Ready... Aim... FIRE!!!

A Chip N' Dale's Rescue Rangers story by Morgan Kohl

Chapter Six: Who Is Pyro?

"Okay, this is the last time I'm telling you," Dale said in an incredibly exasperated voice. "Tenchi Masaki and his pervy father and wise grandfather live in Japan near a big shrine, where some demon's been imprisoned in a cave for a whole buncha years and one day Tenchi, who has the worst luck in the world, wakes up this demon, who's actually a sexy space pirate named Ryoko, who gets the hots for him immediately and then a big spaceship made out of a tree crashes in the forest with Princess Ayeka on board, who hates Ryoko and is really stuck up, along with her two wooden robot servants Azaka and Kamadaki, and her little sister Sasami, who's really cute and has green hair and some spooky telepathic link to the ship's computer, Tsunami, and they're from the planet Jurai, which Ryoko totally trashed a really long time ago, so Ayeka hates Ryoko, but mostly because she has the hots for Tenchi too, and then Mihoshi, a bubbly blonde airhead from the Galaxy Police, shows up on the trail of Ryoko and they all end up fighting this really mean interstellar criminal, Kaguto, in Ryoko's spaceship, Ryo-ohki, who can turn into this really cute furry thing called a cabbit; part cat, part rabbit, that eats a lot of carrots, and while Tenchi fights Kaguto with the legendary Lighthawk Wings, they end up releasing Washu, the greatest genius scientist in the universe (besides Gadget) who's 12,000 years old but chooses to look like she's thirteen, and she has the hots for Tenchi also and then somehow Mihoshi's straightlaced partner Keyone comes into the picture, and it's a really, really funny and cool show. Do you understand now, Foxglove?"

Foxglove stared at him as if he was speaking in tongues. "Not a word, darling."

Dale slapped his forehead in frustration. "What's not to understand?!?"

The rangers sat atop Crisscross' back on their way to ranger headquarters. They hoped to meet up with Chip's team and see if they'd had any better luck. Their harrowing escape from the blazing warehouse was already in the past, since the rangers and Widget all faced imminent death at least three times a week and by now it wasn't that big of a deal anymore.

Wait, wasn't it Washu that they found in the cave?" Widget asked.

We're talking about the OVA series of Tenchi Muyo," Dale explained.

"Oh," said Widget. "I am fond of Ryoko's character, but on the whole I prefer 'Battle Angel Alita'."

"Meener neener doodoo wah!" Gimcrack exclaimed exuberantly.

Gadget sat quietly on one of Chris' shoulder blades, thinking of just about everything at once, when something caught her eye. "Look over there guys!" She pointed across the street, where a thin plume of black smoke was steadily rising into the sky. "It could be another fire!"

"Dang, this Pyro guy's keepin' us busy!" Crisscross grumbled. He headed off in the smoke's direction; Washington street. When he turned the corner, they could all see that the fire was coming from somewhere in the parking lot. Chris sped up, suddenly getting a feeling that someone was hurt.

The monolithic station wagon loomed into view. But now its color had gone from grey to black. The body had become a charred ruin. Flames rose out of the shattered windows and gathered in a flickering pyre on the roof. Amazingly enough, the car had actually become uglier. "Looks like our friend's handiwork, eh?" Chris said.

"Hey, this is one of Rat Capone's hideouts!" Foxglove remembered.

'Maybe he was in it!' Gadget thought to herself with a nasty smile. She sternly reprimanded herself for thinking such a mean thing. Even though he was a completely repulsive, obnoxious and sleazy rat, she was a rescue ranger in her heart and wouldn't wish harm on anyone. She wondered if Widget was being a bad influence on her somehow.

Chris circled the car. When he came to the opposite side, he gasped at the sight before him. The four other rangers were laid out, singed and unmoving, on the concrete a foot from the burning station wagon.

"Chip!!!" Dale screamed in terror and ran to his best friend's side. His fur was burned all over and he was barely breathing. The others quickly gathered around their fallen friends and tried their best to revive them.

Luckily, they were just stunned, as Foxglove had been. With a little help, Monterey, Tammy, Zipper and Chip were back on their feet within a few minutes. The reunited group rested in the shade of a nearby suv.

"Golly, what happened to you guys?!" Gadget asked, deep concern in her soft voice.

Monterey shook his head clear. He looked up and did a double take. Crisscross didn't have any fur! The foxbot's shiny metal, plastic and chrome body glittered in the sunlight, looking like a cute version of the Terminator. "Crikey! What happened to YOU?!?"

"You guys go first," Chris said.

"No, it's okay, you go first," Chip insisted.

"No, you go first," Foxglove suggested.

"No, no. You go first," Tammy said.

"No, I wanna hear what happened to you guys first," Dale said.

"You guys can go first," Zipper offered.

"I'LL GO FIRST!" Widget bellowed in annoyance.

Everyone shut up.

"That's better," Widget said, her voice returning to normal. "We chased Pyro into a warehouse, but he'd laid a trap for us. The place was soaked in gas and he almost burned us to death."

"But Crisscross saved us!" Foxy said, giving the fox's front leg a hug. He chuckled modestly. "We went into his tummy and he got us all out of there."

"Did all your fur get burned off in the fire?" Tammy asked Chris worriedly.

"No, nothing like that," the fox explained "I just took it off and swallowed it. I had to make sure it didn't get burned 'cause It's not like I can just go to a tailor and get a new one."

"You really did a great job of getting us out of there, Chris," Gadget told him. "I was watching on your inside screen how you leapt up between those pipes to reach the ceiling. You were like a billiard ball!"

Then she winked at him! 'Was that flirting?' Chris dared to hope.

Gadget grimaced in pain and rubbed her eye. "Darn all this ash in the air!"

'Apparently not,' Crisscross realized with dissapointment.

"I've never seen you without your fur before, Crisscross," Tammy said. "You look really cool!"

This brightened him up a little. "Thanks! And that reminds me..." Chris opened his mouth wide, coughed as hard as he could, and regurgitated his fur onto the pavement.

"Eeeew!" Tammy exclaimed.

"Now THAT'S a hairball!" Monterey noted with a laugh.

Crisscross wriggled his circuit-inlaid rubber skin on surprisingly quickly and then he was back to looking just like a real fox. He turned to Chip. "Okay, your turn now. Did Pyro ambush you too?"

"I hate to admit it, but yes," Chip grumbled. "He roasted four other crime hotspots besides Fat Cat's place this morning, and he's probably done a whole lot more that we don't know about yet. He left this one alone on purpose so we'd check it out. The whole place was wired and ready to blow and I never noticed it." Chip paused to brush some soot from his fur. "He was probably waiting for us to show up with the remote in his hand the whole time. We took the bait and fell right into the trap like a bunch of idiots," Chip's tone was deeply bitter. He'd underestimated his foe way too much every step of the way. Pyro was making a fool of him and he couldn't stand it.

Tammy put her head on Chip's shoulder. She reached up to skritch behind his ears, which did help him calm down a little. "Oh Chipper, don't feel so bad. It wasn't your fault. None of us saw it coming." She then smooched him on the cheek. "And then you were so brave when you pulled us all from the fire!" She sighed in a 'my hero!' kind of way.

A puzzled expression sprang up on Chip's face. "Huh? I didn't pull anyone out."

Tammy looked puzzled then. "Of course you did! I remember waking up for a second and seeing you dragging me out of the car and then going back in for Monty and Zipper. At least I saw _someone_."

"Tammy, it was not me you saw, I'm sure of it" Chip looked over at Monterey. "Was it you then?"

The Aussie mouse shook his head. "Not me, mate. And I'm pretty sure we can rule out Zipper too." While Zipper was pretty darn strong for a fly, he'd be the first to admit that pulling three mammals from a burning car wreck was impossible for someone his size.

"Looks like someone was watching out for you guys," Foxglove said.

"Looks like it," Chip agreed. He wondered who their anonymous good samaritan could be. And why they'd chosen to remain anonymous.

He stood up, brushed the ash from his jacket and assumed the role of leader again. "The best thing now would be to get back to HQ and compare our findings." He gave Widget a comradely pat on the arm. "I'm sure you've got lots to tell us!" he said, hoping that they actually did, considering how he hadn't found out anything.

"I'm sure you do too, Chip." Widget replied, hoping that he actually did, considering how she hadn't found out anything.

* * *

"NOTHING?" Chip shouted. "The five of you talked to every person in the area and nobody saw *anything*?!?"

The eight rangers and their two temporary members were clustered around the table in HQ's main room. Crisscross stood outside and had his head stuck in through a window. Monty stood to the side, Zipper seated on his shoulder. Dale and Foxy perched themselves on the back of the couch. The rest sat in chairs around the table.

Gadget sighed defeatedly. "No, Chip. We didn't find out a gosh darn thing."

"Looks like you didn't either," Widget said in a nastier tone than she'd really intended.

Chip stood up defensively. "Hey, we found plenty!"

"Like what? That Pyro's obviously smarter than all of us combined and that he's just playing with us?!" Widget countered bitterly.

"Looks that way, unfortunately," Tammy said.

"And he sure is a rude blighter," Monterey added.

"And we know for sure he wasn't bluffing," Chris said.

"But does any of this help us? No!" Chip growled and crossed his arms angrily. This case was beginning to become more than aggrivating. It was eating at him now. It made him feel like a bad detective; made him feel stupid. He knew he shouldn't take this personally, but emotions have never listened to reason.

Zipper tried to douse the group's flames a little. "Well, okay. So it's not going well. But it's not like we don't know anything at all. We know he's quick and good at what he does. And we also know that he's got a knack for pushing people's buttons."

