CHAPTER TWELVE


    Sam had just slid into bed when the doorbell rang.  Groaning
quietly, he rolled out, padded over to the window and peered through the
drapes.  He couldn't see the front door but David's silver Jag shone in
the drive.
    "What does he want now?" he muttered.
    "What is it?" asked a sleepy voice from the bed.
    "David," he replied shortly, pulling on jeans and shirt.  "Go back
to sleep, Helen.  I'll see what he wants."
    "Make him go away.  He's probably come to make sure you're sleeping
on the couch," she grumbled.
    "Yeah, probably."
    William's eyes were shining in the dark, mesmerized by the figure
that had walked through the living-room window.  It wasn't his friend,
the one his mistress' mate called Al, who stroked him in such a
wonderful, fur-tingling way, though he carried a box rather like Al's.
This man was much bigger, with a brown face and hands, and his fur
looked even more peculiar than any of the varied changes of fur Al had.
It was heavier and green like moss, but as he walked across the dark
room to peer down the hall, the color switched continuously from moss-
green to the dark brown of a tree-trunk.  He smelled differently, too,
and William's sensitive nose twitched at the acrid scent.
    Curious, he padded over to the tall figure and tentatively sniffed
the moss/tree-trunk leg.  The man turned, his leg passing through the
cat as he went back to the window.  William's fur stood on end and he
yowled at the excruciating pain that zinged through him.  He shot into
the kitchen and out through the cat-flap as though all the hounds of
Hell were after him.
    A hiss came from outside the front door.  "What was that?"
    "Only a cat," replied the man, walking through the window.  He
grinned at the fine-featured, beautifully made-up woman who stood on the
porch with her hands in the pockets of a mid-grey wool suit.  The hand-
kerchief that peeped coyly from her breast pocket matched her impeccably
knotted silk tie perfectly.  "I think I just scared one of its nine
lives out the po' little moggy.  Now, quiet.  That guy - Brian Palmer,
the one Lothos said is Beckett - is coming."  The man didn't bother
adjusting the volume of his own voice.  Light suddenly leaked out under
the door.  "Don't forget, don't let him touch you or he'll see you and
not Pendrick."
    The woman raised one perfectly arched eyebrow almost into her
perfectly bobbed auburn hair.  "Don't talk to me as though I'm a novice,
Thames," she breathed in a barely audible whisper.  The door opened and
she settled a bland, slightly apologetic look on her face.
    "My, my," said Thames.  "What a dweeb you look this time, Dr
Beckett.  I'm so glad to see you again.  Let me shake you by the hand."
Sticking his hand all the way through the body of the mild-faced,
slightly scruffy man in the doorway, he pumped his arm up and down,
laughing delightedly at his sparkling witticism.
    "Hello, David.  Is something wrong?"  Sam looked inquiringly at the
single figure he saw on the doorstep.
    "No, no," replied the woman.  "Nothing's really wrong, Brian.  I'm
sorry to disturb you.  I've merely mislaid my wallet and think I must
have left it here."
    "Oh, come on in.  Maybe it's in the kitchen."  Sam stood to one side
of the door, then followed the grey-suited figure into the kitchen,
snapping on the light.  "Helen's, er, in bed."
    At his comment, the woman gave an almost imperceptible jerk of her
head to Thames who now stood in the center of the kitchen.  His fingers
played over the keys of the Lothos terminal for a second before he
disappeared.
    The woman surveyed the room, her sharp eyes taking in all the
details at a glance; the shining paint of the back door, the yellow
roses and bottle of port on the windowsill, the empty cups and coffee-
pot and the chess-set on the table, the positions of the white army
still proclaiming victory over the black, and the unwashed china and
cutlery piled haphazardly in the sink and on the drainer.  Walking past
her, the man who was Beckett bent down to grovel around the table,
lifting the damask cloth to peer underneath.  She headed for the sink.
    The man's voice checked her stride.  "Got your ticket in it, has it,
David?"
    "What?  Oh, the wallet.  Yes, it has."
    "I don't suppose you're going to get far without it, then."  He was
on all fours now, half under the table.
