Zero Witching Hour
a Chip n' Dale Rescue Rangers story
Chapter 1: Reap What You Sow
1-15-2011
by Grey-X

Disclaimer: Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers and all related characters are the creation and property of Disney…and I guess Marvel too. Whoopee.

xxxxxx

300 YEARS AGO….

Though it was long past nightfall, they could still see the smoke eerily rising along the horizon in the dim moonlight. Even without the benefit of the moonlight, however, the acrid stench that drifted over from miles away would have told them that it finally happened. A noxious, overpowering smell that somehow carried a sense of terrible anguish, unnecessary sacrifice, implacable fury…a stench that, horrible as it was, only made you think things could only get worse. If not now, then later. Much, much later perhaps….

Terri kept staring out the window, along with her younger brother Hector, who was only four years old. Granted, she wasn't much older, just a couple of years, but she took her role as a big sister seriously. She spared a glance over at him, his wide, anxious eyes hidden behind of mop of thick, fiery, red hair. She absentmindedly brushed away a lock of her own bright, red hair. Hector tended to be a wild child, while Terri sought to be as mature and responsible as her mother. Both of them loved her deeply, but Terri absolutely idolized her. Dorothea Oakheart. She was so majestic, so dutiful, so selfless. So dedicated to helping everyone in any way she could, her and her four partners….

And she was still out there right now. She had been for hours. The smoke and the stench already let them know their mother had found whatever she was looking for. Terri wasn't entirely sure what it was that had their mother, not to mention the whole countryside, so worried. Try as she might, a lot of this grown-up stuff was hard to understand.

But worse, right then, they had no way of knowing if Dorothea won or lost. So the two of them were glued to the window, watching helplessly as the moon kept rising, showing that that weird smoke had risen even higher above the treetops. "D'you think Mommy will win?" asked Hector suddenly, breaking the ominous silence. "D-D-D'you think all that bad stuff they were all talking about, she got rid of it?"

"Of course Mommy beat it all back!" snapped Terri. "She's Dorothea Oakheart, the toughest witch here in the new world! She's accomplished things no other witch in history has ever dreamed of!"

That much she was certain of. What little she had gleamed of the mystic arts, the history of magic itself, left no doubt that her skill and ingenuity outshone every other sorcerer. And she was so humble about it, that one thing few other humans had an inkling of. Mommy's got to come back. She's got to win! Terri thought warily as she looked back out the window.

"Hey, I see something coming to the house!" Hector cried suddenly, pointing out the window. Her heart leaping, Terri looked to see what it was. Even with the moon high overhead, the landscape surrounding their little house on the hilltop was blanketed in shadow. But then, Terri made out a strange, shadowy shape, which slowly stumbled toward the house. Not until it was within a dozen yards of their house did Terri finally realize what it was. A great deer, his huge antlers proudly rising like spires into the night sky. Beside him strode what Terri now realized was a jaguar, a big cat from the southern reaches of this new world. They slowly trotted to the house, the deer providing support for a single person that clumsily shuffled on….

"They're back! They're back!" Terri cried with glee, rushing toward the door. She ran outside to greet the trio. "Juan! Byak! What's wrong? It's Mommy going to be alright?" she asked, suddenly fearful.

The woman had had her left arm slung over the deer's neck, barely able to look ahead. But at the sound of her daughter's voice, some of her energy came back. She was wearing a simple peasant's dress of tan and light green, and when she looked up, the moonlight reflected off her glasses. Glasses that made her look so smart and ladylike and caring, Terri had always thought. Also, as Dorothea Oakheart lifted her head to smile at Terri, her long, red hair fell everywhere. Red hair that was practically a family trademark.

"I live, my children," Dorothea said wanly. "That dark power, will never menace us again. Though for the effort, the effort has drained me."

"And we would have brought Mistress Oakheart home sooner, little ones, but Byak just HAD to go after some wild fowl on the way back here," scoffed the deer Dorothea had named Juan. He tended to be a bit pompous at times, Terri knew, but she also knew no one was more devoted to her mother than him.

Byak looked up with an indignant look, right before he spat out some feathers. "Oh, take them antlers and shove 'em up yer keister!" retorted the jaguar hotly. "This last fight took a lot outta all of us, so excuse me if I happen to be a natural predator! Quinny's one too, in case you've forgotten! Yet you never give her any grief!"

