Gadget in Chains
Written by: Loneheart
Chapter Nine: An Unexpected Guest
There was a storm outside. Gadget tried to pull the covers up over her head and found she could not. They were wrapped around her too tightly.
The wind at the window wailed like a soul in pain.
Gadget knew she should put her head under the pillow to shut out the sound but she couldn't seem to free her arms from the tightly wrapped bed covers. Giving that idea up as a bad job, she twisted her head about in an effort to wriggle her way under the pillow. After a moment she realised the pillow was no-where to be found. It must have been knocked onto the floor at some point, she thought sleepily.
The wind seemed to moan her name, drawing it out and filling it with an emotion that Gadget couldn't or wouldn't put a name to.
Gadget's face creased in puzzlement. This was wrong sort of. It was familiar and unfamiliar at the same time, like a forgotten dream returning to haunt the dreamer.
Gadget blinked as she found herself in a straitjacket, on the padded floor of a box lined with bubble wrap. Her memory swiftly laid any confusion about where she was to rest. A nightmare, she thought.
Something even darker than the near total darkness of her padded cell was visible out of the corner of her eye. Something that didn't belong in the cell with her.
Gadget's eyes widened. It was a smart, brightly polished black shoe. Someone was there. Someone was locked in the cell with her.
She gasped and started to writhe on the floor as she tried to turn and see who was watching her. She found herself eye to ankle with a pair of legs that were surprisingly thick and long for the small feet that supported them. They were wrapped in the high quality silk of an elegant, well-tailored suit. Before Gadget could get better look at her visitor he had stepped silently away, allowing her only a glimpse of a long, pink, hairless tail.
He was a rat.
She felt, rather than heard, a movement behind her. Her whole body went rigid. There was a strange male rat locked in the cell with her; he wasn't saying a word, he had moved out of sight when she tried to look at him and now he was doing something behind her.
Gadget heard a faint sigh, followed by a chuckle that fell somewhere between being charming and self-satisfied. "Excuse me, who are you?" she demanded.
"Hmmm." The stranger seemed to be considering his answer. "Oh, I can't really claim to be any body. Not these days." A deep, smooth, English voice replied.
"What are you doing here?" Gadget asked, turning her head as far as she could but still unable to see her visitor.
"Oh, the boys downstairs knew you were having a difficult time of it up here and sometimes- just sometimes, mind you, when there's a special case- they send people like me to visit a person who's having a difficult time. So that we can, ahem, council them." The voice lifted as though the speaker had smiled at the choice of words.
"And they just let you in here, after dark? Without even turning the lights on?" Gadget quizzed him, sceptically.
The English rat stepped closer with a light laugh. Gadget could almost see his face now, except that her hair had fallen across her eyes.
"I can see you are everything they said you were." The strange rat almost purred.
Gadget tried unsuccessfully to blow the hair away from her eyes so that she could look him in the eye. Without warning, the rat stretched out a hand and brushed away the offending lock of golden hair.
Gadget flinched, not because the contact was unexpected, but because the touch had been so gentle that she might not have known it had happened at all if she had not seen it. Instead of reassuring her, the knowledge that she had been sleeping while this stranger was in her cell made her feel queasy and anxious.
"Who are you?" Gadget asked again. "What's your name?"
"Professor-" The rat broke off suddenly, as though a thought occurred to him. "I'm sorry, can I ask a silly question? How much do you know about history? Or crime?"
"I don't know anything much about history, except the history of science and invention. I know more about crime than I do about history, because I'm a Rescue Ranger! But nobody believes me, so they stuck me in here."
"Oh, Gadget. Yes, that's right." The rat smiled down at the Rescue Ranger's amazed expression. "I know who you are. I wouldn't be here otherwise."
"Really? Then you'll tell the others that I am who I say I am?"
The rat's expression became almost exaggeratedly sad. "I'm sorry Gadget, but I can't do that. They wouldn't be willing to hear a word I had to say on the matter. Honestly, they'd just ignore me. Besides, it's really against the rules for me to see you. In fact, if I so much as tried to take your side by talking to the prison authorities, I wouldn't be allowed out- I mean, into the prison at all; let alone allowed to help you."
"Could you take a message to my friends on the outside?"
"Miss Hackwrench! Clearly you don't realise that it's against the law for people to carry messages for prisoners outside of official channels! Why, I could face a heavy penalty for agreeing to what you're suggesting. A prison sentence, even."
The rat looked shocked, but there was something about his manner that Gadget distrusted. She looked away with a frown. Had this experience destroyed her ability to trust people? It was possible; she knew that people who were seldom trusted found it difficult to trust others.
"I'm sorry." Gadget said eventually. "It's just I'm so desperate to get out of here."
"Well, I suppose I can overlook it this one time." The rat allowed. "But you have to promise me: you won't ask anyone to carry messages for you and you won't tell anyone you've seen me."
Gadget blinked. Her suspicions about this stranger had faded since she laid eyes on him; he was polite, he had believed her when she had said who she was and he had refused to break the prison rules, even for a good cause. She was alone, yet again in her life, and she clearly needed somebody to help.
There wasn't a shred of doubt that this Professor - he hadn't finished introducing himself, she remembered - could make her life a lot easier while she was here. But to get that help she would have to make a promise that closed the most promising doorway out of this nightmare she had been trapped in. She decided to stall long enough to think about it.
"What did you say your name was again?"
