Return of the Magic School Bus by RogueDragon
Act 3: Save the Day
Chapter Nine: Marge95531
It was a simple enough idea, really: access a database that could track down the people they needed to find. It might not have been his idea to begin with, but Ralph Tenelli was the person bursting with ideas on how to make it happen. So at some point, he apparently took the wheel on the endeavor.
Mr. Shu and Mr. Ruhle didn't feel terribly comfortable with the law-breaking implications of the plan, so they opted to sit this one out. Principal Ruhle went home, it had been a long day for him, and Mr. Shu, his bus, and his ferret went back to Standerton. Moonvalley Humerus also had to head home, taking Liz-Bot; but Janet and R.U. Humerus did join them, however, being eyewitnesses and all.
Friday evening at the Walkerville Police Department bustled with activity. A school bus in the shape of a housefly went unnoticed as it worked its way into a room with several desks and computers. Miss Frizzle landed the bus inconspicuously on the ceiling while they checked out their options.
"That computer in the back is unused," Keesha pointed out. She and every other former classmate had crowded the front of the flybus to see out the fractal'd windshield.
"We should probably risk one of the computers with an officer logged on," Ralphie pointed out, "someone already logged onto the network so we don't have to face off against any firewalls."
"As my second cousin Tasha always says, 'If being a fly on the wall doesn't get you the information you need, dig a little deeper!'" Miss Frizzle announced as she began to enter a series of commands into the bus's control panel.
"For real, Miss Frizzle," Keesha spoke up, "does your family REALLY says such topically related one-liners all the time?"
"Try going to a family reunion," R.U. replied, "it can be quite maddening!"
Upon imputing her commands into the bus’s consol, Miss Frizzle took the wheel and, before anyone with any protests about risks could be voiced, dived the bus down toward the computers. They headed toward a desk with a bored looking cop, most likely filling out reports. The cop didn't even blink an eye as the fly flew under the desk to the back of the CPU tower. In the shadow of the desk, the fly turned into a USB memory stick and plugged itself into an available port.
It all happened rather fast, so it was a bit jarring. They found themselves in what Ralphie could best describe as a sort of holodeck with a glowing white floor and only distant blackness instead of walls and ceiling. There was a faint grid pattern that could be seen along the floor and streaming zeros and ones could be seen flickering in the distance with a mixed Matrix/Tron style to it. Ralphie realized the room was pretty close to what he imagined when this whole plan started coming together. The bus must have telepathically heard his imagination the loudest, so he felt that meant he could go ahead and take charge.
"Nice job bus! As always!" Ralphie stepped forward, cracked his knuckles and jostled his shoulders a bit as if getting ready to start a rigorous activity, "you got access to the database?" In the space out in front of the group, names started to appear in the air of various databases including law enforcement personnel and criminal databases. "We only need people who might have committed a crime, preferably with a portrait included." Hundreds of mugshots appeared in the air of all sorts of individuals. "Uh, let's go with males in their twenties, blond?" Most of the floating images disappeared but were replaced by even more mugshots that fit the vague description.
Tim stepped forward, sketches in hand from earlier. "Narrow face, but not excessively," the artist picked up, "eyes rounder on top than on bottom."
"Blue-grey eyes," Janet offered from off to Ralphie’s right. He noticed the redhead look defensive at the curious glances from her cousin, Miss Frizzle, Keesha, and Phoebe, "just trying to help!" She explained with a blush.
More and more pictures disappeared and were replaced by images of individuals that increased in resemblance to each other. As they narrowed the description more new pictures stopped coming in and all remaining images increased in size until single portraits filed the air and Ralphie shuffled through them with a wave of his hand.
They tried for a few more minutes to narrow down the appearance of the culprit simply known as Scott, to no avail. "Bus, can you work on searching other state databases while we work on someone else?"
On the road, they had come to the conclusion that Scott was one of the hunter-geared kidnappers, the other guy being the dark-skinned, bearded guy. Bus had seen plenty of Beard-o through the observation window and seemed certain he was the one known as Dave. The memory recall the bus provided, however, looked rather simplistic, cartoonist really. Apparently humans are hard to distinguish if you’re a shape-shifting robot.
Miss Frizzle and R.U. did what they could, but found no luck with that either. R. U.'s memory for his blonde female attacker was useless and neither the bus nor Miss Frizzle ever saw her, so they tried Marge next.
"Higher cheekbones," Tim was commenting on the narrowed-down options that we're flickering through the air, "eyes a tad closer and maybe a couple centimeters lower."
"Wait, go back!" Dorothy Anne spoke up.
"Yes I do believe we found her!" Miss Frizzle agreed.
"Sarah Moore?" Carlos read the accompanied file on 'Marge's' booking, "huh, still not a criminal," He mused.
