"Hey!" Galaxia squawked, angrily addressing the Bagel captain on the screen, "What are you *doing*?!?"
"My apologies," he replied, as the Duckhawk’s shields collapsed, "But the Ducks made it through the wormhole, and I’m not about to risk losing this to them. Not now."
"They’re beaming the generator off the ship!" D’Gal yelled, furious. "You’re just going to leave us here, aren’t you," he growled at the Bagel captain.
"Of course," the captain said, smiling. "Our power supply is fully charged and ready to power our escape. The Motherworld will commend me for successfully retrieving the wormhole generator."
"But what about us?!?" Galaxia demanded.
"Think of yourselves as the Ducks’ consolation prize."
"I’m sure you’re familiar with the concept of a fall guy, D’Gal. Kindly explain it to your ‘captain’," the Bagel smirked, cutting the transmission. Seconds later, the Bagel ship activated the generator, the vortex quickly forming around the lone ship as it folded out.
"No!" Galaxia yelled, pounding her chair’s armrests in anger. She turned to her security officer. "They can’t *do* that!"
"They can do anything they want, Galaxia. That’s what makes them the bad guys," D’Gal commented wryly.
Galaxia glanced at the ship approaching in their viewscreen. "The Ducks! Quick, warp us out of here!"
"Certainly. As soon as our systems recover from the drain that generator put them through. Until then, the best we can do is impulse."
"That won’t do any good!" she shouted, punching the engines to maximum impulse as the Duck ship closed the distance between them.
The ship obliged grudgingly, its lights flickering. In response, the Ducks opened fire, the shots singeing the hull. Then, suddenly, the ship lurched to a halt.
"What the-" Galaxia began.
"Tractor beam," D’Gal finished. Cutting the ship’s engines – they were no good now, not in a tractor beam – he rerouted the power supplies and exited the bridge.
"Got her!" Drake yelled, clapping the ensign guiding the tractor beam on their back.
"Yes, but we missed the Bagel ship, and they were the ones that had the weapon," Mallard replied. "The Federation won’t be too pleased about that."
"Maybe not, but they won’t be too upset at our catch, either."
"Galaxia isn’t much of a catch."
"No. But D’Gal *is*."
"True," Mallard conceded. "Tow the ship in."
Bob Kiwi watched from inside Ivan’s ship.
"Shouldn’t we help them?" he asked.
"Nope," Ivan replied, his attention focused on the planet below. "As far as the Ducks are concerned, we’re pirates, remember?"
"Besides, I for one have had enough of space. I want nothing more right now than to get back to my city, where all you can see of the night sky is smog and skyscrapers."
Ivan ignored him. "Hey, rabbit! Land the ships, one at a time, at the coordinates I give you."
"Yessir," Lita replied, guiding the first ship into the atmosphere.
"I suppose there’s no point in asking you not to do that," Ferdie pouted.
"None whatsoever, detective. So just sit back and enjoy the ride. I’ll call ya a taxi when we land."
"D’Gal! Where do you think you’re-" Galaxia stumbled as the ship lurched backwards. "We’re moving!" she yelped.
Ahead of her, D’Gal yelled over his shoulder, his pace never slowing. "The Ducks are reeling us in!"
She ran to catch up with him. "So where are you going!?"
"To do my job," he spat, halting before the door to the security office.
"Like hell you are! Your job is to protect this ship! Get us out of this!"
The doors slid open. D’Gal headed toward the arms locker, keying in its code. "I’m getting you out of this. The warp engines are charging now."
"Idiot! We can’t go to warp in a tractor beam! We’ll be torn apart!"
D’Gal removed most of the locker’s weaponry, donning a half-dozen phasers, phaser-cannons, multi-bladed knives, and a mean-looking custom phaser-rifle. "I *know* that, half-breed," he growled, ignoring the flash of anger in her eyes, "I never said you’d still be in the tractor beam when you went to warp."
"How *dare* you-"
"Once I’ve boarded their ship and killed the beam, you’ll be free to warp out of here." He pumped the phaser-rifle, testing it. "I’ll take the ship and catch up with you later." Tapping the rifle on his shoulder, he debated the need for further weaponry. Deciding against it, he turned and headed out the door.
"You can’t be serious!" Galaxia yelled after him, darting out into the hallway. "That’s a Duck flagship! She carries a crew of over 700! Even *you* can’t beat those odds!"
Halfway to the transported room already, D’Gal paused, turning to give her a sidelong glance. "So? If it doesn’t work, I’m dead. If we’re captured, I’m dead anyway. Nothing ventured, nothing gained."
"That what they call gallows humor?"
He grinned, his eyes taking on an evil gleam. "Better a snowball’s chance in hell than none at all," he quipped, heading into the transport room.
Galaxia shook her head, turning back towards the bridge. "Lunatic," she muttered.
"Sir!" an ensign yelled, pointing to her screen, "Someone just beamed onto our ship!"
"What!" Mallard checked the readings. Someone had indeed transported onto their ship. "Security! Intruder alert! Unknown hostile is loose on the ship! Ensign, try to get a reading on where they transported to!"
Mallard tapped him combadge. "Drake, is that away team ready yet?"
"Affirmative, captain. Everyone’s been assembled and briefed."
"Then begin beaming over there now and take control of their systems! Someone’s already beamed over here! I don’t want anyone else following suit!"
Not long after the team had finished transporting aboard the Duckhawk, the lights flickered. Mallard hadn’t even reached his combadge by the time Engineering called in.
"Captain! We’ve just lost our primary and secondary power generators!"
As he spoke, a flash of light and smoke erupted from the ship’s outer belly, and the soft green beam of light tethering the captured Duckhawk to the Duck ship abruptly quit.
