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 ...
"This doesn't seem right."
Mr. Paisley looked over the ginormous crate that had just been delivered to his manor's foyer with growing suspicion. For weeks he had been eagerly anticipating the delivery of what he had been led to believe was the rarest of Cuddle Buddies. A one-of-a-kind prototype for a hybrid species that was never released, this 'Buddy' didn't even have a name. In fact, from the small pixelated jpeg the online seller had provided, it wasn't even clear what two animals made up the plush mashup. Now that it had arrived; however, he was beginning to have his doubts on the verity of those claims.
The millionaire collector had not been unduly concerned when the package first arrived. In the past he had received his rare plush acquisitions in containers much larger than the items themselves. Most aficionados of his elite circle knew that there was no such thing as too much safety packaging when transporting such precious items. That said, Paisley could not remember ever having received a package this large. It was seven feet tall, four feet wide and three feet deep. Furthermore, when one took into account the fact that the delivery team needed a forklift to bring the box into his home, it became obvious that not all the extra space could be taken up by packing peanuts.
With the box standing straight up, the team began to pry open the lid with crowbars. As they did so, Paisley found that rather than being overcome with giddy anticipation, a sensation of dread was engulfing him. "No, no, not right at all," he mumbled to himself.
The lid crashed to the floor, and an avalanche of foam kernels flowed out, partially revealing the crate's contents. Paisley reflexively squeezed his Warion (walrus-lion Cuddle Buddy) in his right hand much more tightly than he normally would have. The figure inside matched the picture all right. However, what had seemed intriguing and unconventional on his computer's screen was disturbing and monstrous in real life. Not to mention imposing in size.
Then he noticed what it was holding in its right hand … or claw.
"A gun!" he exclaimed. "Why would it be holding a gun?"
"Beats me," the team's foreman shrugged as he held out a shipping invoice for a signature.
Paisley weighed the option of not signing and, thus, refusing shipment. After a moment's hesitation, he scribbled his signature and bid the deliverers a good day. They had already gone to so much trouble in bringing it into his mansion. Besides, he was willing to bet his vast Netscape shares that even if he returned the item, there was no way he would ever get reimbursed the large sum he had paid for it. The return address was for a post office box in the middle of London, and he only knew the seller by his online handle of 'tgi1968.'
After he was left alone, Paisley went back to packing for his trip. There was a Cuddle Con in New York that weekend, and he was taking a flight that very evening from Middleton Airport. Although it wasn't even noon, Paisley felt suddenly compelled to leave for the airport as soon as possible.
As he struggled to close his bulging suitcase, it occurred to Paisley that he should have asked the delivery men to move the figure into his vault. The McHenry Laser Grid had been installed a little more than a week earlier and would prove a formidable deterrent against anyone trying to steal his exorbitantly-priced faux Cuddle Buddy. Indeed, Paisley knew first-hand how formidable the MLG was. In fact, if it hadn't been for the intervention of that young Possible girl, he'd currently be in the hospital rather than jetting off to another convention.
Then an odd thought occurred to him. Perhaps it was a good thing the figure wasn't in the vault. For some reason, the notion of a thief pilfering his latest acquisition filled the obsessive collector with a powerful sense of … relief.
He shook himself free of this strange fantasy and opened his cell phone to call the airline. As he began to dial, he heard a faint beeping noise. It reminded him of the rapid beeps a regular phone gave if it had been left off the hook for too long. In fact, he reflexively opened and closed his flip phone a few times before he realized the sound wasn't coming from it. By the time he realized his mistake, the sound had grown louder and seemed to have increased its tempo.
Following the noise to discover its source, he found himself back in the foyer. There, lying on the mosaic tile floor a few yards from the crate was a silver sphere about the size of a grapefruit. The beeping seemed to be emanating from it. A trail of packing peanuts from the orb led back to the open box. The sound had increased to an almost painful pitch.
Mr. Paisley was in the act of covering his ears when the sphere began to levitate from the floor. Transfixed, he watched it rise until it was some ten feet in the air. Something stirred in the corner of his right eye. He blinked and slowly turned his gaze in that direction … back to the figure in the crate.
At least the volume of his scream provided a momentary respite from the incessant drone of the sphere.
From a distance it appeared that Kim Possible was spending the evening of the Tanabata festival alone in a mostly empty restaurant. She was sitting in her booth at Julian staring at her tablet, wearing earbuds, and occasionally taking a forkful of her meal and a sip from her water glass.
However, there were telltale signs that her meal wasn't a solitary one. For one thing, to her right there was a half-empty plate of Sashimi paired with an empty glass. Furthermore, a certain naked mole-rat would jump onto the table every few minutes to nibble from a rice ball that Kim would have at the ready. Finally, the cacophonous snores emanating from her lap dispelled the illusion that she was unaccompanied on this Sunday July night.
Karin Maaka leaned slightly into Kim's line of sight and gave her a small wave.
Kim smiled at her friend and removed her earbuds.
"Do you think he would like a refill on his soda?" Karin asked, indicating the sleeping form of Ron Stoppable that lay outstretched along the booth's seat, his head resting on a napkin draped across his girlfriend's right thigh.
Kim shook her head. "He's completely wiped. He's been making so many trips recently between his campus and Tokyo. Three this week. I'm actually surprised he lasted as long as he did."
"Are you two planning on filling out a tanzaku tonight?" Karin asked as she took away Ron's plate. It went without saying that the waitress would be preparing him a 'doggie bag.'
"Already have," Kim smiled. "We just need to hang it up. Probably on the way home."
"Good. Hey, are you watching your movie?"
"Yeah," Kim nodded.
"Oh, I still haven't seen it."
"You should, Karin. It's really cute." Then the obvious occurred to Kim. "I'll get you a copy and drop it off the next time we're in."
"That would be great, thanks, Kim!"
If it had been anyone other than Karin catching Kim watching the movie based on her life, it would have been so embarrassing.
Although she had only known the young woman a little over two years, she had quickly become one of Kim's closest friends. Karin was so genuine and … well, innocent that it was very easy for Kim to relax and just be herself around her. Hence, the reason why she had no qualms with Ron using her as a pillow in a semi-public setting. If the restaurant had been packed or if Karin had not been their waitress, that so wouldn't be happening.
Kim went back to watching the movie. Although it hadn't been a blockbuster, she knew it was way better than the film Jimmy Blamhammer had wanted to make back in high school. For starters, it was a smaller production and explicitly made for children. To this point, it avoided the Hollywood tradition of having teenagers portrayed by twenty-something (and, often, thirty-something) adults. Instead, the lead roles were given to actors who were the same age Kim and Ron had been when they had started high school.
Although the casting decisions had pleased Kim, they did cause some unfortunate controversy at the time. A vocal minority on social media had complained that the lead actress looked "too young" to play her. And then there were those on the skivvy fringes of the internet who were outraged that the fifteen-year-old actress wasn't sexy enough. Kim had pushed back hard on the armchair critics and the pervs, and then visited the set to let the actress know that she had her back. Forming a close bond with the teenager had been very rewarding. What Kim had liked most about the production was the director's decision to side-step CGI effects and invite Rufus to play himself in the movie. The little guy had a great time, and Ron couldn't have been more excited to carry a movie star around in his pocket.
As for the movie itself, it hadn't exactly set the world on fire. However, it was cute and fun. And that was what Kim wanted right now. Some light entertainment to take her mind off … things.
Okay. Fine. To take my mind off the Lorwardian sitch.
Fortunately, the aliens had not played any part in the film's plot. But they had been featured in a video released online to promote the movie. A video that proved to be the one sore spot from the entire experience for Kim.
Warhok and Warmonga had been depicted as clownish blowhards. And that so rubbed Kim the wrong way. Although most of her foes were freaky, by and large they were not all that menacing. The Lorwardians had been lethal exceptions to this rule. On two separate occasions, their technology had come mere seconds away from destroying the planet. Although she could see the studio's point-portraying them realistically was not conducive to a kid's movie, she also believed making them look like inept fools was a mistake. It only gave the false impression that the Lorwardians were harmless. To Kim's mind, the smartest move would have been to not include them entirely.
As she was musing on this point, a slice of cake suddenly appeared next to Kim's elbow.
"On the house," Karin replied to Kim's questioning glance.
"Thanks, Karin, but why? I'm not even done with my dinner."
"You looked a little down, so I thought I'd bring it now. No big!"
As she watched her friend walk away, Kim reflected on how shy and self-conscious the young woman used to be around her. She looked at the cake and recognized it as the same recipe she had been served the night the two had first met. Kim sighed. The kind gesture was having the opposite effect as intended. It only reminded Kim of Karin's secret. The secret that she and Ron were destined to keep for the rest of their lives.
The secret that, through a cruel twist of fate, they now had to keep from Karin herself.
A sudden rapping sound shook Kim from her melancholic daze. She started, looked up into the eyes of Captain Harkness, and a second later turned deep crimson.
Unfortunately, the reason for her embarrassment had nothing to do with being caught watching 'her' movie. When Harkness had rapped his knuckled on the tabletop to get her attention, the sound had woken Ron who proceeded to bang his head on the underside of the table.
"Whoa," Ron said as he sat up in the booth, rubbing the top of his head. "What's going on, KP? Oh, hey, Jack."
"Hey, Ron," Harkness said with a wave.
Kim was mortified. It didn't take much imagination to guess how Harkness might interpret Ron's sudden appearance. Still, whatever snark was about to be delivered had to be faced. She took a breath and raised her gaze to meet his. Surprisingly, he wasn't wearing a mischievous expression. Instead, there was a … kindness reflected in his features. Which was both a relief and somewhat foreboding.
"Miss Possible, can we talk?" he said with an undercurrent of urgency in his voice.
As Harkness made to slide into the seat opposite Kim and Ron, Karin approached the table.
"Is everything all right here?"
"Yes, everything's fine, Karin," Kim smiled.
"Ok." She turned to face Harkness. "Hi," she managed with some effort.
"Hi, to you, too. Miss-?"
"I'm married," Karin cried and quickly hurried back the way she came.
Harkness presented Kim and Ron with a puzzled, innocent look.
"As if," Kim said, rolling her eyes. "There's no way you aren't aware of the vibe you give off."
"Fine," Harkness said. He was wearing his 'kind' face again, and Kim was definitely feeling a sinking sensation.
"Bad news?" she asked simply.
"What's going on," Ron said as he put his arm around Kim's shoulder.
"The Lorwardian chatter has intensified. And although we still don't know what any of it means for certain, our contact did catch two words in English."
After a beat, Kim asked, "My name?"
Harkness nodded. "Which is why I'm here to offer you sanctuary at our nearest safe site."
Kim's reply was instant. "Thank you, but no thank you,"
"You should reconsider."
"I am not going into hiding, Captain."
"Miss Possible, they're coming for you. All three of us know that. You'll be a sitting duck unless—"
"Unless I go underground for who knows how long. And, even then, how do we know that your agency's 'safe site' is Lorwardian-proof."
"Torchwood," Harkness explained softly, "has … acquired various technologies of alien origin over the years that—"
"I'm not going to stop living my life, Captain," Kim said in a tone that was more heated than she had intended.
"Look, Jack," Ron said after a moment of tense silence, "Kim isn't going to do this."
Harkness sighed. "So what are you going to do, Miss Possible when a Lorwardian tripod crashes on your doorstep?"
This statement did give Kim pause. Up to that moment she had framed the scenario in her imagination as if it would be just like the last time—a tracking beam aimed at her and only her. What if the Lorwardians dropped a tripod in the middle of her neighborhood? Or on campus? How many people could be injured or even worse if that happened? Maybe hiding wasn't such a bad idea after all.
"Jack," Ron said, interrupting Kim's train of thought, "when these guys invaded the first time, there were all kinds of early signs, right? They tagged every golf course in the world at least a week before they arrived. Satellite signals went wonky, etc., etc. We'd have some warning."
"All that's true, Ron," Harkness conceded, "but what if they've learned that announcing their first visit was a mistake and try a more covert scheme?"
"Wait a minute," Kim said. "If you can monitor their communications, you can probably determine how far away the source of those communications is. Right?"
"Yes," Harkness admitted. "It isn't exact, but we have a pretty good idea how far away the source is."
"And I imagine you can also tell if a Lorwardian force was in the neighborhood?"
"Yes." Harkness said, making it clear that he did not like the way the conversation was headed. "The range is about one AU away. Maybe a little more, maybe a little less."
"Can you alert us if and when that happens?" Kim asked.
"Technically, yes," Harkness said, his voice growing somewhat strained. "However, by that point, they could be on top of you in only a couple of hours, 90 minutes. That's not enough time to get you secured at one of our sites."
"Maybe not," Kim said. "But it is enough time for us get out of town. So, no one else gets hurt."
Harkness smiled and looked at the table. "But what keeps you from getting hurt, Miss Possible?"
Kim patted Ron's hand on her shoulder. "We'll have each other's back."
Harkness closed his eyes and shook his head. "You're making a mistake."
"Perhaps," Kim admitted. "But it is ours to make."
No one spoke for almost a full minute.
"If it makes you feel better," Kim said finally, "I believe you should make your offer to Drakken."
"Why?" Harkness asked. "He hasn't been mentioned at all."
"Not that you know of," Kim said. "When I first encountered Warmonga, she was calling Drakken, 'The Great Blue.'"
"'The Great Blue'?" Harkness raised an eyebrow.
"I don't know," Kim explained, "some whack ubermensch from their mythology, I suspect. And then when they invaded, they called Drakken the 'deceiver' because they knew he wasn't that guy."
