Episode 1125

Hair of the Dog

by: Helen Earl and Sue Johnson


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As the haze of Leaping dissipated, Sam was aware of a number of contrasting feelings. His eyes were closed, and some instinct told him not to be in any hurry to change that just yet.


He was lying down on his side, and relaxed - his host had been asleep. Yet he instantly felt tense, more than the unfamiliarity of a leap-in warranted. He could feel warmth and softness to either side of him, furry covers, yet a chill touched his naked flesh. A growl from his bedfellow when he moved to pull the wrappings over him warned him she (he hoped it was a she!) was in no mood to share. The ‘bed’ itself, beneath his body, was hard - not firm, but hard - and rough like concrete.


Sam drew in a deep breath; the air was cold to his lungs and made him gasp.  He also smelt his companion’s breath, and ‘she’ definitely needed the benefit of some toothpaste!


He gingerly opened one eye, just a slit at first, then wide with incredulity. Suddenly, he was wide-awake and sitting up, but not daring to move any further. He was outdoors, though within an enclosure of wire fencing, and his bedmate and the covers were one in the same – he found himself stark buck-naked sandwiched between two adult gray wolves!


Wondering what he had got himself into now, the time-traveler uttered his time-honored phrase:  “Oh boy!”





Sam struggled to control his breathing. The wolves still slumbered and he had no desire to alter that state of affairs. He wanted to bolt, to get away before they decided he would make a tasty breakfast, but he was paralyzed with fear, and trying hard not to let the scent of his terror reach their nostrils.


“A-A-Al!” he let out a stage whisper, those two letters forming a cry for help, a need for a friendly face, a whole host of questions and so much more.


Though he had little expectation of an immediate response, his holographic observer did in fact materialize a foot or so in front of him, making him jump, which in turn caused his canine cousins to stir.


“G-get… me…out…of here.” Sam ordered through gritted teeth.


Al took stock of his situation and blanched.  He took a couple of cautious steps backwards, and looked from Sam’s bare flesh to the furry animals flanking him on either side.


“Oooooooh Sam, I don’t like this!” he commented, as if Sam were enjoying the situation!


“I’ve seen the movie, Sam, and I know there’s only one reason to wake up naked in a wolf pen – you’re a – a David Kessler, Sam. You’ve leaped into a werewolf!”


The ridiculousness of the statement almost made Sam laugh out loud, were he not still trying to keep his companions unconscious. Keeping his eyes firmly upon them, the physicist rose cautiously to his feet.

“There… are… no… such… things… as… werewolves… A,l” still through gritted teeth, and sotto voice as he backed ever so slowly away, his hands instinctively clasping together in front of him, in modesty and to protect his assets.


Al looked around nervously; Sam could almost swear he was checking to see if he had any silver on his person. Sam watched the movies too, and knew that legends told how werewolves had to be shot by a silver bullet, and by somebody who cared for them. Dr Beckett was suddenly grateful that the hologram would not be able to fulfill that function, since Al’s superstitious nature could easily make him trigger-happy.

"Down Sam! Down!" Al alerted his friend, his hands articulated with the same urgency as his tone. "Use all fours—ya don't want everyone seeing a critter walking around on hind legs, do ya? You'll attract attention."


Sam immediately crouched and placed his hands on the ground between his legs. He sighed; relieved at sustaining some semblance of dignity, though he did still feel – somewhat exposed.  "What does Ziggy say I'm here to do, this time?" Sam asked stupendously.


Al chomped at his lower lip and Sam immediately knew that Ziggy hadn't come up with anything – again.  Al shook his head. "Nada, my furry pal," he snickered. "Ziggy's keeping very tight lipped on this one. She's sayin' somethin' about takin' timeout." His cheek twitched as he spoke the last few words.


Sam glowered at his exuberant friend and changed the subject, "Sometimes I wonder about her Al, she's getting to be excessively unreceptive and all too often of late.”


"Whatcha mean Sam, 'getting'? Ain't she always been that way?"

Sam winced, looking away and down at his two recumbent companions. He then noticed that one of them was indeed female, very female, and very pregnant.


"Don't say that I'm here to play midwife?" Sam asked, ungraciously, feeling totally aghast he glanced at his friend, who just stood, shrugged his shoulders, and grinned. "No! No! Not again!" the physicist spouted shaking his head and slouching his shoulders as he vaguely recalled a previous Leap but not remembering the exact details.


"Whatcha mean, again?" Al asked, mystified and then several recollections started to stir within his gray cells. "Animal? Or, ahem, giving birth? You've been one and, whoo boy, almost done the other." He satirized again.


"Al!" Sam frowned.


"Don't look at me like that—stop it!" Al mitigated, superciliously. "I can't help it if ya brain expunges itself every few days or so."


"Can't you pull anything up, the date for instance? What year is it? It would really be nice to know what decade I'm in," Sam asked caustically as he shifted his position slightly to look about him.


The Observer fished out the handlink from his inside breast pocket. "I'm tellin' ya, Ziggy's not her usual self, the mood she's in, she may not even speak—to either of us." he warned his friend before summoning the holographic image.


As the hybrid computer's persona pixilated into focus, she yawned sleepily. "Ahhh, yes, Admiral? You knew I was taking some downtime to recoup my internal resources. What is it that requires you to call upon me and is so urgent that you couldn't wait until after my nap?" she mouthed and blinked her eyes fitfully as if she was blinking out the light.


Al's eyebrows rose in superficiality as his eyes closed. "Told ya!" the Observer verified. "She's gettin' progressively more irritating since Stephen started taking more of an interest in her."


"Just the usual boring stuff… where I am, when I'm at… nothing all that exciting," Sam said politely but with a hint of sarcasm. "…And why am I wearing a fur coat?"


The Observer snickered, "If that's a fur coat, then I'm as naked as a jaybird."


"You are a jaybird, Al!" Sam commented, "either that or a peacock!"


"Quiet… children," Ziggy said with a frown. "You're giving my headache, a headache."


"Now she's got a headache. I don't believe this, Sam!" the Admiral construed warily as he strutted back and forth in his iridescent, peacock blue suit, flaunting the divergent pink of his shirt in an amazing display of colors.


“I’m getting one of my own looking at you, Al,” retorted Sam, “Not to mention freezing my tail off out here. I want some answers and I want them now!” He was still speaking in constrained tones, anxious that his ‘pen’ pals continue to slumber as long as possible.


Casting around him to see if he could ascertain anything helpful for himself, he noted that the enclosure was generously sized, and of varied terrain, a pleasant enough habitat for those of lupine ancestry.

The lush verdant foliage here and in neighboring enclosures, groaning with blossom suggested that it was late Spring or early Summer, probably the former since there was scant warmth to be felt from the sun that was rising as reluctantly as a student on the first day of school, resentfully painting candy floss pink touches to the clouds in the early morning sky.


Sam glared at the still unforthcoming Ziggy. She tossed her holographic hair haughtily.


“Very well, since it is obvious that I shall not enjoy a moment’s peace until I have imparted these banalities…”


Ziggy clearly believed that it was beneath her dignity to have to act as calendar, almanac, and address book.


“It is early morning, it is early April, it is 1997 and you are in the Mexican Wolf enclosure at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in northwest Washington D.C.”


Sam shuddered, hunching down further to reduce the surface area through which to lose body heat. His companions did not seem troubled by the cold, and slept on, twitching occasionally as if dreaming of hunting down their prey. Sam hoped fervently that they would not act out their dreams with his carcass as the prize.


“Your bedfellows are Luka, the Alpha male, and his mate Moonshadow, Alpha female of the pack. Your name is Marcus. I suggest that you proceed with extreme caution and ensure that Luka has no reason to think you are challenging him for leadership. There are currently no other members of the pack, until the pups are born in fifteen days time, since Luka fought and killed the previous alpha male, Serge, six months ago.”


Sam gulped, and looked over his shoulder nervously at the wolf napping behind him. He cautiously rose up a little, and loped forward, putting more distance between himself and the leader of the pack.

"And…" Sam said as he turned to look nervously at the sleeping wolves then back towards the two holograms. "…what am I here to put right?"

The Admiral, once again shrugged his shoulders. "Since Zig told Bena that you were a wolf, she hasn't dared to go anywhere near the Waiting Room. She's protesting that it isn't in her job description to interview wild animals." Al shifted his weight to the other foot before starting to pace again. "And since we won't be getting any info from the Leapee, and Ziggy's nonconformity, there's nothing coming through."  

Sam glared from the upright hologram, to the partially phased image as Ziggy haughtily tossed her head away from her creator. "Ziggy, why are you being so… obstreperous?" he asked with a grimace.

"Was it not bad enough the last time, when you Leapt into a primate?" Ziggy enthused calculatingly. "I fear this is an insult to my reputation, my integrity, and I refuse to be coerced now that you've Leapt into this humbled canine clan! It is humiliating."

Sam shook his head, not believing just what it was he was hearing.

"Ah! Listen to Miss Morals!" Al interjected. "If you weren't a hologram, I swear I'd… I'd…" Al bit furiously at his lower lip and screwed up his fist, ominously. "Well, I would if you weren't."


“Indeed? I do believe you are starting to sound like father, Admiral. My memory banks contain numerous entries where he expresses similar frustration at your non-corporeal nature.”


“She’s got you there, Al!” conceded Sam with a chuckle, watching Al getting virtually apoplectic as Ziggy gloated.


Al glowered at him, then chuckled back, “Now she’s got you!” he chortled, as Sam jumped forward with a shriek, startled by the nudge of a cold wet nose sniffing at his bare butt.


“Do not forget that I advised caution in dealing with the alpha pair, Dr. Beckett. It would be better if you allowed Moonshadow to conclude her examination.”


The female gray wolf was not pleased at the sound ‘Marcus’ had made. Nor was she happy about the way he smelt. It was not familiar. She had never known Marcus to smell like this before. She emitted a low growl, which attracted the attention of her mate.


Luka padded up sleepily to see what the fuss was about.


"There's nothing like being stalked," Al said, amused as Luka joined in with the sniffing process.

Sam crouched stock still not daring even to breathe; he even tried to suppress his trembling hands as they took most of his weight on the ground. That was until Luka decided to take a special interest in Sam.
Standing on his hind legs, Luka placed his forelegs on Sam's back and Al, although amused, grimaced when Moonshadow let out a low howl of discontent.


Sam let out a growl of his own to warn the amorous animal off and immediately shot up to a standing position and edged away warily, shrugging off the unwanted advances of his admirer.


“I don’t think he understands dog, Sam!” put in Al as Luka tried again to mount the time traveler. "No way!" Sam said as softly as his tremulous voice would allow. "No way am I gonna be humiliated like this!"

"Humiliated?" Al said pretentiously, biting at his lower lip to curb a snicker. "I think he likes you Sam, what's humiliating about that?"


“You telling me that you’d be flattered by the attention? I don’t think so, Al.”


Both wolves turned now to face Sam, and paced backward and forward restlessly, growling in disgruntlement. As they advanced, so Sam retreated, once more down on all fours, and sidling away awkwardly as he kept his eyes on his adversaries. They looked as if they could pounce at any moment, and he wanted to be sure they didn’t gain the advantage. Though the fact that they were herding him didn’t bode well. Sam glanced round nervously to make sure he was not about to be cornered. Luckily the enclosure was vast and fairly open, he had plenty of room to move.


The rough terrain grated at his hands and feet, but he hardly noticed. He was too busy trying to still his pounding heart.


The Alpha male was panting, his tongue lolling, his eyes bright. Sam found it very disconcerting.


