Blue-white changed to blue, changed to white, changed to - daylight. A cool wind. Warm sun; spring rather than summer. Vision faded in and revealed green buds on the trees. Spring then, definitely. He could hear... laughing. Childish laughing. He frowned - malicious laughing. The sort that suggested that someone or something was in torment.

"Look at that. Where'd that shirt come from? Oxfam?" More laughing. Sam turned in the direction that it came from, and saw a gang of some eight teenagers confronting a boy of similar age. He was dressed in clothes that bore the obvious marks of hand-me-downs, and there was a patch on his grey trousers. Uniform trousers, Sam noted, right before the blazer and the striped tie registered too. School. Oh boy. He glanced down at himself, becoming gradually more aware of something that was becoming a horribly familiar sensation. He was wearing a uniform too, with an identical blazer and tie; but he wasn't wearing trousers. He was wearing a skirt. He groaned.

"What are you looking at?" One of the gang of teenagers had noticed his interest, and was turning to glare at him. Sam wondered what a suitable reply might be. He tried out a smile, but the boy - who seemed, Sam now noted, to have something very like a southern regional English accent - merely made a face.

"Just get lost, ugly."

"I beg your pardon?" It wasn't the rejoinder Sam had been expecting. The boy looked exasperated.

"I said get lost. We don't want you at this end of the quad, got it? Go over the other end."

"You can't tell me where to stand." Sam was beginning to get frustrated. He didn't like the way that this boy was talking to him, and he didn't appreciate the grins of enjoyment that he could see on the faces of the other kids. Lots more of them were appearing now. Sam realised that he was standing in a roughly square-shaped concrete enclosure - the quad, the first boy had called it. It was obviously break-time. It felt horribly as though the eyes of every child there were looking at him. He felt a rush of something very like fear, and inwardly he blanched. Echoes of his Host, clearly.

"I can tell you to stand anywhere I want. We don't want you up this end of the quad."

"And nobody wants you at the other end either," said a female voice from close by Sam's left shoulder. He turned. A very pretty girl with long brown hair was staring at him, her expression one of undiluted disgust. She looked, thought Sam, rather as though she were regarding something that was far beneath her contempt. She seemed to think that he was worth rather less than the blackening banana-skins and moulding yoghurt carton tops that were strewn all over the ground. He found his confidence beginning to falter.

"Basically," the girl continued, her tone infinitely superior, "nobody wants you in the quad. Nobody wants you in the whole school. Basically no one likes you. No one. Anywhere." She smiled, as though by saying these things she was performing him a great service. "But then you know that anyway, don't you. It's why you're always out here on your own."

"I--" He began. He wasn't sure what was the right sort of thing to say, but he felt that he had to say something. The girl turned away, beginning to talk in a loud voice to a crowd of other girls standing nearby. Effectively cut out of the conversation, Sam considered pursuing the matter. The voice of a new person changed his mind, and he turned. The first boy, the one dressed in the old clothes, who had been the chief source of amusement prior to Sam's Leap in, had folded his arms. He looked gangly and uncertain, but very, very determined.

"You can't talk to people like that," he said, clearly addressing the group of girls. As one they turned to look at him. For some reason that Sam didn't quite understand he felt a growing sense of deep concern. Real fear, mingled with helplessness. His Host was asserting herself again, with a vengeance, which worried him. He had learnt the hard way that it was not always a good idea to have so much of somebody else sharing his aura with him. It led to confusion, mistakes and, on at least one memorable occasion, an almost total lack of sanity.

"Did you say something?" one of the other girls asked. The boy nodded, and took a step forward.

"Yeah. I said, you can't talk to people like that."

Bravo! thought Sam, but his heart skipped a beat. Something in his instincts told him that this boy had just made a very big mistake.

"Well what are you going to do about it?" The tall, pretty girl who had been so scathing towards Sam so recently, took a few steps towards the boy. She was taller than him, although Sam decided that they were probably in the same grade - no, not grade, he told himself. This had to be Britain, and they didn't call them grades there.

"Don't be stupid." The boy started to turn away, but the girl reached out, grabbing his arm. He glanced back at her, and she wiped her hand on her skirt.

"Ugh. Don't you ever wash?"

"I showered this morning." He sounded hurt. The girl laughed.

"In what? Manure?" She turned away. "You stink. It's no wonder nobody can stand to be anywhere near you. That's probably why your mother ran away with that fireman."

"Leave my mother out of this." Sam saw the pain in the boy's eyes, and automatically took a step forward. Suddenly the throngs of schoolchildren moved in front of him, cutting him off, preventing him from getting near enough to help.

"Why?" he heard the girl say. "She's nothing special. She's always dirty, and she never washes her hair. It's revolting."

"That's not true." The boy's voice was quiet but firm. "Just shut up."

"Get lost. You can't tell me to shut up." The girl's voice suggested that she was smiling. Where the bloody hell were the teachers? wondered Sam. There didn't appear to be any figures of authority in sight anywhere. He pushed on through the crowd of children, and caught a glimpse of the boy. There was fury on his face.

"I can say what I like," he said. There was a slight stammer to his words, although Sam didn't think he was afraid. He saw something like a shadow pass across the boy's eyes. The girl laughed dismissively.

"You're thick and you're dumb and everybody hates you. Even at our last school everybody hated you. Even your mother hated you. That's why she left." She turned away - and in that instant the boy moved.

He hurled himself forward with speed, grabbing the girl by the shoulders, shaking her hard. Shock flashed across her face, then a certain, animal-like triumph. She tried to pull free, but the boy shook her harder. The crowds of schoolchildren froze, and Sam tried again to push free of their disabling presence. He was almost there when the crowds parted as if by magic.

"Martin!" An adult voice, enraged. Sam glanced up. A man, dressed in a grey suit, was storming towards the little altercation, bearded face contorted with rage. "Philip Martin! Stop that this instant!"

Why? thought Sam, rather uncharitably. The girl deserved everything she got. It wasn't as if he seemed to be actively trying to hurt her. The man grabbed the boy, wrapping his arms about the thin chest, holding on tightly. Gradually the boy's struggles ceased.

"You're in trouble this time, boy." The teacher took him by the back of the collar, giving him a rough shake. "What in Heaven's name were you thinking of? She's a girl!"

She's a she-devil, put in Sam's mind. He almost wished he had spoken the words aloud. He could see the girl's pleased smirk as she watched the subject of her torment being yelled at by the teacher. Sam wished that the man would turn around and see her, but somehow he got the impression that it wouldn't make a whole lot of difference. After all, he had to have been in sight of the group to have responded so quickly, and yet he had done nothing at all until the situation grew violent. Sam saw the look on the boy's face; anger mingled with pain - and he considered stepping forward and explaining the situation. The teacher didn't look the kind to listen, but it was worth a try. He took a step forward, and a wave of children moved in yet again, blocking his way. They had moved like a shoal of fish; acting almost as though there were one lone brain occupying the whole mass; preventing him from going to the assistance of Philip Martin. By the time that the crowd had dispersed, the boy and the teacher were gone. Sam was left alone, and this time the entire quad-full of children were surrounding him. He could feel the eyes of several hundred people, all staring at him, all burning into his head. He felt deeply, deeply uneasy.

"Don't look at me," the lead girl said, her tone once again filled with an uncompromising level of disgust. Hate burned in her eyes with a passion. Sam could see it in the eyes of all those children; all those hundreds of pairs of eyes, all shining with dislike. What the hell had he Leaped into, that so many people hated him so much? Just who the hell was his Host? He could think of nobody who might be deserving of this much animosity. Certainly Philip Martin hadn't seemed to be.

"I wasn't looking at you." He turned away, but there were more kids behind him, all staring, all hating. He felt the fear of his Host again; and something else. A hot, deep-seated pain that burned in his stomach. A desperate desire for something to snap, just as it had done in Philip. He wanted to lash out. It wasn't hard to control the feelings, whether because they were so alien to Sam himself, or just because his Host had amazing self-control, he wasn't sure. At any rate he took a deep breath, and with calm, measured strides, he walked to the far side of the quad. Several hundred pairs of eyes watched him. He found a place as far from any other living being as he possibly could, then leant against the wall and waited for the bell to ring. One by one the rabble turned their backs on him, sealing him in a solitude that was somehow worse than the animosity of earlier. He dug a timetable out of the inside pocket of his blazer, and concentrated on it instead. His eyes didn't seem to be working properly, but he didn't want to think that it might be because he was close to tears. He wondered where Al was, and he wondered what day it was, and he wondered which of these charming examples of the youth of the day he actually had to share a classroom with. In the end he just stood, and tried to think about nothing at all.

School ended at half-past three. There was an address written inside the front cover of one of the books in Sam's bag, and it was not hard to find. He decided not to get on the bus, even though he had no idea how far away the address might be. He had had enough of his schoolmates to last him a lifetime. They had ignored him for the rest of the day, throughout the lessons which had followed that eventful break time. They had closed ranks entirely, shutting him out through body language, raising their voices whenever he went past to ensure that he knew he was not welcome. It all seemed terribly petty to Sam, whose own memories of schooldays consisted mainly of working hard and playing hard, and of older kids looking after the smaller ones. There had been troublemakers of course, but they had usually been dealt with pretty swiftly. He certainly didn't recall troublemakers being the rôle-models for the other kids; a strange state of affairs where being rude, arrogant and generally insufferable was considered the norm. The teachers didn't seem inclined to challenge this state of affairs either. They appeared deaf to all the insults; blind to the way in which their pupils were behaving. Perhaps they condoned it. Perhaps it made the children easier to handle if they were allowed their victims to persecute. Sam didn't especially want to entertain such uncharitable thoughts about a group of professional adults, but he couldn't think of any other reason for it. They would have to have been very blind indeed not to have noticed that something was very, very wrong with the way that the rest of the school were treating his Host. That only left him with one other option - she must have done something to deserve it. She must have committed some dreadful sin to have brought such treatment down upon herself. The thought of this possibility brought a heavy sense of depression upon him; a curtain of blackness that weighed down his mind. It felt familiar, although he didn't think that he suffered from depression as a rule. His Host again, apparently, or a fragment of her at any rate. He was probably thinking along the same lines that her mind regularly traversed. She must have spent a lot of time wondering what she had done to have caused such hatred, and the thoughts upset her deeply. The part of him that he shared with her caused that same upset to trouble him too. It was too strong to ignore completely.

In the event his house proved to be very close to the school, although he walked for a long time before he found it. It was empty and locked, but he found a key in his pocket, and had a quick wander round the building to familiarise himself with the layout. It was not hard to find his room; a small, roughly square-shaped place at the top of the house. There was a desk to one side, covered in all manner of items of stationery, and a bookcase filled with everything from Jules Verne to JRR Tolkien. He ran his eyes over the titles, trying to get an image of the sort of person his Host was. So far all that he had was a name, written in small lettering on the cover of each of the exercise books in his bag. Samantha West. He liked the name. Maybe people shortened it to Sam. That at least would make him feel a little more at home, a little more like himself. He lay down on the bed and stared up at the ceiling, thinking about the day that he had had so far. No sign of Al, no sign of the family he was supposed to be living with. No idea of the date, so he still had to be careful about the things he said, the things he talked about. He considered going downstairs to the living room. There was a television there, and he could probably find out the date from that. Maybe there would be a newspaper somewhere. In the event he just stayed where he was and closed his eyes. He was in Britain. It would probably take Al some time to track him down. It wasn't as if he had been abandoned or anything. For some reason the thought that Al was not coming leapt unbidden to his mind. It brought with it an irrational sensation, not of fear but of something else - a depressed certainty. Al wouldn't want to come. He wouldn't be coming. Nobody's coming, because nobody wants to be with me. Nobody wants to come anywhere near me... He quelled the thought immediately, and sat up. Samantha was exerting a worrying hold over his mind, and her thoughts were not nice places to be in. Either she was paranoid or she was depressed - and understandably so, if the treatment he had experienced in school that day was anything to go by. That thought made him think of something else, and he rose to his feet. He wanted to go in search of a bathroom. He needed a mirror.

Samantha West was not pretty, but she was certainly not ugly. He liked her eyes. They were intelligent, and filled with the overwhelming need of a teenage girl looking for friends. She was not especially tall, with a build that was strong rather than willowy. There was something very boyish about her, about her well-developed muscles and about her short hair. When he wandered back into her bedroom to think about changing out of her school uniform he found that her collection of clothes included no skirts at all. The shirts were all men's, there was a liberal supply of jeans, mostly blue, and a collection of over-sized sweatshirts. Apparently she favoured socks or bare feet, because he couldn't find any shoes in the room. He couldn't be bothered to go looking for any downstairs, so after changing into something comfortably masculine he settled himself down on the floor and began to go through Samantha's schoolbag.