"Bloo blee wa wa smoo!" Gimcrack said, apparently in agreement.

Tammy snapped her fingers. "And we know his name, too!" she remembered.

"How'd you guys figure that out?" Chris asked.

"We gave our old friend Trackball a visit," Monterey explained. "Too rah loo, is that shiela ever a wizard on a computer! Chippah had a hunch about a nut who flew over the cuckoo's nest a while back. Trackball found 'is medical records like *that*." He snapped his fingers for emphasis. "Turns out he and Pyro are one and the same!"

"Golly, Chip, do you still have those records?" Gadget asked. "They might be a big help to us now."

"There could be something in there that could help us find him," Foxglove said.

Chip rustled around inside his jacket. "Yeah, I had her print me up a copy. Should be in here somew...Aha!" Chip pulled out the pages which luckily had escaped the fire untouched. Chip laid them on the table. "I'm not sure if they'll do us any good though." Gadget picked them up and flipped through. Chip told the others a summary of what the files said about Bernie Withers and his insatiable lust for fire. Gadget passed the files to Tammy on her left, who held them up for Chris to see when she'd finished. Monterey and Zipper skimmed them over next and passed them on. The files were in Widget's hands now, and she studied them carefully.

"Based on what's there," Chip said, "all we know is who he is, not where. There's a thousand and one places he could be. Admittedly, his appearance is kinda weird, so I imagine he avoids crowds. But downtown has dozens of closed shops. He could be in any one, along with who knows how much firepower. I think our only hope at this point is to do a sweep in the rangerplane; starting with any other criminal hideout we haven't covered yet. We might catch him in the act if we're lucky. It might also be a good idea to ask around at anyplace where flammable materials are sold in bulk. Fireworks stands maybe, and anywhere that carries large-"

"It's not him," Widget stated clearly.

All talk stopped. The rangers turned to stare at her.

"What did you say?" Chip asked quietly.

"Bernie Withers is not Pyro," said the grey mouse with 100% conviction in her voice.

"Not pie wo," Gimcrack repeated solemnly.

"How in the world did you figure that out? You only looked at the records for a few seconds!" Zipper asked incredulously.

Widget leaned back in her chair. "If you put Trackball in a room with four other mice, and three of them were actually crippled, and one was just sitting in a wheelchair, I'll bet my arm she'd be able to find him in five seconds."

What does that have to do with Pyro, sis?" Gadget asked.

"It has to do with albinism. I'm one, so is Pyro. Bernie withers isn't. He may have white fur, but that's because he's been burned so many times and inhaled so much chemicals, his fur has stopped producing pigment. What clinches it is his eyes. All pure albinos have pink eyes. The insufferable son of a-"

Chip gave her a look.

Widget corrected herself. "The _jerk_, we saw at the bomb site had eyes pink as a cat's intestines. But if you look at these pictures," which she pointed to, "You'll see that Bernie Withers's eyes are..."

"Dark brown." Chip finished for her, a little in awe of Widget's deduction.

"Good thinking there, sis!" Gadget congratulated her.

Widget's small smile filled with pride.

"Ever consider joining the rangers?" Dale asked. "We could always use another smart person!"

Widget declined the offer. "I could never give up the sea. Never in a million years. And Juergen would miss me too."

"Hey, I just thought of something!" Tammy shouted. "You guys all saw Pyro; how did he move?"

"Like a bloomin' ballet dancer!" Monty said.

"Yeah, he was all over the place, jumpin' around on stuff," said Dale.

"Okay than, now we really know Bernie's not the one we want!" Tammy said triumphantly.

"How so?" Chris asked.

"The report says Bernie hardly ever moved for over three years. After all that time, his muscles would have applo... apro... Oh, what's the word where they get useless?"

"Atrophied?" Gadget guessed.

"That's it!" Tammy said. "His muscles would have atrophied. But when you saw Pyro, he was jumping around."

"Right!" Chip said. "There's no way he could have gotten that much flexibility back since the time that he escaped! He'd probably still be limping now." Chip suddenly grabbed Tammy and smooched her passionately on the lips. "Tammy, you're a genius!"

The young squirrel's head spun in bliss. Chip had actually kissed her first! She felt like volcanoes and fireworks were going off all around her. She squeezed Chip with all the love she could give. She kissed his fluffy cheekfur, then looked lovingly into his dark eyes. "Well, Chipper, I learned everything I know from you." And the two of them kissed again amid good-natured wolf whistles from the others.

"Okay, so now we know that Pyro and Bernie are two separate squirrels," said Crisscross. "This leaves us with a mystery then; who is Pyro really?"

"If he is a real albino, he shouldn't be too hard to find," Zipper hypothesized.

Widget looked a bit miffed at that. "It's not like we're tagged with radio collars. I mean, look at how many albino mice there are. A few rearranged genes and Gadget would probably be one too. There's more of us than you think."

Dale suddenly jumped off the couch and pointed dramatically in the air. "I know who he is!" he shouted.

"Who?!?" the others asked eagerly.

All eyes were on him, even Gimcrack's. Dale smirked. "Keyser Soze," he said matter-of-factly.

The rangers snickered. Then guffawed. Then flat out burst into laughter; falling over themselves in hilarity. Widget even chuckled in the back of her throat. The joke was like magic. They'd all been way too keyed-up by the case. The mood in the room was thick with frustration, anger and self-doubt. A good injection of silliness was just what everyone needed. And when they'd finished sitting up and wiping their eyes, all of them felt much, much better. Lighter, in a way.

"Well if that's true," Monterey said, grinning, "Then who is Keyser Soze, Mr. Smartypants?"

Dale shrugged his shoulders. "How am I supposed to know?!?" This brought fresh batches of giggles to the table.

The laughter managed to break up a mental block in Chip's mind. Out of the blue, he was suddenly hit upside the head by The Wet Fish Of Inspiration. "Waitaminnit! What if it's not Pyro we're after after all!"

"What do you mean?" asked Foxglove.

"Got a hunch, dearheart?" asked Tammy.

"I sure do! Listen; I don't think Pyro's working on his own. I mean first off, isn't it just a bit coincidental that Bernie escapes and then a week later a crazed albino pyromaniac squirrel shows up and starts terrorizing the city?"

"But we know they're not the same person," Foxy said.

"Exactly! I think somebody wants us to think they are though."

"Obviously, but why...?" asked Chris.

"Maybe to cover up something even bigger than arson. It's a perfect cover; make a vilain out of someone so obvious that no one would ever consider anyone else as a suspect," Chip hypothesized. "Ya know, I bet Bernie didn't even escape. I bet someone broke him out. If he'd sat like a rock for three years without moving a muscle, why would he suddenly decide to make a break for it now?"

"Maybe he got sick of the food?" Dale joked.

"If it's anything like regular hospital food, I'd blow up a wall, too," Widget said, remembering the nauseating gunk they'd forced her to eat when she'd had Gimcrack.

"You'd blow up a wall for fun!" Gadget said with a chuckle.

She shrugged. "Got me there, sis."

Gadget smiled, glad to see that Widget was relaxed enough to joke casually. She was usually so dark and solemn. Gadget truly worried about her sister sometimes. She guessed that family life had mellowed her a bit. Not too much, though. She was still the dark to her light, like yin and yang. Gadget wouldn't want it to be any different. Widget was infinitely special and fascinating in her own ways. And even though they'd tried to kill each other, they were still sisters. Widget might never have admitted it, but Gadget knew her sister cared about her as much as she cared about Widget.

Widget's comment stirred something else in Chip's mind. "Tammy, I want you to go call Cleckly Hill. The number's at the bottom of the report."

"What do you want me to ask, Chipper?"

Chip looked her straight in the eye. "Repeat this exact question; when Bernie Withers' cell blew up, was the debris mostly inside or outside the cell?"

Tammy saluted and hurried over to the phone, which Gadget had made out of a cell phone's guts and some toaster wires.

"Lemme make sure I'm gettin' this," Monterey said. "You think somebody kidnapped Bernie and then had someone else dress up in tights and go blow things up so we'd _think_ it was Bernie acting on his own?"

"A 'lone gunman'," Dale said conspiritorially.

Chip made a gun with his fingers and 'bang'ed at Dale, who reeled and fell to the floor in a melodramatic fashion. "You got it."

"Why go to all the trouble?" asked Foxglove. "This is an awfully big charade, if that's what it is."

"This is the part that I hate to even think about. I'm guessing that their ulterior purpose is much bigger and much worse than just arson."

"What could be bigger and worse than knocking off other criminal's hideouts and trying to take over their territiory?" Chris asked.

Chip shook his head. "I don't know. I almost don't want to find out. It's gotta be huge though. Looking back, Pyro couldn't have done all those arsons himself. Someone had to be helping him."

"I think you're right," Gadget agreed. "I mean, we were both exploded at roughly the same time. And he couldn't have been both places at once. Unless there was some sort of anomaly in the space time continuum, or something."

"Add to that at least four other fires that were set in different places all over the city, all in the space between the office building bombing and our attacks," Chip said. "It's just not possible! Nobody's that quick!"

"Chip! I got the hospital on the phone!" Tammy called out from the other side of the room.

"Great! Did you ask them about the debris?"

"They said it was all over the place. Some in the cell, some outside."

Chip's expectant smile fell.

"But they did say there were scorch marks on the inside of the cell. Big black ones. And none outside."

Chip's smile boomeranged back. "Yes! I was right!"

"Did they find any lumps of melted metal?" Gadget called out.

Widget glanced up and smiled as Tammy frowned and repeated the question.

"Yes," the squirrel said back. "Inside the cell."

"Improvised Monroe-effect," Widget nodded.

