The leap felt strange from the very beginning, as if it hadn't worked properly, leaving the person he had replaced in control. Blinking, Sam Beckett realized that performing the involuntary reaction felt labored, as if he had to fight for control to do it.
//So you do,// someone laughed directly into his mind. The sensation was chilling, ominous. Even more than the feeling he got when he looked in a mirror and saw a stranger's face, Sam felt the loss of identity. //You are different,// the telepathic voice continued. //You are not Jonathan. Strange. Yet you do not possess him as I do.// A wicked laugh echoed down through the confused reaches of his brain and Sam shuddered.
Then he became aware of the woman standing in front of the desk where he sat, staring at him blankly. He hadn't been into the leap long enough to have done anything strange — unless the voice that resounded inside his head had something to do with it. It had spoken of — possession. "Oh, boy," Sam moaned, a sick feeling of impending terror twisting his gut. Could this be real?
"Do you know your name?" the woman demanded abruptly. She was middle aged, the outlines of beauty just beginning to blur in her face. Her hair was short, and she wore a no nonsense pants suit adorned with a strand of good pearls. Her voice was brisk and businesslike, but a shimmering at the edges of her eyes told Sam she had to sound like that. It was a choice between curtness and tears.
"Uh..." Sam struggled for a minute before he remembered what the voice had said. "Jonathan," he produced triumphantly.
"Jonathan what?" she persisted.
He'd been afraid she was going to ask him that. He opened his mouth to speak and found no answers — the voice in his head was disobligingly silent. He shouldn't be surprised at that. Spirits that possess people aren't usually benevolent.
He glanced around wildly, seeking clues. To his surprise the room was familiar, not in itself — he had never been here before — but in its character. It was dominated by a cluttered desk at which he sat, a stack of student papers spread before him waiting to be graded. He must have leaped into a professor.
The door opposite him was closed, but it opened with a violent bang. A man charged in with such force the Steelers' defensive line couldn't have stopped him.
Tense with nerves, the woman jumped. When she saw the new arrival, her face tightened in disapproval overshadowed by relief. Sam didn't think she liked the newcomer, but she seemed glad of his arrival. Maybe he was an exorcist.
If so, he was the strangest one Sam had ever seen. Traditionally exorcists do not arrive garbed in Hawaiian shirts so garish that they make people blink. Traditionally they are not short, bouncy men like this character who pushed past the woman with a breezy, "Hi, Dr. M." and a wave of his hand.
Stopped by the front of the desk, he leaned forward to stare directly into Sam's eyes at a distance of about one foot. "Hey, Jon-boy," he greeted. "And hey to the rest of you, too. Dr. M. says you're possessed. You doubled up your living space, Jack." He tapped his own forehead to demonstrate his meaning.
"Or even tripled it," Sam heard himself say, though it was not his intention to speak. This was very bad. He had never put much credence in he concept of possession, though once on a slow moment during a leap, he and his link with the project, Al, had speculated that some of the documented instances of possession might have been visits from other quantum leapers — or even Sam himself. Sam had dismissed the possibility with an uneasy laugh, yet it could actually be true.
He knew with complete certainty that he wasn't alone in this body. The entity knew it, too. He'd recognized that Sam wasn't Jonathan and was intrigued. Again Sam wondered about the theories Al always flung at him. Did his essence, his mind or soul, leap, leaving his body behind, or had his entire body leaped, causing everyone around to see him as the person whose life he was presently living? Ziggy and Al seemed to favor the latter theory, but Sam wasn't sure. If God, or Time, or something they hadn't thought of yet was actually controlling the project, it could happen either way, or both. Sam wondered if the spirit knew.
//I know your every thought,// it informed him, gloating.
//Who are you?// Sam thought back, but laughter was the only reply.
He must have spoken the words aloud for the slightly built man in the loud shirt stared at him with an echo of the older woman's concern. "Don't you know me, Jonny?" he demanded, his face momentarily betraying hurt. Immediately he covered it up and pressed on. "It's me. Benny. Benedek. Your partner in crime. Remember?" Sam's expression must have grown progressively more bewildered, for Benedek assumed a pose of someone wounded to the quick. "Come on, J.J. Think."
"You're Benedek, of course," Sam said uselessly.
It didn't work. Benedek turned to the woman. "How long has he been like this?" he asked practically.
"Not long. One of his students came in around eight to see why he wasn't in his first class and found him sitting at the desk. When she spoke to him, she said he roared like a lion and screamed at her to go away. Naturally she panicked. I sent for you at once. Fortunately you were already in Washington."
"I had some plans for Jonathan. We got a report that somebody's been seeing the ghost of Albert Einstein. I thought he'd get a kick out of that one. But we'll have to fix this first. He's been like this for how long? An hour then? Roaring like a lion? I can see how that would tend to upset a student. somebody who'd do that would probably give them an F on their next paper. Let me try something." He turned to Sam. "Jonathan, listen to me a minute. I know you can hear me but back off a little. Somebody's snatched you, but we won't let him keep you. I've just gotta talk to him a minute. So hold off and let me try."
Sam managed to nod. He needed to know what was happening as badly as Jonathan's friends did.
"Right." Benny straightened and braced himself. "Yo, pal. You've got my friend there, and he didn't opt to sublet. Come on, tell me who you are and what you want. Deal?"
"Deal?" Sam heard himself bellow scornfully. "Foolish mortal, what do I gain from your deal? Nothing."
"Well, you get a chance to be heard. A cover scoop in The National Register. You gotta admit that's something. If you didn't want attention, you'd be hanging in there dormant pretending you were Jonathan MacKensie."
"Jonathan MacKensie?" Sam echoed blankly, stepping into the conversation. That name rang a bell, though his memory of it wasn't complete. "Then this is Georgetown Institute!" He couldn't remember where he had heard of Jonathan MacKensie, but he had.
"Oops," Benny muttered, exchanging a surprised glance with the doctor. She must be MacKensie's superior, Dr. Juliana Moorhouse. "I think Spirit Number Two just made an appearance. Whoa, Jon, you've got three of you in there."
"Only two, actually," roared the entity. "Jonathan MacKensie is no longer present. His essence, perhaps even his body, has vanished into the misty realms of time. Forget him. You will never see him again."
"That's not true," Sam objected. He was supposed to play along with the leap, to conceal his own identity, but the crushed look in Dr. Moorhouse's face and the grim determination in Benny's made him wonder if it might be better to tell them the truth.
He couldn't do that! If he did, the entity would learn of the project, and that could be bad.
//Foolish mortal, I already know of your time travel experiment. You have no secrets from me. I know everything, even the things blocked from you by your — how did it go? — Swiss cheesed memory. Besides, I have not released Jonathan. I am with him as he speaks with your friend. Al, is it? Would you like me to destroy Al? It would be very easy."
"No," cried Sam, bolting up from the desk and looking around wildly for something to use against the demon. "You can't do that!"
"Spook Number Two," Benny told Moorhouse instructively. "I think he's against the first one. This could be a battle of the spirits."
"Then let them fight their battles somewhere else and give us back MacKensie," she snapped. Sam found himself admiring her toughness even as he feared for Al.
//I will destroy him if I wish,// the entity declared. //But for now, the threat will keep you in line.// He began to speak through Sam. Though Sam struggled against it, he couldn't prevent the entity from having his say.
"I am Toltar," he announced. "I have come here from the nether realms. This host body — or rather the original host body I first possessed, MacKensie — was becoming a threat to me. You!" Sam's finger stabbed out at Benedek like an arrow. "Together the two of you threaten my dominion. This I will not tolerate. You meddle like amateurs in realms where you do not belong. I have come to show you the error of your ways."
