Black and White

A Fan Novel in Three Parts

By McPoodle,
Erik (Ice) Berg and Roxor

Edited by ModernTimes

Please see the end of the story for acknowledgements and credits.

To those who remembered while the rest of the world was forgetting.

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Table of Contents

PROLOGUE: A Dark and Stormy Night



Chapter 1: Homecoming

Chapter 2: The Tanglefoots

Chapter 3: Our Heroes

Chapter 4: Gadget Makes Children Cry

Chapter 5: The Rescue Ranger Fan Club

Chapter 6: New Member

Chapter 7: Appendix A

Chapter 8: Exit Light

Chapter 9: Enter Night

Chapter 10: Take My Hand


PART TWO: Francine

Chapter 11: We're Off to Never-Never Land

Chapter 12: Disappointment

Chapter 13: Arrival

Chapter 14: The Demonstration

Chapter 15: The Judgment

Chapter 16: Coronation

Chapter 17: The Final Battle

Chapter 18: Voices in the Darkness

Chapter 19: Choosing Sides

Chapter 20: Where's Waldo?

Chapter 21: Bad Moon Rising

Chapter 22: Victory Speech

Chapter 23: Substitution



Chapter 24: Graduation

Chapter 25: Cross-over

Chapter 26: Norris Nulton

Chapter 27: The Fandom United

Chapter 28: There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

Chapter 29: The Rescuers

Chapter 30: Hartford City Jail Blues

Chapter 31: Too Much Theta

Chapter 32: Truth or Consequences

Chapter 33: Searching for Meaning in a Meaningless World

Chapter 34: End Game

Chapter 35: Re-Introductions

Chapter 36: Homecoming

Prologue: A Dark and Stormy Night

Once upon a time, in a world not too different from ours, four rodents and a fly band together to fight the forces of darkness. For their detective agency, no case is too big, no case is too small. They are: The Rescue Rangers.

A strong wind blew around Rescue Rangers Headquarters that fateful night of February 15th, in that dark and uncertain time between midnight and dawn. The old oak tree stood fast against the windstorm. Behind thick walls and tightly secured windows, all was deathly quiet, and the Rescue Rangers were sound asleep.

Suddenly, there was a flash of light and a roll of thunder. Five seconds later, there was another one. And another. And another. A constant stream of lightning bolts, at five-second intervals.

Dale was the first to awaken. He had been fond of thunderstorms since an early age. He also loved sharing the good things in life with his best friend, so he dropped down from the top level of the chipmunks' bunk bed and informed him of the good news: "Wowie, would you look at that, Chip!"

BOOM! went the thunder.

Chip opened one eye and peered at his roommate. "Dale, I don't care what it is..."

BOOM! it went again.

Chip continued where he was interrupted. "...I don't want to watch a movie, OK?"


Chip's other eye opened. "What was that?"


"Do you have the TV up too loud again, Dale?"


"That's no TV, Chip, it's lightning from outside."


"Don't be ridiculous," Chip replied...

BOOM! he got out of bed. "Lightning doesn't fall regular like that."


There was a knock at the door of the chipmunk's bedroom. Chip opened it to reveal Gadget, fully dressed. "Hi, Gad-"


"Chip," said Gadget, "I think we should in-"


"-vestigate this storm. Take a look outside."


Monty jammed into the room with Zipper by his side. "What's the big idea, guys?" he asked.


"Follow me!" ordered Chip. The group raced out the front door, as that was the direction of the flashes. The gusting wind practically tore the door out of their grasp.

As they watched, a lightning bolt flashed down to the southwest edge of town. The following bolts all hit exactly the same spot, a spot the Rangers knew all too well. The former headquarters of their perennial foe:

"Nimnul," declared Chip, grimly.

BOOM! the thunder added, dramatically.

"Right," answered Gadget. "If he's..."


"...behind this, it can't be good. Also..."


"...this is no ordinary lighting."


"How so?" asked Chip.

Gadget waited for the "BOOM!" before continuing. "If actual lighting was striking that close to us..."


" would be a lot louder."


"And it wouldn't be orange," she added quickly.


"I guess that means only one thing," Dale added with a grin.


"Rescue Rangers, away!"

A few minutes later, the Ranger Wing touched down at the base of the small mountain owned by Norton Nimnul, prevented by high winds from reaching the summit. The Rangers looked up the twisty mountain road with some trepidation, but they had no other alternative, so they began the slow climb.

For an adventure that began with lightning bolts, an endless climb on foot was not what Dale had in mind. Even a lightning flash every five seconds lost its thrill after the first five thousand or so. The chipmunk was bored.

"So," he asked. "How many years have we been...stopping Nimnul now?...Four?" The pauses were for the thunder.

"Five," replied Chip, waiting for the next strike before continuing. "You're not counting...this last year, when he was missing."

"You know," observed Monty, "regardless...regardless of whether he's behind this or not...I'm not sure I want to be find out."

"Monty scared?" asked Dale. "That doesn't make much sense!"

"I'm not exactly a of the high voltages...if you catch my drift."

Zipper shrugged, as if to say "fair enough."

By keeping to the cliff face, the Rangers hoped to avoid being swept to their doom by the incredibly strong gusts of wind.

"You know," Dale observed nonchalantly, "I don't think...I've ever seen so much lightning."

Gadget pointed up to the top of the mountain, where the outline of a large domed structure was illuminated by a brightly-glowing orange tower beside it. "And I've never...seen a capacitor that huge before," she observed.

Monty scratched the back of his head. "I did once...back in the day. I was in Lower Louisiana...during a loony lightning storm."

"What do you think...might be causing all of this wind?" asked Chip, raising his voice to be heard. He was carrying a penlight under his arm, and the wind had nearly snatched it away from him several times already.

"Probably all the hot air...rushing away during the lightning...strikes," replied Gadget.

"Whatever it's blowing me away," quipped Dale. "Hey, Chip...the answer is blowing in the wind...get it?"

Gadget rolled her eyes. Chip raised his fist to deliver swift summary justice upon Dale's cranium, but in raising it his arm brushed against the "Bonkaholics Anonymouse" badge pinned to his jacket, and with an effort he managed to stay on his twelve-step program.

About halfway to the top, the Rangers came across a pile of debris in the middle of the road. It was made up of the crushed remains of a giant robot, pieces of the load-bearing wall the robot had been tricked into walking through by the Rangers, and some packing materials caught underneath that hadn't been blown away yet--the remains of the group's last encounter with the mad scientist. They got around it easily and Gadget used the cover from the wind to improvise some ear protection out of Styrofoam and cardboard. Chip stopped to take a look at the obstruction. "This is a deliberate roadblock," he declared, "...and the police are probably...on their way right now...but they'll never get around this."

Gadget thought awhile. "A couple of sticks of dynamite...would probably shift that metal and concrete."

Chip rolled his eyes. "...And you just happen to have some on you?"

He was rather surprised to see Monty produce several sticks as tall as he was.

"No," replied Gadget, "but...nevermind. Monty, since when do you carry...explosives with you?"

"Since lightning be the next biggest thing since Constantinople."

Dale always recognized a straight line when he heard it. "You realize it's Istanbul, not Constantinople now, right?" He had to rush the joke out to make it between the lightning strikes.

Zipper stared at Dale as if to say "One more song reference and I'll see that you get the works!"

Having finished his preparations, Monty led the group a safe distance away from the landslide and detonated the dynamite. Of course, being Monty, the number of sticks of dynamite was rather large, so...


"Thanks, Monty," announced Chip dryly in the aftermath, "now I can't hear the thunder anymore."

"Can we do that again?" asked Dale.

"No!" answered the others.

Chip dusted himself off and picked up the penlight. "Well, if the police weren't on their way before, they are now. Onward!"

Finally, they reached Nimnul's mountaintop evil scientist laboratory/Astronomy Science Center [hey, a guy's got to make money where he can].

"Well," observed Gadget, "I can see what Nimnul's...using that capacitor for now, but what's he planning...after it's charged?" The capacitor was so tall its top lined up with the roof of the lab. Every time the lightning hit, a spark could be seen around its terminals.

Dale shuddered. "Real question we want to know?"

Chip went up to the front door, and discovered it was unlocked. "I've got a bad feeling about this...." he said.

The majority of the laboratory was a single circular room with the partially open dome of the observatory as its roof. Visible through one end of this slot in the ceiling was the glow of the city below and through the other end could be seen the capacitor tower, which flooded the building with a blinding orange flash every five seconds. Between those intervals, the only illumination came from the red light bulbs studded along the upper walls that had come with the original observatory, designed to allow astronomers to study their charts without losing their night vision. Giant banks of computers from nearly every era lined the walls under those bulbs, all of them linked to each other. At the far end of the room from the Rangers' position was a long desk sporting an up-to-date supercomputer, clearly the control center of the entire operation. Next to the computer was a rectangular piece of World War II surplus, so identified by the distinctive loud droning buzz it gave off, the aural equivalent of the red light bulbs to fill the ears between the deafening blasts of thunder.

The Rangers made their careful way around the exposed inside wall of the lab, hoping to find shelter in the shadow of the desk. With the crazy lighting, it didn't seem likely that they would be discovered, and they could see Nimnul running back and forth between two pieces of equipment checking the displays, too busy to notice their presence.

A little more than halfway to the desk, Chip pointed at a spot just beyond their destination. "I see that Nimnul's finally repaired that robot-shaped hole in the wall, but who in their right mind would paint the replacement puce? Wait a second," he said, stopping. "Do you hear that?"

Gadget removed the padding from her ears. "The lightning strikes have stopped."

The others did the same. "We have to do something," ordered Chip. "Fast!"

Wires thicker than a human's arm led from the capacitor into the lab, there to be joined by smaller cables coming out of the bank of computer terminals. Nimnul took off his ear protectors and chucked them over his shoulder, almost hitting the Rangers as they settled into position. "That's all the lightning I'm going to need," he told himself. "Now for part two." With the light bulb near his head tinting his face the color of blood, he entered a few commands in a computer on the desk, then turned to the antiquated army oscilloscope and started adjusting knobs, the red glow now washed out by the unearthly illumination it emitted. Its angry buzz was now the only sound in the room.

Gadget stood where she was a moment, trying to take in the strange pieces of equipment and how they were connected. Just like every Nimnul invention she'd ever encountered, it was made up of sensible scientific equipment combined in nonsensical ways. The least sensible piece of equipment was apparently the most important, as it was located in the center of the room. It was a block of black obsidian stone, nine feet high by four feet wide by one foot thick. Giant gold-plated studs stuck out of the top of the block and received the wires from the capacitor and the computer banks.

"What should we do?" Chip asked his teammates. "Can we just unplug the computer?"

Gadget shook her head. "That would just cause the capacitor to discharge."

"And that would mean...?" asked Dale.

Monty responded with one word in Dale's ear: "Bzzt!"

"Never mind!"

"There," Nimnul concluded, "the coordinates have been transferred. Just a few minutes for the portal to align and I'm out of here."

He walked over to the edge of the opening in the roof and took one last look at the city below. "The greatest genius in the world, wasting his talents on petty theft," he declared in disgust. "No more!" he cried triumphantly, turning to face the great black block.

A low chorus began to fill the room, sounding like something out of the weird part of 2001. Nimnul raised his voice to be heard above it. "In just a few minutes," he ranted. "I'm going somewhere where my genius will be appreciated. A new world!"

As he watched expectantly, a massive spark appeared along the thickest cables and vanished into the block before leaving the cables as a rain of molten metal. The block increased in blackness until it was impossible to make out its surface - it appeared now to be constructed of darkest night. "Just a few more seconds...."

He looked at the block in anticipation as the sound of the unseen chorus increased its cacophony. Then in an instant, a sound dispersed the chorus:


For a moment, Dale thought his popcorn was ready.

Chip's head jerked as he caught Nimnul running for the block out of the corner of his eye. "Stop him!" he cried.

The Rangers started forward, but they were too late. Professor Norton Nimnul reached the portal...

...and bounced right off the solid wall of a block of black obsidian, knocking himself out cold.

The Rescue Rangers came to a sudden stop. Chip shook his head. "Never mind," he said.

Just at that moment the front doors were kicked open, sending the welcome white glow of automobile headlights into the scarlet laboratory.

"Freeze!" cried Officer Kirby, gripping his pistol in a Modern Isosceles stance.

His partner Muldoon reached around him to point at the prone body of Nimnul. "Looks like Nimnul froze himself," he quipped. Kirby cautiously lowered his gun, expressing his disapproval of Muldoon's wisecrack.

The two beat cops lifted Nimnul up and attempted to revive him. Zipper meanwhile noticed a rather ominous straining sound building in the obsidian monolith, which at this point looked exactly like you'd expect a block of obsidian to look. He informed Monty, who bounced a pebble off Muldoon's head.

Noticing the danger, the humans exited the room, followed by the Rangers. Shortly afterward, the block loudly fractured, and the red glow from the observatory winked out. A battery-operated clock fell off of the wall and hit the floor, forever fixing its time at 3:14.

"Uh, my head," Nimnul moaned. He was lying in the arms of the beat cops.

"Well," said Kirby, "look who returned to the land of the living."

"Francine, is that you?" Nimnul muttered. "Something's wrong with my eyes - I can't see a thing."

The police officers shared a confused look. "Curiouser and curiouser," said Muldoon. He shook the scientist's shoulder. "Professor Nimnul. Professor Nimnul."

"Huh? Who's that?" answered the small bald man.

Muldoon rolled his eyes. "You're not fooling anyone. Norton Nimnul, you are under arrest for the following crimes...."

Gadget didn't pay attention to any of this. As soon as she thought it safe, she headed back into the darkened laboratory, past the smoking computer banks, around the shards of shattered red glass and chunks of black obsidian embedded in the walls and floor, ducking to avoid occasional sparks of pale blue static electricity, up the table and past the burnt-out remains of the computer, and straight to the small piece of equipment Nimnul was playing with earlier, the only piece of equipment in the entire room that was still functioning. The object may have begun its life as an oscilloscope, but there probably wasn't a single wire left in the case that belonged in it. There were several dials with some strange sort of coordinate system on them, but that would mean at least ten axes. Two burnished metal rods as thick as bicycle handlebars were roughly soldered to the sides of the device and protruded a foot beyond the front at about the level of Gadget's waist. All of these modifications were spattered with spots of rust, signs that this device was older than Nimnul. The remains of an image were still on the screen, but it was quickly fading.

"Ten dimensions?" Gadget asked herself, examining the dials. What intrigued Gadget the most was that this device seemed to make sense to her, yet more proof that Nimnul had not built it. She didn't know how it worked yet, but she was certain she could figure it out if she had time to study it.

Chip checked to make sure all members of his team were all right in the aftermath of the explosion. He then entered the lab with his penlight to check on Gadget. "Gadget, are you in here?"

"Over here, Chip."

The small white oval of the penlight searched for awhile before it found the mouse inventor, then Chip cautiously climbed up to join her. "What is that?" he asked.

"I'm not sure. Some sort of viewer. I think we should take it back with us."

Chip vainly tried to brush down his fur, which had puffed out in all directions in response to the thick atmosphere of static electricity that hung in the room. Dale probably would have burst out laughing seeing that same effect on Gadget's hair, but she was completely oblivious, so Chip decided to not mention it. Instead he looked over Gadget's find. "Take it back with us? Is that so we'll be ready in case Nimnul figures out what he did wrong? Is it dangerous?" As he asked this, Chip casually rested his arm on one of the bars sticking out of the device. At that moment, the image in the viewer suddenly changed. Chip jerked his hand away in surprise, and the image began to fade like the last one had.

"I don't think so," Gadget answered, but like Chip was caught in surprise by the change in the image. "What did you just do, Chip?"

"I don't know. I just touched it, I think."

"Did you move anything?"


"Hmm," she thought. "Maybe you didn't adjust anything after all. Try touching it again, but keep your hand in place."

"OK." Cautiously, he placed his hand on the face of the machine. The image continued to fade. "No, wait, I think it was over here." He touched the bar, and the image sprung back to full intensity, and stayed that way as he kept his hand in place.

Gadget moved around Chip to get a good look at the image. It was made up of thousands, no tens of thousands, perhaps even millions of dots, like pointillism run amok. Each dot was a different color. Indeed, the screen seemed to be using more colors than should exist in the universe. Gadget gasped. "Ludwig Von Drake was right!" she exclaimed.

The entire image seemed to be in constant flux, yet something in the middle remained constant. There was no sound other than the deep buzz that had already started to permanently settle into their minds. Chip squinted. "I can't put my finger on it," he said, "but something about that looks strangely familiar."

"Hmm...greens and browns, and that swaying reminds me of the view from Ranger Headquarters."

Chip turned his head sideways. "I don't see it." He took his hand off of the bar, and the image began to fade. "Here, you try it. I'll see if I can round something up to cart this back to Headquarters."

"Hey," exclaimed Dale from the lab entrance below, "are we done? I'm missing the late-late-late-late-late-too late movie!"

"Just a minute, Dale," explained Chip patiently, then he and his light made their way down the table, leaving Gadget lit only by the viewer.

Gadget hovered her hand over the bar. She somehow knew that touching that bar was not an act she could ever undo. Finally after a minute she willed herself to grab it. The image on the screen instantly shifted, bathing her face in its light and casting strange shadows on the wall behind her. This image was much simpler than the last one: shades of gray on the bottom, and more shades of gray above that, but this time the borders were straight lines and right angles, with an arched ceiling, but everything was exaggerated - the corners were more "right" than a right angle should be, and the ceiling was too curved to exist in Euclidean space. Nevertheless, using her superb powers of analysis she was finally able to identify what she was seeing: "It's an aircraft hangar!"

But there was more to the image than that. In the bottom center was a rounded whitish shape that extended beyond the edge of the screen, its motion animated by a constant nervous energy. If the rest of the image represented Man's inorganic creation (and some of the best of that creation, if Gadget's opinion of aircraft hangers was to be considered), this central feature was separate, natural, alive. "A...a mouse?" Gadget pondered. All she could see of the creature was the back of its head and hints of its face as it looked about, but that was enough to conclude that it resembled no mouse Gadget had ever seen: delicate long fur, a snout far too long, eyes a pure deep red the color of the busted astronomy light bulbs. Its ears were far too large, and its head far too small, and it wore no clothing that she could see. It was like some sort of mythical mouse-monster, a mouse conforming to Man's misconceptions of what a mouse was supposed to be. It was Fear battling with Hunger in a desperate battle for existence in a cold heartless world that not only did not care if you lived or died, but worse, didn't even bother to notice your existence.

Gadget knew this creature she was watching on a screen in an impossible number of colors and dimensions. It was the Thing that sat at the pit of Gadget's stomach ever since the day of her father's disappearance, the Hypothesis that could never be fully disproved, no matter how many triumphant experiments had been made to refute it: that Life had no meaning, and that bad things happened to good people. The mouse she was watching was herself, her true self.

As she watched, the mouse on the screen sniffed its way along the aircraft hangar floor, the illumination revealing the hour to be roughly the same Gadget herself was experiencing in Nimnul's lab. Gadget peered closer at the image. The mouse seemed to sense her interest, because it turned to sniff at her over its left shoulder. Gadget started back in shock. She was even more sure now that this mouse was her, but this mouse was clearly a wild animal, devoid of even a hint of intelligence behind those alien red eyes, eyes that seemed to be accusing her of the crime of abnormality, of not being what it was, accusing her of false hope.

Suddenly Gadget was struck in the face by the glow of Chip's penlight. She removed her hands from the bar in panic and stood in front of the fading image to keep Chip from seeing it as he returned with a cart.

"See," said Chip, "I found it." He noticed that Gadget's hair was now static-free.

It took a few moments for Gadget to find her voice and tell Chip how to load the oscilloscope. During this time she tried her best to dispel the images she had seen from her brain, but they kept returning to the inside of her eyelids every time she blinked. She had no answer for the silent accusation of the other-mouse, and she feared she never would.


Black and White


I wanted to be like you.
I wanted everything.
So I tried to be like you
And I got swept away.

I didn't know that
It was so cold and
You needed someone
To show you the way.
So I took your hand and
We figured out that
When the tide comes
I'd take you away.

If you want to
I can save you.
I can take you away from here.
So lonely inside,
So busy out there.
And all you wanted
Was somebody who cares.

I'm sinking slowly,
So hurry hold me.
Your hand is all I
have to keep me
hanging on.
Please can you tell me,
So I can finally see,
Where you go when you're gone.

If you want to
I can save you.
I can take you away from here.
So lonely inside,
So busy out there.
And all you wanted
Was somebody who cares.

--"All You Wanted", Michelle Branch

"All You Wanted" music video on YouTube.

