Los Antelopes County Jail, 4:00 AM:
“Your archaic detention facilities shall never hold me!”
Almost every law-enforcement agent in the complex grabbed his or her head as the threat reverberated in their brains. It didn’t take a genius to realize where the telepathic threat came from — the Solar Squid was awake and very, very angry.
“I shall bring this place down on your heads,” the villain continued, “then I shall find that long-eared buffoon, Captain Carrot, and burn the fur from his bones.”
“Ah, pipe down, ya calamari reject,” said a bovine officer, Sergeant Cowan, hitting the bars with his nightstick.
The squid turned just enough to stare at the sergeant through his bulbous, goggle-covered eye. “How is it that you resist my mental contact without suffering as your compatriots?”
Sergeant Cowan smiled. “Momma always said I was bull-headed like my father.”
The officer looked at the prisoner with no fear whatsoever. Aside from the purple bodysuit with a stylized sunburst on the front, a breather mask over his beak, and dark-tinted goggles, the squid didn’t appear all that impressive. The fact that he was twenty-five feet long had no effect on the sergeant.
“One more outburst like that,” Sergeant Cowan continued, “and ya don’t get any breakfast.”
“Bah!” the Solar Squid responded, still telepathically, but less intense than before. “I care nothing for your world’s cuisine.”
“Suits me,” the sergeant replied. “That’s just more biscuits and gravy for me.”
“Hmmm,” the prisoner thought. “Perhaps I shall make my escape and bring this place down on your heads after breaking fast.”
“I thought ya might,” Cowan said.
The Solar Squid relaxed in his cell and began to daydream of biscuits and gravy and killing his new hated foe, Captain Carrot.
Rodney Rabbit woke to the persistent buzz of an angry doorbell. After a trying day of battling the nefarious Solar Squid as Captain Carrot, a good night’s sleep was all he wanted, and now he wasn’t even getting that. Grabbing his glasses from the nightstand and his robe from the floor, he started down the hallway of his apartment to the living room.
“I’m coming,” he muttered. “Maybe it was a mistake getting an apartment when things were going great at headquarters.”
The doorbell buzzed again. Before he could grasp the knob, there was a sharp rapping on the door.
“I’m coming,” he said, a bit louder than before.
The rabbit furrowed his brow; it was a voice he had heard before. He opened the door.
“Carol?” he asked.
“In the furry flesh, cuz,” replied a pert sixteen-year-old rabbit with light brown fur, a blue sweater, red shorts, and red high-top sneakers.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
“What’s the matter?” Carol asked as she pushed her way into his apartment. “Can’t I drop in and pay my favorite cousin a visit?”
“N-no,” Rodney stammered, “I mean yes. But it’s 5:30 in the morning. I wasn’t expecting… do your parents know where you are?”
The young rabbit’s bubbly façade faded. “No,” she replied, then quickly added, “and you can’t tell them.”
“I have to,” Rodney countered. “They’ll be worried to death.”
Carol’s bottom lip protruded, and tears filled her eyes. “No, they won’t,” she cried. “They hate me.”
“I’m sure they don’t hate you,” he said. “Tell you what. I will have to call them, but I’ll wait ’til this afternoon. OK?”
Throwing her arms around his neck, she gave him a big hug. “Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Taking the pink duffel bag from her shoulder, Rodney put it on the couch and steered her toward the kitchen. “Are you hungry?”
“What have you got handy?” Carol asked. “I don’t want to be too much trouble.”
“It’s no trouble,” Rodney said as he opened the refrigerator door and stuck his head inside.
“You mean I can stay?”
Rodney’s ears stiffened, and he straightened up. “You can stay… for a little while… after I talk to your parents.”
Carol’s shoulders drooped slightly, but only for a second; then she smiled. “Thanks, cuz. You’re the best.”
Rodney smiled, then stuck his head back in the refrigerator. After a moment of looking, he said, “Here’s some… oh, wait. That’s expired.” He looked up. “I’ll find something for you to eat. I spend a lot of time with friends eating out, so the cupboard is a bit bare.”
“That’s OK,” the girl assured him. “I’m not really all that hungry.”
“So,” Rodney said, continuing his search, “why do you think your parents hate you?”
Carol hopped up on the countertop and started swinging her legs. “Dad told me yesterday to run by the bank and make the mortgage payment before I went to the multiplex, but I forgot. By the time I got out, the bank was closed. I know it was irresponsible, but Dad and Mom overreacted big time.”
“I can imagine,” Rodney said. “I grew up with your dad, so I know what you mean.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Ah, here we go,” Rodney said, reaching to the back of the cupboard. “Do you like Frosted Lettuce Flakes?”
“Never mind,” Carol said. “I’ll just have a carrot.”
“Oh, OK,” Rodney said.
As he put the cereal box back, a warning bell went off in his head, and he stumbled over his paws attempting to get to his young cousin before she could bite down on one of the cosmic carrots that granted him super-powers for twenty-four hours. The crunch was deafening, and the flash of light left him dazed. Blinking away his temporary blindness, Rodney found himself looking up at a very confused — and a very transformed — Carol.
The sixteen-year-old girl now stood several inches taller and had the healthy figure of a woman ten years older.
“Hokey smokes!” Carol exclaimed.
All Rodney could do was groan.
