A Collaborative Effort: Part 8
"It pays to be obvious, especially if you have a reputation for subtlety."
--I. Asimov, Foundation
Im telling you, its three grams of nitrous oxide per liter, Newt growled, jerking the test tube away from his cousin.
Joseph yelped. Are you mad?!? Youll blow us all to kingdom come, you fool!
Oh, do shut up. Whose formula is it, anyway?
Technically its the brainchild of a group of highly trained and brilliant minds, was the smug reply.
Newt snarled something inarticulate but menacing.
Those standing in the giant, two-story, sky-domed lab assisting the two scientists as they attempted to recreate the formula from more then twenty years ago watched in a combination of awe and sheer terror. Even Periwinkle at his most insane and careless couldnt rival the pair of bickering kiwis as they mixed (and flung) chemicals haphazardly about while they argued. A few of the less cautious individuals had already been burned, and one poor soul was accidentally blown a few feet through the air into a wall.
Stop blowing up my lab and my minions! Periwinkle screamed, storming in with Honey trailing behind. Honestly, thats my job.
Funny, I thought it was a perk, Honey muttered.
Quiet, you. I grow weary of your stall tactics. I want that formula and I want it now, the mad scientist screeched at them. You two have exactly one hour to produce a working, viable explosive for me to use or I promise you, I will teach you a whole new meaning of the word *pain* using just paper clips.
Honey tapped him on the shoulder as he smugly watched everyone jump to do his bidding. Yeah, well, in the meantime, Doc, we got a bit of a problem.
Periwinkle snarled something along the lines of paper cuts and lemon Pledge as he turned to face the rabbit. What now?!
It seems intruders breached our perimeter around the generators. My strike team reported chasing a motorbike and destroying it a few minutes ago. Both individuals wore standard local law enforcement uniforms
Did they see anyone else in the area?
No, but that doesnt mean there arent-
Have there been any more breaches since then?
Then I fail to see why this is a problem.
Honey rolled her eyes. Its a problem, Doc, because theyre on the line again, saying theres no bodies amongst the wreckage.
With a sigh and a mental note to eventually get back at her brother for asking her to baby-sit this fruitcake, Honey decided itd be best to just spell things out for him. They didnt get them, Doc. Weve got teams fanning out into the woods between here and the crash site looking for them, but theres a chance theyve already called for backup.
The initial explosion and flames had distracted the ground pursuit long enough for Ferdia and Squeaks to slip out of the area, darting amongst the trees and underbrush a few yards from the road as they made their way back in the direction the armed vehicles had come. But the diversion did not work for long; teams of guards and dogs began sifting through the woods before them, simultaneously making it easier to track where it was the guards were coming from and more difficult to avoid detection.
Just how long, Ferdia whispered to her partner as they ducked out of sight as a pair of passing searchers wandered perilously close by, do you think we can keep this up?
Squeaks shrugged. Hopefully at least until we can get to a more defendable position. Were too far from any of the other search positions to expect help.
Yeah, but our lucks not gonna hold out forever, the bluebird stated as the two broke into a run across a more open stretch of thin trees and low cover, I mean, even if we track these guys back to Periwinkles hideout, howre we gonna get in now that he knows were coming? Weve completely blown the element of surprise.
Lets handle that when we come to it, neh? the mouse winked, Im sure well find a way in, conventional or otherwise.
I find it interesting that a recent government land survey makes no mention of a fenced off section of government property, Thera commented dryly as she maneuvered the SUV along a ditch to avoid said fence. An old abandoned mining town off limits because of sinkholes? Why is it your average mad scientist always goes for the obvious cliché?
Depends on your definition of an *average* mad scientist, William replied as he held tightly to the panic bar. Most of the ones Ive met were too insane to grasp subtle things like irony.
Rolling her eyes, Thera muttered a hang on before going over a series of naturally made speed bumps (i.e. dead trees). Despite being designed to go off-road, the vehicle was still taking one heck of a beating, and so were they. She swore suddenly as the ground seemed to drop away and they lurched downward at a steeper angle than shed anticipated. She tried to compensate, but the SUV merely jerked uselessly forward once before sinking back into the deep ditch theyd landed in. Thera threw it in reverse and was about to try something risky to get them loose when the sound of an explosion echoed through the area.
William was out of the vehicle in seconds, scanning the forest as he tried to locate the source of the sound. The distant whir of chopper blades reached him just as they both caught the smell of smoke - and then Thera was off like a light, her partner chasing after her.
Thera, be careful, he called as she dodged through the trees. The chase went on for several minutes then, suddenly, ahead of him, Thera skidded to a halt and whirled behind a tree. Are you trying to get me killed, William hissed.
Look, she replied, nodding towards a break in the trees. Even with the heavy smoke they could both make out the wreckage of the motorcycle. Several cammie-clad and heavily armed individuals were trying to put out the fire, while more teams swept the surrounding area. William grabbed his partner and hauled her further back into the line of trees the moment he saw movement near them. They crouched in the bushes for several minutes, waiting to see if anyone had noticed their presence.
