The Wandering Feather
Written by: Kevin (KS) Sharbaugh
Chip and his fiancé arrived back at the workshop very nearly simultaneously. They both reported success in convincing the local authorities to take action against the painted frog epidemic that was plaguing the community. With that issue presumably aside, matters turned to how best to deal with Philippe and his apparent interest in tampering with the local water supply.
"I say we all go, rush the blighter, and put him in traction before he can even get all his pieces in place!" Monty declared boldly.
"Monty," Gadget chided gently, "He may be genuinely unaware that what he's doing could cause any harm... for that matter, we don't even know for sure that he actually does intend to tamper with the water supply."
"I say I go in and break his paws so he can't keep drawing smutty pictures of you," Dee responded to her sister's pacifistic rebuke.
"Aye!" Monty agreed readily, "But I want in on the action too."
"I'll take his right paw, you take his left?" Dee offered in a civil manner.
"Hold it!" Chip interrupted, "Before we decide to resort to arbitrary use of random violence-"
"What random?" Dee broke in, "We made a consensual agreement to specifically target his paws." Chip fixed a gaze on his love that made it clear that this wasn't the time for such humor. "Sorry," she conceded.
"As I was saying," Chip continued, "Before we decide to use force, we should be sure it's necessary. We'll talk to Philippe about the matter... and go from there."
"Given the reception we received when we went to speak to him earlier," Gadget began, "it seems unlikely he'd be open to granting an immediate audience." For a brief moment, she pondered the possibility of going alone, given Philippe's infatuation with her he might readily speak with her. However, even though her dislike of him was nowhere near as visceral as her sister's, the thought of being alone with him and his frogs made her skin crawl.
"If we go in force and make it clear that we intend to speak with him about important matters," Chip suggested, "we may be able to pressure our way in to meet with him." Dee let out a little whine and gazed at her fiancé with large, expectant eyes. For a moment, Chip wasn't sure what she was up to... then it occurred to him. "No crossbows," he told her.
The passengers of both the Ranger Plane and Ranger Wing disembarked within walking distance of the entrance to Philippe's studio. Chip, Dale, Gadget, Monterey Jack, Zipper, Dee, Raven and Snoop approached the clearing as a group, and were nearly out in the open when they noticed the wall of green.
"Looks like the welcome wagon's out to greet us," Dale commented upon seeing the mass of frogs arrayed in an orderly formation blocking the entrance.
"I don't think that's the type of greeting we'd want," Gadget added when she spotted what the frogs were holding.
"Crikey! Where'd they get the cutlery?" Monty inquired, referring to the paring knives, sharpened forks, steak knives and letter openers Gadget had spied.
"Probably came from the armory," Snoop offered.
"What armory?" Chip asked the weasel.
"The one that rat has in his studio," Snoop clarified.
"Philippe has an armory?!" Chip asked in obvious annoyance. Snoop nodded his head.
"Why didn't you tell us he had an armory?!" Dee asked, even more peeved than her love.
"No one asked," Snoop stated plainly. Dee promptly proceeded to throttle him.
"Wait!" Chip shouted as he pried Dee's paws from the mustelid's throat. "We don't strangle other members of the team!" he scolded her once Snoop was free.
"I say we rush em!" Monty declared, "I've taken longer odds than this... thought they weren't armed."
"That's not an option," Chip shot back, "At least not yet." Feeling compelled to explain his hesitancy, he pointed out, "We don't know how many more frogs might be inside if we get past the ones standing guard, and we can't even be certain we can get past them... with those weapons we're not only outnumbered we're outgunned."
"Out-knifed, achully," Gadget corrected.
"Knives-shmives," Raven remarked as she bolted towards the clearing. Dee was already getting ready to act upon hearing the tone of her daughter's voice. Raven hadn't gotten more than a few strides before something pulled at her. She tried to stop but her forward momentum caused her to advance just far enough to slip out of her cloak. Looking back in confusion, she saw her mother standing there, clutching the cloak in her paws. "What the h*** is wrong with you?!" Raven shouted.
"See how easy this came off?" Dee practically snarled at the youth, shaking the cloth article with one paw, "In the kind of brawl you were about to get into this cloak is more of a liability than anything else!"
"It's not like it's a weapon," Raven countered angrily, "I can fight perfectly fine without it!"
"Against fifteen or twenty opponents," Dee gesticulated towards the green guardians, "once this slides off in their grip all those knifes become a fery real danger, and I will not see my daughter carfed up like a Christmas ham!"
