"Major party." Doc scanned the crowd, looking for Nimrod. That proved to be an utterly hopeless task. As outrageous as Nimrod's normal appearance was, Doc had originally figured he'd spot the con artist if he was in the area. That was before he had landed on Riva, home to three million people of various races. All of them seemed to have come to this particular block party, and none of them seemed to understand the concept of "normal dress". Doc saw creatures that looked like they were right out of a bad Tri-D film, and those were just the humans.
"Buzzwang, do you see him?" Doc hoped the robot could scan the crowd better than he could. He had built in sensors and microprocessors that were superior to human eyes and hand-held scanners, after all.
"Wow, man. That Breen dancer doesn't seem to have a complete skeletal structure. Do you suppose I could learn that move?"
Doc sighed. "Buzzwang!"
Buzzwang jumped. "Yes, Sir?!"
"We're on Ranger business, Buzzwang. Do you see anything suspicious?"
Buzzwang concentrated on the surrounding area. "I see four assaults, two robberies, and quite a few questionable business transactions. What should we handle first? Sir?" Doc had his face in his hand.
He began to count slowly, under his breath. "One, two, three..."
"Is everything all right, Ranger Hartford?"
"Oh, everything's fine, Buzzwang. Now, if you don't mind, we're trying to find Nimrod. Do you see him or anything related to him in the immediate area?"
"Oh. No sir."
"Fine. Let's move on, then." Doc glanced across the street. Seeing Niko close by, he waved, trying to get her attention. "Yo! Niko! Hey!" In the general pandemonium, Doc had to jump up and down, waving both arms and yelling at the top of his lungs before she saw him. She finally noticed and started weaving her way through the crowd.
Halfway across, she bumped into a very large Zostfran. She tried to sidestep, but he blocked her way. Zostfrans were rude and pushy at their best. This one was drunk out of his mind.
"Gizzarp drikkk watabo, fey?"
"Oh my. That was very rude."
"Rude, crude, and socially unacceptable. Stand back, Buzzwang."
Doc wasn't able to see Niko's face, which was a bit of a disappointment. He could imagine it, though. Five seconds, three kicks and an uppercut later, the Zost toppled backward. Doc swore he heard the pavement break. Niko walked over the unconscious alien. A path miraculously cleared for her, as a nearby group of prostitutes applauded. Buzzwang was goggle-eyed. Doc grinned.
"Shall we move on, or do you want to hit him some more?"
"Wipe that smile off your face. You could have helped."
Doc eyed the Zost, who was still out cold. "You didn't need help. Besides, I was afraid you'd hit me if I interfered."
Niko snarled in a fair imitation of Gooseman and stomped past him, muttering curses about smart-asses. Buzzwang trailed along behind, wisely keeping his mouth shut. Doc chuckled and followed. He noticed that the crowd made way for them now, and that a number of toughs who had been sizing them up seemed to have pulled a disappearing act. The last time Doc had seen this kind of reaction was the time a cadet had tried to pull the bucket prank on his instructor. Shane Gooseman was giving a demonstration for that class, and had the misfortune to walk in the door first. Doc had it all on tape. He hoped Buzzwang was recording this.
"Oh look. Eve Wheiner's new video is playing in the square." Buzzwang was riveted by the images. Niko took one look and began to mutter words Doc hadn’t thought she knew.
"You've been hanging around Gooseman too long Niko, you're starting to sound just like him. I don't think the video is that bad."
"You didn't spend five hours trying to convince the Traash High Command that Eve wasn't trying to disable his fleet when she shot that video on his ship! They were ready to declare war again!"
"She does have a knack for getting in trouble, doesn't she?"
Niko grabbed Buzzwang and dragged him away. "That woman is a menace. If she wasn't a Senator's daughter..." Buzzwang protested at this, but they ignored him.
"Speaking of annoying musicians, any ideas where we should look for Nimrod?"
