by Roy Neal Grissom
I. Dawn was beginning to break over the city. As the eastern sky grew gradually brighter Foxglove, after a night of feeding, headed back towards the exotic church she had discovered and made her roosting place for the past week. She swept towards the spire and landed, carefully spider-walking through a small break in the beautiful stained glass windows. She had always made it a point to watch the sunrise before retiring for the day, but the sunrise through these windows was breathtaking.
She sighed as the disk of the sun sailed free above the horizon, clinging upside down to a panel as she prepared for sleep to overtake her. But this morning there was a noise of human voices from below, the sweet smell of incense, and singing with words she could not understand. She was accustomed to understanding humans who could not even hear her voice, much less understand what she was saying. There had been a single exception: Winifred, by profession a cleaning woman but by avocation a would-be witch, could communicate with her, usually by means of much abuse. But Foxglove had taken it because she had been alone in the world and needed a friend, and was quite fascinated by humans. This time had been busy but short, culminating at last in her finding truer friends, and certainly nicer. It had cost her a broken heart, though. And again she was alone.
She was thinking for the hundredth time of screwing up enough courage to visit the large tree in the park where Dale lived, together with the other Rescue Rangers. No matter how many times she had made up her mind to do this she had always backed down, not quite knowing what they really thought about her, considering she had been serving their adversary. As she sighed in resignation of her lack of courage her attention was distracted once again from below. More humans were arriving, the singing was louder, the music was quite unlike any she had ever heard before, and the words were strange. The puzzle of communication, or the lack thereof, once again flooded her mind, providing a welcome distraction from personal issues. But she could not ponder very long, for the daytime torpor was swiftly creeping over her entire body. With one great yawn and another glance at the sunlight filtering through the window illustrating Noah's Ark she fell asleep.
II. Morning was breaking as well in the city park, the largest of whose trees, unbeknownst to most humans, served as headquarters for the Rescue Rangers. Chip and Dale had arisen early and were watching the news on television. Monterey Jack and Zipper had in fact risen much earlier and were in the kitchen preparing breakfast. Gadget walked in from the bathroom, sipping a glass of water.
"Mornin', guys," she said matter-of -factly.
Chip and Dale looked at each other mischieviously then up at Gadget as they responded together, "Mornin', Glory!"
"Golly! Stop it, guys," she said, blushing. "You're embarrassing me. Besides, that line's as old as Katharine Hepburn."
The boys looked at each other again as mischieviously as before and cried out "We're sorry!" in a singsong that indicated they were enjoying themselves very much.
"Where are Monty and Zip?" She knew the answer but wanted to discourage them.
"In there, cookin' cheese," Dale responded, pointing.
A whistle from the kitchen indicated that breakfast was ready and the three went in eagerly. Monty's use of cheese could get monotonous at times, but there was no disputing that he was a real gourmet cook who had picked up countless recipes from his many travels.
"Mornin', lads. Mornin', luv." Monty always appeared cheerful, no matter how early he had gotten up.
"Good morning, Monty," the three responded together.
"Good stuff today," Monty said as he placed the food before them. "Noodles with creamed cheese, cheese flambe, French bread with Philadelphia cream, and for dessert," he continued, opening the oven, "a liberal serving of --cheesecake."
"It's no wonder we've all put on a little poundage," Chip said, "You really should check the new labels on that stuff. I'm sure you can get low-fat varieties or else some sort of substitute."
"Substitute? For CHEESE?" Monty seemed positively shocked. "I may be foreign-born, but I know enough that that sounds positively un-American." He puffed out his ample stomach with pride.
"Hey, what's the matter with Zipper?" Gadget wanted to know. They all looked at him. He had been very quiet all that time and was not flying around or eating, and he had a worried expression on his face.
"Oh," Monty responded, "Went out for a fly-about last night and fancies 'e seen two suspicious blokes around midnight keeping an eye on our headquarters here. I told him there's no need to worry till there's cause, but 'e's a bit on edge, 'e is."
"By 'blokes,' do you mean humans?" Dale wanted to know.
"That's what me little pal says," Monty responded.
They were all lost in thought for a moment. Only Nimnul among humans knew where the Rangers' headquarters was located, and Zipper would have recognized him at once. These were strangers, and Zipper had said there were two of them.
"It's strange enough for two humans to be in the park at midnight," Chip pondered, "but I don't quite like the idea of them casing our tree. You don't suppose the city is planning to cut it down?"
"Not likely," Gadget responded. "First, I don't think anyone would want to cut it down, and second, if the city were looking about anything they wouldn't do it at midnight."
"You don't suppose," Dale wondered, "that any humans besides Nimnul know about us? We have helped a lot of people."
"And offended a lot of crooks," Monty added.
Gadget seemed to become very uncomfortable. "Do you remember," she wanted to know, "the time Nimnul used that shape shifter of his? First I got turned into a human, then I was turned back into a mouse--only human -size--and then I was questioned by the FBI. They seemed to know all about us."
It was perfectly true. They had managed to aid the city police on numerous occasions without even being suspected, yet they had apparently somehow attracted the attention of a bureau in Washington, D.C.
Everyone felt uneasy now. They didn't know what this meant. They didn't know if the FBI had appreciated their law enforcement career or not, or even if they were on a list to be captured and sent to Washington for some sort of testing or interrogation.
It was Monty who broke the gloom. "There now, mates," he reminded them, "we don't know who it was. There's no need jumping to any conclusions. As I told me little pally, it coulda been anybody."
"That's true," Gadget said, "but I wonder if we shouldn't be working on some sort of escape route or contingency plan just in case. It wouldn't hurt to have a back-up headquarters picked out, either."
Both Chip and Dale sighed at this suggestion. This tree had been their home long before there was a "Rescue Rangers." They didn't fancy leaving it, yet they knew one day it might come to that, if only because Fat Cat or Rat Capone discovered them.
"Expect the best but prepare for the worst," Chip said half to himself.
Still, as nothing had happened yet, they could only make up their minds to use extra caution in the future. It could not interfere with their basic mission, which was to protect the city, however anonymously, from those criminals who for whatever reason, were beyond the reach of the police. That is why after breakfast Chip returned to the television, Dale turned on the police scanner, Gadget went into her workshop, and Monty and Zipper headed for the police station to see if they were needed. But the latter two were a little more cautious this time as they left headquarters. As a matter of fact, Zipper was still uneasy. He had a strange feeling about this.
III. Foxglove usually began her evening by awakening in time to watch the sun set, and after a yawn and some careful grooming she faced the western windows of the steeple to see the same inspiring sight that she had witnessed at sunrise. Unfortunately there was no sun. Clouds had steadily gathered as the day progressed and now it was one of those early summer downpours without thunder or lightning. *Oh, criminy,* she thought to herself. There would be no feeding until after the rain, as no insects would be free-flying in this kind of weather. As she could not afford to waste any energy without feeding, her initial thought was to go back to sleep for a few hours. But then an opportunity presented itself to her mind. If she were to fly to Ranger headquarters in the park, she could present herself as unfortunately caught out in the rain while feeding and expect to be taken in for some supper that required little energy to enjoy. Furthermore, it would all be an unfortunate coincidence that she just happened to be flying about the park when the rain began, and she would not have to appear curious or desperate. It would be all so serendipitous. This would also be an opportunity to cement her friendship with all of them, especially Dale, and perhaps make up for the unfortunate and long-repented part she had played in Winifred's short-lived criminal career. Anxiety over what the Rangers felt about her after this episode was a large part of what kept her away. That and her feelings for Dale.
She knew if she thought it over very long she would chicken out, so she crawled out the crack in the glass and launched herself towards the park, trying all the time to keep her mind occupied so she would not have time to consider what she was doing. In a terrifyingly short time she was above the lush green city park, mostly clear of humans because of the weather, and there was the large tree below. She was almost tempted now to turn back, and reproached herself for being so foolhardy. *Still, here I am in the rain, and I can't very well afford to keep flying with nothing to eat, can I?* she rationalized to herself. *They will understand that, and will at least let me stay until the rain breaks. I can always avoid the place in the future if they're really upset with me. And I do need to find out their attitude towards me. Besides, I can't fly back now. I'd use up too much energy on an empty stomach.* This wasn't entirely true, and she knew it, as she could fly quite a distance if she had to, but at least it sounded good enough to serve as an excuse to herself and to the Rangers, if they required an excuse.
"Here goes nothin'!" she said aloud to herself, and alighted outside the main door of the headquarters on a large upper limb. Inside she could hear every word of conversation. It seemed to be all small talk, so it had apparently been a slow day, devoid of adventures. Although her wings weren't really made for knocking on doors, she swallowed hard and knocked, simultaneously saying, "Hello?"
Chip opened the door, obviously puzzled at first at who could be requiring them at this time of day and in such climactic conditions, but on seeing her he smiled with evident mischievious delight. "Oh, DAY-ULL!" he called out in his singsong, "it's for YOU-OO!" Foxglove was relieved that at least she seemed welcome.
"Huh?" Dale responded, reentering the living room from the hall, and then added quickly under his breath, "Uh-oh!"
At this point Foxglove came face-to-face again with a curious phenomenon. She had no friends or family and had always been quite alone until she met first Winifred and then the Rescue Rangers, so she certainly was no veteran at social skills, and certainly not in the ways of love, but the first time she had picked up Dale's image on her radar some deeply buried instinct about such things seemed to kick in from who-knows-where, and she turned into Tina Louise. This had been more of a surprise to her than to anyone else, but there it was nonetheless. Now again she felt the fever, and all her caution and contingent explanations melted away to nothingness. "Hi, Dale!" she shouted and waved from just inside the door.
"Uh . . . hi, Foxy. Whatcha been up to?"
"Oh, you know . . . stuff," she said flirtatiously. Then she noticed the other Rangers crowding about her, and fortunately they all seemed quite happy to see her. With the unfortunate possible exception of Dale.
"Hi-ya, Foxglove!" Gadget exclaimed with sincere delight, both because Foxglove had saved the Rangers' lives during their tangle with Winifred, AND because this would distract Dale at least. Now if only Tammy would come for a visit.
"Hi, guys," Foxglove returned to earth briefly as well as to her plans for offering excuses for being there. "I hope you don't mind, but I was flying and got caught out in the rain, and here was your headquarters, and . . . I didn't mean to be any trouble, but . . ."
"No trouble!" Chip said ecstatically at the thought of Dale being distracted and Tammy NOT coming for a visit, "you're always welcome here."
"Too right, luv," Monty added with a friendly embrace, "any lass brave as you deserves an honorary membership in this company."
This caused her to blush. She had reproached herself many times for her short "criminal" past but had neglected to recall to her favor that she had saved the Rangers on two occasions, and Dale on another, which had required more courage than she had realized she had. She was also the one who had foiled Winifred's attempt to obtain full-fledged occult powers, which she thought was only just, as she had helped her acquire the necessaries for what powers she did have. However things went with Dale, the other Rangers had approved of her. She was a good guy now.
Zipper too seemed to come out of his depression when the visitor entered and had flown to greet her enthusiastically. Zipper had befriended her before during her previous adventure with the Rangers and she really appreciated it. He was, after all, an insect, and it required courage and a great deal of trust. Zipper would be her greatest test, both at overcoming her natural instincts and at assuring him and all the Rangers that she could be trusted implicitly. Zipper himself understood this dilemma very well and went quite out of his way to demonstate his complete friendship and confidence in her. It was a genuinely heartfelt mutual understanding.
"Hi-ya, Zip, old buddy," she giggled as he alighted on her cheek. Still, she was careful during the evening to very discretely do a complete echolocation profile of him so that she would always recognize him and no disasters would occur in the future.
The Rangers had obviously been watching something on TV and eating popcorn when Foxglove interrupted them, and they now began to resume their seats. "Sit down, luv," Monty invited, patting the couch beside him.
"No, wait! You can have my seat!" Chip said enthusiatically, vacating the space beside Dale. This was all it took. She was by Dale's side in a moment, giggling in a very self-conscious way and putting her wing around his shoulder. In spite of her life of isolation, or perhaps because of it, now that she had found someone she had feelings for she tended to express her affection very physically, with lots of touching and hugs. Although he was happy to be her friend, this was somewhat uncomfortable for Dale.
"Hey Foxglove, do you think you might like to try some popcorn?" Gadget asked, springing out of her seat just as Chip had sat down beside her. "I've built a rodent-sized popper, and it works with no problems."
Foxglove thought her shoulder had been wrenched from its socket by Dale quickly joining the others behind the couch.
"Golly, guys," Gadget responded, a little hurt. "All I said was . . . "
"We heard! We heard!" Monty shot back on behalf of all of them.
"Anyway, " Gadget continued in defense of her words, "I know Foxy's hungry and I thought she might like to try some popcorn to see if she likes it. Of course, I know it's not part of her regular diet since she is insectiverous, but . . . " She was sorry she had said it the moment it left her lips, but she was only stating facts and had not meant to hurt anyone. Everyone, especially Foxy and Zipper were looking at the floor extremely uncomfortably. Chip wondered how someone so intelligent when it came to science and engineering could be so terribly naive about some very basic things.
Zipper broke broke up the awkward silence by once again flying over to Foxglove and patting her on the shoulder.
"Thanks, pal," she responded with heartfelt sincerity.
"Golly. I'm sorry, guys, " Gadget said with such a downcast look that everyone, including Foxglove, forgave her at once. "I just meant that although Foxy usually eats only . . . "
"A-HEM!" Chip interjected. Gadget got the point and resumed her original offer.
"Would you like to try some popcorn?" she asked, a little shyly.
"Uh . . . sure." Her hesitation was not due to the previous social gaffe but to the fact that she simply didn't know if the dish would suit her.
"Aw, c'mon Foxy," Dale said, grinning sheepishly. He was terribly sorry that she had been so embarrassed earlier and terribly glad it was someone else's remark this time. "I always eat popcorn when I watch the late late show. It's sui generis. Whatever that means."
"Good!" Foxy responded, all her discomfort forgotten at the thought of a romantic night of movie viewing with Dale. "Instead of spending the night foraging, I'll just spend it in front of the TV set with you! Just think, Dale, we can watch the sun come up together!"
This was a bit more serious than Dale had intended, and he pulled at the collar of his Hawaiian shirt and shifted uncomfortably.
"Too right, pally!" Monterey Jack responded with enthusiasm, "Now there's someone who can stay up all night and watch your show with you while the rest of us get a little shut-eye!"
Except for Dale, everyone seemed positively overjoyed at the convenience of the arrangement. Gadget went into the kitchen and returned shortly with two glasses of water and a heaping bowl of popcorn (apparently this time there really had been no problems) just the right size for two small mammals watching a night of poorly dubbed 1950's Japanese horror flicks. Foxy was quite glad to find the taste much to her liking and finally directed her gaze at the television screen. With her inborn knowledge of and interest in acoustics she immediately noticed the discrepancy between the words and the lip movements of the actors. This pipued her curiosity much more than the plot, even though it was about giant moths and probably would have made her quite hungry if she hadn't been distracted and reminded of several questions she wanted to ask someone who knew.
"Gadget, do humans talk that way?" she asked, convinced it must be some form of echolocation. She had no idea humans were so naturally talented about such things.
"Naw, Foxy," Dale somewhat rudely didn't wait for Gadget to answer, "That's just the way it looks when a movie's been dubbed into another language. If we were to hear it in Japanese we wouldn't be able to understand a word."
This reminded her of so many things that she forgot about the movie altogether. "Are we speaking English?" the question was still directed to Gadget. "If we are, shouldn't we be able to communicate with humans?"
This little mystery had never really troubled Gadget before, and her forte was after all mechanics and inventions. But the question raised some curiosity in her own mind as well and she began to give the matter some thought. "Well, yes, we are speaking English, but I think it's a little more complicated than just speaking the same language as a human."
"I could speak with Winifred." She shuddered a little at recalling the whole thing.
"Well, yes," Gadget responded slowly, "but Winifred was a witch."
"You mean," Foxglove continued, with a seriousness that quite surprised all the Rangers, "that an evil human can understand us and communicate with us but a good human can't? That isn't right!"
No one knew what to say to this, and Gadget could only scratch her head in complete puzzlement.
"Do you suppose," Foxglove continued, obviously looking on Gadget as the resident genius on all subjects whatsoever, "that if I learned another language I could communicate with humans in it?"
"I don't think so." Gadget replied. "I think probably you could communicate only with animals who spoke that language, but not humans. Just like us speaking and understanding English among ourselves."
"Is there an explanation for this?"
"Hmmm . . . " Gadget was thinking about this as she replied. "My initial guess is that humans and animals speak the same languages but on a different frequency." Everyone was now thinking about this and listening attentively, except for Dale who shot angry looks at them for talking during the all-important pupation scene. "You see, language is only one dimension of communication, you might say. Then there's the pitch, the height or depth of the frequency. Humans' hearing is much less acute than animals', and bats have the best hearing of all animals. Except for dolphins and whales and such," she added.
"Right." Foxglove said. "I am keeping my speech at a frequency where you can all hear it, though I have a much larger vocal range. But I can make myself audible to humans and they still can't understand me. Or you, either."
Chip, Monty, and Zipper were now thoroughly caught up in this discussion, each trying to solve it in his own mind, though quite glad to let Gadget make the suggestions. Whatever she said about anything scientific always sounded so right.
"Well," she began slowly, "there's more to sound than just pitch. Let's call that the vertical aspect of sound. I would say it's because of another aspect, let's call it the horizontal. Of course, the analogy isn't perfect, but think of it as a radio dial. There's AM, FM, short wave, medium wave, and long wave. And on each one of them there's a frequency. My theory of the moment is that humans, with their limited (but for them quite adequate) hearing are tuned to a very small part of the spectrum. We on the other hand are broadcasting at a different frequency. We can hear them as well as ourselves, but while we are broadcasting heavy metal, they are all squished over into the far left end of the dial where all the college stations are. Probably listening to Michael Franks," she added thoughtfully.
The other rangers hadn't spoken in a while, but now Monty let out a long whistle of admiration at the spur-of-the-moment theory from Geegaw's little girl. And it wasn't even her field, really.
Chip sprung up beside Gadget immediately and put his arm around her. "Another mystery of the ages solved!" he proclaimed. "It's only a matter of time before you really do win that Nobel Prize you dreamed about. You'll probably make possible the restructuring of society, and maybe even a whole new civilization, just like Bill and Ted. I always knew you would." He was giving her that look, but Gadget was so pleased with herself that she didn't notice. Neither did Dale, for a change. It was an old movie, before Rachel Carson, and DDT was saving the day. Just as the new moths were about to lay eggs in all the Emperor's wool outfits.
"Do you know any other languages, besides English?" Foxglove now wanted to know.
"No. Monterey Jack is your best bet there. He's been around the world a dozen times in all directions."
"If I spoke a few words do you think you could tell what language it is?" she turned to Monty in a wink, an air almost of urgency in her voice.
"Oh, I don't know, luv," he replied modestly, "I don't really know any other lingos, except maybe a smattering of an aborigianal language or two that I learned when I was adopted by a tribe of kangaroos. But I've been around enough that I might recognize a phrase or two." He actually had more confidence than he was admitting to. "Give us a smidgin'."
Foxglove closed her eyes and repeated slowly and carefully: "Asdvadz . . . tohyootyoon . . . shnorestseh."
Monty's countenance fell at his sudden realization that he would not be able to show off his acumen as Gadget had. "Never heard any lingo sounded like that, luv," he admitted. "Are you sure that's right?"
"Oh yes," Foxglove replied, "I'm really quite good at hearing and reproducing sounds. No doubt about that." She wasn't bragging, just stating her conviction, which happened to be true.
"Where'd you pick that up, luv?" Monty wanted to know.
"At this really beautiful church I've been staying in," she replied. "There's really beautiful music, and incense, and pretty uniforms"--she didn't know to call them vestments--"and some sort of huge bird's eggs--maybe ostrich eggs--hanging here and there."
"You got me beat, luv," Monty was genuinely disheartened at not being able to provide the answer. "Probably one of them there Eastern churches. Only thing I know is it's not Greek and it's not Latin."
