Chapter 21 When Al walked out of the Imaging Chamber, into the Control Room he was amazed at how quiet it was. Glancing around he saw only two technicians working at one of the smaller computers that he'd heard Ziggy refer to as one of her 'satellites." Gooshie, at the control panel when the Observer had gone into the Imaging Chamber, was still there. Al braced his hands against the front of the panel and surveyed the large room. "Where is everybody?" "Most are at dinner," Gooshie replied as he set the handlink to recharge. Al's eyebrows arched in surprise. "What time is it? How long was I in there?" "Seven twenty-one p.m, and three hours, thirty-two minutes, nineteen seconds," Ziggy answered both questions. "How's Perry?" Al asked. "The visitor has finished his evening meal and, according to his life function readouts," Ziggy informed him, "will fall asleep in approximately seven point four one minutes." "You look beat, Admiral," Gooshie ventured. He glanced at the control panel. "Doctor Beckett's sleeping quietly. Why don't you do the same?" After the adrenaline roller coaster he'd been on for most of the time he had been with Sam, Al had to admit that Gooshie was right. A hot shower and a few hours in the sack ... alone...was just what he needed. Al glanced around the room, at the technicians focused solely on their work, considered the quiet atmosphere of the room. "I think I'll take you up on that offer, " Al said. He was just beginning to realize just how tired he was as the adrenalin faded from his body. Gooshie smiled back. "Go get some rest, Admiral. I'll keep watch on Doctor Beckett's brainwave activity. If it changes in any way, I'll call you." Straightening up Al headed for the door, then paused and looked back. "If Sam so much as sneezes.." he said, pointing a warning finger at him. "...you'll know before the 'ah-choo' ends," Gooshie assured him. Twenty minutes and one steam-billowing hot shower and quick shave later, Al toweled off, pulled on peach silk pajama pants, and crawled into bed. Fastening his wrist communicator on again, Al let himself fall backward. He was asleep before his head hit the pillow. ------------------------ The sound of his bedroom door being opened drew Sam from sleep. For a moment he lay still, watching through barely open eyes as Howard left his room, pulling the door closed carefully. Glancing at the window he saw the first pale streaks of dawn on the open drapes. He glanced at the clock. Quarter to six. Quickly Sam got out of bed and put his ear to the door. Not hearing anything, he opened it a crack. Peering down the hall, he watched Howard start downstairs. He didn't question the feeling urging him to follow Perry's father. Moving carefully, almost holding his breath, Sam crept to the head of the stairs in time to see Howard turn to enter the kitchen. He was about to start down the steps when the telephone in the living room rang, and he jerked back out of sight, pressing flat against the wall. As soon as he heard Howard's deep voice say, "Hello?", Sam crept down the stairs as far as he could without being seen. ---------------------- "It's getting worse." Howard paused, listening, unaware that he was nodding in agreement with what the caller was saying. "I want to do this as quietly as possible. How about early Saturday morning?" He listened again. "Last week he mentioned some school dance he wanted to go to tomorrow night. I was figuring if I let him go, maybe it'll keep him...quiet." He listened again, then nodded. "Okay." Again he listened. "Yeah, I got the drops." A moment of darkness entered his eyes. "I know how to use 'em," he said in low, angry tones. Another moment of listening. "Okay. I'll have him there Saturday morning before dawn. You'll have the papers ready for me to sign?" He listened again, then nodded. "All right." Hanging up the phone, Howard stood for a moment, looking down at his hand still resting on the receiver. On his way back to the kitchen he paused and looked up the empty staircase, his expression one of sad but resolute acceptance. After a moment he continued into the kitchen. ----------------------- Sam paced around the small bedroom, going over and over every word of Howard's conversation. *Drops?....Chloroform?......Maybe it's something to put in a drink or in food. ....Something that can't be tasted....