But it is a curve each of them feels, unmistakably. It is the parabola. They must have guessed, once or twice - guessed and refused to believe - that everything, always, collectively, had been moving toward that purified shape latent in the sky, that shape of no surprise, no second chance, no return. Yet they do move forever under it, reserved for its own black-and-white bad news certainly as if it were the rainbow, and they its children. . . .
-Gravity's Rainbow, page 209
Kim was still asleep.
Ron had only woken up so he could go to the bathroom. It had seemed like days since he had had that grande-sized Sprite and the super slurpster … and then the refill on the grande-sized Sprite. The realization then hit him that it had been days since he had loaded up on those copious beverages. Man, how did my bladder go the distance for so long? Ron recalled that at one point last year a single grande-sized drink and a triple overtime basketball game had been enough to overrun his body's endurance.
As he was washing his hands in Kim's bathroom (thankfully, the water supply had not been shut off … yet), Ron caught a sidewise glance at himself. Ewww. Not good.
The cuts on his face, although only a few, were quite ugly. And he didn't want to even look at the bruise over his right eye. Just thinking about it hurt. It was really strange but not only couldn't Ron remember the last time he was thirsty, he couldn't remember being hungry either. Even forcing himself to think about a Chimerito Combo, like he was doing right now, couldn't give him an appetite. For the last few days, exhaustion and pain had been so overwhelming that they had pushed everything else out. Well, not quite everything else.
He had tried not to make too much noise in the bathroom, and he had apparently been successful; Kim was still asleep. Poor Kimila! She definitely needed her rest.
He looked over his girlfriend asleep on top of her crumpled bed cover; like him, she was still wearing her standard mission gear. Although she had fared much better damage-wise on her face, the bruises on both forearms were clearly visible in the mid-afternoon light that flooded her loft. Then there was that very nasty looking cut on her mid-rift. He so wished .P. had been around to take a look at Kim. Well …, he most definitely knew where the peroxide and bandages were kept in the Possible home; he could take care of Kim. But it could wait. She so needed her rest.
With the poise of someone who just knows that he is going to goof something up no matter who careful he is, Ron gently, if haphazardly, made his way back onto Kim's bed to lie down beside her in almost the same position he had been sleeping in before. Fortunately, Ron was also blessed with the grace of someone who happens, in spite of all odds and the combined efforts of bad luck and the laws of physics, to land almost unscathed in the place he most deserved to be. In short, he tripped over her clock/radio's cord, ripped it out of the wall and did a somersault/cartwheel into the bed. The incredible soreness he had felt beforehand was very much more so now. Yet, Kim did not stir and slept peacefully on.
Good thing Rufus wasn't there. Ron might have landed on him. Rufus. I hope he and his buddies can help out. It was so strange not having his little friend with them. Yet, there was something vaguely familiar about the current setup. Here he was sleeping the afternoon away in Kim's loft … next to Kim. Weird, that had only happened once before, but the déjà vu or nostalgia or whateveryoucallit was so strong, so very strong.
Kim started to snore. Ron gently touched her cheek with his bare forearm. Warm. Not fever warm, but sleep warm. From crashing or zonking out on rides to and from missions in the past few years, Ron knew Kim still got warm when she was asleep … just like when they were kids. After drowsily wondering if the same was true for himself, Ron gave himself up to the relaxing drone of his BFGF's breathing and slowly fell asleep.
In the instant right before he lost consciousness, Ron caught a flickering sensation of remembrance that couldn't help but make him smile. Joy ballooned in his heart. It could not be kept down … the hazy red glare behind his eyelids glowed with it. He could not see it or feel it exactly or even make out what it was, but it was there. It was connected with Kim and allied with the Best Thing.
Ron was still sleeping.
Kim watched her BFBF's eyeballs as they danced in REM sleep behind his eyelids. She remembered the first time she had witnessed this, back when they were five. It was the third, no, fourth, time Ron had slept over at the Possibles'. At first, Kim thought Ron was doing it on purpose. Pretending to sleep and trying to freak her out. Then, she suspected something might actually be wrong with him and shook him awake. He looked at her bleary-eyed and said what he had always said at that early stage of their friendship whenever she woke him up, "Wha-? Rufus?"
