The Case of the Gold Thief: Epilogue
by HA

On board the transport heading towards Shadow Axis, Number Nine prepared his report for Mr. E. Having given Number One the gist of recent events in Redington, he was aware that his leader had a fairly good understanding of this recent failure by now, but it was standard operating procedure to prepare a report, especially when more detail was needed. Mojo beeped loudly to its master as he added more details.

"Yes, Mojo," Number Nine said, keeping his eyes on the computerized notepad. "We will get her next time."

On the Elite Eight member's right, an unmasked Number Nine-Nine giggled in a low maniacal tone as he held a picture of Bart's face. His other hand held a nail which occasionally added another scratch to the newest Stranger's face. "Such a pretty face you have, Bart," he whispered to the picture as he stroked his scar. "When I'm through with you, you won't have it any more along with your limbs." He stroked his scar harder. "Just you wait, just you wait," he intoned, grinning as his giggles grew louder.

As his nephew continued talking and giggling to the picture, Number Nine made a mental note to see Number Eight in the main laboratory once he returned to Shadow Axis. Glancing at what he wrote so far, he also reminded himself to look into special projects, both his and those done in conjunction with Number Eight. "Perhaps it is time we sped things up in research, eh, Mojo?"

Jumping up and down on its master's shoulder, Mojo beeped out its agreement.

* * * * *

"So, Number Nine failed me," Mr. E said as he walked down one of the many brightly-lit corridors located inside Shadow Axis. Chimera walked besides him, occasionally purring.

Keeping pace behind the ENIGMA leader, Number One gulped. "I'm afraid so, sir."

"What should I be expecting from Number Nine's report?" Mr. E asked.

"Well, he mentioned fighting some kids that were like the ones Number Eight encountered," Number One said.

"Hmmmmm, I believe our special projects will be accelerated if I know those two," Mr. E said thoughtfully. "Any word on that nephew of his?"

"Number Nine did mention he's still obsessed with that friend of the Holmes girl," the second-in-command answered. "He feels he isn't ready to meet you yet."

"What about his physical status?" Mr. E inquired.

"Still suffering from occasional seizures," Number One reported.

"Inform Number Eight of that. Anything else?" Mr. E asked as the group stopped before a large door.

"Oh yes. Number Nine did say our client is very displeased about our failure to get the fungus," Number One recalled.

Nigel stepped ahead and pressed a button next to the door. "Has our client made any other complaints?" Mr. E asked as the door opened.

"No, not really," Number One answered as the small group entered a large chamber. Nigel turned on the lights, revealing the almost emptiness of the room. Number One eyed the floor, which was mostly composed of colored tiles.

"Good." Mr. E walked over to a nearby gun rack. "Looks like there won't be another 'accident' this time." After looking over the selections available to him, he pulled out a rifle. "This will do."

As Mr. E took his place behind a line on the floor, Nigel took out a pair of goggles and ear protectors and presented them to his employer. Mr. E took off his dark glasses and gave them to Nigel, then put on the goggles and ear protectors. The elderly manservant walked over to a control panel located on the right of the room. "Ready, sir?" he asked.

Mr. E aimed the rifle towards the far wall. "Pull!" he yelled.

Nigel pressed a button. Number One and Chimera watched as a floor tile opened quickly and tossed out a small doll resembling Shirley Holmes. As it flew upward, Mr. E took aim and pulled the trigger. An energy pulse shot out of the long barrel and hit its target.

"Pull!" Mr. E yelled, and another Shirley doll flew out from another panel. The ENIGMA leader shot it with ease. Number One watched nervously as his leader shot doll after doll. Chimera meowed loudly, apparently with approval.

"Feeling better, sir?" Nigel inquired after a while.

With a cold smile crossing his face, Mr. E gazed upon the charred pieces of the Shirley targets on the floor. "Almost. This is rather therapeutic, really." He leveled the rifle again and prepared for the next one. "Pull!"

