This is a work of fiction. With the exception of Robert Hays, all of the characters are fictional, and any resemblance of the characters to actual persons is coincidental and unintentional. This work is based on the movie Starman and the television series of the same name and the television series Probe. This is a not-for-profit publication and is not intended to infringe on copyrights held by ABC-TV, Henderson-Hirsch, Steven Caldwell, Isaac Asimov, Michael Douglas Productions, and Columbia Pictures.
In March 2000 Nina posted a challenge on STARMANET, Spotlight Starman International's listserv, to suggest scenarios where Starman characters are stuck in an icky situation. Other STARMANET subscribers were encouraged to come up with creative solutions and post them to the list. The following short story is the scenario I developed and one possible conclusion. Nina wrote a conclusion to the scenario as well. I read her conclusion before I had any firm ideas on how to resolve the situation myself. Nina's ideas were so logical and in character that I adopted a few of them with her permission in my own conclusion. The afterword specifies which ideas are hers.
As the title indicates, "Double Take" is a crossover between Starman and the shortlived mystery/sci-fi TV series Probe that ran briefly on ABC in 1988. Its main characters are Austin James (Parker Stevenson), an eccentric scientific prodigy, and his slightly scatterbrained secretary, Michelle "Micki" Castle (Ashley Crow). Austin is fascinated by the mysteries of the world around him. His brilliant mind constantly flits from one problem to the next. The warehouse he lives in is filled with devices to help him on his quest to understand anything and everything.
Austin has little time for or interest in people. He uses his brusque, cocky demeanor to avoid the imprecise mechanics of human relationships as much as possible. Consequently he neglects his duties as the CEO of a thinktank named Serendip. The executives running Serendip had been trying to remedy the situation by hiring a secretary for Austin. Austin's eccentric and mildly misanthropic behavior caused all of them to quit, except for Micki. Superficially Micki is a cute and somewhat ditzy girl next door. Beneath the surface she is observant, intuitive, and determined. Micki sees the insecurities and isolation underlying Austin's abrupt and sometimes abrasive mannerisms. Her observations frequently point Austin down lines of reasoning that help them solve the mystery each episode presented.
Those are Austin's and Micki's personalities in a nutshell. Physically, Austin is of average height and build with dark hair and blue eyes. He wears practical, no-nonsense clothes. Micki is a fair-skinned, freckled, willowy woman with curly strawberry-blond hair. Her wardrobe is feminine and conservative - think long skirts and pearls. Both are in their early 30's.
To further introduce Micki and Austin, below are a few quotes from the first episode of the show, courtesy of the Internet Movie Database (http://www.imdb.com).
In Austin's warehouse just after Micki and Austin first meet. She discovered him sleeping in a cramped cabinet and scared the heck out of both of them.
Micki: You're not on drugs or anything, are you?
Austin: I have fragmented REM cycles. I'm slightly schizophrenic.
Micki: Is that why you sleep in a tool cabinet?
Austin: Sensory deprivation tank. Helps me dream.
Shortly afterwards Micki demands to know "What kind of place is this?"
Austin: Why do men blink three times every ten seconds, and women only twice? What part of the brain is the soul located in? What was the blood-clotting mechanism of a tyrannosaurus? Nobody knows. But the answers are here. And I'm going to find them. That's what kind of place this is. It's the universe!
Later, after another of Austin's hyperactive bursts of activity.
Micki: I see now. You can't help yourself. This happens all the time. You can't stop.
Some witty banter from other episodes:
Austin: That's a new dress.
Micki: You like it?
Austin: Yeah. The material's fire resistant, and I like the way the color washes out the pigment in your eyes.
Micki: Thanks...I think.
Entering a morgue.
Micki: In a minute, I'm going to be sick.
Austin: It's all in your head.
Micki: In a minute it'll be all over the floor.
Referring to a computer.
Micki: I don't know what to say to it.
Austin: Insult it, threaten it. Pretend you're talking to me.
"Double Take" is set in Phoenix, Arizona, a few weeks after the two-part Starman episode "Starscape."
Micki tore open another envelope from the pile of Austin's mail beside her. She sat with her feet tucked beneath her on the sofa in the small carpeted living area of Austin's warehouse. Micki tugged the letter out of the envelope. Two tickets fell on to her lap. Micki inspected the tickets briefly and skimmed the letter. "Austin, you really should go to some of these charity fundraisers," she suggested.
"Why?" he asked. "Serendip sends donations every year."
Micki looked up at him. Austin stood in front of a table strewn with aerial photographs. He bent down and peered at the photos through what looked like 3-D glasses on tiny stilts. "Putting in an appearance could help them solicit more donations," Micki replied.
"Mmm," Austin murmured noncommittally. He shifted the glasses-on-stilts a few inches to the left. "Fascinating!" he said excitedly.
"The drainage patterns outside the city. These stereograms show a subtle radial pattern to the arrangement of tributaries and intermittent streams. They're oriented to the east-northeast!" Micki stared at him blankly. "Towards the meteor crater," Austin explained. "Can you believe that that hunk of rock disturbed bedrock this far away?"
"Uh, no." Micki set the letter and tickets aside and reached for another envelope. Harsh clanging suddenly drowned out the beeping and whirring of machines hidden in the depths of the warehouse. Micki jumped up from the couch. "Ohmigod!" she shouted over the clamor. "FIRE!"
Austin regarded her calmly from his seat behind the counter. "Don't be ridiculous. That's the doorbell." Micki gaped at him and collapsed back onto the sofa, scattering mail everywhere. She thought her heart was going to pound out of her chest.
Austin tilted his head and spoke into the lapel microphone clipped to the collar of his plain white shirt. "Off," he snapped. The clanging stopped. "Front intercom."
The sound of a passing car and a brief rustle of fabric carried through the warehouse. "What infernal gadget does he have hooked up to the door now?" a male voice muttered.
"Miles!" Austin said cheerfully. "Come in!" He strode briskly out of the living area. Micki rose unsteadily from the couch and followed him. Overhead spotlights automatically turned on and off to light their way. "Front door open," Austin said into the mic.
