It is now thirty or so years after the "Darkwing Duck" series takes place. There have been lots of changes since then. Trust me on this as you read the next installment in this increasingly inappropriately titled series:
By Kim McFarland
It was a dark and moonlit night. A perfect night for vigilantes.
And perfect for vigilante fans, too. They didn't have to work all through it. And being a vigilante WAS work. It may sound exciting to cruise around on a motorcycle all night, but they never tried it out as a career.
Oh, she shouldn't put them down, she knew. They were civilians, and they were enthusiastic about the right things - justice, law, order, the whole shmear - especially since it was dressed up in a well-cut costume. And she would not deny that it felt good to be back on duty.
She could feel the atmosphere of anticipation. It was known that there would be a special guest at this week's meeting of the Quiverwing Quack Fan Club. The few who knew had, true to their word, kept the secret of just who it would be. They had a good appreciation for drama. She looked around. The St. Canard High School gymnasium, although not exactly the classiest place in the city, was a decent choice of location. It was large and roomy, with a high roof. She couldn't have suggested better herself, not within the limits of the fan club's budget anyway.
The lights dimmed. She took her camera out of a pocket in her long trench coat and edged backwards, as if to get a better angle from the bleachers. When the spotlight focused on the microphone on the otherwise empty stage she climbed the bleachers quickly.
On the stage a cloud of blue smoke appeared. Through the loudspeakers on either side of the stage came the words, "I am the terror that flaps in the night! I am the speck of dust under the contact lens of crime! I am DARKWING DUCK!"
She tilted her head down so her broad-brimmed hat would hide her grin. He still had the same old way with words! She leaned against a horizontal pipe that ran along the gym wall.
Darkwing grinned a little to himself at the muttering of the crowd. They were reacting just as he had expected. "Greetings, adventure aficionados!"
Darkwing launched into a filibuster. She tugged several times on the pipe to make sure it was strong enough, then tied a thin nylon line around it. Then she took her camera out of her pocket again and snapped three photographs in rapid succession.
The flashbulb left faint afterimages in Darkwing's eyes. He paused in his recitation of his latest accomplishments and said, "Now, I know you're all on the edge of your seats, but I have something even more exciting for you!"
Because he was listening for it, he heard a soft twanging sound from the back of the gym. Over the heads of the people in the gym, a sparkling flare like a green comet sped in a tight loop, barely missing hitting the ceiling. The trail left by the flare described a "Q" in the air.
While people were looking up in surprise another arrow thudded into the back of the stage, trailing a nylon line behind it. A caped figure came down the line on a pulley. When it landed acrobatically on the stage the lights revealed it to be a redheaded woman in a red-and-green costume. She had a bow and quarrel slung over one shoulder. Darkwing handed her the green, plumed cap which he had been hiding under his cape and gestured to the microphone. She stepped up to it and intoned, "I'm baa-aaaack!"
The crowd cheered deafeningly. Darkwing whispered, "Good entrance."
She could not hear him, but she could read his lips. She leaned close and answered, "After that speech you gave, anything would thrill them!"
Darkwing replied, "Anything in a tight, gaudy costume, you mean."
They grinned at each other. It was good to be ribbing each other again. As the volume died down she covered the microphone and whispered, "Thanks, Dad."
"No problem. It was for a good cause." he replied.
Quiverwing spoke into the microphone. "Thank you, Darkwing Duck, for returning to protect St. Canard while I was otherwise occupied."
"It was nothing any other dedicated denizen of destiny wouldn't do." he declared. He threw his cape around himself and, with another burst of smoke, was gone.
As ever, the fans had dozens of questions to ask. Usually she found this tedious, but she was so glad to be back in action that today she didn't mind it. She spread and lowered her hands to quiet them, then pointed to one person in the front. He asked, "What mission were you on for the last half a year?"
"Five months, three weeks, and four days to be exact, not counting the revenge of the Brainteasers." she said with a smile. "That's classified. Let's just say that it was rather strenuous, even for me."
A seal point feline in the front who was dressed in black jeans, a denim jacket, and a necklace bearing six colored rings, asked "Was it successful?"
"It will soon be." Quiverwing answered. She would love to tell them what it was, if it weren't only that it would endanger her loved ones and blow her Secret Identity out of the water. Other than that, it would be all right.
The feline, Jen Xianpu, listened intently to the questions and answers. Quiverwing had developed some new weapons, one of which - a rocket-powered arrow, for LONG-distance shooting - she proceeded to demonstrate. As Jen watched, she thought that Quiverwing looked different somehow. She had seen her close-up a few times before, so it wasn't just that. She supposed that the strenuous mission must have built her up a bit. Yes, that had to be it. She looked better defined now, but not overbuilt, so it didn't spoil her smooth contours. Not like some of those women on the covers of bodybuilding magazines. Not only was it a good esthetic balance, Jen thought, but it would work to her advantage by leading people to underestimate her.
Quiverwing brought the question-and-answer session to a close before too long. "I have one more arrow you ought to see." She took her bow off her shoulder and drew and nocked an arrow. She paused dramatically, then fired it into the air above the heads of the crowd. It described the same Q in the air that her earlier "entrance arrow" had, but this time, after a short pause, it gave off a startlingly intense red flash behind the green trail.
The result was a red-against-green image burned into the eyes of anyone watching. Good trick, Jen thought as she blinked into the darkness, trying to clear her vision; something like that would momentarily daze any criminal Quiverwing was trying to catch, giving her an edge. She looked back at the stage, but Quiverwing was already gone.
Soon afterwards, an empty chair in the living room spun around for no apparent reason. When it stopped it was no longer empty. "Anyone home?" Gosalyn called as she stood up.
"In here." came the reply from another room.
She walked in. "I should have known."
Honker hit the "Save" key on the desktop Cray, then looked up. "How'd it go?"
"Good. Real good. Oh, it feels wonderful to be wearing the costume again! The new arrow worked perfectly, too, just like in the tests. It should blind people at thirty yards. Heck, it dazed me. I didn't know it'd be that bright. I gotta watch out for that. Good job."
"What'cha working on?" She peered at the Cray's screen.
"Just some incomprehensible SHUSH stuff." he answered.
"Yeah, yeah, I know that. Just incomprehensible, or wildly unbelievable?"
"Boringly complicated." he replied. They had developed a number of classifications for the work he did on the computer. For the last four months he had been doing as much of his SHUSH work as possible at home. Fortunately, he did most of his theoretical work in the computer, and only needed to go into SHUSH R&D when he was satisfied with it and ready to hand it over to the technicians. It was a good arrangement, one which would be ideal in the years to come.
She said, "Carry on." and walked into their bedroom to check on the reason for the hiatus in her crimefighting career. It lay in a cradle, wrapped in an electric blanket specially designed to keep an egg at a constant temperature. She touched its shell. It was still smooth and unmarred, although lately she had felt some sharp movements within. Though the hatching wasn't due for another week or so, she still half expected to see a hole in the shell every time she looked in.