Chapter 1: Homecoming

The only oak tree in the park, as everybody knew, was the home of the Rescue Rangers. Few of the animals who visited that tree paid much attention to the taller spruce tree next door, its dark green needles intertwined with the long leaves of the oak. While the Rangers had the oak to themselves, the spruce tree was the home of six families of mourning doves and seven families of red squirrels; the doves lived in the crown canopy, and the squirrels lived in apartments carved into the trunk. The families were physically connected in two ways: a common staircase running just inside the bark on one side of the tree, and a common room that took up the top floor of the trunk, with the doves living above and the squirrels living below. The apartment right below the common room was the home of the Chestnutts: Isabel and her two daughters Tammy and Beth (or Bink, as she was known to her oldest friends).

The Chestnutt apartment had been rather quiet for the last week as the family had been out of town, but the calm was shattered with a bang as the door to the staircase slammed open and Tammy stepped in. Several years older than she had been when she had first met the Rescue Rangers, Tammy was wearing a white commencement gown and carrying a stuffed suitcase in each hand. Her long red hair was gathered into two braided pigtails. Putting the suitcases down in the hallway, she announced to nobody in particular, "I'm home! I'm home!"

Her mother, who was right behind her in the staircase, tapped her on the shoulder. "We noticed," she said gently. "Now could you please let us in?" Mrs. Chestnutt was wearing a full-length lavender-colored dress and carrying an overnight bag. Her shoulder-length auburn hair was styled in a manner reminiscent of the 1940's. Behind her was Beth, a rambunctious six year old in blue jeans and a pea-green turtleneck sweater, swinging her own overnight bag around and inadvertently hitting her mother's legs with every swing. Her short blonde hair was somewhat mussed.

"Oops!" exclaimed Tammy, picking up her luggage and leading the way down the narrow semi-circular hallway that surrounded the core of the tree. She walked past open doorways on her left for the bathroom and the kitchen, through the living room, before finally reaching the door to her bedroom. She opened the door and walked in to allow the others to continue on to their own rooms. Putting her suitcases down, she removed the gown to reveal blue jeans and a white tee shirt with the words "Allegheny River Academy" across the back. The shirt had already been signed numerous times in blue ink. Tossing the gown onto her bed, Tammy walked out of her room and strolled two doors down to the room of her younger sister.

"Need any help?" she asked from the doorway. Beth's bed had an open suitcase on it, small but nevertheless nearly as big as its owner, and Beth was busy transferring items from the overnight bag into it.

"Nope!" Beth said confidently. Then she forgot where she left her favorite hairclip. With a little help from her big sister, that potential disaster was averted, and she was able to finish packing. Donning a large old-fashioned aviator's helmet that was hanging on her bedpost, Beth picked up her suitcase with both hands. "Tower, this is Captain Beth, ready for takeoff," she declared in a grown-up voice, looking at Tammy.

Tammy raised an eyebrow.

"I'm a cargo pilot," Beth whispered, putting the luggage down and pointing at her helmet.

Tammy recognized it as one of Monterey Jack's and smiled. Adopting a Texas twang, she said, "Tower to Captain Beth, you are cleared for takeoff on Hallway 1."

Beth responded by making the sound of a prop engine and waddled with her suitcase into the hall. Tammy followed leisurely, her hands behind her back. She had to duck into her room as her mother rushed past with at least three suitcases in her arms, forcing Beth to pick up her pace to avoid being accidentally run over. Both Beth and Isabel left their suitcases in the living room.

When Tammy saw Beth returning to her room she held out her hand. Beth took it and looked up at Tammy, a twinkle in her eyes. The girls' mother, rushing back to her bedroom to get more suitcases, was stopped in her tracks by this roadblock.

"Beth and I were going to catch up on what we missed while I was in school," said Tammy.

Mrs. Chestnutt turned and pointed at the dial of a human wristwatch that was mounted on the living room wall. "The graduation party starts in fifteen minutes. The party in your honor, the party that I got the Rescue Rangers to agree to attend. Do you really have time..."

"Oh, I'm nearly ready," Tammy interrupted. "Are you ready, Beth? Do you have time to talk with me for a bit?"

Beth nodded her head rapidly, her eyes still on her sister.

Mrs. Chestnutt sighed. "Very well, I'll let you know when the Tanglefoots arrive." She watched with hands on her hips and a bemused expression as Beth followed Tammy into her room and the door closed. "Well, at least my two daughters get along," she said to herself happily. Then she remembered with a start how many suitcases still needed to be transferred to the living room, and resumed the dash to her bedroom.

Tammy's was the largest bedroom in the apartment. It had the disadvantage that the sun always made it too warm on summer afternoons such as this one, but this was more than compensated by its commanding view of the top of the Ranger Tree. The walls of the room were adorned with posters depicting cute animals and affirmative slogans - no cats, though. The bed, converted from a sea sponge, was in one corner next to a small wardrobe, and a desk occupied another. Tammy transferred her suitcases to the bed and began unpacking as Beth wandered around the room, peeking into the wardrobe and looking under the desk. Tammy had to walk around her to get to the wall calendar, which still showed December from last year, as that was that last time she had been home. She removed the calendar and replaced it with the one from her dorm. The date of June 12th was repeatedly circled in red ink. She then returned to the suitcases.

"Is she here?" Beth asked.

"Yes," Tammy said, hanging up the commencement gown and stowing the suitcases between the wardrobe and the wall. She sat down in the desk chair and began to work on her hair with a brush. Looking over her left shoulder at a poster depicting a puffball of a mouse, Tammy said, "I can't believe it. I don't really feel any different than before the ceremony, to tell the truth. Maybe it will sink in tonight. I hope you didn't miss anything earlier. I sensed you were gone during the speeches, but I'd have done the same thing if I were you."

Beth rushed over to the mouse poster and waved. "Hi, Molly!" she shouted.

Tammy shushed Beth and cast a nervous glance at the door. When she didn't hear anything from her mother she turned to Beth. "'Molly'?" she asked.

"Your imaginary friend."

"Her name's not Molly! And she's not imaginary. She's not quite there in a physical sense, but she's not imaginary!"

"So, what is her name?"

"I...I don't know. Our conversations are rather one-way," Tammy said apologetically.

"Well, I'm gonna call her Molly," Beth said with a note of finality. She turned around and walked over to the desk, the top of which was about eye-level for her. Standing on tiptoes, she tried to see what was on it. The desk was covered with scraps of Post It notes, framed drawings, and a worn but stuffed scrapbook with the legend "Rescue Rangers" on its cover. The scrapbook was open, and Tammy had been idly turning the pages. It was currently open to a sketch of Chip working on his casebook.

"Wait, isn't your imaginary friend named Molly?" Tammy asked.

"I'm too old for imaginary friends," Beth replied proudly, drawing herself up to her full height of two and a half inches. "So you can have the name."

With a bemused shrug, Tammy changed position and set to work with the hairbrush on her large unruly tail, resuming her conversation with "Molly", who had apparently moved to the door in order to remain behind Tammy's left shoulder. "I think you came in while I was talking with Herbie. He told me that Grandpa and Gadget got together and wrote a scientific paper, and one of the animal-run journals had printed it. He showed the issue to me - the thing looked like a mail-order catalog, it was so thick. I only got to glance at the paper, but Herbie has already memorized it, no surprise to you, right?" She waited a moment for a reply she knew she couldn't hear. "Well, Grandpa got a copy of the published article, and he's going to present it to her tonight at the party."

Beth reached out to pick up the lone picture frame on the desk and then climbed up on the bed to look at it. The photograph, clipped as so many animal photographs were from the corner of a human photograph that "accidentally" included him, depicted a male squirrel with fur and hair color similar to Beth, wearing an immaculate white shirt and pith helmet. He was standing proudly at the entrance of a meercat colony and was surrounded by its members, who towered over him with toothy smiles.

"Tammy," Beth asked, "how long was Daddy in Africa?"

Tammy scratched her nose for a second, remembering. "Six years, off and on," she finally answered. "He came back for good three months before you were born." She bent down to work on a particularly bad snarl. "Anyway," she said to her unseen guest, "the Rangers will be at the party tonight, so this is the perfect opportunity to corner Chipper...I mean Chip, and give him the Speech. I've been working it over in my head on the way here, and I think I'm sure that this will have to convince him. Do you want to hear it?"

"Oo! I do, I do!" Beth replied, jumping up and down on the bed. This caused the picture frame to bounce dangerously close to the edge of the bed.

Tammy quickly stood up and grabbed the photograph, setting it back on the desk. "Beth, I need you to promise not to say anything to Chip or the other Rangers about the Speech before I have a chance to give it."

Beth stood up on the bed and put a fist dramatically to her chest. "Is this the speech that goes 'Marry me, you fool!'?"


Beth fell down on the bed and started laughing, rolling back and forth on her tail.

Tammy scowled. "It's not like that anymore between me and Chip," Tammy explained, at least as much for "Molly" as for Beth's sake. "I got it all wrong last time. I thought I wanted to be like Mom and take care of the house while Chip went out adventuring like Dad. But Chip's not like that, and I eventually figured out, I'm not like that, either. At the Academy I figured out I'm actually more like Dad - if there's adventure to be had, I'd rather be in the middle of it." She looked wistfully out the window at the Ranger Tree. "In fact, I think with everything I've done in the last four years that I might finally have a chance at working alongside the Rescue Rangers. If they'll have me." She looked back at Beth, who was looking up at her with wide eyes. "That's what 'the Speech' is about - it's my chance to correct Chip's misconceptions about me, to tell him that I'm not the same silly girl he had to save from the clutches of Fat Cat." Tammy noticed that Beth was not in fact looking at her, but was instead peering over Tammy's left shoulder.

"I think I saw Molly," said Beth, her eyes as round as saucers. "But she's gone now."

"Really?" cried Tammy, jerking her head around, and then turning rapidly in a circle. "She's still here, but I can't see anything. What did you see?"

"It was a reddish blur, and I only saw it for a second. It was when you were getting really worked up."

"I wonder if I can make her appear again?" Tammy asked herself.

Just then, there was a knock at the door. "Tammy, Beth, the Tanglefoots are here."

"Almost ready, Mom!" answered Tammy in a loud voice. She hoped to get some more time to ask her sister about what she saw.

Beth however had hopped down from the bed and raced for the door with a joyful cry of "Auntie Binkie!" She stopped herself at the doorknob and looked back. "You don't need me in here to make Mommy think you're not talking to yourself anymore, do you?"

Tammy sighed and shook her head. "You can go, Beth; I'll just try to be quieter."

"OK." Beth reached up, turned the knob and let herself out of Tammy's room, leaving the door swinging as she accelerated down the hall, crying "Auntie Binkie! Auntie Binkie!" the whole way.

Tammy closed the door, then moved the chair as far from it as possible and positioned herself so her left shoulder was pointing at the wall. She waited until she was sure there was nobody in the outside hall before continuing in a whisper. "Did I almost make you visible?" She sighed at the expected silence. "Oh, well. Let me finish this up - I'll give you the Speech, the short version. I tell Chip how foolish I was before, how I'd much rather be helping people than setting tables, mention some of the stuff I've been doing at the Academy, and ask for a chance to prove myself. I mean Chip's got to give me a chance, right? He advertised for another Rescue Ranger, right, so he has to at least give me a chance, right?"

"TAMMY! We're leaving!" cried Tammy's mother.

"IN A MINUTE!" cried Tammy.

Chapter 2: The Tanglefoots

A few minutes earlier, Tammy's mother Isabel had finally finished getting all of her luggage into the living room. The bags were carefully stacked and lined up to provide the maximum maneuverability while also allowing the fastest possible means of transferring the pile to its next destination. She looked the collection over carefully, certain that she had forgotten something. As she absent-mindedly tucked a loose strand of hair back behind her ear, she noticed out of the corner of her eye that something was indeed askew. Atop a carefully straightened pile of graded essays on the kitchen table, one more entry had been haphazardly dropped.

Sighing, Isabel walked into the kitchen and picked it up, then smiled when she recognized Tammy's handwriting. Tammy had not been given the assignment of defining the difference between "feral" and "sentient", but she considered herself a budding writer, and never gave up a chance to challenge herself. Pulling open a nearby drawer, Isabel removed a pair of reading spectacles and began to read:

The humans use the word "feral" to refer to all animals that are not pets or domesticated. In doing this they ignore a fundamental split in animalkind, one far more significant than anything created by a few generations of selective breeding.

For as long as animals have been writing history, there have always been the ferals and the sentients. The ferals, who, lacking self-awareness, live on instinct and raw emotion, without clothes, without speech, without a thought except to eat and to fight and to find a mate. And the sentients, stuck with forms like ferals and minds like humans. Forced to hide from humans, yet choosing to live next door. Forced to live apart from ferals, even when they are family, for feral may bear sentient young and sentient may bear feral young. Yet the line between these two is clear and sharp: from the moment of birth it is possible to see who is feral, and who is sentient, and the category you are born into is the category you will spend the rest of your days, however long (sentient) or short (feral) that span may be. None of the macroscopic species of animal is entirely made up of ferals, and only humans are entirely sentient, so every family knows what it is to have members in each category.

Guardians stand between these groups, allowing both to lead their separate lives. Between feral and sentient stands the Caretaker, a sentient that chooses to live among ferals, the messenger of the feral to the sentient. In the feral habitats set aside for them, the Caretaker ensures that ferals are free to live their wild lives with minimal interference from sentient and human alike, and keeps them in turn from inadvertently disrupting the lives of sentients and humans. It is the Caretaker that applies the Test of Sentience to every newborn in their habitat, so that new sentients may be rescued and raised among their own kind. Similarly, when a feral is born among the sentients, it is the Caretaker that trains the child in the survival skills that a feral born among ferals would be expected to learn before releasing the child into the habitat.

The sentient that thinks. The feral that feels. The Caretaker that must partake of both. All of these the human confuses with his definition of "feral". In doing this he lumps together the reasonable and the unreasonable, the angel and the monster, and in doing so he makes of a black and white world a whole mess of gray.

P.S. Good luck on the trip, and be sure to write.

Isabel put down the essay, removed her glasses, and tapped them gently on her knuckles. A solid B+, she thought, pretty good considering she didn't sit through the guest lecturers like the sophomores. The comparison between ferals and "monsters" disturbed her slightly, and she made a mental note to take her daughter to a feral habitat at some point in the future. Then she looked at the postscript again, and smiled. Good luck, yourself, dear, both with your summer and with your dreams, and I hope you know what you're doing. As Isabel turned to put the glasses away, there was a knock on the door to the outside.

"Hellooooo, neighbor!" came a voice. "Is there anybody home?"

"Just a minute please," replied Isabel, pushing the drawer with the glasses shut.

Trying to delay the inevitable as long as possible, she turned to address her daughters' bedrooms. "Tammy, Beth," she addressed the closed door of her elder daughter, "the Tanglefoots are here."

"Almost ready, Mom!" cried Tammy.

A few seconds later her door opened and her sister Beth emerged, racing down the hall to the living room. "Auntie Binkie! Auntie Binkie!" she cried. Without giving her mother a chance, Beth darted around her and opened the front door.

Standing outside on a large branch was a family of four mourning doves. The patriarch of the family was wearing a large, loud yellow Hawaiian shirt. A stick-on nametag announced "I'm Herb Tanglefoot. What can I tell you about Foreverware today?" His wife wore a slim blue dress with a faux pearl necklace straight out of the '50's. Ruining the style somewhat was the large pocket that completely covered the front of the dress, but that was a required part of bird attire, to hold the things a human would hold in their hands when flying from place to place. It was similar to the reason why land animals wore backpacks more commonly than humans - to allow them to switch into "four-paw drive".

"Well," the woman addressed as "Auntie Binkie" said to the girl, "isn't it just delightful to see you again my dear goddaughter. How are you this evening?" Glancing at the suitcases she turned to Isabel and added "Isabel, you really ought to have Bink help you with all this."

"Her name's Beth," said Isabel in a low voice. "She's too old for a silly name like Bink."

Binkie chose to ignore this remark and instead craned her neck to look at the suitcases. "Well it might be me, but that doesn't seem like near enough luggage for such a huge trip for three."

"Two," Isabel said. "Tammy's not coming."

"Not coming!" exclaimed Binkie. "Well be sure to tell her that she can come and visit us any time she likes." She then furrowed her brow and pretended to think. "Hmm...I hope you don't think this presumptuous of me, but this is the sophomore class trip, isn't it? Tammy was a senior, so why was your family coming along in the first place?"

From the exasperated look on Isabel's face, it was clear she had had this argument before. "I head the sophomore class committee for the Academy, Binkie. And I'm a member of the science committee that picked the Himalayas for the trip this year. Not to mention that my father is leading this trip, and the fact that the funding committee - which I'm also a member of - managed to raise more than enough money to allow anybody remotely interested in that part of the world to tag along.

"As for Beth here," she said, putting a hand on her daughter's head with a faraway look, "I made a promise once to not let my daughters grow up without seeing a bit of the world."

"But Tammy's not going."

"That was her decision," said Isabel, turning to face Binkie. "Her place is still open. Would you like to take it? We will be spending two weeks volunteering at the world's largest feral habitat."

Binkie gave Isabel a disapproving look. "There are more than enough feral habitats in the City with Caretaker positions open. In fact, I just heard that the birth ratio of ferals to sentients has been steadily rising over the last few years."

Isabel continued on as if she hadn't heard that. "It will be a unique opportunity to witness a solar eclipse, live immersed in another culture...."

Binkie shook her head with a grin. "Oh, no. I wouldn't think of it. Might snag a claw over there," she said, waving her wing vaguely at that part of the wall that represented the rest of the world. "No, you go along to those mountains and have a good time. I'll just stay here and run your tree while you're gone."

This remark triggered a mini staring contest between the two women. Binkie's husband looked nervously back and forth between his wife and his neighbor. "Lookie what I brought!" he exclaimed. "Bowls and bowls of goodies for the party! Where can I put them?"

"Why thank you, Herb," Isabel said, a forced grin on her face. "That's very kind."

"I hope we're not early or anything," said Herb. "Gulliver's Island was pre-empted today."

Beth leaned forward. "Did you get me anything, Auntie Binkie?"

Binkie kneeled down to look Beth in the eye. "Only one little thing for my darling godchild."

"Oo! Oo!" cried Beth. "Can I guess? Is it a Slinky?"

"No, not that..."

"Is electric guitar?"

"Not quite."

"Is it...a brand new car?"

This caught Herb's attention. "Oo! Is it? Is it?" he asked excitedly.

Binkie glanced towards Isabel as she answered Beth first. "You certainly don't think that your mother would have some issue with that?" To her husband she said, "And wouldn't you know honey? You were with me when I bought it."

"Aw," grumbled Herb. "I'll never get a brand new car."

Isabel stepped back at this point. "Why won't you all come in? After all I'd be remiss in not inviting you in..."

"Why thank you kindly, Ma'am," Herb said as he led his family in. Two sons that were previously hidden by their father's girth stepped into view. The elder was built like a Tank and not surprisingly, that was his nickname. He carried a perpetual frown on his face and he took up a station in a corner of the living room.

The younger son was thin and somewhat undersize for his age. His clothing identified him as a stereotypical nerd, right down to the pseudo-horn rim spectacles that were perched precariously on the top of his round beak. That beak was buried in his current choice of reading material, a couple dozen photocopied pages stapled together and covered in both sides in neat handwriting, frequently interrupted by scientific equations, tables and illustrations. He looked to be three-quarters of the way through it.

Binkie resumed her game with Beth. "Well, Beth, do you have any other guesses?"

"Oh, just tell her!" exclaimed the exasperated younger brother, not lifting his head.

"Like they'll ever listen to you, Herbie," grunted Tank. Herbie glared back for a moment, then returned to his reading.

Beth sighed. "Oh, I dunno. A lollipop, maybe?"

Binkie shook her head.

"OK. I give up."

"How about this..." Binkie said, pulling a model of an F-104 Starfighter out of a bag.

In response, Beth grabbed the gift and started jumping up and down so fast that she became a blur. "Eeeeeeeeeeee! Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!"

"It was the least I could do," offered Binkie magnanimously, "given your mom doesn't exactly know airplanes well enough."

With an effort, Isabel managed to suppress her reaction. Instead she turned to her daughter and said "Why don't you put that in your room, Beth; then you can take off that hat and finish getting ready for the party. Won't you sit down?" She addressed this last remark to the Tanglefoots as there was another race of footsteps down the hallway.

"Certainly," replied Binkie, sinking into a chair.

Herb turned back to the door. "Can't forget these!" he exclaimed, going outside to retrieve an enormous number of plastic containers.

Herbie looked up and saw where his father was going. After dog-earing the document and putting it in his chest pocket, he followed Herb outside. "Don't you think you've overdone things, Dad?" he asked.

"Never can have too many snacks, my boy." Leaning in conspiratorially, he added, "I had to bring the whole set. Never know when you can make another sale."

Herbie just rolled his eyes and continued carting containers onto the living room table.

Meanwhile from a back room came the sounds of mouth-powered diesel engines. "Vroom! Nee-yar!"