"And either one of those handles could have been in the chatter," Ron offered, "and you'd never know because …"
"Because they were in Lorwardian, right." Harkness sighed again. "Was really hoping not to have to visit Drew again." Then he smiled, "The scar is definitely not worth the accompanying baggage, and I don't think his partner likes me all that much."
He reached over and gave Rufus a scratch on the back of his head. "I really wish you'd reconsider."
"I know," Kim said. She felt Ron place his right hand in hers under the table. "But, we'll be okay."
"Well, the best of luck to you two. I sincerely hope you never hear from me again." As he slid out of the seat, he mumbled something under his breath.
"I'm sorry?" Kim asked.
"No, no, it's nothing," Harkness said. "I was just thinking about someone who could really help in this situation. Unfortunately, this person is not easy to get a hold of. A friend of mine used to have a direct line, but that hasn't worked for years."
"A direct line to who?" Ron asked.
"The Doctor," Harkness replied. "I'd say more but, well, … complicated." He smiled, gave a salute, and was gone.
For a full minute, Kim and Ron sat in stunned silence.
Finally, Ron spoke. "You might as well say 'Jinx' now, KP. You and I both know we're going to be saying 'The Doctor' in about two seconds."
Instead, she squeezed Ron's hand tightly, released it, and then tapped on her wrist Kimmuncator's screen.
"Hey, Kim," Wade Load's image said. "What's up?"
"Wade, I need you to look up someone called The Doctor."
"Ok. Is this person a medical doctor or a secret agent that just uses that as an alias?" Team Possible's tech guru asked.
"Well, Wade," she sighed, "up until two minutes ago, he was only a dream."
"What's going on? Why have we landed? Why all this fuss?" The Doctor hurried into the Tardis's console room, nervously twining his hands together.
"No idea, Doctor. The Tardis just landed unexpectedly," Zoe Heriot replied.
The Doctor adjusted a few knobs and threw a switch on the center console. "Are you certain that neither of you touched anything by mistake?"
After a moment, the Doctor and Zoe turned to look at Jamie McCrimmon who was down on his knees in a far corner of the room, with his back to them.
"I can feel your stares," he said crossly in his thick Scottish brogue. "But I didn't touch anything!"
"That is odd," the Doctor said with concern. "If she truly landed by herself, that is very odd indeed." Then he furrowed his brows. "Then why did you scream?"
"Jamie thought he saw a monster," Zoe replied with a slight roll of her eyes.
"I didn't scream," Jamie said crossly over his shoulder. "I might have yelled out in surprise, but—"
"The scanner's not even on, Jamie," the Doctor interrupted after glancing at the Tardis's main viewing screen.
"He said he saw it inside the Tardis, Doctor," Zoe explained.
The Doctor gave the console room a dubious onceover to verify that his first impression it was monster-free had been accurate. "Really, Jamie?"
"No, no, it's a wee little thing," the young highlander explained with exasperation. "Why do you think I'm down here? I think I've got it cornered."
"What does it look like?" the Doctor asked, stepping behind Jamie's hunched form.
"I didn't see it," Zoe explained.
"No, you think I imagined it," Jamie griped.
"Well, it was how you described it, Jamie."
"Please, what does it look like it?" the Doctor asked again.
"Like a brain with teeth."
"A brain with teeth." The Doctor said thoughtfully.
"Aye, a wee one"
"Move aside, Jamie. I believe I can handle this." He patted his companion on the back. Reluctantly, the young man scooted out of the way.
"Let us see now," the Doctor said crawling into the tight corner and lowering his face to the floor. After a few moments, he announced, "Yes, yes, I see what you mean, Jamie. That was a more or less apt description of our visitor."
"See! What did I tell you, Zoe?"
"Apt, if wholly inaccurate," the Doctor continued drolly.
Zoe favored Jamie with a smile.
"It's all right don't be frightened," the Doctor spoke softly.
"I told you, I didn't scream," Jamie protested.
"I was talking to our visitor, Jamie," the Doctor huffed. Then he continued in a gentle tone. "No one's going to harm you. That's right, little fellow. Come on out. Show yourself."
A minute later the Doctor slowing got to his feet. He held his hands together as if they contained something precious.
"What is it, Doctor?" Zoe asked, craning to see.
"This, Zoe," he replied as he slowly opened his hands, "is one of the most fascinating creatures in the galaxy. A mammal that lives in a hive-like society."
"And ants. These little fellows even have queens."
"But what is it?" Jamie asked, eyeing the little pink blob with borderline disgust.
"A naked mole-rat. Juvenile, if I am not mistaken."
"Ah, you're putting me on. That's not what they're called. And where did it come from?"
"They are called that, Jamie," the Doctor said rolling his eyes. "And it comes from one of the oddest planets I have ever visited in my travels."
"Which one is that?"
"Yours," the Doctor said, shooting the young man a look.
"Fine, but how did he get in the Tardis?"
"Now, that is a good question. Shall we ask him?"
Zoe and Jamie exchanged confused looks.
"So, what is your story, little fellow?" the Doctor addressed the little pink blob.
The creature began squeaking and making chittering noises with its oversized teeth.
"Really?" the Doctor said after a moment. As the creature continued, he rejoined with a couple of "Oh, dear's" and one "I say!". Finally, after the creature ceased, the Doctor said solemnly, "Well, we will see what we can do."
"Doctor?" Zoe asked hesitantly.
"Yes, it appears that when we landed, the Tardis, inadvertently, materialized around young Rufus here. Apparently, we caught him in mid-jump."
"Rufus?" Jaime asked.
"Yes. He has lost his human, and we're going to help find him."
"Were you just talking to that thing?" Jaime said pointing his finger just a few inches from Rufus's nose.
"Of course!" The Doctor snapped, slapping Jamie's finger away. "Weren't you even listening?"
"You can speak its language, Doctor?" Zoe asked, tentatively reaching out to pet Rufus on the head.
"Yes, I am fluent in most languages, my dear," the Doctor assented. "Well, at least, most civilized languages."
"You said that it said that it got caught when we landed. Where have we landed?"
"'Rufus', Jamie, not 'it.' But, again, a good point. Zoe could you turn on the scanner, so we can have a look?"
After Zoe turned the appropriate knob on the console, the screen on the wall slowly revealed a room with a bed and a desk.
"Hmm. I was expecting something a little more African," the Doctor said after a moment.
"African?" Jamie asked.
"Yes, naked mole-rats thrive in the savanna. The earth isn't all highlands and lochs, you know."
"It looks like a regular bedroom," Zoe said. "A little antiquated, but not much different than my chambers on the Wheel."
"Yes, let us go out and have a look around." The Doctor pressed a button, and the large Tardis doors that formed the room's left wall opened.
The trio exited the Tardis and tentatively began to explore the room. After a few moments, the Doctor sat on the bed with Rufus and thoughtfully examined all four walls of the loft.
"Why did she bring us here?" the Doctor half-whispered to himself. "There's got be a reason."
"Well, you always claim the Tardis has a mind of its own," Jamie said as he picked up an odd-looking stuffed toy from the bed. "Maybe it just wanted a nap." He carelessly tossed the toy back down so that it rolled off the side.
The Doctor ignored him and continued to study the room in silence for some time. "There is something very curious about this room," he said finally.
"What, Doctor? Everything seems normal to me," Zoe said as she looked over the devices on the desk. "Turn-of-the-century in style, but normal."
"There is no entrance," he pronounced with some gravity.
"What do you mean? The door's right there," Jamie said waving his arm to indicate its location.
"That's the bathroom, Jamie," the Doctor said without looking. "How does one get in and out of this place?"
"Why don't you ask your little friend?" Jaime said with an unsubtle dose of sarcasm. "I'm sure he'll know."
"Quite right." The Doctor looked to the mole-rat who was now perched on the edge of the bed. However, before he could speak, Rufus began sniffing the air excitedly. Then he began shaking.
"What is he doing, Doctor?" Zoe asked.
"I'm not sure." The Doctor went to stroke the top of Rufus's head to calm him, but before he could, the little creature sprang from the bed and ran back into the Tardis.
Kim was seeing stars. Metaphorically, at least.
"KP! Are you okay?" Ron urgently.
"Yeah," she said, rubbing the top of her head, "fine. Just hit my head on … something."
They had been climbing the spiral staircase for a long, long time. Although she wasn't getting tired or winded by the climb, Kim was starting to lose heart. She had expected to see something, anything at the end of her flashlight's beam eventually, but, over the last five minutes, the sense of optimism that formed a main pillar of her personality had started to crumble. There was no question of ending the search, but she had begun to doubt that climbing these stairs was the best way to find Rufus. In fact, she had just lowered the flashlight and turned to ask Ron what he thought they should do when her head smacked into … whatever it had just smacked into.
She raised the flashlight which revealed that what she'd hit was a piece of wood. About a foot wide and maybe six-foot long, it looked like a shelf. A shelf that certainly had not been there seconds earlier. Its sudden appearance, however, was not the only strange thing about it. It also seemed to be suspended in mid-air. She traced its edges with the flashlight's beam. All around it was the endless the void. And that was when Kim made the chilling observation that the rows of stairs that only moments before towered vertiginously above them had vanished right at the point where the 'shelf' hovered. All at once, the universe seemed to only contain this magically floating shelf above, the dozens of rows of stairs beneath, and the two of them in between.
"Duuuude," Ron said. "What is up with this place?"
"I know," she agreed. "I'm starting to feel like Alice."
"In Wonderland, Ron."
"I hate that book," he said crossly. "And now were IN it!"
At first, Kim wanted to tell him to stay focused on their ferocious weird predicament, but when she recalled the reason behind Ron's anger, she smiled. Although she didn't particularly like Lewis Carroll's Alice stories, she didn't dislike them, either. Ron, on the other hand, absolutely despised them. As he had explained to her during a sleepover back in 1st grade, this was because everyone in Wonderland was a jerk and mean to Alice for no reason.
"I know you hate it, Ron." She squeezed his hand. "But this is different."
"Because we're here together."
"Yeah, … I guess so," he said with a smile she could hear.
A few seconds later she let go of his hand.
"Why did you let go?" he half-wailed.
"Calm down, Ron. It's just for a second."
Still directing the flashlight to the shelf, Kim tentatively raised her free hand and gave the piece of wood a slight push. It didn't budge. She then gave it a firm shove and felt it move slightly. When it did, a crease of light in a thin line along the shelf's left and front edges pierced the omnipresent void.
"Whoa!" Ron said, covering his eyes.
"Sorry, Ron." She let go of the shelf. It lowered back to its previous location, and the light disappeared. Kim thought for a second. "Keep your eyes covered, I'm going to try something." She pushed harder and the shelf raised even higher. The crease of light was proportionally wider, too. When she let go, the board went back to its initial position, and the light was swallowed by the void once again.
"I don't think this is a shelf, Ron."
"I thought it was more like a board."
"It's not that, either." She pushed even harder, this time against the left side of the object. "I think," she strained, "that … it's ...," and the object flipped on its right edge, "… a lid."
Light poured down onto them from an open space that now 'hung' in the same position as the 'shelf' had just seconds before. Kim stuffed the flashlight into her short's pocket. She grabbed Ron's hand, and, together, using their forearms as shields from the glare, they climbed up into the light.
Kim suddenly cried out as her right foot couldn't find the next step and she found herself tipping forward.
Fortunately, Ron was still holding her hand. "I got ya, KP!" With serious effort, he pulled her back and helped her regain her balance.
"Thanks, Ron. I almost ate it on the floor."
"What? There's a floor?"
"Yeah," she smiled, "there is!"
Once their eyesight got adjusted, they both carefully took the next doozy of a step onto that floor and found themselves in an odd … room.
All the surfaces were white. The wall to Kim and Ron's immediate left was honeycombed from floor to ceiling by circular 'openings' that weren't lights, exactly, but the light in the room seemed to emanate from them. The wall behind them was made up of panels with rows of various 'computer' instruments although 'computer' didn't seem like the appropriate word, and a large monitor. The wall across the room before them was partially 'open'—as if it were composed of two large doors that had been left slightly ajar (opening inward). Nothing but darkness, that reminded Kim of the place they had just left, could be seen in the space between the halves. The remaining wall was also made up of those circular 'openings' but also contained an opening leading to a corridor. The centerpiece of the room was a six-sided table covered with knobs and switches. And in the center of this 'table' was what looked to Kim like an oversized glass cake cover with a carousel of spinning mirrors inside. The 'cake cover' was pulsating with an eerie glow.
"What is this place?" She asked finally.
Ron shook his head. "It looks like something out of Captain Constellation … except, you know, not as slick."
They started to explore. For every odd object there was also a seemingly 'normal' one, too. In the corner next to the row of 'computer' panels, there was an old-fashioned coat rack. There was an ordinary-looking chair in the opposite corner. A bookcase was next to the split wall. Finally, there was a long wooden trunk. It was from out of this last 'normal' article of furniture that they had climbed.
Kim got the sudden urge to double-check the trunk to make sure the stairs were still there, but Ron had begun to wave at her.
"Check this out, KP." He was pointing to the monitor.
On the screen was her room.
And there were people in her room. She couldn't see them, but two, maybe three, shadows were thrown across the portion of her bed and floor that were visible on the screen.
"I so don't like this, Ron." Her mouth was dry. She was starting to get frightened.
Ron's abrupt cry drew Kim's attention from the monitor. She turned and saw the little pink blob running through the gap in the 'split wall' and headed for the waiting arms of her best friend.
"Hey, buddy!" Ron gave his pet an excited, yet sufficiently gentle, squeeze, and then kissed him on his small, veiny head.
Although she reflexively winced at the kiss, Kim found that she couldn't contain her relief, either. She ran to Ron's side and began to stroke Rufus behind one of his little nub-like ears. Her relief was short-lived, however. She heard voices coming from the gap in the left wall. Turning her head quickly to the monitor, she saw that the shadows in her room were gone.
