Episode 602

Silent Victims

by: A. J. Burfield

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PRELUDE

 

The energy drain from this leap had been enormous. The extra power grids and some of the mainframe had to be taken off line and replaced. Ziggy Ďsleptí for a day. By the time Al was able to contact Sam again, it had been almost 30 hours. It appeared to be a straight forward leap; keeping an old man from driving and crashing into a crowded bus stop. Sam had leaped into a retirement home, and all he had to do was spend a lot of time lounging around and not drive at the indicated time. That time had passed, and Dr. Beckett was now in flux; a term used when he was between leaps.

The staff decided that sending out another leaper was not advisable in the future. The power demand was too much for the system and the possibility of permanently damaging Ziggy was too great.

Sammy Jo was sitting with Al in the cafeteria waiting for the word on the next leap.

"Wasnít he mad at you for taking so long to get to the retirement home?" she asked about the last leap, trying to keep a conversation going.

"Yeah. But itís not like that hasnít happened before. He got over it." Al took a sip of his warm coffee. He had taken advantage of the 30 hour down time by sleeping and having some close, quality time with his wife. He was back to normal now. 

The unasked question hung there between them. She was almost afraid to ask, but she had to know. He knew what she was thinking, but waited until she asked it.

"Does he .... ?" she started, unable to finish, looking at him hopefully.

"No, he doesnít remember you," he answered. "At least, he didnít ask about you."

Her head dropped. "Now I know how Donna feels," she said quietly. 

Al leaned across the table and took her hand, smiling. "Iím sure somewhere in his Swiss cheesed brain, there is a little spot reserved just for you, Sammy Jo. When he comes home, everything will be fine."

She smiled at him appreciatively, understanding why he was her fatherís best friend.  

     "Thanks, Al." 

 

 

 The disorientation of leaping was slow to wash away this time. Dr. Sam Beckettís senses crept back as if they were reluctant to complete the connections to his brain. He was hanging there, suspended by an unseen force over an unfocused landscape, as if God, or Time or Fate was reconsidering this assignment. The perceived hesitation was over when Sam felt pain slam into his body like lightning.

He gasped and struggled to escape the pain that enveloped him as the other senses snapped into awareness. He tried to flee when the pain was paled by panic when he realized he couldnít move; his hands were bound behind him and his feet were lashed together.

Sam tried to yell for the only friend he could recall, Al, but gagged on the cloth clamped tightly through his mouth and around his head. His breathing severely hampered, he tried to control the panic by concentrating on breathing through his nose. Looking wildly around the dank, dark room that smelled of mold, hoping to locate an ally of any sort, he saw two small windows set high in the wall that showed nothing but grayness, trash and litter all around the room, and a solid wooden door that was closed. He lay on an smelly, thin and dirty mattress on the floor as he struggled vainly against the ties and the pain.

The door caught his attention as it thumped and rattled, stuck to the frame surrounding it. Sam froze and focused on the door, hopeful and fearful at who may be coming in. The door finally gave away and jerked open, letting in a blocky Asian man. Sam held his breath trying to gauge the manís alliance.

The man stood there, just inside the doorway, and broke into a huge smile when he looked at the body on the mattress. Samís stomach lurched in response when he said in a cheery voice, "Oh boy! Sheís awake!"

 

 

PART ONE

March 17, 1981

Wilderness Lake, Idaho
 
I couldn’t remember when or where I had heard that my leaps would be getting tougher; I don’t recall ever having that thought before. But this time a disembodied voice said those words to me as I looked at the man that had just come into the room. I knew instantly I was in a desperate situation and needed help. Now. And although Al was just a hologram that couldn’t physically help me, I needed someone on my side even if all they could offer were encouraging words. I was in trouble, and keeping my mind working on escape was difficult when battling the pain and panic rising in my gut.

 

The man rubbed his hands together with that smile still plastered on his face, causing Sam to wonder about his mental capacity. Still breathing hard from his struggling and fighting waves of claustrophobia, Sam kept is eyes on the man while trying to formulate a plan. Considering his situation, ideas for escape were rather thin.

Circling around to Sam’s back the odd man used his heel to kick Sam onto his side, facing away from him. Sam felt a tug on his neck and realized for the first time that there was a collar of some kind fastened there. This was unbelievable, and Sam felt himself fighting hyperventilation. He felt the click of metal on this neck then a tugging on his wrists, and then the feeling of his feet being untied.

Just then the sound of the Imaging Room door echoed in his head and he craned his neck towards the noise to find his friend. Al rushed into the room, his eyes as wide as Sam’s.

"OhmiGod! Sam! This is bad," he knelt down in front of his friend, unable to help him as a hologram, and held his eyes with his own. Al could see how close to the edge Sam was, and knew he had to calm him down, even in the illogic of this scenario. Al gave the Asian a quick glance then returned his attention to Sam, whose eyes were glassy with terror.

"Shhh, shh, Sam, calm down. I’m here to help you. I know what’s happening, so calm down. And don’t do anything, OK?" Al’s calm, authoritative voice was having the effect he had hoped for; Sam’s breathing became more even and he blinked slowly a few times. "He’s untying your feet, but don’t do anything, Sam, OK? You could kick the daylights out of him with the Tae Kwan Do you know, but now’s not the time." He could see that Sam was getting control of himself and hanging on Al’s every word.

The Asian had connected a strap that went from Sam’s neck collar through his wrist bindings. When Sam’s legs were finally unbound the man yanked back on the strap which choked Sam and pulled his arms up painfully behind him at the same time. Trusting Al completely he suppressed the urge to fight back. As he was forced to his feet, Al kept talking in a calm voice.

"Sam, your name is Laura Beauchamp and you are a kidnap victim. This man is August Yeng. He and his partner are two of the most notorious serial killers in this country. You are in grave danger, buddy, but I’m here to get you out."

Yeng pushed Sam forward and he stumbled, falling to his knees. He caught the sight of a scared, disheveled, dark haired girl’s face as a reflection in a puddle of water on the filthy floor. Struggling to his feet as Yeng clicked his tongue and jerked on the strap Sam barely noticed the ripped and dirty remains of a dress barely covering his body.

"Ziggy says you’re here to escape, Sam, but not yet. Yeng’s partner Charles Moran is somewhere around, so don’t make a move until I can locate him. Hang in there, Sam. We’ll get you out of this."

Sam fixed Al with a pleading look that gave Al a chill all the way to his toes. Sam didn’t want him to leave. "I’ve got to find Moran, Sam. I’ll be right back. Gooshie!" Al pulled the handlink from his pocket and tapped madly as he spoke loudly to the Chief Engineer of the Project. "Center me on the other person here!" There was a slight hesitation while Al studied the squealing link. "What?" He sounded furious, but calmed himself quickly for Sam’s sake.

Yeng had pushed Sam out of the door, and Al made sure to keep up with him and stay within his sight. "Moran is out of the immediate area, Sam, but we’ll locate him. Yeng won’t do anything without Moran’s direction, so you’re OK for now, understand?" With his neck pulled back taut on the strap, all Sam could do was blink in response. Al saw tears forming in his friend’s eyes, and it tore at him to only be able to watch. He kept talking to give Sam something to focus on. "Moran and Yeng have this compound in the mountains, Sam, northeast of Idaho Falls. You’re in a wilderness area of outside of Yellowstone National Part, miles from any town. In about three years these two nozzles get caught and tried, but in that time they murder about fifteen girls." Al could see Sam’s mind start to work, and knew he had about a million questions. "We don’t know how many they have killed to this point. You see," Al looked uncomfortable, trying to think about how to soften his words, "Laura Beauchamp is one of the victims. Her bones are finally located and identified after the grounds here are searched for evidence for the trial."

Sam’s eyes rolled in Al’s direction, wide and shining, and Al could see him tensing up. "No, don’t do anything yet, Sam! You have to trust me!" 

Yeng had maneuvered Sam out of the small building that looked like a separate root cellar, and they were now on a foot path to a larger building that looked as neglected as the one Sam just left. Being barefoot, Sam noticed the coldness of the ground and how it hurt his feet, and shivered in the icy breeze that blew over his practically naked body. There were only trees and mountains as far as the eye could see, and escape seemed pointless; being dressed like this, he probably wouldn’t even last the first night out in the elements.

When Yeng pushed him into the larger building Sam noticed the bare block walls of the medium sized room had stout metal hooks at various levels projecting out of them, and little else. There was another dirty, thin mattress on the floor and a rickety metal table by the door with several videocassettes on it. Sam stopped, warily surveying the room as Al regarded the handlink nervously. Yeng pulled painfully on the strap and half-dragged Sam to a wall, looping the strap over one of the hooks. This resulted in Sam having to stand on his toes to keep from choking himself. He felt the fear in him slowly turning to hate.

"They don’t know a time of death for Laura, but she was reported as a missing person three days ago. These two nozzles are a sadistic pair, Sam, into sexual torture and all that. Poor gal," Sam look at him with wide eyed disbelief. "Any way, when you escape and turn them in you’ll save a lot of lives. This is a vital leap, buddy." Al was trying to paint a better picture than he saw. Escape from here wasn’t going to be easy, and survival in the wilderness just as difficult. "Video tapes at the trial showed girls getting tortured in a room like this," Al whispered, looking around. "That’s probably them right there! God, this is sick!" He swallowed shakily, getting more worried about his friend. "These guys need to die, Sam," Al concluded softly. Sam’s glare indicated he agreed.

The anger faded with the minutes as Sam became more exhausted. Laura’s body had become weakened from the treatment she had received so far, and Al had to keep him focused by talking. Yeng eventually left the room after fiddling with the tapes, and Sam rubbed his wrists against the wall. He had discovered that he was in metal handcuffs. The strap was his only possible out if he could just unhook it somehow.

"Moran and Yeng were finally discovered when one of their victims escaped and made it to the police. She almost died from exposure and that was later in the summer than you are. She was maimed, lost a breast, eww, that’s disgusting! They cut off her breast!" Al was visibly riled and shaken. "These guys are animals, Sam." He poked angrily at the squawking link. "They were arrested, and Moran was able to kill himself at the police station. Yeng tried to direct all the guilt on the dead guy, saying he was bewitched by him or something. What a creep."

Al pocketed the link after a few seconds and caught Sam’s eye. "Of the two, Sam, Ziggy thinks Yeng is the weak link. He’s the one you can escape from, but I have to know where Moran is first. I’ll find him pronto, buddy, then we’ll get you out of here." Al stuck his head through the door, literally, then said, "I’ll be right back, Sam. I’m gonna check the car out there," and he faded into the wall. 

Struggling to keep his balance and feeling his body getting fatigued, Sam knew he had to do something now. The desire to flee was overwhelming, and it was difficult to concentrate on any sequence of procedure. His strength was fading fast.

