The "closed doors and quiet" he'd hoped for didn't exactly happen. The 
deceptively peaceful appearance of the house soon gave way to revelry. It 
seemed The Colonel had arranged for 80 or so of his closest relatives to 
wait for the arrival of the brand new family. A burst of music, balloons and 
cheers erupted with such force when they opened the door, it threatened to 
push them back out. Sam clutched the luggage that he'd nearly dropped. The 
element of surprise was never lost on him. He was beginning to believe that 
one day his heart might fail him.
        The swell of well-wishers quickly spilled over into every room on 
the first floor. Men gave him hearty thumps on the back while pumping his 
arm nearly out of the socket. Women caught him around the waist in 
gut-wrenching hugs, rich language pouring from their mouths. He bent down 
obligingly so that they could take his cheeks between their thick, strong 
fingers, practically wringing his face. Children raced gleefully between the 
legs of the adults, flinging bits of food everywhere. He couldn't find his 
wife or the babies anywhere.
        *Al, where are you?*
        Lost in thought, he smacked right into someone who had been dancing. 
Reflexively, Sam stooped and caught them to his chest like a line drive from 
home plate. A delicate hand came up to brush aside the curtain of hair that 
veiled her face. Wet, pouty lips and large hazel eyes jumped out at him.
        "~Te gustas la rumba?~"
        A surge of heat rose into his cheeks. "Uh, no ~gracias.~ I-I don't 
rumble." He quickly set her feet to the floor and slipped away, peals of 
laughter breaking out behind him. Towards the rear of the house in a small 
hallway (which was surprisingly empty), he found a tiny utility closet and 
squeezed himself inside, closing the door.
        Sam jumped, knocking over a mop that passed easily through the 
hologram. The basin of a sink protruded through Al's stomach and Sam was 
caught between laughing and feeling peevish.
        "Is there any way you could just ~warn~ me before you show up?"
        "Hey, who answered your call, kid?" Al growled in good humor.
        "Okay, so I already know ~this~ much," Sam held up his left hand to 
show the thick gold band on his third finger. "Tell me everything else."
        "Well," Al absently whittled a toothpick in his mouth while 
consulting the handlink. "Your espoused is Lola Leon Ortega, a classically 
trained ballerina at the Los Angeles Settlement of Dance and Theater and 
--hey, you know, this reminds me of a song...
'Her name was Lola
She was a showgirl...'"
        "Al." No matter the holes in his memory, Sam knew the strains of 
cheesy disco music when he heard it.
        "No respect for the classics, " Al muttered. "Wow. It says here that 
you two just had twins a little over a month ago. Congratulations, Sam, 
how'd ya manage that one? Anyways-"
        A loud thump from outside caused both of them to freeze. "Looks like 
we need a new office," the hologram said quietly, though he need not. 
"Ziggy, find me an empty room somewhere in this house."
        Even the usual howls and shrieks of the handlink seemed muted. Al 
nodded approvingly at the readout before translating to Sam. "Okay, you want 
to go upstairs and hang a...right around the guardrail. Keep going straight 
until you get to the second to last room on your left. You should be in the 
clear there."
        "Al, how do I get out of here without being noticed? I'm like two 
feet taller than anyone here!"
        "Oh...uh, just say ~Voy al bano.~" Sam stared at him blankly. "It 
means, 'I've got to go to the little Leaper's room.' I can't imagine 
~anyone~ trying to stop you from that."
        Sam took a deep breath before cautiously sticking his head out into 
the hall. Three kids tussling around with a soccer ball blinked at him 
curiously. "~Hola,~" he managed weakly and smiled. They took off screaming. 
Creeping back into the party, he wove his way through the throngs of people, 
nodding politely, but blurting out the business about the bathroom the 
moment someone poised themselves to pinch or steer him off course. By the 
time, he'd successfully navigated his way upstairs and into the correct 
room, he was certain that he had made a fine impression as the poster child 
for adult diapers.
        "How embarrassing," he hissed when he was facing Al again. "Next 
time, we use Plan B."
