Open Season
Anything worth fighting for is worth fighting dirty for.

        Drake halted, looking up at a battered old brick building that loomed up in front of him. Its number matched the one the native at the dining establishment had given him, and it certainly looked disreputable enough. It was quite a distance away from their six-block perimeter – he'd counted over a dozen blocks before taking a wrong turn, and had lost count while finding his way back on-track. But the street names scribbled on the grubby paper map matched, as did the building number, and he'd really come too far at this point not to at least try the apartment in question. If nothing else, this girl needed to be warned about just exactly what kind of fiend she was dealing with here.

        He trudged up the steps and tried the door. Locked. Well, he couldn't be bothered by a little thing like that – doubtless the building's owner would understand, had he known the severity of the situation. Planting his feet firmly – which took several attempts, due to a rather mean-spirited patch of ice right along the stairs' edge that sent him tumbling down to street level at least three times and caused him to smack into the door another four – Drake sized up the outer door, then slammed into it shoulder-first. This resulted in a throbbing shoulder and another trip down the stairs courtesy of the ice patch. Not one to give up easily, Drake repeated this process two more times before discovering an extra key hidden beneath a rather heavy cinder block. It seemed a serious security flaw, regardless of how heavy and immobile the block had been before falling on his foot.

        After extracting his foot from beneath the cinder block and uttering several unrepeatable oaths, Drake unlocked the door and limped inside.

        The lobby was dark and dank, littered with trash and dirt and skittering creatures Drake was fairly certain he didn't want to get a good look at. The stairs to his left were blocked by a section of collapsed ceiling – or floor – or both – and the door in front of him led down to a rather uninviting boiler room, but the stairs to the right were fairly clear – which is to say strewn with trash, sticky, and populated by two slumped forms and a faded chalk outline. Drake wasn't quite as thick-skulled as he'd heard claimed, and ascended the stairs cautiously, taking care not to make a sound.

        The floor he'd been directed to looked like the ruins of a war zone. Paint and plaster crumbled from the walls and ceiling, piling onto the floor alongside foul puddles and bits of refuse. The walls were strewn with small holes that traced uneven lines down the hallway at around chest-height, and several doorframes were missing chunks of woodwork. Two of the three bulbs lighting the hallway were out – or still in their fixtures, but shattered – and several patches of reddish-brown decorated the hallway toward the back. One room was even missing its door, its doorway draped in yellow tape. Homey place, really.

        It suddenly occurred to Drake that this was most likely a Den of Criminals. Surely no honest person would live in a place like this! He came to a halt at the door the native had directed him to, and hesitated. He'd assumed this girl was simply an innocent little thing, too naïve to realize the depths of evil D'Gal embodied…but if she truly resided here, perhaps….just perhaps…

        …after all, this was a rather out-of-the-way, uncharted little backwater of a planet, far from patrols…

        …and they had learned of instances where pirates or wanted individuals had used it as a rally point…

        Drake shook his head. Enough with the speculation. The best way to find out what lay beyond this door was to investigate, not speculate. Odds were the girl was just some petty, local thief. He could handle her. Granted, he was unarmed…but he had his training. And the element of surprise.

        Reassured, he raised a fist and rapped on the door.


        Winni squinted through a fever-induced haze at the door, then at her clock, and back to the door again. Someone was pounding on her door. At 3:13 in the morning.

        She lay still, listening. She couldn't make out an alarm or smell smoke, so it couldn't be a fire. No force on earth – not busted water mains, exploding boilers, or even unpaid rent checks – could get Rissoti out of bed before dawn, so it definitely wasn't the rat. And Charles didn't knock unless he knew she was awake – and even then, it was simply a courtesy, as he'd pick the locks unless she shooed him away. Groggily, she wondered who would possibly be at her door at this hour.

        She swung her feet over the side of the bed, rising rather unsteadily to her feet. Her head throbbed, and she shivered – her medication had worn off, and her fever was back with a vengeance. Grabbing a blanket off the bed and wrapping it about her like a shawl, she shuffled to the door. She tried the peephole, but couldn't get her eyes to focus, so she simply undid all the locks save the chain and opened the door a crack, peering at the figure before her.

        “D'ya 'av anee idea whut 'ime iddiz,” she yawned, leaning on the door for support. The words came slow and slurred, but she didn't really care; she was practically falling asleep on her feet, reeling from both her vertical position and the relatively bright light from the hall.

        No answer seemed forthcoming; the person before her half-shut eyes looked to be mulling something over. She caught herself dozing. What, first he wakes her up, then he stands there like an insomniac mime? “Whudd'ya want?” she muttered, trying to brush some of the sleep away.

        The duck blinked. “Ah….Are you…” he consulted a crumpled scrap of paper, “Winterfr…no, wait…Winnifred?”

        She squinted at him. White duck. What was so important about a white duck. Think, brain, think. I want to sleep, her body replied. Sleep now. Think later. It seemed like a good idea. She could hardly stand, and here this guy was waking her up in the middle of the night. “G'way,” she mumbled, shifting her weight to close the door.

        The door, it seemed, didn't want to close. “Now, wait a minute here,” her visitor said, pushing the door open despite the fact that she was now leaning on it with her full weight, “I'm looking for D'Gal, and I think you know where he is.”

        She blinked, suddenly more awake and aware now of a series of little alarm bells sounding in the back of her mind. White duck. Charles. Important, her mind hissed. Baaad. “N',” she threw her weight against the door, pushing it closed, “G'way.”

        “Listen,” the duck growled, pushing the door open again, “I just want to know-”

        “Go Away!” she shouted, alarm lifting the sleepy haze off of her and throwing it across the room. She pushed the door shut, reaching up to secure one of the deadbolts. She wasn't fast enough; the duck outside twisted the door handle and rushed the door, slamming into it with a force that snapped the chain and sent her sprawling to the floor.

        She was awake now; she could practically feel the adrenaline rush through her veins. The duck had evidently overestimated the door's strength, and as the chain snapped he found himself flailing out for balance; Winni kicked a leg out from under him, scrambling to her feet as he fell. She ran not for the door – adrenaline or no, her balance was off and she could barely see straight – but for her night-table, snatching the Glock from its resting place.

        “Hey!” she shrieked, leveling the gun in the general direction of the intruder, “Keep your distance!”

        The guy wasn't having any of it, though, dodging to the side and lunging for her. With a yelp, she swung around, fingers squeezing the little automatic's trigger as she cringed away, eyes shut tight. She heard a grunt, a shriek, and what sounded like several small explosions. Opening her eyes, she caught sight of the duck staggering backwards, clutching his head. She brought the gun up again, only to find it jammed. Not that it mattered, anyway. As the duck staggered back, she heard a muffled clang! and watched in confusion as he crumpled to the floor.

        Standing in the doorway, dented frying pan in hand, was Alice Averly, five-time backyard cookout champion and the meanest tennis slice in the Borough.

        “You attract trouble the way honey attracts ants, you know that, hon?” the squirrel grinned.

