Chapter 1: One
"Y-you don't have to do this," Ron stammered.
"Yes, yes I do," the woman smiled heartlessly.
"No, r-really, as long at it isn't too juicy, I can keep a secret," Ron said quickly, desperately.
"Maybe, we can trust him," the girl asked hopefully.
"Yeah," Ron nodded enthusiastically to his friend. Turning back to the older woman, he managed somewhat firmly, "Yes, you can."
"No," she said, her eyes piercing, unblinking. "This is too … juicy." Her smile broadened as she drew out the last word.
Looking at her smile made Ron very, very queasy. "Is this gonna hurt?" he asked, trying to control his breathing.
"Don't worry, Stoppable-san, it doesn't hurt," the girl consoled him, placing her hand gently on his shoulder. Then she paused. "At least … I don't think it does."
"Ohhh, man." Ron's hands began to shake. He hugged his arms close to his body. And then his body began to shake.
"It doesn't hurt, does it?" the girl asked.
After a second's thought, the woman answered her, "I don't think it does." Then she added casually, "So what? Even if it does, he won't remember anyway."
"I'm sorry, Stoppable-san," his friend said, earnestly. "It'll be okay."
Ron closed his eyes tightly and tensed up in expectation.
"Here we go," he heard the woman's voice say.
After shaking in the darkness that lay behind his eyelids for what seemed a long time, Ron opened his eyes.
"Uh," he began sheepishly, "does it take a while to start or should I already feel it?"
The woman and the girl stared at him in disbelief.
"Impossible!" the woman cried.
"Wha-what's going on?" the girl asked nervously.
"Shh—let me try it again," the women said stepping forward.
This time Ron kept his eyes open.
"Whoa—that's pretty!" he breathed, looking about him.
"I don't understand. It has never not worked—it worked not two hours ago!"
"Maybe," the girl said hesitantly, "maybe he's immune."
"Yes, obviously! But how?"
Ron stood watching their discussion with an almost calm detachment—almost. He was relieved that whateveritwas wasn't working on him, but he didn't want to un-tense his body and appear relieved. He felt that might be rude.
"I-I guess," the girl said looking into Ron's eyes, "we'll just have to trust him."
"Yeah," Ron nodded, his body relaxing automatically. "I'll keep it a secret, no problemo."
"Stoppable-san," the girl said taking his large left hand in both of hers, "Please, you must never tell another living person what you learned tonight. Never."
Ron was going to ask if it would be okay if he told his best friend/girlfriend Kim Possible the secret. He shared everything with her, and he knew that she would keep the secret, too. But the warmth beading in the girl's eyes stopped him, and he found himself nodding assent before asking the vital question.
"Because if you do tell anyone," the woman's frigid voice snapped Ron's attention back to her. Her eyes were just as compelling as the teenager's were, but for much different reasons.
He was about to nod when she suddenly drove her fist through the cinderblock wall not two inches from his right cheek.
Once the agonizing noise had died down and Ron had stopped clutching his ears and shaken the dust from his hair, the woman reiterated her sentiment. "If you break your vow, I'll do something to you that will hurt. Something you cannot forget."
To be continued ...
Chapter 2: Two
"Possible-san?" The young man asked, looking up from his notes.
His fellow student was staring off into space, her pencil aimlessly doodling in the margin of her notepad. It was the second time in ten minutes that she had left one of his questions hanging in the air unanswered.
He politely cleared his throat. When this failed to rouse her, he spoke in a slightly louder voice, "Possible-san, is everything okay?"
Closing her eyes and shaking her head, Possible-san muttered, "I did it again, didn't I?"
He nodded with a slight smile. "Yes."
"I'm so sorry, Usui-san." He heard her release a deep, annoyed sigh.
"Is there anything wrong?"
"No! Nothing, nothing at all," she gave him a broad, close-mouthed smile and shook her head.
"Oh, okay, well—"he started, looking back at his notes.
"Well, yes," she interrupted. "There is something wrong. But maybe not. I'm not sure, actually. Oh I don't know! Well … I'm just kinda worried about my BFBF."
"Best Friend Boyfriend," she explained. She then gazed into a corner of the room with a look that simultaneously expressed affection, exasperation, and concern. "Ron."
"Do you … want to talk about it?" Kenta Usui said in a voice that sent both subtle and not-so-subtle signals that he really did not want to talk about it.
As much as he liked Possible-san as a person and valued her insightful contributions to their joint project, he was reticent to be involved, even tangentially, with her personal life. He just didn't feel too comfortable with people on that level. There was always the fear that whenever people opened up to him, he might be required to open up to them. His aloofness was a lifelong habit that, until recently, he had never been able to break. Obviously, he still needed some practice.
"Well," she replied, looking quickly back to her notes, "I don't want to bother you with all my—"
"No!" he cried, with maybe a little more force than necessary. He softened the effect of his sudden change of tone with a weak grin. "If you think it might help, go ahead."
"Thanks," she said looking slightly confused.
When they had first met, Kim had been struck by both Usui-san's seriousness and his determination to succeed. Thinking she had the whole "A-type-personality-thing" down, she was more than a little surprised to meet someone whose personal drive exceeded hers. Most students kept their distance from him; some even cruelly remarked that his strange-looking eyes made him look like a sociopath. However, keeping in mind valuable lessons she had learned growing up with a certain BFBF, Kim had refused to go along with the shun-party. She was glad to discover that her classmate could be friendly as well as driven. But, as she had just seen, he could still be a little odd.
"Well," she began, "something's been bothering Ron for the last few weeks. He acts like everything's fine, of course, but I can just tell, you know?"
Usui-san nodded. "Have you asked him about it?"
"Yes, that's the problem," Kim sighed. "We're always open with each other about everything-well, most things." She paused. "Of course, there was the time he 'secret borrowed' my suit," she said with a slight edge to her voice.
Usui-san was, of course, aware of Possible-san's extracurricular world-saving activities. He was in the habit of letting most things she said of that nature blow past him; however, he was intrigued as to why her boyfriend had 'secret borrowed' her suit.
Certainly, it wasn't so he could wear it ... ?
"Of course," she continued softer, "I wasn't completely honest with him about how I felt just before graduation."
After a minute of pregnant silence, Possible-san spoke with a barely perceptible note of helplessness, "But ever since then, we have been completely open. I know that I can trust him with anything, and he knows, at least I thought he did, that he can trust me with anything."
In the uneasy silence that followed, Kenta reflected that over the many weeks they had worked on this very difficult assignment, he had never heard her sound so defeated. He tried to come up with something, anything to say. But couldn't.
"I'm sorry," she said finally. "Usually, I would be unloading all this on Monique, but she's doing an eco-tourist thing in Central America, and although Wade said he could triangulate her position and get a Kimmunicator out to her, it … it just seemed like too much bother to put everyone through." She began doodling in agitation once more.
"Do you two," he began hesitantly, "have mutual friends on campus?"
"No, he doesn't go to Todai."
"Yeah, he goes to … another school, up north. Some place you've probably never heard of." She explained conversationally, "He comes down or I go up to visit every weekend. And on one weekday, too. And we see each other on missions, of course. "
"I was just thinking," Kenta continued after a moment, "maybe someone at his school might know something."
Kim nodded and stood. "Thanks, Usui-san, I know just the person to ask."
"Good afternoon, Possible-san, it is an honor to hear from you again," Yori's image spoke pleasantly from the Kimmunicator's screen.
"Hi, Yori," Kim smiled back, "how's everything going?"
"Everything is going well, Possible-san," Yori replied. "How is Tokyo?"
"So busy. I have a major presentation scheduled in a few days, but I think we'll ace it." Then she paused. "Yori, I actually wanted to ask you about Ron."
"Yeah." Kim began hesitantly, "Well, he has been acting strange the last week or so, kinda down, and I wanted to ask if you know of anything that might, y'know, be causing his funk."
Yori paused a moment and then said, "I wish I could say. I, too, have noticed that he is not exhibiting his normal American-style carefree behavior. Both Rufus-san and myself have questioned him about it, yet-"
"He says everything's fine," the young women said in unison.
They both looked solemnly in each other's eyes for a few seconds until -
"Jinx," Yori cried.
"It is, I believe, your honor to owe me a soda, Possible-san," Yori flashed a large smile. Then she said earnestly, "I wish I could be of more help, Kim."
"That's okay, Yori," Kim exhaled. "Thanks anyway."
"Did you have any luck?" Kenta asked as Possible-san closed the door and walked back to her seat.
She shook her heard, despondently. "She doesn't know anything, either. He hasn't even told Rufus. I don't know what to do."
Kenta stared at his hands and made a concerted effort not to look at his wristwatch.
"I mean," Possible-san said breaking the silence, "it is such a guy thing to do-I mean, not talking about it-but Ron isn't a normal guy! He prides himself on not being normal, so why would he act like a guy when it's obvious that something really important is bothering him?"
A thought crossed Kenta's mind; he looked up and said, "Food always makes me open up."
"Really?" Possible-san said raising her eyebrow.
"Does your boyfriend appreciate good food?"
"He so does. He practically lives to eat," Possible-san said, rolling her eyes. Then she snapped her fingers. "In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, he was telling me about this great little place just north of campus. I was in organic chem, and he called right in the middle of lab to tell me how good it was." She shook her head. "Maybe if I took him there-who knows?" she continued. "Worth a shot."
"What was it called?"
"That, I can't remember," Possible-san groused. "It had a western-sounding name though ..."
"Not Julian?" Kenta asked.
"Yes! That's it!"
Kenta laughed. Although they had known each since the beginning of the semester, it was the first time he had ever laughed in front of her-or in front of anyone at school.
"What's so funny?" she asked.
"I work there."
"Yes, I used to work there more or less full time during high school," he explained, "but now I only wait tables on the weekends. My girlfriend works there, too."
"Yes, she waits tables, too, but she has also helped create some of the newer dishes they serve."
After a moment or so, Kim asked Kenta Usui, "Would it be embarrassing if Ron and I showed up at Julian this Saturday night?"
Ron watched the sun set outside his cell's window. He was alone.
Rufus had already left for dinner. The little guy had looked pretty concerned when his friend had told him that he wasn't "really hungry" and that he could go to the Yamanouchi caf without him.
"This tanks," Ron told the trees outside his window. After a moment's silence he muttered angrily, "This really tanks!" He turned away from the window and collapsed into a lotus position on the floor.
He had been unable to meditate for a week. It was usually a no-brainer for Ron. He'd think of something he really enjoyed and off he would float into the ethereal zones of his mind. Unfortunately, thinking of Kim's eyes or the smell of her hair only reminded him of the secret he was keeping from her. Even remembering the smell of burnt cheese from JP Barrymore's didn't work for him anymore.
No, he couldn't meditate. All he could do was think about that sick-and-wrong night.
"But why can't I tell KP? She'd keep your secret safe, I swear."
"I believe you, Stoppable-san. I really do," the girl replied.
"Then why can't I?"
"Because she told you not to tell anyone," she said sadly.
"If you tell our secret to anyone, you'll be in danger. Even the person you tell will be in danger. And you don't want that, do you?"
"No, but it's going to kill me to keep it from Kim. I mean, she's my best friend and so much more than that ... I'd …" He slumped onto the sidewalk. "I'd feel like I was lying to her if I didn't tell her."
As Ron spoke, the girl began to sniffle. In the silence after he finished, she started to cry. "I'm so s-sorry, Stoppable-san!"
"Oh, oh, man. Look, don't cry! It's-it's, here, I don't have a tissue, but you can use my shirttail." He stood, un-tucked his shirt, and gave her an edge of it.
She blew her nose into it twice and sheepishly handed it back to him. "Thanks. S-sorry."
"Hey, it's ... okay. I'm sure it'll wash out." After a beat, he remarked, "You know, it's funny, but I'm not used to hanging with girls who cry."
"R-really?" she asked, drying her eye with her wrist.
"Yeah, I'm usually the one crying."
She covered her laugh with the back of her hand.
"Hey, listen, what if I kinda whispered it to KP-would that be okay?"
"You can't tell anyone," the girl said solemnly. "She'll know."
"How? Is she going to be watching me twenty-four/seven? Seeing everywhere I go? Hearing everything I say?"
"Yes." The girl nodded. "She will."
"R-really?" Ron asked, a chill starting to creep along his back.
"Yes. She's watching you right now, Stoppable-san."
The girl pointed to the Julian sign. Or, rather, she pointed to the small thing hanging from the sign that Ron had failed to notice.
He got up from the floor and turned to face his window again. As the sun sent its dying rays through a matrix of bare tree branches in the distance, Ron imagined that he saw thousands of red eyes within, all aimed directly at him.
To be continued ...
Chapter 3: Three
"Feeling any better?" Kim asked him once they finished the now-standard deep-hug-and-deeper-kiss reunion combo in her dorm room's doorway.
"Yeah," Ron nodded.
"I mean, no!" he exclaimed, correcting himself. "I mean, I-I wasn't feeling bad, KP. The Ronman's always chauncy." He flashed the broadest smile he could. It was difficult, almost painful, because the muscles in his cheeks reflexively tended to fall into a frown the second he tried to lie to his BFGF. Somehow, he managed to pull it off.
"Okay," she replied, her eyes briefly skating over the face he was presenting to her. "Okay," she repeated with a slight dip in her voice.
Well, he hoped he had pulled it off.
"Hi, Ron!" Kim's roommate called cheerfully from the room's snug living area.
"Hey, Michelle!" Ron chimed back. He shot his head through the doorway to see Kim's roommate setting up the game console with Rufus. The little guy was in the habit of leaping clear from Ron whenever Team Possible enjoyed the aforementioned reunion combo.
Eyeing the dance mats on the floor, Ron playfully asked Michelle, "Are you ready for the smackdown of the century?"
Like Kim, Michelle was a Todai international student from the United States. When he had first met her months earlier, Ron had been very pleased to discover that Kim's roommate was something of a Dance Dance Revolution aficionado. He had been promising to unleash his bon-diggity dance moves on her for weeks.
"Sure," Michelle said, "but I thought you two were going out."
"We are?" Ron said, turning to Kim. "I thought I was making you guys dinner tonight."
"You were," Kim nodded, "but then I thought it might be nice if I treated you to dinner instead."
"Oh, okay," Ron said, trying his best to hide the unease this sudden change of plans caused him.
Oh man! I didn't pull it off. She knows something's wrong, and she's going to get me alone and squeeze it out of me! What do I do? I'll blame it on my stigmatism—say it's acting up again … she'll buy that, I guess. Oh man, this tanks.
"Don't worry, Ron, I'll take good care of Rufus," Michelle said as the intro music to DDR began to pulse along the walls.
"Heyyy!" Rufus squeaked.
"Sorry," Michelle apologized. "We'll take care of each other, better?"
Ron watched as his pet gave Michelle a thumbs up and then began to hop about the dance pad in eager anticipation of the first contest.
"Ready?" Kim asked as she looped her arm around Ron's right elbow. "See ya, Michelle!" she called over her shoulder as she pulled him out into the hall.
"Y-yeah," Ron stammered as he clumsily closed Kim's door behind him. He immediately began walking down the right side of the hall and nearly lost his hesitant footing as his girlfriend tugged him in the opposite direction.
"Whoa, Kim!" Ron said once he regained his balance. "I thought we were going out?"
"But my scooter is thataway," he said gesturing to the right.
The toy-like stature of Ron's scooter made it a very useful vehicle in Tokyo's crowded, labyrinthine roadways. Although Kim and Ron could still access her car within a half-hour's notice (thanks to her brothers' remote guidance system and turbo-thrusters), it was still residing in her parent's garage in Colorado. And even then they only used it for missions and long trips. Day-to-day city travel was strictly a bubble-horned moped affair.
"This place isn't too far away," she explained. "Besides, I thought it would be nice to take a leisurely stroll together."
"Oh, sure," Ron nodded after a second's hesitation. "I'm all about leisurely, KP."
Ron had been looking forward to the scooter ride. Being carted around the country by ninja copter was cool, but nothing was a good as being one with the blacktop. Plus, it would have given him a chance to refill the bubble-horn. Most importantly, however, the excessive traffic noise that seemed to accompany him wherever he drove in Tokyo would greatly reduce the amount of time his girlfriend would have to grill him on what was the matter. It wasn't too likely but he might even have used the travel time to come up with a good lie.
A 'good' lie? Man, this is bogus.
But, luckily for him, Kim didn't use the walk as an excuse to interrogate him. As they walked under the cloudless late afternoon sky, she gave every sign of having forgotten his slip-up from earlier. Instead, she spoke about the big project she and a classmate had finished that week. Ron didn't understand a third of the subject matter that it had been about. In fact, the only thing about her story that truly connected with Ron was the name of her partner-Usui-san; it sounded familiar for some reason. She also mentioned, in passing, that the same dude worked at the restaurant they were going to.
However, what really made an impression on Ron was the excitement and pleasure in her voice as she told him about her week. Listening to her voice flow on about complicated things he couldn't hope to comprehend actually got him feeling almost better.
In fact, he started feeling so "almost better," that Ron did something that he hadn't done in weeks — he started to relax.
Kim shook her head and gave him the full effect of her arched eyebrow after he had finished talking. "It's so not called that."
"Doubt all you want," Ron said, feigning insult, "but the 'Lotus Stance of the Untied Laces' is a really difficult ninja move. It took me two whole days to master it. Man, did I surprise Yori when I took her down with it in class!"
"But, wait, Ron," Kim interrupted, "tabi don't even have laces."
"Now you understand the Stance's true power, grasshopper," Ron replied with a pseudo-mysterious air.
"As I recall, that master was Chinese, not Japanese." Kim lightly jabbed his elbow. "Sensei."
"Oww," Ron whined, "be careful, KP. That's my trick elbow."
He broke the pout with a playful smile. It was perhaps a minute later that Ron realized that this was the first Ronshine he had given Kim, or anyone else for that matter, in nearly two weeks. This thought was quickly followed by the notion that the busy street they were walking down seemed vaguely familiar. He was just about to remark on the powerful sense of deja vu the call box they had just passed had given him when Kim covered his eyes with her hand.
At first he didn't say anything, just inhaled deeply. Ron loved the smell of Kim's hands almost as much as their gentle touch. After marching along like this without comment for some distance, he heard Kim ask with mild exasperation, "Aren't you even going to ask what I'm doing, Ron?"
"Uh, now that you mentioned it," Ron asked coming out of his trance, "why are you doing this, KP?"
"A surprise," she said simply. "Are you ready to eat?"
His stomach grumbled an answer. And then, quite unexpectedly, Ron's spirits dipped again. Maybe it was the combination of certain aroma that was wafting in the air with the sound of a very familiar voice off in the distance. Regardless, at the height of his happiness, Ron Stoppable was suddenly overwhelmed with memories from a night that he would have rather forgotten.
Ron looked into the night sky, but the light from the Julian sign obscured any stars that might have been out.
The girl sat on the curb, holding an empty soda held between her bare knees. "It's hard to believe that you and Possible-san have only been together for two years."
Ron shook his head. "No, we've been together almost fourteen years, since pre-K."
"I meant together … as a couple," she explained.
"Oh, yeah." Ron nodded. "But not even," Ron said after a beat. "As a matter of fact, we just had our year and a half-versary last month."
"Wow. I remember thinking you two were a couple when I first heard about you."
"When was that?"
"Years and years ago ... when you stopped that mad gardener from covering the city in grass."
"Mad gardener?" Ron asked scratching his head. "Oh-you mean when Duff Killigan tried to change Tokyo into a golf course?"
"Yes! That was it."
"Yeah, I think that was our Groundhog's Day adventure."
"Maybe," she said in thought. "When's Groundhog's Day?"
"In January, I think," Ron said after taking another sip from his can of soda.
"Anyway, I remember seeing a picture of you on television after it happened and just assuming you were boyfriend and girlfriend."
"Wow! I actually made it on television back then? I wish I'd known," he finished off his soda. "But, no, Kim and I were just buds then."
"Then when you saved the owner of Nakasumi toys," she continued, "the reporter said that you were just her friend. I was really surprised."
Ron nodded. "I guess we hadn't figured it out yet."
"But then last summer when you both saved the earth from those aliens I learned that you really had become a couple. That made me very happy."
Ron smiled for a minute, but then frowned. "The Lorwardians," he said slowly; he crushed his can. "How bad was the damage around here?"
She looked at her feet for a moment and said, "Pretty bad. My best friend, Maki, the roof to her bedroom caved in and the building right next to her family's bookstore got destroyed-but nobody got hurt, thankfully."
"How about your place?" Ron asked.
"Oh, no. No damage at all."
"Uh-huh," she explained, "their machines couldn't see past the barrier around our house. They just walked by like we weren't even there."
"Wow, that's cool."
After a minute when only the chirping of crickets and the flutter of nightwings could be heard, she asked, "May I ask you something, Stoppable-san?"
"What is Possible-san like?"
"Kim? Oh, she's the best! She's super-smart, loves helping people, beautiful, and, well, she can do anything." He paused. "She's amazing."
The girl smiled. "Yeah, that's how I feel about Usui-kun. I think he's amazing, too."
"Usui-kun?" Ron asked raising an eyebrow. "So you've got a fella?"
She nodded with a slight blush.
"Cool." Ron said. "Waitaminute, is he a ..."
"Oh no," she said, shaking her head, "he's human."
"Really?" he said with mild surprise. "Hey, I like that. I think that's really cool."
He looked at his new friend and then briefly recalled the sad fact that he would probably never introduce her to his BFGF. Then something else occurred to him.
"Karin, does he ... does ..."
"Usui-kun?" she asked.
"Yeah, does Usui-kun know, y'know, your secret?"
As Kim led him through the semi-darkness of the underside of her hand and he heard a door swing open and felt the air-conditioned breeze envelope him, something occurred to Ron.
Usui-kun. Usui-kun? Waitaminute. Didn't Kim say the name of her classmate was ...?
As Kim guided her BFBF through the first set of double doors at Julian's entrance, she saw Usui-san standing behind the hostess table. He was talking with a girl cradling two armfuls of menus. The girl looked at least four inches shorter than Kim and was dressed in an overly cute uniform. When the girl turned to face the door, Kim noted her deep brown eyes and pretty, if unusual, smile.
I wonder if that's Karin.
She had hoped Usui-san's girlfriend was going to be working that day, but had forgotten to ask him.
Once through the second set of doors, she caught Usui-san's eye and exchanged a friendly wave with her free hand. She leaned in and whispered to Ron, "We're here." She lowered her hand from his eyes and watched him try to adjust to the light.
The girl flashed Kim a friendly smile. Then a look of confusion or possibly recognition clouded her features before her smile returned. "Good evening," She said. "Welcome to Juli"- She looked from Kim to Ron. -"AAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEE!"
The girl's shriek was so startling that it took Kim a moment to realize that Ron was screaming, too.
Stupefied, she turned from the horrified look on her BFBF's face to the look of utter befuddlement on Usui-san's face. Kim turned back to the girl in time to witness a cascade of menus shooting into the air from the girl's frenzied arms.
To be continued ...
Chapter 4: Four
Kim tried unsuccessfully to break the unceasing chain of apologies that emanated from the waitress as she watched the girl scurry about on her hands and knees frantically collecting the menus. As awkweird as the situation was, she couldn't help but be reminded of a similar incident from her early childhood. Armed with this memory, Kim believed she could good-humoredly handle anything that might follow. Because this night was boding to be something less than the relaxing evening she had originally planned.
When the waitress finally got to her feet, her face was an alarming shade of crimson. Offering Kim a pair of menus from the cluttered stack, she struggled to keep the rest balanced in her left arm. Her voice, however, was surprisingly stable or, at least, stable-esque. "So sorry."
"No big," Kim said kindly, showing the menus she already held. "I caught these two." She paused; the girl was refusing to look her in the eye. "I'm Kim," she said extending her right hand. "Kim Possible."
The girl almost dropped all the menus, recovered herself, but then stared at Kim's hand in bewilderment.
"Oh, I apologize," Kim said, taking back her hand and bowing.
The girl returned the bow, managing to only drop one menu.
"Sometimes I still forget myself," Kim explained as they both stood. "Are you Maaka-san?"
Karin Maaka's eyes flashed up at Kim, darted toward Ron and then plummeted to the floor. "Yes. I am."
"Pleased to meet you."
"Y-yes, a pleasure."
Kim looked at Usui-san. He was looking intently in Ron's direction, but his expression was hard to read.
"Ron?" Kim said, passing over a menu to her BFBF. After a brief yelp and a moment's hesitation, he took it.
"P-please follow me?" Maaka-san asked, still looking in the general area of Kim and Ron's feet.
"Sure," Kim nodded, taking her boyfriend's quivering hand. As she and Ron followed Maaka-san to the dining area, she shot another look to Usui-san. His eyes looked concerned, confused, but not overly troubled. When they met hers, he managed a very weak smile.
As they took their seats, Kim noticed that practically all the hair on the back of Ron's head was standing straight up. The mystery behind this bizarre sight was solved a second later as Kim noticed him nervously rubbing the back of his neck with his right hand that was still firmly clutching the menu she had given him. Apparently, its plastic coating was causing static electricity issues with his 'do. It was difficult, but she pretended not to notice.
Once they were seated, the waitress asked-the nervousness in her voice only slightly obvious-if they would like some water before ordering.
"Please and thank you," Kim replied opening her menu. She looked up quickly to make eye contact once more, but Maaka-san had already disappeared to fetch their glasses.
"So," Kim began as she looked over the list of appetizers, "what's good here?"
"Uh, uh," Ron replied and then paused. A full minute passed without him adding anything more.
"You have been here before, right?" she asked, amicably perusing her menu.
He released a sigh so heavy that it fluttered her hair. "Yes," he breathed finally.
"Well," she continued in an even, pleasant tone, "what do you recommend?"
The sound of clattering ice chunks against glass announced the return of Maaka-san with their waters. "Here is your water," she said in a strained voice as she brought the wobbly tray with two tottering full glasses to rest on the table top.
As Maaka-san placed the glass in front of her, Kim flashed a brief smile to her. Although the girl's face wasn't as seriously flushed as before, Kim could tell she was still dreadfully uncomfortable; she was nervously biting her bottom lip. Strangely, it wasn't her front teeth, Kim noted, but a canine that was doing the chewing.
Maaka-san placed the second water glass in front of Ron and withdrew the tray. As she was turning to go, Ron reached out clumsily for his glass; it began to tip.
In slow motion, Kim watched Maaka-san and Ron grab for it at the same time. Although they managed to steady it, the instant their fingers touched, the girl jerked her hand away so sharply that she knocked Kim's glass over. Water and ice sprayed all across Kim's side of the table, and into her seat, and onto her lap.
"Oh no!" the girl cried, struggling desperately with the napkin dispenser at the rear of the table. "I'm so sorry, Possible-san!"
The shock of ice water spilling into her lap weakened Kim's good humor; still, she was able to maintain her smile-however thin and strained it was. Her anger was blunted when the scene literally exploded about her in a flurry of napkins that soon covered her, Ron, and the table.
"No, no," Kim replied finally as she brushed the paper from her hair and shoulders, "it's fine, Maaka-san." Then, as the damp chill spread, she admitted, through gritted teeth, "A little cold, but I'm fine." She began furiously patting her soaking pants' legs down with handfuls of napkins.
For his part, Ron was utilizing his fistfuls of napkins to prevent more water and ice from flowing off the side of the table and drenching her. Unfortunately, this resulted in knocking over his own water glass. Because of a slant in the table, this water, too, began flowing quickly in Kim's direction.
Swiftly, Kim scooched to the far right of the booth, the drier side. All the while, she kept as calm a demeanor as could possible.
"Rice balls!" the frantic girl exclaimed suddenly.
"Excuse me?" Kim asked, looking up as she continued to blot the water from her pants.
"Free of charge!" Maaka-san yelled and was gone.
Kim looked across the table. Ron was out of breath and looked incredibly miserable, but he seemed to have finally gotten the deluge under control.
"Honey?" she asked without unclenching her teeth.
"Yeah, Kim?" he said looking at her in helpless dismay.
She gave him the full blast of her most severe smile and sweetly demanded, in words whose irony she suspected would be appreciated by both of them, "Spill."
"Maaka!" Kenta Usui called sternly as his girlfriend burst into the kitchen. "What is wrong?"
The single cook at the rear of the large room didn't even raise his head. Everyone at Julian was accustomed to the melodrama that occasionally erupted between the two.
"I just spilled water all over Possible-san!" she cried. "I need to get them rice balls!"
"You did what-rice balls?" He shook his head. "No, no. I mean, what's going on with you and Stoppable-san? Why did you scream?"
"I-I was startled." she explained, frantically gathering together an appetizer plate.
"But I told you that they were coming," he said, putting his hand gently on her shoulder. She was getting quite hysteric. He knew the signs and wondered how close she was to reaching the edge.
"No," she said, vigorously shaking her head. "You only said that your classmate Possible-san and her boyfriend were coming. You didn't say it was THE Possible-san!"
"Maaka," Kenta said slowly, rolling his eyes, "what other Possible-san could I have meant?"
"I don't know," she said, arranging the rice balls, "'Possible-san' is a pretty common last name, isn't it?"
He sighed. "You still haven't answered my question. What is going on with you and Stoppable-san-you both screamed."
Maaka stood perfectly still. As she tried to control her breathing, she absently wiped a tear from her cheek. "Something terrible," she said finally. "And it's all my fault."
Knowing his girlfriend as he did, Kenta was now sure of two things. One, the situation was more than likely not her fault. And, two, whatever it was was unequivocally and most assuredly as terrible as she thought it was ... if not worse.
"What happened?" he whispered with trepidation.
"I can't say," she whispered back. She looked quickly in the direction of the cook. "Not now." She picked up the tray and turned around.
He could see that she was in trouble. Her face was extremely red.
"Maaka, sit down." He held her shoulder firmly.
"No, I have to get these out to them."
"Don't push yourself. You don't want to have"-and here he dipped his voice-"an accident, do you?"
"No." Finally, she brought her eyes to meet his.
"Should I?" he asked, gesturing to the top button of his shirt.
"Oh, no," she said, holding up he hand. "Not that bad. I'm fine, really."
The phone on the wall rang.
"Stay right there," he said, letting her go. "Hello, thanking you for calling Julian … Watanabe-kun? … Hey … What? … But the manager and my mother are already not going to be here, can't you? … No, no, I understand … bye."
"What's going on?" Maaka asked.
"It looks like it's just you and me tonight. I just hope it doesn't get too busy."
"Saturdays usually are."
"Yeah," he replied glumly. Then he smiled, "You sound like you feel a little better." She didn't look quite as flushed, either. Perhaps the worst has passed. "Are you going to be okay?"
"I think so," she nodded.
"You should probably still sit down."
"I will; let me just get them this appetizer and take their order. I'll rest then."
She looked a lot less frazzled, but Kenta was still worried. "Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'll be fine, Usui-kun," she said in an easy voice. "Besides, my food always makes people feel happier."
He nodded as she exited the kitchen with her tray. Five seconds later, the meaning behind her last words hit him.
Wait. Was Possible-san or Stopple-san unhappy?
Ron looked completely, utterly miserable. So much so that Kim couldn't bring herself to grill him any longer. It was obvious something was tearing him up inside. She needed to let him off the hook.
"Ron," she said softly, "it's okay. I think I know what's going on."
"Y-you do?" Instantly, Ron turned deathly pale. However, his color ebbed back to normal and his momentary expression of fear returned to one of his more common expressions, one of utter confusion.
"You do?" he repeated.
"Yes, I do," she said. Suddenly, she put her head in her hands. "I am such an idiot."
"What do you mean, KP?" he asked in a voice that sounded equal parts relief and concern.
"Well, something's been bothering you for the past two weeks, Ron, and I just realize now-doy!-that you called me about this place two weeks ago, too. Why didn't I see that connection before?"
Ron began to say something, but stopped.
"Look," she said taking one of his reluctant hands into hers, "you know I trust you. I know you didn't do anything. I'm upset only because you didn't come to me about it. Well, okay, maybe that is a little unrealistic, but, still, when I asked you what was bothering you-and there most definitely has been something bothering you, Ron-why couldn't you tell me then? I told you, didn't I?"
"Uh," Ron said, his eyes starting to fog over, "you did? What did you tell me, KP?"
"When that jerk was hitting on me in Anthropology at the beginning of the year, Ron."
"Oh, yeah. You stopped me from going all monkey-style on him. But … I still don't know what that has to do …"
Kim looked to make sure no one was walking toward their table and whispered, "Maaka-san."
"Wh-what about her?"
Kim sighed and then with, what little patience she had left, explained in a low voice, "Obviously, she has a crush on you, Ron. Look, I don't care what happened-it so doesn't matter. I know you love me, and I trust you. I just wish you would feel secure enough to tell me these things."
The look Ron gave her was utterly blank.
"I'm sure it was something innocent, Ron. She might not have even known you had a girlfriend."
His expression did not change.
"Look, even if she tried to steal a kiss or something," Kim said in exasperation, her voice rising, "I don't care. Just be honest with me!"
"Whoa! Hold on, KP," Ron said as the wheels finally clicked into place. "You think Karin ... made a pass at me?!" His voice was incredulous, upset, and far too loud all at the same time. "You think Karin's got the hots for me?!"
The deafening crash of the platter drew Kim's attention away from her boyfriend.
Maaka-san's face was so red that it looked like she was going to explode. Standing right behind her, his face only slightly less flushed, was Usui-san.
If Kim had still been under the effects of the Amazon Aurora orchid, she would have vanished from existence immediately. Her first impulse-to bury her face in her folded arms on the table, was overruled, however, when she realized that Maaka-san was actually in distress.
The girl was bent double and seemed like she was having trouble catching her breath. Her knees buckled, and she started to sway.
Kim jumped from the booth to steady her, but the girl recoiled from her touch and, with renewed energy, sprinted out of the dining room, barely avoiding a collision with Usui-san.
"Usui-" Kim began.
"It's okay! It's okay," he called over his shoulder as he chased after his girlfriend's fleeing form.
Kim collapsed back into her seat. She tried to avoid the looks of the handful of customers that were all staring at their table, at them. She then looked at Ron. Although his head was hidden in his folded arms on the table, she could tell by the deep pink hue on the tops of his ears that he was almost as embarrassed as she was.
She followed his example.
After a few moments of silence, she asked in a barely-audible mumble, "That's not what this sitch is about, is it?"
She heard and then deciphered his mumbled response as "Nope. Not even close, KP."
"I cannot believe your grandmother," Kenta Usui said as he wrung out the mop in the cramped employee bathroom. "You would think she would know to stay away from the restaurant."
"Yeah, I know," Karin Maaka said. "But she couldn't help it. She honed right in on him."
Kenta suppressed a shudder. There were some things about Karin's family he just didn't want to know about.
"What I don't understand," he continued, "is why she just didn't wipe him."
"She did," she replied helplessly. "But it didn't work."
"It didn't work?" he asked, stopping in mid-mop.
"No, she tried it twice."
"Has it ever not worked before?" he asked, starting to mop again.
"No. It's always worked," she sighed.
"Uh, huh" she nodded. "I never thought I was going to ever see him again. At least not this soon."
After finishing the corner, Kenta gave his girlfriend a long look of concern. "How are you doing?"
"Better," she sniffled. "Not too weak. It really wasn't too bad this time."
"All things considered," he agreed as he looked at the wall, "you have definitely done worse."
"Here," she said easing off the edge of the sink, "let me help you."
"Are you sure? You should rest, Maaka."
"No, no. I'm really okay. I knew he was sad when I gave them their waters. I just never expected him to be that upset only a few minutes later."
"Yeah, you should probably steer clear of him for the rest of the night." He turned on the faucet and tossed a sponge into the sink to soak up the steaming hot water. "If they're even still here," he added.
Karin placed two small stacks of paper towels on the floor and then knelt upon them. She took the sponge from Kenta and began scrubbing the wall. After a few moments, she paused and asked, "What do we do if they are still here?"
"I don't know," Kenta said as he poured the dirty water from the bucket into the toilet. "Do you think he'll tell her the truth?"
"And I can't either, right?"
She nodded and sighed.
"Then I don't know what we'll do." He flushed.
Within a few moments, the wall was clean. As Karin stood up, Kenta noticed that a spot he had somehow missed had soaked through the paper towels she had been kneeling upon. He snatched up the stacks of wet towels and stuffed them into the wastebasket along with the numerous other soiled towels that Karin had been using to futilely clean up the mess before he had arrived with the mop.
"Wait," he said as she reached for the door. "I think there's some on your knees." He wet a few of the remaining towels with warm water and gently cleaned off her legs.
"No problem," he sighed. "We've cleaned up worse right?"
"What are we going to do about Possible-san?" she asked sadly.
"I don't know," he sighed. "No matter what, we can't let her find out." He then added, "for her own sake at least."
To be continued ...
Chapter 5: Five
"Target's position has changed once again," her voice announced.
He released a frustrated sigh. "Any readings on target's new location?"
"Yes. I'm receiving them now," she peered at the device. "Oh." A smile creased her face.
"Inspect them for yourself."
"Ah, I see," he nodded with satisfaction. "Excellent."
"I believe the term is," she said, trying to remember, "… irony."
"Indeed, and it is in our favor."
They exchanged cruel smiles.
The sound of clattering dishes brought Kim out of her embarrassment-induced, coma-like state. Lifting her head from her arms, she was immediately assaulted by the glare of the setting sun pouring through the long bank of windows that lined Julian's dining area.
How much time has passed?
As she blinked her eyes clear, she caught sight of a strange object in one of the windows. It was small, black, and appeared to be hanging from one of the canopied awnings outside. Before she could get a better look, a sharp noise drew her attention back to her immediate area.
"Oh, man," Ron muttered from the floor as he piled the jagged shards of a plate onto the tray.
"Ron, here, let me help." She slid out of the booth and knelt down beside her boyfriend.
He's right. At the very least, we should help clean up the mess we caused.
"Be careful, KP," he said not looking up, "there are pieces everywhere." After a beat, he groused, "I'm such an idiot!"
"This isn't your fault, Ron."
"Yeah, it is," he sighed glumly. "Only one of the plates broke and then when I went to pick up the other one … it slipped through my fingers and … smash."
She patted his shoulder gently and then helped him collect the remaining pieces and gather the scattered remnants of Maaka-san's rice balls. As they did so, an uneasy silence grew between them. It didn't go away, either, once they were done and had returned to their seats.
Ron stared at his lap.
Kim struggled for something to say. Where do I begin? Although she still needed to know what Ron was keeping from her, she felt terrible about the trouble she must have caused Usui-san and his girlfriend. Especially Maaka-san.
"Should we just go?" Ron asked listlessly.
"No," Kim said firmly. "I still need to make things right ... if I can."
"But, Kim, you don't need to make anything right."
"Hello, Ron? Did you not see me accusing Maaka-san of trying to steal you away from me right in front of her boyfriend? If you need a recap, I'm sure any of the other diners here could fill you in on the details."
"Well, yeah, but that was-it's all because of me, Kim," Ron said with rising energy. "Because I can't tell you Karin's secret."
"Karin's secret?" Kim asked.
Ron immediately turned as white as the lone napkin still residing in the table's dispenser. He clapped both hands over his mouth and began to nervously drum the underside of the table with his knee.
"Ron," Kim said as she forcefully stilled Ron's knee with both hands, "what's wrong?"
"I told!" he whispered between his fingers in a high panicked voice.
"Told? Told what? You didn't tell me anything, Ron."
"Uh-huh," Ron said dropping his hands, "I told you Karin's secret!"
"No, you did not."
"Yes, I did."
"No, you didn't."
"Kim," Ron said defiantly, no trace of his recent agitation remaining, "I most certainly told you Karin's secret."
"You told me she had a secret, not what the secret was," Kim replied crossly.
