Gadget in Chains
Written by: Loneheart
Chapter Thirteen: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
An hour later Doctor Schadenfreude knocked on the door of the warden's office and entered when the voice from the other side called "Come in".
"My dear Doctor!" Warden Phelps was a neat but plain mouse lady who wore a frilly shirt and a long string of glass beads with her sombre business suit. She beamed at him as if he were a favourite pupil. "How nice to see you again."
"And to see you, too. I have come direct from my session with the young lady who is not Gadget Hackwrench." Doctor Schadenfreude explained.
The Warden blinked rapidly. It took her several moments to work out which young lady who wasn't Gadget Hackwrench he was talking about. There were, of course, billions of people who weren't Gadget Hackwrench but only one of them, so far as Warden Phelps was aware, could be described that way and be identified from all the other people who weren't Gadget Hackwrench either by that description alone.
"Oh. Prisoner 24601." The Warden said carefully. "Have you something to tell me?" For a split and giddy second she thought he was going to tell her the mouse in the straitjacket really was Gadget Hackwrench and that everyone was about to look incredibly silly in a very public way.
"Ach, she has told me some tale about her cellmate being at risk from a guard. Do you have any reason to think that one Bubbles McGee is being threatened or bullied by anyone?"
"McGee, McGee Oh yes, I remember the name. She's an old hand. Been a professional criminal since she was old enough to leave home. Served three years when she was just twenty-one and now she's back with us until she's in her forties; felony robbery of a human warehouse for non-essential profits and/or gains, endangering society with exposure or potential exposure to humanity during the commission of a felony. She was trying to settle down and go straight, until her partner left her without any way of supporting her children, apparently."
"Ach, separating a mother from her children is always hard on everyone."
"Better than the alternative, Doctor." the Warden laughed. "We can hardly have children running around in here!"
"I agree, a most unsuitable place to raise a child. But do you have any reason to believe that she is being intimidated, bullied by anyone?"
"Well, I do seem to remember Marion saying that Bubbles had been to the medical wing four times in her first week here."
"Really? She is unwell for medical reasons, or is the cause psychosomatic, brought on by stress from being separated from her children perhaps?"
"Hard to say. Marion mentioned a bloody nose and stomach pains. I think we'd better have her in and see what she has to say about this."
"Who? Marion or Mrs McGee?"
"Both, I think." She pushed a button on the intercom and asked her secretary to page the deputy warden. "And send someone to find Bubbles McGee and bring her to my office."
Marion, the Deputy Warden, was the tubby chipmunk lady who had found Gadget swinging by her hair the morning after she arrived in Shrankshaw prison.
"It's certainly possible." Marion admitted. "She's had stomach pains, abdominal cramps, nose bleeds and yesterday she told me that she'd cut her lip by biting down on it while eating her food too quickly."
"But someone could have been hitting her?" The Warden suggested.
"Yes, on a regular basis. I should have seen it before."
"Well, she'll be here in a moment and we'll see what she says." Warden Phelps said.
"I should also mention," Doctor Schadenfreude put in, "the young lady, ach it is so difficult to know what to call her without her real name, also alleged that Officer Haggs was the one brutalising the prisoner. However, with a little more probing I discovered that she has a grudge against this particular guard, so I think this must be considered carefully."
"I see. Well, I take a dim view of people casting aspersions against my staff. Particularly over something as petty as a few weeks privileges." The warden's tone arched, like the back of an angry cat.
"The Jane Doe I am assessing in the special wing mentioned the loss of privileges, as well as many other things. She said she herself had been struck by Officer Haggs when she arrived at the prison." Schadenfreude frowned disapprovingly.
"That may be true " the Deputy Warden put in. "I've had concerns about Margo Haggs using excessive force to pacify difficult inmates for some time now, but I've never had any solid evidence to back up my suspicions." A memory sparked in her eyes. "The girl's lip did look a bit swollen when I saw her being processed with the new inmates."
"That might not have had anything to do with Haggs. If you remember, there was some trouble on the barge that brought her." The warden mused. "Haggs is a very efficient officer. The Department of Corrections certainly love her."
"She's been a bit of a problem child in the past." Marion, the Deputy Warden, murmured in a low voice she meant only the warden to hear.
Warden Phelps grimaced. She knew well how hard it was to keep a secret from a bat. "Whatever friction there has been between Officer Haggs and the rest of us, I will not believe the first bad word I hear against her without evidence, especially when it comes from someone in the psychiatric wing who has been convicted of fraud and deception." She said in a normal speaking voice.
The intercom buzzed and the secretary announced Bubbles McGee accompanied by Officer Haggs.
"Send them in." The warden answered. "I'll do the talking." She told Doctor Schadenfreude and the deputy warden, firmly.
Bubbles seemed thoroughly down in the mouth when she was led in. Her ears were laid back, almost completely hidden behind her curly black hair. Her light grey facial fur gave her a permanently pale appearance but looking at Bubbless nose and the pink parts of her ears, the warden noted that they seemed bloodless, almost as white as her fur. Bubbles looked back at the warden from under a heavy fringe with one mistrustful eye, the other eye being completely hidden under her unruly hair.
"Ah, McGee." The warden began. "I'm told that you've been unwell a good deal since joining us."
"I'm very sorry warden. I'll try not to be so much trouble in the future." Bubbles said quickly and miserably.
"You aren't in any trouble, McGee. What seems to be the matter with you?"
"I've been having a lot of trouble with my insides. It's the food, I guess." Bubbles said.
"I'm told you've been having nosebleeds. Food can't cause that."
"Quite right." Haggs interrupted in a harsh voice. "It's all malingering if you ask me."
"Perhaps I'll ask you later." Said the warden, meaningfully.
"I must have high blood pressure or something." Bubbless voice was subdued. "The stress from being in here again."
"How are the other prisoners treating you? I hear you have a whole cell to yourself now. You're very fortunate."
"I wouldn't mind sharing; not at all. I'd be grateful for the company. If you wanted to put someone in with me, anyone at all "
"Really?" the warden raised her eyebrows. Single cells that prisoners didn't have to share were highly prized. There were two ways to get them. You could be so good that guards wanted to reward you, or so bad that they were afraid to put anyone else in the same cell as you. "Most prisoners would be very glad to have their own space."
"Ungrateful. That's what you are. You ought be thanking Warden Phelps, not making her waste her valuable time on you."
"Please, Officer Haggs, I know how to deal with prisoners."
Haggs' expression said otherwise, but the officer fell silent.
Turning back to Bubbles, Warden Phelps continued. "You didn't answer my earlier question. How are the other prisoners treating you?"
"Oh fine! No problems at all. I've made lots of new friends and everyone's been very nice!"
Warden Phelps frowned. "Very nice" didn't sound like the Shrankshaw prisoners she knew and worried about on a nightly basis. "Very nice?" she repeated slowly. "Ah ha, are you sure?"
"Oh yes!" Bubbles nodded her head enthusiastically.
"Has the doctor given you any antidepressants?"
"Oh, no." This time Bubbles shook her head, just as enthusiastically. In the process, the mop of hair that was covering her hidden eye was shaken away, revealing an ugly bruise.
The jaws of the warden, the deputy warden and Doctor Schadenfreude all dropped. The warden recovered first, blinking rapidly. "Um, uh, you have a black eye." She said.
Bubbles was hastily re-arranging her hair to cover the offending organ again. "No, I don't!" she said in a panic.
Three pairs of eyes blinked at Bubbles from in front of her. She could feel another pair beside her, glowering at her. Say the wrong thing now and you'll regret it, Bubbles knew that truth so well that she didn't need to hear it.
"Um, yes you do. I saw it." The warden said.
"No, you must be mistaken." Bubbles knew this was a stupid way to handle it but now she had made the denial she was stuck with it.
"Bubbles, we all saw it!" The deputy warden objected. Beside her, Doctor Schadenfreude nodded.
"It's probably just my eye shadow?" Bubbles improvised wildly.
"You put all your eye shadow on one eye?" The deputy asked incredulously.
"Um I'm thinking of going Goth! I mean, I'm in here, I'm depressed because I'm in prison and I just thought it was a look that could really, you know, work for me."
"But why on earth would you only put make up on one eye?"
"Well, I was going to do both eyes, but then I ran out of make up."
"Which isn't allowed in prison in the first place, as I recall." The warden pointed out.
Haggs heavy hand clamped down on Bubbles shoulder. Bubbles winced like someone who had just been prodded somewhere that was already painful. "Having contraband is a serious matter, McGee. You just bought yourself a-"
"That won't be necessary, Officer Haggs!" The warden snapped.
Officer Haggs looked genuinely put out. "Why, I'm only trying to do my job, warden!"
"Yes, I'm sure you are. However, I don't think we need to get put out over a little make up." Her own tastes in make up ran to heavy blue eye shadow, on both eyes, naturally. She had always felt slightly guilty for wearing it herself and then having to occasionally punish people for doing the same.
"Warden, she isn't wearing any make up! That's a black eye!" the deputy warden said, disbelievingly.
"No it isn't." Bubbles repeated.
"Why don't you just brush your hair back and let us take a look at it, Bubbles? Then we can decide for ourselves." The warden said firmly.
