Chapter 18 The Observer came out of the Imaging Chamber with his mind racing, his expression determined. Gooshie was the first person his gaze fell on. The intent look made the head programmer's palms start to sweat. But it was to Ziggy he spoke first. "Ziggy?" "Yes?" "I want you to dig into Perry's mother's background. I want to know everything there is to know about Stacia Kirkwood, and I want to know yesterday!" "But, admiral, Ziggy's already done that," Gooshie pointed out. "Then she'd better stop rubbing her tummy and patting her head, and dig harder," Al barked. "I need more information on Stacia Kirkwood, and I need it now! You got that?" Gooshie gulped and nodded and immediately turned his attention to the control panel before him. "What do you expect Ziggy to find, Al?" Verbena asked, entering the Control Room just as he finished barking at Gooshie. "That she's a gypsy," Al said. "Did you say...a gypsy?" Verbena repeated, not sure she'd heard correctly. "Where did you get that idea?" "Sam," Al said. "Just before Aaron showed up again." "Another transition? That's three in less than twenty-four hours." Verbena said, clearly alarmed. "When did it happen?" "A few minutes ago," Al said. "Sam and I were talking. I'd given him the information about Perry's family. We were discussing it..." "Wasn't that awfully risky?" Verbena asked. The worried expression on the Observer's face agreed with her. "You know Sam," he said, taking a puff of his cigar. "He was doing some mental gymnastics while we talked just so Aaron couldn't listen in." "What did he do?" "Translated something from Greek to Japanese in his head." "So how did Aaron slip through?" "Well," Al began, then glanced around the room. "Let's go to my office." As they moved toward the door, he spared a glance at Gooshie who had moved to the far end of the control panel. When the head programmer darted a nervous look at him, Al started to bark again, then thought better. "Come on Gooshie. I'm not sure where this is going, but I think you need to hear it, too." Even before the threesome left the Control Room, Ziggy had begun a more exhaustive and minute study of the Visitor's maternal background. She decided to save her scathing retort to the admiral's comment for another time. When the private meeting in Admiral Calavicci's office finished an hour later, the hybrid super computer was reviewing the new information she had found concerning Stacia O'Nyan Kirkwood. At the same moment she noted the meeting ended and the threesome headed for the Waiting Room, the computer she was attempting to interface with finally accepted the connection. At near the speed of light Ziggy found the file containing the last particular record for which she was searching. It took six seconds for Sam Beckett's brain child to confirm what other sources had first suggested. After recording the new information in the permanent record on the current Visitor, she 'went' to the Waiting Room. ------------------------------------ In the hall outside the Waiting Room ------------------------------------ As they turned the corner and approached the guarded Waiting Room, Al paused. He looked first to Gooshie. "How long will it take you to adjust my mind's sync with Sam?" "Considering what we've talked about admiral, perhaps an hour." "Get to it. It's bad enough having to watch when "Aaron" takes over Sam's body. I don't want him sneaking up on me anymore. The less he knows about Sam and me, the better." Al waited just long enough for Gooshie to nod then hurry toward the Control Room, then turned to Verbena. "Is Perry up to talking?" "What are you going to talk about?" "His mother." Verbena considered for a moment. "If you don't push too hard," she said, "he should be okay." Entering the Waiting Room, Al and Verbena approached the hospital bed in the middle of the large quiet room. The figure on the bed stirred as they neared, watching them through sleepy eyes. "How are you feeling?" Verbena asked, picking up the young man's wrist to count his pulse. Regular and calm. "Like I do after coach makes us run wind sprints," Perry said with a tired smile. "I can imagine," Al said. He glanced at Verbena, then back to Perry. "Do you feel up to talking?" "I guess so." "Tell us about your mother," Al said. "What was she like?" He was aware that any bits of memories Perry was able to recall would be hazy at best. He was wrong. Perry thought a moment, then said, "She was beautiful." "Beautiful?" Al repeated the unexpected response to what should have been a vague memory at best. Perry's smile relaxed and widened. "Yes." He paused, his brow furrowing as he thought for a moment. "Granddaddy Kirkwood once called her a "campfire beauty"," he said. "I remember he winked at daddy when he said it." The smile vanished. "Daddy didn't like that." Al shot a glance at Verbena, the question clear in his eyes. He didn't wait for her to respond as he