Binkie cast a significant glance at Isabel. "I can also see you haven't communicated to your daughter that aircraft use jets..."

Gritting her teeth, Isabel looked at the clock. "Hadn't we all better be going upstairs?"

Herb immediately began picking up the containers he just put down. "To the party!"

Everyone made their way down the hallway towards the stairway, leaving the suitcases behind for later. All except Herbie, who looked pointedly down the opposite hallway towards Tammy's room.

Isabel looked back with a guilty start. "Oh for crying..." She strode purposefully past Herbie to stand at her elder daughter's door. "TAMMY! We're leaving!"

"IN A MINUTE!" cried Tammy from the other side of the door.

It didn't open.

"Fine," Isabel said, "we're going then. See you whenever you decide to come up."

She left with Binkie and Herb in tow. Tank decided he'd rather be annoyed in company than with just Herbie, so he followed.

Herbie strolled down the hallway to bide time while waiting for Tammy. Opposite her room were a series of photographs. One row depicted the archery team for each year Tammy was a member, while another showed Tammy's membership in the Allegheny Academy ice hockey team. At first glance, the photos were a record of achievement: Tammy was a bashful member of each team in her freshman year, and a confident team player in her sophomore year, already looked up to in admiration by her colleagues.

Herbie walked by the photos without thinking much about them, then suddenly stopped and back-tracked.

"Hold on, what's this?"

He looked closely at the junior and senior class photographs, leaning in close with a frown on his face. Not making out much, he pulled a spare pair of spectacles out of his chest pocket, adjusted it so the two lenses overlapped to create a makeshift magnifying lens, and carefully studied Tammy's face in each picture.

"Watcha lookin' at, Herbie?"

Herbie turned in surprise to find Beth standing there beside him, minus her helmet and with her hair neatly arranged. Isabel had apparently forgotten about her younger daughter.

"Tammy in these photos," replied Herbie. "There's something I can't quite make out."

"I can tell you," volunteered Beth in a low voice, "but it's a secret."

"In other words, you're not going to tell me."

"I'm not allowed! Tammy would kill me if I told! Well...not kill kill, but still!"

Herbie turned back towards the photos. "I guess I'll just have to figure it out for myself."

Beth snuck up next to Tammy's door and leaned her head against it, her tongue sticking out as she concentrated on listening. "Shh," she whispered to Herbie, "she's doing it again!"

Herbie stood next to her, but declined to listen in. "Doing what?" he asked in a whisper.

Beth's reply was to point excitedly at the door.

Just then, the door was yanked open and Beth fell to the ground.

"Beth!" Tammy cried. "What are you doing outside my door?" At this point she noticed Herbie for the first time.

Beth popped up. She leaned towards her sister with a smile on her face. "Tammy," she asked, "are you still talking to Mo...?"

Tammy lightly bonked her sister on the head to shut her up, causing Herbie to grimace from the memory of significantly stronger bonks applied to his own head by his older sibling in days past. Beth's only response was to turn up her nose and march into Tammy's room, where she proceeded to climb up on Tammy's bed and stare out the window.

"Of course I'm not talking to Mom, Beth. She left for the party already." Tammy was not a good liar.

Herbie looked her in the eyes. "Is now a good time?" he asked.

"A good time for what?"

"At the ceremony you said there was something you wanted to tell me when there were less people around."

Tammy rushed forward and placed her hand over Herbie's beak. "Not now!" she hissed in his ear. "Ask me again later, when there's even less people around!" Herbie gave a confused glance at Beth, the only other person he could see, and Tammy released him. To prevent any more awkward questions she pointed at the bit of paper that was sticking out of Herbie's chest pocket. "What'cha reading?" she asked.

Herbie pulled out the document. "You remember when I told you that Gadget and your grandfather had published a purely theoretical paper on hyper-dimensional physics in the Journal of Rodent Astrophysics? Well, Gadget had a plan for proving that theory, but she needed some help, so she wrote to Pr. Hoppernickel and he wants me to take his place at a demonstration tomorrow, as he's going on the sophomore class trip and I'm not. So I'm reading the notes Gadget sent explaining what she's done so far and where's she's having difficulties. She'll bring to the party whatever results she's managed to get in the last week."

"Wow," Tammy exclaimed, "I'm so proud of you! Grandpa could have picked one of his graduate students, but he thought you were the best person for the job!"

"Well," said Herbie, one wing held awkwardly behind his neck, "I think having Gadget for a next-door neighbor was probably the deciding factor."

"Nonsense. I bet you could have written the mathematical part of that paper at least as well as Grandpa did."

In an attempt to change the subject, Herbie produced a folded piece of notepaper. "There was a letter addressed to the Rescue Ranger Fan Club waiting for me when I got in this afternoon. Remind me to show it to you."

Tammy nodded, brushing aside the slight impulse from "Molly" to grab the letter from Herbie and read it right there. Tammy and Herbie may have founded the fan club three years earlier, but Tammy always suspected that the inspiration for it had come to her from her invisible friend. The club now had nearly two dozen members, most of them living in the spruce tree. Tammy was president of the club, and Herbie was secretary.

Beth peeked over her tail at the two. "Tammy, did you want to give say 'hi' to Chip before he got to the party?"

"That was the plan, yes."

"Well, you better hurry," said Beth, pointing out the window at a broad branch that linked the Ranger tree with the spruce tree, "because they're nearly here."

Tammy looked in the direction indicated, to see that the Rescue Rangers were halfway across.

"Eep!" she exclaimed, before grabbing Herbie's wing and Beth's hand and making a dash for the staircase.

Behind them, the later pictures of Tammy continued to gaze in fascination over their left shoulders.

Chapter 3: Our Heroes

Walking along the great broad branch that linked the oak tree with the spruce tree came that valiant team of heroes, the Rescue Rangers. Many had been the time when this stalwart band had stood alone against the forces of Evil and time and again emerged triumphant. The group was suddenly brought to a halt by the pronouncement of their wise and unflappable leader:

"We are doomed!"

Chip - for once - was not at the head of the procession. Instead he was at the rear, and was nearly invisible under a pile of paperwork and notebooks that would be tiny by human standards but enormous by a chipmunk's. The papers had all been neatly typewritten by Gadget, who was leading the procession.

"What is it now?" she asked testily. She was dressed in a white lab coat, her hair in a tight bun at the back of her head. In one arm she carried a clipboard with several abstract printouts attached, printouts that appeared to use more colors than should rightfully exist. She was trying her best to block out a rather annoying buzzing at the back of her skull.

Chip felt a little sheepish under her sharp gaze. "I just realized we're heading towards a party full of Tammies."

Dale grinned. "Correction, Chip. You are doomed." Dale was also dressed uncharacteristically, in a full black tuxedo adorned with sequins. In one hand he carried a large black suitcase across which was printed the legend "The Great Dale-Dini".

"If I didn't know better, Chip, I'd swear you didn't like her," added Gadget.

The other Rangers laughed, which did nothing to improve Chip's mood. Now he began to feel a headache building.

"I'm not the only one walking into a potential trap, here," he said. "For instance, I've seen the way those squirrel boys follow you around when they think you're not looking, Gadget." He immediately regretted saying this.

Gadget looked at him with a bewildered expression in her eyes. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Never mind."

Dale laughed. "It's almost as if I'm the only one not getting stalked by potential lovers."

Walking beside him, Foxglove, a "close personal friend" of Dale, rolled her eyes. She was wearing a long red dress with slits for her arms, sequined similarly to Dale's outfit. Her hair was up in a beehive. She kept fidgeting with the bottom of the dress and occasionally looked down to see how it trailed behind her, as if she thought it had a mind of its own. "I hope nobody minds that I'm tagging along," she said. "After all, the invitation was for the Rescue Rangers, not 'Rescue Rangers and guest'."

"Don't be silly, Foxglove," Dale said. "You can't have a magic show without the pretty assistant, and I couldn't ask for a prettier assistant than you." Foxglove blushed at this compliment.

"Besides, you've been staying with us so long that you're practically family." This remark was made by Monterey Jack and was shortly followed by Zipper's non-vocal agreement. The two of them were the only ones wearing their normal workday clothes. They also appeared to be rather tired out.

Foxglove blushed again, but for a different reason. "Gosh, I'm sorry to be inconveniencing you so much. I promise I'll start another house hunt tonight." She had been staying with the Rangers off and on for the past year while the human church she usually lived in was having its dome repainted, a process run by an enthusiastic artist that looked like it would never end. The longest she had been away from the Ranger Tree had been three weeks in February. Feeling that her over-long stay was unfair on her hosts, the bat had attempted to "pay her way" by helping the group with their cases. Chip had initially resisted, but she had eventually proved herself. Nevertheless, the insecure bat feared she had overstayed her welcome.

The Rescue Rangers shared a significant look at the bat's remark. "Golly, Foxglove," said Gadget, speaking for all of them, "what use is a guest room if you don't have a guest staying there? We'd like you to stay as long as you'd like, but if you really think you need a place of your own, we'll all help you look for a place tomorrow. No...wait, I'm afraid I'll be busy tomorrow with the demonstration. But I promise we'll help you look the day after tomorrow, if you haven't changed your mind."

Chip refused to ignore his nagging intuition. "Well, whatever it is, I just have this feeling of impending doom. Is today Fat Cat's birthday or something?"

Gadget shook her head, impatient to get the group moving again. "That was two months ago, Chip."

Chip tried and failed to scratch his head in frustration. "Right. Why didn't I remember that? Monty, what did you find on your little mission?"

It took a moment for Monty to realize he had been addressed, as he was busy trying to rub the sudden headache out of his temples. "Huh? Oh, uh, yes." He looked over at Zipper, who whispered in his ear. "Oh, yes. Professor Nimnul is still locked up, and he shows no sign of ever wanting to leave. There was something else,, I think that might have been cheese-related." A familiar far-off look came into Monty's eyes as he pronounced his favorite word.

"OK, so that's not it...." mused Chip.

Foxglove suddenly shot up her right wing into the air, hopping up and down on one foot. "Oo! Oo! I know!"

"Yes, Foxglove?"

"Tomorrow will be the one-year anniversary of the day, in an alternate timeline, when the Rangers broke up!"

Chip gave Foxglove a long, hard look as he tried to parse what she just said. The effort made his headache worse. "Foxglove," he concluded, "the more I get to know you, the more I become convinced that you and Dale are made for each other."

Foxglove grinned from ear to ear. "Why thank you, Chip! That's so thoughtful!"

Chip gave Foxglove another strange look, then shrugged and set out to catch up with Gadget, who had resumed walking. As he walked, the pile of paperwork started dangerously leaning, first one way and then another.

Alerted by some sixth sense, Gadget whirled and rushed up to Chip. "Be careful with those papers you fool! Think of the damage you could do to my reputation!" She exclaimed this in a rather odd tone.

Chip raised one eyebrow as he slowed down. "Gadget!" he exclaimed. "Are you feeling alright?"

Gadget gasped and put her free hand over her mouth. "I am so sorry, Chip! I don't know what came over me."

"I do," said Chip. "That wasn't you speaking just now."

Gadget nodded sadly. "Who knew that phone lines could be so noisy?" she said, half to herself. "I'm still not sure if that paper was my work, or actually his work."

"Oh, it's definitely yours," Dale said confidently. "Nimnul was never able to get his ideas down on paper so anybody else could understand them. That's why he never succeeded as a scientist."

Chip turned wearily to face the other chipmunk, asking, "And how did you know that, Dale?"

"I...I don't know."

"It's because we all got a bit of him, Dale."

Monty sighed. "Even when we think we are rid of him, he still manages to haunt us."

"There are some things you just can't change," Chip concluded.

Foxglove looked on silently, somewhat confused, as she had never been informed about this subject. Nevertheless, she felt like she ought to say something. "Well, you're the Rescue Rangers, right? You'll get through this like every other challenge you've ever faced. In the meantime, we're going to a party..." (this cheered up Dale) "...that's been catered..." (this cheered up Monty and Zipper) "...where Gadget will be honored for her scientific achievements..." (Gadget brightened a little at this) "...and the Rangers and their achievements will be a strong center of attention." This last bit was aimed at Chip but missed its mark. He decided to smile anyway, for the sake of morale.

"And don't forget the demonstration," Chip added. "Just imagine the look on Professor Hoppernickel's face when he sees...Oh, that's right, Sparky's machine won't be here until tomorrow, right? (Why am I having so much trouble remembering things today?)"

Just then, a voice cried out from the opening of the great squirrel and dove hall. "Look, everybody, it's the Rescue Rangers!"

Dale strode ahead of the group. "And so it begins," he proclaimed, leading them to the hall.

Chapter 4: Gadget Makes Children Cry

Tammy raced up the staircase, leaving Herbie and Beth far behind. In no time she reached the door to the meeting hall. The doors were closed, but the loud buzz of conversation could be heard beyond. She stopped for a moment to rest her paw on the hall's dedicatory plaque on the wall nearby. The plaque featured a portrait of a squirrel that was thoroughly covered by that paw. The words "Richard Chestnutt Hall" above and "...gave his life to save 28 others during the Great Fire of 1985" below were still visible. She took a deep breath and removed her paw as her sister and friend caught up to her.

"Here we go," she said, pulling open the door.

The door opened into a narrow hallway extending a little ways right and a long ways left to open into the hall itself. Herbie and the two squirrels emerged from the hallway to see three large banners extending across the high ceiling of the large room. One read "Congratulations", a second read "Tammy Chestnutt" and the third read "Herbert Tanglefoot, Jr." The two last banners were arranged so there was a 50 % chance which of them you would see first on entering the hall - the result of a careful compromise between Isabel Chestnutt and Binkie Tanglefoot.

Tammy didn't break her stride; making her way past numerous congratulating adults and teenagers to try and reach the open door at the other end of the convention hall that led to the branch the Rescue Rangers would be taking to arrive. Not only the people stood in her way - Tammy also had to fight through strong feelings of nostalgia from "Molly", who kept bringing up the strongest emotions Tammy had felt towards each of the people she was looking at. She finally reached the other edge of the crowd, but alas she was too late, as the Rangers had already arrived and they were fully occupied in being greeted by the Herzogs.

The Herzogs were the squirrel family that lived on the floor beneath Tammy's apartment. The booming voice of Ken Herzog could be easily heard across the hall: "As I was just telling my darling daughter Sandra, these are the brave individuals who diffused that nasty hostage crisis in this very room six month ago while she was at the Academy. What was the name of that criminal running the operation? Spumoni? Mascarpone?" The teenage daughter referred to was standing next to her father, giving Chip a rather predatory look. Tammy had heard stories about the fates of the other poor individuals to fall victim to that gaze. In despair, Tammy stopped right where she was and balled her fists at her sides, saying, "But that's not fair!"

A dove, thinking she was addressing him, glanced from her face back to the sports section of his newspaper. "The Yankees can't win them all, kid."

Just then a paw came down heavily on Tammy's shoulder. "There you are!" her mother proclaimed. "Have you forgotten about your speech?"

Tammy fumed. "Of course I haven't forgotten - why do you think I'm trying so hard to get to...oh. You mean that speech. Very well." She turned reluctantly away from her quarry and allowed herself to be led to the stage.

Herbie looked down at the little hand grasping his wing. "I better get you to your mother," he told Beth, before leading her up the steps at the rear of the convention hall. These led onto a small stage which had a dual use: one half had a microphone on a stand and a mini-flashlight pointing at it for speeches, while the other half was where the party's food was being served.

"Well, I suppose I might as well get it over with," said the gray squirrel at the microphone, squinting out at the crowd. "Could Ms. Hackwrench please join me on the stage?" The speaker was tall, but stooped with age. He was wearing a dark suit and spectacles and holding a faux-leather bound article in one hand. Herbie recognized him as Professor Julius Hoppernickel, Tammy's grandfather and one of the teachers from Allegheny Academy. The professor had been the one who had convinced Herbie, Tammy and their families to apply for admission to the academy four years ago.

From his vantage point on the stage, the teenage dove had a good view of the Rescue Rangers below. Mr. Herzog was loudly proclaiming his admiration for all things Rescue Ranger to Monterey Jack. Sandra Herzog and her friends were gathered in a ring around Chip that followed him as he carefully made his way to the stage. Gadget was well ahead of him, the eyes of most of the males and many of the females following her. Dale was kidding around with some children, the younger brothers and sisters of the sophomores being honored tonight. Foxglove, as a relative newcomer, was more an object of curiosity, while Zipper, as was sadly the norm, was ignored. In addition, Herbie spotted his mother, trying to use a wingfeather to wipe a smudge off the bill of a squirming Tank. There was an empty spot next to Binkie Tanglefoot to mark the place her salesdove husband had been standing in the split-second before Gadget had entered the room. Herbie tried to spot Tammy as well, but he didn't have to search long, as Tammy's mother dragged her up the steps and into the wings. Mrs. Chestnutt gestured to Herbie and Beth to join them as well.

"You two are on as soon as my father finishes with Gadget," Isabel explained, "and I think it would be distracting to have anybody eating up here while somebody's talking."

The moment Beth discovered there was something she couldn't do, she found she absolutely had to do it. "But Mom, I'm hungry!"

"Beth, shush."

Beth sighed. "Yes, Mother."

Gadget walked onto the stage, her lab coat swirling dramatically behind her. The crowd applauded warmly. When she reached the professor, she held her hand out in greeting. The professor stared at it until she put it down.

"Now then," the professor told the crowd, "you all know Gadget here as a fantastic inventor and an integral member of the Rescue Rangers, but recently she decided to branch out into my field of theoretical physics. Two months ago, the mouse you see here wrote to ask for my assistance on a paper she was writing. She had taken on String Theory, which attempts to explain the entirety of Creation in mathematical terms that only less than a hundred beings on Earth can comprehend, and turned it into child's play. I wouldn't be surprised if her 'musical method' is eventually used to teach String Theory to high school students." The crowd was having difficulty telling if the professor was praising Gadget or being sarcastic.

"I had the harder job," he continued, "of proving mathematically that her explanation worked as well as the obtuse explanation we physicists have had to labor under for so long, and to 'sponsor' her paper for publication. You see, scientific publications usually do not like to publish the work of people without strings of initials after their name, but one look at Gadget's paper was enough to change their minds, and 'A New Interpretation of M-Space' was published in the June issue of the Journal of Small Animal Astrophysics." Professor Hoppernickel turned to face Gadget and held up the object he had been holding. "Ms. Hackwrench, I hereby present you an official bound copy of your article. I guess that makes you a member of the scientific community." The professor quickly joined the others in the wings.

The crowd applauded as Gadget accepted the article and stepped up to the microphone. She took a moment to flip through the pages. "Yup, it's all here! Well, I'm not one for speeches, but I'd like to thank J'SAAPh" (which she pronounced "jasaff") "for publishing my work, and I'd like to thank all of you for allowing me to interrupt your party for this little ceremony." She held up the article. "This is just the beginning, folks. My next article will change everything." She then walked off the stage and into the wings without another word.

Isabel passed her to stand before the microphone. "Well! That was...enigmatic. For the next item on the agenda, I'd like to invite my daughter, Tammy Chestnutt, to the stage."

Tammy sighed and pulled a crumbled notecard out of a pocket.

"Good luck," Herbie said.

"Thanks," she replied before walking out into the limelight. In truth, neither of them was worried. They knew well in advance that they would be required to give speeches, and so had helped each other during the week between finals and graduation to work out what they were going to say.

"It's not everyday that a poor city squirrel like myself gets a look at a genuine rodent-scale castle..." Tammy began.

As Tammy continued her speech, Herbie turned to Gadget, who was less than an inch from him, and found himself tongue-tied. "Cccongratuations on the paper, Mmiss Hackwrench."

Gadget's attention was focused on Chip, who was ponderously ascending the steps with the biggest pile of papers Herbie had ever seen in the arms of a rodent. "Hm?" she said at last, looking his way. Even distracted, her beauty was enough to send Herbie's knees knocking. "Oh, well, yes, thank you, and please, just call me Gadget," she said, before turning back and guiding Chip towards Professor Hoppernickel.

"Professor," she addressed him, "I hope you received those notes I sent you last week."

"Yes," he said, heavily. "I only just finished them this morning. They made for some...interesting reading."

"I can understand if you found the arguments a little hard to swallow. There were certain items I lacked the time, or the ability, to reproduce." She gestured at Chip's load. "Perhaps if we find somewhere a bit more private to discuss the offer I made?"

"Hm...yes," Hoppernickel said, frowning. "There's a dressing room in the back we could use." He tapped Herbie on the shoulder to get his attention, and then turned back to Gadget. "You don't mind if Mr. Tanglefoot joins in? As you must know, I will be leaving the country tonight, and will not be available for the next few weeks, so I took the liberty of making a copy of your notes for him to read. That way he can attend your demonstration in my place."

Gadget looked at Herbie like this was the first time she had noticed him. "Herbie? Yes, I should have thought of that myself. He will do nicely."

