The Nut-Cricket Adventure
The snow was falling, the bright twinkling lights were beginning to come on, one by one. Darkness was decending on the city of Old Chicago. Cricket Lang, the robot girl detective, remembered how the city used to be. It was almost one year ago to the day that she and her husband, detective Harry Lang, arrived here, hitching a ride from Original New York. It was a near ghost town, with many people getting by in shelters, and still others living in poor, run-down houses. A year later, as Cricket was walking down the main street that she and Harry walked on that fateful night, she could see the re-opened shops, windows full of toys, new clothes, food, Christmas Trees and decorations. And unlike that night they arrived, the streets were teeming with people dashing in and out, cars going up and down the street, and flying overhead. She smiled, thinking she played some small part in the change the city went through.
She stopped to look at a poster. It was for a Christmas Eve performance of The Nutcraker Ballet. A beautiful young woman with hair pulled back and dressed in white with a sparkling crown atop her head was shown. Below were the words; Starring World Famous Amanda Tanner....One Night Only....Sold Out! Cricket wasn't worried about that last part. It seems a certain Mr. Throckhammer saw to it that she and Harry would be sitting front row center! She was looking forward to seeing an old friend, spending Christmas Eve with the man she loved on the anniversary she became Cricket Lang, and watching a wonderful ballet she was going to see for the very first time. It was all going to be so magical.......and pigs were going to fly over the city, singing Jingle Bells!
Some grinch is just bound and determined to ruin Christmas this year for our heros for hire, Harry and Cricket Lang, and make sure a benifit perfromance of The Nutcracker Ballet dosn't take place. First, the star ballarina nearly dies from being poisened. And her understudy flew to the wrong city, and is now snowbound. Now, our little Cricket finds herself spending Christmas Eve ON stage, dancing in the lead role of Clara, and trying to prevent an assination from taking place at the same time. And she still has Christmas shopping to do! Another fun-filled story is just around the corner for all you FC'ers: "The Nut-Cricket Adventure"
"Ho Ho Ho, Merry Christmas!" came the cry from a jolly rotound man sitting in a throne-like chair, dressed in the traditional red with large white trim, and black boots. If one looked beneath the beard of white, which seemed to be glued on, one could see beads of pure sweat coming down the man's face. Still, Bill Decker loved playing Santa Claus. He had been at it for almost a month now at the Carl T's Department Store in Old Chicago. He loved watching the expressions of the faces of the childern, as with wide eyes, they told 'Santa' how good they had all been this year, and all the things they wanted for Christmas. Surprisingly, many were thanking Santa for the toys he brough them last year. This brought a tear to the man's eye. He remembered how a certain friend of his had made it possible to bring some much needed Christmas cheer to the childern of Old Chicago a year ago. This friend of his had given up a sizeable about of her income to provide them with toys they would have never had gotten otherwise. And this friend had let Bill Decker, dressed up as Santa Claus, take all the bows for the gifts, without so much as a thank you to her. And as fate would have it, the friend he was thinking about for just a moment, was now standing before him.
She stood just under five feet tall, a sweet-looking blonde woman, whose hair was done up in simple pigtails. She looked to be nineteen, perhaps twenty years of age. She blended in easily with the other people in the store. Decker however knew very well the girl before him was no teenager. She wasn't even human. The young woman who answered to the name of Cricket Lang was an android, a humanoid robot. She waved at 'Santa', beaming from ear to ear. She was dressed in a very bright red and green sweater with snowmen on it.
"Well, well, and what's your name pretty missy?" 'Santa' Decker said with a wink, pretending not to know her.
"I'm Cricket, Santa. And I've been an extra good girl this year" she said with a giggle, going along with the whole thing.
"Well of course you have. Santa knows who's been naughty and nice. Ho Ho Ho!" Cricket giggled and walked up close to Decker.
"How's it going Santa?" she asked quietly and sweetly to him. Decker looked up at her and smiled.
"These kids are just amazing Cricket" he said. "A year gone by, and most of em are still taking care of the toys they got from you. I tell ya, when ya compare these kids to those over spoiled brats in those blasted domes....."
Cricket just put her hand on his sholders. She knew what he was talking about. The people who dwelled in the domed cities like New Chicago didn't seem to value much in the way of friendship and familes. They love to throwaway anything more than a week old, it seemed, including a certain robot girl. But this wasn't a time to think of such sad things. Christmas was near, and Cricket was caught up in the wonder of it all.
"Speaking of over spoiled brats; have you seen my Harry?" Decker was about to answer her when a voice was heard behind them.
"The over spoiled brat has spent the last half-hour looking for Mrs. Brat." The voice belonged to Cricket's owner, Harry Lang. At least in a legal sense, he was her owner. To everyone, himself included, Cricket was Harry's wife; his partner and equal. He was a bit stocky, but still handsome man in his late 30's. He was dressed in his usual three-piece suit, and overcoat. Cricket spun around to greet him with a geniune smile.
"I told you I wanted to see Santa. And I didn't want to just jump ahead in front of all these kids. That would be rude."
"And have you been a good boy this year sonny?" Decker said pointing to Harry.
"Well, I look at it this way Santa. Every time I make the naughty list, I just stick my neck in where it isn't wanted, manage to save the world, and it all evens out."