She was clever, he could see that straight away. She was also very bored in class, which suggested that there was no fast-tracking of the cleverest kids. He found evidence of an active, able mind going to waste, and sympathised. He glanced through the various exercise books, finding an increasing collection of average marks and comments about how she "could do better", but whether the work was suffering from her unhappiness at school, or just because her boredom was causing her to give up, he couldn't tell. There was a rough work book as well, filled with doodles and lines that he recognised from Monty Python. Song lyrics coated the inside back cover. Imagine was there, and so was Don't Stop Me Now. He also saw that I Want To Break Free featured prominently - but only the chorus. He wondered if that was because she didn't know the words to the verse, but the collection of Queen albums beside the bookcase negated that thought. He traced the words with his fingers, flashing back momentarily to a time when he had been able to play the song. He wasn't altogether sure that he remembered the chords now. He couldn't even remember if he had used to play it on a piano or a guitar. Could he play either? He tried to imagine Samantha sitting here, alone, writing those words, and he wondered what it was that she wanted to break free from. He wasn't sure that he wanted to dwell on the thought; or on how she was planning to break free. He sighed and threw the book down, watching as it sailed straight through the holographic foot of Al Calavicci. The Observer stared down at it.

"Well it's nice to know I'm welcome here," he said dryly.

"Al!" Sam didn't remember ever being so glad to see anyone. He leapt to his feet. "Where have you been?"

"Looking for you." Al wagged his handlink at the Leaper and gave him a mock frown. "You've Leaped outside of the States. Ziggy's very cross with you."

"Yeah, I'm in Britain. England." Sam was actually quite excited about that, he now realised. He didn't remember ever having been in England before; but then he didn't really remember anything, so that was nothing to rely upon. "What do we know?"

"Well, for starters it's Monday the ninth of May, 1988. You've Leaped into Samantha West, a fourteen year-old girl, and you attend Brinscombe Comprehensive School - it's mixed, so you shouldn't feel too out of place - and you live with your family about half a mile from the school buildings."

"I know all that, Al." Sam tried not to sound too impatient. "I Leaped in right in the middle of a school day." A living hell of a school day, his mind finished silently. Al raised an eyebrow, as though waiting for permission to continue.

"It's a quiet, rural area, so you should feel pretty much at home. Farming community, just what you're used to."

"Except that it's Britain, in the eighties, and I'm a teenage girl."

"Well yeah." Al offered him one of his usual shrugs. "There is that."

"Why am I here, Al?"

"It's not easy to say." The Observer sounded distant, and when Sam turned to see what had attracted his attention he saw his friend bent over the bookcase. He seemed quite absorbed in reading the selection of titles.


"Hmm?" Al glanced up. "Oh, because it's Britain. Ziggy has all the records, but she's had to dig a little deeper to find them, that's all. It's so rare that you Leap outside the States, I guess she's got a little lax in her file-managing." He glanced off to one side, as though conferring with somebody - or something - that Sam couldn't see. "Yes, I know you heard that Ziggy. And no I won't take it back."

"So what does it look like?" Sitting down on the desk at one side of the room, Sam began to toy with a sellotape dispenser. It was one of a number of distractions spread all over the desk's surface, ranging from pull-back-and-go penguins to a large wooden Solitaire board.

"Sam's not happy at school." Al pulled up an invisible chair and sat down on it. It immediately became visible. "Quite the opposite in fact. Verbeena's been trying to make her open up, but..." He shrugged. "Hell, she's shy, confused, whatever. It's all wound up pretty tight, and it's not coming out."

"You think I'm here to sort out her school life?" Sam thought back over the day's events and winced. That certainly was not going to be easy. "I'm kind of out of my depth there, Al. These kids aren't exactly what I'm used to. Last time I spent any quality time with teenagers - at least that I remember - was when I was one myself. That was in the sixties. And in mid-west America."

"I don't think you're here for Sam, Sam." Al frowned at that sentence, then nodded and turned his attention to lighting up a cigar. A plume of smoke drifted into obscurity above his head. "There's another kid there... named Philip Martin."

"Philip Martin?" Sam put down the sellotape dispenser and moved on to play with a long string of coloured paperclips instead. Somebody spent a lot of time at this desk being very bored. "Yeah, I saw him. Strange kid. Withdrawn."

"With good reason. According to what information Ziggy has been able to come up with so far, Philip is having a really rough time of it at school. There's some information in his school record, but the details are barely covered. It's almost as if the teachers haven't noticed it; or just don't give a damn." Sam remembered the teacher he had seen earlier in the day, and didn't comment. "Whatever's going on, it's something serious. Three weeks from now, Philip is found hanging from the branches of an apple tree in his parent's garden. We're trying to track down the suicide note now. He was found by the milkman, by which time he'd already been dead nine and a half hours." Al shook his head, staring into the smoke that drifted from his cigar tip. "Makes you wonder what goes through some people's heads, doesn't it."

"You're sure it was suicide?" The paperclips hung forgotten from Sam's fingers. Al nodded.

"Positive. There was no sign of a struggle. He hadn't even changed his mind and tried to free himself, the way a whole lot of suicides do - especially the ones who are just crying out for help. This kid really wanted to end it all."

"But he's only fourteen. That's crazy."

"It's a crazy world, Sam." Al shrugged. "Besides, being young was never an answer. Kids get pressured too. They fail, they feel down, they let things get on top of them. The pressures may be different, but they're just as real." He crossed his legs, staring reflectively at the floor. "We'll keep on looking into it; see if we can dig up anything else. We haven't got full access to Sam's school records yet, and we haven't tracked her down in our own time either. I'll get back to you soon as we do."

"Thanks." Sam glanced over to the schoolbag in the corner of the room. He was actually quite looking forward to doing some homework. It should be fun, especially since it was likely to be the kind of work he had grown out of decades previously. Al grinned.

"No TV till it's all done, young man."

"I wasn't planning on watching anyway." He turned to face the desk, and selected a likely looking pen. Behind him he heard the door of the Imaging Chamber open, and he waved a hand at his departing colleague. The sound of the Door shutting sealed him alone in the bedroom, and not for the first time since Leaping in he felt a wave of loneliness wash over him. He dismissed it, and reached out for the schoolbag. He'd begin with Biology. That should dispel his odd mood. But as he flicked through the pages of the textbook, flickers of his day faded in and out of his mind. He heard childish voices whispering stupid things to him; heard their jeers and their insults. He remembered the wall of silence that had come later, and he frowned. It was hard to concentrate. A shiver ran through him, and he reached for the radio to try to get some background noise. An insipid pop song blared at him from the speaker, and he turned back to his books. This was crazy; he was a fully grown man, and a bunch of petty schoolkids should be nothing to him. Somewhere deep inside of him though, a part of him was still a very lonely fourteen year-old girl. Without any real reason, he began wishing for Al's return.


The first lesson the next morning was English. Sam found the room easily enough, and gave silent thanks for the small size of the school. The last thing that he needed was a great, sprawling building with more rooms than was at all comfortable. He chose a seat towards the front, at a desk that didn't appear to have anybody else sitting at it, and glanced out of the window. A crowd of fifth year boys were playing hockey on a pitch that didn't appear to be full-size, beating the living daylights out of each other with their sticks every time the teacher looked the other way. He found himself smiling. Some things really did never change. He toyed with his exercise book as he waited for the teacher to arrive, and tried to ignore the hostile eyes that were boring into the back of his neck. A crowd of girls walked by his table on the way to their own, all of them glaring at him as they went past. He frowned, uncertain about the extent of their enmity, and received a withering stare in return. The foremost of the girls, a tall brunette with a faint brushing of blue eye-shadow, folded her arms.

"What are you looking at?"

Sam froze. "Nothing."

"Just shut up." The girl turned away, looking utterly disgusted - the sort of expression Sam had never imagined he would witness in someone so young. The next girl, a blonde with a well-developed figure, giggled appreciatively.

"Yeah, shut up. Like we really want to listen to your voice. Go back to your books."

"I was only--" Sam felt the need to say something in his own defence, no matter how pointless. The brunette's eyes snapped back to bore into his, and he found his words faltering.

"I said, shut up. If you can't keep your big, fat nose to yourself, don't go sticking it anywhere near me." She frowned, taking a step back as though to get a better look at Sam. "God, you're ugly. I don't know how your parents can bear the sight of you, because I certainly can't."

"None of us can." The blonde girl was grinning broadly. "Nobody in this whole school can stand looking at you. But then you already know that, don't you. Must be why nobody ever talks to you. Must be why nobody ever sits next to you." A scattering of pupils about the room laughed in response to her comment, and fuelled by their amusement she continued. "Maybe it's because you smell so much. Or maybe it's just because you're so, so thick." The door opened, and the teacher walked in, nodding a greeting to the class. Sam breathed an inward sigh of relief, but the arrival of a figure of authority didn't seem to have had any effect on the group of girls. A third member of the group walked on towards her desk, knocking against Sam's table as she did so, sending his book and his pen flying. He bent over to retrieve the book, but the pen had skidded under another table. He reached out for it, only to find one of the boys picking it up instead. He put it into his blazer pocket.

"Excuse me, can I have my pen back?" Sam felt stupid talking to a fourteen year-old boy so politely. If he had been in his real body, especially given his current mood, he would probably just have forcibly taken the pen . The boy frowned at him.

"I beg your pardon?"

"My pen."

"Is there a problem, Samantha?" The teacher was looking at him in clear disapproval, and he frowned.

"Yeah, my pen."

"Just sit down, Samantha."

"He's got my pen." Sam could feel himself getting angry, and he swallowed the feeling. It wouldn't do him any good, and he hated getting angry at the best of times. The teacher raised an eyebrow.

"It's my pen, sir. I don't have a clue what she's going on about." The boy didn't sound convincing in the slightest, and Sam opened his mouth to protest. The teacher glared at him.

"I won't have my lesson interrupted any further, Samantha. Sit down." Sam sat. The boy laughed, and the group of girls went to sit down. One of them knocked Sam's book flying again. He bent to pick it up, and the teacher shot him a thunderous glare.

"Will you sit still, Samantha! If you can't behave yourself in the classroom it can always be arranged for you to have your lessons with the Headmaster in his office." Sam felt a strange welling of fear inside his stomach, and he sat very still. He took another pen from his pencil case, pulled the lid off very slowly, and stared down at his exercise book. He didn't want to look anywhere else. Up at the front of the class the teacher opened a text book with a snap, and called out a page number.

"You'll need to be in pairs for this exercise," he said, beginning to pace. Sam glanced about. Everybody else was in couples already, and he was the odd man out. The teacher was suddenly beside his desk, staring down at him with a look of fast increasing impatience. "Make up a three, Samantha," he said darkly. Sam glanced round again. Hostile eyes met him at every turn, and with no other alternative he chose a pair at random. As he took a step towards them, they both folded their arms.

"Get lost," one of them said, without preamble. Sam glanced towards another pairing. One of them was a tall, red-haired girl with a nice smile. He had seen her the previous day, helping out a first year. Her expression changed as it met his, and she scowled at him.

"You're not coming with us," she said, her voice filled with disgust. Sam was taken aback. There was no way that the teacher could have avoided hearing that, since he was standing right beside this particular girl, but he made no response. Instead he turned on Sam again.

"Hurry up, Samantha. You're holding us all up." He sounded angry and frustrated, as though he was not prepared to tolerate any more. With slow, heavy footsteps Sam walked to a desk and sat down. The pair already there drew away from him, making faces at each other. Sam stared at the floor. His stomach was turning flip-flops, his head felt stuffy and hot. He wanted to be home. More than anything else in the world, he wanted to be shut in his bedroom, with the door closed to the rest of the world. He didn't care if that meant Samantha's home, or the one that he knew was truly his, and which he didn't remember at all. All that he knew was that he wanted to be out of this room and hiding from everybody; but it was barely half past nine, and there were still another six hours to go.


Maths passed more or less without incident. Nobody spoke to Sam, including the teacher. Somebody stole his ruler, although he didn't see who. It was a minor incident, but for some reason, in his current state of mind, it felt like a kick in the teeth. He tried to tell himself to rise above it, but it was too hard to concentrate. He tried thinking about Maths instead, but the work was too easy, and he was left staring out of the window with nothing to occupy his mind. The teacher saw him, but didn't say anything. Clearly she was used to Samantha finishing early, but she didn't seem prepared to set any extra work. There didn't seem to be any provision for the cleverest kids at all. Sam remembered the desk in Samantha's bedroom, and its evidence of someone who spent a lot of time being very, very bored. He sighed.

"Shut up," somebody on the table behind him hissed. He closed his eyes briefly. This was only the second lesson of his first full day, and already he was beginning to feel that he was at the end of his tether. He frowned down at the text book, and wondered what would happen if he started on the next exercise. He reached for his pen, but a disapproving look from the teacher stilled his hand. He decided to do some mental arithmetic instead, and found a page full of quadratic equations near the back of the book. Behind him he heard whisperings, and tried to concentrate on the equations to avoid hearing the words. It was futile. He could tell that the whispers were meant to be heard, and heard by him.

"She is such a swat. I can't believe that anybody would be that thick."

"Can you think of anybody who actually likes her?"

"Are you kidding? Nobody likes her. If she ever wants to get married, she's going to have to chose somebody deaf, blind and stupid."

"And with no sense of smell," somebody else put in. There was a muted chorus of giggling. Sam closed his text book, no longer able to find the urge to study. He went back to staring out of the window instead. He was still staring when the bell went, and when the rest of the class filed out of the room.