"A shaped charge set outside the cell," Gadget translated.

The something that she'd been unable to remember was suddenly buzzing at full volume inside Widget's head again. 'Hot enough to scorch the walls, but controlled enough that the bulk of the debris didn't follow... Add in the Monroe-effect...' Her bright pink eyes snapped open. Urgency filled them. She was right on the tip of figuring it out! "Get the bomb fragments!" She screamed. "I need to see them NOW!!!"

Her voice was like the command of the gods. The other rangers were so startled, they couldn't help but rush the fragments to the table in the blink of an eye. Widget ripped open the ziploc bag and poured the whole collection of burnt metal on the table, sending up a poof of soot. Tammy said thank you and hung up. She joined the rest of the rangers around the table as they watched Widget furiously clawing through the pile, tossing some pieces over her shoulders and gathering others before her.

Within a minute, Wdget had separated out every piece that had the tiny writing on it. She spread them out before her:


Widget stared at them, understanding them as well as she would Egyptian hieroglyphs. She knew it spelled something, and her brain knew what it was. If she could just piece the words together, everything would fall into place. She was sure of it. Her entire world became six broken pieces of metal.

"What does it say?" Foxglove asked.

"That's what I'm trying to figure out," Widget said coarsely. She nibbled on her index finger in deep thought.

Gimcrack stared at the pieces too.

"Dale can figure it out!" the pink bat said. She grabbed her lover in her wings and thrust him forward. "My cutie's great at puzzles like this."

Dale chuckled modestly. "I do like crosswords." He looked at the letters and did his best to read their hidden message. "I't's not 'Gribbish', I can tell ya that," Dale said confidently. He perused the peices with all his mental might. "Hmm, that 'ND' could be part of a word, like 'underpants', but look at that little bump after it. I think it's a period. I think that's the abbreviation for industries."

"I, N, D. Makes sense, Dale," Chip said.

"Then the rest of it is the name of a company," Gadget added.

They took out the ND. and were left with:


"That one looks like a 'D' broken in half," Tammy said, pointing to the ')E'.

"It is," Widget agreed. "D. E."

"Could the R in ROI be a broken off 'B'?" Monterey asked. "There is a chunk missing."

"No, look at the way the line connects in the middle. That's an 'R'." Zipper said.

"That line in that one must be an 'A'," Dale said, pointing to the 'R/', or rather the 'RA'.
Now it was:


"Ucks lack dee roy rah?" Tammy said, trying to sound it out.

"I don't think that's the right order," Crisscross said.

"Right. How many words do you know that begin with 'UX'?" said Chip.

"Uxorious." Gadget stated. The others stared at her, impressed with how quickly she'd come up with it. "It means being obsessively fond of one's wife. Look it up if you want. Actually, I'm not quite sure why I know that..."

Dale gave Foxy a nudge. "Uxorious, eh? Sounds like me!"

Foxy giggled and nuzzled him. "But I'm not your wife, cutie."

"Not *yet*." Dale corrected with a suggestive eyebrow wiggle. This precipatated an intense round of kissing.

"Okay, but still, I can't think of any business that'd call itself Uxorious Industries," Crisscross said. "And the ROI doesn't line up then."

Dale managed to tear himself away from the bat-shaped cuddle machine that was trying to attach itself to his face. "Could be the end of a word then. Some 'o' sounds are spelled 'aux'."

"Like Faux pas!" Tammy said.

That mention of the aux 'o' sound triggered some neuron in Widget's brain that hadn't been fired in decades. Her face became even whiter in horror. Her hands flew at the pieces, suddenly rearranging them thusly:


"GET ME A PEN!" she screamed. The rangers slinked away from her. She looked as if she was possesed. She stood still as stone, staring at the letters as if she wanted to burn holes in them with her gaze. Her eyes were wide open in some unidentifiable emotion that was obviously one of the worse ones. She wasn't even blinking.

Dale found a purple crayon in his pocket and gingerly handed it to Widget. She snatched it away with the savage swiftness of a hawk's talons. She slammed the crayon's point into the table between the pieces and filed in the missing letters. She stared at the name before her. That evil, evil name.



"NO!!! YOU BASTARD!!!" Her scream was louder than a gunshot.

Widget grabbed the chair she'd been sitting on and tore it in half with her bare hands. Her rage almost seemed to ignite her in flames. The rangers backed swiftly away and cowered behind furniture.

Widget braced herself over the table. Her chest heaved. Gimcrack looked up to her with worry in his eyes.

The grey mouse looked up at the rangers. A rage was in her gaze that hurt to behold. The rangers as one shrank back. No one had ever seen her this angry before. And lived.

"I know who we're after," she said in a low, hurt voice.

The words on the table now read:


Chapter Seven: A Clouded Past Becomes Clearer

"Widget, please, stop crying," Gadget said softly.

But she couldn't. The memory she had tried so very hard to blot out was back. It raged inside her mind like a brain typhoon. She couldn't stop seeing his face. That awful, awful smile. It was the one time in her life that she'd truly lost every ounce of control and dignity.

"Please sis," Gadget pleaded. "I want to help you. Tell me what's wrong." She skootched closer to her on the bed and put her arm around her sister's shoulders. After her outburst, Gadget had handed Gimcrack to Dale and Foxglove and led Widget to her room. Widget hadn't stopped weeping since the door had shut. Gadget held out a tissue to her.

The grey mouse lifted her head to look into her sister's blue eyes. Hers were red with tears, her whites turned the same color as her irises. Her tears glistened on her cheeks in the late afternoon sun that trickled through the window behind them. "I'm still not used to people caring about me. Thank you, Gadget." She accepted the tissue and did her best to dry her eyes.

Widget gathered her courage and began her story. "You remember my mother, right? Or rather, the woman who called herself that," Widget asked. Gadget nodded. "How we lived in the city's cesspool, and how she used to use me for panhandling? How I hated her, and how I still do. I'll never stop hating her. Even though I know she's dead, it doesn't take away any of the pain."

Gadget gave her an extra squeeze, to reinforce that those days were over and that she was with her now. Her fur squeaked a little as it rubbed across Widget's rubber wetsuit.

"For most of my childhood, I suffered in silence. I even blamed myself. I thought that I was bad for being deformed, that I deserved my life. But I grew older and I started to rebel in my thoughts. That's when I started to hate.

"One day, she was being more hideous than usual. She'd been drinking all day, and I hadn't come home with enough money to suit her. She beat me. She hit me with her fists and yelled at me. She said I'd always live like this. That I could never be pretty. That I would always be an ugly cripple.

"But what hurt most was when she said that I'd never be any better than her."

Widget paused and steeled herself. The words still hurt like a bullet through the heart. She had to fight to convince herself that it wasn't true.

Gadget was about to say something to try to console her, but Widget started her story again.

"I ran away. I didn't care where. I ran for hours. I'm not even sure where I ended up, but when I did stop finally to catch my breath, I got my first look at him." That last word was spat out like a mouthful of poison.

"The person whose name was on the bomb?" asked Gadget. "Deveraux Delacroix?"

Widget shuddered. "Do not say that again. It hurts enough telling you this. Every time I hear or see that name, it feels like I'm dying."

Gadget nodded. "I'm sorry."

Widget took a deep breath and continued. "He was standing there like he'd been waiting for me. He was thin for a chipmunk. And tall. He was wearing a suit that was all purple. He came over to me and asked if I needed any help. I told him no, of course, but he could tell from my clothes and my stump that I lived off the streets. He offered me a meal and I needed it. So I went with him." How many times had she looked in the mirror and slapped herself across the face for making that decision?

"He took me to where he worked. He sold guns. He said he was the only gunsmith in the entire rodent world. And I'll admit, he did do good work. They were perfectly scaled to a mouse's size, and beautiful. He carved designs on the handles. He also showed me how to make bombs. That was his other skill. He said that no one on earth was more precise in making a bomb.

"He fed me and I looked at his weapons while I ate. I wondered why anyone would make things like this. But then I knew; they were to get rid of people like my mother. I had an idea then. I'm not proud of this, and maybe I deserved what happened next because of it but..."

Widget said emotionlessly "Gadget, I asked him for a gun with bullets so I could shoot my mother with it."

Gadget gasped in shock. But she made herself put it into perspective. While she couldn't excuse it, she knew that Widget was justified in feeling that strongly. Her early life had been a hell that no one should ever have been forced to endure. "Go on," Gadget said in an accepting tone, "what happened then?"

"He smiled. His smile was like a cat's. So much evil in it. He said he'd give me a nice shiny pistol and as many bullets as I wanted, but I had to do something for him first. He looked at me. He led me to a back room."

Gadget's heart tightened as she realized where this was leading.

"He touched me."

Gadget's jaw trembled. "He... He raped you?" She was barely able to handle the horror of that word.

Widget made her body and heart like a stone. Her muscles trembled from the effort. Her voice was quiet and sounded far away. "No. Not really. He didn't even take my clothes off. But he touched me. And it felt wrong." She couldn't stop the tears from flowing again.

"And Gadget..."


"I was only eleven."

The words tore into Gadget's heart. She clutched herself tight to her sister. It was too awful to comprehend. She would have given anything in the world for the power to take back what had happened to her sister. She was crying now more than Widget was. "Oh sis..."

Widget put her arms around her sister and hugged back. Her eyes closed and she laid her cheek on Gadget's shoulder. They rocked slowly back and forth, not making a sound.

Maybe it was wrong to hold this inside for all these years, Widget thought. Maybe it was what had made her so bitter, so evil, so ready to lash out at anything and everything. She was shamed to think that the mouse she'd pinned the blame for her lost childhood on was the sister holding her now and sharing her tears.