"Captain! Reports of explosions on the bow! The tractor beam’s array has been destroyed!"
"Disable all turbolifts! Lock the emergency stairwells!" Mallard ordered, thumping his combadge. "Drake!"
"I heard it, Cap’n. Sounds like D’Gal beat us to the punch."
"I’m sending teams to the areas surrounding the tractor beam generators. But if it’s really D’Gal, he’s already far from there. With the Duckhawk in our custody, he’ll want to get back to free it. I want you to head for the shuttle bay. With no shuttles, he’ll have to double back, and I want you to cut him off."
"Did you hear that?" Ferdia asked.
Squeaks nodded. "That’s not good news. D’Gal’s taken down entire fleets before. If he’s already destroyed the generators and the tractor beam, his next move would normally be to take out as much of Security and the officers as he can. But with the Duckhawk in the custody of the away team, he’ll free her first."
"But the captain was wrong! He won’t be trapped! There *is* a ship in the shuttle bay! Mine!"
Squeaks brought up a map of the ship on the terminal in front of them, then took off in the direction of the shuttle bay, Ferdia right behind him.
"We’re closer to the shuttle bay than Drake! We’ll take the longer route, in case D’Gal’s avoiding the main corridors!"
"I was thinking…even if he’s not taking our route, if he’s anywhere near as dangerous as you said he was, your friend might need help anyway!"
"Well, I guess this is a form of law enforcement, and I never let my opinions of an officer get in the way of protecting them!...Besides, he needs to live long enough for me to kick his tail in a rematch!"
D’Gal stood in the shuttle bay. And stared in disbelief.
It was empty! Completely empty! Not a single shuttlecraft sat on the landing pad, not even in the service area! The only ship in the entire bay was an ancient museum piece that probably hadn’t seen action in centuries. Even if it was spaceworthy, it had negligible shields and such primitive controls that he doubted he could control it.
So. What to do. The transporter wasn’t an option. Without a phaser held at their temples, its operator would deliberately misconfigure the beam to rent him apart atom by atom. Taking the entire ship by force would take some time, and with Galaxia’s ship under their control, the Ducks could easily beam from ship to ship and take him by surprise. Which left…ah, yes. How could he have forgotten it? So simple was the plan, so easily forgotten was the target, he could do it easily.
He ran back to the corridor.
And right into Drake.
The two Ducks collided. Drake’s momentum carried him forward; D’Gal, weighed down by the weapons he hadn’t yet self-destructed, toppled backwards. Though both were winded and dazed, they recovered quickly. Finding yourself beak-to-beak with your enemy tends to do that. Drake found his voice first.
Realizing he’d dropped his phaser in the fall, Drake’s arm shot out to retrieve it. Before his hand closed around it, however, D’Gal shoved the Federation Duck away, planting a boot to his chest and sending him sprawling onto his back. In one fluid movement, D’Gal rolled, snatched up the phaser, and was on his feet, facing Drake.
Crab-walking, Drake scooted back, hastily getting to his feet and taking a defensive stance towards the Black Knight that now had a phaser aimed at him.
"Still alive, Duck?" D’Gal taunted.
"Funny, I was about to ask you the same thing."
"Of course I’m still alive. I live by my wits and my skill. You, on the other hand, can claim neither."
"I outsmarted you once."
D’Gal rolled his eyes. "No, you played dead until I was safely off the station, then aborted the self-destruct sequence by shooting the system’s computer. Which, if I remember correctly, damaged the station to the point where the Federation scuttled it anyway, yes?"
"*That* is entirely beside the point."
"Ah, yes. The point would be, ‘he who fights and runs away, lives to die another day,’ eh?"
He tossed the phaser at Drake, charging the distracted Duck and knocking him to the ground. Drake was on his feet again in an instant, only to be caught in the abdomen by a roundhouse kick.
"Haven’t gotten any better at fighting, have you, Duck?" D’Gal backed a foot away. "Come on."
Drake charged at the taunting Duck, throwing a punch that might have done some damage, had D’Gal not caught the officer’s arm, twisted it, and used Drake’s own momentum to send him hurtling head over heels into the wall. The Duck righted himself, supporting himself on his elbows while he willed his vision to clear.
"Come on, Federation, this is your life here! At least act like you’re going to fight for it!"
Easy for *him* to say, Drake thought to himself. D’Gal’s belligerence was the only reason he was still alive after all this time. The thought that he, Drake, could beat someone as adept at fighting as D’Gal was ridiculous. If he had the element of surprise, maybe. But without it, and without backup, he was dead. And he knew it. "Why don’t you just shoot me?"
"Now, where would the fun be in that?" D’Gal asked. He grabbed Drake by his lapels, pulling the Duck forward and rebounding him off the opposing wall.
The shuttle bay doors slid open, admitting a very cautious mouse and a wary bluebird. Guns at the ready, they carefully stole into the bay, watching the corners and shadows.
Squeaks scanned the room. "He’s not here."
"Think we beat him?"
"Maybe. Maybe not."
"Hey," Ferdia jerked her head to the right, moving to the bay’s right entranceway. "You hear that?"
Squeaks pricked up his ears, listening. A dull thud. Another. He walked to the left side of the door, careful not to approach it head-on and cause it to open. The sounds of a scuffle.
A click. On his left. He looked across the doorway to Ferdia. She’d taken the safety off her service revolver and was sliding closer to the door. He held up his hand, shaking his head.
"We don’t know where they are, and if D’Gal is armed – and he’s always armed – we’ll jeopardize ourselves and Drake if we don’t take him by surprise."
"Then we’ll go out the door we came in and work our way over."
D’Gal caught Drake with another roundhouse, sending the Duck to the ground once again. This time though, he didn’t get up.