Herbie looked down at the stage in embarrassment. "I, erm, haven't finished reading your notes, Miss Hackwrench, but I should have them done by tomorrow morning."

The professor quickly stepped between Gadget and Herbie and pulled the latter aside, a worried expression on his face. "You haven't, by any chance, started reading the appendices yet, have you?" he asked in a low voice. The question seemed very important to the elderly squirrel.

"No, I'm still in Section Eight," replied Herbie, puzzled.

Professor Hoppernickel looked relieved. "Good, good." He pointed at the chest pocket in Herbie's overalls. "Is that it?" he asked. Without waiting for an answer, he continued. "Do you think I could look at them for a minute? You don't really need those appendices for the presentation and perhaps..."

"Professor, are you coming?" Gadget and Chip had advanced down the hallway that led backstage from the wings and were standing at the door of the dressing room.

"This conversation is not finished," the professor warned his former student, before turning to the two Rescue Rangers. "On our way!"

"...but I swear I have no idea how that got there!" Tammy told the crowd with a twinkle in her eye. As they laughed at her punch line, Tammy's eyes wandered over to the wings. She saw her mother and sister watching attentively, but there was no sign of Herbie, Gadget, or, most importantly, Chip.

Once the two Rescue Rangers and the two academics had reunited, the Professor closed the door, blocking out the sound of the crowd laughing at one of Tammy's jokes. Seeing a sturdy table along one wall, Chip happily put down the several pounds of paper his wobbling legs were barely supporting. "The torture, it's over!" he announced jokingly. Gadget gave him a hard look.

"Now then," said Professor Hoppernickel with a somber expression, "I have indeed read your notes about spying on alternate universes, and what you are proposing is far, far beyond what I would be comfortable having my name associated with. Can you imagine what would happen to my reputation if I were to sponsor a paper in support of such an...unconventional topic?" His eyes grew distant, as he contemplated the worst fate possible to an astrophysicist: "I'd never be invited to a conference again." He looked at her beseechingly. "Surely you can choose a safer line of inquiry? One easier to prove?"

"Prove?" Gadget asked in a dangerous tone. "You wish me to prove my claims? I may have accidentally given you the false impression that Musical String Theory was devoid of experimental confirmation in my original letter, but in fact the experiments I have performed with the Dimensional Viewer came first, and the theory came after. The reason I wanted the theory published first is because that was the only part I was sure the scientific establishment would accept. But that part," she said earnestly, pointing at the piles of paper Chip had put down, "that is the vision I had five months ago, a vision I plan to share with the world!" She looked up at Chip's worried expression, and realized she had been wandering into Nimnul territory again. "Yes, well with your help, of course," she concluded gently.

"And does that 'vision' include Appendix A of the notes you sent me?" Hoppernickel asked dryly.

Gadget winced slightly. "Ah...well, perhaps I should have waited until after the demonstration to show you that part."

"Yes, about that demonstration - I don't think anything less than seeing with my own eyes whatever wonder you claim to have witnessed would be enough to convince me of the truth of what you're claiming. Now if we hurry, perhaps you could show me your device right now, before it would interfere with the class trip?"

"That would be perfect!" exclaimed Gadget, "We'll just go over to HQ, wait. There was some reason why I can't do that. What was it?" she asked herself in confusion. "Think, Gadget, think!"

Chip stepped forward, although he looked about as befuddled as Gadget. "Wasn't it a power problem or something?"

"Yes, that's right. Thanks, Chip! The device currently has a power problem, but I hope to have that resolved tomorrow morning."

The professor sighed. "I'm afraid I'll be halfway to Nepal by tomorrow morning. Perhaps you can find another sponsor, someone more sympathetic to your views..."

The worried look on Gadget's face made it clear that all other avenues in this direction had already been followed to dead ends. "No, wait!" she pleaded. "I do have reproduction pictures of its display..."

"I'm sorry, dear," he interrupted, "but you can't prove anything with 'reproduction pictures'."

"These pictures are very conclusive. They are unlike anything possible in this universe. Here, let me show them to you..." She walked back to the table, retrieved some photographs, and then presented them to the professor with a defiant look on her face.

The professor looked through the small pile of photographs more than once, first quickly, and then slowly, turning them this way and that. His expression grew more and more confused until, for a brief moment, he broke out into a panic. But he quickly fought that down, leaving a neutral expression on his face.

"While these may be interesting," he said carefully, "I'd have to see actual results in order to make any overreaching conclusions on the validity of your claims. Perhaps after Nepal, we can get in touch."

Gadget steamed. "Oh...oh..." she began, but then suddenly calmed down. "Actually, that sounds quite reasonable." She turned to look at the overflowing table of paper. "I've got a few notes I used to write the paper; are you interested in seeing those as well? I've got rough drafts, a list of alternate titles by Dale, my attempts to reproduce the images manually before I invented the improved photographic apparatus..."

The professor was already at the door of the dressing room, Herbie's shoulder tightly gripped in his free hand. "Perhaps another time," he explained, retreating, "as my granddaughter is having a graduation party, you see. So if you don't mind I think I better locate her and congratulate her on a job well done." The two exited the room, revealing a long line of love-struck sophomore boys and girls that had tracked Chip and Gadget to this room.

Chip looked at the pile of paper with trepidation. "Will you be needing me to pick those back up again? I'm just beginning to feel my arms."

"It couldn't have been that bad!" said Gadget.

"Were you holding them?"

"Hmm. On second thought, I better review them for inadvertent errors before the professor sees them."

"Do whatever you need to. Just please, please, don't make me lift them again!"

Gadget waved her hand absently in Chip's direction. "You're free to go." She advanced on the pile and started organizing the mess as he walked out the door, to be instantly surrounded by Sandra and her two friends. Seeing that she was alone, the entire male sophomore class got into a shoving match to determine who would approach her first. The winner, a towering mountain of a squirrel nearly as big as Tank, came up behind her.

"Hey," he said. "S'up. They call me 'Hematoma'. Wanna make out?"

She turned on him suddenly, her eyes bloodshot. "WHAT?"

"Hematoma" bolted, crying. "Mommy!" Gadget returned to her work.

Once past the maelstrom of male students, Professor Hoppernickel addressed Herbie: "So, you have read most of Gadget's notes - what do you think? Do alternate universes exist?"

"I'm aware of your views on the subject, Professor," Herbie answered cautiously.

"You're not my student anymore, Mr. Tanglefoot, and you never had to worry about hurting my feelings."

"Well, now that Miss Hackwrench's 'Special Theory' of Musical Strings has been expanded into a 'General Theory', it does appear that the existence of an incredible number of alternate universes is a central part of that theory, indeed, that the theory would fall apart if our universe were the only universe in existence."

"So she has convinced you?"

"It all holds together remarkably well."

"Yes, but you do not suspect how shaky her foundation is. I'll admit that I originally agreed to sponsor Gadget's paper for the base reason that it gave me a way to fight back against my colleagues, the majority of which believe String Theory is utter hogwash. But now that I can see the whole of it, and the photographs that inspired the theory in the first place...have you ever heard of John Nash? He won the Human Nobel Prize in Economics. Had a complete mental breakdown in 1959 for schizophrenia. His brain was so tuned to pulling patterns out of the noise that when it ran out of things to make sense out of, he started pulling patterns out of rubbish. Communist conspiracies planted in the want ads of the New York Times, that sort of thing. Now take a look at the so-called 'proof' of Ms. Hackwrench's paper - these photos contain nothing but static. She must have stared at them and stared at them until her mind snapped and started seeing patterns that weren't there. So sad. The same thing happened to some of my graduate students - it's the reason I switched to teaching at the Academy."

"May I take a look?" Herbie asked.

"Sure," the professor replied, handing them over. The photographs were chiefly remarkable for the immense number of colors employed. There were so many of them that they dazzled the mind. Otherwise, there was no pattern to be found in any of them - no black outlines, no solid fields of color.

"I can't really see anything, either," Herbie concluded. "This area in the middle of this one could be a figure, but if there is one, the picture is too noisy to be sure."

"There, you see?" Professor Hoppernickel said nervously. "This sort of thing is an occupational hazard of being an astronomer or a physicist, but when you're an astrophysicist, you get the worst of both worlds. Anti-gravity, perpetual motion, the secret fate of the universe - I get 'papers' on these subjects every year from assorted nuts wanting somebody to agree with them. Some of them get rather violent if you don't. Although this one," he referred to his copy of Gadget's notes, "is so well organized I was almost ready to sponsor it." He sighed, removing his glasses and pinching his nose. "Until I read the appendices. I don't suppose I can convince you not to read Appendix A before we've both seen a demonstration of that device?"

Herbie looked away awkwardly.

Hoppernickel sighed. "No, I don't suppose I can force that kind of promise out of you. You're a born scientist, Mister Tanglefoot, just like me, and a born scientist can't keep his snout, or in your case beak, out of the mysteries of the universe, no matter how painful. Just promise me this: try to remember how you felt about Miss Hackwrench before you read it." Herbie offered to return the photographs. "No, keep them," the professor replied, as he started walking back towards to stage. "Come along, Mister Tanglefoot, you have a speech to give."

Herbie followed the professor in silence, putting the photographs beside his copy of Gadget's notes.

Chapter 5: The Rescue Ranger Fan Club

As Professor Hoppernickel and Herbie re-entered the stage, they found that Tammy had long-since concluded her speech and was now mingling with the crowd. As Herbie waited, the professor took the microphone for his next introduction.

"If I may have your attention once again, it's time for another speech, by a young dove who graduated fifth in his class! Please give a warm welcome to Mr. Herbert Tanglefoot, Jr."

There was a polite smattering of applause as Herbie made his way to the microphone. Once there, he adjusted his spectacles, pulled out his notes for the speech, and sniffed nervously before beginning. "I...I've been curious about how the world worked for as long as I can remember. The mathematical formulae discovered by the great scientists to describe the physical world have at times seemed more real to me than the confusing and easily-deceived evidence of my senses..."

Seeing Tammy on the floor, the professor attempted to make his way down the staircase to greet her, but was intercepted halfway down by Herbie's father. The salesdove had just emerged from the curtains surrounding the stage. "Professor Humperdinck, just the man I was looking for!"

"Actually, that's Hoppernickel, sir. Now if I could just go around..."

Herb ignored this attempt to evade him and instead grabbed Hoppernickel's hand and shook it vigorously. "Herb Tanglefoot's the name, and storage solutions is my game. Professor, have you ever considered the many uses that a Foreverware container could have in your home?" He bowed his head slightly as if in reverence as he mentioned the name of his employer.

Less than six inches away, Herbie sighed inwardly and raised his voice somewhat so that he could still be heard above the sales pitch.

"...and so I conclude with this final piece of advice: the key to achievement is to find the one thing that comes easily to you, and focus all your efforts on being the best at that one thing that you can be." Herbie had reached the end of his speech. Tammy appeared to be the only person who was still listening to him. "Thank you," he said quietly, and then he crossed the stage to return to the wing. He was determined to read the rest of Gadget's notes before the end of the party, so he started looking around for someplace to sit. The dressing room was out, as Gadget had still not emerged from there. He decided he would just have to drag a chair over to where he was right now.

As he stepped back out to the food-serving half of the stage, he noticed Dale and Foxglove hanging a red curtain over a clothesline that had been set up on the right side of the floor. A sign on an easel nearby proclaimed "The Great Dale-dini: Magic Munk Extraordinaire! (will work for chocolate)"

Ah, the magic show, Herbie thought wryly to himself. Designed to keep the kids from going bonkers after eating all of the cookies Dad brought in his Foreverware containers.

"Cookie?" asked an excited Beth, who had suddenly appeared at Herbie's side.

Herbie jumped. "Don't do that!"

Beth smiled up at him innocently. "Cookie, cookie, cookie."

", thanks," he said, confused. "I'm saving my appetite for later."

Beth frowned and put her hands on her hips. "No, silly. I want a cookie." After thinking a bit, she realized her mistake. "I'd like a cookie. Please. Pretty please with sprinkles on top?"

Herbie sighed. "Sure, you can have one." Taking Beth's hand, he led Beth in between the tables. His father's Foreverware containers were everywhere you turned, but most of them had already been emptied. Eventually he found one with some sugar cookies inside.

"Yay, cookies!"

"Oh, oh, can I have one too, Herbie?" At the sound of one of his favorite words, Dale had appeared at Herbie's side. Laughing, he grabbed two for himself.

Beth's mother Isabel, her plate covered with vegetables, also happened to be in the area, and she honed in on the sound of her daughter about to break one of her cardinal rules.

"No, no, Beth," she warned, "what have I always told you?"

"'No sweets before dinner'," recited Beth. She reluctantly removed her hand from Herbie's and offered it to her mother.

Isabel took it with a smile. "That's right," she told her daughter. "I don't want you bouncing off the walls."

"Not even one teensy-weensy cookie?" Of course, the cookies in the container were bigger than Beth's head.

"No. And that goes for you too, Dale. Put them back."

Dale pouted. "Aw, you're not even my mom!"

"I don't need you on a sugar high, either."

A group of kids had already gathered in front of the makeshift curtain in anticipation of the show. "We want the Great Dale-dini!" they chanted. "We want the Great Dale-dini!"

Hearing this, Dale tried his puppy dog eyes on Isabel. "If Dale can't get one, can Dale-dini?"

Isabel grinned. "If you get to your show in the next minute, yes."

Dale returned one of cookies and took a bite out of the remaining one before getting a good look at it. He then saw that all of the cookies had Rescue Ranger heads iced on them.

"Um, why am I eating myself?"

Beth fell to the ground laughing.

"But I am!"

Monty approached the table at the sound of laughter and had a look for himself. "Aw, a smidgen of sugar in your likeness won't hurt, I don't think," he said, claiming the cookie that Dale had returned.

Free of Beth, Herbie looked around for a chair. The only ones he could see were stacked against the wall at the opposite end of the hall. The young dove descended the stairs from the stage, passing Professor Hoppernickel, who was still unable to escape from Herb Sr.'s sales pitch.

Herb pulled his son aside as he tried to pass. "Now son, tell the professor here that the brochure does not lie when it claims that Foreverware will indeed protect anything sealed inside until the next ice age."

"I'm not going to say that!"

"But Foreverware is an honest company!"

"As honest as a professor looking for grant money," the professor commented dryly.

Herb nodded, misunderstanding him. "There you go! You might as well tell me that the stuff on TV is not true. I wonder," he whispered to himself, "when those poor castaways on Gulliver's Island will ever be rescued?"

"1978," Herbie replied.

Herb dismissed this answer. "Anyway! Let me give you a demonstration of the preservative powers of the patented burpomatic suction action, guar-an-teed to put your food in a state of suspended..."

Herbie found himself forced to resort to extreme measures. "Oh say, is that Gadget I see coming this way?"

The salesman froze, looking around. It just so happened that Gadget was in fact emerging from the wings at just that moment, followed by a dozen of the boys who had not been deterred by the fate of "Hematoma".

Herb quickly shoved a small Foreverware container containing his business card into Hoppernickel's hands before dashing back to his hiding spot as fast as his short legs could carry him.

Gadget, upon reaching the stairs, stopped to look about her strangely. "I sense something..." she said to herself. "A presence I've not felt since..." With a toss of the head, she snapped out of her spell and made her way over to join the chaperoned Chip in waiting for Dale and Foxglove's magic show.

Herbie walked purposefully across the floor towards the stack of chairs. As he did so he passed Tammy, who had her hands on her hips trying to think of a way to get Chip alone so he could hear her speech.

"Miss President?"

Tammy turned to see two shy and skinny British pigeons, a sophomore boy and his younger sister, members of the Rescue Ranger Fan Club. They were informally known as the "A/V Geeks" due to their shared fascination with video cameras and CD players. Although two years apart in age, they were the same height. The feathers atop the sister's head were blond in color, while the brother's head tended towards a reddish hue. Tammy seemed to almost hear "Molly" sing her a little ditty about the two of them.

Tammy smiled and addressed the fans. "You can just call me Tammy, OK? I won't bite, I promise."

"OK...Tammy," the sister replied. "We, that is, Michael and I..."

The brother in question stepped forward. "What Jane here is trying to say is that we've got this smashing idea for something the whole club can do, and we wanted to find out what you thought before we left for the trip."

"Well, what is it?" Tammy asked.

"Rescue Rangers: The Movie," the two teens solemnly intoned.

Tammy was taken aback, although it seemed like "Molly" was expecting this very development. "A movie?" she asked. "Starring the Rescue Rangers?"

"Well, not starring them," explained Jane. "We were thinking the group of us could get together to re-enact how the Rangers got together as a team."

"The first Clutchcoin Ruby Case."

"That's right," said Michael. "We've got the casting all figured out. I will play Dale, and Jane will play Gadget."

Tammy smiled. "There were a lot of humans involved in that case. Who will play Detective Drake, for example?"

"Oh, we got that all figured out," Michael replied. "We'll keep the humans off-camera and use voice effects to make them sound big and booming. We were thinking of having our parents play those voices."

"And then there's the settings," Tammy continued. "How will you portray Glacier Bay? Or the mountain of green gelatin?"

This stopped the two siblings cold. "We hadn't gotten that far, actually," said Michael. "I guess it isn't that great of an idea, after all."

Seeing them staring down at their toes at the death of their idea, Tammy reached out her hands and lifted their chins. "I wouldn't say that," she told them. "How about if you make it into a radio play instead of a movie? I'm sure we'd be able to pull that off."

"Yeah, that would work great!" exclaimed Michael. "We'll get right on it."

"Now hold on, you two," said Tammy. "I still need to see if this is all right with the Rescue Rangers. You can spend your free time on the trip working out the details, but don't tell anybody else yet, just in case."

"Alright, Tammy, we won't!" Jane said. The two doves turned and walked away, talking excitedly to each other.

Tammy smiled at a job well done. "See," she said quietly to her unseen watcher, "I told you they'd eventually find a less destructive way of using their talents."

Her attention was then caught by the voice of Foxglove.

"What you are about to see is pretend," Foxglove was saying. "A little game we are playing where we act like we have magical powers. Know that this is not real magic, which is a nasty thing that should not be practiced under any circumstances."

Tammy turned around to see the curtain and easel that had been set up. A sign proclaimed that there was to be a magic show by "The Great Dale-dini Himself", but Dale was nowhere to be seen. Foxglove, apparently acting as the absent magician's assistant, was somehow fitted into a rather tight red dress that might have caught the attention of some of the sophomore males attending the party if they weren't all at this moment trying to get Gadget's attention.

Tammy looked once more at Sandra Herzog and her two helpers, who were still maintaining a jealous guard of Chip, turning away anyone else their age that tried to approach. Seeing Tammy's look, Sandra turned and mouthed the word "mine" at her.

"Oo!" Tammy cried in frustration.

"Still mad about the Yankees?" asked the same sports-obsessed dove from an hour before.

Suddenly struck by inspiration, Tammy reached out her arm and stopped Herbie, who was re-crossing the floor with a chair in his wings. "The Rescue Rangers are the only guests at this party who don't live in the spruce tree!" she exclaimed with excitement.

Herbie turned his head to look at her. "So?"

"So, everybody else will use the back door to the stairway to leave, while the Rangers will probably be using the front door!"


"That will be the perfect chance!"


Tammy sighed. "I'll explain later. I just need you to make sure the Rangers use that door. Can you do this for me? Please?"

Herbie sighed. "All right." He then changed course to plant his chair at the right side of the stage near the rear exit. Once settled, he pulled out the copy of Gadget's notes and began to read.

After saying goodbye to her grandfather, Tammy left the common room via the front door, leaned against the trunk of the tree, and looked up at the stars. She wondered how long she'd have to wait.

As he read, Herbie listened to Foxglove conclude her pre-performance spiel. "Remember kids," she concluded, "that this shouldn't be tried at home. And given that Dale's doing it...maybe not at all."

"I heard that!" Dale exclaimed, marching his way from the hall's permanent stage to the front of the magic show and trailing cookie crumbs as he went. He was wearing a standard-issue magician tuxedo and top hat, if the place doing the issuing was Las Vegas.

"Yay!" the kids shouted, "The Great Dale-dini!"

Dale quickly swallowed his rather dry cookie. "Well...(cough)...I'm glad you're all here. I wasn't expecting such a crowd." He pressed the play button on a portable tape recorder, and a tinny version of a dark fanfare was heard. "I'm...Dale-dini," he said, dead-pan, imitating his current favorite cartoon character.

"Yay!" the kids shouted.

Dale leaned in close to Foxglove. "We may do better than I thought," he whispered.

"Always nice to exceed expectations, sweetie," she said, kissing him on the nose.

Dale leaned back with a start. "Well! Ladies and gentleman, please have a seat, for the show is about to start!"

The kids launched into a vigorous game of musical chairs, despite the fact that there were no chairs, before ending up sitting cross-legged on the floor. Chip, Gadget and the other adults decided to remain standing.

