‘Tomorrow’ is for ‘Never’
“Whatever you say, this June turns out being!” Dale exclaimed, addressing himself. Inspired with this deep and more importantly finished thought, the chipmunk opened the bedroom window wide, letting the morning breeze in. The flow of air stirred up the curtains, which badly needed laundering, then swept over the room like some cool and dusty wave and gradually turned into a draft and strolled through the lower floor.
“Close the window, Dale! It’s drafty!” Chip cried from the corridor. He had just taken a shower-bath and wasn’t very pleased with a sudden cold wave rushing by him.
“And Gadget says fresh air's healthy!” Dale shouted in reply, still fanning dust clouds away and promising himself to wash the curtains tomorrow.
“But that draft isn’t! Go ask her!” One cold-shuddering Chip trotted to the wardrobe and rapidly pulled on his jacket. It would be very foolish to catch a cold with fine weather like this. And on a long-awaited day like this besides…
Dale coughed out his reply. “I would go and ask her if she weren’t in her workshop all the time. Almost a month already…”
Dale’s words made Chip sigh sorrowfully. Gadget had indeed been devoting too much time and attention to her devices. Apparently, the many apparatuses she’d seen in Bottlebottom had impressed her so much she decided to reproduce at least some of that equipment, if not all of it.
Certainly, the other four-fifths of the Rescue Rangers understood that the inventor didn’t do anything for no purpose (that is, if she didn’t get too carried away with something), but they hadn’t seen such an all-consuming paroxysm of creative research for a very long time and maybe not since their very first meeting. They suspected that was how the beautiful mouse’s way of life had looked like before they met her, because the conglomeration of all those Salesman Traps that nearly killed them at that time could have been only the result of some very ungovernable enthusiasm.
But they couldn’t bring themselves to tell her about it. Though sometimes Gadget showed wonders of self-control, firmness and determination, she was nevertheless very tender by nature. Right now she seemed separated from them by some kind of crystal wall and no member of their team would dare try breaking through it. The razor-sharp splinters of this wall could easily sever that very thread, that web-thin cord which made them all something immeasurably more than just a group of two chipmunks, two mice and one fly.
The Rangers had some very bitter experiences to prove it. Once Gadget left, being dispirited with failures and accidents; once Monty left, being bewitched by Désirée D'Allure’s vicious charms; Zipper left, being offended with unmerited faultfinding; even Dale left, dizzy and egotistical with super-powers…
Although the thread endured and everything fell back into place, nobody wanted to take chances any more. Even Gadget with her vast knowledge of physics, mechanics and materials resistance theory wouldn’t be able to calculate the durability of this invisible bond way beyond the boundaries of the physical world. She surely could say from the loftiness of her realism that a spider’s web was twice as strong as steel fiber of the same diameter, but it’s common knowledge that occasionally even a slightly careless movement is enough to tear it apart…
Overwhelmed with these thoughts, Chip pulled down his fedora over his eyes and left the room. Dale put on his Hawaiian shirt on the move and followed him as he barely missed a collision with the door-post.
Today was Monterey Jack’s kitchen shift and as always the cheese could be smelled all over the headquarters. Monty wore his white apron and chef’s hat of the same color as he concocted his culinary magic over two pans.
“Good morning, Monty!” the two friends simultaneously said, taking their seats at the table.
Monty gave a jump as if stung, spit three times over each shoulder and put out his tongue at his reflection in the mirror-scrubbed frying pan hanging right in front of him. Then he grabbed some odd things from the table, did a couple of elaborate gestures and only after all of this turned to the confused chipmunks.
“What’s with you, Monty?” Chip asked.
“It’s nothin’ with me! But with ya! Don’t ya know how one shouldda behave on a day like this?”
Chip thoughtfully scratched his chin. Dale no less thoughtfully knocked at his nose and picked his ear. The Australian sniffed scornfully but deigned to educate them.
“Today’s Saturday” he whispered as he pointed at the big wall-high loose-leaf calendar in the corridor: “The thirteenth!”
“Oh my, and that’s all? And I thought…” laughed Dale, who was afraid of the thirteenth day only if it coincided with Friday, a lake and a dark forest.
“How can you believe in all this, Monty?” Chip shook his head. “You’ve been all around the world. You saw so much we can’t ever imagine! Different cultures, habits… Didn’t it teach you anything?”
“Yeah, ya two have to go and do all da same!” Monty drawled. He turned back to the cooker, opened one of the pans and started vigorously stirring its contents. Even too vigorously, for the splashes flew all over the room.
“Where do we have to go?” Dale asked.
Chip chuckled as if saying “It’s elementary!”, though he didn’t get what Monty meant either. But unlike his expressive friend, Chip always tried not to show his lack of understanding. Dale can torment himself over it; rack his brains if he wants to…
“Ya speak just like Gadget, word fo’ word!” Monterey Jack eventually answered once he finished stirring the cheese soup and getting the plates from the shelf.
“Has she gotten up already?” Chip wondered. “It’s only five past eight, and considering that the noise from her workshop lasted till midnight…”
“Till two at the morning!” Dale corrected him. “It was two o’clock when I finished reading my ‘Super Hippo’ comic book, and the sounds were still there…”
“I know, I barely fell asleepah” muscle mouse nodded. He placed steaming plates in front of the friends, took off his cap and sat down across the table. “And barely managed to get up to prepare everythin’ for breakfast. And at seven or somethin’ like that she came to the kitchen, swallowed a couple of sandwiches and went back to work!”
“AT SEVEN?! She’s staying in there all day long! We’ve got to do something!..”
“Well…” Monty gave a mysterious wink at the chipmunks, “she agreedda go to the hockey match with us!”
“WHAAAT?!” Chip and Dale shouted and sprang to their feet, nearly turning the table over.