Of course she was disappointed, and her disappointment only sharpened her curiosity all the more. Her frustration must have been quite visible, for Monty said, "Oh, don't worry, luv. You can always just read the name out front." Foxy blinked in astonishment. She had always entered and exited through her crack in the window of the steeple. "Why haven't I ever thought of that?" she asked herself out loud, closing her eyes and slapping a wing across her forehead. But her problem was solved now, and of course her curiosity was sated by the mere fact that she could find out herself anytime she wanted. But her ability to read the humans' English writing brought back the previous topic of conversation.
"Gadget, you're an inventor. Could you invent some sort of radio gizmo that would enable me to 'broadcast' to humans?" Chip, Monty, and Zipper leaned forward to hear the response. They were all intrigued by Gadget's scientific know-how, as was Dale. But the latter hero was now absorbed in the next Japanese feature, in which a giant spider, who could be summoned by an old Buddhist priest and peace-activist, was shooting its web out of its mouth (a tradition among fictional TV, movie, and cartoon spiders) at a gigantic blister beetle who had been turned loose against the earth by some planet known only to the Japanese and to Mexican wrestling women. The beetle was also shooting its irritant out of its mouth. Obviously a precedent had been set.
"Golly," Gadget began, thinking very hard about the whole matter, "I suppose such a device might be theoretically possible, like time travel, but it's probably just as practically impossible. And about as bad an idea."
"Gadget, do you know what a bat detector is? It's a device some humans have come up with to make our signals audible to humans so they can listen to us like they do to birds. It also helps them find us, which I think is nice. We don't mind being watched; at least I don't. Besides, humans draw lots of gnats and mosquitoes. Anyway, do you suppose you could build one that would do more than just lower pitch? One that would adjust the frequency, like you said ?"
Gadget was now thoroughly intrigued by the whole idea. She had dismissed it as an interesting theoretical problem, but the reminder about bat detectors really had her wheels spinning, Maybe she COULD build a device that would make inter-species communication possible. And she would be the first, the inventor. It would not come from a human but from a mouse. That would open up those Nobel prizes! She knew she would have to try. It would be more than she usually dealt with in her work; her specialty was mechanics and engineering, and this would require knowledge of acoustics and radio technology. It was out of her league, really, but she had to try. At the same time, she could not shake the feeling deep inside that this was something that was best left alone, that to really make human-animal communication possible was a very dangerous and bad idea. No telling what the results would be. Monty was not exaggerating when he had said it would create a whole new world. She even felt somehow that to do such a thing might even be morally wrong. It would be a change in the patterns of nature that would make Frankenstein look like the inventor of bifocals by comparison. But while Gadget was usually very practical and level-headed (a bit flighty, perhaps), she had already tasted the forbidden fruit. She didn't want to get Foxglove overly excited, as she was more interested in conquering a new frontier than in actually altering reality, but she knew now that she was going to try to invent the miracle machine. And as soon as she knew it worked she would bury it so deeply in her closet that no one would ever know about it. Only she would know what she had done. Of course this contradicted her fantasy about the Nobel Prize, but right now she was filled with all sorts of contradictory thoughts.
"Foxglove," she eventually said in a strangely subdued tone that was not at all like her, "do you suppose you could bring me one of those bat detectors? I'd like to study it."
"You mean you WILL?" Foxglove asked with a squeal of delight, in reference to her previous question. But then she suddenly became downcast. "But how can I bring you one? I don't have one; I don't know anyone that has one; no one who had one would give it to me; and besides, I can't communicate with humans. Unless they're evil." she said, the last part in a tone of almost anger (quite out of line with her personality) about the injustice of the world.
"Well," Gadget said, hoping to defuse Foxglove's impatience, "why don't we just write that up as something to investigate later and not get too worried about it in the meantime." She herself had no intention of waiting, if she had to build the thing from scratch.
Of course Foxglove was disappointed. But Chip, Monterey, and Zipper were positively beside themselves with admiration at Gadget's ingenuity and the prospect of her inventing something everyone else would shrug off as impossible from the word "go;" they really weren't thinking of the implications of such an invention. It would be just another triumph by their girl. Dale in the meantime was watching the entire city of Tokyo fleeing in panic from an aerial attack by the giant blister beetle. The thing was raining its acid down on them and the people looked like they had been victims of the Sixth Plague of Egypt. Nice effects, Dale thought to himself, if it weren't for the obvious anti-American propaganda message. "When are those people going to admit that they started it?" he said, this time aloud. But no one paid him any attention.
Monty yawned and stretched himself. "Well, I don't know about the rest of you, but I have GOT to hit the sack and have a ziz," he said. Chip, Gadget, and Zipper agreed.
"We're going to bed now, Foxglove," Gadget informed her, "You just stay up and and watch TV with Dale. He won't be finished until morning, and then he'll be dead on his feet all day. Oh, and have Dale pop you some more corn. We'll see you in the morning." Then she waved her hand in front of Dale's face. He paid no attention. "Good-night, Dale," she said anyway. "Yeah, yeah, good night," Dale responded briefly without taking his eyes from the screen. The Rangers shrugged and retired to their respective bedrooms.
Now that they were alone Foxglove remembered that visiting Dale had been the purpose of her visit. She sat down beside him and began watching the movie, munching on popcorn all the while. She offered some to Dale. He was always glad to snack, no matter what else he was doing at the time, so he gladly joined her in her repast. Just then he noticed something for the first time. "Hey Foxy, your knees bend backwards!" he observed with astonishment.
"Well, not backwards for me," she responded slowly, a bit unsure of what his observation meant in regard to their relationship. "They bend the same way a bird's do."
"Really?" Dale asked, "I never noticed that."
Now that they were alone, Foxglove felt much more relaxed. She didn't have to compete with the others--especially Gadget--for Dale's attention. For his part, Dale found he was not quite so self-conscious and uncomfortable about being around her with no one around to watch them. She was quite pleasant company, actually. Especially now that she could stop trying to attract his attention and just watch the show with him. Her increased comfort in the situation increased his as well.
For the rest of the night the two of them watched Tokyo barely survive attacks by dinosaurs, dragons, pterodactyls, turtles, aliens, caterpillars, and doodle bugs. And Dale had the distinct pleasure of answering Foxy's many questions about the whole thing. This was one of his areas of expertise; he had quite a few but they were not useful to the Rangers and were therefore unappreciated by them. Foxglove listened open-mouthed to his explanations of everything, and Dale himself actually felt intelligent for a change. He found that he liked that very much. And so the movies ceased, to be followed by "Passing Parades" and "Pete Smith Specialties," and they watched those too, though Dale could not answer her questions about these things. And so they continued to quietly enjoy each other's and the TV's company until the eastern horizon began to grow red.
IV. The four Rangers who had opted to go to bed the night before slowly and one-by-one arose and trickled into their living quarters. They were surprised at first to find them empty, but decided that Foxglove had left and Dale had finally turned in for three winks at least. But when Chip stepped out he found them seated very close together on a large limb of the tree watching the sun rise. Foxy had pulled a reluctant Dale away from the early news with enthusiatic cries of "C'mon Dale, you promised," (which he hadn't really) and "C'mon, it'll be fun!" and "You have no idea how beautiful it is! C"mon." so that he finally agreed just to shut her up if for no other reason. He was dumbfounded by what he had always taken for granted and never noticed.
Chip came up behind them just as Foxy was saying "Enjoy it while you can. You can't stand to look at it after just a few minutes." He meant to surprise them and make them both feel embarrassed, but found he just couldn't. The two of them were enjoying the sunrise and each other so much, and Dale didn't even mind Foxy's wing around his shoulder. Chip felt ashamed of himself and attempted to withdraw quietly but of course Foxy had heard the door open and his footsteps afterward. "Hello, Chip," she said without even turning round.
Chip was startled of course but so was Dale, who quickly jumped up in consternation. "Morning, you two," Chip responded, now doing his best not to make them uncomfortable, "how was the show?"
"It was GREAT!" Foxglove responded with sincere enthusiasm about her new experience. But then she felt her body sending very clear signals that it was time for it to shut down and recharge for the day. She yawned conspicuously and said, "but I really must be getting back home now. I've got to get some sleep. But thanks for the hospitality and for the food. At least I didn't have to expend a lot of energy hunting."
Before Foxy could say "good-bye" and spread her wings Gadget approached her and spoke up. She was exhibiting some signs of anxiety. "Wait," she said, "do you think maybe you could spend the day here at headquarters? Well, not necessarily here inside, that is, if you don't want to, although you're certainly welcome to if you think you'd like to. But at least maybe somewhere in our tree here? Then tonight you could sit up with Dale again, or if he doesn't feel like it, you could do your feeding right here in the park. The lights attract a lot of moths."
Both Foxy and the rangers could see that Gadget was anxious about something and really desirous of Foxy's continued presence. In truth she was thinking about her questioning by the FBI and the two mysterious humans Zipper had seen skulking near their tree at midnight of the night before last. These feelings were intensified by the thought of making her interspecies communication device; she felt compelled to do this, yet she also felt terribly guilty for attempting something that might be somehow forbidden. When her two lines of thought met each other she found herself wondering if the US government had somehow read her mind and was attempting to capture and punish her in no telling what sort of unpleasant way. She knew this paranoia was totally illogical, but there was more to her than logic after all, it seemed.
"Sure!" Foxglove responded, daring to hope she might be made a permanent member of the team, or at least an auxiliary. "Is there a hole in a limb or in the trunk somewhere, preferably high enough that I won't be disturbed?"
"Foxy, why don't you just use my bedroom for the day? You'll be up by the time I need it, and I won't be bothering you in there during the day. The workshop's my room when I'm up."
"Okay, if you don't mind," Foxglove responded, yawning again. She really needed to cling upside down to a surface somewhere or risk losing consciousness right where she was. She started for Gadget's room but suddenly realized she didn't know where it was. "Gadget, would you mind . . . (yawn) . . . showing me to . . . ." She could barely get the words out.
"Sure, Foxy," Gadget replied, upbraiding herself for not realizing that Foxglove would need to get to bed pretty quickly after her night of activity. She led Foxy to her room and was somewhat surprised (though there was no reason to be) to see her climb onto the wall and assume a head downward position. Just before Foxy shut down completely Gadget had one more question. "Did you or Dale see any humans outside our tree during the night?" Her voice had a faint tremor in it.
"Sorry . . . " It was all she could do to answer. "Never looked outside. I will . . . tonight." And then she was out. Gadget was a bit disappointed at this answer, as she had been counting on Foxglove to keep a lookout for the night, and this had been one reason she had invited her to spend the night with Dale and then stay on with them, and it bothered her that they might have been under observation again without being aware of it. But what was done was done, and she was sure Foxy would be more alert in the future as she had promised. Besides, there was no use being angry with her; she had been too excited the night before just to be there and keep company with Dale.
As usual, the boys (including an overly tired Dale) spent the bulk of that day in Sgt. Spinelli's office at the police station. But not Gadget. When they had asked if she would be joining them (which she did when she wasn't working on something in her workshop) she responded no, she would be going to the library. This surprised the other Rangers. Gadget very rarely set out on something outside headquarters on her own, but they simply shrugged and set out for their posts in the Ranger Plane.
Left alone, Gadget went to the Rangermobile and very shortly was negotiating the busy streets to the main branch of the public library. She discreetly parked her chariot behind the dumpster in the rear of building and headed for the rodents' and small mammals' entrance which was located nearby. She found herself in the main aisles of the library, but small mammals have long known how to conduct their business discreetly in the presence of humans without being noticed. Gadget easily and confidently maneuvered herself among the feet of the browsing humans until she came to the small mammals' circulation desk cleverly located in the "religion" section, where few humans were ever found.
"May I help you?" asked the young bespectacled mouse behind the desk.
"Yes. I'm looking for some information on bat detectors. Have you ever heard of them?"
"Yes . . . " the young mouse librarian responded slowly, "but I'm not sure in exactly which section you would find your information. I'm sure there's some in our volumes on chiroptera, but I don't know how detailed it would be. Perhaps somewhere in the acoustics section you might find a little more technical information, but I'm afraid it would be very general in scope. No . . . I believe "Chiroptera" is your best bet, though the material is generally biological in nature. There'd probably be no more than a mention here and there in the chapters on echolocation."
"That's fine," Gadget replied, "I have the whole day ahead of me, and I'll probably need to look in both sections to get what I want."
The Librarian gave Gadget detailed instructions as to the locations of both the mammalogy and general science stacks, and assured her there would be help available for books located above the bottom shelf (which is where the ones one wanted usually were). Gadget thanked her and started to leave when she paused suddenly and turned back to her benefactress. "By the way," she said very with great earnestness, "you never saw me here. Okay?"
The Librarian was startled as much by the look on her face and the unexpected nature of the request as by the question itself. "Uh . . . sure." Was all she could manage. Gadget smiled in relief and gratitude and left to do her browsing, leaving the Librarian feeling a bit confused. "I don't stick my nose into clients' business," she told herself truthfully.
Gadget now spent the rest of the day investigating tomes for any information she could find. It took most of the morning just to find a mention of bat detectors in "Acoustics," and it merely stated that the purpose was to lower pitch to make bat signals audible to humans; she had known that already. But she read as much as she could out of a huge book that attempted to be an omnibus of information about the science of sound. She digested the information eagerly and realized that she had neglected to inquire about the radio section. She was rescued from this dire situation by a young flying squirrel who worked in the stacks and was soon digesting a book claiming to be an "encyclopedia" on the subject. Finally she made her way to mammalogy, found the small chiropterology section, and with some help from a young male rat with surprising climbing skills examined the contents and index of each book. She found a reference in each volume, but they mostly just explained the basic theory behind the device (which could be purchased for an exorbitant fee, she was told) . Certainly the authors assumed only specialists were capable of building such a device; laymen could merely invest the cash if they wanted one badly enough. Gadget was becoming pessimistic, despite what she had already memorized on the two related subjects, when she found in an old and rather small book a section entitled "How a bat detector works." How often, she thought to herself, such important information about a subject would be found only in small, dated, and uninpressive looking volumes.
She eagerly devoured the information and commited it to memory. Ordinarily she did not have a "photographic memory," but when she was obsessed with something her mind became a sponge, and she could copy even the tiniest details into it. This was partly from her intellectual talents and partly because she had done it so often. There was simply no other way a mouse could carry so much information around. Of course she could have checked out that last small volume and carried it back with her, but she did not want any physical evidence of what she was doing lying around anywhere. She still felt a bit like Dr. Faustus, though she told herself again and again that she would not allow this new technology she was bringing into the world to fall into the wrong hands or be misused in any way. She would build a device merely as a theoretical proof that the thing could be done and then no one would ever know about it. Ever. And that was the end of it. Except that she felt compelled to go through the whole thing again every five minutes or so.
While arguing within herself she made her way back to the Rangermobile (fortunately it was still there; crime had really gotten to be a problem among the animal population) and was soon winding her way through the busy streets of "drive home time" until she was back in the verdant, almost rural, city park. Then to the familiar tree where she stored her mechanical steed and finally made her way up to the front door. She yawned, went inside, and threw herself in mental exhaustion onto the couch in the living room.
V. She must have dozed off briefly, for the entrance of the other Rangers startled her, and she noticed that some time had elapsed since her arrival back at headquarters.
"Hi-ya, Gadget!" Dale said quickly on seeing her. It was always a competition between the two chipmunks as to who would greet her first.
"Hi, fellows. What time is it?"
"About seven." Chip managed to answer first this time.
"Why so late?" was her next question.
"It was a busy day at the station," Chip said, pausing to smirk triumphally at Dale, "and there were some indications that Fat Cat might have been up to something, so we spent some time following up leads."
"Too right!" Monterey interjected, "but if he's up to something he's coverin' his footsteps smooth as a bunyip."
"Golly. Maybe it's not him this time."
"Well, he's gettin' awful ripe by now, then," Monterey anwered. The chipmunks nodded in agreement. It had been longer than usual since their last encounter with the feline kingpin.
The Rangers heard a loud yawn from the direction of the hallway and turned to see Foxglove enter, stretching and yawning to shake off the torpor that had possessed her since morning.
"Good evening, Foxglove. Sleep well?" Gadget wanted to know.
"Heavenly!" Foxglove responded, her enthusiasm muted somewhat by her sleepy tone of voice. Zipper flew up to her and inquired in his insectal squeak if she had had any daydreams. The pun was meant to put her at ease and indicate the friendly nature of their relationship. "Um-hmm," was her deliberate response.
"What about?" Dale asked innocently. He honestly wondered what kind of dreams a bat or any nocturnal animal had during the day. He immediately wished he hadn't asked, as her answer was to give him that look of hers and then coyly point a wing at him. He blushed noticeably, causing a rude outburst of laughter from Chip. Fortunately he ceased almost immediately when Gadget elbowed him in the ribs.
"So. You two gonna watch TV again tonight?" Chip asked in an attempt to recover himself. Now Dale gave him that look of his.
"No," Foxy anwered much to Dale's relief, "I guess I'd better pound the old pavement tonight. If I sit around too many nights I'll lose my figure." Then to Zipper she whispered quietly, "Just stay inside tonight, Zip." Zipper was only too happy to agree. He was a diurnal insect anyway, and exhausted after his long day with the other Rangers.
"Great! When will you be taking off?" This time Dale got one of Gadget's elbows in the ribs.
This comment made Foxglove feel downcast. Last night she and Dale had thoroughly enjoyed one another's company. He sure was fickle. "I--I was hoping you would watch the sun go down with me, Dale," she answered disconsolately.
"Too busy!" Dale answered at once. Gadget knew only she could save the day.
"Come on, Dale. You remember how pretty the sunrise was. Go watch the sunset with Foxy before she leaves for the night." Then she added quietly, "we won't watch." This comment disappointed Chip no end.
"Well, I dunno . . ."
"Pleeeze?" Gadget added. It may look flirtatious in black and white, but it didn't sound that way. She had her teeth gritted nastily.
"Uh, sure thing," he responded at once. Then he took Foxy by the wing and said, "Let's go. Quick!"
They took their same seats on the limb from that morning, but in the opposite direction. It was another splendid sight, though Dale didn't enjoy it as much. He knew the others were just inside this time and felt a bit self-conscious. Foxglove put her wing on his shoulder again but then quickly withdrew it sadly. When Dale saw the look of dejection on her face he reached for her wing and placed it back on his shoulder saying, "Shucks. That's all right, Foxy." It felt like sheer bliss until she recalled how inconsistently he was behaving towards her. He WAS fickle.
After just a few minutes Foxy felt she had better take off before she spoiled the moment. "Well . . . " she said after a while, "I'd really better get going." But she stayed right where she was, looking like she was trying to make up her mind about something. She was in fact toying with the idea of giving Dale a quick kiss before he could do anything about it and then beating a hasty retreat. Maybe THAT would twitterpate him. But it might just spoil things for good, and then her life would be over (she told herself). At any rate, she would probably be too afraid to ever come back and see how he had taken it. Matters were complicated by the unpleasant fact that since they had first met Dale had very deliberately avoided any direct eye contact with her. At first she had attributed this to shyness (which was appealing), but as he had continued this behavior and she had come to know him better she began to suspect a far more sinister reason. She knew now that Dale was way too fond of the iconography of pop culture, very much including its dark side. She had thought a few times about bringing up the subject but was too afraid of what the answer might be, so she decided to keep her questions to herself and hope that eventually his coming to know her well would allay any fears associated with strange ideas and would win him over. It was taking longer than she had anticipated and now she was becoming anxious.
All this mental activity was the matter of just a few seconds, though it seemed forever (as it has to you). She finally took a big chance and compromised by choosing what seemed the best option open to her. She quickly said, "Bye, Dale," and then shutting her eyes as tightly as possible to keep from terrifying either one of them more than was absolutely necessary she gave him a quick nuzzle and took off like a shot, thinking all the while, *That did it. I'm toast.*
The other rangers were eating supper while watching the news on television and making small talk when a dazed Dale reentered the room. "How was it?" Gadget asked.
"How was WHAT?" he responded testily.
"The sunset," she responded, taken aback.
"You know; the one in the SKY," Chip answered in sadistic delight.
