Maybe now that Theodore ‘Teddy’ Tubbington could retire, he’d kick his cigarette habit. Brittany caught him smoking sometimes, and no one listened when she told them her cat smoked. But it was still activity that was a little too out of the norm for a Harmless Pet, and if other OWCA agents got wind of Brittany’s knowledge, he’d probably get reassigned.
Dustin Goolsby had finally decided to turn a new leaf, and leave Evil behind. He’d even shaved off the goatee, which was always a good sign. If he’d been a younger agent, Teddy would have been assigned a new villain to keep track of, but…he wasn’t old for a cat, yet, but he wasn’t young, either, and his job had been pretty stressful.
Along with a penchant for robotics, Goolsby had also had a grudge against cats, and one of his last projects before moving from robots to show choir had hinged on de-clawing every cat in Ohio as the first step. Next would have been the continental United States, then all of North America, then the world. OWCA might not give much recognition beyond a “Good job, Agent T,” but the King of the Cats had awarded Teddy a lordship for stopping the scheme.
So Theodore Tubbington had strolled back into the bedroom of High School Freshman Brittany S. Pierce in a smug mood.
“You’ll have to start calling me Lord Tubbington now,” he’d meowed, twining around her ankles. “Instead of Mr. Tubbers.”
“Okay, Lord Tubbington,” Brittany said, picking him up. She scratched under his chin, and he started up a rousing purr to cover up his surprise.
She wasn’t supposed to have understood his comments. She never had before. No human did.
This was not good. Brittany was an investigator, and inventor. That had been fine when she was a kid; “Mom, I made a flying machine, but it broke when the bathtub flooded” was cute then, something the adult humans would smile and dismiss. She’d quieted down in Junior High, as usual. Those two brothers over in Danyville probably would too, at least when school was in session.
She shouldn’t understand her cat in High School.
The Pierces had kept the Transmogriphier Brittany had built in elementary school, when her dad was reading collections of Calvin & Hobbes aloud to her. It was in the garage, occasionally gaining new words around the dial. Teddy only noticed because it was near the Secret Door on the tool wall.
That night, Theodore Tubbington, newly retired OWCA agent, snuck into the garage with as much stealth as he’d used back during his battles with Goolsby, and sniffed around the cardboard-box Brittany had made into a Transmogriphier.
That was definitely the scent of fresh crayon.
Without hesitation, Teddy leapt on the box, claws bared. He didn’t even bother trying to read the words around the dial. Within minutes, the Transmogriphier was nothing but a scrap of shredded cardboard.
Some time later...
I need to stay away from the catnip , Teddy thought, slinking over to his water-bowl. He’d gone chasing after that catnip mouse when Mr. Pierce tossed it across the living room though. Sure, he felt great while he was rolling all over the catnip mouse, but the stuff made him chatty.
“I feel ecstatic!” he’d yowled at Brittany, after dropping the catnip mouse on the end of her bed. Brittany scratched him under the chin and said “Ecstasy’s bad for you. The DARE speaker said so.”
Oops. Right. Transmigrifier skill. Teddy was pretty sure his lack of a filter while high on catnip was how Brittany’d figured out he was reading her diary.
He still felt bad about that. But after the Transmogriphier incident, he felt a need to check that she didn’t have anything else in the works. If she was getting too inventive, the agency might start keeping an eye on her. What if they mistook one of her hijinks for an Evil Scheme? What if they assigned her an Agent as a nemesis?
No way was Lord Theodore Tubbington, retired OWCA agent, letting that happen.
The summer of 2012…
Becky Faye Jackson was going to be the best cheerleading captain William McKinley High had ever seen. Lopez was out of her hair, thanks to graduating, and Becky could focus on the team winning without having to argue over decisions.
Brittany was still on the team, since she was repeating Senior Year; age limits were one of the first things Sue Sylvester had fought the Ohio, and National, sport board over when she first gained her coaching job all those years ago. As long as a Cheerio was enrolled at William McKinley High School, they were eligible to compete. But unlike those flashy wannabes Vocal Adrenaline, Coach Sue Sylvester would never sabotage a student to keep them around.
The first couple weeks of summer practice had gone well; only a couple girls, and Lance, had fainted in the heat. No one had needed to be treated for dehydration, and there were no sprained ankles…yet.
Practice started at 7AM and ended just past noon. A lot of the team socialized after, going to each other’s houses or out around town to enjoy the summer.
This week though, Brittany had been leaving immediately after practice. Lopez was out of town, some family wedding. Lance had asked Brittany what her rush was, on Wednesday, when she literally ran from the showers, not bothering to dry off before putting on her capris, the ones with lots of pockets, and her t-shirt.
“Gotta finish the time machine soon,” Brittany told him. Becky didn’t catch the rest, as she was helping Coach Sue make sure everything was put away properly.
Kurt had found the plans at the beginning of the summer, and asked what rough notes for a time machine were doing on Blaine’s desk.
“Well we can’t keep them at Brittany’s,” Blaine explained. He was bouncing on the balls of his feet while Katy Perry jangled out from his laptop. “Lord Tubbington might read them.”
“Brittany always did say that cat was nosy,” Kurt said. He set one of Blaine’s wind-up toy robots going across the desk, and scrolled through the pop playlist, determined to switch to Gaga once the current song was done.
That had been a couple weeks ago- now Kurt was out of town, tossed into the back of the car with Finn. Carole and Burt were determined to have a family road-trip this summer, and had a map and a list of places to visit.
So Blaine and Brittany were taking advantage of this week, with Kurt and Santana both out of town, to get as much of the time machine finished as possible. It helped that Brittany’s little sister was still at soccer camp, and thus not getting underfoot.
