Part VI: Seeing Red
Written by James Simonds
"So follow the leader down
And swallow your pride and drown
When there's no place left to go
Maybe that's when you will know"
Red light from half-assembled controls and panels flickered over Tegdag's face. Ignored warnings no one was there to see, anyway. She sat as she had for the last small eternity, staring blankly ahead at nothing, slumped slightly in the chair.
"Ah still can't believe she doesn't have the place booby-trapped, lads. Stay sharp as cheddar."
Finally, voices were coming closer.
"I don't think there wuz anything left t'make traps from, Monty. It looks likes she took apart /everythin/ in every room and- ooo! Ooo! Over here! This room's got something in- ooh."
Dale crept a little closer on all fours, eyeing the mouse in the chair warily. His head STILL hurt where she'd kicked it.
"CRIkey. Chip, I think yer right- too right. Nobody but Gadget coulda built THIS contraption," Monty said, shaking his head as he turned slowly to take in the incredible jumble spread out in the huge room.
Monty held back the urge to jump into Dale's arms- oh, fine impression THAT woulda made on the lads- as the monitor next to him sparked suddenly into life. "Guys! Hi!" Tegdag- Gadget- whatever, Monty thought wearily- squeaked at him from the cracked screen.
Chip was next to him in a half second. "Gadget? Gadget, I'm sorry- we know it's you, now, just tell us, how-"
"I'm not here right now!" the black leather clad mouse continued cheerfully. "Well, I'm here, but I'm inside my head. Golly, you would not BELIEVE how hard that was to do before you figured out what was going on and got here. Um, no, Dale I can't actually hear or see you, sorry," she carefully explained to him in understandable terms as his face fell.
"I just set it up to turn on once someone tripped the boobytraps in the room!" Monty winced slightly. "Um, no, not REAL boobytraps. I can't kill all of you because then there's not much point in setting all this up to prove who I am to you," she beamed. "They just let me know you're here.
"Anyway! I've got everything hooked up so you can see what's going on, all right? I didn't have time to make you a chair this time... sorry." Her smile faded a little. "It'll all be over soon, and then- um- I'm not... sure... but it's very important that I do this... somehow..."
She looked around her vaguely, as the 'camera' began panning out, showing her in what appeared to be exactly the same room, complete with the Big Machine- the only things missing were the other Rangers gawking at the screen. "Chip, now, I have to do this, so don't fiddle with the controls or try and come in, because that would be Bad, and the controls are probably rigged to blow up." Chip's hand jerked back hastily. "Right. Well then! I guess it's time to start."
"About time, too. Are you quite finished?" a dry voice said from the background. Chip, Dale, and Monty watched, gaping, as another Gadget walked onscreen.
Tegdag nodded quietly. "I... yes, ma'am," she said softly.
Ms. Hackwrench looked considerably more the worse for wear. Her resemblance to Gadget had vanished considerably, Teg noticed as she walked forward from the far corner past more sparking debris, frowning at her clipboard. It was hard to tell, though- she was half-covered in soot, oil, and other unidentifiable substances that made her look worse than Gadget ever had after a solid week locked in her workshop.
"Good," she muttered, checking something off the sheet in her hands. "You should have been back in here much sooner- I had NO idea I'd lose so much material initially. I cobbled you together from what I had left out of Gadget and Hack, and might I say that considering what was still intact to work with, it's one of my finest constructions ever."
Tegdag snorted a little. "Or not." Her hips were cocked to one side, a hand drumming fingers lightly on her leg.
Hackwrench looked over the top of her glasses at her. "You would have preferred I let everything simply dissolve into nothingness? I considered it a thousand times that night. I imagine nonexistence is very... peaceful. Very ordered and calm."
She pushed her glasses back up and checked over the clipboard, murmuring, "Besides, it was only supposed to be a prototype. You were SUPPOSED to build that contraption you have out there within a day and get in here so I could make the modifications. If those rodentia you live with hadn't broken one of the gears loose in your head, you'd most likely have kept going like that until you withered away from malnutrition and lack of sleep."
Another glance over the glasses. "At least you've been enjoying YOUR nights- oh, don't give me that defiant look, 'Tegdag', the main controls may be broken but I could see everything you were up to- you're still looking defiant."
Ms. Hackwrench tilted her head to one side, and looked puzzled for the first time since Tegdag had met her. "What on EARTH are you considering, child?" The puzzlement deepened into a frown. "You're DEFECTIVE, you idiot. Even if you could resist me, you can't continue in your current state. I didn't BUILD you to last, just as a stopgap measure."
The scientist's jaw set slightly as Tegdag crouched, eyes narrowing, one hand balancing her weight on the ground in front of her, the other counterbalancing behind her back. "Oh, this... what, then? Are you imagining some kind of dramatic confrontation? Television's corrupted that young girl's brain."
Hackwrench tucked the clipboard under her arm, scowling outright. "This isn't one of your merry adventures you play with, girl. I'm not some pathetic feline with delusions of grandeur. I HAVE grandeur."
There was no pyrotechnics display, but between one eye blink and the next, Hackwrench had returned to the appearance she had when she'd fired her crossbow at Gadget, what seemed like a lifetime before... and, Teg supposed, it was. Her jumpsuit spotless, every line and curve mathematically perfect, Gadget Hackwrench as dreamt by a computer.
