A Chip N' Dale's Rescue Rangers story by Morgan Kohl
Chapter 1 - A Celebration, A Creation And A Catastrophe
The grim, stormy weather outside contrasted completely with Dale's sunny mood. Today was his birthday and he was just as excited about it as he'd been when he was a little kid. The rescue rangers' headquarters was festooned, floor to ceiling, with colorful decorations. On the table was a strawberry creme cake Gadget had baked for him (he didn't think he could stand yet another of Monty's cheesecakes). All his friends had given him wonderful presents, including an extra rare copy of 'Captain Spiffo' #37 that he'd needed to complete his collection. Foxglove was seated next to him, her right wing lovingly wrapped around his shoulders. Dale couldn't have been more happy.
That is, until he saw the absolutely enormous, oddly-shaped present Gadget was straining to push through the door. His eyes widened. "Is that for me?!?"
Gadget took a breath and readjusted her sparkling green party hat. "Yup! Something from Foxglove and me, but everyone helped out a little."
He glanced at Foxy, who had on a small, knowing smile, then hopped off the couch to inspect the massive gift. "Wowie zowie! I wonder what it is..." he said to himself.
"Won't know 'til you open it," Monterey said.
Dale grinned and madly tore through the red and yellow paper. His enthusiasm momentarily turned to confusion as he saw what he had unwrapped. It was obvious that Gadget had built it, but what it was he couldn't guess. The device was made mostly of rubber bands, match sticks and two large sheets of balloon rubber. There were some straps coming out of it, indicating it was to be worn in some way. Dale puzzled over it for a few moments, scratching his head, before giving up. "Um, I like it but... What is it?"
Gadget and Foxglove lifted up the thing and unfolded it. "They're wings, Dale!" Foxglove said, grinning. "Now you and I can fly together!"
Dale gasped in happiness. For so long he had watched Foxglove soaring among the treetops and had yearned to join her. He had learned to hang glide, but it was a poor substitute for the true feeling of flight he wished he could share with Foxy. "Wow! Thanks!" He hugged both girls tight. "What a great idea!"
Dale noticed Gadget fidgeting. She was itching to explain everything about the flying machine she had invented. "So, Gadget, how's it work?" he asked. The mouse noticeably brightened. Dale did too. Even though he loved Foxy with all his heart, he still felt a little infatuated with Gadget. Force of habit, he guessed. He had been competing with Chip for her affection ever since they'd met.
Gadget turned Dale around and began strapping the machine to his back. "Foxy came up with the idea, actually. It's quite simple really. You see, Foxglove can fly because she has very light bones in her wings and powerful chest muscles to flap them hard enough to get off the ground. I adapted the ideas of her basic biological structure to create a similar system. These wings are lightweight and designed for maximum lift. The interlocking rubber bands act like muscles; they can supplement your own strength enough for you to work them as easily as Foxy can flap her own wings. Plus..." she paused as she bent down to secure something tightly to Dale's ankles. "It also incorporates these ingenious ankle rudders to help you steer. This should work a lot better than the hang glider you've been using."
Trying hard not to laugh, Chip held up a mirror so his friend could see how he looked. Dale did a double take. The contraption made him look more than a little silly. "It's so you!" Chip said. Dale glared at him, but only half seriously. Foxglove took Dale's hand in her wing. "I think you look kind of cute in it," she said encouragingly. Dale quickly stuck out his tongue at Chip. "Have you tried it out before?" Dale asked Gadget. He had had enough previous experience with Gadget's occasionally-disastrous inventions to know to make sure it had been tested before he tried it himself. "Don't worry, pal," Chip said, patting Dale on the shoulder. "Gadget and I both tried it and it works just fine. All you have to do is pump your arms in and out. You'll lift right up." Chip demonstrated how to move his arms to work the wings. "Hey, it's just like doing the twist!" He turned to Foxglove. "Let's dance the night away, baby!" He took the controls and shook back and forth. The flapping rubber wings created a gust of air that sent wrapping paper flying around the room and nearly blew Gadget off her feet. Dale stopped suddenly, realizing the mess he was making. "Whoops! Heh heh, guess I got a little carried away."
Gadget regained her balance. "_I_ almost got carried away!" she said woozily.
Chip raised his fist to hit Dale on the head. Dale flinched. Chip stopped in mid-swing. "I just *can't* bonk you on your birthday." "Thanks, buddy." There was a sudden loud boom of thunder outside. Dale clumsily waddled to the window, wondering how long it would take to get used to wearing his gift. He sighed as he looked out into the pounding rain outside. "I wish we could go try this thing out together, Foxy."
The bat came closer and kissed him on his cheek. "It should clear up by tomorrow. Maybe we could go flying then, Cutie." He smiled and stroked her cheekfur.
Zipper flew up behind them and looked outside too. "It's really coming down hard out there," he buzzed. "Too right, Zipper," Monty replied. "Reminds me of the time me 'n Geegaw were down in the South American jungles and we wound up smack dab in the middle of monsoon season. I think you were with us too, Gadget luv. You must have been just a wee tyke back then, though."
Gadget and Chip had started cleaning up the scattered wrapping paper and party decorations on the floor. "I think I remember that, Monty. This isn't as bad as it seems, really. It only appears that way because we're in the center of the storm. In a few hours it should be almost all gone."
"That's a relief," said Foxglove. "I need to get out soon to-"
Foxglove was cut short by an earth-shattering blast of thunder that shook the tree so hard they all fell to the floor. The thunder was accompanied by a loud creaking of wood. Chip propped himself up on his elbows and checked to make sure everyone was safe. Some of their furniture had fallen over, but it looked like everyone was all right. "That sounded like it was pretty close!"
There were other loud creaking sounds coming from somewhere below them. Gadget looked very scared and worried. "Maybe too close, Chip." She stood up and hurried to the front door. She leaned out as far as she could, not caring about the raindrops soaking her fur. She gasped. Her worst fears were true. "Golly to the Nth power! Guys, we've been hit!"
The other rangers rushed outside as well and looked down. Lightning had struck the tree about two feet from the base. The wood was charred and blackened. It looked as if it could fall over at any moment. Another loud creak underscored this possibility. Monterey Jack stared in disbelief. "I think we'd better abandon ship, mates."
"Good idea Monty. I don't know if the tree can stay up much longer," Gadget said.
The tree suddenly lurched forward. Gadget and Chip nearly fell off, but Monty caught them by their shirts. Foxglove shrieked as she fell and rolled into the wall. Zipper helped her up. "Everyone back inside! We have to get to the ranger plane!" Chip shouted. The group hurried back into the living room and headed for the garage. They could all feel the tree starting to tilt beneath their feet.
Gadget stopped them suddenly. Dale and Monty bumped into Chip. "We can't use the ranger plane or the ranger wing! Not only would it take too long to start their engines, I locked the hangar door from the outside when the rain started! We'd never make it!"
"We're trapped!" Zipper cried.
Dale was suddenly struck with an idea. "C'mon! Back outside! I have a plan!" There was a loud snap below them and the floor shifted hard again. Dale turned to Foxglove and pointed to the contraption on his back. "We're not gonna be able to wait until morning to test this thing!"
The rain bit at their fur as they crowded onto the ranger plane's runway. Dale rushed over to Gadget. "Do you think Foxglove, Zipper and me could fly the rest of you to safety?" he asked urgently, shouting a little to be heard over the roar of the storm.
She did a few calculations in her head. "That just might work!" She called out to the other rangers. "Everyone get as close to the edge as you can!" The tree was gaining momentum. One more strong gust of wind would send their home crashing to the ground. "Chip, hold tight to Foxglove!" Gadget wrapped her arms around Dale's shoulders. "Monty, hold on to me and Chip. Zipper, hold Monty's feet!"
"Gaget luv," Monty said in a nervous tone, "are we about to do what I think we're about to do?"
"Yes, we are! Ready, Foxglove?"
"I hope so!"
"Rescue Rangers AWAY!!!" they all shouted as they jumped off the branch. A second later the last shred of wood holding the tree up snapped and their headquarters hurtled towards the ground.
Foxglove fought the air as hard as she could. She had never had to fly with so much weight pulling her down before. Chip's desperate grip felt like it was crushing her bones. She closed her eyes and gritted her teeth. She knew in her heart she could do it. The rangers were the best friends she'd ever had. They had taken her in and accepted her as one of their own even after she had been working with their enemy. They had shown her the love she had never known since the beginning of her short, lonesome life. They were her family. She couldn't let them down. She knew she would save them. Even when she felt her right wing snap off in an explosion of pain.
Lightning flashing all around him, Dale was frightened out of his wits. He couldn't think straight. The thunder and screams of his friends rattled his senses. He had no idea what was happening. All he was certain of was that he had to keep his arms moving. He could feel the wind from the wings behind him. He forgot about his birthday, the party, Gadget's gift. For a few moments he truly believed he was flying. And the only way to escape this dark, booming, scary place was to keep flying harder and harder.
Monterey Jack was facing the tree as his friends carried him to safety. He watched as the mighty tree snapped like a twig and crashed to the ground. The branches shattered. Pieces of wood flew in crazy spirals into the air. His home. His home was gone. After so many years of wandering, he had made this tree his home. He had put away his traveling bags and settled down. As he watched the tree fall, tears came to his eyes.
Zipper pulled up with all his might. His wings beat as fast as he could force them to go. He clutched Monterey's ankles tight. He had been best friends with the mouse longer than he could remember. The details of his first meetings with the other rangers were still as clear in his mind as the day they had happened. Even Foxglove, who ate insects like him, had become dear to him. He felt like he was the only thing keeping them airborne. They couldn't be separated by death now. Not after all they had gone through. Not now.
Chip breathed in the scent of Foxglove's wet fur and tried to block out the sound of her screeching in pain. He tried to block it all out. This couldn't be happening. Not while he was their leader. He'd never let something like this happen.
Gadget's mind was a cyclone of numbers and physics. She checked and rechecked her calculations. Did Dale, Foxglove and Zipper combined have enough strength to lift her, Monty and Chip to safety? Would they plummet like stones or make it through the storm? For all her knowledge, she didn't have any idea what the answer would be. She cursed herself. She felt responsible for it all. She shouldn't have locked the door. Would she live to regret the decision to take on Dale's idea? Would she live at all?
The tree hit the ground hard enough for them to all feel the rumble it caused. Dale opened his eyes. He looked in every direction and saw that not only were they all safe, but they were higher up than he had expected. He snapped out of the frightened daze he'd been in. "We made it!"
Chip looked down and gulped. "Not yet, Dale. We have to land first!"
Dale nodded and began to gradually slow his flapping wings, letting their weight bring them down. He glanced over at Foxglove to make sure she was safe. Her eyes were shut tight in a grimace of pain. She was still flapping furiously, but with only her left wing. "Foxy, you can slow down now. The tree didn't hit us."
Foxglove hesitantly opened her tear filled eyes. She said something, but Dale didn't hear it. She took a few deep breaths and tried to concentrate only on landing. It was very hard to ignore the sharp pain in her right shoulder.
Zipper looked back and sighed from relief. He didn't know if he could keep up flying so hard for much longer. Whether he wanted to admit it or not, Monterey had definitely gained some weight recently.
Despite the confusion of the storm and their own fear, they managed to land safely. The jump had been like a nightmare. Feeling the ground beneath their feet snapped them back to reality.
"Look," Gadget shouted to them, "the base of the tree's still intact! We can go to the garage to get out of the rain!" The rangers darted for the blackened stump and rushed inside. Rain poured down the exposed staircase, but they were able to stay dry under a covered section of their garage, leaning against the side of the rangermobile.
For a while, they could only sit and catch their breath. The only sounds were heavy breathing and Foxglove's muffled crying. The air around them smelled of burnt wood. They could see that they had all made it through the storm, and were grateful for that at least. Only Monterey had seen the tree fall, but he wasn't sure how badly their home had been damaged. It was likely destroyed beyond repair, but some of their possessions might still be unbroken. There would be time later to see how much was left. For now, they needed to rest both their bodies and their pounding hearts.
Dale took off his wings and was surprised to see that they were still in good condition. He laid them down and scooted over to Foxglove. "Why are you crying, Foxy? Are you hurt?"
"My wing..." she said through painful tears, "My wing's been ripped off."
He softly kissed her. "No it's not, sweetie. They're both still there." He looked closer and saw that her right wing was hanging off at an awkward angle. "I think it might be broken, though." He gave her shoulder a gentle tap and she cringed and let out a squeak. "Sorry. It hurts that bad, huh?" Foxglove nodded.
Monty leaned over and looked at Foxglove's wing. He put his hand to the swollen shoulder and felt the bones beneath the thin skin. Foxglove flinched again. Dale whispered to her that it would be all right. He petted her lightly furred ears. He knew she liked when he did that. She managed a small smile to let him know she appreciated his affection.
Chip and Gadget came closer to their fallen comrade. Zipper no doubt would have as well, but he had completely exhausted himself and had fallen into a deep sleep as soon as he'd reached the garage. Gadget inspected Foxglove's injury. She and Monterey had most of the medical knowledge in the group; Monty from his years of experience with just about everything, and her constant studying of every subject she could find a book on. After feeling over the wing, Monty whispered to her. "Don't worry. I think it's just dislocated."
She whispered back "Do you think you can pop it back into place without hurting her even more?"
Gadget looked into Foxglove's tearful yellow eyes. She started to speak but Foxglove simply nodded. "I heard what you said." She smiled weakly and pointed to her large ears.
"Just hold still then. This will probably hurt a lot, but it'll only be for a moment," Gadget told her.
Dale snuggled closer and caressed her other wing. Monterey put his hands on her shoulder as gently as he could. He took a breath and suddenly jerked her wing back into place. There was a harsh click as the bones met and Foxglove bit back a screech of pain. Dale held her gently and tried to somehow take the pain away.
Foxglove's heartbeat and breathing gradually slowed to normal as the pain began to lift. She opened her eyes. "How's it feel now, Foxy?" Chip asked her.
"It's much better. When it first happened, I thought my wing had been torn off. I can at least feel it now." She turned to look in Dale's worried eyes. "Oh Dale, I'm so sorry all this had to happen on your birthday."
Dale smiled broadly and hugged the little bat. "That's my Foxy, always caring for someone else, even when she's the one who's hurt." He stroked her smooth damp fur. "You're right. This probably wasn't the best birthday I've ever had. You got hurt and we all lost our home."
"It's not all bad," said Chip. Dale looked over to him. "You did get to be a hero."
"He's right, Dale," Monty said, giving his friend a hearty pat on the back. "If you hadn't come up with your great idea, we woulda been squished."
Dale's smile grew with pride. "I guess I kinda was a hero, wasn't I? And I had a great idea?"
Chip nodded. He was proud of his best friend. He knew Dale had the potential to be a hero much more often, but his low self-esteem usually held him back. Chip had begun to realize, after seeing how Dale's maturity increased after falling in love with Foxglove, that he had been holding Dale back as much as Dale had himself. He knew he criticized his friend too much, and was making an effort to encourage Dale whenever he could.
"My hero!" Gadget said like a princess to a knight in shining armor. She gave Dale a kiss on the cheek and he blushed a deep red.
Foxglove felt well enough to give Dale a hug with both wings. The other rangers, minus a still-sleeping Zipper, all congratulated their friend. "Maybe this birthday wasn't so bad after all," Dale said to himself.
Chapter Two: Heart Problems
None of the rangers got much sleep that night. It was a relief when morning finally came. As the sun rose in the sky, our heroes yawned and stretched. One by one they left the garage to see what was left of their home.
Dale was still asleep, as usual. Chip went back inside and shook him awake. "Wake up, Dale!"
"Huh? What? I was just resting my eyes, honest!" He looked up and expected to see an angry chipmunk looking back at him. Chip's face showed much more sadness than anger, though. "Gee, is it real bad?"
"Come see." Chip walked out and Dale followed.
At first all Dale could do was gasp. It seemed much worse than it had been last night. Pieces of branches covered the ground. Plants were uprooted. Mud sloshed up to his ankles. And the fallen tree looked as big as a whale. The storm had definitely taken it's toll on the park.
The two chipmunks walked over to the section of the tree that used to be their headquarters. Foxglove was sitting in the grass, rubbing her wing. Monterey was talking to her. He looked up and noticed Chip and Dale. "Good mornin' pallies. Hope you slept better than I did." He stretched his neck to the side, producing a loud popping sound.
"How's your wing?" Dale asked Foxglove.
"Still a little sore. I tried to fly just now and I couldn't get more than a few inches off the ground."
"I wouldn't be so quick to get back up in the air, luv," Monty told her. "A dislocated shoulder's nothin' to take lightly. I remember once when I was up in the Arctic circle and I..."
"Hey guys!" They all turned to see Gadget pulling herself through a window. She hopped to the ground and Zipper followed her. Monty's story would have to wait. "All in all, I'd say we're pretty lucky. Not that having the tree fall over could really be considered lucky. Unless maybe you were a lumberjack. But then why would you be trying to cut down trees in a city park in the middle of a thunderstorm?"
"Skip the analysis for now, Gadget luv. How bad is it inside?"
"Oh, yeah. Let's see, a few of my inventions got smashed, the Ranger wing's going to need some work before it'll fly again and the kitchen's a complete mess. Other than that, almost everything else is okay. The tree's branches helped to cushion the impact so headquarters itself didn't sustain much damage. All in all, I'd say we were pretty lucky." Zipper nodded. "Hi Mrs. Chestnut!"
Three female squirrels were walking towards the rangers. Bink, the youngest, waved to them. "The tree fell down, momma!," she said.
"It certainly did!" June replied. She looked over the fallen tree and shook her head sadly. "Hello Gadget. We woke up this morning and saw what happened to your tree. We wanted to make sure you were all right."
"We're fine. Can't say the same for the tree, though," Dale told her.
"That's good. That you're okay, I mean. It would be a shame if the world lost such heroic animals as you."
Dale blushed. "Thanks, Mrs. C."
Tammy wandered over to meet Chip. "Hey Chipper."
"Hi, Tammy." They hugged briefly. Chip smiled to himself. Tammy had grown up quite a bit since they had first met, both mentally and physically. Her crush on him was still as strong as ever though. However, Chip had started feeling flashes of affection for her too, despite the obvious gap in their ages. But those feelings were always quickly smothered by that stubborn, stubborn part of his mind that _refused_ to give up on the idea that maybe Gadget and he would one day become more than friends. Chip wasn't a detective for nothing. He'd seen every time she'd made it subtly clear that she wasn't interested. And ignored them. Until now. Finally, after years of torturing himself, his rational mind was starting to gain some ground.
But quitting Gadget cold turkey was easier said than done. Chip's infatuation with her had started the first time he'd set eyes on her. Unfortunately, that's also when it had started for Dale as well. The fights between them began, more fierce than any other they'd ever had. Two knights battling for their fair lady's hand. As the months and then years dragged on, Chip began to slowly realize that his affection for a pretty girl had turned into a soul-rending passion through the constant scuffles with Dale. As much as he hated to admit how shallow it was, keeping Dale from getting her was his true motive. But now that Dale had found happiness with Foxglove, the competition was gone. And yet the passion was still there, despite the knowledge that it had always been more about him than it ever had been about Gadget.
"So, do you need any help cleaning up or anything?" Tammy asked, shaking Chip from his introspection.
"We probably will. You might want to stick around."
"Okay Chipper." She giggled lightly. "Any news on whether or not you've decided to let me become a full member of the rescue rangers?"
Chip scratched his chin as if deep in thought. He couldn't help grinning. Tammy had been the Rangers' unofficial junior partner ever since that first case with Fat Cat that she'd gotten tangled up in. Chip had been teasing her about making her a full-fledged Ranger for months now. "Well..."
"Come on, Chip!" she growled. "How many cases have I helped you guys out on? I've proven I'm just as good a crime fighter as any of you!" She put her hands on her hips in frustration.
"Tell you what, if we manage to find a new headquarters, you'll be welcome in it any time."
Tammy's eyes widened. "Does that mean..."
"Yesss! Thankyouthankyouthankyou!!!" She lunged at Chip and wrapped him in a crushing hug. They both toppled over into the wet grass. The ecstatic young squirrelette gave Chip a big kiss on his forehead.
"Welcome to the rescue rangers, Tammy," Chip said, a little flustered by her explosive joy.
"You won't regret this Chip, I promise! I'll make a great ranger!" She gave Chip another kiss on his cheek. When their eyes met again, there was a warmth in Chip's eyes that she'd never seen before, other than when he looked at Gadget. Was Chip finally responding to all the not-so-subtle hints she'd dropped since they'd first met? His eyes seemed to say yes. Her smile beamed. She grabbed the collar of Chip's jacket and kissed him so passionately he could almost feel steam coming out of his ears.
"Um, Tammy..." Monterey Jack's voice snapped them both out of their romantic embrace. "When you're done givin' CPR to me mate there, your mum asked us all over for breakfast."
"Give us a few moments, Monty," Tammy said as she kissed Chip again.
Monterey chuckled to himself and rejoined the group. "Those two may be awhile."
During breakfast the rangers discussed what they should do about their sudden homelessness. Mrs. Chestnut (who hadn't seen Chip and Tammy's kiss and therefore wasn't condemning them both at the moment,) said she had plenty of empty space in her tree for when they stored food for the winter. Since it was the middle of summer, they had plenty of room available for the Rangers to move their belongings in and stay until they found a new home.
Gadget said she had seen a still-working luggage cart at the local junkyard. With it, they could easily move all their furniture in one trip. It was decided that Gadget, Monterey and Zipper would go to the junkyard to pick up the cart. Foxglove would stay behind to rest her wing and Dale would stay with her. Chip volunteered to stay behind with Tammy. He needed to talk with her, hopefully in private. They had both been casting puzzled looks back and forth at each other during breakfast, unsure as to what their embrace had really meant. They, along with Dale and June would move everything out of the tree while the others were gone. When breakfast was over, they readied themselves for a long day of hard work.
As June and Dale started work on the dishes, Chip took Tammy by the arm and led her outside. They both understood that they needed to talk things over. Tammy pointed out a shady spot underneath a bush where they could talk undisturbed. They both sat down, neither knowing what to say.
Tammy broke the awkward silence. "I'm sorry Chip," she said in a low voice. His expression during breakfast was muddled, but she could tell at least that her earlier assumption that he was falling for her too was wrong.
Chip patted her hand reassuringly. "It's okay, Tammy. You don't have to be sorry that you kissed me." He scratched his cheek absent-mindedly. He was quite obviously not very comfortable talking about this. "I kind of liked it. And I do like *you*, Tammy."
"But you don't love me, that's it, right?" Deep sadness was beginning to creep into her voice.
"No, that's not true. you know that. I love you like the good, good friend that you are. It's just not a romantic love." 'Liar,' his mind spat at him.
"I know, Chip." her voice was almost a whisper. She hung her head sadly. The pain at being rejected over and over by someone she loved so hard seemed to get worse each time. She felt his hand on her shoulder, trying to comfort her. She felt suddenly angry. How dare he try to ease her pain after causing it so many times? She looked quickly up at him, anger showing through her tears. "Why Chip? After all the times I've tried to get you to notice me, you still treat me like a bothersome kid!" She slapped his hand away. "It's my age isn't it? I'm too young for you, huh?"
"Well, no. Not reall-"
She interrupted him with razor sharp words. "I am not a kid!! I'll be eighteen in three months! I know I look younger than I am and I know if we went out on a date people would think you were my dad, but I don't care!!!" She jumped up and shouted in his face. "I don't care because _I_love_you_ Chip Maplewood!" Her tone dropped sharply. "Or at least I used to." She turned sharply and walked off, her tail almost smacking him in the face. Chip watched her go and felt like crying himself.
'You jerk!!!' his mind screamed at him. 'Look at what you did to her! And all because you just can't accept the *fact* that Gadget doesn't love you the same way you love her! Get over it!' He took a deep breath, wanting to dispute the words, but knowing he couldn't. He was being so unfair to Tammy. Why couldn't he just ask Gadget flat out, take his rejection like a man and then give Tammy the love she deserved? It was ridiculous. Here was a chipmunk who had looked death in the face and laughed hundreds upon hundreds of times, but he was too scared to ask Gadget a question he already knew the answer to.
Chip stood up and sighed. "I can handle criminal masterminds, but love is still too confusing for me..." He smirked at the irony, sighed again and walked back to the tree.