"Alright," Dale said, rubbing his paws together, "so what trick would you like to see first?"

"Pull a rabbit out of your hat!" yelled a young dove at the back of the audience.

"'Hey Rocky'," quoted Dale, "'Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!'"

"My name's not Rocky, it's Sammy!" the kid yelled back.

Foxglove gently tapped Dale on the shoulder. "Sweetie, I don't think these kids are old enough to get that joke."

"Fine!" Dale said. "Anyway, here is my hat!" He removed his top hat and placed it on the table. "Nothing up my sleeves!" he added, rolling them up.

Reaching deep into the hat, he pulled out a full-sized lion's head, filling a significant portion of the hall.

All but one of the kids screamed; Sammy response was "That's not a rabbit!"

Dale jumped up and down on the head a few times until it was sucked back into the hat. He got up off of the ground and wiped the sweat from his brow. "Sorry, guys," he said, replacing the hat on his head. "I guess I'm a little rusty!"

His beak buried in Appendix A of Gadget's paper, Herbie didn't notice a thing.

The show went quite well after that, although the ending was a bit inexplicable. Chip was quite impressed by the part when The Great Dale-dini brought the entire audience back to the meeting hall. Which assumes that he had made them disappear, which Chip wouldn't swear to.

"Again! Again!" cried the child audience. The adults just blinked uncomprehendingly.

The crowd of children rapidly dispersed as Dale and Foxglove started packing up their "magic stuff". Chip and Gadget emerged from the crowd to complement Dale on the show. "That was absolutely amazing!" Chip exclaimed. "How did you get the saw to spontaneously combust like that?"

"I really wish I knew," Dale said sheepishly.

"So do I!" Foxglove added indignantly.

"Well regardless," Chip said, "just an amazing show, buddy!"

Dale grinned. "Thanks, but it's much easier to do when you have a wonderful assistant."

Just then, Zipper flew over and signaled to Chip, Dale, Gadget and Foxglove. "Monty's in trouble," he buzzed.

Standing nearby, Ken Herzog, the Rescue Rangers self-proclaimed "biggest fan", looked around in annoyance. "Alright, who let a fly into this party?"

Chip sighed. "Please don't tell me it involves, let's see, um..."

"Cheese," Dale completed the sentence. "Don't tell us it involves cheese!"

Zipper shook his head. "No, this is serious."

The four of them headed up to the stage, Foxglove stumbling for a moment on the hem of her dress.

Monty was sitting on the edge of the stage, stunned. Various guilty-looking parents were offering him cheese off of their plates. He accepted, just to be polite.

"What happened?" asked Chip.

"Well," said one squirrel father, "we asked Mr. Jack here if there were any stories he could tell to entertain us. The stories with Professor Nimnul are Will's favorites, so he asked for the story of your latest encounter with him." The father named Will, a dove, glared at the one speaking.

"...And I can't remember a single thing!" Monty said.

This caused quite a commotion in the crowd, so Chip did his best to defuse it. "Dale, you didn't pull any tricks with Monty's brain did you?"

Dale looked inside his hat to see if a brain might be hiding there. "Wasn't me!"

"Well," said Will, "it's not important. I'm sorry to cause such a fuss. You wouldn't even know it was me if blabbermouth Frank here hadn't offered that extra little tidbit of a name." The two fathers glared at each other, which caused the two young sons standing beside them to do the same. Will's son was Sammy, the same smart aleck from the magic show.

"Oh, but it's a reasonable request," said Chip good-naturedly. "Dale, you're the second-best storyteller among us. Why don't you tell these good people the story, while the rest of us help Monty get some fresh air."

"Oh," said Dale, daunted by the task before him, "um, I guess...Chip!"


"Could you help me tell the story?"

Gadget indicated that she, Foxglove and Zipper could take care of Monty without further assistance, so Chip replied, "Sure! What do you need?"

Dale positioned Chip in front of a column on the stage that was a little out of the light. He pushed Chip's shoulders slightly so that he was leaning against the column, then crossed Chip's arms in front of him and lowered his hat so his eyes were covered from view.

"I'd give you a coin to flip if I had one...." Dale muttered. Turning back to the audience, he said, "Okay, Chip will be my cool sidekick, and correct me if I make any mistakes. Isn't that right, Chip?"

Chip tried to get into character. "Right. Um, right-e-o?"

"Don't push it. And Chip, pull up your pants a bit 'k?"


"Dramatic effect! Anyway, our story begins a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away."

Chip rolled his eyes. "More like back in February at Ranger HQ."

"Fine, I'll tell it your way." With amazing chipmunk speed, he began again. "Well, one night there was thunder and lightning. I got up to see what was happening, 'cause I like that sort of stuff."

"A little slower, Dale."

Herbie had rushed through the rest of Gadget's notes. He studied the photographs Gadget had claimed as proof of her claims for several minutes, stopping finally to remove his glasses and rub the top of his beak wearily between two wing feathers. After staring at the packet of notes for a few moments, he tore off the back page and started working through some calculations on the back with a golfer's pencil stub. In the corner of his eye he caught Foxglove, Gadget and Zipper shepherding Monty towards the outer exit. He returned to his work for a few seconds, before realizing that the party was not yet due to end and Chip and Dale were not with them. Looking around, he saw most of the guests surrounding the two chipmunks. He glanced back down at the figures, but he wasn't particularly happy with what they were telling him, so he put them and the notes back in his chest pocket and quietly joined the crowd. He asked his mother, the most expert gossip he knew, what he had missed. She quickly filled him in.

Not long after he had caught up, Herbie saw that Gadget, Monty and Zipper had returned to the party. Monty had a cold compress on his head.

"Gadget said the machine was a capacitor of sorts," continued Dale, "and that we couldn't really stop it unless we wanted to risk being fried animals. So we just watched as Nimnul yelled about going to some 'new world' or something. Then he set the machine off and part of it melted, but it was supposed to do that, so he ran right at the machine like this."

Dale make a quick run at Chip's pillar. Chip got out of the way just in time as Dale slammed into it and mimed wooziness. The kids laughed loudly.

"See!" Dale explained. "It didn't work!"

"Luckily for us," Chip said, "the police came up at that time to clean up everything like they always do. They took Nimnul away, although he seemed delirious from the fall. His failure made him so crazy that they put him into a mental asylum, where he's been ever since." He pointed at the child who was waving her arm in the air. "Yes, Beth?"

"Chip, what does 'deli-eerie-oos' mean?"

"He seemed very out of it, very nuts."

"Isn't that a constant state of his?" said Frank.

"More nuts than usual," Chip replied. Several adults in the crowd chuckled.

"Anyway," added Dale, "having vanquished Nimnul once again, we headed home for a great night of fancy detective stuff."

"Namely Clue: Master Detective," Chip said. "I won."

Dale stepped forward in a heroic stance. "And the world was safe once again thanks to the..."

"Rescue Rangers!" the crowd cheered.

"Exactly," said Dale.

Chip saw another hand up, from a familiar teenage squirrel. "You have a question, Sandra?"

"That was a great story you just told, Chipper."

"The name's Chip. And that was Dale telling the story, not me."

"Whatever. Anyway, my question is, if I was in mortal danger, would you save me? Because you could. Save me, that is. Anytime." To complete the question, she fluttered her eyelashes at him.

"Are there any other questions?" Chip asked desperately. The hands and wings of the half of the female sophomore class went up, several accompanied by squeals of "Pick me! Pick me! Don't pick her, pick me!" "No more questions then," Chip quickly concluded.

The crowd began dispersing, all except for Beth, Isabel and Herbie. Gadget turned to Dale. "Actually," she told him, "you forgot the part about finding the Dimensional Viewer at Nimnul's lair, but that would probably act to disrupt the flow of the narrative, so it was better if it was left out. It actually happened, mind you, but you don't need to know that if the goal is to know how Nimnul was defeated. If on the other hand you wanted to know about the history of the D.V., which even I don't know in full...Hey, where did everybody go?"

Isabel checked the wall clock. "The party's just about over, anyway."

Chip snapped his fingers. "I can't believe I nearly forgot!" he exclaimed. He climbed up a chair to address the crowd. "Everybody, I have an announcement to make! Gadget, could you get Foxglove?"

Chapter 6: New Member

Ten minutes earlier, Tammy was sitting cross-legged on the porch outside the meeting hall, stargazing. "Molly" seemed to have a strong fascination for the sky, particularly on clear days and nights. Tammy was busy pointing out the curve of the Milky Way, when she was surprised to hear the doors behind her open about a half-hour earlier than she had anticipated. She turned to see Monterey Jack walking out flanked by Gadget and Foxglove, with Zipper hovering above. From their expressions, Tammy instantly knew something was wrong. "Is there anything I can do to help?" she asked, getting up.

Gadget turned suddenly, surprised to find Tammy beside her. "I don't know," she said. "Monty appears to be having some trouble with his memory. Actually, I think we all are."

"Memory trouble?" said Tammy, seeing a chance to help her heroes. "Does Professor Nimnul have some kind of mind ray that he's using on all the animals in the park, hoping by sheer luck to deprive the Rescue Rangers of the knowledge of their very identities???"

Gadget rested her chin on one paw. "Hm...that would make a good story. Unfortunately, Nimnul's been locked away in the mental institute for months."

"Oh," said Tammy, deflating. "Maybe it's a concussion."

"I don't remember hitting my head," Monty said. "But then, if I'm forgetting things, maybe I forgot that."

"Hmm...does your head hurt? Does it feel hot to the touch?"

"Not any hotter than an armadillo's back side!" he asserted. "...Or front side. Whichever's hotter, I guess." Foxy flinched, but she tended to do that whenever someone mentioned armadillos.

"Well, as my mom says, 'Take care of the body first, and the mind will follow.' I'll get a cold compress from the apartment, just in case."


Tammy dashed down the trunk of the tree to the next floor down, as only a squirrel (or a chipmunk) can. A few moments later, she returned with a small ice-filled bag, which she offered to Monty.

"I'm worried this memory problem could be affecting most, if not all, the Rangers," Gadget speculated out loud.

"Even Dale?" asked Foxglove.

"I'm not sure anybody could tell if Dale started losing his memory," Gadget replied seriously.

Monty took the bag of ice from Tammy and looked up at the three females now hovering around him.

"I think I'm feeling a little better," he lied. "Honestly." He got up and, linking arms with Gadget and Foxglove, prepared to return to the party. But first he stopped and looked back at Tammy.

Tammy shooed them forward. "Oh, I just need a breath of fresh air," she assured them. "You go ahead, I'll see you later."

"Alright," said Monty, reluctantly.

At the last moment, Foxglove excused herself and dashed back. "Congratulations on graduating, by the way," she confided in a low voice.


"Don't be too long. It is your party after all."

On the way back to the door Foxglove tripped and fell to the ground. Tammy rushed to her side and helped her up. "Are you all right?" she asked.

"Oh, I'm fine. It's just this dress."

"Is there something wrong with it?"

"No," Foxglove said with some trepidation. "It's a very good dress, one of Dale's better creations. I...I just don't get along well with clothes. It's something my parents always told me: physical confinement is the first step on the road to slavery. Well, not 'told', but that was the feeling I picked up from them whenever we encountered some of the clothes left behind by human tourists. I don't believe that now, but it's hard to get that out of my head."

Tammy was confused by this last statement. "Your...parents. Your birth parents? Weren't they feral?"

Foxglove nodded. "My whole family was feral. We lived in a national park in northwestern Connecticut."

"Foxglove, you told me about your parents before."

"I did?"

"Yes, when we first met."

Foxglove rubbed her head with a wing in bewilderment. "I could have sworn..." she murmured.

"Anyway, what I didn't know before is that you weren't found by a Caretaker at birth and given to a foster family, like all the other feral-born I know."

"We didn't have a Caretaker. Chip's looking into the reason. His current theory is that there was some kind of disaster decades before I was born that caused my family to flee the main colony to the other side of Bear Mountain, and the Caretaker for the colony thought we had all died."

"Wow," said Tammy. "What was it like to be a sentient raised by ferals?"

"They're not really like the stories I hear told to the sentient children. They are not monsters, they are just trying to survive like you and me, but they lack a lot of the tools we have, and their life spans are so much less than ours. You wouldn't believe how much they can communicate without using words. And the way they lead their lives is so in the moment. In some ways I miss how simple and direct everything was with them. No feral ever lied to me." She said this last sentence with a strange, far-away look. "All the same, it was rather strange, growing up so slowly compared to my brothers, and thinking nobody in the world was like me."

"But you were found eventually, right?" Tammy asked eagerly.

"Yes, that's right. I was found by Winifred. She's..."

"I know," Tammy interrupted somberly.

"Did I tell you about her and forget that, too?" Foxglove asked, worried. "I'm getting as bad as the Rangers are!"

"No, you didn't tell me about her," Tammy assured her. "That was Gadget."

"Oh! That makes me feel a little better."

"Foxglove?" asked Gadget, who had stuck her head out of the door a few seconds earlier, "are you going to be much longer?"

"No," replied Foxglove, who stopped a moment to check her dress again, "I guess I'm done." "Don't take too long with that breath of fresh air," she told Tammy, before joining the party.

Tammy nodded. She waited until they were both inside, then took her promised big breath of night air, looked around to make sure she truly was alone, and sat down at the edge of the branch. Behind her she heard some kind of cheer from inside the meeting hall, but it was too muffled for her to make out much.

Tammy cast a silent look of anticipation over her left shoulder in the direction of the door. The invisible something over her left shoulder was, if possible, even more excited than she was and was in an even more nostalgic mood than before, sending her a barrage of emotions that seemed to be tied to memories of Tammy's years at the Academy. To calm down, Tammy turned her attention to the grounds of the park far below. It was late, and this corner of the park never was a gathering point for humans, so Tammy was surprised to discover a human sitting on the park bench between the spruce and oak trees.

The human was wearing a threadbare coat, more patches than fabric, over a rather angular body. Her nose was long, her eyes small, and the hair that escaped from a woolen hat was so thin and so red it looked like it was a part of the hat rather than a part of the human.

Now as a squirrel in a city park, Tammy had gotten plenty of opportunity to observe humans at park benches, and she knew that a sitting human must always be doing something: feeding animals, or filling out a crossword puzzle, or at least eating an apple. But this human was just sitting. There was a bag handmade from canvas beside her, bulging with who knows how many distractions, but she was just sitting there, waiting, like she was about to visit the doctor for a checkup, or the lawyer for a reading of the will.

Distracted as she was trying to figure out what the human was up to and still dealing with "Molly" in overdrive, Tammy was nevertheless not surprised when a chipmunk's hand came gently down on her right shoulder; it was like they had been planning for this to happen all night.

Her eyes fluttering, she turned to greet her visitor. "Yes, Chip?" she asked dreamily...

...And looked up into the grinning face of Dale. "You planning on coming back in?" he asked. "Or does your mom need to take you in on a pallet?"

"Oh," she said, disappointed. "Dale." She suddenly felt incredibly alone - her invisible friend had left her before she had even seen who the chipmunk was.

"It wouldn't be much use for her to go back now," Chip said from over her other shoulder. "The party's over."

Tammy looked around, seeing Foxglove and the other Rangers exiting the building. I still have a chance to pull this off, she told herself. "I, uh, wasn't keeping track of the time," she said. Through the slowly closing doors, she caught glimpses of squirrels and doves crowding their way to the rear exit, to start on their long-promised field trip. "Did I miss much?"

Dale shrugged. "Chip and I told a story. There wasn't anything else worth remembering."

Foxglove gasped softly. Her face was red and some tears had run down her face, but they appeared to be tears of joy.

Tammy rose to her feet. "Did I miss something?"

"I don't know, did you?" Dale laughed.

Chip reluctantly bonked Dale on the head. "That was for Foxy's sake, not mine," he hastily explained. He turned to Foxglove and gently led her forward to stand before the squirrel. "Tammy, I'd like you to meet the newest member of the Rescue Rangers: Foxglove."

For a few seconds Tammy was speechless. Finally, she hesitantly hugged the bat and was able to choke out some words. "Con...congratulations, Foxy."

"It was a shock," Foxglove said as they parted.

"It shouldn't have been that much of a surprise," said Chip. "You knew as well as anybody that we were looking for a sixth member, and who else could we have picked?"

"Who else, indeed?" said Tammy in a hollow tone.

"I still think we should have gotten Fat Cat," Dale joked again. Now it was Zipper's turn to bonk Dale.

Chip cast a critical look in Tammy's direction. "Are you alright, Tammy? You look like you've seen a ghost."

"It, it's nothing," Tammy said. "I must have been out for too long."

Chip, not trusting this response, walked past her and looked out in the direction he had seen her looking when the Rangers had first left the party.

"Well, look who we have here!" He turned and addressed the group. "It's Freddie the Witch, still on probation...well, I think she's still on probation...." He wasn't very happy to see his taunt end so unsatisfactorily.

Everybody crowded over to get a look.

"What could she be doing here?" Gadget asked.

"That's Freddie?" Tammy asked. "I've read the case file, but of course it didn't have any pictures, and I never thought I would actually see her..."

Chip turned on her. "And where did you get your hands on that case file?" Chip didn't like word of the Rescue Ranger's more esoteric cases to become common knowledge, as he thought that would hurt the group's reputation as serious crime fighters.

"Well actually," said Gadget, "I let her see it. I didn't see what the harm could be."

"You didn't see the harm? She's the president of our fan club!" Chip exclaimed, turning to Gadget.

"What kind of probation could it be if she's allowed to visit a city park this late at night?" Tammy asked.

"A rather odd one, if you ask me," said Monty. "Did you know that she's serving her time working at the crazy house? The same place where Professor Nimnul is being kept."

Now Monty became the object of Chip's wrath. "Were you planning on sharing this vital tidbit of information anytime soon, or did we just get lucky?"

Monty looked down in shame. "I'm sure I would have remembered it. This head of mine..."

Chip sighed. "Just...don't. So they're working together; I knew Nimnul wouldn't stay locked up voluntarily! That's great, that's just great!"

Foxglove had been spending the last few minutes looking between the others with increasing nervousness as the volume of their voices had progressively increased. She hoped that Winifred hadn't noticed them bickering above her yet. "Do you mind if we leave now?" she asked. "Or at least I if do?"

Chip, catching her tone, took control of himself. "Right," he said, calmly. "First thing is to get her out of there before the students arrive. Zipper, I need you to get a human police officer to come here. Vagrancy is still illegal at this hour." Zipper saluted and flew off. "The rest of us need to get straight back to HQ and lock everything up for her inevitable return. Who knows what she and Nimnul are up to?"

Tammy shivered. "Can she use her magic against us?"

"I don't think so," said Foxglove. "That last spell of Winifred's would have converted her body into a conductor of magical energy, but since we ruined it, I think it might have had the opposite effect. Although..." she added as an afterthought, "she can still understand animals. That was her very first spell - she said it was in the nature of a 'dis-spell', actually, if that makes any sense."

Tammy moved to take a closer look at the woman being asked to leave by a patrolling police officer; a nearby street lamp winking out had attracted his attention. The woman looked rather sad to her.

"Hm," Dale said, "without her magic, she doesn't pose much, or any, threat then, does she?"

Chip shook his head violently in disagreement. "This is still Freddie we're talking about, people! She's a bad guy, and we're the good guys. It's as a simple as black and white."

"It wasn't always that simple for me," Foxglove said in a small voice.

Chip put an arm around the bat's shoulders "You're an exceptional case, Foxy. From what you've told us, that human down there is like so many of the others we have encountered: only thinking of herself and not caring who she hurts in order to get what she wants."

Tammy turned to face him, confused. "It can't be that simple, not even for her. Maybe she's here to help. Maybe she has a case for you."

"No." Chip turned his back on Tammy to address the Rangers. "We go back to HQ, we plan a schedule so one of us watches for her all night, and tomorrow we get her permanently out of the park before she hurts someone. Even without magic she's still capable of causing a lot of trouble."

"Just like that?" pleaded Tammy. "Isn't there a vote or something?"

Chip looked silently into the faces of the other Rangers, and did not find any argument. "Not this time."

"No argument from me," said Gadget. "My memory seems to be playing up."

"And what about me?" Tammy asked.

"And what about you?" Chip shouted Tammy down. "Fan club or not, you are not a Rescue Ranger! You're barely an adult, and at times like this, I question even that. I can't tell you what to do, but I would advise you, for your own safety, not to go anywhere near that human." He turned back to the others. "Come on, Rangers. We've got a rough night ahead."

Chip, Dale, Gadget, Monty and Foxglove, rejoined by Zipper, quickly made their way along the branch back to their home.

Tammy stood there, watching them, her hands balled into fists at her sides. She waited until they were out of sight, then turned at the sound below her of the Academy sophomores exiting the base of the spruce tree with their luggage.