William tensed as they came dangerously close, and both agents listened to the reports over the radio dangling so close to their hiding place.
Team leader Alpha, Bravo team C, over.
Go ahead C.
Found suspicious vehicle 45 meters southwest of perimeter. Appears to be abandoned and recently. Tagging for retrieval, over.
Roger C, sending two sweeper teams to you coordinates to help with pickup, over.
Roger, C out.
Neither agent was too pleased with this latest development, so when the sudden sliding click of an automatic weapon sounded from behind them, Theras eyes went wide - then flat with rage as the skunk burst up and into full fight mode.
Ferdia peered out from behind a bramble bush at the armed guards pacing the length of the sprawling, cammi-covered concrete compound tucked into a break in the trees before her. The green and brown surplus mesh used to hide army tents and bases stretched across the two-story structures roof and walls, accented here and there with actual greenery and the odd meshed tent that masked a collection of armored jeeps and helicopters. Half-crouched and taking pains to move swiftly and silently, the bluebird made her way back through the forest a dozen yards to the shelter of a great fallen oak.
East sides no good, she greeted her partner as the mouse returned from his reconnaissance, Only one door that I can see, and wed have to cross the line of goons standing guard over the vehicle tents. Souths no better; theyre using it as the main entrance, so its heavily trafficked on top of being heavily watched.
The other sides arent much better, Squeaks reported grimly, Wests a solid wall of concrete aside from a window or two along a brief second story stretch, and Norths got a blast door that wont budge unless its bolts are blown from inside. Good for an emergency exit, but more of a wall than an entrance. Any word from the other teams?
Ferdia shook her head. No, but the feds never mentioned if theyd be carrying radios and I know Bob and Ferdie dont. You wanna try raising Locke again?
I wouldnt want to risk their cover with a ringing phone.
One would hope hed have it in vibrate mode. But, then, one would hope theyd have radios as well, and theyre silent across all channels.
A sudden snap met their ears, followed by a menacing growl. One of the dogs patrolling the grounds had picked up on their scent, and was steadily dragging its handler towards their hiding place. Nearby guards caught sight of the animals behavior, and rushed into the trees in search of what it alerted to.
Ferdia tensed, creeping back a step in preparation of flight as both cops swept urgent glances around the area in search of an escape route that wouldnt leave them vulnerable to enemy fire. Squeaks caught her arm.
Are you kidding me? she hissed, That dogll lead them right to us!
I know, he stated, locking eyes with her as she tried to tug her arm free, But if we run, theyll open fire, and theres too many of them and too little cover to hope thatll end well.
Look, their weapons are either slung over their shoulders or targeted with the safeties on. This close to the compound, theyre probably more interested in taking and interrogating intruders than shooting them.
In a military fight, maybe, but this is Periwinkle!
Squeaks shook his head. This camp is far too organized for Periwinkle to be in charge. Someone else is running security here - someone who knows tactics and strategy. Theyll want to know our numbers and locations, or at least have hostages to negotiate with.
So youre saying we just sit here and let them catch us?!?
The mouse smirked. If nothing else, it gets us inside.
Ferdie cut a swift pace across the rocky mountain slopes, running full tilt in the direction of the still-rising smoke, the calming effects of Leahs pills flushed from his system by the overwhelming need to make sure his sister was all right.
Bob chased after the streaking bluebird, shouting ahead to the shrinking form as it pulled further and further ahead at breakneck speeds a non-panicked Ferdie would never even consider in this treacherous terrain. Ferdie! Get back here! Youre gonna blow our cover!
Running behind the galloping yellow kiwi, confused as usual, came Beak, trying to catch up to his friends as they dashed across the hills. But, Bob! What about Newt? Hes not over there, hes further North! Why arent we going that way?
Leah watched the trio as they tore over rocks and slopes and gullies despite their previous claims of exhaustion. Why do I always get stuck with the crazy ones? the tanager sighed, rolling her eyes as she followed the lunatics at a more leisurely and far safer walking pace.
William was actually the type of person who, by nature, hated getting caught. Amateurs got caught. Professionals, however, always had a plan, even when it looked liked they didnt. The mouse definitely considered himself a professional and always had at least three plans, one of which would allow him to disappear completely. Thera, on the other, was not a planner. While he was certainly fond of his partner, he acknowledged that she was one of those think-on-your-feet, throw-open-the-door-and-just-wing-it types. This worried him.
Some people just could not wing it quietly.
Getting the door to his cell open was pathetically simple, but did confirm he was alone on the cellblock. Not surprising, but it would make it harder to locate the skunk and (once he had convinced her not to shoot him for surrendering) retrieve the missing scientists. Unfortunately, he was without his usual bag of tricks, but there were some things he could compensate for. Examining the wall across from him with a smile, he hauled himself up to the ceiling using the natural handholds carved into the walls. It looked like the entire cellblock had been hewn from the original mining shafts and just stabilized with exterior support beams. Slipshod, but effective - and perfect for his needs.
