The Wandering Feather 19
Written by: Kevin (KS) Sharbaugh
With Philippe and Carol no longer in a position to do anyone in the community any harm, the Rangers and company faced a long walk home... though it technically didn't apply to three of them. Charity toted the subdued criminals as the others carried all the documents they could find that seemed to pertain to the pump and the belch sauce'. As they group made their way across the clearing which led into what had been Philippe's studio, only a casual thought was given to the chaos which had taken place there earlier in the day.
Having given the discarded weapons a final glance, Dale pondered aloud, "I wonder whatever happened to Frog Stomper?"
"It should be getting low on power by now," Dee pointed out, "That is, assuming it didn't break down, crash or anything."
Everyone's attention was drawn to a small rumbling sound off to the side. If anything, it sounded like a couple rocks tumbling down the hillside. Pausing out of curiosity, they turned in hopes of catching site of whatever it was making the sound. And there, careening down towards the embankment into which the studio had been dug, was Frog Stomper. Most of its legs' were missing, the brown rug covering its body was torn back in a couple places and the head was somewhat off kilter, but it appeared to still be moving under its own power.
"Well there it is," Raven needlessly pointed out. No one at the moment was particularly concerned, given it's trajectory it appeared due to continue on down the hill well past them. However, as the machine dropped down over the steep embankment it landed at an awkward angle, causing it to turn. It took a few moments, but the realization set in that Frog Stomper was rolling straight towards them.
Everyone logically took flight to get clear of its path. Gadget didn't get further than a single step before catching a toe in a worm's hole. Her oof' drew the attention of her companions, of which, Dee quickly came about to help her sister. In the split second it took to do the estimate, the rest realized neither lady could get clear of the monster's path in time. But, as they watched (or, at least those who hadn't shut their eyes) a stray feather drifted down between the mice and the machine and get sucked into Frog Stomper's inner workings. The creepy contraption can to a shuddering halt, just short of its would-be victims. It sat there, a rhythmic grinding sound the only evidence it was still alive'.
With the time the feather's intrusion bought, Gadget righted herself, after which both she and her sister clambered into the machine. There was a cacophony of clattering, clanking and sproinging' as the mechanically inclined mice rendered their creation lifeless before further havoc could be caused. As they pulled the last few wires and connections, Dee was granted a good look at the article that had spared them. "Hey, it's Gramma Asani's feather!" she stated in surprise. As Gadget turned to look, the wire she had pulled loose, which still carried a charge, brushed against a metal fitting, conducting the electricity to the fuel tank in the rear.
The sharp detonation caused the after end of the beast to blow out, leaving a swirling cloud of fumes, grass and carpet fuzz. On the other end, the sudden jolt sent both mice and the feather shooting out the front. Everyone rushed forward to aid the two ladies.
"Dee!" Chip shouted, "Are you hurt?"
"Nah," the raven haired mouse moaned as she sat up, "Just a little startled."
"Gadget, luv, you still in one piece and all?" Monty asked as he hoisted the blond mouse from the ground, setting her upon her feet.
"Sure, I'm fine," Gadget related, "The equipment inside absorbed most of the kinetic force of the explosion and any shrapnel."
"Where's the feather?!" Dee asked as she clambered over what was left of the monster.
"Golly," Gadget commented as she looked about, "The explosion must have knocked it loose and the expansion and subsequent contraction of the air in the immediate vicinity must have created sufficient lift to blow it away."
"Did anyone see it take off?" Dee asked.
"Sorry, luv," Monty replied, "I was so concerned about whether the two of you were all right that I didn't see much of anything else." A similar sentiment was raised by the other witnesses of the incident.
As the group neared the workshop, they diverged in three directions. Dee and Charity departed to deliver the captive criminals to the tribal prison and formally press charges against Carol for her misdeeds, Chip headed off to the city's rodent run court house to detail what had occurred so they could press whatever charges they deemed necessary while the rest unwound at the workshop.
Chip's return was warmly welcomed by Monty who threw an arm around him and led him towards a mess of papers. "C'mon, pally, you gotta take a look at this!" the portly mouse stated cheerfully.