"Now, don’t tell me you’re tired already! I’ve hardly warmed up!" He kicked Drake over onto his back. "Come on. Get up, Duck."
"If you’re gonna use a word as a slur, D’Gal, you out to pick one that doesn’t apply to yourself as well," Drake coughed, hauling himself into a sitting position.
"Me? A Duck? What makes you feel I’m an Invisible Duck, eh?" D’Gal circled the gasping officer. "If my species had any claim to membership in your race, why leave them to rot on a dying world, eh? That’s not something you do to kin. That’s something you do to enemies."
He kicked Drake sharply in the kidneys, knocking the Duck on his stomach again. This time, however, Drake felt a knee digging into his spine as a hand jerked his head back. A blade pressed against his throat.
"Tired of playing?" he asked.
"Yes, you reminded me. I’ve got places to go, people to kill, and so forth. You understand. Any last w—Arg!"
The knife fell away from his throat, and Drake opened his eyes, as surprised at the cry of pain as the loud bang! that had accompanied it. The source of the sound surprised him even more. Ferdia stood not thirty feet away, where the hallway intersected with another corridor.
"Well, well, well," D’Gal crooned, "What do we have here?" Gripping Drake by the hair, he got to his feet, dragging his hostage up with him. "This certainly explains the relic in the shuttle bay. And here I thought the Federation had rules about not allowing primitives on their ships. Tsk tsk," he scolded, favoring his right shoulder but brandishing a phaser nonetheless. He fired a few rounds at Ferdia, sending her diving behind a corner. "You shouldn’t get involved, bird. This doesn’t involve you."
"Let him go."
Crouched, she leaned around the corner. He fired another round, forcing her to duck out of sight. "I should warn you, I don’t use the ‘stun’ setting," he threatened, bringing it to Drake’s temple to stop the Duck’s struggling.
Ferdia reappeared, gun still trained on him.
"Don’t think I won’t kill this worthless bit of feathers," he threatened.
"Don’t think I’ll care if you do," she countered, sliding out from behind the corner. "No hostage, no shield. No shield, the next bullet goes through your heart, not your shoulder. Makes my life easier."
"Ooh, I think I like her," D’Gal whispered to Drake, "then again, anyone that wants *you* dead…" He shoved the Duck stumbling forward, bringing the phaser to firing position…
…but never got it there. Ferdia’s second shot went not through his heart but through his phaser, and as the shrapnel ripped through his hand, a blue-and-white blur slammed into him from behind, knocking him to the ground.
By the time he hit the ground, Ferdia had crossed the distance between them, handcuffing him a second later. Only then did she turn her attention to Drake.
"Hey, you still breathin’?" She offered him a hand.
"Don’t turn your back on him!" Drake warned her.
She shrugged. "Don’t worry, I’ve got someone coverin’ for me." She frowned. "Your pupils are dilated. How many of me do you see?"
"Three and a half," he admitted.
"In that case, don’t get up. We’ll call the Sickbay," a voice behind her offered. A very familiar voice. He shook his head, trying to clear it. Slowly, his vision cleared and came into focus.
And showed him a ghost.
The blur holding D’Gal was Squeaks.
"You – you – you’re-"
"Not dead. Right."
Drake looked over at Ferdia. "Is it a bad thing when you see hallucinations?"
"Yeah, but unless you see pink elephants flying around, you’re not hallucinating. Squeaks is alive and well."
"I think I need to sit down."
"You are sitting down!"
"Then maybe I should lie down."
"Hey! Duck! Maybe you just need a swift kick in the head! Lemme oblige ya!" D’Gal thrashed around, straining against the handcuffs. "Y’know, I’m pretty sure these things violate some treaty or another," he grumbled, struggling and trying to land a kick on Drake.
Drake pushed himself up hesitantly, testing his balance and battling the vertigo. D’Gal, unable to reach the Duck anymore, spat at him. Drake wiped the spittle from his face, straightened, and looked to Squeaks and Ferdia, indicating D’Gal with a finger. "You mind?"
Ferdia cocked an eyebrow, leaning back against the corridor wall. "Hey, I’m a primitive, remember? I’d offer you my club, but we have to find the things ourselves, and we tend to get upset if anything happens to them..."
Squeaks let go of the handcuffed Duck and backed away. "I don’t see anything," he shrugged, leaning against the wall as well.
Drake hit D’Gal with a right cross. By the time the Duck hit the floor, he was out cold.
The blue-clad medic stole silently down the hallway, careful to avoid as much of the crew as possible. Those she could not avoid, however, merely glanced at her as they passed. A few said hello, smiling at the pretty young ‘ensign’ as she walked by.
She smiled to herself. Stupid Ducks. Bleach your feathers, tie your hair back, and don a SpaceFleet uniform, and all of a sudden you were a trusted member of the Federation. Would they never learn?
She entered the brig, stopping when she reached the two officers guarding the maximum-security cell. The young men smiled at her.
"Medical ensign Cayla, here to check on the prisoner," she announced primly.
They looked at her uncertainly. "Why do you need to do that?" one questioned, frowning. "The man’s a terrorist and a murderer. Let him suffer."
She pursed her lips. "To be honest, I’d like to. But he’s been unconscious for hours, and the Captain wants to question him. If he weren’t such a menace, he’d probably be in sickbay." They shifted uncomfortably. "If you wish, you can accompany me in," she offered, batting her eyes at them.
They blushed. The first cleared his throat. "That, uh, won’t be necessary, Miss Cayla. If you need any help, just call us on your combadge." He keyed the pass code to the cell, allowing her to enter before locking it again.
Galaxia shook her head. "Fools didn’t even bother checking my medical bag," she chuckled, fishing a hypo out of the bag and approaching the prisoner.