Thank goodness Dad had been willing to fill in for her while she had been pregnant. It had taken her a little more time to get back into condition than she had expected; her reflexes had been dulled by months of inaction. She had done her best to stay in shape, but let's see anyone try to practice martial arts or gymnastics while carrying around a child-to-be! Plus, the extra weight had not been too easy to lose. However, Dad had insisted that she take the time she needed; he would "suffer a little longer" for her sake. Suffer? Hah! She could not tell which he was happier about: becoming a grandfather or dragging Darkwing Duck out of retirement. And, she had to admit, he did a good job, especially considering that he was no longer a young duck.
She could stare at this thing for hours, just lightly touching the shell with her fingertips, feeling the movement within. Only an avian could understand the fascination an egg could produce, and Gosalyn could not explain it if she tried. Heck, she hadn't really believed in it until she had fallen victim herself. The anticipation was nearly killing her. The shell, which had been tough and leathery at first, had gradually become rigid. Towards the end it would weaken from within. When it became thin enough, and the baby within was strong enough, it would kick through and free itself. And then it would REALLY start ruling their lives.
She sighed, not unhappily, and went to get some lunch.
That night, when she went on patrol, she did not find any crimes worth mentioning. She scared off a few suspicious characters, but that wasn't what made headlines. Still, by the end of the night she was sore from riding on the Ratcatcher for hours on end. Oh well. She supposed that either Dad had done a pretty good job of keeping the streets clean, or the criminals had gone into hiding when they had found out that The Quiverwing Quack had returned.
Whatever the cause, it certainly was convenient for her. It allowed her to adjust back to working the night shift before throwing anything difficult at her.
After a few more days, her circadian rhythm had adjusted. However, no major crimes had occurred. She was beginning to be annoyed with this development. If she was going to ride around all night, when she could be at home waiting for her egg to hatch, then the least St. Canard could do was provide something interesting for her to do!
Gosalyn was not the only one concerned with the lack of action. The members of the Quiverwing Quack Fan Club were also concerned over the lack of publicity for their idol. Although she was doing her job, it was the big crimes which made the headlines!
After one of their meetings, a few of the club officers were hanging around and discussing the problem. The solution, to them, seemed to be to help publicize her in other ways. Maybe some publicity stunt, or a public appearance. After all, there were always new malls opening up.
Jen could not believe what she was hearing. What were these people thinking? "That kind of thing may have been fine for Darkwing Duck, but Quiverwing Quack isn't in this for the publicity! It wouldn't improve her public profile, it would cheapen it!"
"And I'll bet you don't have one of her calendars up on your wall." someone replied sarcastically.
She pinned him with a glare. "That's different. Calendars and posters are just for people who want to buy them. Silly stunts don't impress anyone. And who cares if another mall opens? Those things hardly ever make the news anyway."
"It's better than nothing, which is what is happening right now."
"You just don't get it, do you?" she said heatedly. "Quiverwing Quack is not a politician or a product to be marketed. She is a crimefighter! I think you all have forgotten what this fan club is about in the first place." She got up and stalked out of the room.
As she left he heard a male voice remark, "Watch out, she may be waiting for you in the parking lot." She stiffened, but forced herself not to reply to the remark that she was not meant to overhear. Pinheaded fanboys! She was almost tempted to live up to the stereotype, just for him.
Gosalyn was well aware of the problem. It wasn't just her vanity, she told herself; part of The Quiverwing Quack's effectiveness was in frightening off the criminal element. There was such a thing as being too efficient, though. If this publicity blackout went on for too long, though, her effectiveness as a deterrent would suffer.
Nuts. She was getting wound up over nothing, she told herself. She ought to be glad that she was not coming back to a total mess. The situation was fine for the city, after all, even if it was lousy for Quiverwing's profile. She needed to do something out of the house to get her mind off of it.
She decided to go to the gym. She needed to work some sore muscles out anyway. She wondered how long it would take her to get used to riding around on a motorcycle all night. At the rate she was going, it might be a long while. She gathered her gym clothes, said goodbye to Honker, checked the egg, and went out.
When she got to the gym she found that the pool was a little more crowded than she liked. Too bad, because that would have been perfect for her sore muscles. Oh well, maybe later. She changed into her workout leotard.
She found a free weight machine and started to adjust the weights. One of the staff - a cream-colored feline woman with exotic-looking dark points and vivid blue eyes - came over and said, "Let me set that up for you."
Gosalyn looked up. That voice was familiar - of course. How many sealpoints did she know who wore a "freedom ring" necklace? Small world. She said, "You're new working here, aren't you? I don't think I've seen you before."
"I just started this week." she replied.
"I thought so, I know most of the staff here." Gosalyn said as she adjusted the weights. "I've been coming for about half a year now."
And getting your money's worth, Jen thought as she watched Gosalyn set up the machine and start working at it. She had to force herself to leave; she had not been hired to gawk. Before she left she said, "Well, if you need anything, please let me know. I'm Jen Xianpu. Ms.-?"
"Mallard. Call me Gosalyn." she smiled as she forced the weights upward with her legs.
"All right, Gosalyn. Please call me Jen." She smiled again and tore herself away. As she did she thought about that name. Gosalyn? What an odd name for a duck. It suited a goose better.
After an hour Gosalyn had had enough. She had worked some kinks out of her muscles on the weight machine, and finished by running fifteen minutes on the track. That was enough for today. She showered and changed back into her street clothes.
She went out to her car - and it wouldn't start. She sat in the front seat, growling to herself for a minute, then got out and went back in to the gym. At the front desk she asked, "Can I use the phone? I'm having car troubles."
Jen - was she everywhere? - stepped out of a staff room and said, "What's wrong with it?"
"Dang thing won't start."
"Maybe I can help. I know a little about cars."
Gosalyn shrugged and put down the phone. "Couldn't hurt."
They went out to her car. Jen said, "What happens when you try to start it?"
"Nothing at all."
"Hmm. Try flashing the headlights."
Gosalyn did. Nothing happened.
"Oh, it must be your battery." Jen said. "I have some jumper cables. Hold on, I'll bring my car around."
Gosalyn waited. As she did the thought that she was lucky; she would have called home and gotten Honker to come over. Of course he would have figured out the problem in a minute, but she'd rather not admit that she had probably left the headlights on.
Jen drove her car from one of the employees' spaces in back. It was an old one, a dark green battering ram of a vehicle, but it was reliable at least. She parked next to Gosalyn, took the jumper cables out of the trunk, and opened the hoods of both cars. Quickly and efficiently she connected the cables to the batteries and said, "Okay, try starting 'er up now."
Gosalyn did, and this time it worked. "Thanks!" she said through her car window.
