Written by: Kevin (KS) Sharbaugh
Chapter Two: Their Mother's Memory
Dennis arrived at Rescue Ranger Headquarters on what was otherwise a boring afternoon, so a visit from a stranger ‘just stopping by' was a pleasant distraction. The traveling mouse received a warm welcome, as was customary. Dee, in town to visit Chip and discuss their impending marriage, nodded in greeting with a simple "Hae'."
"What made you decide to stop by and visit us?" Chip inquired.
"Well, I was out of town both times you all visited my city," Dennis began, "So I figured the only way to meet you would be to come visit you in yours."
"Where do you live?" Gadget asked.
"I don't actually live there much anymore," the guest conceded, "Most of my time's spent seein' the world!"
Monty broke in, "You got a thing for adventurin', eh? I been around the world more than a few times me'self."
"They have a dish named after you at a tavern in Southbury, England," Dennis pointed out.
"Really? How do they make it?" Monty asked.
"Not a meal, an actual plate," corrected Dennis, "They have it hanging on a wall with a sign that reads: Once cheese was here, Then Monterey Jack drew near, The usual victims here are beers, But with Monty it's the cheese that fears."
While Monty let out a throaty laugh at how he'd been remembered, Dee reiterated her sister's question, "So where do you live? Your hometown that is."
Dennis looked at the raven haired mouse and gestured in her direction, "Salamanca, like yourself!" He suddenly wagged a finger, as if scolding some invisible child. "Before I forget," he stated, "While I was passing through a little place in the north-western end of the Allegheny National Forest I met a lady," he turned to face Dee again, as he finished, "who was an absolute dead ringer for your mother."
"Huh," was Dee's unenthusiastic response.
"That's what got me thinking I'd stop here," Dennis pointed out.
"You knew our mother?" Gadget inquired.
"Well, yes and no," was the traveler's somewhat somber response, "You see, I met her the very day she was lost during that flood. She pulled me out of Titus Creek earlier in the day, but by the time I was in any condition to hold a meaningful conversation the others who were helping fish people out of the creek told me she'd gone to help out at those river front apartments. I heard later about what had happened to her."
"So you only saw her for a few seconds?" Chip inquired somewhat skeptically.
Dennis shook his head as he answered, "There is no way I could forget her face! If it hadn't been for her I would've been just another lifeless piece of drift floating down the river."
"I hafta say I agree with that," Monty added, "Bein' saved from the jaws of death can really freeze a face in your mind. Now I could count from memory the number of whiskers in Gewgaw's mustache from that time he kept me from bein' blown away by that typhoon in Tora- Tonga!"
Chip raised an eyebrow as he asked the portly Aussie, "You were almost blown away?"
"That was one killah typhoon!" Monty explained, "Later on me an' Gewgaw saw a whale go flyin' by."
"A whale?" Chip asked even more incredulous than before.
"Kept a native village in the mountains fed a for a year," Monty continued, "That is, once they got their village dug out from underneath it."
Oblivious to the discussion between her two comrades, Gadget kept her attention fixed on the visitor. Ever since learning that her mother hadn't died within a few weeks of her birth, Gadget had been unceasingly curious about the details of her mother's life that had been unknown to her. Anything that had any connection to her mother was of immediate interest to her, not that it ever interfered with her responsibilities but she was aware of it's increasing intrusion on her ‘off duty' thoughts. For years Gadget would think to herself, upon completing an invention, "I wish Dad were here to see this", more recently, though, this was followed by the addendum, "and Mom, too." Such often led to another matter that troubled her thoughts. When reflecting upon her late father she could conjure up a detailed memory of him, but she had no memory of her mother to reflect upon. There was the idealized image she created as a child, but recently reflecting on it bothered her, almost feeling as if doing so was disrespectful, those images weren't of her mother, not her real mother anyway. Now she had a chance to rectify the matter. "Where in the National Forest did you meet this person?" she asked, "Could you point it out on a map?"
"Sure thing," Dennis replied, "You got a map of the place?"