"We were looking through those papers we found at Philippe's studio and found one which we thought you'd like to see," Dale explained as Chip arrived at the pile of papers. "Most of it has a bunch of technical gobbledygook that Gadget tried to translate for us," he continued, "But what we found at the top and bottom was real interesting."
Chip was directed to the paper in question. It was a sheet obviously meant for human use and folded several times for easy portage by small mammals. The bulk of the page was strewn with scribbling and what he assumed were molecular diagrams and equations... by their size it was clear they were the work of man. At the very top was a letterhead that read: The Marvelous Mental Machinations of the Positively Peerless Professor Norton Nimnul. "It figures he'd have personalized stationary with a header on it like that," Chip remarked.
"Now check the bottom," Dale demanded, "In the red pen."
At the bottom, below all the diagrams and illustrations, in red pen, was scrawled: "Note to self: It's the only copy and you know you'll never remember this formula... SO DON'T LOSE IT!!!"
Below the red ink, Chip spotted a note in pencil written in a rodent's sized script. He could tell it was French, and even recognized a few words, but not nearly enough to translate it. "Anyone figure this out?" he asked, pointing to the French.
"Way ahead you, there, Chip," Monty joined in, "It says, Sorry, my friend, but I have greater plans for this than you could imagine with your pathetic human intellect!' followed by what I'm pretty sure is Philippe's signature."
"Looks like Philippe was stealing from more than just the locals here," Foxglove opined.
"You know," Dale began slyly, "Since this is stolen property, do you think we should return it to it's rightful owner?"
"Nah!" everyone responded together.
Before Chip could begin to leaf through the rest of the documents, Dee stormed into the workshop. There was no mistaking the fact that she was in a bad mood. "That IDIOT!" she hollered, "How the h*** did he convince the Clan Mothers to make him Chief?"
"What happened?" Chip asked.
"After I had explained everything that had happened today, including what Carol had said and almost done," Dee passionately proceeded to explain, "Instead of placing Carol in a cell like Philippe, he places her under house arrest! Why? Because everything I'd said were unproven allegations' and that because she's a Clan Mother she deserves the utmost respect' until proven guilty!" After cooling down a little, she conceded, "But at least he finally took action against those frogs... not that it matters anymore." Dee was quiet for a while, then continued, "For a moment, for a brief moment, I considered trying to sweet-talk him into doing my bidding like Carol did... But I did not spend the last thirteen years teaching myself not to behave like that just to go back to the way I used to be!"
"I'm sure once Gadget has that recording of her's ready for playback you'll be able to change his tune," Monty pointed out hopefully.
"Either that or convince the other Clan Mothers it's time for a new Chief," Chip added.
Dee nodded in agreement. "By the way, did Gadget say when it'll be ready?" she eventually asked.
"By sometime tonight," Chip answered, "She said she couldn't be more specific because... well, she made all kinds of technical statements about how tricky it was for a first attempt, and that's why it would take that long."
As the afternoon proceeded along, Chip continued pouring over the documents from Philippe's studio. Gadget worked on her recording. Most of the others busied themselves with whatever they could find to do. Dee, per Chip's request, found something to work on that would take her mind off things.
A knock at the door heralded a visit by June Redtalon, come to speak specifically to Dee. After explaining that she'd heard Carol had been arrested, June wanted to hear the whole story. Dee obliged and went into animated detail about that days events, saving her most colorful language for describing her contempt for the Chief's behavior. Given the volume of Dee's story and the increasing profusion of vulgarity in both English and Seneca, she soon accumulated an audience beyond her fellow Clan Mother. "People keep asking me why I don't want to be a Clan Mother," Dee eventually ended her narrative, "That's the reason! It may not be the original reason, but it is now!"
"That's why I really came here after hearing about Carol's arrest," June finally spoke up calmly, "I had a feeling you might be a little disenchanted about your position considering your interactions with your Aunt. Why do you think your Clan chose you to lead them?"