asked, "You remember that from when you were four?" "I was three," Perry answered without guile. The psychiatrist deftly entered the conversation. "Perry, do you know what your IQ is?" The question seemed to make the Visitor uncomfortable. She repeated the question, noting his discomfort at being questioned about his mental abilities. She also noticed that he didn't meet her eyes when he answered. "196," was the almost whispered reply. Something else occurred to Verbena. "You must have a very good memory if you can recall something that happened when you were just three years old." Al stiffened a bit as he followed her reasoning, then wondered why he wasn't surprised when Perry nodded. He hesitated a second then asked the question on the tip of his tongue. "You remember things like..looking at pictures in a book, don't you?" Another tremor ran through the young man's body as he nodded again. *Photographic memory... just like Sam.* Wanting to avoid triggering another episode like the one he'd witnessed just a couple of hours ago, Al changed the direction of the questions. "You loved your mother, didn't you?" He hoped to divert Perry from wandering into the emotional minefield that his wordless responses seemed to have turned him toward. "Yes," Perry answered. Al decided to press a little harder. Avoiding Verbena's eyes, he said, "Perry, I know you were just a little boy when your parents ..split up. But, do you remember if your mom and dad ever...argued?" Al could almost feel Verbena's fiery gaze burning into the side of his face as he watched the young man nod again as he wrapped his arms tightly around himself. "Daddy watches me all the time, now." "Why?" "My headaches are getting worse. And he hates school." Al couldn't help glancing at Verbena, her expression was as uncertain as his thoughts. He said carefully, "I would think that with a son as smart as you...." "I love my dad," Perry hurriedly interrupted. "There's nothing I wouldn't do to please him. But..." "...he hates school," Al finished the sentence. "Well, no. What he really hates is college." Al's brow furrowed a bit more. Each time Perry spoke, his words only added to the confusion in the Observer's mind. *It's like trying to catch a White Rabbit*. Al decided to grab the rabbit's tail and hang on for wherever the ride took him. He hoped Verbena had a sedative handy in case the rabbit headed for edge. "Why does your dad hate college so much?" Perry's shoulders rose and fell in a quick, tight shrug. "Does he get mad when you try to talk about it?" Al persisted. He hoped his quiet tones would make the questions easier for Perry to answer. He was about to pose another question, but was cut off when Perry stood up and began pacing around and around the bed. The Observer heard a warning bell in the back of his mind; it became louder as Perry began to talk. Al could hear in his voice how he was struggling to keep a tight rein on the emotions starting to churn inside him again. "The last time I tried to talk to him about it, he flew into a rage," Perry said. "He was throwing stuff and screaming at me that no son of his will ever waste his time or money going to college." Perry sat down again on the side of the bed, his posture rigidly erect, his knuckles white as he clutched the edge of the mattress. Al felt the rabbit increasing speed in its flight from whatever was chasing him. He tightened his grip on the rabbit's tail. "What happened?" For a moment the Swiss-cheesing effect that Leaping had on a person's memory eased the tight expression on Perry's face. But then a connection was made in his mind, and the tension returned. "I..I remember him and mama having a really bad fight. Next morning, mama was gone." Verbena had returned to stand beside Perry. She saw his glance go to her hands tucked inside her labcoat pockets. Without a word she laid a hand gently on his arm, noting the slight hesitation before he covered it with his own. Not once did he meet her eyes. "Did she leave you and your dad?" "Daddy never told me where she went or why." "Perry?" Al said the young man's name, then waited for those troubled gray-blue eyes to meet his. "What happened after she..left?" "Daddy never talked about her, not even once," Perry said through the tears now running down his face. He paused, taking several deep gulping breaths. He didn't notice that Verbena's hand had slipped down to his wrist, nor did he see the warning glance she aimed at the Observer. He continued. As the words poured out of Perry like flood waters through a broken dam, Al felt his dislike of Howard Kirkwood deepen amd darken. He chewed on his cigar, refusing to let his mind wander to what he'd like to do to the man who had so severely emotionally and physically damaged his own son. He hated the thought of Aaron controlling Sam's body. But even that paled in comparison to what he thought of Howard Kirkwood. "A little while after