"I don't think I did but, until I have your promise, I don't think it would be very wise of me to give you my name. I wouldn't want you to go telling tales to Doctor Schadenfreude, now, would I?"
"I'm not sure I should be giving my word to anyone I haven't been properly introduced to." Gadget countered.
"Hmm. Well, it's your decision." The rat mused, watching her expression out of the corner of his eye.
Gadget frowned in thought. Give up on getting someone to get a note to the Rangers. Probably delay her eventual escape (uh, release, she reminded herself) from prison. Increase the risk of something bad happening to her, or the impostor doing something bad to her friends, in the meantime. In return have an easier life until she finally did get out of here and have one person to talk to who knew who she really was. One person who believed her and who knew she wasn't crazy.
It was a difficult decision.
Gadget's face creased with concentration as she tried to weigh up the odds of finding someone else who would carry a note to the rangers and of them believing it when they got it. They were pretty good, she decided. It might take a week or so to find that person but when she had, it wouldn't be long before everyone knew who she was.
Of course, she hadn't forgotten what the warden had told her. Even once her identity was proved, she might still be stuck here. Then there was the question of asking someone to break the law for her. Someone who might be punished.
But how else was she going to get out of this?
Ratigan watched the young inventor's face closely as the different thoughts played across it, her features changing and twisting with indecision in the darkness. He was half sure that she would come out in favour of trusting him but, if he lost her now, he knew it was over. Could he risk it, he wondered? A sorrowful look settled on Gadget's face and his nerve broke.
"I tell you what," he offered as a compromise, "we won't worry about stuffy titles. After all, we aren't likely to be invited to a royal garden party where I'll have to call you ""Miss Hackwrench""."
"You'll tell me your name?"
"My name-" he whispered as though he were revealing an age old secret "-is Professor Ratigan."
"Don't let's be formal. You must call me James."
Gadget blinked, a puzzled look creasing her normally perfect features. "I know that name " she murmured.
"Really?" Ratigan's frown was far darker than Gadget's.
"I can't place it, though "
"What a pity. Well, if you remember, you simply must let me know where you heard it. In the meantime, why don't you tell me how you got into this predicament? Assuming you're ready to give me word so I can stay and listen, that is."
Gadget stopped frowning and sighed deeply. "Alright." She said. "I promise. I won't ask someone to break the rules by carrying a message for me."
"Excellent." The Professor clearly relished the word. "And the other?"
Gadget looked at him carefully. Her distrust was written across her face, plain for him to see. "Not yet. I won't promise to keep your visit secret until I trust you."
Ratigan looked at her with a slight scowl. "And what would that take my dear?"
"For one, I want you to promise that you won't try to hurt me."
"I give my solemn word: I will not harm one single hair on your head, let alone any more substantial part of your body."
"For another thing, I want your promise that you won't try to get romantic while I'm all tied up."
"And in return I only get one promise from you? No, I think not, Miss Hackwrench. Not that I'm free to pursue an affair of the heart at the moment but I do feel that any one promise of mine is worth one of yours."
Gadget scowled at him. "I can't promise to keep you a secret if I don't feel safe. And that includes my, uh, virtue!" She added.
"Well then, for what it's worth: I promise not to make any kind of physical contact with you for any reason, nor ask another to do so on my behalf. And that will have to suffice, Miss Hackwrench."
"Alright, then." She said. "I give you my solemn word that I won't tell anyone that you've been visiting me."
Ratigan's smile was as friendly as a shark's. "Splendid." He purred. "Is there anything else, Miss Hackwrench, or do we trust each other now?"
Gadget nodded. Well, it's done now anyway, she thought. She had an instinct telling her that no good would come of it, but with the promise he had given her she could at least be sure that no bad could come of it either. "So, what can I do for you, Mr Ratigan?"
"Oh no, my dear Miss Hackwrench. Rather, you should ask what I could do for you."
Lawhiney was woken at 6.30 sharp, when the hospital nurse came to give her a bed-bath. The nurse, a frog who smelt strongly of soap, was clearly a morning person. Lawhiney was not. But since Gadget was, by reputation, the frog was spared the most acidic side of Lawhiney's tongue.
The nurse chattered inanely about her job as she applied the lukewarm sponge to Lawhiney's aching and battered body. Lawhiney forced a polite smile and thought evil thoughts about the nurse until she was on her way out the door, when Lawhiney's instinct for mischief finally got the better of her.
"You've been so pleasant. I hope we can do this again, soon." Lawhiney said. She added just enough carnal desire to the word "soon" that the nurse looked back in surprise.
Lawhiney's face was a picture of purity and innocence and she remained silent, until the nurse had turned away again, when she blew a kiss at the frog's retreating back as the door closed.
As the door swung shut, her guide was revealed, glaring at her with his hands on her hips.
"Urk!" Lawhiney exclaimed with her lips still puckered.
"Is that the attitude you're starting the first full day of your new life with?" Her guide growled at her. "The nurse woke me before I was ready to be woken so I'm going to embarrass her by pretending to flirt?"
Lawhiney managed to recover her composure and put on her best "I'm not impressed" expression.
"I didn't notice you flirting with her." She said. It was a lame comeback and she knew it.
"You know what I mean. Don't you smart mouth me, young lady."
"Or you'll do what? Take me out to the woodshed?" Lawhiney's voice dripped sarcasm.
