Author's Note: Watching the episode will provide a bit of context for a few things that are mentioned, but it shouldn't be necessary to understanding the story. Many thanks to deepfathom for her invaluable help and support!
Martin awoke in an unfamiliar area of the cypress swamp, wondering what he was doing on the ground - and why it seemed to be so hard to get up. One minute, he'd been trying to save a baby opossum from becoming Gourmand's late-night snack, and the next…
He stiffened in horror, reaching instinctively for the pouch on his Creature Power Suit where he'd placed the tiny creature, even though a part of him already knew what he would find. Unexpected resistance stopped him halfway there, and he looked down at his hands in confusion, eyes widening at the sight of the rope binding his wrists together. A glance at his ankles showed them to be tied in a similar fashion, and his Creature Pod seemed to be missing.
Struggling to a sitting position, he was not particularly surprised when the higher vantage point brought the counters and appliances of Gourmand's mobile kitchen into view, although the sight of Chris's missing backpack, resting against a tree, did elicit a raised eyebrow and a humorless smile. So this was where it had disappeared to. He should have known.
But… how had he gotten here? He frowned, remembering the unpleasant fluttering in his heart, the sudden chill coursing through his body, the unaccountable feeling of panic as Gourmand loomed threateningly over him, and then… nothing, as though someone had suddenly flipped a switch. It was unnerving.
The more pressing question, however, was whether Jillybean was all right. Martin anxiously sniffed the air around him, taking heart when the enhanced senses of the opossum power disc picked up nothing beyond the usual smells of the swamp and a few herbs and vegetables. Gourmand didn't appear to have started cooking anything yet, which meant that the little marsupial was safe for the moment.
He breathed a sigh of relief, a small smile making its way across his face. Even after all this time, and countless transformations, Aviva's Creature Power Suit technology still amazed him, using a combination of creature knowledge, DNA, and her own exceptional programming skills to give two fairly ordinary humans the abilities of any animal on Earth. It wasn't limited to their external features, either - she'd somehow also managed to incorporate their senses and even their instincts. Although the latter could be considered a mixed blessing. Martin's smile quirked a little as he remembered Chris's uncontrollable urge to bury acorns while under the influence of gray squirrel powers, or his own response to a particular fishing lure the first time he'd used his bass power disc.
The smile vanished abruptly as the realization hit, and if he could have clapped himself on the forehead, he would have. Why had he not seen it earlier? Aviva had programmed their newest discs with all of the instincts of the opossum, and what was more well-known than their habit of "playing dead" when threatened? The behavior had long been considered to be an act, but further research had revealed that it was actually an innate physical response to danger, the body going into a dormant state to protect itself.
Martin closed his eyes for a moment, suddenly furious with himself. He knew that his blacking out had been involuntary, a product of the opossum instincts, but he still felt that he should have been strong enough to fight it, especially with an innocent creature depending on him. But there was no time to dwell on it. He had to find Jillybean and get her out of there before it was too late.
The first part of that proposition turned out to be easy. A few minutes later, Gourmand sauntered into the kitchen, carrying an armful of produce, which he deposited on the counter before reaching up and pulling Jillybean out of his breast pocket. Setting the small opossum down inside a large mixing bowl, he turned aside and began rummaging through his collection of pots and pans while she scrabbled frantically against the sides of her prison.
"Jillybean!" Martin sat up straighter, struggling against the ropes in a futile effort to reach the terrified creature.
The chef turned toward him with a smirk. "Well, well. Look who decided to join the party."
Martin narrowed his eyes. "Give her back, Gourmand. She's just a baby - she belongs with her family! You can't cook her!"
"Reeeally?" drawled the chef. "Because I fail to see how you are going to stop me." He took a few steps toward Martin, his mocking tone suddenly replaced by a much more threatening one. "And I've got news for you, Blue Berry. I am sick and tired of you and Green Grape always stealin' my ingredients! You two have been the eggshells in my omelet for far too long. So when you decided to take a little nap, I decided to do something about it, once and for all." He leaned closer. "Your little green brother is sure to come lookin' for you. And when he does…"
"Don't you touch him!" Martin struggled harder, as though his rapidly mounting anger could somehow give him the strength to burst through the ropes.
Gourmand gave a derisive snort. "You know, I liked you better when you were asleep. For the last time, I will do whatever I please, and there is nothing you can do to stop me." He glanced pointedly at the knotted cords, a hint of malice now evident in his smile. "Especially while you're trussed up like a Thanksgivin' turkey. Now you hush, or I'll feed you to the gators!"
Martin subsided, although one of his hands remained clenched in a fist. He forced himself to take a few deep breaths, knowing that he'd need to keep a cool head if he was going to figure out a way out of here. And he was going to get out of here, make no mistake. Even aside from the need to rescue Jillybean, there was no way he was going to sit around and allow Gourmand to use him as bait for his younger brother. He made a show of slumping dejectedly into his corner, but his blue eyes remained watchful, taking in his surroundings while he waited for an opportunity.