They left 'Santa' Decker, and Carl T's Harry had gotten his shopping for the year done, and now they were on their way to keep a lunch date.
Cricket was bouncing happily as they made their way done the street. Harry was trying to relax his partner, but he may just as well have tried to put lightning into a bottle.
"I can't wait to see her again Harry. Just think, she's been all over the world now, cheering crowds everywhere she goes, and we know her.....personally!" Harry tried to comment, but Cricket seemed to kick in to full out babble mode.
"I mean, yeah, just two years ago, she was our client, and everyone thought she killed that old kookie rich guy in cold blood, but not us, no siree! We believed! We believed, and we were right. She didn't do it, and she got her career back, and now she's world famous! And we know her, isn't that awsome Harry??"
Harry was greatful, that just then, they had arrived at the Rialto Theatre.
Like everything else in Old Chicago, it was nothing more than a bombed out shell of a building a year ago. It was one of the first places to be restored by Throckhammer Industries. And now it looked just like it did a hundred years ago; and flashy marque sign that read: "CHRISTMAS EVE BENIFIT- THE NUTCRACKER - STARRING WORLD FAMOUS AMANDA TANNER - WELCOME TERRITORY GOVERNERS.
The inside was just as impressive. There were rows of plush seats, bright chandelers hung from the celing, and large stage, complete with vevet curtain was at the far end. Cricket didn't seem to care about any of that. She was interesting with what was back stage. And if she knew how the week would turn out; she just might have made a beeline back to Carl T's.
Next: Fatal Reunion
Harry and Cricket made their way to the theatre's backstage area. They found to door with the name, "Amanda Tanner", on it wide open. Inside the dressing room were several stuffed animals, flowers of all kinds, and pictures of different people. Cricket was guessing those pictures were of family and friends. One picture frame hung on the corner of the large make up mirror, caught the robot girl's eye. It was a holographic picture of a very happy Miss Tanner, smiling and waving to a crowd. At the bottom of the image was news headline; TANNER HEIRESS CLEARED OF MURDER CHARGE -- HARRY LANG AND MYSTERY GIRL DECTECTIVE CRACK CASE
"Look Harry" Cricket chirped, pointing to the moving image, which repeated over and over. "Boy, if that doesn't make me pull up some memory files. What a crazy case that was. I especially remember....."
A very raspy, elderly voice from behind cut Cricket off.
"Can I help you?" the voice asked.
Mr. and Mrs. Lang turned around to see a very tall, and very thin old gentleman. His hair was as thin as his body, and a ghostly white. His eyes and cheekbones were sunk in. He was dressed in a formal suit, one that very much looked like something a butler of a large mansion would wear. Cricket looked up at him, her eyes wide. The old man simply glanced down at her.
"Oh, it's you" he said dryly.
"Him!" Cricket cried, pointing up at the man. "I remember him!" she said to Harry, who half-smiled.
"Well well, Fredrick Graves. Good to see you still up and about old man. Of course, with you it's hard to tell. You still ah...."
"Yes. I am still in the employ of Miss Tanner as her personal valet" Graves said in the same eerie, even-timbered voice.
"Well, we'd like to see Miss Tanner" Harry said.
"And this time, we have an apointment" Cricket added. Graves' expression never changed. He simply glanced down at them once more.
"Yes, I know. She mentioned it....several times today." Just then, another voice, this one much younger and sweeter, was heard coming from behind Graves.
"Who are you talking to Freddie?"
Just as the question was being asked, a sweet young blonde in curls, and a pink ballet dress, came into view. She suddenly grinned and squealed with delight when she saw....
The two embraced like long lost sisters. Except for the difference in hair and height, they could almost pass as identical sisters. Amanda Tanner stood five foot two, so she was just a bit taller then Cricket.
"Oh, I've been waiting to see you ever since we got into Old Chicago last night" Amanda said. "As a matter of fact, when they told me where I was performing The Nutcracker, I insisted that you and Harry have front row center seats, or I wasn't coming." Cricket's eyes grew wide again.
"That was you?? Oh Amanda, you shouldn't have."
"Of course I should have Cricket. If it wasn't for you, I'd be God knows where. In a prison, or perhaps in that horrible Dome Underground. Instead, here I am. And I owe it all to you Cricket!" Just then, Harry 'ah-hemed', and leaned in.
"You know, I had a little something to do with you having your freedom."
"Oh of couse you did. Hello Harry" she said as she hugged him tight. Harry blushed a little. Amanda put her arms around both of them.
"Npw just let me get dressed, and then we'll all go up to my Hotel Suite, and Graves will order us up the most delightful lunch." Just then, yet another voice, this one thickly accented, was heard behind the valet, Graves.
"I am sorry, but lunch is now postponed." There was long silence, and then the voice became more excited. "Excuse me!!!"
Graves glanced to one side, then stepped to his left. Like a human curtain, he revealed a bald, fat little man, sporting a thick moustache. The small man grunted at the larger Graves. "Is like trying to move Rock of Gibralter." Again, Graves simply glanced at him. The shorter man then turned his attention to the ballerina.
"Amamda my dear, I am sorry but Governer's people have forced me to move evening rehersal to now."
Now??" Amanda cried. "Petrov, we just finshed 15 minutes ago! Can't we wait just a liitle longer?"