Although maybe this is unnecessary, he decided while crawling above the corridor to an intersection. Strangely, there were no guards, not even here in the stairwell.
Suddenly he tensed, picking up the barest whisper of sound on the stairs just above him. Tucking himself into the shadows where several beams met, he waited and watched. Sure enough, a very bored-looking chipmunk strolled beneath him, and William dropped, slamming the guard into the ground and knocking him unconscious. A quick search revealed a couple of useful weapons, spare ammo (for Thera), and a radio already conveniently tuned to the correct frequency.
William thanked the guard for his generosity by tying him up with his belt and leaving the chipmunk in an empty cell. Locked, of course. Now better equipped, the mouse resumed his journey across the ceiling, in search of his wayward partner.
The level above him was empty and looked even more unused than the rest of the dungeon. But he did spot a handful of guards emerging from a hallway at the far end, indicating there must be a second staircase. Sure enough, there was, slightly smaller but more worn from use. Waiting until his path was clear, William quietly crept down the narrow stairs, and into a trap.
Squeaks froze against the rough earthen wall of the subterranean corridor as a whisper of sound reached his ears, tensing into a crouch just shy of the corner of a flight of stairs as he prepared to ambush whatever unlucky guard approached. The sound came again the slightest rustle of dirt flaking away from the low ceiling of the shafts stairs. He glanced up, absently flicking his tail, his ears twitching as he strained to make out the noise more clearly.
He couldnt make out the sound of footsteps above had the dirt just been settling, then? Or was he dealing with an unusually stealthy adversary?
Hed recovered his belt and guns from the room theyd been stored in shortly after escaping his cell but snaps and gun safeties made noise when released, and he was determined to take whoever was on the stairs completely by surprise. He took a half-step back, and tensed to spring.
A pale-furred hand came into view as its owner cautiously turned the corner along the ceiling. At the sight of its bearer, though, Squeaks relaxed, a bemused grin spreading across his face as he watched the younger mouse enter the hallway scuttling across the earthen ceiling of the converted mine shaft.
Creative, Locke, he greeted the agent. Not entirely practical, but creative.
Knuckles tightening were the only betrayal of how startled he was as William quelled the urge to kick something. Unclenching his fingers, the mouse dangled upside down and sent the cop a half-hearted glare. Greetings, detective. Desperation is the true mother of invention, after all. Besides, youd be amazed how often people forget to look up.
He flipped down to land in front of the uniformed mouse with disgusting ease. You appear to be missing someone.
As do you, Squeaks observed.
I know exactly where Thera is, he replied. Locked in a cell on one of the levels below us. Unless we feel an explosion then shes gotten loose.
The cop quirked an eyebrow. Must be nice to have that sure an indicator, he commented. I suspect Ferdia may have started a level or two below us as well, though shes probably freed herself at this point.
Given that we seem to have the same immediate goals, care to help me locate our missing partners, William offered. Squeaks nodded. Good. Age before beauty, so after you.
Certainly, nodded the cop with a half-bow and a self-deprecating grin. After all, youth and skill are no match for old age and treachery.
Squeaks chose to ignore the muttered commentary about needing a cane in favor of leading the way cautiously down to the level below. After another fruitless search and some speculation on the lack of guards in the dungeon levels, they turned a corner and wandered straight into a nest of armed guards playing jacks. As William made to take a quick step back into the shadows, Squeaks leapt for the opposite wall of the corridor, kick-turned off it towards where the first wall met the ceiling, and rebounded off said wall to dive headlong into the three unwary guards, plowing into them from above with an elbow sweep and airborne roundhouse kick that saw the men unconscious before theyd had time to do more but look up in surprise. He landed as lightly and quietly as a cat amidst the guards sprawled forms, doing a quick visual sweep for possible others as he rose before turning back towards Locke with a self-satisfied smirk.
Shall we continue on now? William asked, as infuriatingly calmly as possible.
Unless youd prefer to lurk about the shadows a bit longer, the mouse shrugged.
Really, detective, professional thieves do not lurk. We pause, observe, and wait until the correct time to act.
Yes, and where Im from, we do the same thing, only a great deal quicker.
William smiled. Thats good, detective; however, what do you intend to do about them? He nodded towards the half-dozen armed guards that had just come around the corner at the far end of the corridor.
Pause, observe - and withdraw, Squeaks stated, lobbing one of the fallen guards smoke grenades behind him as he darted back the way theyd come. Shaking his head, William followed at a fast pace.
After proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that neither Ferdia nor Squeaks was anywhere near the wreckage of the mouses motorcycle, Leah and Beak managed to drag the group back onto a course which the brown kiwi swore was bringing them closer to Newt with each step while keeping them a safe distance from the teams of armed soldiers prowling the area.
This, in turn, led them to a camouflaged series of tents and a building closely watched by heavily-armed guards. The group crouched behind a sizeable bush in the forested area before the closest door, debating their options.