This game already had the note of legend long before its start—the Stanley Cup Final featuring the Michigan Red Stars and San-Angeles Rangers. The seventh decisive game of the series, already declared one of the most tense and implacable in all the NHL history. This final had it all: unscored penalty shots, holding leads while doubly shorthanded, impossible saves, unbelievable and inexplicable goals…
This epic struggle just couldn’t be missed, especially this time when their home city’s Ice-Dome Sports Arena was chosen to host it. Such an opportunity just couldn’t be missed, so Monterey Jack and Zipper found out everything about the time and the place and reserved the best seats possible — on the upper circle of the sixth sector, from where the panoramic view on the whole rink and two videowalls in the corners showed every replay in gigantic glory.
And the hockey match with Gadget and the hockey match without Gadget — that’s two completely different hockey matches…
“Are you sure?! She said that?! You heard it right?!” Chip started finding out.
“You didn’t confuse anything?! You sure it was Gadget?! Weren’t you just imagining?! Maybe Zipper said it?!” Dale argued.
For a moment a shade covered Monty’s face. The tips of his sumptuous moustache lowered a bit and his smile withered. “Well, actually…”
“I got it that way in me head…but I’m not sure now…”
“Recount your conversation with her in full,” Chip demanded. The euphoria that gripped him since Monty’s first historical remark after these words completely faded away. His head cleared up and he appeared calm and staunch, though he felt a great cold burden in his stomach as if from some grim premonition. The premonition of great disappointment…
“There’s nothing to tell,” Monty protested. “Me standing here cooking, Gadget enters. ‘Good morning!’ I took all necessary precautions against the hex. She didn’t even notice, though. Only when I said ‘It’s Saturday the thirteenth today!’ did she answer, ‘How can you believe in all this? You’ve been all around the world…’.”
Monty crossed his arms, disgust on his face. “Same as you, just like that. That’s why I said that ya too have to go all the same so’s you’ll know… Well, what was that about? Oh, yeah! So I ask her ‘Gadget luv, I hope ya didn’t forget about us going to the match today?’ And all ovva sudden she agreed! I couldn’t believe me ears! Here, here, I even wrote it down!”
Monterey Jack dashed to the kitchen sink full of plates. After looking through them and finding nothing, he looked around bewildered. Then, having remembered something, with a joyful scream he took the frying pan hanging in front of him from its nail and ceremonially put it upside down on the table. Chip and Dale stared at the pan for a moment then exchanged puzzled glances.
“And?” Chip asked.
“Ya know, I was so startled I decided to immortalizah words for generations to come. And there was nothing on hand but the cheese wheel and crockeries! So I wrote them down oh the pan! Here!”
These words said, Monty turned the frying pan over and now the chipmunks saw letters scripted in bold yellow lines.
“’Yeah, sure, that’s just what’s needed!’” Chip read slowly.
“Great! Marvelous! She recovered! She remembers about the hockey!” Dale went on capering over the kitchen.
Chip felt an urge to follow his example, but some little worm of doubt troubled the leader of Rescue Rangers. His detective instinct suggested that this situation needed careful investigation. Something was wrong. It was all too good to be true.
“Gadget didn’t say anything else, did she?” Chip finally asked the question which he was afraid to ask but couldn’t resist asking.
“To me — nothing!” Monterey Jack answered quickly. Too quickly. As if fearing to scare the beautiful fleeting image away. As if clutching at straws. Chip sensed it so pronouncedly that he felt himself chilled from inside out.
“Stop playing the detective, Chip!” Dale exclaimed. Tired of kitchen jumping, he flopped down on the chair and began eating hastily, as though it could have drawn the start of the hockey game any closer. Chip paid no heed to his words though. He had understood everything already. It remained only to clear up some details.
“What did she say to herself?” Chip pressed.
Monty strained his brain and squinted his eyes. “Somethin’ like ‘Maybe I should try and move… thingy and… whazzit into the antiphase…’ I’m sorry I didn’t remember everythin’, the words were too complicated fo’ me…”
“I got it. Thanks.” Chip took the spoon and started slowly digging up his long since cold and thickened cheese soup.
“So ya too think that she…” Apparently Monty came to the same conclusion as Chip did but was just as afraid to take them for granted.
“One hundred to one she didn’t hear your words at all. Okay, enough about that.”
“Well, maybe she’ll ‘ave everythin’ done by four o’clock and go with us after all?” Monty wasn’t going to give up that easily.
“Do you yourself believe in it? She has so many details and blueprints piled up there, it’ll last her months if not years of work. Even the aircraft scrap yard has less junk!”
The Australian stayed determined. “But we must try to persuade ‘er! She needs some rest! We’ll wait till 4 PM… No, till dinnah! She doesn’t forget to have a dinnah… yet. But,” he glanced at the calendar in the corridor and sighed, “I doubt we’ll get lucky on a day like this…”
Since no one could foretell when exactly Gadget would tear herself away from working and remember of the necessity to eat at least something, our friends knew they wouldn’t get anywhere without some efficient teamwork. Chip, as always in such cases, took initiative into his paws and they discussed and agreed on their plan for almost an hour, nearly as long as the actual preparations.
The moment Gadget left the workshop, Zipper flew out the window where he was stationed toward the gym with all his wings’ might, where Monty idly punched the punching bag, prepared to guide Gadget into the kitchen. But the gym window suddenly turned out to be locked from inside. He commenced beating at the glass to draw Monty’s attention, but Australian tired of the long wait and decided to have a snack of his favorite cheese and heard no rattle.
Zipper realized that Monty could be influenced by physical force only and flew into HQ through the hangar doors. But no sooner had he entered the kitchen than he met Gadget there.
“Oh, hello, Zipper!” the cheerful mouse greeted him.
Zipper was absolutely unprepared for a one-on-one conversation with her, so he squeaked then flew through the dining room into the corridor. The stunned inventor followed him with a bewildered gaze.
“What’s with him?” she asked herself. “Do I look so bad? Maybe I should go to bed earlier…”
Waiting at his room’s door, Chip heard Gadget’s voice and froze in perplexity. How did she manage to outdistance Monterey Jack so much? He was supposed to escort her into the kitchen so they could all meet in there! Could Dale and Zipper have failed to notice her leaving the workshop?