"Y-yeah," Ron said, regressing back into panic mode, "but that just might be enough." He watched the bank of windows nervously.
Kim watched her boyfriend's distress in silence for a minute or so. Then she said, "Is this what's been bothering you, Ron?"
"What?" The paranoia in his voice was palpable.
Remaining calm, Kim explained, "That you're keeping a secret that, for whatever reason, you can't tell me."
"Well, doi!" Ron exclaimed. "It kills me to keep this secret, I mean I always tell you everything, Kim! And this is something that I," he eyed the windows again and lowered his voice, "just can't."
"Okay," she nodded, "I understand."
"Y-you do?" Ron turned his full attention back to his girlfriend. "You mean you're okay with that? With this?"
"Well," Kim hesitated. When she saw that her pause was having an adverse effect on Ron's sanity, she quickly explained, "Yes! Yes, it's fine, Ron. I mean I'd be lying if I said that it doesn't tweak me a little or that I really don't want to know what it is because I do, but if it's making you miserable," she gave him a pat on his hand, "then I can live with it."
She nodded and was suddenly swept up in an over-the-table hug.
"Oh, you're the best girlfriend ever!" Ron cried.
She kissed his ear then whispered, "Don't you forget it, Stoppable."
When they broke their embrace, Kim could see the relief that had been in Ron's voice wash over his entire person. Then she could hear it; his stomach grumbled.
"Man, am I starved," he smiled re-opening his menu.
"Aren't we forgetting something?" Kim asked as she lowered his menu back to the table top.
"What?" The moment of confusion passed quickly, however. "Oh yeah! Karin and Usui-kun. Man. Where are they anyway? They've been gone a long time."
"I know," Kim said looking toward the empty hostess table. "There were some people waiting for a table. I just saw them leave."
"I'll go find, Karin," Ron said with resolve. "I'll set everything straight with her."
"And I guess I'll do the same with Usui-san," Kim said. She shook her head and sighed heavily, "What he must think of me."
"Don't worry, Kim," Ron said as he edged out of the booth, "he'll probably be okay about it. After all, he knows Karin's secret, too."
"Really?" she asked and then after a beat, "Well, that does make sense. Still ... how could he not be angry about what I suggested?"
"Okay, KP, I'll make sure everything's okay with Karin and then I'll ask if she could settle things down with her guy before you speak to him."
"I guess that would work," she admitted.
Ron gave her a thumbs-up and then headed out of the dining room in the direction where Usui-san and Maaka-san had fled minutes earlier.
Kim couldn't help noticing how much straighter and taller Ron seemed as he raced through the restaurant. Even during their mission to the Pyrenees the week earlier, Ron had seemed weighted down by something as he had been wildly fleeing blasts from Dementor's latest death ray.
Of course, she couldn't help wondering what Maaka-san's secret was, too. Or why Ron seemed so familiar with the layout of the restaurant. Or how anything Ron might say to Maaka-san might be able to smooth over the horrible thing she had suggested to such a degree that Usui-san would be willing to hear her out. What could she ever do to make things up to him?
These thoughts were interrupted, however, as she noticed a couple enter the main doors and look quizzically at the vacant hostess desk.
I can't just sit here.
Kim stood and hurried to the hostess table. She presented the couple with a pair of menus and said in the cheeriest voice possible. "Welcome to Julian."
The couple looked her up and down with uncertainty.
"Sorry," she explained, "the wait staff is a little tied up at the moment, but they'll be right out to serve you. Can I show you to a booth and perhaps get you some water?"
Knowing the way, Ron hurried to the kitchen. Once there, he greeted the cook with a friendly wave.
"Hey! Stoppable-san!" the cook smiled back.
"Hola, dude! How're things going?"
The cook shook his head. "Not good. Not good. The other chef called out, and Saturdays are crazy busy."
"Oh man, that tanks." Ron pondered the problem a moment and then remembered why he was there. "Sorry, but do you know where Karin is?"
"Still in the back with Usui-kun," he said, jerking his head to the right. "I still need to tell them the bad news about the chef."
"Thanks, man," Ron said with a commiserating frown. He then turned in the direction of the hallway. He remembered that it led to the storage freezer and the rear offices.
Not seeing anyone through the freezer's window and not about to check the employee bathroom, Ron knocked on the Manager's office door. Before he had a chance to knock a second time, the bathroom door swung open and struck him in the back.
"Whoa!" he cried, wincing in pain.
"Oh my goodness!" Karin yelled as she and Usui-san emerged from the restroom. "I'm so, so sorry, Stoppable-san!" She reached out to him but then quickly drew her hands away and backed up several feet.
"No, no, I'm fine," Ron said as craned his neck in a futile attempt to pop his back. "Just a little … whoa … my eye's actually hurting, though."
"Really?" Karin asked. "I didn't think the door hit you there."
"Nah, it didn't," Ron said blinking his right eye rapidly, "but I guess that's what I get for lying about it."
Wait. Did I lie about that or just think about lying about it?
"Huh?" Karin asked looking first at Ron and then at her boyfriend.
Usui-san shrugged in reply.
"Anyway, that doesn't matter," Ron said waving dismissively with his free hand (his other still clamped to his eye), "what does matter is that—hey, were you BOTH just in the bathroom?"
"Uh, yeah," Karin admitted hesitantly.
"There was an accident," Usui-san explained brusquely, "We were cleaning it up." For emphasis, he held out the mop for Ron's inspection—well, to the eye Ron wasn't covering with his hand.
"Oh, I see."
"What did you want to tell us, Stoppable-san?" Usui-san asked after an uneasy silence of Ron staring myopically at the mop.
Ron thought for a moment and then cried, "Oh, dude, one of your cooks called out sick!"
"Great," Usui-san groused. "Maaka, can you put this stuff away? I need to call the manager."
Ron made way as Usui-san brushed past him. "Man, that really blows," he said looking back to Karin.
She was standing a good three meters away from him with her back against the wall. This had yet to strike him as odd.
"Yeah," she nodded, "We're always packed on Saturdays."
"Kim saw some people waiting to be seated just turn around and leave and-Oh, man! That wasn't what I was supposed to tell you guys!"
"No," he said with a smile that quickly spread across his face, "I told Kim about your secret!"
"WHAT?!" she shrieked.
"Whoops! No, no," he said reaching out to calm her, "that's not what I meant."
"It's what you said," she cried, edging quickly down the hall away from his extended hands.
"I know, but what I meant was that I told her that you have a secret, not what your secret is."
"Oh!" she stopped suddenly and blinked. "What did she say?"
"She's completely fine with it."
"Well, she said she could live with it," he said thoughtfully, "but, uh-huh, everything's coolio," he nodded.
With cautious steps, Karin walked toward him. As she drew close, she tentatively reached out and patted his arm once. Then twice. She then broke into a broad smile and hugged him tightly. "That's wonderful! It makes me so happy!"
"Me, too!" Ron said hugging her back. Then after a beat, he asked, "Karin, why were you … why did you … were you avoiding me just now?"
She pulled back slowly and nodded.
"And what was all that with your touching my arm? It was almost like you thought I was hot or something." He paused and blushed. "Well, not hot, hot, but, y'know, hot."
"Well," she said, wringing the small lacy apron on her uniform in her hands, "you know that accident Usui-kun and I cleaned up?"
She motioned him to lower his head and then whispered into his ear.
The secret grew larger.
After Kim had seated three more parties and made sure everyone's water glasses were full, she began to worry. Ron had been gone an extremely long time. Perhaps his estimations of Maaka-san's and Usui-san's feelings had been incorrect. Briefly, an unpleasant image of Ron and her classmate in a scuffle crossed her mind. What if Ron went full monkey on him?
No, no. That's ridiculous. It so wouldn't happen.
Then there was the problem of the patrons who had finished their meals and were patiently and not-so-patiently waiting for their checks. She was willing to give the cash register a try, but even she couldn't do anything with a locked terminal if she didn't have the key code.
With these concerns in mind, Kim ventured toward the kitchen.
She pushed open the door and gasped as it opened upon a red-faced and extremely upset Usui-san. Kim had never given the slightest credence to her classmates' vacuous comments about her friend's eyes; however, at that moment, she had to admit that his glare was quite effective. Very much so.
"Did Ron tell you?" she asked with trepidation.
"Yeah, he told us," Usui-san replied heatedly. He turned away from her and muttered something under his breath.
Oh, man. I didn't think he'd be this angry.
Kim watched as Usui-san ominously balled his fists.
"Uh, Usui-san ..." she began.
"I know, I know," he interrupted in a calmer-sounding voice. "It's a horrible night, but there it is. Maaka and I'll just have to deal with whatever comes."
"No, that's not right," Kim protested, "it's my fault." Her voice rose as she continued, attracting the attention of the cook, "True, I didn't know what was going on, but that's no excuse. What I did was horrible and there's no reason for it to ruin things between you two!"
Usui-san turned around wearing a very changed expression-one that was almost, Kim was surprised to notice, Ron-like in its befuddlement. "Huh? What are you talking about, Possible-san?"
"I thought Ron spoke to you."
"He did. About the cook."
"The cook? No, no, I thought he told you that"-eyeing the now very attentive cook, Kim leaned in and whispered, "he told me about Karin's secret."
"He did what?" Usui-san said in a voice that was so low and still that it made the hair on the back of Kim's neck stand up. He shot a look back at the cook who decided at that moment to take a cigarette break.
"He told me that she had a secret," she explained quickly, "but didn't say what it was."
As she watched the color slowly ebb back into her classmate's face, Kim couldn't help but wonder just what in the world it was his girlfriend was hiding.
Whatever it is, it must be so big.
"And that's okay?" he said after letting out a deep breath. "You're fine with not knowing?"
"Good," he smiled.
"Well, it's not all good," she said seriously. "What I said-what I suggested about Maaka-san-was unforgivable."
He was silent for a moment. Then he said, "To be perfectly honest, I thought the same thing about Stoppable-san for a second or two. The way they reacted to each other-" He paused. "I know her. I ... trust her. I didn't know a thing about him."
Kim frowned. "That was my rationale, too. Of course, you didn't announce your suspicions for the entire restaurant to hear."
"Neither did you," he said with a sudden smile. Before she could protest, he added, "Stoppable-san did."
Kim half-succeeded in suppressing a laugh.
"All my suspicions pretty much vanished at that point," he laughed.
After a moment of somewhat easier silence, Kim asked with the beginning of a smile, "Still friends?"
"What's that thing you say? 'No big'?" he asked.
"Still, I wish I could do something."
"Possible-san, it is really no problem. What is a problem is that our second cook called out sick and so did our third server."
"Oh, so that's what you're-that really stinks."
"Yeah, Saturdays are a nightmare. With three servers and two chefs it was going to be a pinch, but with only two servers and one chef it's going to be impossible."
Kim raised an eyebrow at his last word. She thought for a moment and then said, "What if I told you that I could find you another server and another cook?"
"Since the ... uh, misunderstanding," Kim explained, "I have been seating customers, and-actually, I should probably get back to a couple of them-others are itching to pay their bills." She added, "And Ron is an excellent cook."
"You'd do that? He'd do that?"
"I'm sure Ron would jump at the chance."
"You're really serious?" Usui-san's surprise was quickly passing over to relief.
"Just give me a uniform, and it's done."
"All right, it's a deal."
Maybe this wasn't such a good idea.
Ron, of course, had loved the idea. So had Maaka-san. The only problem, and it was a major one, was staring back at Kim in the female employee locker room's mirror.
If the waitress uniform with its lacy apron, frilly headband, plaid kerchief, and knee-high socks had looked overly cute on Maaka-san, it looked wretchedly ridiculous on Kim.
Monique would kill me if she caught me wearing this. I know I'd kill myself if she saw me in it.
Despite the rest of its gallery of fashion horrors, the worst aspect of the uniform was the skirt ... or its lack of one. It was cut at least three inches higher than Kim's Middleton cheer skirt. She really wanted to help Usui-san and Maaka-san out, but perhaps flashing the restaurant's clientele wasn't the best way to do it.
However, not seeing any way out of the sitch, Kim reluctantly left the room and walked to the kitchen. As she entered, she caught sight of Ron wearing a cook's apron. He looked happy, completely at ease, but he was still fidgeting with his right eye.
"How's the eye doing?"
"Still hurts a little, but it's doing fi—" He turned to face her. "-actually, doing super now, KP!" he said with a leer.
She rolled her eyes.
"Showing some leg, like it!" He gave her a thumbs up.
"Try showing all leg, Ron. I can't go out there like this." She spun around and headed back to the locker room. Once she was inside, she tried adjusting the skirt. The problem was that once she positioned it to a somewhat acceptable level, it laid bare her midrift.
Wait a minute? Why is that a problem?
Well, except maybe for the dress code.
She tied up the ends of the blouse and exited the locker room.
Striding back into the kitchen, Kim asked, "How do you like it?"
"Goin' old school, huh?" Ron asked with a smile.
"Uh-huh, and you know what, Ron? I didn't realize how much I missed the refreshing breeze."
"P-Possible-san, you look really good!" Maaka-san said as Kim approached the hostess stand.
"You think this will be okay?" Kim asked indicating her middle.
"Sure," she nodded distractedly.
The girl certainly seemed happier than she had earlier, but she couldn't hide how flustered she still was around Kim.
Kim had already apologized to the girl, but she couldn't deny a strong sense of uncomfortable distance between them.
"You can call me Kim if you'd like." Although she didn't think the gesture would be a cure-all, when it occurred to her, she felt compelled to make it.
The girl's reaction was unexpected. At first, Kim thought Maaka-san was going to cry. And then she did.
"Oh, oh," Maaka-san managed, between sobs, "thank you so much, Possible-san. That makes me so happy!"
"It's okay Maaka-san," Kim said helplessly. She patted the girl's shoulder. "It's no big."
She's a nice person, but, man, I thought Ron was prone to drama!
Seeing the line of restless customers behind the weeping girl, she quickly changed tactics. "Things look kinda busy; what do you need me to do?"
"Oh yeah," the girl said, quickly snapping out of it. "Well, could you take table thirteen? I just seated them, and I was about to take them their water."
"Sure, where is table thirteen?"
Maaka-san took a floor map from a drawer behind the stand. "Here it is," she indicated with her finger, "it's the first table behind the ferns."
"No problem," Kim said taking a tray with two full tumblers of water.
As Kim made her way to the table, she noticed that the place was getting packed; there were hardly any free tables left. What's more, there was a line forming in the waiting area. There was no doubt it was going to be a busy night.
Not the evening I had planned, but it'll be okay.
She reflected on the immense relief she felt that now, for all practical purposes, she had discovered what had been troubling Ron. She walked around the massive fern arrangement and spoke in a friendly voice to the couple seated at the table, "Hello, I hope you haven't been waiting too-"
It was all Kim could do to keep from dropping the tray.
"Well, it looks like somebody is already taking full advantage of her liberal arts education," announced a very snarky and very familiar voice.
If Shego had experienced any shock at suddenly seeing her arch-nemesis, she hid it very well.
Doctor Drakken was perusing his menu's mixed drink section when he reflexively turned his head in the general direction his companion had spoken.
"AAAAAIIIE!" he screamed when he saw Kim.
"Calm down, Dr. D," Shego advised, "Kimmie's just here to take our order." She smiled evilly, "I don't believe we have anything to worry about tonight."
To be continued ...
Chapter 6: Six
Rufus yawned, stretched, and wound himself into a tight ball on Michelle's lap. The little guy had scarfed down half the package of cheese sticks she had presented him as reward for winning the last round of DDR. Whatever boost the snackage had given him was very short-lived, however; he was snoring soundly within seconds of licking the seventh wrapper clean.
Michelle smiled with hard-earned satisfaction. Although the final three contests had been extremely close, she had bested her little friend in five out of six. He'd simply had too much pep for her during their final bout. She stroked his head and listened to the strange harmony his snores made with the DDR splash-screen theme as it echoed off the walls of the room. After five minutes, she found herself nodding off. Shaking her head, she carefully lifted the small hairless rodent and placed him on her shoulder. Snatching her keychain from its hiding place behind the row of cookbooks in the kitchen, she left the dorm, locking the door behind her.
The walk to the Student Hall was relaxing; Michelle languidly watched a large autumn sun disappear behind the skyline on the western edge of the Komaba campus. Although he was unconscious, the change of scenery had a soothing effect upon Rufus as well. His breathing became more regular, and his snores ceased. He became so quiet that Michelle reflexively checked her shoulder a few times to make sure he hadn't slipped off.
Once inside the building, she managed to stifle a sudden burst of excitement. She had been expecting an Avatar-themed care package from friends back in the States all week, yet she didn't want to get too amped in case it hadn't arrived.
"Mannn," she groused, despite herself as she shut and re-locked hr empty mailbox.
She scanned the two rows above hers until she located her roommate's unit. Unlocking the door with the key Kim had given her earlier, Michelle peaked inside. It was jammed tight. As she had expected.
Over the past week, Kim had been so busy finishing her project with a classmate that she had not had a chance to check her mail. Michelle sighed as she looked at the clot of correspondence in her roommate's box and then attempted to tug it loose.
As she finally jerked the mail-clog free, the air erupted into a flurry of envelopes.
"Shoot!" MIchelle huffed as the scattering mail slowly floated to the hall's floor. All she retained in her hands was a rather thick catalog, the cause of the log jam. Fortunately, Rufus had been awoken by her jerking motions and was more than willing to help her gather up the mess.
Michelle did her best not to inspect her roommate's mail as she picked it up, but she did happen to notice that most of it seemed to be junk forwarded from the States.
"Odd," she thought, "Do they even forward junk mail overseas?" #
An unexpected strong breeze came up behind them as they exited the building and threatened to send the ungainly stack of Kim's mail across the eastern edge of the campus. Before Michelle could fully envision the time-consuming horror of gathering scattered mail across campus at dusk, her fears were put to rest as Rufus leapt from her shoulder onto the pile, securing it like a blobby pink paperweight.
"Thanks, Rufus," she said. "You definitely just earned another pair of cheese sticks with that save."
Rufus shot her a wink, but it was too dark for her to see it.
The pile's sudden shift partially revealed the bulk-mailing catalog's cover, and its title lay right beneath Rufus' whiskers. But it was too dark for either to see that as well.
# Typically, no, but they do in this story.
"What-what are you doing here?" Kim managed to sputter finally.
"Apart from getting lousy service?" Shego replied casually.
"So not in the mood," Kim snapped.
"Is the buffoon here, too?" Drakken asked with a note of piqued interest.
Kim turned her attention to her arch-foe. "Don't … diss … Ron," she hissed.
"Princess, you're about to have an accident," Shego said as she steadied the dangerously-tilting water tray in Kim's right hand.
Kim had been tangentially aware of the clattering from the water glasses, but hadn't given the noise much attention until now. The tray had been shaking rather violently and Shego's gesture had saved the tumblers from sharing the same fate suffered by the plates from Maaka-san's rice ball appetizer.
"Thanks," Kim said reflexively.
"No, problem, Kimmie," Shego gave Kim an immensely irritating smile.
"Don't get snippy with me, Possible," Drakken replied shortly, bringing the focus back to himself. "I only wanted to know if he was," and here the mad scientist's eyes took on an anticipatory gleam, "in the kitchen."
"No dice, Doc." Shego said, shooting a look behind her boss's right ear, "He's got wait duty like Princess."
When she absently looked over her shoulder, Kim caught a flash of unruly blond hair one aisle over and three booths down.
Wha? She shook head. No, that's not Ron. The vague physical similarities between Usui-san and Ron had never occurred to Kim before that moment.
"Oh, my bad," Shego corrected, "That isn't Stoppable." After a beat, "Whoa, check out the psycho stare!"
"Hey!" Kim cried.
"Oh, friend of yours?" Shego said in a flat, bored voice. "Why am I not surprised?"
"So he is in the kitchen?" Drakken asked hopefully.
"Yes," Kim growled, most of her focus still aimed at Shego.
"Oh goodie!" Drakken chirped, eagerly rubbing his small hands together.
Shego rolled her eyes at Drakken's child-like display of excitement and then smiled down at her menu. "That explains why Z gave this dump such a high rating."
Kim took a couple of breaths. The sitch was bad enough; she couldn't let Shego rattle her. She still had a job to do, and they were, after all ... customers.
Waitaminute. Who's "Z?"
Kim futilely searched her memory for a villain with that initial. She had the vaguest feeling that she knew who the individual was, but the name was just beyond her grasp.
"What did he say we should try again?" Drakken asked, looking over the menu that he proceeded to rotate clockwise and then counter-clockwise in his hands.
"I think he said something about a 'red special,'" Shego replied, flipping her menu over, "but I don't see anything like that listed." Suddenly, she snapped her fingers sharply in Kim's face. "Helllo? Do you know what he might have meant?"
Although Drakken and Shego weren't doing anything illegal-being ferociously obnoxious was not a crime-Kim knew for a fact that the reason the duo wasn't currently behind bars had nothing to do with 'reduced time' or 'good behavior.' Yet, they were only having dinner.
Of course, if they to skip without paying their bill ...
"Oh!" Kim cried suddenly. "He must have meant Maaka-san's dishes."
"Huh?" Drakken asked.
"'Aka' is Japanese for 'red,'" she explained. She placed the tray on the table and took Drakken's menu from him. Although she hadn't gotten a chance to read their descriptions, she remembered seeing a red box somewhere on the menu listing the meals Maaka-san had created. "There," she said, indicating the crimson rectangle on the back cover, "I've heard they are very good."
"Heard?" Drakken asked suspiciously and then rudely snatched his menu back out of her hands. "You haven't eaten any of them?"
"No," she replied tersely. "I've never eaten here before."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Shego said holding up both hands. "You work here, but you don't eat the food?" She blinked hard. "Even when your boyfriend's the cook? I don't give Stoppable many props but he's definitely on point in the kitchen."
"We don't really work here," Kim fumbled. "We're kind of helping someone out." She shook her head. "It's really a complicated story that-"
"That we so don't want to hear," Shego interrupted as she perused the items listed within the crimson rectangle. After a few seconds and without looking up, Shego asked, "Aren't you supposed to ask if we'd like anything to drink while we make up our minds?"
"Uh, yes," Kim said, taking a notepad and pencil from one of the frilly pockets on her frilly apron.
"Diet cola," Shego said, "with five cubes of ice and a squeeze of lime. Doctor D?"
Kim jotted down Shego's request and turned toward her arch-foe. He was wearing an unsettling pathetic face.
"Uh, Shego?" he asked. "Could I have ... you know ... ?"
By the look on his face, Shego instantly knew what he was begging for; she spat incredulously, "You have got to be kidding." Then she smiled. "On second thought, why not?" She shot a look at Kim. "This is a special occasion, is it not?"
Drakken giddily clapped his hands and announced to Kim, "Piña colada! Extra piña!"
"Oookay." Kim wrote down Drakken's request. She sighed, "I'll be right back."
Before Kim had gotten three steps from the table, she heard a shrill whistle.
"Princess!" Shego cried harshly.
"What?" Kim sighed as she turned back around.
Kim walked back to the table, placed a glass of water in front of Shego and one in front of Drakken. She picked up the tray and headed back to the kitchen.
Kim stopped and slowly turned, fuming. "What?"
"Take the waters, we don't want them."
Kim stalked back to the table and put the full glasses back on the tray.
"I don't know why you brought them anyway. We didn't ask for them." Shego said. Then, just as Kim picked up the tray, she put in another dig. "You're not very good at this, are you?"
"She should have stuck to babysitting," Drakken pronounced smugly. His smile faded, however, as he realized that neither Shego or Kim had acknowledged his zinger. "Fine!" he groused and went back to reading his menu.
"Anything else?" Kim hissed.
"No," Shego smiled pleasantly, "that'll do. For now."
Kim turned and marched away from the table. Part of her was sure Shego was going to call out to her again.
At about the instant that she had convinced herself that Shego was not going to summon her a third time, the villainess did just that.
"Ahh!" Kim jumped at Shego's sudden cry. It wasn't a big jump, and at least the glasses didn't fall off the tray and smash on the floor. However, the jump was big enough. The glasses tipped over, rolled across the tray surface and came to rest against its raised edge. And, of course, they emptied most of their contents down the front of Kim's uniform. Unlike a cool breeze, the sensation of icy water going across her bare midriff was anything but refreshing. She spun around, shaking with fury.
"Say cheese!" Shego smiled holding out her camera phone.
Kim blinked her eyes clear. Whether she had been briefly blinded by the flash or rage or both, she was unsure.
"Ohhh," Shego said as she looked at the picture she had just taken and then showed it to Drakken. "Doesn't she look just adorable?"
"Yes," he agreed, "adorably all wet." He laughed and then stopped when he realized Shego had ignored him.
"Oh no," Shego chided Kim, "you blinked. Oh well, it doesn't have to be perfect," she said casually. "It isn't like it's going in a frame. Just on the internet."
"So that was one hamburger plate, an order of rice balls, and a medium tea, ma'am?" Karin asked cheerfully.
The customer nodded pleasantly back to her.
Karin liked it when the restaurant was busy. She didn't feel as self-conscious when she was always on the go. it was when things slowed down that she tended to second-guess herself and make mistakes. Besides, when it was really busy, the nights seemed to fly by. She hoped that the night would remain busy past the dinner rush, but that only happened when a convention was in town. In any case, she couldn't wait until closing time when she would be able to walk hand-and-hand with Usui-kun back to her home.
As she headed to her next table, she saw Kim rushing around past her. She looked dreadfully upset.
"Kim?" Karin asked, "Are you okay?"
But Possible-san brushed right by her without speaking. In fact, she didn't even acknowledge Karin's presence.
It had meant so much to her when Possible-san had said she could address her by her first name.
And now ... now.
Karin tried to ignore the negative thoughts that began to percolate in her head. It was nothing. Possible-san just hadn't heard her. That was it. Probably.
It couldn't be that she's mad at me. Is ... is she mad at me?
She shook her head vigorously. Stop it!
She released a sad sigh and then proceeded to the next table.
Wait a minute. Had Possible-san been ... wet?
Kim's anger obscured everything around her. The bustling restaurant became one big cacophonous blur that she was passing through. She needed to tell Ron about Drakken and Shego. And not just so she could pass on their drink orders, either.
She was seething. She couldn't remember the last time she had been so stressed out.
As she marched the length the dining area and turned toward the kitchen, she gripped the edges of the tray so tightly that her knuckles went white.
Outside, a tall figure was walking past the restaurant's bank of lighted windows. He paused, halted, and then turned his head to follow Kim as she crossed his plane of view and was finally swallowed by the double-doors that led to the kitchen. The figure remained motionless, watching the double-doors for her reappearance with predatory patience.
Shego flipped open her cell phone and began scrolling down her list of contacts. "Dr. D, I believe I have a way of making everyone forget about the embarrassing scene you pulled this afternoon."
"Shego!" Drakken hissed, "You promised never to speak of that again."
Shego smiled and shook her head, "I didn't promise anything, Dr. D."
Drakken thought for a moment. "Oh," he said finally. "I asked you to promise not to speak about it again. And you didn't answer."
"Anyway," Shego said. "Do you want to hear what I have in mind?"
"Fine," Drakken sighed.
"Well, I've never really been the generous type, but with Stoppable in the kitchen and our preciously-attired Kimmie taking orders," she grinned evilly, "it would be wrong of me to not share the wealth on this occasion."
She made her first call.
When they made it back to the dorm room, Rufus had fallen asleep again. Michelle shook her head. She placed him and the stack of junk mail on Kim's desk and then walked to the kitchen to put the keys back on their hook behind the cookbooks. While she was there, she walked to the fridge and opened the door to grab a soda. She reached for a couple of cheese sticks, but then she remembered that Rufus was asleep and went to close the door.
"Ahh!" she cried when she turned and saw Rufus wide awake behind her, happily wriggling his whiskers at her.
The instant his mole rat hearing had detected the sound of the fridge door opening, Rufus had rocketed to the kitchen. "Well, I guess hunger trumps exhaustion," she laughed as she opened the fridge's door once more.
Rufus had taken off so quickly that he had scatted most of the letters and junk leaflets across Kim's desk.
Revealing the cover of the catalog.
The cover was a collage of various obscure and unusual instruments and objects. However, in its far right corner there was a device pictured that citizens of Tokyo, and most other major cities in the world, would have definitely recognized.
Less than a year earlier, they had all experienced close encounters with such devices.
To be continued ...
Chapter 7: Seven
"No way!" Ron yelled.
"Yes way," Kim sighed. "Most def 'yes way.'"
"What are the odds?" he exclaimed.
"The same they always are when it comes to us," she said dryly.
"And you're telling me this?"
Ron looked down at the dish he was making, grumbled, and made to take off his toque.
"Ron, what are you doing?"
"Uh," he said, the hat half-raised from his head, "I kinda thought we were going to kick their biscuits."
She shook her head.
"They're not doing anything illegal, Ron," she explained. "Just ordering a meal."
"Oh, okay," Ron said, lowering his toque back down. "And, I guess, Julian might take a beating if we did try to take them down-Shego never goes quietly."
"True," Kim said thoughtfully.
"Well, what do you want to do, KP?"
"What I want to do is so besides the point. What I need is for you to make Drakken a piña colada." A beat later, she said with a roll of her eyes, "Extra piña."
"No can do, KP."
"I'm the cook," he said simply, "that's the drink bar dude's gig."
"Well, who is the 'drink bar dude'?"
"Who?" Kim asked, her exasperation beginning to show.
"Hi!" the second chef waved to Kim. "I've got some bar tending experience. And since our regular guy called out ... "
The man looked exhausted, as if he had been pulled in six different directions at once for hours on end.
"Sorry," she said.
As he walked from behind his cooking station, he asked, "That was extra piña, not colada, correct?"
"Possible!" Drakken screamed petulantly. "I said extra piña! Not extra colada!"
"Drakken," Kim explained patiently and clearly, or as patiently and clearly as one could through gritted teeth, "I watched him add the extra pineapple juice my—"
A marichino cherry hit her squarely in the forehead.
"Nice one, Doc!" Shego said approvingly. She was much impressed with his firing accuracy with the drink garnish, especially since his weapon was a bendy straw. Yet she refrained from giving him the proffered high-five.
Kim was apoplectic. She was so consumed with rage that she didn't realize it at first when she snapped her pencil in two.
"Before you get too bent out of shape, Kim," Shego advised, "I must compliment you on my drink. You even managed to count the ice cubes correctly." She then added with sharp condescension, "Your education's definitely not going to waste here."
"Have … you … decided … yet?" Kim managed haltingly.
"As a matter of fact, yes," Shego said pleasantly.
After scribbling down their selections from Maaka-san's entrees, Kim dutifully asked with mounting dread, "May I get you anything else?"
"Just re-make my drink, Possible!" Drakken snarled. "Extra piña, not colada." Then he added with snarky, childish delight, "And a larger cherry this time."
Kim spun on her heel and hurried quickly away without comment.
"Say," Shego asked with annoyance, "why can't you be as good a shot with a laser cannon as you are with a straw and a cherry?"
The shine taken off his recent triumph, Drakken slumped his elbows to the tabletop to sulk. His mood brightened swiftly, however, and he snatched up his straw, inspecting it intently from several angles.
"Forget it, Dr. D."
"What?" he snapped.
"You are not making a bendy laser cannon to fire at Possible."
Drakken huffed and tossed aside the straw. Shooting a sideways glance at his companion who had begun absently filing her claws, the mad scientist quickly bent down to the floor to snatch up the marichino cherry.
"Drop it, Doc," Shego said without looking up from her filing.
"Don't worry. I'm not designing a cherry-flavored laser."
"You're not eating it, either. Drop it."
"Five minute rule, Shego," Drakken chided.
"That's the five second rule." Shego said disparagingly.
Kim stalked to the hostess desk to inspect the table assignment sheet once more. Although she would never consider doing anything morally reprehensible with Drakken and Shego's food, she was not above letting them wait a few moments before she turned their order over to Ron. Besides, their shenanigans were taking time away from her other, law-abiding and non-obnoxious customers.
"Possible-san?" Maaka-san voice asked hesitantly from behind Kim's left shoulder, "I just seated a party at table twenty-three for you."
"Oh, okay, thanks." Kim nodded absently as she glanced quickly over the seating chart. Table twenty-three was near the back of the dining area, but not too close to Shego and Drakken's table.
When she turned around Kim caught her breath. Maaka-san was balancing three oversized trays crammed with full plates and glasses. The girl's eyes were lowered almost as if she wondering, with some detachment, how she had come to be carrying so much and why none of it was toppling over.
"Ohmygosh!" Kim exclaimed, "Do you need any help?"
Maaka-san's face immediately shot up and her eyes flashed. "No, no, I'm fine," she smiled.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes," Maaka-san nodded happily. "I'm fine, Possible-san."
"Okay, just let me know if you need a hand." Kim began walking to the rear of the bustling, noisy dining area, but looked over her shoulder and saw that Maaka-san was staring wistfully back at her. When their eyes met, Maaka-san's face immediately went crimson, and she almost lost her balance. She quickly regained her composure and carefully began to make her way to a table full of impatient customers.
Kim smiled as she walked to table twenty-three. Usui-san's girlfriend was definitely a little bit weird, but Kim liked her. Moreover, the overburdened yet still cheerful girl had given her some much needed perspective. So what if Drakken and Shego were giving her a hard time? When did they not? She resolved to think of the evening as just another mission. Instead of saving the world, she was doing a favor for some friends.
So not the drama.
Besides, she certainly wasn't going have any other customers as bad as Drakken and Shego.
This is so not happening.
"Vell, vell, vell. Zo it is true, fraulein Possible, you vork here," Professor Dementor chuckled as he rubbed his hands together. "It is like I alvays tell my loyal henchmen. Although crime may not always pay, being a goodie-two-shoes gets you no-zing, no-ZING, NO-ZING! MUHWAHAHAHAHA!"
Kim let the diminutive villain finish his maniacal laugh and then calmly said, "You know, Dementor, the evil villain light really loses its impact in a well-lit room."
"I didn't want to say anything, BIL," Dementor's brother-in-law Myron added unhelpfully at his elbow, "but she's got a point."
Dementor switched off the flashlight he was holding beneath his chin and tossed it derisively across the table. Before it could roll off, it was caught and righted by a hand belonging to the person sitting opposite from Dementor's brother-in-law, a person whose body was for the most part hidden by the latest copy of the UK gossip magazine, "FINE."
Dementor shook the displeasure from him and gave Kim a fiendish grin. "Zo, fraulein Possible, it appears zat you're at my beck and call, yah? For ze next few hours, my every dezire and whim is your COMMAND TO OBEY! HAHAHAHA!"
"Sure," Kim replied once his laughter had faded to the extent that she could hear herself think. "Can I start you off with anything to drink?"
"We vill have three of ze Shirley Temples," Dementor pronounced as he turned his attention back to his menu. Kim noticed a pleased expression cross Myron's face at the mention of the kiddie cocktail, but she distinctly heard a grumble come from behind the cover of "FINE."
"Okay, three Shirley Temples," Kim scribbled on her notepad with her half a pencil. "Do you need a few minutes to de-"
"You may go now," Dementor said brusquely with a dismissive wave of his hand. "We vill summon you when you are needed."
Kim massaged her right temple as she walked away. As obnoxious as Dementor had been, at least he hadn't taken her picture or shot fruit at her.
"What are the odds?" Ron exclaimed.
"Not so loud, Ron," Kim said still pressing her temple, "I'm getting a headache."
"Sorry, KP," he said softer.
She searched through the frilly pockets of her apron. "Oh, and here's Drakken and Shego's order," she said handing him the wadded up piece of notepaper.
As he smoothed it out, he asked, "What's wrong, KP?"
"Besides the obvious?" she said her eyebrow fully arched.
"Yeah. Besides that."
"Well, I don't believe that bad luck alone explains Drakken and Dementor being here on the same night."
"Shego took your picture with her phone, right?"
"Well, maybe she called him."
"I was thinking that, too, but how could he have gotten here so fast?"
"I don't know, KP." He shook his head and then cried excitedly, "Hey!"
"Drakken and Shego ordered a couple of Karin's dinners!"
Kim began massaging both temples.
"And nice choices, too! Hey, Karin!" he shouted to his friend who had just entered the kitchen, "You're a big hit tonight."
"Ron!" Kim grimaced, clutching her head.
"Oh!" And then in a softer voice, "My bad, KP!"
"What's wrong, Possible-san?" Maaka-san asked.
"Just a headache," she sighed. "I'm having customer issues," she explained.
"If there's anything-"
"Karin," Ron cut in, "order for table nine is looking fine."
"Oh, okay," the girl laughed.
As she collected the dishes and assorted them onto a large tray, Sakurai-san said, "Maaka-san, the appetizers for seven are up!"
"S-sure," Maaka-san said as she hoisted the tray to her shoulder. "I'll be right back."
"I'll take those out for you, Maaka-san," Kim said quickly.
"Really?" Maaka-san smiled broadly. "Thanks, Possible-san!"
Kim held the door for the overloaded waitress and then came back to the cook station and placed the appetizer dishes upon a medium sized tray. As she hoisted it onto her shoulder, she breathed, "Oh, this all smells so good!"
"Yeah," Ron nodded. "It's the garlic. Karin's recipes call for a lot of-"
He was cut off by a very loud grumbling sound.
"KP?" he asked, "Was that your stomach?"
"Yes," she cried pathetically. "I'm so, so hungry, Ron." Her anger and stress had been able to ward off her hunger pangs, but a whiff of Maaka-san's meals had brought them back full force.
"Well, here," he said warmly, "have one of her rice balls-just made them."
"Thanks," she smiled as she leaned over so he could pop it into her mouth.
Ron went back to fixing the next order. A half minute later, he happened to glance up and noticed that Kim was standing in the same spot. Had she ever left? The look in her eyes, however, told him that whatever was up was so big.
"What's wrong, KP? Don't tell me Yono the Destroyer showed up."
She blinked finally. "No, no." She then said evenly and serious, "When you finish Yamanouchi, you and Maaka-san are opening up a restaurant."
"Really. Th-that was incredible!"
"It was just rice with a few spices."
"I know, but it was incredible. I can't imagine how a full meal might taste!" Kim said in a semi-daze. She shook her head clear, "I'm serious, Ron. The only recipes that even come close are yours!"
"Maybe you should tell her that."
"I will." She smiled. "See ya in a few."
As she passed through the double-doors, Kim tried to recall exactly where table seven was.
Against the windows, I think.
"You look so incredibly cool," Bonnie Rockwaller smiled viciously, "I just have to get a picture." She began digging through her purse for her cell phone.
"Father, what is Kim Possible doing here?" Señor Senior Junior asked looking up from his copy of "FINE."
"She apparently works here, my son," Señor Senior Senior explained.
"It is as I have told you before, Junior," Señor Senior Senior said solemnly as he looked toward Kim, "it is a terrible thing to be poor."
"I just knew that college wouldn't lead anywhere," Bonnie added. "I am so glad that I didn't bother going. Here, K, say 'loser'!"
The flash from Bonnie's phone temporarily blinded Kim at which time she heard Maaka-san's voice.
"Thanks again, Possible-san."
As her vision cleared, Kim made out Maaka-san's smiling face looking into hers. Suddenly, Kim realized what about the girl's smile had struck her as so odd earlier. Her canines were very pronounced, almost ridiculously so.
"This is yours, sir." Maaka-san said as she lifted Señor Senior Senior's appetizer from the tray and placed it before him. "And this was yours. And yours, ma'am."
"Wh-what," Kim managed finally, "what are you doing here?"
The elder Senior explained, "Beginning a splendid meal, Miss Possible."
"Oooh!" Junior squealed appreciatively after taking his first bite. "It is as if there is a joyous gathering in my mouth which many famous and glamourous people are attending!"