"Oh, it's still up there." Dale's manner was quite subdued and remained so for the rest of the evening. After the other Rangers had watched the late night news and then retired for the night Dale settled down for another marathon of "B" movies. But it didn't take long to notice that for some reason it didn't seem as enjoyable as the night before. He had never had that feeling before, as his movies had always been his closest thing to bliss. Strange. But as he had a lot of sleep to catch up on anyway, he surprised himself by turning off the TV and the lights and discreetly going to his and Chip's room and climbing into his upper bunk.
VI. Dale awoke groggily the next day and lay in bed for some time before getting up. When he did he noticed that it was up in the morning and the other Rangers had long since eaten breakfast, though they hadn't left headquarters. That was unusual in itself, not to mention the fact that they seemed to be lounging around as though it were a holiday--all except Gadget, that is, who looked a little anxious about something.
She cheered up when she saw Dale enter the living room and greeted him warmly. "Good morning, Dale! Are you ready to hit the road?" Gadget was very fond of all the other Rangers and was always careful to greet each of them, but her enthusiasm this time was such that it attracted the notice of all.
"Why didn't anyone get me up?" Dale queried.
"Are you kidding?" his roommate answered. "You must have pulled another all nighter. You were sleeping so hard I didn't have the heart to wake you." It seemed an uncharacteristic display of consideration, as the two always seemed to be fighting about something. Appearances were deceiving, however, as the two had been best friends since long before the Rescue Rangers.
"Maybe you four could go on without me today. I'm pooped."
"Don't worry. We've decided to take the day off. We're all overworked and you need some rest." Chip wasn't being as careful as usual to conceal his real friendship for Dale, perhaps because his conscience was bothering him for all the teasing he had been giving him lately. "Besides, things seem pretty quiet right now."
This announcement relieved Dale considerably, and he perked up a bit just from hearing it. After all, one is never as sleepy when one has nothing to do. But the same announcement had an unexpected effect on Gadget.
"What? You're not going to police headquarters? What if Fat Cat is about to pull something big?"
"Steady there, Gadget luv," Monterey comforted her, "you need to take things a little more easy. Still, if you're that worried about it, you can always drive one of your inventions there and back. Can't none of us stop yuh."
"Me? I can't! I have something very important to do right here. If you four don't go then nobody's going to know if something's brewing." The cause of her reaction was that she was ready to begin prying into secrets best left hidden, and although the other Rangers never disturbed her nor even entered her workshop without her permission, she didn't want anyone around this time. This was a bit unrealistic though, as it would take her several days or even weeks to finish. She was treading on unexplored territory.
"Hey," Dale broke in suddenly, "did Foxy ever come back this morning?"
"Too right!" Monterey Jack responded, "Didn't say much though. Came in a little late at that, and just headed straight for Gadget's room."
"Yeah," Chip put in deliberately, "she seemed really upset about something. She wouldn't even look at any of us. Did you two have a fight or something?" This type of enquiry was usually from Gadget, but now she seemed preoccupied with other matters.
"Of course not!" Dale answered his question. "She didn't say that, did she?"
"She didn't say much of anything," Chip said. Zipper nodded his puzzled agreement.
"Well, I gotta have some breakfast," Dale said testily. He resented the suspicion and the implied accusation that he had been the initiator. So saying, he headed for the kitchen.
Chip was sorry he had hurt Dale's feelings over something of which he had no knowledge, but all he could do was sigh and turn on the TV. He was determined to watch only entertainment shows today. With a "Scoot over, mate!" Monty and Zipper joined him on the couch.
Gadget watched them disappointedly for a minute as she pondered what she should do.
Finally she said, "I've got to work on something today. Please don't disturb me."
"That last plane you had that little accident in?" Dale's voice drifted out of the kitchen.
"That was not an accident! It was an ANOMALY!" Gadget raised her voice in a tone of aggravation that was not like her at all. "How many times do I have to explain that fact?" Then she stalked off to her workshop.
"What's the matter with her?" asked Dale, coming to join the others on the couch with his hands full of junk food as they stared mutely after Gadget.
"I dunno," Chip answered. "She certainly seems to have something on her mind. I'm going to stay out of her way today though, that's for sure."
In her workshop Gadget reproached herself for taking her very confused feelings out on her friends. They had never bothered her in her workshop before. But the nature of this project made her wish they would spend the day somewhere else. She was also worried about Foxglove, sleeping next door in her bedroom. Gadget expected no interference from her during the day while she was sleeping, but this whole idea had been hers to begin with. She was obsessed with the idea of communicating with humans. Gadget knew she must never let her find out what she was doing. Maybe she could pull the whole thing off without anyone finding out. She was going to try.
She spent the remainder of that morning translating the data in her mind into blueprints, a procedure she always followed when building anything. When Dale knocked to inform her it was lunchtime she asked to have hers brought to the workshop. This request was not unheard of but it was infrequent. When he returned with her lunch and knocked (Chip had decided for a change to let Dale deal with her that day) she opened the door just long enough to take the tray and thank him, a little apologetically, and returned to the task at hand, leaving him scratching his head in puzzlement. She ate only a little of her lunch while continuing to work on her project. The next step was to collect the necessary parts from various storage areas (Gadget's storage system was a strange mixture of order and chaos) and then begin a frustrating and time-consuming process of trial-and-error assemblies.
The day passed quickly for the other Rangers, as days off usually did. Dale had actually had enough of television for once and spent most of the afternoon lounging in the warm June sun on a large limb of the tree and watching human children play nearby. Occasionally a child would spy him and have a screaming fit of delight at such a close experience with "nature red in tooth and claw" (Jack London). Dale was always careful to wave at them, which prompted the toddlers to squeal and clap their hands and the older children to run and fetch their mothers, who would address a stream of human "baby talk" at him. This was so ridiculous it was amusing, though one time he was quite caught aback by the young "new age" mother who instead of baby talk addressed him quite seriously and reverentially and praised him for his "otherness." He wasn't sure he wanted to experience that feeling again. Chip, Zipper, and Monty joined him a little later and each would have thoroughly enjoyed himself if one of them hadn't been missing. But Gadget occasionally acted like this when an idea came to her, so they made the best of it.
Suppertime came and the four returned inside. They were a little worried when Gadget still had not left her workshop and in fact asked to have her meal brought to her again. "Still," Monty said, "an all day project's not that unusual. Machines is gettin' awful complicated." The others agreed and had supper, with Chip this time doing the honors. Gadget thanked him and promptly closed the door again, moving Chip to remark that she had been working on that thing an awful long time and she really should close up shop for the day.
"I'm almost finished for now," she responded, "but I'll have to do some more work tomorrow."
Chip was puzzled as well as disappointed. "Just what is it you're working on in there?" he wanted to know.
"Oh, nothing," Gadget answered in a way that indicated she knew he couldn't believe it, but she could think of nothing better to say. There was nothing to be done but to return to the dining room to take his evening meal with the others.
They were quite delighted when, just as they were finishing up, Gadget joined them at the table, carrying the tray Chip had brought her with its contents still untouched. She had taken time out to wash up after her labors, as she always did, but it was evident that she was exhausted, and not just physically. Naturally it was a scramble between Chip and Dale as to which of them she would sit by. Ordinarily she pretended not to notice such behavior on their part (though she always did), but today was different. She was too tired to keep up the usual appearances, so she said, "C'mon guys. Don't fight over me. It's been too long and hard a day." The chipmunks of course weren't the least bit tired after a day of relaxation and were in fact aching to expend some stored energy now that the air was growing cooler. But they respectfully settled down as she took a seat by Monterey Jack and began eating. They all maintained this silence until she had finished and then, as she sighed and pushed the tray away, Dale, ever the daredevil, asked the question they all wanted to. "What were you working on in there today?"
She wanted to say "nothing" as she had earlier to Chip, but she knew that that answer was not only wearing a little thin but was obviously not the truth. She was trying as fast as she could to think up an answer that would sound plausable when she got relief from an almost forgotten source. From her seat she could see into the living room as Foxglove, having awoke from a day of oblivion, was making her way to the front door. She was moving very quietly and as quickly as she could, almost as if she were hoping she could get away without drawing attention to herself. If this was her plan then it was frustrated, for Gadget immediately called to her to come join them for a few minutes before flying off. This move had its effect, as the other Rangers turned their attention from Gadget and her project to their guest, adding their voices to hers in asking why Foxglove was in such a hurry to leave.
This development was good for Gadget but bad for Foxy, who indeed had been hoping to sneak off quietly and perhaps return to roosting in her church, where her sadness and solitude seemed mystical and comforting, rather than coming back here to make a fool of herself and lose the only friends she had ever known. She reasoned that she had already lost the one that mattered most by her forwardness the night before. She was all butterflies (the metaphorical, non-filling kind) already, but when they called to her she began trembling all over like gelatin, she got a terrible lump in her throat, and her pulse quickened considerably. When the Rangers shifted their positions in the dining room to see her they beheld a pitiable lump of furry misery. She seemed unable to move and Gadget was wondering if she was actually sick. They quickly went into the living room to see what was the matter with their friend.
She was looking straight down at the floor when they came up to her and her legs, backwards bending knees and all, were shaking and knocking against one another. The Rangers, not knowing the feelings she was experiencing or the reasons for them, became alarmed. Obviously she was ill.
"Foxy, what's wrong? Are you alright?" Gadget asked, all thought of her project vanishing temporarily.
"One side, mates! Let's have a look," Monterey Jack said, putting his paw to her nose and forehead. "Nothin' yet," he continued, "Now let's have a feel of the ol' peepers. Easiest place to check the old Fahrenheit," and he attempted to raise her head with his paw. He had some small success, though Foxy still had her eyes half closed and would not look at them. Monty felt her eyes as best he could and then checked under her chin for swolen glands (Monty had been around and had some rudimentary knowledge of physical symptoms and folk remedies). When he was finished he scratched his head, shrugged his shoulders, and said, "Well, I'm stumped. Less'n it's a touch o' the didgeridoo distemper. One hundred percent fatal within minutes, it is, and no cure. And contagious! The Wangalara tribe has a legend about it wipin' out the entire original population of Antarctica in a single day."
"WHAT!?" they all, except for Gadget, exclaimed in one voice. Gadget by this time understood that the only plague here was one of the heart. She brushed past the four males and said kindly, "Don't be silly, Monty. You're scaring her." Then to Foxy, "Come on and we'll talk about it." Foxy brushed away a tear and actually looked up at Gadget (who, being a fellow-female, didn't make her feel quite so uncomfortable) and accompanied her back to her bedroom for the equivalent of a daytime TV talk show.
Chip, Monty, and Zipper understood what this meant and looked at Dale, whose only reaction was to demand "What!?!" and then stalk off to turn on the television. The others winked at each other but decided not to give Dale a hard time over it, then quietly joined him at the TV set.
VII. "What happened last night, Foxy?" asked Gadget, placing a sympathetic paw on her shoulder.
"I was too forward," Foxy sniffled in reply, "and I'm afraid he hates me now."
"What did you do?" Gadget asked as delicately as possible. Foxy covered her face with her wings in shame. Gadget gave her a minute and then patted her shoulder. "C'mon," she encouraged.
"I . . . I n-nuzzled him. You know, Eskimo style." And she buried her face on Gadget's shoulder and sobbed audibly.
Gadget gave her another minute before responding. "Foxy," she said gently, "what's wrong with that? You didn't honestly think you'd done something morally wrong, did you?"
"It . . . it's not that exactly," she said, drying a tear, "I've done everything I could to show Dale what I think of him and he's never noticed, except to be embarrassed. I was afraid if I kissed him he'd tell me to go away and never ocme back again, and now he acts like nothing happened at all. I don't know which is worse." She paused again to regain her composure. "I can't evade it any more. Dale doesn't like me. I'm crazy about him but he doesn't like me at all."
Gadget kept her voice as soft and comforting as possible. "Foxglove, that's not so. He likes you a lot. He's just shy, that's all."
"So am I, but I can't help myself around him."
"Foxy . . . I know Dale quite well, better than you do. I'm sure he's teetering but is fighting against it for all he's worth. You see, he has really low self-esteem. Deep down inside he's convinced a pretty girl like you couldn't possibly really be in love with him. He's telling himself you're only teasing him and if he does fall he'll get his heart broken."
"WHAT?!!" Foxy was positively shocked. "I'd never do that to anyone! I can't believe anyone would! How could he think that? About me or himself? I mean, he's so HANDSOME! I don't see how you can stand it actually LIVING with him. It must be murder controlling yourself sometimes."
"You have no idea," Gadget muttered ironically under her breath. And then aloud, "It's true, Foxy. His low self esteem, I mean. The boys are always flirting with me. I wish they'd stop. They think I don't notice because that's how I act, but I do. Chip feels good enough about himself to actually mean it. As a matter of fact, sometimes he's so arrogant it's hard to take. But Dale only does it because he thinks I'm so far out of reach that my rejecting him won't hurt him. Poor boy. I'd give him a lot more hugs if I could without hurting him."
Foxglove didn't relish that thought at all. She figured if it came to that she wouldn't have a chance against Gadget. "Are you in love with him?" Foxy's request for the unadorned truth sounded like one asked by the world's leaders in the event of imminent collision with a comet.
"I love all the Rescue Rangers, and you too for that matter, Foxy. But I've never had any real romantic feelings for anyone yet and don't know if, when, or with whom, I ever will. But you love Dale right now and he needs you. Go for it!"
Foxglove slowly dried her tears and began to cheer up. "Did you really mean what you said about my being a pretty girl? I don't think so."
"Well you are, and you should put any doubts about it out of your head permanently, starting now. As a matter of fact, it seems to me that you and Dale were made for each other. You have different personalities but the same doubts about yourselves and the same need for confirmation. Sorry to use a word like that. Anyway, Dale's going to fall for you soon if he hasn't already, and fall darn hard at that. Oops! Sorry about that word too. Just quit worrying and don't try so hard. Relax. It's going to happen. You'll understand Dale before long. And, oh . . ." she hesitated a bit as though she'd just thought of something unpleasant. "There may be something else, though I think it's mostly subconscious on his part. I'm afraid Dale reads way too many comic books and watches too many old movies. And some of them are about vam--."
"PLEASE!!!" Foxy fairly shrieked with her wings wrapped around her ears at the mention of the word no bat will ever speak or ever wants to hear.
Gadget was sorrier than she had ever been at a mispeak before in her life. "Sorry," she said in a subdued tone as she looked at her feet. "That's the third word I'm sorry about using."
"That's all right, I guess," said Foxglove deliberately, more out of courtesy than conviction, "you were only trying to help me understand him." The two females hugged each other and returned to the male-dominated living room.
They found the four males seated on the couch before the television, though they weren't paying much attention to it. Monty appeared calm and philosophical. Zipper sat on Monty's shoulder with a worried expression on his face. Dale was drawn up and feeling like a heel while Chip glared at him angrily. "You heartless Casanova," Chip said, "I oughta bonk you." Dale only drew up more and glared angrily at his feet while Monty assured Zipper, "Don't worry, Zipper me lad. Seen it a zillion times. It's the way of the world. Everything'll work out."
"Ahem!" They all sat bolt upright at Gadget's announcement of her and Foxy's return. Gadget led her to the couch and seated her beside Dale, causing them both to look uncomfortable. Then she said to the disinterested parties, or at least those who should have been disinterested, "Guys, don't you think we should hit the hay and get an early start in the morning?"
"Too right!" Monty answered with a wink to Zipper, who was relieved considerably. It seemed Monty always knew what he was talking about.
Even Chip was feeling guilty about his rough words to Dale, and said quietly, "Sorry, Dale. Stay up as late as you want. G'night." A hasty retreat seemed the best reparation.
The couple that was the object of all this consideration felt considerably relieved and more comfortable with the imminent departure of their audience and began to settle down when Gadget, just about to go into the hallway, suddenly stopped and asked a question.
"Foxy, did you notice any humans last night? You promised to watch."
Foxglove recalled this promise with a gulp of panic. "I'm afraid I forgot, Gadget."
"WHAT?!" Her confidante of a few minutes ago now seemed upset out of all proportion to the offense. Indeed, Dale would have protested except that her tone was so uncharacteristic that he didn't dare do anything but keep his mouth shut. He reproached himself for this, however.
"I--I was so upset and afraid that I didn't even do my feeding here last night. I'm sorry!"
Now it was Gadget's turn to feel like a heel. That honor seemed to be making the rounds lately. She came back up to the terrified couple and gently put her paw on Foxglove's shoulder.
"Golly, I'm sorry I reacted like that, Foxglove. And after our little talk, too! I'm afraid I'm awful scatterbrained sometimes. It's just that they know about me and I'm afraid of what might happen if . . . " she trailed off.
Dale and Foxy forgave her at once. "Don't worry, Gadget," Dale finally had the nerve to speak up; "we'll both check every now and again tonight. I promise. I understand why you're worried." The look on his face was one of those reasons Gadget wished she could feel free to hug him more often, but that would be Foxy's job now. She thought too much had been said already, so she just smiled at them and retired for the night.
Dale turned to Foxy a little shyly. "Want some more popcorn?"
Fortunately for her, the movies that night were devoted to the topic of robots.
VIII. The next morning no one disturbed the young couple as they watched the sunrise, even though the others were up early enough to do so had they wished. Dale happily anounced that no humans had been visible when they had checked during the night. Gadget was careful to thank them both very politely. Foxglove gave Dale a small hug and retired for the day as the Rangers prepared breakfast.
The boys spent that day doing their shopping at a local supermarket (a bit tricky, but doable if one were used to it), leaving Gadget happily alone to do her work. They returned just in time to provide her lunch tray and have their own meal. Monty and Zipper volunteered to stake out the police station by themselves for the afternoon while the chipmunks monitored the television and police scanner.
Gadget had begun her project on a Tuesday and continued into the next week, taking the weekend off as the Rangers usually did. During this time the other Rangers politely refrained from voicing their enormous curiosity. Most days they posted themselves in Sergeant Spinelli's office listening carefully for indications that their anonymous services were needed. June was usually a busy time for them, but this year was different. There was plenty for the human police, of course, but nothing as yet that required the Rangers' attention. In fact, Chip was beginning to remark that everything would probably "bust loose" during their annual July vacation. Each night the Rangers would relax in front of the TV with Gadget, who was careful to end each day's activity by the time they returned. Foxglove continued to board with them, sitting up with Dale when he pulled his all-nighters and feeding outside when he actually decided to sleep or when the movie theme seemed ominously Gothic. Either way she remembered to keep her radar peeled for suspicious humans during the night.
Over that weekend Gadget realized she would need something to present to the others as her project so that their curiosity would be satisfied while her secret remained protected. On Monday morning she beagan assembling the rejected parts during lulls and breaks into a "toy" that should impress all of them. It wasn't going to be pretty, but it was going to be a very adequate shortwave radio set. She could have finished this very quickly but stretched it out so that it would appear to be the fruit of her protracted labor. It was really an obsolete device, with transistors, a clumsy and unmarked tuning indicator ("Too bad I can't make it digital!" she thought to herself), and an old car radio aerial to facilitate reception. It wouldn't get the entire spectrum, and the frequencies on what it would pick up would be horribly bunched together, but she knew that this concept, quaint and old fashioned as it was, would fascinate the others no end and provide the perfect cover.
On Wednesday morning, just eight days after she had begun, she was near enough finished to devote her labors to finishing the radio. "I'm almost done!" she told the relieved Rangers when she actually ventured out of her lonely cell to eat lunch with them. This created quite a stir among the others, and Dale wanted to call off the afternoon shift to be there when she finished, but Monty and Chip both suggested there was no need to be impatient this close to the finish. Dale accompanied them reluctantly back to the Ranger Plane, but they at least abandoned the police station for an aerial surveillance of the city. This was not done very thoroughly; in fact it was mostly intended to make the afternoon pass quickly for them while giving Gadget the opportunity to finish once and for all.