Rufus. She hoped the little guy could pull this off. Sure, he had saved them dozens of times before, but this was a massively major endeavor. A major thing for them to ask of him.
Kim turned her attentions back to her sleeping boyfriend. He was smiling. Good. After all he's been through the last few days, he deserves pleasant dreams. Then a slightly mischievous idea struck her. Hmmm. Wonder what he's dreaming about. She propped herself on her elbow and leaned her face close to his. She slightly pursed her lips and slightly grazed them against his. Sure enough, while remaining completely unconscious, he puckered his lips and gave her a warm, if slightly sloppy kiss. She moved her lips to the right and his followed accordingly. Someone else would have guessed that he was playing her, that the first kiss had woken him up, but Kim knew her Ron. His eyes were still doing that random dance behind his lids. After taking a second and then a third somnolent kiss from her BFBF, Kim finally, slowly inched her face away from his. As she did so, his head raised to follow her departing lips for a few seconds before falling back to the pillow. "Mmmm, Kimmie …" he mumbled.
As she let her head drop back to her pillow, her smile mirrored his. There was something very, very familiar about all this. And she wasn't thinking of the kisses. No, in the period of their lives that she was thinking about "kissing" was most definitely not involved.
One day in the fall following their sixth birthdays, Ron came over to the Possibles' for a Friday afternoon play date and sleepover. Kim was very excited that day because the attic had finally finished being converted into a loft that, in short order, would become her bedroom. Despite its rather large size, the Possible home only had one bedroom in addition to the master bedroom. Well, that wasn't exactly true. There was another room that was originally designed as a study but Kim's father had converted it into a third bedroom for Kim shortly before her brothers were born. Originally, the study was going to become the baby room. However, once it was discovered that Anne was expecting not one but two babies, they inherited Kim's large bedroom, and she got the study.
It had been her idea to sleep in the attic. Ever since the small family had moved into the house when Kim was barely three, she had been fascinated with the attic. Although she had only just graduated from her crib to a little person bed a few months prior, a few days after the move-in Kim had somehow-her parents had never been completely sure how-managed to pull down the latch for the attic, climbed up the ladder, and made herself at home in a far corner of the storage area that amounted to little more than a crawl space. Her father's initial shock at finding her there was not mitigated by the multiple times she returned over the first few months they lived in the house. Even Anne Possible was somewhat alarmed at her daughter's propensity to arrange tea parties with her various doll and Cuddlebuddie friends among musty storage boxes and exposed sheets of fiberglass insulation. What was more, neither parent enjoyed the bedtime ventures into the attic every other night to fetch Pandaroo or some other friend who had been left up there from earlier in the day. For whatever reason, the attic was Kim Possible's favorite room in the house.
The actual work had been finished a few days earlier, but Anne Possible had forbidden her daughter from going up in the loft until the paint on the walls had finished drying and the fumes has dissipated. Kim led her best friend up the new, steadier ladder. "Led" should be interpreted as "gently nudging from behind."
Ron had been up in the attic a handful of times before, but only after serious prodding from Kim. Not only was there the parental disobedience factor (even at the age of six, Kim's camp outs in the attic were not exactly permitted by her parents—it was one of the reasons why the Possibles could never find a sitter for her) to deal with but the old rickety ladder had petrified young Ronald. Once he managed to scramble up into the dark, musty crawlspace, things hadn't improved. The first time he had been so scared that only fear of embarrassing himself in front of Kim had kept him from having a fear-induced … uh … accident. On his second visit to the attic, Ron had been unable to convince Kim that his chattering teeth had been caused by a chill in the hot-house atmosphere of the attic in early September. Once his fear became manifest and undeniable, Kim stopped asking her friend and "Rufus" to join herself and Pandaroo for crawlspace coco.
"Wow!" Ron gaped as he stepped up into the newly renovated room.
