Clash of the titans!!! WIDGET and CRISSCROSS have... a pleasant conversation.
Authors Note: Okay, so they don't really clash, per se. Anyway, here's
a new story I banged out in a few minutes. I'm incredibly grateful to John Nowak
for his help in editing and adding to this. I hope you enjoy it. BTW, it's rally
a good idea to have read at least "Ready...Aim...FIRE!!!" and Sovereign
1: The Big Acorn (plus all the rest of John's and my work) but as long as you
vaguely know the characters, you should be able to do okay.
A Conversation Between The Moon and The Sun
A CnDRR tangent by Morgan K.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I always start off with one of these things, don't I? I guess it's just 'cuz I like being narrator and guiding you folks into whatever muck I'm currently squeezing out of my keyboard. Anyway, this isn't really a fic so much as a little idea I had that I thought had promise. After the incredible rush of finishing "Ready... Aim... FIRE!!!" (the last few chapters of which were written in a lightning-quick white heat), I looked back on how much I liked the juxtaposition of John Nowak's Widget and my character Crisscross. They're complete opposites in a lot of ways, and yet they're similar in just as many ways. I liked writing their dialogue and having them play off one another. A few weeks after the story came out, I had the idea for a short tale featuring just the two of them, kickin' it 'My Dinner With Andre' style. (If for no other reason than I just really love writing for Widget.)
Three days after the Rangers had undergone high adventure, mortal terror and mind-shattering peril by bringing a (rather permanent) end to the criminal master plan of Deveraux Delacroix (with help from Gadget's two-year-old nephew Gimcrack), Crisscross Alexander Flaversham was still walking around with a rather large hole in his side from where he'd intercepted at close range a mouse-sized shotgun blast from Delacroix that had been intended for Widget Hackwrench, Gadget's dark-natured albino twin sister. Gadget worried about it incessantly, but Chris insisted he wanted to keep the gaping wound a while. "Kinda like a badge of honor. Or a nose ring," was his odd explanation. The hole didn't really hurt him in any way. Being an android, he could simply disengage his pain sensors on that side of his body. And the blast itself had done mostly cosmetic damage. A simple metal plate welded on, plus some extra fake fur would be the end of it eventually.
Crisscross had another reason for not sealing it up though; he wanted all the Rangers to fully know that he was a machine. He had been originally designed to mimic a living fox perfectly. Sometimes he worried that he pulled off the illusion too well. If the Rangers, and especially Gadget, were to accept him as one of them, he wanted them to be able to accept him exactly as he was, with all the pros and cons that came with it. After all the duplicity of his past, he wanted desperately to be as honest a fox as he could be now. He didn't want to keep any secrets from his new teammates.
It was a cobalt blue evening. Warm, not much wind. As peaceful as nature ever really gets, for a moment at least. He was lying on his stomach outside the washing machine door entrance to his home and the Ranger's HQ. Just lying about. Thinking. Listening to night sounds. Stargazing. He liked stargazing. It was nice to sit and relax and watch the night sky like the organic beings did. It made him feel more real, more a part of nature.
Then his gaze fell upon a gracefully moving mousette with long hair and a swaying tail. He was about to call out Gadget's name when he realized it wasn't Gadget. Widget was out by herself, walking apparently purposelessly amongst the towers of refuse in the junkyard. She seemed to be doing the same things as he was, only not stationary. He also noticed her expression seemed rather grim, which was usual, but there was also a note of somberness about it too. She was thinking hard about something.
Chris decided to risk accidentally igniting her temper and called out. "Ahoy there! Mouse off the starboard bow!"
She looked up. For just a split second her body froze into a defensive posture, readied to defend herself against a deadly horde of attackers. When she realized it was only Gadget's goofy robot fox boyfriend, she relaxed. She'd only known Chris for five days, but it was enough to assure her that the foxbot was as gentle as a dandelion. Plus, she felt confident that she could wrench him apart in a heartbeat if he ever tried anything.
The grey mouse started up the hill of scrap towards him. Her step was nimble, assured; almost like a military ballerina. "For your information, I was off your port beam, you landlubber," she crisply corrected.
Chris grinned a bit. The fox was darned nearly unflappable. "Ah, thanks. I always mix those nautical terms up. I only know 'em from movies. I don't spend much time near water, you see. I mean, I know I'm supposed to be waterproof, but I'd rather not have to test it that often, you know? Especially what with the 'breach in my hull' here."
"Point," she replied. "So, did you want something?"
"Not really," Chris replied breezily. "I saw you walking and thought you might have something on your mind."
"Not really," Widget also replied. She relaxed into an 'at ease' position. "I was just thinking about... things. In general. Nothing really important."
She could not have been more obvious that what she'd said and what she really meant were polar opposites. Chris was much better at reading expressions than one would think an android would be. She did have something weighty on her shoulders, but he wasn't about to press. "That's okay. I just wanted to talk with you. I mean, I haven't known you very long, and frankly, you're really interesting."
Widget gave him a look. "Interesting?"
"Uh, in a good way, I mean. Like, Gadget told me some of your backstory. Quite a ripping yarn. I wanted to get to know you better, uh, in a completely friendly sense, of course." Chris internally blushed 'Boy was THAT ever awkward!'
Widget noticed his Herculean effort to not offend her and was amused. "Crisscross, don't worry. I'm not nearly as demonic as the newspapers have probably made me out to be. If you want to talk, that's okay. Did you have any set topic in mind?"
