Kiwis in Space
186,000 miles/sec: Not just a good idea, it's the LAW!
The sleek ship cut a fast pace through the cosmos, darting into comet tails and weaving its way through asteroid fields as the opportunities presented themselves. Even when there was nothing but the vast emptiness of space stretched for light-years ahead of them, the ship bobbed and weaved, changing its course every so often to throw off any pursuers.
Galaxia Kiwi sat stiffly in the plush captain’s chair of the Duckhawk, staring ahead at the viewscreen and half-listening to her crew call out course changes, scanner readouts, and adjusted destination times. She knew they were as worried about the reasons for the maneuvers as she was.
Galaxia scowled at the starscape on the viewscreen. She didn’t like this mission – she was an esteemed agent of espionage, not some two-bit mercenary! She had been all too happy to acquire the information and scientific gizmos her employers desired. She had no problem with that. And delivering the items to them personally – well, it *was* a bit of a hassle, but not completely out of the ordinary. But her employers’ insistence that she actually take the device out and use it to do their dirty work was just, well, *unthinkable*. So unthinkable that not even triple what was already an exorbiant price had made it worth considering. But she’d failed to consider the motivational force of an entire galactic invasion army’s weapons pointed at her small ship.
So here she was – no knowledge of military stealth or strategy, no real fighting skills beyond a spy’s cloak-and-dagger tactics, with nothing but an untested gadget and a set of do-or-die orders. And the nagging fear that, regardless of the ship’s extraordinary speed, agility, and armament; regardless of her careful planning, the involvement of as few individuals as possible, and her allies’ promises of diversions; in spite of all these things, they would be found and followed. The Ducks were too smart to be fooled for long.
Or were they? She squinted at the viewscreen. Nothing but streaking stars and black space. She ordered the rear view brought on screen. Still nothing. Perhaps they had slipped past the Ducks. She’d certainly left enough false trails, leads, and diversions. Scanners were not detecting any readings that could be interpreted as evidence of a ship.
But they were not called the Invisible Ducks for nothing. SpaceFleet cruisers were not the only ships she needed to avoid – the Ducks were known to prowl the galaxies in stealthy, cloaked ships. SpaceFleet objected publicly, of course, but the Ducks’ unseen patrols routinely brought pirates and other rouges to justice, so SpaceFleet did nothing to stop them.
Galaxia had planned the most complex, winding flight path imaginable, through the most dangerous and least-explored parts of every galaxy she was forced to cross. Her ship, customized to the point where the poor engineer charged with designing it had developed chronic ulcers, was the best money could buy. An elegant combination of the best in power, shields, speed, and agility along with huge cargo holds and a fuel supply so great it could travel charted space in its entirety a dozen times without needing to refuel, the Duckhawk was also bristling with weapons. And to top it off, all this was packaged in a nondescript, harmless-looking transport ship.
A bright galaxy came into view as the ship slipped into uncharted space. A peculiar, spiraling mass of stars, it reminded Galaxia of the one she’d heard pirates whisper about. A short computer search informed her that, while its only inhabitants were still a ‘primitive’ (non-warp) society, their world was occasionally visited by spacefaring species – mostly poachers or odd groups of scientists. Recently, however, several pirates had been to it, aided in emergency repairs and quests for rare fuels by several native contacts.
How convenient, she thought to herself, altering course toward the galaxy and scanning the only inhabited planet in a particular solar system, bringing up local data on the contacts’ exploits. Judging by their local activities, she was certain they’d jump at the opportunity to aid her with yet another diversion. And their payment (for they had always demanded some sort of fee for services rendered, regardless of shows of force) would be the vessels she provided them with. Let the Ducks deal with some new pirates assaulting the borders instead of looking for her.
She smiled as the ship entered orbit around the small blue planet, had the computer locate the contacts the pirates had listed, and selected the five she felt would be most effective. Hailing the first contact, she was delighted to learn he had a device similarly-designed enough to send a visual signal as well as audio. The rarity of such devices on this planet alone showed this agent to be one highly interested in sophisticated things. He would take the shuttle she offered, she was sure of it.
"Sir, wake up, sir. Sir!" the brown kiwi shook the slumbering form lightly as others watched from the doorway. It wasn’t fair. Every individual cowering behind the door was at least twice his age, and they constantly bickered among themselves as to who held the highest rank. He was never allowed any say in these arguments – they were quick to laugh at the young kiwi and point out that he was, after all, only the sign holder - obviously a position of no importance whatsoever. And yet it was he who was left in charge when their leader was away; he who reported difficulties, failures, or bad news; he who was the only one to ever have taken a bullet for their leader. *He* who was sent to wake their leader in the middle of the night. "Sir, wake up! It’s important!"
"It had better be," the form mumbled, rolling over and sitting up. The Evil Sir Ivan Kiwi yawned and stretched, then caught sight of a clock and turned to scowl at his sign holder. "So what was so important it couldn’t wait until I’d had a few hours’ sleep?"
"Sorry, sir, but there’s a lady on the videophone," the sign holder said, bowing his head.
"A lady?" Ivan repeated, scowl deepening. Although normally a night owl, he’d returned from Europe hours earlier and, having not slept for around 36 hours, had turned in early, with the comment that he’d kill for a good night’s sleep. A statement which, coming from him, was to be taken literally. "It had better be the queen of something-or-other, or whoever sent you in here is in serious trouble." He glared at the shadows in the doorway.
"She wouldn’t tell me who she is, sir. She demanded to talk to you. Said maybe mentioning Anthropos would help."
*That* got his attention. A select few had helped the pirate Anthropos when he’d come in search of, of all things, nuclear waste. Of those that had, there was only one female, and Ivan knew his sign holder would’ve recognized her. So, someone else who knew of Anthropos at least deserved a look. He got out of bed, took a cursory glance in the mirror to make sure he looked presentable, and strode out of the room in the direction of the communications room, his underlings flattening themselves against the wall as he passed through the door.
The duck on the screen had his full attention immediately. Not because of her fiery hair, rose tail plumes, or form-fitting black dress, but because of her surroundings. Judging from the numerous uniformed individuals working at stations in the background, and the arrangement of those stations, she was on the bridge of a starship. He smiled. How interesting.
"You rang?" he asked, folding his arms and adopting an unimpressed, informal stance. His sign holder took up position beside and behind him, leaning on the sign. The rest of his underlings dared not intrude on the conversation.
"Greetings. I am Galaxia Kiwi, commander of this ship, the Duckhawk," she began grandly.
"Yeah, yeah. I’m the infamous Evil Sir Ivan Kiwi. And you don’t look like a kiwi."