"They're coming, Ron." She tugged at his sleeve. "We've got to go!"
"Huh? Who's coming?"
She pulled him toward the trunk. "Come on!"
They ran back to the trunk, but the lid was closed. The voices were growing louder. Kim lifted the lid quickly, but when she looked inside, her heart sank.
"Uh-oh." Ron said.
The stairs and the void had been replaced by the wooden sides and the wooden floor of a normal, empty trunk.
To be continued ...
"So, do you think Michelle will mind?" Ron asked, rubbing the back of his neck with his right hand. A sure sign he was anxious, and that was curious.
"No, why would she?" Kim answered as she absently picked at her slice of cake. "She knew you were going to be staying over tonight."
For the past three years, Ron had been camping out on a couch that belonged to Michelle, Kim's friend and roommate, whenever he stayed overnight in Tokyo. It had never been a problem. So, it didn't make sense for Ron to be acting like it would be an imposition now.
"I know she was fine with tonight, KP. I meant from now on."
"What do you mean 'from now on'?"
"Well, obviously, I'm going to have to be in town every day until this Lorwardian thing gets sort out."
"Hold on, Ron," Kim said, laying down her fork. "Are you actually—"
"You heard Jack," he interrupted. "They could be on top of you in ninety minutes!"
"Two hours," she corrected sharply.
"Whatever! There's no way the ninja copter can get me here from Yamanouchi in that amount of time."
"So, you're just going stop your training? You told me this year was the crucial year!"
"I never said that," he objected.
"No, you said it was the 'mucho importante' of the 'whole enchilada' year," she snapped.
"Oh, fine. But whatever."
"And you're planning on throwing that away?" she asked heatedly.
"To keep you safe? Yes!"
Rufus, who had been following this escalating exchange with increasing concern, took this moment to let his humans know that they were not alone.
Some five feet away holding Ron's doggie bag and another slice of cake was a visibly upset Karin Maaka.
"I'm not hungry, Karin," Ron said with a shake of his head. However, his statement was belied by the cacophonous rumble of his stomach. He smiled, "Okay, that's not true."
Karin, mirroring his smile, hesitantly approached the table and placed her deliveries next to him.
"Everything's okay, Karin," Kim said, gently touching the waitress's shoulder.
After the young women left, Kim sighed deeply. She turned to face her boyfriend. "I'm sorry, Ron. It's just … when I told Harkness that I didn't want to stop living my life, I meant your life, too."
"I know, KP." He was poking at the top of his cake with his fork. "But it really won't be a big deal. Sensei's coolio with me taking a break."
"Even if it ends up being a really long one?"
"Break, sabbatical, he'll be down with either."
"We could always meet half-way," she suggested. "I could take the Sloth north, and Sensei could fly you down. We could meet around Sendai, and … and that's a pretty terrible plan."
"It only makes sense for us to be together. And your exams are coming up."
"Right," she nodded. Then she brightened. "But if this continues into the August break, we will spend that in Yamanouchi. Deal?"
With the sitch settled-accommodations-wise, until early September, Kim and Ron both realized that they were in the mood for Karin's cake.
Caught in mid-chew, Kim covered her mouth and rolled her eyes.
"No worries, KP," Ron said, "I'll get it."
She held out her wrist Kimmunicator, and he tapped it. "Go, Wa—" he began. "Woah, Wade are you okay?"
Kim looked up from her plate at Wade's image. He looked wane, distraught.
"Uh … no. Not really, guys." He sounded as if he were in shock.
Kim swallowed quickly. "Talk to me, Wade. What's wrong?"
"UNIT killed … killed my computer," he managed.
"Dude, have you been crying?" Ron asked with much more sympathy that his word choice conveyed.
"A little," Wade admitted. "Okay, more than a little."
"What happened, Wade?" Kim asked again.
"Well," he sniffed, "'The Doctor' is too common a phrase to do a wide, in-depth search, so I decided to cross-reference it with 'Torchwood' since Harkness, apparently, knows this guy."
Soon after their first meeting with Captain Harkness, Kim had asked Wade to research both him and his group. Team Possible's tech guru hadn't been able to locate much, but what he did find suggested that both the Captain and his organization were legit.
"Okay?" Kim prompted.
"And that got a big hit with the UNIT agency."
"And who are these dudes?" Ron asked. He had noticed that the more his friend spoke, the less upset he seemed.
"'Unified Intelligence Taskforce.' Back in the 20th century they were officially sanctioned by the United Nations. The UN distances themselves from UNIT now, but they seem to still pay all the bills. Like Torchwood, they're based in the UK and seem to have something to do with extra-terrestrials."
"Like Area 52?" Kim asked.
"Something like that. Anyway, the most promising hit for the 'The Doctor' led back to UNIT's server, so I-I hacked it." Wade bit his lower lip.
"Stay with us, buddy," Ron encouraged.
"It was tough, but I got into it-the server, after about ten minutes."
Normally, if Wade had told Kim and Ron that it took longer than three minutes to hack a server, they would have assumed he was sedated.
"I issued a command line to collect all data on 'The Doctor' and that's when … it happened."
"What did, Wade?" Kim asked. The dip in her friend's voice at the end of his last sentence made her want to reach through her Kimmunicator and give him a hug.
"A virus. I-I guess. I've never seen anything like it. Seared through my firewalls. I-I tried everything I could to block it, but … I don't know. It was almost like … almost like it was alive!"
After a tense minute of silence, Ron asked. "What happened?"
"It fried her. The boards are all completely blackened. My room smells like ozone."
"I didn't think software could do something like that to hardware—" Kim began.
"It can't." Wade nodded with something of a walleyed stare.
"I'm so sorry, Wade," Kim said without really knowing what to say. To her, it looked like Wade had just lost a good friend. She was going to say that she would pay for the damage but decided against it. One, she believed that was already understood. Two, that really wouldn't help the situation. This was about so much more than money.
"No, I'm sorry, Kim. That really wasn't why I called."
"It wasn't?" Ron asked.
"No, I wanted to give you the info."
"You got info? On the Doctor?" Kim had almost forgotten the reason behind Wade's ill-fated hack.
"Not much, unfortunately. Just some images from the file on him."
"You rock so hard, Wade Load," Kim said with as much gravitas as such words could possess.
"Thanks, Kim. Ron." He gave them a weak smile. "I'll patch them onto your tablet, Kim."
"You can do that?" Ron asked, "I thought your computer was … no longer with us."
Wade's face broke into a genuine smile. "Don't worry, Ron, I have dozens of computers. See how many keyboards there are around me?" He sighed, "No, that one was just really special."
Kim opened the file from Wade and began to scroll through the images. After a few seconds, she started to frown. Some pictures looked really old, some more recent. The problem, however, was that each was of a different man. They were a real motley assortment of … well … characters. None of whom she recognized.
Are these associates of the Doctor? Colleagues … sidekicks?
"Wade, do you know if any of these is supposed to be the Doctor?" she asked finally.
"Not sure, Kim. I managed to snatch this small batch of images from a master directory labeled 'The Doctor.'"
"I guess these could just be his … companions?" Kim offered, looking to Ron.
Why did I use that word?
"Maybe, KP." Ron was making one his signature 'pondering' faces. From experience, Kim recognized it as a harbinger that her best friend/boyfriend was about to have a genuine moment of brilliant, if unconventional, insight. That or he was about to drop a cringe-worthy pun.
Fortunately, it was the former.
"Wade, what if the Doctor is like Camille?"
"I think you're onto something, Ron," Kim nodded her approval. "Is there any date information linked with these photos, Wade?"
"Checking," Wade said as he typed on two different keyboards. "The dates are all over the place, but some are from the same year." Wade furrowed his brow. "If we assume all of these are of the Doctor, that may indicate he has the ability to change his physical appearance. Like Camille Leon."
"Boo-yah!" Ron smiled.
"However," Wade interjected, "shapeshifters usually employ their abilities to either impersonate famous or powerful people or as a means for camouflage—to blend in with the crowd."
"I see your point, Wade," Kim conceded.
"Yeah," Ron had to agree. "None of these dudes blend. Like at all."
"Right. Is this one wearing a sprig of parsley on his lapel?" Kim asked indicating a thirty-something with blonde hair.
"I think that's celery," Ron said. "Yeah, and that one dresses like a villain from the Fearless Ferret. I mean, come on, the handle of his umbrella is a red question mark!"
"Whoa," Kim said looking away quickly from a picture of an older man wearing a ghastly, multi-colored patchwork jacket. "This one might actually work as camouflage."
"Uh-huh," Ron agreed, "you can't help looking away from him."
"So, I'm guessing you don't see anyone you know?" Wade asked.
"Negative," Kim said sadly.
I never would have made you take that risk if I'd known, Wade.
"None of the seven looks even remotely familiar?"
"Seven?" Kim asked.
"We only got five pictures here, Wade."
"There were five color images and two black and white ones." Wade asserted.
"Let me see." Kim switched out of her normal photo app and checked her download history. For some reason, the two monochrome photos Wade had sent to her device had been filtered out by the app. With rising anticipation, she clicked open the first one.
"Shoot," she groused. The man in the picture looked like somebody's grandfather dressed up as a rock star.
Then she enlarged the final image.
"Bingo," Ron breath.
"Yes," Kim smiled. "That's him, Wade. That's the Doctor."
Over the next few seconds, Kim and Ron were overcome with a vertiginous sensation as this photographic evidence proved that their shared dream from so many years ago had not been a dream at all. As this feeling ebbed away, both Kim and Ron began to study the picture more closely. Simultaneously, they started to tilt their heads at a 45-degree angle.
"What is he doing?" Kim asked finally.
"I was just wondering the same thing, KP."
None of the men in the previous six images had been posing. They were either unaware that they were being photographed or they were ignoring the camera when the pictures were taken. This photo, the one with the Doctor, was most definitely a posed picture. However, he was posing in a very odd way. He was laying on his side with his left arm supporting his head, his right draped across his torso, and his legs crossed at the ankles. And there was a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.
"He's acting like a supermodel," Ron observed.
Although Kim gave her boyfriend's remark a slight eye roll, Ron was essentially right. The Doctor was positioned in the classic 'swimsuit pose.'
But the Doctor was not wearing a swimsuit. He was, in fact, dressed in the same disheveled outfit that he had been wearing when Kim and Ron had met him a decade earlier.
The Doctor and Zoe were the first to reenter the Tardis. Jamie lagged with marked disinterest in the pursuit of the naked mole-rat.
"Which way did he go, Doctor?" Zoe asked, quickly scanning the floor of the console room.
"I'm not sure, my—," he began as a sudden movement drew his attention to the back wall of the console room. He saw the lid of his trunk shut smartly. A few seconds later, it rose just high enough for him to detect light glinting off a pair of anxious eyes.
"Ron!" a voiced hissed. And the lid dropped shut.
The Doctor and Zoe exchanged a look and then a smile.
"It seems we have come to the end of the adventure," the Doctor said, steepling his fingers.
"Adventure?" Jamie asked derisively. "What are you on about?"
"We have located Rufus's human, Jamie," the Doctor sighed. "Or, perhaps, humans."
"Where?" Jamie said.
The lid of the trunk cracked open a second time and then shut just as quickly.
"Stowaways," Jamie breathed.
"Now, now, Jamie," the Doctor cautioned, raising his hands. He then turned to Zoe, "Would you like to do the honors, my dear?"
Knowing full well why the Doctor had volunteered her for the task, Zoe smiled. Her adventures with the Doctor and Jamie had first began when she had stowed away on the Tardis by hiding in the very same trunk. "Certainly, Doctor."
She walked to the trunk and gently rapped her knuckles on its lid.
Kim had never been so furious with Ron. It wasn't enough that he had kicked her in the back when he scrambled into the trunk after her. Or that he had elbowed her in the back of the head—hard, when he tried to squeeze himself down so the lid would shut. But then he had given away their position by 'taking a quick peek' even when she warned him not to. It didn't help that she was seriously frightened. Or that she secretly believed it was her hissing at Ron to lower the lid, rather than his raising it, that had most likely given away their location.
Someone knocked on the lid, and Kim, even though it was pitch black, shot Ron a harsh look. But then she felt his legs start to tremble against hers, and her anger melted. She placed a steadying hand against his knee and said, "Go ahead, Ron. Open it."
Although her anxious imagination had yet to settle on any single horrible thing, Kim had certainly not been expecting the friendly expression on the strangely-dressed teenager who greeted them.
"Hello there," the girl said pleasantly.
"H-hi," Kim managed. Ron said nothing.
Kim did a quick check of the trio that was now inspecting them. The girl with black bobbed hair and dressed in a silver, sequined body suit appeared to be high school aged. Standing by the console was a young man with brown hair, wearing a kilt. Although he didn't seem angry, his face and posture suggested he was very annoyed. Between them was an older man who struck Kim as being … very peculiar. His black hair was styled, if it could be called that, in a way that reminded her of the cover of one of Ron's father's old records from the 1960's. She couldn't recall the name of the band, but the record was called Rubber … something. His clothes, however, was what made him look truly odd. His pants were like what her father would play golf in … except they were far too baggy. His black coat also seemed too big for him, and she could make out its worn, frayed edges even from her position in the trunk. Finally, his small bow tie was at a distinct slant and looked like it was just barely hanging on. Yet, for all of this, Kim found herself warming to the man. There was something about his expression, especially in his eyes, that made her feel, well, safe.
"Hello," the man said with a slight wave. "I'm the Doctor and these are my friends, Zoe," he gestured to the girl, "and Jamie," he gestured with an absent wave over his shoulder to the young man. "Am I to understand that one of you is Rufus's human?"