"I am afraid not. They need to do...something security check, I do not know, but they say we must not be here by six this evening, and since it is almost two...." Amanda sighed as she wrapped her arm around Cricket. The man refered to as Petrov raised an eyebrow at Harry and Cricket.
"What is....who are these?" he asked. Amanda smiled again.
"Aton Petrov, I'd like you to meet my two dearest friends, Harry and Cricket Lang. They're the ones who proved me innocent two years ago. Harry, Cricket, this is my director..."
"...and star maker" Petrov added.
"The man who has made me a star, Anton Petrov."
Harry shook hands with him. "Pleasure to meet you" he said. Petrov returned the greeting with an indifferent, "Yes yes." He was eyeing Cricket. He suddenly gave a sly smile, and shook his finger at her.
"Ahhh. So this is famous crime-dectection device you have told me about." Now it was Cricket's turn to raise an eyebrow. She raised it at Petrov then lookec at Harry.
"Device??? Did he just call me....a device??" Amanda quickly played peacekeeper.
"Sorry, bad english. He just ment the way you solved that creepster's murder......Right, Anton???" Petrov quickly cleared his throat.
"Ah, yes. Very chamed to make the aquaintence of such a lovely young woman." And then he kissed Cricket's hand. Mrs. Lang smiled back, if a bit skeptical.
"Well Cricket, it looks like out lunch date has become a dinner. Hope you don't mind. I'll see you and Harry tonight at the Hotel...say 7pm? Suite 515?"
"We'll be there" Cricket said, beaming.
As the two of them made their way out the theatre and back to the apartment, Cricket was sunggling up against Harry.
"Get all your shopping done, dear?" she ask sweetly.
"Uh-huh. And no, you won't get a word out of me of what your getting."
"Harry...you know how much I love surprises. Especially from you."
"Now how about you Mrs. Lang. The afternoon is free, going to finish your shopping?"
"Yes. But I'm not going back to Carl T's, and I don't want you to see where I'm going, so you can hop over to Betty's and take little April shopping now.
Cricket nodded with a grin.
"I'll just stop by our place first, and grab my body armor."
"Yes, she adores you, but has a nasty habit of kicking me in the shin whenever no one's looking."
"Harry" Cricket said with a giggle. She knew it was just dry humor, which she had come to recently understand about humans. The peace of that winter afternoon was was suddenly broken by sirens. An ambulence, and a recure truck raced by. Cricket looked as they went down the street, and her face became filled with concern.
"Harry, they're turning into the theatre!"
The two of the raced back to the Rialto. Once inside, they found paramedics hovered over Amanda Tanner, trying to revive her. She was passed out on the floor. She was half holding a bottle of water in her hand. When Cricket first saw her friend, she gasped with shock, then saw the bottle and on instinct took a hankerchief in her hand and picked the bottle up. She unscrwed the cap, looked in, and held it up to her nose. She gasped again, and uttered one word;
Next: Enter Clara Cricket
Nearly three hours had passed since Amanda Tanner had been rushed to the Michael Jordan Medical Center. Cricket stayed by her side during the ambulance ride, as did her valet, the solemn Fredrick Graves. Harry escorted the ballet director, Anton Petrov, in his car. Now all the four of them could do was wait and hope for the best. It was hard to tell who seemed more upset in that hospitial waiting room; Petrov or Cricket. Harry did his best to comfort his wife, and if Graves had any concern for his employer, he never showed it.
As they waited for the doctor to come out to give them the good or bad news, someone else joined the party. He was a casually dressed olive-skinned man, looked to be on the young and handsome side, and he had a badge hung around his neck. He was Luis Sandoval of the newly re-formed Chicago Police Department. He had been friends with Harry since the days of the Second Civil War, and when Harry and later Cricket were living in Original New York. Sandoval knew Cricket very well. He was the one who faked her ownership papers as a favor to Harry. Now, they both looked somewhat hopeful as he entered.
"Well, Lt. Sandoval, your people find anything?" Harry asked.
"Not much I'm afraid" the man answered. "We're still running tests, but it looks like Miss Tanner's water bottle was the only one tainted." Sandoval then turned to Mrs. Lang. "It's a good thing you spotted the poison when you did Cricket. If it hadn't been you for, we'd be investigating a murder insted of an attempted one."
"But I don't understand" Cricket said. "Who'd want to poison Amanda?"
"That's the mystery eh Lieutenant?" Harry asked.
"Sure is Harry" came the reply. Sandoval then walked right up to the rigid standing Graves. "We questioned everyone at the theatre and they all say that you handle all of Amanda's person effects."
Graves just glanced down in his usual way, and spoke in his dry, dead, calm voice.
"Yes, it's true. I'm am responsible for the young lady's well being, and no one is more upset than I that this tragady has befallen her."
Sandoval just gave the taller man the most "You have got to be kidding me" look, and Graves just stood there as calm and as stiff as a summer breeze when he spoke.
"I think we can vouch for him Luis" Harry said. "You remeber two years ago, how fircely loyal he was to Miss Tanner?" Sandoval kept his eyes on Graves, who never changed his expression.
"Yeah, well a lot can happen in two years" he said. Sandoval then turned his attention to Petrov. "Still, if we take tall, thin, and gruesome off the suspect list, that moves you or one of Miss Tanner's co-stars to the top of that list" he said to the director. As calm and un-emotional as Graves was, Petrov was the exact opposite, getting more excitable as he spoke.