"Whoa, Jack, chill out," Benny breathed. He pulled a miniature tape recorder from his pocket and turned it on. "Okay, Toltar. Go on. Let me get it all down so we'll know we've got it right."
Toltar sniffed and was silent. Sam ventured cautiously, "He isn't talking now. I'm sorry, Benedek."
"He says you're not Jonathan," Benny persisted, ignoring Moorhouse's abrupt gesture of protest. "Is that true?"
"Better not tell him, Sam," a new and very welcome voice interrupted. "It's bad enough in the waiting room. We never had anybody in there think he was possessed before."
"He is possessed, Al!" The need for explanations was too urgent to wait, and Benedek and Moorhouse would probably put it down to their belief that MacKensie was had been inhabited by Toltar. "It's real. It's a demon from some nether realm and it's here to stop MacKensie and Benedek from messing in its domain."
Al's mouth fell open and he stared at Sam in uneasy disbelief.
"Okay, Spirit Number Three is named Al," Benedek informed the tape recorder. "I wonder why he didn't just trash Jack before we got here."
"I was waiting for your arrival, Mr. Benedek," Sam heard Toltar say. "What point in crushing you and letting the other escape?"
He had a good point. Sam saw Al staring at him in alarm. The hologram yanked his hand link from his trousers pocket and started to key in buttons as fast as he could.
"Are you sure about this, Benedek?" Moorhouse demanded. "What guarantee do you have that this isn't a multiple personality disorder? It is possible. The strange things you and Jonathan have encountered over the past year might have affected his mind."
"Yeah, it loosened him up a little," Benedek responded immediately. "He was a lot more relaxed, Dr. M. He wasn't heading for cuckoo world. Believe me, I've seen that, too. Some of the weird things I've gone to write about have been that rather than spooks and specters. When I talked to Jonny last night on the phone, he was normal. Stubborn, trying to put me off, but normal."
She looked somewhat alarmed. "We might have been able to fight that," she said sadly, turning away.
"Come on, Dr. M. You're the one who got Jonathan started in this supernatural spook busting business in the first place. You believe in it. You know it's real. Why else did you create the Paranormal Research Department? Now it's hit too close to home. What do you want to do? Bow out and call the Ghostbusters? Let me see if I can handle it. I can call in a few favors..."
Al listened to him, interested, then he turned back to Sam. He must have chosen to believe Sam was kidding him because he ignored the time traveler's words about possession and the demon's comments. "That's Edgar Benedek, Sam," he explained, pointing to him. It's November, 1986 and he's just starting to cross over from tabloid journalist to respectable scientist. He's been paired with Dr. Jonathan MacKensie, an anthropologist at Georgetown Institute in a Paranormal Research department, at the urging of Dr. Juliana Moorhouse." He gestured at the older woman. "MacKensie didn't want to get into paranormal research, but Moorhouse controlled the purse strings on a grant he wanted, so he had no choice."
"There was a MacKensie with a Nobel Prize from Georgetown..." Sam struggled to remember. He recalled enough to pin down the location and Moorhouse's name, but the memory was fuzzy. Some things always came through clearer than others, making him realize how many holes still existed in his memory.
"That was Leonard MacKensie, this one's father," Al explained. He studied the reading on his computer link, then raised his eyes to Sam and shook his head. "In a few months Benedek's due to start working toward a doctorate in paranormal studies. Working with MacKensie convinced him it was time to go legit. But in late 1986 — Nov. 14, today, Sam — his partner, Dr. MacKensie died under mysterious circumstances. His heart stopped, but the medical examiners couldn't find a cause for it. Benedek had tried some paranormal things to prevent it — spooky stuff, Sam — but it didn't work. He took it badly, blaming himself for involving MacKensie in the occult and dragging him off to investigate all sorts of weird things." He shuddered elaborately with a glance over his shoulder as if he expected whole hordes of spooks and scary creatures to descend on him. Al had never liked things supernatural.
"Benedek abandoned his studies, grew more cynical, and returned to the tabloids," continued the hologram. "He was killed in a fire during a story for the National Register — one of those supermarket rags — in 1987. Save MacKensie and you save Benedek, too." His eyes narrowed. "Something's wrong, isn't it? You look really freaked. You're kidding about the possession, right?" He took an uneasy step away from Sam. There were certain things he couldn't protect his partner from, and this was one of them.
"Al," Sam burst out since Toltar had chosen to sit back in amusement watching through Sam's eyes. "I'm really possessed. It isn't just Jonathan MacKensie. The demon is powerful enough to split up. Half of him is here — the other half's back at the project." Al raised his hand link and started to push buttons as fast as he could, sparing occasional nervous glances at Sam.
"Project?" Sam should have realized Benedek's journalistic curiosity wouldn't let something like that slip past him. "What project? Come on, buds, give."
"Wait a minute, Sam." Al shoved his hand link under his arm and held his hands up, one atop the other in the classic 'time out' gesture. "Are you trying to tell me that some — some spooky thing has possessed Jonathan MacKensie, and that when you leaped it split right down the middle, one half in you and one half in him at the project?" His eyes widened in consternation at the very idea. "I don't like this, Sam."
"I think that's what happened." The only advantage to this horrible mess was his ability to talk openly to Al without creating any more speculation than already existed.
"Back up, Jack," interrupted Benedek, turning from an attempt to reassure Dr. Moorhouse, who looked singularly unreassured. "Talk to me instead of old Toltar."
"He is not talking to me," snarled the demon. Sam felt like he was on a runaway sled, racing down a hill toward certain disaster. No matter how hard he tried to fight the demon, nothing worked.
"He is talking to him," Toltar concluded, pointing at Al.
"Sam!" Al squawked, retreating a step. "He can see me."
"Here, and there, too," confirmed the demon. "Even divided between here and the time travel project, I am stronger than any of you."
"Whoa! Time out! Time travel project?" Benny was bouncing around the room as excited as Al sometimes got. Sam suspected the two of them would have liked each other.
Toltar laughed and waved Sam's hand at Benedek with a dismissive gesture. "That is unimportant. What does matter is that you and MacKensie must cease and desist all contact with the supernatural. That is why I am here."
"Just like that?" Benny asked, eyes narrowed. "Forget it. We're going to have to get you a revolving door for your psyche if you keep getting possessed like this, Jack."
Al and Sam exchanged considering looks. "You mean this has happened before?" Al demanded.
"Wait a minute, Benedek." Dr. Moorhouse had been quiet a long time, but she had been listening carefully. "Be careful what you say to him. If you don't agree with him, he won't give us Jonathan back."
"He won't anyway," Benny argued stubbornly, shooting her an earnest look. "Besides, I think something got in his way. This time travel stuff doesn't sound right to me. It's a fly in Toltar's ointment. He'd probably have trashed Jonathan already if it hadn't happened. I want to know more about it."
Sam shook his head. He couldn't reveal any more information.
"Get him to tell you about the previous possession, Sam," urged Al, and Sam repeated the question.
"When Jonathan was possessed before, it was by those people who died in the hotel fire," Benny said thoughtfully. "They took turns. They didn't double up like this."
"Benedek, we proved what really happened that time," she contradicted.
"You might think you did," returned the reporter. "Just because that brain device had been used on Jonny before it happened doesn't mean he wasn't possessed. He'd have to be the world's greatest actor to carry that off, and he knew things he couldn't have known." He shrugged her argument aside and turned to Sam. "Tell me about the time travel project." He planted himself in front of the desk and looked at Sam expectantly.
"Don't tell him, Sam," Al insisted. "This is 1986. He might remember and start snooping around in a few years. He's a reporter, after all, and I've seen the National Register. They print all kinds of garbage. He could cause a lot of trouble with project security."