Chris was obviously relieved. He hated to make a bad impression. "Actually, I was kinda curious what it's like to live on a sub. Does it get on your nerves after a while to be in such cramped quarters?"
The grey mouse looked around a bit before settling on a place to finally sit down. Widget thought Chris' question a bit. "Not really. Like anything, you get used to it. I only really notice it anymore after a shore leave like this when we go back to the water. Yes, it's a little claustrophobic, and there's less privacy than I'd like sometimes," 'Especially for quality time with the Captain,' she thought with a grin. "but on the whole I'd say I enjoy it. You do have to keep alert all the time. There's a thousand and one things that could drown us all with hardly a moment's notice. But I know that's unlikely to ever happen. I trust every member of my crew with my life every second of the day, and I'm never disappointed. It brings you closer together. I imagine it's much like the Rangers are."
"I know just what you mean." Chris said. "I haven't been a member very long, but I can see between all of them, there's this bond between them, like an aura or something. They're more than just friends or teammates, they're family. I really hope I can feel like I'm a part of that someday."
Widget paused at the mention of the word 'family'. It struck her how she'd gone so long searching for a real family when she was young, only to find one before she even knew she had one. She and her crew were like family in a way. More of a professional, organized way, but still, she knew that any problem that came up on the Albacore, each and every one of them would work to their last breath to fix it. And she would be right there beside them. She smiled at the thought of it.
Widget continued on her original topic. "It's not a life for everyone. There are a lot of things most people can't deal with. The pressure of keeping everything running perfectly, the knowledge of the constant danger, the feeling like you've been squashed into an itty-bitty airtight sardine can and you'll never get out alive... Things like that."
Chris gulped. If he was ever invited to visit Albacore, he'd keep one paw out the window at all times.
"Then, of course, there's the smaller things. You get sick of the food really quick. Constantly getting bumped in the hallways. That incessant squeaky noise. When the crew thinks it's funny to smear black greasepaint around the periscope and call you a raccoon all day long." Actually, they'd done that to Jurgen, and he HAD looked like a raccoon. Widget grinned. "Do you have any idea what the bathrooms on a sub are like after you've been out at sea for several months?" (Actually, they were usually pretty clean, but one of the funnest things about Chris is that he'd believe just about anything said to him)
"Well, actually, I'll never know," said Chris flatly. "Robots don't pee."
"True, true," Widget acknowledged. "However, as much of a living nightmare a sub can sometimes be, I wouldn't give it up for the world, and do you know why?"
"I have no idea," Chris responded truthfully.
Widget suddenly got a look of incredible zest in her wide pink eyes. "Because sometimes we'll be surfaced at just the right time, and I'll go up the hatch and look out, and the sun will just be setting. The ocean is spread out on all sides, farther than the eye can see. Nothing but water, no matter where you look. Nothing. Pure peace and calm. And the sky is filled with the richest color you've ever seen in your whole life. Oranges, purples, reds... So real and vibrant they make your mouth water. And you take in a deep breath of that wonderful salty sea air, and for just a second, you feel like you are the master of it all. Like all of it is there just for you and you alone. But not as if you own it. No, it's like the meeting of two immensely powerful forces, and knowing the other regards you as such. Never a full truce; the ocean doesn't work that way. More a fleeting moment of mutual respect. It is the most wonderful feeling in all the world..." She trailed off, looking like she could see it all right in front of her.
Chris smiled widely. "Wow. Sounds neat! I've seen pictures like that!"
Widget's bubble was burst. "Thank you, Captain Understatement," she dryly remarked.
"Hey now, I know what you mean," Chris responded quickly. "I know how certain moments like that can mean the world to you. I remember the day I was first exposed to the internet. All of it; all at once. Talk about mind blowing! Then there was the first time I was able to consciously control my body. When I cried at the end of A.I.. And, of course, when Gadget looked into my eyes and said she loved me for the first time..." Chris grinned broadly and looked like he was about to melt into a puddle of love.
Widget momentarily flashed on the first time 'I love you' had flowed from Jurgen's lips. She could have died in that instant and gone to heaven and never noticed the difference. She sighed happily, picturing him as he probably was right now: In bed with a pillow wrapped over his head trying to get some sleep over the noise of the rest of the crew partying.
"So, when do you all ship out?" Chris asked.
"I'm not sure. Probably sometime early next week. All our repairs are done by now. It's up to Jurgen when we leave. He is the captain after all."
Chris' ears drooped a little. "Awww. Too bad you can't stay longer. Maybe we can all have another adventure with the Rangers again?" he said with tail-wagging eagerness.
She looked at him as if he was insane. "Another?!? You think escaping death's icy clutches by mere millimeters all those times was _amusing_?"
"Well, sorta. I'm really getting into the whole vigilante justice 'do the right thing' kinda thing," he admitted.
She shrugged. "Suit yourself, pup."
Chris took that moment to stretch, which glaringly showed off the hole the shotgun blast had made in him. Widget glanced over it. "I think your tapeworm escaped," she commented.
It took Chris a second to get it before he degenerated into snickers. "Tee hee! You made a funny, Widget!"
A small flicker of smile crossed her snowy muzzle. "I'm not without my wit."
"A dark wit, certainly," Chris added.
"I'm always dark," Widget rejoined casually. "I just am."