The shot didn’t bring him out of it. Neither did the smelling salts, though his eyelids fluttered briefly. As she had no bucket of water handy, that left but one option. She slapped him.
Instantly, he was awake, swinging at his ‘assailant.’ The electro-magnetic bands on his wrists cut the blow short, however, increasing their pull to effectively bind his wrists to the wall above his head.
D’Gal strained against the shackles, his eyes flashing angrily at the startled nurse backing out of reach.
Galaxia scolded herself for not anticipating such a violent reaction. This was D’Gal, after all. He was known for nothing else. She regained her composure. "D’Gal! It’s me!"
D’Gal paused, studying the Duck before him. "Galaxia?"
She folded her arms, smirking. "Told ya you couldn’t take a ship this size," she remarked, stooping for her bag. She took out a magnetic-disruptor gadget, breaking the holds of the magnetic cuffs.
Free of his bonds, D’Gal got to his feet. "What are *you* doing here? I told you to warp out as soon as the tractor beam broke hold!"
"You’re supposed to say ‘thank you’ and apologize," she scowled.
"For what?" He rubbed his wrists, checking his right hand and shoulder. They still hurt, but a medic had evidently treated them already, as the wounds had all but disappeared.
She glared at him. He studied her for a moment, then shrugged.
"I *never* apologize." He grabbed the med bag, removing the phaser hidden in it and approaching the cell door. "Why aren’t you on your ship?"
"They boarded it."
"You couldn’t even repel a boarding party?"
"My crew’s never been known for its courage in battle. When the party announced you’d been caught, they surrendered. The few loyal fighters I do have hid, but someone saw me before I reached them. I convinced the party leader that I was a medic you’d taken prisoner, and the fool sent me back up here. I figured I might as well save your worthless hide before heading back to the ship."
"Touching. Especially since you’ll need me and my worthless hide to beam you back aboard your ship. So," he indicated the door, "save me already."
The officer on duty in the transporter room started when the doors slid open. It was almost the end of his shift, and, not expecting to have to beam down any more away team members now that some had begun returning, he had begun to doze off. He looked at the medical ensign critically. Probably just another young adventure-seeker. He’d had a few in here already, asking to be beamed to the captured ship.
"You’re not leaving the ship without the captain’s permission, miss," he said, barely acknowledging her.
"That a fact?" a voice intoned. The transport chief leapt in alarm as D’Gal appeared in the doorway. "I wouldn’t do that if you want to live to see tomorrow," he remarked as the chief reached for his phaser. "Toss it here."
The chief obeyed, watching as D’Gal holstered the second weapon and approached the console.
"Now, I’m not thick enough to think you’d actually beam us over to our ship instead of the brig or open space," D’Gal began, leveling his phaser at the frightened Duck, "That trick’s been done before. But I don’t have time to listen to you beg for your life, either. So we’ll make it simple. Beam her over to the Duckhawk, and if she contacts me and says that’s where she is, you live. Got it?"
The transporter chief gulped, nodding. He set the coordinates as Galaxia took her place on the transport pad. D’Gal held his phaser on the chief.
"Wait a minute!" Galaxia began, as the transporter beam washed over her, "D’Gal! What about you?"
"I’ve got a plan!"
D’Gal watched as the beam faded. An instant later, his communicator chirped, informing him of Galaxia’s successful arrival. "Very good," he told the transporter chief.
"I get to live, right? You said if I did what you told me, you’d let me live!"
D’Gal thumbed a switch on the phaser, bringing it to firing position. "Did I, now?"
Mallard sat in his customary seat on the bridge, angrily listening to Security’s report.
"I fail to see how someone could just walk into the brig and break him out, Commander!" he growled at the officer onscreen. "Find him!"
"I understand, sir. I – hold on a moment, sir," his security chief cut the transmission for a moment, then reappeared, more worried than before. "Sir! We’re getting reports of phaser discharge in the transporter room! We’re responding now!"
Minutes passed. Mallard contacted sickbay for an update on Drake, only to be told that he’d just left for the bridge.
"Sir! The computer reports an explosion in the transporter room!" an ensign yelled, seconds before his combadge chirped.
"Sir! Security here! There’s no sign of D’Gal, but we managed to get the transporter chief out before the blast. He’s been shot, but believe it or not, he’s still breathing. We’re searching the area now."
"Keep looking," Mallard told them, cutting the transmission and opening another to Drake, "Commander, where are you?"
"I’m on Deck 14, headed up to the bridge," Drake reported.
"Be on the lookout for D’Gal," Mallard cautioned, "He’s loose, and at this point, probably headed for us now."
"Headed for you?" Ferdia repeated. "Why?"
"Because without shuttles or transporters, there’s no way off this ship. If he reaches the bridge, he can seal us away from the controls and commandeer the ship!" Drake explained.
"But there’s still a way off the ship!"
Drake shook his head. "I doubt he’ll try taking your ship. It may be similar to the type of aircraft you’re familiar with, but to us – and him – it’s too foreign. Plus, he probably has his doubts about whether or not it still works."
"That’s not what I meant!" she persisted. "There’s still-"
"-the yacht," Squeaks finished. "Of course! It’s so seldom used, no one’s thought to post a unit there! And with everyone expecting him on the bridge, he’ll reach it easily!"
"Not if we beat him to it," Drake said, rerouting the turbolift.
D’Gal dashed up the spiraling emergency stairs. Five flights down, he’d set an array of phasers to self-destruct. When the weapons finished over-charging, their explosions would rip through much of the ship’s remaining weapons systems. They’d also send a wall of fire shooting up the stairwell, so he had to hurry if he didn’t want to become roast duck.