A stout, balding man in his fifties stood in the doorway. Micki recognized him as Austin's acquaintance at the Phoenix police department. "Hello, Detective Smanovitch."
Miles smiled and nodded at Micki. "Miss Castle."
"To what do I owe this pleasure, Miles?" Austin grinned. Miles stepped into the pool of light with Austin and Micki. The door shut behind him.
Miles pulled a small ziplock bag out of his jacket pocket and held it up in front of him. The small metal ball inside gleamed in the light.
"A ball bearing?" Micki asked.
"This ball bearing nearly shorted out the precinct's metal detectors," Miles frowned. "This is evidence that some feds are clamoring over. I could get in a lot of trouble for taking this out of the station, but I want to make sure it's not dangerous. Would you take a look at it?"
Austin was already reaching for the bag. He pulled open the top of the bag and hesitated. "Can I touch it?" he asked.
"Sure," Miles replied. "We got the prints from it already."
Austin extracted the ball and weighed it in his hand. "Feels like aluminum." He ran his fingernail along the surface of the ball. "Miles, do you have a pocketknife?"
Miles nodded and produced a Swiss army knife from an inside pocket of his coat. "Don't damage it, Austin," he said as he handed the knife over.
Austin pulled out the screwdriver tool of the Swiss army knife. "This shouldn't hurt a bit," he murmured. Austin drew the screwdriver tip over the metal ball. "Not a scratch. It's definitely not aluminum, and it's harder than steel." He turned and walked off in a different direction in the warehouse. Micki and Miles trailed behind him.
The three stopped at the chemistry lab of the warehouse - two lab benches covered with a network of tubing joining a variety of glass vials, beakers, and flasks. Austin pulled a pair of calipers from a drawer and measured the diameter of the ball bearing. He selected a small beaker from the drain rack near the sink, set it on a digital scale, and weighed it. Then he put the metal ball inside the beaker and weighed the pair.
Austin stared at the scale's display for a moment. He picked up the beaker containing the metal ball and turned to Miles. "Who'd you get this thing from?" he asked, rolling the ball around the inside of the beaker.
"A kid the feds are after."
Austin looked surprised. "A kid? I'd like to speak with him."
"So would we," Miles admitted reluctantly. "He got away. All we've got is the jacket he squirmed out of and that thing. It was in one of the pockets. Why do you want to talk to him?"
"To find out where he got this," Austin replied. He squinted curiously at the ball bearing. "Its density is all wrong. I've never seen anything like it." He looked back at Miles. "How long do I have to play with it?"
"I need it back first thing tomorrow morning, before the feds get here."
"I guess you're not looking forward to that meeting," Micki said sympathetically.
Miles grimaced and shook his head. "No, not after the way the agent in charge ranted on the phone today." Miles nodded at the metal ball. "Any idea why it almost fried the metal detector?"
"Not yet. But I intend to find out." Austin rolled the ball into his hand and set the beaker on the table. "C'mon, Micki." Austin strode towards the front door with Micki and Miles in tow.
"Where are we going?" Micki asked.
"Serendip." Austin studied the metal ball in his hand as he walked. "I can't wait to see this thing's backscattered electron image," he mused aloud. "I've got to get an SEM in here..."
Paul and Scott crouched in the shadows of an alley behind a pile of wooden pallets. They watched the warehouse the cop had entered a few minutes ago. "Are you sure he has my sphere?" Scott asked.
"He's got it," Paul said with quiet certainty.
"Dad, maybe we should just go," Scott said agitatedly. "Fox is probably on a flight here right now. I mean, I want to get my sphere back, but it's not worth risking both of us getting captured."
"We've got a little time," Paul assured him. "This is probably the best chance we'll have, since the sphere isn't in the police station."
Scott frowned at the drab building across the street. "What's he doing in there, anyway?" Scott smiled slightly. "Maybe he's filing it away next to the Ark." Paul raised a questioning eyebrow at him. "The next time we have a VCR, remind me to rent Indiana Jones, okay?"
"Okay," Paul agreed. He looked warmly at his son. Although he didn't always understand his jokes, Paul appreciated Scott's sense of humor, particularly when times were rough - like now. They'd found and lost Jenny only two weeks ago. Then this morning an observant police officer recognized Paul and Scott downtown. His attempt to detain them turned into a wild footchase that nearly ended with Scott's capture. Paul imagined the treatment Scott would have suffered if he hadn't escaped. He shuddered.
Scott looked at his father with concern. "What's wrong?"
"I was thinking about this morning, if you hadn't gotten away," Paul said seriously.
Scott's lips pressed into a thin line. "Well, don't. I did get away, that's all that matters."
Paul smiled. "I didn't know that people's arms could bend that way."
Scott rubbed his shoulder. "Neither did I."
The door the cop had disappeared through swung open. Paul and Scott ducked down a bit and watched. Three people exited the warehouse: a dark-haired man in a white shirt and jeans, a woman wearing a light blue dress, and the police officer. They stopped besides the two cars parked in front of the drab building, the cop's green sedan and a battered beige station wagon. Sunlight glinted off of something in the dark-haired man's hand. "Now that guy's got my sphere!" Scott whispered. "I can't believe this!"
"Are you coming with us, Detective?" the woman asked.
The detective glanced at his wristwatch. "No, I've got to pick up a monkey suit for tonight." The other man laughed.
Paul blinked in surprise. "A monkey suit?"
"Shh," Scott hissed, "I'll explain later."
"What's the event?" the woman asked.
"The fundraiser dinner for the battered women's shelter. Doris bought tickets for us. She said it's going to be a big deal, that some celebrities will be there." The detective shrugged. "It's for a good cause."
The woman turned excitedly to the dark-haired man. "Austin, there are two tickets to that dinner sitting on your couch inside!"
"Micki..." the man called Austin said wearily.
"Oh, come on! It'll be fun, and you'll be helping the shelter," the woman - Micki - cajoled. The detective watched the pair with obvious amusement.
Austin exhaled loudly. He looked at Micki wanly. "Do you have anything to wear?"
Micki clapped her hands together in delight. "Of course!" Her enthusiasm waned a little. "Do you?"