He craned his head around and saw several more hooks and various levels, two of which were in reach of his feet. If he could hook a toe on one, and push upwards off the wall with his other foot, maybe he could get enough weight off the strap to just flip it over the hook. If he didn’t get a big enough push, he could choke himself into unconsciousness, then death. Considering the choices of death by torture or death by choking, Sam decided to test the latter.

His toe was just able to get a tenuous grip on the nearest hook and he balanced precariously on the toes of the other foot for a few seconds before a cramp seized his calf. He lurched, losing his balance and cutting off his air. Ignoring the cramp, he got back on both feet and gratefully released the pressure on his neck, gasping for air through his nostrils and realizing that he just needed a little more height to accomplish this feat; something to stand on for just a second, and push off of to clear the strap from the hook. The only things in the room were the table and mattress, both too far away.

Just then Al bustled back in the room. "I found Moran, Sam. I followed Yeng to the other end of the house," Al had the handlink in his hand again and he tapped furiously on it. "Moran’s asleep, or passed out, or something. Yeng left him alone, and he’s on his way back. Now’s a good time to get out, but you can’t wake up Moran." Al regarded the link. "Ziggy says your chances are at 80% for escape with just Yeng around."

Sam heard the shuffling of feet just before Yeng entered the room. He looked at Sam and grinned a grin that gave Sam the chills, then slipped an object out of his back pocket. It was a large folding hunter’s knife. A flash of memory entered his head at the sight of the knife; Sam had used one just like that to fillet fish and gut pheasant on the farm. He dared not to think what Yeng planned to do with it. Al’s comment about the girl having her breast cut off stuck in his head, and he knew this was not just a threat. 

That chilling smile was still on Yeng’s lips when he stepped up to Sam, pressing his body up to him. He smelled of sweat and dirt and greasy hair and Sam turned his head away, closing his eyes. He felt the cold edge of the knife as it traced a painful pattern from below his left ear across his throat, and start down his chest. The motion was stopped by Yeng’s own body pressed there.

"Comon’ Sam, open your eyes and think! You gotta get out of this! Sam!" Al’s voice restarted his brain and he instantly acted on a feeling, taking advantage of his untied feet.

Wrapping one leg around Yeng’s knees he was able to pull the Asian’s legs together and up, then ducked his head and butted the man’s chin. He caught Yeng completely by surprise and he fell back, his head making a loud crack on the floor. Sam stepped his other foot onto the down man’s bent knees and managed to get enough of a push up to unhook the strap. He fell to his knees on Yeng’s crotch, disabling him with a loud woof of breath.

"Quick, Sam, before he yells and wakes up Moran! Clobber him!" Al was jumping up and down next to Sam, who had lost his balance and fallen aside. Shakily Sam got to his feet and kicked the monster in the head hoping to knock him out. It took several kicks until he stopped moving, but Sam wasn’t satisfied and gave him at least two more before Al’s voice broke through his anger.

"Stop, Sam that’s enough! Stop it!" Sam paused. "I think he deserves lots more, too, but you gotta get outta here. Comon’, over here. Use the knife to cut the strap."

Sam’s nostrils were on fire from the heavy breathing and his chest ached. He stumbled over to where Al was pointing and dropped on the floor to reach the knife. It seemed to take forever to position the knife with his fingertips and saw on the stubborn strap. He just closed his eyes and made a mental picture of the task, and sawed away at Al’s urging. Finally the strap snapped, and Sam was able to slide his cuffed wrists under his feet so his hands were in front of his body. He shoulders were on fire and his hands numb, but he forced his body to work. He ripped off the gag, and gulped huge mouthfuls of air to clear his head. Slowly he sat up, his eyes watering and head pounding, unable to focus on the next step.

"OK, now, check that pervert’s body for the cuff key, Sam, then let’s get you out." Obediently, Sam crawled to the down man.

"I have to get out, Al," Sam croaked. "I can’t stay here."

"Yeah, I know buddy, now let’s get going!"

Sam’s hands were shaking as he checked Yeng’s pockets and found a key ring with about a half dozen keys, one which was a handcuff key, Al pointed out. His hands weren’t very coordinated due to the numbness and he kept dropping the tiny key. Al looked worried as he bounced on his toes nervously, noting Sam’s clumsiness.

"Forget unlocking that for now, and just get his clothes. You’ll need them, and we don’t have much time. I’ll go check on that other clown." He half ran through the wall, leaving Sam alone.

When Al disappeared Sam felt a blast of fear shoot thought his body, and his hands started shaking even more. He felt his chest tighten as panic started to take hold, and stripping the prone man wasn’t helping stave off the attack he felt coming. He didn’t want to be left alone with this guy, unconscious or not. It didn’t matter that Al was just a hologram. He needed someone on his side.

He finally fought off the panic attack by making a list in his head of what he needed to survive in the woods. He stripped off the shirt and down vest, and even the pants of his unconscious nemesis. It made his stomach turn to put on the filthy pants, and he was on his knees, starting to retch, when Al returned.

"We are out of time, buddy," Al said with a voice of authority. "Get up. I know you’re sick to your stomach, I know you’d rather kill him where he lay, but there’s no time for that." His command presence was calming as it was the voice of experience. Being a repatriated POW from Vietnam, he knew exactly how Sam felt. And he knew he had to save him from himself as well as the enemy. The rage had to be channeled to survival right now. "Moran is awake and will be here any minute. Move it!"

Sam gathered up the shirt and vest, put the keys and the knife in the pants pocket, then got to his feet. The sensation of the cold floor on his bare soles made his hesitate, then move to Yeng’s feet. He bent over and yanked off the shoes with a force that surprised him, and stumbled to the door on wobbly legs. Action had caused the panic to subside, and his thoughts became calm and ordered, but the adrenaline made him shaky.

"Which way?" he whispered. Talking made his bruised throat ache, and he kept blinking to try and clear his fogged vision. His pounding veins made the collar even tighter. 

"Just follow me, Sam. You concentrate on me and staying on your feet. I’ll get you out." Al gently but urgently kept Sam’s attention on him. He could see how fatigued Laura’s body was, and was worried that the body would give out soon. They had to get out now. He led Sam out of the torture room and down a short hall. He saw Sam’s forehead furrow with thought. "I’m taking you out a door that puts you closer to the forest. You’ll have more cover that way." They both heard a door bang shut in another part of the house. "Let’s go Sam, Moran’s on his way." 

They ducked into a utility room that had a door to the outside. "Here it is," Al indicated with his thumb. "Once you’re outside, go straight ahead right into the woods. Don’t look back or stop, you hear?" Sam nodded quickly and pushed open the door just as he heard footsteps getting louder. He slipped out, but didn’t close the door completely. He saw a motion out of the corner of his eye through the cracked door as a person walked down the hallway he and Al just came through. Moran was headed to the room, and would find Yeng in just a few seconds. His heart leaped into his throat as he again fought back blind panic to make a quiet escape. 

It took about a dozen steps to get into the woods. Stepping from the sunshine into the cold shadows was shocking, the chilling effect compounded with the occasional near freezing blast of wind. Sam clutched the clothing close to his body for warmth. He hadn’t even had a chance to put on the shoes. He felt his feet getting poked and cut from rocks but he didn’t dare stop. Al led him deeper into the trees, and after awhile he could hear faint voices arguing and even a few gunshots over his wheezing breath. 

Al was relentless in his badgering and urging, pushing Sam’s body to the limit. Sam had difficulty catching his breath, and saw that his vision was narrowing to a tunnel. The collar was choking His arms hung limply down, the clothes caught on the handcuff chain, and a shoe clutched desperately in each hand. Al cajoled Sam up a small valley, then into a rocky crevice on one side. The crevice bent around in a sharp angle, hiding Sam’s body from the opening. The floor was fairly soft silt and pine needles. Spider webs occasionally draped across Sam’s face, and it smelled of wet rock. Al finally let Sam stop and he collapsed gratefully, instantly falling into what Al hoped was an uneasy sleep instead of shock.

The holographic friend watched over him for several minutes to be sure he was safe.
 

 

PART TWO

 

As Sam slept Al stepped back into 1999 to see what changes they had accomplished.

"Ziggy," he ordered, still standing in the Imaging Chamber, "How’s it looking?"

The parallel hybrid computer’s velvety voice came back with an answer almost immediately. "Considering the climate and temperature in the time in this area, the physical condition of Dr. Beckett, and the type of clothing and supplies, it is a 32.6% chance that Dr. Beckett will make it to the authorities in the area."

"Are you saying it’s a 67.4% chance he’ll die or that he’ll get caught?" Al sounded frustrated.

"I gave a percentage on Dr. Beckett’s success, not how he would fail," the voice sounded insulted. "I calculate 40.7% that Dr. Beckett will die of exposure, and 26.7% for recapture. Are you happy now?"

"No, Ziggy, I’m not," Al was working hard not to lose his temper with Ziggy. Past experience proved her ability to pout. "Did you factor in my help and experience in wilderness survival?"

"Yes, Admiral."

"And his chances for success are still that low?"

"Yes, Admiral."

"Are there any other factors you used and didn’t tell me?"

There was a tell tale hesitation, like a kid caught in a cookie jar. "Yesss..."

Al waited, hands on hips. "Well? What are they?"

"I also factored in information on the future survivor’s mental condition and abilities at her time of discovery, taken from doctors’ and psychiatrists’ records. And there was a factor of luck that she was found at all."

Al turned that one over in his mind as he left the Chamber for the Control Room. He approached the center console and stood by the pale, red haired head programmer. Gooshie watched Al, trying to gauge his mood as he spoke to Ziggy.

"I want you to recalculate the odds, throwing out those last parameters and factor in mine and Sam’s instead," he pulled a cigar from his jacket pocket and chewed on it thoughtfully. "Any difference?"

"But Admiral, every time Dr. Beckett leaps there is some mind mixing with the subject and Dr. Beckett. I cannot ignore that fact."

"Well, you will this time. The information you used isn’t from Laura Beauchamp, but from some other person altogether." He noted the hesitation in the computer and decided to push it. "Or would that be too hard for you?" Al tried to look innocent as he lit the cigar.

Ziggy’s tone was haughty. "54.73% of success. And I am capable of more difficult problems."

"Thank you." Satisfied, Al then turned to discuss with Gooshie the fact that he would have to be on line in the Imaging Chamber for long periods in this leap if he was going to be Sam’s trail guide. "And get me some detailed maps of the area in that time," he added. He had some numbers to massage to get the success rate up, and retired to his quarters to consider the calculations.

 

 

The cornfield swayed in the breeze making a restful whispering noise that always calmed Sam’s mind. He stood watching the golden topped stalks against the impossibly blue sky and felt comforted. He was home, and it was a joyous feeling. Closing his eyes he felt the Indiana sun caress his cheek and the warm breeze lift the hair from his forehead. He never wanted to leave, but now the feeling on his cheek tickled, and he felt himself frown. Then he felt something hard on the other side of his head which was beginning to hurt. In his dream, Sam raised his arm to brush away the tickle, but the pain from striking something hard, cold and out of sight forced him to jerk awake and bang his head on the close rock wall.