Security was responding as he’d expected them to, guarding the turbolifts and maintenance shafts leading to the bridge. Let them. He didn’t want this ship. Not anymore, not since he’d already knocked out nearly all her power generators and weapons systems.
No, he wasn’t headed for the bridge. He was headed for a little, forgotten area a few decks beneath it. Only a few more flights up now…
…there! He slammed into the exit door, stumbling into an empty corridor. Winded, but not about to chance stopping for breath, he tore down the hall in the direction of the tiny hangar.
Aboard the Duckhawk, Galaxia and the dozen crewmembers that had avoided capture positioned themselves outside the bridge.
The Ducks had kept very few of the away team on the ship once they’d sealed her crew in a cargo hold. The few that remained did so only because the tractor beam had been broken, and all they did was maintain the Duckhawk’s heading and keep an eye on the security display of the cargo hold. And they did it all from the bridge.
Galaxia signaled her men. As one, the group charged through the doors and onto the bridge, taking the away team completely by surprise.
D’Gal ducked around a corner, shielding himself from the blast. As the dust subsided, he darted back into the corridor and through the now-open hangar door.
There she was. Small, sleek, and undefended. The captain’s yacht. So insignificant, she didn’t even have a name, much less a customized pass code. He keyed the default code into the panel on her side, stepping back as the gull-wing door popped open.
"Hey!" a muffled voice yelled, "The door’s been blasted open!"
Footsteps echoed from down the corridor. Evidently, not everyone had forgotten this small ship. But D’Gal wasn’t about to stick around and find out who had tracked him this far - he’d used his last phaser on the door. He darted into the ship, locking down her doors and powering up her systems. Below him, the hangar’s bay doors began to open.
Ferdia ran toward the small hangar, watching as the ship powered up, its lights blinking through the billowing dust the engines kicked up. She didn’t notice the bay doors until they were open enough that the vacuum of space overpowered the environmental systems in the hangar and began sucking everything in the pressurized corridor toward the gaping doorway.
It was like running with gale-force winds at your back. The roar was deafening, the force of the winds overwhelming, pushing them forward despite their efforts to the contrary. Stopping was out of the question, but at the same time, necessary for survival. The trio slammed into the corridor to the right of the door. Drake hit his combadge, yelling for the bridge to close the doors.
Closest to the corner, Ferdia risked a glance around, in time to see the yacht lift off and dive through the open doors. Seconds later, the doors closed. The wind and the roaring stopped.
For a moment, anyway. Then another roar echoed from beneath them, traveling up the hull and shaking the ship to its core. The phaser array had self-destructed.
"The yacht!" Mallard gasped, watching as it streaked out from under the ship. "Open fire!"
His weapons officer reached to comply, put was interrupted when the ship shuddered with another explosion.
Mallard didn’t need to hear where that explosion had hit. He knew it had taken out a sizeable portion of their guns. D’Gal wouldn’t risk taking the yacht otherwise.
He was about to hail his officers on the Duckhawk when it turned and sped away, leaving a stretched burned-in image of itself as it reached warp speeds.
"I saw it! Just concentrate on D’Gal!"
"No!" Drake yelled, watching through one of the empty hangar’s viewports as the Duckhawk sped away. "They’re getting away!"
"What about D’Gal? He looks like he’s circling around. If he stays to fight, can’t you beat him?"
Squeaks shook his head. "Not with as much of their systems damaged as they have. D’Gal can’t do too much damage it the yacht – it’s not a fighter, so it only has a small phaser array – but he can toy with them for a while to buy Galaxia some time before warping out of here."
"And he’ll do just that," Drake said, watching the yacht loop around mockingly, "because we can’t stop him."
Ferdia watched the yacht for a moment, thinking. "Not quite," she said, eyes sparkling mischievously as she raced for the turbolift.
Squeaks watched her for a moment before it hit him. "The x-wing!"
He ran after her.
Drake stood just inside the shuttle bay, shaking his head as a smile crept across his face. Across the bay, in front of the x-wing, a debate was raging as to just who should take the ship.
"She’s my ship, I should take her!"
"You don’t have military training! I’ve been in space battles before, I should go!"
"I’m perfectly capable of handling myself in an air battle and you know it! Besides, I’m familiar with how the ship operates, so I wouldn’t need to waste time learning the finer points of her controls!"
"Why don’t you both go?"
The arguing stopped as Ferdia and Squeaks whirled to face the Duck.
"It’s a single-seater, Drake," Squeak reminded him.
"So it’ll be a tight squeeze. So what? She knows how to fly the ship; you know how to fight. Considering you’re up against D’Gal, splitting the responsibilities of flying and fighting oughta booster your chances of surviving the encounter."
"Sounds okay to me," Ferdia shrugged. Squeaks looked unconvinced.
"Plus, with all the damage we’ve sustained, that fighter’s the only way off this ship," Drake reminded them, "And I assume you’re planning on leaving us again, aren’t you, Ace?"
His question caught Ferdia off guard. Worried, she looked to Squeaks expectantly.
The mouse thought for a moment, shaking his head. "I can’t," he said regretfully, "It’d be considered desertion," he apologized.
"But…but…" Ferdia stammered, at a loss for words but vehemently shaking her head. She cast Drake a pleading look.
Drake sighed. He couldn’t help it. The poor bird didn’t just look hurt at the thought of being abandoned – she looked like a child who’d just been told their favorite pet was dead. Her eyes begged him to do something, say something, anything, to change his friend’s mind.