Well, be that as it may be, it’s time for his entrance now. He must hold Gadget in the kitchen until the others came. Chip loudly cleared his throat and stepped out of the doorway. And in that very moment Monty’s noisy strides were heard from the stairs. The muscle mouse ran so headily he didn’t react upon the Rescue Rangers’ leader coming out.
Chip had too little time to jump aside, and the corridor was too narrow for them to pass by one another. They collided and barely squeezed through the kitchen door, clearly not meant for a workload like this. In a mass they tumbled into kitchen like an avalanche, rolled on the floor across the room and came to rest against the cupboard. The wood cracked and crockery rang.
Gadget was completely dumbfounded and just stood still near the kitchen table with a sandwich in hand and her mouth wide open, looking at her crumpled and heavily breathing friends.
“Chip?! Monty?! What the heck…” she began, but the battle cry “Rescue Rangers, away!” was heard from behind accompanied by glass shattering.
Gadget turned at the sound and saw Dale bound hand and foot flying into the kitchen. He managed to swing back and forth on the rope quite enough to break the rope and fly as far as the nearest window. The kitchen, only a minute ago having been the embodiment of order and cleanness, now looked like battlefield covered with debris, some wounded men and one POW.
“Oh Golly! What’s going on here?!” Gadget finally asked when her initial stupor subsided and her gift of speech returned.
“Emm… well… you know…” Chip babbled vacillatingly crouching from under Monterey Jack.
“Yeah, Gadgie, don’t ya pay attention, we just, to put it that way, emm…” Monty took up.
“Came to have a snack?” the irony could be distinctly discerned in mouse’s voice.
“Yes! That is, no!” Monty waved his hands. “I came to drink some watah! Morning run made me so thirsty… Hey, Zippah, am I right? See, I’m right!” He pointed at the fly nodding his head amuck.
“And me… I… got hungry indeed. So I decided to have a couple of sandwiches…” Chip answered, carefully hiding his eyes. He couldn’t stand telling Gadget even little white lies to her face, even with good intentions.
“Okay, I got it. And you, Dale, you decided to wash some windows?” Gadget asked as she helped the chipmunk out of the ropes.
“Yeah, that’s right!” Dale eagerly agreed not noticing a trap he was falling right into.
“And where’s your duster, soap, and water bucket?” Gadget asked innocently.
“Duster? Soap? I don’t know. There was no soap in our plan… Oops!”
Dale abruptly stopped in confusion. Chip covered his face with the hat. Monterey Jack pointedly clattered the plates. Zipper pretended to study some spots on the wall.
Gadget turned to Chip, her arms crossed, and said in the strict voice boding no good at all, “Plan? So this was a plan, huh? And what this plan was for? Tell me, Chip! Plans are right in your line!”
Chip was silent for a while collecting his thoughts and planning what he’d do to Dale later. He’d planned an ardent and heartfelt address in the vein of a revered leader to his discouraged brothers-in-arms, but now it turned out to be something like a naughty pupil’s confused explanation.
“Gadget,” he managed at last, feeling that the pause had dragged for too long already, “we are all very worried about you. It seems to us that you’ve become too carried away by your work. It’s very useful and interesting, to be sure, but it’s also—let’s say it this way, too demanding in terms of time and effort.”
So far, no good he thought when he saw Gadget’s unchanged expression. “Gadget, we all start feeling that you’re becoming too estranged from us. And we are very concerned about it. I can even say that we’re scared. We, as a team, we’ve gone through many so many hardships. I believe that the invisible link between us is strong enough to endure even harsher things but it doesn’t make it any less scary. With each passing day we see you more and more seldom. And I…we rarely hear your voice, your laughter…”
As he spoke, the angry expression disappeared from Gadget’s face, giving place first to interest, then to intrigue and finally to deep compassion. Even Monterey Jack and Zipper stood still, listening.
Chip felt he was on the right path and inspired by this went on. “We miss you. I miss you…”
“Come on, Gadget, let’s go to the hockey match today!” Dale blurted out. “We haven’t been out for a very long time, and the game’ll be fantastic! And you know, tomorrow the band A-Kha’s in town for a one-time show! I’ve already reserved the seats! I’m pretty sure you’ll like it …”
Gadget was just about to answer when Chip rushed up to them, enraged by his friend’s so impudent meddling. “DALE! How could you! You spoiled everything! You… you…”
“Oh, stop it!” Dale retorted. “Your intro was too long and I decided to cut it short! After all, that’s why we did it anyways, to get Gadget to join in!”
“And what’s with this concert? You think we don’t know what kind of music you like? Shouts, screams and noises! Gadget won’t listen to that!”
“You’re the only one shouting and screaming around here!” Dale got deeply indignant. “You’ve never heard A-Kha’s songs, so don’t say so!!!”
“Right, I don’t need to hear them! I had quite enough with Iron Goose, thanks!”
“Don’t compare them!!!” Now the red-nosed chipmunk got really mad. “You don’t know anything! A-Kha is great! They wrote the theme song for the Dirk Suave movie!”
“So why didn’t you say it from the very beginning?! That’s what I call the best reason to avoid them like the plague!”
Dale flew into a rage and grabbed Chip by the collar of his flight-jacket. Chip did the same, and they raised fists to exchange punches when Gadget seized the chipmunks by their arms, dragged them apart and stood right between them.
“Chip! Dale! Guys! Look at yourselves! What the heck are you doing?! Chip, you’ve said so many right and smart things about the team, and now this?!”
“Oh, nothing, I just, simply… I’m sorry, Gadget” Chip dropped his eyes.
Dale grinned exultantly, but then Gadget turned to him and the chipmunk had no ground to laugh anymore.
“And you, Dale?! Start fighting at every trifle, don’t you?! You should know that it’s impolite to interrupt others! You should apologize!”
“Me?! Let him apologize first! This musical bore compared Iron Goose and A-Kha!!!”
“Me?! How dare you…” Chip growled.
Gadget, having understood that this could go on forever, without any word embraced both chipmunks. The friends instantly calmed down and forgot about everything. For a minute or maybe more they just stood there in silence, then the mouse between them spoke quietly.