Niko threw her hands up. "How should I know?!"
"You are the psychic."
"Very funny. You know I can’t find him in a mass like this if I don’t have something to start with!"
"Well, where should we start?"
Doc jumped back. "What?! What?!"
"Nothing important. We just lost Buzzwang." Niko's tone was sarcastic.
"What?" Doc looked around. Buzzwang was nowhere in sight. "Oh. Well, he probably just went back to watch the video. Let's go."
Niko sighed. "Of all the assignments... Why us, and not Goose or Zach?"
"I believe Zach's exact words were, 'You guys let him go, you guys can go pick him up.' Besides, they just got back from Tortuna. They have to sleep sometimes."
"So do I."
Doc noticed the circles under her eyes for the first time. And her uncharacteristic temper. "Uh, Niko, when was the last time you slept?"
She thought a moment. "Tuesday."
*Uh-oh*. "Tuesday. Really. And you're still awake. After 36 hours. Amazing. May I ask how you're managing this?"
"Goose’s coffee ?!! That stuff could power Ranger 1 across the galaxy and back! I didn't think it was safe for human consumption!"
"I was desperate. Now could we please find Buzzwang and Nimrod so we can go home?"
Buzzwang chose that moment to pop up out of the crowd. He waved and ran up to them.
"Ranger Hartford, I..."
"Buzzwang, where have you been?!"
"But Sir, I..."
"No buts! I thought you knew better than to run off like that!"
"But sir, if you would just let me explain..."
"Look, you byte-bucket, if you don't..."
"Doc, shut up. Buzzwang, what is it?"
"I found out where Nimrod is."
"WHERE?!!" both rangers yelled in unison.
"At a cafe near here." Niko perked up at that, possibly by the promise of caffeine. Doc was relieved. "Lay on, MacBuzz!"
Buzzwang started to correct Doc, but was cut off as Niko spun him around. "Show us, Buzzwang."
Buzzwang led them a few blocks down to a very disreputable looking place. A sputtering holo-sign announced the place as "Christy's". Buzzwang walked in. Doc and Niko traded doubtful looks, and followed.
Doc had thought the crowd outside was the epitome of chaos. He was wrong. A solid wall of noise hit them when they entered. Niko gasped and clapped her hands over her ears. Doc quickly followed suit, his eyes watering. It sounded like a series of bombs were going off inside, and that the patrons were howling in agony. After a moment, Doc deduced that the noise was in fact caused by at least three bands playing in close proximity to each other at the same time. He suspected these were awful bands, but there was really no way to tell. He half-expected to see Buzzwang short-circuiting, but the ranger droid was happily rubbernecking at a speed that made Doc's head hurt. Or maybe that was the music.
"A little loud, isn't it?" he shouted. Wonderful. He couldn’t even hear his own voice. He turned to Niko, and realized she was shouting something at him.
Niko repeated it, to no avail. Heaving a visible sigh, she pantomimed looking around, then gave an exaggerated shrug. Doc took that to mean she couldn't spot Nimrod.
He couldn't either. Turning to Buzzwang to ask him to look, he was just in time to see him weave off through the crowd in the general direction of the bar.
*Damn that byte-bucket!* Wishing for a pair of earplugs to lessen the noise, Doc followed, Niko right behind him. Progress was slow, as there was a one hundred percent density of people on the dance floor, and every single person seemed to be dancing to a different beat. The bands were amped to full volume, the music colliding in a dissonance Doc never expected to hear in his life. He glanced up at the ceiling, where the speakers were situated. Amazing that it was still in one piece.
"I wonder if everyone in here is deaf?" Niko shouted directly in his ear.
"I wonder if I'll ever be able to hear normally again!" he shouted back. Maybe he could use his tweakers to cut the volume... Niko tugged on his sleeve, and pointed at something over near the bar.
"What?" he asked, then gave up and pantomimed it. Niko just pointed again, and mouthed "Buzzwang".