Reluctantly, Bubbles raised a hand to her face. The warden nodded encouragingly. Very slowly, Bubbles took hold of the offending curls of hair. The warden looked at her impatiently. Bubbles lifted the hair - for half a second!
"See!" She squeaked as soon as she had covered the eye again. "There's nothing there but eye shadow!"
"Bubbles McGee," the Warden said sternly, "lift up that hair so we can see properly, this instant!"
Bubbles hung her head for a moment, torn between having Officer Haggs mad at her and having the Warden, the Deputy Warden and whoever this strange bat was mad at her. The thing was, Haggs was mad at her anyway, because she wouldn't tell Haggs where her share of the loot was. Bubbles lifted her head and, resisting the urge to cry, pushed the hair back, away from her face.
"If that's not a black eye, I don't know what is." The Deputy Warden said after a moment of silence.
"What about these other problems you've been having? The nosebleeds and the stomach cramps? Are they the same?" The Warden asked.
"No, they're genuine." Bubbles lied carefully. Haggs had to allow her the black eye. There was no way she could have got out of showing that to them.
"Someone's been hitting you, haven't they? You have to tell us who."
"One of the other prisoners, jealous of that single cell she's been given, I shouldn't wonder." Haggs supplied helpfully. "I always said it leads to trouble, giving some of them more room than others. No reason we shouldn't have six in every cell, the kind of people we have on the streets these days."
"She can tell us for herself." The Warden said, coldly. "Well, Bubbles? What about it? Who did this?"
"I can't split on another inmate. They'd kill me."
"We can protect you if you tell us who did this."
"I'm not going to RAT anyone out!" Bubbles said, twitching the tip of her tail towards Haggs in a pointing gesture as she spoke the word "rat".
"Bubbles! Really!" The Deputy Warden said in a shocked voice.
"It's quite alright, I have to live with this kind of stereotyping everyday." Haggs said airily. "I'm quite used to this kind of abuse."
"That hardly excuses it!" The Deputy said, embarrassed.
"I'm sorry. It was just a figure of speech." Bubbles said in a small voice.
"Yes, well I think that concludes our interview with you. I'd like you to wait outside for someone to take you to the medical wing for a proper check up." The Warden said, thoughtfully. "In fact, I'd like it if you took her straight away, Marion."
The Deputy Warden nodded and turned Bubbles towards the door.
The Warden turned to Doctor Schadenfreude. "I'd like to thank you for coming, Doctor, hopefully you've seen enough to form an opinion?"
"Oh, yah." The Doctor said in a subdued voice. "I have formed an opinion. Now if you will excuse me, I'm having an extra session with one of my more perplexing patients today. I believe the session may be much overdue." Doctor Schadenfreude made his way out.
Officer Haggs made to follow him but the Warden stopped her.
"Just a moment, Margo. I'd like a word with you."
The Warden's use of her first name raised Haggs eyebrows. "Certainly." Haggs agreed while struggling to maintain her composure. "What seems to be the problem?"
"Oh, it's not a problem really. You remember that you're up before the board of promotion soon?"
"Yesss." There was steel in Haggs voice as she bit the word off.
"You've been bucking for a promotion for quite a while."
I should have had your job, Haggs' eyes said. Her mouth said: "I've been passed over twice before, in spite of my record, which as you know is-"
"Exemplary, yes." The Warden finished for her. "I don't really see anything holding you back, except "
Haggs stared at her, silently. "Yes?" she enquired, eventually.
"You're experience could be seen as a little narrow. You've always worked in the main prison, never really done anything in the specialised areas."
Haggs thought about it for a second. "You mean like the hospital wing, or here in the administration section?"
"Yes. I could arrange some experience for you, if you like. Then it would be one thing they couldnt hold against you." The Warden smiled sweetly.
"In the area of my choice?"
"Yes. Though I think the medical wing may not have an opening at present." The Warden said, pretending not to notice that limited Officer Haggs' choices, somewhat.
"Oh, that's quite alright, Warden. I prefer to work in the Special Wing, thank you."
The Warden opened and closed her mouth. She'd missed that one. "Are- Are you quite sure?"
"Yes, I think so. "
"Very well then, I'll fill in the form now." The Warden sat down behind her desk and began writing. At least it would keep Haggs away from Bubbles McGee, the Warden thought. Maybe then Bubbles will find the nerve to tell us what's really been going on.
"Thank you." Haggs said, taking the form when the Warden was finished. "Psychiatric work has always interested me. All these strange delusions people have. Do you know, I hear that sometimes the suffers can be so convincing that even relatively normal people can be taken in."
Officer Haggs smiled at the startled Warden and closed the office door, on her way out.
Gadget was halfway through her lunch, which was exactly the same as the lunch of the day before and the day before that, when Doctor Schadenfreude visited her. She looked up in surprise, not having expected to see him again until next week.
"I have been to see the warden, young lady. It is most difficult to know how to refer to you without knowing your name." The Doctor told her.
Gadget looked at him steadily and swallowed the food she had been chewing. "You do know my name, Doctor Schadenfreude."
"I thought perhaps I did, for a little while. I have seen the warden and passed on your concerns. She at once brought the inmate your allegations were concerning to her office and interviewed her. I believe you told me what was true. She has a black eye."
"Thank heavens! What's going to happen now?"
"I believe Mrs McGee will be watched most closely from now on and that this creature that you named will not have another chance to traumatise your most unfortunate friend."
"That's a relief. I guess now I have one less thing to worry about. Doctor, can I ask you a question?"
"Yah, but of course."
"Now that you know I've told you the truth once, are you prepared to reconsider everything else that I've told you?"
The Doctor studied her carefully. "I might be."
Gadget's face blossomed with a huge and beautiful smile. "Well, is there anything I can do to help you do that?"
"Let us talk about the conversations you have been having." Doctor Schadenfreude said.
"Conversations with you?"
"Possibly. How many times do you think we have spoken?"
"Counting this time?"
"Then, no. I'm not interested in our conversations together."
"My conversations with Bubbles?"
"Have you spoken to Bubbles since you were brought into this special part of the prison?"
"Not those then."
"Well then, that only leaves-" Gadget's face fell. She remembered her promise to Ratigan all too clearly. "I haven't had any conversations since I was put in here." The lie felt like stone in her mouth.
"No? Are you sure?"
Gadget did not reply. Her face was that of a guilty child. Her ears were back, her brow was furrowed and her smile nervous, hopeful and excited.
"Young lady, you know you are here so that you can be observed. You have been observed. The orderlies have seen and heard you chatting quiet amiably. To who were you talking?"
Gadget wanted to tell him. But she wasn't about to break a promise. "No one."
"No one? You were talking to yourself, then?"
"Yes. I mean, no! I mean I was talking to myself but not like that! Not like, like "
"Like crazy people do?"
"Right! That's right. I was talking to myself like everyone does, sometimes. When they're alone. Or you're thinking out loud."
"The orderlies listened very closely on two occasions. They said you were definitely having a conversation. If they made mobile phones for mice, they would have searched you for one."
"Then I'm glad they don't make phones that small yet! Doctor, what if I told you, promised you, that there was a perfectly rational reason why I appeared to be making conversation with myself but that I cannot reveal that reason for perfectly good and valid reasons that I also could not reveal?" Gadget asked.
"Would the reason why you cannot reveal the reason for not revealing your reasons be the same as the reason you cannot reveal your reasons for talking to yourself in the first place?" Doctor Schadenfreude asked, his voice thoughtful as he tried to get the right number of reasons into the sentence.
"Yes, that's it exactly." Gadget beamed. She felt like she was getting somewhere here.
Doctor Schadenfreude sighed deeply. "Young lady, that is a recursive argument. Such logic can be symptoms of many delusional states but in your case I am hoping you are just being difficult."
"Oh, I am!" Gadget hastened to reassure him.
"However, I cannot escape the fact that you have been observed on at least one occasion talking to someone who was not there."
"What? Who said that I did that?" Gadget looked startled and, for the first time alarmed.
"Two of the orderlies watched you for some time. You were having one side of a conversation. You were alone." Doctor Schadenfreude watched her reaction closely.
"No." Gadget said. "I was with someone." There were tears forming in her eyes. Gadget suddenly felt freedom slipping away from her just when it seemed certain.
"They said they saw no one." Schadenfreude told her.
"He must have been standing just out of sight." Gadget's voice was shaking with desperation now.
"You could not have been visited by anyone. You were locked in this cell. The door to this section was locked. The orderlies were by the door and saw no one enter or leave while they were there." Doctor Schadenfreude was being stern now.
"I wasn't alone."
"Who was with you?"
"I can't say."
"Who did you promise?"
"I can't say. That was what I promised!"
"You have had no visitors. You can have had no visitors!"
"Please! I gave my word!"
"You are in here for a set period of observation, young lady, but when someone's symptoms are so pronounced it becomes easy to make a diagnosis."
"I am not crazy!" Gadget wailed.
"You are clearly suffering from the hallucinations!"
"I am not! It's a mistake! I tell you, it's all a gigantic mistake. All of it! Everything!" Gadget was hysterical now.