“Guys!” Gadget said, a measure of pain in her voice. “How could you ever have thought that? That I’d forget you, that I exchanged you for mechanisms? It will never happen! Do you copy?! Ne-ver!”
“Yes, we do copy,” Chip answered, now much calmer, “and we never doubted it. I never doubted it.”
“So what’s about the hockey, Gadget?” Dale interrupted again, but this time Chip restrained himself. First, it was inconvenient to fight with Dale being embraced by Gadget. And second, but most important, he himself wanted to hear the answer above all…
Gadget relaxed her arms, stepped a bit back and looked into their eyes. “My dear friends! After all these words, all these efforts you put forth to knock until I heard you… After all these things said and not said… I really want to go with you, believe me…”
“But ya won’t,” Monterey Jack standing at the cupboard and tousling some amulet of vague shape “’Cause right now ya are at the very crucial stage of yer research which can’t be interrupted or put off at a latah time. Am I right?”
The inventor blushed.
“Monty, how do you…”
“It’s pretty simple,” Chip answered sadly. “Yesterday you said the same.”
He took her hand off his shoulder and slowly went away to the table. “And the day before yesterday. And the day before that…”
“We haven’t heard anything else from you in a month!” Dale was harsher than Chip, but there was sorrow, not anger, in his voice too. He walked up to the devastated cupboard and started gathering smithereens of broken plates. It was so out of his character that there couldn’t be any doubt of his disappointment and depression being truly boundless.
Gadget stepped forward, her whole form marking her protest. “But listen to me, guys! When I complete my work, our abilities will be beyond imagination! You’ll see it for yourselves!”
“I’m sure you’re right.” Chip heaved his head. “But isn’t it possible to make time for a break just for a single day?”
“Golly, we’ll have plenty of time when I finish!”
“But the game is today!” fedora-wearing chipmunk exclaimed. “I understand that you can go for a picnic or to the amusement park anytime, but the game won’t repeat!”
“And neither will the concert!” Dale kept the pressure up. “They seldom tour in
, and they won’t ever come here anymore after this!” America
“Point taken, but…please, give me these two days. Only these two days. I’ll cope with all of it! I’ll complete everything, I promise!”
Four Rescue Rangers exchanged glances and simultaneously sighed heavily.
“Well, if ya say so…” Monterey Jack approached Gadget and tapped on her shoulder. “We aren’t some beasts who don’t understand. Sure, work on. Ya make very useful and you’ve saved ouah lives with ‘em more times than I can count. When they worked as they should ‘ave, at least—okay, let’s go lads! It’s time to get ready!”
Monty along with a downcast Zipper sitting on his shoulder left the kitchen. Two chipmunks slowly followed. Already in the doorway Chip looked back at the inventor standing alone in the center of the wide kitchen.
“Maybe, however...?” he asked quietly.
The mouse only shrugged her shoulders. Chip sobbed shortly to himself and left the kitchen completely robbed of spirit.
“If ya manage to finishah earlier neverth’less, well, just suppose it, come an’ find us in Ice-Dome. Sector six, by the first stand girder. Seat’s reservdah, no one will occupy it, we’ll see da it! The sector numbers are marked with big numbers on the walls, so you can’t miss it. Yer ticket’s on the table in the hall.”
With that, Monterey Jack, covered with his lucky talismans of different shapes and sizes, stowed a bevy of snacks on the backseat of Rangermobile. That way, there wouldn’t be an urge to go to the buffet during the break through the crowded sports complex.
Gadget just nodded quietly. She knew that nothing could ever hurry nature itself. The engineering procedure she had started just couldn’t come to an end before nine that night…
The Ranger Wing wasn’t quite working at the moment, so the friends decided to take the Rangermobile which they planned to leave in the bushes on the edge of the park encircling the square around the Ice-Dome. The ticket prices for the good seats were much cheaper than human ones, nevertheless they were quite high and only such bigwigs as Fat Cat or Capone could afford booking seats in the VIP-zone (on the roofs of the human VIP-zone and commentary studio).
Tonight, that wasn’t a problem—during one of their last cases the Rangers uncovered a very intricate affair and averted the bankruptcy of Benny Hilton, chief manager of the arena’s rodent zone. And when he was told that Monty and Zipper came to Ice-Dome inquiring about tickets, he personally insisted on covering all expenses.
Though the Rescue Rangers always worked gratis, Monty and Zipper concluded there was nothing wrong with complying with the old rodent’s request and accepted his offer.
The chipmunks appeared, dressed up for the match. But while Chip just bound a blue and red muffler with a San-Angeles Rangers emblem around his neck, Dale decked himself out like a true ice-hockey player, lacking only the skates. The conglomeration of various pads hindered his movements, the hockey stick constantly tangled his legs, and his visor kept on slipping over his eyes but like any true obsessed fan he didn’t care.
Chip, who had never missed any single opportunity to tease his friend before, especially in the presence of the pin-up mouse inventor, didn’t pay any attention to Dale’s self-torments at all. He tacitly passed by Gadget and took the front passenger seat. Dale, not without his faithful stick’s assistance, waddled into the back. Monty turned the fan on and Rangermobile set out.
“Good luck, guys!” Gadget bid them farewell. Monty waved his hand in response, while the chipmunks didn’t react at all, having either not heard her voice through the fan’s din or pretended not to hear. The mouse followed them with her eyes until they vanished, then turned around and resolutely headed to the workshop.
“Didn’t even say goodbye!” she said angrily to herself, going upstairs. “Like uppity children, really! I’m at the most crucial creative stage of my research and they come up with this silly hockey game! What did they find interesting in it? It’s just a bunch of rudeness, scuffling and nothing more! Primitive! How can anyone like a sport where the most complicated equipment used are sirens and light bulbs behind the nets?! Oh golly, I completely forgot! The first stage must’ve been completed already!”
She quickened her pace and ran into the workshop right when the timer counted down its last seconds and rang loudly. Gadget dashed to the electrolyte bath and took out the metal plates covered with a white film.
