Gadget in Chains
Written by: Loneheart
Chapter Eight: The Rude Awakening
Lawhiney woke up. The first sensation was the overpowering scent of antiseptic. Her head hurt and there was something blocking her nose. After a moment she realised that lots of other places hurt. She remembered her dream and a panic swept over her. What if she was dead? What if she was waking up in hell?
She began to struggle franticly, only to find herself pathetically weak, barely able to sit up. Her eyes finally opened to behold three faces peering down at her with huge smiles.
"Mffhuh?" she said.
"Just rest easy. Youre in hospital but youre going to be alright."
A green-faced fly hovered up and down, buzzing in agreement.
"Humph!" Lawhiney mumbled. Memories fell into place. She looked at the faces again.
Dale. Monty. Zipper. The fly's name was Zipper. Okay. They were Rescue Rangers. They were- oh shoot! They were probably here to arrest her. She remembered almost everything now. She had been at the pearly gates no wait; that had just been a dream, surely? Suddenly she felt like she was tumbling out of control. The thought brought back the memory of the air crash and she began shaking uncontrollably.
Someone was calling for a doctor. The other faces withdrew. The doctor came and began checking her over. She had time to think while he was taking her temperature. She was in hospital. She could feel everything so it probably wasn't permanent but everything felt so bad, she was sure she wasn't going anywhere in the immediate future.
Testing the thermometer with her tongue, Lawhiney considered her options. Her near-death-experience, or dream as she was already thinking of it, had shown her many things. How many of them should she consider real? All of them? Some of them? None?
The thinking was giving her a headache. If it had all been a very vivid dream then why had she had it? Dreaming about her son she could put down to her biological clock ticking. She was twenty-four, it was probably about time it started to make a nuisance of itself. Giving up a life of crime? It hasn't done me much good so far, she mused. I'm stuck in a hospital bed with prison to look forward to.
Lawhiney knew that she had a great deal to think about. The question was whether she wanted to do that thinking behind bars.
"How am I, Doc?" she croaked.
"Making good progress." Replied the chipmunk in the lab coat. "Your pupils are still a little sluggish. Might be the painkillers we're giving you. Do you remember how you got here?"
"I remember crashing the ranger plane into the museum wall." She admitted, contritely. It so happened that a contrite Lawhiney sounded a lot like a sad Gadget with a rough throat.
"Because the robbers were fighting with you for control of the plane?"
"Robbers?" Lawhiney felt confused. There was something wrong with the way the question was phrased, but she was too bushed to work out what.
"You don't remember any robbers?" the doctor asked.
"Maybe it'll come back to me." Lawhiney stalled, trying to work out what was going on.
"What about the hijack?"
"Hijack?" Lawhiney began to look alarmed. She really didn't remember hijacking anything, ever. Not her. Honest.
"Do you remember taking off in the Ranger plane?"
"I remember taking the Ranger Plane." She admitted and looked anxiously from one person to another as she waited for them to slap on the cuffs.
"What was the last meal you ate before you flew?"
"Huh? I don't know. I can't remember." She honestly couldn't.
"That settles it. She has selective amnesia!" The doctor pronounced.
Lawhiney lay still and silent as she listened to a babble of alarmed questions and the doctor's efforts to answer them. The Rangers all talked over each other, which made it difficult to get any sense out the conversation, but one thing stood out loud and clear: They still thought she was Gadget.
Lawhiney let out a long sigh. Let them fight it out, she thought in a muzzy fashion. No sense saying anything until she knew what she was dealing with. Not that she was planning on lying to anyone. She just didn't see the point in saying anything until she was asked. Yeah, that was the ticket. If anyone asked her flat out; are you a criminal or an impostor, then she'd confess everything, go to jail quietly and let them send her baby off to a life of crime and a violent death.
Yeah, right. Like hell she would. Lawhiney had spent a large portion of her life pretending her faults didn't exist but she was through lying to herself, if no one else. She knew she was never going to be mother of the year; heck, she probably didn't have a chance of ever becoming a good mother but there was no way she was going to let any child of hers get taken away.
The Rangers and the Doctor finally fell silent and in that instant of quiet Lawhiney made her decision. She knew what she was going to do.
"Doctor, I'm sorry. I feel very tired. Could I have some privacy?"
"Uh, certainly." The Doctor agreed. "Gentlemen, I'll answer all your questions outside, after I have a brief word with my patient."
"We'll talk to you soon, Gadget!" Dale promised.
"You get some rest now, luv." Monty told her as Zipper held the door for him.
As soon as Lawhiney and her Doctor were alone, the Doctor turned to her and asked: "Do you need a bed pan?"
"Huh?" Lawhiney blinked in a slightly dazed way. "Uh, no. In fact " Lawhiney reached under the sheets to check something. " I think there's a tube taking care of things."
"Um, yes." The Doctor said hastily. "Please leave it alone."
"I wanted to ask you to go over my injuries and, this selective amnesia thing, what are the symptoms?"
"You had internal bleeding, a fractured fibula, a broken tailbone about six vertebra from the base of your tail, three broken ribs and a dislocated shoulder. The most serious injury, once we fixed the internal bleeding, was the head injury. Your skull was fractured and you had a serious concussion that kept you unconscious for nearly three days."