"Because they just figured I'd threaten to have the wolves eat them if they didn't," Dee cynically joked, "Listen, I know you're going to try to convince me to stay a Clan Mother but the answer is no."
"Sajë:h," June commanded, motioning with her cane to the work stool Dee had been pacing next to.
"There are probably plenty of females in my Clan who would be better able to put up with having to prod idiotic Chiefs, make deals, or whatever," Dee continued, ignoring her fellow Clan Mother.
"Sajë:h!" June reiterated.
"I didn't want this job," Dee went on, "I have no intention of doing this job..."
"I said SIT!" June bellowed angrily. Dee sat. Everyone else also glued their backsides to whatever seat was nearest. "They didn't choose you because they thought you'd haff them eaten if they didn't," she proceeded to explain, "Remember, it was your predecessor who recommended you. Why would she recommend you? Your mother always used to say you were so much like your Aunt Carol. But that changed... you changed. You put as much distance between that old you and who you wanted to be as possible. They chose you because they trusted that you wouldn't haff them eaten, that you wouldn't be like your Aunt Carol... and that you'd stand up to her. When Carol bullied her way to the top of her Clan, it wasn't just her Clan that suffered, she put pressure on those who married into her Clan, which hurt their relatiffs who were members of all the other Clans. The last thing they wanted to see was their Clan Mother knuckling under to someone like Carol and efryone in their Clan winding up under her heel. Your Clan wouldn't haff that problem if you were their matriarch, they knew you'd neffer let her push you around, and if anything might actually push her right back because she embodied efrything you hated about your own past."
"But Carol's not going to be any trouble much longer," Dee pointed out, "There, I did my job of pushing her back and it didn't take my having to be a Clan Mother."
"Really?" June replied skeptically, "Supposing she does get what she deserfes... and giffen what you'fe already seen of the Chief's behafior you should haff some doubts about that... How can you be sure someone won't get it into their head to follow in her footsteps." Leaning closer to Dee, she emphasized the nest point, "How do you know there isn't someone in your own Clan hoping you'll step aside so they can come forward... Maybe playing off the Clan's feeling of betrayal, promising neffer to turn her back on them the way you did... And when she starts her own reign of terror a la Carol Halfshell, who will your Clan blame? Her for being a tyrant, or you for letting her come to power? And not just letting her come to power, letting Carol get away with setting the example that being self-serving, capricious, and greedy are acceptable behafiors in our tribe. Whether we like it or not, being a matriarch means setting an example of good citizenship... Right now you could set an example: by helping others who seek guidance and a fair judge, or by turning your back on those who trust and have faith in you and tell them that you couldn't care less about their problems. You may not want that power, but they entrusted you with it and haff faith in you that you won't abuse it... or them for that matter."
"Khaless the Unforgettable said that true leaders do not seek out power," Dale sagely advised, "But that power seeks them out."
"I have no clue who Khaless the Unforgettable is," June began, "but he hit it right on the head."
Dee, who had worn a dourful expression throughout June's sermon, couldn't help but crack a smile at the outlandish direction Dale had sent the matter. The smile belied the fact that she was still debating the matter in her own mind. She found many of her original reasons for shunning the unwanted title suddenly seemed rather trivial, in some cases even childish... but there was still one left. "I'll have to think about it," she eventually explained to June.
"That's really all I can ask of you," June replied, "But try to decide soon. Carol has to put on trial, and the longer it's put off because the Wolf Clan is lacking an acting Clan Mother the more time Carol has to incite trouble."
That last comment stirred up new concerns in Dee's mind. She had assumed simply getting Carol locked up was enough. But even then, she wasn't actually locked up. Dee knew Carol was in a position where she could still cause trouble, which given her nature, was a given. But upon reflection, Dee realized her Aunt had little chance of beating the charges against her, or even surviving once the truth about her activities got out. Carol would run, she was sure of that. Her own father, Carol's brother, fled when it came time to face up to the consequences of his actions... and these consequences were far more severe.