"I am so glad you like it, sir," Maaka-san exclaimed.
"Most excellent aroma," the elder man added. "The scent of the garlic is sublime and not in any way overpowering."
"It's great for stamina," Maaka-san nodded happily to him.
"K," Bonnie said between bites, "tell Loser he can be my private chef when he gets tired of being your sidekick."
"Don't call him that!" Kim snapped. "Wait, how did you know that Ron's in the back?"
"We actually received word after we had been seated," the elder Senior answered pleasantly. "Without question, our decision to dine here has proven a fortuitous one."
"But," Kim stammered, "what are you doing in town? And Drakken? And Dementor?"
"Oh, that is so beautiful!" Maaksa-san exclaimed. "May I see it?"
"I suppose," Bonnie said reluctantly.
"Ah yes," Señor Senior Senior said proudly turning his attention away from Kim. "El Curcifijo del Aguirre-one of most valuable treasures from the Age of Exploration. It is one of the many thoughtful tokens my son has obtained for Miss Rockwaller."
Kim followed his gaze and saw Maaka-san gingerly holding a rather ostentatious gem-studded golden cross that Bonnie was wearing around her neck.
"Jealous much?" Bonnie asked, shooting Kim a smile.
"Not particularly," Kim replied flatly.
"Are those real diamonds?" Karin asked breathlessly.
"Of course," Bonnie snapped. She eyed Karin with thinly-veiled disdain. "Okay, you've seen enough. You can leave now." She swatted the girl away. "Shoo!"
"O-okay, sorry," Maaka-san smiled sheepishly and edged away from the table.
"Shoo?" Kim glared at Bonnie. "That was so un-called for."
"Whatever, Kim," Bonnie said waving her hand dismissively. "Why don't you go harvest some parsley or something?"
Kim walked quickly to catch up with Maaka-san and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Don't mind Bonnie, Maaka-san. She's always been like that."
"Oh, I'm okay, Possible-san," she said.
"But that was so incredibly mean of her!" Kim shook her head, "Since she hooked up with Junior, she's gotten so much worse-almost as if being around us 'mere mortals' makes her skin crawl."
"Oh," Maaka-san's face lost its color for a second. "Oh yeah," she laughed uneasily. Once her face regained its normal hue, she said earnestly, "Thanks anyway, Possible-san. I'm all right."
"Possible-san!" Usui-san said as he walked quickly toward them. "Could you grab table thirty-three? I have three tables I need to get to immediately, but I promised this customer that someone would see to him right away. Be careful, he's in a very foul mood."
Usui-san couldn't remember when Julian had been so busy, nor when it had had so many famous or infamous customers. He had nearly dropped a tray full of drinks when he first noticed Possible-san's enemies, Shego-san and Drakken-san, sitting at table thirteen. Despite their dangerous, world-dominating reputations, his first thought was only that Possible-san wouldn't somehow get stuck waiting on them.
A few minutes later, he nearly choked on his tongue while reading back a customer's order when he looked up to see that she, in fact, was taking their order. And although he felt ashamed for the pettiness of his initial reaction afterwards, his first thought when he saw Drakken-san maliciously shoot his classmate with a cherry was of the trouble he and his mother would have finding new jobs after the restaurant was destroyed.
Maaka, too, was handling the situation very well. As jumpy and easily frightened as he knew his girlfriend to be, he was amazed at how calmly she was dealing with such nefarious clientele.
Then, as he approached table twenty-seven in the far back corner of the dining area, it occurred to him.
Does she even realize who they are?
"Okay, before I order, and I hate to be pain, but, you know, I just got to know this because it is really, really important-HEY, why are you glaring at me? I only wanted to ask a question?"
"Oh no, sir," Usui-san apologized quickly to the skinny, overly excitable customer. "It's my eyes-they're ... well, they been like this since I was born."
"Really?" he asked. "You're not just saying that because sometimes, you know, people will try to pull things over on me and I'm not easily fooled, I can usually tell when someone's trying to snow me, well, maybe not ALL the time, but most of the time and"-and here the man leapt from his seat and got right up into Usui-san's face to stare intently into his eyes.
"Uh, sir," he said edging backwards a few steps.
"Wow! Would you look at that? They are SO tiny. That is freaky." Here, the customer waved his right hand wildly in front of Usui-san's face. "That IS crazy, they aren't changing in size at all! That is incredbile. Have you ever thought of working in a carnival or maybe, you know, like a haunted house for Halloween or something? Do you guys have Halloween over here in Japan? Because, like, you know, you're really scary-I mean you are freaking me out right now. If I didn't know any better I'd think you were really angry with me."
"Did you have a question, sir?" Usui-san said in his most restrained voice.
"Oh YEAH, I did," the customer nodded and, thankfully, sat back down in his seat. But immediately, he sprang out of it again. "What I wanted to ask was this: all the items in this menu-" and here he produced a menu in his left hand and shook it a few inches from Usui-san's face "-have their priced listed in yen. The question I put to you is how many yen go into a dollar?"
"I know its a silly question and I'm sure you get asked it hundreds of times a day, but I need to know because just between you and me and I really shouldn't be telling you this, but I am actually using my mother's credit card to pay for this trip"-and here he practically shoved his credit card into Usui-san's face "-and I know that it has MY name on it, but the account is really my mother's and I would really hate to get into trouble with her if I ended up spending a thousand dollars on an egg roll or chop suey or one of your other local dishes. So how much?"
Usui-san shook his head at Frugal Lucre (if he had read the name on the credit card correctly) and said, "I'm sorry, sir. I don't know."
"You DON'T know? You don't KNOW? How can you NOT know? That is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. I can't get you people. You know the world doesn't revolve around Japan and the YEN, you know?"
"Sir," Usui-san said with growing edge in his voice.
"I mean, if I was Japanese, which I am not by the way, I would certainly know how my strange foreign money translated into dollars. It's just common courtesy. And I cannot get over those CRAZY eyes of yours. I mean like right now if I didn't know you were born with super bizarro eyes I would really think that you were glaring at me."
Kim wondered if Usui-san had misspoke when he gave her the table number. There didn't seem to be anyone sitting at table thirty-three. At the very least, she couldn't see anyone's head and shoulders over the rear of the booth as she approached it.
Maybe he went to the bathroom. Or left.
As she drew near, she felt drawn to look up, out the window. On the striped canopy that fluttered in the unseen night breeze outside, she saw ... something ... something that was hanging from the canopy. And she realized she had seen it earlier-right before Ron and she had started cleaning up the smashed dishes that Maaka-san had dropped.
Is that what I think it is?
A loud, sharp noise punctured her thoughts.
She turned back to the table and looked with growing trepidation into the booth.
The long, hairy fingers that had generated the aforementioned snap closed tightly into a fist that came down rudely upon the table top.
"Sake!" the low voice demanded. "Two bottles."
Kim fumbled for and found her notepad and half pencil. "Two bottles of sake?" she repeatedly as calmly as she could.
"Word," Yono the Destroyer uttered, glaring up at her with pitiless, glowing eyes.
To be continued ...
Chapter 8: Eight
Gemini demanded two small glass dishes, so his hairless "pooch" Pépé could dine with him. One dish was for the entree and the second was for pure, filtered spring water with a splash of lime juice. Kim thought it best not to push Julian's "no pets" policy.
Duff Killigan, for the most part, behaved himself. However, he did insist on "complementing" his meal with a generous helping of his Gram's haggis that he carefully scooped from a steaming pot he produced from his golf bag. Although this made him happy, it led to several virulent complaints from diners in his immediate area.
Jack Hench waited unhappily near the front doors for another table to become free. There already was one-table 14-but he refused to sit right next to Drakken and Shego. It wasn't the justifiable resentment he felt about the multiple bad checks Drakken had written Henchco over the years so much as it was the well-founded fear that the mad scientist's glamorous assistant might steal his wallet.
Motor Ed was being his normal air-guitaring, mullet-headed, obnoxious self. Fortunately, Maaka-san had his table and seemed amused by his antics. Unfortunately, his high-pitched "singing" as he "rocked out" to his mePod ratcheted up Kim's headache even though she was halfway across the room.
Dementor had been outraged when he learned that the menu did not include Sauerbraten. And insisted on ordering it regardless.
"Dementor," Kim pleaded, "we don't serve it. They can't make it!"
"Your so-called-boyfriend who is always losing his lederhosen-"
"His name is Ron," Kim seethed, "and he is my boyfriend."
"Whatever, whatever. He vill make it for me."
"Really?" Kim asked with unveiled sarcasm.
"Yes, fraulein," Demenotor smiled, "everyone knows that boy always does whatever you tell him to do."
Before Kim could argue the point, Dementor continued, "And I am ORDERING YOU TO TELL HIM TO DO IT!"
Kim stalked towards the kitchen. "I so don't boss Ron around," she muttered. She'd have to have Usui-san stop by Dementor's table.
She squeezed past Monkey Fist who had been placed at the head of DNAmy's table; he took up almost half of the aisle space because his stone form was too large to fit into a booth. She glanced toward the hostess desk and noticed that the line of customers had finally thinned out. In fact, apart from Hench talking obliviously into his cell phone, there was only a single customer waiting, an especially tall and smartly dressed young man. Kim had just realized that this person was gazing fixedly in her direction when her Kimmunicator went off.
Immediately, a chorus of boos and hisses erupted across the dining room. Kim ignored them. "What's the sitch, Wade?"
"Kim, I-" Wade began urgently, but then paused. "What are you wearing, Kim?"
"Don't ask," she sighed. "What do you have for me?"
"Well, you're not going to believe where the annual 'Super Villain Convention and Trade Show' is being held this weekend."
"Let me guess-Tokyo?"
"Uh, yeah," Wade nodded. "How did you know? Get another one of their catalogs?"
"No," Kim shook her head. "Besides, I don't think they forward junk mail internationally."
"I'll show you." Kim held up her wrist and panned the entire dining room with her device.
"Okay," Wade said. "Would you like to explain?"
"Don't have the time," Kim said, "I have to seat the next customer and put in Dementor's order."
"Long story?" Wade hazarded.
"You have no idea," she sighed.
"Well, so long as it has a happy ending, right?"
"Working on that." Kim replied.
"Sorry to keep you waiting," Kim said to the young man. "Welcome to Julian. Just one?"
"For now," the young man said coolly. The edge of his mouth twisted into a genuinely disturbing smile.
"Follow me," Kim said quickly as she picked up a single menu and led the customer from the hostess table.
The instant Wade had unlocked the mystery of why all her arch foes were in town, Kim had felt marginally better about the sitch. However, the annual convention attracted more than just the usual gang of superfreaks she dealt with on a regular basis. What about those she didn't know and couldn't prepare for?
These feelings only increased as she led the young man to table fourteen. She had been relieved when she had first spotted him, but that was mainly because she did not recognize him. Therefore, she had assumed he wasn't a supervillain. As she led the customer around Monkey Fist and toward the rear of the dining hall, she felt what she knew Ron would term as "bad road vibes" exuding from him.
Karin was busy seeing to Motor Ed's beverage needs, so she didn't notice Possible-san and the tall customer as they passed behind her.
The young man, however, definitely noticed her. He shot her small form a smirk and then went back to eyeing the back of Kim's extremely short skirt.
Karin enjoyed Motor Ed's antics. His hair was very ... interesting, and he was pretty funny. He seemed to really like the word "seriously" and used it even when it made no sense whatsoever. He got a little loud, but in a fun way. Right now, as he listened to his mePod, he was being fun and loud-singing along with a song only he could hear.
"Good times are coming!" he screeched, thumping the table to the beat of the unheard song. "I hear it everyWHAAAARE I go!"
"More punch, sir?" She asked loudly as she pantomimed with the pitcher she was holding.
He nodded, but kept on singing. "Good times are coming! But they sure get HAAAAARE slow!"
She smiled as she filled his glass.
When Motor Ed sang the next line however, all thoughts of fun vanished from Karin's mind. In fact, her mind went blank.
"Hey, hey, HEY!" Motor Ed suddenly yelled. "You're flooding the table, Little Honey!"
Karin looked down and realized that she had kept pouring Hawaiian Punch into Motor Ed's glass long after it had gone over the brim. A pool of the bright red liquid was rapidly spreading across the white tabletop.
"Oh no!" she cried. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" She frantically reached out for the napkin dispenser.
The spill was stopped before it could flow over the edge of the table and stain Motor Ed's new leather pants. Yet the villain was less than pleased as he pulled stray napkins from his mullet for the next few minutes.
"Okay," she said in a distracted voice as she placed the menu before the young man, "what can I start you off with to drink?"
Kim was having trouble paying attention. When she had last passed by Yono the Destroyer's table, he was close to finishing off the second bottle of sake. As ridiculous as he had looked with his head tilted back and only his long simian lips holding the bottle as they caressed its neck, Kim knew better than to display even the hint of a smile. Having to deal with a drunken demonic monkey with almost limitless powers was a delicate enough situation-making him an angry drunken demonic monkey would be so the drama.
"You seem ... stressed," the customer said, ignoring both her question and the menu on the table before him.
"Yeah, well," Kim said gesturing over her left shoulder with her half-pencil and pad, "it is a little busy."
"Hey, Princess," Shego yelled from across the aisle, "when you finish flirting, could you tell Stoppable that we're still waiting for our desserts!"
Kim closed her eyes and smiled through gritted teeth. She had been expecting a snarky comment from Shego; she just hadn't expected her nemesis to start so low right out of the gate.
"Just a second ma'am," she said without turning. True, it was a small dig, but it did make Kim feel better.
"Now what would you like to drink?" she asked, turning back to her customer. When her eyes met his, a small gasp escaped her lips. The young man's eyes perfectly complemented the other features of-what Kim had to admit was-an extremely attractive face. Of course, what had made her catch her breath was the fact that his eyes were yellow.
How did I miss that?
"I'm not sure what I want ... to drink," he said, keeping his unnerving eyes fixed upon hers. "Any personal recommendations?"
Kim found it difficult to talk while looking into his eyes. She found it difficult to think. With a force of will, she shook her head and directed her gaze to the tabletop. "Uh, a soda," she offered lamely.
"Too sweet," the customer said offhandedly. He paused and then spoke in a voice that was very smooth, very compelling, "Not that I don't enjoy ... sweet things."
Smooth, compelling and so gorchy.
Ewww! Kim stared out the large window that boarded the table and wondered how much it would cost to replace if she tossed Don Juan through it.
"A diet soda then?" she replied with an edge she hoped would not be lost on the yellow-eyed creep. "Or maybe some tea-you can make that as sweet as you want." She kept staring through the window into the darkness of the parking lot.
What if he lands on someone's windshield? I guess I'd have to pay for that, too.
"My, you are tense," he continued. And then he placed his right hand upon hers.
For a second, Kim didn't know what to do. The sudden unexpectedness of his move paralyzed her. Reflexively, she glanced down at him and felt the tug of those yellow eyes overwhelm her being ... for a second.
During the following second Kim found herself torn between her first plan of roundhouse kicking the creep through the window and her new inspiration of simply smacking him across the face. She snatched her hand from his grasp, not quite sure which plan she would initiate.
Kim's eyes shot back to the window. So did most pairs of eyes within twenty feet. Everyone's that is except the customer at table fourteen. He sighed, dropped his head, and stared through the tabletop.
Framed by the night's darkness, a young woman with disheveled hair and wild eyes was standing in the window, a clenched fist against its pane.
"WHO IS SHE?!" the woman raged and banged her fist against the pane twice more. "YOU BASTARD! WHO IS SHE?!"
Although it was immediately obvious to Kim that the woman was addressing her customer, it took her a few anxious beats before she realized that the 'SHE' the woman was raging about was Kim herself.
The customer showed no reaction to the insanely jealous woman screaming at him on the other side of a half-inch of glass. In fact, he had flipped open his cell phone and was nonchalantly typing out a text message.
"Tea then," he said.
Kim looked back to the angry woman in the window. Perhaps she could calm her. One look in her eyes, however, told Kim that there would be no reasoning with the woman. She turned back to the customer and caught a flash of the message he had typed so far.
Anju, dinner at Julian
Normally, Kim would have felt bad about reading someone else's text message over their shoulder. However, the implication of the message-that the creep was inviting one of his many "girlfriends" to dinner mere seconds after he had made a pass at her and at the same time another woman was screaming at him precluded any guilt she might have felt.
Kim knew she had to get out of there quickly or she was going to do something majorly rash; however, when she spun around, she found herself facing a maliciously grinning Shego.
"Member of your fan club, Kimmie?"
"Can it!" Kim yelled and then charged away full bore for the kitchen.
Although Frugal Lucre had detained him for a few minutes over some "concerns" with his meal, Usui-san had come as quickly as he could to see what had caused all the commotion. He arrived just in time to see Possible-san yell at Shego-san and storm toward the front of the restaurant. His impulse to chase after her and calm her down was checked when he recognized from behind the customer sitting at table fourteen.
Although he had no idea what had upset her, Usui-san felt certain that Possible-san had no idea how much danger she was in.
"What are the odds?" Ron said sympathetically. Then he realized that he had uttered that same phrase to Kim not too long ago. Twice, even.
"I know," Maaka-san nodded, "but, still, I haven't made that kind of mistake in like … well, hours. So embarrassing."
"Don't be so hard on yourself, Karin," Ron consoled, "I can imagine you were surprised. I mean, really, how many songs actually mention-"
"Aaaarrrgh!" Kim screamed as she burst through the kitchen's double-doors.
After the sudden shade of pale ebbed from Ron and Maaka-san's faces, he swallowed and asked, "What's wrong, KP?"
"I have been waiting on villains all night long," Kim cried, "and the first customer I get who isn't one of my arch foes is a complete slime."
"Huh?" Ron and Maaka-san said in unison.
Kim was so upset that she didn't even recognize that she had let a "jinx"-moment pass by. "Oh, the guy is so shady. He's making a move on me, right? And at that moment, a woman starts banging on the window and screaming at him. And then at me! Like I'm trying to steal him away from her or something!"
"KP, KP, KP," Ron said coming around the counter and putting his arm on her shoulder, "amp down, amp down." Then his face turned red. "Wait a minute! Some guy made a move on you?!"
"And, get this," Kim continued, "guess what he does then? He picks up his cell phone and starts to text some other girl to meet him here for dinner!"
"Do you need me to take care of him?" Ron asked, pushing his sleeves up.
"Sorry, Ron," Kim said slowly composing herself. "I can handle it. It, well, it's just that after all I've been through tonight and then ewww. I don't think I can go out there and face him again without slapping that smirk off his face!"
"Possible-san?" Maaka-san ventured softly. "What table is he at? I'll take him if-"
"Oh, no, Karin!" Kim said quickly, "I couldn't let you do that. I wouldn't want you getting within ten yards of this creep." She took a calming breath. "This is my sitch; I'll deal."
Maaka-san gave her a shy, embarrassed smile of appreciation. It was the first time Kim had addressed her by her first name.
"Feeling better, Kim?" Ron had noticed the instant that his girlfriend had pledged to keep Karin away from that scurvy customer that her stress and agitation had melted away.
"Yeah," she nodded, "I think so. I just needed to blow off some steam. Sorry, guys."
"Uh, Possible-san," Maaka-san began hesitantly. "What did you mean by 'arch foes'?"
Kim gave the girl a quizzical look, but before she could speak, Usui-san poked his head through the double-doors and hissed, "Maaka!"
"Whaaa!," the startled girl answered spinning around. "Wha-what is it, Usui-kun?"
"I need to speak with you … now!" He shot a look to Kim and Ron. "Nothing serious," he smiled unconvincingly. "Urgent, but nothing serious," he explained lamely.
After Maaka-san disappeared with her boyfriend, Kim asked Ron, "Am I right? Does Maaka-san not know that she has been waiting on supervillains all night long?"
"Well," Ron shrugged, "I don't know, KP. I mean, really, when would it have come up?"
Not too long after Drakken excused himself to go to the "little doctors' room," it became apparent to Shego that the tall, yellow-eyed man with the complicated love-life at the table across the aisle was eyeing her.
Well, maybe that wasn't accurate. Perhaps, aggressively and overtly ogling her was a truer reflection. Accordingly, she crossed and re-crossed her legs.
"Like what you see, Sport?" she asked evenly without looking up as she stirred her remaining ice cubes around the bottom of her empty glass.
"I wouldn't be staring if I didn't," he replied coolly.
Almost immediately, her right hand exploded in green plasma mere inches from his face. "You like looking at this?" she asked.
The young man's extremely annoying air of complete and utter cool flickered for the briefest of instants, and he edged away, ever so slightly, from her glowing fist. But then his eyes frosted over again and the edges of his mouth played back into a smile.
"Impressive," he said without blinking.
Trying to maintain her own sense of cool, Shego replied, also without blinking, "I think so."
In a swift, fluid motion, the young man raised his open palm from the tabletop whereupon it immediately became enshrouded in a nebula of shimmering dust the same color as his eyes.
After a moment of silence, he said casually, "Your call."
Neither one broke eye contact or moved. Some of the villains at the surrounding tables had just started to notice the face-off when the tension was unexpectedly broken.
"Who's he?" Drakken asked in a slightly jealous and overly petulant tone.
Simultaneously, they both flashed a look his way.
Their hands immediately turned 'off.' The young man exhaled with disgust and Shego closed her eyes.
"Doc!" she spat finally.
"What?" he snapped.
"X ... Y ... Z." She hissed.
"Huh? Oh! Oopsies!" As inconspicuously as he did anything, Dr. Drakken zipped his pants.
"Dr. D, could you amuse yourself for a minute or two? Preferably, back in the 'little doctors' room?'"
"Now, wait one sec-"
She shot him a fierce look.
"Okay, going ..." Drakken said edging away sheepishly.
As the commotion of the dining area returned to its previous pitch, Shego took the plunge. "So, I don't believe we've been properly introduced."
"We have not," the young man agreed.
"The name's Shego."
"Interesting," he smiled back at her.
"I didn't see you at the convention."
"That's because I wasn't at any convention."
"So, I take it you're not a supervillain."
"Well, let's just say," he paused meaningfully, "I have no interest in taking over the world."
"Uh-huh, uh-huh," she nodded, her patience growing very thin. "So who are you? Or what are you?"
He leaned in close as if he were about to confide the truth to her, but instead he whispered, "What do you think?"
She pulled back and said with a displeased smile, "You know what? This whole mysterious-and-sexy act is starting to get on my nerves. WHO are you?" she demanded.
The shrill yell took Shego completely by surprise. It might have even made her jump. A rather short waitress with a very red face was rapidly approaching the table. Shego had vaguely noticed the little mouse of a girl over the course of the evening. Whoever she was, it was clear she had gotten Mr. Cool's attention.
He groaned and shook his head. "Worthless little runt," he mumbled audibly as she approached.
"What are you doing here?" the girl hissed.
"Beat it, Karin," he said, without looking up.
"You know you're not supposed to be here," the girl spoke firmly through clenched teeth.
"What are going to do, Karin? Tell on me?" he asked derisively.
She placed both hands on his table and got right up in his face. "Yes."
"Who? Mom and Dad?" He snorted. "Whatever."
Apparently, he had called her bluff because the girl immediately lost her firm resolve. She seemed to wilt right before the young man's contemptuous glare.
What's going on here? Are they siblings? They look nothing alike. Shego thought. Great, dysfunctional family drama was just what I was looking for. When is Possible going to get here with my taiyaki and Doctor D's shake?
Then, quite suddenly, the waitress regained her nerve. "No," she smiled, "I'll tell Grandma."
To Shego's surprise, the young man twitched visibly at this threat.
"Fine," he growled.
"Now!" the waitress hissed, pointing back to the main entrance with her outstretched right arm.
The young man sighed and slid out of his booth. As he passed Shego, he paused to make eye contact with her once more. "So, how about you and I finishing our conversation ... later?"
"I'm thinking not so much," she smiled up at him. "I'd hate to get you in trouble with your granny."
Instead of the sting of annoyance she had been expecting her snide comment to produce, Shego was surprised as her words elicited another nervous twitch from the young man.
Against her better judgment, Kim had asked Dementor if everything was okay when she distributed his party's meals. Everything wasn't.
Furthermore, Dementor made it plain that when they ordered dessert, it would be off the menu.
As she made her way back to the kitchen to check on Drakken and Shego's desserts, a cruel snap of simian fingers from table thirty-one stopped her in her tracks.
"Sake!" Yono growled. "Two bottles."
Kim took a deep breath. "I brought you two bottles already, sir."
"Two more bottles then."
Kim had a feeling that she was going to regret what she said next.
"Maybe you'd like to order something to eat, instead?" she offered.
Yono smacked the tabletop loudly with an open palm. One of the overturned bottles on the table rolled off the edge and landed harmlessly in the booth. He looked up at her and spoke coolly, "The last waitress who refused my order got ... stiffed. I've no problem doing that again."
The cruel mystic's lips curled into a simian smirk and he began to giggle with drunken maliciousness.
Kim Possible knew his threat did not concern a gratuity.
To be continued ...
A/N: The lyrics sung by Motor Ed are by Neil Young
Chapter 9: Nine
Ren didn't need to hear his little sister's prattle for long before he realized what her major complaint was.
"Fine," he snorted. "I'll lay off your friend." He shook his head, "I'll give the old hag one thing: you make friends far too easily."
Karin ignored this remark and unflinchingly stared up into his eyes. "You promise you'll leave Possible-san alone?" she asked.
"I only make promises that I intend on breaking later," he smiled. "I said I'd lay off of her. You're better off just letting it drop at that."
He watched Karin squirming uncomfortably in thought. She was probably trying to decide if he was lying to her. Well, he figured she deserved a little torture. She had ruined whatever chance he might have had with the green woman and then dragged him out behind the restaurant to lecture him like he was the child.
"Ren," she said finally, "if you're lying to me-"
"Look, it's done," he said impatiently. "To be honest, after talking to her I realized that she wasn't exactly to my taste."
"Or maybe you weren't to her taste," she said sharply.
Ren said nothing in reply. Instead, he let his glare bore into her until she flinched. He didn't have to wait long. "Before you go tattling on me, you should know that Anju's going to be here soon."
"Anju!" Karin cried. "Why? What did you-"
"I texted her to take care of Mayu, an acquaintance of mine who showed up unexpectedly. So if you try to get me in trouble for coming to Julian, she'll get in trouble, too."
Ren watched Karin struggle with the complications of this new development for a moment and then turned to go.
"Where are you going?"
"Obviously," he yelled over his shoulder, "I'm going some place where I can get something to eat!" He walked a few more steps and then paused. He turned around. "Karin," he beckoned her over. "I need to tell you something."
"What?" she asked suspiciously.
"I can't yell it across the parking lot," he explained. "Come here."
She didn't move.
"You little pest! Just come over here." He sighed. "It's important."
Karin warily walked over to her brother.
"Come closer," he said bending down.
As she leaned in, he swiftly locked her head into the crook of his left arm and began to violently rake the knuckles of his right fist over the top of her skull. Over and over again.
"OW OW OW OW! STOP!" she screamed.
"LISTEN, YOU LITTLE BRAT," he yelled over her panicked squeals, "I'M EVERY WOMAN'S TASTE!" He shoved her away from him.
Karin held the sides of her throbbing head as she heard Ren's laughter bounce off the building, skip across the parking lot, and fade into the night.
"Stupid big brother," she sniffled, wiping her eyes with the heels of her hands.
"He did what?"
Kim knew Ron would freak when she told him about Yono's threat.
Why not? It still upset her. Although she had managed to walk with steady steps to the drink bar to retrieve Yono's two additional bottles of sake and had even asked coolly with a note of defiance in her voice if he would need anything else, she couldn't deny that her heart had been racing until she had made it back to the kitchen. It was all she could do to keep from throwing her arms around Ron as soon as she saw him.
Ron tossed off his toque and came from behind the counter. "I'll be right back, Sakurai-san," he called to the other cook.
"What are you doing?" Kim asked.
"What do you think? I'm going to kick some monkey-butt!"
"No, Ron. I've got it under control," she said grabbing his arm.
"Kim, this isn't Drakken or Frugal Lucre we're talking about. This is Yono the Destroyer!"
"I know, Ron, but I can handle him," she said trying to calm him.
"Kim, this punk took out Sensei!"
"I know, Ron, but-"
"And he took out you," Ron said, staring at her with a pained look.
For the first time, she noticed that Ron was trembling.
She wrapped her arms about his shoulders to settle him. She shot an imploring look at Sakuri-san, but he was already backing out the side door, gesturing that he needed a break anyway.
"I know, I know, honey." she whispered in his ear once his shaking had dissipated. "But you have to trust me. Things are fine at the moment. The second things look like they're getting out of control, I'll tell you."
"There's just one problem with that plan," he sniffed.
"Rocks can't talk."
She sighed then spoke slowly, "If you go out there now, it'll be a battle."
"And I'll win," he said pulling back from her. "There's no way I'm going to let him do that to you again. He's going down!"
"I know you can take him, Ron. But what happens to the rest of the customers?" she asked. "I know you wouldn't do anything, but he's not above taking some innocent people down with him."
"Most of those 'innocent people' are supervillains," he said hotly.
"Does that mean they deserve that?" she asked.
"No," he sighed, "they don't."
"All we can do is humor him until he leaves."
"Humor him?" Ron cried. "He's already working on his fourth bottle-he's getting tanked, KP! And I don't see him being a jolly drunk."
"I'll keep him happy," Kim said firmly. Seeing that her words hadn't appeased him, she added, "Please, at least until most of the other customers leave, okay?"
"And what if you can't?"
"The first sign-the first hint of trouble," she said as she quickly made adjustments to her wrist Kimmuncator, "and I'll beep you." She pressed the console's face. Immediately, Ron's device (affectionately called the Ron-com) started to vibrate in his left pocket. "Okay?"
He shrugged and then shook his head. "I don't like this, KP."
"I don't either, Ron."
He gestured for her to step back close to him. When she did, he embraced her tightly. Several moments later, she asked him to let her go. She hated to do it, but she was getting the impression that if she didn't, he might hold onto her forever.
As Kim exited the kitchen with Shego's chocolate taiyaki and Drakken's "Doom by Chocolate" shake, she glanced at the waiting area. It was empty.
"No way," she breathed. Immediately, she noticed that it sounded a little quieter in the dining area, too.
Could the worst part of this night actually be over?
"Onee-san," spoke a very soft voice.
Kim turned her head in the direction of the voice and saw a young girl standing in the middle of the waiting room.
There was no way Kim could have missed noticing her a second earlier. The girl was very ... noticeable.
Yet she hadn't.
Her skin was extremely pale, almost ghostly, and her thick white hair went past her waist. These color-less features only heightened the effect of her large amber eyes. What's more, the black dress she was wearing was rather old-fashioned and ... well, lace-intensive. Although Kim felt bad about it, the first thing the young girl reminded her of was a porcelain doll that her Nana owned. She also remembered being somewhat afraid of that doll when she was a little girl.
Coincidentally, the girl herself was holding a doll. Kim couldn't imagine a toy that looked more incongruous with the girl's appearance and dress. With an orange face, a neon-striped shirt, and a turquoise mop for hair, it vaguely reminded her of a character from Sesame Street.
"I am looking for my older sister," the girl said. Although her tone was quiet and her lips had barely opened as she spoke, her voice was clear, distinct.
"Were you supposed to meet her for dinner?" Kim asked, approaching her. She found herself compelled to look at the strange doll the girl was holding.
What's that he's got in his left hand?
"What does your sister look like?" Kim asked, her eyes focusing upon the unsettling shape of the object in the doll's grip.
Wha?-that can't be what I think it is? A knife?
"HEY!" cried a shrill and ragged voice. "WHO DO YOU THINK YOU'RE STARING AT?"
Although she didn't scream, Kim did give a startled gasp as the doll sprang violently to life. Its large muppet-like mouth snapped at her hand, and his legs and arms churned in the air. And, yes, now that she had gotten a good look at it, she was sure the doll was holding a knife. A butcher knife.
Her initial startled reaction faded and was replaced with annoyance. Obviously, the young girl was controlling the doll/puppet, and for some reason thought it would be funny to scare her.
Small, bone-white fingers clamped down hard upon the doll's gaping mouth. "Boogie-kun," the young girl said with the same uninflected, quiet tone, "no talking in the restaurant. You know that."
Although Kim was still tweaked, she couldn't deny feeling something akin to admiration for girl's ventriloquist skills if nothing else. The doll definitely looked like it was struggling against her effort to "silence" him.
"I must apologize for my friend," the girl continued, "he is ill-behaved and unfriendly, even around people that he does not know."
"Uh ... yeah?" Kim really didn't know what to say. The situation was an eleven on the weirdness scale. Both the girl and her toy were starting to majorly freak her out.
"My older sister is not a customer," the girl continued, fixing her unblinking stare directly at Kim, "she works here."
"Never mind," the girl said as the kitchen door behind Kim burst open, "here she is. Sorry to trouble you."
"Anju!" Maaka-san cried as she ran up to the young girl and embraced her tightly.
Kim watched the pale child faintly return Maaka-san's hug, and took advantage of the moment to make a hasty exit. However, she didn't move fast enough to avoid hearing the beginning of their conversation.
"You know you shouldn't come to Julian, Anju." Maaka-san began.
"SHE WAS LOOKING FOR YOU, SCREW-UP!"
"Oh, SHUT UP, Boogie-kun, I wasn't talking to you!"
And I thought Jim and Tim were whacked when they started using tweeb-speak!
"Big Sister," Anju asked, "are you sure you are all right?"
"What? Of course," Karin forced a smile. "I can handle Ren." She paused, and then a little too happily said, "No big."
Her little sister stared hard at her for a moment. "Is anything else wrong?"
"Uh, no. What makes you think that?"
"Your face is flushed. Did something happen?"
"Well," Karin leaned in and whispered into Anju's ear.
Anju nodded, was silent for a moment, and then asked, "Do you think it'll happen again?"
"Huh?" Karin shook her head. "No … no … no." Then she asked with a note of nervousness, "Why? Do you think it will?"
"I don't know. I just worry about you."
"Was that Kim Possible-san?" Anju asked.
"Uh-huh," she nodded.
"She is nice."
"Yes," Karin smiled, "she is."
"Really upset, though," Anju said, staring toward the dining area. "It was wise of you to ask Big Brother to leave."
When Kim reached table thirteen, something occurred to her. What was her sister's name? Anju? The name was very, very familiar. Almost as if she had heard it or read it quite recently.
"It's about time you got here!" Dr. Drakken yelled. He was brandishing a marichino cherry skewered onto the end of his bendy-straw.
"Yeah, Princess," Shego chimed in, "it shouldn't take that long to swap spit with Stoppable-even if you factor in the nausea after-effects."
Kim angirly tossed their desserts on the table. Shego's fish-shaped cake split right down the middle so its chocolate filling started to run out onto the plate. Drakken's shake wobbled but did not fall; however, the whip cream topping was all over the front of his blue lab coat and his right sleeve.
"Hey!" Shego yelled.
"WHAT?" Kim spat, her face centimeters from her startled adversary's.
"Put it in neutral, Kim," Shego cautioned, regaining her composure.
"Possible!" Drakken said between hungry licks upon his cream-stained glove, "This is going to cost you-big time!"
"What?" she asked, shooting a menacing look at him. "I'm not getting a tip?"
"Well, not now!" He exclaimed. "Well, not a big tip anyway," he followed-up lamely.
"Whatever!" Kim rolled her eyes and then spun on her right heel to leave.
"You weren't really going to tip her, were you?" she overheard Shego mutter in disbelief.
Then Kim remembered that she still needed to see to that creep at table fourteen. She sighed, turned back around and braced herself for a battery of innuendo.
Instead, she discovered the creep was no longer sitting at table fourteen. Instead, the woman who had "confronted" him-and Kim-through the window was.
"Still deciding," the woman smiled. As Kim struggled to find her voice, the woman began to ramble in a pleasant voice, "Actually, I've passed by this restaurant at least a dozen times and never stopped. And then tonight I found myself walking by and was suddenly really, really hungry. And everything on the menu looks so good! But could I trouble you for a cup of coffee while I make up my mind?"
"S-sure," Kim nodded. She knew she'd regret it, but still she felt compelled to ask. "Umm ... I'm not sure how to put this but ...?"
"Yes?" the woman looked up.
"Is everything ... okay?" Kim asked.
"Yes, why wouldn't it be?" the woman asked.
"Oh, no reason."
"Actually, now that you mention it, I find it a bit stuffy in here. Don't you?"
"No, I don't, sorry." Kim replied.
"Well, I guess you wouldn't," the woman laughed good-naturedly, gesturing to Kim's rather skimpy uniform. "But I am burning up. I should probably take off this sweater."
"I'll be right back with your coffee," Kim said as she turned back up the aisle.
After she left, the woman pulled her beige sweater over her head and tossed it balled-up and inside-out beside her purse in the booth. She failed to notice the thin but vibrant crimson stain on its inner collar.
"It is being held within that primitive structure." she said gesturing with the tracking device.
"I need no device to tell me that," he replied with brutal satisfaction. "I can feel its pulsations in the air." He smiled deeply. "Come, it is calling us."
He paused and turned to face her. "And what of our target?"
"No movement of any significance," she replied. "Has remained in the same location since before darkness fell."
"How far away?"
"Less than two narndooks," she smiled looking up from the device.
"Oh, Kimmie," DNAmy called in a sing-song voice, "Could I trouble you for a refill?"
Kim was returning from table fourteen with a half-full pot on her way back to the kitchen. Of all of Kim's foes, DNAmy was the most genuinely friendly and easy to get along with ... at least between missions. Besides, Kim reasoned, a little friendly banter might give her a chance to gain some insight on what had taken place at the convention.
"So," Kim asked as she poured, "anything interesting happen tonight? At the convention?"
You must be tired, Possible. That was so lame.
"Now that you mention it," DNAmy said, "yes! Usually, I don't really pay attention to all those gadgets, do-hickeys, and death rays. It all becomes one big blur."
"But this year, you'll never guess, they had a Cuddlebuddie representative there!"
"Really!" Kim said with a degree of enthusiasm she felt a little embarrassed for a second later.
"Yes!" DNAmy giggled as she dug through the large purse hanging from Monkey Fist's extended stone arm. "Feast your eyes on THIS!"
"Wow!" Kim cried as her eyes fell upon the object the woman had retrieved from her bag. "It's a ... it's a ... what is that, Amy?"
"It's a Spidark!" she smiled broadly.
"A Spi ... dark?"
"Uh-huh, a cross between a spider and a shark. They're introducing a line of Cuddlebuddies aimed specifically for the Villainous Community, and this is the first one! Isn't he just adorable?"
"Uh, yeah," Kim said hesitantly as she looked over the eight-finned plush monstrosity. "Cute as a button." Wishing to change the subject, she asked quickly, "Can I get you anything else?"
"No," the geneticist shook her head, "I believe we're fine. Montykins has more than enough tea."
Kim glanced at the end of the table where an untouched cup of tea sat within easy reach of the statue of Monkey Fist-as if statues could drink tea. Kim sighed. Although she certainly didn't miss Monkey Fist-aside from everything else, he had temporarily brought about the same statuary fate for her-she still didn't believe anyone deserved such an end.
The familiar snap of simian fingers shattered Kim's melancholic reverie.
"Excuse me," she said briefly to DNAmy as she hurried to table thirty-one.
"Another bottle," Yono said and then let loose with a belch that would have made Ron proud.
"Fine," Kim said firmly and turned to go.
As he watched Kim stalk away, the simian began to giggle in a strange kind of high-pitched snort. Wiping his eyes clear a moment later, he discovered a small human child standing at his table's edge, her eyes set rigidly upon his.
He looked the young mortal over. Her physical appearance and manner of dress were … unusual. Of course, this made her sudden manifestation at his elbow all the more unnerving. How could she have snuck up on him so easily?