* Realizing that he needed to keep his behavior as normal as possible, Sam started to get dressed. Finding clean socks in a dresser drawer, he sat on the side of the bed and started to put them on. *Hot chocolate.* Sam hesitated as he pulled on the second sock. "Hot chocolate?" he murmured, his brows knitting slightly. After a moment he shook his head and finished pulling the sock on. Going to the closet he took out a pair of tan slacks. He had them half on when.... *Don't drink the hot chocolate.* Slowly Sam drew the slacks up and fastened them, even as his mind focused on the ... thought. A part of his mind wanted to panic, but his natural scientific inquisitiveness wasn't afraid. Not sensing any hostility, he took a couple of deep, slow breaths. Closing his eyes, Sam calmed his thoughts and became still inside. **Why shouldn't I drink the hot chocolate?** *That's how he will give the drops to...Perry.* Sam's brow furrowed slightly again, but his eyes remained closed. **Who are you?** *Philip.* Sam's thoughts shifted into overdrive **Another personality!** Still not sensing any hostility, he decided to take a chance. **But only Evalyn and Aaron are...with Perry.** It was almost as if "Philip" had anticipated the question. *How many personalities has Perry had?* **Evalyn said there were seven.** Sam hesitated then counted them off. **Evalyn, Timmy, Annabelle, Marian, Henry, and Aaron.** *That's only six.* **Why didn't she mention you?** *She's been hiding me from Aaron.* **Why?** Sam sensed a hesitation in the newly discovered personality, a hesitation he recognized. 'Philip' was deciding if he could be trusted. When the personality finally spoke, the answer startled him nearly speechless. *Because I've been hiding the little ones....* Recovering quickly Sam said, **But I thought...I was told the little ones had been...eliminated.** *The path through the whirlwind is sometimes the safest way to shelter,* Philip replied. **I don't understand.** *There isn't time to explain right now,* Philip responded. *But, like Aaron, I thought it wise to find out who you were.* He paused. *You are a good and strong man, Doctor Beckett.* The personality paused; Sam sensed that the other seemed to be listening. *I have to go* Philip said quietly. *But I will be back...to help you.* **How will I know....** *My knowing is more important than your knowing. Trust me, Sam.* Before Sam could respond in any way, a sharp knock on the bedroom door jerked him back to the moment. He glanced down at himself, momentarily confused, then looked at the door. Seeing the doorknob begin to turn spurred him into action. Grabbing a short-sleeved shirt from the closet, he yanked it on just as the door swung open. "Yeah, dad?" "Didn't you hear me?" Howard said, his tone striving for patience. "I've been calling you for five minutes. Are you all right?" "Yeah," Sam said, fumbling with the shirt buttons. "Just drifting in the ozone." "What?" "Uh..daydreaming," Sam said, hastily stuffing the tail of the shirt into the waistband of his trousers. Howard frowned. "Pull that shirt out and do it right," he said sharply. He watched his son obey as Sam unfastened the catch of his trousers and tucked the shirt tail in smoothly. "That's better. Get your belt on and get downstairs and eat something. I gotta go into work early today seeing as how...." he didn't finish the sentence. "I'll drop you at school on my way." Sam glanced at the clock. Six thirty. The sound of the Imaging Chamber door opening behind him just as Howard spoke was the best sound he'd heard so far this morning. As much as his body had wanted to sleep longer, years of habit had wakened the Observer at four-thirty a.m. sharp. A quick cold shower got rid of any lingering cobwebs of sleep, and he'd dressed quickly. Breakfast was two mugs of the nearly lethal black coffee that was always brewing in the Project cafeteria and a half of a toasted onion bagel with cream cheese. Now, seeing what had the earmarks of another possible confrontation between Sam and Perry's father, made Al glad that the coffee had been twice as strong as usual. "Go along with him, Sam," Al said quietly, casting a narrow sideways look at Howard. "It'll give us time to talk." *Who is he?* Keeping his eyes on Howard and his hearing tuned to Al's voice, Sam knew instantly who it was. But he hesitated before responding. **That's Al.** *Can he be trusted?* **Yes!