Previous Up Next Table of Contents
Previous:  Chapter the First -- Section 6  Up:  Chapter the First  Next:  Chapter the Second

Chapter the First -- Section 7

Louie carefully climbed up the handles of the drawers to the top of the lab bench.  From the top of the Bakelite splashboard he could just reach the thermostat.  He nudged it up.  There, he thought, 85° should do it.  Then he croodled down the bench until he was behind the cage.  Now to wait for Schlepp's signal. 

Lightfeather and the other hummingbirds were starting to rouse from their torpor as the room warmed up.  They twitched their wings and started to move their beaks.  Louie stole in quietly and gently began tapping Lightfeather on the cheek, “Wake up, Lightfeather.  Come on, you can do it.”

“Boy, its hot in here,” explained the man, “The thermostat must be broken.”

“Oh, quit complaining and had me the spacers,” snapped the woman.  “If we don’t get this robot flyer fixed for the boss, we’ll never be able to catch enough hummingbirds.”

Suddenly there was an incredible crash as a tower of laboratory glassware toppled off a storage shelf with a horrific din.  The woman gave out a startled cry and the man exclaimed, “What the...!”

Louie immediately recognized this as Schlepp's idea of a simple but discreet signal.  Springing up and out of the cage, he grabbed the sheet and flung it aside.  The humans were too shocked by all the noise of breaking glass on the far side of the room to notice.

But the hummers did--between the warmth and now the bright light, they quickly awoke.  Louie waved them towards the door of the cage and cried out, “Head for the back door!  The fire exit!”

Dozens and dozens of flying jewels buzzed out and streaked for the door that Terrance held ajar.  Lightfeather held back and hovered near Louie.  He quickly explained that they had to distract the humans long enough for Schlepp to escape the lab and then make their way to the rear exit of the building.

With that Lightfeather zipped up to the ceiling, briefly got her bearings, and then strafed the two people, who were only now noticing that their prized collection of hummingbirds had literally flown the coup.

“Quick!  Stop them!” cried the woman, waving her arms wildly in the air, desperately trying to keep Lightfeather from poking her with a sharp hummingbird beak.

“Nooooo!” moaned the man as the last hummer zipped out over Terrance.

“They can't get out of the building, you fool!  Just get the net and catch them at the front door.”  The man grabbed a net with a long handle that was standing in the corner and ran toward the door.

That's when he saw Terrance, still wedged in the door jam, determined to hold his ground until all his buddies were safely out into the hall.

And that's when he saw Louie jump down and vault over Terrance.

“What the ...!”

Crash!  Another piece of glassware hit the floor.  But this time, it was followed by alarm bells and an automated voice on the building loud speakers, “Warning!  Warning!  Pseudo-radioactive spill.  Level one.  Warning!  Warning!”

The man turned in his tracks.  The woman stopped flailing at Lightfeather.  Their gaze fell on the flask of phosphorescent green goo broken open on the floor ... and a small brown teddy bear scurrying away along the counter top. 

Schlepp reached the end of the lab bench and without breaking stride took a long leap, bounced off his bean-filled bottom, and came up scrambling fast for the door.  But the man used his long net and scooped the furry one up.

“Oh, no!” cried Louie and Terrance as one.

But Lightfeather swooped around in a high banked turn, diving down as fast as her little wings could beat.


A bright line of blood appeared on his cheek where the hummer's beak had scratched him.  He reflexively swatted at his face, but Lightfeather was long gone and in doing so he dropped the net lower.

Louie bounded over Terrance, took a flying jump, and grabbed the net.  Distracted by Lightfeather and with the added weight, the man let the net slip out of his grasp.  As soon as it touched the ground Louie helped Schlepp free and they raced back to the doorway, leaped over Terrance, and took position behind him.

“All clear, Lightfeather!” shouted Schlepp.

The little bird broke off her attack and zoomed out the narrow opening in the doorway.  As soon as she was clear, Louie and Schlepp pulled on the turtle's tail.  With a pop he was pulled free of the door jam and the lab door snapped closed.

Schlepp tipped Terrance up on his rim and Louie balanced the shell from the opposite side.  With a shove they were off, rolling Terrance between them as fast as two stuffed critters could run, heading towards the rear fire exit.

But all too quickly the lab door burst open and the humans dashed out.  Lightfeather zipped back up the hall, away from the exit and towards the front door.  Her wings made a loud hum and the humans ran after her ... and away from her buddies.

In moments Louie, Schlepp, a dizzy Terrance, and a flock of buzzing hummingbirds were at the back door.  And the back door was closed tight.

“Where's Lightfeather?” asked Louie.

“Don't worry.  She's just leading those people away.  She'll double back down the other hallway.”

And just as Schlepp said those words, Lightfeather zipped into view.

“Stand back, everyone,” ordered Schlepp. “Time to blow this place.”

Terrance took up his position at the base of the door, Schlepp scrambled up and got ready to boost Louie up to the door latch.  But Louie just stared dejectedly and said, “Sorry guys, this door has a bar, not a handle.”  Sure enough, the fire exit only had a “panic bar” that humans could push in an emergency, but Louie would never get any leverage against it to force it open.

Then Lightfeather buzzed over and thought out loud, “Hmm?  Looks like we need a human....  Stay right here, fellas.  All you hummers, follow me.”  And in a buzzing blur they flew off up the hall.

Minutes passed and the alarm kept up its warnings, “Warning!  Warning!  Pseudo-radioactive spill.  Level one.  Warning!  Warning!”

“What's Lightfeather up to?” asked Terrance.

“I don't know,” answered Schlepp, “but I think she's going to make a bigger emergency.”

“I'm worried about them birds, Schlepp,” said Louie, “Those guys got nets.”

Just then they heard footsteps running towards them.  Around the corner dashed the man and right behind him a flock of angry hummingbirds.  They dove, swooped, poked, and buzzed the poor fellow.  The man flailed wildly with his arms and, desperate to escape these tiny terrors, he burst through the emergency exit and ran out of the building, the hummers in hot pursuit.

Behind him the door swung shut, except that it didn't.  With a clunk it stopped, leaving a three-inch gap.  Terrance was acting the doorstop once again.

 “Everybody out?” called Schlepp, looking back into the hallway double-checking for any stragglers.  Then he and Louie pulled Terrance loose and they headed for the safety of the nearby bushes.

 Far across the parking lot the man still ran, pursued by the flock of hummingbirds.  Lightfeather, though, had flown back to check on her friends.

 “Everything OK back here?” she asked, settling down atop Terrance's shell and folding her wings.

 “Big Schlepp's never gonna believe this,” commented Louie.

 “We'd better get back to the Brigade and make our report.  Herr Professor Bear is going to want to know what's going on out here,” replied Schlepp.

 “What was that green stuff anyway?” asked Terrance.

 “When I pushed the bottle over, I saw the label.  It said it was 'Unobtainium.'  The Professor will know what it means,” and with that our crew strode off across the desert towards the bus stop and the long trip home.