"High Gear"

In an unknown dingy place, long ceiling lights were buzzing and flickering away, attracting a few flies. The light kept the interior of a large cement-walled warehouse lit, if however dimly. To the warehouse's far end stood a sturdy industrial door, but soon a pounding sound rang from behind it outside. Then came two more poundings, and the door was abruptly swung upward, by none other than Excavator. She tanked on inside, made a roundabout inside a maze of cardboard boxes, and stooped over to release the appliances that had had the misfortune of riding in her mouth with a bunch of dirt.

As the five were sprawled out onto the cement floor, coughing, Lampy made an exclamation that echoed throughout the whole warehouse. "Ah, fresh air!"

"What a way to know what all the dirt feels like," remarked Kirby, following up.

Radio teetered and tottered, trying to orient himself. "Good, I hope I'm not the only one who's about to send a message to the nearest wastebasket."

Excavator made a worried face before carrying on. "Well, uh, before you do that, let me be the first to welcome y'all to my office!" She presented the span of the warehouse in all its glory. "Take a gander around. Why, we got truckloads on truckloads o' cargo just waitin' to be shipped off!"

Just then a voice almost literally rang from behind the loud vehicle. "Afternoon there, Ex! How's work going?" It was a black telephone situated on the far wall.

Excavator turned partway. "Just swell, Tel!" she twittered. "Heh... kinda rolls off the tongue don't it?" She looked down at her mouth, which oddly contained no such tongue.

Tel giggled regardless. "You betcha."

And Excavator forced a chuckle, and turned back to the appliances. She instantly frowned and whispered to them. "Do not bring up the benefits of home phone service or by golly she will go on motor-mouthing."

Toaster spat out dirt instead. "What'd you do with Air Conditioner?!" he demanded.

"Y-yeah!" Lampy also wanted to know.

Excavator popped her eyes open. "...Hm? What'd Bulldozer do with Dusty? Well... he just took him to a repair shop. No harm against that eh?" She put on a silly grin.

Lampy stared down at the floor, thinking. "I guess not."

No thinking was needed for Kirby, however. "WHAT?" The vacuum cleaner rolled out in front without delay. "He's not broken! I'M the one who needs repairs!"

"OH, my apologies," replied the excavator in a pseudo-courteous fashion. "By the looks of it all o' you could do with a lil' spit-n'-polish... but nothin' personal. Am I right?!"

Hearing the resulting echo, Lampy silently peered around at his friends, who were each streaked with dirty dirt. "Yep," he said. "Sounds pretty legit."

"Ooo," Excavator squealed, "and so 'bright' too!" She shot up her head in a jiffy. "All right, that's it. We need to get ya to the shop stat! Asap! Pronto!"

Zooming backward from the clueless appliances, she moved toward her trusty telephone, about to make a phone call – when she stopped midway.

"...Oh-hoo," she remembered, "I am forgettin' my manners aren't I. Heh-eh-em. Your permission. Please."

The excavator was now ever-patiently awaiting a response. Toaster took a look at Lampy, Kirby, Radio, and Blanky. The four didn't appear so exuberant over whatever their hostess had in mind.

Taking up on Excavator's request, Toaster decided for the rest of the group. "R-right, absolutely!" He stuck his lever forward with a determined expression. "Go for it."

With that, Excavator formed another smile. "'Atta toaster!" She then proceeded to lean in on the tiny receiver as Tel finished dialing and held it for her. While the phone was ringing, the appliances found themselves becoming very curious indeed. After a moment or two, someone on the other end picked up. What luck.

"Hello?" the construction vehicle spoke. "Yes, this is Barbara L. Flegenheimer, warehouse manager."

She gave a sly bouncing of the brows to Toaster and friends, who were now more than discombobulated.

"Matty... I noticed you were out en route and not on break! Wouldjoo be a doll and make a quick turnaround for me? It would seem as though you left a few appliances back here."

High-pitched chattering sounds came from the other end.

"It'll only take a flick o' the wrist! Just pack 'em up and truck 'em off like you daily do!"

The chattering grew more annoying to the ear.

"No, my driver's card was up-to-dated, thank you kindly. Whatchoo doin' with it anyhow?!" Excavator was beginning to lose her temper.