"Good bye! Have a great time!" she cried out to the crowd, waving her arms wildly. She hoped none of them could see the tears streaming down her face.

Chapter 7: Appendix A

The party was over.

From the base of the spruce tree, the families of the departing students emerged with their luggage. As organizers of the party, the Tanglefoot family was there as well, to make sure this last step went smoothly. Squirrel and dove parents scrambled to get everything arranged (they were not helped by the fact that the nearby street light was out), and the students dealt with many tearful goodbyes from the family members not coming along on the trip. Herbie, as a veteran of such a trip, was asked multiple questions from sophomores and their parents about flying on an airplane and how to deal with the "dreaded jetlag".

Isabel Chestnutt stood next to her neatly organized pile of luggage, her daughter Beth's hand grasped firmly in her own. She looked around the crowd for Tammy, who had disappeared from the party earlier, but had not been found in the family's apartment. Her search ended with a cry from above.

"Good bye!" drifted down a voice. "Have a great time!" Looking up, the Chestnutts, Herbie, and a few others saw Tammy on a branch far overhead waving at them.

Isabel put her hands on her hips. "You take care of yourself, young lady, you hear me!" she cried.

Beth swiftly crawled up her mother to get on her shoulders. "Bye, Tammy!" she screamed, even louder than necessary. "I love you!"

"You, too, Beth!" replied Tammy after a pause.

Professor Hoppernickel looked up at a large clock mounted next to the bus stop located under the spruce tree. "Hurry! We only have a few minutes!"

It's rather rare for animals to travel using human conveyances, but they have a few tricks to employ when they do. Those going on the trip climbed into a ventilated plastic box labeled "Careful - Live Animals" and addressed to a lab in Uttar Pradesh, India. The box appeared to be a standard animal carrier, with a fake lock on the outside, while inside it resembled the inside of a small-animal scale airplane, complete with comfortable and secure chairs and a mechanism for opening the box.

As Herbie and the other animals left, a human bus pulled up to the stop and the driver got out to load the box for the first stage of its journey. Most of the remaining squirrels and doves re-entered the tree to begin the climb up the stairs to their apartments. The more adventurous squirrels climbed up the bark of the tree, while the stronger doves flew up into the moonless night, circling the tree in a corkscrew pattern. Among those preparing to take the latter course was the Tanglefoot family, despite complaints by Herb.

"So, son," he said, putting a wing around his younger son. "Now that you're back from school, what say you put your book learning to use building an elevator in this tree?"

Herbie looked up the trunk of the tall tree incredulously. "I don't know..." he said. "I guess it's doable. Maybe with Gadget's help..."

Herb's shoulders slumped. "Never mind," he muttered.

Tank smirked. "You know, you will have to introduce yourself to her at some point."

"Come along!" entreated Binkie, before taking to the sky.

Herbie winced as the dead streetlight he was looking at suddenly came back to life. He spotted a fly speeding away from the light, possibly Zipper, but he couldn't be sure. The dove made sure his chest pocket was fastened shut before following his family into the air. As he caught up, he found that his mother had been commenting on the party in mid-air.

"...and besides," she said, "what were the Rescue Rangers doing making a speech anyway? We didn't ask to know who their newest member was."

Herbie rolled his eyes. "Enough, Mum. Please, just give it a break."

This of course had no effect on Binkie's tirade. "And Tammy - wasn't she supposed to be the guest of honor? I figured she would have been there for that speech, but she skipped out on her own party!"

Herbie was about to reply, when he suddenly remembered a moment two years ago, when a frustrated Tammy was about to drop out of the Academy because of slipping grades.

"I'm going to fight through this, Herbie," she told him, "because if I don't graduate I don't see how I can ever be a deserving Rescue Ranger."

"Rescue Ranger fan," Herbie had corrected her.

"Yes...Rescue Ranger fan."

Herbie had a sudden suspicion of what Tammy was probably up to with her plotting tonight. He hoped she wasn't too disappointed.

After what seemed an eternity to Herbie with his mother's prattling, the family finally reached their home in the tree canopy. Waiting for them on their front porch was Tammy. She had her Rescue Ranger scrapbook in her lap and was idly turning the pages.

Now a dove home in the spruce tree was much different from a squirrel home. The doves preferred living out in the open, letting the foliage take the place of the squirrel's round walls. Only their living quarters and a little bit of storage space were enclosed in bubbles carved out of the larger branches. This made the Tanglefoot porch a stand-alone structure, two steps up, a few steps across, and another two steps back down again. The porch served four vital functions. It was a marker of where their property began on those rare occasions when anybody cared. Second, it was a place to put the barbecue. Third, it was a place to sit and gossip. And fourth...

Herb triumphantly crossed over the porch into the space "inside" it (differing in no way from the space "outside" it). "I'm home!" he proclaimed, hooking thumbs into the corners of his shirt and inflating his chest with pride. "Home, sweet home!"

"You know you always look like a pigeon when you do that," observed Herbie, but only Tammy appeared to notice what he had said. Tank deliberately bumped him on the way to his room. Almost immediately, the sinister opening chords of a heavy metal song emerged from Tank's portable radio, eventually followed by raspy lyrics: "Say your prayers, little one. Don't forget, my son, to include everyone."

"Enter Sandman" lyrics on YouTube.

Binkie was not going to ignore Tammy's presence, however. "Well, good evening, Miss Chestnutt," she said.

"Good evening," Tammy said, standing up.

Herb turned around. "Well, are you going to stay out there all night?"

"Herb's right," agreed Binkie, putting her planned grilling of Tammy off until later. "You must come inside. You'll catch your death of cold."

Tammy looked in confusion back and forth between the two sides of the porch. "Well, I don't mean to stay long."

"You just want to talk with Herbie, hmm? You two sure talk a lot. Well, I'll fix you both some lemonade. Come along and help me, Herbie."

Herbie silently followed his mother into their home. There they carried out private conversations that Tammy couldn't help but overhear, since there were no walls to block them.

"When are you going to ask her out?" was the first thing out of Binkie's mouth when they reached the kitchen.

"Mother!" Switching tacks, Herbie asked, "Weren't you just complaining about her behavior at the party?"

"She's a young woman. She's allowed to be contrary."

In the "front room", Herb turned the switch on a portable television set, and groaned loudly when nothing happened. He turned the TV around, removed the rechargeable battery from its back, then marched over to Tank's room and opened the door.

"Exit light! Enter night!" proclaimed Tank's stereo.

"Hey! Doesn't anybody knock?"

Herb grumbled, closed the door, and knocked.


Herb opened the door ("Take my hand. We're off to Never-Never Land!"), reached out, and claimed the battery powering Tank's radio.


"The TV battery's dead. Can't expect me to miss my shows now, do you?"

"Really, Dad," Herbie said as his father walked past, "that TV seems to have taken over all your entertainment. I can't remember the last time I saw you reading anything."

"I read the TV Guide!" Herb said, walking past his son without looking and immediately installing the fresh battery. "Did you read the article about the barbeque recipes of the stars? I've got to try out one or two of those."

"I stand corrected," Herb said dryly. Tank meanwhile took the dead battery over to a treadmill that Gadget had converted into a battery charger and got to work.

Binkie walked by with two glasses of lemonade on a tray. She walked onto the porch, deposited the glasses on a small table formed out of a chewed-off branch next to Tammy, and turned to return to the kitchen as Herbie sat down across from Tammy. "Don't mind us," she told Tammy. "We're going to bed anyway."

"What was that?" asked Herb. "I couldn't hear you because you were outside."

Binkie leaned over so her head was now "inside". "I said we're going to bed. It's quite late."

"Don't anybody move!" said the voice on the television. "I've got you all surrounded, single-handed! This is a shakedown!"

Herb pointed at the set and pouted. "You heard what Barney Flute said! We have to stay and watch the episode."

Binkie walked in by the "door" of the porch, turned and walked to the TV, and switched it off.

"Aw," said Herb, deflating.

Bink took his wing and led him like a child to their bedroom. "Bed, Tank," she said to their elder son as they passed.

"Aw, but..."

"You can charge the battery tomorrow. Besides, don't you have football practice tomorrow morning?"

"Wait, isn't school out?" asked a befuddled Herb.

"Hush," said Binkie.

"Yeah, practice!" said Tank, warming to the idea. He punched one balled-up wing into the other, giving Herbie a look that told him that he would be the victim of "tackle practice" at least once tomorrow, before returning to his room.

Herbie groaned. Tammy shook her head. "Isn't it great to be back home again?" she asked with a grin.

A few minutes passed while the two graduates silently drank their lemonades. Then Tammy reached across the table and took Herbie's wings in her hands.

"Herbie, be honest with me - do you think I'm a good fan?"

Herbie's brain froze. "Ah, well, that is...there's all kinds of're what I'd call an 'active fan'."

Tammy took back her hands. "And you're very much in the 'passive' category. You're the kind of fan I wish I could be, Herbie, you know that? You know everything about the Rangers, but you always remember to tell everyone about the things the Rangers want everybody to know about, and keep quiet about the rest. When they need help, you're there, and when they need some space to do their work, you're nowhere to be seen.

"I've been looking through the clippings," she continued, gesturing at the scrapbook beside her, "and I spotted myself in seven different photographs, twice nearly stealing attention from the Rescue Rangers. You're nowhere to be seen, exactly as a fan should be."

"There's nothing wrong with being enthusiastic, Tammy. I might spend the rest of my life as nothing more than a fan, but you stand a good chance to become a freelance detective someday. Do you remember the time we were looking for Professor Dottmeyer's lost beetle?"

"Yeah, that was fun."

"You were amazing, Tammy. I don't think even Chip would have tracked Bubbie down as fast as you did. And don't say it was luck. You've got an eye for detail, if you don't let yourself get carried away with preconceptions, like on the class trip."

"Well, that's just it, isn't it? I'm always letting myself get carried away. I tried to join the Rangers tonight, Herbie. The Rescue Rangers! What was I thinking? I'm nowhere near their class. Okay, maybe I found a beetle and some jewelry..."

"...and the Lost Tribe of the Huachi."

"Will you quit bringing that up? The fact is, I'm not what a Ranger fan is supposed to be. I trip up the Rangers when they are working, invite myself to their picnics, and try to act like Gadget's long-lost baby sister and play 'what's this do?' with her inventions all summer. I don't even know why she puts up with me the way she does."

"I don't think Gadget minds, Tammy. I think the two of you have something in common."

Tammy shrugged. "I guess. The only reason I haven't locked myself in my closet for the rest of the summer is because I found out about Foxglove being added before I had the chance to make an even bigger fool of myself than usual."

"So they don't know you were planning on joining?"

"No, and I hope they never find out."

"So, what are you going to do now?" Herbie asked. "It's too late to join the trip."

"Well," replied Tammy, "I guess I just have to continue to be the best fan I can be this summer, and try not to be so annoying."

"As long as we're on the subject of fandom, would you like to see that letter I got this morning?"

"Sure. Just to make it official: as president of the Rescue Ranger Fan Club, I hereby call this extraordinary meeting to order. Secretary Herbie, please present the only order of business."

Herbie paused for a moment in his unfolding of the notepaper he had removed from his chest pocket to give Tammy a confused look, then adjusted his glasses and began reading:

To President Tamara Chestnutt and Secretary Herbert Tanglefoot, Jr.:

My name is Alison, and I would like to join your club.

I found out about the Rescue Rangers five years ago, when they saved my friend Ptolemy from a gruesome fate. At the time, nobody believed me.

You can just imagine my excitement, then, when this morning Ptolemy showed me the minutes of your first meeting, which he had obtained at the public library. I am writing this letter in response to the call for new members, regardless of species.

"It appears that our decision to send that out to every animal library in the state has come back to haunt us," Herbie interjected.

"I don't see why you should be upset about it," replied Tammy.

"Wait until you hear the rest," Herbie said, before continuing:

Is the offer still good? I noticed that the report was from three years ago. Is there still a Rescue Ranger Club, and if so, are you still taking new members? I live rather far away and I suspect a meeting in person would not go so well, so perhaps I could be more of a pen pal member? There was no mention of membership dues in the minutes, but just to be safe, I have enclosed an acorn and some birdseed.

Tammy laughed. "I do believe that Alison is attempting to bribe the judges!"

"I'm afraid the acorn didn't survive the rigors of the avian postal service intact," Herbie said seriously. "As for the seed, if the mailbird didn't eat it, Tank did."

If everything is agreeable, you can send me meeting minutes at my address below, and I'll reply with my thoughts and anything regarding the Rangers I've found on my own. As an example, you will find my response to that first meeting on the second page of this letter. If you agree to this unusual request, I must insist that any correspondence be addressed directly to myself and using the acronym of your group on the envelope rather than the full name, as I would rather that my family did not know about this.

Regardless of your decision, I would like to thank the two of you for creating a fan club for a great group of heroes like the Rescue Rangers.


Alison Worthington, age 13

Harmony Farm

Lisbon, NY

"Would you like me to continue on with the second page, Miss President, or is page one enough for you to render a render a verdict on this application?" Herbie asked facetiously.

"Can you summarize it?" Tammy asked.

"Well, we covered the 'Risky Beesness' case for about ten minutes in that first meeting, as you may recall, and that's all that Miss Worthington's notes are about. Speculation about the size of Queenie's hive, the harmonics used in Irwina Allen's invention, that sort of thing."

Tammy nodded. "As I suspected. Yes, I think she would make a good member."

"Are you sure?" Herbie asked. "You do know what she is, don't you?"

"Of course I do," replied Tammy, smiling, "although I think you've come to a different conclusion than I did. Let's review the facts:

"We can see that the letter was run through a copier machine, probably to change its size. She states that a meeting in person would be a bad idea, and she doesn't want her family to know that she's dealing with us. And finally, she lives on Harmony Farm. What do you conclude from that?"

"I conclude that Alison Worthington is a human. A Speaker with a pet named Ptolemy who doesn't know the Rules."

"On the contrary, it's equally obvious that she is a honeybee, probably a royal daughter of a queen bee, with Ptolemy a young drone. I believe I saw a human selling jars of Harmony Farm brand honey at a farmer's market outside the Academy a few weeks ago. The case of Queenie notwithstanding, insects and small mammals have never gotten along very well, hence her desire not to visit and simultaneously not to tell her family that she follows the doings of us furry/feathered creatures."

"I'm not convinced."

"We can always ask the Rangers if they ever had a bee-related case in upper New York State before doing anything."


"Besides, even if she were a human, there are a few of them that can be trusted. The Rangers, for example, have two human FBI agents that they trust, named 'Mulder' and 'Scully'."

I've been dropping references left and right to one of my favorite fanfictions for quite some time now, but I expect this is the point, if ever, where you might actually be inclined to read it. If that is the case, then here is the link you're looking for.

Trying to change the subject, Herbie pulled his prize out of his chest pocket. "Speaking of seeing the Rangers, Gadget will be putting on a quite interesting scientific demonstration tomorrow. I think you should come along and see it."

"Yes, you told me about that earlier," said Tammy. "So, what exactly is she demonstrating?"

"Making contact with alternate universes." Herbie said this cautiously, watching Tammy intently to see how she'd react.

"Comic book territory?" asked Tammy incredulously.

Herbie shrugged slightly. "I can't fault Gadget's mathematics, but it contradicts the conventional wisdom. Physicists have known for some time now that on the subatomic level, everything is pleuripotent: anything that can happen, does happen, all at the same time. If you point a single photon of light so it can go through either of two slits with a fifty-percent probability, it will go through both at once, like it split in half. Only when that photon has to interact with the outside world is it forced, after the fact, to have gone through one or the other."

Tammy nodded. "'Quantum weirdness', right?"

"Yes. Physicists have spent decades trying to make sense of this, but essentially, they only have two possible explanations. The 'Many Worlds Hypothesis' states that every one of the possible outcomes actually occurs, but in an alternate universe. There's a universe where the photon goes right, and one where it goes left. This would mean that there are an infinite number of universes out there: one where Columbus never discovered America, one where the Tungunska Comet was really the vanguard of an alien armada, one where we never formed the Rescue Rangers Fan Club, even one where you have one more hair on your head than you do right now. Since every imaginable outcome must be represented, including universes operating on completely different sets of physical laws, Lewis Carroll's Wonderland is probably floating out there in one of those universes. Most physicists reject this theory.

"Instead, they follow the 'Copenhagen Interpretation', which states that all of the various possible outcomes mash into each other at the moment of observation to become the outcome that we see. Since each event has only one outcome, there is no longer a need for multiple universes. The physicist Richard Feynman had a method for determining the outcome for this scenario, called 'sum of histories'..."

"'Sum of histories'?" asked Tammy. "I think I had to do that in my Advanced Physics class. Is it the one where you plot out all the possible outcomes along with their probabilities on a sheet of graph paper, then add up the vectors?"

"Yeah, that's the one."

"Well, every time I did it, the probabilities added up to more than one hundred percent."

"You made a mistake."

"That's what the teacher said. But maybe it added up to more than a hundred percent because there's more than one universe."

"Um, I don't think it works that way. Probabilities can't add up to more than a hundred percent."

"Can you prove it?" taunted Tammy, leaning forward.

This flustered Herbie. "It's simple math!"

"But can you prove it?"

"Look, I'll check out my textbooks tonight, and I'll get you your proof tomorrow. Deal?" He held out his wing.

She shook it. "Deal. So I take it that Gadget belongs to the 'Many Worlds' camp?"

"She does, but not merely by choice. You see, back in February, the Rangers tried to stop Professor Nimnul from invading another universe." He told Gadget the story that Chip and Dale had reenacted at the party. "That device failed, but Gadget found that Nimnul's device for spying on alternate universes actually worked. Gadget thinks that Nimnul did not make the viewer, but instead found it in a government warehouse."

"What happened to Nimnul?" Tammy asked.

"When his machine failed, he totally lost it, and was thrown in the nut house."

Tammy glared at him over the nut reference.

"Oh, sorry, insane asylum."

"Apology accepted."

"He's been there ever since. Anyway, Gadget thinks that the DV (Dimensional Viewer) was originally built for spying - you set the device to pick up somebody's brainwaves, and then the machine would show you everything they were looking at, no matter where in the world they were.

"At some point somebody figured out that you could adjust more than just which subject you were spying on. You could also tune in the brainwaves of the subject's counterpart in any one of thousands of other universes."

"Does Gadget explain how this works?"

"That's where String Theory comes in. String Theory is an attempted 'Theory of Everything' that makes tiny vibrating strings the basic building block of the universe. The theory is really complicated, and so far impossible to prove.

"Gadget took the metaphor of the strings vibrating like musical instruments and made it literal, applying theories of harmonics to explain how different strings interact with each other. She claims that there is a fundamental 'overtone' produced by the combined vibrations of every string in the universe, and that alternate universes have slightly different overtones.

"The DV, in Gadget's view, modulates the brain waves it picks up, changing the overtone. Once that is done, you are no longer looking at the thoughts of somebody in this universe, but the thoughts of that someone's counterpart in another universe. At least, I think that is what she's saying - Gadget's logic was rather hard to follow."

"You're doing a lot better at following 'Gadget-think' than I ever could," said Tammy. "So, Gadget gets her hands on this device, plugs it in..."

"You can't run it on conventional electricity - it interferes with the signal. You have to use a tremendous amount of static electricity. In short, lightning storms. The Rangers must have been traveling to every thunderstorm for hundreds of miles around for Gadget to pick up the data she's used in her paper."

"So, what did she find?"

"She found lots of different universes, each of them with counterparts for the Rescue Rangers and Foxglove. She has a chart at the back listing the 36 universes most different from our own. She named this earth 'Earth-1', and the others are numbered from 'Earth-3' to 'Earth-37'. She spent most of her study on 'Earth-A', the one Nimnul was studying."

"Why does 'Earth-A' get a different kind of name than the rest?"

"That was Dale's idea." Herbie flipped through the paper until he found the passage he was looking for, which he read out loud. "'My colleague Dale suggested the name for this universe, on the theory that if members of 'Earth-1' and 'Earth-2' ever met, they might get into a fight over which universe gets to be called 'Earth-1', so we agreed to call this world 'Earth-A'. I did not inform him about the names given to the other universes, as I did not have 35 other alphabets/numbering schemes from which to extract the first member."

"Sounds like 'Dale-think' to me. What's 'Earth-A' like?"

"Weird. Lots more colors, several additional physical laws, and what Gadget calls 'true three-dimensionality'. She made some pictures of Rescue Ranger counterparts in Universe-A." He pulled out the loose photographs Gadget had given him and handed them to Tammy.

Like Professor Hoppernickel, she turned the pictures around several different ways, to reach a similar lack of results. "Nope, I can't see a thing with these, although they do seem familiar somehow. Maybe you need special glasses or something."

Herbie handed her the notes. "Gadget claimed to be able to understand them. Claimed they made a lot more sense in motion. She also thought that all of the animals on Earth-A were feral."

"What, all of them?" Tammy asked incredulously.