"If you do everything right from here on out, I may just get to meet you on the other-side one day, and then I'll have the opportunity of doing just that! If you carry on the way you're going, you'll end up somewhere a lot worse than any woodshed."
Lawhiney broke eye contact first in the silence that followed.
"Now; having talked things over with the-powers-that-be, or at least, my supervisor, I have determined that what you suggested yesterday was a half truth."
Lawhiney frowned as her memory failed to provide the necessary details.
"I'm talking about how your death at this point would spell certain doom for Gadget." Her guide prompted.
"Yes. "'Oh, that.'" as you put it. Well, it seems that you were only partly right. Gadget would not be released before the prison riot in January. The Rangers would have closed down and broken up by then, because of your death, but she'd be free and no worse off than she would be in the version of the future you saw."
"That wasn't what you thought last night."
"I didn't say that Gadget wouldn't have problems. She'd have quite a few."
"I bet. She's got a nice face, that Hackwrench girl." Lawhiney smirked.
"So have you, for that matter." Her guide returned, icily.
"Why, thank you." Lawhiney chuckled.
"Why you-" her guide checked his temper. "Just you remember that one way or another you're going to be where she is a lot longer than she'll be!" he said when he finally got a grip on himself.
"Don't count on that. One way or another, I'm going to see this child born and safe; at least. If they catch up with me after that, I'll take what's coming to me. I might complain about it a little, but the tribe mice didn't name me "'the whiner'" for nothing."
Her guide dragged himself back to the point. "As I was saying: Gadget would be released. The Rescue Rangers, however, would be a dead duck. The organization that is, not the members. That means that the people they would have rescued in the time they would have been active would most likely die, or be severely injured. That isn't something that we want to be a part of but it would be your soul it weighed most heavily on, if you contributed to that."
"What? I'd burn in hell for all eternity, plus a bit extra?"
"I'm sure the people who deal your kind downstairs could come up with something to cover it. I'm told they're very, very inventive like that." He arched an eyebrow as he looked at her.
Lawhiney knew some fairly inventive people herself; people who didn't believe in life after death of any kind, since they considered themselves professionals and believed that when they had done a job it should stay done. (Sometimes well done, or even char-grilled.) They gave a quality to the word "inventive" that Lawhiney was reasonably sure Gadget Hackwrench could never imagine in a million years.
Suddenly, hell was easier and less pleasant to imagine.
"Okay, I get the point." She snapped. "What do you want from me?"
"I want you to confess all to the next person you see." Her guide returned. "Just like you should have as soon as you woke up."
"No. I've already told you why. Try something else."
Her guide sighed. "Then how about this: No more playing tricks for your own amusement and you won't do anything that might damage Gadget's reputation further than it already has been."
"Ah, no. I agree to no playing tricks on the nurses or doctors for my own amusement, but I can't make any promises about Gadget's reputation. I will promise not to do anything un-Gadget-like in front of anyone who thinks I'm her, though." Lawhiney smirked at him.
"Oh, nice. Offering me something that you're going to do anyway in return for my approval and trust. You'd fit right in with the people who run things down below."
"At least you know it's a promise I'm going to keep. Besides which, right now I doubt that Gadget herself could promise not to do anything that might damage her reputation."
The Guide glowered at her. "Gadget is in a very difficult and dangerous situation. There's no telling what she might have to do to survive."
Gadget had discovered the one advantage of being in the psychiatric ward. No one minded if she slept in.
Chip staggered down the spiral staircase that the people who ran the Small Animals of Mercy Hospital had built into the wall cavity of the Cosgrove Hotel. He had been dizzy almost since he started the climb and was just praying that he could find his way down without needing a lay down in a hospital bed himself. It was a long flight from the small town where he had bought the newspaper even as the crow flies, which had been straight through a thunderstorm as it turned out.
The crow in question remained on the roof, having left it until now to get suspicious about Chip's ability to pay. Well, one of the others would just have to go up and settle the tab. They had been sitting on their tails here for four days, instead of trying to get word to him, or working the case that had left Gadget broken and dying in this place.
Finding the floor he had been directed to by the hospital staff on the roof, Chip burst through the door into a scene that strongly resembled pandemonium. Roughly twenty small animals of varying descriptions were pressing in around the stairwell doorway. They were all wearing raincoats and waving microphones, photographic cameras and notebooks and pens.
Chip gaped at them for a half second and then a flash bulb went off, blinding him after the darkness of the stairwell.
Instantly they set up on him. A dozen questions were fired at him so rapidly that he didn't hear one whole one over the babble of voices. Reporters. He had dealt with their kind before but never a baying mob of them like this one.
"Get away from me!" Chip yelled.
"Just a few questions!" Someone shouted in his ear.
"Go on, tell us something for our readers."
"No, give me an exclusive! Let us tell your story!"
"Tell your readers-" Chip cut off what he was going to say. Some part of him was still hanging on to the tattered hope that everything could be the way it had been before he had left on his fool's errand. If the papers printed the message he had in mind, he doubted that anyone would ever look at the Rescue Rangers the same way again.
The crowd of reporters quietened in the belief that they were about to be told something.
"There will be no statement or comment from me about what has happened to Gadget Hackwrench or any related matter until I have heard the full story from the people who were here at the time. Is that clear?" Chip said with self-control he didn't know he had. "When I have the full facts in my possession I will make a detailed statement to those people here who can behave like civilized professionals!" In other words, he thought, no one here is going to hear anything about this from me before hell freezes over.