"Just so you know, Gadget, I didn't go through with it. I didn't shoot her. I realized what I was doing, and realized that if I did kill her, she would have been right. I would have been no better than her.

"I kept the gun though. I don't even know why. Over time, I blocked out the whole incident and I couldn't even remember where the gun had come from. I used it to design my own weapons. You've seen those rifles I made?" She laughed, but there was no mirth in it. "Funny, I ended up becoming the same thing he was and I didn't even notice it."

Widget was silent then. Gadget's only sound was her soft sobs. Widget was comforting her now. Telling her story after so long had changed something inside her. It was like a padlocked clamp over her heart had been opened. It didn't hurt quite as much anymore. She felt strong enough to finally do something about it, rather than let the memory sit inside and eat away at her happiness.

Widget ran her metal fingers through Gadget's golden hair. She felt a little jealous of it. "We'll get him, sis. And I know how. I know just how we'll do it."

A few moments later, Gadget came storming out of her room. She barged into the main room and stomped her foot. All heads turned to her. Righteous anger flared in her normally cheerful eyes. "What are you all standing around for?!? Let's go out and kick this guy's ass!!"

Every ranger's jaws dropped at her choice of words.

Widget stood behind her sister. A grin on her face that mixed triumph with family pride.

Chapter Eight: The Madness Of King Deveraux

"There it is," Widget said as she pointed to a tall mansion-like house. It was terribly out of place in its surroundings. Factories belching smoke and soot were on all sides. The house's wood was aged, but still held its original elegance. The colors were maroon, chocolate and white. There were many rounded windows and a chimney poked out from one side of the pointed roof.

The rangers rode on Crisscross' back; all of them armed to the teeth with plunger guns, net launchers and syrup slingers. Widget had told them that Deveraux's home would be heavily guarded, so stealth and strength were necessities. She'd also told them an abbreviated version of what she'd told Gadget; that she'd met Delacroix when she was younger and what his line of business was and how good he was at it. She said her scream was because of a 'bad experience' with him that she refused to elaborate upon. Only Gadget knew her true reason for hating him so.

"Creepy," Tammy said upon seeing the house.

"Like something out of the Addams Family," Dale agreed.

"What's inside is even worse," Widget assured them.

Gimcrack gurgled in happy unawareness in his harness. Widget stroked his fur tenderly. Chip had begged her to leave him behind, to have Tammy's mother babysit him, but Widget had flatly refused. She told Chip what she had before about not shielding him from unpleasantness, and that she didn't trust anyone with her baby besides Juergen, her crew and the rangers. What she didn't say was her real reason for wanting him there with her; she knew she would never be able to kill anyone in cold blood if her child was watching.

"Can you see any way in, Chris?" Chip asked their furry transportation.

The fox slinked silently closer and scanned the house thoroughly with infrared and X-rays. The house was a lot stronger than its surface belied. Thick plates of steel reinforced the walls. "Doesn't look like it. The place is built on the inside like a fortress. I can't see through any of it. I don't know how we'd be able to get in."

"How about the open basement window?" Monterey suggested.

Crisscross looked again and the basement window was indeed open. It had been so obvious, he'd completely missed it. "Or we could... go in the... open... basement window," he said very sheepishly. Fortunately, the rangers didn't chuckle too much.

All wild foxes are masters of invisibility. Crisscross, though mechanical, was no exception. He made his was to the window so stealthily that no living pair of eyes could have detected him. A pair of nonliving eyes were another matter. The security camera hidden high atop the power lines whined as it turned with his movements.

Inside the house, someone grinned.

Using a shrubberey for cover, the rangers moved closer to the window. Zipper was worried. "This seems a bit too easy. What if this is a trap, guys?"

Chip reassured the fly. "There's no way he could know that we've figured out his scheme yet. He probably thinks we're still out chasing his Pyro puppet."

With that, Chip motioned for silence and had Chris lift each of them up to slide down the diagonal window pane, one by one into the darkness of Delacroix's basement. No one made a sound.

They landed silently on a chilly concrete floor. They could tell from the air that the room was very large. Crisscross helped Chip in and then managed to squeeze himself through the tight hole after him.

The rangers found each other by touch. The basement was so dark, it was impossible to see one's plunger harpoon in front of one's face. "Everyone okay?" Chip breathed out in a tiny whisper.

Quiet grunts from everyone in turn confirmed this.

"Where do we go from here, Chip?" Dale asked.

A strange, accented voice echoed out of the darkness. "Why, raht into mah trap, of course!"

With that, everything seemed to explode. Something clanged loudly above them. Light flooded the room, burning the ranger's eyes. Except for Chris, they all growled in pain and shielded their gaze.

Crisscross winced at the sight before him. "Um, guys, we are really, really in trouble."

As their eyes adjusted to the light, the rangers all gasped at their predicament. They were contained inside a heavy iron-barred cage. Dozens of grey-clothed rodents surrounded them. In their paws they all held guns, fingers on triggers. The rest of the room swarmed with machinery and workers. Gears turned and clanked. Assembly lines turned out guns, guns and more guns. Pistols, handguns, shotguns, assault rifles and big scary things that looked like they could destroy whole cities.. It was a scene right out of a nightmare.

And at the head of it all, like a ringmaster, stood Deveraux Delacroix. His smile was the first thing anyone ever noticed about him. If car salesmen were predatory creatures, that is what their smiles would look like. He was indeed unusually tall and thin for a chipmunk. He was just a bit taller than Tammy and not much wider. He was dressed to the nines in a specially tailored metallic violet and cobalt blue pinstriped zoot suit. His fuzzy ears poked out of a hat with a brim so wide that it completely hid his eyes. He leaned with both hands on a long silver cane. On second glance, one noticed that it was actually a custom-made pistol with an amazingly long barrel.

"Welcome, rangers. Yer a bit early, but as y'all can see, Ah've had your accomodashee-owns ready for quite some tahm." His New Orleans accent was as thick as tar. His tone was gratingly sarcastic, and laced with knowing triumph. "Now, if you'd awll just surrender them weapons of yours, you'll live tah see the next five sec-ownds." To reinforce his threat, dozens of gun barrels zeroed in on them. The rangers had no choice but to drop their only defense. The guards whisked inside, grabbed the them, and locked the door within a few seconds. Their weapons were dumped in a pile across the warehouse.

Delacroix 'tsk tsk'ed. "Those little toys aren't even lethal! What were y'all thinking?"

Chip blanched. He couldn't believe he'd been hooked so easily. His cockiness had landed him and his friends right into the frying pan. He turned to Dale. He took his friend's hand, shaped it into a fist, and looked him in the eye. "Dale, would you please bonk me as hard as you can for getting us into this."

"Will do, pal."

*WHAM* Little birdies danced around Chip's head.

Widget's pigmentless eyes were especially sensitive to bright light, so she was the last to get over the blinding shine. When she did, the first thing her eyes saw was him. The hated one. A rage unlike no other began to boil up in her. She grasped the bars of the cage hard enough for her bionic hand to actually dent it. "YOU!!!"

Deveraux Delacroix looked startled. "Excuse me?"

Widget was nearly foaming at the mouth. The devil that had destoyed her life was inches from her, she yearned, *needed* to bring her crunchy revenge down upon him and these bars were keeping her at bay. Her breath was ragged. Her eyes pulsed with anger. "You repulsive, evil, scumsucking deviant! If I get out of this cage for even one instant, I'll show you more pain than you ever thought could exist!! You bloodless demon! How the universe could allow such a soulless, hateful THING as you to exist is beyond all reasoning!!!"

He wasn't sure why she was so mad at him, but she did seem familiar. And then it clicked. It had been years ago, probably decades. "Say, you're that cute little cripple, ain't you? Ah remembah now. And Ah see you've got yerself a new arm. Good fer you. Make it yourse'f?" Unlike Crisscross, he said it intentionally to mock her, guessing correctly that it would be a sore spot.

Widget had to try her hardest to refrain from screaming and thrashing in rage like a madwoman. Her muscles twitched and her chest heaved with the effort. "What you did to me was unforgivable. You _will_ pay." Her tone left no uncertainty to her threat.

"Ah'd like to see you try'n start somethin' seein' as yer locked up tight at the moment," he replied, grinning sharkishly.

"She might not be able to, but I sure can!" Crisscross growled. He butted the cage with his head hard enough to make it squeak. He could feel the metal bending. He'd have them free in a second, and he'd squash this nasty chipmunk under his paw.

Quick as a flash, Delacroix whipped a small device out from inside his jacket and pointed it at Crisscross. "Hold it right there, puppy-dawg! You know what this is? This little box here can generate it's own electromagnetic pulse. You know what that is?"

Chris immediately whimpered and scurried to the back of the cage in terror. Nothing could terrify him more. An electromagnetic pulse short-circuited every electronic device within its range. It was the only thing Chris knew of that could put him off line, permanently.

"Well now, looks like you do. You'd best be afraid. This little box may only work once, but it works well. And just in case you do decide to try your hand at bein' a hero, Ah got another little surprise in store for ya." He tilted the little black box forward so the rangers could see a small red switch. "Once Ah flip this, your circuits'll be frozen like an icicle. You won't be nothin' more harmful than a paperweight. And Ah think it might even knock out that nasty little arm of yours, too," He said to Widget.

The rangers clustered around Chris, wanting to protect him but not knowing how. Gadget scanned her mind for anything that could disable the device in time, but she couldn't come up with even one idea.

Chris resaved his internal memory just in case.

Delacroix looked straight into Crisscross' frightened amber eyes. "Say goodnight." He flipped the switch. The lights in the fox's eyes immediately went out. He slumped over in a heap. His body was motionless.