"No problem. A woman's got to know how to do these things, you know?" She winked. "Say, I'm about to go on my lunch break. Have you been to the Cafe Topaz? It's a womens' restaurant. They have a good vegetarian menu, if you like that."
"Yeah, it's a good place, I've been there." Gosalyn replied. "They have a list of mineral water like most restaurants have wine lists. Sorry, but I can't go, I have to get back to my family."
"Oh. Well, see you around." Jen smiled.
As Gosalyn left, Jen sighed. Gosalyn already had a family. The best ones always did, it seemed. Oh well, if she was a regular at this gym then they'd at least get more chances to talk. Smiling cheerfully, she drove her car back to the employees' lot and went back into the gym.
Honker heard the front door open. "Honey, I'm home." Gosalyn called.
He heard her go into the bedroom to drop her gym bag. Then she came in to the workroom. She touched the egg's shell with her fingertips. Honker said, "Nothing yet."
"Yeah, I see." she replied. "I gotta get a new car battery."
"Yeah, again. I came out and the thing was dead. Good thing I was able to get a jump. Other than that, I had a good time at the gym. Even through the pool was full. I got flirted at."
He wondered at her odd grin. She obviously had something else to add to that. "And?" he prompted her.
"Oh, nothing. Don't worry, she wasn't my type."
"Oh." He started to look back at the computer screen when he caught the pronoun. He looked at her, and she burst out laughing. He shook his head. "You meet some interesting people, Gosalyn."
"Oh, don't worry. She jump-started my car and asked me out to lunch, that's all. She's okay - I recognize her from my fan club. Hey!"
She looked at the egg. "It moved!"
"It's been kicking around like that. It wants out."
"Yeah." She rested the palm of her hand against the shell. "Come on, you can do it." she said softly.
After a few more sharp kicks the movements slowed and stopped. The baby within had tired out. Disappointed, she said, "Oh, well."
That night, when Quiverwing went on patrol, she was startled to hear an alarm go off. With her luck it would be a false alarm, she thought, but maybe not!
Before the alarm cut off she tracked it to the St. Canard Museum. She had beaten the police there, too. Readying her bow and an arrow equipped with a canister of sleeping gas, she skimmed up the steps. The door was locked, of course. She picked it easily, setting off another alarm. A guard rushed out, gun in hand. He shone the light in her face, then said, "Why can't you vigilante types knock like everyone else!"
She did not dignify that with an answer. As he went into another room to shut off the alarm she looked around. The place looked neat enough. "What happened here?" she asked when the din stopped.
"We were robbed." He gestured with his flashlight at the empty jewel case in the center of the room. She remembered that the jewel "The Green Cheetah" had gone on display just that day.
"Finally, a real case!" she murmured happily as she stepped over the cordon surrounding the case - thereby setting off another alarm. Annoyed, the guard went back to shut it off.
The glass of the case was undamaged. Not even a scratch. That was rare; usually thieves left some sort of mark. If it weren't for the absence of the jewel - and the presence of a piece of stiff paper - in the case, she would think that nothing had happened at all. No fingerprints were visible - but when the light reflected off of it, though, she could see the marks that a suction cup had made on the top of the case. Ah hah!
She took out an arrow tipped with a suction cup. She stuck it to the side of where the original mark was, and pulled upwards. The top swung back on a hinge easily. "Interesting trick," she said to herself, "but why not just wear gloves if you want to hide your fingerprints?"
The guard had returned. "What does the card say?"
"I was getting to that." She took it out and looked at it.
Of all the cliches! Whoever had stolen the Cheetah had left behind a business card! The card identified the thief as "Black Spandex". Sheesh, someone must have taken all of five minutes to come up with something that clever. And, she realized, she could find out who these cards belonged to simply by finding out where they had been printed.
The guard was shining his light upward, at the skylight. She asked, "What's so interesting up there?"
"That was the alarm that went off. The one hooked up to that window. Not the one around the box."
`You sure about that?"
"All the alarms are separate. When we got here that was the only one going."
"Let me see that." she shone the flashlight around the corners of the skylight. Sure enough, it was hinged. She said, "There's the answer. The thief came in through the skylight, swiped the Cheetah, and left the way she came in."
"How do you know it's a she?"
"Do you think a man would call himself `Black Spandex'?"
The guard could find no answer to this. Instead he said, "That gem is due to be displayed in Duckburg next week."
"I know, I read the papers. No sweat, I'll have it back long before then." she answered confidently.
After that she had snooped some more, both inside the museum and up on the roof. She confirmed in her mind that the skylight had indeed been the thief's entrance and exit; it was still unlocked. She could open it easily herself. Aside from that one datum, she had nothing to go on.
This did not discourage her. It was an actual, honest-to-goodness case she could sink her teeth into! The first one in months! She was going to enjoy this.
She stayed out until the light of dawn appeared in the east, over the ocean. She was too excited to be tired, but there were no other crimes happening, so she drove to the tower, changed clothes, and took the chairs home. She took the card with her so she could track it down tomorrow.
She awakened early - before noon, in fact. After checking the egg - still no cracks - she showered, then put on a shirt and some shorts. Honker was, as ever, working on the Cray. She said, "Guess what, I got a case!"
"The Green Cheetah? It was in the papers."
"Yeah, that's it. Interesting case - she came in through the skylight. Why didn't she use the window like other villains?"
"She?" Honker asked.
"Look at this." she handed him the card. "With a name like `Black Spandex' she MUST be a woman. I'm going to track her by finding out where this was printed."
Honker raised his glasses and examined the card closely. He brushed it with his finger, then said, "I don't think you can do that."
"What? Why not? There's not that many places in St. Canard that make business cards."
He held the card close to the light. "Look at the edge. If you look close, you can see that it's made of fine perforations. And the printing isn't printer's ink, which seeps into the paper; it's toner, which flakes off if you fold the card. The printing isn't even perfectly centered. This was made on a laser printer with a business card kit." He handed the card back to her.
She looked closely at it. Everything he had said was true; she just had not looked at it closely enough last night. "Well, THANK you for bursting my bubble."
She put the card down. "A whole day I could have spent running around to a bunch of print shops down the tubes. Shoot, what am I going to do now?"
"Do you have any more clues?"
"Nope. Oh well, this isn't going to be a tough case. Everyone knows that villains who are egotistical enough to leave calling cards invariably screw up somewhere down the line, and I'll be there. Get away from that computer, let's have lunch."
Several days later Gosalyn picked a newspaper off of the front porch, not looking forward to reading it. Some wise man had once said that you should never read your reviews. Well, maybe he was right, but she couldn't help it.
Of course, it made the headlines. Why wouldn't it? Toni's Tigerseye was one of the most spectacular gems on display. It, like the Green Cheetah, was on a display tour that had stopped in St. Canard. She had investigated, and found that, yes, the gem was gone; and, yes, another card had been left. She scowled as she read the article. Did they have to put so MUCH emphasis on the fact that she hadn't recovered either of the stolen gems yet?