Even the tone of the man's voice placed her at ease. In fact, most of Kim's anxiety had melted away by the time she realized that Ron hadn't answered the question. She was just about to give him a nudge when he erupted.
"What have you done with KP's room!" he cried.
Horrified by Ron's outburst, Kim watched with dismay as the Doctor's pleasant expression quickly morphed into one of shock and then outrage.
"We haven't done anything with anyone's room," Jamie said hotly. "Why are you trying to stowaway on our ship!"
"Ron," she whispered urgently, "what are you doing?" As she looked back to the Doctor, she noticed his eyes shift quickly from Ron to her and back again. And, almost as suddenly, his face resumed its former pleased expression.
"And who is 'KP,' young man?" he asked in a mollifying tone.
"That's me," Kim said quickly. "My name is Kim Possible. That Ron's nickname for me."
"A-hah, I see," the Doctor nodded. "And you're Ron?" he asked, pointing to the furious towhead.
"Yeah, Ron Stoppable," Ron said angrily. "You need to give KP back her room like now."
"Ron," Kim repeated, grabbing his left arm. "Calm down."
"'Kim Possible' and 'Ron Stoppable'," the Doctor said happily to himself. "What wonderfully improbable names."
"Dude," Ron interrupted in a somewhat less furious, but still highly-agitated voice.
"Doctor," the Doctor corrected and then inquired quickly, "May I ask why you think we've taken Kim, I mean, KP's room?"
"Because," Ron began and then paused. "B-because it wasn't at the top of her ladder, and after we climbed those ridiculously-high stairs, we were here, and we can see her room through your window." He pointed to the scanner, where, indeed, Kim's room was still visible.
"I think you have made a slight mistake, Ron. We didn't take KP's room. We simply landed in it."
"Landed?" Kim asked. "Landed what?"
"The Tardis," the Doctor said, raising his arms wide to indicate the room in which they were all standing.
"Tardis?" Kim and Ron said together. However, neither felt compelled to say jinx.
"Yes, my ship," the Doctor explained. "And my home, too."
"But that can't be," Kim said, shaking her head. "This room is bigger than my loft. How can it be inside it?"
"It's all a question of dimensional engineering," the Doctor said simply.
"He means it's bigger on the inside than it is on the outside," Zoe explained helpfully to Kim and Ron.
"Well, of course, that's what I meant," the Doctor, a little put out, huffed.
"I didn't believe it at first, either," Zoe said with a consoling look to Kim. "But it is true."
"Come on now," Jaime said. "They know all that! You don't really believe that nonsense about them climbing stairs into the Tardis, do you? They were trying to stowaway with us!"
"Hush, Jamie!" the Doctor said firmly. "Of course, I believe that nonsense-I mean, I believe them." He turned to Ron, "When you say that KP's room wasn't at the top of her ladder, what do you mean exactly?"
"Well," Ron, much calmer than he had been minutes before, explained, "there was like this black … nothingness in the square at the top of her ladder where her room should have been."
"And when we went inside the void," Kim continued, "there was this ferociously tall staircase and at the top was the lid to that trunk. We lifted it, and we were in this room."
"Splendid," the Doctor said, clapping his hands together. "We were wondering why your room didn't have an entrance. We must had landed directly on top of it. This explains everything!"
"Excuse me, sir," Kim said.
"'Doctor,' yes, my dear?"
"Sorry, Doctor, I don't want to be rude, but that really doesn't explain anything to me."
"Me, neither," Jamie added. "I've never seen any … 'ferociously tall' staircases in the Tardis."
"Well, neither have I, Jamie, but that doesn't mean anything," the Doctor said crossly. "The Tardis has practically a limitless number of rooms, no one's been in all of them!"
"Doctor," Zoe said, wishing to both make a point and head off yet another row between her two companions, "I didn't think it was possible for anyone to enter the Tardis if the doors were closed. I mean, without a key."
"Quite right, Zoe," the Doctor said, turning from Jamie. "No one can enter the Tardis," he held up the index finger on his right hand significantly, "by force." He then smiled at Kim and Ron who were still standing in his trunk, "However, nothing prevents her from letting people in."
"Why would she do that?" Jamie asked, still not convinced.
"I'm not sure," the Doctor said with a frown. "Perhaps," he brightened, "she simply wished to reunite them with Rufus." He gestured to Zoe, "Come, come, there's no reason for you two to stay in that trunk. Zoe, let's help them out."
As Ron accepted Zoe's hand and stepped out of the trunk, he asked the Doctor, "How did you know his name was Rufus?"
"He told me," the Doctor, who was helping Kim, replied simply.
Kim and Ron exchanged looks. Although Ron had insisted for the past week that he could communicate with his strange new pet, he had never claimed that the little pink blob could talk.
"Well, I suppose you three would like to be back in your room, or, KP's room, rather," the Doctor said, gesturing to the Tardis' massive doors that were still ajar.
With the slightest of hesitations, Kim nodded.
This did not go undetected. "Or are you game for a small tour of the Tardis?" the Doctor asked with a knowing smile.
"Well, MrD," Ron said, "you've been really cool and all, but I think we've had enough of Wonderland. At least for tonight."
"Eh? 'MrD'? 'Wonderland?'"
"Ron has nicknames for everyone he likes," Kim explained. "He calls my parents 'MrDrP' and 'MrsDrP'."
"Oh, I see. 'MrD' for 'Doctor.' I quite like that. Thank you, Ron." He nodded. "Well, we certainly won't keep you."
Kim couldn't deny that she felt a little disappointed that they were leaving. However, at the same time, she did agree with Ron. It would be good to experience the normalcy of her loft again.
"However, you do have one more surprise in store," the Doctor said. Then he paused. "Hmm. You know, this usually works the other way around. People enter the Tardis and are shocked by how big it is on the inside. I believe you may be our first visitors to be surprised by how small it is on the outside."
Almost on cue with the Doctor's words, the doors of the Tardis closed.
"Jamie," the Doctor sighed, "please reopen the doors."
"For the last time, Doc," Jamie huffed, "I didn't touch anything. I haven't touched a button or knob on the console all—"
Suddenly, there was strange wheezy sound and the room seemed to tilt. Kim found herself on her bottom, and, a second later, Ron was in her lap.
"Hold on!" the Doctor called out as he clung desperately to the console. "This is going to be—"
And then, just as suddenly, the room was level and quiet once again.
"-much briefer," the Doctor continued, "then I thought it would be."
"What happened?" Jamie asked, picking himself off the floor. "Getting a mind of its own, again?"
"Where have landed now?" Zoe asked as she helped Ron climb off Kim.
"Sorry, KP!" Ron said offering her his hand.
"It's ok, Ron," Kim said as she got to her feet. "You're not as heavy as the floor is hard." She rubbed her sore backside.
The Doctor was fumbling with some of the controls on the console. "Let's see," he mumbled, "time zone … longitude … and …"
"What's the story?" Jamie asked.
"We've traveled about five miles north from our previous location, but we're in the same time zone."
Kim wondered what the Doctor meant by that. The nearest time zone borders were hundreds of miles in either direction from Middleton.
"So, since it is only a matter of distance, Jamie, I should be able to get us back to KP's room very easily." He made ready to throw a lever and then paused. "Oh! Hold on to something, everybody." He waited a few seconds and then pulled the lever sharply.
He returned the lever to its previous position and pulled it again.
Zoe gave Kim and Ron a reassuring look. Jaime gave the Doctor a significantly less pleasant expression.
The Doctor adjust a few knobs. "I can feel your look, Jamie. Stop it." He pulled the lever again.
The Doctor sighed and then looked to Kim and Ron. "I'm afraid the Tardis might have more in mind than just reuniting you with Rufus."
"What do you mean, Doctor?" Kim asked.
"The Tardis doesn't always take me where I want her to go—don't say it, Jamie!" he shot an admonishing hand toward the highlander. "However," he continued, giving Kim the full force of his gaze, "she invariably takes me where I need to go."
The anxious feeling in Kim's chest that she had noticed a few minutes earlier was building, but, at the same time, she was beginning to like the feeling.
"Well, where are we, MrD?" Ron asked because it seemed odd to him that no one had already asked this question.
"Exactly, Ron," the Doctor said. He turned a knob near his right hand. "Let's see where we've landed."
The blank grey screen slowly filled with a dark, shadowy image.
"I'll try to enhance the signal," Zoe said, twisting a dial on the console panel closest to her.
The image slowly began to brighten and became clearer. The outlines of an immense foyer with what appeared to be a large, oddly-shaped chandelier hanging above a grand staircase came into view. The picture was still very dark, but massive cobwebs could be clearly seen hanging from the chandelier, the corners of the ceiling, and draped along the banisters.
"An abandoned estate of some kind," Jamie offered.
"It would appear so," the Doctor said, not entirely certain.
"Pretty spooky, KP," Ron whispered. "I sure wouldn't want to be in that place on … well, on a night like this."
Kim was only half-listening because she was transfixed by the chandelier. It seemed very familiar for some reason. She stared intently, trying to discern its odd shape beneath the clots of webbing.
"Can you get more light in there, Zoe?" the Doctor asked. "We need a clearer picture."
"I'll try, Doctor" the teenager replied. She turned a small crank that awkwardly jutted out of her console.
The image was suddenly illuminated with a blinding light that made the entire screen white. Fortunately, it faded quickly. It was in the afterglow of this aurora that Kim noticed the glint of two red crystals near the top of the chandelier.
"Oh my gosh, Ron!" she breathed, gripping his arm. "It's Paisley Manor!"
"Look, the chandelier is shaped like an owl. Remember? It had two rubies for eyes."
"Oh, yeah," Ron agreed. "Boy, he's really let the place go."
"What are you saying, Kim?" Zoe asked turning from the screen.
"We know this place," Kim said. "We were here just a week ago."
"Really?" the Doctor asked. "Is this the local 'haunted house' everyone explores for fun?"
"No, Doctor," Kim shook her head. "This house belongs to one of the richest people in the tri-city area. We were just at his house last week. He gave us a tour after …"
"After KP saved his life," Ron said proudly.
"What? You did?"
"It was no big, Ron" Kim said, slightly annoyed. "He had a problem with his security laser grid thingie, and I helped him out that's all."
"What are you talking about, Kim?" Ron protested. "You were amazing! Even he said so. That's why he gave us the tour."
"Were you now, Kim?" the Doctor asked with a pleased expression. "I mean, amazing."
"Sure was," Ron smiled. "Kim can do anything!"
"Ron, please," Kim said, her cheeks growing warmer as she realized everyone else in the room, excluding Rufus, was staring at her. "That's so not important right now. That was only a week ago. There's no way his house could get so run down in only a week."
"You're sure we're in the same time zone, Doctor?" Zoe asked.
"Oh, yes, quite sure." He nodded with a smile.
"Then what could have happened?" Jamie asked.
"Don't know. I guess we'll have to investigate," the Doctor replied, a mischievous glimmer in his eyes, "shan't we?"
"Doctor," Zoe said urgently, "do you think it'll be safe?"
"Oh, I don't see how it could be, Zoe," he chuckled. "I mean, really, when has it ever been safe?"
"No, Doctor," she said gesturing with a nod toward Kim and Ron, "I mean for them."
"Oh? Oh! Quite right, Zoe," the Doctor nodded rapidly. He approached Kim and Ron. "Kim, Ron, our adventures tend to be, well, they tend to be dangerous."
"Dangerous?" Ron asked with a discernible gulp.
"Yes, very. It might be a good idea if you two were to stay in the Tardis. You will be quite safe in here."
"If Mr. Paisley or someone else is in trouble," Kim said, "I want to help."
The Doctor looked her in the eye for a long second and said, "Good show, Kim. Good show." And then he looked at Ron's quaking form. "And how about you, Ron? Are you up for an adventure?"
"May I have a word with him in private, Doctor?" Kim asked.
"By all means."
She gently led Ron back toward the trunk. "Look, Ron, I know you're frightened. If you don't want to come, that's perfectly fine with me. You don't have to."
Ron stared at his shoes for a while. Then he raised his head and wiped his eyes with the side of his arm. "No, KP, if you're going, I'm going."
"Thank you, Ron," she whispered in his ear. "We're both coming, Doctor," she said with a smile.
"Splendid," he clapped his hands together. "Jamie," he called over his shoulder, "we're going to need torches. Five of them."
"T-torches?" Ron asked, more-than-slightly flustered.
"Oh, that's right," the Doctor said quickly. "You're Americans. You call them … fiddlesticks, it's just on the tip of my tongue …"
Kim blinked, and then fished her flashlight from her short's pocket. "Do you mean flashlights?"
"Yes! Flashlights," the Doctor clapped his hands together again. "That's it. Oh, and you already have one. Jamie, we'll only need four!" Then a strange look passed over his features. He reached into an inner pocket of his over-sized coat and produced what looked to be a blue and white striped flute.
"Is that a flute?" Ron asked.
"Actually, it's a recorder," the Doctor explained, "but very close, Ron. I was just thinking … 'Flash Light.' That George Clinton song … how does it go again?"
However, before he could play a note, Zoe and Jamie were at his elbow with the torches. "Doctor?" Zoe asked.
"Oh, yes, of course," the Doctor sighed. "That'll just have to wait, then."
Zoe handed Ron a torch.
The Doctor bent down so that he was eye-level with his new companions. "Okay, you two, there are some ground rules. Please pay attention because no one ever does."
Kim nodded and then Ron did.
Raising the index finger on his right hand, he said, "One, don't ask silly questions." He then raised the index finger on his left hand. "Two, don't wander off. And, most importantly, if I tell you to run," he placed the palms of both his hands lightly but firmly on their shoulders, "you RUN." After a beat, he favored them with a mischievous grin, "Any questions?"
