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Snake in the Grass

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Prologue

"Gushie" was having a conniption fit.

Admiral Calavicci had warned him that unusual things happened when Sam Leaped, but nothing could have prepared David Beckett for what was happening now. His first Leap-in, and what a baptism!

"Admiral! Dr Beeks! Anybody!"

Al, Verbena, Sammi-Jo, Donna and a half-dozen others burst through the door within seconds of each other, convinced Sam was either Home or Dead, or both.

Twenty expectant eyes focused on the new boy.

"What is it? What's happened?" asked Al urgently.

David swallowed hard.

"Wh- what do I do?" he queried. "How, uh, what, I mean…" he stammered.

"What? Spit it out, man." roared the Rear Admiral, instantly forgetting all his vows to break the kid in gently. "I take it Sam's Leaped-in?"

"Y-yes." David nodded vigorously. Dr. Beckett had Leaped-in all right. Way in. You could even say well over his head.

"Then if you're not going to tell me what's going on, I guess I'll go have a chat with our new visitor." Al headed for the Waiting Room.

"I – I w-wouldn't open that door if I were you." David found both his voice and his motor skills and moved forward purposefully to bar Al's way.

Al turned to glare at him. He was beginning to doubt the wisdom of hiring this greenhorn.

"Admiral, you can't go into the Waiting Room. Ziggy has flooded it!"

 

Somewhere in the Atlantic

Sam had eventually realized his azure environment was not the limbo of transit between Leaps, but was in fact a clear blue sea. He'd Leaped in mid-ocean like this once before, and remembered panic and an explosion, but this time he felt instantly calm.

He was swimming underwater and soon became aware that he was not alone. He was part of a group, swimming close together some way beneath the surface.

Very shortly after that his ungoggled eyes realized that there was something odd about his companions. They were all in grey wet suits – no, wait a minute – they weren't wet suits at all. His swimming partners were not even human – they were dolphins.

Tursiops truncatus truncatus.

He was swimming right in the middle of a school of Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins!

They were magnificent.

So beautiful - so graceful.

And close enough to reach out and touch.

It was so peaceful, so serene and wonderful; he wished the experience could last forever. Yet he supposed his air supply would be exhausted all too soon.

Looking down for the first time at his own appearance to check his gauges, he immediately became conscious that he was not wearing any breathing apparatus. This discovery intrigued him, yet he was not at all alarmed by it. He felt no discomfort, though he couldn't recall, now he thought about it, having drawn breath since his Leap-in. Closer examination of his appearance showed him to be not only without scuba gear, but also without anything else at all. He was stark naked. He had not a stitch on.

Next he was aware that the dolphins were conversing in clicks and whistles, yet he knew what they were saying. He finally comprehended why his blood was still so oxygen rich after long submersion. Had there been a mirror to check in, he was sure he'd have seen flippers where his arms should be. His consciousness was currently residing in the blubber of a sea dwelling mammal.

He, too, was a Bottlenose dolphin!

"Ohhhhh, boyohboyohboyohboyohboy!" he emitted, in one long sonic squeak.

 

QLHQ

Disbelievingly, Al climbed to the Observation deck, which discreetly overlooked the Waiting Room through a two-way mirror, and contained all manner of high-tech monitoring equipment. Sure enough, the holding cell was two-thirds filled with water.

"How do we sedate a distressed dolphin?" asked Beeks, who'd followed close upon his heels and now stared incredulously at the creature's aura.

Swimming in tight circles within was a beautiful, sleek Bottle-nosed dolphin - in Sam's body - crying plaintively to its lost companions.

"Beats the hell outa me," replied the Observer with a shrug, "but that's," he pointed into the 'tank' below, "your problem. I think I'd better check in on Sam."

Al remembered how Sam had reacted to finding out he was a chimp (and having to wear a diaper!). He could just imagine how his friend was going to feel about this one. Mind you, at least the diet would be better. In fact, Sam liked sushi, so raw fish would be a banquet compared to caterpillar protein.

 

Somewhere in the Atlantic

And so it was with this comforting thought that Al announced his presence a few moments later. He fairly gloated about it as he pretended to tread water, much to Sam's irritation, especially since he had only the vaguest recollection of that 'primitive' Leap.

Al was not in the least chastened by Sam's reproving looks. With a toss of his head he turned to the com-link.

"This one's a doddle, Sam," he assured the Leaper, though his friend's expression suggested he'd heard this empty promise before.

"No, really. One of these dolphins is about to give birth. Ziggy puts it a clear 98.4 percent that you're here to play midwife and see the little nipper takes his first breath. Originally, he didn't make it. Drowned."

Sam had wondered why he was so far from his normal province. He had assumed he was to be one of those fabled creatures that saved a drowning sailor or some such. This was a long way from his regular missions, yet looking at his gentle companions; it seemed a worthy enough goal in and of itself.

In any event, he could never have stood – or even swum – idly by and watch any of God's creatures suffer if there was even the slimmest chance of his being able to prevent it. And whilst gynecology was not his specialty, he was quietly confident that he could provide the necessary assistance in this delivery.

He would soon find out. He wasn't really sure whether he'd heard and understood an auditory signal, or whether it was just a shared consciousness he'd patched into, but all at once he sensed the birth was imminent. He and the other females circled the mother, quietly encouraging with squeaks and nudges.

The calf emerged tail-first. He was one-third his mother's length, and Sam estimated him to be around 15 percent of her weight. As they watched the umbilical cord break spontaneously, Al turned slightly green. He wasn't comfortable with what he called "yucky stuff".

Sam took up his position on the left of the newborn, the mother flanking him on the right. Together they gently pushed the calf toward the surface with their snouts. Sam let instinct and the dolphin's powerful muscles guide him through what seemed a never-ending ascent, until at last they broke the surface and the young dolphin got his first taste of cool fresh air.

"Congratulations, buddy. You just became an aunty!" snorted Al.

Sam didn't care. He felt exhilarated. He swam around the newborn, faster and faster, then dove down deep again, and turned, hurtling back upward, higher and higher, 'til he leapt out of the water altogether, arching majestically as if passing through some invisible hoop. The fixed smile on his dolphin face reflected his delight. Delight not just in a job well done, but also in the feeling of freedom and power and companionship and a whole flood of other emotions he couldn't put names to. He wanted to freeze time and have the moment last forever. He decided there and then that if re-incarnation ever proved to be a reality, he wanted to - he aspired to - come back as a dolphin.

All too soon the force of gravity sucked him back down through the gentle waves, and in the moment he broke the surface of the ocean, Sam Leaped.