Small Change
A Rescue Ranger Story
by Indy and Chris Silva

Chapter One - A Frazzled Fly, A Scary Story and A Long Vigil

A cool breeze welcomed the Rangers as they walked out of Ranger Headquarters onto their treetop veranda. The first day of spring in New York is rarely welcoming, and yet the cold was not so bitter that they refused to eat their lunch outside. Dale was the main culprit—while the chipmunk loved his movie binges in the winter, he was always the first out and about when the redbuds blossomed. Now he fussed over every detail as the Rangers laid out the spread for luncheon.

“Wow, isn’t this great?” Dale asked. “Gadget, don’t forget the lemonade! And Chip, hurry up with that tablecloth!”

Chip tiptoed outside, testing the ground in front of him, a tall armload of supplies blocking his vision. Dale sat at the table, leaning back and forth, trying to watch the television through the open door, around Chip.

“Chip, come on, you’re blocking the TV, man!” Dale craned his neck this way and that. “Those shows aren’t going to watch themselves!

Chip dumped the tablecloth on him. “There’s a show you can watch! Now, come on. It was your idea to eat out here. Let’s get this thing anchored down.”

Chip and Dale tied the tablecloth down to the new picnic table Gadget had built for the occasion. Monty came out of Headquarters, balancing a bowl of chips along with a bowl of melted cheese. With an expert rear kick, he shut the door soundly.

“It ain’t proper to welcome spring into the world without a batch of me world-famous Monterey Jack nachos! Dig in, everyone!” Monty said.

Gadget, who had been preoccupied with her half-finished barbeque grill, now sat down with the rest of the guys. “Thanks, Monty! I love your cheese nachos. Say, I think something’s missing.”

Dale made a quick inventory, counting every item on the table. “Nachos, cheese, cream puffs, walnuts, veggies, lemonade—nope, all here!”

From inside Headquarters, a muffled banging and squeaking told Gadget the story

“Oh wait, I know. Coming, Zipper!” Gadget opened the door and there Zipper hovered, carrying the napkins over his head. He buzzed impatiently to the table and plopped down next to Dale where he rested his head on his tiny hands.

“Sorry about that, pally,” Monty said. “Didn’t know you were shut in.”

Dale shook his head. “That’s like five times this week. Maybe Zipper needs a buzzer or something to get our attention.”

Gadget saw the glower that Zipper shot Dale’s way. “Now Dale, it’s not Zipper’s fault that he’s so little and we overlook him sometimes. Of course, a flashing bulb might help or a speech synthesizer...”

Zipper just glared at his friends. He knew they meant well, but it got tiring at times. Dale knew that look all too well and sympathized with it.

“Don’t worry, Zipper,” Dale said, patting Zipper on the back with a cheese-covered hand. “You know we’d never really forget about you, buddy! Okay, chow down!”

Dale immediately begin stuffing his face with nachos while the others dug in. Zipper sat quietly, eating. The others talked and chatted. With some difficulty he could make himself understood, but even then it wasn’t very effective—just enough to get the point across. He couldn’t hold an actual conversation with any of them and it frustrated him, as at times it made him feel like a lesser being. He knew they meant well and that they cared about him, but when the people you loved most in the world forget you exist, what more could you do but shrug your shoulders?

Monty saw the far-off look in his friend’s big yellow eyes. “You okay, Zip? You look like you got somethin’ mighty weighty on yer mind.”

Zipper squeaked a speedy reply that only Monty’s trained ears could interpret.

“Well, I guess it probably is bad being little sometimes, but remember what happened to ya that time you grew big and all! Why, you nearly had the entire nation’s military after you, mate.”

“Monty’s right, Zipper, “ Chip added. “Besides, you’re an important part of the team. I’m sorry I wasn’t looking for you before.”

Zipper nodded and Dale nodded with him

“Besides, being big isn’t everything.” Dale stood up, making like he was about to sneak up on Chip. “You can’t surprise people if you—yow!”

Dale’s “yow” came just after a resounding snort from below. The Rangers all ducked for cover and a voice followed that snort.

“Excuse me, is this the home of the Rescue Rangers?”

Five little faces craned over the veranda. A horse looked back at them

Gadget blinked rapidly, taking the new visitor in. “Golly, we don’t see many horses here! Yes, we’re the Rescue Rangers.”

Dale grinned with his charming mischief. “Just tell us where we have to be and we’ll “hoof” it over there and, and me out here, Chip. I can’t think of any other horse puns aside from leading a horse to water and beating a dead one.”

Chip rolled his eyes and sighed as he addressed the horse. “Yes, we’re the Rangers. We’ll do what we can to help you. What’s your trouble?”

The horse moved into the a thicket where he would be less visible and the Rangers came down and joined him. Once they were situated on branches high enough to address their client, the horse started in.

“My name’s Leroy, but that’s not important,” the horse explained. “I feel sort of silly coming to little guys like you, but Mary—she’s on the morning carriage shift—she told me about you and how you helped her find a lost horseshoe.”

Chip pulled out a small notepad from his jacket and wrote a couple of quick lines. “Yeah, I remember that. That happened last October if I remember right from my case ledger. So did you lose one too?”

The horse snorted again and shook his big head. “I wish it was something that simple. The horses are all spooked, and I can’t blame them.”

“What’s wrong, is it a human issue? Mistreating the horses and such or is it something ... more sinister?”

Leroy appeared reluctant to talk more and dipped his head.

Gadget reached out with her caring tone. “It’s okay, Leroy. We’ll be careful to—”

“It’s a ghost!” Leroy spat out. “At least I think it is.”

Dale was on his feet in a shot. “Yeah, we’re on the case! Bring out the ectoplasm traps! Finally something worth going after!”

“There’s no such thing!” Chip crossed his arms as he gave Dale a stern look. “I’m sure its some logical thing being mistaken for supernatural.”

“Aw, you’re always saying that!”

Chip flipped his notepad over to a new page. “Okay Leroy, tell us everything you know about this and don’t leave out anything. Every detail could be important.”

Leroy stopped cropping grass now that the chipmunks were through arguing and leaned against a nearby tree. “Well, I guess it started about two weeks ago. Harold was on the graveyard shift, which is usually the shift every horse wants because the duty’s pretty light. Anyway, he was out with old man Reynolds. You’ve probably seen him before, dresses like a British lord and he’s real nice to all of us and been driving couples through the park forever. So Harold and Reynolds were out with what looked like some newlyweds and they took the long route around. Everything was just like normal until they went over one of the small bridges and zap!”

Gadget was all curious at the use of that word. “Literally a ‘zap’, like a machine or just a sudden exclamation of surprise and shock?”

“Where’s that bridge?” Chip asked. “We’ll need to go over every inch of it to find who’s pretending to be a ghost.”

Leroy answered Gadget’s question first. “It was a zap as in a great flash of white light. Scared the willies out of horse and man alike. Harold was blinded by it for the moment and couldn’t tell more, but he said he did hear someone cackling. He came the closest to whatever it was, but other horses have seen the light and heard the cackling too. I saw it for the first time myself last night and heard it too. Sounded like some kind of crazed monster or something. I’ll show you where it was, but only in the daylight.”

Chip turned to the others. “Food will have to wait, Dale. We’ve got work to do. Rescue Rangers Away!”

“I’ll bet you a week’s pay it’s really a ghost!” Dale challenged Chip as they started to leave.

“We don’t get paid, Dale.”

“Okay, half a week’s pay.”

A ten-minute journey on Leroy’s back took the Rangers to the scene of the crime. The bridge, one of 36 unique bridges in the park, had a convenient walkway underneath it for pedestrians to avoid the horse-drawn carriages riding above. While the nervous horse watched from the underbrush, the Rangers scoured the area with professional care. When they returned to Leroy, Chip shook his head.

“Sorry, Leroy, we didn’t find anything out of the ordinary. Are you sure this is the right bridge?”

The horse nodded. “How could I forget it? That light flashing in the trees and that deep voice laughing like the devil itself! If you’d been here, you’d know why the carriage horses are all wishing they won’t get the night shift.”

Dale started digging himself out a place in the underbrush. “We’d better do a stakeout! Right, Chip?”

“Yes, a stakeout,” Chip echoed. “And that doesn’t involve any steak, Dale.

“I know, Chip. I’m not that stupid, I think. We drink lots of coffee and don’t sleep—that’s what a real police stakeout’s like.”

Gadget pulled out a small packet from a pack she’d brought along, which inflated into a rodent-sized inflatable chair when she pulled a cord on it. “Well, we should settle in then. I’ll just rotate 3 dimensional objects in my mind for a few hours.”

Monty began packing straw for a makeshift bed. “This reminds me of—”

“It reminds me of issue #405 of Captain Catastrophe!” Dale interjected. “There were all these slime people and he had to wait until the slime time went down and then he and Glory Boy…”

Chip sighed and mentally prepared for hours and hours of living heck.

Chapter 2 - Business As Usual--Until It's Not

Between Monty’s stories and Dale’s comic book comparisons, the day went by pretty easily. Chip and Gadget returned to headquarters and brought back extra supplies for the night vigil, along with enough food to last them. When night came, the Rangers took turns napping and watching. It was about eleven-thirty when Zipper buzzed in Chip’s ear and woke him up.

“Huh?” Chip forced his mind to focus. “What is it, Zipper? What’s wrong?”

Zipper gestured frantically a glowing aura at the bridge and tried to articulate what he was seeing.

Monty woke up now and saw it too. “Looks like its time to roll up the sleeves and bust some ghostly troublemakers!”

As the others woke up, Zipper fearlessly led the way while a carriage horse whinnied in fear at the sight. The animal turned and bolted the other way, its driver shouting for it to stop. Then a deep and echoing laughter followed that brought the small heroes up short.

Gadget crouched down, hugging the ground. “Uh, Chip? Are you sure we’re not dealing with an actual malevolent spectral manifestation of evil here?”

“I’m sure,” Chip said, trying to sound confident. “It’s just a man pretending to be a ghost, it has to be.”

Dale was right behind Chip now. “You do have a plan, right Chip?”

Monty punched the air. “I’m just gonna pummel whoever it is!”

The Rangers pressed on and when they penetrated the underbrush near the bridge, they found a familiar face. Chip motioned for the others to stop and whispered, ‘Nimnul!’ as he pointed.

“Might have known,” Monty grumbled back softly. “It’s been too long since that wicked ol’ windbag blew some bad news in our direction.”

The diminutive do-badder laughed again into a megaphone, modified with some kind of equipment to alter the scientist’s voice. He turned it off then checked another piece of equipment upon which sat a glass beaker that contained some kind of glowing bluish-white energy.

“Those fools at the university would pay zillions for a discovery like this!” Nimnul bragged. “But I’m the one who’s going to get paid now. With my new Fear-O-Matic fear energy collector, I can absorb the pure fear of any human or animal and collect it like any other energy! And when I release it in the MegaNational Bank, everyone will cower before me while I rob ‘em blind!”

“Nice of him to give us his entire plan in such detail,” Chip said from the brush.

“It’s in the evil villains’ code,” Dale said. “If they couldn’t blab about what they were going to do, they’d all just go home.”

Zipper flew in first, his frustration from being ignored by his friend still in the front in his mind. He buzzed angrily around Nimnul, driving the mad scientist into hysterics while Chip and the others worked around to disarm and neutralize the sinister scientist.

Nimnul swatted at the offending fly. “It’s you again, you despicable icky insect! And where you are—THE VERMIN!”

Monty jumped on Nimnul’s back, causing the panicking villain to dance a desperate jig. Nimnul shook Monty off of his back and grabbed a ray gun.

“I’ve got a special present for you this time, troublemakers. Prepare to have your molecules fried and your genes spliced by my Metamorpho Ray!”

Zipper gasped and flew wildly around Nimnul’s head to distract him as he pointed the gun at the Rangers.

“Stop it, fly!” Nimnul waved the gun around. “Don’t you know that evil genius has to win?”

“That’s it, Zipper!” Chip cheered. “Keep him distracted and we’ll find a way to cut him down to size!”

Monty grabbed one end a branch and Chip took the other. The two Rangers rushed forward and caught Nimnul unprepared. As he toppled over, his gun discharged when it fell, catching Zipper squarely with its beam.

Zipper fell to the ground, unconscious.

Monty went into a rage and jumped on Nimnul again. The outraged Aussie began tearing our handfuls of the screaming man’s mustache while Gadget ran to help Zipper

The mouse inventor found him unconscious on top of an oak leaf. “Zipper! Zipper, are you okay?” She put her left ear to his chest. “His heart’s working and he’s breathing, thank goodness!”

“That don’t get you off the hook though, you good fer nothing snake in the grass!” Monty shouted, still ripping out hairs.

“OW!” Nimnul shouted, writhing. “Stop that you—OW!”

Nimnul shook Monty off again and was about to reclaim his ray gun when the sounds of humans caught his attention. The horse-drawn carriage was back, now with a policeman inside. The henpecked scientist gathered his equipment in a rush.

“I’ll take care of the lot of you, later. I’ve got a date with a bank!” The professor rushed off, leaving the Rangers with their fallen comrade.

Dale knelt down next to Zipper’s still form. “Zipper? Oh man, he looks hurt bad.” The chipmunk started to get teary-eyed, looking up at his oldest friend with searching eyes. “Chip, he’s not gonna...”

Chip’s voice was quieter than usual. “I don’t know, Dale. I don’t know what that ray did to him. We’d better get him back to Headquarters, pronto!”

A somber procession led the way through the park, Monty and Chip carrying Zipper on the oak leaf. Gadget helped them once they were back at Headquarters to get their injured friend into a makeshift warm bed, made out of a large half of a walnut shell. There they sat around the kitchen table, looking at their small and unmoving friend

“What do we do now?” Dale asked.

“Watch and wait, that’s the best thing.” Gadget checked Zipper’s vital signs again. “He’s warm and he’s breathing okay. I’ll take the first watch.”

Chip patted Gadget’s hand. “I don’t think I can sleep now, Gadget. I’ll do it.”

“I’m not about to sleep!” Monty said. “I want to get that crazy nutcase for what he did to our Zipper!”

“Me too, but right now Zipper’s the important thing. We’ll take turns. Thanks for taking the first watch, Gadget.”

It was a long and sleepless night in Headquarters. Normally, there was a buzz of activity for every room, but now the quiet hung over everything. Every ten minutes, Dale would come to check on Zipper and watch intently as his tiny chest moved up and down.

Gadget put an arm around him. “Don’t worry, Dale. He’ll be all right.”

Dale’s eyes searched those of the mouse inventor. “Are you sure?”

“I’m not saying otherwise.”

Dale smiled a little at that. “Okay, he’ll be all right.”

When Gadget’s shift ended, she insisted Dale go to his room and rest too. After Chip’s shift came Monty’s, and with Monty’s shift came the dawn. He was mixing up his special Cheese Pancakes when a light squeaking caught his ever-attentive ears

“Zipper?” Monty dropped his mixing bowl and ran to his old buddy. “Zipper, was that you? Say something, lad!”

Chapter 3 - The Dreamscape, A Speaking Role, History Revisited and A Field Trip to the Lion's Den

Zipper found himself in what seemed like a void in space. The blackness was tangible, like a dark cloth over him. He pulled it back and saw his hands, but they weren’t his. He found four fingers and a thumb, and as he moved them he looked down and wondered how his hands had changed. An old antique mirror floated by and he saw his face—it was his own. A far-off cackling broke Zipper out of his reverie and he saw the form of Nimnul in the mirror as lightning cracked.

“So, you come to face me again, my old enemy,” Zipper said, then clapped his hand—still a human hand—over his mouth. “I can—I can talk!”

“Of course, you can talk!” Nimnul said, from the mirror. “We’re in the Netherscape, the realm of dreams. Anything’s possible! You don’t remember me, do you?”

“What do you mean, of course I remember you! We’ve fought lots of times.”

“Oh, that’s right. You wouldn’t remember. Nevermind then, you’ll know soon enough.”

Zipper eyed the mad scientist as parts of the man seemed to fade in and out of reality and into the darkness.

“You’re not Nimnul, are you,” Zipper said.

“Maybe, maybe not. The question you should be asking is who you are.”

“I know who I am, I’m Zipper, Super-Fly.”

Zipper’s voice trailed off as he looked at his altered appearance. Distant memories stirred in the attic of his mind of places he was sure he’d never been and people he’d never met.

“Is this some new trick, Nimnul?” Zipper challenged, flying up to press his face against the mirror. “Some new weapon? You don’t scare us, we’ll still defeat you!”

Nimnul’s form enlarged and left the mirror as Zipper backed away. It seemed almost to envelop the fly.

“Brave words, brave indeed,” Nimnul said. “But I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least give you a clue as to what’s to come.”

As Zipper squinted into the brightening space around him, a picture emerged. It was as if he was looking at it through a fishbowl or a partially-frosted window. He could make out two humans, sitting on a grassy hilltop with the sun shining above. As he concentrated on it, the scene played out like an old movie on a projection screen. The young man put his arm around the girl.

“Lori, I know we talked about some things, but the folks are right. I’ve got to make a future for myself.”

“Are you sure, RC?” the girl asked, her head on his shoulder. “We could be happy together.”

“Doing what? I won’t be stuck in some no-name job like dad insists. I’m going to make a name for myself!”

The girl named Lori pulled back from him, her face a mix of sadness and distress. “College is four years, though. I’ve got a live to live, too!”

“I know, Lori. You do what you have to, and I will too.”

The image started to fade, and at first Zipper didn’t know what to make of what he’d seen. It wasn’t a memory he recalled witnessing, but before he could ponder it further a splitting headache forced the thought from his mind.

“Just a preview, my good fly,” Nimnul said, returning. “Remember the question, but you may not like the answer.”

Before Zipper could ask what that answer might be, the light returned and Zipper thought he might see another movie. Then he realized he was looking up at the sunlight streaming into the Rangers’ kitchen and Monty came over to see him.

“Crikey, he’s awake!” Monty shouted. “ Hey, everybody, Zip’s comin’ too! Speak ta me, pally. Can ya hear me?”

Zipper groaned then rubbed his eyes. “Yeah, I just had one heck of a nightmare.”