"That is because I put my predatory instincts aside when there's a job to do," came a fourth voice, a very faint one. Terri and Hector looked around, trying to spot the source. At last, a rather large scorpion crawled out of a pocket on Dorothea's dress, coming to a stop on her head. "And I'll be sure to let Zhuk know you just had to munch on her fellow birds while our job was still unfinished," she added wryly.

Byak glared back at Quinny. Dorothea smiled, and Terri and Hector couldn't help but laugh a little, too. It was such a shame that their family were probably the only ones who could do this: understand and talk to animals. Dorothea's four friends were so funny, so great to be around, and Terri was so glad their mother passed on her magical gift of talking to animals to them. Terri wished everyone could do what her family could.

But her mother's feelings went even further. Dorothea was all about spreading a message of peace, her and her four animal partners trying to maintain a sense of justice and order here in the colonies. They had been at it for years, and in all that time, Dorothea tried to get it through everyone's heads that humans weren't the masters of this world, but had a place in the grand scheme of things. Terri could always tell most people weren't very open, however, and it always frustrated Dorothea, sometimes to a point where Terri feared she'd be angry enough to unload her magic on someone. But Terri was sure her mother would never cross that line, lash out at thick-headed people in a rage….

"Where is Zhuk, anyway?" Juan suddenly demanded. "She was supposed to report back at least ten minutes ago."

Dorothea let out an exasperated cough, then said, "Calm down, Juan. I'm sure Zhuk has a good reason for taking her time." Suddenly, Terri felt a surprising rush of dread, despite her mother's calmness. She wasn't sure why, but the fact that Zhuk wasn't back unnerved her.

Just then, a small, blazing streak zipped above the trees scattered around the hilltop. The fiery little thing zigzagged around erratically, until zooming down at them, stopping right in front of Dorothea's face. It was surrounded in bright flames, but they immediately died away, revealing a little hummingbird, sporting eye-blazing red and orange feathers.

"It's just as I feared, Dorothea!" cried Zhuk in her squeaky little voice. "All the people from the nearby village, th-th-they've…."

As Terri looked from Zhuk to her mother, her heart sank as something seem to fade in Dorothea's eyes. "They've decided to take advantage of the situation, am I right?" she asked with an air of reserved calm.

The hummingbird nodded frantically. "They'll be upon the hill within the hour. I-I-I tried to slow them up, caused a few small blazes along the quickest paths here," spluttered Zhuk apologetically. "B-B-But tired as I am now, there wasn't much more I…."

"We're all exhausted from the fight, Zhuk. It's not your fault," said Dorothea warmly.

"Well, I say let 'em come!" snapped Byak. "We still got enough fight left to teach these ungrateful rubes a lesson or three!"

"I'm with the jaguar on this one," added Juan gruffly.

"Males…it's the same with all species!" snapped Quinny. "We're all almost spent, and our mistress is on the verge of collapse! And judging by how panicky Zhuk is, there's a LOT of 'ungrateful rubes' on the way. Fleeing is our only option."

Juan let out a defeated sigh. "Then let's get her inside, let her rest as long as possible before we run," said Juan, slowly trotting toward their house as Dorothea kept leaning on him for support. Once inside, Terri and Hector eased their mother into an armchair while their animal friends tried to get some supplies together. Any other time, Terri would've found it funny, watching these four blunder about a human home. But there was nothing funny about what was going on now. Why were all the villagers turning against them now, after all they'd done for them, for the whole countryside?

It was too much to take in, and Terri turned fearfully to her mother, who just sat in her chair, staring listlessly ahead. Again, Terri got that horrible feeling again as she looked into Dorothea's eyes. Something that was once ablaze and alive in those eyes was definitely gone. It was almost as if…she had given up all hope.

Juan and Byak walked back in, sacks of food slung over their necks. Quinny and Zhuk were hanging onto Juan's antlers. "Zhuk was just outside, and they're closer than she originally thought," said Juan gravely. "We must go now."

Dorothea nodded dully, then stood up on wobbly legs. She stumbled forward for a few steps, but then stumbled, slamming into a bookcase hard. Breathing heavily, she sat slumped against the bookcase for a moment. "I-I-It's no use," she got out at length. "I'm more used up than I thought. You must all go on without me, I'll slow you down. It's me they want, so I can keep them busy long enough for all of you to slip away."

"No way!" cried Byak, echoing her children's horror. "After all we just went through, to just cave to these rogues!" As Terri gazed at her mother in shock, there was no mistaking it now. Dorothea Oakheart had given up entirely. On everything.