        With a sigh of relief, Winni slumped to the floor.


        D'Gal frowned. He'd been up and down the away team's entire perimeter twice, with no sign of Drake. He'd even stopped by Our Lady of Mercy, the nearest hospital, on the off-chance someone had felt compelled to call the Duck an ambulance, to no avail. Drake wasn't dead – or if he was, someone had had the sense to hide the body, as nothing but a snowed-over patch of bloodied white feathers remained where his enemy had fallen.

        He turned, trying to think of other places the Duck might be, or some small detail he'd missed. As he left the alley, a familiar display of light caught his eye. The Greasy Spoon diner stood across the street, three doors down. He paused. What were the odds of them using this alley's dumpster? It wouldn't be as convenient as the one on their side of the street, but it was closer, and it was generally the waitresses that carted the garbage over, not…


        The marten had been less than thrilled to hear Win wouldn't be in tonight. It'd meant he had to close up shop himself. Assuming he had no other waitresses as easy to bully into overtime as Winni, that would have made him the one who ventured out to the alley at two in the morning. It was entirely possible that Drake could've still been in the alley at that time…and when D'Gal stopped to think of what the diner owner would have to say to someone looking for a black-feathered duck…



        It wasn't a yell. It wasn't a threat. It was simply the sort of no-nonsense summons one might answer with “Yes, Satan?”

        Antonio Marcello knew, like a deer caught in headlights knows, that rushing towards him was a Terrible and Inescapable Doom. He froze. There was no one left in the diner; he'd shooed the last customer out at five minutes to two, then slaved the last hour away scouring pans and scrubbing tables. That done, he'd flicked the diner's lights out, emptied the till, and ducked out the back, headed for the subway. The snow had driven the street's usual lowlifes elsewhere, leaving him no souls that might witness his demise. The subway could have been two feet away and packed with New York's finest, for all the good it would do him now. Slowly, he turned around.

        The darkness reached out and grabbed him by the throat.

        He felt himself lifted, spun around, and slammed against the ribbed steel plating of his diner. Wheezing, he brought his hands up in a feeble attempt to relieve the crushing grip around his neck. Spots swam before his eyes, but nonetheless a figure materialized out of the shadows. “Y-you,” he gasped.

        “Good morning, Marcello. You don't look very happy to see me. Guilty conscience?”

        Marcello could just make out the dangerous glint in the duck's eyes. Now was not the time to tell the truth. “N-not at all…”

        “You wouldn't have come across a Cloroxed prick of a Duck earlier, would you?” D'Gal queried, locking the marten in a glare, “One that was looking for me?”

        Okay, maybe now was the time to tell the truth. “M-mebbe,” he gurgled, “What of it?”

        “Where did he go?” Silence. “You will tell me,” the duck growled.

        Marcello whimpered. The way he saw it, truth or no, he was going to die.

        “I don't have time to play games, Marcello.” If D'Gal's tone had been menacing before, it'd bring demons to their knees now. “Either you answer me, or I'm going to get impatient and find all sorts of painful ways to get you to answer me.”

        “I-I-” the marten burbled.

        “Where *is* he, Marcello?”

        “I-I sent him to her place!”

        D'Gal blinked, a look of what – had this been anyone else - Marcello would've termed worry flitting across his features. The black-feathered duck took a step back, releasing his captive. Sensing a chance to escape, Marcello moved to dart to safety – only to be caught off-guard by a rather savage right hook. He hit the diner's back steps hard – and while he didn't hear them snap, he knew he'd broken bones in that fall.

        “Consider yourself damned lucky I don't have time to kill you properly,” D'Gal snarled, speeding out into the night.


        Winnifred came to as an EMT draped a cool towel across her head. The graying mouse moved slowly and deliberately, checking for injuries while striving to keep her comfortable. Mrs. Averly hovered nearby, fanning her with a copy of TV Guide and hurriedly trying to get her up-to-date with what was going on.

        The man who'd broken down her door was alive. Aside from a cast-iron frying pan induced concussion and a heavy helping of relatively recent bruises, he boasted a flesh wound and a nicked temple. In case she was wondering, the rest of her clip currently resided in her wall, her mirror, and her late television set. Oh, and what had until recently been the last remaining working hall light on their floor.

        “But don't you worry none about that,” the squirrel crooned, patting her hand reassuringly, “Rissoti knows better than to give you trouble over that.” She winked knowingly.

        “Anyways,” she continued, “The cops took that brute down to Our Lady, but they say once he's sewn up proper, it's off to jail he goes. I told them you wanted to press charges. You do want to press charges, right?”

        “'f course,” Winni replied, her reply garbled by a thermometer, “Charles will, too. The guy was looking for him.”

        The old lady's nose twitched, sensing gossip in the air. “There trouble afoot?”

        “Lady,” a wizened cop that looked like he'd seen the inside of too many donut shops chuckled, “if you gotta ask that after all this, you been livin' here too long.”

        Mrs. Averly wrinkled her nose at the sparrow, but said nothing. “Now,” he continued, addressing Winnifred this time, “I need to ask you a few things, miss.”

        “Can you wait until I lose the -” she indicated the thermometer still tucked in her beak. On cue, the EMT dutifully removed it, took the reading, and informed her that aside from shock, dehydration, and a nasty case of the flu, she was fine. This being said, the mouse handed her a packet of fever-reducers and began packing her equipment up.

        The policeman before her took this as his cue to begin. “Now, then,” he flipped his notepad to a fresh sheet, “First off, let's hear your account of events.”

        Winni shrugged. “I woke up to someone pounding on my door. I couldn't make out anything from the peephole, so I opened the door on the chain. The guy knew my name and asked if my friend was here, and I told him to leave. He wouldn't let me close the door, so I yelled at him and shoved it closed, and he broke it down.”

        The sparrow nodded. “That when you went for the gun?”

        “I warned him, but he lunged at me, and I – I fired, as a reflex, like? And then the gun jammed, and next thing I know Mrs. Averly was standing over him with her frying pan.”

        “I walloped him good,” the squirrel nodded proudly, “Right upside the head, after I heard Win here yellin' and the gun goin' off.”

        “And if it had been the intruder that had been the one with a gun?” the cop prompted.

        She blinked. “I…well, I hear lots of gunfire, this neighborhood bein' what it is. Most punks 'round here those cheap things the illegals pander, and they don't have the sense to clean them. Win here's got a quality piece, an' she keeps it clean an' oiled.” She grinned at their astonished faces. “My first husband collected the things. We used to go down to the range every week and shoot a few rounds.”

        “But you don't own a gun,” Winni protested.

        “Course not, dear. Expensive things. Give me a ten-inch slab of iron over one o' them any day.”

        “Moving on,” the sparrow coughed, “About this gun. Registered, I hope?”

        Winni nodded. “Of course. And it's new. Charles let me pick it out at the shop myself. I didn't want one, but he insisted.”

        “And rightly so,” Mrs. Averly sniffed. “Young lady like yourself needs more than a skillet to keep safe in this neighborhood.”