"Young lady!" Schadenfreude's raised voice silenced her. "I am here to be helping you. Before I can do that, you must accept that you are in need of having my help. You are clearly ill. This discovery could reduce your sentence considerably. Your refusal to accept your condition makes treatment difficult and your own situation much more worse than it can be. You have tried hard to convince me that you are a rational being. I think this is important to you, yes?"
"I am rational. There was someone with me. He must have been standing where they couldnt see him."
"It is important to you that I think you are rational, yes?"
"Then the most rational thing you could do is accept help when it is offered. Help that will improve your situation, entitle you to appeal your sentence and conviction on the grounds of mental incompetence."
Gadget looked at him with a horrible indecision in her eyes.
Schadenfreude pressed his advantage. "Delusions can be very convincing, very seductive. We do anything we can to protect our dreams because they are what inspire us and keep us going when life is hard, but there comes a time when they claim so much of our lives they become harmful to us. Would it be so terrible to be someone other than Gadget Hackwrench? If you are someone other than Miss Hackwrench, could this person be so utterly unlovable that you reject any possibility of her existence? Would the real Gadget Hackwrench be so unfeeling to a young woman who clearly wished to be so much like her?"
Gadget was reeling with confusion. She was almost distraught. Freedom had been in reach and now, for reasons she could not understand, it was being taken away from her along with any claim she had to sanity. She opened her mouth to deny she was mad and there, standing behind Doctor Schadenfreude, was Ratigan.
Gadget blinked. When she opened her eyes again Ratigan was gone. Doctor Schadenfreude was still there, looking at her sternly but with compassion.
Uncertainty gripped her. Could it be possible that she was, in fact, insane?
"Doctor?" she began, "Please, I remember my friends I remember being with Monty, Chip, Dale and Zipper. I remember being chased by Fat Cat and out-smarting Rat Capone. They're the best friends a girl could have. You can't tell me those memories aren't real!"
"I am telling you! They are a fantasy you have used mask some real memory that you cannot face, that lurks in your past and forces you to run from the truth."
"No Please, no?"
"Look here, see what I have for you." Doctor Schadenfreude held up the morning newspaper.
The newspaper showed a photograph of a grey mouse that Gadget didn't know in handcuffs and leg-irons, as he was being lead from the Cosgrove Hotel to a storm drain by two large members of the Street Watch. The caption read: Leader of Museum Robbers Attempts Murder of Gadget Hackwrench "If it weren't for Gadget Hackwrench I'd be rich. I hope she never leaves that hospital bed!"
Doctor Schadenfreude put himself nose to nose with Gadget. "Now, young mouse lady, I must ask you: Can you say that there is not the slightest possibility that this story is about the real Gadget Hackwrench and that you are the impostor? Is there not even the slightest shred of doubt in your mind that you are the real Hackwrench?"
Gadget remembered the brief moment when she had seen Ratigan standing behind the psychiatrist. She knew that the rat could not have been there, yet she had seen him. Self-doubt gnawed away her confidence, leaving her with little else to rely on.
Tears began to spill down her cheeks, one after another, and she could not answer the psychiatrist.
"The only interest in psychiatrics Margo has ever shown is when she plays mind games with people." The Deputy Warden laughed in the Warden's office.
"Those were my thoughts exactly!" Agreed Warden Phelps. "Still, I did offer her a change of duties and that was what she chose."
"But surely she only chose that to get at the prisoner who informed on her."
"I don't see how she could know who to go after. None of us mentioned the informant's name; in fact we couldn't, we don't even know what it is ourselves!"
"True, but "
"As a matter of fact, I was thinking that we really ought to do something about that we can hardly go around calling her Number 24601 for the next fifteen years."
"Doctor Schadenfreude was standing right next to you the whole time and Margo Haggs knows that Bubbless cell mate is his latest patient. She could have put two and two together."
"You may be right, but we'll keep a close eye on things. Hopefully, while Margo Haggs is away, we can persuade McGee to open up to us."
"Let's hope we can. From what I heard today it's all too easy to believe that Margo's trying to force McGee to hand over her share from that warehouse robbery."
The Warden opened her mouth to answer but was interrupted by her phone, which was one of only three in the prison, ringing loudly. She answered it immediately. "Hello, yes? This is Warden Phelps "
Margo pretended to interest herself in the rather meagre furnishings of the office until her friend and superior had finished on the telephone.
"Very well then, good bye." The Warden finally said, concluding the call. "How very curious." She said to her friend after putting the phone down.
"What was it?" The Deputy Warden asked, indulging her curiosity at last.
"That was Chip Maplewood it seems our counterfeit Gadget Hackwrench is going to have a visit from the Rescue Rangers after all."
"Aw, Chip, I don't get it. What d'ya wanna go and spend time visiting that fraud in the jailhouse for when you could be visiting Gadget?" Dale sounded personally put out by it, despite the fact that it meant that he would be able to spend time alone with Gadget.
"Those people who tried to kidnap Gadget two of them are still out there. If they're linked to the people who were impersonating us-"
"What people who were impersonating us?" Dale scratched his head.
Chip stopped sorting his letters of introduction to the Prison Warden and looked up at his friend. "Oh, that's right. We never told you. Some group of frauds was running around the country impersonating us and using our reputation to cheat everyone they met."
"And nobody told me?"
"Of course not." Chip sounded matter of fact about it. He had already gone back to the letters of introduction. "That's why I really left. I was investigating the places they robbed."
"I thought you went to visit an old friend who lived in the country?"
Chip ignored the implied question. "According to the newspapers (for what little those scandalmongers are worth) the mouse that was impersonating Gadget was alone and she was arrested for causing a disturbance. That's a big difference from the modus operandi of the team that were using our reputations to cheat people. It could be this prisoner is just some trouble maker who tried giving a false name to the Street Watch and got way more than she bargained for. Or she could be a wondering nut who's nothing to do with the con artists. Either way, there haven't been any more confidence tricks reported since the museum robbery."
"That means that she must be the one who was pretending to be Gadget, right?"
"Wrong. She was arrested the same day that Gadget was injured. The news spread quickly and the con artists might just be laying low because they know that they can't con anyone while Gadget is in the hospital."
Dale scratched his head. "What about the two museum robbers who got away at the hospital. I thought going after them was top priority?"
"If the mouse girl in prison is guilty of everything they say she is, her friends may have hijacked Gadget and the Ranger plane to rob the museum without her. If that's the case, then she may know who the two on the hospital roof were and be able to tell us where they've gone."
"We already got one of them. Why don't we just ask him?"
"That thug who dressed up as an orderly? Take it from me; he's a real tough guy. We handed him over to the Street Watch so they could try and sweat something out of him but I dont think they'll have much luck. I'd have a go myself, with Monty's help, but the reporters probably would have been accusing us of brutality before we got anything out of him." It might, Chip silently admitted to himself, have been a justified accusation, given what the would-be kidnapper had tried to do.
"You're going this morning? To visit the prison?"
"No, I've got some other people to see first. I couldn't get around to her until late this afternoon. But I won't be coming back to the tree before then so I'm putting the stuff I'll need together now. Think of it this way, you get to spend some time with Gadget while I'm busy." As soon as he'd said it, Chip could have kicked himself for pointing this out to Dale but the last thing Chip wanted was to have Dale trailing after him while he was chasing down the few meagre leads they did have. With any luck, Gadget would be tired from the kidnap attempt and toss Dale out on his ear.
Dale blinked and smiled back at him.
Prison Officer Margo Haggs was, as Gadget had deduced on their first meeting, an escapee from a Human medical lab. Born into captivity, Haggs had never seen her father and, given the rumours about what went on in Human science labs, she wouldn't have been surprised to learn that her mother had never met him either. She had learned little about the wonderful world beyond the walls of the institution by the time she was weaned from her mother and not long after that they were separated and Margo Haggs never saw her again.
The greatest fear of every intelligent animal in a human science lab is that their intelligence might be noticed by a human, who would then want to run tests and experiments to see just how intelligent that particular animal was and why. Not all small animals are intelligent if they were, it would have been impossible to keep the secret of animal society from humans at all. Most species on the planet could boast only a single breed or sub-species that had been gifted, or cursed, with sapient thought.
Only a precious few of the animals in the lab with Haggs were bright enough to talk and only rarely did the opportunity arise for them to speak to one and other. Separated from her mother at an early age, Haggs herself only knew a few words of English before she escaped, including her own name. It was enough for one of the other prisoners to tell her that if they could get out of this place, there was somewhere better waiting for them on the outside.
Haggs grew up behind bars and, in a way, grew around them. She escaped before the humans noticed her intelligence or her unusual longevity compared to the other lab rats. Longevity was that other very human quality that seemed to go hand in hand with speech. Still, young as she was when she escaped, the bars and cages left an impression on Margo Haggs. Two things that her captivity had taught her were never far from her mind. The first was to blend in with everyone around her. Different was dangerous. The second was the division between those on one side of the bars and those on the other. Inside the cage you were a just a thing, a dangerous, wild thing to be contained and used. Outside, you were a giant.
Right now, although bars and cages surrounded her, Margo Haggs was on the outside of the cage. She felt like a giant.