"I *know* that!" she snarled, struggling to maintain her composure. "But that is of no importance. I have a task you may find interesting." She paused expectantly. Ivan gave her the ego nudge she wanted, nodding and gesturing that she should continue. "I have a pirate fighter in my cargo hold that is yours if you agree to help me keep my enemies occupied while I perform a task. Are you interested?"
"Naturally," Whoever she was, she obviously wasn’t a very experienced negotiator, or she wouldn’t have disclosed the payment before stating the job. It gave him more time to think of how much more he’d ask for. "But I’d want to know more, of course, and would require a crew."
She was not stalled by these first demands for more. "Of course. I will provide you with whatever else you need." Another mistake when negotiating. "Only, I would ask that you beam up to my ship now, so we may discuss details in a secure area. If my enemies are near, this transmission could easily be overheard."
Ivan considered her offer. A ship. More than just a ship, a pirate fighter, with whatever else he decided to ask for. A little much for a diversion, but anyone foolish enough to give him full payment in advance deserved it if he decided not to be a diversion for long. He accepted her offer to board the ship, and turned to give his underlings some last-minute orders as Galaxia’s ship readied its transporter.
"Alright, boys, I’m gonna be out of town for a bit longer. Just keep doin’ what you’ve been doing. No wars, no riots, just the normal rounds. And I’ll kill every one of you if anyone does otherwise."
Galaxia reappeared on the videoscreen and told him their transporters were ready. He assumed what he hoped was a normal transporting stance; seconds later he felt a tingling sensation as the room’s colors began to fade.
Having never transported before, Ivan found it a bit disorienting, but was able (he hoped) to keep from flinching or heaving a sigh of relief as he re-materialized. Galaxia and the transport chief stood in front of him, with some of her crew to his right. And no one, he realized with a start, to his left. He scowled, pointing to the spot on his left.
"Hey, where’s my sign holder?" he said indignantly.
Galaxia looked confused for the briefest of moments, then nodded and smiled. "Ah, yes, the brown child." She turned her attention to the transporter chief. "Beam him up as well."
Ivan marched off the transporter platform as the chief locked onto the sign holder’s coordinates. He wasn’t sure about it, but he figured it was safer not to stand on the platform if you weren’t transporting anywhere. He wondered idly if his ship had a transporter. Probably, he figured, to make taking cargo easier.
The sign holder materialized with a startled squeak, blinking and looking around wildly. "Relax, kid," Ivan told him when the young kiwi caught sight of him.
Galaxia smiled a bit too sweetly as she led them out of the room, her patience wearing thin. Ivan decided to give her a short lesson on the finer points of recruiting. That, and if anyone else was gonna take part in this, he wanted to know who, where, and for how much. "So, anyone else in on this?" he asked casually.
"With any luck, several others will be joining us."
"Then why not let Mr. Spock here" – he indicated her first officer, an odd-looking gray creature that looked like a sentient version of a rabbit – "give us the grand tour while you contact ‘em." He grinned. It was fun showing a lesser leader how they could improve. "Save ya from delivering the same briefing over an’ over again."
Galaxia’s eyes narrowed a bit, but she smiled and nodded to her first officer, who took them down the hallway as she headed back to the bridge.
As Galaxia Kiwi began hailing her second contact, another ship slid slowly into orbit behind the Duckhawk, careful to keep the planet between the two. It could have orbited side-by-side with the other ship, however, and still not have been detected – but its commander was being careful.
Unlike Galaxia’s transport, this ship was not meant to be nondescript. Its silver hull took the form of a duck in flight, wings in downstroke. Over twice the size of the Duckhawk, it could beat the transport in speed and ordinance and match her in agility. It couldn’t go as far without renewing its fuel supply, but was capable of regenerating this supply on its own when the warp drive was not engaged. And while its shields and defenses were not as good as the Duckhawk’s, its ability to cloak – rendering itself invisible to the eye as well as sensors – made up for this vulnerability. It was also what distinguished this ship as one of the Invisible Ducks’. Or rather, what would have distinguished it, had the ship been detected.
Inside the Ducks’ ship, Commodore Mallard, the ship’s commanding officer, sat in the captain’s chair and pondered the ship below. It did not look like a pirate, and yet here it was, lightyears out of charted space, orbiting a planet with nothing but what appeared to be pre-warp civilizations. Hardly the activities of an honest businessman.
"Sir!" an ensign yelled, "They just transported two lifeforms off the surface!"
"Preliminary scans indicate isolated incidents of alien contact," his science officer spoke up from her post, "Permission to perform a full-scale scan on the planet, Captain?"
"Permission granted. Perhaps this planet is not entirely pre-warp," he mused.
"All units respond to 514 Belview Road. Possible jumper on the roof of Raycliff apartment building C."
"Not again!" Ferdia moaned, switching on the sirens and cutting the wheel, swerving the prowler around three lanes of traffic toward Belview.
"Eh?" Her partner inquired, bracing himself as she rounded another corner and stepped on the gas. "What do you mean, ‘not again’?"
"I’d bet my paycheck it’s Victor again," she replied, weaving dangerously around traffic, as well as pedestrians, when they cleared the sidewalk better than the cabbies did the road. "That man really needs to invest in a psychiatrist."
The prowler tore through the streets, sliding sideways into a stop just shy of a semicircle of squad cars parked in front of the apartments. The two partners got out of their vehicle and cast a glance around the scene. A dozen cops were struggling to keep onlookers and reporters behind police lines as another group set up the huge inflatable air cushion that took up a large portion of the sidewalk and road in front of the building. A handful of others had a megaphone and were trying to coax the jumper away from the edge.
However, the jumper, a middle-aged brown mouse, had somehow obtained a megaphone himself and was screaming back down at them, tossing pebbles off the roof to ‘test the wind’. A police helicopter traced a tight circle above the building, repeatedly chasing two news-choppers into wider circles whenever they ventured too close. Spotting Casey among the officers trying to talk the mouse off the roof, Ferdia jogged up to the orange finch, with Squeaks in tow.
"Casey! Victor again?"
"Yep. And he’s not even *listening* to us this time. You wanna try talking him down again?"
"Yeah," she sighed, "But I’m getting tired of doing this," she muttered, reaching for the megaphone. As she did, Trevor approached the group, frowning up at the jumper with a uncharacteristic look of concern on his face. When the green finch brought his gaze down to the three of them, however, his eyes held a mischievous gleam.
"Hiya, Blue, glad you could join us. Mind telling your boyfriend up there that there are easier ways to get your attention?" he joked.
"Shut up, Trev. He’s not my boyfriend," – she switched the megaphone on – "he’s just a wacko with nothing better to do at night than guest-star on the 11-o’clock news."
She brought the megaphone in front of her beak as she said this, speaking just loud enough that the quieter onlookers in the crowd heard the remark and tittered. She favored them with a sidelong smile before turning her full attention to the mouse on the roof.
