Special thanks to MrDrP of ff.net whose "What's the Alma Mater?" inspired me to get back in writing KP fanfiction.
People spend all their time making nice things and then other people come along and break them. – The Doctor (as portrayed by the great Patrick Troughton)
The Great Blue
Kim winced at the voice of her best friend boyfriend. She blinked her eyes clear, took a couple of deep breaths that made her entire body ache, and then raised her head wearing the closest approximation of a smile that she could give under the circumstances.
"Are you okay?"
"Not too bad," she smiled back. She brushed a few loose hairs behind her right ear with her left hand. It was an awkward manner to perform the simple gesture, but she was certain her right wrist was broken. "A few bruises, but nothing too serious," she lied. "No big," she nodded with the same 'smile.'
Although Ron didn't say anything in response, he didn't look convinced.
It then occurred to Kim that from her shoulders up she had no idea how bad she looked. She could see the burns on her upper arms, that ugly cut above her bellybutton, and, of course, the horror show that was her right wrist. But she had no idea what scratches or bruises she might be sporting on her face.
Then something occurred to her.
"Look, Ron," she said with genuine pleasure as she hiked up the shredded fabric from her pants, one leg at a time. "I haven't even skinned my knees yet!"
It was true. Although she had been forced to kneel for what seemed an eternity in that Lorwardian excuse for a guillotine, her knees were undamaged, practically unmarked even.
"Wow!" Ron exclaimed, obviously impressed. "Hmmm. Let's see," he made a face that suggested he was doing some fairly elaborate calculations in his head, "that would make … one mission in a row?" He chuckled.
"Right?" Kim laughed. The warm pleasant sensation caused by the laugh flowed over her.
And then she broke.
Biting into the knuckles on her left hand, Kim muffled her sobs. From the ominous noises she had been hearing overhead for the last few minutes, she could tell they were getting close. If she started to cry now, they would find her.
Of course, she wasn't worried about them overhearing her conversation with Ron. That had only taken place in her head. A game to keep her spirits up. Ron was two hundred and fifty light years away back on earth (she hoped).
After a minute or two, she regained control. She leaned her head back until it touched the cold pipe that formed one of the boundaries of her cramped hiding place.
I'm so glad you're not here, Ron.
Although Ron's mystical powers had easily overwhelmed two Lorwardians back on earth, and she believed he could handle dozens, maybe even hundreds of such warriors, he couldn't take on an entire planet. Not by himself.
Kim knew there was no way out of her sitch. Sooner or later they would find her. And then … well, she hoped by that time she'd have built back enough strength to go down fighting. The recorder was resting in her lap. She gripped it tightly in her left hand.
Regardless, she so didn't want the most important person in her life being part of such a terrible end.
However, if she was being completely honest, Kim Possible would admit that she did want Ron Stoppable there. Perhaps for a moment. A brief flash in time. Enough for a kiss. And most definitely for a hug.
Just enough time to say goodbye.
As she sat in their booth at their restaurant and waited somewhat patiently for Ron to arrive, Kim tried her best to focus on editing the draft of her seminar paper, whose pages lay splayed across the table. Unfortunately, her true focus was on the plate of spiced rice balls that lay in the center of the table. When the appetizer had first been brought, there has been a total of eight on the plate, and she had promised herself that she would only eat a couple before Ron got there. However, 'a couple' had morphed into an intentionally vague 'few' and now, less than twenty minutes later, there were only two left on the plate.
Ugh. How did that happen?
As she should have known from years of experience, she had no self-control when it came to her friend's recipes. And even though Karin wasn't working at Julian that night, the young woman's recipes always were. Kim was absently weighing the pros and cons of finishing off the plate and ordering another so that Ron might not notice when she realized that she was munching on another rice ball.
And that someone was approaching the booth.
As she glanced up at the stranger, the first thought that occurred to Kim was how warm he must feel wearing a woolen greatcoat in May. Then she was struck, in rapid succession, by three features: his gorgeous hair, his piercing blue eyes, and his disarming smile. Two words popped into her head so immediately that Kim couldn't be sure which she had thought first. But both were equally true.
He extended his right arm and clasped her hand gently, warmly, intently. And then he kissed it. "Captain Jack Harkness."
Slightly flustered by this introduction (his smile was even more blinding at close range), Kim half-forgot that she was still eating a rice ball before she spoke. "Kim-" She hurriedly covered her mouth with her left hand and swallowed. "Possible."
