Zero Witching Hour


Disclaimer: Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers and all related characters are the creation and property of Disney…and I guess Marvel too. Whoopee.

Chapter 1: Reap What You Sow


Though it was long past nightfall, they could still see the smoke eerily rising along the horizon in the dim moonlight. Even without the benefit of the moonlight, however, the acrid stench that drifted over from miles away would have told them that it finally happened. A noxious, overpowering smell that somehow carried a sense of terrible anguish, unnecessary sacrifice, implacable fury…a stench that, horrible as it was, only made you think things could only get worse. If not now, then later. Much, much later perhaps….

Terri kept staring out the window, along with her younger brother Hector, who was only four years old. Granted, she wasn't much older, just a couple of years, but she took her role as a big sister seriously. She spared a glance over at him, his wide, anxious eyes hidden behind of mop of thick, fiery, red hair. She absentmindedly brushed away a lock of her own bright, red hair. Hector tended to be a wild child, while Terri sought to be as mature and responsible as her mother. Both of them loved her deeply, but Terri absolutely idolized her. Dorothea Oakheart. She was so majestic, so dutiful, so selfless. So dedicated to helping everyone in any way she could, her and her four partners….

And she was still out there right now. She had been for hours. The smoke and the stench already let them know their mother had found whatever she was looking for. Terri wasn't entirely sure what it was that had their mother, not to mention the whole countryside, so worried. Try as she might, a lot of this grown-up stuff was hard to understand.

But worse, right then, they had no way of knowing if Dorothea won or lost. So the two of them were glued to the window, watching helplessly as the moon kept rising, showing that that weird smoke had risen even higher above the treetops. "D'you think Mommy will win?" asked Hector suddenly, breaking the ominous silence. "D-D-D'you think all that bad stuff they were all talking about, she got rid of it?"

"Of course Mommy beat it all back!" snapped Terri. "She's Dorothea Oakheart, the toughest witch here in the new world! She's accomplished things no other witch in history has ever dreamed of!"

That much she was certain of. What little she had gleamed of the mystic arts, the history of magic itself, left no doubt that her skill and ingenuity outshone every other sorcerer. And she was so humble about it, that one thing few other humans had an inkling of. Mommy's got to come back. She's got to win! Terri thought warily as she looked back out the window.

"Hey, I see something coming to the house!" Hector cried suddenly, pointing out the window. Her heart leaping, Terri looked to see what it was. Even with the moon high overhead, the landscape surrounding their little house on the hilltop was blanketed in shadow. But then, Terri made out a strange, shadowy shape, which slowly stumbled toward the house. Not until it was within a dozen yards of their house did Terri finally realize what it was. A great deer, his huge antlers proudly rising like spires into the night sky. Beside him strode what Terri now realized was a jaguar, a big cat from the southern reaches of this new world. They slowly trotted to the house, the deer providing support for a single person that clumsily shuffled on….

"They're back! They're back!" Terri cried with glee, rushing toward the door. She ran outside to greet the trio. "Juan! Byak! What's wrong? It's Mommy going to be alright?" she asked, suddenly fearful.

The woman had had her left arm slung over the deer's neck, barely able to look ahead. But at the sound of her daughter's voice, some of her energy came back. She was wearing a simple peasant's dress of tan and light green, and when she looked up, the moonlight reflected off her glasses. Glasses that made her look so smart and ladylike and caring, Terri had always thought. Also, as Dorothea Oakheart lifted her head to smile at Terri, her long, red hair fell everywhere. Red hair that was practically a family trademark.

"I live, my children," Dorothea said wanly. "That dark power, will never menace us again. Though for the effort, the effort has drained me."

"And we would have brought Mistress Oakheart home sooner, little ones, but Byak just HAD to go after some wild fowl on the way back here," scoffed the deer Dorothea had named Juan. He tended to be a bit pompous at times, Terri knew, but she also knew no one was more devoted to her mother than him.

Byak looked up with an indignant look, right before he spat out some feathers. "Oh, take them antlers and shove 'em up yer keister!" retorted the jaguar hotly. "This last fight took a lot outta all of us, so excuse me if I happen to be a natural predator! Quinny's one too, in case you've forgotten! Yet you never give her any grief!"

"That is because I put my predatory instincts aside when there's a job to do," came a fourth voice, a very faint one. Terri and Hector looked around, trying to spot the source. At last, a rather large scorpion crawled out of a pocket on Dorothea's dress, coming to a stop on her head. "And I'll be sure to let Zhuk know you just had to munch on her fellow birds while our job was still unfinished," she added wryly.

Byak glared back at Quinny. Dorothea smiled, and Terri and Hector couldn't help but laugh a little, too. It was such a shame that their family were probably the only ones who could do this: understand and talk to animals. Dorothea's four friends were so funny, so great to be around, and Terri was so glad their mother passed on her magical gift of talking to animals to them. Terri wished everyone could do what her family could.

But her mother's feelings went even further. Dorothea was all about spreading a message of peace, her and her four animal partners trying to maintain a sense of justice and order here in the colonies. They had been at it for years, and in all that time, Dorothea tried to get it through everyone's heads that humans weren't the masters of this world, but had a place in the grand scheme of things. Terri could always tell most people weren't very open, however, and it always frustrated Dorothea, sometimes to a point where Terri feared she'd be angry enough to unload her magic on someone. But Terri was sure her mother would never cross that line, lash out at thick-headed people in a rage….

"Where is Zhuk, anyway?" Juan suddenly demanded. "She was supposed to report back at least ten minutes ago."

Dorothea let out an exasperated cough, then said, "Calm down, Juan. I'm sure Zhuk has a good reason for taking her time." Suddenly, Terri felt a surprising rush of dread, despite her mother's calmness. She wasn't sure why, but the fact that Zhuk wasn't back unnerved her.

Just then, a small, blazing streak zipped above the trees scattered around the hilltop. The fiery little thing zigzagged around erratically, until zooming down at them, stopping right in front of Dorothea's face. It was surrounded in bright flames, but they immediately died away, revealing a little hummingbird, sporting eye-blazing red and orange feathers.

"It's just as I feared, Dorothea!" cried Zhuk in her squeaky little voice. "All the people from the nearby village, th-th-they've…."

As Terri looked from Zhuk to her mother, her heart sank as something seem to fade in Dorothea's eyes. "They've decided to take advantage of the situation, am I right?" she asked with an air of reserved calm.

The hummingbird nodded frantically. "They'll be upon the hill within the hour. I-I-I tried to slow them up, caused a few small blazes along the quickest paths here," spluttered Zhuk apologetically. "B-B-But tired as I am now, there wasn't much more I…."

"We're all exhausted from the fight, Zhuk. It's not your fault," said Dorothea warmly.

"Well, I say let 'em come!" snapped Byak. "We still got enough fight left to teach these ungrateful rubes a lesson or three!"

"I'm with the jaguar on this one," added Juan gruffly.

"Males…it's the same with all species!" snapped Quinny. "We're all almost spent, and our mistress is on the verge of collapse! And judging by how panicky Zhuk is, there's a LOT of 'ungrateful rubes' on the way. Fleeing is our only option."

Juan let out a defeated sigh. "Then let's get her inside, let her rest as long as possible before we run," said Juan, slowly trotting toward their house as Dorothea kept leaning on him for support. Once inside, Terri and Hector eased their mother into an armchair while their animal friends tried to get some supplies together. Any other time, Terri would've found it funny, watching these four blunder about a human home. But there was nothing funny about what was going on now. Why were all the villagers turning against them now, after all they'd done for them, for the whole countryside?

It was too much to take in, and Terri turned fearfully to her mother, who just sat in her chair, staring listlessly ahead. Again, Terri got that horrible feeling again as she looked into Dorothea's eyes. Something that was once ablaze and alive in those eyes was definitely gone. It was almost as if…she had given up all hope.

Juan and Byak walked back in, sacks of food slung over their necks. Quinny and Zhuk were hanging onto Juan's antlers. "Zhuk was just outside, and they're closer than she originally thought," said Juan gravely. "We must go now."

Dorothea nodded dully, then stood up on wobbly legs. She stumbled forward for a few steps, but then stumbled, slamming into a bookcase hard. Breathing heavily, she sat slumped against the bookcase for a moment. "I-I-It's no use," she got out at length. "I'm more used up than I thought. You must all go on without me, I'll slow you down. It's me they want, so I can keep them busy long enough for all of you to slip away."

"No way!" cried Byak, echoing her children's horror. "After all we just went through, to just cave to these rogues!" As Terri gazed at her mother in shock, there was no mistaking it now. Dorothea Oakheart had given up entirely. On everything.

"It cannot be helped," said Dorothea. "Juan cannot run fast enough with me on his back, I'm too heavy. But he can carry Terri, and Hector is small enough to allow him ride on Byak. Zhuk, are the villagers using horses?"

Zhuk nodded glumly. "At least half a dozen."

"Then Juan and Byak must shepherd my children away as I cover everyone's escape," said Dorothea, coldly logical and devoid of any passion. That, more than anything else, is what truly chilled Terri to the bone.

"Mommy, NO!" Terri screamed, running to hug her mother. "We got to go, we can outrun them! You can't just give up!"

"I'm sorry, Terri. There's no other way," said Dorothea listlessly. "What's most important right now is that you two carry on, keep working with Zhuk, Byak, Juan and Quinny. Continue my work, teach others what fell on deaf ears here. Hector, come stand by your sister. It's time to pass on my final gift to you two."

Hector timidly walked over to Dorothea, stunned speechless and eyes full of tears. Terri's eyes began to well up as well, deathly silent, not believing this could be happening. But she stepped forward to stand next to her brother. Clutching a shelf with one hand, Dorothea pulled herself up and reached out with her other hand, pointing at Hector's head. Terri could sense Dorothea was drawing on her power, and as her fingertip brushed against Hector's forehead, it left glowing, orange streakmarks. When she was finished, Terri saw Dorothea had drawn some sort of runic symbol, which was already fading away, the spell working itself into Hector.

Her breath now coming in choked gasps, Dorothea did the same to Terri. Terri winced as she drew the rune on her forehead. This felt nothing like her lessons, when Dorothea shared her power with her before. The sickly feeling this spell left in her…she couldn't describe….

"It's done. Have Byak and Juan get you out of here. Please, don't ever forget me," begged Dorothea. Her breathed was more ragged than ever, having almost completely exhausted her power. Her free hand went to her belt, unsheathing a knife as she tried to pull herself to her feet.

She won't go out quietly, thought Terri, still finding it impossible to believe she would never see her mother again. But a quick glance out the front window told Terri that plenty of people holding lit torches were closing in. They were already out of time.

Dorothea followed Terri's eyes, then turned back to her children. "Get moving! NOW!" she commanded, but Hector ran forward and latched onto Dorothea. Tears now freely flowing, Terri pried her brother off, and as Byak strode beside her, thrust him onto the jaguar's back. She then ran over to Juan, and with one last, sorrowful look back, she watched Dorothea thrust the door open to defiantly confront the mob. The serenity she always exuded was now gone, replaced by pure fury.

"Hang on, child!" cried Juan as he ran through the house, his antlers crashing through the back door. Byak was not far behind, Hector holding on for dear life. Looking back as they sped away, Terri could hardly make out the outline of their house, much less what was going on inside. She buried her face in the back of Juan's neck and bawled. But soon sadness gave way to fury as her mother's words echoed in her head: Continue my work…don't ever forget me…continue my work…don't ever forget me….



It had been many years since Rebecca Nimnul last saw any of her family, and even longer since she visited her hometown on the outskirts of Philadelphia. It didn't exactly feel like a pleasant homecoming, and the droning din of her Harley was hardly a graceful heralding of her return. The thing obviously needed a tune-up, but Rebecca didn't care. It was still working for the moment, and riding it always helped clear her head, especially back before signing up for the army at the tender age of eighteen.

But not now. Considering why she and all of her siblings would be meeting here today, that was hardly a surprise.

The light turned red up ahead. "Every other light, never fails," Rebecca grumbled to herself as her Harley came to a halt. Sighing in annoyance, Rebecca stared down at herself. She hadn't even bothered to change of her army uniform yet, being in such a rush to get to her sister's house. She still had her pistol on her, and her dog tags whipped violently in a sudden breeze. Looking in her bike's mirror, she frowned at how the wind was making even more of a mess of her short, red hair. Weird, when looking back the last few generations, everyone in the family has red hair. EVERYONE.

A plangent horn from behind told Rebecca the light was green. Rebecca quickly gave the driver behind her the finger before taking off. Thankfully, after that, it wasn't much farther to her sister's house. After parking her Harley, she bolted for the front door. But out the corner of her eye, she noticed something odd. Leaning against a tree was a rather stocky person…with her family's trademark red hair.

Certain she knew who it was, Rebecca walked over to the tree. Indeed, there was her other sister, just a year older than her, with red hair that curved upward like a brush due to a bandana she wore. But what grabbed Rebecca's attention, naturally, was how she was allowing two ferrets to crawl all over her. Not only that, several dragonflies were perched on her, one on her long, pointy nose.

"Looks like you've still got quite the fan club, Freddie," said Rebecca slyly.

Winifred turned to glare at Rebecca. Amazingly, none of the dragonflies flew away. "You're still the only living thing on Earth who can get away with calling me that," said Winifred with a coy smile. "Anyway, Florence will be glad you're finally here. I already told her you'd be here within the hour."

"How'd you know? Traffic's always unpredictable this time of the day."

Winifred grinned wickedly again, tapping the tail of the dragonfly resting on her nose. Rebecca's face fell. It was hard to tell which of her siblings had bigger problems, Winifred or Norton. Back when they were growing up, Winifred was always fascinated with fantasy and magic. Not only that, Winifred insisted she found evidence of magic in their lineage which, among other things, let them communicate with animals. Rebecca always hoped Winifred would grow out of that silliness, and was crushed to learn she had dropped out of college soon after she left for the army.

But now was not the time to renew old family squabbles, not today. "What about Florence's husband and kid?" Rebecca asked shortly.

"They should be here by the end of the day. In the meantime, Norton's been looking after Florence," said Winifred.

That soured Rebecca's mood even more. "So, he's still insisting Florence be his guinea pig?" demanded Rebecca.

"It's not like that," said Winifred hotly. "We both know Norton's a screwball, but an ingenious screwball. He's confident he can do something for Florence, and God help me, I think I believe him."

"He always has some crazy idea most sane people'll refuse to take seriously. Universities and institutions are always giving him the cold shoulder, and probably for good reason," commented Rebecca. "And last I heard, most of his funding these days comes from his partnership with that Aldrin Klordane guy. Shadiest of shady businessmen."

"If Norton can make Klordane cough up enough cash so Norton can cure her, I don't really give a damn about anything else," said Winifred. "In any case, you'd better go in. Florence was really anxious to see you."

Sighing, Rebecca turned around and headed for the house. She glanced back over her shoulder, watching as those stupid ferrets kept scurrying over Winifred. Rebecca shook her head, not believing Winifred still believed that crap about talking to animals. There were times, however, she came close to believing it herself. That one time she found a fellow private with a broken leg deep in a Florida swamp…she could have sworn some bug was buzzing around her ear, whispering directions to her. At another time in Columbia…it was as if that flock of birds up above were speaking directly to her, warning that her team was about to be ambushed.

As she walked into the house, there was a tall, thin, red-headed man in a sharp-looking business suit walking down the stairs. And cradled in his arms was a little baby, a boy from the looks of it. He looked to her and smiled thinly. "Ah, Rebecca, you finally made it. I bet no one thought you wanted to hear any good news but…you've got another nephew."

Rebecca managed a weak smile, looking at the baby. He was quite a chubby fellow. "Ah, Bill, I totally forgot your wife was expecting. W-What's his name?"

"Normie," said Bill with boisterous pride, which irked Rebecca. Knowing her younger brother, he would probably spoil his son rotten. "And Florence just adores the little fellow, but she's most anxious to see you."

"So I've heard. We'll catch up later, Bill,” Rebecca told Florence’s twin brother. “Right now, I wanna make sure Norton's not shoving electrodes in Florence's brain." Pushing past Bill, she ran up the stairs and down the hall to the room where she knew Florence was, bedridden.

Bracing herself, Rebecca slammed the door open. The oldest of her siblings, Norton, was at the bedside, his back to the door, and jumped with a start. He had lost even more hair since the last time Rebecca saw him, and if possible, looked even dumpier.

Florence then slowly turned to see the new arrival, and her thin, emaciated face flashed a smile. Rebecca repressed a shudder. Her long, gorgeous red hair was gone, the chemotherapy meant to eradicate her stomach cancer having already brought about alopecia. Norton's was still facing away from Rebecca, though, and Florence looked at him again. She seemed to recognize something in his face. "Norton, please, give me some time with Becky," she said weakly.

Norton glared at her in disbelief. "B-B-But, your treatment, the reagent…." he spluttered.

"Norton, you've done all you can. Please, I just need a little time," Florence pleaded.

Trembling, Norton got up to leave, putting some sort of syringe out of Florence's IV port, one of many. Rebecca quickly glanced around the room, shuddering at the sight of all the medical equipment monitoring Florence's failing health. Looking back over to Norton, she caught his furtive gaze, those beady eyes staring back at her from behind his glasses. She watched him leave, wondering what he was so nervous about, then turned back to Florence, who managed to smile again. "I'm so glad you came," said Florence.

"You should've called for me sooner. MONTHS sooner," said Rebecca, kneeling beside her bed and taking Florence's hand. "Wouldn't have mattered if I was still in South Korea, I would've caught the first transport back. You know that. I mean, d-d-don't let…."

Florence squeezed Rebecca's hand. "Enough of that, Becky. I know you took your role as a big sister seriously…."

"Way more than Freddie did," growled Rebecca. It was true. While Winifred was off dabbling in fantasy and Norton was hunched over his chemistry sets, Rebecca took it upon herself to be the big sibling Florence could look up to. Granted, being the hotheaded tomboy she always was, Rebecca always wondered if she was right for the job of teaching Florence to be all ladylike and what not.

"Stop it, Becky," Florence implored. "That's another thing. There's been so much resentment boiling under the surface between you, Winifred and Norton. I beg of you, Becky, it's time to let it all go. And please, stop blaming yourself for leaving when Bill and I were just fifteen. I loved having a big sister like you, but I also knew you wanted to see the world, be a part of something bigger. I would've hated knowing I stood in the way of your dreams. And tough as you are, you couldn't have protected me from cancer."

Rebecca sighed, knowing Florence was right. "Yeah, you're right about that."

"But now, if you can be there for my son, watch him grow up, it would mean the world to me," Florence went on.

"Don't talk like that!" Rebecca snapped. "YOU'LL be there to watch him grow up. I mean, you seem to have faith that whatever science project Norton's cooked up'll work…."

Florence breathed in and out deeply. "Brilliant as Norton is, even he can't do everything," she said knowingly. "Just please, do that one thing for me. I'll be happy knowing you, Winifred and Norton will all be like family again. You, out of all of us, most know it's harder to wage peace than war, and that the rewards are greater…."

"You're right about that too," Rebecca agreed. That was the thing about Florence. She never quite stood out. Not a brilliant soldier like her or a brilliant scientist like Norton or a shrewd businessman like Bill, but there was always a quiet, patient wisdom about her.

Rebecca wasn't sure how long she knelt there, holding Florence's hand. But suddenly, she felt her sister's grip tighten. Not only that, Florence's hand trembled as well. "Florence? FLORENCE!" screamed Rebecca. The shrill of the monitors made Rebecca look up. Her heart rate had just spiked, and her blood pressure dropped dangerously low. Looking back down in horror, she saw Florence's emaciated face staring back at her. There was an indescribable serenity there, as if she knew she was about to die and was totally at peace with herself and the world. But then, what life was left in those eyes faded entirely, and Rebecca felt Florence's hand slacken.

Rebecca stood up with a start, shaking, refusing to accept what her eyes were telling her. Florence, gone. The one who, out of the five of them, exuded the most strength and did it so subtlely, who loved everyone. Easily the best out of all of them. And now, she was gone forever. But how? Everything she heard suggested she'd at least be stable for another few months, and some doctors said there was even hope for complete recovery. And then Norton was supposedly….

Then it hit her like a Sherman tank. Norton. This was all his fault. Once again, he put his obsession with science over his own family. What he was doing for Florence was part of some experiment to cash in on, not to help a dying sibling. There was no other explanation.

She knew what she promised to Florence. But that was before Norton's meddling did Florence in. A silent fury overtaking her, Rebecca unholstered her pistol and dashed out of the room. After sweeping the entire second floor, she ran down the stairs. Bill and Winifred were there in the living room, the latter still letting those damn ferrets crawl over her. They nervously eyed her gun, and Bill managed to get out, "R-R-Rebecca? W-What's all this about?"

"Florence is dead, and it's because of Norton! Where'd he go!" Rebecca screeched, ignoring Bill and Winifred's bemused looks. Looking past them, she saw Norton bolt out of a sliding glass door. Enraged by his cowardice, Rebecca aimed and fired. The glass doors shattered apart, but Norton kept on running, ducking into the woods behind the house.

Her blood boiling as he disappeared among the trees, Rebecca ran out after him, but she knew it was no use. Skilled tracker that she was, Norton had too much of a head start, and those woods were too vast. "Go ahead and run Norton, you little coward!" Rebecca called out after him hysterically. "But I swear, one of these days, I'm gonna hunt you down! Hunt you down and rip you apart with my bare hands! I don't care how long it takes, what it takes…one day, your ass WILL be mine!"


Meanwhile, several miles away, on the outskirts of an airport, cleverly hidden from most eyes, human or otherwise, a boisterous mouse by the name of Monterey Jack watched a dreadfully similar scene play out. Here in the home of his longtime friends the Hackwrenches, all the memories to be had here were good memories. Well, except the aftermath after that one trip to Zanzibar….

And now, this.

No words could ever hope to convey Monterey's horror and fury as he and Geegaw Hackwrench stared down at Erika, Geegaw's wife. Having blown back in from a recent trip to Brazil, he was more than happy to help Geegaw and Erika raid a nearby hardware store for some nuts and bolts and spare parts.

But what was supposed to be a routine scavenging job quickly became a nightmare. Last night, that hardware store was targeted by arsonists. They all escaped, but only Erika hadn't made it out unscathed. Monterey's ire flared up again as he looked over Erika again. Her skin and fur was scorched in numerous places, requiring bandages to stave off infection, and her left leg was shattered. Given Geegaw's reputation and standing, many of the micedom's best medics within reach answered his call. She would live, but it was doubtful Erika would ever walk again.

Gritting his teeth, Monterey bashed his fists together. The desire to go out and do something, ANYTHING, was overwhelming. But he know there was little hope of finding those arsonists on his own. No, his best chance would be to stake out a human police station, keep an ear out for clues. "Oughta be a bunch of us animals who do that sorta thing, solve them crimes that slip through the cracks…." Monterey thought aloud.

"What's that, Monty?" asked Geegaw.

Monterey sighed, not realizing he was thinking aloud. "Nothin', Geegaw," he said quickly, turning to him. But then his gaze drifted down to the little girl clinging to Geegaw. She had strawberry-blond hair that nearly reached the floor. His little girl, Gadget, was the apex of cuteness, but now her cuteness was marred by a look of pure hatred, tears flowing nonstop.

"Looks like Erika's finally asleep," said Geegaw. "We should just let her rest."

Without a word, Gadget turned and stormed out of the room. Sensing trouble was brewing, Monterey took off after her. He tailed her to where he knew Geegaw stored his most dangerous chemicals. Upon entering the storeroom, Monterey was shocked to find Gadget collecting what he guessed was some sort of accelerant. "Gadget-luv, mind tellin' ol' Monty what you're doing?"

"Golly, what does it LOOK like I'm doing!" Gadget snapped back. "I'm going to find the lousy humans who did this and burn THEIR houses to the ground!"

Monterey's previous fury was forgotten in an instant, scared straight by seeing the same unthinking vengefulness coming from this sweet, innocent girl. "Gadget-luv, we never got a good look at them blokes. How d'you propose you find the ones responsible?"

"I don't know!" Gadget shot back. "Might as well just burn ALL the houses around here down! They're all rotten to the core, doing things like this to hurt each other, for the stupidest reasons! And it's always us animals that get caught in the middle! I hate humans!" Gadget screamed, her voice trembling with fury as tears flowed again. "I HATE THEM!"

Monterey just stood in the doorway, completely nonplussed. How did you reason with such a young mind after something like this?

Thankfully, Geegaw came to the rescue. He pushed past Monterey, his voice filled with determined calm. "And Gadget, if you burned all the houses down, what of the animals kept as pets by those humans? Birds and cats and dogs, who are loved and cared for by the humans, and who love them back in return. And if you indiscriminately burn houses, wouldn't that keep the police from focusing on the hardware store arson?"

For many long moments, Gadget just stared blankly at her father as tears kept flowing. Monterey hoped Geegaw's cool logic was getting through that hot head of hers. He knew at that age, NOTHING would've changed his mind. Encouraged, Geegaw went on. "Bottom line, Gadget, you can't go around laying the crimes of individuals at the feet of an entire species. Your mother and I and Monterey know this. Hell, we've even gone out of our way to help cats more than once."

Gadget stared at Monterey in shock. "Help cats? YOU?"

Monterey sighed heavily. "I try not to make a habit of it," he admitted weakly.

Taking the initiative, Geegaw reached down and hugged Gadget, letting her cry on his shoulder. "You have such a big heart, Gadget. Please…don't ever let it fill with hate."



The hours flew by in agonizing silence for Professor Norton Nimnul, locked up in solitary in the psych ward. The man always valued his privacy, but the constant sounds of his inventions and scientific instruments were always a source of comfort for him. But here, there was nothing to keep his brilliant mind occupied, allowing it to wander aimlessly.

Most of the time, his thoughts drifted back to those blasted rodents who always fouled up his plans. Oh, and of course, that odious little fly that gave him a one-way trip to the police via his own Modemizer. And what came before still haunted Nimnul's nightmares. And he still couldn't decide which was more horrific: swapping heads with that fly, or being forced to actually WORK with the vermin hellbent on making his life miserable all these years.

"Oh, once I bust out of here, the first thing I'm gonna do is get a bulldozer and knock down that tree of theirs," Nimnul grumbled to himself. "That is, provided I can remember where it is…."

The desperate need for retribution consumed Nimnul again. Those household pests were just like everyone else, always out to hold him back, refusing to let his genius flourish. Time and time again, his inventions were laughed at, making it impossible to get funding for his research the legit way. That was why he partnered up with Aldrin Klordane all those years ago. But even with his money and what Normie's father provided, his attempts to cure Florence's stomach cancer ended in failure….

It was then that Norton Nimnul turned his back on the world, convinced that the world had already turned his back on him…and sentenced his sister to death in the process.

"But the world hasn't heard the last of me," Nimnul swore under his breath. "This looney bin can't hold my genius forever, and once I get out again…."

But Nimnul knew there was little hope of escaping anytime soon. This was the psych ward of a maximum security prison, the authorities finally having had enough of his constant escapes. The security detail surrounding him would be the tightest possible. And because of how he stupidly blathered about rodents and a fly conspiring against him, they had a perfect excuse to keep him doped up on antipsychotics, impairing his ability to plan and plot….

Still feeling the effects of antipsychotics, and still wrapped up in his thoughts, Nimnul didn't notice one of the prison's nurses wheeling in a food cart, removing a tray for him. She was a rather short woman, almost as short as him, and there was a security guard escorting her, brandishing a taser rod maliciously. Nimnul paid neither of them any mind.

All of a sudden, the doors on the cart slid open, as if on their own accord. Some sort of gas sprayed out, which knocked out the guard and the nurse in an instant.

"What in blazes!" demanded Nimnul, nervously backing away from the food cart, fear replacing fury.

"More like 'who' in blazes, my dear professor," came a singsong, arrogant voice…one that Nimnul somehow felt he should recognize. "Now, if you don't mind, be a cooperative fellow and slip on the nurse's clothes, so we can be on our merry way. And please, no complaints about disguising yourself as a woman. I've seen you do it before."

Nimnul stared blankly, trying to work up the courage to demand whoever it was to reveal himself. But then, they showed themselves on their own accord. To his horror, out crawled a mangy orange cat, a rat, some sort of lizard and what looked like a mole, all wearing clothes. They all stared at the professor stupidly, as if waiting to hear what they should do next. "Oh no no no, one of YOU was talking to me, and I understood you!" Nimnul cried out in horror. "Oh no no no, that means some bits of that disgusting fly are still in me!"

"No, it means your little head-swapping adventure unlocked something that was already there," came the voice again. At last, out stepped a huge, grey tabby cat in an elegantly tailored suit. Even with the clothes, Nimnul recognized the cat instantly. It was Aldrin Klordane's old kitty. "Ah, you remember me," said Fat Cat, seeing the dawning expression on Nimnul's face. "I assure you, I remember you as well. Goes without saying we didn't exactly like each other, but I'm confident we can put our old differences aside."

Nimnul nervously backed up against the wall, still refusing to accept what he was hearing, that he could still understand what animals were saying. "W-W-What d'you furballs want with m-m-m-me!" he spluttered.

"Oh, I imagine the same thing you'd want from us," replied Fat Cat calmly. "A partnership that'll pave the way to money, power…oh, and a shot at revenge against the do-gooding rodents that've made our lives a living hell for years."

That last bit got Professor Nimnul's attention.

Fat Cat laughed at how Nimnul couldn't hide his sudden change in mood. "Oh yes, I've crossed paths with those blasted Rescue Rangers as many times as you have, my dear professor. There's always in our way. And I trust we can swallow our pride and work together just long enough to get in theirs."

Chapter 2: The Kindness of Strangers

“…I repeat, we have an anonymous report of gang activity and illicit arms dealing at the eastern docks. All available units, converge on the docks. Suspects are assumed to be armed and extremely dangerous. I repeat, to all available units, we have….”

Muldoon lazily turned down the volume on the police radio as Kirby sharply turned a corner, heading for the docks, their headlights feebly piercing through the nighttime gloom. They were leading nearly half a dozen cop cars, their sirens blaring, and were only three minutes away from their goal. “Arms smuggling, eh? Finally, somethin’ gritty. Haven’t had anything this serious in weeks,” said Muldoon, a hint of excitement in his voice as he readied his pistol.

“Yeah, because millions of dollars of damage ‘cuz of out of control moles and a mad scientist on a weather-controlling exercise bike sure ain’t ‘serious,’” scoffed Kirby. “I tell ya, partner, after some of the weird stuff we’ve seen on the beat these last few years, a good ol’ arms bust is music to my ears.”

“My money’s on that slimeball Ignatz Ratskiwatski,” muttered Muldoon gruffly, changing the subject. “His scumbag lawyers finally got him out a few months ago, and he don’t have enough sense to lie low for very long.”

“Like I said, music to my ears, if this is his little caper,” said Kirby. “Especially considering when he got put away last time, it was after his goons were fiddling with one of Professor Nimnul’s old toys.”

“Speaking of which, it also ain’t been too long since Nimnul busted himself out of the big house…AGAIN,” said Muldoon. “And yet, there hasn’t been anything that smells of the weird voodoo sci-fi gizmos he whips up.”

“Plenty of other robberies here and there that’ve got the detective squads baffled,” Kirby pointed out. “But if the good professor’s behind any of ‘em, we’ll catch up to him soon enough.”

“Wanna bet our job’ll be miraculously done for us by the time we do?” asked Muldoon. “I mean, most of the times we bag ‘em and tag ‘em, it’s almost like someone leaves him giftwrapped for us. I mean, all the stories flyin’ around on TV and the radio, d’you think that, for real, there’s some….”

“Can the wild speculation, we’re nearly there,” Kirby said brusquely, knowing where Muldoon was going. No point in delving into that now, considering what was lying right ahead. Picking up his radio, Kirby told all the cops following them, “OK, all units, listen up. This could get messy, so be ready for….”

Kirby just spoke truer than he knew. As the docks came into view, a blinding, deafening explosion consumed a large boat, illuminating the dreary, cloudy night. Stunned, Kirby made their car swerve and skid to a halt, and the cars following them did the same. Luckily, there were no collisions. Kirby sat there for a moment as fire and smoke continued to rise from the totaled boat, wondering what could have possibly happened. He got his answer when a hulking, bald man in an expensive suit, sopping wet and running from the explosion, threw himself onto the hood of their car.

“Who says there ain’t no cops when ya need ‘em!?” cried Ratskiwatski, his eyes wide with terror. “I-I-I-I give up! W-We all give up! J-J-Just get us outta here!” the mob boss blubbered. “It-It-It happened again…th-th-those damn rodents again!! Came zippin’ in in some plane thing made out of a big jar or somethin’, distracted and suckered my boys, a-a-and t-t-then…those C-C-C-CHIPMUNKS tossed a LIVE GRENADE down below where we was keepin’ the weapons! A-A-And they LAUGHED AT US as they did it! I swear, that laugh’ll be in our nightmares forever! W-W-We’ll confess everything, rat out everyone involved…just get us away from them rodents!!!”

As Ratskiwatski kept blathering while sprawled out on the hood, begging and pleading to be hauled off, Kirby and Muldoon could only stare blankly at each other. Unbelievable stories just like these had been piling up for years, and they were getting harder and harder to brush away and ignore.


Hours had passed since Ignatz Ratskiwatski and all his accomplices had been arrested and hauled away. Sunrise was due in less than an hour, and almost all the cops on duty that dreary morning were at their favorite pizza parlor. Naturally, one of the biggest mass arrests of underworld figures was a cause for celebration. But some cops, especially Kirby and Muldoon, didn’t exactly feel a profound sense of accomplishment, not when it was obvious most of their work had been done for them.

And for Kirby and Muldoon, the nagging question for them was who.

“Face it, Kirby, there’s somethin’ to all the stories the press has been having field days with, and ya know it,” said Muldoon as he took a pizza box off the stack. Most of the cops were seated in the outdoor patio, but Kirby and Muldoon had a table to themselves, busily discussing what had been on their minds for weeks.

“Well, partner, it sure was easier to write off when it was only that kook Nimnul ranting and raving about killer rodents, that’s for sure,” Kirby agreed. “Then we got busts like those two crooks diggin’ into the bank from that diner, that first time Ratskiwatski got hauled in. But I dunno man, I dunno….”

“Is it really that hard to believe?” admonished Muldoon. “Remember the little rubbery rodent fella?”

“No, no I haven’t,” Kirby said quickly. “Still, the idea of an entire animal vigilante force out there…it’s like something out of a cartoon, man. It’ll take a while to wrap your head around.”

“Well, we got plenty of time with our vacation coming up,” said Muldoon. “By the way, thanks for letting me tag along to see your family in Florida….”

“Yeah, been too long since I last saw the gang down in the ol’ swamps. It’ll be fun spendin’ Halloween down there, instead of bein’ on patrol for punk pranksters here in a few weeks,” said Kirby, reaching for another piece of pizza. “But truth be told, partner, I’ll be breathing easier if we put ol’ Nimnul away sometime before we split. That way, we can be sure we got jobs to come back to, not to mention a city….”

Meanwhile, as Kirby and Muldoon talked about their upcoming vacation, no one would have faulted them for not noticing anything peculiar nearby. Such as a fishing line hooking onto the pizza box on top of the stack, and forcefully yanking it off, sending it zipping toward their cop car.

“Breakfast is served, everybody!” said Gadget brightly, reeling in the pizza box with her makeshift fishing pole, constructed with a ruler and spool. Beside her, on the car’s roof, was the Ranger Wing, where it had landed soon after the cops’ arrival.

“Yeah, don’t think the cops’ll object to much for letting us have one pizza. Not after we giftwrapped an entire mob for ‘em AND gave ‘em one big ol’ fireworks show!” exclaimed Dale. He began dancing around, making all sorts of obnoxious explosion noises, eventually earning him a bonk on the head from Chip.

“Knock it off, Dale! In hindsight, that was a risky move we pulled!” admonished Chip.

“Yeah, risky for them!” replied Dale in his carefree manner. “And if I remember correctly, YOU were laughing at Ratskiwatski too.”

“Urrr, yeah, well, I uh…that was just psychological warfare, to rattle Ratskiwatski!” Chip shot back, hoping to weasel out of the corner Dale backed him into. “And it worked. Right after he climbed out of the water, he threw himself at the cops!” he added with a smirk.

“Good thing the voice synthesizer thingie Gadget-luv installed worked like a charm, eh Chippah?” asked Monterey Jack, who was standing beside the Ranger Wing, with Zipper on his shoulder. Miraculously, the aroma from the pizza hadn’t obliterated his self-control yet. “No more worryin’ about whether or not the big boys can understand us critters. Just find a payphone, punch in the words, and presto! Instant cavalry.”

“Well, I’m wondering whether I can install parts of a cell phone into the Ranger Wing too, also eliminating the need for a payphone,” said Gadget, always eager to take her work even further. “But it’ll be tricky, since all the equipment for the synthesizer takes up a lot of space already. Not to mention the directional mic I also put in.” To emphasize her point, Gadget reached into the cockpit and flipped the mic back on. Instantly, a thin, metal appendage shot out from between the flashlight nose-cone and the Ranger Wing’s main fuselage, pointing the mic back toward the parlor. Through the cockpit, the Rescue Rangers could hear Muldoon and Kirby, loud and clear, still debating on whether or not all these rumors about them could be believed.

It wasn’t long before all the Rangers were giggling uncontrollably. The dramatic irony of how they had shadowed these two humans for years was hilarious beyond belief. “Well lads, at least they’re open to the idea a buncha rodents and a fly’ve helped bust crooks all these years,” said Monterey. “But fer now, time t’ enjoy the fruits of our labor. Time t’ dig in, lads!”

After a long night on patrol, none of the other Rangers needed any more urging. They hastily flipped open the pizza box and began their feast. The atmosphere atop the cop car was a jubilant one, but after a while, the hopeful feeling died away for Chip.

The Rescue Rangers hadn’t been out on patrol looking for Ratskiwatski and his mob. They were still out looking for Professor Nimnul. They had been ever since his latest breakout, looking for any clues or any mysterious crimes that smelled of his handiwork. Now that Nimnul actually knew all about them, he was a threat the Rangers couldn’t just wait to pop up anymore.

Chip sighed, then stuffed his face with another bite of pizza. It was blind luck they had stumbled upon Ignatz Ratskiwatski’s gang this morning, and even luckier that Gadget had just finished installing the Ranger Wing’s new gear. Without her voice synthesizer and directional mic, it would’ve been impossible to bring the police in time, not to mention come up with a quick – albeit flashy and destructive – plan for dealing with the gang.

Chip looked over to Gadget, who was absentmindedly nibbling away at her own piece of pizza. The Rescue Rangers relied so much on her. Not just on her scientific know-how, but her compassionate nature and sense of honor always kept the team on track. And, of course, there was the fact that she was drop-dead gorgeous. In so many ways, Gadget was the very heart of the Rescue Rangers. They had survived so much together as a team, but with Fat Cat always a threat, and Nimnul on the loose again…for some reason, a horrible sense of dread was gnawing at Chip lately. Nothing truly out of the ordinary had happened in the last two months, but Chip had a terrible feeling…it was merely a calm before the storm.

Chip had no idea how long he sat there brooding as he idly munched on pizza, but he was dragged back to the present by a shrill voice from the police radio. “Attention all units. Reports of a break-in at the Stones-Cummings Pharmacy on MacNeille and Burton. All available units are ordered to investigate….”

“A pharmacy robbery?” scoffed Monterey, seeing the look in Chip’s eyes. “Seems a tad trite after reeling in an entire mob. Maybe we should just let the police handle this one themselves,” he suggested. Zipper buzzed vehemently on his shoulder, shaking his head.

“Zipper’s right. Besides, that’s not too far from here, and the Ranger Wing can get there quicker than the cops. It’s worth a look,” said Chip. And so, within seconds, despite grumbling from Dale and Monterey, all the Rangers were back in the Ranger Wing. Chip grasped the controls, and they lifted off, rising higher until they effortlessly flew over the nearby office buildings, heading for the intersection with the pharmacy. Chip knew Monterey had a point. This hardly seemed like the sort of crime Nimnul would be up to, but they couldn’t take any chances.

“Golly, Chip…you really think we’ll find anything useful investigating a pharmacy robbery?” Gadget asked as the Ranger Wing sped toward its goal.

“Like I said…at this point, anything’s worth a look,” Chip said, his determination evident. Chip wasn’t sure about the other Rangers, but he was tired of waiting for their enemies to make the first move. Fat Cat was too firmly entrenched in the city’s animal society to be permanently put away, but lately the Rangers found…other ways to keep tabs on the corpulent crime boss. Nimnul was a different story, however, and Chip hoped the next time the Rangers delivered him to the police, they could finally hold him.

“Chippah lad, there’ve been other weird robberies lately. A jewelry store break-in here, some pawn shops there, a bank vault here, a tech warehouse way out there. All stuff that’s happened since Nimnul busted out…stuff we can go to the station to see if there’s any new leads,” suggested Monterey. “If ya ask me, once we do some more sniffin’ around, the stink’ll lead us right to Nimnul!”

“I dunno Monty. None of that stuff hits me like all the egomaniac, over-the-top stuff ol’ Nimnul likes ta get into,” countered Dale. “The fact that we didn’t find any clues…smells more like the sneaky stuff Fat Cat likes!”

“Oh please, we’ve had Fat Cat’s casino cased for weeks and uncovered nothin’ of the sort!” scoffed Monterey. “Or maybe you have doubts about the help we’ve commissioned?”

“Hey, it’s not that!” Dale said defensively. “But if you’re so sure it’s Nimnul, how’s about a little wager?”

Monterey Jack considered that a moment. “Like the loser has to offer to babysit little Bink for a month, ya mean?” Monterey offered.

“Deal!” said Dale, shaking Monterey’s hand.

Chip couldn’t help but facepalm, annoyed at how flippant Dale and Monterey Jack were being. But they brought up some good points. So far, there was little evidence to tie the recent string of seemingly random robberies to either Fat Cat or Professor Nimnul. The tech warehouse heist screamed Nimnul, and the vexing elusiveness of the guilty party screamed Fat Cat, but beyond that….

“Chip, we’re already here,” said Gadget suddenly, bringing Chip’s mind back into focus. Peering over the side as he flew around the pharmacy, Chip looked for anything unusual, but so far there were no broken windows or anything. But then, as the Ranger Wing swooped in around the back, Chip spotted how the rear door was slightly ajar. After gently setting the Ranger Wing down behind a garbage can, Chip clambered out and motioned for the others to follow. Barreling ahead, Zipper deftly flew through the crack in the door. After a few seconds, Zipper flew back out, an apologetic look in his eyes as he shrugged his shoulders.

“Whoever busted in here, the blokes’re obviously long gone by now,” said Monterey. It couldn’t have been clearer that he considered this a complete waste of time.

Chip was about to give Monterey an earful, but Dale spoke up. “But they’re not going home with everything they came for, Monty. At least for this case, we already got a clue!” he said with a hint of triumph. Turning around, Chip saw Dale was holding up a white, pentagon-shaped pill. Looking down the alley behind the pharmacy, Chip could make out where other such pills had been dropped during the crooks’ getaway.

“Back in the Ranger Wing, everybody! We’ll follow that trail of pills by air! Hopefully we’re not too late,” said Chip impatiently as he ran back for their plane. Soon enough, they were back in the air, navigating the narrow alleys, flying as high as they could while still able to see the trail of pills. “Hopefully, we’re not too late and can catch up to the thieves,” Chip said hopefully as the Ranger Wing made another sharp turn. Obviously they had turned due east, since Chip noticed the first glimpses of sunrise peering over the horizon. That suddenly made him uneasy; he had hoped to sneak up on the robbers under the cover of darkness. They still had no idea who they were following, and with dawn fast approaching….

Chip pressed on, steering the Ranger Wing around another sharp corner. As soon as he got a good look at the alley ahead, Chip gasped, instinctively pulling down hard on some levers to make the plane hover. This jarred everyone in the plane, prompting an angry outcry from Dale. “Hey, what’s the big idea, Chip?” he demanded.

“Oh hush, Dale. After all, it looks like you won that bet! Look!” Chip shot back, pointing at the wide-open space in the alley ahead. Everyone leaned forward trying to get a better look, the rising sun barely giving off enough light. But there was no mistaking who was about a dozen yards ahead.

“Mole. And Mepps,” said Gadget sourly just as they disappeared around another corner.

“Don’t worry, Monty. I can lend ya some Velcro straps so Bink doesn’t slip away,” said Dale with a sly grin.

“Hey, we dunno if these blighters are behind them other robberies yet!” spat Monterey.

“Zip it, you two! I think they’re talking to someone!” Chip cried out, landing the Ranger Wing on a lamplight over a door in that alley. Shutting off the engines, Chip leaned forward, hoping to hear something.

Indeed, Chip could make out Mepps’s droning screech when he said, “Hey, bossss!” But afterward, he spoke too softly to hear from around the corner.

Chip was about to power up the engines again, but Gadget leaned over to flip the directional mic back on. “Forgetting something, Chip?” she said with a sly look as the directional mic was extended from the fuselage. Chip smacked himself in frustration as Gadget’s invention kicked in.

“We got extra of everything on the list, boss,” came Wart’s voice through the Ranger Wing’s speakers. “With all this, he’s got everything he needs to whip up your…special medicine, right?”

“Well now, I daresay between the four of you, you actually had enough functional neurons to grind together, get over your crushing incompetence, and identify all the big fancy words on your shopping list. It’s nice to know that your unfathomable stupidity is something I need not worry about, on top of all our other…setbacks,” came the snarky, suave reply of Fat Cat. Chip’s teeth gritted in anger the instant Fat Cat opened his mouth, but as he listened, something sounded odd. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but something was different about Fat Cat’s voice.

Just then, Monterey and Dale started bickering about something else. Now it sounded as if Fat Cat’s tone had switched from mocking to subtly icy, but Chip couldn’t make it out. “Would you two muzzle it?” Chip roared. Turning back to the Ranger Wing’s panel, Chip tried to listen in again.

Now, it was Snout speaking. “Errr, gee boss, we rigged the security cams just like how he showed us. The burglar alarm we had no trouble with either…errr, I think.”

“You…think?” Fat Cat muttered softly, sounding dangerously aloof and dubious.

“Heh, good thing they haven’t smartened up too much,” Gadget said with a grin. As for Dale and Monterey, they were still arguing about whatever, but even over their bickering, Chip could make out a new voice.

As horrible a shock as it was to hear that voice, Chip let a mischievous grin creep over his face. Turning back to Dale and Monterey, he said, “Looks like BOTH of you are gonna be spending some quality time with Bink. Listen closely.”

Leaning forward to hear better, Dale, Monterey and Zipper gasped as they heard Professor Norton Nimnul blather away. “OK, so your fleabitten underlings might’ve botched it with the burglar alarm. Big deal. We’ll be long gone from here before those donut-scarfers even bother checking out that pharmacy. In the meantime, don’t they have another job to go do?”

“Indeed they do, my dear professor, indeed they do,” said Fat Cat smoothly. “Alright boys, time for drug run number two. And get the lead out. The sun will be up any minute, and best to get all our errands done before those meddlesome Rescue Rangers are up bright and early.”

If only they knew, Chip thought darkly as he heard Fat Cat’s cronies splutter half-hearted assurances. However, now he almost wished they hadn’t been on patrol tonight. They finally found Professor Nimnul, but instead of things looking up, now the picture looked more dire than Chip could possibly imagine. It was like some unimaginable nightmare…Fat Cat and Professor Nimnul, their worst enemies, now working together!? “Wait, how’s this even possible? After Nimnul’s Modemizer switched us all back to normal, there shouldn’t be any way he can still talk to animals!”

“Hopefully this doesn’t mean the switch back didn’t completely return us to normal,” said Gadget darkly.

“Brrrr, you can say that again,” Dale added with a shudder. Zipper interjected with some vehement ranting of his own. Not surprising, considering how some of Nimnul’s inventions personally affected him in the past. Still, Chip was glad he could only understand half of what Zipper was saying. As he looked back at Zipper, Chip wondered if Gadget’s suspicions were right, that some little bit of Zipper was left in the professor, letting him still talk to animals. Somehow, though, Chip had a hunch there was more to it than that.

Chip turned around when Nimnul spoke up again. “Speaking of everyone’s least favorite gang of rodents, isn’t it about time to do something about that, before those pests have a chance to make things even worse?”

“Patience, professor, patience,” said Fat Cat calmly. “My desire to finally be rid of those vermin is as great as yours. It is, after all, the main reason why my humble little band broke you out of prison. And those jewelry store heists and that bank vault break-in are proof positive we shall enjoy a fruitful partnership for years to come. But the…unforeseen complications we’ve since run into force us to make difficult choices. And I daresay, unlike you, my past experiences with the Rescue Rangers have taught me prudence.”

“Prudence, my foot!” Nimnul fired back. “We both know where those wretched rodents are holed up. First thing we should do come next sundown is torch that entire park and salt the earth!”

“And you think those ridiculous Rangers have never prepared for such an eventuality?” asked Fat Cat delicately. “You keep underestimating them at your peril. After all, you yourself saw firsthand that that lovely little mouse of theirs has a mind to match your own, did you not? And trust me when I say when it comes to her contraptions, her deviousness matches MY own. It’s the sole reason why my gang has never launched a preemptive strike like you’re suggesting. ICBMs could launch out of that park come sunrise and I wouldn’t bat an eye in surprise.”

Again, despite the gravity of this case, the Rangers couldn’t help but laugh at Fat Cat’s paranoia. “Oh, this is too rich. THAT’S why Fat Cat never bothered takin’ the fight to us before?” Dale asked incredulously. “Ol’ Fat Cat has more problems than I thought. I mean, Gadget would never put weapons like THAT around our tree.” Then he nervously looked over to Gadget and added, “Would you?”

“Well, I’ll admit nuclear missiles would be a tad extreme, Dale. But to establish a defensive perimeter around our corner of the park, I did consider rigging sprinklers to act as flamethrower turrets instead,” Gadget said brightly, not realizing how this was unnerving everyone. “Of course, seeing how a lot of dry underbrush builds up at certain times of the year, I figured it might be a better idea to….”

“Uh, I’m sure you’ve got some great ideas, Gadget-luv, but let’s keep listenin’ in on Fat Cat and Nimnul,” Monterey cut in quickly.

“Ahh, but there’s more to it than that, isn’t there?” Nimnul shot back in an accusatory tone. “I overheard you talking with your fleabitten cronies the other day…you still want to take that mouse alive, don’t you?” The indignation in Nimnul’s voice, being forced to accept that Gadget’s brains rivaled his own…it was clearly gnawing at him. Possibly moreso than taking orders from a cat.

“I pride myself a shrewd businessman, Professor, so yes, I wouldn’t want a resource as valuable as Gadget Hackwrench’s brain to go to waste. And let’s face it, Professor, should we find a way to…persuade her to aid us, we may yet find a solution we’ve previously overlooked,” said Fat Cat.

Nimnul sighed heavily. “Fine fine fine, we’ll play it your way a little longer, cat. Just don’t expect me to hold my breath waiting for Miss Mousey to come around.”

That last exchange, more than anything else tonight, made Chip’s blood boil. He looked over to Gadget, who was deftly tending the controls in the co-pilot’s seat. If Gadget was unnerved by what they overheard, she didn’t show it. Her brain’s probably got all sorts of plans and contingencies for taking these two down going through it, he thought hopefully. She’s been so important to the Rescue Rangers…to me…. How dare Fat Cat think he could ever get Gadget on her side? That she’d ever…be anything else but the good-hearted, loyal friend we’ve always known? How DARE he!? he thought vehemently.

Angry footsteps came in over the directional mic. Looking back ahead, Chip noticed a small motorcycle parked at the entrance of the adjacent alley. Suddenly, Nimnul stepped out into view, his white labcoat making him stand out in the shadowy, gloomy alley. Fat Cat seated himself on the back of the motorcycle, from the looks of it; the lingering darkness made it difficult to make him out. After donning a helmet, Nimnul started up his motorcycle, getting ready to ride out.

Chip’s hands instantly flew to the controls, retracting the directional mic and powering up the Ranger Wing’s engines. “C’mon everyone, we’re tailing them!” he exclaimed. “Hopefully they’ll lead us to whatever Nimnul’s using for his new headquarters. Then we can use Gadget’s voice synthesizer to bring the police.”

“Golly, Chip, what about Fat Cat’s cronies?” asked Gadget. “What if they’ve already made it to wherever Fat Cat sent them?”

“We’ll have to deal with the small fry later, Gadget-luv,” said Monterey. “Here’s our chance to home in on the big fish.”

As Nimnul’s bike revved out onto the street, the Ranger Wing shot ahead, staying a good distance above ground to avoid detection. The sun was almost over the horizon, bathing the city in its morning rays. Chip nervously gripped the controls, the edges of the bottlecap digging into his paws. In the morning glare, the white Ranger Plane could be hidden, but the dark fuselage of the Ranger Wing would stand out. If either Fat Cat or Nimnul glanced up….

Nimnuls’ motorcycle sped on, but the Ranger Wing easily kept up. At one point, both Fat Cat and Nimnul seemed a little uneasy, looking about every which way. As Chip looked around, he suddenly understood why. Perhaps Nimnul hadn’t realized they would be passing so close to their park. Granted, their tree was far on the opposite side, but clearly Fat Cat’s reasoning had rattled the professor.

As the motorcycle sped along the edge of the park, Chip soon encountered a new problem. Many trees hung over the street Nimnul rode down. Soon, it became almost impossible to keep them in their sights. Letting out a nervous sigh, Chip made the Ranger Wing descend, hoping they’d still be able to spot Nimnul through the branches.

Chip was focusing so intently on keeping tabs on Nimnul, he was just barely aware of a soft whooshing sound from below, yet somehow audible over all the car engines. Thinking little of it, Chip kept watching and tailing Nimnul. Then, as Chip lowered the Ranger Wing a bit more for a better look, he peered through the branches again, and realized Fat Cat was no longer on the bike!

Then Chip heard that whoosh again, this time from directly behind.

Looking behind them, Chip’s eyes widened as he caught a quick glimpse of Fat Cat launching himself right at the Ranger Wing. He barely had time to let out a gasp before Fat Cat swiped at the rear end. One blow instantly knocked the Ranger Wing toward the park, spinning out of control. Before Chip knew it, the Ranger Wing collided with the power lines surrounding the park’s perimeter. Deafening pops and crackles rang in his ears as smoke clouded his vision; no doubt most, if not all, of the Ranger Wing’s electronics were shorting out.

Choking on smoke, unable to speak, Chip could only feebly wave it away, his mind trying to cope with the sudden turn of events. Dale managed to get something out, wondering the same thing Chip was. “What in the…how’d Fat Cat JUMP at us from BEHIND?!” he got out in between choked gasps.

“Dunno Dale. Just glad Gadget redesigned the Ranger Wing to protect passengers from this sort of electrical feedback,” croaked Chip. At last, the smoke was dying down. “At least we’re not too far from headquarters. Hopefully, it won’t take us too long to repair all the electronics, right Gadget?”

Chip received no answer. Cold dread clawing at his heart, he turned to the co-pilot seat. Gadget was gone!

“Oh no no no,” muttered Monterey, noticing the same thing. “The plane’s tilted to the side…Gadget-luv must’ve been thrown out!” Panicking, Chip leaned over the side, bracing himself as he looked down. Gadget was standing in a muddy puddle, an open parachute behind her. “Good thing I still always carry a parachute, huh Chip?” she called up to them, winking as she removed the parachute.

Chip let out a long sigh of relief, then took a good look around them. They weren’t too far from the pole. One good leap and he, Dale and Monterey could reach it, then safely climb down. They could come back with the Ranger Plane, and haul the Ranger Wing back to headquarters for repairs, in no time. Of course, we’d still be on Nimnul’s trail, if Fat Cat hadn’t clobbered us from behind. How DID he do that anyway? We always knew he’s faster than he looks, that he could haul butt if it was on the line, but…how could ANY cat jump like that, and move as agilely as that?

Chip was so preoccupied with what Fat Cat pulled, that he absentmindedly flipped one of the levers as he climbed out. The wings swiveled and the engines sputtered back to life, just long enough for one of the propellers to sever a power line. Chip’s heart sank as he saw the live line fall, right toward….

“Gadget, get out of that puddle!” Dale shouted. “Hurry, before….”

Dale was cut off as the line made contact with the muddy water. There was a flash and a deafening crack. The other Rangers could only watch helplessly as Gadget’s body suddenly flew upward in an arc, leaving a smoking trail. She eventually landed on a lidded trash can with a lifeless thud.

“Oh no, I couldn’t have, don’t tell me….” Chip gasped in disbelief.

“Mates, I don’t think she’s movin’! She ain’t breathin’!” shouted Monterey. “We gotta get to Gadget-luv an’ fast, but mates…it looks like she’s DEAD!!”


Isaac Osceola took his bicycle through the park that morning. He was always one to get a jump start on a busy day, so he afford to take the longer, more scenic route through the city’s park to school. Not that he really ever looked forward to school. As he rode, Isaac glanced down at the puddles that still dotted the park. He sighed at his skinny frame, freckly face, red hair, and how he was a tad short even though he just turned 17. Yeah, the look that every sort of bully automatically homes in on.

Or at least used to. Over the years, Isaac had learned subtle ways to discourage them, so now jocks only bothered him when they were bored or felt particularly brave. Still, it didn’t do a thing for crushing loneliness.

Being a straight A student didn’t help either. At least this afternoon, there was the biology test. Science was always Isaac’s best subject, especially anything to do with living things. It gave him a little hope, that with that kind of talent, he could do some good in the world one day….

As Isaac mulled over his lot in life, a loud crack snapped him back to the present. Looking around for the source, near the edge of the park, he noticed…something flying up in an arc, leaving a trail of smoke until it landed on a trash can.

Isaac wasn’t sure why, but something made him bring his bike to a screeching halt. Curiously, he walked over to the trash can, wondering what in the world what going on. Looking down, he gasped as he saw…a mouse? No, not only that, a mouse wearing some sort of clothing, a weird purple jumpsuit.  Isaac followed the trail of smoke back to a puddle, noticing a severed power line submersed in it. Looking up, he saw what looked like sort weird toy plane. Obviously, it somehow severed the line, leading to this.

Looking back down at the mouse, Isaac’s heart sank. Why did such senseless tragedies always happen? Because of some stupid accident, this poor innocent creature had its life cut short. Bending down for a closer look, Isaac confirmed that the mouse definitely wasn’t breathing. It was then that he clearly saw the mouse’s half-opened eyes, the lifeless look in them….

For some reason, that sight sparked something in Isaac. Hold on now, wasn’t I just thinking that I wanted to do something good with my talent? That I wanted to be a doctor or a biochemist or something? Well, here’s a perfect place to start. Even if it’s just a mouse…nothing this stupid should happen on my watch.

Kneeling beside the trash can, Isaac nervously reached for the mouse with trembling fingers. At that moment, some fly started buzzing around Isaac’s face, as if trying to drive him away. Isaac absentmindedly shooed the fly away, giving it little thought. Then, with renewed determination, he placed the tips of his index and middle fingers on the mouse’s chest, where he knew the heart was from biology lab. Taking a deep breath, he pressed down, praying he used just the right amount of pressure. He already took CPR courses, so he knew what to do with people, but who ever thought he’d have to resuscitate a mouse?

Oh great, that’s right…how the hell do I give mouth-to-mouth to this thing? he thought acidly. After thirty or so chest compressions, Isaac looked at the trash can again, and a wild hope came to him. Carefully lifting the lid the mouse was on, Isaac rummaged through the garbage until…. Yes! Perfect! he thought triumphantly, seeing a kid’s sip-up pouch with the straw still in it. Isaac quickly took it out, cleaned it off with his shirt, and carefully stuck one end in the mouse’s mouth. Making sure its mouth was closed around it, Isaac breathed gently through the straw, worried that he might make its lungs explode or something. Thankfully, Isaac saw its chest steadily rise, then fall.

And so, Isaac continued the cycle of chest compressions and breaths through the straw. He wasn’t sure how long this went on. A minute? An hour? It was a if nothing mattered, except saving this poor creature. But just as Isaac was about to abandon hope, cursing himself for being naïve and foolish, the mouse suddenly twitched on its own volition, sputtering and coughing. Isaac quickly withdrew the straw, smiling down at his handiwork.


All Gadget knew at that moment was a haze of pain, having no idea where she was or what just happened. Every joint in her body screamed out in agony, and her lungs burned. As she fought to draw in one painful breath after another, she struggled to recall what was going on. Slowly but surely, the details of their last patrol run came back to her, the horrible revelation of Fat Cat and Professor Nimnul teaming up. Other fleeting images, like a live power line falling fast, came rushing back as well.

It wasn’t long before Gadget pieced together what happened. Golly, that must’ve been one heckuva electric shock that knocked me out. Actually, I shouldn’t even be alive, given my size and the amount of electricity conducted. Seriously, why am I still breathing?

Gadget slowly opened her eyes, everything a blur of flitting stars and double vision. It sounded as if someone was calling out to her, but whoever it was, it wasn’t one of the Rangers. As her vision steadily came back into focus, Gadget could make out a huge face looming over her. Definitely a human face, a young male with freckles from the look of it. Normally, Gadget’s first instinct would’ve been to bail, but at the moment, her body wouldn’t cooperate.

The boy lifted his head somewhat, and Gadget could see what he held in one hand: some sort of straw. Gadget quickly pieced together what happened. Her heart and breathing had stopped due to the electric shock, but for whatever reason, this human just resuscitated her. Whoever he was, she owed him her life.

“You breathing OK now?” asked the boy. Gadget could only nod dully, it still hurting to breathe. He smiled down at her. After letting Gadget rest another moment, he gently picked her up. Gadget would’ve squirmed away in protest if everything didn’t ache so much. He fiddled with her hair for a moment, then seemed to eye her clothes. “Name’s Isaac, by the way. Isaac Osceola. As for you…what’s with the purple suit? Hmmm, bet you belong to someone.” Gadget frowned in indignation, but said nothing. “In any case, doubt you’ll make it on your own after that nasty shock. Biology test’s not until later today…guess I can swing by the local vet clinic. They’ll finish fixing you up and find out where your home is.”

Gadget looked up at Isaac, deciding whoever he was, he had good intentions at heart. Might as well play along and let him do as he suggested. She was in no condition to resist, and the other Rangers couldn’t be far off. They’d come for her in the Ranger Plane soon enough.

Just then, someone began honking a car horn obnoxiously. With a snort, Isaac turned to the source. Gadget strained to look while being held in his hands. From the looks of it, some jocks had parked along the street next to the park, and were all leering at him mockingly. “Yo Izzy! Find a new friend? Oh, I’m sure Professor Burning’ll like it if her teacher’s pet brings in an extra lab specimen…for us to poop on!”

As the jocks laughed stupidly amongst themselves, Gadget looked up. Isaac’s face was one of determined calm, yet somehow, he then managed a wry, dangerous grin. “Nothing of the sort, gentlemen. This cute little critter’ll might be staying with me. In fact, might have to go home early to set things up, which is all well and good. My aunt probably got some new…equipment she’ll want me to inspect.” Gadget had a feeling there was some coded message behind that. Indeed, as Isaac’s words sunk in, the jocks exchanged funny looks, but kept up their bravado with jeers and taunts as they drove off. “Don’t worry about what they said. After the trouble you just caused me, no way I’ll let you…wind up a specimen to be, err dissected like in class last month,” Isaac said sheepishly. “Ah, enough wasting time worrying about them. Let’s book for the vet.”

With surprising gentleness, Isaac lowered Gadget into the pocket on his pocket-tee. Still, there was no avoiding aggravating her aching joints as she was dropped in. Then came the sudden jolt as Isaac got back on his bike and began pedaling away.

Gadget managed to pull herself up and poke her head out of the pocket. The cool, forceful breeze on her face did wonders for getting rid of her grogginess. Well, things could be a lot worse, Gadget reasoned. Fat Cat and Nimnul are making a point of avoiding the Rescue Rangers for the moment, and…it’s not every day I come across a human this concerned with my health, let alone one that’d perform CPR on a mouse. For the moment, Gadget felt she could relax, not worry so much about the impending case that would bog down the Rescue Rangers, and trust this human.

Gadget lost track of time, not to mention what part of the city they were in, as Isaac pedaled on. All Gadget was aware of was that the sun had risen fully by the time Isaac made it to the veterinary clinic. A blast of even cooler air as Isaac went in, plus the powerful smell of disinfectants, made sure she was fully awake. After explaining what happened to the receptionist, Isaac was told to sit and wait for when someone was available.

Still in no condition to make a break for it, Gadget leaned back in Isaac’s pocket, trying to make herself comfortable. Wearily, she looked around the waiting room. There was an old woman with a parrot, a little girl with a rabbit that looked terribly lethargic, a man bringing in a vicious-looking German Shepherd…but had one leg in a cast.

Suddenly, Gadget remembered the string of weird robberies that rocked the city since Nimnul’s escape, which Fat Cat pretty much confessed to being an accomplice to. One involved raiding a warehouse full of high-tech gear. Was this a guard dog that got hurt during that heist? There was something different about Fat Cat now, with the way he crippled the Ranger Wing in an eyeblink. And his hatred for dogs was legendary…had he made a point of injuring that poor dog as well?

What am I thinking, that I don’t have to worry about Fat Cat for a while? Gadget thought, angry at herself. He always up to no good, but if Nimnul’s helping him now, we can’t just sit around. I’ve got to get out of here and regroup with the Rangers. They should be here any minute now….

A familiar buzzing noise made Gadget look up. Sure enough, Zipper was hovering a few inches away, and thankfully Isaac hadn’t noticed him. “Zipper! Thank goodness you tailed us here!” Zipper smiled and nodded triumphantly. “Hurry, go get the guys! The sooner we’re all back on the case…the…better….”

