car. "Margie...what.." "Perry's having one of his headaches, mom," the pretty teenager explained as she helped Sam into the back seat of the car. "Just lie down," she told him gently, "and cover your eyes with your arm till we get to your house." Sam turned onto his back, pulling his knees up so the door could be closed, then carefully laid his arm across his closed eyes. The darkness caused by the move seemed to bring a minute easing of the pain. For a moment, while the two women were getting in the car, he took a chance that Al was still nearby. "Al?" "I'm here, Sam," Al spoke softly. "I told Ziggy to keep me centered on you till we get to your..uh Perry's house." He punched in another code, then recited the little information Ziggy had been able to supply so far. "You're Perry Kirkwood, a nineteen year old senior at Willandale High School, in Willandale, Florida. It's a little town about a hundred miles or so from Tallahassee. You live with your father, Howard Kirkwood, about six blocks from here at 261 Liberty Street. Probably take about ten minutes to get there." "Okay." Sam whispered so softly that Al leaned through the back seat to get close enough to hear. He didn't like the way Sam looked. The headache was probably a doozy if the grayish pallor of his friend's face was any indicator of the pain he was experiencing. During the brief ride, Sam studiously avoided listening to Margie and her mom's conversation. He discovered that if he didn't try to focus on their words, but on the blessed darkness, the pain was easier to bear. Then, as he felt the car turn into a driveway and stop, he wondered about the person in the Waiting Room. Did he have a headache to? *Who are you?* The whispered question, so soft, so distant as to be almost a thought, jerked Sam back from his wondering about the person he had leaped into. He waited. Had he heard something? Maybe it was something Margie or her mother said. *Maybe.* Sam dared to lift his arm from his eyes enough to look around. He glanced at the front seat thinking Margie had spoken to him, but her attention was on telling her mother about some project in Home Economics. He looked at Al, but he was reading data on the handlink, then punching in another code. No one was even looking at him. Even as the pain in his head pounded mercilessly, Sam felt a shiver, as if he'd been touched by a cold wind, and he felt afraid. That last word that no one in the car had spoken, had been said with a touch of cruel amusement.