Chapter eleven- A Little Hitch
The next morning, Crash and Crunch made a thorough check of the area. They had to be careful that they weren't seen, but that wasn't particularly tricky for two former anthrians. Although Crash knew his senses were restricted in his present form, he was pretty sure his reflexes were more sensitive than those of the bumbling bouncers he'd seen lumbering around. They spent most of the day listening in on conversations and keeping an eye out for any secret chambers or passages. Disappointingly, no matter how they searched there was nothing to suggest that the bar was anything else than what it claimed to be. A smelly, seedy dive. Some front.
When night fell, the evening's festivities began again. Crunch was pitted against several hulking creeps who figured they could make easy worked of a one-armed dude. Of course, they were sorely mistaken. Crash certainly got a kick out of watching Crunch beat on big guy after bigger guy. He got an even bigger kick about racking up the dough. He learned quite quickly that Dex wasn't an ideal business partner. He pocketed quite a bit of the profits for himself, and although he tried to be discreet it was pitifully obvious. However, Crash kept this to himself. He didn't want to get on bad terms so early out of the gate. After all, they came there for information, not cash.
Crunch was presently kicking the snot out of a bulky man with veins bulging out of each bicep, and actually seemed to be enjoying himself. Although he'd been bitter and uncooperative about the plan at first, Crash was pleased that the big lug was getting some satisfaction out of beating so many people up. As Crunch continued beating his current victim, Crash wandered over to the bar and slid onto the stool. The bartender drifted by, and raised a brow without speaking. Crash lifted a hand, discouraging any potential service.
"Nothing for me at the moment, guy. I'm watching my figure."
The bartender's stony-faced expression remained unaltered as he turned and strode away. Crash shook his head. No sense of humor. As Crash sat there, he started thinking again about his mission. He'd been more optimistic last night prior to their search, but now he was beginning to lose his positivity. The idea that they might be wasting their time in that place filled Crash with utter dread. He ran his fingers over his orange hair, and sighed heavily. He would have to start getting serious about this thing.
With a new decision fresh in his mind, Crash lifted his head and glanced around the room. He could just catch a glimpse of Dex standing at the edge of the ring, watching the fight. Crash whistled, but it faded into the commotion of excited chatter and cracking jaws. Crash tried calling instead.
"Dex! Hey Dex!"
His voice managed to climb above the noise of the fight, and Dex caught sight of him. Crash gestured for him to come over. With a hesitant glance at the fight, Dex made his way over to the bar and leaned on the counter.
"Hey pal, how's it hanging?" Crash slurred, swaying toward Dex and giving him a pat on the back. "Have a drink?"
"No can do, Crash boy. I'm managing this fight. You seem to be doing fine without me."
"My gran always says, good boys don't drink alone. Come on, siddown."
Crash didn't have a grandmother that he was aware of, but the expression seemed to fit. He rolled with it. Dex seemed very tempted, but Crash realized it would take a bit more persuasion. He lifted his hand to the bartender.
"Two more whiskeys, my good man. Make it snappy."
The bartender made a sort of grunt and then went off to prepare the drinks. Dex took a seat beside Crash, shaking his head with a smile.
"You're a bad influence, bud."
"Flattery will get you nowhere. You can take a few minutes to enjoy a drink with your favorite Aussie, cant'cha?"
By this time, the bartender produced two small glasses of whisky. Of course, Crash had no intention of drinking the foul stuff, but Dex didn't need to know that. While Crash dumped his drinks in a nearby urn, Dex was drinking each shot the barkeep put in front of him. It was simple work to dispose of the drink without being detected, since Dex closed his eyes and kept them closed until he smacked the glass back onto the trouble and signaled for another. Although he could be considered to hold his liquor well, he was not prepared to have Crash outdrink him. So he kept drinking and drinking until after about twenty minutes or so he was thoroughly drunk. He hiccupped as he tried to balance his most recent glass on a pyramid of two others. It didn't work well. As the glass dropped to the bar, Dex snickered loudly.
"Oh boy, what a night." Dex garbled, rubbing his nose with the back of his sleeve. "Where the hell did you learn to drink like that?"
Crash clicked his tongue and smiled. He poked his thumb into his chest.
"Australian, mate. We invented the all-nighter."
Dex laughed, and gestured for another drink. While they waited, Crash decided it was time to put his scheme into action. He smacked his palm on the table and shook his head with a raspy sigh.
"You know, I was hoping I'd be in it by now."
"In what?" Dex asked, shakily reaching for his drink.
"In the gang." Crash sagged forward. "I've dreamed about it ever since I was a tyke. Getting into the mob scene, learning the ropes. My goon and I thought we'd come here, and we'd be part of something awesome. But all you guys got here is fighting, sweat and…" Crash hiccupped. "Liquor."