“Easy now, big fella,” he exhorted Luka, in what he hoped was a conciliatory tone. “Nothing personal, you’re just not my type!”


Al spluttered, unable to contain his amusement.


“Oh, I’m so glad you’re enjoying yourself, Al” Sam shot snidely at his holographic partner, as he circled around in a three-way tango with his two hirsute partners.


He tried hard to maintain eye contact with at least one of them at all times, not backing down, yet not threatening. All the while he was attempting to convince them by his body language that he would not stand for being bullied, but that they had nothing to fear from him.

At first, there was much snarling and baring of teeth from the alpha pair, until Sam felt so intimidated he realized he had to do something before they decided to rip him to shreds and play toss with his bones.

He began snarling back, trying to mimic the exact cadence of their vocalizations, harmonizing, echoing their intonations, announcing himself as their equal.


Gradually, the sounds became less hostile, more inquisitive, and then almost playful. Sam let his own language match theirs at every stage, and did not resist when they approached him closer. He moved toward them, making the group tight knit, and establishing himself as an integral part of it. He was careful not to flinch when they began sniffing again, at his head and neck, even at his hindquarters. Just so long as Luka didn’t get amorous again, Sam would put up with the intrusion. He sniffed himself, though from a discreet distance, and nowhere delicate.


Finally, having declared a draw, the wolves lost interest in him, and began padding around in search of breakfast.


Sam realized he was hungry too; his stomach began growling almost as loudly as Luka had been a few minutes before.


He began following the pair across the expanse. They seemed to know where they were going, and he trailed along, eager to discover what was on the menu, yet at the same time worried it would be as unappetizing and unpalatable as the fare he’d been forced to consume as a simian.


The wolves made their way across rocky outcroppings and grassy knolls until they came to a gated area, dividing the inner enclosure, which was obviously their sleeping area, from the vast plains of their outer enclosure where they roamed during the day.


The gate was open, and as they rounded a hillock they found what they sought.


A huge metallic silver bowl had been laid down, brim full of water, and a matching one sat alongside, heaped to bursting with what Al informed Sam was a special mix based on dry dog food. It looked and smelled very unappealing, and Sam’s stomach growled again in protest as a far more enticing aroma reached his nostrils. Looking up, he ‘followed his nose’ ‘til he located the source of the delicious scent.


Opposite the wolf enclosure was the Ape House, but a little further away to his left, and obviously currently upwind of their present location, there was a restaurant, which must serve staff as well as visitors since it seemed to be open already. The unmistakable odor of eggs and bacon and sausages frying wafted tantalizingly to his olfactory receptors. Much to his embarrassment, Sam found himself salivating profusely.


“What’s the matter, Sam, you hungry?” teased Al, enjoying his friends discomfort in the knowledge that it was not life threatening, at least not in the short term.


Sam glared at his friend, not at all amused by the situation.


He sat some distance from the wolves, who were now greedily devouring their repast, and tried hard to ignore the rumbling and churning of his empty stomach. He couldn’t remember when he’d last eaten, or what, but it felt like a very long time ago.


Al bounced on the balls of his feet, and patted his own stomach.

“Personally, I had a great breakfast,” he began, a mischievous glint in his eye as he watched Sam squirm. “Toast, gallons of coffee, and Beth’s special Italian breakfast coffee cake. Real comfort food: sweet and simple. I guess it’s a hang over from the days when I went boozing every night, settles the stomach a treat.”  Al smacked his lips appreciatively in recollection.


"You just had to go and say it, didn't ya? If it ain't women on ya mind—then it's food!" the Leaper relayed as the growling ache in his stomach worsened. Never in his life could he ever remember being more hungry.


He glanced despairingly at the bowl of food. 'It's either that or nothing,' he thought, sniffing in the still lingering and mouth-watering aroma from the restaurant.


Al watched on, a sprightly gleam filling the whole of his face, harmonized with the piqué of his enthused body language. "That's a good one Sam, I like it. Though, it is the first time I've been told that my mind has more than a single track."


"Maybe," Sam deduced. "But your perspective is definitely limited to piecemeal."


"Talking of meal…s ah, ahem, food… you're not really gonna eat that, are ya, Sam?" the Observer queried with disdained interest.


Sam shook his head. "Do I have a choice?" he solicited with more than a hint of annoyance in his tone as he turned to his so-called friend. "It's not as if I can just stroll outta here and to that—that restaurant up there, now can I?"


"Suppose not," Al surmised ruefully as his gaze followed his friend's.

Over the brow of the incline and out of the enclosure, the activity of the zoo's personnel was becoming more intense.


The Observer glanced down at his wrist, he didn't know why. Looking at his own watch didn't help Sam any, nor did it tell him the time for where his friend was at. But it did distract his attention from the naked physicist who, from the beginning of his current Leap, had been forced to stoop on all fours and was now desperate and desolate enough to feed with the inmates.


Though by now ravenous and feeling faint for want of food, yet Sam still held back while the wolves devoured their fill. He was not about to ruffle Luka’s fur by stealing the Alpha male’s ration. He tried not to watch as the pair salivated into the bowl, their jaws slathering over their spread. The idea of chowing down on their leftovers was almost enough to convince him that he should abstain, but the growling in his gut told him he would be unable to function efficiently for much longer without sustenance.


The doggie diners lingered over their meal, until Sam felt he could stand it no longer. He wasn’t sure if he hoped they’d empty the bowl, thus preventing him from having to consume the revolting repast, or prayed that they’d leave him something to stave off his starvation.

Al’s joviality was gradually replaced by empathy as he watched Sam’s growing discomfort.


Finally, Luka and Moonshadow decided they had had enough, and with barely a glance in Sam’s direction, they padded off, fur dripping with excess water from their drinking bowl.


Slowly, reluctantly, Sam crept over to the bowls, and looked to see what remained. Not a lot in the food bowl, though the water was still almost half full.


For a moment, Sam wondered if a drink would suffice. The food looked even more unappetizing up close than it had from a distance, and the smell…  He wrinkled his nose in distaste, and looked plaintively at Al.


“Sorry, pal, room service is not available at this time,” Al shrugged, trying to make light of Sam’s predicament.


“I’ll leave you to eat in peace, Sam.” He told his past-dwelling partner, who still hesitated, despite the now deafening roar of his rolling stomach.


Sam merely nodded in acknowledgement, as his friend disappeared.

Unable to bring himself to the degradation of nuzzling into the bowl, Sam looked around to make sure nobody was watching him, and then dipped a hand into the dry brown mixture. Pulling out a couple of small biscuits, he nibbled them, his face creased in disgust that they tasted even worse than they looked. Forcing himself to finish them first, he then drank greedily from the bowl of water, trying to wash the awful tang from his taste buds.


His hunger was far from sated, and grimacing, he repeated the same routine several more times; chew a couple of the foul dry morsels, try not to heave, wash them down with water.  After a while, though still hungry, Sam could force himself to eat no more, and instead greedily consumed the remainder of the water, hoping it would bloat him enough to stop the gnawing pains for a while.


That done, he slunk back into as secluded an area as he could find, and curled up on the grass, feeling decidedly queasy, and thoroughly miserable.


With every passing minute, the ache in his belly worsened. He glanced around in desperation for anything to quell the queasiness that had begun its palpable rise, tainting his throat with the inevitable release that he knew would soon follow.


He couldn't quite remember what he was looking for, the Swiss-cheesing was making him blank-out on that score but in the back of his mind, he knew it to be an herb of some description or other.

Yellow colored his vision along with long spiny leaves but his brain wouldn't emit the word he sought. His blurring eyes darted about and from within the darkness of the secluded enclosure, the brightness of the intensifying daylight stung at his eyes, making him squint even more and brought forth new sensations of pain.


"Dandelions!" he suddenly spouted as the iridescent hue of a golden cluster caught his gaze. Hauling himself up onto an elbow he blinked a few times to clear his vision. The mass of yellow blooms seemed to be miles away and so far out of reach.


Holding his stomach and his breath, he finally persuaded his now wobbly legs to cooperate. Once on his knees, he started to crawl out of the feeding enclosure, listlessly at first towards his goal.


Again, as he found himself out in the open, he saw Luka dashing this way and that, encircling Moonshadow and then racing off into the distance to where Sam was striving to reach. Like a juvenile, Luka jumped, skipped and hurtled, kicking up the newly mown grass that plumed in his wake.


The Leaper stopped dead when he saw Luka turn in his tracks and start to bound his way towards where Sam was now sited. Sam feared, as the animal neared, that he would be bowled over by the speed of the impending incursion and when only feet away he lunged forward, flattening himself as close to the ground as was humanly possible.


His hands clasped tightly behind his head for protection, Sam petulantly peeped out from under his arm as Luka hurdled over the sprawled Leaper. Then, he hiccupped with relief, but regurgitating the foul taste and renewing the rising pit in his stomach. He watched and waited until Luka was a fair distance away and only then did he decide that it was safe for him to rise onto all fours.


The early sun felt warm against his back but the ground beneath his hands and knees still felt cold and damp, the earthy musky smell of the soil only served to exacerbate his queasiness and he soon forgot the frolicking Luka in his eagerness to reach the favored spot of ground.


To Sam, it seemed like an age before; at long last, he arrived at the clump of radiant blooms. Panting hard and sweating as if in an overheated sauna, he reached out and grasped a handful of the supple stems. His stomach lurched at the mere thought of eating them, even though he knew their medicinal properties would make him feel better in the long run. Something from within his Swiss-cheesed memory was telling him that he needed to make a mixture from the plant and eagerly, he looked back to the enclosure. Now, he regretted having drained the water bowl of its contents, it would have served perfectly.

He fought back the escalating nausea as he selected only the most succulent part of the pungent herb and placed a modest but well-chosen morsel into his mouth.


The plant's tartness choked him immediately as the overpowering white fluid imparted its bitterness upon his tongue.


The corners of his mouth turned downward and his eyes screwed up in disgust, so that he did not see the telltale white light of the doorway that re-admitted Al to his side.


"I've seen it all now Sam," the Observer infused toward the green-faced Leaper. "What on earth are you eating now?"


"Food…" Sam gagged. "Worse than I thought. Medicine." Sam held out a handful of the chosen stems, the sticky white secretions overtly coating his hand.


"Looks to me like the cure is worse than the…"


"Don't start Al, I'm in no condition to take your garbage." Sam gulped hard at his words but not daring to swallow the mushy mass in his mouth.


"You might've been better off if you'd eaten the garbage instead of that…"


"Will you stop it? Can't you see I've enough on my plate without you interrupting?"


"Plate! Ha—ha, that's a good one Sam."


Sam huffed his shoulders and deliberately turned his back on his Observer, as he forced himself to swallow the acrid pulp he had mashed up in his unwilling mouth.


“Do you have something useful for me? Or do you just delight in mocking the afflicted,” he spat venomously, wishing he could likewise spit out his tart dessert.


Al looked offended, and gave Sam a “who me?” gesture.  Nevertheless, what he had to impart was probably not what the Leaper would classify as useful.


“Still nada on your mission, I’m afraid buddy,” confessed the Observer, “but Dom’s been looking at the zoo’s routine, and I thought I oughta tell ya, chances are there’ll be a school trip doing the rounds at about ten-ish. You may wanna lay low when a group of 30 squealing kids comes to study the local fauna.”


Sam’s eyes widened, and he gulped in dismay. A bad move, as a clump of dandelion pulp lodged in his throat, choking him.  He leaned forward, gagging, spluttering and fighting to dislodge the obstruction, the queasy greenish hue of his skin now mottled with bright purplish red.


