The Wandering Feather
Written by: Kevin (KS) Sharbaugh
"That was quick," Chip commented as his fiancé returned to the workshop.
"I wasn't in the mood for a conversation," Dee explained glumly. Then, brightening up considerably, she asked, "So how do you like our monster?"
"It should do nicely," Chip replied, "and we're just about ready to get underway, just waiting on you and Gadget. By the way, I'm not sure we should take Snoop along with us... William's already agreed to keep an eye on him while we're gone. Also, what about Raven... is she staying here or going with us?"
Dee thought the matter over. She wasn't comfortable about how reckless her daughter had been behaving recently, but also didn't want to leave her behind without any guarantee when or even if they would return. "We're all going in?" Dee eventually asked.
"With the exception of Snoop," Chip confirmed.
"I can be armed?" Dee inquired further, to which Chip answered with a nod. "Ok, I'll let her know she can come." As she departed to find her daughter, Dee came upon her sister leaving a side room. The way Gadget was fidgeting with her jumpsuit caught her attention. "Ants in your pants?" Dee asked.
"Hm?" responded Gadget, who wasn't sure at first what Dee could possibly have meant. "Oh! You mean why I'm acting like I have something in my clothes?" she realized, "It's because I do... I used that cell phone I found a couple days ago to create a miniature recording device to carry on my person, unobtrusively concealed within my clothing so as not to get in the way or arouse suspicion."
"A wire," Dee summed up.
"Exactly," Gadget concurred, "I figured it could help in a variety of manners. This little expedition will be the trial run."
After a final check of equipment, they were off. Due to the size and weight of the mechanical monster they were to employ, it had to make the trip under it's own power from the workshop to Philippe's studio... and, for the sake of convenience, served as transport for those who couldn't fly. Any concern that humans might interfere upon seeing the bizarre creation were dismissed as the few pedestrians that were encountered along the way quickly gave it a wide berth. Finally clearing the last of the human employed routes, the monster came to a stop. Foxglove, Fangs and Zipper landed nearby for any final instructions.
"Ok, the three of you should keep watch over the pump," Chip charged, "Don't bother with any frogs you might see around it, but confront anyone else that gets near it... If it's Philippe, tell him what we know about that chemical he's planning to use, if it's anyone else, find out why they're there... use you're own judgement from there." The chiropterans and insect acknowledged their orders and departed. "Everyone else," Chip stated, turning to his fellow passengers, "Let's get ready to frighten some frogs."
Dee became responsible for creating the chaos by default, being the one in possession of the remote control after having steered the monstrosity through town. She and the others took up a position behind a small rise near the edge of the clearing. Laying face down on the mossy mound, they peered over the top at the phalanx of frogs. Activating the legs and locking their movement into the speed of the actual propulsion system, Dee guided the monster towards it's victims.
The frogs' attentions were drawn towards a small bush as it shuddered and it's leaves rustled. Expecting a dog or rabbit, they were, initially, confused by what they saw. At first it wasn't moving in their direction, and the frogs watched more out of curiosity than concern. That's when it looked at them. Slowly, the head twisted till it faced them. It's jaw flexed as if it were contemplating something. The frogs gave each other worried glances. A groan, almost a questioning sound, emanated from the beast, which then turned to face the amphibious assemblage full on. It gave an amused laugh, a giggle, then it's head reared up and gave a psychotic, screeching cackle. Flames poured from it's hollow eyes as it glared at the frogs and began to charge them.
The frogs trembled, quaked, then began hopping for their lives. Some carried their weapons, some dropped them as they fled, others hurled their weapons at the fiendish creature before racing away with their compatriots. Much to the delight of the mammalian witnesses, the amphibians fled as a single panicked mob. For awhile, Dee took great pleasure in chasing the army around the clearing, matching their turns as they attempted to evade the monster. Unfortunately, she got a little rough with the remote.
"Oh, farglesnot!" Dee cursed as the device crumbled in her paws, "The thingy broke!"
"Thingy?" Chip asked.