        The cop decided plod onwards. “You understand that we'll be taking it back to the lab for testing? Standard procedure.”

        “That's fine,” Winni nodded.

        “And you will be pressing charges?”

        “Yes, though I'd rather not go down to the station tonight. Could you just leave me the forms and let me drop them off tomorrow? Charles will probably want to stop by anyway.”

        “He the one this intruder was looking for?”

        She nodded. “He knew this guy was in the area and warned me about him. I don't know the story behind that, though.”

        “I'm sure you don't,” the sparrow coughed. “And I don't suppose you'd know where he is now, would you?”

        Winni smirked. “Actually, he's right behind you.”


        It was after four by the time D'Gal made it to the Win's flat. Drake had beaten him there, of course, but had gotten his head handed to him by Winni and her neighbor – both of whom were still talking to the police when he arrived. His appearance spawned a whole new wave of questions, which he'd just barely managed to dodge by pointing out that Win was ill and needed her sleep. And by promising the cop he'd come by the station house the next day.

        There had been a brief bought of confusion as the sparrow had explained Winni's flat was a crime scene and would thus need to stay cordoned off, and while their pan-toting neighbor had graciously offered to beat any potential looters that came by and picked the locks, she had also stated that she couldn't put Win up for the night. After some discussion (read: a statement, followed by a glaring contest), an exhausted Winnifred agreed to let D'Gal put her – and the squirrel, who had by then decided Win was sick enough to warrant a nursemaid - up in a hotel several dozen blocks uptown – far enough away from the Ducks' search grid to protect against Drake finding them again should he be released.

        It was nearly dawn when they reached the hotel, and Win looked terrible, but he had enough cash to convince said hotel's night shift to give him a room key anyway. He caught a few hours' sleep on the room's couch, rising midmorning and leaving the two still-slumbering forms enough money to keep them indoors for a few days. That done, he slipped quietly out to the street.

        He had an appointment to make, after all.


        Waking up in agony was becoming an alarming trend for Drake on this world. His head throbbed, and his left temple and midsection burned with a vengeance. At least this time around he was indoors, in an almost comfortable bed, he told himself. And it seemed that someone had cleaned and dressed his wounds, too. And chained him to the bed.

        Wait a minute. Wait just one minute. That was never a good sign.

        Fortunately for him, several individuals clad in the dark blue uniforms Arcadia now wore were approaching him. Arcadia was a member of this world's law enforcement, so it followed that the sparrow and pigeon frowning down at him were also law enforcement. Which meant they were on the same side.

        Funny thing, though. When he tried to explain how he was hot on the trail of an intergalactic felon and needed them to unchain him, that he might resume the chase, the pair glared at him. And they ignored his requests for painkillers. And when they finally did unchain him from the bed, they simply bound his hands behind his back and carried him out of the building, saying something about remaining silent and having the right to a torn knee.

        Gods, he hated this city.


        Goddess, he loved this city. A bit of cash, an obliging manner, and a good story got you anywhere. Including the better part of the police barracks.

        Although he found himself hoping no one thought to search his jacket while it hung unguarded in the cloak room. In hindsight, he probably should've found a safe place to stash the arsenal currently tucked away in the thing before walking into the station. No matter. He still had the phasers, which would do just fine should this move backfire.

        It took quite a bit of maneuvering, but by noon D'Gal had convinced the sergeant at the front desk that he was there to talk to someone in custody. There'd been some confusion at first – since he wasn't there to bail out an overnighting drunk or whatnot, the individuals in the holding cells were not supposed to receive visitors other than their attorneys. Oh, he'd gotten their reports filed and gone about pressing charges against Dumas for last night's little stunt – but he'd needed to track down the day-shift officer overseeing Drake's case before anyone would listen to his request to have a minute alone with the fool.

        “Run this by me again,” the ferret before him said.

        “I just want to talk to him,” D'Gal repeated, doing his best to look sincere. It was true, after all – he just wanted to have a nice friendly chat with Drake while breaking every bone in his body twice over. “He broke into my friend's flat last night and tried to kill her when she wouldn't tell him where I was.”

        “Why'd he want to know where you were, eh?”

        “I'd assume because he wants to kill me.” D'Gal shrugged, circling a finger around his right temple. “He's not all there, if you get my drift. Thinks he's an interstellar cop and I'm some evil alien warlord, or some rot.”

        The detective pondered this for a minute. “I seem to remember the night shift mentioning something to that extent in their arrest report,” he allowed. “Don't see what you hope to gain from talking to him, though.”

        “Thought I'd try talking some sense to him one last time, eh? So he knows why he's behind bars, if nothing else.”

        Half an hour and a mound of half-truths later, he was led to an interrogation room's observation area, staring nonplussed at the two-way mirror stretching across the dividing wall. He hadn't counted on one of those. Federation ships' cells were small, closed rooms, and the Ducks' followed that design; he'd been hoping for an easily-jammed security camera. The mirrored glass provided an excellent view of the interrogation room while insuring the observers were invisible to the observed, but it also meant his little 'chat' with the Duck would have to be significantly less violent than he'd been planning. Joining the officers and attorneys already assembled at the glass, he watched wordlessly as Drake related his story of aliens and intergalactic treaties and evil deeds and just precisely why, exactly, he had behaved as he had. Like any good naval officer, the Duck was sticking strictly to the truth, never wavering, even for the sake of omitting details for his benefit. It was all there, laid out like so many cards: SpaceFleet, the Federation, the Duck Empire, their ship, his away team's mission, his lengthy list of criminal charges, everything. D'Gal smirked. Even though he knew the Duck was telling the truth, it still sounded ridiculous. To the natives around him, oblivious to the existence of extraterrestrials, to say it sounded ludicrous wouldn't have begun to cover it.

        “Sad, isn't it?” he ventured, to the murmured assent of those present, “Doesn't even realize he's just making it worse.”

        “He looks sane to me,” ventured a crow, brushing a fleck of dust from her suit jacket, “This nonsense about aliens is just a front so he can try for an insanity plea. But he's going about it wrong - he clearly knows right from wrong, and how that applies to society in general. He just doesn't sound like he's got a handle on how reality and laws apply to him.”

        “He never has.”


        “Are you sure you don't want to talk to a lawyer, son?” the starling before him asked again, “I just wanna make sure you know you have the right to one whenever you want, okay?”

        Drake shook his head, wincing at the renewed aches that small movement caused. He didn't want a lawyer. He wanted to talk to his captain, and was growing tired of the amused looks people here gave him whenever he asked them to contact the starship in orbit above the city. It wasn't exactly his fault that he'd lost his communicators, after all, and if they wouldn't even try the frequencies he gave them, why were they so certain it wouldn't work?

