Episode 828

Family Ties

by: A. J. Burfield

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PROLOGUE  

 

          Something smelled awful. Sam Beckett blinked as the blue fog cleared, his eyes watering from the overpowering odor. 'Ammonia.' He thought to himself as he waved the air in front of him and took a step back to look around.  

          He found himself to be in a garage. At his feet were two loaded grocery bags, one of which had obviously held an unbroken bottle of ammonia moments before. Currently, the brown paper of the bag was soaked with the stuff since the bottle had broken when he had dropped it. When Sam squatted down to start rescuing the other items from the bag, he noticed his pantyhose-clad legs, short dress and low pumps.

           "Aw, jeeze!" he moaned, noting his current sex label. He managed to retrieve most of the undamaged items and retreat with the other bag into the house. Grumbling to himself about again leaping into a woman, Sam plunked the bag on the kitchen counter along with some other bags. He turned to go back to the garage and clean up the mess when a box in one of the other bags grabbed his attention from the corner of his eye. Slowly, he turned and faced the bag, his hand reaching out cautiously to the box. He lifted it like it was a bomb, and read the label: Trojan Lubricated Condoms.

          He dropped the box as if it were a snake. "Oh, boy!" he breathed worriedly.  

 

 

PART ONE

 

Joslyn, Arizona

August 10, 1988

 

After Sam fled the kitchen and cleaned up the mess in the garage, he took the opportunity to change into something else. Just because he was a woman didn't mean he had to wear a dress or the horrible shoes. Walking down the hall, he found the master bedroom and entered. He dug through the dresser for a pair of jeans, but the best he could come up with were black capri pants; apparently, jeans weren't this woman's style. Sam held up the pants with disgust knowing they would fit snugly, but anything was better than this dress and pantyhose. Quickly, he undressed and slipped the pants on. He threw the bra onto the floor with relief, and pawed in the drawers.

"Ah, ha!" he claimed victoriously as he held up a stretchy workout top. "Much better than underwire," he mumbled to himself, pulling it on. "Who would purposely wear wire in their clothing, anyway?" Next, he found a somewhat baggy t-shirt and pulled it on. The shirt was the only one of its kind and on the bottom of the drawer; so she wasn't the t-shirt kind, either. 'Well, she is for now,' Sam thought triumphantly as he recovered some sneakers from the closet.

After he was dressed, Sam cautiously inspected the house. It was as neat as a pin and quite homey. The hallway from the bedroom was decorated with numerous photographs of a boy, from infancy to what Sam assumed was the present. All were tastefully framed and matted, and in a perfect line along the wall. There was a big oil painting of a woman and a young man over the fireplace. The woman was sitting in a chair with the boy standing behind, posed smiles on their faces. Sam didn't see a father figure in any of the pictures. He wondered about the condoms in the kitchen.

He made his way back to the kitchen and decided to pass the time waiting for Al by putting away the groceries. He was glad no one else was here, and pushed the offending box into a drawer. It gave him a little time to figure out the where and when of his situation without embarrassment.

Unable to locate a purse, he was satisfied to find that the first grocery bag gave him the store receipt with the date: August 10, 1988. That was easy enough. As he put the items away where he thought were logical places, he found a phone book for Joslyn, Arizona, and a phone bill for Mrs. Jaqueline Taylor. 'That must be me,' he thought. 'Now where's Al with the details?'

His thought was answered as he put away the last can and made his way to the living room to look outside. The sound of the Imaging Chamber door made him stop and face his friend, waiting expectantly.

Al Calavicci stepped confidently from the rectangle of light. Resplendent in a silver and turquoise outfit, Sam couldn't help but laugh at his friend; he looked like a drugstore cowboy. The light disappeared as the Imaging Chamber door shut. Al stopped and gave his laughing friend a head to toe look.

"You have no room to laugh, Sam. At least my pants are the right length."

Sam stopped immediately and made sure the t-shirt was pulled over his butt. He hated it when Al gave him that look when his host was a woman. "OK. You got me," he said some dignity. "What's up, Al? Why am I here?"

Al had been looking around the rooms, nodding in appreciation of the cleanliness. "Huh? Oh! Well, we don't know yet." He rocked on his feet, rolling his head to stretch out his neck muscles. "The Visitor sorta freaked out."

" 'Freaked out'? " Sam questioned.

"Yeah. You know, arms waving, screaming and all that. Completely hysterical. Beeks had to hit her with a tranquilizer right off the bat. Just got her name and the date. Beeks says to check back in a little while, after the tranq settles in."

"Oh," Sam answered, a bit disappointed. He was hoping to get out of here as soon as possible. "So, what did Ziggy find out about her?"

"Well, you're Jackie Taylor, and you, er, she, lives in Joslyn, Arizona."

"I know that already," Sam growled.

Al ignored Sam's tone. "OK, then, it's August 10, 1988."

"I know that, too," Sam said with annoyance.

Al rolled his eyes as he pulled out the handlink. "Well, excuse me Mr. Grouchy. Someone here sounds like they're on the rag!"

"Al! Come on!" Sam waved his hands, then made an effort to calm himself. "Ok, ok...I'm sorry. What else do you have?"

"All right, then, let's see here," Al regarded the link in his hand. "Mrs. Taylor is a widow, and has been since Brian was a baby. Brian. Your, I mean Jackie's, son, who is an only child. He's 16 years old right now, and it seems that on this date, the house is damaged by fire. Not totaled, mind you. The master bedroom and part of the den goes up. Everything in those rooms is lost, but the house itself is salvageable."

Sam raised his eyebrows as he nodded. "So, I'm here to stop the fire, then."

"Er, well..."

Sam didn't like that tone at all. "What?" he asked suspiciously.

"Ahem, it looks like the fire was started by lightning, Sam."

"What?! I can't stop lightning from striking! There's got to be another reason I'm here!"

Al shrugged in exasperation. "What am I, a mind reader? We're doing all we can with the information we have! The only source of anything new would be Jackie, and she's somewhat of a flake, if you ask me."

"Flake? What do you mean by 'flake'?" Sam crossed his arms and struck a stance that demanded an explanation from his Observer.