"Three days." Lawhiney breathed. She lay there for a moment, amazed that she had survived at all. Then a thought occurred to her. "Hey, doc. With a concussion, you'd expect someone to have a lot of weird dreams right?"
"Uh, no. The difference between unconscious and asleep is that you have no dreams at all."
Lawhiney looked worried and sad. "Are you sure?"
"That is what the text books say. But it's unusual for someone to wake abruptly. Usually there's a period where the patient moves through other levels of consciousness, before they wake up, and during those periods people can have very strange experiences."
"The rangers were with you every second and I think they would have informed us if you showed the slightest sign of awareness but they say you opened your eyes quite suddenly."
"Oh." After a pause she asked, "What do I need to know about selective amnesia, then?"
"It's usually related to psychological trauma or area specific brain damage. We haven't been able to check you for brain damage, but you've certainly had a trauma. If that's what brought it on then everything you've forgotten will have a common factor that will reveal why you've suppressed those memories and they should come to the surface in time. If it is brain damage then I'm afraid the memory is either just plain gone, or cut off by a damaged connection until the brain finds a path around the damaged circuits."
The doctor looked at her to see how she was taking the news. The patient didn't seem particularly responsive.
"How long before I can move under my own power?" she asked eventually.
"At least two months."
"If you're lucky and don't push yourself too hard before you're ready. Until then you're going to need a wheel chair."
"Oh. Doctor-" Lawhiney hesitated "-could you tell me if I'm pregnant or not?"
"What!?" The doctor gasped. He was used to dealing with unwed mothers every day in his line of work, but he'd never supposed someone with Gadget Hackwrench's reputation- although come to think of it he had heard rumours. "Uh, well, we haven't run any tests. And after what you've been through I wouldn't like to speculate on the chances for any " the Doctor trailed off. "Look we'll run some tests first thing in the morning, ok?"
"Thank you doctor. I'd like to sleep now."
"Of course. I'll see you tomorrow." The doctor made his way out, leaving the room in semi-darkness.
Lawhiney did not sleep. She lay there and stared at the ceiling. She felt something she had never felt before. She couldn't put a name to it, but she didn't like it and she had an uncomfortable suspicion that it wasn't going to go away. After nearly and hour of listening to the normal sounds of a running hospital coming from the other side of the cardboard walls Lawhiney felt someone very quietly enter the room without turning the light on. One of the rangers sneaking back in, she supposed.
"I'm trying to sleep, here." She said.
"Hello?" she said.
"I hope you're proud of yourself." Replied a voice she had never expected to hear again.
Lawhiney's eyes went wide. She struggled into a half sitting position to get a better view of the intruder.
"You!" she gasped.
"Yes, me. Were you expecting Michael Landon?" enquired her guide.
"I'm still dreaming."
"You were never dreaming. Not in the sense that the living know."
"I'm going to wake up." Lawhiney said, pulling the bed sheets over her head.
"You'll wake up in the morgue if you lay there with the sheets over your head like that." Her guide told her, a trace of amusement in his voice.
"You asked for a guide to counsel you when you lost your way, remember? Well, you woke up and the first thing you did was go off the rails again, so here I am."
"I think I liked you better when you didn't talk so much!"
"I don't think I like you at all!" her guide responded.
Lawhiney flipped a corner of bed sheet back so that she could peep out with one eye. He was still there.
"Whadya mean, you don't like me?"
"Well, what do you expect me to say? I get sent to help you out, stop you from making a hash of a second chance most people never get, and all you want to do is hide under the bed sheets like it's already too late! Do you want me to find a pair of scissors so you can cut eye holes in that thing and get some practice in?"
"Very funny!" Lawhiney sneered. "Anyhow, who says I've gone off the rails? I've only been awake ten minutes!"
Her guide put his hands on his hips and glared at her from under his hooded robes. "In the first place, I have it on VERY good authority that you HAVE gone off the rails! In the second place, you only took three minutes to do it; which, I might add, is an all time record if you don't count humans."
Lawhiney looked at him, carefully. Eventually she said, "Oh, come on. I'm not that bad!"
"Am not!" she protested.
"Think about it! You have the Rangers convinced that you're Gadget and you're planning to run off at the first opportunity and leave the real Gadget to rot in jail in your place!" Her guide insisted.
Lawhiney thought about it. "Actually, I hadn't considered anything beyond recovering enough to get out of the country but I've never really liked her " She trailed off, aware that her guide's eyes were glowing brighter.
"Just maybe I should talk to my boss and recommend that we put a stop to this whole charade, before you do more damage to the world with your second chance than you did with the first one!" The hooded spectre hissed menacingly.
Lawhiney stared into her guide's face, her eyes smarting from the intensity of his. She could feel the fur stand up all along her spine and her insides felt like ice but she was not going to be bullied.
"Do that." She said and marvelled at how calm her voice was. "If I die in hospital as Gadget Hackwrench then the real thing will have an even harder time convincing anyone who she is, especially with the other Rangers in mourning."
The Guide stared at her, open mouthed. Then he blinked twice and raised his eyes to the ceiling as if asking for conformation of what she had just said. He must have received it, because his expression went through a series of rapid changes: He gaped in disbelief, frowned in despair and, finally, glared in anger.