    She continued over to the sink.  "No, I don't suppose I will."
Poking around in the dirty crocks, she inspected a mousse-smeared plate.
"Not done the dishes.  Now that isn't like Helen."
    Thames reappeared by her side.  "What a naughty little missy she is.
Do you know, she doesn't wear anything in bed?  She'll be here in a
couple of seconds."
    Sam rose from the floor.  "Yeah, well - er, I said I'd do them and I
didn't think it'd matter if they waited until morning just this once.  I
can't find your wallet over here.  Are you sure you haven't left it
somewhere else?"
    "No, I'm quite certain it must be here somewhere."  The woman
continued to poke about in the sink as though she expected to find the
wallet stuck in a pan.
    Helen's voice came down the hall.  "What's up David?  And what's
that horrible smell you've brought with you?  Rotten eggs?  I can even
smell it down here."
    "Is she talking about ME?" asked Thames indignantly.  "Is that all I
am to her - a bad smell?"
    Although the stiff line of her shoulders proclaimed her tension, the
woman's mouth twitched in amusement as she shifted her position so she
stood behind Sam.  Her hands continued to search quickly through the
unwashed crockery and culinary equipment.
    "David forgot his wallet," called Sam.  "It's got his plane ticket
for London in it, so he needs it tonight."
    "Ah, HERE'S what I was looking for."  The woman's quiet tone
vibrated with suppressed triumph.
    "But he doesn't need a ticket."  Helen's voice grew louder.  "He has
his own jet."
    She turned through the doorway.  A long T-shirt covered her body and
a puzzled look covered her face.  As she caught sight of the figure
behind Sam, the look rapidly altered to one of mild surprise and
increasing alarm.  "Who the hell are you?  And why are you wearing
David's suit?"
    Sam's knees buckled as something slammed into them.  An arm coiled
itself around his neck, preventing him from falling, and he found his
spine being bent painfully back, so far he thought it would break.  The
arm was as tight as a steel band across his trachea, threatening his
oxygen supply, and he clawed at it, intending to pull it off.  Something
very sharp and cold jabbed into the flesh under his jaw.  "Don't,"
rasped a voice in his ear.  He loosened his grip, but continued to hold
the arm, trying to drag air into his lungs.  "I said don't," snarled the
voice.  "Let go.  Or I'll ram this knife up so far it'll hit your
brain."
    He let his hands dangle limply by his sides, keeping them loose,
ready to retaliate if an opening presented itself.  "You're choking me,"
he managed to wheeze, frantically trying to assess the situation.  The
person holding him so effectively helpless was not David Pendrick but
someone shorter - much shorter - and the arm strapped around his neck,
for all its strength, was slender, though he'd felt wool suiting under
his hands when he'd grabbed it.  Helen had known it wasn't David.  It
must be another Leaper; Helen must be able to see them.  Sam's stomach
churned as he remembered how close other Leapers had come to wrecking
the lives of people he'd been helping.  The Leaper might be here to harm
Helen.  Panic surged through him, but he quelled it instantly and waited
for an opportunity to free himself.
    Seeing his partner had Beckett well under control, Thames looked at
the girl.
    Helen was rooted to the spot by the doorway from the living room,
heart pounding so hard it was difficult to breathe.  The blade of her
largest and sharpest chef's knife gleamed under Sam's chin.  She dare
not move.  If she did, the woman might do as she had threatened and kill
Sam.
    "Now why did you have to put on that old thing?" asked Thames,
disappointed by the T-shirt.  "You look so much better in your birthday
suit."
    Satisfied Sam was immobile, the woman turned her attention to Helen.
Her hair was mussed from sleep and curling wildly about her face, though
there was no hint of sleepiness in her eyes.  They were full of sheer
terror.  She was going to present no problem.  "Hello, Helen darling,"
she said sweetly.  "How nice to see you again."
    Sam realised that the voice he heard was no longer male but female,
and that he recognized it.  "ZoŽ?" he croaked.  The knife dug into his
neck a little more, the point pressing so hard he thought it would slide
right into the flesh beneath.  It didn't, the woman holding it knew to
the last gram how much pressure to exert and not pierce flesh.