Newts definitely in there, Beak proclaimed, I can sense it!
Thats all well and good, Leah commented, But it doesnt solve the problem of half a dozen guards camped out in front of the door. Howre we going to get past them when apparently none of you are armed?
Bob struck a confident post. Im sure well think of something. Danger Kiwi always finds a way to-
Leah tuned out the kiwis monologue. I knew I shouldve sneaked some explosives with me, she grumbled, A grenade or twod take care of this, no problem.
Beak squinted at the guards, scrutinizing them for a long moment before turning away and massaging his temples. I wouldnt worry about the guards, Miss Leah, he stated, Theyll be leaving in a moment.
What are you talking about? the tanager snapped. These are trained professionals, theyre not about to just get up and lea wait, she blinked, as one by one the guards picked up their rifles and wandered off.
They just got up and left!
Told you, Beak grinned.
Leah muttered a few choice words about smug, overconfident buffoons and her choice methods of dealing with said idiots as the group dashed for the unattended door. The guards had even been so kind as to leave it unlocked.
Thera nonchalantly finished squeezing the last of the gel out of a small tube and onto the doorframe of her cell. Satisfied that it was evenly distributed, the skunk stepped back a moment to admire her handiwork before the chemical reaction with the air caused the substance to ignite, blowing the solid steel door out into the poor squirrel stationed in front of it. There was a resounding crash as it toppled backwards and Thera strolled across it to the remains of the guard and removed any weapons still intact.
Didnt crack the housing, excellent, she muttered, examining the Beretta. Two more guns, three knives and a handful of reasonably intact explosives later, she was suitably well-armed and ready to carry out her mission.
Meanwhile, two floors up (and vaguely wondering about the explosion) Ferdia had finally succeeded in dislodging the metal-barred door to her cell using a three-plus foot long piece of rusted metal pipe torn from the network running across the low ceiling to chip out the stone wall covering the lock. Hefting the pipe once to get a feel for its weight and balance, she headed off down the abandoned corridor in the direction of the guard whod taken her weapon.
A bit of exploring, two bludgeoned guards, and a dented pipe later, shed recovered her missing weaponry and backtracked her way to the nearest stairwell. She debated the merits of venturing down a level or two in search of the source of the earlier explosion, but opted instead to locate her missing partner on the floors above.
Having located an exit, Thera was making her way out of the prison levels when she came across a familiar bluebird in the stairwell, pummeling several guards with a large metal pipe. Her momentary internal debate over whether to lend a hand when the bluebird looked like she was really enjoying herself was long enough for the fight to end with Ferdia triumphantly throwing several unconscious bodies down the stairs. Thera got out of the way just in time.
The bluebird fell back into a fighting stance, casting about for additional attackers for a moment before relaxing a bit, twirling the pipe like a rusty, oversized, blood-stained baton as she wandered over to inspect her handiwork. She caught sight of Thera on the landing below her and smiled jovially. Hey! she grinned down at the skunk, Guess that solves the riddle of the explosion a while back. Hope you dont mind my breaking in your welcoming committee they wouldnt get out of my way.
No problem, Thera replied, starting up. There wasnt a whole lot of the guard left to scrape up anyway. Dented the wall a bit, but he was kind enough to leave me some weapons. Nice work with the pipe by the way.
As a certain thief I know is fond of saying: Theres nothing quite like a good stick and the knowledge of how to beat someone with it, she grinned, resting the weapon across her shoulders. She indicated the ascending stairs behind her. Shall we go check on the boys, then? Id like to catch up with Squeaks before my partner reverts to Commando mode.
Snickering to herself, Thera continued on past the bluebird. If he has William along with him, the testosterone level is probably neck deep by now, she remarked over her shoulder. He tends to bring out the smartass in people.
Ferdia smirked. Squeaks as a smartass tends to be far more playful and less careful. Wed best hurry before their one-upsmanship lands them both in the hospital. She fell into step with the younger skunk. Im fairly certain he started off a level or two above me or at least thats when his guards split off from mine so with any luck, theyll be close by.
Any reply Thera might have made was cut off by the sound of many running footsteps from above, causing both of them to tense. Swiftly making it to the next level, they ducked down the hallway and waited as a sizable group of guards ran by on the stairwell. Grinning evilly, Thera lobbed a concussion grenade down the stairs after them.
Feds get the best toys, Ferdia commented wryly as the two headed further along the mineshaft, distancing themselves from the sudden cave in.
All depends on what I can liberate when certain people arent looking.
Ahead, Ferdia noticed an intersection and slowed up, Thera following suit. The sounds of the cave in were sure to bring more guards, so the two cautiously approached the crossway, the bluebird holding her makeshift Bo at the ready, staying close to the wall as she prepared to swing the pipe around at any guards that might be approaching the corner from the opposite direction.
Squeaks skid to a stop amidst the rumblings and ground-shaking shudders of a cave-in collapsing the nearest section of the level below them, throwing out an arm to halt the mouse behind him.