        Al snorted with amusement. "There is no "Plan B", Sam. Besides, what 
happened to your Spanish? You've never had problems before. It's your 
~Italian~ that's shot."
        Sam made sure to favor the ex-Rear Admiral with the most sour 
expression he could muster before responding. "Ha. Very funny. Well, you'll 
be pleased to know that I've done a little research myself." With a 
flourish, he produced a fairly worn wallet from his back pocket of his 
khakis. "Born October 17, 1974, type O blood, enjoys Chinese, visits the 
library -and quite often according to these receipts-member of the QuikPix 
Discount Club and carries a book of stamps tucked in the billfold. Thank you 
very much."
        "Well, that's a relief. I don't know why the Project even bothers to 
cut me a check at all."
        Sam rolled his eyes. "Why am I here, Al?"
        "Yeah, that's a good question, Sam..."
        The uneasiness in his voice plucked a taunt chord of fear in Sam's 
heart. For the first time, he noticed that not only was something not right 
about this Leap, but there was also something a little unsettling about the 
Observer. Al was always fussy about his grooming, particularly in keeping 
his face clean-shaven. Sam vaguely recalled his friend's rationale running 
concurrent with Navy regulations and a personal side note about "hippies." 
At this moment, a five o'clock shadow went unchallenged. His hair was 
overrun with dark curly ringlets and the sky blue collar of another shirt 
poked from beneath a rather normal looking sweater. And there were other 
things that should have clued him in.
        "When you got here, you started to tell me about Lola, but Al, you 
~always~ tell me about the person I've Leaped into first. What's going on?"
        "Well, to be honest with you, I'm not sure. We had to do a little 
Sherlocking when the guy came into the Waiting Room. He only knew his name 
and he kept saying something about ~Los Cerritos.~  Ziggy ran a search and 
found a mall by that name outside of L.A....and that's how we found you. So 
actually, you've got the jump on us."
        Sam felt an itching in his new legs and started to move around a 
bit.  "So, does this mean I'm flying blind?"
        "Yes...and no. I've got information, just not on you. Lola is the 
only child of Marisol Leon, a homemaker, and Cesar Colon Ortega, a retired 
colonel for the United States Army." Al raised an eyebrow at Sam. "Boy, 
you've got your hands full."
        "Yeah. I think I've already made his A list."
        "Hm. Both originally from Pinar Del Rio, Cuba...home of the world 
famous ~Habanos!~ Oh, Sam, I think I'm in love."
        The funniest things seemed to excite Al. Sam smiled, shaking his 
head. "Hey, I haven't seen you with a cigar in a while."
        Al shrugged. "Apparently, smoking causes cancer in some overgrown 
	A guffaw rolled from Sam's throat, tiny bubbles of laughter tickling his 
nose. ~Al vs. The Super Computer.~ That had to be the greatest match-up 
since Ali and…Louis? Or was it Tyson versus Frasier? Sam could never keep it 
straight, although he was sure Al must have told him a thousand times--
        "Noah?" The voice was soft and near. Al jabbed a finger in the 
direction of a door behind him and Sam turned the knob, slowly pushing open 
the door. It was another guestroom, nearly identical to the one they were 
in, the lay out and furnishings practically a mirror image. Snuggled in a 
mound of pillows on the bed was Lola, her hair pulled back into a sleek 
ponytail. The left side of her blouse had fallen away from her smooth olive 
shoulder, her fingers danced at the front clasp of a black lace bra...
        "I wish I'd had a mother like that."
        Sam jumped at the sound of Al's voice at his side and quickly pulled 
the door closed. "Have you no shame?"
        "It's the human body, Sam, there's nothing to be ashamed of. And got a little drool on your chin there."
        Sam's hand flew up to his face before he realized he had fallen for 
the oldest trick in the book. "Al," he growled, turning on the hologram. 
"Go. Find me something I can use."
        "Okay, okay. But if I come back empty-handed..." The link buzzed as 
his commands prompted the dazzling aura of The Door to appear in the middle 
of the room. "Just don't shoot the messenger, alright?"