Maybe I have had too much to drink.
The girl remained perfectly still and kept her gaze fixed, unblinking upon his person. Not too many seconds passed before this began to annoy the Destroyer immensely. He bared his teeth and growled at her.
She did not move. Did not blink. However, his gesture did get a reaction ... from the strange creature the child was holding.
"WATCH OUT, ANJU!" it screamed as its head swayed from side to side on top of its ridiculous body. "THAT'S ONE PISSED MONKEY!"
As he stared disdainfully at the small creature, Yono belched again.
"IN BOTH SENSES!"
"Hush, Boogie-kun," the girl spoke softly and evenly. The small creature immediately stopped moving.
Perhaps it was partly the fault of the four bottles of sake and his anticipation of a fifth, but Yono the Destroyer could not deny that he was feeling on edge. And the source of the sudden unpleasantness was this strange young human.
He turned his full attention to her large, amber-hued eyes. If the child foolishly wanted a staring contest, she'd get one. As in everything he did, Yono the Destroyer did not intend on playing this game fairly. Within seconds the "light show" had begun.
He watched as the swirling colors from his glowing eyes reflected off her placid features. More than once, he believed that he had successfully mesmerized her. Yet her stillness remained too composed, too purposeful, to be a trance state. As a last resort he bared his teeth and growled once more. She didn't bat an eyelash.
Finally, Yono gave a slight half-askance look at the two nearest empty bottles on the table and blinked.
When he looked back an instant later, he discovered, to his great consternation, that the girl was gone. He looked up and down the aisle. No sign. Almost as if she had never been.
When Kim returned to the table, the sound of his requested fifth bottle's heel against the table actually made him jump.
"No," he said tersely.
"I'm sorry?" she asked.
"No, no more." He shook his head. "Coffee."
"Okay, sure," she said with a palpable note of relief. "How do you-"
"Black," he snapped, "like your doom."
To be continued ...
Chapter 10: Ten
After giving Yono his coffee and visiting her other nefarious customers' tables, Kim was relieved to return to Mayu, as the woman insisted Kim call her, at table fourteen. During their talk, Kim became less convinced that her customer was the same enraged woman who had charged the restaurant's windows earlier. They chatted pleasantly until Drakken interrupted with a demand for a side order of fries to enjoy with his shake.
Kim headed back toward the kitchen with his and Mayu's orders.
I wonder how Josh would feel if he knew he'd influenced a supervillian's diet?
The Kimmunicator beeped.
Immediately, Kim was assaulted with hisses and boos. Since almost half of the villainous diners had already left, the chorus wasn't as loud as it had been earlier. Yet it was loud enough-she was passing Dementor's table at the time.
"Oh! Get over yourself!" she yelled at the diminutive villain.
Before he could retort, he yelped in pain and clutched his shin under the table. He aimed his fury down the table in the direction of the young lady behind the "FINE" magazine, but before he could speak, he yelped again.
"Vhy are you kicking me?" he managed finally.
"Because you're such a little bitch," the young woman cried as she flung the magazine violently at him. "And you wonder why I never want to be seen in public with you or why mom always makes you call her collect!" She continued to fume as her brother and husband cowered across the table. "Thank God, you're the only one who inherited Dad's temper!"
Putting her finger in her left ear to block out the Demenz family squabble, Kim took the call. "Sitch me, Wa-Michelle?"
"Kim! I need to to talk to you!" her roommate said urgently.
"Sure, what's up?"
"Take a look at this." Michelle's face was replaced with an image of a catalog. A catalog Kim knew very well.
"I know, Michelle," she sighed. "The supervillains' annual convention is in town, tonight." After a second, she added, "Hey, I didn't know they forwarded junk mail internationally."
"How did you know about the convention? And what are you wearing?"
"It's a long story," Kim sighed. "I'll tell you all about it when I get back ... at least the parts I haven't blocked out."
"Well, that's actually not the majorly important thing I needed to tell you."
The Kimmunicator chimed again.
"Hold on, Michelle, I've got another call."
Instantly, the device's view panel split in two as Wade's image squeezed in on the right.
"Kim!" he cried. He then paused and looked to his right. "Oh. hey, Michelle."
"Hey, Wade." Michelle said.
"Sorry to interrupt your call, guys, but I have something urgent to tell Kim."
Ron and Karin were talking as he put the finishing touches on two sundaes. For the first time since Kim had told him about Yono's threat, he was feeling something close to "relaxed."
"So Possible-san really thinks we should open a restaurant together?" Karin asked in disbelief.
He nodded. "Yep. She thinks your recipes are badical."
Karin smiled. "I can't believe it."
"Yeah, as soon as I'm through getting schooled, she told me we should do it." Ron carelessly tossed a couple of cherries at the towering deserts and, with typical dumb skill success, each landed perfectly atop the Matterhorns of whipped cream. "She actually kinda insisted we do it."
"Wow," Karin shook her head.
Ron could see that his friend was overwhelmed by Kim's estimation of her culinary skills, but he could also tell that something was bothering her, too. "Is something wrong, Karin?"
"Uh, no, why no. Everything's fine." She tried to laugh. "Why do you ask?"
"Well, I'm pretty good with poker faces when something's bothering me, you know, on the inside," he explained casually as he placed the two desserts on a tray, "so I can tell that you've got a pretty smooth poker face, too." Ron gave her a kindly look.
She sighed. "It's nothing too bad, Stoppable-san. Just-"
"Please, I told you to call me Ron-san."
She giggled. "Okay, Ron-san, it's just, well, a couple of my family members showed up at work tonight."
"Oh man," Ron smiled, "I know what that's like. The first time my mom came to see me at Smartymart I was cleaning the hamster cages, and you wouldn't think such small animals could make such a big mess, but whoah! I was completely covered and-" Then his eyes went wide, "Wait-your family was at the restaurant tonight? Your gr-grandmother!"
"No, no, no, not her," Karin said in a panicked voice that attempted to be reassuring. "She didn't come here-just my brother and little sister."
"Oh good," he said. "Wait-your brother and sister were here?" He started patting his suddenly sweating brow with the whipped cream canister. "You told me Julian was off limits to them!" He started to hyperventilate. "They didn't go after Kim, did they?"
"Stoppable-san! Ron-san! It's okay!" Karin shrieked, his panic and agitation flowing freely into her. "They're gone! I made them leave! Please, please, nothing happened!"
"It-it's okay?" he asked.
"Yes," she nodded. "It is." The anxiety in the air began to float away.
"Hey, what are you two screaming about?" the cook asked as he entered the kitchen with a ten pound bag of rice from the back room.
"Nothing," they cried in unison.
He shook his head.
"I didn't tell you before because I knew it would worry you," Karin explained quietly, "but I made sure nothing happened. And it didn't. Nothing at all."
"Cool," Ron said shaking his head. In an effort to change the subject, he asked, "So which villains are these sundaes for?"
"Well, its for one of Usui-kun's tables, actually. One of his customers was tying him up and he asked me to take a dessert order for him. This woman had a CuddleBuddie at her table. One I've never seen before."
"Oh! Maybe it's DNAmy. As supervillains go, she's actually pretty harmless. Who's the second sundae for? She got a date or something?"
"Actually," Karin said hoisting the tray to her shoulder, "I think it's for the statue."
"The ... statue?"
"Yeah, I think it's really made of stone, too. I don't know how she managed to get it in here. Uh, Ron-san, could I ask you a question?"
Ron was staring pensively at the floor.
"Oh, sorry, Karin."
"You are just kidding about her being a supervillain, right?"
"He's right, Kim." Michelle nodded. "That's what I wanted to show you. It's even on the cover of the catalog. See?" Michelle held up the cover so that an image of the device swallowed her side of the screen.
Usui-san was trying to take Jack Hench's order for a third time. On his first two attempts, the world's richest villainous wholesaler had given him every indication that he was impatient to make his selection only to receive an incoming cell phone call of interminable length. They had made it all the way to ordering the appetizer when a third call interrupted them.
"Just a sec, kid," Hench said quickly, "I've really been expecting this call."
"And they can expect you to call back," Kim snapped as she grabbed the phone from his hand, closed it and slapped it onto the table.
"Hey!" Hench yelled looking up at her. The fire in her eyes quickly cooled his own anger. "Sorry, Miss Possible. To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"How could you?!" she yelled.
After a few moments' thought, Hench said, "Uh, I'm going to need more."
"Is this enough?" Kim said, raising her arm sharply.
After he had recovered from his reflexive flinch, Hench looked at the image on the Kimmunicator's screen that she had thrust into his face. "Oh ... that? Is that what this is all about?"
"All of those were to be turned into GJ to be destroyed," Kim yelled, "and you put one up for the highest bidder and expect me to be calm about it?"
"Please, Miss Possible, you're making way too much of a fuss-"
"Who?" She demanded.
"Who?" he asked.
"Who did you sell it to? Tell me NOW!"
"No one," he said. "It was actually quite a disappointment. I had expected a good return on that item-no one even bid on it."
Kim looked at him warily and then tapped her device.
"KP?" Ron cried anxiously through the speaker.
"It's not Yono, Ron," Kim said quickly. "Calm down. But I do need you out here asap. I'm near the back."
"Table seventeen," Kenta offered.
"Oh," Ron said through the device, "I know where that is."
"Hey, Princess!" Shego said as she walked around Usui-san. "Dr. D's getting pretty hissy about his fries."
Kim growled. "And could you bring out a side order of fries for Drakken?"
"Uh, sure, be right there, KP!"
"You'd really do that?" DNAmy asked breathlessly.
"Certainly," Yono replied. "The Path of the Yono is not an eternal one. I can release my charges at any time."
"So, you'll release my Montykins tonight? Right now?"
"But of course," Yono smiled. He got down from his booth and stepped toward the statue of Monkey Fist. He paused, closed his eyes, and began to glow as he stood in the middle of the aisle. He extended his long arms toward the fossilized form and began to chant what sounded to the mad geneticist like mystical words.
DNAmy looked wistfully at her paralyzed crush and then gripped his stony hand. "Soon, Monty, soon," she whispered.
Suddenly, the chanting stopped.
Amy looked at the short robed simian who was now standing slumped and motionless in the aisle.
"What-what's wrong?" she asked.
He did not look up or respond.
"Can't you release him?"
Yono shook his head sadly.
"Why? Why not?" she was almost crying. She gripped Monty's stone fingers even tighter.
Yono slowly raised his head and with a forlorn look replied, "Don't wanna." His lips than curled into a cruel grin that heralded his obscenely high-pitched and snorting laugh.
"You, you," she choked, "Big meanie! You're the most awful person I've ever met!"
"What do you mean?" Yono said, regaining his composure. "He's the ... 'meanie.'"
"Huh?" she asked between sobs.
"You order him tea, and he doesn't drink any."
"What?" she asked, wiping her cheeks with the sleeves of her sweatshirt.
"Here, let me help," Yono said and extended his right arm toward the untouched cup of tea. It levitated from the saucer, floated through the air until it was level with Monkey Fist's horribly gaping mouth, and then emptied itself. The tea overflowed the shallow cavity of his frozen mouth, ran out of its corners and down the length of his stone body.
"Stop! Stop it!" Amy cried, hiding her face within the folds of her oversized sleeves.
Yono renewed his hideous laughter but then abruptly stopped.
His giggle fit had awoken a very un-mystical need that he realized he had denied himself for too long. Without a word, he left DNAmy stuttering with sobs as he went in search of the restroom.
"You!" Kim said turning her fury at the villainess. "You knew about this too, didn't you? Why didn't you say anything?"
"What?" Shego said peering at the Kimmunicator's screen that Kim was now pointing in her direction. "What is this, Possible? Are we suddenly on the same side or something?"
"On this we are, Shego." Kim said coldly. "Everyone on the planet is on the same side as far as this is concerned." She aimed a disdainful look at Hench. "At least I thought so."
Shego sighed. "Don't get your apron in a bunch, Kim. No one bought it. Even the Seniors didn't place a bid."
"That's not the point, Shego."
"Look, Miss Possible," Hench said diplomatically, "if it'll make you feel better and allow me to order my dinner, I'll call my associates right now to arrange for GJ to pick it up for demolition. Sound fair?"
Kim shook her head. "I still can't believe you were going to sell it."
"It wasn't going to be used as a weapon," Hench explained calmly. "Only as a high priced souvenir of sorts. Believe me, the safety of the planet is one of Henchco's top concerns."
Kim rolled her eyes. "And how could you guarantee that it would only be used as the world's largest nicknack?" she scoffed.
"What's going on, KP?" Ron asked from behind her shoulder.
"Do you have my fries, buffoon?" Drakken said as he rudely brushed past Usui-san.
"Hey! You know my name, dude!" Ron protested as Drakken snatched the small paper basket from his hands. "And why do you need fries anyway? Didn't you just get your dessert?"
"They're to dip in the shake," Drakken said, a maniacal gleam entering his eyes.
"Freak!" Ron pronounced. "Who does that?" he asked Kim.
"Please, Ron!" Kim said in extreme agitation. "Let's stay focused."
"Please and thank you," Shego said drily. "The stupid thing doesn't work. Am I right, Hench?"
"Indeed, our top technicians made sure it was completely inoperable before it was put on display."
"You mean," Kim retorted, "that your top technicians couldn't get it to work."
Hench shrugged. "Either way, it's completely harmless."
"What are you guys talking about, KP?" Ron whispered.
She responded by pointing to the image on her Kimmunicator.
"Please, let's not rehash all this a second time," Shego sighed. She turned back to Hench, "If I remember what I read from that pamphlet your goons were handing out there's some kind genetic lock on it, right?"
"Genetic lock?" Kim asked, her eyebrow raised suspiciously.
"Yes," Hench said, picking up his cell phone to dial. "The boys in R&D determined that there was a biological passcode, if you will, built into the device's systems. Terrestrial DNA cannot pass muster even to turn its lights on."
"Meaning?" Kim asked.
"Meaning, Miss Possible," Hench said as he began to make his call, "that only Lorwardians can operate it. So you have nothing to worry about."
Karin should have known not to deliver the order when she first heard the crying.
However, her good-nature had always been stronger than her better judgment.
"Are ... you ... okay?" she managed as she reached the edge of the table.
The woman was slumped over the table, quivering. Her answer was muffled by her arms and tears.
The glass of the desert bowls began to rattle upon the serving tray. Karin's arms trembled and shook to the point where she could no longer carry it.
The sudden noise of the tray slamming upon the table startled DNAmy into raising her head. Her waitress was at the edge of the table, her head bowed. The first impression that struck her was that the young girl was crying.
"Are," the geneticist sniffed, sponging her tears away with the Spidark in her left hand, "you okay?" She reached out her right hand to the girl's shoulder.
The girl leapt violently from her touch and raced quickly away from the table.
"There," Hench said closing his cell phone smartly. "Are we satisfied now, Miss Possible?"
"Not really, no." She replied coolly.
"Satisfied for now?" He asked. When he got nothing but her cold stare as an answer, he asked helplessly, "Satisfied enough so that I can order my dinner?"
"Fine." she said disdainfully.
Usui-san made to approach the table once more but then stopped and stared behind Kim and Ron.
When he realized that his waiter was in some kind of trance, Jack Hench said in exasperation, "What's wrong now?"
"Maaka!" Usui-san yelled.
"Huh?" Ron looked behind him and saw Karin running straight for them at top speed. For an instant, she raised her face to his. His mouth went dry.
"What's wrong?" Kim asked turning around. Before she could make a step toward the approaching girl, Ron held her back.
Within seconds, Usui-san and Karin had disappeared together, racing to the rear of the dining room.
Before Kim could ask Ron what was going on, the look in his eyes silenced her.
The silence went on for quite some time actually. It was only broken by Drakken's scream.
"Hey, those are mine, Hench!"
"How does it feel having the shoe on the other foot, Drakken?" the CEO asked before munching down a handful of the pilfered fries. After swallowing, he looked defiantly at the three pairs of eyes that were turned his way. "What do you want? I've been waiting for hours for a table and my waiter just ran off!"
Looking away from the feuding villains Kim saw that Ron was staring at the floor.
He had the strangest expression on his face, but did not answer her.
"Ron? Are you all right?"
"Yeah, KP," he said finally. "I'm ... fine."
"I just found the most badical restaurant, KP!" Ron cried into his cell phone. Once again, he had left the Ron-com in his gi and had to rely on the low-rent cell that his parents had given him. The in-building service was barely a single bar, so he had to ask his new friend Karin to show him to the rear door so he could make the call outside.
"Ron!" Kim's tone was equal shares exasperation and disbelief. "I'm in the middle of my chem lab! I'll talk to you later." She hung up.
Ron was disappointed that Kim had ended the call, but he wasn't upset. A year ago, Kim angrily hanging up on him would have sent him spiraling into a funk. He'd thought such a "conversation" did not bode well for the health of a normal long-term relationship. Certainly, it left no question that he had majorly loused things up. Again.
Of course, he knew better now. True, he had made a big-time goof, but it didn't signal the end of their relationship. Kim knew the Ron-man's style, and she still loved him. He would just have to remember next time, was all. In fact, Ron came seconds away from calling her back to let her know he would do better in the future when he realized the irony of such a well-meant action.
Still, he was disappointed. He had wanted to tell Kim about Karin as well. She was just as interested in cooking as he was. And she was super cool, too. After he had finished his meal, she had entertained his request to tour the kitchen. He had met the cooks, sampled some other dishes and even gotten to see the store room and freezer. He couldn't wait for Kim to meet her and sample some of her cooking. What a badical evening it had been, and he hadn't even seen Kim yet!
As his thoughts turned back to his girlfriend, Ron felt so overwhelmed recalling her irritated voice that he felt compelled to hug somebody. Since he was alone, he hugged himself.
Something clicked behind him.
He turned, but there was nothing there. He shrugged and started walking back to restaurant's rear door. He was a few feet from it when what looked like a long feather boa of neon pink swung before him on his right. It vanished, and then another one swung past on his left.
"What the?" he spun around and discovered Karin standing behind him.
At least it looked like his new friend. True, she was now wearing thigh-high boots. And a leather jacket. And she was holding an umbrella. And her hair went down to her feet and was neon pink, too.
"Karin?" he asked.
Suddenly, the handle of the umbrella hooked around the back of his neck, and he found himself being firmly pulled down to the girl's level. Her eyes were hidden by her impossibly-colored bangs.
Painfully, he craned his neck to the sky. It didn't look like rain. "Uh, Karin, what's going on?"
The girl smirked.
"Did you do something to your hair?" he asked trying to remove the umbrella's handle. Her grip was too strong.
The girl raised her head, opened her red eyes, and smiled broadly at him.
Fortunately, Ron's scream had been so high-pitched and full-bodied that Karin heard it from inside the storeroom. Within seconds, she was running to his rescue.
Yono the Destroyer felt like he was going to vomit.
He had been drying his hands in the restroom when its door had violently burst open. Fortunately, he had been able to leap onto the toilet seat before it could smash into him. However, he was not quick enough to make an escape before it was shut and locked again.
He uttered an archaic mantra that magically cloaked his location from the eyes of others. Unfortunately, he could not remember the one that allowed him to pass through walls.
Curse you, sake!
He was trapped. Trapped with a pair of ... ugh ... coupling humans!
Yono shut his eyes and tried to beat back the rising waves of nausea.
"Maaka, wait! Let me unbutton first-you're gonna rip it!"
"I'm sorry, Usui-kun! Hurry! Hurry! I'm going to explode!"
Yono tried in vain to remember the mantra to shut out all sound, too.
Then the room was silent. Almost.
The sound of the running toilet did not completely drown out the repugnant sighs coming from the mortals. Yono wondered how long he would have to endure such torture.
Against his better judgment, he felt compelled to crack open one eye. The tall, spikey-haired male was leaning back against the sink, his eyes closed and his shirt open. The female had her back turned to Yono, and appeared to be hoisting herself level to her lover by the strength of her arms about the latter's neck. Yono would have immediately shut his eyes again if he had not caught a sideways glimpse at the mirror hanging over the sink.
What ... IS ... this?
The female's face was framed in the reflection, and the sight confused Yono greatly. The only thing he was sure of was that what he was seeing was NOT human.
He stared trans fixedly at her image until she released the male.
When it was complete, she helped the human button his shirt. They exchanged words that Yono ignored, took turns in the mirror making themselves look presentable, and then promptly exited, shutting the door behind them.
Yono sprang from the toilet seat and, snapping his fingers, ended the invisibility spell. Lost in thought, he stood silently for a moment. Still unsure of what he had just witnessed, the dark master felt certain that he could use this newly acquired knowledge to his advantage ... somehow.
Pale fingers haloed in amber suddenly gripped his face.
"You will not reveal Big Sister's secret," said a soft, firm voice.
Yono struggled fiercely, but could already feel himself slipping down into the darkness that was quickly swallowing the entire room. Within seconds, it engulfed him and blotted out the world.
Anju looked down at the simian's prone form. She had only intended to erase the memories involving her sister's identity. However, he had fought against her powers. Surprisingly, he had been quite strong. The struggle had forced her to extend more strength than she normally felt comfortable using. It was regrettable, but he had forced her hand and left her no choice.
Instead of only a few of his most recent memories, she had wiped them all.
"Warhok, please be patient. It has been silent for many dormins. A brief time is required for it to regain full power."
"I understand," he replied tersely. "It needs rest, but I do not." He marched to one of the large legs of the device and placed his palm against an oblong-shaped panel. The edges of the panel glowed, and then it slid upwards, revealing a hidden compartment. The giant alien removed the glowing, javelin-shaped object contained therein. "I have rested long enough."
Once in his grip, the weapon sprouted dozens of long, serrated extensions along its length. These extensions most closely resembled porcupine quills. If porcupine quills were edged with teeth, that is.
The quills began to hum.
"It feels most excellent to have the Thorgoggle spear within one's grip again!" he said as he began twirling it over his head.
"It is good to see you have not lost your touch," Warmonga observed, her voice approaching something akin to warmth.
He smiled at her. "Once the device is fully charged, we shall eliminate the glowing, chittering one who defeated us." He brandished the weapon in the empty air of the deserted hall. "And you shall finally have your trophy."
"Assuredly," she nodded with cruel satisfaction. "There will be blood."
To be continued ...
Chapter 11: Eleven
When Sakurai-san stepped out of the kitchen for a moment, Ron found himself alone. Alone with his thoughts.
He heated the miso soup for Jack Hench's order and tried to come to grips with the frightening look he had seen on Karin's face.
Of course, he already knew what she was.
Had known for weeks, in fact, and it had never bothered him before. He'd hung out with her for a good hour or so the very night he'd learned her family's secret, her secret. And tonight, he had shot the breeze and goofed off with her whenever she had come back to the kitchen and there had been a spare moment.
Knowing was one thing, however. Seeing was something else.
He shivered. Her eyes had been ridiculously dilated and ... well ... glowing. And … and then there was her mouth.
He shivered again, and then stood silent for a few moments.
He suddenly slammed his ladle down against the countertop and shook his head.
Although he was seriously weirded out by what he had seen, he wasn't going to let it ruin their friendship. Even if Karin wasn't human, she was still a person. And a good person, too.
The Ron-com rang.
Recalling that Kim would buzz him in case Yono got out of hand eased the momentary panic the chime had caused him.
Drakken probably just needs more fries.
"Ron, I need you. Now."
"What is it?"
"Well, don't get upset, but it's Yono."
Ron already had a visible aura of blue about him when he burst through the kitchen's doors. His eyes were turning cobalt by the time he had raced halfway down the aisle to table thirty-one. However, the scene he encountered when he reached the table immediately shut all his monkey mojo off.
The Destroyer's purple and gold robe lay in tatters in the booth. The evil mystic himself was nowhere to be seen. However, he could definitely be heard: chittering wildly from underneath the table.
"He won't come out," Kim said. "I even tried coaxing him out with this." She held up a banana.
Wha? "What's going on, KP?"
"I was hoping you could tell me. He seems to be acting like, well, like a regular monkey."
"Man, what's that smell?"
"I know," Kim said making a face. "It seems to be coming from his hiding place."
Then Ron realized something else was different. He shot a quick glance down the aisle. "Hey, where's Monkey Fist?"
Kim gestured with the banana to DNAmy's table.
The former British lord sat petrified beneath the smothering arms and kisses of the mad geneticist. His confused, panicked eyes pleaded with Ron for assistance. "Help," he whispered. "Help me, please."
"That was my first clue that something was up," Kim explained. "Monkey Fist was back to normal."
"He doesn't look too happy about it, though," Ron said.
"No, but Amy sure is." Kim smiled.
"Am ... am," Monkey Fist managed in a louder, if not stronger, voice, "am I in ... hell?"
"No," Kim explained, "you're at Julian."
"Oh," he replied blankly.
A noise made her look back at table thirty-one. "Oh no-Bad Destroyer! Bad!"
Ron turned around. "Oh, man! That's gross!"
Yono the Destroyer, smiling obscenely, was dragging his filthy bottom across the tabletop.
"Okay," Ron said stepping forward, his eyes pulsating blue, "I'll handle this."
"Be careful, Ron," Kim cautioned.
"Kim, I'm the monkey master."
"I know, but they tend to-"
Kim grimaced. "Throw ... their ... waste."
"Oh, you are so going to pay for that, dude!" Ron tossed his soiled toque and chased after the screeching monkey.
Once she had cleaned off Dementor's table and discovered a sizeable tip hidden under the pages of the discarded "FINE" magazine, Kim made her way back toward the kitchen. There were very few people in the restaurant now. In fact, it was about closing time. Moments earlier, she'd heard Maaka-san seating what would probably be their last customers at a table near the front.
Not long now. She sighed.
"Excuse me, miss?" a thin voice called out.
She looked in the direction of the voice and froze.
"I apologize, but our waitress seems to have vanished," the customer explained. "Could I put in an order, at least for the drinks, with you?"
Kim nodded vaguely but could not find her voice.
The customer was a corpulent man with a broad friendly face. However, Kim hardly registered his expression. She could not pull her eyes away from his puce and crimson cape, purple cone-shaped helmet, and ruby-tinged glasses.
"I know it is a real hassle for you guys, us coming in at the very last second and all, so I'd like to move things along as quickly as possible, you know, so we can get out of your hair," he rambled on, adjusting his glasses as they slid down the short length of his nose.
Kim took her pad and half-a-pencil from her apron with automatic gestures. Her eyes were fixed upon the customer's lavender, clawed gloves that were clutching the menu.
"Okay," she said finally. "What can I get you?"
"Well, my little boy will have chocolate milk, I'll have a tea, and my better half will have," he broke off and then looked past Kim. "What did you want again, sweetie?"
"Z!" "Sweetie" responded shrilly from behind her. "Where's Vincent?!"
Kim turned around; her pad hit the floor and her half-pencil rolled under the table.
A very tall woman with imposing blue eyes and shoulder-length brown hair glared at the caped man in the booth. She was also wearing a full-body, leopard-skin cat suit with black knee-high boots.
"I thought you were taking him to the little boy's room!" he protested. "Or the little girl's room, or ladies' room, or wherever!"
"You never listen!" she yelled. "I did say that I was going to take him to the restroom, but then he said he didn't need to go."
"Fine, fine," the man cried as he slid out of the booth, "we'll argue about it later! We just need to find him."
"Miss?" the cat woman placed her right hand heavily on Kim's shoulder. "Can you please help us?"
"S-sure," she nodded. "What does he look like?"
"Well," she said, gesturing about three feet from the floor with her right hand, "he's about so tall." Kim noticed that the woman was anxiously pulling on her tail with her left.
"Hey, Little V!" Maaka-san's voice cheerfully called from the waiting area. "I can see yoooou!"
"Phew," the man said, removing his helmet and brushing his hair back with his forearm. "Should have known Karin would find him."
The child's mother walked quickly toward the waiting area, releasing her tail to sway easily in mid-air. Before she crossed half the distance, Maaka-san appeared around the corner with the toddler cradled in her arms. He was gently tugging on the ends of her hair.
The child was wearing a cat suit very much like his mother's and a pair of glasses that matched his dad's. The child's boots were ankle-high and adorned with bootie-bells.
"I'm glad someone was looking out for him," the cat lady said, shooting a hard look over her shoulder at her husband.
The man in the cape glared back through his rose-tinted glasses. He opened his mouth, but then closed it without saying anything.
"He was hiding behind the tree," Maaka-san explained. "Maybe he believes he's a real jungle cat!"
The woman smiled and went to take her son from the waitress. He allowed himself to be lifted out of the waitress's hands, but refused to let go of her hair.
"C'mon, let her go, Vincent," his father said as he slid back into the booth.
"Yes, honey," his mother admonished, "you could hurt her."
"No, no," Maaka-san laughed. "It's fine." The toddler laughed when she did and continued to hold on to her hair. It was clear that both she and Vincent were enjoying themselves.
"Sheila! Get him to let go."
"No, it's fine, Zorpox-san," the girl smiled. "It doesn't hurt at all."
Kim watched as Maaka-san walked hip-to-hip with Sheila of the Leopard People as they both, more or less, carried the boy to the table where his father Zorpox the Conqueror waited.
"Has it been busy?" Sheila asked conversationally as they passed by Kim.
"Very!" Karin nodded.
"We told everyone at the convention tonight to check you guys out. I hope you got plenty of good tips."
"Oh, yes! Thank you," Maaka-san said as they placed Vincent into his booster seat. She turned to Kim who was silently observing them. "Possible-san?"
Kim was lost in thought and didn't hear the question.
"Were you waiting for something?"
"Oh no, I was just-"
"It's okay, Miss," Zorpox smiled. "I think Karin can take it from here. Thanks, anyway."
Kim placed the sizable tip Mayu had left into her apron's pocket and began to bus the table. She was still unsure if the woman was same person who had violently confronted the table's slimy former customer. The whole situation was odd. Especially how he had suddenly disappeared and been replaced by her.
Did Maaka-san seat her?
Kim looked toward the entrance of the restaurant. She could still hear Maaka-san chatting amicably with Zorpox and Sheila.
A lot of odd things had been happening over the course of the evening-Yono's inexplicable regression and Monkey Fist's subsequent return topping the list. But not all of them had to do with villains or their convention. Like Maaka-san's very strange sister suddenly showing up. And then there was that 'thing' Kim had seen hanging underneath the awning right before she and Ron had volunteered to help out.
Reflexively, Kim turned to the bank of black windows at the front of the restaurant and tried to pick out the one she had spied the object out of. After a moment she gave up.
And then there was the scene with Usui-san.
Since his sudden retreat with Maaka-san over an hour before, Kim had occasionally crossed paths with her classmate. Apart from asking him if he was okay, she hadn't really spoken with him. She intuited that whatever the emergency had been it was more than likely related to Maaka-san's secret, and had decided against asking any specific questions.
She was still thinking about it as she began cleaning off Shego and Drakken's table.
"Hey," Usui-san called hesitantly.
"Oh, hey," Kim looked up as she slid her tip across the tabletop.
Drakken and Shego had left her exactly seventy-three yen. The small amount had been Drakken's idea while the coins' denominations had been selected by Shego because the villainess believed that they couldn't be used for anything useful-including the campus laundry mat. Or, at least, that was what Shego's note-scrawled onto a wet napkin-had explained.
"I just want to thank you, Possible-san," he explained, "for taking that customer for me. When … well … you know."
"Oh, sure." she smiled, "No problem. It looked like whatever was going on was majorly important."
"Yes," Usui-san admitted, "it was." He paused. "Anyway, I wanted to say thanks for that and, of course, for you and Stoppable-san helping out tonight."
"No big." She smiled. "Are you sure you're okay, Usui-san?"
"Well, you look kinda flushed."
"Yes," he nodded somewhat nervously. "I'll be fine. It is stuffy in here."
"Maybe a little. Why don't you grab a drink of water and loosen your collar?"
If he had been looking flush seconds earlier, he was pale now.
Was it something I said?
"Some water?" She repeated. "I could grab you a glass."
"Oh!" he smiled uneasily. "Yes, if you don't mind."
"No, no problem."
When she came back a minute later with his glass, she found that he had finished cleaning table thirteen for her and was busy busing another as well.
He thanked her for the water and was acting perfectly normal again. Yet she still thought he looked uncomfortable with his collar buttoned all the way to the top.
"Ron, the last customers are just leaving," Kim announced as she entered the kitchen.
But the kitchen was empty.
Well, almost empty. Hunched down on the floor, surrounded by a half-dozen scattered banana peels was Yono the Former Destroyer. The large monkey was tethered in a far corner via a dog collar and leash that Usui-san had retrieved from Julian's extensive lost and found archives. The bananas Sakurai-san had given him just before he had left must not have been enough to sate him; it appeared that he had been gnawing on the leash. He looked up at Kim with annoyed indifference.
"Ron?" she called again.
The lights flickered for a moment.
"Whoa! That was so not cool!" Ron's voice echoed from the hallway that led to the back offices.
"Ron? What are you doing?"
He appeared in the doorway holding a serving tray. Lit candles framed a plate overloaded with food. "This was going to be a surprise," he smiled weakly. "And if the lights hadn't gone funky just now, I would have been able to lower them myself."
"Oh, Ron," Kim exclaimed walking quickly toward him," You have no idea how hungry I am."
"Actually, I think I do, KP."
Her stomach rumbled.
"Actually, I think Yono and I both know now."
She gave him a playful glare and kissed his cheek.
"Oh," she broke the kiss short, "it smells so wonderful, Ron!"
"I hope you enjoy it. It is the most bon-diggity of Karin's dishes. Follow me," he led her back to a makeshift table of crates near the hallway.
She eyed Yono sitting a mere ten feet to her right.
"Don't worry about him, KP," Ron said. "I'll make sure he doesn't snatch any bites."
"It's not that I'm worried about." She gestured to the simian who had begun vigorously scratching himself in a very unappetizing place.
"Oh yeah," Ron said nodding slowly with comprehension. He moved Kim's chair around so she would not be facing the former sorcerer.
Kim leaned over and inhaled the delightful mosaic of scents from her dinner. She paused. "Ron, what about you? Aren't you going to eat with me?"
"No can do," Ron smiled and patted his middle. "I've been sneaking bites on the job for hours."
She gave him a cross look.
"Hey!" he protested. "Sakurai-san was doing it, too!"
She covered a laugh with her hand. "Okay, okay."
As Ron poured her some tea, she asked, "What about Usui-san and …?"
"Their meals are warming in the oven," he explained. "Stop making excuses! Give into the Culinary Power of The Stoppable."
"All right, all right," she smiled, "but I need to go to the ladies room first."
"Do you want me to keep it warm for you?"
"No, no," she said, "I won't be that long."
Although the employee bathroom was very clean-in fact, it looked like it had been cleaned recently-it smelled wrong. However, she couldn't tell where the nasty odor was coming from; it just seemed to engulf the entire room. As she washed her hands, she worried idly that it might have ruined her appetite. However, another well-timed grumble from her stomach banished that concern.
Then she heard it.
"No! Bad Yono! Bad Destroyer!" Ron's voice echoed down the hallway.
Please don't say he …
"Get away from Kim's food, you little-"
"Oh, no!" She covered her face in her hands.
"Come back here!" Ron's voice got closer. Then Kim heard the approach of Yono's large feet, slapping against linoleum.
The instant the bathroom door banged open, the power flickered again. The strobe-like blinking of the light over the sink created a slide-show effect on what transpired next. Kim watched as a series of tableaux flashed before her. Yono with wild eyes floating in mid-air through the open door, Ron with his right hand modestly covering his eyes in mid-stumble after him, Ron holding the crazed monkey in what Kim vaguely recognized as a Steel Toe move, Ron dragging the simian out the half-ajar door, and then the bathroom's garbage can leaning at a dangerous angle in front of the shut door. Kim recognized the dull thud she heard during the next instant of blackness to be indicative of the can's fate.
"Sorry, KP!" Ron's receding voice called from the hallway as the lights came back on and stayed on.
Kim shook her head and bent over to right the garbage can. However, she accidentally knocked its lid off as she did.
She had discovered the source of the odor.
Dozens of red-stained paper towels cascaded from the can's mouth. Crimson liquid oozed across the floor and toward the small rusty drain at the surface's center.
Oh my God.
"Stoppable-san," Usui-san said with growing concern, "do you really think you should be using your mouth to do that?"
Ron had tied the separate ends of the severed dog leash together and was now pulling the knot tight ... with his teeth. "Ittttz ... fnnn," he muttered.
Karin was on her knees trying to console the still upset monkey. "Yono-san, would you like another banana?" she offered.
He snatched the banana from her and, without bothering to peel it, shoved it halfway into his mouth. He then proceeded to slurp the fruit out of its skin.
Undaunted by this rather icky display, Karin reached up and began scratching the former Destroyer behind his left ear. He shot her an annoyed look that she failed to notice. However, as the girl continued to scratch, his eyes softened and then, gradually, Yono began craning his neck toward her touch. He spit out the banana skin and favored the waitress with a broad smile.
"Blood!" Kim cried.
Everyone, including Yono, froze and turned toward her.
"There's so much of it!" she pointed behind her down the shadowy hallway. "The bathroom - it looks like a crime scene!"
As she explained what she had found in more detail, Kim became gradually aware of the unexpected affect her story was having upon her friends.
Their faces went very pale, not with shock but with ... something else. And no one had said a word.
Ron looked at Usui-san, and then he looked back at Ron. It was obvious to Kim they were having a very intense conversation with their eyes.
"It's okay, Possible-san," Usui-san said, turning to her.
"No," she insisted, "it is not okay. It looks like someone was murdered! We're not talking about a nosebleed here!"
For an instant, it appeared to Kim as if her classmate and his girlfriend blanched as she finished her sentence.
In the uneasy seconds that followed, the obvious slowly began to descend upon Kim: her discovery had something to do with Maaka-san's secret.
"KP ..." Ron said, breaking the silence.
"No," she interrupted. "I think I know what you're going to say." Her voice dipped as she spoke, "You can't tell-"
"Kim!" cried Maaka-san suddenly.
Everyone turned to the young waitress.
"Sorry," she said blushing. "I didn't mean to yell, but they can't tell you ..."
"I know, Maaka-san-"
"But I can."
"Maaka?" Usui-san asked.
"It's okay, Usui-kun," she smiled. "My family just swore you two to secrecy. No one ever said that I couldn't tell."
"Uh, Maaka, isn't that what they meant when they told you to keep it a secret?" her boyfriend reasoned.
"I trust her, Usui-kun." She turned to Kim. "I trust you, Possible-san. I want to tell you the truth."
After a moment of anxious silence, Kim asked, "Are you sure?"
"Yes!" Maaka-san enthused and grabbed Kim's hand. "Come on!"
Before they had gotten five feet, Maaka-san had to stop and gently remove Yono's staying grip from her skirt. "It's okay, Yono-san," she said, stroking his head, "I won't be long."
Maaka-san led Kim, who was giving the forlorn-looking monkey a quizzical look, to the entrance of the kitchen. "We'll be right back!"
They crossed the empty dining area and Maaka-san unlocked the door with a set of keys from her apron pocket.
"Where are we going, Maaka-san?" Kim asked.
"Outside," she explained. "I have to make sure she sees me tell you."
"I'll explain everything," Maaka-san said quickly. "Come on."
"Do you think that's a good idea?" Ron asked, gesturing somewhat nervously toward the still swinging kitchen door.
"Uh," Usui-san began as he anxiously rubbed the back of his neck, "I don't know. I guess so. I mean, Maaka's technically right. And her family can be understanding. At times."
Yono slurping down another banana was the only sound to be heard as a sense of uneasiness descended upon the kitchen.
"Well, I guess I should go clean the bathroom," Usui-san sighed. "Again."
"You need some help, dude?"
"Nah, I can handle it."