She startled when she heard Honker's voice. "Still no luck, huh?"
"What a miracle of deduction!" she retorted without looking up. "I don't know who's brighter, you or the newspapers!"
"Never mind." she sighed as she put the paper down. "They make such a big deal about my not preventing these robberies. Well, heck, what am I supposed to do, grab the Time Top and stop robberies before they happen? See into the future with my crystal ball? Sheesh! I'll get the dang gems back, but I have to find this Spandex character first! Well, actually, last night I did get another clue."
"What was it?"
"The security cameras taped her." Quiverwing grinned. "I was right, she is a woman. A feline. Dressed head to toe in guess what?"
"Bingo. She's a black cat. The parts of her that weren't covered - her hands, face, tail, and ears - were black."
"You have her face on tape?"
"Well ... not exactly." Gosalyn said. "She wears some sort of dark goggles. Sort of like swimmers' goggles. Maybe they're infrared so she can see in the dark. I can't see what her face looks like because of `em."
The telephone rang. Gosalyn reached over and picked the receiver up. "Gosalyn here."
She made a face of amused exasperation as she looked up at Honker. "Hi, Dad. Not yet."
"Not yet what?"
"Come off it, you know what. Either a case or an egg, pick one. Answer's the same on both."
"Heh heh heh. I wasn't thinking about a case."
"Wish I wasn't. Ever notice how the papers seem to enjoy making me look like a fool?"
"They don't make you look like a fool, Gos." he said seriously. "They did their best to make ME look silly, though."
"But, anyway, Gos, if you decide you'd like a helping hand, well-"
"You don't like being retired, do you?"
"I just mean that two people might have more luck than one, that's all."
She sighed noisily into the phone. "I really don't want to talk about a case right now. I've got some shopping to do now, for the nursery. Want to come with me?"
"We'll take my car. C'mon over."
"`Kay. In a moment."
Honker was looking at her with an amused expression. She said, "What?"
"I thought you got all that shopping done a few weeks ago." he replied.
"So I thought of something else, all right? I don't like the blinds in that room, they're too harsh. They'll let in a glare."
"All right, all right." He held a hand up in front of himself in a gesture of surrender, then went back to his computer, still grinning to himself.
A minute later there was a knock at the door. Gosalyn opened it. "Dad, do you know how annoying it is when someone has you pegged?" she said loudly enough to ensure that Honker heard.
"I have an inkling."
"It's even more annoying when I'm nearly dying of suspense already."
"Speaking of which-"
"Sure, you can see it, but there's not much to see right now." She beckoned to him as she went into the nursery. In the cradle, the egg was still laying quietly. Drake touched the shell carefully, almost reverently. She commented, "Looks like it's asleep right now. Usually it's kicking around in there. I don't know how the shell's stayed intact this far."
"Maybe the shell's too solid?" he said worriedly.
"I wondered about that too. The doc said that it's just right." She carefully picked it up, still wrapped in its warming blanket, and set it in a carrying basket. She carried it into the computer room and said to Honker, "Going out for an hour or two."
"Okay, see you." he replied without taking his eyes from the screen - but he was still wearing a ghost of a grin.
She did not miss this. She said to Drake, "Why did I marry someone who has me pegged?"
Drake had no answer to this. He just grinned. Gosalyn stuck her tongue out at him.
They spent the next hour or so shopping for various things. She had spent at least twenty minutes deciding on what color of drapes to put in the nursery, even though (in Drake's opinion) there were only two color choices that would match with the walls - the blue or the lavender. She ended up choosing the lavender.
She also found other things. Drake was content to follow behind her as she picked out baby clothes and various miscellaneous items. She was obviously looking forward to the big event.
After they checked out he suggested that they have lunch. She agreed readily; she realized that she hadn't eaten since ... since before she had gone on patrol last night, come to think of it. When she pulled into a Hamburger Hippo, he sighed, "You don't ever get tired of this place, do you?"
"Nope. Sure don't." she replied.
"Neither does Launchpad. I thought you'd given this junk up."
"That was before I laid the egg. Now that I'm no longer eating for two, I can have whatever I want."
He couldn't argue that point. And, well, a little extra cholesterol wouldn't kill him. Much.
Fortunately, they had missed the main lunch rush, so they got their food quickly. As Gosalyn was drenching her hamburger with ketchup Drake said, "Y'know what, Gos. I'm proud of you."
"What for?" she asked, looking up.
"Everything. You're all grown up, you've takes over for me and done a great job of it, you're even about to have a family. It seems like just yesterday you were tracking mud in the house after elementary school soccer practice."
"You know what, Dad? You're full of mush."
"So? I'm allowed to be." he said, and took some of his fries.
"I just wish I could get a handle on what I'm working on right now." she sighed. "I hate having to wait for someone else to make the next move." Although she was speaking in a casual tone, she chose her words carefully to avoid giving anything away to anyone who could overhear them.
He recognized her caution. "I remember that feeling. Except I hardly ever waited. I didn't have the sense." he smiled. "Listen, Gos, I know that you don't need my help. But if you decide you'd like a hand, let me know."
She recognized that he was doing his best to be diplomatic. She replied, "I guess I will. I just can't think of anything else to do now. Honker gave me a few hints, but they didn't help, except for keeping me from doing some extra running around." She sipped her soda. "I am not just going to wait around, though. I'm going to do something."
"What are you going to do?"
"Heck if I know."
When she arrived back home she started putting up the curtains. Honker took a break from his work to watch. She didn't need his help; she was better at things like this than he was, and he would only get in the way. She said, "I can't just wait for her to make the next move. She's got a pattern, so I'm just going to predict where she'll strike next."
"Where's that?" he asked, prompting her.
"She goes for gems, we know that. Famous gems. The next one in line must be the Ocelot Opal. It'll go on display the day after tomorrow. All I have to do is stake it out. Simple." She stepped back from the curtains and studied them. The she said to Honker, "Now, isn't that a lot better?"
"Sure is." he agreed.
She started taking out baby clothes and folding them to put them in the dresser drawer. Honker commented, "You sure like blue. What if it's a girl?"
"There's no law against girls wearing blue, you know."
"I guess I can't argue with that." he answered. He saw something fuzzy and black in the bag. He picked it up. It was a stuffed tarantula. He looked at her questioningly. She said, "Isn't it cute? It reminds me of Archy."
He looked at it again. "Yeah, I guess so." If it was possible to think of a huge, hairy spider as cute.
"I think I had one like it when I was little. It looked familiar, anyway." Finished putting things away, she crumpled up the bag in her hands.
That evening she went to a fan club meeting. She would rather have been working on the case, but she had promised. And, what the heck, fan adulation was good for her morale. She could use a boost right about now.
Before she left for the tower she stopped in at the computer room. Honker was still there, glued to the computer. She said, "Don't you ever quit?"