Gadget’s voice trailed off as she noticed some new arrivals in the waiting room, who obviously did not belong. Creeping along underneath the seats were none other than Fat Cat’s four cronies: Mole, Mepps, Wart and Snout. They were all glancing around furtively, clearly fearful of screwing up their latest job for Fat Cat. More than once, Snout looked their way. With the way Snout’s hat made his eyes hard to see, Gadget wasn’t sure if he spotted her, but from reading his body language, she had a hunch that he had. Oh no, the second ‘drug run’ Fat Cat mentioned…it’s HERE!? Gadget thought with disbelief, not knowing if this was the luckiest coincidence or the worst.

Once Zipper noticed the crooked animals, he grimaced angrily, preparing to dive at them. It took all of Gadget’s strength to reach out from Isaac’s pocket and grab Zipper by his shirt collar. “NO Zipper! Someone has to go alert the other Rangers!” she admonished. “I’ll…I’ll just have to figure out something, hopefully keep them from nabbing whatever they came for.” Zipper looked aghast, ready to argue with her, but Gadget was firm. “No time to argue, Zipper. Just MOVE!” Gadget demanded, shoving him away.

Reluctantly, Zipper nodded and flew off. Gadget made a point of making sure he listened and flew out of the waiting room. Then, slowly and gingerly, she climbed out of Isaac’s shirt pocket, sliding down in a way that wouldn’t alert him. “Sorry Isaac, you’re a nice kid and all, but duty calls,” Gadget muttered, feeling a little guilty. Isaac set out to make sure she was cared for on top of resuscitating her. It felt wrong just to up and leave like that. But whatever Fat Cat’s cronies came to this veterinary clinic for, Gadget knew they couldn’t be allowed to get away with it. And so, even with all the exhaustion and aches that still plagued her, Gadget crawled down Isaac’s chair and to the floor, and ran on all fours after Fat Cat’s gang.

Chapter 3: Crucible of Fire

Everyone told Isaac he had wisdom and smarts beyond his years, but still, he wasn’t exactly the most patient person his age. The wait at the veterinary clinic was getting irksome, and he had other things to tend to. Not that he exactly looked forward to school either. Sighing in annoyance, Isaac looked down at his shirt pocket, only to find that that mouse was gone!

Anxious, Isaac frantically looked around, wondering how she could have slipped away so easily. Wait…was it a girl? Isaac realized he automatically assumed that, because of that weird, long hair. Anyway, that wasn’t important. After looking over the waiting room again, Isaac realized the mouse wasn’t anywhere around.

Getting desperate, Isaac got up and looked down the hall leading to the doctors’ rooms. His heart leapt when, for a fraction of a second, he saw a tiny flash of lavender disappear behind a corner. His patience exhausted, throwing caution aside, Isaac took off after the runaway mouse.

Just what’s compelling me to keep going out of my way for this critter? Isaac wondered. Sure, it’s definitely the most unusual mouse I’ve ever seen, but what else is there?

He rounded another corner, and once again spotted the mouse ducking down another hallway. Isaac had a longer look at her this time; he could almost swear there was…a sense of purpose in her movements. Some sort of intelligence driving her. Was it a panic over being at a veterinary clinic? No, then she’d be booking for an exit, not running deeper into the clinic. What was going on?

Shaking his head, Isaac ran ahead. Some of the staff came out of one door, earning him some stern questioning, but Isaac ignored them. As he went on, Isaac swore that elsewhere in the clinic, he heard a bunch of glass containers topple. It seemed far off, but as Isaac peered down another corner…it was as if that shattering sound spurred her on even more.

Isaac heard the chiding of the clinic staff behind him next. Having had enough, Isaac broke into a sprint himself, determined to finally catch that mouse for its own good. She was a speedy little bugger, but Isaac was catching up. The next thing Isaac knew, she was darting down some stairs, which must’ve led to some supply room in the basement. Taking a deep breath, Isaac headed for the stairs.


Every joint screamed in protest when Gadget took off after Fat Cat’s cronies, and things only went downhill from there. Now, even her fur burned hellishly along with her lungs. But she was a Rescue Ranger; sticking back and letting Fat Cat have his way simply wasn’t an option. Gadget doubted she could stop the four of them, especially in her state, but hopefully she could stall them long enough until the other Rangers arrived.

Of course, at the moment, simply keeping up with Fat Cat’s henchmen was a challenge. Every time Gadget rounded a corner and caught sight of one of them, he disappeared down another hallway in that hellish maze of a veterinary clinic. Hopefully these nincompoops are hopelessly lost and have no idea where the meds are stored here, Gadget thought brightly. Knowing Mepps, Mole, Wart and Snout, it wasn’t a stretch to assume that.

But then, just as Gadget thought she lost them again, a shattering noise came from the hallway she was facing. And judging from the sound of it, it must’ve come from a basement. Puzzled, Gadget scampered to the door she thought the sound came from. A flight of stairs led down to some storeroom.

Those clumsy dopes must’ve gone down there. They ARE hopelessly lost, Gadget reasoned. Her first instinct was to try and shut that door, hopefully trapping those four long enough for the other Rangers to arrive. But Gadget’s gut was also telling her to go down and assess the situation first. Fat Cat might be up to more than just stealing medicine; with Norton Nimnul on his side, they couldn’t be sure of anything. Taking a deep breath, Gadget dove down the stairs three at a time, her paws screaming in protest.

The clinic upstairs was remarkably clean, but the storage basement was horribly dusty and dingy-looking. Wood beams that looked disturbingly old made up the ceiling, and more wooden support beams lined walls made of dull, ugly-looking brick. The floor was lined with old, smelly carpet. Gadget soon found the source of the noise. Sure enough, some glass beakers had fallen off a shelf and shattered. Not only that, some sort of metal canister was beside the broken glass. Once again puzzled, Gadget scampered over to it, but as she ran, she noticed a familiar smell. A disturbingly familiar smell, one that evoked memories Gadget hoped would stay buried. She knew what the canister would say before she reached it.


Icy fear beginning to seize her, Gadget looked around. The beams along the walls glistened with the paint solvent, as did blotches on the ceiling. A small window, far out of reach, was open…perfect for one of the henchmen to escape through. Oh no, don’t tell me Fat Cat’s goons are that good, Gadget thought fearfully. Did they split up, one of them lure me down here while the rest stole the medicine? Snout probably saw me…they’ll really burn down a whole building, just to get to me?

Gadget was so wrapped up in her thoughts, she was only snapped out of it when a huge hand scooped her up. Before she knew it, Isaac was gazing down at her again, an impatient yet concerned look on his face. Golly, and how could I possibly let some noisy human sneak up on me? Gadget wondered as she writhed in his grip. “Isaac, get us out of here! This place’ll be an inferno any minute!” she screamed desperately, even though she knew Isaac couldn’t understand.

Or could he? For a fleeting second, a surprised look of understanding flashed across Isaac’s face. But it quickly faded as Isaac took a big sniff. “Hang on, what’s that smell?” he thought aloud. Isaac looked down at the turpentine can, then noticed how it was splashed all over the wood. He instantly came to the same conclusion and, after a brief moment of confusion, hurriedly turned to the stairs.

But it was too late. Some sort of small explosion rocked the clinic, and flames began to spread across the basement ceiling. Isaac let out a startled cry, spinning around in a panic and backing up painfully into a metal shelf. Still in Isaac’s grip, Gadget looked up. A full can of paint was teetering on the top shelf, and then it fell over, coming down on Isaac’s head. Gadget tumbled out of Isaac’s hand as he dropped lifelessly to the floor.

Gadget looked on helplessly as the fire crept along the carpet. Already, the flames were beginning to box Gadget in, and even if Isaac woke up anytime soon, it wouldn’t be long before he’d be trapped as well. And Gadget had no idea how long it would be before the roof collapsed on them. Even worse, it looked like the sprinklers were out. Had they been sabotaged on top of everything else? On the verge of panic, Gadget ran up to Isaac’s face, forcing one eye open. “ISAAC! Isaac, PLEASE WAKE UP! We’re BOTH toast if we don’t get out of here pronto!” she pleaded, hoping against hope her voice would rouse Isaac. Isaac stirred a little and groaned, but otherwise remained still.

Looking around at the ring of fire trapping them, Gadget’s mind began to blank out. Horrific memories came rushing back like a tsunami. Memories of seeing her mother’s mutilated body after being pulled out of that burning hardware store, twelve years ago. Was this what she went through? And was this how her father and Monterey felt, such helplessness? This boy saved her life, but now she was powerless to save his!

With tremendous effort, Gadget forced her terror down. Shaking her head as if to ward off the nightmarish memories, Gadget looked back up at the shelf. There had to be some stuff she could use, to rig up…SOMETHING that could help Isaac.

 It had mostly glassware and containers full of chemicals, no tools or anything with which to build something out of. But just as Gadget felt all hope was lost, she noticed a small fire extinguisher on the top shelf. Gadget scampered up the side, and within seconds, she reached the top. The creaking of the ceiling above spurred her on as she tried to push the extinguisher off the shelf, gritting her teeth in frustration, then swearing to herself. “No use…I can’t push it off in time, and…unless I rig some apparatus, I got no way of controlling it! I’d need Isaac awake for that!” Gadget thought aloud.

“Gadget-luv, is that you in there?” came Monterey Jack’s voice. Her heart bursting with relief, Gadget looked up. Through the smoke pouring out of that open window, the Ranger Plane swooped in.

“OVER HERE, GUYS!” Gadget shouted, waving her arms. Chip must’ve spotted her, since the Ranger Plane swung over toward the shelf.

“Gadget, thank goodness you’re safe,” said Chip as the Ranger Plane touched down on the top shelf. “Hurry, climb aboard! We’ve got to bail now!”

“We can’t, Chip!” Gadget protested, pointing down below. “That boy who saved me, he’s out cold! We’re not leaving until we’re sure he’s safe!”

“Don’t worry about him, Gadget! The fire alarm was still working, and the fire department’s on its way!” cried Chip.

Gadget shook her head. “What if they don’t get here in time, Chip? If the fire on the carpet doesn’t get Isaac, the collapsing ceiling will!”

“Well then, what do we do?” asked Dale. “The sprinklers are obviously out, and we can’t use that one little extinguisher to snuff out all that!”

Gadget looked back at the extinguisher, then back at the Ranger Plane. Sure, there wasn’t much here to build any new inventions, but what about one of her oldest works? A plan came together in Gadget’s mind. “Well, we can’t control the extinguisher effectively by ourselves, but with the Ranger Plane, Isaac just might have a chance….”

It only took a moment to put Gadget’s plan into action. With the Ranger Plane’s suction cup feet fixed to the side of the extinguisher, it lifted off, staying aloft just high enough to flutter right over Isaac.

With one hand gripping the Ranger Plane’s landing gear and the extinguisher’s nozzle tucked under her other arm, Gadget turned to Zipper. “OK Zipper, pull the pin and depress that trigger!”

Zipper gave a quick salute, right before yanking out the pin. With some effort, Zipper pulled back the trigger and kept it depressed. It took all of Gadget’s strength to keep the hose from whipping around out of control. With a supreme effort, she angled the spray down as the Ranger Plane flew in a ring around Isaac, snuffing the carpet.


A chilling wave roused Isaac, coaxing a cough out of him. For some reason, it was hard to get a decent breath. An overpowering odor flooded the air. For a second, Isaac thought he was supposed to smell turpentine, but then realized that the air reeked of a sodium bicarbonate fire extinguisher. It took a moment for everything to come back to him, a sharp pain in his head making things difficult. At last, he recalled the veterinary clinic’s basement, and a fire there.

His eyes snapping open, they were reflexively coaxed shut again by the stinging chemicals. Isaac then willed them open, slightly tilting his head up. Hold on, who’s using a fire extinguisher, and…what’s that weird flapping noise? Isaac wondered. Then he suddenly remembered why he was in this tight spot in the first place: that weird mouse in the lavender jumpsuit. That finally motivated Isaac into trying to get up, but just then, he saw something through the haze.

Isaac just knew that he was seeing things. Was that the outline of…a Clorox bottle? With wings and...a balloon? It was circling around him, spraying from a fire extinguisher that the bizarre little contraption was miraculously carrying. Relief mixed with his confusion as he realized the basement was still ablaze. Whatever that thing was, it was snuffing the carpet around him, buying some time. As some of the haze cleared, Isaac glimpsed the extinguisher…and what else was on it, guiding the nozzle spray. At first, it was just a little, blurry blob of lavender, but then Isaac gasped as his vision came into focus.

It was that mouse. She was aiming the extinguisher, saving him. Isaac noticed her eyes just then; suddenly, they seemed so compassionate, the light of a bright mind shining behind them. Nothing could have prepared Isaac, however, for what came next.

“We actually did it! Way to go Gadget Hackwrench, you and the Ranger Plane did it again!” came a voice from that Clorox bottle with wings.

Squinting, Isaac finally saw that other rodents were in it. And one of them had clearly addressed that mouse, called her ‘Gadget Hackwrench’. Holy crap, I must’ve hit my head harder than I thought. I’m imagining that rodents are talking, Isaac reasoned.

But then, Isaac both saw and heard the mouse in the jumpsuit speak. “For the moment, Isaac’s safe from the fire on the ground. But try to raise the Ranger Plane higher, Chip. Maybe I can douse some of the ceiling flames….”

Slowly but surely, the contraption of these ‘Rangers’ rose to the ceiling, and the extinguisher’s spray angled up, barely missing the attached balloon. The smoke was getting thicker, and Isaac couldn’t see the Rangers anymore. Whatever their reasons, they were putting their furry butts on the line for him. But with the way the blaze was burning, those rodents could only buy so much time. With an exasperated grunt, Isaac propped himself up on his knees. Through the haze, he heard Gadget cry out. “That’s it, Isaac! You can make it! Get out of here fast!”

Too hot and too much in pain to worry about talking rodents, Isaac stood up on shaky legs. Taking a deep breath, he clambered up the stairs into a cloud of hazy smoke. As Isaac reached the top, a burly firefighter came through the doorway, ensnaring him in his arms and pulling him to safety. Just then, Isaac heard the roof of the basement collapse. With one last, desperate look, Isaac peered back down into the smoke-filled basement, but there was no trace of those Rangers or their plane.


Before leaving the kitchen, Chip splashed himself with water one last time. It was well into the evening, and all of the Rangers had at least gotten some sleep, but the memories of their brush with death in that inferno still lingered. The smoke scorching their lungs, the oppressive heat….

 “Knocked into power lines, trapped in a burning basement…the things we get ourselves into,” Chip muttered to himself. “Well, all part of being a Rescue Ranger, I suppose.” There were times he forgot that, however. Gadget gave him quite a tongue lashing later, for suggesting they leave that basement right away. It was as if…it had been personal for her.

Sighing, Chip walked out into the main room, where Dale, Monterey and Zipper were all on the couch, watching TV. Chip grumbled at them under his breath. How anyone could think of TV when both Fat Cat and Nimnul running around was beyond him. The way their newest scheme involved burning down a veterinary clinic was low even for them. Luckily, the firefighters arrived in time and saved all the trapped animals and humans. Chip desperately wanted to find out what they were up to, but casing Fat Cat’s casino had proven fruitless, and they had no clue where Nimnul was hiding.

“The sooner we get the Ranger Wing up and running again, the better,” Chip said loudly over the TV. “Shouldn’t the rest of you be helping Gadget with repairs?”

“You mean like pulling out all the shorted-out electronics? Did that already,” Dale replied nonchalantly.

“And makin’ an inventory of what was salvageable and what had to be replaced? Wrapped that up before dinner, mate,” added Monterey lazily.

“And help with reconnecting electronic stuff we had replacement parts for? Me and Zipper helped Gadget wrap that up over an hour ago,” Dale threw in, the smugness in his voice palpable.

“Besides lad, Gadget’s been antsy to shoo us outta her workshop for a while now. I’ve known her a long time, Chippah. Whatever the reason, the lady’ll be needin’ her privacy for a while now,” said Monterey.

That didn’t surprise Chip. Ever since making it back to headquarters, Gadget hadn’t been her usual, sprightly self. What happened in that basement shook her to the core, and Chip felt he had to know why. Going against Monterey’s judgment, Chip headed for Gadget’s workshop.

Before he left, Chip spared one glance at the television. The news anchor Stan Blather just popped up. “And so, during the arraignment of all the accomplices of notorious gangster Ignatz Ratskiwatski, they all hysterically told the same tale. The same tale from the rumors we’ve overheard on radio talk shows, at the coffee shop and in Internet chatrooms. More and more people in our fair city are convinced that a small group of animals move among us, acting as both guardian angels and vigilantes. Of course, many others are dismissive of such notions, but there’s no doubt about the mounting evidence to support the beliefs of the former….”

Chip shook his head in disbelief. After years of doing detective work in the shadows, the antics of the Rescue Rangers were slowly coming to light. He wanted to believe that humans knowing of rodents doing good for humans without thought of reward could set an inspiring example. But humans were strange and oftentimes irrational creatures. This gradual exposure of the Rescue Rangers…Chip had no idea what it would ultimately mean. And that unnerved him almost as much as Fat Cat and Professor Nimnul teaming up.

Pausing a moment in front of the workshop, Chip finally worked up the courage to knock. Immediately, Gadget’s voice boomed. “Dale, I told you I’ll call you when it’s time to hook the engines back up!”

“Err, Gadget, it’s me, Chip,” Chip replied sheepishly. “It’s just that…well I…you’ve been a bit edgy since we got back. And well…if you wanted to talk, well, I’m always here.”

For a moment, only silence answered Chip. Then, at last, Gadget threw open the workshop door, a blank expression on her face. Out of all of them, it looked like Gadget got the least sleep today.  “Whatever it is, please make it quick. There’s still a lot of work I need to complete…alone,” she said as she walked back over to her tool chest.

“I…won’t take up too much time, Gadget,” Chip promised. “It’s just that you’ve been…off ever since we escaped the vet clinic.”

“And you weren’t off when you suggest we abandon Isaac, let him be burned and then crushed?” came Gadget’s stinging retort.

“Look Gadget, I already admitted I was wrong,” Chip pleaded. “How many times can I say I’m sorry?”

“I really hope you are, Chip. Leaving Isaac like that would’ve been a crummy way to repay someone who saved my life,” Gadget said frostily.

“It’s obvious you made the right call, but there’s something else bugging you, I just know it,” Chip said, daring to pry.

“We’re supposed to do that sort of thing on a daily basis, Chip. That’s what the Rescue Rangers are here for, right?” asked Gadget. “Maybe what’s starting to get to me is how we’re kept from doing that, going after Fat Cat and Professor Nimnul over and over. And now that they’ve teamed up…the first thing that happens is an innocent man nearly dies in a fire, because of me!”

“I know. Believe me, I know,” said Chip. “But honestly, I don’t see any permanent solution. Fat Cat’s too entrenched in the city’s animal society, and it’s up to the humans to find a way to hold Nimnul. But we’ll stop whatever scheme they’ve cooked up this time, just like when they worked with Klordane. You’ll have the Ranger Wing back in the air in no time, and….” Chip looked over beyond the mangled Ranger Wing, where another craft was draped with part of a tablecloth. “And you say you’ve been working on a third plane for months, something special, the ‘Ranger Angel’….”

“Yeah, that’s the ticket, Chip. The solution is always just build bigger and better weapons. Worked great for humans these last hundred years, hasn’t it?” Gadget retorted acerbically.

Despite how much he cared for Gadget, Chip was losing his patience. “Gadget, please tell me what’s going on. We’re all on edge about Fat Cat and Nimnul, but there’s more to it than that, isn’t there?”

Gadget fixed Chip with a piercing gaze, then finally relented. Sighing, she said, “It was like what happened with my mother all over again.”

“Your mother?” Chip asked, taken aback. Gadget briefly mentioned her father, Geegaw Hackwrench, from time to time, but never once brought up her mother.


“It’s not something I’m proud of, Chip. She eventually died of wound complications. Infections Dad and I couldn’t stop in time, years after…she nearly died in an arson fire.” Gadget explained. “Being stuck in that basement with Isaac, it made me wonder if that’s what Dad went through, being powerless to help someone trapped in a fire.”


“But I don’t get it, Gadget. Why in the world would you feel guilty over….”


“It’s how I reacted to it. I was a little girl then. Impulsive. Rash,” said Gadget. “My first instinct was to get a bunch of turpentine and torch as many human houses as I could. I’m just glad Monty and Dad were there to talk me out of it. They explained how I would’ve hurt people’s pets, hurt humans that had nothing to do with the arson and work to help us animals….” Chip just stood there, dumbstruck. He knew the loss of her father still stung, but had no idea Gadget’s mother was an even more traumatic loss. “And I’ll never forget what Dad told me then: ‘You have such a big heart, Gadget. Please…don't ever let it fill with hate.’”

“And you haven’t, Gadget. Being with you all these years, I never would’ve guessed you once had a grudge against humanity,” said Chip. “And Geegaw was right, you do have a big heart, enough love to go around. More often than not you keep the Rescue Rangers on the right path, like today….”

“I don’t know, Chip. This Isaac guy…he certainly proved my younger, brattier self wrong about humans. But here’s the ironic thing, Chip: seeing a human put in the same danger my mother was…this is the only other time I’ve been that furious,” Gadget admitted. “We all know that Fat Cat and Professor Nimnul are rotten to the core but, seeing that boy get in the crossfire, for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And back when my mother was hurt, I had no one to focus all my anger on. Now I do.”

That last sentence was said in such a sharp, venomous tone, it chilled Chip to the core. He fumbled for his next words. “Well, it was different this time. Your Ranger Plane, your quick thinking…you kept history from repeating itself!”

“For how long, Chip? Fat Cat and Nimnul will always be out there, keeping us Rescue Rangers from helping more people. We’ll always be cleaning up their messes.” Gadget sighed heavily, then went on. “Chip, I…appreciate what you’re trying to do, but there’s still a lot of work.”

Finally relenting, Chip awkwardly made his way out of the workshop. At least now he knew what was bothering Gadget, but was no closer to finding a solution. And what Geegaw said about his daughter never letting her heart become hate-filled…Chip hope Gadget still took that advice to heart.


Isaac grunted as he pressed the icepack on his smarting head. Luckily for him, he got out of that blaze with no burns or smoke asphyxiation, but that hit on the head was still aching. “That’s what caused me to think talking rodents were flying a Clorox bottle fitted into a toy plane, has to be,” he thought aloud. Isaac kept trying to dwell on that; bad enough he got chewed out mercilessly by his aunt AND missed the biology exam. As Isaac flipped through his textbook, studying tissue properties, his mind kept drifting back to what happened in that clinic basement, despite himself.

Annoyed with himself, Isaac headed for his aunt’s room. Deciding that just looking at magnified images of tissue wasn’t engaging enough, he opened her closet, looking for the microscope set he knew was stored in there, since he had liberally borrowed some slides. Isaac removed the first box from the top shelf, quickly glancing at its contents. There were what looked like picture frames in there. His aunt wasn’t big on displaying family pictures, so that had to be it.

Isaac was about to set it aside, but something else caught his eye. The spine of a rather old-looking book was in that box, too. His curiosity piqued, Isaac pulled it out and dusted it off. Most of the book had a lackluster, leathery covering, with ornate golden borders. But part of the front was a surface like a painter’s canvas, a watercolor representation of an oak tree on it. And at the four corners...emblems of a jaguar, a deer, a scorpion and a hummingbird….

Still curious, Isaac flipped through it. Most of it had a hint of old English, but having easily gotten through coursework involving Shakespeare, that wasn’t a problem. It soon became obvious that it was some sort of spellbook. Even at a glance, the instructions screamed bizarre, occult rituals.

Normally, that sort of thing would’ve earned a derisive snort from Isaac, dismissing it without a second thought. But for some reason, Isaac was still intrigued, and kept flipping through the book. “Why’d someone like my aunt hang on to something like this?” Isaac wondered. “Where’d she get it? I know she’s been a lot of places, but….”

A sudden bright light in Isaac’s peripheral vision told him that his aunt left the television on, just with the volume turned way down. Glancing up at it, he saw it was something about a bunch of mobsters getting busted on arms trafficking. Turning up the volume, Isaac heard about psychologists being brought in to evaluate the gangsters, who were all raving about ‘killer rodents’.

With the dull ache in his head, it took a few moments for the lights to go off in Isaac’s mind. Suddenly, all the dribble he had overheard in the last few months, but instantly dismissed as insane, came back to Isaac. All that stuff about a bunch of rodents being seen running around, helping police and whatnot. All the stories investigating busted crooks, ranting and raving about rodents messing up everything. Once again, the image that mouse called Gadget Hackwrench saving him flashed across his mind’s eye. Could it be? Was there some truth to all these wild stories? Had he saved one of these rodents, who then returned the favor?

Isaac shook his head. He considered himself a rational person, and still found the whole idea absurdly outlandish. But then again, what if I wasn’t seeing things? And all these stories. Is there really enough evidence to believe that there’s a bunch of rodent vigilantes running around? Isaac mused. He thought back to how it seemed that mouse’s eyes had the light of intelligence when he first found her. And one of the other voices he heard…spoke as if this Gadget had slapped together that weird plane.

But why? Even if I did concede that these animals really were as intelligent as us humans, what would make them do things like this? Catch our criminals and save us from burning buildings or whatever? What’s in it for them? Why do it, knowing the risks? According to the news, they just went after MOBSTERS for Christ’s sake! Isaac thought with disbelief.  How do they keep doing it, at their size? It’s a wonder if none of these ‘Rangers’ have gotten themselves killed.

As Isaac tried to make sense of it all, his mind kept dwelling on the mouse called Gadget. How did she get electrocuted in the first place? Were these Rangers once again trying to lend a hand, only for Gadget to nearly get killed as a result? Suddenly, Isaac couldn’t stop thinking about the injustice of it all. If these Rangers were for real, they were truly unsung heroes. One of them nearly got cut down, and no one would’ve cared! That would’ve been it for Gadget if he hadn’t been in the right place at the right time!

“Well, nothing I can do to change that. Doubt I’ll ever see any of them again,” Isaac thought aloud. Sighing as he glanced down, Isaac remembered the weird spellbook. He halfheartedly skimmed over it, but as he did, Isaac became intrigued all over again.

It was something about forming a special bond with an animal of the caster’s choosing. Isaac looked over it more carefully, and the quaint little illustration of some redheaded woman reaching up to a hovering, blazing hummingbird seemed to leap off the page. “’Alloweth the channelers to transmit their strength and will and spirit’...’both the caster and the chosen conduit will learn and grow, borroweth each other’s skill and power’…’to ensure that the chosen conduits will never be wanting for power’…. Weird, it’s like some sort of magical symbiosis,” Isaac thought aloud.

As Isaac flipped around the pages near that entry, what this enchantment entailed became more pronounced. “Wow, if this actually worked, it’d make sure nothing could ever hurt that mouse ever again,” he realized. But for Isaac, accepting that magic existed in the world was even harder than accepting there were intelligent rodent vigilantes. However, he couldn’t seem to pull himself away from the spellbook. And as he read on, he eventually noticed something odd on his watch. A strand of that mouse’s hair…it must’ve stuck there that first time he held Gadget. And as Isaac looked closer, a small blotch of her blood was stuck on his watch, too.

Isaac skimmed over the instructions for the ‘symbiosis spell’, realizing that the hair and blood were the most important things for pulling this off. Assuming this stuff even worked, of course. He shut his eyes, his mind spinning. Isaac prided himself on being a budding man of science. To waste time on what was probably just a fantasy…normally, he’d laugh at himself. But then again, just yesterday, he’d laugh at the notion of talking rodents saving him from a fire. As he stared at that strand of hair, Isaac once again thought of how dangerous life was for these Rangers, how they risked life and limb every day while mankind was none the wiser.

Finally, Isaac made his choice. Whoever these Rangers were, they clearly had given a great deal for this city.

It was high time someone tried to give back.


Gadget stared down at the blueprints for her so-called ‘Ranger Angel’, her eyes half-shut. She had only an hour or two of sleep in the last twenty-four hours, thanks to the fire evoking so many traumatic memories. Things Gadget wished had been behind her.

So, just like when she lived alone at the airstrip, Gadget tried burying herself in her work. But this time, it wasn’t working. She kept imagining Fat Cat and Nimnul’s evil, laughing faces, kept flashing back to Isaac lying unconscious as that basement burned. Bad enough that those two nearly killed all the Rangers more than once, but with Isaac, the line had finally been crossed.

“Here’s hoping the Ranger Angel gives us the edge we need,” Gadget muttered sleepily. “Here’s hoping, somehow, I’ll have a way of ending this all once and for all….”


The candles on the table kept flickering as Isaac stirred the coffee mug’s contents, providing the only light in the darkened apartment. The mug sat on a hot plate, gently warming its contents. Runes etched with ink were scribed all around the mug. Isaac nervously glanced over the pages of his aunt’s weird book, hoping he was doing all the chants right as he stirred. He peered into the mug, satisfied it was the right color, a noxious navy blue. Thankfully, the ingredients the book listed were easily found. Amazing how occult shops could easily be found, thanks to the Internet….

At last, Isaac finished the chant, and he swore he saw his hastily-scribbled runes glow for a split-second. “Well, that’s it, I guess. Now for the main ingredient, so to speak,” said Isaac. With that, Isaac dropped the single strand of Gadget’s hair into the concoction, then carefully scraped the dried blood off his watch. The potion suddenly went from blue to a frothing teal, and seemed to glow with pent-up energy.

“Now all that’s left is to….” Isaac began, timidly picking the mug up. He stared down into it, and for a brief moment, he thought his reflected face was replaced by Gadget’s. Then, determined to do this before he came to his senses, Isaac summoned up his courage and downed the potion in one gulp.


Gadget rolled up her blueprints, finally deciding she was getting nowhere with the Ranger Angel’s construction tonight. Besides, the pending repairs to the Ranger Wing were more pressing. But now, exhaustion was finally creeping up on her, and Gadget actually felt she might drift off. Hopefully without nightmares.

As Gadget put away her blueprints, the whole workshop dimmed. “Golly, I thought those were new lights I put in last week,” Gadget said groggily. As it grew darker in the workshop, Gadget became more alert. Something wasn’t right. “Oh no, are Fat Cat and Nimnul making their move?” she wondered. She felt her hair standing on end, as if in response to some sudden electric current.

In a panic, she looked around in the growing darkness, trying to figure out what was going on. In what little light remained, Gadget swore she saw black lightning arcing all over her workshop, miraculously leaving her inventions unharmed. Whatever this stuff was, it was drawing nearer. Gasping, Gadget backed away, only to trip and fall backwards. Now looking up, it was as if some ominous, sinister storm cloud was billowing right on her workshop’s roof.

Then, on top of everything else, Gadget felt bombarded by a sudden wave of hatred, overwhelmed. Not necessarily her contempt for Fat Cat and Nimnul…no, this rage seemed to be being imprinted on her by something else. Far from embracing it, as she had her uncontrollable animosity for Fat Cat and Nimnul, Gadget was immediately fearful of this…thing, and tried to will it away.

A soft voice in the back of her mind told Gadget there was nothing to worry about, that she would relish what was about to happen. Relax, Gadget Hackwrench. Everything you ever desired, everything you ever wanted to accomplish, will all soon be within your reach. But the voice sounded saccharine, sinister. Gadget kept trying to will it away, but the effort was draining her. She slumped onto her back, nearly unconscious.

Whatever this thing was, it then made its move. That huge cloud in her workshop changed into some sort of funnel, and Gadget was helpless as it…was it? Yes, the noxious thing was actually forcing itself into her mouth! In an instant, the black gassy stuff vanished within her, and Gadget finally lapsed into a deep sleep. But before she did, Gadget swore she heard soft, feminine laughter.


That following morning, one would be hard-pressed to find any sign that the Rescue Rangers’ worst enemies had teamed up. Monterey was greedily scarfing down cheese while Dale was slurping down a bowl of oatmeal as obnoxiously as possible. Well, at least he won’t be on a Puffie Wuffie-induced sugar high later, Chip mused as he stared dejectedly across the table, trying to plan out their day. I wonder how Gadget’s doing….

Chip soon got his answer. He spotted Gadget walking up behind Dale, her expression stony. Then, in one swift motion, she grabbed Dale’s head and shoved in into his bowl of oatmeal. Dale’s arms flailed wildly as he undoubtedly sucked oatmeal up his nose. As Chip, Zipper and Monterey stared blankly, Dale finally pulled his face out of his bowl and whirled around. “What’d ya do that for Ch…err, Gadget?”

“Care to explain the prank you just pulled, Dale?” Gadget asked dangerously. It was then that Chip noticed something was wrong with Gadget’s face. There was some of…design on it. Black, swirling lines that resembled ivy growing up a wall crept up the sides of her neck, then seemed to dig into her cheeks. A quick glance at her arms revealed the same thing: vinelike lines travelling down her arms, stopping on the back of her hands. Chip had a feeling it wasn’t just her fur that was stained black, but the skin underneath as well.

“Uhhh, Gadget, what’s with the new look?” Dale asked innocently.

“Don’t you DARE play dumb with me, Dale!” Gadget spat back. “I never thought you’d ever pull a prank this low. This damn graffiti you painted on me is EVERYWHERE!”

“Errr…everywhere?” asked Dale.

That got Dale tossed across the tree, into a teacup refitted into a chair, knocking it over. Gadget was about to launch herself at Dale, but Chip and Monterey held her back. Chip was shocked at how much effort it took, Gadget still inching forward. “Gadget, get a grip! It couldn’t have been Dale! He stayed up watching another sci-fi movie marathon!”

“More like they just showed Dune in its entirety again, mate,” Monterey corrected.

Meanwhile, Zipper flew over to Dale to check on him. “Errr, hey Zipper, why didn’t ya tell us family was over?” Dale asked, his eyes out of focus and clearly seeing double. Or triple.

At last, Gadget relented and stopped struggling. “So, if it wasn’t Dale who painted all this…stuff on me, then what is it?”

Chip took Gadget’s hand in his, examining the black design. “Hmmm, doesn’t look like ink at all. Can’t smell anything unusual, either. Gadget, do you remember anything from last night?”

Gadget shook her head. “Nothing. Just that I fell asleep after going over the blueprints to the Ranger Angel, and….”

A frantic pounding on the door cut Gadget off. Putting his concern for Gadget aside, Chip rushed to open it, shocked to discover….

“TAMMY?!” Chip cried out as the redheaded squirrel latched onto him.

“Oh, Chipper, you’ve got to come quickly!” squealed Tammy as she squeezed the life out of Chip. “Sparky needs your help!” 

“Sparky? What’s the bloke got to do with you, lass?” asked Monterey.

“Sparky blew back into town over a week ago, Monty. I was the one who suggested to him that he stay at Tammy’s for a while, until he found some more work,” said Gadget.

Gadget was still in contact with Sparky? Chip fought down the inevitable surge of envy, turning back to Tammy. “So Tammy, what happened?”

Tears were starting to well up in Tammy’s eyes. “It was that Rat Capone guy you told me about.”

“RAT CAPONE!” Monterey bellowed, disgusted. “The scumbag broke into your tree an’ swiped Sparky, did he?”

Tammy shook her head. “No. He just came to the door, asking for Sparky. Said he had a cushy research position for him, but…Chipper, I remember all the stories you told me about that horrible rat! I knew he was up to something dirty, but…I was too afraid! He had these two ugly bruisers behind him….”

“Sugar Ray Lizard and Arnold Mousenegger,” Gadget said darkly. “You did the right thing, Tammy. If Rat Capone suspected you knew the truth about him, he would’ve made sure you couldn’t come to us.”

“So, I take it Sparky accepted? Where did Rat Capone say they were going?” asked Chip, his envy replaced with concern.

“Just overheard something about a chemical plant, that’s all,” said Tammy.

“Pity the Ranger Wing’s out of commission. We’d get there in a blink,” said Monterey.

“It wouldn’t do us much good, anyway. Underhanded crooks like Rat Capone always go low. His MO has always has been to go subterranean. He’ll be using Sparky for something UNDERNEATH the chemical plant,” Chip pointed out.

“Please hurry, Chipper! Sparky’s such a nice guy, and I couldn’t stand it if….” Tammy’s voice trailed off as she looked up at Gadget, noticing the black lines for the first time. “Wow, Gadget, what’s with the tattoos?” she asked bluntly, frowning.

“My guess is as good as yours,” Gadget said flatly.

“We’ll worry about it later, Gadget. Sparky’s definitely in trouble if Rat Capone is involved. Rescue Rangers, AWAY!” Chip declared. They all followed him out the door, Dale bringing up the rear, stumbling dizzily.


After navigating the Ranger Boat through the city’s treacherous sewers, the Rescue Rangers finally arrived at what Chip said was right underneath the chemical plant. They clambered out onto solid ground, moving against the wall as stealthily as they could. It had been a long time since the Rangers had had a case involving the sewers, and Dale’s nose had to readjust to the smell. But Dale swore that, among the other odors, there was something familiar….

As Chip and Dale peered around a corner, they found that Chip’s prediction was right on the money. Some sort of weird, pumping apparatus what set up there in the sewer, with lines drilled right into the ceiling. And in the middle of that hideous contraption was Sparky, forced to run inside some hamster ball, electricity arcing from it.

Then Dale finally spotted the villainous trio they were after, standing not too far from the pump machine. Even over the noise the pump was making, Dale could hear Rat Capone gloat. “So you see, youse are helpin’ me with a bit o’ research after all. This here pump I personally designed works wonders, see? Woulda eventually used it to drain tankers o’ milk instead o’ just bummin’ off cows,” he bragged to Sparky. “Only problem was findin’ an efficient power source, and looks like I just found it.” Sugar Ray Lizard and Arnold Mousenegger chimed in with stupid guffaws.

Despite the lingering jealousy over Sparky, Dale felt his blood boil. Chip pulled him back before instinct got the better of him. “Chip, you have to get Sparky out of that thing fast! The way Capone forcibly draws power out of him…it could soon kill him!” cried Gadget.

“Then there’s no time for any fancy planning. Time for something simple and effective,” declared Chip. “Gadget, you and Dale find a way around. In a minute or two, Monty, Zipper and I will rush in and make a diversion, and give you two enough time to bust Sparky loose. Then we all just scram.” They all nodded, especially Dale. For once, Chip wasn’t trying to hog Gadget for himself.

And so, they split up, Dale and Gadget ducking down one of the sewer tunnels. Even in the dim lightning, Dale could see the worried look on Gadget’s face. And could barely see those weird black lines. Just where DID that stuff come from?

At last, they had circled around to the other side of the pump. They peered at it from around a corner, waiting for Chip to make his move. Dale could practically hear the gears in Gadget’s head turning, deciding the best way to rip apart Rat Capone’s hunk of junk. Dale couldn’t wait to get to work, doing just that. But they were focusing so much on that, they didn’t listen for anything suspicious behind them. One hand grabbed Dale by the shoulder and threw him backwards onto the floor, and the same had been done to Gadget.

Dale gasped as he looked up. Even in the sewer’s dim lighting, there was no mistaking who it was. “Well hello, Desiree D’Allure. Been a long time,” said Gadget with mock sweetness. “How was Canada?” she added with a sneer.

Desiree frowned down at them. “Let’s just say I had to make some new connections after that little trip,” she said brusquely in that thick French accent.

“Like Rat Capone? Talk about trading downwards,” spat Dale.

“Not quite, my friend,” said Desiree dangerously, smiling with her hands on her hips. “You see, right now I am simply commissioning Rat Capone for this heist. As for members for a gang of my own…well, he is most anxious to see you again.”

Dale and Gadget were back on their feet, ready to rush Desiree. Before they could make a move, however, something big and grey smashed into Gadget, sending her crashing into the wall. “Gadget!” Dale screamed as she painfully slid down, nearly unconscious. Dale was stopped, however, by a sharp, thin piece of metal poking him in the throat. Gulping, Dale looked up…way up. Standing over him was none other than Sewernose de Bergerac, holding a rapier to his throat.

“So, brave little chipmunk, we meet once again!” said Sewernose dramatically with a leer. “Our previous performance was one the critics will squeal about for ages, no? It’s safe to say such a performance is worthy for a sequel. And in today’s theatre, when it comes to sequels…all bets are off.”

“Yeah, all bets are off, see. I dunno how you all found out about our little caper and I don’t care. You stupid Rangers ain’t gonna spoil my fun no more,” came Rat Capone’s sneering voice. Craning his head, Dale saw Rat Capone saunter up to them, with Chip in a headlock. Sugar Ray Lizard had Zipper trapped in a test tube, while Arnold Mousenegger was struggling to keep Monterey Jack in a sleeper hold. “Sewernose, go get the first container ready. The little sparkplug’s given my little baby just about enough juice.”

“Unfortunately, sometimes the theater is disrupted by unavoidable delay,” said Sewernose. “But rest assured, little chipmunk, the show will go on.” With that, Sewernose sheathed his rapier and brought an empty water cooler bottle underneath the pump. Flipping a switch, a clear liquid began to pour into it. Meanwhile, Sparky began to scream in agony.

Dale knew he had to make a move, but Sugar Ray was drawing near, Desiree right behind him. “Don’t even think about it, chipmunk.” Just then, Monterey Jack slumped to the floor, finally succumbing to the sleeper hold. “In case you didn’t notice, you’re a bit outmuscled and outnumbered.”

“Yeah, and there’s more of us too!” Mousenegger chimed in stupidly as he walked over to Gadget. By some miracle, she was getting back up. But she was making a horrible hacking noise, and even in the dim lighting, Dale saw Gadget was trembling all over. “Hey, it’s that pretty one….” Mousenegger began. But then, Gadget’s hand shot out and grabbed Mousenegger’s hand. Dale swore he heard bones grinding together. Mousenegger stared blankly down at her. Then, in a blinding flash, Gadget whirled around while still holding onto Mousenegger, hurling him right at Sewernose. The crocodile had just capped that first water cooler bottle, but was toppled when Mousenegger slammed into him, screaming.

“Geez Gadget, what kind of Wheaties have YOU been eating every morning?” Dale asked flippantly. But there was no humor in what was happening now. Gadget was clutching her head, her screams of pain mixing with Sparky’s. Her breathing came in ragged, choked gasps, and she was still trembling all over.

As everyone stared at Gadget in confusion, Dale swore the flickering sewer lighting was playing tricks on his eyes. Was it him, or did Gadget look…bigger? As the seconds ticked by, Dale finally realized he wasn’t seeing things. Gadget really WAS growing! He could sense the fear radiating off of Rat Capone, Sugar Ray Lizard and Desiree D’Allure as Gadget grew and grew, further towering over them as she got over the pain, slowly stepping closer. When it was over, Dale guessed Gadget stood at about two feet tall.

“Uh-oh. Too bad Sewernose is out. He’d wanna see this second act,” Dale muttered to himself. Out of all the bizarre, unexplainable things happening lately, this easily topped them all. And as he got a glimpse of Gadget’s enraged face as she stared the crooks down, Dale suddenly felt sorry for them. What was about to go down, Dale had no idea, but it sure wouldn’t be pretty….

Chapter 4: Double Dipping

“Mr. Osceola!!”

The voice of Isaac’s literature teacher shrilled in his ears, rousing him from the sleep he had no idea he lapsed into. He groggily picked his head off his desk, ignoring the mocking glares from some of his classmates. Tuning them out was second nature by now. As was withstanding the withering glare of that grizzled fifty-something teacher. Which was a good thing, as things besides class were on his mind right then.

“I don’t care how many fires you got yourself stuck in yesterday, Mr. Osceola, there is no excuse for dozing off in my class!” shrieked the teacher. “But shall I give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you were up late with today’s required reading?”

“Errr, yeah yeah sure,” said Isaac quickly, hoping the teacher would just shut up and let him focus on what just happened. “Read well into the fourth chapter.”

“Very well. So at this point, you can explain what Friedrich Nietzsche was trying to get across, correct?”

“Just that Nietzsche was critical of blindly following religious doctrines at the time. Presumably, he had a problem with a black-and-white view of the world, with everything being set in stone,” explained Isaac. “His most famous quote probably said it best: ’Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.’”

The teacher carefully regarded Isaac for a moment, then nodded approvingly. “Good. Even when sleep-deprived, you comprehend the material better than any other student.” That earned Isaac even more disdainful stares. No one had ever weaseled out of a tongue-lashing from this teacher before.

But Isaac paid them no mind. There was more important stuff to consider. Before, Isaac thought that weird potion he brewed last night had done nothing. And he had downed mouse hair and blood and God-knows-what-else for nothing.

Then, in the middle of class, he blacked out. Isaac recalled feeling as if all his vitality was being siphoned away, borrowed by another. Plus, garbled images of sneering mice and some alligator in a cape looking down imperiously, flitted in and out of his mind’s eye. And a feeling of helplessness, a need to strike back…

There was only one explanation: that potion actually worked! Gadget must’ve run into some trouble, and the effects kicked in. Isaac still wasn’t precisely sure what this magical link would do for her, but he just hoped it gave her an edge…


From leprechauns to aliens to ghosts, Chip thought he had seen it all. But now, seemingly out of the blue, Gadget just grew to over five times her normal size, towering over them all. Sure, the same thing had happened to Zipper once, but his growth spurts were nowhere near this rapid and dramatic. And whatever was going on, Chip doubted Professor Nimnul’s inventions had anything to do with it this time. Looking up at Gadget’s huge, furious face, he was sure of it. Even when Gadget blew her top because of that crook posing as a baby, she never radiated this much rage, as this would be the last thing Fat Cat and Nimnul could want right now….

It was also the last thing Rat Capone and his accomplices wanted. Chip could sense Capone’s hesitancy and fear, and felt his grip on him slacken. Getting over his shock, Chip delivered an elbow to Capone’s gut, and finally twisted free. Far from done, Chip snatched the test tube away from Sugar Ray Lizard and bludgeoned him with it, shattering it over his head. Getting in on the act, Zipper flew out of the smashed tube, poking both of Desiree’s eyes out.

“Argh! You odious little insect, I’ll….” Desiree began, but after rubbing her eyes and opening them again, she caught a glimpse of Gadget raising her clenched fists over her head. Rat Capone and Sugar Ray saw it too. All three screamed and dived in opposite directions, just as Gadget brought her fists down. They crashed deep into the concrete, upturning huge chunks of it as the whole tunnel quaked, and cracks spidered out everywhere.

“You’ll WHAT, D’Allure?! Do WHAT?!” Gadget roared over the booming crash, her voice even more deafening.

Meanwhile, Chip and Zipper rushed over to Monterey Jack, desperately trying to rouse him. Zipper screamed and pleaded in his ear as Chip shook him. “Urgh, last time I let that braindead bloke get the better o’ me,” Monterey muttered as his eyes fluttered open. “OK, Chip, what’s the situation now, mate? How much trouble we in now?”

Chip shrugged his shoulders. “Us? Not sure. Rat Capone and his flunkies, however….” Chip pointed behind them, and Monterey’s jaw dropped.

Gadget was still stomping around the tunnel, clumsily trying to stomp and grab at the three crooks still ducking and dodging around her, desperately trying to get away. The tunnel shook every time Gadget’s foot came crashing down with a stomp. “Blimey, Chippah, what’d I miss? Is this what that glop Rat Capone’s bummin’ from the chemical plant does, makes us mice inta bloody juggernauts?”

“No, it wasn’t that Monty. I’m not sure what did it, and….” Chip was cut off as the tunnel shook again. “It’s not just Gadget’s size, it’s affected Gadget’s strength too. And I think the power’s getting to her head. She’s so focused on those crooks she’s forgotten about Sparky.”

Gadget finally connected, ducking down and swinging her arm in a wide arc, swatting Rat Capone and Sugar Ray Lizard. Desiree D’Allure had quickly ducked under her arm, but Gadget was still quicker, deftly grabbing her by her waist. Gadget glared at Desiree contemptuously as she brought her up to her face. “You should’ve stayed in Canada, D’Allure,” Gadget spat, her voice echoing in the sewer tunnel. Desiree struggled frantically in Gadget’s crushing grip, but it was hopeless. “Us Rescue Rangers got enough crooks to clean up after without you blowing back in and….”

“Ack, boss! What’d she do? I’ll get rid of this big chickie, boss!” cried Arnold Mousenegger from the pump machine. Turning toward the pump machine, Gadget saw Mousenegger leap off the top of it, brandishing a lead pipe. Mousenegger was just quick enough to bring the pipe down on Gadget’s head. Gadget stumbled back a little, dropping Desiree, but otherwise the pipe didn’t even faze her. Mousenegger saw this as he landed by Gadget’s feet, looking up and saying, “Uh-oh.”

Gadget gazed down at him, more enraged than ever. At that point, Capone and Sugar Ray were coming to, but Gadget scooped all three of them up in one deft motion. Chip watched with a mixture of awe and apprehension as Gadget seemed to mash the crooks together, a tangle of limbs in the rough shape of a ball. With one punt from Gadget, the trio sailed down the tunnel, and after their screams died away, Chip heard them splash into the sewer water coursing down it.

“Blimey, and folks say I’M too rough with the crooks in this town,” Monterey said flatly.

Chip gazed up at Gadget, who was breathing heavily as she stared down the tunnel, looking satisfied with herself. “Errr…good work Gadget. But…where’s Desiree and Sewernose?”

“Over here, Rangers,” came Desiree’s cocky voice from the pump machine. The Rangers all looked to see that the water cooler bottle with the stolen chemical was securely died to Sewernose’s back, and Desiree stood triumphantly on it, smirking evilly. “Well, our reunion was…interesting to say the least, but I do believe Fat Cat will want what little we’ve secured this morning. Don’t worry about Rat Capone and his gang, I’ll still send them a check…which should cover the hospital bills.”

With that, Sewernose took off in the other direction, knifing through the water. Gadget sprinted after them on all fours. Chip was amazed that she was still just as fast at that gargantuan size. No, she was even faster! Still, Sewernose had a head start, and even with the stolen chemical weighing him down, Chip saw him disappear down the tunnel, leaving Gadget behind as Desiree’s laughter echoed.

“Gadget! Forget about them! We still gotta bust Sparky loose!” Dale called out suddenly from the pumping machine. Gadget looked back over her shoulder just as Sparky screamed again. Chip saw Dale fruitlessly try to shut it off, desperation in his eyes. After one last, frustrated glance down the sewer tunnel, Gadget turned and charged at the pump.

With a startled cry, Dale jumped off as Gadget’s fist tore right into it. Metal shrieked in protest as Gadget’s hands dug into the machine, ripping out beams, pipes and wires as it smoked and sparked. That bothered Chip. He expected Gadget would tackle this with her usual fine touch, but she was ravaging it like a mouse possessed.

At last, Gadget could pull out the hamster ball trapping Sparky. Chip looked up as Gadget opened the ball, gently lifting Sparky out. He saw Sparky was still breathing, but looked horribly weak and exhausted. “He’s out cold, but he should be OK in a few days. We’ll have to take him back to headquarters and…oh Sparky!” Gadget cried, giving him a smothering hug against her chest.

A stifled grunt told Chip that Dale was just as envious as he was. Putting that aside, Chip said, “Well Rangers, mission accomplished. Of course, now we’ve got another mystery on our hands….”

Gadget looked down at herself, and in the light given off whenever Rat Capone’s ruined machine sparked, Chip saw she was blushing. And the vengeful look in her eyes was gone. It was as if whatever bloodlust took hold of Gadget finally faded, or at least Chip hoped so. Also, from the brief flashes of light given off by the sparks, Chip noticed those weird, black lines…were they longer now? Those vinelike lines around her cheeks, they seemed to branch out a little more, dig in deeper. The lines on the back of her hands were a little longer too, vinelike growths reaching the knuckles.

“Well, I got a hunch that whatever gave Gadget those funky tattoos has somethin’ to do with it,” said Dale, echoing Chip’s thoughts. Gadget looked down at her hands, and blushed even more.

“Yeah, but what made them tattoos, mate?” Monterey asked. Zipper stood on his shoulder, muttering something unintelligible. Chip had no doubt Zipper remembered his mishap with Professor Nimnul’s Gigantico Gun all too well. Were they headed down the same road with Gadget? How much bigger was Gadget going to get? On top of whatever Fat Cat and Nimnul were planning, the city certainly didn’t need a hundred-foot mouse stomping around too.

“Hold it…D’Allure said those stolen chemicals were being delivered to Fat Cat,” said Chip. “Either she’s planning to sell this stuff to Fat Cat and Rat Capone had no idea….”

“Or that big bloated blighter got himself some more recruits besides the good professor,” Monterey finished bitterly.

“Pharmaceuticals and now chemicals…what the heck is he up to?” Dale asked.

“I don’t know, Dale. It’s not much to go on,” said Chip. Looking up, he added, “And we have even less to go on with our other mystery.”

Gadget sighed heavily as she looked down from her new two-foot height. “Well, at least, whatever’s going on, it’s given the Rescue Rangers one BIG advantage,” she said with a chuckle. None of the other Rangers could resist grinning and chuckling as well, despite the weirdness of it all.

“Does come with some downsides though, Gadget-luv. You’re a mite too big to fit back in the Ranger Boat, and we gotta figure out how ta get ya back ta headquarters in broad daylight,” Monterey pointed out.

“Golly, that…will prove to be a challenge, won’t it?” Gadget said sheepishly, and the Rangers laughed again.


Tammy waited alone and impatiently at Ranger HQ. Chip had protested against her staying, mentioning that there was a chance Fat Cat might try attacking their tree. Tammy cringed at the thought of running into that bloated feline again, but remained firm. If she couldn’t go along with the Rangers on this mission, then at least she wanted to be there when they returned, to see if Sparky was alright.

“Bet he still thinks I’m too little to do Rescue Ranger stuff,” Tammy said to herself as she absentmindedly flipped channels. The way she hadn’t done a thing and let Rat Capone sucker Sparky…it still gnawed at her. More than ever, the Rescue Rangers were the pinnacle of heroism in Tammy’s eyes, and the thought that she had let down a friend of theirs was a bitter one. “C’mon, I bought us enough time against Fat Cat, saved all our furry butts! More than made up for my mistake then, I could’ve done it again here! They’re heroes, the bravest there ever was, but why does Chip think the weight of the world should only be carried by the five of them?”

Just when Tammy thought she’d go on rambling to herself forever, driven mad by waiting, the front door was slammed open. Tammy whirled around to see Monterey Jack carrying an unconscious Sparky inside. In a flash, Tammy was beside them. “Have no fear, mate. Ol’ Sparky’s still breathin’, and Gadget says he’ll be as good as new in a few days,” said Monterey as if he read Tammy mind.

“Yeah, but what about Gadget?” came Dale’s voice as he, Chip and Zipper stepped inside.

“Oh no, what happened to Gadget?” Tammy asked, her old grudge with Gadget long since forgotten. “Did Rat Capone and his goons do something to her?”

“More like Gadget did something to THEM,” replied Chip smugly. “I wouldn’t worry about those three anymore, Tammy. I don’t think they’ll be bothering us again for a looooooooong time.”

“So…that means Gadget’s OK?” asked Tammy hopefully.

“Errr, define OK,” said Dale hesitantly.

Tammy was about to insist Chip and Dale stop evading the issue, but loud grunts from the door stopped her. Turning around, Tammy nearly had a heart attack. Gadget was…enormous! At least as big as a cat! Gadget gritted her teeth, her waist hopelessly stuck in the mailbox that made up the headquarters’ doorway. “Urk, knew I shouldn’t…have had…that extra helping of pizza the other night!” she groaned as she kept trying to squeeze through.

For a long moment, Tammy could only stare slack-jawed at the massive mouse trying to squeeze into the tree. When she found her voice again, all Tammy could say was, “G-G-Gadget, w-w-what happened to you?”

“Like I said about the tattoos, Tammy…your guess is as good as mine!” cried Gadget as she tried even harder to pull herself through the mailbox. At last, with a loud POP, Gadget shot through the mailbox, becoming little more than a runaway bowling ball. Shrieks filled the headquarters as everyone dived out of the way. Gadget only stopped when her barreling body reached the television, knocking it over and bringing it down on top of her as the whole tree shook.

After only a second’s hesitation, Tammy ran over to the TV, which Gadget was still pinned under. Looking back at the guys, Tammy cried, “What’s wrong with all of you? We gotta get this heavy thing off of her!”

“Somehow, Tammy, I think Gadget’ll be OK,” said Dale. “Take a look.”

Turning back to Gadget, Tammy was astonished to find Gadget effortlessly prying the television off of her, putting it back where it was. “I-I-I d-don’t get it, Gadget. You’re s-s-s-so strong along with being so big.”

“Yeah, we noticed. So did Rat Capone,” said Monterey dryly. Tammy wondered just what had happened at the chemical plant. “Look guys, I’m gonna go find a place for Sparky to rest up. Leave it ta you guys to figure out just what to do about our, er, current situation.”

As Monterey carried Sparky off, Tammy stared back up at Gadget. Gadget’s head nearly reached the ceiling, even while standing with a hunch. “This just isn’t right. I mean, animals don’t just hit a growth spurt like this out of nowhere,” said Tammy.

“Wanna bet?” came a shrill voice in Tammy’s ear. Tammy turned to see Zipper hovering beside her.

Gadget sat down next to the television, her closeness still making Tammy a little uncomfortable. “Zipper’s right, Tammy. Something like this happened to him, too, thanks to Professor Nimnul,” explained Gadget. Her voice seemed to echo in the confines of the tree. “Not to mention that head-swapping incident that gave Zipper Nimnul’s body.”

“Don’t remind me,” squeaked Zipper.

“Well, at least we’re pretty sure it ain’t Nimnul this time,” said Dale. “Him and Fat Cat are makin’ a point of avoidin’ us. No way he’d want a cat-sized, Hulked-out mouse on his tail.”

Tammy was suddenly frustrated by how calmly the Rangers were taking all of this. Sure, after all the weird stuff they’ve been through, this was probably business as usual for them. But Dale flat-out admitted they had no real idea what transformed Gadget…or what it would mean in the long run. “Guys, this just isn’t right! Who knows what this’ll do to Gadget, and…YOW!”

Tammy stopped when she felt herself get hoisted off the ground, no doubt by Gadget. Gadget set Tammy down standing on her lap, facing her. “Don’t you go worrying about me, Tammy,” Gadget said reassuringly, fiddling with Tammy’s braided hair. “Zipper didn’t suffer any ill effects from his growth, so I doubt I will. I feel perfectly fine. Better than that, even. I feel so much faster, stronger, bursting with energy.”

“Well, let’s just hope it stops here. Don’t want you growing so big you can’t fit in headquarters,” Chip pointed out. Gadget chuckled a little.

Tammy sighed. “Guess this just shows I’m not ready to be a Rescue Ranger yet. You guys take it all in stride, while it just about freaked me out.”

“Oh Tammy,” said Gadget, ensnaring the squirrel in a big hug. “You’re courageous and have such a big heart. You’ll make a fine Rescue Ranger one day, I’m sure of it.” Tammy took Gadget’s reassurance to heart, but she just wished she wouldn’t squeeze so hard. Her strength was smothering her.

“In the meantime, Tammy, the best thing you could do is help us keep an eye on Sparky as he recovers. Rat Capone’s gizmo took a lot out of him,” said Chip.

“Errr, sure thing Chipper,” said Tammy, trying to crane her neck to see him, which was difficult in Gadget’s bear hug. “But, what about the rest of you? You make it sound like there’s another case going on.”

“Believe me, there is,” said Chip darkly. “And now we’ve got a couple leads that beg to be followed up on.”

“In the meantime, I guess I’ll stay at headquarters,” said Gadget. “Maybe I can whip up some new inventions better suited to my new size…”


Desiree D’Allure rubbed her aching hips, which still screamed in protest with every step she took. Thankfully, by riding Sewernose de Bergerac through the sewers, she was spared from doing too much walking. But now, as Sewernose carried the water cooler bottle up to his abandoned subway cart, she was forced to climb the stairs after him.

“Urgh, that no-good, psychotic mechanic!” spat Desiree as she scrambled up the stairs. “One thing’s for sure, my new clients will surely want to know about this. Won’t be pleased in the least, oh no, but they’ll want to know about it. I can only hope, however they decide to deal with this Gadget Hackwrench, they’ll let me in on it…”

Finally, Desiree reached the door to the subway cart. It was still nearly pitch black inside, but Desiree sauntered in undaunted. Soon, she heard the flick of a lighted match, and candlelight illuminated the subway cart. “Well, my dear, I take it your little underhanded escapade was a success,” came a silky, sinister voice.

Desiree turned around and looked up to see Fat Cat standing over her, holding a candle. He grinned down at her maliciously, making a point of baring his teeth, no doubt to remind her that she was still a mouse and he a cat. Oh, wait till he learns how the tables have turned with another mouse, Desiree thought glibly. Not the least bit daunted, Desiree said, “So, you’re here early. Just as well, since the Rescue Rangers will undoubtedly come snooping around here soon. We can’t stay long, since you’re so keen to avoid the Rangers at the moment.”

“I have my reasons, D’Allure,” Fat Cat said dangerously. “But to the point, my dear, do the Rangers know you and the crocodile are delivering the stolen chemical to me?”

“Indeed they do,” said Desiree. “I made a point of announcing it right before we fled with the stolen goods. And they arrived just as you predicted. The squirrel girl ran off to fetch them right after Rat Capone picked up Sparky, and they have no clue you wanted it that way. And as a bonus for you, the Rangers dispatched Rat Capone in such a way that he won’t be much competition for a while. But I must ask, Fat Cat, if you want to leave no trail for the Rescue Rangers to follow…”

“Why did I want them to know that stealing from the chemical plant was a part of my newest scheme?” Fat Cat finished, twirling his whiskers. “Because I wanted them to think I am done with the chemical plant. As those ridiculous rodents run blindly around the city, playing detective and following up other leads, the last thing they’ll expect is that all of us will hit the chemical plant again tonight, going for the motherload! Interference from those self-obsessed do-gooders will be something we need not stress over for a change,” he explained with a sly grin.

“And from what I’ve seen this morning, that’s a better tactic than you realize,” said Desiree. “As much as I hate to be the bearer of bad news, you’ll have to speed up the timetable for your scheme, Fat Cat. That one Ranger you were intrigued with, this Gadget Hackwrench, she just…”

Suddenly, the cart went from near darkness to being flooded with light as the power came back on. The stage lights Sewernose set up seemed to follow the crocodile as he sauntered into the middle of the cart, having retrieved his two hand puppets.

“If this performance was supposed to herald de Bergerac’s so-called comeback, it left much to be desired,” sniped the puppet called Voltaire. “The show was cut-off mid-performance!”

“Oh, such unnecessarily harsh criticism, Voltaire,” came a calm reply from the puppet called Euripides. “Given the brutish rogues Sewernose was forced to work with, it speaks well to his talent that he salvaged what he could.”

“Ah, you two. The more things change, the more they stay the same,” said Sewernose dramatically.

“D’Allure, care to remind me why you’re building a new gang around him?” Fat Cat quietly asked Desiree.

“Well, one must feel sorry for the poor dear, only wanting a little recognition,” Desiree said in a saccharine, conniving voice. “And at least, unlike others I’ve had work for me, he is certainly never boring.”

“OK OK, that’s enough of that from you, you overgrown handbag,” came Nimnul’s raspy voice from the far end of the subway cart. He walked right in front of Sewernose, ignoring his sharp glare and adding, “And the green puppet has a point, croc. There’s only ONE water cooler bottle worth of that chemical. I was promised at least three!”

“And the other puppet has a point too, Professor,” said Desiree. “The Rescue Rangers got there earlier than Fat Cat expected, and there are new circumstances you and Fat Cat are unaware of. Consider yourself lucky we could steal even that! I for one hope Fat Cat is right about there being no Rescue Rangers in our way tonight!”

“In any case, this is enough to get things started before tonight, isn’t it Professor?” Fat Cat asked hopefully.

Nimnul snorted disdainfully, then looked to the bottle and said, “I suppose I can make do.”

“Glad to hear it, Professor,” said Fat Cat smoothly. “Now, before we all make haste in preparation for tonight, pray tell Desiree, what are these ‘new circumstances’ we’re unaware of?”


The sun was just setting as Chip and Monterey Jack scampered up the tree, its reddish rays barely filtering through storm clouds that had blown in from the north. Chip was just glad they got done with the Ranger Boat and the sewers before any heavy rain hit. Not that their foray back in the sewers had yielded anything useful. The hours passed with agonizing swiftness since Gadget’s growth spurt. Chip could just smell another Fat Cat caper coming soon, but there were no leads to be found on their end. Maybe Dale and Zipper would have better luck. Then again, knowing Dale…

Chip and Monterey Jack scaled the tree in record time, and jumped over to the branch where the Ranger Plane was usually concealed. It wasn’t there, so that meant Dale had yet to return from the police station. “Oh great, where the heck is that chowderhead?” grumbled Chip. “The police station isn’t that far off. He should’ve been back before us!”

“Aw, don’t get all twisted up, Chippah. I’m sure the bloke’ll be back any minute,” said Monterey. “Speak o’ the devil, I think I hear ‘im now!”

Chip looked up upon hearing the violent rustling of leaves. “Wahoo! Look out below!” came Dale’s jubilant cry as the Ranger Plane shot through the branches like a torpedo. Panicking, Chip turned tail and ran, screaming, but the Ranger Plane’s landing gear was lowered, and Chip’s head got stuck in the suction cup. “Errr, whoops, sorry Chip,” said Dale sheepishly. The other suction cup securely anchored to the branch, Dale tried to shake Chip free, but his friend was stuck good, and only succeeded in eliciting even more furious muffled screams.

“Hang on, pally! I’ll have ya free in two shakes of a wallabee’s tail,” said Monterey as he reached up and grabbed Chip’s ankles. With one furious yank, he pulled Chip loose, and they nearly tumbled backwards off the branch.