Apparently pleased at having successfully intimidated his adversary, Gourmand turned his attention to his work, humming a little tune under his breath as he chopped vegetables and added them to the sauce that was now simmering on the stove. Giving his concoction a stir, he dipped up a spoonful and brought it to his lips for a taste, but set it down again almost immediately with a dissatisfied grunt. "Hmm. Still needs a little somethin'." He began to pace around the kitchen, considering and rejecting various possibilities. "Eggplant… ehh, too bland. Spinach? Nah, too stringy." He stopped suddenly, thrusting a finger into the air. "Mushrooms! Some savory swamp mushrooms will give this dish the perfect flavor! I'll just go out and collect a few, and soon I will finally be enjoyin' my tasty Opossum Pocket!" Grabbing a basket, he started off toward the swamp, but he doubled back a moment later to pluck Jillybean from her bowl. "Better take you with me," he muttered, shoving the small marsupial into his pocket. "Just in case someone starts gettin' any ideas about runnin' off with you again!"
Martin scowled, the picture of frustration, but as soon as the chef was out of sight, a devious gleam crept into his eyes, a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. Gourmand leaving him alone in the kitchen had been almost too much to hope for, and though his having taken Jillybean with him added a layer of difficulty to the final stage of his plan, Martin was confident that with a few adjustments he'd be able to steal her back and get the two of them out of there.
First things first, however. Unable to stand, he scooted awkwardly over to the area where Gourmand had been working, then rose as high as he could on his knees, reaching up to the countertop with the one appendage that the chef had overlooked.
Success! Martin suppressed a crow of triumph as his tail curled around the handle of the knife Gourmand had left behind. Actually using it to cut the ropes around his wrists proved to be a bit more of a challenge, and he nicked himself several times in the process, but finally the cords gave way. Passing the knife from his tail to his hand, he quickly freed his ankles as well, then got a little unsteadily to his feet and placed the utensil back on the counter where he'd found it. Once his cramped leg muscles had reawakened, he ventured a short distance into the swamp, taking in the scent of the vegetation around him. Stopping in front of a patch of flowering plants, he broke off a few sprigs - using his tail purely for the fun of it this time - and tucked them into his pouch, then clambered nimbly up a tree whose branches hung over the kitchen. Now all he had to do was wait.
It didn't take long. Gourmand could sniff out ingredients almost as fast as a crocodile could snap up a fish, and soon Martin heard him stomping back through the underbrush.
"Ugh! Quit squirmin', you little varmint!" Gourmand pulled a wriggling Jillybean from his pocket with an air of mingled disgust and relief, and deposited her back in the bowl. "I don't know how your momma can stand it, carryin' you around all day." He gave an annoyed-sounding huff, but it was quickly followed by a low chuckle. "But the feisty ones do have the most flavor." Rubbing his hands in anticipation, he turned back to his cutting board and began to slice up the mushrooms he'd found.
Quick as a flash, Martin lowered himself from the branch and snatched up the little opossum, curling back up into the tree as soon as he had her in his grasp. Nestling her securely inside his pouch, he crept out onto an adjacent limb, and from there began cautiously making his way through the treetops. He knew it was only a matter of time before Gourmand noticed either his absence or Jillybean's, and he hoped that he'd be able to put enough distance between them before that happened.
All too soon, however, he heard a yell of rage echoing through the trees, and he knew that the game was up. "Plan B," he whispered to Jillybean, lifting her gently from the pouch and depositing her into a hollow in the tree. He tucked the flowers in around her, gave her an affectionate skritch between the ears, and then took off in the opposite direction as fast as he could go.
Arriving at a clearing of sorts some time later, he paused to catch his breath, and to figure out his next move. The trees grew farther apart here, and short of going back the way he had come, there was no easy path through the branches. Hearing no sounds of pursuit, he dared to hope that he might have shaken Gourmand for good. Still, he was reluctant to return to ground level unless he had to; after all, that was where the chef had surprised him earlier in the evening, and he had no desire to repeat that experience.
A quick glance around revealed a more heavily wooded area a little to his right, and he decided to head in that direction to avoid being out in the open for too long. Getting over there would be a bit of a stretch - there were only a couple of branches bridging the gap between the nearest clump of trees and the one where he was currently perched - but the grasping abilities of the opossum feet and tail should enable him to make it all right. Climbing out to the end of the first branch, he cautiously reached for the next one.
Without warning, a ball of sticky dough shot past his head, splattering onto the trunk of a tree some distance behind him. He looked down to see Gourmand standing on the other side of the clearing, brandishing his dough gun and visibly shaking with anger. Martin ducked as another dough ball came hurtling toward him, then made a lunge for the outstretched branch. If he could just make it to the denser part of the swamp, maybe he could lose the chef again - if not entirely, then at least long enough to switch to a creature power that was better suited for speed.
The next shot hit him squarely in the chest, deactivating his suit in a flash of light. Martin felt the tips of his fingers brush the target branch, but before he could grab hold of it, the support from his legs and tail disappeared and he was falling, tumbling out of control toward the ground below. Then everything went dark.