Terror Firma

Chapter 6

Saturday 5th August

Al found Sam hard at work on David's computer.

This time, the Traveler greeted the Observer warmly as soon as he appeared, his melancholy of the previous day completely evaporated. Al was resplendent in a poppy red suit, black shirt patterned with red and white geometric shapes, red silk tie. Sam was more conservatively dressed in a grey jogging suit. The traces of perspiration under the armpits suggested he had put it to good use before breakfast, the remains of which sat forgotten on the table – half a slice of toast and some orange juice, an empty cereal bowl.

Al caught Sam's expression as he pored over the monitor, and was glad of it.

"09:30 hours and all's well?" he teased, in his best naval officer's voice.

"I won't bite, and my claws are retracted, if that's what's worrying you." Sam held up his hands for Al to inspect, referring to their last conversation, and purring like a kitten.

Sam was relieved that his friend seemed to have forgiven him for his snub of the night before, they were neither one the sort to hold grudges. Sam himself was feeling much calmer, looking forwards rather than backwards again. And just now, he was enjoying himself, doing what he liked best – learning.

"Take a look at this, Al. It's incredible." He tapped several keys on the computer and the monitor flickered as it refreshed, calling up 3D virtual reality images. "I have to admit, this David is a real genius." "You mean the brick? I was gonna tell you about that. You won't believe it, but he got the idea…"

"From an old movie!" Sam finished with him.

They laughed.

Sam flicked the TV into life with a remote control, and scanned through a videotape (well worn, evidently frequently viewed).

"Turns out it's an amusing story. I didn't think it was my sort of thing at first – calls itself a 'fairytale for computers'. But in fact it is an interesting notion. It'd drive you crazy." Al shot him a hurt look, which Sam ignored.

"See, here's the basic idea." He stopped fast-forwarding the video, switching to play and letting it run awhile. Man and hologram watched.

"Now," Sam turned back to the keyboard, "See how David has taken the original concept and used the latest technology to develop it into something which actually works. It's brilliant."

It had been a long time since Al had seen Sam so enthusiastic about anything. It was obviously just the tonic he needed. He let Sam give him every complicated detail, even though a goodly percentage went right over his head, and he was pretty sure Sam knew it.

After a while Sam paused. A frown crossed his face. He looked at Al.

"What is it, Sam?"

"The brick. It does work, doesn't it? I mean, Ziggy can tell us if it is a success. I'm not here because it's flawed design and the whole thing is going to collapse. Have I got to prevent the building being erected?"

Leaping had tended to make Sam pessimistic at times. He had come to believe in the inexorability of Murphy's Law – if anything could go wrong, sooner or later it probably would.

Sam looked at Al's COM link. He really hoped that for once in his life it would give him a straight answer to a simple question. Al punched a few buttons. Ziggy squealed. They waited. And waited. Sam glanced at the TV again, where the video was still running on mute.

"A-aal?"

"Hmmm?"

"Tell me honestly, you haven't ever spilt champagne on Ziggy, have you?"

Al's hand froze mid-way to the hand-link. His head jerked up. He gave Sam a look, which suggested his friend must have been speaking one of the seven foreign languages in which he was fluent.

"Huh?"

"Only it could explain a lot of things, that's all."

Al didn't have the faintest idea what Sam was talking about. He wasn't sure if Sam was teasing him again. Sam wasn't entirely sure himself.

Ziggy flashed, announcing that he had some answers.

Al reassured Sam that David's brick had made the cover of Scientific American. He had won an award for it. It was tried and tested and a resounding success. No problems there. Sam was pleased. He'd developed a great respect for this young man whose life he had usurped. He was glad that such insight and dedication were to be rewarded.

It was a shame that David didn't have Security Clearance. It was just possible that he might have been able to make some sense of Ziggy's temperamental circuitry. Maybe even find out where things had got fouled up. Help them to find the way to get him Home. A doleful expression flickered across his face. He banished it. He knew it was only wishful thinking.

Sam came sharply back to the present. It was all very well establishing why he wasn't there. That still left William Donahue's disappearance. So far he'd been David for almost 24 hours and not even met the man yet.

He was starting to wonder if Bill had disappeared already and Ziggy just hadn't noticed.

"Has Ziggy come up with any likely scenarios for me, yet?"

Al told Sam how he'd watched Donahue at work, how jumpy he had been:

"He was more nervous than a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs."

And how he was himself spying on the Ruggiero brothers.

"Watch out for those two, Sam," Al warned him sternly, "They look like Trouble with a capital T to me."

Sam took Al's description of them with a pinch of salt. Surely they couldn't really look that bad? Time would tell.

They were still no nearer to the Why of the situation. Sam decided it was pointless going round in circles. He would just have to play a waiting game, and trust that the right clue would come along in time. Meantime, he was going to make the most of opportunity. He turned his attention back to the computer and began to study some of the other programs that David had been working on, fascinated.

Al felt superfluous, and left.

Later that morning, Sam was still engrossed in his studies when the telephone rang, breaking his concentration and making him start. He got up stiffly and answered it.

"Sa- uh David Beckett speaking."

He hoped that this was not going to be some girlfriend he had inadvertently stood up. It didn't seem likely. His detailed search of David's home (a necessary invasion of privacy which he'd long since stopped feeling guilty about) had failed to turn up a little black book, at least not one full of phone numbers. There were countless notebooks scattered around – crammed full of calculations and theories, most of them astounding and every one quite brilliant.

"Have I called at a bad time?"

Sam felt a flood of relief as he recognized the strongly accented voice. It was only his Oracle – Frank Bannerman.

"What? Oh, no, Frank. Just lost in my work on the computer. What can I do for you?"

"That's just it, boy. You did so darn much yesterday, and I don't reckon I even said 'Thank you'. Heck, you saved my hide for sure. I'm right beholden to you. I guess I got 'bout as much chance of roping and hog-tying the moon as I have of ever paying you my dues, but I kinda hoped you'd at least let me buy you a couple of beers when you get through this afternoon. That is if you won't mind stooping to beer after a champagne shindig?"

As usual, Frank was talking so fast that Sam wondered when he managed to pause for breath. Still, he was harmless. Sam even liked him, and it was possible he could be the font of further wisdom. In the absence of a more positive course of action, sharing a sociable pint or two with Bannerman seemed as good a way as any to pass the time.

When he could finally get a word in, Sam assured Frank that he was unlikely to be over-indulging in champagne:

"…especially with old Bull-frog breathing down our necks…" and that he would love to join him for a beer, although he shrugged aside any notion of Frank being in his debt, in his customary self-deprecating tone.

Frank arranged to meet him at a local bar, which he was obviously supposed to know. He was sure he could find it. He thanked Frank for the invitation and hung up.

It was a glorious morning.

Sam switched off the computer and turned his attention to how he was going to get back to the building site. He found a set of car keys and went outside to examine the T-bird. It was a real beauty. He would have given his eyeteeth for a car like this as a young man. David was doing a first rate job of restoring it to its original splendor. For the moment, however, Sam ignored the bodywork. As he suspected, it didn't exactly kick straight into life. He opened the hood, and set about seeing if it was possible to make it roadworthy in the time available. From Frank's comments at work, he was sure that David had driven it on occasions, but perhaps not recently, although he discovered David's driving license in the glove box in readiness.

He found a comprehensive tool box in the trunk, stripped down to the waist, and got stuck in. soon he was up to his elbows in grease, and thoroughly enjoying every minute. By lunchtime, he had the engine purring like a baby tiger.

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