From Tue Mar 14 05:22:56 2000 Return-Path: Received: from (cfa []) by (8.9.2/8.9.2/cfunix S 0.5) with ESMTP id FAA19076 for ; Tue, 14 Mar 2000 05:22:56 -0500 (EST) Received: from ( []) by (8.9.2/8.9.2/cfunix M-S 0.1) with SMTP id FAA26016 for ; Tue, 14 Mar 2000 05:22:51 -0500 (EST) Received: (qmail 28118 invoked from network); 14 Mar 2000 10:22:14 -0000 Received: from unknown (HELO justine) ( by with SMTP; 14 Mar 2000 10:22:14 -0000 Message-ID: <000901bf8d9e$a4bc0d40$6e12fea9@justine> Reply-To: "Hilary Mullins" From: "Hilary Mullins" To: "Brian Patten" Subject: A QL Novel Part 2 Date: Tue, 14 Mar 2000 20:18:17 +1000 MIME-Version: 1.0 Content-Type: text/plain; charset="iso-8859-1" Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit X-Priority: 3 X-MSMail-Priority: Normal X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook Express 4.72.3110.1 X-MimeOLE: Produced By Microsoft MimeOLE V4.72.3110.3 Content-Length: 15307 Status: OR Author's Name: Morgan Thomas Author's Email: Story Name: Vacation Part Two CHAPTER ONE continued "Sam, I think Ziggy's finally lost it. He's behaving REAL weird. I mean real weird." He jumped about two meters in the air as the loud voice broke the peaceful silence of the library. The voice didn't resonate as it should have in such a large room, but sounded as if it were in a much smaller space. He'd been so absorbed in the contemptible reflection and horrible clothes he hadn't even been aware that The Door of the Imaging Chamber had opened. He twisted around in his chair quickly enough to see Al walk through a bookcase. His brows snapped together. He knew Al wasn't really there, knew what he saw was a hologram, an image of a man in a room, many years away in a future time - his own time. But lately he'd found it totally irritating to see the image walk through things, anything - even people, even himself. Al looked so real. Especially in those clothes. Bright red trousers with matching narrow tie, crisp white shirt and smart grey suspenders encased Al's compact frame. Set at a rakish angle on top of lightly curling, dark hair, greying at the temples, sat a red fedora. Sam felt even more of a dork. "Are you trying to give me a coronary?" he demanded of the wiry, olive-complexioned man. "Why can't you make sure you open The Door where I can see you, rather than sneaking up behind me like that?" Al didn't bother to answer. This was one of Sam's regular complaints. Sam knew there was nothing Al could do about it, but he complained anyway. Al had come to the conclusion it helped the physicist to remind himself there were some things over which Al had no control. Sam had so little control over what happened in his own life. "I've never known Ziggy find you so fast," he said, his voice as gritty as a gravel path. "We've only just left the last Leap. It's almost as though he knew exactly where to look - and he keeps on burbling something about you 'having a nice time'!" "Don't tell me." Sam held up a long-suffering hand. "Let me guess - Ziggy's having another identity crisis!" Al didn't bother to answer that, either. Ziggy having an identity crisis or some such problem was also a regular occurrence. The computer's huge ego saw to that. Al stopped fiddling with the small, vaguely rectangular piece of multi-coloured plastic, so like a mass of old-fashioned, boiled candies accidentally melted together, that he clutched in one hand. He took a puff of the fat cigar he held in the other hand. "That last Leap was a real doozey, Sam," he commented, shaking his head. "One of the nastiest situations you've ever been in. A real close shave. You only just made the changes in time, according to Ziggy. Though, of course, you did it brilliantly - just like you always do." So far, he added silently. "Did I?" asked Sam vaguely. He couldn't remember and didn't really care, either. Al peered at him through a haze of cigar smoke. "You okay, Sam? You don't look so hot." Sam shook his head, trying to clear it. "Yes, I'm fine," he replied irritably. Just for once, why couldn't Al get to the point and tell him who he was and what he was supposed to do? Then he could get this job done and at least feel that faint spark of satisfaction that was all he got out of Leaping now. Al still thought he was in a hurry to complete a Leap in case he got home next time. Al hadn't believed him when he'd told him about the Bartender. It didn't matter anyway. Al didn't need to know. Al could still hope. Sam scrubbed his face with tired fingers, wishing he could scrub away the fatigue that threatened to overpower him. "Who am I? What have I got to do this time?" "Oh. Sorry, Sam. Ziggy found you so fast I haven't had time to retrieve the data yet." Al wedged his cigar between his teeth and jabbed at the handlink again. "Okay, here goes," he said, speaking around the cigar. "It's September 2nd, 1977. Your name is Brian Palmer. You're 28 years old and you write historical detective novels under the name of" - Al raised his eyebrows - "Josephine Merriweather. You travel around the country and base each novel in a different place." Al looked at the open books on the table. "You must be here to do research for a new book." "Oh God! Not English literature again," Sam groaned, exasperated. The