While Dale, Foxglove and June began sifting through the jumbled mess inside the tree (Tammy was nowhere in sight and none of them would see her again for the rest of the day), Gadget started up the ranger skate and Monty hopped in behind her. She took off at her usual breakneck speed into the middle of a busy street. Zipper had a hard time following them as they darted in and out of morning traffic.
"Don't you just love how this thing handles?" Gadget shouted joyfully over the din of car engines all around them. "I fixed up the suspension yesterday and rotated the tires."
Monterey held onto the seat so tight he thought his fingers would snap. "Uh, Gadget luv," he shouted to her, "we are just going to get parts, not participatin' in the blinkin' Indianapolis five hundred! Think you could slow us down a mite?"
"Am I driving too fast?" she asked innocently.
"Not really, but THEY are!" he shouted, pointing to the other cars, some of which were actually swerving to miss them.
"Sorry, Monty. I'll get out of their way." She cranked the wheel hard to her left and sped across two lanes of oncoming cars. Monterey actually felt his heart stop for a few beats.
'Gor Blimey!' he thought to himself 'I know Gadget's in complete control of this thing, but that doesn't stop me from being scared out of me shorts!' He tapped Gadget on her shoulder. "Are you sure this thing can pull a big luggage cart?"
Gadget glanced over her shoulder at him. "That's not what I'm planning at all. I know the ranger skate doesn't have that much power. We're going to have to push it back to the tree ourselves."
"What if some human sees us?"
"Don't worry about that either. We'll just go through a few alleys and take the long way."
"Say Gadget, would you mind watching the road!!"
"Oh, right." Gadget yanked the wheel just in time to avoid being squished by an oncoming car. "Thanks for reminding me!"
Monterey rolled his eyes heavenward. 'Geegaw, old pally, I've handled crocodiles, hurricanes and even cats, but I sure wish you were still around to help me protect your daughter!'
A few minutes later, they were at the junkyard. Gadget hid the skate in its usual place and the two mice snuck under the fence. Zipper joined them a moment later. He landed on Monty's shoulder and tried to catch his breath. "Do you think you could drive a little slower next time, Gadget?" he asked.
"I guess I could. I'm just trying to use my time in the most efficient manner possible. You could always ride with us."
The fly gulped. He'd rather be a little tired than risk getting run over. "Never mind!'
Monterey stifled a chuckle.
Gadget put her hand to her chin. She couldn't remember where she'd last seen the cart. She was pretty sure it was somewhere near the west corner of the junkyard. "I'm going to go look for the luggage cart. You guys see if you can find some strong rope and something I could use as a lubricant. The wheels might be rusty from sitting out so long, especially after the rain. I'll whistle for you when I've found it."
Monterey and Zipper both sharply saluted. "Right away, Gadget luv," said Monterey. Gadget turned and headed west and the others started searching for rope and oil. Little did they know that someone else was watching their every move.
"Now let's see, the last time I was here I was getting vacuum tubes and I found some near the scrapped Chevy. No, that's not right." Gadget was getting frustrated. She was trying to retrace her steps from her last visit. She knew she had seen the cart somewhere around here, but she couldn't pinpoint the exact location. "Am I heading west? Darn, why didn't I bring dad's compass with me," she muttered to herself.
Suddenly her ears perked up. Something had crackled behind her. "Monty? Did you find anything?" No answer. She turned around and saw no one there. "Hmmm. That's peculiar."
There was another noise to her left. A rustling. A few seconds later, she heard another faint noise. This time it was closer. Something was definitely there. Gadget knew it wasn't Monty. He wouldn't play this kind of joke on her. It was possible the junkyard had gotten a guard dog. But why would it be hiding from her, then? "Who's there?" she called out. Only silence answered her.
Gadget suddenly felt very scared. Some_thing_ was out there. And it was watching her. Stalking her. She looked in every direction, searching for any sign of movement amid the piles of trash. "You're not scaring me, whoever you are!" She tried to sound brave but she knew she was only lying to herself. She thought she heard another noise coming from behind her. She whirled around. Nothing was there. Was she just imagining things? A shiver went up her spine.
She saw a flash of motion out of the corner of her eye. Whatever it was was real. And it was cat-sized too. Gadget didn't care what it was now. She wasn't about to take a chance and wind up being a snack for some alley cat. She turned and ran as fast as she could. "Monty!!!" she cried out. She hoped he could hear her.
From out of nowhere an enormous shadow appeared over her. Before she could react, she felt something heavy push her down on her back. They were huge black paws with razor claws. She struggled frantically but they were much too heavy for her to wriggle out from. She looked up to see a wall of gleaming wet teeth. She was staring up at the muzzle of a scruffy, hungry-looking fox. Her eyes grew wide with terror as the fox opened his jaws...
Chapter Three: A New Friend
"Tag! You're it!" the fox said jovially.
Gadget was about to scream at the top of her lungs, but stopped when she heard the fox's chipper voice. Now she was less terrified than confused. "Huh?"
The fox gave her a small, friendly lick and lifted up his paws. Gadget sat up. She was trembling from fright. "I won't hurt you little mousie. You're free to go." The fox turned to leave as if nothing had even happened.
Gadget stood up quickly and brushed the dirt off her coveralls. "Wait a minute!" she shouted. The fox looked back over his shoulder at her. "What was all that about, anyway?"
Coming closer, the fox bent down until he was at eye level with her. He looked concerned, but more than a little bit of self-reprimanding was mixed in as well. "Did I scare you too much? I didn't mean to," the fox said in an apologetic tone.
Gadget suddenly felt angry. She set her hands on her hips and looked the fox straight in the eyes. "Then why did you pounce on me like that? And why were you stalking me and skulking around? I _was_ really scared!"
A tiny apologetic whine escaped the fox's throat. "I'm sorry. It's just that, well, I am a predator. I like to hunt now and then. But I get enough food living here at the junkyard and I certainly don't want to hurt anyone. So I just hunt for sport every now and then."
"So it was just a game, right? You weren't really going to eat me?"
The fox looked shocked that she would even suggest such a thing. "Of course not! My species may eat rodents, but I sure don't. Like I said, I don't want to hurt anyone. Besides, you're too cute to eat."
Gadget felt herself blush a little. "Thanks." The fox seemed friendly enough, so she decided to introduce herself. She kept her guard up, just in case. He _was_ a predatory animal, after all. "My name's Gadget, by the way. What's your name?" She extended a paw for a handshake.
"I'm Crisscross." He sniffed her paw vigorously, then rubbed the side of his muzzle on her head in a typical canine style of greeting. "Pleased to meet you, Gadget."
Gadget giggled. His fur tickled. She patted his snout and looked him over. His fur was scruffy and matted in some places, but it was very colorful. Most of his body was a rusty red-orange with white patches under his muzzle and stomach and the tip of his long, bushy tail. His paws were a deep black. He was wearing a simple blue vest and nothing else. He also acted younger than he really was. Gadget estimated he was relatively her age.
One thing Gadget noticed that seemed a little off was that she couldn't smell any fox scent on him. Geegaw had taught her when she was young how to recognize the different natural scents that predatory animals had. She knew what a fox smelled like and Chris didn't smell like it. His fur held the odors of the junkyard; gasoline and garbage. Gadget could relate, actually. From spending so much time in her workshop, her own fur had taken on an air of motor oil that no amount of bathing would even reduce.
"You have an interesting name, Crisscross," she told him.
"Well, not really. My mom named me because I was the only one in my litter with this cross pattern in my fur." He turned to the side so she could see the dark brown lines across his shoulders and back that intersected at the base of his neck. "Most folks just call me Chris. I kinda prefer it actually. You have an interesting name too, Gadget."
"I do? Well, I guess 'Gadget' is sort of an odd name for a mouse now that you mention it. It might be more appropriate in reference to a device of unknown function or with a complexity that is seemingly out of proportion with it's size."
Crisscross arched an eyebrow. "Say what?"
"Sorry. I sometimes get carried away when I use big words. My dad named me Gadget because he was an inventor and I picked up the trait." She probably would have said more about Geegaw, she was immeasurably proud of her father after all, but there was always something inside that kept her silent about him. Her sorrow over his death was something she had never truly resolved. Talking about him opened old wounds that she would rather have kept shut.
Chris didn't catch the momentary sadness in Gadget's eyes that followed her last sentence. He was too interested in what she had said. "Cool! I invent lotsa stuff too! I may not know a lot of big words and I don't know the names of half the parts I use, but you should see where I live! I've got all kinds of neat gizmos all over it!" The fox's passion for tinkering was apparent by his wildly wagging tail.
Chris' sunny mood was catching. Gadget found herself smiling along with him. "Maybe some other time. I have work to do today. Hey! Maybe you can help me," she suggested.
"If I can I'd like to," he offered.
"You said you live here, right?"
Chris nodded. "Most of my life, yes."
"Do you know where I could find a luggage cart?"
"Oh sure! Follow me!" He trotted off and Gadget hurried after him. He was so enthusiastic about helping her out, he didn't realize he was going much faster than she could keep up with. She was afraid she'd lose him amongst the garbage piles. It turned out she didn't really have to worry. He stopped short after a few feet and she skidded into the back of his leg.
Feeling something bump into him, Chris turned around to see Gadget standing back up and rubbing her head. "Sorry about that. I forgot you were so much smaller than me." He turned around and moved towards her, opening his mouth.
Gadget put her arms up. She was afraid he had decided to eat her after all! "Yikes!"
He surprised her by gently picking her up by the back of her coveralls and placing her in front of the luggage cart she'd been looking for. She smiled with relief. She was impressed by how delicately he'd picked her up and sat her down. Noticing the cart, she realized she'd walked right past it before. "Thanks for finding this for me."
"My pleasure. If you don't mind me asking, why do you need it? It seems kind of big for a little squirt like you." He grinned to show he was just joking about calling her 'squirt'.
Gadget didn't mind the joke. "It's not just for me. I live with some friends and our house was destroyed. We need it so we can move our things. If you'd be willing to help us move, I'm sure all the other rangers would really appreciate it."
"Sure, I... Say, did you say rangers? as in 'The Rescue Rangers'?"
Gadget felt a little doubt in the back of her mind. Why was he asking? Could he be a spy? 'Oh stop it,' she told herself. 'you're thinking like Chip would. Chris is too nice to be a spy.' "Yes. I'm part of the rescue rangers."
Chris' mouth dropped open. His eyes widened. "Really? Wow! You guys are my heroes! I've heard so many stories about you guys! I mean, when you said your name was Gadget, it didn't click at first but then...Wow! Could I have an autograph?!"
Gadget couldn't help laughing a little at his exuberance. "You can have all our autographs if you'll help us move."
The fox's smile was beaming. "I'd consider it an honor!" He clutched the cart with his mouth and dragged it out from under all the other trash that was on top of it. Gadget was doubly impressed now. The cart was much bigger than he was and he handled it as if it weighed no more than she did. It would have taken her, Monty and Zipper three times as long just to clear the junk off from on top of it.
Chris stood up on his hind legs with his forepaws on the cart's handle. "Hop on. I'll give you a ride back to where you live if you want."
"Ok, I just have to find Monty and Zipper first."
"That's the fly and the other mouse, right?"
"Uh-huh." She noticed a funnel lying nearby. She brushed off the spout, held it to her mouth and whistled as loud as she could.
Chris yelped and covered his ears. "Mind not doing that again? My ears are pretty sensitive."
Gadget gave him a sheepish smile. "Sorry. I told them I'd whistle when I found the cart."
"Forgiven. Say, what happened to your house, anyway? You guys live in a tree, right? Did it fall over or something?"
Gadget sighed just thinking about their ruined home. "Yeah. It got hit by lightning during the big storm last night."
"That was a nasty one, wasn't it? I've got about an inch of rainwater in my house because of it. I had to fix both of my windows, too." Chris suddenly got a great idea. His smile developed a noticeable crafty edge to it. "The part of the tree your house is in, is it mostly undamaged?"
"The main part where we live, yes. The rest of the trunk below it is pretty much destroyed, though. Why do you ask?"
Chris' smirk was enormous. "Why move your stuff when you can just move the whole house?" he said.
Gadget thought that over. "No, that wouldn't work. We couldn't move a whole tree by ourselves. Not even with you helping. We'd need some kind of machinery. And where would we move it to anyway?"
"If I told you, you wouldn't be surprised by my great idea, now would you?"
"Yes, that's logical... wait, what idea?"
"Let me take you to my house and I'll show you." Chris picked her up in his mouth again and began to walk off in his distinctive foxy trot. Before he had taken a few steps, something pulled hard on his tail. He cried out in pain, accidentally dropping Gadget. "Yipe!" He whirled around, baring his teeth in anger. "Nobody pulls my tail and gets away with it!" he snarled.
"I'll do more than pull your tail if you lay a paw on Gadget," Monterey growled back. He put up his dukes. Zipper did the same. "She's like a daughter to me, you sorry excuse for a fur hat! I'll beat you to a pulp with one hand behind me back!"
Chris resisted the sudden urge to bite Monty's head off. He growled low in his throat and turned to Gadget. "A friend of yours?"
Gadget walked out from behind Chris. "Hi Monty. Hi Zipper."
Monterey was visibly relieved to see she was okay. "Gadget luv! This big brute didn't hurt you, did he?"
"Relax, Monterey. Chris is a very nice fox. He helped me find the cart." She crossed her arms, a little miffed at how rude Monty had been to Chris. "I appreciate your concern, but I think you owe Chris an apology."
"So I do." He turned to the fox. "My sincerest apologies, mate, for misjudging your character. And for pulling your tail like that."
"Forgiven." Chris suddenly grabbed the startled mouse and before he had time to react, he was dangling by his tail over Chris' wide open mouth. "Just keep in mind mousie, never touch the tail!!!" Chris shouted as loud as he could. He then gently set Monty down.
"Loud and clear, mate." Monty said. He stuck a finger in his ear to try to stop the ringing.
"No hard feelings, I hope? I was just kidding around." Chris said. He put out his paw for Monty to shake.
Monterey shook it with both hands. "No hard feelings. You know, you got a pretty quick right, there. I didn't even see it coming. Maybe you and me could do some sparring sometime, eh?"
"Thanks, but no thanks. These paws are for making stuff, not fighting." Zipper flew over and landed on his nose. Chris crossed his eyes to look at him. "Hi there, little fella. You're Zipper, if I remember correctly."
"Yep. Pleased to meet you, Chris."
"The pleasure's all mine. I want you to know, and Monty too, that I really admire what you rangers do. I'll be glad to help you out any way I can."
Gadget tapped Chris' paw. "So, what _was_ that idea you were going to show me?" she asked him.
"Oh yeah! Wait here for a second! I'll show you!" Chris ran off, accidentally kicking up a spray of dirt at them.
Monterey wiped the dirt off his jacket sleeves. "Eager li'l chap, isn't he?"
"I think he's kind of cute," Gadget said.
"Where did he come from? I've never seen him here before," Zipper asked.
"I'm not sure," Gadget responded. "He said he's lived here most of his life, but I've never seen him here either. He says he has a house here. I guess he just hides it well."
"Aye, foxes are good at stayin' out of sight." Monty gave Zipper a nudge. "You remember that bounty hunter we ended up runnin' from that time when we were in Kitterman's Pike? He thought I was some kinda criminal on the run. Didn't even know he was following us for three days. Now that was one foxy fox!"
Zipper nodded to Monty. He then remembered something Gadget had said earlier. "What idea were you and Chris talking about, Gadget?"
"He told me he had an idea about the tree. Something about 'why move our stuff when we can move the whole house'."
"But we can't move a whole tree! I'll admit, even I'm not _that_ strong," Monterey said.
"That's what I told him, but-"
Gadget was cut off by an ear-splitting roar that made the ground shake. The terrified rangers turned around to see Crisscross wearing safety goggles and holding a running chainsaw! He cut the power down a little and let it idle. "Isn't this thing great?!? I found it a few months ago. I had it running in an hour. It's so cool! Watch this!" The motor growled like a tiger as he swung it into the side of a crumpled car door, slicing the door neatly in two and making the window explode in a shower of glistening shards.
"Too-ra-loo!" Monty exclaimed.
Chris turned the chainsaw off and sat it down. "See, I thought, since you said the part of the tree your home's in is still OK, I could just cut it out and we'd move it somewhere else! Maybe you could even bring it here. I don't think anyone would notice it."
"That _is_ a great idea!" Gadget said. "I'd have all the parts I need for my inventions right in my backyard! What do you guys think?"
"Sounds good to me," agreed Zipper. "We wouldn't even have to drive the ranger skate back to the tree."
Monty mentally sighed from relief. 'Thank heaven for that!' "I haven't heard a better plan yet," he said.
"All right!" Chris said. He always enjoyed helping other animals and it showed through in all his body language. He picked up the chainsaw with his mouth and sat it on the luggage cart. Then he gently picked up Gadget and Monty and sat them down too. He stood on his hind legs, ready to push the cart. "Where to, guv'ner?" he asked, impersonating a London cabby.
The rangers all chuckled. Being around Chris just seemed to make anyone feel happy. "The park four blocks from here. Head for the big fallen tree in the middle," Gadget said.
"You can't miss it," Monty added.
Zipper quickly flew over and sat down between them just as Chris pushed off. He picked up speed and was soon running almost as fast as the skate had been driving. He cruised through the towers of trash and shot out into the alley behind the junkyard, popping a wheelie as he did so. "Whooooah!" all three rangers cried.
Chris laughed. "You think that's fancy driving? Watch this!"
Gadget and Zipper both held on tight and shrieked with laughter. It was just like a rollercoaster. Monty wasn't having as much fun. 'I hope I'll be able to keep breakfast down today!' he thought to himself.
Arriving at the tree without being spotted by any humans, Chris shouted out "Ahoy rescue rangers! Crisscross house moving service coming through!"
June, Dale and the others looked up. Barreling towards them was a luggage cart driven by a fox with Gadget, Monty, Zipper and a chainsaw on it. Needless to say, they were all more than a little surprised. Chris dug in his heels and brought the cart to a sudden stop. Both Gadget and Monty tumbled off. Gadget was laughing so hard she barely noticed. Monty stood up, looking very queasy and tried to make his head stop spinning.
"Who is that?!?" Chip asked, pointing at Chris.
Gadget bounced over to him. "Chip, I want you to meet Crisscross. He's going to help us move our whole house so we don't have to look for a new headquarters! Isn't that great!"
"Wait a minute!" Dale said pensively. He sat down a big box he'd been carrying. "We're going to move the *whole house*?!?"
Gadget and Chris nodded.
Dale glanced over at all the boxes of their belongings he'd helped moved over to the squirrels' tree. "You mean we have to move all this stuff _back_?" he wailed. He groaned and fell over backwards, exhausted from the days work and the thought that he'd have to do it all over again. The others all had a good laugh.
Chapter Four: A New Home
As soon as Dale had recovered from his fainting spell, he was introduced to Crisscross, along with everyone else, minus Tammy, who had gone back to her tree and was now taking out her aggression on her pillows. Bink was a little afraid of Crisscross at first, especially since her mother had often warned her about predators. A friendly lick and a warm nuzzle from the fox soon changed that. Foxglove giggled when Chris noted to her that they should become good friends, being that they were both 'foxy'. Zipper, being quite low on the food chain, knew that despite the usual rationality of his thoughts he still carried an almost unconscious prejudice against all predatory species. It had made his relationship with Foxglove very shaky from the start. He felt reassured to find yet another example through Chris that being a predator didn't necessarily make someone bad. Dale liked the fact that he had finally found someone who equally shared his happy-go-lucky nature. Gadget was interested in seeing some of the inventions he'd talked about. Monty was feeling just a little bit envious of Chris' strength. All in all their reactions toward the fox were overwhelmingly positive.
Except for Chip. True, he liked Chris. It was hard not to. However, there was something intangible about the fox that made his detective's instincts twitch inside him ever so slightly. He found himself wondering why Chris was so eager to help them. He had to admit though, that he could see no signs of deception or malice from Crisscross himself. It was completely opposite, actually. Chris seemed to radiate honesty and kindness. It was something surrounding the fox that spurred Chip's suspicions. Something about the circumstances... He couldn't put his finger on it and decided eventually that it was better to curb his instincts until he had something real to look at. 'I'm probably just suspicious about everybody from being a detective for so long,' he thought to himself for what hadn't been the first time.
Luckily for Dale, and the others as well, Chris was more than happy to help them move the boxes back inside. What had seemed like a day's worth of work to the Rangers was little more than play to Chris. All of the rangers realized how much of an asset the fox's larger size could be to them. Each could remember countless times when they could have captured a villain or escaped a deathtrap much easier if they'd only been a little stronger, a little faster. Not wanting Chris to feel he was being taken advantage of though, they all pitched in their fair share of the work too. They were grateful to Crisscross for his unexpected help and were content with letting him make decisions on his own about whether or not he would stick around after the move was completed.
As the day wore on, Chip's suspicious feelings about Chris eventually withered out of existence. The fox was so open and free in his mannerisms it was obvious that he had nothing to hide. Even when Chip asked him bluntly, but nonchalantly, why he was so willing to help them, Chris casually responded that "It just gets boring around the dump after a while" and again mentioned how he truly felt honored to help out the animals that helped so many others over the years.
When they had finished moving their belongings back inside the tree and had boxed up the rest, the rangers decided together to wait until night had fallen completely before cutting the tree. If they had done it then, or even in the early evening, the roar of the chainsaw would undoubtedly attract humans. Also, the cover of darkness would aid them in carrying the tree section to the junkyard without human interference.
Gadget calculated the best places to cut the trunk and marked them. At her okay, Crisscross donned his safety goggles and fired up the saw. Woodchips flew everywhere as he ripped through the fallen oak. In a matter of minutes, RRHQ was separated and the few remaining branches were cut away. Together, the rangers and Chris righted the log and, using a clever series of levers made from the tree's other limbs, they were able to stand it up on the luggage cart. Once that was accomplished, the Rangers all got on and held their home steady as Chris silently wheeled them to the junkyard. Luck smiled on them, they didn't notice a single human during the journey.
In the junkyard, Chris pushed them at last to a monstrous heap of trash. An old-fashioned washing machine poked it's way out of the pile, it's window sporting a spider web-like crack. "Home sweet home!" Chris proclaimed. The rangers stepped down off the cart and looked up at the sprawling mess.
"Now there's something you're not likely to see makin' the cover of 'Better Homes and Gardens'," Dale stated bluntly.
Chip was about to bonk him for being rude, it was the fox's home after all, but Chris gave Dale an approving nod. "Precisely, Dale. It's camouflage. Since it looks just like another lump of junk, I never have to worry about anybody breaking in!"
"Clever lad," said Monterey.
"Just in case though..." Chris ran up to the top of the pile, to a smashed speaker above the washer door. He leaned closer and spoke clearly into it "I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chiante." Dale recognized the line from a human movie he'd seen once. So far, it was the only movie he had ever sat through without being able to finish his lapfull of snacks. The speaker sputtered, then Chris' tinny recorded voice replied back "Welcome home, you handsome devil." With that, the washer door popped open.
Gadget gasped in elation. She scrambled up to Chris' side. "You've got a voice-activated security system?!? Golly and a half! I've been trying to get one of those for HQ for months now! Where in the world did you find it?"
Chris shrugged. "You just haveta know whose garbage to root through. Come on inside. I've got lots more cool stuff." He hopped through the door and his new friends followed.
For a few moments, all Gadget could do was stare in awe. This was paradise on earth. Chris had gutted an '87 Pontiac and had arranged the entire garbage pile outside to hide it. On the inside were more electronic gizmos, doodads, thingamabobs and, well, gadgets than the mouse inventor could comfortably comprehend. A double string of christmas lights overhead gave the place a carnival-like atmosphere. A stereo soldered to the ceiling was playing a song by Oingo Boingo. The walls were covered entirely with stuff, all of it showing evidence of having been made out of various bits and pieces of other devices. There were two TVs, a VCR, a phone, a laptop, a lava lamp, a large collection of videos, tapes and CDs in one corner and to top it all off...
"A Numbmindo 640!!!" Dale screamed in utter joy. He rushed to the video game system and kissed it with a passion he usually reserved only for Foxglove. "Now I know there is a god!"
Foxy landed gracefully next to him. "Um, darling, why are you cuddling that machine?"