“Ooh, just in time!” Gadget sighed with relief as she pulled her goggles down over her eyes and became thoroughly engrossed in her work. The time-table was strict. Today she planned to finish off the superglue she was making, assemble and test some pneumatic pistols for nailing up grapples in the walls of almost any thickness, dismantle the Ranger Wing’s engines for future modernization and put together a lightweight but very durable frame of a future supersonic aircraft.
But the main task for today was to perfect the technology of obtaining a much more pure liquid potassium, which then could be used to produce ultra strong glass to protect them—in the Ranger Wing, Gyrotank, Rangermobile, anything at all! The new glass could even serve the windows at headquarters, especially now after one of them, well, “broke”.
That brought Gadget’s mind back to the events of the day, and now she recalled the emotions and looks that the boys had. She tried to push it away, to file it for later study, but the events replayed in her mind’s eye again.
“Never mind!” the inventor said to herself. “The Rangers will win, the guys will come back content and by that time I will already have something great to show them! And tomorrow’s concert…golly, it’ll be shown on TV so many times it’ll become boring!”
When Gadget decided to take a short rest and turned away from her blueprints and calculations, she found much to her astonishment that it was completely dark already. She skidded down the spiral tire slide into the hall, switched the lights on and looked at the clock. Five minutes to ten.
“Wow!” she thought, “I’ve worked more than six hours without a break!.. But where are the guys? The match must have finished some time ago…”
The mouse inventor went down to the garage, but the Rangermobile wasn’t there. What could have held them up for so long? She felt a cold lump forming in her stomach. Could something have really gone wrong? It’s the thirteenth today, and Monty said…
“Golly, why am I winding myself up?! The Rangers won and guys just went somewhere to have a snack and celebrate the victory!” she loudly reprimanded herself. For a few moments she felt better but the feeling of cold wouldn’t leave. She returned to the hall, mumbling “couldn’t they just stay home for me not to worry” and turned on the TV.
And the world broke apart.
The special bulletin caption reading “Breaking News” all by itself caused her to freeze in more ways than one. The mournful look of a news anchor tired after many hours of an-air marathon — she shuddered. And his words — she desperately wanted to wake up.
“This Saturday, the thirteenth of June, is one of the blackest days in the history of our city and all our country,” Stan Blather reported, all the emotion drained from his voice. “As it was reported earlier today, at 5:23 PM Pacific Time, a Boeing 747 air liner, North Pacific Avia Flight 10031 crashed down on the Ice-Dome Sports Arena, where the Stanley Cup Final featuring the Michigan Red Stars and San-Angeles Rangers was taking place. The flight originated in
Lima, Peruwith an intermediate landing at our city’s . At 5:05 PM the plane took off en route to Sea-City. National Airport
“As a result of the crash, three out of twelve sectors of the complex were completely destroyed, other sectors being severely damaged. According to unconfirmed sources, there were no survivors among the 328 passengers and crew of Flight 10031. The victim count on the ground is being verified, but it’s already clear that the total casualties are estimated in the thousands.
“Our foreign colleagues report that the President interrupted his official visit to
Europeand is heading back to this country, with his arrival at the crash site expected sometime tomorrow afternoon. The administration continues to receive condolences from state leaders and public organizations from all over the world.
“Norwegian band A-Kha, whose grand concert was scheduled for tomorrow, has already declared the show’s cancellation and postponed the event indefinitely. At the same time the lead singer of the band announced at a press-conference that starting next week they would begin a worldwide charity tour, all funds from which would be used to help the families of the deceased and injured in this horrible catastrophe…”
The newsreader spoke of many different things: Of the "go team", created by National Transportation Safety Board to investigate the causes of this air crash. Of the telephone numbers by which one could get information regarding relatives attending this ill-fated game. Of the blood donation centers set up in all city hospitals and administrative buildings. Of much more.
But Gadget didn’t hear it. She sat on the sofa rolled into a tight ball, staring vacantly with her wide-open eyes somewhere beyond the newsreader, beyond the TV, beyond the headquarters’ walls. Somewhere out there, a place where only this afternoon her friends had invited her.
Gadget realized that if she sat there for a second more she would go crazy once and for all. Like a spring pressed to its limit, she straightened up and ran to the Wing stationed in the hangar. It was dark on the lower floor but it only registered in her fevered mind as some shroud covering her eyes and slowly she became aware she was crying.
But she didn’t stop. She could stop no longer.
Gadget climbed into the cockpit and powered the engines up. Only a dull rattle responded instead of the usual low hum. Why, why had she decided to dismantle the engines today?! Gadget beat at the motionless yoke and all of a sudden remembered the Ranger Plane, stored for the time being on the upper landing pad.
The inventor darted upstairs. “Golly, if only she worked… if only she worked…” Gadget kept muttering the mantra under her breath like some spell, running up to the tarpaulin-covered aircraft. Having torn the sheet away, the mouse took the pilot’s seat and started pulling on the unruly levers.
“Come on, work!” she cried with all the lung power she had, waking up a flock of sparrows which slept in the canopy over her and sending them scattering asunder in fear at the sound of her voice. Right now she didn’t care who and in what quantity she disturbed at all.
“Come on, dear, start, please,” she kept saying tearfully while repeatedly rotating the starter crank. “Please, forgive me for leaving you behind. Fly once more, please…”
Gadget pushed the crank once more, putting all her energy into this movement. Something cracked under the dashboard—the engine sneezed, ungreased mechanical joints started moving rhythmically, the plane swayed and vacillatingly soared upwards.
The Ranger Plane had never been noted for high speed and the long downtime didn’t improve the situation by any means. From Gadget’s standpoint she didn’t move forward at all, but the plane, although slowly, was indeed flying. Having flown out of the tree’s dense canopy, she looked around and immediately knew where to go. The crimson glow and thick puffs of black smoke over the city were impossible to miss.
No sooner had the mouse left the limits of the city park than she was deafened by sirens’ wailing, previously stifled by the trees. The streets she was flying over were packed with ambulances racing between the Ice-Dome and the hospitals.
101st Avenue, which led from the city’s center to the sports arena, was closed for all traffic but emergency vessels.