"It is a real pleasure to meet you, Kim Possible," Captain Harkness-who Kim now realized was most def in his late-thirties (at least), replied with his charm setting cranked to eleven. He continued to hold her hand.
Getting hit on by older men wasn't a new experience for Kim. It happened occasionally, and each time proved to be both unnerving and icky. True to form, this particular instance was unnerving, but, for reasons Kim couldn't quite explain, it didn't feel icky. Not as much, anyway.
"May I call you Kim?"
In fact, she was feeling ... well ... pleased by the attention he was giving her.
Still, this needs to stop.
"Ms. Possible if you don't mind," she replied coolly.
"Certainly," Harkness said quickly, simultaneously letting go of her hand and dialing back the charm by a handful of Btu's.
"And how may I help you, Captain?" Kim began.
"Dude!" Ron's sudden and majorly-tweaked voice made them both jump.
Spinning around, Captain Harkness found himself confronting a Ron Stoppable in full blown pique.
Kim closed her eyes and sighed. She knew she had better calm things down and fast. If Harkness's true business with Team Possible was serious, she so didn't want a rift to develop between him and Ron.
As she started to get up, she heard Captain Harkness's voice, his charm evidently dialed back up to eleven. "Why, hello, and who might you be?"
Waitaminute. Is he flirting with Ron?
"Mr. Stoppable, right?" Harkness asked pleasantly. "The other half of Team Possible if I am not mistaken."
As Harkness spoke, Kim saw Ron's intensely annoyed expression soften into one of genuine confusion. Then, as Harkness introduced himself and grasped Ron's right hand, she watched her BFBF start to ... blush.
"Y-yeah," Ron managed, rubbing the back of his neck with his left hand. "Y-you can call me Ron."
"Ron?" Kim asked with a noticeable edge in her voice.
"KP?" Ron blinked at her and then shook his head.
"Sorry to intrude on your evening," Harkness said amiably, "but may I sit down. What I have to say will only take a few minutes."
Kim looked from her boyfriend, who was just beginning to suspect that he was so busted, back to Harkness who was now wearing an all-business expression. "Certainly, Captain," she said.
After guiding the still addled Ron into the booth before her and then offering Harkness the last remaining rice ball (which he refused), Kim posed the obvious question.
"May I ask what you are a Captain of exactly?"
"Well, that's kind of complicated," Harkness hemmed.
"Fine, I do complicated very well," Kim smiled.
"Well, more complicated than I feel like explaining right now," Harkness stated with a degree of finality.
"Have you thought about introducing yourself just as 'Jack Harkness' then? Or just 'Jack'?" Ron offered. "I mean, if it would avoid awkward moments ... like this one."
"That hadn't occurred to me before, Ron," Harkness replied with a warm smile, "but that might be a very good idea."
"Okay, Captain," Kim said, trying with some difficulty to keep the rising exasperation from seeping into her voice, "what's the sitch?"
"Well, we're not actually sure that there is one," Harkness admitted. "At least at the moment."
"Who exactly is 'we'?" Kim said, her tweakedness rising to the surface.
"Torchwood," Harkness stated in a somewhat hushed tone.
"Never heard of it." Kim crossed her arms.
"That's probably a good thing." Harkness gave a short laugh and then, catching the point of Kim's body language, explained, again in a modulated volume, "In brief, we're a small international team that fulfills a very important niche in global security."
"Like Team Impossible?" Ron ventured. "I'll give you props. Your MO's a lot friendlier." This got him a gentle elbow to the ribs from Kim.
"Actually, I would say our dynamic more closely resembles your model," Harkness smiled. "We're freelance like TI, but we don't do it for profit."
"Okay, so what is your niche?" Kim whispered.
"We focus on threats of the extra-terrestrial variety."
"Why do I feel like this doesn't bode well for us?" Ron asked, taking one of Kim's hands in his under the table.
"Lowardians?" she asked, squeezing Ron's hand.
"Yes," Harkness replied softly. "I'm afraid so."
"How immanent?" Kim asked.
"Not sure. Our intelligence has been picking up their 'chatter' on our long-range space monitors."
"What's been the tea?" Ron asked in an exaggerated whisper. "The color of the new battle tunics clashing with their myrtle locks?" His attempt at injecting levity into the conversation was a definite crash and burn.
Harkness shook his head. "Unfortunately, no one on Earth speaks Lowardian."