"Everything alright?" The Maths teacher asked as Sam walked by. Sam frowned.

"I'm sorry?" he asked, momentarily confused.

"I was just wondering if everything was okay. You seemed a little distant today. I am the Deputy Head, Samantha. If you have a problem, I'm here."

Are you kidding? Sam's brain was screaming. Do you have ears? Do you have eyes? Instead he smiled.

"Yeah," he said, knowing that he didn't sound at all convincing. "I'm fine." The teacher nodded and turned back to her desk. Sam went to the door. All the way there his mind was yelling at him, telling him to turn back, to tell the teacher that he wasn't fine - that Samantha wasn't fine. His feet kept walking onward. He didn't turn back. His mouth stayed closed. Outside the door a stream of smaller kids who looked as though they might have been second years rushed by on their way to another lesson. One of them glanced up at Sam as he passed, and his face twisted into an unpleasant sneer.

"God you're ugly," he said. Sam froze. The boy and his cronies ran on, laughing amongst themselves. Sam turned about and headed off in the opposite direction. More than ever before, he wanted to go home.


The day passed in much the same vein. He saw no sign of Al. He saw no friendly faces, heard no friendly words. Most of the time the other pupils ignored him, which in a strange kind of way was worse than the insults. During the mid-morning break the entire school flooded out into the quadrangle, standing around talking in their various groups. Sam stood alone by a broken down old wall that bordered a flowerbed full of dead shrubs and a blooming collection of crisp packets and drinks cartons. Somebody threw a banana peel at him. A gang of smaller kids giggled and pointed. A fifth year made a joke pass at him, and all his cronies guffawed with laughter. He looked towards a few people that he recognised from his classes, but they all turned their backs. Some of them whispered at each other, stealing the occasional glance towards him. He wanted to sink into the ground. Instead he sat down on the broken wall and dug one of his books out of his bag. It was a History text book, with a bookmark stuck in at the start of a chapter on the Russian Revolution. The faces of Alexander Kerensky and of Lenin stared back at him from either side of the chapter title, and he started to read. Somebody brushed past him in an attempt to knock the book from his hands, but he managed to keep hold of it. The person in question swore at him. A teacher walked past, throwing a glance in their direction, but he said nothing. Sam felt more alone than ever.

The end of the day came all too slowly. It was a short walk home, but Sam took his time over it. He wandered up to his bedroom as soon as he got back. Samantha's mother was sitting at the kitchen table reading a newspaper. She didn't look up. Sam wondered just how many times she had watched her daughter come home from school and shut herself away in her room. He wondered if she thought about it; if she ever noticed the sense of misery that must follow Samantha about like a cloud. Apparently not. He pushed a chair up against the back of the door to keep it shut, then lay down on the bed and stared at the ceiling. A hundred glow-in-the-dark stars stared back at him, clustered about a somewhat incongruous A-Team lampshade, which covered the room's sole sixty watt light bulb. He closed his eyes. Somehow Hannibal Smith's cheerful grin was just a little too much to take right now.


And so the week went by, bringing with it the weekend. Nobody spoke a single word of friendship to Sam. He remembered how he had questioned Philip Martin's desire to kill himself, and smiled a wry smile. He had been in this mess a week; Philip and Samantha had already been in the midst of it for three years. It didn't bear thinking about; three years when each and every day was a purgatory. Day in, day out, knowing that you were never going to see a friendly face; knowing that every word spoken to you was going to be an insult, of varying viciousness. Even the more pathetic of insults, the more childish of comments, were beginning to hurt after a week of such abuse. Sam didn't even want to think how bad it must feel after three years; and Samantha had another two years to go when this one was over, not to mention a further two if she decided to stay on in full-time education. He thought about the prospect of that; another four years of this. It was crushing.

"Hey Sam." Al's voice came out of nowhere, just as the Observer walked straight through the bedroom door. He was dressed in green from head to toe, of varying hues and shades. Ordinarily Sam might have smiled at the sight, but on that bleak Sunday afternoon he couldn't even manage to lessen his frown.

"Where have you been?" he asked. Al was still grinning at him, in a way that, bizarrely, Sam was finding deeply, deeply, annoying. How dare the Observer be so happy? Couldn't he see that this was a self-pity moment?

"And hello to you too Sam." Al was oblivious to his friend's mood. "I'm sorry I've been so long, but I figured you didn't really need me. There's a lot needs doing with the Project right now, and it's not as if you're gonna be having many problems in a school." He sat down, somehow contriving to make it seem as if he was sitting on the desk. "We've managed to track down Philip's suicide note."

"Oh." Sam tried to stir himself, but decided that he had spent too long feeling miserable. His spirits weren't raising themselves now for anybody. "I'd forgotten about him. Haven't seen him all week."

"He probably hasn't been in school. Philip plays truant a lot. He's even been known to run out of the classroom in the middle of lessons; blows up at the teachers, that sort of thing. His school records make him out to be a problem child; none of the teachers seem to have any time for him. From what Samantha's said, she's the only person in the whole school who's tried to help him out at all. The other kids beat him up, steal his lunch, all that sort of thing. He doesn't seem to have any friends. Apparently he came close to a nervous breakdown at the end of last term, but nobody seems to have said anything. He came right back to school again." He shook his head. "I don't know what to make of his school records, Sam. It's as if the teachers think he deserves anything he gets. Either that or they just don't notice what goes on."

"They notice." Sam was surprised at how small his voice sounded. He thought about the English teacher who had offered him no support on Tuesday morning; about the PE teacher who had stood by on Friday afternoon and let the other kids make fun of him for his hopelessness on the netball court. Samantha, clearly, was not naturally inclined towards ball games. He thought about the German teacher who had ignored the mutterings and the insult-hurling which had gone on not six feet from where she had been standing. He thought about the History teacher who had failed to rise to his defence when a group of girls had shouted him down during an oral presentation. His heart thudded painfully against his chest. Al frowned.

"Is everything alright Sam?" he asked. There was real gentleness to his tone; the sound of true friendship. Sam had almost forgotten what that sounded like.

"Everything's fine," he said, knowing that he sounded stony; knowing that he sounded as though he was angry with the Observer. He hadn't meant it to come out that way; it just had. Al's frown deepened.

"Is that Sam talking, or Samantha?" he asked. Sam glared at him.

"I said I'm fine." This time there was real vehemence in his words. Again he hadn't meant it to come out in quite that way; he just hadn't been able to stop it. He felt a sudden rush of hot exasperation, and for the first time in a long time he thought that he might cry. Anger flooded through him instead. "Just go away Al. Like you said, this is just school. I don't need you looking over my shoulder all the time."

"Are you sure?" Despite the way that Sam had spoken to him, Al still sounded concerned. Sam turned away, shutting him out altogether.

"I'm sure." He didn't turn back until he had heard the Chamber Door slam shut.

"Samantha?" The voice of his Host's mother echoed through the floorboards from the kitchen beneath. "We're going to the garden centre. Would you like to come?"

"No!" Sam sounded angry still, and he chided himself for speaking that way. He just didn't want to go out right now. He didn't want to see anyone. He was angry and frustrated, and he could still feel a painful lump in his throat. Part of him - the part, he hoped, that was still Samantha West - still felt as if it wanted to cry. He closed his eyes tightly and took a few calming breaths. Down below him he heard the faint voices of Samantha's family.

"I don't know what to say to her anymore." That was Samantha's mother. "She's always so miserable. It's very wearing."

"She's a misery guts." That was Samantha's younger sister. "She never wants to do anything."

"Ignore her," came the voice of her father. "She'll come around if you don't give into it." There was the sound of a door slamming. Moments later a car engine started up. Loneliness descended once again, and this time Sam didn't seem able to do anything to combat it. It felt as though it were crushing him. The voices of his - of Samantha's - family still echoed in his ears. It was all too evident that there was to be no support from that quarter. He lay down and turned his head to stare at the row of plastic lizards that climbed up the side of the bookcase. They seemed to be staring back, accusing, insulting. He turned his head again, and stared at the wall instead. He didn't want to cry, but this time there seemed to be a lot more of his Host in him than was usual. Samantha was lonely. Painfully, dangerously lonely. He could feel it in her room, could sense it in her bones. He could see it written in her eyes, every time he looked in the mirror. She spent long hours alone in her room, without anybody seeming to care. She was shutting out her own family, rather than open up to them. And now she was alone in the house, and her family thought she was just being impossible. Sam felt lost. He had faced murderers. He had fought in a war. He had been chased by Confederate soldiers whilst living the life of his own great-grandfather. He had faced the horrors of mental wards, of prison cells and even of death row. He had been shot, beaten up, chased and abused. He had even been through the aftermath of a rape. But he didn't ever remember feeling quite so alone, quite so forgotten, as he did right now. His hand strayed out to the stuffed elephant on the bed beside him, and he tried to force a smile onto his face. He failed. In the end he fell asleep, and didn't even wake up when his borrowed family came back from their trip. They didn't come up to see him. He told himself that he didn't care.

Deep inside, he knew that Samantha cared very much indeed.


Samantha West sat on the bed and dangled her legs over the side. Male legs, pale from long days spent indoors. If she had got all this worked out right, it was no wonder these legs were pale - their true owner had been jumping in and out of other people's lives for so long, leaving them waiting here in his body instead, that the body he had left behind probably hadn't felt the sun's rays in years. The "Guests" as they were referred to weren't allowed out of this room - the Waiting Room, they called it - so there was nothing for this unfortunate body to do save sit here, and suffer whatever its myriad of Hosts chose to put it through. She was quite pleased with herself for figuring all of that out. Nobody had told her anything, and every time she asked a question it was swiftly avoided; but she wasn't stupid. She could put two and two together. And in matters of science of course - especially physics, by which she was so clearly surrounded here - two and two didn't always equal four. Right now they appeared to equal 1999. Maybe even further into the future. She pondered that carefully. She had seen certain pieces of computer equipment, even though they thought she hadn't. She had seen the retina scans that allowed people to open the door to the Waiting Room. That didn't say 1988 to her, somehow. It was the sort of thing you saw on Tomorrow's World - Peter McCann would demonstrate the procedures live, and then grin his amiable grin at the camera when they failed to work. You didn't get that kind of thing in general practice. At least she didn't think so; and at any rate time travel was a far more interesting hypothesis.

The door opened as she swung her - or Doctor Beckett's - legs, and she glanced up. She wished they would leave her alone in here. Somebody was always coming in to start up a conversation. She hated talking to strangers; hated having to think of something polite to say, and hated the uncomfortable silences that grew up when there wasn't anything to talk about anymore. People always tutted and sighed and looked disapproving, as though she was doing something wrong. It wasn't her fault if she couldn't think of anything to say to them, was it?

"Hello Samantha." It was Doctor Beeks again, or Verbeena as she would insist on calling herself. She said that she was in charge of looking after the Guests, but she wasn't fooling Samantha. She was a psychiatrist, and she looked as though she was on the prowl for new patients. She had that look in her eyes of false concern; of making out like she cared, because that was her job, whilst really all she wanted was to go off to watch TV or put her feet up. Like the teachers at school. They'd ask if everything was okay, but she'd faint if any of them ever actually tried to do anything to help. The only person she had ever known to admit that something was wrong when he'd been asked was Philip Martin; and he'd wound up with a detention for being objectionable about his reply.

"Hi." Samantha dredged up a smile that she hoped looked genuine. Adults liked it when you smiled at them. If you didn't smile you got yelled at for being rude; and if you didn't smile fixedly twenty-four hours a day you got yelled at for being miserable.

"How's everything?" Verbeena pulled up a chair and sat down, glancing at a clipboard. Samantha wanted to know what was on the clipboard, but she didn't imagine for a minute that she'd be allowed to see.

"Okay I guess." She tried her smile again. It didn't feel right somehow, but then this woman was hard to talk to anyway. She kept touching - reaching out with her hands, touching Samantha's shoulders, smiling all the bloody time. She always seemed on the verge of hugging everbody, and Samantha didn't like physical contact. They weren't big on that kind of thing in her family - in fact she couldn't actually remember a single instance in her life when anybody had really touched her. It felt uncomfortable and unfamiliar; and besides, it wasn't the done thing. That was what her father said. Although admittedly he also said it wasn't the done thing for women to whistle, and she did that all the time. It made the silence seem less silent, when she was sitting all alone in her room. It helped keep out the echoes of the insults she couldn't forget about.

"Are you sure. How's your head?" Verbeena reached out to brush her hand across Samantha's forehead, but Samantha pulled back, trying not to look irritable. Verbeena frowned.

"I only want to check your temperature." She smiled suddenly. "I'm sorry. Sometimes I forget. It's because of the body that you're in."

"You know him?" Samantha wanted to know more about this Doctor Beckett character, although she wasn't quite sure why. Maybe it was because he was living her life, and she wanted to know what sort of things he might be getting up to. She hoped he would do alright in school, and not mess up her class marks.

"He's a very old friend."

"What's he doing in my body?" There was a childish petulance to the question. Verbeena smiled.