"Never mind that," said the demon. "No one is listening to me and I won't tolerate that. I think you are all mad. None of you fears me either, except perhaps for him." He flung a finger in Al's direction.
"I don't fear you, you overgrown troublemaker," Al snapped. "Sam, we've gotta get rid of this nozzle. Ask Benedek how they repossessed MacKensie the first time around."
Sam repeated the question. Surprised, Benedek grinned. "We used an aerobic exorcist. She works the spirits out with exercise. A nice little shape, too." He demonstrated with the classic gesture.
Al brightened. "Sam, that might be a good idea. I think we should call her."
"You'd think anything female was a good idea," Sam returned.
Benedek's face fell. "But that was different. A few lost souls who didn't know they were dead aren't nearly as bad as a demon who's here on purpose. We need the heavy guns."
Moorhouse looked alarmed. "What do you have in mind, Benedek?" she demanded warily. Sam got the idea she didn't completely trust the reporter, even if she had called him in at the first sign of trouble.
"I think I was wrong before," Benny admitted, walking through Al to reach the telephone. "Let me at that phone."
"Who're you going to call?" Moorhouse asked, her voice heavy with suspicion.
Benedek grinned engagingly as if she'd given him his straight line. "Who do you think?" he asked. He dialed a number he knew without looking it up. "Yo, Janine. This is Benny. When are you going to forget about that blond spook chaser of yours and give me a chance?"
Sam and Al exchanged glances full of uneasy recognition. "The Ghostbusters?" Sam mouthed. His Swiss cheesed memory was relatively clear about the four paranormal eliminators from New York. He even knew one of them casually, Egon Spengler, a fellow physicist, the one Benny was talking about.
"The Ghostbusters," Al confirmed. He studied the readings on his hand link. "They were called the first time around, but by the time they got here, it was too late. MacKensie was already dead." He met Sam's eyes then looked away again. "I don't like this, Sam. We don't know what might happen if he died when you were here. Besides, you're here to prevent it."
"I hope I can, Al."
Explaining his problem urgently to one of the Ghostbusters, Benedek didn't notice the conversation Sam was holding with someone who wasn't really there. Dr. Moorhouse did. She eyed Sam nervously, but she didn't speak.
"Well, it'll take 'em time to get down here from New York," said Al. "I'll go back to the Project and see if I can find out anything from MacKensie."
"Be careful, Al," Sam cautioned. "You said he was possessed, too. I don't want you taking any chances."
"With demons running around?" Al shook his head. "You can believe I'll be careful." He stepped into his doorway to the future and it slid shut behind him. In spite of Benedek and Moorhouse, Sam felt very much alone.
"Dr. MacKensie?" Al edged into the waiting room, looking around for the anthropologist. In the waiting room people Sam had displaced appeared to wear Sam's form, and it always disconcerted Al to see someone who looked just like his friend but wasn't. Even though Sam himself always looked like the person he had leaped into, Al often saw Sam as himself once he started talking to him. He reasoned it was due to the brain link that had been forged between the two men to allow Al to appear to him as a hologram.
MacKensie was a man about Sam's height or slightly taller with shaggy brown hair, which he wore parted in the middle. Even now he looked around his location with wary surprise as if expecting the flamboyant Benedek to pop out and cry, "Surprise!" When he saw it was only Al, his face fell. "What have you done with me?" he demanded. "Where is this place?"
"That's classified, Dr. MacKensie, on a need to know basis. At this point, you don't need to know."
MacKensie glared at him. "Did Benedek put you up to this?"
"Do you believe Benedek would arrange for you to be possessed?" Al asked him. "I've just been talking to him. Dr. Moorhouse sent for him. He's worried sick about you, though he doesn't want it to show."
MacKensie opened his mouth to object then fell silent as he considered Al's words. "You've seen him?"
"Yes, just now. He and Dr. Moorhouse know about the demon."
"How? Did you tell them?" MacKensie was suspicious and irate and Al didn't blame him. The explanations he had to give wouldn't be much help, either.
"No. I didn't need to. What do you remember about what happened?"
"I was grading papers," MacKensie replied. He started pacing up and down the room as if it were the only way to control his tension. "I was thinking how pleasant it had been, two weeks without racing off on some mad paranormal investigation. Benedek had been away at some journalism conference telling the other reporters tall tales and it was nice and quiet. Last night he called to say he was in town and he'd found a new ghost for us to chase. I was thinking about that when it happened."
"Wait a minute. Back up, Dr. MacKensie." Something struck Al for the first time. "You don't have any memory problems? Your brain isn't Swiss cheesed."
MacKensie considered the metaphor in surprise then shook his head. "Why do you expect me to experience memory loss? The only thing I'm confused about is how I got here. I'm forced to conclude that I've been drugged."
Al stared at him. MacKensie's memory was intact! Did that mean it would remain intact when Sam leaped out of him and he leaped home? If so, the project team would need to be very careful not to give away one detail to the man. He was smart enough to pick up a little of it on his own, so Al chose his words carefully. "You said that you were possessed?"
MacKensie flushed slightly. "I know it sounds ludicrous, but I can't think of a more rational explanation unless I was hypnotized to believe I was possessed."
"Nonsense," spat the demon. "I am here. Denying my presence is foolish."
"Why are you here?" Al asked. Even though the voice was the same, the inflection was different enough for him to tell when MacKensie spoke, and when the voice came from the demon.
Jonathan shook his head in an attempt to clear it — or to drive the demon away. "That was the demon," he explained unnecessarily. "This is different from the other time when Benedek insists I was possessed. I'm aware of everything that's happening. I simply can't control it." He shivered. "I knew this paranormal research was a mistake from the beginning. I wanted to work on my own project — "
Al nodded. He'd asked Ziggy to research MacKensie and knew his background. "The possibility of a bicameral brain existing in Australopithecus and its quasi-contemporary hominids?" he asked. MacKensie had finally written his paper — or had he? Ziggy's information was ambivalent. Suddenly Al was getting directly conflicting information. Until Sam leaped, it would be difficult to determine what had actually happened. Usually the computer was more concise than this. Al frowned as he considered it.
It was the demon. It had to be. Though Al preferred to believe in things he could see and rationalize and understand through direct observation and scientific theory, he couldn't deny that something alien was speaking through both Sam and MacKensie. There was no evidence of a multiple personality disorder in MacKensie's records, and Sam, too, was mentally sound. For both men to display the same symptoms, for the same voice to speak through both of them required a leap of faith that made Al very uneasy. He shivered.
"You threaten me," the demon snarled.
"I'd like to threaten you," returned Al. "Do I look like an exorcist? Give me a break. Something bigger than me is threatening you or you would have done your dirty work already. It's being divided, isn't it? You can't do anything but exist like this until Sam leaps. That's why you haven't trashed MacKensie yet? You were waiting for Benedek to show, but we got there first."
"You are wrong!" spat the demon, but Al knew he was right. As long as Sam remained in the past as Jonathan MacKensie, the demon could slightly control both men, but he could destroy neither of them. To do so might leave him permanently split. Al had to get back to Sam and warn him right away. That information might be the one thing the Ghostbusters and Benny needed to drive the demon out of Sam and Jonathan MacKensie.
Al started for the door. Before he could reach it, MacKensie gave a great roar — no, it was the demon, Al realized — and lunged for him. Al was no mean fighter, but the demon must have given MacKensie superhuman strength. With growls and cries, the anthropologist/demon grabbed Al, picked him up, and flung him against the floor as if he weighed no more than a child. Al felt his head explode in pain and he knew no more.