"I'll manage," Austin frowned. He pulled a set of keys from his pocket and thrust them at Micki. "Can we get going, please?" Micki and Austin moved to the driver's and passenger sides of the station wagon, respectively.
The detective opened the door of his car. He paused and addressed his companions over the hood of the sedan. "Well, I'll see you two tonight then," he said with a huge grin.
"Yeah," Austin said with a sidelong glance at Micki. He smiled genuinely at the officer, holding up Scott's sphere in his hand. "Miles, thanks. You'll get it back tomorrow morning right on time." The three got in their respective cars and departed in different directions.
Scott sprang up after both vehicles had driven out of view. He'd sprinted a few feet towards their car parked at the opposite end of the alley before realizing Paul wasn't following. He skidded to a halt and looked back at his father impatiently. "C'mon, Dad! We've got to catch up with them and get my sphere back!"
Paul straightened and shook his head. "That's not going to work. They could have gone in any number of directions by now. Besides, I've got another idea."
Scott threw his arms up in defeat. "What?" he said impatiently.
"We go to the charity fundraiser this evening."
Scott rolled his eyes. "Yeah, right. Do you know how much tickets to those things cost? We don't have the money for that."
Paul smiled mischievously. "I've already got a ticket," he said. He produced a press pass from his coat pocket.
"That thing is worth its weight in gold," Scott grinned. Paul regarded the press pass with furrowed brows. Scott laughed and walked back to his father. "No, not literally. I mean it's really useful. Oh, and a monkey suit is a tuxedo."
"What a strange expression," Paul commented. They walked together down the alley to the car.
"Wait a minute," Scott said suddenly. "Where is this charity thing? And how am I going to get in?"
Paul shrugged. "I don't know. We'll think of something."
3. A Conclusion - part one
"We're moving up in the world, Dad," Scott stated lightheartedly. He and Paul sat in their battered blue Nova parked a half block away from the Crowne Plaza Hotel's service entrance. Several young men and women in streetclothes hurried inside. "We've gone from scoping out rundown warehouses to the ritziest hotel in Phoenix," Scott joked.
Paul grinned and looked at the newspaper in his hand in the ebbing daylight. The headline "WOMEN'S SHELTER FUNDRAISER DRAWS CELEBRITIES" on the front page of The Arizona Republic had abbreviated their search for the dinner's location earlier that afternoon. Paul looked at his watch, then at his son. "The fundraiser starts in twenty minutes. You'd better get in there, and I have to change clothes, too. Do you have everything?"
Scott peered inside the shopping bag at his feet. "White dress shirt and pants, check," he grinned. "Steel ball bearing, check." Scott's smile waned. "What if this Austin guy doesn't have my sphere with him?" he asked.
"Then we leave," Paul replied soberly.
Scott nodded grimly. He grabbed the shopping bag and opened the car door. "See you inside," he said with a determined look and disappeared into the hotel.
"Then he said, 'Pastrami? With mayonnaise?!'" Miles guffawed. Miles's wife Doris, Micki, and the three other couples at the large round dinner table in the opulent Crowne Plaza Hotel burst out laughing as well. Their tuxes and evening gowns matched the attire of the other 300 or so diners, except for Austin. His elegant black suit and shirt and a silver and onyx bolo tie and cufflinks were the exception to the rule.
Austin smiled distractedly at Miles's joke and continued rolling the silver sphere in a tiny circle on the tabletop under his hand. Austin was perplexed. His attempts to analyze the composition of the sphere with Serendip's scannning electron microscope that afternoon had failed utterly. The SEM's beam had bent around the metal ball instead of bombarding its surface with electrons like it was supposed to. It was like the thing defied examination. Traditional wet chemistry methods had been slightly more successful. Slightly. Their results told Austin precisely what the sphere wasn't. Its true composition remained a mystery.
Austin frowned at the little metal ball hiding under his hand. The damned thing prompted more questions the longer Austin had it in his possession. What was it made of? How did it bend the SEM's electron beam? Was it the same phenomenon that had nearly destroyed the police precinct's metal detectors? And why on earth did a teenage kid have it in the first place? Austin smiled slyly to himself. He wondered how much trouble he and Miles would be in if he "accidentally" misplaced the sphere.
Micki turned towards Austin, wiping tears of laughter from the corners of her eyes. "Oh, Austin, would you forget about that thing, just for a little while?" she half-giggled. The flush coloring her cheeks told him that she was slightly inebriated from the fine wines that the waiters poured liberally. "It's not like you go to posh dinners like this every day," she continued. Austin smiled at her. Nor do I have little silver enigmas delivered to my doorstep on a regular basis. Micki's wide green eyes vied with the sphere for Austin's attention. He noticed how her strapless violet dress set off her strawberry-blond curls just touching her bare shoulders. Austin shook his head slightly. Micki got to him like no one else could - another mystery to add to his list.
Austin reached for his full wine glass with his free hand. "You're right, Micki," he said and took a sip of the wine. He rarely drank, but tonight a light buzz would be a welcomed distraction from the mysterious metallic globe taunting him beneath his hand.
Micki smiled with delight. "Good! Live a little," she said, and turned back to Doris and Miles. Austin tuned into their conversation. Miles was just concluding the introduction to another of his humorous tales. Austin fixed most of his attention on Miles's story. The remainder stubbornly puzzled over the sphere, which Austin continued to idly roll on the tabletop.
Scott set yet another stack of plates of half-eaten salads in the plastic tub hidden in the back right-hand corner of the dining room. Posing as a bus boy had been easy. Shortly after Scott had located the employee lockerooms and changed into his fake uniform, the hotel manager herded every young person wearing white into the dining room. You could feed half of Africa with the food these people are wasting, he thought with disgust. Scott had never been a picky eater, and life on the run with his father had made him even less inclined. I'd better find Austin soon, before I start lecturing people, he thought bitterly.
Scott turned around and surveyed the large, high-ceilinged dining room. Thirty large, round tables formed a rough arc around a low platform bearing a mahogany podium. Fluid red calligraphy spelled out "Phoenix Women's Foundation" on the yellow banner hanging behind the podium. A pair of double doors were set into three of the dining room's walls. The fourth wall, the one behind the podium, beared a pair of emergency exits.