"Indeed sir, I will have you know that Anton Prtrov personally hand picks everyone who performs under his direction, and I assure you that no one on my stage has any ill feelings toward the lovely and talented, and might I add world famous Miss Tanner!" He was looking directly at Sandoval when he spoke, his index finger raised high in the air. Then he calmed a bit and turned to one side. "At least, no ill feelings that I am aware of." Sandoval nodded his head.
"Right. No that you're aware of."
"Mr. Petrov, who is Amanda's understudy for Clara?" Cricket asked.
On hearing that question, Petrov became excitable once more.
"Ah yes......the understudy. She is now in place called.....Vermont."
"Why is she in Vermont?" Cricket asked.
"Why don't you ask incopmetent shuttle pilot that flew her to snowbound city instead of here!" Petrov barked.
"Well, does anyone else know Amanda's part?" Cricket asked. Petrov shook his head.
"No, no, none can take Miss Tanner's place, not in three days time."
"Well, I guess that rules of jealousy as a motive" Cricket said. Harry put his hand on the back of his neck.
"Well, there has to be a motive. Someone deliberetly poisoned Amanda, and the question remains why."
"I think I can supply that reason why" a voice said. It belonged to a middle aged man of average build. He was dressed rather formaly in a suit much like Harry's. He had two men with him, also in suits, wearing sunglasses. Sandoval was the one to acknowledge who he was.
"Governer Saunders. What are you doig here sir?" he asked. David Saunders then stood like a politician making a speech.
"One year ago, this city was on the verge of being taken over, and overrun by foregin investors loyal to GlobalCon. I can't tell you what a disaster that would have been for all of us, and I've come to understand that disaster was prevented by you Mr. Lang, and especially by you Mrs. Lang." Cricket smiled and blushed a bit as the Governer continued.
"Since last Christmas, Old Chicago has had new life breathed into, something that has not gone un-noticed by the other non-domed territories. You may have read that I've brought the other Governers here to meet and to show them we don't need hand-outs from GlobalCon. Not to feed us, provide for security, for anything. Re-opening the Rialto, and having this benifit is a major part of that. It will show them how far we've come, and hopefully, inspire them to do the same things in their territories. Who knows, we even may be able to have the USA just like it was before the war and the GlobalCon takeover."
Just then, the doctor came into the waiting room.
"Which one of you is with the young lady brought in from the theatre?" the tall grey-haired doctor asked. Harry, Cricket, Graves, Pertrov, Sandoval, and the Governer all said, "I am" in perfect unicin. Petrov breathed a heavy sigh, then waved his hands to part the other men like the Red Sea.
"Please to be telling us Miss Tanner is alive, well, and able to return to stage." All of them breathed a collective sigh of relief when the doctor reported Amanda was indeed alive and now resting. "Put as for performing" the doctor added, "I'm afraid that's out of the question. At least for two weeks. She very luicky to be alive right now. If that poison hadn't been caught in time.......well, I don't think I need to tell you how things whould have turned out." Petrov just threw his hands up.
"Well, that is as they say that. I am very sorry Governer, but if there is no Clara, there is no ballet."
Harry began stroking his chin, and pacing a bit. "So what we need now, is someone about this tall..." He held his hand up to Cricket's head; "...someone who can move very gracefully, and who is sweet, and almost child-like in appearance. And someone who can learn and perform The Nutcracker Bellet within three days time." Cricket had her hand to her chin as well. She was trying to think of solution, when she noticed all five men in the room looking right at her. She began to giggle nervously, then she stopped.
"You're serious.....no.....no no no.....this won't work Harry. I'm a dectective not a ballerina."
"But you're also an android. Look honey, it's simple. All you have to do is download the movements, and follow them along with the music."
"Me......perform the lead role of Clara......in front of all those people??"
"But you almost look just like Amanda, Cricket. And whoever did this to Amanda is sure to come after you once they realize the ballet is going on."
"Oh of course they will. You're not making this idea very attractive, Harry." The Governer than pleaded the case.
"Mrs. Lang, I agree, this is quite a wild prospect, and android or not, I don't like the idea of putting someone who has helped this entire territory so much in danger. But it's because you've been able to help us so much in the past Mrs. Lang, that I implore you now; if you could help this ballet go forward on Christmas Eve....well, you just might be the one who signals the true beginning of the end for GlobalCon, and the start of true freedom for all of us once more, both human and android alike."
Cricket just blinked and smiled at him. She just couldn't argue with what he said. Even if it was the most loopy idea she had ever heard. Cricket was never really programmed to "save the world" but it was something that seemed to give her a lot of pleasure every time she did.
"Ok. It's crazy and probably hopeless, but count me in."
"That's my girl" Harry said, putting his arm around her. "Well, Petrov, what do you think?" The director circled Cricket as he thought.
"Hmmmm...transform crime-detective de..." Cricket glared at him before he finshed the statement. "....charming young detective into first-class ballerina. A challange for Petrov." He clapped his hands together. "Ok, I do! But....I will need young lady's full attention...all her attention for next three days." He looked right at when he said it. It made Cricket glup a bit and wonder just what Harry had gotten her into.