"Now look here," he began. Lawhiney did; she looked right back at him with a face of stone. The Guide gave her a stern look but she didn't bat an eyelash. Finally he clenched his fists and teeth and directed a moan of frustration at the ceiling.
"If you're done now, I'd like to get some sleep." Lawhiney said, smugly.
"Ha! Yes, that's right! Go on, sleep! I hope you have nightmares." Her guide told her, turning his back. A thought stopped him. "Hey, maybe that's it!"
"What's it?" Lawhiney sounded worried. "You're not going to give me nightmares, are you?"
"Why? Does that bother you?"
"Not a bit!" Lawhiney returned, bravely.
"Pity, it isn't a bad idea! But I had something else in mind. You were trying to sleep when I came in, weren't you? Only you couldn't."
"They forgot to give me a painkiller." Lawhiney complained.
"There's painkiller in the drip feed. What bit of you hurts, Lawhiney? It wouldn't be your conscience, by any chance?"
"What? I haven't got anything to feel guilty about! I'm protecting my child, that's all!" Lawhiney meant it as an excuse but she put one arm over her belly protectively as she spoke, without even noticing she was doing it.
"Oh, so that's it, is it?" The Guide's face softened. "Lawhiney, what do you mean, protecting your child?"
"You know what I mean. If I have this baby in prison then you know what will happen to him."
Her guide actually smiled for a moment. "Lawhiney, you were shown what would happen to him if you don't mend your wicked ways. What you're doing right now doesn't count as mending anything." He warned her.
"It's just until I'm safe. Until I can be sure he'll be raised properly."
"I don't believe you. You might mean it right now, but you won't when the time comes."
"What do you want me to do? I can't leave now. I'm helpless!"
"You have to tell the truth. An innocent person is suffering because you have not told it already."
Lawhiney pointed to her own belly. "Another innocent person will suffer for a whole life time if I do tell it! As soon as I can slip away to safety I'll write a note confessing everything. I'll raise him far away from all of this and never come back, I swear it!"
"The road to hell is paved with good intentions."
"How much of a chance does my child stand, without a mother's love!?"
"A heck of a lot more than if she's lying and cheating people in front of him every day!"
"If Gadget Hackwrench is such a good person, wouldn't she agree to this for the sake of a child?"
The Guide hung his head, the darkness of the room and the shadows of his hood making his face invisible. "Very well." He finally said. "But it still isn't right. It's just until you get out of here. Then you have to find a way to get to a place where your child can be born and leave a note behind explaining everything."
"Oh, no. Don't thank me." Her guide waved a hand dismissively. "All I've done is botch the job I was sent to do for you. This sin is all your own work."
Gadget had naively thought that she would be the first person the psychiatrist saw when he came in on Wednesday. She wasn't. Doctor Schadenfreude had twenty-three established patients to visit first. She would see him at three o'clock. Since he arrived at ten o'clock that meant he would spend an average of eleven minutes, forty-three seconds per patient. It seemed like an odd amount of time but she was allowing for a thirty-minute lunch the Doctor might not take. Presumably, Gadget mused, the one minute forty-three seconds was how long it took the orderlies to wheel in the next patient and take out the old one. That would give him ten minutes with each patient.
Gadget hoped he was easy to convince. She went over what she planned to say to him again. She would have to talk faster than usual if the Doctor was going to have any time left to say something himself.
Gadget drummed her fingers on the balsa wood table and stared at the bars of the cage she was in. The cage had been cobbled together from the sides of pet cages discarded by humans, but they had been cut up and welded together to fit into the room it was located in. She had been waiting in the cage for twenty minutes, not because the Doctor was late but because twenty minutes ago had been the most convenient time for the orderlies to put her in there. The most convenient time for them, that is, not for her.
The door opened and a very tall, thin bat entered. He was wearing a white "coat" that had slits from shoulder to hem instead of sleeves to allow him to move his wings freely. He wore a large pair of glasses that were manufactured from a pair of human contact lenses and carried a huge brief case.
"Ah, mine new patient! I am Doctor Schadenfreude. I will be making you well. Or possibly just keeping you in the rubber room." The bat spoke with a distinct German accent.
Gadget was about to answer him when he stepped up onto the chair on the other side of the table, hoisted the bulky briefcase up with him and threw it down on the table. Gadget just barely had time to snatch her hands away from underneath it. Blinking at him in confusion, Gadget watched as Doctor Schadenfreude stepped up onto the table and placed one foot on the briefcase as though he were climbing a stepladder.
"Uh, excuse me?" Gadget put in.
"No, no. Excuse me." The doctor replied. And with that he spread his wings as wide as the tiny room would allow and attempted a backward somersault.
Gadget's hands flew to her mouth in horror. For a split second she imagined the doctor lying on the floor with his skull split open and everyone blaming her.
Instead the bat turned himself upside-down and stayed that way, suspended in mid-air. His feet had locked on to the bars of the cage roof and he was hanging, quite safely and comfortably, with his back to Gadget. Methodically, he repositioned his feet so that he could face her.
Gadget found herself nose to forehead with Doctor Schadenfreude, looking him right in the nostrils.