"Its great isn't it?" Kim beamed as she climbed in behind him. (Despite her mother's two-day moratorium, Kim had still managed a couple of sneak peaks at her new bedroom after the workers and painters left.)
Ron had to agree that it was very impressive. The humid, cobweb-draped, cluttered little corner of his nightmares had been replaced by a roomy, well-lit apartment-sized room. Most of the walls had been replaced by huge windows and the arched roof had been transformed into an enormous cathedral ceiling. The light shade of paint and the bluish carpet (which felt pleasantly squishy underneath his socked feet) quickly banished any memories of the dreadful place the attic had once been. And then there was the best thing of all.
"I love the new carpet smell, KP!"
Kim rolled her eyes (a habit she had only developed since knowing Ron); her friend always noticed the strangest things.
"Ron, let me show you my favorite part," she said gently leading him by the arm to the spot in the carpet that was highlighted by a rectangular shaft of light. She immediately plopped down in the rectangle and stretched out her limbs into the surrounding warmth. "Come on, Ron," she smiled, "lie down."
Ron dutifully dropped cross-legged onto the carpet in the remaining area of the rectangle and then leaned back so he too was lying on the floor. "Whoa! It's a … it's a …"
"Skylight?" Kim suggested helpfully.
"Yeah! That's it. Wow that's really neat. Nice and warm."
"Uh-huh," Kim smiled contentedly. "My daddy is going to put my bed right here."
"Sweet! You'll be able to see the stars at night and everything." Ron enthused.
"Yes we will," Kim smiled looking at Ron.
"W-we?" Ron asked nervously. "I don't know, KP, the room's real cool and all, and the stars would be really neat and everything, but I think I should probably still sleep in the den."
"Monsters?" Kim asked with a smile.
Ron nodded hesitantly and then rapidly. He couldn't understand why Kim was still smiling at him. Whenever the issue of monsters came up, she usually got pretty annoyed. Yet this time she still looked happy; in fact, she had brought the topic up in the first place.
As he did with most things, Ronald Stoppable had very peculiar notions about monsters. The fact that most of the monsters that lived under his bed and harassed him in his dreams looked to be the unholy offspring of giant reptiles and icky-colored Crayola crayons aside, the most unique aspect to Ron's monsters was their method for getting under his bed in the first place. Ron's parents never knew exactly where the idea came from (television, some ill-advised yet well-meaning relative, whatever); however, Ron believed that as long as the spot the bed was to be placed on was diligently patrolled beforehand, the monsters would be unable to make their home underneath it. In other words, someone (i.e. Ron) had to watch to make sure no monsters jumped onto the spot at the last minute (even the last second) before all four legs of the bed touched the floor, carpet whatever. Looking away, even blinking, as the last leg was placed down could be just enough time for a colony of monsters to take up residence under a kid's bed. Elliot Stoppable learned this when they first moved to Middleton as he was moving Ron's belongings in his new room. The way Ron kept staring at the open area in the room where his bed was supposed to be set down unnerved his father. When questioned, Ron revealed the reason for his vigil in far more detail than his father really needed. Regardless, Elliot humored his son, and they "worked together" to make sure the bed would be monster-free.
Unfortunately, Elliot had not communicated his son's theory to his wife. Therefore, when Barbara decided to change around the furniture in her son's room one morning while he was at pre-K, Ron was understandably horrified when he got home. It is quite likely that it was that afternoon as Ron ran happily into his bedroom that the Stoppables' neighbors (including those a few blocks away on either side) had first heard the name "Rufus." At least yelled that loudly.
Ron's unique origin theory for monsters was also the reason why his initial sleepovers with Kim had been held in the living room. Since Kim couldn't recall if anyone had been standing watch when her bed had been first placed in her room (she sincerely doubted it), it was clear, to Ron anyway, that the space underneath his best friend's bed was infested with kid-eating, scaly and icky-colored crayons.
"Remember how my bed was setup in my old room just now?" Kim smiled as Ron.
"Uh," Ron scratched his head, "lying against the wall?"
"Yep, and my daddy is going to bring it straight up here as soon as he gets home."