He startled. "Oh, I thought you'd already gone."
"You ought to get paid hourly for this." she said.
The computer howled.
Gosalyn walked around to look at the monitor. She saw a number of centaurs and two-headed beasts waving weapons at the screen. Attacking them were a collection of warriors. She grinned. "Busted!"
"All work and no play." he said sheepishly.
A message appeared on the screen. WHAT HAPPENED?
Honker hit a function key and typed PAUSE BRB HM
The game froze. He said, "A couple of the guys in R&D are having a team game. I'm trying to solve the puzzles while they hack and slash."
She looked at the screen. "I gotta try that sometime. It looks like fun."
He started to say something, then looked at the screen. "You'd probably enjoy it." he agreed.
"Well, back to work." she said.
"Thanks. You too. You'll need it."
Quiverwing never had liked public speaking. She could fight crime all night, but the idea of addressing her fan club used to tie her in knots. Now it no longer worried her. All she had to do was make a flashy entrance, say a few lines, answer some questions, and then go out to fight crime. No problem for her, and it gave her fans a little thrill, so why not?
One of these days, she thought as she waited for the proper moment, she was going to have to pull a really bizarre entrance. Like jumping out of a cake or something. Just as a gag. She couldn't shoot off an entrance arrow from in there, but the novelty would make it worthwhile.
Within a few minutes an arrow sped from her bowstring. It flew silently, igniting into sparkling green over the heads of the crowd. She grinned to herself. She never got tired of seeing people react to that!
Before the green flare had died the sprinklers went off, dousing the sparkles and the rest of the audience with cold water. Startled, Quiverwing quickly drew her cape up to cover her head, and looked up. Her arrow couldn't have caused that! It didn't produce any heat!
The water stopped spraying after a minute. Over the angry babble of the soaked fans laughter echoed. Quiverwing looked for its source. There, perched on one of the upper bleachers, was a cat dressed in solid black. She was leaning against the wall in an insolently relaxed pose, her arms folded. Quickly Quiverwing drew and shot a glue arrow. The black cat jumped athletically from the bleacher to a balcony. Quiverwing then shot a net arrow. Black Spandex ducked behind the railing, letting the net wrap itself around the bars.
She called out, "My, you have hair-trigger reflexes. Not bad at all."
Quiverwing answered, "Congratulate me AFTER I've caught you. You'll only have to wait a minute." as she drew another arrow and shot it.
Black Spandex saw that this arrow wobbled on its path, unlike the other arrows in her arsenal, which indicated what it was. She dodged it when it flew at her, and ducked out of the way when it boomeranged back, trailing a nearly invisible nylon thread to entangle its victims. Quiverwing had to dodge her own weapon. Black Spandex jeered, "Very good! But it really isn't necessary. I'm no longer interested in these; you can have them." She produced a small, black pouch and threw it at Quiverwing.
Quiverwing caught it in one hand. It was a small bag made of the same material as her costume, and it contained two weights about the same sizes as the stolen gems, she noted in the back of her mind. She did not bother to look inside. She said, "If you surrender now, we can avoid a fight."
"Surrender?" Black Spandex answered. "No, I don't think so. If I did that now, you wouldn't be able to find my hostage."
"All right, enough of the games. What do you want?" Quiverwing demanded.
"No more games? I don't think so, I like games. For instance, guessing games. Can you guess who my hostage is? There's a hint in the bag." She gestured. "Go ahead, look."
Quiverwing opened the bag. Inside were the two gems, and a chain of some sort. She pulled the chain out. Instead of a pendant, the necklace bore six metal rings in the colors of the rainbow.
"Notice anyone missing?"
Quiverwing scanned the audience, looking for Jen. She was not in her accustomed place. Quiverwing's hand tightened into a fist. "I know who you have."
"Oh, you do?" Black Spandex sounded pleased. "Good. Then we can play another of my favorite games. `Catch as Cat Can.'"
Quiverwing had had enough banter. She shot an arrow equipped with a line up to the balcony. As she skimmed up the line with a powered pulley Black Spandex slipped out a window. Quiverwing looked down. Spandex was driving off on a motorcycle. Quiverwing leapt to the ground via a ledge above the entrance of the gymnasium. She sat on her Ratcatcher and started the engine. Nothing happened.
Quiverwing snarled a few unladylike words. What in the devil was wrong with this machine?! She knew that she hadn't left the headlights on! Was she cursed?
A quick inspection revealed what was wrong. The cables were not connected to the battery. For Pete's sake! Spandex had disconnected her battery cables. Quickly she reconnected them and started the Ratcatcher.
The sky was beginning to lighten when Quiverwing returned to the tower. She was angry enough to bite the heads off of nails. Not only had Black Spandex kidnaped someone, she had made Quiverwing look silly in front of her fan club and then led her on a fruitless chase all over St. Canard! Quiverwing probably had some unflattering headlines to look forward to as well, she thought sourly as she changed out of her costume. She hated to leave a case unsolved at the end of the night, but she was forced to admit that the trail had grown cold and she was getting tired.
She returned to her home via the transport chair. In contrast to the noisy, busy night she had spent chasing futilely around St. Canard, it was still and quiet. Before getting out of the chair she took several deep breaths to release her tension.
When she felt calm again she went to the bedroom. She touched the egg in the warmer; it was still uncracked. She felt no movement within, but when she put her ear to the shell she could detect the faint sound of breathing.
She removed her clothes and put on a nightgown, then eased into bed. As she did, Honker woke up. He said, "Morning."
"Not yet." she replied.
He peered at the clock on the nightstand, squinting because he did not have his glasses on. As he did she settled on her side to go to sleep.
She felt Honker put an arm around her and touch his bill to her cheek. Trying not to sound irritable, she said "Sorry, I'm too tired."
"I know." he murmured back and stroked her hair affectionately.
Her annoyance melted away. She snuggled back against him and closed her eyes.
When she awoke she dressed in her robe and went into the kitchen for some coffee. She poured herself a cup - bless the person who invented automatic timer percolators! - and went to the computer room. "Morning." she muttered, checking the egg.
"Afternoon." Honker replied.
"Was I crabby last night? Sorry."
"You weren't crabby. How did it go?"
"Well, I got the gems back."
"Great! Uh, why don't you sound happy about it?"
She sighed and took a sip of her coffee. "She gave them to me when she told me that she had taken a hostage. When I tried to follow her getaway it turned out that she had sabotaged my Ratcatcher. I got it working again in a minute, but she got away. I wasted the rest of the night trying to find her." she said glumly. "Some crimefighter I am."
"Everyone has an off day." was the best reply Honker could think of.
"Yeah. I can have as many off days as I want, but not when someone's life may be at stake." she replied.
"What did she want?"
"Heck if I know!" Gosalyn said. "She just gave me the gems in a bag, which had her hostage's necklace. She wants to play `catch me if you can.' What a kook!"