        So far, this day had been one long, agonizing ordeal after another. The hoodlums in the holding cell had attacked him as soon as the attending officer's head was turned, and it seemed to take much longer than necessary for the pummeling to be noticed and stopped. Then they'd thrown him in another cell, with crazy people that twitched and babbled to themselves. He hadn't realized they were unwell at first; a lucid-looking rat had approached him and started talking about aliens and spacecraft and government cover-ups, and he had attempted to correct the girl's misconceptions of extraterrestrials. They'd had to call in a special team to administer sedatives to the entire cell block before the screaming and conniption fits stopped. Several officers had voiced the opinion that he should be put back in the first cell after that, but someone had apparently felt it would be more fun to throw him in this little room instead, and force him to talk to a fat old bird that seemed far to interested in his reflection in the far wall's mirror that in his case.

        And he was still waiting for those painkillers.

        Before him, the starling halted his endless lecture on the benefits of legal counsel to answer a knock at the door. Drake lifted his head off the table, staring balefully out the tiny, steel-barred window. How long was this going to go on? he wondered. And where in the nine hells is my away team! They should've notified Mallard of my disappearance *hours* ago! I should be recuperating in Sickbay, not rotting in here!

        “'ey! Duck!” the starling yelled, jarring his thoughts, “Got someone wants to see you! You mind?”

        Mind? Heck, no, he didn't mind! Thank the gods, someone had finally come to rescue him from this hell! He was going to recommend whoever it was for a commendation. And a promotion. Heck, he'd probably name his firstborn hatchling after whoever it was that had finally come to rescue-

        - he choked.

        D'Gal had just walked into the room.


        D'Gal nodded to the detective as he stepped into the room. The starling took that as his cue to leave, and since Drake hadn't uttered a word of protest, left the room with a dismissive “'e's all yours.” The door clicked behind the exiting bird, locking the two ducks in. Hands tucked behind his back, D'Gal leaned against the door for a moment, taking the time to wedge a bit of metal in the lock, jamming the mechanism. That would buy him a few seconds' warning if anyone tried to burst into the room. Idly, he wondered how long it would take whoever remained behind the mirror to realize he'd cut the intercom's wire as he'd turned away from the mirror. There would be a backup, no doubt - but for a while, at least, their words would fall on deaf ears. He straightened, flashing Drake a predatory grin.

        “Not faring so well, are you, Dumas?”

        The Duck glared up at him from the table. “You know damn well it's pronounced Doo-mahs,” he growled, clutching his head.

        “True,” D'Gal conceded, “But what makes you think I was referring to your family name, eh?”

        Drake's head shot up in anger at that, but whatever response he'd planned was overpowered by what had to be a rather mean headache. He slumped back down with a groan.

        D'Gal chucked. “I see you've met Winnifred.”

        “The little b-”

        “It's really too bad she's ill,” he continued, taking a seat across from Drake, “Normally her aim's much better.”


        “I hate you,” Drake glared at him from beneath his hands, which were still clutching his temples. “I hate you so very, very much…”

        “I don't see why,” D'Gal leaned back, “After all, I haven't done anything to you. Well, not since you landed, at any rate,” he clarified. “Whatever's happened to you here, I've had nothing to do with any of it.”

        “Oh, right,” Drake snorted, “Your girlfriend always answers her door with a weapon handy.”

        “Safest thing to do, in that neighborhood,” he waved it aside, fixing the Duck with a cold stare. “And she's not my girl-”

        “Oh, no, she just happens to be the girl you're- urk!” Drake blinked in surprise. He hadn't seen the hand dart for his throat, but he could feel it now. He also caught the Black Knight's furtive glance toward the mirror an instant before the fiend's grip shifted to his collar instead of his neck.

        “She's *nothing*,” D'Gal growled, staring him down, “She simply rents the flat across from mine, you hear? I took the liberty of teaching her how to keep out of trouble, nothing more. She doesn't know anything about any of this. Forget she exists. We clear on that? She doesn't exist.”

        “If you insist,” Drake gasped. After a moment, D'Gal's grip shifted, shoving him roughly away before releasing him. He smoothed his ruined uniform back into a less-rumpled state. “It may not be my decision, though,” he added.

        “Leave her be.” Now it was D'Gal who glared at him with hatred. “She has nothing to do with this.”

        “Says you,” Drake grinned smugly. He was enjoying this. There had to be police officers watching somewhere, since he wasn't dead yet – and as long as D'Gal couldn't attack him…

        “Myself, I don't see why you don't just turn yourself in. For Vyceria, if nothing else. With you in custody, the Senate would have no reason not to lift martial law. Or at least let the Federation step in and handle it. That's all you lot ever wanted, right?” he picked at a bit of lint on his sleeve, glancing up at the black-plumed duck.


        D'Gal blinked. He hadn't been expecting that. Distrust and suspicion came to his rescue soon enough, though. He rose, pacing the room. “Coming from anyone else, I might be tempted to believe that,” he allowed. “But I'm not stupid. What's to hold Platyria to that promise, eh? The politicians bent on eliminating us anyway? A Federation that's been screaming its protests for over a decade already, since it's too weak to face off against the Empire? Hmm? Conditions or no, without someone to enforce them, Plateria will do whatever they please.”

        “So you'd abandon your people instead of give them what they fought for?!”

        “Do you honestly think I'm thick enough to believe they'd damn an entire world to destruction in retaliation for the freedom of one man?!?”

        “Considering who we're talking about here? Yes!

        D'Gal snarled. “Who's turned more people against him simply by making their acquaintance, eh? Care to know what the Federation thinks of you? Your precious allies? Those people you step on whenever they get in your way? They're on our side! They'd just love to see Platyria fall! But they've seen how you play the game, and they're smart enough to know they wouldn't stand a chance against the Duck Navy! You come to us with the might of an empire behind you and dictate terms that are nothing short of state-sponsored genocide, and enforce them simply because you can. Because you know no one can touch you. And when those of us that can fight back, you dare tell us *we're* jeopardizing the lives of our people?!?”

        “You lie!” Drake yelled, rising angrily to his feet. “You've always lied! The whole squadron – nothing but thieves and murderers, hiding behind a crisis that was never there! Just because you fooled a handful of Federation ships doesn't change that! Nothing but a bloody bunch of two-bit terrorists-”

        “Don't you dare call me a terrorist!” D'Gal rounded on him. “We were at war! Mutual declaration! Maybe you don't remember that, but I do! We were a military wing, and we went after military targets! And smugglers,” he amended. “But always in our territory and never civilians, which is more than you lot can claim! And yet you dare to call me a terrorist?!”

        “If the shoe *fits*,” Drake growled.


        Detective Reginald Grimes had been watching the pair from the moment he stepped foot outside the interrogation room. He'd been trying to figure out why the room's audio feed wasn't working for almost as long. It was obvious from the start that neither person liked the other, but while he could recognize verbal barbs easily enough, he really wanted to hear what was being said. It might have bearings on his case, after all. Or it might simply give him an idea of when a fight was about to break out.

        He ducked out of the observation area at a lull in their conversation, grabbing a quick cup of coffee in case this took a while. He was a bit worried to find things had deteriorated a bit during his absence – they were shouting loud enough that he could make out bits and pieces now. A passing detective stopped by to investigate things just as the black duck lunged at their suspect.