"So … we are going to stand watch when he does?" asked Ron hopefully.
"Ron, we are not going to move from this spot until he does," Kim stated confidently.
"Oooooh, cool," Ron nodded happily. After a few beats, he asks, "What are we going to do until then, KP?"
"Watch the sky, Ron. Watch the sky."
Ron was somewhat confused. There were not many clouds visible in the skylight. Ron had actually never tried to use his imagination to make things out of clouds, but he knew a lot of people did. Is that what Kim had in mind?
"That one looks kinda like…," Ron announced gesturing to the slice of cloud at the right side of the skylight, "a slice of cloud-colored cheese."
"Huh?" Kim asked, confused.
"Well, okay, I guess it is a cloud-shaped and cloud-colored … slice of cheese," Ron admitted.
"Oh, I see," Kim said. "Well, I guess. I really wasn't trying to see things in the clouds, Ron. There really aren't enough to do that."
"Oh," Ron said. "Well, what were you trying to do, KP?"
"I was just looking at the sky, Ron. I love looking at the sky, even more than the stars."
"Uh-huh. I can imagine I am somewhere else … on the other side of the world." A sideways glance at her friend confirmed Kim's suspicion that Ron might still be confused. "The sky looks the same all over the world, so when I look at it I can imagine I am seeing the sky over some other faraway place. Like Paris, or New York, or Alaska, or Mozambique."
"Mozam-what?" asked Ron.
"Mozambique. It's in Africa."
"Yeah, what's wrong, Ron?"
"Well, I don't know if I would like to go to Africa, KP. I mean, there are lions and zebras and stuff there."
"We're just pretending, Ron. Besides we'd go together. It would be okay."
After about twenty seconds of contented silence, Kim asked, "Ron, did you say zebras?"
"Y-y-yeah," Ron stuttered.
"You're scared of zebras? They're just striped horses, Ron."
"Oh, KP, you have no idea how mean they are."
Ron then proceeded to tell Kim about his ordeal on the Jungle Safari Pleasure Adventure Cruise ride when his parents took him to the Diz-Knee Theme Park in Florida just before they moved to Middleton. The long and the short of it was that one of the zebras on the cruise had given Ron a "look." And then a hippo had sprayed him. And then one of the snakes had tried to eat him. And then he had dropped his cotton candy over the side of the boat and his mother had not let him grab it even though it didn't sink and was floating on the top of the water.
"But those zebras weren't real, Ron."
"W-what do you mean?"
"They were robot zebras. All the animals on that ride are robots."
"Oh …, really?"
"Really. Real zebras, you know the kind that you see in your imagination, don't give kids looks. Only robot zebras do," she reasoned.
"Oh, okay. Cool."
After about two minutes of silent contentment, Ron asked, "Are we in Africa yet?"
Kim could not believe that she was going to have to give imagination lessons to someone whose first friend was an invisible giant named "Rufus."
"Ron," she said patiently, "just let your eyes get lost in the sky. Just let them wander through that blueness and soon you'll be able to hear the animals. And then you'll be able to see them too."
"And smell them?"
"And smell them," Kim nodded with a tolerant smile.
Ron had to admit that the blueness of the sky was quite calming and easy to get lost in. It was such a deep blue. It reminded Ron of the blue finger paints he used to play with in kindergarten. After a few minutes of letting his eyes dance around in the sky's depths, he felt pretty sure that if he reached out and dipped his fingers in the sky they would even come back blue. In fact, Ron was just about to try it when he heard a low rumble. After focusing on the rumble for a little bit, he realized it was the purr of lion cubs. Then he could feel the warm breeze of the savannah ruffling his hair. And then he heard some nondescript chattering, like dozens of little teeth grinding in the ground beneath his back. It was very soothing, especially the chattering. Right before he nodded off, Ron thought, Wow, Kim has a really good imagination!
The sound of James Possible clattering up the ladder with part of Kim's bed woke them both. Kim couldn't recall when she had fallen asleep, but her back ached a little. Much to her and Ron's surprise they were holding hands. It must have happened while they had been napping. They both awkwardly took their hands back while, at the same time, secretly reflecting on how nice and warm the other's hand had felt.
