Chapter Nineteen

"Wow, Debbin--Gaddit gonna be a mom?"

"We should have fixed up one more guest room," Timothy deadpanned. He wasn't being mean, it was just the way he sometimes handled difficult news.

Tina gave him a warning glance and shook his wheelchair for emphasis. "We have plenty of space, Gadget. Don't worry about that, for heaven's sake."

Devin bit his lip and threw his paws up in frustration. "I'm sorry it had to happen like this, Gadge. The signs were all there, I just should've--"

"--should have known?" chuckled Gadget, trying to put him at ease. Please, dear God, don't let this freak him out too much. "You're a good doctor, but that doesn't make you a psychic."

Devin felt a tug at his sleeve. He expected it to be Runner, but Timothy had wheeled silently closer as Gadget spoke. Timothy gingerly cupped a paw and Devin bent to listen to him whisper. "Say, Doc--"

"What? This isn't exactly the best time to--"

"--yeah, yeah. It wasn't you, was it?"

Devin was flummoxed. He fought down the urge to tip Timothy out of his wheelchair onto the stone floor. "No!" he hissed back, bristling under his lab coat. "If it was, this place wouldn't feel like a funeral!" Easy, Devin, he reined himself in. He doesn't know all that she's been through. Neither do you, for that matter.

Gadget coughed politely. Devin straightened, shuffling his feet a trifle guiltily. "Private conference over, you two?"

"Sorry, Gadge. Is there anything I can do?"

She nodded. "I really need to have a serious talk with a doctor. Want to check out my new workshop?"

Devin nodded and snagged his medical kit (as ever, close at paw). "That's the room just off the library, right?"

"Remember to watch your step," Timothy called after them as they slipped into the hallway.

Devin paused for a moment, making sure Gadget had gone on ahead. "Where Gadget's concerned, be sure to watch yours. I'm asking you nicely this first time, Timothy--don't spread rumors, or talk about her behind her back. You'll have me to answer to." An icy hint of politely veiled menace remained in the air as he disappeared from sight.

Runner whistled appreciatively. "Debbin meads whad he sez, Dimathee. Be good or he'll stig you wid a neeble or someting."

"Just a little touchy, isn't he?" Timothy made signs for Tina's benefit--I still think he's the father.

Wistfully, Tina shook her head. "No. I don't think it was Devin at all. But it should have been."

**************************

Gadget was waiting for Devin at the chair-lift. As a matter of fact, she'd already ridden it down to the library floor. "Hey, Dev!" she called up to him. "The elevator can only take one at a time. I'll send it back up for you." She quickly pulled a succession of levers, and the platform rose to where Devin stood.

"Doesn't look all that sturdy, but it is a nifty gadget...Gadget." Devin gritted his teeth and Gadget rolled her eyes, groaning. Bet she hasn't heard that one, Devin sighed, and tried to think of a word for thingamabob that wasn't her name. "Sorry! Sorry. I meant 'contraption'." He climbed onto the platform--apparently going down required only the pressing of one big red button, not the flurry of activity it took to get the thing back up. He pushed it. The lift descended without event, though it took Devin a second to get his legs back.

"I was a little wobbly, too, Dev."

"There aren't any handrails on that thing. As a doctor, and with your...condition, I'd suggest you find another way down." The levers Gadget had pulled didn't inspire confidence either. He looked warily at one marked 'Manual Override'.

Gadget saw the look and patted the lever. "Ain't that a kick? I've pulled a lot of manual override handles in my time, but that's the first one that was marked."

Devin frowned. "If the others weren't marked, how do you know they were the right ones?"

Gadget thought about it and grinned. "Well, I've never been blown up. Knocked up, well, that's a whole other ball of wax," she chuckled grimly, and took a first step up a set of sandstone ledges that led to a dark passage.

Devin looked her squarely in the eye, very serious. "So, do you want to talk about--"

Gadget put a paw to his lips. "Shh. Call it instinct, call it crazy--but up those steps, that's some space that Timmy and Tina have set aside for me. If I'm going to make big plans and decisions, I want it to be on my own ground. From some sort of center. Am I making any sense?"

"Plenty. You need some stability in your life."

Gadget's eyes glimmered with thoughtful amusement. "You're pretty good for that yourself."

Devin started to speak. Careful, Devin. Last thing you want to do is play fast and loose with her feelings. She's still more scrambled than she realizes. "Oh, I just watch out for people who are... close to me."

Gadget socked him playfully on the shoulder. "I nominate that for the Good Guys' Motto. Let's go see what Timmy and Tina think a workshop looks like." She and Devin followed the stairs, out of the realm of books and bookshelves and into the deeper shadows.