"Hey, Vic, you up there *again*?! This makes five times this week, and it’s only Tuesday!"
"Yeah, well....I’m having a very bad week, okay?" the mouse yelled back, ticking a list off on his fingers. "My ex wants more alimony, I busted up my car, lost my job, punks trashed my apartment, and to top it all off, I burned my dinner AGAIN!!"
"I'm getting a bit tired of talking you out of jumping, Victor. It's very hard for us to serve an' protect the entire city when half the precinct is down here chatting with you, ya know? I have cases to solve, crooks to bust, reports to type. And talking with me doesn't seem to be helping you much. Can't you talk to someone else, Vic? Like a psychiatrist, perhaps?"
"I don't need no shrink! 'Cause I'm really gonna do it this time, I'm gonna jump!"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," She waved dismissively, rolling her eyes. "You go right ahead and do that, Vic-"
"WHAT are you DOING?!?" Trevor squawked, grabbing at the megaphone. She pushed him back, keeping him at arm's length.
"Obviously talking him down from the roof the normal way isn't working, so I'm changing tactics. Relax." She turned her attention back to Victor. "Do you hear me, Vic? Sure, Department of Sanitation's gonna hate you for messing up the sidewalk an' all, but hey, who cares? Go ahead and jump."
"D-don't think I won't do it!" the mouse yelled down, taken aback by her words. "I-I'll do it, you know? I'm crazy! I'll jump!"
"Give me that!" Trevor yelled, wrenching the megaphone from her grasp. "He WILL jump!"
"No he won't," she countered. "He doesn't really want to. Think about it - he's lonely and down on his luck, and figures no one cares about him. But when he runs to the roof, all of a sudden he's Mister Popularity, with crowds and cops and Channel 6 all staring up and begging him not to jump. He likes the attention, decides life's worth living, comes down, and the crowd cheers. But after a while the feeling wears off and he's depressed again. He doesn't want death - just attention."
"And just when did you become our on-site psychologist?" Casey quipped, arching an eyebrow along with the others.
Ferdia just shrugged. "It makes sense to me. He needs a shrink."
Casey shook his head. "We can't make him see a shrink unless he actually jumps."
"And if he really doesn't want to jump, how're we going to get him...to..." Squeaks trailed off, not liking the gleam in his partner's eyes as she eyed the air cushion. "You wouldn't...." he began.
"Of course not!" she said, looking shocked. Then, snatching a spare set of handcuffs from Trevor's pocket, she dashed toward the building's entrance. "Be right back!" she yelled, dodging around the guards that tried to stop her.
Victor paced the roof's edge, watching as the green cop that'd tried to talk to him earlier grabbed the megaphone away from the bluebird. Her words echoed in his mind. How could she say such things? He'd thought she understood him, but she didn't -- she'd told him to jump, hurt him just like everyone else he'd trusted had hurt him. Could the rest of the people down there really be thinking the same thing? Not 'oh, please don't jump, you don't want to die' but, 'why don't you hurry up and jump so we can get on with our lives, loser'?
He kicked a loose brick off the edge - but the brick was bigger than he'd thought, and he lost his balance, swinging his arms out and teetering dangerously over the edge as he fought to regain control. He heard a gasp and some shouts from the crowd below. His heart leapt into his throat as he felt himself starting to fall. Then a hand closed on his shirt and jerked him back into a balanced, standing position.
He let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding and willed strength back into his knees. Then someone tapped him, startling him so badly he almost fell again.
"You all right?" A voice asked.
Surprised, he turned to find the bluebird leaning over the inner edge of the roof. Like most roofs in the neighborhood, this building's edge consisted of a row of cinder blocks two feet high and wide rising above the rest of the roof, making it hard to simply fall off the edge without first stepping up onto the ledge these blocks created. The cop was leaning on this ledge, arms crossed, looking down to the streets below.
"Nice view," she remarked.
"If you say so," he managed, sitting down, swinging his legs over the edge. "s'not why I come up here, though."
"Yeah, yeah, you come up here to jump," she waved a hand dismissively, peering over the edge again. "Let's see, 35 stories up...at about 10 feet a story...that's about, say, 350 feet, right? Which is, what, about 120 meters up? Without drag, that would be....about 5 full seconds of freefall, I think. Hit the ground at about 150 feet per second, which is....roughly 37 miles an hour. Sound like fun?"
"Uh...." ~ Not really ~, his mind screamed. What was she trying to pull? Was she trying to scare him? He leapt to his feet. "I'll do it, I swear! I'll jump!"
"Sure you will," she smiled at him, hopping up onto the edge as well. "Whew!" she breathed, taking in the street below, "What a view! Anybody else feel like yelling 'King of the Mountain'?" she shouted to no one in particular.
He eyed her suspiciously. Now that he saw her up close, he thought he recognized her from an article in the newspaper. He wished he could remember what the article had been about. "You're making fun of me, aren't you?"
"Naw, I think it's neat. Do you realize you have the attention of about 15,000 people right now?"
"I do? There can't be *that* many down there..." he peered over the edge at the growing crowd.
"No, not down there. Most are probably watching it on the news." She pointed at a series of lights hovering in the sky at the other side of the street. "See? That's Channel 6's helicopter. Smile for the camera!" She waved.
Victor squinted at the lights, realizing that he was indeed able to make out a helicopter shape and that of a cameraman perched inside. As the bluebird waved again, he hesitatingly lifted his arm to follow suit....
....and instantly found himself handcuffed to the bird.
"Gotcha," she winked, eyes twinkling.
"Hey! What are you, nuts?!" he yelped, jumping back a step. At that moment, he remembered why this cop looked familiar. She and her partner - probably the mouse on the street, now that he thought about it - were routinely on TV or in the paper. The most recent episode he could recall had something to do with a highjacked 747 jet crash-landing on the highway during rush hour. He was suddenly very worried about that glint in her eyes.
"Naw, I'm not the one who keeps threatening to jump off buildings. I 'm just the person that's going to convince you not to do that anymore."
"Easy. You keep coming up here. You wanna jump, and I'm not gonna to try an' talk you out of it anymore. I agree with you: life sucks. Let's just jump."
"ARE YOU CRAZY?!?"
"Come on. I think it looks like fun."
"You ARE crazy! There's no way I'm gonna ju---aaaaaaaaah!!!!"
Jerking her handcuffed arm toward her quickly to throw him off balance, Ferdia leaned forward and stepped off the edge, tugging him after her. He began screaming immediately, and she heard the shouts and the collective gasp from below as the crowd drew back. As the stories flew by, she couldn't help but let out a whooped 'Wahoo!' and enjoy the exhilaration of the air rushing past her.
