Apologetic A/N: Yeah, I know it's been much longer than four months since I posted the last chapter. I had a major case of writer's block. I had a basic idea of what I wanted to happen, but I had trouble getting it out in just the right way. I've actually had everything here typed up since August. I wanted to make the chapter longer, but last night as I was looking it over and trying to figure out what to write next, I just said, screw it, my readers have waited long enough. So…I don't know if this is worth the wait, but it's certainly better than nothing.
You're looking good just like a snake in the grass.
One of these days you're gonna break your glass.
-ELO, "Don't Bring Me Down"
"You have to go to school, Lilo."
"But the ship-"
"The adults will handle it," Nani said firmly.
Lilo met Stitch's dark eyes. They both knew that the creature they had heard that night probably had something to do with the ship's disappearance. But if they told any of the others what they'd heard, they'd have to explain why they were in the grounded vessel.
Nani nodded to Stitch, oblivious to his dilemma. "And Stitch, and any cousin that wants to help." Nani shoved Lilo's backpack into her arms and shooed her out the door. "Have fun at school. Learn a lot."
"Fine," grumbled Lilo, seeing she had no choice. "Good luck you guys," she added, before Nani closed the door. Sighing, Lilo descended the porch stairs and crossed the empty lawn. She inspected the barren patch for a few minutes, searching for clues. She was hoping to find a footprint or hair or anything else the thief might have left. She saw nothing, so she went over to Dib's house to see if he could give her any ideas.
She rang his doorbell, and he answered promptly. In spite of her stress, Lilo noticed that Dib was wearing the shorts she'd helped him pick out the previous day. At least she no longer had to worry that her new friend would get heat stroke.
"Hi Lilo. What's wrong?"
Either Dib was very perceptive, or Lilo's face was easy to read.
"I already sent Bonnie and Clyde to Detroit, if that's what you're worried about," added Dib. "I used express shipping, so they should get there in two days."
"Oh." Lilo blinked. "Mahalo, Dib. But that's not the problem. Jumba and Pleakley's ship was stolen," she explained.
Dib's eyes widened. "Oh man, I know who did it!"
"That was fast," said Lilo, raising her eyebrows. "Who do you think it is?"
A dark look crossed Dib's sunburned face as he gazed at the sky.
Lilo furrowed her brow. "But you said he left Earth."
"I thought he did, but maybe that's what he wanted me to think."
"How can you be so sure it was him?" asked Lilo.
"I knew that metal tapping was familiar last night, but I didn't make the connection until just now. It sounded just like Zim's PAK legs."
"But what would he want with Jumba's ship?"
"I'll bet he wants to use Jumba's inventions to conquer Earth."
Lilo shook her head. "I don't think there's anything in the ship that could do that."
"Maybe so, but Zim doesn't know that."
"So do you think he's still on Earth?"
"Definitely." Dib nodded.
Lilo still wasn't quite convinced, but she didn't have anything else to go on. "Where should we start looking?"
"I don't know." Dib's gaze slid into the distance as he thought. "I don't think he'd stick around here. Too much water."
"All right, it's a start." She craned her neck to look past Dib into the house. "Can I use your phone to call Reuben and update him on everything? Then we can go to school. We'll be late, but this is more important."
Dib groaned softly. "I forgot about school. I guess I'll have to go. Gaz will miss it, though."
"She's still with Cobra?" asked Lilo, lifting her eyebrows.
Dib nodded. "Dad was supposed to get her, but I haven't seen him since last night."
Jumba left a voice mail with Professor Membrane to explain that he would be late for work, but he omitted the reason.
He had no idea who had stolen his ship, or where the thief could have gone. He made a mental list of everyone who knew that his ship was more than a Bed-but-not-breakfast. Most of his creations wouldn't have been inclined to take it out for a joyride, even if they had been switched back to evil.
The little neighbor girl seemed like she would have motivation to steal the vessel, but she might not have the knowledge or ability to pilot it. And she was supposed to stay at the CIA office until her father came for her in person, although it was possible that she had escaped (another less likely possibility was that Membrane had gotten her already).
Jumba called Agent Bubbles' mobile phone, but he only reached the voice mailbox that told how Cobra's engagements and whereabouts were classified.
"Oh for – What do you mean it's out of your jurisdiction?" Pleakley walked into the living room where Jumba stood. The Plorgonarian held his mobile in front of him, staring anxiously at the screen.
"I mean that it would be a waste of Earth's limited resources to search for a small spacecraft that could be anywhere in the galaxy," Cobra issued from the phone.
Jumba perked up, moving toward Pleakley. "Agent Bubbles, I need to ask you something."
"What is it, Dr. Jookiba?"
"Do you still have little neighbor girl – I mean, Gaz – in custody?"
"Gazlene is being detained in the office," confirmed Cobra. "I do not think she had anything to do with your ship's disappearance," he added, anticipating Jumba's question.
Nani walked up behind Jumba and Pleakley, glancing curiously at the phone. "Gaz spent the night in a jail cell?" she asked.
"She's been confined to a room with a bed since seventeen hundred hours last night."
Nani frowned. "You can't keep her there without a trial."