James Possible's head appeared in the aperture in the floor. "Oh there you are!" he announced happily. "Good to see you're here, Ronald. I was wondering if you could give me a hand."
And with those words, Ron first became initiated in James Possible's overestimation of what he capable of … physically speaking. As he grew up, the tons of suitcases, crates, various pieces rocket technology flotsam, and other loads became increasingly less overwhelming to handle although the experiences were never fun. However, at age six, Ron was practically crushed underneath the box spring of Kim's twin bed as her father leveraged it up through the floor.
"Are you okay Kimmie-cub?" James Possible asked, panic-stricken that he had hurt his little girl.
"Daddy! You nearly killed Ron!" Kim huffed as she tried to lift the end of the mattress off her friend's back.
"Oh! Sorry about that, Ronald."
Ron, as was his habit, was fine. As he recuperated with a glass of water from Kim's new bathroom, James brought the remaining parts of Kim's bed into her loft. Ron was very impressed that Kim had her own private bathroom built right into her bedroom. "Wow, KP! That is so cool! You know if I had a bathroom in my bedroom I wouldn't need to wear those pull-ups every night."
"So I guess you won't have to wear them tonight?" she asked apprehensively. Sometimes Ron shared a little too much information with her … especially around her parents. Did they even make pull-ups for six-year-olds?
Kim helped her father lay out the sections of the bed frame just where she wanted them as Ron kept his eye peeled for monsters. Then both friends got down on their tummies so they could see beneath the newly constructed frame. They tried hard not to blink as James Possible placed the box spring onto the frame and then slipped Kim's mattress on top.
"Safe?" Kim asked with a smile.
"Safe," Ron nodded with a completely serious face that ever so slowly broke into a goofy smile.
Then Kim, with as much flourish as a six-year-old could muster, placed her nightlight in the outlet nearest the bed, making it, more or less, official that Ron would be sharing her room that night.
That night Kim and Ron lay in her bed, looking through stacks of Kim's picture books. Ron, however, found himself being drawn away from his pile of books and kept looking up into the skylight.
"Yeah?" she asked absently, looking through a book on giant redwood trees.
"Do you really want to go to Africa?"
"Yes, I do."
"And Alaska, and New York, and Paris?"
Kim closed her book and lay back on her pillow next to Ron. They were both staring into the tangle of stars framed in Kim's skylight.
"Because I want to go everywhere, Ron."
"Even there?" Ron asked pointing to the night sky.
"Sure," Kim had never given much thought to going to outer space before. But why not? "If daddy could get me a ride on one of his rockets, I don't know why I shouldn't go."
"Why would you need a rocket to go to Illinois, Kim? Couldn't you just take a plane?"
"Illinois?" Kim arched her eyebrow (another habit she picked up from being Ron's friend), "Aren't we looking at outer space, Ron?"
"Oh, I guess so. But I was imagining I was in Illinois."
"You are so strange, Ron." She smiled at him.
"Well, Kim, if the blue sky is the same all over the world, why wouldn't the night sky be too?"
"I never thought of that, Ron. You're right. I guess it is."
"Yeah, my dad played a song a few days ago about this guy in China or Chinatown or something and he was talking about how the same night sky was in Illinois where his wife lived."
Kim shook her head. She knew Ron so well. It was so like him, when giving the choice between the two, to imagine being in Illinois rather than China.
"So, KP, could … uh … could I come with you-you know, when you go everywhere?"
"If you want to," she said and then added, "we could even go to Illinois."
After a few moments of getting lost among bands of stars, Kim realized that Ron was right. Staring into the night wasn't the same as staring into clear day sky, but she could feel the pull to other places starting to surround her.
"Uh, KP," Ron asked in a small voice.
"Yes, Ron," Kim said slightly peeved. She had started to imagine she was beneath the sequoia under the stars when his question had punctured her journey.
"Oh, nevermind, KP," Ron answered quickly.