"I warned you the glue wouldn't hold under stress," Gadget needlessly reminded her sister.
"Farglesnot?" Chip questioned.
"Just as well," Monty piped up, "It looked like them frogs had given up on outmaneuvering the thing and just ran- er, hopped off in a straight line. I don't think we'll be seeing them for awhile."
"At least not until the batteries run out," Gadget clarified.
"Then let's get moving!" Dale anxiously called out.
The Rangers, Dee and Raven quickly crossed the clearing and soon descended into the burrow. "Stay alert everyone!" Chip cautioned the others. However, remaining alert to potential trouble ahead did little to prepare them when the roof fell on them. As quickly as the weight of the wood panel was transferred through their bodies the floor beneath them caved in. Tumbling into the darkness, they came to a stop only a foot down. Had they not been chattering randomly to each other attempting to assess the well being of their companions, they would have heard the hissing of a gas being released. They were, however, cognizant of the scent, but before the nature of the gas could be identified, they lost consciousness.
Slowly, each came to. As they did, they became aware of a very alarming fact... they couldn't move. Adding a bit of confusion to their predicament was the fact that, though they knew they were upright, they couldn't feel any surface beneath them. Looking about, it was revealed that they were bound with twine and suspended from hooks by said twine.
"I see that you are awakening," Philippe proclaimed when he caught sight of his captives' movements. "You ave my apologies for having to put you in such restraints, but zey were necessary to ensure you could not, in your typically American ignorance, interfere in ze preparation of my art."
"Philippe, that chemical you're using, that belch sauce'," Chip began, "If you put that into the city's drinking water it wall kill thousands of people!"
"Ah, you demonstrate you ignorance for me!" Philippe declared arrogantly, "Ze chemical, she is perfectly armless!"
"It's only harmless in pure water, you idiot!" Dee shouted.
"Hah! Ow would you know?!" the rat defiantly challenged the mouse.
"It's true!" Gadget joined in, "We had a sample analyzed. When the carbonation cycle is completed the resultant molecular chains recombine with the impurities present in the local tap water in a way that creates a toxin that is lethal, even in small amounts!"
"Eet eez true," Philippe willingly conceded, now that Gadget had stated it to be fact. He became quite thoughtful as he rolled the new information about in his mind.
"That's why we came here," Chip explained, "Not to prevent you from creating your art, but to prevent thousands of people from dying."
"Ze people, zey will still belch, non?" Philippe asked.
"They will still belch, yes," Chip confirmed.
"Zen zey will die?" the rat inquired further.
"Yes!" was the collective response.
Philippe smiled broadly as he clapped his paws together. "Zen my masterpiece shall be greater zen even i anticipated!" he declared, "But ow could eet not, for I ave created eet! I, ze greatest artiste in ze world!"
Exasperated, Chip asked, "Are you cuh-razy?!"
"Non, I am a genius!" Philippe responded, "Zough ze ignorant often confuse ze two. You see, when ze people die, eet will be a stunning commentary on ze American disposable culture, wiz your one-use contact lenses, coal furnaces and disposable cameras... Now, I will show the inevitable progression of your wasteful attitudes... disposable people!"
"Don't you care about all the people who are going to die?!" Gadget asked.
"But zey will not ave died for nozing," Philippe stated softly as he drew near to the blond mouse, "Zey will ave given zeir lives for ze creation of art, just as in Guernica."
Gadget fervently hoped that Philippe's obsession with her was a match for his obsession with his art. "I could never love someone who could be so cold and heartless!" she declared.
"Ah, but you are yet young and naive," Philippe responded with unexpected calm. He reached up and gently caressed her cheek as he explained, "When you ave seen my creation you may better understand." Gadget couldn't contain her outrage and spit in the rat's smug face. "Somezing to treasure," he responded lovingly as he turned away. "Now, I must go and ensure I ave achieved ze proper volume of my special paint'," he remarked as he departed down one of the side tunnels.
"That looney's certifiable!" Monty declared.
