Part IV: All My Life
written by James Simonds
[Apologies right now for the atrocious Monterey Jack accent- I'm terrible at replicating it. Fortunately, so were Jim Cummings and the writers half the time.]
Monty took a deep breath, bracing himself, but still couldn't suppress a flinch as he opened the door to Gadget's workshop and stepped inside.
They hadn't bothered to check it before she left on Father's Day, or they probably would have known something was wrong even then. (Of course, it was usually dangerous to go into the workshop without an invitation... or with one... so it wasn't unusual no one had happened to visit it after she left that day.) Zipper /still/ wouldn't come in with him.
Monty hesitantly walked further in, glancing around. Blueprints of every description, all completely scrawled with indecipherable gibberish on top of equally poorly drawn schematics- so unlike Gadget's usual work, which Monty had found inevitably followed bizarre lines of crisp organization once you looked at them for a few minutes, resolving into clarity that made you say "Ah." to yourself even if you couldn't hope to understand the principles involved.
Piled on tables, one on top of the other. Spilling off edges. Half-carpeting the floor. Tacked to walls. And that was just the ones she apparently had actually been /working/ on at the time; dozens more were crumpled or simply ripped to shreds and tossed in corners.
What bothered Monty the most, though, was the total, pristine lack of any actual device, even half-assembled. There weren't even spare parts, not even used as paperweights on the scrawled work. ... nothing but plans; plans and schemes.
She was standing up against the wall, holding yet another plan up against it with one paw while the other wrote with what seemed to be barely contained fury.
/Oh, me poor gi- Geegaw's poor girl, / he quickly reminded himself, as he always did. Part of his little ritual.
Monty cleared his throat. "We, ah... the boys were wondering if you might like to... get out today?" he said hopefully. "It 'as been a few days now, luv, an' you know you're too pale as it is to begin-"
"No." There was a brief pause, punctuated only by scribbling, then she turned to glance at him, as if surprised he was still here.
The moment she did, though, there was an immediate transformation. She blinked a few times in the way he knew so well, and squeaked, "I mean- golly, Monty, I don't mean to be rude! I just- well, there's so much to do-" she gestured vaguely at the papery carnage around her. "I just don't see that I'll have the time."
She turned away again, looking with a distant expression out the window. After a moment she cocked her head, studying something. Monty sidled discreetly- well, as discreetly as he was capable of- closer, trying to see what she was looking at without being too obvious; at this point anything he could find that would distract her attention for even a few seconds was valuable knowledge.
Monty frowned- he couldn't tell. The only thing he could see was the mouse fella who lived in the tree next to theirs- big one, too, 'bout his own height, although even from here he noted with chagrin he had 'is weight spread round much more, eh, evenly. Obviously whatever Gadget was interested in wasn't visible from his angle.
He sighed, and put a fatherly hand on her shoulder. At least she didn't tense up like she did last time. "Gadg... will ya at least look inta getting your jumpsuit fixed?" he sighed. "You've had the same blessed torn thing on since y'came home, and it looks like ya singed it ta boot. Even by your tastes the thing must be getting' uncomfortable!"
She barely seemed to be listening, tapping her pencil against her chest thoughtfully as she stared at heavens only knew what. He sighed again. "...as long as you're going out every night anyway? 'Eavens knows I'd be worlds happier if you went out in the sun to do it instead of at hours Foxglove barely keeps 'er head up, but still..."
His voice trailed off. He couldn't even tell if he was registering. He gave her shoulder a squeeze, and trundled back out of the room, shaking his head. He and the boys, they'd... have to do something. / Soon, / he promised himself, not wanting to believe what his own eyes and ears told him. / Soon. /
A few moments after the door swung shut, Gadget glanced after him, frowning.
"I'm... going out at night...?"
Gadget entered the shop, arms full of sketches, and dumped them on the makeshift 'counter', announcing, "Clothes. I need clothes."
The proprietor eyed her oddly. Like the other handful of small mammal clothing shops she'd ever seen, it was of course located underneath a large chain toy store; it was by far the easiest way to get either off the rack items or raw material to work with for custom jobs (much rarer, and for most animals hideously expensive. Fortunately, as a Ranger Gadget had effectively unlimited 'credit' at most places, since she'd personally saved the lives of most of them.)
"Um... yes," he affirmed, recovering quickly, remembering who he was dealing with. He carefully reminded her- Gadget Hackwrench occasionally got slightly testy when people she didn't know well seemed to be treating her like a dumb blonde, despite her absentminded tendencies- "just like you told me a few days ago, yes. All the designs you asked for are done; I was just going to send someone out to drop them off tomorrow, actually."