Chris arched an eyebrow. "Always? Come on, you can't be so Batman-like _all_ the time. We all gotta have fun some time in our lives."
"You're right, I do have my fun." She flashed briefly on the first time one of her torpedoes had struck home and put a hole in the target big enough to walk through. "But I probably shouldn't tell someone as sunny as you what form that fun takes. Ever heard of getting a terminal case of the willies? You would."
"See? You're still being dark!" Chris scolded lightly. "You've tried your best to act all bleak and grim and sinister ever since we met and, heck, I can tell a lot of it is an act, no offense, of course. It's like you've truly been that way and felt that way for a really long time, and now you don't need to anymore, but you still do it because you've always done it."
A year ago, heck, even less than that, Widget would have belted the daylights out of anyone who'd tried to analyze her like that. Yet she just couldn't feel like that towards Crisscross. There was some impermeable force the breezy, affable fox apparently exuded that kept anyone from not liking him. Plus, he'd said it only out of empathy, wanting to know her better to bring them closer as friends (Why he wanted so obviously to be friends with a mouse like her was a mystery to Widget). Plus, he was dead right. Plus, she'd tried punching his titanium jaw already and nearly crumpled her mechanical hand. So belting was out.
She let out a brief sigh. She couldn't believe she was opening up to him like this. "Fine, Mr. Buscaglia, so I'm not dark all the time. You know when I'm not?"
He smiled softly, knowingly. "I think I might know."
"When I'm with Gimcrack," she replied with a gentle expression.
Chris nodded. "Thought so. That's really sweet."
Widget rolled her eyes. "Yeah yeah. 'Aww, the evil mouse from Aich Ee Double Hockey Sticks has a soft side'. Just don't tell anyone else, okay?" she said half-jokingly.
"Don't need to. They already know. When you're holding the little squirt, your eyes get so warm. You get, like, the total opposite of dark for a second. All fulla love an' stuff."
She thought of her beautiful baby boy again and smiled. A smile that was real and heartfelt. "Yes, I do love him. More than anything. Love feels better than I thought it would. I used to think love was only for idiots who didn't understand how cruel and monstrous the world really was. I'm glad Gimmy's helped prove me wrong. He's changed me a lot, Crisscross."
"I'm glad to hear that. Personally, I think you make a great mom. And one thing's for sure; he'll never have to worry about bullies at school, ever!" Chris joked.
Widget grinned toothily. "Oh, I am going to get lawsuits from sooo many parents later on!" she joked. "'Hey! Broken bones heal, lady!!' she snarled to an imaginary distraught mother.
Chris chortled for a moment. "Say, speaking of Gimcrack, where is the li'l guy? Usually you two are inseparable."
"Gadget and Tammy are staying with him," Widget explained. "Sis assured me she trusted Tammy implicitly. She'd better. I feel a little uneasy anyway."
"Oh, don't worry," Chris assured, "Tammy's great with kids. She's been doing babysitting for a lot of the animals in the park for years. I'd trust her with my hard disk," which was a truly high compliment from a robot. "And from what I understand, you're sposto feel that way. It means you care a lot for him."
Widget gave Chris a 'you betcha' look. "I'd give my life for him. As bad as I was treated as a child, I've vowed upon my soul that Gimmy will never have to feel any of that." She looked up to the light coming from inside the television set shell where RRHQ was located. 'He's right up there. He's safe,' she told herself again. "I trust Gadget's judge of character enough to give Tammy a chance. Yours, too," she added.
Crisscross felt a bit honored. "Thanks!"
"I noticed that Gimcrack seems to get along well with Tammy's little sister, Bink. The other day while I was changing him, Bink came over and offered to help. Gimcrack started talking to her in gibberish and they seemed to have a very lively conversation. I asked Bink what they'd been talking about and she said she had no idea!"
Chris chuckled. Those two young'uns did make a cute pair. "Gimcrack and Dale seem to get along well too. I guess they share a common maturity level," he quipped.
"Yes, Gimmy does adore that red-nosed 'munk. I just hope he doesn't grow up to be like him!"
Chris was about to rise to Dale's defense, then suddenly imagined him with the energy of a toddler, getting loose on a submarine. The catastrophic scenarios were innumerable. "Gotcha."
The conversation paused for a second as they both tried to think of something else to say. Both mouse and fox were interested to see where the talk between them would lead.
Crisscross perked up. "Say, um, if you don't mind me asking and it's not something too personal, you looked like you were thinking about something real hard while you were walking just now. Anything you wanna let out? I'm a good listener."
Widget resisted at first, but eventually she just couldn't resist the honest urge to help her that she saw in his big yellow eyes. It was almost hard to deal with Chris in a way, simply because she'd spent so long only seeing the worst in people it was hard to believe in someone who tried so hard to be so open, friendly and helpful. "No, Chris, it's okay..." she said quietly. It _was_ personal, but she did also want to be able to get it off her chest. "I was just thinking again about the whole business with... Him."
"You mean Dev-"
Chris was cut off by a glance from Widget that could have punched through steel.
He instantly shrank back. "Right. Sorry. Sorry. Forgot you can't stand his name. Sorry. Shall I call him Jerk-face instead?"
Widget growled low in her throat. "It's not nearly awful enough to suit him, but allright," she said. "And apology accepted."
"So, okay, what about the late Jerk-face then?"