Monty stared down at his still-weak friend, astonished. “Zipper...did you just say something regular, lad? Say something else!”

Zipper’s head was sluggish and he didn’t understand the urgency in Monty’s question. “Yeah, yeah, what’s the problem Monty? Stop yelling, my head already feels like its going to explode!”

“Great day in the morning, you did speak! Hey everyone, hurry up and hear this!”

Chip, Dale and Gadget ambled in, still groggy from the sudden wakeup call. All were in their sleepwear and Dale in particular appeared about two-thirds asleep as he came in.

“What’s the problem, Monty?” Gadget asked.

Monty shook all over with the emotion of the moment. “T’aint a problem, it’s a blooming miracle! A wonder of the world. Tell ‘em Zipper!”

Chip grimaced at Monty’s antics. “This is a poor time for a joke, Monty. Glad to see you’re awake, though, Zipper.”

Zipper nodded back. “Thanks, Chip. It’s strange, I woke up and now I can speak clearly all of a sudden and I had these really weird dreams. Nimnul was there, and there was a girl...not was all strange and now it’s starting to fade. What the heck did Nimnul do to me, Gadget? Any ideas?”

The three newcomers gasped at the fly’s reply.

“’re right! He can talk!” Chip exclaimed.

Dale pointed at Zipper, wide awake and bug-eyed now. “Wow, that ray blast really did a number on him!”

Gadget for her part was just as amazed as the others and it took her a minute to find her voice. “Zipper, I—I don’t know what could’ve done this! I assume that the weapon was some derivative of his metamorphicizer from what he said, but I don’t have any way of really knowing that without examining it up close. Gosh, it’s strange to actually understand you. Do you feel okay now?”

“Yeah, the cobwebs are clearing and its all strange... everything’s strange.” Zipper rubbed his head, trying to shake some mental cobwebs loose. “It just seems bizarre that I’m in a room with mice and chipmunks. Strikes me odd for some reason, but yeah, I’ll be right as rain in no time.”

Chip tilted his head at that remark. “Strange? Why would that be strange to you?”

“I don’t know, I just can’t put my—” Zipper looked at his hands. “Put my four fingered hands on it, must just be part of that strange dream. I’m okay, really. Nothing to worry about. I’m the super-fly, remember? Nothing can stop me—I float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, metaphorically speaking.”

“The super-fly? Neat!” Dale said. “Just wait till Fat Cat hears you talking—he’s likely to freak out!”

Gadget watched as Zipper yawned. “Guys, we should give him some more time to rest. Come on, let’s get you out of here.”

Gadget picked up the walnut shell with Zipper inside and carried both to the main room. “Don’t worry, Zipper. We’ll make sure you get back on your feet.”

Zipper leaned back in the shell, closing his eyes. “You know, some New England clam chowder—the kind you can only get when the clams are really fresh, you can even watch the fishermen unloading them at the docks—that kind of clam chowder would really hit the spot right now…”

“Clam chowder? But Zipper, you’ve never—”

Gadget looked at him, curious, but the fly was already asleep. Gadget went back to the kitchen, shaking her head.

Monty was already fielding questions from Chip when he saw the mouse inventor. “What’s the look all about, Gadget?”

“He said he wanted clam chowder and talked like he’d eaten it before and saw the fisherman unloading the clams.”

Monty fussed with his moustache. “Seems right peculiar. I can’t stand the stuff meself and I’ve never known him to eat anything like that. I admit we’ve seen a clam or two in our time, but—”

“You suppose that it’s an effect of the ray gun?” Chip interjected. “ Making him delirious or something?”

“I don’t know, Chip,” Gadget answered. “He’s talking strangely, but he doesn’t sound delirious.”

Chip turned toward Monty. “What has Zipper told you about his life before you two teamed up?”

“Yeah, I don’t remember him ever talking about that time,” Dale added.

Monty sat down at the kitchen table, taking on a more sober look. “Most stories I tell, but I have to admit I’m a bit uneasy about this one. It was just after me third trip around the world. I’d been home and seen ma, though she was off to see her cousin Rochefort near Bordeaux. Anyways, I’d only seen about half of America back in them days, so I looked up me pally Geegaw who I’d met a couple years back.”

“I remember that, a little anyway.” Gadget took a chair next to Monty. “That was back when dad and I were living in the plane full time. You stopped by and dad told you about a friend of his to hook up with.”

Monty smiled at the rekindled flame of memory. “Too right. Old Geronimo Jobe—great pilot but a bit loose in the gearbox. Loved to barnstorm. So anyway, Geronimo and me, we headed all over the north states. I was in Chicago, taking in the sites when the smell of one of them deep Chicago pan pizzas got in me nose—or rather the cheese off it did. I used me usual charm and when I finished outrunning the blokes I borrowed a wedge from I ducked into an alleyway and there me pally was.”

The Aussie took a pause, seeming to rehearse the matter in his mind, “He was out like a light and I thought the little bloke was dead at first, but then he come around. He tried to talk, but all that came out was that squeaking. Took me a while to understand him but I could see the little fella had been through a scrape so I told him to come along with me. We found him a shirt to wear and I asked him what his name was. He seemed to be surprised I’d asked, but after a minute he pointed at the zipper on a lady’s hangbag we was standing next to, and so that’s what I called him.”

“But he never told you anything about his life before that day?” Chip asked.

“Not a peep, and since he wasn’t volunteering it, I didn’t see fit to pry. But he musta taken a knock to the noggin, as he was in a daze for a bit after that. Everything seemed strange to him for a while and he never did act like any other insect fella I ever met. He’s always been one o’ a kind.”

Dale sat with his head on his hands, entranced by the tale. “What made you uneasy about all that?”

“Oh, I ain’t told the uneasy part. After a couple days, I was ready to move on and asked Zipper if he’d like to go with me and be me traveling pal. He said he would, but wanted to say goodbye and all, and go a couple places. First place we went to was a human house. I wasn’t about to go in, but he seemed to know his way around and went inside. I waited and about ten or fifteen minutes or so later he came out. I could tell the bloke had been crying a bit, but I didn’t say nothing.”

“A human house?” Gadget appeared puzzled. “But why would he need to go in there?”

“He could’ve had a fly friend inside,” Chip said. “Flies do sometimes go into houses to settle in for the winter.”

Monty continued his story. “Whatever the case, then we went to the other place, back near where I’d found him. I waited down in the alley while he flew through a second-story window and went into one of them chemical laboratories. I’d been waiting about ten minutes when he came back and he wouldn’t say what he’d been doing. Right about then I heard what had to be the most horrible shriek of outright fear in the world. I’m not a scaredy-mouse, but that was all she wrote for me! I called Zipper and off we went. Never been back to that town since.”

The Rangers talked a little more then went out on their regular schedule, save for Gadget who remained to look after Zipper. When the boys returned, Zipper was still asleep so they had a quiet supper in the kitchen. When they’d finished, Dale was the first one into the main room. There sat Zipper, holding the remote control and searching the channels.

“Hey Zip, you feeling better now?” Dale asked.

The fly continued looking at the tube. “I’m cool, dude.” Zipper began flipping through the channels faster than even Dale would.

Dale watched in surprise, curious as to this very un-Zipper like behavior. “Are ya looking for something in particular, Zipper?”

Zipper shrugged and continued flipping. He picked up the TV guide with one hand while the other continued flipping channels. “What the—what happened to Seinfeld and Friends? Did they change times or something?”

“Uh, Zipper, both those series are over. Just reruns now.”

“When did that happen?”

“A couple of years ago.”

Zipper flipped through the guide again as if trying to convince himself that Dale was right. “That’s weird. I know I was planning on seeing one of their new episodes. Okay, let’s dig up a movie, then. How about Return of the King? I meant to see that one, but let it slip by in the theaters.”

“That one was out years ago too, but we all went to see that one, Zipper! Are you feeling okay? You seem kinda odd—maybe we should take you to see a doctor or something.”

“I’m fine, Dale,” Zipper snapped. “Just getting used to this talking thing again.”

Dale blinked at that reply. “Again? When could you talk before?”

“I... I don’t know. I guess it was an odd way to phrase it, I suppose.”

Then Dale realized something else was out of line. “Hey, when did you get strong enough to hold a TV guide in one hand and the remote in the other? You couldn’t do that before and now you’re doing it like you always been doing that. And you’re just recovering!”

“What are you talking about?” Zipper asked. “I used to bench 325 back in ... in ... what the heck am I talking about?!” Zipper dropped the remote and guide and looked at his hands. “Maybe I should see someone.”

Dale ran back to the kitchen and the other Rangers returned, Chip embroiled in one of his classic arguments with Dale

“What do you mean, ‘nutty as a fruitcake’?” Chip challenged. “Zipper, what’s he talking about?”

“I don’t know,” the fly replied. “I’m just feeling kinda…odd. I’m getting the feeling that something’s not quite right about me. In the head, that is. I’m having these memories of things. Monty, have we ever gone to see them? I just seem to recall them for some reason.”

“You mean that movie they made about them?” Dale asked.

“Yeah, that must be it.”

Gadget took a step toward the hall. “Maybe we should call Dr. Batorious. Nimnul’s ray gun may have done more to him than we thought!”

“No!” Zipper shouted, startling him all. “Not doctors! Not after what happened with my appendix.”

“I didn’t know flies had an appendix,” Gadget said.

Monty scratched his head. “When did you have anything removed, Zipper?”

Chip started to take Zipper by the hand. “We better get you to the doc, Zipper.”

“No doctors!” Zipper slammed his fist down on the coffee table that was in front of the tv, making a resounding thud that startled them all again, Zipper included.

Gadget approached Zipper slowly, trying to use a calming tone. “Zipper, something’s wrong with you, and we don’t know what it is. Now you remember that Dr. Batorious is our friend, right? He’s always treated us Rangers very well. Will you come with me, please? You know you can trust me.”

Zipper put his hands to his head, rubbing his temples. He let out a frustrated laugh. “I’m listening to the advice of talking animals. How crazy is that? Bats eat bugs, miss mindbashingly high IQ.”

The others stood there, aghast. Nobody had ever addressed Gadget in that fashion before, and none of them would ever have believed those words would come from this source.

Chip’s hackles were up, but he did his best to restrain his answer. “What do you mean, ‘listening to advice from talking animals’? We all talk, you know that.”

Zipper was still rubbing his temples, eyes closed. “Yeah, yeah—sorry everyone, sorry Gadget. Man, I could really use a drink about now.”

The Rangers all looked at each other, still mystified.

“Since when do you drink, Zipper?” Dale asked.

Zipper stared up at the red-nosed chipmunk. “And that’s another thing, I always hated that nickname.”

“Wait, back up there!” Chip said. “‘Zipper’ is a nickname?! Then what’s your real name?”

“My real name?” Zipper paused a moment, as if it never occurred to him that anyone would ask that of him. “I don’t know, but I’m sure I had a different one once.”

The Rangers weren’t drinkers, though they did keep some spirits around for special occasions. At Monty’s suggestion, Gadget brought Zipper a thimbleful of wine that the fly downed in one draught. In about two minutes, Zipper was out cold

“Just like I figured,” Monty said. “Better to have him out right now, I think. I’ll go call the doc. Willing or not, we’ve got to know what’s happening with him.”

It was an hour before Dr. Batorious was able to get away from his clinic. The kind old chiropteran had rarely received a warmer welcome than he got from the Rangers. And rarely had he heard of a stranger case. Once they all got through telling him what happened, Dr. Batorious took a seat on the sofa, next to Zipper. The fly was still out cold, which make the usual examinations easy enough.

“Hmm...heartbeat seems strong, lungs are in fine shape.” The doctor started taking notes. “The pupils seem dilated, but that would be from the wine of course. Had Zipper been under stress prior to all these changes?”

“Not that we know of,” Chip said. “Things were fairly normal. Is he having a nervous breakdown or something? The rest of us have hobbies and outlets away from our work, but Zipper doesn’t really do anything like that that I’m aware of. Maybe just too much stress and no way to relieve it.”

“Somehow, I don’t think so. What you described is like a psychotic ‘break’ where reality doesn’t feel ‘real’ anymore. I’m not an expert in psychiatrics, but I have put in some time with my colleagues at the hospital. I think I can help him, provided he’s open to being helped.”

Monty crossed his huge arms. “Actually, he seems kinda combative right now, doc. Even calling us ‘talking animals’ and he’s gotten a bit sarcastic too. Not like the lad at all.”

Gadget had one of Zipper’s hands in hers, patting it. “We’re all very worried about him, doctor. Whatever Nimnul did to him, it seems to be having a very negative mental effect.”

“Gadget, you know Nimnul’s methodology of building and creating,” Chip began, as he started pacing the floor. “And he even told us what the device would be used for. If you really put your mind to it, do you think you could mentally reverse-engineer what the machine was and how it worked?”

“Not really, Chip. Even knowing how it works is no substitute for the blueprints. There would be dozens of theoretical pathways to overcome, not to mention the practical building of the device. If I could get a look at the weapon’s interior, though, I could do it.”

“Well then, that lights the path.”

Dale took on a crafty smile. “Be vewy, vewy quiet! We’re hunting Nimnuls!”

“I’m coming too, mates!” Monty said. “Gadget, you still got that infrared camera? I mean, you ain’t modified it into something else, right?”

Gadget thumbed toward her workshop. “It’s there. Get my night scope, too. If you can bring me a few pictures of the interior, with a few adjustments I should be able to build a duplicate with—”

“We’ll go get them, Gadget,” Chip interrupted.

Dale came over and sat down next to Gadget. “Uh, why don’t you go ahead and go with them, Gadget? I’d like to be here when he wakes up and all. I don’t think I can handle being away, thinking about him being messed up in the head like this. And besides, you’ll learn more about the thingy if you see it in person than having to just look at pictures.”

Chip was surprised by Dale’s offer, but knew his friend was a very caring person. He nodded his approval. “Okay, Dale. If you’re sure. But if there’s any problem, give us a call right away!”

“Will do, Chip!” Dale stood and saluted then sat back down.

Chip, Gadget and Monty headed outside to the RangerWing. Gadget noticed Chip looking back more than once.

“Are you sure it’s best, leaving him and Dr. Batorious with Zipper? I know Dale cares about Zipper, but—”

“I trust Dale to do what’s right.” Chip replied. “I know he doesn’t always think things through, but he knows how important this is. We’d better get going.”

The flight to Nimnul’s geodesic dome seemed to take too long as far as Chip was concerned, but when they got there the problems increased ten-fold.

Monty unfastened his seatbelt the moment they landed. “Come on, mates! Let’s get that bloomin’ ray gun and teach that nutty professor about messing with our Zipper!”

Gadget grabbed Monty and held him back before he could leave the Wing and head for the dome’s entrance. “Hold on, Monty! We’ve got a problem. With my night scope, I can see he’s got a whole new security set, including laser tripwires. We’ve going to have to be careful!”

“It can’t be as bad as your anti-salesman traps, Gadget,” Chip said.

“Look for yourself.”

Chip took the night scope and gasped—there were lasers everywhere.

After Monty had a look he was lot more willing to listen too. “All right, lead the way, Gadget luv.”

Chapter 4 - A Name, Two For the Road, The Old Song and Dance, and Since That Was So Fun Let's Do It Again

Back at headquarters, Zipper awoke. His thoughts were full of strange ideas, as if he’d borrowed another mind and forgot to return it to the brain-library. Now he sat up, groggy, and Dale was right there for him

“Hey there, welcome back!” Dale greeted the fly with his usual big smile. “Hope you’re not going to break your psychotic again or anything.”

Zipper blinked a few times, forcing himself to think. “Ugh, I’m still me. I still don’t feel normal and I can’t put my finger on why. It’s like I woke up from a strange dream to find out the bizarre dream world is the real world and the normal world was the dream.”

“So you can talk—quite impressive.” Batorious said, re-entering the room from the kitchen. “Yes, your reaction is very strange. Tell me, can you focus on any of these strange thoughts and relate them to us?”

Zipper turned away from Batorious. “I’d rather not talk to a doctor just now. I’m sure you understand.”

“Indeed I do. I’ve done about all I can for now, anyway. Dale, if you need me, you have my number. Call me anytime.”

Once Dr. Batorious left, Zipper shot Dale a look. “So, you guys soused me up so he’d have a free shot at me?”

Dale shrugged. “Well…yes?”

Zipper frowned, then sighed. “Guess I can’t blame you. I’m not even sure I’m sane at this point.”

“Aw, you don’t seem crazy to me. Of course, Chip calls me crazy half the time so maybe I’m not a great judge either. Anything making more sense to you yet?”

“No,” Zipper said, sitting up straight. “I’m sure I was home—wherever home is—when I was dreaming. I know bugs don’t really have families, but maybe I did, somehow. I remembered a mom and dad and a house and I think a cat. But nothing rings a bell.”

“Do you remember anything about this house?”

Zipper sat and thought hard, his fingertips touching his head. “I remember...a Cubs game, I’m sure I’ve seen a Cubs game at some point.”

“Well, they’re in Chicago, if it was a home game.”

“ sounds right, maybe. Yow!” Zipper held his head and shut his eyes

Dale leaned forward, frightened. He suddenly felt very alone, taking care of his unstable fly friend. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know it’s—oh! It’s like I’m fighting something and the thoughts, they’re so powerful!”

Zipper grabbed the TV guide again and this time ripped the spine in two with all the adrenaline coursing through him.

“Whoa there, Zipper!” Dale shouted. “Just cool down there, Incredible Hulk. Okay, Chicago. What else is in Chicago that you remember? Places, people. The museums there, I remember my parents taking me there as a kid. Lots of dinosaur bones and they had those lions from Ghost and the Darkness there too.”

“It’s all a jumble. A jumble!” Zipper shouted back. Then he blinked again, and the pain left his face. “But—”


“I remember...”

Zipper had the look of a person who could see the light emerging from a long, dark tunnel. “I remember my name, I think. Richard—yes it was Richard!”

“Yes! That helps. How many flies in Chicago can there be named Richard, probably one a few...hundred…million.”

Zipper buzzed his wings and lifted off from the sofa, a bit unsteady, as if flying was something new to him. “Well, I’ll see you later, Dale. I’m heading to Chicago.”