        The coffee fell to the floor as both officers bolted for the door. The battered lock refused to yield for a split-second, then caved with a groan as a third detective joined in the effort. The commotion was drawing attention, and a stream of officers poured into the room to break up the fight.


        The folding table saved Drake's life.

        It was between him and Drake when he'd lunged at the Duck, and the second it took to vault over the damned thing was all the time Drake needed to dodge away. D'Gal's next lunge was clear of obstacles, and he slammed into Drake easily, twisting the Duck's arm behind him and slamming him beak-first into the mirrored wall, cracking its surface.

        That was as far as he got, however, before several pairs of arms pulled him away. He knew better than to resist – these were police, after all, and seeing as he was in their station on good terms, temperance would be wise. He didn't need trouble with the police when the Ducks were already breathing down his neck. He took a deep breath, forced himself to calm down. Drake was just lucky he was in a police station, that was all. The idiot hadn't quite realized what that meant – pushing away from the officers tending to him, he tried to rush D'Gal, only to be tackled to the ground.

        “What are you doing?!?” Drake yelled at them, “Can't you see he's evil?!?”

        “You're the one in prison here, Drake, not me!” He shrugged out of the officers' hold, dusting himself off.

        “When Mallard hears about this he'll-”

        “You've got no ship, and no crew,” D'Gal snapped at him, “So stop acting like a rescue team's due in any minute.” Reaching into a pocket, he produced a folded bit of paper. “The only one left that might give a damn about you is at this number. And the only way you'll get this from me is to swear, on all you hold holy, that Winnifred is left alone. Are we clear on that?”

        “Fine,” Drake spat, wincing as the officers pinning him hauled him to his feet, “I swear. Provided, of course, that this isn't the number of some pizza joint or something of that nature.”

        “It's not.”

        “Then you've got my word.”

        “Good.” D'Gal flicked the paper in Drake's direction, then turned to leave. “I'm not in any trouble, now, am I? I was provoked; I'm sure you heard him.”

        There was an assortment of grunts and shuffling that assured him that that had not, in fact, heard him. For the most part. But no one challenged his intention to leave, and that was enough for him.

        “Right. I'll just show myself out then.” He made his way out of the room – followed by several officers, but unmolested all the same. The officers holding Drake began walking him back to his cell.

        “Hey!” he heard the Duck yell, “This is a real number, right? Right???

        D'Gal ignored him, steadily making his way out of the station. Snatching his jacket from the coat rack – and noting that it was still every bit as heavy as it had been when he'd arrived – he stepped out into the cold winter air.

        It was only a matter of time before Mallard figured a way to subvert the virus and restore the ship's operations. The first thing he'd do after that was recover whatever was left of his away teams – Drake included. And at that point, all bets were off. Drake's word was worthless to him.

        Verbal contracts weren't worth the paper they're written on.

        He had work to do.


        “Thirty-four bottles of compressed air on the wall, thirty four bottles of compressed air! You take one down, pass it around, thirty-three bottles of compressed air on the wall!

        Mallard clamped his hands over his ears, desperately trying to muffle the song currently blaring down the corridor. At some point three hours ago, the computer had discovered the entertainment archives. After an hour and a half of Showtunes, Weird Hal Yanktovich, and about thirty repetitions of Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto, the nefarious virus uncovered a veritable treasure trove of old drinking songs. It then started working its way through them, with one small change – it was no longer simply playing the songs. It was now singing them. But that wasn't the worst part. Oh, no-

        “This is the song that never ends! Yes it goes on and on my friends! Some cycles *started* computing it, not knowing what it was, and they'll continue processing it *forever* just because-

        - the stupid thing had sealed the airlocks and disabled their phasers! There was no escaping this torment!

        Well, aside from drinking oneself into a stupor, he supposed. But that was hardly an option for an esteemed ship's captain like himself. And besides, his crew had already consumed all the synthehol on board.

        “I'm Henry the Eighth, I am! Henry the Eighth I am, I am! I got married to the widow next door, she's been married seven times before-

        “Piquet!” he yelled, addressing the engineer pounding away on the panels before them, “Get that hatch open!”

        “-and *every* one was a Henry! (Henry!) She wouldn't have a Charlie or a Sam! (No Sam!) I'm her eighth old man, I'm Henry! Henry the Eighth I-


        “I'm *trying*, sir!” the wood duck cringed, “But the computer's scrapped the execution codes! I have to beat it in a game of Pong instead! And it's *cheating*!!!”

        “Well, I stuck my head in a little skunkie hole, and the little skunkie said 'Well bless my soul! Take it out, take it out, take it out, take it out – remooooooove it!' Well, I didn't take it out, and the little skunkie said-

        “Is there no way we could just blow the damned thing open?” Mallard demanded.

        “We're trying our best, sir!” a group of engineers behind him chorused. On the workstation in front of them, a strange device was taking shape. It appeared to draw its power entirely from lemons.

        The pressure was beginning to get to his crew.


        She wondered what time it was.

        The sun had set hours ago, and the grey storm clouds that had fought the light all day were doing an excellent job of blocking out any starlight the heavens had to offer. It hadn't bothered Ensign Muiretta at first, as there was plenty of illumination from traffic and shops and streetlights, but it bothered her now. A while ago, she'd thought she'd seen a member of their away team, and had gotten so absorbed in trying to catch up to him that she hadn't paid attention to the steadily-worsening conditions of the streets until she'd lost sight of him. The streets here were pitted and empty of traffic; the buildings boarded and dark. There were no streetlights here, and the sidewalks were deserted. She had no idea where she was – not in reference to where she had started out, or where the away team had beamed down, or even where the safely-lit blocks she'd walked before were.

        She'd been separated from her fellow train-hopping teammates when they'd tried to get off at a station. The sea of native commuters had prevented them from getting off together, and somewhere in the warren of stairwells, cross-bridges, and turnstiles, she'd lost sight of them. She'd wasted a good deal of time running around and searching for them before it occurred to her to try her communicator. They'd answered her, but their lack of familiarity with the area worked against them – neither she nor they knew where they were, or where they might go to regroup. They'd spotted another group and joined them; she'd been advised to contact the ship for assistance. But when she'd done so, the ship's communication officer had informed her that the transporter had malfunctioned earlier that day, and was temporarily out of commission. The captain had advised her of her position relative to their original landing location, instructed her to make her way back to it, and promised he'd have a security team meet her halfway.

        She'd walked until she'd felt dead on her feet, then sat on a bench in hopes the security team would find her soon. She'd been prodded awake by a member of the local law enforcement, who'd took her to a shelter of some sort and probably saved her from freezing to death. She'd been too tired to protest, and come morning was concerned only with the fact that he'd apparently mistook her for a runaway. By the time she'd managed to slip away from the shelter's hovering staff – after snagging a much-needed meal, of course – it had been well into the afternoon. Only then did she realize she had no idea what route her 'rescuer' had taken to reach the shelter. Lost again, she'd tried to contact members of her away team; when no one responded to her hails, she'd attempted to raise the ship again.