Next: To trap a killer
"WHAT DO YOU MEAN SHE'S NOT DEAD???!!!", the voice on the other end of the cell phone roared. The voice belonged to one Lanny "The Shark" Roykirk. Before and during the war, he had be just your average thief, and all-around nasty person, who had been in and out of prison. Then he lucked his into a position of true power, becoming the head of GlobalCon, and becoming the mysterious "Chairman". The person speaking to this villian kept in the shadows, remaning unseen to all, and speaking in a very hushed tone in some sort of think accent.
"I give her posioned water, like you say. And she pass out. But they find her too quickly, and take her to hospital. Is not my fault." The Chairman gritted his teeth through the phone.
"I practically hand deliver you that posion. I make sure the understudy ends up miles away from Old Chicago. I make things as simple and easy as possible, and you BOTCH THE JOB???!!!" The voice in the shadows gulped hard and began to stutter.
"But-but-she is alive is true, but she cannot perform. She is too weak."
"Then why am I not reading that the ballet is cancelled?" The Chairman asked point blank. The voice in the shadows stuttered even more.
"We-well-well-ahhhhhh.....they ahhh.....find someone else." The Chairman's voice got very quiet and seemed to take a deadly tone.
"Is name I never hear before...anywhere......in no ballet circle...I-I-I never hear this name..."
"Ahhhhh...Lang....yes....that is name...Cri-ket Lang, yes." There was a long eerie silence before The Chairman spoke again in a flat even tone.
"Perhaps this can work to my advantage after all. It might be better if Governer Saunders was killed right in front of the others. Now listen. I'm having a specialist brought in. He'll contact you the night of the performance."
"You mean ballet is going on?" the voice asked.
"I said LISTEN!" The Chairman barked. "When this person contacts you, you follow his instructions to the letter, understand?"
"Da, I understand."
"Good, because if the outcome is not to my liking, you are going to recieve a very nasty Christmas present."
Three days had now passed. Each rehearsal seemed to be more intense than the last. Cricket had downloaded the movements of the lead, Clara, into her memory banks. Then she imagined she was a 12 year old girl, caught up in a wonderful fantasy world, filled with wonder and danger. That was the easy part. With each passing day, however, Anton Petrov kept pushing and pushing the young android more and more it seemed. What time she had off, she spent checking out the other performers, seeking any clue as to who had try to kill her friend, Amanda Tanner. Through all this, there were times Cricket would come dangerously close to overheating. The cooling fan located near the small of her back had cut out a few times. She had spent the night before Christmas Eve at Betty's having the fan belts replaced. Now she was in the middle her final solo dance in front of the big Christmas, with the toy nutcracker in her hand.
"Nyet, nyet, nyet!" Petrov barked, clapping his hands on each 'nyet'. Cricket stopped her dancing and looked at him. "Passion, Mrs. Lang, passion! You must put more passion into it!" The robot girl breathed a heavy sigh.
"Mr. Petrov, if I put any more passion into it, I'm going fall right through the floor." Petrov just grinned and raised his hand.
"Yes! That is spirit!" Just then, Petrov's pocket watch chimed a few notes from the Sugar Plum Faries dance. He took it out, looked at it, and smiled. "Ah, Lunch!" Everyone there, including Cricket breathed a collective sigh of relief, as they began to scatter offstage. Petrov whistled, stopping them in their tracks.
"I have not excused ANY of you. Now; there is no afternoon rehearsal, but do not slack off! Call is 6pm sharp...DO NOT.....be late." He waited for what seemed like an eternity. Then he finally spoke. "Now...you are all excused." He walked right up to Cricket as she gathered her things, and looked her in the eye.
"Passion, Mrs. Lang...remember...PASSION!" Cricket smiled at the director.
"Yes, Mr. Petrov, I'll remember" As he walked away, Cricket continued to smile, although the smile grew tighter, and she spoke through her teeth.
"I'll show you passion, you little slave driver." Petrov spoke as he kept walking.
"I heard that!" he cried.
Just then, Cricket felt a much needed hand on her sholder. She knew it to be Harry, and her mood softened when she turned and saw his face. She held up the toy nutcracker she still had in her hand and made it talk in a rather mocking tone.
"Passion, remember, passion, blahblahblahblahblah" Harry chuckled at her, taking the toy nutcracker, looking it over.
"Well at least you have six hours before you get ready."
"Yes, and I could use a thick chocolate flavored lubricant shake right about now." Cricket said, wrapping her arms around Harry.
"Everyone check out?" he asked as they made their way into the street.
"Yep. Everyone." Cricket then extened one finger after the other, as she went through the list of 'suspects'.
"All of the kids in the ballet are from the local ophanage. I doubut if any of them are criminal masterminds. The rest of them; The Mouse King, the rats, The Prince, all of the dancers; most of them came from Russia with Petrov. A few of them are from arond here. But no one with phony name, no criminal records, and no one fron any of the domed cities. If there is a mole within this group, they're a very well hidden mole. How about you, Harry? You and Luis have any luck?"
"We came to the same dead end I'm afraid. No known hit men or women to be in Old Chicago. I even had Camillia Hargrove check with Interpool. Nobody they know of flying in from way out of town."
"We've overlooked someone Harry. Someone probably right under our noses."
The little fembot had no idea just how right she was. If they had looked back at the theatre, they might have seen a figure in the shadows, watching them both walk away. And they might have seen that figure hoilding up a rather sharp, shiny blade!