"He's taking care of it, that much I am sure of. He's probably--"

"No." Sam's eyes, with their hint of Samantha, looked uptight. "I mean why is he there in the first place? Why my body? If he wants to pick up first hand data on history or whatever, he wants to go jumping into the Prime Minister's body or something, right?"

"He's not there to pick up data on history." That was the time travel question swept under the carpet again. Inwardly Samantha scowled. "He's there to help. To sort things out." For a second something very like hope; pure, innocent, desperate hope shone in those hazel eyes. Then Samantha gave a very bitter, very adult smile.

"He's got his work cut out."

"Is something wrong in your life, Samantha?" Verbeena sounded sharp all of a sudden - not disapproving necessarily, but definitely interested. Samantha's expression went blank.

"No. Why should it be? I get good marks in my work, I'm predicted good grades in my exams. I don't get beaten up by the other kids. Everything's just fine."

"You're sure about that?"

"Course." Samantha tried glancing about the room to suggest that there was something else she would rather talk about. Verbeena got the hint, but she didn't seem too happy about it.

"What about everything here?" she asked instead. This time Samantha's smile was spontaneous.

"Everything's great here."

"Really? I thought you might be a bit bored. There's not a lot to do in here."

"The books are cool. I like reading." There was a shy smile. "I guess it is a bit boring being stuck in the same room all the time, but I like it here."

"Why?" It was a very open question, but all of a sudden Samantha didn't look open at all. She glanced away.

"I always wondered what it would feel like to be grown up. To be finished with school. I feel different here." She frowned. "Does Doctor Beckett leave some of himself in his body when he jumps into other people?" This time she thought that Verbeena's pause was genuine; that she really had to think about that, and was not trying to avoid the question.

"Sometimes the people that he Leaps into leave bits of themselves behind, and he kind of... mixes himself with them. I don't see why there shouldn't be some kind of a reverse effect." She frowned suddenly, as though cross with herself for having said too much.

"Is that what you call it? Leaping?" Samantha smiled again, yet another spontaneous, happy smile. Verbeena decided that she liked Samantha's smile a lot. "Cool."

"Well just let's forget that I called it anything at all, okay?" She stood up. "I have to be going now, if that's alright with you. There are things I should be doing. I'll see if I can find you a few more books, and maybe some videos."

"What's Doctor Beckett's favourite book?"

Verbeena paused. "I have no idea. I'll look it up if you'd like."

"Can I read it if it was published after 1988?" There was a glimmer of amusement in Samantha's eyes, and Verbeena found herself smiling back.

"No comment." She crossed to the door. "I'll see you later."

"Yeah." For a second Verbeena could almost imagine that it was Sam himself bidding her farewell. The eyes looked old again, the expression distant - just the way that Sam looked when he was being the absentminded scientist. She got the impression that it was not absentmindedness which made Samantha look that way. Not this time. With nothing else to say she left the room, and closed the door behind her.

"Why did she lie?" Ziggy, who always found it hard to stay quiet when Verbeena was in the Waiting Room, almost made her jump now. She scowled at the nearest speaker.


"Samantha West." A pause. "She lied to you about things being alright at school."

"Yes, I know."


"Why did she lie?" Verbeena thought back several decades, to a small black girl in a predominantly white school - a girl with an IQ far above average who had been bullied mercilessly and had never really known how to tell her parents about it. They had noticed in the end. They had helped her. But she had never quite been able to tell them until they had worked it out for themselves.

"I don't know," she said finally, smiling a sad smile. "Sometimes it's easier just to say that nothing's wrong. Talking about it all can be very hard."

"Does she think that you would not understand?"

"Possibly. Or maybe she's afraid that I will. She doesn't want me to get close to her." Verbeena sighed. Probably been hurt too many times. Probably didn't trust anybody anymore. Clearly she was getting no help from her family, and even more clearly she didn't know how to ask for it. "Maybe she just thinks that there isn't any point."

"No point?" There was a silence as Ziggy thought this through. "I don't understand you, doctor."

"It's like this, Ziggy." Verbeena had to think hard to find the right way to explain it. "Imagine that everybody hates you - or that you think everybody does. They're all horrible to you, all of the time. Nobody ever has anything nice to say, and when they do you don't really believe that they mean it. What's the point in telling anyone? It may get so bad that you can hardly carry on, but what good is telling somebody going to do? If Samantha tells me that she's unhappy at school, she knows that I can't fix it for her. I can't go there and make her popular. I can't force the other kids to be nice. I can't change anything."

"I do not understand your examples, Doctor Beeks. I cannot comprehend what it would feel like to be... hated." Ziggy seemed to be toying with the idea. She had enough of an ego, enough of a personality, to understand the concepts of hurt and isolation. "But I do understand the points that you raise." Another pause. "It must be very... trying."

"That's one way of putting it." Verbeena managed another smile. "I just hope that there's enough of Sam Beckett back there to deal with this. I have a horrible feeling that when he Leaped into Samantha he kept a lot of her in there with him."

"You think that Doctor Beckett may be incapable of carrying out his assignment?" Ziggy actually sounded worried. Verbeena shrugged.

"I don't know, Ziggy." By now they had reached the door to her office, and she paused to open it. "I have a nasty suspicion that there's a whole lot of one very mixed-up teenager sharing that body with him right now. And if there is, he's going to be feeling everything that she is. He's going to feel every insecurity, every confusion, every hurt..."

"Maybe that was the idea, Doctor Beeks. Maybe to save Philip Martin he has to understand what the boy is going through. Maybe that is why he Leaped into Samantha West, and why he Leaped in so long before the event he has to change."

"Maybe." Verbeena wandered into her room, and wondered if, this time, she would be able to leave Ziggy at the door. No such luck.

"Why does Samantha West have such unpleasant experiences of school? I was under the impression that humans enjoyed their periods of education. I have read all of the classics--"

"This isn't First Form At Mallory Towers, Ziggy. Have you read Tom Brown's Schooldays?"



"It's an old book."

"Well kids don't change. We always assume that they have, and we tell ourselves that they must have done, but they're the same now as they were centuries ago. They gang up on each other. They identify certain amongst their number as targets, and then really make them suffer. Get them alone and they might be as nice as you or me. But together? Forget it. Call it the pack instinct or just call it plain unpleasantness, either way it can get out of hand. It's only recently that schools and parents have started to take it all seriously. Even now, in our present, bullying is still seen as something physical. Kids beating each other up, threatening each other, sometimes causing serious injury. There's another kind of bullying that still gets forgotten about a lot of the time."

"Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words shall never hurt me," Ziggy quoted, understanding perfectly as always. Verbeena thought back again to the small black girl, and the words she couldn't bear to listen to - and she thought about the girl sitting now in the Waiting Room. She smiled a painful smile.

"That's right," she said softly, as she sat down at her desk and reached for her reading lamp. "And the greatest tragedy is that that's what so many people still believe."


Philip Martin stood alone in the locker room and stared at the contents of his locker. Yesterday there had been three text books in there, and a spare shirt for PE. Now the text books had gone, and in their place was a dead rat. It was wrapped up in the spare shirt, its dead little eyes staring at him. Somebody walked past and giggled. He considered turning around, he considered getting mad, but there didn't seem to be any point. Hot tears welled up behind his eyelids, and he rested his forehead on the edge of the locker door. A dead rat he could live with. He found himself feeling sorry for the animal more than anything else. He certainly felt no revulsion towards it. What bothered him most were the text books. He had already "lost" two so far this term, and if these three didn't turn up he would wind up in detention for the rest of the year. He would have to pay to replace them as well, and his family didn't even have the money to buy one book, let alone three. There was a reason that Philip dressed in hand-me-downs, and there was a reason why his trousers were patched. He certainly couldn't afford three text books. He remembered trying to explain to the Headmaster when the last two had vanished. He remembered trying to get the words out, trying to tell the tall, deeply disapproving man that the books had been stolen. The Head hadn't believed him. Nobody ever did. The teachers weren't bad people, he was sure of that. It was just that they had no time for people who hid in corners, or who caused trouble - however unintentionally. But then that wasn't true, was it. The teachers liked the kids who caused trouble. They stood around chatting quite happily with the kids who were rude and arrogant, the kids who beat up other kids, the kids who made other peoples' lives a misery. Them the teachers liked. It was the victims that they hated. He saw it every day, even though he tried to tell himself that it was only his imagination. Teachers sharing a joke with the very kids who disrupted class constantly with their stupid behaviour; and meanwhile who was it that the teachers ignored, or treated like a hardened and irredeemable criminal? Him, the victim. The one who got beaten up in football lessons because he wore training shoes that weren't of a fashionable make, or because he wore a T-shirt that was too big for him, because his parents couldn't afford to buy him another one. The one who took constant verbal abuse from every other kid in the whole damn school bar almost none - all because his clothes were worn and his haircut unfashionable. It wasn't his fault that he didn't like the fashionable bands. It wasn't his fault that he hadn't been to see The Lost Boys, the film that the whole school had elected the height of cool the previous year. Even if he had been able to get the money for a seat he would never have passed for fifteen. Samantha had said that it was admitting to not seeing it which had caused him the most trouble. Plenty of other kids hadn't been able to get in; but they had said they had. He didn't understand that - didn't see the point. No film was that cool. Samantha had agreed; she hadn't seen it either, and hadn't tried to lie about that; but then she suffered nearly as much as he did. The only difference was that she didn't get beaten up, and that was probably only because she was a girl. He almost hated her for that. Almost.

"Hi." The voice behind him startled him, as much by the lack of vitriol as by its suddenness. He turned. Samantha West was standing by the door, leaning against the wall, looking so typically Sam-like that he almost smiled. She never wore any makeup, and her uniform was strictly school regs only, with no concessions to fashion. She didn't even stand like the other girls. That was undoubtedly part of her problem; the other kids seemed to hate the fact that she never did anything terribly feminine; just like they hated everything else that was different; including him. If only Sam would grow her hair, or start giggling around boys, she'd probably get far less hassle. But then Samantha never seemed to do anything because people thought it was what she should do. He wished he could be more like her. Sometimes it was so hard to go on being you, when there was so much pressure to turn into something else. He shook off the thoughts and managed a proper smile of greeting.


"Everything alright?"

"Yeah. Fine." There was no conviction behind his words, but Samantha nodded. She seemed to understand. In point of fact Sam did understand, and was beginning to understand a little more every day. He hadn't expected any other answer from this tattered and taciturn boy.

"I'm sorry, about the other day. Monday. I should have said something."

"You mean when I got caught hitting Annabel? It wouldn't have done any good. You know Bates is always looking for an excuse to drag me to the Head's office." Philip shrugged. It was an old man's gesture somehow. "He wouldn't have listened, and all that would have happened would be that Annabel and her friends would be out to get you."

"Oh." Sam smiled. "You mean they're not already?" The pair shared a laugh.

"You know what I mean." Philip began to close his locker, but Sam had already seen the rat. He moved over, picking it up carefully.

"Yours?" he asked. Philip looked bleak.

"I guess it is now."

"Is anything missing?" The Leaper saw a flicker behind Philip's eyes, and recognised the look of pain that he had seen in Samantha's eyes when he had looked in the mirror for the first time after his Leap in. In Philip it was all so much worse; so much more intense. He looked like he might be about to burst.

"Yeah." In the event he spoke quietly; gently almost. "Some books."

"Which you'll have to replace." Sam sighed. "Which ones?"

"Nothing special. An English one and a couple for Maths. I wouldn't mind if the teachers would actually believe my side of the story, but they never do. Even Akuda doesn't seem to believe me most of the time." Sam nodded his understanding. He had seen enough since Leaping in to know that the favours of the teachers were overwhelmingly stacked against children in the same position as Philip and Samantha. Nobody seemed prepared to offer them a helping hand, or to try to understand that those ordinary, nice kids from ordinary, nice homes, could be turned into such raging, psychotic tormentors whenever they got the chance to gang up on a target. The only exception that the Leaper had so far witnessed was one of the Science teachers; a young guy by the name of Simon Akuda. He was an oh-so-English type, with an oh-so-un-English name, and he seemed to go out of his way to find nice things to say to Samantha. He was a quiet, withdrawn man himself, who rarely smiled and seemed to avoid speaking to everybody as much as was possible. Despite his almost hermitic existence he saw everything, and appeared to understand everything too. He never approached the subject of Samantha's unhappiness, but he always seemed to be there at just the right moment. Sam wondered if he had been bullied himself at school, and now recognised the signs. It was very likely, especially given his name, and the fact that he didn't look white. That was asking for trouble in a lot of schools. Sam had heard so many tales, from colleagues world-wide, about that particular issue. He made a mental note to ask Al if there were any records about the young teacher. He appreciated the man's apparent concern for Samantha. There was all too little of that around here.

"What do I do, Sam?" Philip's voice startled him back to the present, and he frowned. There was such a plaintive note to the voice that for a second he faltered. He didn't know. Whether as a scientist in his mid-forties or as a screwed-up girl in her mid-teens, he didn't have a clue what to do about this problem. He saw something in Philip's eyes that warned him not to admit to that now. The poor kid was at the end of his tether. Sam tried not to imagine him as he must have looked when the milkman had found him. He tried not to imagine what had been going through his mind as he had prepared the rope, and knotted the noose that was to take his life. The problem was that he could imagine it all too easily.