Carol eyed the carrot in her hand that she had plucked from Rodney’s window box, and realization dawned on her. “I can’t believe it!” she exclaimed.
In a shot, the now-buxom bunny zipped around the apartment, searching until she finally discovered the hidden compartment in Rodney’s wardrobe where his spare Captain Carrot costumes hung in neat succession. “I seriously cannot believe it! My boring cartoonist cousin is really Captain Carrot!”
Removing one of the costumes from the closet, Carol squinted at it appraisingly. “You know…” Zipping across the room, she grabbed a pair of scissors from Rodney’s desk. “A nip…” she said, now brandishing a needle and thread that she produced from seemingly out of nowhere. “…and a tuck.” Suddenly, she was rummaging through her luggage. “A little accessorizing to finish it off…”
Rodney watched as his cousin became a spinning blur. When she finally stopped, she was standing in a heroic pose with her shoulders back, her hands on her hips, and, much to his chagrin, her chest thrust out.
“I could get used to this,” she said. Gone were the sweater, red shorts, and red high-tops, and in their place, a yellow sweater that ended just above her navel with an encircled carrot on a background of red, a green skirt, a red belt, and red boots. A short red cape hung around her neck.
“I don’t think…” Rodney began.
“I have got to try this out!” Carol interrupted, and, with a single bound, she was out the window.
“…that’s such a good idea,” Rodney said, grabbing a cosmic carrot from his window box. He took a bite and felt his body begin to change. And although the change was instantaneous, he was aware of everything that occurred. Muscles swelled with power, bones lengthened and thickened, increasing his stature and strength, his senses sharpened, making him acutely aware of everything going on around him, and a spark of energy ignited inside him, granting other abilities far beyond those of the average rabbit. When the instant passed, Rodney Rabbit was transformed into the yellow, green, and red-clad Captain Carrot.
Without wasting another second, he was through the window and in pursuit of his young cousin.
Rodney quickly caught up with Carol and grabbed her foot to stop her. Without thinking, the young rabbit did a midair somersault and caught her cousin off-guard. Before Rodney knew what had happened, he found himself being tossed into the open air as Carol touched down on a roof. When she realized what she had done, her apology was immediate.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” she repeated, over and over. “You caught me off-guard.”
Rodney assured her that everything was fine as he touched down on the roof across the alley, secretly impressed by Carol’s easy adaptation to her new form.
“I can’t believe it!” she exclaimed. “My favorite cousin is really Captain Carrot. I can’t wait to tell the folks back home.”
“Whoa!” the hero said, throwing his hands up. “You can’t tell anyone about this — any of this.”
“Nobody,” Captain Carrot said.
“No one. If this secret got out, the Zoo Crew’s foes would take advantage of the knowledge and use it against us.”
Carol thought for a moment, then began to nod. “I see what you mean.”
“I’m glad you understand,” Captain Carrot said, relieved.
“Can I ask you a question?”
Captain Carrot nodded. “Sure.”
“Why don’t you live at the Zoo Crew headquarters?” Carol asked.
“Do you know how hard it is to have family or co-workers over when no one knows you are secretly the world’s most powerful rabbit? I still have rooms at the Z-Building, but every once in a while I have to have a place where I can be plain old Rodney.”
“So, when does Carrot Girl get to join the Zoo Crew?” Carol asked, her voice full of hopeful innocence.
Her cousin began shaking his head. “Not going to happen,” he said. “Once the effects of the carrot wears off, you’ll be back to normal for good.”
Carol furrowed her brow, crossed her arms, tapped her foot on the ledge, then began to pout. “That’s not fair.”
Before Captain Carrot could respond, Carol leaped away into the night. The hero could have easily caught up to her, but he decided to give her a little space and a chance to cool down. Unfortunately, an early morning bank robbery below caught Carol’s attention.
The girl dropped from the sky feet first and landed on the back of a young elephant in a ski mask. As his trunk crumpled and his tusks dug furrows into the concrete, Carol was already leaping, head first, at a bear clad all in black.
The ursine crook managed to catch the costumed rabbit in a bear hug, stopping for the moment her attack. Captain Carrot was on the verge of intervening when his cousin leaped skyward. He watched with interest as she carried her foe seventy-five feet in the air, where he went from trying to hold her still to just trying to hold on for dear life. She gave him a wink and a grin, then head-butted him right between the eyes.
Carol grabbed the now-unconscious thief under the arms and began to drop back to the ground… almost.
The third bank robber, a cheetah also dressed in black, could only stare wide-eyed as the young rabbit let her burden go a couple yards above his head.
A police car was already pulling up to the curb when Captain Carrot and Carol were landing.
“Way to go, Captain Carrot!” one of the officers said as he and his partner climbed out of the car. “Say, it looks like you’ve got yourself a sidekick.”
“This is Caro… uh, Carrot Girl,” the hero said, almost calling her by name, “and she handled this one all by herself.”
The officers turned their adoration toward the young rabbit. Captain Carrot allowed her a moment of glory, then took her by the elbow, and the duo leaped into the air. Once they were out of hearing range, Carol looked at her cousin.
“Carrot Girl?” she asked.
The barrel-chested rabbit shrugged. “You came up with it, and I couldn’t think of anything else.”
Carol smiled. “Well, I like it. Does this mean I am your sidekick for real?”
“We’ll see,” Captain Carrot replied. “We’ll see.”