        Sam sighed heavily as the portal slammed shut. There was suddenly no 
doubt in his mind.
        He was flying on a wing and a prayer.

*		*		*		*		*
	Before he'd even stepped out of the Imagining Chamber, Al's sharp call rang 
out into the Cold Room. The few tiptoeing interns jumped. From beneath the 
central "launch panel," there was a solid ~thump!~ followed by a slew of 
unintelligible curses. Gushie emerged, his face ablaze, gently nursing his 
oft-bruised cranium.
	"Perhaps you could find some way to warn us, Admiral, of your return."
	Al snickered, casually tossing the link to a young technician with a 
clipboard who nearly fumbled the catch. "Hi, honey, I'm home. Where's 
	He was greeted with blank stares. *Oh, geez --don't tell me this Leap 
screwed that up, too.* A certain hybrid know-it-all began to hum patiently 
and Al knew that if she had a face, she would probably look like a Cheshire 
cat all the time. He took a deep breath, clinching his fists.
        "Ziggy, I need a location on Ensign Clark. Please."
        Ziggy purred sweetly. "Ensign Clark is no longer on the premises. 
The Ensign is also not accounted for at The San Fermin Naval Base or at the 
family residence of 854 Red Cross Road, Champuya, Indiana."
        Al felt the angry bite of his nails as they drove deep into the 
tender meat of his hands. "Well, where the hell is she? ~Please.~"
        "She is currently being detained in Washington, D.C."
        *Detained?* The ugly hollow word nearly caused him to flinch. 
~Detained~ was a euphemism, one of those nice words bad guys used to lull 
others into believing there could actually be a Happily Ever After. Yeah, Al 
had been "detained" once and he was still waiting for the end of that 
nightmare to ride out.
        "What happened to Clark?"
        "The Ensign was en route to Hartford on a reconnaissance mission 
when she was intercepted at Phoenix West Airport by Vice Admiral Edwin Miles 
Sisko and Lieutenant Commanders Jake Hoyt and Paris Kwan."
        "Pentagon pricks," Al grumbled, half-walking, half-running out into 
the main corridor. Suits and lab coats choked the hallway in their hustle to 
plow through last minute problems and then scurry off to the cafeteria. 
Unlike most of the residents at Stallions Gate, the cooks called it quits at 
5:30 P.M., with no exceptions. It took the new people no time at all to get 
with the program, after having to resort to chewing on their tennis shoes 
the first few nights of missed meals.
        He was rounding a corner, cursing, when he collided with another 
staffer at full speed. Papers exploded into the air like doves. "Sorry about 
that," Al muttered, snatching sheets from the path of oncoming traffic. "I 
didn't see you there-"
	He suddenly felt like he'd swallowed a mouth full of sand. His accident 
victim wore a soft, almost shy smile and a silver pen in her left breast 
pocket that she was fond of clicking while she talked. She also made a mean 
cup of Columbian and her hardest drink probably came straight from the tap, 
no ice.
	"Dr. Beeks." He quickly shuffled his pile to cover the shaking in his 
hands. God, he was nervous. He hadn't felt this uptight since Sister 
Geraldine caught him running numbers at Confession.
	"Admiral. Long time, no see."
	"Yeah, well, I don't have to tell you how crazy things get round here." Al 
managed a shaky laugh, adverting his eyes. They stood there for some time, 
the mad dash of the world swirling around them. He could feel her watching 
his every tick and nuance. *Just crawl under a microscope, Calavicci, you'd 
make one helluva study.*
	Verbena gave a low, husky chuckle. "No rest for the weary. Or the Project 
	Al tucked the fuzzy collar of his pajamas down into his sweater. 
"Occupational hazard. I gather these belong to you." He made his elbows lock 
as he extended the slightly crumpled computer print outs to her. He saw her 
gaze dip to the ragged flesh of his palms. Just briefly. Her eyes were full 
of questions, but she did not ask.
        "Excuse me." He nodded curtly in acknowledgement of his somewhat 
rude and hasty retreat and continued onward to his quarters.