Scott's gaze swept around the perimeter of the room. He figured that Paul's camera and navy sportsjacket would be easy to spot in the sea of tuxedoed men and bejeweled women. After twenty minutes of waiting on the idle rich he still hadn't seen his father. Scott hoped that the hotel staff hadn't challenged Paul's press pass. He frowned worriedly and strode over to the next table.
As Scott reached for the first of ten salad plates, a lilting female voice carried over the diners' chatter. "I don't believe you, Miles! You made that up!" Scott hesitated. He recognized both the voice and the name.
"It's true, I swear!" a gravelly male voice chuckled. "Just ask Austin." The cop and his friends are right behind me! Scott thought nervously.
The middle-aged men that Scott was leaning between looked at him irately. "Are you gonna take that or not?" the man to his left asked gruffly.
Scott blinked and picked up the plate. "Yes, sir. Sorry," he said absently. Scott worked his way around the table, collecting salad plates and glancing surreptitiously at the next table. Micki and Austin sat with their backs to Scott. The cop sat to their right. As Scott passed behind Austin's chair with his pile of plates, he noticed the small circles that Austin's right hand traced on the tabletop. No, not on the tabletop - just above the tabletop. Light glinted momentarily from underneath Austin's hand. It's right there! Scott thought incredulously. He hurried over to the plastic bin in the corner of the room and dumped the plates inside.
With his back to the room Scott pulled the steel ball bearing from his pants pocket and palmed it. It felt odd in his hand. Funny how the sphere feels natural, while this feels like... a little metal ball, he mused. Scott turned around and forced himself to approach Austin's table at a normal pace. The cop, gesturing animatedly as he talked, commanded his companions' attention. Scott stopped at the table just between Austin and Micki. His stomach twisted into a knot. "May I take that for you, sir?" Scott asked politely. Austin glanced at him and nodded. Scott reached for his plate and "accidentally" knocked Austin's hand with his own. The sphere glinted on the tabletop for a fraction of a second before Scott's hand moved over it. Scott released the ball bearing and the sphere seemed to leap into his palm. Despite his surprise Scott remembered to retrieve Austin's plate. Austin fumbled for the ball bearing as Scott pulled back with both of his quarries. Scott quickly turned around and retreated towards the corner of the room. He felt Austin's eyes boring into his back.
Austin gripped the sphere tightly in his fist and peered after the bus boy. Miles snorted. "I guess the rest of us have to bus our own dishes," he quipped.
"We might be better off," Micki grinned. "The kid seemed kind of klutzy." She peered curiously at Austin, who continued to stare after the bus boy. "You okay?" she asked.
Austin frowned at her, and then at the metal ball in his hand. He rolled it gently in his palm. The sphere had suddenly gotten heavier. Austin twisted in his seat abruptly, searching for the bus boy. The thin, dark-haired boy tossed the salad plate into a plastic tub in the corner of the room and continued walking rapidly along the far wall away from them. "No, I'm not okay," Austin muttered and rose from his seat. He jogged after the boy, depositing what he guessed was a steel ball bearing into his pocket.
"Austin, where are you going?" Micki called after him. Austin ignored her. The bus boy, who had a 50 foot lead on Austin, darted through a set of double doors into the hallway. Austin quickened his pace.
A tall, lithe woman with flowing brown hair wearing a simple yet elegant maroon dress patiently signed autographs in the lobby of the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Paul stood against the wall on the opposite side of the room waiting for the hotel manager. Hotel security had been having problems with people sneaking into the charity dinner and had challenged the verity of Paul's press pass. Normally Paul waited patiently, but tonight he yearned to retreat from the lobby. Scott was probably wondering where he was, and he couldn't take his eyes off of the beautiful woman across the room. Paul couldn't help it. The woman looked exactly like Jenny. She caught Paul's eye again. He looked away, chagrined.
A short-statured man in a stuffier version of the other hotel staffs' uniforms strode over to Paul irately. "Let me see this press pass of yours," he snapped without making eye contact. Paul frowned and handed the pass to him. The man glanced at the laminated paper and his brusque demeanor evaporated. "Mr. Forrester!" he exclaimed with a delighted and apologetic smile. Paul noticed the woman who wasn't Jenny look their way. "Welcome! I'm Carl Merchany, Assistant Manager, and I personally apologize for all of this." Carl pumped Paul's hand. "Having a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer covering one of the Crowne Plaza's events is an honor indeed. We--"
"Thank you, Mr. Merchany," Paul interrupted. He felt the woman's eyes on him and wanted out of the lobby. He took a step towards the main hallway, gripping the strap of his camera bag. "I'd better get to work now."
Merchany started down the hall with him. "I'll show you to the dining room personally, Mr. Forrester." Paul resigned himself to the man's chatter, happy that he was away from Jenny's lookalike. "You would not believe the stories people have concocted to get in here tonight," Merchany continued. "Just a few minutes ago two men - one of them was at least forty! - waved fake badges at me claiming they were federal agents."
Paul rounded on Merchany. "Two men, just a few minutes ago?" he echoed with barely-suppressed alarm.
Merchany chuckled. "Yeah, can you believe that? Forty-year-old groupies!"
Paul put on what he hoped was an amused smile. "I believe it. Thanks for your help, Mr. Merchany." Paul nodded down the hall at the double doors fifty feet ahead. "I can see the dining room from here. I'll go on ahead." Paul strode down the hall before Merchany had a chance to say anything else. Through the open doors of the dining room Paul saw a dozen white-uniformed bus boys moving between tables. He strained to see which of them was Scott as he approached.
Paul stepped into the doorway and nearly collided with a dark-haired man wearing an entirely black suit. The man dodged around Paul without even a glance. Paul frowned at him over his shoulder and moved away into the spacious, elegantly decorated dining room. He stood out of the flow of traffic against the back wall and peered about. Several of the bus boys resembled Scott, but a second look proved that none was his son. Paul wondered where he was.