One of creatures inside the cage had just had the audacity to try and bite her but she had been too big for it to hurt her. Now it was her turn and she was going to show the little creature that thought it was Gadget Hackwrench just what a giant could do. Officer Haggs was going to teach it a lesson it would never forget and when she was finished that would be the last time it forgot which side of the bars it belonged on.
Only Haggs' instinctive caution kept her from going directly to Gadget's cell and handing out a beating heavy enough to put Gadget in a hospital bed. Whatever she thought of the Warden and her Deputy, they would throw Haggs out on her ear if they could connect her to what was going to happen to the little fraud. Not that Haggs had decided what would happen to the creature inside the cage, yet.
With those thoughts in mind, she slapped the transfer of duty forms down on the desk of the duty officer in the admin office of Shrankshaw Prison's special wing. The duty officer, a mole who had been reading a cheep magazine when Haggs entered, peered at the forms Haggs had presented.
"You're working here from now on?" The mole sounded surprised.
"Just for a while. The Warden was concerned that the lack of variety in my experience could damage my chances with the promotions board. Is Doctor Schadenfreude still about?"
"Actually he's just left for the day. He won't be back until the day after tomorrow, in fact. Something about getting his hearing checked."
"Hmm? Oh, yes. That can take quite a long time for a bat." Haggs agreed. "Can I see the duty schedule? I'd like to see where I could slot myself in."
Without looking up from her magazine, the mole handed her a clipboard with some papers attached. Haggs gave it the once over and frowned in annoyance. "This isn't a duty schedule, this is a-"
"What's that you say?" Drawled the mole, without much interest.
Haggs had broken off to look again at the papers she had been given. A slow, sly smile crossed her face. "I said this is just what I need, thank you very much."
On the clipboard were the words "treatment regime inmate 24601 Doe, Jane". It had taken Officer Haggs a moment to connect the number with a certain red headed mouse. Beneath the heading and Gadget's prisoner number was Doctor Schadenfreude's prescription for a small amount of anti-hallucinogens. At the bottom of the paper was the good Doctor's signature. In between there was a large, inviting blank. Perhaps because he was in a hurry, Doctor Schadenfreude had failed to put the customary scribbled line through this empty space to prevent someone from adding his or her own suggestion for treatment.
Haggs looked over at the mole. "Can I borrow a pen?"
The morning of the day after Officer Haggs came to work on the special ward was the second Gadget had spent in her new cell. When the door to her cell opened, Gadget got what she thought was the shock of her life to see Haggs standing there with a breakfast tray.
"Rise and shine!" Haggs practically shouted. "It's a beautiful morning. The sun is shining, the non-predatory birds are singing and the grass is sweet with dew. Of course, you'll have to take my word for all that, seeing as you're locked up down here and likely to stay that way for, oh, just about for ever the way you've been carrying on."
Gadget blinked rapidly, her hands reaching for the breakfast tray mechanically as she fought to work out what was going on.
"The Warden and I had such an interesting little chat with Doctor Schadenfreude yesterday. It seems that your delusions extend to thinking that anyone would take the word of a dirty little liar like you over the word of someone like me. We all thought you needed a closer watch kept on you by someone who understands how scum like you thinks. Or tries to. Oopsie." Haggs tilted the tray just as Gadget's hands reached it, so that all the food slid down her clothes.
Gadget cried out in dismay.
"Careless girl!" Haggs said it as though it really had been Gadget's fault. "You'll have to clean that up yourself. You're far too dangerous for anyone to go into the cage with you. And, of course, we can hardly trust you with a mop." Haggs smiled nastily and pulled a small sponge out her pocket. "Start cleaning the floor." She ordered.
Gadget stared at her silently for a moment. She could feel the milk from the breakfast cereal soaking through her hospital issue nightgown. Not long ago, Gadget thought to herself, if someone had come into her bedroom and woken her like that she would have lost her temper. She would have yelled at them, chased them out and maybe even bonked them over the head for good measure.
Very slowly, Gadget took the sponge so she could clean up after Officer Haggs had left.
"Come along, you don't want me to get one of the orderlies and have you restrained while someone else does it do you? Why if I told them how you dumped your food all over the floor just because you weren't happy to see me again they might even put you in a padded cell for the day. Or would you like that? All trussed up safe and sound in a straitjacket where no one would bother you. I could even look in on you and keep you from getting bored."
Gadget shook her head submissively. She didn't know how Haggs planned to keep her from getting bored but she was hoping that she had turned in her rubber panties for the last time.
"Get cleaning then." Haggs ordered.
Gadget hesitated but saw no way around it. She would have to wipe her breakfast off the floor and that meant she would have to kneel in front of Haggs. She did so, keeping her eyes down so that she would not have to look the bully in the face.
As Gadget cleaned the floor she realised that where there should have been anger in her heart, there was only a deep, empty stillness. She wondered what that meant and whether it was good or bad. This was, she realised, her thirteenth day in prison. Unlucky for some. She no longer expected to persuade anyone that she was Gadget Hackwrench. She would only be rescued when one of her friends discovered the trick that was being played on them and shook the truth out of the impostor.
Haggs put her foot as close to the bars as possible. "Some of your breakfast got onto my foot. Wipe it off."
Gadget made the mistake of looking up at the Prison Officer to see if she meant it. Haggs did. Now Gadget had to look down and obey the humiliating order and Haggs would know that she was humiliated. Haggs knowing was worse than having just obediently kept her head down and done as she was told.
Gadget wiped the milk and cereal from Haggs' foot as quickly as possible.
"That's a good girl. Now just you behave yourself and maybe you'll get to enjoy your lunch." Haggs left without another word.
Gadget sat on the end of her bed and thought about the empty space inside of her. It was partly the space that should have been occupied by the food she had just wiped off the floor and Haggs' foot, but there was something else missing as well.
It was confidence.
Her confidence that she was right, her confidence that she was Gadget Hackwrench, that she was sane, that she did not belong in chains.
When she really thought about it, she realised that it wasn't something that Haggs had taken from her either that was just her pride, a far less important trinket. Her confidence was something that had been stolen by Ratigan, or perhaps her own imagination, in that one brief instant when she had seen him standing behind Doctor Schadenfreude.
Sitting back on her bed, she asked herself the question and took it seriously for the first time. "What if I am just some nutcase who just thinks she's Gadget Hackwrench?"
If she closed her eyes she could see Monty standing in the kitchen doorway, one bushy eyebrow raised. Hear the sound Dale's head made when Chip hit it. The buzzing of Zipper's wings seemed so real. Wait a moment. That was real.
Gadget's eyes snapped open, half expecting to see the housefly hero in front of her. He wasn't. She looked about the cell for the source of the noise and realised that it was coming from the hall outside. The lights dimmed slightly.
Gadget scowled. The last thing she needed was for an electrical fault to offer her the perfect chance to escape when she was the one person in the prison who couldnt take advantage of it. Discomfort and inconvenience she could live with. Psychological torture she could not. Or rather, Gadget Hackwrench could not. The seductive thought insinuated itself into the centre of her mind: If she was not Gadget Hackwrench then she wasn't a Rescue Ranger, she hadn't dedicated her life to upholding the law and there was nothing to stop her trying to escape. Gadget looked at the thought like a director watching an auditioning actor quail under a spotlight for the first time. Unimpressive as it was at first glance, it had potential. The potential to get her out of here, anyway...
Of course, if she wasn't Gadget Hackwrench she wouldn't have any of the skills that she thought she did and escape would probably be impossible. After what Doctor Schadenfreude had said about her imagination forging her memories to protect her illusions, Gadget found herself wondering if her highly principled decision not to escape was in fact just a flimsy rationalisation to excuse an inability to escape she couldn't admit to herself.
That one kept Gadget puzzling for a long time. The only way to prove it was to try and escape and fail, which would prove that she was mad, incapable of escaping and that she rightly belonged in prison. Where she would stay for, counting the five-year sentence that would get tacked on for attempted escape, twenty years.
Escape looked even less appealing than it had when she was only worried about getting handcuffs slapped on her by one of her best friends and being led back to prison again. And if she wasn't Gadget Hackwrench, what would she do on the outside? It wasn't a question of marching up to Ranger HQ and demanding her life back because it wasn't hers in the first place!
She could go looking to find out who she really was but if she really were crazy it would only be a matter of time before she convinced herself she was Gadget Hackwrench again. Besides, where would she start? You needed trained professionals for those sort of investigations a real Rescue Ranger would be up to the challenge but, by definition, if the investigation was necessary then she wouldn't be up to it.
If she wasn't Gadget who was she? She only knew of one mouse that was a dead ringer for her and that was Lawhiney, who was under guard in Hawaii as far as she knew. She spent a couple of minutes racking her brain to see if she could speak Hawaiian. She couldn't.
That didn't rule out any number of people who looked like her that she, or rather Gadget, hadn't met yet.
"I can't believe I'm taking this seriously!" Gadget yelled out loud, rolling her eyes. There was a faint noise from the peephole in the doorway. Gadget winced. She had just been caught talking to herself again.
"Are you sure about this?" the mouse orderly worried unhappily.