"Wait a minute," Ron said, "I may have only managed a gentleman's C in Lit back in high school, but I'm pretty sure Warhok and his Warmonga spoke English."
"Yes, they did." Kim agreed. "Maybe these transmissions are in code. Wade could attempt to crack it."
"Actually, that's an illusion." Harkness explained. "The Lowardians utilize advanced vocal technology that permits species from other civilizations to understand their speech as if they were being spoken in that species' native language." He added, "That is, when they want them to understand ... which is not currently the case."
This news was be very disconcerting for Kim. She had what she believed was a pretty solid working relationship with Doctor Director of Global Justice. She felt confident the organization's leader would have apprised her of any important discoveries following GJ's research on its stockpile of Lowardian vessels. And language-mimicking technology definitely qualified. "How did you come by this information?" Kim asked.
"Well," Harkness hemmed again, "that's ..."
"Classified?" Ron suggested.
"Complicated," Harkness corrected.
"I see," Kim said with a discernible edge. She was beginning to suspect that Torchwood wasn't so much a "freelance" organization as it was a "rogue" one.
"So why did you come here to tell us this," Ron asked, "if you were just going to tell us it was complicated?"
Kim gave Ron's hand an appreciative squeeze and shot Harkness a look that left little doubt that she seconded her boyfriend's point.
"I'm meeting with you here," Harkness explained softly, "because, for whatever reason, this particular neighborhood is not currently under any agency's surveillance net. The area doesn't even show up on satellite. And, that's not for lack of trying. I know for a fact that at least two international agencies have tried and failed to 'cover' the area around this particular bistro."
Props to Karin's family for that.
"And that brings me back to the substantive point, Ron." Here Harkness paused, looked from Ron to Kim, and then lowered his voice further. "I'm not telling you this information. I'm leaking it."
"Oh!" Ron nodded. Then he whispered-corrected, "Oh."
"I see," Kim nodded. It hadn't happened that often, at least she didn't believe it had, but, on occasion, world agencies had been known to keep vital information from Team Possible. Information that would have been so helpful in completing a mission or mitigating its resulting damage if only she and Ron had been in the loop from the beginning.
"Thank you, Captain," Kim smiled. And then something occurred to her. "Drakken," she breathed. If these Lowardian transmissions posed any danger, her former arch foe certainly needed to be informed.
"The erstwhile Drew Lipsky?" Harkness asked, a glint of charm re-entering his smile. "He's my next contact." He began to slide out of the booth. "Honestly, in terms of global security, I think you two are the ones that really need this information."
Harkness stood and stretched. "But, what can I say," he grinned, "I've got a thing for guys with scars."
Neither Kim nor Ron ventured a comment on this remark.
"If anything develops, I'll be in contact," Harkness said to them both. "Ms. Possible," he gave Kim a crisp salute. "Ron," he gave a coy wave. And was gone.
Kim looked over to see Ron returning the wave. It only took him a few seconds before he felt the full force of her look.
"Whoa, KP!" he said shielding his face with both hands. "Not the brow!"
"The 'brow'?" she replied.
"Yeah, your right eyebrow is so arched it's practically floating in the air above your head!"
"And, if it was, don't you think there'd be a good reason for that, Ron?"
"C'mon, KP, you get hit on by pretty boys all the time," he explained, lowering his guard. "This has never happened to me before."
"Uh huh." Kim replied.
"And I can see why you like it." Ron nodded. When this comment didn't diffuse the situation as he hoped it would (quite the opposite, actually), he quickly began to look for a distraction. And he found one.
"Kim, did you finish an entire plate of Karin's rice balls by yourself?" He asked. "Again?"
They both stared at the lone appetizer on the plate for about ten seconds. Then Kim snatched it up and popped it into her mouth before he could wrestle it away from her.
"Yep!" she laughed in mid-chew.
As they walked through the bustling kaleidoscope that was the typical twilight street scene in Tokyo, Kim noticed that Ron had fallen into a pensive silence. She gave his hand a couple of meaningful squeezes, but he kept staring at the ground before him. However, before she could ask what was on his mind, he beat her to the punch.
"Ok, KP, I'm gonna pull a role-reversal," he began hesitantly.
"Spill," he said firmly.
"What's going on Kim? You seem, I don't know, extra quiet tonight."
"Nothing, I mean—" and then she realized he was right. As focused as she had been on Ron's silence, she had to concede that she had been acting pretty distracted herself. And there was no point in denying what the issue was.
"It's the Lowardians," she admitted.