* * * * *

Bo watched with a mix of disgust and amazement as Hiroshi stuffed lumpia after lumpia into his mouth. "Um, is he always like this?" he asked. He, Shirley, and Blake were sitting at a table in the Changs' restaurant for dinner. After everyone got cleaned up at home, Bart and the Strangers still in Redington had invited them to celebrate their latest victory over ENIGMA. The table was laden with platters and bowls of rice, fried rice, lumpia shanghai, Chinese-style fried chicken, adobo, and other Chinese and Filipino dishes.

"Hai," Rika answered.

"That's a definite," Ivan added.

Rolling her eyes, Gwen sighed. "He eats like...never mind."

"A pig?" Blake suggested with a grin.

"Actually, I was thinking of someone I once knew," Gwen admitted, letting her mouth turn into a frown.

"Hey," Hiroshi said, spitting out chewed-up ground pork and carrots, "I've been through a lot recently."

"Tell me about it," Bo said as he ate a drumstick. "Killer robots and psycho kids," he remarked, looking at Shirley. "Remember when our cases didn't involve anything that didn't come from sci-fi stuff?"

"I recall past cases involving alien abductions, alleged poltergeists, and alien children disguised as human adults," Shirley said matter-of-factly as she dined on rice and adobo.

"Yeah, but when was the last time we had to deal with killer robots?" Bo asked.

"We still lived," Blake said, taking a break from shoveling fried rice into his mouth. "Bo, you've got to relax," he told his friend with a smile.

"Unfortunately, we can't relax," Shirley stated. "This recent encounter with ENIGMA shows their technology is highly advanced. We shouldn't take them so lightly."

"Great," Bo said.

"Don't worry," Rika said. "We in the Strangers' Club will be there to help you out."

"Speaking of Strangers..." Shirley noted the three empty chairs at their table. "When will the rest of our party come back?"

"When they're done with their business," Rika said, smiling a little. The other Strangers followed her lead, and Shirley began silently making hypotheses about the supposed business.

* * * * *

"So it was just a Scooby?" C.D. asked the person on the screen of his comlink as he stood outside the restaurant.

Lucy Knight nodded. "Yep. The whole ghost thing was just a cover for a drug smuggling ring."

"How's everyone?" C.D. asked.

"Fine," Lucy answered. "It's the smugglers who got the worst of it, especially after what we did to them. Honestly, those guys didn't stand a chance against Katrina, Marcus, and me."

"That's good to hear," C.D. said, smiling.

"So, um..." Lucy fidgeted on the screen. "How were things in Redington?"

"Just helped Shirley beat one of those ENIGMA goons," C.D. answered.

"What about Bart?" Lucy asked.

C.D. looked up briefly and spotted Bart and Susan talking near the back of the restaurant. "I think he's going to make it as a Stranger," he said. "He really gave it to that ENIGMA kid."

"What about you?" Lucy could not hide the blush appearing on her face. "You didn't do anything rash, right?"

"I did get the drop on those ENIGMA agents before the others caught up," C.D. admitted.

"Cody, you didn't try to..."

"No, I didn't. The end result would've been the same if I did, though."

"Are you sure you didn't?"

"I swear to you, Lucy. This time, I wanted to come back alive," C.D. said.

"You still...?" Lucy began.

"Yeah, I do," C.D. replied, his eyes looking downcast. He gazed briefly skyward. "I do a lot."

"I'm glad you're okay, Cody," Lucy said softly.

"I'm glad you're fine too, Lucy," C.D. said, smiling gently.

"Um..." Lucy gulped. "I'll see you later, then."

"Yeah. See you." C.D. watched as the screen went blank. Sighing, he went back inside, leaving Bart and Susan alone.

Bart stared at the object in Susan's hand. "Are you sure?"

"Don't worry," Susan said, placing it in Bart's hand. "It was my mom's idea."

Bart studied the simple-looking ring in the palm of his hand. "Does she really want to part with this? This was your dad's wedding ring."

Susan bowed her head. "I guess she felt she needed to move on," she said sadly. A few seconds later, her mood brightened. "Besides, we'll match," she added, showing Bart her ring.

