Chapter thirty-two: the gift in the lab

The welcome party was finally over, the Hawkins stood in the porch to bid farewell to all their guests one by one; the last to leave were the Doppler. The children hugged tightly their godparents while Amelia and Delbert congratulated Jim again. After boarding the family ship, they set out for the mansion. It could be said that the evening was entertaining for everyone; at least it was for the children, who would talk about the party for a long time. Their parents, on the other hand, remained strangely quiet during the journey home. The children thought they were tired for dancing so much.

Nevertheless, Amelia and Delbert's mood didn't get better, not even after a week. The children had noticed something was bothering their father before their first trip to the spaceport, their mother started to act in a similar way when they visited the academy but the situation got worse after the welcome party. For whatever reason their parents were worried, it seemed to be very serious because they looked sad or angry all the time and rarely smiled. But it didn't matter how much the children tried, their parents refused to admit something was wrong. Besides, Amelia and Delbert began to watch their children like hawks; they didn't lose sight of them for a second. They couldn't go out with their friends anymore if their mother or father didn't tag along.

As if their parents' behavior wasn't bizarre enough, what confused the children completely was Amelia's unexpected announcement about a voyage to the Aniketus system, which meant their vacation trip was no-go. Their mother wouldn't be there to see Rose performing at her ballet recital, or to take Katherine to watch the Orcas, and of course Derek didn't like to hear they won't go to the planet where his Father grew up and also where his hero Captain Lotharius lived once. The only explanation she gave them for this sudden change was that the Armada entrusted this official task to her. It didn't make any sense to the children because their mother retired from service years ago and they knew too well her dislike for anything related to the Armada. Maybe if Amelia had been a bit honest her children wouldn't have felt so disappointed.

Oddly enough, the only one who seemed to understand was Victoria and she decided to put an end to the depressing atmosphere that had been brewing in the mansion. One night she stood in front of Katherine's room and knocked on the door.

"Come in." the dark brown-haired little one said.

Victoria entered the room. "You have a minute?"

Katherine nodded. Suddenly, she noticed her sister was carrying several cardboards, sheets of paper, crayons, a pair of scissors and glue. "What do you need that for?"

"Mom's been feeling rather sad lately and I came up with an idea to cheer her up but I'm going to need great-great-grandmother's medallion." the light brown-haired explained.

"Well, I don't have it, this week it's Rose's turn to take care of it." Katherine commented. "What do you have in mind?"

"I'll tell you on the way." Victoria responded giving the cardboards to her. "Come on, let's go find her."

"So that's why you took the medallion the other day before breakfast," the dark brown-haired said when they reached Rose's room. "if you had told me back then, I wouldn't have…"

"…made a fuss?" her sister interrupted her with a teensy weensy bit of resentment in her tune.

"Well, fuss is a strong word for it." Katherine answered ashamed.

"Thrown a tantrum, then?" Victoria inquired arching an eyebrow.

"NO!" she denied offended. "Look, I'm sorry, okay? I was worried because I thought I had lost the medallion and I reacted that way because you always take my stuff without asking."

"I just wanted to find out how the medallion's mechanism works," her sister replied. "how was I supposed to know you'll make such a big deal out of it?" when she saw Katherine was about to argue, she raised her hand to stop her. "Yes, I know it was my fault for not telling you first but that's water under the bridge now, let's just talk to Rose alright?"

The blonde-haired little one stood at her door frame when she heard someone calling her. "Good evening, darlings, may I help you?" she was already wearing her nightgown and slippers.

"Actually, you may. We've got work to do and we need you." Victoria said.

"Oh dear, I'd be delighted to help but I'm kind of busy right now. I'm waiting for Mrs. Wright; she's going to make me a new hairstyle to look fabulous tomorrow when we say goodbye to mom at the ferry station."

"That's going to take you all night!" the light brown-haired exclaimed. "Why do you always need to fix your hair so much?"

"A lady always has to look her best wherever she goes." Rose answered.

Her sister rolled her eyes and sighed. "Uh-huh, whatever. Listen, we want to use the great-great-grandmother's medallion to give mom a parting gift but we must do it together or it won't work. I don't think there will be enough time tomorrow so we'll have to finish it tonight."

Rose didn't like the idea of calling off her hair session but since it was for a good cause she accepted without arguing. "Alright, you convinced me, but why is it necessary to do it together?"

"You'll know when we find Derek." Victoria answered giving her the crayons and the scissors. "Let's roll, don't forget the medallion."