    "Got it in one, Dr Beckett," answered ZoŽ.  She remained looking at
the girl, waiting for her to speak.   When she did, the weak little
thing trembled so much her voice shook.
    "Wh-who are you?  What do you want?"
    "Come now, Helen.  You'll have to do better than that.  Surely even
with a Swiss-cheesed mind you remember me.  Dr Beckett here knows me,
and he only saw me once in very, ah, difficult circumstances.  WE'VE
known each other for absolutely ever.  Think of all those years we spent
together, trained together."
    Bewilderment joined the fear in the girl's huge eyes.  "I've never
seen you before.  What do you want?  What have you done with David?"
    "Don't you worry your pretty little red head about him, Sweetcakes,"
answered Thames.  "He's safe and sound in the Holding Chamber, probably
having the biggest thrill of his life."
    "Have you enjoyed your assignment with the good Dr Beckett, Helen?"
asked ZoŽ.  She felt the man she was choking stiffen and tightened her
grip, taking pleasure in the knowledge her words were confusing him,
possibly causing him as much mental hurt as her choke-hold was causing
him physical pain.  "I'm dying to hear all about it.  Is he as good as
Alia said he was?"
    "Alia?" questioned the girl stupidly, her gaze on Beckett.
    "I helped save her, set her free," Sam gasped out.  He heard ZoŽ's
teeth grind close by his ear and knew his reply had made her angry.
Good.  Angry people made mistakes.
    "Quiet, you!" snapped ZoŽ ferociously.  "Down on your knees!  I have
dreamed of seeing you on your knees."  She smashed her foot into the
back of Sam's legs when he didn't comply, hissing, "Do it!"
    His knees buckled again, giving him no choice but to obey.  ZoŽ
jammed the knife tight under his jaw before quickly releasing the choke-
hold her other arm had around his neck.  Grabbing his hair, she yanked
it viciously up and back so he was kept off balance, pulling so hard his
knees almost came off the floor.  "Arms out front!" she ordered.  "Hands
clasped!"
    Sam complied, he had no option.  His eyes searched the kitchen for a
possible weapon or anything that might distract ZoŽ sufficiently so he
had a chance of breaking free.  There was nothing, everything was out of
reach.  The nearest object was the table.  If he could reach it, he
could jerk down the cloth, send the cups smashing to the floor, but it
was almost half a meter away from his outstretched arms.
    "So you can't remember Alia, either?"  ZoŽ's voice was soft and
smooth once more as she addressed Helen.  "But you were such good
friends.  You were always better than her, you know - in training, I
mean.  So much better.  I'll never understand why Lothos chose her first
instead of you."
    "Lothos?  Who's Lothos?"  The girl was almost weeping with distress
and confusion.  "Who are YOU?"
    "Really, Helen, you're beginning to try my patience," chided ZoŽ
gently.  "Lothos is our A.I. unit."  At the girl's blank stare she
continued with a sigh, "The Artificial Intelligence that runs our unit?
He sent you here for your assignment."
    Al hurried through The Door, already speaking in his haste.  "-am,
Sam.  Ziggy says there's another Leaper and history's changing!"  The
sight of Sam on his knees at ZoŽ's feet brought him up short.  "Uh-oh.
It's Superbitch.  She's going to get David arrested for murdering
Brian!"  His dark brows contracted.  "But I thought you killed her."
    "Apparently not," Sam ground out through clenched teeth.  ZoŽ pulled
harder on his hair.
    "Al!" cried Helen in relief as she sensed the Observer.  "Help him!
Do something!"
    Al punched keys on the handlink faster than he ever had before.
"There's some sort of force-field around the house, Sam.  Ziggy's only
just getting my transmission through, and he's having to use auxiliary
power just for that."
    "So," drawled ZoŽ, "Dr Beckett's hologrammatic side-kick is here, is
he?  It's a pleasure to have you join us, Admiral."  She nodded in the
direction of the black man.  "Let me introduce you to Thames, my partner
in crime."  Thames flourished an exaggerated bow.  "Oh, but I forgot, as
you're both holograms, you can't see or hear each other, can you?  What
a pity."