"OK, maybe 'flake' isn't what I mean. Flighty. Yeah, that's what I mean, 'flighty'." Al settled down with a smug look, and talked calmly, rolling an unlit cigar between his fingers. "According to her history, she tends to get a bit ... excited. Doesn't handle pressure very well." He studied the cigar and frowned. "Gee, motherhood musta been tough. She probably fell to pieces the first time Brian got a boo-boo."

Sam's mouth twitched as he tried to suppress a laugh. " 'Boo-boo'?" he questioned.

Al looked up at his friend like he suddenly remembered Sam was standing there, then turned indignant. "Yeah. Boo-boo. It's a parenting term." Then, sarcastically, "Do I need to explain it to you?"

Sam waved his hand in the air, laughed shortly, and turned to survey the back yard through the picture window. "No, I get it." Crossing his arms again, he watched who he assumed was Brian talking with another boy over the back yard fence. "OK, so she's 'flighty. What does that mean to me? If I can't stop the fire maybe I can save the house from burning down. Get the fire department here early or something." He turned to Al, eyebrows raised. "What about that?"

Nodding his head in thought, Al popped the cigar in his mouth so he could tap on the hand link. "Ziggy says that would work. She gives it a 90% that you're here to save something in particular from being destroyed. So what are ya gonna do? Call in a gas leak report or something?"

"Sounds good to me," Sam said. "What time does the bolt strike?"

The Observer's reply was mumbled as he spoke around the cigar, reading from the link. "Says here it strikes at 3:18 this afternoon." Al looked up and past Sam standing at the window. "See that dry grass in the yard? And that big old tree next to the house? It actually strikes the tree, which sets the grass and house on fire. Everything is so dry from the drought it's tinder just waiting to burn." Al glanced around the room and noted the grandfather clock. "And since it's nearly 2:00 now, I don't think you have time to cut down the tree. That's a very old Magnolia."

Silently, Sam studied the tree. It was huge and probably should have been removed long ago. It was close enough to the house that the roots would be a problem with the foundation, if they weren't already.  He returned to scanning the back yard and noticed the distant mountain range was clouding up. It gave him a shiver to realize what power those fluffy-looking clouds had.

"OK, then. I guess I'll call the fire department around 3:00. They should get here before the strike, right?"

Al punched away on the link once more. "Yup. Response time is about seven minutes, and there are no other calls logged between now and then. They should get here right on time."

Sam nodded. "Then that's it. I just wait, I guess."

"You could always watch Oprah," Al said lightly.

Sam's eyebrows knitted in thought. "Oprah. Isn't that one of those soap operas?" Sam questioned.

Al chuckled. "No, Sam, you're thinking of Jerry Springer."

Their conversation was interrupted by the slam of the back door. Brian strode into the room, talking as he passed Sam without a glance. "I'm going to Kyle's house."

"When will you be back?" Sam asked automatically. This resulted in Brian pausing, and giving his mother a look so full of disdain that Sam's mouth fell partially open.

"Do I have to tell you everything?"

Still taken aback, Sam stammered, "Well, you know, dinner. I need to know when you'll be back for dinner."

"I see a need for an attitude adjustment," Al growled. "I can't believe he talks to his mother in that tone of voice!"

"I'll eat when I come home. Don't wait up or anything." Brian then continued out the front door, slamming it so hard the windows shook.

Sam just stared at the door, open-mouthed. "Are all 16-year-olds so hostile?" He asked quietly. "Or was I just weird?"

"No, you weren't weird, Sam. Well, not in that respect, anyway."

Sam threw his friend a sour look. "Ha, ha, very funny. So what's his problem?"

"Don't know exactly, but Ziggy says he's in trouble a lot at school. I do know that if I'd have talked to the sisters at the orphanage that way I would have been whacked six ways 'till Sunday. " Al faced the ceiling. "St. John? Is Beeks still in with Jackie?" He turned his attention to the link as he listened to the response. "OK, Sam, I'm headin' to the Waiting Room. Beeks says I can talk to Jackie now. Apparently the tranquilizer's calmed her enough to have a chat." He tapped on the link and the Imaging Chamber door slid open behind him. "I'll let you know if I turn up anything interesting. Later, Sam."

"OK, see ya."

The Imaging Chamber door banged shut, and Sam surveyed the empty room. Suddenly, he was enveloped with an intense feeling of loneliness. He wandered to the master bedroom and stood with crossed arms in the doorway. 'What was it Al said? There may be something in here that needs saving?' With that in mind he circled the room slowly and then began a systematic search. The only interesting item was a small, metal box high on a shelf in the closet, tucked back in the corner. There was a combination lock on it, which made Sam raise his eyebrows in curiosity. 'I wonder what's in here?' he thought.

Leaving the box on the bed, he then inspected the den but didn't find anything nearly as interesting. By the time he was done, he heard the Grandfather clock ring three times.

"It's show time, folks," Sam muttered as he headed to the kitchen phone. With phone bill in hand to read the address, Sam got the Joslyn Fire Department number from the phone book and dialed. He calmly relayed his story about smelling gas as he watched the black storm clouds roll in his direction. He got an involuntary chill knowing what was going to happen and glanced at the clock. Ten minutes; he was cutting it close.

Sam decided to wait in the garage with the door open. He heard the sirens in the distance at about the same time he heard the Imaging Chamber door.

"The Fire Department is on the way," Sam commented as the hologram stepped forth.

"So I hear." The bright light disappeared from behind him.

"Get anything more?" Sam asked.

"I'm not sure. That woman is a bundle of nerves," Al commented, slipping the link into his pocket. "I know everything from the name of her hometown to her favorite pot roast recipe, but no real substantial information. Once she got talkin' it was impossible to get a word in edgewise."

"My mom called women like that chatterboxes," Sam said as he looked up the street for the trucks. Then a confused look crossed his face and he focused on Al. "Why do I remember stupid stuff like that and never anything important?"

Al shrugged. "Just the way Swiss cheese bounces," he quipped. Sam gave him a disgusted look, but refrained from comment as the trucks pulled up in front of the house. By now the sound of thunder was much closer, and flashes of light bleached the sky in increased numbers. Sam's ears rang from the thunder. Fat raindrops fell intermittently. "It's 3:11, Sam. Don't let them inspect the back yard or they may become crispy critters."