"Fined for leading an unauthorized Bigfoot-hunt in Sequoia National Park?!" Phoebe read on, "who gets arrested for that?"
"Apparently she threw a clipboard at the ranger who was giving her the fine," Ralphie laughed, "it was enough to get her booked and give us an address!"
- - - !o≡ll≡o! - - -
Maybe it was the angle of the sun, starting its nighttime decent, that made Sarah "Marge" Moore's home seem foreboding, even creepy. Maybe it was the unkempt yard and disrepair of the drooping rain gutters. Or maybe it was the signs that said "No Trespassing", "Demand the Truth!", and "Mitchell Jon Baker is a crook!" that were the biggest turn-offs. Although the "UFO parking only" sign or the yellow diamond-shaped sign with a Bigfoot silhouette were kind of fun.
The same car they had stowed-away in a few hours ago sat in the cracked driveway, so it was the right place. They had come this far, so Ralphie had no plans to back down, not that he was nervous or hesitating, but thankfully Wanda, Keesha, Miss Frizzle, R. U. and Carlos were already to the porch, and knocking on the door as Ralphie and the rest caught up.,
"Hello, Sarah Moore," Miss Frizzle cheerfully greeted as the door opened, "I'm Valerie Frizzle, you may recall you assisted in my imprisonment the last couple of days," she reminded sweetly without a trace of sarcasm or irony.
Sarah paled and started to instinctively close the door but Keesha jammed her foot in before it closed more than a couple inches, "We just have a couple questions for you." Keesha remarked.
"May we come in?" Miss Frizzle asked and stepped inside without letting Ms. Moore answer. The confident frizzy-haired teacher moved a basket of laundry from one couch in a well-lived-in living room and sat down with a very guest-like graciousness.
Sarah Moore looked bewildered as everyone else filed in and was probably trying to figure out why she was being invaded by high-schoolers. After just about everyone was inside, she took a step closer to her front door in another escape attempt when the last person to come in, a very grouchy looking R.U. Humerus blocked the door, crossing his arms as the screen-door closed.
"Please have a seat," Valerie invited, "we only have a couple questions and we'll be going."
Ralphie and Carlos instinctively stepped to either side of Ms. Moore and, without touching her, ushered her to one of her chairs. Ralphie felt like a mafia henchman, an idea that was partly cool and thrilling, but also made him feel guilty as Sarah's demeanor became increasingly confused and scared.
Sarah's eyes finally fixed on the redheaded cousins. "You!" she accused Janet, "it was all a trap!"
"Yeah," Janet responded, although it sounded a lot like a 'duh', "a trap to find and rescue your kidnap victims!"
"Victims, I think not!" Sarah countered, "Terrorists more like with how you destroyed that office building. And now you invade my home!" Her eyes darted between Ralphie and Carlos both nervous and accusatory.
"We would never stoop to those sorts of tactics," Miss Frizzle calmly replied with a pointed look to Ralphie and Carlos. Ralphie gestured with his head toward the exits to the living room. Maybe they weren't thugs, but they could be human roadblocks to any more escape attempts. Miss Frizzle continued, "But from what I hear you and your cohorts did to my bus friend, can you really blame it?"
"Your friend?" Sarah spat, "that's what you call that abomination?" She scoffed and said in a lower tone, "shows how far gone you are!"
"What do you mean?" Dorothy Anne inquired.
"She's a tool!" Sarah sneered, "government agent that has been experimenting on children for years!" She told D.A., "prototype technology developed from discovered alien crash sites, developing nanobots to produce an amorphous creature of great power! The ultimate shape-shifter and matter manipulator!" Sarah got excited, Ralphie was pretty certain she had been waiting a long time to have someone listen. "This 'teacher' actually leads a division of one of their darker experiments that has been slowly introducing these bots into children in developing stages, studying them, preparing and programming them to one day become sleeper agents for their future bio-mechanical army of supersoldiers with untold abilities!"
Wanda was trying to stifle a giggle, but most everyone else had either expressions of bafflement or no expression at all, not sure which to choose. Carlos and Ralphie looked at each other with the same thought and mischievous grins. "Miss Frizzle?" Carlos inquired, "Please tell me that it's all true!"
"Super powers, aww yeah!" Ralphie whooped.
"Are you insane?" Arnold asked Sarah like it was a completely legitimate question.
"Is that what you and your cohorts truly believe?" Janet immediately followed up.
"No," Sarah pouted, "everyone had their own theories. I've got a few others as well."
"How did crackpots like this mange to capture you and your bus?" R.U. spoke up from where he leaned against the front door.
"I fear she may only be a henchman," Miss Frizzle responded with a hint of pity in her voice.