"Mister Maplewood! Can you tell us where you've been for the last five days?"
"Chasing scurrilous and ill founded rumours started by newspapers about as accurate as this one!" Chip snapped back, throwing the paper he had bought the previous morning at the reporter who had asked the question.
There was a mad flurry of hands and tearing newspaper as reporters fought for control of the evidence against their profession.
Chip used the distraction to make his escape. He almost made it but one young rat managed to snag the sleeve of Chip's raincoat long enough to ask one last question.
"Mister Maplewood, do you have anything to say about the rumoured love triangle involving Gadget Hackwrench, Monterey Jack and yourself?"
Chip answered with a straight right punch that connected with the rat's nose. The rat spun backwards with his eyes spinning. In the uproar that followed Chip tore himself away from the herd of reporters. A packrat in a white coat caught him by the hand and dragged him through a door. Three orderlies tried to bring the reporters under control as the packrat secured the door.
"Who are you?" Chip demanded.
"I'm Doctor Bell, I've been treating your friend, Miss Hackwrench. You are Chip Maplewood, aren't you? You don't quite look-"
"I changed my wardrobe. I'm Chip Maplewood. Is she dead?"
The doctor stared into the chipmunk's face, trying to see if he was serious. Chip's eyes were dark brown, bloodshot and sunken into a drawn and haggard face.
"Lord, no. Gadget isn't dead! Who's been saying that?" the doctor stared at Chip in horror.
"I was out of town and the first I heard about this was when I heard a newspaper boy shouting the headlines, yesterday morning. I haven't slept or eaten since."
"No wonder you look so rough. Did you get a bird to carry you back?"
"Yes. He's waiting on the roof to get paid. I was hoping to send one of my friends up to take care of it, but I don't know if they're here."
"Mister Oakmont and Monterey Jack? Yes, one or the other has been here since Gadget was admitted, usually both. We make them go home and bathe occasionally but they take it in turns, so there's always one of them here."
Chip blinked and swayed as though punch drunk. "Who? Oh, Dale." It seemed strange hearing Dale called "Mister" by someone who was taller than elbow height.
"Are you feeling alright?"
"Fine, fine." Chip said. But he didn't. He was shivering and there was an unpleasant, wet, sticky feeling at the back of his throat that told him he was coming down with something, probably a chill from the journey through the thunderstorm.
"When can I see her?" Chip demanded suddenly.
"Miss Hackwrench? We normally make visitors wait until visiting hours, if only so that the patient can get a breather from reassuring all their anxious friends and relations but, if you come in with me, you can see her now."
The doctor took Chip through a back door the reporters were all too audible outside the office door they had come in through. The chipmunk was agitated and close to exhaustion and, rather than walk with him in uncomfortable silence, Doctor Bell began to list Gadget's injuries in medical terms.
"Never mind the other stuff. Tell me about her head injury."
"It was pretty serious. She was in a coma for three days."
"And then she got worse?"
"The newspaper said she was brain damaged."
"Those hacks! They should leave medical diagnosis to the experts."
"Doc, tell me if Gadget's okay, for crying out loud!"
"Well, we're here now. You can see for yourself; this is her private room." Doctor Bell held the door open for Chip and gestured that he should go inside.
Chip hesitated. A brief vision of the helpless, crippled, brain-damaged Gadget that might be waiting for him on the other side of the door danced before his eyes. Then a voice he didn't recognize came from the room, saying: "Huh? Was that the door?"
Chip stepped into the room.
Gadget was lying in bed, propped up in a sitting position by pillows made from cotton wool balls wrapped in nylon gauze. Her hair was spread over the pillows in a spray of yellow. Her eyes were wide and startled; there were dark rings round them from lost or uneasy sleep.
Chip took another step towards her, hardly daring to believe his eyes.
Gadget's expression was one of horror. For a split second it flashed through Chip's head that she had been brain damaged and that it had left her with this new, permanent expression. Then her face twitched and she spoke his name in a strangled voice.
"Chip! It wasn't -It isn't my fault!"
Chip took another step forward. She thought he was worried about the Ranger Plane. That was so like her. Couldn't she see that she was all he cared about? He shook his head sadly.
"I wasn't sure you would around by the time I got back." He said, gruffly.
Gadget's mouth opened and closed; her eye's brimmed with tears.
Chip advanced on the bed, holding his hands out to her. He wanted nothing more than to take her hands in his and tell her everything that had gone through his heart in the last few hours. He wasn't the same chipmunk who had left to track down a piece of salacious gossip five days ago. He had faced something so terrible he never could have imagined it before.
Losing Gadget, forever.
"When I think how close you were to slipping through our fingers," Chip told her, "it makes me so angry."
Gadget pulled the bed sheets over her head.
Chip blinked. He knew Gadget was modest but he hadn't thought she was that shy. After all, it was a hospital bed she was in and he'd known her for years. "I've no one to blame except myself, I guess." He said. "There's so much I have never said to you."
One of Gadget's eyes peeped out from under sheets, her eyebrow daintily lifted in puzzlement. Still she said nothing.
Very gently, Chip took one of her paws and held it in his own. "I promise that's going to be different from now on, Gadget. I won't be afraid to show everyone how I feel."
Gadget's eye blinked rapidly. She stuck her head out from under the sheets and stared at Chip with an astonished expression.
"Uh, right." She said; her voice strained with emotion. "How do you feel?" She asked.