Next: Let the ballet begin
It was now only a few moments before the two-story high curtains would be raised, and the ballet would begin in ernest. Cricket had spent most of the last hour pacing the backstage like a father expecting his first born child. She found herself adjusting her costume every few minutes. It wouldn't be so bad, she thought, if she was performing in front of strangers, people she didn't know, but Harry thought the tickets they had shouldn't go to waste, so he gave them to Betty, and her daughter, April. And they would be sitting front row center. Harry, Lt. Sandavol, and the rest of his unit were staked out all over the theatre, looking for anything out of the ordinary.
Other thoughts were racing through the yound android's mind. Would the people out there see her as a ballarina? Or just some life-sized "toy" trying to act like one? Could she really pull this off? And if indeed, a killer was lurking on stage with her, how could she stop him, or her, without sending everyone there into a panic? Her thoughts were interupted by a fair haired young man much taller than Cricket. This was the dancer playing the part of the prince.
"What is wrong my little dushechka?" he asked Cricket. The robot girl gave him a soft smile. She had found out the word 'dushechka' was Russian for darling, or dear. She didn't seem to mind, since this 'prince' had been just that. In the three days they rehearsed together, he was nothing but the perfect gentleman to her. She couldn't say that about the one dancing as The Mouse King. That one couldn't keep his furry little hands off her.
"Backstage butterflies, isn't that what they call them Ivan?" she asked, with a nervous laugh. The tall blond man put his arms on her sholders and just smiled.
"Tonight is night all will remember, dushechka. And you shall dance into immortality." Cricket thought that last statement was a bit much.
"Ah, just help me get through tonight, ok?"
Cricket took a deep breath as the curtain went up, and the music began. There was Fredrick Graves, playing his part of Herr Drosselmeyer. It was the first time the robot girl had ever seen this sullen old man crack a genuine smile. He must have been an actor in his past, Cricket thought.
The first act of the ballet went like clockwork. Cricket found herself dancing flawlessly, putting as much 'passion' as she was able to, into her performance. When it came time to fight the Mouse King, and his army, Cricket had an interesting time searching them all and dance at the same time. She got to them all, one by one, looking for a weapon, a signaling device, anything that would indicate they any of them were up to no good. She came up empty. When the act ended, and the curtain came down, she should have been elated at the applause she was getting. Insteadm she was frustrated. Perhaps this had been all a mistake, and there was no 'plot' after all. But then she remember Amanda, still in the hospital. She and Harry had to have overlooked something, but what???
Just then, Petrov ran up to her.
"Ohhhh Mrs. Lang." he cried. "That is what I am talking about. Passion, passion. You are dancing like doll come to life." He grabbed her left cheek, and pinched it. "Now, if you will excuse please, I make sure Governers are taking care of for good." Cricket was a bit startled by that last statement.
"What?" she asked. Petrov just chuckled.
"Oh please excuse, bed english.. I must see Governers are having good time. Now you, go break leg." And with that he was off. Now to Cricket, Anton Petrov seemed to most unlikley of suspects. After all, it was he who had brought Amanda back to the stage, encourged her at every turn, or so Cricket's friend told her. Stiil, maybe she should follow him, she thought.
As she began to do so, she noticed one of her ballet slippers came unlaced. When she bent down to re-lace it, she overheard two men speaking in Russian from behind a flat. She knew she really shouldn't easedrop, but if they had some sort of clue as to what was really going on here, well, it was a chance the robot girl detective had to take. She accessed her language banks to translate. One of them sounded like her 'prince', Ivan.
"Everything is in place" one of them said. "In the final scene of act two, when the cymbols crash for the third time, I will kill Governer Saunders from the balcony. You will take care of girl playing Clara at the same time."
"Right on the stage?" Ivan asked.
"Yes." the other one said. "The Chairman feels if the girl is killed right on the stage, panic will come and the people of Old Chicago will be broken once more. He says she is very much loved here." Cricket gasped quietly when she heard all this. She ran to warn Harry, but tripped into something that clattered. The two men jumped from behind the flat. Ivan grabbed Cricket by the arm as she started to run.
"Dolt!" the other one cried. "She hear everything!"
"It does not matter. You get up there and take place. The Chairman kill us both if we fail now, go!" And the man ran off. And so did Cricket. But Ivan's grip got tighter.
"No, no, dushechka. Show must go on. Only now, is change at end. Little Clara will have..." As he spoke, a sharp blade suddenly sprang from under his right sleeve.
It it was at all possible for an android to show, or feel fear, Cricket was feeling it right now. She tried to speak, but all she could muster in a very squeeky and meek voice was, "Wowie Zowie!"
Next: Cricket's Trick Knee
The intermission was now drawing to a close, and the audience was coming back into the theatre. Backstage, Cricket was in a state of pure disbelief at the predicament she now found herself in. The handsome prince in this story, had turned out to be a jackel. This tall, fair-haired man who seemed to be most innocent and kind, was nothing more than another stooge for The Chairman. The man she had spent the past three days with, and had come to know as Ivan, had turned out to be one of the criminals she and Harry had been looking for all this time.
Now, as curtain time got closer, Ivan had a very frim grip on Cricket. And as that grip tightend, her fear changed into a slow burning anger.
