Chapter 10 Listening to the Imaging Chamber powering up, Al said aloud, "Gooshie, have Ziggy do a background search on Perry's parents. See if there's any record of a relative named Aaron Kirkwood." "I'll get on immediately, Admiral," Gooshie's voice echoed slightly in the Imaging Chamber. "And I want to know the instant you have that information. Even if I'm with Sam," Al said. Then the Imaging Chamber reached full power, and the spartan little bedroom he'd left Sam in several hours before began to come into focus. ------------------------- When a hand on his shoulder shook him gently, Sam reluctantly let go of sleep and opened his eyes. For a second the man standing beside the bed was a stranger, then he recognized Perry's father. "Morning..dad," he said, yawning and stretching. "Did you sleep alright, son?" Howard Kirkwood asked. "It isn't like you to sleep through the alarm clock ringing." A glance at the quietly ticking old-fashioned wind-up clock on the bedside table confirmed to Sam that he had slept an hour and half past the six thirty setting. "I had..trouble getting to sleep," Sam said, thinking that it really wasn't a lie. How do you tell someone that you didn't get to sleep at the regular time because you "weren't there", mentally, to do so? "It was about three thirty the last time I looked at the clock." "Well, you better get a move on, or you're going to be late getting to school." "Oh geez," Sam muttered and jumped out of bed, yanked open a dresser drawer and grabbed a pair of jeans. He was about to fasten the snap on the jeans when he glanced up to see Howard Kirkwood still in the room; the frown on his face told Sam that the jeans were wrong. "What's wrong?" Sam asked. "What do you think you're doing?" The question was sharp, the tone it was asked in ominously quiet. Howard's body language, the way he drew himself up to his full height, the way his jaw tightened, shouted to Sam that he had erred by putting on the jeans. Now, he hesitated to put on the dark blue pullover shirt he'd taken from the second dresser drawer. "I'm getting dressed so I can get to school," he answered carefully. A glance at the clock on the bedside table now pointed to eight fifteen. Seeing the Imaging Chamber door open behind his "dad" was the best thing Sam had seen so far this morning. Again he asked, "What's wrong, dad?" "Don't play dumb with me, boy," Howard said, his tightly held anger burning hotter with every passing second. "You get into your proper school clothes or..." "Do it, Sam," Al said quickly. "Don't ask questions, just do it." He punched buttons on the handlink. "Get a pair of the dark slacks out of the closet and one of the button down sports shirts." "Okay," Sam said, offering a slight smile. "I just..forgot..." "Shut up, Sam and get changed," Al said sharply. "I'll explain on your way to school. You're first class starts in seventeen minutes, so if you don't get a move on, you're gonna be late." He glanced at Howard Kirkwood's darkening face. "Believe me, you don't want to do that." Nodding his understanding, the time traveler quickly stripped off the jeans. The intense anger emanating from the older man watching him filled the room, giving Sam an uneasy feeling about turning his back on him to open the closet, but, as long as Al was there, he did as he was told. Quickly Sam pulled on dark slacks and a plain blue, short-sleeved sports shirt. He felt like a five-year being scrutinized as he put on socks and shoes under Howard's unrelenting gaze. Al's unreadable expression as he prowled the area between him and Perry's father, almost like a sentry walking a post, didn't help the uneasiness starting to twist his stomach in knots. Standing up he was startled when Howard moved toward him, then walked slowly around him, inspecting. Sam let out his breath carefully when his "father" just walked toward the door. "Brush your teeth and comb your hair, and be outside in five minutes and I'll drop you at school," Howard said, never turning to look at the young man still standing in the center of the room. He paused in the doorway, his ramrod straight back still to "Perry". "Don't make me come back up here to get you." "No, sir, I won't," Sam glanced at Al. "Five minutes." He waited till he heard footsteps going down the stairs. "What's going on here, Al?" he demanded, turning to the hologram. "Go brush your teeth, and I'll fill you in on what we've got," was Al's terse reply. "Come on, Sam, move it!" he barked when his friend just stood for another few seconds. "You've already wasted a minute of your five." Moving to the single window in the room, Al watched the angry man in the yard below get in and start the gray pickup truck, then turned and followed Sam into the bathroom. Sam took two more minutes to brush his teeth and comb his hair, all the while listening to the facts Al gave him. With every word that came out of the Observer's mouth, his stomach twisted tighter. *What have you dropped me into this time?* "...and, the kid..Perry also mentioned a 'cousin' that he's never met," Al said, trying to cram his nearly four hour conversation with Verbena into the remaining minute and a half. "Some guy named Aaron..." The comb dropped from Sam's hand, and he grabbed for the sink to steady himself when the jagged-edged pain shot through his temples. "Oh...God!" he gasped as hot needles of pain stabbed through his eyeballs and feeling the strength leave his legs, dropped to his knees. "Oh, God, the pain!" he gasped again, doubling over, his hands clamped on either side of his head as hard as he could press, his body quivering from the intensity of the pain. Al had never been around a person suffering with multiple personality disorder, but he didn't need an expert to tell him that his friend was teetering on the edge of an abyss. "Sam, look at me!" he shouted. "Did you hear me Beckett? On your feet, mister...Now! Don't you dare wimp out on me you pompous, long-winded egghead! Sam!" Even though he used every trite phrase that he knew always got under Sam's skin when aimed at him, Al could see that they weren't working, and could only watch as Sam toppled over on the floor, writhing. For Sam the louder and sharper Al yelled, the more the pain intensified. No matter how hard he pressed the heels of his hands against his temples, the searing, throbbing stabs of pain continued to grow. The pressure inside his skull steadily increased and somewhere in his mind, he feared that the top of his head was about to explode. "Make it stop!" he begged. "Oh God, please make it stop!" *Okay, Sam* the mocking voice only Sam could hear said. Sam scrabbled desperately to hold onto consciousness, but it was jerked away. Unaware that he was physically drumming his heels on the floor, he screamed into his mind as once more he and something or someone passed in the unfathomable blackness. *Don't worry, Sam* the mocking voice told him. *You're safe now.* No sooner had he heard the words, and once more Sam found himself alone in the measureless, soundless blackness. Though grateful the pain was gone, a part of him almost wanted it back because at least he knew he would have Al to help him. Here, wherever "here", was, it was only him. And it was lonely. And more than a little frightening. *Where are you Al?* For a long moment the lonely thought question hovered on the air near Sam's lips then it was gone, absorbed into the darkness. ==================== Helplessness was a feeling that angered Albert Calavicci. And right now his anger at having that feeling forced on him was aggravated by having to stand in the Imaging Chamber thirty-six years in the future and watch as his best friend was jerked into another man's mental hell. When Sam suddenly stopped writhing and screaming, the Observer's eyes narrowed. He watched his friend lay for a few seconds, gathering his wits before getting carefully to his feet then smoothed down the shirt. "Geez Sam, you scared six kinds of mortal hell outta me," he said, moving to stand beside the time traveler. "You okay now, buddy?" he asked, then glanced at the mirror and took an involuntary step back. His blood ran cold as he stared at the smirking reflection of a cocky young man looking back at him. "Sam" turned to face Al. "What'sa matter, Al? " Aaron said, sadistic pleasure lighting his eyes as he glanced at the hologram before heading for the door. "You look like you just seen a ghost."