"Gadget, I- AHCHOO!" Chip sneezed violently. The sneeze was followed by two more in quick succession, which forced him to sit down on the corner of the bed. "I feel like I've got a fever." He said, lamely.
"Yikes!" The exclamation came from the doorway, where Doctor Bell looked aghast. "You've got a virus! You shouldn't be in here with an infection! If I'd known you had one I never would have brought you in." Marching swiftly across the room, the packrat took Chip Maplewood by the arm. "Come along, Mister Maplewood, I'll have to ask you to stay away from Miss Hackwrench until she's further along on the road to recovery."
"But Doc," Chip complained as he was hauled towards the door. "I only just started sneezing. It's probably just a chill from the flight over."
"Better safe than sorry." The doctor said. "The start of a cold is the most infectious part of it. You wouldn't want to slow the healing process; now, would you?"
With a last forlorn look at Gadget, Chip allowed himself to be forced out of the room.
Lawhiney was just enjoying a few moments of peace and quiet, free from Doctors, nurses, or spectral phantasms from the great beyond, when the door opened. She had been almost ready to catch up on her lost sleep and could just about feel her favourite recurring dream coming on. She was looking forward to renewing acquaintances with the six best-looking warriors in the Hawaiian mouse tribe and the pool of cottage cheese big enough to swim in, so an interruption at this point was unwelcome.
She opened her eyes and blinked. Her guide was peering down at her with a worried look on his face. He hadn't been there when she closed her eyes, but she was fairly sure he hadn't been the one to open the door.
"This is the best opportunity to confess you're going to have, Lawhiney." Her guide said, quickly and nervously. "I really think you should take it, because after this-" He broke off suddenly.
"Huh?" Lawhiney queried. "Was that the door?"
The Guide straightened and looked away from her. Lawhiney followed his gaze to the doorway. She had turned the lights down so she could rest, which meant the hallway lights were brighter than the ones in the private room. It left single, stocky figure silhouetted in the doorframe for a moment, as though he wanted her to see him that way before he entered the room.
Lawhiney didn't recognize the chipmunk immediately. It was only when he moved, taking that first heavy, deliberate step towards her, that she took in the stocky build and determined features and identified him as Chip Maplewood. She had often imagined meeting him again but always on her terms. As he came closer she took in the upturned collar of the raincoat and the light in his eyes and wondered how she could ever have thought she would get away with it.
"Chip!" she exclaimed. "It wasn't " It wasn't what? It wasn't me? That was a good one. Maybe he'd laugh until she recovered enough to make a run for it. "It isn't my fault!" Lawhiney choked.
Chip took another step forward, his shoulders hunched, a slight smile on his lips as he shook his head to show that he wasn't buying it.
Lawhiney glanced at her guide. She had been hoping for help, but she only got a sorry shrug. "Should've owned up straight away, like I told you, kid." He told her.
"I wasn't sure you'd be around by the time I got back." Chip growled at her.
Lawhiney searched frantically for an excuse. She was insane. No, that was a one-way ticket to the laughing academy. She had been kidnapped and forced against her will. No, that wouldn't work now; she had carried on the game in hospital. If she had identified herself the moment she woke up, as her guide had told her to, there were a dozen things she could have claimed had forced her to impersonate Gadget. Now it was too late.
Lawhiney's mouth opened and closed as it waited for her brain to supply the magic words that would save her. There weren't any. And now her eyes were misting over. Yes! Tears! That might save her! Big strong males never knew how to deal with a tiny female wailing and leaking water all over the place.
"When I think how close you were to slipping through our fingers," Chip told her, "it makes me so angry." And with that, he stepped forward again, his hands stretching out as if to take her by the throat.
Lawhiney quailed. The only things to shield her self with were the bed sheets. She was a goner, for sure, and she knew it. As Chip closed in for the kill Lawhiney was reduced to hiding under the covers like a little girl afraid of the bogeyman.
She heard Chip's voice from the other side of the covers. "I've no one to blame except myself, I guess." He said. "There's so much I have never said to you."
Huh? What hadn't he said to her?
Lawhiney waited for him to take hold of her and shake a confession out. When he didn't she allowed one eye to peep out and check his expression. It seemed gruff, yet kind, like Saint Peter's.
Very gently, Chip took one of her paws and held it in his own. "I promise that's going to be different from now on, Gadget. I won't be afraid to show everyone how I feel."
Later, Lawhiney was grateful her face had been hidden when she heard those words. In other circumstances, she would have laughed in the face of any alleged alpha-male who had come out with a line like that. But for now she was only aware of one word: "Gadget."
He had called her Gadget.
He didn't know.
Lawhiney replayed the last minute in her mind and tried to make sense of it. As she did so, she dropped the bed sheets in amazement. Vaguely aware that Chip was expecting her to say something, she stammered: "Uh, right. How do you feel?"
Chip's face writhed with indecision for a moment, as though he were the one with a burning need to confess. Dear Lord, Lawhiney thought, he's going to ask me to marry him or something!
"Gadget, I- AHCHOO!" The sneeze was so explosive that Lawhiney almost jumped out of bed. It was followed by two more in quick succession. "I feel like I have a fever."
"Yikes!" The exclamation came from the doorway, where Doctor Bell looked aghast. "You've got a virus! You shouldn't be in here with an infection! If I'd known you had one I never would have brought you in."