Such a comfort to know he was finally dead! "...Just everything about the whole mess in general," she said. "How much it hurt, how much it hurts just admitting it hurts... How disgusted I am at myself that I was actually going to do business at that auction of his-"
This time Widget was cut off. Chris put a paw suddenly on her shoulder and fixed his eyes on her in a gaze that froze her to the spot. "Widget..."
"...What?" she said softly, surprised by his quickness and the sheer force in his expression.
"What he did to you, it was not your fault."
"What he did to you, was _not_ your fault, Widget. Don't say a thing more. I know Gadget's told you about my past. I've been used to do things so terrible I know they'd give me nightmares if I was capable of dreaming. But at the same time I know it was not my fault they happened. I did the best I could to escape from those people who used me, and I've done my best to make myself not like them."
"Chris, I don't think-"
Chris cut her off again. "Don't say a word more, Widget."
He was giving HER an order! How dare he! Widget was just about to tear his circuits out when he continued what he was saying. "Regardless of what you were about to say, I know what you're really saying to yourself. You're comparing yourself to him. You're inwardly weighing whether or not you're any better than he is."
Widget's voice failed. She very nearly gasped at how easily he'd read her thoughts.
"Widget, as someone who would like to be able to call you a friend, I want you to know that that's a bunch of kaka. You're nowhere near that monster. You're so far above him, it's incalculable. You may have done some bad things in your past, but know what? Not to children, and not for fun. Not like him." That thought struck her pretty deeply.
Chris moved his large, furry, caring face closer. "The difference between him and you is that you've changed. You've realized the bad things you did were bad. You've made things better. You've tried to make yourself a better person. That alone makes you a better person than him a million billion trillion times over."
Widget bit her lip. Not many were able to see so cleanly through all her layers of masks to her true heart like this.
"And that's only one reason you're better than him. There's plenty of other reasons."
"...What other reasons?" she asked huskily.
"Look in Jurgen's eyes. And Gimcrack's. And Gadget's. And your crew's," he told her softly. "You'll see them."
Had Widget been a bit less Widget-y she might actually have shed a tear at hearing such kind words. Instead, she could only mutter "Thank you, Chris."
He took his paw away. "You're welcome. It's just... I spent way too long feeling those same kinds of things. I'm not going to let you hurt yourself like that, too."
Widget now realized why she was opening up to Crisscross so easily, even though they'd only known one another for a short time. He _listened_ to her and tried to _understand_ her. He wasn't judging her. He didn't feel pity for her. He wasn't cringing in fear of her. He wasn't even annoyingly trying to 'cheer her up'. He was trying to help her. And not because he wanted to get anything out of it either.
She suddenly realized that Chris was the kind of person she wished she could have known during her childhood. Someone she could have come to with her problems and not feel afraid to tell them. That is, if her own stubborn 'me against the world' attitude from back then would have even let her.
"Thank you, Chris," she told him sincerely.
"You already said that, but you're welcome again anyway," he replied.
She regarded him for a moment. The gaping circular window in his side was ample proof he was an artificial intelligence, yet his expression could not be more real. She looked down at her own artificial arm, and the black glove that covered it. Being mechanical didn't mean not living.
"I'm sorry for interrupting you like that," Chris said, "But I saw that look in your eyes and I just had to intervene. It doesn't matter what you were or weren't going to do. Buying some guns is nowhere near the same level as... Well... You know what he did."
She nodded solemnly. "Yes, I know."
"You're better than him on your worst day, Widget. Don't worry. I think you've got a lot more Gadget in you than you realize."
Widget suddenly stiffened a bit.
"What? Did I hit a nerve or say something wrong?" Chris asked, looking worried.
"No, no, nothing like that," she replied. "I just realized that if you'd said that to me a few years ago, I probably would have torn your throat out on the spot."
"You did have a bit of a tiff with her, didn't you?" he understated.
"Tiff?!?" Widget snorted. "It was an all-out obsessed psychotic war. I can't believe how crazy I was. I didn't just want to kill her, I wanted to make her *suffer*. I wanted to watch her suffering. And laugh."
Chris was about to respond, but realized she had more to say.
"I look back on that time, and I can barely believe that was me. And at the same time, I can still see parts of that in me now. I'm disgusted, horrified..." She lowered her gaze. "Ashamed, mostly."
She stood up and began to pace in a tight circle. "And why?! What was my sister's great crime? She had a better life than me! All the self-righteous prattle I sprayed about my grand holy quest for justice was nothing but crap. I was jealous. That's all it was. I was just jealous of her because she had a dad. And a life. And was loved..."
Her whole body was shaking. Chris realized she wasn't even talking to him anymore. She was letting something out that she'd probably never given words to, but that had lived malevolently inside her for a long time.
There were glistening tears in her eyes now. She threw her head back and threw out her arms. Like she was being crucified. "I WAS JEALOUS!!!!!" she screamed up at the sky, letting the universe know. Her words were defensive, even as they were a confession. Her voice resonated with pain.
She sank back to where she'd been sitting, looking like the air had been let out of her. "I was jealous. And stupid. And arrogant and all sorts of things. I was so sure I was right... Nothing else mattered except making someone pay for my suffering. Geegaw was dead, so he was out. My dear adoptive 'mother' was dead too. So that left Gadget."