"When do you next need the books?" he asked. Philip frowned.

"The English one next lesson."

"Then there's nothing else you can do, is there." Sam crossed to the nearest row of lockers and read through the names on the labels. He recognised one, and set to work on the lock with the small penknife he had long ago discovered Samantha never to be without. Eventually the door swung open. Sam rifled through the mess inside; unopened can of Coke, half-empty packet of cigarettes, packet of mints to disguise the smell of the smoke. He moved a Liverpool FC scarf and a pair of leather, BMX gloves, and then found a pile of text books. He ran through them, eventually coming up with the three requisite items. He handed them over. Philip gaped.

"You're a genius!" He turned the books over in his hands. "What happens when Michael can't find these? Somebody will tell him that I had books I shouldn't've had."

"Michael doesn't need to know that you've got his books. He's in the 'A'-stream, you're in the 'B'-stream; it's not like you have any classes together." The bell rang loudly, and Sam jumped. Guilty conscience? he seemed to hear his mother's voice say. He managed a shaky smile. "We'd better get going."

"Yeah." Philip sounded choked. "Thanks. Really."

"Let's not mention it - for both our sakes." They left the locker room, and began to head down the corridors. A group of older children jeered at them as they went past. One particularly large boy tried to trip Philip, but missed. Sam thanked whatever gods were watching him right now for that one small mercy, then called a goodbye to Philip and headed off towards his own next class. He saw the streams of children pushing and shoving at Philip as he went on down the corridor, and he heard the immature voices shouting their unspeakable insults. He felt a pang of sorrow for the boy; but then the crowds were closing around him too, and their voices were addressing the girl that now was in their midst. He closed his mind to Philip and tried to close it to the insults as well, but the former was rather easier than the latter. Shutting out all thought of Philip Martin was far too easy, for with a corridor full of children all anxious to be the first to tell him how ugly and stupid he was, he had no time left for sympathy. All that he had time for was walking, and for trying to convince himself that he could rise above all of this. His heart thudded painfully in his chest, and he bowed his head, ignoring all, staring fixedly at the floor. Ignore them and they might go away, shouted the voices of a hundred well-meaning adults from his past. Like all of the other pieces of advice he had heard in his youth, and which he had grown up believing in so fully, he could see now that it was all just a load of rubbish. These kids didn't give a damn whether or not he ignored them. All that they cared about was having their fun. He tried to think of something enriching; some calming, friendly thought that might help him to focus on the positive; but when he tried to think of his parents all that he could see were Samantha's mother and father. He tried to think of his sister, Katie, but all that he could see was Samantha's sister Karen. He wanted to be himself again, and to ignore all of the claptrap that this thoroughly unpleasant rabble was shouting at him. Instead he was somebody else, and the pain was starting to rise within him once again. If it carried on the way it was, pretty soon it was going to erupt.


"I don't like it. He's shutting me out." Al Calavicci strolled down the corridor at Project Quantum Leap, walking just that bit too fast for Verbeena Beeks to comfortably keep up. "It's like he's turning into someone else. Like there's all this stuff going on in his head that he won't let me in on. I thought we shared everything; talked about everything. I don't even know for sure that he trusts me."

"You have to give him some space, Al." Verbeena finally caught up, and wished that Al wasn't quite so physical when frustrated. It made him a very hard man to talk to, unless you were an Olympic speed-marcher. "He's Leaped into a very mixed-up kid. She's going through hell at school, and she has absolutely nobody that she can turn to. You can't have emotions that powerful, feelings that strong, without something being left behind during the crossover. Sam's got a large part of Samantha's insecurities in there with him. He's feeling what she feels, and she doesn't trust anybody. She's been hurt too much, too many times."

"But Sam hasn't. His childhood was practically idyllic. You could write a whole season of The Waltons around it. Everybody loved each other, all that sort of thing. I thought I was the one with problems."

"Do you have problems Al?" Verbeena's tone was teasing, but for a moment she thought that he was not going to acknowledge the joke. Eventually he smiled at her.

"You know what I mean. I'm the one with the difficult childhood, the hard luck stories. Sam's supposed to be the well-balanced one."

"Ordinarily, yes." Oh, how much she wished that she could have been there for Al, when he was a lost and confused child. He had needed her sort of help then, even though he would never admit to it now. He had healed so admirably, but plenty of others in his position hadn't. She could only hope that Samantha wasn't going to be one of them. "But this is no ordinary Leap, Al. There's so much of the Host in him this time; so many of her feelings. Put yourself in Samantha's position. Try to imagine all that verbal abuse, day in, day out, with no sign of ending, no one to talk to about it. Worries, insecurities, paranoia. It's all in there. The inability to trust anybody, because nobody that she knows has given her any reason to trust them. It's all going to be affecting Sam's own judgement. Be understanding. Don't treat him the way you usually would. Maybe you could start by talking to Samantha herself. She's the only one right now who knows what Sam's going through. She can tell you exactly how he feels; and talking about it should do her the power of good as well. She won't open up to me. She doesn't respond well to female figures."

"You think she'll talk to me?" Al rubbed the back of his neck, hoping that he wasn't feeling the start of a tension headache. Boy did he want Sam back here with him, to joke with, to ease the tensions. He hated to think of his closest friend in all the world being stuck in some other time, some other place, having to deal with who knew what; especially when, as now, Al could offer him no support, no meaningful words of comfort. He knew nothing about the problems that Sam was experiencing. He had no comprehension of the sort of thing that Samantha West went through every day of her life. He had always thought of bullying as something that most kids went through; a sort of rites of passage thing that generally didn't do any harm. Maybe it didn't in most cases. Maybe times had changed too much from the days that he had known.

"I think that if she's going to talk to anybody it'll be one of the men, yeah. And you're as good as any. Apart from you the only male allowed in the Waiting Room is Gushie, and I don't think she's going to find him a tower of support, do you?" Verbeena smiled. "Go ahead. Try it. You're not going to lose anything by giving it a go. Just remember that this is a kid from an old-fashioned British family. They don't talk about their feelings, they don't go in for physical contact. She needs it desperately, but right now she's not going to thank you for it. She's fourteen going on forty in a whole lot of ways, and forty going on four in a whole lot of others. Emotionally she's completely confused. I suspect that she feels the bullying to be her fault; that she thinks she's deserved it in some way. That's a very common attitude, but it's not helping. Neither's her family. They think she's anti-social, and she's too scared to be anything else. I'd like to bang their heads together - the whole lot of them."

"You know a lot about them," Al commented, wondering not for the first time just where she got her data from. She looked hedgy.

"She writes a book. Lots of them in fact, but one in particular is a semi-autobiography. It details everything - her relationship with her parents, experiences at school - the whole shebang. Ziggy says that if Sam succeeds in sorting things out for Philip Martin the book will never be written, so strictly speaking I shouldn't have a copy. I certainly shouldn't be reading it. I got Ziggy to pull some strings to get it for me, and I've sworn her into secrecy. From what I've read so far it's a wonder it was just Philip who committed suicide."

"Great. And Sam's stuck in the middle of that." Al sighed. The last thing that he wanted was to go and play nursemaid to some psychological screw-up of a teenage girl; but sometimes you needed to make sacrifices. He gave his neck another rub, and then set off towards the Waiting Room. On the way he wondered what exactly he should say to the kid: Hey kid, how's school? He smiled. If Sam Beckett planned to carry on Leaping, then Al Calavicci was going to have to swallow his pride - and take a course in social working.


"Hi." Al straightened his back, and tried not to look too military. It wasn't easy. Somehow these things became second nature after a while, and it was a habit he still hadn't shaken after more years out of the job than he really cared to remember. "I'm Al."

"Hi." Her smile was polite enough, but unlike most adults Al actually remembered what it was like to be fourteen. He remembered the awkward politeness he had displayed towards adults; always feeling that there was a necessity to answer every question, to smile on cue.

"You're called Sam," he said brightly. "So is, er - so's the guy who's, um..."

"Who's body I'm in?" This time her smile was much brighter, and a good deal more cheerful. "Yes, I know. Sam Beckett, like the playwright."

"You read a lot of plays?"

"Not Beckett's stuff, no. I read Waiting For Godot and it was as weird as hell." She flushed slightly, as though swearing, however mildly, was something that was not encouraged. It was a relief, somehow. Al had only been in the room a minute, and already he was feeling awkward. Unlike the other members of the Project, Al Calavicci saw the Guest, rather than the body of Sam Beckett; just as, when in the Imaging Chamber, he saw Sam instead of his Host. It hadn't always been that way, but he had had Ziggy make a few adjustments. It made life easier. So it was that he now found himself sharing a room with a small, pale girl whose eyes and smile looked older than his, and who looked as though all that she wanted was for him to turn his back and walk away. She was trying to hide that of course, but Al knew people. He knew what they were thinking. He understood their body language. Sam had always joked about it being a necessity when you had been married as many times as Al had been.

"Yeah, I never liked Beckett either, but then I'm not big on plays myself. I remember reading Hamlet when I was a kid, and being blown away by some of the speeches he made. I never realised anybody else was as messed up as I was then. I thought the rest of the world had everything all figured out. After that, every other play I looked at was a disappointment." He saw a flicker of interest in the bright, intelligent eyes, and felt a burst of surprising pride. It had been very much a spur of the moment thing to reveal that particular piece of information. He didn't think he had even told Sam about that instance, sleeping rough in a public library once, during one of the many times that he had gone AWOL from the orphanage. He had been so cold, and so lonely, and Hamlet had been the only book that he could reach from his position, curled up in a tangle of moth-eaten blankets.

"I always kind of preferred Macbeth." She looked uncomfortable about speaking to him - a complete stranger - but given what she had been through in the last week or so; being thrust into the midst of Project Quantum Leap, locked up in a sterile white room with only Verbeena Beeks for company, he could only imagine that she was beginning to relax a little. It was the only alternative to a state of constant sedation; Project Quantum Leap had no time for wildcards that might cause trouble.

"Do you see yourself as the King of Scotland?" He sat down as he spoke, and saw a visible relaxation in response. He was more of an equal sitting down; less of a towering adult standing on formalities.

"No." She grinned. "But I like that kind of stuff. Maybe it would be cool to do something really bad, just once."


"Why?" She looked surprised by the question, her expression telling him that he wouldn't understand. She shrugged. "Because, that's all. Because... because all the most popular kids at school are troublemakers. They swear all the time, they cause trouble, they hurt people. Some of them even steal stuff, and some of them have even been arrested. And everybody likes them. Everybody. Even the teachers prefer them to the other kids. I've been nice all my life. I've never even turned in a homework assignment late. I've never been rude to anybody once. Not intentionally anyway. All my life I've gone out of my way to do the right thing, and it's got me nowhere." There was a sudden, breathless pause after this flood of words. A bitter pause, accompanied by an equally bitter shake of the head. "I either get ignored completely, or I get half the school treating me like I'm worthless. I can't decide which is worse."

"And you think doing something bad would make you popular?" Al could remember thinking the same thing himself once, when he had looked up to a gang of older boys who had been accomplished housebreakers. He had really wanted to be one of them then; to be a part of something, no matter how small. He had never been back to find out what had happened to those boys; and that was probably for the best.

"I think it's worth a try." She stared at him for a second, her eyes hot. They startled him with their intensity, and he wondered if perhaps he should be saying something. Something meaningful, something well thought out? Something to help dispel those demons? Instead he looked away. Samantha West smiled.

"You came in here for a reason, didn't you." Her eyes called his, making him look back towards her. "There was something you were wanting. Was it about Doctor Beckett?"

"Yes." He felt terrible now. He should have been to see her for who she was, not waited until he wanted something from her. He felt as though he was using her; failing her in some way. And the worse thing of all was that she didn't mind. She had never expected him to come just to visit. She didn't expect friendship from anybody. "I need you to help me - to help Sam. He's in trouble."

"He should be having a field day. Every adult I know keeps telling me that they wish they could be back at school again; that I'm really lucky to be enjoying the best days of my life." This time the smile was so painful, so bitter, that Al didn't know where to look. "If these are the happiest days of my life, I don't want to know what the rest of it is going to be like. I don't even know that I want there to be a rest of it."

"Don't say that." Al sounded sharp and he knew it, but there was no other way to say something like this. She met his eyes, holding his gaze, the shadows of several different emotions passing in waves across her face. Finally she looked away.

"What's wrong with Doctor Beckett?"

"Everything." He sighed. "Sometimes when he Leaps into people, part of them gets left behind. You wouldn't feel it; it's not like you'd think there was something missing or whatever. It's like an echo of your aura, caught up in whatever it is he Leaps into."

"So his mind is getting mixed up with mine?" She whistled. "I don't envy him that. But you're wrong; I do notice it. I feel different here to how I do at home. Back there, I wouldn't be talking to you now. I wouldn't be talking to anybody, except to be polite. I can feel something that I guess must be Doctor Beckett. He's a very confident man. Very self-aware. It's quite an alien feeling, but rather a pleasant one."