"Because it's a Numbmindo 640!" He stated, in the tone one would use to reply to the question, 'Do you breathe oxygen?'. "It's the ultimate in video game technology! And look! It's got all the good games, too!" His eyes took on the same glazed insane lust as Ditz had had for erkburgles. "Super Cuomo Brothers! The Legend of Edna! Sonic The Meatloaf! Panty Raider! Flannel Fantasy 17!!!" He let out a gurgled shout of pure rapture and fell back into the pile of cartridges, rubbing his cheek on them and chittering happily.
A feeling of jealousy crossed Foxglove's mind briefly. 'Oh, that's silly,' she scolded herself, 'and childish too.' Being the honest and rational bat she was, she told him her feelings straightforward. "You know, you almost act like you like those games more than me."
Dale looked up, shocked, as she hoped he would. "How couldja even think that, Foxy? Of course I don't love these games more than you."
Foxglove smiled inwardly. 'See? I told you.'
Dale got gooey eyed again. "I'd say it's about equal, actually."
Foxglove gritted her teeth. 'Kill 'im now.' "Hey Dale, wanna see my impression of Chip?" she asked sweetly.
"Monty, did you just hear something that sounded uncannily like Dale getting hit on the head?" Chip asked.
"I think I did, yes."
"Oh," Chip nodded, "Good. I thought it might have been something important."
Chip, Monterey and Zipper looked around the fox's home and were quite impressed with what they saw. Monterey noted with some disappointment that there was no kitchen area in sight. He was in the mood for some mozzarella and was hoping Chris might have a bit. As he broke off from the other two rangers and continued to search for any food at all, he noticed Gadget. She was standing completely still. Her eyes were glazed over and she was actually starting to drool a bit. Monterey rushed over and waved his hand in front of her eyes. "Gadget?" She didn't move a muscle. He wasn't even sure if she was breathing. "Gadget luv! Wake up! Are you okay? Speak to me!"
Monterey gave her shoulders a shake and Gadget snapped out of her daze. She shook her head and blinked a few times. "What? Oh, hi Monty. Sorry about that. I kinda spaced out there, didn't I?"
"I'll say. I almost thought you were in a coma for a second."
Gadget giggled sheepishly. "Well, it's just all this STUFF! I mean, look at it all! I've never seen so many electronic components together in one place before aside from Nimnul's lab! I'm completely flabbergasted!"
"You like it?" Chris asked casually as he padded closer to them.
"I love it, Chris! This is like utopia for me!"
Chris grinned broadly. His tail wagged jauntily to and fro. "Thanks! I've wanted to show this place off to somebody who'd really appreciate it for a long time now. Look around all you want."
"How do you power it all?" she asked, gazing in all directions, the shrine to technology continuing to hold her in awe.
"Well, one day I noticed a wire thingy hanging down off the power lines behind the fence and I hooked up a few more wire thingies that I ripped out of toasters and fridges and stuff, and then I ran them out to the house and buried them so they wouldn't show, and since I had more than enough power to go around, I just kept on getting more stuff and fixing it up and..." The fox's sunny happiness drained from his expression in mid-sentence. He looked down at Gadget with an air of urgency and uncomfortability in his voice. "Um, listen Gadget, I hate to say this, but I really have to leave now."
"Why?" Gadget asked, a little startled by his sudden mood shift. "I thought you'd want to stick around and show me all your inventions."
Chris shuffled his feet nervously. "I'd love to, I really would, it's just that... Well... It's kinda hard to explain. I just have to be somewhere *right now* okay? I wanna stay with you guys and have fun, but I-I can't. You can sleep here tonight or in your headquarters if you want. We can work on your HQ tomorrow. I'll be back in the morning, I promise." He turned and was about to dash out the door.
Gadget was more than a little puzzled by her new friend's sudden jittery behavior. "In the morning?! Where are you going, anyway?"
Chris glanced back at her with a look that said 'I wish I could tell you'. Then he was gone.
Gadget watched him go with feelings of confusion and disappointment. She was all set for a long night of technobabble as Chris explained every tiny detail of his amazing home. She turned back to Monterey "Gosh, I wonder where he went in such a hurry."
The elder mouse's eyes held a glimmer of suspicion. He certainly wasn't the detective Chip was, but something about Chris' sudden exit, and especially his body language in the way he excused himself, gave Monty an unsettling gut feeling. He stroked his mustache thoughtfully. "*I* wonder how he suddenly knew he had to be somewhere 'right now' when I don't see a single clock in this entire place..."
Halfway across town, Fat Cat let out a long, mournful sigh. "Mepps," he said in a quiet, calm voice, "what is this I'm holding in my hand?"
"Is this a trick question?" Mepps wheezed.
"No, not at all. I simply want you to tell me what you see in my hand."
Squinting to make sure he was certain of the object, the scrawny cat answered "A-A jar of caviar?"
"NO, YOU MORON!" Fat Cat roared, throwing the jar against a wall and leaving a huge black squishy smear. "It is a disgusting mess! That was STORE BRAND caviar!!!" he bellowed. He got up from behind his desk and grabbed Mepps by the collar, holding him less than a centimeter away from his face. "How many times must I tell you I will only eat imported Odair de Poisson caviar! NO EXCEPTIONS!"
Mepps cringed, less from Fat Cat's outburst, which he was used to by now, than from his three-day-old caviar breath. "But boss, Wart did the shopping today!"
"Oh." Fat Cat let go of Mepps, who landed on his back with a thud. "Well remember to remind him next time! And clean up that mess while you're here."
"Right away, boss." Mepps went to find a roll of paper towels. He grumbled to himself. He was starting to really get sick of Fat Cat's continuous abuse of him. 'Then again,' he mentally reminded himself, 'it's still better than that Mary Kay testing lab I worked at before'.
There was a knock at the door. Fat Cat looked up as Wart poked his head through the doorway. "Bossss, the new guy'sss here."
"Show him in, and join us as well. I need to ask you something later."
The lizard nodded. The door opened further and Fat Cat's newest henchman stepped in.
Fat Cat regarded him with an annoyed glare. "You're a bit late, Mr... Cheesecake, was it?"
"Crisscross," the fox said, equally annoyed. This was the sixth time Fat Cat had forgotten his name. "My name is Crisscross. Now, what do you want me to do tonight?"
The pudgy feline sauntered back to his chair behind the desk. He began to fiddle with his mustache. "We'll get to that presently. For now I want to ask you something. Snout observed you conversing with some rodents in the park today. Tell me about your new friends." He said the word 'friends' as most of us would say 'dung heap' or 'rotting carcass'.
"The rangers?" Chris said, looking down at his forepaws. "Yeah, we met. I helped them out a bit. What about them?" He tried to speak as innocently as possible, as if he had no idea what the implications of his words might mean.
Fat Cat beckoned Chris to come closer with one extended, steel-tipped claw. The fox took a few steps closer. "I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but those rodents and I are the bitterest of enemies."
Chris looked shocked. "The rescue rangers? Your enemies? Naw, they're such nice guys!"
The feline cringed at this. "That's exactly the point, my vulpine friend. They consider themselves to be some kind of champions of justice. And they can usually find nothing better to do than to continually bother me!" He leaned back in his chair, pursing his fingertips, and sighed. "I can't imagine why."
"Well let's see..." Chris began to count things off on his fingers. "You have been making me steal stuff for you since last week, your casino is more corrupt than any I've ever seen, you're deeply involved in racketeering, extortion, grand scale theft..."
"ENOUGH!!!" Fat Cat roared, slamming his fist onto the table. "You say that as if those are BAD things! How many times must I repeat myself?! I am *entitled* to the richest life of all! It's in my blood! Everything I get I earn through cunning, skill and power. Why can no one understand this but me!?!" He took a deep breath and sat back down, glancing at the desk. "Now look what you've made me do. I've spilled my Evian. Mepps! Clean this up too while you're at it."
"Yes Boss." This was followed by a muttering that if Fat Cat had clearly heard, Mepps would soon have found himself strapped to a concrete block at the bottom of the bay.
Turning back to Crisscross, Fat Cat leaned menacingly closer to him. "Getting to the point, those rodents are an utter nuisance to me and I do not want you associating with them. They'll use their goody-goody charm on you and turn your brains into a soggy mush. While you've proven yourself an excellent cat burglar, Mr. Cross, your problem is that you're too trusting for this line of work. I can see it now; you palling around with them, following them everywhere... Learning all their secrets..." He paused.
Then he got an idea. An awful idea. Fat Cat got a wonderful, awful idea.
Chris did not like the smile that slowly grew on Fat Cat's face. If they hadn't been on the same link in the food chain, he would have thought he was about to be devoured.
"As I was saying, I think your new friendship with the Rescue Rangers is *wonderful*! After all, if you can gain their trust..." He trailed off, unable to put to words the resounding joy he felt at the thought of having an inside link to his nemeses' plans. "Yes, my dear fox, go back to your friends and tell me everything you hear. Tell me absolutely every detail of your encounter."
"You mean I should be like a double agent?" Chris hoped Fat Cat was buying his naive act.
Actually, the crime boss was so immersed in his own revenge fantasies, he was barely aware of the fox at all. "Exactly. Now, be sure not to do anything to them yet. Be sweet and kind. Let them think you're their best pal." His eyes suddenly flared with mad rage. "Then we'll swoop in for the kill!!! They'll never see me coming! MWAH-HA-HA-HAAA!!!"
Crisscross nodded eagerly. "Yeah, boss. I'll make sure they don't interfere with our plans! May I go now?"
Fat Cat waved Chris away. "Of course. Steal anything you want this time. Reward yourself. Just be sure to keep it in the same pattern of your previous thefts."
Chris would have answered back, but Fat Cat was already off in his own world, dreaming of finally capturing the rangers once and for all. "I think I might just pull all their legs off, one by one..." he happily mused.
The fox padded out of the room, his evil grin disappearing as soon as his back was turned, replaced by deep worry. 'Not good, not good, oh this is SO not good!' he thought. Things were most DEFINITELY not going according to his plans. He hoped with all his might that Fat Cat wouldn't find out the rangers would be living with him soon. That would be catastrophic, whereas the situation now was merely disastrous. As he walked out of the casino, he tried to clear his mind of worries and concentrate solely on tonight's robbery.
Fat Cat turned to Wart, still smiling pleasantly. "Is it true that you bought the groceries today, Wart?"
"Uh huh. Did I do a good job, bossss?"
Wart's answer was Fat Cat hurling a paperweight at his head, which connected with a melodious 'Kabong'.
Chapter Five: Uncertainty
"Gee whiz! Not another one! Chip, come lookit this!" Dale pointed excitedly at the police file laying across Sergeant Spinelli's desk.
Chip slid down the string from the ceiling fan, checking several times to make sure he was out of sight of any humans. Most of the cops were in a meeting, so the chipmunks and Zipper had the place almost all to themselves. The police station was quiet for now, but there was still the risk of some typewriter- jockey spotting them. Zipper was in another part of the precinct, talking with his inside contacts. Chip plopped down on the messy desk and yanked down the string after him. Rolling it up around his sleeve, he walked over to Dale. "What is it?"
"Another one of those really weird robberies we've been having lately. Happened last night."
"There's been one almost every night for over a week now!" Chip sighed angrily. This case was really starting to get to him. Ten robberies and now this made eleven. All with no clues, no leads, nothing but an absolutely baffling pattern. In each crime, a seemingly random item or items were taken. None were very valuable, but all vanished without a trace from locations that shared no common thread. The thefts were much too sneaky for a human to have accomplished, so that was ruled out. It must have been an animal, yet they had found no pawprints or fur at any of the crime scenes. Whoever this was, Chip had to give them some begrudging respect. They were good. "What was stolen this time."
Dale couldn't help chuckling. "All the plungers from the Ferreri Hardware Emporium on Sixth and West.
"Read it yourself." Dale pointed out the police report again and there it was in black and white. "What's with this guy, Chip? I mean, why's he stealing all this weird stuff?"
Chip scanned the report thoroughly, memorizing every detail. "I don't know, Dale. And you're assuming it's a guy," Chip pointed out. "It could easily be a woman."
"Yeah, but it's easier than saying guy *or* girl every time we mention 'em."
"True. And statistically there are fewer female thieves on this large of a scale."
As Chip reread the report, Dale tried to remember all the things that had been taken. "Let's see, the first one was a case of bananas from the supermarket, then a bunch of baseball cards from the comic shop, all the placemats from that Italian restaurant... What came next, Chip?"
"The computer mouse from Electro-hut. They skipped a night and then grabbed twenty seven pairs of socks from J. C. Farthings."
"Yeah, and then they stole all the glass from the display cases at the jewelry store!"
"And left the jewelry! Then they took all the toilet paper from the jr. high school's bathrooms, skipped a night again, stole all the postcards from that travel agency and then heisted a replica Egyptian headdress from the natural history museum's gift shop the next night."
"Then two nights ago he got the popcorn machine at the theater and now..." Dale checked the number on the report. "Fifty seven plungers! Geez, Chip, when we catch this guy, should we throw him in jail or the nut house?!"
That made something click in Chip's mind. It was just a hunch, but it made more sense than any other theory he'd come up with.
The buzz of a fly interrupted them. "There was another robbery at the hardware store last night!" said Zipper.
"We know, Zip. Plungers this time." Chip gestured to the report he was standing on. "But I think I might have an idea why this guy's doing all these seemingly unrelated robberies."
"Why, then? Is he a mad inventor like Gadget and he's stealing all this junk to build a super laser death ray to hold the city hostage?" Chip and Zipper both shot Dale a look. "Hey, we've had stranger cases than that!"
"Actually Dale, I think you were right before when you said he belonged in the nut house. I think this guy's a kleptomaniac," Chip said.
"A klepto-what?" Dale asked
"Kleptomania is a mental disorder that makes people steal things uncontrollably," Zipper explained. "People who have it don't mean to steal, or even try to make money from what they take usually. It's something they honestly can't help."
"Like when Buzz robbed those banks?"
"Not really. He was being controlled by Nimnul; it wasn't a mental problem. A packrat would be a better example, but to a lesser degree."
Dale nodded. "Okay, I think I get it. So this guy just steals stuff because he can't stop himself?"
Chip shrugged a little. "It makes sense. None of the things he took were very valuable, and in the jewelry store and museum robberies he left behind plenty of stuff that he could have gotten a lot of money for. I think the theft itself is what's important to him. It's a compulsion. He keeps hitting harder and harder targets to prove to himself he can."
"It's an interesting theory, Chip. And it does seem to fit. We may as well check out the crime scene, though. If we're lucky, he'll start getting too confident and start making mistakes."
Chip nodded, his hand on his chin in thought. "_If_ we're lucky."
As they began to leave, Dale piped up. "If we're goin' to the hardware store anyway, let's swing by the junkyard. Gadget's probably got a whole list of stuff she needs so she can stick headquarters on top of that junk heap."
Chip patted his partner on the shoulder. "Good thinking, Dale."
Dale stood for a moment in shocked giddiness. First his great idea saved them all and now Chip had told him 'good thinking'. "Wow! I'm on a roll!" He said to himself. "Watchin' Star Trek every night must be makin' me smarter or somethin'." He ran off to join his friends, a spring in his step.
With a gust of dust, the ranger plane settled down in the junkyard near Crisscross' hidden home. The camoflaged garbage heap was covered in rodents and rope. Gadget, Monterey, Foxglove, Crisscross, the Chestnut family and some other assorted critters who lived in the junkyard were all heaving ranger HQ to the top of the pile. Slowly but surely, the stump was pulled into place.
Dale bounded out of the plane over to Gadget. "Hey Gadget!"
She turned to look, pausing a moment from hoisting the stump to wipe the sweat from her forehead. Even with Crisscross' help, this was hard work! "Oh, hi Dale! You guys find any new cases at the police station?"
Dale shook his head. "Nope, but the thief who's been doing all those weird robberies lately stole a bunch of plungers from the hardware store. We're goin' over there now to check for clues and I wanted to ask if you needed anything from there."
Putting her hand on her chin, Gadget did a mental inventory. "I think we have everything we need here, but it was sweet of you to ask." She let go of the rope to give him a brief hug.
Crisscross noticed the rope fly out of Gadget's hands and quickly slammed down his paw to hold it in place. All the others felt the jerk as the rope was suddenly released and recaptured.
Tammy glanced up to see Chip exiting the ranger plane. She gasped in happiness and scurried over to him. Chris frantically grabbed at the rope she'd been holding with his other paw. He could actually see the stump shake this time.
"Whoever's doing that had better stop!" Monterey Jack bellowed from the other side of the pile. "I nearly fell on me bum there!"
"Shorry Monfee," Chris mumbled, still managing to hold onto the rope in his mouth "Cuh fumbuhee helf me ow here?!?" he wailed. The fox's pleas went unanswered. He did his best to hold onto the three ropes as he braced himself with his back legs. The stump began slowly sliding to one side.
"Hi Chipper!" Tammy called out as she ran to him, waving. She stopped abruptly and her smile turned into an angry frown as she remembered their conversation from yesterday. "Oh wait, I just remembered I'm still mad at you!" She stuck out her tongue at him and stomped off in the opposite direction.
Chip turned to Zipper. "That was certainly a warm welcome," He said sarcastically. "Honestly, I don't have any idea about what I should do with Tammy! I know she loves me but I..." He was about to say 'I love Gadget', but he knew he wasn't sure whether that was true or not anymore. "I don't know what to do."
Zipper nodded solemnly. He had the look of someone about to impart a great wisdom. "You know, there are reasons why Monty and I stay single."
Chip rolled his eyes. "Thanks a bunch."
The rope in Crisscross' mouth was starting to fray. "Gahgef! Fammy! Helf!"
"Golly! Chris is in trouble!" Gadget and Tammy ran back to the ropes they were holding. Both girls gave a strong yank and the stump finally slid into place. Chris let go of his rope and collapsed, looking totally exhausted. Gadget gave his muzzle a hug. "Sorry about that, Crisscross."
"Yeah," Tammy added as she stroked his soft fur, "I didn't mean to leave you hangin' like that."
Chris smiled giddily as the two girls petted him. His tail began to wag. "Heck, it was worth it," he said, blushing.
After giving the fox a last pat on his snout, Gadget looked up to the top of the pile. 'Golly,' she thought to herself, 'that's where we're going to live from now on. I wonder how long It'll take to get used to it. Every day waking up to a different view out the window, adding or subtracting four blocks whenever I try to remember where something is, having to tell all our friends where we live now... I'll probably fly the ranger plane back to the park a whole bunch of times before it fully sinks in that this is our home now.' She began climbing up to the foot of the stump. 'Then again, I went through the same thing when I first moved in with the rangers and look how great that move turned out!' She smiled to herself, thinking of all the new memories and exciting cases their new home would bring. "Good work everyone!" she called out to the other animals below. "You can go home if you want. I'll be able to finish up from here."
Most of the junkyard animals said their goodbyes and left. June, Bink and Tammy left too. Monty joined Chip, Dale and Zipper in the ranger plane as they took off to examine the crime scene at the hardware store.
A young female skunk who lived in a scrapped Caddilac across the junkyard, and who had also helped with the move, strolled over to Crisscross. "Well Chris, I guess zis will go a long way towards finally paying vous back for ze time you 'elped me move in, non?"
Chris got up and gave her a friendly nuzzle. They had been good friends for quite a while now, ever since she had accidentally wandered onto a cargo ship in France, dozed off inside one of the crates and was then stranded in America. Crisscross found her lost and afraid one rainy night and helped her find shelter in the junkyard. He set up a nice house for her and she had been grateful ever since. They helped each other out with odd jobs on occasion. "Come on, Mimi. You know as well as I do that you've paid me back a hundred times over for that."
She gave him a flirty grin. "Not in my 'eart I 'aven't. It will nevair seem enough to moi." She gave his nosepad a light kiss and walked away, her plush tail bobbing up and down behind her.
Chris watched her go with a wistful smile. In his life he had been cheated and used by more people and animals than he cared to think about. Mimi had been the first real friend he'd ever had. To this day she remained the truest companion he'd ever known, aside from the rangers. She flirted with him on occasion, but that was just her nature; the way she acted towards everybody she met. The skunkette and the fox both understood that they were just friends. It was never spoken, but neither had any doubts as to whether it went any deeper or not.
"Gadget's another matter though..." Chris whispered to himself. He padded up to where the mousy inventress was just beginning to anchor her home into place. "Need any help, Gadget?" he asked.
"Sure!" she responded in her usual cheerful tone. "Hold the tree in place. I'm going to drill some holes in the wood. Then I'll put in spikes that we can use to tie it to the hood of the car."
"That rope might be a bit worn out. Are you sure you don't want to use something stronger?"
Gadget playfully rolled her eyes. "What a silly question! Of course I will! This is just to anchor it while I build the steel brace around it and rivet that in place. Afterwards, we'll have a frame that we can attach a false front over so the tree'll just look like another part of the scrap heap."
Chris nodded, quite impressed. "Good idea. But then, should I expect anything less from a brilliant mind such as yours?"
Gadget blushed a little at the compliment. "Gee, thanks. That was nice of you to say." She smiled happily and started up her Gasoline-Powered Hole Creating Device: a hand drill that she had wired to a small science kit motor and then glued onto a toy zamboni. She jumped into the seat and started on the first hole, whistling tunelessly as she worked.
'Nothing,' Chris thought, frustrated and disappointed. 'Not even a hint of romance!' Since the very first time he'd laid eyes on Gadget, he'd found himself feeling light touches of infatuation towards her. She was brilliant, beautiful, cheerful, and most importantly, compassionate. True compassion was rarer than gold to Chris. Out of everyone he'd ever known until now, Mimi was the only one who'd ever shown him any.
Through one painful experience after another, he'd become very adept at judging other's emotions. All the rangers were kind to him, but with Gadget it seemed to run much deeper. He knew, somehow, that she would do anything and everything in her power to help others, even complete strangers. He had seen some of the same selflessness in Foxglove, but she was spoken for. There was a love in Gadget's heart that burned brighter than the sun. He wanted to be near it forever, to black out the betrayals in his past.
But she didn't see that. He had been flirting with her all afternoon, but she was either too preoccupied with moving the house or so naive that she didn't respond at all. Or she noticed and didn't say anything just to discourage him, but Chris didn't want to think too much about that one. It was absolutely infuriating. He had complimented her, done things for her, made innuendoes; all for nothing. 'But darnit, I'm going to keep trying even if I have to shave off all my fur and tattoo "I am madly in love with Gadget Hackwrench" on both my flanks!' he thought to himself. 'She can't not see that I like her. Maybe I'm just not trying hard enough. Or maybe I'm just a flop at being romantic...'
He shook off his thoughts and looked over at her. "Huh?"
"I asked you if you'd heard about all the recent robberies," she said in a 'where's-your-head-at?' tone of voice.
Warning bells started going off in Chris' mind. He could almost hear the noise the Enterprise made when it went into red alert. Thoughts of love aside for now, it was time to switch into full-gear lying mode. "Uh, no. Can't say that I have," he replied, trying to sound convincing. Lying was something he'd never been able to do comfortably. Although it seemed he'd always gotten more practice than he'd ever wanted.
"It's really strange," she said, shouting a little to be heard while she continued drilling. "For the last week and a half somebody's been stealing all sorts of weird things from different places in the city. There's no pattern at all. It's completely random, or so it seems. It could be some sort of devious scheme by a mad inventor who rivals my own talents who's using all the stuff to build some sort of super weapon with it." If Dale had been there right then, he would have been convinced he was turning into a genius. "But then again, Nimnul's still in the asylum and he wouldn't use such odd items. Widget could probably do something with all that stuff too, but she's halfway across the globe with J rgen and Gimcrack..." She trailed off, puzzling this new idea over in her mind.
Chris faked remembrance. "Oh, now I remember. Bananas, socks, toilet paper and a popcorn machine... Weird is right. Whoever's doing it is probably off their gourd."
"Achally, Chip says whoever's doing it is a very competent thief. We haven't found a single clue yet. And Dale says last night they took all the plungers from the hardware store I always go to!" Even Gadget was starting to have doubts over whether they would ever solve this case.
"Plungers, eh? All of them? How could someone steal that many and not be seen?" He knew exactly how, because he had been the one who'd stolen them. He'd stacked them in a pyramid-like position that was sturdy enough for him to carry on his back and had hidden them in a place no one would ever think to look. Chip just might though. Chris had listened to the stories Monty had told him about their past adventures and was impressed at the chipmunk's deductive skills, to say the least. Fat Cat had definitely sold him short. The Cat's scheme was clever, but Chip was cleverer still. Chris wondered if Chip might even figure it out. That was unlikely, but still possible.