"I hate myself sometimes, Chris," she admitted bitterly. "I hate myself because I was kicked around by the world all my life, treated like garbage, and the best solution I could come up for it was to find someone innocent and say that I was going to do even _worse_ things to them. Keep the cycle going. 'Hurt? I'll just hurt someone else even worse and that'll make me feel better.' Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid..." She trailed off to silence.
Chris started to say something, but thought it best to let her have her silence for a while.
"...And the worst part is..." she began in a pained whisper. "Gadget's shown me nothing but love now. You all have. And I came close to murdering her. Or worse, turning her into what I was..."
She looked up to him. "Say something to make me feel better, dammit."
Chris smiled softly. "Sure thing. How about; the fact that you realize this about yourself means you've already changed for the better. How 'bout; it's obvious to all of us you're not like that anymore. How 'bout; you're a good mom to Gimcrack, a good companion to Jurgen and a good captain of your ship. How 'bout; Gadget forgives you."
"We all forgive you," he added.
Widget bent over, curling up into a ball of black rubber and silver hair. She shook a little, crying. But a soft smile soon came to her face nonetheless. She sat back up and wiped her eyes on her cape. "You're really good at making me feel better about this stuff, Chris," she said. "Ever think about getting a job consoling death row inmates or something?"
The fox chuckled. "Naw, I'll restrict my therapeutic powers to helping the Rangers for now. Besides, any one of us'd tell you this. It's true, yannow."
"Yeah, I know," she said inbetween a quick sniffle. "I just forget a lot."
Chris' smile broadened. "I'm sure there's a lot of folks who'd be glad to help you remember any time you like."
She smiled. She looked up at him. "You made me cry, dammit. I'm not supposed to cry! It screws up my evil villain facade!" she joked.
"Aw, we all *know* it's a facade anyway. Still, whatever floats your boat."
"Ballast tanks," she replied.
And the both of them burst out laughing.
"Hey! I'm not supposed to be laughing either!" Widget sputtered out. "You're ruining everything! Next you'll be having me wearing flowery dresses and singing hippie songs!"
Chris pounded the ground guffawing. "Never happen! Not in a million years!" He composed himself a bit. "Besides, you look good in black. Really. It goes well with your fur and makes your eyes stand out."
"Jurgen'd tie you to a torpedo if he heard you talking like that, but thanks anyway," she said with a slight 'just kidding' smile.
"You're welcome again, again," Chris replied. "And that was only just a friendly compliment. I know full well my heart belongs only to Gadget."
Chris paused for a bit. "Say, you've never really told me what you think about that. About me and Gadget."
She regarded him quizzically. "What's to say? You think I'm going to be angry about it?"
He blushed a tad. "Well, yeah, I guess. I mean... I'd heard you were all mean and byronic 'n stuff, so I figured you'd be super-protective of her because she's your sister and you'd think I wasn't good enough for her."
Widget actually chuckled. "Crisscross! Come on now, give me some credit at least. I am protective of her, but in no way do I think you're not good enough. I've seen how happy you two make each other. There's no way I could think you shouldn't be together. Besides, if you just keep getting into accidents like that," she indicated his hole, "you'll do a great job of keeping her busy fixing you up all the time, and I know she loves that," she kidded.
Chris chuckled too. "Oh, I have a feeling that won't be a problem in the least. Anyway, I'm glad you don't mind. It helps to know no one thinks it's weird us liking each other, what with all our differences."
"What differences?" Widget tossed off. "So you're a fox and she's a mouse. So you're made of metal and she's made of meat..."
"Actually, I'm made more of plastic polymer than metal," he interjected.
"Who gives a damn?" Widget shot back. "You two are perfect for each other regardless! You're both nice and caring and helpful and all that goody-goody stuff. Plus you can actually keep up with her mega-rants. That alone qualifies you. You shouldn't worry about it so much. If she's happy and she likes you, you're doing fine. Just shut up about it, okay?"
As brusque as her words were, Chris understood fully how complimentary they were. Widget wasn't very practiced at saying nice things, but her meaning came across perfectly nevertheless. "Aww, thank you Widget. That's very kind of you to say."
"Yeah yeah. You're welcome. You are a really sweet-hearted fox, Chris. Gadget is lucky that you love her."
Chris giggled at the compliment. "Yeah. Jurgen's that lucky, too."
"Darn right he is!" she said with a grin. They both snickered a bit. Damn, laughing felt good. Why had she avoided it for so long? 'You old sourpuss,' she scolded herself.
Widget looked back to Chris' wound again. Her voice became more serious. "You know, Chris, you saved my life when that happened. I'd be dead if you hadn't taken that shot for me. I never really thanked you for that."
He waved it off. "Golly, that's okay. It's what Rescue Rangers do. "
"Please. Don't be so modest. You got blasted by a shotgun! That's not standard everyday good-deed-doing!" Another thought hit her. Hard. "Gimcrack wouldn't have a mother if you hadn't done that," she said softly.
That brought things more sharply into focus for them both. "Gosh, you're right..." Chris said. "I'm even more glad I did it now. And you're very welcome, Widget. Just knowing I did save you is more than enough reward. After all the bad things that went on in my past, being able to help people just fills me with happiness. It's groovier than groovy."
Widget smiled. Then she gave her gloved hand a nervous squeeze. "Chris, um, I don't want you to take this the wrong way but, there's something I wanted to ask you about what you did."
"Sure. Shoot." He winced, realizing that might not be a good term to use in light of what happened.