"Well…" he began, "not exactly. SpaceFleet already thinks you’re dead, and so does the crew, now. Only the Captain and I know otherwise, and I’m sure Mallard would understand…"
"No," Squeaks shook his head. "I can’t just abandon-"
"Wait for me to finish, Ace! The Captain knows a lot of the top brass at SpaceFleet - they could pull some strings and let you stay. I’m sure they’d agree that an outpost this far from traveled space would prove useful for monitoring pirate activity and whatnot. I know they’ve similar agreements along our western borders…"
"Please," Ferdia pleaded.
Squeaks looked doubtful, but smiled and nodded nonetheless.
"Great," Drake grinned as the bluebird cheered and leapt into the fighter, "Now get going before D’Gal gets away!"
His ship squawked in alarm as phaser fire bounced off his shields. The Ducks were still valiantly trying to shoot him down – but they had precious few working turrets at the moment, and much of the ship was thus left unprotected.
Or at least it had been unprotected, D’Gal thought, dodging out of the way of a new stream of phasers. He swung around, searching for their source.
The relic! She arced around after him, her four wings spread in battle mode. So, she was spaceworthy…
"He’s coming around!" Squeaks shouted, firing at the Captain’s yacht as D’Gal swung around to face them.
Beside him in the crammed cockpit, Ferdia jerked back on the control lever. The x-wing shot up into a vertical climb for an instant before flipping around and diving at D’Gal, who had taken the bait. Ignoring the R2 unit’s screams of protest, she continued barreling in towards D’Gal, dodging the yacht’s fire. Streaking past him, she looped around behind the yacht, tailing it as it pitched and weaved in an attempt to shake them. Not that it truly needed to – most of their shots bounced harmlessly off its shields.
"His shields are too strong," Squeaks observed, "We’re hardly more than an annoyance."
"Yes, but we’re an annoyance he’ll chase," Ferdia countered, following D’Gal as he feinted left but allowing him to slip behind them as he broke to the right. "I’m just hoping we’ve gotten him fully distracted…"
On the bridge of the Duck ship, the weapons officer flashed a predatory smile as the yacht followed the x-wing into the range of the ship’s last remaining intact phaser bank. "Gotcha!"
D’Gal let out a startled yelp as the Ducks opened fire. A trap! He jerked the yacht around to get out of range, only to find himself on a collision course with the x-winged fighter that had led him into this mess. He fired angrily at her, watching as the ship’s weak shields began to falter and his shots bounced off her wings, but was jolted back to the task at hand when his ship began screaming that his shields were also failing.
He hastily dove out of range, ignoring the fighter and running from the Duck ship. Her engines and power systems were still damaged – he could outrun her, he thought, watching the ship shrink behind him. He was safe.
Or not. A series of shots ripped into the yacht’s hull, alerting him to the fighter’s continued presence. Harmless enough when he had shields, the tiny ship now had the opportunity to do some real damage to his, and as he turned away from its attack, the x-wing took aim at the yacht’s underbelly. And hit its engines.
His ship pitched forward and rolled as the fighter tore her engines to shreds, taking out a good portion of her flight controls in the process. D’Gal fought with the controls, jerking the ship around and again firing at the fighter. For his effort, he was rewarded with a bright burst as one of his rounds found the fighter’s port engines. Trailing smoke, the fighter streaked by him, banking right because she had no way of compensating for her dead portside engines.
But as he watched the fighter, he realized something. She was being pulled into the atmosphere of the planet beneath them. And so was he.
Ferdia fought the controls, desperately trying to compensate for the lost engines and pull out of their gravitational dive.
"It’s no use! This ship doesn’t have ailerons or a tail – without those engines, I can’t get us level!" she shouted. "Moreover, we’re going down, like it or not!"
"So’s D’Gal!" Squeaks observed, pointing to the tumbling yacht, "He doesn’t have enough speed to maintain an orbit, so he’ll fall in too!"
"But we can’t go after him like this! He’ll get away!"
Squeaks watched as flames streaked around and blackened the yacht’s hull. "I doubt it. The yacht’s designed to withstand atmospheric flight, but like any ship, if you enter the atmosphere too sharply, you run the risk of burning up in re-entry. D’Gal’s stuck in a steep dive. At that angle, he probably won’t survive…"
Flames began forming at the fighter’s nose, shooting up over the canopy. "Um…X-wings can stand re-entry, right, Squeaks?"
"Let’s hope so!"
Trevor lead the handcuffed teen back to the prowler. Placing him in the backseat, the finch turned survey the damage. Casey was busy getting a statement from the shopkeeper; a handful of other cops were talking to witnesses.
The shop itself was being dusted for fingerprints – for all the good that would do – but was not that worse for the wear. The spray paint could be washed off, the broken glass replaced, and the slurpee machine…well, he was certain they’d eventually find a way to turn it off. In the meantime, local kids were beginning to line up behind the squad cars, anxious to ‘help’ clean the mess by filling up huge cups with the sugary slushed ice the damaged machine now gushed continuously.
The shopkeeper finished his statement and turned to deal with the kids as Casey snapped his notepad shut and headed back to the car.
"Y’know, I used to dream about this sort of thing when I was a kid," Trevor commented. "Well, not the smashing and spray-painting parts. But definitely the never-ending slurpee."
"That certainly explains a lot," his partner replied, leaning against the prowler and taking in the scene. "Ferdia’d get a kick out of this."
"Yeah, she’d probably be right up there, handing those kids buckets instead of cups and drinking her helping out of a 50-gallon drum," Trevor laughed.
Casey sighed. "I just wish we knew what really happened to-"
"-Hey! Look at that!" Trevor yelled, jerking to his feet and pointing to a fiery object streaking across the evening sky.
"A shooting star," Casey waved it off.
"No, look, it’s getting bigger! It’s an aircraft, or a satellite, or something, and it’s crashing!"
"A meteor!" someone in the crowd shouted, pointing.