He bent under the counter, thus missing Gadget's totally dumbfounded expression as she blinked rapidly. Soon a pile of boxes was set out in front of her. The squirrel leaned his elbows on the wood, grinning. "...I'd just like to say I think it's about time you took a little different approach, Miss. Once you have these out on the street a lot of people are going to have REALLY good days. Shoot, you've made /my/ year already, and I haven't seen you in them yet..."
Gadget's hand crept toward the nearest box, and gingerly, as if it were more fearsome than any explosive device she'd ever worked with, lifted the corner to peek inside.
Her hand SNAPPED it back down, her face flashing a variety of intriguing pinks, reds, and whites. A vague strangled noise escaped her throat.
Abruptly she turned on her heel and fled to the door, leaving the salesquirrel blinking in confusion. / I've messed up the order! / he thought wildly, / she's gonna blow up my shop! /
As her paw grabbed the knob, though, her body froze. There was a long pause, then she turned, came back, and slowly picked up the boxes.
"Thank you," she murmured. "After all, I... did ask for these, didn't I? Yes, of course I must have. I'm sure they're perfect."
And with that, she left, leaving behind the city's second most stunned and confused mammal as he thought to himself, / I don't care how many times she saves the world- next time, it's acorns up front. /
"...Gadget, luv. Can I 'ave a word with you?"
The next day. Monty watched as just like she had every other day, she scribbled feverishly on her work; this after, just like every other night, she left at midnight and returned so early no one ever saw her come back in.
"It's not a good time," she squeaked neutrally. "... I should probably have something to eat tonight. ... maybe tomorrow. I'll talk to you th- mrrph?!"
"All right, that's quite enough of that, girlie," he grunted as he fastened his paws around her, hefting her with ease, one hand on her mouth and the other clasped around her waist. "Too ra LOO, feisty! 'ere, boys, get that bloomin automatic door Gadget 'as on the place..."
Chip held open the door, frowning, while Dale watched, tapping his foot impatiently. "I still think *I* coulda been a big help grabbing her," he chattered petulantly. Monty having carried the struggling mouse into the living room, Chip was free to release the door, its rubber band snapping it back into place, and bonk him on the head soundly.
"I just BET you would, which is why Monty and I have to do all the thinking!" he snapped. Zipper winced as he buzzed overhead anxiously- the chipmunk sounded really, genuinely angry in a way he wasn't used to. Of course, given the circumstances it was understandable...
Monty let go of her mouth, leaning over to snatch up some thin cables they'd scavenged from heavens knew where- maybe her own equipment. "What- what in the world-" Gadget squeaked, no longer struggling, her face a mask of bewilderment. Her vocabulary seemed to be inadequate to handle this unexpected a situation, and she looked around the room dazedly, as if a phrase book or dictionary with the correct wording might present itself.
"At least you didn't try to say 'Golly', Chip scowled, stalking over. "You can drop that look right this SECOND, whoever you are, the whole thing's a bust."
Gadget looked at him with round, perfect- oh, so dazzlingly familiar! - eyes. Chip carefully reminded himself of what was going on, and absently bonked Dale's head, as he could sense the chipmunk next to him was weakening under the onslaught.
Monty began trussing the mouse up to a chair, drawling, "I wouldn't tick off th' fella in the hat any more than you 'ave, little miss. Truth be known, I'm containin' myself only cause I need to make sure SOMEone in the room isn't plannin' to throttle ya." He straightened up, his work done, brushing off his hands, and looked down at her levelly. "... an' I'm only JUST containin, girlie... so don't push yer luck."
Gadget was fairly certain she'd never been so dumbfounded in her life. She ran over what she could remember, double-checking. There was a lot to compare it to, granted, but... no, this would have to be it. "Guys...?" she managed, uncertainly. "Um- you remember who I am? You didn't all get bonked on the head too many times, or something strange but not unprecedented like-"
Chip just snorted. "Come ON. How many times do you people think we can be fooled by this sort of thing? Which one are you? LaWhinie? Um... Zipper, you have the list of the others if we need them? We'll go through the whole thing if we need to!" he scowled, shaking a fist at the constrained mouse.
"You think I'm one of my own evil twins?" she said blankly. Okay, NOW she was more dumbfounded as she'd ever been in her life.
This time it was Dale pointing accusingly. "Oh YEAH! Absolootly! We figgered somethin' was up soon as you came back that morning from Gadget's old place, but-" dramatically, he dumped a familiar pile of boxes on the table, obviously proud of the collective group's deductive abilities during the entire speech. "This mornin' we found THESE! I mean, they look /REALLY GREAT/, but c'mon! Me an' Chip would get into these things before our poor Gadget would!"