"You read the Doctor's prescription. Have you been to medical school?" the squirrel orderly with her replied.
"Not unless you count that time someone was going to dissect me."
"Will you give me hand shifting these boxes out of here? This place hasn't been used in years."
"I thought they sent the patients to the big funny farm under City Hall to do this kind of stuff."
"Well, m'be they don't wanna to take the risk with this one. She's pretty whacked out ya' know."
The squirrel picked up a large cardboard box and handed it to the mouse, even though it was too big for her friend to see over. "Dump it all on the trolley in the hall. We'll be moving it down to storage when we get a moment." The squirrel shook a smaller box that made glassware sounds. She put it on top the larger cardboard box her friend was already holding.
Turning her back, the squirrel continued to move the junk, disused equipment and cleaning supplies. Behind her came a loud crash from the hallway. "Hm." She grunted, but pretended not to hear in case she had to help clean up the mess. When she moved the next box, the squirrel made a discovery that made her forget the muffled cursing and complaining in the corridor outside.
"I found it! Come look!"
There was a pause and the sound of breaking glassware, but the mouse did come in to look. She stared at the squirrel's discovery with a mixture of fascination and horror. It was a large plastic chair made out of lego blocks that had been glued together. The raised circles on top of the blocks that formed the seat looked extremely uncomfortable but the crown of wires and electrodes mounted where the head of the person sitting in the chair would be tended to draw the imagination to what would be happening to the other end.
The mouse turned large eyes on her older, more confident friend. "We have to put someone into that?"
"Yeah, I guess so. Hope it still works after all these years."
They both stared at the chair.
"Do you think she'll fight very hard?"
"Wouldn't you?" The squirrel asked.
The fur on the mouse's back rose in alarm at the thought. "Don't say that!"
"We're going to have to spend all morning cleaning this place if we're going to get this done by lunchtime. C'mon, let's get back to work."
Gadget looked at the paper cone cup of pills. "There are rather more of them than usual." She said, wrinkling her nose.
"They're not the same kind of pills you've had before." The orderly said flatly. "Now, I don't have all day. Just think of it as taking your vitamins."
"You mean this will give me a shiny coat?"
"Yeah, sure, honey. Just take the pills." The orderly sighed heavily. She had another twelve patients to go Sheesh, what a way to earn a living!
Gadget took the pills and knocked them back with a mouth full of water from the bottle that hung on the bars of her cage, identical to the ones that hung on the cages humans kept their prisoners in.
"Now say 'ah' and show me your tongue." The orderly told her.
"I have to make sure that you've swallowed them."
Wearily, Gadget complied, holding her mouth wide open so that the orderly could shine a torch into it.
"Waggle your tongue." The orderly instructed her.
Gadget did so.
"Okay, that'll do." The orderly killed the torch and turned away. Gadget took advantage of the moment to stick her tongue out at the orderly's retreating back like a naughty child. She barely got away with it; the orderly turned back at the door with a suspicious look on her face, but saw only a widely smiling prisoner.
"Humph." The orderly grunted as she locked the door. "With those pills inside you, you'll soon forget what you're grinning at."
Inside her cell, Gadget was already feeling the effects. She was trying to pick up her calculations on how many ceiling tiles it would take to cover the entire park the Rangers lived in, but found it impossible to retrieve the equations from her memory. She frowned. She knew exactly where she had put the problem she had an imaginary filing cabinet and an imaginary blackboard in a nice, quiet part of her mind for exactly this very purpose. When she opened the filing cabinet, however, the paper was smudged and the numbers illegible.
Mentally, she shrugged her shoulders and began the sums a new, but the numbers seemed to move and change places when she took attention off them. Gadget frowned. Odd. She tried to remember if something like this had ever happened before. There was that time she had banged her head, she mused, and back in primary school one time when she got sick. Was that it? Was she getting sick?
Feeling a little hazy she lay down on the bed, hoping that it would pass quickly. She really didn't want to fall ill here. Sheesh, what else could possibly happen to her? Instead of passing, the feelings quickly got worse. Soon her head was spinning and she had forgotten what she was worried about. It felt like she was floating and was likely to float right out of her cell, all the way back to the Ranger HQ. She would drift past the front door and Chip would open it and ask where she had been.
"Oh, you wouldn't believe me if I told you." She would answer before asking him to fish her out of the pink, candyfloss clouds that were coming to take her away, ha-ha, hee-hee, were coming to take her away Lost in a haze of prescription medication, Gadget lay sprawled on her bed with her eyes unfocused. It would be quite some time before she came down again.
It was late afternoon when they came for Gadget.
The cell door opened. Gadget did not lift her head at the sound. She didn't react to the sound of keys turning in the lock, either, or to the rustle of more than one person entering her cell. A hand took her arm and re-arranged it.
"Did you bring breakfast?" she mumbled.
"It's closer to tea time." A voice said.
"Hmmm?" Gadget puzzled.
There was the quiet but unmistakeable click of someone fastening heavy-duty restraints around the body parts of another person. Heavy duty, in the case of a mouse, meant something bite resistant that a human would need more than a little finger to break.
"Up we come."
"Huh? Whuddya mean, we?" Gadget puzzled. She was fairly sure she was the only one in the bed. Firm hands pulled her into a sitting position. Was it time for school?
The hands lifted her up and then carelessly dumped her into a seat, dispelling any thought that this might be her father. What was she thinking? Her father had been dead for years Gadget kick-started her brain and tried to work out what was going on. She had just remembered joining the Rescue Rangers when she felt someone putting straps around her, securing her in the chair.
Gadget forced her eyes open. Bars. She could see bars. Oh, yes. That was right she had been locked up for impersonating Gadget Hackwrench. The logical part of her mind threw a little tantrum at that - how could she be locked up for pretending to be herself?
The chair she was strapped to began moving. By the time she realised it was a wheelchair her memory had filled in the blanks about where she was. She didn't like the picture it left her facing.
"Where are you taking me?" she asked the orderlies.
"For your treatment. Nothing to worry about." Came the brisk answer.
Gadget shook her head. She wasn't thinking clearly but the studied, artificial tone was enough to alarm anyone. A little clearer-minded, Gadget peered blearily at the passing scenery. The memory of being drugged as much memory as she had of that event came back to her and suddenly she could place the strange, cotton-wool-headed feeling that was smothering her. She had to fight it. She tried digging her claws into the palms of her hands, a trick to fight mind control that she had seen once in one of Dale's spy movies.
Pain. Ah yes, that happened when you drove your fingernails into your own skin. The adrenalin did seem to work though. She kept her eyes closed to stop the motion sickness she could feel building and wished she could close her ears and not hear the squeak of the wheelchair's axle. She shuddered and was suddenly glad she hadn't eaten all day.
By the time they came to the heavy door with the dusty glass window, Gadget still wasn't thinking clearly but she was fairly sure she made as much sense as Dale. Briefly, she wondered if this was what the world was like for Dale all the time. She stepped on the thought before she could expand on it. She couldn't afford to go off on a tangent now. She didn't have the brainpower to make up the time she spent on things that weren't relevant.
The sign on the door was too dirty to read. All she could make out was: "E##c##o-Co#v#l##ve The##r# ##om".
It wouldn't have been a problem for the real Gadget Hackwrench she mused unhappily only thirteen letters out of twenty-eight missing. Of course, she thought, the medication they fed me might have affected my thinking Golly! If they keep me like this, I might never be sure who I really am!
The door was opened. Gadget recognised the equipment inside instantly.
This was an electro-shock therapy room.
She was going to be electrocuted.
Adrenaline surged through her body and her muscles tensed against her will, giving away the fact that she was awake. She had meant to keep that a closely guarded secret.
This was not good. If she sat in that chair and electricity ran through her head she would never truly be herself again whoever that was.
This didn't make sense. Doctor Schadenfreude was a good person. She sensed that. She had sensed it before she was given the medication. Why would he do this do her? It couldnt be a well-intentioned mistake. Electro-shock therapy was only prescribed for patients experiencing depression. She hadn't said anything in their sessions that suggested depression and nothing in the symptoms he could know about suggested that she might suffer from it.
She left out the symptoms he couldn't know about.
That left incompetence; she suddenly wished that she had more experience of dealing with psychiatrists. She had considered going to one after she found out about Monty's dabbling in grief therapy, but had never been able to find the time.
As the wheelchair squeaked through the door, she realised that there was no question of not trying to escape now. Upholding the law was one thing. Allowing someone to pass electricity through her body was another. They would have to untie the restraints to put her into the electro-shock chair. That would be the moment she had to make her break.
Large, strong hands gripped her by the upper arms from behind. A mouse orderly she didn't recognise released the straps that attached her to the chair. Gadget braced herself to make her move. Sneaking a glimpse of the hands that were holding her, she noted the claws and fur colouring and placed the smell of squirrel as that of one of the orderlies who escorted her to the little lunatic's room when she had been kept in the padded cell.
This was bad. The orderly, Gadget recalled, was taller than her and had a tendency to be short-tempered. On the other hand, she was also easily distracted. The mouse in front of her was unknown to Gadget, but was smaller than her and already looked frightened. I haven't even done anything yet, Gadget thought, this just might work out.