"Paul," a familiar female voice said to his left. He turned towards the voice and found Jenny's twin standing ten feet in front of him. She met his eyes and smiled. "I missed you so much," she said breathlessly. Paul blinked in stunned surprise as the striking woman rushed up to him. She's not Jenny! Paul told himself, but he was spellbound by the vision of his beloved standing a few short inches away. She tilted her head back and gazed at him with luminous blue eyes. Paul leaned forward to touch his lips to hers.
The woman stepped backwards and slapped Paul in one smooth motion. The furious woman and the room behind her swam before Paul's eyes. "Don't flatter yourself, you pompous bastard!" she hissed. Paul stared at her wordlessly and waited for the room to stop spinning. "You've got nothing to say, huh?" she spat, keeping her voice down. "Not like the last time I saw you two years ago. 'I missed you so much,'" she mocked. "Not a word from you for months, then you show up with that line. To think I believed you, and then you disappeared again!" She shook her head and glared at Paul. "Found your voice yet?" she smirked.
Paul's head had cleared during the woman's tirade. "I'm sorry--"
"You got that right, you sorry excuse for a human being," she growled. Her eyes darted towards the middle of the dining room. "Don't even think about pulling one of your stunts tonight, or I'll call security so fast it will make your head spin!" She abruptly turned on her heel and stalked away.
Paul watched woman who thankfully wasn't Jenny disappear into the crowd out of the corner of his eye. He rubbed his aching jaw and shuddered. He never wanted to see Jenny that angry.
Scott pocketed his sphere as he hurried out of the dining room into the wide main hall. He made the first left and strode down a narrower hallway leading to the service entrance. Scott was wondering where his father was when he saw him - in a tuxedo! - step out of the men's room twenty feet ahead. Where'd he get that tux from? Scott wondered momentarily, then dismissed the thought. They had more important things to worry about. "Dad," Scott called, "I got it! Let's go!"
His father peered at him skeptically. "Do I know you?" he frowned.
Scott stopped in his tracks. He scrutinized the tuxedoed man and blanched. Although the dark-haired, blue-eyed man looked exactly like Paul, Scott instinctively knew that the man wasn't his father. There was only one other person he could be. "Paul Forrester?" Scott whispered. "You're alive?"
The man's face twisted in puzzlement. "Who's Paul Forrester?" he asked and took a step towards Scott.
What the hell is going on around here?! Scott thought in near-panic. He darted around the man who was neither Paul Forrester nor his father and set off down the hall at a dead run. Scott scrambled around the corner where the hall turned left towards the service entrance and skidded to a stop. He listened for pursuing footsteps and tried to calm himself. Only muzac and the soft whoosh of air rushing through vents rose to his ears.
Scott relaxed a little. He looked around the deserted corridor for a less conspicuous place to use his sphere. A phone alcove was set into the left-hand wall. Scott ducked into it, sat down on the narrow bench, and pulled out his sphere. After one last glance around he connected with the sphere, bathing himself and the hall in front of the alcove in pale blue light. Scott focused his full attention on the glowing metal ball in his hand. I want to see where Dad is, he thought determinedly. An image formed in his mind's eye: Paul standing against the rear wall of the dining room near the doors, scanning the room with his eyes.
He's in the dining room?! Scott thought incredulously. The sphere abruptly silenced and dimmed. How did we miss each other?! Scott stood up, returned his sphere to his pocket, and looked reluctantly at the corner that lead to the dining room. Scott walked purposefully back the way he came, hoping that the third Paul Forrester was long gone.
After dodging the idiot blocking the doorway, Austin slowed to a stop in the wide main hall and peered down its length for the kid. No white-uniformed bus boys were in sight. He wasn't that far ahead of me, Austin thought and continued down the hall. A narrower hallway intersected the main one a few feet to Austin's left. The arrow of a discreet sign marked "Restrooms / Service Entrance" pointed down the smaller hallway. Austin turned left and quickened his pace.
The hallway was vacant except for a tall, dark-haired man wearing a tuxedo and a bewildered expression. Austin strode past him. The hallway turned left about 30 feet in front of Austin. He stopped after he'd covered half of the distance, figuring that the kid and his enigmatic sphere were long gone out the service entrance. Austin sighed in defeat.
A flash of light caught Austin's eye. His gaze was drawn to a round convex mirror mounted in the corner from the ceiling. Blue light radiated from a point on the left side of the mirror, and a soft hum competed with the hotel's muzak. Austin took a few quiet steps closer and studied the mirror's image. The distorted reflection showed a dark-haired boy dressed in white holding a small glowing object in his hand. Austin's breath caught. He fought off the urge to rush around the corner and grab the sphere from the kid.
"Excuse me," Micki's voice carried down the hallway, "aren't you Robert Hays?" Austin groaned inwardly. He continued staring at the incredible scene in the convex mirror.
"Yes, that's me," a man's voice replied. In the mirror the blue light emanating from the boy's hand died abruptly along with the quiet hum. The kid stood up and turned towards the mirror.
Austin looked around frantically for somewhere to hide - he didn't want to spook the kid. Micki and the dark-haired tuxedoed man - Hays - stood near the mouth of the hallway. "You were hilarious in the Airplane movies," she complimented the actor, who smiled.
Maybe I should join this conversation temporarily, Austin thought, and walked rapidly towards them. He listened for the kid's footsteps behind him.
Scott rounded the corner to find the third Paul Forrester, Micki, and Austin conversing at the far end of the hallway. I think I'll go around the long way, Scott thought and turned on his heel. Movement near the ceiling caught his eye, and Scott noticed the convex mirror for the first time. Its distorted image showed two suited men of very different heights walking through the service entrance. Scott inhaled sharply. Not Fox and Wylie, not now! He spun around and walked rapidly towards the lesser of the two evils. The woman's voice carried down the hall.
"Austin," Micki said excitedly, "have you met Robert Hays, the actor?" Scott breathed a sigh of relief from the confirmation that his father's twin wasn't the real Paul Forrester. Austin, who stood with his back to Scott, shook his head.
"Mr. Hays, this is my friend Austin. Oh, and I'm Micki, Micki Castle," she bubbled happily.
Scott moved to the left side of the hallway to avoid the group. "It's very nice to meet you," Hays replied.