Neither Kim nor Ron knew what to say.
The Doctor clapped his hands together and announced, "Splendid! We're off!"
Kim and Ron were the last customers to leave the restaurant. However, they didn't make it ten yards from the door before they heard Karin calling for them.
"You almost forgot this," she said, running toward them with a long strip of blue paper.
"The tanzaku!" Kim exclaimed. "Thank you so much, Karin! I totally forgot."
"No big!" Karin replied happily. After handing Kim the paper, she waved 'bye' to them both and skipped back to the restaurant.
"That would have tanked," Ron said. He gestured over to the right. "I saw a huge Wish Tree this afternoon over this way."
"Great,' Kim said, nuzzling closer to him. Although it was July, a cool breeze was blowing. As they walked in the direction of the tree, the breeze strengthened into a wind. Kim rubbed her bare arms. "I'm starting to regret wearing this dress," she groused.
"I got you covered, KP." He stopped and unzipped his backpack. He took out a light blue tangled … something. "I've been meaning to give this back."
"My hoodie! I was wondering where that had gone."
"Yeah, you left it in my cell the last time you visited." He shrugged. "I've been meaning to give it back. I even washed it."
Kim was having difficulty undoing the tangle.
"But then I stowed it in my tote and completely forgot about it." He grimaced. "It probably smells awful, right?"
"No," she said, finally pulling it over her head. "It does smell. But it smells like you."
They walked a minute or so in silence.
"I can't believe he's real," Ron said finally.
"I know," she nodded. "And all that crazy stuff at Paisley Manor really happened."
"I'm not remembering everything," he continued, "it's just coming back in flashes." He shook his head.
"What is it?" she asked.
"I was such a coward."
"No, you weren't, Ron," she said firmly. "You were very brave."
"Maybe your definition of brave differs from mine, Kimbo, but I don't think I have ever cried that much before or since."
"No, I've seen you cry more since."
"Was that supposed to make me feel better?" he asked wryly.
"What's important is that you faced those fears. That's what makes you brave."
"I guess," he said without conviction.
"It so does. Remember what Joss told you Junior Year?"
"Do you mean the secret to winning at horseshoes?"
"No, that it's your fears that make you brave."
"Well, I must be the bravest guy in the world."
"You're the bravest person I know."
Before he could protest, she was kissing him.
They walked the remainder of the way to the Wish Tree in pleasant silence. However, when they reached it, they saw that all the lower branches were full. Fortunately, Kim spotted a branch not far up that had some bare spaces. By standing on Ron's shoulders, she reached it easily and fastened the tanzaku securely.
"So, what did you write in it," Ron asked after she got down.
"Not supposed to tell," she said, straightening her dress.
"Well, I definitely want to change what I wrote," he sighed.
"What do you mean?"
"If I had known earlier that the Lorwardians were gunning for you—"
"Hush!" she said placing her fingers to his lips. "We're going to be fine." She checked the Kimmunicator. "Mom will be getting off the night shift in a few. I should give her a call when we get back."
"You gonna tell her about the Lorwardians?"
She nodded without looking up.
"How do you think she'll take it?"
"We'll see," she replied, dispassionately.
"It'll be okay. No worries."
This phrase struck Ron as an odd replacement for 'No big,' but before he could reflect on it further, she was kissing him again.
Unbeknownst to them, a pair of ears near the top of the Wish Tree had heard every word they had spoken. And a pair of blood red eyes was now watching their every move as they headed back to Kim's apartment.
To be continued ...
Kim was tweaked. She had everything set for the call with her mom; in fact, she had been ready for more than ten minutes, but she had yet to dial.
She got up from her desk and walked the floor of her room for a minute or two. Finally, she closed the door. Although that did muffle her best friend boyfriend's arena-worthy snores from the living room couch, that wasn't her motive for shutting herself in her room.
Get it together, Possible! I've got to do this before she falls asleep.
For the past six months, Anne Possible had been on the graveyard shift at Middleton Memorial as part of a department reshuffle. It was a little after eleven in Tokyo, so it was just after seven in the morning for Kim's mom—almost her bedtime.
Kim took a steadying breath, typed her home number into the video interface, and made the call.
After the fourth ring, Kim began to suspect her mother wasn't home or had already gone to bed. She was annoyed to discover that part of her was relieved by these prospects.
"Hey, Kimmie," her mother's image said as it appeared on the laptop's screen. A white towel was wrapped over her hair, and she was wearing the periwinkle robe Kim had given her the previous Christmas.
"Hi, Mom!" Kim replied breezily with a cheery wave of her right hand.
"What's wrong?" Anne Possible asked.
Kim allowed her face to fall, took a deep breath, and blew at the few strands of hair that were dangling across her face. "The Lorwardians," she heard herself say.
"I see," Anne replied. After a long moment of silence, she said with a tight smile, "And after my roses have finally started to come back." When this remark failed to elicit even a smirk from her daughter, she asked again, "What's wrong?"
"We're not sure," Kim began, "but it doesn't look like invasion is their end game this time."
"Okay … what do we think their end game is this time?"
"It sounds like, and we don't know this for certain, that … that they're just coming for me." Kim was really irked by how dry her mouth had become in the last few minutes.
"I see." Anne replied. And after an agonizing silence that's length Kim could only measure by counting her heartbeats, her mother asked once again, "What's wrong?"
"I think," Kim said raising her eyes to meet her mom's, "I think that I might actually be frightened." The sound of her own voice uttering these words depressed her. She leaned back in her chair and sighed. "And I so don't know what to do about that."
"Okay," Anne said without breaking eye contact. "I'm not sure you want to know my opinion on that, Kimmie."
"Why not?" Kim asked.
"Because I would suggest you talk to your father about converting one of his base's deeper rocket silos into an apartment. And then I would have him place the heaviest, most blast-resistant cover he could devise on top of that silo. And then I would have Ron and his mystical powers sit on top of the lid."
Kim was flabbergasted. "What?"
"Kim, do you know what I was thinking when you were pulled up into that ship during graduation?" Anne asked.
Kim, still a little dazed, could only shake her head.
"I was wishing that I could go back in time and take down your website."
"Right after you rescued Mr. Paisley when you were twelve," her mother nodded.
"Why would you-?"
"Because if I had stopped your missions from happening, you never would have become a world-renowned hero and never have been abducted."
Kim was at a complete loss for words. Her mother had always given the impression that she supported her world-saving activities. Provided they didn't impinge on her schoolwork or chores, she had never voiced any opposition to the missions. Had her mom secretly been against them the entire time? Did she really believe that Kim had made a mistake by becoming a hero?
"Of course," her mom said, interrupting the downward spiral of Kim's thoughts, "that wouldn't be the type of decision you'd make. It wouldn't be you, would it?"
"Hiding at the bottom of a silo. Refusing to save the world or even help people because it was the safer choice. That isn't you, Kimmie. It never has been. And it isn't you now."
Kim gave her mom a small smile. She had fallen for her mother's stratagem so easily. Still …
"But this being frightened is new, isn't it?" her mother intuited.
"Have you spoken to Ron about it?"
"No, I haven't." She shook her head. "I keep telling him that we'll be fine, that we'll have each other's backs. But the truth is … I'm not sure that'll be enough."
"You need to let him know that."
"Kim, Ron does have your back. And not just in a fight with supervillains or aliens, he has your back emotionally, too. Let him help you in this."
"And it isn't just him, either. Think of your other friends. And think of all those people you've helped, that you've saved over the years. Sweetheart, your support system is literally the world."
"You know." Anne corrected.
"Okay, mom," she gave an unconscious, genuine smile. "Thanks." Kim brushed her hair behind her ear.
"Oh, wow!" her mother exclaimed. "Your hair!"
"Oh yeah," Kim smiled, "you haven't seen my streak yet."
"It looks lovely."
Kim blushed. "Karin had her ends dyed dark blue all the way around, and it looked really cool. So, I asked her if she could recommend someone to give me just a thin streak of violet. And she did it herself. A really good job, I think."
"I think so, too."
"Do you think Dad will agree?" Kim made a face.
"Well …" Anne mirrored her daughter's grimace. "What does Ron think?"
"He thinks it's 'bon-diggity,'" Kim replied and then chuckled. "Even Duff Killigan gave me a compliment a few weeks back."
"I do," Kim admitted. She paused. "You know what I have been thinking about lately?"
"The Christmas cookies you made when I was ten."
"Yeah, you twisted gingerbread and sugar cookie dough together so that they looked like candy canes."
"Oh, yes, I remember those."
"They were so good! Why didn't you ever make them again?"
"Well," Anne said, "that was kind of a tough year. The boys were still really young, so I wasn't back on a full shift yet. And then there were cuts at your father's program. At the beginning of December, we really weren't sure if your Dad was going to have a job in the new year."
"Geez. I never knew that."
"So, I tried some new recipes and other inexpensive ways to celebrate since we weren't going to have much to put under the tree."
"I've always considered that one of my favorite Christmases."
"Well, it worked then." Kim's mom raised an eyebrow. "This call wasn't just an elaborate ploy to get me to make you more of those cookies, was it?"
"Suspicious much?" Kim rolled her eyes. "Of course, I wouldn't complain if you wanted to try baking them again this year."
Then something occurred to Kim. "Waitaminute, Mom. That doesn't make sense. That was the year I got my bike."
"Oh, that wasn't us," Anne Possible said with a straight face. "Santa got that for you."
Kim waited for her mom's deadpan expression to break into a smile. But she held it. In fact, she held it for so long, that Kim began to laugh.
"What's so funny?"
"Nothing, Mom. I just realized what I really needed tonight."
"And what was that?"
"A little bit of magic," Kim smiled. "Thanks, Mom. I love you."
"I love you, too, Kimmie."
When Kim ended the call, she felt very much at ease. She put her computer to sleep, climbed under her covers, and turned off the nightstand lamp. Then she lay in the darkness for several minutes.
She felt fine, but she couldn't fall asleep for some reason. Finally, she realized her problem. She got up and opened her bedroom door. Back under the covers, she listened to her best friend boyfriend's cacophonous snores ricocheting against her walls. Within minutes, she was fast asleep.
Kim could only gape at the blue box the four of them had just exited. If she didn't have a clear view of the large console room through its half open door, she would have sworn it didn't even have the interior space of her bedroom closet. Even with the view of the interior, it didn't make sense. She walked all the way around to confirm its size, but that only made the mystery deepen. Trying to accept both its interior and exterior dimensions at the same time made her feel somewhat dizzy.
Ron, with his torch aimed over the box's entranceway, was focused on a different feature of the Doctor's ship. "What's a 'Police Public Call Box'?"
"Well, Ron," the Doctor explained, "it's a phone booth for calling the police."
"Oh, yeah," Ron nodded, "I've seen phone booths in old movies. Superman used them for a closet. Do police use this as a closet?"
"I don't believe so, Ron, no."
"Why does your ship look like one?"
"Well, you see, the Tardis has the ability to perfectly camouflage itself with its surroundings. Within seconds of landing anywhere, it selects the perfect disguise to blend into the background."
Ron nodded. "Okay, that sounds cool. Still, a 'Police Public Call Box' kinda stands out in the middle of Mr. Paisley's front room."
"It always looks like that," Jamie said absently as he trained his torch to the top of the master staircase.
"Yes," the Doctor admitted. "There is a problem with the chameleon circuit. I've been meaning to look at it for some time."
"What does that mean?" Ron asked.
"It's stuck," Jamie chuckled.
"Fine, fine," the Doctor huffed, "let's see what's going on here."
"Should we try calling out for Mr. Paisley?" Kim asked.
"A good idea, Kim. But let's examine our immediate surroundings first," the Doctor suggested.
Slowly, the group of five fanned out in a semi-circle from the Tardis' open door.
Apart from the presence of massive cobwebs, nothing about the foyer looked dilapidated or run-down. If it hadn't been mid-April, Kim might have assumed that Mr. Paisley was decorating his manor for a big Halloween bash. Still, there was something else about the foyer that was bothering her. Maybe it was encountering such complete silence and darkness in a room that had been so full of light and commotion the last time she visited. Whatever it was, she got a creepy feeling as she stepped toward the stairs. She wasn't cold, but she felt compelled to rub down the goosebumps on her arms and was tempted to do the same with her legs.
"Do these cobwebs look familiar to you, Jamie?" the Doctor asked pointing his torch at an especially thick clump of them hanging from the chandelier.
Something in his tone as he asked this seemingly mundane question made Kim stop in her tracks. She carefully edged away from the large cobweb that formed a billowing gate of sorts at the bottom of the stairs.
"Aye," the highlander answered in a voice just as serious. A second later, he cried out, "Hold on there, laddie!"
Kim spun around to the sound of Jamie's agitated yell just in time to see Ron getting shoved by the young man. Her friend was going to topple over, but before she could rush to his aid, Jamie had steadied him.
"You don't want to touch that stuff!" Jamie said, catching his breath. He then gave Ron a reassuring pat on his shoulder. "Are you all right?"
Ron nodded. "I'm cool."
"Kim, Zoe!" the Doctor called out sternly. "Do not touch the cobwebs, stay clear of them!"
"Why, Doctor?" Zoe asked, holding her arm out in a protective gesture before Kim.
"Because they are not cobwebs," the Doctor pronounced gravely.
"Wha-?" Ron began.
"It's a deadly fungus," the Doctor said. "Their chief weapon."
"Who's 'their'—I mean, who's 'they'?" Ron managed.
"The Yeti," the Doctor and Jamie said in unison.