This was the hardest part of the whole process for the mouse-prodigy. What she had built looked like one of the bat detectors out of the chiropterology books, but it contained a built-in mic that with the help of the dial could theoretically transform animal speech into something understandable to a human. The key word was "theoretically." She had no way of knowing if it would work and did not dare test it. It was only a personal challenge, anyway, she told herself again. But the project could not be officially concluded without a test. A failure would mean her theory had been flawed and send her into repeating the whole tiring process over again, and this time without a "cover." But aside from the fact that she was afraid of the consequences of either failure or (especially) success, she could not even be sure it would work with a mouse's voice. It was based on a bat detector and might only work with a bat. She didn't dare try it with Foxglove, whose desire to communicate with humans could easily spiral out of control into an obsession once she saw even a possibility of its fulfillment. She could slip off that evening and find other bats throughout the city, but the problem was the same. As much as she wanted to be sure she had solved the problem of inter-species communication, she was terrified of what the solution might mean to the world. She felt like Dr. Frankenstein again.
Gadget looked a long time at the innocent looking little device in her hands. Finally she sighed and took it to a little-used cabinet she had brought from her old home when she had joined the Rangers. Her father had built it for her when she had first begun tinkering as a little girl, and had fitted it with a combination lock whose combination was known only to the two of them. She had used it quite a bit at first to "hide" her treasures, which meant everything she hammered together in those days. She had brought it mostly as a reminder of her father, who had carved their names into a "secret" place underneath. Since growing up she realized that not that much that she built was really a treasure or a secret. But this definitely was both. And so she spent a few minutes recalling the combination and then opened it for the first time since childhood. She placed her invention on the bottom shelf, looked at it, and then scooted it all the way to the back. She was about to close the door when she hesitated and then quickly picked up as many spare parts and old pieces of junk as she thought she wouldn't be needing anytime soon and placed them throughout the cabinet, taking care that the "voice box," as she was beginning to call it, was obscured as much as possible. Then she stared for a while and slowly closed the door and spun the combination lock. Then she stared another minute at the cabinet.
She sighed and shook her head sadly. Then she picked up the shortwave and stepped out of the shadows where forbidden deeds are committed and back into the world of living things to rejoin her friends.
IX. Dale was pacing back and forth before the hallway door. He was consumed with curiosity about what had taken Gadget away from them for a solid week. Whatever it was, it had better be big. Chip was reclining on the couch before the television set, paying no attention to it whatsoever and peridocally inviting Dale to sit down and relax. Monty and Zipper, of course, were in the kitchen preparing supper. But everyone instantly bolted to attention and ran to the hall door when Dale eagerly announced the arrival of the Omega Point by a loud chirrup when Gadget entered with the humble-looking box between her two forepaws.
"That's IT?" Dale asked in a disappointed tone that betrayed the reaction of all four, even though this blatant honesty earned him a cuff on the head from Chip.
"That's it!" Gadget answered in his own words, though feeling guilty for the half-truth.
"It's wonderful, Gadget! Whatever it is," Chip said, taking advantage of Dale's lack of etiquette to rack up points with her.
"What is it, Gadget-luv? Some sort of radio?" Monterey asked.
Before Gadget could answer they heard "Evenin', folks!" as Foxglove joined them. This was a little earlier than usual for her but she had discovered that the Rangers' bathing and shower facilities eliminated time-consuming self-grooming sessions upon awakening.
"Oh hi, Foxy!" Gadget was sure here was someone who would appreciate the modest little device. "What do you think of this?"
Foxglove's face lit up with interest. "Is that what's going to let me talk to humans?"
Gadget started suddenly but suppressed it as quickly as she could. "Don't be silly, Foxy! It's something you'll really like, a shortwave radio set." But all the while she was asking herself, "Why did she say that? Does she know?"
Foxy's ears drooped noticeably. Not only was it not what she was hoping, but a radio struck her as singularly unimpressive. "Gee, thanks, Gadget," she said, trying her best not to hurt her friend's feelings, "I'm sure it's a very nice radio. I'll be sure to listen to it later."
"But Foxglove, this is a SHORTWAVE radio."
Before she could explain what that meant Monty exclaimed "CRIKEY!" and turned it on. "Always wanted one o' these things," he told Gadget. "Had one as a nipper in the Outback, and it helped give me the wanderlust. That and the tales of Mum and Dad. Wonder if we can pick up Melbourne."
"You mean this thing'll pick up foreign courntries?" Dale asked.
"Too right! Foreign stations, clandestine broadcasts, Morse code, hams ('course you can't understand them unless ye got a ham radio yerself), and the weirdest and most excitin' noises you could think of. It's a hoot!" Monty turned the tuner and treated them all to a variety of such beeps and pulses as they had never heard or saw any use for. They still didn't.
"It could put us in the international crimefighting business!" was the ever-practical Chip's contribution to the conversation.
Foxglove was considerably more interested now. "Can I listen to foreign languages on it?" she asked.
"Sure!" Gadget replied, glad to see her mind off the previous subject. "In fact, all the foreign countries have English-language broadcasts and have shows to teach you their languages."
Foxglove was now fixated completely. This was the most wonderful thing she had ever heard of. There would be no hunting tonight or for many nights after.
Monterey continued to turn the dial until he came upon a human voice speaking in Spanish. This was fascinating enough, but a little further on he picked up French, German, something that sounded very much like German (Dutch, he told them), Chinese, and finally the BBC world service in English. They all thought this was the grandest thing Gadget had ever invented, even though she had provided the Rangers with all their transportation vehicles and all their weapons. She blushed at their compliments and said one day she would mark the tuner so they could memorize the locations of programs. As it was it was just a dial and pointer.
Of course eventually they had to eat supper, however reluctantly. But Foxglove refused to leave the wonder box, playing with the dial and becoming more excited with each new discovery. Monty brought her a tray of some of his cheese creations just to see if she would like them, along with some popcorn and a bowl of the famous "glop" made from bananas which insectiverous bats in captivity are sometimes fed. She could hardly be made to pay attention to anything else, but when she did try them she decided the popcorn and glop were much more to her liking than cheese was, though it would do in a pinch. When the Rangers rejoined her she was listening transfixed to a language program and trying to repeat the strange words after the radio voice, whose thickly-accented English was hard enough to understand. "Guess what!" she told them exitedly, "I'm picking up Radio Vientiane, and this is their program 'Let's Learn Lao!' I'm going to listen to it every night until I become FLUENT! It's only Lesson Sixty-Seven. That's not too late to start, is it?" Gadget chuckled under her breath at Foxy's naivete, and assured her that she had begun right on time. One couldn't really learn that much on these programs anyway, sometimes even with the accompanying lesson book, and one only came upon them at Lesson Sixty-Seven, it seemed. They all sat up a little later than usual that night but eventually turned in--all except Foxy and Dale, that is. Gadget pleaded with a completely preoccupied Foxglove to please check outside occasionally and left the two to their privacy but Dale did not delay his retirement very long. Foxy was monopolizing the radio and paying no attention to him whatsoever, and the all-night movies were no fun alone anymore, and especially not with all that noise and gibberish from the new toy. Soon an oblivious Foxglove was spending the night alone riveted to this new and heretofore unknown world.
X This is how the next few nights were spent at Ranger headquarters, with Foxglove listening to the radio and Dale becoming more and more jealous. When he had been the sole object of her attention he had wanted her to leave him alone. Now that she was, he was surprised at the resentment welling up within him. In fact, on only the third night he asked her if she still liked him.
"Of course I do. I'm IN LOVE with you, Dale! Now let me listen to my program, okay?"
Dale certainly had mixed feelings about that one. It had been the first time Foxy had expressed her feelings to him so forthrightly, but the last part sent him off to bed in a huff.
Foxglove now didn't feed at all and instead was adjusting her eating habits to match those of the rangers. She had also been rising earlier and retiring later than formerly and completely forgot about watching the sun rise and set, formerly her most awesome experience (Dale was missing these moments with Foxy most of all). She was constantly discovering new stations and new language lessons but thought it wise to learn only one language at a time and so commited herself to listen to every installment of "Let's Learn Lao!" It turned out that there was only one unit per week but it was repeated each night before the next one commenced, providing an excellent opportunity to burn the lessons into one's mind. She was confident that before Lesson Sixty-Eight she would have "The man on the horse is not my mother" down pat.
Gadget meanwhile was dealing with her own obsession. From the first night after she had completed her "voice box" and stashed it in her cabinet she found herself fighting the almost irresitable urge to try it out. But how? Aside from the fact that it was built with a bat in mind, she could hardly simply walk up to a human and begin speaking. Even if it didn't work she might be spotted carrying the device around, which would surely startle any human except perhaps for Professor Nimnul. And if it did work . . . There was that thought again, that what she had built was terribly wrong. Chip and Dale were both uneasy about the behavior of the two girls, one obviously addicted to her new radio and the other growing continually more moody, secretive, and depressed. Gadget once agained joined them for daily surveillance duty, but her mind and heart were obviously not in it. Even Monty was becoming concerned about Gadget; sometimes he would speak to her and she wouldn't even hear him. And as for Zipper, he found the uneasiness he had felt upon seeing the two strange humans two weeks before returning, though he had no idea why.
It was on the Sunday following Gadget's inventions that things began to come to a head. None of the men were enjoying themselves with Gadget so silent and moody and Foxglove almost transformed into another person by a little black box. This had been the night for Dale's biggest all-night movie binges but now he and Chip were waiting for bedtime with a strange feeling of dread that seemed to have no basis. Even the TV wasn't on. Nothing seemed as it should be.
Foxglove joined them about 7pm and Monty decided to try to get some old-fashioned friendly conversation started. "Did you ever find out what that language was, Luv?" he asked her.
"You mean the Lao?" she asked. "I know what that is; they told that the first night I listened." Her recollections of her interests prior to The Radio were very fuzzy.
"No Luv, the one you asked me about. You know, the one they use at that church of yours?"
Foxy paused suddenly. What with moving in with the Rangers and now having the whole world at her wingtips she had almost forgotten it. She closed her eyes and tried to visualize the sign. Then she said, "Oh yes, I remember now, Monty. I went back there the night I was so upset and read the sign out front before I came back." She closed her eyes again and tried to see it. She was so small she had had to hover before and read one letter at a time, and not having heard the words she was not quite so sure of herself. But she tried her best to repeat it. "It said: 'St. Ner-ses Shnor-hal-i . . . Ar-men-i-an . . . Apostolic Church!" She was proud of herself for remembering, and Dale was hoping it might make her a little more like her old self.
Monterey Jack slapped a paw across his forehead. "Armenian!" he exclaimed. "Why didn't I think of that? It should've been obvious!"
"You've heard of it?" she asked him.
"Too right! Not that uncommon, really. Been to some of their churches in Australia and France. Never been to Armenia, though. But I don't know the language and didn't recognize it."
"Where is Armenia?" was her next question.
"Oh, up in the Caucasus in southwestern Asia. It's where the Ark came to rest."
Something deep inside her responded to the information and she began to visibly quiver with excitement. "Ark? THE Ark? The real one?"
"Never heard of another one, Luv."
They all thought the old Foxy was almost back with them until she cast an addict's eye at the radio. "I wonder if I can find that language on the shortwave?"
"I'm sure you can, Foxy." He turned to find Dale glowering at him. "Still, it's a small country. I wouldn't set my heart on finding it right away." Dale was appeased, but just barely.
Gadget was unaffected by any of this. She sat there in the living room eating her supper off a tray, very slowly and apparently with great difficulty, and sipping on her glass of water. Finally, with the sun barely down she announced, "I'm going to turn in now, fellas. Good night." With that she took her tray back into the kitchen and then reemerged with her glass of water to retire to her bedroom. "Good night," they all called after her, though without much enthusiasm.
"Do you suppose that's actually Luwainie?" Dale wondered.
"No way. She'd be a lot friendlier," Chip answered.
Before much longer the four males also retired, leaving Foxglove with her radio and her thoughts. She was determined to listen to "Let's Learn Lao!", though her enthusiasm and resolution concerning learning that language was beginning to wane. Perhaps she had heard Lesson Sixty-Seven once too often. When she tuned it in she was relieved to be at last at Lesson Sixty-Eight, "Donating One's Buffalo to the Party." Perhaps this would be more exciting. But then she was going to spend the entire night trying to locate a signal from Armenia, even if success wasn't very likely.
Gadget lay awake for some time, tossing and turning. She had been having this difficulty ever since completing her fiendish device. But tonight she was even more restless than before. She could almost hear the thing calling to her from her workshop next door. "Come, Gadget," she fancied it saying, "Try me out. You know you want to." And in fact she did. She also wanted to disassemble it, but could not bring herself to do either one. For all her feelings that she had invented an evil and forbidden thing, it was still one of her inventions, which were like children to her. "After all," she thought within herself, "it didn't ask to be invented."
After an indeterminate period of being unable to shut her brain down for the night Gadget seized the flashlight at her bedside and shined it at the clock. It was already 1 am. She felt disgusted. "Obviously, I'm not going to get any sleep tonight," she told herself out loud. "Might as well join Dale and Foxy. Maybe a little TV or world band radio will clear my head." As soon as she had said this she froze solid. "That's IT!" she said, snapping a finger, and she took the flashlight with her as she quietly opened her bedroom door and tiptoed to the door of her workshop. Looking around, she entered as noiselessly as possible. Of course she could have turned on the light (she had wired headquarters herself so they could get the news and so Monty could cook his famous creations), but she chose instead to stick to her mouse-sized flashlight. She used this to unlock her cabinet, to find the "voice box," and then to gather up a small radio set and a cellular phone (of course she had built them both). Tuning the radio to a local FM station she listened for the request line number, dialed it, and with the "voice box" on and the mic held up to her mouth said, "I'd like to request 'IGY' by Donald Fagen, please" when the dj answered. There was only a puzzled silence in return, and then a click. He had not understood her. But there were plenty more stations in the city. She would keep adjusting the tuner on her invention until she found a setting that worked. She wasn't the least bit sleepy, she was not likely to be disturbed, and she had all night.
Foxglove looked at the clock. It was 1 am. Lesson Sixty-Eight had been a little more exciting because it was new material, but that had been hours ago, and though she found many interesting stations and many strange languages she had not found the one she was looking for, at least as far as she knew. The English broadcasts took FOREVER to identify themselves and she probably would not have recognized Armenian if she heard it. She had just grown bored with listening to Albanian (she knew what it was only because she had caught the end of Radio Tirane's English language broadcast and they had announced the next program) and was turning the dial when suddenly she heard something that sent a tingle all over her small body. It was music--strange, exotic music that was somehow familiar.
"Koo-hoort kho-rin an-has a nug-iz-bun . . ."
Where had she heard that before? She should be able to remember. It was on the tip of her mind, so to speak. Then she recalled the week prior to her moving in with the Rangers and the beautiful church she had roosted in. THAT'S where she had heard that music and those words, sometimes while awake and sometimes while asleep. St. Nerses Shnorhali Armenian Apostolic Church. This was it! She was listening to Armenia, and she waited eagerly for an English broadcast that would offer her Armenian lessons. But this was not a news program. It was a church service, probably taped that Sunday morning. She was listening to the Armenian liturgy. It wasn't exactly what she was looking for, but it would do. She was certainly curious about it, and an English program would surely be coming up before long. She sighed and relaxed while she listened.
"Megha, megha, megha Asdoodzo . . . ."
Suddenly Foxy got another strange feeling, and a very unsettling one. Ever since being introduced to her new hobby she had neglected to keep a lookout for the humans Gadget was so worried about. Now all of a sudden something told her to go outside and take a look. She opened the door gingerly and looked around the base of the tree. The park was very well-lit, and she suddenly remembered the tasty moths she used to enjoy catching around the lights. Then she saw them. She didn't need her radar to tell her that two humans were standing at the foot of the Rangers' tree and looking up intently. A sudden fear surged through her and she ran back inside reproaching herself for her recent neglect of duty. She turned off the light and the radio and wondered what to do. Perhaps it would be best to awaken Gadget and tell her; the humans were there and she might as well know about it. It was no trouble negotiating the hallway and coming to Gadget's door. She knocked on it and said "Gadget!" in what amounted to a loud whisper, seeing no need to arouse the others just yet. There was no response. Then her ears picked up something--the sound of speech coming from Gadget's workshop. Who could she be talking to at this hour? One of the fellows, perhaps? She sure hoped it wasn't Dale. She came quietly before the workshop door and listened.
"Yes, I'd like to hear 'IGY' by Donald Fagen, please."
"Oh, a Baby Boomer, eh?" This voice was unfamiliar. "Well, I believe we've got that one around here somewhere. What station gives you the most of what you want to hear and the least of what you don't?"
"Uh . . . this one?"
"That's right! FM 98.6, the station that's as hot as you are!"
Gadget sighed with satisfaction at hearing the playback of the conversation of a few minutes before and turned off the set as her record began to play. Success! And with no risk whatsoever. Now maybe the thing's power over her would be over and she could simply put it away and ignore it. It seemed a morally neutral device, certainly not evil. There was certainly no need to destroy it. She suddenly felt a wave of exhaustion sweep over her as her tenseness left her and her lack of sleep made itself known. She went back to the cabinet and tossed the thing in without even trying to hide it, and then shut the door and spun the lock. Then she went back to bed and slept like a baby.
Foxglove was back in the living room. She had heard the whole thing. Gadget had called in a request to a human radio station and had been understood. How? Had she always had this secret talent? Why would she keep it hidden from the Rescue Rangers? It made no sense that Gadget should have this power. Then it hit her. Of course! So that's what Gadget had been working on all that week. She had expressed interest in such an idea after Foxy had suggested it and had even asked if Foxy could supply her with a bat detector. But then she had blown her off with a remark about saving that project for some time in the future. And then she had turned right around and built the thing! The shortwave . . . that must have been a cover. Of course! To keep anyone from asking questions. How could Gadget be so mean as to keep this to herself when she knew how much Foxy wanted to be able to speak to humans? It hurt her to think that . . . . Humans! What about those two . . . ?
She quickly opened the front door and looked out again. No one. They were gone, whoever they were. Maybe it was nothing. Two sweethearts out for a late-night stroll. Foxy looked again in all directions. She was afraid to fly down and examine the area with her echolocation system, but that wasn't necessary. They were gone without a trace, as if they had never been there.
Foxglove went back in and closed the door, but did not turn the light back on. She didn't need it, and she didn't want to attract the attention of anyone of any species. A wild, uncontrollable feeling came over her that made her addiction to the shortwave seem like a taste for coffee in comparison. Suppressing any doubts about the morality of what she was doing she quietly crept back into the hallway and made her way past the Rangers' bedrooms back to Gadget's workshop. She could hear them all snoring like a sawmill, especially poor Gadget, who was exhausted. Foxy turned the latch and the door opened; Gadget had never seen the need to lock it. Once inside, she shut the door quietly and this time did turn on the light. She was not familiar with this room and was too obsessed to worry about an outsider seeing a light. She looked about for the device she had never seen, hoping somehow to recognize it by her sheer disire for it. At first she was discouraged; there was junk everywhere. Then she remembered distinctly hearing the tumblers of a combination lock when she had been outside the door listening to Gadget's phone call. There was only one piece of furniture with such a lock, a large and very old-looking wooden cabinet in the back of the room near an alcove of some sort. She went to it at once and with her excellent hearing was able to click all the tumblers correctly even without knowing the combination. Inside was more junk. Which contraption could it be? Then her eyes fell on something right in front of her, where Gadget had carelessley flung it before retiring. Although it was home made and crude looking, she recognized a bat detector at once. Gadget had asked her if she could provide her with one when she had first suggested such an invention to her. Gadget may have done the work, but the original concept had been hers. That made her half owner of the intellectual property rights, she figured. Well, since Gadget had tried it out, it was only right that the other partner have a go at it.
Fortunately for Foxglove there was a strap on the little box which enabled her to wear it around her neck with the mic, clearly visible, on the topside. Now she turned off the light, closed the door, and made her way quickly to the main entrance of the headquarters. Upon exiting she launched herself skyward without a thought of the humans whose sight had terrified her just a short time before.