** Sam put as much emphasis as he could on the thought. "Sam?" Al said, shifting his narrowed gaze to his friend's face. "Perry?" Howard put a hand on his son's shoulder. "You all right?" Sam shook his head a bit, then offered a smile to the man and hologram watching him like two hawks eyeing a mouse. "Yeah, I'm fine. Just trying to catch the tail of the dream I was having when I woke up." Stepping past Howard, Sam hurried downstairs. Over a bowl of Wheaties and a glass of orange juice, Sam kept an eye on Howard, who stood by the open back door, drinking coffee and smoking three cigarettes in quick succession. He also watched the Observer, who prowled the area between him and Howard, keeping a sharp watch on the big man. Finishing his breakfast, Sam went back upstairs to brush his teeth. Al was waiting for him. "What's going on, Sam?" Al demanded even though Sam already had a mouthful of toothpaste foam. "You looked like...." "Not here, Al," Sam said, rinsing his mouth and putting the toothbrush away. "Then where?" the hologram demanded. "At school." Sam glanced at his watch. "There shouldn't be too many kids there at seven a.m." Running a comb through his hair, Sam went to grab the books and notebook from the desk where Aaron had tossed them the afternoon before. He turned toward the door then hesitated when Philip 'spoke'. *The book.* **Where?** *Under the dresser.* Al hadn't let Sam out of his sight since he'd gone into the Imaging Chamber. Now, watching him hesitate, then turn to look at the dresser, or rather at the floor by the dresser, started his suspicions churning. His suspicions churned even harder as he watched Sam glance at the door, then lay the books on the bed, and go to the dresser and kneel down. Bending down, the side of his face almost on the floor, Sam peered at the bottom of the well used dresser with stubby legs on ball and claw feet. Sliding a hand under it, he felt around. "Sam, what are you doing?" Al demanded, crossing closer to him. "I'm looking for something." "Would you care to be a bit more specific?" When his fingers touched it, Sam carefully peeled away the wide strip of tape that held the object in place. Grasping it carefully, he drew it from its hiding place. "This." It was a book approximately ten inches high by eight inches wide. It had a smooth surfaced nondescript brown cover. A brown shoelace was tied around it, and from the looks of the bottom corner of the front cover, the book had been frequently handled. "What's that?" Al demanded. "A diary," Sam whispered as he quickly tucked the slim book into the inner pocket of his notebook, grabbed the textbooks and hurried out of the room. Al took no chances, 'riding' in the truck with Howard and Sam to the school. Once there, and as soon as Sam entered the building, he had Gooshie center him on his friend, not at all surprised to find Sam in the boy's bathroom. For once he didn't mind; no one...physically ...could sneak up on them. Perched on the narrow strip of countertop between the two sinks, Sam had the diary open, hidden inside a slighter larger history book. By the time he heard Al 'pop in', he had already read the first four pages, the small, close handwriting having slowed his speed reading a bit. "Sam..." Al began. "Let me finish," Sam said, his eyes never hesitating as he rapidly skimmed the closely written words. When he turned the last page a couple of minutes later, he found the envelope. He glanced up at the Observer. Sam didn't need the urging he saw in Al's eyes, and opened the envelope and pulled out the single folded sheet of soft pink notepaper. "Who's it from?" Al demanded. Sam read the return address on the envelope. "His mother." "Bingo! What does it say? And before you say what I see in your eyes," Al continued, "for the moment you are Perry. So, read it." It took less than a minute for Sam to read the letter. "So what does it say?" Al demanded. When Sam turned the letter around for him to see, the Observer's fingers flew over the buttons of the handlink. Punching in the last bit of information, Al eyed the diary laying on the counter. "What's in it?" *Do you think it's wise to tell him what's in the diary?* Philip 'asked' just then. Sam closed his eyes a moment and focused inward. **Definitely. I trust Al with my life.** *If you tell him what's in the diary, you're putting Perry's life in his hands, too. Do you trust him that much?* **Yes.