"Looks like it’s headed for Central Park!" another yelled. Trevor glanced at this one. Glasses and pocket protector, with a calculator in one hand and a notebook in the other. The nerd incarnate. But someone who just might actually know what he was talking about.
Trevor started for the driver’s seat. "Let’s check it out."
"Look!" Bob yelled, pointing at the fireball in the sky, "That must be your sister!"
"Where?!?" Ferdie lunged for the window, squashing Bob against it as he did so.
Beak looked out the cab’s front window. The fireball certainly did look like a ship re-entering the atmosphere...
"Looks like it put down near Central Park," Ferdie said, leaning back into his seat. He directed the cabbie there, then noticed Bob. "Oh, sorry about that, Bob."
Bob was too busy being a window decal to respond.
She had been aiming for the water. Really. The man-made lake in Central Park was big, shallow, and deserted. The best place she could put down in, given the fighter’s current speed. But even with its remaining engines shut down, the fighter wouldn’t level, and cut a rightward arc through the park, clipping trees, shrubbery, and the occasional statue as it did so. The debris slowed the fighter somewhat, enough so that when its lower left wing hit the double-decked bus in the parking lot, the impact flipped the fighter around and pitched it into the adjoining meadow. Inverted, it dug an arcing trough in the dirt as it skid to a smoldering stop, nose propped up on a rock formation.
"Excellent landing," Squeaks coughed. From behind them, the battered R2 chirped a similar opinion.
"Everybody’s a critic," Ferdia muttered, flipping the canopy release switch and reaching up to open the scorched canopy.
It was stuck.
Trevor pushed his way through the forming crowd, determined to get a look at the fireball that had caused the damage. As far as he could tell, whatever it was hadn’t exploded when it hit the ground, so if anyone had been in it – or had been caught near its landing site – they might still be alive. He pushed his way past the teenagers at the front of the crowd, and paused to tell the inconsiderate punks to stop taking pictures –
- but broke off mid-sentence as he got a better look at the downed "fireball." Blackened, smoldering, upside-down, and unmistakably damaged, it was still undeniably recognizable. To a Star Wars fan, anyway.
Casey took his time working through the crowd, watching his partner amusedly. The kids up front with the cameras were getting a kick out of the green finch, who just stood gawking at the craft. He tapped him on the shoulder as he walked by.
"Hey, Trev, snap out of it. It’s a custom built, that’s all," he reasoned. Above the din of the crowd, he heard a pounding sound, then noticed the ship’s canopy shuddering. "Hey, there’s someone in there!"
Awestruck or not, that brought his partner back. They were there to help, and that’s what they’d do. They approached the craft.
Ferdia squirmed in the restraining harness, working her upper body free from its now-hindering grip. Arms freed, she pounded on the canopy with renewed determination. Squeaks, meanwhile, was working on finding the release for the harness. He succeeded in loosening its grip, and Ferdia began kicking at the canopy was well.
For her effort, she was rewarded with a loud creak as the canopy finally started to give, opening slowly. She gave it another kick, only to have it give out just as the harness did. The canopy swung open, dumping her and Squeaks out in a cloud of dust.
Shouts sounded, and she heard the click of handguns being cocked. Rolling onto her stomach, she squinted into the dust cloud.
"Casey?" A familiar voice called.
Casey startled. Then, as the dust began to settle, he stared at the source of the voice incredulously. "Ferdia?!?"
From beneath the overturned ship, the bluebird grinned. As she crawled out from under the wreck, he was able to make out the form of a mouse as well.
Beside him, he heard Trevor laugh. "Hey, Blue! Shoulda known it was you, with that landing! Nice entrance!"
Ferdia laughed, reaching up and ruffling Trevor’s hair. "I missed you too, Trev!"
Trevor ducked away, locking an arm around each officer’s shoulders. "And where have you been?" he laughed, "Taking some time off? A weekend at the islands, maybe?"
Squeaks gave a short, tired laugh. "Nothing nearly as relaxing," he ducked out of the hold, "We were working on a case."
"Suuuuuuuure you were. That’s why you just up and vanished without a trace, right?"
Squeaks shrugged. "I had to help my old unit with a mission," he explained, stretching the truth. Before the green finch could ask, he added, "It’s classified. I’ll have the mission’s commanding officer explain it – and the damage it caused – to the Chief."
Casey looked at Ferdia. "You’ll let us in on it, won’t you, Blue?"
She shook her head. "You guys wouldn’t believe me if I told you."
"Try us," Trevor piped up, pointing back to the x-wing, "Where’d you get that?"
Ferdia beamed. "Traded a quill for it. Long story. I just hope it can be fixed…"
"FERDIA!!!!!!!!" A voice shouted, an instant before a blue blur slammed into Ferdia.
"You’re okay!!" Ferdie yelled, hugging his embarrassed sister.
"Err…yeah," she replied, squirming out of the embrace as her brother began babbling about how worried they’d been and how hard they’d tried to find her. When she realized some of the things he mentioned had happened in the space battles, she started. "You followed me?!"
She looked to Squeaks. He shrugged. As the ‘I-told-you-never-to-do-that-you-could-have-been-killed-and-you-didn’t-accomplish-anything-anyway’ lecture began, he turned to the other cops, finding their attention fixed back towards the taxi Ferdie had evidently taken into the park.
A drab-colored kiwi in odd but equally drab clothes was peeling Bob off the back window and searching for a wallet. When he couldn’t find one, he turned back to the cabbie.
"You don’t need any money. This one’s on you," he told the driver.
"You know, sonny, I don’t really need the money," the cabbie replied, "This one’ll be on me. You can just pay me next time." He waved, driving out of the park.