Widget noticed, but didn't show it, not wanting to embarrass Chris. "I've been wondering, ever since that afternoon... Chris, did you mean to take that shot for me?"
"What?!" Chris arfed, more than puzzled.
"I mean, did you blindly crash through that wall at just the right time, through some stroke of pure luck, or did you know somehow what was happening and let Del... (she grimaced and caught herself) ...Let that monster shoot you on purpose?"
Chris was a little surprised she would ask that, and almost a little hurt. "Widget, of course I knew. I scanned the whole place with all my sensors as soon as I woke up and I could hear you through the wall. And your placement on my heat vision let me know pretty clearly what he was about to do. Of course I let it happen."
She heard the bit of hurt in his voice and was quick to soothe it. "Chris, don't worry, I'm not asking because I didn't have faith in you that you would do that. I just wondered if, if it had been pure luck, did that mean that maybe... fate, or whatever, had saved me for a reason."
Chris understood now. "Well Widget, it _was_ luck that you managed to break that thingamabob he had that was keeping me turned off. And it was also luck that I was able to get back online again at just the right time afterwards. If what you're saying is that you're wondering if fate would think you're worth saving, I'd have to say... Probably."
"Probably? You can't do better than that?" she snarked.
"Well, hey, c'mon! I am but a humble foxbot after all. I don't pertain to understand fate. But I can say that *I* certainly thought you were worth saving."
Her smile said 'thank you' enough. "I'm glad you did, Crisscross."
He looked a little somber for a moment.
"What is it?" she asked.
"Oh, nothing. I was just thinking how... Well, that's my purpose."
"Excuse me? What does that mean?"
Chris tried to explain it. "I mean, everyone in the Rangers has a purpose. Chip leads, Gadget invents, Monty's the muscle, Dale's the heart and comic relief, Foxy has her ears and wings, Zipper has his speed and small size, Tammy has her youth... And I'm the sacrifice," he said flatly.
Widget looked at him concernedly. "Crisscross... What do you mean by 'you're the sacrifice'?"
He looked away from her, up at the stars. "Sure, I can do other things. I can be their transportation. And my size and strength are an asset too. But my real reason for being in the Rangers is that I can die for them. They've never mentioned it, and they probably never will. But I know it. And I've pledged to myself it's going to be my role."
She was shocked. "Chris! You can't be saying..."
"I am, Widget." His voice was rock-solid. He had the tone of a person facing certain death with no fear in their heart, only duty. "I know my role. I accept it. When I saw you were about to be shot, I didn't hesitate an instant to throw myself in front of the gun. Earlier that day, when we were surrounded by fire, I threw myself into it because I knew I had to to save you guys. When the Rangers and I were in Fat Cat's place, and the floor was about to fall out from under us, I ran to that chainsaw trying to stop it. And even though it cut me in two by accident, I was fully ready to throw myself under it to slow it down if that's what had had to be done. It's my purpose. To be the sacrifice."
Widget could barely believe her ears. She couldn't believe that Chris would be so cold towards himself. He wasn't trying to be a martyr at all; he was essentially saying that his own life was worthless. That he was expendable. "Chris, you can't really believe this, do you?"
He looked shocked. "Of course I do! You don't think I'm serious? You ever watch any of the Star Trek Movies?"
This abrupt change in subject puzzled her. "The Albacore isn't a video store."
"I'll take that as a no then. Have you at least heard of Star Trek then?"
His tone was surprisingly urgent for such a seemingly trivial question. "Yes, of course."
"In the second movie, "The Wrath Of Kahn", the Enterprise is about to blow up and kill everybody," he began to explain. "The only way to save them is for somebody to fix some doohickey, only it's in a room that's flooded with radiation. Anyone going in dies; no doubt about it. And Spock thinks things over and goes in anyway and fixes the problem. Knowing he's gonna die. So he's almost collapsed from the radiation exposure and Kirk comes over and asks him why he did it. And Spock says "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one." Do you get what I'm trying to say?"
Widget looked horrified. She didn't know how to respond. Her emotions got all tangled up. Finally, all she could do was jump to her feet and burst out as loud as she could an eight letter word for cow manure.
The whole junkyard heard it.
Elsewhere, Gadget blushed crimson and wondered what in the world her sister was doing out there. Gimcrack chuckled.
Crisscross was more than angry at Widget's response. "How dare you! What the heck do you mean by that?!?"
Widget was boiling with frustration. "You dumb fox!!" she bellowed. "You're trying to tell me you're willing to let yourself die to save the others, but what you really mean is that you think your life is worth less than theirs!"
He seemed confused that she would think otherwise. "But it is! Of course it is..."
She grabbed her hair and screamed through her teeth. "Crisscross!! No it's NOT!!! Why would you ever think that in the first place?"
"Isn't it obvious?!?" he shouted, incredulous. "Look at me! I'm a *machine* for cryin' out loud! You're alive, they're alive, I am not alive! Why is this hard for you to understand? If some situation comes up where one of us has to die to save the others, I'll volunteer every time. Best case scenario; I get a little mangled and Gadget fixes me up again and everyone's happy. Worst case scenario; I get smashed to smithereens and never know the difference anyway. That's how it is."
Widget ground her eyes shut and slumped to her knees. "Oh Chris..." She started to cry.
"Hey, stop. I'm sorry. It's okay, Widget," he said softly, afraid he'd hurt her by yelling at her.