No longer distracted by her captor's bizarre logic, Gadget noticed a disturbing sensation. "Uh-oh!" she blurted out.
"What?" Chip asked.
"Something's wrong," Gadget elaborated.
"What?" Chip repeated, hoping for greater clarification of the apparent problem.
"Oh, never mind, everything's fine," Gadget cheerfully corrected.
"What's fine?!" Chip demanded.
"I was feeling an unusual vibration in my clothing," Gadget explained, "Then I realized it was the wire I'm wearing... Philippe must have activated it by accident when he was tying me up."
"That better be all he did," Dee growled, beating Monty to the sentiment.
"Oh, I'm sure it is," Gadget reassured her, "If he had been up to anything inappropriate he would probably have discovered the wire and removed it."
The captives' attention was drawn to the sound of someone walking over a wooden platform, that having been the false roof that had fallen on them and then subsequently used as a cover for the pit they'd fallen into. Everyone expected the newcomer to be a frog, though the footfalls seemed oddly out of step for an amphibian. As they watched the entry tunnel, a female mouse emerged.
"Aunt Carol?" Dee asked in surprise.
Noticing the row of restrained rodents, Carol commented, "Gee, you and your friends certainly are in a bind aren't you?"
"Hurry, you have to untie us!" Dale pleaded, "Philippe's nuts and there's no telling what he's going to do to us!"
"Uh, Dale," Gadget interrupted glumly.
"She's on his side, isn't she?" Dale realized. The others nodded.
"You must've been the one who spiked the corn soup at the Powwow!" Chip declared accusingly.
"And let me guess," Dee joined in, "You were also the one who convinced the Chief to hold back the tribal police."
"I hardly efen had to try" Carol remarked to her niece, "That bozo's so hard up for female attention that just a little bit of leg will get you anything you want. But, then again, you know all about that."
"He'd have to be pretty hard up to be turned by your legs," Raven sneered.
"But why are you helping Philippe?" Gadget inquired, distracting Carol from contemplating how hard she should strike the bound brat.
"Why not?" Carol responded, "Effer dated an artist? It's wonderful! They have such passion! It's such a pleasant break from my normal diet of drunken morons. Besides, I get to take part in creating his greatest masterpiece!" Though she was attempting a french accent, pronouncing masterpiece MAST-er PACE-uh' made it sound like butchered Italian.
"Yeah, well his mister pizza' is going to cause mass murder!" Dale pointed out.
Carol rolled he eyes. "What are you talking about?" she inquired in a clearly annoyed manner.
"That chemical he's using turns into a lethal poison when it's mixed with tap water," Monty explained, "After everyone's done burpin' they'll be droppin' like flies!"
"Everyone who drinks the city's tap water will die?" Carol asked point blank.
"Yes," Dee confirmed, "Over fifteen thousand people, including most of our tribe. If you have anywhere near the love of our tribe and our culture as you claim, you'd help us stop Philippe from carrying out his work of art'."
Carol was clearly thinking things over, and, as before, everyone hoped that she'd come to her senses where Philippe had chosen not come to his. Carol's eyes widened. "All the other Clan Mothers and the Chief depend on the city's water supply," she stated to herself out loud, "If they're all dead I'll be the only one left in a position of authority..." A grotesque sneer consumed her face, "And with most of the rest of the tribe dead with the rest desperate for guidance, I'll finally haff all the power I deserfe! The entire tribe will be mine... and with most of the city dead as well, the entire city can be mine! Y'know, that bloated freak, Bruin-Hilda' would make a lovely badger skin rug for my throne room..."
"What?!" Dee cried out in disbelief.
"Oh, thank you all so much," Carol drawled, "Now that I know what's going to happen, I can be ready." She gasped as inspiration struck her, "I'll haff to get Philippe to send one of the other remaining frogs to tell my associates to store up some fresh water! No sense in wasting such a golden opportunity!" The traitorous Clan Mother practically skipped out of the studio in search of her coconspirator. "Philippe, darling!" she called as she left.
"She's even worse than Philippe!" Chip declared.