The packrat stormed across the room and pulled Chip off the corner of the bed. Chip protested all the way to the door but it was obvious that their intimate moment was over. The leader of the Rescue Rangers looked back at Lawhiney one last time before the Doctor bundled him out of the room. His expression was that of a small child who had just been sent to bed without dessert.
Lawhiney was left looking after them with a sour smile on her face. No marriage proposal from this commitment-phobic today, Lawhiney thought. Sheesh, how long had the real Gadget put up with this kind of thing?
"Of all the incompetent, dim-witted, clueless, gumshoe wannabes ." The Guide spluttered. "I don't believe it! How could he mistake you for Gadget? It's impossible! You don't even smell right! You're hair's a different colour, for crying out loud."
Lawhiney smirked at him. "Face it, pal. I'm as good as the real thing!"
Her guide's bristly moustache twitched in annoyance. "Saints alive, are you wrong on just so many levels!"
"Ah, relax and take it easy." Lawhiney moved to fold her arms behind her head and grimaced in pain. She had forgotten that her shoulder had been dislocated. "You're not the one in pain. All you've got to do is sit tight until I get out of here and then watch me reform."
"He'll figure it out, you know. He's a great detective. Or will be, in a few years. If you don't screw things up for him." Her guide added to prick her conscience.
"So I may have to give him some sugar to keep him sweet until I'm back on my feet." Lawhiney smiled. "Come to think of it, would that work with you?"
"NO!" Her guide glared at her in a fury. "I'm- Wait a minute, what do you mean, ""Give him some sugar""? What about your condition?"
Lawhiney laughed at him.
"Oh, I get it. Teasing your spirit guide, huh? Let's see if we can give him a heart attack and kill him a second time." The Guide gave her a twisted half-smile that would have been rakish on a taller, younger mouse.
"Aw, come on, Mister whatever-your-name-is. Did you ever have a sense of humour? Because if I have to hand mine in for the wings and halo then I'm gonna live forever."
"Your sense of humour runs to robbery with violence, kiddo. I'm sorry if you think that makes me a grouch, but it's my job to act as your conscience until you grow a new one of your own."
"Yeah, I know. Now how about you get out of here and let me sleep."
"If you can. Just because Chip's not the detective he's cracked up to be, that doesn't mean that someone else won't work it out."
"Ah, don't be too hard on him. The hospital disinfectant messes up everyone's sense of smell and the lights are turned down in here because I WANT TO GET SOME SLEEP!" Lawhiney bawled at him.
The door opened and Doctor Bell put his head back in. He looked around the room before blinking at its sole occupant in puzzlement. "Do you have a visitor?"
"Hah, no, of course not. I was just frustrated because I can't get any sleep. Was there something you wanted?"
"Uh, yes. The tests we ran this morning? We got the results back from the lab. In record time, too."
Lawhiney became very still. "What were the results, Doctor?"
"Positive. You're pregnant. It's very early days; far too early to say how many babies or what sexes they will be." The doctor looked at her to see how she was taking the news.
"I knew I was." Lawhiney whispered with a smile and she hugged herself tightly.
"Do you want me to tell your friends?"
"What? Hell- I mean, heck no. I don't want them to make any more of a fuss than they will while I'm recovering." A thought seemed to strike her. "Hey, doc, how long is it going to take for me to recover, anyway?"
"You've gone from a coma to sitting up in bed in twenty-four hours. That's remarkable for anyone, but a complete recovery could take months."
"How long before I'm mobile? Able to walk, say, a block under my own power?"
"It'll be about six weeks before we can take the splint off your broken leg. The stitches in your side where we fixed the internal bleeding should be ready to come out a couple of weeks before that. I wouldn't advise doing anything physical until then, but you should be able to get to the bathroom by yourself by the end of next week. The bones should have knitted by then."
"Six weeks, huh, doc? Thanks."
Lawhiney's guide stepped up beside her bed. "A lot can happen in six weeks." He told her. "You can't keep the lights turned down for that long. And sooner or later someone is going to realise your voice has changed. Chip might have been too happy to see Gadget to notice but it'll happen, eventually."
"I'll come by and see how you're doing, now and then." The Doctor nodded to her on his way towards the door.
"Say, Doc, could I have my personal effects back? The ones that were on me at the time of the crash?"
"Sure." Doctor Bell said, hesitantly. "It might bring back memories of the crash, though. Some of them were pretty damaged. We had to cut the overalls off you."
"It doesn't matter. I'd just like to have them."
The doctor shrugged. "Do you want these lights turned down like this?"
"Yes. Thank you, doc."
"Okay, then." The doctor closed the door behind him, leaving Lawhiney as the only living soul in the room.
"What was that about?" Her guide frowned.
"Lorrie gave me a cylinder of helium gas to help me imitate Gadgets voice so I could steal the Ranger Plane. I didnt have time to change out of my disguise, so the hospital must have it."
"Then they'll look at it and know you're a fraud." Her guide said.
"No, Gadget's an inventor. They'll just think that it's one of her inventions and hand it over without question. There should be enough helium left in it to help me fake Gadget's voice for a while."
"And I suppose you're going to ask one of the nurses to help you dye your hair when that bleach job starts to grow out, too?"
"That's just what I was thinking." Lawhiney looked at him. "For a conscience, you make a pretty good accomplice."
Her guide scowled at her. "I may have that heart-attack yet."