“Uh, Chip, you OK?” asked Dale from the cockpit.

Chip’s response was running right up to the cockpit and repeatedly bonking Dale on the head.

“OW OW OUCH OW OW OW OW!” Dale cried in protest. “Hey, I said I was sorry!”

“Why Gadget ever lets you pilot her inventions is WAY beyond me!” spat Chip. “And I bet you’re late because you were goofing off at the station!”

“Oh please, Chip. It’s not like I could go up to Kirby and Muldoon and ASK for the police reports!” Dale shot back. “But in case you’re still interested, I DID find them and copy everything down!” Zipper flew out and handed Chip a sticky note which, sure enough, had Dale’s unintelligible scribbling all over it. Chip sighed as he glanced over it, convinced he’d need the Rosetta Stone. “I can save you some trouble, Chip, and tell you it’s the exact opposite of what you expected to find.”

“What are you talking about, Dale?” demanded Chip. “These robberies Fat Cat bragged about him and Nimnul pulling off, the way he blindsided us in the Ranger Wing…it’s obvious what he needed the professor for. Making him some sort of super-enhancing drug with that stolen medicine!”

“Sorry, Chip, waaaaaaay off. And I had a hunch even before I saw those police reports,” Dale replied calmly.

“Oh realllllllllly?” drawled Chip dubiously. “And what did you base this ‘hunch’ on?”

“On the clue I found the other night,” said Dale, holding up the same white, pentagon-shaped pill he found outside the looted pharmacy. “Turns out this is lorazepam, something humans use for anxiety.”

Chip glared at Dale. “And since when are you such an expert on medicines, Dale?”

“Since Gadget got us Internet access in the tree,” said Dale smugly. “And in the police report about the pharmacy’s inventory…everything that was missing was for mental problems. Stuff like SSRIs and MAO inhibity-thingies and whatever. And Zipper and I stopped by the half burned-down vet…their med storeroom was untouched and we found an inventory taken. Same thing. Stuff meant to calm down dogs and cats was missin’.”

It took Chip a moment to get over the shock of Dale being so thorough, but the gears in his head slowly started to turn again. Still, he couldn’t come up with any plausible explanations. “So…Fat Cat’s making Nimnul whip him up a cocktail of antipsychotics? What for?”

Dale shrugged his shoulders. “Other than the obvious fact that they’re both loony to begin with, no clue whatsoever. Was hopin’ you’d figure out the answer to that, or maybe Gadget.”

“Someone mention my name?” came a calm voice from across the tree. Everyone looked up to see Gadget gracefully slide down onto the branch. She carried whatever she had been working on these last few hours.

At its core was clearly a gardening shovel, once at a greater length but part of it was now sawed off, the handle reinserted. On the handle, a fishing reel was welded on, and Chip noticed the line had been replaced with a sort of thin, steel cable. What looked like part of an actual crossbow, a small handheld one from a human perspective, was mounted onto the shovel, and one of Gadget’s trademark plunger harpoons was loaded. Naturally, this one was a lot bigger than her normal ammunition. Also, underneath was mounted a PVC pipe and some sort of device with a black, plastic casing. It looked like additional straps for something else were underneath it as well, but in the shadowy confines of the tree, it was hard to make out.

“So, err, Gadget, I see you’ve went and made yourself a new weapon,” said Chip, staring up at Gadget as she walked closer. Chip was amazed at how well Gadget kept her balance on the branches at that new size.

Chip swore Gadget blushed a little. “Well, not really, Chip. I just went ahead and made a new, bigger crossbow. The old one made with a comb and pencil and having a spool attached won’t quite cut it anymore,” Gadget said modestly. “The only big difference is that this one can be mounted on my arm.” With that, Gadget slid it over her right arm, fastening the straps Chip noticed earlier. Her hand went right underneath the shovel blade, and as Gadget flexed her fingers, Chip heard stuff click into place. “Along with the crossbow, I also added a smoke bomb launcher and a taser. Since I’ve got the extra strength and size, I figured it’s feasible to add a bit more functionality and pack on extra gear.”

The overall length of Gadget’s new arm-mounted crossbow looked a little unwieldy, even at Gadget’s two-foot height. Even with her arm straightened as if to aim, the fishing reel went way behind her head. Still, looking up, Chip had to admit Gadget looked intimidating with her new gear. “Good work, Gadget. I can’t wait to see the look on Fat Cat’s face when we finally corner him.”

Gadget frowned a little. “Golly, it won’t really be a surprise for him, Chip. D’Allure must’ve told him all about me by now.”

“Hearin’ about an unstoppable juggernaut of a mouse is one thing, Gadget-luv. Once ol’ Fat Cat sees the real thing in action, oh I guarantee the fur’s gonna fly!” said Monterey brightly.

“Let’s hope so, Monty. We’re still hopelessly in the dark about what he’s planning,” Chip pointed out.

“I overheard you and Dale, Chip. So, following the lead about the stolen medicine didn’t give us any answers, huh?” asked Gadget.

“’Fraid not, Gadget-luv. Neither did checkin’ out Sewernose’s old rehearsal room. Place was abandoned,” said Monterey.

“But Fat Cat was definitely there. The recent clawmarks on the floorboards, the weight distribution, the length of the strides…no question he was waiting for him and D’Allure,” said Chip.

“Any idea just what D’Allure delivered to him? With the way I smashed Rat Capone’s pump, I couldn’t get enough to run tests on,” said Gadget.

“No luck there, either, Gadget,” said Dale glumly. “Chemical plant doesn’t even know their goods’ve been boosted, so no police report.”

Gadget let out a deep sigh, then sat down on the branch, letting her long legs dangle off the side. “Then I guess there’s nothing we can do but wait for Fat Cat to strike again, and pray we’ll be there in time to squeeze some answers out of him. Of course, with the Ranger Wing still out of commission, and me too big to fit in my other inventions…that’s not likely.”

Chip walked up to Gadget with Dale, wondering how to cheer her up. “Don’t beat yourself up over it, Gadget. The power surge did a number on everything. No one expected it up and running within a day.”

Gadget looked down at herself, at hands the size of Fat Cat’s paws. “It’ll be even slower with me this big,” Gadget pointed out. “I can’t even fit into my workshop now, and I wasn’t getting much done leaning in through the hangar door, clumsily fiddling with tools with these monstrous digits.”

Chip had a funny metal image of Gadget fumbling with all the electronics in the Ranger Wing, her lower half comically poking out of the hangar. But one look at Gadget’s face erased any trace of humor it once had. Luckily, Zipper came to the rescue, landing on Gadget’s nose. Chip couldn’t hear what Zipper said, but it seemed to cheer Gadget up. “Oh thanks, Zipper. I guess you’d know firsthand it could always be worse,” she said, gently patting Zipper as he held onto her nose. “And for the moment, I can at least still fit inside headquarters. Granted, I was getting a little claustrophobic in there, so I came out here for some fresh air…”

Gadget started rubbing her neck and flexing her shoulders. “Yeah, I can imagine it’d feel a little cramped inside headquarters now,” said Chip.

“Golly, tell me about it. It was an ordeal just to squeeze back out, and I was already sore,” said Gadget, still nursing her neck.

In a flash, Dale ran out of the Ranger Plane and climbed up to Gadget’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about it, Gadget. Just relax, and a quick massage should loosen everything up,” he said eagerly as he got to work kneading her shoulder muscles.

“Well, if you think it’s a good idea, go ahead,” said Gadget. Already, she was closing her eyes and smiling, clearly enjoying it.

Chip facepalmed, infuriated at how Dale could have such a one-track-mind. He looked back up at Gadget…and found himself climbing up to her other shoulder.

“Here, I’ll help too,” said Chip, in a challenging tone directed at Dale. He ignored Dale’s indignant glare, firmly pressing down through the lavender jumpsuit that somehow grew with Gadget. Now that the fabric was thicker, Chip doubted Gadget could feel anything through it, but she hummed contentedly as the chipmunks kept at it. He glanced over her face, his heart melting at her satisfied smile. Chip was also amazed by how warm Gadget felt, her body heat radiating up through the jumpsuit.

He worked towards her neck, and Gadget cocked her head to the side, allowing Chip better access. As Chip brushed aside Gadget’s long hair, he couldn’t help but notice those black lines again. The ones creeping up her neck…they seemed to sprout from someplace on Gadget’s back, right at the base of her neck. Curious, Chip pulled back on Gadget’s collar, hoping for a better look. He tried to pull back more of Gadget’s hair, but it was so thick now and not an easy task. Then, a sharp, desperate cry from above made Gadget lurch forward.

“DALE! Thank goodness you Rangers are here! We’ve got trouble!”

The next thing Chip knew, he and Dale got thrown off Gadget’s shoulders, plummeting down the tree. “WAAAAAAAAAAAH!” they both screamed, until they felt themselves get plopped inside one of Gadget’s plunger harpoons. Slowly but surely, Gadget reeled them back up to her branch.

“Sorry about that guys, but Foxglove startled me,” Gadget said apologetically.

“FOXGLOVE?!” Chip and Dale cried out in unison. Looking down, Chip saw that, sure enough, the pink bat known only as Foxglove was standing there beside Gadget. Her expression looked grim, and mingled with confusion as she spared furtive glances up at Gadget.

Gadget pried the chipmunks loose, then gently set them down on the branch. “Foxglove, if you’re back here, guess you’ve got some bad news, huh?” asked Dale.

Chip knew that had to be the case. For weeks now, Foxglove had volunteered to stake out the Happy Tom Cat Food factory for them, watching for any signs of Fat Cat pulling anything crooked. Dale had objected to Chip about letting Foxglove do something so dangerous, but no one else the Rescue Rangers knew was up to the task. Tammy was even younger than Foxglove, and Queenie’s swarm would never hear of their ruler doing something so risky. Besides, Foxglove was nocturnal, easily letting herself blend into the night.

So far, with his recent crimes, Fat Cat had obviously been smart enough to elude any spies within and around his casino. Tonight, hopefully, Fat Cat finally slipped up. “Is it about Fat Cat? Do you know where he’s heading tonight?” Chip asked eagerly.

Foxglove nodded timidly. “Those four goons of his, they left the casino half an hour ago. I tailed them, overheard something about meeting their boss at the chemical plant before I lost them…”

“The CHEMICAL PLANT?!” Chip cried in disbelief. “B-B-B-But…Fat Cat already hired somebody to steal from the chemical plant this morning! Why’s he going back?”

“Musta been a ploy ta throw us off the scent, mate. Nick a little from the plant ta jumpstart whatever him an’ Nimnul are cookin’, then go back for the motherload tonight,” said Monterey dryly.

“Then we’d better hurry before they get it!” cried Dale.

“Hold on, Dale. There’s another problem,” said Foxglove.

“Huh? What’s that?” asked Chip.

“Well, is it me, or is everyone else keen on ignoring the giant mouse in the tree?” Foxglove asked coyly.

“Oh, that,” said Chip sheepishly. “Well, there’s no time to worry about it now. We have no idea what caused Gadget to grow anyway.”

“I’m afraid I do,” said Foxglove softly. Chip was about to inquire further, but Foxglove leaned closer to Gadget, sniffing at her leg.

Gadget looked down at Foxglove dubiously. “Foxglove, you…really think you know what’s transformed me? Is it some kind of mutagen? Some unidentified form of radiation?”

“Well…sorta. From what I can tell, someone’s put an enchantment on you, and a really potent one at that,” said Foxglove.

“Magic?! Someone’s cast a spell on Gadget-luv here?!” demanded Monterey.

“Oh definitely, Monty,” said Foxglove. “I can recognize the smell of black magic anywhere, and…don’t take this the wrong way Gadget, but you absolutely REEK of it.” Chip had no reason to doubt Foxglove, and now there was at least some explanation for Gadget’s transformation. But now there were even more unanswered questions.

“How can you be so sure, Foxglove?” asked Dale, still sounding doubtful.

“Because, this smell…it’s the same thing I smelled on Bud and Lou, back when I still worked with Winifred,” explained Foxglove. “I had that smell, too, just not as strong.”

“Are you sayin’ ol’ Freddie’s put this enchantment on Gadget-luv?!” Monterey spat incredulously.

“No way! We’ve been keepin’ watch on ol’ Freddie, and she’s still behind bars!” retorted Dale.

“That may be, Dale, but this is still the same kind of enchantment Winifred used on all three of us,” said Foxglove. “It’s the way sorcerers mark their familiars and bond with them, and gives them greater powers. Ever wonder why Bud had a tongue like a frog’s? I still have some of the gifts Winifred gave me, even though her power got neutralized when Dale ruined her spell, severing our link.”

“So you’re saying there’s a human out there who’s chosen me as a…familiar?” Gadget asked, finally speaking up. Chip looked up, wondering what was going through Gadget’s head, but her expression was unreadable. “But who would want me for such a thing?”

Foxglove shook her head. “I have no idea, Gadget. I learned a bit about sorcery from Winifred, but…I had no clue power given a familiar could be this…EXTREME.”

Beyond extreme, Foxglove. Gadget-luv flattened Rat Capone’s entire gang and his pumping doohickey without breakin’ a sweat,” said Monterey.

“And what about these black vine lines? What do they mean?” asked Gadget, showing Foxglove the black marks adorning her hands.

“No idea whatsoever, Gadget. Sorry. I’ve NEVER heard of a familiar getting literally marked,” said Foxglove.

“Well, is there any way to break this link with whatever human that marked me?” Gadget asked hopefully.

“If there’s a way to forcefully break it, you’d have to find him or her first,” said Foxglove. “And I don’t think we’ll have time tonight, if this Fat Cat’s planning something.”

“Foxglove’s right. Sorry, Gadget. We’ll have to track down whoever’s marked you some other time, but at least we’ve got some idea about what’s happened to you,” said Chip.

“Oh, don’t feel too sorry, Chip. I have a feeling, because of this spell, it’ll be Fat Cat and Nimnul we’ll be feeling sorry for,” said Gadget, a slyness and hard edge to her voice now. Chip had no idea why, but it made him feel uneasy. “But Chip, it’ll take a while to reach the chemical plant in the Ranger Plane.”

“Any ideas on how to get there faster? You said there’s no way the Ranger Wing will be ready anytime soon,” said Chip.

Gadget looked over to the Ranger Plane, then back down at herself. Chip could tell she was getting an idea. “Who says we have to fly the whole way there? You guys just get yourselves strapped in, including Zipper, and let me do the rest.”

“Why do I get the feeling we’ll all regret this?” Chip muttered under his breath.

Chip headed toward the Ranger Plane, but as he was about to climb in, Foxglove laid a wing on his shoulder. “Chip, wait. I’m coming with you this time.”

“Foxglove, no! This isn’t another stakeout, and that was risky enough already!” Chip protested. “You’ve already done so much for the Rangers…”

“And I want to do more, Chip. You Rangers are the only real friends I’ve ever had,” said Foxglove. “Besides, I…think you’ll need me there to keep an eye on Gadget, if nothing else.” Chip looked back up at Gadget. She seemed to loom over the Ranger Plane, patiently waiting for everyone to strap in. “I wasn’t kidding when I said a familiar’s mark should never be this forceful and potent. I honestly have no idea what it’ll mean for Gadget…”

“Aw, c’mon Chip, you can’t be considering this,” said Dale. “If it were just Fat Cat and his gang, there’d be no problem. Or just Professor Nimnul. Or just Desiree and Sewernose. But ALL of them…TOGETHER?!”

Chip looked to Foxglove, overtaken by the worry and sincerity in her eyes. “She comes,” Chip said with a tone of finality. “You’re right, Dale, we ARE hopelessly outnumbered this time, and she’s the closest thing to an expert on black magic that we’ve got. And she’s right. For Gadget’s sake, we’d better have Foxglove along.”

Realizing Chip’s decision was final, Dale clambered into the back of the Ranger Plane, muttering something under his breath. Foxglove quickly climbed in next to him. “Well cutie, looks like we’ve finally got another case together, huh?” she asked teasingly, scooting up next to Dale.

Ignoring Dale’s spluttering, Chip got into the pilot’s seat. “OK Gadget, we’re all strapped in. So…what’re you…YIIII!!!”

All of a sudden, Gadget picked up the entire Ranger Plane. Using straps she had long ago concealed on the bottom, Gadget fastened it to her back. After making sure the Ranger Plane was secure, and double-checking her new crossbow, Gadget made a tremendous leap out of the tree.

The other Rangers and Foxglove screamed for dear life as Gadget ran along the darkened park path, all the people having fled the incoming storm. Soon enough, Gadget reached a telephone pole at the edge of the park. She deftly climbed it, ran along the power lines going across the street, and jumped onto a nearby rooftop. Gadget jumped from rooftop to rooftop with ease, Chip trying to deal with his head spinning and stomach lurching as she ferried them all to the chemical plant.

Chapter 5: Gaze Into the Abyss

Thunder rumbled in the distance as Gadget drew closer to the chemical plant, still making her way by leaping from rooftop to rooftop. It was such an indescribable thrill, this new way to travel. Sure, as a mouse, Gadget was already used to briskly climbing things and making big jumps, but this took it to a whole new level. Gadget knew that just being bigger shouldn’t let her run and climb faster, or jump farther, but she didn’t care. And despite Foxglove’s revelation of black magic being behind all this, Gadget refused to believe this could be all bad. Whoever marked her and bonded with her…at the moment, Gadget didn’t mind one bit.

The chemical plant was now only a few blocks away. “Get ready, guys. We’re almost there!” Gadget cried cheerfully as she made another leap. She only half-heard the grunts and yelps of the other Rangers. After landing, Gadget dashed across the rooftop on all fours until she reached the edge, and cautiously peered over.

The red rays of the setting sun feebly peeked through the skyscrapers and gathering clouds, barely casting any illumination over their target below. But Gadget could already feel the effects of the approaching storm. Stiff breezes made Gadget’s long hair flutter all over the place, and she could already feel sprays of mist clinging to her fur. Gadget knew it would only get worse, and Fat Cat and Professor Nimnul surely knew it too. Whatever they were doing, Gadget had no doubt they would want to avoid the storm and wrap things up fast. So the Rescue Rangers had to move faster.

Chip was obviously thinking along the same lines. “Gadget, what do you see down there? Any idea if Fat Cat’s made his move?” he asked impatiently, unable to see anything with the Ranger Plane strapped to Gadget’s back.

Gadget squinted, hoping to get a better look. However, nothing looked amiss outside the chemical plant’s perimeter. “Sorry, Chip. Nothing unusual’s going on outside,” Gadget said apologetically. “Much as I hate to say it…maybe Fat Cat’s already inside?”

“If ol’ Fat Cat’s beatin’ us to the punch, Gadget-luv, ya better get in there and punch harder,” Suggested Monterey.

“Guess I’d better,” said Gadget in agreement, looking down at the chemical plant. “It’s a long way down to the plant, guys. The rest of you better glide down.” She unfastened the straps, carefully taking the Ranger Plane off of her back. Taking time to flash a smile at the Rangers, she then threw it as casually as one might hurl a paper airplane. As the panicked screams of her friends died away, Gadget positioned herself on the roof’s edge. She double-checked her new crossbow, took a deep breath, then dived off.

The building was twenty stories tall, while the chemical plant had four stories at most. Just as Gadget was a little more than halfway toward the street, she shot her plunger harpoon at point-blank range at a window. It stuck securely, letting Gadget rappel down a couple more stories. Crouching against the wall, Gadget bounded off of it, soaring toward the chemical plant’s roof. Gadget tucked and rolled, soon coming to a complete stop. She came to a halt at what looked like a long skylight stretching across this wing of the plant. Feeling anxious as well as exhilarated, Gadget wiped some mist of the glass and peered down. In what lighting that remained on, Gadget could make out several huge vats, but there was no sign of any of their old enemies.

In fact, Gadget couldn’t see anyone down in the plant. “Golly, it’s not that late. Even if it’s quitting time for all the engineers and whatnot, the janitors and security should be up and about, locking everything up,” Gadget thought aloud. As Gadget puzzled over this, she heard the Ranger Plane move up beside her, its suction cup feet easily heard over the howling wind.

“Geez, Gadget-luv, a little warning next time,” Monterey barked.

“Any sign of Fat Cat, Gadget?” Dale asked warily.

Gadget shook her head. “Can’t see any janitors or security guards, either. I don’t like it. We’d better get in there.” With that, Gadget pulled out a glass-cutter and began the painstaking task of carving away an opening for them.

“Say Gadget, is that the same glass-cutter from when we busted out of Captain Finn’s tank?” Chip suddenly asked.

“Sure is, Chip,” replied Gadget, already halfway done.

“OK, you obviously have ample space for it now, but I’ve always wondered, last time, just where did you…”

“We’re in, Chip,” said Gadget brightly, only half-listening to Chip. Using the tip of her plunger harpoon, Gadget carefully lifted off the piece she cut free. Then she stuck the harpoon on the inside of the glass. Foxglove and Zipper flew down into the plant ahead of the others, while Gadget picked up Chip, Dale and Monterey Jack. After making sure they were all hanging onto her shoulders, Gadget climbed through the hole and lowered them all down. Gadget’s feet touched down on a crosswalk overlooking that wing of the chemical plant. It was even harder to see now that they were inside, and even though Gadget listened as hard as she could, she couldn’t hear anything usual. The whole place was just too quiet.

Zipper and Foxglove flew up in front of Gadget’s face, shaking their heads and wearing worried expressions. Chip, Dale and Monterey Jack all climbed down off of Gadget, surveying the plant themselves, but also found nothing. Looking up to Gadget, Chip said, “I’ve got a bad feeling Fat Cat’s already making his move.” Chip sounded just as anxious as she was. “Even though he knows about how you changed, at least he’s not expecting us here tonight. We’ll have the element of surprise, but as big as this plant is…we’ll have to split up.”

With that, Zipper and Foxglove flew off again, while the rest of them went down the metal stairs as silently as they could. Gadget watched as they scampered ahead, jumping down from stair to stair, while she was big enough to walk down them normally. As Chip motioned for Dale and Monterey Jack to follow him down the wing’s east end, Gadget took it upon herself to check the west. As Gadget darted from vat to vat, hoping to stay under the cover of darkness, she dismissed the idea of flipping on the flashlight attached to her crossbow. Chip was right. Even with her new size and overwhelming strength, it would be foolish to give up the element of surprise.

Still, it was frustrating for Gadget, only being half-certain that every vat she checked was free of tampering. There was still no sign of anyone. Gadget knew she SHOULD’VE come across some night security by now, but the plant remained eerily devoid of life aside from the Rangers.

At last, Gadget reached the far end. Along with what looked like a huge loading door, there was a series of metal stairs, which went up to a doorway leading to the office area. Deciding to check that next, Gadget quietly headed for the stairs. A crack of thunder went off overhead, almost drowning out the sound of the door being slammed open. Gasping in surprise, Gadget ducked under the stairs, still not wanting to give herself away. But in the back of her mind, anxiousness to deal with these crooks personally was brewing…

The metal stairs rang as paws clumsily slammed down onto them. And then, Gadget heard the voices of the approaching intruders. “The boss’ll be happy everything went off without a hitch. Picked off all them human guards real easy with these handy little tasers the prof whipped up,” came what was unmistakably Snout’s voice. Gadget’s blood boiled. He was undoubtedly the one who spotted her at the veterinary clinic, leading to them burning it down, nearly killing Isaac…

“Good thing we’re done on our end. We’re just in time. Fat Cat should be here soon,” came Mepps’s scratchy voice.

As Gadget fought the urge to rush out and crack their skulls together, she heard another sound. Some sort of metal grating was being lifted up, and then dragged along the tiled floor. Daring to peer from underneath the stairs, Gadget watched Sewernose de Bergerac slither out onto the floor, with Desiree D’Allure clinging to his head. “All clear underneath the plant. Assuming the mole and the lizard did their jobs right, there should be no humans to sound the alarm,” said Desiree haughtily. “So where are they.”

“Err, wrapping things up in the east end, I guess,” said Snout with a hint of uncertainty.

Desiree snorted as she slid down Sewernose’s back. Another thundercrack went off overhead. “They had better be. Judging by the closeness of this storm, your boss and the professor are here. Sewernose, do the honors and open those skylight windows.”

“And with a flick of a switch, the curtain rises!” said Sewernose dramatically. After he pushed a button on the far wall, the long horizontal row of slylight windows slowly parted like a trap door.

It was getting harder to resist running out there and clobbering them all, but Gadget forced herself to be patient. As much as she loathed Fat Cat’s cronies for nearly killing Isaac, these were the small fry. According to Desiree, the two she really wanted where right around the corner. But what’s with opening the skylight? I mean…these vats are secured to the floor, and couldn’t be carried out by a helicopter or anything, and a storm would hardly conceal one anyway.

A sudden, eardrum-piercing howl of swirling wind assaulted Gadget’s ears in between thundercracks. Gritting her teeth as she futilely tried to cover her ears, Gadget looked up…and her jaw dropped. A tornado was touching down, right inside the chemical plant. As the crooks held onto the chains of the loading door, and Gadget gripped the metal bars under the stairs, the tornado deposited a tanker truck beside one of the vats.

As abruptly as the tornado appeared, the swirling winds died away, revealing Professor Nimnul holding onto the driver’s side door. But something was different about him. Something was attached to his back, something incredibly bulky. It looked like two tanks of liquid with bronze-colored plating, with a funnel-like extension sprouting from the top of both.

It took a moment for Gadget to piece it all together. Nimnul, you devious little…you took your old weather-manipulating machine and miniaturized it, Gadget realized. So that was the plan, get that tanker  truck in here under the cover of that storm, load it up, and sweep it back out.

Looking insufferably pleased with himself, Nimnul opened the door, and Fat Cat imperiously stepped out. “A bit of a bumpy ride, but otherwise not much I can complain about,” he said silkily. After quickly glancing around, he irritably added, “And just where are Mole and Wart?”

“They should be along any minute, boss,” drawled Mepps. Meanwhile, Sewernose was already connecting a large hose to a nearby chemical vat, getting ready to load the tanker truck to the brim.

“They had better be, if they don’t wanna get left behind,” snapped Nimnul. “Even if we really threw those fleabag rodents off the scent, we can’t afford to waste any more time than we have to. Especially if what D’Allure said about that obnoxious mouse mechanic is true.”

“Oh, you just wait,” Gadget muttered under her breath slyly. “That smaller weather machine can’t possibly have enough energy, water or processing power to be used for very long. Probably barely enough left for a second tornado. Knowing you, I can easily goad you into using up the rest of its gas.” It was finally time to make her move, and she had to do it alone. Chip, Dale and Monterey Jack were at the far end, and probably were tied up dealing with Mole and Wart. Zipper and Foxglove probably got caught in that tornado, and hopefully it died away before they got shredded apart. Fat Cat and Professor Nimnul better hope so, because…

Finally jumping out from behind cover, Gadget fired some smoke bombs. While the crooks were blinded and coughing, Gadget fired a harpoon at Sewernose. It connected, covering the top of his head. With one yank, Gadget reeled Sewernose toward her, swung him around, and hurled him at the loading door. He collided noisily with it, the reverberating metal echoing over the thunderclaps, and painfully slid down. As the harpoon reeled back, a sudden burst of electricity, coming from a side attachment on Nimnul’s weather-pack, shot toward her. Gadget deftly jumped aside, just as Nimnul summoned up a wind to blow away the offending smoke.

Gadget and Nimnul angrily stared each other down for a moment, with looks fierce enough to kill. She smiled to herself. Anyone could tell Nimnul was just itching to make another move. “Guess this is what I get for putting all my trust in that cat,” spat Nimnul. “So much for the chemical plant being the last place you vermin were supposed to look. And here you are, now acting all big and bad, on top of everything else…”

Nimnul tried firing more bolts of electricity, but Gadget dodged them all, her wicked smile never fading. You could never guess Fat Cat’s next move, but at least Nimnul was always predictable. “Seriously, Nimnul, recycling your old weather-control machine? One of your redeeming features was how you always had something new for us Rangers. Don’t tell me, after all these years, you’re losing your edge,” she taunted, hoping to enrage them further.

“Look who’s talking! Are you telling me a bigger crossbow was all you could come up with on such short notice?!” Nimnul shot back. Then he fired back with a blast of freezing water with both barrels, which Gadget also dodged with ease.

“Enough of this! Norton Nimnul, you fool! Don’t you see what she’s doing?!” Fat Cat cried out. “She’s making you use up your machine’s power! There’s no way you can summon another tornado now!” Nimnul paled, realizing how neatly he was just duped. “Luckily, I plan for all contingencies. The tanker should be full by now, and must be driven out of here instead. D’Allure, de Bergerac! Get on it! Mepps, Snout! Go find Wart and Mole, who must have run into the other Rangers. Looks like I’ll have to help the professor with this one.”

Gadget couldn’t help but to laugh. Fat Cat was less than ten feet away, and she now stood at eye level with him. After all those times he loomed over the Rangers before, threatening them all…this would be such a delightful change of pace. Payback for Isaac was only moments away, Gadget could taste it. “D’Allue surely told you about what happen with Rat Capone, but obviously didn’t tell you the whole story,” Gadget said with a wicked leer.

Just then, she caught a glimpse of Sewernose. He had recovered and disconnected the tanker from the vat, and was not climbing into the truck with Desiree on his shoulder. The loading door was going up, and Gadget heard the engine start. As badly as she wanted Fat Cat, they had to be stopped first. Grunting in annoyance, Gadget sprinted past Fat Cat, ignoring him completely. Even after whatever Nimnul had done with him, what threat could he pose now?

Gadget got a rude awakening when she felt Fat Cat leap onto her shoulders, his claws digging through her jumpsuit. Grimacing in annoyance, Gadget reached back to hurl him off. But in one blinding motion, Fat Cat pulled her to the ground instantly. No, not only that, the rotund feline was spinning on the floor like a ball, all the while hanging onto Gadget. Then, he let go, sending Gadget sailing across the plant. She winced as her backside slammed into the pipes around a different vat.

“What was THAT?!” Gadget thought aloud. Shaking her head, Gadget got back up, her earlier amusement now giving way to plain old rage. The loading door was open now. By some miracle, Sewernose was actually able to drive the truck, and was heading out of the plant. Gadget was about to make another dash for it, but Fat Cat and Nimnul stood between her and the truck.

“In case it hasn’t occurred to you yet, my dear, your old feline friend actually DID help me with a brilliant new gimmick,” Nimnul taunted. Gadget readied herself for a jump past them, thinking Nimnul was going to blast her with his weather-machine again. Instead, Nimnul grabbed Fat Cat by the tail, and swung him over his head like a mace. Gadget’s eyes widened, wondering just what in the world those two were doing.

That moment of hesitation cost Gadget dearly. In a flash, Nimnul hurled Fat Cat, who came at her like a cannonball. And when he collided with Gadget, she felt as if she was just hit by one. Gadget was knocked into a rolling cart with diagnostic tools, toppling over with it. Sputtering and aching all over, it took Gadget several seconds to get back up on wobbly legs. Looking over her shoulder, she saw Fat Cat was already back with Nimnul, perched on his shoulders while he readied his miniaturized weather machine.

Too groggy to dodge, Gadget was pinned against the vat as freezing water flowed over her, trapping her in a block of ice. Focusing with all of her might, Gadget flexed her muscles, praying she had the strength to shatter the ice. It worked. With a deafening crash, Gadget broke free, leaving sizeable chunks of ice scattered around her.

Thinking fast, Gadget grabbed the nearest chunk, hurling it at the duo with deadly speed. Fat Cat and Nimnul jumped away in opposite directions. Gadget kept throwing ice chunks, wide-eyed with disbelief as each one missed. Fat Cat, despite all his bulk, was moving FASTER than any other cat she’d ever seen, and Nimnul was ducking and jumping around as if he had trained for the Olympics all his life. Just what had these two done to themselves? Gadget thought she could make a clean sweep of all these crooks now, but they were all one step ahead.

It wasn’t long before Gadget ran out of ammo, and they went on the offensive again.  Fat Cat came at her like a bowling ball. Gadget easily sidestepped him, but Fat Cat rebounded off the vat behind her, striking Gadget in the back. While Gadget was off-balance, Nimnul used that opening to conjure up another gust of wind, sweeping her up and depositing her on the crosswalk above with a crash.

Gadget groggily tried to pick herself up, but Nimnul blasted the crosswalk with another electric bolt, dropping her instantly. Struggling to get back up, Gadget could only helplessly listen as Fat Cat and Nimnul started climbing the stairs, their reverberating footsteps coming closer, taunting her…

Gripping the handrails, breathing heavily, Gadget forced herself back onto her feet. The lingering pain from the electrocution…it was fading fast. Gadget managed a weak smile. Electrocution almost killed her the other day, but now she just shrugged it off. It was as if this new body, infused with that black magic Foxglove talked about, could do anything.

Looking around, she saw Nimnul was at one end of the crosswalk, while Fat Cat was at the other end. Both were about twenty feet away, as if to box her in and trap her. Lightning crackled in the open skylight above them, flooding the plant with blinding light for a split second. In that time, Nimnul slapped some sort of canister onto one of his tanks. “My dear, you’ve been a lovely dancing partner. Too bad the croc couldn’t stick around; we all know he loves flashy performances,” jeered Nimnul. “But alas, even the best of performances must come to an end, so…”

Some sort of thick, fine mist shot out from Nimnul’s weather machine, enveloping Gadget. Gadget noticed Nimnul was instinctively backing up a little, and Fat Cat was watching with a wary look. Thinking this mist was of no consequence, Gadget took a few steps toward Nimnul, ready to trash his weather machine for good.

Then, all of a sudden, vertigo hit her hard. Gadget instantly fell to her knees. It took all her willpower to remain conscious. Looking down, she raised her trembling left arm, thinking her eyes were playing tricks on her. But they weren’t. Those vinelike designs marking her fun and skin, it was as if they had just come loose, wriggling grotesquely like worms over her arm. And now she was aware of something writhing all over her face, on her legs underneath her jumpsuit. Whatever Nimnul just sprayed her with, it was as if it undid the enchantment placed on her, leaving her weak and helpless…


“I’ve heard of trying to ‘nail’ the competition, but this is ridiculous!” cried Dale.

Chip couldn’t agree more. For a while, it looked like things were going their way. They got the drop on Mole and Wart, dumping a can of paint on the former and dunking the latter with some paste. But then Mepps and Snout showed up, and as luck would have it, the crooks came across a battery-powered nail gun. The two of them ran around, clumsily trying to aim it at the Rangers, while Wart and Mole followed. Or at least tried to. Wart was more focused on pulling off the sticky notes and paper clips stuck to his body, while Mole still had that can of paint over him, stumbling around blindly.

While Mepps and Snout couldn’t precisely aim the nail gun, the shots were so fast and erratic…all too often, a nail whizzed by Chip, roughing up his fur. He, Dale and Monterey were being forced back into the wing of the chemical plant where they came in. Maybe we’ll get Gadget’s attention and she can pulverize these punks for us, Chip thought hopefully. I’ll bet she’s had better luck than us.

A sudden peal of Nimnul’s laughter doused those hopes. Following it, Chip looked up and saw Gadget on the middle of a crosswalk, shivering and weak. Chip didn’t know how Fat Cat and Nimnul did this, but they were closing in, and both jumped on top of her, pinning her down. “Gadget, NO!” Chip cried out instinctively.

Gadget looked down, taking in the predicament of the other Rangers. Thankfully, her arms were free, and ignoring her own problems, Gadget aimed her crossbow down and fired smoke bombs at Fat Cat’s cronies. Nimnul made a grab for her crossbow, his hand covering the PVC pipe as Gadget fired. Smoke soon concealed the three of them, and all Chip could hear was their coughing and sputtering. But right before they all were hidden from view, Chip thought Gadget’s irises and pupils, for a split second, turned solid and eerily opaque.

 “W-what in the…H-H-HEY!” stammered Mepps. From what Chip could see, Mepps lost his grip on the nail gun, and it tumbled over onto him and Snout. Then, Wart and Mole collided with them. Chip thought they were getting back up, but of a sudden, a deafening shriek made them fall over each other again. Foxglove was hovering beside the cloud of smoke, Zipper holding onto her head, looking to be on the verge of exhaustion.

“Sorry guys, that tornado earlier was almost the end of us,” said Foxglove.

“Wow Foxglove, did you make that scream?” asked Dale, impressed. “How come you never did that against Freddie and her creepos?”

“They’d be immune to it, since we were all linked. It’s one of those special gifts from the old bond I told you about,” explained Foxglove, landing near Dale.

“Fascinatin’ as that is, Foxy, we ain’t outta the warzone yet,” said Monterey. “Looks like Gadget-luv could use an assist in gettin’ a couple crumb-bums offa her too.”

Chip’s heart sank again, worried sick about Gadget. As he turned to look back up at the crosswalk, he heard an odd sound. It was vaguely like…Velcro being pulled apart? Smoke still hid Nimnul, Fat Cat and Gadget from view. But out of that cloud of smoke fell…Gadget’s arm-mounted crossbow?

Chip stared blankly at where the crossbow fell. “Uh-oh. Pallies, I got me a bad feelin’ ‘bout that,” said Monterey, echoing Chip’s thoughts. Chip hoped that didn’t mean what he thought it did. His hopes were promptly dashed. The smoke was steadily starting to clear, and suddenly Gadget’s right arm reached out under the catwalk, gripping it tightly. Just as Chip feared, it looked like her arm was growing longer. Not only that, those vinelike markings were lengthening again. Now, they branched out around Gadget’s fingers, curling around them up to their tips. Her fingers dug deep into the metal as she made a fist, twisting it around, and Chip swore, even at that distance, he saw muscles straining under her fur.

A low, stifled grunt of rage came from the smoke cloud. Then, in one swift motion, Fat Cat and Nimnul were thrown off, landing on the far right side of the crosswalk. Chip gasped as Gadget slowly stood up; he could only see her silhouette through the lingering smoke, but now she clearly towered over Nimnul. Heck, from the looks of it, Gadget now towered over most humans, period.

Fat Cat and Nimnul just sat there, flabbergasted, gulping as Gadget slowly stepped closer. Chip thought he could make out Gadget’s eyes through the smoke, now that it was fading, and understood their fear completely. Once again, there was no trace of the usual warmth and compassion in those eyes, just pure hatred.

Before they could overcome their terror, Gadget reached down and grabbed the crosswalk, jerking it loose and pulling it apart. Fat Cat and Nimnul screamed as they tumbled painfully to the floor. Gadget hopped down, landing near where her crossbow had fallen. She stared at it for a moment before picking it up and refastening it. Gadget had to adjust the Velcro straps a little, but it still fit at her new size.

It was then that Fat Cat’s cronies came to, as was announced by Mepps’s screeching. “Bosssssss! We’ll save you, boss!” he cried in a rare display of courage. He and Snout grabbed hold of the nail gun again, and all four dashed in front of their boss. Mepps fired a few nails, but then they ran out of ammunition. Looking up to Gadget, Chip saw the nails were halfway embedded into her shoulder. Gritting her teeth, Gadget grabbed the nails and pulled them out, apparently ignoring the pain and blood stain on her jumpsuit.

“Nice one, boys,” said Fat Cat sardonically. “Well, as much as I admire the effort, it looks like the professor and I still need to finish the job.”

Fat Cat jumped into Nimnul’s hands, who hurled him while screaming, “DODGEBALL!” Chip guessed this was supposed to knock Gadget out cold. Well, it may have worked before, but Fat Cat feebly rebounded off of her. Gadget didn’t even flinch. Fat Cat landed back near the rest of his gang, stumbling around on wobbly legs, shaking like mad. “Oh, enough of this,” spat Nimnul, using that machine on his back to fire some sort of electric bolt. Gadget merely shrugged that off as well.

“Wow. Whoever marked Gadget as a familiar definitely knew what he was doing,” said Foxglove.

“I really hope so,” said Chip, seeing the murderous look in Gadget’s eyes. “It looks like nothing can stop her now…but I hope she can stop herself from doing something she’ll regret.”


The power, the strength…it all hit Gadget like a drug as she stared down all their old enemies. All these years putting up with their antics, all the trouble they caused the Rangers, all the people hurt because of their schemes, or almost killed…tonight, she could finally put an end to all of it. Being a familiar was no curse…it was the greatest blessing imaginable! Now standing at over six feet fall, with monstrous strength like this…Gadget was never one for all-out brute force, but tonight would be an exception. Gadget took a step forward, delighted at the sight of the six of them quivering in fear. She felt the nervous stares of her fellow Rangers on her as well, but ignored them. These crooks would have her undivided attention…

Gadget made a show of cracking her knuckles while leering evilly, just to watch them squirm some more. “Oh, I never imagined there’d be an opportunity like this. You crooks thought you got the short end of the stick all those other times, got it rough? Now it’s time for some serious payback! And not just for us Rangers, but for Isaac Osceola!”

Nimnul seemed to get even paler, but Gadget paid no notice, since Fat Cat just spoke. “C-C-Come again, my dear?”

“The boy who nearly died in that fire at the veterinary clinic…which your goons set off just to get me!” Gadget spat.

“Errrm, well uhh, well uhh,”  spluttered Fat Cat nervously. “Now, a-a-about that, you see, the t-t-thing is…”

“Don’t, Fat Cat. DON’T!” Gadget roared. “Seeing that boy nearly die in that fire…THAT WAS THE LAST STRAW! I’m sick of how the Rangers constantly have to clean up after you creeps! I’ve finally had enough! And now, I’ve got a perfect opportunity to end all of this…PERMANENTLY!”

Nimnul gulped, and Gadget heard astonished gasps from the Rangers, but she paid the latter no mind. “P-P-Permanently?” Nimnul echoed feebly.

“You’re bluffing,” Fat Cat said flatly. “You’re a Rescue Ranger. You do-gooders have rules, some silly code of honor.”

Gadget felt primed to explode, but instead decided this was a great way to toy with Fat Cat some more. She smiled devilishly at the crooks again. “You’re right, what am I thinking?” she said in a sing-song voice. “Ending it like this, where you clearly haven’t got a prayer…no honor in that.” A pause, and then…”Ten second head start.”

“Ten seconds?!” spat Wart. “Are you serious?!”

“Tennnnnnnnnn,” Gadget said teasingly. The eyes of all the crooks widened, then they all looked nervously amongst themselves. “Niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine,” Gadget continued. Getting the message, they all bolted, heading for the open loading door.

“Gadget, just wait a minute, you CAN’T be serious,” said Chip sternly. “This isn’t how the Rescue Rangers do things and you know it. And whatever’s happened to you, I refuse to believe you’d really...”

“Eiiiiiiiiight,” Gadget went on, tuning out Chip completely as she watched them all run in desperation. “Sevvvvvvvvvvven, siiiiixfivefourthreetwoone…ZERO!” she bellowed, finally taking off after them.

Looking behind them, Fat Cat shrieked like a little girl. They were almost at the loading door, but Gadget was closing the gap and fast. “Professor, blast the chains!” he cried out. Using the last bit of power in his weather-control device, Nimnul fired an electric bolt at the chains. He then tossed his invention aside, and the six of them dashed out of the loading door just as the metal barricade came crashing down. Instead of slowing down, however, Gadget ducked her head and barreled forward. She effortlessly charged right through, out into the pale, stormy darkness.

Looking around, Gadget saw she was in the chemical plant’s large loading bay and parking lot for semi trailers. She spotted her quarry up ahead, and heard Fat Cat nervously scream, “Split up, split up you fools! She can’t chase us all!” A flash of lightning momentarily blinded Gadget, and when her vision cleared, the only crooks she could spot were Mepps and Snout, heading for a row of trailers.

Without a second thought, Gadget gave chase. Mepps and Snout heard her coming, looked over their shoulders, and screamed as they ran under the first trailer. Gadget kept charging ahead at full speed. At her new height, she couldn’t duck under the trailers while running, but that would only be a minor hindrance…

Gadget made an upward slashing motion the instant she reached the trailer, effortlessly tossing it several dozen feet into the air as if it was made of styrofoam. Gadget kept doing this as she kept after the cat and rat, leaving a slew of ruined, overturned trailers in her wake. Shortest distance between two points is a straight line, Gadget reasoned, not caring about the damage. Nothing mattered except catching these creeps…

But for the moment, those two crooks gave her the slip. Mepps and Snout had ducked into a storm drain at the far end of the plant, one too small for Gadget to squeeze into. Gadget swore as she watched Mepps’s orange hide vanish from sight. Not being mouse-sized anymore had its disadvantages. Looking back, past the mess of totaled trailers, Gadget saw the front gate, which Sewernose crashed through during his getaway. The streets weren’t far beyond that.

Refusing to think her quarry could get away that easy, Gadget leaped onto the outer wall and ran along it. Pedestrians and drivers were still a good distance away, and in the stormy darkness were not liable to spot her. Thankfully, the streets were well-lit, and Gadget looked up and down the road for anything unusual. At last, Gadget noticed something: what looked like a stooping old lady with a headscarf, back facing Gadget, pushing a baby carriage.

“That old trick again? Expected something more cunning out of you, Nimnul,” spat Gadget. Taking a deep breath, Gadget made another tremendous leap, sailing over the cars cruising down the street. Gadget gracefully landed on the corner across the street, ignoring the startled gasps all around her. Rushing ahead, she grabbed the stooping figure, cocking back a fist as she twirled the figure around…only to find it really WAS some old lady!

They just stared at each other for a moment, both too shocked to speak. Gadget felt the eyes of all the other stunned humans upon her, the consequences of her blunder sinking in. Amazingly, no one screamed; aside from the usual sounds of traffic, all Gadget heard was people whipping out their cell phones or snapping pictures with cameras. Then, over everything else, Gadget heard a startled cry. “Hey, that’s my…OOOOF!”

Looking over her shoulder, Gadget saw that Nimnul had somehow thrown someone off his motorcycle. He got on, Fat Cat latching onto his back, and spotted Gadget across the street. Again, they stared at each other furtively for a moment before Nimnul revved the bike and took off. Forgetting everything else, Gadget charged after them.

Nimnul sped down the street, but by some miracle, Gadget was keeping up on foot. Obviously, another blessing from being marked as a familiar. Was there any limit to what she could do now? Nimnul kept glancing fearfully in his mirror in utter disbelief. Gadget was not only keeping after them, but was slowly gaining! Gadget smiled again, still relishing his terror.

However, Nimnul soon drove into heavier traffic, weaving in between cars in a desperate gambit to get away. It was then that Gadget realized she couldn’t duck and weave through cars as easily. Golly, guess there’s some things I can’t do too well after all, she thought to herself, watching Nimnul lengthen his head. Wonder where he learned to ride a motorcycle that good? Oh well, it won’t help him. Not as if I’m confined to just running…

Gadget jumped up onto a bus just ahead, then ran along the top of it. It was beginning to brake, and Gadget saw Nimnul speed through the red light at the intersection ahead. Refusing to lose momentum, Gadget jumped ahead, grabbing the pole with the traffic lights. She spun around on the bar like a gymnast, then launched herself forward. She soared ahead, landing roughly in the bed of a pickup truck. Gadget quickly jumped out and began jumping from car to car. She caught a glimpse of Nimnul up ahead, swerving around a corner.

Gadget wasn’t discouraged in the least. On the contrary, the longer this hunt dragged on, the more she relished it. It had always been a thrill before, using her brains and her inventions in stakeouts and missions to foil all their other plans. But after Fat Cat and Nimnul made things personal for her, this was a welcome change…


Isaac groggily picked himself up off the living room floor, trying to gather his wits. One minute, he was standing in front of the television, absentmindedly flipping channels. The next, everything went black, and Isaac awoke to find himself face down on the floor, with barely enough energy to move. It took a few moments to realize that Gadget must have run into more trouble, once again leeching off his life force through their bond.

“Glad this thing is working, but all these blackouts are getting annoying,” Isaac thought aloud as he stood on wobbly legs. “Hell, this one was even worse. Just how much energy is she gonna have to borrow off of me? Wonder what her and her ‘Rangers’ are up to?”

And then, as if further proof that fate had absurd plans for both Isaac and the Rescue Rangers, he got his answer immediately. As his vision cleared, he realized the television was still on, and there was a news bulletin. Isaac’s eyes widened when he saw what it was about.

There, on TV, was the same mouse he resuscitated the other day, lavender jumpsuit and all. But now, she was as big as any other person on the street…bigger even! Isaac was dumbstruck, watching this giant mouse in the distance run across the top of a bus, then launch off a traffic light pole like an Olympic gymnast on steroids. “This incredible footage was shot by a tourist only moments ago,” said the newscaster. “Several eyewitnesses can corroborate this story…there is what appears to be a huge mouse, over six feet tall, running through the streets. Eyewitnesses also report that the mouse is chasing after Norton Nimnul, the mad scientist who once again broke out of prison two months ago.”

Isaac was all too familiar with that name, and if all the rumors about these ‘Rangers’ were true, Norton Nimnul was one of those unlucky crooks they corralled on a daily basis. Isaac’s eyes were glued to the television, still not believing the spell he cast for Gadget went THAT well. He was still skeptical about all this magic stuff, but here was undeniable proof that it was real, and that it worked.

But wonder soon gave way to worry. Isaac couldn’t explain it, but in the back of his mind, apprehension crept in. He felt a sudden need to rush out into the city, get to Gadget, actually be there as she and her Rangers saved the day again.

Was it due to this bond they now shared? Did he just want to see Gadget haul in Norton Nimnul? Was he worried that this spell could blow up in both their faces? Whatever it was, Isaac’s mind was made up. He grabbed the keys off the counter, rushed into the garage and clambered into that old, green van. As the garage door opened, Isaac turned the key. The engine turned, but the damn thing wasn’t starting.

“Oh, why NOW?!” cried Isaac, slamming his head against the steering wheel. Then, without even thinking, Isaac ran out of the van and furiously kicked the fuel tank again and again. After venting his frustration, Isaac got back in and turned the key. This time, the engine started.

Isaac was about to pull out when he realized just what happened. He was no mechanic, but somehow he knew exactly what was wrong and came up with a quick fix. In the back of his mind, something still told Isaac the fuel pump was fouling up. What little he knew about car repairs, he gleamed from his aunt, but they never touched the fuel tank before.

“Wait a minute, that mouse is supposed to be an inventor, right? Engineer, mechanic, all that jazz,” Issac thought aloud. “Could it be…the bond really works both ways?” Isaac pondered over it for a moment longer, then shook his head. He would have to dope it out later. Slamming down on the gas, Isaac peeled out, heading for the heart of the city.


“Repeat, Norton Nimnul has been spotted in the vicinity, riding a stolen motorcycle. All units, be on the lookout,” blared the police radio. Muldoon looked out the window, as if somehow Nimnul would zoom down the street, right into their waiting arms. But what Muldoon was more anxious to see was this ‘killer mouse’ that was supposedly chasing him.

“Keep your eyes peeled for our favorite egghead, partner,” said Kirby as he drove on. “And please, no wild speculation about this so-called whacked-out mouse going after him.

Muldoon shrugged his shoulders. “We’ve seen weirder. How many times do I gotta bring up that rubbery little chipmunk?” he pointed out. “Who knows, maybe it’s one of them, well, y’know…”

Kirby sighed, sounding ready to argue with him. But then, miraculously, they saw Nimnul’s motorcycle several dozen yards ahead, cutting across the street and into a parking lot. It didn’t look like the professor even noticed them. Muldoon and Kirby looked at each other, grinning as they were about to pull into the parking lot.

Nimnul had stopped beside a bar, having gotten off his stolen motorcycle. That’s when Muldoon also noticed there was some big, round cat with him, one wearing some snazzy pet clothes. “I know what I’m doing, you furball. The thing’s just flooded, it’ll be fine in a minute,” said Nimnul. “Oh, don’t get your hairballs all in a bunch. If there’s one good thing my psycho sister did for me, it was make sure I knew how to handle a motorcycle.”

“Oh, so you like messin’ with choppers too, Nimnul? Never realized we had somethin’ in common. Not like I talk to cats or anything,” quipped Kirby as he and Muldoon got out of their car, guns drawn.

“Norton Nimnul, you’re under arrest, and…ah you know the drill. Let’s just see ‘em,” said Muldoon.

For someone supposedly being chased by a giant, homicidal rodent, Nimnul wasn’t the least bit perturbed. “Oh, but of course officers,” he said sardonically as he raised his hands. “As you can see, nothing up my sleeves this time…”

Suddenly, that big cat jumped up into Nimnul’s waiting hands. As Kirby and Muldoon stood there aiming at them, not knowing what to expect, Nimnul tossed the cat behind him. It rebounded off the wall like a rubber ball, careening toward Kirby. “What the…” Muldoon began, but the cat ricocheted off his partner and nailed him in the gut.

As Muldoon crumpled to the pavement, clutching his guts in agony, he saw the cat deftly land beside Nimnul, who just got back onto the motorcycle. “At least you and me still don’t have to worry about the donut-loving crowd. Now if we can just stay away from that…” A sharp whistle from far across the parking lot cut Nimnul off. Muldoon craned his head to see who it was, and he felt his eyes bug out. That mouse, a female by the looks of it, was standing beside a parked semi truck without a trailer, its driver’s side door open. She was leering at Nimnul as she successfully hotwired the semi, a murderous gleam in her eyes. As the semi’s engine roared to life, Muldoon could sense the panic radiating off of Nimnul. “Bike. On. Now,” Nimnul breathed to his cat.

The cat quickly obeyed, and Nimnul took off away from the bar at top speed. The mouse jumped into the hotwired semi and gave chase. As she drove by, however, Muldoon gasped as she leaned out, winking at them as she gave a thumbs-up. “Wait a minute, since when do mice have thumbs?”


Foxglove’s wings were getting exhausted after all of this flying around. Chip had ordered her to fly after Gadget and try to talk some sense into her. At first, Foxglove thought it would be easy to keep tabs on Gadget, what with the overpowering smell of black magic she gave off. But Gadget was running around the streets so fast, Foxglove could barely get a whiff of her. A moment ago, she thought she had picked up Gadget’s trail again, but it took her into a noisy area of the city, with too many bright lights and too much noise. The high beams of one car blinded Foxglove’s sensitive eyes for a moment, making her veer lower. When Foxglove’s vision cleared, the sight of a bus coming right for her greeted her.

Foxglove let out a scream that could shatter glass, but just as the bus was about to hit, she felt something stick to her from behind. Then, she was yanked backwards, and the next thing Foxglove knew, she was inside some truck, securely attached to…something. Everything lurched again, and Foxglove found herself thrust in front of Gadget’s now-huge face. “Good thing I hung onto this new crossbow, huh?” Gadget asked sheepishly. “You can go ahead and pry yourself free now. You’re safe in here.”

Blinking in surprise, Foxglove did just that, pulling her butt out of the big plunger harpoon. Just as she did, the truck they were in made a sharp turn. Foxglove heard it crash through something just as she was slammed into the passenger seat. Struggling to stand back up, Foxglove looked up at Gadget. It was so surreal, seeing her sitting there, deftly handling the wheel and the pedals as good as any human. She made another turn, and Foxglove braced for being bounced around again, but Gadget’s hand shot out, pressing her against the seat. Then Gadget pulled Foxglove toward her, holding her tight as she drove with one hand.

Foxglove could barely see over the dashboard, but there was no mistaking it was Professor Nimnul and Fat Cat down below, riding a motorcycle. A motorcycle that this truck was gaining on, and judging from the look in Gadget’s eyes, about to steamroll over.

“Gadget, think about what you’re doing! You’re not a killer, you can’t be!” Foxglove pleaded. “You Rescue Rangers…y-y-you’re heroes! Heroes…they don’t kill!”

“Once upon a time, I believed that, Foxglove. Believed that even though those two kept trying to kill us,” said Gadget sternly. “Everything changed when I almost saw Isaac Osceola die right in front of me.”

Nimnul made another blind turn, forcing Gadget to slam the brakes hard and turn after him. She succeeded in turning the corner, but lost a lot of momentum. Looking in the side mirror, Foxglove saw the back tail of the semi smash into the side of a van. “Gadget, this is crazy! People are going to get hurt if you keep driving like this!”

“Good thing I won’t have to anymore. Nimnul just ducked into the parking lot underneath some skyscraper, and the clearing’s too low. I can’t drive this thing through,” Gadget said flatly. She brought the semi to a screeching halt in front of the building and jumped out, still holding onto Foxglove. The way Gadget held onto her…that warmth and friendliness was still there, but somehow, it was so diminished now. “They just ducked into an elevator. Are they going to the top floor? Why? I could just run up the stairs and cut them off. Or tear open those elevator doors and rip out the cables. Or…”

As Gadget’s voice trailed off, she finally let Foxglove go. Gadget was looking down at something on her hands. Foxglove looked at them as well, noting how the marking curled around Gadget’s fingers, but then noticed something else. Gadget’s clawnails, they were growing longer too! They now jutted out like a tiger’s claws, and looked sharp enough to slice into bone.

“It just keeps getting better and better,” Gadget muttered gleefully. “Stay here by, uh, where we parked, Foxglove. I’m going up.” With that, Gadget jumped up at the skyscraper’s wall, her claws effortlessly digging into the concrete. She climbed up at breakneck speed, going up floor after floor with ease. Foxglove stood on the hood of the semi, too shocked to go after Gadget as she swiftly ascended.


At last, the elevator reached the top, which led out onto the roof, exactly where Norton Nimnul knew they had to be. What he hadn’t counted on, however, was that some sort of party was being thrown on the roof by the employees working in the skyscraper. Luckily, they all recognized him, and stayed deathly silent and backed off. The sight of a big cat in snazzy clothing certainly helped to keep them all confused, too.

“Hey fellas, nice party ya got going on here!” cried Nimnul glibly as he passed one of the tables, making a show of gulping down some punch. Satisfied that the partiers were too confused to do much of anything, Nimnul walked closer to the roof’s edge. “Well, I’d love to stick around, folks, but unfortunately, I need to be heading back home this week. Family business. So, if you’ll just excuse us, we’ll…”

Nimnul turned around, facing the roof’s edge, just as Gadget shot up and jumped over it. Nimnul and Fat Cat fell backwards, too shocked to do much besides scramble backwards in fear. Gadget, however, wasted no time grabbing both of them by their stubby necks and hauling them off their feet. All the other people on the roof finally broke their silence, screaming and frantically talking amongst themselves, but Gadget completely ignored them. Nimnul could see it in those cold, sapphire eyes of hers: nothing else mattered, now that she finally snagged her quarry.

Gadget’s grin became even more insufferable as she stepped to the roof’s edge, holding Nimnul and Fat Cat over it. Nimnul gulped as he looked down. It was easily a thirty story drop, and he knew full well that once this arrogant, overgrown mouse had had her fun with them, the pavement below was his next stop.

Chapter 6: An Odd Couple

Gadget said nothing as she watched Fat Cat and Nimnul squirm, minds numb with fear as they dangled over the edge of a thirty-story building. Their chase had taken them all way from the advancing storm, but now, it had caught up. Misty gusts soaked everyone on the roof; of course, given what was going on, they barely noticed. Also, furious winds were picking up. Many of the humans on the roof almost lost their balance, but Gadget stood firm on the edge, savoring her quarry’s fear.

“Convinced I’m serious now, Fat Cat? Still think I’m bluffing now?” Gadget asked sardonically, a dangerously playful edge to her voice as she squeezed their necks a little tighter. Gadget relished their palpable terror, but she wanted more. Concentrating, she willed the clawnails on her thumbs to lengthen, then lightly brushed the pointy tips over their throats. “Oh, how satisfying it would be, to rip holes in your throats, and THEN toss you off, watching you bleed to death right before you go SPLAT.”

“Ahhh ahhh ahhh, I-uhhh I-uhhh I-uhhh,” spluttered Fat Cat. “Errr, I mean, uhh, t-t-that’s a bit, ummm, extreme for you, isn’t it? E-E-E-Especially in front of all the humans you’re always worried about, r-r-r-right?”

“And especially now, now that everyone in the city has gotten wind of what you rodents’ve done all these years,” Nimnul added gruffly. “Take it from me, my dear, this sort of public display of aggression ain’t good for the PR.”

Gadget glanced back at all the humans keeping their distance, anxiously watching to see what she did next. Nimnul was right, they all looked nervous, confused…not particularly glad she showed up to nab one of the city’s most infamous fugitives. It gave Gadget pause for a moment, but only a moment.

Turning back to Nimnul, she coldly said, “Considering that I’d be ridding the city of the screwball threatening to raze it down in a temper tantrum every month, I think they’ll get over it. And they only got wind of HALF the crazy stuff you’ve tried over the years. They don’t know you like the Rescue Rangers do.” Turning to Fat Cat, she went on. “Same goes for you. Oh, if they only knew you’re the reason over a dozen buildings had their foundations ripped out…”

“F-F-F-Fine then. If appealing to your conscience won’t work, maybe appealing to your intellect will,” said Fat Cat.

“Whatever you rodents have that can be called intell-“ Nimnul began, but Fat Cat jerked in Gadget’s deathgrip, giving the professor a sharp kick.

“NOW’S NOT THE TIME!” bellowed the cat. “Listen, Gadget Hackwrench, aren’t you ridiculous Rangers supposed to be detectives and all? I find it hard to believe that you haven’t even asked us the obvious questions. Like how the professor had something up his sleeve that countered your new superpowers.”

“Just ask yourself, how could we have possibly known about that? And found a way to negate this power?” pleaded Nimnul.

Lighting flashed behind the building just as Gadget scowled at them both. “Well, if you know how to take this power away, that’s all the more reason to get rid of you.” She raised them a little higher, then let them go. As they tumbled over in free fall, screaming, Gadget reached down and swiftly grabbed Fat Cat and Nimnul by their ankles, then lifted them back up as she stood. “Funny thing is, I was perfectly content before, being a normal mouse, relying on just my wits and my inventions to get the job done,” she said, glaring down at the duo. “I never bothered imagining what power like this could feel like, being the hunter instead of preyed on. But you know what, boys? I LIKE it! I LIKE how I can use it to clean up this city, starting with you two!”

Fat Cat and Nimnul’s faces fell, no doubt realizing their attempt to reason with Gadget backfired in the worst way. “C-C-C-Come now, don’t you s-s-s-see? You’ve always been insufferable, but it was always that ‘tenacious goody-goody’ type of insufferable,” said Fat Cat anxiously as he dangled over a thirty-story drop. “This new Punisher approach just doesn’t suit you. You were never this bloodthirsty.”

“Or maybe I just never had an opportunity to vent how I really feel about you two. And you, who always loved to devise slow, painful deaths for us Rescue Rangers, are preaching to ME about being bloodthirsty?” Gadget shot back defiantly. Gadget loosened her grip on their ankles, delighting when it made them panic all over again. “How does it feel to be on the receiving end for a change, Fat Cat? Come on Fat Cat, let me hear you beg for mercy, mercy you never showed us. I want to hear both of you beg before I finish this for good.”

It was then that Gadget noticed all the muffled chatter behind her. The partying employees had all been rooted to the spot, but slowly got their wits back. Gadget wasn’t concerned that they would try and stop her, but she had a hunch these humans somehow understood every word she said. Gadget shook her head, deciding it wasn’t worth worrying herself over. So these humans would piece together she was one of the rodents helping the city in secret. Big deal. Now they’d see her wipe out the city’s two biggest scourges for good. Glaring down, she saw Fat Cat and Nimnul’s faces had gone blank, too numb with terror to do anything. Deciding she was done tormenting them, Gadget was a second away from letting them go, but…

“Gadget, STOP!!!”

Chip’s voice rang out over the misty gusts swirling over the skyscraper. Looking up, she saw the Ranger Plane battling against the wind to reach her, all the other Rangers aboard.


His heart hammering, Chip made the Ranger Plane knife through the misty gusts, aiming as best he could for the rooftop ahead. Despite his best efforts, the landing gear barely made contact with the low wall surrounding the edge. The winds made the Ranger Plane lurch as it anchored itself down. On top of that, it touched down at least fifteen feet away from Gadget. Chip would have to shout for Gadget to hear, assuming she was willing to listen at all.

“Chip, it’s just like I told you! She meant every word she said!” cried Foxglove from the back seat. Chip only half-heard her, focusing instead on Gadget’s piercing blue eyes which cut through the misty haze with such ferocity, they said more than any words could.

“Don’t you try talking me out of this too, Chip. You know as well as I do this is no less than they deserve,” Gadget said dangerously.

“I don’t care anything about Fat Cat or Professor Nimnul, Gadget. It’s you I’m worried about,” Chip said over the wind, calmly but firmly.

“Oh please, all of you got to get off this notion that being marked as some familiar is going to my head,” Gadget shot back. “I mean, golly guys, can any of you honestly say you wouldn’t do the same if you were in my place?”

“I’d like ta think I would, Gadget-luv,” Monterey said right away. “We all know I ain’t above gettin’ inta the biggest brawls I can on purpose. I ain’t above breakin’ a few bones and bustin’ a head or two. But blimey, Gadget-luv, I’d like ta think I’d be a smidge above cold-blooded murder.”

“Well, we all know THEY’RE not! How many times have they tried to kill us all?! Threatened to hurt or kill people in this city because of their greed?!” Gadget challenged.

“And if we stoop to their level, what does that make us Rescue Rangers?” Dale asked delicately.

“Sorry Dale, guess it’s a character flaw of mine if I don’t see it like that,” Gadget said bitterly. “I’m looking at this from a purely logical standpoint. Sacrifice two lives to ensure the safety of every living thing in this city. I kill them, this new plan of theirs falls apart. The city is safe. I can live with that.”

“O-ho-ho-ho-ho, if only you knew, Hackwrench,” Fat Cat cut in glibly, as if all his terror had vanished.

“Fat Cat…SHUT UP! YOU’RE NOT HELPING!” bellowed Chip.

“Please Gadget, you can’t do this. I’ve stuck by the Rescue Rangers because, well, among other things, I thought you all stood for something. You were all so different from how Winifred and her other familiars were only concerned with power,” pleaded Foxglove.