Bart slipped the ring on. "I thought people who were going steady wore pins or something like that," he mused as he looked over his hand.

"You started it," Susan said with a grin.

"Point taken," Bart said, smiling back. "Let's go back inside and show everyone."

* * * * *

"Hey, look, it's Mr. Extreme," Hiroshi remarked as C.D. rejoined the group.

C.D. examined the table. "Amazing. There's still some food left," he quipped, eyeing Hiroshi.

"I take it everything went well," Rika said.

"Yeah," C.D. said before grabbing a piece of Chinese chicken and biting it.

"So when will she...?" Hiroshi revised his query quickly as C.D. glared at him. "When will they be back?"

C.D. swallowed. "Probably tomorrow or the next day. Lucy said it was a Scooby."

"Scooby?" Shirley asked.

"It's what we call a fake supernatural occurrence that is used to cover up illegal activity," Ivan clarified.

"Oh, Scooby," Bo said, understanding the term. "Scooby Doo."

"Pardon me?" Shirley said, a little puzzled.

"You know, Scooby Doo." Hiroshi cleared his throat. "Raggy! Raggy! Rum wick!" he said, sounding like the animated cowardly Great Dane

Everyone except Shirley and C.D. broke out into laughter at the impression. C.D. just ate some fried rice while Shirley stared at Hiroshi blankly. "What's so funny?" the young detective asked.

Blake caught his breath. "Shirley, someday I'll have to make you watch all the Scooby Doo cartoons I taped while I was living in California."

"You taped Scooby Doo?" Bo asked, giving Blake a weird look.

"Well, Sherlock Holmes isn't the only detective I like," Blake admitted sheepishly.

Bart and Susan's return saved Blake from explaining his interest in Scooby Doo any further. Bart pulled out Susan's chair for her before sitting down.

"A interesting gift," Shirley remarked to Bart, eyeing his hand.

"What?" Hiroshi exclaimed, darting his eyes towards the ring on Bart's finger. "Oh no, she's got you hooked, Bartman! Bye bye freedom! Hello, ball-and-chain!"

Bart bent his head down to hide the red blush forming on his face. "I wanted him to have a ring so we'd match," Susan explained. "And don't make me start about y..."

"Here comes the bride..." Hiroshi began to sing, interrupting his friend. Unfortunately for him, Susan stomped his foot, and the musical effort ended in a restrained "AAAGH!"

"Looks like Bart's engaged," Blake remarked with a smile.

The pain in his foot fading, Hiroshi dared another wisecrack. "So, when's the wedding, you two?" he asked, nudging Bart lightly with his elbow while flashing a mischievous grin.

Bart felt his face get hotter. Susan gulped and kept her eyes on the bowl of adobo.

"Yes, that is an interesting question," Rika remarked, rubbing her chin while her mouth formed a small grin.

"Et tu, Rika?" Susan said.

"I have some ideas for a wedding dress," Gwen chimed in.

Ivan looked over both Bart and Susan closely, focusing especially on their faces. "I believe the children will be healthy and attractive according to current standards."

"What?" Susan exclaimed, her face getting redder.

"Guys, we're not going to get married tomorrow," Bart said quickly.

Hiroshi shrugged. "True, but you never know," he said, displaying another mischievous grin.

"He does have a point," Susan admitted, smiling at Bart. The amateur paranormalist smiled back, and almost everyone present said "Awwwwwwwwww."

Ignoring the light-hearted talk around him, C.D. continued to eat. As everyone else at the table continued to talk to Bart and Susan regarding their "engagement," Shirley silently contemplated ENIGMA's recent crime in Redington.

"Shirl?" Bo brought the young detective back to the present. "You okay?"

"I am," she answered.

"What's on your mind?" Bo asked.

"Oh, just something," Shirley answered. Phasing out the surrounding conversation, she returned her focus to what she saw in the forest.