He instinctively gestured over his shoulder, begging Al to give him a hearty clap on the back to expel the offending item.


Al equally instinctively moved to comply, then realized the futility of the gesture, and withdrew his hand inches from Sam’s body.

Realizing he was on his own in this predicament, Sam clenched his fist and dealt a sharp upward blow to his solar plexus, as hard as he could force upon himself, causing a violent jerking reaction which enabled him to eject the projectile hard and fast onto the ground before him.

Collapsing in its wake, he lay coughing and wheezing, and rubbing at the tender bruise that was darkening on his torso.


Al looked on helplessly as the spasms proved too much for Sam’s ravaged intestines, and he regurgitated his revolting repast.


“Can this leap get any worse?” he enquired pathetically several minutes later, wiping his mouth.


Sam crawled shakily away from the putrid stench-pile he’d created, and looked miserably at his holographic partner.


“There’s sure room for it to get a whole lot better, pal!” Al confirmed, sympathetically.


“No kidding” Sam wheezed expectantly, looking up at his friend towering above him. “This Leap is…” Sam struggled to find words to describe how he felt about this awful leap.


Al tried to lighten the mood by supplying them, “This Leap is going to the dogs, Sam.” He glanced over to the horizon, knowing that Sam’s groan was not just a leftover from an upset stomach.


"And Ziggy, ahhh," Sam strained as he twisted himself to a sitting position. "What the hell is she doing now? Are you sure she hasn't got anything on this place? Wherever this place is."


"What is it with you Sam? You don't normally get Swiss-cheesed within a leap."


"Al! I do remember where I am!" Sam exacted. "But parading around in my birthday suit, ain't exactly something I'd like to commit to memory!"


"Erm… Sam…" Al stuttered. "Best thing for me to do, is see if I can jolt something, anything out've that useless bucket of bolts."


"Don't be too long, Al. I don't wanna be alone when the hoards of school kids start their procession through the grounds."


Sam's eyes pleaded but in his voice the Admiral heard a tinge of fear. He'd heard it before, many times during his years of service in the Navy.


"I'll be back afore you know it," Al assured his friend as the dazzling glare of the Imaging Chamber door opened up.


Sam glanced worriedly towards the restaurant; the piquant aroma filling the air growing evermore potent by the minute. Before he could turn back, the Imaging Chamber had closed, leaving only an echo to remind Sam that his friend had been there.





Stephen could barely contain his excitement. Despite Ziggy's warning that no one go anywhere near the Waiting Room his curiosity was roused. Ziggy had closed the shutters that were both inside and outside of the observation deck. But he'd found the tiniest of gaps between one of the shutters and the edge of the framework.

At first when he peeked through, he couldn't see anything but the blurry vista of the empty bench. As he watched and waited, he hoped to catch a glimpse of the wild animal that Ziggy had pertained to be there. He had never before seen a wolf and to while away the time, he summoned Dante to help him keep vigil.


The squeal that left Stephen's lips went unchecked when he caught sight of the whiteness of the Fermi suit. But the opening he'd found was so small that whatever he saw was certainly fuzzy around the edges.


"What is it, Stephen?" Dante asked and when Stephen didn't answer, he added, "Tell me, what did you see?"


“I’m not sure,” Stephen was more or less thinking aloud, squinting at the tiny gap again, hoping for a clearer view. He ducked his head from one side to the other, turning his head this way and that. He put his hand to his forehead to reduce the glare.


“Well?” Dante persisted.


“Well, Dante, it looks to me like this wolf is walking on his hind legs! Can they do that?”


“Master Stephen!” Ziggy’s voice was loud and disapproving.


Stephen jumped backwards, almost falling over but just managing to keep his footing, looking as guilty as he should.


“Ziggy, don’t do that! You startled me!” he complained.


“Well if you hadn’t been sneaking around where you have no business…” Ziggy chided him. “Surely you heard my orders regarding the leapee?”


“I only wanted a peek. It’s not like I was going to let it out!” remonstrated Stephen petulantly.


“How much exactly have you seen, Master Stephen?” Ziggy interrogated.


“Not much,” the boy pouted, “There’s not enough of a gap to make it out. All I could see was a big shaggy haired head and hairy paws, but it seemed to be up on its back legs, like it was begging or something.” Stephen sniggered, “He looked really funny, wearing Dad’s Fermi suit, like a Pantomime wolf. He seemed to be growling too, only I couldn’t hear cos you turned the audio monitors off.”


Stephen huffed his shoulders sulkily, and crossed his arms, annoyed at being thwarted in his investigation.


Ziggy mellowed a little. After all, if it hadn’t been for the boy genius’ latest upgrade.  “Master Stephen? Can you keep a secret…?”





Alice Penfold was more than a little frustrated as she strode across parking lot 'B' and towards the nearest entrance of the Smithsonian National Zoological Park. She had been looking forward to following up on recent leads but instead when she had arrived at work that morning, someone else had other plans.


Her assignment for the duration was to cover the birth of Tipo's babies; a Sloth bear recently rescued from one of South Asia's forests where after undergoing intense therapeutic and psychosomatic therapy at the Park to heal a gunshot wound, it was found that she was pregnant.


After leaving her apartment that morning, one hindrance after another fell in her path. Following a flat, which had made her late and very grubby, she had taken the southern entrance into the zoo, and having been before; she knew it to be the nearest way into the bear enclosure. Upon reaching the Rock Creek Parkway entrance, she'd found it closed for redevelopment and angrily she hit the steering wheel with the heel of her hand. After a moment of seething, she turned her car around and headed for the northern parking lots.

Then at the main entrance, the attendant had looked solemnly at her and then on her jacket lapel where he noticed the 'press' badge. "Are you here to cover the birth of Tipo's babies?" he'd asked animatedly.

'Damn!' Alice grimaced with agitation; she'd meant to take her badge off before reaching the zoo, she despised being pestered by the doting 'public' on such occasions. Also, she wanted to get there early to avoid the school rush, which she had been warned started at 10 AM but the puncture put paid to that notion.


She smiled sweetly at him through the side window, though inside she was feeling agitated and all knotted up.  "Shhhhush, don't broadcast it, will ya?" she couldn't help but snap somewhat sharply, her nerves were fraying rapidly. "You know what the kids are like when there's a newborn abound, especially a newborn animal. I'll never have a minute's peace."


The attendant looked hurt. "Isn't the zoo all about children and babies? …a-n-d if we can encourage the rarer species to procreate, so much the better."


Through the wound down window, he handed her a small pamphlet and as she unfolded it, a double paged map of the grounds opened up before her.


Disgruntled she winced, "I suppose!" She disguised her vehemently said words with a sudden inhalation before pressing her foot on the gas.


Out of the blue and back in the present, she suddenly hung onto a thought that the attendant hadn't alerted her to the closure of the southern entrances.


"He could've at least warned me! or… they could've had the decency to put up notices!" she scathed.


Again, she slammed her hand hard into the steering wheel, making it judder and feeling the vibrations right down to the floor. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she espied the brilliance of the fluorescently colored posters attached predominantly to every available vertical surface and she bit her tongue.


After parking her car to the nearest point indicated by the map, she gathered up what she needed. The leather encased camera which she slung over her right shoulder, along with the purse that carried all of her necessary essentials – lipstick, mirror, tissues, hair brush, and so on, plus the tools of her trade, notebook, mini cassette recorder etc. In fact, everything a girl needed for an unwelcome excursion to a zoological theme park.


To her dismay, the moment she stepped foot on the track way, she found that there were already quite a few people there. The majority were women, with pre-school aged children hanging from their skirts or being pushed around in one of those buggy-type contraptions. 'Pre-school, the worst kind,' she thought, 'full of questions and are never satisfied with just any old answers.'


Grudgingly, she headed off in the direction of the small mammal house, every stride revealing her determination to get this event over and done with and as soon as possible. Turning right at the junction from the mammal house, she followed the pathway as it started to double back. She grumbled ruthlessly to herself as the path was taking her away from where she needed to be.


The weight of her camera tugged on her shoulder and as she hitched it over to the other side, she searched the surrounding area to see if there was a more direct route. Seeing none, she took a second glance at the map, all paths eventually led to where they intended, but they all took on an indistinct route, meandering hither and thither towards their final destination.


At the next junction, Ms. Penfold passed by the golden lions then the otters, barely giving either a second glance and continuing along the winding footpath towards the bald eagles on her right and the Mexican wolves to her left.


The Zoo was starting to fill up with visitors anxious to beat the 10am school parties. Sam stirred his sorry butt and tried to crawl back into the seclusion of the enclosure, which now seemed even further away than it had when he’d ventured out in search of the dandelions. His hands, knees and feet were fast turning green from the fresh cut sappy grass, and his back ached from his constant need to impersonate a quadruped. He looked all around him, trying to ascertain if there was any closer cover. The morning sun dazzled him as he looked about, making it difficult to judge distances. He wished Al were still there to give him the facts and figures, but he was alone. Or rather he wasn’t alone and wished he were – for the burgeoning crowds were starting to head in his direction.


Making a snap decision, Sam headed off toward some woodland, his choice influenced not a little by the fact that while he deliberated, Luka and Moonshadow had positioned themselves between him and the enclosure. Sam was in no hurry to get re-acquainted with their cold noses and slathering tongues, much less their matching sets of 42 razor sharp teeth and iron jaws, nor yet Luka’s amorous advances. Sam shuddered at the very idea, and strove to pick up his pace.  Despite the fact that the wooded area was actually closer to the perimeter of the enclosure where it met the public pathway, it offered more opportunity for concealment than anything else remotely in reach. Even so, lumbering along on all fours, it felt like it was taking forever to reach his goal.


Suddenly he was distracted by a shout, and stopped in his tracks, frozen with embarrassment and alarm. Turning his head, he saw at the edge of the enclosure a small family group consisting of a young mother with a baby in a buggy and a toddler of about three or four years old in tow. It was the toddler whose shout had halted him, and who was now repeating his outrageous claim to his harassed mother.


“Mum, Mum, look!” he shrieked, pulling insistently on her coat sleeve as she reached over the buggy to tend to her fretful baby. “Look, Mum, look! There’s a naked man in there pretending to be a wolf!” He pointed frantically with his other hand right at Sam.


“Yes, dear, very nice,” responded the mother without looking up from what she was doing.


“But Mu-um,” persisted the child, “He’s got no clothes on!”


Sam decided enough was enough, and that he should make himself scarce before she realized what her child was saying and took a look for herself. Once she saw him as a wolf, the poor infant could find himself in years of therapy, or grounded until his 18th birthday for telling lies, or who knew what.


Spurred on by the idea of his exposure to the child, Sam reached the tree-line in record time, and slunk to the far side of a nice friendly, big round rough barked evergreen. Once concealed, he collapsed exhausted, not daring to think that the leap could get no worse, lest it should determine to prove him wrong.


Even from his hiding place, Sam could hear the young boy as he continued his whining, "But Mum, awww Mum you've missed him now, Mum!"


"Don't be silly honey," the mother replied disinterestedly.


"I'm not being silly! It's not my stupid fault you missed him," the boy hissed insistently under his breath.


"Don't you start badmouthing me, young man," the woman snapped unsympathetically whilst giving the young boy's arm a harsh tug. "Stop your griping now or we'll go home this very instant!"


Listening in, Sam forgot all about his own uneasiness. "Poor kid," he whispered, "he's only saying what he's seen and the mother's too preoccupied to even know the truth."


"Okay Mum, but… but… what's that man doing in there with the wolves anyway?"