"It cannot be helped," said Dorothea. "Juan cannot run fast enough with me on his back, I'm too heavy. But he can carry Terri, and Hector is small enough to allow him ride on Byak. Zhuk, are the villagers using horses?"

Zhuk nodded glumly. "At least half a dozen."

"Then Juan and Byak must shepherd my children away as I cover everyone's escape," said Dorothea, coldly logical and devoid of any passion. That, more than anything else, is what truly chilled Terri to the bone.

"Mommy, NO!" Terri screamed, running to hug her mother. "We got to go, we can outrun them! You can't just give up!"

"I'm sorry, Terri. There's no other way," said Dorothea listlessly. "What's most important right now is that you two carry on, keep working with Zhuk, Byak, Juan and Quinny. Continue my work, teach others what fell on deaf ears here. Hector, come stand by your sister. It's time to pass on my final gift to you two."

Hector timidly walked over to Dorothea, stunned speechless and eyes full of tears. Terri's eyes began to well up as well, deathly silent, not believing this could be happening. But she stepped forward to stand next to her brother. Clutching a shelf with one hand, Dorothea pulled herself up and reached out with her other hand, pointing at Hector's head. Terri could sense Dorothea was drawing on her power, and as her fingertip brushed against Hector's forehead, it left glowing, orange streakmarks. When she was finished, Terri saw Dorothea had drawn some sort of runic symbol, which was already fading away, the spell working itself into Hector.

Her breath now coming in choked gasps, Dorothea did the same to Terri. Terri winced as she drew the rune on her forehead. This felt nothing like her lessons, when Dorothea shared her power with her before. The sickly feeling this spell left in her…she couldn't describe….

"It's done. Have Byak and Juan get you out of here. Please, don't ever forget me," begged Dorothea. Her breathed was more ragged than ever, having almost completely exhausted her power. Her free hand went to her belt, unsheathing a knife as she tried to pull herself to her feet.

She won't go out quietly, thought Terri, still finding it impossible to believe she would never see her mother again. But a quick glance out the front window told Terri that plenty of people holding lit torches were closing in. They were already out of time.

Dorothea followed Terri's eyes, then turned back to her children. "Get moving! NOW!" she commanded, but Hector ran forward and latched onto Dorothea. Tears now freely flowing, Terri pried her brother off, and as Byak strode beside her, thrust him onto the jaguar's back. She then ran over to Juan, and with one last, sorrowful look back, she watched Dorothea thrust the door open to defiantly confront the mob. The serenity she always exuded was now gone, replaced by pure fury.

"Hang on, child!" cried Juan as he ran through the house, his antlers crashing through the back door. Byak was not far behind, Hector holding on for dear life. Looking back as they sped away, Terri could hardly make out the outline of their house, much less what was going on inside. She buried her face in the back of Juan's neck and bawled. But soon sadness gave way to fury as her mother's words echoed in her head: Continue my work…don't ever forget me…continue my work…don't ever forget me….

xxxxxx

12 YEARS AGO….

It had been many years since Rebecca Nimnul last saw any of her family, and even longer since she visited her hometown on the outskirts of Philadelphia. It didn't exactly feel like a pleasant homecoming, and the droning din of her Harley was hardly a graceful heralding of her return. The thing obviously needed a tune-up, but Rebecca didn't care. It was still working for the moment, and riding it always helped clear her head, especially back before signing up for the army at the tender age of eighteen.

But not now. Considering why she and all of her siblings would be meeting here today, that was hardly a surprise.

The light turned red up ahead. "Every other light, never fails," Rebecca grumbled to herself as her Harley came to a halt. Sighing in annoyance, Rebecca stared down at herself. She hadn't even bothered to change of her army uniform yet, being in such a rush to get to her sister's house. She still had her pistol on her, and her dog tags whipped violently in a sudden breeze. Looking in her bike's mirror, she frowned at how the wind was making even more of a mess of her short, red hair. Weird, when looking back the last few generations, everyone in the family has red hair. EVERYONE.

A plangent horn from behind told Rebecca the light was green. Rebecca quickly gave the driver behind her the finger before taking off. Thankfully, after that, it wasn't much farther to her sister's house. After parking her Harley, she bolted for the front door. But out the corner of her eye, she noticed something odd. Leaning against a tree was a rather stocky person…with her family's trademark red hair.