"Good point. I'll keep them in the street." Sam stepped from the garage and waved at the first men emerging from the trucks. He chatted with them on the sidewalk and gestured along the street, noticing that the curious neighbors were now out on their front porches. The firemen broke in to two teams and checked the street in both directions as the rain slowed its descent. Sam headed back into the garage.

"3:17, Sam. Are you safe in here?" Al looked around.

"I hope so," Sam said now getting a bit nervous. The firemen were heading back to their trucks and the Chief was heading towards Sam when a deafening crack made them all instinctively duck down. Sam had been looking right at Al when the bolt hit and he saw the holographic image explode into a billion splinters for a second. When he reformed, the Observer was a bit frazzled looking.

"What?" Al said at Sam's expression. "The lightning interferes with the projection. Quit looking at me like I have a second head!"

Sam snapped out of his trance when a neighbor yelled, "Fire!" The firemen sprang into action, and Sam trotted across the street to stay out of the way.

"Looks like it's going as planned, Sam." Al commented, tapping on the keys of the link now in his hand. "Ziggy says the house isn't even touched. The tree has to go, though. It gets torched pretty good."

Sam couldn't reply because he was accepting the condolences of the neighbors who seemed to be giving him odd looks on the side.

"I think I'm the one with the second head, Al. Why are they looking at me like that?" Sam said with bowed head and just loud enough for Al to hear.

Al shrugged. "I don't know. I would suspect it was because you aren't acting like they expect."

Sam looked up again and saw Brian at the edge of the crowd looking puzzled. Sam waved at him and walked over. Brian's forehead wrinkled in a frown as the aura of his mother stopped next to him and put a reassuring arm around his shoulders. "It's OK, Brian, the house will be fine."

Brian stepped back, out from under the arm. "What's wrong with you?" he asked hotly.

"Excuse me?" Sam replied, surprised.

"You must be in shock, Jackie. You are way to calm."

Sam wasn't sure what shocked him the most, Brian's observation or his use of Jackie's first name. "What?"

"You'd normally be running around like a chicken with your head cut off, embarrassing the hell out of me. Are you on drugs or something?" Brian took another step back and bumped into a pair of boys his age. He turned to them. "Let's go before she has a breakdown," he mumbled as they walked away.

Al snorted. "Typical teenager. The world revolves around their feelings."

Sam watched him leave, open mouthed. The neighbors, embarrassed for Jackie, faded away to their own homes. "He called me Jackie."

Al was tapping away at the link. "Well, Ziggy says that Beeks says that it may be an indication of lack of respect. By using her first name, he's putting her on his level, or even below it. Like I said, there's a definite attitude problem here."

"And, Al, I stopped the fire and I haven't leaped."

Al tapped the link, "Yeah, we noticed. Ziggy's checking into..."

"That's why I'm here. To fix their relationship."

Al's eyes gave Sam a head to toe glance. "Good luck, buddy. It'll take more than talk to fix that attitude. But Ziggy concurs. 91.88%"

"That's why you need to talk to Jackie. I need to know what went wrong with them."

Al signed. "I knew you'd say that. I'll be sure to take my earplugs. Or a gag."

With that parting comment the hologram punched a few buttons and stepped back through the doorway to the future.

   

PART TWO

 

Project Quantum Leap

 

When Al stepped into the Waiting Room the sight of the Visitor made him take a deep breath. He didn't think it possible for someone to look so forlorn. For a moment he wondered what could make a person this way; then it struck him: Fear. Was it possible she was afraid of something? Something in particular, or just everything in general? He decided to find out.

With all these years of leaping Al had noticed that here in the Waiting Room, sometimes it was easier to see the real person through Sam's aura than others. The Observer had no problem seeing this person as Jackie Taylor.

"Mrs. Taylor. May I sit?"

She nodded wordlessly as her fingers fidgeted nonstop in her lap. She gave Al the feeling that she knew if she started talking, she wouldn't be able to stop. Was talk some sort of defense mechanism for her?

"Mrs. Taylor, I need some information. Can you help me?"

She regarded him, wide eyed for a second, then said quietly, "I'm in a mental hospital, aren't I?"

Al hesitated. "Why do you say that?"

Her hands increased their weird little dance. "Um, well, there's the Doctor, the black lady."

"Dr. Beeks? Yeah, she's a doctor."

"And there's the guard at the door." She frowned. "But he looks like he's wearing a military uniform, not a hospital uniform."

"Yes. That's true, too."

Then she turned her eyes on him and Al was reminded of one of those big-eyed waif paintings that were so popular in the 60's. "I still haven't figured you out. You must be in charge, though, to dress like that." She wiggled the fingers of one hand in his direction. "I already figured you weren't an inmate. Or patient. Or whatever people like me are called here."

Al adjusted his bolo tie and coughed. "You've been doing a lot of thinking." She nodded. "Why do you think you're here?" In his mind he begged Beeks' forgiveness for stealing her technique and pretending he was a shrink.

She looked at her hands. "I .. I .. I think, maybe, I've been holding onto a secret too long."

Al raised his eyebrows. He didn't expect that.

"Tell me," she said. "What's happening with, um, my son ... I can't think of his name!" She looked alarmed.

"Brian," Al said instantly.

"Yes, Brian." She rubbed her temple. "I can't believe I forgot my son's name," her voice wavered and her eyes began to water. "He's my life, you know. Everything I do is for him." She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand in a momentary break from the fidgeting. "But he hates me! I bet he doesn't even miss me!" She was crying openly now, and Dr. Beeks made her way into the room.

The psychiatrist patted Jackie's arm. "I'm sure he doesn't hate you. He's at that age where it's natural to pull away."

Jackie continued to wail. "I can't let him go! Don't you see? If he goes now, while he hates me, he'll never come back! And I can't bear that!"

Al shifted uncomfortably. Jackie was right, he knew, and couldn't bring himself to tell her any different. Although he'd always had a good relationship with his girls, he'd seen what some of their friends had gone through. Clingy parents made them run long and far.

