Though Perry's calculus and economics classes held little challenge for him, Sam nevertheless remembered Al's cryptic parting words and immersed his mind and attention fully in each subject. A couple of times when he had allowed his thoughts to wander, he experienced a flicker of pain in his temple. And in each instance, Al's parting admonishment flashed through his mind, and Sam had quickly plunged his attention into the lesson being taught. Both times the pain disappeared. When the bell rang marking the end of the economics class, Sam followed his classmates to the lunchroom. Until the moment he entered the cafeteria and his stomach growled, he'd forgotten that he hadn't eaten anything yet. Tucking his books under his arm, Sam dug his wallet out and found exactly two dollars and thirty-six cents. It got him the plate lunch, meatloaf, mashed potatoes and green beans, and two pints of milk, with a few cents change. Juggling the lunch tray and his books, Sam spotted an empty table in a far corner and headed for it. He'd just taken another bite of the meatloaf....*do all school kitchens use the same recipe for meatloaf?*.... when he heard the familiar sound of the Imaging Chamber door opening behind him. Surprise registered immediately in his mind when he heard Al say, "Don't acknowledge me, Sam. I know you can listen to a conversation while you're thinking about something else, so do it now. Don't talk. Just keep concentrating on your food and listen." Taking another bite of meatloaf, Sam nodded, his mind agilely shifting gears, preparing to receive the new information. He also realized that if he allowed his mind to dwell on whatever Al was about to say longer than it took to hear it, he sensed that it would trigger an internal uneasiness...that might trigger.... He jerked his thoughts from that path, and concentrated instead on the flavor and texture of the forkful of green beans he was chewing. The ten-minute icy cold shower he'd taken after leaving the Project's psychiatrist in the hall outside the Waiting Room had the effect Al wanted. Gasping and quivering from head to toe, he had endured the icy needle-like spray pummeling his body, the shock of the frigid water flushing his mind clear of the last remnants of the old memories, along with the sticky sweat that had glued his clothes to his body. Though covered with gooseflesh from his head to his heels, his lips almost blue, when the Observer at last turned off the water and reached for a towel, his mind was clear, his focus and reasoning again razor sharp. He deliberately chose a bold outfit of red and black, the black shirt sporting a motif of electric blue lightning bolts. Al paused after his odd first words, watching his friend's face, gratified to see Sam nod his understanding, his expression unchanged. "Though we don't have all the details yet," Al began, deliberately staying behind Sam, "or why, we're starting to get a pretty good idea of what originally happened to Perry. And it's not pretty." He paused, quickly gathering his thoughts in the order he wanted to give them to Sam. "Perry Kirkwood was abused, physically and mentally by his father," Al began, keeping his tone and manner crisp and sharp. "From the information we've...been given, it probably started when he was about four years old, and became progressively worse as he grew older." "How bad?" Sam asked softly, keeping his thoughts focused on the buttery creaminess of the mashed potatoes he had just swallowed. "Sam!" Al said sharply, forgetting his intention as he moved around to face the leaper. "I told you not to talk!" Keeping his eyes on his plate, Sam responded, "You said it yourself, Al, I can do both. So talk. How bad?" "Listen up, mister!" Al snapped, shifting into "full command" mode. "Keep your eyes and your attention on your plate and to eat and listen...in that order. Do you understand me, Mr. Beckett?" Admiral Calavicci enunciated each word with a warning sharpness. The sudden vehemence of Al's voice and attitude caught Sam unaware, and he swallowed wrong. Coughing, he grabbed a carton of milk and gulped it down. Setting the empty carton down, he eating again, nodding in response to the Observer's last sharp question. Al punched in codes on the handlink then gave Sam the background information on Perry. "Your full name is Perry Eduardo Kirkwood. You were born on August 13, 1944 to Howard Joseph Jesse Kirkwood and Stacia Sophia O'Nyan Kirkwood. Howard dropped out of school at the age of fifteen, and then worked in the McKeesom Bottling factory at the same job for most of his adult life. He met and married Stacia Sophia O'Nyan in August 1942 when she came to town to teach at the local high school." While he listened to Al, Sam slowly finished his lunch and the second carton of milk. So far, the information didn't sound too bad. But Al had also said "It's not pretty." So he shifted mental gears and began mentally dissecting and comparing elements of the Pauley Exclusion Principal. It was the right thing to do. If his mind hadn't been so intricately occupied, the rest of the information the Observer gave him would have floored him. But even the mental sleight-of-hand wasn't enough to prevent a millisecond of uneasiness from flitting through his mind as Al finished the ugly details of what he'd witnessed in the Waiting Room. Nor did it prevent the sudden flicker of pain that jabbed through his temples right behind the uneasiness. Stubbornly, the leaper fought back as he began mentally translating Homer's Iliad from its original classical Greek into an ancient Japanese dialect. The pain vanished. Getting up from the table, Sam carried his tray to the dish cart and without looking at the hologram, said, "Restroom." "What?" asked