Sarah’s face reddened drastically and she looked like she was ready to explode, "you are in my home, don't you dare talk about me as if I'm invisible!" She stood angrily from her chair, taking an aggressive stand. "I am not a random crackpot! I've studied you, seen your handiwork first hand! I know you are only one of a larger secret society. Secret societies are known to be the primary destructor of entire cultures and civilizations! Now I will not let your lying and deceptions further risk the future of our world, especially not in my own home!"
Miss Frizzle also stood up, matching Ms. Moore's stance with a confident and such a serious stance of her own; something Ralphie hadn't known she was capable of. "Sarah, I know you have no inclination, whatsoever, to believe a thing I say, but events have been set into motion that could put a lot of innocent people in very real danger. Now I want you to forget about all the secret evil conspiracies except for the one you helped and participated in."
"Me?" Sarah looked like she has been slapped.
"You need to tell us where the stolen equipment was taken before they create a creature borne of their treacherous ambitions!" R. U. interjected, "who knows what criminals could come up with! Heck, if they know enough about neuroscience they could even dabble in large scale brainwashing! They don't actually need to know, really, just need to be clever enough to find out; so far they've been pretty clever! Granted, that would probably take a long time; more time than they don't know they don't have..."
"What stolen equipment?" Sarah demanded, "I have no idea what you are talking about."
"Those thugs that pillaged my shop!" R.U. growled, stepping from the front door towards the house's owner, "what they took was dangerous, don't you get that? Dangerous to you, me, them!"
"Miss Moore?" Phoebe spoke up in her classic tone of tender why-can't-we-all-get-along, it was so unexpected that all angry stances softened a bit and looked towards the brunette that was standing up from the couch. "Can you tell us, with absolute certainty, that the goals and actions of the others in your group are not at all selfish, greedy, or vindictive?" Sarah looked ready to respond but Phoebe pressed on, "Are they as determined as you in the endeavor to uncover truth? Specifically, are they more interested in understanding what they don't understand? Or are they more keen to HAVE what they don't understand?"
Sarah stood straight, "would they be inclined to take something powerful before checking to see if it might explode in their faces? Yes, yes they would."
"And we already know they care nothing about the safety of elementary school kids," D.A. added grumpily.
"Hey, I didn't know about the kids!" Sarah stated quickly. "Dave sort of put that plan together with the contact without giving us many details."
The peacemaker's humble or submissive stance as she approached the older folks did seem to pacify Sarah, or at least made her willing to listen. "Please consider the possibility that we just want to help. Tell us where they are and we'll leave you alone. At the very least give us their names."
"Betraying a confidence," Sarah stated resolutely, "helping a self-motivated secret group like yours, which goes against everything I believe in; the very core of who I am!" Her chin rose just slightly, but it made her firm stance secure, leaving no room for counter-arguments or reconsideration. Although she looked as determined to stick to her declaration as the most devout revolutionary, Ralphie couldn't believe they were actually going to accept it.
But everyone seemed to have had quietly agreed to let Miss Frizzle decide the next move, and it surprised everyone. "Like I said, we would not stoop." The red-headed teacher looked, Ralphie wasn’t sure, older maybe, as she took a passive stance, "if you cannot help us, we will leave you be."
The others started to get up and follow the Frizz to the door as Ralphie stood in bewilderment. He was about to say "what? Is that it??" Until he found himself facing a Keesha death-glare that seemed to dare him to voice that exact thought aloud.
As Phoebe passed the homeowner she softly pled, "if you find that at some point you can help us, you can contact us through Walkerville Elementary."
Everyone was almost out of ear shot when Sarah whispered, mostly to herself "Scott would help you," she sounded almost envious of the thought, "he would be able to."
Phoebe, Keesha, and Carlos and Ralphie bringing the rear, heard her and hesitated, but continued through the threshold where Miss Frizzle also waited and apparently heard the comment and glanced back at Ms. Moore.
"He works in the college dorms in the evenings," Sarah said without making any eye contact.
Ralphie was still barely in earshot as Miss Frizzle slipped back inside as Carlos stepped out. "If this desire of yours truly is about learning, and not about exposure, then I could try and contact my friend Johann Gutalles. He's been living with a society of primate cryptids and could use a research assistant. They, however, need proof of commitment to keeping their culture secret. They would have you live with them for years without any surface or human contact. If they NEVER come to trust you, they may never let you come home." Neither Ms. Moore nor the Frizz looked at each other, "if that's a sacrifice you can make... then I envy all the discoveries you will have the opportunity to make."
With that Valerie Frizzle left a stunned-looking Sarah Moore, leaving the house and heading back to her bus. Ralphie was certain that he missed most, if not all of that exchange. Surely the Frizz wouldn't... not someone who had a hand in her kidnapping... that would be something like a gesture of forgiveness or something. Ralphie dismissed the thought as utterly ridiculous and didn't give it a second thought.