Time passed and the work progressed. Crisscross was able to steer the conversation away from his nightly activities. He instead brought up the topic of how he'd built most of his possessions. Soon they were both completely engrossed in the conversation. Gadget wanted to learn as much as she could about digital electronics and Chris was interested to finally know the names of all the parts he used.
A little over an hour passed and Gadget's redecoration of headquarters was completed. After the brace was erected and secured, she and Crisscross gutted a nearby television set and reassembled it on its side around the stump. The runway poked through an already present gaping hole in the screen. Also convenient was a side panel that was originally intended for accessing the color controls. With a little reinforcement, it made an excellent hidden doorway. As a final touch, they removed the other side panel and welded in a scrapped toaster oven. It's door made a good sunroof as well as a second entrance for the ranger wing.
The sun was starting to set and the two tinkerers were starting to plan out how to connect the wiring from Chris' house to HQ when the ranger plane returned. Gadget guided them onto the runway with two pocket flashlights. All the boys were very impressed with the mouse and fox's work. Chris was especially glad to receive compliments for something good he'd done, rather than what his talents usually ran towards.
Chip's body language radiated triumph from the second he'd hopped out of the ranger plane. He ran to Gadget and swept her off her feet in a giddy hug. "Um, hi Chip," she said, surprised by his exuberance.
"We got a clue! We got a clue!" he shouted. Chip broke off the hug and danced joyfully around the plane. His pride was restored. Good detective work had conquered the deviousness of the criminal mind once again. "We got a cluuuUUuuUUuuuue!!!" he sang.
Crisscross gulped. The rangers actually solving the case wasn't something that fit into his plans. 'Ok, calm down. Don't worry. It might only be a fluke.'
Gadget was more than a little surprised at Chip's behavior. He was usually the most serious one of the group. "Did you find something at the crime scene?" she asked the others.
"Did we ever!" Dale said, almost as happy as Chip.
Zipper buzzed over to her, holding a small bag containing a tiny lump of black goo. "Chip spotted this stuck to one of the shelves."
Crisscross ground his teeth. He recognized it immediately. 'How could I not have noticed that?!? Don't panic yet, Chris. They might not know what that is.'
Gadget studied it, puzzled. "But what is it?"
"Caviar, luv," Monterey told her. "I'd know the smell of it anywhere. Never could stomach the stuff."
Crisscross paled. His carefully plotted plan was falling to shambles before his eyes. 'Please, please, please don't let them figure out the significance of it!'
"Caviar? That means Fat Cat must be behind this somehow!" Gadget exclaimed.
Crisscross' jaw began twitching uncontrollably. 'That does it. This situation has officially turned out worse than I ever could have imagined it.'
Chip joined the conversation, his grin now almost predatory. "That's right, Gadget! These robberies don't make any sense by themselves. They've obviously been a front to keep us busy while Fat Cat worked on his latest scheme! We're paying a visit to his casino tonight and putting an end to it!" He punched his palm, symbolizing his desire to squash Fat Cat like an overripe blueberry. He walked over to Crisscross and reached up to pat his shoulder. "We're going to need all the help we can get to overpower his goon squad. Would you be willing to lend a paw?"
Crisscross' pupils had shrunk to pinpoints. He cursed himself for tempting fate with the line 'well, things can't get any worse than this'. "S-Sure Chipper," he said, his voice wavering. He abruptly passed out.
Chapter six: Into The Belly Of The Beast
It was past two in the morning. The rangers had patiently waited for the very last unsavory character to be bodily removed from Fat Cat's casino. The lights clicked off inside and the rangers moved silently out of the shadows.
Crisscross stared up at the enormous golden-painted cat statue atop the Happy Tom Cat Food Factory. The blue moonlight lent a certain predatory edge to the feline's gilded grin that sent a shiver down the fox's spine.
Fear nearly paralyzed him. Every single shred of his plans had turned to dust by now. He had hoped so hard that he could keep the rangers out of this mess entirely, or at least until he was finished with Fat Cat himself. For a while, everything was running smoothly. The cat's diversion was working just fine at keeping the rangers occupied. He was moving upwards in Fat Cat's operation and was almost ready to make his move. And then... 'Darnit! If only I'd seen that stupid little piece of caviar stuck to my fur!'
Chris shut his eyes tight and tried to calm himself. He had the rudiments of a plan beginning to form in his mind already. It would require completely shattering the rangers' trust, but it might also save their lives as well. He hoped he'd be able to build that trust back up again.
"Ok guys, let's go over the plan one more time, just to make sure we've all got it," Chip called out to the other rangers in a stage whisper so as not to be overheard by any of the felonious feline's guards that might be about. "We ride in on Crisscross. He drops Gadget off at the fuse box..."
"Where I cut off the power for a distraction." Gadget finished for him.
"Bingo. Then Monty, Dale, Chris and I tie up as many goons as we can while Zipper looks for Fat Cat. As soon as you spot him, Zip, give the signal and we all zero in on him. Okay?"
"Allright, we all know the plan. Is everyone ready?"
"Ready to stomp some heads? Always!" Monty cheerfully responded as he pounded his fists together.
"Everyone else ready? Crisscross?"
The fox blinked away the last of his nervousness. "I'm cool." The others all nodded.
"Rescue rangers away!" they all whispered huskily. Chris couldn't help a little giggle at the tickly sensations of the rangers climbing up his fur. When they were all settled in, Chris draped his tail over them for added cover. The fox slinked around the side of the statue, trying to seem as if he didn't know where the secret entrance was.
Dale poked Monterey Jack's side. "Say, how many times have we done this?"
"What, rode on a fox? I don't recall you ever doin' it, Dale pally. There was this one time back in '72 when I..."
"No, I mean how many times have we snuck into Fat Cat's hideout, ambushed his goons and foiled one of his nefarious schemes?"
"Heh, I've lost count meself. Seems like not a week goes by without us showin' up here. You'd think he'd have gotten a new hideout by now!"
"Or he could at least be nice enough to put out some snacks for us when we come," Dale joked.
Crisscross nudged open an air vent with his muzzle and slipped unseen into the casino.
"Say Chip," Gadget whispered.
"What is it, Gadget?" Chip whispered back.
"Do you think I should fix all the slot machines like last time so they'll give jackpots to anyone who plays them and therefore cause irreparable harm to Fat Cat's profit intake?"
Chip chuckled a little and shrugged. "Why not?"
Looking quickly in all directions at once, Crisscross made his way across the dark and deserted casino floor.
"Where are we going, Chip? I can't see a darn thing with Chris' tail draped over us like this."
"Sssh, Dale! Someone will hear us! And don't worry. Crisscross knows where he's going."
'Indeed I do, but it's not where you think, Chipper,' Crisscross thought darkly to himself as he began padding silently up the narrow, pitch black stairway in front of him.
"Say, are we going up? It seems like the fuse box was downstairs the last time we were here," Zipper said to no one in particular.
"Almost there, guys," Chris muttered to them. "Hang on for a couple seconds more." He nudged his way into a room of startled faces and bright fluorescent. A paw to his lips indicated silence. He strolled to the center of the room, cursed Fat Cat, himself, and the entire situation once more, and lifted away his tail.
The harsh artificial light bit at Chip's eyes. For a second, he couldn't see a thing until his eyes adjusted. And when they did, he found himself looking straight into a face that nearly gave him a heart attack. "Fat Cat!"
The other rangers cried out in complete surprise.
The crime cat gawked from Chris, to the rangers, then back to Chris. He gasped, his face nearly glowing from pure joy. "Why, Mr. Crisscross! You've brought me my foes on a silver platter! This is well above and beyond the call of duty! I'm ecstatic!" he gushed.
Chris dryly noted that Fat Cat remembered his name with no trouble now, leading him to believe that the cat had forgotten it on purpose just to annoy him. "Why do a job halfway?" he said with a casualness in his words he didn't feel in his heart. "You wanted me to spy on them so you could later destroy them. I figured I'd just skip a step."
The betrayal had left all the rangers so stunned that none of them was able to speak, much less jump off Crisscross' back to escape. Their mouths hung agape as they tried to fully comprehend the fact that not only was their new friend turning them over to their arch enemy, but that they'd been working together the whole time. It was an easy matter for Snout, Wart and Mole to subdue all five of them. When they had all broken out of the sudden shock, they each found themselves clutched tightly in a sweaty fist.
Fat Cat's mirth was so great, he could barely stand up. He had to brace himself on the edge of his desk as he clapped Chris several times on the shoulder. "My dear fox, you have helped me accomplish what years of suffering, sacrifice and hard work could not. You have brought the hated refuse rodents to my very office with nary a scuffle to meet their grisly deaths. I thank you from the bottom of my black heart!" He swiveled around and pointed to Mepps, who cringed out of reflex. "Mepps! Go to my special storeroom and bring back a pint of my richest cream and seven wine goblets."
"Yes, boss." The mangy cat turned to leave.
"If you break even one of those glasses your skull will follow it's example."
Mepps gulped and skedaddled.
Staring into the obsequious grins of his flunkies, Fat Cat addressed the three of them. "Now, I want you to listen very closely to me," he said in the tone of voice one might use to instruct a retarded child. "You will not unclench those fists of yours for any reason at all until I tell you to, is that clear? Because if any of these rodents happen to escape before I have my fun time, you will take their place for the disemboweling. Understood?"
Wart, Mole and Snout all hastily nodded.
Fat Cat looked back down at the rescue rangers, his gleeful grin becoming dark and dripping with malicious intent. "I've waited a long time for this, you meddling little wads of compost," he hissed out in a tone of barely controlled bloodlust. "I'm sure you have too. I'm sure that, somewhere in those inferior little minds of yours, you knew as well as I that this day would come." His eyes swirled with the vengefulness of the truly mad. "The day that I kill each and every one of you in the most painful, gruesome and depraved manner possible!!!" He staggered back a step and tossed back his head, screeching out the most bloodcurdling maniacal laugh any of them, including the henchmen, had ever heard. He suddenly regained his composure, smoothed out his vest and hair and let out a happy sigh, tittering at the end of it.
"It's not gonna happen, you mean old cat!" Gadget angrily asserted. "Good always wins out over evil in the end!"
Grinning to put the cheshire cat to shame, Fat Cat leaned over her and gave her a condescending pat on the head. "Such noble sentiments, little one. Maybe you're right. I could get one of your bones caught in my throat! Hah!" Gadget repressed the unladylike urge to spit on his jacket.
Crisscross watched Fat Cat's psychotic performance with a tiny sneer on his muzzle that barely acknowledged the intense revulsion he felt towards his 'boss'. If there was one consolation to this mess, it was that, for better or worse, it would all be over tonight.
Dale saw the sneer of disgust on Chris' lips and it felt like it was meant just for him. His heart was shattered. How was it possible that the light- hearted, fun-loving fox he'd known just this morning could be this cold and cruel? It was like finding out his beloved Foxglove was actually in league with Victoria. He felt his eyes begin to moisten. "Why'd you do it, Chris? We coulda been best buddies. Why'd you doublecross us?"
Straining to keep his uncaring attitude, Crisscross padded over to Dale. "Why not? If I side with you, what do I get out of it? Nothing, that's what! But If I side with Fat Cat, I get money, jewels, good food, power, you name it. Friendship and loyalty never got anyone anywhere." He couldn't stand the words that had just come out of his mouth. But he knew that, until he could talk to the rangers alone, he had to keep this mask on. He gave Dale a quick apologetic look and a wink, hoping Dale would get the message. The chipmunk never even saw it.
Mepps waddled through the door then. He was weighted down with the large crystal cups and heavy glass bottle of cream. He sat them down as gently as he could, trembling the whole time for fear of breaking them, and gasped in relief when he'd finished. "I'm done, boss."
"Good. Get out of here then. Give yourself a bath or something."
As the feline flunky left, Fat Cat called his other henchmen over to the desk. He took one ranger at a time, not even feeling their struggles, and slipped each one in turn under one of the wine glasses. He dismissed his henchmen, leaving just him, the rangers and Crisscross. When all five rangers were in their own cramped transparent prison cells, Fat Cat laid a hefty book atop the cups, further ensuring their captivity. He leered down at them, trying to choose the ultimate punishment for them.
Chip hardly noticed Fat Cat; he was used to him being evil. It was Crisscross his icy gaze was fixed on. If the fox had been just another hoodlum, he would have been merely angry. If Fat Cat had forced Chris to do this against his will, Chip would have tried to be forgiving. But Crisscross had invaded their lives, gained their trust and had then emotionlessly stabbed all of their backs. That was unforgivable. Chip was so enraged, he could barely keep from screaming. "You were the thief all this time, weren't you," he growled at Chris, never taking his eyes off him.
"Yes, I was," Chris responded, as if discussing the weather.
"You created a distraction so we wouldn't find out what your boss was really up to," Chip spat through grinding teeth.
"Yes, I did." A bored look on his face, Chris began to pick at his claws with his teeth.
"You spied on us! You lied to us! You were going to hand us over to Fat Cat to be killed all this time!!!" Chip roared in rage, not caring about keeping his cool anymore.
"Yes, yes and yes. Don't you have anything better to do than to state the obvious?" Crisscross made a mental note to give his tail several hard, painful yanks later on for this performance of his.
Chip didn't say a word. He could feel his face getting hot and he took several deep breaths to calm himself down. He needed a clear head to survive whatever tortures Fat Cat was planning on putting him through, if only just to deal with Crisscross personally after this was all over. Chip was not normally a vengeful chipmunk, but this time... This time... Something had to be done to teach Crisscross a lesson.
Gadget on the other hand kept with her beliefs that there was some good inside everyone. She tried to appeal to that part she knew was in Crisscross. "You don't have to do this, Chris!" she shouted, pounding on the clear crystal walls of the glass. "We could still be friends! Think of all the fun we've had since we met. You were going to help us defeat Fat Cat's evil plan. What happened to that?" Gadget felt her lower lip trembling and a few small tears ran down her cheeks. "I really like you, Chris. Don't let this happen. Please."
On the outside, Chris said "Get real. It's not that I have to do this, it's that I want to. I like being bad, don't you get it? I like stealing and lying and killing and all that good stuff! It's a heck of a lot more fun than hanging out with you bunch of goody-two-shoes." On the inside, however, he said 'Oh Gadget, you don't know it, but I'm crying much harder than you are right now.'
Fat Cat grinned wickedly at this exchange. 'Yes, this fox will definitely be a powerful asset to my empire,' he thought to himself.
Chris steeled himself for what he knew would be the hardest part of his whole act. He tried to concentrate wholly on the fact that once he did this, it would all start to turn for the better. He looked over to Fat Cat. "Just so you know, yes, I did agree to help them foil your evil plot. But you know how little a promise means to guys like us, eh?".
"Indeed I do."
"So let me prove my loyalty to you, boss."
"I'd like to kill one of them."
Gadget gasped. Chip growled so fiercely his throat hurt. Zipper shouted out in anger. Monterey punched the side of his glass hard enough to draw blood from his knuckles. Dale gaped in shock.
Fat Cat chuckled pleasantly. "Very well. I was going to keep them all for myself. But I suppose, in honor of your devoted efforts to help in their eradication, that you may dispose of one of them for your own amusement," Fat Cat said. "I get to watch though," he added.
"But of course," Crisscross replied. He turned his gaze back to the five cups. Each ranger felt a shiver of fear as his eyes passed over each one of them in turn, landing finally on... "Her," Chris stated coolly. He stared at the trapped mouse and licked his lips.
Gadget's eyes grew wide with terror. She threw herself to the far edge of the glass. She tried to scream, but her throat wouldn't let out anything other than a strained squeak.
Nudging the book aside just enough to tip the glass on its edge, Chris deftly reached underneath it and snagged his prey.
Fat Cat watched in joyful fascination.
Gadget's adrenaline overwhelmed her as she was lifted by her tail above Chris' head. She lost the power of rational thought. She flailed wildly, kicking and scratching at thin air. Her throat ripped out primal, unintelligible shrieks of terror.
The fox slowly tipped back his head, acting as if he was savoring every moment. "Squeaky little chew toy, aren't ya?" he softly said to her. "Tasty little thing." His muzzle opened wide. Double rows of razor sharp teeth stared up at Gadget. The paw lowered her to meet them.
Darkness closed around Gadget.
For almost a full minute, the room was silent.
One of Fat Cat's foes was finally gone. Murdered. It was the most wonderful thing he had ever seen.
Chip curled himself into a tight ball of fur and wept uncontrollably. It wasn't possible. He hadn't seen it. Hadn't seen her die. It just wasn't possible. Gadget's light was too bright to ever be snuffed out. He refused to believe what he'd seen.
Zipper's wings failed him and he crashed to the desktop, landing hard on his back. He didn't even notice. He would never see her again. Never try out another of her new inventions. Never hear her beautiful voice again. Never get to see if she and Chip would ever get together. Never never never. Never again.
Dale was like a statue, paralyzed in shock. The horror he had just seen cemented him in place, but his thoughts were screaming out of control. His eyes were wide open and unblinking. "...h-he a-a-ate her..." he choked out, his jaw shaking.
Monterey closed his eyes and ground his teeth in despair. He slumped over and slid partway down the side of the glass. 'I've failed you, Geegaw old pal. I promised I'd keep her safe and I failed. I could have busted us out of here if I'd even tried. I failed you. I failed her. I failed myself. Sweet innocent girl... Gone.'
Crisscross picked at his teeth, feeling much better now. She was quite tasty, actually. His ears perked up at the sound of paws clapping.
Fat Cat smiled like a proud father as he applauded Crisscross. "You swallowed her alive. Gulped her down deep into your insides to be dissolved in your stomach acid. She'll probably spend, what, a good five minutes in there before she finally dies? All of it in excruciating pain. You were cruel, emotionally detached and merciless. A marvelous show."
"Well, I certainly enjoyed it," Crisscross replied.
"So did I. In fact, I enjoyed it so much, how would you like to do away with the rest of them in such a fashion?"
"Sure!" Crisscross agreed, his tail suddenly wagging.
"Splendid! I have the most wonderful idea in mind! Come with me, and I'll tell you all about it." The two smiling predators walked out of the room, leaving the remaining rangers to begin their grieving.
"EEEEEEEEEEEEEEYAAAAH!!!!! AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHH!!!!! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK!!! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE-"
'Stop it! Just stop it, Gadget! Screaming your head off is not going to get you out of here! I need to think of a plan. I must concentrate on saving my life.'
'Okay, let's take stock of this situation. I am in a fox's mouth. He is beginning to swallow me. Good point: He's not chewing me up, so I'm not dead yet. Bad point: I'm going to be drowning in stomach acid in about eight seconds. Possible ideas for escape: Claw my way out? No, that wouldn't work. My claws probably aren't even sharp enough to draw blood. Do I have anything on me that could help? Um, let's see... Nope. Darn. I wish I'd known this morning I would have to escape from inside of a fox. I would've brought some syrup of ipecac.'
'So what does that leave? Well... There is of course one way. The way I'd be coming out of him anyway. Eeeeew! Gross!'
'Okay, looks like that's my only option. I'll have to plan this carefully to make sure I don't get dissolved in there. I'll tuck my paws inside my coveralls and put on my goggles to minimize the surface area that would otherwise be exposed to the stomach acid. It's already too dark in here to see, so I'll have to rely on my sense of touch to find the valve that opens out into his small intestine. If I can sustain my breath long enough to reach the end of it, I'll be able to make it into the large intestine. There's no liquid in there, so I'll be able to breathe at least. Then I'll crawl through... Oh yuck! I can't even think about it! When I get out of here, I am going to kill Crisscross!'
'No. I am a nonviolent mouse. I will not harm him even though he's trying to kill me right now. I will blow up his house then. No, no. We moved headquarters there, remember? It would get blown up as well. Allright then, I'll move headquarters and then blow his house up. Good idea. I've been meaning to use that leftover C-4 for a while now anyways.'
'Get ready, Gadget. You'll be in the stomach in two point six seconds. Tuck in the paws. Put on the goggles. Get ready. Any moment no-'
'There's not an iota of moisture in here! I should be dripping with saliva by now but I'm not! I'm completely dry, and so is Crisscross' esophagus. But how is that possible? Come to think of it, I can't hear or feel a heartbeat, either. I should be hearing a prominent thumping. Is Crisscross some kind of zombie? No, no, no. Zombies aren't real. I should never have watched that movie with Dale last week. It put bad, unscientific ideas into my head.'
'Now that I think of it, there's been a lot of odd things I've noticed about him. He doesn't have a fox's natural musk. His strength is disproportionate to his size. He never seems to be out of breath despite all the hard work he was doing in the past two days. He never even seems to breathe! What is going on here?!?'
'Ulp, the esophagus is ending. I'm about to be dropped into his stomach cavity. Brace yourself, Gadget. This is really going to hurt...'
'Huh? That's it? There's not a drop of acid in here! Not a drop... I'm okay! I'm not going to be digested! This is a good thing. A really, really strange thing, but good nonetheless.'
'See if I can get to my feet. Okay, I'm up. What's this my hand's resting against? It certainly doesn't feel like the inside of a stomach. It feels like... A lightswitch?!?!?'
Chapter seven: The Arena
Fat Cat had left Chip and the other rangers barely five minutes alone to grieve over the loss of Gadget. Wart barged in suddenly, shattering their solemn moment of remembrance, and shoved them all roughly into a plastic lunchbox. They were tumbled about for a few moments, then dumped into a cardboard shoebox. Before any of them could react, Wart and Mepps held them down flat, almost cutting off their air. Snout plucked out Zipper, pulled a gob of gum from his mouth and bound the fly's wings with it, rendering him flightless. In an instant, they were back in the lunchbox. The whole process took less than thirty seconds.
Another bumpy minute passed. The lunchbox was then suddenly opened and upended. Chip slammed onto the hard casino floor, bruising his arm. When he looked up from his painful grimace, a bizarre sight met his eyes. Every slot machine in the casino had been moved into a huge oval around them. The casino lights overhead were turned on to full brightness, almost blinding him. The floor was covered in a thick layer of sand. Wart, Snout, Mole and Mepps stood atop the ring, rubberband guns in their hands, all of them pointed squarely at him and his friends. At the head of it all, in a garishly decorated throne, sat Fat Cat himself. He was dressed in a toga with a laurel wreath on his head and a wine goblet in his hand. "Welcome to the arena, rescue rodents!" he said jovially.
Chip got to his feet and pointed accusingly up at the egotistical feline. "You murderer!" he screamed. "Gadget's dead because of you!!!"
Fat Cat shook his finger at Chip. "Ah ah ah, let's not make hasty accusations. If you'll remember, I had nothing to do with that dear mouse's untimely demise. It was your friend who did the deed. Your *buddy* who suggested it, chose her, and then devoured her." He leaned back in his seat, grinning. "I am blameless."
Technically, Fat Cat was right. Chip could only stand and stare hatefully at the villain, nearly shaking in rage. He didn't want to waste his energy by getting into a shouting match with his nemesis.
Monty helped Dale to his feet. The chipmunk brushed himself off and looked briefly up at Monterey. The mouse had never seen a sadder expression on Dale's face. It mirrored his own.
"And now, my guests, it is time to join your comrade in the hereafter," Fat Cat announced loudly. "You see, I've created a little scene for you. I have taken us back to the glory of ancient Rome. My casino is now the colloseum. I have assumed the role of emperor. You will be playing the part of the persecuted christians, and our mutual friend Crisscross..."
At this, a low growl emerged from somewhere beneath Fat Cat's throne. Crisscross slowly stepped out into the light. His teeth were bared, his claws outstretched, his muscles tensed to pounce. He had become a killer, an efficient predatory machine. His expression held no compassion or mercy. Only hate.
"...shall play the part of the lion. Everybody ready? Then let the games begin!" Fat Cat raised his cup ceremoniously, took a swig and leaned over to watch the fun.
The fox snarled menacingly and charged at the rangers. Sand flew behind him as he zeroed in. Chip and Monty darted in opposite directions. Zipper took off as fast as his short legs could carry him. Dale was again paralyzed, this time from fear and not shock. His eyes widened. His pupils shrank to pinpoints. Sweating and shaking he watched the predator come closer and closer. Time seemed to slow to a crawl. His brain screamed for escape, but his body wouldn't respond. Heavy black paws knocked him down and grabbed him up. He finally managed to scream as he was thrust into the fox's jaws and swallowed alive.