"I'm concerned, but I wouldn't say I'm worried. Not yet, anyway."
"Yeah, me too," he said quickly, but then he corrected himself. "No, actually, that's not true. I'm worried. Worried a lot."
Although it was no surprised that they were following the same train of thought, she was taken aback by Ron's statement. The signals might indicate the Lowardians were planning another conquest attempt on the planet, but maybe not. Besides, Ron had easily vanquished Warhok and Warmonger both times he had faced them-the second time when he was literally blind. Still, it took little imagination to suspect that because of his abilities, Ron would be the chief target of any new invasion force. Hence, the reason why she was so concerned.
"You shouldn't be worried," Kim said, stroking his shoulder reassuringly. "I know you can handle anything they throw at you."
"Yeah, but what if I'm not there, Kim." He replied gloomily.
"Huh? What do you mean?"
"When they come after you, KP. What if I'm at Yamanouchi or, I don't know, locked in the bathroom or something?"
"When they come for me?" Kim asked. "You're the one who kicked their biscuits, Ron. Twice. If they're coming for anyone it would be you."
Ron shook his head. "When Warhok and Warmonga tried to take over the earth, the first thing they did was kidnap you. They didn't know I existed. By the time they realized I was a threat, it was too late. And I don't think they've been talking to their bosses the last two years from Area 52. Or would even remember what to say if they could."
Kim had to admit that Ron had a point. During the invasion of earth on the night of their high school graduation, the two alien warlords has barely given Ron a second look. From what she had heard from Ron himself, their one-sided battle with him had lasted less than a minute. And then, after their second encounter at Julian two years ago, Karin's family had completely wiped the aliens' memories. They were currently living a pleasant, if sedentary, existence among the motley denizens of Area 52. When would they have been able to notify their empire about Ron and his powers?
"But, wait, Ron," Kim said after a moment's thought. "We really don't know how long they had control of that walker before they attacked Julian. They could have informed their home world then."
"I guess so," Ron said rubbing his neck. "But that would've tanked their rep."
"What do you mean?"
"They were used to conquering planets in the time it takes to order a pizza. No way those two were gonna tell their bosses they got KO'ed by someone like me. No, KP, they were gonna wait until they had taken me out and recaptured earth before they said anything to anybody."
"That does make sense." Kim admitted.
"If they are planning another invasion, they're gonna be coming for you."
"And Drakken," Kim added.
"Right," Ron nodded. "And although I don't want anything bad to happen to blue boy, he's running a very distant second in the race of who I'm worried about."
They walked in silence for the next few minutes. Right before they reached the entrance to Kim's apartment building, she stopped and looked up into his face.
"I'll be okay," she asserted.
"And you know this how?"
"Because you'll have my back."
His objection was interrupted by her kiss.
A few moments later, she explained to her pleasantly discombobulated boyfriend, "Plus, I can take care of myself, Ron Stoppable." She arched her right eyebrow for effect. However, since she was doing so consciously rather than automatically, it didn't have the same impact.
"Okay." Ron sounded less worried but not completely convinced.
"Trust me," she placed her right hand on his chest. "I'll keep them busy until you get there."
"All right," Ron reluctantly agreed.
"Furthermore," she continued, "if I'm right and they kidnap you, I'll have your back."
"Ok, KP." At last, he smiled. "You know I only let myself get rescued by the best."
"This tanks," Ron groused as he sat on the edge of Kim's bed.
"Dad's right," Kim said, two pillows under her right arm and a blanket under her left, "we're way too old to be sharing a bed on a sleepover, Ron."
The fact that at the age of twelve Kim and Ron were having a sleepover in the first place was the result of unusual happenstance. Ron's parents were gone for the weekend at the National Actuary conference, and his nearest relative, Aunt Naomi, was in the hospital with kidney stones. Kim's father had initially been reluctant to the proposed accommodation for her daughter's best friend. Especially since his wife was working the late shift at the hospital, and he had planned on taking the twins to the Space Center to witness the scheduled test launch that same evening. Kim and Ron would be all alone until practically midnight. He only agreed to the arrangement on the non-negotiable condition that Ron would end up on the living room couch.
Kim, however, had slightly modified the sleeping arrangements.
"I know that, Kim," Ron replied, staring at his feet. "I just don't like kicking you out of your bed. I'll be fine on the couch."
Kim sighed as she made her way to the loft's entrance, "The couch is far too narrow, Ron. I don't want you thrashing around in your sleep and squishing Rufus. There's plenty of room on my bed for both of you."