Thursday night, they sat back on their heels and realized it was done.
“Should we go now?”
“We can go whenever! I mean, we’ll always be back in time for dinner now.”
Theodore Tubbington peered around the door that led from the kitchen to the garage. Brittany and that short friend of hers were kneeling next to a most peculiar-smelling contraption. It was affixed side-car style to Brittany’s motocross bike.
“We’re gonna want to look the part though,” Blaine was saying, as Teddy snuck in. “Don’t want to accidentally start any conspiracy theories or anything.”
“I’ve got retro clothes,” Brittany said.
“Me too,” Blaine said. “But they’re at my house.”
“Okay, we’ll go tomorrow,” Brittany said. “Come over at 6:30 tomorrow, we’ll go before Cheerio’s practice. Bright and early.”
“Sounds good!” Blaine said. They both bounced to their feet, and Teddy skittered behind some planting pots. He snuck a glance just in time to see Brittany handing Blaine a messy roll of large papers, and hug him goodbye for the evening.
Later, when the Pierces’ were eating dinner, Teddy darted back into the garage and examined the contraption. Brittany’s friend Blaine had taken the schematics with him when he left, but from their conversation, Teddy suspected it had something to do with time manipulation.
Before Teddy could really decide what to do, Mr. Pierce scooped him up and carried him back into the kitchen, closing the garage door behind him, having apparently noticed that it was open.
“Not like you to miss your dinner, Lord Tubbington,” Mr. Pierce said. The rest of the family had quickly picked up on the moniker when Brittany had started using it a few years ago. Mr. Pierce set Teddy down in front of his food bowl, freshly filled with the same shredded hamburger meat that had gone into the Pierce’s dinner of Sloppy Joes.
Well , Lord Teddy Tubbington thought, as he ate his dinner. I’ve got all night to figure it out if I even need to do anything .
Mr. and Mrs. Pierce opened the door for Blaine when he knocked at 6:25AM Friday morning; they were starting the long drive to pick up Brittany’s little sister from soccer camp. They’d be gone all day; they’d have to watch the camp’s last game of course, and then make sure Brittany’s sister had all of her stuff packed, and then probably stop somewhere on the road for dinner on the way home.
“Brittany’s friend Becky is coming over this afternoon,” Mrs. Pierce said, shrugging on her light summer jacket. “Maybe the three of you can do dinner together.”
“That sounds nice, Mrs. Pierce,” Blaine said. He waved from the door as they drove off.
Brittany’s cat, Lord Tubbington, was snoozing on the coach, the tattered remains of a catnip-filled toy mouse scattered on the cushions.
In the garage, Brittany had two pairs of helmets and goggles waiting.
“You ready for this?” she asked him, as he adjusted the goggles and cinched the helmet-strap tight for safety.
“I was born ready,” Blaine answered. He got into the sidecar, where the controls were housed, and made sure they had everything set for London, 1971. “All set!”
Brittany, straddling her motocross bike, knocked over the kickstand and revved the engine.
“Becky!” Coach Sue yelled, at 9:30AM Friday morning. “Where’s our lead dancer?”
“I don’t know, Coach,” Becky said. “I called her house and her cell phone, but no one picked up.”
“Huh,” Coach said. She checked something on her clipboard, and surveyed the Cheerio’s on the field again. Half of the summer’ short-routines, and their two long routines, featured Brittany heavily. With her absent, Becky was having the team run through the other half of the short routines.
“Do you want me to check her house, Coach?” Becky asked.
“Nah, that’s all right,” Coach said. “If she’s not here on Monday I’ll look into it.”
During their break, Becky checked her phone. No messages. She and Brittany had plans to hang out that afternoon. Due to that, her mother wasn’t expecting her home until after dinner, so Becky decided that if Brittany wasn’t answering her phone, Becky would just have to stop by her house and see for herself what was up.
Earlier that Friday morning, at 6:32AM, the sound of Brittany’s motocross bike revving up snuck into Lord Theodore Tubbington’s dreams, and he started blinking himself awake.
At 6:35 there was a horrible metallic shrieking sound, and Teddy launched off the couch, ricocheted off the coffee table, and scrambled underneath a cushion, quivering, hackles raised and fur standing straight up.
Ten second later he clawed his way back out, glad there was no one around so he wouldn’t have to pretend to have done that on purpose.
The horrible noise had come from the garage. Where Brittany’s newest invention was housed. And where the entrance to the OWCA tunnel was; the Architecture Department had kept swearing during Teddy’s tenure as Dustin Goolsby’s nemesis that they’d get around to installing secondary and tertiary entrances, but never had. And once retirement rolled around, well, why bother?
Blaine had left the door from the kitchen to the garage open, and now Teddy peered around it, whiskers quivering.
The first thing Teddy noticed was that the garage door, the giant metal one that led to the driveway and rolled into the ceiling, had been wrenched open, the lock broken. The bottom edge was distorted. That explained the noise.
The second thing he noticed were the robots lining the walls of the garage, with the sharp smell of a fresh assembly line, consisting of a couple models Teddy was quite familiar with.
The third thing he noticed was Dustin Goolsby standing dramatically in the open garage doorway, backlit by the morning sun, stroking his goatee.
Tubby, acting with instincts of bygone years, launched himself towards Goolsby’s head, claws bared. Teddy was not, however, acting with the body of those bygone years, and fell a little short. He landed with an undignified noise on the floor of the garage a foot away from Goolsby, and was immediately picked up by one of the robots.
“Put that thing out of the way,” Goolsby said, waving to the robot holding Teddy. In a matter of second, Teddy had been shoved unceremoniously into the dreaded Vet Visiting Cage, and deposited in the kitchen.