Soon, a frog hopped through the studio on his way to convey the ominous message. Carol then gingerly stepped into the studio. Deliberately walking up to her captive niece, she addressed her with a disgusting smirk, "Now, there is one Clan Mother who won't be drinking the tainted water, so I'll haff to take care of that on my own." All of the captives were distressed by the disturbing turn of events, Chip and Doohickey foremost among them. Carol scanned the studio for anything that could serve her needs, and soon fixed her gaze upon her niece's crossbow. "Philippe couldn't possibly haff made this," the murderous mouse intoned, "It actually looks like something useful."
"You treasonous tramp!" Dee cursed, "You'd do this to your own family?!"
"It's not like you'fe ever done anything for me," Carol offhandedly remarked as she examined the weapon, "Besides, I was neffer able to give your mother what she had comin' to her, so this'll haff to do." Approaching the captives, she casually continued, "And while I'm at it, I'll get rid of a couple half-breeds that shouldn't haff been born in the first place."
"Leafe Rafen out of this!" Dee hollered, "She's only a child- Let her go!" Her pleading was not only out of maternal instinct, she was quite confident Raven could easily take her aunt in a fight.
"What kind of idiot do you think I am?" Carol asked rhetorically, "If she's anything like you she'll try to tear my throat out the instant I untie her... That's pretty much what she'd likely do efentually after me and Philippe are done with our little project anyhow."
"Philippe!" Gadget shouted, "Come here, quick!" Carol was stunned when she realized Philippe was responding so quickly to Gadget's call for help. Hearing him plod down the tunnel, she quickly hid the crossbow behind her back. "Carol was going to kill me with my sister's crossbow!" Gadget explained in as innocent and disarming a manner as possible.
Walking up to Carol, Philippe intoned condescendingly, "You silly, jealous girl!" Gently taking the weapon from her paws, he scolded her, "Zis eez not ze time for ze bloodshed. Now, go keep watch over ze equipment so zat no intrusive locals damage eet in zere ignorant curiosity." Callously tossing the weapon aside, Philippe patted Carol on the bottom, shooing her on her way. She glared at Gadget as she departed.
"Now, you see?" Philippe asked as he turned to Gadget, "I would never allow harm to come to you."
"But killing thousands of innocent people would hurt me!" Gadget implored, still hoping she could turn the rat's heart.
"You may think so now," Philippe responded kindly, "But you will learn eventually. And besides, zere are no innocents in zis world, we ave all committed ze sins against anozer at some time," he explained, then, in a dramatic fashion, longingly pointed out, "even you, for you ave stolen my heart!"
"Well you can have it back you disgusting, murderous monster!" Gadget spat in response.
Philippe appeared to take Gadget's venomous rebuke almost as a compliment, as if merely hearing her voice was heaven itself, regardless of what the voice was saying. Turning back around to return to his art', his attention was drawn by the sudden darkening of the entry tunnel. He cocked his head to the side as he pondered what that matter could be. An odd snuffing' sound was coming from within the tunnel, followed by the sound of creaking wood. As everyone watched, captor and captive alike, the distinctive features of a badger became visible in the dim light the studio cast into the near end of the tunnel. Sniffing intently at the walls and floor, it slowly advanced... then stopped and began frantically sniffing the air immediately ahead. With the intrusion of the predator into his studio, Philippe froze where he stood. His captives, on the other hand, were quite pleased, especially once they recognized the intruder. That is, all except one...
Monty held his breath, desperately trying to avoid adding to the scent of cheese in the air in a way that would give away his location. However, he couldn't hide his appearance and he was soon spotted. As the predator's eyes widened and a broad smile graced it's features, he knew he was doomed. "Oh no," the mouse lamented.
"I knew I smelled my meaty mousy man in here!" Charity proclaimed cheerily as she began to frantically squeeze through the rest of the tunnel.
"Oh-ho no!" Monty pleaded, "Please, this is neither the time or the place, luv!" Not that she heard him over the combined chattering of the other captives, of which it was nearly impossible to discern specific words or requests.