"Hey, I don't thrash in my sleep!"
"Really?" Kim asked. "Because I happen to have photographic evidence to the contrary." Back in second grade, Ron had slept over at the Possibles' the night before picture day. The purple bruise his kneecap had somehow made over her left eye had resulted in one of the more unfortunate debacles in Kim's checkered picture day history.
"Oh yeah," Ron said remembering. "Sorry about that, KP." Then he brightened. "Hey, I read online the other day that naked mole rats can't feel pain. He'll be okay." At this point he took his new pet out of his pocket and began to stroke its tiny head. "Isn't that right, buddy?" In response, the small, veiny pink blob yawned displaying its pronounced teeth.
Kim shook her head. It had been a week since Ron had first introduced his ferociously weird pet to her, but she was still getting used to its decidedly 'unconventional' appearance. That said, she couldn't deny that she did feel affection for the strange little creature. She put down her blanket and gently scratched Rufus on his smooth back. "Ron, he's practically still a baby. He needs elbow … or kneecap room tonight."
"How about he sleeps with you?" Ron offered. "You two need to get some bonding time anyway."
"That might be nice," Kim admitted. "But you're forgetting one thing. The nightlight."
"I've run the tests, Ron. Every outlet in the living room is behind a piece of furniture. The night light doesn't give even close to the same amount of light as it does in this room."
"You ran tests?"
"Oh." Ron sat in silence for a moment. "Waitaminute, KP, I don't need a night light."
Kim stared back at her friend and, after allowing her eyebrow to do the talking, picked up her blanket, balanced her pillows on her head and started to make her way down the ladder.
After a few moments, Ron gently placed his sleeping pet in the middle of Kim's bed and glumly climbed down the ladder.
Some minutes later, Rufus was nudged from his nap by a strange sound. It started low but rapidly got louder. It was a wheezing, groaning sound that soon swallowed up the entire room.
Rufus stood on his stumpy little legs and made his way to the edge of the bed. The sound appeared to be centered at the loft's entrance … or floating a few feet above the entrance. The tiny rodent jumped off the bed to investigate.
However, by the time his paws made contact with the floor, it was no longer the carpeted floor of Kim's bedroom.
Rufus sniffed the air and tried to orient himself to the strange and very brightly lit 'room' in which he suddenly found himself.
And then someone screamed.
Kim waited patiently as she watched her best friend slowly trudge his way to the couch and sit down beside her.
"It's really no big, Ron." Kim said. "The couch is very comfortable. I'll be fine."
"Oh, yeah, it is." Ron said, testing the couch he had habitually sat on for the better part of four years. "But that's not what's bothering me."
"It's fine that you still need a nightlight, Ron," Kim said, placing a consoling hand on his shoulder. She felt somewhat bad about the brusque way she had exited the loft.
"It's not that, either, KP."
"Well, what's wrong?"
Ron shook his head.
"Growing up tanks," Ron pronounced.
"In what way?" Kim said with the beginnings of a smile.
"Well, being back in your room just reminded me of all the good times we've had up there. Reading books to each other until we fell asleep. Waking up to that great book flavor in my mouth because I'd been chewing on a couple of those gold spines in my sleep …"
"And that isn't going to happen anymore?" Kim asked.
"Well, now we can stay up late and watch movies on the couch until we get too tired. It's not the same, but it's still cool, right?"
"I guess so. What're we watching?"
"Well, we could watch Breakfast at Tiffany's again or …"
Ron involuntarily flinched.
"Maybe Big Trouble in Little China" Kim smiled, holding up a copy of a DVD that she knew Ron had been clamoring to see for years.
"Really?" Ron beamed, but then he frowned. "Waitaminute, that's PG-13. I don't think your parents would be coolio with us watching that before, you know, we're ready."
"Well, maybe, they won't know about it until after we've watched it," she replied with a mischievous look.
"Really? You hurricane rock, KP!" Ron fist-pumped the air and sprinted toward the stairs.
"Where are you going, Ron?"
"Gotta get Rufus! No way he's sleeping through something this epic," he called over his shoulder.
Kim cued up the player and then she read the booklet in the DVD case. Twice. She was just about to start reading it a third time when she heard Ron finally make his way down the stairs.
"What took so—" she began but stopped when she saw the look on his face. "What's wrong, Ron?"
"Y-your room," he managed.
"What about it?"
"It … it's gone."