Surprised, he quickly sat up and slapped the tickle on his cheek, forgetting his hands were cuffed together. He managed to clip the bridge of his nose with the metal, bringing tears to his eyes. He saw the squashed body of a fairly large spider drop into his lap, causing him to scramble to his feet awkwardly. The spider hadn’t bitten him, but the other side of his face was tender and bruised from resting on a rock. His body was stiff from the previous exertion and cold, but at least his breathing was easier now.

Sam shakily looked around him, recalled the cuff keys in his pocket, and retrieved them. His fingers were numb and shaking so badly, he had to sit and rest his arms on his knees to hold them steady enough to unlock the cuffs. Finally, he got one unlocked and opened. His wrist was purple and deeply indented from the tight metal. He worked his fingers to rid them of the numbness, and unlocked the second bracelet, letting the offending device drop to the floor. It hurt to touch his wrists, and Sam wondered if there were any broken bones. 

Noticing the shirt and vest on the ground, Sam grabbed them and shook them out before putting them on. That helped a lot, but he was so chilled he wondered if he could ever recover the lost body heat. He checked the shoes and slipped them on. All the clothes were too big, and he untucked part of the rags that were formally a dress and ripped off enough pieces to make a belt and cinched the clothes down. 

"Hello, Al!" he whispered loudly, looking around the crevice as he worked. "Where are you?" His stomach growled with hunger, and his mouth was thick and parched. He needed food and water, but wasn’t about to leave the safety of the cave without his guide. His words echoed lamely in the tight quarters.

The previous events were kind of hazy to him, but he recalled the block room and the gag, as well as the collar. He felt his neck, and found it still there. There was a small padlock securing it in the back so it was not removable right now. It was tight enough that he didn’t think he could get the knife between it and his neck to cut it off. As he tried to work his fingers under it he started to feel light headed as the pressure cut off the circulation to his brain. When the welcome sound of the Imaging Room door greeted him, Sam plopped down to rest and talk with his friend.

Al wasn’t hard to spot, decked out in black and neon orange. "Oh, Sam, you’re awake," he said cheerily as Sam chuckled and shook his head at the image. "I was worried there...what?" the hologram asked innocently, arms out from his sides. "All hunters wear this color in the woods!" he protested smugly, pulling Ziggy’s handlink from an outer pocket. "Keeps them from getting shot."

"That outfit needs to be put out of its misery," Sam mumbled, throat still sore.

"Well, it looks like you’re recovering nicely," Al shot back, but obviously pleased.

"I need food and water," Sam whispered, discovering it didn’t hurt as much to talk that way. "I guess medical attention is out of the question for now," he said, flexing his stiff fingers. "I don’t think anything is broken." Stretching, he wished for a hot bath, but knew such luxuries were just a dream. Returning to the problem at hand he turned to face his friend. "And thanks, Al, for your help back there," he ducked his head. "I’d probably be dead now if it wasn’t for you."

Al’s expression softened. "You’re welcome," he replied formally. "Now, you need supplies." He consulted the link briefly then slipped it back into his pocket, all business. "I hate to tell you, but the only ones around here are back at that...place," indicating the direction with a nod of his head.

Sam got a chill up his spine that wasn’t from the weather. "I didn’t want to hear that."

"Yeah, I know, but remember, you got me." Al looked his friend over. "I’ll get you in closer, then check the place out. You’ll need food," at the sound of that Sam’s stomach growled painfully. "And a coat or blanket or something. A tent would be nice, but let’s be realistic, here." Al motioned him to stand up. "Follow me, but don’t come out until I say."

Sam shuffled along in his too big shoes behind the hologram, and paused as Al stepped into the open. Sam felt like Bambi waiting to come into the meadow for the first time. "Come on," the hologram said, motioning with his hand. 

Sam stepped out of the crevice and felt an icy wind on his face, then bent down to tighten the laces on the shoes. Traveling in these wasn’t going to help him any, he thought. Al surveyed the area with a sharp eye, then pointed towards some trees. Sam headed in the indicated direction as Al caught up by walking through the bushes and trees. They took a jumpy route, using the trees as cover. Sam lost one shoe or the other about every dozen steps, as the laces broke in several places, so the return trip took much longer. Al finally found a well covered spot and sat Sam down. 

"Stay here and keep quiet," he ordered. "The compound it just ahead."

Sam’s hands went cold and clammy at that news, and his stomach did a flip. He sat quickly because he doubted his knees could hold him any longer. Al noticed his distress.

"Stay with me, Sam, this’ll be a piece of cake," he said trying to sound light. Sam just nodded. "I’ll be right back."

"OK," Sam whispered in reply. Thoughtfully silent as his friend surveyed the grounds, he rubbed his swollen fingers and tried to stop the flashes of Laura’s shared memory that kept intruding his mind, probably triggered by the sight of the compound. All of the thoughts were accented with terror. He looked miserable when Al returned.

"You with me here?" Al questioned, slightly alarmed. "You have to do this. I can’t."

"I know," Sam said quietly. "I guess I’m ready."

Al looked him over with a skeptical eye. "You’ll do better without the shoes."

Sam slipped them off without a word, then stood shakily to meet Al’s eyes. The hologram could see the fear was barely under control, but it would have to do. There wasn’t much time.

"Let’s go. I’ll lead!" Al tried to sound light as Sam rolled his eyes, then disappeared into the brush with Sam following, carefully weaving between the bushes. He stopped when he came to the edge of the woods and spotted the hologram standing in the open between him and a collection of eclectic buildings. A chill went up his spine when he saw a small shack; it was where he had leaped in.

Al was motioning wildly. Sam swallowed and slunk across the open space to a small utility shed and crouched down behind some piles of newspaper. "There’s a garage thing over here that has a freezer and canned stuff, and probably a bag to carry things." Sam’s stomach was cramping with hunger, and his extremities tingled with fear. 

"Where are they?" Sam whispered.

"Uh," Al looked around to get his bearings. "Yeng walked down the road, that way," he pointed in the opposite direction. "I think Moran went looking for you in that beat up Jeep, because it’s gone." He chose not to tell Sam that Yeng was carrying a shotgun. "I didn’t see him anywhere around here, so get movin’."

"There’s no one else here? I mean, no more victims?" 

"Not that I could find. Now come on!" Al walked anxiously ahead towards a low wood and block building, and Sam followed, slipping around the side to the front doors.

The whole compound had piles of junk everywhere. Trash in bags were just tossed behind the outer buildings, having been torn open by various critters. Bears entered Sam’s mind. He hoped he didn’t run into any. There were five buildings that he could see. The shack and cellar affair he had leaped into, the garage he was in now, the larger block building that seemed to be the main house that Sam escaped from, a small outhouse appearing structure behind the big building and a medium sized block building that had trash cans along the side. For all the good it did; it looked like they never used them.

Sam checked the cluttered garage and found a dilapidated freezer. When he opened it he saw the inner door and walls were caked with ice, and pried a couple of paper wrapped packages from the shelves. Then he scraped some ice from the inside and put it in his mouth. His eyes closed in ecstasy as he felt it run down his throat.

"That’s wrapped meat, Sam," Al said, looking around as he talked. "Get a bag and take some. You’ll need it." While Sam emptied out a canvas bag he found Al examined the room. "There’s metal cabinets over here. Look inside, there may be more food."

Sam tossed a half dozen frozen packs in the bag, some more ice in his mouth, then opened the cabinet to find camping gear crammed inside and some very old looking freeze dried food packets. He grabbed all of them and a small, rusty frying pan. Rooting around also turned up a box of matches, a compass, a canteen, and a leather work glove. The other glove was missing, but he took it anyway. As the seconds ticked on, his heart pounded harder and the urge to flee grew. He passed up a small tent for a ratty sleeping bag, knowing his take would have to be small enough to carry. He returned to the freezer and put more ice in his mouth.

"Careful, Sam! You’ll get cramps!" Al cautioned, worried.

"Ah ahlreahdy hab ‘em," Sam replied through a mouthful of ice as he stuffed in more. He could feel the coldness running all the way from his throat to his stomach. It was wonderful. It was hard to stop, but he knew he had to get out of here. As he was cramming the sleeping bag in the sack his eyes fell on a pile of clothes near the open garage door. Al followed his stare and walked over.

"Not too clean, but they’ll help," he looked closer. "What’s that?" he pointed at something on top of the pile.

Sam slowly walked closer, a feeling of dread growing. "It’s the toe of a shoe." He carefully lifted pieces of cloth away from the dainty dark red pump, buried in women’s clothing. With the toe of the shoe exposed, Sam lifted it up.

The pump used to be beige. Half of it was now stained in blood, and Sam could see nibble marks from some small animal. He flung the shoe in revulsion, the scent of dried blood combined in the revelation making his stomach lurch. Turning his back on the clothes he clamped his hand over his mouth to keep from vomiting, and broke out in a cold sweat. His legs wobbled and he fell to his knees.

"Sam! There’s no time for this!" Al stuck his head out the garage wall. "Yeng is just down the road here, and we gotta move!" He looked back at the pile of clothes. "Look, there’s a sweater here, and two smaller tennis shoes. They don’t match, but they’ll stay on your feet. Come on, buddy! Get yourself together!" Inwardly, he was just as repulsed as Sam, but he knew it was up to him to keep his friend alive. He took that responsibility seriously. He egged Sam on, who crawled over and picked up the items Al pointed out without question. He looked pale as he stuffed them in the bulging bag and clumsily stumbled back to the freezer. 

As he struggled with the load and his weak knees, Sam confronted Al. "Are you sure there’s no one else here? Where did those clothes come from?" His voice was a harsh whisper. "Why didn’t I leap in to save them?"

"I don’t know!" Al sputtered, nervously checking the driveway. "Ziggy pulled the information from the trial transcripts. Yeng didn’t say how many girls there were before Laura. He plead the 5th amendment. You know, the self incrimination thing."

"I think you need to look around." Sam directed sternly.

"But Ziggy doesn’t..."

"Just do it, OK?" Sam snapped.

"All right already. Jeeze," he yanked out the handlink and tapped the keys. "Just keep out of sight."

"OK, OK," Sam had plunked down and was wrestling with the shoes when Al blinked out of sight. 

The shoes were a much better fit and Sam stood up. He checked a set of small wooden shelves and found a couple of easy open cans of beans. Yanking them open he devoured them both and decided to search for water. There was back door out of the garage and Sam pushed it carefully open and stuck his head out. He saw a hose bib and put his lips to he faucet after forcing it open. He drank until his stomach threatened to cramp again, then filled the canteen. All he needed now was a better jacket.