    "But I can see you," growled Al, still jabbing at the handlink.
"And let me tell you, you don't look half as good in that suit as David.
What do you think you're doing, you serpentine sister of Medusa?
Looking for Mr Goodbar?"
    "As the Admiral IS only a hologram," ZoŽ continued, "I'm afraid,
Helen, he can't DO anything.  Now, it's time to go, darling.  You've
completed your assignment - Lothos is immensely pleased with your easy
conquest.  It's time to go back where you belong."  Keeping her eyes on
Helen, she shook Sam's head - hard - then bent down and placed her mouth
close to his ear.  "You think she belongs to you, don't you, Dr Beckett?
Well, you're wrong.  She belongs to Lothos - and he wants her back."
    "It's not true," denied Helen.  "I don't know anyone called Lothos.
There must be some mistake.  Let him go.  Oh, please let him go."
    "I don't believe you," said Sam flatly.  "She's not evil, she's
good -"
    "I bet she is," smirked Thames.
    "- I can feel it."
    "I can't wait to feel it, too."
    "And she didn't change, she's always looked the same - even before
we shook hands in the library."
    "Of course she feels good," agreed ZoŽ.  "She's extremely good -
it's her job.  And she's VERY good at her job, aren't you, Helen
darling?  Good enough to touch you before you even saw her, I'm sure."
    *A hand touched his shoulder.  "Excuse me, Dr Beckett."*
    "Ye-es, she did."  Sam sounded uncertain.
    "ZoŽ, you're bloody brilliant," said Thames with awe.
    Her eyes still on Helen, ZoŽ gave a slight smile of acknowledgment.
    "No, Sam."  Al's voice wavered.  "She - she CAN'T be another Leaper.
She just CAN'T," he whispered.
    "I - I only wanted to make sure you were REAL, Sam," said Helen.
"That you were really there.  I swear I'm telling the truth.  I don't
know what she's talking about.  I don't know anything about assignments.
I've never even seen her before."
    Helen's beautiful eyes were pleading with him to believe her.  Any
possible advantage.  Any, however slight.  Sam sagged in ZoŽ's grasp.
He took a deep breath.  "Oh, Helen."  His voice was an agonized whisper.
"How could you?  You made me want you - just like Alia."
    "No - no!" rasped Al hoarsely.
    Hearing the despair in Sam's voice, ZoŽ gave a low, triumphant
laugh, "Oh, it's so deliciously perfect!"  The girl looked as though the
knife tickling Beckett's throat had been plunged into her palpitating
little heart.  ZoŽ played out her tortuous game.  "Oh dear, I do believe
you've really fallen for him and don't want to come.  You're not the
first, you know, Alia did the same thing.  He seems to have that effect
on some people.  I really don't understand why, he has no effect on me
whatsoever - unfortunately for him.  Alia even betrayed me for him -
after everything we'd been through together, too.  But you're not going
to do that, are you, Helen?"  ZoŽ's voice was very soft, almost
caressing.  "You're going to come over here like a good little girl so
we can Leap.  Because you know if you don't do as I ask, I will slit the
good Dr Beckett's throat."
    Implacable ruthlessness glittered in ZoŽ's eyes.  Helen swallowed
hard and made her voice be steady.  "Yes."  Keeping her gaze on ZoŽ so
she would not see the agony in Sam's eyes, she said, "I'll come with
you - if you let him go."
    "No!"  Sam writhed suddenly in ZoŽ's grasp, his arms reaching up and
back to grab the woman.
    "That's it, Sam!" yelled Al.  "You can take her!"
    Her hand still locked in Sam's hair, ZoŽ slammed her foot viciously
into the small of his back.  His hands jerked to the floor in automatic
response as he fell forward.  ZoŽ tightened her grip in his hair and
jerked his head back while grinding down the heel of the hand which held
the knife between his shoulder blades.  Pain shot through the tendons in
Sam's throat as his neck was bent almost to snapping point.  He was held
just as securely as ever, and heard Al suppress a groan.