Dale jumped off the sofa and ran to the door even as Zipper flew toward it. “Wait! We can’t go without the others!”

“We? There’s no ‘we’ in this. This is my journey.”

Dale clasped his hands in a begging motion. “We’re your friends, Zipper! We can’t let you go alone.”

Zipper scrutinized him. “When did you become so noble all of a sudden? It could be very dangerous without the others to protect you.”

Dale crossed his arms, disgusted. “You know, this new you is kind of a jerk, Zipper.”

Zipper sighed and rubbed his head again. “Yes, sorry. Sure, Dale, I’d like to have some company.”

“You don’t want to wait for the others?”

“No. Besides, they’d probably just strap me down and take me to that crazy doctor, thinking I was nuts or something. I think it’s time the two least appreciated Rangers had a little road trip.”

Dale smiled a bit, thrilled at the notion of an adventure without the others to tell them what to do. At the same time, he knew they’d be worried and he mentally promised himself he’d contact them if he got in trouble.

“Okay!” Dale said. “Just let me get a couple things and we’ll take the RangerPlane!”

Before Zipper could protest, Dale ran to his room and the fly could hear stuff banging off the walls here and there. Dale appeared, wearing his flying scarf, goggles and Viking helmet.

“Aren’t you embarrassed to be seen in that getup?” Zipper asked.

“Are you kidding? Great flyers have to have a good outfit! Just let me grab some food from the kitchen and I’ll be right there!”

Zipper watched him rush away again. “No matter how crazy I am, I don’t think it’ll match him.”

At Nimnul’s dome, it had taken the three Rangers a good ten minutes to get past Nimnul’s lasers. Another ten minutes put them in his laboratory, and five minutes’ worth of searching yielded the prize they were after. Now Gadget hastily drew blueprints while Chip and Monty played lookout. The only intruder was the resounding echo of Nimnul’s snoring

“Crikey!” Monty clapped his hands over his ears. “He sounds like a pack of polar bears with bad colds!”

“I’m so tempted to do something just to let him know we were here, but common sense says to run while he’s still asleep,” Chip said.

“Easy, Chip,” Gadget said, her hand moving fast over the blueprint she was making. “We’re here for Zipper. We’ll get that mad scientist some other time.”

“How much longer, Gadget?”

“Just a few more moments, Chip. I’m really starting to think he’s not nearly the genius people think. I mean, he can make this stuff but he can’t improve on the designs. I could control the universe if I wanted to, but he never does anything with any of his devices, I mean, he’s so silly.”

The light switched on: and there stood Nimnul in the doorway in his nightgown and nightcap. “Silly, am I? Well, I’ll show you how much of the universe I can control! Just wait until I get my weather machine going, and I’ll cook up a real tempest of delight for you!”

Monty leaped into action and begins tearing up a stack of Nimnul’s other blueprints. “Hope ya have a good memory, pally, cause you’re not gonna have much left ta work from!”

Chip and Gadget rushed off the table, using Monty’s distraction to begin their withdrawal.

“Stop that, you vile vermin!” Nimnul grabbed a piece of pipe and ran across the room toward Monty. “I’ll teach you!”

The Aussie kept going with his paper chase as long as he dared and then jumped off the table he’d inhabited just as Nimnul slammed the pipe down on it.

“You’ve got all the reflexes of a two-toed sloth, Nimnul!” Monty razzed him.

“I’ll get you yet, rodent!”

Monty led the enraged professor around the room while Chip and Gadget headed for Nimnul’s control panel. Gadget found the control to open the dome and did so. As the dome slid open, she used the controls again and one of Nimnul’s mechanical “helping hands” came down next to them.

“Are you sure about this, Gadget?” Chip asked.

“Sure, I’m sure!” The mouse inventor smiled. “Or maybe you’d like to ask Nimnul to help us get out of here.”

Chip didn’t argue the point further and they jumped onto the hand. True to Gadget’s programming, it raised them outside the dome and set them down safely on the ground. A quick run later and they were at the RangerWing. When they got airborne, they could see Nimnul inside, taking pot-shots at Monty with his weather machine

“Let me light up your life!” Nimnul cackled, shooting lightning bolts at Monty, who dodged them while running across Nimnul’s control panel.

“They ain’t made the lightning bolt that can get the better of Monterey Jack!”

A bolt zapped the panel just behind him.

“Hurry him along, yes…”

“Look up, Monty!”

Monty did so and found the Wing was coming down to him. With a will, he grabbed onto the Wing’s rope ladder and shinnied up faster than his girth typically allowed. As Gadget put the Wing in flight mode, Nimnul started shooting again.

“Monty, go back down the ladder!” Gadget shouted.

“I ain’t gonna play target for that fruitcake!” Monty countered.

“No! I need you to hit the control to close the dome!”

“Close it?” Chip asked, next to her.

“It’s the only way. Get ready!”

Monty obeyed and as Gadget dodged the electrical charges, Monty knocked the switch with his foot as they passed by. Immediately the Wing rose as the dome started to close and Nimnul followed on his machine. Chip and Monty’s eyes grew large as the gap shrank, but Gadget flipped the Wing on its side and they zipped through. Behind him, a very loud scream and banging announced the failure of their pursuer.

“Serves him right!” Chip said. “Okay Gadget, back to headquarters!”

Dale was having second thoughts as he piloted the Ranger Plane into the hold of the 747 headed for Chicago, but he had promised Zipper that he’d back him up on this mission. He’d managed to negotiate leaving a letter for the others to find, but that was all Zipper would allow.

“We should be there in a few hours,” Zipper said, settling into his seat. “Then we’ll get to the bottom of this. My destiny lies in Chicago. Then maybe afterward we could head to Vegas or something. Wayne Newton puts on a great show.”

“Yeah! Not to mention the Elvis impersonators,” Dale said. “Okay, let’s get this wagon train a-moving!”

Dale anchored the Plane’s plungers onto a large suitcase and the two travelers settled in for a rest. “You really think you’ll find what you’re after, Zipper?”

“I hope so, Dale. I really do.”

When Chip led the way into Headquarters, he knew something was up when he didn’t see Zipper on the sofa. The letter Dale left in the fly’s place only made it worse

Dear Friends,


Zipper’s really named Richard and he’s from Chicago and we’re going there in the RangerPlane. Don’t worry about us, we’ll be okay and once Richard knows what’s what we’ll come back. At least I will. See you soon!




P.S. Chip, don’t forget to put my monthly comic book subscription in plastic wrappers when they come!


P.P.S. If you get a chance to ask Nimnul, ask him if there were gamma rays in that ray gun of his. Zipper’s getting really strong!

Chip handed the letter over to the others. “Good thing I learned how to decipher that awful chicken scratch of his. He ought to know better than to go off with a half-crazed fly like that!”

“That’s mighty odd for both of them,” Monty said. “I don’t like how any of this is goin’ mates. We gotta get to Chicago and find out what’s going on and fast!”

“Let’s hope that they can handle this. I’m really hoping Dale’s not the dummy I sometimes think he is.”

Chip called the airport’s automated information system. After a few button pushes, he got the information he wanted and returned to the main room. “Just like I figured. There’s no more flights to Chicago tonight. Earliest one is about seven in the morning, but we’ll need our own version of Nimnul’s ray gun before we can help Zipper.”

The leader of the Rangers took a frustrated seat on the sofa then turned his thoughts to more immediate matters. “Gadget, how long do you think it’ll take you to assemble Nimnul’s invention from those blueprints?”

Gadget already had the blueprint out, studying it. “I’m not sure, Chip. I have to figure out how it works and why it works, but I’ll work as fast as I can.”

Monty was punching his empty hand. “When we get Zipper back, I’m gonna put such a wallopin’ on Nimnul he won’t know which was is up!”

“Just be calm everyone.” Chip stood up again, his thoughts now in order. “We need to keep our heads. Gadget, do your thing and we’ll get ready for the trip.”

In truth, Chip wanted to pound Nimnul too. It was one thing to want to hurt one of the Rangers, but to actually do it...Chip pushed the thought out of his mind and began mentally gathering all the items they’d need. The simple practice of it calmed him and he allowed himself to think through every detail. Satisfied, he led the way out of the main room, Monty at his side.

“I’ll start packing some food and extra clothes. Check our equipment out and make sure it’s up to standard.”

Monty looked halfway past rage, but he somehow managed to keep it under control and began working almost mechanically to prepare the gear while he muttered threats and references to “that dirty dingo of a human” and such as he did so

Gadget was in her workshop, pouring over the pictures they’d taken at Nimnul’s place and rebuilding his invention with her mind and her blueprints. Chip heard a resounding “darn!” and Gadget walked out a few moments later.

“Guys, I just realized something.” She appeared apologetic. “I’m not going to be able to make a version of his gun myself.”

Chip and Monty were astonished at her saying that. Gadget, their girl genius, thwarted?

“Why not, Gadget, what’s wrong?” Chip asked.

“Whatever it is you need we’ll find it, lass. We’ve got to save Zipper!” Monty added.

Gadget tried a forced smile of appreciation but it didn’t hold. “The problem isn’t the parts, but the power source. He made it out of some rare earth materials, and I’m afraid there’s only one place we’re likely to find a decent supply of them.”

Monty grabbed up his duffel. “Where’s that, we got the Wing all ready ta go!”

Gadget paused a moment before answering, looking upward in active thought. “Actually, I think I have a better idea. We can just shrink down the gun Nimnul has, since that’s where we’re going anyway.”

The Aussie grinned large at the idea of another shot at Nimnul. “I hope and pray he’s there. I’ve got a fist with his name on it!”

“Zipper first, Monty,” Chip ordered, “then you can deal with Nimnul.”

“Right, mate. Help me pally first.”

Chapter 5 - Take Me Out to the Ball Park, Smile Nicely Now, An Old Flame At An Old Grill, and Follow That Memory

Just over 800 miles to the west, Monty’s pally and Dale prepared for landing. The trip went smoothly, although the airliner’s bump during touchdown turned the RangerPlane into a bucking bronco for a few moments. When the baggage attendants opened the cargo doors, Dale took advantage of an inattentive moment on their part to fly out.

“It’s pitch black out here!” Dale said, straining to find a lit-up landmark. “We’d better find a place to set down for the night and then we can start hunting for answers in the morning. Remember anyplace near the airport?”

Zipper shook his head. “No, nothing’s clear right now. Just a jumble of stuff. All I can remember is the Cubs game to be honest.”

“Then we better go there. Now, we just need to figure out how to get there from the airport.”

To Dale’s amazement, Zipper suddenly spouted the street route by name from the airport to the stadium. Somewhere deep in his mind, Dale realized something—asking Zipper direct questions brought confusion, but asking indirect one seemed helpful.

“How did I know that?” Zipper asked, once he was through.

“Good thing you still recall that, Richard. Now, time to take you out to the ball game! Peanuts and Cracker Jacks and all that.”

“Pretzels and hotdogs with everything!”

With a surprisingly easy laugh between them, Dale pointed the Plane towards Wrigley Field. The Cubs had already played for the night and the stadium cleanup crew was too busy to notice a barely-visible toy sized plane flying over the field. At Zipper’s direction, they landed in a small set of stands, higher up and isolated from the rest of the stadium.

“They’ve already cleaned up here,” Zipper pointed out. “We’ll have until morning at least to rest. Let’s go check out the snack bar and see if they left anything.”

Zipper started looked around as they went, absorbing the oddly familiar feel of a place he couldn’t ever recall being at before yet was sure he had. “Yeah, the dogs here are astonishingly good, piled high with onions and relish and wash it down with a Dr. Pepper. Man, that was the good life!”

Dale looked all around as well, imagining the place with the crowds he’d seen on TV. “These are the cheap seats. Could you see much of the game from here?”

“No, we always had good seats. Dad was able to get the—” Zipper suddenly snapped out of his reverie at that. “Dad?! Black hair... named Dan, or David.” He spoke fast, desperately clutching at the quickly fading flash of memory.

“Hey, that’s good! Dan or David. Did you come here with anyone else?”

The fly sighed. “Its all gone now, just that little bit.” Zipper began rubbing his temples. “Well, I don’t remember anyone else, just me and dad.”

“I guess your girlfriend wasn’t into sports.”

“No, she... hey, I did have a girlfriend!”

“Zowie, you did? What was she like?”

“She was a fine girl.....but there was something else...and it’s gone!”

“Brandy?” Dale said, guessing at the name.

“Yeah! That’s it, wait. No. It was something like that. A ‘y’ sounding name—ends with ‘i’ or ‘ie’ I think.”

Zipper kept quiet and tried to remember for a full minute, but even Dale’s guessing as many names as he could didn’t help.

“Come on,” Zipper said at last. “Let’s grab some snacks and then some sack time. I always did love sleeping in this Plane. Sometime I’d sneak out of that little knot back at Headquarters. and buzz down to the hanger just so I could. I think it helps now in a way. Feels like a little sanctuary, if you know what I mean. Come on, let’s eat.”

As the two friends looked around for some snacks to raid, back in New York the other Rangers had a raid of their own underway. Their first encounter with Nimnul’s defenses made this entry into his dome that much easier, and when they were in his main control room they felt quite at home.

Gadget threw her hands up, distressed. “The Metamorpho Ray’s gone! He must’ve locked it away for safe keeping.”

“That or he has it on him, in case we came back,” Chip said.

“Maybe. Let’s take a look around before searching his room.”

Monty was not deterred and continued searching, making more noise than the others would have liked, but soon his efforts were rewarded and Monty patted the pistol-size gun in front of him. “Hey, it’s that bloomin’ shrink ray of his! It ain’t the exact thing we were looking for, but I think this’ll come in handy. If we can’t take the gun with us, we can take the gun’s maker with us.”

“The Gigantico Gun, of course!” Gadget said.

Chip clapped the Aussie on the back. “Monty, you’re a genius! C’mon, let’s head for Nimnul’s room now.”

“Aw, if only me mum could hear you give me a compliment like that.” Monty said.

With Monty toting the Gigantico Gun, the Rangers slipped past the bedroom door into Nimnul’s room. The Rangers’ pitter-pattered around, but they could have been wearing clogs and not come near the decibel level of Nimnul’s snoring.

“Any luck, guys?” Gadget asked.

Chip shook his head. “Nope, the ray gun’s not here either.”

“Should I go ahead now, Chipper?” asked Monty.

“Might as well. At least it’ll shrink his snoring along with everything else.”

Monty rubbed his large chin. “Make him our size, or itty bitty sized to keep him better under control?”

“Our size. We can handle him.”

“You’re no fun, Chip.”

Monty moved the Gigantico gun around to aim at Nimnul while Gadget adjusted the settings carefully. Chip knew how much his big friend wanted a piece of the professor and tapped the Aussie’s shoulder as he got ready to fire.

“Remember, Monty, we help Zipper first,” Chip said.

Gadget tilted her head and looked at Chip, “First? Chip, you’re not considering revenge are you?”

“Nope, already considered it. Right now, this’ll be fun enough.”

Monty pulled the trigger and the Gigantico Gun’s ray enveloped Nimnul’s entire bed. In moments, the bed was the size of a paperback book

“Typical,” Chip mused. “Didn’t even wake him. Do we introduce him to the realities of life now, or back home? Oh, might as well do it here. Gadget, did you bring your camera by any chance?”

Seemingly from nowhere, Gadget produced her camera and handed it to Chip.

“Okay, Monty. Wake him up,” Chip ordered. “We can put this one on our business cards.”

Chip prepared and aimed the camera, waiting for Monty to do the waking. Monty walked over to the bed and grabbed Nimnul by the jammies and roughly yanked him out of bed.

“Wakey, wakey, Sleeping Beauty!” Monty half-sung

Still asleep at first, the drowsy professor yawned. “I’ve got a chemistry final today, mom! I’m gonna to turn Jimmy Collins into a—YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!”

Chip took the picture and a flash enveloped Monty and Nimnul. The tiny human’s eyes were now big as saucers and what little hair he had was standing on end.

“GIANT EVIL RODENTS! I’ve got to be dreaming! Must be dreaming! Pinch me, pinch me!”

Monty pulled his fist back and walloped Nimnul. “He said ‘punch me’! You all heard him.”

“Monty, that’s enough!” Chip said.

Monty sighed and relaxed. “Yeah, yeah, you’re right.”

Gadget bodily put herself between the cowering Nimnul and the others. “Nimnul, we need your help. Our friend Zipper has been acting strangely since he was hit with your ray gun. We need you to tell us about the device.”

Nimnul looked up at the mouse inventor and now he realized who it was. “ did this to me, didn’t you! And now you expect me to help you?”

“Nimnul, you hurt our friend, you’re shrunk down to mouse size and Monty wants to beat you to death with his bare hands. We’re trying to be nice about this, but let me make it clear. You’re going to help us willingly or unwillingly.”

Nimnul looked from one face to the next and saw no chance. “All right, all right! But what do you expect me to do? The Metamorpho Ray’s made to alter your molecular structure at will to whatever target animal or person you choose. Quite a step up from the original Metamorphicizer, I might add! And now all I have to do is—”

Monty grabbed Nimnul’s collar and shook him like a can of whipped cream. “We ain’t here for a bloomin’ science lecture, Nimnul. Just tell us what you did to Zipper! Why does he talk now and why’d he’d get all stronger and have weird memories and all?”

“I—don’t—know! Before you and your friends got in my way, I was planning to use the ray to turn myself into a grizzly bear and rob a bank or three! It wouldn’t have anything to do with the larynx or the cerebrum, at least not directly!”

“Was it malfunctioning?” Gadget asked. “Is it still experimental? Any known side effects?”

“What do I look like, the information desk? Pfft—no, no, and none I know of. There, happy now, mouse?”

Monty rolled his sleeves up and punched his fist. “Listen up, shorty. You’re comin’ with us. You’re gonna help us get our friend back and get him back ta normal and in return we might not abandon you at this size in cat alley. I’m sure them cats all remember your static electricity thingy and would be more than happy to have some payback.”

Nimnul crossed his arms. “You won’t hurt me now, because you want something only I can deliver. As for your fly friend, I’ll do what I can and then we call it quits.”

“You would anyway,” Chip countered. “Just make sure you follow through where Zipper’s concerned.”