Police cars and barriers were posted at all intersections. Some ambulances rushed past accompanied by a pair of police motorcycles — definitely carrying someone significant, for the cream of society just couldn’t afford to miss a match like this. Ordinary drivers had to go around. Almost each and every citizen had relatives or friends among the Ice-Dome attendees, so everyone abandoned everything and hurried either to the site or the hospitals. Narrow secondary streets not meant for such traffic quickly grew jammed and complaining horns of thousands of cars rent the air.
After a seemingly eternal flight, Gadget saw the Ice-Dome—or rather what was left of it. The palace towered above the wide square surrounded by parks, and all the space between its walls and trees was filled with a confusion of people and machinery.
Gadget’s attention was entirely absorbed by the ruinous sports arena, its snow-white walls almost completely black with soot and burn marks now, the once majestic dome partially collapsed. Smoke belched and every now and then tongues of flame shot out of numerous windows.
Despite a host of water cannons and foam launchers working at full capacity, the firemen still hadn’t managed to localize the fire, let alone beat it. The fire fed on the aviation fuel poured out from aircraft’s full tanks, reigniting again and again, and the firefighters had to extinguish the same areas many times.
But the most terrifying sight was the tremendous breach in the south part of the arena with the crashed Boeing’s keel protruding from it. To the left and right from it broad and long openings punched by airliner’s wings gaped like two deep wounds. In spite of the soot, the shape of a big three stories high numeral eight could be seen to the left of the yawning chasm.
Gadget knew that sector numbers increased clockwise, so she banked right toward the opposite side of the breach where sector six must have been situated. The inventor looked for the number, and that’s why she didn’t notice the outlines of the numeral four lost amidst the burn marks right away. The large three farther to the right was much easier to spot, for this part of the complex suffered less damage and she was struck by a dreadful revelation.
Barely holding the yoke’s bottle cap with trembling hands, she flew around the entire facility, finding all sectors except 5, 6 and 7. There could be no more doubts. The sector her friends were sitting in was in the very middle of devastated part of the building. The plane crashed right into it.
“No, no, it can’t be…” Gadget mumbled. Spellbound, she peered into the flaming interior of the Ice-Dome ripped open by the fallen aircraft, trying to notice any little movement amidst the smoke and fire, but it was so hot even firemen in protective suits couldn’t get near.
“Maybe they left before the crash… Or came too late, after it.”
The mouse frantically searched through all the possibilities, persistently pushing away the thoughts about the worst. “Or maybe something diverted them. Sure! They witnessed a crime and they’re chasing criminals somewhere now while I’m flying here in circles. Maybe, they’ve returned to HQ already and wondered where I went! They could be about to go search for me, worried for me. Yes! I must go back to headquarters and everything will be alright!’
Gadget made a steep turn, facing the plane away from this darned place. She was already imagining herself approaching the home tree and seeing her friends gathered at the porch, peering at the night sky. Then they see her and shout gaily and wave their paws in salute. She lands, the Plane’s landing gear touches the landing ground. It’s still moving, but Chip and Dale are already there to help her out of the cockpit. “Where have you been? We looked for you everywhere!” they ask. And she embraces them and says “Golly, if you only knew how much I was frightened when I heard the news…”
Eerie metallic glitter in the bushes on the very verge of the park adjacent to the Ice Dome caught her attention. From the altitude she was flying at Gadget couldn’t tell what it was exactly, but it was as if an inner voice told her “Land!”. The mouse directed the Ranger Plane downward and landed in the middle of the wide clear area between the bushes. There, in the dusk, very familiar outlines could be seen.
Painfully familiar outlines of the Rangermobile.
Barely moving her rock-ribbed legs the inventor approached the machine. The flash of hope that it was not the Rangermobile but somebody else’s very similar carrier subsided the very moment she came right up to it. It was her design and her creation, beyond any doubt—the manually adjusted fan with two-vane propeller. The powerful accumulator. The ruby wheels with reinforced suspension. The modified dashboard with electric current feeding regulators. And, as if in case all the features listed above would still seem insufficient, there was Dale’s blue-red hockey stick laying on the back seat.
He must have left it here because they wouldn’t let him in with it.
Gadget took one more step but felt the ground going from beneath her legs and laid hold of the machine’s polished deck edge. She closed her eyes, unable to look at this silent monument. She started shaking and tears gushed from beneath her closed eaves.
“NOOOOO!” she shouted into the night sky. “NOOOOO! IT CAN’T BE! CHIP! DALE! MONTY! ZIPPER!”
She cried in the dark and shouted the more, but no one could hear her, no one answered her call.
She was alone.
Her friends weren’t there.
Stumbling against the mowed grass, Gadget ran back to the Plane. She knew what to do. Knew where she belonged.
“Come on, bottle, start up!” mouse yelled in frenzy at the deaf aircraft. This time the engine started at the third attempt and the Ranger Plane flew back to the Ice-Dome, its wings creaking with strain.
“Hold on, guys!” Gadget shouted directing the craft right into the center of the catastrophe. The poisoned air gave her a coughing fit while the acrid smoke irritated her eyes, but she wasn’t going to put her goggles on. It didn’t matter for her anymore. Everything will end soon, and they will be together again.
The helium balloon split with loud plop. The Plane twitched and started going down. Gadget was already discerning individual fire vortexes furiously devouring the remains of the airliner and the demolished stands. The heat became intolerable, the air was practically impossible to breathe in. She felt herself losing consciousness.
I’m on the way.
The faster it happens, the better…
An unknown force struck the bottom of the plane flipping it upwards and to the right. At first Gadget thought something had exploded but then found herself flying amidst the water splashes. She hit the water cannon’s squirt—or rather, the squirt hit her.
The blow was so powerful the little plane flew up a couple of dozen feet high stitching the black smoke cloud all the way through. Gadget tried to bring the plane back on the previous course but it didn’t obey. The direct hit by the cannon broke the clutch between the engine and the wing holders which got stuck at different angles to the hull.