Chris paused a moment as he felt the wriggling chipmunk slide down his throat. "Two down, three to go," he said to himself.
Meanwhile, Zipper was working frantically to remove the gum from his wings. If he could fly again, that would substantially increase his chances of escape, and of helping Chip and Monty. He was lucky, it wasn't as sticky as Snout had thought and it came off without much effort. He flexed his wings and took off.
Before he could get an inch off the ground though, four rubberband guns shot at him, catching him on his hip and across his face. The henchmen all laughed and cheered. Wart gave Mepps a high five.
Zipper cried out in pain as he fell back to earth. His eyes filled with tears as he held his injured leg. He was almost certain his exoskeleton was cracked. The pain was like an electric current being sent through him. It blacked out his senses, making him easy prey.
Crisscross' brutal expression wavered for a moment as he watched Zipper's fall. He padded over and gently scooped the fly up in his mouth. The pain let up just enough for Zipper to open his eyes. A gaping throat filled his field of vision. He felt strangely calm as he fell forward into the darkness.
Before Chris had time to react, he found himself slamming into the edge of a slot machine. The hard metal bit into his side. He winced deeply as he got to his feet. Monterey Jack stood a few feet behind him. The aussie's sleeves were rolled up, his fists clenched tight. His eyes held a fury so deep it almost hurt to look into it. He meant to kill Crisscross.
"Dammit, Monty! Don't do that again! You could really hurt Gadget and the others!" the fox hissed just quietly enough to ensure Fat Cat wouldn't overhear.
Confusion seeped briefly into the mouse's eyes as he tried to figure out what in the world the fox had meant by that. Crisscross leapt on this chance, swiftly turning and whipping his tail over Monterey's eyes, blinding him and adding to his disorientation. it was just long enough time for Chris to clamp his muzzle down on the mouse. He held Monty tight in his jaws, using his tongue to restrain the mouse's powerful kicks. Chris braced himself as he forced the violently struggling mouse into his stomach.
Chip had tried his hardest to get to Monty's aid before Chris killed him as well. He was too late. As he watched in horror, Chris' throat bulged and Monty went down. Chip screamed in rage and rushed towards the crimson-furred monster that had killed his friends. The rescue rangers had been destroyed. Gadget, Dale, Zipper and Monterey were all gone. Only he was left to bring justice. And he would not allow himself to die until Crisscross had paid for his crimes.
He reached his target and grabbed a firm hold on the base of the fox's tail, giving it a sharp yank and a deep bite. Chris let out a shriek of pain and swiveled around. Chip was thrown clear by the momentum, but he instantly got to his feet and charged Crisscross again. He leaped and raked his claws across the startled fox's sensitive nosepad. Snarling, Chris clutched at his injured nose.
Chip was running solely on adrenaline now. His only goal was to somehow cause his fox as much pain as he had felt inside at seeing his friends die one by one. He scrambled madly up the fox's fur up to his face. He leaped onto Chris' muzzle, drew back his fist and punched the center of the fox's eye as hard as he could.
And recoiled in shock and pain as his punch met with the resistance of a concrete block. "What the..." Eyeballs were supposed to be soft and squishy, not hard as a rock. Chris showed no pain, only a deep annoyance. He tossed his head to the side and sent the chipmunk flying.
Chip's shoulders took most of the impact. His pained groan turned into a scream as he saw Crisscross launch himself suddenly upwards. The fox's pounce reached it's arc and gravity brought him downwards, paws extended towards Chip's midsection. Chip could only stare in terror and brace himself for the impact. If the weight of the fox crashing into him didn't kill him instantly, he'd certainly be crippled for the rest of his life.
Sand flew and the casino floor shuddered with a 'THUMP'. Chip opened his eyes and blinked a few times, unsure of what he was seeing. He was still alive. Chris had moved his paws apart at the last second to miss Chip's body by millimeters. The left paw quickly pressed down on Chip's chest, but just lightly enough to hold him still.
Crisscross lowered his head and whispered to his confused and angry foe "Chip, I know you have no reason to believe me, but your friends are all safe. I'm still on your side. Together, we're going to stop Fat Cat for good."
"Liar!" A stream of spit rocketed from his mouth to splash onto Chris' fur.
Chris let out a soft growl of frustration. He moved his muzzle closer and opened his jaws as wide as they could go.
Bracing himself for death again, Chip was instead startled to hear a familiar angelic voice calling faintly to him from deep inside Crisscross' body. "Chip! It's me! I'm allright in here! We all are!"
"Gadget!?! You're allright!"
"I just said that! Now let Chris swallow you and I'll explain everything."
Chris closed his mouth and looked down to his captive with an expression that perfectly said 'I told you so'.
"You mean, you were just pretending this whole time to be on Fat Cat's side?!?"
"Chip, I've been pretending to be pals with that megalomaniacal moron for almost two weeks now! Now just let me eat you so we can figure out how to stop him!!"
Chip watched as Chris' villainous facade was momentarily stripped away. The bloodthirsty predator that was just seconds away from tearing his throat out was completely gone. In its place was the somewhat-nervous, thoughtful, energetic and helpful fox that had been his friend this morning. And he trusted that fox. He felt his anger wash away like dirt in the shower. "I'm sorry I pulled your tail and scratched your nose then, Crisscross."
"Forgiven. You were completely justified."
"Allright. Let me up. We'll give Fat Cat a good dramatic ending to his little play." Chris nodded slightly and took his paw away. His facial expression hardened instantly back to 'feral hunter' mode.
"Hurry up and eviscerate him!!!" Fat Cat whined from his seat.
Chris gave him a toothy smile and a nod. At the same time muttering under his breath "Drop dead."
Chip stifled a grin as he stood up and faced Chris. He respectfully bowed low and the fox returned the gesture. Chip dropped to his knees and lowered his head solemnly. Crisscross bent down to pick up the kneeling chipmunk in his jaws. He tossed his head back and gulped loudly. He gave his lips a lick and looked up to Fat Cat's throne.
The cat applauded Crisscross again. "Bravo! An absolutely marvelous show! Each of my greatest foes dropping like flies into your hungry maw one by one, and then the leader of the rangers signaling defeat and allowing you to finish him off in an honorable death. What an idiot!"
The tubby pussycat hopped down from his perch and strode to Chris' side. "Good show, my friend. How would you like to be promoted to lieutenant? You've shown yourself to be much more competent, devious and certainly more intelligent than my other lackeys."
Above them, Mepps and the other henchmen all growled angrily at this, except for Mole who was a little too dim to understand the big words Fat Cat had used.
Chris' tongue was hanging limply out of the side of his mouth and his pupils were wandering. "To tell the truth, all I care about right now is laying down. That fat one gave me a really bad case of indigestion," he lied.
Fat Cat gave him a few strong pats on the shoulder that nearly knocked him over. "Very well. You've done quite well here. Go recuperate, but be ready! For tonight my plan will finally be put into action! And I will hold the biggest celebration this town's ever seen!!"
Chris acknowledged him with a sickly nod, burped and slipped away, leaving the cat to his plans of world conquest.
There was a small, dark alcove located in the left ear of the Happy Tom. Crisscross had located it accidentally while searching for hidden exits or entrances to his employer's hideout. It was cool and quiet, away from the nastiness below, and best of all, had a convenient wall socket.
Reaching his sanctuary, Chris carefully removed the tip of his tail, revealing two small copper prongs. He guided them into the wall and felt the electricity flow into him. He let out a sigh of contentment and flopped over onto his side. He fell asleep instantly, becoming completely motionless as he recharged.
Chapter eight: Confessions Of A Thief
"Let me get this straight, You're a robot?!?" Chip shouted.
A TV screen with a computer-animated image of Crisscross' face on it responded to him. "Not really. Robots are just machines. I'm more of an android, actually."
"Cool! Like Data on Star Trek!"
"Exactly, Dale," Chris said. "I'm as sentient as any of you. I can laugh and feel and show emotions, I just happen to be made out of metal and plastic."
Gadget piped up. "Yeah, Chris was telling me about his design. He's the most advanced piece of technology I've ever seen!" Just talking about it was making Gadget swoon. "His skeleton is composed of a strong yet flexible plastic derivative that's nearly unbreakable. He's got over three thousand tiny servomotors all over his body to make his movements perfectly mimic that of a real fox. And his positronic brain is faster and more powerful than any computer technology I'm aware of!" Gadget paused a second to catch her breath after her excessively verbose technological exaltation.
"All this for just five easy payments of nineteen ninety five!" Chris joked. "I've even got wireless internet up there in my noggin!" The animated Chris on the screen tapped his head and an 'Intel inside' logo briefly appeared on it.
Chip sat heavily down in one of the benches that lined the pink-colored interior of Chris' stomach cavity. It was brightly lit, padded on all sides (which helped save Gadget, Dale and Zipper's lives when Monterey threw the fox against the slot machine) and was actually quite cozy. The screen which displayed Chris' animated inner voice was mounted on a track that ran all along the room, enabling the fox to get a good view of whatever or whoever was inside him from any angle. Beneath the screen was the most complicated set of controls Chip had ever seen, and that included all of Gadget's inventions to date. Switches, knobs, levers, buttons and LED displays caked a control panel that was wider than Chip was tall. "I'm having a real hard time believing all this," Chip moaned.
Monterey sat down next to him. "We're in the same boat then, mate. I'm still not sure I even woke up this mornin' and this isn't all some crazy dream." Zipper flitted over to land in the brawny mouse's lap and begun massaging his injured hip. "How's the war wound there, pally?"
"Not as bad as before. I don't think anything's broken at least."
"That's good. A few days rest'll probably get you back to normal again, eh?"
"I'm pretty sure it will."
"Zipper," Chris said, "even though Wart shot you, I want to apologize for it as well. I'm sorry to all of you that I had to act like I was eating you up. Especially you, Gadget. It was the only way I could think of to talk to you in private."
"That's okay, Chris," Gadget told him. "I understand. You were under a lot of stress trying to keep Fat Cat from hurting us."
Crisscross gave her a soft smile. "And Chip, guys, about that whole Roman arena thing, I swear that was all fat Cat's idea, not mine! I probably traumatized you guys for life! I'm really sorry!"
"S'allright, mate. No worries! We're all okay, we're all together and Fat Cat thinks we're goners, so now we've got the element of surprise on our side! And I've gotta admit, you played a pretty good lion."
Chris smirked strangely. "Really? I preferred the Roman role I played earlier tonight." He nodded to Gadget. "Gladiator."
For a few seconds, the rangers were paralyzed by the gut-wrenching awfulness of the pun. Then they all let out a collective groan. Dale and Monterey started laughing first, and the others couldn't help join in.
"Hey! I'm the one who's supposed to make all the bad jokes around here!" Dale said.
Monterey wiped a tear from his eye. "Heh heh. 'Glad-I-ate-her'... Too-rah- loo, I'll have to remember that one!" He looked up to Chris' monitor. "So can ya tell us now what in the name of Paul Hogan you've been doin' with Fat Cat all this time?"
"And what you did with all the stuff you stole!" Dale added.
Chris laughed sheepishly. "Um, well, it's really kind of complicated. First off, you have to understand I didn't take anything from those places."
Chip pointed accusingly at the fox's image. "But you told me you were the thief! Were you lying then or now?"
"No, Chip. Try to understand. I did the robberies, but I didn't steal anything!"
"That doesn't make any sense! You're just trying to confuse us!" Chip shouted, mentally adding 'and doing a good job of it too!'
Gadget walked lightly over to Chip and placed a hand on his shoulder, calming him instantly. "Now Chip, don't get angry. Chris explained a little bit of this to me and it all makes sense if you'll just listen to him."
The fox nodded. "Actually, we've still got some time before Fat Cat's plan goes into effect. It would probably make a lot more sense if I just told you all about my life up untill now. You'd understand better why I decided to do some of the things I've done."
"Allright," Chip grumbled. "I want to see how all this fits together anyway. Especially the part about the theftless robberies."
The rangers settled into the rubbery seats inside the fox's insides. The lights dimmed like in a movie theater. Crisscross's screen went black for a second. Then the message 'ACCESSING VISUAL MEMORY BANKS' flashed briefly. A few seconds later, Chris' animated face appeared again. "Well, here it is, in living color, my life story."
"Anybody got any popcorn?" asked Dale. Chip shushed him.
"I was 'born', I guess you could say, on January 14th, 1997. Exactly two years, five months, eight days, seventeen hours, twenty days, fifty three seconds, eleven nanoseconds..."
Monterey cut him off. "We get the gist, pally."
"...ago," Chris finished with a sheepish smile and giggle. The image on the screen changed from his face to scenes of a raggedy young mouse with dirty black hair and frantic movements working furiously on various electronic components. "This is my dad, of sorts. Arthur Fitzgerald Flaversham."
Zipper turned to Chip. "Flaversham? That name sound a little familiar to you?" Chip just shrugged.
Chris continued his narration as the mouse on the screen, now inside Chris' stomach cavity, flipped switches and turned knobs on the fox's control panel. "I wish I could say we had a loving, normal, father-son relationship. Unfortunately, I was little more than an appliance at that time. I hadn't even begun to develop a personality of my own. And Arthur, well, he was kind of insane. He was obsessed with power. He couldn't stand being just a mouse."
"HEY!" both Gadget and Monterey shouted.
"His words, not mine. Sorry." Chris sighed and a new scene appeared on his screen as seen through his eyes. The camera was hurtling through back alleys of the city at top speed. The colors were all the artificial green of night vision. The words 'fox exoskeleton trial run' ran across the bottom of the frame. "He wanted to become bigger and stronger, so he built me as sort of a living costume. He ran me from inside and used me to... To do awful things." The fox's narration stopped and the screen changed again. The lack of sound made the images seem somehow more horrific than they already were. Mice running in absolute terror from the beast charging at them. One was caught in the fox's jaws and was thrown cruelly into a wall. Chris breaking through a bank's window, scattering the animals inside like gnats and gulping down every last penny. A shopkeeper watched in dismay as his store was laid waste to. A female mouse screaming, her back to the wall, as the fox advanced on her. The rangers sat in silence, their mouths agape in shock.
Chris' voice returned, cracking occasionally from emotion. "He was the most terrible person I've ever known. The things he would scream out as he used me to commit his crimes... They still chill me. Watching him using me like that made some part of me awaken. I felt emotion for the first time. Horror, shame, sadness. And I knew I couldn't do a thing about it."
"I had no idea, Chris," Chip said softly. He felt a little shame himself for how he'd felt and what he'd said to the fox earlier.
"It must have been awful for you!" Gadget said in her most caring tone of voice. She got up from her seat and gave his screen a hug.
Chris' animated visage appeared again with a wide smile. "Thanks Gadget. That means a lot to me." His positronic heart soared. She did like him!
Gadget sat back down, flashing Chris a warm smile. He wasn't sure if it had any romantic undertones to it or not.
"What happened next?" Dale asked.
"Eventually the cops caught up with him. They set a trap for me; a net strong enough that I couldn't break out of it." The screen showed nearly two dozen Staten City policefurs straining to hold onto the net that contained a wildly thrashing Crisscross. "Arthur shut me down and I was hauled to the police station. He thought he'd just wait it out and escape when nobody was around. Unfortunately for him, and fortunately for the rest of the world, the police somehow found out that I was a robot being controlled by someone else. As soon as he stepped out of my mouth, they cuffed him. I remember smiling for the very first time on my own as they led him away."
Another scene came up on the screen; a brown furred teeneage mouse with thick red glasses hacking away at a rodent-sized computer with several thick cables hooked up to Chris' side. "Hey!" Chip exclaimed, "That's Elwood!"
"You know him?" Chris eagerly asked.
"We did a long time ago," Zipper told him. "He helped us scare off a nasty neighborhood gang with his computer skills. Didn't he go to live with your cousin, Chip?"
"He did, for a while. Chet said he didn't stay too long. He set off on his own a few months after that and none of us has seen him since."
"Consarn it." Chris said. "I wish I could meet him someday. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't even be myself today!"
"How so?" asked Gadget.
"He was working with the police to find out if there was any evidence in my memory banks to help convict Arthur. There was plenty. Every word he'd ever said around me and every awful thing he forced me to do was all there. From what I've heard, he's still in jail and will be there for the rest of his life. But that's not why Elwood is so important to me. One night he fell asleep at the computer and left me still hooked up to it. It let me access the internet. All of it."
The screen nearly burst as image after image blasted across it; every single thing Crisscross had downloaded that fateful night. "How can I even begin to describe what an amazing experience that was for me! It was like... Dale, imagine what it would be like to read every single comic book on the planet in just one second. And then doing it continuously for seven hours."
Dale grinned wide at the thought. "Cooooool."
"It was better than that, even! The whole world was opened up to me! I felt myself growing, changing. I was crying, laughing, *feeling*. I became alive.
"The police didn't know about any of this, they thought I was just a machine. So, not knowing what else to do with me, they tossed me in the dump." The screen showed Crisscross seeing his future home for the first time. "I made a little house for myself there and then. I found out that I knew how to make all sorts of electronic devices almost by instinct. That's where all my cool stuff came from. Made them all with my own two paws," he said proudly, momentarily forgeting he'd already bragged about that before.
"Once I had a nice place to live, I set about developing my personality. I met Mimi a month or so later."
"Who?" asked Chip.
"The girl skunk who was helping Gadget and I move your house."
"Right. Go on."
"Mimi's from France by the way. She wandered onto a cargo ship one day and wound up here. I found her wandering the streets, totally confused, so I decided to help her. I set up a house for her near mine and helped her with her english. In return, she taught me all I wanted to know about emotions. I was really amazed at how deeply you organics can feel about things."
Dale jumped up out of his seat, scowling. "Hey! Don't start calling us names!"
"Dale, 'organic' just means that you're a natural living being,"Gadget explained.
"Oh." Dale sat back down and blushed.
Chris chuckled a bit. "Things went fine for a while, but unfortunately I fell into the wrong hands again." The screen changed to a picture of a fat cigar-smoking vole in a hideous suit coat. "This guy, Dom diGriz, used to be the landlord of an apartment building downtown. I have no idea how, but apparently he found out I was a robot and one day I woke up from recharging myself and found him at my controls. Like Arthur, he was a little power mad too, but he was much more interested in money. He used me to evict tenants from his building, and then to force other animals from thir homes so he could steal their property!"
"Sounds like that scumsucking brute could have used a visit from me," Monterey growled, grinding his fist into his palm.
"My feelings exactly, Monty. I would have eaten him if I was a real fox. I'd really rather not dwell on him any longer. Let's just say after a few weeks of this unpleasentness, I was able to reinforce my own personality enough to override his commands and then forcibly evict him; right into a toilet bowl!"
"A fitting place, sounds like," said Monterey. Zipper nodded his assent.
"But my troubles weren't even over then," Chris moaned. "Three days later, I was captured by this wackjob." Another picture popped up on Crisscross' screen; a figure all the rangers knew quite well.
"PROFESOR NIMNUL!" they shouted as one.
"You know him, too?!? Gosh, small world, eh?"
"Aside from Fat cat, he's our worst enemy!" said Chip.
"Mine too. He knew enough about technology to recognize how advanced a piece of work I was. He was able to shut me down and rewire me so my free will was cut off. He made a remote control for me and used me to rob banks, jewlery stores, tech companies; anyplace I could sneak into." The screen showed a fox's eye view of several locations that he had looted against his will. "This was where I got all my experience stealing stuff."
"How long did he do this to you?" asked Gadget.
"About three months," Chris said sadly, his face returning to the screen.
"Golly! If we'd had any idea that this was going on, we would've stopped him and set you free as soon as we could!"
"I don't doubt for an instant that you would have," Chris told her sincerely.
Chip held his chin in his hands and thought back. "Hmmm, if I remember correctly, Nimnul was strangely quiet during that time. That was about last summer, right?" Crisscross nodded. "I thought so. And there was a series of robberies during that time that we were never able to solve. I never thought of Nimnul as a suspect because it was so different from his usual schemes."
"Well, I am pretty unique," Chris joked. "Anyway, this went on for a long time and I was getting fed up. I was even considering shutting down my program permanently. Pretty heavy decision, let me tell you. That's as close as a machine can get to committing suicide."
"Golly!" gasped Gadget.
"Pretty noble sentiment there, mate. Choosing death over a forced life of crime," said Monterey.
"Well, as you can see, I didn't choose that. As luck would have it, lightning struck his lab just then."
"Seems to happen to his place a lot," Dale noted.
"The charge overloaded all my circuits, including the ones he'd put in me. When the smoke stopped pouring out of my ears, I had my free will back! That, and I looked like I'd spent a little too long in the dryer." The screen showed Crisscross looking in a mirror and shrieking. All his fur stood straight on end, little sparks popping occasionally off him. The rangers all had a good laugh at this.
"So, after a good tongue bath, I trashed his lab completely and made my escape. I came back to the junkyard and things were good for a long time after that."
"So when did you get involved with Fat Cat?" asked Chip.
"I'm getting to that." The screen now showed, through the fox's eyes, Wart and Snout breaking into a gourmet foods store and ripping off every can of caviar in the place. The action on the screen followed the fox's narration. "About a month ago I was out for a moonlight stroll when I noticed these two meatheads doing a smash and grab. As you can probably guess by now, I was more than a little angry towards the criminal element. So I followed them back to this casino, snuck in, snatched the loot from them as soon as they'd set it down and bolted for the door. I thought they were just on their own and I didn't know anything about Fat Cat back then. So I was pretty startled when all these alarms started going off and all the doors slammed shut. I was surrounded by thugs, a whole mess of 'em!"
"Good word choice," Chip quipped.
"And there was Fatty himself. Big as life and twice as ugly, as they say. I thought he was going to kill me on the spot, which was okay because I'm pretty darn indestructible. But he said he admired my technique at sneaking in undetected and my brazenness for daring to cross him on his own turf. He offered me the chance to join up with his henchmen."
"Didja stick out your tongue and tell him you'd rather eat a cactus covered in hot sauce?" Dale asked.
Chris' face returned and gave him a sly wink. "Not at all. I told him I'd be honored to work alongside such a brilliant criminal mind."
"Why?!?" Chip shouted incredulously.
"Because, Chip. I was sick of being used by jerks like him, and Arthur, and Nimnul, and diGriz. I wanted to turn the tables, to use him for a chnage. I decided then and there to infiltrate his organization, find out what he was up to..."
"And bring him down from the inside!" Chip finished, suddenly realizing what Chris had been doing all along. "Brilliant! So what is Tubby the Wonder Puss planning?"
"I'm getting to it! Chipmunks these days, so impatient!" he added jokingly. "First I have to explain about the robberies. As you figured out, Chip, they were nothing but a diversion to keep you busy. If I'd known who it was Fat Cat was trying to confuse, I would have come to you for help right away. As it was, I didn't even know you guys existed until I overheard one of his rants about how he wanted to kill all of you. And by then I was too deep into my own plan to change anything."
"So where's all the stuff that was taken?" Chip asked for what felt like the thousandth time since this case had begun.
Chris smiled proudly. "Ahh, that was the genius of my plan! You see, nothing was ever taken from any of the robberies!"
"So where is it then!" Chip wailed, on the verge of yanking out his headfur.
"Fat Cat told me I could do anything I wanted with what I stole, so I left them all at the robbery sites, carefully hidden away where no one would ever think to look!"
Chip's jaw dropped. "You... You mean you... it was all there the whole time?!?"
"Mmm hmm. Don't believe me? Take a peek." Chris' screen played back some of his most devious handiwork. Chip watched him hide the baseball cards from the comic shop inside the store's cash register. He watched Chris use a screwdriver to expertly hide the computer mouse inside the very computer it had been taken from. He watched as Chris tucked the twenty seven pairs of socks from J.C. Farthings in the belly of a hollow mannequin. He watched Chris methodically remove each and every roll of toilet paper from the jr. high's bathrooms, and then put them all back in the janitor's supply closet that they'd come from. He watched Chris drag the theatre's popcorn machine into a tiny secret closet behind the movie screen. He watched Chris load plunger after plunger into the walls of the hardware store through a loose board. The whole time he watched, Chip was shaking his head, half in disbelief and half in admiration. He had to admit, he had actually been outsmarted on this one.
At the end of Chris' little show, the rangers all applauded the fox's cunning. Monterey even gave him a standing ovation. "Too-rah-loo! Right under our noses the whole time! I've heard some trickster tales from all over the globe about clever foxes, but this tops the lot of 'em!"