Sam spent several frustrating hours talking with Benedek and Moorhouse while they waited for the Ghostbusters to arrive. The demon had fallen silent, though Sam knew he was still there. He seemed weaker. Sam hoped that meant his division was draining his strength. Sam feared it could mean Al was in danger.
Moorhouse arranged to close down the building, using her position as department head to pull rank. Sam listened to her barking orders into a telephone, very much the grand dame, positive that her orders would be carried out. He and Benedek exchanged a look of admiration for the woman.
"Listen to me, Benedek," Sam urged, touching the reporter's arm. "The demon is quiet right now. We've got to plan something."
"Tell me about the time travel project," Benny urged, pressing the button to activate his tape recorder.
Sam shook his head and reached forward to shut it off. "I can't, Benny. It's classified. When the Ghostbusters come, I'll explain as much as I can."
"If it lets you," muttered the shorter man. "Come on. You're some kind of observer from the future, aren't you? How far in the future?" He had a quick mind which had enabled him to make some assumptions from the little Sam and the demon had let slip. Sam shook his head, worried about the problems that would cause.
"That's classified," he admitted.
"But it's true. You've switched places with Jonathan — instantaneous mind transfer or something like that? This is really good stuff." He checked his tape recorder which Sam noticed was running again, and nodded in satisfaction, moving out of range so Sam wouldn't shut it off again.
"I forbid you to print one word of any of this, Benedek," Moorhouse snapped, observing the gesture. "Should you do so, I will see that Georgetown Institute denies all affiliation with you and cancels your expense account immediately."
That threat appeared to daunt Benny, but Sam didn't think Benedek had given up on the story. His only consolation was that only weirdos would believe it — at least he hoped so.
"I've switched places with him, yes," Sam agreed. That much was probably obvious already to these two people who knew Jonathan MacKensie. In order to save the man's life, it had to be revealed. Al had once told him he wouldn't leap out if he told anyone the truth about his identity, but he'd come awfully close a time or two and still leaped. Of course no one had really believed him before. That might make a difference. Sam heaved a sigh. He had to talk about it this time; the presence of the demon altered the rules.
"Body snatchers from the future," Benedek replied as if quoting from a headline, circling around Sam carefully as if he were a strange museum exhibit. Sam noticed he stayed just outside of easy range in case the demon decided to attack. "This is good stuff."
"It's better than you think. I don't believe Toltar can hurt Jonathan while he's split into two bodies — and I don't think he can reunite unless I leap out of him."
"Whoa! Hold it, Jack — or whoever you are. This is great stuff. You wouldn't want to give me your real name, would you?" He stopped his circling, his face glowing with excitement and extended the tape recorder in Sam's direction.
"I don't think so." Sam didn't bother to shut it off. Benedek would only turn it on again afterwards. He only hoped Moorhouse would follow through on her threat and that it would serve as a restraining factor.
Benedek shrugged, pulling the tape recorder out of range again. "So J.J. is safe for the moment, right?" His concern for MacKensie kept slipping through the flippant manner he had adopted, though he would only shove it back again. Al did that sometimes, embarrassed by the sentiment that admitting his feelings would reveal, though Al would never hesitate to admit how close he and Sam were. It must be the same with Benedek.
"He's safe as far as I know," Sam tried to reassure him.
"Well, I hope you're right, Doctor Whoever." He chuckled at the name and turned to Dr. Moorhouse. "Your security people are warned to let the Ghostbusters in the minute they arrive, aren't they?"
"Naturally." She stared at Sam in concern. Sam suspected she was closer to MacKensie than simply a department head to one of the professors in her department.
I wish Al would come back, Sam thought as he paced the room.
Inside his head, the demon chuckled. //I wouldn't count on it,// he said ominously.
"Tell me again, Egon, why we have to go traipsing off to Washington to fight demons?" Peter Venkman asked his taller colleague, his elbows propped on the back of the front seat of Ecto-1. "Don't we have enough of them at home?"
Egon Spengler flashed an impatient look over his shoulder at the younger man. "Because this involves the demon Toltar, Peter," he reminded him. "And Toltar — "
"Comes from the Netherworld," eagerly put in Ray Stantz, the youngest of the Ghostbusters, from his seat beside Peter. "This could even be aimed at us. If Toltar succeeds here, he might come after us next. According to Tobin's Spirit Guide , Toltar is kin to Tolay, and we fought him before, remember?"
"I remember that one," Winston Zeddemore muttered without enthusiasm, his eyes on the road as he guided Ecto-1 through the grounds of Georgetown Institute toward the department of Anthropology. "Nasty. He took Egon prisoner in the Netherworld. We were lucky to get out of there alive. What I can't figure is why this dude would come after some anthro prof instead of us."
"Because this anthro prof is Edgar Benedek's partner," Peter reminded him.
"Oh, him." Winston grimaced.
"Benny's a great guy," said Ray. "He's given me a lot of good tips on really weird occult matters, and he's steered a few jobs our way."
"None of which paid very well," griped Peter. He looked out the window at the college students who stared at them as they drove by. There had been definite fringe benefits involved in working for a university. Female students were only one of them.
"They were interesting cases, Peter," said Ray reproachfully. "This one sounds interesting, too."
"And looks dangerous." Winston pulled Ecto-1 to a halt before a building where the doors were guarded by security personnel. "Something nasty's in there they don't want to get out."
"Toltar is very nasty, Winston," Egon reminded him. "His rating is Class 7. Very dangerous."
"You had to say that, didn't you?" groused Peter as he climbed out of the car and went around to the back for his proton pack. As the Ghostbusters armed themselves with packs and throwers, P.K.E. meters and other detection devices, he let his eyes wander around the campus. True, there were times when he missed campus life, but those times were rarer than he'd expected. Ghostbusting was a lot more fun and it paid better, not to mention being a plus when it came to getting women.
"Feels good to be back in a college setting, doesn't it, Peter?" Ray asked him as they started up the steps. Ray had always liked the college atmosphere.
"Just so long as it isn't permanent," Peter replied, grinning at the auburn haired man.
The security guards stood aside to let them in and gave them directions. In a few minutes they were standing outside a door labeled 'Dr. Jonathan MacKensie.'
"Hey, isn't he the Nobel Prize guy?" asked Peter, who had dreams of a Nobel with his name on it one day.
"No, Peter. That was his father, Leonard MacKensie," Egon corrected. Trust Egon to know. He knocked and the door was opened immediately by Edgar Benedek, who peered out suspiciously only to relax when he saw who it was.
"Hey, guys," he greeted, relief evident in his eyes. "Glad you could make it. This one might be up your alley. We've got possession a couple layers deep not to mention time travel?"
"Time travel?" echoed Ray, excitement filling his face. "Wow! This is great! Fill us in, Benny."
Peter studied the people in the room. Benny he knew. He'd once made the mistake of introducing Edgar Benedek to his con man father, Charlie Venkman. It was as clear a case of kindred spirits as Peter had seen. Each man brought out the very worst in the other, and the end result, a scurrilous story in the National Register, led to the threat of lawsuits. It took a couple of high class lawyers and a lot of fast talking to drop the charges. Peter's dad had done one of his famous disappearing acts right after that. Even now, Benny was prone to rhapsodize about the scam they'd nearly pulled off. Peter hoped that his dad and Benny would never see each other again. He had enough trouble without that.
Beyond Benny was a woman who must be the department head, Dr. Moorhouse. She saw Peter's look and stared back. Instantly he felt like a butterfly impaled on a pin. This looked like one lady who wouldn't buy the Venkman line. Regretfully he put it away for the next time.
Jonathan MacKensie sat at the desk, his face grave and worried. Peter had only met him once before and he had thought the man a little stiff. Maybe that was why MacKensie and Benny made such a great team. Their differences complimented each other.