"Fine!" Raven hissed as she returned to the group. Grabbing her cloak with one of her paws, she was startled as her mother quickly grabbed her wrist and squeezed... hard.
"If I gif this back to you and you charge those frogs again," Dee growled through clenched teeth, "I will not safe you!"
Raven had never heard her mother's native accent before, and for the most part was never really cognizant that she would have one. The strange voice combined with the pain in her wrist and Dee's intense stare meant that she, for the first time since being reunited with her biological mother, was actually frightened of her. Raven had no way to know that her mother was even more terrified than she was and on the verge of tears. "Alright!" the girl squeaked in compliance. When her mother released her grip, Raven held her cloak in her paws and stared at the ground for what seemed like quite a while from her perspective. Then, very self consciously, put her cloak back on.
"Well, I suppose we should head back to the workshop and work on the best way past those frogs," Chip sighed.
"Wait, I have an idea," Gadget stated cautiously as she walked towards the clearing, "You remember how Philippe responded the first time we were here?" As Gadget slowly walked towards the frogs, she hoped Philippe's hearing was as acute as it appeared to be during that first visit. When the guards caught sight of her and turned to face her, weapons prepared for use, she figured that was as close as she could get safely. Raising her paw to wave, she prepared to say, loud enough to be heard in the studio, Hi! May I speak to Philippe?'. However, no sooner was her paw raised than the first line of frogs charged at her screaming. Leaping back, Gadget began to hop sideways towards the cover of the surrounding foliage, preparing to run. Seeing her withdrawal, the amphibians halted their advance. Slowing to a walk, Gadget continued her sideways retreat, not wanting to turn her back on her potential attackers.
"Can we return to the workshop now?" Snoop inquired nervously once Gadget was safely concealed by the shadows.
"Yeah, let's go," confirmed Chip.
Once airborne, the team was met by Foxglove and Fangs. "Did you have any luck?" Dale inquired of the two.
"A little more than the rest of you," Fangs commented.
"We found what looks like the pump near the reservoir," Foxglove elaborated, "and we noticed the guard frogs blocking your way."
"Looks like avin a polite talk with Philippe is out of the question at this point," Monty pointed out.
Once all had returned to the workshop, Chip laid out the situation. "Philippe clearly intends to put that stuff into the water supply no matter what. Regardless of why or whether or not he knows the consequences of what he's doing, he has to be stopped."
"What if we go in and destroy the pump," Dale offered, "we could do something like that from the air."
Dee let out a delighted squeal. "I installed missile racks on the Banshee over the winter!" she explained excitedly, "Now I have an excuse to build some missiles!"
"Are all the females in your family this belligerent?" Chip asked.
"I'm not," Gadget replied.
"Heh, tell that t' Bubbles!" Monty laughed remembering how sweet little Gadget took on the thug's army of ninjas alone.
"I don't really think that counts, Monty," Gadget countered, "Those were very different circumstances and a single incident whereas Dee and Raven have both repeatedly demonstrated-"
"Luv," Monty interrupted, placing a paw on her shoulder, "I was only joking."
"Oh, ok," Gadget acceded, "But, back on the main topic, there are two problems with Dee's plan to strafe the pump... A', Philippe could just build another, and another after that if we destroy that one. He's the one that has to be dealt with. And B', since we don't know how far along his pump actually is, a missile attack could result in an uncontrolled release of the chemical into the reservoir, causing the very thing we're trying to prevent."
"Meaning we still have to get past the frogs," commented Gadget's sister.
"Seems t' me," Monty began, quite thoughtfully, "Considering the response of that frog Raven accosted earlier, the courage of the ones guarding the studio may be all in their weapons, not in their hearts. If we went after them with somethin' their knives can't handle they might drop their weapons and head for the hills."
"What about the wolves?" Chip asked, looking to his fiancé.
Dee thought it over for a few seconds. "I'd really rather not," she replied slowly, "Virginia's already sore over Romulus and Honker following me to the city on my vacation, and if I start asking him or any of the others to risk discovery by the humans for things like this... well, she would not allow the survival of the pack to be put at risk over something like this." There was a pause before she added, "Besides, I don't want to further the image of me as being someone who has the pack do my bidding."
"What if we built something that could scare the frogs?" Gadget suggested.
William, who was lingering in the vicinity and following the back and forth, stepped in. Addressing his employer, he made his proposal, "May I suggest something made from your special' stockpile? I'm sure such materials could be quite disconcerting if employed properly."
"What do you mean, special' stockpile?" Dale inquired.
"Hey!" Dee thought out loud, before answering Dale's question, "He means my collection of skeletal remains." As she and her assistant left for an adjoining room, the others followed out of morbid curiosity.