Chip smiled the smile of one who'd been defeated, but in such a spectacular way that they didn't even mind. "Chris, that was the most sneaky, underhanded, lowdown, dirty and devious thing I have ever seen." His smile grew wider. "Bravo."
The animated fox on the screen took a few bows. "Thank you. Thank you. When this is all over, I promise I'll take you to all the robbery sites and help you give back everything." Chris checked his internal clock. "Okay we don't have too much time left before Fatty's scheme starts up. I have to let you know what he's up to."
"Finally!" Chip nearly screamed.
"I don't know all the details, but he's gotten into computer crime now. He's got an accomplice that I've never seen who's worked out a virus that will wipe the memory of every computer in this country in a matter of hours! And the computers don't even need to be turned on for it to work! But the worst part is that he's developed another program that can worm its way into all the banks, S & Ls, insurance companies and credit card accounts in America and automatically divert all the funds to him! He's going to release them both at three a.m. tonight which is two hours, seven minutes, and eighteen seconds away!"
"Crikey! He's never pulled anything this big before!" Monterey Jack exclaimed.
"Which is why he needed the distraction. He wanted to make sure this one would succeed," Chip angrily stated. The chipmunk tossed a smirk at Crisscross' screen. "He just didn't count on having a double agent in his organization!"
Chris returned the smirk. "Correct as usual, Detective. I've gotten pretty good at reading emotions and I can say with 87.6 percent certainty that Fat Cat doesn't even suspect I'm an AI, much less working with his nemeses!"
Chip was all action now. "Okay, Chris. What do we do to shut him down?"
"First we have to find the main computer. Once we do that we'll need to erase all copies of the virus and the money program. Do you think you can do that, Gadget, or will you need my help?"
"Hmmidunno. Show me copies of both first," she said, holding her chin in a thoughtful way. Chris' screen filled with ones and zeroes that zipped by faster than the other rangers could even see. "Got it!" Gadget said happily. "It should be a piece of cake!"
Chris had never before seen an organic with such a mastery of binary code. He vowed to redouble his efforts to make this marvelous mouse his sweetheart. "Great! I knew you could, Gadget. Your brain never ceases to amaze me!" The mouse inventress blushed a little at his compliment.
Chip addressed the other rangers and Chris. "Allright, while she's doing that, we'll need a distraction of our own. I suggest an all-out bench clearing brawl, and I'm sure Monterey will back me up on that."
"Too right, Chipper!" the aussie affirmed gleefully.
"I thought of that too, Chip" Crisscross said. "Just to make sure we'll have the numbers on our side, I've sent a message back to my house to get Foxglove and Tammy in on this. Foxglove should be able to hear it if she's within four miles of the junkyard. We may not need the extra help, but it never hurts to be cautious."
"Good planning, Chris! We'll make a ranger out of you yet." Chip paused for a second, realizing what he'd just said and all the repercussions of it. He looked up to the fox's internal screen. "That is, if you want to join..."
The other rangers cast expectant gazes at Chris, knowing what an asset his strength, size and technical knowledge could be to the team.
While Chris' design didn't have any inner workings that could synthesize crying real tears, he had no problem generating them on the computer animated fur of his inner counterpart. "I would be honored to belong to the best darn team of crimefighters this universe has ever known," he softly and sincerely said.
The other rangers let out a rousing cheer at the addition of Crisscross to their ranks.
"Allright!" Dale shouted happily.
"Welcome to being a rescue ranger, Chris," Zipper said warmly.
Gadget rushed over to hug Chris' screen again. "I knew you had a good heart all along!"
Crisscross knew he'd never felt so good in all his life. He had real, true friends now. Now and forever he had other animals by his side that would never use him, never take advantage of him, never cast him aside. After such a long time of trying, and failing, he was a good guy. He felt truly alive now more than ever.
"I'd love to have you adore me for a few more hours guys, but we've got an insidious plot to foil!" Chris said.
"Too right. Would you care to join us in our battle cry, mate?" Monterey asked.
"I'd be delighted!"
"RESCUE RANGERS AWAY!!!" they cried out as one.
Chapter nine: Girls To The Rescue!
Tammy Chestnut was deep in a dream. She was outside the old ranger headquarters. She was dressed in a stunning black strapless evening gown. Before her, Chip was chained, spread-eagle, to the tree trunk. His expression was one of utter rapture. His heart-shaped pupils were fixed on her like glue. Gadget was off to the side tinkering with one of her inventions, blissfully unaware of it all. Tammy stepped closer to Chip, grinning like a jungle predator. She puckered up. So did he. Their lips inched closer...
The young squirrelette's dream was abruptly shattered by a sharp, high pitched shriek and a loud flapping sound. She bolted upright in bed and looked outside her window to see a dark, sinister form thrashing to get in and screeching like the undead. Tammy opened her mouth in preparation to scream louder than she'd ever screamed before.
"Tammy, it's okay! It's just me! Don't scream or you'll hurt my ears!"
"Foxglove?" Tammy got up, clutching her oversize nightshirt to her chest and stepped to the window. Indeed, there was her winged friend on the ledge. Quite a relief. Tammy opened the window and the bat stepped in. "It's pretty late Foxy. Why'd you wake me up?" Tammy asked, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
"The other rangers are in trouble!"
That was all Tammy needed to hear. The words had the same effect on her as a triple cappuchino. "How?! Where?! What?!" she shouted, instantly alert.
"I was out catching dinner when I heard Crisscross' voice. I looked around, but I couldn't see him anywhere. Then I realized the sound was coming from the junkyard. He was calling me to get you and go to the cat food factory. Fat Cat's got our friends! We have to save Dale! ...And the others too," she quickly added.
"Fat Cat's hideout?! I don't wanna go back there! Last time I was in that place, Bink and I almost got canned!"
Foxglove looked quite puzzled. "You were working for Fat Cat? When was this?"
"I didn't say that!"
"You said he almost fired you."
Tammy smacked her forehead, groaning in frustration. "I said we were almost *canned*. Literally! Me and my sister were almost put into cans of cat food!"
"Oh," said Foxy. "That makes a lot more sense, then."
Remembering why Foxglove had woken her in the first place, Tammy then zipped to her closet. Within seconds she was garbed in her familiar blue jeans and floppy pink shirt. Foxglove took no notice of this since she never wore clothes anyway. As she adjusted her headband, Tammy was torn between feeling intensely worried for her friends and feeling giddy with anticipation. She had been waiting for this moment for so long. Finally she had a chance to really show Chip and the others that she could be as good a crimefighter as any of them! 'Maybe if I pull his furry hide out of the fire, Chipper'll actually notice I exist!' she thought sarcastically to herself.
"What are we going to do, Tammy?" Foxglove asked, wringing her wingtips in worry.
The plucky squirrel swiveled around and struck a dramatic pose. "Not to worry! I've got a plan!" Actually, she didn't. But it sounded good. "Let's head over to the junkyard so I can hear Chris' message."
"Okay," Foxy said, nodding.
Tammy's heroic stance cracked a bit and she looked a little embarrassed. "Umm, Foxy? Could you carry me there? Mom won't let me drive yet."
Foxy patted her friend's back with a soft wing. "Sure, Tammy. After all, we're teammates now!"
"That's right!" Tammy smiled fraternally at Foxglove, then stepped out onto the window ledge. "You sure you'll be able to lift me?" she asked, looking down the length of the tree with a twinge of worry.
Foxglove gave her a 'nothing-to-fear' look. "Don't worry. I can fly with Dale and he eats snacks that weigh more than you do!" She giggled and slipped past Tammy out the window. Tammy heard flapping above her and then felt strong, but gentle, footclaws clutch at her shoulders. "Just close your eyes if it's too scary," Foxglove instructed.
"I'll pretend I'm on a rollercoaster," Tammy said.
"Ready?" asked Foxglove.
"As I'll ever be!"
And with that, Foxglove took off. This was the first time she'd flown with cargo since her accident during the tree crash. It felt good to be airborne again. She had missed how free it made her feel. The wind caressing her outstretched wings, the calming cool night air rushing past her face. It was exhilarating.
Surprisingly, Tammy was feeling much the same way. She thought at first that she'd be scared and had shut her eyes tight. Gradually, her courage returned and she peeked out. She gasped in awe. The whole city stretched out before her. Tiny yellow lights like fireflies dotted the pitch black city below her. It was almost magical.
Foxy and Tammy's excellent adventure ended in a few seconds as they reached the junkyard. Foxy carefully hovered over the washing machine entrance to Crisscross' home and slowly lowered herself until Tammy could feel her feet touch the ground. The bat released her grip and alighted next to her friend.
Tammy listened as hard as she could, but couldn't hear anything other than the whistle of the night wind. "Foxglove, I thought you said you heard a signal coming from here. I don't hear anything. Did you turn whatever it was off or something?"
Foxglove shook her head. "No. I listened to it and when it started repeating, I went to get you. I don't-AAAAIIIIIHHH!!!" Foxy's face suddenly twisted into a grimace of pain and she pressed her wings hard to her ears.
"Foxy! What's wrong?!?" Tammy shouted, rushing to the bat's aid.
Foxglove forced open an eye. Her friend's face was full of worry. "I- I c- can't hear y-you!" she managed to force out. "It's t-t-too loud!"
"What's too loud?" Tammy asked, frantic with worry. She had no idea what was causing her friend's pain.
She snapped her fingers, suddenly getting an idea. "Waitaminnit! I think I know what's wrong!" She scurried up the side of the trash pile and saw a half- hidden stereo speaker pointing towards the sky. Holding her ear near the speaker, she could feel the sound more than hear it. Not seeing a stop button anywhere, she instead began ripping out wires until she heard Foxglove sigh in relief below her.
Foxglove stumbled around trying to get a grip on reality after the audio onslaught had ended. Her squirrel friend was back at her side a moment later. "What in the world was that?" she asked woozily.
"I figured it out! See, I know how sensitive your ears are, Foxy. I'm guessing Crisscross knew it too and had his message play loud enough for you to hear while you were flying around, but high-pitched enough that it wouldn't have attracted anyone else's attention. That's why I couldn't hear it at all, but it made you feel like you had front row seats at a Metallica concert!" Tammy smiled proudly at her quick thinking. She gave herself a mental pat on the back. 'Chipper would've been proud!'
Foxglove gave Tammy a quick, tight hug. "Thanks Tammy! You have no idea how much that noise hurt." Foxy poked into her ear with a wingtip and popped out a large wad of bat earwax.
"I really didn't need to see that," Tammy said, wincing. She quickly pushed the icky image from her mind and got back to business. "Ok Foxglove, since I can't hear the message myself, tell me exactly what it said."
Foxy thought a bit, trying to recall the precise words. "I'm pretty sure it went like this; 'Foxglove, I hope you can hear this. The other rangers and I are trapped in Fat Cat's casino and we need your help getting out. Bring Tammy with you but be careful! Love and kisses, Crisscross."
Suddenly, another voice rang out. "Crisscross is in dangair? Non!" As the startled squirrel and bat turned to look, Mimi the skunk emerged from an overturned cardboard box and headed towards them. "What 'as 'appened to 'im?" Mimi asked worriedly.
"He's been foxnapped!" Foxglove told her. "We're going to help him and our other friends escape."
"If vous are going to 'elp Chris, I will come too," Mimi pledged. " I cannot bear ze zhought of my best fraind getting hurt!"
"Great!" said Tammy, who was fitting quite well into her new leadership role. She gave the skunk's paw a shake. "Thanks, Mimi! With a creep like Fat cat holding them, we'll need all the help we can get." Foxglove nodded her assent.
"And do not worry about moi. I can zertainly defend myself in battle," Mimi said, giving her deadly tail a few shakes for emphasis.
"I don't doubt it," Tammy told her. The plucky young squirlette then cupped her chin in thought like she'd seen Gadget do on occasion. "Allright, we'll need some sort of plan. I don't think Fatty will just hand the guys over if we knock on his door and ask politely."
"I say we should barge right in!" Foxglove stated vehemently, and more than a little unexpectedly. "Fat Cat doesn't even know we're part of the rangers so he won't be expecting us. We'll have the element of surprise on our side! We can use it to smash our way in and squash Fat Cat and his goons like a bunch of moldy tangerines!!!" The bat's eyes held a fury that burned like wildfire.
Tammy took a step back at the force of Foxglove's words. This was a far cry from the meekness her friend usually showed. "Whoa, Foxy! When did you start turning into Monterey Jack?"
Foxglove shrugged, her righteous anger disappearing in an instant. "Um, I dunno. When Dale's in trouble, I just... get like this!"
"Try to save it for the battle, kay?"
"Kay," Foxy assured her.
Furrowing her brow, Tammy started scanning the junkyard for something she could use to help them get inside Fat Cat's place. Even though she'd been intensely jealous of Gadget at first, she just couldn't stay mad at the mouse who had always regarded her with the caring and camaraderie one would show a little sister. She also came to realize that Gadget did not, and never had seen Chip as anything more than a good friend and teammate. Consequently, Tammy had started spending a lot of time with her since then. The young squirrel was now hoping that maybe some of Gadget's 'mind-bashingly high IQ', as she called it, might have rubbed off on her by now.
Tammy's eyes fell first on a chainsaw. Then an old wagon. Then a fire extinguisher hanging on the side of the junkyard's office...
Her brain whizzed. A huge, juicy grin spread across her face.
She spun around to face her teammates again. "Mimi, I need you to help me lift some stuff! Foxglove, I need you to find me some duct tape!"
The squirrel's presence was so commanding that the other two girls both saluted without thinking. "Yessir!" they said in unison.
"Girls, get ready to kick some butt!"
Chapter ten: Unexpected Guest
Meanwhile, back at the Happy Tom, the other 3/4ths of the rangers were stealthily making their way to the room that housed Fat Cat's central computer. The walls were a silvery color that blurrily mirrored everything in the room. Much of the room's contents were digital displays, control panels and computer screens. In the center of the north wall sat the largest computer terminal any of them had ever seen. It's monitor was larger than most big screen TVs. Thick cables poured from it into ports all over the room, looking quite a bit like a spiderweb. Three keyboards protruded from it at different angles.
Chip analyzed the entire setup from Chris' inner viewscreen, which was displaying what the fox was seeing. Something about it seemed oddly familiar to him. Some vague connection to a past case, he thought. It also felt like it had something to do with something they'd been talking about not too long ago.. Try as he might, Chip couldn't fit the pieces together. "Say Dale, does this room remind you of anything?"
"Oh yeah, Chip!" Dale immediately answered.
"Count Despicable's underground laboratory from 'Captain Spiffo' number eighty-six," Dale replied, obviously proud of his vast knowledge of pop-culture trivia.
Chip bonked him.
Making sure no one was watching, Crisscross padded silently across the large room to the enormous main computer. "You're sure you can break both programs now, Gadget?"
"No problem!" she assured.
Chris hadn't known the rangers long enough to be aware of the incredible jinx powers those words carried when uttered from Gadget's lips. He felt her step into the end of his esophagus and he gently upchucked the pretty mousette. Gadget hopped up into the rodent-sized office chair in front of the computer, cracked her knuckles and dived into the digital world.
As Gadget started in on finding the programs, Crisscross let out the rest of the rangers. The boys surrounded Gadget on all sides, eyes on every entrance to the room. Fat Cat's goons could start pouring in at any point. The rangers were ready.
Monterey's fists were tense and his teeth were gritted. His gaze shifted bird-like from left to right and every direction in between. His eyes were keen to every movement in the room. "Say, Zippah pally," he stage whispered, "shouldn't something have happened by now?"
Zipper glanced around, feeling more than a little nervous. "It does seem oddly quiet," the fly remarked.
"Yeah. A little *too* quiet," Dale said, barely restraining a grin at getting to use one of his favorite movie cliches.
Chip rolled his eyes a little. "You just _had_ to say that, didn't you?"
"Well, of course. It's a time-honored film tradition." Dale stated matter- of-factly. "I think Monty's right though. You'd think some alarms or somethin' woulda gone off by now."
Chip thought a bit. "Well, Fat Cat does think we're dead, and has no reason not to think otherwise, so maybe he's let up on his security. He could be assuming that nothing poses a threat to his plans anymore with us out of the way."
"We can only hope yer right, Chippah," Monty said. Zipper buzzed his assent.
Neon green numbers on a black background washed across Gadget's glassy stare as her delicate hands flew across all three keyboards with astounding speed. Calculations that would floor most college professors zipped in and out of Gadget's fantastic brain like simple arithmetic. Child's play, really. Her brain was whizzing so fast that when the numbers abruptly stopped, it had the same affect of a car crashing into a brick wall. Gadget actually lurched forward and bonked her nose into the screen. Her precious mathematics turned into a swirling mess. "Wha..." She looked at the message in the little grey window on the screen. 'PASSWORD REQUIRED.' "Uh-oh guys. We got a problem here!"
"What is it, Gadget," Chip asked over his shoulder.
"I can't go any farther into the program without a password! Chris, do you have any idea what it might be? If I enter in the wrong one, I think it could set off an alarm!"
Crisscross set his brain's internal wheels a whirlin'. He racked his memory banks for every time he'd ever been close to this room and every time Fat Cat had mentioned his plan. Nothing seemed to stick out. Fat Cat didn't even have a code word for the operation. Suddenly, his mind hit on something that seemed like it just might fit. "Odair du Poisson," he said.
"What?!" Chip asked.
"It's Fat Cat's favorite brand of caviar. It's the sort of thing he'd never forget, but no one else would ever think of!"
"I'll give it a shot," Gadget said, typing it in. She hit the 'return' key and immediately regretted it. A wailing alarm suddenly screeched out and red and white warning signs popped up on the computer screen. 'INVALID PASSWORD.'
"Oopsie," Chris peeped.
"Nice work, Crisscross!" Chip hissed.
"Hey, that kind of thing always seems to work in the movies!" the fox returned defensively. He turned his head to stare down Dale. "You're a bad influence on me!" he growled, only half-seriously.
Monterey could hear the rumbling of several pairs of feet heading towards them from seemingly all sides. "Brace yerself, mates!" he shouted. "The Russians are coming!"
Both doors nearly exploded simultaneously as Fat Cat, Wart, Snout, Mole, Mepps and a small, skinny mouse with thick red glasses none of them had seen before all thundered into the room. "Who dares to interfere with..." Fat Cat's bellow petered out into a disbelieving gasp. He stared at his 'ressurected' enemies in befuddled shock. Dale waved at him jauntily. The cat's eyes popped wide open, his fists clenched hard enough for his claws to draw drops of blood and an ear-shattering roar of rage erupted from him. "RODENTS!!!!!!! No!! You're supposed to be dead! Why can't you cooperate with me for once and just be dead?!!?" the enraged and slightly hysterical feline screamed, his face turning red through his fur.
Seeing his erstwhile vulpine henchman among them, he pointed and ordered "Crisscross! Eliminate the vermin!!"
Crisscross regarded Fat Cat with an annoyed, but cool attitude. "Naw, don't particularly feel like it. They're much too cute." Every bit of the fox's body language made it clear that he held not one single iota of respect or loyalty to the cat.
"He's one of us now, Fat Cat!" Chip stated defiantly.
"Yeah, I'm a rescue ranger!" Chris said proudly. "So there! Nyah nyah nyah!!!"
Fat Cat's teeth ground so harshly together it was a wonder they didn't shatter. Every muscle in his body was tensed to the limit in all-consuming rage. He was actually vibrating from sheer hate. "Henchmen! Kill!!! Slice! Maim! Destroy!"
The goon squad rushed forward. The rangers took up fighting stances and steeled themselves for battle. The gap between them closed steadily. Suddenly, a streak of black zipped out from the bad guys' side and stood in the center of the room. "HOLD IT!" he shouted, and the two large black pistols he brandished at either side backed up his words.
Everyone in the room definitely held it. It was as if the creator had pushed the pause button on the scene. Mole actually skidded to a stop so hard he fell over on his flabby stomach.
With all eyes on him now, the mouse in the red glasses looked to both the goon squad and the rescue rangers, never letting the guns drop a millimeter. He was tall, lanky, tan-furred and fairly young. His outfit was a black leather trenchcoat over a red t-shirt and bright blue shorts. He cleared his throat and addressed the room calmly, in a rapid voice that sounded much older than it's owner. "Okay! Now that I have your undivided attention, I'd just like to say a few words."
Chip stared at the mouse. There was something so familiar about him he could feel it pressing on his brain. The other rangers felt it too. They had met this mouse somewhere, sometime before.
The mouse turned to look in Fat Cat's stunned eyes. "Now you listen to me, Tubbo. I've had enough of this. You told me all I had to do was design your little world domination program and then I could go on my way. You never said anything about my having to stay to put it in motion and you _certainly_ did not say a word about me risking my skin in a battle with your little friends!" The mouse's tone was so bitter it seemed to be dripping acid.
"I don't have to take this from you!" the feline crimelord spat back.
The mouse smiled brightly and pointed the gun in his right paw directly at Fat Cat's eyes. "Oh yes you do! That is, you will if you don't want me to shoot you six times in the face!" he said brightly, relishing the fact that he was in control now.
The memory clicked in Chip's mind. "Elwood?!?"
The mouse swiveled his head sharply around to meet Chip's disbelieving gaze. "Well howdy-do, 'uncle Chip'! I'm amazed you remember me at all!"
"But, but, how..." Chip stuttered.
"How could I go from being the shy, geeky loser you knew all those years ago to the misanthropic, amoral, hacker-for-hire loner you see before you today? Is that what you wanted to ask, Chip?" He lunged at the startled munk and shoved a gun barrel into his nose. "Why don't you ask Chet and his two darling dorks Sam and Sue how I turned out like this! Or maybe you could ask *yourself* why you dropped me in their laps and never bothered to ask about me again after that!!"
Elwood zipped around in a split-second 180 degree turn to jab his gun at Wart. "Don't think I didn't see you try to take a step. You freeze, got that?"
Wart trembled, gulped and nodded.
Keeping his guns firmly trained on both groups of opponents, Elwood slowly turned back to the rangers. Chip pleaded with him. "Elwood, please believe that I'm sorry. You seemed happy when we left that day. I thought everything had worked out. Chet never told me anything was wrong."
"Did you ever ask him?!" Elwood spat, poking Chip's nose with the gun barrel again. "No, you didn't. You _abandoned_ me, Chip! Just like everyone else in my life has! My parents, my schoolmates, your cousin and you! The only person who ever showed the slightest bit of interest in my life was my grandmother and she's _dead_ now!" He looked over his shoulder to make sure the goon squad was still in check then turned back to Chip. "But I got over that. I learned from it. I learned that I don't need anyone. I can keep on existing by myself, thank you very much!!"
Fat Cat's sly voice piped up in the background. "Ah, but you do need me, or more specifically my money, to survive, don't you Elwood? Tell you what, you put down those nasty little toys of yours and I'll double the payment for your services."
Elwood turned his body slowly to face Fat Cat fully. The look on his face was one of utter contempt. "I _really_ don't like to be lied to, Fat Cat."
"Oh, but I'm not-"
"ZIP IT!!!" Elwood interrupted, training the gun on the cat again. "You know as well as I do that you never intended to pay me. Don't deny it. You were going to eat me and be done with it. I can forgive that, it's the nature of doublecrossing scum like you. All I ask is that you be honest about it, or else you'll see how nasty my little 'toys' can really be, 'kay?"
Fat Cat took a deep, angry breath. "Yes, I admit, I did not plan on relinquishing the money to you. I wasn't going to eat you though, I might have had need for you in the future. There, are you satisfied?"
"Quite," Elwood said, giving Fat Cat a bright, sarcastic smile. "And don't worry about it. I'm not mad! Besides, I already drained your account dry a few moments ago. I'm now as rich as you are poor, how about that!"
Fat Cat choked.
"And say, while I'm busy ruining your life..." He turned back to the rangers and used his guns to direct them away from the computer. They cleared a path for him and he stepped up behind Gadget, resting his elbows on the back of the chair but still keeping his guns pointed behind him. "Hi, Gadget," he said.
"Um, hi Elwood," Gadget said back. She was trembling a bit in anticipation of his next move.
"Screwed up the password, did you?"
"Actually, I did," Chris admitted. "I thought it was the name of Fat Cat's favorite caviar brand."
Elwood looked over to the fox. His demeanor was quite amiable now, except for the two pistols in his hands. "Oh, hi! You're Crisscross, right? Didn't see you there! So, you switched sides and joined the 'refuse rodents', as our former employer is so fond of calling them, eh?"