As the Ghostbusters entered, MacKensie jumped up and started forward, recognition on his face. "Egon!"
Spengler stared at him blankly. "Have we met?" That was right. Egon had been out when Benny had dragged his protesting colleague to Ghostbuster Central for the grand tour. Now Jonathan was advancing on Egon with every sign of recognition. Maybe it was the demon at work, though Peter doubted it would be glad to see Egon — except as prey.
"In 1979 at that physics symposium at Columbia," MacKensie explained, then fell silent ruefully as if he'd said something he shouldn't.
"Physics symposium?" echoed Peter. This must be the other occupant. Benny had said someone else besides the demon inhabited the anthropology professor. Peter hoped he'd be more reasonable than Toltar. He didn't like possession and he didn't much like otherworldly demons. It reminded him too much of Gozer. "I thought you were an anthropologist," he said.
"Oh. Yes. I am," replied MacKensie lamely.
Egon's legendary curiosity was aroused. "Who are you?" he demanded, his P.K.E. meter pointed at MacKensie as he advanced on the man. Before the professor could reply, Egon turned to Ray. "I'm getting P.K.E. surges of an incredible magnitude, Raymond. What does the magno-flux indicator say?"
Ray looked at the gizmo he held. "Wow! This is incredible. I'm reading some kind of power source, but it isn't located here. It might be a dimensional cross-rip, but it doesn't match any of our previous readings. I've never seen anything like it."
"Great," grumbled Peter. "It couldn't be something easy, could it?"
"But this is more interesting, Peter." Ray checked the readings again, pointing the device at the hapless man.
"What about the demon?" asked Peter. "Has it done anything lately?"
"I have observed your arrival," thundered MacKensie in a fierce voice that rang with a hollow echo. "Puny humans, do you think you can stop me? I am more powerful than Tolay, and he drove you in panic from his realm."
"Like fun he did," Winston disagreed hotly, his hand going automatically for his thrower, only to draw back when Egon shook his head.
"Yo, Winston," Peter agreed quickly. "Don't make it mad until we find out what it wants."
"I want to stop your invasions of my realm," the demon replied promptly. "All of you. These two," he gestured at Benny and his partner, "and now you. Not to mention this one, who meddles in time." He pointed at the professor again.
"He says Jack's really not Jack," explained Benedek. "He says he's from the future and he's here to put things right."
"The future?" That aroused Egon's interest and he strode forward to stare at MacKensie from a distance of about a foot. "Who are you? We need the information if we're to defeat the demon."
The man hesitated then he said something so quietly that only Egon heard it. Benedek bounced closer, his newsman's nose trying to sniff out secrets.
"Come on J.J. You can tell your old pal," he urged.
Egon's mouth fell open in astonishment. "Fascinating," he breathed. "I've been reading what I can find on your theories, though most of them have been classified. So it worked."
"You want to clue the rest of us in, Egon?" Peter growled. He didn't like secrets, especially when he wasn't party to them.
"No. Don't tell them," the professor insisted. "The publicity could endanger all of us, including Dr. MacKensie." He glared at Benedek. "This is one story you can't print."
"He's right, Benedek," spoke up Dr. Moorhouse. "This must be secret and not only because of the publicity which could endanger the university."
"The demon split itself into two separate parts," explained the man who was not really MacKensie. "One of them is here in me, the other is back at the project, where I think it might be causing harm. Al should have been back by now."
"Back?" Benedek's every atom seemed to stand at attention. "No one was here before. You talked to him, but he wasn't here."
"He was here as a hologram," MacKensie explained reluctantly. He sounded like he was trying to convince them he meant what he said even while knowing the words were unbelievable.
"A neurological hologram," explained Egon wisely as if all of them should have guessed. "No one else could see him since he is only attuned to the neurons and mesons of — "
"Okay, Egon," Peter interrupted. "Words of one syllable, please." Egon always talked like that, and it was up to Peter to restrain him.
"All right." Egon sounded disappointed. "You do know what a hologram is?" He raised an eyebrow at Peter as if to express doubt that Peter had a clue.
Everyone nodded, Peter with exaggerated emphasis.
"Then what we have is someone in the future projected back in time as a link, someone only Dr. Beckett can see."
"Beckett!" whooped Benedek. "Not Sam Beckett? We did a big article about him last year, all about Project Starbright. Jonny's gonna have a fit. Not another Nobel Prize winner."
Sam Beckett winced. He looked like he remembered the article and wished he didn't.
"You mean the demon is partly in the future?" Ray asked, going to the heart of the problem. He was good at that. "That means his power must be weakened. I don't think he'd be capable of doing what he came here for unless he could relinquish one of his hosts. Maybe that's why nothing much has happened and we had time to get here before the real damage was done."
"Real damage? You lost me a long way back," Winston complained. "Are you saying that Dr. MacKensie and this Beckett character switched places and Beckett's from the future?" He hummed a few bars of the Twilight Zone theme. "Man, this is getting stranger than usual. A lot stranger than usual."
"I don't know if it's a lot stranger than usual," Peter disagreed. "But this is how I see it. Toltar showed up prepared to take out MacKensie and Benedek, or at least MacKensie. Beckett decided to pop in for reasons that aren't clear yet. Toltar was just beside himself over it. He got yanked in two and now all he can do is growl a lot and make threats."
"Wrong!" Toltar used Beckett/MacKensie to speak so easily that Peter realized the scientist(s) had no control over his invasion. "I can do more. I have done more. Ask Dr. Beckett where his friend Al is? I will tell you. He is dead!"
"No," shouted Beckett, for once overriding the demon. He looked stricken. "Al isn't dead. You don't have that much power. I won't let you hurt anyone."
"Think you that you can stop me?" Toltar laughed. It sounded strange coming in MacKensie's voice. Then, before Peter or any of the others could react, the demon/MacKensie/Beckett scooped up Egon, who was closest, and flung him to the floor. Egon landed hard and didn't get up. His glasses skidded a little distance, and Winston scooped them up. Peter's stomach clenched into a knot.
"Egon!" cried Ray, rushing to the unconscious man's side. Peter drew his thrower and leveled it at the demon, prepared to blast it, but Benedek grabbed his arm.
"No! You'll hurt Jonathan!"
"Come on, Ray," Peter demanded urgently, refusing to lower the thrower, though Benedek tried to wrest it from his grip.
"He's stunned, Peter," called the occultist, his voice shaken. "But I don't think anything's broken. Egon, come on. Wake up." He chafed Egon's cheek in an attempt to rouse him. Winston edged closer, his eyes on Beckett/MacKensie, and passed Egon's glasses to Ray.
"What do you think would happen if we blasted him now?" Peter asked, his voice cold. Nobody hurt his friends and got away with it.
But it was Beckett/MacKensie who spoke. "I'm sorry. I tried to stop him, but I couldn't fight it. That must be what he did to Al." His face was pale and shaken.
"Is Al your friend?" Ray asked quietly as he gathered Egon up against his shoulder. Typically, Ray was trying to understand Beckett. Give him time and he'd be negotiating with the demon.
"My best friend," admitted Beckett, looking at Egon with guilt written on his face.
Peter glanced down at Egon, too. The demon had a lot to answer for. He couldn't blast him, even though he wanted to. If the streams didn't kill him or at least pull him free long enough to be trapped, they might trap Beckett here, maybe kill MacKensie, too. If the power levels were set too high, the streams could do a number of nasty things. They could kill, of course, causing a body's atoms to separate. They could destabilize a person's molecules to the point that a violent motion could cause them to break down. They could char or incinerate. Used at a lesser degree, they might pull the demon away, but Egon was the one who always assembled all the data and chose the right setting for things like that. Peter suspected he and Ray could figure it out between themselves, but he wasn't comfortable with it.