"Uh, do you always treat your patients in this position, Doctor?"
"Oh, yah. Most psychiatrists believe that they will make progress if the patient is relaxed but I find that in here that is almost impossible, so the next best thing is if I am relaxed."
"Right, uh, well, you see the thing is Doctor Schadenfreude, I'm Gadget Hackwrench."
"So the orderlies tell me."
"And everyone else thinks I'm an impostor. But I'm not." Gadget stopped and gulped.
Doctor Schadenfreude was yawning. His teeth were an impressive sight.
"Um, pardon me," Gadget said, "but are you a vampire bat?"
"What? Oh, excuse me. Already a long day and I think I'm getting a little too relaxed." He chuckled. "Yes, my grandparents and my father were vampire bats."
"But you speak with a German accent. I thought all vampire bats came from South America?"
"It is our place of origin, yes, but my parents were exported to Europe to help in the making of a horror movie." The doctor explained. "Now, you were telling me about your delusions?"
"No, I was telling you that I'm Gadget Hackwrench."
"Oh, of course. Do go on."
"It all started when I overheard a conversation between two of the best friends I've ever had while I was on the ceiling."
The psychiatrist blinked but didn't interrupt.
"They were saying how they thought that an evil person was impersonating me and they didn't want to tell me because they knew I might be upset about the things people were saying about me. So I thought that I would change my appearance so no one could impersonate me. I didn't have very much experience with that, I mean I've worn disguises in the past-"
"You have? How often?"
"Oh, pretty frequently, I guess. It's part of my job. A Rescue Ranger is required to work undercover occasionally. But I didn't want a disguise, because I didn't see why I should hide who I was, just because someone else was hiding who they were, and that led me to think that the next best thing would be a makeover which does make you look different but doesn't really count as a disguise. Well, of course, no one does a makeover alone. You always have to have a friend to give an opinion and help you out and just to talk to while you're waiting for your hair dye to dry, so the first thing I did was go to look up an old friend and she helped me to look different but when I left the Ranger skate had been stolen and by that time I guess maybe the Ranger plane had been stolen too, only I wasn't there to know about it, I only found out about it later, and this rat said he had seen who had done it and he seemed so nice only I guess he wasn't really, in fact he was about as far away from nice as you can get and my being here is really his fault and not mine at all if you look at it in the right way, which no one will, because they all think I'm a liar or crazy, because he was the one who bought me a couple of drinks and then put something in one of them that made me table dance and start a bar fight and then police came and because I was too dazed to understand what was going on I couldn't explain why I didn't belong in a place like this and the next thing I knew I was on trial and the impostor had gotten caught up in a robbery and someone had put her in hospital and everyone was so angry that they never even listened when I tried to explain. You'll help me convince them, won't you Doctor?"
Gadget was wearing her strongest "please-believe-me" expression; the one with really huge blue eyes and the pout that her father had made her promise never, ever to use when a male - any male, even him - could see it. Unless her life depended on it. Gadget felt this situation was close enough.
Doctor Schadenfreude looked straight into it without blinking. And then he said: "No."
There was a slight pause while Gadget did a double take. Granted, she hardly ever used her looks to get her own way. In fact she kept a running total and had made a promise to herself to stop when the number of times she had done it was in double figures. But even so, she had expected more than just "No."
"Uh, please?" She tried, hopefully.
"No." Doctor Schadenfreude looked at her kindly.
"Uh, did you understand everything I just said? Sometimes I talk a little too fast for people to keep up."
"Young lady, please. I am a bat, you know. Of course I heard everything you said and I understood it better than you probably do yourself. But I have been a psychiatrist for many years and heard many stories such as yours. All I want to do is help you and the best way to do that is not by feeding your delusions."
Gadget started at him, her mouth open. Her right eye twitched, once. "Uh, no." she said. "I'm not crazy. I swear I'm not crazy."
"Of course not. Nobody is ever really crazy. That's just a word used by people who don't really understand the complex inner-workings of the machine we call the mind to lump together everyone who has a problem with their mechanism, so to speak." The Doctor blinked and smiled.
The Doctor covered his ears with his wings and grimaced in pain. Screaming at a bat from point blank range is a little like punching anyone else in the face.
"What is it with you people?!" Gadget demanded, loudly. "I've been through three days of hell because none of you have the brains to understand that there has been a very simple misunderstanding? What is your problem? Are you all stupid? Do you just not care about what you put people through so long as you have a piece of paper that says you're just doing your job to wave about? I am not crazy! Have you got that? I am Gadget Hackwrench and I want to talk to Chip Maplewood right now!"
"Ah. Young lady. Please. You must know it is not a good thing for a bat to be shouted at. Please, I assure you, it is not possible for you to speak to Chip Maplewood. If I determine that you are sane then the possibility of you being crazy we will have discounted and I will make representations to the warden that an interview between you and Mr Maplewood should be arranged.
"Now, I am sure that Miss Hackwrench would want to co-operate with someone who was doing his best to help. Let us proceed with the evaluation and, if you are proving to be sane, we shall move on from there."
Gadget ground her teeth in frustration. "I am sane. So there! Put that in your evaluation."