"Stewart," the woman breathed impatiently as the infant in the buggy began to scream. "If a man was in with the wolves, don't you think the wolves would've gobbled him up by now?"


The boy wasn't the only one who shuddered at the thought.  "I suppose," Stewart drawled, subjugated. Then looking up at his mother, thought, 'Why do grown-ups always think they know best?' As Stewart reluctantly let his mother lead him and his screaming sister away from the enclosure, he continually kept his eyes transfixed to the spot where he'd last seen Sam, that was, until that spot was out of sight then he jumped up and down with excitement at seeing the next enclosure.


Sam couldn't help but breathe in deeply and let it out with a liberating gasp, and also with relief that Al wasn't there to witness his primal withdrawal. Alone and unseen, Sam stood and stretched his aching back. It felt good to be upright again and as he reached upward, he looked to the treetops. Tiny rays of sunlight danced through the branches as the gentle breeze swayed the flimsy upper stems to and fro.


Alice was so caught up in her own misery, that she didn't notice anything unusual. She had cut herself off to the outside world and thinking only of the lost opportunities of what she'd unearthed the day before.


"Ahhh—umm," she bellyached – she was here for the duration and right there, she wished that the duration would be a short one. She cared diddlysquat for whatever the outcome of the birth.


Shrieking, screeching children imposed themselves upon her thoughts and losing all concentration when she heard a nearby child say:  "There’s a naked man in there pretending to be a wolf!"


At first she didn't heed the boy's words, after all, he was only a kid and Alice knew all too well of a child's vivid imagination. She had been one herself once, and had hated every minute.


It wasn't until the boy's determined and persevering drone had gotten the better of her, did she take note of his words: "But Mu-um… he’s got no clothes on!”


Alice span around fairly sharpish, her ears pricked; not unlike a racehorse, ready for the off.


First, she turned to the boy to find out just where it was he was looking, to be making him say of what he'd seen. The child was pointing in the immediate direction of the Mexican wolf enclosure and then he groaned, "But Mum, awww Mum you've missed him now, Mum!"


She could have sworn that she'd seen movement somewhere along the tree-line but as usual, for the unexpected, she was too late.

As she moved closer to the fence, she heard the boy's mother, "Don't be silly honey."


His mother seemed to be as indifferent as Alice had once been.


"I'm not being silly! It's not my stupid fault you missed him," the child hissed insolently toward his mother.


Alice wasn't perturbed by the child's ungracious behavior, her interest now piqued, she watched stealthily at the tree-line for the slightest of movements.


"Ahhmm… hmmm…" a noise from behind reached her. She ignored it.

Again, that boorish intrusion interrupted her raptness. "Ahhmm… ahmmm…" and when she didn't respond for the second time she felt a very tentative touch on her shoulder. "Miss Penfold?" the timid inflection questioned from behind.


Annoyance swept over her face and for a third time, she chose to snub her compatriot.


When the small child in the buggy began to scream unyieldingly, she turned in exasperation to her challenger, who just looked at her somewhat sheepishly.


"What is it?" she snapped condescendingly.


The exceptionally tall and lanky young male, who couldn't have been more than fifteen, jumped back at Alice's reaction. "S—sor—ry," he stuttered, his eyes lowered to the ground and watched as his feet twitched awkwardly. "B—but… erm… I, I was se—sent t—to fetch you, Miss Penfold." He tried to look her in the eye, but the glare that was returned, had him gawking at his feet again. "Tipo's-gonna-be-havin'-her-babies-anytime-now!" The words rushed from his lips in as much as to get them out before he could think of their implications.


Alice was laughing inside, knowing that the young man was as embarrassed as she'd ever seen any young boy with the thought of Tipo's imminent delivery. He was just at that age to be embarrassed by anything to do with procreation. 'He isn't the first and he won't be the last,' Alice thought and all the time concealing her amusement that was rising within. 'I can have some fun here!' she added in exulted speculation.  "Firstly, young man!" she voiced sarcastically but before she could say anything else the boy interrupted.


"Jo—el," the boy said uncomfortably. "Erm… Miss Penfold, my—my name's Joel."


"Firstly!" Alice repeated just as cynically. "Joel… I am not a Miss. If at any time you want to address me, my name is Penfold, have you got that?"


Joel scratched his head, his face riddled with confusion. "Penfold what?" he asked.


'Man!' her eyes averted upward and away. 'Kids, I thought they started to grow up when they reached this big!' Shaking her head in disbelief, she turned slowly back to him. "Say Joel… why don't you run along and tell whoever it was that sent you that, erm, I'll be there in a minute, heh?"


"No ma'am," he shook his head vigorously. "I can't do that! Mr. Dobson said that as soon as I found you, I was to bring you back immediately. He said that you were a disruptive, troublemaking stringer that he needed to keep an eye on."


"A what!?" Alice screamed at the boy and she suddenly hitched up the camera as it began to slip from her shoulder.


Joel ducked and darted to his right when he thought the woman was going to strike him. "A—a st—tringer?" he recapped meekly.  "Though…" he squirmed when he realized what it was he'd said. "…come to think of it, I don't think I should've said that last bit. Mr. Dobson's gonna be real angry with me now."


Alice gave Joel a sideways glance and as he spoke, she realized that it wasn't the boy's words that he'd repeated.


"Please, you won't tell Mr. Dobson that I said that, will you? You won't, please," the cowering boy pleaded.


"You just leave Mr. Dobson to me," she sympathized when she saw the fear in his face. "If he didn't want people to know, he shouldn't have said it in the first place." She took hold of Joel's elbow as she gave the Mexican wolf enclosure one last inspection before heading off to the Sloth bear pit with her young companion, saying: "Rest easy Joel, he won't hear it from me, I promise."



In other circumstances, Sam could have enjoyed spending time wandering through the blossom-laden woodland, smelling the fresh spring air, looking at Mother Nature displaying herself in all her glory. Here and now, he was too distracted by how much of his own nature was on display. He looked about him for a way to restore some semblance of his dignity.


‘Where’s a fig leaf when you need one?’ Sam thought ruefully. Even though it seemed that most people perceived him as a wolf, Al had warned him about school parties, and he had no way of knowing how many more visitors around Stewart’s age he could be exposed to. Sam winced as he realized his thoughts were starting to sound like Al’s puns, and he blushed from the roots of his hair right down his throat to his chest at the thought of being caught in this state of undress.

It didn’t bear contemplating, so Sam began resolutely tugging at some long leaved, hardy palms that were growing in the rich soil beneath the trees. Before long, he had detached a couple of sprigs of palm, and was stripping the individual leaves from the stalk. Desperation lent him the skills his experience lacked, and he began to fashion a makeshift garment.


From nowhere, the memory of his mother braiding Katie’s hair came to mind, and he found himself plaiting a waistband, good and strong and secure. Once he was sure it was long enough to fasten firmly round his waist, Sam set-to weaving more leaves over the belt and down the front to form a sort of kusazuri or Japanese lower body armor (specifically the tassets to protect his vitals). He’d take care of essentials first, then if he had enough time and materials left, he’d make a matching patch for the back, and finally join them at the sides. Sam really hoped he’d have enough to make an all round garment. Though it was getting warmer as the sun rose higher in the sky, Sam still shivered in the April atmosphere.


He wasn’t sure how long he had been engrossed in his task, but with nothing useful to help him achieve his thus-far undefined goal in this leap, he had nothing better, and certainly nothing more important to do.


Sam had constructed a rudimentary front-piece, and was starting to pull off the leaves he needed for the back, when the opening of the Imaging Chamber door and the sudden close appearance of his crimson-suited companion startled him. He jerked backward, landing on his butt with a handful of palm-frond, and a palm full of splinters.

“Ach, dammit Al!” he complained, picking tiny bits of bark from out of his hand.


“You want I should go?” Al made a lavish gesture and affected a Yiddish accent, almost choking in his effort not to laugh at the spectacle that was his friend.


“Do you have anything helpful for me?” Sam asked, qualifying his desire to see his Observer. He noticed that he had landed in a patch of mushrooms, and reached out to examine one.


“Still hungry?” Al prevaricated, to which Sam merely nodded, the growl of his belly answering for him. Mushrooms were a bit rich on a delicate empty stomach, but beggars couldn’t be choosers.


“In that case, I definitely have something helpful to tell you, Sam. Don’t eat that mushroom!” Al waved his arms around as if he could knock the offending article from Sam’s hand. Sam dropped it, though it had been tantalizingly close to his salivating mouth.


“Isn’t it an edible one?” Sam pressed, hoping that his holographic friend was not just teasing him.


“Well, you know what Czech housewives say,” Al smirked, “All mushrooms are edible…”  Sam scowled and moved to retrieve the tender morsel, until Al concluded the homily, “but some only once!”  Once more, Sam let it slip regretfully through his fingers to the forest floor.


“Sorry, pal, but you really don’t wanna make yourself sick again, do you?”


Sam shook his head sadly, looking longingly at the fairy ring of foul fungi that had so cruelly raised his hopes along with his gastric juices.

His eyes then strayed further to the trees that were growing along the boundary with the visitor pathway; great sprawling Cherry trees, typical of the region since they were first gifted by Japan in 1912. They were heavily laden with pretty pink blossom, but it was far too early for any of them to be bearing fruit. ‘Pity,’ thought Sam, trying to ignore the renewed growling of his empty intestines. Deciding such thoughts were doing naught but torture himself further, Sam shucked off his melancholy and rose to his feet to tie on his homemade sporran.


Al gaped at him open mouthed as he fastened it about his waist, and couldn’t resist teasing his friend:  “Oh, nice purse Sam! That’ll protect your valuables brilliantly. Though I hope you can get it open quickly if you need to ‘spend a penny’ as the British say!” at which point Al dissolved into paroxysms of laughter.


Sam glared at his insubstantial friend, obviously lamenting the fact that he couldn’t physically wipe the smile from Al’s face. Coloring in embarrassment, Sam adjusted the article to reduce the risk of splinters to the delicate parts of his anatomy. As he did so, he realized that his nether region had been muddied by his fall. Looking over his shoulder, Sam saw that his buttocks, thighs and calves were covered in slimy brown mulch, making him look for all the world as if he’d messed himself for want of a bathroom.


“Euwwwww.” He muttered under his breath, as he found the softest leaf he could with which to wipe the worst of the residue away. “Don’t even think it!” he warned Al, who had stopped laughing so heartily, and amid his subdued chuckles looked set to make another crass remark at Sam’s expense.


“You might wanna leave some of that on, Sam.” Al advised, earning him another frown from the leaper. He went on to explain himself, “Well, firstly it might discourage Luka and Moonshadow from brown-nosing too much,” another chortle, another exasperated groan from Sam. “Then again, it also helps to disguise you when the crowds are about…”


Sam conceded the point, and left the rest of the mire alone. Besides, even the handful of dew soaked grass he’d procured to finish the cleansing job with felt uncomfortable and made him itch. Once more, Sam fought down the feelings of misery and self-pity that sought to overwhelm him.


“I’m gonna ask you one more time, Al, have you got anything useful to tell me? Cos I’ve already had more than enough of this leap, and of your jokes, so if you don’t have any suggestions that will speed me on my way outa here, you can just get lost!”


“Alright, keep your hair on, or should I say keep your fur on?!” sniggered Al.


He pressed a button on his handlink, apparently expecting Ziggy to appear, but she was conspicuous by her absence.


“Darn that miserable mish-mash of micro-chips!” cursed Al. “She’s being even crankier than normal on this leap. I swear Sam; she’s up to something. She knows more than she’s saying – at least to me – I’m sure of it.”