Jackie kept crying, talking between hiccups and sniffs. "It was so good when he was a baby! We were the perfect family. I felt like the luckiest woman alive. When Roy died," she stopped to rub her nose, "Brian had no father figure. That's what's wrong, I'm sure. He's' going to blame his fatherless life on me and do exactly the opposite of everything I believe in out of anger! It's all my fault! He's destined for a life just like his mother!" She cried uncontrollably as Al and Beeks looked at each other over her head. What did she mean by that?

"Jackie, sweetie?" Beeks held her shoulders. "What do you mean by 'just like his mother'? Were you fatherless as a child?"

Jackie cried harder. "No! I can't...that's my secret! Don't you see? He's adopted! His mother was 16 when she had him, the same age he is now! And he's going to end up the same way!"

"What?" Al looked up at the ceiling. "Ziggy? Did you hear that?"

"Yes, Admiral." Ziggy purred. "I now have Brian Taylor's birth certificate showing one Anita Carson as his mother."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"You didn't ask," pouty voice accused.

Beeks gently urged Jackie to keep talking through her tears. "I wondered from the day we brought him home if he would be like us or his real parents. I did everything I could to see that he made the right choices. And now he hates me. He doesn't see that everything I did was for him." She sobbed openly. "I'm so scared for him! I'm so scared he's going to get in trouble!"

As the Doctor tried to calm the Visitor, Al read what Ziggy had accumulated on Jackie. Only child from a well off family, proper schools, good education. 'Probably not a lot of life experience,' Al surmised. 'She's been a good girl and done all the proper things her whole life. No wonder Brian thinks she doesn't understand him. She doesn't!' He looked at the woman trying to regain her dignity and dry her tears. 'So what does Sam have to do with all of this?' he thought. Then it hit him.

"Jackie, does Brian know he's adopted?" Al asked calmly.

She looked at him with red-rimmed eyes and shook her head. "No," she said. "And if I tell him, I know I will lose him. I just know it. But I think he has the right to know. I just can't, though." She sniffed and accepted a cup of water Beeks offered. "I even have a series of letters from his real mother explaining why she gave him up for adoption. I know he may want to read them, but I just can't get myself to give them to him."

Little alarms went off in Al's head. "Do you keep these letters in your bedroom or den?"

She nodded.  "In a locked money box." She confirmed miserably. "You don't know how many times I've taken that box down with the intent to give the letters to him, and not followed through." Her voice was barely audible. "She says things in there I'm sure he'd understand...I'm sure would help him to understand. After all, she was 17 when she wrote them, the same age he is now. But I just can't get myself to give them to Brian. I'm sure he'd leave."

Al cleared his throat. "Jackie, what if someone else gave them to him and acted as an intermediary?"

Beeks head snapped in his direction, and a warning look passed through her eyes. Jackie said, "I...I don't know." She bowed her head. "If I said yes, that would prove I'm really a coward, wouldn't it?" Her voice wavered.

Al shook his head. "Jackie, your fears are warranted. Do you consider him lost now?"

She nodded her head, the tears threatening to start anew.

"So what do you have to lose? Take a chance in life, Jackie. Brian's future may depend on it."

 

 

Joslyn, Arizona

 

          With nothing else to do, Sam returned to the house and prepared dinner. He wasn't surprised when Brian didn't make an appearance. He was fixing a plate for him when Al returned from the Project.

"Gee, Al, too bad you can't join me. Plenty left over," Sam remarked as he cleared the table.

"Yeah, Sam that looks, er...what is it?" Al cautiously looked at the skillet on the stove.

"Glop," Sam said brightly, shaking out the placemats. "Hamburger, seasonings, couple of eggs, spinach, onions. It's good!"

"Yeah, I'll take your word on that," Al looked a bit queasy as he stepped back. "Came up with something for ya. There's a metal lockbox in Jackie's room."

"I found it all ready," Sam said, putting the dishes in the sink. "It's locked."

"Well, I have the combination for you. Jackie wants you to do a favor for her."

Sam paused and looked at Al. "A favor?"

"Yeah. There's some papers in there she wants you to give to Brian."

The scientist slowly started moving again, but was clearly thinking hard. "Papers?" He wiped his hands on the dishcloth. "What kind of papers?"

"Let's go look," Al said leading the way down the hall.

Suspiciously, Sam followed. The box was still sitting on the bed. He sat next to it. "This would have burned in the fire, right?"

"That's what Ziggy says. Here's the combination," Al rattled off some numbers and Sam followed.

The box opened, and Sam lifted out papers and envelopes. "Looks like insurance papers, the mortgage, some letters? Is this what I need?" He fanned four fat letters in his hand, and held them up.    

"Yeah, that's them." Al fiddled with the handlink.

Sam looked at the letters. "So, this is what I'm here to do? Give Brian these letters?"

"Yeah, and tell him he's adopted."

"Is that all...WHAT? Tell him he's adopted? " Sam looked at his Observer in total shock. "I can't do that! Not only is that too personal, it will drive him away! She never told him? Have you confirmed this with Ziggy?" He began to pace the room. "Has she read these letters? What do they say?"

"Jeeze, Sam, slow down, will ya?" Al's fingers tap-danced over the link keys. "First off, yes, Ziggy has checked and Brian is adopted. And Jackie wants you to tell him because she's not brave enough. She sees that everything she's done for him hasn't endeared him to her, so even though she knows this may drive him away, she wants him to know. She wants him to make the decision."

Sam stopped pacing and considered what Al said. "So she's not trying to get rid of him? She sincerely wants what's best for him?"

Al nodded. "Yes. It's sort of her way of apologizing to him. She thinks that if Brian isn't happy with the way she is, than maybe he'd be happier with her. She only wants his happiness. Personally, I think he's a little punk."

Sam weighed this in his mind. "That's quite a gamble. Sort of the 'if you love them set them free' kind of thing."

"Yeah, Sam, that's it exactly. In her mind, anyway. And yes, she's read some of the letters. The mom was 16 when she wrote them, and pregnant with Brian."

"16? Wow. I couldn't imagine being a parent that young." Sam sat on the bed. "But then again, another 16 year-old may be who he listens to. She may be on to something here, Al. Where's the mother now?"