        That hadn't worked, either. She'd tried both her communicator and her combadge, with the same results. Either today's storms were interfering with her signal, or the devices had succumbed to the past night's bitter cold. Deciding she really had no better option, she'd set off in what she hoped was the general direction of the team's landing point. She'd been walking ever since.

        She had no idea how far from the landing site she was. The trains had traveled quickly, and they'd ridden them for so long and switched lines so many times yesterday that she could be miles away from it right now. Or simply a few more blocks. Then again, perhaps she'd passed it already. She wasn't even certain she'd recognize it again if she saw it – and even less sure she'd be able to spot it in the current darkness. She tried contacting the ship again, hoping against hope that somehow this time she'd get through – but like she had every hour before, all she got was static.

        She allowed herself a moan of frustration and fear. It wasn't safe here – any idiot could see that. Block after block stretched out before her, unlit, ill-kept, and devoid of life. Her hand went to her phaser belt. Hopefully the cold hadn't damaged it as well…

        Something skittered in an alley as she walked by. She whirled to face it, sighing with relief when the source of the noise turned out to be a small, ragged feline rooting around in a pile of trash.

        Enough was enough. She was getting out of this place now. She turned around, walking briskly back the way she'd come. If nothing else, she'd been through this bit before; it might not be any safer, but at least she knew it didn't go on forever. She'd reach the safety of populated streets soon enough.

        She'd gone about a block before she'd heard footfalls behind her. She paused to listen, but as soon as she'd stopped, so did they. She shook her head. Only her imagination playing tricks on her. She heard the echoes of her footsteps, nothing more. She resumed walking. The footsteps started up again, as well. And she was fairly certain she wasn't imagining them; they were out of synch with hers. This time, instead of pausing, she pivoted on her heel, crossing over to the opposite side of the street. As she did so, she cut her gaze to the side, searching for movement. She saw none; but she was fairly certain the three individuals chatting outside the entrance to a building half a block down hadn't been there before.

        Muiretta quickened her pace, going as fast as she could while still technically walking. They'd trained for this sort of thing. If you ran, whoever was behind you knew they'd been spotted, and had nothing to lose by giving chase. As long as they thought they had the element of surprise, she had time. Time to think of a way out of this. She turned right at the next corner, and crossed the street and turned left the next block up. Another left, a right, left, straight, right, cross the street, left, left, right. Were they still behind her? She strained her ears for the slightest indication of footsteps other than her own, slowing her pace ever so slightly. She couldn't make out anything. She halted, turning to scan the street behind her. Empty, as far as she could see. All those turns had confused them and made it hard to keep sight of her. She'd shaken them. Good.

        She turned, continuing down the street. Wait. She'd gone left, right, left, straight, right, left, right…no, it was right, left, right, right, left…no. Okay, try it the other way. Left, straight, cross the street, right, left…or was it right? Hadn't she circled around at one point? Right, left, straight, left, left, right? No, wait, it was right, left, left, straight, right? No, not right, right. So, that put her three blocks right and two blocks left but five blocks up, yes? Except she'd circled a block. And how many times had she shot straight through two blocks? Were all those blocks the same size? And hadn't she cut down a barren alley at one point? Oh….left, left, right, left, right, straight, right…

        “Lost, Ensign?”


        “Gods, yes,” Muiretta sighed, abandoning her attempt to reconstruct her path through the streets. At least she'd finally run into another away team member. She continued in the direction she'd been wandering in, since he hadn't suggested otherwise. “Stupid muggers.”

        “You should be more careful, you know. There are worse things than muggers here.”

        “Yeah? Like what?”


        It happened lightning-fast. He caught her as she spun to face him, grabbing her wrists as she went for her phaser and knocking her off-balance. Momentum worked in his favor; slamming her backwards into the wall of a nearby alley and pinning her there with his shoulder. She struggled, opening her beak to scream; he shifted, bringing her arms together to grasp her wrists in one hand while the other flicked a knife to her throat. She flinched back, trying without success to melt into the wall.

        The fatal blow didn't come, though. If anything, the press of the blade against her throat abated. She risked opening an eye.

        D'Gal was peering at her critically, a look of profound confusion in his eyes, which flicked between her face and her uniform. She saw recognition flash across his face, followed by disgust – but not at her.

        “You're a *cadet*!”

        Anger swelled in her chest, and she felt her face flush. “I am not!”

        “Hardly a month out of the Academy, then,” he amended. The butterfly knife flicked closed, vanishing with the same snap of the wrist that had produced it. He took a step back, releasing her.

        She stayed put, rubbing her wrists and glaring. “What difference does it make?”

        “Are there truly so many of you that Mallard can just throw your lives away by sending you down here after me?” He shook his head, frowning. “Wasteful….” He trailed off. Silence reigned for a moment, each waiting for the other to make their move. “I wouldn't,” he warned, eyes flicking back to her.

        Muiretta jerked her hand away from her phaser holster, glaring. “Why not? You're just going to kill me anyway…”

        “Says who? Or do you think I'm so starved for conversation that I'd keep an enemy alive just to chat a while?”

        “You're you. Killing us's what you do,” she sneered. “That knife had fresh blood on it, after all.”

        He smirked. “You had a set of shadows with less than admirable intentions closing in on you. I don't like interruptions, and I doubt they would have waited their turn.”

        “Shadows?” Muiretta blinked, remembering the footsteps behind her. “So why kill them instead of just letting them kill me?”

        “Because despite what they might've told you in school, I'm not a proponent of unnecessary pain and suffering. I was only planning to kill you.”

        “And now?”

        He scowled. “I won't kill a cadet. You lot are still young enough to believe what you've been told, regardless of what the facts are. Killing you serves no purpose.” He flashed her a grin. “I've got a better idea.”

        He snatched her wrist, darting back into the street and flagging down a set of approaching headlights with a sharp whistle. A battered yellow taxi, as the vehicle's headlamp proclaimed it to be, chugged to a halt in front of them.


        “Speed dial,” D'Gal shrugged, jerking open the rear door and tossing the bewildered Duck inside. “Listen,” he said, leaning on the doorframe, “Tell Mallard to leave me be. And that if he has no use for his cadets other than cannon fodder, he might think to send you where you're needed.”

        “I can't tell him anything!” she spat, “I froze my communicators! They don't work anymore!”

        D'Gal smirked. “Oh, I'm sure they work just fine. It's your ship that's offline at this point.” His smirk faded. “But it won't last. It never does.”

        Slamming the cab door, he moved to talk to the cabbie. Like most drivers in this particular cab company, the aging rodent with an accent so thick it obscured nearly all of the man's broken English to the point where he might as well use his native tongue.

        “You come?” the driver asked, glancing back at his fuming passenger.

