Chapter 11 Dealing with smart-mouthed, smart ass punks was as natural to Al as breathing, but receiving that sort of treatment from a punk who wasn't an actual person was a spin he wasn't quite sure he knew how to handle. He stood in the Imaging Chamber, at the window of Perry Kirkwood's bedroom and watched the gray pickup truck disappear down Liberty Street. The memory of the menacingly joking words that Aaron had said to him, using Sam Beckett's mouth to do so, made him shiver almost, as one of the nuns at the orphanage used to say "as if a goose had walked over your grave." It also made him angry. Angry because of the obvious but as yet unknown abuse to which the polite young man in the Waiting Room had been subjected. Angry at the depth and harshness of the abuse that caused such an entity as Aaron to become a needed buffer between Perry and his abuser. "I don't know who the bastard is that hurt Perry," Al said around the Chivello cigar he lit and then puffed on as he continuedto stare down the empty length of Liberty Street, "but I'm damn sure gonna find out." Pulling the handlink from his pocket, the Observer summoned the door to the Imaging Chamber. Stepping inside he said, "Ziggy, tell Verbena to meet me in my office in five minutes." "I believe that Doctor Beeks is talking with "Evalyn"," the hybrid computer responded. That was even better. In spite of the fact that he didn't care for Perry's alternate female personality's personality, Al knew when it was wiser to collaborate with an unknown enemy than to continue blindly insisting on his own way. "Advise Doctor Beeks that I'll be there in about two minutes, Ziggy," Al said as he exited the Imaging Chamber, pausing only long enough to return the handlink to Gooshie before leaving the Control Room at a smart clip. Entering the Waiting Room almost exactly two minutes later, Al paused in the door way when Verbena and the "guest" paused in their conversation to look up. *A little touch of the Calavicci charm* Al thought as he took a slow, calming breath and put a smile in his eyes to match the one on his lips as he went to the hospital bed in the center of the Waiting Room. The instant's hesitation over the greeting that sprang automatically to his lips was barely noticeable. "Hello, ladies," he greeted the chief psychiatrist and "Evalyn". "May I join you?" Even knowing Al as well as she did didn't make Verbena immune to the famous Calavicci charm, even if she did see right through his ploy. The warmth of his smile was accented by his dimples, and the twinkle in his eyes was even more than she could resist. *I'll get you for this, Calavicci* the handsome black woman thought as she return his greeting. "Yes you may, Admiral," she said, letting her own eyes speak in more subtle tones. ""Evalyn" and I were just talking about Perry." "Evalyn" however seemed well aware of Al's ploy. "There is such a thing as putting too much sugar in a mint julep, sir," she said in cool tones. But she also wasn't immune to Al's charm as "she", too, invited the presumptuous man dressed in clothes so loud it was embarrassing, to join them. "However, having been brought up properly, I echo this lady's invitation. Please join us." Primly "Evalyn" shifted her position so as to be able to face Al and Verbena. She leaned over to pat the opposite edge of the bed where "she" sat. "Please, sit down." "Thank you," Al said with a smile, "but if you don't mind, I'll stand." He focussed his attention on "Evalyn". "I trust you are being well taken care of..ma'am?" He kept his gaze level with Perry Kirkwood's alternate personality, his tone with just the right amount of warmth that had yet to fail in thawing the coolest of feminine receptions. Evalyn didn't exactly capitulate but she did respond to it as a faint blush rose in Perry Kirkwood's cheeks and she dropped her gaze. "Yes, thank you," "Evalyn" said. "The doctor, here, has explained a bit of why and how I came to be here. And, she also...explained what your purpose is in all this." Al couldn't prevent the rather sharp look he turned on Verbena, but was placated somewhat when she assured him, "Only in the broadest of generalities about you, admiral. But I have been a bit more candid about Perry's position in all of this." "I'm very pleased that...Someone," "Evalyn" darted a glance upward then back to Al, "cares enough about Perry to send someone to help him." "She" allowed a smile to curve "her" lips. "And considering those whom you are going to have to deal with if you're to be successful in your efforts, your friend is going to need someone like you to get him through