"Do you see a switch? Try over there."

"I don't see anything, it's dark."

"I found something, Devin. Is that--"

"I've got news for you. That's just my tail."

"Oh, sorry. Wait, here we go--"

Somewhere above, they heard the sound of an electrical arc. With a buzz and crackle, lamps sprang up and dotted the workshop. One was at a desk, and two brighter ones were bolted onto the workbench (one of these was on a swiveling arm, good for close work). The only other illumination flickered from a towering contraption that sent sparks crackling up between two long metal poles, as Devin and Gadget winced, shielding their eyes. "Well," offered Devin, "we got electric."

"Where the fur did they find one of those?" Gadget growled, walking over to the dangerous gizmo and slapping a switch. The behemoth fell mercifully silent and stopped sparking. "Those things always cheese me off."

"I'm sure they were just trying to make it feel like home," Devin murmured, waving away the blue and green after-images that danced around the room everywhere he looked.

"More like Transylvania." As Gadget's own vision cleared, she did see one thing that made her feel much more at home, and rushed to the workbench to see if it was a mirage. She put a hand on the large leather bundle and reassured herself it was real, then undid the buckle and attacked the contents like a kid on Christmas. "Oh, man, I think my opinion of this place just rose several notches."

Devin pulled a stool out from under the workbench and took a load off as Gadget held each and every one of her new stash of socket wrenches, screwdrivers, and chisels up to the light of the worklamp. "It does my heart good to see a lady who takes such an interest in tools," Devin said, glad to see Gadget back in her element a little. "I know I'd be lost without mine," he patted his medical bag.

"Oh, these are one step above tools, my friend," Gadget corrected him. "These are instruments. Drop-forged steel." She held one wrench loosely in her paw and banged it with another. It rang out with a bell-like tone, and Devin could tell she loved the sound. "Do you have any idea how many sets of cheap little screwdrivers I've snapped in half over the years? All of them had those crappy pink plastic handles, too. These aren't toys, no-sir."

Tucked into one pocket of the leatherbound toolkit was a note. Gadget spread it out on the bench and they looked it over.

Dear Gadget:

Here's a little welcome present from Arthur, our chief engineer--you and he could probably teach each other a few things. He says the tools are yours to keep-and if you need any others custom-made, his fabrication shop is always at your disposal. When you get some time, you should talk to him--he has a pretty wild scheme for an irrigation project that involves airships and magnetism. He's followed your progress with flying machines, and highly approves.

Confidentially, he and Dr. Ages have been staking separate claims on the space that's now your workshop--Arthur wants to turn it into a hidden blimp hangar, and Ages wants to keep it walled in for a wine cellar. Ages will probably try to win your support for his plan by supplying you with actual product--there's a particularly good bottle of Year One Chardonnay in the in-box on your desk. Ages got better at wine-making these last few years, but with Year One he got lucky. Justin says if you need to take a day or two off and get blotto, it's understandable.

We were looking for a polite way to keep industry out of that corner of Thorn Valley completely, and your private workshop should do nicely. Don't worry about politics, though--that's our job. Just try to make the place your own as best you can, and if we can help you in any way, we will.

Welcome and good luck,

(signed)

Elizabeth Brisby-Justin and "just plain Justin"

p.s. Arthur might drop by in a few days to check out that monster-movie prop he calls a "Jacob's Ladder." He claims it soothes him, but thank God it has an off switch. E.&J.

"Well, Gadge, it looks like everyone in Thorn Valley wants to say hello--"

"Yeah, or get me drunk." She put her head in her hands. "I don't think I'll be imbibing much, though. I'm a scientist, and I know alcohol won't be good for the baby."

Devin was relieved she'd brought the subject up again. "Are you ready to have that serious doctor talk now?"

Gadget clicked her tongue, looking around at her new domain. "Yeah. I need to know some things, or at least hear them from someone I trust."

"Since it's you, I'm ready for some good, tough questions."

"Okay. Tell me--with all we can gather about the... attack, and the way I was pretty hurt when you first saw me--what sort of problems can I expect?"

Devin winced. "Where to start?" Gadget gulped nervously as Devin pulled out a notepad and well-gnawed pencil from a pocket of his lab coat. "Really, I don't think you're in bad shape, but I have concerns."

"You and me both. Get specific--please."

"All my concerns about the pregnancy are due to one fact. We don't know who the father is." Though people are already guessing...Darn that Timothy! "That means no medical history--blood type, illnesses, even the exact species, despite the Thorn Valley connection--all blanks. Those all bring in possibilities that I don't like to even consider."

"Give me a worst-case scenario."