The mouse bent forward and took Gadget's hands to pull her out of the wheelchair.
Gadget brought her knees up to touch her chest and kicked with both feet. The mouse orderly flew backwards and slammed into the electro-shock chair with a nasty crack.
The squirrel's claws dug sharply into Gadget's arms.
Gadget tried to twist herself free. She slumped as low in the wheelchair as she could but the squirrel bent over the chair to follow her. Scowling, Gadget put one foot on firm ground and used the other to push the chair backwards as far as she could, driving it into the orderly. The orderly went "oof" satisfyingly. The handle on the back of the wheelchair had hit somewhere sensitive.
Gadget allowed herself a smile that lasted a heartbeat. Then she realised the squirrel hadn't let go.
Gadget put her other foot on the floor and pulled forward. Her body weight pulled the squirrel forward, dragging the unfortunate orderly across the wheelchair. Gadget was able to reach back far enough to get a grip on the squirrel's arm, in spite of the restraints that were binding her wrists together.
The orderly was snaking an arm around Gadget's neck, preparing to choke her with the crook of her elbow.
Gadget struggled to get her feet under her. When she succeeded, Gadget lifted with her legs and took a bow, the classic judo throw that a friend of her father's had taught her a very long time ago. The squirrel tumbled messily onto the floor and lay there, more surprised than hurt.
Gadget stood but found her head spinning with dizziness almost instantly. Trying to find her balance, she realised for the first time that her ankles were also in restraints. She could place her feet no more than inch apart. Glancing over her shoulder to find the position of the wheelchair, she was relieved to find it was in range of a short hop backwards. She landed in it with a whump and kicked the floor with both feet, sending the chair careening out through the door.
She knew it wasn't freedom. The squirrel was getting up. The mouse was still lying on her back, not moving. Gadget allowed herself a moment of concern for the orderly.
The squirrel dived for the door just in time for Gadget to kick it shut in her face. The slab of glass that acted as a window was almost as thick as the door itself. At mouse-size, anything thinner could have been broken by a powerful sneeze.
The glass didn't break when the squirrel's face hit it.
It broke when the force of the impact knocked the glass out of its frame, causing it to drop onto the floor.
The squirrel's eyes crossed before she dropped onto the floor.
Gadget took several deep breaths. She didn't have long before they got up and came after her. Part of her wasn't sure that they would be able to get up at all. She tried to move the wheelchair and found it was jammed flat against the wall. Unable to release her hands from the restraints, she could not reach the wheels of the wheelchair to gain control of it.
Gadget was only able to pull herself out of the wheelchair with difficulty. That surprised her on some level. She began to realise that two weeks without exercise, plus the medication, had taken a real toll on her body. Her victory over the guards had been a minor miracle even with the element of surprise working for her.
No matter how tired she felt she had no time to lose. Gadget began hopping down the corridor as though she was in a sack race. She probably had less than a minute before they came after her. She had to find either a place to hide or some way to remove her restraints in that time.
She found it impossible to cover more than an inch in a single bound and was terrified that she would fall and knock her self out. Hop, hop, hop, she inched her way down the corridor.
As she neared the corner at the end of the corridor she turned her head to see if anyone was chasing her yet. The door to the electro-shock therapy was still closed. She allowed herself another brief smile and then continued to hop round the corner where she would be out of sight Pow!
Gadget found herself sitting on the floor, looking up at the smiling face of Officer Haggs. The bullying officer had just hit Gadget in the face for the second time.
"My, my, who's been a naughty girl then? Lucky I just happened to be passing." Reaching down, Haggs gripped Gadget's hair and began dragging her back towards the electroshock room.
Gadget squealed as the roots of her hair took close to the full weight of her body. To reduce the pull on her scalp she reached up and gripped her own hair below Haggs' hand. The only way she could do it was to raise her knees to her chest, because of the restraints that were still binding her. That meant taking her feet off the floor and without her legs to push her along the floor the journey back to the electroshock room seemed far longer than the it had a few seconds before.
They reached the door just as the squirrel orderly opened it, shaking her head and pinching the bridge of her nose. When she saw Gadget, she scowled. A look and an unspoken question passed between the orderly and Officer Haggs. Then, without hesitation, the squirrel orderly took Gadget by the scruff of the neck and punched her in the jaw hard enough for Gadget's head to crack against the linoleum floor.
Everything went black.
The first thing Gadget was aware of was a faint buzzing sound. Not Zipper, she thought and then spent a moment trying to remember why that would be the first thing a buzzing sound would make her think. When she remembered, she opened her eyes and found herself strapped down in the lego-block chair, ready for electroshock therapy.
Her eyes went wide with fear and terror. The room was darkened except for a light directly over her head. In the shadows, she could see two figures hunched over a control panel. One of them she recognized as the squirrel orderly. The other she could only identify as a mole.
"Help." She said, dozily.
The squirrel looked at her. "I get to push the button." She said. "My friend's had to go to hospital because of you and that means I get to push the button."
Gadget couldn't tell whether the squirrel was happy at getting to push the button or just angry that her friend was injured. Perhaps it was both.
"I'm not what you think I am. I'm the real Gadget Hackwrench, I swear I am!"
"The real Gadget Hackwrench wouldnt know the words for what I think you are!" the squirrel replied.
"I'm not some kind of saint! I've heard enough of what crooks say when they get busted to know every kind of word there is! When one of my inventions falls apart, I may not use cuss words out loud in front of everyone but I certainly think them!" Gadget's eyes pleaded now. Begged and implored.
"Dang it, where are the circuit breakers for this thing?" the mole's voice was frustrated.
"How should I know? I've never done this before." The squirrel's revelation didn't reassure Gadget one bit.
Gadget, of course, did know but even with concussion and a skin full of prescription drugs she knew better than to speak up in these circumstances. "Listen, just think a moment, what if you do this and then you find out I'm telling the truth, that I am the real Gadget Hackwrench?"
The mole and the squirrel looked at each other for a moment. Then they both shrugged. "Well, gee, lady, we're just doing our jobs. It's not our fault if the Doc screwed up." The mole said.
"Yeah, that's right." The squirrel agreed. "No one can blame us if we get handed the wrong patient."
"Except Gadget Hackwrench has never been a patient here, so there's no way you can be her." The mole added triumphantly.
Gadget listened in horror. They probably meant it, she realised, and worse still, it was probably true. "Oh golly! Isn't there anything I can say that would convince you not to do this?"
The squirrel fingered her bruises, pointedly. "No."
"Nope. Nothing! Hey, are those the circuit breakers?"
"No, those are just rectifiers. The control how many volts she gets."
"What does she get with them in that position?"
"About fifty volts."
The squirrel did something to the control panel. "How about now?"
"About, let's see about 35,000 volts."
Gadget squeaked in alarm.
Warden Phelps was surprised when she passed a familiar figure in the hallway. "Doctor Schadenfreude, I thought you were taking the day off?"
"Oh yah. I was. But the physician has assured me that my hearing is fine, so I have returned to tie up a few loose ends in what remains of the day."
"I was just about to leave early!" The warden laughed.
"How did your little, ahem, discussion go with that Officer who was named by my patient?"
The warden frowned. It wasn't really a fit discussion for a hallway but there was no one about. "Not quite the way I expected. I wanted to move her away from the inmate concerned, but obviously without any evidence I had to do it in a way that couldnt be seen to lend weight to the accusation."
"Unfortunately, Officer Haggs is quite wise too, or cunning at least. I offered her a chance to expand her range of experience, for the sake of improving her promotion prospects. She chose to work in your the Special Wing."
"With my patients? But if you are inclined to take the accusation seriously, surely you realise that this Haggs will be seeking reprisal against-"
"Against the young lady who is not Gadget Hackwrench, yes, I know." Warden Phelps placated him.
"You know? But then-"
"I intend to make sure a careful watch is kept on that particular patient. And if anything does happen to her, we'll have enough proof to see Officer Haggs drummed out of the service, finally."
"I suppose I cannot argue. But I must register my gravest concerns for the well-being of my patient, whose mind is already under severe stress."
"I quite understand. And I'm afraid I'm going to have to place a bit more stress on her. Chip Maplewood, the head detective of the Rescue Rangers, called my office after that little drama yesterday."
"Seriously? What did he have to say?" For a split second, Doctor Schadenfreude was gripped by the frightening thought that his patient had turned out to be the real Gadget Hackwrench and that everyone was about to look very silly in a very public way.
"He wants to interview our Jane Doe. He hopes she may be able to shed light on who the rest of the criminals, who hijacked the Ranger plane and then attacked Miss Hackwrench in the hospital, are."
"Oh, I see. This could be very harmful to my patient, you are realising. To have her belief in her delusion of being Gadget Hackwrench shattered instead of eroded gradually could destroy her mind completely."
"Surely you can explain this to Mr Maplewood; have him humour her a little?"
"No, it would be almost as bad to feed her delusion its grip on her is very powerful and if not checked, her real personality might well be submerged for all time by the personality construct she has created of Gadget Hackwrench."