“Is she saying anything?” asked Sam expectantly, though with little real hope of a worthwhile reply.


“She’s hinting that she now knows the reason for your leap, but she won’t give any details.”


The handlink gave an old-fashioned squeal. Al started – this latest upgrade had never displayed that particular annoying trait before. He looked at the display, and relayed to Sam the information that Ziggy approved his handiwork.


“Oh I’m so glad. Ziggy approves – my life is complete!” Sam rejoined sarcastically. “Does she want me to take to the catwalk?”


“Walk the doggies more like, Sam!” Al chortled, but then fell quickly silent at the look Sam shot him, which must have been at least a twelve-bore.


Ziggy still did not appear, but her distinctive vocal synthesizer suddenly came through the handlink like someone on the end of a mobile phone where the reception is poor. It almost sounded as if she was giggling. Al and Sam exchanged looks, and simultaneously shook their heads, rejecting the notion. Nah - Ziggy didn’t laugh. She was more humorless than a Vulcan woman with PMS.


“That will not be necessary, Doctor Beckett.” The voice informed him after a few moments, as if she had taken a deep breath and composed herself. “However, remaining modest is the key to your success here.”


“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” challenged Al.


Ziggy declined to elucidate, but before either man could press the point, something more pressing demanded Sam’s attention - namely the renewed attentions of his two feral friends.


They had crept up on the futuristic fellowship unobserved, and were now sniffing around Sam’s handiwork, curious as to this strange new behavior Marcus was displaying.


Sam was torn between crouching down again, wanting to appear more like his companions, and not wanting to present his posterior once more as a target for Luka’s amorous advances. That was an experience he had no intention of repeating if he lived to be two hundred!


The wolves didn’t hesitate long enough for him to make up his mind. They wanted to play, and they wanted Marcus to join in the fun. Running rings around him, nudging with their cold wet noses, they began herding him back out towards open ground – gently at first, then more insistently, nipping at his ankles, and finally higher.

An albeit light nibble on his buttock from a bounding, enthusiastic Moonshadow was enough to have Sam forget all pretence at being one of them, and take off at a sprint across the grassland, trying to put as much distance as possible between himself and the 84 teeth he could almost hear snapping at his heels.


The faster he ran, the more his makeshift pouch flapped about, slapping his abdomen as it bounced, and working loose around his waist. He would perhaps have abandoned it in his haste to escape the slavering jaws, but Ziggy’s enigmatic comment was fresh in his ears. He needed to preserve his modesty. It was not something he wished to forego in any case, so he hitched it up without breaking stride, and held it in place as he ran, fumbling to fasten it firmer around his girth without slowing enough to allow his pursuers to get into striking range.

He had little breath to spare for anything but running, but he managed a wheezing, panting “Aaaa…aaaalllllllllll… h-h-heeeeeeelllllllllllllp!”




Alice's head began to nod and almost simultaneously her eyes lost focus and started to droop. She was abruptly startled back to alertness by a sudden deep growl from Tipo that reverberated around the inner compound within the Sloth Bear enclosure.

To her amazement, she realized that the distance between the wooden bench and the ground was closing and if she hadn't grasped onto its edge, she would've surely toppled. She could see herself now, an inappropriate heap, covered in the wood shavings that littered the ground.

As she looked about self-consciously to see if anyone had noticed, she saw the inescapable signs that Tipo was currently well into her labor but Alice had never felt so rigidly bored in her life before now.

Another, higher pitched howl caught Alice napping again. She was off somewhere in her past, kneeling at her sister's side, who was in the same predicament as Tipo was now, and all the time vowing that she should never ever have children. It seemed far too painful and ghastly to even contemplate. Her sister had assured her she would change her mind when she met the right man, but Alice couldn’t see how that would make any difference.

It was at that moment when Mr. Dobson waddled across to the caged sanctuary. Spread across his face was a grin that was roughly as wide as his sagging jowls. Bending over from his broadening waistline, with his head protruding slightly forward, he clenched a bar in each hand. "How's the new arrivals Hugh?" he asked the attending veterinarian.

"Tis still too early Reese, but she's doing just fine," Hugh Egerton replied as he stroked at Tipo's swollen belly.

"Better you than me, in there Hugh!" remarked Reese Dobson, as leaning outward he turned to Alice but still talking to the veterinary, "But then, I suppose Tipo knows you better than anyone, that is, apart from her keeper."

Dobson reminded Alice of the potbellied pig her brother had once brought home. It wasn't just his bodily shape either, his nose seemed to be cut-off all too abruptly and the tip as it turned up slightly was very reminiscent of the pig her brother had called Gracie. The ears too were pointy and not where they should have been but other than that, he was Gracie's spitting image.

Turning his back to Alice, Dobson stood and admired the recently acquired inmate. "What a stroke of luck for Tipo to be pregnant," he said attentively. "I suppose you've taken hundreds of pictures already," he added, resembling a pompously proud parent.

Alice realized then, that she hadn't even had the presence of mind to remove the camera from its case. It still hung suspended from her shoulder, albeit resting alongside on the bench. She hastily endeavored to remedy that factor before Dobson could notice.

On hearing a rustling from behind, Reese turned to investigate and saw the reporter unpacking her illustrious camera. He was far too dumbstruck to say anything to her.

Alice became aware of the brusquely escalating sensation of being watched and she grimaced with uneasiness as she relocated her eye-line from Dobson's unusually small footwear, upwards and past his shabbily corded slacks to the vehement expression that had wiped clean of any signs of exuberance.

"What's wrong?" she feigned innocence, though inside she was secretly reassembling her frayed nerves. She couldn't tell him how she felt, how much she resented being there; she'd be fired for sure. She couldn't even bring forth a false façade of excitement.

Dobson's already ruddy face reddened and his eyes bulged outward on stalks as his mouth opened and closed wordlessly.

"What is it?" she again asked resolutely, whilst attaching the appropriate lens to the hefty camera.

"You!" he snapped and pointing a discontented finger in her direction, he turned sharply towards the cage as Tipo's growls and yowls became evermore severe and persistent. "You!" he repeated as he returned his attention to the journalist. "You have been given a job of work and you have the gall to ask me if anything's wrong!"  His eyes were ablaze with fury.

"I thought you only wanted pictures of the birth," she said as in pretext. "Well, at least I think that's what I was instructed."

"Listen! I'm sick of all the slipshod 'couldn't care less' attitudes around here, so I'll say it again more clearly, I want photographS…" he snapped, emphasizing on the plural. "…before, during AND after. Is that any clearer?"

"Yes Mr. Dobson, perfectly clear," Alice countered.

"I NEVER say anything to anyone that I wouldn't want everyone to hear and I'm not about to let you or anyone start slacking, do you hear?"

She was about to retaliate by reminding him that he was a contradiction to his own words but after a speedy consultation with her conscience, she decided against it, even though it was going against her usual indicative and forthright nature, she didn't want to drop the ham-fisted Joel right in it.

She started snapping pictures left, right and center, even when nothing was happening. Dobson threw her a distinctive glare more than once and she all but wanted to hand him the camera but instead, she smiled sweetly at the doggedly irritating entity and let him snarl away in his own private corner. After all, she wasn't footing the bill and he did say, he wanted pictureS.

As Tipo's labor progressed, Alice grew more and more uneasy at the prospect of what now had become inevitable. Before, it was just a vision that could be thrown to the back of her mind but now she had to keep the lens focused on Tipo to record all of the gory details and as future turned to the present, her complexion turned a little greener with every passing second.

"At last!" veterinary, Hugh Egerton gasped as the first of Tipo's cubs began to show. "I thought that this was gonna be the longest pregnancy in history."

"Longest? Why's that?" Alice asked as she lowered her camera. At this moment, she was more concerned in facts, than the grisly exhibition she was being forced to survey.

"Well," Egerton answered. "Sloth cubs are usually born to correspond with the environmental seasons, normally at some point from mid December to mid January. With the Sloth even if the mother is impregnated months beforehand, she can postpone the implantation of the embryos until there is a certainty that there will be enough food to feed her cubs."

"Interesting…" Alice replied. "Hmmm… It's a shame humans can't do the same. If humans can't suppress their urges, it would be invaluable to be able to suspend or even naturally discontinue the birth process."

Egerton shook his head; then elevated his eyes to the curious reporter. "It's called reabsorbtion, they do not literally abort; the fetus is simply absorbed back into the metabolism. The whole process is known as delayed implementation. It's happening every year in their natural habitat."

"How many cubs are you expecting?" Alice asked, almost interested.

"Two or maybe even three, considering she's having these in captivity," Egerton explained.

Dobson, as engrossed as he was with the biology lesson, suddenly noticed that Alice had stopped taking pictures. "Are you forgetting something Ms. Penfold?"

Alice grimaced as once again, she held the camera up to her eye just as the first of the Sloth cubs blatantly made its inopportune entrance.

At first she thought it was dead, lying there, unmoving, in its slick overcoat of embryonic membrane. But as Tipo began to tear at the slimy coating, the tiny creature emerged and wriggled slightly.

Alice watched in a mixture of disgust and awe as Doctor Egerton helped with cleaning up and when Tipo was satisfied that all was well, she allowed the expert hand of the veterinarian scoop up her firstborn.

Alice was astounded that a wild beast and a so recently acquired one at that, could be so convivial.

Doctor Egerton must've read her mind. "I know what you're wondering! Well… it may be a little unorthodox but Tipo and I have come to an understanding. She was a right psycho when she first arrived at the institution… weren't you girl?" he imparted as he playfully slapped Tipo's rear flank. "…but after healing her gunshot wounds and of course, countless amounts of patience and understanding; her trust in me began to grow."

Alice clicked feverishly as the veterinarian laid the small cub on the awaiting scales.

"375 grams," he said with a smile of approval. "A nice weight."

"But they're so small," Alice said indicatively.

"Not for long, this time next month, they will be foraging alongside their mother."

"WOW," the reporter breathed. Inside, she was hoping that she could remember all of this information; she didn't trust the present day's technology not to go all fubar. She'd known from the outset that this assignment was a two-manned operation but she also knew her boss to be too much of a tightfisted skinflint to be bothered about the trivialities of manning. She was expected to take notes and snap pictures simultaneously. Did her boss, Andrew Marriot think she was a magician? And before long, she began to wish she were.

"Oooops… there's another!" Hugh Egerton announced and the unprepared Alice was once more caught off-guard and hurriedly she readied her camera.


No sooner had the second cub been cleaned, than a third plopped onto the prepared bedding, barley giving Hugh enough time to refresh and replenish the hay and wooden shavings.

After the third, Alice's stomach didn't feel so squeamish and her finger clicked more steadily but she still wasn't prepared for the unanticipated arrival of a forth.

"I thought you said that Sloths never had more than three?" Alice queried.

"Probably the environment," the veterinarian declared after a moment's thought. "The more plentiful the food, the bigger the litter. Though I must declare, I never expected four!"

"Will there be any more?" Alice asked, more out of completing her preferred assignment, than wasting time taking pictures of slippery, blind and hideously pathetic mammals.

"Hard to say," Hugh uttered as he examined the extremities of Tipo's still abundantly swollen belly. "They're so tiny and she's so big!"

Consequently, Alice returned to the monotonous task of snapping the camera's shutter and all in the relative tranquility of the inner enclosure of Tipo's haven.



Al had watched in mild amusement at first, but realizing that Sam was in real distress, he decided to try some diversionary tactics.