“All right, all right! Just let me get a few things.”

Under Monty’s watchful eye, Nimnul filled a suitcase with clothes and tools. Soon they left for the airport, to wait until morning. When dawn came, it reached Wrigley Field later than New York, but that was hardly the first of Dale and Zipper’s concerns. The group of pigeons surrounding the sound sleepers took precedence

“Hey, you two! Wake up and get outta here!” a pigeon shouted.

The dreaming Rangers woke, startled to find six pairs of unpleased eyes glaring at them.

“Hey, good morning!” Dale said. “What can we do for ya all?”

Zipper grumbled, “What now? Pigeons—rats with wings. Shouldn’t you guys be somewhere making a mess on a statue or something?”

“Who are you calling a rat, pipsqueak? And the name’s Morty,” the bird replied.

“You, you stupid talking bird!”

Dale quickly covered Zipper’s mouth and pulled the fly back. “Cool it, Richard. Uh, sorry guys, he has...a hangover! Yeah, you know how it is. We’ll just be going!”

Dale began frantically powering up the Ranger Plane but it was too late for that. Morty pointed at them and with a “get ‘em, boys!” the pigeons flew at Dale, pecking and squawking. Zipper with his newfound strength walloped one of them that tried to get in the Plane with them and that caused the rest of them to back off enough for Dale to pilot the Plane off the stadium seat.

“Yeah, get outta here!” Morty shouted. “These big-league stadiums, they really bring out the weirdoes.”

Once they were high enough for an overview of the city, Dale’s stomach grumbled. “Time for breakfast! What say we put down near a comic book store? I bet Chi-town’s got a whole lot of good comic book places!”

“Yeah, a latte or three will get the blood pumping again. Those stupid birds. Who do they think they are?”

“We’re the Rescue Rangers, remember. We’re the good guys.”

“Yeah, I suppose. I’m just cranky in the morning.” Zipper scanned the streets and buildings, then pointed to one in particular. “There! I recognize that old diner. It’s been around for years.”

Dale took the Plane down and landed among some bushes in an overgrown field, at one time a schoolyard. The diner was a half block away, and by the time they got near Dale’s taste buds were dancing the hula.

“Red’s Grill,” Zipper said, more than a hint of memory in his voice. “Wow, I remember this place. Good food for not that much. You can always be sure you’ve got a winner when the place is full of cops.”

Red’s was not only full of policemen but people of every nationality and persuasion. The talk was thicker than the coffee, and nobody noticed as a fly and chipmunk entered and took a quick right toward the rodent annex—a staple in most older diners like these. A large Italian rat with curly black hair, a moustache, and the usual greasy spoon white uniform leaned a huge arm on the counter as Dale and Zipper claimed a couple of old-time column-style seats.

“Welcome to the Grill, my friends! What do you like, huh? What can Marcello get for you?”

“I’d like five hotdogs, six pancakes and two sides of bacon!” Dale said.

Zipper scrutinized the menu. “I’ll have french toast, two poached eggs and some orange juice.”

Dale watched his friend closely—his personality, attitudes and even eating habits were changing. They hadn’t really discussed it much, but it was starting to sink in: Zipper had to have been a human at one point.

The idea of that sort of freaked Dale out. He stared off into space, chuckling about how a human could be turned into a fly. It would require a mad scientist with strange technology...Dale’s mouth dropped open. They knew a mad scientist with exactly that technology! But it was too big a coincidence, right? Could Zipper and Nimnul have crossed paths before the Rangers, even before Monty met him?

I bet the police records would show if Nimnul was from Chicago, and might have a missing person report for a Richard from Chicago. He thought about it through the rest of breakfast, which for a time distracted him with how mouth-watering good it was. When they left the rodent annex and walked back into the human part of the diner, Dale started to ask Zipper about his suspicions then stopped when he saw the fly frozen in space.

“What is it, Zip?” Dale asked.

“Her!” Zipper pointed toward one of the chairs near the wall. “I’ve seen her before!”

Dale look around and sighed. “That’s a picture of Marilyn Monroe on the wall up there, Zipper. Everyone’s seen her.”

“No, not the picture. Her, sitting at the counter!”

Dale looked again and now he noticed the human female sitting there. Dale wasn’t that good a judge of age in humans—they all looked alike to him—but she appeared to be relatively young, probably in her twenties. She had red hair, green eyes and wore a light gray business suit.

“You know her from before you were a fly?”

“I’d know her anywhere...but her name escapes me.”

Zipper was about to buzz over to her when Dale grabbed his shirt and held him back. “Zipper, you’re a fly, remember? They’ll swat you if you go over there! Use your head, man. We’ll wait till she’s done eating and follow her!”

Zipper still had a look in his eyes as if he might bolt, so Dale took him across the street—into Galaxy Comics. The place was lined from floor to ceiling and in-between with comics, memorabilia and the latest collectors’ series. Dale’s eyes bulged and a tear formed.

“I knew I’d love Chicago! Zipper, keep an eye out for your mystery girl at the window. I’ll be over here, very happy...”

Dale walked off, but he knew Chip wouldn’t do that if he was in charge. Dale fought against every instinct to look at comics—he’d decided to be here, he wanted to be here to help Zipper. He turned and marched right back to Zipper.

“Let’s get ready. She should be done soon. We’ll wait in the Plane”

Zipper turn to his friend, puzzled. “You have a universe of comics in here and you want to wait in the Plane?”

“If you have to suffer being apart from your love, so should I.”

Dale looked back once then intentionally closed his eyes and forced his way outside. As providence would have it, the girl in question left Red’s Grill at that moment, heading in the direction of the RangerPlane.

Zipper flew after her, fast. “There she goes! There she goes! Come on, slowpoke, we can’t lose her!”

Dale rushed over to the plane and leaped across the front like he’d seen “one of them Duke boys” do. He began flipping switches and quickly had the plane in the air and was trying to keep up with a remarkably fast Zipper.

“I’ve gotta...find out what that fly’s...been eating lately!” Dale said, catching his breath. “He’s faster’n a speeding bullet!”

Dale saw the young woman get in a cream colored late model Buick sedan and drive off. Zipper flew down and lighted on the car’s rear bumper while Dale kept an aerial watch overhead. The trip ended downtown at the Field Museum building, which she entered. Dale set down next to the building behind a clump of bushes and once he’d rendezvoused with Zipper they headed inside.

The museum was huge, dedicated to the history of not only humans but animals as well. Dale stared up at the giant skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

“Wow, Steggy would’ve loved to see this—or not. Wait up, Zip!” Dale said.

Zipper kept close to his red-haired target and soon she entered an auxiliary hallway that featured a series of private offices. Her high-heeled shoes clipped along the black marble floor until she reached the last office, where she entered. Zipper waited until Dale caught up with him.

“Looks like we found her name,” Zipper said, pointing up.

On the door, in big brass letters they read the name Lori Berkowitz, Museum Curator.

“You sure it’s her?” Dale asked. “Maybe she’s using somebody else’s office.”

“No! I know I know her! Let’s go in.”

The two looked inside, a well organized office, everything in its place. Zipper buzzed around, getting dangerously close to the human. Dale couldn’t see why, but suddenly Zipper was transfixed by the sight of something on the desk. Then Lori noticed the fly. Dale was about to yell to him when the woman spoke.

“Well, how did you get in here?” Lori asked, addressing Zipper. “A little early in the year for your kind. You’d better watch yourself—the Troglodytes aedon are active now and they’d consider you a delicacy.”

She very gently waved her hand, clearly not trying to hurt the fly, just shoo him away. Zipper did so, but very slowly, almost in a daze as she returned to her work.

Troglodytes aedon?” an older woman came in, carrying a stack of folders. “What’s that, ma’am, a cave-dwelling bird?”

“Hardly, Janice,” Lori said. “That’s the latin name for the house wren. Which reminds me, call Peter Thompkins and make sure they have me down to speak at the Birding Fest. Oh, and check with the Illinois Audubon Society too. They mentioned something about multiple opportunities to speak on birds.”

“Yes, ma’am. You really don’t like being here, do you?”

Lori looked up from signing some paperwork, surprised. “What makes you say that?”

“Oh, the way you talk about getting out there with the birds and all. I think you’d shut down the whole museum if you heard of some new bird you didn’t know about. You’d just have to get yourself out there and see it!”

Lori laughed and nodded. “You know me too well, Janice. Yes, I love birding and I’ve always been fascinated by birds and the way they do things. I guess I’m just an outdoor girl at heart.”

Once Lori and Janice finished up, Zipper returned to Dale with a funny look on his face. “She always said she wouldn’t hurt a fly. And come to think of it, she always did like birds and going outside to look at them. Make sense she’d be in charge of some nature place like this. Oh, and do I ever remember that perfume...”

“Sounds like you knew her pretty good,” Dale said, not quire sure where to go next with it.

“Yeah. That’s why she still has a picture of the two of us on her desk...all these years later.”

“She does!?” Dale said, instantly excited and curious. “Wow, I wanna see that. Are you remembering more now?”

“Not really, just bits and pieces. She must have got the job after the lab accident.”

“What lab accident?”

Dale bonked himself mentally, knowing Zipper wouldn’t remember—he should’ve asked differently. He knew he’d have to wait a bit to catch the fly off-guard again.

Zipper shrugged his tiny shoulders. “I can’t recall, it’s all just a blur. Sorry.”

Dale sat down, as did Zipper, to wait out the day. Waiting was something their friends were getting used to. At the moment back in New York, Gadget was powering down the RangerWing in the hold of a westbound 747, sitting on the tarmac.

“Three hours!” Chip groused. “What could possibly be holding them up?”

“Sorry, Chip. There’s dangerous storm fronts between here and Chicago. I checked the weather alerts at the terminal while you and Monty went for food,” Gadget said.

Nimnul strained against the twine restraints the Rangers used to keep him honest. “You didn’t have to chain me to that chair in the terminal!”

“You’d only tried to escape three times,” Monty quipped.

“I hate domestic air travel, so sue me!”

Chip checked the restraints to be sure they were intact. “He’d like to do more than that. Why are you so cranky all the time?”

“You have to ask, you miserable rodent?! I’m the most brilliant mind on the planet and I’ve been cursed by fate to be plagued by rodents, animals who keep me from my destiny of supreme rulership of the Earth!”

Gadget, ever helpful, joined the fray. “Maybe if you employed your time in benefiting mankind, you’d be received better.”

“They’re worthless fools, all of them! I transcend humanity. I am a higher life form!”

Monty twanged one of the twine tendrils holding Nimnul. “Not at the moment, you ain’t. You’re just a big bloomin’ windbag, all puffed up with yourself. Why don’t ya grow up and look at life the way it is? Gadget’s right, there’s millions of folks you could be helpin’ with all that knowledge ya got, but you go and waste it on yourself.”

“I tried that once, long ago,” Nimnul said, grimacing. “But reality hit me like a cold hard slap in the face. I realized that technology solves no problems, makes nothing better. It only manipulates that which already is, so if nothing matters in the great scheme of things, why not make things not matter in my favor?”

Gadget took on a look of total disbelief. “How can you say that? Golly, technology helps mankind and animal-kind every day! Why, think of all the leaps we’ve made in the past century—the lightbulb, the radio, the television, the internet, circuit boards, e-mail! And all the diseases we’ve cured and the all the disabilities we’ve helped overcome. Not to mention the greater understanding we have of this world and the universe we live in! Technology’s allowed the aggregate population to move away from an agrarian culture to a neo-urban society that in its better examples is allowed to expand its intelligence and understanding every day. Why, you wouldn’t be able to even live in that dome of yours without the manifold contributions of technology and science that made it possible! How can you stand there and blithely condemn what’s made your very life possible?”

Nimnul quizzed the other Rangers with his look. “You get that from her every day?”

“Nope, usually worse,” Monty said. “But don’t think we’re going to stop her.”

The professor sneered, returning his attention to the mouse inventor. “Technology is man’s failsafe, to keep him from ultimate power! Tower of Babel ring a bell? Mankind always oversteps his bounds. If half of what I’ve invented got into the hands of the public, they’d destroy the world. So no one’s getting any of it!”

Gadget’s face glowed with annoyance. “Why, that’s a selfish, xenophobic—

Before they could go further, attendants came and closed the plane’s cargo hold. A half-minute later, the plane lurched into motion.

“It’s about time!” Nimnul said. “I don’t know why they don’t just invent something to moderate the weather and keep all this from happening—oh, wait, I already can control the weather!”

While Nimnul burst out into a sinister self-satisfied laugh, Chip took Gadget aside and had a hushed conversation.

“I don’t suppose you have a taser or something we can use to knock him out for the trip? I don’t think Monty’s going to be able to take much more of him before he rips him apart!” Chip hissed.

Gadget whispered back, “Actually, I did have something in mind.”

Gadget returned along with Chip to find Nimnul and Monty in a stare-down match.

“Okay, cool it you guys,” Gadget said. “Here, let’s have a quick bite of lunch and then we can rest a while.”

Gadget passed out three thimbles of milk. When Nimnul drank his, he passed out.

Monty broke into an impressed grin. “Gadget! I never thought you had it in you!”

“Actually, it’s in him—sedative. I used to watch ‘The A-Team’ all the time with Dale.”

The mention of Dale’s name caused Gadget to frown, as Chip and Monty set Nimnul into the Wing’s back seat for his long snooze.

Gadget brought out some small pillows from the Wing’s hold to help the time go easier. “Golly, I hope he and Zipper are okay. They’ve never been away from home like this before, not on their own at least.”

“I hope so,” Chip said. “I’m just trying to mentally separate Dale the dummy from Dale the friend and crime fighter. I know he can be more than a dummy if he puts his mind to it, but we’ll just have to wait and see if he can really do it.”

“Have faith in him, Chip. You know he’s a good guy. Besides, he’s got Zipper with him—who the last we knew seemed semi-crazed and a little forward. Maybe Nimnul imparted his own personality on Zipper.”

Monty wrinkled his nose at the idea. “Don’t even joke about that, Gadget luv. I’d hate to think o’ me pal Zipper bein’ an idiot like this idiot.”

“I wish Dale had left us more to go on.” Chip brought out Dale’s letter and re-read it. “Okay, think. If you only have vague memories of having been in Chicago, where would you go first to get your bearings? The museums are the first thing that come to my mind.”

Gadget rubbed her chin, thinking. “Well, maybe. There’s quite a few of those in Chicago, as I recall. Actually, the most famous landmark in Chicago is the Sears Tower.”

“Wrigley Field I recall, along with Al Capone. That’s about it fer me, mate,” Monty said.

Chip brought out a map of Chicago he’d snagged from Headquarters. “We’ll just have to search, then. Or maybe mister big snoring genius over there could invent us a ‘Dale-finder’.”

The thought of tracking down one chipmunk and one fly in a big city had them all pretty somber. After a quick bite, they snoozed along with Nimnul in preparation for a long day. Zipper and Dale had a long if boring day as well, but at last Lori finished up her work and headed down the hall and out of the building to her car. Soon the tracking twosome were in the RangerPlane and on her tail

“Office jobs sure are boring,” Dale said. “Glad I never had one. What’ll we do when she gets home, Zipper?”

“I’m not sure. How do I convince someone that I’m their long lost boyfriend? She’d probably swat me!” Zipper said.

“Maybe we can send her a note or something?”

“Might work. Let’s see what happens.”

The trip led them out of town to one of Chicago’s suburbs. In a quiet nook of a neighborhood, the Buick pulled into a driveway next to a white two-story colonial house. Once Dale set the RangerPlane down under a convenient shrubbery-ringed oak tree, the two Rangers watched as Lori got out and went inside.

Dale whistled. “Nice pad. Maybe there’s a window open we can use.”

Zipper seemed very nervous, his body trembling. “I don’t know if this is such a good idea. It’s been too long.” The fly became tense and grabbed Dale by the lapels and shook him—which considering Zipper’s newfound strength joggled the chipmunk severely.

“Whoa, hold up there!” Dale said. “I’m breakable, you know?”

“Dale, what should I do? I can’t think straight!”

“Aw, that’s no big deal! I can’t think straight half the time anyways. Let’s just go in and see what’s there. Maybe something will jog your memory more.”

Chapter 6 - Flies They are a-Changing, Return of the Prodigal

A quick search of the house’s perimeter revealed no open windows or doors. However, the rear kitchen window had a dog door on it and Dale led the way through the portal, holding up the rubber flap for his friend. The chipmunk turned around to find he was almost nose to nose with an old beagle.

“Okay, mind explaining why you’re here?” the dog said, mildly annoyed. “I don’t need a bad rep with the missus.”

Zipper just started at the dog. “I don’t suppose you remember me, Sam. I used to be…ah…human—that is, I used to be Richard. In a way too complicated to get into now, I was turned into a fly and just recently got my memories of being human back.”

Sam raised his eyebrows in a “you’ve got to be kidding me” look, “I don’t have time to play right now, fly. I did know a human named Richard, several years back, but he’s supposed to be dead. Let’s keep this short so I can get you out of here. If you were Richard, you’d know the name of my favorite ball because we used to pay fetch with it all the time.”

Zipper perked up immediately. “Jingleball! It has that annoying bell in it. Though its probably destroyed by now.”

The beagle’s eyes grew wide, “Gadfry, you’re right! Nobody could’ve known about it after the missus left it out that winter after you—I mean, after Richard left. This is too strange. Only one way to be sure.”

Sam sniffed the fly carefully and Zipper laughed.

“Hey, stop that now! We’re friends, remember?” Zipper said.

“You are...egad, you are!” Sam said.

“I still smell the same?”

“No, your reply! That’s what Richard would say every time. But—okay, this is very strange. How did you become a fly?”

Dale intervened now. “Uh, hi, we’re trying to figure something out. How to let her know that Richard’s still alive, but we’re not sure how to do it and convince her he’s a fly.”

“Maybe on a computer, in chat, so she doesn’t have to see me,” Zipper suggested.

“I’m not sure how to go about that myself,” Sam said. “Not your everyday problem, to be sure. She does have a computer, of course, but I know nothing of how it works. You’d have to investigate that for yourself. Come, it’s in the study.”