“And like it or not, Gadget, the Rescue Rangers do stand for something,” added Chip. “You don’t do what we’ve done for years and not expect all the animals in the city to look up to you. And whether we like it or not, humans now count among those animals too. Just take a look around.”

Chip’s hopes brightened when Gadget, despite herself, looked back at the crowd on the rooftop again. Just as he hoped, the confusion and anxiety in all the humans’ faces unsettled Gadget. And then, in what Chip could only call the best timing in the history of the city’s police, Kirby and Muldoon emerged from the elevator, guns drawn. Both looked horribly winded and shaky, but still intent on doing their duty. Of course, when they saw the six-foot mouse holding a cat and their number one fugitive over the edge, their composure faded a little.

“Everyone keep calm, the police are here! We got this under control,” Muldoon called out to the crowd.

“Dunno if you need your eyes checked, partner, but it looks like that mousy slip of an Amazon from earlier already has this under control,” quipped Kirby.

“Under control, my butt!” cried Nimnul. “Do your job you donut-scarfers and get this homicidal rodent off of us!”

Muldoon looked back over to Gadget, then his eyes fell onto the Ranger Plane. “A coupla chipmunks? And they built a different doohickey from the one Ratskiwatski ranted an’ raved about? Holy smokes, it’s true, it’s all true…”

“Still want to do this, Gadget? It’s one thing when all the human witnesses are complete strangers, but what about THEM?” asked Dale.

Gadget shook her head defiantly. “They’ve brought in Nimnul before, and he gets out every time! And they won’t do a thing about Fat Cat!”

“They can keep Nimnul locked up long enough for us to unravel their new plan. Fat Cat obviously needs him to work with whatever chemicals they stole tonight,” said Chip. “And who knows, maybe they’ll toss Fat Cat into a rescue shelter or something, long enough for us to get the job done. We can do this, Gadget, without sinking to their level.” Chip could tell he was finally getting through to Gadget, but there was an unsettling look in her eyes as she looked down, still a yearning to toss Fat Cat and Nimnul to their doom. Then, Chip realized he had one last resort. “But if you want to cave, if you want to let that gigantic new heart of yours fill with hate, go right ahead.”

Gadget’s jaw dropped as she slowly turned back to Chip. Chip hated having to hit Gadget where it hurt the most, but right now, it was time for tough love. Gadget meant the world to all of them, and right now, had to be saved from herself. Her gaze fell on Kirby and Muldoon again, guns still drawn but with no intention of firing. Then she glances at the partiers again, all breathlessly waiting for her next move. Her eyes shut tightly, tears welling up.

Facing skyward and letting out a scream, Chip was sure she was about to let Fat Cat and Nimnul go. But then, she twirled around and threw the villainess duo down at Kirby and Muldoon’s feet. Nimnul muttered something unprintable under his breath, but Gadget said, “Zip it, Nimnul. I still have half a mind to chuck you off.”

“But you didn’t act on that thought, that’s what counts,” said Chip brightly. Gadget turned to him, her expression stony, masking her still tumultuous thoughts.

Kirby and Muldoon holstered their guns, but for a moment just stood there, looking from Gadget to the crooks at their feet and back again. Muldoon got over his shock first, roughly hoisting up Nimnul by the shoulder. “Awright, Nimnul, you know the drill.”

“Indeed I do, donut-breath. That’s why we’re breaking the routine,” said Nimnul. To everyone’s shock, Nimnul delivered a sharp elbow to Muldoon, just as Fat Cat bit Kirby’s leg. As both yelped in pain and staggered back, Gadget lunged at them. Chip could only watch as Nimnul pulled another fast one, taking off his lab coat as Gadget rushed forward. “Here, a souvenir!” he cried, throwing it over Gadget’s head and blinding her.

“Ooooh that’s it. I’ll do worse than tossing you off a…” Gadget began. But when she got the lab coat off her face, Fat Cat jumped at her, dumping a metal bowl of spaghetti sauce over her head. To add insult to injury, Fat Cat beat on the bowl with forks, disorienting Gadget further.

“Oh, I do so love making such lovely tunes on the fly,” said Fat Cat. “But unfortunately, I have only time for one encore performance.” With that, he hurled a fork at the Ranger Plane.

“Everybody make like Donald and DUCK!” screamed Dale, which everyone did. But the fork hit the balloon instead, popping it. After looking back up, Chip saw Fat Cat was back on Nimnul’s back, but saw what the latter had under his coat. Some sort of black backpack, and it was unfolding into…a portable hangglider apparatus?

“That’s why the blighters were makin’ for the roof!” cried Monterey. “Without that ol’ weather thingamajig, that backup escape plan would mean jumpin’ off a building like this ta get any wind under them wings!”

“As if that’ll help!” spat Gadget. Finally getting the bowl of her head, she slung Nimnul’s coat over her shoulder and ran for the roof’s edge.

“Hey, hold on a sec!” shouted Muldoon, but Gadget ignored him. Rushing past the cops, Gadget grabbed the Ranger Plane and leaped off the edge.

“Gadget, what’re you do-INNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNG?!” demanded Chip as they plummeted several stories, but Gadget gracefully touched down on another rooftop, never breaking her stride. She snuggled the Ranger Plane under her left arm as she kept going, jumping from rooftop to rooftop. Once he got over the vertigo, Chip looked up. Gadget’s armpit blocked half his view, and worsening rain obscured things further, but he could make out the black wings of Nimnul’s invention against the night sky. He guessed they were only fifty feet above them, and when Gadget jumped onto a taller building, she cut the difference in half.

“This is it, Chip…NOW OR NEVER!” Gadget was closing in, and reached the edge of this building’s roof. With one last tremendous leap, Gadget launched herself up into the air, but soon Chip realized it wasn’t enough. She would come a few feet short of plucking Nimnul out of the air. Gadget realized this as well. Aiming her crossbow, she fired the taser.

But Fat Cat must have been ready for that. After wrapping some rubber gloves from Nimnul’s pocket over his paws, Fat Cat jumped toward Gadget and grabbed the ends of the fired taser lines. Right before he rebounded off of her, sailing back up to Nimnul, Fat Cat planted them squarely on Gadget’s forehead.

Gadget shook off Nimnul’s lightning bolt earlier, but then, she was braced for it. This time she wasn’t, and was soaked with rainwater to boot. Fat Cat’s cackling rang in Chip’s ears over Gadget’s scream, and she accidently threw aside the Ranger Plane. The wings were still intact, so Chip had no problem making it glide, despite the stormy winds. But there was nothing to be done for Gadget. The Rangers could only watch helplessly as Gadget, still jerking and twitching, plummeting into an alley.

Chip saw Gadget was regathering her wits, and tried to slow her descent by digging her clawnails into the side of a building. But as she slid down, Gadget hit a pipe, knocking her off the wall, arms flailing. Chip winced as Gadget’s head smacked against a windowsill, right before she vanished into the darkness. But Chip could tell when she hit bottom, because the entire block shook.


“Ohhh, even my fur hurts…again,” grumbled Gadget, lying face-down. The rain was now falling harder, helping to rouse Gadget, but every breath she took was labored and painful. “If I’m hurting this bad, I must definitely still be alive. Golly, that’s twice in the last few days I’ve should’ve died.” Forcing her eyes open, Gadget could make out smashed concrete…as if she was in the middle of a huge crater in the alley. One at least three feet deep.

“Well, that’s certainly consistent with falling a couple dozen stories,” Gadget thought aloud. “Guess that’s another blessing of being a familiar. I must be impervious to any lasting harm.” A little more confident, Gadget pushed herself up, tried to stand on rubbery legs, and immediately regretted it. White-hot pain shot through Gadget, making her collapse into the impact crater again. “Perfect, broken. Guess I’m not so impervious to harm after all. And judging by how painful it is to simply take a breath, I must have some busted ribs, too.”

So for a moment, Gadget just laid there as the driving rain continued to drench her battered body. She simply couldn’t believe it. One minute, the Rescue Rangers were well on their way to solving this case, whether or not Fat Cat and Nimnul went splat. The next, their old enemies pull a fast one, and she wound up going splat instead. Frustration welled up again as Gadget mulled over how they slipped through their fingers. Either way, tonight could’ve marked the beginning of the end of Fat Cat’s plans. Now, who knew how much longer this would drag on? How many others would be hurt?

Suddenly, Gadget noticed the faint aroma of spaghetti sauce, still clinging to her jumpsuit despite the rain. Another reminder of how Fat Cat slithered away yet again. But as she sniffed, she realized something was off. It took a moment to put her finger on it, but her chest was no longer exploding with pain with each breath. Feeling around, there was no tenderness. It was as if her ribs had already healed. Testing her theory, Gadget flexed her legs, and felt no pain.

Golly, maybe I spoke too soon. Is my body piecing itself back together, healing ridiculously fast? Gadget wondered. As she slowly stood, feeling no knifing pain, it looked like that was the case. As the rain kept falling, though, Gadget felt a stinging sensation on her arm. Looking down, Gadget saw several lacerations on her arm…but right before her eyes, they were vanishing. Within seconds, they healed completely, some blood on her fur yet to be washed away the only evidence left. Remembering her shoulder wounds from earlier, Gadget gingerly felt it. The nails fired at her, where Fat Cat’s claws dug in…those wounds were gone too!

Deciding it was time to move, Gadget started to crawl out of the crater. But some tenderness remained in her legs, and after getting out, she slumped to a squat. Guess I’m not healing that fast, Gadget thought acidly. Now was not the time to be hobbled by something little, like broken legs on the mend. Not with Fat Cat and Nimnul still on the loose. Who else could the city count on?

As she squatted there, still feeling too groggy to move, her unspoken question was answered. Over the driving rain, Gadget heard running footsteps, sloshing water everywhere. Gadget suddenly remembered her new height, and that most humans were liable to pin her as a monster now. Were some misguided humans already after her? As the footsteps drew nearer, however, she found it was the opposite.

“GADGET?!” came her name from a vaguely-familiar voice. Before Gadget knew it, someone was standing next to her, trying to pull her to her feet. Looking up, trying to make out the face through the blinding rain, Gadget couldn’t help but to gasp.

“ISAAC?!” Gadget shrieked, not believing her eyes. “What’re YOU doing here?!”

“Looking out for you, what does it look like?” Isaac replied calmly. “And judging from that huge pothole over there, I took too long doing it.”

“Yeah, well, not much you could’ve done about…” Gadget began, but stopped abruptly when she realized what was happening. “Hold on, you can UNDERSTAND me?! Since when?! And how did you know my name?!”

“Since I woke up after getting beaned by that paint can,” said Isaac. “And I heard one of those chipmunks say your name back then. You’re them, aren’t you? These ‘Rangers’ who’re always watching our sorry human butts, right? By the way…care to explain those funky new tattoos?”

Spontaneously shooting up to human size was something Gadget just shrugged off. But for some reason, Isaac coming out of nowhere and talking to her as if they were old friends shocked Gadget to the core. She was so flabbergasted, she offered little resistance to Isaac coaxing her into standing. Seeing Gadget was still shaky, Isaac slung her left arm over his shoulders. Gadget let him support her weight, and at once, both of them almost toppled. “Wow, Gadget. Dunno how you mice ladies take this sort of thing, but you’re really, REALLY heavy! Good ol’ Square-Cube Law at work, I guess.” Gadget couldn’t help but chuckle a little. “Glad there’s some humor in this. But…did you ever catch up to Norton Nimnul? And are those other Ranger guys around?”

As if in answer, a resounding cry of “Gadget-luv, where ya goin’?!” came out over the rain and thunder.

Looking up, Gadget smiled as she watched the Ranger Plane glide down to the bottom of the alley. Gadget could make out Monterey Jack, leaning out the side, his face full of suspicion as Isaac helped her limp along. “That answer your question, Isaac?” Gadget said with a smirk. Turning to the Ranger Plane, Gadget said,” Relax guys. This is the guy we saved from that fire, remember? Don’t know why he can understand us now, but he’s here to help. I mean, he’s…”

Sharp sirens cut Gadget off. Isaac and Gadget looked behind them. The lights from police sirens were flooding into the alley, and the source was getting closer. “Wow. Guess Norton Nimnul wasn’t the only one you raised hell for, huh?” Isaac asked flippantly. “Hey hold on a sec, isn’t that his lab coat?”

Gadget had completely forgotten she still had Nimnul’s coat. “Uh yeah, it is. Hopefully we can get some clues for it. I…uhhh, didn’t put much effort into squeezing any info out of him,” she answered sheepishly.

“Worry about that later, Gadget!” said Chip. “We’d better beat it before…YIIIIIIII!”

Getting the message, Isaac plucked the Ranger Plane out of the air, nestling it under his arm as he helped Gadget along. “Way ahead of you, my furry little compadres,” said Isaac. “Our ticket outta here is right around the corner.” Looking up groggily as they rounded a corner, Gadget saw a beat-up green van parked along the road. Isaac urged Gadget to move faster, until finally they were next to the van. Glancing around nervously, making sure no one else was snooping around, Isaac took his arm off of Gadget and opened the passenger’s side door. “Hurry Gadget, get in!”

Again, despite how much she liked Isaac, something about this human being so cordial, as if it was nothing, rubbed Gadget the wrong way. I mean, he’s letting a giant mouse sit up front like…I’m his date or something? Gadget wondered. Out loud, she said, “Golly, Isaac, is that a good idea, me sitting up front? What if…”

“The windows had a tint job years back. No one’ll notice nothing in this weather,” Isaac said quickly. “Right now, we gotta move!” Isaac tried pushing her into the van, but didn’t have the strength. Sighing, Gadget relented and got in. Once she did, Isaac roughly set the Ranger Plane on her lap and shut the door.

“Hey, easy with the aviation gear! What’s the big idea?!” demanded Dale. But if Isaac could truly understand him too, he paid him no notice as he got into the driver’s seat.

Isaac cast one last, furtive glance out the window, as if expecting something. Not only that, he leaned down, as if grabbing something in the door. “Errr, about that chase with Professor Nimnul, did anything, well, happen? Is he coming back anytime soon?”

“He’ll be back. But right now he’s running scared,” said Chip.

“I bet I can guess why,” said Isaac, erasing any doubt that he could understand them all. With that, he started the van and peeled out onto the road.


For many awkward minutes, Isaac drove on in silence, as if determined to ignore the giant elephant in the room…or rather, the giant mouse in the van. In turn, the Rescue Rangers were equally perplexed, staying silent as they tried to make sense of everything.

Chip was having the hardest time of all. Still seated in the Ranger Plane, which was nestled in Gadget’s lap, Chip looked up to her. At first, he was horribly intimidated, having to remind himself that even though she now towered over them all, this was still their close friend.  And again, to his relief, now that their enemies were long gone, that insane bloodlust was fading. Gadget was almost letting herself enjoy the ride. As her old self, she could slowly take apart the van bit by bit, explaining what each part did as she reassembled it into a cheese-making submarine or a huge glue gun on wheels. But Chip could only imagine what it was like for her, actually riding in it as a human would. Then again, according to Foxglove, she had already driven something much bigger, and very recklessly…

We can’t ignore how this black magic is affecting her any longer, Chip decided. I don’t care how personal this is for Gadget, she would never all of a sudden stoop to murder, or let power go to her head. The thought of something, or someone, pulling Gadget’s strings had Chip fuming, making him forget about the chilly rainwater drenching them all. It’s whoever’s marked Gadget as a familiar, has to be…

“OK mate, I ain’t one ta look a gift horse in the mouth, and I appreciate how ya got Gadget-luv out of a tight spot. But ya gotta answer a few questions,” said Monterey Jack suddenly, daring to break the silence. “First off, how come ya can understand us animals, and how’d ya know where to find Gadget-luv tonight? And why’d ya go after her?”

Isaac took a deep breath, then said, “For the first question, you’re guess is as good as mine. All of a sudden, when I woke up in that fire, I understood you all, clear as a bell. As for tonight, I saw Gadget on the news, and, well, felt I just had to find her again. Especially when you consider, well, uhh…”

“Especially when you consider what?” Chip demanded impatiently.

“Look, clearly you think highly of humans to do what you do. I’m not stupid. These stories floating around, watching you guys save from that fire…I can’t ignore what’s right in front of my face. Or sit by while real heroes do a thankless job and get nothing in return, not when I’m in a position to change that,” said Isaac sternly, as if it should all be obvious.

Chip let this digest for a moment. “OK, I can understand that. But Monterey’s got a point. After seeing Gadget on the news, how DID you know where to find her? The way she covers ground now…and you just happened to pull up near the alley she crash-landed into?”

Isaac drove on, looking as if he was focusing on driving through the pounding rain, but Chip could sense his hesitancy. “I-I-I…really don’t know. I just drove off like a bat out of hell after I saw the news, headed for downtown, and…I-I-I just knew where I had to pull over. Almost like I could…sense her or something.”

“B-B-B-But, how could you do that?” asked Dale. “I mean, sure, you saved each other’s butts, but it’s not like that gave you a psychic bond or somethin’…”

“Unless he’s…” Foxglove began. She flew out of the Ranger Plane, perched herself on the seat behind Isaac’s head, and took a big sniff.

“Hey, what gives?” demanded Isaac.

“I smell it. Black magic,” Foxglove said with a hint of finality.

His jaw dropping, Chip stared over at Isaac, not knowing what to think. He had assumed once they found their mystery spellcaster, he or she would be overflowing with venomous rage. But this skinny, unassuming boy didn’t look like he had a mean bone in his body. The complete opposite of what he expected, if his talk about helping the Rescue Rangers was to be believed.

“It…it was YOU?!” Gadget demanded hotly. “No wonder you weren’t all that surprised to see a six-foot mouse! You turned me into this!” Gadget reached across the van, grabbing Isaac by the shirt.

“Hey! Watch it!” Isaac cried out, just as the van veered into the wrong lane. He barely got it back into the right lane before an oncoming truck collided with them. “OK OK, I admit it. I’m the one responsible for, well…this.”

“Care to tell us why?” Gadget asked simply. There wasn’t anything particularly accusing in her voice now. It was just a question. “I mean, you don’t look like the type of kid who goes around marking random animals as familiars.”

“Not in the habit of doing magic at all, to be perfectly honest. But that night after the fire…I dunno, I stumbled on some old book in my aunt’s closet,” explained Isaac. “That was also when I pieced together everything about you, er, ‘Rangers’. Something inside me clicked, I guess. Couldn’t stand the thought of little critters doing all this stuff out of the goodness of their hearts and no one ever lending them a hand. Found out you left some blood and hair on my watch, one thing led to another, and now I go downtown to find the rodent equivalent of She-Hulk.”

“Hold on, Isaac. You never cast an enchantment before in your life, you had no clue what sort of forces you were dabbling in…what were you thinking?!” demanded Foxglove.

“That that book was a load of crap, I had hallucinated in that basement and nothing would happen,” said Isaac. “I just figured, if there was a possibility…if you Rangers were for real, I wanted you guys to have the upper hand for a change! Guess I really didn’t think too far ahead, Miss, uhmmm…”

“That’s Foxglove, our resident black magic expert,” said Chip. “Guess since you know all about us, introductions are in order. My name’s Chip, the other chipmunk is Dale, the other mouse here is Monterey Jack, his old fly pal is Zipper, and of course you’ve met our inventor Gadget already.”

“Well, good to finally meet all of you,” said Isaac, and Chip couldn’t really doubt his sincerity. Then he cast an admiring glance at Gadget. “So, you’re really a mechanic and build stuff? I kinda figured after seeing your plane the first time.”

“You bet!” Gadget said brightly. “Of course, lately I haven’t made anything wildly revolutionary lately,” she added, holding up her arm-mounted crossbow. “My latest project, the Ranger Angel, I’ve been mulling over the little details for months. Not as if I could use it right now, even if it was finished.”

“Uh yeah. Again, sorry about that. I honestly had no idea making sure you had the advantage meant a SIZE advantage,” Isaac said sheepishly.

“Oh believe you me, it was a BIG help,” teased Gadget.

Gadget was definitely back to her old self, but hearing her talk so flippantly about how she had been drunk on power still rattled Chip. “Still, as much fun as it might’ve been to slap Professor Nimnul and Fat Cat around, we’re still no closer to cracking this case.”

“Fat Cat?” asked Isaac curiously.

“The other bloke besides ol’ Nimnul us Rescue Rangers tangle with. The name says it all, mate,” said Monterey. “Nimnul can talk to us animals now, jus’ like you, and now they both have it out for us.”

“And they just got more of whatever chemical they need, on top of everything else, and we have no idea where they’ll hit next,” said Dale glumly.

“One good thing did come from tonight, though. The way Gadget made Nimnul’s weather-machine use up its power…that forced Fat Cat to have their tanker truck driven right out of the plant!” said Chip brightly. Not only will a police report definitely be filed by tomorrow afternoon, telling us exactly what was stolen, I doubt Sewernose is that good a truck driver! Who knows, maybe it’s been tracked down already!”

“And who’s this Sewernose?” asked Isaac.

“Big schizo croc with an obsession for theater,” said Dale dryly. “We, uhhh, had an impromptu performance once.”

“Oh, I remember hearing about some opera getting crashed by some big ugly gator,” replied Isaac. “That was him, and you flushed him out?”

“More like flushed him DOWN, thanks to Gadget’s quick thinking…and some fancy fencing from yours truly,” said Dale, puffing up his chest with pride.

“An’ now he’s back, hangin’ with my ex-flame turned crime boss,” added Monterey.

“And here I thought you guys just protected us from the worst of our own kind,” Isaac said with a sigh.

“No one species has a monopoly on evil,” said Chip darkly.

“So, you really have no clue what Norton Nimnul and this…Fat Cat are up to, do you?” Isaac dared.

“Well, they started out doing the usual stuff, stealing money and jewelry and any other valuables they could get their greedy little mitts on,” said Gadget. “But just as we found out they’re behind the string of robberies, everything changed. Tech warehouses, a pharmacy, and now that chemical plant today.”

“There’s not much we can do at the moment, unfortunately,” said Chip. “We need to get back to headquarters and plan our next move.”

“Uh, OK,” said Isaac. Chip had to admire how he was taking all of this matter-of-factly. “Where’s that?”

After hesitating a moment, still not sure about spilling the location of Rescue Ranger Headquarters, Chip finally said, “A tree in the park. Once you drop us off there we can rest up a bit, and maybe Gadget can into…her…workshop…and…”

Chip’s voice trailed off as he looked back up at Gadget. She blushed a little as she looked down at Chip, shrugging her shoulders. “Golly, Chip, guess I’m a little too big to do anything at headquarters, huh? Well, maybe I can just stay in the branches…”

“Not in this rain you’re not,” Isaac cut in. “It’s alright, I was driving back to my place anyway. You can stay there, for at least the night. Least I can do after causing, errr, all this.”

“Uhhh, thanks for the offer, Isaac. But, don’t you, well, live with other people? What about your parents?” asked Gadget.

Isaac let out a depressed sigh. “I don’t have any parents. I lost them both…a long time ago.”

Chip looked on as shock and shame swept over Gadget. “I-I-I’m sorry, Isaac. I didn’t know…”

“You have nothing to apologize for, Gadget,” Isaac said quickly.

“Don’t make light of this, Isaac,” said Gadget. “It’s not easy. I know from experience. My dad never came back from his last flight, and my mother…I saw her waste away until she finally passed on, all because of injuries from that fire twelve years ago.”

“That…actually sounds like what happened with my mom. I mean, she…” Isaac began, but he abruptly slammed on the brakes. Luckily, Gadget put on the seatbelt, and had her hands on the Ranger Plane.

“Hey, what’s the big idea?!” snapped Dale.

“Twelve years?! I didn’t think mice lived that long!” exclaimed Isaac, ignoring Dale. “And that fly…Chip made it sound like Monterey Jack and Zipper’ve known each other practically forever. Are you guys telling me you’ve got all of humanity fooled about the lifespans of flies and mice and who knows what else?!”

Once again, awkward silence hung over the van. This time, Dale dared to break it. “Errr, if it makes you feel any better, none of us knew human mommies don’t eat their baby’s placenta like rodent mommies until recently.” Everyone just stared at Dale, who slowly realized that probably wasn’t the best thing to say to ease the tension.

“OK Isaac, important rule if you plan on being in on the existence of the Rescue Rangers: ignore Dale. Things’ll go muuuuuuuuch more smoothly, trust me,” said Chip slyly, ignoring Dale’s withering gaze.

Isaac cracked a small smile, then hit the gas again. “So, is it decided? Is it alright if you use my place as headquarters for tonight?”

“I remember you saying something about an aunt, Isaac. Won’t she be there?” asked Gadget.

“Well, let’s just say she’s the type absorbed with her work and sometimes stays away for days at a time,” said Isaac. “I already know tonight’s gonna be one of those nights. You can even use her room.”

“Sounds like a rough time, mate, growin’ up with an aunt like that,” said Monterey.

“On the contrary, she’s made plenty of other sacrifices when she took me in,” Isaac quickly said in defense of his aunt. “Took it upon herself to teach me everything she knows, make sure I’ll find my way in life. She’s not exactly the warm, motherly type, sure, but I’d like to think she’s done the best she could…”

They drove on in relative silence after that, except for the driving rain which was their constant companion. Chip noticed they were on the outskirts of the downtown area, coming upon some houses. “We’ve been renting a place out here since we moved to the city,” said Isaac. Hitting a button his keychain, he pulled into a driveway as a garage door opened. “There, that’ll make sure no one sees you guys,” he said as he pulled in. “Hold on…you don’t suppose any of your old friends followed us, do you?”

The Ranger Plane in hand, Gadget stepped out of the van once the garage door was shut again. “Trust me, Isaac, for the moment, Fat Cat and Professor Nimnul will want to go in the OPPOSITE direction.”

“Sounds like you gave them the fight of their lives,” said Isaac. “So…what sort of stuff were you able to do? I mean, now that I know this magic stuff actually works, I can’t help but be curious…”

Before Gadget could say anything, Chip spoke up. “Another time for sure, Isaac. Right now, I’ve got to talk with the other Rangers. There’s a lot of puzzle pieces we’ve got to put together.”

“Oh, right right, sure thing,” said Isaac quickly, clearly crestfallen but also overly eager to be a gracious host. “Right this way.” Opening the door leading into his apartment, Isaac led them around. “My aunt’s room is at the end of this hallway. Like I said, feel free to use it. Just keep in mind that she’s a colossal neat freak, so try to leave everything as you found it.”

“I get that feeling already,” said Chip, taking everything in. The way the apartment was kept…even by the humans’ odd standards, it was impossibly neat and orderly.

“Errr, is she touchy about those left out in the open, too?” Dale suddenly asked. Turning to see what Dale was looking at, Chip noticed a tall glass case right before the hallway…one packed with all sorts of guns.

“Oh yeah. So much as breathe on those, she’ll know,” said Isaac flatly.

“W-W-W-Why are those out in plain sight like that?” asked Gadget nervously. “I mean…you don’t actually use them, do you?”

Without a word, Isaac opened the case, pulled out a shotgun, and proceeded to load it to capacity. The Rangers fell deathly silent as they heard a shell load into the chamber, and then Isaac tossed it to Gadget, who timidly caught it in her free hand. Then Isaac prepped a submachine gun, and then an assault rifle with an attached grenade launcher, tossing those over to Gadget as well.

As Gadget stood there, awkwardly holding three guns under her arm, Isaac said, “Like I said, my aunt taught me everything she felt I needed to know, including all that. I’ve never actually used them outside a firing range, though, but I make no secret about having them and knowing how to handle them. Kind of a deterrent to bullies, y’see, and it works. Well, most of the time.”

Chip couldn’t help but sense the buried sorrow and painful loneliness in Isaac’s voice. But at the same time, he now realized what Isaac must have been reaching for in the van door: another gun. All of a sudden, Chip once again felt uneasy about their newfound ‘friend’.

“But enough of that. According to you guys, we won’t be needed those anytime soon. C’mon, I’ll show you my aunt’s room,” Isaac said quickly, turning back to the hall. After a second’s hesitation, Gadget followed, taking a moment to hastily dump the guns back in the case, as if they had been burning her. Once Gadget brought them into the room they’d be staying in, Chip immediately understood what Isaac said about his aunt. It didn’t take a sharp-eyed detective like him to notice the air of lifelong discipline permeating the room. “Well, there’s a TV, if you guys get intel from the news and whatnot, a bathroom over there, and well…just ask later and I’ll see about food. Well, guess you guys got to, ummm, err, d-d-d-do your stuff, your Rescue Ranger stuff…”

As Isaac nervously backed out of the bedroom, Chip watched him go with a wary eye. “Y’know, for a human, he’s takin’ all of this pretty well,” Dale pointed out.

“Maybe, Dale. But call it a hunch: there’s more to this Isaac Osceola than he’s letting on,” huffed Chip.


Standing in front of the bathroom sink, Gadget slowly removed her soaked, sauce-stained jumpsuit. Now only in her white sports bra and cotton panties, Gadget carefully examined her reflection. As she thought, any and all wounds she suffered from her fights with Professor Nimnul and Fat Cat were completely gone. But naturally, what stood out the most was how the black, vinelike markings from Isaac’s bonding spell had spread out even more. Looking down at herself, Gadget saw how they wrapped themselves around her legs, going all the way down and even digging into the tops of her feet. They branched out from along her shoulders, going down her back, coiling around her fingers…

Gadget looked at her fingers some more as she grasped the edge of the sink tightly. A sink, now readily usable by her, just like everything else built for humans. With how fast everything was happening, one little detail had yet to fully ‘sink’ in. She was a big as a human now. Taller than most human women, in fact. Sure, this had happened once before, in Hong Kong. But there was never any time to satisfy her curiosity and explore what could be done in the world at that size. And unless Foxglove could find something to sever the bond as she poured over Isaac’s weird book, this time she could be stuck that way.

As Gadget tried to come to terms with that, she examined her fingers again. They were wrapped in the black markings, courtesy of her last growth spurt. What did they mean? Would she get any bigger, completely covering her body with this weird stuff? As she stared at her fingers, on a whim she willed her clawnails to grow. Once again, claws like a tiger’s jutted from her fingertips.

Gadget hadn’t been exaggerating to Fat Cat and Nimnul. In only a day, she’d gone from an animal whose species was routinely preyed upon, to some sort of new, deadly predator. Chip commented on how her rage faded once none of their enemies were around, and Gadget certainly felt like she was back to her old self…just a lot bigger. But the part of her that should’ve been unnerved over becoming a lethal predator, having such power…she felt anticipation instead of anxiety. And Gadget realized that should have scared her…but it didn’t.

Her thoughts still a jumble, Gadget looked at the mirror again. This time, she noticed differences far subtler than the new markings. Already quite fit, Gadget noticed that she looked even better built, her muscles even leaner. That hardly came as a surprise, but what was odd was the overall shape of her body. Tiny alterations, no doubt due to the bond, that made her body somehow look…more human. Oh, the fur was still there, as was her ears and snout and tail. But the shape of her legs, her arms... How far would this ‘magical symbiosis’, as Isaac put it, go?

Looking closely at the markings, they all seemed to sprout from a spot on her neck. Holding back her hair with one hand and holding a hand mirror with the other, Gadget squinted for a better look. What was that on the back of her neck? It was another black marking, but dark red…almost bloody. Something resembling…a heart?

Still lost in her thoughts, Gadget shrieked and jumped when there was a knock at the door. Spinning around, Gadget accidently ripped out a chunk of the medicine cabinet door, her new claws still out. “Oh my gosh!” cried Gadget, stumbling backwards. Her claws catching on the shower curtain, the beam was pulled down, bonking Gadget on the head.

“Uh, Gadget, everything OK?” came Isaac’s uneasy voice. “Was wondering if I could do something about that jumpsuit. Noticed it was torn and had sauce on it and stuff…”

“E-E-E-Everything’s fine, Isaac,” Gadget sheepishly stammered as she scrambled back to her feet. Grabbing her jumpsuit, she opened the door a crack and shoved it through. “H-H-H-Here, Isaac, that’s very, ummm, sweet of you.”

Isaac hesitated a moment before taking the jumpsuit, finally leaving Gadget alone again. As she hastily put the shower curtain back up, Gadget decided it was time to clean up and rejoin the Rangers. “Yeah, I’m human-sized, so I can use their devices easily, right? What problems could there be?”


“From what Gadget told us about her tangle with Fat Cat and Nimnul, there’s only one logical conclusion. Not very believable, mind you, but logical. Somehow, Norton Nimnul has access to spells like what’s in Isaac’s spellbook, and bonded with Fat Cat the same way he did with Gadget,” said Chip as he paced around the bed. Zipper hovered behind him, his expression just as sour. No doubt he felt as Chip did: something tainted by Professor Nimnul’s touch was perversely affecting Gadget, just like what the mad human had done to him twice before.

“Uhh, you sure, Chip. Dunno if you’re aware of this, Chip, but mad scientists ain’t exactly the type to dabble with magic,” said Dale. “At least, not in the movies and comics.”

“This is for real, Dale, and no other explanation fits!” cried Chip. “You said it yourself, those stolen drugs can’t be what’s enhanced their physical abilities, and they flat-out said they knew how Gadget got hers.”

“Not to mention, thinking back, I’m pretty sure I smelled three separate sources of black magic on that roof,” said Foxglove, never looking up from Isaac’s spellbook. “I had doubts before, figuring the rain was messing with my sense of smell, but after hearing Chip put all this together…”

“So…any luck dopin’ out the spell our new human mate used on Gadget-luv, Foxy?” Monterey cut in hopefully.

“Nothing I didn’t already know from my time with Winifred. Word for word, it’s the same process,” said Foxglove. “But what’s most interesting isn’t exactly what’s in the book, but on the cover.” Foxglove shut the book and stared at the emblems at the corners. “A jaguar, a deer, a scorpion, a hummingbird…these four animals, they were on one of Winifred’s spellbooks, too. And I remember one time, she told me there’s a story behind those four symbols. Some sort of…”

“Not. One. Word. You hear me guys?!” came Gadget’s sharp cry from the bathroom.

The five of them turned to the bathroom door, but it was Monterey who dared to speak. “Errr, what seems to be the trouble, Gadget-luv?”

“Just that my fur is so thick now, using these towels wasn’t enough to dry off. Don’t know if you heard me using this hair dryer, but…” Gadget slowly stepped out of the bathroom, wearing the robe belonging to Isaac’s aunt. But what caught everyone’s eye was how Gadget’s fur was all frizzy and poofy.

Chip, Dale, Zipper, Monterey Jack and Foxglove kept themselves from laughing…for about three seconds. It took a while to realize Gadget was now standing over the bed, hands on her hips as she glared down at them. Even with that, it took Chip quite a while to get his laughter under control. Drying his eyes, Chip looked up to Gadget and teasingly said, “Well, you said not one word about that, and not a single word was spoken.”

“Well, hope you guys are happy, because that’s not the end of it,” said Gadget tersely. “Tried out the scale in there…and it says I’m over 300!”

“Awww, it’s probably just in metric or somethin’,” Dale said dismissively.

Gadget frowned down at Dale. “Dale…a kilogram is more than a pound,” she pointed out.

Dale’s ears drooped. “Errr, I knew that,” he said quickly.

Chip slapped himself on the face. “I got a feeling it’ll be a lonnnnnnnnng night.”

Chapter 7: Corruption of Blood

The blazing afternoon sun hung overhead, ensuring everyone in town sweltered even more in the oppressive humidity from last night’s rainstorm. Chip wiped away some sweat clinging to his fur, trying to concentrate on flying the Ranger Plane. A quick glance back at Dale, Zipper and Monterey Jack told him they were faring no better. But the Rescue Rangers had no choice but to stay on the move. Gadget’s transformation, Fat Cat’s newest plot…things were ominously marching forward, and finding Fat Cat and Professor Nimnul again was paramount. They had to squeeze answers out of them, which Chip was sure would be the key to everything.

Foxglove was in the front beside Chip, leaning her head out. After taking in a deep breath, she shook her head. “Sorry, Chip. I don’t smell any traces of black magic anywhere,” said Foxglove. “If Fat Cat’s still in the city, they’re not in this section.”

“Well, they’ve been too cautious up to this point, no way he and Nimnul would go back to his casino,” said Chip, getting frustrated. “We’ll just have to keep scouring the city and hope your nose…”

The Ranger Plane jerked suddenly, and as Chip fought with the controls, it began to take a dive. The wings simply weren’t moving. Something in the mechanism must have gotten jammed up due to last night’s rain. Ironically, water also saved them. As the Rangers screamed while the Ranger Plane was in freefall, it touched down into a huge hotel swimming pool. “Whew, good thing Gadget also designed this thing to double as a boat,” said Chip, taking a good look around.

That was another thing about Gadget’s...condition that was so worrisome. Instead of relying on her technical skills and her smarts, basically everything that made Gadget what she was, she was banking more on this sheer brute strength…and REVELING in it.

“Too right, Chippah,” agreed Monterey. “Better paddle ‘er pride an’ joy over t’ the edge, find out what’s gummin’ up the gears, an’…”

A sudden rumbling cut Monterey off. As the Rangers looked around in confusion, the sound came again, and Chip noticed the pool water rippled. The rumbling went off again and again, and sounded as if it were getting closer and closer…

“What the…errr, is this the right time of year for earthquakes?” asked Dale.

All of a sudden, a huge shadow drew over them, and the entire hotel building. “Not to mention I ain’t heard nothin’ about an eclipse,” added Monterey.

Chip had no clue what was going on, either. But when a cacophony of deafening, frightening screams from humans mixed in with the tremors, he knew this was no earthquake or eclipse. Swallowing hard, dreading the worst, Chip slowly looked up. “Oh no. No no no no no…”

Gadget loomed high overhead, having hit her biggest magical growth spurt yet. She easily dwarfed the hotel building, standing at at least a hundred and fifty feet. She was so huge, Chip could barely make out her face, it seemingly blending in with the sky. As she gazed ahead listlessly, and Chip could tell the humidity was getting to her, too. More screams came as terrified humans fled in a panic, but the Rescue Rangers paid them no notice. All of them were too awestruck, staring up at the impossibly gigantic mouse. Gadget, in turn, was oblivious to the panic she was creating, and took a few steps forward, violently churning up the water in the pool. One massive foot came down next to the pool, pressing down hard and forming deep cracks in the concrete. Then, slowly, Gadget’s gaze drifted downward, her eyes fixated on the pool.

“Whew, no need to worry, guys. I think she sees us!” cried Dale.

Chip, however, trying to picture how hard to spot they’d be from Gadget’s perspective, shook his head. And his doubts grew as he took in the exhausted, hot look on Gadget’s face. “Dale, I think she’s staring down at the pool for a…different reason.”

As Gadget knelt down over the pool, licking her lips, the other Rangers instantly got the message, and began paddling away in a panic. But since the Ranger Plane landed smack in the middle of the pool, it was futile. Gadget brought her mouth down to the edge, and the water immediately flowed backward, the Ranger Plane with it.

“YIIIIIIIIIII! Gadget, DON’T! It’s us, IT’S US!” Chip pleaded as loudly as he could, but it was no use. Gadget was so monstrously huge now, the size difference too great…there was no hope she’d hear her friends. Looking back, seeing that sidewalk-sized tongue going back into Gadget’s black, cavernous maw…Chip knew this was the end. Turning to Foxglove, he said, “Forget about us, you and Zipper can fly, so GO!”

“No, I won’t leave without Dale!” Foxglove cried, but one furious shove from Dale forced her out of the Ranger Plane. Zipper, his face full of regret, took flight as well. However, the Ranger Plane was now so close to Gadget, and the water so low, part of her mouth was above water. Zipper and Foxglove were sucked in along with the Ranger Plane. Chip shut his eyes, steeling himself for a slow, painful death in Gadget’s stomach.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Chip screamed as he sat up, now wide awake.

Taking a good look around him, Chip realized they were all still in the room Isaac lent them for the night. He, Dale, Monterey Jack and Zipper were all on his aunt’s bed, using socks as sleeping bags (Monty and Zipper sharing one). They were at the head of the bed next to the pillow, still fast asleep, along with Gadget. Looking up, he saw Gadget’s head nestled on the pillow, facing straight-up. It was obviously morning, as sunlight was filtering through the window, making the fur on Gadget’s face glisten angelically.

“Whew, nothing but a dream,” Chip muttered to himself. “Of course it was. This spell, this bond with Isaac…i-i-i-it can’t possibly ever go THAT far!” he told himself.

As he watched Gadget sleep, Chip felt some of his apprehension melt away. The way she looked so serene and angelic now…it was hard to believe just hours ago, she almost crossed the line of cold-blooded murder. It was as if she was perfectly at peace. For the first time since this whole mess began, Chip felt a little hopeful.

At any rate, morning had come, and it was time for the Rescue Rangers to get to work. Climbing up onto the pillow, he said, “Hey Gadget, time to wake up.” Gadget stirred a little, but kept on sleeping. Sighing, Chip turned to his left, fixing to go speak into Gadget’s huge ear. But suddenly, Gadget turned in her sleep, and her head partially rolled onto Chip, pinning him underneath her snout.

Chip screamed out something unprintable, at least waking Dale, Monterey and Zipper up. “Errr, heya Chip, where’d ya go?” he heard Dale ask.

“Up here, dummy!” shrieked Chip, fighting to get a breath. “Gadget’s head just rolled over onto me, and I’m pinned…” Chip trailed off when he felt something wet. After a moment, his eyes widened in horror. “Oh, get me out from under here guys, she’s drooling on me! SHE’S DROOLING ON ME!”

Getting the message, Dale and Monterey clambered up onto the pillow and grabbed onto Chip. But no matter how hard they pulled at Chip, they couldn’t pull him free. “Uh guys, maybe it’d be easier just to, y’know, wake Gadget up?” Dale suggested delicately.

“And maybe it won’t, Dale. I know Gadget-luv and she’s one heavy sleeper. Here, lemme try somethin’ else, tuggin’ at her from the other end…” With that, Monterey climbed over Gadget. Chip could only guess that Monterey was tugging at the back of the robe Gadget still wore, in the hopes that she would turn over just enough for Dale to pull him free. But all of a sudden, Gadget turned over on her own, and Chip heard a loud “WHULUMPH!” from Monterey.

Now out from under Gadget’s head, Chip, aching and shaking off pins and needles, followed Dale and scurried over Gadget. When they jumped over her, Chip saw Monterey was pinned under Gadget’s arm. “Uhh, mates, a spot o’ help, if ye would?” he croaked feebly.

Sighing, Chip went over with Dale and gave him a hand, and soon Zipper joined in. At first, it seemed as feeble an effort as when Dale and Monterey pulled at Chip, but by some miracle, Chip could feel that Monterey was slipping out from under Gadget’s arm. Monterey was almost out, but Chip noticed that Gadget was stirring again. Once Monterey was pulled free, he quickly said, “Done, now MOVE!”

Chip pushed Monterey away, and Zipper followed. Dale simply shrugged his shoulders and asked, “Why?” He got his answer when Gadget rolled over even further, and got pinned underneath her chest.

Chip, Monterey and Zipper just stared for a moment, the only part of Dale visible sticking out from under Gadget were his arms. At length, Chip said, “I’m sorry, I can’t think of anything appropriate to say about this one that’s actually, um, appropriate.” Thankfully, it didn’t take long to pull Dale out from under Gadget, and he emerged with an odd look of pain and contentment. “Oh Dale Dale Dale, you better be glad Foxglove wasn’t around to see that.”

“Got news for ya, she WAS. But she’s obviously as heavy a sleeper as Gadget.” Monterey pointed up, and Chip saw Foxglove hanging upside-down from the room’s ceiling fan, fast asleep as most bats were during the day. “She got back just before I drifted off, mate. Tammy knows where we are and what’s goin’ on, an’ better yet, turns out Sparky’s back on his feet! Says the ol’ blighter is busy fixin’ up the Ranger Wing.”

“Well, good to know we’ll soon have both planes running again,” Chip said, looking up at Foxglove. “And I hope Foxglove’s up for a little more action during the day. Much as I hate dragging her into Rescue Ranger business, I have a nasty feeling we’ll still need her.”

“If yer talkin’ about this whole voodoo black magic stuff, Chippah, I hear ya,” said Monterey. “This Isaac Osceola chap, he’s got a good head on his shoulders…fer a human at any rate. But the blighter was still messin’ with forces he don’t understand. Heck, aside from Foxglove, none of us understand it.”

“But I wonder, is it the same story with Professor Nimnul?” asked Dale, sounding a little hoarse and winded. “If you’re right, then he did the same thing to Fat Cat that Isaac did to Gadget.”

“And I bet Fat Cat busted the professor loose just for that!” squeaked Zipper vehemently.

“And if me little pally’s right, then they had almost a coupla months ta experiment with this hooey,” said Monterey. “Got me a bad feelin’ them two lowlifes know plenty more than our new friend…”

Chip looked back up to Foxglove, realizing just how crucial she would be. If Zipper and Monterey were right, then there was definitely a knowledge gap. Fat Cat and Nimnul were licking their wounds, working on a way to prepare for the next run-in with Gadget. That much Chip was certain of. If only there was some way to close that gap…

But just as a plan took shape in Chip’s head, the door flew open. In stepped Isaac, carrying a tray loaded with food. Before, Chip hadn’t realized how hungry he was, but as the smell of pancakes and fresh strawberries reached him, his mouth started watering. “Hey Gadget, you up yet?” he asked hesitantly, taking a while to notice the rest of them. “Oh, guess you guys already are. Figured after everything that went on yesterday, you all must be hungry.”

“Boy oh boy oh boy, are we ever!” exclaimed Dale, licking his lips. Chip could hear Monterey’s stomach grumbling as well. And as Chip felt the covers underneath him swiftly shift about, he guessed the smell was finally rousing Gadget. Looking up, he saw Gadget start to loom over them as she sat up.

Gadget groggily looked to the window, then at the clock on the nightstand. “Golly, I slept THAT long? Guess I needed it more than I thought.”

“Well, no way of knowing what two of those growth spurts in less than twenty-four hours does to you, but I imagine it takes toll on some level. Sure did for me,” Isaac commented. “But hey, for someone who took a swan dive into hard concrete at near-terminal velocity, you look pretty good. But I figured you’d need extra food as well as extra sleep, so here ya go.”

Gadget sheepishly took the tray from Isaac, as if wondering if she should. “Golly, Isaac, I know you’re trying to be a good host and all, but…did you really have to go through all the trouble of making such a huge stack of pancakes?”

“You give me too much credit. Those are instant pancakes,” Isaac said coyly. After Gadget finally took the tray from him, he added, “Fixing up your jumpsuit, however, did take a bit of work.”

It had been slung over his shoulder, but Isaac set it down on the bed. All the sauce stains were gone, and Chip could see where all the holes and tears were expertly mended. It was almost good as new. “Wow, Isaac, where’d you learn to sew like that?” Chip asked.

“My aunt didn’t just teach me about guns, you know,” Isaac said with a smirk. Chip was glad Isaac was becoming comfortable enough around them to be coy. He could understand how suddenly talking to animals and meeting the Rescue Rangers could be unnerving, but that nervousness tended to rub off on people. “But enough about me. I mean, you guys got all that Rangery detective work to do right?  Better eat up to keep up your strength.”

“No need ta tell me twice, mate!” cried Monterey as he began scarfing down a strawberry at warp speed. Chip was eternally grateful Isaac hadn’t served anything with cheese; the Rangers didn’t need that embarrassment.  As for Gadget, she made most of that huge pancake stack vanish in a few eyeblinks, and then she stuffed handfuls of strawberries in her mouth.

Isaac was right on the money about how ravenous Gadget would be, Chip thought with a sigh as he nibbled on a pancake himself. He eventually became aware of how Isaac was still watching them all. His eyes were full of curiosity and wonder, but Chip still found it vexing. “Is there something else?” he asked shortly.

“Oh! Er…well, it’s just…I just can’t help wondering what else I thought I knew about the animals of the world is wrong,” Isaac admitted sheepishly. “I mean, I watch you guys chow down and…well, it’s true rodents need to keep their incisors ground down, right?”

Gadget stared at him for a moment. “Not as much as humans seem to think we do,” she said flatly.

Isaac digested this for a moment. “Then, well, what about…”

“Isaac, you have no idea how…refreshing it is to meet a human so curious and open to knowledge about us. And we really appreciate your hospitality,” Chip interrupted. “But you hit the nail on the head earlier: we’ve got a long day ahead of us, and we’ve got to make plans, decide who’s going where to do what.”

“Ah, of course. War room briefing and all that,” said Isaac quickly. “Well, I’m kinda running late myself, and uh, I think I know where to go for intel, myself.”

“Hey, what d’you mean by…” Dale began, but Isaac had already backed out of the room. Turning to Chip, he angrily said, “OK Chip, any special reason you had to be so impatient with the guy? He just wanted to know more about the critters he holed up for the night is all.”

“I’m not minimizing what he did for us, but we really DO have to plan our next moves,” Chip shot back. “And call it a character flaw, but I’m not entirely sold on the guy. He IS the one who was mucking around with black magic at Gadget’s expense, and call it a hunch, but he’s hiding something from us.”

Dale shrugged his shoulders. “Awww, I just like the idea of having someone with guns on OUR side for a change.”

“What, you want him lugging that whole armory around on cases?” Chip cried in disbelief. “He’s way too young for that.”

“Don’t count out the super-young blighters, Chippah,” said Monterey. “Remember how this one slip of a baby naked mole rat and his sharp lil’ incisors got me and Zipper out of a tight spot or three, during one romp through the States. Forget his name, though. I know it started with an ‘R’, mighta had an ‘f’ in it…”

“Well, we just met the guy face-to-face last night! Forgive me if I don’t warm up to him right away!” snapped Chip.

“Pardon me, guys, but maybe the opinion of the one magically linked to him, and met him face-to-face BEFORE last night, has some merit?” Gadget said delicately. Everyone looked up just as Gadget gobbled down the last bit of strawberries. She stared down impatiently at them, and after licking the juice off her fingers, Gadget said, “And in my opinion, I don’t get how we can doubt a human that stopped to give CPR to a mouse. Know any other humans who’d do that without a second thought?”

Finally conceding, Chip evasively said, “Fine, I’ll apologize to him later. But for now, we still need to plan. By now, I’m sure there’s some sort of police report about the chemical plant heist. Dale and I will drop Monterey Jack off at the station, while we check on another possible lead.”

“What about me and Zipper?” asked Gadget.

Chip thought a moment. “It’s a longshot, but I think Zipper and Foxglove should try Fat Cat’s casino one last time. The two of them can slip in together more easily than the rest of us. There’s always a chance we can find more clues, or overhear something.”

“And me, Chip?” Gadget asked again, impatiently waiting for something to do.

Chip gazed up at Gadget for a moment, feeling the weight of her impatient stare. “Gadget, is it really a good idea to venture out in broad daylight right now? You caused a bit of a stir at dusk, and…”

“Magically-induced growth spurt or not, Chip, I’m still a Rescue Ranger. And even though I’M plenty grateful for Isaac’s hospitality, I refuse to twiddle my thumbs in his house with Fat Cat and Nimnul still on the loose!” spat Gadget.

Chip felt a sudden chill. That new vengeful streak of Gadget’s was creeping back, even though their enemies were nowhere around. Thinking quickly, he came up with something to placate Gadget. “OK Gadget, since Zipper and Foxglove will be scouring Fat Cat’s place, maybe you should pay a visit to Nimnul’s.”

Gadget’s frown deepened. “That old place? It must be buried in the fungi feeding off the potato glop by now.”

“No point in overlooking anything, Gadget. He might have gone back for something, or left something there,” Chip said quickly. “Well, we’ve all got our work cut out for us today, so let’s do it! Rescue Rangers, away!”

As Gadget got off the bed, still looking despondent, and Zipper flew up to awaken Foxglove, Dale turned to Chip. “Errr, one last question, Chip: what’s this other lead you mentioned?”

“Dale, you and me and going to have a chat with the one person who can shed some light on all this hocus-pocus,” said Chip.


For at least ten minutes, Zipper and Foxglove flew above the hustle and bustle of the Happy Tom Cat Food Factory. Zipper figured that perhaps Chip’s keen eyes could spot anything amiss or unusual among all the typical business. Quick glances over at Foxglove told Zipper see was faring no better. “Gee, Zipper, better try our luck with the casino up top before someone starts raving about a bat being in here,” she said in a defeated tone.

Nodding in agreement, Zipper dove out a window with Foxglove right behind. Darting skyward, Zipper then turned around, hovering in midair for a moment as his gaze fell on that Cheshire-style grin on the cat statue that served as Fat Cat’s house of operations. It was like it was taunting him, daring him to enter the lion’s den. And as Zipper’s resolve waned, Foxglove spoke up, sounding just as unconfident. “Can I really do this, Zipper? I mean, staking the place out was one thing, but going in to spy on them?”

His anxiety forgotten, Zipper became determined to put on a show of courage for Foxglove. “Don’t worry about a thing, Foxy. Just follow my lead,” he squeaked, patting Foxglove on the head.

Foxglove smiled, and said,” If you say so, Zipper.” With that, she dove for a the roof, Zipper right behind her. It didn’t take long for Zipper to find a way in: an open air duct. Motioning for Foxglove to follow him in, Zipper then stood on Foxglove’s head, telling her to move as stealthily as possible. The buzzing of his wings would echo and give them away if Fat Cat was around, and Foxglove’s wings were much noisier. So she tiptoed through the ducts as Zipper tried to remember where Fat Cat’s office was.

At last, Zipper heard the ramblings of Fat Cat’s goons, though they were very faint. Tugging on Foxglove’s ears, Zipper coaxed her to make a right turn, and their voices steadily got louder. “Geeee, bossssss, maybe we should reconsider and hire some extra help to deal with that big mousey?” shrilled Mepps’s grating voice in Zipper’s ears.

As Foxglove finally came across a wire grating they could look through, Zipper saw the four cronies crowded around Fat Cat’s desk, looking at something on a laptop. “Ooooh, this one’s pricey, but could fry her fur in a snap,” said Wart. “Love the color scheme, too. Good-looking…for a human anyway.”

“Uhhhh, you think so?” asked Mole, squinting at the screen. “Durrrr, is that a human? What’s with the lime-green skin?”

“Enough postulating, you mental midgets,” came Fat Cat’s voice. He was pacing around, out of view. “I’ve already explained why I don’t want just anyone brought into this. Especially any more humans. Bad enough that the professor insists we’ll need to recruit one in particular if things get any worse.”

“Well heaven forbid I get hold of someone who might be able to clean up the mess you started!” came Nimnul’s snappy, arrogant voice. Zipper felt himself tense up. Out of all the Rangers, he was the one whose life was most affected by Nimnul’s antics. Accidently transforming him into a giant monster, swapping bodies… Both times, it happened when he was in the dumps about his small size, and then got a good dose of reality, at least learning something from those bizarre cases. Zipper wondered if Chip had a point, if those same lessons were going over Gadget’s head. Gadget, who was supposed to be the wisest out of all of them…

“At any rate, I assume we’re in a prime position to make the most of what recruits we already have?” asked Fat Cat smoothly, deftly changing the subject.

“We’ll know after nightfall,” said Nimnul shortly. “Then, it’s back to where it all started. Take away my bad memories from my time there, and I wouldn’t have any memories at all…”

“As touching as it would be to hear that tale again, professor, I must politely decline,” said Fat Cat silkily. “And I must bring up that touchy subject again, about this Isaac Osceola. We know this boy is the source of Hackwrench’s new power. If we can…remove him from the equation…”

“Try it, and magic bond or not, fat and fur will fly…MOSTLY YOURS!” came Nimnul’s vehement reply. “That’s the one line I won’t cross…EVER!” Zipper stood there on Foxglove’s head, surprised. After all Nimnul had done, after countless attempts to level the city for no reason, why was he so worked up over one human boy?

Fat Cat’s pacing had finally brought him over to his desk, into view. He was clearly staring back at Nimnul, wearing an impassive yet firm expression. But to Zipper’s surprise, it was Fat Cat who caved. “Very well, we won’t speak of it again. At least for now. With any luck, it won’t be necessary. D’Allure and de Bergerac have the tanker truck safely stowed away, until we move out later tonight and leave those meddlesome rodents behind. Hopefully our time…out of town won’t take too long. I still have a business to run, you know.”

Fat Cat sauntered out of view again, and his cronies dutifully followed him. What followed were vehement grunts and groans for all six of them, no doubt because they were crowding into an elevator never meant to accommodate a human.

Foxglove let out a soft chuckle, but Zipper’s mind was reeling. Just where were Fat Cat and Nimnul headed now? What were their other plans for tonight? And for him, the most vexing questions were how Nimnul already knew about Isaac…and why he forbade Fat Cat to go after him. Foxglove soon snapped Zipper out of his thoughts. “Hey Zipper, should we try and tail once we get back outside?”

Zipper thought for a moment, then shook his head. With the way Fat Cat and his goons had evaded Foxglove staking them out…by the time they got back outside, it was doubtful they could find those crooks again. “No, let’s see what we can get off that computer instead,” squeaked Zipper, flying through the grating.


Gadget huffed exasperatedly as she ran up the mountain path. Speed was no longer a problem for her. She was running just as fast as during her chase through the city last night. But this insipid disguise was uncomfortable and hot. After a few minutes of searching through the clothes of Isaac’s aunt, the best thing she could find to conceal herself was a Philadelphia Flyers hoodie. That, coupled with her thick fur, was a bad mix on a humid day like this. On top of that, Gadget had to wear running sneakers and keep her tail concealed inside her jumpsuit, tied around her waist. These boots were barely big enough for her feet, and running like this was a bit disorienting. A mouse had a tail and clawnails on her toes for a reason…

Finally, Nimnul’s old lab was in sight. Confident that no humans were around, Gadget was about to take the hoodie off, but as she neared the ruined structure, she immediately tightened the hood. As she feared, the smell was unbearable.

Gadget charged ahead, smashing through the jammed front door. Slimy, gooey masses with the most disgusting assortment of colors imaginable clung to the walls and ceiling. “Oh COME ON Chip! Did you REALLY think Nimnul would ever WANT to come back here?!” Gadget thought aloud, covering her nose with both hands. “Did you really have to give me the stink job…LITERALLY the ‘stink’ job?”

Shaking her head in disgust, Gadget made her way through the empty halls, taking great care not to step in any rotted potatoes. Her first stop was Nimnul’s main operating room. Every time Nimnul hatched some scheme here, whatever doomsday device he built was in there, Gadget reasoned. But when she reached it, it almost exactly as the Rangers left it months ago. The mouse cages were still intact, just splattered with potato goop, and the ruined husk of that weird generator was up ahead, a useless mass of twisted metal. Gadget gazed at the mouse cages, now extremely tiny to her, before looking back at the generator. Well, at least there’s one old Nimnul invention that won’t be recycled anytime soon.

Turning to leave, Gadget then noticed some footprints in the rotting glop. Judging from the size, they were definitely Nimnul’s, and Gadget doubted they were recent. Following them, Gadget came across a room behind the mangled generator. A quick glance inside told Gadget it used to house Nimnul’s supercomputers, all of which were damaged in the blast.

Or so it seemed at first glance. A flicker from one of the screens caught Gadget’s eye. Curious, Gadget walked up to the terminal, and let out an astonished gasp. Nimnul definitely had been back, to retrieve some pertinent data.

On the screen were the schematics for the bipedal laser cannon he once built for Aldrin Klordane: the Nimnul Laser-Cannon 13.

“Why’s he…WHAT?!” Gadget cried in disbelief. “What’s going through that bald dome of his? First he delves in black magic, then revisits a robot he used to bake a big gelatin?” Removing her hood to see better, Gadget began punching commands into the terminal, hoping to learn more. Unfortunately, all of a sudden, whatever power cells Nimnul hooked up gave out. Sparks and smoke sputtered out of the terminal, making Gadget jump back. “Well, so much for that idea,” Gadget said dryly.

As she stared blankly at the fried terminal, wondering what to do next, Gadget thought she heard something. Nimnul’s old base had been eerily silent, but something was definitely getting closer, a clanging of metal against metal. She turned around in time to see one of Nimnul’s old robotic pit bulls, lunging for her. Acting on instinct, Gadget lashed out with a kick, instantly smashing it apart. After the flurry of bolts, springs and gears subsided, Gadget looked down at what was left of it. “Golly, I guess I should take the CPU back to Isaac’s. Maybe he’s got a computer powerful enough to let me interface with it, might get some more info,” she told herself as she fished through the dog’s computer brain.

After safely removing the CPU and stowing it away, Gadget decided there was little reason to stay any longer. “Bet Nimnul left that as a trap for us Rangers, hoping we’d come snooping around here. Obviously didn’t count on me turning into…this,” she said to herself bitterly. “Well, none of his recycled inventions have given me too much trouble. Why should a rebuilt laser cannon be any different? Thirty seconds, I’ll make it a big, metal pretzel,” Gadget told herself. But deep down, there was a twinge of doubt about it being so easy.

Once outside, Gadget took the fast way down, deftly jumping down the steep mountainside. It was still a thrill, being at this size and still having all the agility of a mouse, and ever greater speed. As she looked back down at the city below, Gadget decided there was one more stop to make. The old lab was a no-go, but perhaps there was another way to find out where Nimnul was holed up…


“I tell ya, Chip, the only thing crazier than spendin’ our lives takin’ out the humans’ worst scummies, is breakin’ INTO the place the humans put ‘em!” Dale griped as he and Chip darted across the prison’s inner courtyard. As Chip hoped, even in broad daylight, they were too small to draw any attention.

“You think I don’t realize that, Dale?” Chip shot back. “But the only one who can tell us anything about this black magic Nimnul’s been using is here!” He paused for a moment, then added, “Not to mention, this might shed some light on what’s…going on with Gadget.”

Dale said nothing about that last bit, instead looking up ahead. “Well, the women’s wing is right over there. Better hurry before they’re all let out for lunch.”

It wasn’t much longer until Chip and Dale reached the wall, and deftly used a pipe to climb up. When the pipe couldn’t carry them up any further, they carefully kept going, utilizing the spaces between bricks. The humidity was getting to Chip, but their goal was in sight. “According to Foxglove, she should be right up ahead,” he said, pulling himself up over a windowsill. Poking his head through the metal bars, Chip saw their target. Lying on a rather lumpy-looking mattress was Foxglove’s old boss, Winifred.

Knowing Dale was right about being short on time, Chip whistled loudly. “Hey you, Winifred! Over here!”

Winifred slowly lifted her head, her brushlike hair bobbing. Glancing over at the window, her usual sour expression grew even more moody. “What in the…YOU LITTLE FURBALLS AGAIN?!”

“Yeah, us again,” said Chip, standing his ground as Winifred walked over, looking daggers at him. “And believe me, the feeling is mutual, and we wouldn’t even bother with a little visit if we could help it.” Asking nicely would get them nowhere with Winifred, so best to act tough in the hopes she would rant and rave.

Winifred got right up to the bars, gazing at the pair of chipmunks with bloodshot eyes. She answered them with nothing else but silence for a moment, then said, “Actually, I’m not all that surprised you ARE here.”

Chip stared back up at Winifred, not expecting to hear that. He was about to ask why, but suddenly, a shrill voice from behind Winifred cut in, one disturbingly familiar. “Winifred, who the hell are you talking to outside the window?” The figure walked up behind Winifred, a lanky woman with long, black hair and glasses. Chip gasped, recognizing Winifred’s cellmate: Dr. Irweena Allen. “What in the…no, it can’t be…IT’S THOSE RODENTS?!”

Chip stayed silent, knowing Irweena wouldn’t understand him. Besides, she looked even more enraged than Winifred, and wouldn’t exactly be open to reason. Irweena was about to lunge at the bars, but Winifred held her back. “No, Irweena! Let me handle these buggers. It should be amusing, hearing what they have to say.”

“What they have to…are you whacked, Winifred?!” demanded Irweena. “Wait, don’t answer that…just let me have a crack at those furballs! If it weren’t for their pet fly…”

“I told you, NO! They’ve obviously come a long way, and I wanna have some fun with them!” Winifred retorted nastily. “Now get back!”

“Come on, Winifred! Lemme…”

“I said GET BACK! Or so help me, you’re on your own in the mess hall and the showers tonight!” barked Winifred. Irweena’s fell immediately fell, and slowly walked back to her bunk, but not without shooting Chip and Dale one last, nasty look.

“Got a protection racket going on, I assume?” Chip asked innocently.

“Well, since I lost that magical powers I had, thanks to your friend in the ugly shirt, I’ve had to get by by…other means,” sneered Winifred. “But it’s my dabbling in the ancient arts that’s brought you here tonight, isn’t it?”

“And you made this deduction…how?” asked Chip, trying to sound aloof.

Winifred’s sneer got even more unpleasant. “We get to watch cable news here and there. And that huge mouse that used an entire highway for an Olympic workout chasing my brother…that had nothing to do with any of his crackpot inventions, now did it?”

“Well, no, Gadget was…” Chip’s voice trailed off as Winifred’s words slowly sunk in. “Wait a minute, did you say…Norton Nimnul’s your BROTHER?!” he cried out, shocked beyond all measure. As he gazed up at Winifred, Chip noticed her red hair, as if for the first time. Now that he thought about it, it was the exact same shade of red as Professor Nimnul’s.

“The first of a sorry litter of five, right before me,” said Winifred. “He was the aspiring scientist, I was the aspiring sorceress.”

“Hate ta break it to ya, Freddie, but as far as Nimnuls go, you don’t got a monopoly anymore,” said Dale. “The ol’ professor…he’s divin’ inta the magical goodie bag too, used some spell to bond with our other old square-dancing partner, Fat Cat.”

“And now, you need some pointers on how to beat him, as well as figure out what to do with your mouse mechanic,” jeered Winifred. She smiled at them, subtle hints of an itching desire to play her hand behind that poker face. “As much as I’d like to see him get punked by you furballs yet again, and him hopefully learning his sister was the one to sic you on him…I must ask, what’s in it for me?”