"Jinx," Ron said brightly. As he realized that neither the Doctor nor Jamie were likely to be playing the soda game, his mood quickly returned to one of terrified befuddlement.
"Yeti?" Kim asked. "You mean like the Abominable Snowman?"
"Quite," the Doctor said, turning to her and Zoe.
Ron's knees began to knock together.
"Except they're actually deadly robots," Jamie explained.
"Indeed," the Doctor nodded.
Ron's teeth began to chatter.
"That must mean the Great Intelligence is back," Jaime said, notably agitated.
"I'm afraid it does, Jamie," the Doctor agreed, twining his hands nervously together. Since he had needed to place his torch in his coat pocket to perform this gesture, its light beam danced irregularly along the ceiling and created crazy, jagged shadows in the room.
"Let's pretend I don't know what that means," Ron said as evenly as he could after steading his knees and trying his best not to cry.
"Yes, let's," Zoe agreed. "What is the Great Intelligence?"
"A malignant presence from the astral plain, Zoe. A spirit, if you will. An evil spirit," the Doctor replied.
"The Doctor and I have tangled with him twice before," Jamie added.
"What does this Great Intelligence want?" Kim asked.
"Well, among other things, to conquer the world," the Doctor replied absently.
"So, MrD," Ron said in his bravest-sounding voice, "We're dealing with killer robots who are disguised as Bigfoot, shoot deadly toe fungus that looks like spider webs, and are controlled by a ghost who wants to rule the world?"
"Well, I don't think it's toe fungus, Ron," the Doctor said. "But, otherwise, exactly."
Before he realized she was there, Kim had her arm around Ron's trembling shoulders.
"Don't worry," she whispered.
"Wh-why not?" he whispered back.
"Because we're here together," she consoled. "Besides," she deadpanned, "there's no way this isn't all a dream."
Kim woke with a start. For a second, she couldn't remember where she was. Fortunately, Ron's ever-present snores from Michelle's coach were able to orient her. She glanced at her wrist and tapped the Kimmunicator. The screen came to life.
She tore off her covers and stumbled in the dark to her desk. She woke her laptop from sleep mode and drummed her fingers impatiently as she waited for the video call application to come online. She dialed Jim's number, but it went straight to a messaging service. This was unexpected. Even if her brothers were the type to turn off their smartphones while in class (and they weren't), it was Sunday afternoon in Middleton. She tried Tim's number.
"Hey, Kim," her younger brother said leadenly.
"Tim, I need you to do something ferociously—wait, are you ok?"
He shook his head.
"What's going on?" As she asked this, she realized that he had yet to look her in the eyes.
He sighed and shook his head again. "What do you need, Sis?"
"No, no, Tim, you need to spill. Right now."
He started to roll his eyes, but, as he did so, they connected with hers and he broke. "I messed up. I messed up so bad."
"Talk to me."
"Jim and I are doing an experiment," he replied. He noticeably flinched as he let the last word drop.
"What kind of experiment?" She was trying hard to be the understanding big sister, but there was something about her little brother's aversion to that heretofore cherished word that set off red flags.
"A kissing experiment," he said, refusing to look at her.
"Ok," Kim replied, not liking at all where this was going. "A kissing experiment upon whom?"
For a moment, she didn't think he was going to reply. Finally, he spoke his girlfriend's name.
"Jim said that since we're identical, she probably wouldn't be able to tell our kisses apart. And I said she would."
"So, let me get this straight, Jim is currently on a date with Angelica. And she thinks he's you. And you've got a bet going over whether she'll be able to tell after they kiss?" Her voice had grown heated as she spoke. And she had no intention of turning down the heat, either. What they were doing was despicable, and Tim deserved everything he got for playing such a terrible trick on someone he claimed to care about. But before she could unload on him, Kim noticed that Tim was crying.
"Tim?" she asked gently.
"I tried calling him, but his phone's off," he said after a minute.
"Did you try calling her?"
"Yeah, same deal."
"Do you know where they went?"
"They're skiing on Mt. Middleton with her folks," he spat. "Dad's at the club, and I can't wake Mom up to drive me up there—not after her shift."
Although her twin brothers were super geniuses, they were still subject to things as mundane as the minimum driving age. Although they had designed most of the features on Kim's car, they were both still a year away from a learner's permit.
"What about Wade?" she offered. "He just got his license."
"I can't drag Wade into this. This is my mistake. I shouldn't ruin his day."
Although her brothers seemed to share the same brain most of the time, they were very different people in many ways. For instance, Jim would have had no trouble wrangling Wade into giving him a ride, probably with some sweet high-tech bribe. Then another difference between her brothers occurred to Kim.
"So, Jim is going to ski?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Yeah, I gave him my gear and …" then the obvious struck Tim. "Oh man, that's right, he can't ski."
"I don't want to give you false hope, Tim, but I suspect Angelica will know Jim's not you long before she gets him alone for a kiss."
"Oh, yes, please!"
"However, even if this experiment gets abandoned before they kiss, you're still in major trouble."
"Right," he sighed. "I still went along with it. I still tricked her into thinking he was me."
"Yep," she nodded. His display of maturity, even if it was after-the-fact maturity, had taken the edge off her anger.
For the next several minutes, they discussed the various ways he could attempt to rebuild the trust in their relationship. Finally, Tim started to act and sound something like his normal self, and Kim felt comfortable broaching the original subject for her call.
"I have a favor to ask, Tim."
"Sure, Sis, whatever you want."
"I need you to," she hesitated. Closing her eyes, Kim grit her teeth and took the plunge. "I need you to go through my closet."
"Please don't make me repeat it, Tim." For most of their shared childhood, her loft had been unofficially off-limits to her little brothers. However, her closet had been strictly forbidden. Long before the super suit, she had recruited Wade to recommend a security system for her closet that would be 100% Tweeb-proof. And now she was about to reveal the code to Tim. To literally invite the barbarians through the gates.
"Are you sure about this, Kim?"
She nodded, her eyes still closed. "Go through all the boxes, all the bags," she sighed deeply. "It's probably way in the back, but you should go through everything to make sure you find it."
"Okay, what am I looking for?"
She opened her eyes and saw that instead of unbridled relish in her brother's features, there was concern.
"You wear maturity very well, Tim Possible," she smiled.
He shrugged and listened intently as she described what she needed him to find.
After she put her laptop to sleep, Kim stared out her window as the night sky gradually turned amethyst. A few minutes later, she got up to get back in bed. However, as she passed the window, she distinctly heard the flutter of wings.
She sighed as she dropped her head on her pillow. The memory of the sound reverberated in her head. And the sad memories it stirred kept sleep away until the sky was quite blue.
Early in their friendship, Kim learned that Karin was a major fan of Brittina. So, when the pop star's Second Anniversary Farewell Tour came to Tokyo during August break at the end of her Freshman year, Kim had taken Karin to the concert and arranged a meetup backstage after the show. However, as they were on the train to the concert, a disturbing thought had occurred to Kim. Brittina had recently become estranged from her wife, and Kim worried that any emotional undertones during the visit might cause 'complications' for Karin. When she whispered her concern, Karin had smiled.
"Oh, I haven't told you," she whispered back. "My blood doesn't increase anymore."
"Yeah, it's been like six months." She beamed and, unfortunately, forgot to whisper, "I'm practically human!"
Fortunately, it was very loud on the train and no one took notice of Karin's odd comment. Except Kim, who, for the rest of the night, couldn't shake the sense of foreboding her friend's words had given her.
A week later, Kenta Usi—Kim's friend from class and Karin's boyfriend, sent an urgent text for Kim and Ron to meet him at his apartment as soon as possible.
They were horrified by what he had to tell them.
"H-how could they?" Kim yelled. "That's terrible!"
"Why, dude?" Ron managed. "Why would her family do that? It doesn't make any sense."
"Considering Karin's … condition," Kenta had said, struggling to contain his own emotions, "they thought it was the least painful solution-the only way to give her a happy life."
"Where is she?" Kim asked, wiping her eyes with her sleeve.
"She's sleeping on my mat." Kenta gestured to his bedroom's shut door. "Anju said that she may sleep as long as twenty hours before … before the process is complete. We shouldn't try to wake her."
"So, is she going to be living with you now?" Ron asked, putting his arm around Kim.
"Uh-huh," Kenta nodded. He then released a fragile laugh. "You know, a few days ago, she made a joke about us getting engaged. When I asked if she was serious, she only blushed and wouldn't answer me."
Kim eased out of Ron's embrace and gave her friend a fierce hug.
"It's earlier than I had anticipated," Kenta continued, "but I think I'm going to ask her when she wakes up." Then he began to choke up.
Kim started crying as well. And as Ron tried to encircle them both in his arms, he, too, lost it.
An hour or so later, Kim and Ron left the apartment in silence. Almost immediately, they were confronted by Karin's grandmother, Elda Marker.
A veritable doppelganger for her granddaughter, Elda had never hidden her disdain for Karin's friends. She got right up in Kim's face and snarled, "Just because my idiot son and that witch he married want to abandon Karin to the human world, don't think for a minute that lets you two off the hook! If either of you spill her secret to anyone—even in your dreams, I will hunt you BOTH down and kill you!"
Ron placed a steadying hand on Kim's shoulder. Logically, Kim would never think to argue with Karin's grandmother. When the Lorwardians had attacked Julian the previous autumn, Elda had backhanded Warhok through the trunk of a tree. Still, considering how emotionally raw Kim was at the moment, the calming gesture was much appreciated. She took a deep breath, placed her hand over Ron's, and stoically accepted every threat and insult Elda threw at them for the next five minutes.
After she was gone, Ron muttered, "How sad is that?"
"Sad?!" Kim spat in disbelief.
"Yeah," Ron nodded. "She's lost her granddaughter and doesn't have a clue on how to deal."
Kim was silent for a while. When it began to rain, she took up her best friend boyfriend's hand, and they began the sad walk home.
Late in the week when they finally saw Karin again, the young woman seemed normal. She cheerily asked them how their week had gone and eagerly told Ron about a new manga series she had discovered. Kim and Ron tried their best to act normal, too, and, for the most part, believe they had pulled it off. As the weeks went by, the undercurrent of awkwardness seemed to fade between them. Still, things were not perfect. Every now and then, Karin would get uncharacteristically sad. Sometimes this would happen quite suddenly. She would be chatting amicably and then just stop mid-sentence. Staring into the middle-distance for a minute or so, she'd wipe at her eyes and apologize for being a 'space cadet' and ask Kim or Ron to repeat what they had been saying.
Contrary to what Elda had said, Karin's family had not abandoned her. Although she could no longer remember them, they didn't forget her. Each member would take turns watching over her on a weekly basis. Once, Kim had spotted Karin's little sister standing atop a lamppost just outside of Julian. She and Anju had exchanged a courteous nod. Kim always knew when it was Elda's week because a fleet of her familiars would track her wherever she went. Elda went so far as to station a squadron outside Kim's apartment window where they would occasionally scratch at the pane, so Kim would never forget they were there.
Kenta and Karin's wedding date was set for early November when his handful of relatives could make it into town. Since she had no family of her own (that she knew of), Karin was sufficiently overwhelmed by the preparations. Kenta's mother did what she could to help, but Karin got easily flustered by it all. Fortunately, Kim always made time to help her friend when she wasn't completely swamped by coursework or on a mission.
One evening a couple of weeks before the wedding, she accompanied Karin on an errand run. She left her alone for a couple of minutes to surreptitiously buy the wedding gift Ron had spotted a few days earlier. When she returned, the young woman was sobbing uncontrollably. Her eyes and nose were running; she had dropped her packages in a futile attempt to dry her face with the ends of her jacket. As Kim rushed to console her, she caught sight of the wares a street kiosk a few feet behind Karin had on display.
Halloween was not a big event in Japan. However, the Western holiday was making inroads in some of the bigger cities with certain shops decorated accordingly. Draped around the kiosk's roof was a string of paper bats. And hanging prominently from its counter was a kitschy cardboard vampire.
"I'm sorry, so sorry, Possible-san—Kim, I don't know why-hic-why I'm so-hic-sad," Karin managed between sobs.
"It's ok, Karin. It's ok."
Kim gathered the packages from the street and led her friend away to an outdoor table at a small corner café. For the next two hours, she did her best to calm Karin. She plied her with warm miso and a dessert from the menu that she knew Karin typically enjoyed. Most of the time, however, she simply let the girl cry into her shoulder. The young woman was completely oblivious to what had suddenly plunged her into despair, but Kim intuited that this time of the year would always be a problem for her friend.
Eventually, Kim led a somewhat recovered Karin back to the new apartment she shared with Kenta. Once Karin fell asleep, she explained what had happened to the girl's fiancé. When she finally left, it was almost eleven.
She had only gotten a few hundred yards when she felt something fly close by her head.
Kim stopped and turned toward the sound of Elda Marker's voice. The vampire's voice was low, but Kim knew better than to ask her to speak louder.
There was something odd in Karin's grandmother's posture. She hadn't taken a belligerent stance. In fact, she was looking at the ground. Her pink bangs were hanging so low in front of her face that Kim couldn't see the glare from her blood red eyes.
"It pleases me that you are my granddaughter's friend." Each word was spoken as if it had been wrenched out of the older woman.
Kim was taken aback. Before she could even begin to formulate a proper response to this compliment, Elda was gone.
From that night on, no bats ever scratched at Kim's window, and, if any did trail her in the night, they did not make their presence known.
"Why do you think the fungus was sprayed all along these stairs, Doctor?" Jamie asked.
"Most likely to keep anyone from ascending them."
"You don't think it might be a trap," Jamie began but when he noticed a wide-eyed Ron standing a mere three feet away, he lowered his voice to an almost whisper, "to get us going the other way, do you?"