The air cushion absorbed their impact completely. As it slowly deflated, the crowd sighing with relief, the surrounding cops circled the crumpling cushion. Casey jabbed a gawking Trevor sharply in the ribs. "Pick your jaw up off the floor and put your eyes back in their sockets," he advised.
The brown mouse stumbled into view, a handcuff on one wrist, the other cuff dangling open. He had trouble walking on the bouncing air cushion, and fell as Casey and Trevor approached him. "Get her away from me, man! She's crazy!"
Ferdia bounded out after him, bouncing like a kid on a moon bounce and laughing like one, too.
"Someone's seen 'Lethal Weapon' a few times too many, methinks," Trevor quipped.
"Having fun, Riggs?" Casey teased.
"That was SO COOL! You guys have got to try this!" She leapt high into the air and landed on her back, laughing as the last bit of air wheezed out of the oversized air bag. Squeaks crossed the cushion and peered down at her, cocking his head and raising an eyebrow. "What? Don't tell me you've never wanted to do something like that, Squeaks."
"It's part of basic training. Except we had safety harnesses, and didn't laugh quite as much."
"Boo. Takes all the fun out of it," she crossed her arms. "And don't frown at me. I ask you - will he EVER even THINK of jumping off a roof again?"
Squeaks looked after the mouse, who was by now babbling incoherently. "I doubt it. Interesting strategy." He offered her a hand and she took it, letting him pull her to her feet.
"I agree," Casey grinned, "now what I want to know is, what else do you do for fun, Blue?"
"Just about anything that'll give my insurance agent chronic ulcers and high blood pressure."
"Remind me to read your biography when they write it. No, wait," he laughed, "On second thought, I'd rather see the movie. Ought to be one heckuva action flick!"
"I doubt you can pay stuntmen enough for some of the stuff those two do," Trevor chuckled, rejoining the group.
"Trevor! Shut up! You too, Casey! It's not THAT funny! Besides, I'm nowhere even NEAR being old enough for a biography!"
"Even better. We'd get sequels," Squeaks grinned.
Ferdia shook her finger at her partner. "You wanna WALK back to the precinct, buster?" She managed to keep a straight face only a few more seconds though, as a thought hit her. "Guys," she laughed, "think of who we could get to play Vernon..."
"Captain! Sir, the computer's found a biomatch on the planet!"
"A biomatch? Out here? Are you certain?" Commodore Mallard asked.
"Yes, sir. 99.9% probability of a match. In practical terms, that's as good as it gets," his science officer responded.
"Indeed? Who's the match?" he inquired. This far out, it was probably a retired pirate, hardly worth taking in. But one never knew.
She brought the match up on her screen. As she read the information, however, the orange duck's color drained from her face.
"What's wrong, Eva? You look like you've seen a ghost," Drake, the first officer, observed, moving to her station. One look at the screen, though, left him with the same slack-jawed expression of shock as the science officer wore. "It *can't* be..." he breathed.
"What is it?" Commodore asked, leaning forward in alarm. "WHO is it?"
"It's....it's...." Eva stuttered.
"Captain Squeaks Arcadia, serial number 546327-94F.....Cap'n, it's Ace!" Drake yelled.
"B-but h-he's dead," Eva managed. She pointed to an area of the screen. The computer listed their biomatch as deceased for over a year.
"Ensign Thrush, trace that biomatch and put it onscreen," Commodore ordered.
"Aye, Captain," the ensign punched in the commands for the request, and a population center grid flashed onto the main viewscreen. A red dot wove through the grid.
"Moving pretty fast for a dead man," Commodore observed. "What exactly does the computer list as the cause of death?"
"According to his crew, he was attacked and killed by a native while exploring an uncharted planet," Eva reported.
"Interesting...." the captain began, but was interrupted by his weapons officer.
"Sir, scans of the renegade ship reveal several pirate-class fighters in the cargo bay. The ship's present course will take it straight into the Forbidden Zone. AND sensors indicate an 87% biomatch of the traitor Galaxia."
"Galaxia! What's that viper up to now?"
"The scan was not powerful enough to analyze that section of the ship's computer banks. Shall I execute such a scan?"
"Immediately," Commodore said, then peered thoughtfully at the moving red dot. "Drake, wasn't Squeaks Spacefleet's foremost expert on the Forbidden Zone and the area of space surrounding it?"
"I believe so, sir," his first officer replied. He, too, was watching the red dot, only with a mixture of skepticism and doubt. The shock of the previous moment had passed, and the reality of what the dot's movement most likely meant was beginning to sink in. "Do you think it's really him?"
"The computer certainly seems to think so. Perhaps his crew was not as thorough as they should have been in their pronunciation of death."
"Mutiny? The Squeaks I know would never tolerate such a thing....but he's no deserter, either. He'd never abandon his career in Spacefleet for a mundane existence on some forsaken little backwater..."
"Let's ask him, then."
"You, Drake, will go down there and bring him back, if it is indeed Squeaks Arcadia. We could use his knowledge of the Forbidden Zone if we are to track this transport. And I could never knowingly leave a fellow SpaceFleet officer stranded."
"Aye, sir. Bridge to transporter room," he tapped his combadge, "one to beam down at the following coordinates-"
"Sir, our transporters are malfunctioning," the transporter chief replied, "It would be unwise to use them while cloaked."
"In that case, I'll take a shuttlecraft down," Drake said, exiting the bridge.
Bullets blazed by the rat on the motorbike as he wove through the sparse patches of nighttime traffic. ~Don't those two EVER take some time off?~ his mind blared. He'd heard about the jumper on the news and had decided that tonight was as good a night for a heist as any, especially since half the city's cops were on the other side of town. He'd been wrong. The blue-and-white had gotten behind him almost immediately. And the fact that he, Slick, lord of the bikers' racetracks, had been unable to lose them secured any lingering suspicions he might have had about the pair behind him.
He gunned the motor and swung left through a red light, heading the wrong way on a one-way street at speeds in excess of 80 mph. The squad car followed, gaining on him even as he accelerated down the sidewalk.
"Freeze means STOP! Pull over!" Ferdia shouted, leaning out the passenger window. She glanced back inside the car. "Just once, it would be nice if they actually LISTENED to me," she grumbled.
"Now where's the fun in that?" came the rejoinder.
"Hey -- that's Red Alley up ahead! It's a dead end! Quick, Squeaks, get alongside him an' force him into the alley!"
"Roger that," Squeaks complied, burying the accelerator. "But you might want to sit down," he suggested, grabbing her belt and pulling her back into the car, "and buckle up."