"Even if you weren't broken, girl," she said darkly, "I've had nothing to DO for all these years but sit in the dark and put this world together how I wanted it. You're going to defeat me with, what... those two psychology and guided imagery books you read five days ago?"
Tegdag jerked her head in a negative. "No. This."
She twitched the arm behind her back around, throwing the contents of her paw at the other mouse, sending it tumbling precisely through the air with every ounce of accuracy and speed her mind could give it.
Snorting, Ms. Hackwrench caught it out of the air as easily as if it hadn't been moving. "THAT was anticlimactic," she said dryly, glancing down, "what exactly was that meant to-"
She stared at the smiling, thoroughly loved little doll Gadgie, and Gadget, had named Fluff.
"I remembered," Tegdag said, "that you told me Gadgie was older than you are."
Hackwrench's arm was suddenly surrounded by long strands of brightly colored material- metal? rubber? bubble gum? it was impossible to tell- erupting from the doll. "You... have GOT... to be KIDDING me!" she yelled, shaking it furiously in her hand in an attempt to dislodge it. "It'll take me about ten seconds to work out how to rip this thing into pieces, you little-"
She froze as a light suddenly shone on her. Already knowing what she'd see, she turned her head to the side.
She looked out the cockpit window, into the bright, cheerful day.
A small shadow drifted across the sun.
"Oh, no." she whimpered softly. "Oh, NO."
Furiously, she scrabbled at the smiling doll, the gunk covering her hand. More tendrils had somehow found their way to her feet and legs- she was stuck fast in place.
The shadow grew larger, beginning to resolve itself into the form of an airplane.
"Tegdag- Gadget-" Hackwrench said quickly, licking her suddenly dry lips. "I- come on, girl, you KNOW this speech- an arrangement can be made!"
It loomed closer outside the window, blotting out more and more of the light.
Tegdag watched, her forehead creased in concentration.
"FINE! Fine! I'm a pathetic supervillain with delusions of grandeur!" she yelled, scrabbling uselessly at her bonds. "And you NEVER kill a villain, no matter WHAT HE DOES, because you're not that kind of PERSON!"
Tegdag's mouth twitched slightly. "Gadget wouldn't, no. Remember? You made me something else."
Hackwrench looked back and forth- Tegdag's implacable look of concentrated fury- the brightly colored strands ensnaring her- the ever-larger figure of Geegaw's plane barreling out of control directly toward the window, toward her, and she screamed.
"DADDY!" she shrieked, clawing at her arm, "I'm sorry I'm so sorry I've been bad again don't do it don't don't I'll be good don't punish me don't hurt me don't hit me again I'm SO SOR-"
Ms. Hackwrench paused. Light quietly streamed in the window, unobstructed.
Tegdag rose from her crouching position and stared at her blankly. Hackwrench sighed as comprehension rolled visibly across the other mouse's face.
"Daddy would never hurt me," Gadget said quietly. "NEVER."
Her expression as bland as before, Hackwrench fished in the pocket of her outfit, and produced a key. She put it in the doll's mouth and turned it with a click as Gadget- attired in her normal jumpsuit, not Teg's black leather- continued to stare. The strands of multicolored material fell from her limbs easily.
Gadget shook her head slowly. "Everything... none of it happened. NONE of it," she said slowly. "Dad's plane didn't crash into our house that day...you made it all up."
Hackwrench snorted softly, tossing the doll away. "If I'd had kept my mouth shut, you would have done it," she said, irritated. "But no, I had to give you an abusive father, /just to be sure/ your mind would snap once and for all. What was I thinking?"
She shook her head, scowling. "If I'd taken TWO SECONDS to think about it I'd have realized you could more easily flap your arms and fly to the moon than believe your father would touch you in anger. And of course you'd be perfectly correct."
Gadget looked numb- numb, and tired. "All of that..." she said softly. "All... for what? What were all these lies for?"
Hackwrench turned, staring out into the sun unblinking. "Not my idea, Gadget," she said quietly. "You'd have to ask our evil mastermind. I just do what I'm told."
Gadget's superego glances back coolly at her. "Fortunately, you're almost there, and the script's nearly finished. You killed Hack... I'm nothing, now. I have no more power of you. I may as well be dead. And you were perfectly willing to make it literal.
"There's only one left, Gadget. Only one more thing left to do."
Hackwrench's tail twitched slowly. "Once she's gone, Gadget... then it's all over. No more little fragments of broken mouse in your head, pulling you this way and that. There'll just be you, and you'll be free at last, free to make whatever you wish of yourself, no longer afraid of your past, or the future."
She took the hand crossbow from her waist and tossed it at Gadget without looking. Gadget plucked it out of the air as easily as Hackwrench had plucked the thrown doll.
"Free..." Hackwrench murmured. "I wish I could be there to see it..."
Her back to Gadget, she spread her arms wide, a smile slowly spreading across her face, her first honest, unaffected emotion.
"I'm ready, Daddy..." she squeaked softly. "I'm ready to come home with you."
Something black and twisted and ugly, shaped in terms only the most vivid and brilliant of imaginations could possibly construe to be a plane- blurred, indistinct, barely visible- smashed through the cockpit window, sending shards of broken glass flying through the room.
Then there was nothing.
Gadget stared at the place Ms. Hackwrench had been in her mind for a long time. Then she stepped forward, and crawled through the gaping, jagged opening, to where Gadgie was waiting for her.
Written by James Simonds, Jr.
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