Al tasked Ziggy with the question. "According to Social Security records, Anita Carson Morales Sewell Baker lives in Phoenix."

Sam stared at him.

"What?" Al asked innocently.

"So, you gonna tell me what's with the name, or what?"

"Looks like she was married three times, currently single, living on welfare and is only 32 years old." Al shook his head and sighed. "Sounds like a tough life."

"And may be just what young Brian needs to see," Sam said quietly, holding the letters to his chest. He walked past the hologram, sat in the living room facing the front door, and began to read.  

 

By the time Sam heard the front door open, it was very late, and the only light on was behind him in the living room. There were dark shadows thrown across the floor in the direction Brian entered the room. He glanced up and froze when he saw the shadowy figure of Jackie in the chair.

"What are you doing up?" he growled, dropping his jacket on the couch. "It's past midnight." He stretched,  on guard at the silence of his usually magpie-like mother.

"I have something for you." Sam slowly stood and held out the letters.

Brian looked apprehensive, like the letters could be something that could get him in trouble. He frowned at them. "I don't have time for guessing games," he snapped. "What is it?"

"Information you may want." Sam hesitated and made sure he had contact with his eyes. "I know you don't think much of me. But you may want to listen to this woman. When she wrote these she was 16 years old a pregnant with you. She had a lot to say."

He snorted. "You wrote those?"

As he turned to go, Sam said firmly, "No, I didn't. Your mother did. Your biological mother."

He froze, then turned slowly in Sam's direction, frowning. "What did you say?"

"I said your biological mother wrote these. You are adopted. You deserved to know sooner, but I was too scared to tell you. "

 Sam dropped the letters on the small table next to them and walked away. His heart was pounding wildly in his chest, and his palms were damp with sweat. Had he done the right thing? It was what Jackie wanted, and he could fully understand now why she couldn't have done it herself.

Sam walked down the hall to Jackie's bedroom and closed the door. He was prowling around the room, trying to hear anything from outside the bedroom door, but it was silent.

The sound of the Imaging Chamber door nearly made him jump out of his skin.

"Jeeze, Al, you scared me!" He had his hand over his wildly thumping heart.

"Sorry about that, but there's nothing I can do about it! How's junior?" The hologram puffed calmly on a cigar.

"I don't know. I gave him the letters and he went to his room."

"Want me to peek?"

Sam's eyebrows shot up. "Sure!"

Al walked through the walls, and was back in just a few seconds. "He's sitting on his bed reading the letters. That's the first time I haven't seen an angry look on his face." He puffed a lazy, blue cloud of smoke from his mouth. "Think it'll help?"

Sam paced the room. "I don't know. I think Jackie's fears of driving him away are very real. Give me directions on how to get to her place. I think a face to face may be the next step.

The hologram and the leaper mapped out the journey as the angry young man read about his origins.

   

PART THREE

 

I didn't sleep very well. In my prowling around the house while seeking sleep I could see the light under the door to Brian's room; there would be little sleep in this house tonight. I knew what he was reading. The letters were well written and full of teenage angst, but I wondered about their sincerity. It seemed to me that 16-year-old Anita managed to dodge any responsibility for her condition, and did an excellent job of making herself look like a helpless victim. It also made me wonder if her reasons for giving Brian up for adoption were at all altruistic; it made me wonder, too, what kind of person Anita Baker really was. And I had the feeling that I was about to find out.

 

           Sam was sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of tea when the Imaging Chamber door clunk-shoomed open.

"Well, how'd it go after I left?" Al asked without preamble.

"About as well as you'd think," Sam murmured over the edge of the mug. "He's been in his room all night with the light on."

"And probably thinking of ways to thank you," Al said drolly.

"Do you think he'll want to see her?" Sam asked quietly.

"Does a teenager have hormones? Of course he will! You've handed him another excuse to leave." Al fiddled with the link. "Zig gives it almost 100%."

Sam rolled the mug between his hands. "I hope I've done the right..." His words were interrupted by the sound of a door opening. He glanced down the hall as Brian appeared, bulging backpack in hand.

He thumped the bag on the kitchen floor and move to the cupboard. "I'm going to see her," he said without question as he pulled out a box of Life cereal.

Sam was not surprised. "I'll drive you," he said, making Brian freeze in surprise.

Quickly he got his expression under control. "So you do know where she lives now," he said in a frosty tone.  "I'm ready to go."

"Quite sure of himself, wouldn't you say?" Al commented, quickly giving the boy a head to toe look.

"You were going to go even if I didn't know, weren't you?" Sam said calmly.

"Yup." He grabbed handfuls of cereal from the box as he spoke, eating over the counter. Sam knew he probably did it on purpose to annoy Jackie, but Sam brushed it off.

"I'll get dressed, then." He left the boy in the kitchen and heard him pick up the phone and dial, and excited sounding one-sided conversation with a friend ensuing there after.

Brian seemed to be very excited that his world was changed forever.

 

 

The drive to Phoenix was a little over two hours but seemed much longer due to the hostile atmosphere in the car. Brian wore his Walkman headphones the entire way, ignoring Sam. When they entered the city limits, Al popped in to tell Sam that Ziggy postulated a 87.99% chance that Brian would stay with Anita. As for Anita herself, there was nothing other than her welfare records: four kids, including Brian. The other three had been adopted out as infants, too. Anita died in 1990 of natural causes.

Ziggy's trying to find out more, like exactly what natural cause knocked her off, but she went to a free clinic for medical services and their records are not computerized. Autopsy said a congenital heart condition."

Sam snorted and gave Al that 'keep digging' look.

They arrived in the early afternoon, and the part of Phoenix they were entering was not exactly the good part of town. There were gang tags everywhere and cluster of tough-looking young people loitering on the corners. When Sam found the address, he stopped and parked, finding a spot between two abandoned and stripped cars and bags of trash. He wasn't entirely sure the car would be there on his return if he were to walk Brian to the apartment. The term 'ghetto' was too good for this place.

Brian didn't see any of that, or if he did he didn't say anything. "Well?" He said, poised over the door handle. "Which apartment?"