Doctor Schadenfreude gazed at her reproachfully. "Please, young lady. If you will not be evaluated properly then I cannot help you at all. I know it must be trying for you but you have to accept this. Either you will be evaluated, by me or I will have to advise the warden that you refused to co-operate and then, at the end of your evaluation period here, you will be returned to the general population. That would mean no further consideration of your claim to be Gadget Hackwrench, firstly because the implication will be that you are hiding something and secondly because the possibility that you are a raving loony will have been left open. Also, any future problem you are having with loose marbles rolling around in your attic will probably go untreated."
He looked at her sadly. "It is the way the system works." He said. "You cannot fight it."
Gadget slumped. "Alright. Where do we start?"
"At the beginning." Doctor Schadenfreude replied. With that, he opened his briefcase and removed a notebook and pen. The notebook he held upside down, so that the used pages hung loosely. The pen had a ring of metal attached to it that he clipped onto the "thumb" on one of his wings, so that he could write with it. "What is your earliest memory?"
Gadget blinked and sighed. "How much time do we have, Doctor? I figured you wouldn't be spending more than ten minutes with me."
"With my normal patients, I wouldn't spend more than ten minutes just to see how they are doing. But a new patient gets twenty minutes."
"Twenty? And you see them for ten every day you come in after that?"
"No, only on the day of the week I originally see them. That means every Wednesday for you. Why are you avoiding my question?"
"I'm not. I'm just trying to work out how long it will take to convince you that I'm not crazy. Ten minutes a week and twenty now? That's four weeks before we've had an hour's worth of time together."
"Is very regrettable. My time is much in demand."
"Couldn't we just have an hour now? It'd save time in the long run because then I wouldn't have to be kept locked up your psychiatric ward for a whole month."
"I understand, but I am afraid the answer is not being yes. We need to observe your symptoms over a long period of time in case they only occur rarely."
"Well, my first memory is of an aeroplane."
"You are travelling somewhere?"
"No, it was a toy hanging over my cot. A yellow and red monoplane with two wing mounted propellers and a non-retractable undercarriage."
"Okay, does that memory make you happy or sad?"
"I don't know. I like aeroplanes?"
"What happens next in your memory?"
"My mother comes into feed me."
"Out of a bottle?"
"You are grown up enough for solid food?"
"Uh, no. Doc, where is this going?"
"What does she feed you with then?"
"Um. Milk?" Gadget answered carefully.
Gadget looked at the doctor, poker-faced. "You're a Freudian psychiatrist, aren't you?"
"Come, come, answer the question."
"Herself. She's feeding me milk from herself." Gadget admitted with a slight blush.
"And how does this memory make you feel?"
"Right now? Embarrassed."
"Because you are a grown-up telling another grown-up about it, but how does the little baby mouseling feel?"
"Warm, safe. Snug and secure. Loved. Like she's never going to leave."
"Who, your mother?"
"Yeah." Gadget said softly, looking away.
"Saying that makes you feel sad, doesn't it? Why is that?"
"Because she did leave. She didn't want to but she had to go away."
"I don't know, okay? My father didn't know either. One day she just never came home. It happens sometimes. Someone you love goes out same as normal and they never come back." Gadget's voice was harsh and a little angry. She didnt like that. A detached part of her knew she was giving up a little piece of what control she had left over herself.
"And that hurt?"
"Not at first. Not for a long time. I just missed her and thought I'd done something to make her leave. And dad was out all the time, looking for her, and I was so worried he would disappear too. Then he told me that she wasn't coming back and that we'd probably never know why. It must have been nearly a year later; I'd asked him if she'd be back in time for my birthday. I realised that I couldn't remember what colour her eyes were and how she wore her hair. That hurt. That hurt me a lot."
"Children, they forget so quickly. But often this is a blessing." Doctor Schadenfreude commiserated. "Your mother's disappearance was never explained?"
"Missing, presumed eaten." Gadget said softly. "You know how horrible it seems when you hear about it happening for real for the first time."
"Oh, yes. And this marked a big change in your life?"
"I guess so. That was when my father stepped in and started raising me his own way. I guess before that he'd let mother make all the decisions about how I should be raised. He didn't really have any idea how to raise a girl, so he just raised me the way he had been raised: like a boy."
"I see. Did that cause you any problems?"
"I tended to be a loner, because neither the girls nor the boys accepted me."
"Did you have many imaginary friends? Often, when a child is isolated, the imagination will grow like a weed."
"I'm not sure I like the comparison. The imagination has always been a useful tool for me."
"That's very interesting, do go on."
"Anyway, I didn't. I never liked let's pretend. I always preferred building things. Did you ever notice, doc, little girls like to build things, little boys like to knock things down?"
"Yah, I know. But tell me, if you were raised by your father, what is your earliest memory of him?"
"Um, he was a pilot. He sat me on his lap as he flew his aeroplane when I was very small. I remember the clouds looking so beautiful and everything on the ground was tiny, like I'd become a giant and I could look down on everything. When it got cold, he tucked me inside his leather bomber jacket and the vibrations from the engine sent me to sleep. I remember, it was one of those planes with the engine in the back and the propeller up front, with a shaft running under the pilot's seat, so the vibrations were really noticeable."
"Do you like flying?"