Micki's eyes found Scott and widened in surprise. She cocked her head in his direction. "Austin, it's the kid!" she said in a near whisper. Scott broke into a run. Austin whirled and grabbed Scott's arm.
Scott twisted in Austin's surprisingly strong grasp. Scott glared at his adversary. "Let go of me!" he hissed. "You don't know what you're doing!" Scott glanced anxiously over his shoulder down the hallway. Fox and Wylie hadn't rounded the corner - yet.
Austin produced the ball bearing from his pocket and held it in front of Scott. "Not until you tell me what your version of this is," he said harshly. Curiosity burned brightly in his blue eyes.
Hays stepped forward. "What's the matter with you?" the actor demanded. "Let go of the kid!" Austin didn't budge.
A tall figure rounded the corner from the main hallway and stopped short. All eyes turned to the newcomer. "Dad!" Scott cried with relief while Micki, Austin, and Hays gaped at the actor's twin. Austin's grip loosened. Scott jerked his arm free, ran to his father's side, and hauled him by the arm down the main hallway towards the dining room.
Paul glanced over his shoulder as he was dragged down the hall, then turned back to his son. "Was that the real--"
"No, that's some actor that looks just like you," Scott explained hurriedly. "That's not important. Fox and Wylie are here. They came in the service entrance just before Austin grabbed me. We've got to get out of here!"
Scott released Paul's arm as they approached the double doors leading into the dining room. They strode inside. Scott turned left along the back wall with Paul in tow. They wove around bustling waitresses, waiters, and bus boys who hindered their progress. Scott leaned closer to his father and lowered his voice. "Where were you, and how'd you find me, anyway?"
"I felt you use your sphere. The rest can wait 'till later," Paul replied quietly. "Where are we going? Is there another exit on this side of the building?"
Scott nodded. "The loading dock is--"
"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen," said a female voice over the amplifiers. Father and son looked towards the front of the room. A slender brunette in a deep red evening gown greeted her audience from the podium. "Thank you all for coming. The Phoenix Women's Foundation appreciates your generosity and support...." Paul was transfixed again by Jenny's twin. He smiled despite his dully aching jaw and bumped into Scott, nearly knocking him over. Scott didn't seem to notice. He stared wide-eyed at the woman who looked and sounded like the hologram of his mother that Paul had created for him only two weeks ago. "Mom?" he whispered.
Paul grasped Scott's shoulders and turned his son towards him. "No, Scott," he said gently. "She's not your mother. Trust me." Scott stubbornly turned his eyes back to the double of his mother. His faced creased with bitter disappointment.
An anxious undercurrent rippled through the crowd. Father and son followed the diners' turned heads and found Wylie skirting around tables towards Jenny's twin. Scott and Paul rushed forward towards the double doors set into the left-hand wall. A second round of murmurs crescendoed behind them. "Who the hell is Paul Forrester?!?" a man's voice shouted suddenly. Paul and Scott looked quickly behind them and saw Fox pulling Hays' hands behind his back. Several men and women at nearby tables jumped up and rushed over to the FSA agent and the actor. Austin and Micki broke out of the gathering crowd and ran towards Paul and Scott.
"Who are you people?" the woman at the podium demanded irately. "Security!" The crowd's concerned mutters became an outraged din.
"This is insane!" Scott cried as he and Paul neared the double doors. Three hotel security guards appeared in the doorway. Paul and Scott skidded to a halt. Scott looked at his father anxiously. "Now what?!"
Austin appeared beside Scott, who jumped and backed up against his father. Austin jabbed a finger towards the front of the room. "The emergency exit," he declared. Paul and Scott exchanged wary looks.
Micki frowned and gestured at the commotion behind them. "What are you waiting for?" She shot an agitated look at Paul. "It won't take them long to figure out that he's not you!" The four of them dodged around anxious hotel staff and patrons towards the emergency exit. Scott quickly took the lead and slammed into the wide metal handle across the door. The door swung open and the clanging of the hotel's fire alarm added to the cacophony.
The group spilled out on the dark sidewalk outside. Paul turned right and sprinted towards the Nova parked a half block down the street with Scott on his heels. Micki and Austin trailed a short distance behind. Father and son stopped alongside the Nova and turned to face their uninvited guests. Austin stopped a few feet in front of them. Micki joined him a second later, holding her high-heeled shoes in one hand. They both gasped for air.
"Don't you think you've done enough for one day?" Scott shouted. "Get out of here!"
"No, wait!" Austin panted. "They'll recognize your car. Come with us. You need somewhere to hide." He paused to catch his breath.
Scott laughed derisively. "You just want my sphere back," he spat. He looked up at his father. "Let's go, Dad. We don't have much time."
Austin turned to Paul earnestly. "I just want some answers," he said quietly. "Please."
Paul studied him briefly. He understood the intense curiosity that shone in Austin's eyes. "Where's your car?" Paul asked. Austin smiled broadly. Micki blinked in surprise.
"What!?" Scott exclaimed.
Paul looked at his son with quiet authority. "Get your things, Scott," he said and grasped the door handle.
Scott shot a distrustful glance at Austin and Micki. "Dad, they're friends with the cop!" he protested. "And we can't ditch this car already - we've only had it for two days!"
Paul opened the car door, grabbed Scott's backpack, and thrust it at his son. Scott took it silently. "We can come back for the car later. Hopefully Fox will overlook it. Right now we need to disappear for a while." Paul retrieved his duffel bag, closed the car door, and turned to Austin expectantly. Scott glowered but didn't argue.
Austin's smile faded slightly as he watched his mysterious companions' exchange. "This way," he said and took a step down the sidewalk away from the hotel. Austin stopped in mid-stride and looked back at Micki sheepishly. "Where'd we park again?" he asked, chagrined.
Micki grinned and nodded across and further down the street. "That way." Her green eyes twinkled mischievously. "They wouldn't accept your station wagon for valet parking, remember?"
The lone traffic light solemnly patrolling a dark, deserted intersection in Phoenix's warehouse district turned green. Micki steered Austin's aging station wagon left towards her boss's home. She couldn't wait to get there to escape the uneasy silence permeating the wagon's interior.
Paul's voice broke the silence. "Are we going to the warehouse?"