Sam was having major second thoughts about the sanity of this. An unescorted 16-year-old would be quite a target. He looked him right in the eye.

"OK, Brian. You want to lead your own life and make your own decisions? Here's your chance. Apartment 232."  Sam pointed at the dilapidated building next to them. Brian turned to open the door and Sam stayed him with a hand on his arm. If looks could kill, Sam would have been laid out right there. He ignored it. "I'll be here an hour. Come and tell me you're decision."

Brian's withering looks changed to one of skepticism. "You'd let me decide?"

Sam hesitated. "I don't have a choice, do I? You'd run away from home anyway, wouldn't you?"

A flash of something passed through Brian's eyes. Guilt? Sam released his arm and Brian was outside in a flash and entering the building.

Al popped in at that moment. "Sam, I still can't believe this. He's 16! And that, " he waved at the building, "is a drug house!"

"And you are a hologram," Sam replied instantly. "You can watch him for me while I stay here. Brian has to see how his life could be and to appreciate what he has." Sam added softly. "Go up there, OK? I'm nervous, too."

The Observer nodded shortly. "Will do, buddy." He lifted the link. "Off I go to be a fly on the wall!" With the tap of a button, he disappeared.

While he waited Sam tried not to notice the looks he got sitting there in the car. He was glad it wasn't dark yet, and hoped to be out of there by that time. When Al popped in, Sam was very happy to see a friendly face, even though it was a hologram.

"What's going on, Al?"

Al chuckled. "Brian is being manipulated by a master."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Anita Baker is a drug addict, Sam, as if you should be surprised. Drugs and alcohol. Addicts can convince anyone it isn't their fault and she's got an audience wanting to believe every word."

"So, Brian's not buying it, is he?" Sam said hopefully.

"Brian is his mother's son, Sam. He's trying to make what he is seeing and hearing fit the way he wants it live, but I think he is having a hard time."

"Do you think he'll stay?"

"And have to swallow his pride by coming back with you? I say, yeah, he'll stay. Ziggy is on the fence." He leaned closer to Sam and whispered, "Personally, I think she's pretty na´ve about this kind of situation." His hand link shrieked in protest. He slipped it out of sight and pulled out a cigar to wait with Sam.

It was nearly 90 minutes before Brain came down. He opened the back door and grabbed his pack. "She invited me to stay," he said calmly and glancing defiantly at Sam.

"Don't believe the look, Sam. He's more scared than he's showing."

Sam tried not to look disappointed, and took the holograms' words with a sideways glance.

"You aren't reneging on your word, are you?" Brian challenged.

"No, no I'm not." Sam replied quietly. "Look, I'm too tired to drive back to Joslyn. I'm going to stay at that motel for the night." He indicated a sign a few doors up. Brian glanced at the shabby lodging and frowned. "I don't think either one of us got much sleep last night. Can I come up in the morning to say good bye?" Sam asked.

The boy covered his surprise with a scowl. "Sure, I guess. Bye, Jackie. Thanks for the ride." He slammed the door and ran up the stairs.

"At least he said 'thanks'." Al glanced at the motel in disgust. "I hope you don't expect me to stay there for the night! Even as a hologram, I think I would get the heebie-jeebies and feel things crawling on me!"

"Well, not the entire night," he said lightly as he started the car, re-parking minutes later at the sorry looking establishment. It didn't pass his attention that he was carefully watched by a group of young men on the sidewalk the whole time.

"Why do I feel like you've been picked on radar?" Al said briskly, nodding at the group. "Be careful, Sam."

"I noticed." Sam said as he exited the car. He secured a room while the hologram kept an eye on the car, then drove the car to the nearest store where he could get overnight supplies. He bought a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, too. "She's gonna wonder where these came from, I'm sure!" Sam commented. Al made sure he at least got some Calvin Klein women's jeans.

"Maybe Jackie would like them if they had a bit of style," he quipped with a gleam in his eyes. "Nothin' comes between me and my Calvins, you know!" Al said cheerfully, eyeing a breezy picture of Brooke Shields in her bottom-hugging jeans.

"Please," Sam cringed, trying to ignore the sexy poster. "Stop!"

When they returned to the motel, Sam parked the car on the street with trepidation. Unable to find a spot by his room, he reasoned that the car probably wasn't much safer in the lot anyway.

Al prowled around the room a bit, obviously uncomfortable, as Sam inspected the room with disgust. The bed was supported by cinderblocks on one side, the mirror was cracked, and one drawer of the dresser was missing. Sam didn't even want to think about what the stains on the carpet were, and the bathroom was suitable for elimination of waste and nothing more.

"Why don't you check on Brian?" Sam suggested, settling on the lumpy bed with a suspicious expression. Amazingly the TV remote was still there, and he pointed it at the screen. "I really don't want to go outside unless I have to," he added glumly as an ad for MacGyver sputtered to life on the screen.

"Glad to," Al replied, giving the screen a double take. "Hey! I like him! Is Miami Vice on tonight?"

"Get out of here," Sam grumbled, "and do something useful, will you?"

"Sheesh. Someone's panties are in a wad!" Before Sam could reply, the Observer touched the link and popped away.

   

 

When Al popped into Anita Baker's apartment he didn't find much changed. They were still talking at the table, Anita with a dirty glass of something unidentifiable. Brian was eating from a bag of chips and drinking something brown. Al hoped it was cola.

Anita seemed to be charming the socks off the boy, who couldn't take his eyes off her.  She was telling him about where she grew up, and about her life as a child. Al noticed that she didn't mention the other kids she'd had, but she did make clear that it was her father's fault that she had to give Brian away and was like this today. 

"I know what you mean!" Brian said with a nod. "Jackie's always nagging me, too."

"Ingrate," Al growled. "You have no idea what a putz you are." The hologram had heard enough after a half hour, and popped back into Sam's humble abode.

"Looks like they're getting along famously," Al reported. "The 'It's Not My Fault' club. I sure hope he sees through her fast."

"Me too," Sam sighed. "I hope I did the right thing; I mean, it feels right in here," he touched his chest, "but my brain is telling me otherwise. He's a smart boy, I think."

