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Make Like a Tree and Kick Him

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     The overwhelming sensation of being flung through time quickly fading around him, Sam glanced around immediately, knowing how important knowledge of his surroundings could be. The trees and brush around him provided very few clues, however. It appeared he was in a forest, and that he'd leaped in during either the early morning or late evening, based on the long shadows painting the ground around him. He certainly hoped it was the former; nighttime in the wilderness didn't sound ideal.

     Much more distressing, though, was the apparent physical state of the leapee. Sam's feet and ankles were buried under several inches of dirt, which looked so undisturbed that he wouldn't be surprised to learn this person had been here a while. His arms were flung nearly straight up into the air upon leaping in, although they'd dropped since, so the chances that some kind of earth-praising ritual had been taking place were getting better by the second. And, just to top it all off, Sam found himself entirely naked. No shirt, no pants, no underwear, and upon wiggling his toes a bit, apparently not even any socks.

     For the sake of his dignity, as well as the chill in the air, Sam yanked his feet from the earth and set to poking around for the leapee's clothes. Although there was worryingly little context available for this person's actions, he hoped that they'd at least opted to strip close by to their chosen temporary residence, as opposed to wandering through the woods nude for some amount of time beforehand. Sam corrected himself: there was always the possibility that this person lived in a cabin or some equivalent forest abode, and didn't have to come far. Fingers crossed for that one, although there weren't any buildings nearby.

     A few minutes later, Sam's search was proving frustratingly fruitless. True to the uninhabited nature of the, well, nature that surrounded him, there were absolutely no physical objects that signified that the person he was now occupying the life of had come anywhere near this patch of land, be it discarded clothes, any manner of supplies, or a telephone. Well, that might be a bit much to ask for, chances are there weren't widespread cells during this leap, and it's not as if he'd get reception anyway. Speaking of which, Al had really better show up soon with info. If Ziggy's gotten any information on this leap yet, then surely they'll know that Sam can't exactly accomplish much on his own this time.

     After fashioning a half-hearted loincloth out of some nearby leaves (and praying either his rural childhood or possible experience in botany meant he had chosen harmless ones), Sam's hologram companion did eventually appear, the harsh glow of the Imaging Chamber door unnatural in the dim light of the now-setting sun.

     "Nice of you to show up." Sam took in the appearance of his friend and nearly did a double-take; the green leaf-patterned button-up and warm brown pinstripe slacks almost made Al blend in with the shrubs behind him. This effect was, of course, ruined by the neon pink collar, light-up star brooch, and shiny gold shoes, but still a bit unsettling.

    Al waved his hand dismissively, eyes never straying from his handlink. "Sorry Sammy, news about this leap caused quite a stir back at the Project. And I'd have to agree with 'em, it's a heck of an interesting one, huh?"

     "Oh, sure. You're so enthralled by these trees, you decided to dress as one!" Al finally glanced up, then down at his outfit, chuckling.

     "Funnily enough, this was a coincidence! It sure was a kick in the butt when I stepped into the Waiting Room and I matched the leapee, although I suppose now you and I match too," he snickered again, gesturing at Sam's shoddy attempt at clothing.

     "Oh, ha ha, mock the guy likely to freeze to death in a few hours," Sam wrapped his arms around his chest defensively (and to avoid shivering), "and anyway, whaddaya mean, you matched? The guy in the Waiting Room is wearing Project clothes now, and I got all his outerwear, by which I mean exactly nothing. Unless there was something inherently naturalistic about him?" He shuddered, picturing someone with carefully styled hair designed to emulate some plant, or maybe particularly green-stained teeth, signifying a largely leaf-based lifestyle.

    "Y-you could say that, yeah," the hologram looked about ready to dissolve into a fit of giggles, and Sam was really starting to get annoyed. Just what was going on here? "Have you r-," he snorted, "really not figured it out yet?" Al, nearly doubled over, moved to regain his balance with a nearby tree trunk, but wheeled back just in time to not fall over.

     Suddenly, the physicist was hit with a dawning realization. "Al, am I..." He looked back at the spot where he'd leapt in, feet in the ground and hands to the sky, "Am I a tree?"

     "Yes!" the remarkably unhelpful observer joyfully barked out, then took a moment to titter to himself. "Give the kid a prize. Or, sorry, the plant."

     "This isn't funny, Al. How did this even happen?" Sam started pacing, running his hands through his hair. Who knew how any of this would look to a bypasser... "Leaping is only supposed to work with humans! Even that chimp was a stretch, genetically speaking,"

     "I've been trying not to think about it too hard. And, anyway, how can you say this isn't funny? I got to see a tree in pants, Sam!" That concept was enough to warrant a slight snort from Sam, but he continued his purposeful stride.