that when I mentioned.. college, he screamed so loud that I hid under my bed and c.cried," Perry hiccuped. He looked up at Al. "He got down on the floor and stuck his head under my bed, and kept screaming at me." He gulped in air, his body shaking, unaware of his finger-numbing grip on Verbena's hand. "I cried the whole time. I promised I'd never leave him. He finally fell asleep, still half under the bed. I fell asleep under there, too." "How old were you when that happened?" Al asked carefully. When Perry finally answered, he wished he hadn't asked. "I didn't know it would make him mad," Perry whispered, his voice aching. "How old were you, Perry?" Al repeated gently. Large tears steadily welled up and spilled down his cheeks. "F.four." Rarely did Al Calavicci act publicly when his very Italian emotions were stirred up, and never in the Waiting Room. But now an emotion he couldn't identify ...perhaps didn't want to identify...surged through him and he obeyed it without thought or hesitation. Tossing aside his cigar, the Observer sat down on the bed, took Perry in his arms and hugged him fiercely. He didn't even try to deny the sense of almost paternal protectiveness flooding through him as he felt the boy's arms encircle his body, clinging to him as if for dear life. "It's okay," he murmured, rocking gently as he listened to the boy's wrenching sobs. "It's okay. You're safe. Everything's going to be all right." Perry's next words came the closest to shredding the tenuous grip the Observer had on his own emotions. "Mama's gone. Daddy's all I got," he wept against the Observer's shoulder. It was the most powerful outpouring of emotions that Verbena had ever seen displayed in the Waiting Room. And the most powerful display by the Observer ever. Wisely she held her tongue, deciding for the moment to let Al deal with Perry...and whatever memories the troubled young man was triggering for him. Watching the Observer comforting Perry, every word he said, even his touch as he rubbed the boy's back soothingly served only to reinforce something she had privately always believed about him. *You may not have kids, Al* she thought, *but you ARE a father.* Even Ziggy remained silent, deciding that the information she had to relate could wait until the admiral and Dr. Beeks departed the Waiting Room. Then she 'felt' something. Immediately she scanned every possible location for the source of that 'feeling'. When she identified the 'something', Ziggy instantly alerted Gooshie, who verified it. She sent a silent alert to the communicator on Al's left wrist. Without loosening his embrace, Al managed to press the response button. "Yeah, Ziggy?" "You are needed in the Control Room," Ziggy said. "Now." When the hybrid computer didn't elaborate, Al glanced up at Verbena. She nodded and moved closer. "Perry?" Al said quietly, watching as the psychiatrist took Perry by the arms and gently drew him back. He took hold of the young man's shoulders to help steady him as he sat up. "You okay?" Wiping at the wetness on his face, Perry nodded. His eyes fell on the large wet stain on the shoulder of Al's shirt. "I'm sorry." He looked down at his hands in his lap, unable to meet the Observer's eyes. *I'm sorry...*...*He sounds so much like Sam*...the Observer thought as he stood up. He wondered how many times Perry, like Sam, had said those two little words, hoping they would appease the person to whom they were spoken. "No problem," Al said with a little smile. "We all have to..let it out sometime." "But real men don't cry," Perry whispered. "Only girls and babies and...sissies cry." A second signal came through the communicator; Al acknowledged it. He squeezed Perry's shoulders gently and waited for him to look up. "Yes, they do, Perry," Al said, his voice strong and clear in its quietness, his dark eyes unwavering. "Beleive me..son, a real man isn't ashamed or afraid to cry." A third signal blinked on the communicator at that moment, and Al turned and left the Waiting Room. -------------------- In the Control Room -------------------- "What's wrong, Gooshie?" Al demanded as he entered the Control Room. "Doctor Beckett's brainwave activity is escalating at an alarming rate," the head programmer responded. "If I were to hazard a guess, I'd say he's about to have a seizure." Al brushed away the mental fatigue that was always one of the byproduct of high emotions, and held out his hand. Grasping the handlink slapped against his palm, he headed up the ramp to the Imaging Chamber. A thought occurred to him, but he didn't slow his pace. "What about the mind sync, Gooshie?" "Done. Only Doctor Beckett will see you," Gooshie responded. "Good." The Observer then took his place in the Imaging Chamber and waited for the swirl of past years to surround him. Yet even as Perry was gradually coming out of the dark he had lived in most of his life, Sam was learning of the terrors it held.