    "No tricks, Beckett.  Now, back on your knees.  Keep your hands out
front."  Keeping the point of the knife to the back of his neck, ZoŽ
reduced the pressure between his shoulder blades and pulled his head
back further.  As his neck was already bent as far as it would go, he
had no alternative but to obey her command, and pushed himself up so he
was kneeling once more.
    "Come over here, Helen," repeated ZoŽ.  "Or I'll kill him."
    Sam was desperate.  His mouth dry, he said in a harsh, determined
tone.  "Do it then, ZoŽ.  Kill me.  I don't want to live without her."
    "No, Sam!" shouted Al.
    "No, ZoŽ!" bellowed Thames.  "If you kill him you could die, too."
    Keeping the knife jammed into Sam's neck, ZoŽ let go of his hair and
quickly clamped her hand over his mouth, her long, painted nails cutting
cruelly into his cheek.  "Hands in front!" she reminded him before
giving a soft laugh.  "Don't try to call my bluff, Dr Beckett.  I
understand your game perfectly."  Her hard gaze slid to Thames for a
second.  "I'm not a novice."  She turned her eyes back to Helen.  "I've
killed before, many times, and I WILL kill him if you don't come here."
Beckett made terrified, muffled squeaks under her hand, like a mouse
trapped under a cat's paw.  ZoŽ dug her nails into his cheek even more
and ground her knee into his spine.  "Quiet!"
    "Don't listen, Helen!" cried Al.  "She won't kill him!  She can't!
If she does, she'll die, too."  Seeing the set, resolute look on Helen's
face, he groaned.  "Oh, God, why can't you hear me?"
    "You don't have to kill him."  Helen finally left the doorway and
walked slowly towards ZoŽ and her captive, who would soon be free.  She
smiled lovingly at Sam, though her heart nearly stopped at the anguish
in the hazel eyes above ZoŽ's strong fingers.  "I'll go with you.  Let
him go."
    Victory was so close, ZoŽ could smell its heady perfume and her face
lit in exultation.
    Al blocked Helen's path, trying to push her back with useless
hologrammatic arms.  "Don't, Helen!  Don't!"  She walked straight
through him.
    "Well, ain't love a bee-autiful thing," mocked Thames.
    "Around to the side," ZoŽ ordered Helen.  As the girl came within
reach, ZoŽ abruptly let go of Sam, slamming her foot into his back
again, shoving him away.  He sprawled forward, crashing into the table.
Cups rattled and chessmen tumbled and rolled like ninepins, all save the
black king, who remained triumphantly upright.
    "Quick, Sam!" yelled Al.
    Sam rolled away from the table and sprang to his feet, ready for
battle.  But he was a second too late.  The knife was already at Helen's
neck, precisely on the pulse that hammered in her throat, and her arm
was twisted painfully up her back.
    "Stay where you are!"  ZoŽ's voice and look held Sam motionless.  "I
have absolutely no compunction whatsoever in killing HER, if necessary-"
    "You better not," interrupted Thames, "or Lothos will have your guts
for cable casing."
    "-so don't so much as flutter your eyelashes, Dr Beckett."  Her eyes
flickered to Thames for a second.  "We're ready."
    "Sure thing, baby."  Thames' long fingers flew over his terminal's
keys.
    Sam held himself so still he doubted a statue could have done
better.
    "Sam, history's changing again."  Al's eyes swiveled continuously
from the handlink to Sam to the two women.  "Now there's an 85% chance
Brian and David are convicted of Helen's murder.  She disappears and
they never find a body and - and Sammy..."  His gaze became riveted to
the handlink display.  "Oh God!" he whispered to himself.  "Sammy-boy
Leaps for Lothos!"
    "Listen to me, ZoŽ," Sam said urgently, his voice husky from the
damage inflicted on his larynx and sheer desperation.  "You don't have
to do this.  I can set you free - like I did Alia.  You can stop
Leaping."
    ZoŽ stared in surprise.  "Stop Leaping?  Why should I want to stop?
I LIKE my assignments - especially when they're as gratifying as this."
She twisted Helen's arm higher, smiling as Sam's jaw clenched at the
girl's suppressed gasp of pain.  "It's much more fun being deliciously
wicked than being a goody-two-shoes like you, Samuel."  She gave a sigh.