He turned to Sam Beckett again. "I'm sorry. We have to find a way to stop him."
"I know. I just don't think blasting me would do it." He looked at their proton packs uneasily as if he'd guessed Peter's thoughts.
"You're a physicist, too," said Ray. "I know you're not familiar with our equipment, but maybe you could think of something."
"I wish I could," replied Beckett. "But leaping in time has affected my memory. I can't remember a lot of the things I ought to know. Sometimes they come to me when I least expect it, but I'd prefer not to risk a couple of lives on the off chance."
"Wait a minute," Benedek put in, circling around Beckett warily as if afraid he'd be bounced off the floor next. "Okay, so he can toss people around. But he can't zap us if we stay out of range or he would have done it already. We sat here for hours waiting for you and the most he did was make a few useless threats. I don't think he's got his powers while he's in two people. He can talk big and he can use Jon-boy to kick ass, but that's not enough. I think he's stuck and he's trying to scare us off while he figures out how to pull himself together." As he spoke, he dodged the demon, which lunged at him, though Sam Beckett resisted for all he was worth.
"I can't stop him if he wants to trash you," Sam explained. "But he's only using my strength with a little augmentation. I think Benny's right."
"Good," cried Ray. "Then we can beat him."
"Oh yeah?" demanded Peter, grimacing. "Maybe he was waiting for us to arrive. Odds are he's got a grudge against the four of us, too. Maybe he can't hurt us and maybe he can." He looked down at Egon, who showed no signs of regaining consciousness and fought down the urge to open fire on Beckett, the consequences be damned. "I hope you're right, both of you. But if so, give me an idea what to do next."
Sam thought furiously, even though Toltar would be aware of his every idea as soon as he thought it. He found it hard to concentrate. The demon must have done something to Al, or else his friend would have returned by now, and Sam's concern kept interrupting his attempts at reason. Looking at the lax figure of Egon Spengler, held protectively in the arms of his friend, Sam felt sick. He had done that; at least he had been unable to prevent it. What might Jonathan MacKensie have failed to prevent back at the project? Was the demon right? Could Al be dead?
Suddenly Egon groaned and shifted against Ray's shoulder. At once Peter and Winston joined Ray on the floor beside him, calling his name and fussing over him as if he were a child. He opened his eyes slowly, blinked a time or two, and accepted his glasses from Ray, settling them in place. They promptly slid down his nose.
Peter studied his eyes, felt his pulse and worried over him shamelessly. "You gave us a scare, Spengs baby," he admitted in an attempt to sound casual that didn't remotely succeed. "Try not to do that again, right?"
"Uh, right." Egon shook his head as if to clear it and winced. "I'm all right, Peter, just bruised." He glanced sideways at Ray, who was still supporting him, and smiled briefly, touching the shorter man's arm. "It's okay, Ray." He straightened up but stayed on the floor, probably a little dizzy. "I presume the demon can influence Dr. Beckett," he concluded in a masterly piece of understatement.
"You could call it that," said Peter sourly. Everyone began explaining their theories, which did more to rouse Egon than anything else had. Sam remembered how intrigued Spengler had always been by the unknown; he had been driven to find explanations for things other people chose to leave alone. The more the other Ghostbusters and Benedek talked, the better Egon looked. He drew a calculator from his pocket and began to coordinate his P.K.E. readings with the figures the others gave him.
"I get it. It's a math class, right? I thought MacKensie taught anthropology."
"Al!" At the familiar voice Sam spun around happily, his relief fading at the sight of his friend. Al looked terrible. There was a neat dressing on his forehead just at the scalp line which he had tried to cover with his too-short hair. One cheekbone sported a darkening bruise, his left eye looked a little puffy, and it required considerable effort for him to stay on his feet.
//I lied,// Toltar informed Sam unnecessarily. //He is not dead.//
"Hiya, Sam," Al greeted with a wave of his hand. He sat down abruptly on the edge of MacKensie's desk — or some comparable object in the waiting room — and massaged his temples. "Don't mind me. I've just got a little headache."
"You should be in bed!"
At his first shout, the others had turned to stare at him, Dr. Moorhouse wearing a look of someone who has wandered into an asylum thinking she was attending a faculty meeting. The Ghostbusters and Benny, still clustered around Egon on the floor, only looked intrigued.
"Your hologram is back, I presume," Peter commented, glancing around the room as if he expected to see him. Following Sam's gaze, he stared at the empty air and waved a greeting at Al.
"He shouldn't be here," Sam insisted protectively. "He's hurt.... You look terrible, Al."
"So's Egon," Winston reminded him. "It isn't like we've got a choice here. I take it the other half of Toltar is making trouble in the future."
"Sam! You told them about the project?"
"I had to, Al. They have to be able to fight the demon and unless they know he's only partly here, it isn't going to work."
Al thought that over. His military background had always made him more rigid on areas of secrecy and classified information than Sam was, though Sam had always listened to Al before. This time was so far outside the usual limits of security programs, that he nodded.
"All right. I guess you couldn't have done anything else, kid. Besides, Winston's right about trouble in the future," Al agreed. "When this is over, I'll go to bed. I'll even like it. Right now, listen to me and tell them if it will let you. It can't use its full demon powers while it's split and it can't unsplit until you leap. Ziggy got kind of crazy when we started asking about demons, but Gooshi ran a program that allows him to access paranormal and supernatural references as if they were factual. It works. Ziggy says there's a 93% chance that you're here to keep the demon in two parts long enough for it to be trapped. If it was here on its own, getting it out of you would be a real mess."
"That's crazy, Al. Even if the Ghostbusters can trap the half that's in me, Jonathan will still leap home with the other half in him."
"Right. But don't forget, the Ghostbusters will be waiting for him. One advantage this time around, Sam, is that Jonathan's memory isn't magnafoozled. He remembers everything. Gooshi thinks it must be the demon's influence. When Jonathan gets back, he can tell the Ghostbusters to yank the other half out, too." He looked at the Ghostbusters. "Hi, Winston."
Sam was surprised but he turned to the black Ghostbuster. "He says hello to you," he announced.
"To me?" Winston's mouth dropped open. Sam realized he hadn't quite accepted the presence of an invisible man from the future. "Who is he anyway?" he demanded, climbing to his feet. The others copied him. "You said Al, but..."
"Al Calavicci," Sam explained. He'd told them this much. There seemed little point in holding back Al's last name.
"Calavicci!" Starting to grin, Winston looked around as if he could see Al by staring hard. "Yo, Al, my man. How're you doing?"
"Besides the concussion, not too bad," Al admitted with a wry grin. "Sam, tell him we'll have a reunion one day, but not yet. We've gotta get to work."
Sam relayed that to Winston then started to tell Egon the rest of it. The demon, who had been complacent until now, decided to interfere, and Sam found himself unable to speak. His mouth open, he struggled to produce sounds, but to no avail.
"Oh, great," complained Peter as he realized what had happened. "His Grossness is back in the game."
"Don't try too hard, Sam," Al warned him. "I think they can take it from here. Spengler's pretty sharp and the Stantz kid isn't too bad either. Venkman might have a smart mouth, but he's good at improvising, and Winston's the type who never lets you down."
"How do you know him?" Sam asked, intrigued. The demon let him say that since it was no threat to his continued possession.
Al's face darkened momentarily. "Viet Nam, when we were being repatriated. He was there."
"You mean he was a POW?" Sam stared from Winston to Al in astonishment. Al rarely mentioned those times.