Dee left to keep watch over Carol's house arrest'. She told only Monty what she was up to as she knew Chip would insist on going along. Monty, himself, insisted on going, but Dee convinced him that it was best that someone outside the tribe not be involved if anything happened... but if Gadget finished early with her work, she was perfectly welcome.
It was well after sundown when Dee arrived at her Aunt's residence, a rotting tree stump in the far corner of a poorly kept yard. She was dismayed to see that the guards keeping watch made a poor deterrent, both stood near the front door without any consideration for the other means of egress. Dee plugged the hole' by taking up a position within sight of the only window. The position, just up the side of a small mound comprised of rocks, gravel and loose dirt, gave her a view down into the room. Just as Dee expected, Carol soon arrived to remove the chunk of glass that kept out the elements. As Carol busied herself hauling her body through the small square opening, Dee descended the hill to confront her.
"Going somewhere?" Dee asked when her aunt finally got all the way out. When Carol stood there staring at her in surprise, Dee continued, "I figured you'd run, just like Dad did. But I figured I'd make sure one of you was finally held accountable for your cowardly behavior."
Carol never tolerated anyone calling her a coward. It didn't matter that she was a coward who rarely dared fight someone without the odds being decisively in her favor, as long as people were afraid of you... that's what mattered, that's what gave you power and influence. Letting anyone get away with insulting you made you look weak, and no one fears the weak. And fleeing trial wasn't weak... letting yourself be hauled before a public tribunal so that your cowardly acts could be laid bare for all to see, that was weak. She had to fight, fight to hide her shameful acts. If others were told of what she'd done, she could claim the charges were manufactured by the real traitors, the ones who consort with outsiders. Carol knew there were people stupid enough to buy that, people who might even aid her, maybe create a resistence' movement... That was it! That's what she would do, cultivate the myth of a rebel hero, let her naive followers bear the burden of the fight while she stayed safely hidden away, supposedly directing the war. Then be greeted almost as a messiah when the fighting's over. She could control the tribe without having to poison most of them... and since Philippe had been the one behind that scheme in the first place, he could be cast as part of the fictional conspiracy to frame her... he was a perfect fit, a foreign rat. But one thing stood between her and her destiny... an obnoxious niece, a potential protégé who went soft... soft and weak.
Dee's aunt reeled back her fist, preparing to lay into her. That's when Carol felt something grab her elbow... then there was a paw pressed into her back. Carol was wheeled about and slammed face first into the side of the tree stump.
"Did I say you could hit my sister?" Gadget growled down at her. She had finished early with her work and had raced all the way over, arriving just as Dee confronted Carol.
Carol was not going to face trial, she was sure of that. And she felt she had something that could even the odds a little. Quickly pulling a dagger from her belt, she took a swipe at Gadget. As Gadget leapt back, Dee tackled her aunt. Carol managed to roll Dee off of her and righted herself. Facing both Hawkfeather girls, her knife at the ready, Carol lunged at Gadget... but it was only a feint. Dee leapt forward to disrupt the apparent strike at her sister, just as Carol hoped, but didn't see the closed fist till it was too late. Her own forward momentum added to the strength of the impact and Dee fell backwards, striking her head on stone. She was out of the fight for the time being.
This left only Gadget. Carol charged at the blond mouse. Fortunately for Gadget, this wasn't the first time she'd faced such an attack and deftly dodged the knife thrust. Grabbing Carol's wrist, Gadget tried to loose the weapon from the it's owner by bringing her free paw down on the restrained arm. But Carol immediately grappled with her opponent, preventing the blow from being made. The two ladies writhed in an effort to achieve an advantage over the other. Though Carol was growing weak, and by no means a match for Gadget in matters of attrition, she was desperate... very desperate. In an effort to end what was clearly becoming a one-sided wrestling match, Carol threw all the strength she could into just breaking Gadget's hold on her.
With a feral howl, Carol wrenched off her fetter. Gadget lost her balance and careened sideways into a stone. The impact with it had little detrimental effect on the young mouse, but the mouse's impact on the stone jolted it free from it's placement. That would have had no significance if it had not been supporting much of the face of the gravel and dirt mound Dee had been perched upon earlier. Gravel, earth, stones and a few very confused insects all spilled down onto the prone mouse before she could get clear. Gadget found herself pinned face down beneath the debris with only her head and right arm free... for all intents and purposes, she was defenseless.