"Its okay, Ron," she hadn't meant to hurt him. "What is it?"
"Could I … could I hold your hand?" He was most definitely nervous.
"Sure, why?" she asked gently.
"Well, sometimes I get kinda scared, and I am not as brave as you are and …"
"Illinois can be a scary place?" she asked.
"Y-yeah," Ron answered.
"Of course," Kim said as she took his hand, "we'll be fine."
When James Possible checked on the kids sometime after nine, he found a sight that in later years might have bread concern, but that night only produced amusement. His daughter was holding hands with the funny little kid from down the street. They were both gone to the world, oblivious to the churning of each other's snores.
The afternoon shadows lengthened and the blue of the sky passed into amethyst. Kim absently noticed the thin sheen of blonde stubble that had formed along her boyfriend's cheeks. She might ask him to shave soon, but, then again, she might like feeling his
scruff against her cheeks.
She gently placed her hand into his large palm. Reflexively, it closed firmly around her. It made her feel a little safer.
She stared at his sleeping face for a few more minutes, trying to keep down her anxieties.
Had she made the right decision? Ron had readily agreed that it was highly unlikely anyone would look for them in Middleton. The entire tri-city area had been evacuated a week ago; all power had been shut off for the same time period. She had absently looked at her clock radio a while ago to check the time, only to be reminded of the blackout by the blank display.
Besides, with the sole exception of the little diablo incident, no villain had ever attacked them at their homes. Of course, everything about this sitch was different.
Everything. So why wouldn't this be too?
No. She shook the doubts from her. Ron and she had been in town for more than four hours. They had taken every precaution. They had biked in and had seen no one. Kim had even taken the batteries out of their Kimmunicators just to be sure no one could track them by the energy signals they gave off. That had been Wade's last piece of advice just before he shut down his entire system. Wade. Kim shook her head sadly. She hoped he was all right. When she last spoke to him, he seemed more confidant than rattled, but she could sense that in his voice too.
She tried to think positively. In three days, as per their discussion, the batteries would be back in her Kimmunicator, and she would try to reach him. By that time, he should be in a safe place and have his system, more or less, back in business. There was nothing to do between now and then but wait.
How did their lives unravel so quickly? In just two short weeks, everything had gone completely crazy. Poor Ron. Although he seemed to be maintaining his essential Ronness as well as could be expected, she knew he was blaming himself for everything. He had found the harmonica after all. But that was silly, at last count there were more triggers for their current sitch from her than from him. He just happened to trip the first one, that's all.
She squeezed his hand tightly and, his body, still sleeping, responded in kind. "We'll be fine." She whispered it twice more and forced herself to close her eyes. After a few moments of listening to her BFBF snore, Kim fell back to sleep.
Five minutes later, the nightlight that Kim had first placed in her room for Ron's benefit twelve years ago and, for whatever reason, had never been able to bring herself to remove flicked on.
The churning twilight sky framed in Kim's skylight was no longer clear. The clouds had begun rolling in shortly after Kim fell asleep. The entire pane was filled with a dirty purple as the skyline reflected onto the overcast clouds. Then quickly and silently, a thin streak seemed to split the uniform murkiness of the cloud cover. The line was drawn from the bottom of the plane to almost the center and then … stopped.
Or it seemed to. In reality, the object whose vapor trial had created the "split in the sky" had only changed direction. It was still moving, oh yes, and very rapidly too. However, from their perspective-if either Kim or Ron had been awake, it would have appeared that the object was just hanging in the middle of the window. Every once in a while it would appear to twinkle. It would not be until the object was some 50 feet from the window that they would have been able to tell that it was getting closer, and, of course, by that time it would have been too late to do anything. It was moving too fast.
Even then, they wouldn't be able to see it because with the exception of the nightlight, the interior light in the refrigerator and various digital clocks for various appliances scattered about the Possible home, there was no light power in the tri-city area.
No, even if they were not asleep, everything would be in darkness once the object reached its destination.
The blackout would be almost complete when the object finally made impact with the skylight—there would be not be a single glimmer of light, only great invisible crashing.