“I think I overshot the time,” Blaine said, when he and Brittany arrived back in her garage at 11:35AM. He pulled off his helmet and pushed up his goggles, and then looked around the garage. “Huh. I didn’t notice those earlier.”
“Those aren’t mine,” Brittany said, her own helmet now tucked under her arm, goggles draped around her neck.
“They’re mine,” Dustin Goolsby said. He’d dragged in one of the Pierce’s lawn chairs and was sitting casually in it, sipping orange juice from a tall glass, having apparently rifled through their kitchen.
The two teenagers looked at him, then at each other. Blaine immediately dove for the dials on the control panel, dropping his helmet, and Brittany was about to rev the engine back up when robotic hands closed around her shoulders and yanked her from the bike.
“You can’t leave now,” Goolsby said. “We still need to talk about your machine.”
Blaine had gotten his hands on one of the levers just before one of the robots grabbed him, and the thing bent and snapped off when the robot lifted him up. Blaine kicked out viciously as he was pulled out of the sidecar, and grinned in triumph as he did major damage to the control panel.
Brittany swung her helmet back at the robot holding her, but this sadly just produced a metallic clanking sound, and had no effect on the metal hands gripping her shoulders, vice-like.
In the kitchen, Lord Tubbington yowled.
There was a trick to getting out of the Dreaded Vet-Visit Cage, there was a trick to getting out of anything. But using it for non-OWCA purposes would have been against regulation, and consequently Teddy was rather out of practice. Eventually he escaped, in a flurry of activity that rolled the cage off the kitchen table and popped the door open and sent him tumbling from the kitchen to the garage.
Goolsby and his robotic goons had closed the garage door after themselves, taking Brittany, Blaine and every scrap of the time machine with them.
Resisting the impulse to lick his bruises, Teddy retrieved his old fedora from its hiding place, and dashed to the tool wall and pulled the odd-sized wrench that would open the Secret Door.
The wrench refused to budge.
Teddy pulled out and lit a cigarette, and glared at the tool wall. It was lit by a trickle of morning light coming in from the bottom of the distorted garage door.
After a moment Teddy ground the cigarette out under this paw, and set about trying to force the Secret Door open. He abandoned keeping quiet in favor of haste. It wasn’t like there was anyone else around to hear anyway.
As such, the racket Teddy created trying to get the Secret Door open completely drowned out the front door being unlocked with the spare key kept under the mat, the sound of Becky Jackson calling Brittany’s name, and Becky’s footsteps as she searched the house for her friend.
Teddy had just resigned himself to the fact that with a few years of disuse the Secret Door was completely jammed, and considered having a second cigarette, when hands grabbed him from behind and spun him around.
“She said you could talk! So talk! Where is she, and why is this garage a mess!”
“I don’t knoooooooooow,” Teddy wailed unhappily. But Becky Jackson had never been in Brittany’s Transmogriphier, and all she heard was a cat yowling. She set him down and knelt on the garage floor in front of him and glared as he straightened his fedora.
“She said you could talk,” Becky repeated. Teddy shook his head, and then kicked rapidly at his own ear. Becky tilted her head, adjusted her glasses and said. “You can’t talk. Brittany can hear you, though.”
Teddy nodded his head, and Becky let out a frustrated breath. She pushed up her glasses, and then narrowed her eyes at something on the floor, which she picked up. “What’s that?” Teddy meowed, by Becky ignored him to examine the object. It was Brittany’s wind-up dancing figure. Teddy didn’t like wind-up toys much, as they reminded him of Goolsby’s robots too much. Becky was weighing the figure in her hand, frowning at the heaviness.
Becky stood up then, and walked into the kitchen. Teddy followed, curious, and watched as Becky dragged a chair over to the counter, climbed onto the chair and opened a cupboard. She pulled out the Pierces’ phonebook, and dropped it onto the counter with a papery bang.
An old scent of highlighter wafted through the air as Becky carefully flipped through the pages. Brittany kept everyone’s numbers in her cellphone, but whenever she joined a group also highlighted their landlines in the phonebook. Cheerios, Glee Club, the motocross kids and parents…Becky stopped near the end of the alphabet, and Teddy jumped onto the counter to listen to both sides of the phonecall.
“Did you put a recorder in Brittany’s wind-up dancing toy?” Becky asked.
“No…but I might know who did,” Lauren Zizes said.
“Who?” Becky asked.
“Hey now, that’s not how this business works,” Zizes said. “How much are you willing to pay for this information?”
“Brittany’s missing,” Becky said. “You were in Glee Club with her.”
There was a long pause from the other end, and then Lauren Zizes answered. “Dustin Goolsby was paying me for recordings of New Directions’ choir room. I cut him off once I joined the club, of course. He sent me a query after Jacob posted that interview blog post with the Glee kids.”
The room Brittany and Blaine were given to work in was sparse, just themselves, the broken remains of their time machine, and a large workbench in the middle of the room with the sorts of common tools that they’d used in the Pierces’ garage. There were three blank white walls, large rectangular lights in the ceilings along with openings for ventilation shafts, and the fourth wall held the door and the reflective side of a two-way mirror. There were security cameras in each of the four corners where the walls and ceiling met.
“I really was only planning on keeping you around in case it needed repairs on its own,” Goolsby said, a twinge of annoyance in his voice. “The time it’ll take you to repair your damage is a serious setback in my schedule.”
“We’ll never repair it for you, you fiend,” Blaine said, as the robots dropped him and Brittany on the floor just inside the door. The time machine itself had already been laid gently on the workbench, Brittany’s disconnected motocross bike leaning against one wall.