Al studied the link. "His aptitude tests show that. His grades, though, are another thing. They were pretty good through middle school, but they seem to have taken a dive in high school. Must be the crowd he's fallen in with."

"Check it out, will you, Al? Maybe that's why he's so enamored with Anita; maybe he sees her as his link to his past and who he is, and the bad crowd at school is where he belongs." Sam thought out loud. "He's trying to find who he is the wrong way."

"Ziggy says he has been hanging with the wrong crowd. There are discipline sheets in his records, starting from about a year ago. Bingo, right when the 'finding myself' instinct kicks in," the hologram read. "I hate teenage angst," Al growled.

The Observer hung around for a while, and finally reported that Brian had made himself comfy on Anita's couch and was asleep. "So, since you don't need me right now, I'm catching up on some paperwork and try to catch some Z's."

"Fine. Later, Al."

As the hologram left through the Imaging Chamber door, Sam flipped through the channels and tried to quash the bad feeling rising in his gut as his eyelids struggled to keep open.

 

 

PART FOUR

 

"SAM!"

The scientist bolted upright from an uneasy sleep and gasped.

"SAM! You gotta get up! You changed history!"

"Al! What? What happened?" Sam jumped out of the bed looked wildly around the room, totally disoriented. It was dark.

"I don't know what happened, Sam, but Ziggy says Brian dies in the street anytime!"

"You said he was in bed asleep!" The leaper hopped around on one foot as he tugged on his shoe.

"He was! Ziggy just woke me up, too. Let's see here.." he tapped on the keys. "His body is found in the morning. Apparently he was shot during the night somewhere."

"Where's the body found?"

"Well, he isn't shot where the body is found. He's wounded and gets away, and bleeds to death in an alley about six blocks from here."

"You don't know where he's shot?"

"In the stomach!"

"No! I mean where in the city!" Sam sputtered, yanking on the other shoe.

"Oh! No, the cops never find out where. There's running gun battles around here all the time."

Sam grabbed his keys and ran out to the car. "Dammit!" He came to an abrupt stop on the sidewalk.

"What?" Al yelped, then followed Sam's line of sight. "Oh no!"

Jackie's car was now lacking all four of its wheels, and the front end was up on cinder blocks. Sam didn't hesitate, and took off running towards Anita's, ignoring the catcalls and rude comments from the groups of night dwelling young men he passed. "Al! Lock in on Brian! Tell me where he is!"

"St. John! Lock me in on Brian!" Al stood and waited to be moved as Sam ran to the apartment. Al popped in at the bottom of the stairs; Sam skidded to a stop to catch his breath. "St. John can't get a lock. Says he's out of range? What does that mean?" he shouted to the sky.

Sam took the stairs three at a time, jumping over a person sleeping in the hall, and pounded on the door of Anita's apartment. When no one answered, he kicked it in and charged in to the single bedroom. "Where'd you send Brian?" Sam shouted at the figure lying on top of the bed.

"Eh? Who're you?" The woman's speech was slow and slurry. "Whatcha want with my boy?"

Sam grabbed her shoulders. "Where is he?"

"Sam," Al said as he popped in. "She's loaded to the gills on something."

Shaking her shoulders, Sam shouted, "Where's Brian?"

Anita made a drunken effort to push Sam away, but was unsuccessful. Sam saw the purple and raw scars that ran up and down both arms. "He went ta get somethin' for me. Wa a good boy." She giggled. "He'll take care of me!"

Completely exasperated, Sam looked at Al. "Tell her, ah, that he called you for money! That should do it!"

"Hey! Wake up!" Sam shook her again. "Brian called me for money. Where is he?"

"Money? Really? I tole you he'd take cara me!" She giggled, and Sam fought down the disgust he felt. "Bobby musta wanted more dough after seein' how handsome m'boy was."

"Bobby? Bobby who? Where's Bobby?" Sam demanded, losing his patience.

"Bobby. Y'know, hangs at th' square. Always got good stuff. I tol' Brian so!"

"The square?" Sam asked looking at Al.

"I'm checking police records, Sam. Let's see, in this area, 'the square' means the corner of Lessing and 4th. There's a little park there; it's about two blocks away."

Sam dropped Anita back onto her dirty bed and shot out the door. "Go, Al, find him."

"Will do. You run that way," he indicated a direction. "Should take you right there." Then he popped out of existence.

 

 

Al popped in again to find Brian talking to a gangly Hispanic man wearing a hair net and a tight fitting, muscle t-shirt under a loose jacket. There were three more similarly dressed men off to the side, and they were all eyeing Brian suspiciously.

"Man, Anita didn't say she had no son," he said gruffly, shifting nervously from foot to foot with his hands deep in the jacket pockets. Al had no doubt as to what the man's hands were on in those pockets.

Brian at least had the brains to look nervous. "She sent me. Really. I have the cash," he pulled out a wad of crumpled bills. "Some of it's mine, but I'm getting it for her."

"Getting' what, suckah? What makes you think I have somethin?" The man glanced nervously around, obviously suspicious.

"Come on, Sam," Al said nervously. He didn't like the tenseness in this guy's face.

"Look, you said you were Bobby. Anita said you'd know what she wanted." Brian was beginning to fidget himself, and Al thought he may wise up on his own and leave.

"There's lotsa Bobbys down here," the man began, but was suddenly intent on something else in the distance, behind Brian.

"Oh, good! Sam!" Al turned, but didn't see his friend. Instead, he saw a dark car with its headlights out coming down the street right at them.

"It's a hit!" One of the men in the group yelped, and almost immediately there were popping noises and the sound of squealing tires.

Guns appeared out of nowhere in everyone's hands. Brian spun around, an open target between the car and the men, his eyes wide in shock.

"RUN BRIAN!" Al yelled, ducking instinctively at the noise.

Brian turned to run away at the same time he was tackled out of nowhere by a flying body. Sam lay on top of the stunned boy, shielding him from the zinging bullets being traded by the people and passing car. Then, with a final squeal of tires and the sound of retreating feet, the shooting stopped.

Al saw the car zip out of sight around a corner, and the heels of the running gang. "It's clear now, Sam. You two better get out of here, huh?"