Ferdia shot him a strange look, but tightened the loose seatbelt anyway as they pulled alongside the motorbike. Suddenly, Squeaks cut the wheel sharply and slammed on the brakes, sending the car into a dangerous spin. To avoid them, the rat cut into the alley, realized the it dead-ended, and tried to make it out of the alley, only to be forced to jump off the bike as the front end of the car swung back around, coming to rest blocking the entire alley.
Tossing one stolen sack of gems at the driver as he got out, the rat turned and fled on foot. ~If I can make it over the wall, they'll never catch me!~ he puffed, making a beeline for the end of the alley.
He never made it. Though not fond of football in the least, Ferdia was a mean tackle. She hit the rat at his knees, knocking him facedown onto the pavement and sending the remaining sack of gems flying. The impact with the concrete knocked the rat's wind out, and the swirling colors were just coming back into focus as she cuffed him and hauled him to his feet. She glanced at the distant clock tower as she did so. Still dazed, the rat looked over as well.
"Look, Ma, stars....ooooh, lookie, that one's movin'...." he swaggered as he tried to track the star.
"Quiet, you. And stay still. Unless you want to get booked for driving drunk, too," she chided, turning her attention to her partner as he walked by. "Hey, Squeaks! It's midnight!"
"Yeah?" the mouse replied, scooping the spilled jewelry back into the sack with gloved hands, "So?"
"So, shift's over. And look at the prowler," she pointed proudly back to the car, "not a scratch on it!"
As it's done time and time again in the past and will continue to do in the future, upon hearing itself invoked, Murphy's Law swung into action. No sooner were the words out of her mouth when a fireball flashed into existence and slammed into the prowler.
When First Officer Drake Duvoy took the shuttlecraft without any crew, he neglected to remember two things. First, that he hadn't single-handedly flown a shuttlecraft since his academy days, let alone track a moving object while flying. And second, it had been years since he had *landed* a shuttlecraft, with or without assistance. He realized this as a dozen alarms screamed to life and the automatic anti-collision systems decloaked the small craft and tried in vain to nose the craft up in time. Unfortunately, the systems were too late, and the last thing Drake saw before the ship slammed into the ground at just under the speed of sound was a blue and white ground vehicle with red flashing lights.
At the far end of the alley, all Ferdia and Squeaks could do in the fraction of a second before the fiery object slammed into their squad car was turn to run further down the alley. The fireball slammed into the car and nearby motorbike, the earth-quaking force of the impact countered only by the heated shockwave generated by the explosion. Bird, mouse, and rat alike were propelled toward the brick wall, saved from a bone-shattering impact with the wall only by the bags of trash that reached it first and spared from serious burns by the same bags. Within a few moments all that remained was a smoldering lump of charred metal inside a crater that had once been a street and part of a building.
Coughing violently and gasping for breath, Ferdia clawed her way out of the mound of refuse that had stopped their flight.
"Dam- *cough* dammit, Murphy! *hack* So *cough* much for *cough* that bet," she muttered, doubling over in a violent coughing fit that brought her to her knees. Recovering, she stood again, worriedly looking back at the mound. "Squeaks? Are you *cough* okay?"
A trash bag shifted, then rolled over and down the mound as a fist emerged, followed by the face of her partner. Ferdia ran up the mound to help Squeaks dig himself out.
"I've never been *cough* more *cough* grateful for an alley full of month-old trash in my *hack* life! You okay?"
"I've just been spit on," she grumbled.
"Bet was *cough* worth that much, huh?"
"I don't *cough* don't know WHAT it was *hack* worth. But we made it through a *hack* double shift without *cough* without *cough cough cough*..."
"Slow down. You're *cough* hyperventilating."
"I can't breathe. My lungs feel like they're *cough* on fire."
"I know. *cough* Hey, where's our collar?"
The two looked around, then caught sight of the groggy, handcuffed rat. As they dug him out, they failed to hear the banging of the ruined shuttlecraft's door as its occupant kicked it open. The first indication they had that anything was behind them was when the rat opened his eyes, looked past them, and started screaming.
The rat ruined Drake's approached when it saw him and began screaming. Alerted, the blue bird and mouse whirled around to face him, drawing what Drake could only assume were weapons. The bird yelled something at him. His universal translator, damaged but still mostly functioning, told him the squawked statement was and order to cease and desist.
Dazed and unsure of his location relative to his objective, Drake was not about to let a native order him about. So what if the two of them both had their weapons trained on him. The phaser cannon he had used to blast his way out of the shuttle would be more than adequate to drive them off. He fired a few warning rounds at their feet, sending them scrambling in opposite directions.
The mouse stumbled over the rat as he jumped back to avoid the blasts, falling over the rat's prone form and losing his weapon in the process. He was on his feet in an instant, though, in a defensive stance over the rat, who was still screaming. Recognizing the look of someone determined not to back down and deciding he was in no mood for a fight, Drake set the gun to stun and leveled it at the mouse.
A searing pain tore through his left shoulder, sending his shot wild. A second projectile nicked his helmet, followed by another verbal warning from behind him. He'd forgotten about the bird. As he turned to face her, the mouse searched for his weapon.
She caught him off-guard as he was turning, bull-charging into him and knocking him over. Falling with him, she pinned him on his back and grappled for his weapon. She was breathing heavily, though, and Drake realized the explosion had taken its toll on both his adversaries as he felt her strength dissipating. It then dawned on him how lightweight the bird was. He shoved the cannon toward her, pushing her off his chest and knocking her off balance. Jerking the cannon back, he planted a foot in her midsection and sent her flying back into the singed wall of the alley with a single vicious kick. She slammed into the wall with a squeak, dazed.
He'd lost his grip on the cannon when he'd jerked it back, and it clattered to the ground somewhere behind him. But he didn't have time to look for it -- he had to finish her off, at least knock her unconscious to prevent further attacks. He leapt to his feet, grabbing a convenient piece of metal and lunging toward the stunned bird. The mouse (goodness, he'd forgotten about him...) was in front of her in an instant, grabbing the pipe as Drake swung it and hanging on, slowly wresting it from his grip.
Let him have it, then. Drake swung the pipe, and the mouse, at the other wall, releasing the pipe to let it complete its arch and hearing the satisfying thud as pipe and mouse hit the far wall and caused a partial avalanche of the refuse mound behind him.
The bird, still dazed, was on her feet again, but cornered against the wall. With a quick lunge, he had her by the throat, lifting her off the ground with one hand while wresting her weapon from her with the other. Above the ground and out of reach of her kicks, he paused for breath. Her martial arts training showed, but could do little to help her a foot off the ground with one hand firmly held by an attacker standing too far away to kick. Her exhaustion didn't help her any, either, and if anyone heard her strangled cries, they were smart enough not to interfere. Her struggles began to weaken.