Dex put a comforting hand on Crash's shoulder.
"Don't worry bud, it'll happen. I can tell. The boss'll hear about your fighter and he'll take an interest in you. Then he'll let you in on all the company secrets, but you gotta earn that right, you know?"
"Yeah, I get it." Crash said, grinning. "Then we'll get out of this dive and we'll get to see the actual hideout."
"This is the hideout. Jeez, buddy, you gotta pay more attention."
"This isn't a hideout." Crash argued. "It's a filthy saloon. Nothing but a smelly place for guys to get together and beat the crap out of each other. Don't tell me about paying attention, I've been hoping I'd see something impressive ever since I came here."
"You haven't used the john, yet?" Dex asked.
Crash furrowed his brow.
"Haven't you seen the door in the bathroom? Man, it's so obvious. I told my boss we should think up a better place, but he seems to think it's pretty clever."
Crash considered this, and felt his excitement begin to heighten. As they spoke, Crunch succeeded in knocking out his challenger. Crash stole a glance toward the ring, and noticed that Crunch had a black eye and blood trickling down his chin. Apparently, that one had put up more of a fight. In order to distract Dex, Crash hopped onto his feet.
"Hey dude, the fight's over. You'd better get over there and introduce the next set."
"I'm good, bro, no hurry." Dex slurred, grasping for another drink.
Crash pulled his stool and forced Dex onto his unsteady feet.
"Come on, mate. We need to keep this thing rolling. If we don't, these guys'll start getting bored and split. Go do the announcer bit."
Crash pushed Dex in the direction of the ring, and to his relief the drunken fool kept lumbering in the same direction. Crash turned away from the entertaining display, and tapped his chin with his finger. So, there was a secret door, eh? Perhaps it was a special storage place for valuable loot. Crash decided it was of the utmost importance that he check it out sooner rather than later. He was confident Crunch would be alright on his own for a while. Even if he wasn't, Crash wasn't interested in getting mixed up in some brouhaha with a couple dozen muscle heads. He considered himself to be pretty useless in those kinds of situations anyway.
Crash headed toward the bathroom, keeping casual. Very swiftly, he shouldered open the door and slipped inside. Thankfully, the place was empty. Crash knew he needed to be quick before someone wandered in. He figured it would be a pretty awkward situation, one that he wasn't keen to find himself in. At first glance, all he could see was a disgusting bathroom. Even after a minute or so of searching he couldn't find anything interesting. He wondered perhaps if Dex was just raving about nothing. He was pretty drunk, after all. Crash leaned back against the cracked counter, and furrowed his brow. Then, his eyes fell upon the last stall to the right. It sported a sign scrawled with marker that read "Out of Order", and so it had passed by Crash's initial inspection. Crash cocked his head with a small smile.
"Where would be the most unassuming place to hide a secret passage? Hmm, not a spot I would pick, but, hey, I'm not a thug."
Crash moved toward the door, and without too much trouble flicked upon the lock from the outside. The door squeaked as it opened, but Crash was too interested by what lay within that he forgot to be quiet. The toilet was not out of order, but nonexistent. The small stall possessed only one small square door at the back, with a doorknob protruding out of one side. Crash quickly closed the stall behind him, and then turned the knob. He was relieved to find that the door was unlocked, and once it opened he nimbly slipped inside and quietly pulled it shut behind him.
Wherever it was that he found himself, it was dark. He'd never had good eyes for seeing in the dark, so he couldn't even blame that particular ineptitude on his clumsy human form. He reached his hands out and began to walk, feeling for any walls that might guide him. He probably spent a good ten minutes bumbling around before he bonked his head into a copper ball attached to a string.
"Ouch, what the hell…?"
He gripped the string and tugged, and in a second the chamber lit up with the light of one illuminated light bulb. The light was a big advantage to Crash's search, however, even after twenty minutes of checking through every box and shelf Crash saw no sign of anything resembling granulated crystal. When his search proved futile, Crash sighed heavily and dropped down to his haunches.
"Dang it, this whole searching thing is really starting to get on my nerves. Where would they have hidden the stuff?"
Crash was preparing to get back up and leave the storage room when something very strange came over him. A brutal chill shot through his spine, and his arms and legs started feeling incredibly numb. For a moment, Crash had a feeling he was going to pass out.
"What the heck is going on here?" Crash tried to get up, thought better of it, and then sunk back down.
As Crash's head swam, he glanced down at his hand. He noticed with an upraised brow that his human fingers were beginning to shrink down. He was too lightheaded to be concerned about this sight at once, but he was still aware enough to be a little freaked out when his entire body began to shrivel. He was growing smaller and smaller, so much so that he was getting lost in his billowing clothes. When he finally stopped shrinking, he struggled out of the limp leather jacket that twisted around him. By this time, the dizziness had subsided and he was once again fully conscious. It took only a few seconds for him to deduce what had happened.