"She stole gems and gave them back, then took a hostage and didn't ask any ransom? That makes no sense." Honker said. "Who did she take? Do you know?"
"Yeah. Someone in the fan club. Woman about my age, seal point Siamese, really bright blue eyes. Kinda hard to forget. But I don't know who she'd ransom her to, except her family. Why announce it to ME if that's her plan? It makes as much sense as stealing gems and giving them back."
"There has to be more to this than meets the eye." Honker mused.
"Duh. Well, I'm going up to the tower. Maybe I can figure something out up there. Lemme know if anything happens."
She took the transport chair to the tower. She was not really in the mood to do research now, but then again she had no idea what she would research. She started by checking her tipline messages. The tipline was known only to her "deputies"; people who she trusted, and who were often able to tip her off. And, unfortunately, telephone surveyors. Fortunately the computer knew how to sort through that for her.
One message. She tapped the "play" button.
"You gave up on me a little too easily last night. I'm disappointed." said a teasing voice. Gosalyn startled upright. "If you don't even try to reclaim my hostage - you know her, don't you? - it makes you look bad, doesn't it? I'll give you another chance. Meet me at the house just north of Briarcliff and North Druid Hills roads at dusk tonight. And come alone."
Unable to believe it, Gosalyn hit the "play" button again. How had that character gotten this phone number? Hardly anyone even knew it existed! She had really done her research!
She tapped in a map query. The computer displayed a map of St. Canard, with an inset blowup of the intersection. It was south of the city, across the Audubon Bay Bridge.
Honker heard the transport chair go off. She hadn't been gone long! He called out, "Anything?"
She came into the computer room. "Yeah. She challenged me to a showdown at dusk."
"Are you kidding?"
"Nope. This time she won't escape."
"Are you sure she's not just toying with you?"
"Oh, I'm sure she IS. But tonight I'm going to nail her."
Honker did not bother to tell her to be careful, or to watch out for traps; Gosalyn did not need to be told how to do her job. "Need any help?"
"Nahh. This looks like it's going to be a straight chase-and-fight sequence, no science needed. 'Sides, we already have enough people running around in tight costumes on this case." She grinned.
"Uh ... yeah."
"I'm going to choose some arrows; I think glue should work well on her. I know how well that stuff adheres to spandex." She grimaced; she had found that out the hard way. "Some gas bombs, line and pulley, smoke, net - that oughtta be enough. But first, I'm going to prepare myself spiritually and mentally. Starting with lunch."
"I'll do that." Honker hit the SAVE key. "I need to take a break from this thing." he said, lifting his glasses and rubbing his eyes.
She looked at the screen. It was filled with columns of numbers which were, for all she could tell, programming code, stock reports, or adults-only telephone services. "I, uh, see what you mean."
After lunch he went back to doing whatever it was that he did with those numbers, and she set about preparing herself for the upcoming battle. The first thing was to prepare herself psychologically. That began with cleansing her mind and relaxing herself completely.
She knew a perfect way of doing that. She turned on a daytime soap opera, and within minutes was asleep in front of the television.
That evening Quiverwing was up in the tower, gathering her equipment. As she was preparing to board her Ratcatcher the phone rang. She muttered, "Ain't it always the way?" and picked it up. "Quiverwing here."
"Oh, hi, Dad. I'm just about to go wrap up a case."
"I heard. I just wanted to ask if, well, you would like any help." he said as diplomatically as possible.
She rolled her eyes. "Did Honker tell you what happened?"
"No, he just told me that you were going out on a case. I assume it's the same one?"
"Yeah, it is. Look, Dad, I'll be fine. She's just been lucky this far. By tomorrow you'll be reading the headlines revealing the secret identity of Black Spandex."
"OK, sweetie. Just remember, you can call on me if you need."
"OK, thanks, Dad. I will."
She hung up the phone. Try as he might, she thought, he never would be able to give up crimefighting. She smiled. She was going to be just as bad, she thought, when the time came to pass the role on to her own kid, so she had better not be too hard on him.
The sky was darkening as she drove her Ratcatcher down the Audubon Bay Bridge cable supports and across the bridge, away from town. She was looking forward to nabbing this nutcase. Not only would it get one more criminal out of her hair, it would also look good to the media.
She passed the intersection of Briarcliff and North Druid Hills. No problem figuring out which house it was, even though she did not have a street number; the houses here were old fashioned, widely spaced, and, from the looks of them, abandoned. She pulled up, got off her Ratcatcher, and looked the place up and down. "In five years this place will be a mini-mall. And for once it will be an improvement." she muttered under her breath.
The front door was locked. That figured. She drew a lock-pick arrow out of her quarrel, backed onto the porch steps, and shot it into the keyhole. The door swung open slightly, then stopped. Quiverwing tugged at it. It resisted, then came forward - and a rush of water poured down from above the door.
Quiverwing stepped into the doorway. A black thread attached to the top outer corner of the door led to a bucket. She shook her head and said out loud, "Lame. Truly lame!"
The main hallway led into a large, two-story room. There was a walkway all around the second story leading to other rooms. It was a fairly large house, one in which any number of traps could be hidden. Wouldn't it be a riot if the hostage wasn't here, so she would have to keep searching until she got herself creamed?
She was startled out of this line of thought when she heard a clicking sound above herself. She just barely managed to dodge a glass chandelier that crashed to the ground where she had been standing. She looked at the shards littering the floor, then stepped over them, muttering "That's one more cliché out of the way."
She had no reason to pick one room over another, so she chose the closest one. It was a library of sorts, but the books were long gone and spiders had since taken up residence. A glance satisfied her that there was nothing to be had here.
The next room had been a bedroom in a previous life. It only had one window, and that window was facing away from the sunset, so she could barely see inside it. As she walked in she felt something brush against her shin, and instinctively shied back. Something swung heavily out from the wall and passed inches in front of her bill.
She waited for it to swing to a stop. Then she examined it. A piece of a wood with metal weights fastened to the end. It wouldn't have hit her in the head, had she been in its way; it would have caught her in the shoulder. And it had been released by another thread tripwire. "Sheesh. Amateur." She took out a penlight and looked at the device. The metal weights looked as if they had been originally part of a barbell set.
She heard a sound from the ceiling. The wood creaked; someone was walking in the room above her. She smiled. "All right, now I've got you." she muttered. She went back out of the room, eyeballed the door on the second floor above the room she had been in, and started up the stairs.
As she climbed she tripped over another string. This one was attached to a roof support. The support toppled over and a section of roof sagged, then crashed inward above the staircase. Quiverwing dodged it in plenty of time. She rolled her eyes and thought that this was REALLY the work of an amateur. None of these traps, had she been right on the spot, would have been enough to put her out. Oh, the chandelier and the collapsing roof would have hurt her, but she had had plenty of warning so she could get out of the way. But she was not going to walk into any more tripwires! She shone the pocket light in front of herself to pick out any further traps.