Gadget hugged his soft fur and tried not to cry. She did her best to keep in mind that Chris wasn't dead, only resting. She would get that device and she would bring him back.

"Hey! My arm won't move!" Widget shouted in surprise and anger. She swung it back and forth, but the arm itself didn't move a millimeter. She stared at Delacroix and snarled as nastily as a mouse can growl. Her gaze would have sent weaker men into screaming fits of terror.

Chip ran over to Delacroix, almost as mad as Widget now. "How did you know we were coming?" he snarled.

"Ah didn't. But Ah made sure Ah was prepared in case you were. Frankly, Ah am surprised that y'all saw through mah little distracshee-own. I thought Pyro'd have you runnin' in circles all day lowng while Ah went 'bout mah business."

"And your business is arms dealing," Chip said.

Glancing around at the factory surrounding them, Deveraux replied wryly "What an astute observashee-own, detective."

"I wanna know how you knew Chris was a robot!" Dale growled.

"Oh, Ah know awll 'bout you rescue rangahs. Y'see, a little mutual acquaintance named Fat Cat and Ah were talking just the other day and he told me awll sorts of juicy tidbits 'bout y'all. I know how slippery y'all have a tendency tah be. That's why Ah'm not even gonna try to cownstruct some elaborate deathtrap to dispose of yuh. Ah'm gonna jest keep you in this cage, with awll mah loyal employees gaurdin' yuh at all times until tomahrrah night."

"What happens then?" Foxglove asked worriedly.

"Didn't you know? Tsk tsk, I thought surely you woulda heard somethin' 'bout it by now! Ah'm havin' the biggest gun and bomb auction this country's evah seen! I'm crankin' up production as high's it'll go. I've invited everah lowlife scumbag in the country to come in and bid. Word's gotten 'round, Ah hear. Ah think there's even gonna be some overseas fellahs comin'. Ah'm most excited!"

This new information not only scared the daylights out of Chip, but it also made some puzzle pieces fit together in his mind. "Then Pyro wasn't made up just to fool us, but all the criminals too! If they thought another crook was destroying their hangouts to drive them away, they'd stand their ground and fight instead! And they'd turn to your sale for the weapons to do it! They'd see it as a lucky coincidence!"

Deveraux smiled proudly. "Yep and yep. You hit it right on the head. They say ya cain't fool awll of the people awll of the time, but it sure looks like Ah did!"

"You could be starting a war!!" Chip shouted angrily. "They'll start fighting amongst themselves and they'll probably take most of the city with them! Innocent people will die! Don't you even care?!"

Deveraux leaned closer. Chip wished more than anything that his arm was long enough to reach out and shatter that damned annoying smile. "Such ethical questions don't mean a hill 'a beans to me, Mr. Chip, So long's Ah get mah money," he stated coldly.

"Why am I not surprised..." Chip grumbled.

"Oh, but that's not even the best part!" Deveraux said with a glint in his eye. "The reason Ah'm not gonna kill you raht now is 'cause you all is gonna become the main event at mah little soiree. Think of what a hefty price ah'll get when I put up for auction the biggest nuisances to this city's crime populashee-own; awll shackled up lahk Cris'mus presents. Y'all is gonna make me a zillionaire!"

The rangers were shocked, outraged and terrified. "You're gonna sell us as slaves?!?" Tammy cried.

"Sure am. And Ah bet Ah'll get a 'specially good price for an attractive young lady like yourself," he told her while leering disgustingly at her.

Tammy burst into tears and skittered to Gadget's side for a comforting girl-hug.

"You're a monster," Chip spat at Deveraux. "And a disgrace to our species." He turned away in disgust and sat down on one of the benches built into the cage walls. The other rangers did as well. There was nothing else to do now. They were surrounded on all sides in a completely open cage. There was nothing they could do that wouldn't result in a bullet through the chest. Or worse.

Deveraux Delacroix smiled and talked to them as a human would talk to a housepet. "Good, good. Now you just sit right there and don't try no monkeyshines. Ah have business to attend to." He gave the bars a tap with his cane pistol. "And just to make sure y'all do what ah say, I'd like to intraduce you to a very close personal friend of mahn." He clapped his hands twice. The crowd of armed minions parted to reveal the biggest, meanest, most intimidating rat any of them had ever seen.

His fur was jet black, shiny and immaculately smooth. His mouth was set in a permanent growl. A pair of black one-piece sunglasses hid his eyes. His deep blue jacket was clean and pressed. He was a stylish embodiment of pure mean.

Delacroix smiled happily as he introduced them. "Rangahs, this here is Ice. Ice, these here are the rangahs. If any of them so much as blink without mah say-so, I want you to o-blit-er-ate them into tiny little pieces. You clear on that?"

Ice let out a grunt that could have meant anything.

Delacroix turned back to the rangers. "Ice has been mah personal bodyguard for many a year now and let me assure you that he is a lot more than just intimahdatin' and nasty. He is also lethal to a T. Ah've seen him with mah own eyes rip a mouse's liver out of his belly and then slap him 'cross the face with it. That true, Ice?"

Ice nodded, grinning and showing a set of gnarled, yellow teeth.

The rangers all shuddered.

"Now 'less you want to have somethin' similar end up happenin' to you, y'all'll sit nice and tight. See ya later, mah little moneymakahs!" He jauntily waved them good bye and strode off. Every movement radiated antagonistic gloating.

Widget watched him leave, unable to take her eyes off him. She never thought she could hate someone more than she hated her false mother, but now she knew that assumption was wrong. Her cape was pulled down over Gimcrack and she reached under it to caress his ears lovingly. She wanted him to have a realistic view of the world, which was why she didn't shield him from unpleasant sights and situations, but she kept him covered the whole time Deveraux was present. Some things were just too evil for anyone to have to look at.

Gimcrack tentatively stirred and peeked out from under the cape. He was very smart for his age and he could tell from one look at his momma's face that something was very wrong. He'd kept perfectly still during the time the big people were talking. Widget had trained him well that whenever she covered him up and tapped him three times on the back of his head he had to become a statue. She'd started it as a game, but then got him to understand that that signal meant that danger was present and bad things could happen if he moved. Widget looked down to her son's frightened eyes and smiled to reassure him. "Very good, Gimmy. Good boy," she whispered. Feeling almost ashamed for not being able to do anything at the moment, Widget turned away from the bars and sat down with the Rangers.

Dale held Foxy in his arms and nuzzled her affectionately. "Don't worry, sweetiekins. We'll get out of this like always."

Monterey sat like a silent statue. He was storing up his anger for later. His paws were fists, clenching and unclenching rhythmically.

Zipper tentatively checked out the bars to see if he had a chance of slipping through. The answer was no, unfortunately. Deveraux really did know them well enough to make sure that not even a fly could escape his trap.

Tammy sat with Gadget, the mouse comforting the younger squirrel. As brave as she tried to be, Tammy wasn't yet used to constantly being in situations like this. She knew this was part of being a ranger and she knew, somehow, that they would escape. That didn't seem to help ease her fear any at the moment. "I don't want to be a slave..." she said quietly. Gadget gave her a comeradely pat on the shoulder and a warm we're-in-this-together smile.

Chip leaned his head back, closing his eyes against the glare of the lights. This was just not a good day. He still could barely believe he'd been bamboozled so fully. He'd made so many small, dumb mistakes. He felt like hitting himself. And all there was to do now was wait and hope for an opportunity to get at least one of them out of here.

His stomach growled. 'Oh great. And to top it all off I'm hungry too!' he thought. Looking down at his burbling belly, he noticed that he'd spilled coffee on his fur, leaving a round brown stain. He stared at it strangely and felt his brain begin to tingle. His thoughts flashed back to the coffeeshop and the conversation he'd had there. A plan began to form in his mind. A crazy plan. A plan so monumentally risky, insane and foolish, it would have been worthy of Dale.

Yet somehow, he knew it would work. He knew it!

Like a shot, he ran to the cage's bars. Ice glowered at him. Chip ignored him and called out "Mr. Delacroix! Come back! I want to ask you something!!"

From across the factory, Deveraux picked up Chip's shout and turned around. 'What the heck,' he thought. 'may as well see what he wants.' "Might even want to beg for his life. That'd be amusing," he muttered sadistically to himself. He moseyed back to the caged rangers. "What do you want?"

"You consider yourself a gentleman, right?" Chip asked.

Deveraux nodded. "Sure do. You want to try makin' a deal with me or somethin'?"

"No, I was just wondering if you'd be willing to give us something to eat. We're hungry. We haven't had anything since breakfast." The rangers were all rather confused by this, especially by the veiled urgency in Chip's voice. Was this part of an escape idea, or was he just really hungry?

Deveraux skritched his chin in thought. "Aw, what the heck. Seein' as it'll prob'ly be your last meal anyways, Ah guess Ah could furnish some grub." He flagged over a flunky and asked if he had any paper and something to write with. He happened to, and Deveraux instructed him to take down what the rangers wanted. "What'll y'all have? Anything you want. it's the least Ah can do considerin' Ah'm 'bout to sell ya'll like stewmeat."

Chip turned to see seven confused faces staring at him. He'd taught the other rangers to read lips a long time ago, in preparation for a situation like this where he needed to communicate swiftly and silently. 'Just play along,' he mouthed to them, 'and don't order anything to drink!' This brought even more confusion, but they trusted in Chip's leadership enough to humor him.

"I'll have a bag of potato chips and some of those orange circus peanut things," Dale said.

"Some fettucini would be nice," said Foxglove.

"A brick o' brie and some Cheez-its will hold me," Monterey said.