Crash was a bandicoot. Not his normal, good-looking bipedal form, but an actual bandicoot. Crash stared at his tiny pink rodent feet, and felt his pulse begin to escalate quickly. He was in panic mode when he realized he had a tail.
"Okay, Crash. Don't freak out. You've just got to…go find Crunch. Yeah, I'll do that."
It took Crash a little while to get used to walking on four legs. Thankfully, his unevolved body was built for it, so it was only a matter of getting the right rhythm so that he didn't get tangled in his own legs. He scurried toward the door, but it was closed. Crash supposed he didn't consider shrinking down to a size no bigger than a ferret when he shut it behind him. He certainly would from now on. One of the upsides of the transformation was that his keen senses had returned to normal. He gave the air a sniff, studied the area a little, and located a convenient little hole in the wall. He squeezed his way through, and then darted out toward the bar. All the while, he wondered how he was going to get Crunch's attention. The most logical way would be running across the floor and shimmying up his leg. The danger with that idea was Crunch might very easily not realize it was Crash in rodent form and give him a good swat. While Crash thought about his plan of action, he noticed that Crunch was sitting at the bar. That made his job a little easier. At least he didn't have to tear off into the middle of the fighting arena. Crash carefully maneuvered across the sticky floor, and concealed himself behind the bar counter. Before confronting Crunch, he made a little commotion off-stage to occupy the bartender. When he was on his own, he climbed half way up the bar.
"Crunch? Psst. Hey Crunch?"
Perhaps Crunch heard him, but the next moment Crash wasn't concerned about that. His body felt as though it exploded, with long limbs bursting him back into a human form. The fur that covered his body faded, and he was all skin once again. As he composed himself from his rapid transformation, he realized with a little sigh that he was completely naked. He was still positioned behind the bar, and soon heard Crunch's voice above him.
"Crash, is that you? What the hell are you doing back there?"
Crash slowly rose up to his feet and leaned onto the bar casually. He smiled.
"Good of you to ask, buddy-of-mine. I am presently yo-yoing between a small furry mammal and a human."
"Where are your clothes?"
"I am also naked. Thanks for noticing. My clothes are sitting in a heap in the secret passage I was searching about twenty minutes ago. If you wouldn't mind too much, could you go grab them for me?"
Crunch was still trying to get a handle on what Crash was saying.
"Wait a second. Did you say you turned into a bandicoot?"
"Clothes first, Crunch. When I'm protected from the elements I will disclose all."
Confusion always regulated Crunch's attitude, so he didn't argue. Before he could get up, though, Crash snatched his jacket. After all, he had no intention of standing around in his birthday suit until Crunch got back. He covered himself up, and started thinking about this new development in their situation. It was nerve-wracking enough having to dupe an organization of criminals, without the added danger of turning into an animal any minute. Crash desperately hoped his transformation was just a one-time thing, and wouldn't become a habit.
Isabella was up all night. She pretended to sleep for a few hours in the evening while Coco was hovering around, but as soon as the young bandicoot retired to bed Isabella opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling. She'd remained that way for many hours, focusing her mind and trying to reach a mental state where the pain would be unable to reach. She did not succeed. The pain was steady and continuous, stabbing her with excruciation every few minutes. She was so hot she was sweating, so it was clear that her fever was worsening. She decided not to dwell on that.
Desperate for anything that would interrupt the unchanging pain, Isabella forced herself to sit. The excursion was surprisingly simple considering she'd been bedridden for a few days. Her body was desirous to move, to attack this threat as she had so many others. However, she could not combat the illness physically. Whatever it was, it was destroying her from the inside out.
Suddenly, Isabella's chest rattled with a few painful coughs. She covered her mouth tightly, trying to keep quiet so as not to wake Coco. There was nothing she'd be able to do but stand there and fret, and Isabella wasn't interested in that. After her coughs relented, Isabella removed her hand. The stray moonlight that entered the room reflected itself off the slick blood that had splattered over her palm. Isabella stared at it for a few furious moments, and then squeezed her hand into a fist.
"Damn it…damn it…DAMN IT."
The last word was spoken in a rasping whisper, but she could feel the anger course through her. She pounded the cushions she was sitting on with her fist once, and then again. Her head drooped forward, and her blond hair fell in sticky strands around her body. She promised herself that she wouldn't allow the sickness to defeat her. She would continue fighting until it robbed her of her last breath. However, her hope was steadily beginning to fade. Her body was deteriorating, and there was nothing she could do to stop it. Nothing but sit around idly and wait for it to finally kill her.
In this angry state, she forgot to keep her focus on remaining conscious. The emotion quickly overcame her, and in an instant her eyes fell closed and she was plunged into another memory.