"No. He was one of the guys bringing us back." Al shook his head. Evidently he didn't want to recall the time, but his memories of Winston had been favorable.
"POW?" Peter echoed in astonishment, staring at Winston, mouth open. "You never said anything about being a POW."
"I wasn't a POW," Winston reassured him. "I was only in Nam at the end anyway for a year. When a lot of POWs were repatriated in '73, I was one of the guys who helped move them out. There was this one guy — he kept everybody's spirits up, all the other POWs. He wasn't any better off than the rest of them, but the ones that had been imprisoned with him looked to him, said he'd saved their lives. It was Al Calavicci. I got to know him a little. Never forgot him. I followed his career when he went into space. He was one of the reasons I was so anxious to go into space myself." He looked at the empty space where Al was sitting. "Sorry I can't see you, buddy. Hang in there and we'll get this fixed up. Trust us."
Sam turned and looked at Al, who was embarrassed at the praise but pleased, too. He caught Sam's eye and grinned faintly.
"Hold on, Sam," he encouraged. "It won't be much longer."
Egon ran something through his calculator and nodded in satisfaction. "Okay, guys. This is what we'll do." Peter offered him a hand and he climbed to his feet. He'd been luckier than Al, seeming only shaken, with no apparent bruises. He gathered his colleagues and Benedek into a huddle and they spoke in whispers too soft for the demon to hear. Sam nodded in approval, struggling against the demon's urge to go closer. Dr. Moorhouse removed herself to the chair at the left front corner of MacKensie's desk and sat down. It looked like this was putting her under a lot of strain. Sam gave her an encouraging smile, realizing that she was very fond of MacKensie.
"I hope he knows what he's doing, Sam," Al muttered, lowering his eyes. "Ziggy says this is — uh — kind of dangerous."
"How dangerous?" Sam demanded advancing on Al and standing directly in front of him. "How dangerous, Al?.
"Well, if they don't get it exactly right, this could be a one way ticket out of here," Al admitted in a near mumble.
"You mean I'd get..."
"Neutronized," Al finished for him. "But it's not gonna happen, Sam. I had Ziggy run everything he could on the Ghostbusters, their equipment, how it all works. It may look like some kind of Buck Rogers gizmos but there's sound scientific principle behind it. As long as whoever is leaping you around holds off for a few minutes after they finish to allow you time to stabilize, you'll be fine."
The demon must have realized it needed to take a stand, because it let out a mighty roar and lunged at Al. Sam knew that it couldn't touch Al when he was here as a hologram, but the uncontrolled violence in the demon frightened him and he struggled instinctively to protect his friend. Unable to stop the monster, he swung his hand at Al — and felt solid flesh beneath his fingers.
"Al!" he blurted in astonishment. "I can touch you." It was impossible! It couldn't happen! But it was the first physical contact he'd had with Al since he'd started leaping about in time. "Oh, God, Al," he murmured and tried to embrace his friend.
Toltar intervened, striking out at Al, causing the hologram to reel back, a hand to his already bruised cheekbone. Sam hated the demon more in that moment than he'd believed possible. Now, when it was physically possible for the first time since he'd stepped into the Accelerator, he couldn't hug Al. If he did, the demon would take advantage of the situation and hurt him again.
"We got trouble, guys!" Benny warned, glancing over his shoulder at Sam. "I think it's making its move. He'll try to assume complete control. You'd better zap him before that happens."
Sam didn't like the sound of that, but Benny was right. The loss of control began in his fingertips, working its way inward, his hands flexing, his arms describing circles in the air, his head moving up and down in abrupt little jerks as the demon consolidated what power remained to it. Sam didn't lose conscious awareness of his surroundings, but he could no longer move unless the demon moved his body. "Al," he pleaded. "Get back. He's gonna go for broke! He knows it's all or nothing."
"You think to stop me," snarled the demon. "Think again, puny mortals." He raised Sam's hands and pointed them at the Ghostbusters, who had formed a line, weapons drawn. Hastily Egon recited figures at them and they made minute adjustments on the particle throwers.
"Die, mortals," Toltar cried.
There was pain. Helplessly Sam watched blue fire shoot from his fingertips and lance out toward the four men. With a yelp of astonishment, Benedek pulled a camera from his pocket and started snapping pictures. In spite of the anxiety of the moment, Sam couldn't help wondering if Benedek did that because it was something normal in the midst of an incredible situation or whether he did it simply because it gave him something to do with his hands. The journalist looked shaken. He'd probably never seen his buddy do anything like this before.
"Nice one," Peter growled in disbelief as he dived sideways to avoid the electrical display. "Are you getting all this?" He cast a sardonic look at Benny. "If you're gonna immortalize us, that's not my best side."
"Power up," Egon ordered. Sam felt the demon lift his hands again.
"Look — out — Egon," he panted, his tongue thick and unmanageable in his mouth.
Spengler nodded in acknowledgment, edged just far enough to his left to miss the demon's attack, and cried, "Now!"
The proton streams shot out at Sam, who froze, feeling the demon's shock and disbelief as the streams hit him. Bathed in a crackling radiance, Sam shuddered. It felt like he'd just been struck by lightning. The hair on the back of his neck crawled and lifted, and he shuddered, his body jerking as if he were having a seizure.
"Noooo!" wailed the demon, casting more fire at the Ghostbusters, Benny and Al. "Look out, Al," Sam managed to shout.
"You got it." Al dived behind Venkman, frantically pushing buttons on his hand link.
Benny didn't retreat entirely. He was still taking photos. "This is gonna be great," he was muttering, but there was a desperate worry in the back of his eyes. He wasn't seeing Sam Beckett under the Ghostbusters' attack. He was seeing his best friend. Sam knew how that felt. He didn't think he could ever forgive the demon for making it possible for him to touch Al and then denying it to him.
Power surged through his body, and though it didn't exactly hurt, it was unbearable in a way he could not describe. Every molecule of his body jerked alert. Another few moments of this would vibrate him apart.
"It's working!" bellowed Winston, grabbing a rectangular box of that had been hanging from his belt and tossing it forward to the floor at Sam's feet.
"That's a ghost trap, Sam," Al explained. "According to Ziggy, they catch ghosts in that then take them back to their headquarters and stow them in a containment grid.... I wish you could see this, Sam," he added, eyes wide as he stared at Sam. "I'm seeing two of you, now. You're solid, but there's a transparent image forming around you. It's big — it's huge — and it's blue. I don't like this." He backed away uneasily as his excitement faded. "How are you holding up? You look green around the gills."
That's how I feel, Sam thought wryly.
"Go for it," yelled Peter. Winston stomped down on what must be a trigger device attached to the trap by a long cord. A wedge of incredibly bright light emerged from the trap, and Sam blinked at it, feeling a wild suction. For a moment, the demon hovered around him, distorting his image of the room, bathing everything in a misty blue glare and struggling to retain its grip on Sam. Then with a scream of protest, it pulled loose and formed before Sam's eyes into a separate entity, pale and nearly transparent. It was huge with giant fangs and scales but it lacked solidity. Sam could see the Ghostbusters through it as they guided it down into the trap with their proton streams. Screaming and protesting all the way, the demon was sucked into the trap. The four Ghostbusters shut down their proton packs as the doors swished shut over Toltar's essence.
"We did it," cried Ray Stantz eagerly. "That was great! I wasn't sure that puppy was gonna lie down, but we did it.... Are you all right, Dr. Beckett?"
"Don't touch him," cautioned Egon as his colleagues, Benedek and Dr. Moorhouse advanced on Sam. "He's still partially neutronized. He could dissolve."