Certain she knew who it was, Rebecca walked over to the tree. Indeed, there was her other sister, just a year older than her, with red hair that curved upward like a brush due to a bandana she wore. But what grabbed Rebecca's attention, naturally, was how she was allowing two ferrets to crawl all over her. Not only that, several dragonflies were perched on her, one on her long, pointy nose.

"Looks like you've still got quite the fan club, Freddie," said Rebecca slyly.

Winifred turned to glare at Rebecca. Amazingly, none of the dragonflies flew away. "You're still the only living thing on Earth who can get away with calling me that," said Winifred with a coy smile. "Anyway, Florence will be glad you're finally here. I already told her you'd be here within the hour."

"How'd you know? Traffic's always unpredictable this time of the day."

Winifred grinned wickedly again, tapping the tail of the dragonfly resting on her nose. Rebecca's face fell. It was hard to tell which of her siblings had bigger problems, Winifred or Norton. Back when they were growing up, Winifred was always fascinated with fantasy and magic. Not only that, Winifred insisted she found evidence of magic in their lineage which, among other things, let them communicate with animals. Rebecca always hoped Winifred would grow out of that silliness, and was crushed to learn she had dropped out of college soon after she left for the army.

But now was not the time to renew old family squabbles, not today. "What about Florence's husband and kid?" Rebecca asked shortly.

"They should be here by the end of the day. In the meantime, Norton's been looking after Florence," said Winifred.

That soured Rebecca's mood even more. "So, he's still insisting Florence be his guinea pig?" demanded Rebecca.

"It's not like that," said Winifred hotly. "We both know Norton's a screwball, but an ingenious screwball. He's confident he can do something for Florence, and God help me, I think I believe him."

"He always has some crazy idea most sane people'll refuse to take seriously. Universities and institutions are always giving him the cold shoulder, and probably for good reason," commented Rebecca. "And last I heard, most of his funding these days comes from his partnership with that Aldrin Klordane guy. Shadiest of shady businessmen."

"If Norton can make Klordane cough up enough cash so Norton can cure her, I don't really give a damn about anything else," said Winifred. "In any case, you'd better go in. Florence was really anxious to see you."

Sighing, Rebecca turned around and headed for the house. She glanced back over her shoulder, watching as those stupid ferrets kept scurrying over Winifred. Rebecca shook her head, not believing Winifred still believed that crap about talking to animals. There were times, however, she came close to believing it herself. That one time she found a fellow private with a broken leg deep in a Florida swamp…she could have sworn some bug was buzzing around her ear, whispering directions to her. At another time in Columbia…it was as if that flock of birds up above were speaking directly to her, warning that her team was about to be ambushed.

As she walked into the house, there was a tall, thin, red-headed man in a sharp-looking business suit walking down the stairs. And cradled in his arms was a little baby, a boy from the looks of it. He looked to her and smiled thinly. "Ah, Rebecca, you finally made it. I bet no one thought you wanted to hear any good news but…you've got another nephew."

Rebecca managed a weak smile, looking at the baby. He was quite a chubby fellow. "Ah, Bill, I totally forgot your wife was expecting. W-What's his name?"

"Normie," said Bill with boisterous pride, which irked Rebecca. Knowing her younger brother, he would probably spoil his son rotten. "And Florence just adores the little fellow, but she's most anxious to see you."

"So I've heard. We'll catch up later, Bill," Rebecca told Florence's twin brother. "Right now, I wanna make sure Norton's not shoving electrodes in Florence's brain." Pushing past Bill, she ran up the stairs and down the hall to the room where she knew Florence was, bedridden.

Bracing herself, Rebecca slammed the door open. The oldest of her siblings, Norton, was at the bedside, his back to the door, and jumped with a start. He had lost even more hair since the last time Rebecca saw him, and if possible, looked even dumpier.

Florence then slowly turned to see the new arrival, and her thin, emaciated face flashed a smile. Rebecca repressed a shudder. Her long, gorgeous red hair was gone, the chemotherapy meant to eradicate her stomach cancer having already brought about alopecia. Norton's was still facing away from Rebecca, though, and Florence looked at him again. She seemed to recognize something in his face. "Norton, please, give me some time with Becky," she said weakly.

Norton glared at her in disbelief. "B-B-But, your treatment, the reagent…." he spluttered.

"Norton, you've done all you can. Please, I just need a little time," Florence pleaded.