"You're beginning to bore me - you and this angel-face here.  Tell
Lothos to hurry up, Thames."
    "There's something jamming the Return."  Thames' fingers worked
faster at the terminal.  "It's okay.  Lothos says it's too weak to lock
him out completely.  He just needs to increase power to over-ride it.
He'll be ready in...two minutes, 38 seconds."
    "How tiresome.  You really should tell your computer - what's its
name again?  Zebedee?  Zippy? - not to bother trying to block Lothos
out.  It doesn't have the capacity to block a sink, never mind Lothos."
    Sam shot a look at Al, who shoved buttons on the handlink before
shrugging in confusion.  "I don't understand.  Ziggy says Lothos is
blocking HIM - and the odds are still going up in their favor.  It's
92.3% now that Helen disappears."
    "Lothos has the matter under control, so don't try anything,"
continued ZoŽ.  "I'm just going to have time to make this assignment
even more gratifying by letting you into a couple of little secrets.
One for you first, Dr Beckett.  Helen isn't a Leaper, are you, darling?
She's as innocent as she looks.  In fact, she's as much of a self-
sacrificing goody-two-shoes as you are."
    "I never believed she was a Leaper."  A smile brushed Sam's mouth as
he looked at Helen.  "Not for a second."
    "Oh, Sam."  A tear rolled down Helen's cheek, which had nothing to
do with the pain in her arm.
    "You didn't?" asked Al, wondering if Ziggy was going to come up with
anything that would distract Superbitch long enough for Sam to rescue
Helen.  "She sure had me worried for a few seconds back there."
    "Ah.  I had an inkling you hadn't fallen for that," said ZoŽ.  "My
congratulations, Dr Beckett.  You played my game very well.  A fine
performance.  I got precisely the reaction I wanted from our audience.
You inflicted far more hurt on this darling child than I ever could."
    "It doesn't matter, Sam - not now."  Through all her pain and fear,
Helen's eyes glowed.
    ZoŽ's face twisted in disgust at such abysmal devotion.  "Oh,
please, spare me this tender scene.  Lothos has such interesting things
in mind for your beloved, Samuel."
    "So have I," purred Thames.  "Shame I'll have to wait so long.
Lothos will tire of her when he has a cute little baby to play games
with.  Then I'LL get to play with HER.  One minute 43 seconds 'til show
time, ZoŽ."
    "Get in line, Thames."  Keeping her gaze on Sam's face, ZoŽ bent her
head closer to Helen's.  She put out her tongue and ran it up the side
of the girl's face, leaving a smear of lipstick in its wake.  "She
tastes SO nice.  Fresh, clean.  I wonder how long she'll stay like that.
Amazing to think such a soft slip of a thing should be so important to
Lothos."
    Helen allowed herself a shudder, not difficult as the woman's touch
made her flesh crawl.  Soft.  She had never felt tougher in her life.
Sam was free.  She could accept anything.  The knifepoint dug a little
deeper into the flesh of her throat.  "Your secret now, darling," came
the gentle, deadly voice by her ear.  "I wouldn't have killed him, you
know.  He and I are the same.  Did you think I would forget myself like
last time, Samuel?  He and I maintain the balance, Helen.  He's good and
I'm, well, I'm bad.  I can't kill him, I might be killing myself.  So
kind of you to bring the possibility to my attention, by the way,
Samuel.  Do you remember that - with your 'Swiss-cheesed' brain - that
day you first made Alia betray me?  If only you'd stayed where you were,
Helen dear, you might both now be free.  You delivered yourself to me
for NOTHING."
    "Stop tormenting her," cried Al, "you poisonous piranha!  It's 97.6%
now, Sam!"
    "And don't hope that he'll rescue you now," continued ZoŽ.  "To do
that he'd have to kill me - and then he would die himself."  Hearing the
girl suppress a sob, ZoŽ gave a satisfied smile.  "I don't need to kill
him, anyway.  You're going to finish him off as surely as if you'd slit
his throat yourself - and it will hurt him so much more this way.
Without you, your darling Dr Beckett is nothing.  He's lost forever."