Devin growled and made a notation. "I hate it when patients ask for the bad news first. Okay, okay. Blood type--you know about Rh factors and that sort of thing, right?" Gadget nodded. "If some of the baby's blood components aren't compatible with yours, it can cause major complications both ways. Luckily, that's a long shot. Illnesses the father might have had--we know from the way you were attacked that the perps were probably pure-D nuts, which means they could have been into drugs or anything else. You haven't shown any signs of infectious disease, but we can't rule it out yet."

"And that could hurt the baby?"

"Yes. Anything that threatens your health threatens the pregnancy. And if things got really bad, it could affect your ability to have children later. As far as the species of the father, that's going to be of key importance to any medical trouble--"

"--and to figuring out who the bastards are who did this to me and my friends." Gadget smiled sadly and put a paw on Devin's arm. "I mean--my other friends."

Devin smiled back. How could anyone think of hurting this lady? "Thanks for that, Gadge. Speaking of the Rangers--though it might be painful--there is one big unknown which might just turn out to be a plus for you."

Gadget straightened, attention focused even closer now. "You mean there could be some good news in all this?" Her ears perked up and her tail whacked the workbench excitedly.

Devin put his paws up in a calming gesture. "Easy, easy. Just imagine along with me for a minute--you've gotten past all the medical hurdles and in a few weeks the time comes--"

"--that soon? Well, I guess it would be."

Devin shrugged. "You're a mouse, after all. For a mixed-species pregnancy, say a few days more, a few days less. The delivery's fine, the baby's healthy, and it's the child of your attacker." Gadget kept her rapt attention, but looked more and more worried. Devin hated the necessity, but was getting to his point. "We run all the tests, figure out the species of the father, get a DNA match and lock the thug away for life. Your kid grows up knowing that the father was a rapist and murderer, and no matter how hard you try, part of you will always resent your child for what the father did. And the kid will have to live with that."

"I thought you said some of the news was good," Gadget choked out. Her eyes began to mist over, but she bravely faced Devin and anything else he had to tell her.

Devin leaned forward and grasped both her arms. "You asked for the worst-case scenario. Now stay with me. Remember how brave you've had to be." Gadget nodded, dislodging a couple of tears. This is the hardest thing I've ever had to do to anyone, Devin thought, his heart going out to her. "Now. You've got that picture in your head."

"Oh, yes I have," Gadget said, almost too softly to hear.

Artwork by Keith Elder

"Now imagine none of the bad parts--absolutely none of them--come true."

Gadget opened her eyes wider again in shock. "What--but they're coming true! You just laid it all out in a line, the plain and simple truth! How can you offer me hope when everything's set in place against hope?!"

Devin relaxed a little, wiping a worry-line of sweat from his brow. Thank God. It's easier from here on out. Who would have thought that ignorance would become our fondest refuge? "Not everything is set against hope, Gadge. The Rangers are still your hope. Your poor scrambled memory with all its holes--and the Rangers."

Gadget shook her head, regrets and bittersweet recollections pouring in on her. "How can you say that? They're dead. They were my friends, but they're dead and there's nothing left of them but bones in a cold dark place, deep underground."

"That's just it. What if you're wrong?"

"I saw them. I touched them. Their blood was in my fur. I covered one of them with rocks when my paws were already in tatters. Why do you have to stir all this up? Why do you--"

"--no, Gadget. Listen to me. I know they died. But what if you're wrong and one of them did leave something behind?" Very slowly and gently, Devin extended a paw and laid it gently on Gadget's stomach. "Right here. What if one of them did?"

Somewhere way down deep, the light went on in Gadget's eyes again. Devin could almost see her mind leap from point to point making the right connections. Her jaw dropped. "Oh, Devin. I hadn't even considered--"

"--then it's probably a good thing we had this little talk."

Gadget took the paw away from her stomach as gently as Devin had put it there. She pulled him up off the stool and wrapped her own arms around him, putting her head on his chest. Without any warning, tears of relief sprang to her eyes, and she began to heave with little sobs. Devin carefully folded his arms around her. He just held her for a few moments, then gave in and lightly brushed her head-fur with one paw. "We're just getting started, Gadge. But we have to hold on to hope."

"Thank you, Devin. Thank you so much for helping me believe that this can turn out all right." She gave him another grateful squeeze and straightened, looking him straight in the eye and wiping her whiskers. At that moment--never mind the tears drying on her cheeks--she looked like she could take on the world, win the fight, and then ask for a rematch.

This is how I'll always remember her, Devin decided, traced a pawpad under her chin, and gave her the sort of kiss that hadn't been seen since movies were in black and white.


Button images by Keith Elder