The Felinids went to their brother's room but he wasn't there so they started searching the mansion. There was no trace of him anywhere and even their parents didn't seem to know his whereabouts either.

"Blast, where the blankety blank is that boy?" Victoria said seething with frustration looking at the time on the big and ancient pendulum clock in the living room. "Bedtime is almost upon us."

"Whatever you had planned, we should have done it earlier." Rose mentioned.

The light brown-haired put her fists on her waist. "I know but I just remembered about the gift this morning when I was leaving for swimming practice. Once I returned I was hoping we could finish the gift but then you had to spend the whole afternoon at Diana's place."

"Hey, don't blame me!" Rose exclaimed frowning. "I didn't know what you were up to. Come to think of it, I still don't."

"Stop fighting already!" the dark brown-haired little one asked them. "Victoria, I'm the one to blame, this wouldn't have happened if I hadn't made a fuss over the medallion." she lowered her head and sobbed slightly. "Forgive me."

Victoria quickly hugged Katherine. "Whoa, whoa, calm down, I'm not mad at you and that's no reason to cry, what's the matter?"

Her sister wiped off a tear. "Sorry, I've been feeling sad and worried since mom said she's leaving for a long time. I guess it's affecting me."

"Oh sweetie, we all feel the same" Rose tried to comfort her. "but you'll see, before you know it she'll be back and we'll have lots of fun together again."

They only managed to cheer up Katherine when they promised not to fight anymore and they restarted the search for their brother afterwards. While they were going upstairs to look again in the upper floor, they ran into the housekeeper who was carrying a basket of clothes.

"Good evening, girls. I'm almost done with the laundry, Miss Rose; I'll be with you in a minute."

"That won't be necessary, Mrs. Wright, I'm not going to fix my hair tonight." the blonde-haired little one said.

"Are you sure? I saw a hairstyle on a magazine that will definitely look amazing on you." Helen commented.

Rose exchanged glances with Victoria. "Yes, I'm sure."

"Mrs. Wright, do you know where Derek is?" Katherine inquired.

The Zirrelian rubbed her chin, thinking. "Hmm, to tell the truth I haven't seen him for a while. Last time we talked he said something about an experiment, does that help?"

"Yes it does, thank you Mrs. Wright." Victoria responded.

"I'm glad to be of service." Helen said with a smile before going back to her chores.

"Could you at least let her comb my hair?" Rose asked trying to subdue some wild hairs.

"There's no time," the light brown-haired little one answered. "we've got less than an hour to get through with this."

"This better be worth it," her sister warned her. "tomorrow my hair will be a horrible mess."

"Alas, a mess, tell the media, call a whinebulance." Victoria kidded.

The blonde-haired little one glared at her. "WHAT DID YOU SAY?!"

Suddenly, Katherine cleared her throat. Victoria quickly put an arm around Rose's neck and faked a smile showing her teeth. "We are not fighting, right Rosie?"

Their sister stared at them with narrowed eyes for a few seconds and then continued walking.

"This isn't over yet." the blonde-haired little one whispered.

"Unfortunately." the light brown-haired little one whispered back.

The Felinids crossed the hallways until they reached the other side of the mansion and stopped at the foot of a spiral staircase that led to the attic; or how they liked to call it, Derek's Laboratory. The little Canid always was craving for new knowledge but he wasn't happy with just reading books, he loved to learn through experience and put to test theories; especially about Physics, Chemistry and Mechanics. However, his passion for science caused troubles on more than one occasion, like the time he wanted to study the physic of a moving ball near glass vases, or when he tried to analyze a chemical reaction after using his mother's expensive perfumes, not to mention the time he wanted to test his mechanical skills by successfully dismantling and unsuccessfully reassembling the engine of the family ship. Due to the aforementioned incidents, his parents forbade him to run any kind of experiment in the mansion but it was like asking his heart to stop beating. The solution was to find a place where he could work in secret without bothering anyone.

Victoria began to go upstairs but when she was halfway she realized her sisters hadn't moved. "Are you waiting for an invitation? Come on, chop-chop!"

"Mom and dad will get angry if they find out we are in the attic." Katherine pointed out.

"And I don't want to go in there," Rose replied. "it must be dusty and full sharp objects, I don't want my nightgown to get stained or ripped."

"For Britana's sake, are you serious? We don't have time for this," Victoria responded exasperated. "Derek said he hid his lab up there and the attic is too big to find it on my own."

"How do you even know he's in the lab?" the dark brown-haired little one inquired.