Charity quickly closed the distance between herself and her handsome prey and was soon preparing to depart with her catch. And she would have done so had it not been for Dale shouting out over the others, "HEY BRUIN-HILDA!" The others fell silent as the badger stopped dead in her tracks, still clutching her prize. Dale continued in a volume more appropriate for conversation, in a remarkable facsimile of Philippe's accent, "What eez eet you are carrying in zat moldy sack behind you? Rotting cherries? But I see eet eez not a moldy sack you drag behind you on ze floor, but eet eez your derriere!"
Charity slowly turned to look behind her, lips curling back over her fangs. She had been completely taken in by Dale's expert ventriloquism, perfected over many years of infuriating Chip with childish pranks. As Charity glared over her shoulder at Philippe, he cried out in a panic, "I deed not say zose words!" It did not help his case that the pitch of his panicked speech almost perfectly matched Dale's normal speaking voice. "I would never say such things to a lady," the terrified rat continued to plead as Charity gently set Monty on the floor, "E-especially one a-as marvelously zaftig as y-ACK!" His pleas were cut short as a large paw wrapped itself around his neck.
Foxglove, Fangs and Zipper all bided their time keeping watch over the small clearing in which the pump sat by hanging from or sitting upon nearby branches. The monotony of waiting for some signal from their comrades wouldn't have been nearly so unnerving if it weren't for the fact that just hanging around with nothing to do left plenty of time to worry about what was going on in the tunnels nearby. The two bats had just started playing a word game to distract themselves from their anxiety when Zipper alerted them to movement below.
Emerging from a bush was a mouse, and from the walk, apparently a female. The sentries took flight and approached the rodent. As they grew closer, they recognized her. "What's Dee's aunt doing here?" Fangs asked his companions.
"Let's find out," Foxglove responded, preparing to land between Carol and the pump. Carol came to an abrupt halt when the two bats situated themselves directly in her path. She stood there, her gaze passing from one to the other. "Ms Halfshell," Foxglove greeted in a neutral tone, "Would you mind explaining what you're doing here?" Both chiropterans noticed a sudden jump in the female's heart rate and breathing, she was clearly nervous about something.
Fangs, always conscious of how his very appearance can cause concern in others, was about to explain that they had no ill intent, but that went by the wayside as Carol charged at him. The vampire easily leapt over the rushing rodent and landed facing her back. He was just in time to see Carol grab a metal bar, about the length of her forearm, from somewhere on the pump assembly and come about swinging. When Fangs leapt clear the second time, he opted to remain airborne, well out of the reach of Carol's club.
Foxglove, too, swiftly took flight. "Looks like she didn't just stumble upon this place by accident," she commented to Fangs.
Zipper, who had made the point of staying out of Carol's line of sight during the initial encounter, dove in form behind. Grabbing fistfuls of her long, black hair near her head, he yanked her upward, briefly lifting the mouse from her feet. No sooner had Carol let out a squeal of shock than Zipper released her, allowing her to land rather ungracefully. The awkwardness of her return to the earth caused the terrestrially bound rodent to drop her improvised weapon. Foxglove, capitalizing on the situation, swooped in to grab the rod with her feet.
As Carol finally got to her feet Fangs dropped in behind her and quickly had her in his grip. The mouse soon discovered that she was no match for the sheer upper body strength of a bat. Far from accepting defeat, though, Carol wildly jerked about, slowly bringing her and her captor closer to the large pump. Confident she had situated Fangs between herself and the sturdily constructed equipment, Carol put all her energy into bashing the bat between them.
Finding it increasingly difficult to maintain his grip as he was repeatedly pounded against the pump, Fangs wracked his brain for a solution. The only one which he could conceive of was a tactic that he sorely wished not to use, if for no other reason than not wanting to further a harmful stereotype... but, given the circumstances, it seemed acceptable. Hoping he had his attack timed properly with just enough restraint, Fangs opened his mouth and bore down on Carol's neck.