"No. I am more concerned with what the Great Intelligence might be planning."
"What could it be?"
"I don't know, Jamie," the Doctor said pensively. "It depends if there are any significant resources nearby." Suddenly, the Doctor threw up his hands and exclaimed, "Great jumping gobstoppers! I haven't even asked where we are."
"Doctor?" Zoe asked, more than a little concerned that his echoing voice might alert a potential enemy.
"Kim, Ron," he said turning to them, "I know we're in America, but where exactly?"
"Middleton," Ron said.
"Middleton, Colorado," Kim clarified.
"Wait a moment," Zoe said. "That sounds familiar for some reason."
"Are there any fusion reactors in the area? Particle accelerators?" the Doctor suggested.
"I don't think so," Kim replied.
"NORAD?" the Doctor prompted. "Isn't that in Colorado?"
"Yeah, but I think it's a couple hundred miles away," Kim said.
Ron shook his head. "Apart from Bueno Nacho, the only cool place in Middleton is where your dad works, KP."
"Middleton Space Center!" Kim cried. And then cringed at the echo she had inadvertently created.
"That's it, Doctor!" Zoe whispered urgently. "I knew 'Middleton' sounded familiar. Most of the components for the Wheel originated from there."
"Yes, yes," the Doctor nodded. "Kim, Ron, what's the date?"
"Uh, April 16th," Ron answered, a little surprised by the question.
"Oh, it's my birthday," Zoe smiled in surprise.
"Really?" Ron said, turning his head toward the teenager. "How old are you?"
"Depends on what year it is," she replied simply.
"Yes, Ron, what year is it?" the Doctor urged.
"Are you serious?" Kim asked looking between the Doctor and Zoe.
"Yes, please," the Doctor insisted.
"1999," Kim and Ron said in unison.
"Then I'm negative sixty-four," Zoe said happily.
Once again, the thought of saying 'jinx' didn't occur to either Kim or Ron.
"Too early for space colonization," the Doctor frowned. "Kim, what does the Space Center primarily launch?"
Still trying to come to grips with the implications of these last few exchanges, Kim hesitated. "Satellites. They launch satellites."
"Ah, global communication," the Doctor said. "That must be what he's after." He took the torch from his coat pocket and led the party away from the staircase.
Before long, their beams revealed the outlines of a large wooden crate. As they walked around it, they discovered its fallen lid lying among drifts of shipping peanuts.
"Kim, what does Mr. Paisley do?" the Doctor asked.
"I don't know what his job is or even if he has one," Kim said. "But I do know he collects … stuff."
"What sorts of stuff?" the Doctor asked, taking in the immensity of the crate. When she didn't answer immediately, he prompted, "Art? Statues? Taxidermy?"
"He collects Cuddle Buddies," she said finally.
"Yes, of course, Cuddle Buddies," he replied knowingly. Without changing his expression, he asked, "What are Cuddle Buddies, Kim?"
"Well, they're … toys." She shrugged, "Plush animals."
"And how large are these toys?" he asked.
"Not very," she replied. "Just big enough to snuggle with … or, so I've heard."
"So, you'd say that a crate this size would be … unnecessary?" he asked thoughtfully.
"Most def," she nodded.
"How long ago was this delivered?" Zoe asked.
"Good question," the Doctor nodded. "Jamie, give me a hand with this lid."
As Jamie and the Doctor raised the lid, Kim trained her flashlight on it while Zoe read the label on the front.
"It was shipped from a London address two weeks ago."
"Yes, but when did it arrive here?" the Doctor asked in an agitated voice.
"What does that matter?" Jamie asked.
"Jamie," the Doctor replied as he let go of his share of the lid, leaving the highlander to grapple with its entire weight, "the Great Intelligence can replicate Yeti."
Ron ran to help Jamie with the lid. As he did, the Doctor realized his mistake and quickly resumed his former position. "Sorry, Jamie. This crate could only contain a single one, but if that one has been here for even a few days, there could be dozens roaming these halls!"
"Dozens?" Ron whimpered.
"At least," the Doctor nodded.
After Ron, Jamie, and the Doctor lowered the lid back to the floor, Jamie flicked his torch's light on and off restlessly. "Doctor, let's split up and look for clues."
The Doctor twisted his face and shook his head. "I don't think that's a good idea."
"Yeah, Dude," Ron agreed. "This night is already a '9' on the Scooby-Doo scale, splitting up would be bad news."
"What does that mean?" Jamie asked, making a face.
"I don't know," the Doctor answered, "but he's right."
Detaching themselves from this bickering, Zoe and Kim had wandered a short distance from the crate. Kim's concern for Mr. Paisley was compelling her to point her flashlight into the far corners of the foyer. Zoe, on the other hand, thought she had heard something.
"Without knowing how long the Intelligence has been entrenched here, we have no idea how strong his forces are," the Doctor was explaining. "Scattering our forces is the last thing we …" and he stopped. "Do you hear that?" he asked nervously.
"Aye," Jamie nodded.
Ron could just make out a faint steady beeping. It sounded like the noise his kitchen phone made whenever he failed to dial Kim's number quickly enough. Initially, it seemed to be coming from everywhere; however, when he focused his attention and closed his eyes, Ron got a better idea of its source. It was coming from behind them and getting closer.
"KP?" Ron turned in the direction of the cry and encountered two crimson balls of light that seemed to be floating six feet in mid-air. As they grew brighter, they illuminated the monstrous figure that framed them. Before he could find his voice, the Doctor found his.
The unmistakable scent of blueberry pancakes surrounded her. Kim smiled reflexively, but she was still ferociously tired. She turned on her side and tried to bury her nose into her pillow. The smell got closer; she kept her eyes shut.
Maybe if I stay perfectly still …
The smell orbited over her head for a couple of moments, but she refused to move. Eventually, it drifted away, but she knew better than to assume victory so early in the game. She then felt a warm sensation on her left hip-almost as if someone had balanced a plateful of pancakes on it.
Keep it together, Possible. You've got this.
A prickly sensation across her cheek jolted her upright.
"No fair!" she cried. "You know the rules, no scruff!"
Ron gave her a mischievous grin. He had managed to catch the plate before it could crash to the floor. And he had saved the pancakes, too. Although that was a pyrrhic victory as far as Kim was concerned. Rufus, perched on his human's right wrist, was making short work of them.
"Sorry, KP," he said, ducking out of the path of a flung pillow. "You just look so cute when you pretend to be sleep—" he caught her second pillow full in the face.
A few minutes later he returned with a new plate and a cup of coffee. She accepted them but continued to glare. She wasn't really upset. Breakfast in bed, especially one prepared by her culinary ninja of a boyfriend was nothing to resent. However, he knew the effect his stubble had on her. Using it against her in that sitch was ferociously unfair. Still, a couple of bites from his pancakes and a sip from his Turkish coffee and even the unsporting use of scruff could be forgiven.
"So, how'd your mom take the news?" He sat on the edge of her bed.
"She wasn't thrilled," Kim admitted. "But she thinks I'm in good hands." She placed her hand on his knee.
Here we go.
She ate a preparatory forkful of pancake and deep drink from her cup. She broached the subject. "Mom also gave me some good advice."
"Really? What about?"
"Well, that's something I need to discuss with you, Ron."
"Shoot." She tapped her wrist Kimmunicator and a hologram of Tim appeared. "Oh, hey, Tim. How are things going?"
"Pretty good," he smiled. "Jim got cold feet, too. He admitted who he was before they even got to the lodge."
"And how did she take it?"
"Well, he spun it like he just wanted free skiing lessons. She's not happy, but it could have been much worse."
"Definitely. What have you decided to do to make it up to her?"
"Plan B. And Plan D."
"Good choices," she nodded.
"Should I be confused?" Ron asked.
"Oh, hey, Ron!" Tim's hologram waved.
Ron waved back.
"Yes, you should be, Ron," Kim said. "And, no, we're not going to explain it."
"That's cool," Ron smiled.
"Oh, and I found it, Kim." Tim's hologram held up the desired object.
"Woah!" Ron exclaimed. "Is that what I think it is?"
"It is," Kim nodded. "Tim, I need you to get that to Wade as soon as you can. I want full diagnostics run."
"Yes." Her tone was no-nonsense.
"It's just some flute."
"Actually," Ron corrected him, "it's a recorder."
When the Yeti first attacked, Ron had been so petrified that he had forgotten to run. Fortunately, Jamie had grabbed him and carried him under his arm like a football as he and the Doctor fled the foyer. In his rush, Jamie had picked up Ron so that his feet were facing front. This had given Ron a shaky though unblocked view of the Yeti's pursuit of them through the darkened halls of Paisley Manor. Although still majorly frightened, Ron had recovered enough from his initial shock to make the detached mental observation that "for a big guy, he sure can move fast." In addition, Ron noticed that although the hairy beast was holding a gun of some type in his right claw, this weapon was not raised. As he listened absently to the Doctor and Jamie's bickering over which direction they should run next, Kim's reassuring words from earlier kept repeating in his mind.
'There's no way this isn't all a dream.' 'There's no way this isn't all a dream.' 'There's no way …'
Eventually, the obvious thought occurred to him.
And once the answer made itself known-Gone, his mental state quickly deteriorated into unconsciousness.
When he awoke, he was bathed in a faint red light and lying in a pile of Cuddle Buddies. The Doctor and Jamie were sitting a few feet away on piles of plush of their own. The Doctor was softly blowing on his recorder, and Jamie was alternately flicking two torches-one in each hand, off and back on. The light from the torches revealed that the three of them were sitting in Mr. Paisley's vault. Ron wondered absently where the steady red glow that bathed everything was coming from.
Ron shook his head and looked around. When he had seen the place the weekend before, it had looked like a museum. The side walls had been lined with gold-edged shelves, and there had been glass display cases arranged in neat rows from the door back to the rear wall. Each shelf had held carefully aligned rows of rare Cuddle Buddies, and the display cases had housed the rarest of the rare. Now all the shelves were gone, the display cases-their glass shattered-shoved all the way to the back, and the collector's plush menagerie was lying in drifts on the floor. After looking around to get his bearings, Ron attempted to stand up.
"Careful now, lad," Jamie warned. "There's glass everywhere."
"How did we get here?" Ron asked, rubbing his eyes.
"That boyo chased us," Jamie said gesturing nonchalantly with a torch to the door of the vault.
"Aiiiieeee!" Ron cried as he looked up at the towering figure of the Yeti standing in the doorway. The red 'glow' that was covering everything was emanating from its eyes.
The Doctor put down his recorder. "Now, look what you've done!"
"What?" Jamie protested. "You said to break it to him gently. How more gently do you want?"
"Don't worry, Ron," the Doctor said, patting the frazzled blonde on the shoulder, "he's not going to harm us."
"Wh-what's he doing then?"
"Just keeping us where the Great Intelligence wants us," the Doctor replied, preparing to play his recorder again.
Recognizing how at ease the other two, especially the Doctor, were acting, Ron began to calm down. Still, he felt compelled to ask a follow-up question. "What does he want with us?"
"Well, it's mainly me," the Doctor said, patiently lowering his instrument. "Remember when I said that the Great Intelligence wanted to conquer the world … among other things?"
"Well, I'm one of those other things. Specifically, he wants my mind." He began to play his recorder again.
Since the older man didn't seem particularly bothered by the prospect of a ghost stealing his mind, Ron decided he wasn't going to let it bother him, either. After listening to the Doctor play for a few minutes, he felt compelled to ask another question.
"How did you beat the Great Intelligence the last time? Do you have any …," and right here Captain Constellation popped into mind, "… blasters?"
"Blasters?" the Doctor raised an eyebrow.
"You know, guns."
"Oh, no," the Doctor shook his head. "I never use weapons." He went back to playing.
"You're listening to his only weapon," Jamie sighed. "Playing that thing helps him think."
"Oh," Ron said with an air of disappointment. "Any futuristic gadgets?" he asked hopefully.
"Well, I do have the sonic screwdriver," the Doctor said lowering the recorder.
"Great," Jamie scoffed. "A screwdriver that makes noise. Fat lot of good that'll do against a Yeti."
"Jamie, please," the Doctor huffed. "I am doing important work here. Or trying to."
All his burning questions answered, if not satisfactorily, Ron decided to lay back and let the Doctor's playing distract him. As he did so, he absently reached into his pocket.
"I've lost Rufus!" he cried.
"Ahhh!" Jamie cried. "Don't do that! You nearly scared me out of my skin."
"Your little bald rodent is right there," Jamie said pointing to a space on the floor a few feet away from the Doctor's crossed legs.
Sure enough, the little pink blob was reclining on a clear patch of floor and giving every indication that he was enjoying the Doctor's musical noodling.
Ron waved to his little friend who gave a friendly wave back. As he was just starting to adjust to his new circumstances, and to even feel somewhat okay, he recalled why he had passed out.
"KP! Where's KP!"
"You did it again!" Jamie cried. "Just when I get settled down, you start screaming!"
"She is fine, Ron," the Doctor consoled. "Just fine."
"H-how do you know?"
"Well, I don't," the Doctor said simply. Swiftly realizing this was not the best answer to give, he followed up quickly, "But I feel most certain that she is."
"Okay," Ron managed after a minute of non-plussed silence. "Why do you feel that?"
"She strikes me as a most resourceful person," the Doctor explained.
"Aye, and the way she saved Zoe was very impressive," Jamie added with genuine appreciation.
"Really? What happened to Zoe?"
"Well, this boyo," he nodded toward the Yeti, "was about to shoot her with that fungus gun—"
"Yeah, and then your friend came flying out of nowhere and landed right next to her! She pulled Zoe and herself out of the way right before he fired!"
