Written by: Kevin (KS) Sharbaugh
Chapter Eight: Escalation
Once they were sure they had reached a locale where they could rest and prepare a rescue attempt without interruption from Capone's thugs, Gadget and Dee halted their withdrawal. Not long after they had sat down they were startled by the sound of movement. Their concern was quickly dismissed when they recognized that it was Terry. As he scampered past without the slightest pause, Dee hollered after him, "Yeah, go ahead and run you coward!"
"I hardly think that was called for!" Gadget chastised her sister.
"Everybody in that town's gutless," Dee grumbled in response, "Something was picking them off one by one and they couldn't even come up with a primitive means of communal defense... They couldn't even create organized search parties! And when people actually offer to help they throw that offer away!"
"Not everyone can come from a militaristic culture," Gadget attempted to explain, "And Fellow was probably just concerned about us getting hurt."
"O'dah!" Dee shot back, "He thought our help would require him and the others to take risks and he didn't have the courage to face up to it. He was perfectly willing to hide in a hole and let his community continue to live in fear rather than make the kind of hard decisions a real leader has to make!"
Realizing her sister was in no mood to try to see the other side of the issue, Gadget chose to bring up a more relevant matter of discourse. "We'd better start planning on how to get Mom free," she pointed out. "If the sewage system here follows the typical plan for a small village of what I assume was from the mid to late 1800's," Gadget proceeded, sketching a plan in dirt, "There should be multiple access points from further up the slope we're on. Capone may not have all of them secured and we can sneak in with little notice."
"We should be armed, though," Dee interjected, "If Capone or the mercenaries he's hired have a brain in their heads they'll have patrols going through the near tunnels if for no other reason than to deal with intrusive local species, snakes and such, and we're bound to run into any such patrols."
"That makes sense," Gadget nodded, "But in that case we'll have to move quickly. We'll want to get back out before the patrols we've disabled wake back up."
"We should take them out," Dee stated coldly.
"What do you mean ‘take them out'?" Gadget inquired, more than a little concerned by the possibility.
"Eliminate them," was Dee's simple and emotionless response.
Gadget's blood ran cold. "You mean kill them?" she asked.
"We don't know what we'll run into after we get past any patrols so there's no way we can logically expect to be in and out before a knocked out patrol wakes back up," Dee explained, "The chance of being trapped between two groups of hostiles is too great."
"We could tie them up," Gadget pointed out.
"And they could get loose," Dee replied, "If we had more people we could leave some behind to detain them, but there's only two of us. The only way to ensure a safe withdrawal is to leave our rear area free of hostiles."
Gadget was concerned by how calmly her sister was talking about taking the lives of others, as if it was as pedestrian as changing her clothes. "This isn't a war," she explained.
"Where were you when Capone was explaining he was massing an army?" Dee asked rhetorically, losing patience with her sister's apparent naivete, "People will die," she stressed, "Either now or later... Better it be greedy mercenaries than the innocents that'll get caught in the crossfire of Capone's gang war, or our mother."
"We can't just go around killing people!" Gadget exclaimed, "We're supposed to be Rescue Rangers!"
"Will you grow up?!" Dee retaliated, "If you'd look at the matter logically you'd see there's no other viable option."
"Where do you get off talking about logic?" Gadget fired back indignantly, "Violence seems to be your default solution to everything! The way Capone originally had us detained we could have escaped whenever we wanted to, but you had to go and lose your temper like a... a... hockey player!"
"Well excuse me for wanting to protect a child from a grotesque, degenerate fiend!" increasingly consumed by the verbal conflict she allowed herself to be pulled into, due in no small part to her own combative tendencies, Dee became fixated on achieving victory... regardless of the tactics, "Or do you Rescue Rangers think it's acceptable to sacrifice children in the name of your ideals? ‘Sorry, can't save a child from unspeakable torment, people might get hurt!'"
Dee's off-color effort to shame her into grudging agreement had gone too far and Gadget tried to make that abundantly clear by reeling back and giving her sister a nice hard slap. Only after the fact did she realize that a physical rejoinder would almost certainly be interpreted as an escalation by her sister. Indeed, the instant the impact registered, Dee wasted not a moment of conscious thought on how she should respond. In that same short space of time Gadget realized an apology might be the only way to reintroduce sanity to the matter, but Dee's fist was already well on it's way before an apology could be made.
A nearly festive atmosphere prevailed at the inn when Terry finally arrived. While families had been reunited and underappreciated friends welcomed with inordinate gusto, they were all unaware that someone had been left behind. Standing up on a chair, Terry called out to the crowd, "Everybody! We have to go back!" The response was greeted with many a raised eyebrow and confused stare. "Samantha's still being held captive!"
"I'm sorry," someone offered, "But I don't think one person is worth the risk."
"We barely got out of there ourselves," another pointed out.
Terry countered, "We wouldn't have gotten out of there at all if it wasn't for that one person!"
"You're a nice guy, Terry, and I liked Samantha," a nearby mouse joined in, "But do you really think we'd be any match for an army of armed mercenaries? That's ludicrous!"
Terry was growing increasingly frustrated at the prevailing attitude of the community. "What's ludicrous is that none of you have the courage to fight back and repay someone for their sacrifice!" he shouted back.
"Now that we know why people were disappearing we can take real steps to prevent it from happening again," came another objection.
"The only guarantee of that is to go back and stop them!" Terry explained, "and Samantha's daughters are willing to go back!"
"That's just because they're family," a voice piped up, "None of them come from here, they're not our family, they're not related to anybody here, and besides, that army's going to be used against this Fat Cat person, not us. It's not our fight. If Samantha's daughters want to get themselves killed then it's their funeral!"
He had finally had enough. Terry jumped down from the chair upon which he stood, picked up by it's back and lifted it above his head. With all the force he could bring to bear, he smashed the chair into the table before him. The people nearest him jumped back in shock as the chair virtually exploded. Brandishing one of the chairs legs like a club, Terry shouted, "Then it'll be my funeral! Somebody from here is involved, and if none of you can bring yourselves to take a stand then it's your shame!"
As the innkeeper left the hall, someone commented, "At least he's had a full life."
Terry was nearly back to where he'd fled Capone's lair when his ears detected the sounds of a scuffle. The possibility that Capone's thugs might be involved flashed through his head. However, the voices he heard seemed a little high-pitched for mercenaries. Coming about a tree he discovered the source of the commotion. Both his love's daughters were on the ground fighting like mortal enemies, and from the appearance, it seemed the blond was winning. Rolling on top of Dee, Gadget managed to get her in a headlock. Dee immediately reached back and grasped whatever she could get her paws on, which happened to be an ear and a fistful of hair.
"If the two of you are done," Terry addressed the sisters, "Maybe we should go rescue your mother." Both ladies stopped dead in their fight and slowly looked up, neither letting go of the other just yet.
"Terry! Wait up!" they heard someone call out. Catching up to the innkeeper, one of the locals arrived on the scene clutching a crude weapon of his own. Then another appeared... and another. Soon a small army of locals had congregated around Terry and the sisters.
Looking at the weapons the others were wielding, Terry asked, "Those, uh, my furniture?"
"Used to be," someone replied sheepishly, "We'll help replace them later."
Gadget and Dee looked at each other, in as much as their respective positions would let them. "You know," Dee began, "Maybe we can do it your way."
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