William slid back a step, glancing at the cop as Squeaks warily backed to the wall and crept along it towards the intersection several dozen feet ahead. Really, detective; its only Theras handiwork youre hearing.
No, No, Squeaks frowned, voice hushed as he strained his ears forward, Its footsteps Im hearing.
William paused, listening. I dont hear any-
Probably not, the mouse glanced back at him before creeping closer to the edge, But I do. He halted just short of the corner, waiting.
A moment later, a length of pipe swiftly and abruptly swung around the corner at roughly chest height. Squeaks caught the pipe mid-swing and tugged hard, pulling their assailant out and around the corner when they refused to release the weapon. The bird swung into view with startled squawk, off-balance but still kicking out, just missing his kneecap and falling towards the mouse. Recognition hit him as he jerked the pipe forward, dodging his partners attack. Thera was just seconds behind, guns already out and trained on each mouse.
Fancy meeting you two lovely ladies in a place like this, William said, strolling into the midst of the scuffle.
Ferdia automatically looked behind her, causing her partner to grin. We were in the area, thought wed take a tour.
Sighing, Thera tucked her guns before giving the whole group a look. The next person who makes with the witty banter gets shot.
Well, now that my partner has so delightfully slaughtered the mood, shall we exit this depressing place?
We do have a pair of missing scientists to find, Thera retorted, glaring at the unrepentant mouse.
Question, Ferdia spoke up. How do we get out?
Squeaks pointed straight up. Back the way we came, Id say. Provided Periwinkle hasnt sealed us in.
And just because he waits for such opportune moments, Murphys Law happily kicked in, they discovered twenty minutes later. Every exit was now blocked by several feet of solid rock. Apparently news of their escape had reached Periwinkle, who always had had a knack for sealing off escape routes in new and interesting ways.
Okay, what now? Ferdia inquired.
Unfortunately, all I have left are grenades, Thera replied. I doubt theyd do more then dent it.
My specialty involves locks, William added. Not much use if you cant reach them.
Ferdia glanced at her partner, who was studying the great hulking granite monstrosity intently. Squeaks?
Maybe, the mouse frowned. He reached into a pouch on his belt, producing a small object that looked like a small flip-top cell phone and contemplating it for a moment. Oh, why not, he shrugged, flipping the device over and prying open its back panel.
Ferdia blinked at her partner in confusion. Wait if youre gonna blast it, why are you-
First thing they teach us in Weapons class, he replied, working one of the gadgets components loose and fiddling with a chipset and wires, Never reverse the power supply. Second thing they teach us, he grinned up at them, flipping the boxy component around and slamming it back into place, How to reverse the power supply.
What exactly is that thing? Thera queried as the device began to emit a high-pitched whining sound.
Dangerous, Squeaks replied, wedging it between a chest-high pile of rocks and tugging at his partners elbow. Around the far corner, now. Weve got a couple seconds, nothing more. Anyone that doesnt fancy being incinerated might want to follow suit.
The gadgets whine followed them as the dashed for the relative safety of the heavy earth-and-stone wall around the corner from the boulder, its pitch increasing with every step until it reached Critical Mass with a muted explosion of white noise, heat, and a flash of blinding light as they dove for cover. The faint pinging of tiny pebbles pelting the corridor behind them followed the initial burst of noise, a sound not unlike rain for the brief spate of time it took to fade.
When the four peered around the corner, all that was left of the oversized rock quarry was a smattering of tiny, hissing pebbles, heat-fused blobs of melted rock along the floor, and a hole melted into the concrete and steel floor of the aboveground complex overhead.
I have got to get me one of those! Ferdia cheered, eyes lighting up as she turned to her partner hopefully. Please?
Squeaks chuckled. Absolutely not! Im going to have a hard enough time getting another one myself at this point. And besides, that is absolutely not the function they were designed to perform; simply a last-ditch option for the direst of circumstances.
At any rate, her partner continued, gesturing at the hole in the ceiling above them, Were free again. Lets see about getting Newt back, shall we?
Breaking into the base had been relatively easy, but navigating it was much harder, Ferdie decided as they huddled in a storage closet waiting for hallway to clear. Beak was doing his best to guide people away from their path; however, the increasing level of activity as they drew closer to the missing scientists made it difficult for the kiwi to do so effectively. Plus, apparently the Magis homing senses failed to take into account little things like walls and heavy machinery. Several times now theyd had to double back after discovering their way blocked by one of the two.
Beak gave the all-clear signal (frantic waving) and they ventured back out into the hallway, the brown kiwi once again leading the way. Suddenly he stopped and frowned, looking down moments before the ground trembled beneath them. It was over in seconds, leaving most of them confused.
What was that, Bob demanded, picking himself up off the ground as he did.
Beak continued to look confused while Ferdie just shrugged. Earthquake, maybe?