"I love it. It's the greatest thing in the world, next to inventing."
"Do you dream of it often?"
"Yes, all the time."
"Is there anyone with you when you dream of it?"
"My father. Sometimes my friends."
"Tell me about your friends."
"Well, Chip's sort of my boss. He's a detective and he's very dedicated. He was the one who wanted to form the Rescue Rangers. Dale's his best buddy. He isn't as smart as Chip but he has a good heart and a lot of imagination and he's more, gentle, I guess the word is. Not that Chip isn't a gentleman. Well, he isn't; a man, I mean. That is, he's a male chipmunk but that doesn't mean he isn't gentle, although he can be a little forceful at times. Actually I guess that rules out his being a gentleman altogether but he knows how to behave himself and that's the essence of a gentleman, wouldn't you say? Anyway, that leaves Monty and Zipper. Monty was my dad's best friend. He's always been like an uncle to me. Zipper is Monty's best friend. He's a housefly."
"I think that about wraps up our session for today. We are out of time."
"Oh Doc, do I have to be kept in a rubber room for the whole twenty-eight days I'm here?"
"Security is very tight but by Friday we should have your own maximum security cell for you. You won't even have to wear a straight jacket. Unless you need one that is."
With that, the bat righted him self in one fluid motion born of many years practice and dropped to the floor. He gave Gadget a casual wave and picked up his briefcase.
"Wait a moment, aren't you going to diagnose me?"
"Not until your observation period is over. Goodbye, Miss ?" Doctor Schadenfreude turned with one eyebrow raised, as if he had forgotten her name.
"Hackwrench." Gadget supplied automatically.
"Of course." The Doctor nodded sadly, and closed the door behind him.
"How is she, Doc?" Asked a passing orderly.
"Hoo-hoo! She is one pretty package but she rattles up top when you shake her a little, I think."
"Screw loose, huh?"
"And how!" The Doctor laughed.
"Gadget Hackwrench dead! Impostor Jailed!" The newspaper seller was a mouse about nine years old. He probably should have been in a classroom of some kind but no one tried to move him on from his regular pitch, on the corner of the rodent market, under the platform of a human railway station. His shrill voice cut through the low busy sounds of hundreds of small animals going about their business, straight into the heart of Chip Maplewood.
Chip froze rigid when he heard the words. He stood as still as a cub staring into the eyes of a predator for the first time. Slowly he shook off the feeling of doom and terror that had swamped him.
It couldnt be, he told himself. He was hearing things, that was all. It was to be expected. He had been away from home for four days, chasing rumours, lies and figments of other people's imagination. His feet hurt from walking and his head hurt from listening to multiple slanders against a girl he had deep feelings of "friendship" for. More than once he had driven his claws into the palm of his paw after overhearing a new piece of gossip that he knew was nothing to do with the kind, gentle, brilliant mouse maid he had left behind. He had started to see Gadget Hackwrench look-a-likes out of the corner of his eye every time he turned around.
"Read all about it! Gadget Hackwrench dead! Impostor jailed!"
Chip felt something strange happen inside his chest. He had thought it was just another piece of nonsense gossip the first time he heard the words, then the phrase "Read all about it" and all its implications hit him like a sledgehammer. Chip turned and dropped his travel case. The next thing he knew, he was running towards the newspaper boy like a thing possessed, his raincoat flapping behind him like a superhero's cape.
The mouse boy looked nervously up at him from behind a pile of unsold newspapers almost half as high as he was. "What was that you were shouting about Gadget Hackwrench?" Chip demanded as soon as he got his breath back.
The boy held up a paper so that Chip could read the headline: Hackwrench dies! Impostor jailed! "Buy a paper, Mister? I'll take anything worth a snack, or even a copy of yesterday's paper now that we're recycling."
Chip searched the unfamiliar pockets of the raincoat he was wearing. He had been missing his conventional bomber jacket and fedora hat since he left home but a Rescue Ranger in a place where someone posing as a Rescue Ranger had just robbed people stood an excellent chance of being jailed and he couldn't afford to be locked up while people verified his identity. Therefore, he was travelling incognito, under an assumed name. He was in no danger of being arrested for impersonating himself and no danger of convincing the newsboy to give him a free paper based on his reputation.
The travel bag he had dropped might well have had something worth trading in it. He looked forlornly back at where he had been standing, knowing that it could well have been kicked from one end of the platform to the other by now. He was down to his notebook, his pencil, his train ticket and a bag of apple seeds he had bought for lunch. He sighed and handed over the last meal he could be sure of until his train pulled in at the place he wanted to investigate.
The newspaper was printed on the kind of paper humans used to roll their own cigarettes; it folded more easily than other kinds of paper and actually felt close to a human newspaper scaled down to rodent size. The printing quality was a little fuzzy, probably from an ink-jet printer rather than a laser printer, and Chip realised that his hands were shaking and that he would taste the paper to see what kind of ink they used before he would willingly read the darned thing to see if Gadget was really dead.
Pull yourself together, he told himself. It won't make any difference whether you read the thing or not- if it's true, she'll be just as dead anyway and nothing you do can change that, because you weren't there!
Chip took a deep breath, closed his eyes, offered up a prayer, opened them again and started reading.