And then he heard a familiar battle cry. Startled, he turned, loosening his grip on the bird's neck and earning what would surely have been a vicious wound from the bird if she had been in a less weakened state as she twisted her head down and stabbed his hand with her beak. Drake barely had time to register this injury, however, as a weight came down hard on his back, slamming him hard between the shoulders.
As he bent with the pain, dropping the bird, his attacker struck him sharply upside his head as he jumped off the duck's shoulders. Drake reeled and stumbled backwards, watching as the mouse flipped in mid-air and kick-turned off the wall, bowling into Drake and sending the duck to the ground on his back again.
His head struck the ground hard as he landed, too occupied with the mouse to catch his fall, and the mouse followed through with a harsh uppercut to Drake's bill with what felt like the butt of a weapon. A foot pressed against his throat. His head throbbing, he realized he was pinned again. Muttering that he surrendered, Drake closed his eyes and willed the madly-spinning world to slow down. When the weight on his chest didn't move, he slowly opened them.
And realized he was looking down the barrel of his own laser cannon - at the other end of which was a panting white mouse, bleeding, bruised, and a tad singed. The mouse gave his head a shake to get the sweat, and his hair, out of his eyes, and called back to the bird. And even before the inverted triangle that was SpaceFleet's captain's insignia came into focus, Drake remembered why the attack seemed familiar.
"That you, Ace?" he asked, as the adrenaline began to wear off and he began to truly feel his injuries, "It's me, Drake."
Ferdia was doubled over on her knees, one hand clutching her ribcage as the other rubbed her bruised throat. The world swam before her, and she caught herself falling forward. She propped herself against the alley wall, breathing deeply and willing the black spots dancing across her vision to go away. When the spots didn't listen, she closed her eyes to shut them out. Her thoughts were a confused jumble that refused to cede her command of them again. Boy, am I tired. Why won't that rat shut up? That guy almost killed me. Damn, my throat hurts. Why won't that rat shut up?
She heard the fighting stop, then heard Squeaks call back to her. She forced one eye open. "Yeah?" she asked, the word coming out scarcely more than a hoarse rumbling.
"I said, Are you okay?"
She tried to answer, but only caused a coughing fit. Pain shot through her chest after each gasp of breath, and now her throat as well as her lungs felt like they were on fire. She squeezed her eyes shut, feeling a tear roll down her cheek. She tasted blood in her mouth. The coughing subsided, and she managed to give her partner a weak smile.
Squeaks returned it with a regretful one, then turned his attention back to the duck, who looked unconscious. Ferdia realized the rat had stopped screaming, and looked over at him. His was crying softly. He caught sight of her.
"I'll never do anything ever again. I promise. I don't want to die," he whimpered.
"You're not gonna die," she whispered, testing her voice again. She pushed herself to her feet, leaning against the wall and gulping in air as she waited for the vertigo to subside. It took a few moments, but her head cleared, and she stepped away from the wall and unsteadily approached the rat. She reached down and tugged at his arms, more encouraging him to get up than pulling him to his feet.
"You lost a tail feather," he said, sitting up but making no move to stand.
"Yeah, well, *cough* as I was saying, you're under arrest. You have the right to remain silent...." She read him his rights. Her throat didn't hurt as much if she kept talking.
She saw the duck move out of the corner of her eye, and walked over to where Squeaks had him pinned. As she approached, she duck said something, and Squeaks' ears flattened back - a sure sign that he was pissed off. Not just angry - the narrow eye-slits told her that - but VERY angry. And yet he got off the duck's chest.
"Get up," he spat.
The duck propped himself up on his elbows, paused to rub his head a bit, and groggily got to his feet. He looked at her. She felt herself instinctively take a step back into a defensive stance, hissing what would've been a warning cry if her throat was working properly. Squeaks took a protective step back toward her, and she saw his scowl deepen as his grip on the duck's weapon tightened. The rat sank to the ground again.
"You've got a LOT of explaining to do," Squeaks glared at the duck, "Do you have any IDEA just how many treaties you've violated?"
The duck looked at him dejectedly. "I'm sorry," he began.
"Sorry? SORRY?!?" Ferdia yelled, ignoring her throat's protests, "Sorry doesn't even begin to CUT it, buddy! You level a city block, attack two officers on-scene, unprovoked and with a weapon that CAN'T be legal, and-"
Squeaks put out a hand, shaking his head 'no'. She stopped in mid-tirade, remembering the fireball that had come from nowhere. This duck wasn't exactly a local.
"Really, I AM sorry. I lost control of my craft," the duck began, "and I didn't recognize you."
"That doesn't warrant an attack of that severity, and you know it, Drake," Squeaks growled. "You could've killed us. You TRIED to kill HER-"
"I didn't mean to, really! I'm sorry," the duck hung his head. "I wouldn't have done anything if I'd recognized you, Ace, but you're out of uniform. Besides, you're supposed to be dead."
At this comment, Ferdia squawked a hawk's attack screech and braced for an attack. Squeaks raised the cannon to eye level and took another step back. Alarmed, the duck threw his hands up in defense.
"No, no, I didn't mean it that way! Your crew - they told us you were dead! We were in orbit for another reason, and our computer found you. I was sent to see if you were really, well, you."
"In that case, you came, you saw, you left," Squeaks lowered the laser cannon. "Call your ship and have them beam you up."
"It's....it's not quite as simple as that, Ace," the duck said hesitatingly, "I-I'm supposed to take you with me." Another hawk cry from the bluebird. "Captain's orders. We need you to guide us through the Forbidden Zone."
"Tough. You've got the rest of my crew for guides. After your performance I'm not about to help you. Why you would want to navigate through the Forbidden Zone is beyond me anyway. The Bagels have colonies there. You looking to start a war?"
"No, prevent a big one. And you have no choice. You'll face court martial if you don't - not just for disobeying orders but for desertion."
"Desertion! I didn't desert anybody! I got ditched here when my crew thought I was being attacked and panicked, and nobody's come looking for me for over a year! If SpaceFleet says I'm dead, then I'm dead. And dead men don't take orders."
The duck's communicator buzzed. Indicating the smashed combadge on his chest, the duck reached slowly into his jacket, removing another communicator. It, too, had taken some damage, and the distraught voice coming from it was plagued by static.
"Drake, are you all right? Have you found him?"
"Sort of," the duck sighed into the communicator, "I found him, but he's not being cooperative-"
"Tell him about how you nearly killed my partner and I in an unprovoked attack. *That* ought to impress him," Squeaks glowered.
This pronouncement seemed to take the duck by surprise, and he looked from Squeaks to Ferdia (who looked as if she would gladly tear Drake to shreds like the hawk she sounded to be) and back to Squeaks.