Doc squinted in the direction she was pointing, and saw flashes of blue and white metal in the middle of some sort of commotion. Sighing, he began to bull his way through the crowd, muttering "excuse me, pardon me". After a few minutes, he gave up, and just pushed people out of the way. Nobody seemed to mind.
Finally, he staggered out to where he had a clear view, and just stood there, stunned. Beside him, he clearly heard Niko moan, "Oh no..."
Buzzwang was breakdancing by the bar, in front of an appreciative audience of Eauoians. Doc shook his head. "That stupid byte-bucket..."
"I give up. I'm going to see if they have coffee." Niko walked over to the counter, signaling the barman. Doc didn’t know if he wanted her to have any more caffeine, but, on the other hand, he didn't think he'd be able to handle Nimrod on his own. Provided they even found him. He had to admit that wasn't very likely.
In the meantime...he stalked over, and started yelling at Buzzwang. The Eauoians booed, and tried to shove him away.
Unnoticed, one of the bands broke, and sauntered over to the bar as their replacements took the stage. The bass man, a Darthun with shocking pink hair, leaned against a stool and watched the crowd. It had been a great gig; too bad nobody really heard it. Nimrod shrugged, and turned to order a drink.
"What do you think you're doing?! You're supposed to be looking for a criminal, not performing for the crowd!" Nimrod's head snapped around. Didn't he know that voice...?
*Oh Crap. Galaxy Rangers*. Nimrod decided he was supposed to be somewhere else right now. He jumped off his stool, and ran. Unfortunately, he slammed right into Niko as she accepted a cup from the barman. The hot coffee splashed out, drenching a Zoontian seated at the counter. He turned and punched his seatmate, triggering a chain reaction of blows all along the bar.
"Oh, uh, sorry. Uh..." Nimrod's eyes went wide as he realized who he'd tripped over. "'Scuse me!" He kicked his legs into overdrive, and took off towards the dance floor.
Niko looked at the fight that was quickly spinning out of control, to the broken mug in her hand, then to the rapidly retreating Nimrod.
"All right! That's it!" she screamed. "Nimrod, you're toast!" She slammed the remains of the now empty mug on the counter, and charged after him.
Meanwhile, Doc was still trying to get Buzz to stop dancing. The Eauoian audience kept encouraging him, and Buzz seemed only to happy to oblige them.
"Buzz, you're supposed to be working!" Doc was seething in annoyance.
"But Ranger Hartford," Buzz explained, as he finally stood up, "I was only trying to..." Both their heads turned as Niko's yell cut through the background noise.
Nimrod also looked back at Niko's shout, and saw the expression on her face. *Uh oh*. He tried to run faster, but tripped over his own feet in his haste, and fell backwards, slamming into Niko again as she caught up. Both went down in a tangle of arms, legs, and curses.
The nearby dances thought this made a great new dance step, and tried to join in, spreading more chaos. Doc moaned.
"Oh Lordy, of all the..." An unbalanced dancer slammed into him and Buzzwang, sweeping them onto the dance floor. Doc found himself hemmed in, unable to even move his arms enough to pull his blaster. Not that he could really fire in a crowd like this. He tried to break free of the crush of people, but they pressed in tighter.
*If only I had a bottle opener...* Deciding that desperate times call for desperate measures, he yelled, "Buzz! Heeelp!"
"Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa..." came the reply, as Buzzwang was toppled into what looked like a mosh pit. Doc saw pieces go flying.
"Oh, great. Niko!" Doc began elbowing the people around him, trying to get clear. The dancers thought this was another great new dance step, and copied him. Doc was given some wonderful new bruises, and pushed further back onto the floor.
"Oh, for pity’s sake..." he fumbled for his badge. "Tripwire, Pathfinder, Firefly! Turn off those speakers!"
"Righty-O, Doc!" the tweakers chirped as they zipped up towards the ceiling. Doc started praying.