“Hey, fur balls!” he yelled, popping into holographic view between the wolves and their ‘friend’ and waving his arms frenetically “over here! Come and try to take a bite outa me you mangy mutts.” At which point he took off in the opposite direction to Sam, and operating on the assumption that if it worked for bulls, it might work for wolves, he slipped off his jacket and waved it at them as he ran, yelling “Hey, Toro, Wolvo, whatever!”


Luka and Moonshadow decreased their pace as the strange man suddenly appeared before them, bemused by the unnatural occurrence, yet more curious than afraid. Instantly, they both decided he was more interesting than Marcus, and changed course to pursue him instead, much to Sam’s relief.


Sam slowed to a stop, and bent forward, hands on knees, breathing hard, sunspots flashing before his eyes. He was about to collapse exhausted to the grass, when a glance to see how his futuristic friend was faring revealed that the tactic had been only limited in its success. Whilst Luka was still charging after Al, Moonshadow had circled round and was heading back his way.


Oh, no not again!’ he thought. Taking a deep breath, Sam took off again, stumbling blindly along with no thought as to a destination, only the certainty that he didn’t want to get caught by either wolf.


Moonshadow darted after him, thrilled that Marcus had decided to have this merry romp with them. She didn’t head straight for him, but flitted around dashing left and right, herding him back toward the enclosure. He was playing along, and she was having tremendous fun, though her swollen belly and restless cubs were slowing her down a bit. Marcus was managing to keep his distance from her.


Before he realized what had happened, Sam was back in the main grassy area near the viewing rail, where a whole class-full of school children were lined up watching his panicked dash.


What finally alerted him to this fact was when their raucous laughter reached his ears. He looked up, where heretofore he had been keeping his eyes on where he was going lest he trip. At once he wished he hadn’t as the sight of 30 or so uniformed tormentors pointing directly at him in a derisory manner made him blush crimson.


The accompanying teachers were doing their best to restore some semblance of order, but with little success. They too were wearing a uniform of sorts – the group obviously belonged to a Catholic school, and the teachers were all nuns! Sam could see one of them crossing herself as if to seek divine protection from the demonic apparition before them, while another was trying in vain to put her hands over the eyes of each of the girls in the group. The third fingered the rosary that hung from her belt, and seemed to be saying her Hail Mary’s; whether to absolve herself from impure thoughts, or to seek forgiveness on his behalf he couldn’t say.


Sam looked round for Al, and frowned in confusion as he heard comments about the strange man in the even stranger attire running round the wolf pen, coming from both children and adults alike. The vociferous exclamations of the children were attracting an increasingly large crowd as visitors at all the neighboring exhibits came to see what all the commotion was about. Each new arrival in turn commented on the spectacle that greeted their astonished eyes.


He thought it was only the very young who could see past his aura to the real Sam beneath. These pupils had to have been around nine or ten, and their teachers were certainly mature and not evidently destined for the community's insane asylum. The whole crowd couldn’t be mentally challenged surely?


Why didn’t they see him as a wolf in Sam’s woven clothing?


Moments later, Sam’s explanation arrived in the form of a breathless Al, Luka hot on his heels, with a now fully visible Ziggy, who looked her creator in the eye and pronounced loudly for only Sam and Al to hear: “April Fools!”



“Mr. Dobson! Mr. Dobson, sir!” Joel scurried in, breathless and looking terrified. He cowered before his employer, cringing as if he expected a swift clip round the ear for daring to be in the presence of his superior.

'Thank you!' Alice breathed silently. A look of pure gratitude was encapsulated in her fair features. Not to mention the very welcomed respite. She didn't think her stomach could take much more.

Dobson scowled at him, and roared in a voice like thunder. “What the hell are you doing here, boy? Get back about your business.” He pointed forcefully toward the door by which the young boy had entered.

“B-but s-s-s-sir…” Joel was torn between wanting to bolt out before feeling the full weight of Dobson’s wrath for his being there, and knowing how mad the old tyrant would be if he found out Joel had not told him what was going on.

“Let the boy speak,” Alice interjected authoritatively, before Dobson could renew his tirade.

Joel looked at her with profound gratitude and not a little surprise, and quickly imparted his message, not even stopping for breath. “S-sir, the zoo police say as how you gotta come quick. Marcus has gone crazy in the wolf pen. He’s acting all wild and there’s a big crowd and….” He finally drew a deep breath before he passed out from lack of oxygen.

“Why didn’t you tell me that straight away, boy,” he spat the word venomously at Joel, “instead of standing there with your face flapping like a fish out of water?” Joel cowered and shrank back even further.

"I knew it!" Alice silently berated. "I knew I saw something fishy in the wolf pen!"

“Saint’s preserve us, I’m surrounded by imbeciles!” yelled Dobson, literally pushing Joel to the floor as he stormed out past him to investigate this latest disaster.

Her boredom and the newborns completely forgotten, Alice Penfold rushed out after him, barely slowing as she yanked Joel back to his feet in passing.

It wasn't long before she and Joel overtook the lumbering Dobson, looking evermore like the hulking Gracie.

"M-Mis—erm, Penfold!" the young man stuttered as he pulled Alice to a sudden standstill. "I—I really think I should be waiting for Mr. Dobson, don't you think?"

"That is entirely up to you Joel—but I'm not gonna miss this for the world. I've had a gut feeling about this all morning and damn it, I'm not gonna let you slow me down or let anyone get in my way, not anymore. This could turn into the scoop I've been waiting my whole life for."





As one, their jaws dropped in incredulity. Ziggy let out a hearty chortle of sheer joy and triumph.


“What the hell, do you mean – April Fools – you poor excuse for a pantomime dame?” yelled Al, rage making his face match Sam’s embarrassed hue.


“Am I to take it that I’m not a wolf after all?” Sam wanted to know, speaking in a hushed tone through gritted teeth. Relieved that the noise of the crowd had led the wolves to retreat somewhat, Sam began inching his way backwards in the direction of the cover of the woods again. Ensuring his makeshift garment was on firmly to preserve his modesty at the front; he kept his bare butt away from as much of the crowd as possible. He was far from amused, as Ziggy could clearly see.


Rather than answer him immediately, she took umbrage at the failure of her little joke, and went into a super-sized sulk.


“Master Stephen assured me that you both had a keen sense of humor and would enjoy being caught out by my jest.” She pouted, tossing her hair in a flounce as she turned away from the spoilsports.


“Stephen!” Al rolled his eyes, as if that explained everything. Then he decided it really didn’t, and yelled at the ether “Stephen! I want words with you young man! Dom, get him down here - pronto.” Sam tried to remember why the name Stephen sounded so familiar, and looked at Al as if to say – ‘Whoever this guy is, tell him he’s out of a job!


“Actually,” Ziggy put in snidely, “if you want to be strictly accurate, in point of fact, I never specifically said that you were a wolf. I may have allowed you to labor under that misapprehension, but the assumption was entirely your own.”


“Terrific!” Sam seemed to recall that it had been Al who had initially put the idea into his head, supposedly acting on Ziggy’s information, but this was neither the time nor the place to debate the issue. Sam would have liked to shout out his righteous indignation at the situation he found himself in, but the still burgeoning crowd precluded any such outburst. He had to settle for seething silently. He was incensed when he thought of the indignities he’d endured unnecessarily, the unwelcome attentions of the two wolves, the intense discomfort of having eaten and regurgitated that foul dog food. He glared at Ziggy, and then at Al, as if he’d like to disassemble their holographic images pixel by pixel. Then he looked at the huge crowd who were watching his every move, and decided the recriminations would have to wait.

“And just what am I supposed to do now?” Sam halted his gradual retreat in a moment of indecision.


“Why, complete your mission of course,” stated Ziggy matter-of-factly.


“Care to tell me what that is?” Sam asked, a mixture of irritation and desperation in his voice.


“This is a remarkably straightforward leap for once,” pronounced Ziggy primly. “You are here to get justice for Marcus Bailey.  In the original history, Marcus staged a naked protest in the wolf pen where he works, stating that his wife’s divorce lawyers had fleeced him of everything he owned, including the shirt off his back. Whilst his stunt put his case powerfully, the police were more interested in the public outcry caused by his exposing himself in front of a group of school children and the nuns who were with them. He was arrested and incarcerated for public indecency and lewd conduct, and ended up even worse off since his employment at the zoo was terminated. They did not take kindly to the adverse publicity of Marcus’ picture being plastered all over the front page of the local newspaper, since there was a reporter on the premises covering the birth of some Sloth Bear cubs.”


Sam blanched at the mention of a reporter and pictures. He began edging toward the woods again.


“You should remain where you are Doctor Beckett,” advised Ziggy. “I predict with 93.2% certainty that this reporter – Ms Alice Penfold – can assist you in bringing Marcus’ predicament to the right ears. Ah, here she is now!”



Spying on the Imaging Chamber was much easier for Stephen than the Waiting Room had been. Due to the vastness of the cavern that served as his Uncle Al’s link with his father in the past, there were no less than three air conditioning ducts that ran along the roof in different directions, intersecting at a location fairly central to the chamber, where there was an access panel for maintenance.


When the air conditioning has gone on the fritz last summer, and they had all been sweltering, Stephen had amused himself watching the technicians climbing up and disappearing into one hatch, and then re-appearing from another in a corridor, or the cafeteria, or wherever.  They had been searching for the obstruction that had caused the problem, which turned out to be a couple of dead snakes that must have been overlooked from the time the previous Spring when a whole colony had infested the complex through a broken ventilation grille.   Stephen had used Dante to help him obtain plans of the whole complex showing the location of all the ducts and their access panels, and had since spent many a happy hour wriggling around the metal corridors furtively, pretending to be a secret agent, and learning far more about the lives and work of the Project staff than a young boy had any right to know. It had been enormous fun. When he’d realized that from the ducts above the Imaging Chamber he could eavesdrop on Uncle Al’s conversations with his father, he had sneaked up there on many an occasion to find out what none of the ‘grown ups’ would tell him. Sometimes, he’d found it too much to bear, knowing that his dad was in danger, or hurt, or afraid – and he’d had to retreat back to the haven of Sam’s lab to throw himself into his work. Other times, it was wonderful to feel the pride of knowing what his dad was doing to help people. Though he missed him dreadfully, and though his father seldom remembered who he was, Stephen loved to sneak into the duct and feel that he was close to his long lost dad, and could almost reach down and touch him.


This time, something even more exciting was going on.


Several weeks ago, he’d been looking for his mom when Uncle Al had come out of the Control Room moaning at Ziggy as usual. He had yelled at her to lighten up, and then muttered about her not being able to take a joke. An idea had immediately formed in Stephen’s young mind as to how he could help Uncle Al and Ziggy - two of his best friends in the entire world - to get along better.


Naturally, his plan had worked brilliantly, and Ziggy was integrating her latest programming with ease, like it had been part of her all along. She had developed a sense of humor that Uncle Al and the rest couldn’t fail to appreciate. At first just sharing some jokes with the creator of her latest subroutine, which had improved as Stephen explained to her the importance of comic timing, she had excelled herself by independently coming up with the idea for a wonderful April fool’s day joke to play on everybody. Even he had been taken in at first - the shaggy black hair and beard, and hairy hands of the leapee had convinced him it was a wolf he’d glimpsed in the Waiting Room. Dr Beeks had looked like she was going to need therapy herself, believing a wild animal was her latest patient. It was all too funny. Now Stephen was in the shaft again, peering through one of the vents, waiting to see how Uncle Al and his dad were going to react to finding out how Zig had tricked them, and it promised to be hilarious.