"Sure thing," Gadget replied in kind. "We have maps of just about everyplace on Earth," she declared as she hurried off to locate the appropriate map, "We never know when we might have to travel to some far off destination so it helps to keep maps of just about anyplace in easy reach." In short order the blond mouse returned with a map and laid it out before the guest. "It's not specifically focused on the Allegheny National Forest, more just a general map of western Pennsylvania, but that's where the National Forest is so anyplace in the forest should be shown on the map."
Dennis quickly located the route he had taken. With a finger he traced the Greyhound's path south from the New York/Pennsylvania line. He stopped and focused on the location of his finger. "Should be right about in here, between this bend in road 321 due west to the bank of the Allegheny Reservoir," Dennis pointed out, "It's in the ruins of an abandoned mining town, a place called the ‘Kummon Inn'. Got good food and a place to stay for the night."
As Gadget examined the map, she discovered an interesting fact concerning the site. "Golly, that's just downstream from Salamanca," she declared, more to herself than anyone around her, "Well, not just downstream, it would be quite a few miles in actuality, it's the scaled down size of the map that creates the illusion of it's proximity, though one could still argue that in comparison to other sites it is actually pretty close..."
The evening passed as Monty offered his fellow adventurer a meal and a chance to swap stories before going on his way. In due time, however, the encroaching darkness put a quick departure in doubt and the traveler was offered a bunk for the night, an offer he readily accepted. As the experienced adventurers continued swapping stories, Gadget found herself increasingly distracted from the tales by the map she'd left out. Looking over the detailed depiction of the terrain her eyes kept retracing the course of the Allegany River down from Salamanca and back up. A small notion, almost completely overlooked in it's conceptual infancy, began to grow, began to take up more space in the world of her thoughts. When Gadget finally took note of it's existence she could sense the sudden yet subtle release of adrenalin that accompanies exciting thoughts. She looked about for her sister, wanting to verify something, but couldn't seem to locate her in the immediate vicinity.
"Chip, did you see where Dee went?" she quietly asked her future brother-in-law so as not to interrupt Dennis or Monty's story, whichever one happened to be recounting a tale at the moment.
"She got bored and headed for your workshop," Chip revealed.
"Oh, that makes sense," Gadget concluded as she got up. Sure enough, she found her sister busily going about the workshop, tinkering to keep herself occupied... an activity she was quite familiar with. For a moment Gadget wondered if that's what she looked like to the others. "Dee?" she finally addressed her sibling, entering her tool and invention filled domain.
"Hae'," the younger mouse spouted obligingly, "I hope you don't mind me playing around here, but I can only spend so much time sitting still listening to others... you know the feeling."
"That's completely understandable given our similar intellectual inclinations," Gadget replied, "And it's only fair considering that you've let me keep busy in your workshops the times I've visited." Thinking about the likelihood of her father approving of her sharing her ‘toys' with her sibling she brought up the now familiar add on of wondering what her mother would think of the matter of her daughters getting along so amicably. Thus, she was brought back to the issue that caused her to seek out her sister in the first place. "I think it's fascinating that someone encountered a mouse that was so visibly similar to our mother," she stated.
"Yeah," Dee replied rather absently, clearly preoccupied with the tools in her paws. Though not heavily focused on the conversation, the fact that it apparently ended at that point did draw her attention. Getting the impression that Gadget was just standing there looking at her, Dee turned. "Is that it?" she asked.
"Uh, well, technically, um, no," Gadget rambled awkwardly, she wasn't sure she wanted to bring up what was weighing on her mind. It wasn't an issue she was sure deserved the weight her subconscious seemed to be giving it in the first place. "What do you suppose," Gadget began slowly, "would be the probability of someone, say, a mouse, surviving in frigid water for the length of time it would take to drift..."
"None," Dee answered curtly before turning back to the workbench before her, "The probability is zero." She hoped the conversation would end there, it was a discussion she wanted no parts of.
"You didn't seem to give that much thought," Gadget replied, feeling somewhat indignant about her sister's answer, "You didn't even let me finish the question!"
Dee set down her tools. "You're wondering about the probability of our mother having survived her experience in the river the day she disappeared," she presumed before turning to face Gadget, "Correct?"