"Well Sam isn't at all confident right now, or self-aware either for that matter. He's losing himself. He's being you; living your life. He's facing everything that you face everyday, and it's tearing him apart. He can't handle it; not with all your past experiences weighing him down."

"I live with it." She sounded harsh, which didn't suit her. "Why shouldn't he?"

"Because he mustn't. He's there for a reason; it's what he does. He goes somewhere, and he fixes something, and then he goes somewhere else. At the moment he's so screwed-up he can't function. He can't get his work done. And if he doesn't, then he might just be stuck there forever."

"In my body. Living my life." This time Samantha's smile was so painful, so weak, that Al could no longer read its message. "Sounds good to me. I'd never be there again. Never have to listen to those..." Her voice trailed off, as though she could not find the words to adequately express her feelings. "To those people I go to school with." Another smile. "And I'd get to stay in his body, and feel like a human being for the first time in my life."

"It doesn't work that way." Al wasn't sure if it did or if it didn't, but he knew that he had to say something. Samantha smiled.

"No. I'm sure that it doesn't. So what is it that Doctor Beckett has to fix? Something tells me he's not there to make my life into a place of wonder and contentment."

"No, he's not." Again Al couldn't meet her eyes. "There's a boy. A boy called Philip Martin?"

"Ah." She smiled. "Poor Philip. He brings it on himself so often, but that's still no excuse. I don't know how he takes it. I think I'd have cracked a long time ago if I was him."

"Well he does crack. In barely a week now he's going to commit suicide, unless Sam can get through to him. And he can't do that unless he can get through to himself. I need to know how to help Sam, to come through this himself as well as to help Philip get back on track. Do you understand?"

"Yeah." She looked away, staring at the flickering monitor lights on a wall panel nearby. They meant that Ziggy was listening in on the conversation, although Samantha didn't know that. Al wanted to tell her. He knew that she would love the story of Project Quantum Leap. Somehow he knew that she would fit right into it, just the way that he had. She could never know of course, even though she wouldn't remember any of it when she went back. "I understand. You want me to help you save Philip's life, so that Doctor Beckett can go and help somebody else, in some other place. And I can go back to where I was before. You're asking me to choose to go back to all of that. To crying myself to sleep every night. To waking up every morning knowing that I'm going to have to spend six hours in a living hell, being treated like dirt by everybody who knows me. To having whole classes of kids turning their backs whenever I walk in the room, or raising their voices to make sure that I can't join in with their conversations. You want me to actively choose to go back to spending every waking moment wondering what I've done to deserve it; where it was that I went wrong to make them all hate me so much. To go back to sneaking in through the back door when I get home from school, so that my mother won't see that I've been crying all the way home - and then realising that she wouldn't bloody notice anyway, and crying even more, just on the off chance that somebody might hear me." She closed her eyes briefly. "And knowing that they never will. They never notice. I can't talk to them anymore. I take all that crap at school, every day of my life, until I can't see straight anymore, and when I come home from school all I want is to be left alone. My older brother... I used to think the world of him when I was a little kid. I used to think that he was the greatest guy in the world. And now, now he won't talk to me anymore. He makes jokes, and I blow up at him, because... because I just can't take it from him as well. I know he doesn't mean it, not like they do at school, but I just can't take it from him as well. So I get angry, and he thinks I'm pathetic because I can't take his teasing, and so I've lost him and I just can't tell him why I--" She broke off, a tear finally breaking through her defences, and rolling slowly from one eye. Al could see that it was a tear more of rage than anything else, but it made no difference to him. He still wanted to reach out and put his arms around her. He remembered Verbeena's words of warning, and he kept well back. He didn't know what else to do.

"I know you want to understand," she said eventually. "I know you want to be able to appreciate what it is that your friend has got himself into the middle of. But the truth is that nobody can understand, not unless they've been there. You can't imagine how it feels to be hated by everyone; to know that whichever way you turn you're never going to see a friendly face. That there's no one in the world you can turn to, and nothing you can possibly do to change it. That there's no end to it. You can't understand that."

"I need to. Sam needs to. You have to help us."

"Yeah, I know. But I don't know what's going through Philip's mind, and I can't tell you how to stop him from killing himself. I haven't got the hang of talking myself out of that yet, let alone anybody else." She gave him a rueful smile. "It all seems so much clearer here; so much easier to sort it all out in my mind. But when I go back I won't remember, will I. Doctor Beeks gave me that impression. This has been like a holiday; a chance to get my mind back into one piece again; and it's all going to be for nothing."

"Philip Martin's family won't see it that way."

"Philip Martin's family won't know. I won't know. Will Doctor Beckett remember? Will he remember what it was like to be me? I'd like to know that there's somebody out there who understands; even if it's some guy who spends his life bouncing around in history."

"Sam... well sometimes he remembers things. Mostly he doesn't." Al couldn't lie, even about something like that. Not now. Samantha nodded sadly, a reflective smile on her melancholy, pale face.

"I understand. So basically... I help you, and you help Philip... and nobody knows about it, and nobody remembers it, and nobody ever will. And Philip gets to go on living a hell every day, and so do I, and your life just carries on as normal, as though you'd never known anything about any of us. Tell me why I should help you with this. Tell me why I should give up the only happy time I've had in three years just for some act of charity that nobody is ever going to know anything about. I've been making sacrifices all of my life, Al. Doing things for other people, giving things up for other people... and nobody ever seems to notice. All they see is..." She looked away. "I don't know what they see. But it doesn't seem to be good."

"If you don't want to help me, I will understand." This time he did reach out to her, taking her hand. She stared at his fingers, enclosing hers. His hand dwarfed her much smaller one. He could feel her fingers rigid beneath his, tense and uncomfortable in his grip, and he wondered about a family that couldn't do something as simple as touch each other. Slowly she withdrew her hand, closing it almost involuntarily into a fist.

"Tell Sam to look under the chest of drawers beside my bed. I keep my diary there. There might be something useful in it. And... and Philip is a big science fiction fan. He loves computer games. His family can't afford a computer, but a cousin of his has got the same kind as me. Spectrum 48K. I can't think of any other way to get through to him. We've talked about computers a lot, and about sci-fi too. He's a Star Trek fan, but you can't hold that against him. We talk about Doctor Who mostly. It's the only time I've ever seen him relax."

"Science fiction. Computer games." Al gave her a big grin, and was surprised to see it returned. "Thankyou. Really."

"No problem." She watched him as he walked to the door. He felt bad about leaving, now that he'd got what he'd come for, but he had to get back to Sam. You couldn't talk a kid out of suicide in a day or two; Sam was going to need all of the time left to him to get this sorted out; otherwise Philip might just wind up dead another day. Maybe he would be found hanging from a different tree, by a different milkman; but he would still be just as dead.

"Goodbye Al." She sounded as though she wasn't expecting to see him again. He smiled.

"See you later."

"Yeah." She sounded utterly unconvinced. For a second he wanted to shake her; how could she go on thinking so little of her worth; having so little faith in others? Then the expression on Sam's face the last time he had seen him floated back into his mind. Sam was seeing the world that way too now. But that, at least, was one person that Al could help. He stepped through the Waiting Room door and heard it clang shut behind him. He didn't look back at the monitor screen set into the wall nearby. The last thing that he wanted to see was the expression on Samantha West's face as she was left all alone once again.


Sam lay on the floor of his/Samantha's bedroom and let the radio play loudly. The house was empty, so there were no complaints from anyone downstairs. He recognised the song, dimly, but he couldn't say who had sung it, or why he should have recognised it at all; particularly when he could hardly describe his own face, let alone remember anything from his past. His logical brain told him that songs often linger in the memory longer than anything else; although Al Calavicci could have given him a different reason - and not one that Sam himself would ever have considered. The song was one that Donna, the wife that Sam had no idea existed, had played to death one summer before Project Quantum Leap had come into their lives. Its chorus circled meaninglessly in the Leaper's mind, as he turned the pages of Samantha's diary.

"Anything interesting?" Al asked him. Sam glanced up at him. After having spent so much time in the real world, Al seemed suddenly anxious to stay in the Imaging Chamber; almost as though he were unwilling to leave Sam's side. Sam had been annoyed at first. He wanted to be alone with his self-pity. Gradually, however, he was beginning to relax again. There was something reassuring about the older man's dogged presence, and particularly about his bad jokes and apparently nervous sarcasm.

"Maybe." Sam turned another page, reading silently.

"Going to elaborate?"

"Very likely." Sam turned a few more pages, then turned back one. "Hmm."

"Anything important?"

"Al, will you shut up? I'll tell you when I find something." Sam sighed, and turned a few more pages. "This makes pretty depressing reading."

"I think it's supposed to. I kind of think she's hoping someone in her family will find it, and realise how miserable she is." Al sat down, apparently on the bed. "She thought reading that might help you understand how Philip is feeling right now."

"I think the last couple of weeks have given me a pretty good idea about that." Sam tapped thoughtfully at one day's entry. "Listen to this. I'm worried about Philip Martin. He's weird, and most people think there's something wrong with him. I suppose there is, a little. He flips his lid pretty easily, and half the time he's not all there, but the teachers seem to have written him off. That's not fair. Today he got beaten up in the quad because he spoke back to a group of boys. They were giving him a hard time, because his trainers are some shop's own brand, and aren't fashionable. Like he can afford a hundred pounds for a pair of shoes with Hi-Tech written on them. It's daft." Sam shook his head. "You can say that again."

"So what do we do? Buy Philip a whole new wardrobe?" Al lit a cigar and blew a thoughtful cloud of smoke across the room. It swirled lazily about Sam's head. In the real world he would have coughed and moved aside, but in their frustrating life of half-contact the smoke was not real to the Leaper. He hardly seemed to notice its presence.

"Fashion accessories aren't going to save him now. He could turn into the world's coolest guy tomorrow, but he'd still be the fall guy so far as the school is concerned." Sam turned a few more pages. "There's quite a lot of stuff about him in here. Samantha's genuinely worried." He frowned. "It doesn't get any better. Philip Martin got beaten up again today. I tried to help him of course, but there was nothing I could do. It's got beyond a joke now. He ran off again afterwards; I guess I don't blame him. But I find myself hoping that he's not going to go for good. I know that it sounds selfish, but with Philip gone they'll all turn on me. At the moment we're both getting it, but if he left I don't think I could handle it anymore. They'd all turn on me then, all the time. I'm not sure I'd make it through. And it goes on here, too. Maybe Philip's the lucky one after all. He must have gone home covered in bruises yesterday, and his mother noticed. Nothing will happen of course. It won't change anything. But at least Philip's mother knows what he's going through now. Sometimes I wish they hit me too. At least then I'd have bruises. There'd be scars that somebody could see, instead of the way it is now. But then, if I went home covered in bruises, would anybody notice? Would anybody believe me? My mother knows everybody in this town, and no matter what I try and say to her, she'll never believe anything bad of the kids at school. Them or the teachers. Why is she so much more ready to believe in them than to believe in me?" He shut the book with a clap and glanced up at Al. "I'm sick of this, Al. I'm sick of feeling like this. I'm sick of all the self-doubt and the self-loathing. I'm sick of thinking that everybody hates me, and I'm tired of feeling like my - like Samantha's - parents just don't give a damn. I can feel that these thoughts aren't mine, but there's nothing I can do to stop them taking over. Everywhere I look I see enemies. I don't even feel right with you here. I can't trust anyone."

"Take it easy Sam." Al reached out automatically for his old friend's shoulder. He did not withdraw the hand even when he remembered the pointlessness of the gesture, and he let his fingers pass through Sam's shoulder and arm. "As soon as you Leap you can begin all over again. Another body, another identity. A whole new set of experiences to deal with."

"While Samantha comes back here, to all of this. I wish there was something I could do, Al. Something to make it all a little bit better for her, when she Leaps back in."

"There isn't anything." Al made the words sound firm, because he wanted it all to be clear in Sam's mind. "There's nothing that you can do for her. She'll finish with the school eventually, and she'll move on, and given time she'll get over all of this. Scars like hers don't fade overnight, but they do fade. Eventually."

"I can tell her parents. I can make them see what's going on."

"It's not that simple, Sam. The only other school she can go to is miles away. They couldn't afford to send her there."

"But at least her parents will know what's wrong. Maybe then they won't treat her like her moods are all her own fault. For goodness sakes, Al; they think she's difficult! They think she needs to cheer up, and stop being so touchy. She's barely keeping her mind together, and they're giving her a hard time."

"I know. She told me." Al remembered her pale face, her soft voice. She had been surprised that she had opened up to him; he had seen it in her eyes. Sam's influence acting on her, almost certainly. She had said that she could feel something that was not her, and yet was. Part of him wished that she could stay in her future - his present - in Sam Beckett's body; even despite what that would mean for Sam himself. "But that's up to Sam herself to do, and it wouldn't be right to interfere that much. There's a reason she hasn't told her parents. I honestly don't think they'd understand."