Seventies AND English literature! "I HATE English literature. I'm a physicist. I don't do creative writing!" He relished the feeling of annoyance. It helped fight off the weariness that pervaded every cell of his body. Al wasn't listening. He had looked back at the handlink display. "Now this is what I mean by weird," he said, poking the multicolored rectangle with one finger. "Ziggy says it doesn't matter what Brian does as you're not here to fix anything for our budding author. In fact, he manages to have considerable popular literary success, even when it's discovered that he isn't some little old lady who invents murder mysteries whilst doing her knitting. Ziggy says it's very important that you DON'T change anything for Brian." Al's eyes widened in surprise. "In fact, you mustn't change anything for anyone. You've got to make sure everything stays the same." He banged the side of the handlink, muttering, "That can't be right." The handlink gave a squawk, as though objecting to Al's rough handling. "Aw, c'mon Al, that's crazy!" protested Sam, "I always have to change something. That's why I'm in this mess. I change something for someone, make it better, then I Leap. I change something for someone else, then I Leap again." Ad infinitum. Forever. The finger of ice turned into a dagger and inserted itself under his ribs. *No. Don't think of the future, concentrate on the present.* "I know it's crazy. I'm only telling you what Ziggy says. He says you're not here to fix anything for anyone, so you should go ahead and relax, enjoy yourself. You should have heard him in the Control Room, Sam. He's making the weirdest noise. Sort of like a cross between a wheezing donkey and a car that's jammed in the wrong gear. I know it sounds nuts but it's almost as if he's...well, as if he's giggling!" "You've got to be kidding!" Al shook his head. "Oh great! That's all I need, an hysterical computer!" Al stuck out his chin. "It's not my fault if Ziggy behaves like an egotistical maniac. You're the one who said it was necessary for the success of the Project for him to be programmed with a personality." "Okay, okay, so everything's my fault," said Sam wearily. "Can't Gushie do anything with him?" Gushie. Little nondescript guy with halitosis that could drop an elephant at twenty paces. Chief computer programmer at the Project. "He's trying to get Ziggy to look at the data again. We'll just have to wait a minute." Silence fell. Al cleared his throat. "By the way," he said casually, "the Committee coughed up enough cash for another computer technician so Gushie's got in this new guy. I haven't seen much of him yet - he seems to pull the graveyard shift a lot. He's very young, only about twenty, and Tina can't stop going on about how brilliant he is. He's supposed to have been some sort of child genius or something. You don't suppose he and Tina are - you know." Al made an expressive gesture and looked worriedly at Sam. Tina. She looked like a total airhead, dressed like a bad copy of Madonna during her sleaze period and had a voice that made nails on a lecturer's chalkboard sound melodious. She was an extremely clever programmer and communications technician, which is why she was employed by the Project, and had legs up to her armpits, which is why Al couldn't take his eyes off her. Sam gave Al a disgusted look. "Why do you always think everyone's at it like rabbits, Al? It's none of your business, anyway. Tina's Gushie's wife - not yours." She nearly had been Al's wife, before he had fixed the wrong in Al's life. Satisfaction washed over him at the memory of that particular Leap. Tina would have been Al's sixth wife - if they'd made it as far as the alter. But Al didn't remember that anymore. As his Leap had saved Al's first marriage and altered Al's life, so Al's memories had altered accordingly. As far as Al was concerned he'd always been married to just one woman, Beth, though he still loved to tell of the many exploits he'd had with women before his marriage. And his exploits had been legendary, according to Al. He remained the same irritating, exasperating, sex obsessed character he always had been, who loved to look at and lust over every female who appeared on the horizon, but it was Beth he went home to quite contentedly every night. Beth and his four daughters. He still took great interest in Tina though - to the extent that he got jealous every time another man so much as glanced at her. That must be due to some residual memory from before the Leap. Sam found it ironic that his Swiss-cheese brain should allow him to remember so much of Al's life from the first time around when Al couldn't - particularly when he could remember so little of his own life. "How should I know what Tina's doing?" he snapped. "I don't really care what Tina is or isn't doing as long as she and Gushie sort Ziggy out." Al looked hurt. "Are you sure she's doing anything at all with this guy?" Sam's voice dripped sarcasm. "Have you actually talked to her about him?" "Well, no, not exactly," admitted Al, "but I don't need to. I've seen her making these big eyes at him and give him that 'come hither' look. I don't like it, Sam. I know that breath of Gushie's must make her want to wear a