Trembling, Norton got up to leave, putting some sort of syringe out of Florence's IV port, one of many. Rebecca quickly glanced around the room, shuddering at the sight of all the medical equipment monitoring Florence's failing health. Looking back over to Norton, she caught his furtive gaze, those beady eyes staring back at her from behind his glasses. She watched him leave, wondering what he was so nervous about, then turned back to Florence, who managed to smile again. "I'm so glad you came," said Florence.

"You should've called for me sooner. MONTHS sooner," said Rebecca, kneeling beside her bed and taking Florence's hand. "Wouldn't have mattered if I was still in South Korea, I would've caught the first transport back. You know that. I mean, d-d-don't let…."

Florence squeezed Rebecca's hand. "Enough of that, Becky. I know you took your role as a big sister seriously…."

"Way more than Freddie did," growled Rebecca. It was true. While Winifred was off dabbling in fantasy and Norton was hunched over his chemistry sets, Rebecca took it upon herself to be the big sibling Florence could look up to. Granted, being the hotheaded tomboy she always was, Rebecca always wondered if she was right for the job of teaching Florence to be all ladylike and what not.

"Stop it, Becky," Florence implored. "That's another thing. There's been so much resentment boiling under the surface between you, Winifred and Norton. I beg of you, Becky, it's time to let it all go. And please, stop blaming yourself for leaving when Bill and I were just fifteen. I loved having a big sister like you, but I also knew you wanted to see the world, be a part of something bigger. I would've hated knowing I stood in the way of your dreams. And tough as you are, you couldn't have protected me from cancer."

Rebecca sighed, knowing Florence was right. "Yeah, you're right about that."

"But now, if you can be there for my son, watch him grow up, it would mean the world to me," Florence went on.

"Don't talk like that!" Rebecca snapped. "YOU'LL be there to watch him grow up. I mean, you seem to have faith that whatever science project Norton's cooked up'll work…."

Florence breathed in and out deeply. "Brilliant as Norton is, even he can't do everything," she said knowingly. "Just please, do that one thing for me. I'll be happy knowing you, Winifred and Norton will all be like family again. You, out of all of us, most know it's harder to wage peace than war, and that the rewards are greater…."

"You're right about that too," Rebecca agreed. That was the thing about Florence. She never quite stood out. Not a brilliant soldier like her or a brilliant scientist like Norton or a shrewd businessman like Bill, but there was always a quiet, patient wisdom about her.

Rebecca wasn't sure how long she knelt there, holding Florence's hand. But suddenly, she felt her sister's grip tighten. Not only that, Florence's hand trembled as well. "Florence? FLORENCE!" screamed Rebecca. The shrill of the monitors made Rebecca look up. Her heart rate had just spiked, and her blood pressure dropped dangerously low. Looking back down in horror, she saw Florence's emaciated face staring back at her. There was an indescribable serenity there, as if she knew she was about to die and was totally at peace with herself and the world. But then, what life was left in those eyes faded entirely, and Rebecca felt Florence's hand slacken.

Rebecca stood up with a start, shaking, refusing to accept what her eyes were telling her. Florence, gone. The one who, out of the five of them, exuded the most strength and did it so subtlely, who loved everyone. Easily the best out of all of them. And now, she was gone forever. But how? Everything she heard suggested she'd at least be stable for another few months, and some doctors said there was even hope for complete recovery. And then Norton was supposedly….

Then it hit her like a Sherman tank. Norton. This was all his fault. Once again, he put his obsession with science over his own family. What he was doing for Florence was part of some experiment to cash in on, not to help a dying sibling. There was no other explanation.

She knew what she promised to Florence. But that was before Norton's meddling did Florence in. A silent fury overtaking her, Rebecca unholstered her pistol and dashed out of the room. After sweeping the entire second floor, she ran down the stairs. Bill and Winifred were there in the living room, the latter still letting those damn ferrets crawl over her. They nervously eyed her gun, and Bill managed to get out, "R-R-Rebecca? W-What's all this about?"

"Florence is dead, and it's because of Norton! Where'd he go!" Rebecca screeched, ignoring Bill and Winifred's bemused looks. Looking past them, she saw Norton bolt out of a sliding glass door. Enraged by his cowardice, Rebecca aimed and fired. The glass doors shattered apart, but Norton kept on running, ducking into the woods behind the house.