When she reached the second floor and glanced at the entrance to her loft, Kim felt reassured that her initial suspicion was correct. The light in her room had simply burnt out, and Ron had somehow confused the darkened space at the top of the ladder as a sign that her room had vanished. However, the more she thought about this, the less it made sense. Sure, Ron had his childlike qualities, but assuming a room had disappeared just because the lights didn't work wasn't a childlike assumption, it was a crazy one.
Her doubts only increased as she drew near the ladder. An uneasy feeling began to swirl in her stomach, and when she looked at her room's entrance a second time, the hairs on the back of her neck tingled. Something was definitely off about the darkness in her room. Kim had climbed up that ladder dozens of nights when her bedroom light was off, and it had never looked this dark. When she reached the bottom of the ladder, she was almost afraid to look up, and when she did, Kim's throat immediately went dry. The square space at the top of the ladder was uber dark. It was almost completely black. And as she stared up into that blackness, Kim began to feel dizzy. Almost nauseous.
Ron followed her transfixed gaze up into the void and then, after staring at it for a few seconds, let go with an appreciative whistle.
"Ron!" Kim cried as she practically jumped out of her skin.
"Don't sneak up on me like that!"
"Sorry, I-I didn't know I had. I was just following you, KP."
She gave him an annoyed look and then took a calming breath. "Let me grab a flashlight."
When she returned to Ron with the flashlight, she realized that she felt considerably more like herself now that she knew he was with her. With this renewed confidence, she turned on the flashlight and pointed it up into her room's entrance. What she had expected (hoped) to see was the familiar contours of her cathedral ceiling. Instead, all that was visible was the beam of the flashlight extending deeper into the blackness.
Undaunted, she began climbing the ladder. With the flashlight still aimed at the loft's entrance, she kept expecting its beam to illuminate something. If not an object from her room, then anything that might indicate that the darkness wasn't limitless. But this didn't happen. The blackness went on and on.
Once her hand reached the uppermost rung, she took a deep breath and then lifted her head ever so slightly into the void.
"I feel like I'm dreaming," she said after a few seconds.
"Me, too," Ron said just beneath her right elbow.
"You wanna come up?" she asked with a hopeful note in her voice.
"Yeah, scooch," he answered.
She scooted over, so they were both standing on the same rung, their heads peeping over the edge. She swung the flashlight slowly from left to right. The beam never hit anything, just more blackness.
"Check this out, KP," Ron said. A second later he yelled, "Hello!"
There was no echo. His call just seemed to get swallowed up in the void.
Kim reflected that he had apparently already done this much exploring on his own. She was impressed.
As she was swaying the flashlight from the 'floor' to the 'zenith' of the void, Ron suddenly gripped her arm. "Wait, KP, go back!"
"What? What did you see, Ron?"
"I thought I saw stars a little ways down."
She duly lowered the beam a few degrees.
"Oh, never mind. The light's just reflecting off your braces."
It occurred to her to check behind them. It was difficult to shift her position with them both sharing the same rung, but once she did and then successfully pointed the flashlight to the general location where her map of the world usually hung, she gasped.
Ron spun around as quickly as he could under the circumstances. "Oh, man," he breathed as he gaped at what lay in the beam of his friend's flashlight.
Not five feet from the entrance was the base of trellised spiral staircase. It reminded Kim of a staircase she had seen in a book about lighthouses. She raised the flashlight to see how far the stairs went up, but the beam only illuminated row after row of more stairs ascending into the omnipresent darkness.
"Well," she said finally, "here goes nothing," and she made to climb up into the 'room.'
"Whoa, KP!" Ron said, holding her by the shoulder. "What are you doing?"
"Going up the stairs, Ron."
"No, no, KP. We should wait for your folks."
"Look, they're both geniuses. I'm sure they can explain this or, I don't know, KP, come up with some great plan. At least something better than you climbing up and up into who knows where."
"Normally, I would agree with you, Ron," Kim said. "But we can't wait for them."
"Oh, yeah." Ron's voice sounded very small. "Poor little guy."
Kim made to climb up again.
"I'm coming with you, KP."
"Really? Are you sure?"
"Yeah." Ron nodded.
She climbed up first and then helped him do the same.
"Is it okay if I hold your hand, KP?"
They followed the beam across the featureless 'floor' to the base of the staircase. And then, hand-in-hand, the two friends began to ascend the narrow stairs that seemed to spiral up into eternity.
To be continued ...