With their canine guide leading the way, Dale and Zipper soon found themselves in a large wooden-paneled study. The room was lined with pictures, a timeline that marked Lori’s earliest days to the present.

Zipper searched the framed pictures, fearing what he might find. After a minute, he returned to Sam. “There’s no family pictures here.”

“Quite true. The missus never chose to marry. She did keep pictures of you around, though, as you can see near the computer.”

Zipper investigated and found ten framed pictures of his human self. Some were with Lori and some were with other people. “She still thinks about me.”

“She’s moved on in her life, though,” Dale said. “Maybe we should let things be as they are, Zip. Do you really think its best for you to make contact? Maybe we should move on and try to find your own family.”

As the fly studied the pictures, he found himself transfixed by one of them—it featured four people standing in front of a luxurious house, “I think I just did...”

Dale’s eyes followed Zippers and found the picture he was looking at. “Hey, which one of those guys—”

“Is me? The one who looks like a stuck-up jerk, unfortunately. My parents gave me too much money for my own good, and my teenage years were a blur of fast cars, country clubs and other ‘privileged’ kids. I really thought I had it made back then—at least until pops insisted I get an education and they finally figured out what years of coasting through school cost me.”

“Well, you’re certainly a changed man, er fly. You’re a hero now! So you made good, Zipper. Do you want to meet up with them or is remembering enough?”

“I think I’ll go there first. I remember how to get there—at least I think I do.”

With Sam’s help, they started to traverse the house. When they reached the edge of the hallway near Lori’s bedroom, Sam signaled for them to halt. “Good luck, Richard. If you don’t come back, don’t worry about Lori. She’s happy. Now, stay here. If the rest of the hallway’s clear it’s an easy exit for you.”

Zipper nodded. “Thanks, Sam.”

As Sam walked off, Dale kept watch around the corner. Zipper was right behind him at first, but then bent over double and groaned.

“You all right back there, Zip?” Dale asked.

“I—I think so. I’m going to rest a minute—I think I’m not fully over that ray blast yet…”

As Dale kept watch, Zipper watched as bolts of power started emanating from his fingertips. The fly panicked and flew into Lori’s room, Dale remaining at his post in the hall. The bolts of energy grew larger and stronger, surrounding him like a small tornado of green luminescent power. Then the small tornado grew large in seconds with a flash that caught Dale’s attention outside.

“Hey, what was that?” Dale asked. “Now’s not the time to be playing with a camera, Zipper! This is serious stuff!”

A minute later, a large shadow hovered over Dale and the chipmunk turned to find a man there, crouched down. He was wearing a gray sweatshirt and jeans, along with some old tennis shoes. Dale was petrified at first, then looked into the man’s green eyes and saw something familiar.

“Zowie, it’s you, Zipper—uh, Richard! What are we gonna do? She’ll freak out if she finds you in her house! Hey, where’d you find the clothes?”

“There’s stacks of them in her room,” Richard said. “Lori was always big on giving to charities. If I know her, she’s been going around to rummage sales and finding the best stuff to give to the local thrift stores.”

“I don’t know, Dale. I’m too freaked out! I haven’t been like this in years!”

Dale stared up at Richard. “Uh, you do understand me, right?”

Richard nodded down. “Yes—whatever the experiment did, I think I’m still part fly or something.”

Sam chose this moment to return and didn’t pause when he came around the corner. “Okay, the way’s clear now. She’s in the living room now, watching TV and—RICHARD!”

The dog’s shocked reply sounded like a woof to a regular human. Lori got up and headed for the hallway. She found Sam sitting there, alone.

“What is it, Sam?” Lori asked. “Something in the house?”

Sam ran all around her then led her to the front door, whining and scratching at the door. Lori smiled the knowing smile of a dog owner. “Oh, that’s right. We haven’t been on our walk yet, have we? Well, it’s a little early but I guess it’s okay. Dinner’s got a good half-hour to go and I know how you like to eat with me.”

Lori brought Sam’s leash and out they went. Zipper and Dale were out the back door within seconds of Lori’s departure and headed for the cover of some nearby shrubbery. They breathed hard once they were safe.

Dale climbed up on Richard’s shoulder. “So what do we do now? Call your folks, send a letter? How do you want to play this, Zipper?”

“I think you can just call me Richard now—or not...”

The bolts of energy returned and soon a fly emerged from among the empty clothes. While Dale kept a lookout again—more to allow Zipper a private moment than anything else—the fly retrieved his red shirt from the front left pocket of the jeans he’d been wearing.

“Poo, and I was just starting to get used to the idea!” Zipper said. “Dale, we need to roll up these clothes and tie them with something. If I transform again, I’ll need them to avoid jail time for indecent exposure!”

It took a few minutes, but together they got the clothes tightly rolled and borrowed some loose twine that served as a barrier to Lori’s newly-planted flower garden to tie the bundle off. Even with Zipper’s newfound strength the trek to the RangerPlane took a good ten minutes, and took a few minutes more to get the pack loaded and secured.

“I think we’re ready to call in the others to help,” Dale said, taking the driver’s seat. “Gadget would be able to help with this shape changing stuff better than I could.”

“Not yet!” Zipper insisted. “I need to see my home first. I know exactly where it is now.”

Dale looked at Zipper with uneasy eyes. “We can’t keep this up for too long with you changing back and forth, Zip.”

“I know, I know. Just give me a day, okay?”

“All right, one day and then we’re contacting the others. So, show me the way to go home!”

Zipper chuckled at the old song reference and pointed west. The load of clothes was a strain on the Plane and it took them longer than normal to achieve proper altitude. Once there the ride was smooth. Dale spent the whole time sweating, worried that Zipper might change into a human again while he was in the Plane and they’d plummet to Earth like a rock. His fears didn’t bear fruit, though, and another fifteen minutes brought them to a very expensive neighborhood.

“Maplehurst,” Zipper whispered. “Been a long time since I was here. Head for the fifth house on the right, Dale. The one with the big columns in front.”

Dale had no problem spotting it. The house—or rather mansion—stood out among its neighbors. The brick and stone edifice sported seven huge white columns that guarded the front of the mansion, three stories tall, with enough windows for at least a dozen rooms. At Zipper’s direction they landed in back behind some topiary shaped like a pyramid.

“My room’s upstairs, or at least it was,” Zipper said as he got out. “Yep, the servant’s door’s open as usual. There’s a lot of foot traffic through there, but if I’m right we’ve arrived at dinnertime and everyone will either by tending the family or going off-shift. We should be able to get upstairs unnoticed.”

Dale turned to Zipper with a serious look. “You know they say you can’t go home again. What is it you really need to do here, Zipper? Do you want to go back to the human world?”

“Right now, I’m not sure. I know I left a lot of things unsaid with my folks, and the way I left wasn’t good. I’d like to at least have the chance to set things right with them—and Lori of course. Now that I remember them, I can’t just walk away from it.”

“Well, we need to try to get you human again. What were you thinking about when that happened? Maybe it’s an Incredible Hulk kinda thing, something has to trigger it.”

Zipper paused as they neared the front door. “Well, I was thinking about Lori finding us and how scared that made me at the moment.”

“Maybe fear triggers it or something.”

With care, they approached the mansion and entered through the open servant’s door. As Zipper predicted, there were no servants to block their progress and they proceeded upstairs. Zipper flew on and led Dale down a long and spacious hall, the walls covered with paintings and sculptures. He stopped at one door in particular and found it was locked

“Well, I guess that makes sense. After all, I haven’t been here in five years,” Zipper said.

The fly flew into the door’s keyhole and opened it from the inside. He was strong enough to work the handle and Dale walked in before Zipper shut the door again. The large room featured more paintings, pictures of Richard at varied ages, along with pictures of himself and Lori. Everything in the room from the bed to the toothbrush in the adjoining bathroom was of the best quality. It was all surprisingly clean and free of dust.

“That’s just like mother,” Zipper explained. “She would keep everything just as it was. Probably lets the maids in here every few weeks to dust.”

Zipper sat down on the edge of the bed. “Okay, I’m thinking of Lori...thinking of Lori....come on, make with the bolts already! Change, change!”

Dale climbed up and sat next to him. “Think about how she’d react if she saw you were a fly, she’d be terrified! Probably scream. It would be chaos.”

Zipper did his best to do just that, but after a minute he was still a fly. “It’s no use, it’s not—wait, servants are coming!”

Dale and Zipper kept quiet as they heard footfalls getting closer. Someone tried the door handle and it started to open.

“Oh bother, forgot the duster,” a male voice said. “Well, madame won’t mind if I clean this room tomorrow...”

The door closed again and Dale breathed a sigh of relief. “Whew, that was close! I was so scared, I—Zipper!”

Zipper’s hands glowed with green lightning coming out of them. Quickly the fly flew toward the room’s large closest and squeezed inside. A huge green flash poofed inside of it and a couple of minutes later Richard walked out. This time, Dale had a chance to look his friend’s human form over more closely. He was tall, just above six feet, and sandy haired with green eyes. He sported a black and grey vest over a white dress shirt, dark trousers and cordovan leather shoes. Actually he was holding the shoes until he reached his Chippendale dresser’s sock drawer. Now fully attired, he turned around for his chipmunk audience.

“Well, what do you think?” Richard asked. “Do I look the part of a dapper young fellow?”

“Yeah, you look pretty cool! But we’re still stuck. You can’t just waltz into the dining room and tell everyone you’re home. We need to think about how to do this without surprising the heck out of everyone. And we don’t know how long this will last. Maybe you should write a note while you’re that big, so we can leave it somewhere outside where it will be found, just letting them know you’re back.”

“Oh, you don’t know how the rich do things, Dale.”

Richard grabbed the phone and pressed a number. He lowered his voice and spoke with a vague British accent. “Hello, who is this? Jenkins? Yes, very good. The new guest has arrived in guest suite four. Didn’t tell you? I suppose it must have slipped madame’s mind. Nevermind, attend to Mr. Bennington there anyway. He informs me he’s quite tired, just arrived from Switzerland, you know. He’ll have his dinner in his room. Yes, quite so. They can be a pain.”

Richard hung up the phone and signaled for Dale to follow him. “Mother always has guests over for the weekend, and I’m sure the staff turnover is what it always was. Between them all, they’ll never figure out that Mr. Bennington isn’t who he says he is. Besides, it’s been five years. I’ve changed some, if not in appearance then in manners.”

A quick bound down the hall led them to the guest suite in question. When Jenkins got there with a rolling dinner cart, Richard was in bed, reading. “Oh, very good, Jenkins. Inform everyone that I’ll breakfast with them come morning.”

Jenkins bowed and walked out, closing the door behind him. Richard was up in an instant, Dale right behind him. Richard lifted the silver cover on the tray to find an assortment of savory dishes, along with several good-looking desserts.

Richard picked Dale up and placed him on the platter’s edge. “Might as well have free eats before we figure out how to break the news. Dig in, Dale!”

Dale didn’t need any prompting and leaped onto the tray and began devouring the food. Shortly, as they were eating they heard a gentle pawing at the door. Richard looked at the door in astonishment and got up and opened it. Sitting outside the door was a very old white persian cat who looked back at Richard with equal astonishment.

Richard picked her up and hugged her, cradling her in his arms as he walked back to the bed. The cat purred contentedly.

“Dale, my friend, meet Felicity,” Richard said. “One of my only childhood friends.”

Felicity gazed up toward Richard’s face, a soft look in her eyes. “Oh, Richard, it so good to see you again. I wish you could hear me so I could tell you how much you’ve been missed.”

“I can hear you Felicity. I can speak with animals now.”

The cat’s head snapped back in surprise. “You understood me?”

“Yes, my good friend. And its great to see you again. Felicity, meet my friend, Dale.”

Dale pulled himself away from the chocolate eclair he’d nearly devoured. “Uh, you don’t eat chipmunks, do you?”

“Oh heavens, no, darling! I am very well fed here, and besides I am now a little too old for chasing. Richard, do they know you are here?”

“No, Felicity, not yet. I bluffed the servants into thinking I’m a weekend guest of mother’s. Are there any of the old servants left?”

“No, your father fired the whole staff after you vanished, not having anyone else to blame. So no one who’s seen you remains.”

Richard stroked Felicity’s back, thinking. “That’s both good and bad. Any suggestions as to how we should approach mother and pops?”

“They’ve thought you dead all this time,” Felicity said, enjoying her master’s attention. “So it will be a terrible shock to them both. I know your mother’s missed you in particular. She speaks of you often. Perhaps if you went to the police. You could tell them you’ve had amnesia or something and now just recovered. Did you have amnesia, Richard?”

“Um, well, would you believe I was turned into a fly and became a crimefighter?”

“If you were, I would suggest you use an alternate story with the police and your parents.”

“She’s got a point there,” Dale said. “They’d send you to the loony bin. You better remember too that the rest of them can’t hear us animals so don’t start up a conversation with one of the local dogs or a bird in a tree while they’re around.”

Richard knew there were right, but it was difficult thinking of himself as a human again. “How about I just call them from the airport and say that I just arrived after wandering the world for a few years to find myself?”

“It could work,” Felicity said. “Make sure to have a convincing story for how you disappeared. They searched for you for over a year, and I would be quite surprised if that search did not include the airlines.”

“He didn’t use an airline around here. He drove up into Canada and grabbed a plane up there,” Dale suggested.

Richard nodded. “Good idea. We could tell them now, since we’re already here. I could just say that I caught a cab from the airport.”

“Yes, yes, I think it will work. Oh, it’s so good to see you again, Richard!” Felicity purred.

Richard hugged the cat again then let her down. Together, the three of them headed downstairs and toward the main dining hall. As they approached, Richard grew nervous and stopped.

“What’s wrong?” Dale asked.

Zipper peered around the corner. “Dale, I’ve been a completely different person for the last five years, one more comfortable talking to animals than humans. Nimnul’s been the only human I’ve dealt with on a regular basis.”

“Well, humans are people too. Just treat them like you’d treat us.”

“Yeah, easier said than done, Dale. You won’t be the one doing it.”

Richard could hear the people chatting in the next room and recognized his parents’ voices. He had to make things right with them. Before he knew it, he’d stepped into the oversized dining room. The table could seat as many as 30 guests, and at the moment it was nearly full. A graying but spry woman stood when Richard came in. She was wearing a sparkling blue evening gown with jewels on her ears and around her neck. Her social grace was well polished.

“Mr. Bennington, I presume? I was informed that you’d be dining in your room this evening, but I see that—that—”

Now she truly looked at the man and the look in her eyes showed recognition. “You’ll have to forgive me, young man. You bear quite a resemblance to someone close to me. If you will take a seat…”

Richard did so, waiting for his mother to sit before he revealed the truth to them. “You weren’t mistaken, mother. am Richard. I’m sorry I’ve been gone so long.”

he woman’s hands went to her flushed face, her reply barely above a whisper. “Rich...ard...

She fainted, and everyone stood up, including a man wearing a cream-colored suit over a light brown vest. His eyes had never left Richard from the moment he’d entered the room and now that he’d made sure Richard’s mother was okay he walked over to him

“Son? Son, is it really you?” the man asked.

Dale stayed hidden behind Felicity as she sat on her cushion nearby, watching the reunion.

“Yes, father,” Richard said. “My life was going nowhere when I left and I needed something drastic to shake things up. But I became so involved in the new life that I had forgotten about the old. I had to come back. There were things left undone and unsaid.”

“Yes...yes, there were.”

To Richard’s surprise, his father embraced him

“I’m sorry for what happened, son!” the man said. “We didn’t realize we were driving you away! We’d feared we had driven you to your death, and it was an awful burden. But all that matters now is that you’re with us again.”

“I missed you too...pops…”

Chapter 7 - Sarcasm Becomes Him and The Truth About the Bean

Across town, the RangerWing buzzed through the Chicago skies. The searchers had found little trouble in leaving the jet’s cargo hold, and now they scanned the building-rich vista before them—well, save for Chip and Nimnul, who were arguing at the moment.

“What do you mean, it’s a waste of time?” Chip chided. “We’ve got to find Dale and Zipper!”

Nimnul gestured wildly toward the city. “One chipmunk and one fly in all of THAT? It’s not like they’ve got tracking devices on them, you know!”

“Hmm...that might not actually be a bad idea,” Gadget mused. “You know, with the parts from a GPS device and some retooling—”

“Do you ever stop thinking!” Nimnul shouted, leaning forward to be sure his words got into those mouse ears.

Chip pulled Nimnul back. “Leave her alone! At least she’s helping. If you’re so smart, why don’t you figure out where our friends are?”

Nimnul batted his eyes in a bad imitation of Gadget and raised his voice an octave. “I know, I’ll invent a fly detector, so we can track all the flies in Chicago!” Then he went back to his usual cranky self. “You’re the detective, shouldn’t you have a theory or something about what they came for and where they’re going? Like why are they even in Chicago in the first place?”

“Well, we can’t be sure, but we do know that Zipper was starting to remember things from his past before some sort of accident he had. He must’ve grown up or lived here for some time. So it’s likely he’d be familiar with the city. Maybe they’re just touring it, and Zipper’s showing him his old haunts.”

“Flies don’t have families. What does he hope to find here?”

“He apparently was in some kind of scientific accident a long time ago. He recalled that his name was Richard, but that’s all he could remember at the time and apparently he remembered more after we left since he just had go so urgently that they couldn’t wait for us to return.”

Nimnul frowned momentarily, but long enough for Monty to notice.

“You thinking about something?” Monty accused. “You recognize the name?”

“I don’t know. It’s familiar, but—nah. Couldn’t be that.”

“Couldn’t be what?” Gadget asked.

“Forget about it. Just a stray thought. Let’s try the tourist attractions first—if your fly’s really from here, he’d know all about them. We’ll go to the Sears Tower first, then—”

“You know all the places ‘round here?” Monty asked.

“Well, duh! I got my doctorate in mechanical engineering here—or would have if they hadn’t been jealous of my genius and kicked me out!”

As the RangerWing headed toward the sky-dominating Sears Tower, Richard settled into his old room in his house. Dale was on one of the bedposts, enjoying an after-dinner chocolate.

“You think your folks bought that story about you being abroad all these years?” Dale asked.