"Why would you collect skeletons?" Fangs asked, not entirely sure he wanted an answer.
"Certain bones have structural qualities that can't be bested by artificial materials," Dee explained, "The Banshee itself was partially constructed by specially treated bird bones. I've asked the wolves to save me some deer bones from their kills, I keep some of them here." Pulling a lever, a panel on the floor slid aside and the clanking of gears and creaking of cables heralded the ascent of a hidden platform from below. The first sight was a set of antlers rising from the hole. They rose higher and higher till they towered over the rodents. Beneath the antlers, the deer's skull rose forth, facing the assemblage. Given the dreary darkness that pervaded the storage area, it's appearance was indeed disconcerting. As the platform came to a sudden halt at floor level, the vibrations dislodged chunks of old electronic components which tumbled down towards the skull. A random spark, left from when the parts were still part of a functioning item, leapt out and ignited the collection of cob webs that had collected within the empty skull. Flames shot forth form it's gaping eye sockets.
Dale, who had been approaching the remains, nearly jumped out of his fur with a startled yelp... and landed in Monty's arms. "A lot less scary when it's in the movies, eh lad?" the Aussie joked.
"I wasn't scared!" Dale protested as he climbed down, "I was just... startled."
"It's beautiful!" Dee shouted, having been struck with inspiration. "It'll be a marvelous monster! We can hook up some fuel lines and have flames shooting from it's eyes," she declared, gesturing wildly with her arms, "We can use the ribs like spider legs," she continued, dropping to the floor and scuttling about as best she could with only four limbs, "And sounds... it needs a hideous cackle! Yeh-heh-heh-heh-heh!" Dee scuttled out of the room, still cackling, to start drawing up plans for her monster. Gadget politely followed.
"Y' know, I think I saw Daffy Duck do that once," Dale remarked. "I'm a fiddler crab!" he shouted, dropping to the floor and imitating Dee and Daffy, "Shoot me! It's fiddler crab season!"
Chip quicky bonked him on the head. "Do that again and I might," he scolded, realizing such a scene was a great deal more creepy in real life than in a cartoon.
Gadget and her sister worked well into the evening designing and then constructing their mechanical monstrosity. The endeavor, for the most part was free of oops', uh-oh's, it-should- work's and explosions. There was only one major, nearly calamitous incident that occurred when Monty, spurred on by curiosity, wandered into the assembly area. As he entered, a screaming deer skull came tearing in his direction. He fell on his backside as it came to a screeching halt only a foot away.
Dee and Gadget's heads popped out of either eye socket, Gadget from the left and Dee from the right. "What d'ya know," Dee remarked to her sister, "Those brakes you came up with do work! I owe you a soda."
"Sorry about that, Monty," Gadget called down, "If we had anticipated anyone coming in during the accelerator and brake tests we would have gone in a different direction, after all, it's not exactly polite to scare the living bejeebers out of one's friends, even more so when one isn't adequately certain of the functionality of the braking-" Gadget's apology was cut short as Dee grabbed her collar and pulled her back inside.
"Strike me starkers!" Monty gasped as the skull spun about and rolled off, "That'll replace the cat-zombies in my nightmares!"
As night embraced the land, one by one everyone retired to makeshift beds set in the workshop. With most of the work finished on their freakish fabrication, Gadget and Dee bid their monster good-night and went their separate ways- Dee to her cot and Gadget to a personal project she hoped to have completed for the next day.
The sun had barely been up more than a few minutes before the dedicated inventors began putting finishing touches on their creation. Chip waited anxiously; he wanted to work out a plan of attack' while he waited but knew any plan was dependant on knowing the capabilities of the monster the ladies were assembling which wasn't yet finished. However, just as it seemed Chip's wait was over, as the ladies called everyone's attention, there was a knock at the door. Matters were put on hold as William escorted a male mouse inside.
"Ms Hawkfeather?" the visitor addressed her as he approached, "Could talk to the Chief about those toads? The city's cops are out in force... not like there's any reason, though, all the toads are in the areas where there's only Seneca mice! And you know the city cops, they stay out of those areas cause they're afraid Halfshell ll start causin trouble again, saying the city's trying to take ofer!"
"I talked to the Chief," Dee pointed out, somewhat confused by the matter that had been presented, "Yesterday I talked to him, he told me he'd get the cops out on the street immediately!"
"Well they're not on our streets!" Dee's guest replied.
"I knew I shouldn't have trusted that idiot," Dee growled, "I'm gonna hafta pay him another visit!"