With the canteen and full bag in hand he crept along the back of the building to the corner closest to the main house. He shivered, remembering the room with the hooks, but managed to carefully dash across the open space and not fall over any of the trash piles. He tried not to think of what could be in some of the piles as he peeked in each window. Each room he saw was as trashy as the yard, and it sickened him to think of actually living in all this. The fourth window proved to be his best bet, as it was mostly clothing strewn about, and a sorry looking bed piled with magazines. 

He dropped the bags and pulled out the screen and forced the squealing window open. Climbing through it was tricky with the baggy clothes and numb fingers, and he was hanging halfway inside when a pair of black shoes and orange pant cuffs popped in his line of vision. It made him lurch and fall through the hologram in a heap.

Al snorted. "You’ll never make it as a cat burglar," he quipped.

Sam shot him an annoyed glance, "Tell me something helpful for a change." He rubbed his shins where they had scraped along the sill, then crawled to the closest pile of clothes and pawed through them.

"What are you looking for?" Al questioned, glancing to the door, and cocking his head at the magazines on the bed. "Hmm. Looks like the pornography business is safe with the amount these losers buy," his eyebrows arched in curiosity at the stack. "Wow! Look at the Grand Tetons on that one!"

Sam ignored him in disgust. "A warm jacket. And socks. Then we can go," Sam looked up at his friend. "Unless you found something? Other than that?"

Turning his attention back on Sam, Al shook his head. "No. Just a roll of carpet back there behind those trees that gave me the creeps. Exactly what a body could get rolled up in."

Sam regarded him for a few seconds. Under more normal circumstances he would chide him about watching too many horror movies, but he was now living that reality and couldn’t argue the possibility. He got back to looking for a jacket and noticed his hands were shaking again. He wanted out of here. Now.

He found a dirty down jacket by the closet, several pairs of socks, which he stuck in the jacket pocket and thermal underwear bottoms in the corner of the closet, along with a dusty backpack hanging on a nail. He put the jacket and socks inside and made for the window. Al stuck his head out into the hall and jumped back inside.

"Sam!" Al yelped, making Sam’s heart leap. "Yeng’s coming in the front door! Get out!"

Sam threw the backpack out the window, and heaved himself over the sill. He heard the front door bang shut and the sound of footsteps grow louder. He wiggled out the window, falling unceremoniously onto the ground, then jumped to his feet and dragged the bag and backpack to his shoulder, stuffing the jacket in the pack straps as he ran back the way he came. He just entered the forest again when the blast of a shotgun ripped through the bushes behind him.

"Uh, Sam, he’s got a gun!"

Sam gasped "No kidding!" as he darted through the trees and brush, putting as much distance as he could between himself and certain death.
 

 

PART THREE

 

There are times in some leaps when I honestly think it’s my last moment on Earth, and this was one of those times. Although the water and small amount of food I had managed to find was a great help, there was still a lot to overcome. Between the altitude and the collar choking off my breath and blood, it was getting harder and harder to keep it going. It was only my determination that kept me going. I had to evade Yeng long enough to rest; if I didn’t, well, either way I was dead.

 

The cat and mouse pursuit through the woods was difficult with all the equipment Sam had taken. It was only the head start he had on Yeng that gave him an edge, and it was a very slight edge. Al was the one that tipped the scales in Sam’s favor. He directed Sam quickly and carefully using the maps supplied by Ziggy as a guide. His knowledge in terrain and how to cover tracks were the only thing that kept Sam from Yeng’s sight. What saved him was time. When the sun dropped behind the mountains in the afternoon, Yeng knew he had to get back or suffer the elements. Al watched him move away for a long while before returning to Sam, convinced that he wasn’t coming right back.

Sam, meanwhile, breathing heavily in the thin air and starting to feel the chill of the night, had collapsed in a circle of trees.

"You’re safe for awhile, Sam," Al told him, relieved. "He won’t be back for awhile, if at all. The compound is at least three miles back." The handlink, which had been a constant source of beeps and squeals for the past couple of hours was silent now, and he slipped it into an inner jacket pocket. Al wiped his brow with his hand as he pulled out a cigar and proceeded to light it up. "I’m exhausted, here. And you did all the running!" he joked, relaxing some. "Hey," he looked at the ring of trees Sam had stopped in. "A fairy ring."

Sam, his breath somewhat recovered, tilted his head and looked at him oddly. "What?"

"A fairy ring. The ring of trees your in. When they grow in a circle like that it’s called a fairy ring. It’s supposed to be magical," he dropped his voice at the end, like he was letting Sam in on a secret.

"Magical." Sam repeated. "Do I get three wishes?" He leaned over tiredly and pulled the bag and backpack to him.

"Three wishes? I’m not talking genies, here, Sam, I’m talking mysticism. And you can use all the help you can get right now!"

Sam took a long drink on the canteen with shaking hands and dumped out the freeze dried food. "I guess it’s one of these, because the wrapped stuff isn’t thawed yet and I need something to eat now. I need a fire, I think."

"Your best bet is against that cliff there," he indicated the far side of a dry creek bed, just within Sam’s sight. "Build it under the over hang, and it will disperse the smoke some. Although it won’t matter so much now in the dark, it will in the morning. Plus there’s some boulders you can sleep behind. Come on, let’s move."

Food was the only thing that got him to move. He took the pan, the canteen and the matches and stumbled over to the rocks, and cleared out a small area to make a fire. There was enough wood around, and soon there was a small blaze going just in time to warm his frigid fingers. He was glad he had grabbed the single leather glove, as the metal handle of the pan would have been too hot to handle. The paste like gray mush that evolved from one of the packets and water looked awful, but tasted like heaven to Sam. He gobbled it greedily, and made a second batch of something brown. He swallowed that just as quickly. Al watched in amazement.

"I was going to get something to eat myself, but you’ve just ruined my appetite," he groused. 

With a warm glow in his stomach, Sam felt himself getting drowsy. He leaned back against the cliff, eyes closed, trying to relax his aching muscles as the scrapes and bruises on his body throbbed. "Just get me out of here, OK?"

"No argument here, buddy, but don’t go to sleep yet or you’ll freeze." Al pointed at the bags, still in the fairy ring of trees. "At least get the sleeping bag and clothes. Come on! Move it! Then you can sleep." The relentless nagging prodded Sam into motion, and he dragged the items back and prepared to sleep. The fire died slowly, and Sam, wrapped in a smelly sleeping bag with his face close to the glowing embers, fell deeply asleep. Al had made sure he was hidden behind a boulder and safely out of sight. The sole light came from the dying fire, and it, too, faded slowly as the darkness deepened with the night.

Only when total darkness surrounded his friend did Al finally leave his side.

 

 

A noise pulled Sam from the depths of sleep to confused awareness. It was completely black and it took him several seconds to realize where he was. The scuffling, scraping noise continued and Sam sat up, feeling the cold air creep into his bag as he moved. He frowned as he zeroed in on the direction of the noise, which was out of his sight beyond the boulder, and debated investigating further. Finally, the noise accented with a tearing sound, teased him enough to stand and look over the rock.

It was black as pitch save the bits of moonlight that managed to dart between the leaves’ canopy. There was a light breeze that made the splashes of light dance, and created a jumpy effect on the forest floor. Sam squinted, trying to make out the source of the noise. All he could see was shadow, and one huge shadow was moving in the area of the fairy ring of trees. His heart jumped into his throat as thoughts of Yeng and Moran leaped into his mind, but part of him finally convinced him that the shadow wasn’t human. Whatever it was, it was big and eating the remainder of his food!

"Hey!" Sam yelled instinctively, instantly chastising himself for drawing attention. There was a slight pause in the noise, followed by a snuffling sound, then the shadow continued its feasting. Sam stood up, helplessly watching as the bear devoured his supplies. It seemed like ages, but was probably only about 45 minutes before the critter finished his snack and glided off into the shadows. He shivered, his breath clearly visible as icy clouds, then stood with the sleeping bag wrapped around him, miserably going over his options. They were few. At least he had the canteen with him. He decided not to retrieve what was left, if anything, in case the intruder returned. Better the beast was in the woods than in his campsite. He slid back down to the ground, waiting for the sunrise, his nostrils burning from the cold.

He was lightly dozing against the rock when a voice jerked him awake.

"Hey! Sam!" Al barked. "Wake up! Time to get some space between you and this place!"

Sam groaned and opened his eyes, feeling like he could sleep a million years. 

"Come on, Sam, rise and shine!"

He felt like doing neither, but rubbed his eyes and wiggled to a sit. It was only slightly grayer that when he was last awake. "Sun’s not up," he grumped.

"Well aren’t we Miss Congeniality," Al commented wryly. "You need to get moving from this spot. The gruesome twosome will be here first thing, I think."

Sam woke up immediately at the mention of the pair. He rolled his bag and collected the pan and glove, feeling for the matches in his pocket. With inventory done, he buried the fire at Al’s suggestion, and tried to wipe out the signs of his presence, which was difficult in the grayness. He started to the fairy ring and described the nighttime visitor with disgust.

"A bear! Probably a Grizzly. Good thing you were over there," Al nodded to the rocks. "You could have been the main course."

Sam snorted, and found the backpack somewhat intact with the socks and handcuffs still inside. The canvas bag, however, was ripped to pieces. Surprisingly, Sam found one pack of wrapped meat, still frozen, several yards from the bag. He tossed it into the back pack along with the pan and other sundries. He slipped on the shoes and was ready to go, and ran his fingers through his hair as he waited for Al’s directions. His stomach growled.

"This way, Sam," Al lead him off along the cliff face. "The maps show a logging road at the end of this ridge."

Sam nodded and walked at a steady pace, sipping the water. There wasn’t much edible along the route that hadn’t been picked clean by the native animals. Al indicated a berry bush that had some sorry fare left on it deep inside the foliage. Sam came away with numerous scrapes on his hands and a handful of berries. He ate them hungrily as Al scouted ahead. They came to a small creek and Sam filled the canteen. His holographic guide urged him on.

"This is the only water source for awhile, so they must be watching it," Al commented, looking nervous. 

It was early afternoon when Sam, exhausted and taking a rest against Al’s desires, noticed the thunderheads building. He didn’t care at this point. The rest felt wonderful.

Al on the other hand was getting more fidgety, bouncing up and down on his toes and sounding anxious. "Come on, Sam, let’s move."

"I’m tired, Al! You get to float along, and I’m doing all the work, here!"

"You don’t think I know that? The only chance those future victims have is you. You have to get out of here. The only other choice is being dead!" Al’s words were accented with distant thunder and the wind picked up. He knew Al was right, but he was beginning to doubt he would make it. He needed food, and the thought of the wrapped meat in his backpack made his mouth water. He trudged on, dreaming about the meal he would have. He had to eat all the meat at the next stop, or risk losing it to another scavenger during the night.