Concussion blast, Leah cut him off. Felt like it was a couple of floors below us. Id say at least part of this place used to be an old mine, which means theres probably a huge network of mineshafts running below us. Maybe Periwinkle is expanding his territory down there.
The bluebird looked down nervously. Uh, we dont have to go down there, right?
Beak shook his head. No, Newt is above us
and there are more people coming, very quickly.
Back into the closet, Bob shouted, heroically retreating to safety.
Leah was the last one in, leaving the door open a few inches to observe as several armed guards hurried past.
Id rather stay in the lab and threaten the geek brothers then chase feds around a mineshaft, one of the muttered as he ran by.
I really dont think youre taking me seriously, Periwinkle called out in almost a sing-song voice from his place on top of the raised dais, as he watched his captives scurrying about in the makeshift laboratory below. Honey, do you think theyre taking me seriously?
The golden furred rabbit, carefully cleaning blood out from beneath her nails with a butterfly knife, glanced up and shrugged. Does anyone take you seriously? Ignoring the sputtering of rage, she continued, You may not be much of a motivation for them, but Im sure the cattle prods are doing an admirable job of keeping our prize geniuses dedicated to their task. So why dont you leave them alone and quit with the micro-managing already?
Children these days are entirely too insolent, he sullenly replied with a glare. Someone should have taught you respect for your elders.
Oh, please. I was slitting throats while you were still trying to sue for that lousy dye job.
Whatever fascinating (and violent) response Periwinkle might have made was interrupted by the bucking of the earth from below them accompanied by a distant roar that might have been thunder. Nearly all the occupants of the domed room froze the guards shifting nervously, grasping their semi-automatic weapons more firmly, while the scientists quickly checked each over just in case.
Periwinkle, of course, began ranting.
Who gave you permission to stop working?!? he screamed, giving them both the (insane) evil eye. Did anyone here hear me say put that beaker down?!? Did you?
A few of guards shifted uneasily again, this time due to the look the peacock aimed in their direction. They openly winced when Honey leaned over and casually belted him.
Calm down, you fruit loop, she snarled. Both of them are well aware youll start shooting off random body parts if they dont have the stuff ready in twenty-four hours. In the meantime, we have bigger problems.
What are you talking about? Periwinkle inquired, suddenly seeming much calmer.
The explosion. You know, the one you just felt a minute ago. Just how much brain damage do you have?
Bah. Ignore it, happens all the time over fault lines, he turned away to begin harassing his new toys again, but Honey grabbed him first.
This. Is. Canada! No fault lines, no sudden spontaneous earthquakes or the like. What we felt was probably someone blowing up a portion of the mineshafts below us.
Who would do that?
~Sigh~ I dunno, maybe the four prisoners *you* stuck down there rather than just letting me *shoot* them and dump their bodies down a shaft. Clearly they got loose and are causing trouble.
Oh. Well, dont I employee you to handle things like that? Periwinkle muttered like a petulant child. Im having too much fun up here to worry about it anyway.
For a moment Honey just blinked. Yes; yes, you do. Why dont you just stay here and play with you hostages, and Ill just take care of everything. Her voice was almost soothing as she slowly backed away from him before gathering about ten of the thirty guards and sending them down to investigate.
Out of the corner of his eye, Joseph noted the sudden decrease in the number of guards.
Yes, two against twenty are much better odds, a voice sarcastically muttered in the back of his mind. He ignored it, as well as Honeys quiet exit not a minute later. Instead he turned to his cousin. Are you sure this is a good idea? he whispered quietly while handing the identical kiwi a test tube.
Would you rather we just hand the formula over to Periwinkle? Newt countered.
Id rather we didnt get killed, Joseph shot back.
Newt shrugged, mixing the contents of the test tube into a small ceramic crucible filled with a gritty mixture of chemicals he was slowly grinding into powder. If this works, we wont be.
And if it doesnt-
If it doesnt, at least Periwinkle wont have the formula, right? Newt paused, reaching for an extra scoopula-ful of aluminum sulfate. You havent been around to see his latest exploits, cousin, but were talking about a man who seeds clouds with Nair and red food coloring. Do you really want to give him a formula that could take out a city block by the spoonful?
Speaking of spoonfuls, cousin, you add one more pinch of sulfate to that mixture and youll take out a city block.
Oh dear. Newt returned the scoopula to its beaker. Sorry about that. Habit, you know. At any rate, we ought to be about ready now.
Actually, I havent quite come to terms with my own mortality yet-
Periwinkle! Newt yelled across the makeshift lab to the disgruntled peacock pacing back and forth along the dais, We think weve got it right this time, but were going to need to test it out to make sure! You might want to pull your guards to one side of the room so they dont get caught in the blast!
Why would I do something as foolish as that? Periwinkle snarled down at them. They get hazard pay!
We are gonna die, Joseph muttered.