“I think so.” Richard grabbed another chocolate and unwrapped it. “They grilled me pretty hard and some of that stuff only the real Richard would’ve known. I think we’re good, but they’ll probably want some medical tests done to be absolutely sure. But I think we’re good.”

Richard was lying on his bed, Felicity curled up on his chest where she purred happily. He patted her in a gentle motion. “Actually, I think the fact that Felicity came right to me was more convincing than anything.”

The cat looked up toward him, the smile in her ice-blue eyes a warming sight. “I can be a bit finicky about the people I care about, but I’ve always been fond of Richard, ever since he was a kitten.”

“It’s nice to see you too, Felicity. You were the one real friend I had, even when I wouldn’t let anyone else be my friend.”

Dale hopped down from his bedpost. “So what now? Are you going to stay here and start a new life?”

“I’m not sure.” Richard sat up on the bed now, taking a gold-framed picture of himself into his human hands. “What if turn into a fly again? What if this is unstable? What do we do then? What we need is someone smarter than us to figure this out.”

“Uh, actually there is,” Dale started in. “Richard, do you remember Norton Nimnul?”

Richard shrugged back at him. “Of course—the modemizer, the weather gun, the flying carpet, failing my final...”

“Huh?” Dale searched Richard’s face, which showed some surprise as well. “That last one didn’t seem to fit. What final?”

“The one in chemistry, all discussion questions. He said it was the ‘worst piece of guesswork’ he’d ever read. He had it laminated so he could preserve it forever and said that centuries from now, scribes with quill pens would be in monasteries, forever preserving it as an object of ridicule till the end of human life.”

Dale sat down fast, trying to handle what he’d heard. “You mean that you—you were one of Nimnul’s students?”

“Yeah,” Richard said, the echo in his voice telling he was trying to deal with this renewed discovery himself. “We all dreaded classes with The Bean. A total doofus—just try to get a compliment out of that guy!”

“The Bean? Why’d you call him that?”

“His head is sorta shaped like a lima bean.”

“Oh! Hahahaha!” Dale rolled back, merrily laughing, while Richard grinned and looked on. The joke-loving chipmunk recovered. “You’re right, it is like a bean! Never thought of that. So wow, you knew Nimnul before we Rangers did! Did you manage to pass his class?”

Richard’s smile faded and he shook his head. “No, I was failing bad. I was more a jock than a geek. Had a half-scholarship in football. He said he’d pass me if I’d work as a lab assistant for some highly secret experiments he was working on.”

Felicity had listened to all this intently and now looked up at Richard, concerned. “Richard, you never mentioned this to your papa and madame before.”

“I know. Nimnul swore me to secrecy about it all.” Richard covered his face with his hands, running his fingers through his hair. “And fool that I was, I played along.”

“Are you all right?”

Richard nodded, his hands still on his head. “I’m beginning to remember it. All of it.”

Dale came closer, careful to ask things in a way that wouldn’t upset him and possibly transform him back to fly form. “Were things really that bad? I heard somewhere that when things get so bad you make yourself forget them. Did you intentionally forget it all or was it part of the transformation?”

“I don’t know, I—I think I’d rather be alone right now. I need time to think.”

Chapter 8 - The Moment It All Changed, Hot Wheels and a Chancy Meeting

Dale and Felicity left the room. Richard sat up in his bed for what seemed like hours to him, the thoughts racing through his troubled mind. Finally, sleep claimed him and with his mind relaxed the memories came back in full. The images had been distant and hazy before, but not now. He could see himself, younger and much less wiser. It was a cold autumn day and he had flunked his freshman chemistry final.

For half an hour he’d waited, cowering outside the frosted door with “Professor Norton Nimnul” written there in black. Richard could hear the man barking orders to his secretary, and at long last the tried woman opened the door.

“Come on in, Richard,” the secretary said, a hint of sympathy in her voice. “The professor wants to speak with you.”

Richard hobbled in, wringing his ball cap in his hands. Nimnul didn’t seem to notice him at first, as if checking some fact or theory on his computer. Then the professor pushed away from the monitor back to his oversized oak desk and fixed a disapproving eye on Richard’s shaking form.

“So, another sports-happy flunker, is that it?” Nimnul was the grand inquisitor, the commandant of the gulag and he knew it. “Sit down! I don’t want you falling down and getting wrinkles in my rug!”

Like a blind man, Richard reached behind him for an old wooden chair he’d already graced several times this semester, never taking his eyes from the professor’s stare. At the man’s behest, Richard pulled the chair as close to the desk as he could.

“S...sir, I really studied hard for the final!” Richard began. “I thought I’d done a lot better than an F! Maybe if I got tutoring—”

“Tutoring? You’d need a brain transplant from Einstein! You’re doing so bad it makes me look like a bad teacher!”

Richard got down on his knees in front of Nimnul’s desk, leaning his clenched hands against the front of it. “Sir, you’ve got to give me a chance to make this up! I’m trying to show that I can make it on my on, and I couldn’t face my folks again if I had to drop out. There’s gotta be a way I can raise my grade to a ‘C’ or something at least!”

Nimnul ran a hand through his thinning hair. “Well, I’ve got a special project that I need an assistant for. I suppose you could earn some extra credit with that. It’s top secret, though—something that will revolutionize the world we live in and make me stinkin’ rich so I’ll never have to teach you worthless pinhead students ever again! So don’t even think about telling anyone about it or I’ll see you’re out of this university faster than the beach bunnies at the start of spring break!”

Richard stood up, a look of absolute gratitude on his face. “Oh, thank you, sir! I’ll do anything you want!”

And for the next few months, Richard did exactly that. Nimnul never let him forget for a moment his “magnanimous generosity” and soon had Richard doing every kind of back-breaking labor the professor could think of. When the work progressed into stealing parts for the professor’s secret project, Richard balked, but with the threat of a failing grade hanging over him the trapped teenager did as he was told and kept silent.

His grades in other classes slipped with the time the professor demanded, but they never slipped too far. Finally, at the middle of his sophomore year, Nimnul’s project was complete.

The two of them had managed to keep the secret project from being discovered, as Nimnul had built it all in an abandoned laboratory in a seldom-used part of the old chemistry building. Anyone going in would have been astonished to go from dusty, empty halls reeking of old chemicals to an immaculate room filled with huge banks of computers and machinery.

In the middle of the room, a large apparatus stood that appeared to be an oversized ray gun. It was nearly two in the morning when Nimnul and Richard arrived in the lab, their usual time for working there.

“Professor, are you sure you want to go ahead with this?” Richard asked. “If something happens and you’re found out—”

Nimnul only chuckled in his usual insane way. “Let them all come here. Soon, so soon it will all be done! Then nobody will laugh at me again. Everyone will know my brilliance!”

“But sir, you haven’t even tested this yet! And you’re talking about transferring one being into another. There’s no way to know what that will do!”

Nimnul fiddled with the switches, annoyed as always. “Numbskull, my calculations are perfect, which you’d know if you were anywhere near my level. Go connect the green cable to the influx diode converter on the secondary bus.”

Richard knew that all the professor’s hyperbole was simply to impress himself, but while he walked in front of the ray gun to plug in the power cord, Richard wondered if the time hadn’t come to tell someone. Even if it means I’m kicked out, this has gone too far. He’s obsessed or something.

Just then, a fly started buzzing around Nimnul’s head.

Nimnul swatted furiously at the offending insect. “Stupid vermin! This is a clean room. Get out or I’ll broil you with a Bunsen burner!”

The professor swatted at the fly with a maniac’s obsession, hitting several controls by accident as he was trying to kill it. The machine started to power up and Richard only had an instant to look up to see the machine discharge an energy beam at him before the machine itself exploded.

Even as he yelled, Richard lost consciousness. His mind felt as if it were on fire, and then all was darkness for a time. When he could think again, he opened his eyes—something was wrong. Everything seemed to have grown large, and he couldn’t really place where he was. It hurt to move, but he did it anyway and saw the fractured remains of Nimnul’s prized invention. Nimnul was nowhere in sight and the only light coming in was from the glow of the moon outside through the shattered windows. Then Richard knew where he was.

I’m on the window sill, but how?

Another painful few moments and he turned back to the window and saw a reflection there in a corner of a pane that was still intact. It wasn’t him—but it was. He looked down as he wobbled to his feet and saw those same green hands he’d seen before. He screamed, but all that came out was a pathetic squeak. Richard wanted to get out in the worst way, and suddenly he felt himself lifted off the ground with a buzzing sound.


I’ve got to get away. Got to fly. Fly…I’m a fly. I’m a fly—!


As the buzzing grew louder, it suddenly jarred Richard from his sleep. It was the buzz of his electronic alarm clock and now he turned it off. He looked at his hands—human hands.

I’m...not a fly. But I was. And I don’t want to be one again.” Richard rubbed his face with his hands. “I should never have let it go on so long! If only I weren’t so stupid, it wouldn’t have happened...”

Richard’s lament woke Dale, who had returned to Richard’s room after a time.

“Hey, you all right? You look pretty shook up or something,” Dale said.

“Yeah, I’m fine, Dale,” Richard said as he stood up from the bed. “This whole nightmare has been a total nightmare. My brain and my life are flying apart all at the same time. But it’s all starting to come back.”

“So, what’re you gonna do about it?”

Richard slipped out of bed and stretched in his pajamas. “First thing is breakfast, I guess. I think I want to go see Lori, and then I need to make sure that nobody else was hurt by what I did when I helped Nimnul. I think that would be worse even than what happened to me.”

“We really need to contact the rest of the Rangers. We shouldn’t deal with Nimnul without them to back us up.”

Richard laughed at Dale’s comment. “I’m human now. I think I can handle him better than a bunch of talking animals.”


“Oh, sorry. It’s just that I’m not a fly anymore. Wait here, and I’ll bring you back something from downstairs.”

Dale waited, though his stomach suffered through the breakfast smells. Still, the bounty of waffles, fruit and pastries made up for his vigil. Once Richard was dressed for the day, he found a light windbreaker with generous pockets that allowed him to take Dale on as a passenger. Together they headed for the garage, a spacious repository of rare and valuable cars.

Richard walked over to one of the later-model cars and patted its hood. “Ford Mustang, still the best car ever built. This is a ‘69 GT390, Dale, one of the best and in mint condition! Dad gave it to me for my sixteenth birthday but took it away after I nearly wrecked it while I was cruising with some girls one weekend. I never thought he’d let me drive it again but this morning he handed the keys right over like it didn’t even faze him.”

“Yeah, they’re sure glad to see you again. Nice that they’re taking it so well. But why are we still here, Richard? Nimnul’s in New York the last we saw him. Shouldn’t we go there and confront him?”

Richard opened the Mustang’s door. “First I need to know that Lori’s okay, and I’d like to clear up a couple things with her. And also for my own conscience’s sake I need to make sure that nobody else was hurt or anything when I was changed. Once we do that...really, I don’t care about Nimnul anymore. What he did was wrong, but they must’ve kicked him out so at least he didn’t mess up any other students’ lives. Come on, let’s go.”

Richard got in the car and cranked it up as if he’d been doing it all his life. It only occurred to him that he hadn’t driven in several years when he nearly clipped the house’s iron gate on the way out of the driveway.

“I think we’ll stay off the freeway for now,” he said.

As they started for Lori’s house, the Rangers and Nimnul were already awake and into another day of searching. Chip, with his usual organized and deductive mind, realized that Dale would have chosen the place the two missing Rangers stayed that first night in Chicago and soon they were at Wrigley Field.

The pigeons, as happy to see interlopers as ever, did prove useful.

“So you say that there was a chipmunk and a fly here, sleeping in a plane?” Chip asked.

“Yeah sure, they was here,” the head pigeon said. “What’s it to you?”

Gadget walked up in front of him. “It’s really important that we find them. There are lives at stake, guys!”

The pigeon gestured to the ballpark around them. “Yeah, our lives—this is our bread and butter here we’re talking! Look, we ain’t got time to track down no fly and chipmunk.”

Chip tried again. “Did they say anything at all about where they were going or what they’d do in town?”

The head pigeon motioned one of his feeding friends over. “Harry, you was over there with ‘em more than most. What did they say?”

“The fly just said something about some girl named Lori or something,” Harry said. “They didn’t say where they were going or nothing.”

Chip turned toward Nimnul, who’d been strangely quiet all through the interrogation. “You remember anyone named Lori around here?”

“What do I look like, the information booth? Well, come to think of it...” The professor grew pensive.

“Yes?” Gadget asked.

“There was a girl named that who I saw a couple of times.”

Monty rolled his eyes. “You, dating? Give me a break.”

“In my office at work, you big bellied nuisance! I only remember because one of my students used to date her and—”

A sudden flash of recognition went across Nimnul’s face.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” Chip asked. “What did you—Nimnul!

In an instant, Nimnul had broke and ran like someone trying to flee a wild beast

Monty was after him like a shot, running like the others wouldn’t have imagined him capable of. He tackled Nimnul and pulled his fist back to punch him when Gadget leaped up and grabbed on to his arm to stop him.

“Monty, wait!” Gadget shouted. “We need to know what he knows!”

Monty let his arm fall. “You’re lucky a lady’s present, bub.”

Nimnul struggled to get free, but it was no use. Monty’s iron grip held him fast.

Chip got up in the professor’s face. “You know something, don’t you! Come on, spill it!”

“All right, all right!” Nimnul squirmed, trying to get a toehold on the ground. “I think I know who Zipper is, or was. But to make sure, we need to look up this Lori person.”

Nimnul brought out a cell phone from his pocket. In a minute he’d called his old university under another name and explained he was trying to reach an old graduate who was a friend. When he closed the cell phone, he smirked. “If only they knew who was calling. No matter, we know where she lives and works now. The museums don’t open around here until nine and that’s still a couple hours off. Besides, she’s the boss of the place and bosses are always late.”

“Okay, then the path is clear,” Chip said. “Zipper will find her eventually. So we’ll just to find her to find him.”

Then Chip turned suddenly and pointed an accusing finger at Nimnul. “Time to tell us the rest of what you know.”

“We’d be here for the next hour if I did, and you don’t have that kind of time to waste right now. For all you know, he could be at her house right now.”

The arguing went on for another minute, then Gadget intervened as usual. “I think he’s right this time, Chip. Maybe this Lori’s seen Zipper or Dale, at the least.”

“You’re right, Gadget. Okay, let’s go!”

The Rangers were in the air and too far away to hear the head pigeon grumble about the “real rats with wings”. But even as they hurried across town, a shiny Ford Mustang slowed to a halt across the street from Lori’s home. Dale climbed up on Richard’s shoulder while Richard put on a pair of dark sunglasses.

“You sure you want to do it this way?” Dale asked. “Why not just go up to her door and knock?”

Richard rolled down the car’s window and leaned his elbow on the bottom of the window as he peered toward Lori’s house. “I don’t know if I’m ready for that yet, Dale. I’m not sure she’d be ready for it.”

“You won’t find out from here. It’s like the Red Badger says, ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’!”

“Actually it goes back to Shakespeare, who borrowed it from Chaucer.”

“How do you know that?”

Richard turned and grinned. “English was my best subject, along with history.”

Dale shrugged. “Well, if Shakespeare and that Chaucer guy had been around now, they’d have probably watched the Red Badger too.”

“No doubt.” Richard grinned and turned back to look toward the house. “Oh boy.

“What is it?”

“Not what, who. Her.”

Chapter 9 - Homecoming, a Tough Bluff, a Ranger Reunion and Will You Please Not Freak Out While I Explain Reality To You

“Richard?” Lori had just walked outside, the sunlight highlighting streaks of fire in her red hair. She took a step forward. “Richard, is that you?”

Richard’s heart fell through his stomach as cold panic set in. As Lori took another step forward, Richard peeled out. Dale scrambled to the rear of the car where he could see Lori waving from the end of her driveway—just as the RangerWing came into view above.

The Rangers watched as the red-headed woman ran back into the house.

“If that’s Lori, she seems very upset about whoever’s in that car,” Chip said.

Monty pointed to the car’s rear window. “Yeah, and I know who. Look!”

They turned to look and even at this height Dale’s red and yellow shirt showed clearly through the rear window. He’d seen them and it was evident he was trying to get their attention.

“Look, it’s Dale!” Gadget said. “Let’s follow him!”

The RangerWing had no problem keeping up with Richard’s Thunderbird, given the city traffic. Soon they approached the gates and brick buildings of a university and Monty noticed Nimnul starting to squirm.

“What’s wrong, Nimnul? Afraid you’ll get classroom cooties?” Monty chided.

Nimnul leaned over to look as they passed over the iron gates. “This is where those moronic eggheads first made me realize that my genius would be forever unappreciated! It was here that I could have become the new Nikola Tesla!”

“But why would Zipper want to come here?” Gadget asked.

“It must have something to do with Nimnul and the time he was here,” Chip said.

Nimnul stuck his face between them. “I was perfectly justified in what I did! My invention worked perfectly. It was just an ill twist of fate that caused that little accident.”

“Accident?” Chip began putting it all together. “You mean—that’s it! You turned him into a fly, didn’t you? You’re a loony! Why did you have to test it on him?”

“I wasn’t going to test it on him! I simply needed him to record the results of my experiments. True, I would’ve tested it on humans eventually, but only after several animals trials. After all, animals are greatly inferior life...forms...and...”

Monty punched his fist to discourage Nimnul from finishing that sentence. “We’ve shown you how many times that we’re the better of you?”

“I don’t know what Zipper hopes to find here in the college,” Chip said, watching the Mustang search for a parking place.

“From my end, I hope it’s nothing,” Nimnul added.

When Richard pulled up to the College of Sciences and Mathematics building, Dale pointed out the RangerWing.

“Shouldn’t we wait for them to come help?” Dale asked.

Richard opened the door and they scrambled out. “Not yet. Besides, it’d be hard to explain a bunch of animals running around with me. One I can hide pretty easily.”

Once inside, Richard found that he knew the old secretary who now served the dean of the college. Like all university students, he was aware that the secretaries were the people who really ran the place. He took on an academic air and walked up to the desk in time to receive the secretary’s cold stare.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” Richard began, “my name is Dr. Bunsen Honeydew of Beaker College. That’s in North Dakota. I phoned a couple of weeks ago about an inquiry into a former professor of yours?”