Sam’s legs were wobbly by the time the wind really picked up and the sky grew dark, the clouds bulging with rain. It would be a cold rain, too, Al warned, and they had to get to shelter. As the first fat drops slammed into Sam’s face driven by a wild wind, Al excitedly motioned towards another rocky cliff face. He had Sam stuff dry sticks in his pocket for a fire, then Sam had to climb up some large boulders to get to a minuscule opening, barely big enough to qualify as a cave. As Sam wedged his body in, the downpour started and the fierceness of the lightning made the rocks vibrate. There was the barest space for a small fire, but Sam had to wait out the worst of the rain so the matches wouldn’t get blown out. He dozed fitfully, trying to keep his body heat in the coldness of the storm, dreaming of the upcoming meal. His stomach was cramping with hunger.

When he was jerked awake by Al’s voice it was dark. The rain was now very light, and the wind gone. There was an occasional flash of lightning, but the worst it was moving off. With shaking hands Sam carefully assembled the dry sticks from his pocket and managed to start a meager flame. The flame grew stronger and Sam fed it a thicker piece of a broken branch. All he needed was enough heat to cook the meat, which he carefully extracted from the backpack. It had thawed enough during the day to be a bit softer, but it was obviously still frozen in the middle. Al suggested putting in his armpit to thaw it further. With grimace of reluctance, Sam complied, wincing at the initial contact. A chill coursed through his body. He looked forward to bundling up in the sleeping bag.

"How much further until civilization?" Sam gasped, trying to keep his mind off the cold.

Al thoughtfully poked the handlink as he eerily floated outside the cave opening, the neon orange glowing weirdly in the dark. "Um, let’s see," the light from the display reflected in the hologram’s eyes. "If we keep this course, we hit the logging road tomorrow afternoon. If you don’t get picked up there, I think we’ll get to a busier road in about two days."

Sam’s face fell. "Two days? That’s forever!"

Al shrugged. "Sorry, but I told you this was a remote area! You can make it. There’s more water along the way, and with each day ahead of those nozzles, the better your chances are. Right now, Ziggy gives you a 62.4% chance of success," He pocketed the link, "and it’s going up each hour!"

Sam nodded miserably and added more fuel to the fire. "I think you have enough ember and flame to cook now. Poke a stick in the meat and roast away!" Al rubbed his stomach. "I’m getting a little hungry, too."

Carefully, Sam retrieved the chunk of meat from his armpit and slowly unwrapped it. He was careful because his fingers were numb with cold and didn’t work very well. The flickering fire was the only light to work by, and Sam had difficulty figuring out what kind of meat it was in the dancing shadows. For some reason, the tiny hairs on the back of his neck raised as he brought the paper up to his face for a closer look. Just then a flash of lightning brightly illuminated the lump in his hand, and he recognized it immediately.

"Oh my God!" he choked, instinctively heaving the package out the cave opening and fought down the bile rising in his throat. Al had jumped back as the item sailed through his body to the ground outside.

"What? What is it?" The hologram’s alarm grew as he watched his friend trying to control the dry heaves wracking his body. "Sam! What’s wrong?" He looked behind him in the dark, a sudden realization hitting him. "Don’t tell me...it wasn’t....was it? Oh, jeeze, I think I’m gonna be sick, too!" Al sidled up to the cave opening, his back against the rock. "It was a body part wasn’t it? Wasn’t it?"

All Sam could do was nod.

"Oh, yuck! I don’t want to know! Don’t tell me what part!" Al was doing a little dance of terror, wanting to put distance between him and the lump of flesh, but not wanting to leave his friend. 

Sam had closed his eyes and lay back, weak from hunger, exhaustion and the emotional trauma. Finally controlling his disgust, Al nervously hung around long enough to make sure Sam covered himself with the sleeping bag before falling asleep. Al wasn’t sure if it was sleep or shock, but there wasn’t much he could do about it now, and he didn’t like being here in the quiet darkness, even as a hologram.

He stepped through the Imaging Chamber door, food the furthest thing from his mind, and driven to seek out Dr. Beeks and find out how monsters like Yeng and Moran could live with themselves.

 

 

Sam’s sleep was plagued with unsettled dreams of flying knives and pleading eyes. When he finally woke in the pre dawn lightness, he was more exhausted than the previous evening. He rolled up in a ball under the sleeping bag trying to preserve body heat as he watched the foggy clouds of his breath dissipate in the frigid air. It wasn’t quite light enough to see clearly and the thought of what lay outside his little nest was heavy in his mind. He hoped something had dragged it off, and the thought made him queasy. The smell of the damp ashes hung around him. The whole scene was surreal. He wished Al would show up.

As he lay there thinking, Sam tried to ignore the little voice in his head which kept telling him what to do. Usually he followed his gut feelings without question, instinctively knowing it was the right thing to do, but this time he tried to deny its message. He had waken up with his purpose clear in his mind, but forced his thoughts in other directions. Deep inside he knew the truth. He knew what he had to do. But for right now he’d rather lay here and wait for his friend, try to deny the little voice and let Laura Beauchamp’s part of his mind take over for awhile. 

It was much lighter when Al cautiously emerged from the Imaging Chamber doorway. He looked nervously around as he called to his friend, and became slightly alarmed when Sam didn’t answer right away. He leaned closer and saw the puffs of foggy breathing, and Sam’s open eyes focused on some distant thing. Was he asleep with his eyes open? It was creepy, and a chill ran down Al’s spine as he spoke louder. "Sam!" he called. "Wake up! Come on, already!"

With a slow blink, Sam came around. "Al?" he whispered, now blinking rapidly. 

"Yeah, buddy, it’s me. You awake now?"

"Uh, yeah." As he struggled to sit up, the denial was gone and Sam’s mind was clear. "Yeah. I’m here. Sure could use a hot cup of coffee."

Al snorted in response, but was relieved. "Can’t help you there, pal. Wish I could."

Sam smiled at his friend. "Yeah. I know you would."

"Well, let’s get going here. Ziggy says that there’s lots of logging activity in the area, and the chances of catching a ride at the logging road are pretty good."

"I’m going back."

Al went on for a second as the statement sunk in. "There’s a logging company called....WHAT? You’re WHAT? You can’t go back there!"

"I have to." Sam wiggled out of the bag and started rolling it up.

"Sam, you’ll be turned into beef stew! Your best chance is to continue on! Ziggy says.."

"I don’t care what Ziggy says. I have to go back."

Al was apoplectic and momentarily speechless. His mouth opened and shut but no words came out. "You’ll be killed!" he finally squeaked, hammering away on the handlink to get the facts from Ziggy. "You need to be as far away as possible from those creeps!"

Sam continued to pack up, ignoring Al’s opinion. He didn’t want to go back, he just knew he had to. Breaking into Al’s tirade, Sam quietly asked, "Ask if anyone else is reported missing since my leaping in." He had to repeat the question a little louder to get his friend’s attention. Al angrily complied, pounding on the keys.

The answer was clear from Al’s reaction to Ziggy’s information. Surprised, he replied, "This afternoon’s paper has an article about a missing 17 year old girl." He continued to read, growing angry. "She disappeared late last night after leaving a party. She never made it home." He turned to Sam. "It’s them, isn’t it? They grabbed her to replace Laura, didn’t they? How did you know?"

Sam just shrugged, the dread growing inside him. "Gut feeling. Let’s go." It was clear he didn’t want to talk about it anymore as he slipped out of the cave and shuffled off in the direction he had come. He didn’t want to discuss the wild dreams he’d had, and the clear abduction scene that had played out for him while he was asleep. 

Sam Beckett knew he had to save the girl or his dreams would never be peaceful again.
 

 

PART FOUR

 

The trek back was quiet. Al had returned to the Imaging Chamber to run scenarios leaving Sam to his thoughts and fears. The day started getting dreary in the afternoon, the gathering clouds gradually edging out the sun. The air felt cold and moist, and Sam knew he was in for a gloomy night. Just before dark he came across another berry bush and was able to gather quite a pile; the bush climbed up a rocky face and lodged itself well above a bear’s reach. Sam ate the whole pile from a rock perch above a wooded canyon. 

It started to drizzle as darkness fell and, again, Sam found shelter among the rocks. His stomach somewhat satisfied he wrapped up in the sleeping bag and pushed himself back out of the wetness, watching the valley below. Based on what Al had told him, the compound was at the end of the valley and as he tried to think of a course of action, his eyelids growing heavy. 

Suddenly, his eyes snapped open. Was there motion below him, or was it the falling darkness and creeping shadows? He squinted, heart pounding, trying to locate the motion, when he heard the crack of a gunshot and saw muzzle flash from a gun. He wrapped himself tighter and held his breath, listening. It was quiet for a few minutes, then he heard rustling in the brush of the valley. The sounds were impossible to pinpoint; they echoed in the valley and he had no visual connection in the now complete darkness. It had to be one of the two murderers. There were no other people or roads around here.

When Al returned Sam was wide awake, only his face exposed from the bag. He whispered what had happened, fearing his voice could carry down the canyon in the quiet darkness. The hologram, floating outside the niche opening, turned and peered into the darkness himself, squinting into the black shadows.

"I’ll go check it out," he said in a normal tone, causing Sam to wince and shush him.

"Calm down already. I’m a hologram, remember? They can’t hear me."

Sam looked properly chastised as Al blinked out of sight. He stared into the forest with curiosity trying to get a glimpse of his friend. It seemed like forever before Al reappeared. 

"Well?" Sam pried immediately.

"It seems those nozzles may have had a temporary falling out. That Yeng character has a doozy of a black eye and is roasting what looks like a rabbit over a little fire about a half mile from here," as he spoke, he was unwrapping a cigar, pausing before putting it in his mouth. "At least I hope it was a rabbit." He had a visible chill, then proceeded to light up the cigar. Sam found the glow a somewhat comforting.

"What does Ziggy say? What have I changed?"

Al pulled out the handlink and fired it up with a few jabs. "Nada. Well, Laura’s body is now never found. And these two get caught nine months later that before. I guess your escape made them more cautious for awhile." He slipped the connection to the parallel hybrid computer into his pocket. "Those aren’t the kind of changes we’re shootin’ for, Sam." It was a thinly veiled poke at Sam’s plan to return to the compound.

Wiggling further down into his bag Sam simply glared at him. So Yeng was out there with a gun. "I wonder if I could get the gun from him while he’s sleeping," Sam thought out loud.

"He had the thing in his lap while he was cooking. He probably sleeps with it in his sleeping bag," Al muttered in reply. "But I can check later, when he’s asleep. Maybe you’ll get lucky!" His attempt at cheering up fell flat. They both knew that luck was running thin.

"It just seems like too good an opportunity to pass up. You’re sure he’s alone?"

"Very. One rabbit, one small pack. He’s alone." 

"So Moran is alone with the new victim, then." The thought made Sam sick.

Al obviously had the same feeling. "Yeah, I guess. They’ll let her get weak for a day or so without food or water. It makes them more pliable." 