The fox nodded, trying to figure out if his reflexes were fast enough to snatch the guns away from Elwood before he could get a shot off.
"Good, good. Always did like a nice betrayal now and then. How 'bout that, Fat Cat!" he called over his shoulder in a jolly tone. "Two of your henchmen have double-crossed you in the same day! Must be some kind of record."
"Whoop-de-doo." Fat Cat growled unconvincingly.
"Um, Elwood," Crisscross piped up, "I wanted to thank you."
"For what?" Elwood asked, momentarily puzzled.
"Well, apparently a few years ago you unwittingly left me hooked up to the internet for seven and a half hours and the experience activated some hitherto unknown circuits in my positronic brain which gave me free will and led to me developing a personality."
Elwood's eyebrows lifted in mild surprise. "Oh."
"Kinda meant a lot to me. Thanks."
"Hm. How about that. You're welcome, Crisscross. I thought I knew you from somewhere before." The lanky mouse shrugged a little. "Small world, eh?"
Turning his attentions back to the computer screen past Gadget's head, Elwood said "Well, it wasn't a bad choice really. The password, I mean. That is, it would have been a good choice if Fat Cat has chosen the password instead of me."
"W-What was the password?" Gadget tentatively asked.
Elwood smirked brightly. "Password," he told her.
Gadget paused a few seconds, letting it sink in. "'Password' _is_ the password?"
Gadget looked over at him, momentarily floored by the mouse's cleverness. She typed 'password' into the blank on the screen and the alarm cut off. 'ACCESS GRANTED'. "No one would have guessed it in a million years." Gadget muttered. "Brilliant!"
Elwood smiled proudly. "Ain't it? Here Dale, hold these." He handed the guns to Dale, who was so under the spell of Elwood's complete confidence he kept them pointed at everyone else in the room without even thinking about it. Elwood reached over Gadget's shoulders and typed in a few commands. "See, just a click here and a click there and everything on Fat Cat's hard drive is completely erased. Simple, isn't it?" He gave Gadget a pat on the head and took the guns back from Dale. "Thanks, chum."
"No problem..." Dale mumbled, realizing suddenly what he'd been doing.
Elwood addressed all the rangers at once. "Oh, don't think I did that because I'm on your side or anything like that. I still hate you all for destroying my emotions and turning me to a life of crime, I just happen to hate Fat Cat more than you at this particular moment, 'kay?"
The rangers dumbly nodded.
Elwood strode to the center of the room, obviously pleased with himself. "Well now, it looks like I've done about all I intended to do here. I could just shoot all of you in cold blood, but pointless vengeance has never really been my style. So, if no one minds, I'll just make my exit." With that he stuck both gun barrels into his mouth.
Everyone in the room gasped. "Elwood, no!" Gadget cried out. "You don't have to end it like this! We can help you!"
The tan-furred mouse regarded her with a sly smile, then bit through the guns, chewed a bit and swallowed. "Licorice," he said, revealing his bluff. "Quite tasty."
"Spencer Tracy did it better," Fat Cat muttered.
"Actually, to be honest, that was just a distraction so you wouldn't notice the vacuum hose dropping down above me. Ta!" Elwood flattened his arms to his sides and the vacuum hose, which was part of his previously arranged emergency escape plan, and had indeed dropped down above his head, whisked him up and out of the room like a shot.
For a long time all anybody did was just stand around and blink.
Monterey Jack broke the silence. "Well, he was certainly an interestin' fella."
"Reminded me a little bit of Widget," Dale said. "You know, the whole polite-and-somehow-likeable-psychotic-killer thing."
"Say," Fat Cat said, "weren't we about to go at each other's throats before he so rudely interrupted?"
"Sounds about right," Chip answered. He snapped back into his fighting stance as the wall of henchmen came at them again. Wart whipped out a length of piano wire. Dale scowled and stood his ground. Snout rolled up his sleeves. Monterey tensed his muscles. Mepps cracked his knuckles and rolled his neck. Gadget fumbled through her pockets for anything she could use in the ensuing fracas. Fat Cat channeled his anger to a single flame of white-hot rage. Zipper limbered up his wings. Mole wondered if there was any chance of him getting a candy bar when this was all over. Chris smiled nastily at the thought of finally getting a chance to whack Fat Cat upside his fat head.
Their fight was interrupted again. This time by a vehicle crashing through the north wall with a chainsaw affixed to its front.
Then all hell _really_ broke loose.
Chapter eleven: In Which Gratuitous Mayhem Ensues
Tammy was screaming at the top of her lungs. She was barely in control of the bizarre machine she had created only a few minutes ago, which was the main reason Foxglove and Mimi were also screaming at the tops of their lungs.
The contraption was constructed out of an old wagon, Chris' chainsaw, a fire extinguisher and yards of duct tape and rope. The chainsaw was lashed to the front with duct tape. It was running continuously and clearing ('cleaving' would be a better word) a chaotic path through Fat Cat's casino. The fire extinguisher was taped to the back for propulsion and its hose was wedged through the wagon's handle with rope on either side to steer it with, which Tammy was trying her best to do at the moment. Mimi was in the middle, tail raised in panic, with Foxglove on her back, clutching at her long fur and wailing in terror.
"Don't worry girls!" Tammy shouted over the din of the chainsaw's motor. "We'll find them soon enough! I can feel it!" She yanked the rope hard to the left, narrowly avoiding a head-on collision with a one-armed bandit.
"Yeah, but how much of us is gonna be left when we get there!" Foxglove moaned as they careened across a roulette table, doing a few 360 turns in the wheel in the process.
"I want my mama!" Mimi howled.
Tammy was as scared as both of them, but she was also having the time of her life. This was better than a million roller coasters all at once! She steered her makeshift vehicle sharply through a doorway, taking a good-sized chunk of wood and paneling with her. 'This is gonna be great!' she thought to herself with joy. 'I'll swoop in like an avenging angel and save the day and then Chipper'll finally see I'm as good as any of them! He'll take me in his strong arms, look deep into my eyes and tenderly kiss my-"
"WALL!!!" Foxglove screamed.
Tammy blinked away her fantasy and saw that they were headed for a dead-on collision with the end of the hallway. Her pupils shrank to pinpoints. There was no way to steer out of the way in time. She ducked and covered as the chainsaw blade slammed into the wall and ripped straight through. Wood, plaster and other assorted debris erupted all around her as the vehicle sped through undaunted like a hot knife through butter. The young squirlette looked up to see she was indeed still alive and that her machine was working better than she'd ever imagined. "Yessss!" she shouted.
A few sharp turns and a few decimated walls later, the girls were closing in on the other rangers' location. Inside Fat Cat's control room, Crisscross had a fleeting thought that he could hear his chainsaw running somewhere in the distance. Tammy pulled with all her strength on the steering rope and the chainsaw-mobile executed a perfect wheelie. The whirling blade met the wall in front of her. "YEEEE-HAAW!!!"
All heads in the computer room instantly snapped to the side as the north wall exploded in a shower of flying sparks and metal fragments. (Tammy was unaware of how lucky she was that Fat Cat was so cheap. Had the wall been solid metal rather than a thin layer of aluminum over wood, the chainsaw-mobile would have met with quite a bit of resistance and our heroine would have been squished.) Tammy's machine roared like a lion and skidded across the floor between the two groups of animals. The blade whined as it tore it's way along the wall, slashing cables and shattering computer monitors all the way.
Using the distraction to his advantage and taking the offensive, Crisscross leapt at Wart and tackled him to the floor. He knew Wart was probably the cleverest of the bunch so he wanted him out of the way quick. Chris backhanded the shifty lizard with his paw. Wart hissed in anger and looped his piano wire around the fox's neck. He grinned evilly and started to strangle Chris. His grin quickly disappeared as he realized it wasn't having any effect. Crisscross chuckled darkly. His voice dropped a few octaves to sound like Darth Vader. "You can't kill something that isn't alive in the first place! Mwah-ha- haaa!!" The fox's eyes lit up with an unearthly glow. Wart screamed like a grandmother.
Monterey Jack and Snout squared off against each other. They stared deep into each other's eyes, daring one another to make the first move. Snout broke his stance first, twisting around sharply to whip Monty with his tail. Monterey blocked the hit and threw a punch at the rat. Snout ducked it and reached into his pocket. He threw a handful of dust and odd objects at Monterey. The split second diversion that caused was all Snout needed to overpower his smaller opponent. He jumped behind Monty and clutched him in a headlock, twisting his arm behind his back at the same time. Snout laughed triumphantly as Monterey Jack struggled.
When someone slaps their cupped hand against another's ear, it creates a packet of compressed air that can cause serious pain and injury to the victim's inner ear. This is known as 'boxing' an ear. And it was very similar to the effect Snout felt when Zipper rammed into the side of his head at full speed. The rat screamed in pain and fell to the ground, clawing at the deafening ringing and blinding pain in his ear. Monty got up and gave his longtime pal a hearty handshake. "That's the spirit, Zipper!"
They looked down at Snout, writhing and moaning on the ground at their feet. "Looks like he won't be bothering us any time soon, eh?"
Monty patted the fly on the back. "Nope, don't think he will at all! C'mon, we've still got plenty of brawling to do!"
Meanwhile, Dale was preparing to defend himself as Mole rushed head-on towards him. He took a calming breath and tried to channel the energy of the greatest street fighter he knew. "Eye of the Curly, eye of the Curly..." he chanted.
Mole growled. "I'm gonna beat you up real good!"
Just before Mole would've ran him over, Dale stepped to the side and spun his would-be attacker around. "Hey Mole! Hey Mole! How many fingers?" With that he poked his nearsighted nemesis in the eyes, twisted his nose and slapped his cheeks. "Nyuk nyuk nyuk!" Dale dropped to the ground and ran on his side in a circle, tripping up the confused mole. "Woowoowoowoowoowoowoo!" The plucky chipmunk leapt to his feet and planted a firm kick in the facedown mole's backside, sending him skidding off across the floor. Dale flapped his hand on top of his head and blew a raspberry at his opponent as Mole slid ungracefully into a wall.
Dale grinned proudly at his flawless victory, then gulped in terror as he realized the chainsaw-mobile was headed straight for him! "Yikes!" He dived to the ground. Just as the monstrous machine was upon him, he felt familiar footclaws lift him to safety in the nick of time. He looked up into Foxglove's loving eyes. "Hiya, Cutie!" he said.
Foxy giggled in her special way and airlifted her beau to safety.
As the chainsaw-mobile sped by him, Mepps actually had an idea. "Hey! Maybe I should try to stop that thing!" He ran towards the rumbling vehicle, getting a goodly amount of extinguisher foam on him in the process, and managed to grab onto the side. He looked up and found he was staring directly at a skunk's backside. "Yeowp!"
Mimi looked over her shoulder, keeping her deadly weapon pointed squarely at Mepps the whole time. "Now, vous were not trying to stop us from deztroying your 'eadquarters and saving our friends, were you?" She batted her eyelashes sweetly at him.
Mepps gulped. "No Ma'am!" he assured her.
"Zhen kindly remove your paws from ze side of ze wagon, sil vous plait?"
Mepps cooperated and flew off the chainsaw-mobile like a shot from a cannon.
Chip looked up and his jaw dropped. A second later, he had a faceful of flying cat behind.
"Oops! Sorry, Chipper!" Tammy called to him from her position atop the chainsaw. She couldn't help giggling at the sight of Chip's feet poking out from underneath the terminally befuddled cat's posterior.
Through the whole battle, Fat Cat stood almost motionless with an expression that could best be described as comatose. His jaw drooped apathetically. He watched as the chainsaw-mobile destroyed thousands of dollars in computer equipment and his henchmen were all swiftly beaten and subdued. He sighed tiredly. Elwood had betrayed him and drained his cash reserves dry (or so he claimed), his greatest plan for world domination to date had crashed and burned like a flaming goose, the rangers had somehow survived yet again, and to cap it all off, his only competent henchman had joined his nemeses. It was too much to take. Fat Cat solemnly plodded over to a secluded corner, sunk to the floor and broke out his emergency stash of catnip.
Gathering his strength, Wart managed to wrestle free of Crisscross' grip. He snaked across the room and snatched up a long block of wood. He rushed towards the chainsaw-mobile and threw the block in its path.
Tammy shrieked as she felt her machine lurch forward. Mimi leaped off to safety. The chainsaw's motor squealed as it skidded roughly across he metal floor. Tammy braced herself against the chainsaw's orange plastic handle. Instead of capsizing though, the stubborn blade sank into the floor and started to pull the wagon across the room!
Wart slapped his forehead. "Ssstupid, sssstupid, ssssstupid!"
Both rangers and goons scrambled out of the way as the chainsaw-mobile began it's final rampage. Tammy clung to the slippery plastic for dear life, but the vibrations from the engine below caused her to lose her footing and she tumbled precariously close to the whirling blades. Her fingers locked tight around the plastic, but her grip was slipping by the second. "CHIPPER!!!"
Seeing the squirrel he was pretty sure he loved in peril, Chip sprung into action. He gestured to Foxglove and felt her footclaws clutch his shoulders and the ground drop away below him. Tammy slipped closer and closer to the roaring saw every second. Her life started to flash before her eyes. At the last second, Foxglove swooped in and Chip caught her in his arms. Tammy gasped in happiness and squeezed the dashing munk tight.
Foxglove pumped as much energy into her wings as possible. She'd never flown solo with two passengers before and she didn't know if she could make it. A sliver of pain from her previously dislocated shoulder clouded her vision. Nevertheless, she managed to safely deliver her friends from certain death. The three animals slid onto the metal floor and slowed to a stop. Foxy took a deep breath and fell back on the floor, totally exhausted, but feeling pretty good.
Tammy cautiously opened her eyes, half expecting to see heaven, but instead saw a different version of it. Chip was standing above her. He extended a paw and helped her to her feet. The chipmunk and squirrel embraced. "You saved my life, Chip," Tammy said breathlessly.
"Well, you probably saved ours with that machine of yours. Did you build that yourself?"
Tammy looked into his deep brown eyes and nodded proudly.
"You were fantastic," He told her. "I always knew you'd make a great ranger someday."
Fireworks burst in Tammy's heart. "You did?"
Chip smiled lovingly at her. "Yes, Tammy. And from the looks of things, that day is today." He reached up to delicately touch her chin. He lifted her muzzle to his, closed his eyes and softly kissed her.
Tammy kissed back with all the love in the world. She held them tight together, caressing the fur on the back of his head and his leathery jacket. She had dreamed of this moment countless times over. Night after night she would look to the stars in the sky and wish for this kiss. It was as wonderful as she'd always imagined it.
The other rangers rushed towards the happy couple. Dale helped Foxy to her feet and hugged her gently.
As their kiss ended, Tammy gazed lovingly into Chip's eyes, but his gaze fell on Gadget. He took a deep calming breath. He'd waited much too long to ask this question, and it was way overdue. "Um, Gadget, I don't want the fact that Tammy and I are together to hurt you. So I need to ask; have you... Gadget, have you ever had feelings for me?" It felt like a huge weight had been lifted from him as the words flowed from his lips. But the larger weight was still there as he waited for her answer.
Tammy's breath caught in her throat in anticipation of Gadget's response as well. She knew she loved Chip more than anything in the world, but she didn't want that love to hurt one of her best friends.
Gadget looked a little surprised, but fortunately not heartbroken. "Golly Chip, I'd never really thought about it. You've always been a good friend and teammate, and I admit, I do think you're very handsome, but I can't say it's ever been more than that. It doesn't bother me a bit that you love Tammy."
The answer that he'd dreaded for years, that he thought would crush his soul, now made his heart feel light and free. Gadget wasn't in love with him. He'd known it deep inside all along, but hearing her say it let loose every inhibition he'd had about falling for the young squirlette in his arms. He hugged Tammy again and kissed her cheek softly. Tammy held his cheekfur in her hands and pulled their lips together again.
The other rangers were all happy to see the love blossoming from their leader and their young recruit. Even Mimi shed a joyful tear at the sight of their embrace.
Monterey turned to Zipper. "Ah, young love. Romantic, innit? You think we'll ever find our special someones, Zip?" In response, the fly planted a big wet one on Monty's cheek and they both started laughing.
Crisscross looked down at the romantic rodents and smiled. They did make a very cute couple. His smile grew wider when he realized this meant he was now completely free to persue Gadget! He made a mental note to thank Tammy and Chip later.
A sudden tremor shattered the romantic mood. Chip broke the embrace and looked quickly around. The floor shook again, this time accompanied by a shriek of bending metal. When he realized what was causing it, his eyes grew wide with terror. The chainsaw-mobile had cut it's way all around the room and was about to cross over a previous cut, which would slice a jagged hole in the floor with the rangers on top of it!
Crisscross was the first to react. He rushed towards the chainsaw-mobile as it inched toward the end of its self-destructive course. The fox was a few feet away when he felt the traction leave his paws. Time seemed to slow to a crawl as he slipped on the metallic floor and skidded in circles towards the chainsaw. He didn't even have time to scream as he felt the blade sink into his stomach. The saw shredded it's way completely through the fox's midsection, a thick, silvery liquid pouring from the fox's wounds. Somewhere off in the distance he heard Gadget scream. Then the lights in his startled eyes went dark.
Before anyone could run to safety, the chainsaw completed the circle. The floor collapsed completely, metal grinding and wood splintering. The rangers, Fat Cat, the henchmen and both halves of Crisscross tumbled helplessly down into the factory below. The darkness swallowed them up.
Chapter twelve: Mutiny At The Happy Tom
As the dust cleared, various exclamations of pain could be heard coming from the large pile of ceiling rubble that had fallen into the storage area of the abandoned Happy Tom Cat Food Factory. The production machines all stood silent and immobile, an occasional cobweb dotted their monolithic forms. The factory was a gallery of shadows. Most of the lightbulbs were either smashed or burnt out. As luck would have it, one of the few survivors cast it's artificial light over the ruins of the computer room's floor below.
Monterey Jack groaned in pain, hefted himself upright and brushed the dust from his coat. He cupped his hands to his mouth and hollered "Is everybody else allright?"
Dale, sprawled on his back over a broken beam and feeling like one gigantic bruise, replied "Naw, I'm pretty sure I've shuffled off my mortal coil *cough*" But when he noticed a familiar chiropteran face hovering over his field of vision he added "but I just might be convinced to climb up off my deathbed for... oh, perhaps a kiss?" Foxglove smiled in relief to see he was at least okay enough to keep joking and leaned over to passionately kiss the munk of her dreams. She helped him to his feet and they shared a hug.
Tammy regained consciousness after a brief fainting spell to find she was lying on top of something soft and lumpy. Opening her eyes, she saw it was Chip, who had also blacked out. She gasped, threw her arms around him and kissed him passionately to revive him. She pretended not to notice when he woke up.
Gadget groggily opened her eyes to see a blue blur buzzing worriedly in her face. "Looks like I broke your fall, eh Zipper?" she said weakly. She sat up and winced in pain. "Feels like I broke something else, too."
"Are you hurt badly?" Zipper asked. He tugged on her sleeve and helped her to her feet.
"No, I guess not." She looked down at her coveralls and tried to brush the plaster dust off of them. She reached behind her and held her tail in her paws. "I might've sprained my tail, though. I landed on it funny. Well, I guess it really isn't funny that we all fell about eleven point three feet straight down onto a concrete floor. Someone could have gotten seriously hurt. You're okay, aren't you, Zipper?"
Zipper flashed a grin and flexed his muscles.
Gadget managed a small chuckle. "I guess so! Come on, let's go see if anyone else is hurt." The memory of what had happened just before the floor caved in suddenly struck her like an arrow through her heart. "Ohmigosh! Crisscross!!" Gadget and Zipper both ran off to see what had become of their new friend.
By the time they found him, the other rangers had also gathered around their fallen comrade. The dim light provided by the few windows and overhead lamps in the factory played grim shadows over the cybernetic fox's body. His top half lay on its stomach across a slab of ceiling plaster, it's mouth open in a silent scream and the computer screens that were Chris' eyes were dark and displayed nothing. The fox's bottom half lay a few feet away, leaning against a section of wooden beam. Crisscross' hind legs were at odd angles, his tail drooped and the silvery liquid pooled around him. Mimi had her face buried in his fur, weeping softly.
Gadget's breath caught in her throat. She felt her eyes starting to moisten. "...no..." She rushed to Chris and threw her arms around his muzzle. She held herself tight to his soft fur, which muffled the sounds of her sobbing. Gadget usually kept her emotions in check, preferring to look at the world through rationality and logic. But this was too much. Her dam burst. It felt too similar to her father's death. Someone she cared for dearly had left her again, only this time she had barely gotten to know him. There was no logic in this. There was no rational reason. Life was simply cruel sometimes.
The other rangers felt the pain of loss as well. Their feelings ran from hurt to sadness, from grief to disbelief. Dale and Foxglove held each other close and wept. Tammy sniffled into Chip's jacket as he looked on solemnly. Zipper bowed his head, unable to look at what had become of the friend they'd barely gotten to know. Monterey respectfully held his flight goggles over his heart. "Fine lad he was..." he whispered to no one in particular.
As Gadget cried over Chris' death, her arm bumped into his nose, which flipped open, revealing a large, rectangular green button. "Hey, what's that?" Dale blurted.
Gadget sniffed, wiped her tears off on her sleeve and looked. The button glowed slightly. Above it was a label that read 'Emergency Reboot'. Gadget's eyes widened. A tiny ray of hope surged through her. She pressed the button and heard a beep.
The rangers looked up to see a message blink across Crisscross' open, staring eyes: 'EMERGENCY REBOOTING SYSTEM ENGAGED'. Gadget's eyes were riveted to Chris' as she took a few steps back. Maybe all was not lost. After all, Crisscross wasn't flesh and blood like she was. There was a chance he could be repaired.
The rangers jumped in unison as Chris' top half jolted with a loud whirring sound and a miniature fourth of July show of sparks blasted from his severed middle. Sounds of machines powering up could be heard inside him. His left paw suddenly began to twitch. His eyelids fluttered for a half-second. A brief burst of static erupted from the fox's throat.
Without warning, Chris' eyes burst to life, showing jumpy cuts from various intercepted TV station signals. His voicebox did the same, snippets of radio songs and television shows fading in and out of the static. "KKSSSHHHHHH- yes I'm the real Shady. All you other Slim Sha-CCCCHHHHRRRRR-just a jump to the left. And then a-FFFFFFFSSHHHTTTTTT-Bay Packers have won the superbowl!- KKKKCRRR-et Express Mail delivers more-SSSSSKKKFFFFF-anaconda don't want none unless you got-SSSSSHHSSSSS-Boom chicky wiggy wagga-CHHHHSSSSHHKKKKKKKK-peat to yourself it's just a show. I should-FFFFFFFFFHHHHHHHKKKKKKCCSSSSSS-Backstreet's back, allright!-RRRRKKKKKFFFFF." And suddenly the room was silent and the fox's eyes drooped closed.
The rangers held their breath.
All of a sudden, Crisscross' eyes shot open, panic filling them, and the scream he'd been about to unleash before he was sliced in half ripped out of him. "EEEEEEEEYAAAAAAHHHHHH-" He stopped abruptly, looked around and said. "Hey! I'm not dead! Cool!"
With that, his friends swarmed around him, enfolding him in hugs, kisses and fur petting. Chris guessed that he must have been out quite a while to get this reaction. He nuzzled his friends back and gave them all friendly licks. He could tell he was far from perfect health. His butt was chopped off, obviously, and several of his subsystems were running erratically. His right ear was twitching beyond his control and he had lost his sense of smell, but those were minor problems. At least his main operating systems all seemed to be running properly, aside from a few glitches.
"Knew you'd pull through all along. You gotta strong spirit there, pally," Monterey told him.
"I'm so glad you're okay!" said Gadget.
"We wouldn't want to lose our newest team member so soon, would we?" Chip said.
"Don't scare me like zat again, mez ami," Mimi said in between happy tears.
"I knew you'd be okay, Chris ol' buddy!" Dale said. "Just like in all those Disney movies at the end when the character everybody really likes seems to get knocked off and just when everyone's sobbin' their eyes out he turns out to be okay!"
Crisscross looked at all the happy faces of his friends and felt warm inside. He couldn't think of a better sight to come back to. "I'm glad to be back," he said softly, a light metallic echo infecting his voice.
Gadget looked up into his eyes. "I was so worried about you, Chris."