Her blood boiling as he disappeared among the trees, Rebecca ran out after him, but she knew it was no use. Skilled tracker that she was, Norton had too much of a head start, and those woods were too vast. "Go ahead and run Norton, you little coward!" Rebecca called out after him hysterically. "But I swear, one of these days, I'm gonna hunt you down! Hunt you down and rip you apart with my bare hands! I don't care how long it takes, what it takes…one day, your ass WILL be mine!"

xxxxxx

Meanwhile, several miles away, on the outskirts of an airport, cleverly hidden from most eyes, human or otherwise, a boisterous mouse by the name of Monterey Jack watched a dreadfully similar scene play out. Here in the home of his longtime friends the Hackwrenches, all the memories to be had here were good memories. Well, except the aftermath after that one trip to Zanzibar….

And now, this.

No words could ever hope to convey Monterey's horror and fury as he and Geegaw Hackwrench stared down at Erika, Geegaw's wife. Having blown back in from a recent trip to Brazil, he was more than happy to help Geegaw and Erika raid a nearby hardware store for some nuts and bolts and spare parts.

But what was supposed to be a routine scavenging job quickly became a nightmare. Last night, that hardware store was targeted by arsonists. They all escaped, but only Erika hadn't made it out unscathed. Monterey's ire flared up again as he looked over Erika again. Her skin and fur was scorched in numerous places, requiring bandages to stave off infection, and her left leg was shattered. Given Geegaw's reputation and standing, many of the micedom's best medics within reach answered his call. She would live, but it was doubtful Erika would ever walk again.

Gritting his teeth, Monterey bashed his fists together. The desire to go out and do something, ANYTHING, was overwhelming. But he know there was little hope of finding those arsonists on his own. No, his best chance would be to stake out a human police station, keep an ear out for clues. "Oughta be a bunch of us animals who do that sorta thing, solve them crimes that slip through the cracks…." Monterey thought aloud.

"What's that, Monty?" asked Geegaw.

Monterey sighed, not realizing he was thinking aloud. "Nothin', Geegaw," he said quickly, turning to him. But then his gaze drifted down to the little girl clinging to Geegaw. She had strawberry-blond hair that nearly reached the floor. His little girl, Gadget, was the apex of cuteness, but now her cuteness was marred by a look of pure hatred, tears flowing nonstop.

"Looks like Erika's finally asleep," said Geegaw. "We should just let her rest."

Without a word, Gadget turned and stormed out of the room. Sensing trouble was brewing, Monterey took off after her. He tailed her to where he knew Geegaw stored his most dangerous chemicals. Upon entering the storeroom, Monterey was shocked to find Gadget collecting what he guessed was some sort of accelerant. "Gadget-luv, mind tellin' ol' Monty what you're doing?"

"Golly, what does it LOOK like I'm doing!" Gadget snapped back. "I'm going to find the lousy humans who did this and burn THEIR houses to the ground!"

Monterey's previous fury was forgotten in an instant, scared straight by seeing the same unthinking vengefulness coming from this sweet, innocent girl. "Gadget-luv, we never got a good look at them blokes. How d'you propose you find the ones responsible?"

"I don't know!" Gadget shot back. "Might as well just burn ALL the houses around here down! They're all rotten to the core, doing things like this to hurt each other, for the stupidest reasons! And it's always us animals that get caught in the middle! I hate humans!" Gadget screamed, her voice trembling with fury as tears flowed again. "I HATE THEM!"

Monterey just stood in the doorway, completely nonplussed. How did you reason with such a young mind after something like this?

Thankfully, Geegaw came to the rescue. He pushed past Monterey, his voice filled with determined calm. "And Gadget, if you burned all the houses down, what of the animals kept as pets by those humans? Birds and cats and dogs, who are loved and cared for by the humans, and who love them back in return. And if you indiscriminately burn houses, wouldn't that keep the police from focusing on the hardware store arson?"

For many long moments, Gadget just stared blankly at her father as tears kept flowing. Monterey hoped Geegaw's cool logic was getting through that hot head of hers. He knew at that age, NOTHING would've changed his mind. Encouraged, Geegaw went on. "Bottom line, Gadget, you can't go around laying the crimes of individuals at the feet of an entire species. Your mother and I and Monterey know this. Hell, we've even gone out of our way to help cats more than once."

Gadget stared at Monterey in shock. "Help cats? YOU?"

Monterey sighed heavily. "I try not to make a habit of it," he admitted weakly.