"You think I should forget about her, and concentrate on Philip." Sam sighed, and opened the diary again. An address would be useful, so that maybe he could make a house call, and work on the boy from a new tack; but from what he was reading he got the impression that the pair were not the address-swapping sort. Samantha, clearly, didn't like Philip a whole lot. She didn't dislike him, and she certainly cared enough to want to help him, but she definitely didn't want to be any more than just a person who gave him a friendly smile and a little light conversation when he needed it. She was worried that he would think her interest was something more. She thought that a lot of the time he backed himself into corners; left too many openings for the bullies to move in. Where Samantha was mixed-up because of the bullying, Philip Martin seemed to have been bullied because he was already mixed-up. The odds were stacking themselves against Sam's mission more and more with every page of the diary that he turned. He could almost see Philip's sanity unravelling itself. "I don't know what to do, Al."

"Sam says talk to him. About science fiction, apparently, and about computer games. Just be there. Philip's suicide note said that he was tired of being alone; that he couldn't take being abandoned by everyone all of the time. If he knows that there's someone there for him, even if it's just some girl that nobody else likes, maybe he'll find the strength to carry on. Samantha does. She hasn't missed a day of school in three years. If Philip can get a little of that sort of tenacity, he might just have a chance."

"Science fiction?" Sam climbed to his feet and went over to the bookcase. There was a lot of science fiction in there; Doctor Who next to Flash Gordon: The Book Of The Movie - With Photographs! and a brand new edition of War Of The Worlds. The Chrysalids standing beside a collection of Isaac Asimov stories, and a rather battered copy of Chocky. Oddly his swiss-cheesed mind remembered them all. "I can do that."

"Then do it." Al glanced away, as if it were time for him to go. "Sam..."

"It's okay Al. You go and do what you have to do. I'll be okay."

"Will you?" There was worry creasing the Observer's brow. "Can you really handle all of this?"

"If a fourteen year-old girl can, so can I." Sam gave him an uncertain smile. "You get kind of used to it after a while. It becomes almost comforting." Like being hit over the head repeatedly with an iron bar was comforting, at any rate - the pain only really became clear when the beating stopped for long enough to let it all sink in. At any rate, the insults were better than the other times, when they seemed to be trying to deny his very existence. Even the teachers saw straight through him. If he put up his hand to answer a question in class, it was as though he was not even there. Nobody saw him, except Simon Akuda; and one teacher out of twenty-five was not enough. Not by any means.

"If you're sure." Al still didn't sound happy.

"I'm sure. Besides, it's getting late. I have homework to do. It's Monday tomorrow, Al, and I want to be at school early. I only have one week left."

"Of course." Al tapped on the handlink, and the door slid open. "I'll be off then."

"Yeah." Sam grinned at him, but the smile was not a familiar one. It didn't seem to belong to him at all. "I'll see you."

"Yeah." Al stepped through the door, and it slammed shut. Sam was alone again. He reached over and clicked off the radio, then lay back on the bed and closed his eyes to savour the silence. Lately there was nothing so wonderful as to be truly and completely alone. He wasn't sure that it was healthy, but it was better than the alternative. Al meant well, he was sure of that; but Sam really wasn't sure that he liked people very much. Not anymore.


He went looking for Philip first thing in the morning, but couldn't find him anywhere. He wasn't visible in registration, he didn't seem to be present during the Headmaster's beginning-of-the-week pep talk, when he gathered the whole of the school together and got them to sing a hymn or two, and told them a meaningful story. It was something utterly pointless on that particular morning, all about caring for your fellow man, and about taking notice of what went on around you. Sam nearly laughed out loud. The whole of the school seemed incapable of taking that advice. He wanted to believe that it was just this school, but he knew that it wasn't. It wasn't even just this region, or just this country. He didn't want to think about how widespread this all was - how many Samanthas and Philips there were across the globe.

The assembly finished late, with a mumbled selection of important school announcements and a request for volunteers for the latest school play. It was some variation of Robin Hood, if the clumsily-drawn posters were anything to go by. Sam wondered if he should put Samantha's name down, then decided that it was definitely not her kind of thing. She didn't seem to have any hobbies, or any interests out of school. It made sense. He could feel how much of a battering her self-confidence had taken, and her self-esteem was non-existent. She could no more take part in a school play than she could in a circus high-wire act without training.

Philip didn't have any lessons with Samantha, since she was in the 'A'-stream with the cleverest of the kids, and it wasn't until break that Sam was able to look for him again. He scoured the quad and the school field, risking the wrath of the elicit smoking brigade as he interrupted them during light-up. He looked in the library, he got himself thrown out of the building for being inside during break time, and he almost got himself pushed down the stairs by one of the older girls, who took exception to his breathing in her presence - or something like that. He grabbed hold of the banister only just in time, and caught his shin painfully on the hard edge of one of the steps. He heard cruel laughter behind him, and concentrated solely on regaining his balance, and on making it down to the bottom of the stairs before the girl decided to have another go. He felt her eyes on him all the way down, and he let the shadow of a barely perceptible sigh run through him. It just went on and on, all the time. There was no respite. He heard a distant echo of Samantha in his mind, asking herself her usual, plaintive Why? Why me? But there was no answer. He had realised, finally, that there was no reason, other than the fact that the other kids wanted a target. She was different to them. She didn't appear to be into fashion, and she didn't seem to behave the way they wanted her to. She hadn't done anything to them, and all of her self-doubt, all of her convictions that she somehow deserved the treatment, were for nothing. He wished that he could tell her that. He wished that he could leave her with some of his greater knowledge and experience, so that maybe she could reach the same conclusion herself. Maybe then she would see that the things they said to her weren't true; that they were only said to hurt. She wasn't ugly, she certainly wasn't stupid, and she definitely wasn't unlikeable. But he could hear the girl behind him laughing at him, and he could hear the unpleasant mutterings of a few more children standing nearby, and he felt Samantha's doubts infecting him again. It was like a hot poker, burning its way into his brain.

There was no sign of Philip for the rest of the day, or the next. Al didn't turn up again, which was understandable Sam knew. There was nothing that he could do, after all, save find out where Philip was. And what good would that do? He was probably ill. Several teachers had been away with something. All the same, no matter how understandable the boy's absence was, Sam was becoming frantic. He was running out of time. Saturday morning was when the milkman was due to find Philip. It was Wednesday morning now.

The morning lessons dragged by. History, with a gaggle of charming children throwing paper at him until the teacher arrived, and then whispering about him in stage whispers throughout the lesson. Biology, with yet another farcical incident when they were asked to find a partner. Yet another struggle to find a pair with whom he could make a threesome. Yet another telling-off from the teacher when he didn't do it quickly enough. Break was a relief, even though it meant yet another twenty minute interlude of standing on his own by the broken down wall, bored out of his mind and longing for someone to talk to. Still no Philip. He considered searching again, but decided that there was little point. They weren't allowed in the building during break time, and the only people who went out onto the field at that time of the day were the smokers, of which Philip was not a member. Sam sighed. If this went on he was going to have to make a house call. He didn't care if Philip thought Samantha was crazy for him, and wanted to start going steady; at least he'd be alive.

It was PE next. Hockey. Sam liked hockey, and judging by the way that the stick felt in Samantha's hands, so did she. It didn't make a difference of course. He spent the first part of the lesson standing on his own, watching the others play, and wondering if anybody would ever get around to passing him the ball. Nobody was marking him, and he was within easy shooting distance of the goal, but none of the others even looked at him. He shouted, but nobody even looked in his direction. Typical. Next up was ball skills practice, and joy of joys another call to find a partner. This time, thanks to one member of the class having forgotten her kit, there was a spare person for Sam to go with. He took a step towards her, she made a horrified face, and immediately made up a three with the nearest pair. The teacher didn't seem to notice, and yelled at Sam for not being in a group yet. He seriously considered yelling back. Eventually he was forcibly pressed upon another couple of girls, who insisted that he smelt, refused to stand anywhere near him, and then giggled for the rest of the practice and refused to pass the ball to him. He got yelled at for not taking part. The girls giggled some more.

By the time that the teacher picked two girls and told them to choose their teams, Sam was beyond caring. He watched the rest of the girls get chosen, waited his turn with increasing trepidation, and listened to both girls arguing over which of them should have to suffer his presence. The teacher, oblivious to the awkwardness and unpleasantness of the situation, pushed him towards one team, told him to smile and try and look as though he was enjoying himself, and then went off with her whistle to start the game. Sam went obediently to the post he had been ordered to by his captain, and then spent another half an hour watching the others play, and wondering if he was ever going to get the chance to get near the ball. He didn't. He tried to take it, but it was pointless. In the end he gave up, and watched the boys playing cricket at the other end of the field. He liked cricket, and he could feel Samantha wanting to go and join them as well. He had noticed before that she felt far more comfortable in the company of boys. Gender confusion, he wondered? Or maybe just a reaction to the spitefulness and general unpleasantness of the girls in her class. The boys weren't exactly welcoming, but at least they weren't spiteful. With one or two exceptions they did not tend to take part in the free-for-all insult hurling tournaments. They laughed and they joined in the fun, and they certainly helped make life such a sweet hell, but for the most part they left Samantha alone. Maybe that helped them stay fresh to make Philip's life a misery instead.

Lunch break began as normal. Sam found a place all on his own, and ate sandwiches that had no taste, and which he didn't want anyway. Lately all food tasted of ashes. He got no pleasure out of the experience of eating, particularly when gangs of marauding schoolchildren hurled half-empty yoghurt pots at him as he ate, and went out of their way to make the entire eating experience as unpleasant as could be. There was nowhere to hide from their interference, and as usual, like every other day, he wound up standing by his broken wall watching other people enjoying themselves. Far away as he was in a world of his own, trying to remember his own school days and failing dismally, he almost didn't notice when Philip Martin walked into the quad. The boy looked hesitantly about, clearly uneasy, then spied a place where he could be alone and headed towards it. Sam took a step towards him, intending to go and speak to him, but before he could get close somebody shouted something. He didn't hear it properly, but he knew that it was directed at Philip. The boy went rigid, then carried on walking. Somebody else shouted something, and gradually the whole quad full of children began to turn to take an interest. Philip looked terrified, and Sam felt a dreadful cold feeling swelling in his chest. Philip quickened his pace, heading out of the quad towards the field; and slowly, as one, the entire school began to follow him.

"Philip!" His heart racing, Sam broke into a run, dashing out of the quad in pursuit of the boy. The other children were massed together, forming a barrier, however unintentional, that prevented him from even seeing his quarry, let alone reaching him. He heard shouts and laughs, and the sound of a tormented fury; Philip, losing his cool again, giving the bullies just what they wanted. Sam pushed hard to get through the crowds, but by the time he reached the front, the gang was beginning to disperse. Everybody, suddenly, was moving away from their earlier target. Sam broke into a run again, buffeted from all sides as he tried to push through. The other children pushed against him, shoving him, but he shoved back. Finally he reached a clear space; and there he found Philip.

The boy lay on his back on a thin strip of grass bordering the tennis court. He was in obvious pain, curled up slightly as though to protect himself from further harm. He was crying. Sam had seen him in a lot of pain over the past fortnight; he had seen him angry and he had seen him upset; but he had never seen him cry. He crouched down beside the boy, putting a hand on his shoulder.

"What happened?" he asked, bewildered. Philip opened his eyes, staring up at him, betrayal and anger burning in his face. Why couldn't you have got here earlier? The face screamed. Sam sympathised. "What happened?" he asked again, more urgently this time.

"They hit me." Philip sounded very young. "One of them... kicked me. In the back." His expression changed suddenly, to one of real earnest. "I can't feel my legs, Sam. I can't feel them." Cold fear ran in a sickening burst through Sam's veins.

"Stay calm," he ordered sharply. "Lie completely still." Swiftly he ran his hands over the boy's legs. "Can you feel this?"

"No." Philip's voice was tearful. "Sam, I'm scared."

"It's okay. Just take it easy, and stay calm." Where the hell were the teachers? They were supposed to watch the kids at break times. Somebody must have seen something. He looked around at the handful of children who had remained close by; the kids who were not as bad as their fellows; the ones who kept to themselves to avoid being made into substitute targets. "Get a teacher! Find somebody!"

"Here. It's okay Sam, just relax." It was Simon Akuda's voice, and Sam could have cried with relief. He turned to look at the teacher, hoping against hope that by some fluke he was trained in first aid. Akuda looked horribly out of his depth. In Sam's real world, this teacher would have been considerably younger than him, and even in the here and now it was hard to look to him for help and advice. "What happened?"

"Somebody kicked him. In the back." Sam felt himself taking charge again. "He can't feel anything below the waist."

"Bloody hell." Akuda didn't look at all apologetic about swearing in front of his pupils. "Okay, somebody call for the school nurse." His expression darkened. "Does anybody know who actually kicked him?"

"I didn't get here quickly enough." Sam looked at the ground. Philip gave a bitter laugh.

"And I didn't see a thing. I don't think anybody did."

"No." Akuda didn't sound impressed. "I don't suppose they did. We'd better get you inside."

"We probably shouldn't move him," Sam said in warning. Philip shook his head.