He reached up to caress her hair softly with his paw. "Don't worry. The part of me that counts is still okay." Gadget smiled and he mirrored it. "Glad you found my emergency reboot button," he told her as he clicked his nosepad shut. "Now, do you think you can fi-i-i-ix the r-r-r-r-r-rest of m-m-m-e?" He blinked in surprise, realizing he had somehow acquired a Max Headroom-like stutter. Dale tried not to grin, but couldn't. "Help! I've Tur-ur-ur-ur-ur-urned into an elec-ec-ec-tron-tron-tron-tronic Porky Pi-i-i-i-ig!" he joked.
Gadget smiled and hugged his muzzle. "Well, I'm just glad you're not off- line permanently," she said.
"Oh, but you will be soon!" a wheezing sinister voice suddenly interjected.
The rangers and Chris looked up to see Fat Cat and the goon squad approaching from out of the cloaking shadows and extinct machinery. They had taken a licking, but weren't down for the count. The tyrannical tabby's pristine jacket was shredded, dirty and had one or two bloodstains from a nasty-looking scrape on his arm. His henchmen didn't look much better either; Chip noticed Wart and Snout were both a bit bruised and Mepps had a pronounced limp on his right side.
Chip cursed under his breath. He'd been so glad Crisscross was allright, he'd completely forgotten about Fat Cat and his gang. Things did not bode well for the rangers. None of them were in any condition to fight again. If another battle ensued, their opponents' greater size would be the deciding factor, and since Crisscross wouldn't be able to help, things didn't look good at all.
Fat Cat's dirty face held an evil smile. He'd found the one diamond in a sea of coal. His empire may have been set back a painful distance, but it looked like he had one more shot at his favorite targets. "You may have fled to their side, Crisscross, but it appears you've given me a bit of help without even knowing it. After the floor dropped out, I thought you and your merry men had escaped. But that little cacaphonic aria you screeched out a few moments ago led me right to you. Thank you very much," he added insincerely.
Chris gulped. "M-m-my bad."
"It wasn't your fault," Foxglove comforted. Chris smiled and patted her back lightly.
Noticing a pile of debris nearby with a sparking live wire atop it, Fat Cat turned to Mepps. "I'm too tired to commit murder, Mepps. Go and get that cable and drop it on Mr. Crisscross so he and the rescue rodents fry like eggs," he ordered.
"But boss, my leg hurts. I don't think I can walk anymore on it."
Fat Cat sneered nastily. "Is that any concern of mine? Now be a good little idiot and do as I say!" He smacked the smaller feline in the head and pointed to the cable.
Mepps grumbled something akin to an affirmative and limped over to the sparking wire. Grimacing as the sparks bit at his fur, he reached down and carefully picked it up, glad he was wearing gloves. Fat Cat smiled as Mepps began dragging himself over to the rescue rangers.
Chris was heartened to see that the rangers all clustered around to protect him. He knew it was useless though. He'd realized, as Chip had, that any fight now would end swiftly in the bad guys' favor. Mepps loped closer, the cable in his hands spewing sparks like a chinese dragon.
Out of the blue, a plan came to Crisscross. It was risky, but better than nothing, and he was quickly learning that plans like that were what the rescue rangers thrived on. Chris did his best to control his stutter as he addressed the ragged cat heading towards him. "Mepps, can I ask-k-k you somethin-in-in- ing?"
Mepps looked a little puzzled, but continued limping towards him. "Um, what?"
"Why are you d-d-doing this?"
"Because Fat Cat told me to."
"No, Mepps. I mean-ean, why do you do everything he-he-he tells you?"
"'Cuz if I don't, he'll hit me." Mepps kept coming.
Crisscross looked right into Mepps' eyes. What looked to everyone else like stupidity, Chris realized was tiredness. A tiredness not from lack of sleep. "So why-y-y do you l-let him hit you?"
This time, Mepps did stop. He thought about it for a while. "...I don't know."
Chip and the other rangers started to catch on. "Mepps," Chip said, "How long have you been working for Fat Cat?"
"Jeez, I dunno." He laid the cable down on the gritty concrete floor to scratch his head. Chip grinned at this little victory. "A really, really long time."
"And in all that time, has he ever done anything nice for you?" Chip asked.
Mepps thought back. He started counting off things on his fingers. "Well, he gives me food and a place to sleep and me and the other guys get to run some of the games at the casino. That's fun. And... And..." Mepps realized he'd run out of things Fat Cat had done for him before he'd run out of fingers on even one paw. He stared down at his paw quietly.
Fat Cat figured out where this was going and he did not like it one bit. "Mepps!" he roared, "I guarantee you'll be in more pain than you've ever known in your life if you don't do what I ordered you to do, which is to electrocute those rodents to death!!"
"Yes, boss," Mepps muttered. He winced as he bent over to pick up the cable again.
"Mepps, stop!" Crisscross cried out. He was surprised to see that Mepps did. He was beginning to think the part of Mepps that wanted to listen to him was peeking through. "Look a-a-a-at what he's making-ing you d-do. He's making you w-w-walk on a leg th-that c-c-could be brok-k-k-ken. He's making y-you pick up a-a-a live wi-i-ire that could k-k-k-kill you."
"And you're letting him," said Chip.
Mepps stood up without the cable. He looked over his shoulder at Fat cat's reddening, enraged face. He looked down at Chip's calm, caring face. His enemies were being nicer to him than his boss was. Now that he thought about it, they always had. His lip quivered. He thought he felt a tear in his eye. He felt like something was growing inside him.
"Fat Cat's not your friend, mate," Monterey Jack told him.
"He doesn't care about you at all," Gadget said.
"He treats you like a slave," Tammy said.
"And it's only because you let him do it," Chip stated.
The tear rolled down Mepps' dirty face. "I know..." he said softly. "I know."
Dale took a few steps toward Mepps. "I know what it's like to be treated bad because everyone thinks you're dumb. I know what it's like to be bullied just because you think you can't do anything about it." Dale took a few more steps to place a comforting paw on Mepps' leg. "But if you just stand up for yourself, it goes away pretty quick."
Mepps looked down to meet Dale's gaze. He smiled.
Fat Cat could take no more. Kicking chunks of ceiling out of his way, he barged over to where Mepps was standing and roughly spun him around. "How stupid are you? You'll just stand there and let them brainwash you?" The cat's tone became smooth and soothing. "Come now, Mepps. You know what's right and what's wrong." He talked to Mepps as one would talk to a slow kindergardener. "Those are the rescue rodents. They're our enemies. I'm your leader, your friend. Without me, you'd be nothing. You know that, Mepps. Now just do what I tell you and everything will be allright, okay?" He gave Mepps a light pat on the shoulder.
Mepps slapped Fat Cat across the face.
Time seemed to stop completely.
Fat Cat stared at Mepps in disbelief. Snout, Mole and Wart stared at Mepps in disbelief. The rangers stared at Mepps in disbelief. Chris stared at Mepps with pride. Mepps stared at Fat Cat with no discernable emotion at all.
Fat Cat brought a shaky paw up to his cheek. It felt hot there. It had really happened. "You... You hit me."
"Yes, I hit you, Fat Cat. I slapped your fat face," Mepps stated coolly.
The disbelief in Fat Cat's eyes quickly turned to vicious anger. "How DARE you!!!" he roared. "If you don't fall down at my feet and beg for forgiveness, I will tear you limb fr-"
Mepps slapped Fat Cat again. This time across the other cheek.
He smiled. It felt really good.
Before Fat Cat had time to say another word, Mepps shoved him to the ground with all his strength. He stood over Fat Cat's enormous gut and stared daggers into his eyes. Fat Cat grunted in pain. He was about to give Mepps the beating of his life when he looked up into the smaller cat's gaze. Fat Cat gulped. He'd seen Mepps angry before, but never had he seen him this angry. And he had never, ever before seen Mepps angry at him. There was something else in Mepps' eyes that frightened Fat Cat even more. Intelligence.
"I'm not going to do what you say anymore, Fat Cat," Mepps said calmly. "Did you know I was somebody before I met you? Huh? I had parents who loved me. Friends, too." He chuckled grimly. "I even had a pretty good singing voice."
Fat Cat was shaking. He'd never expected this to happen in a million years. He'd thought the hold he had over his henchmen was unbreakable. Their loyalty was the only reason he kept them around this long in the first place. "Mepps, please..."
"You made me a NOBODY, Fat Cat!!!" Mepps suddenly screamed. He swung back his good foot and kicked Fat Cat in the ribs as hard as he could. It wasn't that hard considering his injured right foot, but it certainly got his message across.
Gadget gasped. "Do you think we should do something?"
Both Monty and Chip shook their heads. "No Gadget luv, this is Mepps' time, not ours."
Mepps stared down at the shuddering, obese, weak coward at his feet. He could barely control his disgust. Not so much at Fat Cat, but at himself for allowing his life to slip completely out of his hands. "You stole away everything that made me feel good about myself. All so you could make more money and get more jewels and get fatter and richer. And yeah, I guess I am an idiot, because I let it all happen. I let you make me a nobody, Fat Cat." He paused, trembling with rage, every repressed emotion he'd had for years seeming to boil inside him. He took a deep breath. "BUT _GOD_DAMN_IT_, I AM SOMEBODY NOW!!!" Red rage screamed through every inch of Mepps' body. He lashed out, kicking and punching savagely at the cat who had stolen his life, his very soul.
It took every ounce of restraint to stand and watch Mepps attack Fat Cat and do nothing, but Chip stood firm. He knew violence was a last resort. He knew it created more problems than it ever solved. But he also knew his job was to see that justice was done. And that's what was happening now.
Surprisingly, Mepps stopped after only a few seconds. Not because his foot hurt too much to continue, but because he knew he didn't want to be like Fat Cat any more than he wanted to be like the old Mepps. He had stood up for himself. He had shown Fat Cat he wasn't a slave anymore. He had let out the hurt and anger that had been festering inside him for so long. He didn't need to do anything more. He stepped back and took a few deep breaths.
Pain covered Fat Cat's body like a spiderweb. Blood matted his fur where Mepps had used his claws. But what hurt the most was on the inside. His control was gone over Mepps. He'd lost so much precious control this evening. Control of Crisscross, of his plan, of his money, of Elwood, of the rangers, and even of his appearance. He didn't want to think about it. Too much control was gone already. He needed to know he still had some left. "Boys, help me," he wheezed. "Mepps has gone out of his mind. Help me up so I can discipline him."
Snout, Mole and Wart walked over to Fat Cat. He felt a warmth inside at this. He still had their loyalty. The two almost-smart ones and the really dumb one, but who cared? All that mattered was control.
Mepps looked to his former co-workers and somewhat-friends with a look that told them 'Yeah, I stood up to Fatty and the world didn't come to an end. You can too if you want'.
Snout looked back at Mepps and grinned a little. He bent over and extended his hand. "Sure, I'll help you up, Fat Cat."
Fat Cat reached for Snout's paw. "Thank you, my loyal henchman. I ju-OW!" Snout's laugh was hard and nasty. He'd pulled his hand away at the last second just to see Fat Cat drop back down to the ground.
"You know what, you bloated old pukesack?" said Snout. "You ain't got nothin' to offer me no more." The grungy rat leered down over Fat Cat's face. "You ain't got no money, your plan's in the dirt and you ain't even strong enough to hit me." Fat Cat's eyes widened in horror as Snout pursed his lips and spat a big, juicy loogie onto his chest. "Go ta hell, Fatty. I'm outta here." And with that, Snout walked off into the shadows of the deserted factory.
Fat Cat looked down at the wet stain on his vest. His expression was one of bitter loss. "It as a Cerutti..." he moaned. He laid his head back and sighed. He looked over to Wart. "How about you? Anything you'd like to say?"
Wart was in a quandary. His eyes shifted back and forth and he twiddled his fingers nervously. Fat Cat had always favored him above the rest of the flunkies. He'd been given more power and treated better than the rest. Still, his life was pretty much lived just to serve his boss, and Snout was right, what did Fat cat have to offer anymore? Wart's tongue darted in and out of his mouth as he tried to speak. "Uh, I... Uh, I... Um, lisssten Bossss, I don't really know what to do right now. I don't hate you or anything, but I don't think I should ssstay, either. I think I'd better jussst leave and figure thisss out later. Bye bye." And with that, Wart turned and ran off, stumbling occasionally, until the shadows covered him from view.
Fat Cat stared blankly up through the hole in the ceiling. The light bit his eyes a little, but he didn't care enough to move his head. His breathing was slow and wheezy. He slowly reached into his tattered pocket for his emergency stash of catnip. Then he started to softly cry when he realized he'd already used it. His eyes slid shut and the noises around him gradually faded. He drifted into a deep sleep, some part of him convinced he would wake up later and it all would just go away.
The whole time the mutiny had been going on, Mole had simply stood and stared. He didn't know what the heck was going on, but Mepps had beat up Fat Cat and the other guys had run off; that much he was pretty sure of. And he knew he'd fallen through the floor, too. He bit his fingernails, thinking hard of what he should do next.
"Hey, Mole," Mepps called to him.
"Duh, yeah, Mepps?"
"Tell you what. I'll give you a candy bar if you help me drag Crisscross out of here."
That got his attention. "A candy bar? Okay!"
Mepps grinned a little. "Heck, I'll get you as many of 'em as you like."
Mole clasped his paws in anticipation. "Really? You really will?"
Mepps limped over and patted him on the back. "Sure, Mole. Grab Crisscross' bottom half over there and we'll go get them candy bars."
"Okay, Mepps." Mole smiled and even hummed a little to himself as he waddled over and picked up Chris' lower body. Mepps walked over and hefted the fox's top half into his arms. He looked down at the rangers, smiling. "C'mon. I'll help you guys get out of here."
Chip couldn't help but smile too. And not just because Tammy was holding his hand. He'd wondered when this day would come, or if it ever would. The day Fat Cat's minions finally revolted. He was glad he'd been there to see it. The whole time he and the rangers had been fighting against Fat Cat, Chip couldn't help but feel sorry for his henchmen, for Mepps and Mole especially. He could see they didn't really want to be evil, they just didn't think they had a choice. He knew he'd have to thank Crisscross later for coming up with the idea to help them see on their own that Fat Cat had hurt them more than he'd ever helped.
Chip wondered what would happen to Fat Cat now. Now that his entire criminal empire lay in ruins, where could he go from this point? Chip felt pretty sure though, that somehow he'd find a way to build it back up again. Chip was also fairly sure that Wart would come back to him, probably sometime soon. He wasn't sure about Snout, and he truly hoped Mole wouldn't. But Mepps, he knew, had gone for good, in every way that could be said.
Everything about Mepps had changed. When he'd looked down at Chip, the cat's smile was soft and content. His eyes sparkled with the thoughts of his new life ahead of him. He even seemed to be walking different. Straighter, prouder, even despite the limp. Mole didn't seem to be any different, but Chip hoped that would change with time as well.
Crisscross' smile was beaming. Everything had turned out even better than he'd planned it. Everyone had gotten just what they deserved. Fat Cat had lost it all. Mepps had gained his freedom. Tammy had proved herself to be a true rescue ranger. She and Chip had gotten each other. And even the fact that he'd been ripped to shreds wasn't all bad. Crisscross smiled dreamily at the thought of all the hours Gadget would soon be spending repairing him and giggled devilishly.
Mepps led the rangers to a wide loading dock door and flipped the switch to open it. The metal groaned above them and the door inched upwards, a light sprinkling of rust flakes preceeding it. Sunlight spilled in through the crack. Looking out, they saw that the sun was almost done rising. The new orange light peeked out from behind the tall black buildings. The streets were silent except for an occasional birdsong or a far off car engine rumble.
"Thanks for helping us out, Mepps," Tammy said.
Mepps leaned over and gently shook her paw. "I should be thanking you guys. You helped me see who my real enemy was."
"I alwa-wa-wa-ways knew y-you weren't that b-b-b-bad a g-guy," Crisscross said from under his arm. He looked up to Mepps' face. "I f-f-figured you ju-ju- just nee-ee-eeded a little help reali-i-i-i-izing it."
Mepps scritched Chris behind the ears. "Thanks." He looked down to the rescue rangers gathered around him. He couldn't help but think back to all the awful things he and the other goons had done to them, or tried to do. "Um, I want to say I'm sorry for all the mean stuff I did to you all this time, rescue rangers."
Monty waved it away. "No hard feelings here, bucko."
"Yeah," Chip added, "Our fight was with Fat Cat, not you."
Dale piped up too. "And I can't think of anything you ever did to us that couldn't be blamed on ol' Fatty anyway."
Mepps smiled warmly at hearing that. "That means a lot to me. And I don't hold a grudge either for all those times you guys tied me up." They all chuckled a bit at this. "So, um, you guys need any help doing anything?"
"You c-c-could carry-ry-ry-ry me back-k to the j-j-junkya-yard," Chris said.
"Sure, Chris," Mepps replied. The group started off for Chris' home and their new HQ, Crisscross giving directions occasionally, or at least trying to.
About halfway there, Mole leaned close to Mepps and tapped his shoulder. He motioned to bring his ear closer so he could whisper something. Curious, Mepps bent down. "What is it, Mole."
"I just realized something!" Mole husked. "Those are the rescue rangers!"
Mepps waited for Mole to say something more. "And..."
"Aren't we sposto be beating them up?"
Chris couldn't help but overhear this conversation and he chuckled under his breath.
"Do you want to beat them up, Mole?" Mepps asked.
Mole thought about this a bit. "Hmmm. No, I guess not. They're kinda cute, ac'shally. But Fat Cat always said we should."
Mepps patted his former partner in crime on the shoulder. "Mole, we don't have to do anything he says ever again!"
Mole's eyes widened. "Really?"
"That's good. I was gettin' sick of stealin' stuff and getting beat up all the time." His gaze narrowed, as much as that was possible for his already squinty eyes. "Say... I don't have to steal anything to get those candy bars you promised, do I?"
Mepps chuckled and gave Mole a couple reassuring pats on the back. "Not at all. From now on, neither of us has to do any more bad stuff ever again."
Mole smiled broadly at this. He shifted his grip on Crisscross' hind end and followed after Mepps. He liked how the breaking sunlight warmed the concrete under his feet. Something felt different about everything around him already. He couldn't tell what exactly, but he knew he liked it.
Crisscross Alexander Flaversham Journal entry #257
About a day has already passed since yesterday's adventures. Things are starting to get back to normal around here, as ridiculous a concept that is when dealing with the rescue rangers, I've found.
I've been inside the house since yesterday morning. It's dark out now. Gadget's been working on me all day, and it's as wonderful as I expected! The feeling of her crawling around in my wires is so romantic. Unfortunately, it's also incredibly tickly and it's hard not to burst out laughing sometimes! She's gotten my stutter under control already, stopped my twitching, says my sense of smell should be working properly by tomorrow and has hooked up the wires from by front end to my back so I can finally stretch my hind legs again. She tells me she's 99.6% certain she'll be able to fix me up as good as new within a week.
She says she even has some ideas on how to improve me, including a possible hydraulic separation system she could whip up so I could split down the middle at will. This would let the rangers get in and out of me quicker without me having to swallow them and then puke them up all the time. Even I feel a little uncomfortable doing that! She's also made some allusions to an idea she's been tossing around in her head all day. Something about making the ranger plane obsolete. I'm both curious and a little fearful at the same time.
In other news, After I learned of Dale's birthday, I told him he could use my Numbmindo anytime he wanted, day or night, as sort of a belated gift. Foxglove wasn't too happy about this at first. However, when he started teaching her how to play, she was getting into it as much as he was. She even beat him three times playing Crash Platypus!
Also, I was a little peeved at first when Tammy told me she'd ripped up my outdoor speaker, but when she told me why she'd had to do it, both Chip and I complimented her on her quick thinking. Add to that the praise she got when she described to Gadget how she'd built the chainsaw-mobile, and you get one happy squirrel bouncing around the place!
Speaking of happy squirrels, Tammy and Chip's relationship seems to be coming along nicely. I had a hunch from the first time I saw them together that they'd make a good couple. Using my heat sensors, I can see them up in ranger headquarters now. Tammy looks like she's trying to set a new worlds record for continuous cuddling! I can't *wait* to see them break the news to her mother. If she's as 'Donna Reed' as I've heard, I just might get to see an actual hissy fit!
As for our battle scars, everyone's doing fine. I definitely caught the worst of it. The rangers and Mimi all have a few bruises and scrapes from when the floor broke through, but that's about it. Zipper's leg is doing well, too. I x-rayed it and didn't see any cracks in his exoskeleton. He's going to stay off of it for a few more days just to be sure and, since he's got wings, that shouldn't be too hard.
Gadget told me her tail was sore so I gave it a massage and threw in a back rub too. She seemed to enjoy it as much as I did! I think she's really warming up to me. It still feels a little too soon to throw myself at her feet and beg for her hand in marriage (and considering the difference in our sizes, I don't think I could do that anyway! ;D ), but when the time is right I am going to tell her how I feel about her.
If I had a crush on her before, I know it's love now. Gadget is the most beautiful girl I've ever laid eyes on. Her blue eyes are gorgeous. Her voice is melodic and filled with joy. Her figure is flawless and, I confess, I'd give anything to nibble playfully on her tasty-looking l'il ears and feet! Me naughty little foxie!
And we have so much in common, too! We're both helpful, caring, energetic and, I'll admit, more than a little scatterbrained. We both love inventing, '80s music, the taste of motor oil, Technophile magazine, sci-fi books, strawberry cake... She was a little surprised at that last one. When I showed her how I can convert most types of food into a lubricant for my joints, she was really impressed! I guess technically, Arthur deserves the credit. But I definitely don't mind accepting it on his behalf!
Enough Hackwrench worship for now. The main reason I'm writing is because of something that happened a few moments ago. All the rangers were up in headquarters watching TV. They asked if I wanted to watch with them and I reminded them that even in my current dilapidated state, I still get all the local, cable and premium channels right up in my brain. That, and I was kinda in the mood to just be alone for a while and watch the stars through the open washing machine door. Stargazing is another thing Gadget and I both enjoy. The fact that no matter what crazy stuff happens down here, they're always up there right where they should be, has always had a calming effect on me.
Anyway, I was starting to think about shutting down and recharging for the night when a familiar face popped into view. It was Mepps! I barely recognized him at first. His fur was clean and combed, he had on new clothes, he'd even gotten his whiskers straightened! I was very impressed.
For a while we just looked at each other. He seemed to be searching for something to say. Finally, he told me he'd just stopped by to say thanks again. I told him that knowing he was doing allright was all the thanks I needed. He smiled at that. He's got a nice smile, actually. I never got to see it much when he was still working for King Tubbo. We chatted for a bit. He said he'd found a human family to live with and that Mole was doing fine too. We said our goodbyes and he left for home.
I tell you, after all the years of being forced to do such terrible things, knowing how much I helped Mepps makes me feel better inside than I think I've ever felt before. Knowing that I'll soon be helping people like that every day of my life fills me with happiness. My future with the rescue rangers looks to be more wonderful and exciting than I can even begin to imagine.
More to come tomorrow; same fox time, same fox channel.
Disclaimer: Chip 'n Dale's Rescue Rangers and all related stuff are copyrighted and owned by Walt Disney Co. This story is not meant as infringement of any sort, merely as fun for me. I am making no money from this, please don't sue me, yadda yadda yadda. Crisscross Alexander Flaversham is copyright me, except for his last name which Disney also owns. Mimi is copyright me, too. Although Warner Brothers will still try to sue me anyway. I just can't win.
This story is dedicated to George "Vornoff" Nelson and Natasha "Grand High Page Maintainer Lady" Kashefipour. To Vornoff because without his help, this story, and "Little Fangs" too, would never have made it to the internet, and also because he's a heck of a fun conversationalist. To Tashie because she has the coolest-sounding name I've ever heard and, well, you know the other reasons. ;) And to Jeff Parks, The Boy Of Destiny, for the sweet deal on the ranger videos.
Note to all you continuity buffs out there: "Little Fangs", my previous RR fan fic, was originally supposed to take place after this story. Looking back, I guess it doesn't matter that much either way. The only reason "Little Fangs" came out first was that I was too darn lazy to finish this one on time.
CRISSCROSS: I'll say! I can't believe you made me wait this long for my fan fiction debut! I oughtta bite you.
ME: You want I should have you chopped in half down the other axis in the next story?
CRISSCROSS: *gulp* I'll be good.
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