And suddenly, the room was deafened by silence. Half the dancers stopped in confusion. The rest kept dancing to some internal rhythm. But there was enough of a break for Doc to push his way back out, heaving a sigh of relief.
"Niko! Are you all right? Where's Nimrod?" he called out.
Niko was currently chasing Nimrod back past the bar. The panicked Darthun dodged behind the counter, and ran up to a back door, knocking off a sign proclaiming "Evil Writing Session in Progress". He tried to duck inside, but the door was locked tight.
"Aw, c'mon guys, let me in! It's an emergency!" he yelled, pounding on the door.
"Nimrod..." Niko hissed. Nimrod turned around. With a yelp, he took off again, leaping over the barman, and heading back towards the dance floor.
Doc had just staggered off, ignoring the miffed dancers and hollering for Niko and Buzz when Nimrod ran right up to him.
"Oh no..." they chorused in unison, as Nimrod tried to stop, and Doc tried to dodge.
Doc saw stars, and briefly wondered what he was doing outside. Then his vision cleared, and he realized he was lying on the floor.
"I've had it with you, Nimrod!" came Niko's voice. Groggily, he watched in amazement as the petite ranger bodily shook the much larger Nimrod.
"Hartford, help! Call her off! I surrender!" Nimrod yelled, trying to break free. Niko shook him harder.
Doc slowly got to his feet, holding his still spinning head. "Uh, Niko, I think you can quit shaking him now."
Niko glared at Nimrod one last time, and dropped him. The now cowed musician crawled over to Doc for protection. "Jeez, I didn't think you guys thought my music was that bad."
"Stow it, Nimrod," Niko snapped. "Buzz, put the cuffs on him. Buzz?" Niko looked around, realizing Buzzwang wasn't there.
A tall alien tapped Doc. "Is this yours?" he asked, handing him something.
"Aaaaaaa!" Buzzwang's eyes stared up at him, looking confused.
"Sorry, Ranger Hartford. I seem to have broken something," Buzz’s voice crackled.
Niko stared at the pile of parts the mosh dancers began tossing out. "I'm not putting him back together again."
Doc put a hand over his face. "Just find all the pieces, Niko. I'll deal with Nimrod, and we'll let Q-Ball fix Buzz." Sighing, he turned to the barman. "You wouldn't happen to have a bag?"
The Mikup did some digging, and came up with a large sack that he handed over to Doc. "I think I have some glue back here, too, if you want it."
Doc glared back, then sighed. "No, thank you. We'll fix him later." He knelt and started scooping pieces into the bag.
It took about three hours to straighten things out, and get back to the ship. Doc set the bag containing Buzz on a chair, while Niko literally threw Nimrod into the holding cell. It took another twenty minutes to get the ship prepped and cleared for launch. Finally, though, they took off.
Doc decided it would be safer if he flew. Niko didn't argue. She looked ill. Doc didn't feel too hot himself. He was very glad GV was there to handle the systems.
"Ready for hyperjump. Coordinates?" There was a thump. "Niko?" He turned to the copilot's seat. Niko was slumped over the console, which was beeping error messages in response.
"Niko? Hey, Niko?" She was out cold. He checked his watch.
"Forty hours. Must be some sort of record." He sighed for the hundredth time that day. "This is all I need." He pulled her off the console, and made sure she was strapped in. Then he set the coordinates himself.
"Make the jump, GV, and take us home," he ordered, strapping himself in.
Faintly, from the back, he could hear a voice singing, "...the lady of the house danced all night..." horribly off-key.
"Shut up back there, or I'll open the airlocks! You hear me?" Laughter echoed back up, along with a few more bawdy verses.
Doc groaned. "GV, get us home. Pronto."
"Yes sir," the AI replied.
"Ranger Hartford, what is happening?" came Buzzwang's voice from the bag.
Doc reached over, and knocked it off the chair.