The static coming from the communicator was getting worse. "Drake? Are you there? Drake, we have to leave. We're beam you up now- "
"Oh-ho, NO you DON'T!" Ferdia yelled. "I am NOT going to explain a crater the size of a city block, a *melted* prowler, and the fact that I didn't catch the guy that did it. Especially not to the Chief, and ESPECIALLY not without my partner!"
If the voice on the other end of the communicator heard her, any response that it might have made was drowned out by a wave of static. Seconds later, the world flashed white.
Galaxia Kiwi growled, angrily hurling the tablet across the room with a frustrated shout. The tablet smashed into the opposite wall, scattering its components across the floor. One of the larger pieces skid to a stop by her foot, and she kicked it away angrily. A tan rabbit, younger than her first officer but of the same species, cowered near the doorway.
"Someone want to tell me how, out of a dozen contacts, we're only able to get a hold of ONE!?!" Galaxia roared.
"We *were* able to locate one other's extension-" the rabbit squeaked.
"THE EMPRESS OF ESPIONAGE DOES *NOT* TALK TO *MACHINES*!!!"
"Yes, ma'am. W-We're trying to locate its owner at the moment, but we're not having much luck....perhaps the one already on board will be enough?" she asked hopefully.
Galaxia grabbed the rabbit by the collar of her uniform, hoisting her off her feet and slamming her roughly into the wall. "NO, he will NOT be enough! ONE lousy pirate is not going to keep the Federation's *entire* navy at bay! I need-"
The cringing rabbit was saved from her captain's tirade by a loud siren accompanied by flashing lights. "Red Alert! Red Alert!" the computer squawked above the sirens. Galaxia dropped the rabbit to the floor and bolted for the bridge.
"What is it?!" she yelled to her weapons officer as she took her place in the captain's chair.
"A shuttlecraft just crashed in the population center below us. It wasn't one of ours, and the only way such a craft could avoid our detection at this range would be if it were cloaked. There must be a Duck ship nearby!"
Galaxia leaned forward, squinting at the viewscreen. "I don't see them."
"They would not still be cloaked if they knew we were alerted to their presence - the ship can't fire while cloaked. But we shouldn’t stay here any longer."
"Damn!" she pounded the fists into her chair's armrests. She needed more pirates! She had no choice - she would have to leave a message with the other contact's machine, 'abandoning' a pirate fighter in orbit. Hopefully the Ducks would think she was dumping cargo to gain speed. "Bridge to Engine Room, prepare to break from orbit and accelerate to Warp 6 on my mark." She turned to her communications officer, ignoring engineering's protests. "Get me the other contact's number!"
She left a brief but enticing offer on the contact's recording machine, then shouted her mark to engineering. The ship's impulse engines whirred to life briefly, tearing the ship out of orbit and swinging it away from the solar system as the warp engines built up the necessary charge in the warp core. Seconds later the impulse engines cut off, and the crew felt themselves being flattened against their seats as the warp engines engaged, sending the ship streaking forward at 600 times the speed of light.
Behind them, still orbiting the blue planet, an alarmed ensign reported the Duckhawk's departure. Commodore Mallard, in return, broke with protocol, decloaking the ship and hurriedly contacting his first officer. Decloaked, the transporters should work without mishap, and if they hurried, they could catch up with the Duckhawk before she changed course and lost them.
The rat lay with his eyes closed, listening as the cops argued with the six-and-a-half foot tall duck that wore shades in the middle of the night. Their voices suddenly subsided, and he lifted an eyelid just in time to see the three of them bathed in individual shafts of blinding light. The bluebird shrieked as the light hit her, and then the three of them were gone, leaving him alone in a smoldering alley with her cry echoing in his head. After a few moments he thought he heard sirens. He *hoped* they were sirens.
Sore throat or not, Ferdia still managed a startled squawk as a bright light flashed, immobilizing her. She felt a tingling sensation, then a brief period of weightlessness, and then felt ground beneath her feet again. She lowered her arms, which she had thrown in front of her face when the light flashed, and looked around, forcing herself to relax.
Squeaks was to her right, the duck in front of him. They were in the middle of a round, windowless room with computers lining the walls and on consoles set up along the inside of the circle of wall stations. At each computer sat a duck - most were simple white ducks, but she spotted a wood duck and several common mallard ducks, along with some beings she didn't recognize. Most stations faced a huge screen set into the wall at one end of the room, although the attention of those manning the stations was fixed on the three of them. A lifetime of science fiction movies clicked into place, and she realized she was on the bridge of a ship.
A white duck in a red uniform, much like the one the duck that had attacked them wore, but with another star on his collar and without the helmet and shades, stood from his seat in the middle of the room. He looked at the three of them, his gaze shifting from Squeaks to her, lingering on her for what she felt was an uncomfortably long time. She caught herself absently rubbing the bruises on her neck, and dropped her hand back to her side. He turned his gaze back to Squeaks, who folded his arms defiantly and flicked his tail in annoyance. He was still holding the duck's weapon, she noticed. The duck in red looked at the duck in the helmet, then shook his head, a chuckle escaping his bill.
"Spades," he chuckled, "you three look terrible!" Ferdia folded her arms as well, the only response this comment drew. The duck in shades looked uncomfortable. The duck in red tried again. "So, Squeaks, is that really you?"
"In the fur," Squeaks glared.
"Come on, don't say you don't recognize me? Commodore Mallard! Welcome aboard my ship!" The scowls did not abate. "Come now, be civil."
"Civil? CIVIL? Mallard, he tried to kill us!" Squeaks yelled.
The duck in shades backed up a step, waving his hands in front of him. "I didn't recognize you!"
"What, so it's okay to attack our citizens as long as you don't KNOW them?!?" Ferdia spat, her shout coming out as hardly more than a hoarse whisper.
"We deeply apologize for the manner in which you were brought here," a tan duck interjected, "but we are pressed for time and need your assistance," she explained, "we are chasing a ship, possibly a pirate, into the Forbidden Zone."
"Yes," Commodore interrupted her, "and we must hurry if we are not to lose it. Engine room! Full power! Take us out of orbit and accelerate to Warp 8!"
The ship slid obligingly out of orbit, appeared to drift a moment, then engaged its warp engines. Caught off guard and still standing as the ship leapt into warp speed, Ferdia lost her balance, stumbling back into Squeaks, who had also failed to brace himself for the acceleration and dropped the cannon as he, too, lost his balance. The duck in shades dodged out of their way as they fell back, toppling into the lap of the tan duck seated in one of the plush chairs similar to the captain's.
The ship's acceleration slowed as it neared, then achieved, Warp 8, and the two slid to the floor.
Squeaks leaned against the chair's support and rubbed the back of his head. "I'd forgotten about that part," he allowed, then looked at his partner with concern. "You okay?"