Foxglove experienced a feeling of elation as she flew about the park and then the environs with her new toy, which would give her what she most wanted in the world--the ability to communicate with humans; and not evil humans studying witchcraft, but good humans or humans in trouble who might need her help. She would make up for her short career with Winifred by being a hero, and a much bigger and more famous hero than the Rescue Rangers, as everyone could communicate with her and would know about her. She'd be famous! And that meant never being alone and isolated again. She would have all the friends in the world.
It was with these thoughts in the mind that she began to fly over the greater city, away from the general area of the park. There was no danger; there was no part of the city she had not visited before on her foraging expeditions. She was also beginning to resent Gadget's course of action more than ever. She had BEGGED the young prodigy to invent such a contraption and even suggested the means, a bat detector. Gadget had then gone ahead and built the thing in secret with apparently no intention to share it with her. Sometimes the most beautiful people could be the most cruel! She told herself that she would never have behaved in that fashion if she had invented it. Well, Gadget would get her come-uppence when she woke up to find the gizmo missing and realized who had taken it. Foxy smiled at the thought of how easy it had been to take it from the genius' workshop. She was really feeling proud of her natural abilities. Why, Winifred would have been impressed at how easily she had . . .
She banked and hovered suddenly, feeling as if a proverbial cartoon anvil had been dropped on her. What had she done? A feeling of horror spread all over her. She had stolen. She had robbed her best and only friends in the world. And for what? For a little box that she did not invent and could not have in a million years. Just who did she intend to try it out on, anyway? She remembered belatedly that humans are diurnal creatures, and what humans were out at night might not be the nicest people to strike up a casual conversation with. There were policemen on patrol at all hours, but what would their reaction be to the first human-animal conversation since the days of King Solomon? It was also possible that Dale was not the only sentient being to form an impression of bats from ghastly horror pictures. She couldn't talk to anyone! She had committed a CRIME and had abused the natural gifts she had been given to do it, and for no purpose whatsoever. She felt lower than she had ever felt before in her short and sad life.
"What kind of person am I?" she asked herself. "I could never be a hero. I'm a terrible person. No wonder I helped Winifred. I'm nothing but a common criminal, a bad seed from the word go. I don't deserve any friends." She reproached herself with thoughts like these, literally too bitter and shattered inside even to cry. All she had ever meant to be was a good and kind person. She had never had bad intentions. Why was she always doing such evil things? Well, this would be the last time. She would return to Ranger Headquarters and use her talents to return the accursed thing to Gadget's cabinet. Then she would disappear without a trace. She would live out the rest of her days as a renegade shunned by every creature at some isolated spot where she would never hurt anyone ever again. The Rangers would never know what she had done or what had become of her. Oh, they would wonder for a short while but then she would fade from their memories and they'd all be better off for forgetting that she'd ever existed. Maybe Dale would remember a little longer than the others, but . . . She could not continue her mental self-flagellation at this point but broke out in long protracted sobs, though of far too high a frequency for any but a bat to hear, or at least so she thought. She headed with an unbearable burden back to the Rangers' tree for one last time. It was a good thing she had radar, for her eyes were now so full of tears they would have been useless to her, even if her eyesight had been better than it was.
She had been flying around for about two hours when her self-revelation came to her, so it was just after 3 am when she was back in the park. Even though days were at their longest at this point in June it was still dark. She sensed the tree up ahead and approached with unutterable sorrow. She only hoped they were all still asleep. She had rather not face them after what she had done, and with the contraband around her neck like the Mariner's albatross. Still, she had to do this no matter what. If they did confront her then whatever they did to her would be better than she deserved. What she deserved probably didn't even exist, at least not in this life.
This self-hatred came to a sudden halt when she unmistakably detected two humans once again standing at the foot of the Rangers' tree and apparently studying it with great intensity. Could these be the same two she had seen earlier that very night? Maybe the very same that Zipper had seen just before she had arrived that night two weeks ago and who had Gadget so dreadfully shook up? With all thoughts of guilt or of fear suddenly dismissed she flew right at the humans, something she had only done before to catch insects, and hovering in their very faces squeaked at them, "Who are you? What are you doing? What do you want here?" By the glow of the park lights she saw their facial expressions change to stunned surprise followed by absolute horror as they looked at each other and then back at her. She looked down at the box around her neck. She must have somehow turned it on. They had heard her and understood! This was the moment she had always thought she wanted, but she was too afraid right now to appreciate it. Then one of them pulled his hand from his coat pocket to reveal something tiny she could not make out by sight or echolocation. Another communication device perhaps?
"What do you want with the Rescue Rangers?" she finally got up the nerve to say. If they had a communication device as well then she might as well continue the conversation. Maybe they had spent their lives wanting to communicate with animals. It was their turn now, if they were to continue. The human pointed whatever it was at her. It was still too tiny to make out, but she definitely saw a metallic shine from the surrounding electric lights. She grew impatient.
"I said what . . . "
XI. "Can you guys help me?"
Both Chip and Dale were at Gadget's side in an instant. Already they could tell she was more her old self.
"What's wrong, Gadget?" Chip queried.
"My workshop seems to be locked. I've never locked it before. I guess I was just so tired last night that I did it absent-mindedly." Chip and Dale looked at each other knowingly. It was a wonder this didn't happen more often, considering the inventor's sometimes chaotic way of thinking about everyday things.
"No problem, Gadget," Dale comforted her, "just unlock it."
"The keys are kinda inside," she admitted sheepishly.
The boys looked at each other again, albeit a little less good-humoredly. "Well, we'll just have to persuade it to open for you!" Chip said chivalrously, taking off his hat and making an exaggerated bow.
"Gee, thanks, Chip!" she smiled at him. He put his shoulder to the door and began to push and was immediately joined by Dale.
"And what do you think YOU'RE doing?" Chip asked him.
"I'm helpin' you get the door open!" he snapped back.
"And just what makes you think I can't handle this alone?"
"On account of I'm stronger than you!"
"Am too!" And then more vehemently, "Am too! Am too! Am too!" This was followed by the indecipherable gibberish the two always used when arguing. This always depressed Gadget. And this time it attracted the attention of Zipper and Monterey.
"What's the commotion, mates?" Monty asked them, and when he had been told, exclaimed, "One side, buckoes!" and crashed into the door with his ample shoulder. On the third try the door opened, although the lock was now broken. It would be no trouble for Gadget to repair, though, if she wanted to. "Thanks, Monty!" Gadget beamed as the two chipmunks glared at him. As far as they were concerned it was a good thing that she looked at the burly Aussie as a second father.
"What was the big idea?" Chip asked Dale as the two returned to the living room. "I thought Foxy was your girlfriend." This caused Dale to feel a little guilty for his "infidelity" in playing up to Gadget, so after shooting a dirty look at his best friend he went to Gadget's bedroom door and knocked, assuming that Foxy had returned early that morning before he had gotten up. There was no sound in return, but that probably only meant that she was sleeping soundly. While he was still in the hallway he heard an uncharacteristic "Oh NO!" that came from Gadget's workshop. He stepped up to the open door and peeked in, asking "What's wrong, Gadget?" in a voice that indicated he didn't think it could be anything really serious.
Gadget was not one bit calmer. "It's GONE!" she said in a distracted tone Dale had never heard her use before.
"What's gone?" he asked, his own voice showing his growing uneasiness at whatever had upset Gadget so terribly. By the time she replied the other Rangers had arrived to find out what was going on.
"My . . . invention," she said as though going into shock, "I put it right in here after I tested it last night. What could have happened to it?"
They were all used to Gadget's absent-mindedness and calmed down considerably at finding such a minor situation. "Now, Gadget-luv," Monterey comforted her, "whatever it is, it'll turn up. No use gettin' yerself all in a tizzy over nothin'."
"No Monty, you don't understand!" The original panic returned to her voice. "I can't lose it! I can't! And I KNOW I just laid it right here in Daddy's old cabinet!"
Mony looked grim. It must have been some invention for her to put it in Geegaw's old handmade wooden safe. Her memories of her father were still tender and she didn't ordinarily go rummaging through his old things. "What was it, Luv?" he asked in a comforting voice.
"I--I don't know if I can tell you what it was. It was something terrible; I know that now. I thought I had done with it forever after I tested it successfully last night, and now it's gotten away from me! No telling what harm it could do!"
Now they were all upset, and all the more so because for the life of them they could not imagine Gadget inventing something like what she had just described.
Chip took her by the paw to comfort her. She was in such need of it that Dale did not resent it a bit if Chip could get the job done. "Now calm down, Gadget," Chip said, "it can't possibly be as bad as all that. You just haven't been yourself lately. You've been so stressed out ever since you took a week to build that shortwave radio, and . . . "
"You don't get it, do you?" She turned on him with an expression that gave him chills. "Right under your noses, and none of you understand! Don't you remember what Foxglove and I were discussing the very night before I started?"
"I don't," Dale answered truthfully. He had been absorbed in his all-night Japanese sci-fi classics while the others were listening with rapt attention to the girls' conversation. But Chip would have given him a bop with his hat if he hadn't been pretty terrified himself by now.
"I went ahead and built the thing!" she continued, almost hysterical. "That's what I went to the library for that next day! And then I drew up the blueprints and built it!"
"I don't understand any of this! Built what?" Dale wanted to know.
It would have been obvious to everyone but Dale if they hadn't been so on edge. But Monty turned his memory back to Foxglove's first night with them and snapped his finger at his recollection.
"That's it, Luv! You've invented that communication gizmo! The one to communicate with human blokes! Why, you should be proud. That's the most wonderful thing that's ever been thought up, and by a mouse, too! Why, your old man would . . . "
Gadget grabbed the lapels of his coat and would have shaken him silly if he hadn't been so much bigger than she. "No, Monty! You don't understand! None of you understand! I've done a terrible thing! We were never meant to communicate with humans or we'd be doing it already! And now that that thing's out there somewhere they'll come for me, Monterey! They'll come for me and this time there'll be no escape! I'll . . . I'll be dissected! DISSECTED!" And she buried her head in her forepaws and cried in a sudden fit of exhaustion.
Chip put a grim look on his face and went up to her, tapping her gently on the shoulder until she sniffed and lifted her head to look at him. None of the Rangers had ever seen her look so vulnerable and afraid. "Gadget," he said to her, "don't you worry about a thing. Remember, we're the Rescue Rangers. We've outsmarted humans before, including criminals who'd eluded the police for years, and we've foiled the most ingenuous animal criminals time after time. No one's going to dissect you. They're not even going to capture you. Now put that thought out of your mind and let's concentrate on this case. A crime has been committed here. We can solve it. Who would have stolen something from your workshop? NImnul's still in the psychiatiric hospital, and Fat Cat and Rat Capone don't even know where we are."
Gadget seemed to come to herself at Chip's words and dried her tears. She looked at Chip and thought she had never seen him look more heroic. She threw her arms around him in a most distressed and un-romantic fashion while he continued to pat her shoulder and exort her to pull herself together. Dale might have been jealous but could not bring himself to resent Chip if he could make Gadget feel better. Besides, he had a girlfriend now. "How was Foxy this morning?" he asked after a respectful silence to enable Gadget to regain her composure.
"I never saw her this morning, Dale," Gadget answered him, "and I slept a little late myself. Maybe she's spending the day somewhere else." Chip, Monty, and Zipper looked at each other in puzzled agreement. None of them had seen her. Then after a few more sniffles Gadget froze solid for just a moment. "Could it be?" she said aloud to herself. Then she went to her bedroom and pushed the door open.
"Dale, Foxglove's not here. Do you have any idea where she might be?"
"If I did then why would I have to ask you how she was doing this morning?" he said with more impatience than he really should have.
Gadget's look suddenly became grim. "Guys, I think I know who took my voice box."
One by one Zipper, Chip, and Monty started, then looked at Dale, who remained blissfully curious as to why. Then it came to him. "No! You don't think Foxy would have . . . How could you suspect her of such a thing? She's gone straight! " He folded his arms in a most obstinate and conclusive manner, "I won't even hear of it!" And for him, that settled it.
"Dale, I'm afraid it looks that way," Chip said in as gentle and sympathetic a voice as he could manage. He hoped the two most emotionally unpredictable members of his team weren't about to fall apart at the same time. He didn't think he could handle that. As a matter of fact, he knew he couldn't.
"Now take it easy, pally," Monty assured him, "we don't know for sure it was her took it. Even if she did, there was no malice in it. She was just curious is all. You know how much she wanted to be able to communicate with humans."
"That doesn't give her the right to steal from us and to endanger all our lives!" Gadget responded angrily.
"Stop talkin' that way about her!" Dale demanded.
"You should talk! You're not the one they're after!"
"You didn't seem in such terrible danger last time!"
"Last time I was human-size thanks to that invention of Nimnul's, remember?"
"Yeah well, you're not the one they've got!" They both stopped suddenly, much to the relief of the others who hadn't dared interrupt the spirited exchange. Neither of the chipmunks had ever quarrelled with Gadget before.
"Foxy!" Dale said quietly. "We've got to find her!" Gadget was also softening her attitude toward their lodger. She knew very well that Foxy had no malicious intentions but was merely obsessed, compulsive, and lonely. Her absorbtion with the radio had been an indication of that. How much the more would be her lack of control with the thing she wanted so much and which she had in fact first suggested. Gadget recalled that she herself knew of the thing's attraction. This didn't excuse what Foxglove had done, of course, but there was no need to feel so enraged towards her. She had to get her emotions back under control and be Gadget Hackwrench, Rescue Ranger.
"I have a theory as to what happened last night to trigger this," she told them. "I finally figured a safe way to test the device, or so I thought. I used it to call in a request to an FM radio station. The dj understood me and we talked just a few seconds, and he played my request."
"How would Foxy have known?" Chip asked.
"Well, sometimes an FM signal will come over the shortwave band, especially if the station is close by. That's the only thing I can think of."
"Chip, we gotta save her! She must've talked to some humans and been captured or hurt or maybe even . . . " Dale couldn't finish.
Gadget was by this time feeling very worried for Foxglove. If Foxy had endangered their lives, then she had endangered the lightheaded bat's by bringing such a temptation into the world. Gadget now felt that if something had indeed happened to Foxy, it was ultimately her fault. This was quite a change in her feelings from just moments earlier, but forgetting about herself and thinking about someone else in danger and needing her help made her feel herself again.
She walked over to a device with a horizontal antenna laying on a workbench. "I always install a homing device in really important inventions," she explained, "although someone has to activate it before I can trace it." She flipped a switch and it beeped as a small light blinked on and off in a slow but regular patttern. "It's on!" she exclaimed excitedly. "I don't know how, but she turned it on, or else I did before putting it away. Now all we have to do is follow it!" She suddenly became very solemn. "I'm afraid it's stationary, though." No one cared to comment on this at the moment. They didn't even want to think about what it might mean.
Gadget turned to Dale. "Dale," she said softly, "I'm sorry I said those things. I've just had such a fear of being recaptured by those people who know about me. I let it make me forget what my job is."
"I know you're sorry, Gadget," Dale responded, "and I hope you know that I'm sorry, too."
"I do." Then Gadget and Dale hugged, and it was Chip's turn not to feel a bit jealous.
After their hug Gadget turned to the others with a look of determination on her face. "Did everyone have enough breakfast this morning? It could be a long day." They nodded that they had. "Then follow me!" she said and led the way with the tracing device in her forepaws. They followed her down the trunk of the tree and into the crevice where the Rangermobile was kept.
"Gadget, do you think you're up to this? You were quite a bit upset a few minutes ago, and this thing's tricky enough as it is. We don't want there to be an accident." Chip was glad to see Gadget coming out of it, but he considered himself their leader. He had trouble following another's directives.
"There'll be no accident," she said with confidence, "there won't even be an anomaly, which is what I usually have, and I wish you all would learn to distinguish the two." She put on her helmet, hopped into the driver's seat, and buckled up. The others looked at one another for just a second and joined her (even Zipper had a seat) with Chip sitting next to Gadget. She turned on the ignition. The motor revved. She put it in gear and the Rangermobile began to move forward. Zipper gave his trademark trumpeting sound.
"Rescue Rangers away!" the other four called in one voice.
XII. First oblivion.
Then slowly in the darkness a consciousness began to form. At first very fuzzily, but little by little the consciousness became aware that it was a personality of some sort. Then there was a feeling of soaring through the darkness. There was not only no light but also no atmospheric force of any kind to form a resistance to the flight. Whatever it was could not recall any past experience of any sort, and so the flight was everything. It seemed right to always and only fly through the empty darkness. Then there was a jolt of self-recognition.
*I'm Foxglove,* it thought.
Foxy looked down and though she could see no ground of any sort she was relieved to find that she could once again see herself. This made her realize that there was now a light coming from somewhere. She was startled to find that the source of that light was two snowy white bats of indeterminate gender flying on either side of her. They both looked at her with friendly, smiling faces but said nothing. After a time (she couldn't tell how long it was) she thought she might as well break the silence. Her company certainly seemed in no hurry to do so. She cleared her throat and asked "Who are you?"
*Who do you think?* She could not tell which of her two companions had spoken, as the voice seemed to come from within her own mind. Her memory of a past life was still almost nil, but she knew that this was strange.
*Oh my! Not that!* she said to herself.
*Not what?* It was a different voice, obviously from the other bat. She was quite consternated to find that not only could she not tell who was speaking, but her strange escort seemed to be able to hear her thoughts. *No need trying to conceal anything from you,* she continued, *so let's hear it. You're taking me to judgment, aren't you?*
*Why would we do that?*
*Well, if you were birds instead of bats, I'd say you were angels.* She was in a bit of a huff that such superior beings were so ignorant of such obvious things.
*Birds? Why should angels look like birds?* the second voice continued. *All those scaly, reptilian feathers! Eeuw!*
*It's those self-hating humans,* the first voice put in, *Just what's wrong with being a mammal anyway? Actually, I think we're all very cute, thank you very much!*
"Well, I'm glad someone thinks so," Foxy said aloud, sick and tired of all the thinking back and forth, "but what are you going to do with me?"
"We're not going to do anything with you," the one on her left said, this time actually speaking with a real voice, "are we?"
"No. Nothing." This time the one on her right spoke. "You see, we're not really angels. We're just creations of your own subconscious imagination to help you deal with this situation."
"That's right," said "Lefty," "You're not even dead. Why don't you relax a little bit, Foxglove?"
"Yeah," his (?) counterpart said, "If you don't watch it you'll worry yourself into an early grave one of these days. 'Bye now!" Then they vanished and she was alone once again. "Well that was weird!" she thought quite truthfully to herself.
Suddenly the darkness ceased, replaced by phosphenes (honest; that's what they're called) as she regained consciousness. And with consciousness came memory, memory of who she was and all that had happened. Then came a sharp pain in her tummy.
*Oh no,* she thought, *That human! He shot me! Now after that experience of subconsciously assuring myself I'm not dead, I'm going to die anyway. I know it happens to us all eventually, but did it have to be so weird in my case?* She lowered her head and prepared for the inevitable, which judging by her pain could not be long in coming. It was then, at this moment of fear, that words began to form in her mind and to emerge from her lips. She did not understand them and could not for the life of her remember learning them at any time. In the truest "A Elbereth! Gilthoniel!" fashion she found herself saying in a language she did not understand:
"'Al chet' shechata'nu lefanekha be'ones uveratzon
ve'al chet' shechata'nu lefanekha be'imutz-ha lev . . . "
Then suddenly she opened her eyes and saw a bandage around her middle. The bullet, or whatever it was, had been removed and her injury had been tended to. She might not die after all.
Foxglove blinked as she lifted her head and tried to take in her surroundings. She was in a small cage of very fine wire mesh, though fairly transparent. She guessed from her vantage point that the cage was on a table or desk of some sort. Then looking up she saw them. Two humans. Foxy knew humans were large, but these seemed enormous, like the monsters from one of Dale's movies. They were halfway across the room from her with their backs turned, apparently studying something very intently before them on another table. Foxy shuddered at the thought that a needle might be being fitted to a bicycle pump. Suddenly she remembered the wretched device that had been the cause of all this torment and looked down to see it missing. She was a prisoner of humans whose intentions she did not know, and she had no way to communicate with them. But her hearing was as good as ever, so she listened very carefully.