As Winifred leered at them with an insufferable grin, Chip realized his big mistake. He charged in here so desperate for information, he really didn’t stop to think of just HOW to coax it out of Winifred.

“Oh, I can think of a good motivator Freddie: self-interest,” said Dale suddenly.

“Dale, don’t try anything stupid,” Chip warned under his breath, seeing the dubious, defiant look on Winifred’s face. But his best friend ignored him.

“You think I was content with just dumping you here in prison, knowing how Foxglove is still scared of you?” Dale asked dangerously. “Oh ho ho ho ho ho, no! I’ve been slippin’ into the warden’s office for a while now, nosin’ around for anything on you I can use. And it looks like you’ve been makin’ an effort ta get out on good behavior as well as runnin’ a protection racket. And who knows what could foul that up, huh? A potentially dangerous short in the warden’s office? Guards comin’ down with some bug all of a sudden? Nothing deadly, but enough to make people wonder what’s goin’ on. Think maybe there’s more truth than fiction to stories that Winifred Nimnul is actually a witch. Superstition and rumors makes humans do funny things, right Freddie?”

Chip buried his face in his palms, certain this embarrassing stunt would get them nowhere. To his surprise, he heard Winifred let out a resigned sigh. “Fine, furball, you win. Lemme tell you a little story that might help.”

Chip stared up, jaw dropped. Leaning over to Dale, he whispered, “You made a wild guess about Winifred’s good behavior strategy and ran with it, didn’t you?”

“Yes. Yes I did,” said Dale simply, trying not to sound pleased with himself.

“Here’s the story about the origins of the enchantment my brother’s fooling around with: it’s the connection forged between the channeler and the conduit,” explained Winifred. “I’ll admit when it comes to the evolutionary sliding scale, us humans can come up lacking at times. But when magic is factored in, humans have a unique ability to bond with animals. A human becomes a channeler, focusing and sharing power with animals that essentially become familiars, the conduit.”

“Like you did with Bud, Lou and Foxglove. Foxglove already told us that part,” Dale said impatiently.

“Ahhh, but I bet Foxglove didn’t tell you about who perfected the process of linking channeler to conduit,” said Winifred. “Actually, it’s little wonder that my egghead brother got the hang of it so quickly. Because it was our ancestor from the colonial days: Dorothea Oakheart. From her, our bloodline had the innate power of talking to animals, and she made witchcraft history with the animals she branded her conduits.”

“And those were?” Chip prodded.

“Your predecessors,” Winifred said with a devilish grin. Seeing the chipmunks’ confused looks, she went on. “She bonded with four animals in total: Byak the jaguar, Juan the deer, Quinny the scorpion, and Zhuk the hummingbird. The five of them formed a team, doing in the colonial days what your merry little band does now. Of course, back then, things were tougher, and they had to be even tougher to survive.”

“Jaguar, deer, scorpion, hummingbird…the four animals on the spellbook,” Chip whispered to himself.

“She’s been my inspiration my whole life, the motivation to learn sorcery and follow in her footsteps. That spell with the moon rock was meant to make me the modern-day equivalent, with Bud, Lou and Foxglove at my side. But as we all know, Foxglove got soft and ditched me for you. Now that I’m powerless, looks like Norton’s the only one of her descendents who comes even close…”

“Anything else you can tell us about this Dorothea Oakheart?” Chip prodded.

“Only that she was cruelly cut down in her prime, betrayed by the colonials she fought so hard to protect,” said Winifred bitterly. “A festering darkness, back where my family’s lived for generations afterwards.  Together, the five of them beat it back, but Dorothea pushed herself to the brink. Nearly powerless, the ungrateful bastards gave in to their fear, took advantage of that and lynched her. There hasn’t been a witch even close to her level since, but believe you me I’ve tried…

“But tell me, who else is trying now besides my brother? Call it a hunch that that mechanic you two fight over didn’t become Wonder Rodent with just diet and exercise. Who else is digging into Dorothea Oakheart’s secrets? Who made that mouse his conduit?” demanded Winifred querulously. She fell silent for a moment, as if to figure it out herself. “Hmmm, by any chance, would his name be…Isaac Osceola?”

Both chipmunks stared at Winifred with dumbfounded looks this time. Relishing their confusion, Winifred cackled. “H-H-H-How did YOU know about Isaac?!” cried Chip.

Winifred kept smiling at them devilishly. “I’ve done my part, explained the bond of channeler and conduit the best I could to magical novices,” she said with a hint of finality. “We’re done talking. But I suggest you have a nice, long chat with Isaac. You’re in for a surprise.”


Gadget crept through the rows of tall, carefully-tended bushes as quietly as she could, but soon found it almost impossible to move without making any noise. “Oh, this would be no problem at my normal size,” Gadget muttered under her breath. “Sucks to be reminded that being human-sized has its drawbacks.” Pressing on, she felt she was getting closer to the junior high’s park. “Ugh, this can all go south fast. Creeping around a school like this, these clothes could make things worse. With this hoodie, I must look like a child predator…”

Poking her head out from between two bushes, Gadget took a quick look around. She had no real clue where her target would be, whether he was out in the park or still in class. But judging from how the sun was overhead, Gadget guessed it was lunchtime. As she looked straight ahead, Gadget realized her hunch was right. For once luck was with her. Sitting on a park bench, sipping on soda while reading a comic book, was Normie Nimnul. If anyone could tell her where Professor Nimnul was, it was him.

As Gadget stood there, she realized she had no real plan for approaching Normie without causing a ruckus, or even knowing if he could understand her like Isaac. Gadget’s hopes sank upon realizing she had not planned that far ahead. For a few minutes, she simply stood there watching Normie read, like a predator with its prey in its sights, but weary of striking. As she tried to come up with a plan, someone else approached Normie. “Hey, Normie! I gotta talk to you!”

Gadget’s jaw dropped, not believing her ears. That was Isaac’s voice!

Isaac brought his bike to a halt in front of Normie’s bench, his expression grave. The contrast between the lanky boy who bonded with her and the squat, sneaky junior highschooler was quite stark. “Ah, greetings to you too, dear Isaac. And what, may I ask, brings you here on this fine October day?” Normie asked slyly.

Isaac frowned down at Normie. “Look Normie, I don’t have a lot of time. This is very important. I need to know if…”

“If Uncle Norton’s been in contact with me as of late?” Normie finished for him. “I’m sorry, Isaac, but I can’t help you.”

“Come on, Normie. All this time, I’ve never been this…direct about wanting to know where he is,” Isaac pleaded.

“But I can imagine why you’ve finally come forward to do so,” sneered Normie.

“It isn’t like that,” Isaac fired back weakly.

“Ah, but do forgive me if I’m unwilling to take you at your word,” said Normie. “At any rate, I have no idea where our dear Uncle Norton is or what he’s doing. And as you can gather, even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you.”

Gadget could sense Isaac’s brewing frustration, and his desire to squeeze some answers out of Normie. But Isaac backed off with a defeated look, and pedaled away, leaving Gadget to mull over what he heard. “Wait a minute, did Normie say ‘OUR Uncle Norton?!” Gadget thought aloud. “No way, it can’t be…Isaac and Professor Nimnul are RELATED?!”

Chapter 8: Fighting Fire with Fire

“He LIED to us!” Chip snapped vehemently, still pacing back and forth on the bed. “He’s related to Professor Nimnul, and this whole time, he’s been lying to us!”

“Chip, you’re not being fair,” Gadget shot back, standing over the bed and glaring down at Chip. “He only met us for real last night. He probably wasn’t sure how we’d react. This must what he was afraid of.”

“And with goooood reason!” Dale chimed in. “We already saw what Nimnul’s other nephew is like. And after findin’ out the professor and Freddie and brother and sister, that clinches it. The whole family’s gotta be rotten to the core.”

“I don’t believe you two!” Gadget cried scornfully. “There’s no question about Winifred and Normie, but I’d like to think Isaac saving my life would at least, oh I dunno, earn him the benefit of the doubt.”

Chip sighed. It was hard to argue with that point, and no doubt Gadget would bring up how Isaac opened up his apartment to them, now that Gadget could no longer fit inside headquarters. Still, the fact that Isaac hadn’t been up front with them vexed Chip to no end. And on top of that, they were all in this situation because of Isaac’s shortsightedness, messing with black magic without thinking of the consequences. “OK, Gadget, point taken. But I still can’t get over how all of a sudden this kid decided to futz with black magic and made you…well…”

“Well…what?” asked Gadget, as if daring him. When Chip couldn’t think of anything to say, Gadget went on. “Look Chip, you didn’t see Isaac and Normie together. They hide it well but can’t stand each other, and Isaac was only there to pump him for information and he really didn’t know how. He tends to make mistakes when it comes to execution, I’ll give you that, Chip, but he means well. He couldn’t be any more different from Professor Nimnul and Winifred.” Chip hung his head in defeat. Gadget’s reasoning was rock solid, and Chip trusted her judgment…or at least, he’d still like to. There was no telling how this mental link with a human now affected Gadget. “But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t upset that Isaac hid this from us” Gadget added. “So when he gets back, let me to the talking, alright?”

Gadget glared down at Chip, who felt the weight of her stare. He nodded wordlessly. It was obvious there would be no more argument about this. But as much as all this still rankled, Chip knew this really wasn’t any time for an argument. There were far too many other puzzle pieces to fit together. He turned to the foot of the bed, where the rest of the Rangers were sitting. “So…Zipper, Foxglove, you couldn’t get anything off Fat Cat’s laptop?”

Foxglove shook her head. “His goons locked it up. We had no luck cracking the password, and hadn o way of hauling it out.”

“And by the time we gave it up, it was too late to try tracking them,” Zipper added, squeaking apologetically.

“That’s OK, Zipper. Gadget already found out about what kind of data Nimnul’s pouring over, and at least we know they’ll all be back at the cat food factory tonight,” Chip said quickly. Turning to Monterey Jack, he said, “Anyway, it’s time we had a look at that police report.”

“Along with somethin’ else I dug up in the chief’s office, Chippah. Somethin’ that raises more questions than it answers,” said Monterey darkly. “Then again, I can say the same for the police report, as I would’ve explained, but you were too busy raving about Isaac withholdin’ info for the whole ride back here.” Chip ignored Monterey’s jab, impatiently waiting for him to fish the report out of his jacket and unfold it. “And the grand prize that bloated crimelord and his new Coo-Coo for Cocoa Puffs human were after? A whole vat of propylene carbonate.”

“Propylene carbonate!” cried Dale. “Of course, now it all makes sense, and…uhhh, wait a minute…what’s propylene carbonate do?” Chip buried his face in his hands, if for no other reason than to not bonk Dale instead.

“It’s an aprotic organic solvent,” said Gadget. “I don’t get it…we all kept thinking it was something to make explosives or poison, or something else right up Nimnul’s alley. But all he was after was just a truckload of solvent?”

“I don’t get it, either, Gadget-luv, but I bet me tail Nimnul used it ta cook up whatever almost made ya powerless last night,” said Monterey. “Don’t forget, me old flame got ‘im some of it before they all hit the plant.”

“If this stuff’s a solvent, Nimnul obviously needed it to solvate something,” Chip pointed out. “Maybe something from their pharmacy robberies? Monty, you hung onto Dale’s list from the other police report, right?”

“Got it right here, Chippah,” said Monterey, handing over Dale’s sticky notes. Chip glanced over the list of stolen drugs, but he was no chemist. He had no clue what these drugs did or how they’d behave in something like that stolen solvent. Gadget might be able to pick something out, provided she can make out Dale’s tiny scribbles. “There’s something else, Chippah. A still from a surveillance video, from that last tech warehouse the blighters hit.” Monterey pulled out a folded-up printout and showed it to the Rangers, who all took a step back and gasped.

It was a blurry photo of Fat Cat making a jumping getaway. But even with a lousy focus, there was no mistaking what was different about the Fat Cat seen there…

“He’s…got the same markings I have right now!” cried Gadget. “Golly, wh-wh-what’s it all mean?!”

“Well…maybe this is why Fat Cat had his cronies started ripping off pharmacies and he made plans to hit the chemical plant. Once his own markings vanished, he must’ve guessed another animal around here went through the same bonding process,” Foxglove suggested. “Oooooh, if I could only figure out what those markings mean! I poured over Isaac’s spellbook again and haven’t come up with a thing!”

Chip looked back down at the list of stolen drugs, somehow certain the answer was there. He was about to ask Gadget to look at it, but just then, they heard the front door open. “Hey guys, I’m home. You guys…any closer to cracking this case wide open?” Isaac called from the other side of the apartment.

Gadget took a deep breath. “Well, let’s get this over with,” she said flatly.

Having received no answer, Isaac came into the bedroom. After looking around at all the Rangers, he said, “Err, looks like you’re all brainstorming, trying to piece together clues and stuff. Well, OK, I’ll come back and…”

“Please Isaac, stick around. There IS something you can help us figure out,” Gadget said. Chip wondered if Isaac caught the disappointed tone in Gadget’s voice. He sure could. But the confused, almost innocent look on Isaac’s face told Chip the boy was clueless. “First of all, you can tell us why you never said Norton Nimnul is your uncle.”

Gadget’s bluntness shocked even Chip, and he now felt a little sorry for Isaac, watching his face fall, suddenly full of apprehension. For many moments, he just stared blankly at Gadget. “Wh-wh-wh-wh…H-H-How’d you know…”

“I overheard you and Normie earlier,” Gadget cut in. “I was hoping I could squeeze some answers out of him about Professor Nimnul, then you showed up.”

“Oh. Errr, well, h-h-h-he really doesn’t know where he is,” Isaac said quickly. “I know how to read the little spud, and he was just getting his kicks, teasing me with hope for a little while…”

“I was there too, Isaac. I believe you,” said Gadget. “But what I want to know right now is why you didn’t trust us enough to tell us.”

“Uhhh, ‘cause I wasn’t sure any of you would trust ME,” replied Isaac, a sarcastic bite to his voice. “Heck, that’s part of the reason most people want to keep me at arm’s length. Somehow, wherever we move, it always gets out that we’re related to that whackbag.”

“You mean…those bullies?” Gadget asked.

Isaac nodded. “The fact that I’m a straight A student that aces every science class with no effort doesn’t help.” Chip regarded Isaac cautiously for a moment. Isaac definitely had the air of someone who was a chronic victim of bullying. “I mean, are they TRYING to push me over the edge, like my uncle was? I guess that’s always been a fear of mine, that I’d turn out the same way.” Chip felt his tension ease a little. It looked like Isaac was finally being up front with the Rangers, but his guy told him there was something else…

Evidently, Gadget felt the same way. “Isaac, I hate to pry more, but is that all? I believe Normie is telling the truth about not knowing the professor’s next move, but Normie sounded like he EXPECTED you’d try to find him one day.” Looking into Isaac’s eyes, there was no mistaking the buried pain, the old wounds they just opened up. Chip suddenly felt incredibly rotten, but Gadget pressed on. “Golly, I hate asking this, Isaac, but we aren’t much closer to tracking down your uncle or figuring out what he’s up to. If there’s anything else about him you can tell us, something even we don’t know…” Isaac turned from Gadget, saying nothing. Staying silent, he strolled over to a small box near the closet, one overflowing with odd nicknacks.

“I found that spellbook in here,” said Isaac, reaching down for the box. “I also found this again.” Pulling out a picture frame, he showed it to the Rangers. It was a photo of all five of the Nimnul children, taken at least over a decade ago. Right away, Chip could pick out Norton and Winifred Nimnul. The professor still had most of his hair back then, and Winifred was a tad thinner and less brutish, but there was no mistaking them. However, the other three – a tall, reedy, imperious-looking man, a fierce-looking woman in an army uniform, and a breathtakingly elegant woman holding a toddler – Chip had never seen before. “The one in the uniform…she’s my aunt, and the other guy is Normie’s father. The kid…that’s me.”

“That lass…she’s your mother?” asked Monterey. “Looks like a healthy, tough dame. Wha…what happened?”

“Florence Osceola. She had stomach cancer. The diagnosis came about a year after this photo was taken,” Isaac said tonelessly, as if he had just died a little inside. “It slowly got worse, and it was always hard to get money for treatment. That’s when Uncle Norton stepped up. He became determined to cure my mother’s cancer when everyone else was, as he saw it, unwilling or unable to. It became his obsession for years, and to fund his research, he fell in with some shady businessman who turned out to be a real crooked bastard.”

“Aldrin Klordane,” said Dale flatly. “We’ve run inta him, too.”

“But as hard as he tried, Mom never got much better. Then came a day Aunt Becky checked up on her. I was in school when it happened. Uncle Norton just administered a daily dose of some experimental reagent, and then, when Aunt Becky was alone with her…Mom flatlined. I…never even got to say good-bye.”

Chip’s jaw dropped, unable to say a thing. All the Rangers were deathly silent. The crushing, voidlike silence finally broke when Foxglove dared to ask, “Your mother…Professor Nimnul…his treatment, did it really?”

“That’s how Aunt Becky saw it. Figured his experimental procedure, whatever it was, kept her from getting better and eventually killed her. I was told she flipped right then and there, chasing after Uncle Norton with a gun. But he got away into the woods, and she’s been obsessed with tracking him down ever since,” said Isaac sorrowfully. “And my father, he never got over it. He was soon bedridden with grief, and passed away too. That’s when Aunt Becky transferred back stateside and took me in. She somehow felt responsible for everything. And when my uncle started popping up in this city, she pulled a lot of strings to get herself stationed here permanently. She’s still determined to make Uncle Norton face the music, one way or another.”

Suddenly, a lot of things made sense. The air of discipline in this apartment, the small arsenal of guns, how Isaac’s shyness and awkward demeanor were not unlike some army children unsure of themselves. And then there was this whole sordid story of Norton Nimnul’s life. Suddenly, everything they had seen of him over the years was made clear. Nimnul’s sociopathic tendencies, his desperate need to pump up his ego. “I don’t believe it. All this time, Nimnul’s whole reign of terror…was because he botched curing his sister’s cancer?” Chip asked in disbelief, to no one in particular.

“Nah, I’m with Isaac’s army brat of an aunt. More like he put the love of scientific progress over the love of family and screwed the whole thing up, and the only one who doesn’t see it is him,” said Dale bitterly.

“W-W-What about you Isaac?” asked Gadget hesitantly. “Normie seemed to think you’re after revenge too. Do you feel that way?”

“I-I-I-I’m n-not sure,” stammered Isaac. He gave off more anxiety and indecisiveness than ever before.  “I’ve always thought if I could see his old research, look at his notes, I could tell if he was being irresponsible or not. Aunt Becky’s always been certain, but me, I-I-I j-just don’t know. I do want to find him, though, if for no other reason than to finally get the truth.”

“So that’s why you agreed to help us? You’re aiming to have Gadget finally squeeze answers out of Nimnul?” Chip asked all that more vehemently than he meant to, and let slip some of his lingering distrust in his tone.

That earned him a quick, steely glare from Gadget, who mouthed at Chip to shut up. Turning to Isaac, she grabbed him from behind, scooped him up in a crushing hug. Gadget easily smothered him, her head resting on top of his. “Oh Isaac, please forgive us for making you go over all that again…”

“Ack, Gadget, it’s nothing…really!” cried Isaac in a strained voice. “Chip was right, you needed to know the whole story about my uncle…”

“Isaac, I told you, don’t make light of all this. We…we’re more alike than I imagined,” said Gadget, holding him closer. Chip saw Gadget was on the verge of tears, and frankly, he couldn’t blame her. If anyone could understand what Isaac had gone through all these years, it was Gadget. “Ooooh, as if we needed any more motivation to hunt down Professor Nimnul…”

“Uhhh, if you don’t mind me changing the subject, how were you doing on that front before I showed?” asked Isaac delicately. Chip could tell from his voice that Gadget still clung a bit too tightly.

“Well, dunno if we let ya in on this, mate, but yer uncle and Fat Cat made the same bond you did with Gadget-luv,” said Monterey.

“What?! My uncle, the self-obsessed mad scientist, mess around with magic?!” cried Isaac. “That’s imposs…OK, I guess if I couldn’t resist dabbling in it, neither could he.”

“And we just had a chat with your other aunt in prison. Turns out your family tree has a long history of magic users, starting with some Dorothea Osceola,” said Dale. Turning to Zipper, he added with a smirk, “Oh by the way, your old friend Irweena Allen is adjusting to prison life nicely.”

That got a stifled giggle out of Zipper, but when Norton Nimnul was involved, nothing would truly distract the rambunctious fly for long. “But it’s more important we figure out what he’ll do with that chemical,” Chip quickly said.

“Uhhh, what was that about chemicals?” asked Isaac, itching his ear. “Did you all find out what he stole?”

“It was propylene carbonate. We think Nimnul needs a solvent for a drug, probably something his accomplices stole days before. Last night, he had something that interfered with this power you gave me,” Gadget explained.

Isaac took all this in, then asked, “You guys ever get a list of the stolen medicine?”

“Got it right here. But…it may be a bit small for you to read,” said Chip, holding up the sticky note. Shrugging his shoulders, Isaac took the sticky note and squinted at it. He turned around, pacing a bit as he stared. Gadget took that opportunity to reach down and scoop Chip up. “WHOA! Gadget, what’s the big idea?!” he demanded, writhing in her tight grip.

“I could ask you the same question,” Gadget said through gritted teeth, bringing Chip up to her face. Chip withered upon seeing Gadget’s angry glare up close and personal. “I know you’re trying to be a good detective, getting all the facts, but that’s no reason to be so…abrasive,” Gadget spat under her breath. “Golly, Chip, you heard him. The kid’s been through enough already, and he’s trying to do right by us, total strangers.  No need to be a jackass and make things harder for him.”

Chip already understood his distrust of Isaac was baseless, but still, the way Gadget was lashing out…was this because of the bond? How much was it affecting her judgment? As Chip lay uncomfortably in Gadget’s tight grip, Isaac spoke up again. “Potassium bromide.”

“Come again, Isaac?” croaked Chip.

“Potassium bromide,” repeated Isaac. “It’s on the list of stuff swiped from the veterinary clinic. It’s used as a sedative and to treat seizures. Being an ionic compound, it’ll dissolve easily in something as polar as propylene carbonate.”

Most of that flew past Chip, but Gadget seemed to catch on. “Golly, could the way to disrupt our bond really be that simple? I mean, if that’s what needs to be solvated, why not just use plain old water?”

Isaac shrugged his shoulders again. “Maybe for this stuff to work on us, SN2 and E2 reactions have to be favored, to go along with potassium bromide’s sedative effects. Wait, no, not E2 reactions. That would take a strong base, and the conjugate base formed by bromine ions is nowhere near strong…enough…to…”

Isaac’s words trailed off when he noticed the way Gadget was staring at him. “Golly, Isaac. Don’t take this the wrong way, but it’s no wonder you get compared to Norton Nimnul. You really are as bright as him,” she said, smiling broadly. Chip knew that type of look from Gadget. He had seen it plenty of times when they were first introduced to Sparky. If Gadget wasn’t still holding him too tightly right then, Chip might have allowed himself the luxury of envy.

“But me lad, what makes ya think out of all them drugs, that’s the one that chopped Gadget-luv’s power?” asked Monterey.

“Well, er…this is gonna sound silly, but I was thinking of all the old bits of folklore and myth surrounding witchcraft. Y’know, stuff like salt repelling enchantments and all that. Well, potassium bromide IS a salt,” explained Isaac sheepishly. “I mean, most myths do have a basis in reality.”

Dale turned to Foxglove. “Hey Foxy, you understand this hocus-pocus better than any of us. Is there any truth to salt turning away witches?”

“Ummm, I know for a fact that ordinary table salt doesn’t do a thing, but I did hear Winifred mention that certain types of salt have an effect,” said Foxglove. “I guess this must be one of them.”

“Well, at least we got somethin’ ta go on,” said Monterey. “Now, what about what Gadget found in the blighter’s ol’ burrowin’ hole? Y’know, that data for…” But Monterey Jack was cut off by the sound of a noisy engine pulling up near the apartment. Chip caught the panicked look on Isaac’s face out the corner of his eye.


“Oh. Great,” Isaac said. “Of all the times…that’s Aunt Becky! I know the sound of that beat-up shell of a Harley anywhere!” He hadn’t even finished that sentence before he heard the door to the garage swing open. “Oh that’s just fu…you guys gotta hide NOW,: he said sternly, grabbing the box with all the old Nimnul family treasures. Stuffing it back up in the closet, he then ran back over to the bed, scooping up all the Rangers. The sound of his aunt’s footsteps drawing closer spurred him on, nudging Gadget over to the closet as well.

“Isaac, what’re you doing?!” Gadget protested.

“What does it look like? Hiding all of you. Aunt Becky’s…not exactly an animal person,” said Isaac as he deposited the Rangers in Gadget’s arms. The closet had shelves, and there was no room in the closet to stand, thus forcing Gadget to sit down inside it. Sensing Aunt Becky’s hand on the doorknob, Isaac hastily closed the closet door. One quick glance, however, showed that her tail was sticking out. In desperation, Isaac hung the robe on the closet handle so it draped over Gadget’s tail, just as the door opened.

In strode Rebecca Nimnul in full uniform, looking almost the same as in the photo he showed the Rescue Rangers. A few streaks of grey marred her short, flaming red hair, and her face looked a tad haggard, showing signs of a rough lifetime full of fighting, loss and pain. Yet, Aunt Becky stood as tall and proudly as ever, the sort of woman even the most macho, chauvinistic types would think twice about messing with. “There you are,” she said simply. “Care to explain why you’re hiding in here?”

“Uhhh, was just putting back that microscope,” Isaac said quickly, praying she wouldn’t see through the lie.

Thankfully, Aunt Becky’s nose wrinkled but said nothing else about it. “Heh, and people say I work myself too hard. I’m still iffy about you…I’ve seen too many fellow soldiers have lingering effects from smoke inhalation. And I can tell you’ve only driven the van once, during that rainstorm last night. It’s not like you’ll get diabetes or anything from not using a bike a few days. Heaven knows you need some more meat on your bones anyway.”

Aunt Becky was weird that way. In some ways, she expected him to be as tough and indomitable as her, yet in other ways she fawned over him like the most overprotective mother. “Look, Aunt Becky, I already told you I was given a clean bill of health,” Isaac said quickly.

“I’ll be the judge of that. Let me have a look at you,” said Aunt Becky brusquely. With a sigh, Isaac obeyed, and walked over to her. As she reached out, as if to examine his face, Isaac realized too late that it was yet another ploy, to get him to lower his guard. Thinking fast, he tried to twist out, get in a position with enough leverage to counter. But he lacked the raw muscle power, and found himself flipped and hurled onto Aunt Becky’s bed. “Quick thinking, Isaac, but not quick enough,” she said with a smile.

“I almost got out that time,” Isaac quickly pointed out. But Aunt Becky hardly seemed to hear him, instead examining the bed. Isaac sweated nervously. Gadget had made the bed after sleeping in it, but Aunt Becky had an uncanny eye for things out of place. What if the Rangers shed and she spotted their fur?

“Hmmm, did you have a girl over here by any chance, and fooled around with her in here, did you?” asked Aunt Becky matter-of-factly.

“Huh? What?! Oh no, no of course not!” Isaac protested, almost reflexively.

Aunt Becky flashed a wry smile. “Pity. If that were the case, I’d probably let the matter drop.”

Isaac stared back at her quizzically. They had been together for a decade, but it was still hard to figure out just what Aunt Becky expected from him. Isaac had nothing but respect for Aunt Becky, was grateful for everything she tried to teach him, but couldn’t help but feeling that ultimately, he was a disappointment to her. That he could never become the man she wanted to mold him into.

At any rate, he had to get Aunt Becky’s mind off the perceived disorder in her room. And fast, as she was walking over to the closet, staring at the robe clearly out of place. Scrambling off the bed, he asked, “So, Aunt Becky…why haven’t I heard from you for two days? You been chasing down leads on Uncle Norton while off duty?”

Aunt Becky turned back with a gaze that made Isaac uncomfortable. “Please Isaac, let’s not go through this again. How many times have we gone through this song and dance?”

“But every time you get all obsessed over him, he gets thrown back in jail in short order, and nothing comes of it save a few extra grey hairs,” Isaac pointed out delicately.

As usual, when you tried using logic with Aunt Becky, she lost her cool that much quicker. She angrily slammed her boot right where her robe spilled onto the floor. “I know I know. Seems whenever my worthless brother rears his ugly, bald dome and I have a chance to go after him, SOMETHING happens and he essentially beats himself, and he’s back where I can’t touch him!” she screamed in frustration, stomping her foot many more times. Isaac could only watch, and pray Gadget could keep quiet. “The least the warden and correction officers can do is keep a closer eye on the little twit, but nooooo…”


Rebecca Nimnul punctuated her rage with many more stomps as she kept ranting. Unfortunately, Gadget’s tail was still right under the robe. From the light filtering in through slits in the closet door, Monterey Jack saw Gadget’s eyes widen from the pain, plus her mouth hung open, no doubt ready to let out a scream. Acting fast, Monterey Jack, Chip, Dale, Zipper and Foxglove all clambered up to Gadget’s head and clamped her mouth shut. Monterey shook his head, the absurdity not lost on him. “Gadget-luv takes a nosedive in concrete? No problem. Step on her tail? Here comes the pain…”

“It is, uh, weird how someone always seems to beat you and the cops to the punch, isn’t it?” Isaac asked delicately. “Sounds to me like he’s made more enemies since, uh, what happened to Mom. Hey… what if…if you want to go hunt for him under the radar, maybe we should find whoever…”

“Oh please, Isaac. Who could these new enemies of his be? These ‘killer rodents’ the tabloids and radio talking heads have been harping about for months? That…thing plastered on the seven-o’-clock news last night…it has to be a hoax!” Rebecca shot back sardonically. Instead of being annoyed, Monterey couldn’t help but chuckle a little. “Face it, Isaac, if we’re ever going to get justice for Florence, we’ll have to take it ourselves! Haven’t I explained it enough times already? How right in front of me, she…”

“You’ve explained it PLENTY of times, enough so it replays in my nightmares, thank you very much,” Isaac cut in sternly.

Monterey was afraid Rebecca wouldn’t tolerate that sort of tone, but he heard her let out a sigh of relief. “So there’s no need to go over how…”

“If you want justice in this world, you’ve got to stand up for it?” Isaac finished for her. “Yeah. Yeah, lately, I think I finally get it. But it’s not like you know exactly WHERE we can find Uncle Norton, now is it? I asked Normie earlier, and he doesn’t know either.”

Rebecca paused, and Monterey had no idea if it was from shock that Isaac was agreeing with her, or revulsion upon the mention of her other nephew. “Well, I’m off-duty for the rest of the day, and I’ve arranged to meet up with some of the boys from the base. They’ve promised to keep their ears to the ground, let me know if…”

“Then I wanna go to,” Isaac cut in. “Oh, don’t look so surprised, Aunt Becky. Like you keep telling me, waiting twelve years for closure is long enough. If you can really find Uncle Norton and make him pay, I wanna be there to see it.”

“Crikey, kiddo, when didya get such a mean streak all o’ a sudden?” Monterey asked no one in particular, still balancing himself on Gadget’s collarbone.

“He hasn’t. At least, I think he hasn’t. He’s just trying to get his psychotic grunt of an aunt out of here faster,” Chip pointed out, also precariously balanced on Gadget’s shoulder.

“What was that? I swore I just heard…tiny voices?” Rebecca mumbled to herself.

Oh bloody hell, Monterey Jack thought to himself. It really was true. Everyone of the Nimnul bloodline had the potential to understand animals.

“Tiny voices? From where? From what? You’re probably just horribly overworked after these last few days,” Isaac said quickly. “Maybe it’s good you’re seeing your friends from the base before going on the hunt again. I trust you’re meeting up at your favorite pizza joint?”

“Well, yeah, of course,” said Rebecca, the confusion in her voice evident.

“Any of these guys someone you’re interested in, by any chance?” Isaac asked coyly.

“What the…oh hell no. None of ‘em could last ten seconds in a serious tussle with me,” Rebecca spat back.

Isaac snorted. “Pity. If that were the case, I’d probably let the matter of you being overworked drop.”

“Oh hardee-har-har,” Rebecca drawled. “Says the kid who nearly got himself trapped in a burning building over a mouse.” Monterey heard Rebecca walk away from the closet and over to the door. “You serious about coming?”

Isaac said nothing else, but Monterey heard him follow his aunt out. Gadget sat in the closet a few more minutes until they heard the van’s engine start up. Finally, she thrust the closet door open and dashed to the window, the rest of the Rangers held snugly in one arm. Peering through the blinds, they watched Isaac and Rebecca drive off.

“Well, whatever his faults, Isaac’s a quick thinker and helped stave off a rather…awkward encounter,” said Foxglove.

“I dunno, Foxglove. I think he really believed some of what he said, and that worries me,” said Chip.

“What, humans takin’ responsibility for dirty laundry like Norton Nimnul worries you?” scoffed Monterey Jack.

“If Nimnul wasn’t working with Fat Cat and using some strange magic, probably not. But I think Chip’s referring to what would come AFTER Rebecca Nimnul corners her brother,” said Gadget dryly. The tone of her voice…Gadget sounded even more supportive of Rebecca Nimnul than he had been. Suddenly, Monterey understood what Chip meant. Rebecca Nimnul had already gone down that dark path of seeking revenge, the same one Gadget was still flirting with.

“At any rate, Foxglove is right. We’ve got plenty of time to mull over this now, fit the puzzle pieces together, before we make our own move tonight,” said Chip.

“Errr, what move is that?” squeaked Zipper.

“Don’t you remember, Zipper? You overheard Fat Cat mentioning being on the move tonight,” Chip reminded him. “I say as dusk comes, we pay his casino one last visit…”


Once again, as the sun steadily fell in the west, that was when Gadget made her move, jumping across rooftops while hanging onto the Ranger Plane. By now, Chip was getting used to the vertigo that came with Gadget lugging the Rangers around like this. She kept the Ranger Plane held snugly at her side, and all the Rangers were strapped in. Whenever he looked up and caught a glimpse of Gadget’s face, it betrayed that sense of pure elation, the thrill of being on the move like this. Just as long as this is the only thing she lets herself get carried away with, Chip thought.

As the Happy Tom Cat Food factory came into view, Gadget had to drop down to the alleys below. There weren’t any buildings around it tall enough to make a jump straight to the roof. So she tossed the Ranger Plane again before dropping down, once again too hard. It took a moment for Chip to get control of the plane. As Chip planted the landing gear at the edge, Monterey said, “Willya listen to the hustle an’ bustle below? Ever since we cleared out ol’ Aldrin Klordane, business in this part o’ town picked up again, and the factory reopened.”

As Chip took in the sounds of the humans below wrapping up their work, ready to lock up for the night, something felt odd. It took a while to realize why. All the noises they heard…came solely from the factory. The usual liveliness of Fat Cat’s Casino as nightfall neared was completely absent!

As Chip listened more closely, not believing his ears, he did pick up another sound. A piercing, crunching sound coming from the wall. Turning around, he saw Gadget climb onto the roof, those razor-sharp, catlike claws extended. “OK Chip, you got a plan yet? Who’s going to sneak into the casino?” she asked eagerly.

“Dunno if there’s any need to sneak into the casino, Gadget. Sounds like it’s been shut down!” cried Chip.

“Golly, that’s not like Fat Cat. Even if he said he was skipping town for a while…he usually has some of his other cronies keep it open so his cash flow isn’t hurt,” said Gadget.

“It ain’t like Fat Cat to dabble in black magic and work with humans, and look at him now,” Dale pointed out.

“Still, Gadget has a point. This isn’t good,” said Chip. “If this new scheme of Fat Cat’s is so big he’s convinced the loss of business won’t hurt him…”

“Then we’d better move!” squeaked Zipper.

“Absolutely, Zipper. You, me and Dale will check out the casino, see if we can find any more clues,” said Chip. Then he turned and looked up at Gadget. “Gadget…you, Foxglove and Monterey Jack check out the factory, now that the humans are clearing out for the night. Whatever Fat Cat was talking about for tonight, it might be down there. Maybe the truck of propylene carbonate is hidden there.”

“Right-o, Chip!” exclaimed Gadget, giving him a quick salute. As Gadget reached down with an outstretched hand, Monterey Jack hopped onto it. As Gadget walked off, heading for the stairs on the roof, Foxglove dutifully flew after her. Chip stayed in the Ranger Plane for a moment, watching them go, before took off for the casino entrance, Dale and Zipper right behind him.

It was an eerie sense of déjà vu, stepping back into Fat Cat’s Casino like this. The very first time he and Dale dared venture through the front door, they had yet to even meet the other Rangers. And back then, the whole casino was jumping. With their simple disguises, the two of them easily blended into the crowd as Chip waited for a chance to swipe that ruby (granted, Dale’s goofing off eventually blew everything). But now, without another warm body in sight on the casino floor, Chip felt horribly exposed. As if something was waiting nearby, waiting to strike…

“Normally, I’d be glad there’s no line for the game machines, but not today,” said Dale as they walked across the casino. It was almost as if he shared Chip’s trepidation. Chip was glad Dale was at least showing some sense, but that gladness soon vanished. “Besides, I wanna wrap up this up quick. Found out Isaac has a whole stack of Godzilla movies on DVD and I’m itchin’ to check ‘em out.”

Chip facepalmed himself hard. “Can’t you ever think of anything besides junk food and brain-rotting science-fiction?!” he shot back acidly.

Chip expected Dale to fire off with a defense of his beloved science-fiction, but instead, he surprised him by saying, “Y’know, come to think of it, there’s somethin’ that’s been buggin’ me ever since we dropped in on Freddie.”

“What’s that?” asked Zipper.

“Remember back when we tussled with Winifred? She went off about needing that spell with the moon rock to boost her power. That she’d studied for years but got nowhere,” said Dale.

“Yeah? So?” Chip replied impatiently.

“Well, if she never got far with this channeler-conduit thing with Foxglove and those other two creepo familiars, how come Professor Nimnul and Isaac had such success right out of the gate? Especially Isaac makin’ Gadget his conduit?”

Chip stopped dead in his tracks. He couldn’t believe that never occurred to him. OK, when Dale’s the only one thinking clearly and noticing that sort of thing, we’re in trouble.

“Another thing I can’t figure out. Fat Cat had D’Allure hire Rat Capone to swipe propylene carbonate the same morning Gadget first got her powers,” Dale went on. “Did he wake up and be all like, ‘Oh, my funky tattoos are gone! Hmmm, I bet one of those supremely awesome Rescue Rangers became the same sort of familiar. Better go steal some propylene carbonate to go with the potassium bromide, ‘cuz everyone knows that stops familiars cold! And better get a whole truckload of it!’”

A sick sense of dread washed over Chip as he let Dale’s words sink in. He made some very good points, and unfortunately, raised more questions than he answered. “So…maybe Fat Cat planned to steal the propylene carbonate well before Gadget and Isaac bonded, is what you’re saying,” said Chip anxiously. “But we’ve seen it’s meant to block magical power. What else would he need it for?”


Gadget peered around a corner in the hallway, watching as the workers on the last shift locked the doors and shuffled away. More than once, Gadget had had to stop herself from rushing around, snooping for anything fishy Fat Cat left behind. Being inconspicuous to humans all her life, it was easy to forget that now, it took a lot of effort to stay hidden from them. Guess it’s good to be reminded that there’s a downside to everything, Gadget thought to herself. Then again, Mom was crippled because she was beneath those arsonists’ notice…

Finally, their footsteps died away completely. Focusing on her job, Gadget ran down the hall, placing a hand over her shoulder, just to be sure Monterey Jack wouldn’t fall off, while Foxglove flew after them. Coming across the first door, Gadget took out a paper clip she found earlier, broke it in half, and started to pick the lock. “Some things never change, Gadget-luv. Always workin’ miracles with nothin’ but a paper clip,” said Monterey Jack.

“Well, I could just break the door down, but that would cause…unwanted attention,” said Gadget, just as the lock clicked open. Gadget slowly opened the door, stepping into a dark room. It took her a moment to remember she was tall enough to easily flip the lights on. When she did, Gadget saw it was little more than a storage room with a lot of filing cabinets. “Golly, guess in the short time this place has been open again, the management hasn’t totally switched over to computer records.”

“Wonder if it looked this shabby back when Klordane used it as his hideout,” Monterey grumbled. He hopped down from Gadget’s shoulder and onto a chair, then onto a floor. “Well, might as well get to work.”

As Foxglove swooped down to help Monterey search, Gadget took it upon herself to search the filing cabinets. As she did, Gadget couldn’t help but dwell on what Monterey said about Aldrin Klordane. Was it in this very room, where he hatched his plan to raid that vault with an earthquake-inducing gelatin mold? And now, it looked like Norton Nimnul was reusing something from that time, planning something even bigger…

After a while, Gadget slammed a drawer shut in disgust. Nothing out of the ordinary was hidden in these filing cabinets. Looking down, she saw Foxglove and Monterey Jack walk up to her, looking annoyed as well. They clearly found nothing out of place either. Sighing, Gadget scooped them up and ran back out into the hallway. Gadget opened more doors, and the three of them kept scouring for clues. A lounge room, a storeroom for tools and spare parts…but if there was anything shady left behind as part of Fat Cat’s plan, they had yet to find it.

As Gadget was about to go down another hallway, Foxglove suddenly flew out of her arms, sniffing the air. “Wait a minute…yes! I smell faint traces of black magic! It’s coming from the factory floor!”

“Then lead the way, lass!” cried Monterey. “Whatever hocus-pocus Fat Cat left in here, let Gadget have a go at smashing it up, and hopefully there’ll be a few pieces left I can have some fun cleanin’ up.”

Gadget smiled brightly at Monterey, then took off after Foxglove. Thankfully, there was no sign of any light from any night guards’ flashlights, so they had a few minutes to weed out whatever Foxglove sniffed out. Foxglove led Gadget past several rows of conveyor belts and automated machinery. Gadget shuddered, remembering when Fat Cat tossed the Rangers into all that. What did he have in store for them now?

Foxglove stopped at the back wall on the other side of the factory, hovering around a large metal door. It looked like a door to a freezer unit. “No mistake, Gadget. Whatever’s giving off the scent of black magic is in there,” Foxglove said with definitive certainty.

Gadget took a deep breath. “OK Monty, ready to check it out?”

“Unless Nimnul cooked up a bunch of giant Fat Cat clones with magic dragon breath or somethin’, I’m ready,” said Monterey confidently.

“Then here we go,” said Gadget, walking up to the freezer door. There was a small window, which Gadget tried to peer through. But something on the inside was causing the glass to fog up. Was it just the cold? No, the swirling mist on the other side looked too odd. As Gadget squinted to get a better look, she swore she could see the outline of…someone’s head?

It was the only warning she ever got.

All of a sudden, whoever was on the other side made a move, smashing through with tremendous force. The freezer door flew off, smacking into Gadget and taking her with it, both flying backward several feet. Gadget pushed herself up off the floor, trying to get over her shock. Looking back to the freezer, she saw the silhouette of a figure take a couple steps, still partially obscured by the mist. Then, at last, Gadget could make out the face glaring back at her. “Oh no…Desiree D’Allure…”

Chapter 9: Decisions, Decisions

Monterey Jack flew a good distance when that freezer door got blasted off, skidding far past Gadget due to being lighter. It took a while for the dizziness to fade, but when Monterey looked up, he felt queasy all over again. Stepping out of that misty freezer was his old flame, Desiree D’Allure, and that seductive look she once suckered him with was replaced by one of cold, stony determination. As Gadget staggered to her feet, Desiree sauntered up to her and delivered a punch to her gut. Gadget screamed, doubling over in an instant.

What in the…Desiree’s as STRONG as Gadget too? Oh no… Monterey saw Foxglove fluttering over the two titanic mice, but even from that distance, Monterey saw the panicked, helpless look on her face. “Come on, lass, give ‘er that big ol’ scream o’ yours,” he muttered under his breath. But Foxglove was so frightened, using her scream never occurred to her, and Desiree went on, grabbing Gadget by her hair and hoisting her up. Desiree slammed Gadget’s face down onto a conveyor belt, and Monterey saw blood dribble down her snout after Desiree snapped her head back. Then, grabbing Gadget with both hands, Desiree spun her around and hurled her at a control panel. It practically broke in half, sending up a shower of sparks.

Desiree leisurely strolled over to the ruined panel, where Gadget was feebly trying to pull herself out. Luckily, Desiree was taking her sweet time, and now being so big and focused on Gadget, took no notice of Monterey scurrying past her. He spared a glance up at Desiree, and suppressed a shudder of fear upon seeing that bloodthirsty look in her eyes. There was a cart near the ruined panel, and Monterey quickly climbed it, hoping to find something, ANYTHING that could help. His heart leapt when he saw a small sledgehammer.

As Desiree fished Gadget’s twitching body out of the wreckage, Foxglove finally made her move, scraping her feet and flapping her wings in her face. “Ack, get away you odious, fleabitten sack of rabies!” hissed Desiree, dropping Gadget to shoo Foxglove away.

That bought Monterey the time he needed, who was spinning around, holding onto the sledgehammer’s handle. When Desiree finally swatted Foxglove away, Monterey had built up enough momentum, and cried, “Hey Des, got a comin’-back present for ya!” He let the sledgehammer fly, and it hit Desiree squarely on the nose. Desiree flinched a little and stumbled backwards, but that was all. She glared down at the cart, her eyes blazing with even more vindictiveness. “Uh-oh,” Monterey muttered meekly.

Completely forgetting about Gadget, Desiree rushed over her, diving for the cart. Monterey jumped off just as Desiree hurled it halfway across the factory. Monterey didn’t even bother looking back, running as fast as he could for the nearest conveyor belt apparatus, hearing Desiree’s gigantic footfalls behind him. Monterey had spotted small spaces along the bottom he could scurry under, and dove into the nearest one. But he never even had a chance to catch his breath. Desiree started ripping it apart, uprooting it right from the floor. It wasn’t long before Monterey was again staring up at that huge and beautiful, but bloodthirsty, gaze.

Boxed in, with no avenue of escape, Desiree brought her foot up. “Oh Monty, I was wrong about you. You’re problem isn’t honestly, but simply stupidity,” she jeered, right before Gadget tackled her, sending them both skidding out of view.

“And yours is you keep thinking prematurely that you’ve won!” Monterey heard Gadget bellow. After that, all Monterey heard were the sounds of fists hitting faces, mixed with stifled grunts. Walking out of the conveyor belt’s wreckage, Monterey was pleased to see it was Gadget landing most of the punches. Encouraged, Monterey ran a bit closer, but the pair stumbled toward him; it was all Monterey could do to not be trampled underfoot as the women viciously duked it out. “You might’ve surprised me before, but you don’t live with Monty for years and not pick up pointers about fighting!” Gadget threw a feint, and when Desiree moved to block, she delivered a bone-crushing left hook to Desiree’s face, who spit out a stream of blood. Desiree stumbled over, falling over stuff from the cart she tossed aside moments ago. “Give it up, Desiree. Cough up the goods on Fat Cat, and you won’t cough up more blood.”

Gadget stood over Desiree, who was on all fours, hacking violently. “Blind fool, if you so-called detectives can’t see what Fat Cat’s real aim is…” Desiree grumbled. Monterey saw Desiree grab a can of spray paint, and never had time to shout out a warning. “Then just be blinded period!” Desiree whirled around, stood up, and sprayed black paint into Gadget’s eyes. Gadget shrieked, hands flying to her face. Finally back on her feet, Desiree grabbed Gadget by the shoulder, delivering more punishing body blows. “Look at it this way, Hackwrench. We get rid of you, then there’s no reason to ever bother with your pet human, Isaac.”

Monterey could only look up helplessly as Desiree kept hammering away at Gadget, her cries of pain tearing at his heart. But thankfully, Foxglove was ready to take serious action. She dove at the pair, then hovered near Desiree’s head. Desiree turned to curiously glare at her, only to get blasted with a deafening scream to the face. Both mice crumpled to the ground, Desiree clutching her head.

Foxglove flew down to Monterey, still jittery. “Monty, I-I-I’m so sorry. I-I-I was so nervous, I forgot I had that scream. Oh, I could’ve stopped her earlier, spared Gadget all that…”

“Foxy, what’s important is that ya bought us some time!” Monterey said quickly. “Now comes the hard part: What ta do with it.” Looking around, Monterey spotted something that could help. “OK Foxy, follow me!”

“Wait Monterey! What are we running away for?” asked Foxglove as she flew after him.

“Runnin’ away, Foxy? Maybe. But we’ll be riding back…IN STYLE!” cried Monterey as he jumped onto a forklift. He climbed up and turned the key in the ignition. “OK Foxy, go ahead and hit that gas pedal!”

“You sure this’ll work, Monterey?” asked Foxglove timidly.

“We’re about ta find out! HIT IT!” bellowed Monterey. As Foxglove pushed down on the gas pedal, Monterey balanced himself on the steering wheel, running back and forth. His fancy footwork steered it back toward the massive mice, just as Desiree was getting back up. Monterey smirked wickedly, catching a glimpse of Desiree’s dumbstruck look, right before the forklift collided with her head-on. Having been caught unawares, Desiree’s strength and mass did nothing to stop it. Instead, it carried her along, up until the front end embedded itself in the wall, sandwiching Desiree between the wall and the forklift cage.

Monterey grabbed the steering wheel just as the forklift hit the wall. Looking up, he saw Desiree was pinned helplessly, a beam of the cage smushed up against her bleeding nose. “OK, Des, let’s try this again, shall we?” Monterey asked smugly, ignoring the volcanic fury raining down on him from Desiree’s eyes. “Gadget-luv asked ya nicely to spill the beans on Fat Cat’s caper, and here’s me hopin’ you’ll be more accommodatin’ with me ‘cuz of our, ahem, past relationship…”

“Ohhh, Monty, I was willing to let go of the past before,” snarled Desiree. The forklift shook, and Monterey realized Desiree was trying to pry it off the wall. She didn’t have the leverage to shove it off right away, but she would with time. “Being left at the altar I can ignore. Being run over by a forklift, not so much.”

Centimeter by centimeter, Desiree was prying the forklift loose. Monterey just stood there on the steering wheel, transfixed by the huge eyes staring down at him and the fury in them. Just when Monterey thought Desiree would free a hand and squeeze the life out of him, Gadget jumped into the forklift seat. Desiree’s face went from fury to shock. Gadget’s vision was obviously getting better, for Monterey saw her smile at Desiree’s confusion. And one punch through the forklift cage changed it from shock to a dazed listlessness.

Grabbing Monterey and Foxglove, Gadget hopped out of the forklift. “Golly, that was some quick thinking, Monty, hitting her with the biggest thing you could find,” said Gadget ruefully. “In fact, let’s try it again,” she added, this time with a harsher tone. Gadget pulled the forklift away from the wall. Desiree fell to the floor on wobbly legs. Gadget casually tossed the forklift up, caught it by the forks, and then swung it at Desiree like a baseball bat. Desiree went right through the wall, sailing across the street. Monterey Jack and Foxglove could only look on in shock as Gadget jumped out after her.


Pleased to see that Desiree soared over more than one street, Gadget dashed after her, ignoring the startled cries of pedestrians. Judging from the crowd gathering on the other side of a particular street, and the way people on her side hadn’t noticed her, instead staring across the street, Gadget was confident she caught up with her quarry. Yeah, that’s all she is, my quarry, Gadget thought acidly, willing her claws to pop out. That’s all she is. Chip has the wrong idea. Fat Cat and all the crooks with him…they’ll never stop unless an example is made…

Making another leap across the street, Gadget landed on top of a lamppost. Looking down, Gadget had to cover her mouth to muffle her laughter. When Desiree finally landed, her head must have lodged itself into the side of a large mailbox. Now she staggered around the sidewalk blindly, the uprooted mailbox stuck on her head. People nervously backed away when Desiree stumbled near them. Eventually, Desiree pulled the mailbox off of her head, but Gadget was way ahead of her.

“Golly D’Allure, you do realize tampering with the mail is a federal offense, right?” Gadget asked coyly. Desiree turned to see Gadget right behind her, holding one end of a bus stop bench. “You may approach the BENCH!” cried Gadget, bludgeoning Desiree with it. It shattered into splinters as Desiree sailed across the street again. But this time, Desiree’s momentum was stopped cold when she collided with the side of a police car.

“Whoops,” muttered Gadget sheepishly, now fully aware of all the wary eyes on her. Desiree hit the car so hard, the driver’s side door practically caved in. Pulling herself out of the imprint she made, Desiree looked over at the squad car. Gadget swore Desiree’s face instantly went from pain and panic to…smug? Desiree deftly hopped over to the other side, and Gadget heard her smash in that door too. Her grin now insufferably smug, Desiree casually strolled over to the front of the car, then lifted the whole thing over her head, so that Gadget could see which two cops were in it. Panicked cries of humans filled the air as they tried to put some distance between them and Desiree, but Gadget didn’t notice, paralyzed with shock upon seeing which two humans were in trouble.

Kirby and Muldoon.

Kirby was in the driver’s seat, listless and sporting a huge gash on his head, while Muldoon looked out through the windshield in horror, his bugged-out eyes almost pleading with Gadget. “Funny how, at the end of the day, things still never wholly go your Rangers’ way,” Desiree jeered. “I remember what Monty said about these two. How unfortunate for you, that the ones sent to investigate the cat food factory are your two favorite cops.”

Gadget gaped at Kirby and Muldoon, dumbstruck. Why did these things keep happening? It was a sick irony: after her mother was nearly killed, Gadget had been filled with such hate for humans, but now, humans she cared out kept getting caught in the crossfire. Gadget shook her head, forcing herself to think straight, and glared at Desiree. “If you know what’s good for you, D’Allure, you’ll put that car down.”

“For once, Hackwrench, you’re absolutely right,” said Desiree calmly. And then, to Gadget’s horror, Desiree hurled the car away over the buildings, toward where Gadget knew the river was. “Now, shall we continue, or will you go have a chat with your favorite humans…while they still have air to breathe? You only have time for one.”

“You…you coward…” Gadget hissed through gritted teeth. She clenched her fists so hard, hr claws dug into her palms, drawing blood. She knew Kirby and Muldoon were as good as dead without her, and yet, her every thought was to rip Desiree apart with those claws, here and now. Though she knew there really was no choice, Gadget stood there, rooted to the spot, transfixed by Desiree’s daring glare.

Gadget shut her eyes, bearing her claws and letting out an impotent howl of fury. The onlookers on the street nervously backed up more, for it looked like Gadget was about to go after Desiree again. But after one last glare at Desiree, Gadget jumped across the street, climbed the building there, and jumped toward the river.

It wasn’t long before Gadget reached a shipping warehouse right next to the river. Not wasting any time, afraid she would change her mind, Gadget made one last leap and dove into the river. If I’m guessing right, going by the angle of her trajectory and the force Desiree threw the car with, it should’ve gone down somewhere…AHHH!

Gadget’s hopes brightened when she made out their car, still sinking into the murky darkness. Knowing Kirby and Muldoon were running out of time, Gadget swan down faster. At last, she reached the car. Figuring enough water had seeped into the car to help equalize the water pressure, Gadget dug her claws into the driver’s side door and ripped it off. As she feared, Kirby was still barely clinging to consciousness, so Gadget sliced off his seatbelt and scooped him up as best she could with one arm. Despite the darkness, Gadget could also make out Muldoon’s skinny arm reached out for her, as if he had expected her to come. Gadget grabbed it with her free arm, then swam back up.

Panic gripped Gadget as her lungs felt like they caught fire. Whatever powers Isaac gave her, not needing oxygen wasn’t one of them, and Gadget had no idea how far it was to the surface. But just when Gadget thought it was over, she could see light from the nearby bridge. That coaxed one last burst of speed out of her, and they finally broke through the river’s surface. Coughing and sputtering, Gadget kicked over to one of the bridge’s support beams. Luckily, there was enough of a dry surface to drag Kirby and Muldoon onto.

Gadget slumped against the pillar, beyond exhausted. A few moments went by before Gadget noticed Muldoon was squatting over Kirby, who was out cold. When Muldoon pressed his fingers against Kirby’s neck, Gadget felt a chill that had nothing to do with the water. “Golly, is he…is he really…”

“Not if I can help it,” said Muldoon sternly, tilting Kirby’s head back. Without hesitation, Muldoon planted his lips against his and forced air into his lungs. As Gadget watched Muldoon perform chest compressions, Gadget thought back to when Isaac saved her. Gadget felt ashamed of herself all over again, the way she hesitated at first to go to their rescue. She could only watch helplessly as Muldoon fought on to save his partner and friend, and was so transfixed, it took a while for something to click. “Hey, you understood me!”

“So I can, so I can,” said Muldoon nonchalantly, doing more chest compressions. Muldoon then forced in more breaths, and at last Kirby sputtered violently, his arms flailing. He fell still after that, but after squinting for a better look, Gadget saw Kirby was breathing on his own.

“Whew, that was close,” said Gadget, but at the moment, she was more perplexed by how any human besides a Nimnul understood her. “And you…you’re not frazzled by this? By me?” she asked Muldoon, while she kept other questions to herself. Golly, is it all humans now? Is it something to do with Isaac’s magical link? Or maybe, because I’m bigger, my voice isn’t as high-pitched, and thus intelligible by humans? Either way, it should have been a sobering thought. That would mean everyone on top of that skyscraper understood her raving at Fat Cat and Nimnul. But at the moment, Gadget didn’t care.

Muldoon stood up straight, facing Gadget. “Lady, I’ve long since accepted us boys in blue have had guardian angels in the form of fuzzy little rodents. Well, maybe not so little anymore, but you get the point. Kirby here still can’t wrap his head around it…too bad he wasn’t awake to see this,” he said. “But that other mouse we just ran into when answering that call at Happy Tom Cat...what’s the story there? We got Professor Nimnul to thank for that?”

“Pretty much, yeah, but not the way you’re thinking,” said Gadget. Gadget had no idea how to explain all this stuff about the Nimnul magic legacy to Muldoon, even if he could accept that the Rescue Rangers exist.

“And you, and the rest of your furry friends…what’s the deal? You’re after ol’ Norton again, right?” asked Muldoon eagerly.

Gadget suddenly felt uncomfortable, feeling like she was being pumped for information. “Yeah, we sure are, but…golly, don’t get any ideas. Nimnul was dangerous enough before, but now…it’s like nothing any of us’ve ever seen. It’s something we Rescue Rangers have to do ourselves. It’s got to be our fight. We just…” Gadget was cut off when a police boat sounded its siren, approaching the pillar. While Muldoon was distracted, Gadget turned to the pillar and sunk her claws into it.

“Rescue…Rangers? Hey, WAIT!” Muldoon called out as Gadget climbed away. “If it’s Norton Nimnul behind all this, we got a job to do too!  And if it’s you guys always lookin’ out for us, we gots a debt to repay!”

It was tempting, to finally let Kirby and Muldoon in on their secret. After all, they had just let Isaac in on everything, a relative of Norton Nimnul no less. But seeing them casually tossed aside by Desiree D’Allure like that…no. For the moment, the fewer humans brought into this, the better.

When Gadget swung herself onto the bridge, it was thankfully devoid of traffic. She took a moment to catch her breath, shivering from the cold water clinging to her fur. It took her a while to notice a certain flapping noise. Opening her eyes, Gadget saw the Ranger Plane perched on the bridge’s safety rails, with everyone inside. “Oh Chip, it was D’Allure. She almost killed Kirby and Muldoon. I-I-I-I…”

“We know, Gadget. We saw everything, and unfortunately we lost D’Allure too. But you made the right call,” said Chip reassuringly. Somehow, Gadget expected Chip to berate her for hesitating. Gadget certainly did not need that right now. Thankfully, he did no such thing. “Dale, Zipper and I didn’t find a thing up in the casino, and Foxglove’s nose says there’s nothing magical left in the factory. We’d better go,” Sighing, Gadget tucked the Ranger Plane under her arm and ran across the bridge.

Many minutes passed in silence as Gadget made her way back to Isaac’s neighborhood, jumping from rooftop to rooftop. Gadget couldn’t think of anything else to say to Chip. Indeed, there was nothing to say. Desiree D’Allure slipped through her fingers, and almost killed the most noble cops the city had because she screwed everything up. Gadget silently vowed that next time, Desiree wouldn’t get the chance to try anything else…

Finally, they made it back to Isaac’s house, and Gadget jumped behind it, concealed in the shadows. Gadget fished through her pockets, afraid that she lost Isaac’s spare key in the river, but thankfully it was still there. Before, Gadget would have dwelled on how odd it felt, being as big as a human and forced to get into their houses the way they did. But she was still shaken to the core, both by freezing cold and Kirby and Muldoon almost dying on their watch. None of this was lost on Chip. “Gadget, please, take a moment to calm yourself down. And change out of that suit. Somehow, I don’t think Isaac’s bond will keep you from catching cold.” At that moment, Gadget let out a sneeze. “I rest my case,” Chip added.

“I hear you, Chip,” said Gadget weakly, setting the Ranger Plane down on the kitchen counter. She lumbered into Rebecca’s room, leaving a trail of wet footprints. After quickly drying off as best she could, and changing into that Flyers jersey again, along with a pair of sweat pants, Gadget walked back out. “Golly, it still feels weird wearing human clothes. Guess it’s because I recently read George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Oh the irony in how…”

As Gadget walked back over to the Rangers, she heard the lock on the front door rattle. Before Gadget could do anything, it flew open, revealing Rebecca being led into her house, leaning on Isaac for support. One look at Rebecca and her unfocused, bloodshot eyes told Gadget that she was probably drunk. “Oh come on, Aunt Becky, after all this time, why indulge anyone dumb enough to think he can drink you under…the…table…” said Isaac, trailing off once he saw Gadget was there with them.

“Isaac…how many times do I gotta tell you…in this world, you gotta make sure everyone knows they can’t step all over you, can’t challenge you, no…matter…what…” Rebecca’s words trailed off as well, once she saw what Isaac was staring at. A moment of awkward, deafening silence, and then Rebecca said, “OK Isaac, maybe you got a point. I’m so blasted, I’m seeing a six-foot mouse with my Flyers jersey standing in my living room.”

Gadget thought that was an avenue of escape, until Isaac unthinkingly opened his mouth. “Uhhh, bad news, Aunt Becky. Your eyes are still working perfectly.” Rebecca shook her head in disbelief, then pulled herself away from Isaac, walking right up to Gadget and standing straight, with as much dignity as she could muster. Gadget wasn’t sure why, but standing eye-to-eye with this intoxicated, hotheaded human unnerved her.

Rebecca slowly turned back to Isaac. “So, Isaac…care to explain this? Bad enough you keep begging me to take in a stray cat or dog every other month, but freaks like this?” Gadget had to repress the urge to slap some sense into Rebecca. It wouldn’t do for the head of her channeler’s aunt to go flying out the window.

“It’s…not like that, Aunt Becky. Like it or not, everything on the news is true, and you were staring the proof in the face,” said Isaac.

Rebecca stared Gadget in the eye again, and despite her drunken semi-stupor, Gadget saw something flash in her eyes. What was it? Suspicion? Anger? Resentment? Or perhaps resignation to something? Whatever it was, it made Gadget uneasy again. Isaac was right, getting through to his aunt, drunk or not, would never be easy.

“Ummm, Gadget, maybe I should have a few more minutes alone with Aunt Becky. Try to…explain a few things,” Isaac said quickly. Tugging at her arm, he led Rebecca out of the living room.

“Hey, quit yanking so hard, Isaac! I can still walk!” cried Rebecca as she was led away. “And before to try explaining anything else, tell me this: why the HELL is that thing wearing my favorite jersey?!” Gadget said nothing as Isaac and Rebecca walked away, sighing because of how things had yet again become more complicated.


Chip was swiftly losing his patience. Dutifully waiting during a stakeout was one thing, but the way Isaac and Rebecca were still cooped up, the latter being told everything, was vexing Chip to no end. Just why were they letting Isaac reveal everything, when he still wasn’t sold on Isaac himself? And if this brash human woman was convinced she wasn’t imagining things, what use would she be? If she was anything like her siblings Norton and Winifred…

“Golly, Chip, would you quit pacing? I’m going as fast as I can,” said Gadget suddenly. Chip had been aimlessly walking around the computer desk in Isaac’s room. With nothing better to do, Gadget decided to try breaking into the CPU from Professor Nimnul’s robot dog again.

Chip sighed, looking around the room again. A poster of the Periodic Table, models and diagrams of human anatomy…it was easy to see what Isaac’s passions were. On top of that, that same air of discipline and neatness that permeated Rebecca’s room was here as well. But here, it felt…forced. Artificially imposed. As if Rebecca tried too hard to force her ideas of discipline onto Isaac. Chip suddenly felt for the kid. The expectations of an aunt not quite sure how to raise kids, the shadow of his insane uncle always looming over him…was it any surprise this kid wasn’t the most confident human around?

Chip just hoped he could get through to his aunt, so she didn’t do anything stupid. In the meantime, Gadget sat at Isaac’s computer, with Nimnul’s CPU unit attached to it. “Golly, it’s certainly a new experience, breaking into computer systems this way. Having to relearn so many things and do things like humans do, it’s no easy feat, but…ah, I think I’m finally past all the firewalls,” Gadget declared.

All of a sudden, the lethargy in Isaac’s room vanished. Dale and Monterey Jack sprang up at attention. Foxglove had been half-asleep, hanging upside-down from the ceiling fan, but in a flash she glided down and sat herself on her head. Zipper flew out of nowhere as well, perching himself on Gadget’s huge ear. “Well, what do we got? Any way this’ll lead us to laughing boy?” squeaked Zipper.