"You know the saying: what you look for is always in the last place you check, now stop saying nonsense and MOVE IT!"

Victoria's arguments weren't very convincing as usual but they agreed to help her with the gift so they had no choice but to follow her. Attics had the reputation of being gloomy and scary places but theirs seemed to be making extra efforts to look sinister. One step inside and they felt like the darkness was trying to gobble them up, not even their powerful Felinid sight could pierce it.

The light brown-haired little one tried to turn on the light but the switch wasn't working. "Just peachy." she complained sarcastically.

"I'll go get a flashlight." Katherine volunteered eager to get out of there.

"Wait, I've got something much better." Rose said taking out of her pocket a little fabric bag, she opened it to grab the Turborium crystal Jim gave her and the room was illuminated with a yellow light.

The dark brown-haired little one gasped when she saw a huge headless shape right in front of her. Victoria put a hand on her shoulder when she saw what it was. "Relax, it's just dad's old spacesuit. Look, the helmet is on the floor."

"Why in fashion's name did he buy such a monstrosity?" the blonde-haired little one asked shocked.

"Heck if I know." Victoria answered shrugging. "It was a two-headed saleswoman who persuade him to buy it but I think he was tricked." she suddenly stared at Rose. "By the way, why are you carrying that crystal?"

"It's my new amulet." her sister responded.

"Awww, that's so cute." the light brown-haired little one said smiling.

Rose frowned. "Is that a problem?"

"Enough!" Katherine interrupted them after she finally regained her breath. "Quit wasting time and let's find Derek already."

It was easier said than done because they didn't know where to begin. The attic was packed with old furniture and countless boxes full of stuff the Doppler had been gathering throughout the years (all covered in dust as Rose had feared). Amelia and Delbert didn't let them go in there because they thought it wasn't safe for children. Given the number of times they almost stepped on a loose nail or were crushed under a box while searching for the little Canid, their parents' concern wasn't unjustified. To complicate things even more, they had to look around in complete silence because if anyone heard they were in the attic, they would be scolded like there was no tomorrow and grounded for life. Fortunately, this allowed them to hear a soft hammering coming from a brick wall.

Victoria approached to investigate; the sound seemed to come from behind the wall so she started to search it with her hand.

Katherine arched an eyebrow. "What are you doing?"

"Derek once mentioned something about a secret door" she answered. "but I thought he was making that up." when she press a brick that stood out from the rest, a section of the wall opened and revealed a passage. The Felinids exchanged glances and went through it.

They entered a rectangular room with books scattered everywhere, there was a chalkboard with calculations written on it and a box of tools lying on a corner. Since there was light inside Rose put her crystal away.

Derek was seated in front of a table, hitting with a hammer what seemed to be a bronze sphere and when he heard steps he turned around. "Well, well, color me surprised, how did you get in?"

"Through the door, genius." Victoria responded. She folded her arms and checked the room from top to bottom. "I got to admit you weren't joking with this lab of yours, though I was expecting to find chemistry sets and a talking supercomputer."

"To begin with, I never said this was a lab," Derek clarified. "it's simply a place where I come to work in peace but I see that's not possible in this mansion."

"Where are we?" Katherine inquired curious.

"I think it's some kind of shelter." her brother explained. "Our mansion is really old, its construction dates back to the third War of Worlds."

"Does dad know about this place?" the dark brown-haired little one asked again.

"I doubt it, the passage was blocked when I found the entrance and probably no one has been here for centuries."

Victoria focused her attention on the sphere above the table. "Isn't that what mom bought for you at the curiosity shop?"

Derek grabbed it. "Yes it is; I'm trying to repair it."

His sister shook her head. "I still don't understand what you see in that thing; the clerk said he found it floating in space with dents and burnt, it's nothing but a piece of garbage."

"I beg to differ," he contradicted her. "putting aside the fact that it's made of a very unusual alloy, the technological sophistication of this device is quite impressive. Frankly, that clerk didn't know what he had in his hands."

"What's wrong with the Canids in this family?" she thought. "Can't they go to the spaceport without purchasing something useless?"

Derek put the sphere back on the table. "And what are you doing in my 'lab', if I may ask?"

Victoria proceeded to explain in detail her idea. Then, she asked Rose to give Derek the medallion.

"Yes, I think it's possible to modify the medallion." he said inspecting it. "I estimate… it would take… thirty minutes approximately."

"Make that twenty minutes," his sister asked him. "in the meantime we'll paint the posters."

The children started to prepare the gift for their mother and they finished it right before bedtime.