Gadget had been in the padded cell for three days now. She had been allowed out once to see Doctor Schadenfreude and every morning to wash under the supervision of a female orderly. After every meal there was a period that lasted roughly an hour when, if she asked nicely, she could visit the bathroom.
Her food was passed to her through a hole in the door that could be covered from the outside. It consisted of the hard pellets of mouse health food that pet stores sold, served three times a day with a bowl of water. Gadget had lived on it before; she even had a tub of them in her lab, though she kept a bowl of dip on the side for flavour. By this time, she never wanted to see another food pellet again.
The hardest part of being a mental patient was bladder control. On her second day she had learned (by counting as she hopped from one foot to the other) that it took roughly ten minutes for someone to respond to her yells, a further ten for her to be escorted to the bathroom due to all the doors that had to be unlocked between the padded cell and the little-lunatic's-room and a final agonizing five minutes to get the straight jacket off. So far she hadn't had to use the latex panties that had come with the straitjacket. She hoped that would continue.
One thing that Gadget hoped wouldn't continue was the boredom.
It seemed to be relentless.
She had nothing to do but think. She'd always been good at that. But, just like a big body needs more food to fuel it, a big mind needs more to inspire it. Here there was nothing to stimulate her at all.
She knew from experience that isolation and boredom could do terrible things to a person's self-discipline and concentration. She remembered, bitterly, the loss of her father and her self-imposed isolation from the few friends she already had for the year that followed. A vision of how she might have been if Monty and the boys had found her a year later than they did danced briefly in her mind's eye.
Gadget shivered. A straightjacket could have been a necessity instead of an inconvenience.
She had picked over every action, coincidence or random event that had brought her to this sorry place a thousand times. She had replayed the trial in her mind. She had drawn up a list of things to do when she regained her freedom. She had drawn up another list of things she would like to do but probably wouldn't, because she was a good person and it wasn't a nice thing to hold a grudge.
None of it did her any good; she was spinning her mental wheels and she knew it. The more she tried to concentrate, the more her thoughts seemed to slip away. Soon, she found herself worried half to death that she might be losing her mind from boredom.
Her eyes had started to play tricks on her. All the walls were the same colour and distance away; her eyes would settle on a spot on the wall but then, as they got tired, her gaze would drift towards the vanishing point. Her brain would start to see an infinite white plain under an equally white sky instead of a featureless white wall.
She had counted the number of bubbles in the bubble-wrap, first by counting one row and multiplying by the number of rows, then one at a time to check that she had got it right. She had. Then she had worked out the density of bubbles per square inch, foot, yard and mile.
After lunch (More pet food pellets), she took to bouncing her head against a single bubble, first because the rhythmic movement was soothing, then to see if she could burst the bubble. When one of the orderlies slid back the peephole cover to check up on her Gadget stopped, abruptly, and hoped she hadn't been seen doing something so silly.
The peephole cover had been replaced after a minute or so.
Gadget knew that she had to find something to keep her mind busy or she could be in serious trouble. Her thoughts returned to her cell, but this time she tried to think of it in a different way. Approaching a subject from a new angle sometimes gave her a new insight and that could change everything.
Gadget's bubble-wrap padded cell was, she knew all too well, a liberated and heavily modified sanitation department research trap. It was the kind that boxed a living rodent, often a rat, in a space one and half times it's own body length until a human scientist showed up to dissect him or her. Since she was a mouse and smaller than a rat she had more space than a larger creature might have had but she had no way to take advantage of it.
Many a terrified soul had passed a wretched night in such a box as they waited for the human who would slice them into microscope slide sized slivers after they had ventured into the trap on a dare, or because they thought they were too smart to get caught, or because they were desperate to escape a cat. Sometimes, when personal differences got out of hand or a mugging victim gave his robbers more trouble than he was worth, a person was thrown into one of the traps deliberately.
The cell was one of many, built into the spaces that humans had forgotten about when they built or modified their own prison up above. She knew there five other cells joining the cast iron drain pipe the prison authorities had turned into a well-lit corridor. Someone had been busy with a welding torch when they put this place together, Gadget noted.
There were three other corridors and they were just like this one, but as far as she could gather this was the only corridor with padded cells. The rest were ordinary high security cells, one of which was reserved for her as soon as the current incumbent could be moved to proper mental hospital. There was also a communal ward for patients that the doctors and orderlies felt weren't dangerous.
Gadget frowned and bounced her head off the padding again. The whole psychiatric wing was a prison within a prison. There wasn't so much as a staple left lying around where a patient could get at it and she was only let out of the straight-jacket in the bathroom, under close supervision, when she didn't have the time or the inclination to make a run for it. There were three locked doors she would have to get through just to get into the main prison and there she would be recaptured
The Rescue Ranger blinked rapidly. Gadget hadn't even realised that she was planning an escape until she started to think that it might be impossible. She had been over this ground on the prison boat; as long as she was a Rescue Ranger and believed in the things the Rescue Rangers stood for, breaking out of prison would be hypocrisy and a crime. If her resolve were failing she would have to be stern with herself. Her principals were more important than homesickness. Even if she did miss Monty's cooking and Zipper's humming and her morning coffee with Chip and late night science-fiction shows with Dale and
Her eyes were misting up. Gadget choked off a sob, angrily. This wasn't helping her to get out of here. She needed a plan and a good one.