"Good," was all Carol hissed at seeing her opponent's misfortune. Stamping one foot onto Gadget's free arm, Carol bent down to finish her off. Something, Gadget couldn't see quite what from her position, swooped in and jabbed Carol in the eye as she raised her dagger. Carol staggered away, nursing her eye. That's when the feather that had caused the disruption settled gently onto the pinned Gadget. She couldn't be sure, and felt it highly unlikely, but Gadget wondered to herself if it was Gramma Asani's feather... again.
Gadget had little time to ponder as a large blur plowed into Carol. Shortly afterward, a young male mouse knelt by her side and checked her face just long enough to determine whether she was conscious before calling out, "You got her, Jared?"
"Yeah," came the reply. Gadget was just barely able to see the torso of a large rat wearing a tribal police uniform where the voice had come from.
"Let me get you out of here," the young mouse offered, placing the feather aside before starting to burrow Gadget out of the pile of debris.
"My sister, is she ok?" Gadget asked.
"Jared?" the young mouse called back to his partner.
"I see her," Jared replied. "She's breathing," he added as he began to rouse the unconscious Dee.
"Gadget?!" Dee called out as she got her wits together.
"I'm fine," came the reply.
"Where's Carol?" Dee then inquired.
"She ain't goin' nowhere," Jared assured Dee, motioning to the bound captive.
Dee walked over to her aunt who was lying on her stomach, her face intentionally buried in the moss and dirt. She considered kicking her, hard, just once. However, Dee found a matter of pleasure in restraining herself. Doing so demonstrated her superiority, her greater control... an act of pointless petty revenge against a bound captive was something from her youth, something Carol would do... she was above that.
"It's a good thing one of you yelled earlier," the smaller officer remarked, "If we hadn't heard that we wouldn't haff come around to see what was up."
"Achully," Gadget proceeded to point out, "That was Carol."
"You mean she wound up alerting us to her own escape?" Jared asked. The two officers couldn't help but share a laugh at Carol's expense.
Turning to Gadget, Dee realized the smaller officer had all but finished the excavation and her sister was already brushing off her jumpsuit. That's when Dee noticed the feather nearby. As she lifted it from the ground, Gadget inquired, "I know the possibility is astronomical... though come to think of it I would have thought so about the earlier incident when I was saved by a feather... But, could that possibly be the family feather?"
Dee went over to the window for the better lighting. "D***!" she exclaimed, "It is!"
"I guess Gramma Asani has been watching over me," Gadget replied, "If that feather hadn't hit Carol in the eye she likely could have killed me before the officers got here." She though for a moment before remarking, "But I still don't see how that's possible."
"You're the one who helped free a ghost from a centuries old curse, liberated leprechauns from the Queen of the Banshees and encountered a race of metamorphic space aliens," Dee listed off, "Compared to that, a wandering feather is practically mundane."
Hauling Carol off the ground, Jared remarked, "Looks like we'll be adding attempting to flee jurisdiction' to the list of charges."
"Plus attempted murder of a tribal citizen," Dee pointed out in reference to her sister's close call, "and keep her in a locked cell." Looking at the feather in her paws, Dee offered it to her sister, "Well, it's yours, you're the oldest daughter." As Gadget took possession of the family feather', continuing a generations old tradition and accepting the inherent responsibilities, Dee found herself revisiting the decision she had to make about whether to continue a centuries old tradition and accept the inherent responsibilities that came with it. "Did you get a successful playback on your wire thingy?" Dee asked.
"Yep!" Gadget practically chirped, "The alterations I made to compensate for frequency variances worked perfectly, it recorded everything said in Philippe's studio."
"Great," Dee smiled, "I'll get in touch with the other Clan
Mothers, tell them to meet us at the Chief's office... That recording's going
to have an audience."
Back to the stories