"Hey, it's no problem," Ron said, shouldering an unopened sack of rice, "I need to take this back to the storeroom anyway."
"Oh, sure, thanks."
As they walked down the hallway, Usui-san remarked, "It's strange. Maaka only had a small accident in there."
Silence prevailed once they reached the bathroom's open door.
"Maybe your idea of 'small' is different than mine, but-" Ron began.
"Oh no." Usui shook his head. "I only saw what she got on the wall. I didn't realize. Ugh. She must have sprayed most of it into the can. Shoot!"
"Does this happen a lot?" Ron asked.
"Whoa!" Ron yelped.
"My eye," Ron explained as he covered the right side of his face. "I can't see!"
Usui-san steadied the rice sack before it could fall. "Did you get something in it? Do you need some water?"
"No. It's just my stupid stigmatism," Ron griped.
"You mean astigmatism?"
"Huh?" Ron asked leaning against the door frame. He shook his head. "Yeah, I said I have a stupid stigmatism."
"Stigmatism means your eyesight's fine," Usui-san explained. "Astigmatism means it's not."
After a moment, Ron shook his head. "Okay, dude, I have no idea what you're saying."
When she and Kim had reached the center of the empty parking lot, Maaka-san stopped and then looked about in the darkness. Her eyes fell on a tree at the edge of the lot. "Okay, this is good."
Kim glanced back at the same tree. For a second, the thought flashed that it was odd that the tree still had all its leaves at the end of autumn. "All right," she said turning her full attention back to Maaka-san.
"Okay, well, it's kind of complicated," Maaka-san began, "but I'm, well, my entire family actually is-"
The lights of the parking lot, those within Julian, and all those in the surrounding buildings suddenly flickered and went out. The Kimmunicator's alarm went off.
Memories of the Lorwardian invasion and thoughts of the Convention's centerpiece raced through Kim's head. "I need to get this, Maaka-san, sorry." She turned on her device only to see Wade's image being overwhelmed and drowned out by static interference.
The concussion from the explosion flung them several feet into the air.
When she landed, Kim frenziedly brushed off the layer of dust from her face. She blinked her eyes painfully open and saw the towering, glowing Lorwardian probe standing atop the pile of rubble that seconds earlier had been Julian. Then she became aware of Maaka-san's screams.
Kim saw that her friend was also covered in dust, crying hysterically at the sight of the smoldering restaurant. "Usui-kun! Usui-kun!"
"Karin!" Kim yelled, grabbing the girl's shoulders. "I'll find him. I'll find both of them! But you need to get out of here. NOW!"
Kim leapt to her feet and sprinted toward the ruins.
Karin stared at Possible-san's retreating figure, but did not move. Then she heard the rhythmic thud of something very large approaching. Slowly, she turned around as the outline of a nine-foot tall woman broke from the murky, dust-laden shadows behind her.
The gigantic being held what looked like a cannon in her right hand. And her eyes and unpleasant smile seemed to glow in the dark.
"Target eliminated," Warhok's deep voice resonated through the blackness.
"Patience," Warmonga called back. "Verification has not been made." At that second she caught sight of an Earther figure racing toward the impact site. She recognized the hue of the Earther's hair. "The girl one survived," she muttered and flipped on the ion cannon. As she went to shoulder it, movement near her feet drew her attention.
There was a small Earther form not far from her. Another female. She was sitting on her knees, her face lowered to ground-either in a daze or frozen with fear. Warmonga turned her focus back to her retreating quarry. As she was drawing a bead on the target, a flurry of activity from the Earther on the ground distracted her. When she looked, its form held the same position and attitude but was now surrounded by a burgeoning amber halo. The Earther raised her right arm, palm held upright, to Warmonga.
The energy blast sent the giant alien hurtling some ten yards back into the shadows.
"Ron! Ron!" Kim cried as she approached the rubble. "Usui-san!"
Almost immediately, there was movement beneath a pile of debris half-way up the incline of the restaurant's ruins. She stumbled as quickly as she could to the source and began lifting and tossing rubble out of the survivor's way. Under the pile, she discovered an overturned table that began lifting of its own accord. "Ron! Usui-"
Yono burst from beneath the table, knocked Kim backwards and then ran shrieking into the night. Kim climbed to her feet and searched frantically within the small cavity from which the errant simian had sprung. It was empty. "Ron! Ron!"
Then she recalled the Ron-com. She tried calling it but received nothing but static. Desperately, she tried buzzing it. Between the loud pulsations of the Lorwardian probe, she made out very faint vibrations a few feet to her left. She buzzed again and followed the resulting signal to its source. She fell to her knees and began digging wildly through the rubble, wood and pieces of tile. "Don't worry, Ron!" She called in a hoarse voice. "I'm coming, Honey! Don't worry!" She didn't recall when she had started to cry. Maybe when Yono surprised her. Maybe sooner.
She buzzed and then dug toward the vibration for several seconds. Buzzed and dug. Buzzed and dug. Finally, she uncovered the Ron-com lying solitary upon a wide, solid piece of concrete support.
It was ... wet. With a growing sense of dread, Kim held the Ron-com up beneath the throbbing glow of the alien device. It was covered in blood.
Karin looked toward the remains of the restaurant and saw Possible-san kneeling half way up the smoking mound. She could tell that she was crying. Her unhappiness was palpable. Karin watched her friend attempt to stand but then collapse upon bloodied knees. Still crying.
She tried to turn her face away but found that she couldn't. So she tightly shut her eyes instead. Even then, she could still feel, still see her friend's despair.
With an exhausting effort of will, Karin wrenched herself in the opposite direction and slowly began to crawl away.
She had only made it a few feet when something quite obvious occurred to her.
With slowly building determination, Karin climbed to her feet, turned, and began walking toward Possible-san.
Then she began to run.
As Kim turned toward the sound of the sliding debris behind her, she slipped on a cracked tile and landed painfully on her back. Before she could rise to her elbows, she was suddenly pressed back down to the ground, her arms pinioned to her sides. At first, she was too startled to even yell out.
When she blinked her eyes clear and recognized her attacker, her mind whirled.
It was Maaka-san, and, at the same time, it wasn't.
For a second, her thoughts cleared, and she realized too late what Karin's secret was. The fangs of the vampire were already piercing her neck.
To be continued ...
Chapter 12: Twelve
Kenta Usui painfully hacked his throat clear. His eyes were burning; he couldn't see. And his ears were ringing.
And then, abruptly, they weren't. The resulting silence was worse than the ringing had been.
As if he were waking in the middle of a night's sleep, he gradually became aware of his hands. He found that he could move them without pain. Immediately, he rubbed the grit from his eyes and blinked them clear.
He was surrounded by complete darkness. As he prayed that he was not blind, the void was suddenly replaced by a tangle of disjointed shadows highlighted in a red glow. After a brief time, the darkness returned. Then it yielded to the same sickly light.
He recalled reading somewhere that a doorjamb was the safest place to be during an earthquake. Ironically, the restroom's doorjamb was the first thing he recognized when his surroundings next came into ruby focus. Then he noticed that the restroom itself-the walls, ceiling, door—were gone. The doorjamb was all that was left standing in his immediate area.
Then Kenta fixed his eyes upon the source of the light overhead. Although he hadn't thought it possible, his mouth became even drier.
The underside of a motionless Lorwardian attack drone swallowed most of the sky. He had seen more than he wished of the rampaging alien devices the previous Spring.
He frantically pushed boards and ceiling tiles off his legs. Then he remembered.
"Stoppable-san?" His voice sounded hollow. He called again, louder.
There was no reply.
They are dead.
At least that was Warmonga's initial impression as she advanced toward the two motionless Earthers.
Halfway up the mound of smoldering ruins, her red-headed adversary and the smaller female that had attacked her moments earlier were lying on their backs next to each other.
Her extensive experience in planet domination had taught Warmonga the uncertain value of appearances. She knew when to trust them and when to hold them suspect. This moment belonged to the latter group.
"Warmonga!" Warhok's voice called from the other side of the ruined structure. "Have you made verification?"
She winced. If the Earthers were alive, his bellowing might stir them to consciousness. Fortunately, their bodies remained still and appeared lifeless.
"There is a complication," she called back. "But it will be rectified immediately."
She tested the charge on the laser cannon and shouldered the weapon. As she placed her targets within its sights, she discovered that her doubts had been justified. The small Earther who only moments earlier had struck her with an energy beam was stirring.
This ends now.
A flash of regret troubled the alien's mind for an instant when she realized her current course of action would atomize her opponents and preclude any chance of getting her trophy. The sting of regret was short-lived.
She pulled the trigger.
A gyrating black mass of eyes, wings, and teeth swirled above her pale features.
Carried aloft in an ornate, ribbon-laced carriage seat, Anju raced unseen between the upper-stories of the skyscrapers.
Her hands gripped the support ropes tightly as she directed her voice once again to the blackness swarming above her.
Even with her eyes closed, Kim could tell she was hanging upside down.
She swayed slightly in the blackness for some time.
After a few moments, she became aware of the familiar sensation of cool metal pressing against the undersides of her knees. She opened her eyes.
The features and noises of the preschool playground filtered through and gradually dispersed the darkness. Her classmates tore about the small, fenced enclosure. Some tossed around a large red ball, a handful of others engaged in a game of hide-and-seek, and a few played on the see-saws. She was alone on the jungle gym, hanging by her knees from the uppermost bar. This was normal; she was the only one who liked climbing it.
Her eyes passed over the playground a few times and then settled on a patch of Middleton Park in the far distance. She could see it behind the playground's fence and the lake that bordered it.
Then she remembered that the park could be seen from the elementary school's playground. The preschool didn't border the lake; it faced the street.
And, now that she thought about it, the jungle gym didn't belong here either.
A flurry of activity on her right distracted her thoughts.
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" a small boy with large ears cried.
Kim smiled reflexively as she caught sight of her first and best friend, Ron Stoppable, chasing after dozens of papers as they were blown across the grass by the breeze. He was weird, but she really liked him. Although they had known each other for only a few months, Kim felt like she had been with him for much longer.
"I'm sorry, Miss Harlowe!"
Kim frowned. Miss Harlowe was the name of their fifth grade teacher. They were only in Pre-K.
Her brow furrowed. Something was definitely not right because when Maaka-san had been collecting the menus from the floor, Kim had been reminded of the time Ron managed to knock the class's end-of-the-year writing assignments from Miss Harlowe's hands as he tried to save a science lab frog from drowning.
"Hey, Kim!" Ron called. "Look at me!" He was suddenly standing at the top of the slide wearing his roller blades.
That it was impossible that four-year-old Ron would have had the courage to go down the slide unattended let alone that he would be wearing his rollerblades of which he was deathly afraid and hadn't received as a present until his sixth birthday so didn't matter. What did matter was that he was very likely going to kill himself.
Even before she felt her feet impact the ground, she was sprinting across the playground toward him.
He had already begun to totter wildly on the skates. She watched as he slipped backward down the slide and tumbled over the edge.
And into her arms.
"Thanks, KP!" he beamed up at her. "Nice save!"
Her sense of relief was so strong that it didn't occur to her at first how … small he looked in her arms. Once it did, she quickly realized the problem wasn't with him; it was with her. Her head came almost to the top of the slide. And despite the pigtails in her hair and her shirt and shorts that were decidedly Pre-K in style, she was much older and bigger than her preschool friend.
Wait … I'm not four. I'm eighteen. And I'm in college, not Pre-K.
When she looked back to Ron, the weirdness of the sitch came to a head. Although he looked exactly like he should have—red teddy bear t-shirt, the ripped blue corduroy shorts, the freckles, and those wildly disproportionate ears, something wasn't right. Something around his eyes.
"You're not Ron," she spoke.
His eyes flashed, and a broad, uncanny smile broke across his face.
In what light the Lorwardian machine provided for the next few seconds, Kenta began urgently combing through the heaps of rubble that surrounded him. When the light pulsed off, he listened intently for any sound that could signal Stoppable-san might be nearby. After a few anxious moments, he thought he heard debris settling somewhere off to his right. He crawled a couple of feet toward the sound, and then paused in hope of hearing more.
There were no further sounds, but when the light pulsed again, the pile of ceiling panels to his immediate left shifted. He pushed aside some of the panels and discovered Ron's left arm protruding from beneath the debris. Kenta gripped the fingers and began digging frantically with his free hand. Within seconds, he had uncovered Ron's chest, and then the light pulsed off again.
"Stoppable-san! Can you hear me?" He cried in the darkness.
Once they were bathed in the Lorwardian glow again, a feeling of unease attacked the pit of Kenta's stomach. There was a thick pipe just a few feet to his right. If his guess was right, the end of the pipe was buried in the rubble almost exactly where Stoppable-san's head should have been. He squeezed Ron's hand and quickly, but cautiously, scooped away more debris. Before the light faded once more, he had uncovered Stoppable-san's right shoulder and just the beginnings of his neck. When the light came back again, he discovered that he had been correct about the pipe.
Although it wasn't that big, the pipe's weight would have been enough to cave in someone's skull if it had come crashing down from a moderate height. And there was no telling how high it had fallen before it came to rest upon ... the large sack of rice Stoppable-san had been carrying on his shoulder. A portion of the sack, the part that had not been split by the pipe, was lying on Stoppable-san's head. It had acted as a cushion when the panels had crashed down upon him.
Kenta let go of Stoppable-san's hand and carefully pulled the sack of rice away. There was a nasty-looking bruise beginning to form around his left eye. As Kenta weighed the risks of trying to move him, Stoppable-san abruptly turned his head from side to side and coughed violently. Then he mumbled a few unclear phrases, although Kenta thought he made out three words: "black," "hole," and "probe."
He looped his arms beneath the injured young man's shoulders and dragged his legs free of the rubble just as the light faded once again. When the light returned, he attempted to lift Stoppable-san over his shoulders. It was then that Kenta Usui confronted The Inevitable.
In the chaos of the restaurant's destruction, Stoppable-san had lost his pants.
Pain vibrated up Warmonga's arm.
As she clutched her numb right hand, her eyes darted from the quickly-vaporizing clump of rubble her misfired cannon had hit to the destroyed cannon, lying on the ground.
It had been split in two by an odd spear. Its head buried in the remains of the ion cannon, the weapon looked to be no longer than half an Earther's height. Most of its shaft was sheathed in some kind of fabric and its naked end terminated in a hook.
"Do not point your toys at my granddaughter!" a cold voice demanded.
Warmonga turned toward the voice, but saw no one. There was only the destroyed structure's outline highlighted by the drone's crimson glow. As she eyed the fractured shadows for signs of her cowardly attacker, movement drew her attention back to the strange weapon on the ground.
It was vibrating. She cautiously stepped back fearing for an instant that it might be hiding an explosive element. Instead, the spear burst from the ion cannon's remains, launching high into the night. As Warmonga observed its flight, she couldn't shake the notion that she was watching the spear traveling backwards along its original trajectory.
The object suddenly stopped and seemed to hang in the air for a second or two. Its fabric covering burst open, and the weapon floated down into the waiting hand of a small, long-haired Earther standing atop the attack drone's crown.
"If you want to play," the Earther said menacingly as she closed the weapon's cover and held it by her side, "play with me!"
Warmonga fixed the impudent girl with a malevolent glare and cried, "Warhok!"
Her brutal cohort already had the Thorgoggle spear in mid-swing. Pivoting on his heel, he spun the weapon over his head and then cracked it smartly, releasing dozens of its serrated quills into the air. Warhok's accuracy with the brutal weapon was renowned across the Empire for a reason. The current paths of the missiles would shred the Earther without so much as grazing the attack drone.
An instant before the quills impacted, the Earther snapped open her weapon and held it before her like a shield.
Warmonga was stopped in mid-snicker over the enemy's stratagem when she heard the high-pitched whistle of the quills ricocheting backwards in the air. She rolled behind some rubble just as the first barrage struck the ground immediately before her.
Then she heard Warhok's scream.
"Pathetic," the Earther's voice pronounced with disdain.
Warmonga felt panic creeping along the base of her throat as she looked in the direction of her companion's cry. She was relieved to see he had dodged any fatal strikes. However, he was in obvious pain. Down on one knee, Warhok winced as he pulled out a large quill from where it had lodged itself in his right shoulder.
"Suck it up, big boy. Or don't you like playing this game?"
The Earther's insouciant tone fanned Warmonga's anger to smoldering rage. Raising herself to one knee, she placed her hand into the utility pouch strapped on her left thigh. She removed a shundok launcher, and pressed the incandescent Lorwardian symbol in its center. Instantly, the small rectangular object tripled in length and sprouted talon-shaped appendages at both ends. These arms began rotating wildly.
Warmonga smiled as the Earther continued ridiculing her companion. She outstretched her arm and carefully aimed the device before pressing the glowing symbol once more.
Since the numbness in her arm had almost completely faded by this time, Warmonga was not immune to the sting that accompanied the roundhouse kick that smashed the shundok to pieces.
Turning toward her attacker, she only had time to register a fiery red blur before a cold, hard sensation raced from her chin to her temples.
As a space marauder for over two thousand dormins, Warmonga had seen an incalculable number of star-fields. However, the one she encountered as the back of her head hit the ground was the first one that was spinning. And accompanied by intense pain.
Kim knew she'd never hit someone as hard as she had just punched Warmonga. But it wasn't because of the ache in her hand. Although that was considerable, it was offset by an oddly pleasant and intense drumming sensation she felt racing all across and within her body. No, Kim knew she had delivered her strongest blow because Warmonga had completely lifted off the ground when Kim's fist had connected with her chin. And then the giant alien had landed some five feet away with a thud that shook the ground so much that Kim found herself airborne for a second or two.
However, she didn't have any time to reflect on this event as she found herself immediately under fire from Warhok's ion cannon. Executing a triple back handspring, she avoided his errant blasts.
"Human!" demanded an unfamiliar voice from behind her.
Kim turned toward the source of the voice. A girl with pink hair past her knees who otherwise looked remarkably like Maaka-san was staring down at her from atop the Lorwardians' device.
"Get my granddaughter out of here!" she commanded, gesturing to Maaka-san.
Kim hesitated only for a split second. There was so much about the current sitch that made no sense whatsoever that this last twist really didn't matter. Besides, she did need to get Maaka-san to safety.
As she raced up the mound of debris to Maaka-san, another barrage of ion blasts from Warhok's weapon fell hard upon her footsteps.
"You don't listen very well, do you?" Kim heard the girl call out sarcastically. The echoes of her voice were swallowed by a crackling eruption that most definitely was not coming from the alien's weapon.
Kim gently scooped Maaka-san from the ground, and then she heard the crackling once more. She turned in time to see Warhok rolling out of the path of an iridescent stream of amber light that was shooting from the girl's outstretched right palm.
The girl turned her focus upon Kim and angrily slashed her umbrella in the air. "Go!" She yelled. "I'll cover you!"
As Kim ran through the jagged wreckage, she heard Warmonga loudly curse. Shooting a quick look over her shoulder, she saw the giant villainess stagger to her feet. Then, another sound, further back, caught Kim's attention.
Her gaze settled upon the tree that Maaka-san had been staring at moments before everything went crazy. Within seconds, its leaves doubled and tripled in size and then, just as quickly, flew from their suddenly bare branches as if carried by a violent gust. The sight was so inexplicable that Kim actually stopped and watched as the cloud of leaves swept across the darkened parking lot. It wasn't until they swarmed passed Warmonga that Kim heard the high-pitched shrieks and started running again. Even over the alarmed cries of the alien, the sound was unmistakable.
They were not leaves; they were bats.
Dodging and leaping chunks of concrete, smashed tables, and steaming pipes, Kim kept her eyes fixed upon what was right in her path; she knew very well that looking back at the bats chasing them would be so the mistake. However, as their screeching grew louder and made it evident they would soon overtake her, Kim made a mistake. She started focusing more on her speed than on where she was going. Her shoe skidded on a cracked serving tray, and she spun completely around on her heel. Then, as she struggled to keep her balance, Kim came to a painful stop as her back hit one of the restaurant's still standing walls. She managed not to drop Maaka-san and then held the girl tightly to her as she shut her eyes and tensed against the onslaught she knew had to be only seconds away.
The cries surrounded them.
But that was all.
Hesitantly, Kim opened her eyes. The colony of bats was swirling above their heads in a tight formation. Although their individual movements and flight paths seemed random, as a group they seemed to be fixated upon a single point five feet above Kim. It was then she realized that they hadn't been chasing her. They had only been shadowing her movements, shielding her and Maaka-san.
"This must be what she meant by 'covering me.'"
Doi, Possible! They are bats and you are, after all, rescuing a vampire.
"Possible-san," Maaka-san's voice was soft, weak.
Kim looked down as the slight girl raised her right arm and placed it upon Kim's neck.
"Did I hurt you?"
The question was ludicrous. The girl had plunged her fangs into Kim's throat and then sucked out who knew how much of her blood. "Hurt" so didn't even begin to cover it.
Yet, she recalled the initial pain had been swallowed by an intense warm sensation that started at the point where Maaka-san had bit her and gently pulsed to the rest of her body. The warmth had faded quickly and been replaced by an inexplicable sense of elation. Then she remembered being on the playground with ... with "Ron" and then awakening with the same sense of elation buzzing through her. It still was, even now.
She looked down into Maaka-san's anxious eyes. The vampire was really worried that she might have done Kim harm.
Kim looked away, closed her eyes, shook her head. "To be perfectly honest, Maaka-san," she began, "I'm really not sure what just happened or what's happening now." She then looked back into the girl's eyes. "But, I have to tell you, I feel pretty spankin'."
"I'm glad," Maaka-san replied, her chin beginning to quiver.
Suddenly, a grave thought troubled Kim's mind. Did this "spankin'" sensation mean that she was becoming a vampire?
Am I already one?
"Maaka-san, listen," she began, "there is something I really need to know-"
An ion blast suddenly reduced the wall into a whirwind of gravel and smoke.
"Aaaaiiiiiiiiiieeeee!" Maaka-san screamed.
The sudden impact had even frightened the bats. They scattered in a tangle of wings and high-pierced screeches before reassembling their protective flight pattern a few seconds later.
That was so too close.
"Let's get out of here," Kim said.
As she took off once again, Kim could feel that same positive sensation coursing through her body. All things considered, she did feel pretty spankin'. In complete opposition to her feelings of despair when she discovered his Roncom, Kim was now confident that she would find Ron, and she was equally certain that he would be safe. She knew she'd find Usui-san, too. She didn't know why she felt this way or how she knew they would be safe. But she did.
Her thoughts were disturbed when she collided with a dark figure that had erupted suddenly from shadows.
Warhok was seriously displeased.
Defeat was not something to which he was accustomed. To be sure, he was familiar with it; he was one of its ordained messengers. From his youthful days on the Wrotslock field to his expansive military career, defeat had always followed in his wake, loitering over the crushed colleagues and other enemies he had left behind him. He had never been its recipient, never met it head-on.
His defeat at the hands of the Blue Chittering One had been a fluke. No, much more than a fluke. The event's singularity was of cosmic proportions. It was something that would never come to pass again.
At least that is what he had believed.
Now, he was beginning to realize that the aberration might have been the beginning of the Unthinkable: a losing streak.
The small Earther had been able to block or dodge every blow he sent her way. She had destroyed his Ion cannon with energy that had erupted from her bare hands. And, worst of all, she was … mocking him.
"I could come back later if you need the time," she called down from the drone's crown.
"I finish this now," he muttered coldly as he removed the multi-barreled karnassial rifle from the large holster strapped across his back.
"You've been promising that for the past five minutes," she said with a dismissive laugh. "Don't you know it's unwise to keep a lady waiting for too long?"
Ignoring her insults the best he could, he hoisted the weapon to his shoulder and aimed.
At the exact spot where the Earther … had been standing.
Before Warhok could even lower the weapon to search for her, the Earther had wrested it from his grasp and hurled it to the ground with such violence that it cracked in two. He pulled the tor axe from the scabbard on his right thigh, but she kicked it out of his hand before he could activate it. A fierce kick to his midsection sent him spiraling to the ground, landing on his chest. He rolled over quickly, but before he could rise, the tip of the Earther's spear was playfully tapping his forehead. The fact that the slight creature was floating in mid-air didn't surprise him as much as it outraged him.
"Now," she smiled cruelly, her long fangs prominent, "before I finish this, a question." In a tight, disparaging voice, she asked, "What kind of monster picks a fight with a human?"
Warhok flicked a glance to her right and then favored the Earther with his own cruel smile. But he did not reply. There was nothing that needed to be said.
Warmonga savagely struck the Earther from behind with the plasma staff.
The Earther screamed briefly, and then her body fell harmlessly at their feet.
"Are you okay?" Kim asked. She had let go of Maaka-san just before landing painfully on her tailbone.
"Yeah," Maaka-san nodded. "Ow. I landed on my keys."
Kim and Maaka-san looked up at the figure they had crashed into.
"Usui-kun!" his girlfriend cried and tried to scramble to her feet.
Usui-san was bruised, dusty and out of breath, but he didn't look seriously injured. Then Kim realized that her classmate was carrying someone slung over his shoulders.
When both girls reached him, Usui-san nearly toppled over.
"Sorry, sorry!" Kim cried as she steadied him. "Do you need to put him down?"
"No, no, I'm okay," he shook his head.
Maaka-san clung to the ribbons of her boyfriend's torn shirt and kept repeating his name over and over.
"Stoppable-san's unconscious," he explained between breaths, "but I think ... think he's ok."
Kim took Ron's face in her hands and gently raised his head.
"Oh, Honey," she exhaled.
"He's got a pretty nasty bruise," Usui-san continued after hastily kissing the top of his frantic girlfriend's head. "But I didn't see any other wounds."
"Ron," Kim asked urgently, "can you hear me? Are you okay?"
He grunted, coughed, and then moaned. "KP?"
"Yes, yes," Kim cried. "I'm right here. Are you okay?"
"Can you … can … you …?"
"What is it, Ron?"
"Can you take the kids to Mister Fudgy's? Rufus ate all my clothes."
"Huh?" Maaka-san asked, pausing her relieved weeping for a second. "Possible-san, you already have kids?"
"No, no," Kim explained, "I think he's just dreaming." She allowed herself a faint smile.
Ron then shook his head from his girlfriend's grip and began to snore.
"I think he's going to be all right." Kim said.
"What happened to Stoppable-san's pants?" Maaka-san asked.
Kim went to wipe the excessive spittle from her boyfriend's mouth with her apron. As she did so, she noticed a spot on Usui-san's neck where his collar had been ripped clear. When she recognized the mark, she automatically placed her hand against the spot where Maaka-san had bit her.
Before Kim could speak, they heard the scream.
"Grandma!" Maaka-san cried.
Kim took the Kimmunicator off her wrist and gave it to Maaka-san.
"It doesn't work within range of their machines," she explained. "When you guys get to a safe distance, you may be able to reach Wade and get help."
"Okay," Usui-san nodded.
"W-what? No, you can't go back, Possible-san." Maaka-san said, grabbing her shoulder. "It's too dangerous!"
"No big," Kim smiled. As she took off, she called over her shoulder, "Don't worry! Fighting aliens is much easier than waiting tables."
Warhok kicked the Earther's motionless body. She rolled over three times before stopping. He repressed the desire to cave in her exposed back with his boot.
Warmonga picked up the strange spear from where it had fallen. She inspected it for a few moments, and then snorted dismissively.
"That word she used," Warhok began. "What did it mean?"
"A dangerous and hideous life form," his companion replied smartly as she stepped beside him and looked down on their fallen adversary.
"No," he shook his head. "'Monster'-that I understood. It was the other word."
Warmonga paused in thought and then asked, "'Human?'"
As the despised word was spoken, Elda Marker's cardinal eyes snapped open.
"Yes, that was it," Warhok nodded.
"'Human,'" Warmonga said with a light chuckle, "is what these Earthers call each other."
"HUMAN?!" The Earther's enraged cry took both Lorwardians by surprise.
The subsequent blow to Warmonga's chest hurtled her through the air. Her momentum only slowed when she went through the trunk of a tree some ten feet away.
"And stay down," the Earther muttered. Her glaring red eyes stayed fixed upon the alien's tumbling body.
Warhok dumbly watched as Warmonga finally came to a stop. He snapped out of his daze and quickly snatched up his tor axe. Once he activated it, its blade's size instantly expanded tenfold. He rushed toward the Earther to deliver a finishing strike.
Kim drove her foot into the rampaging alien's jaw, and he immediately crumpled to the ground.
Kim's jump from the top of the debris pile that had been Julian had not been as well-executed as she had originally planned. After hitting her target, she had landed awkwardly. As she attempted to stand, Warhok's angry howl erupted behind her. She flipped over in time to see him charging at top speed toward her, his ridiculously large axe raised.
Kim turned and caught the object Maaka-san's grandmother had tossed her. She held it by its ends and successfully blocked Warhok's strike; it bent slightly but remained whole and firm.
However, his forward momentum rolled her onto her back. Thinking quickly, Kim planted her feet into his chest and sent him tumbling over her. He cart-wheeled violently until his head struck against the trunk of the same tree Warmonga had toppled with her body. The rabid warrior was momentarily knocked out.
Kim climbed to her feet and stared at the umbrella that had just saved her life.
Maaka-san's grandmother was standing about ten feet away, absently looking up at the Lorwardian drone. She leaned backwards and then stretched, popping her back into place. Then, to Kim's amazement, she levitated fifteen feet in the air until she landed on the top of the debris pile at the drone's base.
As Kim climbed the mound toward her, the vampire turned, gave her the briefest of glances and then went back to studying the alien machine. With the lone exception of her hair's length and color, the woman could have easily been Maaka-san's twin. Reaching the top, Kim noticed that she not only didn't look like a grandmother, she didn't dress like one either. She was wearing a form-fitting, midrift-baring black top and an extremely short skirt complemented by a pair of posh ankle boots.
"Thanks," Kim said as she reached the woman and offered her the umbrella.
She didn't acknowledge Kim at first, didn't even turn around. Then, still looking at the drone, she asked, almost as if she were talking to herself, "What is this ugly thing?"
"It's a Lorwardian machine," Kim explained, "I'm not sure what they call it."
"Lorwardian? Is that what those green idiots call each other?" she snorted. "So what does it do?"
"They used hundreds like it to conquer the world last year."
"Really?" Maaka-san's grandmother asked, turning to Kim. She immediately gazed back at the machine. "Guess I slept through that. Still, it doesn't surprise me."
Before Kim could ask her what she meant, the woman muttered, "Stupid humans."
As Warhok shook the cobwebs from his head, his bruised companion marched confidently, if unevenly, to his side.
"Warmonga," he asked, without looking up, "you told me that when you first engaged the red-haired Earther in combat, she wore … clothing that gave her increased strength."
"Yes?" she asked as she helped him to his feet.
"Is she wearing the same tonight?"
Warmonga thought for a second. "Perhaps it is a version for the warmer seasons," she said finally.
Maaka-san's grandmother was now staring intently at the clear night sky. "Where the hell are they?" she muttered. She turned to the horizon. "Their familiars are putting up a boundary, but …"
"Excuse me," Kim began, touching her own neck, "I actually have a couple of questions-"
"So?" Maaka-san's grandmother replied dismissively.
"Girl," she replied, turning to face Kim, "I'm just going to erase your memory anyway, so what's the point?"
"I would have done it already, but my granddaughter's blood is making you, well, useful."
What? Maaka-san's blood?
Kim's confusion was quickly overcome by mounting anger.
"Look, I appreciate what you did down there," she said, balling her fists, "but if you think I'm going to just let you erase my memory, you've got-"
She found herself suddenly trapped inside some kind of translucent container. She pressed her palms against its surface. Whatever it was, the material refused to give and felt super gorchy. The other thing Kim immediately discerned was that the container was air-tight. She was finding it difficult to breathe.
Panic buzzed at the edges of her mind; however, it was quickly outpaced by the bubbling anger she felt pulsing in time with the strange positive sensation she still felt flowing through body.
She saw the figure of Maaka-san's grandmother spring toward her, but before she could reach Kim, a similar shell imprisoned the vampire.
Behind the outraged gesticulations of her fellow captive, Kim saw the ominous figures of the Lorwardians crest the edge of the mound.
This is so not good.
Kenta didn't stray too far from the safety perimeter created by Elda Marker's bats. Although he knew they were as good a protection system as he could hope for, he didn't feel right leaving either his girlfriend's or the injured Stoppable-san's side for very long.
So far he hadn't had much luck with the Kimmunicator. He had made out Load-san's image for a second or two, and the audio had been clear only once, making out only half a word. And there was no way to tell if Load-san had heard anything he had said. In frustration, he turned back. If they had any chance of reaching Load-san, all three of them would have to relocate a good distance. Farther than Kenta wished to go while leaving Possible-san behind.
Maaka was sitting next to Stoppable-san's prone form, holding his left hand. She had removed her apron and headband and rolled them into a temporary and rather ineffective pillow for his head.
"Has he said anything else?" Kenta asked as he returned.
She shook her head. "Were you able to reach anyone?"
"No. I think we might need to move a little farther out."
"Kim," Stoppable-san's head started lolling from side to side. "Kim."
Reflexively, Maaka squeezed his hand.
Stoppable-san sat bolt upright. "Kim!" he cried, returning Maaka's squeeze. "I just had the weirdest dream and-Oww! My head! It kills!"
"Ron-san, are you okay?"
"I think so. I feel like I got clocked by Shego but ... wait a minute. Karin?"
"What's happened? Where's Kim?" And then he paused. "Where are you?" And then he began touching his chest frantically with his right hand. "Where am I?"
"Stoppable-san," Kenta calmly said in an effort to combat the hysteria he could sense growing in Stoppable-san's voice, "can you see anything?"
"No," Stoppable-san said after a beat. "I can't. Oh man, I'm blind!"
"No, no," Kenta said, placing his hand on Stoppable-san's shoulder. "You're not blind. It's just that ... that you can't see."
After a few seconds, Stoppable-san said, "Dude, I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed, but ..."
"Sorry," Kenta sighed. "I meant, you've got that astig-you've got that problem with your right eye, right? And your left is swollen shut."
"How did that happen?" Stoppable-san asked as he made a motion to touch his left eye. Fortunately, Maaka stayed his hand.
"Well," Kenta began tentatively, "that ten-pound bag of rice landed on your head-"
"When the Lorwardians destroyed Julian," Maaka added.
Kenta hung his head. He had hoped to break that news gently.
"WHAT?!" Stoppable-san screamed. "Where's Kim? Where is she?" he demanded.
"She went back to fight them," Maaka explained. She failed to notice Kenta's overt signals to keep her mouth shut.
Stoppable-san started to climb to his feet.
"And to rescue my grandmother," she said quickly as she tried to get him to stay still.
He stopped. "Huh? To rescue your grandmother?"
"So ... I guess Kim knows that you're vampires, then."
"Yeah," Maaka admitted nervously. "She does."
"And she's cool with that?" he asked hopefully.
"Well ... I-I guess so."
"Coolio," he said, but then stopped in mid-nod. "Wait, ... you 'guess'? What did she say when you told her?"
"Uh, well, ... I didn't exactly tell her."
"You didn't? Well, how did she find out?"
"Well ..." Karin began, but couldn't find the right words to continue.
After a moment, the blank expression on his face turned hard. And although his face was pointed a little to the left of hers, she still flinched beneath the force of his would-be stare.
Elda Marker made short work of the encasement. Her claws shredded its surface as if it were made of cheesecloth. Thick cheesecloth, but cheesecloth nonetheless. Unfortunately, she had been so intent on freeing herself that she failed to see Kim's frantic signals to warn her of Warmonga's approach.
The blow from the alien warrior's staff was swift and brutal. The vampire crumbled to her knees and collapsed to the ground. Then Warhok jerked up the unconscious woman by her hair.
"This time. We make sure," he said in a voice whose coldness was muffled but perceptible to Kim inside her prison. He put his massive right hand around Maaka-san's grandmother's neck and began to squeeze.
"No!" Kim yelled. She looked frenziedly about her encasement for some way to escape. She was in the process of searching through her apron pockets on the odd chance she still had her half-a-pencil to try and pierce the shell's surface when she noticed the umbrella lying at an angle within the encasement. She snatched it up and with one stroke easily sliced through the prison's surface.
Free for only an instant, she found herself dodging blows from Warmonga's plasma staff. After ducking the first blow and leaping out of the way of the second, she raised the umbrella to parry a third strike. Unfortunately, she was not adequately prepared for the force of the alien's swing. The umbrella sailed out of her grasp and over the edge of the pile. Kim tried to handspring along the precipice to gain some breathing room, but Warmonga landed a kick to her side than sent her tumbling head over heels down the rough incline and into the darkness below.
"Go, Warmonga, retrieve your trophy," Warhok urged, "I already have mine." He wrapped his other hand around his unconscious victim's throat.
After Kim finally came to a stop, she lifted her head slowly and then rose to her bleeding elbows. Sharp rocks surrounded her. She looked about the immediate area for the umbrella, but couldn't find it.
The ground beneath her shook violently then Warmonga was standing above her. The alien raised her glowing staff above her head and aimed it at Kim's.
To be continued ...
Chapter 13: Thirteen
"Stoppable-san," Usui-san cried, grabbing hold of his arm. "Where are you going?"
"I'm going to help Kim," Ron replied incredulously.
"Are you crazy?"
"Crazy? Look, Dude, I am the only one who can take out these guys mano-a-mano. Kim can't do it alone. Even if Karin bit her."
"But you can't even see, Ron-san!" she pleaded. "Listen to Usui-kun."
"I don't need to see!" he snapped. After a second, "Well, okay, I do need someone to point me in the right direction, but once I get there, I'll be able to take 'em down. I'm the only one who can do it!"
"Ron-san, please," Karin begged, "You need to go to a doctor. You can't be serious about fighting those monsters."
"Note serious face," Ron said, pointing to his defiant expression.
When he said this, he had not been looking directly at Karin. What's more, he was a good foot or so taller than she was. So she stepped in front of him, backed up a few steps to align herself more with his would-be line of sight, and, finally, stood on her tiptoes, so she could look him directly in his unseeing right eye.
"Usui-kun," she said a few seconds later, "I think we better do what he says."
"You Earthers have a saying," Warmonga sneered, her merciless yellow eyes brimming. "'Payback' is a furry female quadruped."
As she brought down her staff, a sharp rock struck her right between the eyes. Kim rolled out of the way just as the alien collapsed to the ground.
"No," Kim said as she stood and brushed the dirt from the palm of her throwing hand, "you are."
She turned and began scrambling to the top of the debris pile. However, a sudden howl of anger stopped her in her tracks. Looking over her shoulder, Kim saw the alien warrior already climbing to her feet, more furious than ever.
You have so got to be kidding me!
The fanged Earther's eyes sprang open.
However, Warhok had not taken any chances this time. With both of his hands pressuring her neck, he was able to stifle her frenzied burst of energy as she regained consciousness. Within instants, he could feel the fight dying within her.
He smiled. "You will adorn the Wall of Conquests."
She tried to speak, but only pitiful gurgling noises emanated from her mouth.
"Indeed. You will make a most excellent trophy," he said looking her over with calm satisfaction.
"I-I," she managed weakly. "I'll th-think about that ... as I ... w-watch ... my family ...," and then her tone became suddenly frigid and firm, "Suck. You. Dry."
Warhok's head erupted in pain. As his vision began to cloud, he realized that he was having difficulty breathing. He dropped the Earther as his hands reflexively went to his neck to fight off the powerful arm that was crushing his throat. He futilely clawed and tugged at the arm and turned his head so as to see this new enemy.
For only the second time since he was three sorbecks old, Worhok was frightened. The eyes were magma, and the fangs were as long as a Thorgoggle's. And the voice ... the voice was a howl from the base of a volcano.