Fortunately for Carol, the vampire had indeed timed his lunge and judged its force with appropriate care. The mouse instinctively froze as she felt several sharp teeth bare down on her throat. Standing stock still, staring straight ahead in mortal terror, she saw the other bat come to a landing before her.
"I suggest you not make any sudden moves," Foxglove warned, "With teeth as sharp as his, he may not be able to react in time to keep you from doing yourself serious harm."
"W-what are y-you going to do?" Carol asked, seriously unnerved by the feel of Fangs' hot breath coursing through her fur.
"We'll wait," Foxglove responded, folding her wings smugly. "Zipper," she called, "Go keep an eye on things, let us know when you see the others." With a sharp salute, the fly departed.
"Ok," Carol smiled, supreme in her faith that Philippe had everything under control within, "Let's wait." After a few moments, Foxglove's hearing alerted her to the approach of company long before Zipper had spotted their movement. Turning towards the sounds, she unknowingly alerted Carol to the visitors. Not able yet to discern who it was, the person or persons still concealed by the shadows of the surrounding foliage, Carol asked rhetorically, "Someone coming?"
"Mm-hm," Foxglove acknowledged quietly, preparing to take an acoustic sounding of the interlopers.
"This should be fun," Carol confidently drawled.
"You have no idea," Foxglove smiled, quite pleased at the signatures she heard.
Carol looked with anticipation towards where she believed her rescuer would emerge. However, instead of a tall blond rat, it was a squat fedora wearing chipmunk who strode triumphantly out of the shadows. The criminal's eyes widened as Chip was promptly followed into the clearing by the other captives', the way her niece smiled at her while caressing her crossbow sent a chill through Carol. Her mouth fell open when she witnessed Charity plow her way through the shrubbery with an unconscious and bound Philippe slung casually over her shoulder.
"Way to go!" Chip greeted Foxglove, Fangs and Zipper, "I was hoping the three of you would keep her away from the pump, but you went one better and took her into custody."
"Well, when she attacked us out of the blue we kind of figured something was wrong," Foxglove explained.
"Monty, would you do the honors?" Chip asked.
"Sure thing, pally," the Aussie replied, producing a coil of twine from beneath his coat and approaching the captive Carol. "Now, if you just hold still we can avoid getting you bound up in an uncomfortable position," Monty advised her. Fangs, who by this point had long since withdrawn his teeth from Carol's neck, released his grip so Monty could tie her up. The would- be detainee made the best of the opportunity... Grabbing one of the vampire's wings she flung him around and sent him careening into Monty's mid-section.
As Carol made a brake for the bushes, Dee prepared to skewer her with a crossbow bolt... but having Chip obscure the shot as he grabbed at the fleeing criminal put the effort on hold. Carol spun about to pull Chip into her and kneed him in the gut as hard as she could. Chip fell away as Dale took hold of the fugitive's shoulders. Carol reached up to grab Dale by the fur of his cheeks and promptly gave him a head-but. Not necessarily having been the wisest tactic, this left Carol a little stunned herself, which meant she wasn't completely clear on who it was that grabbed the front of her shirt. Undeterred, Carol lashed out blindly with a fist at her most recent assailant. The guttural growling that the impact of her fist evoked helped her focus somewhat. As her vision cleared, she realized she'd just given Charity a bloody nose... and that Charity was by no means pleased by the fact. The last thing of which Carol was aware was being flung bodily against the pump. Monty had little trouble tying her up after that.
"Dale, you ok?" Chip asked as Foxglove helped her sweety to his feet.
"I'm fine," Dale chirped, "You musta' given me a hard head what with bonking me on the noggin all the time." Seeing Chip still nursing his gut, he asked, "You gonna hurl?"
"If I can keep down your chocolate-jellybean casserole I can handle a little knee to the stomach," Chip laughed.
"Who'd think a female that old would put up that much of a fight?" Fangs asked as he brushed himself off.
"One thing the boys around here learn pretty quickly is to not get into a fight with the girls," Dee pointed out, "It's not so much a matter of being polite, mind you, it's just safer that way."
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