the middle-aged woman running the cash register at the end of the cafeteria line nearby. Sam smiled sheepishly at her. "I need to go wash my hands... in the restroom." The odd look she gave him as he moved away didn't bother him. He'd seen too many of them in his years of leaping. The only occupant of the boys' restroom was departing as Sam entered. Quickly he checked the stalls.empty..then turned to face the Observer. "Before you go up in flames," he said quietly, lifting his hand in an abrupting move to cut the Observer's next round of orders, "my mind is occupied. We won't be interrupted." "You sure?" Al asked suspiciously, his gaze narrow and piercing as he searched Sam's face. "Mentally translating the Iliad from the original classical Greek to an ancient Japanese dialect demands a lot of intense concentration," Sam assured him. "Okay," Al said after a moment. "How's Perry?" Sam asked. "He's resting," Al said. "Verbena gave him a mild tranquilizer. How are you holding up?" "I'm okay. Now that I know what's going on, I should be able to control...him," Sam said, deciding, almost superstitiously not to say the name. ""Evalyn" says he's always listening," Al said. "She also said that he's very cunning, stay on your toes all the time, Sam. I've... seen him, and he's everything she says he is." "What else has Ziggy come up with?" Sam asked, leaning against a sink. "After we got Perry calmed down, I told Ziggy to dig deeper and get everything available on Perry and his family for the last two generations." "Why so far back?" "Because susceptibility to certain forms of mental illness can be passed genetically," Al said, putting his cigar in his mouth. Pulling the handlink from his pocket, he began punching buttons. "From what Ziggy's come up with, that susceptibility is a fact of life for Perry. At least on is father's side. According to Ziggy, in the last two generations alone, four members of Howard Kirkwood's family have been confined in the Colver County State Hospital." Glancing up he saw Sam's incredulous expression and nodded. "His great-uncle, Obadiah Beecher was committed to Colver in 1892. Three years later Obadiah's younger brother, Alvin was committed. In 1912." Al continued the grim recitation. "Howard's grandmother, Hilda Kirkwood was committed to Colver at the age of forty-nine." For a split second Sam's concentration slipped. But in the next instant the mental translation resumed. Al continued. "According to the hospital's records, on Christmas Eve in 1911, Hilda Kirkwood got up in the middle of the night and while her husband and our children slept, set fire to the family home. According to the records, when asked her why she did it, she said a voice told her to purge all impurity from the house so it would be spiritually clean for Christmas." Al hesitated as he met Sam's eyes. 'Fifteen year old William Jesse Kirkwood, Howard's father, and his thirteen year old sister, Theodocia Jane Kirkwood, were the only survivors." "That's only three," Sam pointed out. "In August 1926," Al continued, "Howard's father had Theodocia committed to Colver. Seems she woke the family in the dead of night screaming about devil voices tormenting her." Al paused to take a deep breath, then said, "Theodocia's still alive. She's been locked up in Colver for the last thirty-three years." For a few minutes the restroom was quiet. Al paced while Sam considered all he'd just heard. The Observer nearly jumped out of his skin when Sam said at last, "Without being able to review the medical records, it seems that at least one possibility is a family tendency toward schizophrenia. Something else worth considering is possibly early onset Alzheimer's...as far as the grandmother is concerned." "Ziggy agrees with you," Al said. "And based just on what Perry's been subjected to I'd say that physical and mental abuse has to be added into the mix." "And depression," Sam added. "How do you figure?" Al asked. "Consider the time period we're talking about," Sam pointed out. "In the early years of this century, women and children weren't considered much better than possessions. At least to some men. Think about it; if you were a woman at the turn of this century, and married to such a man. He expects you to obey without question, subject to his every whim. And if you don't..." It only took a few words for Al to see where Sam was headed. He finished the thought. "He beats the hell outta the woman." "And being in an era where divorce wasn't even a remote possibility for most women," Sam continued, "wouldn't it depress you to know that you had no one to turn to if your husband decided to beat you for defying him?" "I would've punched his lights out," Al said darkly. "No you wouldn't," Sam said. "You'd have done what so many women did. You would've endured the beatings..." "At least until he killed me," Al said. "Or," Sam said, straightening up, "your mind devised a way to deal with the abuse." For a moment he looked into Al's dark eyes. "But unfortunately, when that happens, it either begins, or continues, a vicious circle of abuse. Abuse that you, the abused, direct at others. And all too often the others..." "...are children," Al finished Sam's sentence. "And if they survive it, they continue it with their own kids." Only the survival instincts he'd learned as a captive of the Viet Cong kept Al from being intimidated by the massively oppressing atmosphere in the restroom. He could only wonder how Sam was managing it. He didn't dare ask. Such a question might give the wily Aaron an opportunity to take control again. "What about his mother's side of the family?" Sam asked. Glad of the diversion, Al punched in more codes on the handlink. "Ziggy's been doing a lot of digging