Warden Phelps hummed as she tried to penetrate the dense psychobabble. As far as she could make out, it would be a bad thing to give the patient any more reason to think that she was Gadget Hackwrench than she already had. If the patient was given too much reason to think she was Gadget Hackwrench, she might stay that way for the rest of her life. "So perhaps he could watch from a distance? Feed questions to her through an intermediately?"
"Perhaps," the psychiatrist allowed, "but I've been finding it very difficult to draw her out of her psychosis. I have to say that if anyone can get our problem child to give the answers we all would wish to hear, it is him."
I wish he'd make up his mind, Warden Phelps thought. One moment it's a bad idea and the next, it's the only way to get anywhere at all.
"So," Doctor Schadenfreude enquired, "when can we expect Mr Maplewood to call on our unusual inmate?"
"Tomorrow, at nine."
"Ach, just yesterday I recommended a treatment programme of anti-hallucinogens and mild sedatives. Every patient responds differently to such medication; much tinkering is needed to get the correct dosage to control a given condition. If she starts that course of medication today, Mister Maplewood may find himself talking to the proverbial potato in a jacket."
"Oh dear! Well, we can't have that. Couldn't you leave it a couple of days before starting her treatment?"
"Her morning medication will already have been given to her, but if we can stop the evening dose being delivered, she should be normal by morning."
"We'd better see to it now then." Warden Phelps decided firmly.
"No buts! Come along, Doctor. We'll have time to discuss how we're going to deal with Mister Maplewood's visit, once it's seen to." With that, the warden took the psychiatrist gently by the wing and steered him in the direction of the psychiatric ward of the prison hospital.
"Listen, seriously, I'm sorry I bopped you on the nose with the door, I'm sorry about your friend's suspected skull fracture and I'm really, really sorry that I lied to Doctor Schadenfreude about who I was talking to, even if I was keeping a promise and protecting a confidence-" Gadget's jaw dropped.
Ratigan stood in front of her, impossibly. The orderlies ignored him - one even looked directly at her to see why she had broken off without noticing the tall, swarthy rat in elegant Victorian evening dress. Solemnly, the professor raised a single finger and waggled it at Gadget as a reproof and a warning.
Gadget stared back at him and her heart almost broke at the memory of her friends. She had a clear, sudden vision of Chip, Dale, Monty and Zipper lined up in front of the archway from the living room into the kitchen. They looked at her with pleading eyes and bated breath.
One of the capacitors began to hum.
Gadget wrenched her attention back to the matter in hand, forced herself to take a deep breath and continued. "I'm even willing to accept the fact that I need psychiatric help and that some or all of what the Doctor thinks about me might be true."
Both orderlies looked at her.
"Please," Gadget appealed, nothing but sincerity in her voice, "don't do this to me."
"Y'know," the mole said "that's a lot more lucid than what we used get from the people that were put in that chair in the old days."
"Yeah " Agreed the squirrel. "Ya know, I'm almost sorry for her."
"Oh, thank you!" Gadget sighed. "I knew good people couldn't do something like this "
"Oh, hey, we've got to do this. I mean; it's our job." The squirrel interrupted.
"Oh yeah." The mole agreed.
"But I accept your apology for bopping me on the nose "
Gadget stared disbelievingly at them, her jaw slack for the second time in under a minute.
"That's odd." Warden Phelps said. "Where is everyone? There ought to be one person at the duty station at all times, if I remember the procedures right."
"There should." Doctor Schadenfreude confirmed.
"There's a note here I can't read the writing."
"Allow me. When most of one's acquaintances are either bats, or doctors, or only allowed crayons to write with, one develops the skill of reading almost anything. Ah, apparently one of the orderlies has been taken to the medical wing. The duty orderly is assisting with the treatment of patient number 24601?" Doctor Schadenfreude's voice rose to a puzzled note. "Odd. I have never known a patient been that difficult to feed two pills to."
"Inmate 24601? Her treatment regime is right here on this other clipboard. Someone really must have a word with the orderlies about not letting confidential information just lay around like this "
"On that clipboard? Let me see "
"What's this about electroshock therapy?" Warden Phelps asked.
Then her mouth caught up with her brains. Her eyes locked with the equally horrified eyes of Doctor Schadenfreude.
"Please may I see that?" requested the psychiatrist's mouth in the perfect English of the classroom. Only his eyes expressed the near panic he was experiencing. As the bat read the scrawled, barely legible additions to his own writing, his alarm mounted until he could barely keep his feet on the ground. "Mine Gott! I can scarcely believe what I'm reading! This is not right! I did not write these words. Someone has being tampered with my notes!"
"Are you saying this isn't your handwriting? Because I have to say, it looks exactly like yours."
"This writing at the top, prescribing anti-hallucinogens, is my handwriting, but everything else below that is a fabrication! Surely no one could believe that I would recommend electroshock therapy for a patient with delusions the equipment we have here at the prison is most antiquated, dangerous even." The psychiatrist stared off into the middle distance for a few moments. "Ach, but we are worrying ourselves needlessly. Even if the orderlies were foolish enough to take this nonsense seriously, they would know better than to act on it. And if they did, I very much doubt the old electroshock device could be made to function."
As if to throw the words back in his face, the overhead lights dimmed briefly.
Warden Phelps and Doctor Schadenfreude gaped at each other.
"You don't think ?" the warden asked, haltingly.
Both bat and mouse ran for the door. The Warden was faster but unfortunately Doctor Schadenfreude was the one who knew where the electroshock room actually was. The low ceilings made flight impossible. In the air, he was the stealth fighter of the animal world. On the ground, the best he could manage was a clumsy waddle.
"To the electroshock room! We must stop them!" he cried frantically.
Gadget was desperately trying to work her tail into the buckle of the strap that was holding her right hand down. There was just a chance that, if she could get one hand free, she could detach the electrodes in time to save herself. The capacitor's whining had risen to a high-pitched whistle. The orderlies had been mildly alarmed when the lights had dimmed and for a moment Gadget had thought that she was about to be given a reprieve. If the lights had dimmed a second time then perhaps the orderlies would have pulled the plug but the overhead light remained distressingly steady.
She turned her eyes to the mole and the squirrel. They were peering at dials and metres that Gadget knew must cover the control panel with morbid fascination, waiting until all the needles pointed to the right numbers and it was time to give Gadget her shock; her FIRST shock, that was. She had overheard one of the orderlies calling it that, which raised the question of how many other shocks there might be.
The tip of Gadget's tail was now under the buckle strap. She tried to flick her tail to undo the strap. It didn't work. The strap was heavy rubber leather being offensive to a great many animals and one side of the strap was sticking to the other side. Worse still, her tail was now trapped between two layers of rubber strap.
Gadget was running out of ideas something unheard of for her. At the back of her mind a petulant little girl voice complained about the sedatives ruining her concentration. No excuses, the adult Gadget snapped back, ideas aren't the only thing I'm running out of; I'm also running out time.
"Almost there." The Mole said.
Gadget blinked rapidly. The doorknob on the hallway door had started to turn. Her heart leapt. This had to be Doctor Schadenfreude coming to rescue her. It was a mistake; her records had been mixed up with someone else's. When the door opened, Doctor Schadenfreude would be there, no doubt about it, even though the Doctor had told her that he was going to get his hearing checked and that it would take most of the day.
Well, if it wasn't Doctor Schadenfreude, it would be Warden Phelps. She would have run from her office to stop this, shocked by the phone call or newspaper that had revealed the truth to her at the last second.
The door opened slowly And Officer Haggs crept quietly into the room. Finally out of ideas, Gadget began to say her prayers. Her lips moved silently as she gave herself up to fate.
"I'm sorry to intrude at such a sensitive moment, but I thought you'd like to know that Orderly Hapsley should be fine. A light concussion according to the duty nurse, nothing more." Haggs offered by way of explanation for her presence.
"Oh, thanks." The mole said.
"That sure is a weight off my mind." The squirrel remarked.
"You're welcome." Haggs replied. She took the opportunity to peer at Gadget and smile. A frown crossed Haggs' face. "Should she have some kind of rubber gag to stop her biting her tongue?"
"Oh? Oh, yeah!" the mole said. "Say, we can't give her shock-therapy without that. She might bite her tongue clean off, or something."
"Not much of a loss some might say." Haggs editorialised.
"I don't think we have any. This equipment hasn't been used in years " The squirrel busied herself looking for the rubber gag.
"Aren't they disposable these days? We might not have any." The mole worried.
"I'm sure we could can find something." Haggs said. "If we can't we'll just have to improvise." She was looking distinctly she had mentioned it in the first place.
"Wait a second, I think I've found it." The squirrel had opened a rusty draw in a cabinet that stood in the corner of the room. She pulled out something that looked like a huge baby's teething ring.
The squirrel did Gadget the favour of wiping the dust off before trying to put it into her mouth.
"Nuh-uh!" Gadget objected as firmly as she could without opening her mouth.
"Uh-huh!" the squirrel absentmindedly replied, trying to squeeze the huge bulb past Gadget's pursed lips.
Gadget twisted her head about as unpredictably as she could. The squirrel countered by plonking a hand down on Gadget's head and holding it in position. Gadget clenched her jaw.