"No, Chris, it's not okay. I'm not crying because of you, I'm crying _for_ you. Oh dammit. I'm no good at trying to make people feel better..."
"You don't need to make me feel better."
She looked up at him hard. Her voice was very firm. "Yes, I do. You think you're worthless. I was treated like I was worthless for years by everyone around me. I can't believe you would make yourself feel that way."
He was trying to keep her from being sad for him. She didn't need to. "But Widget, we're different."
"We are NOT different! You think you're worth nothing more than a bullet-proof vest? Damn! You think Gadget wouldn't feel anything if you went and got yourself killed?!?"
This startled him a bit. "Well, she'd be sad..."
"She'd be *crushed*. They all would! They'd spend the rest of their lives miserable, wishing they had made that sacrifice instead of you. It would eat them alive, Chris. You are not going to do that to them, or yourself. Ever," And her tone let him know she meant it.
Chris' ears drooped. "I know. But I'd rather they be sad than dead."
"Chris, they aren't dead yet. They've kept from getting dead for a long time before they ever met you. The Rescue Rangers are a team. They look out for each other. Sometimes they make sacrifices, but not unless they need to. You don't think any of them wouldn't give their lives for you too?"
"Well..." Chris' eyes were large and confused.
"What about me then? You say your life doesn't matter as much because you're mechanical. I'm part mechanical. Does that mean my life is only worth part of theirs?"
"Well, of course not, but-"
"Shut up! I've done evil things in my past, I've tried to kill my own sister and all of your friends. Is my life worth less because of that? You told me I was a good person because I did my best to change myself and make amends for my past. You've done the same. So why do you think you're any less of a person than I am?!"
He watched her chest heave, out of breath. He saw the desperation in her eyes for him to believe her. It hurt to know she cared so much. "Widget... Don't you understand? It's not because of that. I don't mind being the sacrifice because... Because they have souls. You have a soul. And I... I don't have one."
The admission stunned her to her core. She could see he truly believed it. He truly believed that just because he was metal, he had no soul. She couldn't help going over to him and wrapping her arms around his neck. She pressed herself into his fur. She hugged him gently. "Dammit, Chris... Dammit, dammit, dammit..." she whispered.
Chris didn't say a word.
She looked up into his eyes. The eyes that had looked so full of life a moment ago looked cold and lifeless now. And he only had himself to blame for that. "Dammit, Chris..." She was trying as hard as she could to find the words that would convince him otherwise. But they wouldn't come. Chris was good at this kind of thing; she wasn't.
Finally, she came up with something. It wasn't much, but it was the best she could think up.
She stepped back and looked him in the eye. "Chris..."
"What, Widget?" he said dully.
"I want to tell you something. You need to listen to me," she commanded sternly.
She sighed sadly. "Chris, I don't know anything about fate either. You may be right about not having a soul."
He gasped. She was agreeing? That didn't seem to make sense.
Widget continued, fimly and evenly. "Even so, if the Rangers have souls that live on after death, and you don't, then logically your life is worth *more* than theirs. Because death would destroy you but would not destroy them. So even then, you're worth something."
That was a thought Chris hadn't considered before.
"But that's assuming I am wrong and you're not. I don't think that's the case though. Let me tell you a little story, Chris..."
He looked deeper into her peircing eyes, trying to figure out what she was getting at.
Widget visibly steeled herself. She closed her eyes and spoke in a low, emotionless tone. "When I was a baby, I was taken in by this mouse who claimed to be my mother. She couldn't have been further from one. She was always quick to let me know I was nothing more than a pale-furred, pink-eyed, one-armed freak of nature. A mistake. She let me know that, because I was disfigured, I was bad. That I had only one arm for a reason. She told me that I must have done something really awful to deserve being crippled and being so ugly..." It hurt to say this. So much pain... "She used me to make money. She used me like a whore, and that's what I felt like. She set me down with a cup and people passing by threw money and food at me because they felt sorry for me. And she'd make me give all of it to her, and she beat me when there wasn't enough. You don't want to know what she did when she thought I'd taken some of it for myself. And what did she need it all for so much? Booze and drugs. Lots of it. She'd get drunk and sleep all day long. I had to eat garbage to survive. Not like rooting around in a dumpster behind a fast food restaurant; actual garbage. Things no sane mouse would willingly eat. My 'mother' kept me working every moment I was awake for years. And she never passed up any opportunity to manipulate my emotions for her own ends like a puppeteer, or just to call me every filthy name she could think of. In almost two decades, I never once felt truly loved or safe or even just not terrified."
She stopped. Her chest heaved. Her eyes betrayed the fact that she was mere seconds from weeping at the accumulated torment of all those years.
"Widget... I don't know what you're trying to say," Chris told her.
Widget looked back up. "What I'm saying, Chris, is that by your logic, since that horrible woman was alive, she had a soul." Widget fixed her eyes on his in the most intense locking gaze she could muster. "And if a monstrous, remorseless, heartless creature like that had a soul... Then you sure as hell have to have one too."
They were as still as statues as her words forced themselves into Chris' heart. And finally, Chris listened to those words. Words that he'd wanted to believe ever since he'd acquired sentience. And it wasn't so much Widget's example that made him believe she might be right, but the sheer conviction in her eyes that her words were true. She truly, honestly, one hundred percent believed he had a soul. And if she could believe, maybe he could too.
