Back at the Project
“Do you want us to restrain him, sir?” one of the MPs asked.
Al shook his head impatiently. “No. No restraints, no sedatives unless absolutely necessary. You know the rules. Now, get out.”
The two looked startled. “Sir?”
“Something wrong with your hearing, soldier? I said, get out!”
“But, sir, the subject–”
“The Visitor will be fine, and I am perfectly capable of handling myself. Now, unless you want to find yourself facing a court-martial on charges of insubordination–”
Before he could even finish the threat, the two MPs had disappeared out the door. The man they had been holding made a sudden move towards the door, but Al stepped into his path just long enough for Ziggy to slide it shut. He placed a firm governing hand on the kid’s shoulder.
“Don’t mind them, Kid,” the Admiral tried to reassure him in a joking tone. “You know Marines–‘Muscles Are Required, Intelligence Not Essential.'”
In spite of his obvious determination not to, the young man cracked a weak smile.
The Observer returned it. “That’s better. Now, why don’t you have a seat so we can talk.”
The smile disappeared and the Visitor’s voice turned cold. “I have nothing to say to you.”
Aw, hell. Sam, why do you always have to Leap into the stubborn ones? “That’s too bad, Kid, because we can’t get you out of here unless you talk to us.”
“I’m not leaving without Jim,” the younger man insisted obstinately.
So that’s who “he” is. Wonder why he’s so convinced we’ve got this other guy too? “This Jim–he a friend of yours?”
The Visitor just glared at him. “Very funny.”
“I wasn’t trying to be funny, Kid.”
The young man winced. “Stop calling me that.”
“Yeah, well, until you give me something else to call you, it’ll have to do.”
“After what happened, you’re gonna try to convince me you don’t know my name?”
Al sighed, beginning to get impatient. If he didn’t get something out of the kid soon, he might not establish contact with Sam before he Leaped again. There was never any way to know how long they had. “Look, Kid, all I know about you is that you’re male and about my height, you have brown hair and blue eyes, and you’re firmly convinced we’re holding someone named Jim as a prisoner somewhere in this facility.”
The young man still looked skeptical.
“How about we make a deal?” the Admiral offered. “You answer my questions, I’ll try to answer some of yours. Does that help?”
His companion remained dubious, but apparently his curiosity got the better of him because a question slipped out. “Where are we?”
“You’re in New Mexico, but don’t ask for the specifics, because it’s classified.”
“New Mexico!” the Visitor exclaimed in alarm. “Aw, Man, Naomi and Simon must be worried sick! How the hell did we get here?” Naomi–*that* was his mother’s name, he remembered with a sudden surge of relief.
Al sent out a mental plea to Ziggy, hoping the computer was listening in on the conversation and might be able to cross-reference the names Jim, Naomi, and Simon. Just in case that was all they got out of the kid.
“Sorry, you owe me one answer before you get any more. What’s your name, Kid?”
He could almost see the motor cranking in the younger man’s head as he reviewed his options before finally giving in with a look of resignation. “Blair Sandburg.”
Hallelujah! Ziggy, you damned well better be getting this! Grinning in relief, the Admiral stuck out a hand, which the Visitor accepted with some trepidation. “Good to meet you, Blair. I’m Al Calavicci.”
“Admiral,” was the curt acknowledgment of the uniform.
“Please, call me Al. I get enough of ‘Admiral’ from Ziggy and Gooshie and those two nozzles out there.” He gestured towards the door.
Once again, Blair couldn’t help but smile a little.
“Okay, Kid, your turn.” At the younger man’s look, he shrugged. “What can I say, it’s a habit. When you get to be my age, everybody’s a kid.”
The smile came back again; this time it was a little less hesitant. “Okay, who are Gooshie and Ziggy?”
“Ziggy is the world’s first computer with an ego and Gooshie is her head programmer.”
Blair laughed and Al smirked at him. “What, you think I’m kidding?”
The young man shook his head. “Why’d you call it Ziggy?”
“Oh, no. Don’t try to sneak a two-for-one past me,” Al admonished.
“I’m not–you asked if I thought you were kidding, and I answered you.”
Damn, the kid’s sharp. He laughed. “You got me there. But I didn’t name her–a friend of mine did. And I have no idea where he got the name.”
The younger man jumped as a petulant female voice suddenly came out of every corner of the room at once. “Admiral, dare I remind you that without your influence, I would have been graced with the much more sensible name of Alpha,” it pouted.
“Considering what else you would have been cursed with, I’d think you’d be thanking your lucky stars,” he retorted.
“You forget, Admiral, that I am not capable of believing in such quaint human concepts as ‘luck.'”
“That’s Ziggy?” Blair asked.
“That’s Ziggy. And now you do owe me two.”
Sandburg flushed at being caught by his own trick, but nodded.
“Why don’t you tell me about your friend, Jim,” Al suggested.
At the mention of the name, the kid shut down. He withdrew into himself with a shake of the head and another stubborn flare in his blue eyes.
Damn, he’s protective of this guy. Wonder who he is? A nephew? A son, maybe?
“Look, Kid, believe it or not, we’re here to help you. But we can’t do that unless you help us first.”
“Yeah, right, you want to help us!” Blair exploded. “Help us help you, you mean. The paper was a fake, all right? I made it all up. So just let us go.” He curled into a fetal position and buried his curly head in his knees.
“Blair,” Al spoke quietly.
The young man’s head popped up like a spring as if he wasn’t used to being addressed by his given name.
“Blair, whatever you may believe, I promise you your friend Jim is not here. But either you or someone you care about is in trouble, or you wouldn’t be here. I need your help to fix it.”
“I’d be happy to. But first I need you to tell me the date.”