Austin twisted around in the front passenger and faced Paul. "How do you know where I live?" he demanded.
"You live there?" Scott asked incredulously.
"He's done a lot with the place," Micki interjected with a wry grin. Austin frowned at her.
Paul smiled at Austin. "I've got a good sense of direction." Austin scrutinized Paul with renewed curiosity.
The station wagon slowed to a stop in front of the drab warehouse. The group climbed out into the dim light cast by sporadic streetlamps. Micki turned to Austin. "Mind if I, uh, stick around for a little while?" she asked with a furtive glance at Scott and Paul.
"Sure," Austin shrugged and smiled slightly. He was glad to have another pair of eyes to keep tabs on Scott, who had quietly sulked through the majority of the drive from the hotel. Paul he wasn't worried about for some reason - the latest addition to his list of mysteries. He turned on his heel, and the others followed him to the keypad and monitor set into the wall beside the industrial-strength front door. Austin felt Paul's and Scott's eyes on him as he punched a complicated alphanumeric sequence on the keypad. The door's deadbolts retracted from the frame with a soft thunk.
"I bet he does have the Ark in there," Scott muttered under his breath. Austin shot a puzzled glance at the boy over his shoulder. Micki giggled. Scott grinned briefly at his appreciative audience.
Austin pushed the door open. He and Micki strode into the circle of light pouring down from above. Paul and Scott reluctantly followed, peering warily into the surrounding darkness. They jumped when the door shut behind them. Scott grabbed his father's arm and Paul regarded Austin with alarm. "What is this place?" Paul asked tersely. Palpable fear radiated from him and his son.
These guys are in some serious trouble, Austin thought nervously. Curiosity as to its cause quickly replaced Austin's unease. "This is my home - my lab, my playground, my own little microcosm," Austin replied with what he hoped was a consoling smile. Paul and Scott stared at him skeptically. Austin frowned. I've got to get them to relax, otherwise I'll never get any answers out of them. He pulled his lapel mic from his suit pocket and clipped it onto his collar. "All lights, twenty-five percent," he snapped. The network of spotlights overhead dimly lit the expansive interior. Scott, Paul, and Micki gaped at the collection of wooden and metal boxes, cabinets, tables, and assorted contraptions organized into neat rows around them. Bundles of cables and power cords snaked down each corridor. It looked like a mad scientist's garage sale.
Austin smiled unabashedly. "I normally keep the lights down to conserve electricity. This place can suck up a lot of juice." Paul and Scott continued to peer around curiously. "This way," he told them, striding deeper into the warehouse. Micki and his enigmatic guests followed. "I think you'll feel a lot more comfortable in the living room."
Paul and Scott sat at one end of the overstuffed couch in the carpeted living area. Micki perched on the arm of the couch at the opposite end. Austin stood a few feet from her facing his guests. He fished the metal ball out of his pocket, held it up between his thumb and forefinger, and looked at Scott. "Steel ball bearing, right?" Scott nodded. "Clever." His gaze widened to include father and son. "So what's the original made of?"
"I can't tell you," Paul replied.
Austin frowned at him irritably. "Why not?"
"Because you don't have a word for it."
Austin blew out an exasperated breath. "Well, what is it then?" he demanded.
Paul pulled his sphere from his pocket and held it in his open palm. Austin looked at it enviously. "It's a tool I brought with me from home."
Austin tore his gaze from the sphere and looked at Paul curiously. "Where's that?"
"Algeiba." Austin gulped audibly.
"Isn't that near Portofino?" Micki queried.
"Algeiba, as in gamma Leonis?" Austin asked breathlessly.
"Oh, it's in Greece, not Italy," Micki murmured. Scott snickered.
Austin shot an impatient look at her. "Micki, it's a binary star 125 light years away!" Micki frowned at him momentarily, then her eyes grew wide with understanding. She jumped to her feet and goggled at Paul and Scott. Scott sighed wearily. Paul watched the scene with a slightly amused half-smile.
"And this Fox knows this?" Austin continued quietly.
"Why else do you think he's chasing us?" Scott said disparagingly.
Austin fixed his curious gaze on Scott. "So you're Algeiban, too?"
"Half. My mother's from Wisconsin."
"Really?" Micki asked with a tentative smile. "So's mine." Scott shrugged indifferently. "Her maiden name is Isley." Both Paul and Scott did a double take. Micki blinked with surprise. "What?"
Scott suppressed an ironic grin. "Nothing, nevermind."
"Are you two finished yet?" Austin snapped.
Micki crossed her arms and frowned at him. "Yes, sir," she said sarcastically.
Austin turned abruptly towards Paul. "So, Paul -- may I call you Paul?" Austin asked awkwardly. Paul smiled and nodded. Austin looked at the sphere in Paul's hand. "Your, uh "
"Sphere," Paul supplied.
Austin nodded. "Your spheres seem to have some amazing electromagnetic properties," he said eagerly. "How is it that "
Micki wearily watched her boss launch into technobabble. Paul readily answered the first of what was sure to be a myriad of questions. Scott's attention, however, seemed to be wavering. Micki turned towards him. "Hey, do you like computer games?" she asked with a playful grin.
"Sure," Scott replied with a cautious smile.
"Great! I installed Castle Wolfenstein on Austin's computer, but he'll never play it with me." She nodded towards the PC on one of Austin's workbenches a few feet from the living area. "Interested?"
"Yeah!" They stood up and headed towards Austin's computer. As they walked Scott scrutinized the redhead out of the corner of his eye. They reached the workbench and Micki rolled a second chair next to the one parked in front of the monitor. "Micki?" Scott asked quietly.
"Mm-hmm?" she murmured as she booted up the 486.
"Why are you so comfortable around me and my dad?"
Micki met his eyes with a wry grin. "Blame Austin. You wouldn't believe some of the stuff he's subjected me to - cryogenically-frozen murder victims, insane supercomputers, and a homicidal elevator. None of that was in my job description!"
Scott blinked a few times. "You work for him?"
"Yeah," Micki grinned. "I'm his secretary." Scott looked at her askance. Micki's smile grew. She turned her attention to the computer, starting up the adventure game with a few quick keystrokes and teaching Scott the keyboard commands. Soon they were blasting away at two-dimensional Nazis.