Al was running round like crazy in one direction, a holographic wolf hot on his heels, while another chased his dad the other way. It was like something out of the Benny Hill sketches that St. John had shown him. Stephen was trying hard to stifle his giggles so that his Uncle Al wouldn’t discover him.


When the school-kids started laughing and mocking and pointing at Sam, Stephen had almost shouted aloud to them to leave his dad alone. Yet he had to admit that a man running around almost naked and covered in mud, with a ludicrous fibrous apron round him was not the sort of thing you saw every day. His dad looked really comical, and only loyalty and love kept him from guffawing along with the other kids. That - and the fear that his hiding place would be as exposed as his Papa’s posterior.


Then Ziggy sprung her surprise, and yelled “April Fools” and Stephen waited for them to join in the laughter, but they didn’t. In fact both Al and his dad had looked really cross. Al shouted at Ziggy again, and his dad looked really embarrassed and hurt. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen at all. Ziggy was obviously as disappointed as he was. He couldn’t understand it; it was a hilarious joke to play - why couldn’t the two men see the funny side of it? It seemed to Stephen that Uncle Al was the one who needed to ‘lighten up’, and he wondered how much easier life would be if humans could have new chips implanted, or software upgrades at regular intervals.

That thought made him giggle too, but the amusement was soon wiped off his face when he heard Al yelling for him, “Stephen! I want words with you young man! Dom, get him down here – pronto,” his face redder with anger than the suit he was wearing.


Gulping nervously, Stephen decided it was time for a strategic withdrawal, and he began backing away from his vantage point, intending to sneak away and lie low somewhere until the fuss died down. Somewhere he didn’t mind being discovered eventually, like under Sammy-Jo’s bed, where he had hidden a few times before, but not so often that it was the first place they looked for him.


Unfortunately, in his haste to escape, Stephen was not careful enough how he distributed his body weight in the conduit, and he leant too hard on the access panel as he passed. It gave way beneath him, opening up to tip him down from a great height toward the floor of the cavern below. All thoughts of secrecy abandoned, he screamed for all he was worth.


Fortunately, he was almost directly above Al’s location at this moment, and a startled Admiral looked up at the noise to see young Stephen descending upon him at speed. Instinct lent him the swiftness and dexterity to position himself and put out his arms just in time to catch the junior Beckett, though the momentum forced them both to the ground, knocking the wind out of Al, whose body cushioned the boy’s fall and saved him from serious injury.


Sam was torn away from looking at the newly arrived reporter Ziggy had just pointed out to him, wondering what on earth was happening back at the project, as he saw from the corner of his eye Al suddenly reach out to grab something, and then be floored by a boy who appeared out of nowhere on top of his fallen comrade.


He started to ask if Al was okay, and was frustrated that he couldn’t go over and help the older man back to his feet, but his audience and the fact that he was a hologram to Al precluded his being of any practical assistance.


Stephen was shaking, with shock from the fall, and in fear both of Al’s wrath and the fact that he may have hurt his uncle. He rolled himself to one side, got up on his knees, asking what Sam had wanted to -

“Are you okay, Uncle Al?”


For a few long moments, Al lay still and said nothing. Stephen’s lip quivered, and tears began rolling down his cheeks.


“Uncle Al, talk to me!” he begged, nudging the old man gently on the arm.


“Ziggy, help me!” the boy pleaded, terrified.


“Ouff!” Al let out at last, slowly moving his arm to his chest and rubbing gently at bruised ribs. He tried to sit up, but his head swam, so he lay back down for a moment.


“Did anyone get the number of that truck?!” he asked huskily.


Sniffing through his tears, Stephen couldn’t help but smile, partly in relief, partly because “Oh Uncle Al, that is sooooo corny!”


Dom rushed in and hurried over, having been summoned by Ziggy to attend the stricken observer.


Al started to stir again, trying to get up.


“Whoa there,” Dom put a restraining hand on his shoulder, “Take it easy, Al. Aurora’s on her way; lie still ‘til she gets here.”


“Don’t fuss.” Al brushed him aside, “I’ll be fine. Just took the wind out of my sails for a minute. Though when I told you to get Stephen down here pronto, this wasn’t quite what I had in mind. Ha!” Al laughed, and then wished he hadn’t as it made his sore ribs ache still more. He winced.


“I’m sorry, Uncle Al, I didn’t mean…”


Al forestalled him with a sweep of his hand. “Don’t sweat it, kid. But that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook over this little prank with Ziggy, capisce?”


“Yes, sir.” Acknowledged a severely chastened Stephen.


“Just give me a hand to get up, will ya, Lofty?” Al frowned, annoyed that he needed assistance, but he was feeling shakier than he wanted to admit.


All this time, Sam had been casting an anxious eye over his friend, more interested in his welfare than the approach of the reporter or his ‘mission’.


He was only seeing part of the picture, of course, and could only hear Al’s side of the conversation, but he could piece together enough to have an idea what was going on.


“You should have Beth or Aurora check you over, Al.” Sam advised. “That was quite a tumble. You could be concussed.”


“Beth can give me the once over when we get to bed tonight.” Al waved dismissively and gave his patented mischievous grin. “Right now, I think you got more urgent matters to worry about buddy, and I wouldn’t miss this one for the world! Now are you gonna help me up Lofty, or do I gotta…?”


Seeing that he wouldn’t be persuaded on the issue, Dom offered Al his hand, and eased the Admiral back to his feet. Al stumbled slightly on regaining the perpendicular, but shrugged off further concern with a gesture, and motioned to Stephen to pass him his discarded jacket. Putting it on, he pulled the hem straight and huffed, making it clear that the subject was closed.


“Dom, get Stephen outa here, but keep a close eye on him.” Al ordered sternly, and then turned to the younger Beckett. “When I’m done in here, we need to have a serious chat, you and I, understood young man?”


Stephen merely looked at his feet, and gave a little nod, not trusting himself to speak without bursting into fresh floods of tears. Then he allowed Lofty to lead him out of the room, casting a quick look back over his shoulder at the holographic image of his father, whom he was so desperate to make proud of him.


“I said, ‘Are you talking to yourself or the wolves?’” Alice Penfold cleared her throat and tried again to get ‘Marcus’s’ attention. This time she succeeded; he turned to look her right in the eye, or rather the camera lens. He squirmed a bit when he realized he was being photographed, as well he might. She had never seen such a ridiculous sight in all her years of reporting. This was going to be some scoop, and she was the one right there to get it! Suddenly, getting this dumb-ass assignment to the zoo looked like being the best break she’d had in years.


“Uh, neither, that is uh…” the muddy man in the weird woven garment stammered. He took a couple of small steps backward, as if he was about to bolt for the woods to hide again. Alice couldn’t have that. She wasn’t going to let this story escape her, even if it meant climbing in the wolf pen with him.


“Never mind,” Alice changed the subject hastily, “Uh, its Marcus, isn’t it?” She had to appear friendly. She wanted him to open up and give her a story. Scaring him off would not be a smart move.


“Uh-huh, that’s right, Ms Penfold.” Sam confirmed - using the name Ziggy had given him.


Alice’s eyes widened in surprise and she couldn’t disguise the smile of pleasure she felt at being recognized. She may outwardly protest about the nuisance of ‘adoring fans’, but she hadn’t gotten into this business for the pension plan. She had no intention of remaining on the community section of the local rag forever. Oh no Siree-Bob. She had much bigger and better things mapped out for her future.


“You know who I am?” she feigned modesty.


“Why, of course.” Sam had been told she could be a useful ally in achieving a positive outcome to the Leap. He was going to butter her up as much as it took to get her cooperation. “I read your column in the “InTowner” every week.” It had taken no more than a glance at his now upright companion to elicit the information he needed to perpetrate this flattery.


“How very gratifying,” responded the reporter nonchalantly.


Al was feeding him biographical details on both Marcus and Alice, as fast as he could get them from the database. What he heard gave Sam an idea.


“In fact,” Sam gave the reporter a disarming smile, “you’re the reason I’m here like this today.”


Alice nearly dropped her camera in shock. She didn’t know whether to be flattered or insulted or what. She covered herself by pretending she was just getting a stronger grip on the heavy equipment, and trying for a better angle to snap him by.


“Go on…” she encouraged, intrigued beyond words.


“I work here in the zoo, with the wolves in particular.” He told her. “When I heard you would be here to cover the birth of Tipo’s babies, I figured you were the ideal person to help me expose a grave injustice.”


‘I’ve never heard it called that before!’ thought Alice to herself, sizing up the cute firm tushi on the fine figure of a man she saw before her. She tried not to snigger at the thought. There was still a danger Marcus could change his mind and bolt back to the cover of the woodland.


“And what would that be?” Penfold put on her most professional voice and tried to sound detached yet interested.


“In a nutshell,” Sam told her, “My wife left me because she erroneously believed I was having an affair. I was secretly taking dancing lessons to surprise her on our anniversary, but she hired some cheesy private eye who showed her pictures of me in the arms of another woman. She wouldn’t believe me when I explained it was all a mistake. Whereupon she took me to the divorce court, and her lawyers took me for every penny I had. Not that I was exactly loaded to start with! Karen claimed mental cruelty and they swallowed it hook, line and sinker. They took everything from me, fleeced me of all my worldly goods – metaphorically taking the shirt from my back.” Here Sam indicated himself to show that he was making a point by his lack of regular attire. “But worse than all that, she took our son Rufus away, and won’t allow me to see him.”


Passing on this information, Sam didn’t need any acting ability whatsoever to show in his face and his body language how devastated Marcus was by this. He could well imagine what it must feel like to have a son he couldn’t watch grow up.


“I need somebody to fight my case for me.” Sam explained to Alice. “I couldn’t afford a lawyer before, and obviously I didn’t put my case well enough the first time. I certainly can’t afford a lawyer now. Not that I trust any of them anyway.”


Al had told him this was how Marcus felt. He was also telling Sam that the more he imparted to Penfold, the higher the odds that he could soon be leaping out.


“Keep at her, Sam. You’re winning her over. 81% says Marcus will get a fair deal next time.” Al had the strangest feeling that he too had a deep-seated hatred of divorce lawyers, but couldn’t imagine why. Must be a repressed memory of a past life, he decided.


“I don’t think it is fair that my son should be kept from me, when I’m blameless in all this.” The vehemence of his own feelings shone through again as he said this. Sam hated injustice in any shape or form.


“82% - you’re doing great!”


Alice Penfold couldn’t believe her luck. Not only had she stumbled across a front page story that she could take full credit for – she had it on tape that her presence had contributed to the story coming to light – but it looked as if Marcus may hold the key to her proving the malpractice case she was building against a couple of divorce lawyers and a judge she had been investigating for weeks. They were fixing hearings so that the wives received hugely inflated pay-outs, and taking a cut for themselves. Now she had one of the victims before her, and the chance to get some real hard evidence.


“Well, Marcus – may I call you Marcus?” she needed to take charge of the situation.


“Mark will do,” replied Sam, to whom the name Marcus still made him think he was one of the pack. He shuddered at the memory.


“Well isn’t this all very fine and dandy?” Boomed Dobson - who had finally caught up with the reporter and his junior assistant, Joel. He’d arrived puffing and panting and had taken a few moments to get his breath and size up the situation. He was not at all pleased with what he saw and heard.


“Uh-oh, buddy. Here’s the fly in the ointment.” Interjected Al. “Your odds are slipping rapidly, 70%, 65%, do something buddy…” Sam shot him a ‘like what?’ look, and Al started fiddling with the handlink.