Shut up, Newt coughed, striking a flint-and-steel starter overtop the bowl of ground powder in a shower of sparks. Ready? And
The powder ignited in a brilliant burst of blinding light, much as if a flash-bang had gone off. Newt and Joe, having covered their eyes in expectation of this reaction, took off in the direction of the nearest exit at top speed, taking advantage of the guards momentary blindness to shove the machinegun-wielding henchmen out of their way while an outraged Periwinkle bellowed incoherently above them.
Unfortunately for the two of them, even blind guards can do a passable job of blocking a doorway, and they quickly found themselves wading through a mob of grappling thugs. Then, with a hiss and a whirr, the second flaw in their flawless plan materialized: unlike Periwinkles generally run-down labs, this facility had a working sprinkler system. And the smoke had just triggered it.
The strike team was ready. The assault team was ready. Even the sweeper team that would come in as the third wave and mop up anyone the other teams had missed was ready. Weapons were primed, safeties were off, and both tanks say quietly idling in position, waiting for the cue to raise mass havoc.
In short, *everything* was ready.
But no one moved on the abandoned mining town.
Can you tell me what were waiting for, Rami demanded, glaring down at her partner. Xiao, infinitely serene and calm as always, sat in the command seat, watching the monitors and listening to the background chatter over the com system.
The signal, the cat finally replied several minutes later, just before his partner snapped and went for his throat. Next to him, Dios paused as his fingers faltered on the keyboard for a moment before deleting what he had typed and continuing.
Signal, Rami forced out through clenched teeth, the closest she would allow herself to come to outright questioning her partner.
A slow, almost gentle nod. From William, Xiao kindly elaborated, about all the explanation he would allow himself to give.
Both males waited for the explosion. Rami was more patient then Leah, or even Thera on a good day, but even she had her limits when it came to Xiaos almost Zen-like approach to mission details.
And what is the signal, Rami eventually asked, having successfully fought off the urge to scream.
Well know when we see it.
murder. Death. KILL! Periwinkle was still struggling to regain full articulation of his vocal cords. Unfortunately for the kiwis, it didnt take him long. Torn limb from limb by sewer rats. No, wait, thats too quick. Maple syrup, Ill need maple syrup and fire ants. After the cardboard boxes and lemon juice. Oooh, and maybe some sulfuric acid for the extra personal touch. Then Ill get creative. Someone fetch me my dark pants, the ones that dont show blood stains, I want to make these two bleed every drop of blood in their mangled bodies before I replace it with turpentine-
Been nice knowing you, cousin, Joseph muttered as the mad scientist raved on.
Cyanide tablets, Newt muttered, We shouldve made ourselves some cyanide tablets.
Dont give the man any more ideas, cousin.
-rip their intestines out with a melon-baller and HANG THEM with the-
All of a sudden, the laboratory door burst off its hinges and rocketed across the room as a loud HIEEEEEEE-YAAAAAAAH! split the air. A whirling yellow blur somersaulted into view, landing amidst the bewildered guards with a tak!
Woo-pah! Bob yelled, drawing back into a vaguely Karate-Kid-like stance before bruising a dozen shins with a spinning round-house kick. Hold it right there, evildoers! Youre all under arrest!
Please dont tell me hes serious, Joseph groaned.
Im afraid he is, cousin.
Ive got you surrounded! Bob continued menacingly, Give up the scientists now and I might just go easy on y-
Twenty semi-automatic machine-gun safeties clicked off.
Bob paused, suddenly realizing that eighteen of said guns were trained directly on him.
Well, well, well, Periwinkle sneered at the yellow kiwi squirming uncomfortably below, If it isnt agent Double-Or-Nothing.
Thats Double-Oh-Zero! Bob fumed.
Periwinkle didnt miss a beat. And I see youve brought some friends with you, how nice.
Bob glanced back towards the doorway, where Beak, Ferdie, and Leah stood beneath the laser-sights of the remaining two gunmen - Ferdie cringing back, ready to flee, Beak waving merrily at Newt in greeting, and Leah looking about ready to gut someone.
Really, Im so very glad you all could make it, Periwinkle purred, grinning madly, To think I was starting to believe I was running out of ways to get these two bunglers to do as theyre told. They wont let me kill them outright, you see, since we need the formula first, and torture doesnt seem to be doing the trick. But now now I have people I can kill that they would rather I dont kill. Now maybe Ill get somewhere! The mad grin became an insane chuckle as he leveled a finger at the would-be rescuers. Guards! Seize them!
Predictably, these words sent Ferdie rocketing for safety away from the hordes of men with guns. What neither the blue-feathered coward nor the aforementioned horde saw coming was Leahs reaction, which was to grab the fleeing bluebird by his elbow, swing him headlong into the onrushing guards, and nimbly dart down the hallway in the resulting confusion - only to be brought up short by wall with a glock.
AHAHHAHAHAAAAA!!!, Periwinkle was pretty much lost in full-blown insane maniacal laughter with occasional giggles of glee thrown in for variety while the guards rounded up and disarmed the interlopers.
Beak! Bob hissed as the guards set about binding their wrists with some handy nylon wire, If youre planning on doing something, now would be a good time!