“You don’t even know my plans,” Dustin Goolsby said.
“Yeah, but you have a goatee,” Brittany said. “And you like, kidnapped us instead of just asking for help. You’re totally evil.”
Goolsby rolled his eyes and motioned the two robots back into the small room, where they stood behind Blaine and Brittany and made shooing motions. They all went down a hall some ways, and were led into a room where an entire wall was made up of TV-screens, with a larger one in the center.
In a swivel chair in the center of the room, Sandy Ryerson sat and surveyed the screens, snacking on popcorn and sipping a martini. The back wall was lined with robots, waiting to be deployed in case Sandy spotted a security breach.
“As to why you’re going to fix your machine for me,” said Goolsby. “I was going to kidnap your girlfriend and boyfriend as leverage, but they’re out of town. I could send robots after them since I’ve been tracking their locations, but really, that seems like a lot of effort, and I’d like them all here with me once your machine is fixed.”
He pressed a button on the remote, and the feed from one of the smaller screens was echoed on the large, central screen. It showed a wedding reception, Santana in the middle of a crowd, cheering on someone offscreen. When Goolsby pressed the button again the feed transferred over to the inside of the Hudson-Hummel car. Carole was driving, and she and Finn were clearly singing along to the radio, though no sound came from the screen. Burt was checking a map, and Kurt was frowning at his cellphone.
Blaine realized that normally he would have sent Kurt at least two texts by now, on a normal summer’s day. Brittany and Blaine’s cellphones had been left in the garage when they first used their time machine, as it would have been bad to let anyone in the 70’s see them.
“And then,” Goolsby continued. “I thought I could kidnap the Brainiacs, since you’re all friends and also it would be fitting revenge for when you bested Sunshine Corazon. But half of the Brainiacs are away being camp counselors, and I’ve already kidnapped you for your machine.”
The main screen flicked to a different feed again, showing the view from a camera nestled in an art room, where Tina and Mike were assisting small children with large paintbrushes.
“So really, as leverage goes, I’ve only kidnapped one Braniac. Not sure if it really counts as that anymore, or just as kidnapping your friend.”
Goolsby pushed one more button, and the center screen revealed Artie Abrams in an isolated room.
“I got you some intel on my way over,” Lauren Zizes said, as Becky Jackson and Lord Tubbington climbed into the front passenger seat of her car. Lauren paused. “Why is that cat wearing a fedora?”
“He’s Brittany’s,” Becky said.
“Right,” Lauren said. She turned the car back on and pulled out onto the road. “I guess that explains why he’s coming along too. Anyway. Your guy Goolsby, used to work part-time at that toy store and hobby shop downtown, the one with the little robot figurines, but lived well beyond those means. I couldn’t find his financial sources, but I got his address.”
“How do you know he had too much money?” Becky asked.
“Found his electricity bills,” Lauren said. “They’re way too high for the house he’s got, and they were always paid in full. I suspect some sort of subterranean facility. Credit card bills had a lot of metal and electronics purchases, too.”
“He quite the retail job back in fall of 2008,” Lauren continued. “Coached a Glee Club out on the East Coast. Moved back here in summer 2010 to coach Vocal Adrenaline, and failed to take Nationals. He’s dropped off the radar since.”
“You think this is over Glee Club?” Becky asked.
“Could be,” Lauren said. “Guess you’ll find out.”
Lord Tubbington meowed questioningly from his perch on Becky’s lap.
“I can’t come with,” Lauren said. “I’ve got internship applications going at a couple different government agencies and security firms, don’t want a Breaking And Entering arrest to mess that up.”
The rest of the car ride was mostly in silence, until Lauren parked them at the end of a street.
“Goolsby’s house is the gray one,” She said. She handed Becky rectangular chunk of metal with a large green button. “Put this flat on a wall and press the button. It’ll knock out security cameras within fifty feet for ten minutes. Makes it look like a wiring problem. Don’t worry about over-using it, the batteries’ll last until Doomsday.”
“Thank you, Zizes,” Becky said, unbuckling herself and shooing Lord Tubbington out of the car before getting out herself.
“No problem, Jackson,” Lauren said. She reached over and pulled the door shut, then drove away.
“Any ideas for escaping?” Blaine asked, using a wrench to straighten out one of the smashed dials. They had to at least appear to be fixing their machine, for Artie’s sake.
“Yes, but it won’t work,” Brittany said.
“Why not?” Blaine asked.
“Because Mr. Ryerson and the robots wouldn’t care, and I have a rule against flashing anyone with a goatee.”
“Good rule,” Blaine said. He looked at the broken dial, now snapped in two. He tossed it into the bucket of parts that would need complete replacements, and started trying to straighten out a lever.
A while later, Blaine walked over to the intercom next to the two-way mirror, and held the button down. “Okay, are you ready to write this down?” Blaine asked.
“Yes,” crackled Dustin Goolsby’s voice from the other side.
“Five dials that go from 0 to 99,” Blaine said, starting the list he and Brittany had worked out. “A box of one-inch paperclips, clear hair gel, four bananas, four video-game controllers from any console, and two bags of Cool Ranch Doritos. Oh, and some Ginger Ale.”
“I don’t think all of that is for your time machine,” Goolsby said.
“We can’t work if we faint from hunger,” Blaine pointed out. “It’s not our fault you kidnapped us around lunchtime.”
Teddy made his way under the large hole in the picket fence and past the haphazard bushes in the garden quickly, feeling old habits come back. Goolsby hadn’t changed his yard at all over the few years he’d been out of the Evil Science game. Brittany’s friend Becky Jackson followed at a deliberate pace, making sure to only step where Teddy had.