* * * * *

Upon entering her home, Shirley found her family assembled in the living room watching the news. Heading towards the stairs, she got a glimpse of Inspector Hewitt talking to a reporter as ENIGMA agents were led away in handcuffs. She made it to her room after briefly answering her parents' inquiries regarding the dinner she had with her friends. Wearing her pajamas, she took out her journal and reflected on what happened recently.

"Once again, the ENIGMA organization attempted to perpetrate a crime in Redington while also trying to dispose of me," she wrote. "Fortunately, they failed again on both counts, although they came close. Thanks to Bart, I now know a little more about this mysterious society which is now dedicated to eliminating me. From what I've observed, the Elite Eight are indeed ENIGMA's elite thanks to their special abilities. It's a good thing the Strangers were prepared to take on this new threat. Bart has found himself good company.

"I am sure Mr. E hasn't given up on his goal of killing me. So far, two members of the Elite Eight have revealed themselves to me. I wonder about the remaining members and whatever abilities they possess. Number Nine was correct. There will be a next time. With their advanced technology and agents like the Elite Eight and Number Nine-Nine, ENIGMA remains a powerful force to be reckoned with.

"On a lighter note, I'm happy to report that Bart and Susan March are officially a couple, expressing their affection for one another with rings they gave each other. Eventually, mostly everyone present teased them about their relationship. Marriage even came up."

Shirley paused momentarily. As her pencil hovered over the page, she started recalling how Blake took her hand at the museum and in the forest. She remembered how firm his hand felt against hers. Blushing, she returned the memory to her internal backup storage facility and resumed writing.

"Besides the robots and superhumans, something else perked my interest. On the way to Number Nine, the others and I passed a large number of fallen ENIGMA agents in the forest. I spotted something unusual lying next to one of them. Rika interrupted me before I could pick it up, but I can reconstruct its appearance from memory. It looked like a white feather, but it was abnormally large and didn't look like it came from any of the local birds. A curious thing, indeed.

"Now I regret not getting that feather when I had the chance. Rika's interruption seemed too coincidental. Did she know where it came from? I believe she did, and she's not alone. Apparently, the other Strangers knew, including Bart. When I look at it, I'm dealing with two groups with secrets to hide, and one of them is on my side. Nevertheless, I'll learn more about the Strangers' Club as well as ENIGMA."

Finished, Shirley put away her journal and climbed into bed. She closed her eyes and eventually drifted into sleep, hoping a certain silver-haired little girl would not show up in her dreams and a young man with neatly-cut light-brown hair would appear in them.

* * * * *

In his bedroom at the Knight residence, Arthur Kingston sat at his computer. The monitor displayed pictures drawn by Rika of the various robots and machines encountered by the Strangers and Shirley.

Arthur dipped his red pipe into a bowl of soap water. "Not good," he remarked before blowing a few bubbles. "They've started using them here. What if...?"

As the pipe was replaced into the bowl, a small ringing came from the pocket of the Strangers' leader's pocket. Reaching into it, Arthur pulled out his comlink and used its phone mode to answer. "Yes?" he asked, and he heard the other speaker. "Ah, good. Has the evidence been destroyed?" He listened to the reply. "Excellent. It wouldn't be good if anyone found them, especially for you, my friend." The other side asked a question. "No, not yet. Shirley doesn't have to know yet. Besides, it's more interesting for her to try to find out on her own. I wouldn't want to discourage the detective in her." He checked the time on his monitor. "I'd better go to bed before Uncle Nathan and Aunt Regan start wondering why I'm still up at this hour. I'll see you later. Good night."

Hanging up, Arthur closed the picture files and shut down his computer. Getting up from his chair, he stretched his limbs. As he did, he eyed the framed photograph sitting next to the soap water bowl. He reached for it and picked it up. His eyes focused on a man, a woman, and a little boy standing between them. Large-lensed glasses sat on the boy's nose. Arthur kept his gaze on the man and woman, and a further examination of the Strangers' Club's president would have revealed he shared features of the couple like the woman's brown hair and the man's nose. After staring at them for a while, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Exhaling and opening his eyes, he replaced the picture and went off to get ready for bed.