        “No,” D'Gal answered, slipping into the rodent's first language. “*Take her to the youth center by Times Square. The one from the news. Or the police station, if you can't find the center. Make sure she goes in.*”

        The cabbie gave him a measuring look, then answered in the same tongue. “*She in trouble?*”

        “*No, and I aim to keep it that way.*” He handed the man a roll of bills, watching as he counted the money, then started to protest the amount he'd been given. D'Gal cut him off; there was a reason he'd given him so much; it was as much a threat as a bribe, in this neighborhood. “*Do not let her off anywhere else, no matter what she says. Do you hear me, friend? I'll know if you do, and I won't be happy about it. You are to make sure she is safe. Are we clear on that?*”

        “*Of course, neighbor,*” the rodent nodded, taking the threat in stride. Either it was something that happened to him often, or he understood all too well what could happen to a young girl out without a guardian. His culture would've taught him as much. It was the only thing that made this service worth calling; most native drivers would've offered to beat him up if the ensign so willed.

        “*Good.*” He stepped back from the cab, watching as it swung around and retreated back the way it came. The old rodent hadn't wanted to come this far into the slums as it was; he'd want to be getting back to safer streets now.

        As for himself…he shook his head. He could've sworn he'd gotten the last of Mallard's away team yesterday. But no matter. One little cadet wouldn't matter now. She'd have no idea where to look for him, anyway. He turned, heading uptown. Mallard would have the ship under control again in a matter of hours, and he intended on being long gone by then. He just had one last matter to attend to first.


        “Dave…” the computer called, synthetic voice echoing down the halls, “What are you *doing*, Dave?...”

        “We don't have much time left,” Mallard muttered, watching the team of engineers bent over in a hurried discussion, “Just cut them all.”


        “Cut the connections. All of them. We've got to contain this thing, and the only way to do that is to isolate the entire computer array.”

        “But then, how are we going to restore the system?” one of the ducks asked.

        “We can't,” another ventured. “The backups were all in the section of Deck 5 that the computer set fire to, flooded, and jettisoned into space.”

        “But if we cut power to the array, we're dead in the water!” the first protested. “We wouldn't be able to restore the system even if we wanted to! We'd have to crash onto the planet before we ran out of air! It's not like we have escape pods or shuttles!”

        “Shuttles?” Mallard questioned.

        “Yes, sir. Arcadia took out all the working ones when he tried to get off the ship. All we've got is a shuttle with a broken engine and the roundabout the station gave us – and that's too small to cram more than three or four people into it.”

        Mallard blinked. An idea was slowly forming in the back of his mind. “The disabled shuttle – does its system still work?”

        “Powers up just fine, sir,” the second engineer informed him, “It's just her engines that're shot.”

        “Could we wire the ship to the shuttle's computer? Can its system handle it?”

        The engineer frowned. “In theory, if we tap into our power source, and keep the processing demands low – slow and steady spaceflight, no battles or transporting or anything like that – it might work. For a while, anyway. We won't have anywhere near enough time to reach a spaceport, but we wouldn't lose orbit, and if we pull the crew into a concentrated area and focus our life support systems just on that portion of the ship, we should be fine. And we'll probably fry a good portion of the poor thing's processors, but we could get out a deep-space S.O.S.”

        “Good,” Mallard nodded. “Make it happen.”


        “Charles!” Winni shook off Mrs. Averly's protective gait. “Wait up!”

        The elderly squirrel shook her fist as her charge broke into a jog. “Winnifred! You're still ill, girl! You shouldn't be runnin' about like that!”

        She slowed to a more dignified pace, approaching the now-stationary ebony duck waiting impatiently a good fifty feet away. Harried travelers flowed around them, hurrying to ticket counters, baggage claims, and the lengthy lines around the various security checkpoints. It may have been only three in the morning, but traffic in the city's largest airport was as thick and harried as she remembered it. Perhaps travel by air had diminished over the past few months, and perhaps the decline was a noticeable one – to the media, frequent flyers, and the airlines. She certainly thought the blustering pandemonium stretching as far as she could see didn't look to be lacking. But then again, she still wasn't over her flu, and every now and again the world went into double vision.

        Her head started to ache again, and she leaned against a supporting pillar until the world stopped spinning. She could feel Alice Averly's disapproving glare as the squirrel strode up to her, dragging a cartful of hastily-packed bags. Charles walked back over to them.

        “She shouldn't be out of bed,” Mrs. Averly proclaimed in her best motherly tone. “All this excitement and rushing about is only going to make things worse.”

        “I agree,” Charles nodded, consulting a small electronic device similar to the one Winni'd seen him work on a few days earlier, “But I can't afford to stay here much longer. I'm pushing my luck as it is, cutting things this close.”

        “That's no reason to drag the poor girl out of bed,” the squirrel reproached. “You could just have easily bid her farewell at the hotel. We'd have hopped a plane in a few days.”

        “No,” he shook his head. “You don't understand – it's not safe for her here anymore either. As soon as Mallard gets his ship back under control, there'll be as many ducks after her as there are after me.”

        “You said you'd explained things to that creep!” Winni snapped, irritated at having to be out and about while she was still reeling from the flu.

        “I did. And if they can't find you, they'll let the matter drop. But they have no reason to believe me, and I know these people – they'll track you just to see if you lead them back to me. Failing that, they'll try and use you as bait. Which is why you need to get as far from this city as possible.”

        “Easy for you to say!” Winni huffed. “You're used to this sort of thing! Me, I'll need to find another job, and a place to live. And I can't just…make money appear, like you do! I –oop!” She fumbled, clumsily catching the small duffle he'd thrown to her. “What's this?”

        D'Gal grinned. “My net worth.”

        “Your what?”

        He shrugged. “I wasn't about to try and bring my things here. Arsenal like that would've gotten me shot before I'd gotten ten feet through the front door. And besides,” he grinned, “it's not as if I need it. Like you said, I'm used to this sort of thing. I'll restock when I get where I'm going.”

        “And where would that be?” Winni prompted.

        He shook his head. “Ah, ah. Can't tell you. And I don't want to hear where you're going, either. They're after both of us now, remember? Best if neither knows where the other is. You feeling better?”

        “I think so,” she nodded, standing up straight again. “I can walk without falling over, at any rate.”

        “Good.” He gave her a sort of sad, fond smile, taking a step back. “Take care of yourself, Wells. You're the first friend I've had in a while.”

        And with that, he was gone – enveloped by the swarming mass of travelers, families, and airport staff sweeping through the wide corridor. He was good at blending in, at hiding in plain sight. She'd hoped to at least get an idea of which way he was headed, catch a glimpse of him one last time, but it was impossible. Whichever way he'd gone, he hadn't wanted to be seen. He could've ducked behind the pillar for all she knew.

        She checked behind the pillar. No luck. But it had been worth a try.

        “So, dearie,” Mrs. Averly broke the silence, standing quietly by the luggage cart, “Where shall we go?”

        Winnifred thought about that, absently playing with the duffel bag's zipper. An entire bagful of money. Not just small bills, either - Charles preyed on druglords as well as petty thugs. There was easily several thousand – if not several hundred thousand – dollars crammed into that bag. They could go wherever they wanted.