At the garden shed, Teddy stopped and waited for Becky to catch up. She just had when the front door of Goolsby’s house opened, and the two trespassers threw themselves to the ground, watching through the grass as three robots and two humans exited.
The robots immediately turned down the street, but the humans argued.
“I don’t think Errand Boy is a true show of my talents, Dustin,” said the one with the sweater tied over his shoulders.
“My scheme, my rules, Ryerson,” Dustin Goolsby replied. “I have stuff to work on here, you don’t, the end.”
“I’m just helping at as a favor from one League of Evil member to another,” Ryerson said with a sniff.
“League of Doom,” Goolsby corrected. “And I seem to recall you practically begging you to let me in on this when you heard there was a time machine involved. So go get the groceries, and don’t take forever.”
Ryerson stuck his nose in the air, turned and walked away down the street. Goolsby rolled his eyes and went back inside, locking the door behind him.
This is bad , Teddy thought. He’s already to the point of arrogance of sending his robots out in broad daylight. Gotta act fast . The residents of Lima would probably come up with excuses for the metallic automatons roaming their streets, Teddy knew from experience. But it still wasn’t good.
Becky tapped the edge of his fedora to get his attention, and Teddy yanked himself back to the task at hand. Right. Getting inside. Becky held up the gadget from Zizes, and Teddy gave one sharp nod. Becky nodded back, and engaged the gadget as Zizes had instructed. Teddy’s ears picked up a faint fizzle sound from inside, and he quickly nudged the garden shed door open. Becky shut it behind them, and turned on the light.
Unlike the Secret Door in the Pierces’ garage, Dustin Goolsby’s lair was clearly prepared for current usage. Teddy sprung the lever to open the trapdoor, and he and Becky descended the hidden stairs into the dimly lit passages below.
A kidnapping investigation was the job of the police. But Brittany’s bike was gone, and both sets of helmets and goggles. Any call Becky could make would be dismissed as “She’s probably just out on a ride.”
And “I think a former Show Choir director kidnapped my friend, either for Glee Club interference or to use the time machine I think she’s building, and her cat is wearing a fedora and acting like he has history with this guy” would definitely be dismissed out of hand.
Well. Retrieving the lead dancer for the Cheerios certainly sounded like a job for the Head Cheerleader. A good Team Captain should make sure everyone on her squad was safe.
The door to their workroom/prison opened, and Blaine and Brittany looked up from unscrewing the couplings that held the bulk of the time machine from the motocross bike. A single robot entered the room, dropped a paper bag on the floor, and left, locking the door behind itself.
Brittany and Blaine finished what they were doing, and then retrieved the bag, dumping it out on the workbench. It had the hair gel, paperclips, and dials. Their lunch and the videogame controllers had still not been produced.
They set about unscrewing the glass and plastic fronts off the dials, filling the insides with hair gel, and re-screwing them. When that was done, Brittany started unfolding the paperclips into rounded squares, and Blaine took the remaining hair gel and stood in front of the two-way mirror, styling his hair. He’d gone into the 1970’s ungelled, and knew he’d concentrate better if he got it out of the way.
“There’s three times as many dials as we asked for,” Brittany said suddenly, dropping another unbent paperclip into her growing pile and flexing her fingers.
“Maybe it’s in case we break some by accident?” Blaine said, smoothing the last strand into place.
“Actually,” Dustin Goolsby said over the intercom. “It’s so that when you finish this machine, you can start work on the back-up.”
The door opened again, and the videogame controllers and lunch were dropped on the floor. Instead of leaving right away though, the robots once more shooed Blaine and Brittany out of the room.
“You broke my groove,” Brittany said, one half-unbent paperclip still in her hand.
“And you’re wasting materials,” Goolsby said, walking beside them as they went back to the security-camera feed room. “And wasting time.”
“I’ve been way productive,” Brittany said.
“I meant the Gelled Wonder here,” Goolsby said.
“I’ll work faster and better this way,” Blaine said.
“Sure, uh-huh,” Goolsby said. Sandy Ryerson, snacking on a sushi-platter he’d picked up at the grocery store’s deli counter, waved absently. The center screen was playing an old tape of the 2002 Winter Olympics. Goolsby snatched up the remote and changed it over to the feed of Artie’s isolation room. At some point someone had given him a deck of cards, and he was rolled up close to the small table in the center of the room, playing solitaire.
“I don’t like where this is going,” Blaine whispered to Brittany. She nodded, eyes fixed on the screen.
“Sandy,” Goolsby said. “You’re supposed to be keeping an eye on the security feeds.”
“Nothing’s happening on them,” Sandy said.
Goolsby snorted. “Don’t change this feed until I get back, or I will smash your antique doll collection.” Sandy responded to that with a noise of horror, and Goolsby left the room. The robots who had escorted Blaine and Brittany from the workroom closed ranks to block the door.
Shortly, the black and white image of Artie on the center screen looked up from his card game, as Goolsby entered the room. Artie held his hands up in a loose “What now?” sort of gesture.
Blaine’s hands clenched into fists as Goolsby stalked around the table, hauled Artie’s wheelchair back, and knocked it over, throwing Artie sideways to the floor. Then Goolsby dragged the wheelchair out of the room on its side, slamming the door behind him.
On the floor next to the card table, Artie raised one hand high into the air, making a rude gesture.
Blaine finally tore his eyes away from the screen when Goolsby re-entered the Security Camera feed room, no longer dragging the wheelchair. Brittany was still focused on the screen, clasped hands pressed against her lips.
“Left it in your workroom,” Goolsby said, while Blaine glared daggers. “A little reminder of your incentive to get this project done in a timely manner.”