"HOW DARE YOU TOUCH MY MOTHER!"
Within seconds, Worhok's body was airborne. The formidable space marauder, however, was not concerned by his sudden flight; he had already lost consciousness.
"Mommy! Mommy, are you all right?!" the tall vampire asked as he rushed to Elda. She sat on the ground, trying to catch her breath.
"Don't even!" she cried, turning the full red blast of her gaze against him. "What the HELL took you so long, Henry?! That idiot almost killed me!"
"I got here as fast as I could," he protested. "Are you okay?"
"Of course, I'm okay!" she snapped, leaping to her feet. Then she gave the top of the mound and the sky a few disapproving glances. "Let me guess, she isn't coming?"
Henry, who was still quite concerned about his mother's well being and the nasty bruise on her neck, had only half-heard the question. "Huh? I'm sorry?"
"Your worthless wife," she yelled. "Where is she?"
The alien's outraged cry as she erupted over the edge of the hill caught them both by surprise.
As she tried to put some distance between herself and the rampaging alien warrior, Kim tripped and fell. As she staggered back to her feet, she discovered that she had tripped over the umbrella. She snatched it up and made ready to fend off Warmonga's first strike.
A strike that never came. Warmonga was standing perfectly still with a lost look on her face. "Warhok," she uttered softly as her head slowly pivoted to the right.
Kim glanced in the direction of the alien's gaze and witnessed Warhok's body plummeting to earth some twenty yards from the mound.
Warmonga violently shoved Kim aside and charged up the hill, her plasma staff glowing.
Kim got to her feet and chased after her. When she saw the alien reach the cusp of the hill, she tried to scream a warning to whoever might have been up there. Unfortunately, her warning was drowned out by the alien's thunderous battle cry.
Which was followed by a terrible blast.
And then Kim witnessed Warmonga's body as it flew through the air, plummeted, and tumbled to earth some twenty yards from the mound.
She jumped when a small object impacted the ground some three feet from where she stood. It throbbed with an incandescent pink for a second or two. Kim peered through the steam clouds the object was emitting. To say that she was unprepared for what she found would have been an understatement.
It was a fuzzy, pink slipper.
"You were saying, Elda?" Calera Marker asked with unveiled contempt.
The distasteful fact that she had just saved her mother-in-law from a brutal attack was mitigated by the consequence that she had also saved her husband from the same threat. Furthermore, she could rub the last-second rescue in Elda's face for as many years to come as she wished.
Elda glowered for a second but then replied breezily, "Oh, nothing, nothing at all, Armash."
"Don't try to bait me, Mother Dear," her suddenly rigid daughter-in-law warned, "this is not the time. Where is Karin?"
"She's safe," Kim said as she reached the top of the hill. "Usui-san took her in that direction," she continued, pointing to the west. "They were going for help and to get a safe distance from the fighting."
The elegantly-dressed vampire turned and smiled at Kim. "Well, that's good to hear." Then her smile and eyes grew hard and dangerous. "And who might you be?"
At once, several things struck Kim about the vampire who had just addressed her. First, she noticed how similar the woman's platinum hair and pale skin tone were to those of Maaka-san's little sister. Second, like her friend's grandmother, this vampire's fashion sense was contemporary: she was wearing a low-cut red dress with heels. Third, Kim picked up a confident vibe coming from the vampire, very self-assured, almost haughty. Finally, Kim noticed that, much like the grandmother's, the fangs of this vampire were quite longer than Maaka-san's.
This final observation drove home the unsettling fact that Kim was the only one present who did not have fangs.
At least not yet.
"I'm-" Kim began.
"She's just another one of Karin's human friends," Elda interrupted with a dismissive gesture.
"Oh, really?" the other vampire called over her shoulder while keeping her colorless eyes upon Kim. "And you haven't tried to kill her yet?"
Kim so did not like the direction the conversation was going.
"Ho! Ho! I guess we mellow after passing the second century mark, eh, Elda?" she continued in a mocking tone. Then as the vampire looked over Kim, who was covered in cuts and scratches, her expression changed almost to concern. In a hushed voice, she asked Kim, "She didn't try to kill you, did she?"
Before Kim could reply, she felt the hair on the back of her neck stand straight up. There was an imposing third vampire suddenly at her elbow. As she looked up at the ominous, towering, caped figure, she mentally checked off every cliché from every vampire movie she and Ron had ever watched together: black hair, bone-white pallor, gaunt features, remorseless eyes. She continued to stand her ground, but she couldn't suppress an anxious gulp as his ferocious glare bore into her.
Raising a thick eyebrow above his piercing right eye, he asked finally, "Kim … Possible?"
He quickly swooped down on his knees and engulfed her right hand with both of his.
"I'm Karin's father, Henry," he said pleasantly. "I've seen you on television."
Kim's attention immediately focused on the ridiculously long fingernails he had. Fortunately, he had taken up her hand in such a way that his … well … "claws" were posing no danger to her. In fact, she was surprised by how smooth and soft the skin of his hands felt.
"This is a great honor," he continued, shaking her hand in an anxious, overly-friendly manner.
"My … my pleasure," Kim said after a moment.
He suddenly dropped her hand. "Are you-" he started as he pointed to her tattered uniform. "Do you work for Julian now?"
"Well-," she began.
"That's fantastic!" he beamed. "My daughter is a big fan of yours, Miss Possible!"
"Really? Well-" Kim forced a smile. Henry's demeanor was so not what she expected from a vampire. She got the definite impression that the seven foot Dracula look-alike was about to ask her for an autograph.
"Calera!" he called, looking toward the vampire in red. "It's Kim Possible! Don't you recognize her?" He then added helpfully, "From television?"
As the other vampire looked over Kim's person once more, Henry took the opportunity for an introduction.
"This is Karin's mother, Calera, my wife." he explained cheerfully.
After a second or two, a vague flash of recognition crossed Calera's face. "Ahh, yes! I have seen you before. You and your boyfriend are always fighting that green floozy and her blue buffoon."
The only time Warmonga's head had pounded more intensely had been when it had collided with the Star Razer as their attempt to conquer Earth came to an unsatisfactory conclusion. That headache had lasted several moon cycles. With difficulty, she raised her head and blinked open her large eyes to discover that she and her companion, who was glowering up at the stars, were entangled in the branches of the same tree they had both landed against earlier.
Warhok angrily thrashed his arm against the bare branches that surrounded them. That was a mistake; he winced and held his wounded arm close to his chest. He brushed aside Warmonga's subsequent gesture of aid and stared at the figures atop the remains of the Earthers' structure.
"There are four of them now," he uttered flatly. He punctuated the statement with a sigh.
Warmonga gasped. She had never heard Warhok sigh before-it was almost as if he was ... having doubts. As she searched for something to say, her eyes fell upon ...
"The drone," she stated.
"Frackle!" they cried in unison. "Why didn't we activate it previously?"
"Drachrid!" Warmonga said cheerfully. "You are indebted to me for one Letzel!"
"Fine." Warhok grunted. Then he smiled. "Once our conquest is complete, you shall have you Letzel."
"By any chance," Calera asked, looking intently at Kim, "did my daughter bite you?"
"Yes!" Kim exclaimed. She blushed, but then continued on as steadily as she could. "Actually, I have a couple of questions about that."
"What would you like to know?" Henry asked.
Still slightly unbalanced by Maaka-san's father's friendly and un-vampire-ish manner towards her, Kim hesitated two seconds before voicing her most pressing concern.
Unfortunately, two seconds was long enough for Elda to swoop over and strike her son violently across the back of his head.
"HENRY!" she screamed. "Are you insane?!"
"Mommy!" he wailed in pain.
"I would hope that I raised you well enough not to volunteer revealing secrets to humans!"
"Elda, we have no choice but to take her into our confidences," Calera reasoned calmly. "Obviously, too much time has passed since Karin bit her for us to erase only those memories."
"Unless you've forgotten," Elda responded, her crimson eyes glowing, "I'm the head of this family ... Armash!"
"Stop calling me by my maiden name!" Calera exploded in response.
Due to the nature of the household in which she had been raised, Kim always felt slightly uncomfortable around families that were less ... "functional" than her own. This was even more the case when the dysfunctional family in question was a family of vampires.
"My mother's not exactly … fond of humans, I'm afraid," Henry explained with a forced smile as his mother and wife loudly raged at each from only a few feet behind him. "What did you wish to know?"
"Uh," Kim started, still more than a little distracted by the on-going violent confrontation a few feet away. "Well, I wanted … well, since your daughter, since Karin bit me, does that mean I'm going to become-"
"Watch what you say, girl!" Elda snapped, turning her full attention back to Kim.
She angrily marched toward Kim, ranting as she did so. "I was this close," Elda held up her clawed fingers to indicate, "'this' close to almost tolerating you, human! And now you go and prove that you're as stupid and arrogant as the rest of your species!"
"Mother!" Henry protested, stepping between them. "Of course she's going to ask about that! It's a widely-held human myth."
Elda ignored her son and shouted over his shoulder at Kim, "If you get bitten by a dog, do you grow a tail? If it's a mosquito, do you spout wings?" Then she exploded, "We are NOT a DISEASE!"
Her cry was swallowed by the din of the Lorwardian drone coming to life.
"Oh! Mama and Papa are here!" Karin Maaka exclaimed.
Kenta and Maaka were slowly guiding Stoppable-san back through the maze of debris that had once been Julian. Kenta had urged his girlfriend to stay behind, but she had tearfully refused to leave his side. Although he didn't feel comfortable leaving her alone, it was much preferable to leading her into the eye of the storm. To make matters worse, he wasn't so sure about Stoppable-san.
Although he honestly believed that Possible-san's boyfriend possessed special abilities-how could he not if he routinely helped her save the world-he was not wholly convinced of his "Mystical Monkey Power" claim. It sounded too much like something somebody would say after getting socked in the head with a sack of rice.
"Your parents are here?" Stoppable-san asked.
"Uh-huh. They're standing right below the aliens' machine," she said pointing to the small figures some thirty meters away. She grimaced when she remembered that Stoppable-san couldn't see what she was pointing to or even that she was pointing at all.
"What's going on?" he asked. "Can you see Kim?"
"Uh …," she said squinting at the far-off figures. "Yes!" she announced. "Possible-san's there, too. So's Grandma."
"Okay," he replied somewhat nervously. "What are they doing?"
"They look like they're just talking," Kenta said.
"And I don't see those aliens," Maaka reported. "Maybe they already beat them." She gave Stoppable-san's right hand a reassuring squeeze.
"Uh-oh!" she said suddenly.
"Uh-oh? What do you mean? What's happening?!" he cried.
"Grandma just hit Papa." she explained.
A few seconds later, "And now Mama and Grandma are fighting."
"Sounds pretty normal," Kenta said with a forced chuckle. "Maybe they did already defeat the Lorwardians."
The hydraulic whine of the drone's four gigantic legs stopped them cold.
"Or maybe not." Kenta admitted.
"Oh man," Stoppable-san groaned. "There's no way that sound bodes well."
As the drone's legs sprung out from the impact site and drove their talon-shaped ends into fresh earth, Elda and Calera took to the air.
"Why are these pathetic monsters so dependent on their toys?" Elda snarked as she easily flew out of the path of one of its legs.
The force the leg's impact sent Kim to her knees. She climbed to her feet and was about to run when two hands slipped beneath her arms and bore her up into the air.
"Are you okay?" Henry asked once they soared to a safe distance.
Kim turned her head to face the vampire who had just rescued her and nodded. "Yes, thanks, Maaka-san."
"Actually, it's Marker," he explained, "only the children have adopted the Japanese version of our name."
"Oh, really?" she asked, slightly distracted. "Look out!"
A barrage of green laser blasts hurtled sharply toward them from the left.
Kim snapped open Elda's umbrella and deflected the radiating plasma shots with ease.
"Well done," Henry remarked appreciatively and then yelped as one of the drone's appendages was suddenly right upon them.
He swooped out of the path of the mechanical leg at the last second. It impacted the trunks of two trees at the edge of the parking lot. Their trunks cracked, sending their upper sections into the air.
"Remind me how you defeated these things last Spring, Miss Possible," Henry said with growing concern.
"Well … vampires wouldn't happen to have the power to control giant mutant flowers, would they?" she replied doubtfully.
Henry didn't respond at first. On the topic of human myths concerning vampires, he thought he had heard it all. "That's a new one."
As Kenta Usui was debating which bit of cover was the least dangerous for the trio to hide behind, the top of a tree smashed to the ground some ten feet ahead of them and began tumbling end over end directly toward them. Kenta pulled Stoppable-san out of its path, but his girlfriend was so petrified that she couldn't move.
"Look out, Maaka!" Kenta cried.
At the last second, the dark mass of her grandmother's bats descended upon the tree and carried it safely away from her.
Kenta and she exhaled relieved sighs. After a beat, Stoppable-san, in blind sympathy, released one as well.
"Maaka!" Kenta yelled as he caught sight of a second treetop catapulting through the air toward his girlfriend.
A dark shape bolted from the shadows, snatched hold of her hand, and pulled her from the spiraling tree's path to the safety of a tangle of dining tables.
Karen and her boyfriend once again breathed sighs of relief.
"What just happened, guys ... uh, twice?" Stoppable-san asked.
Kenta called out. "Are you okay, Maaka?"
"I'm fine," she nodded and then looked about for her rescuer. "Yono-san!" she cried, throwing her arms about the simian. "You saved me! Thank you so so much!"
The monkey rudely squirmed from her grasp. However, before she could feel hurt, he extended his neck beneath her right hand. And then looked up at her expectantly.
"Oh!" she said, realizing. "I'm sorry, Yono-san." She began scratching furiously behind his ears.
Kenta watched his girlfriend and the monkey for a long moment. "Maaka," he began finally, "maybe you should get to a safe distance with Yono-san. I'll take Stoppable-san from here."
"Usui-kun?" she looked up in alarm.
"It's too dangerous," he said firmly. "I don't want anything to happen to you. Just keep trying to reach Load-san."
"Okay," she nodded, unconsciously biting her lip.
Yono took her hand in both of his and began moving it back and forth in an attempt to get her to continue her ministrations upon his neck.
"Oh man!" Ron exclaimed.
"What?" his friends cried in unison.
"I just realized what this reminds me of! Zombie Mayhem Seven: Zombie Trek!"
"Excuse me?" Kenta asked, now fully certain that the rice sack had done more than just give Stoppable-san a black eye.
"Don't you see?" Stoppable-san explained, looking a little to Kenta's left. "The Undead getting into a knock-down drag-out with some hard-core aliens!"
"Ron-san," Maaka said tentatively, "we … uh … aren't really 'undead.'"
"Well … yeah, but still you see where I'm going with this, right?"
Maaka and the monkey both shook their heads.
"Actually, Stoppable-san," Kenta admitted, "I don't think we do."
"This time," Stoppable-san affirmed with a broad grin, "the aliens are gonna get their biscuits handed to them!"
"Dammit!" Elda growled.
Dodging through a barrage of blasts from a laser turret located at the base of the Lorwardian drone, Maaka-san's grandmother had attempted to dismantle one of its four legs by hand. However, the lacerations she easily dug into the machine's surface did not last. Within seconds, a light green glow surrounded the damaged metal of the device which subsequently smoothed over back into a seamless surface. Angrily, the vampire had torn larger holes into the metal only to watch them self-repair as well.
Overhead, Calera wasn't having any better luck. She had aimed two charges directly at the ugly crest on the drone's top to no discernible effect. Moving out of the way of an incoming laser blast, she spied Elda flying from the machine's underbelly in disgust. "Where are your familiars?" she called.
"Where are yours?" Elda growled.
Calera dodged another blast from the drone and then took a temper-saving breath before she answered. "Maintaining a boundary around the area, of course. This battle would most definitely attract humans. Where are yours?"
"Protecting Karin," Elda snapped. "I thought somebody in the family should."
"Please! Stop fighting!" Henry begged, swooping in next to his wife with Kim still in tow.
"Do you have any ideas?" Calera asked, shooting a look to Kim.
"Ron would be able to take down this thing, no problem," Kim explained, "but he's ... temporarily unavailable."
"So what are we supposed to do?" Elda groused, "Just-" she dodged another blast from the drone. "Stop that!" she screamed at the aliens' machine. "Just keep this damn thing busy until Anju arrives?"
Since Kim had, for the most part, just been along for the ride, she had had ample opportunity over the past few minutes to scrutinize the alien machine's movements. Her attention kept retuning to the turret on the device's underside. Something about it reminded Kim of her brief imprisonment upon the aliens' mother ship the previous spring.
"I've got an idea," she said.
With each passing moment, it was becoming clearer to Warmonga that the doubt she had sensed in her companion had been an illusion.
In fact, now that they had sequestered themselves securely and their new battle tactics were proving fruitful, she sensed a familiar level of confidence radiating from Warhok that suggested victory was within their grasp. As she watched him maneuver the drone via the small remote device, she smiled to herself, recalling similar pleasant instances from their past.
"Has your temperament undergone a positive gradient change?" Warmonga asked warmly, placing her hand on his shoulder.
"Excuse me?" he asked, distracted. He did not turn to face her.
"Pay me no heed," she sighed, removing her hand.
"Did you utter something?" he asked turning his head slightly.
"Negative," she snorted.
"What was your request?" he asked with a show of concern, reluctantly taking his eyes from the battle.
"It is not of primary import," she answered testily.
"If you'll restate your inquiry once more," he said with an all-too-familiar edge. "Tadzimas!" He swiftly corrected the drone's uneven positioning and then asked through gritted teeth, "Can this not wait until victory is achieved?"
"Assuredly," she replied and crossed her arms.
Like the laser cannon she and Drakken had faced aboard the Lorwardians' mother ship, the one on the underside of the drone was motion-sensitive. Kim hoped that if the vampires coordinated their flight paths in simultaneous yet conflicting patterns it would "confuse" the weapon's guidance programming. With a little luck, the drone might nail itself with one of its blasts.
Kim's guess seemed to pay off after only a few passes. Not being able to lock onto one particular target for any considerable period, the gun's blasts became erratic and wildly off target.
Prior to executing the plan, Henry had suggested putting Kim down somewhere for her own safety. A brief survey of the smoking remains of the parking lot beneath the Lorwardian device's churning legs, however, had made it clear to both of them that if there was a safe place nearby, it was not on the ground.
"So," Kim said as she and Henry completed another sweep and dodged another ill-aimed volley, "I assume I'm not going to become a vampire."
"Oh, no," he replied with a smile. "Vampires and humans are different species. That just can't happen."
She exhaled deeply.
"But then," she asked, "why do I feel so different now?"
"Well," Henry said after a moment, "that's kind of hard to explain, but the side-effects of our bites are only temporary. You shouldn't worry about it."
"But," she persisted, "I still don't get it. Why do I feel so energized if Karin drank my blood?"
"What?" Henry paused in mid-air.
A very close blast from the cannon and an angry cry from Calera as she flew past them from the other direction put Henry's head back in the game.
"My daughter did not drink your blood, Miss Possible," he stated as they regained speed and altitude.
"No, she is … unique … in many ways." He explained, "She does not burn in sunlight, she can't erase memories, she gets her nourishment from human food." He gave a weak laugh. "In fact, if it wasn't for her blood increasing, she'd practically be human."
"Excuse me-blood increasing?"
Her plane of vision suddenly changed to green, followed by a loud crash. However, once Kim's eyesight cleared, she realized the cannon had missed them and instead hit one of the drone's own legs directly in front of them.
"Spankin'!" Kim cried.
Warmonga cursed to herself as the explosion's fiery plume engulfed the drone's leg. She waited for a thunderous exclamation of disgust from her fellow warrior. But none was forthcoming.
When she turned to face Warhok, she was shocked to discover his head bowed. From where she stood, she could not discern his expression. She caught her breath and tried to argue away the unthinkable intimations such a posture conveyed.
Surely these Earthers have not broken the spirit of Warhok?
Karin anxiously paced up and down the darkened corner; three meters or so overhead, her grandmother's colony of bats mirrored her every step.
"Come on, come one, come on!" she pleaded, staring into the Kimmunicator's screen. She was carrying it in both hands because she had been unable to get it strapped to her small wrist without it sliding off and landing on the ground.
A few minutes earlier, the static that had continuously filled the display unexpectedly ceased for a half second. She was now retracing her steps to try and relocate this break in the aliens' jamming network.
Finally, as she teetered on the corner's edge, the static faded and a fuzzy image began to emerge. While trying to maintain her precarious balance, Karin lowered and raised the device in an attempt to improve the signal. Unfortunately, it seemed to only get better the higher she positioned it. Holding the device above her head and balancing on the edge of the street on the side of her left foot, Karin found herself staring into the anxious, confused eyes of Wade Load.
"Load-san?" she asked.
"Uh, yes, hello?" He replied.
"Oh, hi, I'm Karin Maaka and I'm friends with Ron-san. And Possible-san, too … I hope."
"Ok, cool," Wade nodded rapidly, "What happened? Is everyone okay?"
"Those aliens attacked the restaurant," Karin explained.
"Yeah, I think it was them."
"I was afraid of that. Is everyone okay?"
"I-I think so," Karin answered as she lost her balance and subsequently the signal. Quickly, she got back on the corner's edge, regained the signal, and continued. "Everyone's fine, well … Ron-san's blind, but he should be okay."
"Did you just say that Ron was blind?" Wade asked in alarm.
"Yeah," she nodded sadly, "he got hit with a sack of rice, but Usui-my boyfriend-says he should be all right."
"That's good to hear. Is your boyfriend a doctor, a nurse?" Wade asked.
"No," Karin shook her head, "he's a waiter."
"Oh, okay," Wade said uncomfortably. "Uh, can I speak with Kim?"
"Well, Possible-san's not here," Karin said right before losing her balance again. Once she restored the signal, she explained, "She went to help my grandmother fight the aliens."
Wade didn't say anything for a moment.
"Load-san? Can you still hear me?"
He nodded slowly. "So, okay, your grandmother is fighting the Lorwardians with Kim?"
Karin nodded and then went pale. Due to the excitement of the past half hour, she had momentarily forgotten that not everyone's grandmother could fly or shoot high-powered beams of energy from their palms. Not everyone's grandmother was a vampire, after all.
Wade shook his head. "Karin, I was hoping you might be able to help me."
"Sure, Load-san, sure," she said quickly, glad that he had not pursued her slip about her grandmother.
"GJ has already dispatched units to the location," he explained.
"Yes, but for some strange reason, … they can't find it."
"What? They can't find Julian?" Karin lowered the Kimmunicator for a moment and began to search her apron pockets for a spare notepad with Julian's address stenciled at the top. Realizing her mistake, she raised the device back to the proper height and explained, "W-well, I have the address if-"
"No, no, I already have that," he explained quickly. "I was able to pinpoint the location from the transmissions I received earlier in the evening from Kim. It's just that when the agents arrived at the address, they didn't … see it. They didn't see anything, in fact."
He explained to her blank expression, "Once they landed, it was almost like they were in some kind of fog. Agent Du even got out of his craft and searched on foot, but he only ended up walking in circles. So I was wondering if you could try finding him and maybe …"
Karin lowered her head in thought as Load-san explained the baffling situation.
"The boundary!" she exclaimed suddenly. "The familiars-that must be the reason!"
"Boundary? Familiars? What do you mean?"
"Uhhhhh." Karin felt like she was going to faint.
How could I be so stupid! What do I say, what do I say?
"Oh, uh … nothing," she said, giving him a very unconvincing smile.
"No," Wade urged, "you said something about a boundary. What did you mean by that?"
"Uh, I meant this wall," she said, pointing vaguely to the left. "It's a kind of boundary … and it looks … familiar, too. To me, that is. That's what I meant. Heh-heh." Sensing that her ruse wasn't going over too well, she desperately added, "Maybe you misunderstood what I said because of the noise from the bats." She was holding the Kimmunicator up fairly high, so it would not have surprised her if a few faint squeaks from her grandmother's bats were coming through on his end.
"Bats?" Wade asked. "What bats?"
Karin dropped the Kimmunicator. It bounced along the curb as she clumsily chased after it.
"Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!" she cried in the darkness.
I'm terrible at keeping secrets, why do I have to be responsible for so many?!
After picking up the device and walking slowly back to the corner, Karin decided that she would just tell Load-san that bats were common in this part of the city, especially at this time of the year.
He had a very uncomfortable expression on his face when the static cleared.
"I don't mean to be rude or anything, but is there someone else around I could speak to?"
"Well, … it's just me and Yono-san."
"Yono-san?" Wade asked and then paused. "Do you mean Yono? Yono the Destroyer?"
"Yeah," she nodded looking around, "he's right … well, he was right here."
Wade didn't know quite what to think when the girl began calling to the powerful villain as if he were a lost dog. Finally, he interrupted her search. "Karin?"
"I wonder what happened to his leash?" she said absently.
"Karin?" Wade repeated.
"Um, I'm going to try GJ again and see if they've had any luck. I'll buzz you back later," he smiled weakly, "if I need to."
"Sure, no problem, uh, I mean-no big!" she smiled and waved.
He politely waved back before killing the transmission.
As Kim watched the drone's cannon retract back into the belly of the machine, a blast crackled in the air past them. And then they heard the scream.
"Calera!" Henry cried as his wife's form tumbled from the sky.
The air crackled a second time.
"Look out-" Kim began, but Henry was struck in the shoulder before she could finish.
As she spiraled down through empty space, Kim lost her grip on the umbrella.
"As I argued at the Mlordockian Tribunal," Warhok said to Warmonga with grim satisfaction as the mini ion cannon that was fitted conveniently around his right ear began to recharge, "'hands-free' is the correct path to follow."
As she plummeted to the ground, Kim reflexively went to activate the grappler on the Kimmunicator.
The Kimmunicator that she had given to Maaka-san.
Although her mind and body still hummed with the same inexplicably positive sensation, Kim knew the rapidly approaching ground would certainly dampen her mood.
"This is so going to tank!" she muttered as she closed her eyes and braced for the impact.
For a second time, Kim felt herself borne up into the night. She had been caught under her shoulders and knees and was being carried safely through the air. Her sense of relief, however, was seriously reduced when she opened her eyes and saw the face of her rescuer.
"So," the young man smirked, "we meet again."
"Yes," Kim replied flatly after a moment. "Thanks." Her disgust at being in the arms of the sleazy customer from table fourteen was short-lived, however.
Considering everything else that's happened to me tonight, I shouldn't be too surprised by this.
Once they had flown a relatively safe distance from the damaged but still dangerous drone, the young man stopped short next to an unlit lamppost and hovered in place.
"I don't believe we've been properly introduced," he said smoothly, his unblinking eyes fixed upon Kim's.
"You're right," Kim smiled evenly.
"I'm Ren." He looked her over slowly, unabashedly. "It's a pleasure."
"Wait, don't tell me," Kim said holding up her hands. "You're Karin's creepy uncle, right?"
Her remark produced the desired effect.
"What?" The young man's cool composure evaporated. "Her UNCLE?! I'm only five years older than her!"
"SHOT DOWN, BIG TIME!" an obnoxious voice bellowed behind them, "HAHAHAHAHA!"
As she twisted her head around to locate the source of the obscene chortle, a second voice, barely above a whisper, spoke at her elbow. "Possible-san."
Maaka-san's little sister was standing three feet to their right. Although her doll was quaking with hideous delight, the young girl was completely still, her small feet balanced upon the top of the lamppost.
"I have never heard a human woman speak to Big Brother in such a manner," the girl continued in her soft monotone. She turned her head slightly and regarded Kim with the faintest of smiles. "I am impressed."
"Calera! Calera!" Henry Marker cried as he ran to the spot where his wife's body lay.
He clutched his right arm to his side; the burning sensation that ran along its length was still bitterly intense. However, the pain kept his mind off what he feared he might find upon reaching his beloved's side.
She had rolled to a stop next to the pair of trees that had been severed by the aliens' machine. He fell to his knees and quickly brushed the tangle of hair from her pale face.
She was breathing.
Henry felt his chin begin to quiver and pinched his wound sharply. This was not the time to lose it emotionally; he had to be strong and get Calera out of danger. He cradled her over his knees. Fortunately, the agony of lifting her with his damaged arm secured him through a couple of rough moments where he would have otherwise dissolved into tears. He stood and prepared to ascend when his eyes brushed across the expression upon her reposed face.
It had been decades since she had looked so peaceful. Even on the occasions when she smiled at him, there was always some inner fury or turmoil beading within her eyes, working just behind her lips.
Suddenly he was overcome with nostalgia for a night some ten or so years after their marriage. He had been with her in the darkness of his coffin. She had been sleeping in his arms, snuggling in fact. He had smiled down at her and had tried to keep the giddiness in his chest from radiating to the rest of his body. This effort had failed and he had clumsily bit his tongue. His subsequent yelp had stirred her to furious consciousness.
Before this memory could fade, tears were streaming down both of his cheeks and running off the tip of his pointed beard. And onto his wife's face.
She winced as they landed against her skin. Then one went into her eye.
She blinked open her eyes and looked disdaining at her weeping husband. "Man up, Henry!" she yelled. "You're not a widower yet!" She hauled back and slapped him hard on his right shoulder.
His wail of pain as he dropped her was sufficiently overshadowed by her howl of anger as she landed on the ground.
"Your parents!" Kim cried as Henry and Calera's shrill voices echoed across the parking lot.
"Don't worry about them," Elda snapped, "they're fine. Fine as they ever are, anyway."
Elda's sudden appearance had startled Kim, but, she noticed, not as badly as it had startled the vampire's grandson. In fact, when Elda subsequently placed her hand on his shoulder, Ren began trembling so violently that Kim was afraid he might drop her.
"Okay, Anju," her grandmother nodded as she knocked aside another blast from the Lorwardian's machine with her retrieved umbrella, "unleash your bats."
"Of course, grandma," Anju said. The amber hue in the young girl's eyes glowed and her pupils split vertically like a cat's.
For an instant, Kim thought she was going crazy because when she glanced up at the night sky, it appeared as if all the stars had turned bright red. A moment later she was certain she had lost it because they had all started to move.
Then the night erupted into a cacophony of multitudinous squeaks and the flaps of nightwings. Kim caught her breath. What she had taken for the sky had actually been a black canopy created by an enormous colony of bats that were hovering a hundred feet or so above their position.
The colony swirled past them toward the drone. Its black mass swarmed about the alien device so completely that within seconds not an inch of it could be seen.
Kenta was leading Stoppable-san in a path around the edge of what had once been the street Julian had been situated upon. The area resembled a war zone.
Although it went against every instinct he had, Kenta had initially tried to pick his way toward the aliens' drone, assuming that Stoppable-san planned to unleash his "Monkey Powers" upon the gigantic machine. Fortunately, when Stoppable-san realized this was their course, he urgently requested that they change direction. Stoppable-san had then explained that he needed to find the aliens themselves, not their machine.
"That thing's just one mondo-huge distraction," he explained.
"Are you sure?"
"Trust me, Dude," Ron had said confidently. "I know all about that game."
To break the extreme tension of walking blind through a battle zone and to brush away the awkwardness that hovered between them, Ron decided to play the "friendly banter card" with his friend's boyfriend.
"So, uh, Usui-san, are you a gamer?" he whispered.
"A gamer? I'm sorry…" his companion whispered back.
"Do you play video games? You know, like Zombie Mayhem?"
"No. I've never played one."
"Really? Never?" Ron shook his head sympathetically. "I'm sorry, man." After a brief moment. "Hey! Do you watch wrestling? I hear its really big in Japan."
"No. My mother and I don't have a television anymore."
"Oh … sorry."
In desperation, Ron considered bringing up school as a possible topic for conversation. He realized this would, however, create two problems. One, since Usui-san took some of the same classes Kim did, Ron knew he couldn't dream of understanding anything that he would say. Two, the topic also opened the door for Usui-san to ask Ron how his "college" work was going. Of course, "college" meant Yamanouchi, and the school's code strictly forbid Ron discussing any of his "studies."
Then he realized that the one thing he really had in common with Usui-san was the person who was the reason for their acquaintance in the first place.
"Oh! That's right-Karin!" Ron exclaimed.
"Shhh!" Usui-san admonished as loudly as he dared.
"Oh, my bad!" Ron apologized quietly.
"What about Maaka?" Usui-san whispered.
"How did you guys meet up?"
"Well, we met in high school. I transferred in the middle of the semester when my mother and I moved here. Maaka was actually the first person I met."
"Cool, cool." Ron nodded. "So, uh, when did you know?"
"When did I know?"
"You know, that Karin was … different."
"Well," Usui-san laughed, "I've always known she was different. The first time we met, she passed out."
"Yeah, those first few days, she ran away every time she saw me." The smile on his face was very easy to hear. "And the look on her face that first night in Julian when she realized that we would be working together."
"Was she running away because of that 'blood surging' thing?"
"Yes, but even after seeing one of her nosebleeds," he explained, "I still had no idea what was really going on."
"When did you first think she was a vampire?"
"Well, I guess I suspected right after she bit my mom."
"What?!" Stoppable-san cried. "She bit your mom?"
"Shh!" Usui-san admonished. "She didn't know she was biting my mother," he explained in a rapid whisper. He then paused. "Yeah, that was when I started getting really worried."
"That she'd chomp on you next?" Ron offered.
"Oh no, I wasn't scared of Maaka," Usui-san laughed, "I don't think I could be." He grew serious. "No, I was worried because my mom changed afterwards. She started acting like another person. That was when I knew I had to find out who or what Maaka was."
Ron was starting to worry himself. Even though he had already learned from Karin that most of what he had heard about vampires wasn't true, he had been more than a little freaked out when Karin had admitted that she had bitten Kim. And now Usui-san was saying that his mother had become "another person" when Karin had bitten her. The troubling fact was he really didn't know what effect his friend's blood might have on his BFGF.
"Uh, Usui-san," Ron said rubbing the back of his neck. "What do you mean your mother became another person?"
"Well, she started behaving strangely … you know, different than I had ever seen her act before."
"Well, for starters, she was happy."
"Something's wrong," Anju stated.
"What do you mean?" her brother asked, more than slightly surprised.
"They are unable to penetrate or alter the machine," she explained calmly.
All four watched as waves of bats began to slough off the sides of the drone and swarm back to newly clear spots on its surface only to lose their grip and fall once again.
"How can this be?" her grandmother protested. "They should have torn it to shreds by now!"
As Kim watched the bats' futile struggle, she remembered something Jack Hench had said earlier. "The biological code," she muttered. "Shoot! That's got to be it."
"What are you saying, human?" Elda demanded.
"The drone has some kind of biological lock on it," Kim explained, "it can only be operated and … manipulated, I guess, by someone with DNA from its home planet."
"No way!" Ren fumed.
"Unfortunately, yes way," Kim groused.
"Wait," Elda said scanning the ground, "where are those two green idiots?"
"I've been thinking along those same lines," Kim said. "This whole drone sitch has a major distraction feel to it."
"Keep us busy, so they can pick us off with ease?" Ren offered.
"Or maybe something even worse," Kim added darkly.
Elda was about to accost Kim over what could be worse than killing her family when a blast suddenly struck midway up the lamppost sending its top half crashing to the pavement.
"They're not very good shots, are they?" Anju asked, her position remained unchanged despite the destruction of the lamppost she had been perched upon.
"That didn't come from their machine," Elda said as she scanned the perimeter of the parking lot, her fists clenching rhythmically.
"No," Anju agreed, "It came from other there." She pointed to a dark, debris strewn corner of the parking lot.
Elda smiled and laid her hand upon her grandson's shoulder. "Hand the human over to Anju, Ren. You and your grandma need to go on a visit."
Shaking beneath his grandmother's touch, Ren reluctantly passed Kim toward his little sister.
"No, wait!" Kim said.
"Don't worry, human," Elda said rolling her eyes, "Anju will look after you just fine."
"No," Kim said shaking her head, "you shouldn't put any more members of your family at risk!"
Elda stared back at her.
Kim could feel the vampire's crimson eyes regarding her with a mixture of contempt and something similar to, but less charitable than, pity.
Finally, Elda spoke, "We're not doing this for your benefit."
"I know that," Kim replied. "But the Lorwardians are."
"What do you mean?"
"They attacked the restaurant to get to me and Ron. They didn't know Karin and your family even existed. Let me go with you."
Elda floated in heavy thought and then nodded. "I agree. All of this is your fault."
Kim closed her eyes.
"But how do you expect to help?" Maaka-san's grandmother pushed.
"You'll need a distraction." Kim explained.
Elda raised an eyebrow.
"And I have worked with the best."
Warhok's good humor over his propitious foresight at the Mlordockian Tribunal concerning hands-free weaponry was short lived. The hands-free device in question had sub-standard aiming past a certain radius. And the cowardly Earthers had decided to remain beyond this distance. Furthermore, the mini-ion cannon was slow to charge between blasts. The frustration was beginning to show on him.
"I fail to see how that will improve the weapon's performance," Warmonga reasoned after he slammed his open palm against the small weapon-and the side of his head. "Or yours," she added.
When she saw his shoulders sag, she immediately regretted she had spoken so critically. She had never witnessed him display such behavior. She feared what it might import.
Not without reason.
"Is this drone equipped with WDM's?" he asked in a frigid tone.
The shock his question caused her could only be partially hidden from him.
Is he serious?
"Isn't the Neural Atomic Disabler the most painful?" he continued, aggressively ignoring the expression she was presenting him.
"You are serious." Warmonga closed her eyes and shook her head; she had never known her consort to utilize the quick, easy and unchallenging path to planetary conquest before. Devices such as the Treberator or the Annihilatron were perfectly appropriate for a being such as The Great Blue, but decidedly not for a warrior like Warhok. Steeling herself against the disappointment welling inside her, she asked, "Are you certain the situation merits deployment of a World Dominating Munition?"
"Dead certain." His answer was sharp and hollow.
After pondering Kim's offer for a long moment, Elda carelessly waved her hand, "Forget it, human." She quickly raised her eyes to her trembling grandson, "Let's go, Ren."
"What?!" Kim cried.
"Look," Elda said brusquely, "Even with Karin's blood, you're no match for those monsters. If they caught you, you'd be worse than worthless."
"Okay, time out!" Kim demanded. "'Karin's blood'? What does that even mean?" She looked from Elda to Maaka-san's siblings. "Could someone please tell me what is going on?"
"Possible-san," Anju said, laying a cool hand upon her shoulder. "Big Sister is not a normal vampire."
Kim met the girl's unwavering gaze and nodded for her to continue.
"She did not take your blood," Anju explained. "She gave you hers."
To be continued ...
Chapter 14: Fourteen
"Keep your distance, human," Elda stated in a flat, unfriendly tone.
Although Kim didn't personally consider standing over a meter away from someone to be "crowding," she was more than willing to give the unpleasant vampire more space.
They were some twenty meters from the Lorwardians, crouching behind a ramshackle pile composed of melted artificial plants, a booth, and one half of Julian's customer restroom.
"Those two are making me so hungry!" Elda said in a low, disturbing voice.
Kim was not wholly successful in suppressing the shudder her companion's statement produced.
"What?" the vampire asked with clear disdain. "They're my taste. Deal with it."
"Romantic desire," Elda explained. "They're practically glowing with it."
Although Warmonga and Warhok were bickering like an old married couple, Kim so didn't want to contemplate the aliens' romantic lives.
"Taste?" she ventured.
Elda turned to her. "Don't tell me Henry didn't fill you in on that. I would have thought he'd already blabbed about each of our preferences by now."
"No, he didn't tell me."
"Well, I guess you'll just have to ask him, won't you, human?" She turned her attention back to the aliens.
Since Maaka-san had bit her, Kim had been very slow to tweak. This degree of patience was most definitely tied to the exuberant sensation she had been feeling ever since. However, the young vampire's blood that was now flowing through her veins could only dilute certain elements of her natural Kimness, not erase it.