First was a male voice. "Look at this!" it said admiringly, "Can you believe the complexity? And look at the compact structure. No human could do that. We are definitely dealing with alien technology here."
Next was a female voice. "Now you know that's not in line with the evidence, and it's not the conclusion reached by the Department. If you'd get space aliens out of your mind for one minute and recall the photos we found in the vault you'd realize we're dealing with something much stranger here, and a lot more disturbing."
"Photos can be faked," the man said.
The woman looked toward Foxy's cage in evident exasperation with the man and noticed her inside, blinking groggily and still wincing a bit from the pain in her tummy. Whatever had gone in there had done some damage, even if it had been taken out. "Well, it looks like our friend is waking up," the woman said.
"Just in time," the man responded, "I found what I was looking for. There!" After another minute or so of toying with the whatever-it-was he approached Foxy's cage with Gadget's contraption in his hands. He had also slipped on a pair of very thick and clumsy gloves, making his grip a trifle unsure. He opened the cage door and reached in a gloved hand, then removed Foxglove from the cage. But after hanging the device back around her neck he slipped her into the cage and closed the door once again. As he removed the gloves Foxy said, "What's the matter? Don't you want me to give you the gift of eternal life?" She winced and rubbed her tummy.
"That sounded very much like sarcasm," her target responded.
"I certainly gave it my best shot."
Then all three started as they realized what was happening. An interspecies conversation. This had to be the biggest breakthrough of all time.
"Wait until I get the recorder on," the woman said, picking up a small device from the other table and sitting it in front of Foxy's cage.
"I apologize for wounding you," the man began, "but we were expecting a larger animal than a bat. Of course it was only a tranquilizer dart. Rodent-size, but still a little big for you. It made a bit of a hole, but no major damage. You'll just have to take it easy for a while. You can thank your doctor here for seeing to that," and he nodded toward the woman.
"Thank you," Foxy said, though not in the most appreciative tone of voice.
"Are you . . . female?" The woman seemed surprised.
"What's wrong with that? You appear to share that honor." She was being sarcastic again, as she didn't think very much of herself or her captors at that point.
"Well, let's not waste tape," the woman said. "Let's get on with the serious business at hand. First, I suppose we should introduce ourselves. We are agents of the government of the United States of America, the human nation of this land. We work for an agency called the Federal Bureau of Investigation. What that means is . . . "
"The FBI?" Foxy asked uneasily. She thought she remembered Gadget saying something about being questioned by them previously, though she had no idea how it was done without some sort of communicaiton device.
"You've heard of us?" the woman asked incredulously.
"Everyone's heard of the FBI," Foxy responded, "I'm not that far out of it. And I know what country I live in, thank you very much."
"You know about the United States? The human country we're living in?"
"Listen, Lady. A whole group of Mexican free-tailed bats were ready to lay down their lives for this country during World War II." She was angry that her loyalty seemed to be in question. "Don't you ever listen to Paul Harvey?"
Then the man spoke up. "Who and what are you really?" he demanded. "If you could build something like that device you were wearing when we captured you and have been monitoring human radio broadcasts then you're certainly not one of our animals!"
"What do you know?" Foxy asked very grouchily. She was in no mood to be cooperative. "For your information, we animals have always been able to understand you humans. You just can't understand us, that's all. The only thing this is for is to decipher our talk for you."
"I can't believe that!" the man said.
"What did I tell you?" the woman said with satisfaction, "We're onto something that makes all our cases up to now look like purse-snatchings. A complete parallel society has coexisted with humanity all through history and we knew nothing of it, while they have had a perfectly good knowledge of us. And it's our fellow earth creatures we have always taken so for granted, too! That for your 'space aliens!'" and she snapped a finger triumphantly. Then turning back to Foxglove she said, "You are a memeber of an organization called the Rescue Rangers. Correct?"
Foxy sniffled at the mention of her former hosts. "No," she said.
"No? Then what were you doing at their headquarters?"
"And what are you doing with such a device? Did you build it yourself?" the man asked.
"No," she said sullenly. These humans seemed to know more than a little about the Rescue Rangers. "I had been staying with the Rangers for a couple of weeks, that's all. I'm in love with one of the leaders." And she blushed a little. "I was hoping to marry him some day."
"One of the leaders of the Rescue Rangers is a bat?" the man asked.
"No. He's a chipmunk."
"A bat marry a chipmunk?" he asked.
Foxglove fairly glared at him. "Hey, what is this? The Fifties?"
"Sorry!" he said. "Back to you," he said to his partner.
"We would like to ask you some questions about the Rescue Rangers," the woman said.
At this point Foxy became unhinged. "Oh, why don't you leave them alone?" she asked, "they've never hurt anyone. They only do good. They've helped humans out zillions of times, including your police when they couldn't get the job done. They're not criminals." Then she lowered her head and said in a very subdued tone, "I'm the criminal. Take me instead. Only please leave them in peace."
The two agents were speechless for a while, and then the woman started to ask something. "Just what kind of criminal . . . ?" she said, but her partner motioned for her to be silent before she could finish. "I think we're going about this the wrong way," he said very quietly, although Foxglove could hear every word. Then he turned to her.
"Who are you?" he asked.
XIII. "My name is Foxglove."
"Foxglove? That's an unusual name. Did your mother give it to you?"
"I guess I gave it to myself. I don't remember my mother. Well, I remember clinging to something soft and warm as it flew, but just barely. I was just a baby."
"So why did you give yourself that name?"
"Well, when I fell from the warm thing I landed in some kind of plant. I do remember that. It was daytime and there was a human child in a stroller who saw me and started laughing and reaching for me. His mother looked up from reading a paper and said, 'Oh, see the pretty foxglove.' I thought she meant me but I learned later it was the plant. It was in a park or something." Foxy's tone was sad and resigned and she spoke slowly. She had no idea what her captors would do with her after the interrogation and she didn't care very much, at least at first. But as the interview proceeded she began recalling more and more things she had long forgotten and her tone improved a little. She also began to hope she could manage to get away somehow.
"How did you manage to survive?" the man continued.
"I'm not really sure. Instinct, I suppose. I had to learn to fly and hunt on my own. At first other bats would occasionally come by and share their food with me."
"Really?" The man's voice was incredulous.
"Sure. We do that," she said matter-of-factly. "But I never hooked up with any of them. I always roosted by myself. I'm not sure why. I guess I just always felt that I didn't belong any place." She sniffled a little here. "And then," she continued after a pausing reluctantly, "I met Winifred."
The male agent looked at his partner who produced a dossier from a brown envelope and began to read. "It's right here. Winifred Cadwallader was a strange woman who was hired as a cleaning lady for the night shift of the main branch of the public library about two years ago. A grouch too, apparently. For some reason she got to spending less and less time cleaning and more and more time in the stacks on witchcraft and the occult. She was finally fired. She swore she'd get even and began living in an old abandoned laundromat after she was kicked out of her apartment for non-payment of rent. About a year ago she reemerged with some sort of flying machine she had invented and invaded the annual policemen's picnic and snatched the Chief's toupee right off his head. Nothing serious, but it was a misdemeanor. But then she went big-time. Stole a moon rock on display at the local museum. Two mornings later the police apprehended her and the rock after receiving an anonymous note on a sergeant's desk at headquarters. They found the old girl almost catatonic, in some sort of trance, like one of her spells had gone awry. It was an open-and-shut-case, and now she's in the state women's prison. She should probably be in the mental hospital, though. The museum theft was a felony, so it's going to be a while before she gets out."
"I should be in there with her," Foxglove said forlornly, and before either human could contradict her she looked up and said, "how do you know so much about Winifred?"
The woman held up the dossier and the envelope she had drawn it from. "Just one of many unusual cases mysteriously solved by our mutual friends," she answered. "We assume that's how you met them?"
"You haven't told us how you met this Winifred," the man said.
"Well," Foxy continued, "I was roosting in a shrub one day when I woke up in the evening just in time to see a big snake coiled and ready to strike. Some kind of constrictor; a rat snake or pine snake or something. I was so scared all I could do was scream, and before I knew it a human hand grabbed the snake and put him in a bag and then it came back and grabbed me. I was terrified, or course. The hand belonged to Winifred, and she took both of us to that laundromat and put us in cages. Separate ones, fortunately." She shivered at the recollection. "She fed us for a while--there were lots of poor rats and juicy bugs around the old place--and all the while she was mixing up this really smelly stuff. It was horrible! And then one evening after making some sort of explosion she came over to talk to us and when I said something she understood it! I thought that was the most terrific thing in the world. Now I had a friend to talk to, and a human at that! Humans always fascinated me, especially after that little kid and the mother who said 'Look at the pretty foxglove.' But it didn't take long to realize what kind of friend she was." She became downcast again at the thought but continued.
"She let us out of our cages--she said she was a witch and didn't need them to keep us from getting away, and we believed her--and then she started ordering us around and threatening us with all sorts of terrible things if we didn't fetch and carry for her. She even rented a movie and showed it to us on the old TV and VCR she'd brought with her to the laundromat. I think it was called 'The Secret of NIMH' or some such weird title. She told us it was a documentary and threatened to turn us over to NIMH if we didn't behave, along with turning us into everything we'd ever heard of and several things we hadn't. I was deathly afraid of these people, whoever they were, and until you said you were from the FBI I was afraid you might be them."
"Did Winifred start you on what you consider to be your criminal career?" her interrogator continued.
"Well, it's not really her fault. I must have had bad inclinations from the beginning. I can see that now."
"I doubt that," he said, attempting to comfort her, "please continue."
"Well we were all terrified of her, so much so that I became acquainted with the snake (his name was William). Besides, she kept him fed pretty well. I wouldn't have trusted him too far, though."
"This snake--she also communicated with him?"
"Sure she did. If you can call that communicating." She rubbed her head at the memory of the screeching voice.
"You mean reptiles are part of this parallel society as well?" He sounded genuinely surprised, even after all he had already learned.
"Of course. Why does that surprise you? There was a spider, too."
"A spider?" This time the woman sounded surprised. "But they're so nice!"
"I know," she said, "There's one in every bunch, I guess." She was obviously thinking of herself again.
"Whatever became of this snake and spider?" the man asked next.
"I don't know. I haven't seen or heard from them since Winifred was captured, and good riddance. But I don't really know how much of their meanness was natural and how much came from simply being afraid of her."
"And just what criminal activity did you engage in personally?" This time he tried to sound sarcastic to indicate he didn't think she was nearly as bad as she believed and to get her to thinking about what she had just said about the others.
"Well, I can't recall anything too specific. I was just a silly girl and got yelled at a lot. Mostly it was Bud (that's what the others called William) and Lou (that was the spider) who did the work. Even as a criminal I was irresponsible. Can you believe that?"
"But that was a good thing!" the woman put in. "It sounds to me like you didn't do anything wrong."
"Oh, but I did. That moon rock . . . remember? Well, after William and Lou stole it from the museum I grabbed it in my feet and carried it up to Winifred."
"But you've repented of it long ago," the man said, "and I don't think you'll ever do anything like that again."
"But . . . but I HAVE done it again, don't you understand? Where do you think I got this horrible thing?" She lifted the bat detector slightly. "I STOLE it! From the only real friends I'll ever have! First I helped Winifred and then when I thought I was actually a good person after all I stole this and flew away with it. You certainly don't think I built it?"
The man looked at his partner and dropped his head slightly. "Actually, I think we have a very good idea of who built it," he said in as quiet a voice as he could manage. Then he asked Foxy, "So did we . . . uh . . . apprehend you right after you'd stolen it? You were just outside their tree."
"No," she said quietly, obviously trying to sort things out in her mind, "I was bringing it back."
"You don't sound like a criminal. Maybe a delinquent, and a very mild case at that," the woman atttempted to comfort her. But Foxy had finished sorting and had made the decision to come down solidly on the side of self-pity, so she would have none of it.
"But I AM a criminal! Maybe not so much by what I've done, but I definitely have criminal tendencies. I can't deny it any longer. The world would be much better off without me! Take me to the bicycle pump."
"They don't use the bicycle pump in this state anymore," the man said. "It's considered cruel and unusual punishment." He had tired of trying to comfort the yound bat and decided to try the cold-and-disinterested treatment. Besides, she had recalled enough good things about herself to realize she wasn't that bad. It was mostly just emotional masochism now, a very pleasurable drug.
"Well then, lock me away in one of those boot camps for incorrigible women. Or have the namby-pambies done away with those, too?"
"Don't worry about your fate just yet," he said, "it's too early."
"Too early?" she moaned.
"Your turn," he said to the woman. She stopped the tape and turned it over, and then began the second phase of the questioning.
XIV "Just what kind of bat are you?" she began.
Foxglove wasn't sure she understood the question. "Well . . . I'm not a very good one, I suppose."
"No, no! I mean, what kind of bat are you species-wise. Do you understand?"
"Oh. Well, I'm the kind that eats insects."
"I don't know much about the names you humans have come up with."
The woman wrote something in her notebook and then said into the mic "Species--undetermined. Probably Myotis lucifugus or Pipistrellus subflavus." Then she turned back to Foxy.
"Now we want you to tell us about your culture," she said.
"Culture? What culture?"
"This parallel culture of animals we've been coexisting with for all these millenia without knowing about it," the man put in a bit impatiently. He was not so much angry with Foxglove as curious and anxious to learn all he could.
"Well," Foxy replied after taking time to think, "I can't really tell you very much. Like I said, I've always been a bit of a loner. All I know about for sure comes from my time with Winifred" (she shivered again here) "and with the Rescue Rangers."
"Rescue Rangers," the woman repeated looking once again through the dossier, "two chipmunks and two mice, we believe. Headquartered in that giant oak tree in the city park. One of the mice, apparently female, seems to have some knowledge of mechanics and electronics. And we know that's where your translator came from, by the way. We suspected as much even before you confessed to stealing it from them. At least I did." She gave her partner an "I told you so" look and then continued. "I assume the tree is wired for electricity?"
Foxglove was really confused now. These human total strangers seemed to know almost as much about the Rangers as she did. What more could they possibly want to know other than some way to capture them or to do them some kind of mischief? "One of them is a fly," she said in a low voice, afraid not to cooperate and yet afraid of what might happen to her friends if she did, "I don't know why you don't know about him. We're friends." She was sure the last statement would provoke some comment, but it did not. The agents were already prepared to find out any number of unlikely things.
"A fly? Is that what this is?" the woman asked and then showed Foxglove some blown-up pictures of her friends, apparently on vacation. The woman was pointing to a green blur that appeared over the heads of the others.
"Yes." Then she looked up at them. "You don't seem to need any information from me on the Rescue Rangers," she said, "What do you really want?"
"She's right," the man said, "we'll know all we need to know about them soon enough." Foxy didn't like the sound of that at all.
"I'm way ahead of you," the woman said, and then turning back to Foxglove continued, "Why don't you tell us what you know of animal culture in general? This is a great and unprecedented opportunity for us humans to learn about it."
"But I don't know that much about it, really!" she said, frustrated at having to repeat this information yet again.
"Well then, tell us about bat culture. I know you said you've been relatively isolated, but you must have some instincts that will tell you these things."
Foxy just looked puzzled and a little afraid of what these humans might do to her if she didn't obey them. She was also wondering what they would do with her when they finished their questions. The woman saw her troubled expression and suggested, "Do you have a moral code of any kind? A taboo, for example?" She added the qualification because she didn't want to trigger another orgy of self-condemnation.
"A taboo?" Foxglove thought for a while. "Oh, a taboo. Well, I won't eat lightning bugs."
"What is the reason for this?"
"Oh, I don't know. I suppose I'm kind of afraid that the stuff that makes the light might be poisonous. But I'm not sure that's the reason. They're so pretty and harmless. Eating them just seems wrong somehow. But that's just me; I don't know about other bats."
This disappointed the woman; she wanted to learn about the culture of bats in general. So she made another suggestion. "I suppose bats don't think much of Bram Stoker?"
"Well, let me put it this way," the woman began uncomfortably, "about a hundred years ago he wrote this book called . . . "
"Don't say it!" Foxy interrupted, covering her ears with her wings, "as a matter of fact we DON'T think much of him, and we don't think a heck of a lot of Meatloaf, either!" After a few seconds she blushed beneath her fur and said penitently, "I'm sorry I used a curse word. I've never done that before. I'll try never to do it again."
"Don't worry about it," the woman said, "I've used worse words than that when I've broken a nail. But you used another word, and one that's much more important. Do you know what it was?"
"No," Foxy said honestly with a confused look on her face.
"You said 'we.' Do you realize what that means?"
"As I said, it means that despite your relative isolation from other bats, you have instincts inherited from untold generations of your species that provide you with a frame of reference--a heritage, if you will. You yourself said that you survived as a young orphan by instinct. And just now you told me how bats in general feel about two individuals. Herbert Spencer explained the whole thing."
"Who's he?" Foxy asked.
"You don't like him either," the man said, "He wasn't very nice."
Foxy said nothing at this, but deep inside she knew that he was right.
"Do you have holidays?" the woman asked quickly, hoping to take advantage of the breakthrough into Foxglove's subconscious knowledge.
"The Fourth of July is coming up; that's our second favorite holiday," she answered, barely skipping a beat.
"Why is that?" The woman knew this still might be just a personal taste.
"Oh, the time of year. There are lots of pesky insects, and the big crowds of humans at picnics and such make it a regular feast. And we have fun chasing the Roman candle balls and bottle rockets--not to catch them, you understand, but just for fun. Besides, it's a tradition. We've celebrated July Fourth from the beginning, ever since . . . ever since . . . " A look of surprised recognition came into Foxy's face.
"You said it's your second favorite holiday," the woman said, afraid her detainee might be losing her primal connection, "which is your favorite?"
Once again the light of recognition came into Foxy's face, but she just lowered her head and said, "You wouldn't understand."
"You see, Foxglove," the woman continued, a bit disappointed but not wanting to push their informant too far, "you know far more than just what you have learned through your own limited personal experience. That is why I'm asking you these questions. Now take your time and think deeply . . . does your species have any distinctive cultural beliefs?"
Something deep inside Foxy's mind seemed to click in at this point and she thought deeply for a moment. "I . . . I don't know where this is coming from, but I have this feeling . . . ."
"Good!" the woman said cheerily, still trying to put their captive at ease, "what is it telling you?"
"Well, on the one hand I'm getting the idea that this corrupt material universe is perishing and will be replaced by a purely spiritual one, but I'm also getting the assurance that 'There's always one more bug!' I guess that's kind of contradictory, huh?"
"Don't worry about it," the man comforted her, "religion is like that." His partner shot him a dirty look for that remark and then asked Foxy to continue.
"There . . . is . . . a . . . balance," she said after another moment of deep thought, "a balance between good and evil in the world. That explains the State of Texas!" she added triumphantly.
The woman's mouth fell open. "Wha?" is all she could manage to say.
"Well, you see," Foxy continued, flush with her new-found authoity on the subject, "good and evil being in balance, where there is little of good or evil there is little of its counterpart. But where there is an abundance of one, there is also an abundance of the other."
"You mean . . . Texas?" her questioner asked incredulously.
"Sure! You see, Texas has the most bats of any state in the Union. Understand? Now we bats represent goodness and light and stuff. That is why Texas also . . . " and here she dropped her voice very low, " . . . has the most of . . . those other . . . things." And she gulped audibly.
"What other things?" the woman wanted to know.
"You know. They come out at night. And eat ants and stuff. And . . . and get killed on the highways."
"Opossums?" the man asked.
"No! Remember, this is TEXAS. I suppose they're kinda like possums, but they . . . look like giant . . . woodlice or something." She was obviously very uncomfortable talking about this subject.
"Armadillos!" the woman excaimed in sudden recognition.
"SHHHHH!!!" Foxy reacted vehemently, and the terror on her face and in her voice took her captors by surprise. "That is an EVIL word!" she said in as loud a whisper as she could manage, "Never . . . NEVER say it out loud!"
"That is simply ludicrous," the man said, "Why, when I was a boy . . . "
"No!" Foxy said, covering her ears again, "I don't want to hear about it! Horrible, unnatural things! They're creatures of darkness, I tell you! Supernatural monsters! They belong to The Other Side, and you don't ever . . . EVER . . . want to meet one!"