“Golly, Zipper, I’m not sure. A lot of data was irretrievably lost when I kicked the dog,” said Gadget, squinting at the screen. “But I’m bringing up one part that looks relatively undamaged. Looks like it has to do to with commands received in the last month or so. This particular unit, Nimnul had it planted at his old base as little as a week ago. He was already getting paranoid about us suspecting him.”

“Or maybe Fat Cat convinced him he oughta be,” Monterey Jack threw in. “What about before that, Gadget-luv?”

“I’ll try and find out,” said Gadget, furiously typing some more. Chip looked up at Gadget’s face, seeing rows of data being reflected in her huge, sapphire eyes. Her expression became disturbingly stony as she kept typing, and Chip sat there anxiously, expecting bad news any moment. Finally, Gadget said, “This is strange. Judging from what data I can recover, not only had this dog received different orders during the month before being sent to the old lab…it was in constant communication with CPUs from other robot dogs. Almost a score of them, pooling their collective processing power.”

“What for? A robot doggie spelling bee?” Dale quipped.

“Or maybe other robberies for Fat Cat and Professor Nimnul,” Foxglove suggested gravely.

“And I bet me tail it ain’t for nabbing more kittens,” added Monterey.

Gadget shrugged her shoulders. “Sorry fellas, I just can’t reconstruct enough data to tell me what orders Nimnul was giving them.”

Chip looked over to the computer screen, feeling defeated. They kept hitting dead ends. But they were the Rescue Rangers, who could make sense of the tiniest clues that everyone else overlooked. As he thought it over, a faint hope was rekindled inside him. “Gadget, maybe you can’t find out WHAT their orders were, but is there any way to figure out WHERE Nimnul sent them? Geographic coordinates, records of GPS tracking, that sort of thing?”

Gadget looked down at him, smiling. “It’s worth a try,” she said brightly, then got back to work typing. It wasn’t long before she found what Chip wanted. “Again, not much I could recover in terms of GPS records, but it looks like over the past month or so, these dogs were spending a lot of time in…Pittsburgh?”

“What in the heck were those metalmouths doin’ there? What’s Pittsburgh got besides ugly yellow towels?” asked Dale.

“We can find out easily!” squeaked Zipper. “Just get online, and cross-reference for any unsolved crimes in Pittsburgh for that month!”

Chip smiled to himself, confident they had just cracked the case open wider. “Something tells me I already know what we’ll find. Come on people, what’s Pittsburgh REALLY known for?”

“Well, historically, the steel industry, but that’s imploded in recent years. I think it’s pretty much nonexistent in Pittsburgh now,” said Gadget. Chip’s face fell, his theory having fallen apart. Or at least he thought it had, until Gadget spoke up again. “But the resurgence of Pittsburgh’s economy is partly due to other industries like new technological research, robotics… Golly, I see what you’re getting at Chip! Those dogs are stealing most of the parts for Nimnul’s new walking laser cannon!”

“And I bet Nimnul is havin’ those blokes help themselves to whatever steel factories are still runnin’, or firin’ up whichever ones are still standin’!” Monterey chimed in.

“Well, I guess this explains why Fat Cat ditched his casino,” said Dale. “While windin’ things down here so he could safely close it for a while, him and Nimnul were getting’ everything ready somewhere else…for a new killer robot to be slapped together!”

“It’s looking more and more like that. I just did what Zipper asked, and…there’s been plenty of break-ins and inventory unaccounted for at businesses, universities and warehouses all over Pittsburgh,” said Gadget.

“So we gotta get to Pittsburgh and keep the blighters from finishing it!” cried Monterey.

“Somehow, I doubt it’s actually being BUILT there,” said Chip. “Fat Cat’s been overly cautious as of late. He’s probably counting on us getting wind of these Pittsburgh robberies. No, it’ll be somewhere nearby...but where?”

“And WHY is Nimnul building this thing in the first place?” asked Foxglove sternly. “I mean, Nimnul’s obviously become strong enough to create TWO superpowered conduits bonded to him. What does he need with a giant, killer robot?”

Chip still wasn’t sure about that part himself. Of course, when a madman like Norton Nimnul was involved, trying to figure out the ‘why’ was usually next to impossible. Still, for some reason, not knowing gnawed at Chip. But it would have to wait, since the door just flew open to reveal Isaac and Rebecca, the latter looking much more lucid and alert. She looked Gadget up and down. “Well, looks like you’ve been keeping yourself busy,” she said dryly. “So, you’re the giant mouse my nephew’s symbiotically bonded to, correct?”

“Well, neither of us could’ve expected…” Gadget began.

“A right-to-the-point workaholic. I knew I pegged you right from the moment I saw your room. I’m sort of the same way,” Chip butted in.

Rebecca buried her face in her hands. “Alright, only ONE talking animal at a time, please!”

“Something tells me this isn’t new for you,” said Foxglove. “Over the years, there have been times that you’ve understood animals perfectly, and it’s finally become full-blown for you, am I right?”

Rebecca glared over at Foxglove. “Foxglove, right? You an expert on this black magic jazz or something?”

“Sort of. My former channeler…is your older sister,” Foxglove admitted timidly. She seemed to wither under Rebecca’s unreadable glare.

“OK, you and me will be having a little chat…later. And you were right. Why else d’you think I was really wanting to get so blind-ass drunk?” Rebecca then turned to Gadget. “So, is what Isaac told me true? Freddie was right all along about our family lineage starting with some super-sorceress? And now, Isaac and Norton have stumbled onto the same sort of magic?”

“That’s what Winifred told Chip and Dale when they confronted her,” said Gadget simply.

“And you bunch, you…Rescue Rangers. I take it we all have you to thank for my brother getting his ass handed to him every time he tried something stupid here in this city?”

“We do our best,” said Chip modestly.

“And how’s it coming, stopping his latest escapade of dumbassery?” Rebecca demanded.

All this time, Chip had been impatient with how long it was taking Isaac to get through to Rebecca. Now he was just losing patience with the woman herself. Gadget, however, seemed unperturbed. “Well, before you came in, we hacked into a CPU left behind by one of his old robot dogs,” explained Gadget. “After doing some digging on recent unsolved crimes in Pittsburgh, we’re guessing that while Norton Nimnul was finishing up business here, his robot dogs were stealing raw materials and parts there.” 

“Raw materials and parts for what?” asked Rebecca stiffly. “Don’t tell me he’s slapping together something like that laser-guided Jell-O mixer he made for Aldrin Klordane.”

“I’m afraid that’s exactly…hey, how did YOU know about that?!” exclaimed Gadget.

“Oh please, you’re not the only one who can go digging into computers,” replied Rebecca slyly. Her gruff veneer had not changed, but Gadget definitely looked more relaxed and respectful of Rebecca. “So, Norton’s building another overgrown, walking laser pen? What for?”

“Absolutely no idea whatever,” said Dale flatly.

“And we’re not even sure he’s actually ASSEMBLING it in Pittsburgh,” added Chip. “His…newest accomplice is extremely paranoid about us. He’s convinced Nimnul to go to great lengths to throw us off. They’ll be counting on us finding out about these crimes in Pittsburgh.”

“Before I cornered them on that rooftop, though, Nimnul said something about ‘heading back home’ for ‘family business’. And Zipper heard Nimnul talk about someplace where he had nothing but bad memories. Any idea what he meant?” Gadget asked Rebecca.

Rebecca simply scrutinized Gadget for a moment, but then, a look of sudden dawning swept over her. “He’s…going back to where we all grew up, to where Florence died. To Philadelphia.”

“The City of Brotherly Love. Oh, the irony,” muttered Dale.

“Well, it ain’t exactly a hop, jump and skip away from Pittsburgh, but it’s close enough,” said Monterey.

“And am I correct in assuming that you Rangers want to swoop into Philadelphia and save the day yet again?” asked Rebecca delicately.

“Well…yeah, sure they do,” said Isaac. “Why are you making it sound like a bad thing?”

“Oh, I’m not. It’s just that it might not be so easy for them to get around the country anymore. Somehow, I don’t see your new pet mouse fitting into that Clorox bottle with wings,” said Rebecca. “Gadget’ll need wheels now, wheels I might be willing to provide…”

Gadget stared at Rebecca quizzically. “What are you getting at?”

“Look, I might still be drunk, but I’m not stupid, or nearly as prideful as everyone says I am,” said Rebecca. “I can see this is the best opportunity I’ve had to finally get Norton in twelve years. And I just saw the evening news. I saw what you did tonight. If anyone can finally help me get to Norton, it’s you and your little Ranger buddies. I’ll get you to Philadelphia, and help you track him down, but on two conditions.”

Chip didn’t like where this was going, and Gadget echoed his sentiments. “If you saw the news, you must’ve seen that two more humans got caught in the crossfire tonight. Two human we Rangers happen to look out for. And working directly with humans is, quite frankly, something we’re still getting used to.”

“Nevertheless, you need me. Plus, from what I gather about this family’s hocus-pocus, you need Isaac around too,” said Rebecca. “So again, we’ll take you to Philadelphia on two conditions.”

“Aunt Becky, I think you’re…” Isaac began.

“Please, Isaac, let me do the talking,” snapped Rebecca.

Gadget let out an exasperated sigh. “Fine, Rebecca. What are your terms?”

Holding up a finger, Rebecca said, “One, you Rescue Rangers are going to listen to me. It’s obvious you’ve been doing detective work for years and screwing with my brother’s head at every turn. But believe it or not, I know Norton better than any of you. How he thinks, his fears, his quirks, everything. Plus, I know Philadelphia. If we all go to Philadelphia, you six are going to listen to me, not run off on tangents doing your little heroic antics, and be willing to take input for someone with years’ worth of experience in battle tactics.”

Chip, Dale and Monterey Jack exchanged furtive glances amongst themselves. Letting Isaac in on their secret was one thing, but his brash, bossy aunt was something else entirely. But once again, Gadget spoke for them. “OK, we can do that. What’s the other condition?”

“Two, Norton is for Isaac and I to deal with, and no one else,” said Rebecca sternly. “This other thorn in your sides, this Fat Cat, do to him whatever it is you furballs do with your scumbags. But it’s been twelve years, and Norton has to answer to US for what he took from us.”

It just keeps getting better, Chip thought morosely. Bad enough that Gadget has this new vengeful streak, but now this trigger-happy human is supposed to tag along too?

“Look, Aunt Becky, you know what I really want out of him. All I need is…”

“Isaac, how many times are we going to go through this song and dance?” Rebecca demanded, rounding on him. “I was there, Isaac! One second your mother was perfectly fine, and the next she flatlined! And it’s all Norton’s fault!” Turning back to Gadget, she said, “We take care of the human criminal and you folks take care of the animal criminals. Sounds like a fair deal, doesn’t it?”

His mind reeling, Chip tried to think of something to say, something to stop this downward spiral. Both the Rescue Rangers and the U.S. Army were meant to stand for justice, for protecting the innocent, not dishing out revenge. The Rescue Rangers simply wouldn’t condone…

“OK, Ms. Nimnul, you got yourself a deal,” said Gadget suddenly, to Chip’s horror.

“Gadget, you can’t be serious!” cried Chip.

“Dead serious,” said Gadget defiantly. “I’ll say this. Even when drunk, Rebecca’s perfectly logical about everything. She can get us to Philadelphia, get into places we can’t, scope out the lay of the land, and help sniff out Professor Nimnul. Plus, she’s absolutely right about how it’s high time he answers for what he’s done.” Gadget held out her hand. “So, are we in business?”

After only a second’s hesitation, Rebecca clasped Gadget’s hand firmly. “Indeed we are. And that part about accepting my advice? That starts NOW.” Before anyone could blink, Rebecca flipped Gadget over and slammed her onto the floor. Zipper and Foxglove barely got off of Gadget in time, and the entire house shook a little. Meanwhile, Rebecca shook her arm. “Ooooh, you weren’t kidding about her weight, Isaac. Damn near dislocated my arm.”

“Golly, what was THAT for?” demanded Gadget from the floor, obviously doing her best to keep her temper in check.

“On the news, I saw how you got the drop on that other mouse. With a little help from me, next time, you’ll know all you need to know about taking her down with just your bare hands,” said Rebecca with a smirk.

“I’ve lived with Monty all these years. I know how to fight,” spat Gadget as she stood back up, glaring at Rebecca.

Rebecca looked over to the desk at Monterey Jack, her insufferable smirk even wider. “Oh, I’m sure he did, Gadget. I’ll just teach you to fight better.”

Yet again, Chip buried his face in his hands. “How do we find these people?” he muttered dejectedly.

Chapter 10: Road Trip

“OK Dale, now I need the screwdriver,” said Gadget. Looking up from the toolbox on the floor, Dale saw Gadget’s outstretched hand, the tips of her claws showing. Dale reached into the box’s tray for the screwdriver she needed, but it was too wide and unwieldy for him; he stumbled back upon lifting it out. Luckily, Monterey Jack was there to catch him, and he tossed it up to Gadget. “Golly, when this is done, Rebecca’s motorcycle will run better than ever, I’m sure of it!”

Dale couldn’t help but notice how Gadget was breezing through this tune-up. “Wow, Gadget, it’s almost like you’ve done this before.”

“Well, it was always a thrill when…Dad and I found a junked motorcycle in that yard to salvage. So yeah, I know my way around these machines.” Dale was afraid behind reminded of her father would bring her down, but Gadget remained positively giddy about her work. “But like everything else, working on a motorcycle this way…it’s puts a new perspective on everything. OK, now I need the new air filter.”

That was easy enough to toss to Gadget, and it warmed Dale’s heart, watching her face brighten as she toiled on. After everything that already happened, it was good to see Gadget still getting enjoyment from the little things in life, even if she wasn’t so little anymore.

“Gadget-luv’s just about done with the Harley, Isaac. How’s it goin’ on your end, mate?” asked Monterey Jack.

Not too far from Gadget, Isaac was fumbling under the van, disconnecting its fuel tank. The morning light peeked through the cracks of the garage door, throwing Isaac’s face into relief as he cracked the last bolt, his teeth gritted. “Should have it off any second now, Monty.”

“Oh Isaac, I just remembered something,” Gadget cut in. “How full is that tank?”

“Pretty full. Topped it off shortly before I went to grab you. Why?” Isaac got his answer when the tank popped free, slamming down onto his midsection, coaxing a loud “OOOF!” from him.

“That’s why, mate,” said Monterey dryly as Gadget rushed over, reaching under to lift up the tank.

“Ack, proved my smarts there, huh?” grunted Isaac as he slid himself out, embarrassed.

“Oh, it’s no big deal, Isaac,” said Gadget. She went about draining the fuel into a trash can lined with an empty bag. “It’s happens to all of us. I mean, on our first case together, I forgot to open the skylight before our plane took off.” Dale shuddered at the memory.

“Your first case ever? Didn’t you say that was about Aldrin Klordane?” asked Isaac hesitantly.

“Yeah, it sure was. Why do you sound so…” Gadget began. “Golly, I see. Yeah, that was the first time we ever encountered your uncle. And it was the only other time Fat Cat was with him.”

“Weird, isn’t it? Uncle Norton first joined Klordane because of my mother, then ran into this Fat Cat guy, then crossed paths with all of you years later. Now I’m here, and it’s like…everything’s coming full-circle,” said Isaac gloomily.

 “Golly Isaac, never thought of it that way. Hopefully, when all this is over, there’ll be some…some closure,” said Gadget brightly.

“Yeah. Hopefully,” said Isaac, unconvinced. He took the drained tank from Gadget and proceeded to unscrew the pump’s harness. “I…printed out the directions. I got it from here, Gadget.”

“You sure, Isaac? I know machines aren’t your thing.”

“But we got two machines to fix before we ride out to Philadelphia,” Isaac pointed out.

“OK then. Not to worry, we’ll be done soon. After putting in some new spark plugs, this bike’s pretty much done.” Gadget kept trying to sound cheerful, but Dale could tell Isaac melancholy mood was weighing on her.

Annoyed, Dale scurried across the garage to where Isaac sat, fumbling with the new fuel pump. “Yo Eeyore, what’s the deal? Mind not tryin’ to drag down team morale before we’re off inta the battlezone?”

Isaac glanced down at Dale; Dale got the feeling he wasn’t all that focused, either on him or the fuel pump. “What? Oh, sorry Dale. It’s just that…ever get the feeling that you won’t be able to make a difference, no matter what you do?”

“Not really. The Rescue Rangers always win in the end,” said Dale, hoping his confidence would rub off on Isaac.

“Fine, there’s that. But ever feel like, well, you should be pulling your weight? Feel like there’s more you could do?”

Dale thought for a moment. Isaac had a point. Chip had the leadership and detective skills, Gadget was smarter than all the other Rangers combined, Monty had the most fighting experience, Zipper was the fastest, and Foxglove knew the most about magic. Dale sighed. “Well, now that you mention it…”

Dale was spared when the door slammed open, and Rebecca staggered in. She was dressed, but in street clothes instead of her uniform, and was clearly fighting off the effects of a hangover, despite tremendous effort to hide it. Her gaze slowly swept across the garage, stopping at Gadget, who was still working on her Harley. Dale wondered how Gadget couldn’t feel those eyes boring into her. Eventually, Gadget saw she was there, and cheerfully said, “Oh hi there, Rebecca. Good to see you’re up and about.”

Rebecca was silent for a moment, still glaring at her. “Just what are you doing?” she said very slowly.

“Oh, just tuning up your motorcycle. Isaac said it always ran rough. So a new fuel filter, some fresh spark plugs. Golly, it was my pleasure, really. It’s almost like rediscovering…”

Rebecca knelt down and put her hands on Gadget’s face. “Listen to me very carefully,” said Rebecca, slowly turning Gadget’s head toward the bike. “Do not touch the bike. Touching bike is bad. Best way to avoid making me angry? Don’t mess with the bike.”

Dale felt a rush of indignation, seeing Gadget talked down to like that. One glance at Monterey Jack told Dale he felt the same way. He thought he felt some bad vibes from Gadget as well, but she simply dropped her tools and held up her hands, as if surrendering. “Golly, if it’s that big a deal, then I’ll leave it alone. I was pretty much done anyway. I’ll just help Isaac with the fuel pump.”

“Which is all hooked up, and the tank’s ready to be reconnected and everything,” Isaac cut in. Rebecca watched Gadget as she slid under the van to help Isaac. It wasn’t annoyance, distrust, or simple human arrogance that Dale saw in Rebecca’s eyes, but something else. “So Aunt Becky, once everything’s fixed, how soon should we roll out for Philly?”

“By noon at the very latest, so we’d better hurry. Got lots of other stuff to do,” said Rebecca. “And then there’s that small matter we discussed about your, well, your new mouse-pal.”

“Pardon me, lass, but what’s your beef with Gadget-luv now?!” Monterey yelled from the toolbox.

“Just the fact that she likes making a ruckus, leaving a trail of destruction once a day since this started, making the seven o’ clock news, that sort of thing,” Rebecca snapped back. “Our best advantage going into Philadelphia is that Norton has no idea we’re coming, and we can’t have Wonder Mouse giving us away. So in addition to her NOT cutting a swath through Philly in a rage, we need a way to pass her off as human, or she’s not much good to us.”

Monterey Jack looked ready to jump up onto Rebecca and clobber her, but Dale held him back. “OK, Becky, we see your point. But…how can we be sure no one’ll give Gadget a second look on the street?”

“Yeah, sounds t’ me like you already got a plan,” said Monterey stiffly.

“Actually, Isaac and I came up with something, after going through that family book of hocus-pocus again,” said Rebecca. Isaac and Gadget slid out from under the van, the latter wearing a quizzical expression. She turned to Isaac, clearly wanting an explanation.

“Well, we decided that we needed to, uhhh, figure out how to use as much magic as possible, since, y’know, Norton’s gotten so good he has two conduits now,” said Isaac. “So I flipped through the book again with Foxglove, and we think we found a spell that could be useful.” Rebecca tossed Isaac the spellbook, and he flipped through the pages until he found what he needed. Dale noticed Gadget’s anxious look. Isaac must have noticed it as well. “Look Gadget, I still feel rotten about the first time I tried magic on you, but I swear, nothing about this one does anything…drastic. Or permanent.”

“So you say, mate,” grumbled Monterey. Dale shared Monterey’s doubts.

“Look, Monty, I understand if the rest of you still don’t trust me completely, but Aunt Becky has a point.” He turned to Gadget, who simply stood there, confused. But after a moment, she simply nodded. Dale watched as Isaac recited chants from the spellbook as he held an outstretched hand near Gadget’s face. For a while, nothing happened. Then, sparks flew from Isaac’s fingertips, and an instant later the entire garage was flooded with light. It faded just as quickly, but when it did, it was impossible to ignore what changed.

Gadget’s face…it was now a human face! The person that stood over Dale and Monterey Jack now…she still had her long, strawberry-blonde hair, an undeniable air of grace and cheerfulness. But her feet were now human feet, her big ears and tail were gone, along with all those weird markings. Dale couldn’t believe his eyes, Isaac’s spell perfectly disguised Gadget, and then some!

Gadget, however, seemed oblivious to the change. She looked down to the toolbox, confused by Monterey and Dale’s flummoxed looks. “What’s wrong, guys? What just happened?”

“Errr, ehhh, nothin’ Gadget-luv. Looks like, ehhh, Becky’s idea’ll work just fine,” Monterey said nervously.

Gadget’s eyes shifted over to Dale, and he blurted out the last thing he said have said. “There’s nothing wrong with your face,” he squeaked. Her face immediately fell, and she rushed across the garage, to where a mirror hung over the tool chest. Dale was surprised it didn’t shatter from her ear-splitting scream.

“Hey, at least it worked,” said Rebecca nonchalantly.

Gadget just stared at her reflection, trying to accept what she was seeing. A cute, human button nose, high cheekbones not covered by fur, human lips, human eyes… She slowly turned to Rebecca and Isaac, eyes fixated on the latter. “Wha…what’ve you DONE to me THIS TIME?!” she demanded.

Isaac had withered under Gadget’s furious gaze, but soon found his voice. “Like I said before, nothing permanent,” he said as calmly as he could.

“Technically, he didn’t do anything to YOU at all. The new look…it’s merely an illusion,” explained Rebecca. “I guess it’s like…I dunno, a holographic image superimposed onto your body.”

Gadget looked back into the mirror, her ‘new’ face still one of puzzlement. To make sure for himself, Dale clambered up the tool chest and gingerly touched Gadget’s huge hand. “They’re telling the truth, Gadget. It’s just an illusion. I can still feel fur.” She looked down at Dale, eyes still wide with shock, then back at the mirror.

“Golly, guess I definitely pass for human now,” muttered Gadget as she ran her fingers down her face, relieved to feel her own fur. “Awfully convenient bit of magic to have, that’s for sure.”

“Not that convenient for me, since to keep it up, I have to maintain total concentration. And you have to stay within at least a hundred feet of me, otherwise the illusion falls apart,” said Isaac.

“So in the meantime, while I finish up the van and the Harley, Isaac’ll walk with you to the department store to finish the job. Pick out some clothes that’ll fit. You’re a bit too big for most of my stuff, and no way in hell you’re shedding in my Flyers hoodie any more,” said Rebecca.

Gadget’s eyes narrowed at Rebecca, but she didn’t fire back. Isaac sighed as he walked over, putting a hand on Gadget’s shoulder. “Give her time, give her time. And let her finish up here. This sort of work helps keep her mind from wandering.” As Isaac led Gadget out of the garage, Dale suddenly felt a twinge of envy. Gadget was ready to drown him in oatmeal when she thought he was behind those freaky markings, but Isaac casts spells to make her a giantess and then human, and all is forgiven? And only Mole would be blind enough to not see Isaac and Gadget were getting close. A little too close in Dale’s opinion.


Gadget wondered if this illusion spell would show she was blushing. She wasn’t sure why she felt so embarrassed. After all, here was a chance to see and interact with humans up close, with no Fat Cat, Nimnul or Desiree D’Allure to muck things up. All Gadget was sure of is that she was glad Isaac had to be close. For some reason, being among so many humans, with them thinking she was one of them, was…unnerving. Isaac seemed nervous, too. Every time she came out of the dressing room, Isaac was blushing plenty on his own for some reason.

But Gadget had finally settled on which clothes to buy. Sighing, she looked down at herself. A simple pair of jeans and sneakers, and a green Eagles t-shirt over a white, long-sleeved shirt. An outfit that would let her blend in in Philadelphia easily, Gadget reasoned. Rebecca was right. The element of surprise was something they couldn’t afford to give up so quickly. No telling what awaited them in Philadelphia.

And so, Gadget walked back to Isaac’s house, Isaac walking beside her. He held the bag with the rest of her clothes, a nervous and embarrassed look on his face. Or maybe it was stress from concentrating on the spell? Gadget gave it little thought, distracted by how uncomfortable it was to have to stow away her tail and wear shoes again. They walked in silence for about half the away, until Isaac spoke up. “Hey Gadget, how much d’you think the Rangers’ll need me once we’re in Philly?”

Gadget looked back over to him, now even more confused. “Uhhh, why do you ask?”

“I dunno. I guess it’s just, well…you Rescue Rangers seem to do fine on your own, normally,” said Isaac.

“These aren’t normal circumstances, Isaac. We’ve never had so many of our old enemies band together like this,” Gadget pointed out.

“But the way you are now, once Chip and the rest sniff ‘em out, you’re liable to tear them all apart,” said Isaac. “I mean, you’re like a loaded bazooka. Once you’re aimed in the right direction…” Isaac pointed his finger and made a soft “POW” sound.

Gadget was taken slightly aback by that. She didn’t need to be reminded of Chip’s tongue-lashings, saying she was losing control. It took a moment for Gadget to remember whatever was on Isaac’s mind…that was the real issue here. “Isaac, of course we’ll still need you. I mean, just now, there would’ve been no way to go among all those humans unnoticed if you weren’t around. And I wouldn’t even be a, errr, a ‘loaded bazooka’, if it weren’t for that big heart of yours, wanting to help the Rescue Rangers.”

“So that’s all I’m good for? Just lending support, behind the lines, doing none of the heavy lifting myself? I can’t do more?” Isaac asked no one in particular.

Gadget stared back at him, not sure how to answer. Something was really bothering Isaac today, and Gadget wanted to know what. As she racked her brain, trying to find the right words, raucous laughter from up ahead distracted her. When she looked forward again, Gadget saw four boys around Isaac’s age swagger toward them, all with insufferably arrogant faces. It took a while before Gadget recognized them. These were the same boys who taunted Isaac when they first met, and probably bullied him in school.

“Well well well, fancy runnin’ into you here, Izzy. Suddenly grew a set, skipping school like us mere braindead mortals…and twice in one week, huh?” taunted a tall, broad-shouldered boy with blond hair, possibly the alpha-jock of the bunch.

Isaac wasn’t intimidated, or at least he didn’t look it. He just stared back at the bullies, his face unreadable. “Just get out of my way. I am not in the mood.”

The jock just looked up to Gadget, his insufferable grin growing even wider. “Oh, and I can see why. Lost his pair just as they dropped, dragged by some chick to go shopping,” he jeered.

“By some hefty Amazon bitch, to boot,” said another jock. Out the corner of her eye, Gadget saw Isaac’s jaw tighten.

“Speak for yourself, man. That’s one big broad I’d do in a second!” cried a third jock. “Damn, what the hell is a stringbean like Izzy doin’ with one fine piece o’ ass like that?”

“Good point good point,” said the lead jock, sauntering up to Gadget. “Baby, why don’t you let us show you what REAL men are all about, ditch this egghead loser?” He reached out and grabbed Gadget’s arm. “We can easily look past the whole Eagles fan thing, if…”

“Errr, well, uhh…” spluttered Gadget, wrenching her arm free. It was hard enough going into that store among humans. This was even more awkward. Gadget had no clue how to deal with humans like this. All she knew was that they were infuriating Isaac much more.

“Awww, c’mon baby, don’t be shy,” said the jock, reaching out again. But this time, Isaac stepped up and slapped his hand away.

“Back. Off.” It was more than just a simple demand, Gadget saw it in Isaac’s eyes.

The jock grabbed Isaac’s right arm instead. “Or what, Izzy? Enough of your wussy-ass bluffin’. Show us, what’s gonna happen?”

Isaac sighed. “Well, you did ask nicely.” Isaac’s right hand clasped the arm holding onto him, and as he pulled the bully down, he drove his left elbow up into the jock’s nose. He staggered back, blood gushing from his bloody nose, and Isaac kicked him in the groin for good measure. “What, you really think someone like Rebecca Nimnul only taught me about guns?” he sneered as the jock collapsed onto the sidewalk.

The other three jocks gaped as Isaac; they clearly never expected this. But they swiftly got over their shock. One of them took a swing at Isaac, but he simply ducked and drove an uppercut into his jaw. He stumbled back, and Isaac just stood there, as if just waiting to avoid another attack. That gave the last two boys a chance to come at him from the side, holding him fast. The jock he just struck shook his head as Isaac struggled, moving in to pummel him.

Gadget had seen enough. In a flash, she grabbed his wrist. He just gaped back at Gadget, caught helplessly in her steel grip. “Coward,” she spat. Then she flicked her wrist, sending him flying a good distance, and he crashed into the windshield of a car parked along the street. The last two boys were still hanging onto Isaac. They soon had the sense to let go and run, but it was too late. As they fled, Gadget grabbed them by their shirt collars, and effortlessly tossed them into the branches of a nearby tree. “Isaac, you OK?” she asked kindly, turning back to him.

Isaac just gazed back at Gadget, as if dumbstruck. A terrified squeal made Gadget and Isaac look back at the bully he decked. He was crawling backward across the street, but eventually scrambled to his feet and bolted. “Wise strategy,” sneered Gadget.

“Uhhh, Gadget, it wasn’t just your strength that spooked him,” Isaac said delicately, pointing down at her hands. Gadget held her hands up to her face, and saw her claws, fur and magical markings. The illusory spell had already failed. “Great, so much for maintaining my concentration. We’d better get back home and FAST.” He grabbed the bag of clothes and bolted for his house, and Gadget said nothing as she took off after him.


Chip stood on Rebecca’s shoulder as she strapped the Ranger Wing down in the back of her van, along with just about every other big invention Gadget ever made. “There, that’s the last of your lady mouse’s funky doohickeys,” said Rebecca brusquely, eyeing her work.

Chip glanced over the inside of the van as well. She had also stowed her entire personal arsenal of weapons in there, along with her motorcycle, and several days’ worth of food and water. Rebecca Nimnul certainly knew how to prepare. But it was the painstaking care in how she secured Gadget’s arsenal that intrigued Chip the most. She clearly had lingering distrust and disdain for the Rescue Rangers, yet she still regarded their gear with great care. No potentially useful weapon or tool would be neglected. She was a brilliant soldier in every way. It made Chip realize that, as abrasive and arrogant as Rebecca was, she was worth having around. Or at least he hoped so. “OK then, let’s get back to the tree. We have good-byes to say.”

“No you don’t. Good-byes imply you might not be coming back. If these other furballs are your friends, you damn well let them know you’re coming back,” Rebecca shot back. Chip was taken aback, but said nothing.

Once Rebecca was close enough to their tree, Chip jumped onto the tree and climbed up to their headquarters’s entrance. Tammy and Sparky were there, staring down nervously at Isaac and Gadget, the latter disguised once more as a human.

“So, is that really Gadget?” asked Tammy, her voice full of suspicion.

“Believe it or not, yes,” said Chip.

“And that human boy…he’s the one responsible for all this voodoo?” Tammy went on.

Chip sighed. “Yes, but seeing as how Professor Nimnul’s using this same ‘voodoo’, we need him.”

“Brrrrr, I’m not surprised. Seeing how the professor subverted every known natural science for his own twisted ends, it’s no shock that he’s manipulated whatever’s beyond our natural world,” spat Sparky. He glared down at Isaac and Gadget, who were busy talking. “And if his nephew turns out the same way, hurts Gadget…” He snapped his fingers, making an arc of electricity to emphasize his point.

Chip looked down as well. “Relax, Sparky. I truly believe Isaac means Gadget no harm. Everything he’s done so far, in fact, has been so GADGET dishes out the hurt.”

“Yeah, we saw the news,” said Tammy.

“We sure did. Anyone who stumbles on power like that, seeking only to help others and especially Gadget, is a winner in my lab journal!” cried Sparky.

“Uhhh, a moment ago, you were threatening to fry Isaac,” Chip pointed out.

“Uhhh, I was?” asked Sparky dubiously. Chip just facepalmed. Some things never changed. At least he had fully recovered from Rat Capone’s foibles, and already finished fixing the Ranger Wing.

Plangent buzzing from overhead caught Chip’s attention. Looking up, Chip saw swarms of bees circling the top of the tree. A clear sign that another old friend took it upon herself to lend a hand. And sure enough, Chip saw Zipper flying down through the branches, Queenie graciously following in tow. “Really Zipper, must you go? How long will you be gone?” Queenie implored as they landed on a nearby branch.

Zipper merely shrugged his shoulders, clearly at a loss for how to explain. Chip came to the rescue. “We have no idea how long we’ll be needed in Philadelphia, Queenie. All we know for sure is that too many of our old enemies are over there, and can’t be left unchecked.”

“Well, in that case, I insist on coming along, and bringing my entire swarm!” demanded Queenie. “Zipper told me all about this Norton Nimnul, how he almost ruined his life more than once…I won’t stay behind and risk worse happening in Philadelphia!”

Chip looked back up at the swarm. Bees that were individually small, but presented a huge target as a swarm. Hundreds of lives easily snuffed out by any of Nimnul’s more sinister creations. Shaking his head, Chip said, “Not a good idea, Queenie. Besides, I’m sure Zipper already explained why it’s better they stay here. With the Rescue Rangers out of town, and Rat Capone still around, we need someone to…hold the fort. Step in for us. Your swarm could do that, but they’ll need their queen.”

Zipper whispered something in Queenie’s ear, and her expressions softened. Queenie bowed her head, graciously conceding to Chip. “Oh very well. Rest assured, my swarm will do just as you ask.”

“Plus, Tammy and I will be here too,” added Sparky.

“Oh Chip, does this mean what I think it does? Does this mean we’re Rescue Rangers too?” asked Tammy breathlessly.

“Errr, well, on a temporary basis, I guess,” said Chip hesitantly.

“Oh, thank you Chip!” cried Tammy, rushing over to tackle Chip with a bear hug.

As Chip struggled to free himself, he noticed how Queenie was looking down. After wrenching free of Tammy and looking over the branch, Chip saw she was glaring down at Rebecca. “I’m already reconsidering,” said Queenie dangerously. “You expected me to entrust Zipper’s well-being to some uncouth, violent human?”

“An uncouth, violent woman who’s a sister of Norton Nimnul, no less?” added Sparky.

“Ummm, you do realize this ‘uncouth, violent human’ can understand every word you’re saying, right?” Rebecca called up to them, a sly look on her face. Queenie and Sparky’s eyes widened as they stared awkwardly at each other. “At any rate, if everything’s in order, we really need to be off.”

And so, after exchanging final farewells, Isaac, Rebecca and Gadget walked away from the tree, the rest of the Rangers perched on Gadget’s shoulders. Chip looked back, seeing Tammy, Sparky and Queenie waving, and Chip awkwardly waved back. There was no telling what would happen in this city while they were in Philadelphia. Were those three truly ready to step in as Rescue Rangers?

“They’ll do just fine, Chip,” said Gadget, as if she just read Gadget’s mind. As she opened the van’s side door and jumped in, Isaac’s illusion faded away; it wouldn’t be needed during the ride. “Plus, Sparky’s more than happy to continue work on the Ranger Angel. Maybe that’s just what was needed, a fresh perspective…”

“What, you didn’t slap together enough vehicles for your little friends already? Took me long enough to strap down and secure the stuff you already made,” snapped Rebecca as she got behind the wheel. “OK, I’ve pulled a few strings, and got myself a long leave of absence, no questions asked. Plus, got Isaac’s teachers to fork over a week’s worth of assignments in advance. No excuse for him to fall behind.”

“She’s banking on my being an army surgeon or battle medic one day,” said Isaac, peering over his seat.

Rebecca shoved his head back onto his seat. “And now that you critters have your affairs in order, I guess we’re off.”

With that, Rebecca started the van and pulled out onto the street. The ride out of the city was mostly uneventful, and fairly quiet on top of that. To say that it was an awkward silence was an understatement. Gadget seemed as cheery as ever, though, fixated on the view out the window as Rebecca drove onward. Chip, Dale and Foxglove had their faces pressed up against the window, as well. Eventually, Rebecca broke the silence as she glanced back at them. “What, don’t tell me you buggers never took a ride in an automobile before.”

“Sure. Plenty of times. Just not with the humans onboard willingly giving us a lift, or knowing we’re even there,” said Gadget.

Rebecca chuckled. “I guess the Rescue Rangers do get around, especially you,” she said ruefully. Chip bristled at the inclination. “At any rate, if I’m going to share everything I know about my brother, it’s only fair I get some new intel in return. Tell me everything. Every whackbag, psycho scheme of my brother’s that you furballs pulled the plug on. I need to know exactly what I’m getting myself into.”

“What’s wrong, lass? Gettin’ cold feet on us?” quipped Monterey Jack.

“Hardly. I just want to be prepared. And I swear, one ‘Knowing Is Half The Battle’ crack, and fur is guaranteed to fly,” Rebecca shot back. “Now then, let’s start from the beginning, back when you boys busted Aldrin Klordane…”

Chip took a deep breath as he jumped down from the window and onto Gadget’s lap. He launched into the tale of how all the Rescue Rangers first met, crossed paths with Fat Cat and Norton Nimnul for the first time, and wound up taking down Aldrin Klordane. The whole time, Rebecca said nothing, merely listening as she drove. Chip wished he could she her face, but figured it would be unreadable as always.

As she drove on, Chip discussed all their other cases involving Norton Nimnul. When he got to how they first met Sparky, however, Chip decided to veer off on tangents, explaining how they met all the other ‘new’ Rangers. Tammy getting mixed up with Fat Cat, Dr. Irweena Allen brainwashing Queenie’s hive, and Chip saw Rebecca grip the steering wheel tighten as he told her about her sister Winifred and Foxglove.

Eventually, Chip went over every case involving Professor Nimnul. Rebecca was still deathly silent, no doubt slowly digesting all this new information. As he looked up at her, Chip could only imagine what kind of tactics and scenarios were playing out in Rebecca’s head.

“So let me get this straight. Shortly before getting thrown in the loony bin, my uncle had this ingenious plan to reenact the Titanic disaster with tapdancing penguins?” Isaac asked in disbelief.

“Errr, pretty much, yeah,” said Dale.

“And then, what finally gets him put away is this gizmo that swaps his head with Zipper’s?” Isaac went on. “Wow. There…there’s a Franz Kafka joke in there somewhere, but we’ll get to that some other time.”

Zipper buzzed angrily, but the comment went right over Dale’s head. “Errr, Cough…Who?”

“Another bit of advice, Isaac. Don’t use literary references around Dale. He only gets them if movies are made out of them,” said Chip.

“Still waiting for movie prequels about the Butlerian Jihad, right here,” Dale said in agreement.

“In any case, this shows how much Norton’s changed. He was a lot more impulsive in his younger days, rushed into things…and Florence paid for it,” said Rebecca stiffly. “He’s a lot more pragmatic now, even paranoid, waiting until he gets all his pieces into place. This cat-powered lightning generator, faking an alien landing, flying carpets… Also looks like he prefers multiple test runs of smaller inventions before he moves on to more brazen stuff. Sure seems to be this case with these bonded animal familiars as well.”

“I got a bad feeling WE’RE being goaded into rushing into things. If only we knew WHAT he’s planning this time. So many of the puzzle pieces just don’t fit,” said Chip.

“I’d settle for just knowing WHERE we can find the blighter in Philly,” said Monterey.

“Unfortunately, that CPU was so badly damaged, it won’t be any use locating his other robots,” Gadget cut in. “Plus, I’d thought we’d find some sort of clue in his lab coat. A matchbook, a receipt, something. But no luck.”

“Well, being the master detectives you are, hopefully it won’t be too hard once we start hitting the pavement in Philly,” said Rebecca. “That is, assuming we can keep a low profile…”

“Golly, I was wondering when you’d…bring that up,” said Gadget sheepishly.

“You didn’t get your furry face plastered on the news this time, so I kinda let it slide,” said Rebecca. She chuckled again. “In fact, I almost want to give you a medal. Thanks to you, Isaac finally had the motivation to stand up to those thugs.”

“And would’ve gotten flattened if Gadget hadn’t stepped in,” Isaac pointed out, sounding ashamed of himself.

“But that one dipstick always out for you, you dropped him all on your own. He’s had it coming for years. And that would’ve been the end of it if that coward didn’t need backup when harassing one supposedly helpless nerd,” Rebecca countered. Chip frowned. It was amazing Isaac turned out to be such a decent kid if he got advice like hers growing up. “Ooooh, look at that. About to pass a prison bus. How many scumbags on there d’you think you furballs put away?”

Chip scampered up to Gadget’s shoulder for a better look. They had been on the interstate for a while, and indeed, they were passing a prison bus. The windows were tinted, however, and it was impossible to get a good look at the inmates. “Plenty, I’d imagine. Just glad they’re in here and not back home or in Philly causing trouble. We’ve got enough of that as it is.”


Winifred Nimnul was seated near the front of the bus, and for some reason, felt compelled to look out the window. As she watched the green van pull away, she sensed something odd. Ever since her potion was ruined by those meddlesome vermin and that turncoat Foxglove, her powers had been submerged. But on some level, she could still sense other sources of magic, and that van had plenty of it. Oh, what I’d give for just my old powers back. Just enough to break out of here, get away from this sorry lot. Well, except for…

Sighing, Winifred looked to the inmate beside her, her cellmate Irweena Allen. She was tough on her, like all the other convicts, but had actually grown fond of the lanky researcher. Her instincts told her Irweena was worth having as an ally in prison, with her smarts and her willingness to use them to get what she wanted. Besides, Winifred empathized with her. Plotting to use her gifts to get a little leverage and achieve glory…Winifred understood that need all too well. Plus, if anyone in that women’s prison could understand the humiliation of being bested by those lousy, do-gooding Rescue Rangers, it was Dr. Irweena Allen.

For some reason, both her and Irweena were shoved on a bus this morning, to be transferred to some other facility close to D.C.. The mystery had vexed Winifred all morning. Why were both her and Irweena being transferred without notice, especially with Irweena’s parole hearing only a few months away?

Winifred simply couldn’t stop dwelling on the matter. Something was going on. Those blasted chipmunks had pumped her for information yesterday. About her no-good brother Norton, who was out messing with the family’s secrets of magic instead of her!

Then, it hit Winifred. “Norton, the science whiz. Could’ve messed with computer records. Could it be…”

There was a commotion up front. The bus driver was ranting about something, some big guy in a trench coat and black beret, walking toward the right side of the road. Winifred craned her neck for a better look, but was too short. Then, one of the guards on the bus shouted that he’d jumped in front of the bus.

A second later, the whole bus came to a crashing halt. Winifred and Irweena were thrown forward, their heads smacking into the seat in front of them. It wasn’t hard enough to knock them out, but it did daze them. Once her head was clear, Winifred saw the guards who weren’t knocked out in the crash standing by their seat, shotguns at the ready. Then came a crash from the bus door. This time, Winifred had no trouble seeing who it was, and gasped.

Now there was another gigantic female mouse, at least six and a half feet tall, the figure in the beret and trench coat from before. She stepped into the bus’s main aisle, leering dangerously at the guards, her hands idly sliding into her pockets. The guards stood, frozen in place, completely dumbstruck. Their shotguns were still aimed at the mouse, however, and Winifred expected them to blow her away out of sheer cowardice any second. But they never got the chance. Something crashed through the top hatch and slithered down into the bus. As the guards whirled around, a massive grey crocodile in a black cape knocked their shotguns away with its tail. As they stared stupidly at the crocodile, the giant mouse moved in from behind, konking their heads together.

Winifred shuddered a little as this freakish mouse stood over her, and her crocodile friend sauntered over to join her. The two animals looked to each other, smiled and nodded, and then the mouse grabbed the chains imprisoning Winifred. She easily snapped them apart, and then did the same with her handcuffs.

The mouse hoisted Winifred to her feet, her cold eyes boring into her. Winifred pushed her fears aside, and said, “You’re with Norton, aren’t you? Little spud got in over his head, delving into our family secrets, huh?”

The mouse simply nodded, and started shoving Winifred toward the front of the bus. Looking over her shoulder, she saw the crocodile lunge into the seat at Irweena. Irweena screamed, but judging from the jingling, clanking sounds that followed, it merely chomped on her chains. The mouse kept nudging Winifred out, ignoring the pleas of the other convicts. She pushed Winifred out of the bus, and the crocodile soon followed, forced to carry Irweena out, slung over its shoulder. “Put me down, you overgrown handbag!” demanded Irweena, feebly pounding her fists on its scaly hide. “I’ve only got five months to go till parole! I am NOT living the rest of my life like a fugitive! PUT! ME! DOWN!”

Naturally, the crocodile simply ignored Irweena, and Winifred was forced to lead on as they ran away from the road, feeling that giant mouse’s freaky eyes drilling into her back. Winifred wondered where she was being herded. Then, after the road vanished from view, Winifred heard a helicopter overhead, and it was getting closer. Looking up, she saw it descending, ready to touch down, its right side facing them. The mouse ran past her, first opening the cabin door, then the cockpit door in such a way as to beckon Winifred inside. As the giant mouse went to the cabin to help the crocodile get Irweena inside, Winifred just sighed and jumped in, knowing who she would find.

Indeed, there was Norton in the pilot’s seat, a smug look on his face. “Hello, Winifred. Look at the ride I arranged. Another little something left over from my old partnership with Aldrin Klordane.”

Suddenly, another voice spoke up. “Ahhh, family reunions, always so touching.” As Winifred clambered into the helicopter, Winifred saw the source. A bloated tabby cat in some snazzy suit, leering up at her with a grin.

“Alright alright, so you sprang me. Don’t expect me to be grateful,” snapped Winifred as the helicopter lifted off. “I can guess why you’re here: you NEED me.”

Norton sighed. “For a college dropout, you can be pretty bright sometimes,” Norton fired back. “Indeed, I could use your…expertise as our plan enters its final phase.”

“Ha! And what’s in it for me?!” demanded Winifred.

“How about the recovery of your powers?” teased the cat. “By sundown, the good professor can make you just as you were before those meddlesome Rangers got to you, and then some.”

Winifred glared at the cat, then at Norton. “Not sold yet, Norton. Last time you tried to help out one of your sisters, things didn’t turn out so well.”

“Also made a point of springing your cellmate,” said Norton nonchalantly, as if he hadn’t quite heard her. “I suppose having another scientist around, who at least deserves to stand in the shadow of my towering intellect, could be useful. Especially one who’d also be itching for another shot at those blasted rodents!”

Winifred’s eyes narrowed. “The Rescue Rangers are still on your tail, huh?”

“And no doubt they’ll eventually learn we’ve set up shop in Philadelphia. If we don’t prepare for their inevitable interference, they’ll ruin everything,” the cat snarled.

Winifred looked ahead as Norton piloted the helicopter back to Philadelphia. “Fine, Norton. I’m listening.”

Chapter 11: Winds of Change

Zipper flew about anxiously as the streetlamps clicked on, as if expecting trouble at any moment, from any direction, now that it was dusk. It wasn’t as if Rebecca Nimnul was making any effort to conceal herself at the moment; her Flyers hoodie only did so much. She stood there with Isaac and Gadget, though thankfully the latter was once again magically disguised. Rebecca looked down all the streets, eyes taking in all the hustle and bustle, filled with an odd mix of sorrow and serenity. Zipper never expected to see the latter from this human, not after what Isaac told them about the Nimnul family. “Florence…she loved it when I took her to these parts. All the liveliness, all the people…she just loved everyone,” she said somberly. “It’s different now. Now with all the crime in this area, crime that that Aldrin Klordane introduced, and Norton helped with…”

“At least we can try to set one thing right, Aunt Becky,” said Isaac, hoping to snap his aunt out of it.

Rebecca took a deep breath. “You’re right. Now’s the time for action.” She turned to Gadget. Zipper flew down closer, noticing how Chip and Dale were clinging to Gadget’s neck, obscured by her hair. “OK, Norton has no idea we’re here. But the more we snoop around, the more likely we’ll be found out. So we’ll start here. This part of the city that’s become its smelliest armpit. From what I’ve read, a lot of Klordane’s slimy tentacles ran through here, and Norton might be using some of those old contacts.”

“Movin’ that steel from Pittsburgh, fences ta sell some o’ his ill-gotten gains, that sort o’ thing,” came Monterey Jack’s voice, though Zipper couldn’t see where he was. “Yeah, if what ya say is true, lass, this is the place to start.”

“Not to mention, there’s animal criminal connections he can exploit now, thanks to Fat Cat,” added Gadget.

“So it’s settled. We’ll split up into two groups. You and Isaac will take that end, do a little snooping, and have those chipmunks do some digging under the radar. I’ll take the other end and bring the rest. There might be some old friends still in town who owe me some favors,” said Rebecca. Zipper hoped Gadget would argue; the way this human was bossing all of them around was getting on his nerves. But Gadget simply nodded and turned to leave. Sighing, Zipper flew down and landed on Rebecca’s shoulder. Looking up, Zipper saw the fire and fury in her eyes. Zipper grimaced. He knew Norton Nimnul would bear the brunt of that fury, and felt no pity for him, but the way that fire spilled out against the Rescue Rangers was irksome.

As Zipper settled onto the soft, thick fabric, Rebecca’s shoulder suddenly jerked, almost throwing him off. Looking up again, Zipper saw Rebecca had grabbed Gadget’s shoulder, just as Isaac was walking away. “And you watch my nephew’s back, you hear me? You’re his ‘conduit’ or whatever, so that means he’s your responsibility too.” Gadget just stared back with an even gaze, saying nothing. She simply nodded again, then ran to catch up with Isaac.

Rebecca watched them go, and Zipper could sense her lingering distrust. “I can feel your eyes on me, little fly. Got anything to add?” she said suddenly. Stunned, Zipper couldn’t think of a retort. “Alright then. Your buddy and the bat are here too. We’re all set.” She turned to briskly walk down the other street. As Rebecca walked on, Zipper noticed that it was getting darker, and the streetlamps did little to alleviate the gloominess, the dread of hidden dangers. Rebecca must have felt the same way. “Tension’s getting pretty thick out here, Foxglove. You’re the only other one who’s familiar with this hocus-pocus, so I’ll need you to spread your wings and keep a lookout. If you smell anything not kosher, just holler, and keep it off my back till I get a bead on it.”

Without a hint of protest, Foxglove flew out of Rebecca’s hoodie pocket and hovered above them. Zipper noticed the round bulge in the other pocket, and figured that’s where Monterey Jack was. Plus, I bet she’s hiding at least three guns under that gaudy hoodie, Zipper thought dourly. Ugh, these humans and their guns…

As the minutes rolled by, Zipper lost track of where they were, how far Rebecca had walked. Eventually, the smell of restaurant cooking wafted up to his nose…along with the copious amount of garbage right behind it. Looking up, he saw a big neon sign saying ‘TAD’S PHILLY EMPORIUM’. “So, Tad did inherit the business,” whispered Rebecca in surprise. “He was…always such a stupid risk-taker. Got in deep with Klordane’s crooked dealings. But I heard he cleaned up his act once he got out. Glad I heard right.”

“Well, everyone deserves a second chance,” said Zipper dubiously

“Tad might be legit now, but mark my words, he’ll still keep his ear to the ground. If he knows of anything fishy, he’ll tell me,” Rebecca hissed to him.

It may have been a shady dive and a front for Klordane years before, but now, it did look like a legitimate business. The place had been renovated, and at least fifty trees like the Ranger’s could fit inside here. Plenty of pool tables, air hockey tables and flat-screen TVs playing sports. Long counters serving as bars, the smell of grilled food everywhere. The din was absolutely deafening. Zipper doubted Rebecca would find anything useful, the way the place was jumping.

As if Rebecca read Zipper’s mind, she whispered, “We’re in luck, that’s Tad tending the bar right now.” Zipper looked over to see a human easily pushing fifty, balding and a little stocky, but otherwise full of spirit.

As Tad saw Rebecca approach, more of that spirit bubbled to the surface. “Well, the prodigal mid-child returns!” he beamed at her, spreading his arms wide. “Never thought I’d ever see you in this dive again. Can I getcha somethin’?”

“Nah, still fighting off the last hangover. I could use something else, though: information. Tad, it’s Norton. He’s back in town.”

“Norton has the cahonies to come back here after what went down?” asked Tad. “Dunno who’s the bigger shock, actually, him or you. I remember seeing him in here days after it happened, downin’ one shot after another with Klordane and his goons. Couldn’t look like I was runnin’ to tip off the fuzz, but by the time I snuck away to call you, they were gone.”

“What matters is now, Tad,” said Rebecca stiffly. “He’s back, and he’s got new accomplices. Can’t tell you too much, and you…wouldn’t believe me if I did. But I know you still hear things. If you’ve heard anything out of the ordinary, no matter how outlandish, you’ve got to tell me.”

Tad regarded Rebecca carefully for a moment. “You really gonna gun him down, aren’t ya?” he asked dubiously. “Well, sure as hell don’t wanna interject in a blood feud,” he added dismissively. “As for weird stuff, well, last night I hear some whackbag truck driver claiming he passed a tanker truck driven by some alligator. Seriously, don’t they drug test anyone these days?”

“A local truck driver? If so, I’m in the right place.” When Tad stared at Rebecca blankly, she said, “Like I said, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you. I still don’t believe all of it myself. I just need to know of any other unusual things you’ve heard, weird crimes…anything that might point to Norton.”

“Now that you mention it, I do hear some weird buzz, about someone commissionin’ hoods over a hundred mile radius to rip off every clinic, pharmacy and chemical storehouse in sight. But it ain’t anything to make explosives or counterfeit cash or nothin’. Got no idea what’s it for. Seriously, what use is…”

“Propylene carbonate and potassium bromide?” Rebecca asked delicately. When Tad’s eyes widened, she said, “Never mind what it’s used for. What about under-the-radar shipments coming into Philly, especially from Pittsburgh? I already know Norton needs a lot of stuff brought in from there.”

“Hang on a sec, you wouldn’t be talking about Norton Nimnul, would you hon?” came a deep voice from behind them.

Zipper recognized it instantly. “Oh no no no, not HERE too!” Zipper cried breathlessly. Slowly turning his head, he saw none other than Kirby, now in regular street clothes, and thankfully looking just fine after his brush with death.

“Uh, and if I was, what business is it of yours?” Rebecca spat back.

“Hey now, is that really you?” asked another voice. As Zipper feared, Muldoon was here, too. Even without his hat, red hair partially obscured his eyes. “Well, I’ll be, if it ain’t Bombshell Becky. Meetin’ again in Philly, of all places.” Zipper’s jaw dropped. Rebecca Nimnul knew Muldoon?

Rebecca sighed. “Never thought I’d ever get called that again,” she muttered.

“Really? You never got called that, in all your years in the Army?” Muldoon asked, incredulous.

Kirby cleared his throat. “Hey Muldoon, care to introduce me to your old friend?”

“Old flame is more like it,” said Rebecca. “Our senior year, we…were kind of an item.”

“Heh heh, took me that long to work up the guts to ask her out!” cried Muldoon. “That’s the reason everyone called her ‘Bombshell Becky’. Made all the boys drool, but had such a hot-temper she was liable to flatten any guy who looked at her the wrong way. Even a LINEBACKER on our high-school team dropped like a fly when he made moves on her.” Zipper bristled a little.

“And then, after our senior year, I up and enlisted. I never had the courage to properly say goodbye. That…must sting, after all these years, I’m sorry.” Zipper was surprised by the sudden mood change, the sensitivity in Rebecca’s voice.

“Don’t be, Becky. We always knew that’s where you felt you had to go,” said Muldoon with a wave. “Bygones are bygones, and all that.”

“But, what’re you doing here? I thought I saw you on the news, that you and your partner here almost drowned,” said Rebecca.

“Well, as you can see, we didn’t,” said Kirby glibly. “Kind of a…funny story about that.” Zipper couldn’t help but to snicker a little.

“But after that, the chief decided we should, uhhh, go ahead and start our vacations a little early. And here we was, blowing through Philly real quick before heading to Florida for Halloween,” said Muldoon. “Hang on a sec, Becky. You got a fly on your shoulder.”

Muldoon tried to swat Zipper away, who reflexively flew up. He swore at Muldoon, but a loud “PSST!” from above got his attention. Looking up, he saw Foxglove clinging to an overhead light. Zipper flew up to her, noticing the look of dread on her face. “Zipper, I think we got trouble.”

Zipper feared the worst: Nimnul and Fat Cat already found them out. “What? You smell more black magic?”

Foxglove shook her head. “No, something else. I just noticed that Monty is no longer in Rebecca’s pocket, and…well, what food is this city best known for?”

“Oh that’s easy. The Philly Ch…” Zipper’s eyes widened as the realization hit him like a semi-truck. “Oh shhhhhhhh…” he began as he dove toward the kitchen doors, Foxglove right behind him.

Luckily, two waitresses were coming right out, so Zipper and Foxglove sailed right in. The moment they entered, they were greeted by a cacophony of shouts and shrieks. Judging by how all the thrown knives and pots weren’t aimed at the two of them, they weren’t the cause of the panic.

As mind-bogglingly luck as ever, Monterey Jack skittered along the kitchen counter, staying ahead of all the outraged cooks coming at him, looking daggers while brandishing cleavers. The bulge in his belly was noticeably bigger, melted cheese stuck to his mustache, and he licked his lips with smug satisfaction. Zipper feared it would be impossible for Foxglove to airlift him out. Nevertheless, Foxglove swooped in and plucked Monterey off the counter, just as a cook brought a rolling pin down on that exact spot.

As they flew out of the kitchen, Zipper realized the commotion and confusion had spilled out into the rest of the place. Kirby and Muldoon, in particular, looked quite perplexed. Rebecca, meanwhile, must have suspected Monterey Jack had skipped off and caused the ruckus. She stood by the front door, holding it open and keeping a lookout for them. Once she spotted them, she motioned for them to fly out. “Heh, she was so worried about Gadget blowing everything, we forgot about Monty’s unholy love for anything cheesy,” Zipper muttered to Foxglove.


Chip and Dale scampered back down the alley, two scruffy cats hot on their tails. But as the light from the streetlamps came into view, they knew they were home free, considering what awaited those cats around the corner. “Gadget, kitties at six o’ clock!” cried Dale as they dove around the corner. By the time those cats rounded the corner, Chip and Dale had already climbed up Gadget’s jeans. And by the time those cats were withering from Gadget’s angry gaze, caught like deer in headlights, the chipmunks were standing on her shoulder, relishing the scene. Chip wondered how much more scared they would be if Isaac’s illusion wasn’t in place.

Having had her fun, Gadget waved her arms and screamed, “BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA!” That finally got the cats to flee. As she watched them run, Gadget said, “Golly, having Isaac with the Rescue Rangers sure has its advantages.”

“Errr, does he really count as a Rescue Ranger?” asked Dale. “I mean, he’s still a human, after all.”

“Well, technically, humans ARE animals,” Gadget pointed out. Chip knew she had a point. For all intents and purposes, Isaac was a Rescue Ranger now. But it still rankled. The Rescue Rangers were supposed to be independent of humanity, helping out humans in need while they were none the wiser. That had started to fall apart lately, and then Isaac came along and practically forced a bond upon Gadget. And even though humans back home were suddenly aware of their existence, this predicament with Gadget proved the revelation didn’t exactly bring enlightenment. Both of her public appearances freaked everyone out, and now they had to rely on Isaac’s precarious grasp of magic even more just to disguise her.

“Where is Isaac anyway?” demanded Chip. “If he runs off too far…”

“Isaac’s well aware of the spell’s limits, don’t worry,” said Gadget. “And hide back in my hair, we’ve got more pedestrians coming.” The chipmunks didn’t argue as they got up against her neck, pulling Gadget’s hair over them is if it were a curtain. Chip could feel the silky fur along Gadget’s neck, though enough light peered through her hair to let him see human flesh. It felt horribly weird, but at least Isaac was having no problems with the illusion. People walked down the street, right past Gadget, without giving her a second look.

Then, at last, Isaac stepped back out into the chilly October evening, holding two boxes of Chinese food. “Spent a good long while in there, asking around and hopefully not looking too suspicious. Didn’t really learn a thing, though,” Isaac said sheepishly as he handed Gadget a box. “You have any luck? Where’s Chip and Dale?”

“Right here,” Chip hissed through Gadget’s hair. “We’ve had…an eventful half-hour. Trying to listen in on every underworld figure we know of in Philadelphia. A rather uncooperative gang of shrews, a one-eyed salamander with an incomprehensible Portuguese accent that runs a small casino in the sewers. Those cats that just chased us were his hired heavies. But if Fat Cat’s commissioned any crooked figures here in Philly, it’s been very hush-hush.”

“So…it’s like Aunt Becky figured. They were planning on using Klordane’s old contacts, thinking if you guys got this far, you wouldn’t be able to just walk up to people and ask for information,” said Isaac.

“Well, we can now, but we’ve gotten nowhere so far,” muttered Dale. “So…we might as well just eat!”

Dale’s tendency to slack off would always vex Chip to no end, but right now, Dale was right. There were no leads on their end, so there wasn’t much else to do as they waited for Rebecca. Gadget cracked open her box, and fished out water chestnuts for him and Dale. As Gadget dug in with her chopsticks, Chip noticed Isaac’s quizzical stare. Gadget soon noticed this as well. “Isaac…is there something wrong?”

“I just noticed…my illusion did nothing for your insides. Namely, your teeth. I can still see rodent teeth when you open your mouth wide. So just…be a bit more careful,” said Isaac nervously.

“Golly, good thing you spotted that,” Gadget said sheepishly. As she dug into her dinner again, she noticed Isaac was still staring at her. “Is there…something else?”

“Errr, not really. Well, that’s not true. It’s just, uhhh, kinda weird that, well, you wanted shrimp in your Chinese food,” said Isaac. “I just…that caught me off-guard. Wanting to eat meat. I mean, it took a while to coax Aunt Becky into not eating any meat while we’re in Philly, thinking you’d get upset by that.”

“Dude, we’re in the birthplace of the cheesesteak. We’ll see that sort of thing everywhere,” Dale pointed out.

“Besides, Isaac, you must know rodents are omnivores. Plus, more than one of the Rangers’ cases involved fishing and seafood,” Gadget added.

“Wow, we’ve been together for days, and I still haven’t heard about all these cases. Every time I think I’ve got you all figured out, I learn something new,” said Isaac. Chip couldn’t help but catch the shakiness in his voice. “And I didn’t have any luck finding leads either. I’m really trying here, but…am I really cut out to work with you Rescue Rangers? I mean, I’m a human. Could I ever be considered one?”

Gadget smiled. “Funny, we were talking about that before you showed,” she said sweetly. “And I think the consensus is…technically, humans are animals too.”

Isaac smiled as well, but Chip saw it was a thin and forced one. Now Chip was finally sure what Isaac’s greatest weakness was: his lack of confidence. He felt he had so many expectations to live up to. Be as tough as his hard-nosed aunt. Be as brilliant as Norton Nimnul, and a better man. He constantly doubted himself, and those doubts would eat away at him if he wasn’t careful.

But you have one thing going for you, Isaac. When you stumbled on your family secret, your first thought was to empower someone besides yourself, Chip thought. Isaac and Gadget walked on as they ate, on the lookout for any other place that might yield useful information. All the while, Chip noticed how Isaac occasionally looked up at Gadget, only to abruptly turn away when he thought she’d notice. Judging from Dale’s growling, he also saw what was going on.

Isaac did it again, as Gadget glanced at the buildings across the street, but this time Gadget stopped dead in her tracks. “Guys, across the street, on top of that hardware store,” Gadget whispered, a deathly hard edge to her voice. “I think that’s Mepps, and he’s…just staring at us.”

Chip squinted, but could only make out an indistinct, orange blob on the store’s roof. “Gadget, are you sure?” asked Isaac. “I can’t see clearly that far.”

“I can. At least, now I can. Guess it’s another perk from your bond, something else making me…a perfect huntress,” Gadget finished dryly. Chip looked again, and this time, he thought he saw a pair of eyes staring back, glowing eerily. Not the way a cat’s eyes normally glowed at night, but something unnatural. “Golly, I’m SURE it’s Mepps! But how did he single us out? Chip and Dale are safely hidden, and your illusion has me disguised.”

“He must recognize ME,” said Isaac. “You said Fat Cat’s goons saw me plain as day back at that vet clinic. Either that, or Norton dug up photos of me somewhere. Damnit, how come we never thought of that?!”

“We’ll hafta worry ‘bout that later, Isaac. Looks like Mepps is buggin’ out!” cried Dale, pointing at the roof. Mepps was backing away, still glaring down at them, as if daring them.

“If there’s no reason to worry about subterfuge anymore…” Gadget began as she grabbed Isaac from behind. “Hang on boys, we’re going after him!” Gadget’s warning came just in time. With one leap, she carried the three of them over the street and onto the hardware store’s roof. Mepps was already at the far edge, but spared a moment to glance over his shoulder. Now Chip was sure of it; there was something unearthly in the way Mepps’s eyes glowed.

Gadget glared back at Mepps, but the scrappy cat met her gaze without so much as a flinch. In an eyeblink, Mepps jumped to another roof, and Gadget took off after him without a second thought. As Chip fought to fight off vertigo and simply draw in a breath, something began to dawn on him. Whatever was going on with Mepps, it was clear he was leading them somewhere. “Gadget, wait! Don’t you see? He WANTS us to follow him!”