"Should we hold off the unveiling?" Gadget asked.
"Nah," Dee replied quickly, "We shouldn't waste time waiting on me, just as long as I'm back in time to storm Philippe's place." As she strode for the door, she yelled, "Mom told me not to get infolfed in tribal politics, d*****!"
A minute or so after the door slammed shut, everyone's attention returned to Gadget. Standing before a large oil and paint stained curtain, she proceeded with the presentation. "William, could you pull back the curtain?"
"My pleasure," the squirrel readily agreed. As the curtain was pulled to one side, Gadget held up a small improvised control panel.
Revealed to the waiting rodents, chiropterans and insect was a ghastly vision seemingly retched from the infernal underworld itself. Protruding from a dark brown, hairy elliptical, body was the deer skull complete with the lower jaw, and eight of the deer's bowed ribs spread about like spider's legs. Gadget depressed a button on the control panel and the monster came to life. The legs' rose and fell as if it were walking in place. A soul-splitting, shrieking cackle filled the workshop as the skull reared up, shaking from side to side with it's horrible maw hanging open and flames leaping from it's eyes. Everyone involuntarily stepped back.
"Neat, huh?" Gadget spouted happily as the creature returned to it's previous calm, "We named it Frog Stomper!"
Everyone continued to stare at it for a moment, before Chip hesitantly offered, "Uh, yeah, neat."
"Achully, Frog Stomper' is an acronym," Gadget pointed out, "It stands for Fully Remotely Operated, Gyroscopically Stabilized, Terrestrially Oriented, Mechanical Panic Evoking Resource."
"Which came first?" Monty inquired, getting over his initial awe of the monstrosity, "The name Frog Stomper' or... whatever it is?"
"Dee wanted to call it Frog Stomper', but I didn't think it fit since it's not designed to actually stomp' the frogs," Gadget explained, "So we came up with a name that was appropriately descriptive yet could still work out to Frog Stomper'."
"Think we could take this home with us?" Dale asked developing a wicked grin, "I'd like to introduce this thing to Fat Cat!"
The Chief was startled by a loud banging on his office door. "Come in?" he replied cautiously. The door swung open as Dee stormed in. Quickly slamming the door behind her, she stared at the Chief as he sat in his chair.
"I know I said I'd order the tribal police to deal with those toads," he eventually began, deducing that was the most likely reason for the visitation.
"Frogs," Dee corrected.
"Alleged frogs," the Chief countered, trying his best to seem confident, "After you left last efening it occurred to me that..." He paused, trying to find a way to explain his position in a way that didn't make it look like he'd been led around by the nose by a third party. "A bunch of frogs painting themselves isn't normal, they had to have gotten their inspiration from somewhere... like actual poisonous toads they'd seen breaking into people's homes."
Dee was about to loudly berate him for his idiocy but was interrupted by a knock at the Chief's door. "Joseph," June Redtalon called out imperiously, "I need to speak to you on a matter of the greatest urgency."
"Listen," Dee hissed at the Chief, leaning over his desk, "I'm late for an invasion so I won't waste time debating. There'd better not be any painted frog on the street when I get back!" Standing upright, she called back to the other Clan Mother, "Just a minute." Walking to the door, she opened it and stepped out.
Just as Dee began to pass her colleague, June gently blocked her path with her cane. "Painted frogs?" she quietly inquired.
"Oh yeah," Dee nodded, "I told him about this yesterday!"
After allowing Dee to leave, June motioned her to her assistant to wheel her into the office. "You can wait outside," she told him once they were in. Alone in the office with the Chief, she held out her cane, brandishing the head at the mouse across the desk. "Do you know what this is?" she asked.
"Your cane?" the Chief replied.
"The speckles," June clarified, "the little colored speckles on it." The Chief, leaning forward to take a closer look, merely shook his head. "IT'S PAINT!" June bellowed, slamming the head of her cane onto the desk. The Chief fell backwards into his chair. "One of those frogs tried to take a wheel off my chair while I was sitting in it," she recounted calmly, "I clocked him a few times and his paint started to come off. Doohickey told me she told you about this yesterday... It's fairly obfious you didn't do anything about it." The Chief opened his mouth to explain, but June cut him off, "I don't care what you're excuse is, so don't bore me with it." Not wanting to waste further time, she spelled things out clearly, "I know you don't have Doohickey's endorsement, you're about to lose mine, and you know Charity usually agrees with me... all we need to do is confince one more Clan Mother and you're out on your can."
"Those frogs will be off the streets by the end of the day," the Chief complied obediently.
"They dang well better be," June warned.
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