Gadget nodded, feeling a little embarrassed. Part of her had suspected she was being naively optimistic about the issue, and was afraid even mentioning the possibility might make her appear foolish.
"We may only have known each other for a few years," Dee began, "But I think you know me well enough to know that I would have exhausted every avenue in trying to locate our mother. Both the city and tribe organized search parties to travel down river to get in touch with any communities that might have fished survivors or victims from the river... our brother was one of those who went. And while they trekked down both banks of the river as far as the Kinzua Dam I began doing probability tables, analyzing the known river currents, raiding every medical archive I could get to that might contain information on rodent physiology and survivability." Pausing to ascertain whether or not her sister was listening, Dee was slightly relieved to see that Gadget was listening attentively... maybe she could lay the matter to rest, again, before bedtime. "It wasn't until a week after Bob and the others returned that I stopped clutching at straws. I wrapped up my research, accepted what all the results showed, and finally allowed myself to mourn."
"Well, if you could show me the results of that research then maybe I can accept that she's gone," Gadget stated.
Dee quietly hung her head for a moment. Taking a deep breath, she prepared to add fuel to the fire, "I destroyed the notes."
Gadget blinked a few times as she digested that deceptively small piece of information. "You what?!" she finally asked in disbelief.
The last thing Dee wanted was to keep raking over the coals of past grieving. Her mind hit upon something that might bring further discussion of the subject to a screeching halt. It wouldn't be pleasant, she reasoned as she recalled what Gadget had related to her of her father's death, but she wanted the matter dropped. "When your father died," Dee fired off, "did you keep the blood spattered pilot's seat?"
Gadget's eyes widened in shock. "Wh- no," she replied in disgust, unable to understand why anyone would do something so morbid. That's when it occurred to her, those notes would've have been a constant reminder to her sister of the pain of her loss.
"If you had made plaster casts of the predator tracks at the site of the crash," Dee continued, "would you have kept them?" She knew that last bit was almost certainly unnecessary, but why should she be the only one in pain.
Gadget quietly answered the second question, "No."
There was an uncomfortable silence in the workshop. As Gadget slowly turned to leave, Dee apologized, "I'm sorry, I didn't have to reply the way I did."
"That's ok," Gadget responded softly, "You're not exactly at your best when you're upset, and I guess I didn't stop to think about how painful a subject this would be for you."
The two sisters went about their respective business, each trying to keep their mind off of the argument they'd just had. But as hard as she tried, Gadget couldn't keep herself from glancing back at the map she had pulled out earlier. It kept gnawing at her. She did want to go, if only to get an idea of what her mother had looked like, but the apparent coincidence simply seemed too remarkable to ignore. Gadget wanted to go. She would go. But there was one aspect of her trip that she could not deal with on her own, and she wasn't looking forward to suggesting to Dee that she tag along for that purpose alone. The issue was getting to be too much of a distraction for Gadget to put up with. Just do it, she told herself. "If I'm going to throw a highly combustible material onto a radiant heat source I might as well get it over with," she stated aloud. Fortunately for Monty, he didn't hear it.
Gadget soon tracked down her sister in the relatively close quarters of Ranger Headquarters. "Dee, I'm going to be going to Pennsylvania to see this Samantha person," she stated plainly.
"Ok," was Dee's wary response.
"I know you had every right to destroy your notes since you had no way to know you'd need them for a situation like this, but that doesn't change the fact that it leaves a certain level of uncertainty on my part as to our mother's fate," Gadget proceeded as calmly and logically as she could so as to forestall an emotional reaction on her sister's part, "I don't know what our mother looked like and I don't remember the sound of her voice which means after I meet this Samantha there will likely remain a part of me that isn't sure. You were one of the last people to see her and would know her voice better than almost anyone else, which means you could immediately verify that Samantha isn't our mother." There was no immediate response, and as Dee still had her back to her, Gadget couldn't gauge her expression, so she finished, "I'll accept that your research was sufficiently without error if you could at least erase this one last doubt."
Dee sighed as she slowly turned to face Gadget. "If I tell you that this person isn't our mother, will you put this matter to rest finally?"
"I will accept that our mother is gone," Gadget agreed.
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