More chattering came, this time with better composure.

Excavator let her jaw slack briefly. "...You found it? The whole dang wallet?!" She shut her eyes in a fluster. "Wha-gee... agh, just drop it by my house." Yet more chattering came through. "Not the warehouse, MY house! MY house! You got the address!"

The chattering sounded slower and more suspicious.

"The reason?" Excavator had a split-second look-see at her electronic guests. "The REASON is I gotta hightail it back there now 'cause I realized I got my electric bill that still needs payin' off – "

The chattering became much lower-pitched.

"Well technical speak it ain't past due yet, but thanks for yer concerns," finalized Excavator. "Thanks. ...I said THANK YOU! Have a nice day Matty Cake."

And so she hung up, right then and there (with Tel of course doing the hanging).

The appliances were standing low on the floor in shock, statuesque as little prairie dogs. Heeding their stillness, the excavator drew away from the phone and clenched her jaws, conceiving of a way to calm herself and explain what in the name of hoopla just went on.

"Sss... yup, never know what kind o' funny things you'll hear next," was her reflecting statement.

Remarkably, Blanky brought himself to ask her a serious question. "Y-you can talk? To a master?"

"Got that right Yellowey!" Excavator immediately exclaimed. "Any master matter o' factly, anywhere from the Great White North to Timbuktu!"

"Wow..." thought Lampy aloud, "what's it like?"

Kirby couldn't believe the lamp's dimness. "Didn't ya listen to her? Certainly doesn't sound like a rip-roaring good time to me."

"Ah, well that was one measly phone call," Ex explained. "I mean, sure it can be a pain in the BOOM comin' to terms with these people... but everything ends up working out and... I move on!" She thought nothing else of it as she strode in another direction, past the appliances.

The appliances, still awed as they were by the notion of communicating with people, followed her at each his own pace. "Huh," Toaster voiced. "By the way... if you don't mind me asking... um, where's your master at?"

The question caused the unsightly excavator to turn her boom back in a flinch. "Beg your pardon?"

"Yeah," wondered Radio, "seems kinda unusual of us to grace such..." he looked around at the boxed mess, "'humble' quarters with no master of the house. Doesn't it?"

Excavator shut her eyes and shook her head furiously. "Whoa whoa whoa! Who said anything about havin' to have a master?" She then stopped to think, and next put her thinking to action. "Here, let me show ya a lil' somethin'..."

Stretching her boom around and opening the door of her control station (whose window had been heavily cracked), Excavator reached inside with her jaws, pulling out what looked like... a Hollywood celebrity cardboard cutout. In the control station, it had looked like an actual person.

Kirby was almost aghast. "What, dare I ask, is THAT."

"Oh," Excavator casually muffled, "just a 'prop' I use to keep my construct job... without anyone else havin' to do nothin', ha!"

Radio watched as the cardboard cutout was put away again. "Uhh, looks cute as a baby's behind."

Paying no attention to that insight, Excavator smacked her jaws. "But, enough about big old me!" she finished. "What're all your occupations, hmm?"

The appliances were caught off guard. Toaster quickly glanced at the others. "Oh, uhhh..."

After a round of tentative stalling, Lampy finally hopped forward to answer for himself. "...Well, I can shine my light on... well, anything that needs shining!" he informed.

"Stop right there!" shouted Excavator, startling the lamp in the process. "Now, heh, truth be told, that ain't how things work in these parts Gizmo." She then rolled off toward a tall stack of boxes. "See if you so much as wanna make a difference with those masters, you gotta take on their roles – ya gotta PUSH the boundaries of business." And with that she pushed all the boxes over. The result was a loud crash offscreen. "'Cause you know you can do more than, toast toast or, play show tunes or... make things easier to see. Ha-ha."

Blanky thought about what was said for a moment, before lifting his head with an idea. "Oh, like cleaning up the house?"

"Hrmph," Kirby grunted, unmoved. "One thing I'd like to know is, how would working even harder help US?"

Excavator was happy to hear this. "Good question!"

Somehow, every ceiling light went off, and a projector screen descended from above. A flash of light beamed through the dark onto the screen, starting up an old black-and-white instructional video for the appliances to watch.