An SS guard jumped around a corner. Micki picked off the pixely figure with a single shot. She's good, Scott thought approvingly. He snuck a sidelong glance at her. Micki, still wearing her plum-colored evening gown, leaned towards the glowing screen with her orange curls tumbling onto her shoulders. The digitized sound of an exploding grenade emanated from the speakers. "Take that!" Micki cried triumphantly. Scott wished he were a few years older.
Shortly after midnight the bleary-eyed Scott and Micki joined Paul and Austin in the living area. The two men stood at the counter over several pieces of scrap paper. Austin added a few lines to the hand-drawn diagram in front of them and looked at Paul expectantly.
"No, not quite," Paul explained. "It's due to the spin of the electrons in the D orbital."
Austin frowned at the diagram. A satisfied smile spread across his face. "Oh, I see it now. But what about "
Scott flopped down on the couch and regarded Austin and his father. He looked up at his new friend with an amused smile. "This could go on all night," he informed Micki.
"Seriously," she yawned. "I think I'm going to head home. I'll be back around eight to make sure Mr. Wizard--" she nodded at Austin with a grin "-- remembers to take your ball bearing back to Miles."
"Thanks" Scott said gratefully "for all of your help tonight, at the hotel and in Castle Wolfenstein."
"My pleasure," Micki smiled. She turned towards Austin and Paul, who poured over a new sketch, and pointedly cleared her throat. "Good night."
The men looked up. Austin flashed a quick smile at her. "'Night, Micki. See you tomorrow." His attention returned abruptly to the diagram.
Paul straightened and regarded her with his easy smile. "Good night, and thanks." Micki returned the smile, slipped her feet into her high heels, and clicked across the warehouse's concrete floor.
Scott kicked off his shoes and stretched out on the sofa. He closed his eyes and curled up on his side. Paul's voice interrupted his and Austin's current debate. "Good night, Scott. Sleep tight."
"Thanks, Dad," he murmured. "I will." The couch was a lot more comfortable than the hard ground that he and his father had been camping out on lately. Austin's and Paul's quiet banter soon lulled Scott to sleep.
"Do we really have to leave already?" Scott asked his father plaintively. They stood in the morning sun behind and across the street from the Crowne Plaza Hotel with their few bags. Austin and Micki strode down the sidewalk towards Paul's blue Nova, which was still parked a short distance from hotel's service entrance.
Paul raised an eyebrow and fixed his son with an ironic look. "Scott, you were the one shouting 'Get out of here' at them not two days ago."
Scott shrugged. "Well, yeah, but that was before we knew that they're okay."
"And that Austin's rich?"
"That doesn't hurt either," Scott grinned. They turned their eyes back to their new friends. Austin slowly circled the car with a boxy black gizmo in his extended hand. Micki watched him from the sidewalk. She glanced around occasionally for curious onlookers.
Austin completed his circuit, nodded at Micki, and joined her on the sidewalk. Micki turned towards Paul and Scott with a smile and waved at them. Paul noticed Micki's smile reflected in his son's face. "I think that you think one of them is more than okay," he commented with a grin.
Scott shot a surprised look at Paul, then quickly covered it with nonchalance. "Don't be ridiculous," he scoffed. Paul shrugged diplomatically. Scott frowned and motioned towards the car. "Are we leaving or what?" he said gruffly and started forward. Paul followed after him. They joined their new friends beside the Nova.
"No bugs," Austin announced with a smile.
"Thanks for checking," Paul said. "I'd be surprised if there were any. The car's so new that Fox doesn't even know we have it." He opened the back door, dropped his duffel and camera bags on the seat, shut the door, and turned back to the others. The four regarded each other silently for a moment.
Micki smiled wistfully. "Be careful, both of you," she said softly. Scott felt his face flush and looked down.
Austin handed a plastic card to Paul, who took it and peered at it curiously. "It's a calling card. There are instructions on the back along with my phone number. Call me anytime, anywhere. I'll do whatever I can to help."
"Thank you," Paul said and pocketed the card.
"No, thank you," Austin replied, regarding Paul with a little awe. "We're so lucky to have you here, and the idiots chasing you are too stupid to realize it." He scowled and looked away abruptly.
Paul clapped his hand on his son's shoulder. "Let's go, Scott," he said and moved to the driver's side door. Scott opened the front passenger door, deposited his backpack on the seat, and turned back to Austin and Micki. "Thanks for everything," Scott said sincerely. He smiled shyly at Micki. "It's been fun."
"You're welcome," Micki replied. Her friendly smile turned mischievous. "Come back and visit us. We could go to the next charity dinner together."
Scott chuckled and blushed a little more. "We'll keep an eye on the papers," he managed.
Paul and Scott climbed into the car. Paul started the Nova's engine and pulled into the light morning traffic. Scott watched Micki's and Austin's images shrink and disappear in the side mirror. He sighed wearily and turned to his father. "So, where to now?"
"I was thinking northeast," Paul replied.
"Northeast?" Scott echoed with a puzzled frown. "There's nothing out there but desert."
Paul shook his head. "It's not completely deserted." A small smile spread across his face. "There's Winslow, and Flagstaff, and the--"
"The meteor crater!" Scott exclaimed with an enthusiastic grin. "Cool!" The smile faded a little. "D'you think that Mom may be somewhere nearby? It's kind of a logical place to look."
"Perhaps," Paul shrugged noncommittally. He had thought the same thing but hadn't said it aloud so he wouldn't get Scott's hopes up. He suspected that Jenny had run far from Arizona after Saguaro.
"I mean, talk about poetic justice," Scott continued semi-seriously. "To end our search at the place where you had to leave in the first place."
Paul's lips formed a tiny wistful smile. "Yes, in Arizonamaybe."
Many thanks go to Nina for allowing me to borrow some of her ideas from her own conclusion to this scenario. Specifically, they are:
- Scott posing as a bus boy to get into the hotel
- Hotel security refusing to let Fox and Wylie into the hotel, thinking that their badges are fake
- "Forty year-old groupies!"