"Okay," the woman said after an uncomfortable pause, "we'll put that in the 'prejudices and superstitions' department." It was a good thing she was writing in her notebook or she would have seen the look Foxy gave her. Then looking up she said, "We really need to be bringing this thing to a close. Is there anything else you can tell us?"
Foxy was still sore about that last remark about "superstitions," but after a while she resumed thinking. Then she looked up at them and said, "Of course! That 'balance' again! Each of us has a proportional amount of good and evil in our natures. Where one is weak so is the other, and ditto for where one is strong. It's up to us to choose which one we'll follow. I suppose I haven't done a very good job there, have I?"
"Go on," the woman said. Even though the tape was running she was now writing furiously in her notebook at every statement Foxglove made.
"Well," Foxy continued, a little disappointed at getting no pity, "that means that really really good people are potentially the most evil, and really really evil people have a potential for doing the most good. Hmmm . . . ."
"I don't know where all this is coming from, but this next one is really crazy. I'm getting the idea that all the evil in the world, and especially arrogance (Oh, I know this isn't making any sense!) comes from a failure to esteem oneself properly. Isn't that crazy?"
"Not really," the man said.
"And that means that you humans . . . You humans . . . Oh my goodness!" And then a look of awe came over her and she crept back into the far corner of her cage and cringed. "I--I'll try to do whatever you say, but please don't hurt me!" she said.
"Now calm down, honey!" the woman said, trying to comfort her. She also felt she needed a little comforting herself at this sudden and unforseen change in Foxy's demeanor. "No one's going to hurt you! We're almost done with you, and then we're simply going to let you go free. Isn't that right?" she asked her partner.
"Absolutely," he answered.
"Y--yes ma'am," Foxglove responded, still unnerved by whatever it was she had thought of.
The man was becoming very time conscious and was looking at his watch quite often, obviously a silent hint to his partner to speed things up. She on the other hand was now upset at their guest's new groveling attitude and seemed reluctant to continue the interrogation. Again, the man did not mean to be cruel but was simply consumed by curiosity and anxiousness about the time. Finally he snatched the notepad away from his partner, took out his own inkpen, and asked in a hurried and deadpan manner, "What do you advocate as a way to cure the ills of society?" The woman shook her head. She hadn't really thought to ask a question like that, and she wasn't sure this was the time, but her partner had a tendency to go off on these tangents. *He's listened to that Frugivores album once too often* she thought.
"We advocate a non-corporative organic society as a cure for the atomism, rootlessness, and alienation of modern life," Foxglove answered, still hunched down in the far corner of the cage and trembling. Then she got the courage to look up again at her captors and asked, "What does that mean?"
"It means you'll probably be deported," the man answered in an annoyed tone of voice. Then without a second's pause he asked, "Are you right wing or left wing?"
"Actually, I have one of each," she said meekly, stretching out her arms and looking at them, "but we don't endorse specific candidates or parties."
"What's your favorite kind of music?"
"One morning just before sunrise Dale--that's my boyfriend, I hope--and I saw this weird image on television; it was a bunch of circles of different colors with an Indian's head in the center. I liked the music that was playing, but Dale said it was corny. Who is Herb Alpert?"
"You liked him until he started singing. Believe me."
"Now that's enough of this nonsense!" the woman finally interjected, snatching the notepad back again, "We can't possibly learn it all, and we probably don't really need to! She's scared, and you're not helping things. I think we should call it quits right now. I'm not sure I really want to learn these things, anyway."
The man looked at her disgustedly. "A surprising lack of curiosity for one trained in the scientific method," he said, "but you're right about one thing--we probably have very little time to prepare for our . . . "
"Shhh!" the woman cautioned him. Then she turned to Foxglove and said, "Honey, we know this has been a frightening experience for you, and we apologize. But we're getting about ready to let you go now, so don't worry about a thing. We never intended to harm you." Then she walked over to the other table, put on some very thin rubber gloves, and took a bottle and a syringe out of a bag and began to fill the syringe. Foxglove was still cringing and looking down at the floor of her cage, or else she would have been even more frightened than she already was. As she approached Foxy's cage with the syringe the woman spoke again. "Now honey, you've been under a lot of stress, and that's not healthy. So I'm going to give you just a little shot of something to relax you. It won't put you to sleep, but it will make you just a little drowsy until your body calms down again. And this time the needle's an appropriate size, so it won't hurt you like last time."
Foxglove heard this too late to do much about it (and really she was still too sore to do much of anything), as when she looked back up the woman was already opening the cage door. One hand seized Foxglove firmly (though the woman tried to be as gentle as she could) and the other inserted the needle down beneath where she had been wounded. This time there was only a little sting that stopped almost instantaneously with the needle's removal, but that didn't keep Foxy from squealing in a really heartrending fashion. "Now, now," the woman said, really distressed at the fear displayed by their helpless captive, "it's all over now. See? Now it doesn't hurt anymore, does it?" Then she gently put Foxglove back down on the floor of her cage and closed the cage door.
"That should do it," the woman said to her partner.
"Then let's get out of here," he said, and turning off the lights of the room, the two humans made a hurried exit.
Foxglove was alone again.
XV. Foxglove yawned. The humans were right; the drug did not put her to sleep but it did relax her considerably. Even the fear she had begun to display during the questioning drained away from her, leaving her with a strange feeling of contentment. She did not even think too much about how this fit in with the agents' promise to release her when they were finished.
She did not have a good sense of time in this state and so had no idea how long it lasted; it could have been hours or only a few minutes as far as she could tell. But finally she heard a strange humming noise from outside the room that gradually grew louder. She wasn't really afraid, thanks to her shot, but she was curious. Then the sound seemed to fill the room and to echo off the walls. Then it stopped suddenly and she heard voices. There was a pop and something landed on the edge of the table her cage was on. Next she heard a familiar female voice say, "There she is!"
As you may remember, the Rescue Rangers had been tracking Foxy in the Rangermobile by means of a signaling device Gadget had installed in the "voice box." It had taken them about twenty minutes to weave in and out of city traffic until they came to an industrial park on the outskirts of town. In this industrial park was an old, abandoned warehouse that had been built to store "Bonkers" memorabilia. The building was decayed enough that it supplied several rodent-size access points (known technically as "holes") both into the building itself and into just about every room. The signal quite naturally guided them into the very room in which Foxglove was located. It was smaller than the actual storage area; it must have been an office or break area of some kind, but really it was larger than one of these, and there were no windows. The room was of course very dark, but rodent eyes see well enough after adjusting that there were no accidents. When the signal indicated that they were "hot," Gadget cut off the motor and, carrying the tracking mechanism in her forepaws, came to Foxy's table, one of two in the room. She shouted to Chip for the grappler, handing him the tracker when he brought it, and aimed at the ledge of the table. A hook on a cord shot out of the gun barrel and attached itself to the ledge, providing a way up for the four Rangers who could not fly. Gadget climbed up first, and it was her voice that Foxy heard.
Dale was not far behind Gadget, and upon seeing the lump of fur in the corner of the cage excaimed, "What have they done to her?" and ran up to her. Foxglove recognized his voice and answered, "Is that you, Dale? I'm all right, really. Just a little sleepy. But I don't think it's safe for you to be here. Maybe you'd better leave!" "We're ALL going to leave!" he said, at which point he was joined by Chip, Monterey, and Zipper.
The wire mesh was too small for Zipper to fly into the cage, but Monty calmly walked around it until he found the door. "This shouldn't be a problem!" he said confidently as he rolled up his sleeves. Then he gripped the door with both forepaws and gave a mighty pull, and slammed himself into the cage wire as the door opened without the slightest struggle. It had not even been latched! Foxglove could have opened it herself if she had known this and hadn't been drugged. As he recovered himself Monty said, "Blimey! Who puts somebody in a cage and then doesn't lock it?"
"Lucky for us!" Chip said impetuously, "Foxglove, the door's open. You can come out now." But she just lay in her corner and yawned.
"She's been drugged," Gadget said, "we'll have to go in and carry her out."
Of course it wouldn't have taken all of them to do this; two of them could have accomplished it easily enough, and certainly Monty could have done it by himself. But they had been so worried about her that they all went in to have a look at her, Zipper included (as he considered himself her sponsor). But as they crowded around her the cage door suddenly snapped shut and the lights came back on. Monty pushed on it but this time it WAS locked, and not by any lock on the inside that he could find. Then a door opened on the other side of the room and two humans entered, one male and one female. They held out badges and the man said, "Hold it right there; FBI."
Gadget reacted in perfect horror. She could only stare at the approaching humans with a frozen look of terror on her face. Chip and Dale suddenly left Foxglove and positioned themselves in front of Gadget, facing the agents with fury written all over their faces. There was nothing romantic or physical about this; their friend was in danger and they were both willing to sell their lives dearly to protect her. Monty positioned himself in front of the boys and again began rolling up his sleeves. Foxglove, still too drowsy to be really very afraid, simply looked at this display of pure friendship. *I wonder if anyone will ever feel that way about me,* she thought, sighing.
"Please remain calm," the man continued, "we're from the government and we're here to help you. Let me rephrase that," he began again after a pause.
Dale now ran up to the front of the cage directly in front of the agents and shouted, "You big bullies! What have you done to Foxglove?"
"We're sorry, but we can't understand you," the woman said, " but we know you can understand us. Be assured that we mean you no harm whatsoever. None of you is in any danger. Please gather around your ingenuous translator device and perhaps we can converse."
On hearing the compliment about her invention and the agents' assurances Gadget actually began to calm down. "We might as well try," she said, "it's built to translate a bat's speech, but I was able to make that radio request. I'm sure I can find a setting where it'll work for all of us, except maybe Zipper." So saying, she approached Foxglove and removed the device from around her neck. She found it still on its original setting and assumed that a bat's voice was versitile enough to use the entire dial, so she simply spoke into the mic. "Can you understand me now?"
Both agents showed astonishment upon hearing the voice, indicating that they had indeed understood. "Another female," the woman said smugly to her partner. "Of course I am," Gadget continued, "my name is Gadget Hackwrench, and I'm a member of the Rescue Rangers."
"We know," the man said, once again producing the enlarged photos and showing them to the captives, "we've been expecting you. Now that we're all here, I suppose introductions are in order. I am agent Fox Mulder, and this is my partner, agent Dana Scully."
"Partner?" a still somewhat sleepy voice asked as Foxglove listened intently to the names, "I assumed you two were married." The agents looked at each other in horror. "Heaven forefend!" they exclaimed in one voice.
Gadget responded by introducing the other Rangers. When she came to Zipper the agents had to approach the cage and look very carefully. "Oh, so that's him," Agent Scully said finally, "he's very unusual-looking for a fly, isn't he?"
Zipper "humphed" and thought *So sue me. I came from another planet and passed through nine different radiation belts,* which, if Agent Mulder knew, he would have taken it seriously and detained him a long time.
"I said, what have you done to Foxy?" Dale demanded, even louder and angrier than before.
"She's fine," Scully answered, "the bandage is from a tranquilizer dart that was just a mite too big. But I attended to her myself and she's going to be perfectly all right. We gave her another shot about ten minutes before you arrived just to keep her drowsy enough that she wouldn't escape too soon and so we'd have all of you together."
"Which of you invented the translator?" Mulder asked.
"I did," Gadget responded in a subdued tone. "Are you going to take me away from my friends?" and she teared a little at the thought.
"Absolutely not!" Mulder assured her, "we're going to ask you a few questions and then you're all perfectly free to go."
"You mean," Gadget said, with her relief showing in her voice, "that the government didn't send you to abduct me and force me to use my vast natural talents to create machines of mass destruction?"
"Absolutely not!" Mulder said, "we were making a little unauthorized search of the Bureau archives and came upon your file from that time you were questioned before. That's also how we got these"--referring again to the photos. "As a matter of fact the government doesn't even know we're here, and they'd probably assasinate us if they found out."
"But," Foxglove asked hesitatingly, "but I don't get it. Our government is good, isn't it?"
"NO!" he thundered at the little bat, "It is NOT good! It CANNOT be trusted! As a matter of fact, the only thing worse than the government is those right-wing kooks who don't trust the government!"
"But you don't seem to trust it," she protested.
"We're left-wing kooks who don't trust the government," he explained. "That's different."
"Oh," she said, not really understanding, but not really wanting to, either.
"But that can't be true!" Chip protested, "By what you've said, we can trust you!"
"NO!" the man said again, "Don't trust ME; don't trust HER (he pointed to his partner); don't trust EACH OTHER; don't trust YOURSELVES! TRUST NO ONE!!!"
This really bothered Foxglove. "Is there no one or nothing that we can believe in?" she asked earnestly.
"There is only one thing," Mulder said.
"What is that?"
He answered without hesitation. "Professional wrestling!"
"The very best in sports entertainment!" Scully said in a rare moment of agreement with her partner.
"It can't really be fake because evil always wins--the true mark of reality," Mulder continued.
"See it soon at an arena near you!" Scully added.
"I will!" Foxy said, a sound of awe in her voice.
Mulder walked over to the Rangermobile and picked it up carefully, examining it with wonder. He noticed the tracker and the grappler as well. "More of your inventions, Miss, uh, Hackwrench?"
"That's right." She wasn't quite as apprehensive about answering questions after their assurances.
"You have an enormous intelligence," he told her, "The tracking device you installed in the translator shows an extraordinary workmanship. Of course we half expected such a thing, but we had one ready to install in it ourselves just in case. We couldn't have been sure that you had a device to track it, though. Your foresight saved us a lot of anxiety. Now what about that invention that enlarged you to human size?"
"That wasn't mine. That was Professor Nimnul's," she confessed.
Agent Scully pulled another page out of the envelope and skimmed it. "Norton Nimnul. Earned two master's degrees from MIT but was expelled shortly before presenting his doctoral dissertation. The reason isn't clear; the school hushed it up and refuses to talk about it. Probably had to do with unethical conduct or really unconventional theories. Apparently he's one of our friends' regular clients. He's in his usual suite in the psychiatric ward right now. Seems he keeps seeing chipmunks."
Mulder's face suddenly became darkly paranoiac. "Scully," he said, "do you realize something? WE'RE seeing chipmunks! What if they put US away? Those photos could have been planted! These animals could have been sent by the higher-ups to entrap us and keep us from discovering THE TRUTH!!!"
"Down, boy!" she said, putting down the papers and massaging her partner's face and neck. She turned to the Rangers. "Don't worry about it. He gets this way sometimes. Now why don't you tell us about your organization? Don't worry, we'll keep it confidential." Indeed, the agents weren't taping or taking notes on any of this.
So all the Rangers, with the exception of Zipper, told of their lives before they met (which means the two agents knew more about Chip and Dale themselves than anyone else in the world). Next they told of their first adventure together, that of Claudaine's theft of the ruby and his framing of Detective Drake. Then they reviewed for the agents some of their most exciting cases since that time. Both Scully and Mulder were astonished at how many human crimes would have gone unsolved had not these supposedly "lowly" rodents taken an interest, and they were especially intrigued by the idea of an animal criminal element with its own kingpins and small-time hoods (someone named Fat Cat seemed to be the most prominent of the former). They knew that these cases would always be beyond the reach of human law. Finally they heard the Rangers tell of their travels to various parts of the world and their adventures there. Of course the agents were prepared to hear of things beyond their previous ideas of the lives of rodents and flies, but even so they were awestruck at learning the full extent of this ancient and yet unknown world they had discovered. And Foxglove simply glowed as the Rangers recounted their adventures, imagining that Dale was the hero of every single one of them.
Then came the question from Mulder that Scully had been expecting, and she shook her head as she heard him ask it. "Have you encountered extraterrestrial life forms?"
"What?" Monty asked. "Oh, you mean space aliens. Dale there was abducted once."
That did it. A look almost of madness came upon Mulder's face, and he picked up the notepad and began writing again.
"Where were they from?" he asked.
"Fleebledrox or something like that," Dale answered. "I never heard of that planet before. It's probably further away than the moon."
"What were they like?"
"Kinda stupid," Dale recalled. "They thought I was one of them. The food was terrible."
"What did they look like?" he asked next.
"Like just about anything they wanted to," Dale answered. "At the time I thought it was pretty awesome, but looking back, they don't seem to be any great shakes. I don't think we'll ever have to worry about them conquering the earth or anything." Foxglove's mouth was wide open. She had never heard this one before. She had picked someone so beyond her to fall in love with!
Then came the finale. "Did you see a woman on board? Who perhaps looked similar to me, only four years younger?"
Dale looked a little surprised by the question. "No. Of course not. Should I have?"
Scully could see tears forming in her partner's eyes, and it pained her. She thought he was a little strange sometimes, but these were emotions that she respected. After all, it had not happened to her family. Mulder whispered under his breath, "I swear, Samantha, I will find you one day." Scully heard him because she was so close, but among the animals only Foxglove heard. She was consumed by curiosity as to what this meant, but she saw the emotion Mulder was going through and sensed it must be some deep and intense personal pain. She did not want to intrude.
After a while Scully asked another question: "Do you have any idea what makes those crop circles?"
Foxy and the Rangers simply looked at each other, but Monterey Jack looked down at his feet and seemed very uncomfortable. Finally he cleared his throat and said in a low voice, "Them ain't no space aliens makes those, luv."
Suddenly everyone's eyes were on him. "What does make them?" she asked.
It was a few minutes before he would speak again, and once more it was in a low voice with his eyes towards his feet. "Why, you know, luv," he said, "That's the Good People that do that. I'd put the whole subject completely outta my mind, if I was you." The way he said this made a cold shiver run down the backs of everyone in the room, and they somehow knew he was right.
After another moment of uncomfortable silence Gadget spoke up. "If you don't mind, I'd like to ask a question."
"Shoot," Scully said.
"Exactly how did you trap us in here? And I'd really like to know why a decayed and abandoned old place like this still has electricity."
"I'll answer that," Mulder said, beginning to recover from his dark thoughts. "We monitored the room with an infrared camera that can see in the dark, which we had planted there." He pointed to a hole in the wall behind the other table. "When we saw all of you had entered the cage we turned on the electromagnet in the cage door."
"Simple yet diabolical," Gadget commented.
"As to the lighting," he continued, "it's really amazing. When a city expends public funds on an industrial park, it can't bring itself to simply admit a business has failed. When the 'Bonkers' thing fell through--which was about ten seconds into the opening of the first episode, you will remember--the city didn't want its investment of the people's tax dollars to be a waste. So they expended even more public money to buy the property and keep the power connected. Your tax dollars at work. Well, not your tax dollars. But don't ask me how old abandoned laundromats still manage to have electricity. I can't help anybody out of THAT dilemma, no siree."
"Mulder," Agent Scully said quietly.
He looked at his watch. "You're right," he said, "Time to put this little project to bed." Then he reached into the envelope and extracted the small original photographs from which the enlargements had been made. "I believe these are yours," he said, "Be more careful in the future."
He turned of the electromagnet on the outside of the cage door and handed them in to Gadget, who accepted them. "We will!" she said. It appeared to her that these humans were friends, after all.
"As to these," Mulder held up the enlargements, the dossier, and the notes and tape recordings they had made, "be assured that we will destroy them so that no one from the Bureau bothers you again. Just remember that your local boys in blue got a look at you the last time you were questioned. As to the Bureau archives, fortunately they are now all computerized. We happen to have some close friends who are hackers, and I can assure you that in a very short time no trace of your existence will remain in any files whatsoever of the Federal Bureau of Investigation."
This all sounded too good to be true, and the animals' expressions showed their relief and gratitude.
"Now allow me," Mulder said as he picked up the Rangermobile onto the table and placed the tracker and grappler in it.
Dale prepared to help the now recovering Foxy to her feet when the agent spoke again. "Please, if you don't mind. May I . . . ? I mean, I've never held a bat before, and we do sort of have the same first name . . . you wouldn't . . . do anything to me, would you?"
Foxy, now with complete trust in these people despite her earlier fears, merely looked at him slyly. "We must recruit disciples!" she said.
"Well then, never mind," he said quickly.