Im trying, friend Bob, but I cant influence whats not there! Its like whats that saying? The lights are on, but no ones home? The brown kiwi shook his head, His minds a total maelstrom of madness and rage; without at least one rational thought to latch onto, I might as well be shouting into the rain.
Then hit him with something!
How would that help? Beak frowned.
Shut up, Leah suddenly snapped, ending the argument for the moment. You cant think youll get away with this Periwinkle, she informed the still laughing peacock. Youve run out of time.
Strangely, Periwinkle sobered, giving a little sigh before looking down at all of them. It was easy to see the madness was still there, even if the laughter had stopped. So true. Let the negotiations begin, then. He clapped his hands together and smiled at the cousins. You have one hour to make the formula work, or I kill one of my new hostages. Of course, youll choose which one dies. Oh, and in case you cant make up your mind, Ill pick two of them and kill them myself. Agreed?
You know, Ferdia remarked, idly twirling the length of pipe and contemplating the latest contingent of armed guards rushing down the hallway towards them, Twenty-eight against four is kind of unfair.
Agreed, Squeaks nodded, glancing over at William. Mind sitting this one out, Locke?
The younger mouse smirked. I was planning on it, detective.
Thera glared at the cops. Dont even ask.
Wasnt gonna, Ferdia grinned, charging into the fray. One little, two little, three little Indians! she sang, swinging the pipe to connect with one guard per Indian.
Try to leave at least one of them conscious, her partner called after her.
Thera glanced over at the mouse leaning nonchalantly against the wall as guards hit the floor all around. And we let these people patrol our streets
Now, now, play nice, he replied with a tiny grin. And do remember to duck.
Eventually one of the guards slammed into the wall next to him, forcing William to shift over. The bobcat slid to the floor with a piteous groan, while his attacker, still happily swinging her lead pipe, skipped back into battle. Noting the level of injuries and coherency with a practiced eye, William nodded to himself before giving the filthy floor a disgusted look.
The solution was obvious.
So whats your name? the mouse cheerfully inquired as he settled onto his new friends back.
Ralph, was the response, followed by a low moan.
Ah. A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Ralph, he replied, adding a nod of his head though the other could not see it. And how long have you been working for the good Dr. Periwinkle?
I say, congratulations, I didnt think his employees had such a long life expectancy. I suppose he offers a good health plan.
Buries ya proprly if he kills ya.
How thoughtful of him; clearly a model employer. I should say theres good growth opportunity, given the nature of his work. Fine young man like yourself could definitely go places.
Only if the guy head of me kicks it.
Like now, for instance? Wasnt that squirrel in charge of your unit?
Could ya get off my ribs, they urt.
I suppose they would. Theyre broken, you know, in at least three places. Youre very lucky you didnt puncture a lung.
William nodded in sympathy. Id say painkillers are the order of the day. You should definitely take yourself off to the nearest infirmary for treatment. Of course, then Id lose my comfortable seat and have to sit on the floor to watch the fight. Ill be honest with you, Ralph; I can call you Ralph, right? The floor is very dirty and Im particular about such things. Its much more convenient for me to stay where I am. At least until the fight ends.
Ow much longer til that?
After a moments deliberation William replied, Not too long Id say, though theres a lot repressed anger being worked out right now, so that does tack on a bit of time. Makes for less clean blows, you know. I could stop the fight, if I had the right incentive.
In-incentive, the bobcat struggled over the unfamiliar word.
Yep. Information. You see, my companions and I are on our way to see Dr. Periwinkle, but we dont know where to find him and, so far, no one has been very helpful. Thats a real shame, you know; people should help each other out these days.
During the silence that ensued, William shifted a bit to get into a more comfortable position, and a distinctive snap sounded from below.
Keep following this hallway until you
. Ralph proceeded to give precise directions on how to reach the mad scientists lab.
Locke, what are you doing?
William looked up with a grin. Finished your fight already, detective? You did ask me to sit this one out, you recall.
Whos your friend? Squeaks nodded at his chair.
This here is Ralph. He patted Ralph on the shoulder. Ralph has kindly given us directions to Periwinkles lab. Wasnt that nice of him?
In return we have to drop him off at the infirmary, but Ralph assures me its on our way.
Sounds like a plan.
William stood. Shall we get going then? Someone bring along our new friend.
Pass, Thera snorted.
Ferdia glanced back at her partner. Sorry, Ace. I dont do baggage.
Suppose that just leaves you, detective, William said mildly as Squeaks eyebrow twitched ever so slightly.
Is that the signal?
No, thats a bird.
A few minutes later:
Is that the signal?
No, thats also a bird. Peregrine falcon, I believe.
The sound of grinding teeth.
There! That has to be the signal!
No, thats a camper, lost in the woods and sending up smoke signals requesting rescue.
Are you sure about that? Suspicious.
A shrug. Actually, no. Its probably a forest fire. And no, thats not the signal either.
| Back to Part 7 | Onwards to Part 9 |