There were no more on the stairway. She saw one thread crossing the landing at waist height. She followed it up to the ceiling, and saw that it was rigged to drop a light fixture on her. She snipped the string to disable the trap.
Just beyond was the doorway. She started to turn the knob when she heard a voice inside yell, "Wait! There's a trap!"
"If you open the door too wide, it'll swing one of the crushers and catch you when you come through the door!"
"Is that all? No worry!" Quiverwing opened the door a crack and saw the tripwire, a few feet above the floor. She nocked a razor-edged arrow and shot it at the thread. It snapped - and something banged into the door, slamming it shut in front of her.
She jumped back. Through the door she heard "Are you all right?!"
"Hey, who's the hero and who's the victim here?" Quiverwing said as she pushed the door open. "Let's get you out of here." she said to the cat who was, of all things, handcuffed to an old-fashioned radiator.
Jen began, "The key is in another room-"
"Who needs a key?" Quiverwing replied. She took another lock-pick arrow, inserted its head into the handcuff locks, and opened them.
Jen withdrew her hands and rubbed her wrists where the fur was creased from the cuffs. "Thank goodness. I was afraid you wouldn't find this place."
"Hah. She did everything but draw me a map." Quiverwing replied. Reaching into a compartment in her quarrel, she drew out a chain bearing six colored rings. "I believe this is yours?"
"Yes! Thanks." Jen took it and placed it around her neck.
Looking at the weight, and the damage to the wall it had hit, she said "Someone really has a one track mind. Let's get out of here. Follow me. Stay close behind me so you don't trip any more traps. And keep a look out for threads."
"Right behind you."
Quiverwing led the way across the landing and down the stairs, shining her pocket flashlight in front of herself. In the front hallway, several yards before the door, she found another taut thread which she must have stepped over when she had come in. She bent down to cut it. Behind her, Jen said "Don't!" and grabbed her around the waist.
"Hey!" Quiverwing yelled as she fell backwards, onto Jen. Another weight swung into the wall, just beyond where her head had been a second ago.
Quiverwing got up again, and gave Jen a hand up. "You OK?"
"Yeah." the cat panted. "I've had worse things happen to me."
Quiverwing looked at the setup. "If I'd hit that thread running, I would have tripped, and it would have missed me. Or if I had been walking inward. Only if I'd been walking out could it have hurt me. Amateur!"
"Good thing, huh?" Jen said nervously.
"Oh, relax. I'm getting you out of here, and then I'm going to clean her clock." Quiverwing beckoned from the door.
"Are you kidding? Last I heard, kidnaping and theft are serious crimes. The heck I'm going to let her get away with it!" Quiverwing growled.
"But I think she's already left."
"I doubt it. I've dealt with villains before. Anyone with the nerve to put on a silly costume and make a spectacle of herself is NOT going to give it up voluntarily. Ergo, I'm going to retire her. And supervillains ALWAYS show up for The Final Confrontation. It's in their union rules."
Jen said nothing. Quiverwing handed her a canister and said, "Stay here by the Ratcatcher. If anyone tries to bother you, throw this at 'em."
"What is it?"
"Knockout gas. It opens on impact. Now sit tight."
Dismayed, Jen watched her go back in the house. She looked at the canister, then stuck it in the pocket of her denim jacket, and started toward a fire escape.
Quiverwing went back in. "Come out, come out, wherever you are." she muttered under her breath.
She looked around. The room she had found Jen in had been on the right as she had come in. Her instincts told her that she would find her quarry in the rooms on the left. She considering readying a glue arrow, but it was too close in here to rely on her bow. Better to expect hand-to-hand.
She started with the rooms on the first floor. She found three more boobytraps, all of the swinging weight variety, and disarmed two of them before setting them off, but that was all. She went up the stairs, and immediately heard a sound in the farthest room. She grinned. The little so-and-so was waiting for her! Quiverwing grinned. So, Black Spandex wanted to toy with Quiverwing Quack. Two could play at that game.
She went into the first room. She found no traps. After looking around the room, she opened a window and peered out, down the side of the house. The window of her target room was open, and below it was the roof of a porch. Could this possibly be any easier?
She shot a pulley arrow into the tree just to the side of the roof, and crossed over on the line. Inside, she saw a feline wearing a black bodysuit with her back to the window. She was pulling the dark goggles down over her eyes. The cat crumpled something in her hands, then dropped it into a trash can. When she turned toward the window she found herself facing one of Quiverwing's arrows. "Got'cha." Quiverwing grinned and drew the line taut.
The cat jumped back, startled, then threw something. Quiverwing dodged so it only hit her shoulder. It fell, hissing, down to the ground below the window. Quiverwing jumped in through the window, dropping her bow and arrows as she did. She crouched slightly in preparation for a martial arts attack. To her surprise, Spandex did too. Her tail whipped the air, as if to distract Quiverwing. Quiverwing sprang forward and aimed a blow to Spandex's legs. Spandex countered by jumping out of the way of the attack and springing toward the window. Quiverwing grabbed what she could reach - Spandex's tail, as it turned out - and held her back. Spandex screamed in surprise and pain. She whirled around and chopped Quiverwing's hands away with a blow from the edge of her hand. Quiverwing saw that it was not a wild blow; this cat knew a bit of martial technique herself. Interesting.
Quiverwing darted forward, her hand outstretched as if to grab Spandex's tail again. Spandex lashed her tail away and started to block the blow - and was unprepared for Quiverwing's swipe to her legs. She went down on the floor. Quiverwing quickly planted a knee on her back and cuffed her wrists together. Spandex did not struggle.
Quiverwing took her knee off of her back. "Not quite so cocky now, are you?" she remarked smugly. "What were you throwing away when I came in?" She reached into the wastebasket and took out the wadded up sheet of paper. She read out loud, "You win, Quiverwing. I'm going to quit while I'm ahead. Black Spandex." She stared at the cat who was handcuffed to the ground. "What is this?"
"I'm going to quit." the cat answered. "It really isn't worth it."
"Oh, for - sheesh, I miss the old ways when I had supervillains to deal with every day of the week! You steal gems and give them back, you kidnap someone and practically hand her back to me! What's the real plan?!" Quiverwing demanded. Spandex said nothing. "Taking the fifth, huh? At least look at me when I'm talking to you." She reached for Spandex's goggles.
Spandex turned away. "Don't!"
"When the hero defeats a masked villain, the hero has the right to unmask said villain. It's in the rules."
Quiverwing lifted the goggles away from her face. Black Spandex looked at her with bright blue eyes.
Quiverwing stared back. The, wordlessly, she pulled the fabric of Spandex's hood back. The fur underneath was not black, but a cream color. "Jen?"
Jen closed her eyes, ashamed. Quiverwing said, "What in the ... WORLD were you doing?!"