"Allow me." Haggs offered and proceeded to pinch Gadget's ears, sharply.
"YOUCH!" Gadget cried and the gag was slipped past her teeth. Before she could force it out again, it was secured behind her head.
"Finally! We're ready." The squirrel said happily.
"You don't mind if I stay and watch, I hope? I've never seen one of these treatments before and the Warden's eager I should widen my experience..."
"Unless you guys want your fur to stand on end, better come over here where old sparky's static can't get at you." The mole said in a weary voice.
Gadget closed her eyes and breathed hard. She could feel every muscle in her body twitching in anticipation. A ragbag of thoughts flew through her mind in the last seconds before the mole pushed the button.
A tear-stained Bubbles McGee looked over her shoulder at Gadget, during the journey to prison.
She hung from the ceiling of the Ranger Headquarters. She was about to fall and hurt herself.
An angry mob confronted her as she was led into the courtroom.
Gadget waved goodbye to her old friend Jennifer Talbert-Hall.
The last time she was with Monty.
Gadget caught a single broken breath and waited for the end. The mole pushed the button.
"Unless you guys want your fur to stand on end, better come over here where old sparky's static can't get at you." The mole said in a weary voice
Gadget caught a single broken breath and waited for the end. The mole pushed the button.
"What the heck?" the squirrel demanded. "It doesn't work! What's wrong with this thing?"
The mole took a pair of thick spectacles from her pocket and put them on. "Oh, I see. There are two buttons and you've got to push both of them at the same time. Safety feature, I guess, in case someone accidentally pushes the button while you're strapping the patient down."
Gadget slumped in the chair. Just as well I have a gag in my mouth, she thought to herself, remembering her promise to her father to always watch her language! She couldn't take much more of this.
"Let's get this show on the road." The squirrel said, thumbing one of the buttons repeatedly.
The mole reached out a paw for the button, then changed her mind and pulled it back to put her glasses away first.
"Aw, c'mon!" Officer Haggs complained. "Just push it, will ya?"
"Do I tell you how to turn keys?" The mole demanded frostily.
"Why you-" Haggs barely restrained herself. "Of course not. Please, carry on."
"Right then, on three."
"Okay." The squirrel agreed.
"One, two, three-"
The door burst open. Warden Phelps and Doctor Schadenfreude fell into the room, almost landing at Gadget's feet.
"STOP!" Cried Doctor Schadenfreude.
"IT'S A MISTAKE!" Warden Phelps shouted.
"A mistake?" the squirrel yelped.
Gadget's heart leapt for joy. Even in her wildest dreams, she hadn't hoped that the Warden AND Doctor Schadenfreude would come to her rescue!
Haggs drew back like a snake about to strike and then subsided; the only reprisal she allowed herself, for the moment, was a sustained glare at Gadget. "Surely you can't mean that this creature is the real Gadget Hackwrench!" she hissed.
You tell 'em, Gadget thought! Trying to smile with the gag in place made her face ache, but she did it anyway. She could almost smell Monty's Walnut Surprise. Yes Sir, she was coming home! With her heart singing, she waited with baited breath to hear the words that would set her free at last.
"No, of course not." The warden said.
Gadget's hopes fell apart like a badly made invention. She could almost hear the accompanying sound of grinding gears. She wasn't going to be free and it wasn't over.
"Someone has tampered with my instructions for this patient's treatment." Schadenfreude bemoaned.
The room was filled with questions and explanations and disbelief.
"It looked like your writing." The mole said in a defensive voice.
In the last ten minutes Gadget had been as frightened as she ever had been.
"You've been saying for weeks how we should clear out this room and put it to good use!" The squirrel accused.
She was no stranger to fear. The time when she had been climbing a rope and looked down to see Fat Cat's open mouth all teeth beneath her and rising fast as he jumped to greet his visitor, had a kind of primal terror all of it's own, Gadget thought.
"Yah, yah. I mean to turn it into an administration office. The reception area is quite swamped with paper work, some of it most sensitive. If no one is there to keep watch anything might happen with it."
Gadget recalled the moment when Rat Capone had strapped her to the conveyer belt that led to his cheese-slicing machine and she had looked over to see Monty her only hope of rescue in the grip of a "cheese-attack". She had experienced a mental anguish as deep as a small child in the grip of a nightmare.
"Something like this you mean, Doctor?" Warden Phelps said pointedly. "Come here and help me un-strap her, please."
Gadget had faced a lot of dangers. She had thought about being killed attempting a rescue. It had taken much longer for the thought of being maimed, crippled, in a rescue to occur to her. She had gotten past it eventually. But it had never occurred to her that she might be mentally damaged. Quadriplegic with a mind-bashingly high IQ, perhaps, but physically fine and brain damaged?
Doctor Schadenfreude joined Warden Phelps who was struggling with the unfamiliar straps that bound Gadget's wrists to the lego brick chair.
"I can't believe we went through all this for nothing." The squirrel complained. "And I so wanted to push that button and be part of something important for once."
Perhaps in her case, Gadget's ego insisted, brain damage would mean she was left with a normal IQ? But no, Gadget thought, not even ending up with a normal IQ had occurred to her.
"Huh, if this was important someone would have looked after this equipment a bit better. Look at that, asides from the dust over everything, my button's stuck." The mole orderly retorted.
She was one of those people who lived mostly in her own head, Gadget knew that, but she had never imagined that the very special freedom she enjoyed inside her own skull could be taken away from her.
"Help me with the electrodes." Doctor Schadenfreude asked the warden.
Now she had come within a heartbeat of losing that freedom it had suddenly taken on a new meaning for Gadget.
"Sorry, would you mind showing me exactly which button it was that you had to press?" Officer Haggs asked the squirrel.
On the upside, Gadget thought, she didn't feel so trapped, or so imprisoned, as she had before. On the other hand, she had a new understanding of what she had to lose and it was a lot.
"Sure, it was this one here." The squirrel held out a finger and pointed to the button without quite touching it.
"Let's get her out that chair and back to her cell as quickly as possible." Warden Phelps said.
"Oops!" Officer Haggs leaned over and pretended to lose her balance.
Thrusting a paw against the squirrel's shoulder, Haggs forced the orderly's finger onto the button.
There was a bright light as though a photographer had taken a picture with a flash bulb.
Still strapped to the lego chair from the waist down, Gadget flinched and ducked as sparks flew over her head. Only occasional shock raced through her body like greyhounds chasing a hare round a racetrack.
Over her years as an inventor Gadget had received a number of electrical shocks. If anyone were to suggest that she had built up a resistance to electricity passing through her body as a result, Gadget would have given them a lengthy lecture about the precise meaning of electrical resistance. That said; she was used to them.
On either side of Gadget, Warden Phelps and Doctor Schadenfreude convulsed, twisted and crackled as electricity arced across the one-inch gap between them, lighting up their skeletons for all to see. It seemed to go on forever.
It lasted one second.
Some minutes after the electroshock of Gadget Hackwrench (and Doctor Schadenfreude and Warden Phelps) the door to the electroshock therapy room opened, emitting a cloud of smoke. Doctor Schadenfreude walked out, trying to maintain the façade of professional dignity that he knew had to be used around subordinates and patients at all times. He thought he was making a good job of it. He got three steps before every muscle in his body dissolved into a twitching mess. He made it to the wall just in time to save himself from falling over.
After Doctor Schadenfreude came Warden Phelps. She was moving very slowly and her eyes were glazed. She wasn't aware of it but the tip of her tail, on which she used wax to prevent stray hairs, had a thin wisp of smoke rising from it.
The two orderlies quietly followed, their heads low, their ears down and their tails tucked between their legs. In the case of the mole, it wasn't noticeable, but the squirrel was having trouble walking.
"Remember," Warden Phelps squeaked at them, "I don't want to see either of you back here until this has been thoroughly investigated. You're both on unpaid leave until I say different."
Woefully, the two disgraced orderlies slunk away.
Shaking, the warden leaned against a wall and closed her eyes. "Doctor, I don't know how this came about but a well run psychiatric wing does not allow room for the kind of farce we have seen today! I intend to make one call to inform Mister Maplewood that we will not be able to accept visitors today and then I will be speaking to the Medical Council and the Prison Authorities. There will be a THOROUGH INVESTIGATION into ALL of this and I WILL KNOW HOW THIS HAPPENED!"
Gadget left the electroshock room under her own power. Mercifully, the electrodes had been removed from her head before the machine was mysteriously switched on. Unfortunately, one of them had become entangled with her hair. As a result, her fur was spiky and her hair was like the Bride of Frankenstein's.
Behind Gadget came Officer Haggs - unscathed, reputation undamaged and, thanks to a belated but still dramatic leap for the emergency cut-off switch, un-blamed. She kept a heavy hand on Gadget's shoulder and a smug, self-satisfied smile well hidden.
"Take the prisoner back to her cell, Haggs. And make sure she stays there." Warden Phelps ordered.
"You can depend on me, Warden. I'll make sure she stays where she belongs." As she led Gadget away from the others, Haggs allowed her to see the smile and took delight in seeing her shrink back from it. Haggs let the smile widen. Everything was going her way.
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