Sam didn’t question the comment, and tactfully accepted it with silence. He knew that Al was speaking from personal experience.

"Yeah, well, why don’t you wake me up in awhile after you checked him out? The deepest sleep a person has is usually around 4 or 5 in the morning. Wake me then if it looks like I could get the gun, OK?"

Al shrugged. "Sounds like as good a plan as any. Personally, I hope he gets eaten by a pack of wolves first. Hungry wolves. Slowly and painfully, limb by limb," Al’s hand motions accentuated his words, his teeth gritted as he spoke. Sam had to agree with him, but interrupted the fantasy with a polite cough. "What?" Al asked innocently.

"In case that doesn’t happen, wake me, OK?"

"Yeah, right. OK." He put one hand in his pocket as he puffed on the cigar with the other. 

Sam focused on the glow of the cigar. It made him feel warm. More relaxed, he felt his eyelids grow heavy, and they slipped shut. "Wake me, OK?" he was almost asleep, so his mumbled question was barely audible.

"Sure, buddy." Al stayed until his friend was deep asleep, the stepped back into the Imaging Chamber.

 

 

It was still black when Al’s voice woke Sam. "Come on, wake up!" he urged. "Yeng is still asleep and the rifle has worked its way partially out of the sleeping bag. I knew he’d sleep with it." He saw that Sam was rousing slowly. "Wake up, Sleeping Beauty. Time to hit the trail."

Sam could see his breath in puffs, and it felt like he had icicles on his nose. It was so cold, and the bag was, well, not as warm as he’d like it but still better than outside the cave! Al’s nagging finally got him up, reluctantly. He could barely see, it was so dark. He struggled to tie up the bag, his fingers reluctant to work in the chill, but managed to pack up by feel. Al helped him with his footing down the face of the cliff to the ground, and indicated the direction to go. 

"Follow me closely. I’ll take you there using a small deer path, but watch the low branches and bushes. We’ve got to be quiet. Dawn isn’t far off, so by the time we get to Yeng there will be some light to see by." Sam had noticed the blackness seemed a bit more gray, but figured his eyes had just adjusted to the dark.

They move slowly and carefully, Sam silently following Al’s direction. It seem like a long half mile. When Al finally told him to put down his pack, Sam saw that he could see black forms against a gray background now. Rocks and bushes were more clear to him; the sun was just about up. He felt his heart race, and the nervousness he felt staved off the ever present hunger pangs and made his body feel like he had caffeine jitters. 

With the pack off, Sam felt more free to move around. He tried to calm his shakiness with some deep breaths but it didn’t help. It was probably low blood sugar that made him so shaky, he thought, and hoped Yeng had something edible with him. Preferably not meat, though. 

Al signaled him to walk slowly, and pointed out noisy hazards as Sam crept closer.

Soon he caught the musty smell of a dead fire, then noted a large, black lump between some small trees. Al was standing right over the sleeping figure animatedly pointing out the rifle barrel poking out of the bag. Forgetting he couldn’t be heard, Al was talking with hand motions. Or maybe he did that on purpose so Sam wouldn’t talk, either.

He was only about six feet from Yeng when Sam stopped. There was enough light for him to clearly see the barrel and the side of Yeng’s sleeping face. It made Sam feel sick, being so close to him. Part of Laura’s mind must be reacting, he thought, trying to control the fear he felt. He forced his feet to move, slowly creeping closer. His eyes were focused on the rifle, and nothing else. Al’s voice was soft. "Get a firm grip and yank it hard, Sam. I think that’s your best bet. He’d wake up if you tried to take it slowly."

Finally, so close he could touch Yeng’s hair, Sam carefully crouched down and held his breath. Slowly, he reached out and gently wrapped his fingers around the barrel. His hands were numb from the cold, but the barrel was so icy it still stung his fingertips. For an instant he feared he wouldn’t be able to hang on, it was so cold, but he forced his grip tighter and slowly stared to slide the rifle out from Yeng’s sleeping form.

"I said yank it, Sam! Go on!"

Yeng grunted in his sleep and rolled into a tighter ball, the rifle butt against his chest. Sam stopped, and waited until he stopped moving. He would have to pull it quickly now; the butt was stuck under Yeng’s chin. He tightened both hands on the barrel and braced his feet, but just as he gave a great heave, Yeng’s eyes flew open.

The sight made Sam’s stomach drop, and he stumbled backwards, the rifle in his grip as he fell back against a tree trunk. 

"RUN, SAM, RUN!" was all he heard, accented with an animalistic roar from Yeng.

He rolled aside just as the bulk of a man arched over him, landing against the tree where Sam had just been. Sam tried to stand, but was laying on the rifle which he still gripped. He was up on one knee, just bringing the rifle to bear on where the bellowing shadow had been when the barrel was pushed aside with a force that surprised him and the rifle flew from his frozen fingers.

"LOOK OUT, SAM!"

Sam leaped to the side, again dodging the furious Yeng. He felt for the rifle for a fleeting second, but it was lost to him amongst the patterns of black and gray on the ground. He scrambled to his feet, torn between fleeing and fighting for the rifle as he backed away, scanning the ground. Yeng jumped to his feet and charged. Sam was barely able to dodge him again, and felt a hand brush his leg. "I can’t see it, Al! Where is it?!" he shouted.

"Oh, no! Forget it, Sam! He’s pulled a knife! Get outta here!" Al waved frantically in a direction for Sam to escape. 

As the sun just peeked over the mountains behind him, Sam clearly saw Yeng’s face as he pulled out a hunting knife from inside his coat. The man eyes were squinted in anger as he lunged towards his target.

"This way, Sam! There’s a steep hill behind you!" Sam bolted in the direction of Al’s voice as a rush of wind from Yeng’s sweeping attack tickled Sam’s ear. Sam sprinted through the trees, which were visible now in the light of dawn. He had taken about a dozen steps when he heard the click of a rifle cocking followed instantly by the crack of a shot. The sound of a bullet thumping into the ground somewhere urged Sam on faster.

"Over here! There's a pile of rocks! Go around to the other side!" Sam saw what Al meant, and changed directions instantly hearing a second shot thump into a tree behind him.

The rocks offered excellent cover as he put them between himself and Yeng. The pile had come from a recent slide from the hillside in front of him. The face of the hill was too sheer to climb, and Sam ran along the bottom looking for a way up. The brush was thick higher up, and he could hide in them if he could get up there.

"Keep going, Sam! It slopes down over here...you can get up the hill over here.."

Apparently Al had the same idea, and Sam darted towards his voice. As soon as he saw it was possible, Sam clambered up into the brush. Another shot whistled over his head. The bushes offered concealment, but gave no cover. He could hear Yeng’s heavy footfalls as they got closer.

"Stop moving, Sam," Al whispered next to Sam’s ear. "He can’t see you but he can hear you. Right now he knows you’re up here, but doesn’t know exactly where. Hold still a second..." Gladly, Sam froze. He saw Yeng trot into his line of vision, and watched as he scanned the hillside.

"Come out!" he roared, "and I won’t kill you right away!" He said the statement with a chilling laugh.

"Oh, there’s incentive to give up," Al retorted. "I hope you die a painful death, buddy." The sound of Al’s voice was all that kept Sam from bolting as he tried to control his breathing. A rustle in the bushes off just beyond Sam caught Yeng’s attention, and he raised the rifle. Sam looked at Al, who looked as surprised as Sam. The hologram floated just above the brush to get a look see just as the rustling repeated itself. "I see something moving in the brush along the base of the...." he didn’t get to finish his sentence as a shot rang out, followed by an unhuman squeal. "Hey! They’re bear cubs! I think he hit one!"

There was such a din of squealing from the injured cub Sam took the chance to push some brush aside. One cub was rolling on the ground and the other was running along the base of the hill away from Yeng, barking in a frightened way. Surprised himself, Yeng had lowered the rifle to see what he had hit, then smiled that eerie smile at the animal’s plight. It made Sam sick.

Suddenly there was a loud crashing noise coming from the woods, followed by a grunting roar. Sam watched as Yeng spun around, the smiled on his face replaced with total open-mouthed shock.

"Oh, oh! Here comes mama and she’s pissed!" Al said quietly, knowing animals could sometimes see and hear him. He dropped down beside Sam, whispering quickly. "Bears have a keen sense of smell, Sam, so hopefully Yeng down there will keep her distracted enough for you to split."

The friends watched as the mama grizzly bore down on her target, amazed at the tremendous speed of the enormous animal. They were close enough to see the snarling fangs and the fire in her eyes, and Sam thanked God, Fate or Whomever that he wasn’t’ the target. Yeng was between her and her injured baby, and in her eyes he was the problem. Yeng quickly raised his rifle and even got off a shot, but it didn’t faze the furious creature. She was easily twice his size, and hit him like a freight train. 

"Let’s get out of here while we can!" Al snapped, pointing up the hill. "I’d love to watch her pulverize that creep, but this may be our only chance." He pulled out the link.

"She may be able to see me, so I’m leaving. You head up the hill, Sam!" With the tap of a few buttons Sam heard the Imaging Room door open, and his friend disappeared. 

He struggled uphill in the underbrush, urged onward by the screams from Yeng. It wasn’t long until he was silent, and Sam tried to block the reason why out of his mind. He could hear the grunts and squeals of the bear family reuniting, and the thought of Mama coming after him kept him moving until he was over the top of the hill and out of sight of the furious bear. He collapsed under a tree when he finally felt safe, gasping for breath and rubbing his cramping legs. Al popped in next to him looking as fresh as a new day. Sam glared at him

"Sorry," Al shrugged. "One of the hologram perks." He looked Sam over. "Got a few scrapes there, I see. But you don’t have to worry about that nozzle anymore."

Between breaths Sam asked, "Did...you... go... look?"

"Yep. First from the top of the hill in case ol’ Mama wasn’t quite done, then closer up." Al put his hand over his stomach. "It was pretty grizzly. Ha, ha."

Sam rolled his eyes and shot him a disgusted glance, but there was a huge sense of relief. Only one more to go. "I...could...go...get ... the ..rifle," he managed to gasp.

"Yeah, you could, but the wooden butt is broken. I think Mama chomped it."

Al looked thoughtful. "It would be kinda hard to shoot, but I guess it’s possible."

Sam measured the value of a possible useless gun and his meager supplies against the climb, the gore, and the possibility of the bear’s return. He decided not to go. He was flirting with altitude sickness as it was; the extra climbing stress was not outweighed by the benefits. The thought struck him that he was comparing ways to die: by exposure, madmen, torture or grizzlies.

As if reading his mind, Al pointed off in the trees. "There’s a creek over there. You can get a drink and rest, but now you’ve got to keep moving because your supplies are over the hill near the meat market, there." He tapped away on the handlink. "Following the creek is the most direct way to get back there." He looked uncomfortable with the thought of his friend’s ultimate destination. "Looks like you’d be there by late this afternoon. I don’t know what you’ll do after that, because you’ll be exhausted by then." 