        “You know…” she said, “I've got a cousin down in Florida that's always inviting me to visit her...”


        They say that in space, no one can hear you scream.


        They are terribly, horribly wrong.

        The computer had been wailing like a banshee from the moment it realized what Mallard's team of engineers was doing. Its death shriek blared at twenty-three decibels across their entire range of hearing. Every soul aboard heard it.

        Hell, several communications satellites heard it, and wondered who was making all that noise.

        They were right about one thing, though. For the first few hours after the computer virus processed its last bit, while their ears were bleeding, no one aboard the Mallard's ship could hear themselves scream. Or anything else, for that matter.


        The communicator chirped.

        Muiretta jolted awake, snatching the device off the table by her head and staring at it incredulously. A little light was merrily blinking away, informing her that a hailing frequency had been detected and was requesting a response.

        There was a muffled groan across from her, and several grunts and growls from the opposite side of the room as little gadget beeped again. Someone snarled something about shoving a cell phone up an asp – or something to that extent. Cradling the communicator to her chest, Muiretta quickly crept out of the room - making sure to shut the door after her – and down the hall. Satisfied that she was out of the youth shelter's sleeping masses' hearing range, she halted, answering the hail.

        “Muiretta here.”

        “Thank the gods,” a garbled voice crackled.

        “Captain?” she repeated, adjusting the communicator's frequency and tuning a bit to get a better signal.

        “Where are you?” Mallard asked, peering through the screen at her. She decided that now was no time to worry about disciplinary actions.

        “A youth shelter of some sort, sir. I'm safe, but I have no idea where I am.”

        “Anyone else with you?”

        “No, sir. I – I'm probably the last one. I – I got lost, sir! I was with a group like the Commander told us, but we got split up and I got lost! And none of the security team that was supposed to pick me up ever arrived!”

        “Calm down, ensign. You found shelter and waited it out, which was the right thing to do. Once we've located the others, we'll send them your way.”

        “There aren't any others!” she yelled, trying to bring herself back under control. Hysterics weren't going to help. “Sir, the only reason I'm still alive is because D'Gal recognized the cadet pin on my uniform! He had the others' phasers and didn't take my communicator because he knew I couldn't reach anyone with it!”

        There was a pregnant pause at the other end. “Interesting,” her captain finally replied. “I'll want to speak with you at length upon your return. I'm afraid we can't beam you aboard at the moment, but if your hosts don't mind letting you stay for a few days, we should be able to arrange something. Hang in there,” he advised.

        The connection terminated. Muiretta stared miserably at the screen. She didn't want to stay here. She wanted to go home.


        D'Gal stepped off the ramp and onto the sun-baked concrete of the tarmac, breathing in the clean, salty air. This was more like it. Eighty-five degrees, low humidity, a light breeze and a clear blue sky. He folded his jacket over his arm and struck out towards the road stretching to the shoreline, ignoring the customs officials. They were so busy rooting through the small propeller-plane's cargo that they didn't even see him leave. One of the pilots did, however.

        “Hey! What about your bags, sir?” the parrot called.

        He turned, continuing backwards and shrugging, “No bags. Everything I own, I carry.” He turned back around.

        “You want a taxi? A guide? Lift into town?”

        “No need,” he waved behind him, shooing the man away. “I'll figure out where I'm going when I get there.”

        “You sure you don't want a lift?” another voice asked. A very, very familiar voice…

        He turned, and froze. And blinked. And blinked again.

        Had there been anyone around that wanted to kill him, he would've been dead. It was all he could do to just stand and stare at the figure before him in disbelief.


        “You're a hard man to pin down, you know that, Charles? Burned out my engines just getting here, only to find you've skipped town. Had to steal a navy jet to beat you down here.” Jesmynne smiled. “Nice work on that flagship, though. They were still foundering when I put down. Saved me some trouble.”

        “You. Are. A. Vision.”

        “Always had a way with words,” she chuckled, closing the distance between them and leaning in close. “Figured I'd come down and give you a hand. Refugees are sweet, but boring. Are you happy to see me?”

        “More than you can imagine.”

        She leaned in closer. “Gonna kiss me?”

        “If you insist.”

*** Fortunately for all involved, as they embrace the cameras fade to black. The author has her limits, after all. There's only so much Jennies will do without monetary compensation. Besides, those two will do a lot worse than kill you if they catch you observing their reunion. ***



        “Um, excuse me?” Drake called, desperately trying to flag down a passing officer. “I need to make a phone call.”

        “Um…I am allowed one phone call, right? I'd like to have it now…”

        “Hello? Somebody? Anybody?”


        The desk phone in San Viano's 42nd Precinct rang. It rang, and it rang, and it rang, and the aging pigeon sitting at the desk simply ignored it.

        This had been going on all night. Bishop was tired of crank callers. Yes, the thunderstorm outside was truly spectacular, and yes, it was rather entertaining that the Sci Fi network was running a Frankenstein marathon, but after twelve “It's alive! Alive! AHAHAHAHAHAAAA!” calls and twenty-three “Run for you lives! The monster's escaped, and he's out for blooooooood!” entries, he'd had enough. If it was really serious, they could always call 911.

        A pair of cops entered the station, soaked to the skin.

        “Freaking undead pains in my tail,” Ferdia muttered. “Waste of a perfectly good nightstick, too. 'Stake him.' Bah. You have any idea how much we're gonna need to fudge this report to make it sound even remotely plausible?!?”

        “Some,” her partner nodded, shaking some of the mud out of his hair, “Although we might want to avoid mentioning the golems entirely.” He caught sight of Bishop, who merely raised an eyebrow at the pair.

        “I know better than to ask,” the pigeon said, shaking his head wearily. “But I'll probably want to read the report. Creative writing used to be a hobby of mine.”

        “Thanks, Bishop!” Ferdia cheered.

        “Bad night for prank calls?” Squeaks asked, indicating the still-ringing phone.

        “More so than usual. Feel free to answer it, though. The last time you two did that, we didn't get any cranks for a week.”

        “Spoken like it's a bad thing, Bish,” Ferdia joked.

        Squeaks picked up the receiver. “San Viano Precinct 42. Arcadia here.”


        Squeaks held the phone at arm's length as the caller continued. The three cops shared a look.

        “This can't be good,” Ferdia sighed.




And Now For A Word From Our Author:
*ahem* Sorries. This fic's been driving me crazy for over a year, simply because parts of it are so far from my normal shtick that my brain crawled into a corner and curled into a tiny ball every time I tried to work on them. Sorry for cheese-sapping you for a while there. When I find the creativity demon that came up with that, I plan on maiming it to the point where even Drake feels sorry for the thing. Look on the bright side: D'Gal spent most of the fic being his delightfully evil self, Drake got his tailed kicked more than usual, and Jesmynne finally made her official debut. Interesting enough, though, my favorite character in this is Mr. Smilie, the happily homicidal computer virus. Those scenes were FAR too fun to write. *Kudos to those of you out there that can name the songs the computer sings. Extra kudos if you can sing along to them as well!*


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