Her mission was clear. She'd prepared thoroughly, and she knew everything there was to know about her target. She'd been briefed, and she knew how important it was for her to succeed. All of her training had prepared her for that moment. She lifted a rifle into her hands, and swiftly pressed it into her arm and checked the scope. She made a few small adjustments, and then locked it in place. She slid the rifle into the holster onto her back. She was just about finished the prep on her equipment, when the door of her chamber suddenly swished open. Her gun was in her hand and pointed at the head of the intruder within a second. It was merely a robotic minion, one of several dozen that constantly bustled around the concourse. Isabella sometimes blasted them for the mere enjoyment of it. However, it appeared this one had a message for her. Its dull robotic voice told her that she received a summon and was needed in the communication chamber at once. Even though Isabella had been trained to obey every order from her superior, she had never gotten the hang of being at anyone's beck and call. Therefore, she ignored the tin creature and continued with her preparation. When she was finished, she left her chamber and prepared to answer the communication.
She entered the large dark room and sat before the computer. She typed a quick code, and swiftly clicked the corresponding buttons until a large face appeared on her screen. The man's bushy black brows were furrowed in irritation.
"I've told you before. When I summon you, I expect your reaction to be immediate."
"And I have no intention of dropping everything just to answer a call, so let's push past it. What do you want?"
"You are prepared for your mission?"
"Of course I am."
"There are some new details regarding your target. I intend to brief you in person. When can you be ready?"
"Assuming I get no more emergency calls from you, I can be ready in ten."
"Excellent. Then we will convene at the laboratory."
The monitor blinked off. Without so much as a pause, Isabella lifted herself out of her seat and exited the chamber.
Isabella opened her eyes, and found herself back in her conscious state. The vision did not succeed in scaring the crap out of her, so her heart rate was normal. However, there was something very interesting about this memory. For the first time since her condition took hold, she'd been disturbed by unfamiliar memories. Yet in not one of them had she been able to manage a clear identification of any entity. The man she'd been talking to on the monitor was familiar. Although she couldn't make out any specific features, the giant head, bushy brows and drawling voice could only belong to one person. Dr. Cortex. This was the first memory where that shrimp appeared, and this greatly interested Isabella. If he dealt with her in her former life, it was logical to believe that he knew who she was.
Isabella was filled with a new resolve that filled her with a sense of anticipation. Whether or not she could uncover the cure for her sickness was not important. She'd accepted her death, and she wasn't willing do delude herself by hoping for some kind of hidden antidote. She just wanted to know who she was. If Cortex had that answer, that's where she would go.
With a newly discovered strength, Isabella swung her legs off the couch and onto the floor. With a deep breath, she slowly rose to her feet. She hadn't moved much over the past few days, and she could definitely feel it. However, she had no intention of having a little weakness stop her. Quietly, she went through her bag and secured a pistol. She stuffed the gun into the back of her pants, and concealed it with her shirt. After she was dressed with whatever clothing was available to her, she headed for the door. She paused for a moment, and felt a small amount of guilt for what she was about to do. Coco and her friends had been good to her, and Isabella doubted she would have lasted as long as she did without her or her brother's help. Despite this, she was determined to get answers, and she could only do that on her own.
She walked outside, and the crisp air felt wonderful against her flushed skin. The sun was just beginning to rise, brightening the dark sky into a beautiful shade of pastel pink. Isabella enjoyed this sight only for a moment. She didn't know how long her momentary strength would last, so she decided to act fast. The quickest way to get to Cortex's lab was by air, and she was fairly sure Coco would have some kind of aerial vehicle that would assist her. Thankfully, Coco's lab wasn't locked, so Isabella strode warily inside. There, she located a small glider that would serve her needs perfectly. After a quick system check, Isabella took off. Although the engine was not very loud, Isabella was quite sure it would be enough to wake Coco up. By that point, it wouldn't matter. Isabella only needed to make the distance to Cortex's castle without passing out, and then once she found the pint-sized idiot she would discover her true identity. This thought succeeded in putting a smile on Isabella's face, the first smile she'd had in weeks.
Chapter 11...will this story ever end...?:) I have to admit I had a lot of fun writing this chapter. Although I've never pegged Crash as a potential wino, I was having fun when he pretended he was drinking. Another twist I was eager to introduce: Crash changing into an actual bandicoot! Le gasp! Haha, it's almost depressing to see how long in the works this series has been. When I started my first story, I was looking forward to the time when I'd have the ability to goof around with writing Crash in an unevolved form. I am also enjoying writing Isabella in this story, but I'm not really sure why. Maybe I enjoy the challenge of constantly needing to remember what I write to avoid plot holes. Oh well.
That's all to report for now. Thank you for reading and please review if time permits^^