The Underground Inquisitor
Rescue Ranger Brain Dead!
The headlines screamed at him.
Brain dead. That meant that she was still breathing. The doctors could be wrong. If they weren't then he could still be there for her when the end came. Chip took another moment to steady his nerves and plunged on.
The Rescue Ranger's home city was united in grief last night and may soon be united in mourning. Gadget Hackwrench (26), who has been lying in a hospital bed in a deep coma since she was all but killed in a heroic attempt to single-handedly prevent the largest rodent instigated jewel theft of all time, has been declared clinically brain dead, a reliable hospital source confided last night.
A thousand thoughts rushed through Chip's head until he felt like the world was spinning around him. From somewhere very distant he heard his own voice say: "She's twenty four. If they can't even get that right why should anything else be true?"
Though reports of the incident itself are sketchy owing to the death of the criminals involved and Miss Hackwrench's own tragic condition, it is known that they made off with a substantial amount of jewellery from the Museum of Culture and Antiquity before hijacking the Ranger Wing aircraft, which Miss Hackwrench appears to have deliberately crash landed rather than assist the criminals in their getaway and perhaps to avoid the fate the hoodlums had in store for her once she they were out of the law's reach. Your reporter can only shudder at the thought of what doubtless awaited the lovely Miss Hackwrench, who is renowned for being as beautiful as she is brilliant.
"Shudder?!" Chip's voice rose to a jagged squeak. "You're practically drooling, you ink-sniffing scandal-monger!"
"It's a genuine tragedy!" Mourned a hospital official who cannot be named. "She has shown no sign of recovery since she was brought in. At first we hoped that the coma would be short term, but now she seems to be slipping away altogether." Already, we are told, her pupils show no response to bright light, a sure sign of brain death and a respirator has to be used to keep her lungs working.
"That's not right! She could have been blinded by the accident! Her optic nerves " Chip trailed off. He couldn't find a shred of conviction in his voice. Everything around him seemed as black as night but his own eyes showed him every letter of the newspaper story in perfect detail.
No sooner had this rodent tragedy unfolded than another momentous story broke across town. At about the time the Ranger Plane was making its fateful dive into the headlines, Street Watch patrol volunteers were bringing in a sultry red-head for starting a riot in a bar by dancing topless. When questioned she gave her name as Gadget Hackwrench but there was no fooling these sharp-eyed city detectives and she was quickly charged with the many acts of deception, fraud and disorder that have recently been attributed to the heroic Rangerette by officials in numerous communities outside the big city.
"Rangerette isn't even a real word." Chip whispered brokenly. He followed the story mechanically, his eyes skipping from one word to the next, but the only thing in his head was the image of Gadget. One by one he brought out his favourite memories of her, holding on to them like treasure.
Gadget stood in the wrecked plane where her father had made a home for his little girl and his little girl had made death traps that would make Indiana Jones gulp with disbelief. Gadget beamed with pride as she showed off a new invention that actually worked. Gadget wore the red dress, the only proper dress she owned. Gadget kissed him on the cheek. Gadget blushed when he offered to win a prize for her at the fun fair.
From behind him came a snatch of conversation: "Oh that poor girl. And to think I believed nearly every word of those dreadful rumours. I hope they threw the book at that wretched criminal." It was a female voice. It sounded snobbish and false, without a shred of real sympathy or condemnation for Gadget or the criminal who had played so recklessly with her reputation.
Turning, Chip saw a lady weasel wearing stylish clothes and expensive jewellery. Her expression was nonchalant, her head high. Her every movement was poised and deliberate, like an actress or a model on a catwalk.
"Yes, it is a shame." Agreed her friend, a grey mouse with a good figure but dowdy fur and a careworn face. "But I did warn you not to believe everything you hear."
"Barbara, one simply can't check every little detail in the gossip one hears and repeats. You wouldn't have time to do anything else."
"It's practically all you do anyway!"
Perhaps it was that which made Chip explode.
"How could anyone believe the pure trash that been peddled as fact about Gadget!?" Chip nearly screamed. "She has a heart of gold and a mind as pure as freshly laid snow!"
Heads turned to look at the crazy person.
"Is this street theatre?" A slow voice asked.
"I don't think so, Kevin. Best if we keep moving before he pulls out a weapon."
"What did he say? All I caught were the words ""Gadget"" and ""laid""." A puzzled voice inquired.
"I think it was something about a puerile, fresh show." Another voice hazarded.
"I wouldn't mind seeing that!" Someone else put in.
"No, no, it was in the paper, she's died. Most likely something about laying her to rest or something."
"If he's taking up a collection he's going to be disappointed with what I'll give him!"
Chip's mind began to crumble. For a split second he wished that he did have a weapon. Something terrifying and destructive, like the machine guns that humans carried in the films Dale liked so much. Chip shook himself to try and rid himself of the thought. He had to try and make them understand.
Suddenly Chip was out from under the station platform and running up onto the railway. People looked at him, amazed as he jumped up onto one of the railway sleepers and turned back to lecture them.