Having lost both traction and its helium balloon, the Ranger Plane began spinning slowly but steadily. But the craft turned out to have been thrown so high up into the air by the water’s blow that she overshot the Ice-Dome, flew over the square around it crowded with machines and men and reached the trees on the edge of the park. Having punched through a tall ash-tree’s canopy, the Plane broke several branches. Covered with leaves, the Plane’s remains plopped down on a big heap of freshly-mown grass.
Gadget, thunderstruck by falling, removed the leaves stuck to her face and, having breathed in the fresh air, coughed heavily. Her eyes were still burning but not so badly now. She moved her hands and legs and found nothing was broken. She got off very lightly, with only a couple of bruises and abrasions made by the branches that lashed against her face. Her jumpsuit was all covered with lampblack but on the whole she was unharmed.
It seemed plainly impossible after such a flight and crash. Her safety belt saved her. Gadget didn’t remember having put it on. It must’ve been reflex, she mused. Saved by a pile of grass, a seat belt and a water cannon—and I hate every one of them.
Half heartedly she tried to wind the engine up again but this time it showed no sign of life at all. She scrambled out of cockpit and examined her vessel. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to comprehend that without a full overhaul the Ranger Plane would never fly again. Her hull was cracked open and the bow together with the engine got almost fully detached from the rest of the craft. The wing-driving mechanism was completely destroyed, the wing holders torn by the roots from the hull. Next to nothing remained of the right wing, the helium balloon had vanished and now its lost pieces burned somewhere among the Boeing’s wreckage.
“Why? Why am I so unlucky?!” Gadget exclaimed and kicked the broken plane. “I can’t even die and burn in a crash when I want to! Not one little scratch! What the heck is all this for?!”
Gadget sat down on the grass heap clasping her head. Maybe it was a curse. After all of this one could easily become as superstitious as Monty… Monty. She remembered her old comrade who had befriended her father so long ago and started crying again.
“Excuse me, miss, do you need help?”
The loud voice came so unexpectedly that Gadget froze for a second. She hadn’t heard any noises and thought she was hearing things. But when she lifted her eyes she saw the wide muzzle of a straw-colored Labrador Retriever right in front of her. He was a rescue dog wearing a red and white uniform jacket along with a gas mask dangling off his neck that was connected to a silver oxygen cylinder on his back.
Gadget looked back at the rescue dog from the grass heap, even with his eye level. “No, thanks,” she wept, “I’m alright…”
“Well,” the dog smiled sadly, “good to see that at least one of today’s air crashes went without casualties. Small bright spot, at last. My name’s Luke. I saw you falling down. Are you sure you weren’t hurt? There’s blood on your forehead…”
“Really?” Gadget passed her hand over forehead and winced with pain. “Never mind, it’s just a scratch. I’m Gadget, and what’s your name...? Oh, sorry, you seem to have said it already…”
“You know, I saw your flight from the very sports complex, and I hope you don’t mind if I ask. Are you looking for someone?”
Gadget felt a faint gleam of hope appearing again. “Yes! I’m looking! I’m looking for Chip, Dale—oh, sorry, their names will hardly tell you anything. They’re two chipmunks, an Australian muscle mouse and a small fly. Have you seen them?”
Luke scratched behind his ear.“No, unfortunately, I don’t remember seeing anyone like that anyway. You should ask Vader, our unit commander. I arrived here later on, while he was among the first. He would know.”
“Golly, that’s great!” Gadget exclaimed gaily. “Where can I find him?”
“Climb onto me.” Luke lowered his head on the grass near the mouse. “It’s such a pandemonium here that even humans sometimes barely escape being run over. And if you get in the way nobody will even notice!”
Gadget gripped Luke by the collar and climbed on his neck. The dog straightened up and ran in the direction of the Ice-Dome by long leaps, looking to his sides every now and then. He stopped a couple of times to give way to ambulances passing by with a deafening wail, and in such moments Gadget had to grip his collar with all her strength in order not to fly over the dog’s head and fall right under the wheels. If she tried to cross the square by herself at such a speed she would certainly be crushed by a wheel or someone’s leg.
Luke moved forward confidently and it was obvious that it wasn’t his first run in an environment like this. Finally they got to a large red-and-white van with a red Labrador Retriever wearing the same uniform as Luke, sitting near its back doors. The red-haired rescue dog was looking raptly at the group of men-rescuers standing not far from the van, so Luke’s and Gadget’s appearance went unnoticed.
“What’s the news, Chewy?” Luke asked as he approached his fellow canine. Chewy turned his head and Gadget saw tears in his big brown eyes.
“Luke,” Chewy said quietly and dropped his head, “Oby died. In sector three…”
“How?!” Luke asked and flinched so strongly that Gadget nearly fell down.
“The ceiling collapsed. Frank rushed to dig him out but then everything around started coming down and he himself was barely dragged out. All of us almost got killed there.”
The dog pointed his head back at the group of people and only now Gadget noticed the aged man in an undone red-and-white jacket sitting on the emergency vehicle’s footboard unaware of the others. He continuously stared at the broken dog lead he was holding and other rescuers time and again glanced at him and, as if apologizing for the intrusion, averted their eyes.
“My condolences…” Gadget uttered quietly.
“It’s nothing. We all know it can happen. Thanks.” Luke answered, swallowing a lump that formed in his throat. “He was my mentor. Taught me everything…”
“Who are you talking to?” Chewy asked.
“Oh, sure,” Luke lowered his head and the mouse inventor clambered down to the ground. “Chewy, meet Gadget. Gadget, here is Chewy, my old friend and fellow trainee.”
“Gadget’s looking for her friends—” Luke began but the Rescue Ranger interrupted him.
“Have you seen two chipmunks, an Australian muscle mouse and a small fly? Maybe they’re here somewhere, helping the injured?” She waved her hand towards the arena ruins.
Chewy shook his head. “No, I don’t think so. I would have certainly remembered such a crew. You need to speak to Commander Vader. Oh, there he and Bronson are!”
Gadget looked where Chewy pointed and saw a big black
Labradorin a gas mask slowly walking alongside his owner, the chief of the rescue unit. Bronson patted his four-legged partner on the back and went towards Frank, while Vader headed to Luke and Chewy. Having stepped up to them he wearily sat down and pulled his gas mask away, revealing deep wrinkles and two wide swaths of gray hair stretching from the tip of his nose to the corners of his eyes.