"I just want an apple core," buzzed Zipper.

"Hot dog and fries," said Tammy

"I'd like some tomato soup and a strawberry, if you don't mind," Gadget said.

"A great big hamburger and a slice of acorn pie," Chip said.

Deveraux asked the flunky if he'd gotten all that. The flunky nodded. The perpetually-grinning chipmunk turned to Widget. "You want anything?"

Widget looked up and flashed her patented Smile Of Doom. She was happy to see that eveyone present shuddered at it. "Bring me a large hunk of meat, flame-broiled." She paused. "And some animal crackers."

Deveraux arched an eyebrow at that.

Not wanting to let on that she was still hiding Gimcrack, she explained "I like to bite the heads off."

Deveraux noted it, odd as it was. "Y'all want anythin' to drink?"

Chip grinned just a little. He looked Deveraux straight in the eye. "We'll all have double espressos," he said. And there was danger in his voice.

Chapter Nine: My Dinner With Bernie

Dale looked at Chip with a mixture of anger and shock. 'You'd better not be thinking what I think you're thinking! I think...' he mouthed silently to Chip.

"Maybe I am, and maybe I'm not," Chip said aloud, wanting everyone to hear it. "For now though, I don't want anyone to do anything. Now is not the time."

The rangers all gave Chip looks that said 'I don't understand what you've got up your sleeve, but I'll trust that it's probably an ace.'

Ever the optimist, Gadget tried to bring at least a little sunshine to the group. "C'mon guys, let's cheer up. We've been in worse situations before, haven't we? And at least we-"

Monterey immediately clamped his hand across her mouth, silencing whatever she'd been about to say. There was alarm in his eyes. "Sorry 'bout that, Gadget-luv. I wouldn't call you a jinx, but when certain words come outta your mouth, bad things have a way of happenin'."

"You're kind of a walking Murphy's Law sometimes," Dale said bluntly.

Gadget nodded understandingly and Monterey took his paw away. She didn't put much stock in superstition, but she did sometimes notice that when she said certain phrases there was an unexplainable high statistical probability of things going wrong. A light bulb went off above her head then. "Well, at least the guards haven't set us free and given us ice cream!" she said loudly.

She waited a few moments, then looked at the guards.

They glared at her.

Gadget snapped her fingers dissapointedly. "Aw, shoot. Logically, that should have worked."

Monty and the others chuckled. "Gave it a good try though, lass."

There was quiet for a while then.

When Widget was absolutely certain that none of the guards were looking directly at her, she hissed at Chip to get his attention. Chip looked at her questioningly. Her pretty pink eyes turned down slowly to her robotic left hand. Chip's gaze followed. To Chip's surprise and delight, the fingers wiggled! Just for a second. Just long enough to show Chip that she'd been faking when she claimed it was disabled. When Chip thought about it, it made perfect sense. Her arm was mechanical, and a device for knocking out electronic circuits would have no power over it. He exchanged a secret, triumphant grin with Widget. Any advantage they had that their captors were unaware of was always comforting.

Dale was quite bored from sitting in the cage for so long. He kicked his legs back and forth like a little kid. Noticing that Ice was standing near him, Dale turned around to face the mountain of snarly ratflesh. "Uh, hi there, Mr. Ice. How ya doin'? Mind if I ask why they call you Ice?"

The massive guard turned and pointed his gun so close to Dale's face that he could have picked the chipmunk's nose with the barrel. He stared down at his prisoner, annoyance in his beady eyes.

"'Cause I _ice_ people," he growled.

Dale produced about a pound of sweat on the spot. He smiled a toothy, sheepish smile and gulped loudly. "Oh. Well then, that makes sense. Why don't I just turn back around and shut up now? Pleasure chatting with you, Mr. Ice sir." Dale instantly swiveled back around to his original position. His eyes nearly popped out in fear.

Foxglove leaned over and whispered in Dale's ear "He wasn't very nice."

"Um, yeah," Dale agreed shakily.

Gadget turned to look at Widget. The anger in her sister's face was readily apparent. Gadget had something to say, but wasn't sure if this was the time. Still, she couldn't leave the thought alone. She had to ask.

Gadget skootched over to Widget. She looked into her sister's face and said softly; "Widget, how did you know that we'd find Deveraux here?"

Widget was a bit startled by the question. She looked up into Gadget's blue eyes, ready to make up a lie, but then she saw that Gadget already knew the answer to the question. Widget couldn't help but tell the truth. "You guessed, didn't you?"

Gadget didn't say a thing, not sure if she had or not.

Widget sighed, knowing she was caught. "The Albacore does need some repairs, but that's not the reason we're here. I was invited to the weapons auction."

Gadget gasped in shock, that was definitely not what she'd expected to hear! She'd thought that Widget had invented some new sophisticated tracking device, and she wanted a peek at it. But thinking about what Widget had said, it did make sense. "You... You were going to buy guns? From *him*?!? I thought you couldn't stant the sight of that weasel-in-chipmunk's-clothing."

The grey mouse quickly corrected Gadget. "Believe me, if I'd have known beforehand that HE was running the show I would have shut the whole thing down and probably broken his neck!"

Gadget nodded, then asked quietly. "What would you have done if he wasn't the one running it?"

Widget paused, and then she thought, and then she hung her head. "Something I would have regretted..." she whispered shamefully.

Gadget bit her lip, then put her arm reassuringly around Widget's shoulders. She knew Widget still had a dark streak inside that she was trying to shed, and she wanted her to know that her sister would always be by her side to help.

Tammy decided to stretch her legs a bit then. She kept her eyes on the guards and moved slowly while getting up to assure them that she wasn't trying anything funny. Still, the way their gun barrels followed her gave her the shivers. She took in a deep, calming breath. The young squirlette walked slowly and silently around the perimeter of the cage. Her fluffy tail bounced with every step. She glanced at Crisscross' inert form and sighed. Their similar childlike exuberance had brought them together as good friends in the short time they'd known one another. She wished she could do something to help him. Chip would be able to, she knew that. Her darling, heroic Chipper could do anything. She had 100% faith in him.

Lost in her thoughts, Tammy nearly tripped over something that yielded to her touch. She looked down and couldn't stop herself from shrieking. At her feet was a curled up furry form that was completely still. "A dead dude!!!" she screamed.

The rangers cautiously made their way across the cage to her. The guards' eyes watched their every move. Hammers clicked.

At Tammy's outburst, the figure moved. It turned around to reveal the saddest face the squirrel had ever seen. Her emotions lurched from terror to caring at the sight.

The rangers gathered around. Dark brown eyes wet with tears looked up into unfamiliar faces. He had no idea what to make of them. "Who?" he asked in a scratchy, unused voice.

"Bernie Withers, I presume," said Chip.

The white-furred squirrel stood up. "I am." He was everything Pyro wasn't. His manner was overwhelmingly timid. He crouched as if in anticipation of a blow. The fur of his white tail was scorched and frizzy. He wore a simple grey institution uniform which was covered in small burns, his face was similarly marred. "Who?" he repeated. He sounded as if every word caused pain to say.

"We're the rescue rangers," Gadget said brightly.

'And the rescue sister!' Widget thought to herself and stifled a grin. An Animaniacs pun would not sit well with her dark and intimidating persona.

"We won't hurt ya, mate, if that's what you're wonderin'," Monterey assured the shivering squirrel.

Judging that he was harmless enough looking, Chip extended his hand for a shake. Bernie flinched as if Chip was about to smack him. After a few moments, he opened his clenched eyes to see Chip's hand had not moved. A warm, reassuring smile was on Chip's face. "It's okay, Bernie," Chip said. "We're friends."

Bernie gulped and tentatively shook the chipmunk's paw. The friendly contact made the tinist of smiles show briefly on his sad face. Chip led him over to the cage benches and they sat down together. The squirrel curled into a defensive posture again, but not as tightly this time. He cast quick, cautious glances at the rangers on either side. He'd been fooled by people calling themselves friends for all of his life. He wasn't about to trust them completely just yet.

"Been in here a while, huh?" Dale asked sympathetically.

Bernie nodded.

Chip leaned over to look him in the eye. From what he'd seen already, he deduced that Bernie had a mind much younger than his body. All the years of being misunderstood and being cooped up in the mental hospital had obviously taken their toll on him. He'd have to proceed lightly. Chip felt sorry for assuming that he was their enemy. "Bernie? How did you get here in this cage?"

"Dev'row threw me in here. Dev'row bad. He bad man."

'Congradulations, you've just won the Understatement Of The Year award!' Widget thought to herself.

"Did Deveraux take you out of the mental hospital?" Chip asked.

Withers nodded. "Blew up my cell. Went Boom! Got to see fire." He smiled happily at just saying the word. "Like fire. Fire my friend."

"Why is that, Bernie?" Gadget asked.

He turned to look at her. Chip was glad to see that little sign of growing trust. "'Cuz fire pretty. Bright and warm. Like to watch it," Bernie said happily. "Fire don't lie. Fire never not burn, then burn next time to be mean," he said with more wisdom in his words than he knew.

"Did Deveraux ask you to set fires?" Chip asked.

"Yup. I did. Said they were old buildings no one miss. Said okay to burn. So I did. Was happy. Hadn't seen fire in long time. Glad it back. Glad it my friend again."

His face fell suddenly. "But then Dev'row want me use fire to hurt people. Don't wanna. Fire not for that. Fire happy thing. No hurt. Said no. He got mad. Was mean. Hit me. Threw me in here."

Gadget shook her head sadly. She leaned over to Chip and whispered to him. "Golly Chip, we had this poor guy figured all wrong. He's probably about as dangerous as a corn muffin. We have to help him, Chip."