Sam sat up slowly, a dazed Brian following the motion. His eyes were still wide, and his mouth hung open.

"Brian, you're bleeding," Sam said sharply, grabbing the boy's arm. A red spot was blooming on the sleeve of the jacket.

Brian stared at it stupidly, obviously in shock. "Shot? I've been shot?"

"You gotta get out of here, Sam. Those guys may think he was a set up," Al said darkly.

Sam pushed up the sleeve. The sight of the ugly bullet wound apparently brought to bear the blossoming pain, and Brian began to panic. Sam pulled the sleeve back down and applied pressure with his hand. "Brian, it's OK. Calm down, you'll be fine. Brian!" His sharp tone finally got his attention. "We need to get you to a hospital!"  He pulled Brian to his feet and glanced at the hologram. "Hospital?" he asked.

"Yeah, I'm on it...ah, start going that way," the Observer indicated the direction away from that which the gang had gone. "It's a ways away, Sam, but there's an all night gas station three blocks away. You can call an ambulance," he reported. "And hurry, huh?"

Grabbing his elbow and pulling Brian to his feet, Sam steered him in the direction of the gas station. "Come on, let's move. I don't want to be here if they come back," he said. Brian, now pale and shocky, nodded nervously and moved.

"Sh...she didn't tell me anything about guns!" he stuttered.

"Did ya think she was sending you to a Boy Scout meeting?!" Al yelled.                    Sam just concentrated on the path they were taking, hoping they wouldn't run into any more gang members. From what he remembered, they were pretty territorial. "Just keep moving," he said calmly, keeping a firm grip on the wound.

"It must have been the wrong Bobby," he whimpered pathetically.

"Oh, it was the right Bobby, all right," Al harped.

"Let's not think about it now," Sam said to both of them. "We just need to get to a safe spot."

The boy's eyes grew wide again, and he finally looked every bit the kid he really was; gone was the arrogant air and angry fašade. Right now this was a very frightened boy looking for help and guidance out of what he a suddenly realized was a very real and hostile environment. "We aren't safe yet?"

"Not by a long shot, son." Al replied, keeping his eyes behind them as Sam looked forward.

"We will be soon, Brian. Just keep moving."

By the time they made it to the gas station, Brian's feet were wobbly enough that standing was out of the question. The night clerk, sequestered safely in his bulletproof cubicle, looked as scared as Brian when he dialed the police, and didn't offer to let the pair in is enclave. Instead he huddled below the level of the counter, expecting a Wild West shootout at any moment.

Brain leaned against the building, his eyes sparkling with fearful tears. "She couldn't have known there would be guns! She wouldn't have sent me there knowing that, would she?"

Sam tried to calm him. "Brian, it's over. The police and an ambulance will be here soon. Listen." They heard sirens in the distance. "Now, they'll want a description of this Bobby guy."

"It was just pot! That's all I was supposed to get!"

Al punched the link. "More than pot, kid. Bobby's known for lacing PCP in his stuff. Gets bigger bucks that way."

Sam grunted. "Brian, you have to calm down. You were almost killed."

"Killed?" he squeaked.

"Yes, killed. And it will happen to someone else. He needs to be reported."

Brian began sniffling as tears started down his cheeks. "It hurts, mom. It really hurts." He put his hand on top of Sam's, which was applying pressure to the wound. "I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! I want to go home!" The tears ran freely as he finally faced the consequences of his decision-making.

Sam pressed his forehead against Brian's as he kept the pressure with one hand, and wrapped his other arm around the boy's shoulder. "You'll be fine, shhh, it's OK."

Brian buried his face in Sam's shoulder as the police, followed by the ambulance, pulled into the lot.

"That's it, Sam. Brian goes home with his tail between his legs and actually turns out to be a pretty good kid, and a decent adult. He's married with two kids, and Jackie lives with them in her own studio apartment over the garage. Huh, they move to Santa Fe; the nice part too! He must be doing great!"

Sam began to feel the leap's closure surround him.

"Good grief! He's a shrink! Specializes in family relations! If I knew shrinks could rake in that kinda money, I'da gone into psychiatry!"

A blue veil fell over the Observer as he ranted, and Sam couldn't help but laugh at the picture that flashed across his mind: Al sitting with a notebook next to a couch, leering at the buxom blonde lying there. 

Then he leaped.  

 

EPILOGUE

 

He felt as if he was being held over a chasm -- a silent void between the leaps and it was always peaceful there.  It gave him time to think through everything that had occurred between the first leap up until this moment in time, even if all he could remember were bits and pieces of his past.  Suddenly, though, the thoughts were yanked from him as he was pulled toward his next assignment.

          As the tingling sensation decreased, he realized that he was in mid-step, walking in mire. His equilibrium was thrown off from the leap and his left foot slipped. He quickly put his right foot down, which threw him forward - landing flat bellied and face first in the mud with a graceful humph.  Sam pushed himself out of the mire then parked his behind in the same muck.

          A loud laugh came from just to the right and behind him. It was most definitely male and it seemed he was enjoying the sight more than he should. "Brilliant, Guy. Just absolutely brilliant. I'm sure that they'll run in fear with the sight of you now."

          Lifting his hands, Sam shook them trying to rid them of some of the grime, then scraped at the mud that was covering his eyes and slapped it to the ground.  He turned to see the man walking up to him. "Think it'll win awards?" He asked sarcastically as he flung more of the mud away from his face.

          "Maybe for most inventive camouflage," the man answered, his grin grew as he offered his hand to Sam. "Here, grab hold, unless you like living in a hole."

          Sam looked at his hands and saw the muck still on them.  With his front and rear end covered in mud, there wasn’t a way to wipe them off.  Sighing, he grasped the man's hand and began to heft himself up along with the five extra pounds of mud caked to him.  The extra weight was enough to undermine both men’s equilibrium.  Both men tried to compensate by pin-wheeling their arms, but the sudden movement did little to help them.  Both fell into the mud -- the unknown man landing on his side and Sam landing this time on his back.   The man chuckled slightly at the predicament. "Damn, Guy, with a brother like you, who needs enemies?"

 

 E-mail A. J. Burfield