“Don’t limp, guys,” old dog began right off the bat. His voice was hoarse, shrill and gruff. “Oby won’t return, but that’s better than of age or arthritis. Who the heck is this?” he asked Luke as he pointed at Gadget, as if having noticed her just now.
“Her name is Gadget, Commander,” Luke answered, “she’s looking for her friends.”
“Do they all consider us some lost-property office?” Vader spoke through set teeth. He addressed nobody in particular, but his remark hit Gadget like a thunderbolt. She was about to say something irate and suitable for the moment, but then Vader looked right at her and the words got stuck in her throat.
“Okay lady, come on, tell us everything—who, how many, and where. But please be quick. We’ve got a fire deal with, you know.”
“I… I’m looking for two chipmunks,” Gadget managed, wondering how many times this recital would continue. “An Australian muscle mouse and a fly. Their names are Chip, Dale, Monterey Jack and Zipper. Their seats were in the sixth sector.”
“In the sixth sector?” The black
Labradorgave a short unpleasant laugh. “That’s what you should have begun with, my dear. Just think about it. Don’t you see what’s going on here? Look around, open your eyes! There is NO sixth sector. It doesn’t exist. It vanished. Sank into oblivion.”
“But I thought, maybe somehow…” Gadget muttered slowly.
“Somehow what? An aircraft crashed there, mind you. It’s such a big thing, you know? With wings. It flies. Sometimes poorly, just like today for example. There is no fifth, sixth or seventh sector anymore. Black hole. Inferno. We haven’t got there yet and likely won’t before morning. I’m sorry—as they say, nothing personal, but if I were you I would start searching for new friends.”
Gadget couldn’t believe the casual cruelty of it. “What did you—how can you!” She covered her face with her paws and burst into sobs, feeling herself turned inside out by Vader’s words.
“Right, here come more hysterics,” Vader grumbled. “How many have we seen today already? I lost count long ago. All right, then. You can check the hospital out but I don’t think it’ll help.”
“What…hospital?” Gadget asked, still unable to control herself.
“What do you mean ‘what hospital’?” Vader rolled his eyes. “Are you just out of hibernation? The
for rodents on Small Central Hospital Portero Avenue. It opened nearly a month ago. There’s chaos in there, for sure, but it’s worse here so the change will be for better. But if your friends were in sector six when it happened, then here are my heartfelt condolences. I can only say that they didn’t suffer. Their light was just switched off. Not so bad, actually.”
Vader turned his attention back to his duties. “Luke, Chewy! Be at the sector two entrance in five minutes! We’ve sat here too long, time to work! Don’t be late!”’
The gruff canine dashed up and headed to his human partner sitting next to a mourning Frank. Chewy sniffed and glanced at the crying mouse and, having murmured “duty calls, sorry” went after the commander.
“I am sorry…” Luke added, still next to Gadget.
“LEAVE ME ALONE!!! GET AWAY FROM ME!!! DARN ALL OF YOU!!!” the inventor wailed and rushed away, her paws covering her eyes.
Run anywhere, if only as far from here as possible.
How could he?!
And he calls himself a rescuer?!
He is…he is…
“GADGET! LOOK OUT!”
Gadget stopped instinctively at Luke’s shouted warning and suddenly something grabbed her by the jumpsuit collar and lifted her up. She screamed and started fighting back, but her tooth and nail effort hit empty air alone. Then a thundering roar came from the left and a gigantic four-axle hoisting crane drove past some few inches from her.
The torpid inventor followed the clearance lights and all of a sudden felt herself back on the ground again.
“Oh-ho, that was close!” Luke said having unclenched his teeth and let Gadget’s overalls go. “It was careless on your part, upset or not. Please, forgive Vader. Don’t think of him badly, he isn’t always such a—well. Today is just a truly unlucky day.”
“But that’s no reason to have said that! ‘Look for new friends’! Doesn’t he understand…?”
“Please, Gadget, let me finish. I know what you thought and how you took it. Forgive the old dog. It’s professional cynicism. Sometimes it’s impossible to go without it, if only to avoid the mental hospital. Sometimes you see a lot of things and besides, he’s been up the whole week. One emergency call after another—fires, an oil truck accident, explosions, flames. And now this crash. They’ve roused everybody still capable of moving.
“And now Oby’s death. Vader and Oby were friends from childhood; their families had been friends long before their birth. They trained together, worked together. I assure you that when all this is finished he will lock up somewhere and his howling will shatter all the windows around. And besides, he’ll insist on telling Oby’s family the news…”
The labrador’s words moved Gadget to the very depth of her soul. Perhaps Luke's right. She too acted under duress, after all, but she still couldn’t forgive Vader. His words were just too painful and scary. A rescuer must never say things like that. Chip would never allow himself to say them.
Golly, if only he and the guys were okay!
“Thank you,” she nodded, “you are very kind, Luke. And thanks for saving my life. I really didn’t see or hear anything at all.”
“Never mind. It’s our job, after all.”
“And what’s about that hospital Vader was talking about? You know, I very rarely left my house this month…”
? That’s a medical center opened by Harold Bucksup the third inside of Small Central Hospital . Central City Hospital 1001 Portero Avenueis the address. They're huge white buildings, you won’t miss it. If you get lost, ask. Many are heading there now. I hope you’ll be fortunate enough to find your friends there…let me take you to the park gates, or, God forbid, you’ll have to dodge some heavy truck once again.”
“Thank you, Luke. I would've been surely gone without you.” Gadget said, occupying her already usual place on the dog’s back. “Oh, could you please take me to the park path in front of the sixth sector? I have the Rang—a car there.”
“Aircraft, car…you are very resourceful girl, I must say!” Luke tried to cheer her up at least a bit, but Gadget didn’t even smile. She was too depressed with emotions that overwhelmed her the moment she thought of the Rangermobile—emotions so intense that the mouse inventor wasn’t even able to resist when all the energy seemed to drain out of her and she fell asleep right there in that mass of warm fur.