"I must admit Ivan" she said without looking at him, "you really are a very good actor. You certainly had me fooled." The faux prince gave a very self-centered smile.
"Da. I fool your friend Amanda also" he said sneering. "She have no idea I was one who give her poison water. No one suspect handsome prince." Cricket halfway smiled at this. She had just recorded his confession. Now if she could just get to Harry. But then Ivan said something that made her synthetic skin crawl.
"Are you ready for your final performance, my little dushechka?" Cricket turned and looked up at him in total disgust.
"That's Mrs. dushechka to you creep! And you'll never get away with this. I'll find someway to stop you. And if I won't, Harry will." Ivan just laughed at this.
"Your famous Harry has no clue, none! Man who go to kill Governor, he look like all others protecting him. Your Harry is too late, as are you." The robot girl detective was afraid Ivan might be right, as just then, the applause began to grow, and the curtain went up.
Cricket and Ivan smiled and danced together as if they were in love. This made Cricket even more deteremined to stop him, even though her primary resources were being used to follow the ballet program disc running inside of her. Her enhanced vision could see Harry and Lt. Sandavol in the back of the theatre. She just had to find a way to tell Harry what she knew. Then as the Sugar Plum Fairy danced, Cricket realized the sparkling crown she was wearing, would every now and then reflect onto the stage. If she could just aim it right........
Harry and Lt. Sandoval were a bit weary when they sat in the back of the theatre to watch Cricket. Nothing they had seen all evening had indicated the night was headed for disaster. In fact, things were going very smoothly, and everyone, the other governors included, were enjoying the preformance throughly.
"Cricket and the guy playing the prince dance pretty well together" Sandoval observed. "They make a nice couple."
"Yeah, I guess they do" Harry bristled.
"Your not jealous, are you Harry?" Sandoval asked. Lang squrimed in his seat a bit.
"Me??? Jealous?? Nah.....I know it's.....on stage and everything, and Cricket's just.....ya know.........doing her part." Just then, a very small but blinding light seemed to be distracting Harry. It was coming from the tierra Cricket was wearing. The robotic girl kept moving her head back and forth as she danced. Sandoval noticed it too. They both kept squinting and trying to block the light aimed at them.
"What's the matter with your girl, Harry?" Sandoval asked. "She keeps trying to blind us with that crown she's wearing.
"Yeah, I can't figure it out Luis. It's like.....hey what do you know, it looks like she's doing that old signaling trick I taught her."
"Trick?" Sandoval asked.
"Yeah, the old 'ships at sea' routine, remember?.....Hey, wait a minute. I thinik she's trying to tell us something." Harry studied the 'lights' to see if indeed, Cricket was trying to send some sort of message.
"Well?" Sandoval asked.
"I'm a little rusty on my morse code. Now, let's see. The.......killer.........is .....one.....of the.......governor's..........BODY GUARDS!!??? Holy smoke, Luis, we have to get up there before it's too late!"
The two of them dashed out of the theatre, and into the lobby.
"You men, come with us!" Sandoval shouted to the officers who were standing nearby. The men followed, and they all went quickly up to the balcony level. Sandoval had them keep back when they reached the seats where the governors were. Governor Saunders and his family were watching the ballet, while five men is dark suits, and sunglasses stood behind at a distance like statues.
"Everything looks normal, Harry" Sandoval said. "Maybe Cricket was wrong." Lang just shookk his head.
"No, not about something like this." Sandoval went the the lead guard tapping him on the sholder.
"Shhhh" was the man's reply. Sandoval griminced, then spoke in a wisper, holding his badge up.
"Sandoval, Old Chicago PD. How many of you guys are there here?" he asked.
"Six, why?" was the reply.
"Have you made a head count lately?" The agent gave the Lt. a rather annoyed look, sighed then counted off the other security men.
"One....two...three..four...five....five??? We ah.....seem to have one missing."
"Where is he?" Sandoval asked bluntly.
"Bathroom break?" The Lt. rolled his eyes and motioned the guard to come with him. He grabbed his collar radio and spoke into it.
"This is Sandoval. We have a possible security breach. Any blue jacket you guys see running around, hold and detain, I say again..." Just then, Harry motioned his friend to a nearby stroage door that was cracked open. When the door was opend, one of the bodyguards fell out onto the floor, lifelessly. Harry checked the man.
"He's dead alright" Lang said.
"Phillips..." the lead guard began to say. Sandoval got back on the radio.
"Confirm that, we have a potential assassin. He's dressed as one of the Governer's private security people. You see one alone, hold him. Shoot only if you have to."
Harry was looking at the room of the storage room. "Where does this lead to?" he asked the guard.
"Up to the rafters, I think." was the answer.
"Luis, you two get back to the Governrs in case this guy comes back. I'm going up."
It didn't take Harry long to spot his quarry. There, sitting on a rafter, overlooking Governor Saunders, and his family, was a man in a dark suit and sunglasses. His was aiming and re-aiming an old fashioned sniper rifle at them. Harry made his way carefully to get the drop on the man, but was spotted, and the gunman took a silencer shot at Mr. Lang. Harry didn't have a silencer of his own on his gun, so he didn't fire back. For now, he had to let this guy use him for target practice, and hopped he run out of ammo. As Harry was dodging bullets, he spotted the sandbags hanging there. He took a chance, and swung them in the gunman's direction. One of them hit the mark, and knocked the rifle out of the gunman's hand. Harry dove for him before the rifle could be recovered and the two fought. Harry wreslted the gunman to the ground, and overpowered him rather quickly.