Taking the initiative, Geegaw reached down and hugged Gadget, letting her cry on his shoulder. "You have such a big heart, Gadget. Please…don't ever let it fill with hate."

xxxxxx

2 MONTHS AGO….

The hours flew by in agonizing silence for Professor Norton Nimnul, locked up in solitary in the psych ward. The man always valued his privacy, but the constant sounds of his inventions and scientific instruments were always a source of comfort for him. But here, there was nothing to keep his brilliant mind occupied, allowing it to wander aimlessly.

Most of the time, his thoughts drifted back to those blasted rodents who always fouled up his plans. Oh, and of course, that odious little fly that gave him a one-way trip to the police via his own Modemizer. And what came before that...it still haunted Nimnul's nightmares. And he still couldn't decide which was more horrific: swapping heads with that fly, or being forced to actually WORK with the vermin hellbent on making his life miserable all these years.

"Oh, once I bust out of here, the first thing I'm gonna do is get a bulldozer and knock down that tree of theirs," Nimnul grumbled to himself. "That is, provided I can remember where it is…."

The desperate need for retribution consumed Nimnul again. Those household pests were just like everyone else, always out to hold him back, refusing to let his genius flourish. Time and time again, his inventions were laughed at, making it impossible to get funding for his research the legit way. That was why he partnered up with Aldrin Klordane all those years ago. But even with his money and what Normie's father provided, his attempts to cure Florence's stomach cancer ended in failure….

It was then that Norton Nimnul turned his back on the world, convinced that the world had already turned his back on him…and sentenced his sister to death in the process.

"But the world hasn't heard the last of me," Nimnul swore under his breath. "This looney bin can't hold my genius forever, and once I get out again…."

But Nimnul knew there was little hope of escaping anytime soon. This was the psych ward of a maximum security prison, the authorities finally having had enough of his constant escapes. The security detail surrounding him would be the tightest possible. And because of how he stupidly blathered about rodents and a fly conspiring against him, they had a perfect excuse to keep him doped up on antipsychotics, impairing his ability to plan and plot….

Still feeling the effects of antipsychotics, and still wrapped up in his thoughts, Nimnul didn't notice one of the prison's nurses wheeling in a food cart, removing a tray for him. She was a rather short woman, almost as short as him, and there was a security guard escorting her, brandishing a taser rod maliciously. Nimnul paid neither of them any mind.

All of a sudden, the doors on the cart slid open, as if on their own accord. Some sort of gas sprayed out, which knocked out the guard and the nurse in an instant.

"What in blazes!" demanded Nimnul, nervously backing away from the food cart, fear replacing fury.

"More like 'who' in blazes, my dear professor," came a singsong, arrogant voice…one that Nimnul somehow felt he should recognize. "Now, if you don't mind, be a cooperative fellow and slip on the nurse's clothes, so we can be on our merry way. And please, no complaints about disguising yourself as a woman. I've seen you do it before."

Nimnul stared blankly, trying to work up the courage to demand whoever it was to reveal himself. But then, they showed themselves on their own accord. To his horror, out crawled a mangy orange cat, a rat, some sort of lizard and what looked like a mole, all wearing clothes. They all stared at the professor stupidly, as if waiting to hear what they should do next. "Oh no no no, one of YOU was talking to me, and I understood you!" Nimnul cried out in horror. "Oh no no no, that means some bits of that disgusting fly are still in me!"

"No, it means your little head-swapping adventure unlocked something that was already there," came the voice again. At last, out stepped a huge, grey tabby cat in an elegantly tailored suit. Even with the clothes, Nimnul recognized the cat instantly. It was Aldrin Klordane's old kitty. "Ah, you remember me," said Fat Cat, seeing the dawning expression on Nimnul's face. "I assure you, I remember you as well. Goes without saying we didn't exactly like each other, but I'm confident we can put our old differences aside."

Nimnul nervously backed up against the wall, still refusing to accept what he was hearing, that he could still understand what animals were saying. "W-W-What d'you furballs want with m-m-m-me!" he spluttered.

"Oh, I imagine the same thing you'd want from us," replied Fat Cat calmly. "A partnership that'll pave the way to money, power…oh, and a shot at revenge against the do-gooding rodents that've made our lives a living hell for years."

That last bit got Professor Nimnul's attention.

Fat Cat laughed at how Nimnul couldn't hide his sudden change in mood. "Oh yes, I've crossed paths with those blasted Rescue Rangers as many times as you have, my dear professor. There's always in our way. And I trust we can swallow our pride and work together just long enough to get in theirs."