this." Al decided to seize the bull by the horns. "You're talking about Aaron, aren't you?" "Yes, but he's not the only one," "Evalyn" replied, folding her hands on her lap. A question sprang to his lips, but he looked to Verbena first. "How much have the two of you discussed about Perry's...condition?" It was "Evalyn" who responded. "If you're referring to the fact that Perry has multiple personalities, and that I am one of them," she said evenly, not even tempted to be amused at Al's surprised expression, "Doctor Beeks and I have been rather candid with each other." She met his gaze openly. "You may ask me what you will, sir." A nod from Verbena was all the go ahead that the Observer needed. "How many personalities does Perry have?" "Aaron and I are the only two remaining," the female personality replied. "And I'm afraid Aaron maybe be about to attempt to...if you will, absorb me and assert himself over Perry." "How many personalities has Perry had up to this point?" Al asked bluntly. His instincts were telling him that he was coming up against a deviously wily adversary in Aaron and, would need all the ammunition and information he could get before he confronted Perry's alternate male personality. "According to "Evalyn"," Verbena spoke up, "at one point Perry had seven different personalities. Of the seven, only Evalyn and Aaron remain." "What happened to the others?" "Aaron absorbed them," Evalyn replied. "He's got the instincts of an animal in that he can almost smell fear and weakness in others. And of the five other personalities, four were young children." "How young?" "Timmy was six, a jolly little boy who loved to laugh and play "cowboys and Indians," "Evalyn said. "Annabelle was five and very shy. Marian was four and loved to sing. Henry..was the littlest one. He..." "Evalyn" touched her fingertips to her lips as if to stop the quivering that the memory of the "littlest one" conjured up. Al noted the way she said "Henry" with a catch in her voice, almost on the verge of tears. "How old was Henry?" he asked gently. From the corner of his eye he saw Verbena move to put an arm around "Evalyn's" shoulders. "He was the baby," The gentle mannered Southern "lady" whispered, fighting back tears that were already glistening in Perry's eyes. "He..he was three." She gulped a deep breath as if to steady "herself" then went on. "Aaron absorbed him first. He went after them like a ravenous beast." She looked at Al. "Have you ever seen a starving wolf attack a rabbit?" Al nodded, not liking the picture the words drew in his mind. He reached out to take "Evalyn's" hand, squeezing her fingers reassuringly. "Then you know what it was like for those "little ones" when he stalked them." "Evalyn" shuddered. "The screams when he cornered them and...devoured them. Destroying those sweet and gentle aspects of Perry that each one represented." Like Al, Verbena, too, was painting word pictures in her mind as "Evalyn" talked. Her instincts as a psychiatrist, coupled with her natural intuitiveness, were telling her that the Project's Director was possibly in more danger in this leap than all of his previous leaps combined. "You don't have to go on," Verbena said gently. "We can do this later." "No!" "Evalyn" said decisively glancing up at Verbena. "Your..friend is going to need all the help he can get, and the only place he can get it is from me." She turned to face Al. "And you're going to have to be very wary of Aaron, too. Push him too far and he'll attack your friend when he's the ost vulnerable to him." "And when might that be?" "When he causes Perry to have the violent headaches, which is when he forces the personality in control at the time to retreat so that he can come out. When the controlling personality is in the throes of the headache, is the weakest moment because he, or she, is focused on the intense pain. And if Aaron finds any weakness in your friend, and you push him too far, he'll go after your friend at that point like...like..." "A ravening wolf?" Al supplied the description. "Evalyn" nodded. "And after Aaron absorbs another personality, he adds the strongest aspects of that personality to his, and uses them to increase his strength in beguiling people." She looked squarely at Al. "In one way, Aaron is like you, admiral. He's a charmer, but he's also very deceptive and he's very good at it, so be wary of him. Be very wary." "Like walking through a minefield at midnight in winter." Al muttered. "More like playing "chicken" with a spittin' cobra," "Evalyn" warned, a touch of anxious gravity in her voice. "He'll go for the eyes every time."