“Quit worrying, Chip! We can’t let him get back to Fat Cat, and he won’t! I’ll catch up to him soon enough!” For a moment, it looked like Gadget was right, that she was about to catch up to Mepps. But as she closed in, ready to grab at Mepps with her free hand, the cat pulled away. It was as if he took off like a rocket, leaving a dusty gust of wind in his wake.

Taken by surprise, Gadget nearly teetered over the roof’s edge, but luckily regained her balance and kept the four of them from diving into the pavement. Looking over to the other rooftop, they saw Mepps again, that silent, unnerving glare still daring Gadget. Then the cat swiftly dove off the roof, and Gadget continued the chase.

Judging from where Mepps dropped down, and the tracks in the muddy soil, he was leading them into what looked like an abandoned warehouse at the far end of town. Fat Cat’s new headquarters, perhaps? Or where Nimnul was stashing all the stolen loot? Chip doubted they were that lucky.

Gadget set Isaac down as Chip looked the warehouse over. Rusted shells of trucks dotting the landscape, boarded-up windows…it looked like the place hadn’t seen anyone in years, not even squatters. “I don’t like this, Gadget. There’s no way we’re lucky enough to find their base of operations so soon,” Chip warned.

“We still have to find Mepps, and he definitely went in there,” said Gadget, pointing at the trail of muddy pawprints. Now Chip was certain they were being led into a trap. “Isaac, maybe you should wait outside. If…”

“No way, Gadget. Whatever’s going on, I’ll face it with you,” Isaac replied sternly. Gadget nodded after a moment, then started toward an open loading bay of the warehouse.

A few lights flickered on and off overhead, adding to the overall creepy atmosphere. Chip kept his eyes peeled for any sign of Fat Cat’s flunky, but there were stacks of wooden crates everywhere, too many shadows Mepps could hide in. “Gee, no tellin’ where the ol’ orange furball is,” said Dale. “Maybe Gadget oughta knock over some of these crate stacks, try to flush ‘im…”

Dale was cut off by a loud slamming sound from behind. Gadget and Isaac whirled around to see the loading door had dropped. The same sound could be heard elsewhere in the warehouse. “Great, are we trapped?” huffed Chip.

“Golly, of course not, Chip!” cried Gadget. “I can rip through any one of those, easy as…”

Gadget’s voice was drowned out by a primal roar that echoed throughout the whole warehouse. “What the hell is that supposed to be? A lion? A tiger?” demanded Dale as he covered his ears.

“No, it’s higher in pitch,” said Gadget. “Sounds more like a panther, or maybe a leopard, or...”

There was a whooshing sound from behind the crates, as if something was darting toward the way they came in. Then, an orange blur rebounded off the metal barrier, heading right for them. Gadget shoved Isaac out of the way, then instinctively brought up her arms to ward off whatever was coming. Whatever it was, it hit Gadget hard, knocking both Chip and Dale off her shoulders. They bounced and skidded along the warehouse floor until their backs crashed into a crate. When they finally came to their senses, something dropped down a few yards from them.

It was Mepps, gazing down at them with those eerily glowing eyes. Not only that, something…some sort of wispy aura with that same eerie color, was radiating off of Mepps. No trace of the bumbling, timid goon they had thwarted all these years could be seen in the creature glaring at them like a ravenous beast. There was nothing in those eyes but a burning fury,  a primal instinct that would not be denied, just itching to be unleashed.

Chip stood there, frozen in shock, with no avenue of escape, knowing Mepps would spring any second. But before Mepps could pounce on them, there was a gunshot. Mepps swerved just in time to avoid taking Isaac’s bullet right through the heart. With another defiant roar, Mepps retreated, darting back behind some crates as Isaac squeezed off more rounds from his handgun. His shots came within millimeters of hitting, but Mepps still slipped away.

Looking over to Isaac, Chip saw the frustration and fear in his eyes. Then Isaac ran to Gadget to help her up, no doubt knocked silly by Mepps. “Oh geez, I’m sorry Gadget! All that training I did with Aunt Becky, and I couldn’t hit him once!” he spat. As Gadget got back on her feet, she hissed, clenching her teeth. The first thing that caught Chip’s eye was that the illusion had faded yet again, but then he noticed blood dribbling down around Gadget. Gadget saw it too, staring at her blood-stained sleeves. There were lacerations on her forearms, clearly from clawmarks left by this feral creature that was once Mepps. “Oh God…Gadget, your wounds aren’t closing as fast!” cried Isaac.

“Uhhh, Isaac, I think she noticed,” said Dale dryly.

Another echoing roar snapped them all back to attention. “Whatever’s become of Mepps…he’s out for blood now,” said Gadget. “Isaac, take Chip and Dale. Find a safe place to hide, let me draw Mepps out.”

“Gadget, you sure about this?” Isaac asked fearfully. “If he can hit that fast, and you can’t count on healing fast…”

“Hey, I came close to flattening D’Allure before. I’ll find some way to clobber Mepps,” said Gadget with a smile. “Just too bad there’s not much here to build any traps with…”


“Then it’s a good thing I brought this along,” Isaac said with a smirk, reaching into his jacket. He pulled out Gadget’s new crossbow and tossed it to her. Gadget smiled as she strapped it on, but another roar reminded them of the danger. Isaac scooped up Chip and Dale with one hand, still holding his gun in the other, and ran for cover, ignoring Chip’s protests. Chip got one last look at Gadget as she prepped her crossbow, ready for anything.


There was yet another roar, but with the way it echoed, Gadget couldn’t get a fix on where Mepps was. So she listened for him darting around or rebounding off walls. When something finally broke the eerie silence in the warehouse, however, it was something Gadget never expected.

Roaring winds. Like the winds of a tornado.

Gadget whirled around to see a small twister had formed INSIDE the warehouse, picking up and tossing about crates. Several flew right at Gadget, coming within only inches of smashing into her. She ducked and dodged as best she could, but soon the tiny twister was pulling her in. Gadget sank her claws into the floor, but even that couldn’t anchor her. In desperation, she fired her plunger harpoon at the opposite wall, reeling herself out of range. It was working, pulling her free, but then Mepps bounded at her from nowhere, slamming into her midsection.

Gadget and Mepps went down hard. Dizzy from the pain, Gadget pried Mepps off of her, but he had already sunk his claws into her belly. Blood now drenched both her shirts. “Dangit, I liked these clothes!” Gadget spat as she hurled Mepps hard at the wall. “Those clothes were gifts, thanks a lot! Now I’m REALLY getting steamed!” Mepps rebounded off the wall and landed on his feet with predictable grace. Getting frustrated, Gadget lunged at him, but Mepps let out another roar, its sheer force blasting her back.

She skidded along the warehouse floor until she careened into another pile of crates. Gadget’s momentum instantly made the whole pile topple onto her. Grunting, her wounds burning and sore, Gadget forced herself to stand up, tossing crates off of her. Mepps was coming at her again, so Gadget threw a crate at him. He effortlessly sidestepped it and kept drawing closer. It took a few more tries, but Gadget finally connected with a thrown crate, forcing him to fall back.

“You’re smaller and faster, but I’ll get you eventually!” Gadget shouted after Mepps as he slinked behind more crates. “So might as well spill it! Where’s Fat Cat and Nimnul?! What’re they REALLY doing in Philadelphia?!” Predictably, Gadget got no answer. Just another deafening roar.

The sting from her wounds was starting to fade, so at least that meant they were finally healing up. Still, despite the fading of the fiery pain, Gadget felt her own rage start to boil over. How many more conduits were Fat Cat and Nimnul going to create and throw at her? When would the cowards finally face her themselves, finally answer for everything they’ve done? “Get out here, Mepps! It’s not you I’m after, it’s your bosses! Let’s get this over with!”

As if in answer, Gadget heard that whooshing sound again. Listening attentively, Gadget waited until she heard Mepps rebound off a wall. When she did, she turned in the direction of the sound, just as Mepps was about to pounce on her. The back of Gadget’s fist slammed into Mepps, and he was knocked into a crate pile that collapsed onto him. For a moment, Gadget dared to hope it was over. She knew she was lucky to have turned and struck in time. But Mepps shot up out of the pile, splintered wood spreading everywhere. He hissed again, then dove off into the shadowy darkness. Mepps hadn’t even looked winded.

“C’mon Gadget, think! Brute force isn’t going to work this time!” Gadget said to herself. Mepps was much faster, and unless Nimnul had rebuilt his weather machine already, the mangy cat was using some sort of wind magic. If only I could use that against him, or at least force him to use it and thus draw him out. But there’s no time to build anything in here and nothing to build with, Gadget thought to herself. But then, her eyes fell on her crossbow. Or maybe, I can just use what I’ve ALREADY built…

Fortunately, Gadget had the foresight to bring along smoke bombs in her pocket. She hastily loaded her launcher, then fired the smoke bombs all around her. Mepps still had to see, and if there was enough smoke, maybe he could be goaded into using that wind magic to blow it all away.

Gadget’s gamble worked…up to a point. At the far corner, Gadget saw another twister build up, sucking in all the smoke. Thanks to her enhanced vision, Gadget spotted Mepps in the middle of that smoky funnel. This time, instead of trying to escape the twister’s pull, Gadget dove right into it, with enough momentum to let her shoot right through and tackle Mepps.

They hit the floor together as the twister faded, a tangle of furry limbs, but Gadget grabbed Mepps’s throat and slammed him down hard. Her fury getting the better of her, Gadget tried to slowly choke the life out of him, and slammed Mepps down again for good measure. But Mepps fought on to draw one last breath, and cut loose with another roar. Gadget was blasted away, forced to relinquish her grip. Her head cracked against a steel support pillar. It wasn’t enough to seriously hurt her, but it did daze her. Just when the stars were fading away, Gadget saw Mepps lunge for her again, claws and teeth bared.

Then, something whooshed by, plucking Mepps out of the air. Shaking her head, Gadget stood and looked up. The overhead crane that went across the warehouse’s length…someone got it working again, and as it swung across the warehouse, its hook had snagged Mepps by the neck. “Gadget, grab Mepps now, before he pries himself off!” came Chip’s echoing shout.

Smirking devilishly, Gadget made a huge leap up after the crane. Grabbing onto the chains, she snapped them all with one hand. With Mepps still stunned and caught on the hook, Gadget dropped down. She swung it around and around, until she finally hurled the severed crane back at the loading door they came through. The crane burst through it, then skipped along the muddy ground outside, still taking Mepps with it.

Gadget dashed outside on all fours, keeping a wary eye on Mepps, who lay still next to the crane. At the moment, Gadget didn’t care if Mepps was still alive, the rushing adrenaline still fueling her fury. As she stood over Mepps’s body, Gadget saw telltale signs of his chest rising and falling, albeit very weakly. It was hard to tell…that aura of energy still surrounded Mepps, but it seemed to be fading. As if…imploding in on itself?

All of a sudden, Gadget was blasted back by some explosive force from Mepps’s body. Bright, yellow light blinded her. As she scrambled back to her feet as her vision cleared, Gadget saw the giant outline of a wispy, yellow leopard’s roaring head, rising from Mepps’s still form. It howled at the moon overhead, right before it faded away into nothingness.

Gadget just stared down at Mepps, not sure what to think. He looked even scrappier, more pathetic than ever. Lost in her thoughts, Gadget barely heard Isaac running up behind her. “Hey Isaac, nice work with that overhead crane. Hard to believe it was still working.”

“Actually, it wasn’t. The three of us had to jerryrig the thing to get it runnin’,” said Dale.

“Really? Didn’t know you guys could pull off those kind of repairs so quickly,” said Gadget.

“Well, we got you to thank for that…sorta. Like that thing with the fuel pump…being bonded to you, I just sort of…knew how to do it,” said Isaac.

Gadget wasn’t sure how to respond. She looked back down at Mepps, and hoisted him up by the neck. Mepps still didn’t move, except for taking in weak, raspy breaths. “Hang on, Gadget. You were rough enough on him already,” Chip admonished. “Don’t tell me, you still want to…”

“No,” said Gadget flatly. “This mangy cat…isn’t worth it. It’s his bosses I’m after.”

Chip let out a sigh of relief. “In that case, we’d better just take him and go find Rebecca,” said Chip. “We’ll have to find some way of coaxing some answers out of Mepps.”

Gadget nodded as she turned to walk away from the warehouse. It was a rough fight, and those claw wounds still stung a little, but things were finally looking up. Just as Gadget was feeling hopeful, however, a new sound reached her ears. One that was oddly familiar. A clunky motor. The sort of motor that would go in household appliances. And it was coming from above.

Gadget’s eyes widened as she pieced it all together. “Guys, take cover!” she shouted back to her friends. But it was too late. Bolts of magical force rained down on them. One struck Isaac, and he fell hard. Chip and Dale, meanwhile, went flying off his shoulder, shooting up a good distance. But before Gadget could do anything, Winifred Nimnul swooped down on her flying vacuum cleaner, sucking up the both of them.

“Not bad for my first day back on the job!” jeered Winifred. “Two meddlesome rodents in the bag, and I’ll snag my up-and-coming nephew to boot!”

Gadget couldn’t believe what she just saw. Not only was Winifred supposed to be in prison, but powerless as well. “What’re you doing back?!” Gadget demanded, waiting for an opportunity to leap at her. Unfortunately, Winifred was flying too erratically, and just out of reach. “Professor Nimnul has something to do with this, doesn’t he?!”

“How many brain cells in that egghead of yours did you blow figuring that one out?!” sneered Winifred. “Indeed, Norton sprung both me and Irweena, then restored my powers, in exchange for our help. And turns out the insufferable little twit needs it more than he realizes! The way you just took out that cat…do you have any idea what you’ve just done?!!!”

“What are you babbling about now?!” Gadget demanded hotly.

“Like I tried to tell your chipmunk boy-toys, this is all about Dorothea Oakheart’s legacy, what she did on this land three hundred years ago!” Winifred shot back. “And you and my nephew are…oh, rusty buckets, what’s the point? Why bother trying to get through that thick skull, when I can just force you to back off…like so!”

Gadget had been bracing for Winifred to dive again, but even so, she swooped down and snatched up both Isaac and Mepps before Gadget could even blink. “Black magic is a wonderful thing, is it not, mousey?” Winifred asked teasingly. “It must’ve been a thrill these past few days, commanding the power that Isaac’s given you. And unless you want to hang onto it, I’d advise against following me…or else we may be forced to cut off your power source. Do us all a favor…don’t make that an option for me and Norton.”

Winifred turned her vacuum around to zoom off. Desperate, Gadget aimed her crossbow up and fired her last smoke bomb. It lodged itself into the back of the vacuum cleaner, and began spewing green smoke as Winifred flew off into the night. Enraged by Winifred being cowardly enough to take hostages – one being her OWN NEPHEW – and remembering her promise to Rebecca, Gadget took off, following the trail of smoke.

Chapter 12: The Winter of Our Discontent

As consciousness slowly came back for Chip, he groggily took a breath. The overpowering smell of rancid, humid air served to snap him awake in an instant. Wherever they were, it was dark and damp; the sounds of trickling water could be heard everywhere. As his vision came into focus, Chip thought he could make out pipes along the walls and ceiling.

“OK, we’re somewhere with a lot of pipes,” Chip muttered to himself. “Which is…what? Some ship’s engine room? A water treatment plant? A…” As Chip kept talking to himself, he tried to stand up, only to discover his feet were tied with some sort of wire. He fell forward, only to find his hands were also bound behind his back upon instinctively trying to put them forward.

As Chip’s face slammed into some slimy muck, something echoed over the dripping water. Chip’s face twisted into a scowl. It was Dale’s laughter.

Scooting up into a sitting position, Chip glared at Dale, who was on his back, laughing like mad. “I’m glad YOU at least find it funny we’re tied up like turkeys in some smelly, damp dungeon,” Chip spat. “How long’ve you been awake?”

“Long enough to chew through the wire binding my feet,” said Dale with a sly grin, lifting his legs for emphasis. His wire bindings fell dully into the muck. “Geez, Nimnul and company were smart enough not to use rope we can easily chew through, but went ahead and picked the softest metal possible.”

“What good will that do?” demanded Chip. “You’ll need your hands free if you plan on finding a way out of here.”

“You mean WE’LL be finding our way out of here,” said Dale as he stood up. For a moment, Dale looked as if he’d slip in the muck, but he kept his balance and walked backwards over to Chip. “Try standin’ up again. I can still move my hands, so lessee if I can untie your wire.”

Sighing, Chip tried to stand, more carefully this time. As Dale fumbled with Chip’s wire bindings, he looked around, his eyes soon falling on Isaac’s still form. He lay motionless on his back on the cold, slimy floor, hands and feet bound with rope. It looked too tough for he and Dale to chew through if they ever freed themselves. Guessing what Chip was focused on, Dale said, “I think Isaac’s OK, but he ain’t the only one here. There’s other humans trussed up, all wearin’ jumpsuits or somethin’.”

“Jumpsuits? No Navy uniforms or anything like that?” Chip asked.

“Nuh-uh,” replied Dale. “Why’d you ask?”

“Because at least that means Nimnul didn’t hijack an aircraft carrier or anything,” said Chip sternly. “I’m betting Winifred didn’t take us far, and her brother’s taken over something like a factory or treatment plant. My money’s on the treatment plant.”

“What for? Thought the ol’ egghead was lookin’ for some place to slap together his robot,” said Dale.

“I’m not sure, but we’d better free Isaac and find out,” said Dale. Just then, Chip felt the wire loosen, and his bindings slipped to the floor. With his hands free, Chip got to work on the wire binding his feet. It took a while, the effort making his hands raw, but at last he was completely free, and soon untied Dale’s hands as well.

Wasting no time, the chipmunks scurried over to Isaac and climbed onto his chest. What little light there was came from flickering lamps on the wall, making it hard to judge Isaac’s condition. However, from what Chip could make of Isaac’s face, he looked perfectly fine, just unconscious. Chip could also feel he was breathing just fine, sensing the rise and fall of his chest.

“Yo, Isaac!” cried Dale rudely. “Time to look alive, man!”

“Back off,” hissed Chip. “It looked like Winifred zapped him good, so don’t be surprised if…”

Suddenly, Isaac stirred, but Chip and Dale easily kept their footing. Chip’s fears melted away a little as he watched Isaac’s eyes flutter open. “Whuh…w-w-where…what’s g-g-goin’…” he spluttered.

“Isaac, everything’s OK…up to a point. Just…don’t make any sudden movements,” said Chip.

Isaac’s head slowly craned up to look at them while rest of his body lay still. Spotting the chipmunks, he got the message, and nodded right before his head fell back against the floor. “Ugh, I feel ropes around my wrists and ankles. I got us the three of us captured, didn’t I?”

“It’s not your fault!” said Chip quickly. “It was your aunt, Winifred. Somehow, she’s got her own magic back and blindsided all of us.”

“All of us?” Isaac craned his head back up, looking around. “What about Gadget?”

“It’s lookin’ like Freddie settled for the three of us,” said Dale. “Guess she figured if they got her channeler or whatever as a hostage, she’ll back off.”

Chip knew Dale didn’t mean that as criticism, but with the way Isaac’s head fell back again, he saw this as a failure on his part. Thinking fast, Chip said, “No one was counting on Norton springing Winifred, so there’s no point in blaming ourselves. What’s important is that we keep our heads on straight, find a way to free ourselves, and maybe get the drop on these creeps for once.”

“Yeah, I bet Gadget’s already on her way to clobber ‘em! I mean, you two can find each other through a telepathic bond, right? That’s how you knew where to drive that night,” said Dale.

Isaac sighed. “Not sure if it goes both ways,” he said guiltily. “Doubt I’m good enough of this magic to bring her to us.”

Chip had had just about enough of Isaac constantly doubting himself. Drawing himself up, he turned to Isaac and said, “Isaac, for the love of all that’s holy, stop dwelling on what you can’t do and think about what you CAN do! What you’ve already done! You obviously didn’t think it through, but you were obviously good enough to empower Gadget so she could fend for herself. That was your goal, right? And with all Rebecca taught you, is it so hard to believe her efforts weren’t wasted? You were good enough of a shot to get Mepps to back off, saving both our furry butts. And from what I hear, you dropped this one chauvinistic clod that gave Gadget grief. So stop talking as if you’re a liability.”

For a moment, Isaac said nothing, and lay there with his head on the floor. Chip and Dale stood there on his chest, only moving because of Isaac’s breathing. When Isaac finally lifted his head, Chip could make out a glimmer of hope in his expression. “You sure I’m not? I mean, if I’m really supposed to be the newest Ranger, I don’t exactly have a stellar record so far.”

“Hey, all the Rangers’ve made mistakes. Shucks, some of mine are legendary,” Dale said with a goofy grin.

For once, Chip agreed wholeheartedly with Dale, but this wasn’t the time. “In any case, with the amount of ground Gadget can cover, let’s assume she can follow Winifred and is getting ready to storm this place. Let’s bust loose so we can trip up these creeps when she makes her move.”

“Makes sense to me,” said Isaac as he slowly sat up. Chip and Dale slid down to his lap, and then rushed behind him to inspect what bound his wrists. “So…what’ll Gadget be up against? Is Norton here with Winifred?” he asked hesitantly. No doubt the prospect of going up against both his deranged uncle and aunt didn’t sit well.

“Does it matter?” demanded Dale. “Once we’re outta here, ask her about the Cola Cult sometime. When the chips are down, Gadget’s always come through for us.”

Chip noticed how Dale couldn’t keep the admiration out of his voice. He thought little of it, feeling the exact same way. However, Isaac picked up on it as well. “You two…really care for her too, huh? In THAT regard? That’s good to know. Now I know having…unexplainable feelings for someone of a different species isn’t too out of the ordinary.”

Chip and Dale just looked at each other, amazed at how Isaac just admitted that. Humans…were supposed to view that as unthinkable, as far as they both knew. “Errr, seriously, Isaac? How long’s this been going on?”

“I…I don’t know. I guess, in a way, when I found her,” said Isaac. “There she was, this…helpless little critter I felt obligated to save. Then I figured out what she really was. And the next time I saw her, we were the same size, and then…oh I don’t know. It must’ve been obvious when I crafted an illusion that made her so damn alluring. It’s not like I even went out of my way to do it. It’s like I subconsciously…just wanted to make it at least LOOK like we belonged together.”

The chipmunks just kept at his bindings, but even in their predicament, worrisome feelings of envy welled up in them. There was never a good time to find out they had another rival for Gadget…and a HUMAN of all things? Even if this hadn’t hurt their concentration, it would have made little difference. The knots were too tight to untie, and the rope itself too tough to chew through. “Yeah, I guess it’s not so weird when it’s just rodents eyeing each other,” Isaac went on. “But right now, forget about me. I get the feeling you two are getting nowhere. Just find a way out and find Gadget.”

“Errr, not really a good idea to leave Gadget’s source of power in enemy hands,” Dale pointed out. Chip had to agree. Even though Zipper said Professor Nimnul refused to see Isaac get hurt, Chip knew things would change if the mad scientist got desperate enough. Still, at the moment, they had little choice.

Chip slammed his fists on the knot in frustration. “Alright, we’ll get going. But we’ll get you out before…”

A loud clanking sound cut Chip off. The three of them turned to see a large metal door slide open. Light poured through, blinding them for a moment. When his eyes adjusted, Chip gulped nervously. It was too late. Fat Cat and Professor Nimnul stood there with impassive looks. Behind them were Sewernose de Bergerac, Winifred Nimnul and Irweena Allen, the latter two still in orange prison jumpsuits. “What did I tell you, Professor?” jeered Fat Cat. “Our favorite chipmunk duo already broke free and were a hair away from making their getaway, I’ll wager. Told you you should’ve kept them somewhere else.”

Chip looked back at the five of them, feeling his fears rise. Not fear for himself, of course. Well, Chip had to be honest with himself: seeing five of his worst enemies stare him down did unnerve him. But fear for Isaac’s safety easily dwarfed that.

“So…what do we do with them now?” Irweena demanded. “It’s not like their pet feces-fondler is in there with them, right? I don’t give a damn about any of these rodents…it’s that fly I wanna squash.”

“Speak for yourself, Madame,” said Sewernose dramatically. “The chipmunk in the loud Hawaiian shirt…it is all too clear that our final, climactic clash has yet to come.” Chip could sense Dale tensing up. “But alas, it shall not be here. Not like this.”

“Then if you and me have no reason to be over here, let’s go put those muscles of yours to work, so we can blow this place on schedule,” sneered Irweena. Chip gulped again. Did she mean ‘blow’ as in ‘leave’…or ‘explode’?

“Ahhh, so my little enchantment’s working already, is it Irweena?” Winifred asked teasingly.

“God help me, it is,” replied Irweena tersely as she turned to leave with Sewernose.

“Oh well, more to go around for us,” said Fat Cat, leering at the chipmunks. But his gaze soon drifted up to Isaac. “Unfortunately, there’s so much we can do in your case. Being Norton’s nephew, he’s forbidden that any…permanent harm come to you. Even though all our problems could be squelched in one swoop should we simply…remove you from the equation the old-fashioned way.”

Chip looked up at Isaac, expecting to see fear in his face. But to his surprise, Isaac met Fat Cat’s gaze without flinching. “So, you must be this Fat Cat I’ve heard so much about. My uncle’s own conduit,” he said evenly, though there was a slight, dangerous inflection to his voice. “So if my death will end everything, how come you don’t just go behind his back and off me? The Rangers told me all about you. You take orders from no one. Unless…your bond to Uncle Norton came at a price. I bet one of you can’t take action if the other absolutely refuses. For an animal underworld king, that must not sit well,” Isaac dared. Despite the situation, Chip grinned with satisfaction at the feral yet defeated look on Fat Cat’s face.

“He’s right, unfortunately. I couldn’t off that meatheaded chipmunk myself, so I had to order Bud and Lou to do it,” said Winifred. “Foxglove realized it too, since it was that chipmunk who ultimately ruined my spell.”

“Thank you SO MUCH for spilling that!” spat Professor Nimnul. “But in the end, it doesn’t matter. There’s more than one way to cut off Gadget Hackwrench’s power.”

Then Gadget better get here QUICK! Chip thought fearfully. Chip desperately thought of a way, any way, to stall for time. Bu now that his eyes had adjusted to the light, and he got a good look at Nimnul, Chip realized he might be able to do more. It was a risky gambit, but… “Y’know Nimnul, maybe we were wrong about you all these years. I would’ve thought killing a nephew would be no trouble, seeing how you already killed his mother.”

Nimnul did just as Chip expected, but he was shocked by how fast he did it. Nimnul swept down on Chip, moving faster than he ever thought possible, and snatched him up. “I dare you…try saying that again TO MY FACE! I DARE YOU!!!” he roared. Chip felt as if Nimnul was squeezing the life out of him, but Chip wanted him blinded by rage, distracted. Blocking out the pain as he put on a show of struggling, Chip twisted in his grip, positioning his hand so…

“Enough, Professor. Though I share your sentiments, the rodents are more valuable alive than dead, and you know it,” Fat Cat said calmly. “Winifred, bring the other chipmunk. Let’s put them someplace more secure. Leave the boy here until we’re ready.”

Chip watched helplessly as Winifred magically drew Dale over to her. Then, with an angry slam from Nimnul, Isaac and the unconscious human workers were once again trapped in darkness. His vision was still blurry, but Chip saw they were indeed in the heart of a water treatment plant. But knowing he was right brought him little comfort. He had no idea if Gadget could really find them, and now Nimnul claimed they could sever her link to Isaac. Amazingly, that worried Chip a lot less than he thought it would. It wasn’t just envy over Isaac being so intimately linked to Gadget. No, there was still something else about it that unnerved him…


Winifred’s enchanted vacuum cleaner was fast, that was for sure. It rankled, how a little magic could make an ordinary appliance a speed demon, whereas Gadget had to put in months of work, taking parts from many different machines, to do the same. At least Gadget had some magic of her own. It taxed her to the limit, but even though Winifred had flown too far ahead, Gadget was fast enough to keep the smoke trail in her sights before it faded.

From the looks of it, the smoke trail ended about a few hundred yards dead ahead. Gadget wasn’t quite sure what it was, but the grounds surrounding it… “It’s awfully wet around here,” said Gadget as she skidded to a halt in the soggy mud. A copse of trees blocked her immediate view of the target ahead, but she could see a deep, swampy ditch was beyond it. “Ahh, I’ll be able to jump over that with no problems. Hang on guys, here I…”

Gadget stopped when her feet suddenly felt cold. Looking down, Gadget saw the muddy puddle she was standing in was now frozen solid! “Golly, good thing Isaac’s magic seems to ward off frostbite,” said Gadget dryly. Gadget strained her legs, trying to break free, but that ice was thick. Eventually, the ice shattered, and Gadget was thrust through the copse and went tumbling down into the ditch.

The wounds Mepps inflicted still hadn’t fully healed, and the muddy water made them sting. As she absentmindedly nursed her wounds as she gritted her teeth, Gadget was snapped back to attention by a gushing sound. Looking up, Gadget saw what looked like a small geyser, shooting up from the ground between the copse and the ditch. It soon faded, but a deep pit of water remained. Then, something slowly rose out of it.

“Golly, is that…a pair of antlers?” Gadget asked no one in particular. Her eyes weren’t playing tricks on her. There really WERE antlers coming out of that water hole. But the true shock came when Gadget saw what they were attached to.

Snout rose out of the water, then stood upon it, with a huge pair of antlers attached to his head. Gadget couldn’t believe the rat’s head could support things that big in comparison, but Snout stood just fine. As usual, Gadget could hardly see Snout’s eyes, but she still expected to see body language that betrayed the greed and sneakiness associated with the rat. It was nowhere to be seen. There was only a cold aloofness to Snout now, and that chilled Gadget worse than the ice from before.

Gadget stood up quickly, bracing herself for anything. Snout stared at Gadget from under his cap, and Gadget just stared back, afraid to make the first move. She didn’t have to wait long for Snout to make his. He stepped forward, off the hole, and then more water shot out of it. It rose up in a column that coiled around in midair, like a living serpent. The water shot into a point in between Snout’s antlers. A ball of water coalesced there, and Gadget noticed…freezing mist rising from the ball?

It was the only warning Gadget got, and thankfully, she jumped aside just in time. An icy beam shot out from between Snout’s antlers, freezing the water in the ditch solid. So when Gadget came down, she painfully collided with thick ice. She slid for a few yards, then tried to sit up. But when she glanced behind her, Gadget saw Snout coming right for her, sliding on his belly. Before she knew it, those antlers dug deep into her back.

Gadget howled, paralyzed by searing pain. For a moment, the pain was all-consuming, the only thing in her mind. But slowly, her willpower coming to the forefront, Gadget reached behind her and pulled Snout’s antlers free. The burning, stinging pain became even worse. In a desperate attempt to be rid of Snout, Gadget twirled around and hurled him; the rat crashed through a wire fence that was on the other side of the ditch.

As she tried to take a deep breath, Gadget realized with horror that an antler had punctured a lung. She collapsed back onto the ice, gasping and coughing up blood. But after a moment, terror was replaced with relief. Gadget could feel her lung slowly healing. “Wow, good thing those antlers don’t work the same way Mepps’s claws did,” she told herself. Soon enough, Gadget felt strong enough to stand. “Golly, first Mepps seems like he’s possessed by a cheetah, then Snout grows antlers that control water? What’s going on here? How’s Nimnul doing this?”

No one answered her questions, so Gadget jumped over the gate, determined to squeeze some answers out of Snout. This was where Winifred took Isaac, Chip and Dale, Gadget was certain of it now. She ran ahead, soon finding herself standing among several tall, wide, circular vats. Wait a minute, I know what this is! Gadget thought. This must be the sewage treatment plant for this part of the city, and… Uh-oh. Water. And lots of it.

As if on cue, Gadget heard a splash overhead. Looking up, Gadget saw Snout standing on the rim of one of the vats, gazing down at her coldly. Snout gestured with his head once, and suddenly, huge globs of water rose out of the sedimentation tank. One of the blobs froze solid right before it elongated, forming an icy javelin. Gadget jumped back just as it shot down at her, impaling itself in the concrete where she had stood, but more formed and were coming right at her.

In desperation, Gadget started running around the vat, hoping to keep ahead of the barrage. The sound of the icy projectiles crashing behind her rang in her ears. “Wait a minute, what am I running for?” Gadget asked herself. “I’ll just take the fight to Snout!” With another leap, Gadget soared upward, effortlessly landing on the clarifier’s rim. But Snout was way ahead of her. The rim was iced over, and Gadget slipped and fell into the tank.

Coughing and sputtering, Gadget immediately swam to the surface, just in time to see Snout conjure up another serpentine column of water. Gadget had no chance; the plangent stream of sewage water slammed down onto her, pinning her against the tank’s sloped bottom.

As Gadget struggled against the force pinning her down, she also struggled to think straight. What’s Snout’s game? He must know I’ll eventually force my way out of this, she thought confidently. Snout’s given up on using ice, he won’t be able to drown me, so what’s…

Gadget’s eyes widened in fear as a mechanical clanking sound traveled through the water. She understood Snout’s plan immediately. The clarifier’s scraper arm was activated, and Snout meant for it to drag her apart.

Can’t waste any more strength trying to break free, Gadget reasoned. No time for anything fancy…only chance is to grab that scraper arm and then pray… The churning sound grew louder, until it felt like the scraper arm was right on top of her. Gadget slammed one hand onto the tank’s bottom, digging in with her claws. Once Gadget saw it coming through the murky water, she grabbed the scraper arm with the other.

Now that she was anchored, Gadget could hold the arm in place, instead of being dragged along and made into a bloody smear. The scraper was quite sharp, digging into Gadget’s palm painfully. She blocked it out, along with the burning in her lungs. Nothing mattered except focusing all her strength to force that scraper arm back. With only one hand, it proved to be excruciatingly difficult, perhaps impossible. Gadget kept pushing back, refusing to give in.

Just when it seemed there was no hope, Gadget felt it give. It sounded like the gears were jamming up. There was a horrible creaking sound as the whole assembly shook loose, and the entire tank shook violently. On top of all that, the relentless pressure from Snout’s water barrage was gone. She was free.

Yes! Wrecking the entire assembly caught Snout off-guard, hopefully knocked him off the tank completely! Gadget thought triumphantly. As she tried to swim up, however, Gadget got a rude surprise. Somehow, she was stuck. Looking down, Gadget saw her sneaker was wedged underneath the scraper arm.

Oh for Pete’s sake, off all the… Her fears rushing back, Gadget desperately tugged at her foot, then tried to lift the wrecked scraper arm, but it was lodged tight. In desperate need of air, Gadget was on the verge of all-out panic. She was so overwhelmed by fear, Gadget didn’t hear a splashing sound from above, so she nearly jumped out of her fur when a big pair of hands reached down for her foot.

“Easy, big girl. We’ll get this loose in a sec,” said Kirby as he calmly helped Gadget slip her foot out of the sneaker.

Then, another pair of hands grabbed her waist from behind. “Hang on. We’ve all had enough wet suit action here,” came Muldoon’s burbling voice from behind her. Before she knew it, Muldoon swam up with her and they broke the surface. As Gadget greedily sucked in air, she barely noticed Kirby rise up in front of them. “Careful now, sweetie. Just breathe normally, nice and easy.”

Having been only seconds away from death, it took a while for all of this to sink in. “Wha-wha…You two? Here?! Wha-what’re…”

“We doing?” Kirby finished for her. “Returnin’ a favor, of course. You saved us from drownin’, so here we are doing the same for you. Just glad I’m conscious this time, so I can finally see Muldoon wasn’t dreamin’.”

“Like I tried to tell ya back home, me and Kirby repay our debts,” added Muldoon.

“But HERE, in Philadelphia?!” demanded Gadget, still confused.

“If you’re done with your little swim, come on out and I’ll explain everything,” came Rebecca’s curt voice from outside the tank.

“Rebecca? You’re here too? What’re you…” Gadget began, but stopped once she realized something. “Oh no, Snout! I’ve got to find him, before…”

“It’s alright, Gadget-luv. The blighter ain’t gonna give us any grief for a while. Come on out an’ see for yourself,” said Monterey Jack.

Gadget looked back to Muldoon and Kirby. “That was the big mouse Becky brought with her, wasn’t it?” asked Muldoon. “Got no idea what he’s sayin’, but I hope it’s good news.”

Sighing, Gadget swam to the tank’s rim with Kirby and Muldoon and climbed over it. Jumping down, she saw Snout’s still form lying on the cold concrete, and his antlers had been broken clean off. Monterey Jack and Foxglove stood over him, eyeing him warily, as if afraid he’d spring back to life. “Monty, what happened? H-H-How did…”

“We showed just as you made that whole bloomin’ tank shake like a rattlesnake’s tail,” said Monterey. “Knocked Snout here clean off, and before the bugger could do anythin’, Foxy floored ‘im with a big ol’ scream, and I just moseyed on up and snapped them antlers off. Any idea how he got them things, Gadget-luv?”

“Probably the same way Mepps turned into this supercharged cheetah, with the claws to match,” said Gadget. “That’s yet another conduit for Nimnul, but Mepps and Snout seemed…different somehow. Are conduits supposed to have powers like these? What are…” Gadget’s words trailed off when she noticed something odd. Just as Mepps had given off a yellow aura, she saw Snout was surrounded by a blue aura. But as with Mepps, it was fading, being absorbed inward. Also, the stubs where his antlers once were…those were getting sucked in too. Then, in one explosive instant, that same blue energy burst from Snout’s body, shooting straight up. Gadget, Monterey Jack and Foxglove were knocked flat on their backs. Looking up, Gadget could make out what looked like the blue outline of a giant deer’s head, howling sorrowfully at the sky before it faded.

“OK, care to clue us in on just what happened there?” came Rebecca’s stiff, demanding voice.

Gadget grumbled as she forced herself back to her feet. “I don’t know. Care to tell me how you found me, and what Kirby and Muldoon are doing here?”

“I got a tip that stolen tanker trucks loaded with propylene carbonate were being hauled to this general area. Once we saw this sewage treatment plant, and Foxglove’s nose got wind of some black magic, it was easy to put two and two together,” said Rebecca.

“And me and Kirby just tailed Becky here,” added Muldoon. “Seriously, Becky, didya really think no one noticed you holdin’ the door for a pink bat haulin’ out a big ol’ mouse? A bat and mouse we saw before?”

Gadget suspected there was a ‘cheese attack’ in this story somewhere. She couldn’t decide if this was the best thing to result from one or the worst. Putting it out of her mind, she looked down at Snout. “Golly, I just wish I knew what Fat Cat’s new game is. Mepps was a completely different kind of conduit, too.”

“Sounds like both got put down, so who cares?” snapped Rebecca. “And just where is Isaac? Don’t tell me he’s been captured by the enemy, Gadget. If so, you’d better have a damn good excuse.”

Gadget sighed. “Your brother sprang Winifred out of jail, gave her back her powers, and she blindsided us after we ‘put down’ Mepps. She got Chip and Dale as well as Isaac.”

Rebecca gave her a sour look. “OK, I suppose that’s a good excuse,” she said, shocking Gadget. “Is it safe to assume my no-good older siblings have our…people in there?” Rebecca asked, pointing at the plant’s main building. When Gadget nodded, she said, “So now that there’s sufficient manpower at our disposal, we storm the place and get them back.”

Gadget raised an eyebrow. “Golly, Rebecca. Isn’t that a bit…reckless? Especially when we don’t know where Nimnul and Fat Cat are holding them prisoner?”

“That’s why I already sent our little insect friend to do a little recon work,” said Rebecca slyly. “And if I’m not mistaken, I hear him buzzing back over here now.” It was hard to tell in the nighttime gloom, but Gadget thought she did indeed see a fly buzz around Rebecca’s head. After a moment, Rebecca said, “Zippy here says Winifred and the cat have your chipmunks at one end of the top level, while Isaac and the plant staff are locked up on the bottom level. So here’s the plan: you crash the party by crashing through the skylight, grab the chipmunks, I’ll bust in through the top level and raise some extra hell. That’ll give our new cop friends and Foxglove the diversion they need to free the hostages.”

“Sounds like fun to me,” said Kirby with a wry grin. Muldoon simply nodded.

“Wait a minute, Rebecca! You seriously aren’t thinking of letting them get mixed up in this!” cried Gadget. “D’Allure nearly killed them already, and they have no idea how to fight a witch like Winifred, and…”

“That’s why I made sure they’ll go in prepared,” said Rebecca. She held up a pair of assault rifles Gadget hadn’t noticed before, thanks to the darkened sky.

“Oh yeah, that’s the stuff. Ain’t even Halloween yet, yet Christmas cheer came plenty early,” said Muldoon.

Gadget shook her head in defeat. “Ugh, you humans and your guns,” she spat.

Zipper flew over and landed on Gadget’s shoulder. “Exactly what I’ve been thinking. Sad, isn’t it?” he squeaked into her ear.

“So let’s do this, get out, and then regroup to plan our next move,” said Rebecca. She eyed Gadget up and down. “Besides, you sure look like you can use a rest.”

Gadget looked down at herself. “Yeah, Mepps and Snout left these clothes a bloody mess,” Gadget said sheepishly. “Sorry about that, Rebecca.”

Rebecca seemed to glare at her coldly for a moment, but then let out a chuckle. “You almost get ripped to pieces by two new superpowered animals, and you feel guilty about ruining a couple of shirts? You’re a weird one, Gadget, by any standards. No wonder my nephew likes you.”

Gadget looked back at Rebecca blankly, not sure what to say. Monterey Jack spoke up just then. “Ladies, is it too bold to ask if we’re gonna stay out her with these sludge tanks, just talkin’ ‘bout raisin’ a ruckus, or if we’re gonna go in and actually do it?”

“Believe me, Monty, we’re going in and doing it,” said Rebecca confidently. She tossed Kirby and Muldoon their rifles, then turned and ran for the main facility. “Go drop in and crash their party, Gadget! I’ll be in to back you up in two minutes!” she shouted back as she ran.

Gadget looked down to Monterey Jack and Foxglove, but Foxglove had already taken flight, following Kirby and Muldoon. Sighing, she reached down to grab Monterey, then made a leap for the plant’s main building. After only two bounds, Gadget was on the roof, peering down through the skylight. The plant’s interior was well-lit. From her vantage point, Gadget saw Sewernose at the far corner of the top level, doing something with the pipes. Someone in a prison jumpsuit was with him. Gadget’s face twisted into a scowl when she recognized who it was.

“Dr. Irweena Allen,” Gadget spat. “Looks like Winifred wasn’t lying about her brother grabbing up all the recruits he can find.”

“It ain’t them I’m worried about right now, Gadget-luv,” said Monterey. “Take a gander at what’s bein’ worked on right below us.”

Gadget did just that, and her scowl turned into a feral snarl. Winifred and Fat Cat were directly below, also fiddling with pipes. Chip and Dale were there, too, trapped in a jar. But there was also what looked like a makeshift chair, slapped together with an average-sized human in mind.

All rational thought fleeing her mind, Gadget broke through the glass and dropped down, smashing apart whatever Fat Cat and Winifred had built. The two crooks fell backward from the force, stunned and surprised. Monterey Jack jumped off her shoulder, grabbed the jar holding Chip and Dale, and ran off to safety. But when Gadget lurched forward to mangle Fat Cat, the crime boss came out of his stupor. He darted past Gadget, then rebounded off a pipe, becoming a living cannonball that smashed into the back of her legs, catching her off-balance. At the same time, Winifred cut loose with a blast of magic right to her face.

The double-whammy almost made Gadget go careening off the top level, but Gadget grabbed the railing and pulled herself back up. But Gadget saw Winifred was charging up another blast. Just as she was about to release it, however, gunfire suddenly shot across the facility. Rebecca had burst through the emergency exit on the top level, laying down cover fire for Gadget. Then she turned her attention to Irweena and Sewernose, forcing them back with a few shots from her assault rifle.

“Ahhh, I didn’t sign up to be target practice!” wailed Irweena as she and Sewernose dove for cover. But in the few seconds Rebecca spared on them, Winifred regathered her wits and sent out small, quick-firing spells over at her.

Rebecca rolled to the side, then immediately returned fire. Winifred was forced to duck behind some pipes. The plangent sounds of ricocheting gunfire echoed menacingly throughout the facility. “Same old Becky, still shoots first and asks questions later. Some things never change, unfortunately,” Winifred laughed.

Gadget was about to leap at Winifred, ready to rip her heart out; whatever she had been ready to do to Isaac – her own nephew - she knew it would’ve been unforgivable. But she saw something over on Rebecca’s end. It was Sewernose, crawling underneath the walkways, stealthily making his way over to Rebecca, and she was too focused on Winifred to notice. By the time Gadget shouted out a warning, it was too late. Sewernose slithered up behind Rebecca, and when she turned around, he knocked her rifle away with his tail.

“And so, in one dramatic turn of events, the plot takes an unforeseen twist, as the hunter suddenly finds herself the prey!” cried Sewernose.

“Don’t bet on it,” Rebecca shot back defiantly, smirking evilly. “In my early years, I was stationed in Florida. And guess what sport the locals were happy to teach me?” To everyone’s astonishment, Rebecca tackled Sewernose and wrestled him to the floor, making sure to keep his jaws clamped shut. The two rolled around, eventually tumbling down a flight of stairs together.

“Golly, Rebecca’s still full of surprises,” Gadget muttered. Suddenly remembering Winifred, Gadget turned to face her, but the witch had already taken off with Fat Cat. Her ire rising again, Gadget jumped down to the next level, landing in the middle of a catwalk. Her gaze swept all across the facility; she saw Kirby struggling with a huge door below as Muldoon covered him, but there was no sign of Winifred or Fat Cat.

“Well my dear, while my sisters are off playing with animal friends, what say you and I have a little chat?” came a mocking voice from the far end of the catwalk. Her rage boiling over, Gadget turned to face Professor Nimnul, who casually stood there, hands in the pockets of his lab coat. “By the way, nice threads. Even after everything that happened here, still have a soft spot for the hometown team. Makes you almost look human.” Norton’s casual attitude alone had already made Gadget’s blood boil, but somehow, that last crack made her even more furious. She wasn’t quite sure why. All Gadget was certain of, however, was her desire to rip Norton Nimnul to shreds, her deal with Rebecca be damned. Gadget made a show of popping her clawnails out, arms outstretched as she slowly went across the catwalk. She was itching to have her claws slice right through his bones, but Norton still showed no fear. “Ah, the pretty little rose has thorns. I guess Becky’s sunny disposition’s already rubbed off on you.”

Despite the fury brewing within her, Gadget’s analytical mind was still there. If Nimnul wasn’t fleeing in terror, he had something up his sleeve. She stopped halfway toward the mad scientist. “Last time you couldn’t wait to get away from the Rangers, professor. What’s with the chattiness all of a sudden? Wait, lemme guess…D’Allure’s ready to pounce me, isn’t she?”

Nimnul chuckled as he shook his head. “Oh no no no no, my dear. The OTHER overgrown mouse is…taking care of business elsewhere,” he said glibly. “But it’s encouraging, seeing you can still think straight. Especially when it makes you hesitate…”

As Gadget pondered Nimnul’s words, she felt the catwalk reverberate. There was someone else on it, someone in a rush. Glancing over her shoulder, Gadget saw Irweena a few yards behind her, holding what looked like a small keg with a high-pressure sprayer.

Suddenly, it dawned on Gadget, but it was too late. Irweena sprayed the clear liquid all over Gadget, and she immediately sagged to her knees, the propylene carbonate and potassium bromide already wreaking their havoc. She crumpled into a heap, helpless as Irweena kept pouring it on, feeling those black markings come alive, writhing under her clothes like dozens of snakes.

“Professor, it’s empty already!” cried Irweena. “Was that enough?”

“It’ll have to be. Find Freddie and get ready to bug out!” Nimnul shouted back. Gadget lay on her back, her mind a foggy mess, her muscles feeling like jelly. She was hardly aware of Nimnul standing over her, shaking her by the neck, until he started yelling at her. “You really are like Becky, y’know that?! The both of you, the insufferable holier-than-thou know-it-alls, always there ruining my chances whenever I try to put my genius to good use! All my hard work, down the drain! All my greatest creations, made useless because you always butt in, like the rest of those fleabags and everyone else in this sad, sad world! And do you really have ANY CLUE what you’re mucking up this time?! I can guess what messed up those clothes and what kind of wounds went with them! You have NO IDEA what sort of damage you’ve already done!”

Gadget wasn’t really paying attention to his rantings, her brain too muddled by that witchcraft-killing concoction. All Gadget wanted was to shove her fist through his face, but she couldn’t even flex her fingers. Thankfully, a helpful jolt of adrenaline came when Nimnul pulled out a long, serrated knife. “The cat keeps saying you’re my goody-two-shoes counterpart. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to just waste the competition now, and be done with it. But unfortunately, you’re bonded to my nephew, and there’s no telling what that would do to him. So I’ll have to settle for prying off those markings as one would remove parasitic worms. I’m actually doing you a favor…”

Eyes widening, Gadget watched helplessly as Nimnul lowered the knife to her face, where she felt some of those markings still writhing over her fur. Luckily, gunshots from below distracted him. No doubt Muldoon heard the commotion. His shots ricocheted off the catwalk railing, forcing Nimnul to flatten himself against her. Then, Foxglove flew in out of nowhere and bit down on Nimnul’s neck. That coaxed him into springing off of Gadget, and once they were separated, Foxglove hovered back and let out a tightly-focused sonic blast at Nimnul’s face. His glasses shattered as he stumbled backward, and then Zipper flew in, bonking Nimnul on the nose for good measure.

“Ow, that was the fly, wasn’t it? Oh, there’ll be time to settle the score with you too, insect!” roared Nimnul. Stumbling about, half-blind without his glasses, Nimnul turned and ran off the catwalk.

Gadget desperately wanted to chase him, but the fog in her head was barely starting to fade. She heard the rest of the Rangers scamper up to her, fearfully asking if she was alright. Still in a haze, Gadget hardly heard them. Something else, however, served to rouse Gadget from her torpor. The whole facility shook for a brief instant, and it sounded like, somewhere, several pipes had burst. “Hey, you Rangers up there!” Muldoon cried desperately from below. “Sounds like a pipe busted behind this door! The kid and all the plant staff’re still in there!”

That, at last, made Gadget slowly rise to her feet. She still felt drugged, her limbs still felt like lead, but now, Isaac needed her. Gadget thrust herself over the catwalk railing, crashing painfully into the concrete over twenty feet below. Kirby tried to help her up, but Gadget brushed him aside, finding the strength to stand on her own. She staggered over to the huge door, gauging its thickness and strength, before sinking her fingers into the metal and pulling with all her might.

After several agonizing moments, Gadget felt the door give way, and as she pulled it off its hinges, water began gushing out. In no time, they were ankle-deep in untreated water. By the time Kirby and Muldoon came back out, having cut the bindings of Nimnul’s hostages and leading them out, they were knee-deep.

“Know when to tap out, you scaly ham!” came Rebecca’s gruff voice from above. Rebecca and Sewernose tumbled down into the flooded bottom level. Once he was in his element, Sewernose slithered out of Rebecca’s grasp and swam away. “NO! You’re not slipping away that easy!” cried Rebecca, who grabbed her rifle back from Muldoon and fired like mad. Bullets cut through the water, but Sewernose shot out like a torpedo, unharmed, just as Winifred zoomed into the plant on her flying vacuum cleaner. Fat Cat sat right behind her, with Irweena clinging to the hose, and Norton clinging to her leg. Sewernose grabbed onto his leg, and then Winifred flew out through the skylight, the five of them making a clean getaway.

Chapter 13: A Brief Interlude in This Exquisite Play

Chip stood on Gadget’s shoulder, feeling compelled to stay at her side, as she had yet to shake off the potassium bromide’s effects. She sat, slumped against the side of Rebecca’s van, which was parked a good distance from the water treatment plant. Chip looked up at Rebecca, vexed by the human’s apparent lack of concern for Gadget’s lingering torpor. Rebecca just kept looking through binoculars. “The local police are wrapping things up,” she said tonelessly. “Norton’s other hostages…they’re bringing them out, and EMT teams are there. And no one looks too concerned about sniffing out the yahoos who helped shoot up the place.”

“Who couldn’t even land a shot,” spat Kirby. “Some cops and soldiers we are.”

“But at least Aunt Winifred didn’t zap anyone either,” Isaac pointed out.

“Except for Gadget,” said Chip stiffly. “Took one of her best shots in the face, then got doused with that weird magic-killing concoction.” Isaac, at once forgetting how sore and cold he was, turned and knelt by Gadget. Chip wondered if Isaac was still trying to dope out just why propylene carbonate and potassium bromide did this to her, but at least he showed some genuine concern, unlike his aunt.

“Fortunately, it was dark, and the plant workers probably never got a good look at WHO barged in and wrecked the place even more,” said Rebecca.

“Maybe not us humans, but I’m pretty sure those people got a good look at Gadget,” said Isaac. “I mean, a giant mouse ripping apart a solid steel door tends to grab your attention, even if you’re trussed up and water’s flooding the place.”

“But since it wasn’t out in the open, and Gadget didn’t make a point of going berserk yet again, I think we can let it go.” Chip bristled at the authoritative tone in Rebecca’s voice. “At any rate, whatever my brother was after, we have to assume he succeeded.”

“What makes you say that, Becky?” asked Muldoon.

“Norton and the rest of them fled instead of defending the water plant,” said Rebecca. “Therefore, whatever their goal was, they achieved it. The question now is, what WAS their goal?”

“Think maybe they were tryin’ to pump this propylene carba-whatsit stuff in the city’s water supply?” Dale suggested.

“Or maybe they wanted their entire supply pumped to a specific place,” said Foxglove.

“That sounds ‘bout right ta me,” said Monterey Jack. “Fat Cat’s been actin’ even more yellow-bellied than usual, tryin’ harder than ever ta throw us Rangers off the scent. Musta figured pumpin’ his whole supply of chemicals through a water plant was safer than havin’ it hauled straight to his base o’ operations here in Philly.”

“Betcha they made sure they even covered their tracks on that front,” Zipper squeaked angrily.

Chip was about to chime in, but looked up and noticed Kirby and Muldoon, staring quizzically down at the Rangers. He remembered that the officers could only understand Gadget. Noticing them, Isaac said, “OK, once we’re all dried off, first thing I should do is dig up whatever spell Aunt Winifred used on that Dr. Allen. If these two cops are in on this, they need to understand you guys.”

Chip cast a tentative glance up at Kirby and Muldoon, not sure how he felt about that. He had nothing but respect for these humans, but was it really a good idea? They, however, did not share his doubts. “There’s some hocus-pocus that can do that? Sign me up, then,” said Kirby.

“Me too. I remember Donald Drake’s ol’ dog, Plato. Oh, all the times I caught that mutt staring at me…as if he was staring BACK at me, thinkin’,” said Muldoon. “Now that I know his ticker was just as good as our tickers, would love to know what Drake’s ol’ boy would have to say.”

Right then, Chip also would have loved to hear what Plato would say. Plato was the very inspiration for the Rescue Rangers’ creation, and they proudly carried on his work after his retirement. Having worked with a sharp, shrewd detective like Donald Drake all those years, Plato could certainly provide some insight, shed light on anything Chip had overlooked. With all the puzzle pieces in this case, pieces that he had yet to fit together, Chip was more certain than ever the Rangers were missing something.

“You’re right about one thing, Isaac. We need to regroup and rest up before we plan our next move,” said Rebecca. “Unfortunately, all the leads I found brought us here, and if Norton’s done with it now…”

“This is where years of experience as detectives will go nicely with your years of experience as a soldier,” said Chip slyly, seeing the perfect opportunity to show Rebecca up. When she glared down at the chipmunk, Chip went on. “We need some sort of clue if we’re to find out where Norton Nimnul’s been going and where he pumped the chemicals to. Thankfully, I had an opportunity back there.”

Dale’s face brightened. “You mean, when Nimnul grabbed you? You purposely torqued him off so he’d do that?”

Chip nodded. “Despite all these new allies, I bet Nimnul still firmly believes in getting a job done right by doing it himself. I needed a close look at his hands. What the skin was like, the smell off of them, as well as…” He reached into his coat pocket, and pulled out an icky, black blob. “Just a little something I scraped out from under his fingernails. I figure, between Gadget and Isaac, they can find out where this gunk came from.”

Gadget had stayed silent this whole time, while the Rangers stood on her shoulders. But Gadget plucked Chip off her shoulder and brought him up to her face. Though a bit shocked by suddenly being grabbed by Gadget, Chip was finally getting used to it. He held up the black grime collected from Nimnul’s fingernails. Chip looked into Gadget’s gigantic, bloodshot eyes as she squinted. Besides seeing himself reflected in those sapphire eyes, he briefly saw…something else, something he couldn’t quite put his finger on. “This…should be enough to run a few tests on. Golly, that was some quick thinking, Chip. How’d you get him to not notice you were digging under his fingernails?”

“Easy. Just brought up his dead sister,” said Chip.

“And it worked? That’s how you got under his skin, both figuratively and literally?” Rebecca demanded. “Well, shouldn’t be too surprised. Bringing up his biggest screw-up would certainly bruise his delicate ego. It’s not as if he truly cared about Florence herself, or any of us.”

“I dunno, Rebecca. It looks like he’s the only thing that’s kept Fat Cat from offing Isaac himself so far,” Dale pointed out.

“And yet, that room with all the hostages somehow began to flood, with Isaac still in it. And that distracted us long enough for those crooks to escape,” said Rebecca darkly. “Besides, even if he truly feels remorse, it’s too late. Twelve years too late.”

“Rebecca’s right, Chip. With their backs to the walls, there’s nothing Fat Cat and Nimnul won’t do, no one they won’t be willing to hurt,” said Gadget vindictively. “Once Isaac and I analyze that grime, track them down…we’ve got to put a stop to all this.” Chip looked back to Gadget, not mistaking what he saw in her eyes this time. Pure hatred that chilled him far worse than how Snout’s weird conduit powers nearly froze her.

“Well, until you all are set to find the professor, why not stay at my grandma’s place for the night? The little spud probably has no clue I got family here too,” Muldoon offered. “It’s a big place, and tonight, she planned on throwin’ a Halloween bash early, since she knew I was blowin’ through town. Just hide in the crowd. And since there’s costumes and everythin’, maybe no one’ll notice, well, er…”

Gadget smiled at how Muldoon fumbled with his words. “Sounds like a lovely idea, Muldoon, but Isaac still has a…special disguise for me. Best play it safe,” she told him.

“Sticking together is most definitely a good idea,” Rebecca said in agreement. “Strength in numbers. Watch each other’s backs until we can pinpoint where my brother set up shop.”

“So I guess it doesn’t matter if I say I’m still iffy about letting Kirby and Muldoon in on this?” Chip asked delicately as Gadget set him back on her shoulder.

“Face it, little guy, this is war. The enemy’s recruited extra troops. So should we,” said Rebecca simply. Chip sighed as he watched Kirby and Muldoon walk back to their rental car. Meanwhile, Gadget finally found the strength to stand again, and carefully climbed into Rebecca’s van, the rest of the Rangers still on her shoulders. As Gadget sagged into the back seat, Chip leaned up against her neck, mulling over Rebecca’s words. There was no denying this was a war, but Rebecca made this her own private war long before this. Now Gadget was adopting the same outlook, and that still chilled Chip to the core.


Gadget gritted her teeth, hissing as Rebecca tended to her claw wounds, which had yet to heal completely. Rebecca wasn’t particularly gentle, and the bumpy ride in the back of the van didn’t make things any easier. Gadget had had to take her shirts off, leaving her in a sports bra. For some reason, that made Isaac a little…antsy.

“Stop being such a wuss and let’s get this over with,” snapped Rebecca. “And it would be helpful if SOMEONE would drive right and stop glancing back here,” she added sternly, casting a scything sideways glance at Isaac. “She’ll be just fine if I can patch everything up, kiddo.”

“Golly, Rebecca, there’s really no need. I’m sure these’ll all heal up eventually,” said Gadget. “I mean, I barely feel where that antler punctured my lung.”

“Just think about that for a second. Punctured. Lung. Do forgive me, but I think a second opinion is needed after something like that,” said Rebecca darkly. “And I won’t risk having you drop dead from an easily-preventable infection. My brother and that cat obviously fear you, so…”

“And here we thought it was Gadget’s sunny disposition, plus your dedication to protecting all creatures on God’s green Earth,” came Chip’s snide voice from somewhere else. Gadget sighed in annoyance, but let Rebecca bandage and disinfect the rest of her wounds. It was a bit painful, as well as a lengthy process, so it took a while for Gadget to notice the van had stopped.

Just as she did, Muldoon opened the side door. “Hey everyone, the party’s already started. Figured me and Kirby can set up yer microscopes and lab stuff in the guest room, while y’all go and…oh geez did I interrupt something?”

“And back in high school, all us girls figured Muldoon was the last boy we’d ever need to worry about peeking into the girls’ locker room,” said Rebecca teasingly.

“Honorable to a fault, everyone always said,” said Muldoon with a smile. “Anyway, as honored guests, think you can spare a few minutes relaxin’ at the party?”

“Might as well. I could sure use a drink,” said Rebecca. “By the way, where’s your partner?”

“You and them Rangers ain’t the only ones who know how to chase down leads,” said Muldoon with an air of mystery. “Figure while you’re all takin’ a breather, me an’ Kirby can get on the phone and pull a few strings. Us cops got resources too.” He turned to leave, but suddenly swiveled back. “Oh yeah, almost forgot. This bein’ a Halloween party, did some diggin’ in the attic and found some costumes.”

Muldoon tossed a blue bundle over to Isaac, then another pile of clothes over to Gadget. Curious, she unfolded them, surprised to find… “A…cowgirl outfit?” she asked dubiously, eyeing the long denim skirt, denim vest and high heeled cowboy boots.

Muldoon shrugged his shoulders. “Sorry, only thing I could find your size.”

“And just what the hell is this?” demanded Isaac. “Oh, just because I’m a skinny, awkward-looking kid, I must be a Trekkie?” Gadget looked over to the driver’s seat. Isaac had unfolded a blue Star Trek uniform. “And just WHY was this in the attic of your old place, pray tell?”

“So I religiously watched it when I was younger. Bite me,” Muldoon shot back. He then looked over to Rebecca. “And lemme guess, ol’ Bombshell Becky’s gonna go in her army fatigues?”

Rebecca smirked a little. “Actually, I wasn’t planning on changing at all. On Halloween, I figured I was scariest as myself.”

“And we loved you for it,” said Muldoon with a grin. With that, he finally shut the van door.

With so many people around, Isaac decided he had to recast the illusion spell right then and there. Gadget couldn’t quite figure out why he seemed more anxious once she looked human again. Then Rebecca shooed Isaac out of the van, telling Gadget to change out of her clothes and finish drying off. Sighing, Gadget started slipping on the costume. After how their adventure at the water treatment plant chilled her to the core, the snug, white sweater felt welcome. As Gadget pulled on the boots and donned the cowboy hat, she noticed Chip and Dale facing the other way in the corner. “Hey guys, turn around. Be honest, how does it look?” she asked sheepishly.

“Nice. Almost human,” teased Dale.

“By the way, where’s Monty?” asked Gadget.

“Probably went to the party ahead of us. We’d better get in there, in case he makes a ruckus with another cheese attack,” said Chip dryly.

Smiling, Gadget let Chip and Dale climb onto her open palm. After stowing them away in the pockets of her vest, Gadget stepped out, seeing that Isaac had his costume on as well. Also, Foxglove and Zipper flew out of the van. “Just try and relax, Gadget. We’ll keep a lookout,” Foxglove called back to them as they ascended.

Gadget watched them go, then turned back to Isaac, who seemed more anxious than ever. “Well, no point in standing around out here, Isaac. Kirby and Muldoon said they’d soon have one of the guest rooms set up, along with everything to analyze that glop. So until then, might as well try to enjoy ourselves.”

“Yeah, uh, might as well,” said Isaac. The two walked side-by-side, up toward the big house. Gadget always hated wearing heels, and these gaudy boots didn’t make it any easier. Isaac also seemed awkward as he walked on. Maybe his costume itched. But as uncomfortable as their costumes might have been, once they reached the front door and Gadget heard the partiers inside, she felt another source of discomfort. She was just too used to observing humans with them none the wiser. Being among so many again, posing as one of them, just felt horribly awkward.

Taking a deep breath, Gadget ventured through the front hallway. Her clacking heels somehow seemed to echo over the partying crowd, but so far so good. But just as she stepped into the main living room, Monterey suddenly dashed right underneath her, his arms full of Cheez-Its. Startled, Gadget almost tripped on those boots. Isaac dove to catch her, and helped her back onto her feet. “Whoa, watch yourself,” said Isaac.

Gadget nodded, then looked around. There was such a bizarre ensemble of costumes that swept by in a dizzying array, and blaring rock music made it hard to focus on anything. She felt and heard Dale dance around in her vest pocket. At least he was enjoying himself. “Oh, what are we doing here?” Gadget whispered to Isaac. “We don’t have time for a costume party. Can’t believe Rebecca, of all people, thought it was a good idea.”

“Rebecca? As in Rebecca Nimnul?” came a cheery, querulous voice. “Oh, my grandson phoned ahead and said an old friend would be stopping by.” Gadget and Isaac turned around to see the stout figure leaning against the wall, a greying woman in a kimono. “The name’s Debbie Waltzy, dearies. And those shades o’ red in your hair sure as sin mark you as part of ‘Bombshell Becky’s’ family. So, she went and started a family in the Army, did she?”

“Errr, well, not really. I’m just…her nephew, Isaac. And this is, well, ummm, someone in the neighborhood who came along. Y’see, she’s, uhh, interested in Philadelphia University. Her name’s, uhmmm…Tress.”

Gadget’s eyes widened at the name Isaac picked out for her. Somehow, it felt…weird.