5... 4... 3... 2

The title of the video read: "Proving Your Worth in a World of Progress."

The music cued up, and a cozy office appeared. Somehow, Lampy of all appliances was plunked in the office chair, and he looked around, puzzled as to how and why he got in this picture without any color. Stacks of papers popped on the desk out of thin air, and Lampy watched the stacks become so tall that they fell over on top of him, burying him in a papery heap. He then emerged from the heap and stared down, overwhelmed by the sea of paperwork.

Suddenly Excavator burst through the east wall of the office. She graciously bestowed him a paper stamper that she held in her giant mouth. She also winked at the unseen audience, and a thumbsup appeared in the lower righthand corner.

The video switched to a scene of Excavator driving up a rolling hill carrying lumber, looking perfectly clean – no mud splotches, no cracked windows, no nothing. Below she saw some workmen without any faces picking up trash with their poking sticks. They seemed tired and sweaty in the hot sun, so Excavator dropped her lumber and gladly rode down, scooping up the scattered trash for them, after which she threw the litter into a nearby dumpster. The workmen gathered around her and cheered, and one of them patted her bucket. She then looked at Toaster, who was standing in the distance by his lonesome. The toaster had no clue what he was doing there, but a single glance behind himself showed him a countryside, wherein houses and roads gradually started budding into existence, instead of trees or flowers.

Rows upon rows of girders were pieced together higher and higher until they formed the tower of a building. Excavator stood on top, tiny as an ant, but she knocked over a can of paint that, as it plummeted, splashed the whole tower with paint, forming very well-enforced walls and windows.

The paint can landed on an unmindful Radio, who got trapped underneath. He used his antenna to prop the can over himself, but what he saw stunned him. Endless halls of cubicles. Excavator lifted him up on her bucket so he could get a better view, but the observance of so many faceless, pencil-pushing employees quite frankly scared him to death. Off of Excavator he leaped, and away he ran to where Kirby and Blanky were standing, on a gray carpeted floor.

But then, Radio quickly noticed a slew of crumbs on the carpet, and directed Kirby to them sans hesitation. Just as Kirby drove forth to clean, he was stuck on a swiveling chair and rotated to a courtroom, where he was appointed as the judge, a gavel in his cord's grip and all. This confused him greatly, being in such a powerful position. The jury was full of no-faces, and Excavator sat next to him as the law clerk, wearing giant glasses. By impulse, the vacuum cleaner swung the gavel, and the impact created a flat street. Blanky was promptly seen crawling across it with a hat and a bagful of newspapers. He panted once before tossing a newspaper roll at the doorstep of a house, where the door opened and Toaster waddled out. An apron, oven mitts, and a hot pie appeared on Toaster before he picked up the paper (with difficulty) and read it. It said in big bold letters: "Job Listings."

Lampy immediately poked his head out the door and took the paper from Toaster. Inside the house, the lamp intensely skimmed through the job listings, and then he beamed for joy. He gave the paper a grateful smooch and hastily made a phone call using Tel the telephone. After some silent chit-chat the video switched to a scene where a faceless technician was assembling car parts at an auto-manufacturing plant. The man was whisked away from his work and replaced with Lampy, who got excited that he could actually build something. Right then, Excavator crashed onto the car that Lampy would've helped make and smiled at him innocently, singing along to the music as if nothing happened.

A translucent profit graph enlarged on the black-and-white video screen, climbing and climbing as the background faded from a lush forest to a developed city, laced with highways and monstrous industries. Surely this mega-transformation meant progress.

Once the profit line met an exceptionally huge dollar sign, the video film withered to a blank. And once it had withered, Excavator saw the headlights of a delivery truck passing by the windows. The timing couldn't have been better. She nudged the five appliances to the warehouse's open back door and left them there to inanimate themselves as a deliveryman approached. He packed each of them into separate boxes and lifted them into the back of his mysterious big truck. After shutting the truck's door, the man got behind the wheel again and drove off with the haul of goods, straight down a foggy street. Excavator watched from behind, ending her encouraging song in a final note. But shortly thereafter, she grinned, maliciously, and retreated into her corner of the city fog, seeming pretty pleased with herself as she disappeared.