He patted her shoulder. "I was thinking the same thing, Gadget. When we get out of here we'll make sure he gets the help he needs." Chip turned back to Bernie. "Do you want us to help you get out of here?" he whispered.

"Yes, yes, yes!" Bernie whispered back.

"You'd have to go back to the hospital, you know that, right?"

Bernie's ears drooped, but he nodded nonetheless. "Okay. Anything better than here."

"Don't worry, Bernie. We'll talk to the doctors and make sure they treat you a lot better when you get back."

"You will?" the scorched squirrel asked hopefully.

"I promise," Chip assured.

Bernie smiled warmly. "Thank you." He smiled off into the distance for a few moments, then turned back to Chip and said "Are you okay?"

Chip was taken rather off guard by the vague question. "What do you mean, Bernie?"

"Didn't move when I pulled you out. Out of fire. Earlier."

Chip, Tammy, Zipper and Monterey Jack all stared wide eyed at Bernie. "That was *you* who saved us?!" Zipper said in disbelief.

Bernie just nodded.

"But how?" Chip asked. "I thought you were in this cage the whole time?"

"Dev'row took me out. Need my help to burn big car. He say he burn you. I get sad and run off. I pull you out. He hurt me for it. When you not move, he say you die. I sad. Glad you okay now."

Chip could hardly believe the simple words. "You... You risked your life to save us...?"

Bernie just nodded.

In that instant, the ranger's opinion of Bernie Withers had completed a perfect 180 degree spin. They'd gone from imagining him as a crazed pyromaniac to seeing him as a hero. Tammy leapt at him and gave him a hug. "You saved our lives!" she squealed. The other rangers crowded around and showered him with similar praise.

Bernie was so confused. He had no idea what was happening. No one had ever acted this way toward him. People either lied or were mean, that was it, wasn't it? But the feelings he was recieving now were different. They were happy and saying nice things. They said words like 'brave' and 'selfless' and 'thank you'. Bernie began to not care that he was confused. He was happy in this moment.

The rangers talked with Bernie for a while, getting to know him more within a few minutes than anyone had ever understood him in his whole life. Underneath all the assumptions about him, he turned out to be a gentle, honest soul who retreated into his pyromania to escape the duplicity of the animals around him.

Finally, the food showed up. Monty and Dale's noses noticed it first. The guards clustered around the cage, pointing every one of the gun barrels towards the rangers. Ice ordered them to lie facedown on the floor. They did. They heard the whine and the scrape as the door opened briefly and their trays were slid in. The door was relocked, the guns retracted and the rangers got back up.

Chip picked up the two full trays and brought them over. "Bon appetit, guys."

The meal was, naturally, a tense one. Those who didn't know what Chip had planned tried to figure out why he'd been so insistent on their lunch, and those had figured out his plan were more than a little worried about the riskiness of it. Nevertheless, the meal was a tasty one also. They were all hungry anyway, and Deveraux had gotten every one of their orders correct and with good quality food. Widget glared evilly at the guards and tore into her chunk of meat like something feral. She grinned mentally at their uneasy reactions and slipped animal crackers to Gimcrack when they weren't looking. Dale and Foxy had fun holding chips in their teeth and feeding each other via kisses. They also recreated the famous scene from Lady and The Tramp with Foxglove's fettucine. Gadget sipped her soup and cast sympathetic glances at Crisscross' lightless eyes. Bernie ended up eating the most of anyone. Everyone gave him samples of their food and he was very grateful. After three years of hospital food, every bite was like the nectar of the gods.

All through the meal the eight tiny cups of espresso sat on the tray like little atom bombs. Dale couldn't help but look fearfully in their direction every few minutes. He dreaded what he was expected to do with them. He was happy that Chip had included him in his plan to bust them out, but at the same time he didn't want to become Psycho-Dale again. Once was plenty. And the thought brought back memories of that awful 'Ramdale' incident.

Chip finished his acorn pie. He let out a little burp of satisfaction. Seeing that the other rangers were finished also, he saw that the time was right to make their escape.

He picked up a cup of espresso from the tray and held it out to Dale. "Have some, buddy."

Dale looked at the tiny cup as if it held worms. "Uh, I'd really rather not."

"Oh, I think you do," Chip said, grinning mischievously. "Doesn't it smell gooooood?"

Dale tried his best to resist the terrible powers of the espresso. "I don't wanna!"

"Drink the drink, Dale!"

"I don't want it!"

"Yes you do."

"No, I don't."

"Yes, you do!"

"No, I don't!"

"Yes you DO!"

"No I DON'T!"

"You DO!"

"I DON'T!"

"You DO!"


Chip smiled naughtily and applied the old 'rabbit season' trick. "You DON'T!"

"I DO!"

"You DON'T"

"I DO!"

"You DON'T!"

"I say I DO!"

"I say you DON'T!"

Dale poked his finger angrily at Chip and snatched the cup away. "Listen, Chip, when I say I do, that means I DO!!!" With that, he downed the double espresso in one gulp. Only then did he realize what had happened. "I've been snookered!"

"Sorry pal," Chip said, "But it's for the good of the team."

The rangers watched Dale as if he was going to blow up. For a few moments, nothing happened.

Then his cheek twitched. His eyes popped open. He began to fidget. His tongue lolled out.

"How do you feel, cutie?" Foxy asked worriedly.

Dale grinned ear to ear and, imitating Bruce Campbell in Evil Dead 2, said "Groovyyy."

"Great," said Chip. "Have another."

Chapter Ten: The Espresso Incident, Part Two

After his seventh cup, Dale was vibrating with energy so hard that Foxglove and Monterey had to physically hold him down. The guards were uneasy. They could tell something was up.

"Just one more, Dale, and then you can destroy the universe, okay?" Chip said, trying to maneuver the cup towards Dale's rapidly twitching head without spilling it.

Dale's eyes spun crazily around the room. He let out a string of Adam Sandler-like gibberish, his tongue lolling like a clock pendulum. "Oooja booja boo! Ah boo dee ah boo dee boo dah."

Chip tossed the last of it down his best friend's throat and immediately grabbed his cheeks and looked him straight in the eyes. He pointed at the guards and shouted "Dale! Listen, this is important! Those guys are actually evil aliens from Rigel Seven who want to steal your comic books!! You must save us!" To Monterey and Gadget he shouted "Let 'im go, guys!"

As soon as their hands were off him, Dale actually _leaped_ to the top of the cage, swung like a monkey and screamed "ABBA ZABBA!!!"

Every one of the guards stared, stunned, at the crazed chipmunk. As Chip has correctly surmised, they were all just factory workers that had guns shoved into their paws by Delacroix. None of them had any experience or idea as to what they were doing. All they could do was stare dumbly as Psycho-Dale swung around the bars of the cage like an orangutan.

Chip capitalized wholly on the distraction. "Widget, get the door!" he shouted.

"Aye aye!" She shouted back. In a flash she was at the door. She managed to rip the hinges out within seconds. Even she impressed herself at the feat of strength. An angry Widget is a force no one sane should ever reckon with.


This was it. Chip struck a leaderly pose and barked orders to his team. "Monterey; squish the guards! Gadget, Tammy, Zipper; go get our weapons! Foxglove; get Bernie to safety! Widget-"

"I'll go after Delacroix," she finished for him. Her malice and delight at the thought danced in her blazing eyes.

The rangers swarmed out of the cage. Monterey cracked his knuckles and shouted out the battle cry of one of comic-bookdom's greatest minds; "It's clobberin' time!" And clobber he did. The guards were packed in so tight, he was able to punch out seven with one blow. Chip was dishing it out pretty good himself. He found that a commandeered rifle butt made a swell bludgeon. Zipper was off like a shot to their weapons stash, the girls keeping pace by literally crawling over the startled guards' heads. One got in Tammy's way and postured menacingly. "Hi there!" Tammy said brightly as she brought her fists down on top of his head, neatly incapacitating him. Foxglove gently snatched up Bernie in her footclaws and flew him out of the cell. Despite his screaming, she managed to get him to the relative safety of a faraway roofing beam. Widget lifted open Crisscross' jaws and slipped Gimcrack safely inside. She gave him a motherly kiss on his head and turned to the battle.

Dale shot out of the cage and leaped into the sea of guards. "Are you threatening me?!?" he growled in a Mexican accent. "You will bring me TP now!!!" With that, he bonked two guards' heads together, producing an amusing coconut-like sound. Hooting like a howler monkey, Dale piledrived through the guards, tangling with some and scaring off others. As he flailed in a caffiene fueled dance of destruction, guards screamed like grandmothers and turned tail. "Live from New York, IT'S SATURDAY NIGHT!!!" he bellowed at the top of his lungs.

From across the factory, Deveraux Delacroix looked out over a railing at the insanity below. His face paled. Then he saw Widget. And worse, she saw him. Even from as far apart as they were, their expressions were clearly visable to one another. Devereux's said 'This canNOT be happening!' and Widget's said 'Hello there. I am going to kill you.'

Widget made her way through the onrushing guards with the grace of a ballet dancer. She had neither the time nor the care to give them a proper thrashing. One swift blow apiece to their pressure points and they dropped like flies. Even Widget was amazed by the fighting skill her adrenaline rush was giving her. She watched herself from deep within her mind. Her ruby eyes were fixed unshakably on Deveraux. Not one step veered from his direction.