All the Rangers gathered round to assist Dale, but he would have none of it. "This is my job!" he insisted.
Agent Scully approached and looked the couple over carefully. "Is this one your boyfriend?"
"Why not the cute one?"
"Well, there's more to Dale than meets the eye," she explained. "Besides, you should see his echolocation profile. Rrrrrow!" Dale's ears became very hot.
It is now that we come to the climax of this story. If you will remember, poor Dale had avoided any direct eye contact with Foxglove since he had first met her due to his over-familiarity with popular culture. But as he reached down to help her to her feet it happened. A direct hit. He felt as if he had been smashed in the head with a mallet.
"Lu-CEEEEEEELLE!!!" he finally managed to exclaim.
"Dale, are you all right?" she asked him, her voice full of concern as he froze there with his tongue hanging out. "What happened?"
"Foxy . . . for cryin' out loud . . . !"
"What is it, Dale?" she cried.
"You . . . you're BEAUTIFUL!" he exclaimed.
"I'm WHAT?" she exclaimed, wondering what had happened to the lovable chipmunk who had ignored her for so long.
"You are!" he said. "You're gorgeous!"
"Dale," she said with distess in her voice (it was her turn now to have hot ears), "I'm not gorgeous. You're gorgeous!"
"Well what do you think you are, cod liver oil?"
"You're not cod liver oil. I'm cod liver oil."
"No, Dale, you're not cod liver oil. You're . . . you're a luna moth!" She had a look of ecstasy on her face at this thought.
The translator was still on and in the midst of the animals, so it was not only the other Rangers but the two agents as well who gawked and blinked at the conversation. This was whoopee of a kind no one in the room could recall ever hearing being made before. But finally Chip reminded them that they really needed to go, so they got to the business at hand, though Foxy thought she was going to faint just from being held by him. But the job got done; Foxy had recovered sufficiently from the tranquilizer by now that she could walk; she just needed Dale to steady her. And the wound from the dart was still sore.
The Rangers and Foxy got into the Rangermobile, after which Agent Mulder gently lowered them back onto the floor. Gadget turned to the agents with a smile on her face. "I faithfully promise you," she said, "that as soon as we get back to headquarters I will destroy this terrible thing!" referring, of course, to her "voice box."
"No, wait! Don't do that," Mulder suddenly said. "Just make sure it's turned off before you go to conversing after you get out of here. And when you get back home, be sure you lock and bury it away where it will never have the opportunity to do mischief again. I promised we'd erase your records from the archives, and we will, and we'll keep what happened here today a secret. But I was thinking . . . just in case Agent Scully and I ever run into a problem that's too much for us. Would you consider maybe lending us a paw? I promise no one else will ever know."
The Rangers looked at each other. Finally Chip spoke. "We'll be glad to!" he said, and they could tell he really meant it. "Just make sure no other humans see you hanging around our tree for a conference."
"Understood," he agreed.
"There is just one more thing." This time it was agent Scully. "Foxglove, I'm afraid there is still the matter of your stealing the translator, as well as your part in the theft of the moon rock. You have yet to pay your debt to society."
"Foxglove's heart sank to the soles of her feet and all the Rangers' jaws dropped. "What?!" Dale exclaimed in anger, and even Mulder looked at his partner like he had no idea how this woman he had come to know so well had suddenly become a heartless cad.
"I'm afraid there's no way out of it," Scully said. Then she looked directly at the little bat. "Both these crimes took place within the United States, did they not?"
Foxy could only nod.
"Foxglove, do you consider yourself a citizen of the United States?"
"Yes, I do," she said straightforwardly, but with tears in her voice.
"Then as a duly appointed law officer of the Government of the United States . . . "
"And don't ever trust it!" Mulder reminded them.
" . . . I hereby place you in the custody of the Rescue Rangers, and of your heartbreaker there in particular. Personally, I recommend a life sentence."
The relief of everyone can easily be imagined, Mulder's not being least among them. "You devil!" he said to his partner.
"I try," she replied.
"Ready, guys?" Gadget asked as she put on her helmet and strapped in.
"Wait!" Foxy cried suddenly, to everyone's surprise. Turning to the two humans she said, "The Rangers here can tell you how badly I've always wanted to be able to speak with humans. That's kind of what brought us all together here." She blushed a little. "I just want you to know I'm glad it was you two."
"Why, thank you, Foxglove," Scully said. "We're glad we met you, too."
"And I think you both should know something," Foxy continued, "I've been listening to a shortwave radio set Gadget built for me and . . . well, I don't know if the US Government knows this, but Laos is still a Communist country. Maybe you two should look into it."
"We will!" Mulder assured her, and when Scully looked at him he explained, "Hey, there've been reports of a rash of UFO sightings by rural Laotians in pickup trucks."
"NOW is everyone ready?" Gadget asked impatiently. Foxglove nodded to her.
"Ready!" Chip responded as everyone buckled up. It was a bit of a squeeze, but Dale and Foxy managed to share their belt. They didn't seem to mind.
The motor roared. Zipper gave his trademark bugle call. Gadget put her finger on the button of the translator to turn it off, but before she did she made sure their new friends could hear them all shout "Rescur Rangers, away!" Then they exited using the same hole they had entered through and began weaving through the busy streets homeward. It was late afternoon now.
Dale turned to Foxglove. "Foxy . . . that remark about recruiting disciples. Did you really . . . ?"
"Oh, for crying out loud, Dale, I was only kidding!" she said. "Who'd have thought he would take it seriously? He's spent way too much time obsessed with dark things. He should take a night off just to go out and watch the lightning bugs." The Rangers laughed at this, but gently and respectfully. Foxy continued.
"Something's eating at him, and whatever it is it must be horrible. There is some great pain he's going through. Poor man. I feel sorry for him."
"Me too!" Dale said.
*I hope one day he finds what he's looking for,* she thought, *and that he stays out of Texas.*
XVI. When they got back to headquarters and put the Rangermobile away Dale helped Foxy up the internal passage to the living room. He insisted on having her lie down on the couch, even though she assured him she would be far more comfortable hanging by her feet.
Time passed. Foxy recovered quickly enough from her wound and would have been happy to resume hunting, but Dale said it was too early yet and insisted on waiting on her hand and foot. This was embarrassing, but of course she enjoyed it. He also insisted (against her initial reluctance) that she resume listening to the shortwave, but advised moderation this time--something he had never advocated for anyone before. When the Rangers returned to solving cases (Chip decided that September was as good a time as any to take their annual vacation) Dale remained behind to look after his patient until he was convinced of her complete recovery. The other Rangers naturally missed his presence, but they had to admit that there were fewer foul-ups than when he was along.
In addition to the Ranger cuisine for which she had a newly-acquired taste, Monty treated Foxy to a supply of mealworms from a local pet shop. They were nothing she would have caught for herself while hunting, but she found them scrumptious. And when July 4 came along not long after their adventure they pulled out all the stops. She could have hunted for herself just fine by that time, but they had gone to such trouble for her that she merely joined them outside the tree as they leisurely viewed the human throngs below and the fireworks above, while Dale stuffed her so full of ice cream that she thought she would burst. Then came the coup de grace. Dale presented her with a small envelope Zipper had found at the base of the tree early that morning which had "TO FOXGLOVE ON HER SECOND FAVORITE HOLIDAY" written on it in distinctively human handwriting. She opened it eagerly to find a small-mammal-sized photo portrait of Dr. Merlin Tuttle, suitable for framing. She clutched it to her and whispered "Thank you, Fox and Dana," and when a frame had been found for it insisted on hanging it herself--upside down, of course, as a sign of respect.
So the time passed, and Dale rejoined his comrades on their cases, but there was something different about him now. He was less foolish and more thoughtful than before, and not as inclined to take needless risks. Chip observed these changes in his lifelong best friend with mixed emotions. It was good that Dale was not so annoying as before, but he didn't seem as much fun, either. Chip realized that he should be thankful that he now had a green light to work on wooing Gadget, but even this bothered him a little. He realized that while Dale's friendship with him had not decreased an iota, and never would, there was this difference--Dale was now well on the way to acquiring a new very best friend. Chip sighed. Things would never be completely the same ever again.
EPILOGUE--Dale was alone in his room with the most beautiful girl in the world. At least that's how he had always felt about her, and he supposed objectively it was still true, but his mind was on someone else as she fussed over his Hawaiian shirt and bow tie.
"Come on, Gadget. I'm not goin' to an inaugural ball or anything!" he complained as she shook her head in disapproval and went back to the chest of drawers to look at the selection. There wasn't much, as all Dale's shirts had the same pattern and there were only two bow ties.
"Now, Dale, it's your first real date and you should take some pride in your appearance," she told him as she removed the black tie and replaced it with the red one. "There. That's better."
"I want the black one!" Dale said fractiously.
"When I put the black one on you you wanted the red one," she said. "Besides, the black one clashes."
"If no one's gonna see it, why wear it?" he asked.
Gadget stepped back to look at her handiwork: one chipmunk, one Hawaiian shirt, one red bow tie, and a red clover blossom as a boutonniere. "Perfect!" she said, admiring him.
"Well I don't feel perfect!" he said.
She noticed that he was shaking like a spilled bowl of Jello. "Nervous?" she asked.
"Why?" she asked him. "You're surely not afraid she's going to reject you? She chased you for a long time before you returned her feelings."
"It's not exactly that," he said, looking at her with an exasperated expression that showed he wished he could put it into words.
"Remember, Dale, she's lived here for two months now, and you've spent as much time with her as you could manage. I haven't seen you nervous around her in all that time."
Dale only looked at the floor.
"Come on," Gadget said, "it's almost time."
"Gadget?" he asked.
"I realize it's a moot point now, but . . . you know how Chip and I have competed for your attention ever since we first met you. I was just wondering . . . was I ever formally rejected by you at any point?" He had wanted to ask this question for a long time but could not bring himself to until another girl had come along to really mess up his already fragile emotional state.
"No. Never." She answered with great sincerity.
"I . . . I had to know."
"I know you did. I had to tell you."
He brightened considerably.
"And in case you're wondering," she continued, "I still like you very, very much," and she kissed him on the forehead.
The old mischievous Dale sparkle came into his eyes. "Too late, kiddo!" he said, "You waited too long and now the balloon's gonna take off without ya!"
She laughed and hugged him. "Barney Fife!" she said.
"Yep," he said, confidently.
"Now let's get you out there!" she said, at which point his entire nervous system collapsed all over again. Finally she managed to push him into the hall and then into the living room where the other Rangers waited in anticipation. Zipper gave a buzzed equivalent of the wolf whistle that was quite embarrassing, and Monterey simply said, "Lookin' good, mate!" Even Chip could only smile at him. "Lady killer!" he said to the perspiring Dale, whose nerves were still trying to convince him that he had thrust his finger into a live electrical socket.
Outside the familiar door to what was now her own home (where she had been first a guest, and then a patient, and finally what she termed an "Alfred") Foxglove's innards were wobbling like she was standing in line for the Final Judgment. She gulped audibly and thought *Oh no, I shoulda gone to the bathroom; I REALLY shoulda gone to the bathroom; I just know I'm gonna go to the bathroom right there in front of everybody as soon as I lay eyes on him!* She was so nervous she forgot that, being a bat, there was nothing wrong with her going to the bathroom right where she was. Instead she waited futilely for the world to come to an end, but the world that night was as cruel as always and showed her no pity. *Typical,* she thought.
Finally she decided that the only way to end the torture was to get it over with and knocked on the door. The door opened and Gadget greeted her with a smile. "G-good evening," Foxy said to her, "I am here for my appointment. Is the young gentleman whom I am to escort prepared?" Gadget swung the door wide. "He's all yours," she said, pointing to Dale.
Of course the instant they saw each other it was as if Dale and Foxglove had been replaced by Valentino and Theda Bara. All nerves suddenly calmed and a look of assurance came into both their faces. And at that point neither of them would have cared if the entire Mormon Tabernacle Choir were watching, listening, and reading their thoughts into the bargain.
Foxy looked at Dale. "Hi-ya," she said.
Dale looked at her mischievously and exclaimed in a low voice, "Lu-ceeeeeeelle!"
Foxy blushed and turned aside. "Stop that!" she said, "I don't know what it means but I get the distinct impression that it's something naughty."
Gadget looked at her two friends with the greatest satisfaction. She took Dale by the paw and led him up to Foxy, and while placing his paw in her wing, said in a very good upper-south hillbilly dialect, "Now you be good to my little bubba here, caus'n he's a young an' innocent boy, y'hear? So don't you be a-usin' none o' yore feminine wiles on him--ye si-reen." The three other Rangers--the ones still cognizant of external reality--were astonished at this heretofore unknown talent of hers. She could really have been a voice artist for animated cartoons. They also enjoyed the irony of a girl whose figure was most probably condemned in the platform of the Republican party referring to anyone else as a "si-reen."
Gadget turned to Dale. "Now Jeter," she continued, "don't you be a-doin' nothin' that I wouldn' . . . " But she laughed so hard at this point that she could not continue with her moral guidelines.
Finally Foxy remembered that they had an extremely interested audience, and she turned to them and said, "Madam and Sirs, I thank you for this opportunity. I assure you that my intentions with regard to the young gentleman are purely honorable and that I will return him safely to you first thing in the morning." Whereupon the two managed to exit the room safely and successfully shut the door behind them, even though they never took their eyes off each other.
Monterey rubbed his chin and looked up at Zipper as Gadget continued to stare thoughtfully at the door. A supremely satisfied Chip approached her and put his arm around her.
Without shifting her gaze she finally spoke.
"Chip . . . why don't you invite TAMMY to come over for a visit?"
Once outside Dale removed the bow tie and presented the blossom to Foxglove who sniffed it admiringly. Then the two companions jumped into the Ranger Plane which had been made ready for their use. Dale felt great as he strapped himself into the pilot's seat; Gadget had insisted that they all learn how to operate it but he very rarely got the chance. Foxglove was full of admiration at the assured way he operated the controls, and as they took off the rush of the night air in her face (and the realization of how much weight she had put on through weeks of feasting and inactivity) led her to remark that it was high time that she resumed her nightly mission.
"What's that?" Dale asked her.
"You know," she said, "to consume . . . mass . . . quantities of nocturnal flying insects."
"And what, Dale?"
"And to CORRUPT the WORLD!" he said, in his best "voice of doom" approximation.
"I'm gonna corrupt you!" she told him.
"Not while I'm driving," he said, and they both laughed and blushed at the unexpected direction of their conversation.
Their first stop was the carnival that visited the city each August. As they stepped onto the ground Dale wondered aloud if Cassandra was around. Foxy was intrigued until she learned that this Cassandra was a fortune-telling Gypsy moth. In addition to feeling that it would be very uncomfortable to meet her favorite food socially, her experience with Winifred caused her to want absolutely nothing to do with fortune tellers or even to be in the same room with them--even if it was only a joke. She didn't even want to see card tricks performed.
Dale respected this and dropped the subject, and they made the rounds of the games of the carnival's small mammals' counterpart. Dale made several attempts to win a prize for Foxglove, unsuccessfully, and she returned the favor with the same results. They were both thankful that small mammals didn't use money. They would have gone broke.
Finally Foxglove saw something that seemed to beckon her irresistably, and she took off for it. "Where are you goin'?" Dale shouted after her, and he finally found her fluttering before the human-size glass house. "C'mon, Dale, let's go in!" she shouted and negotiated the entry. Dale wasn't too crazy about this but he followed her inside and immediately became too confused to move. But this attraction seemed specially made for Foxy's echolocation talents and she flew with ease up and down every passage, and then landed beside Dale so he would not be able to miss all the reflections of her that surrounded them. *I hope this puts an end to THAT problem* she thought.
Just then they heard a human voice outside. "Hey, there's a bat flying around in there!" it said. Someone--obviously the ticket taker--responded non-chalantly, "Yeah, happens all the time. They seem to like it. Don't worry, it'll get out all right." Foxglove was amazed. *What do you know?* she thought, *No wonder I was drawn to this place. I guess I really do have instincts, after all!* Then with a bit of an effort she grabbed Dale with her feet and managed to fly him back out right in front of the two startled humans. "Now that IS a new one!" the ticket taker said, scratching his forehead.
Their next stop was very special. It was the drive-in theater where they had first met. It was also the only drive-in left in the city and showed classic old "B" movies exclusively. The first feature was "Them," one of Dale's favorites. During the intermission he asked if she wanted anything from the snack bar, but she said, "Just a glass of water, please." After he left she put in some time with the moths and mosquitoes and after her repast rejoined her escort. Dale still treated food with great respect, and until he was finished neither Foxy nor the movie got much attention from him. Finally he looked up at her, his two eyes showing through a confused mass of catchup, cheese, and chocolate. With the most earnest look she had ever seen him with he gave her an old Arnold line from "Green Acres."
"Foxglove," he said, "this is madness!" She thought she would never recover from that one.
The second feature, "Earth vs. the Spider," obviously brought back painful memories for Foxglove, and as the sky in the east was beginning to lighten anyway Dale asked her, "Ready to go home now?"
"Yes," she said. The Ranger Plane slowly rose into the air. But suddenly she exclaimed, "Wait! Dale, will you take me to just one more place first? I'll tell you how to get there."
Dale was agreeable, and soon they were flying to a part of the city he hadn't spent much time in. This was not because it was a bad or dangerous neighborhood, but because it was in a residential area that was so quiet that the services of the Rescue Rangers were not needed there that often. Ahead of him lit by the lights he saw a tall and exotic spire approaching. He used Gadget's suction cup landing gear to attach his craft to the side of the building and Foxglove helped him out.
"Where are we?" he asked.
"St. Ner-ses Shnor-hal-i Ar-men-i-an Apostolic Church!" she recalled carefully. "Come on inside."
She could still spider-walk into the break in the glass, though with more difficulty than formerly, but Dale's entry proved to be much more problematic. Foxglove wanted him to come in but in no way wanted him to get cut by the glass, so she suggested he forget about it. But Dale was not to be frustrated in this, and by carefully working one part of his body in at a time he finally made it and sat down beside his happy host. The church was empty. The sun still came up early enough that they would be back home before matins.
"The sunlight will come through there," she said, pointing.
As they watched and waited for the display Dale appeared very thoughtful. "Foxy?" he said.
"There's something that's been bothering me lately, and I can't get anybody to understand it. I'm not sure what it is. I'm not scared of you anymore or anything, but . . . "
"Dale, there was never any reason for you to be scared of me," she said, putting a wing around him reassuringly.
"Well, I'm scared of something, and I don't know what it is." Even in the darkness he looked frustrated.
Foxy thought for just a moment. "I think maybe I know what it is," she told him. "I went through it before you did, when we first met and again back in June when I came to visit you for that first time. Are you sure you want to hear it?"
"Sure!" he said earnestly.
"Well, Dale," she began, "you and I are about the same age, and we'd never been in love before. At least I hadn't," she corrected herself, remembering Gadget. "Up to now we've been kids, but when we got these feelings, wild as they are, they told us that we were growing up and that we wouldn't be kids much longer. And they reminded us that we're going to keep on entering new stages of life until, well, until one day we're both going to get old and die."
Dale frowned. "That's a bit of a come-down, Foxy," he said.
"I know," she said, "but I'm afraid there's no getting away from it. The way I see it, you have two choices. You can go through it all alone, or you can share it with someone you love and who loves you. That's about the only solution I can think of."
Dale was quiet. It wasn't pleasant, but he realized she was right.
Finally Foxy was glad to break the train of thought. "Look, Dale!" she said, "The sun's coming up!"
And it was, right through the picture of Noah's Ark. If it was beautiful to Foxy, who had seen it before, to Dale it was simply awe-inspiring. "That's a picture of a time when we were all friends," she told him.
As she took it all in she wasn't sure which was the biggest thrill: the picture itself, the sunlight coming through it onto Dale's face, or the serious, studied way he watched it. He certainly seemed to be thinking deeply. Finally he turned to her.
"Do you think it'll ever be that way again?" he asked her. It was the most serious and philosophical question she had ever heard from him.
"You know what, Dale?" she said. "I think I'm going to give you a great big WET one!"
And you know?
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