and for all she found, it isn't much." His brow knitted in a thoughtful furrow. "This is interesting." "What?" A couple of boys entering the restroom just then forced Al to cool his heels for several minutes; Sam busied himself washing his hands. The boys left and the Observer quickly picked up where he'd left off. "Howard Kirkwood dropped out of school when he was fifteen, but he can't read above a fifth grade level. And yet he married Stacia O'Nyan when she came to town to teach at the local high school. I guess the old saying that love is blind, really applied to her and Howard." "What do you mean?" Sam asked, once more leaning against the sink. He glanced at his watch. "I've got about seven minutes of my lunch break left," he warned. "Ziggy found a picture of the newlyweds in the paper," Al explained. "And I'm here to tell you that Stacia O'Nyan was one gorgeous babe." "Al...could you please..," Sam sputtered. The Observer punched in another code on the handlink. "Look over my shoulder." Sam did as instructed. Peering closely at the tiny screen on the handlink he whistled softly under his breath. "Yeah," Al affirmed. "That's what I thought, too." For the second time that day he gave himself a mental shake to keep his thoughts focused. "I ask you... how could a redneck from a little backwater town in rural Florida manage to snag a woman with looks like that?" Sam continued to stare at the postage stamp-sized picture, feeling himself drawn into the smouldering depths of Stacia Kirkwood's eyes. "Anything else?" Slowly as the Observer continued reciting information, Sam felt the allure in the dark eyes in the picture getting stronger. He forced himself to move across the small restroom. He dashed some cold water on his face, then returned his attention to what he was being told. "Things were good for the first couple of years, but then, she started to get restless. Howard didn't care for the things she did. Higher education was one of those things." He quirked a brow, waiting for Sam to read his eyes. After a minute, he continued. "Things quieted down for a while after Perry was born. But then they started going down hill fast when he was about three. The year he turned four she and Howard had a major blow up one night." "About what?" "According to the neighbors, she wanted to leave Willandale and go back to her family. And teaching. She had taught college about a year before coming here to teach. Any way, Perry heard and witnessed the argument, from what Ziggy found in the gossip corner of the town's news paper, the police had to be called in to make them stop. Guess the neighbors didn't like a six round bout going on at two in the morning. Anyway, what it boils down to is that Stacia left Howard and Perry. In fact, she was gone before dawn." "What was the fight about?" "From what Ziggy was able to find, she wanted to take Perry to concerts and plays and stuff. But Howard was dead set against it from the start. And according to that same neighbor, Howard said, "No son of mine is going to waste his time stuffing his head full of nonsense that doesn't do a tinker's damn worth of good toward being able to earn a living and make his way in a world that kills off the weak."" "Anything else?" "Yeah. She also wanted Perry to start taking music lessons." Al looked at the time traveler's thoughtful expression. "Howard was against that, too." "...a tambourine...," Sam murmured to himself, then suddenly ... "That's it!" "What are you talking about, Sam?" Al demanded. "That's what?" "She's a gypsy!" "Who is?" "Perry's mother," Sam said. "Stacia." Al's gaze narrowed. "Who am I talking to?" he asked suspiciously. His intense focus on Sam was interrupted by the bell ringing for the beginning of the next class period. "Geez," he muttered, glancing around, then back at Sam. What he saw put him instantly on alert. The time traveler was sagging heavily against the sink, his fingers pressing hard against his temples, his expression pained. Feeling his sixth sense kick into high gear, Al repeated his last question. "Who am I talking to?" he demanded. The deceptive smile that greeted him when the figure leaning against the sink straightened up confirmed his suspicions. Still, he waited for an answer. "You *were* talking to Sam," "Aaron" said, his smile dissolving as his anger surged up. "But not any more... Al. I'm in charge now." *Name, rank and serial number...nothing more.* The thought was nearly subconscious as the Observer kept his gaze fixed on Sam's body, controlled once more by the ruthless "Aaron". "Who are you?" he asked. "Don't play dumb, Al," "Aaron" snapped. "You know who I am." "Do I?" "We met in Perry's bathroom this morning," the cocky personality supplied. "Remember...Al?" Turning around, he preened in front of the mirror, then turned again to face the man watching him. Annoyed that a prompt response wasn't forthcoming, "Aaron" went to stand in front of the hologram. "Well?" The hologram's continued silence made "Aaron's" anger burn hotter. "Dammit, say something!" he shouted, leaning forward, pushing Sam's face within inches of the shorter man's nose. More silence. "I told you looked like you'd seen a ghost?" Nothing. Aaron's anger grew ugly, his expression darkening. "Goddammit, talk!" he raged, and threw a punch at the silent man. The Observer's smile was thin and cold as he watched the color drain from "Aaron's" face as the punch passed through his image. He took a slow puff of his cigar, watching "Aaron" hasty retreat to the other side of the restroom. Pulling out the handlink, he summoned the Imaging Chamber door. Stepping inside, Al met "Aaron's" still pale, startled gaze. "Now who's seeing ghosts?" he asked, then closed the Imaging Chamber door.