When you have quite finished your little chit-chat, Bailey you have one minute to get dressed and back to work or I’ll have you out of here before your feet can touch the ground. If it weren’t that you were the only one Moonshadow trusts while she’s pregnant, you’d be sacked on the spot regardless. Which eventuality may well still happen to you Miss Penfold,” she cringed, more at the way he addressed her than at the threat, “when I have words with Mr. Marriot at the paper about your inability to follow instructions. Who gave you permission to abandon your post? Tipo is still birthing as we speak and you’re nowhere near to record the event.” Reese Dobson was fast turning puce as he verged on an apoplectic fit.


“Ziggy say’s Dobson here is gonna get her fired, Sam. Looks like you gotta save her job too. Oh no! 47% on achieving both outcomes pal. Look sharp.”


Penfold realized Dobson was just spiteful enough to do it, too. She hastily got some more shots of Marcus Bailey in his wacky attire. She could do some clever editing back at base later. She wasn’t about to let this story get away though. Taking her camera off her shoulder, she thrust it at the astonished Joel.


“Here, kid, go take pictures of the babies, just point and click your finger on this button.”

Joel gaped at her open mouthed.


“Shoo – go.” She insisted, nudging him to get him moving. He stumbled off, looking like he was carrying a Faberge egg – fragile and valuable and scary as Hell. Reaching into her copious bag Penfold pulled out a notebook and started scribbling notes on what Marcus had already told her.


She had all he’d said on tape of course, but until she got a chance to play it back she couldn't be sure it had come out clearly. She preferred to have an old--fashioned paper backup.


Dobson was still far from happy and opened his mouth to berate her again, but Sam cut in, relieved that Al was feeding him some ammunition with which to diffuse the situation:  “For a start, Mr. Dobson sir, this is my day off. And I don’t think you can blame Ms Penfold for following the instincts of a good reporter.” Alice preened herself at that. “She was –in fact – just doing her job. I’m the one who detained her.”


“Yes, well uh, I’ll ahem, I’ll deal with you later, Bailey,” blustered Dobson, having suddenly come to the conclusion that a shouting match in front of the customers was not good for zoo business, and in fact was drawing attention to a situation he would rather they didn’t dwell on. “Just stop making an exhibition of yourself, there’s a good fellow.”


Sam nodded enthusiastically. That was something he would willingly and eagerly comply with.


Dobson smiled benevolently at the curious onlookers, and tried to look avuncular. “As for you,” he positively hissed at Alice, “I’m on my way to call Marriot right now.” With which he stalked off.


Ignoring the threat, Penfold went back to her scoop, as if the interruption had never happened.


“Mark, you certainly came to the right person. If you promise me exclusive rights to your story, I’m sure I can help you to get your case re-opened.”


“You got it, Ms Penfold,” Sam replied. “Just let me slip out of this wolf pen and into something more comfortable and I’ll tell you anything you want to know.”


“Ooooh, like my arms, handsome!” Penfold muttered under her breath, then banished the unprofessional thought. Story first, seduction later. If she was lucky.


Al grinned broadly. “That’s it, buddy. Get ready to leap. Ziggy is giving odds of 93.7% that you’ve got Marcus a fair deal. He can take it from here.”


Sam smiled in return. He wouldn’t be at all sorry to see an end to this leap.


“What about Alice?” he queried out of the corner of his mouth as he made his way to the nearest exit. “I can’t let her lose her job because of me.”


“It doesn’t matter, Sam.” Al told him, eliciting a frown from the leaper. Since when did something like this not matter? Al had told him not five minutes before that he had to ensure Alice kept her job.


“No, really Sam, don’t sweat it. Ziggy says that getting the exclusive on your uh Marcus’ story helps Penfold bust wide open a case of a crooked judge and his lawyer cronies who’ve been milking innocent divorcees for some time. She goes freelance with it and gets the story on the front page of one of the nationals. Gets an award for investigative journalist of the year, and lands a plum job with the paper. She’s on the up, Sam.”


“What about Rufus? The son - does Marcus…?”


Al consulted Ziggy, who was still sulking at the failure of her ‘little joke’ and so refused to put in a personal appearance. She was professional enough to make sure Sam had all the facts though, as she was at pains to point out.


“Oh yeah, Sam. Marcus gets full custody of the little rug rat. Hey, you’ll never believe this! He hooks up with the confirmed bachelorette over there,” Al gestured toward Alice Penfold, “and she becomes the nipper’s new Mom. So much for her going on record with her claims of never wanting anything to do with children, eh? She ends up quite maternal, they have three more together!”


“Oh boy!” declared Sam, to which Al predictably retorted, “Actually, two of them were girls, hehehe. You done good, pal.”


Sam didn’t feel as if he had done very much at all, but he was pleased with the outcome nonetheless.


As he felt the first tingling of the impending leap, he tackled the last thing that was bothering him.  “Looks like I’m about to mosey on out of this here corral,” he said to his holographic friend. “So I’ll get right to the point. I know you’ll try to deny it, but I’ve seen you wincing, Al. Promise me you’ll get yourself checked over before I leap in again and give you an excuse to neglect your health.”


Al opened his mouth to dispel Sam’s fears and assure him he was fine, but Sam would have none of it.  “No excuses, Doctor’s orders.” Sam’s tone was firm, even stern, but his eyes showed his concern.


Al knew in his heart that his friend was right. He had more aches and pains from his fall than he wanted to admit, even to himself. He gave in almost gracefully.  “Yes sir!” He saluted smartly, and as Sam vanished in a haze of blue electrical energy, Al made his way out of the Imaging Chamber.


Stephen wasn’t waiting for him in the Control Room, and Al cast a critical eye at Dom for letting him out of his sight. He didn’t need to say a word.


“Don’t worry, Al, he hasn’t run off,” Dom told him. “He’s with Sammy Jo in her office, they’re waiting for you.”


Al dragged himself to the rendezvous point, feeling his age more and more with every step. He told himself he hadn’t been badly hurt, just a few bruised ribs and such and a little bump on the head. No big deal. He didn’t need a doctor to tell him that he’d soon get over it. Yet even so, he felt sore and in need of rest. He wasn’t looking forward to having to come the heavy with the kid.


Both Beckett offspring looked up as he entered the office without knocking.


Stephen had clearly been crying, but was calm now. He had been bending over Sammy Jo’s computer keyboard.


Before Al could start berating him, he stood up and went over to his uncle. Stephen looked up with exactly the sort of puppy dog expression his father used on Al when he wanted to bend the rules, or get his own way.


“I’m sorry, Uncle Al,” he stated simply. “I’m really very sorry I hurt you, and I’m sorry that you didn’t like Ziggy’s new humor program. I didn’t mean any harm, I swear. I heard you tell her to lighten up, and I just wanted to help. I’ve just deleted the subroutine, and Sammy Jo is helping me to reconfigure all her parameters so that she’s back the way she was. What else do you want me to do?” Oh the kid was good. He’d pre-empted most of what Al was going to demand of him.


Sammy Jo had obviously beaten him to the pep talk, and Al wasn’t at all unhappy that she’d saved him the trouble. He had neither the heart nor the energy to lecture the lad further. His top priority in sorting this mess was already being taken care of, and the boy was genuinely contrite. He wasn’t going to let him off the hook quite yet though.

“Well for a start, no more dropping into my lap from the air conditioning ducts, understood?”


“Yes sir,” agreed Stephen, understanding that Uncle Al hadn’t specifically banned him from crawling through the ducts, just from falling out of them, which he was in no hurry to repeat anyway.  “And in future,” Al looked the boy in the eye to be sure he was paying attention, “before you make any adjustments to Ziggy, you’re to clear it with someone like Sammy Jo or Dom or myself first, do I make myself clear?”


“Yes sir,” responded the young man again.


“I think he’s learned his lesson, Al.” Sammy Jo came and put a supportive arm on her little brother’s shoulder.


Stephen nodded enthusiastically. “I was only trying to help, honest.” He assured the avuncular admiral again.


“All right, we’ll say no more about it for now.” Al sighed. “Just remember what I said, Stephen, okay?”


“Yes sir, thank you sir.” Stephen knew he’d got off lightly.


“You two finish up here, then.” Al instructed, “I’m off for some well earned rest.”


With which he withdrew to his quarters and the tender arms of his beloved wife and nurse, Beth.  Hugging her as he went in, he dismissed her worries about his fall, but confessed:  “I could use a good massage to help me relax.”


“You should get your wife to give you one!” Ziggy’s voice was barely audible, so Al dismissed the idea that her tone had been suggestive of a double meaning.


Stephen was busy berating Ziggy for ‘larking around’ and frowning. He was sure he’d removed all of the encrypted functions that had enabled Ziggy to joke around.


“Some things, once experienced, are not so easy to negate,” Ziggy told him smugly, as she rerouted some of his coding to hide it deep within her subsystems.


“C’mon to bed, honey, I’ll see what I can do.” Beth purred in his ear, grabbing his tie and leading him toward the bedroom.


“Mmmm, that feels good,” Al mumbled as his wife worked her magic and some liniment on his aching muscles. “That’s gonna iron out some of the kinks for sure.”


“I wouldn’t be so sure, Admiral,” again Ziggy seemed to be commentating rather than communicating directly. “It is beyond any mere mortal to separate you from anything kinky!”


On the point of drifting into a relaxed sleep, Al fancied he heard Ziggy make the drum and cymbal crash sound of a punch line being delivered.


“Stephen!” he uttered in a low growl, vowing to chew the lad out for failing to restore Ziggy’s humorless status – in the morning.


Ziggy sniggered like Muttley on helium.





Sleep, blissful sleep. Seldom did Sam Beckett start a leap dreaming a pleasant dream of images of that he could no longer identify. Even deep within his subconscious the lingering effects of his Swiss-cheesery tore at his memories ripping them to shreds and reassembling them like a puzzle dropped randomly on the floor. Sam turned over pulling at his blanket when his eyes popped open.


“Oogah! Oogah! Oogah!” sounded a claxon warning Sam of impending danger. “Oogah! Oogah! Oogah!”


Sam sat up suddenly hitting his head on the hard metal bunk above him.

”Ouch!” he yelled as men ran by him on either side while dressing in white Navy uniforms.


“Oogah! Oogah! Oogah!” the claxon continued to sound. “Battle stations! Battle Stations!” was announced over an annoyingly squeaky public address system.


Sam jumped down from his bed, pulled on a pair of pants that luckily fit him and the only pair of shoes remaining under the bunk. Sailors ran past Sam as he tried to decide which direction to go. More men were running left rather than right so Sam decided to follow them. Ducking through three separate hatches and up four steep ladders, Sam emerged on the far end of a large flat surface covered with jet planes. Dawn crept over the horizon, as it appeared to pitch and roll off the deck of a United States’ Navy aircraft carrier.


“Hey, swabbie. Get to your station, sailor!” some officer yelled to Sam as a life preserver was hastily thrown over his shoulders. Another man grabbed Sam’s arm and pulled him toward a ladder. Sam climbed aboard an anti-aircraft gun station as a pair of binoculars was shoved into his hands.


Looking at the binoculars momentarily Sam craned his neck looking skyward. The ten-story tower mounted on the carrier deck loomed large above him as sailors scurried across the deck like ants. Seaward Sam saw other ships in the vicinity that thankfully appeared to be friendly.


“Number three antiaircraft position manned and ready,” called out the sailor that seemed do be in charge.


“Jesus Christ, I hope we finally see some action for once!” cursed the sailor manning the gun position.


“Can the chatter, Perkins!” cried out the senior sailor who then reported something over his headphones.


Sam sheepishly peeked out over the gun and mumbled a nervous, “Oh, Boy!”


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