"I did it for you." the cat said softly.
"You - what? You committed two robberies, and faked your own kidnaping, for me?! You expect me to believe that?"
"It's the truth. Your image was in such awful shape because there were no crimes for you to solve. People were going to start saying that St. Canard didn't need you. I set up some harmless crimes for you to solve. Nobody got hurt, and nobody lost anything. I gave the gems back. You'll get the credit for that, and for rescuing your hostage."
"Oh, that's just BRILLIANT." Quiverwing said angrily. "Did you actually think I wouldn't catch you in the end?"
"I'd planned to leave the costume here with that surrender note. You'd get the publicity for scaring Black Spandex off, too. But when you said that you had to have a final showdown with her ..."
"I thought that it would be better if I surrendered in person, and then escaped. Otherwise you wouldn't give up."
Quiverwing slapped a hand to her forehead. "Of all the lame plans I have heard - and, fighting supervillains with Darkwing Duck, I have heard some doozies! - that has got to be one of the all-time worst! I won't even ask how you expected to get away. Your plan probably didn't go that far. Did you even stop to think that while I was screwing around, chasing around night after night after a fake criminal for a publicity stunt, I could have been doing my REAL job of protecting St. Canard?! This is real life, not a game!" she finished in a shout.
Quiverwing glared down at Jen. The fur below the cat's eyes was damp with tears. She mouthed the words, "I'm sorry."
"You're sorry. That's nice to hear. That fixes everything." Quiverwing growled. She turned away and started pacing.
Jen did not dare to speak. She was ashamed, both of what she had done and of her tears. She could not even wipe them, not when she was lying on the ground with her hands cuffed behind her back. Not only had she fouled up in her plan, now she was going to go to jail too. There was no way out of it.
Quiverwing turned and glared at her. "I can just imagine what the papers would say when they find out that the Quiverwing Quack Fan Club was cooking up stupid publicity stunts to promote their hero. If I turn you in, it'll make this into an even bigger mess."
"But nothing. I'm disgusted with this whole case, and I'd be even more disgusted if the media got ahold of it. You're going to rewrite that note and give me your costume." She took out a key and unlocked the handcuffs.
Slowly Jen got to her feet. She found a pencil and another sheet of paper, and started duplicating the note. When she finished Quiverwing picked it up. "Handwriting's shaky, but it'll have to do. Now give me that costume."
"Uh - can I change in the bathroom?"
"I'm not taking my eyes off of you. You'll change right here." She folded her arms.
Jen obeyed, blushing under her fur. She noticed that Quiverwing was not looking directly at her, but slightly up and to the side, as if staring at something beyond her. That was no comfort.
When she finished changing back into her regular clothes she handed the black fabric back to Quiverwing. Quivering took it, and shoved it and the note into her quarrel. She said, "I'm going to close this case with these. But I have your fingerprints on both the jewels and the note. They'll be in my supercomputer by morning. If I ever hear another peep out of you, my computer will match those prints to you and send the results to the police. Do you understand?"
"I understand." Jen whispered.
"Good. Now just get out of here."
Jen backed toward the door. "Thank you."
"I don't want your thanks. I want you to get the heck out of my sight." Quiverwing hissed as she turned her back on her.
Quiverwing heard the door close softly. A minute later, an old green car pulled out of the shed adjacent to the building and drove down the road.
When Gosalyn arrived home a few hours later, she had blunted the edge of her anger. She had prepared the report she would give the police in the morning. The whole case had been stupid, but at least it was over and St. Canard was safe. That woman wouldn't be a threat to anyone. The best thing Gosalyn could do would be just to put this whole stupid affair behind herself. Starting with a good night's sleep for once.
The transport chair whirled, taking her to her home. She was surprised to see that the light was on in one of the rooms. It was just past one in the morning; Honker hardly ever stayed up this late. "Honk? You up?"
"In here." came the reply.
"I can barely hear you." she said as she walked into the bedroom.
Honker was sitting on the bed, holding a blanket. She said, "What are you doing?" Reflexively she looked at the basket where the egg had been resting in the warmer.
It was empty, except for bits of shell.
She looked back at Honker, her eyes wide. Then she went over and looked into the blanket he was holding. There, almost hidden by the cloth, was a tiny, cream colored duckling.
Honker said, "Come here, sit down." and patted the bedspread beside himself. She did. Gently he handed her the blanket. She took it gingerly, as if handling blown glass. The duckling stirred and opened its eyes. Honker said softly, "It's a girl."
Gosalyn stared, as if trying to fathom what she saw. The duckling's eyes wandered around, not focusing on anything in particular. Gently she folded the blanket back so she could see her new daughter. She was perfectly formed, though she was so tiny. Her downy feathers were still slightly damp. And her hair, what there was, was blonde.
"She hatched less than an hour ago." Honker said.
"Yeah." Gosalyn murmured without thinking about it. One of the duckling's hands touched a fold in the blanket, and it grasped it and tugged. Gosalyn watched, fascinated.
The baby started making little whimpery sounds in her throat. Honker said, "They hatch out hungry."
"Huh - oh, yeah." Reluctantly she let him take the duckling out of her arms. She took off her shirt. Honker handed the baby back to her. She said, "How am I supposed to teach her?"
"I think she has the idea already." he replied.
Gosalyn closed her eyes, for the moment aware only of the sound and feel of her daughter nursing. Then she opened her eyes and said, "We'll call her Noelle."
Honker nodded. That was one of the names they had discussed; her grandfather's name had been Noel. "We'll take her to the hospital and get a birth certificate tomorrow. I didn't think you'd be back so early. How did the case turn out?"
"Oh - OK." she murmured distractedly. "Got it done. It's closed."
Soon Noelle fell asleep again. Honker said, "Better get a diaper on her."
"Oh, yeah." Reluctantly Gosalyn separated Noelle from herself - Noelle stirred, but did not awaken - and Honker took her. He set her down in the crib and went to get a diaper. He returned, and she watched as he put it on Noelle. Her feet were barely half the length of Honker's fingers, she noticed. He wrapped her snugly in the blanket. Gosalyn remembered reading somewhere that, after being in a shell, hatchlings liked to have something around them like that. It made them feel more secure.
He looked at Gosalyn, who was still staring at Noelle as if mesmerized, watching her breathe. After about a minute Gosalyn reached in and touched her feathers lightly.
When she looked up she saw Honker smiling at her, as if amused. She asked, "What?"
"Nothing." he replied. "Let's go to sleep. I think we have a big day ahead of ourselves tomorrow."
"Yeah." Reluctantly she turned away from the cradle toward the bed.
All characters in this story are copyright © Disney, except for Noelle and Jen "Black Spandex" Xianpu, who are copyright © Kim McFarland. This story is copyright © Kim McFarland. Permission is given by the author to copy this story for personal use only, provided no changes are made to the story or the credits.
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