"I have a name," Kim said, a perceptible edge in her voice.
"Most of your species do, I suspect."
"Fine," Kim relented as she tried keeping her head in the game. "It looks as if Warmonga is controlling the device remotely and War—"
"And her man is shooting at my family. Yes, I do have eyes in my head," the vampire stated flatly. "Just explain what you're going to do for me."
Kim counted to five. It was almost like being on a mission with Shego … and Bonnie.
"Okay. The plan is I run out in the open, and then when they come after me, you sneak up behind them and take them out."
After a few seconds, Elda's initial blank look began to smolder. "I brought you along for that?"
"It will work," Kim maintained firmly. "Ron's executed the same plan to perfection more times than I can count." She was keenly aware of the irony in applying the term "perfection" to anything that involved Ron's self-described "dumb skills." Nevertheless, no one could deny his success rate.
"Ron?" Elda raised an eyebrow quizzically, but then nodded with a sense of grave understanding. "Oh, yes, that one." She regarded Kim for a long moment and then spoke in an even, unhurried voice, "Fine. You better be right."
Warmonga was trying to manipulate the drone's controlling device, but her consort's suffocatingly close presence was making that difficult. Whenever she felt Warhok's eyes over her shoulder, she tended to get overly self-conscious and would make mistakes. And this only caused him to intensify his scrutiny, which caused her to make more mistakes, and so on and so on.
"Why must your proximity be so close?" she asked acidly.
Of course, she was also extremely disappointed that he had decided to annihilate their challengers with the use of a world dominating device rather than the honorable method of annihilating them in hand-to-hand combat.
"I shall grant you personal area more sufficient for your needs," he grunted.
He did not move.
"This dormin, if you will," she said a few moments later without looking up.
He grunted again and took a half-step back. Yet he craned his neck so he could still view her fingers playing along the device's surface.
Still not looking from the controller, Warmonga seethed, "Could you decimate something ... elsewhere?"
"Fine!" he snapped. He took five steps back and spun around, his cannon earpiece sending another volley of deadly blasts into the night.
Elda handed her umbrella to Kim.
In the silence that followed, Kim felt as if she had perceived a faint sense of … well, camaraderie, albeit grudgingly given, that flowed from the vampire to herself.
Kim met her companion's gaze.
"Well?" Elda hissed. "Get going!"
Or maybe not.
"The Neural Atomic Disabler is inoperable." Warmonga said coolly as she consulted the drone's controlling device for that status of the WDM's it carried.
"What? How?" Warhok reached for the small device.
She jerked it out of his grasp and explained hotly, "When the turret cannon struck the drone's leg, it damaged the internal …"
"Understood," he said holding up his right hand sharply to silence her. "What about the Treberator?"
"This drone does not come equipped with a Treberator," she hissed with some satisfaction.
"The Annihilator?" he demanded.
"It has self-destructed."
"Are you informing me that all the World Domination Munitions on our last surviving drone have been destroyed?" he asked as firmly as he could manage.
Warmonga sighed and dropped her head. Although it pained her greatly to see her consort descend to such a state, she could not lie to him.
"No?" a smile crept across his lips.
"The Atmosphere Depletion Device remains undamaged."
As she heard the relief and satisfaction in Warhok's voice, Warmonga could not recall ever having felt more defeated.
"What are they waiting for?" Ren grumbled as he watched the Lorwardian machine brush off a fleet of his sister's bats from its damaged leg. "I've got places to go, and it's already after midnight."
Anju was only half-listening to her brother's protests. She was far more intent on the message she was receiving from some of her familiars.
"Big Brother," she said after moment, "something's happening." Her heretofore imperturbable brow furrowed. "Something inside that machine."
"Now what?" Ren cried, turning to face her. As he did so, his eyes caught a figure on the ground some twenty yards behind their location. "Just what we needed!" he sneered. "What does that idiot think she's doing?"
Anju turned her head to follow his gaze. "Big Sister?"
"WHOA! WHAT THE-"
Both Ren and Anju quickly turned back to the alien device. It was now standing perfectly still. And there was now something else, something new resting upon the ground between two of its talons.
"I DON'T KNOW WHAT THAT THING IS," Anju's possessed doll continued, "BUT IT DOESN'T LOOK GOOD."
For a second, Anju thought the alien's weapon had laid an egg. A black egg. This notion quickly passed as the object began to hum and shudder in a decidedly disturbing fashion.
"Boogie-kun," she said. "I agree."
Warmonga set the ADD to commence the de-oxygenation of the planet's atmosphere within one Ztien's time. When Warhok demanded the device be activated immediately, he subsequently killed whatever hope she had remaining of talking him out of his rash and honor-less decision. His evident displeasure when she informed him that the machine required a small period of time before it could grant him "his victory" mitigated her foul mood, but only to a negligible degree.
Suddenly, she noticed a figure shoot between two piles of debris on their immediate right.
"The red-headed Earther," she exclaimed. She ran her finger across a small oval on the lower end of the control and then tossed it over her shoulder.
Warhok fumbled with the device, but stubbornly refused to let it fall to the ground.
"What are you-" he demanded.
"Priorities!" she yelled back.
He grimaced. Once Warmonga was clear, he slid his finger over the same oval on the device and watched his companion chase after the female Earther.
Okay … now what would Ron do?
The first part of Kim's plan had worked … sorta. She had gotten the Lowardians' attention. Now, Warmonga was quickly striding toward her, and although Warhok had not followed suit, his gaze was fixed in Kim's general direction.
Kim sprinted to the relative safety of the nearest stack of debris. She looked over her shoulder just as the alien launched a blast of energy from her staff.
Kim pivoted swiftly on her ankle and swatted the glowing projectile harmlessly into the shadows with Elda's umbrella. A half second after landing back on both feet, she ducked as the nine-foot woman leveled the weapon upon her like a scythe. A quick glance in the alien's phosphorescent eyes told Kim that her attacker was majorly tweaked and meant to hurt something.
Most likely her.
Kim parried a second blow with the umbrella, and then spun out of the way a few seconds later. This last strike connected with the remnants of Julian's customer restroom.
Before turning her attention back to Kim, Warmonga delivered a barrage of furious strikes against the pile of linoleum and enamel. Within seconds, the sink and toilet had been reduced to a fine dust that was settling on both of their heads.
It was clear to Kim that her attacker's rage was not exclusively directed at her person. Regardless, Kim so didn't want to be its recipient, exclusive or otherwise.
Warmonga lunged for Kim with the staff, missing her by only inches.
What would Ron do?
Kim performed a hasty, unbalanced triple flip to avoid a fierce series of blasts from the alien's deadly weapon.
Ron would run. Now.
"Karin?" Calera asked, turning around swiftly. The relief she felt at seeing her eldest daughter safe and unharmed only slightly mitigated the anger and irritation the same sight produced. Even after her daughter threw her arms around her in a warm embrace, she still wanted to smack the little fool sharply across her head. There only thing was that she, strangely, did not have her slipper.
"Oh my beautiful, sweet daughter!" Henry cried. He fell to his knees and hugged Karin (who was still embracing her mother's waist) about her shoulders. "I was so, so worried about you!" he sobbed into her hair.
Calera rolled her eyes as her husband fiercely kissed their daughter on the head over and over again. After a few moments, it became apparent that neither one was going to break their embrace in the foreseeable future.
"ENOUGH!" Calera exploded. A second later, she disdainfully regarded her daughter, who was now sitting on her rear next to her father and staring up at her mother with wide eyes, and asked, "Aren't you supposed to be keeping yourself safe … somewhere far, far away?"
"But, Mama, I had to come," Karin stammered. "Load-san said that Agent Dude couldn't find the restaurant."
"What on earth are you talking about?"
"I believe 'Load-san' is Kim Possible's technical expert," Henry explained in a helpful voice. "Right, Honey?" he nodded to Karin.
After shooting her husband a perplexed look that also managed to be withering, Calera turned back to her daughter. "No humans can find this place while we have the boundary-"
"I know," Karin interrupted, "but that's why you have to take it down!"
"Agent Dude is from CGI, and they can help us fight the aliens," Karin urgently explained.
"Do you know what she's talking about, Henry?"
He shook his head.
"And this is why you came here and put yourself in danger?" her mother demanded turning back to her daughter.
Karin nodded. A beat later, "Oh, and to find Yono-san."
"Who?" Henry asked.
"Look, Karin," Calera said sharply to head off any change of subject, "we cannot let humans know we exist. Nothing is more important than that. Nothing. The boundary stays."
"But …" the girl began to beg.
"Quiet!" her mother screamed. She then sighed and began to massage her temples. "Really, you're acting like it's the end of the world."
"This phone is a piece of crap." Ren smacked the cell against the palm of his hand. "I usually get five bars here and that's when I'm on the ground. Thirty feet up and I've got nothing-I can't even text!"
"Perhaps the aliens are jamming your signals," Anju reasoned calmly without looking back at him.
"Great!" her brother fumed. "So that means I can't even reschedule the dates I'm missing while we play target practice with these freaks."
"Big Brother, could you please keep your voice down?" she asked quietly.
"Why?" He flew over to her. "What are you doing anyway?"
"I'm listening to my bats," she explained. "I am getting a very bad feeling."
Ren looked over Anju's shoulder and saw that his little sister had sent most of her bats to surround the strange new device that was humming on the pavement. He grew serious. "Can they tell what that thing is? What it's doing?"
She shook her head. "They're not sure. But it is gaining strength, power."
Elda was not overly impressed by the human's efforts. True, she had effectively drawn off one of the nitwits leaving the one with the controls alone and apparently distracted. However, the girl looked to be in serious trouble and would probably need rescuing in short order.
"Pathetic," she sighed.
As she flew into position above and behind the large monster, she gave a sideways glance to the giant contraption still towering over the ruins of the restaurant. Strangely, Anju's bats were no longer interfering with its movements. Rather, they were swirling near the ground in a strange, cone-shaped flight pattern.
Directing her focus back to her target, Elda could sense the rapid thrusts of blood throughout his body. She had perceived the aliens' deep and intense pulse rates when she had tangled with them earlier; however, this was her first chance to really appreciate them. Briefly, she considered the possibility that their blood might be unhealthy or even toxic. She aggressively shoved the notion aside. As she drew closer, the fluctuations of his heart were very discernable; the rhythmic beats were so strong they threatened to crowd all thoughts from her head.
How many hearts do these things have? Two, three?
She was now hovering a mere five feet above him. He seemed oblivious to her presence, his mind occupied with events elsewhere. Yet, she noted he wasn't looking at his consort's pursuit of the human. Instead, he was intently watching the space where Anju's bats were currently circling.
A few blasts in the distance drew Elda's attention back to the increasingly harrowing plight of her granddaughter's human acquaintance. She knew she would have to take out the green male quickly if there was going to be any time left to perform a rescue.
As she descended toward her prey, Elda Marker had a single thought on her mind.
Let's see how you taste.
Things had begun shakily for Kim, but her encounter with Warmonga was definitely improving. Three minutes in there was a subtle but crucial shift in the momentum. Although a casual observer would assume she was being chased, Kim was actually leading the giant alien where she wanted her to go. In fact, as she dodged more blows and blasts, Kim got the unmistakable sense that she was entering her 'zone.'
Furthermore, thanks to a certain vampire's blood, she felt like she could stay on her game as long as she needed. Considering what little she knew about Maaka-san's grandmother, Kim didn't think she would have to keep up the pace for that much longer.
Therefore, it was quite understandable that Elda Marker's sudden howl of pain effectively took Kim out of her 'zone' for a crucial second or two.
This was long enough for Warmonga to swat the umbrella out of Kim's grasp with her staff and then deliver a fierce punch to the redhead's middle that sent her painfully onto the pavement.
The scream severed Anju's connection with her familiars. The amber hue inside her eyes faded as she whispered in a shaky voice, "Grandma?"
"Stay here, Anju," her older brother stated firmly, placing a hand on her shoulder. He swallowed anxiously, but then continued in the same assured tone, "I'll handle this."
A lifetime of being terrified by his grandmother was forcibly brushed aside, and Ren tore through the air.
"Mommy!" Henry turned in the direction of his mother's cry.
However, before he could launch himself into the sky, his wife's hand gripped his uninjured shoulder. "Where do you think you're going?!" she snapped.
"Calera! Where do you think I'm go-"
She cut him off by gripping his injured shoulder.
"Aaaaaaiieee!" he cried as he sank to his knees.
"With this injury," she explained sternly, "you wouldn't last two minutes against those monsters."
"But, I can't just-"
"You can't … what? Avoid getting killed?" she smacked him on the back of his head. "I'm not letting you leave. You'll just have to figure something else out."
Henry looked desperately from his wife's unflinching stare to the figure of his eldest daughter who was nervously chewing on the back of her fist, her eyes filled with worry. She was mumbling.
As he frantically tried to think of something he could do to help his mother, he realized, absently at first, that he couldn't hear what Karin was saying. This was odd because he had exquisite hearing. In fact, he could usually make out both sides of the phone conversation whenever his daughter called Usui-kun-even when standing at the end of the hall opposite her shut bedroom door. Of course, he would never admit to his daughter that he had ever done such a thing, let alone did so regularly.
Then he realized why he couldn't hear her. Karin's words were being drowned out by the numerous squeaks coming from his mother's colony of familiars that were flying, even now, in a protective formation several feet above her head.
Henry had found the "something else."
Yet he hesitated. Although his purpose was to rescue his mother, he wasn't so sure that reason would prevent her from killing him once she discovered he had borrowed her bats without permission.
Warhok cursed bitterly. When the Earther had suddenly impacted the force field that surrounded him, the energy discharge and her subsequent shriek had startled him to the point that he actually jumped. He looked over to Warmonga's position. She was standing triumphantly over the fallen redheaded Earther.
This pleased him for two reasons. One, the troublesome female Earther had finally been defeated. Second, and more importantly, Warmonga had not witnessed his instant of consternation. Despite her attempts to hide her feelings, Warhok was aware that his companion did not approve of his decision to utilize the ADD in achieving victory. If she had seen him display even the mildest agitation for even the briefest of moments, she might have concluded that his strategy was based on weakness or, laughably, fear and not on wisdom and shrewdness as it certainly was.
As it certainly was.
He turned his attentions back to the fallen pest. Despite the massive waves of energy the shield had undoubtedly sent through the Earther's body, she was still alive, even moving, however pitifully. Moving his finger over a small oval on the remote device, he deactivated the shield and stepped toward his victim.
Her still-smoking form was crawling. Amazingly, she was crawling toward him rather than away and toward safety.
"Your stamina and resolve are most admirable," he allowed, as his earpiece lowered to take aim at the base of her skull, "but they will profit you nothing."
A stinging sensation erupted along the left side of Warhok's head. He cursed and reflexively ran his hand along his ear. It came back wet with blood. Movement in the sky drew the furious alien's attention to yet another Earther with the ability to fly.
This one, a male, tauntingly held out his cannon earpiece within his claw-edged grasp. Subsequently, the sneering youth threw the device to the ground where it exploded. "Step away from her!" he demanded.
Ignoring the irritating pain throbbing about his skull, Warhok smiled broadly up at the boy and stepped over the fallen female. "You want her?" he asked, beckoning with his hand. "Come and retrieve her."
The Earther's hands began to glow with amber light. And then, with surprising speed, he launched himself at Warhok.
At the instant before the youth's claws found their target, the alien moved his thumb over the device to reactivate the shield.
Despite the discomfort he still felt along his neck and the left side of his face, Warhok endured a laugh as his newly-fallen enemy writhed upon the ground.
"Do you hear that, Earther?" Warmonga asked as she roughly rolled Kim's body face-up with her boot.
Kim could barely focus on what the alien was saying, let alone anything else. The side of her head had hit the pavement when Warmonga had struck her. The pain ached down to her shoulders and clouded her thoughts. When she tried to move, her body felt like it was on fire.
"Warhok has defeated your flying saviors," the alien continued. The note of satisfaction was hard to miss.
Kim tried to raise her head, but couldn't. She felt like she was going to throw up and then felt like she was going to pass out.
No. Must. Must stay awake.
Vaguely, she made out the form of the large alien standing above her. As unnoticeably as she could, Kim began to feel about with her right hand for the handle of the umbrella.
"Like victory, your weapon is not within your reach, Earther."
So didn't need to hear that.
Then Kim heard the unmistakable hum of Warmonga's staff drawing close.
Defiantly, she again tried to raise her head and was somewhat successful. She strained to keep her eyes open and steady, but they kept fluttering closed.
The hum of the staff grew louder.
"I held many firm reservations about Warhok's change of strategy," the alien said thoughtfully. "Long have I believed that a warrior's strength lies within him or herself and cannot be substituted by advanced technology."
And I care about this because?
"However," Warmonga conceded, "with triumph only a few of your planet's moments away I can now see the subtle wisdom of Warhok's stratagem."
Her head felt so heavy that Kim had no choice but to lay it back on the ground. As she did so, the humming from the alien's weapon suddenly ceased.
"Since you defeated one so recently, I think it fitting that you witness this ADD's successful destruction of your pathetic world."
Wait a minute. The wha? Destruction?
Kim's thoughts were interrupted as Warmonga swiftly, painfully lifted her off the ground by her blouse's collar.
"Yes, Earther, this time you will helplessly watch as the atmosphere from your world is depleted of its oxygen content," the brutal alien commanded.
At the same instant the dire implications of Warmonga's words dawned on her, the pain radiating through her head became too much to bear. Kim Possible slipped into unconsciousness.
However, she did not slip into a nightmare. Rather, an unfinished dream.
"You're pretty good," Ron said appreciatively. "Not even Usui-kun questioned my identity so early."
Kim was standing in the middle of her pre-K playground near the slide and holding a five-year-old roller-bladed Ron in her arms.
But it wasn't her playground, and she wasn't in pre-K, and, most importantly, it wasn't Ron.
"What's going on? Who are you?" she demanded.
"That's not important," "Ron" beamed up at her.
"Yes, it is." Kim stated firmly.
He laughed and shook his head. "No, it's not. But what is important is who I appear to be."
Kim shook her head. "Please, tell me what's going on."
"Everything depends upon you," he smiled and hopped out of her arms. "All of this," he gestured to the playground full of laughing children as he skated, "it all came from inside you."
"What do you mean?" Kim asked, following behind him.
"I'm different in every person Karin bites," he explained patiently. "I've been someone's unrequited love, another person's great uncle. To Usui-kun, I look like Karin herself."
She touched the marks on her neck. "Okay," she nodded. "No wait," she shook her head. "I still don't understand."
"You don't have to."
Before she could speak again, he held up his hand. "Kim, you only need to know one thing." He slowly closed his eyes and inclined his head to one side. "What did you feel when you saw me falling off that slide?"
"That I needed to save you," she replied without hesitation.
"Right." He nodded. "Remember that. It's all you need to know." When he reopened his eyes, they were filled with stars.
Kim's eyes sprang open.
Some fifty yards directly in front of her was the same type of Lorwardian device Drakken had attempted to use a year earlier to conquer the world. A group of bats circled it.
A sudden roar on her left directed her attention to Warhok. He was vigorously rubbing an ankle and his face was a mask of pain. Her heart sank as she noticed the bodies of Elda and Ren lying motionless before him on the ground.
A quick glance up at Warmonga told her that the alien's attention was fully swallowed by her partner's plight. Kim did not hesitate.
The alien crumpled to her knees following the swift kick Kim drove into her middle. After landing hard on her rear, she landed a second kick to the alien's face with her left heel. At least for the moment, Warmonga was not an issue.
Kim climbed to her feet and sprinted toward her fallen companions.
Warhok examined the wound the pink-haired Earther had dug into the flesh of his calf. Her talons had gone straight through the thick Thorgoggle hide of his boot. His impulse was to crush her skull in with his other foot. When she looked up at him and voraciously bore her fangs, he decided another strategy was needed.
Initially, it occurred to him that he could simply reactivate the shield and let her crawl right into its invisible current. However, such a defensive position was not conducive to the rage that was flooding him.
Instead, he took a few steps back and went to draw his ion cannon. When he found it was not in its holster, he recalled it had been destroyed. He reached for the karnassial rifle strapped to his back. When he remembered that it, too, had been destroyed, he cursed and turned his focus upon the remote in his hand.
The Earther was still crawling towards him. As he looked down, their eyes met. She broadened her hideous mouth and then ran her index finger along her upper teeth. The finger was coated with his blood. The look she gave him as she licked her fangs was intolerable.
His right boot struck her temple and she lay motionless on the ground.
For a few seconds.
"Laser option," he muttered as he looked quickly over the face of the remote. "Where is it?"
As Kim rapidly crossed the distance between herself and Warhok, she felt the same beneficent feeling pulsating through her limbs.
The alien seemed preoccupied with something he was holding in his palm. She assumed it was the remote she had seen earlier. Yet, the three-legged drone was motionless. If he wasn't trying to manipulate that, what was he doing?
Suddenly, Warhok extended his arm and aimed the device like a weapon. A weapon pointed directed at Elda Marker's head.
At the instant Kim realized that she wouldn't be able to reach them in time, her hand instinctively went into her apron to find something-anything to throw at the large alien to somehow distract him or thwart his aim. It wasn't until after she slung the object that she even realized what it was.
It was the fuzzy pink slipper she had picked up earlier.
"Aaaaargh!" Warhok cried for the second time in as many minutes.
He clutched his burning hand in agony. The only sensation that even approached the pain that he now felt radiating from his wrist to his elbow was from the time he had wrestled his Ion cannon from the closed jaws of the giant yubnip on the moon of Parfa.
As he sensed the faintest hint of a letup in the pain's intensity, he realized that whatever had hit him had also knocked the drone's remote from his grasp. He looked on the ground for the device for a few frantic seconds before locating it. He was about to retrieve it when he suddenly sensed movement coming from behind him and turned around.
With the full momentum of a perfectly executed triple back spring, Kim planted both her feet squarely on Warhok's chin, toppling the large alien onto the concrete.
She shot his motionless hulk a glance and then quickly ran over to Elda.
"Are you okay?" she asked as she helped the small vampire to her feet.
Once Kim got a good look at her, she gasped. Elda looked terrible. There were burn marks all over her arms and legs. The almost neon pink hue of her hair had been dulled; her crimson pupils were dilated and seemed to have trouble focusing upon Kim.
Nevertheless, the vampire mumbled something in reply to Kim's question and then gave the redhead a slow onceover. She looked as if she was having trouble finding the words she wished to speak. Suddenly, she faltered and almost lost her footing, but she regained herself with support from Kim. Finally, she looked up and said, "Where's my umbrella, human?"
Cool. She's okay.
A groan drew Kim's attention to the right where she spotted Ren lying on his back ten feet away. He looked somewhat better than his grandmother but still seemed pretty hurt. With difficulty, he lifted himself to his elbows. "Arrgh-my head's killing me!"
"Ren!" Elda screamed as she shoved Kim aside and dashed over to her fallen grandson.
When he heard her cry, Ren froze. There was no escape.
"Are you okay, Sweetie?" she asked urgently as she threw an arm about his trembling shoulders and began stroking his sweating forehead. "Tell Grandma where it hurts," she soothed, "and I'll make it all better."
Ren shot Kim a terrified, pleading look and then tried to wriggle from his doting grandmother's clutches. As he did so, a small object fell from his lap.
"Ren!" Kim cried. "Throw that to me-quick!"
"Huh?" he managed to answer as his hand fell unknowingly upon the very device that Kim wanted.
"What are you going on about?" Elda asked. "Can't you see my grandson's hurt?"
"That machine is going to suck all the oxygen out of the Earth's atmosphere!" Kim explained, shooting an absent gesture past the vampire's shoulder.
"What?" Elda turned her head to look at a squat black object in the distance that was being encircled by her Anju's bats. She looked back to Kim. "That's insane."
"The Lorwardians have tried to use it before," Kim maintained firmly as she ran over to them.
As Kim took the unlit device from beneath Ren's fingers, Elda asked, "What so important about that?"
She released Ren and stood, so that he was able to quickly crabwalk several feet away from her.
Frantically, Kim looked over the small green device. Twice. Three times. There were no buttons, switches, not even a display. The only marking was a tiny Lorwardian emblem in the center of one side. She pressed it.
"Shoot!" she cried. Nothing had happened.
"What are you getting so riled up about?" Elda asked.
"I told you," Kim replied in agitation as she continued to examine every inch of the device's perfectly uniform surface, "that machine is going to destroy the world, and this thing might hold the only key to stopping it."
"Destroy the world?" Ren asked derisively from his safe distance. "Are you serious?"
"Note serious face," Kim snapped irritably. With every second the pressure was mounting, and she so didn't need some sketchy vampire's 'tude added to the mix.
"Watch it, human!" Elda threatened. "No one disrespects my grandson."
"Look," Kim spun around and looked directly into the vampire's eyes, "vampire, human; none of that is going to matter if that machine-"
But she was cut off by the roar of the ADD's turbines whirling to life.
Within seconds, both Kim and Elda's hair began whipping over their heads as the machine started the process of ingesting the air about them.
Elda watched as Anju's familiars struggled against the immense suction coming from the device and then turned back to Kim.
"What are you waiting for, human?" she cried over the deafening noise. "Do something!"
"I'm trying!" Kim screamed back. "But I can't get it to work!"
"Of course you can't," Warhok called out from behind them.
The trio turned to face the giant alien who had climbed to his feet.
"Only Lorwardians can operate Lorwardian devices," Warhok explained loudly with a triumphant smirk.
Anju shielded herself against the pull of the alien's machine by clinging to the upper trunk of a nearby tree. The force of its suction was strong enough to draw her long pale locks from about her shoulders and completely cover her face; however, it was not strong enough to make the tree sway. Yet.
"THIS REALLY SUCKS!"
"Not amusing, Boogie-kun," she replied to her doll in a heightened whisper. She held her hair from her eyes and verified that most of her bats were still relatively safe perched along the upper sections of the Lorwardian's three-and-a-half-legged machine.
"The air is getting thinner," she noted and tried, unsuccessfully, to suppress a cough.
"MAYBE WE SHOULD GET OUTTA HERE, WHAT DO YOU THINK?"
"Not without the others," she shook her head. Her grip about the trunk stiffened as a nauseous sensation suddenly tugged the pit of her stomach. The tree was starting to bend.
Before Kim could think what to do next, Elda snatched the remote from her hand and reared back as if she was going to send it through the smirking alien's skull. As Kim reflexively tried to stop the vampire, she noticed small blinking lights dotting the edge of the device.
The vampire rudely pulled away from Kim, giving her a look as if she didn't know who she wanted to hit first, Warhok or Kim.
"Look!" Kim whispered urgently, "The remote-it's on!"
Elda stared at the rows of small colored symbols on the face of the object in her clawed hand. She blinked and then went to give it back to Kim. "Well, don't just sit there, human, stop that machine."
But as soon as the vampire let go of the remote, the symbols vanished and the device lay dormant in Kim's hand.
"What did you do?" Elda snapped at Kim.
"Here!" Kim pushed it back in the vampire's reluctant hand. As before, it's surface came alive with multi-colored icons.
"What? How?" Elda asked, giving Kim a confused, and, for once, non-hostile look.
"So doesn't matter," Kim said quickly, shooting a look toward the unaware and still-gloating Warhok, "we need to figure out how to turn off that machine!"
"You don't already know?" Elda cried.
"Of course, not!" Kim hissed over the increasing roar of the doomsday device. "I'm a little rusty on my Lorwardinese." She pointed to a blinking red icon near the display's center, "Try that one!"
The attack drone lifted one of its left talons and shook it in the air.
Warhok had been enjoying from afar what he had taken as the Earthers' futile bickering over the device. The drone's inexplicable movement quickly punctured his insouciance.
"How about that one down there," Kim indicated to a pulsating purple icon near the base of the remote.
The attack drone lifted its remaining right talon off the ground and, under the hurricane pull of the ADD's winds was unable to maintain its balance and toppled over. Unfortunately, its impact missed the still-churning oxygen-depleting device by several yards.
As they continued to frenziedly feel their way around the remote's controls, Warhok overcame his moment of outraged shock that someone other than a member of his own noble race was fully at the controls of his final attack drone and all its arms. Clenching his massive fists so that his nails bit into his palms, he charged at the two preoccupied Earthers.
The sudden flash of red and blue was accompanied by a loud metallic clang.
Ren tossed the seriously dented No Parking sign on top of the groaning alien. And then began the vital task of brushing the dirt clods from his jacket and pants.
"Stupid piece of junk!" Elda screamed as she slammed her palm against the display and sent the remote to the pavement.
"Are you crazy!" Kim cried. "This is our only-" she stopped, suddenly realizing how loud her voice sounded. Their hair suddenly fell down along their shoulders. The Lorwardians' machine had turned off.
"You did it," Kim said meeting the vampire's eyes.
"Of course," Elda responded after a second.
"Does this mean I can leave?" Ren grumbled impatiently as he stepped up behind Kim.
"No!" Warhok roared. The colossal alien was sitting up, apoplectic with rage. "It's impossible!"
"Incorrect," a voice announced behind Kim and the vampires. "The Earthers call her Kim Possible."
Kim turned around just as Warmonga launched three quick plasma blasts directly at them.
Flying in frenzied circles, Anju's bats filled the calm night sky.
She brushed her hair from her face and looked at the motionless "egg."
"GLAD THAT'S OVER!" her doll said.
Anju didn't comment. Her arms remained wrapped tight about the trunk of the tree as she continued to stare at the alien device.
"HEY! WHO'S THAT?"
"Boogie-kun?" she asked, looking down at him.
He was gesturing wildly to the ground. A dark figure Anju was unable to identify had just loped past the base of the tree.
The renewed churning of the "egg" sent the familiars flying for cover. Within seconds, the tree began to bend once more.
"Hold on," Anju said softly as her swirling hair covered her face.
"They had it on 'Pause,'" Warmonga asserted as she manipulated the retrieved remote. "If they had shut it off completely," she cried over the sound of the ADD returning to maximum strength, "it would have taken a yubnib's age to get it operational again."
"How did she do it?" Warhok seethed. He absently rubbed the still-bleeding wound on his ankle. "It is inconceivable and intolerable that it happened at all!"
His companion shrugged. "Inconsequential. Like the rest of this pernicious planet in mere moments." She tossed the remote to him.
He caught it and absently placed it in his holster. "It is not inconsequential if pathetic creatures such as these can control Lorwardian technology. The very foundation of the Empire is in question!"
As the aliens ranted over the dire implications for Lorwardian society, neither noticed the slight movements coming from their fallen enemies.
The brilliant fuchsia glow from Warmonga's blasts had momentarily blinded Kim and left her lying on her back. When she regained her vision a few seconds later, she found she was sandwiched between the vampires-lying on top of Ren and beneath Elda. Steam was being carried away from their bodies toward the restarted doomsday machine. However, before Kim could even come to grips with what the alien weapon had done to her companions, she made out discernible ill-tempered groans coming from both of them.
The vampires' continued resilience was a relief, but they didn't seem in any condition to help at the moment. Furthermore, Kim was confused as to why she hadn't been hit. She was certain Warmonga had fired at each of them. Did the alien miss her somehow?
Or did Elda jump in front of the blast?
Kim surreptitiously surveyed the scene. Warhok and Warmonga were arguing some ten yards to her left. For the moment their backs were to her.
As she turned her head, her eyes latched onto a flash of fuzzy pinkness vibrating on her right. Something was stuck beneath Ren's foot, keeping it from being sucked in by the ADD.
It wasn't within easy reach, but Kim was sure she could get to it as long as she didn't attract the aliens' attention. She stretched out her right leg and tried to snag it with the toe of her foot.
"Enough!" Warmonga cried. "We can argue after triumph is achieved. Hand me the remote."
"Why do you require it?" he replied.
That's it. Keep it up.
Unfortunately, the slipper was just too far out of reach. She would have to get out from beneath Elda to grab it.
"Relinquish it to me." Warmonga commanded.
"For what purpose?" Warhok countered.
"I am uncertain," she answered with the universally-recognized tone of snarkiness, "Do you recall ... the shield?"
"Unnecessary. Breathing nitrogen-heavy atmosphere will do us no harm."
If only Elda wasn't so much heavier than she looks and … if only … if only it wasn't getting so … difficult … to … to breathe.
"Do they know we're here?" Ron called out in a voice that, despite the gale-like conditions, didn't even approximate a whisper.
The aliens spun around and Kim managed to lift her head in the direction of his voice.
Precariously standing on a ridge of debris some ten yards behind them were Ron and Usui-san.
If there had been time, Kenta Usui would have reflected upon all the many, many ways Stoppable-san was so very much like his girlfriend. He had witnessed dozens of examples just during the short time he had escorted him around the periphery of the battle zone. Needless to say, this last example was one he could have done without.
After wearily shaking his head, Kenta replied, "Yes, Stoppable-san, I think they do now."
To be continued ...
Chapter 15: Fifteen
Sandwiched between the two unconscious vampires, Kim knew there was very little she could do to help Ron and Usui-san. "Ron, look out!" she cried, but her voice was swallowed by the intensifying groans coming from the doomsday machine.
Warmonga instantly recognized one of the Earthers on the mound of debris as the one who had defeated them months earlier. She cut a vicious glare at her companion. "The shield … most unnecessary?"
"Shoot him!" Warhok demanded, ignoring her rebuke.
"What's going on?" Ron asked urgently.
Kenta saw that the female alien had raised her weapon and was aiming it directly at Stoppable-san and himself. "We need a diversion," he shouted in Stoppable-san's ear. "Quick!"
"Oh, man! That's my job," Ron replied.
With grim calculation, Warmonga trained her weapon at the chest of her target. A sudden flurry of blackness on her right caused her a second's hesitation. In the course of the next second, the dark mass exponentially grew so that it blocked out her entire plane of view.
Elda's familiars, under the control of her son, swarmed over the alien's body. She shrieked and dropped her weapon to the ground. As she futilely flailed her arms, a handful of the beasts managed to undo her hair clasp, and their brethren began to infest her long, myrtle locks.
"What just happened?" Ron asked, confused by the discernable cries from the alien.
"We got our distraction," Kenta replied. However, as the words left his lips, he saw Warhok snatch up the fallen weapon. "But we're going to need another one," he sighed.
The alien warrior went down on one knee and leveled the staff with swift care. The deadly plasma glow at its end surged.
A small dark figure scurried across the pavement, leapt straight before the crouching alien, and launched a projectile at him.
Whatever this object had been, it was obscured from Kenta's view.
The staff went dark as Warhok tossed it aside violently. "You vile, vile creature!" he screamed, frantically wiping the filth from his eyes.
Yono bore his teeth and shook his right fist at the apoplectic alien before quickly loping into the safety of the shadows.
"We just got another one," Kenta exclaimed. "You're clear!"
"That's what I'm talkin' about," Stoppable-san nodded and outstretched his arms. "Now guide my hands to their feet."
"Point my hands at the green dudes' feet," he cried. "I'll do the rest."
This wasn't so simple a task. Warhok kept his feet planted as he continued to furiously scrub at his eyes. But Warmonga was most assuredly on the move, in a desperate attempt to reach her comrade so she could retrieve the remote device from his utility pouch. As Kenta was still trying to aim Stoppable-san's right hand at her boots, she slammed into her companion and ripped the pouch from his belt.
A few seconds later, a faintly perceptible green halo encircled the two aliens and then bled into invisibility.
"Uh oh." Kenta said.
"Dude, what do you mean 'Uh oh'?!" Stoppable-san asked. "Don't 'uh oh' me!"
"I think they just activated a force field around themselves," Kenta explained. He noted mentally, however, that this "shield" wasn't bringing the Lorwardians any immediate satisfaction since the bats had also been encased within it and were now making sport of both aliens.
Stoppable-san shook his head. "So doesn't matter-just point my hands at their feet!"
Now that the aliens were more or less stationary, Kenta's task was much simpler. As he guided Stoppable-san's hands, he felt compelled to ask. "What exactly are we doing, again?"
"The Lotus Stance of the Untied Laces," Stoppable-san explained solemnly.
"What? But their boots don't even have laces!"
"That's not the point, dude," Stoppable-san replied, "just let me work here, okay?"
"Okay," Kenta said as he placed Stoppable-san's hands in position. "You're on!"
A cerulean glow began at the tips of Stoppable-san's fingers. Kenta would have sworn he was seeing things except that after blinking twice, the glow had spread all the way to Stoppable-san's elbows.
Stoppable-san waggled his fingers in seemingly random patterns and began mumbling phrases that couldn't be heard over the increased howling from the alien device. Just as the glow surrounded his entire body, he let out a high monkey-like whoop and jerked his hands backwards as if he was pulling a tablecloth from a fully set dining room table.
Within their protective bubble, Warhok and Warmonga went down as if a rug had suddenly been taken out from beneath them. Hard.
A quick glance at their motionless forms told Kenta that the aliens were out cold. His focus, however, was riveted elsewhere.
Stoppable-san was levitating some ten feet into the air and glowing from head to, well, tail. A distinctive outline of a monkey's tail was protruding from his back end.
"Ron!" Kim cried weakly, fearing that her boyfriend wouldn't hear.
She needn't have worried. Empowered with the MMP, all of his five sense were operating at "extra-ordinary" levels. His eyes sprang open. "KP!" he began looking frantically about for her. "What is it? Are you okay?"
"Ron, that thing," she gestured weakly over to the doomsday machine as she tried to catch her breath. "It's sucking all the air …" Her voice faltered.
Ron leveled his gaze at the machine, clasped his hands together and then drew them back over his head as if he were winding up to deliver a baseball pitch. As he did so, Elda sat up and rubbed her eyes. Ren, who was more concerned with the condition of his tongue that he had bitten when Kim had landed on him, turned away from the intense glare coming from the Ron. His grandmother, however, kept her eyes fixed upon the floating human.
At the climatic instant just before Ron released the awesome, seismic powers of the Ultimate Monkey Master, he stopped short.
"Okay, all you little bat dudes are going to have to clear out," he cried through his cupped hands to the familiars within the aliens' force field and along the upper extensions of the disabled drone. Directly, Elda's bats dove to the ground while her granddaughter's scattered east and west.
Ron released the "pitch."
The iridescent blue flame broke through the top of the Lorwardians' energy shield, shattering it into pieces that flashed with a purplish outline before blinking into nothingness. The strike blazed across the parking lot, leaving azure vapors and the faint chittering of monkeys in its wake. It came to an immediate stop just above the head of the churning ADD, paused and waited almost as if it were pondering what to do next and then detonated in a sapphire eruption that consumed both the doomsday device and the hobbled drone in a fireworks-display-type explosion of cerulean, ultramarine, and monkey-shine laughter.
The chittering ceased and the explosion's blue clouds faded.
All that remained of the Lorwardians' arsenal were small mounds of greenish dust.
Kim took two long breaths to fill her lungs and then staggered to her feet. On aching and extremely tired legs, she hobbled as quickly as she could toward her BFBF.
Ron wore the composed countenance of the warrior hero as he gradually descended back to terra firma. Yet when he spotted his BFGF, his mystical solemnity evaporated into Ronshine.
She leapt into his waiting arms even before his feet had touched the ground or his skin had ceased to glow. Like the embrace, their subsequent kiss was warm, hearty, grande-sized.
In fact, Kim and Ron's PDA-peppered reunion would have gone on for several additional moments if not for unexpected rumblings that-in the sudden silence following the destruction of the Lorwardians' devices-seemed quite loud.
And, for Kim, whose empty stomach had been their source, somewhat embarrassing.
Frantically and awkwardly, Karin hurried to her boyfriend's side. Every few feet, she almost lost her footing because she was pulling along or being pulled along by-it was hard to tell exactly from moment to moment-Yono-san. His loping, though quick, tended to shift the girl's center of gravity a good deal. Twice, she almost ate it on the pavement only to be caught and set back on her feet by the brusquely helpful simian.