“What do you want the machine for?” Brittany asked, still looking at Artie on the screen, as he made his way over to the wall. Her hands were still clasped together, resting under her chin.
“I promise I won’t break the time-stream,” Goolsby said. “I mean, if you two can go gallivanting around, it’s got to be pretty durable.”
“What do you want the machine for?” Brittany asked again.
“I,” interjected Sandy Ryerson dramatically. “Am going to undo my untimely firing from McKinley and keep Schuester from ruining my Glee club.”
“You used to work at McKinley?” Blaine asked. “I thought you were just a random heckler.”
“Coach Sue said that the first time she noticed Rachel Berry as someone with potential was when she got Mr. Ryerson fired,” Brittany said. In his isolated room, Artie slouched against the wall with his arms crossed, and Brittany finally turned away from the screen. “I still need to know what you want our time machine for, Mr. Goolsby.”
Dustin Goolsby sighed. “I have a very long list, but the first thing I’ll be doing is going back to the earliest days of Pet Adoption law in the United States and adding in a mandatory de-clawing for all domesticated felines.”
“That’s awful,” Brittany said.
“It’s for safety,” Goolsby said. He pushed back the shirt-sleeve covering his left arm, revealing a mass of fine, tiny scars. “Think of all the infections staved off, over the decades.”
“Full declawing or just the front?” Brittany asked. “Because the hind claws are what cats use in a life-or-death fight, so if you declaw their hind legs and they get attacked by a dog or raccoon or another cat, they won’t be able to defend themselves.”
“Not my problem,” Goolsby said.
Teddy’s hackles raised higher and higher the further he and Becky traversed down the passages that made up Dustin Goolsby’s secret base. Their progress was slower than he’d like; they stopped every fifty feet for Becky Jackson to apply the camera-foiling gadget from Zizes.
The other hassle was the robots; they further along they got, the more there were. At this point, Teddy was dashing to the end of each hallway, peering around the corners, and then making a sharp motion with his tail for Becky to join him if the coast was clear. If it wasn’t, he backed up a few inches instead, and Becky would stay where she was until the robot Teddy had sighted was gone.
Now Teddy turned a corner, and was confronted with a large sheet of glass, an observation window of some kind. He placed his front paws on the glass and looked through; yes, he still remembered the layout right. This was Goolsby’s production room.
Teddy had always thought of it as the Factory Floor; really, it was the large room that housed the specially-designed manufacturing equipment Goolsby used to create whatever robots he invented. It wasn’t… massive mass production, but it could easily create a solid threat to all of Western Ohio within a matter of days, which was the entire reason OWCA had assigned Goolsby an agent in the first place.
There was Goolsby himself, checking over the latest batch of robots with a clipboard, making notes. He’d change some sort of specification in the main manufacturing computer soon, Teddy knew. It’s what he always did. How many times had Teddy thrown a spanner into this equipment, or slipped a photograph of a rubber ducky into the computer, or just thrown punches at Goolsby’s face…
“I know him,” Becky said, and Teddy realized he’d been lashing his tail unconsciously. He meowed at her questioningly. “He visited Coach Sue at school once. But he didn’t have a goatee then.”
Teddy growled in frustration. The Cheerios had almost always been a safe place for Brittany, except for that Human Cannon incident (and he was damn embarrassed to have only found out about that after-the-fact), and he’d hate to think Sue Sylvester was involved in this.
Because whatever it was, wasn’t for Show Choir.
Back in the workroom, Blaine and Brittany continued work on fixing their machine while picking at their lunch.
“We can’t let give them a working machine,” Brittany said, fixing the dials onto the dashboard of the sidecar while Blaine disassembled the videogame controllers.
“I know,” Blaine said. “But we can’t let them hurt Artie. I wish we could just like, get in this and teleport one second into the past, and thirty feet sideways and bust out of here.”
“The robots drank all the fuel that was in the tank,” Brittany said. She bit off a piece of her banana, and gently wiggled a dial into place, the clear hair gel inside it quivering.
“I know ,” Blaine said, letting his head sink down to the workbench in despair. As soon as his head touched the table, he straightened back up, glancing at the camera in the corner, and moving on to the next videogame controller.
“Dustin,” said Sandy Ryerson over the walkie-talkie.
“What?” Dustin Goolsby snapped into his own walkie-talkie, shoving his clipboard under his arm.
“Several of the cameras have gone down,” Sandy said.
“Then get off your butt and go find out what’s going on,” Goolsby told him.
“Well, it includes the area where you are, so it thought-”
“I’m busy,” Goolsby snapped. “I’ll send you some escort bots. But I’m not leaving this room until I get this glitch worked out.”
Becky Faye Jackson couldn’t hear through the thick windowpane what was going on in that room with all of the machinery, but she and Lord Tubbington still knew something was up from the way Goolsby was glaring into his walkie-talkie. Then a set of already-completed robots made their way to the door, and Becky and Lord Tubbington nodded at each other. It was time to move on, and fast.
They got a few yards down the hall when Becky stepped on a tile that was a slightly darker gray than all the others. A metal cage clanged down from the ceiling, trapping Lord Tubbington. Becky tried to lift the cage back up, but it had attached itself to the floor somehow.
Lord Tubbington yowled at her urgently, and she turned and ran, rounding the corner just before the first robots left the machinery room. She pressed herself as flat as possible against the wall and pushed up her glasses, and the robots zoomed past, not turning from their set path towards the hallway she was in.
Becky almost turned back then, intending to try and get Lord Tubbington out somehow, but Dustin Goolsby’s obnoxious voice sounded out first.