Sam Beckett was ready for all this to be over. He decided to go with his instincts and continue on. The sooner he saved the current victim, the better, and after a short break by the creek he was on his way.
 

 

PART FIVE

 

Thankfully the day was clear and he held off any chill by walking briskly. Under the annoying leather collar his neck was tender and raw in places and his feet ached from the poorly fitting shoes, but overall he was in good shape. He kept his mind off his aches by thinking of Moran and how to deal with him.

Al had plenty of ideas. "I say strip him down and hang him by his..."

"Thanks," Sam interrupted at this latest graphic idea of what Moran deserved. "but I don’t want to hang him. By anything. I don’t even want to touch him." 

"Well then, how about introducing him to Mama back there and calling it nature’s revenge?"

"You keep forgetting that I have to get him first," Sam reminded him sharply. "I’m not exactly decked out for hunting, here."

"Good point," Al conceded. "A trap, maybe? With really sharp things in it?"

"Well, I’d have to set it up pretty fast because it’ll be cold and late by the time I get there!"

Al was undaunted. "True. I guess you’ll just have to sneak up on him."

Sam didn’t look happy about that either. "That’s what I was thinking."

Just as Al projected it was late in the afternoon when the compound came into view. Sam could only see a glimpse of white between the trees as he looked down the valley. His route had brought him to the front side of the property, and atop a rise so he looked slightly down on the buildings. Goose bumps tickled his skin as the buildings came into view one at a time. The main house was towards the front and the other buildings slightly behind. The sun was just sitting on the surrounding mountain peaks and Sam knew he had little time left. He was about a quarter mile out when a cloud of dust rolled down the drive way from the direction of the main road, the dilapidated jeep barely visible as the cause of the cloud. Sam instinctively ducked.

"He can’t see you from here, Sam."

He didn’t care. He wasn’t taking any chances.

The jeep abruptly stopped, momentarily enveloped by its own cloud as a single figure stepped down. Sam couldn’t see any details of the madman’s features, and was slightly relieved. He wasn’t sure what the bit of Laura’s mind still with him would do when they came face to face with her tormentor, and he made a mental note to be prepared for anything.

"Go see where the girl is, Al," Sam whispered. "I’ll move in closer."

Al disappeared in a blink. Sam watched as Moran walked to the front door and hesitate, the dust settling around his feet. The figure turned in Sam’s direction and scanned the hillside. Even knowing that he couldn’t be seen, Sam automatically ducked down as a surge of adrenaline shot through his veins. After at least a heart pounding minute, the figure disappeared into the house and Sam carefully continued onward.

Sam had covered about half the distance to the house when Al joined him again.

Dusk was quickly turning to dark and they saw one solitary light turn on in the back of the house, and Al confirmed that Moran was back in the room with the light polishing a rifle and leafing through one of the porno magazines. Al said he was talking to himself, apparently angry about Yeng’s absence and life in general. 

"He’s definitely one can short of a six pack, Sam," Al commented as he pecked at the handlink. "He’s smart enough to not get caught, though. It’s kind of a scary combination."

"Where’s the girl?" Sam knew the darkness would shield his movement, but it was going to be unbearably cold soon. He had to do something right away or freeze to death.

"The girl’s name is Carolyn Leslie, and she’s in the same building you leaped into." He glanced quickly at Sam to see how he would take the information. The scientist only looked thoughtful as he frowned slightly, thinking.

Then he stood, moving to the mentioned building as he spoke. "I’m getting her now, Al. You keep me updated on Moran’s movements," and he slipped off into the darkness, circling around to the back of the property.

"OK," the hologram said to empty space. He didn’t have anything better to offer, and again tapped the handlink. "Gooshie, lock me onto Moran." He was gone in an instant.

 

 

By the time Sam crept to the root cellar it was so dark he could barely make out the shape of the building from the edge of the trees where he stood. The moon wasn’t up yet, and he considered this an asset. Taking a few deep breaths to calm his heart he patted his pockets to make sure he still had the keys and knife. Sam was sure Carolyn would be in worse shape he had been; escape wasn’t going to be easy.

He darted to the back of the building and moved around to the door in front. It was solid wood, and stuck in the frame. Sam recalled it sticking in the frame before, and gave it a mighty shove. The door gave way with a squawk, and Sam managed to keep it from crashing against the wall. The noise was enough to cause the girl on the mattress to jump and start struggling vainly against her bonds. Sam’s heart went out to her, and he approached slowly.

"It’s OK, I’m here to help you," he whispered. The girl’s back was to the door, and twisted her head around to see him. Her eyes were wide and glassy with tears, reflecting the same terrified expression Sam recalled feeling in her position. It was eerily quiet, as her mouth was taped, but as Sam got closer he could hear the wheezing sound as she breathed through her nose.

Sam laid a gentle hand on her shoulder for reassurance as he peeled the tape from her face. Tears ran down her face as he tugged off the last part and she gasped a huge breath. "Shh, shh, keep your voice down, OK?" He quickly got out the keys and unlocked the handcuffs, sliding them into his pocket with the keys. He started down to her tied legs as she struggled to sit up. Her clothes were filthy and torn, and he saw numerous cuts and bruises on her arms, legs and face. She was fighting hysteria and Sam had to give her credit for not breaking down right here. She was so young...

Carolyn rubbed her wrists, unable to stop the tears from running down her cheeks. She fought to control the gasps as Sam tossed aside the rope from her ankles and offered her a hand up. She took it, and leaned heavily on him. "M...m...my feet... asleep...." she stuttered between sobs.

"OK, OK, everything’ll be OK. Take it easy for a minute and get your balance." Sam kept his voice calm against his building anxiety. He wanted out of here as much as she did and the words were for himself, too. He held her shoulders as she quietly sobbed and shifted her weight from one foot to the other. Sam felt the time ticking away; it was several minutes before her crying was under some control and she could stand on her own. The urgency to flee fairly screamed in Sam’s mind. 

He knew better than to ignore his gut feeling. They had to leave. Now.

"Let’s go," he said gently, guiding her to the door. "We have to leave now."

Carolyn’s eyes were as big as saucers, "They’re coming back now, aren’t they?" she whispered frantically. 

"There’s only one now," Sam said, but still felt her tense up. 

"How are we getting out of here?"

"I, ah, hadn’t.." his thought wasn’t complete yet as Al popped into the room. 

"He’s on his way, Sam," Al urged. "You gotta hurry.."

Sam roughly pushed Carolyn out the doorway, realizing she was barefoot as she tripped on a rock in the darkness and fell to her knees. 

"Get her up, Sam! Moran’s almost here!"

Sam bodily hauled her to her feet and glanced in the direction of the house. The aura of the moon had lightened the sky just enough to make the pale blocks of the buildings glow a bit brighter. Sam saw a dark patch appear against the main house, and it was growing larger. Moran!

Sam practically dragged Carolyn towards the trees. 

"Hey!" he heard in the darkness, followed by the click of a rifle cocking.

Sam pushed the girl forward as he heard the crack of a shot and a whizzing sound as the bullet flashed past his ear. Carolyn screamed and scrambled into the dark woods, Sam on her heels as he heard the sound of another shot. There was a burst of pain in his thigh, and he crashed to the ground among the trees’ shadows, an involuntary bark of pain exploding from his lips.

"Sam! Get up!" Al glowed eerily among the trees, waving wildly in the direction Carolyn had be running. 

"I’m hit!" Sam groaned, using a small sapling to help him to his feet. His leg wouldn’t hold his weight, and he fell again. "Al, I think my leg is broken. I think he hit a bone!" The pain was bad, but would have been worse if he wasn’t so intent on escape. He crawled frantically, the adrenaline driving him onward as he heard Moran pushing through the brush behind him. Sam had lost Carolyn in the dark, and vaguely wished her luck.

Sam had crawled into a small stand of trees, the pain keeping him from continuing on. He huddled against one of the trunks, hoping he was concealed enough. Even his best friend’s ranting couldn’t take his mind from the pain; he was sure his thigh bone was splintered and sticking through his skin, but all he could do was grip his injured thigh with his hands and hope it stopped bleeding. 

Sam could feel himself becoming light headed. Al’s voice was wavering in and out of his hearing, but his glowing form stayed close. It was a matter of time before he passed out, he thought. He sat there against the tree, breathing deeply and gripping his thigh when the moon crested the peaks. The forest floor was illuminated in a spotty pattern. The smell of pine struck him and he looked at the stand of trees he had fallen into.

He had fallen into a fairy ring. 

He smiled slightly, recalling Al’s description of the growth pattern, and fleetingly wished the mystical powers were real. His gaze fell outside the fairy ring and he saw a dark figure approaching quickly. Instantly he was aware again, fighting off the pain and trying to replace it with determination. It was Moran.

"Go to Carolyn, Al," Sam croaked. "She shouldn’t be alone."

"I’m not leaving you, Sam," Al snapped. "I’ve got to get you out of this."

"Do it, Al," Sam replied with conviction, holding Al’s eyes. "Please. For me."

Al was torn. He didn’t want to leave.

"I need to know she’s OK," Sam pleaded. "Please."

Reluctantly, Al nodded. "But I’ll be right back."

"OK," Sam replied. "Thanks, Al." He did want to know how Carolyn was, but he also knew he didn’t want his best friend to see him shot again. 

 

 

Al blinked in beside Carolyn, who was hiding behind a tree and trying to bury her face into the rough bark. She wasn’t crying anymore, and her breathing was heavy from running. The icy clouds of her breath floated off into the shadows like fleeing ghosts. 

"You look OK now. Lucky for you Sam came along," Al tapped the handlink, anxious to return to his friend when something caught his eye. His head jerked up to study her.

Her head had turned in his direction ever so slightly when he had spoken. Could she hear him? His fingers hesitated over the keys as he fixed his eyes on Carolyn’s face.

"He needs help, you know." She blinked, and looked right at his face, but Al could tell she couldn’t see him. "He’s hurt bad, Carolyn. You can help him like helped you."

The girl was so young. Al felt guilty doing this, but it was Sam’s only chance. He wasn’t about to let his friend die without trying everything possible to save him. If this girl could hear him, he could guide her. He took a deep breath, and continued.

"Come on, Carolyn. I can help you."

Carolyn pushed away from the tree and stood nose to nose with the hologram. Her lower lip quivered, but there was determination in her eyes. She was angry. "I must be crazy," she said quietly to herself, then stepped right through Al.

"Follow me, OK?" Al coaxed, floating right in front of her as he poked and whacked the squealing link. She followed Al’s voice through the trees as he coaxed her back to Sam’s position. In reality, it had only been a few minutes since he had left Sam, but every second seemed like and eternity for Al. He only hoped he would make it in time.