The woman rolled her eyes. “Is this pledge week? Yes, my assistant Scooter took the call, but Dr. Gonzo wasn’t available to speak to you. I do believe professor Kermit is in the biology lab if you’d like to speak to him instead? But seriously, what is the meaning of this, young man?”

“Oh, all right, ma’am. Actually, I’m just passing through town and wanted to meet an old professor of mine. Does Professor Nimnul still work here?”

The woman laughed long and loud. “That nutjob? No, he hasn’t shown his annoying face around here in years. Last I heard he was in jail in New York City. What would anyone need with him these days?”

Richard searched for the words. “Well, it’s rather hard to explain. You see, I’m doing research now along the lines of an experiment I assisted him with and I need to check his academic journal articles to make sure they’re defensible. As far as I know, the only copies of those would be in his files here.”

“He ran for the hills after the accident with that student disappearing. He didn’t leave any journals or anything, just cut and run. Only he knows what happened that night.”

“Still, he must have left his research notes behind. Would you mind if I took a look at those?”

“Sorry, the notes he had left behind were confiscated by the police, FBI and a few other government organizations that wouldn’t divulge their names.”

Richard paused then nodded. “Well, guess I’ll just have to take that chapter out of my paper. Thanks, and hope to see you at the reunion.”

The man walked out, very much feeling the curious eyes of the secretary upon him. When he was out of sight, Dale popped up out of his shirt pocket.

“Man, that secretary was worse than the guard of the Emerald City!” Dale said. “Now how’ll you find out, uh, what you want to find out?”

Richard helped Dale up onto his shoulder. “Already have. If Nimnul cut and ran, then he didn’t try to repeat the experiment with anyone else. And if the FBI has his notes, then nobody has them and that’s as good as if they’re in the fire. I’m satisfied with that.”

“But now what? You’re still trapped in human form. We gotta get you back to normal and go home.”

Richard didn’t answer at first and Dale’s look turned to one of concern.

“You’re not coming back? But what about us? What about the Rangers?”

“I’m human again, Dale. Fighting a cat who steals fish and dealing with Rat Capone, it just seems all so foolish from where I’m standing now. Animal problems aren’t the same as human problems.”

“Well yeah, but we’re your friends! If you leave, you’ll go off and do human things and we’ll never see you again!”

Richard walked over to a short brick wall alongside one of the sidewalks and sat down, allowing Dale to sit on it next to him. “Dale, it’s not like I could continue being a Rescue Ranger while I’m human. It just wouldn’t work. Maybe the time has come for us to move on.”

“Move on? After what all we’ve been through?”

Richard turned to find two mice and a chipmunk on the other side of him, looking up at him plaintively. He also noticed the small and cowering human next to them and his eyes focused hard. Richard leaned over and scooped up Nimnul into his hand and held him up, shaking him roughly.

“You did this to me, you worthless sleaze ball!” Richard growled.

Monty boxed the air. “Punch him, bite him, use him for a hacky sack!”

“Monty, you’re not helping,” Gadget said.

Nimnul squirmed in Richard’s hand, “It was an accident! I didn’t mean for it happen, honest!”

Richard brought the tiny terror to within a couple inches of his own eyes. “You lost me years of my life, years away from my family and you lost me Lori! We could’ve been married and had a family by now! It’s all because of you I was a fly! All because of you I met Monty and...became a Rescue Ranger…and met Queenie.”

Without further ceremony, Richard stuffed the wailing Nimnul into his shirt pocket before anyone saw him talking to a mini-sized human. The Rangers followed him to an isolated alcove, hidden from view, and together they sat down at a round concrete table.

Richard took on a gentler tone now. “Sorry about the way that sounded, guys. It’s just—”

“We understand, Zipper,” Chip said.

“It’s Richard, actually. You’ve all been good friends to me, the best I’ve ever had. I’m just forced to wonder what my life would’ve been if mister superior here hadn’t ruined it for me.”

Monty had trouble speaking up, his mind trying to deal with his fly friend being a human. “Zip...Richard, I know things weren’t always perfect as Rangers and we overlooked ya at times, but you were always a hero, always fearless, always a good friend to us all. I don’t know what we can offer ya to convince you to come back to us, mate.”

“I don’t know either, Monty. I think—I just need some time to think.”

“Where will you go?” Gadget asked.

“I’ve got a place in mind. Did a lot of thinking and planning there once. Listen, let’s meet up here again this time tomorrow. I’ll let you know if I’m coming back to New York then.”

Monty was cut to the quick. “Yeah...not a problem, Richard, mate. We’ll give ya all the time ya need.”

Without saying anything more, Monty turned, his shoulders slumped, and began slowly walking away.

“Monty,” Richard called after him, “please, its not like I’m disowning you guys or anything.”

“Let him be, Richard,” Chip said. “You can’t blame him for feeling you’re turning your back on us.”

Richard looked genuinely hurt. “Yeah, I know. It’s guys couldn’t understand. It’s just something I gotta do!”

Richard ran off toward his Mustang, leaving the Rangers in the wake of spent emotions. Gadget turned toward Chip, hands on her hips and more than a hint of anger in her voice.

“You didn’t have to make him feel guilty about it, Chip!” she said. “It’s not his fault, really.”

“Well, he didn’t have to go and try to shut us out, either. After all, we’ve been—“

“But he’s not human, Chip!” Dale interrupted. “Or, I mean he’s not—oh, he’s not what we thought he was.”

“And if it’s confusing for Dale, imagine how bad it is for him,” Gadget pointed out. “It’s too much just to expect him to come back with us. Besides, even with the blueprints we have, I don’t know that we’ll be able to turn him back into a fly. Well, assuming he wants to be turned back into a fly.”

“What about Nimnul’s help?” Chip asked.

Monty, who had returned now, pointed to Richard’s Mustang, now halfway out of the college. “Uh, he still has Nimnul, I think.”

Gadget took in a short gasp, “You don’t think he’s planning on doing something to Nimnul, do you?”

“Only if we’re really lucky.”

Chip ignored Monty’s remark. “Well, it does give us an excuse to follow good conscience.”

Chip made the decision for the team just in time. Once they were back to the RangerWing and in the air, Richard was nearly out of the university’s environs. Dale spotted him turning onto the main thoroughfare, though, and soon they were on his tail.

At Chip’s request, Gadget kept well back, knowing that Richard would be expecting something like this. No matter what he says, we’ve got a stake in this, too, Chip thought. After all, we’re still his friends.

As for Richard, the Rangers were the last thing on his mind at the moment. He’d tried to put Lori out of his mind, but he might as well have tried to stop time. In a way he felt he’d turned back time when he’d heard Lori shout his name, but he knew it could just be the shock.

“It’s been five years, after all. I can’t expect her to have remained faithful that long. But that is what I want, isn’t it. Heh, now I’m talking to myself. Should’ve kept Monty around.”

From his shirt pocket a muffled voice of protest rang out.

“Don’t think I’ve forgotten about you, either. You stay in there and keep quiet!”

Richard drove until he reached the outskirts of Jackson Park, named such for President Andrew Jackson and site of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. None of that mattered to him at the moment, save one part of that long-ago celebration. The “Golden Lady”, a magnificent statue built to preside over that exposition, now held court at one end of the park.

Across from the Golden Lady was the park’s old golf course, where he and Lori had played a few rounds. He parked and headed toward the old Osaka Garden, a quiet place in the park where one could rest and think.

The memories flashed before him now—the pagoda-like entrance, the finely crafted walkways and the cute little wooden bridge that served as their rendezvous. He walked out onto the bridge and watched the large orange and golden koi fish swimming.

“I promised you I’d build you a smaller version of this for our house. We loved to come and feed the fish. Now I’m half-scared of them because only a few days ago they’d have tried to eat me. Why was I allowed to come back? Why?”

Nimnul managed to crawl to the top of Richard’s shirt pocket. “It was a freak accident that made you a stupid fly and another freak accident that turned you back into a stupid human! Nothing happens for a purpose. Life’s just a bunch of randomized interactions that happen for no good reason. Be glad you’re normal again—whatever normal is for you.”

Richard stuffed Nimnul back down into his shirt. “Zip it, or you’re fish food.”

For what seemed close to an hour, Richard stayed and thought. There was nobody to bother him, and the oasis of near-silence in this busy city made it easy for him. He didn’t believe Nimnul’s explanation of the world for anything. It was typical of the scientist, though—taking everything around him for granted and treating it all like some big lab experiment. No, that wouldn’t do. There had been times he felt he didn’t care, but being a Rescue Ranger had taught him about the importance of others. At the moment, only one other in that vast expanse really seemed to matter.

Footfalls on the path broke the delicious silence of the gardens and Richard knew it was time for him to give it over to whoever this newcomer was. He turned to walk off the bridge and nearly collided with Lori.

For a few moments, each one stood there staring at the other, unable to speak. Then Lori reached out and touched his face, as if to be sure he was real.

Her voice shook as she whispered. “Richard, it is’re alive...”

A thousand thoughts streamed through his mind, but none of them found voice. All he could do was stand there and take her in. Once his heart slowed from its hammer-like beat, he reached out a hand and took hers.

“Its great to see you again, Lori,” Richard said. It was the first thing he could force himself to say. “You can’t begin to imagine what my life’s been. I don’t know that—”

Lori blotted out the rest of his words with an embrace that sent his mind spinning. He wrapped his arms around her and for a brief, happy moment it was as if the last five years were but a night’s dream. When they let go, Richard held her close

“I’d almost forgotten how that felt,” Richard said, the first notes of happiness in his voice. “Lori, how did you know where to find me?”

“I knew you’d come here, sooner or later. I was hoping it was sooner. Oh, Richard, we thought you were dead! What happened to you?”

“You’d think I was insane of I told you, so let’s just say I’ve been in New York, sort of being a fly on the wall, doing humanitarian work.”

Lori questioned him with her eyes. “Humanitarian, you? Richard, your idea of humanitarianism was to give the servants the night off.” She studied him more, as if reaching out to his soul with her own. “You’ve changed, though, haven’t you. That wild look’s not there anymore. You seem so much more—so much more at ease now.”

“Yeah, well, hanging out with my friends in New York has really changed me. We’re sort of a freelance group of private detectives.”

“Private detectives? You mean you go out and snoop on people and handle tawdry divorce cases and the like?”

“No, nothing that mundane. Organized crime, international espionage, mad scientists and stuff like that.”

Lori’s expression changed to a smirk of disbelief. “Oh, now you’re joshing me.”

Richard shook his head. “I kid you not, Lori. I’ve been so far undercover I haven’t been able to contact anyone from my old life.”

Now she went from mild disbelief to annoyance. “Oh, come on! You expect me to believe all this? That you’ve been undercover for five years with some private investigating...whatever and you’ve just now been able to come back? That’s pretty hard to swallow, Richard. You wouldn’t happen to have a little bitty bit of proof of all that, would you?”

Richard took her by the hand and led her to a park bench and had her sit down. “Okay, you want a little bitty bit of proof. Here’s the truth and then the proof. Five years ago, that lab experiment that people thought had killed me actually turned me into a fly and I joined a group of animal crime fighters called the Rescue Rangers. And it was another accident that turned me human again.”

Richard reached into his pocket before Lori could respond to that one and pulled out the tiny Nimnul. “And this is my college professor who first turned me into that fly. Now he’s getting a little taste of payback.”

Lori was about to chide Richard for the outlandish tale she was hearing when she saw Nimnul. She stared, transfixed.

Nimnul frowned at her and crossed his arms. “What’s wrong, sister? Never seen a mad scientist shrunk down to the size of a mouse before?”

She started to scream, but Richard saw it coming and covered her mouth.

“Sorry dear, I didn’t want you to bring the security guards and I’ve still got quite a lot to tell you. And it looks like I’ll have some help in the telling.” Richard pointed to Lori’s right, where the RangerWing had just landed next to the bench.

The Rangers had kept back until now, but within their hearing distance. With Richard’s revelation, they had decided to come forward. Now Lori faced not only a tiny man, but four rodents who looked up at her near her feet. She looked from them to Richard and back again

“These are your animal friends? The detectives?” Lori asked.

“Yes, they’re my teammates. Chip, Dale, Monty and Gadget. We’ve been all over the place, done everything and seen everything. It’s really been a trip. A world like nothing you can possibly imagine.”

Gadget smiled up at Lori. “Tell her we’re sorry about what happened to you, Richard, and that you weren’t able to be together.”

“That’s all right,” Lori and Richard replied together.

Lori did a double take. “They can talk?”

“Hey, she understood us!” Dale said.

“Of course she did, you idiots!” Nimnul shouted down. “She’s an ornithologist, so she’s spent most of her life around animals and listening to bird songs. It would make sense that she’s already attuned to your modes of speech, plus now that she knows you’re intelligent she’d allow herself to hear you.”

Chip grimaced back at the professor. “Maybe so—except for the idiots part.”

Richard took Lori’s hand again, gaining her attention. “Sorry Lori, I should explain more...”

For the next hour, Lori sat spellbound as Richard, aided now and then by one of the Rangers or Nimnul, filled in the gaps of the last five years. What she heard both amazed and impressed her, and by the end of it she rubbed her head, overwhelmed.

“And you mean all these years you’ve been world-hopping with them and helping animals and people and—Richard, that’s amazing!” Lori exclaimed. “Think of all the species you’ve interacted with! The first-hand knowledge you’ve gained. Why, it would be the most amazing scientific and exo-cultural breakthrough of all time!”

“Well, a lot of it was never meant to be known to humans. It’s a world, like any other, good and bad. You just see it from a whole different perspective,” Richard said.

“Fascinating. I never knew there was another world like this, all around us.” Lori studied the Rangers now. She leaned down, utterly fascinated by these animals, which now were clearly wearing clothing and could speak just like humans. “You risked a good deal to come here, looking for Richard. I thank you for being his friend. I hope you’ll consider me a friend as well.”

“Of course, luv,” Monty said. “Any friend of Richard is a friend o’ ours.”

“Of course,” Chip added. “We just hope you’ll both be happy together.”

Lori looked back to Richard, smiling. “I hope that too.” When she looked back to the Rangers she could see the sad looks in their eyes. “You’re afraid you’re going to lose him, aren’t you. I know that look. I wore it for a long time after he disappeared.”

Monty pointed toward Richard. “He’s human again and can have money, drive expensive cars, do all that stuff.”

“And most of all, he has you again,” Gadget pointed out.

Dale nodded. “There’s nothing that we an offer that compares to that.”

“They say, if you love something, you have to let it go free,” Chip said.

Lori turned back to a nervous Richard. “Your chipmunk friend is right, Richard. If you want to go back to them after all the time you’ve spent with them, I’d understand. Is that what you want?”

It was Chip’s turn to do a double-take now. “No, I meant that we love Richard and we want to let him go so you two can be together.”

Richard was torn, and his face was a mix of sadness and frustration. “I don’t know what I want. I want it all! I’m stuck having to choose between two halves of my soul.”

Richard held his beleaguered head in hands while Lori rubbed his back in a comforting gesture.

“There’s got to be a way to make it right,” Lori said. “I don’t want to leave you, either, Richard. I’ve enjoyed my life and my studies, but I’ve had no one to share it with—to share my life with.”

Nimnul had worked his way off the bench and sat down in the grass, disgusted. “If you two are so lovey-dovey, why don’t you just both turn into animals and be done with it?!”

Lori and Richard both looked up in surprise, turning toward Nimnul.

“That brilliant loony!” Monty exclaimed.

“What?” Nimnul said, taken aback. “What! What’d I say?”

Richard was clearly considering the idea. “That is a great notion, Nimnul, but it’s too much to ask Lori to do.”

“You mean—” Lori started to take the idea in. “You mean he’s still got some way of turning people into animals? But what would you want us to be, Richard?”

“To give it all up—what did you say?”

Lori grabbed Richard’s shoulders and turned him toward him. “I said, what would you want us to be? I gave you up once, Richard. I don’t know that I can do it again.”

Richard hesitated now. “I’ve not only lost you, but for years lost all memory of you. My life as Zipper is much more real to me than my human life it seems. I don’t know if I can be human again. I’ve changed so much. I...I could never ask you to give up everything to join me, back in the world I call home.”

“No, you couldn’t ask me, but I could ask you to let me share it with you.”

“I became a fly by accident, but for us to be together...what would you want to be the rest of your life?”

Lori looked to Gadget. “You know this technology, right?”

“Pretty well, yes,” Gadget said.

Nimnul jumped up and down next to her. “I’m the one who invented it! Ask me!”

“Can the process be reversed?” Lori asked.

“Well, it’d be a pretty sorry piece of work if it couldn’t be!”

Lori ignored Nimnul’s sarcasm and addressed Richard again. “I’ll do it on two conditions. First, that if things don’t work out between us or if I want to return to being a human I can. Second, that we don’t turn into flies. I’ve always wanted to know what being a bird was like.”

Richard look surprised at the thought. “Not being a fly...actually, I wasn’t in love with the idea of being a fly anymore, as it was forced on me. I’d definitely have to be able to keep flying, though. I couldn’t go back to being flightless. Birds, yes, but what kind?”

“I’ve always been partial to mockingbirds—they’re highly creative with their mimicking birdsong and they’re fearless.”

“That sounds great! Just wait till you’re flying, it will be amazing. We’d be together. That would be amazing, to be out there with you. But would you have any inclination to fight crime? Our work is dangerous at times.”

“We’ll see. One step at a time. For now, let’s discuss how to make this happen.”

“Well, we’ll have to build—” Gadget started in.

Nimnul stepped in front of her. “We’ll have to steal some equipment from that university I used to work with and mousey-brains here will have to assist me to make it work. That is, if she can match my genius.”

Gadget stuck her tongue out at Nimnul and he followed suit.

Richard grinned at the display. “She’s got more brains in her tail than you have in all of your lima bean shaped head.”

The Rangers laughed while Nimnul fumed.

“Oh, is that so?” Nimnul challenged. “Well, I bet I’ll still get the better of all of you yet!”

Monty walked over and picked him up by the collar of his lab coat. “I’ll take that bet, pipsqueak. Let’s us go walkabout before anybody sees us.”