"Forget it. I'm getting some feeling back." He reached down to rub at one leg. "It's pretty numb, but I can feel tingling. It hurts like hell."

"Can you walk?" Akuda sounded as though, based on the fact that Philip was still breathing, he should also therefore be able to walk; and run, and very likely take a full part in his next PE lesson too. Sam smiled. Was this the famous British carry-on-regardless attitude, or was it burgeoning insanity? He didn't like to wonder. To his surprise Philip nodded.

"I think so. A little."

"Jolly good." Akuda helped him up and guided him towards the nearest door. "If you'll wait with him until the school nurse arrives, Sam, I think he should be fine now." Sam glanced across at the boy, currently leaning heavily on both of them. He barely seemed able to move his legs. He certainly didn't look fine. But he could sympathise with the young teacher. Everything had to be fine. With no witnesses, there was nothing that could be done, and since there was little chance of many members of staff really caring anyway, that meant that it was even more likely that nothing would be done. He nodded.

"Sure. I'll wait."

"Thanks." Akuda steered their little party into the nurse's office, then turned about to leave. "I'll be in my classroom." The door swung shut behind him. Philip laughed.

"The kids in the first year say he dissolves in sunlight. I guess we've just proved it can't be true. They also say he turns into a werewolf during the full moon."

"Yeah, I'd heard that." Sam smiled. "So, er... how are you?"

"Oh, I'll be okay. I can't feel my legs properly, but they are getting better. I think." He shrugged. "So you don't have to stay with me."

"Yeah I do." Sam shrugged. "So, er, what do you want to talk about? Are you reading anything good lately? You like science fiction, right?"

"You know I do." Philip shrugged. "Look, I appreciate your concern, but I think we exhausted the possibilities of that conversation a few weeks back." He smiled. "I appreciated it then too. And the way you leant me those computer games." There was a pause, as though for reflection. "You'd probably make life a lot easier on yourself if you'd turn your back, you know. Part of your trouble is that you let them see you with me. I don't like to see other people getting a hard time on my account."

"They started on me before I spoke to you." Actually Sam had no idea if that was true, but he certainly suspected that it was. Philip shrugged.

"Yeah. I guess. Sometimes I would really like to bang their heads together. The whole lot of them. They're always on at me."

"You do kind of play into their hands, you know."

"Yeah, I know. But I don't find it too easy to just stand there and take it. You must have the patience of a saint."

"No." Sam smiled. "I guess I just don't want to make things any worse than they are. I certainly don't find it all that easy to put up with. It creeps up on you, and some days I'm not sure that I'll be able to come in to school - to keep on going. But I'll be damned if I'm going to give into them." The words, oddly enough, seemed to be Samantha's rather than his own.

"Yeah, I know. I thought about giving up a little while back. I sort of collapsed one morning, when it was all getting to me a bit. But I couldn't quit then. I didn't want them to think they'd won." He shrugged. "Sometimes I wish I'd left then, but I guess I'm glad I didn't. There's no sense in running away. Especially since it probably wouldn't be any better anywhere else."

"Don't say that." Sam glanced away out of the window, to where a group of children were kicking a football around. A few more were lying on the grass reading. There were several playing some kind of card game, a few crammed, giggling, into a telephone box... They all seemed so normal. Not one of them looked dangerous enough to have kicked Philip in the back. "Not all kids are bad."

"Maybe." Philip shrugged. "The bell will be going soon. You really should be heading to registration."

"And you'll be okay?"

To his surprise, Philip burst out laughing. "Sam, for heaven's sakes. I've been beaten up before. Okay, so this time it was a little more scary than usual, but I can handle it. I'm not going to try and top myself, if that's what you mean. Do you really think that this bunch of losers worries me that much?" He smiled. "Well, okay. They do. But I'm not going to do anything drastic, I promise. No revenge attacks, and I'm not going to do another runner." His smile turned rueful. "I doubt I could make it out of the building right now, anyway."

"Well if you're sure." Sam headed for the door. The corridors were empty. Akuda had vanished back into his shell, and the school nurse still hadn't deigned to put in an appearance. She was probably finishing her coffee in the staff room, or waiting to catch up the latest gossip. After all, it wasn't if the injured party was one of the school sports stars.

"Had some excitement?" Al's appearance nearly sent the Leaper jumping out or his skin - or possibly out of Samantha's, whichever he was actually in. Why could he never remember those precise little details about Leaping?

"Excitement?" he asked, speaking in his by-now-familiar 'I'm talking to my invisible friend' half-whisper.

"The school nurse." Al smirked. "Is she a looker?"

"I don't know. She hasn't turned up yet." Sam frowned. "Al, what are you wearing?"

"It's my English country gentleman's outfit. Do you like it?" Al gave him a spin, revealing tweed plus fours and a twill jacket. Both were a rather unfortunate shade of beige, and did not go at all with the peach tie and lime green shirt that they had been partnered with.

"No English country gentleman has worn anything like that in three hundred years." Sam shook his head. "Never mind. I was in the nurse's office with Philip Martin. He just got attacked by the other kids again. It was completely unprovoked."

"So we're still on for the sympathy call? The long discussions about the beauty and the value of life?" Al pulled a heavy book from the pocket of his jacket. It had a long title, and the author's name had more letters after it than Sam Beckett's own. Not that Sam Beckett could remember the letters after his name. That wasn't unusual. Few save Ziggy and Donna could. "I got Verbeena to come up with this book. It's all about child psychology, and the pressures of youth. It ain't exactly Doctor Spock." He flipped through the pages. "It says here that reaching common ground with the subject is very important, so you'd better get back in there and... and I don't know. Talk Vulcan to him or something."

"Forget it Al. He's not planning to kill himself. Not over anything that went on today." Sam rubbed his chin in thought. "He said that the kids here don't get to him enough for him ever to think about doing something like that."

"He dies, Sam. I've seen the coroner's report. It's not pretty."

"I don't doubt it." Sam sighed. "You say that he definitely mentioned the bullying in the suicide note?"

"No, not directly. I told you, it mentioned being abandoned; being lonely. I guess he can't take having no friends, or--"

"Being abandoned?" Sam shook his head. "No, Al listen. You're getting it all wrong. That's not the bullying."

"It's not?" Al shrugged. "Ziggy says there's a seventy-two percent chance that--"

"Forget Ziggy. Listen. When I Leaped in here, some girl was teasing Philip about his mother running out on him. Can you find out about that for me?"

"Sure." Al tapped on his handlink. "Okay, er... two days before you Leaped in, Hannah Martin ran off with some guy. A fireman, by the name of Jeff Atkins. He..." Suddenly Al blanched. "Oh hell, Sam. Tonight when he's driving home from work, Philip's father gets run off the road by a fire engine speeding to a call. Turned out to be kids making a false alarm call." He banged on the handlink. "Why didn't you tell me about this sooner, Ziggy? Yes I know it's harder for you to get into foreign systems, but this is Britain not Outer Mongolia!" He pressed a few buttons. "Jeff Atkins was at the wheel of the fire engine, and Philip's father was killed. Hannah came back to look after Philip, but on Friday morning she vanished. She was found in the garage on Sunday morning, gassed by the car exhaust. Apparently she had died some time during Friday."

"And Philip found her, and decided he didn't want to go on either," finished Sam. He groaned. They had reached a row of lockers, and he slammed his fist into the nearest one. It hurt, but it also felt surprisingly good. "Imagine it. Going through all this, day after day, and then losing your parents. One or the other would be enough to make a lot of kids snap, but both of them? Why couldn't Ziggy have come up with this sooner?"

"I'm sorry Sam. Listen, we saw what Samantha was going through, and Philip too. We didn't think to look for any other possibilities. Like you said, this on its own is enough to make a kid crack. But finding Jeff Atkins was the key. Ziggy's feeding me all the details now." He gave the handlink a hard slap. "I guess you'd better get in touch with Philip's dad... er... James. James Martin. He works at--"

"No. The best way is to stop that false alarm call." Sam turned away, already running to the nearest door. "I'll be back in just a minute!"

"You're going to deal with it now?" Al frowned after the retreating figure, then tapped out a code on his handlink. The door slid open. If Sam was that close to completing his mission, there was something that Al wanted to do first.


Sam skidded to a halt outside the telephone box at the top of the school drive. There were three first year boys crammed into it, one of them holding the receiver. A second boy was giggling, and the third was hushing him. Sam cleared his throat. As one the boys turned.

"Making a call, boys?" Sam asked. The boys smirked. Discovery was one thing, but discovery by a girl was quite another; especially a girl who was at the top of the school hit list.

"Going to stop us?" one of the boys asked. Sam grinned.

"I would love to. I really would." He flexed his fingers. "Since I arrived here, I have been knocked about, pushed around and insulted. I've been called names, I've been treated like dirt, and I've been having what I might describe as a pretty bloody unpleasant time. I think I might actually enjoy working off a few of those frustrations; if you get my meaning." His smile became even broader. "So, would you like to call me a name or two? Would you like to step forward, maybe try to stop me reporting this?"

"You wouldn't dare do anything." The biggest of the three boys folded his arms, doing his best to look intimidating. He wasn't even as tall as Samantha West, so the image was somewhat less than daunting.

"Oh wouldn't I." Sam's fist moved like lightning, grabbing the boy by the shirt front. One-handed he lifted him into the air, as far as he could reach; which, given that Sam himself was considerably taller than Samantha, meant that the boy was lifted very high into the air indeed. He blanched. "You're not going to make any more phone calls, are you," Sam told him. The boy stammered a fairly unintelligible reply, and Sam lowered him back to the ground. "Pardon?"

"I said no." The other two boys looked as pale as the first. Sam patted his victim's shirt and blazer back into place.

"Jolly good. Run along." They ran. Sam stuck his hands into his pocket and grinned a grin of satisfaction. Maybe some Leaps weren't so tough after all.


"It's over, isn't it. I'm going home." Samantha stared up at Al through troubled eyes. "Is it Friday already?"

"No, it's still Wednesday for Sam. It turned out that things were a little easier to fix than we'd thought." And I'm going to be having words with Ziggy about that.

"And Philip's okay?"

"He will be. Now."

"The bullying's stopped?" She looked almost pathetically hopeful, and almost tragically convinced that his answer was going to be no. He smiled at her.

"No. It hasn't. That wasn't why Philip killed himself before."

"Then why Leap Doctor Beckett in so early? Why put him through the last few weeks?"

"I don't know. Call it chance. Maybe somebody wanted to show you that you're not as alone as you've been feeling. Even if it's just for a little while, Sam, I want you to try and remember that. Try and remember that not everybody wants to spend their days making your life miserable. Not everybody hates you."

"Mr Akuda doesn't." She frowned. "And I guess there's always Philip."

"I'm sure he's not all that bad."

"No. He's kind of like a vaguely irritating little brother who won't take a hint." She smiled. "But he doesn't hate my guts, and that's a pretty good start to a relationship."

"As relationships go, I guess it is a start." Al shrugged. "He needs a friend."

"Yeah." So do I, her eyes whispered. Suddenly she frowned.

"What is it?" he asked her, worried. She shook her head.

"I don't know. Electricity, in my fingers. And a blue light. A bright, blue and white light."

"It's time." He reached out, on an impulse, and took her hand. "Good luck, Sam. I'm so sorry that I couldn't change things for you. I'm so sorry that I'm sending you back to all of that."

"I'll survive." Her voice sounded small and distant, and unable to stop himself he drew her into a fierce bear hug. For a second she was rigid in his arms, then gradually, to his surprise, she returned his embrace. He was still holding her when she Leaped, and the body went limp in his arms. He stared down at it. She was gone. And despite the fact that they had saved a life, somehow this Leap didn't seem all that great a success.


Sam Beckett watched the last of the blue-whiteness fade from his vision, and then looked around. He was wet. He noticed that before anything else; and then gradually it sunk in that the wetness, whatever it was, was fast-moving. And cold. Very, very cold.

He was standing in a river, up to his waist in fast-flowing, raging water. He didn't seem to be wearing a whole lot, either, was wasn't helping to keep out the cold. Swimming trunks, he thought, and a rather thin shirt. He glanced down. Well it was a man's chest beneath the shirt at any rate, which was something. All the same, though, he couldn't understand what he was doing, in such a state of undress, standing in a river in the middle of a flood.

"Are you going to stand there all day?" He looked up. Hanging over him, suspended by a harness from a rope, was a man holding a camera. A movie camera. Sam frowned up at him.

"I beg your pardon?"

"The stunt, man, the stunt!" The cameraman waved the camera at him. "Get moving, before I run outta film. The boss'll go crazy if I have to change cans before we get this shot under wraps. Get going!"

"Uh... the stunt?" Sam stared away downstream. He rather got the impression that he was supposed to be swimming through all of this towards... He could hear a distant rumbling, which had nothing to do with the river. He recognised the sound all too well.

"I have to swim down there... over a waterfall?" he squeaked. The cameraman raised his eyebrows.

"Listen, buddy, you're the stuntman. You said you could do it no problem. Now get going, before we all get fired!"

Sam stared down river, listening to the ominous rumble of the unseen waterfall. He swallowed hard.

"Oh boy."