Debbie Waltzy grinned at them. “Just someone who came along for the ride? You sure about that? You two look quite cute together.” Out the corner of her eye, Gadget thought she saw Isaac blush. Suddenly, a new song began to play; though it still had influences from metal, it was much softer, almost symphonic, in tone. “Ah, I knew there was some stuff in this mix that resembled tunes you could dance to,” said Debbie. “Looks like the other guests are making the most of it. You two might as well also,” she finished with a wink.

Looking around, Gadget saw that many couples had started some loose, frenzied version of the traditional slow dance. And when another partier bumped into Isaac, pushing him into Gadget’s arms, something told her she might as well go with the façade. Gadget swung Isaac around a little, if for no other reason than to get them away from Muldoon’s grandmother. When she felt comfortable enough to look down at Isaac, the first thing she could think of saying…was to ask him, “Tress?

“Well…with this illusion, I dunno, you kind of look like a ‘Tress’,” Isaac said sheepishly. They danced around a little more, and Isaac looked as if he was almost enjoying himself. “But you’re right, we can stay here too long,” Isaac said quickly. “We’ll need to get something to eat, get the work analyzing that sample. Is it always like this, life as a Ranger? Chasing one lead after the next, barely enough time for a breather?”

Gadget sighed. “Whenever Fat Cat and your uncle are involved, yeah. That’s usually how it is.”

Isaac digested this as they kept up a show of dancing. “You’re amazing, Gadget. You and all the Rangers. I just don’t get how you do it. Never getting paid or anything, never getting any recognition…you do it all purely for the right reasons.”

“I’d…like to think so,” said Gadget, suddenly remembering her arguments with Chip. Gadget brushed it aside, saying, “Of course, these days, it’s not as if we toil in total obscurity.” She looked around the room, watching the other partiers dance. A sobering thought came to her, one that made her bristle with resentment. “And I can’t help but wonder, if your concentration slips and everyone sees the real me…”

“I know, I know. Believe me, I’m concentrating EXTRA HARD right now,” Isaac said quickly. “Hopefully, that gunk Chip scraped up’ll lead us right to my uncle, and then things can go back to the way they were. Reverse whatever I inadvertently did to you.” The idea that, after all that had already happened, things could ever be ‘normal’ again, suddenly seemed naïve to Gadget. It must have shown in her face, since Isaac said, “That is…if that’s what you want. I mean, it’s not like you planned to stay this way, right?”

Gadget pondered it for a moment. “I’m…not sure. It wouldn’t definitely mean we’d stop using our tree as our main headquarters, and I doubt your aunt would be happy about me being a permanent resident at her place.”

“Hey, she was fussing over your health. That’s a good sign,” Isaac laughed. “But seriously, whether you want to stay bonded or not, I’ll help you. It’s just…whatever happens, I just want to make sure I’m still involved in the Rescue Rangers. I still want to be there for everyone.”

Gadget smiled. Whatever Isaac thought of himself, he was definitely unlike any other human she met. Both him and his aunt. They danced for a little bit longer, but then the music changed. It started out as a slow, rocky tune, something else that could be danced to, but Isaac suddenly stopped. “Heh, Blue Oyster Cult,” he muttered.

“So? Why’d you stop? What’s this song…” Gadget’s words trailed off when the lyrics began. “Oh, I get it. Godzilla, right?” Isaac and Gadget looked at each other for a moment, knowing they were thinking the same thing. “Don’t worry, Isaac. I’m sure I can’t get angry enough, or siphon enough of your life force, to trigger growth like THAT.”

Isaac shrugged his shoulders. “Would be interesting to see, though. Something Philly would never forget. Or me,” he said jokingly. “I mean, this all started when you were helpless in my hands. That would be a complete role reversal.”

Gadget said nothing, not knowing what to think. Just then, the stereo blared, “History shows again and again how nature points up the folly of man…


Chip had just been relaxing in Gadget’s vest pocket, content with its softness and the warmth coming off Gadget’s body. Even with Dale’s sporadic bouts of dancing, he was able to forget about the toll the case was taking, if only for a brief time. But then, Dale climbed out of the pocket. Chip peeked out to see Dale scurrying down Gadget’s skirt, with her none the wiser. Knowing that he’d better keep an eye on Dale, Chip sighed and took off after him.

Chip eventually tailed Dale to the top of a table with snacks laid out. When he caught up, Dale was already busy stuffing his face with candy corn. “Hey, can’t do detective work on an empty stomach,” Dale said dismissively, his mouth half-full. “Want a piece?”

Chip just glared at Dale. “Just…keep out of sight,” he said stiffly. As Dale went back to feeding his face, Chip noticed Muldoon had walked by, wearing his police uniform.

“Don’t go out of your way, grandson, coming up with such a creative costume,” scolded Debbie. “So, Bombshell Becky has finally come home. Do I need to ask?”

“Give me a day or two, then we’ll know if anything’s still there,” said Muldoon quickly.

“And that lovely young couple over there… That boy, it’s Florence Osceola’s son, isn’t it?” said Debbie matter-of-factly. “Oh, we all remember that nasty business twelve years ago. Seems that whole family’s been plagued by nothing but misfortune. Plagued for centuries.”

Chip’s ears pricked up. Chip had suspected there was more to the Nimnul family than Winifred let on, and hoped to learn more. Just then, he noticed Muldoon looking in his direction. “Plagued for centuries?” repeated Muldoon. “What d’you mean, grandma?”

“Dale, remind me to tell Muldoon I have no more doubts, once he can understand us,” Chip told Dale, even though he was still preoccupied with getting his sugar rush.

“Well, it’s just rumor and hearsay as time went along, but they say the Nimnuls’ earliest ancestor in this city…she sacrificed herself,” Debbie explained. “Legend has it she was a sorceress, the best that ever came to these shores. She came here to preach peace, understanding and unity, to peoples she knew would turn a deaf ear. But she kept trying, putting her magic to the best use, trying to keep the peace, in a land where unruly colonists eyed each other with mistrust, and the natives eyed them with suspicion.

“In time, that suspicion turn to fear, turned to hate. The Indian tribes that once lived around here…they had their own magic, and wove the darkest spell possible. At the time, there were already peace treaties, an established fur trade, and William Penn led with wisdom and fairness. But the diseases colonists brought over were still taking a toll, and sporadic fights were not uncommon. Driven by fear their people, their way of life, would end, they found a way to harness all the dark emotion of all the land’s tribes, living and dead. All their hate, fear, doubt, thirst for vengeance…all consolidated as one big blob of dark energy. A frightful creation called Mechel-Machtap.

“This ancestor of the Nimnuls…she got wind of it. Ever the arbiter of peace, she pleaded with the renegade Indians to cease and desist. But the Mechel-Machtap had grown too much, too fast, and was out of control. She had no choice but to use all her power to contain it, seal it away.

“But I’ve heard the colonists soon became just as fearful of her as they were the rogue Indians, and burned her at the stake. Some say that’s how she met her end, not by sacrificing herself. Either way, Willian Penn was irate when he found out. Of course, this is all just a legend, but some say the Mechel-Machtap is still here in Philly, sealed away deep underground, waiting to be unleashed…”

As Debbie finished her story, Chip noticed Dale had stopped eating just long enough to listen in. “Whoa, that’s some deep stuff,” he commented. “Think this has anything to do with our case?”

“Of COURSE it does, lamebrain!” spat Chip. “I knew there was more to her family history than Winifred let on! I even heard her say this whole caper is all about this Dorothea Oakheart’s legacy. But this new thing, this Mechel-Machtap, what could…I mean, what’s…” As Chip mulled over the story, his gaze drifted around the room. Another slower song had started, and Gadget and Isaac began dancing again.

Dale noticed what Chip was staring at. “I hear ya, Chip,” spat Dale. “I mean, Sparky was bad enough, but now a human?”

“We’re probably overreacting,” said Chip. “I mean, on some level, Gadget’s gotta realize that too, right?”

“And Gadget’s into technology and engineering and whatnot. Isaac’s all about biology and chemistry and medicines and stuff,” Dale added. They nodded to each other, smiling confidently, but he knew Dale’s smile masked the same doubts he still had. Looking back to Isaac and Gadget, that doubt and uncertainty kept plaguing him. Was there even a chance to undo whatever Isaac did, and even if there was, would Gadget want to?

As these tumultuous thoughts kept vexing him, Chip’s eyes slowly drifted up above Gadget and Isaac. Up at the Halloween decorations overhead. Suddenly, it hit him. “Halloween. Fat Cat and Nimnul…their plan is all about Halloween.”

“So…they’re gonna put those chemicals in all the Halloween candy, and make a robot with a giant pumpkin head?” asked Dale.

This time, Chip couldn’t resist bonking Dale on the head. “No, dummy! Halloween comes from the Celtic festival Samhain. On that day, the troubled spirits of the dead could return to Earth. This thing Dorothea Oakheart imprisoned, this Mechel-Machtap…if that’s really what Halloween is about, that’s the day this seal ofrwhatever is weak enough to break, and Mechel-Machtap can be harnessed. I’ll have to ask Foxglove, but…I’m sure THAT’S what Fat Cat and Nimnul are after! This whole thing with the chemicals must be to break the seal, and the robot is meant to contain the Mechel-Machtap!”

Not waiting for another stupid comment from Dale, Chip climbed down the tablecloth and carefully ran across the room to Gadget. If his hunch was right, they really had no time to waste here. They had to find Nimnul’s hideout in Philly as soon as possible. Just when he thought he lost track of Gadget, her cowboy boot soared right over his head, missing him by mere millimeters. After the denim skirt swept over him, Chip quickly grabbed the hem and began climbing. And although he did his best to avoid looking up at her face, Chip still caught a glimpse of how…content Gadget looked.


“So yeah, Sparky’s good as new now, and work on that Ranger Angel is going pretty fast.” Tammy’s voice sounded a little staticy, but Chip could still understand what was coming through the phone. “And thankfully, Bink’s been staying out of trouble. Actually, I got Queenie to thank for that, keeping tabs on her. Complains nonstop about how you can’t turn your back on Bink for a second, but Queenie just does it anyway.”

“Well, nice to know headquarters is in good hands,” Chip said loudly into the phone. “But…speaking of Queenie, is she aware that, uhhh, Dr. Irweena Allen is out?”

“Are you kidding?! You think a giant mouse and an alligator in a cape, breaking into a prison bus, somehow WON’T make the news?!” cried Tammy. “It took both me and Sparky to convince her not to fly straight to Philadelphia with her entire swarm! But the tradeoff is…as soon as the Ranger Angel is done, we move out.”

That didn’t sit well with Chip, now that they knew what Fat Cat and Nimnul were really planning. “Gee, Tammy, I don’t know. I don’t like the idea of no one being there to watch the city…”

“Oh, but wasn’t Rat Capone the biggest threat you were worried about? After what went down last night, I sincerity doubt they’ll be a problem again anytime soon,” said Tammy smoothly.

Chip’s eyes widened. “Oh no, Tammy, what did…”

“Relax, Chipper. Me, Sparky and Queenie handled everything,” said Tammy. “Remember how you said Capone kept trying to monopolize the market for cheese for the mice? Well, with Fat Cat gone, I guess he figured he could do the same with the cat’s market for fish. It’ll take too long to explain what happened, but…let’s just say Queenie introduced Mousenegger to a wolverine, Sparky gave Sugar Ray a close look at the inside of DVD player, and I gave Rat Capone a free ride in a hotel washing machine.”

Chip fell silent for a moment, staring blankly into space ahead. “OK, I stand corrected. Doesn’t sound like anyone will try anything for a while,” he said at length. “But with any luck, we’ll have everything wrapped up by morning.”

It sounded like Tammy let out a disappointed sigh. “OK, Chipper. Call us back tomorrow night. And tell Gadget not to work herself too hard. See you all soon.”

With that, Tammy hung up, leaving Chip with the awkward task of putting the phone back on the hook. Once he did, he looked around the guest room. Gadget and Isaac were at the table at the far end, still working with the microscope and chemistry equipment. Dale had made himself at home on the bed, flipping channels with the remote right next to him. Monterey Jack was snoozing nearby, while Foxglove and Zipper were perched on the fan above.

Just then, Rebecca walked in, holding a pizza box. Monterey Jack sat up instantly, obviously using all his willpower not to jump at the box right away. Rebecca’s scything glare in his direction was probably the motivation. She slowly turned to look at Gadget and Isaac. “So, any luck yet?”

“Well, under the microscope, we’re seeing a lot of tiny fibers. And Isaac already did some chemical tests,” said Gadget. “His guess is that the grime had trace elements of chemicals used for things like dying and scouring. Pretty easy to guess where this is all leading.”

“A textile mill,” said Chip flatly. “Only problem is, here in Philadelphia, there’s still plenty of them.”

And we didn’t come across any clues to narrow it to a specific one,” said Isaac. “I’m…just not that good of a chemist, and I don’t have the equipment to do much else. This is the best I could do.”

“So…Nimnul’s slapping together a big robot in a textile factory?” Dale asked.

“More like he’s got it housed in the sewers somewhere close to one, where there’s plenty o’ runoff,” Monterey pointed out.

“At least we know now to concentrate our search on the sewers near the textile plants around here. We’ll get a few hours of sleep, then get started at the nearest one before the sun rises,” said Rebecca. “In the meantime, I went and got myself a pizza. Anyone care to join me?”

Monterey Jack practically flew across the room toward Rebecca, and Dale ran across the length of the bed in record time. Chip stayed put, not feeling hungry; there was far too much on his mind. But that didn’t keep him from noticing an odd look on Isaac’s face. He suddenly sat bolt erect in his chair, sniffing at the air…the way a rodent would. Suddenly, his eyes widened, filled with unmistakable terror. In a flash, he darted across the guest room. “NOOOO!!!” he screamed, slapping the pizza box out of his aunt’s hands.

The pizza splattered against the wall next to the nightstand with the phone. Chip looked at the pizza as it slid down the wall, then back to Isaac. He just stood there, breathing heavily, eyes still full of fear. “W-W-What’s gotten into you, Isaac?” Chip demanded. “You think your aunt poisoned the pizza or something?”

Rebecca said nothing, calmly crossing the room and picking up a slice. She held up a slice to her face, and dragged a fingertip along the cheese. After inspecting whatever she collected on her fingertip, she gravely said, “Wasn’t me, but what this pizza’s been laced with…it’s definitely poison for all of you. Ground-up Coumadin tablets. When you’ve been through as many surgeries as I have, you know the look of it very well.”

“And Coumadin does…what?” asked Dale timidly.

“Before it was used in anticoagulant therapy for humans, it was…used to make rodents hemorrhage to death,” said Isaac in a soft, almost ashamed, voice.

“But…crystalline warfarin sodium is almost completely odorless,” said Gadget. “How could you POSSIBLY tell there was something wrong with the pizza, unless…”

Silence hung in the air for a moment, then Isaac said, “A mouse’s sense of smell. The bond…it’s really working both ways.”

Chip was ready to kick himself for feeling so jealous again at a time like this. He felt compelled to say something, anything, but nothing came. What was more chilling than this attempt to poison them was the look on Rebecca’s face. Chip thought she was cold and standoffish before, but because of this latest affront, she had an expression that could freeze volcanoes over. And as terrible as that was, the fury he saw brewing in Gadget’s eyes was even more terrifying.

At that moment, Kirby burst through the door, his silly grin completely at odds with everyone else’s mood. “Hey guys, good news. I got in touch with the cops over in Pittsburgh. They suspect ill-gotten goods’ve been hauled out of the city via train for over a month. Checked the schedules for all trains comin’ in and out of Pittsburgh; only one’s haulin’ enough carts to hide these big robot parts y’all were talkin’ about, and it’ll be here around 9:30 tomorrow morning. Couldn’t be specific enough so that the boys in Pittsburgh could bust anyone, for obvious reasons, so we trash it when it arrives here,” he told them, sounding pleased with himself. It took Kirby a while to notice the grave looks on everyone’s faces. “Did I…show up at a bad time?”

“Not really. It’s just that we…just found out some opportunist laced a pizza with anticoagulant that would’ve killed the Rescue Rangers,” said Isaac tonelessly.

At once, Kirby’s face went from jovial to stony in a second. “Me and Muldoon’ll take turns standin’ watch over this room. You all just get some sleep.”

“Kirby, is that necessary? Rebecca’s sharp enough to make sure no one can follow her,” Chip told him.

Kirby turned in Chip’s direction. “Not sure what you just said, bro, but just sit tight and let us handle everything. Let us watch your backs for once.”

Kirby turned to leave, but Rebecca said, “Tell Muldoon to get up early enough so I can treat him to coffee in the morning. I owe him that much.” Kirby just smiled back, then shut the door. Rebecca turned to face everyone else. “Looks like it’s obvious what we have to do tomorrow. Intercept that train and destroy whatever Norton’s smuggling into Philly. That’ll buy us the time to search the sewers around every textile mill in the city. Hopefully, we can stop all of this before Halloween. We have to, if Chip’s suspicions are to be believed.”

Chip bristled at the notion that his hunches should be doubted, but said nothing else. It was Foxglove who spoke up. “Oh, I believe Chip. Winifred talked about the significance of Halloween more than once, and now that I think about it, she once mentioned something like the legend Chip heard. She absolutely idolized Dorothea Oakheart, tried to learn everything about her, always talked about her accomplishments…but I always felt there were things she kept to herself.”

“Like an ultimate source of evil power that Oakheart practically gave her life to seal away, which she’s trying to unleash,” spat Chip. “Some way to show reverence for her ancestor.”

“Well, there’s nothing we can do about my screwball siblings right now, so we might as well get some sleep,” said Rebecca. She tossed Isaac and Gadget two rolled-up bundles. “Sleeping bags. Sorry you two, but I call dibs on the bed for tonight.”

Isaac just stood there, holding his rolled-up sleeping bag, but Gadget said, “Can someone please remind me why she gets to boss us all around?”

Chapter 14: Salt of the Earth

Being stuck in the van’s back seat, it took a while for Chip to notice the morning sun had risen even higher. As it was, the Rangers were all nestled in Gadget’s lap, and she was squeezed in between Kirby and Muldoon. As more sunlight shone through the van’s windows, Chip absentmindedly looked up. Gadget was once again magically disguised, wearing jeans and a white T-shirt. As the sunlight struck her face, her sheer angelic beauty shone through those human features. However, the look on her face…there was a coldness there, a stormy darkness, that felt as if no amount of light could diminish. She stared at the road ahead, her stony face inscrutable.

Chip wasn’t the only one to notice this. “Gadget-luv’s barely said more than ten words all mornin’, mate,” said Monterey Jack. “Hopefully this means she’s itchin’ to wreck the parts for Nimnul’s new toy.”

“Let’s hope that’s all it means,” Chip muttered under his breath.

“I’m just glad the link between channeler and conduit became as strong as it did,” said Foxglove. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t have found out about the poisoned pizza until it was too late.”

“That’s what still getting me. Even if this link gave Isaac a rodent’s sense of smell…there’s no way he could’ve sniffed out that poison. At least, according to Isaac himself. He said crystallized warfarin has no smell, so how could…”

“Yeah yeah yeah. Like it or not, mate, this link between the bloke and Gadget-luv is for real. You yourself saw how it gave ‘im technical know-how when it shouldn’ta been there,” Moneterey said. “I suggest you an’ Dale just get over your jealousy and take advantage of what he can do for Gadget.”

“Hmm? What’s that about jealousy and an advantage or somethin’?” came Kirby’s curious voice from above. Looking up, Chip saw brief understanding in the cop’s eyes. Earlier that morning, Isaac claimed he found the same spell Winifred used on Irweena, and obviously it had some effect.

“N-N-Nothing, Kirby, it’s nothing important,” Chip said quickly. He cast a quick glance up at Gadget, who kept looking ahead with a stony face, before turning back to Monterey and Foxglove. “You see?  Isaac did in minutes what it probably took Winifred years to learn to do. Dale pointed this out already, and he has a good point. I trust Isaac…for the most part, but something still smells fishy.”

Chip began to see some worry in Foxglove’s eyes, and Monterey cast a furtive glance over at Isaac. Encouraged that he was getting through to them, Chip continued. “This whole time, I’ve had this nagging feeling the Rangers are being…herded toward something. I can’t explain it, but…it’s like we’re being led somewhere in a panic, before we can really figure out what’s going on.”

“That makes no sense, mate,” said Monterey. “This whole time, Fat Cat an’ Nimnul’ve been tryin’ to throw us off the scent, not lead us right to ‘em!”

“Besides, you said you already figured out what they’re doing,” said Foxglove. “If you’re hunch is right, Dorothea Oakheart’s seal on the Mechel-Machtap is about to be undone. Now things look pretty simple.”

“I thought they were, Foxglove. But speaking of Dorothea Oakheart…you said the image of a deer exploded out of Snout, right? Well, thinking back, I bet it was a jaguar’s form that came out of Mepps. Jaguar and deer…two of Oakheart’s conduits. There’s got to be some significance there, something we’ve yet to…”

“OK troops, we’re on the highways circling downtown Philly. It should be about twenty minutes till we reach the station where the train from Pittsburgh is making a stop,” Rebecca informed them as she drove on. “Once it arrives, we sneak in and sabotage whether Norton’s shipping here.”

“Uhhh, any ideas on how we’re supposed to do that?” Muldoon asked delicately.

“Actually, I was hoping you two could help with that, being in law enforcement and security and all,” said Rebecca. “Get in the heads of crooks trying to rob trains and all, think like your enemies. I’m a soldier, not a cop. And to be honest, I’ve been making this up as I go along. Too much weird stuff’s been thrown our way to really strategize.”

So she feels the same way, Chip mused. Rebecca Nimnul was a soldier, pure and simple. For her, thwarting Norton Nimnul and hauling him in was her only concern, and focused solely on that. But Chip, being a detective, did not have the luxury of such a narrow focus. Something else was going on, something he couldn’t see yet.

“Speaking of which, you two seem to take it pretty well, sitting next to a giant mouse and understanding all her little friends, as if it’s nothing,” Isaac quipped from the front seat. “Took both of us a while to…wrap our heads around that.”

Muldoon shrugged his shoulders. “Far as I’m concerned, they’ve already ridden with us plenty of times.”

“Anyway, you blokes raise a good point,” said Monterey Jack. “We gots to figure just what t’ do once we…”

Monterey was cut off when something rocked the van, some sort of explosion along its side. All the Rangers were thrown off of Gadget’s lap, yelping. They landed roughly in between the front seats. Dazed, Chip looked up, seeing Gadget looming over them, having thrown her arms forward to steady herself. Her face remained unreadable, but she finally broke her silence. “What’s going on now. What’re we…”

Another jolt cut her off. The Rangers were knocked around the van again. At the moment, Chip envied Gadget. From his current vantage point, it was difficult to see out the windows and figure out what the hell was going on. Luckily, their new human friends would keep them up to speed. “It’s Winifred and that four-eyes cellmate of hers,” spat Rebecca. “Freddie’s back on that goddamn vacuum cleaner, throwin’ zaps at us. And it looks like my brother helped that other con whip up some flying gizmo of her own.”

Rebecca swerved hard to the right, and Chip heard something blow out a chunk of asphalt behind them, right before his head smacked into the metal framework under Isaac’s seat. Swearing under his breath, Chip got up and climbed up to Isaac’s shoulder. From there, he got a good look in his door’s rear-view mirror.

His jaw dropped as Irweena came into view, swerving in between cars. It wasn’t exactly her old bee costume, but Irweena had a yellow-and-black striped bodysuit. And on her back with wings again...but functional, mechanical ones, mimicking a dragonfly’s. Reflective goggles obscured what Chip knew were eyes ablaze with rage. As Dr. Allen set her sights on the van, teeth gritted, she raised her arms. On her forearms, it looked as if mini-speakers were mounted on them, aimed at the van.

On impulse, Chip dug into Isaac’s shoulder and shouted, “Rebecca, hard to the left…NOW!” Thankfully, Rebecca was trained to act, and the van’s tires screeched in protest as she swerved to the left. Looking back in the mirror, Chip watched as Irweena projected destructive sound waves down at the street, which effortlessly ripped through the asphalt. If Rebecca hadn’t swerved in time, the van would’ve been reduced to scrap.

“See what I mean, Chippah? All Fat Cat and Nimnul want is ta keep us away, not lead us anywhere,” drawled Monterey groggily from the van floor.

“So what d’we do now?!” cried Dale.

“Figurin’ out how NOT to be a sittin’ duck on this highway would be a good start, little fella,” said Kirby darkly as another blast of magical energy narrowly missed the van. “Any ideas?”

“I’m getting there, I’m getting there,” said Rebecca impatiently. “One thing’s for sure, this changes our plans. They’ll keep us away from that train…unless we can distract them.”

“Distract them? How?” demanded Gadget.

“Simple, honeybunch. There’s an overpass five minutes ahead that we’re about to go under. Pretty dark under there. If I can distract them, they might not notice if, say, a certain massive mouse-girl jumps down to the street below,” said Rebecca with a hint of confidence.

“And…how’re you gonna distract the chain gang out there?” asked Dale nervously.

“Simple. Kirby or Muldoon takes the wheel, and I pop the back door and return fire. While they’re focused on me, Gadget’ll jump out under the overpass, with Isaac and my Harley. Then Isaac rides her to the train while it’s still going, she jumps on, gets in and rips Norton’s machine parts to shreds. She’s familiar with his work, she knows what to look for.” Rebecca looked back at Gadget. “You up for a fifty-foot dive off the highway?”

For a moment, Gadget’s dark mood faded. “Gee, that means I’ll have to touch the bike. I do have permission, right?” she said slyly.

Rebecca let out an exasperated sigh, but couldn’t hide a smirk of her own. “Yes, Gadget, you may touch the bike. OK, people, let’s all get into position.”

There was a lot of grunting and awkward scuffling as the four humans and Gadget tried to squeeze past each other. More than once, Chip narrowly avoided getting squashed by a foot or hand coming out of nowhere. Eventually, Kirby was in the driver’s seat, using his police training to deftly avoid fire. Rebecca and Gadget got to the back of the van. After the motorcycle was unstrapped, Rebecca fished out an assault rifle.

Chip was still at the front of the van, but he could clearly see what Rebecca was about to do. “Rebecca, are you serious? That’s…your sister out there!” he shouted to her.

“She’s sided with the enemy, furball. She’s made her choice,” Rebecca said coldly. Without another word, she fastened a strap that secured her to the side of the van, and threw open the back door. Right away, Chip caught a glimpse of Irweena and Winifred moving in, hovering only a few feet over the road. Both were set to blast the van, but Rebecca opened fire, forcing them to veer off.

Good thing traffic is surprisingly light this morning, Chip thought dourly. He wouldn’t stand for any innocent bystanders caught in the line of fire. Irweena swerved into view again, fired off another sonic blast, but Kirby’s swift driving skills in tandem with Rebecca’s counterfire kept her at bay.

“That overpass should be coming up any second,” Rebecca shouted over her own gunfire. “Gadget, you and Isaac ready?”

“Roger wilco, Rebecca,” Gadget said brightly, but Chip could still sense brewing fury in her words. Gadget stood before the side door, her left arm slung around Isaac while she precariously balanced the Harley under her other arm. It was no easy feat in the confines of the van, but she was ready.

“Good,” said Muldoon, “because we’ll be makin’ that sharp turn in three…two…one…”

Isaac thrust open the side door, and a split-second later, Gadget leaped out just as Kirby banked hard to the left. Chip could only watch as Gadget and Isaac sailed out into the shadows under the overpass, and then drop to the street below.


Gadget’s feet smashed into the sidewalk on the street below, cracks spidering everywhere. The shockwave carried over into the street, shattering windows and making some cars skid to a halt. But Gadget paid no attention, instead looking back up. She could hear the buzz of Irweena’s mechanical wings, the clanking of Winifred’s vacuum cleaner…but they were fading fast. “Amazing…her plan worked. Golly, it took her what, ten seconds to come up with that?”

“That’s my Aunt Becky. Say what you will, but she can sure think on the fly,” said Isaac. Gadget set the motorcycle down, allowing Isaac to climb on and start it up. “We’re in business, Gadget. Climb on and let’s fly.”

Gadget hopped on behind Isaac, but the bike squealed in protest. “Oh yeah, I’m carrying a few extra pounds,” she said sheepishly. “You think you can ride OK with all the extra weight?”

“Gadget, the one thing Aunt Becky couldn’t wait for…was me being old enough to be taught how to ride,” said Isaac confidently as he donned a helmet. “Unfortunately, we only got one of these, so hang on.” Getting the hint, Gadget wrapped her arms around Isaac. He seemed to hesitate for a moment because of that, but soon the bike peeled out, barreling onto the street.

Isaac hadn’t been exaggerating. They were going way over the speed limit, but even with that and all the extra weight, Isaac effortlessly handled the bike. They zoomed ahead, deftly swerving in between cars. More than once, Gadget feared that they were about to crash and wind up stains on the road, but each time, Isaac maneuvered the bike to avert disaster. The whole time, Gadget never got the sense that Isaac was afraid of fouling up, never picked up on a hint of self-doubt. “Golly, Isaac, aren’t you the least bit afraid of going this fast?” she asked bluntly.

“Y’know, I really should be,” Isaac admitted. “Guess I’m too focused on the task at hand to be worried about little things like becoming a vegetable for life.” Isaac was such a funny human, Gadget realized. For him, fear of doing something so reckless was nothing compared to his fear of not living up to expectations. “OK Gadget, the tracks’ll be coming up ahead real soon. If we’re lucky, it’ll be chugging by just as we pass. Think you’re up for another leap of faith?”

Gadget smiled at him. “After this last ride, I don’t think anything’ll scare me,” said Gadget.

“Good, because I think I hear the train now,” said Isaac, glancing to his right. Sure enough, several train carts were speeding by. Brace yourself Gadget, I’m about to slingshot you over there, and you’re on your own.”

“I’ll be fine. Just keep your head down for a while, let your aunt handle Winifred and Dr. Allen,” said Gadget. As soon as she said that, Isaac turned hard to the left and skidded to a halt, launching Gadget ahead like a missile.

She soared toward the train, coming down fast upon one of the freight carts. On instinct, she reached out with one hand and popped her clawnails. They dug into the metal, ripping through the roof as her momentum slowed. She stopped just as she would have fallen in between two of the carts. As she took a moment to catch her breath, Gadget looked at her hand. Already, the illusion was fading. Human skin seemed to ‘flake’ off her fingers, dissolving into nothingness and leaving her fur and magical black markings exposed. The effect traveled down her arm, and in seconds she was completely exposed.

Gadget wasn’t sure why that was so discomforting. It wasn’t like she was trying to go undercover here, and there couldn’t be any humans back here. Taking another deep breath, Gadget slowly stood up, nursing her aching arm. But suddenly, something came at her from behind, knocking her flat on her face. Looking up, Gadget saw one of those mechanical bulldogs staring her down, snarling. All around her, Gadget heard telltale signs of more approaching; low, grating growls, scraping of metal paws…

Stupid of me to think Nimnul would leave his last parts unguarded, Gadget thought, mentally chiding herself. Her face grim, she slowly rose, eyeballing the bulldog angrily. “Alright, boys, let’s do this…”


A stalemate. This was a textbook definition of the word. Kirby was too good a driver, and Rebecca’s skill with an assault rifle kept Irweena and Winifred at bay. For good measure, Muldoon occasionally poked his head out to squeeze off a few rounds. However, Irweena and Winifred were too fast and maneuverable in the air. Rebecca clipped the side of Winifred’s vacuum cleaner a couple times, and Muldoon clipped Dr. Allen’s arm once. But other than that, neither could land a shot. And eventually, they would run out of ammo…

“This ain’t good, pallies. We ain’t doin’ Gadget-luv and Isaac any good, pinned down by these harpies,” Monterey Jack grumbled.

“You got any suggestions, mouse, I’m listenin’!” Muldoon shot back after ducking his head back in. “C’mon, guys. You’re the ones always keepin’ me and Kirby outta messes like this. If you got any plans to pull outta your boss’s hat, now’s the time!”

Chip growled at himself. Muldoon was absolutely right. They were the Rescue Rangers. At what point had they gotten too comfortable having human partners, letting them do the heavy lifting? Turning to the Rangers, he said, “He’s right, guys! The Ranger Wing’s repaired and here in this van! I say we use it! Here’s what we’re gonna do…”

The Rangers huddled up, and Chip told him his plan. Almost as soon as he was done, another jolt rocked the van. “That one came a hair within blowin’ a tire, guys!” screamed Muldoon. “No pressure or anythin’, but…”

“We hear you, Muldoon! Rescue Rangers, away!” Chip, Dale and Monterey Jack scurried to the back, Zipper flying right behind. Once they reached the Ranger Wing and were ready to unfasten it, Foxglove joined them. Looking past Rebecca, Chip saw one of Winifred’s spell blasts miss the van, but cause some cars to flip over and crash. “This is getting out of hand. Someone’ll get killed soon, either by them or by Rebecca’s gunfire.”

“Then get out there, do whatever you’re gonna do, so I don’t HAVE to fire back!” Rebecca shot back.

“You heard the army brat, guys,” said Chip. “Monty, take the wheel. Dale, in the back seat with me. Zipper, hang onto Foxglove. Rebecca, if you would, a little cover fire…”

Rebecca laid down more fire, and Chip removed the last strap fastening the Ranger Wing. It was flung out of the van as Monterey put it in reverse At the same time, Foxglove spread her wings, letting herself be swept out. She veered right over to her former channeler, her feet digging into her cloak.

“What in the…Foxglove?! Why, you little…” Winifred began, but Zipper launched himself off of Foxglove’s head, poking Winifred in the eye. Foxglove, meanwhile, wasted no time on words. But that was partly because she had stuffed her mouth with gum right before rejoining the Rangers. While Winifred was distracted by Zipper, Foxglove flew up to her hand, which was holding the vacuum’s hose. After Foxglove spat the huge wad of gum into it, the whole vacuum began to sputter and wobble.

“Why you stupid, ungrateful turncoat!” Winifred howled impotently as the vacuum veered off uncontrollably. Foxglove and Zipper left Winifred to fend for herself, flying over to Irweena as quickly as they could.

However, the other Rangers had things well in hand. Chip and Dale had jumped out onto Irweena while Monterey drew her fire. Like before, it proved ridiculously easy to sabotage her gear; ripping out a few wires was more than enough. She veered away from the bridge they were going over, and Monterey flew back just in time, catching Chip and Dale as they jumped off her back. “Not again! You stupid little rodents…” cried Dr. Allen, but her enraged voice faded fast. As Foxglove and Zipper climbed back into the Ranger Wing, Chip and Dale looked down at the street below the bridge. Irweena was still out of control, and a bus with ‘IRON GOOSE’ painted on the side collided with her.

Chip and Dale just stared at each other for a moment. “Wow. Talk about laser-guided karma,” was all Dale could say.

Chip sighed. “Whatever. We’re done here. Monty, take us back.”

“Aye, mate!” replied Monterey Jack. The Ranger Wing sped back to the van, and Muldoon was holding the side door open, motioning for them to fly back in.

Once they safely landed inside the van, Chip climbed out and turned to Rebecca. “We better go find Isaac and Gadget. Who know how many more of Fat Cat’s cronies are out this morning?”


Gadget lost track of how long she was atop that train car, swatting down bothersome robotic mutts. It seemed like every time she smashed one apart, two more clambered up to take its place. And though they had yet to seriously hurt her, Gadget knew if their numbers were great enough, they could wear her down. “Golly, you were enough trouble when there were only three of you!” she cried out as another robot lunged at her. Gadget effortlessly grabbed its face, contorting the metal as she closed her hand, and threw it at another dog that climbed up. She heard the clanking of another dog behind her, and swiftly ducked, spun and kicked at it, sending it flying off the train car. But another climbed up and lunged at her from behind, biting down hard enough on her shoulder to draw blood. And then another one climbed up and charged, knocking her onto her back.

Screaming in frustration as more piled onto her, Gadget flailed about, hoping to shake them off. One bit down on her arm, and Gadget repeatedly slammed it onto the train car until it broke apart. Eventually, Gadget could sit back up, grabbing at the robot dogs and hurling them off the train. It was then she realized that, for the moment, no more were climbing up to face her. “About time,” she thought aloud. “Now to get in these train cars and…”

There were no more robot dogs, but something else had snuck up, something strong enough to put her in a suffocating chokehold. Forcing down panic, Gadget turned her head toward her assailant’s fist, forcing down the arm with her chin. As her assailant struggled to keep hold, Gadget grabbed the fist with her left hand and crouched down. The sudden movement gave Gadget an opening, and she rammed whoever it was with her elbow again and again. “Remind me to thank Rebecca for the self-defense crash-course,” Gadget spat acidly as she was finally let go. She spun around, knowing who she would see. “So, this is why you weren’t with the others at the sewage plant, D’Allure.”

“Of course. The professor wasn’t going to take the chance these soulless, rust-riddled beasts would foul up the final stage,” Desiree D’Allure said smoothly as she nursed her ribs.

“So, we were right. This train is carrying the last machine parts he needs. Nice to know I’m in the right place,” said Gadget. “Now, if you’ll just have the decency to get thrown off and collide with a tree…” Gadget charged at Desiree. Desiree tried to sidestep, but Gadget’s suddenness and sheer fury caught her off-guard. Gadget landed a vicious right hook and stepped back for a kick, but Desiree recovered quickly. She shoulder-charged Gadget, knocking the wind out of her. A bone crushing punch from Desiree then floored Gadget altogether.

“Same old Rescue Rangers. You still think it’s so simple, don’t you? “ Desiree sneered. “The courageous, dashing heroes charge in, vanquish the villains, crush their plans, and it’s all over? So like Monty…horribly naïve. If only you had any idea what we’re really trying to do.” As Desiree rambled on, Gadget heard something else, like metal shrieking in protest. Straining to look up, she saw Desiree had pulled off a huge, jagged piece of metal from where her claws had ripped into the train car. And Desiree was ready to run Gadget through with it.

Lashing out at the last minute, Gadget grabbed the jagged sheet metal just as it would have skewered her. Gadget could feel it digging into her palms, drawing blood. Then she wrenched it free from Desiree’s grasp. She stumbled backwards as Gadget stood up and swung it at her; it sliced through her sweater, and blood dribbled out through the tears.

Desiree ducked as Gadget hurled the hunk of metal at her; she retreated to the far corner, blood still trickling through her hand as she clutched her belly. Gadget looked down at her own hands. Those wounds already healed, as had the ones inflicted by the robot dogs. She looked back at Desiree with a gloating smile as the train sped onward. “Not even any scars. Too bad Dorothea Oakheart’s bonding trick doesn’t seem to work the same way for you. It’s almost as if she’s still making sure her seal here in Philly will never be broken.”

Desiree’s face twisted into a snarl, but Gadget noticed there was something else in her frustrated expression. Something akin to disgust at stupidity. “Oh of course, you and your pet humans were taken in by her legend, weren’t you? Foolishly brave do-gooders like yourselves from a bygone era…”

She still stood straight, her breathing unlabored and steady. Perhaps she wasn’t wounded that badly. Gadget steadied herself as the train ride grew bumpier, sizing Desiree up. It was then that Gadget realized most of the cars ahead of them…they were continuing down one track, while the rest were being diverted down another path. Gadget stopped to listen for a moment. Judging from the clanking and grunting from up ahead, the separated train cars were being pulled along by the remaining robot dogs.

That brief hesitation cost Gadget, as more robot dogs rejoined the fray, pouncing on Gadget from behind and pinning her to the roof. Desiree surged forward then. Just as Gadget rose to her knees, tossing aside dogs, Desiree sank her foot into her gut, and she crumpled. Desiree kept kicking Gadget while she was down. Accelerated healing or no, it hurt plenty. Some of the robot dogs were still there, clamping down hard. One in particular practically swallowed up her forearm, giving Gadget an idea.

As Desiree reared her foot back, Gadget summoned all her strength, sprang up, and used the robot dog to bludgeon her. It fell to pieces with one hit, but Desiree stumbled back, screaming as she covered her face. She blindly lunged forward with a punch, but Gadget easily sidestepped it and, while Desiree was wide open, planted a punch right under her arm, hoping to force her ribs into vital organs. Her other fist landed with a satisfying crunch to Desiree face, and she stumbled back even more. Another dog lunged at Gadget but she effortlessly caught it. Gadget glared back at Desiree, smirking evilly. Even at their reduced speed, getting knocked off the train cars could prove fatal. Hardly giving it a thought, Gadget reared her arm back, aiming to knock Desiree off.

But at the last second, before Gadget could throw it, something lashed out at the train. Something long, sturdy and black whipped out, snaring Gadget and knocking her off the train instead. Gadget caught one last glimpse of Desiree D’Allure. She looked just as surprised as Gadget, and there was maybe even…a trace of fear?

The diverted train cars had been going over a bridge. Already on the brink of losing consciousness from the sudden velocity change, Gadget plummeted helplessly. She crashed onto the roof of a car, collapsing it completely. The plangent car alarm did nothing to rouse her, and she lay there for many minutes, every muscle screaming in protest whenever she tried to move. Eventually, Gadget summoned enough willpower to crane her neck up and look around. She had landed in the middle of some suburban area, and many humans were just getting up, staring back at Gadget. Gadget bristled when she saw the thinly-veiled fear in their eyes.

As everyone kept staring at Gadget, their tension palpable, she could sense something else. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but something felt…off. And this feeling steadily grew more distinct. Gadget’s eyes darted around, looking for anything suspicious.

That quite possibly saved her life.

That long, black thing from before lashed out at her again. With a yelp, Gadget rolled off the totaled car roof as it was run through by…a huge, ridiculously long scorpion tail? The rest of the onlookers all screamed and stepped back. Fully alert thanks to the jolt of adrenaline, Gadget looked around for whatever that thing was attached to. It wound around the street, stopping at a row of bushes. Out from them stepped Wart, his lizard’s tail now replaced with a scorpion’s, dozens of feet long. That blank, sycophantic look in his eyes was gone, replaced by the gaze of something obsessed with the hunt.

Gadget’s eyes darted from Wart to the tip of that absurdly long tail, not sure which she should focus on. One look back at Wart, and seeing his eyes narrow, told Gadget trouble was coming. The scorpion tail struck like a snake, wrapping around the car Gadget fell on. Wart picked up the whole car this way, then tried to squash Gadget with it. Gadget rolled out of the way, but Wart tried again. Popping her claws, Gadget jumped and climbed around the car, avoiding getting crushed by it. She saw, to her relief, that the car had been unoccupied, and a small part of her wondered why she hadn’t bothered to find out before. Anchoring herself with one hand, she slashed at the tail with the other.

The chitinous covering was quite resilient, preventing Gadget from slicing it clean off. However, she clearly hurt Wart, as the tail writhed even more. Like a roaring beast shaking off a pest, Wart hurled the car away. It sailed across the road, hitting a school bus, sandwiching Gadget between them. The panicked screams of the children rang in Gadget’s ears as she slid down the bus. Gadget scrambled back onto her feet, but Wart’s scorpion tail shot across the street. It struck her in the midsection, pinning her against the bus. Gadget screamed as she vainly tried to pry the stinger loose. Eventually, Wart pulled the stinger out himself, but by then, Gadget could feel scorpion venom coursing through her system. Gadget could no longer stand, collapsing onto her back, half-aware of the frightened children looking down from the bus windows. But already, her vision began to blur and swirl as the poison did its work. If her healing powers were doing anything, obviously it could only slow the poison down, not stop it.

The passage of time slowed to a crawl. All Gadget saw was a hazy blur, all that reached her ears was a cacophony of deafening noise. She was completely helpless, and Gadget knew it. Fear muddled her mind as much as the poison, but even that was slipping away. Gadget could feel herself going under as the paralyzing effects of the venom began to crescendo…

Then, in the back of her mind, Gadget felt something. A presence. Gadget wasn’t sure how long it lingered there, but as the moments went by, it felt more…distinct. It felt so…familiar. “Isaac,” she breathed weakly, a spark of hope flaring with her. Their bond was still working, and Isaac could sense what was happening. He was reaching out to her…to what end, Gadget wasn’t sure. She felt his very essence, his quiet, untapped courage, his depths of compassion. It all radiated within Gadget, as if filling every cell of her body.

Whether seconds or hours passed like this, Gadget wasn’t sure. But at one point, Gadget noticed physical sensation was returning, even though Isaac’s essence within her still felt so strong. Suddenly, Gadget understood what Isaac was doing. His knack for biology and chemistry…Isaac was attempting to make her body metabolize and expel the poison.

And slowly but surely, it was working.

Gadget’s eyes snapped open, just as the scorpion stinger was shooting down to impale her. She rolled to the side, and the stinger struck asphalt, eliciting screams from the children in the bus. Even that simple motion made Gadget feel drained again. Isaac was eliminating the poison, but it was a slow process. It would be a while before she was at 100 percent. Shoring up her courage and will, Gadget dug her claws into the bus so she could pull herself up. Standing on rubbery legs, Gadget looked up and saw Wart standing a few feet from the bus. Gadget met his cold, even stare, but then he turned to the bus.

Gadget’s blood froze, knowing what Wart would do an instant before he did it.

The tail smashed through a bus window and came crashing out another on the other side. Still wobbly, Gadget could only watch helplessly as the tail kept shooting through it, like a grotesque sewing pattern. Fearful screams from within the bus shocked Gadget out of her torpor, but it was too late. The tail constricted like a python squeezing its prey to death, and the bus was slowly crushed like a soda can. Eyes full of fear, Gadget looked down at Wart again, who just stared back, silently daring her to make a move.

Seeing no other choice, Gadget lunged at Wart, claws bared. But in a blinding flash, Wart’s scorpion tail lifted the entire bus and swatted her away with it. Gadget skipped painfully along the road, until colliding with an oncoming car. As Gadget blinked away the stars, she saw the school bus lifted high overhead, coming down at her like a hammer. At the last minute, Gadget threw her hands up, keeping the bus from smashing into the road.

It taxed her strength to the limit, but seeing the panicked faces of the children through the windows, their pleading looks all fixed on her, fueled her resolve. Pure force of will kept Gadget going. She looked down from the windows above her and back across the street at Wart. “Good, stay focused on me, keep hiding behind these kids,” she hissed under her breath. “I’ll just keep playing along, and then…”

With her last bit of strength, Gadget twisted herself around, and in turn the entire bus swiveled around. Wart was caught off-guard, and he was flung across the street in an arc, painfully smashing through wooden fences until he hit the car that ran into Gadget earlier. Praying she bought enough time, Gadget gently set the bus back down, then grabbed hold of a part of Wart’s scorpion tail. With one furious yank, Wart was flung toward her. Gadget caught Wart by the throat, then grabbed the base of his tail, and pulled at it until it finally broke off. Once that was done, she threw Wart’s limp body into some bushes in disgust. As soon as she had, a fiery, orange outline of a huge scorpion shot up from the bushes, then faded into nothingness.

Breathing hard, adrenaline still pumping through her, Gadget stared at the bushes, still enraged beyond measure. I…I just don’t believe it. Wart’s a dimwitted coward, sure, but using CHILDREN as a weapon to get to me is low, even for Fat Cat’s gang! It took a while for Gadget to realize that as she was staring at where she tossed Wart, everyone in the neighborhood was staring at her. Gadget looked all around her, hoping to see relief and possibly gratitude in the humans’ eyes, now that those children were safe. But as her gaze swept over the crowd, she saw wariness still lingered. Even worse, they were eyeing her with suspicion, and some, Gadget saw, looked upon her with outright fear.

Gadget thought she was enraged before, but after seeing the crowd’s reaction, she was positively livid. All the Rangers, on some level, had naively hoped all the rumors and stories about them floating around would make humans more receptive. But now, after being abruptly confronted with one of them, they were all fearful of what they couldn’t immediately understand. Just like always. It never bothered her before, not on such a personal level, but now…part of her felt like knocking some sense into all of them. Yet, Gadget just stood there as a crowd gathered, not sure what to say, or if she should say anything at all. Now she understood why being without Isaac’s illusion spell made her so uneasy. On some level, she knew this would happen…

The wail of an ambulance siren finally dispelled the crushing silence, but over that noise came another sound, one fast approaching. “’Scuze me, socially awkward kid on a bike comin’ through!” came Isaac’s dull voice over his aunt’s droning Harley. Whirling around, Gadget saw him carefully maneuver through the crowd, yet his eyes stayed fixated on her. Having had enough of these humans, she bolted toward him and hopped on. Just as police cars and an ambulance were closing in, Isaac and Gadget took off. Gadget didn’t look behind her, but she could still feel the humans’ stares on her back. “OK, care to fill me in?” Isaac asked delicately. “All of a sudden, I sensed something was wrong, something was wracking your body, and…”

“Yeah. It was scorpion venom, thanks to an absurdly long scorpion tail attached to Wart,” said Gadget.

“Wart? The little gecko guy?” Isaac asked in disbelief. “And a scorpion? That makes three of those Fat Cat goons taking after three of Dorothea Oakheart’s conduits. Just what is going on?”

“I don’t know,” said Gadget flatly. “But I do know is that that train really did have the last components Nimnul needs for his machine. Got it right from Desiree D’Allure herself. But then the last dozen or so train cars detached and veered down a different track. I could’ve had her and wrecked them, though, if Wart hadn’t come along and…” She stopped when Isaac suddenly pulled off the road. “Hey, why are we stopping?”

“Gotta give Aunt Becky a chance to find us. I bet word of whatever happened back there will spread fast, hit the radio airwaves, and prompt her to come investigate. Or Foxglove just sniffs us out. Either way, better cast that illusion spell again.”

Gadget simply closed her eyes and tried to calm herself as Isaac’s fingers lightly brushed against her face, letting the warmth of the illusion spell wash over her. But the comfort of Isaac’s illusion was fleeting now…just that, an illusion. Now that she saw how those people back there reacted upon seeing her true self, it left Gadget with an empty, defeated feeling. “Hmph, I bet everyone back there would’ve still been freaked out even if the spell WAS in place,” she spat. “But that’s irrelevant right now, I suppose. Those last components are headed right for your uncle, and we still have no idea where to search for him. We’re back where we started.”

“Not necessarily. You said some of the train cars were detached and dragged somewhere else, right? So…all we need to do is find a textile mill along that new path!” Isaac said brightly. “He’ll never suspect us to find him so soon! We can finally end this, today!”

Gadget nodded in agreement, even though she felt doubtful. She simply hoped Isaac was right, that Fat Cat and Nimnul would be found soon. As it stood, Gadget felt full of an anger that eclipsed anything she ever felt before, and badly needed to vent it all.

Chapter 15: Dining on Ashes

Rebecca Nimnul’s van swerved and sped down another road on the outskirts of Pennsylvania, jostling all the other humans and nearly slamming the Rangers against the side. Luckily, Chip had a good grip on the seat, despite how his mind was preoccupied, racing. Shortly after picking up Gadget and Isaac, a quick look on their laptop revealed that there was only one textile mill still open along the track the train cars were diverted onto. Naturally, Rebecca was speeding toward the area with maddening single-mindedness. Chip had grilled her about it more than once, but she kept insisting that they had an opportunity to end this as soon as possible.

Chip conceded she had a point. Her sister Winifred, Dr. Irweena Allen and Wart wouldn’t bother them anytime soon. Not to mention Gadget decimated most of their robo-bulldogs. Norton Nimnul would need time to finish his mysterious new robot, and with their numbers thinned out, they had a chance to strike, and strike hard, before that happened. Still, something didn’t feel right to Chip. Monterey Jack kept insisting that he was starting to see trouble everywhere, that he was too paranoid. Honestly, Chip sometimes feared he wasn’t paranoid enough.

“Hey, how much longer till we get to this textile mill?” Kirby asked impatiently. After all that fancy driving while being chased by Winifred and Irweena, Chip was sure his adrenaline rush wouldn’t fade anytime soon.

“And you sure this’ll be the place our ol’ pal Norton’s holed up in?” Muldoon added.

“According to Isaac, yes. He says that’s where the scientific evidence points, that’s good enough for me,” Rebecca shouted back from the driver’s seat. Isaac simply stayed silent. Chip felt himself bristle with indignation at how Rebecca seemed to purposefully forget Gadget’s role in making sense of their big clue, or how he found it in the first place. However, Gadget said nothing. In fact, after getting picked up, Gadget hadn’t said a word, ignoring all the pleas from the Rangers. She had been grumpier than Monterey Jack after a lousy haul from a mousetrap raid, and refused to talk about anything. Gadget just stayed in the back of the van, rummaging through all the weapons and equipment Rebecca brought along.

Unable to take it any longer, Chip jumped over to Isaac’s seat and climbed up to his ear. “Hey, what’s with Gadget? Ever since we picked you guys up, she’s clammed up. What happened?” he whispered into Isaac’s ear.

“Wha? Oh, I’m really not sure. I think it had something to do with the reaction of everyone in that neighborhood she landed in,” Isaac said.

Now things were starting to make sense. Judging from the radio bulletin that led them to where Gadget and Isaac were waiting, her crash-landing into that suburb caused quite a stir. As usual, humans proved wary of whatever they couldn’t immediately understand. After all those rumors and new stories about the Rescue Rangers, Gadget must have hoped for something different, so this time, she took it personally.

“Well, once we’re done here, it won’t matter what anyone else thinks,” snapped Rebecca, overhearing them. “We put my brother out of commission, stop this whacked plot to undo our ancestor’s ancient seal or whatever, and leave Philly without anyone the wiser. And that’ll be soon. REAL soon. We’re less than a mile from that textile mill, and that dried-up trench down there looks like a good entry point.”

Rebecca pulled off the road, bringing the van to a screeching halt next to the trench. Chip stayed on Isaac’s shoulder as all the humans clambered out. They looked down into the trench, and saw a padlocked gate door Gadget could easily break through. Chip suspected, at the moment, she was more eager than Monty to break stuff. As if on cue, he heard her say, “We’re here already? Fine by me. I just…can’t seem to focus hard enough to build anything handy, so let’s just get this started.”

Gadget kicked open the back door, stepping out in her lavender jumpsuit and goggles, holding a huge foam-spraying fire extinguisher. Chip thought she looked odd, having the appearance of a human while wearing that; he could even hear her tail swish around, though at the moment it was invisible. “Uhhh, why’d you change, Gadget?”

“For one thing, my suit’s fireproof,” Gadget said flatly. “I have a nasty feeling I’ll need that, and I hoped to rig up something to make this fire extinguisher more effective, but like I said, no luck.” The coldness in Gadget’s voice was disturbing enough, but when Isaac walked up to Gadget, Chip noticed something else was wrong. Isaac’s illusion didn’t affect her eye color. Before now, they were still a sparkling sapphire blue while she looked human. Now…they were a vibrant shade of red, and almost seemed to glow. Chip looked into the quiet fury behind those huge, red eyes, repressing a shiver as he gulped.

Before Chip could point that out, Foxglove flew up to them. “What’s with the sudden concern about fire, Gadget? Do you think Professor Nimnul plans to use fire against us?” she asked fearfully.

“Not HIM precisely. But we’ve seen a pattern with Fat Cat’s goons. Mepps suddenly had wind magic, Snout controlled ice and water. If we assume Wart’s scorpion tail represented the element of earth from ancient folklore, and they’re gaining the traits of Dorothea Oakheart’s familiars, then their last goon will…”

A loud whooshing sound from overhead cut Gadget off. Looking up, they saw a blazing something hovering above the van, its swirling flames casting an eerie glow over the whole area. After a moment, the flames died down, to reveal…

“MOLE?!” Chip cried incredulously. He remembered the first time he saw Mole, getting flash-fried while Fat Cat sang to glorify his greed. Now, Mole’s entire body was covered by fire, radiating searing heat, and he kept on hovering, glowering down at them. At first, Chip had no idea how Mole was flying, but then he noticed the motion blurs right behind him. The blur of a hummingbird’s wings.

“Guys, get your weapons and get down into that sewer. I’ll hold off Mole,” Gadget said, her voice dripping with venom. She glared up at Mole, brandishing her fire extinguisher, as if daring him to strike. Isaac, Kirby and Muldoon stood there, transfixed by the blazing, flying mole, but Rebecca got the hint, reaching into the van for their weapons.

“Here boys, we got armor-piercing rounds this time around. Got a bad feeling we’ll need every last one for those metal-mouthed pooches,” said Rebecca as she shoved assault rifles into their arms. She was already prepare for a fight herself, sporting pouches for grenades and spare ammo clips, along with copious pant pockets loading with other gear. All Rebecca had left to do was grab Dale and Monterey Jack, then slide down into the trench. After a moment’s hesitation, and once last glance from Isaac back at Gadget, the other three humans followed suit. Mole’s gaze followed them, radiating a coldness that belied his blazing body. In a blinding flash, Mole swooped down into the trench, but Gadget was waiting for him to make his move. She jumped down after him, swatting Mole away with the fire extinguisher. There was a loud CLANG, and Mole went flying down the trench.

“Get inside, now!” Gadget bellowed, letting loose a wide spurt of foam as Mole came barreling back. Rebecca had reached the door, and didn’t need to be told twice. A few rounds blasted off the padlock, and Rebecca kicked the door open and charged in, Kirby and Muldoon hot on her heels. Isaac paused in the doorway, once again looking bad at Gadget with a sullen look. Chip couldn’t help but feel disturbed as well. Maybe it was nothing, but those vinelike markings all over Gadget…they now looked a dark blood-red instead of black, and seemed to dig in deeper…


As Mole ascended, Gadget looked down and saw that once again, her human skin was ‘flaking’ off. “Well, guess this means they’re in the sewer tunnels,” Gadget muttered as she looked up, keeping an eye on Mole. Before, losing her disguise unnerved her, but now she no longer cared. Just as when she chased Fat Cat and Norton Nimnul to that skyscraper rooftop, she was far too enraged to worry about humans noticing her. Especially now, now that she saw their reactions, even upon seeing her go to great lengths to safeguard their lives. “All that matters now…is making these dirtbags pay. For EVERYTHING!” Gadget grumbled as Mole dove down.

She doused Mole with some foam, but the flames emanating from him were too strong, impossible to douse right away. Mole kept on coming, tackling Gadget to the ground hard. The fire extinguisher flew out of Gadget’s hands, overwhelmed by the searing pain. Mole was only in contact with her for a brief moment, but he almost melted through her jumpsuit, and the blazing heat easily seeped through. As Gadget tried to get back onto her feet, she saw the fire extinguisher was knocked up near the van, and Mole was already set for another pass. Gadget leapt out of the trench as Mole’s blazing body shot through it, his time with heat so intense, all the lingering water evaporated in an instant.

Dashing for the fire extinguisher, Gadget snagged it just as Mole swooped down, his hummingbird wings kicking up a furious, searing wind. Thinking fast, Gadget rolled under the van, toward the other side. Gadget heard the tires pop, just before she jumped back over the van, aiming another blast of foam at Mole. Mole let out a warbling cry, veering off to put some distance between him and Gadget. Clearly she hurt Mole this time, but as before, his flame soon roared back to full intensity, and he zipped right for her again.

“At least Mole’s not bothering to follow Rebecca and the others,” Gadget muttered to herself as she backflipped away from the van, dodging Mole’s charge. “I wonder why that is.” In truth, Gadget didn’t dwell on it too long. Mole’s erratic movements and blinding speed made it impossible to connect with another foam blast, serving to fuel her rage and frustration even more. Rather than try to keep it under control, Gadget found herself welcoming it…

Along with trying to charbroil Gadget by ramming into her, fireballs were raining down as well. Thankfully, all the direct hits struck her jumpsuit, but they left scorchmarks and nearly burned through. On top of that, the area soon became dotted with flaming, blackened crater marks. With all the dry underbrush, with the proximity of such a heavily forested area…a wildfire would soon rage out of control. Helpless to stop a blaze started by senseless thugs, hopelessly trapped, just like her mother was. Just like Isaac would have been in that fire Mole helped to start, if the Rescue Rangers weren’t there too.

Gadget didn’t think it was possible, but the flames of hatred were just fanned even higher.

 “Golly, this isn’t going too well,” Gadget hissed acidly as another shot of foam missed. Mole veered away a split-second before getting doused, then zoomed overhead and dropped more fireballs down on her. One painfully lanced across her leg, and as Gadget rolled aside to avoid the rest, she saw another smack into the van’s roof, leaving a huge dent as if a meteor struck it. On top of that, all the windows shattered from the force.

Gadget stared at the wrecked van for a moment before glaring up at Mole. “Gee whiz, there’s something else I’ll never hear the end of from Rebecca! Now you’re gonna get it!” Gadget bellowed up at him. Mole’s response was to send down more fireballs. Brave words, Gadget. Now how about coming up with a plan to back them up? She thought to herself as she dodged the deadly rain. In desperation, she hopped down into the trench. Spotting where her friends entered the sewers, a desperate hope came to her.

Running inside, Gadget turned around, seeing that Mole was right on her tail. Gadget shot the last of the extinguisher foam out at Mole, snuffing his flame for a moment. Then Gadget hurled the extinguisher itself at him. Gadget hoped it would knock him out, but after a moment Mole’s body began to flare up again. Her eyes widening, Gadget bolted and ducked down the first corner she came across. With the way everything echoed in these sewers, Mole’s sight wouldn’t be a problem. But Gadget hoped the close quarters would work to her advantage.

Just as she thought, Gadget heard the roar of Mole’s flame not too far behind. When she thought Mole was about to zoom down her tunnel, Gadget grabbed hold of a huge pipe and wrenched it free. Just as Mole stopped in front of the tunnel and veered toward her, it was too late. Gadget bent the pipe around so sewer water washed all over him, flooring Mole instantly. Wasting no time, Gadget ran across the tunnel and planted her foot on Mole’s back, not bothering to be gentle about it. She reached down and grabbed Mole’s hummingbird wings, ripping them off with ease.

Breathing heavily, Gadget looked at the feathery wings in her hands. Orange-red feathers fell gently into the water, which were washed away as more sewer water kept flowing in. Not only that, Mole’s limp, lifeless body was swept out as well, just as Gadget noticed an orange-red aura convalescing around him. As Mole disappeared around a corner, the entire sewer seemed to explode with bright, blinding light. Even with her arms shielding her eyes, the light seared Gadget’s eyes. On top of that, Gadget heard the sorrowful chirp of a hummingbird echo throughout the sewer.

Once her vision cleared, Gadget just stared down the tunnel for a moment. “Golly, I don’t which is more unbelievable. That Mole chose to attack while so close to a sewer entrance, or that he actually followed me in!” she thought aloud. Indeed, Gadget felt that this had been far too easy. Running into the sewer had been far too simple a strategy, too unsatisfying. What should have been unsatisfying to her was how she couldn’t think of a way to rig the fire extinguisher to fizzle Mole’s flame right away. While all the junk Rebecca brought along, it should have been easy. But instead, Gadget felt dissatisfied because…trouncing Mole wasn’t enough. It only fueled her rage even more. She was tired of how Fat Cat and Professor Nimnul kept hiding behind their cronies. It was long past time to take the fight to them…and finish it.


Foxglove swerved in behind a trio of robotic bulldogs trying to flank the group of humans. They had yet to notice her, but still, the little bat hesitated for a split-second, anxiety getting the better of her. But once she saw them ready to pounce on Isaac, Foxglove was finally goaded into action. She took a deep breath and cut loose with her biggest screech yet. The dogs stopped dead in their tracks, their sensitive auditory circuits overwhelmed. Getting the hint, Isaac whirled around and emptied his clip, ripping the robots to shreds.

Chip was still on Isaac’s shoulder, and warned him of more coming from the left. Panicking, Isaac fumbled with a new clip. Again, Foxglove just fluttered in the air, frozen. Thankfully, Rebecca came to the rescue, laying down cover fire that reduced most of them to scrap. That gave Isaac enough time to finish reloading and finish the rest.

“That’s the rest on my end. Dare I think we’re in the clear for now?” came Kirby’s voice, further down in the murky darkness.

Foxglove’s ears pricked up. She heard telltale echoes of more clanging paws. “No, I hear more coming from this end. A lot of them. We’d better keep moving.”

“I don’t like it. I’m gettin’ the feeling we’re bein’ herded into an ambush site,” said Monterey Jack dejectedly from Rebecca’s shoulder.

“Yeah. Don’t forget, the croc and that other giant mouse still ain’t accounted for,” Muldoon added.

“Still, we’ve got to keep moving, toward wherever my brother’s holed up. Foxglove, you smell black magic in this direction?” Rebecca asked impatiently, inclining her head down the opposite tunnel.

Foxglove perched herself on Isaac’s shoulder, beside Chip. Concentrating, she took a big whiff. Trying to make sense of any ambient scents while deep in the sewers was a tall order. On top of that, they were all depending on her, and that didn’t help Foxglove’s anxiety any. Focusing on the smells as best she could, Foxglove said, “Y-Y-Yes, the smell seems strongest from that direction.”

“Then we’re moving. I’ll take point again. Isaac, get behind me. Kirby, cover our flank. Zipper, scout ahead again,” said Rebecca, storming down the tunnel as Zipper disappeared down it.

Foxglove remained perched on Isaac as he tailed his aunt, still breathing heavily. Chip noticed this, and asked, “Foxglove, are you going to be OK? What’s wrong?”

For a moment, Foxglove couldn’t even turn to face Chip, she felt so ashamed. “Oh Chip, I thought I was ready to be a Rescue Ranger, but at every turn, I-I-I get so nervous. I tense up, keep making mistakes…”

Chip placed a reassuring hand on Foxglove’s shoulder. “I know, Foxglove. At first, I felt horribly guilty, being the one who agreed to bring you along. But let’s face it, without you we never would’ve made it this far. And you’re braver than you give yourself credit for. You’ve already saved a life more than once.”

“Yeah, like my sorry butt back there,” Isaac cut in. “Believe it or not, Foxglove, I know what you’re going through. This is no picnic for me either. I don’t get off