** Al didn't like the way Sam closed his eyes and went suddenly still, almost as if he'd gone into a trance. He felt the edginess beginning when Sam opened his eyes and looked at him. "What's wrong, Sam?" Al asked suspiciously. "That is if you are Sam." "It's me, Al," Sam assured him. "What were you doing just now?" the suspicious look in Al's eyes remained strong. Picking up the slim brown diary, he turned back to the Observer. Meeting Al's eyes levelly, Sam said, "I was just assuring Philip that it's safe to tell you what's in here." Al felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up. "Who's Philip?" he demanded. "Perry's seventh personality," Sam said simply. For the next forty-five minutes, any early student walking past the boy's restroom wouldn't have thought much of hearing two different voices coming from within that facility. What would have spooked them was the fact that there was only one person in the bathroom. What would have have freaked them out, if they could have heard it, was a third, rather gravelly sounding voice from a man who wasn't really there. When the school bell sounded at seven fifty-five, warning that the first class of the day was about to begin, Al and Sam stood looking at each for a long moment. Within the quietness of their own thoughts, leaper and Observer each mentally reviewed the unique three-way discussion that had filled three quarters of an hour. Then the still silent Observer summoned the Imaging Chamber door, stepped inside and was gone. By the time the Imaging Chamber door was closed, Sam was halfway to the principal's office. Stepping inside the already busy office, he went to the desk and made his request. Small spikes of pain heralding Aaron's intent to emerge had begun throbbing in Sam's temples halfway through his economics class. But he'd drawn on as much of the depth and breadth of his intellect that was available to him and fought back, and the pain had eased. By lunch time, Sam was decidedly pale and feeling quite drained. But he ignored it, and went in search of Margie Hennessey. He found her in the quadrangle, eating a sandwich and chatting and laughing with a couple of her girlfriends. "Hi, Margie," he said, smiling as he walked up to the threesome. Margie smiled warmly at him. "Hi, Perry." "Hi, Perry," Cathy, the redhead from physics class said, scooting over and making a place between herself and Margie. An impish twinkle shone in her eyes as she patted the bench. "Sit with us." Sam felt the blush rise in his face but ignored it, and turned to Margie. "Could I talk to you for a minute? In private?" Margie smiled again at the tall, shy young man she'd had a crush on since she was a freshman, although none of her friends could understand why. "Sure," she said, getting to her feet and picking up her purse. "I'll catch up with you two later," she said, glancing at her friends, then moved away with Sam. It was quiet for a minute or so as the couple walked. Finally Margie stopped and turned to 'Perry', putting a hand on his arm. "What did you want to talk to me about?" Numerous things flashed through Sam's mind at her question, but his response was the same one he'd silently rehearsed all morning. "Would you ..be my date for the Junior-Senior Get Acquainted Dance tomorrow night?" he asked almost shyly. "I know it's the last minute but...I'd really like for you to be my date. That is if nobody else has asked you." Margie felt her heart flutter against her ribs, almost as if it had wings, as she smiled up at him. "That doesn't matter," she said, her eyes shining. "And no one else has asked. I'd love to be your date." "Great!" Sam breathed softly, smiling. "I'll pick you up about eight o'clock, okay?" "I'll be ready," she said. Something occurred to her and she asked, "Will you be driving?" "Well..uh, no, I don't think so. My...dad will probably drive us." He prayed that wouldn't put her off. "Okay," she said. "Just so I know what to tell Momma and Daddy. You know how parents are," she said laughingly. *I know how my parents were* Sam thought, but responded with a nod saying, "I sure do." Margie glanced at her watch. "I really need to get going. I need to stop by my locker and the library before my next class starts..." Sam reached out to put a hand on her arm. "Margie, could I ask a favor of you?" "Sure," she said. "What is it?" "I'll walk you to your locker," Sam said. "I'll tell you what it is on the way."