Doubled over and hugging her ribcage, eyes squeezed shut, Ferdia nodded. Knowing a nod wouldn't convince her partner, she opened her eyes and smiled weakly. "Just hit a sore spot on the way down." She winced.
She fooled the tan duck about as well as she fooled Squeaks. "Captain, the three of them belong in sickbay," she said, helping Squeaks lift Ferdia to her feet.
"Very well, Counselor. You may take them there." Commodore tapped his combadge, informing sickbay of incoming patients.
Ivan slouched in the chair, leaning a cheek in one hand and drumming his fingers on the polished table in front of him and glaring at the nervous young rabbit by the door. "The trouble with being punctual," he muttered, "is that there's never anyone around to appreciate it." His sign holder turned from gazing out a viewport and nodded in agreement.
Now, the Evil Sir Ivan Kiwi was a patient bird, for a criminal mastermind. But he did not like to be kept waiting. It annoyed him, and Ivan was not the sort of person you wanted to annoy. So, when the door finally opened, allowing the rabbit to escape as Galaxia entered, it was all he could do to keep his temper in check.
"Nice of you to finally grace us with your presence," he greeted Galaxia testily, "So, tell me, does everyone have cloaking devices but me, or did someone cancel the meeting and forget to tell me?"
"Quiet," she snapped.
"Careful, sister. I've killed for less than that," Ivan retorted. "Much less."
She whirled on him. "We were not able to reach anyone else, all right?!"
"Think it might have something to do with the fact that you were calling in the middle of the night?" He put his hands behind his head, leaning back in the chair and putting his feet on the table. "Not everyone's as gracious as I am at a quarter to three in the morning."
"Most of them were listed as deceased."
"Oh....right. Heh. Forgot about that." She looked at him quizzically. "Let's just say we villains had a bit of an epidemic a couple of months ago. Took most of the major players off the map," he explained.
"And yet, here you are."
"You really do need to watch your mouth, duck. I'm alive 'cause I was smart enough to know where not to be and when not to be there." And the fact that my arch nemesis was tagging along instead of my sign holder didn't hurt, either, he added silently. "So what's the deal?"
"Easy. We are going to lead a sneak attack against the Federation, striking them when and where they least suspect it with a weapon they know nothing about. All YOU have to do is draw their forces away from our target."
"And all I get for risking my tail and starting a war is a dinky little ship?"
"It's a good ship! Any pirate could steal a fortune with that ship!"
"It's dinky. You've got five of 'em in your shuttle bay, an' your ship's not that big - only slightly above average size." She stared at him. "You really shouldn't keep your guests waiting so long," he told her, "We tend to have interesting ways of entertaining ourselves."
"That would explain who hacked their way into the main computer an hour ago...." she muttered.
"An idle mind is a dangerous thing. Now, about my payment...."
"I really *don't* have anything else to give you," she said through clenched teeth.
"You've got four more fighters."
"Three. We left one on the off-chance the other party we were able to contact decides to accept our offer."
"You have nothing of value and yet you ditch a ship? THAT sure tells me they're worth a lot," Ivan snorted.
"You want the other three? TAKE the other three. I'm not the one that paid for 'em anyway."
"Now you're starting to see things my way," Ivan smiled. "So, tell me more about where we're going and what this weapon is...."
The car hadn't even come to a complete stop before Casey was out and running through the ruins of 4th street. Buildings on both sides of the street were leaning at dangerous angles. Some had toppled; most were still smoldering. A sloping crater near what had been commonly referred to as Red Alley marked it as the probable ground zero. A small homeless crowd was gathering around the crater, and Casey was suddenly very thankful that this block had consisted mainly of condemned buildings - whatever the death toll was now, it would've been much higher in a heavier-trafficked area. He slowed as he neared the crowd, approaching the crater and peering through the smoke at the twisted metal below.
Airplane crash. Had to be. "Anyone see what happened? Where the plane came from, what it looked like?"
"Weren't no plane," one of the bums said, his words slightly slurred, "t'were a meteor."
"A meteor?" Casey couldn't keep the skepticism out of his voice.
"Yeah, a big fireball, just like the movies," said another. Several more nodded in agreement.
Casey peered into the pit again. He still thought he could make out the fuselage of an airplane. "If it was a meteor, why's a tail fin sticking out of that heap?" he asked them.
"Dunno, man. Mebbe it's parta th' car."
"Car? What car? It hit a car?" Having given up on trying to find a closer place to park, Trevor jogged up to the group.
"One 'a yours."
"One of OURS?!?" the partners chorused. Trevor took a closer look at the pit.
"Yeah, they wuz chasin' some dude down th' alley-"
Casey dashed around the crater and into the alley, then shouted for his partner. Trevor left the crowd to the two other squad cars just arriving and went into the alley.
The stench of burned refuse immediately assailed his nostrils, tearing up his eyes and blurring the scene in front of him. As his vision cleared, he felt his jaw drop. "Jeez, what happened here?" he breathed.
The alley looked like a war zone -- scorched garbage bags scattered everywhere, some split open and spilling their contents into the wind. Small patches of blood dotted the floor and walls, and a service revolver lay near a mountain of bags. He thought he could make out a couple of bullet holes along the walls - fortunately none close to the circles of blood. He heard a scuffling sound behind him, away from where Casey was. He whirled, training his gun at the source of the sound.
"Don't shoot me! I didn't do it, I swear!" a voice yelled.
Trevor lowered his gun, looking at the prone form of a rat. A handcuffed rat. He jerked the rat to his feet. "What happened here?"
Before the rat could answer, he heard Casey curse softly behind him, and turned to see why. At his partner's feet was a single blue feather. The orange finch walked up to their only suspect, glaring at the rat. "Where are they?"
"I didn't do it!"
Casey grabbed the rat's shirt and slammed him into the wall. "WHERE *ARE* THEY?"
"I DON'T KNOW!" the rat sobbed, "They caught me an' cuffed me, an' then this thing blows up their car an' this big huge duck guy comes out and attacks them an' then everybody started shootin' an' then they knocked 'im down an' then they all disappeared!"
"Whaaat?" Trevor eased Casey away from the hysterical rat. This was not the time for his partner to lose his temper. "Slow down, you're not making any sense."
"Where are they?" Casey repeated.
"I don't know! After they beat the duck, they said somethin' to him-"
"What'd they say?"
"I don't know, I didn't hear it! But then this bright light flashed, an' they disappeared!"
"What d'ya mean, they disappeared?!"
"I don't know, they just disappeared! You know, as in, Scotty, beam me up!"
"Case, enough," Trevor said, taking hold of the rat and leading him out of the alley. "The forensics people need to look this place over, and we need to take this guy to the station anyway. Maybe he'll remember more then."
"Figures our only real witness is high on something," he heard his partner mutter as they headed out of the alley.
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