Monty crossed his arms as Gadget heard a faintly muttered "Speak for yourself" from the chipmunk's side of the room. There was a glint she'd rarely seen before, and the high-pitched argument beginning behind his back vanished almost immediately as he calmly told her, "... we've also had a word with th' mouse next door, 'little miss'. Though I'm usually a mite more particular who I would apply the dignity of that phrase to."
The big mouse's face colored, as his efforts to remain controlled collapses within seconds. "Draggin' our Gadget's- MY Gadget's- name through the streets-" he growled. Growing fury on his face, he grabbed her by the front of her jumpsuit and lifted her, bonds, chair, and all, off the ground. "Makin' HASH of her reputation- the things that boy TOLD me-" he choked, and began to shake the mouse vigorously. The chipmunks looked on uncertainly, stopped from intervening both by their nearly equal desire to do exactly the same thing and scared to death they might be severely injured if they tried to come between Monty and the object of his wrath. "By my ma's own blessed maiden name, you little tramp, if you've done a THING to that girl wherever you're keepin' her hid- if a hair on her HEAD is outta place, you're-"
Gadget calmly kneed him in the chest, as the overwrought larger mouse had neglected to tie down anything but her arms.
The effect was dramatic and immediate. Chip would have sworn no one the girl's size could even stagger the big mouse with one hit, but Monty dropped the chair immediately, eyes bugging out slightly. / What on earth has she got under that outfit? / He thought distractedly, immediately dashing forward, /Met- oh. / As the chair fell, she snapped her leg in an odd motion, and 'Gadget's' tail snaked into the leg hole of her jumpsuit and produced a small flat piece of metal, hinged in the middle for a joint. / Right. That would do it. /
By the time the chair hit the ground, leaving her flat on her back, she'd already swung her now weapon-bearing tail, smacking Zipper soundly as he made an attack vector downwards. His traditional trumpeting battle cry trailed off weakly as he smacked into the nearest wall.
She flipped up the oddly designed little piece of metal deftly, sending it tumbling end over end. Dale dived hastily for cover as it sailed through where his head had just been, and looked triumphant for about half a second until the sailing scrap struck a small recessed button in the wall Chip had never noticed before. /Ah, / he thought rationally as the plunger sailed towards his face, /emergency salesman trap, Gadget had mentioned she was going to-/
Then, of course, there was nothing.
'Gadget' finished slipping out of the rest of the cables, frowning as she looked down at Dale, the only other conscious person in the room. Monty and Chip had both sprouted a variety of plungers, and Monty was apparently under the influence of at least one bola and a particularly heavy blunt object now resting precariously atop his noggin.
"... I mean, gosh- did all of you get poisoned by your cooking again, Dale?" she squeaked in convincing puzzlement. "I guess it's a good thing I haven't been eating for d- I haven't been eating for days, have I?" she looked thoughtful, but Dale was just shaking his head vigorously under the net holding him.
"NuhUH! You can just drop that whole act right now, like they said!" he shot back stubbornly. "I dunno who you are, and you act like her kinda good, but you ain't Gadget!"
She frowned. "Dale... golly, that's just silly. Of course I'm me, it's a tautology. How can I NOT be me?"
"I don't CARE how taut you oughta be, you're not Gadget." His lower jaw stuck out defiantly, no mean feat with his teeth. "You don't have ANYTHING right! You're a TERRIBLE Gadget! You got everything- everything backwards!!"
She'd lifted her finger as Dale had begun speaking and was apparently about to go into lecture mode, but she froze suddenly, staring at him. The familiar Gadget act she had put back on vanished. "...backwards," she said slowly. "Backwards. I see."
She rubbed her fingers against her cheek a few times, still staring at him, and Dale saw... another really familiar Gadget, but not the same one as before. The last time he'd seen this one she'd beaten up an entire cult by herself, and Dale had always REALLY REALLY hoped it'd never be looking at HIM.
"Oh... kay," she growled softly. "Okay. In that case- until all of you figure out who I REALLY am, since you've DECIDED I'm not Gadget-"
She reared back her foot, aiming at his chin, and told him, "until then you can call me Tegdag."
She applied the swift kick, and turned away. Her shoulders slumped- gosh, she was... so tired, she thought...
She shook her head, heading back to the workshop to gather her plans before she left. "Backwards," Tegdag muttered. "Idiot."
END PART 4
Written by James Simonds, Jr.
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