“Ah, Agent T. So good of you to join us.”
There was a distinct “bite me,” tone to the responding meow.
“Done,” Blaine said, sitting back on his heels and wiping some sweat from his forehead. That last bit had been tricky.
“Me too,” Brittany said. All that remained was reconnecting the motocross bike and the sidecar. “We shouldn’t tell them until we come up with a new list of demands. Like, before we give them the list of parts we’ll need to build the back-up machine.”
“Totally,” Blaine said, nodding agreement. “Like, we want to talk to Artie and make sure he’s okay.”
“Bigger,” Brittany said. “We should demand that he stay in here with us. And that they get us a TV and some videogames and- and- and take us out to dinner or something to celebrate finishing this first one.”
“I don’t think they’re gonna let us out of here, Brittany,” Blaine said.
“No, but you have to start negotiations big,” Brittany said, after taking a swig of Ginger All. “Because they’ll start small, and we all meet in the middle.”
“Right,” Blaine said. “So…is getting Artie in here with us the middle?”
“Totally,” Brittany said.
Becky Faye Jackson, captain of the Cheerios and infiltrator of a secret robotics factory, had lost her co-infiltrator to a man Coach Sue described as “a bit of a tool, who likes playing mind games with his opponents.” Worse, she had lost Brittany’s cat to said man. Brittany was not going to be happy about that when she found out.
Determined to find Brittany, Becky continued on with the mission by listening for the clanking of the robots and following them, sure that they would lead somewhere useful eventually. But all they had led to was Sandy Ryerson, her former fellow heckler.
“Becky Jackson?” Sandy asked, holding a camera repair toolkit and a martini, flanked by two robots.
Way to blow it, Becky , she thought to herself. Now you’ll never find Brittany.
“What on earth are you doing here, sweetheart?” Sandy asked. He looked confused and concerned. “This isn’t a good place for little girls, you know.”
Why you condescending, spineless little-
“Mr. Ryerson?” Becky said, wringing her hands and tilting her head for effect. “I think I’m lost. Can you help me?”
Sandy Ryerson, who Becky felt should have known better but wasn’t too surprised didn’t, proceeded to call her a “lost little lamb,” put his hand on her shoulder, and lead her to the stairs that led back up into Dustin Goolsby’s house without bothering to ask any more questions. Didn’t ask how she’d gotten into the secret robotics base. Didn’t ask why she wasn’t surprised by the robots. All he did ask was who he should call to come pick her up.
Instead of answering that question, Becky asked “May I use your bathroom?”
“Oh of course,” Sandy said. He had fortunately let go of her shoulder by now, and gestured down the hallway of the small suburban house Dustin Goolsby had sitting on top of his secret base.
Once in the bathroom, Becky locked the door and sat down on the closed lid of the toilet to think. She had to get back downstairs. But Sandy was watching her, and she probably couldn’t pull off the accidentally-wandered-into-an-underground-secret-robotics-lab act twice. Plus Sandy had that walkie-talkie, so even if she snuck away he’d just tell Goolsby she was there.
This was a pickle. She was stuck.
Quickly, Becky flipped open the lid of the toilet and flushed it once. Then again to be convincing. She pulled the roll of toilet paper from its alcove, and unspooled it into the toilet bowl. When it was all in, she grabbed the plunger and gave a couple of shoves, creating a convincing papery slop.
Then, plunger in hand, she opened the bathroom door and stuck her head out.
“Mr. Ryerson?” she called, and Sandy walked over from the end of the hallway. “Your toilet is clogged.”
“What?” Sandy asked, aghast. “Oh, let me…” he pushed his way into the bathroom. Becky stayed in the doorway, forcing him to brush past, and she snagged the walkie-talkie from his belt. Sandy clenched his hands in his remaining hair when he saw the toilet, and Becky handed him the plunger.
Leaving the sound of splashing and cursing behind her, Becky dashed back to the linen closet, where the entrance to the secret base was. The two robots were milling about the hallway, apparently not having any current orders, and Becky gave them a wave as she walked past them. They didn’t move to stop her as she went back down the stairs.
Teddy was still in the cage, which was now being held by one of the robots. As usual, Dustin Goolsby didn’t realize that Agent T was one and the same as the cat from the Pierces’ house, and had commented “You’re the second meddling cat I’ve had to cage today. Making my Friday feel like a Monday, you nuisances.”
Teddy’s attempts to get free had been to no avail, and he was taking a smoke break, blowing rings at the robot holding his cage, and trying to plan. He needed to save the kids. He needed to stop whatever Goolsby was planning. He needed to get in touch with the Organization Without a Cool Acronym…
Agent T retired , he reminded himself. Lord Theodore Tubbington needs to rescue Brittany and her friend. That’s what you need to do .
The intercom system in the workroom/prison also fed into the walkie-talkies, so Goolsby’s fiddling with the manufacturing computer was interrupted by Blaine’s voice saying “We’ve got it fixed, and we’ve got some demands. First, we want Artie in here with us-”
“Hold that thought,” Goolsby said. He beckoned to all of the completed robots, and lead the way out of the Factory Floor. Teddy snuffed out his cigarette. Artie, huh? So now there’s more kids involved.
The robot carrying Teddy’s cage was the last one out, and so as they turned the corner, Teddy was the only one to see Becky Jackson, holding a walkie-talkie, push up her glasses and slip into the vacated Factory Floor.
The plan had been to see if this giant computer had a map in it, or a way to shut down all the security cameras at once without having to keep using Zizes’ gadget.
But that tool Dustin Goolsby had, in his haste to get to the machine Blaine and Brittany had just finished, left the screen open on the command page for modifying robotic controls. According to the page, the robots recognized Goolsby’s face, body, and voice. They recognized Sandy Ryerson too, but only two of them had been programmed to follow his commands.