"All of the counterparts the Rangers were able to observe were feral, and they never saw any signs of sentient animals. Not one Caretaker. Gadget was very sure on this point."

"No Caretakers...I can't imagine any civilization of sentients allowing ferals to fend entirely for themselves," Tammy said reluctantly, turning back to the notes. "Gadget certainly is thorough," she said after flipping through the pages and seeing the frequent tables and charts. She stopped near the end. "Here's that chart you were talking about. 'Appendix B: A Brief Survey of Nearby Universes'" she read aloud. "Wow! I bet Dale loved this one where everyone was half robot. Hm...there's a footnote: 'Labeled "Borg Earth" by my colleague Dale'. I should have known."

"I wonder who watched that episode of Star Trek first?" asked Herbie. "Was it Gadget or Dale?"

"Gadget. I was visiting at the time. But Dale was the one who really got into it."

"Makes sense. I wouldn't put it past Gadget to make a working model of a warp-drive."

Tammy opened her mouth for a moment to say something, then thought better and closed it - she had promised Gadget never to tell another living soul, after all. "Wait," she said, changing the subject, "if this is Appendix B, what's Appendix A?"

Herbie took back the paper, then looked around to see if any doves were still up at this hour. "Um," he whispered conspiratorially, "I'm not sure you should see Appendix A."

"Why not?" she whispered back.

After some hesitation, he showed her the section's title.

"'Appendix A'" she read aloud, "'Signs That Earth-A Is...'" Her eyes bugged out. "She did not write that." She grabbed the paper from Herbie and checked again. "Yes, she did." In a barely audible voice she read, "'Signs That Earth-A Is The Real World.'" She put the paper down with an awed expression.

"That's the Great Heresy, isn't it?" asked Herbie, still keeping his voice down. "The belief that this world isn't real, that we were all invented by some human in the 'Real World' for the sole purpose of entertaining human children." He looked up uneasily into the sky, as if he expected to see a vast audience of young humans up there watching his every move.

Belief in the Great Heresy was almost as old as animal sentience, and it had always been an obstacle to its advancement. After all, if this universe only exists to entertain children, why bother to do anything serious with your life? Not to mention the possibility that boring your "Audience" might have fatal consequences. Even among its believers, the Great Heresy was always spoken of in whispers; for fear that the Creator might be insulted that his creations were "breaking the fourth wall." It was only in the last couple hundred years that the majority of sentient animals had gotten past the problem of the Great Heresy, by pretending that nobody had ever thought up that unpleasant idea.

"You know," said Tammy, "my great uncle was institutionalized for saying what you just said out loud, and that was only forty years ago." She looked down at the notes in her hands. "There is no way she's going to be able to publish this."

"Well, she could always leave Appendix A out."

"Wait, I want to see why she thinks the Writer lives on Earth-A," she said, skimming through the section. Stopping suddenly, she stabbed emphatically at the page with a finger. "Did you see this? Did you see this? She says the Rescue Rangers have their own cartoon show on Earth-A. Foxglove's counterpart is a pet bat owned by a human who once saw an episode of the Rescue Ranger's own cartoon. That's amazing!" She thought about this some more. "But a cartoon? Don't the Rescue Rangers deserve live action? I wonder if I'm in any episodes?"

Herbie smirked. "I wouldn't be surprised if you were in the series: you'd show up as a background character seven times..."

"...and nearly steal the show twice. Funny, Herbie, funny. I wonder what kind of commercials the kids get when the Rangers are not doing anything interesting. I'd hate to think that all this time their lives were being sponsored by Hungry-Hungry Hippos. 'Buy our game, kids, or the Rescue Rangers ceases to exist!'" Amazingly, Tammy managed to say that with a straight face, like it was something she had often pondered on sleepless nights. She looked down for a moment at the papers in her hands. "Do you mind if I borrow these tonight, for a little midnight reading? I don't exactly relish having the apartment all to myself."

Herbie nodded. "Go right ahead. Gadget said that she would have the power problem fixed tomorrow morning. Hopefully you'll be caught up on her theory when we visit the Rangers and try the viewer out ourselves."

Tammy smiled as she tucked the papers and photographs into her Rescue Ranger scrapbook. "You actually want to try it? Who's the 'active fan' now?"

"I have my reasons," Herbie said mysteriously.

Tammy raised an eyebrow, then frowned when Herbie refused to explain himself. "I've got my own reasons for visiting the Rangers tomorrow, as a matter of fact. I'll tell you about them if you will walk me back to my place."

Herbie bowed formally and presented his wing. "It would be my honor, Madame."

A few minutes later, Tammy finished her tale of the Ranger's encounter with Winifred by pointing at the Ranger Tree. "...and they are keeping a watch for her return all night."

Herbie looked at the tree, where a single light was on in the window next to the entrance and a face with binoculars could be seen observing the ground below. Walking over to the edge of the branch outside the Chestnutt apartment, both Herbie and Tammy leaned over for a look themselves, but there were no signs of any humans on the paths.

When Herbie turned, Tammy was looking into his eyes. "Then there's the matter of the Rangers' mysterious memory loss," she said. "It appears to be quite serious."

"Yes, I observed that myself tonight. I'm sort of surprised something like this hasn't happened to them before."

Tammy was confused. "What do you mean?"

"Bacteriological warfare. Knowing Nimnul, I wouldn't put that sort of thing past him. After all the times he was defeated, surely he must have some sort of final ace up his sleeve, a Doomsday Scenario that would activate if he was ever put away for good. Well, the Rangers put Nimnul away for good in February, and now his delayed revenge is taking effect. If that's the case, losing their memories will just be the beginning."

Now Tammy was shocked. "Wh-where would you come up with something like that?"

"I dunno," Herbie replied, shaking his head. "Just...forget I said anything, OK? The Rangers are probably just tired or something."

Tammy wondered briefly exactly what kind of childhood Herbie's elder brother had put him through to put those kinds of thoughts in his head. "Well," she said, finally, "here we are at my front door. Good night, Herbie. I'll see you around eight?"

"Sounds good," Herbie agreed, blinking rapidly.

They stood there rather awkwardly for a moment.

"So, um, would now be a good time to tell me whatever it was you wanted to tell me?" Herbie asked.

Tammy sighed. "As good a time as any. You see, for the last three years..."

She was interrupted by the sound of a distant clock tolling midnight. At the third strike, night suddenly flashed into day for a tenth of a second.

Chapter 8: Exit Light

"Get down!"

Herbie pushed Tammy to the ground, shielding her with his body from what he was sure was a titanic explosion. He felt rather sheepish when several seconds passed without any sound to accompany the flash of light. "Sorry about that."

"Don't be," she said, getting up, clutching the scrapbook to her chest. "That could have been some genuine life-saving under different circumstances." She pushed past him to look at the oak tree. "I think that came from inside the Ranger Tree."

"We better take a look."

"Hold on," she said, turning back to enter the Chestnutt apartment in a rush.

Herbie poked his head in. "Need any help?"

Tammy's voice drifted back from her room. "Which do you think would be better in a life-or-death scenario: a loaded longbow, or a hockey stick?"

"Hockey stick," Herbie replied without hesitation. "No need to reload."

"Right," she agreed, emerging from the front door wearing a lumpy backpack and holding the same hockey stick from her class photos aggressively in both hands.

"They let you keep that?"


He gingerly poked at the bottom of Tammy's backpack. "And the pucks?"

Tammy's grin was a sight to behold. Herbie sighed. "I don't even want to know."

Tammy looked up at the branch that linked the spruce and oak trees. "That's a long way around. I wonder if ..."

"Are you suggesting I carry you?" asked Herbie, skeptically.

"Not if it violates some law of physics or something," she said sarcastically.

"Well, no, it wouldn't, but..."

"Then you better catch me, 'cause I'm about to find out if I'm part flying squirrel!" And with that she made a run off the end of the branch.

Herbie spread his wings and caught Tammy's shoulders with his feet. He continued the trajectory to the Rangers' tree in a glide, where he dropped her off on the entrance branch and landed about half a yard closer to the door.

"Thanks," Tammy gasped. "I don't know if you were looking down, but I saw Freddie down there. I don't think she saw us, though."

"I imagine even for a human, a squirrel being carried by a bird that's not a predator would be a strange sight."

"She was looking at the Ranger Tree, I'm sure of it. She looked rather shocked." Tammy looked up and down at Rescue Ranger Headquarters. All of the lights were out. "I've got a bad feeling about this."

"You can lead the way. If Chip loses his temper, I'd rather him take it out on you than me."

"Chicken," she joked. She walked up to the door and knocked.

There was no reply.

"Chip!" she called out. "Dale! Is everything all right in there?"

Still no response.

She checked the doorknob. It was unlocked.

Tammy swallowed nervously. "Well, here goes..."

She turned the knob and carefully pulled the door open towards her, letting in some of the light from a lamp across the street.

Almost immediately, she heard the sound of multiple paws scampering towards the door, accompanied by a terrifying cacophony of squeals.

Throwing her weight against the door, she managed to close it just before hearing three or four loud "THUMP"s.

Herbie tried peering into the window to the right of the door, only to jump back when something bounced forcefully off of the glass.

"What was that?!" Tammy asked, although she had an awful suspicion she knew what...and who, that was.

"I-I don't know. I think it was a feral chipmunk."

Tammy shook her head forcefully, rejecting the evidence of her senses. "No, it was something else. Gadget accidentally opened the door to Heck. Yes," she smiled grimly, "that's much better." She looked around. "We need to sneak inside and find out for sure what happened. Follow me."

Wrapping her tail around the hockey stick, Tammy scampered on all fours down a floor from the living room window to reach a small round opening in the tree. Unlike the other window, this one had no glass, only a crossed pair of twigs tied together with twine.

Tammy deftly untied the twine and removed the two twigs. "Heh," she remarked, "I've always dreamed of doing that."

"So this is Chip's bedroom?" Herbie asked cheekily from above.

Tammy sniffed in what appeared to Herbie to be an obvious imitation of his mother. "If you're going to be that way about it, you go first."

"Fine. I'll need room to land, anyway." Herbie took off and swooped in through the window, landing on the upper half of a bunk bed, which immediately collapsed. "Ouch," he stated dryly from the floor, telling Tammy by the tone of his voice that he was all right. "I could have used more room to stop than I got, though."

Tammy carefully lowered herself to the ground and took a look at the wreckage. "You didn't do this, Herbie. This whole room was trashed." Reaching under a mattress, Tammy pulled out the torn remains of Chip's nightshirt. "Come on," she said urgently, grabbing Herbie's wing.

She pushed past the door, which had been torn off of its hinges, and turned right into the dimly-lit corridor.

"We are not heading up to the living room," she said in a low voice. "I think we'd need a lot more than a hockey stick and a couple of pucks for that."

"Did Gadget teach you enough to build some sort of stun weapon?" Herbie asked.

"We're heading for the workshop. Materials to build things, and it overlooks the living room."

Herbie nodded. "I don't want to go near that mad chipmunk without something that can knock it out."

"Stop calling it a mad chipmunk!" she screamed.

Herbie just looked at her retreating back. The corridor ahead of them branched to the left before continuing onward to terminate in another door ripped from its hinges.

Without a word, Tammy took the turn. Herbie hesitated. "Who would have gone and ripped the Rangers' doors off their hinges?" he asked.

"That's Monty's room. He was probably sleepwalking," Tammy replied over her shoulder.

"Okay, Monty, I can understand, but what about Chip and Dale's room?"

"It's just a little bit further," Tammy said, ignoring his question.

The side corridor ended, with a standard door to the left and a sliding door to the right. Mounted into the end of the corridor was a pair of pulleys attached to a rope that ran from a hole in the ceiling to a hole in the floor. Tammy tried to slide the door to the right open, but it wouldn't budge. She used the hockey stick to sweep the wall above the door until she found a gauge mounted above it, impossible to see in this light. She lightly slid the stick around on either side of the indicator until she was certain of its position. "Okay," Tammy concluded, "the elevator's above us, on the workshop floor I think."

She grabbed hold of the rope and started pulling it upwards. As she did so, the sound of something could be heard gently lowering towards them from above.

After a few seconds, she felt something click into place, and a bell mounted next to the sliding door was struck once by a felt-covered hammer, making a faint sound.

After listening at the door for a moment to make sure nothing was inside, Tammy opened it and walked into the small circular chamber inside, taking position beside another rope and pair of pulleys that ran through one side of the compartment. Herbie stepped in beside her and slid the door closed, plunging the elevator into total darkness. After a moment, the car began to slowly rise, to the sound of the rope being pulled through the pulleys.

"Do you think..." Herbie speculated. "Oh, I hope not..."

"Look, Herbie, it's bad enough that we are in pitch blackness right now. Please don't make it worse."

"How can you be sure we won't end up in the living room?"

"I'm counting floors."

A few minutes passed. The elevator briefly stopped with a moment, then continued upwards until meeting a second stopping point and a muffled "ding!"

Herbie heard Tammy walk over to the door. There was a long moment of silence. "I don't hear anybody," she whispered.

"Is that good or bad?"

A moment of silence. "That was a shrug, in case you couldn't see it."

"I didn't."

The door slid open a crack, letting a dim ray of light into the chamber. Tammy could be seen peering through it. "I don't see anybody," she concluded.

She quietly slid the door open the rest of the way. As she had predicted, they were in the middle of the workshop. The door on this level opened significantly wider than it did on the lower floor, wide enough to allow a vehicle in. The only light came from a distant lamppost visible through a window at the far side of the room.

The first thing Tammy did was to make sure that the only other door leading out of the workshop was locked. In fact, it had already been locked, from the inside.

Tammy turned around with a start and looked around her. Then she looked up. Foxglove was hanging from a rafter, looking very severely down at them.

"Foxglove! What happened here?"

The bad dropped silently to the floor and looked the dove squarely in the eye. Finally, she blinked. "Herbert, is it?"


Foxglove put a wing up to her face. "Good, at least I remember that much."

"Wait, is your memory failing, too?" Herbie asked.


"But you were fine at the beginning of the party." The bat nodded. "Then that means it is a disease, and it's communicable," Herbie concluded. "We'll probably be next."

"What happened?" Tammy asked, desperation creeping into her voice.

"Well," Foxglove began, "Dale and I had first watch. He left to get changed, but never came back. After a few minutes, I searched for him and found him lost in the corridors.

"I led him back to the living room. His memory just kept getting worse and worse, until Dale, he..." she sniffled, "...he introduced himself to me. Like he never knew me!

"There was this bright flash in my head, then I hit the master power switch when Dale attacked me, so I'd have the advantage..."


Foxglove continued without noticing the interruption: "...I tried to immobilize him, but the others came too fast..."

Tammy was standing at the railing, looking down in horror at the scene below her. The tire slide had been ripped from its attachment to the ceiling, and the furniture was scattered in all directions. In particular, the television set had a head-shaped hole in it, and the chipmunk roaming about wearing the remains of Dale's nightshirt had spots of red on the top of his head. The large shirtless mouse that was once Monty was ramming into random walls, and Zipper was walking on four widely spread legs in slow motion, his head craned back to look at her. But she wasn't looking for any of these animals.

"Chipper!" Tammy finally gasped, as she caught a glimpse of the other chipmunk tearing at the couch with his teeth, the chipmunk she had glimpsed at the window, reduced now to a thing instead of a person.

Herbie walked over to the railing, but then quickly retreated upon glimpsing Gadget. "She...they've gone feral!"

"But that's not possible!" Tammy exclaimed. "You're either born feral, or sentient. You never go from one to the other - never!"

"It's the final stage of the disease," observed Herbie clinically. "Loss of memory, loss of personality, loss of sentience."

"...I can feel my mind slipping..." said Foxglove in a cold voice. "Promise me you'll take me to Bear Mountain in northwestern Connecticut after I lose my mind, so my family can take care of me."

"We will," Tammy promised, "but you won't lose your mind, because you're not sick."

"But she is," stated Herbie. "The evidence points to it. She caught the disease," he speculated, "whatever it is, from the Rangers. And they went to that party tonight, and mingled with dozens of squirrels and doves, including us. It's the end of the world. Nimnul's ultimate revenge."

"No," Tammy said, shaking her head, "it's not a disease, it's not irreversible. We saw that flash from the spruce tree - it was not in Foxglove's head."

"You saw it too?" asked Foxglove.

"Yes," Tammy brightened, "and that means there must be another explanation."

"Did the flash happen before or after Dale crashed into the TV?" asked Herbie.

"Um...I'm not sure."

"In any case, no electrical short could have produced a flash that bright, or that brilliantly colored. Perhaps that was the disease striking our brains at the same time. Quick, Tammy, try to remember what you ate at the party. The newest memories appear to be the first to disappear."

Tammy shook her head violently. "It doesn't have to be that! Maybe it's magic - Freddie's returned!"

Foxglove shook her said uncertainly. "I don't know. This doesn't feel like any magic Winifred ever cast."

"I still believe it's natural," Herbie said, "and probably impossible to stop. Nimnul would have covered every angle. An air-borne pathogen, attacking the nervous system of all non-human life forms, in order to undo the day when the Professor realized that the 'vermin' he despised were as self-aware as he was."

"You're not helping!" Tammy snarled.

"We are looking at the end of animal civilization," Foxglove pronounced in a dead voice, "and it's all my fault, because I can't remember the phone number of what's-his-name. Gadget's got a device that lets humans understand us. There's only one human I can trust to help us out, and I can't remember his number."

"Even now," Herbie droned on, "a plane full of plague vectors is taking off, heading halfway around the world. When it arrives, animal sentience in India is dead. And here in America - dead."

"Like my Dale down there," Foxglove said, "everything that makes him Dale disappeared forever in the blink of an eye. And soon all animals will be as feral as he is."

"No," cried Tammy in a shrill tone, grabbing Foxglove by the shoulders and shaking her. "That's not true. I won't let it be true! There has to be another explanation, something reversible, there just has to be! Give me another explanation!"

"Stop shaking me!" cried Foxglove, in tears. "Who are you? What do you want from me?"

As Tammy stepped back in shock, Foxglove suddenly gave off a blinding burst of light.

Before they had recovered, a now-feral Foxglove swooped down and burst through the living room window to freedom, followed by the wild animals that had once been the Rescue Rangers.

Chapter 9: Enter Night

"I'm blind!" Tammy cried.

She'd had the bad luck to be looking right at Foxglove at the moment Foxy lit up like a couple dozen suns. "What happened?" she asked, desperately trying to rub vision back into her eyes with her fists.

Herbie, who happened to have Tammy between him and Foxglove at the time, was unaffected. He quickly guided Tammy to a chair. "Foxglove went feral and liberated the Rangers. You stay here and recover. I'll try to catch them."

In one fluid motion he ran and vaulted over the balcony of the workshop, attempting to glide down to the living room, but he misjudged his descent and crashed into the remains of the couch. "Ouch," he said, rather less calmly than the last time. "You know, the Bat Guy makes this look a whole lot easier in the comic books."

Herbie got up and hobbled over to the broken window. "Monty and Gadget have just realized how high up they are and are frozen on the branch," he described to Tammy, "and Foxglove is gliding down to the ground. I can't see Chip or Dale, either on the branch or descending the tree."

"Try looking up."

After a pause, Herbie informed her that the chipmunks were indeed climbing up, which as both of them knew was a dead end.

"What about Zipper? Has he escaped?"

"No, he's still here," said Herbie, trying to simultaneously keep track of the locations of all of the feral Rangers. "He's trying to claw his way up the wall."

"Claw? Are you sure he's not walking up the wall?"

"No, I'm sure. He looks like he forgot how to do that."

Tammy cried out in frustration. "Why is this taking so long?" she said, rubbing her eyes even harder. "It's like looking through a sea of Citrus Delight!"

"I always preferred the 'purple stuff', myself." Herbie said with a smirk.

Tammy held a paw up before her befuddled eyes, trying to see between her fingers. Suddenly she snapped her fingers in realization. "That's it!" Taking off her backpack, she reached in and removed Gadget's photographs from inside the scrapbook she had stuffed in there earlier. Shuffling through the photographs one by one she confidently declared, "Mouse, mouse, chipmunk, chipmunk, turtle, bat!" Her earlier fear and depression had seemingly evaporated with this discovery.

"You've lost me," Herbie said.

"These pictures, I finally figured them out! Here, take a look!" Sweeping both arms in front of her to catch anything her faulty eyes were not telling her about yet, she made her way to the balustrade and held out the pile. "Catch!"

Herbie rushed over and caught the photographs before they reached the floor, then took them back to the window where he could continue to monitor the situation. "What am I supposed to do to see them?" he asked.

"You need to go blind," Tammy said, laughing.

Herbie took off his Coo-Coo Cola bottle glasses. "Now what?"