Kenta ran half-way to meet her and then braced himself for the impact. Experience had taught him the value of keeping his feet firmly planted whenever his girlfriend ran to embrace him. The monkey, however, was an unexpected variant to the equation, so, despite Kenta's preparations, he and his girlfriend landed painfully on their rear ends. Since he was so accustomed to the posture, Yono-san took the abrupt landing with little notice.
"Usui-kun, Usui-kun, Usui-kin!" Karen fiercely hugged Kenta as they sat on the debris-strewn pavement.
He regarded her tear-streamed face tenderly before leaning forward to kiss her gently on the forehead.
"I was so, so very worried," she explained, wiping both her eyes with the end of her apron.
"It's okay, Maaka," he said as he helped her to stand. "Everything's fine."
His words seemed to reassure her somewhat but a latent anxious frenzy remained; once on her feet, she fretfully began bouncing on her heels.
A few yards away, Kim, still in the arms of her boyfriend, causally observed the members of the Marker family. Elda, she noted, had been regarding Ron with something close to guarded respect while Ren had, conversely, been watching him with a certain degree of anxiety. Karin's parents and little sister, who had recently materialized from the shadows, seemed relatively unhurt and calm.
Karin, however, seemed seriously freaked.
"Maa-," Kim began and then stopped when she realized this address wasn't quite specific enough. "Karin!" she called.
The small vampire turned toward her voice.
"It's okay," Kim called reassuringly. "It's over."
Although the girl's anxiety didn't magically vanish, Kim was pleased to that she had at least stopped her frantic bouncing.
"The HELL it is!" Elda cried. "This isn't over as long as this trash," she gestured to the two prone aliens, "is still breathing!" She turned sharply and walked steadily toward them. The nails on her swinging right hand doubled in length and took on a vermilion cast.
"Wait!" Kim called after her.
Henry Marker stepped into his mother's path, holding out both hands.
"Out of my way, Henry," Elda demanded.
"Mother," he explained firmly, "I've told you before-the Council prohibits killing."
"Two things," she replied to the towering figure of her son. "One, when have I ever given a damn what that Council rules? Two, that ruling is only against killing humans." She effortlessly shoved him aside.
Kim jumped between her and the unconscious Lorwardians. "No."
"I've cut you slack all night," the vampire spoke slowly, "but don't confuse that with anything other than necessity." She folded her arms across her chest, her blood-red nails prominent against her pale skin. "You'd be wise to stand aside." Her eyes were like stones.
"Just listen to me," Kim began calmly. She paused a second as Ron stepped next to her and took her hand in his. "This is wrong. It's murder."
"Miss Possible," Calera interjected. She was suddenly standing just behind her mother-in-law. "How many times in the past have you faced these aliens?"
"Twice before," Kim said.
"Each time you defeated them, they came back," Calera stated.
"Yes," Kim answered, "but-"
"Don't misunderstand me," Karin's mother said, holding up her hand. "You're convictions are admirable. However, they are not sufficient. Not for us."
"Are you actually agreeing with me, Armash?" Elda turned her head and gave her daughter-in-law a rare approving look. A look that was aggressively ignored.
"We can't have these two coming back to exact revenge against our family." Calera said, still holding Kim's gaze. "This ends now."
"But, Honey-" Henry Marker spoke up, only to be silenced by the mutually foreboding stares from his wife and mother.
"Mom's thright," Ren slurred, holding his still-healing mouth with exaggerated care. "They could hath killed Karin. They hath to pay."
"Please," Kim urged, looking from one vampire to another. "I know what you're saying and I understand, believe me, but there has to be-"
"There is no other way," Elda interrupted. "Step aside." The look she directed at Kim and then at Ron was hard, implacable. "Now."
Kim stood her ground. Ron placed a hand on her shoulder.
The tension-filled silence, broken only by the occasional grunt from Yono, seemed endless.
Everyone turned toward Karin's voice. She and Anju were standing a few yards behind the rest of their family.
"We have an idea," she explained timidly. "Something else that might work."
After detailing the plan she and her big sister had devised, Anju asked, "Is this sufficient, Mother?"
Calera was silent a moment, but then nodded her assent.
Elda didn't seem so convinced. She stared at her granddaughters for a long time and then shook her head. "This is a mistake," she said finally.
Then she suddenly pounced upon Karin, squeezing the girl exceptionally tight around her shoulders and neck.
The act was so unexpected and, well, forceful that Kim's first reaction was to run to Karin's aid. However, the girl's subsequent giggles put her at ease.
"I just can't say no to my grandchildren," Elda laughed as she released Karin and began to hug the mostly unresponsive Anju. Once finished, she turned to face her son. "So, Henry," she asked, wicked light streaming from her eyes, "hungry?"
The apprehension and detainment of the Lorwardian subjects was handily accomplished by Agent William Knott and myself. As anticipated.
Superior Command's initial recommendation for deployment of a regimental fleet of hoverjets for the extraction proved unwarranted. As anticipated.
Following a brief delay caused by an unavoidable system malfunction of indeterminate origin, Agent Knott and I promptly arrived at the location of the Lorwardians' sudden manifestation. This destination had been provided to Global Justice by an unregistered source. Complementing previously gathered GJ intelligence, said source indicated that the extra-terrestrials were in possession of an arsenal originating from their home world that had been misappropriated from a Supervillains' Convention being held near the scene. As dictated by these circumstances as well as GJ guidelines, Agent Knott and I utilized GJ regulation armor and the utmost caution upon our initial approach.
Once we arrived, however, I intuited that these extra precautions were superfluous.
The arsenal in question had self-destructed, leaving only piles of ash at various points at the scene. Fortunately, structural damage in the surrounding area was minimal. In fact, the only incidents of terrestrial injury were the splintered trunks of trees that Agent Knott noted along the perimeter of a parking area for a nearby restaurant.
The subjects were excessively disoriented when encountered. Agent Knott suggested the Lorwardians may be suffering from a form of amnesia. Apart from numerous superficial wounds received during the destruction of their weaponry, they were not seriously injured or disfigured. Furthermore, in direct contrast to the world-domineering behavior they exhibited this past spring, the subjects were most compliant and offered minimal to no resistance while being taken into custody.
Whether their cooperation was due in part to memory loss is debatable. I would argue that a larger reason for the aliens' submission was the authority commanded by the GJ officers. However, I concede that their supposed amnesia did seem most complete. Although GJ-gathered evidence suggests an emotional attachment existing between the two subjects, they seemed utterly indifferent to each other.
Corroborating statements were taken from four witnesses-employees from Julian, the aforementioned restaurant. Two of said employees were Miss Kimberly Possible and Mr. Ronald Stoppable. In the light of their prior altercations with the Lorwardians, the presence of these two individuals explained, for this agent, why the aliens selected this particular location for their attack. Both Miss Possible and Mr. Stoppable exhibited superficial injuries that attested to a third altercation with the invaders. I briefly interviewed the pair and then ordered them to seek medical attention.
Attached notes from my brief, yet thorough interviews with Miss Possible and Mr. Stoppable substantiate my theory of the attack's cause. Some of their answers seem to contradict my initial assessment of the situation-especially those statements exhibiting a concentration of needless detail, yet the balance of the facts make evident that my objective view of the events is the most sound and accurate one.
This record faithfully submitted by Special Agent William B. Du ~ 17 October, Y.P.W.#
# Year of the Perdue Wonderchicken (2007) ~ Global Justice, headquartered in Colorado, adheres, like the rest of North America, to the Subsidized calendar rather than Gregorian.
Ron sighed and wearily shook his head.
"We could really use Rufus right about now," he thought glumly.
The towers of dishes practically reached the kitchen's ceiling. And although Usui-san had already exhibited some pretty mad towel-wielding skills, getting the kitchen straight was still going to take them all night.
Ron took the final tray of the evening from the desert freezer. He entertained the possibility of having Kim contact Michelle to see if Rufus was willing to come over as drying reinforcements. However, as he pushed through the kitchen doors, he realized that if word got out that Julian had employed a 'rat' as a member of its dishwashing staff, even for a single night, well ... no, maybe it wasn't such a good idea. The restaurant had been through quite enough already.
Only the light above Kim's table at the far end of the dining area was lit. As he made his way through the darkened sections, Ron remembered that Karin had told him that a vampire's eyes, at least a normal vampire's eyes, were sensitive to electric lights.
As he finally approached Kim's table and skirted around the towering figure of Karin's dad who was standing just at the light's edge, Ron realized that his friend's big bro was missing.
Their meeting had gone fairly smoothly, Ron thought. True, Ren had been somewhat tight lipped when Ron introduced himself. But the vampire had explained that he had bitten his tongue during the fight and couldn't really talk. Ron had suggested that probably happened a lot to vampires. Ren had nodded absently, backed away, and then split without another word. Ron hoped he hadn't offended the dude in some way.
"Thanks, Karin, but I can handle it," Kim was protesting. She pushed her plate away from her. "You don't need to do this."
"But you're so hungry," Karin countered, "if I do it for you, you can keep eating."
"But what about you?"
"Usui-kun and I already finished our dinners while you were talking with Agent Dude," Karin explained.
Kim smiled and then looked back at her dinner. "All right," she said finally, "only if you're sure." She slid down the booth to make room so Karin could sit next to her.
"So what's going on, guys?" Ron asked. He absently noticed a first aid kit on the edge of the table.
"Nothing," Kim said as she slid all the way down the booth and turned so she could raise her legs on the seat before Karin.
Ron winced as his eyes fell upon the numerous cuts and scrapes along his girlfriend's legs. Her knees looked especially nasty.
She evidently caught his worried look. "This isn't the first time I've skinned these knees," she told him. "And it won't be the last. I'm okay, Ron."
Traumatic childhood memories involving a cursed set of rollerblades faded, and Ron gave his best friend girlfriend a relaxed smile.
"You were saying, Miss Possible?" Karin's father asked. His voice was somewhat distorted because he was pinching his nostrils shut.
"Sorry," Kim began after swallowing a forkful of her meal, "what exactly is the sitch with Warhok and Warmonga?"
"The effects of our bites are by no means permanent," Henry explained. "The aliens' arrogance as well as their affection for one another will return after a short period."
"Their memories, however," Anju spoke softly at the table's edge, "are irretrievable."
Her sudden appearance shook up Ron quite badly. He nearly dropped the covered tray and only recovered his balance by means of a typically covoluted display of Ronnish "dumb skill." Ron wondered if the fact that she was holding her nose gave the girl's voice a slighlty more spooky sound.
"So, even if more Lowardian weapons are discovered, they won't remember how to operate them?" Kim asked.
"Their personal histories of planetary domination and all the skills they have accumulated and employed in such endeavors are lost to them forever," the girl continued without a hint of inflection. "They will not even realize that Earth is not their home world."
A few low grunts drew Ron's attention to Yono The Notsomuch Destroyer who had taken the first aid kit from the table and was now trying to open it with the toes of his right foot.
"Dude," Ron said looking away in disgust. Despite his status as the planet's Premier Being With All Things Simian, he still got squeamish whenever he saw his 'subjects' pick up things with their feet. The fact that Yono had somehow stretched sanitary gloves over his feet didn't make him feel any less so.
"Oh thanks, Yono-san!" Karin exclaimed as she took a small bottle from the monkey's outstretched foot. "I was looking for this." She set the bottle of betadine solution next to the small pile of bandages on the table and gave Yono's head an appreciated scratch.
"Any further questions?" Henry Marker asked, still holding his nose.
"There was something," Kim continued, "but I don't remember what."
"Hey!" Ron said suddenly, spinning around. "There's something I'd like to ask, Mr. M."
After a moment of awkward silence, Karin informed her father, "Papa, I think Ron-san means you."
"Oh? I'm sorry. What is it, Mr. Stoppable?"
"Well, all your bat dudes rebuilt the restaurant so fast, so I was kinda wondering why they couldn't have put it back together with the tables bused and all the dishes washed."
"Hmm," Henry began after a moment. "It is hard to explain. Well, uh, there are things the familiars can do and, well, ... let's see ... the range of their powers is specific to ... well ..."
"For goodness' sake, Henry," Calera cried as she stepped from the shadows, her own nostrils tightly pinched together. "Just admit you don't know how it works!"
Karin's father gave Ron a sympathetic shrug.
"Man, that tanks," Ron sighed. "Well, do you think they could help find my pants?" he asked, gesturing to his pair of Fearless Ferret boxers. "The AC's making me kinda chilly."
"Mama?" Karin asked sheepishly.
"What is it?" her mother asked warily.
"I was wondering. Um, about Yono-san ..."
"The answer is no, Karin. You are not brining that thing into our house."
"But that's not fair!" she cried.
"You know the rules," her father enjoined. "No pets."
"But everyone else in the family has pets," she protested. "Why can't I have just one?"
"The bats are not pets," Calera explained impatiently, "they're our familiars. It's not the same."
"Well," Karin persisted, "why can't Yono-san be my familiar?"
"Henry? Have you found my slipper yet?" Karin's mom asked, her eyes still focused on her eldest daughter.
"Oh!" Kim said suddenly. "I think I have it." She quickly produced the pink slipper from her apron's pocket. "Is this it?"
"Why, yes, it is." Calera smiled broadly. Kim gently tossed the piece of footwear to the vampire's waiting hands.
"Thank you, Miss Possible," she said kindly and then reared back sharply and threw the slipper straight at her daughter's head.
Kim was speechless with shock.
"Mama!" Karin cried, clutching her forehead.
"Uh, what just happened?" Ron asked, snapping out of a momentary trance and gazing from his girlfriend's horrified look to his friend's wincing.
Karin sniffled and tossed the slipper back to her mother and then went directly back to washing Kim's wounds. Two beats later, she paused. "But why can't I keep him?"
"Karin, please stop this," her father stated firmly.
"But he's just like a familiar-he looks out for me. He even saved my life!"
"He did?" Henry asked, casting a favorable glance to the simian who was digging his nits in the center of the aisle. A second later, he cried out in pain as his wife's heel drove into his foot.
"We'll discuss this later, Karin," Calera said with finality.
"What's under the cover, Ron?" Kim asked, trying to defuse the atmosphere that had suddenly erupted among the Markers.
"Just the most bon-diggity desert on the entire menu," he smiled, leaning over to remove the serving tray's lid.
Kim dropped her fork against her plate.
Ron knew the triple-decker, fudge-frosted cake accented with ripe strawberries, blueberries, and every-other-kind-of-berry would get his girlfriend's attention.
"Cover it back up, Ron," she pleaded. "Or I won't be able to finish this wonderful dinner."
"Hey!" Ron suddenly turned to Karin's parents. "Why are all of you guys except Karin holding your noses?"
"Huh?" Kim asked, looking up from her plate perplexed.
Calera stepped forward, pointing a dangerous-looking finger directly at Kim's dinner. When she spoke, her voice was thunder mixed with ashes. "Because our daughter's wonderful dish is saturated in garlic!"
"Human!" Elda cried as she suddenly leapt onto the top of her darkened table.
Ron, who was walking past on his way back to the kitchen, jumped at her cry, but recovered himself quickly. "Yo! Can I get you something?" he asked in a fairly confident voice.
"I didn't mean you, Blue Boy," she said derisively.
"I think she means me, Ron," Kim called from the other end of the dining area.
"Mother?" Henry Marker asked. "Is everything all right?"
"Oh, everything's perfect, Henry," she replied coldly. "Instead of just one human knowing our family's secret, now there are three." After a second's reflection, she corrected herself. "Well, two humans," she said before shaking her umbrella in Ron's direction, "and whatever-the-hell this one is."
"Hey, was that some kind of shot?" Ron protested.
Elda ignored him, keeping her eyes on Kim. "I need to speak to her before I leave."
Henry Marker flashed Kim an anxious look as she slid out of the booth.
"Miss Possible," he spoke to her softly. "I don't know what my mother's got planned, but, as you are no doubt already aware; she is not the most reasonable person. I advise caution"
The second Kim stepped out into the night air, the vampire jutted the vermilion nail of her index finger an inch from Kim's nose.
"Under no circumstances mistake the tolerance of my family for mine," she hissed. "If it wasn't for the fact that Karin would never forgive me for it, I would have already wiped your mind as blank as an infant's."
Taking a few seconds to recover herself, Kim replied thinly, "Understood."
"If you breathe a word about our existence to anyone," Elda's pupils slit length-wise like a cat's and an amber glow throbbed about the edges of her fingernails, "I will find you." Finally, after what seemed an excruciatingly long moment, the vampire's eyes and fingers went back to "normal," and she lowered her hand from Kim's face. Smiling, she concluded in a much calmer tone, "Just so we're clear."
"Crystal," Kim replied icily.
Elda gave her a curt nod and turned to go.
"Still," Kim said quickly before the vampire could run off, "I think it might be a good idea if some humans did know."
"Excuse me?" Elda spun back around, her expression beginning to darken.
"Just listen to me for a second," Kim explained. "Most of what humans know about vampires is wrong, right? You don't kill us; you don't turn us into zombies. Well, if certain humans, and I'm talking about a select few-like scientists or maybe Doctor Director-were told the truth, then maybe, over time, all the myths could be-"
"My granddaughter's blood has addled your mind," Elda interrupted, her voice colored with pity more than contempt.
"Look," Kim said with energy, "I'm not saying it would happen overnight, but, gradually, our two species might be able to … well, accept each other."
"I don't believe for a second it would ever happen," Elda said in a reasonable, if edgy, voice, "but even if your species could forget all the lies it enjoys telling itself about us, the fact remains that we feed upon you. Don't you get it? You are our food."
Kim could think of nothing to say.
"That," Elda pronounced with finality, "is something humans will never accept."
"But," Kim protested, "Working together we saved the world tonight! That has to count for something."
Elda didn't reply immediately, only absently looked at the pavement. Finally, she shook her head and mumbled, "James."
"My late husband," Elda said, without looking up. "Just now you sounded like him." After a prolonged silence, she explained, "He used to talk about vampires and humans understanding each other, even working together. 'Symbiosis,' he called it. It was his one dream."
A light wind blew through the vampire's pink tresses and she shifted her grip on the umbrella's handle. Finally, she raised her head and met Kim's expectant gaze. "It drove me insane," she admitted breezily. "I'm so glad he didn't live to meet you."
"If he had ever met a human who shared his views," she explained casually, "he would have been absolutely insufferable to live with." She shrugged, "Even with the fantastic sex."
Eww. So didn't need to hear that.
"Kim," Elda said, her features turning serious.
"Yes?" Although the TMI still hung heavily in the air, the fact that the vampire had addressed her by name did not escape Kim's attention.
"This is very difficult for me to say," the vampire began. "I never thought I'd ever speak of a human in these terms."
"Tonight," Elda said, avoiding Kim's glance, "you did surpass my expectations. You were," she paused as she searched for the right word. Her look softened as she hit upon it. "Bearable."
Then she spun around, and walked toward the darkness. She waved without looking back and called over her shoulder cheerily, "Remember, tell anyone and I kill you." And was gone.
Excuse me? That's it? "Bearable"?
The sound of crying just behind Kim interrupted her mental diatribe. She turned to find Karin's father in mid-sob, hiding in the shadows by the restaurant's entrance. He quickly turned from her, explaining as he tried to control himself, "I'm sorry, Miss Possible. It's just." He wiped his eyes clear. "It's just that I wish my mother would think of me half as highly as she regards you."
Kim wasn't sure what to do for a moment, but finally she walked over and gave the vampire a consoling pat on his shoulder.
Kenta had been reluctant to leave the kitchen at first. It wasn't that he actually enjoyed washing dishes, but there were so many! And he knew that if someone didn't plow through them, he and his friends might be there when the breakfast crew arrived. But both Stoppable-san and Maaka had relayed that Possible-san was insisting that he "take five" to enjoy a slice of his girlfriend's dessert.
The cake was, of course, quite, quite good. As he ate, he bemusedly noted how unself-conscious Possible-san and Stoppable-san were when expressing affection for each other. Within five minutes' time, they had kissed twice. He and Maaka were much more reserved when it came to things like that. They had never kissed in public, and, in fact, at that moment were holding hands underneath the table.
"How's the eye, Ron?" Possible-san asked
Kenta looked up from his plate to see Stoppable-san fumbling with his right eye.
"Fine, KP," he replied blandly. After catching the skeptical glare she was giving him, he elaborated. "Well, I can see okay, but since the MMP wore off, things have kind of a fuzzy edge around them."
"You're so going to need glasses," she said shaking her head. "Why don't you just set up the appointment?"
"Because glasses are majorly uncool, KP," he groused. "They're going to mess up the Ron-man's style. Besides I don't see why I need a whole pair of glasses anyway-only one eye's messed up."
"Unfortunately, that's how glasses come, Ron. By the pair."
"Wait a minute!" he cried suddenly. "A monocle!"
"Monocle?" Maaka asked. "You mean one of those old-fashioned glasses ... I mean, uh, half-glasses on a string?"
"Sure-that wouldn't dampen my essential Ronness at all." His grin was from ear to ear. "Now I just need to locate the nearest monocle dealer. They probably sell them online, don't you think?"
It wasn't easy for Kenta to keep a straight face. Stoppable-san was a good guy, a hard worker, and his powers were as formidable as they were surprising, but he was easily the silliest person Kenta had ever met.
"So, you're telling me that I'm going to be dating the world's only monocle-wearing ninja?" Possible-san quipped drily between mouthfuls of cake.
"You're a ninja, Ron-san?" Karin asked with obvious surprise.
Kenta paid his classmate's comment little mind until he realized the silence that met Maaka's question had become fraught and overly-long. When he looked across the table, Stoppable-san was looking rather pale, and Possible-san's head was on the table-top, buried in her arms.
Oh, so he really is a ninja?
"Uh, yeah, about that," Stoppable-san began finally. "Well, that's," he glared at his girlfriend as he drummed his fingers on his plate, "kind of a secret. Or at least it was."
"I'm sorry," Possible-san mumbled. Even with her face covered, Kenta could tell his classmate was blushing. The tips of her ears matched the color of her hair.
Possible-san's mood had greatly improved by the time she helped herself to a third slice of cake.
Stoppable-san had made headway into his second helping, but seemed, at least to Kenta, to be losing steam.
Of course, Kenta knew all about losing steam. He had been having trouble keeping his eyes open for the past ten minutes.
Suddenly and inexplicably, he felt like he was losing his balance. When he attempted to grab something to steady himself, Kenta was surprised to discover that he was already lying on his side in the booth's seat. He saw Stoppable-san, fast asleep, in the same position in the opposite seat. Possible-san was kneeling next to her boyfriend's head. Kenta watched as she took off her apron and began rolling it into a ball. She carefully tucked it under his head as a makeshift pillow.
Before he could ask what was going on, he felt his own head being gently lifted. He turned and saw the large eyes of his girlfriend staring down at him in the dim light. In her right hand was her own wadded-up apron.
"No," he began, "the dishes." When he tried to raise himself up, she gently held him down.
"Don't worry, Usui-san," Possible-san whispered. "We'll take care of the cleaning up."
He shook his head as he reluctantly let his girlfriend guide his head down on his "pillow." "No," he whispered back, "you have no idea how much work still needs to be done-it's impossible!"
It took a few seconds before he realized the cause for the perturbed look his classmate was giving him. "Sorry," he said before breaking into a yawn.
"Yeah," Maaka whispered into his ear. "You two have worked hard enough tonight." She then added cheerfully, "It's so not the big."
Kenta watched as Possible-san and Maaka made their way through the dark to the kitchen. Then, suddenly, Maaka ran back, knelt down, and quickly bent her face toward his. A second later, he watched her receding pale legs fade into the darkness at the opposite side of the dining room.
Although there had been no witnesses and, like their hand-clasping, it had occurred "under the table," the kiss his girlfriend had given him seemed to flow across Kenta Usui as his mind sank into the deep, pleasant warmth of unconsciousness.
"Are you sure you're not too tired?" Possible-san asked. "I can handle it, no problem."
Karin could only stare. She had never seen the dishes so backed up before at Julian. Then again, she couldn't recall such a busy Saturday when the restaurant had been so short-staffed. For a second, she wished that her parents' familiars hadn't rebuilt the place.
"N-no," she stammered, "I'm fine-not tired at all." She immediately suppressed a yawn.
Possible-san raised an eyebrow. "Really?"
"Uh-huh," Karin nodded quickly.
"Okay, then. Let's get this party started," she said firmly, approaching the first stack.
Karin took the drying duty after Possible-san volunteered for the more vigorous washing duty. For about five minutes or so they worked with only the sounds of the running faucet and the clatter of plates breaking the silence.
"Oh," Possible-san said suddenly, "thanks again for treating my injuries."
"Oh!" Karin jumped and almost dropped the dish she had been drying.
"Are you okay?"
"Sure!" Karin laughed nervously as she leaned the plate in the drying rack. "I'm always acting weird, ask Usui-kun."
"Well," Possible-san said after a pause, "I really appreciate what you did. Will talked for sooo freaking long, and I was starving."
"My pleasure. Do you think I did an okay job?"
Possible-san stopped washing to glance at the numerous bandages of various sizes that dotted her legs. "I think so. They stung a little when I first got up and moved around, but I hardly notice it now."
"Good." Karin smiled.
"Karin?" Possible-san asked in a slightly unsure voice.
"Please, call me 'Kim.'"
"Okay, Kim. What is it?"
"It is all right if I ask you something, well, something vampire-related?"
Karin took a breath and then nodded. "Okay." She had known this would be coming sooner or later. Still, that didn't change the fact that she wanted to run away.
Please, please, please don't ask why I bit you. I'm so sorry!
"What exactly does this 'blood-increasing' of yours mean? Your sister told me a little, but I'm not sure I understand."
"Oh that," Karin sighed, relieved. "Well, once a month my body produces too much blood, and I have to release it by … well … by biting someone."
"Okay. What happens if you don't bite someone?"
"It comes out on its own."
Karin sighed. "Nosebleeds."
The girl nodded. "Terrible, awful, horrible nosebleeds. Like a hose, like a fire hydrant."
"Like what I discovered in the bathroom?" Kim asked.
"Yes, it's so embarrassing!" Karin paused in thought for a moment and then decided to plunge ahead. "Even though I get kinda shy about putting my arms around someone and putting my mouth ... well, on their neck and stuff," she could feel her cheeks reddening, "it is much, much better when I bite someone. The nosebleeds hurt. A lot. And I feel so woozy afterwards that I usually pass out. Of course, I can pass out when I bite someone too, but only after releasing my blood many times in a single day." After a beat, she admitted, "Like today."
"But why would you need to? Doesn't it all come out at once?"
"Normally, yes, but it'll start to increase again if I get too close to someone with my blood preference." Karin's mouth instantly went dry as she realized she had said too much. Stupid, stupid!
"Oh, yeah," Kim said, shifting a stack of dishes into the sink with a splash, "your grandmother mentioned that. Can vampires only bite people who match their … taste?"
"No, no," Karin said quickly. "They can bite anyone they want; it just means that's the taste of blood they like best. Mom likes the blood of liars, Dad arrogance, Grandma's love, Anju likes jealousy and, finally, Big Brother-"
"Uh-huh," Karin nodded.
Kim frowned. "So the people she bites …"
"They stop envying other people's happiness," Karin explained, "and, usually, become happy themselves."
After a brief pause during which Karin could hear her heart drumming in her ears, Kim continued, "Okay. That explains something I saw earlier tonight. So what is-"
"I like when people are sad!" Karin blurted suddenly. "No, wait, wait, I mean I like people who are sad. No, wait, that's not what I meant, either!" She gripped the edge of the sink, closed her eyes, and said as calmly as she could, "My blood preference is misery."
In the darkness behind her eyelids, she heard Kim's concerned voice ask, "Are you feeling okay, Karin?"
She steadied herself against the sink and tried not to cry. "I'm so so sorry, Possible-san! I'm so sorry I attacked you."
A moment later, she felt Kim's hand on her shoulder.
"Karin, can I tell you something?"
With great difficulty the vampire opened her eyes and turned to face her victim.
After an instant, Kim dropped her gaze. "I was so close to giving up tonight, Karin. I've never been that miserable before. I mean, I've been through some seriously bad sitches in the past, but Ron has always been there to lift my spirits, to have my back." She shook her head. "And I was so sure he was gone. Even though I knew that I still couldn't give up, that I still had to be strong, still had to be the hero, I just couldn't do it. When I found the Roncom … I was done."
"I could tell you were really, really sad ... and I was trying to help when I did it," Karin explained. "When I bit you, I mean."
"I know that, Karin," Kim said looking up. "And you did." She placed both of her hands on Karin's shoulders and looked directly into her eyes. "I wouldn't have made it through tonight without you." Then Possible-san drew her into a tight hug. "Thanks."
After Kim released her, Karin held her crimson cheeks in her hands and her eyes struggled to look everywhere in the room but at Kim. "One second!" she cried and ran down the hall toward the employee locker rooms. She threw open the girls' door and struggled to open her locker. It refused to open, and then she realized the lock was still on. Once she had opened the door, she dug through her bag and pulled out the disc she wanted. She raced back to the kitchen leaving the locker and the room's doors ajar.
"Would you like to listen to some music?" she asked excitedly.
"Sure. That'd be great."
Karin rushed over to a small pink disc player next to the prep table. Seconds later, the opening notes of "(You Drive Me) Batty" from Britina's first album filled the kitchen.
"Wow! I haven't heard this song in like forever," Kim announced as Karin rejoined her at the sink.
"Do you like Britina?"
"Of course!" Kim smiled. "Actually, we're pretty good friends."
"You're friends with Britina?!" Karin breathed.
"Yeah," Kim nodded, "I've helped her out a couple times. It's no big."
"I think her tour's coming to town this Spring. Would you like to meet her?"
"You'd do that?" the vampire gasped.
"Sure. No problem."
Karin was speechless. The prospect of actually meeting the Britina was so unbelievable that she failed to succumb to the infectious rhythm of the song for a full two minutes. But then she did start to dance in place along with the rhythm, and, after another minute, she began to sing along.
And then Kim started to sing along with her.
At that moment, Karin was so incredibly happy that all her concerns and worries were crowded from her head almost as if they had never been there at all.
Kim passed Karin a large platter she had just finished washing and absently asked as the music faded, "So what's your brother's taste in blood?"
The sound of the platter shattering against the tile floor caused them both to jump.
Mumbling profuse apologies, Karin hurried off to find the broom and dustpan. After she had finished silently sweeping up the shards and had dumped them in the trash, she said, "Ren is attracted to stress."
After a moment Kim said, "That makes sense." She turned to face Karin and explained, "Right before he showed up, I was wicked upset. What with Shego and Bonnie and everything. I was so stressed out that I was actually seeing red." She exhaled and smiled, "It certainly makes me feel better to know that's what is was. I really thought he was hitting on me."
"He was doing that, too." Karin said despondently.
"Big Brother reacts to any human who is stressed out, but he only goes after women." She hesitated. "And that's because he tends to have ... 'relations,'" she made a painful face, "with the women he bites."
"Really." Kim stopped washing.
"And that's why I chased him off," Karin explained.
"You did?" Kim asked looking up.
"Yeah, but I don't mean that I thought he'd win you over or anything, Possible-san!" Karin explained frantically. "It's just that with all the trouble you were having, the last thing you needed was to deal with my slimy brother!" After she finished speaking, Karin felt overcome with the desire to look for any chips from the platter she had possibly missed with the broom. She didn't get that chance.
"It's okay, Karin," Kim said breezily. "Thanks. Again."
The HALICALI song that had been playing ended and the next song's melody brought Karin out of the trance Kim's kind words had place her in.
"Hey!" she announced happily. "This is Usui-kun's and my song!"
As Karin sang along with the first line, Kim's face brightened.
"Wait a minute, I know this song!" She explained to Karin that it had been in Ron's record collection that he had inherited from his father back when they were both still in kindergarten. She didn't believe she had heard it for over a dozen years.
I feel it when you're with me
It happens when you kiss me
That rare and gentle feeling that I feel inside
Your touch is soft and gentle
Your kiss is warm and tender
Whenever I am with you I think of butterflies
Karin happily sang along while Kim hummed the melody. When it ended, Kim asked her if they could play the song one more time.
From the instant she had met her, Kim has gotten an unmistakable wave of uneasiness radiating from Karin. Over the course of the evening, it had varied in degrees, from quiet anxiety to outright panic, but it had always been there. For whatever reasons, Kim made the girl nervous. However, now that they were alone in the kitchen, making real headway with the dishes and chatting idly about their boyfriends, Kim no longer sensed it. And as she finished telling Karin about Ron's antics at the grand opening of Bueno Nacho, Kim realized the reason was because the girl's anxiety was no longer there.
Their laughter was followed by a few quiet moments during which Kim suddenly recalled what she had meant to ask Henry Marker earlier.
"Karin," she said as she dunked a sauce pot beneath the soapy water's surface, "after you bit me, I had this really strange dream. Ron was in it, but it really wasn't Ron if that makes sense. I think it has something to do your blood, but I'm not sure what. Does that make any sense?"
When Karin didn't answer immediately, Kim followed up with another question. "In the dream, this 'Ron' mentioned that Usui-san had similar dreams after you had bitten him. Does any of this sound familiar to you?"
The prolonged silence started to worry Kim.
Have I upset her? Did I dredge up something I shouldn't have?
When she glanced over at her friend, her concerns dissolved.
"You are so much like Ron," she whispered.
Leaning precariously forward over the water with her waist balanced against the side of the sink, Karin was fast asleep.
Kim placed a hand on the girl's shoulder and then gently guided her, still-sleeping, out of the kitchen and into the dining area.
As they approached the table, Kim learned that a fourth slice of cake would not be a temptation. The chocolate-smeared lips of Yono, who lay sleeping soundlessly on the cake's serving tray, conveyed the brutal fact that no one would be getting additional helpings of Karin's dessert.
Ron was where they had left him, stretched out and snoring along the booth's left seat. Usui-san, on the other hand, had apparently tried to get up-more than likely to help with the dishes. However, he hadn't gotten far and was dozing upright in the center of the right seat. Carefully, Kim maneuvered the still-snockered Karin next to him. Once the vampire's bottom touched down, she leaned against her boyfriend's shoulder and started to snore.
Kim shook her head and turned back to the kitchen to finish the dishes.
When she had finished and returned to the dining area, she was somewhat surprised by how dark the night sky still was. Kim would have sworn she had been washing and drying for a very long time, but the wrist Kimmunicator showed it was only three in the morning.
Usui-san now mirrored Ron's posture, lying along the seat with his head propped up on his elbow. Karin was cradled beneath his free arm, her snores working in two-part harmony with Ron's.
Quietly, Kim edged herself between the table and her boyfriend. Then she carefully lowered herself down alongside him. The instant her shoulder brushed his chest, his somnolent arms enfolded about her. For the first few moments, she counted the beats of his heart that were radiating through her back. She listened to his snores and to those of Karin and to the periodic snorts coming from Yono as he shifted his position on the cake tray. Kim closed her eyes and tried to sleep.
She opened them. It was no good; she wasn't tired. Not even a little bit. The faint, pleasant sensation that had been thrumming through her since Karin had bit her was still going strong.
Kim absently went over everything that had happened that night. Even if she didn't count the brutal drawn-out battle with the Lorwardians, it had been quite an evening. She had publicly embarrassed everyone at the table (with the exception of Yono). She had worn the shortest, most ridiculous waitressing uniform in the civilized world while working a Friday night shift at a hectic restaurant-a restaurant whose clientele had been made up entirely of supervillains. Shego had taken embarrassing, net-ready pictures of her. She had suffered merciless abuse and ridicule from Bonnie Rockwaller that professional obligations prohibited her from countering. She had been threatened by a drunken mystic simian, hit on by Karin's extremely sleazy brother, tipped heavily by Prof. Dementor's sister, and met her doppelganger as well as Ron's and their son! Drakken had shot her in the face with a cherry fired from a bendy-straw.
And all of this had happened before she was bitten by the vampire.
Vampires really do exist. Talk about so the drama.
Then something occurred to her that caused her to smile. The previous Halloween Monique had actually gone as a vampire. Wearing a long black dress, her hair streaked with gray stripes, her lips glossed with fake blood, Mon didn't think she made a believable denizen of the night. So she had borrowed some of Ron's eye black to give her facile features the required "goth touch." Yet Kim couldn't imagine anyone less goth than the real vampire who a short while ago had sang "Love is Like a Butterfly."
Then she hit upon the thought that allowed her to come down, that provided the sense of deep peace needed so she could sleep.
The secret Ron had been keeping from her had become one that she was now beholden to keep with him.
Listening to the snores coming from her best friend and from her new friend, Kim finally closed her eyes. Gently, slowly, this two-part harmony nudged her into a profound, dreamless sleep. A sleep anchored by the knowledge that all her best friend/boyfriend's secrets were now hers, too.
Dedicated to the shade of David Foster Wallace.
Chapter 16: Epilogue
Lying across the dorm room's small couch and bathed in the blue light from the television, Michelle slept soundly with a snoring Rufus curled upon her shoulder.
After warning Kim about the Lowardian device prominently displayed on the mail-order catalog's cover, Michelle had reluctantly agreed to a few more rounds of Dance Dance Revolution with Rufus. The "few" turned into "many" and the game had swallowed up the remainder of the evening. Although Kim's roommate had proven a formidable challenger for Rufus, the hairless rodent had finally outlasted her. After losing the final challenge in a best of seven tournament, Michelle had thrown in the towel, collapsed on the couch, and within five minutes drifted off.
Energized from his earlier nap and fueled by the cheese sticks Michelle had continued to toss his way (in her futile hope that a full stomach might slow him down), Rufus was not ready to call it a night. He began searching for online opponents. The pickings that time of night were slim and the first two challengers were no match for his skills. He was considering shutting the console off and looking for more snacks when a third opponent came online.
Before he knew it, he was scurrying from one side of the dance mat to the other like a pink ping-bong ball, trying desperately to keep up with the new challenger. He lost the first contest, but managed to win the second with a couple of trick combinations. Then, as he geared himself for the tie-breaking third bout, his opponent suddenly dropped offline. It was a quarter past eleven, but Rufus stayed awake for almost another hour, hoping that the person would return. He finally fell asleep on Michelle's shoulder with the game still running.
Just after two o'clock, chimes from the console woke him up. After a groggy moment or two, Rufus recognized the sound as the game's signal that someone online was challenging him. He blinked his tiny eyes against the television screen's glare until his vision cleared. The instant he recognized the blinking name of the third opponent-DOLL_MISTRESS, he was wide awake. He leaped from Michelle to the dance mat, accepted the challenge, and began the decisive third match.
It was fierce. The little guy pulled out all the stops, using both moves he had learned from his human and even a few techniques from Yamanouchi that weren't exclusively meant for dancing. Even still, he literally squeaked out the victory at the last moment. As Rufus collapsed on the mat trying to catch his breath, DOLL_MISTRESS went offline.
The girl bowed to the screen, logged off, and then proceeded to switch off her older sister's game console and television. Her older sister had the only tv in the mansion, but did not mind if her little sister used it on nights she had to work late. And Karin was definitely working late this night.
"THAT GUY SURE CAN DANCE!" remarked the doll that was slumped against a pillow on the nearby bed.
"Yes, Boogie-kun," Anju replied, "TUNNEL_LORD is certainly a worthy opponent." She then added with the slightest of smiles, "A most bon-diggidy dancer."
A/N: This was a scene I wanted to tack on to the end of chapter 15 (the so-called final chapter). However, that chapter was already far too long by half (at least according to my editor). Nevertheless, I wanted to add it, and the epilogue (or "closing kicker") format seemed a good fit. Besides, as my editor also advised me, this story definitely needed a little more Rufus.