"For her own safety and the safety the public, we must detain her until her parent takes her back into custody, or until her hearing," Cobra answered calmly.
Nani took a deep breath. "Fine, it's not my problem. I'm just sorry their family is so dysfunctional."
Stitch leaped from rooftop to rooftop, trying to get through the town without being seen. He had to warn the cousins that the anti-detection device was gone. He grunted in frustration. Why did no one else think of this?
A child screamed. Stitch cringed and peaked over the edge of the roof to see which experiment had scared the kid. There were no experiments in sight, however, and the child grinned and shrieked as another child chased her down the sidewalk. There was nothing unusual about this, since Kokaua was the kind of small town where parents still let their kids roam the neighborhoods unsupervised.
Stitch continued crawling across the rooftops until he landed on top of French Fry's stand. The scents of sausage and bacon filled Stitch's nostrils as he listened to his cousin's absentminded singing.
"Psst. Cousin," hissed Stitch.
French Fry's hearing wasn't as acute as Stitch's, and he continued to sing over his sizzling meat.
"French Fry," said Stitch in a louder voice.
At that moment, the fat man who always dropped his ice cream (Stitch had never learned his name) walked up to the stand. "Good morning, French Fry," said the man with a polite nod. "I'll have the usual, please."
Stitch tilted his head. Either the fat man was blind, or the anti-detection device was still near enough to work on Kauai.
"Oui, monsieur," replied French Fry.
Stitch wanted to see how the man would react to him, so he jumped off the roof. The man simply raised his eyebrows.
"Hi Stitch, where'd you come from?" He bent down to pat Stitch's head, apparently not expecting an answer.
Stitch nudged his hand before running across the street toward Clip's hair salon.
The woman who owned the salon blinked and smiled at him when he ran inside.
"Aloha Stitch! Clip is in the back if you want to visit."
Stitch nodded his thanks and dashed through the salon to the back room. He barely acknowledged Clip with a wave. Clip was cute, but she had the personality of, well, a bag of hair. She waved back and didn't question him when he picked up the break room phone.
He called Reuben's mobile phone, and his cousin picked up in a few seconds.
Without preamble, Stitch quickly told Reuben about the stolen spaceship.
"Still in Hawai'i?" asked Reuben. "That explains a few things. I got news for you too, cousin. That Dib kid says he knows who stole it."
Stitch's ears perked up. "Who?"
"An Irken named Zim."
Stitch frowned, thinking for a moment. Dib had said that Zim left Earth, but maybe that's just what Zim wanted Dib to think, when all the while he was spying on the boy. Zim might try to use Jumba's experiments against Dib and all the other humans. But Stitch was confident that two genetically enhanced beings such as Reuben and himself were more than a match for the Irken, if a normal human child could hold his own against him.
Ten in the morning
Stitch and Reuben went back into the dense forest where traces of sea breeze mingled with the scents of flowers. The flesh-eating vines were merely annoying as they kept trying and failing to bite the experiments' tough hide.
They trekked up one of the many volcanic hills on the island, searching for a clue to narrow down their search.
"It'll take ages for the two of us to search the entire island," said Reuben, slumping against a tree.
"Ih," Stitch agreed. "Need help."
Reuben swatted a vine. "I don't suppose we could ask some of the cousins."
A high pitched giggle interrupted their conversation. Stitch swiveled his ears to pinpoint the source of the sound. It was about fifty feet away, on the other side of the hill.
"Who's there?" called Stitch.
"Nobody here but us trees," squealed a computerized voice.
"Right," said Reuben, with a dubious frown.
Reuben and Stitch climbed the hill toward the speaker. When they reached the top, they looked down the far side through the trees. A large plush toy rested on the ground. The two cousins walked down for a closer view.
The plushie vaguely resembled a tree in that it had a thinner brown section with a branch on each side, and a larger, blobby green section.
Stitch picked it up to examine it.
"Woooo!" it cheered.
Reuben circled Stitch, staring curiously at the toy.
"Hey, it has a robot face," observed Reuben.
Stitch turned the toy around. Sure enough, a metal face was embedded in the brown fabric. It had big round cyan lights for eyes. Its mouth curved upward in a toothless grin.
"Hi! I wanna sammich!" it squealed.
Reuben blinked. "What's a robot need a sandwich for?"
"For eating," said the robot in a no-duh tone.
Stitch squeezed the plush to feel how much of it was metal. The trunk had a hard coconut-sized core with two protrusions that might have been legs.
"Awww, I love you too," it cooed, wrapping its plush-covered arms around Stitch. It felt like the arms were made of metal cords beneath the fabric.
Reuben ignored this comment in favor of the previous one. "Robots don't need food. If they need some kind of fuel, they use lithium or somethin' similar."
"I don't need food, I want it! It's dee-lishus!"
Reuben shook his head in frustration. "We're wasting time. We hafta keep lookin' for Jumba's ship."
"I seen a ship," said the robot.
Reuben raised his eyebrow. "A space ship?"
"Mm-hm." The robot nodded. "My master found a new one last night."
Suddenly it all clicked, and Stitch wondered why he hadn't figured it out sooner.
"Where is the ship?" asked Stitch.