After all, maybe it was indeed possible. He was a machine, yes. But most machines weren't self aware. Most machines could not feel. Most machines could not love. Yet he did. And he hadn't been programmed that way either. He was made without the capacity for thought even wired into him. And yet somehow... Somehow, seeing the horrors he was used to commit made him feel. And he had impossibly, maybe even miraculously, suddenly out of nowhere become aware of himself and his surroundings. Scientifically, that should have been completely impossible. So, maybe it didn't happen by science at all.
Chris shuddered, and would have sobbed if he'd had some function that simulated tears. He suddenly scooped up Widget and engulfed her in a bone-crunching hug.
"Oops!" he let the mouse go. Widget was panting a bit, but seemed relatively unharmed. "You okay?"
"Barely," she coughed. "You kinda have the strength of a car crusher, you know that?"
"Sorry," he smiled. He hugged her again, this time much softer. "Widget, I don't know for certain if you're right. There's really no way I _could_ be completely sure, but you've at least given me faith. Thank you."
Widget smirked. She'd given someone else faith in their own life. Bit of a change from the mousette who had lived only for crunchy vengeance not so long ago. 'Maybe I'm really not so bad after all', she thought to herself. 'Nah,' she smirked.
Chris sat her back down. He looked up at the sky again. It was now black, with stars managing to shine through the gloom. He looked back at Widget. 'A definite parallel,' he thought.
"You gonna be okay now?" Widget asked. "No more of this thinking about Star Trek stuff, right?"
Chris 'tee hee'd. "Naw, I think I'm over that. I'm still ready to die for them if I have to, but I think I'll work a lot harder to make sure it doesn't come to that first."
She smiled in relief. Crisis averted. "Besides, you still gotta whole lot of kissing my sister to do, remember?" They both got a laugh out of that.
"You know what?" Chris suddenly said, the playfulness in his voice renewed, "I'm gonna call you Ryoko from now on." He knew she was a bit of a fan of Tenchi Muyo. "You act villainous and mischievous, but inside you're really a good person with a good heart."
She was touched by the compliment. She'd always identified with the blue-haired space pirate on the show anyway. And, even though it was unabashedly silly, she could not help making the perfect reply; "Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto."
Chris groaned. "Ohhhh, I _knew_ that was coming in sometime!"
She giggled a bit. "Now, what shall my nickname for you be then, hmmm?"
"Not Pinocchio," he pleaded, "It's way too obvious."
"Obviously," she said. Though it did give her an idea. "I'll call you Bishop."
"Bishop? Why Bishop?" he asked, perplexed.
"Remember Lance Henrikksen's character in "Aliens"? The android who sacrifices himself to save the others?"
Chris brightened. "Oh yeah! That is pretty good! I like it, Ryoko!"
She smiled gracefully. "You're welcome, Bishop."
"But I thought you said you didn't get to see many movies on the Albacore?"
"Well, I've seen a few on TV or sneaking into theaters over the years. I rather enjoyed "Aliens". I like light comedy once in a while."
That little comment just about made Chris' had spin around. Even worse was that he couldn't tell if she was joking or not.
Widget was about to say something else when her ears picked up a sound she couldn't help but react to. "Uh oh. Gimmy's crying. I know that cry. He's messed his diaper."
Chris winced. "Uh oh. Think Tammy and Gadget can handle it?"
"Jurgen's been through a world war. He's seen bodies stacked meters deep. He offered to change Gimcrack once and was passed out on the floor before he got the kid's pants off."
"Eek," Chris deadpanned.
"Yeah, eek," she nodded.
"Let's hope Gimcrack never falls into the hands of some fanatical terrorist group, eh?"
Widget snorted. "No way. I'd have all their heads chopped off before they got within a mile of him. No one's ever gonna hurt my baby," she said with total assurance.
"Well, you'd better go save the damsels in distress then. I don't wanna have to have my honeymoon with Gadget with her in an iron lung."
"Allright, Chris. See you later, then."
"You too, Widget. I liked talking with you. I think we both got something out of it, and I think I learned a lot from you. And about you."
"Me too. You were a big help to me. And I'm glad I helped you as well. And if you ever tell anyone about this, I'll boil you in molten lead, okay?"
She flashed him a wink when she saw he was about to faint.
She turned to go, then stopped and looked back at him. "And Chris..."
"You mentioned a while ago that you were someone that would like to call me a friend." She smiled. He'd never seen her expression so calm and warm.
"You're my friend."
DISCLAIMER: The Rescue Rangers and all related characters (however briefly and peripherally used here) are owned by Di$$nee Corporation. They are used here in the spirit of fandom. Me no makee monee. No sue me, prease. Widget Hackwrench; the best damn fanfic character in the whole freakin' world, is kept under constant watch by her creator, the living god John Nowak (whose descriptive nouns I am not fit to lick). ;D
Joan Cusack -as- Widget Hackwrench
Matthew Broderick -as- Crisscross Flaversham
Tress MacNeil -as- Gadget Hackwrench
Gene Simmons as The Beaver
Go back and look at that first sentence. You gotta admit, that's one hefty load of exposition for a single sentence. Boooh-yah!
I know 'Jurgen' should have an umlaut, but my computer don't do no umlauts. Forgive me, world.
Please do not operate heavy fox androids after using this fanfic.
(Widget pops out of a rainbow-colored circle and waves her tail at the viewers) "Au revoir, mon petit potatoes du couch!"
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