There was a promising circular pad on the floor next to the computer. Becky stepped onto it, and pressed the “scan” button. After a sort of vworp sound, she stepped back off the pad and checked the screen. Yep. There she was.
Grant command-rank to…modify all….booyah.
Time to go find a robot and test this out.
Everyone was assembled in the workroom except for Sandy Ryerson. It was a bit crowded with all-but-two of the robots, Dustin Goolsby, Lord Tubbington in a cage, Blaine, Brittany, and Artie, who had been reunited with his wheelchair.
“I can’t believe I called that asshole handsome once,” Artie muttered to Blaine.
“Wait, you what?”
“That was before the goatee,” Artie said, waving one hand dismissively. “And before this whole kidnapping thing.” Goolsby was circling the time machine and Brittany was leaning against the wall with her arms crossed. “You know, I was kind of excited about the whole ‘robots and a secret underground lab’ thing, but being nothing more than a pawn here is really harshing my groove.”
Goolsby interrupted their conversation by starting his monologue. It was a pretty good monologue, but when he turned towards the glorified cat cage and said “So you see, Agent T-” Brittany interrupted him.
“He’s not Agent T,” she said. “He’s Lord Tubbington.”
Goolsby gave her a skeptical look. “This is my nemesis of long standing, Agent T.”
“No,” Brittany insisted. “That’s my cat, Lord Tubbington.”
“What kind of pet wears a fedora and sneaks into secret underground robotics laboratories?” Goolsby asked, scoffingly.
“The kind that smokes,” Brittany said. “Besides, his names’ on his collar, you can check it.”
“Whatever,” Goolsby said. “His name will be a moot point once I erase his existence.”
“You promised you wouldn’t break the time-stream!” Blaine and Brittany exclaimed at the same time.
“Fine, I’ll just stop him from becoming a secret agent, happy?”
“Not really,” Blaine said, but he subsided, and then glanced around. “Didn’t you call Mr. Ryerson on the walkie-talkie a while ago?”
“If he can’t be bothered to get over here, he can just miss out on the time travel,” Goolsby said.
“The machine only works with two people,” Blaine pointed out.
“Fine,” Goolsby said, rolling his eyes. Fortunately, at that point, Sandy Ryerson arrived in the doorway, the lower hem of his trousers sopping wet, shoes trailing toilet paper.
“You have terrible plumbing, Dustin,” Sandy said. “And we have an intruder who I suspect stole my walkie-talkie.”
“We’ll deal with it when we get back,” Goolsby said, beckoning a robot over to fill the fuel-tank of the motocross bike.
“You better not scratch my bike up,” Brittany said, as Goolsby revved the engine; he’d already set the dials before letting Sandy into the sidecar.
“Not yours anymore,” Goolsby said. “That’s how stealing inventions works , kid.”
Then they were gone.
Teddy let out a piteous meow as his cage was held aloft; Brittany wanted to get him out, but the robot holding him was still acting on Goolsby’s previous instructions to “give my foe a good view”.
“I just need to check his paws,” Brittany told the robot, but to no avail.
“Let the cat out of the cage,” said a calm voice; Becky Jackson stood in the doorway, hands on hips. The robot immediately lowered the cage to the ground, and then ripped the top off.
“Becky!” Artie exclaimed.
“Good to see you Becky,” Blaine said.
“Is he all right?” Becky asked Brittany, ignoring the two boys. Teddy had let his fedora fall off when Brittany picked him up out of the broken cage. Brittany was checking the claws off all four of his paws.
“He’s fine,” Brittany said. “And he’s still got all of his claws!”
“We did it!” Blaine said, and he and Brittany high-fived. Becky and Artie glanced at each other, and then directed their attention to the two inventors, who were now both giving Teddy a belly-rub.
“Did what?” Artie asked.
“Okay,” Brittany said “So Dustin Goolsby was totally evil and was gonna change the pet-adoption laws in the past so all cats would be declawed.”
Teddy tensed up at that, eyes widening in alarm, but then Blaine started scratching behind his ears, as Brittany continued her explanation.
“And we couldn’t just like, make it not work, since if he started it up and nothing happened we were worried about what he’d do to Artie. But since he wanted us to build a second machine he gave us extra parts, so we totally built a false control panel. He and Mr. Ryerson are on a one-way trip to next week. They’ll show up right here, too.”
I’d better get in touch with OWCA by then, Teddy thought. Make sure they have agents waiting.
“Good job,” Becky said, nodding towards Brittany, Blaine, and Teddy.
“Are they gonna stop us from leaving?” Artie asked, nodding his head towards the dozen or so robots still lining the room.
“They’re on our side now,” Becky told him, and Teddy meowed questioningly. “I found the control center.”
“Cool,” Blaine said. That seemed as good a time as any to leave, because Brittany stood up, cradling Teddy in her arms. Becky waved at the robots, beckoning them to follow her, and the whole group left, the teenagers discussing if they should go to BreadstiX for dinner or order pizza in, the robots meandering along in a loose gaggle, and Teddy purring as Brittany scratched under his chin.
“Why are there a dozen robots in Cheerios skirts, and only skirts, trying to form a pyramid at the other end of my practice field?”
“Because the uniform tops overheat and catch fire, and the pants just didn’t work. They’re practicing so that they can do cheers for home games while the rest of the squad is away at competitions.”
“Huh.” Sue consulted her clipboard, and then looked back down the field. “Well. Get rid of the skirts, and find some heat-resistant paint instead. Got it?”
“Got it, Coach!”