"Sam, are you all right?" Al walked through the others and stopped a foot away. "You look pretty shook up, kid. Come on, talk to me." Automatically he raised his hand as if to grab Sam's arm and shake him lightly. Both men froze in astonishment as they felt his fingers brush Sam's arm.
"Sam! I can touch you!" Al yelped, and threw his arms around his colleague enthusiastically.
"Al!" In disbelief, Sam copied the gesture, and felt his arms close around the smaller man. Al didn't feel totally solid to him, but he was solid enough that Sam could grab him and hold on for all he was worth. He didn't know what caused it: the demon, the proton streams, the surplus energy that sputtered around the room: and he didn't care. He held on to Al like a lifeline, his eyes squeezing shut in relief.
It didn't last, of course. Much too soon Sam felt the solid form in his arms melt away until he was holding only a circle of air. He drew back, exchanging a commiserating look with Al, who lowered his arms reluctantly and made a great show of appearing nonchalant. His eyes glittered brightly as if he were on the edge of tears, and Sam knew he looked that way himself. At least they'd been granted that much.
"Hey, good stuff," Benedek exulted, grinning from ear to ear. Sam turned to face him, rubbing a hand across his face. "I got it all on film," continued the journalist, holding up his camera. "We could almost see Al there at the end. With any luck, he'll show up on some of these shots."
"We saw something," Dr. Moorhouse confirmed, "Though I'm not sure exactly what. A vague outline, no more."
Egon pointed his P.K.E. meter at Sam and studied its grid. "The demon is gone. I'm not reading anything now but residual energy. That should fade when you're pulled out of here, Sam. What must you do to return to your project?"
"It isn't something I control," Sam admitted uncomfortably. "I think I was here to save Dr. MacKensie from the demon — and to see that Benny gets his doctorate."
Benny's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "How'd you know I meant to do that? Been reading my diary? Naughty." He shook his finger at Sam as if chiding a mischievous child, then his eyes widened. "You're really from the future, aren't you? I halfway believed that was part of the possession."
"How could it have been?" demanded Winston. "How could the demon have known that I know Al?"
Egon started to list the ways it might have known, but Peter waved him to silence. "Wait a minute, guys. There's still the other demon to deal with. Or the other half of this one. He'll make an appearance pretty soon and I want to be ready."
"Have you got another trap?" demanded Benny, spinning to face him.
"Plenty more," Ray explained, pointing to the one that hung on his belt. "We came prepared. Dr. Beckett, what about Dr. MacKensie?"
"I think it's time for him to come home," Al said, pushing buttons. "Say goodbye, Sam."
"But Benedek's degree — " Sam hung back, resisting the building pull that signaled an impending leap.
"There's a 99% chance he'll get that degree," Al explained. "That's as good odds as you'll get, Sam. I think the hardest part will be convincing Dr. MacKensie that all of this really happened."
Sam was leaping before he finished speaking.
Jonathan MacKensie materialized in his office in the middle of a crowd. Dr. Moorhouse was still here, staring at him anxiously. He thought she'd been here right before he got yanked into that futuristic place. Now she had Benedek with her. Naturally. Give him one little whiff of the supernatural and he was there with bells on — or in this case, the most garish shirt Jonathan had seen him wear. He was peering into Jonathan's eyes, and when he realized he was being observed, he banished his worried look and grinned brightly.
"Yo, Jack? Is that you this time?" When Jonathan nodded slightly, his grin expanded until it stretched from ear to ear. "Welcome back, buds," he cried, clapping Jonathan on the shoulder. Jonathan grinned at his friend's irrepressible good nature, and in his relief to see him again, to be home again, he grabbed the smaller man in a hug that Benny welcomed and returned, for all of three seconds. Then he wiggled free like an eel and held up a small camera. "Wait till you see this film," he announced. "Check it out. This time I've got proof that not even you can wiggle out of."
"I forbid you to use that film, Benedek," Dr. Moorhouse said firmly. She smiled at Jonathan. "Welcome back, MacKensie. I trust you'll avoid this kind of incident in future."
He recognized the sternness as one way of displaying her relief at his return and he smiled at her happily. "I'm not planning a repeat performance," he informed her."
"You never know when — " began Benny when there came an interruption.
"That can wait, Benny," Peter Venkman said, elbowing his way forward. Oh, God, it was Peter Venkman. Jonathan distrusted the Ghostbusters on general principles and he distrusted Peter Venkman more than most. If anyone brought out Edgar Benedek's worst side, it was Peter Venkman. He groaned at the idea of the complications sure to follow.
"Stand perfectly still, Dr. MacKensie," a tall, blond man in a Ghostbuster jumpsuit ordered. That must be Egon Spengler, the only one he hadn't met. Before Jonathan could open his mouth to protest, the Ghostbusters actually fired their particle throwers at him as if he were one of the ghosts they trapped. Stunned and disbelieving, he stood confined in the proton streams while something big, blue and nasty was sucked out of him. He let out a yell of protest. "That hurts!"
He had to be hallucinating. This couldn't be real. But he remembered his conversations with Al, the man he had attacked, or rather the demon had attacked through him. Al had explained about the Ghostbusters, and though his return had momentarily confused him, he remembered everything the man from the future had said.
"Opening trap now," cried Ray Stantz. Jonathan stared in amazement as the blue creature was pulled into the trap.
As the door closed over it, the Ghostbusters cheered, Dr. Moorhouse sat down in his chair in relief and Benedek irrepressibly grabbed his shoulders and shook him enthusiastically.
"Way to go, Jack. Now you're home without any excess baggage. I think we've got to do something about all this possession. It can't be good for you."
"Benedek, you rigged this somehow," Jonathan accused automatically, though he knew it wasn't true. Benedek's eyes danced with good humor and he winked.
"This wasn't rigged," Spengler said stiffly as if someone had impugned his reputation as a scientist. "We documented everything. If you want proof..."
Benny waved him away. "Proof can wait. Listen, Jack, that demon had it in for us because we've been out there chasing shadows."
"I knew it!" he lamented. "We made something mad and it came after us. I said all this shadow chasing was a mistake right from the start."
Benny started to laugh. "Listen to yourself, buds. You believe in it. You just don't want to admit it. Maybe we made something mad, but it'll be safe in the Ghostbusters' containment unit. Don't worry about it. Besides, you love it all. Don't think you can fool me."
MacKensie couldn't hold onto his rage. Benny's eager enthusiasm was nine parts relief. He'd be bouncing off the walls for days. Jonathan knew he would miss that — and Benedek — if he ever gave up this new profession that Dr. Moorhouse had foisted on him. He started to smile. This time, Benny was right. Jonathan knew this one was real, though he hated to admit it. Confessing belief in the supernatural elements of one of their adventures was almost a violation of the rules. What was more, he'd actually visited the future, and he knew what his next job was. Somehow he had to keep Edgar Benedek from going after the story of Al and the time traveler Sam Beckett. Those two had enough problems already.
Sam felt a wave of overpowering relief as he settled into his new leap. This time he was alone in his body. No demons, no voices within his head, no Ghostbusters firing weapons at him. It felt wonderful.
Glancing around, he strove to get his bearings. He stood in what looked like a liquor store facing a middle aged couple who stared at him in horror from behind the counter. As he watched them, they looked at each other consideringly and as if by mutual agreement raised their hands toward the ceiling.
"What..." Sam began blankly, looking down at himself to see what it was about him that had caused their reaction. To his horror, he held a gun in his right hand pointed directly at the couple. It looked like he had leaped into a hold-up. In the distance, he could hear the wail of a police siren gradually growing louder.
"Oh, boy," moaned Sam as he started to back away. Leaps like this one almost made him miss Toltar.
© Sheila Paulson. The contents of this page may not be copied or reproduced without the author's express written permission.
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