     "Okay, okay, it's a little funny. But what am I supposed to do as a tree, hm? Anyone who sees me move would pass out! And I doubt that I'm here to help with any inter-tree issues," he said, flicking a branch as he passed.

     "Well, that's the thing, actually. Ziggy says you're in Maine, November 20, 1982, and you've gotta help catch this criminal, Louis, that escapes into these very woods later tonight. The police almost recaptured the murdering slimeball, but it was just too dark, and he was too fast. So, we figure, you give him a little whap upside the head when he passes through, and bam, 3 deaths are prevented."

     "By a tree. Why not a real person? I'd certainly prefer that." Sam finally stopped moving and sat down, curling up to maintain heat.

    "First of all, I'm sure the trees are incredibly offended by that," Sam scoffed, "and second, this is a dangerous forest. There's no one around for miles, quite intentionally. Any real person around here would get eaten by some animal, or freeze to death overnight."

     "Two things I'm still in danger of, in case you're forgetting!" Al was beginning to look nearly as exasperated as Sam felt.

     "If any animals come near you, I'll just lead 'em away, or maybe get Ziggy to project some bigger, scarier animal. And, in terms of surviving the night, we've got about five types of relevant training between us, not to mention access to every database in history. I think you'll be okay."

     He considered this. "Well, how long have I gotta wait?"

     "The guy comes through at about midnight, and it's currently..." Al smacked the handlink, "nearly eight, so four hours." Well, that wasn't too bad. Certainly not long enough to worry about dying, but really too long for Sam to sit around in the woods without getting incredibly bored. He could always scratch some equations into the dirt, or maybe climb a tree (what a concept), but it was already pretty dark. Actually...

     "Would you mind staying for a bit? Since it's nearly night, I won't have any entertainment options, and it's not as if there's anything I've gotta do..." Sam trailed off, suddenly embarrassed.

     Luckily, his friend smiled, and sat down, only intersecting with the foliage a little bit. "Of course! Everybody else is busy tryna interview a plant, anyway. I haven't got anywhere else to be."

     In Al's warm tone, Sam heard the implied "or that I'd rather be," and smiled, too.

-----

     "Okay, got any... threes?"

     "Nope. Go fish."

     "I swear, either Ziggy's been stacking the deck or you were a card game prodigy, too."

     "Even if I knew, I wouldn't tell you."

-----

     Despite somewhat-thorough testing to see if a hologram could help light up the forest for the sake of the upcoming whapping, there didn't seem to be any way to fix the darkness. Al could only bring into view anything he touched, and that didn't extend to rays of light, apparently. But Sam could see anything in the Imaging Chamber perfectly clearly, and after yelling to Gooshie about some image filters, Al said he could see the other man's surroundings fine, too. (He attempted to prove it by describing an adjacent bush in excruciating detail, before Sam pointed out there was no way of verifying that, since nearly everything was pitch-black to him.)

     The solution they settled on was to center Al exactly on the fugitive a little before he was scheduled to get beaten up, and keep him the same proportional distance away, so that Sam could just aim for where the well-lit Al seemed to be, and that should be close enough. ("Finally, I get a chance to punch you in the face.")

     The time came, Al said a brief farewell, and Sam proceeded to get into position. First, loincloth off. No matter how degrading it may feel, this was better that leaving a tree to have fake underwear for the rest of time. Second, feet back in the holes. He leaned down to even pat the soil back into place; no point in leaving it looking unnatural. Now, straighten up, arms to the sky, and wait.

     Within a minute, there was rustling to his left, and Sam had to resist the urge to crane his head to look. Suddenly, a figure, along with Al seemingly on an invisible moving sidewalk, traipsed past, close enough that Sam would accuse him of invading his personal space if he were still human. Just before the man moved out of reach, Sam brought his fist down, hard, right on the crown of his head, knocking him immediately to the forest floor.

     "Nice job Sam!" Al crowed, apparently not realizing (or, perhaps, minding) that he was now halfway submerged in the ground. "I'd bet he's out cold, so the authorities will find him in just a little while."

     Sam diligently raised his right hand back up, and waited to be imminently whisked away by some blue higher power. He waited... and waited...

     "Al, why haven't I Leaped yet?" Sam glanced to the side and found Al at the right level again, peering down at the man Sam could only barely make out.

     "How should I know? Ziggy says..." he jammed a few buttons impatiently, "Wait, Ziggy says he still gets away. How could-"

     With two people he couldn't see watching in horror, the murderer staggered to his feet.

     Sam Beckett did the only thing he could think to.

-----

      "This unique tree was first discovered in 1982, when serial killer Louis Kessler was discovered passed out just underneath its remarkable elevated root system. Some, perhaps inspired by the partially exposed and vaguely leg-shaped nature of the oak's base, claim that this brave tree might've knocked out the criminal using some sort of flying kick to the head."