 

 

Moran had heard Sam’s voice, and headed in his direction, his form passing through the patterns of dark and light flickering like a surreal silent move. Since Al had left and Sam had been quiet, Moran’s search for him became more difficult. The moon light was Sam’s enemy, and all he could do was keep still and try to breathe into his raised jacket collar. The wisps of frozen breath would be like a flag if they caught the light. Moran was almost on top of him when the angle of the moon’s rays caught Sam right in the face. Moran happened to be looking right at Sam’s face when it happened. 

Sam heard him chuckle as he raised the gun and sighted it in on his prey. He walked the last feet confidently until the muzzle of the gun was mere inches from Sam’s forehead. Moran’s teeth were chattering slightly either from cold or excitement. His eyes were dark and flashing, and had a maniacal, predatory look to them that hypnotized Sam. A name flashed through his mind as he stared at the startling eyes: Charles Manson. The infamous serial killer had the same eyes; Sam recalled seeing them in the newspapers, and it gave him chills then.

Shuddering involuntarily Sam felt the tiny part of his mind that was Laura’s trying to be heard; it was screaming hysterically, and Sam was frozen, transfixed by those eyes boring into his soul. 

He felt the cold metal of the rifle press between his eyes. 

He felt the throbbing in his thigh. 

He felt the cold air caught in his throat as he forgot to breathe.

And he thought he was dead when he felt an ungodly weight crash into him. The world snapped back into normal time with the sound of someone cursing at the top of their lungs. It wasn’t Moran, because Moran was draped across Sam’s chest, unmoving. He groaned and pushed him off, breathless from the pain in his thigh.

The moon was above him now, shining directly down the middle of the fairy ring. Sam wiggled out of the ring leaving Moran in the center. Just outside the ring stood Carolyn, with Al next to her jumping up and down.

"She did it! She did it, Sam! For some reason she can hear me. Thinks I’m her guardian angel or something," he waved the glowing, multicolored handlink around over her head and noticed that she wasn’t reacting to him anymore. "Huh. She doesn’t seem to hear me anymore." His arms dropped by his sides as he added, "She whacked him with a rock, but good!" He looked proud.

Sam, however, couldn’t take his eyes from Carolyn. She was trembling, staring at the unconscious man on the ground, her hands hanging down. She hadn’t even acknowledged Sam’s presence; her eyes looked haunted and filled with anger.

"Al," Sam said softly, watching the girl closely. "What does Ziggy say happens to her?"

The handlink beeped and blinked and Al started to read the display quite happily, "Says here that Laura and Carolyn are both picked up by the Sheriff’s Department, and Carolyn is charged with manslaughter?" The hologram’s pitch went up a bit as he read, startled. He was no longer happy. "The court papers say she shot him several times as he.." his narration stopped as his attention was caught by Carolyn moving. She was bending down and picking up the rifle, "..lay unconscious! Sam, you have to stop her! She can’t just shoot him! It haunts her for the rest of her life. She can’t hold a job, or keep a relationship going! It ruins her life, Sam!"

"Carolyn!" Sam spoke sharply, ignoring the throbbing in his leg. "Carolyn, please listen. This isn’t you." He tried to catch her eyes as she brought the rifle to her shoulder.

"He’s an animal," she whispered fiercely, gripping the gun until her fingers were white. "He deserves to die for what he’s done to me."

Sam licked his lips. No argument there, but he couldn’t let her do it. "Carolyn. Don’t. Please. Don’t let him do this to you."

She blinked slowly, then turned to Sam, really seeing him for the first time. "He’s done more than you know," she whispered, tears forming in her eyes.

"I think you’re reaching her, Sam," Al said quietly. There was no reaction from the girl to his voice. Her grip on the rifle, though, didn’t lessen.

Sam kept talking. "I know what he’s done, and yes, he’s an animal. But if you do this," he nodded his head to the down man, "if you do this, he’s managed to make you into his image. You will be carrying on his work. Is that what you want? To be like him?"

She was crying openly and silently, her hands shaking as she held he gun. Each muffled sob was accented with a puff of frozen air. "No," she whispered between the tears. "No." Her grip on the weapon loosened, and the muzzle dropped. "NO!"

When she threw the rifle deep into the woods, Carolyn appeared to have gotten control of herself. She fell on Moran and yanked his arms up behind him as Sam dug through his pockets and tossed handcuffs over to her. As she swore a blue streak at her captor and cuffed him to a tree, Al quickly read off the handlink.

"That’s it, Sam! Carolyn here gets herself and Laura out of here and to the police. Moran is arrested," he whacked the side of the link, "but still kills himself before the trial. Oh, well, no great loss, I guess."

"What happens to her?" Sam asked softly, nodding to Carolyn, who appeared to finally be tiring. 

"Well, she graduates from law school at the top of her class, and now works in the District Attorney’s office. Laura Beauchamp becomes a psychologist that specializes in violent trauma victims. They are both doing well, Sam. And you saved all those other victims, too." Al had a smug look as the handlink disappeared into his pocket. " I think that’s it, buddy. Bye, bye Sam!"

As Al finished his summary Sam could feel a tingling starting in his fingertips. Just as his vision was enveloped in a blue fog, he saw Carolyn stand up in the middle of the fairy ring and turn towards Al. Al’s attention was on Sam, but Sam saw the girl cautiously reach out and touch what would have been Al’s shoulder. There was a look of wonder on her face as the scene dissolved into a whirling mist.
 

 

EPILOGUE

 

"Do you see anything yet?" 

"Nope, sure don’t, Mitchell." 

The black and white patrol car crawled down the alley. The officers inside weren’t sure about what they were seeking but searched anyway. The call came from an elderly woman who resided in an apartment above the alleyway. She claimed she heard screaming and crying coming from what sounded to be a young woman, so she decided to call the police. 

David Mitchell, the newest recruit, scanned the right side of the alley, while Officer Jacob Hendson searched the left. Mitchell clicked his tongue disapprovingly as he rolled his eyes. "Hendson, there’s nothing here. It was probably some kids having some fun." 

"Maybe." Hendson replied dryly. He knew Mitchell wanted to be where the action was, but disturbance calls were a part of their job. He continued to inch the car down the alley. The headlights gave little light in front of them so he reached for his flashlight to shed light on the boxes they passed. He had a sneaking suspicion that they would come across something. Call it a sixth sense or a gut feeling; but he knew something was wrong. He had the same feeling when his daughter totaled her car last month. 

He squinted out into the darkness beyond his flashlight searchingly and he stopped the car suddenly. He’d found it. He was staring at a white tennis shoe. It was laying on its side splattered with blood. That in itself wouldn’t have bothered him, but it was still attached to the person that it belonged to. "Oh god." He picked up the mike and said, "Possible assaulted victim in alley between Elm and Ash Grove. Ambulance requested." 

"10-4." A female voice responded to his call. 

"Come on." As Hendson opened the car door, he saw the tennis shoe slightly move. He kept his flashlight on the shoe as he approached the victim and removed his gun from his holster as he approached. He was aware of Mitchell behind him from the sound of his breathing. He moved the flashlight up the body. He heard a muffled sob and turned to find Mitchell ducking his head across the alley to become violently ill. 

He returned the light to the victim. He swallowed hard tying to control his own stomach. Before him lay a young lady – laying half on her side, half on her back. Blood covered her body. The cause was from two deep slashes on her face – each gash went diagonally from her hairline to her chin. 

Assessing the situation, Hendson quickly went to his patrol car and grabbed the first aid kit from the trunk. He returned to her, gently picked her up and placed her in the light that came from the headlights. His fingers slipped on her slick flesh as he searched desperately for the throbbing artery in her neck. He could feel a faint beat, so he went to work on stopping the bleeding. He looked at the first aid kit and frowned. He knew that he didn’t have the proper supplies in there for an injury this severe. Knowing that he had to do something so she wouldn’t bleed to death, he opened the first aid kit, picked up the gauze compress and applied it to the cuts on her face. "Mitchell," he called out. "I need your help to stop the bleeding." 

"Can’t," a sob replied. 

"Get your ass over here. This girl needs your help." Hendson demanded. 

A physical change came over Mitchell as Dr. Samuel Beckett leapt into his aura and Jacob Mitchell leapt out. Sam straightened himself up as he heard the other officer call to him. 

"At least check the damn alley. God knows that bastard could still be here." 

"Oh boy." He whispered. Both the facts that the officer had called him and he wasn’t particularly pleased at what he was looking at, brought Sam back up on his feet. Even though his stomach was still flipping from looking at Mitchell’s lunch, his mind wouldn’t let him concentrate on it. He swept his gun up and began to slowly make his way down the alley. His nerves now finally tuned as he saw a movement to the left of him. He lowered his gun on the movement and his arms betrayed him. They began to shake from all of the adrenaline in his system. Using his other arm to steady him, he moved forward. He moved and it moved and he took his aim and yelled, "Freeze!". The noise resounded in the alleyway making Hendson jump. He turned his head to see what was happening but couldn’t tell what was going on. 

"Everything okay?" he called out. 

Sam held his ground and so did the movement until he moved again. Frowning, he moved his hand up to run his hand through his hair and saw the movement do the same. Realizing he was after his own shadow like Peter Pan, he frowned and he headed back, still on edge, knowing that someone could still be around. As he turned, he missed seeing the long shadow that slowly disappeared around the corner. 

"Well?" Hendson asked when Sam got back up to him. 

"It was nothing. No one else is here, I don’t think." It was then that the doctor in him took control. "No, you need to hold the compress this way on a cut like this." 

Hendson focused back on his patient as he changed the way he was holding the compress. Her eyes opened slowly. They didn’t stay open long, but she managed to say a few words. "Dad, help me." 

"Oh god." Hendson responded with hot tears filling his eyes. He knew that it wasn’t his flesh-in-blood daughter before him, but she was someone just as close. Someone who came into his life three years ago and he considered her as a daughter. His face rose as he looked up into the night sky. "Why?" He looked back down at the young woman once more. "Why did it have to be Cassandra?" 

Even as the ambulance pulled into the alleyway, a warm enveloping feeling encircled Sam, warming him from the inside out. He sighed when he saw the paramedics arrive and he leapt.

 

 

Quantum Leaping through time, I’ve leapt into situations where instincts led me to my outcome. Without even contemplating about the newest situation I was in, I relied on my instincts on this one. 
 

His first sensations after a leap usually left him with a sense of confusion. At least this time it wasn’t confusion that found him. He knew at least he was lying down. He opened his eyes. 

It was dark; almost pitch black. The only thing that cast any light was a digital clock that was approximately two feet away on a bedside table. It read: 1:30. It had a dot beside the time indicating in the morning. 

He immediately gazed up toward the ceiling with a sigh. "Thank you." It was the first time to leap into a person where he could rest beforehand. It was not only a welcoming feeling, it was a joyous one. He laid his head back down on the pillow, and snuggled down on the mattress. "Oh boy." He then closed his eyes, sighed once more and slept.

 

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