The Rangers headed off, Nimnul under Monty’s arm. Lori started to leave the garden when Richard caught her arm.

“Lori, I know you love me, but I just want to say that if you feel you’re obligated to do this, then don’t. I’d be really happy with you in my world, but I’d be happier knowing that you’re happy wherever you are,” Richard said.

Her look was pure contentment. “You really have changed, haven’t you. I’d always hoped you’d mature into the kind and good person I knew you really were. Richard, I’ll only be truly happy if I’m with you.”

Richard hugged her and then put an arm around her back as they headed out of the garden. He’d never figured he would have a second chance at happiness, but now here she was. I just hope it all goes according to plan.

Chapter 10 - Experiment: Take Two, A Man or a Mouse, Hope Takes Wing

For the next three days, Richard and the Rangers stayed at Lori’s house, planning their next move. When it came, Lori appeared in front of the same desk that Richard had at the university. The secretary smiled as she stood.

“Why, Miss Lori, what brings you around today?” the secretary asked.

“Mabel, I need to borrow some of your lab space here for the next few days,” Lori replied. “We’re socked in at the museum and I need to oversee some delicate work. I can’t go into the details, but it would mean a lot to me.”

“Sure, don’t you worry. I’ll arrange things. What kind of equipment will you be needing?”

Lori half-laughed. “Probably everything you’ve got before it’s over!”

The secretary laughed in return and reached into one of the desk drawers. She brought out a key on a string, labeled Equipment Room. “Normally, I wouldn’t do this, but I know you’re trustworthy. Just bring it back to me when you’re done.”

“Thank you, Mabel. Don’t worry, I’ll keep my mouth shut.”

Later that night, after the building was shut and locked up, two humans, four rodents and a tiny terror moved out of their hiding place in the equipment room and began moving machinery down the echoing hall toward Laboratory #3.

“Are you sure they won’t find out about this?” Chip asked, standing at the front of the two-tiered metal cart they were using like Washington crossing the Delaware.

“Security’s pretty low here,” Lori said. “Electronic locks on the outer doors keep intruders out. They wouldn’t be suspecting anyone of wanting to stay in.”

Gadget and Nimnul walked together, the mouse inventor carrying a small makeshift clipboard.

“Okay, we’ve got more than enough parts,” Gadget said, then addressed Nimnul. “Can you design a variable flow regulator for the Metamorpho Ray?”

Nimnul nodded, seemingly lost in his thoughts. “Yeah, yeah, don’t worry, it’ll all work fine. I never expected to be in this dump again. I saw a new reality of possibilities here that night, a new understanding about reality far beyond anything those fools could imagine. And all they did was laugh at me when I explained my concepts! They had a chance—a brief one, admittedly—to acknowledge my brilliance and I would’ve shared everything with them.”

“You still could, you know. Just because some ignorant men didn’t understand your work doesn’t mean that you should deprive all of mankind. You could be a real benefit and still make a lot of money off of your discoveries.”

Nimnul looked around, seeing the others weren’t so closely watching him and Gadget, so he spoke in lower tones. “As much as I hate you vermin, you’re the only person I’ve ever met who could understand my work on an intellectual level. Others saw how they could exploit it, but they didn’t understand it. It just amazes me that you never stole my inventions to use for your own purposes.”

“Why should I?” Gadget blinked, surprised that he’d even ask such a question. “I admit I’m impressed by them, but for our work we don’t really need machinery that complex. It would be nice to have one or two of your inventions every now and again, like when we’ve facing a bigger opponent and we could just grow ourselves. But an inventive mind can always find a way around a disadvantage.”

“I just can’t wrap my brain around the fact that you haven’t used your brain to take over the animal world or even the human world. You’re...nice. You haven’t been turned bitter and cynical by the scorn, isolation and ridicule you’ve surely experienced for being so smart.”

Gadget stared back at him. “What do you mean? I don’t want to dominate people with my knowledge. I want to help them! They know that, which is why everyone treats me fine.”

Nimnul shook his head. “I’ve never understood optimistic people. You’re unappreciated, ignored and taken advantage of, and you’re still willing to help people. However your personality’s wired, mine just never was formatted that way. I tried to be a nice guy and dreamed of being the next Pasteur, but I was scorned and others stole my ideas.

“Yeah, sure, there are things that could help people, but it’s a bit late now for a reformatted life. The last time I was in court I had accumulated around 500 years of hard time and I’ve probably added a few centuries onto that by now. There’s no going back.”

Gadget found she felt sorry in a way for Nimnul, but she also didn’t allow his talk to take her off her guard. He’d tricked them one too many times for that, so for the next few hours she kept a constant watch on him and made sure never to turn her back on him if she could help it. To her relief, Nimnul seemed eager to get the Metamorpho Ray built. With the others helping, they were able to assemble a workable machine within five hours.

It was Gadget’s little note of triumph in her voice that signaled the end of their labors. “Okay, that’s it! Everything checks out so far, and now all we need to do is test it and we’ll be ready to go.”

Nimnul stepped forward. “I volunteer to be the test subject, since I’d find it hard to believe any of you would trust your lives to a machine I built. The sooner we get this done, the sooner I get back to the real world.”

Richard stretched and yawned. “Suits me fine. I wasn’t going to volunteer the second time around anyway.”

Gadget stood on top of a wooden stool, topped by three books, which gave her ample height to make the final adjustments to the large ray gun. Dale and Chip sat together with Monty nearby, studying the whole matter while Nimnul got in position.

Dale pointed toward the pint-sized professor. “You know, Chip, maybe we got this Nimnul guy wrong. I mean, if he was all bad he would’ve tried some kind of dirty, sneaky trick by now.”

“I still have every expectation of him trying something,” Chip said. “He volunteered for a reason, I’m sure of it. How carefully did you check the work he did on that machine, Gadget?”

Nimnul barked a laugh up at him. “What do you think I’m going to do from here, use my telekinetic powers to force that miserable mouse’s hands to do something wrong?”

“Wow, you have telekinetic powers?!” Dale exclaimed.

“If I did, you’d be a chipmunk pretzel by now!”

Gadget turned her attention to the ray gun. “Don’t worry, guys. I won’t fire it until I’ve run a diagnostic and—hey!”

“Uh, is that a good ‘hey’ or a bad ‘hey’?” Dale asked.

Chip could already guess. “What’s wrong, Gadget?”

The ray gun machine hummed with life and power.

“I don’t know!” Gadget said, looking the gun over. “I started up the diagnostic and it’s as if it’s ignoring me. I don’t understand!”

“I do!” Monty said. “That double-crossing cheat rigged the thing to go off!”

“Get him!” Chip shouted.

But it was too late. The ray’s humming reached an ear-piercing crescendo and a whitish-pink beam struck the laughing Nimnul, who grew within seconds to more than seven feet tall. Now his laughter was deep and menacing.

With surprising speed and force, Richard leaped into action, the athletic youth laid into the middle aged, out of shape, seven foot tall professor. With fists flying, he attacked Nimnul with surprising savagery.

“Richard, stop!” Lori shouted.

“Crikey mate, we want to beat him, not kill him!” Monty added.

The super-sized professor laughed at Richard’s onslaught. “You think you can defeat me now, Richard? You’re as much an annoying fly as you ever were!”

Nimnul pushed his way through the lab, knocking Richard aside as he headed for Gadget and the ray gun. Lori was ready, though. She dumped a container of ball bearings into his path and Nimnul began slipping and sliding.

“Gadget, can you change him back to his regular size?” Lori asked.

Gadget was already at work, repairing Nimnul’s modifications. “I’ll have it ready in a jiffy and with a few modifications of my own!”

Monty watched the giant scientist yelling in frustration and muttered until his breath, “Don’t say it...don’t say it...”

“What? You mean it should work with—”

“Just keep working on it, luv!”

Nimnul finally righted himself. “Turn me into a midget will you? I’ll make you pay for belittling the great Norton Nimnul! I’ll make them all pay!”

Richard had found a janitor’s bucket and now he’d filled it with water and floor cleanser. Nimnul laughed again when he saw Richard coming with it.

“You going to clean up this one-horse town?” Nimnul challenged.

“No, just one kooky mad scientist!” Richard threw the bucket at Nimnul’s feet and the concoction spread. Nimnul started at Richard but lost his footing at once. He went down, his rear finding both the floor cleanser and the ball bearings. Momentum built up and the oversized villain whacked a wall with his head and went down.

Monty smiled a grand smile. “That’s the best that ol’ crook’s looked in ages!”

“He’s out cold!” Chip said. “How’s the progress coming on the ray gun, Gadget?”

“Almost there, Chip. Richard, could you set me up in front of Nimnul so I can get a clean shot?” Gadget asked.

Richard picked up Gadget and the device and carried them over to Nimnul as he then propped up the mad scientist against the wall. “There you go, Gadget. I hope you make it hurt.”

Gadget looked up into his eyes. “Is that what you really want, Richard? I mean, he may not be a nice person but you’ve been a Rescue Ranger for years now. You know that it’s better to want to help people, even those who may not deserve it.”

“He didn’t destroy your life.”

Lori walked over next to him. “He didn’t destroy us, Richard. He only delayed our happiness. What he did to you was terrible, but you need to let go now, dear.”

Richard’s hands balled into fists and he snarled for a few moments, then lowered his hands. “So he gets to walk away again, as always.”

“And so do you, Richard, away from it!” Lori said, turning his face toward her. “You’re not the impressionable young man you were when he tricked you into becoming a fly. You’re a strong, caring person and he can’t rob you of that. He may never change, but he’ll also never change you. Hate’s a poison that kills you, and does nothing to him. The best revenge you can have is living a happy life, free of him.”

Richard’s mind filled with all manner of thoughts of violent revenge, but slowly the hate faded as he looked into Lori’s eyes and saw the pleading looks of the other Rangers. He was the better man, and Nimnul could never take that away.

“Okay, do what you gotta do, Gadget. But let’s just get out of here before he wakes up.”

Gadget saluted. “Roger, Richard!”

Dale scratched his head. “Isn’t that the name of some songwriter guy?”

Before Chip could correct him, Gadget made a final adjustment on the ray gun and fired. This time a greenish-blue ray enveloped the professor, shrinking him down to Ranger size once more—and then turned him into a squat little mouse.”

“What the heck?” Monty could scarce believe what he’d seen. “Gadget, I think your machine is broken!”

“Why’d he turn into a mouse, of all creatures?” Chip asked.

Gadget dusted her hands off. “Because that’s what I set it to do.”

Everyone turned to look at Gadget, who wore a satisfied smile.

“But why?” Richard asked. “It doesn’t make any sense, he hates mice.”

Nimnul woke up then, bleary-eyed at first. “What happened...what did you...NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Nimnul pointed to the image of himself, reflected in a nearby wall mirror. “What did you do? I’m a...a vermin! Change me back! Change me back!”

Gadget hopped down from her wooden stool then came close to Nimnul until only he could hear her. “Nimnul, against my better judgment, I’ve done what the human world couldn’t. I’ve given you a second chance. This is a world where you have no criminal record, no one knows you. A world where you can start over with a clean slate. The choice is yours, you can build another Metamorpho Ray easily enough and become human again, but I wanted to give you the second chance everyone deserves.”

Nimnul pulled his knees up into his chest and cried—whether it was out of self-pity or remorse, the others couldn’t tell.

Richard looked on and shook his head. “And to think I once worried what you thought of me. Okay Gadget, let’s finish what we came to do here.”

With Richard and Lori’s help, they soon had the ray gun set up again. The two humans sat on one of the lab’s work tables and held hands.

Lori looked down at the little mouse that was Nimnul with sympathy. “Poor, pitiful man. All he’s cared about is himself, and now look where he is. I’m glad you found some friends who know what caring is all about, Richard.”

Richard hugged the love of his life, sighing happily. “I can’t believe I found you again, Lori. No matter what happens next, I shall truly be happy always.”

“Okay, let’s see,” Gadget said, working through the Metamorpho Ray’s list. “Magpie...mallard...meadowlark...merlin...”

“Don’t turn ‘em into wizards, Gadget!” Dale warned.

“That’s a type of bird, stupid!” Chip said.

Dale crossed his arms and stuck out his lower lip, defiant. “And now I bet you’ll tell me that Meadowlark’s a bird too when everybody knows he was a Globetrotter!”

“He was a—oh, forget it.”

Gadget continued searching. “Okay, meadowlark—er, mockingbird! Are you two sure that’s the one you want?”

The two humans looked at each other and nodded.

“Yes, Gadget, we’re ready,” Richard said.

Gadget pulled her goggles down over her eyes. “Here goes!”

Gadget pushed a button on the ray gun and this time a bluish-purple tinted ray lashed out at its targets. Richard and Lori glowed with the energies coming out of the large machine and then in a blinding flash they were humans no more. When the Rangers could look again, Richard was feathered and flapping his way through the air.

His flight was ungainly, as fly wings are very different from bird wings, but he quickly got the hang of avian flight. “This is amazing! But now I’m going to have to go through molting.”

Lori spread what were her arms and saw her dark gray and white plumage. “It’s real—it really happened! I’m a mimus polyglottos!”

“I thought she was a mockingbird,” Dale said.

“That’s the Latin for mockingbird, Dale,” Gadget corrected.

“A Latin mockingbird? I didn’t know they came from there.”

“Give it up, Gadget,” Chip advised.

Lori started to sing, as did Richard. Lori in particular was able to sing many birds’ songs, knowing them by heart. The Rangers smiled up as the two of them flew around the room.

“Richard, this is tremendous!” Lori shouted. “It’s like a dream come true.”

Richard looked over to the woman he loved, now no physical resemblance to the way he used to know her. But the red hair was still in place and when he looked into her eyes that part of her still was unchanged, as bottomless and captivating as they always had been.

He took her wings in his and smiled. “Lori, remember, we can change back any time.”

“I know. Let’s not talk about that anymore. I’m ready to go home.”

Richard smacked his head with his wings. “Home! What am I going to say to my folks? I suddenly appear as if from the dead, then I go and vanish on them again and what are you going to tell your family, Lori?”

“I’ve already told mine. I sent in my letter of resignation to the museum and I called my parents and told them I’d be moving to New York with you. They live in Europe, so we don’t have to worry about visitors that often. As for your parents, why don’t you go ahead and write to them now? You can post it on our way out of town.”

“I don’t know, it seems wrong to do that. I think I should do this face to face.”

Lori studied him as she always did when she was questioning of something. “Are you sure you want to do that? Your parents don’t know anything about this. If I hadn’t been prepared for it, it would have freaked me out.”

“You’re right, there is no way to explain this. That may be the best course of action. But maybe coming back as a human now and then might be a good idea.”

“I’m okay with it if you’re okay.”

Gadget meanwhile had the Rangers move the mirror that Nimnul had seen himself in where it was in front of the ray gun.

“Okay, right there. Stand back!” she ordered, then fired the ray again and the beam bounced off and struck the ray gun, shrinking it down to itty bitty size.

Gadget picked it up in her hand. “Now we can change you back anytime we want to.”

“Change me now!” Nimnul pleaded. “Change me!”

Gadget looked at Nimnul with soberness in those marvelous blue eyes. “Only you can change yourself—inside or outside. Think hard, second chances don’t always come around again.”

As they left, Richard flew to the lab’s light switch and jumped down on it to turn it off. In that action he completed a five-year circle that finally allowed him to put the darkest chapter of his life behind him. He was determined to do as Lori said and live a happy life now, free from the domination that Nimnul had enjoyed over him.

Chip looked up to see Richard flying over him. “What do we call you now—Richard, Zipper, something else?”

Richard thought about it a moment. “Lori’s always going to call me Richard, but you’ve always thought of me as Zipper. I’d like you go on thinking of me that way.”

“You got it, Zipper. Rescue Rangers, away!”


It was another day before Richard’s parents received the letter in the mail. When his mother read it, her husband could see the mix of joy and sadness in her face.

“What is it, dear? Something upset you?” the man asked.

“It’s from Richard, and he’s left us again,” she said. “But I think he’s happy now. Read it, father.”

Dear mother and father,


It was a true joy to see you again and make amends for the time I was away. I’m sorry I couldn’t stay longer, but some things I just can’t explain. Lori and I are together again, and we’re happy.


We’re going to travel some and see if we’re really as compatible as we think we are. If so, then perhaps we’ll return in a year or so and you can join me for a wedding. If not, well at least we tried.


Don’t worry about me. I’m doing well, and I have a good group of friends I’m living with who care about me a great deal. They followed me to Chicago, just to be sure I was safe. I’m working with them now to help make life better for those around me, and I think that’s what you meant when you told me I’d know what a truly rich man is someday.


Tell Felicity I said hello and not to worry about me,


Your son,




The humans in the room didn’t even take note of the fact that Felicity began purring as the note was read. The man purred in his own way as well, a contented smile on his face.

“I think you’re right, dear. I think he is happy. Now we really should get downtown. They won’t hold up the ladies’ aid meeting for you forever, even if you are the president.”

He folded the note and carefully replaced it in its envelope. Even as he did, he smiled as he stood and offered his arm to his wife. As they headed out the door, escorted by their butler, the trilling sounds of mockingbirds filled the air above them.

“Oh, how nice,” the lady remarked. “I’ve always enjoyed the song of a mockingbird.”

As the old couple headed for town, the mockingbirds flew and migrated east. It was a strange direction for such birds to go, but anyone who might glance up at that moment would have seen a stranger sight still in two rodent-sized planes escorting them.

For one bird in particular, all was right with the world now. He had what he’d so long wanted, and now he had someone to share it all with.

“Hey Zipper!” Dale called out from the RangerWing. “We’ll have another picnic when we get home to celebrate! You and Lori will be guests of honor!”

“Once we drop off you-know-who, that is,” Monty said, pointing to the bespectacled and mustache-wearing mouse next to him. “You know, I could really get used to seeing you like this.”

“Oh, shut up!” Nimnul groused.

Zipper soared over next to the Wing. “The picnic idea sounds great, Dale. And this time I won’t be forgotten.”

Lori bumped him from above, playful and laughing. “From now on, you won’t ever be forgotten.”

Zipper smiled and looked up. “Neither will you.”

And on they flew.