Perhaps if she started to chew through the bubble wrap padding on the walls she could expose a nail or a rivet on the metal walls. That might be enough to cut her-self free of the straightjacket. If she made sure that the damage wasn't visible from the peephole the guard would open the door for her to go to the bathroom the same as usual. She could overpower the guard, maybe, given the element of surprise. Then steal the keys and uniform and leave the orderly in her place. (That had a nice, karmic feel to it, given that she was here in someone else's place.) Of course, as soon as she met another orderly she would be in trouble. But she knew she could fuse the lights without any trouble and once she was in the main prison complex she was sure she could slip pass for a real orderly because only Officer Haggs had seen her enough to recognize her.
It seemed like a solid plan, given that she had nothing whatsoever to work with. Although now that she thought about it, if they'd locked her in a room full of tools and spare parts she might well have been there for weeks trying to pick the best possible escape plan from all the possibilities. In that respect, being locked up in a room like this had been helpful, even.
Gadget's heart thrilled at the thought of being home again. She could just imagine the look on her friend's faces as she walked in on the door and explained what had happened to her. Monty would tower with rage at the way she had been treated; as much as she dreaded the thought of trying to calm him down, knowing how angry all this would make him reminded Gadget how much he cared about her. Dale would be very confused and would bother her for days afterwards with childish questions but she knew he would find ways to make her laugh at everything she had suffered. Zipper would be horrified but could be relied on to listen to anything she had to say about her experiences privately and never breathe a word to anyone else. Chipper would be dumbstruck at how stupid he had been in not detecting the fraud immediately. Gadget could picture how devastated he would look, especially as he put her in handcuffs and escorted her back to jail, which he would be honour-bound to do in the circumstances
Gadget lay still, caught in the scenario like a rabbit in the headlights of an on coming car.
And that would be the end of the Rangers, because Monty at least would never forgive him; heck, Chip might not even be able forgive himself. He would certainly never accept that she could forgive him.
Assuming she could
Gadget had always thought she was a good person, a loving and giving person, and a forgiving person. She knew, logically, that there must be limits to how good, loving and forgiving she was. She'd just never considered where those limits lay. Could a good person, a friend, do something honourable and even noble that she would never forgive them for? And if they did and she could not then did that mean, by default, that Gadget Hackwrench was a bad person?
Gadget lay very still.
Her friends could be in danger from the impostor. But from what she had heard it seemed more likely that the impostor was lying helpless and heavily bandaged in a hospital bed. In fact, once Monty and the boys knew the truth it would be the impostor who was in danger, rather than her friends. So long as there was no reason to think that her friends were in danger, escaping from prison would only make things worse for everyone.
Gadget bit her lower lip as gently as she could. It took her mind off her aching heart. She had to stay put until someone else discovered the truth and came to fetch her. Even if she hadn't slept in her own bed for five days, or strictly speaking five nights, and someone else might soon be taking her place in it.
At that thought her temper, which she worked hard to control, flared violently. It was fuelled by the frustration of her confinement and sparked by the image of an impostor wearing her nightclothes, resting their head on her pillow and handling her private possessions.
Everyone has a few things that are too personal to be shared even with the people they are closest with. The things that live behind shelved books, at the back of underwear draws and under beds and mattresses. There are leftovers of childhood fantasies and mementos of romances that never happened outside their owner's heart, all kept tucked away in corners and in boxes and at the backs of shelves in every home.
Gadget pictured the interloper, the person who had stolen her life, reputation and friends, pawing these treasures as if she were in a flea market or a garage sale. She could picture her sneering with amusement at this photo, laughing at that note that had been passed to Gadget in school and that she had kept all these years, discarding that treasured keepsake as though it were worthless trash. The thought made Gadget feel violated and angry.
And then there were the day-to-day things that people don't even notice until they see them through the eyes of a visitor. The rotten, twisted little crook would see the worn and discarded underwear and the unmade bed, the hair and fur that had built up in the shower plughole and the hairbrush. Gadget flushed with embarrassment at the thought a stranger wrinkling their nose at her careless housekeeping if only she had been given enough notice to tidy up before being carted off to jail!
Gadget began to thrash about in fury. The straitjacket pinched, cut and chaffed in all the wrong places. She flopped about like a fish out of water, rolled over repeatedly and finally banged her nose on one of the bubbles. It didn't hurt, but it did make her want to sneeze. If she did, there wouldn't be any way she could wipe her nose with her arms restrained like this. Desperately, she willed the desire to sneeze away, her face twitching and twisting as she fought the urge.
Just as she thought she had succeeded a faint puzzled noise came from the doorway. The peephole was uncovered. Someone was watching her. Gadget met one of the puzzled stare of one of the male orderlies with a dumbfounded expression of her own. Realising that he had been spotted, the orderly covered the peephole. The instant the metal cover clinked shut Gadget's sneeze exploded, leaving her nose dripping and her eyes moist.
"D'oh, dang 'n' blast it!" Gadget moaned. She hadn't wanted to be seen like that. Now the orderly would tell Doctor Schadenfreude about it and she would have to waste a ten-minute session explaining her self.
Gadget, her face wet and sticky from the nose down, sighed deeply and waited for Monty to open the door to the cell and say in his deep, booming Australian voice: "Crikey, don't you look a sight, Gadget-love. You'll never guess what put Chipper onto that fraud."
Monty did not appear. The door remained closed. Instead of Gadget being rescued, nothing continued to happen, one second at a time, for the rest of the day.
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