"Do you think it's easy? Do you think it's easy being beautiful and smart and kind, all at the same time? Because it isn't! Every time some slob who isn't fit breathe the same air that blows through your hair looks you in the eye and asks you to eat with him, you're smart enough to know he'll only be thinking about what he'd like to do to the whole time he's with you, if you accept, and you still care about how much it's going to hurt him to turn him down."
"We don't want to hear about your love life!" A heckler yelled.
The crowd laughed.
"I'm not talking about me! I'm talking about one of the best people I've ever heard of, let alone met! Someone who was brave and honest, kind and giving, clever and beautiful! Can't you tell who I'm talking about?" Chip demanded.
"It's not me is it?" said the snobbish weasel. The grey mouse swatted her friend on the arm.
"Go on then, tell us!" A big rat called up to the chipmunk.
"Gadget! I'm talking about Gadget Hackwrench, you fools! One of the brightest souls who has ever walked the earth has slipped through our fingers and most of you are too clueless to even know it!"
"Hey, buddy, you can't stand up there like that to preach at us!" a mouse in a uniform put in.
"Somebody has to! It's the only way to make you wake up and realise what you've done!" Chip shouted back.
At the back of the crowd of small animals a hand was raised. "We can't hear you at the back! Some of us can't even see you!"
"Come closer to the platform!" Yelled the mouse in the uniform.
"No, that's no good, they might be able to hear me at the back then but they certainly wouldn't be able to see me." Chip told him.
Still facing the crowd, Chip took several steps back, hoping it might allow him to see more of the faces. He bumped into something, turned and saw that it was the metal rail of the railway track itself, gleaming in the sunlight. Without thinking, he climbed up onto it to gain height.
"I'm talking to you about Gadget Hackwrench." He yelled at the top of his voice. There was no doubt now that he had the attention of the entire crowd. Good, they're listening, he thought to himself. "She was twenty four years old. She spent most of that life travelling from one place to another with her father. She knew how much a kind word or welcoming smile could mean to someone when they were a stranger, alone in an unfamiliar place for the first time. When her father died, she was left alone, with no one to comfort her. But when she learned about the Rangers she chose to help others in need, even though it meant leaving the home she had made for herself, and everything that she had built up, behind!"
Chip stared at the crowd, who were looking silent and worried now. "How many of you would make the same choice? Who is there here who would dare to leave the comfortable, familiar home they've made for themselves because there are people in the world who need help more than any of you need to be safe, dry and warm?"
"Hey, mister-" began the mouse in the uniform, looking intimidated.
"There's one! Brave guy, lucky guy, to be so sure he could answer a call like that! Not many of us have the heart for it. Gadget Hackwrench did! And now she's gone!" Chip's throat was getting raw from yelling. "Anyone of you may find yourself in need, someday. Gadget Hackwrench would have saved you, if only someone had been there to save her! Remember that, when the time comes and you ask yourself: Who will save me?" Chip finished triumphantly, his head held high.
In the brief silence that followed, Chip became aware of two things. The sudden vibration of the railway track under his feet and a small blur of movement streaking out from a sea of horrified faces. A blast sound that could only come from a train, or some vast mythical beast, hammered his ears.
As the first screams of anticipated horror came from the crowd, Chip Maplewood, leader of the Rescue Rangers and soon-to-be chipmunk-puree, turned his head to see a titanic silver locomotive thundering towards him at sixty miles an hour. It seemed to be the height of a tall tree, as solid as a building and as unstoppable as a tidal wave.
It happens sometimes, even to the best and most professional heroes.
There was a split second, before the train screamed through the small town station on its non-stop journey between cities, when Chip could have jumped to safety under his own power and escaped unharmed. That moment passed him by, leaving him with just enough time to feel very, very foolish indeed.
All things considered, it was fortunate that a small, furry body, running fast enough be a blur, made a desperate flying leap and knocked Chip off the rail at the last instant.
The leviathan swept over their heads with a sound so loud that it shook their bones.
Chip lay on his back, not moving or thinking. He simply let his body deal with the important business of still existing. He was aware only of the noise of the train and the warm fuzzy weight on his chest, breathing as hard as Chip was.
The underbelly of the train was one dark, jagged blur, like the side of a cliff as you passed it on the way down. Then it was gone and clear blue sky replaced it.
Chip looked at the sky. He couldn't put the thought into words but, if he had been able to, it would have been: "I'm not dead".
The bundle of fur and hand-me-down clothes that was lying on top of him, panting, tried to lift itself up. Chip looked at it and made eye contact. A second later he realised it was the newspaper cub he had bought the paper from.
"Sometimes, it takes four days for news to reach here from the city and by the time it does it can be pretty twisted up." The cub whispered hoarsely. "So when the paper isn't selling so good, they just print whichever version of the truth they think will sell most papers."
Chip continued to lie still as he tried to digest this.
"I had to take most of my papers back unsold yesterday. So I guess this might be one of those times." The mouse cub said.
Amazingly, the child wasn't crying. From the sting in his own eyes, Chip was pretty sure he was crying, but he couldn't say why. It might have been because he had been told that Gadget was dead, or because he had found out there was still a chance she might be alive, or perhaps it was just that he had been frightened out of his wits. Which one had started the salt-water pouring down his face was something he would never know. His investigation was already forgotten. He had to get home to Gadget where, God willing, he was still needed.
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