gas mask every time they do the Oral Twist, but she shouldn't be cheating on him. He's a nice guy." Al looked genuinely upset. Sam took a deep breath, controlling his temper. "Hang on, you said you hadn't seen much of this new technician. How often EXACTLY have you seen Tina 'making eyes' at him?" "Only once - but once was enough." "Oh, for goodness sake, Al, pull yourself together. She was probably just trying to make the poor guy feel welcome." He'd had enough of Tina's love life - real or imagined - and tried to get Al to concentrate on what he was here to do. "Hasn't Ziggy come up with any more information yet?" He shifted irritably in his chair, which creaked in protest. "All you've told me is that I'm some rubbishy crimewriter from the Seventies. For God's sake, hurry up, I want to get on with it." This time the unusual tone of Sam's voice really caught Al's attention. He stared hard at the physicist, his hurt feelings over Sam's comments fading as he noticed how drawn and tired his friend looked. "You sure you're all right, Sam? You look sorta pale and you've got these big, black circles under your eyes, like you had a real hard night on the town. Have you got a hangover? You look just like I -" "I don't know! I don't remember who I was last night, let alone what I did." Sam took another deep breath, pushing his irritation away. "Look, I'm fine, really I am." Al favored him with a doubtful look. "Honest, I feel great." Sam made himself smile and relaxed his shoulders, willing his friend to believe the lie. "You were going to give me some more information?" He gave a small laugh. "I mean, there's no way I can be here for a vacation like she said." "A vacation? Who said anything about a vacation?" Al stared in consternation. She said. Oh God, Sam must be really cracking up. What a helluva day. He'd got Ziggy cackling like a hyena at a comedians' convention, Tina panting after that new technician like a female dog on heat and now Sam tangling his Leaps. Sam must be thinking of the one with that clairvoyant - what was her name...? Tamlyn. She'd really bowled Sam over. Poor guy. He must be about at the end of his rope. "No, Sam. I don't think you're here for a vacation," he said gently. "I know that," said Sam with exaggerated patience. "I'm just telling you what she said." "What 'she'?" asked Al cautiously. "That girl. Didn't you see her? The librarian. She called me Dr Beckett, too. For a second I almost thought I was... It was odd, she knew all about the Project. She said she'd be back soon. She went down there." He waved a vague hand. Al looked around. There was no-one in sight. As he finally noticed where they were, a frown creased his forehead as something about the place stirred faint memories. Not quite grasping the tendril of thought, he shrugged his shoulders and decided to ignore it. He turned his attention back to the drooping figure seated at the table. Sam was definitely at the end of his rope. He must be so desperate to get home he was hallucinating, imagining people knew who he was. "There's no-one else here, Sam," he said firmly. He had to get Sam back on track again. He could do nothing else to help him. At least when he helped him complete a Leap, there was the chance Sam might Leap home next time. "I've told you, you're Brian Palmer and you're here to..." He frowned down at the handlink display. It was still unhelpfully blank. He walloped it. It didn't even have the courtesy to emit a whimper and he ground his teeth. He'd get some information out of Ziggy, even if he had to zap him with a cattle prod. "Well, you're Brian Palmer and you're in a library in..." Jamming the cigar back in his mouth, he punched the data request sequence again. "In Truro, Virginia," supplied Sam impatiently. "I know WHERE I am. She told me." Al threw him another concerned look. The handlink display finally lit and he read it thankfully. "A library in...Truro, Virginia!" He stared at Sam in astonishment. The elusive tendril of thought gave another tantalising wave. "Truro, Virginia," he repeated, trying to grab it this time. TRURO, VIRGINIA! As the name finally made the correct synaptic connections, all concern for his friend drowned under a torrent of long repressed memories. Sam watched Al's jaw drop and his cigar disappear as it tumbled out of his mouth. Color drained from Al's face as he looked wildly around. A variety of expressions chased across his face - disbelief, recognition, hurt and finally, blotting out all traces of other emotion, anger. "My God!" Al cried hoarsely. "I know this place - I've been here. This is where I met..." His voice trailed off and he swallowed convulsively. "SHE was here. She tried to... I... She - she wouldn't... Oh Holy Hell!" Al turned as white as a sheet as he stammered out the last phrase. His eyes nearly popped out of his head as he stared over Sam's shoulder. Then his image began to break up as though something was interfering with the hologrammatic transmission. "No - Ziggy - don't you dare pull the plug! Get me back there," Al yelled, frantically banging the handlink, which squawked in retaliation. "You can't do this. Get me ba-" His voice broke up into static, his image gave one last, violent shudder, then disappeared.