"Well now you need to use your imagination. You see I have dreams that look exactly like those photographs. I've been having them for the last two or three years. Couldn't make heads or tails of them at first, but eventually I figured it out. The trick is to mentally blur the colors together in your head, and then the borders just sort of draw themselves. Smashing your eyeballs into the back of the sockets helps, too."

Herbie moved the stack of photographs forward and backward before his eyes before the image suddenly clicked. "Oh!" he exclaimed. Looking though the pile, he named off the animals he could now clearly see: "mouse, mouse, chipmunk, chipmunk, turtle and bat."

Herbie blinked, then suddenly put his glasses back on and turned back to the window. To his relief, the situation outside had not changed. "Well I'm glad you were able to figure that out, but in case you've forgotten, we've got a crisis here, potentially the end of animal sentience as we know it!"

"But it's not as bad of a crisis as we thought it was! Those photographs are from Earth-A, right?"


"And the Rangers' counterparts on Earth-A are feral, right?"

"Yes, although..."

"Don't you see? They match up! Mouse, mouse, chipmunk, chipmunk, turtle, bat! Are there captions on the back?"

Herbie turned over the photographs and read the captions written on them in pencil, "Earth-A Gadget, Earth-A Monterey Jack, Earth-A Chip, Earth-A Dale, Earth-A Zipper, and Earth-A Foxglove." He reached down and picked up Zipper, who cast a terrified expression at the floor below and buried his head in Herbie's shoulder. "Wait, turtle?" he asked, confused.

"The Rangers' counterparts don't have to be the same species in every universe, Herbie! Now tell me, is Zipper acting like a feral fly..."

"...or a feral turtle!"


"Then that means..."

"That means the Rangers did not go feral. They swapped minds with their feral counterparts on Earth-A! The world is not doomed."

"Except Gadget's machine is only a viewer."

"Maybe we need to take a look at it to be sure."

Herbie, holding Zipper between his wing and body, cast one last look at feral Gadget and Monty on the branch outside the tree, and then turned and walked around the wreckage of the living room, through an archway, around a corner, and then up a flight of stairs to a small sitting room with a large door. Tammy opened the door, allowing him into the workshop.

Herbie looked about in confusion. Gadget's inventions lined the walls and topped at least a dozen shelves that ran around the walls of the room. "Which one of these is the viewer?" he asked.

Tammy closed her eyes. "I was up here plenty of times last summer and over the Christmas holiday. Gadget has a very meticulous filing system for her inventions..."

"...appearances notwithstanding."

Tammy opened her eyes, mentally comparing her previous memory of the room to its current appearance. "I think...maybe..." she pointed at a corner next to the banister. "Yes, I believe that gray box is it. Only one new invention? Gadget must have been really obsessed with this viewer."

"Wouldn't you be?"

Tammy nodded. "Could you take a look at it? I still don't trust my eyes yet." She was struggling to get everything returned to her backpack.

Herbie obliged, first putting Zipper down on the large circular platform in the center of the room. "Well superficially, it resembles a human oscilloscope from the 1940's, but it has been extensively modified. For one thing, there's no power cord, and no on/off switch. There's a metal tag on the back: 'OHD-0035 Dimensional Viewer (#2 of 2).' A couple of bare metal poles have been inserted into the unit. According to Gadget, touching these would activate the unit." He tried experimentally grabbing the handles. "As I expected, nothing happened. This unit requires an electrostatic power source."

"We saw two flashes of what could have been electrostatic discharge."

"Yes, but I think those were an effect of the mind-swaps, not the cause."

Tammy looked around the workshop, relieved that her vision was finally back to normal. "The first mind-swap obviously did not happen in here, or this place would have been trashed just like the bedrooms we saw. And we were present for the second mind-swap - do you remember any sounds or flashes from this corner of the room?"


"Well, then that makes it unlikely that this machine was involved in the second mind-swap, either."

"Maybe there's some other invention, located somewhere else?"

"We've seen most of Ranger H.Q.; let's check out the rest," said Tammy, picking up her backpack with one paw and Zipper with the other.

Exiting the workshop into the sitting room, Tammy opened a door into Foxglove's room, clearly identified by the ceiling perch in place of a bed and the heavy curtains on the windows. The room was untouched by the pandemonium that had affected the other rooms.

Herbie climbed a staircase from the sitting room to the top floor. After confirming that Gadget's bedroom was in the same state as Chip and Dale's and Monty's bedrooms, he looked in the hanger to see that the Ranger Wing had been roughly pushed aside. This was the path that the feral Gadget had made to the tire slide entrance. He then took the stairs down three flights to return to the floor he and Tammy had first entered an hour ago. He walked through the remains of Monty's rampage in the kitchen and dining room, peeked into Monty's bedroom, and met up with Tammy in the gym, which was unaffected.

"See anything?" Tammy asked.

"Nothing that could have been used for a mind-swap. Besides, if the Rangers were scattered throughout H.Q. at the time of the first swap, why wasn't Foxglove affected until a half-hour later?"

"I was asking myself the same question. Not only was this swap performed by somebody outside the tree, but there's something else, one missing piece before this puzzle is complete."

Chapter 10: Take My Hand

Stumped for the moment, Tammy and Herbie returned to the living room to survey the damage.

"What's that sound?" Tammy asked, hearing a reedy melody drifting in from the broken window. "Is that a pavane?"

Fauré's Pavane on YouTube.

Herbie rushed to the window. "Gadget and Monty! They're gone!"

Tammy quickly joined him. They easily spotted the two mice scrambling down the tree towards the source of the mysterious tune. They were soon passed by a racing Chip and Dale. Even Zipper was struggling in Tammy's arms.

Before them the sky was slowly brightening. It would be dawn in another hour. The music was coming from a picnic bench located next to the Ranger Tree. Sitting there was Freddie the witch, playing on a pipe, and on the table was Foxglove, swaying slowly to the rhythm. Freddie was holding her purse open, and gesturing for the bat to climb in.

"Chip was right," Tammy said in a whisper. "She is up to no good." Quickly passing Zipper to Herbie, she hopped out the window and raced down the bark of the tree. Herbie, still uncertain about his wings after his last tumble and encumbered with the fly-turtle, followed more slowly.

The feral Rangers were all crawling steadily for the purse when Tammy suddenly leapt down into their midst, screaming at the top of her lungs. The chipmunk that was once Chip was the first to panic, followed quickly by the rest. They scattered in all directions into the scrub that lined the jogging trails. Before the human had a chance to react, Tammy quickly hopped down to the ground and then raced back up the tree trunk to a branch which was too high for the former witch to reach.

Winifred dropped her silver pipe in shock and stared up at the squirrel. "What have you done?" she cried.

"You can't have them!" shouted Tammy. "The Rangers are mine!" With that, she collapsed into a pile, just as Herbie landed beside her.

The dove crouched down and put a wing around her shoulder. "You had no other choice," he said. Standing up, he scanned the sky until he saw the diminishing silhouette of a pink bat. "Now we'll never know what happened," he muttered.

"We may have lost the Rangers," Tammy said, wearily getting back up, "but we can still find out the answers... from her." She stabbed one finger in the direction of the former witch.

"What?" Winifred asked in a weak voice. As Foxglove had known, the human still retained the ability to understand animal speech.

"You are the missing piece," Tammy said accusingly. "The one with all the connections. Isn't that right, Winifred Cadwallader?"

"Don't call me Freddie!" Winifred snarled out of habit, then abruptly realized that she had been addressed correctly for once. "I mean, wh...what am I accused of?" she asked, regaining her indignation.

"Isn't it true that you work at the mental institution at the edge of town?"


"And isn't it true that one of the so-called patients of this institution is a scientist by the name of Norton Nimnul, a man that shares your hatred of the Rescue Rangers?"

"Wait - no, that's not true! Well, the part about Nimnul registered as a patient, but the patient is not really Nim..."

Tammy didn't allow her to finish. "I think the two of you planned this all along. You knew where the Rangers lived, but you've lost your magic, so the Rangers would only treat you as a medium-level threat, while Nimnul had developed the technology to eliminate the Rangers, but would never be allowed to get anywhere near the tree, so he pretended to have lost his memory while..."

Tammy looked at Herbie, who had been tapping her shoulder for the last minute. "Do you mind?" she asked through clenched teeth.

"I, uh, hate to interrupt a good rant, but I really think we should let Winifred finish her last sentence."

Tammy thought for a moment. "Now that you mention it, what did you mean about the patient not being Nimnul?"

"The man in room 411A is not Norton Nimnul," Winifred said. "He claims his name is Norris Nulton, and that he came from another world back in February, although not by choice."

"Another swap!" Tammy and Herbie smiled as the final piece clicked into place. "Nimnul's invention wasn't a failure, and it wasn't a teleporter at all!" exclaimed Herbie. "He must have grossly overestimated the power requirements." Tammy shook her head to keep him from revealing too much.

"He kept telling me that only the Rescue Rangers could help him," Winifred continued, not paying attention to what the squirrel and dove were discussing. "He...he knew an awful lot about the Rangers...and about me. Some things even I didn't know. Got rather upset whenever I asked him about that. In fact, he appears to still be half-convinced that this whole world is a mad dream of his, one that he is unable to wake from."

"He may be closer to the truth than you know," Herbie said under his breath.

As a result of their conference, Tammy and Herbie had hesitantly come down from the branch to the park bench, although they still kept their distance from the human and remained on the side of the bench nearest the Ranger Tree.

Winifred re-opened the conversation: "Do you mind me asking what happened between you and the Rescue Rangers just then, with the shouting and the scattering? If I didn't know any better, I'd say they were acting rather fer..."

Tammy quickly cut off that line of thought to resume her interrogation. "What were you planning on doing if you could convince the Rangers to help you?"

Winifred sighed as she realized she wasn't going to be getting any answers. "Norris thought that the inventor mouse...Gadget...would be able to invent something to put him back where he belonged."

"And you were just going to smuggle them in your purse?" Tammy asked incredulously. "How did you expect them to trust you if you were going to put them in an enclosed space that would be difficult for them to escape?"

"Have you got a better idea?" asked Winifred.

"As a matter of fact, I do. Herbie, go up to the workshop. In the north-northeast corner is what looks like a pink human pillbox purse. In reality, it is a miniature command center. Bring it down here, and Winifred will use it to take me to the asylum."

"When did the Rangers make that?" asked Herbie.

"They converted it from the Easter egg last September. It was to infiltrate the Guild of Calamitous Intent."

"Oh, I remember." He turned in preparation for his launch, then stopped himself, opened his chest pocket, and handed Zipper over to Tammy. "I think you're better off holding him," he said, before taking to the sky and making his way up the tree, corkscrew-fashion.

Tammy turned back around to face Winifred, who was giving her a very odd expression. For a moment Tammy imagined what she must look like right now to the human, a tense squirrel cradling a fly in her arms. The image made her laugh out loud. "You must think I'm a villain from a Dirk Suave movie!"

Winifred cringed. "I don't watch many movies," she apologized.

"Look, I'm sorry if I can't explain everything that is going on right now."

"I understand," said Winifred in a quiet voice. "My reputation precedes me."

Tammy stopped to get a good look at Winifred Cadwallader. Up close, her face was lined with fine wrinkles, most of them frown lines but surprisingly there were some laugh lines as well. She could also see that the human's bright red hair was streaked with white, as if she had witnessed something that had scared her half to death. Her own capacity for evil, perhaps.

Tammy took a big breath as she made her decision. "I think we should start over," she said, closing the distance between them and extending her hand. "My name is Tammy. I work with the Rescue Rangers associate capacity."

Winifred grinned as soon as she heard the name. She lightly shook the outstretched hand between thumb and forefinger. "'Associate capacity', huh? Is that a promotion from 'Chip's Biggest Fan'?"

Tammy's eyes went wide. "Where did you hear that?" she demanded.

"I told you that Norris knows a lot of things that he shouldn't. He also seems to enjoy the sound of his own voice."

"This is going to come out all wrong," Tammy said apologetically, "but why exactly are you here this morning? The Winifred I read about in Chip's case file would never come out here like this and expose herself to whatever the Rangers might decide to do against a one-time enemy. What changed?"

Winifred looked away. "I changed. When I was in prison I spent a lot of time in Solitary Confinement. My crime may not have been that bad in human terms, but I had made some powerful enemies, and I was still arrogant enough to provoke them. In Solitary I had time to review my life, to affix blame for my problems where it belonged...with myself.

"I'm...I'm trying to do better. To atone for what I did and what I almost did. I'll never have back what I threw away in pettiness and greed, but helping that poor man out makes me feel a little less empty inside. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

Tammy patted her on the hand. "I understand. Tell me about Norris."

Winifred's face brightened as she thought of him. "He's a sweet, sweet man. So trusting, so hopeful. The first thing he ever said to me was, 'You've come to save me!' Me, a hero! He thought I was Francine, his wife from that other world. Apparently, I look just like her."

"Like Norris looks just like Professor Nimnul?"

"Yes, I thought of that. 'Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,' and all that. Unfortunately for Norris, Francine is not like me at all, or rather, she's exactly like I was before, made even more bitter by the fact that magic doesn't work in her world. Reading between the lines of what Norris tells me, she despises him, and yet, he loves her more than life itself." She looked up at the sky, tears in her eyes. "Despite the fact that my face will always remind him that his beloved Francine is lost to him, he's still the only human who has ever cared about me."

"You do realize if we succeed in helping this man, that you'll never see him again. Not as you remember him."

Winifred sniffed. "I know. In the grand balance of things, the happiness of Norris Nulton means far more than the meager hopes of a broken creature such as myself."

"You're a good person," Tammy assured Winifred. She then sighed deeply in regret as the implication sank in: "And that means I lost the Rangers for nothing." She backed up several inches so she could see Winifred in the eyes. "Let me tell you what happened to them..."

With a slight "ding!" a patch of bark at the base of the Ranger Tree slid aside to reveal the freight elevator. From it emerged a small human's purse, pushed by Herbie. Due to the extensive contents of the purse, moving it was not easy.

"Need any help?"

Herbie looked around the side of the pink cylinder. "Sparky, is that you?"

"I dunno," said the voice. "Is it?"

The two of them soon pushed the purse to the foot of the picnic table. Seeing them, Tammy hopped down, leaving the feral Zipper with Winifred. "Hello, Sparky!"

The rat strolled casually around the side of the purse, then froze and pointed. "Aaah!" cried Sparky. "Human!"

Tammy walked over to him, stopping herself before she put her arm around the electrified rodent. "It's all right, Sparky," she reassured him, her hands safely behind her back. "This one's OK."

"Are the Rangers awake?" Sparky asked. "I've got a delivery for them."

Herbie gestured vaguely. "They're...around. Ah, there's a bit of a problem with them."

Sparky pulled out a screwdriver. "I can fix it."

Tammy rolled her eyes. "Sparky, the Rangers are not themselves this morning."

"Then who are they?" Sparky asked, wide-eyed.

"We think their minds have been swapped with those of their counterparts from an alternate universe," said Herbie.

"Have you tried applying 60 volts in a two-thirds phase-modulated pulse induction field to the inferior lateral gyrus of their left frontal lobes?" Sparky asked, speaking rapidly.

Herbie blinked, then blushed. "Alright, I'll admit it: that went completely over my head. Still, I wouldn't mind trying it if we get the chance."

"Chance to do what?" asked Sparky, completely forgetting what he had just said.

Herbie sighed then looked up hopefully at the lab rat. "Gadget said she'd have the solution for her power supply problem by this morning. I'm assuming that you're it?"

The mouse let a spark shoot between two outstretched fingers. "Well, I could power her viewer, but Gadget didn't think it fair to use me like that, so I borrowed a rodent-scale Tesla coil from the university for her to use. I left it back at the tree. Of course, now that she's in another dimension, I guess I should be taking it back..."

"Well," asked Herbie, "could we use it first? We want to find out what happened to the Rangers."

Tammy nodded in agreement, a grim expression on her face. "Alright, but since our counterparts are feral, I don't see how they are going to be very useful, and trying to use any sensitive equipment with the Rangers in their current condition is just asking for trouble. Say, Winifred," she added, brightening, "maybe you should try it!"

"Try what?" asked Winifred, leaning down.

"Aaah!" cried Sparky. "Human that can understand us!"

"She's OK," Tammy reassured Sparky.

"The Rangers have a device for spying on other worlds," Herbie explained to Winifred.

"It's designed to show what your counterpart is doing," said Tammy. "In your case that would be Norris' wife."

"Winifred-A is Norris' wife?" Herbie asked.


"Well, we need some logical way of referring to counterparts when we don't know their names. The swapped versions of the Rescue Rangers are: Chip-A, Dale-A, Gadget-A, Monty-A, Zipper-A and Foxglove-A."

"Her name is Francine."

"Well, as I said, the rule only applies when the true name is unknown, and I didn't know that name until you just said it."

"Will Francine know I'm spying on her?" Winifred asked.

Herbie nodded. "Gadget said that there was a limited form of empathic communication between somebody using the viewer and their counterpart. She theorized that if the counterpart had their own viewer and was using it at the same time, that this might trigger a full telepathic junction, a 'meeting of the minds' as it were."

Winifred shook her head violently. "Bad idea, very bad idea. The last person you want to tip off in this situation is Francine Nulton."

Tammy shrugged. "Well, that just leaves the three of us, and our counterparts. I don't have very high hopes, though."

Zipper-A peered down at them from the top of the table. At Tammy's urging, Winifred carefully picked up the fly and lowered him to the ground. Herbie watched as the fly grazed on the grasses growing through the cracks in the sidewalk. He suddenly clicked his beak, the avian equivalent of snapping your fingers. "Tammy?" he asked, looking Tammy in the eyes. "Now is the right time to tell me what you've been wanting to tell me since the graduation ceremony."

"Wait, that? Now?" Tammy stammered.


"Well...I, uh...Oh...drat." Tammy nervously rubbed the fur at the back of her neck with one hand. "I was hoping there'd be less witnesses around when I finally said this. Makes it seem less ridiculous that way." She looked around to see if there was anybody else around, then lowered her voice. "You see, there' invisible somebody...watching me. Sometimes." She then looked over her left shoulder, accusingly. "She hasn't been around, lately," she said to the empty space next to her, "like for the last four or five hours, when I could have really used her support." This being said, she faced the group again. "She's...well, she's me. Don't ask me how I know, since I never saw her or heard her or anything. I think...I think sometimes I might share her dreams. Do you believe me?"

"Yes," Herbie said, quietly. "Is she human?" he asked as calmly as he could.

"Yes," Tammy said without thinking, and then what she said sunk in. "I...never thought about it, but yes, yes she's human, and her favorite TV show is Rescue Rangers."

"The Rescue Rangers have their own TV show?" Sparky and Winifred asked simultaneously.

"I thought she was just referring to the stories I told her about the Rangers, but I think she was thinking of an actual show. That could mean she's my counterpart from Earth-A, and if she's human and has a viewer, and if she's anything like me (she's just got to be!) then that's it! I use the viewer to make contact, and tell her what's wrong, and she'll rescue the Rangers! And beat Nimnul, since he's obviously behind all this. And then force him to switch everyone back, including him! And everyone will live happily ever after."

"I love a happy ending," said Sparky.

The three of them started walking towards the Ranger Tree, until Tammy suddenly stopped and put a hand on Herbie's shoulder. "You can't come," she told him.

"Why not?"

"Because you need to go with Winifred to the asylum. We need to find out anything that Norris knows that could help us."

"Aw, but I wanted to see it!"

"You'll have plenty of time to see later."

Herbie sighed. He looked up at the human with uncertainty. "Are you sure we can trust her?"


"All right." He walked up to the pillbox purse, opened a secret compartment in the side, and stepped inside. "YOU CAN PICK ME UP!" a voice boomed from inside. "Oops, sorry, had to set the volume. You can pick me up."

Winifred picked up the pink object with some reluctance. "Pink is not my color," she said to no one in particular. Brushing some mud from the bottom, she tucked it under one arm and hefted the patchwork bag with the other. "Good luck," she told Tammy.

"You, too."

Tammy and Sparky moved Sparky's miniature Tesla coil into the elevator and began the arduous process of pulling themselves up to the workshop level. Eventually, they emerged from the elevator and pulled out their power source.

Sparky looked around. "Which one of these inventions is the viewer?"

Tammy pointed. Sparky set up the Tesla coil. "I shouldn't have to connect anything," Sparky explained. "The static electric field will work just fine at this distance."

Tammy moved a chair into position, sat down, and looked at the dials of the instrument. She compared a set of notes taped to the device with the settings. "It's already pointed at Earth-A." With a deep breath, she held her hands just above one of the two metal handles, mentally preparing herself.

The pink purse came to rest for a moment on the roof of a beat-up beige Plymouth Suburban Wagon as Winifred started fishing for her keys. A little door opened up on top and a dove's head emerged to get a last look at the Ranger Tree and the spruce tree, their branches intertwined. "Just think," he said incredulously, "she's about to see the Real World!

"I wonder what it's like?"

Continue to Part 2.

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