Beak looked over to the assembled assortment of law officers. One of them looked confused. The others, a green bird and a mouse with a SpaceFleet insignia, had thoughtful expressions of doubtful recognition on their faces. The other was too busy arguing with Ferdie to notice him.
He held up the still-two-dimensional Bob. "Anybody got an air pump I could borrow?"
An hour later, as Ferdia and Squeaks sat inside the Chief’s office explaining their absence - with half the precinct listening outside the door - and Ferdie lay on a cot waiting for his bones to knit, a newly-refreshed Bob Kiwi sipped some coffee.
At least he thought it was coffee. He had gotten it out of the precinct’s coffeepot, but it had spat the sugar back at him, refused to mix with the creamer, and had just eaten his stirring rod. He looked around for something to subdue it with.
Beak, meanwhile, leafed through a book on immigration. When he asked why, Bob was told Beak felt it wiser to stay on this planet for a time. The ‘Force’, or Great BaNAna, or whatever it was Beak claimed to be in touch with, seemed to think leaving would be unwise, and might attract the attention of the Java Empire.
"Ah. Okay, sounds good. You can join our detective business," Bob invited.
Beak thought about it. "No, I think I’d rather do something else. I’ll help you if you need me, but detectives can attract attention, and I want to be nondescript. I’ll need a regular job." He thought for a minute. "I’ll also need a place to stay."
"Oh, that’s no problem. You can stay in Ferdie’s guest room," Bob volunteered.
"*WHAT?!?*" Ferdie sat bolt upright, then cringed as the pain hit him. "Oooooh…."
"What did that mean?" Beak inquired.
"It means he’d be happy to let you live there."
Thousands of miles to the east, a fiery object screamed through the clouds, picking up even more speed as it plunged ever earthward. It broke through the low-hanging smog to find itself hurtling towards a city.
For all its speed, the only sounds the ship made were those caused by the flames licking along the outer skin of the craft. The flames burned brightly, though, and not a few passersby yelped with alarm at it as it rushed by. It missed the green monument by mere feet, but though its pilot was obviously fighting for control, it stubbornly barreled in, smashing straight into one of the city’s many bridges.
The burning ship sliced through the bridge cables as it streaked by, high enough at first to miss the first few lanes of vehicles but low enough to hit the last few and rip out the far edge of the bridge as it hurtled into the seawater surrounding the crowded island.
The sight – and sounds – of the fiery ship slamming into the freezing water was fantastic, and attracted the attention of one of the beaten old fishing boats still on the water this late at night. Drawing nearer, he saw only a charred – but thoroughly unusual – aircraft.
Inside the captain’s yacht, D’Gal swore. Again.
The impact had knocked him out briefly, and by the time he came to, the yacht had already begun to sink. Now the ruined craft refused to open it’s hatch and let him out. The implications of this were quite clear. The Ducks, even if they could help him, with all the damage their ship had taken, wouldn’t. The locals most likely couldn’t. And if he didn’t get out, he was done for.
He punched the controls again. No response – their circuitry was probably fried. He tried manual override. Jammed. Frantically, he searched his mind – and the yacht – for another way out. And found one, in the form of another phaser.
The blast ripped a hole through the side of the ship, and freezing water rushed in as fast as it sucked the air out. Fighting to stay in an air pocket until the ship was nearly full of the foul-smelling water, D’Gal dove through the opening and made for the surface.
And, for the first time in his life, was glad he was a duck. His webbed feet propelled him upwards quickly, and he broke the surface just as the black spots swimming before his eyes overwhelmed him. Gasping for breath and desperately trying to stay afloat – his clothes felt as if they were made of lead, and the freezing water was quickly sapping his strength – he began swimming for the shore.
And found himself in a fisherman’s spotlight.
"Well, sonny, you sure are lucky I was *hic* out here," the fisherman said, patting the soaked, shivering black-feathered duck on the shoulder as he reached for another bottle of whiskey.
~And you’re lucky I didn’t have a phaser on me,~ D’Gal thought, pulling the weathered blanket tighter. His first reaction to the light had been to reach for his phaser – which he’d dropped when the water began rushing into the yacht. He wasn’t exactly glad he hadn’t killed the old man, but the rat hadn’t asked any questions about how he’d gotten in the water, and he certainly looked inebriated enough that the other locals wouldn’t take him seriously. Not to mention that he’d been a great source of information so far.
He’d landed in a major metropolitan settlement, on a planet that not only supported a menagerie of species, but was also pre-warp. Which meant that there were too many people living in the city to notice a newcomer, and that his species wouldn’t make him stand out. It also meant they knew nothing of the Invisible Ducks, which was good, since without a ship he’d be stuck on this mudball until who knew when.
As the boat drew near the shore, D’Gal grinned darkly. He could blend in here. He would blend in here. He’d lay low, waiting for a chance of escape to present itself. And it would present itself. In time. The Ducks were not rid of him yet.
Ahahahahahaaaaa!!! It’s finished! It’s finally finished!!! Now for some meaningless legal psychobabble about copyrights: Bob Kiwi & all related characters are © Jen Esposito [aka The Jennies]. Well, Bob & Beak are partially Greg’s, but why get technical? I don’t own New York, of course, but I do have a few bridges I could sell ya if you really want ‘em. Feedback is welcome, and this may be posted / redistributed if you 1) leave all this rambling in and 2) emailKitsume@hotmail.com.
Now, on with the sequel!
.... I wonder what that was? What? My sanity? Don’t be ridiculous, that left me years ago. It was probably just my brain, seizing the opportunity to run amuck with all the plots I’ve been making it ignore until this was finished. (Oops. If you’ll excuse me, I must go retrieve my brain. It seems to have wandered into Egypt and is about to pay a young Iiwi an exorbitant amount of money for a map to a hidden plot. Bye now!)
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