    A crease appeared between Beckett's brows and ZoŽ's eyes narrowed.
"She hasn't told you why you're here, has she?"  She laughed, a soft,
tinkling sound.  "How exquisite.  The final touch before we go."
    "Twenty seconds, ZoŽ," called Thames.
    Al checked the handlink.  Nineteen seconds left and Ziggy had come
up with nothing.  "99.1%, Sam."  He raised his eyes heavenwards.  "We
could really use a lightning bolt about now."
    "Would you like to know why you're here, Samuel?  Do let me
enlighten you.  It's so you can-"
    ZoŽ broke off because Sam finally got the distraction he needed.
The telephone rang, its strident shrill piercing the tense atmosphere.
As though the noise was a signal, a streak of orange and white lightning
shot through the cat-flap and up ZoŽ's back, where it clawed and spat
its way into her scalp through her perfect hair.
    ZoŽ shrieked and released Helen's arm.  She grabbed at the cat on
her head and caught its wildly waving tail.  Yanking it off, she
screamed as chunks of hair and scalp were yanked off in its claws.  In a
rage, she swung the animal around and smashed it with sickening force
into a cupboard.  William collapsed onto the floor, a tangled, bloodied
mess of orange and white fur.
    When ZoŽ released Helen, instead of moving out of the way, which is
what Sam expected and wanted so he could kick the knife out of ZoŽ's
grasp, Helen whirled around and drew back her fist.  Before it could
make contact with ZoŽ's belly, the woman had it in a vice-like grip,
digging nails like claws into the tendons of the girl's wrist.  The
light of fury in her eye, ZoŽ pulled back her other arm to plunge the
knife into the girl's chest.
    "No, ZoŽ!" shouted Thames.  "Lothos wants her."
    As ZoŽ hesitated, Al yelled, "Now, Sam!" - a split second after Sam
had launched himself at the two women.
    Helen found herself wrenched out of ZoŽ's grip and flung roughly
aside.  When she had recovered her balance sufficiently to turn around,
she saw Sam swaying with the woman, fighting for the knife.
    Finally, Sam's strength overpowered the smaller figure and, without
hesitation, he shoved the knife into ZoŽ, feeling her ribs crunch as the
wide blade bit into them.  Grunting with effort, he shoved harder, and
felt warm stickiness flood over his hand.  As though from a great
distance, he heard Al groan, "Oh, Sam."
    Her opponent's face was so close ZoŽ saw sweat beaded his cheek.
She drew a ragged breath.  "You fool, Beckett," she whispered, "to die
for love."  If she could, she would have laughed.  "What a hackneyed
clichť."
    "The odds are way down, Sam," came Al's faraway voice.  "You've done
it - but at what price?"
    "We're not the same, ZoŽ," Sam told the woman as her eyes began to
cloud over.  "That's the difference between us.  It's what means we'll
win in the end.  If it's right, love is worth fighting for, worth dying
for."  He let her go and she staggered back against the sink, sending
the dirty china rattling in a death knell.  The handle of the knife
protruded from the center of a dark, red flower that blossomed on the
grey jacket.
    Thames' image shook.  His terminal shrieked in anger and he dragged
his gaze from ZoŽ's sagging figure to stare at its display.
    "Get the girl!" he screamed.  "Lothos wants the girl!  Get her!"
    Through a dark haze, which had nothing to do with the blood dripping
in her eyes, ZoŽ dimly saw the girl buried in Beckett's arms, a noxious
weed clinging to a doomed oak.  His hands left dark stains, her dark
stains, on the girl's T-shirt.  The girl was within reach.  Blinking,
ZoŽ forced an arm she could no longer feel to obey her.  Beckett would
not know love in his last few seconds, he would know utter despair.
    The handlink squawked.  "A hundred percent?  Sam!" yelled Al in
warning.
    With a superhuman effort, ZoŽ reached out and twisted numb fingers
into the girl's red hair, then toppled forward onto the couple.
    "Gotcha!" whooped Thames in triumph.
    Brilliant red and white light emanated from ZoŽ and filled the
kitchen.  When it had faded, Sam and Al were alone.