The battle was more chaotic than any the rangers could remember. Dale stood atop a fallen, squirming guard and let out a Tarzan yell, followed by "Campbell's soup is Mm, Mm, GOOD!!!" Gadget tossed a syrup slinger to Chip who immediately squirted a lanky guard into submission. "Yeah!!" Gadget herself turned just in time to give an approaching guard a faceful of plunger. One guard actually had the wits to aim his gun at Monterey and attempt to fire. The Aussie leaped out of range just in time to hear the trigger go 'click click click'. The grin on Monty's face was priceless. "These nimrod's guns ain't even loaded!" he shouted and proceeded to pounce on the guard that had tried to shoot him. Zipper divebombed several other guards, swooping down and relieving them of their guns. Tammy found several good uses for the karate lessons she'd taken as a kid. "Hi YAH!" she shouted as she introduced a guard to her Avenging Squirrel Foot Of Justice. Chip landed a lovely right hook off a guard's chin. Zipper confused two guards into bashing each other in the heads with their guns. Monterey grabbed a guard by his ankles and swung him in a circle, whacking a dozen other guards in the process. Gadget captured guard after guard with a net launcher. "TIPPYCANOE AND TYLER TOO!!!" Psycho-Dale screeched in rage.

Gimcrack managed to worm his way out of Crisscross' mouth. He decided to go exploring.

Ice snarled like an angered rhino and charged at Dale. Wholly incapacitated by the espresso pumping through his veins, Dale had become completely fearless. He screamed and rushed forward at Ice! Just before they were to collide, Dale leaped into the air and landed squarely on Ice's chest with enough force to knock them both over. Dale clenched Ice's lapels in his hands and stared into the rat's eyes with fierce insanity. "Let's go up to the lab..." he whispered menacingly, "...and SEE what's on the SLAB!" Then Dale suddenly kissed Ice hard on the lips. It was too much for the burly guard to handle. He tossed Dale aside and ran away, screaming like a girl; revealing himself to be just another of Deveraux's seemingly endless bluffs. Dale grinned triumphantly. "That'll teach you to mess with Super Kung Fu Dude!" he declared, then promptly fell over on his face.

From high above the battle, Foxglove turned to the white-furred squirrel next to her. "Bernie, I need to go help the rangers. If you stay here, you'll be safe."

Bernie shook his head. "No. I want to help."

Foxy was surprised by the conviction in his voice. "Well, okay." Then she got a wonderful idea. "Want to help me burn stuff?"

Bernie looked wary. "Not hurting burning?"

"No, of course not! We're going to use fire to help people!"

Bernie's eyes lit up. "Good!"

The distance between Deveraux and Widget was getting closer by the second. Her vengeful gaze seemed to burn holes in his soul. Delacroix was transfixed by it, hypnotised by the grey mouse's powerful hate. He finally regained his senses enough to point his silver pistol-cane at her. Squinting, he lined up the shot. There was a loud bang. The gun's single shot flew. Widget fell.

"Gotcha!" Deveraux grinned.

With Bernie in her footclaws once more, Foxglove swooped low over the gun factory. She let down her passenger and settled beside him. She pointed to the assembly lines. "See all the guns, Bernie? And see that great big furnace over there? We have to get all the guns into that furnace or Deveraux will use them to hurt people, do you understand?"

Bernie nodded and ran awkwardly for the guns; he still hadn't gotten all his movement back after being immobile for so long. Nevertheless, he threw himself into his task along with Foxy. They gathered huge armfuls (or wingfuls in Foxy's case) of weaponry and lugged them to the looming factory furnace. The heat from it was so intense, Foxglove couldn't get closer than a few feet to it, but Bernie, having spent so much intimate contact with fire, was used to searing heat. He rushed to the furnace and yanked the huge door open. He tossed in his load of guns and went back for Foxglove's. He watched them burn with glee in his eyes. The fire was helping!

From somewhere in the factory, Dale's caffiene-addled voice bellowed "Blue light special on electronic monkey collars in aisle five!!!"

Gimcrack squeaked in annoyance as a fleeing guard stepped on the end of his tail. He made a mental note to go poopy on him if their paths ever crossed again.

Widget groaned and sat up. Her left side throbbed in pain. When she looked, she saw how lucky she was. The bullet had only grazed her shoulder, ripping apart the harness that held her robotic arm on. It lay uselessly at her side. She looked back up at Deveraux and glared so hard he felt as if he'd been slapped. Widget snatched up her fallen limb and continued her pursuit.

Dale did a cartwheel across the room while singing "The devil is in my underpants!!!"

Dozens of guns were fed into the furnace. Foxy dropped her loads in a pile as close to the furnace as she could get. Bernie tossed them in, getting close enough to the fire for his paws to be inside the doorframe. Foxglove was in awe of his immunity to the heat. Seeing him dart into and out of the dragon's mouth as he did was surreal and stunning.

Gimcrack had found some stairs. He began to climb.

"DIAL 1-800-COLLECT AND SAVE A BUCK OR TWO!!!" Dale howled. He ran in circles, chasing his tail furiously. "SNOOTCHIE BOOTCHIES!!!" he added.

The rangers stood triumphant over the army of guards. The lot of them laid together in a heap, covered in netting and stickly chocolate syrup. Plungers poked out here and there. Their guns were tossed in a heap to the side. Each and every one had been checked to make absolutely certain it was unloaded.

Chip surveyed the groaning pile of henchmen with pride. "Good work, guys!" The rangers clustered together and many pats on the back were exchanged.

"That's the most fun I've had all day!" Monterey Jack said cheerfully.

"It *was* fun!" Tammy agreed. She massaged her throbbing Feet Of Justice. "I think I've gotten a taste for bopping baddies!"

"And nobody got hurt!" Gadget said happily. "Well, except for them," she added, pointing to the heap of guards.

"Score for the good guys!" said Zipper.

"But it ain't over yet, mates. We still have to find that creep Deveraux," said Monty.

"Right," said Chip, "But first we have to do something about the Brown Tornado over there before he hurts himself." Chip nodded to Dale, who was now bonking himself on the head repeatedly and making car horn noises. The rangers cautiously surrounded their reality-impaired teammate.

"How should we do this? We don't wanna hurt the lad," Monty said.

"Maybe we should distract him and have Monterey grab him," Tammy suggested.

"I wish I was an Oscar Meyer weiner!" Dale shouted, and fell over in a burst of laughter.

"May not have to," Monty said as he walked over and picked up the giggling chipmunk. He restrained his wiggling furry friend tightly but gently in his arms. "What now?"

Seeing that he was captured, Dale squirmed angrily. "I'm the lizard king! I can do anything!" he protested. "Respect mah authoritay!!"

"Should we lock him up?" asked Zipper.

The mouse inventress was struck with inspiration. "I have a better idea." With that, Gadget stepped forward, grabbed Dale by his lapels and kissed him with a fiery passion.

The other rangers' jaws dropped in unison.

Gadget steped away. Dale had turned to jelly. He slumped in Monterey's arms, eyes half lidded, churring in bliss.

"I figured that something like that would jolt him back to reality," Gadget explained.

"I hope Foxglove didn't see you!" Tammy said.

Chip approached Dale and patted his friend on the cheek. "Dale? Dale, are you okay? Say something, pal!"

Dale looked up lazily to Chip. "Could you ask Gadget to do that again?"

Chip rolled his eyes. "You nut!" Monty released Dale and Chip gave him a best-friendly hug.

"You did it, little pally!" Monterey told Dale. "You saved the day!"

"Sure did!" Gadget told him. "You were the perfect distraction." And she gave him another kiss, but this time just a little one on his cheek. Dale blushed nonetheless.

"I guess I'm okay now," he said. "My head's still spinnin' and I kinda have to pee. I don't remember much, but what I do remember is really weird. Chip, did I really jump up and down on a bunch of guards and yell 'go, go, suck a toe, all the way to Mexico'?"

Chip nodded. Dale blushed harder.

"And you know what? You were absolutely right," Chip told him.

"About what, Chip?"

"That we *could* have put that on America's Funniest Home Videos and gotten a million dollars!" At this, all the rangers had a good laugh.

That is, until they heard a long, high pitched scream coming from far away in the house.

"That was Deveraux!" Tammy said.

"Ohmigosh! I forgot about Widget!" Gadget realized to her horror. "She's gonna kill him!"

"We'd better get over there then!" said Chip. "Rescue rangers away!"

Going back in time a minute or so, we find Widget following Deveraux slowly and relentlessly. They are in a much nicer section of the house; where Deveraux lives. The decor is elegant, if a little overdone. American classic. Mostly wooden. He scrambles up a staircase, fumbling and falling occasionally. Widget is persistant.

Gaining the top of the stairs, Delacroix throws his pistol-cane down at Widget. She ducks it effortlessly. "You _will_ pay for what you did to me," she says to him, her voice cold and controlled and terrifying. "I will kill you. I promise I will."

"Aw, c'mon! It was just a little pat!" He pleads. "Is that enough to kill a man over?"

Widget can see the sweat on his brow as he spiderwalks backwards across the carpet away from her. "You _raped_ me," she corrects him. She knows that she told Gadget differently, but seeing this quivering scum at her feet, she cannot help but feel all the hurt and shame of his act as if it was happining right now.

Deveraux's nastiness gives him a second wind. He gets to his feet and stares her in the eye with an ugly sneer. His smile is gone. "Ya didn't have to come intah mah house. Ya didn't have to eat mah food. You made yer own choice."

Widget says not a word. Then, with the switness of a cat, she swings her disabled arm like a Louisville Slugger towards the hated gunsmith. Deveraux screams. The metal connects with his cheek with a wet splatting noise. Delacroix crumples to the ground accompanied by a loud cracking. Blood dribbles from his mouth.

Widget stands above his quivering body. With intense pain squeezing his head, Deveraux looks up into her merciless face. She looks down at him. "It ends here," she says simply.

Part three

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