'It's over, pal" he said. The gunman still grinned.
"Perhaps, but girl still die!"
Harry looked below and head the auidence begin to mumer. Then he looked at the stage.
Indeed, during the final scene between the Nutcracker Prince and Clara, things seemed to be going very differently then what most remembered about this ballet. Why was the Prince chasing Clara around the stage with a knife in his hand? Cricket tried her best to keep her distance from this homicidal thespian, but she still had the ballet disc running in her. For his part, Ivan was very crafty, keeping to his movments as the prince, save for holding the very sharp blade in his right hand. Petrov was just as confused as the audience was.
"What is this? What is Ivan doing?" he asked himself outloud. Back onstage, the robot girl will still dancing, but trying to get out of this nightmare at the same time.
"You keep away from me!" Cricket cried out. Ivan just gave that eerie self-centered smile of his.
"But dushechka, we have your farewell dance to finish."
"Just answer me one thing" Cricket said, as she was forced to embrace him one last time. "Why did you poison Amanda Tanner?"
"Because this Chairman pay much better than cheapskate Petrov."
So that was it, Cricket thought. Pure greed. It seemed to bring out the worst in humans. Perhaps Cricket would one day understand whay that was....if she survived this night.
When Petrov heard what Ivan said, he was beside himself.
"Cheapskate........CHEAPSKATE???" he cried backstage.
Cricket was starting to panic a bit now. Those three cymbol crashes were almost at hand. What happend to Harry she wondered. Had he gotton to the other man in time? And how was she going to escape herself.
"And now dushechka", Ivan said rasing the knife in the air to plunge into her back. Up to now, she had been hoping this blade would cut into a few non-vital systems, she could "fake" the death for his benifit, then kick his ass later. But a final twist was added just then; the knife was electrified!
"Time for death scene" Ivan said, with a very evil gleen in his eye. In the audience, mumers of "Is that real?" and "He's going to kill her?" could be heard. Somewhere in all this, Cricket had managed to caculate her way out of this.
"Actually, I have a much better ending" she said rather quickly.
"And what is that dushechka?" Ivan asked, ready to fry poor little Cricket.
"Well, after all.......this is the....Nut......Cracker...ballet." she said with a smile.
Ivan hesitated, wondering what she ment. It was the opening she needed. When Ivan finally realized how Cricket's legs were postioned, and realized where he was standing in proportion, it was too late. And on the final downbeat of the ballet, Clara's right knee said hello to the Nutcracker Prince's jewels. The blade fell out of Ivan's hand, Ivan fell to the floor, and the curtain fell with a crashing thud. Petrov was in tears.
"I am ruined!" he sobbed. Just then, a single person applulaed from way up high. Up in the balcony in fact, where Harry was a few moments ago. But the clapping didn't come from Harry. It came from the Governer's wife. And seeing her appulad this.......interesting interpratation...made a few more people appulad...and a few more and a few more. Soon the entire theatre was cheering as the curtain went back up. The loudest cheers came from the women. The men politly clapped and more than a few were crossing their legs. Hearing the audience, Petrov was suddenly very happy.
"I am genius!" he cried grinning from ear to ear.
Cricket was still catching her breath from her latest escape from death when the house light came up and she saw everyone cheering and crying "Bravo".....for her. She smiled, and bowed ,and waved, and giggled. "This is awsome!" she said, catching roses by the dozen. The rest of the dancers took their bows as well....all but Ivan, who was still on the floor whincing in pain. As the curtain came down, Graves came up beside Cricket.
"Miss Amanda will be most proud" he said in his usual dry tone.
"Thanks Graves. And where were you when I needed you?
"Oh, does madam require assistance?" Cricket pointed do Ivan.
"Yes, now that you mention it. Graves, please take this garbage to Lt. Sandoval. He's going to need it as evidance."
"He's another bag of garbage for you Graves, old boy" a voice said from behind. It was Harry, carrying the gunman who was very worse for wear.
Graves just looked at the scence with a deadpan expression on his face.
"I did not realize this was trash day, but very well." And he carried the two villians off for Lt. Sandoval to dispose of. Cricket hugged Harry tight, and he wrapped his arms around his beloved wife and held her just as tight.
"I'm so proud of you baby" Harry said looking down into her eyes.
"You are Harry?"
"You bet. You saved the Governers, Old Chicago, Amanda's going to be just fine."
"She is? Really??
"Oh yeah, in fact, if you don't mind, we're all going to celebrate Christmas two days late at our place."
"Of course I don't mind." And then, they kissed.
The appluase had not died down. Petrov was estatic.
"Bring that curtain back up.....up do you hear??" he barked. "Listen to all that wonderful applause." The curtain came back up, and more than a few "Wooooooooosssss" could be heard when they saw Harry and Cricket in their loving embrace still kissing. They both just smiled and waved.
"Next Christmas, let's go to Hawaii."
"Yeah. What bad could possibly happen in a hawaiian paradise?"
She asked that knowin if they did go, adventure and danger would follow. And truth be told, they both wouldn't have it any other way.
Happy 4th of July and Merry Christmas Everybody!!!!!!!!