That certainly sounded like something KP would do. "And then what happened?"
"Don't know," Jamie shrugged, "that's when he started chasing us."
"Cool," Ron nodded somewhat relieved. "But what if there's another one, and he's chasing them now?"
Jamie shook his head, "He doesn't think there's any more."
The Doctor stopped playing. "Because of what Rufus found stuck to the bottom of your shoe, Ron." He reached into one of his coat's inner pockets and took out a wadded piece of paper and handed it to him. As Ron uncrumpled it, the Doctor explained, "That's the delivery slip for the crate. It came this afternoon."
"So, there's no way the Intelligence could have made more Yeti," Jamie said with a nod.
"Okay, that's a relief." Ron said giving back the scrap of paper. "But that doesn't explain how we're still alive."
Jamie sighed. "The Yeti don't want to kill the Doctor—"
"Oh, I got that," Ron interrupted. "I meant about the laser grid."
"Laser grid?" the Doctor asked.
"Yeah, Mr. Paisley set up this deadly laser grid to protect all these Cuddle Buddies," Ron gestured to the jumbled contents of the vault. "I guess it must have been flipped off if we made it in here without getting sliced up."
"Hmm." The Doctor thoughtfully tapped his chin with the recorder's mouthpiece. "The Intelligence may have wanted to learn this vault's contents and cut all the power to make it past the grid."
"It doesn't look like he was happy with what he found," Jamie said, picking up and then tossing an Otterfly over his shoulder.
"Well, he didn't turn off all the power," Ron said.
"What do you mean, Ron?" the Doctor asked.
"Well, that camera's still working," Ron explained pointing to the black globe directly above them on the ceiling. A small red light flashed every few seconds.
"My word," the Doctor breathed. "I didn't even notice that."
"Do you suppose it can hear what we're saying?" Jamie asked.
"I wouldn't doubt it, Jamie."
"Well, it's a good thing you haven't said anything important since we've been here."
The Doctor ignored this comment. "There must be a central location in this house where one could control that camera. Probably, control everything."
"Yeah, the panic room," Ron said.
"Uh-huh, when Mr. Paisley gave us the tour last weekend, he showed us everything. Even KP was getting kinda bored toward the end. One of the last stops was his panic room. I remember because his security guy really didn't want us going in there."
"What's a panic room?" Jamie asked.
"It's this room where you can hide if someone breaks in. It's got tons and tons of buttons that control everything in the house," Ron nodded. "And this cool little fridge for sodas."
"I see," the Doctor said. He then gestured for Ron and Jamie to lean in close. Once they did, he whispered, "Where is it?"
"On the second floor, I think," Ron answered.
"That must be where he is," the Doctor pronounced.
"Who?" Ron asked.
"The Intelligence," Jamie whispered.
"But I thought he was a ghost," Ron said and then, remembering, whispered, "what could a ghost do in a panic room?"
"Pretty much anything he wants," the Doctor whispered into Ron's ear, "once he has possessed someone."
It was almost ten in the morning, and Kim and Ron were still marinating. Sidling next to each other on Michelle's couch/Ron's bed, they were still in their sleepwear. Ron was wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt that may or may not have been clean the previous week. Kim, as was her want, was wearing Ron's old hockey jersey from high school and a worn-out pair of Otterfly slippers. She reflected idly that he had worn the jersey practically every day in high school. What gave credence to this was the fact that even after she had washed it multiple times, it still smelled like him. Not that she was complaining about that.
As Kim watched her roommate rushing about the apartment preparing to leave for class, she couldn't help but feel a little guilty. Monday was the one day when Kim didn't have any classes, and part of her desperately wanted to assist her friend. However, Kim knew not to disturb Michelle when she had gotten into 'the zone.' Even offering to help could throw the young woman out of her groove and inadvertently delay her.
Ron wasn't as well versed in this protocol.
"What would you like for dinner, Michelle?"
"Huh?" Michelle turned to face him although the rest of her body was headed in the opposite direction.
Kim elbowed him.
"Ow!" Ron said, rubbing his side.
"Oh, I don't know—there's still plenty of pancakes," Michelle said as she absently looked for the purse that she was already wearing on her left shoulder.
"Sure, but you don't want that for dinner, too, do you?"
"Why not?" Michelle replied, discovering her purse. "They're fantastic. I'm even taking some for lunch." She shouldered a bulging backpack, shot the two of them a quick wave, high-fived Rufus who was balancing on the key rack next to the door, and was gone.
Once she was sure her roommate was truly gone and wasn't about to return for some forgotten item, Kim whispered a single word to Ron: "Snoogle." Originally a one-time mispronunciation (by Ron) of 'snuggle,' the word had gained a special meaning in the young couple's relationship.
Kim got up so Ron could extend his lower body across the length of the couch. She then eased back down into what remained of his lap. Simultaneously, she edged her back deeper into his chest and lay her legs over his. Ron folded his arms across her chest and held her arms against her sides. He then proceeded to hug her as tightly as he could-to the point where they could almost feel their heartbeats echoing in each other's chests.
Sighing pleasantly in her BFBF's embrace, Kim stretched out her bare legs to the point where her Otterflies' noses almost reached his ankles.
When did he get so much taller than me?
Ron then entwined his legs around hers. Now that he had her in a sort of full body hug, Kim was, if not fully immobile, very restricted in her ability to move. She closed her eyes, lay her head against his shoulder, and waited for him to take the next step. Part of her wanted to hear a Zorpox cackle, so she would be in the thrilling—though always safe—clutches of Ron's roleplay alter ego. However, this morning, the larger part of her wanted something more emotionally satisfying.
"You are so, so beautiful." His breath rustled the strands of hair around her ear, and he squeezed her even tighter. As he did so, she felt a warm, tingly sensation that began on the undersides of her knees and then spread across the rest of her body.
Oh, yes. That's it.
He held her in this pleasant warmth for what seemed an ocean of time.
According to the Kimmunicator's display, this ocean was only two minutes deep.
Normally, Kim would have been royally tweaked. However, the import of the news Wade had to deliver overrode her annoyance … although she was still disappointed.
The couple quickly righted themselves, and Kim answered the call.
"That was quick," she said to Wade's image before realizing her unfortunate word choice. She blushed.
"I'll say," Ron groused. "Ow!" He rubbed his side. "That one hurt, Kim."
"Did I interrupt something?" Wade asked with an uncomfortable smile.
"Yes," Kim admitted quickly, "but what were the results?"
"Oh, I'm sorry," Wade grimaced. "It's not about the flute; Tim just dropped it off, actually. I was calling about a hit on the site."
"Oh," Kim's disappointment was palpable.
"It's local if that helps," Wade explained.
"Sure, Wade," Kim smiled. "What's the sitch?"
The Mathter was apparently re-writing the algorithm that controlled all the commuter trains in the Tokyo area.
"Ugh," Kim said after she ended the call.
"I haven't even showered yet."
"Come on, Kim, is the Mathter really shower-worthy?"
"I guess not," she grumbled. She hated going on missions before she'd had a chance to get fully prepped for the day, but it was a local mission, and they would have it in hand quickly.
"Heck, I wouldn't even brush my teeth for that dude."
"No," she said pushing him toward the sink, "but you will be brushing your teeth for me."
As the girls completed their search of what turned out to be another deserted room in Paisley Manor, Kim's fears began to override her optimism. Although they hadn't run into any more Yeti, she had been so sure they would find the missing millionaire frightened but safe somewhere in his mansion. However, there had been no sign of him in the dozen or so rooms she and Zoe had inspected so far.
Zoe sensed her companion's flagging spirits. "Are you training for the Olympics?" she asked quietly.
"I mean, your gymnastic skills are so incredible, it seemed likely that you were."
"Oh those?" Kim blushed. "They're just cheerleading moves."
"Yeah, they're 'no big.'"
"Hmm. Cheerleading. I remember a few years ago watching a video on cheerleading in history class. I must say, their moves didn't impress me that much. They were certainly not as impressive as yours."
"Thanks." Kim blushed again, and then something occurred to her. "Did you say a film in history class?"
Although Zoe was a certified mathematical genius, she was still liable, like most fifteen-year-olds, to commit a verbal slipup time and again. She attempted to backtrack without telling any outright lies. "Well, on the wheel, the artificial gravity is not … sufficient … um … to make cheerleading … safe. So, you know, we never see it performed live." Zoe hoped this ruse would be enough to keep Kim from asking too much about the future, especially, about the turbulent years after 2050.
"So, you were born … in 2063?" Kim asked hesitantly.
Zoe sighed. Here we go.
"Are you—I mean, you, Jamie, and the Doctor—time travelers?"
Zoe sighed again … with relief. "Yes, yes we are. Jamie is from the early 18th century."
"Yes," Zoe nodded. "I believe he was born not too many years after Scotland and England first becameGreat Britain."
"I know, just thinking about how long ago that was before New Britain was founded …"
Oops. "Did I mention that I'm negative sixty-four?" Zoe asked quickly.
"Uh-huh, I remember," Kim said softly. "Shouldn't we be whispering?" she asked.
"Oh, right," Zoe replied trying to match Kim's volume. As they entered the kitchen, Zoe whispered, "a few weeks ago we were in 1960's Great Britain, and I was negative a century or thereabouts."
"Oh, cool. What were you doing there … or then?"
"We were trying to stop a Cybermen invasion."
"Cybermen? What are those?" Kim asked.
Great. Zoe was at a crossroads. She wanted to tell Kim that Cybermen were just robots, but that was inaccurate to the point of being a lie. However, if she gave Kim the accurate answer—Cybermen were people who had been converted into robots against their will, that might terrify her new friend. However, before she could decide which was the lessor or two evils, fate intervened.
"Did you hear that?" Kim trained her flashlight toward the far-right back corner of the kitchen.
"I did." Zoe's beam joined Kim's.
As they walked hesitantly in the assumed direction of the sound's source, it came again
Their lights played across the large cooking island in the center of the room and weaved among the pots and cooking utensils hanging over it. The resulting shadows created were not particularly inviting. Yet the two continued moving toward the rear of the kitchen.
Zoe tapped Kim on the shoulder and pointed her torch's light at a cabinet door on floor level to the right of the fridge.
Kim nodded her agreement that she, too, believed the source for the noise lay behind that door.
Before they could decide on their next step, it was made for them.
The cabinet door flew open.
As the Doctor neared the end of his unsuccessful attempt to convey the funky brilliance of 'Flash Light' on his recorder, he surreptitiously signaled to Rufus that he needed to have a word with him. Once the little creature reached his shoulder, the Doctor put down his instrument and whispered something into the mole-rat's left nub of an ear. When he was finished speaking, Rufus cheerfully nodded his agreement to the plan.
The little rodent sped toward the Yeti and leaped onto its left claw. As the Doctor had guessed, the robot took no notice of the small fellow. Rufus quickly made his way through its tangled fur and within a few minutes had reached the figure's head. There he waited patiently for the signal.
The Doctor beckoned Jamie to his side and whispered something in his ear. Jamie nodded his agreement and returned to his original position.
Then the Doctor beckoned Ron to his side. When Ron didn't react, he beckoned again.
"Oh, sorry, MrD," Ron apologized and then made his haphazard way through the drifts of Cuddle Buddies, only almost falling once. After hearing what the Doctor had planned, Ron hesitated but then nodded his agreement. He carefully stumbled back to his spot and nervously awaited the signal.
A few minutes later, the Doctor blew a high, slightly off-tune C note; Rufus responded immediately. He jumped from the top of the Yeti's head onto the globe containing the security camera. Although only a juvenile, the mole-rat's incisors made quick work of the glass case and the lens protected within. The camera's red light quickly died.
"Okay, boys, go!" the Doctor directed. "We only have a few moments, if that."
Jamie quickly stood and Ron, almost as quickly, staggered to his feet. However, the Doctor suddenly gestured for them to stop. "Here, take my coat," he rose to his feet and began removing his tattered jacket. As he did so, the Yeti came to life, standing fully erect with a growl.
"Aiiieee!" Ron yelped.
"Don't worry, Ron, he's only cares about me." To demonstrate this, the Doctor sat back down, and the Yeti lowered both its gaze and posture accordingly.
Tossing his coat to Jamie, he instructed, "Drape the coat over your head when you run through the fungus—it'll protect you."
"It's not from this planet, Jamie," the Doctor explained, "you'll be fine. Now go!"
Before they could move, he gestured again for them to wait. "If the door is locked, use the screwdriver. It's in the left pocket"
Anticipating he had more instructions, the two hesitated. Until, that is, he yelled, "RUN!"
Each ducked under their respective Yeti arm and took off across the vault's large antechamber that housed the deactivated laser grid.
"What will we do when we get there?" Ron asked as they rounded into the foyer.
"I'll distract whoever the Intelligence has possessed," Jamie responded over his shoulder. "You turn on that laser thing."
"You do remember which button turns it on, right?"
"No way," Ron answered.
Jamie stopped in his tracks. "Lad! The Doctor's counting on us!"
"Don't worry, dude," Ron said, catching his breath, "I'll just press everything."
After a second, Jamie nodded. "Aye, that should work."
They made it up the stairs with no problems. In fact, they didn't even need the Doctor's coat—the billowing 'gate' of fungus across the bottom of the stairs had already been broken. Things were even easier when they got to the panic room itself. Not only wasn't the door locked—it was open. As an added bonus, there was no one for Jamie to distract because the room was empty.
However, before they could start pressing any buttons, Ron saw something on one of the security monitors that chilled his heart.
Oh no, KP.
Ron drove the Sloth back to the apartment as Kim fussed with her post-mission hair. Before they had left, she had decided to save time by throwing on a hat instead of going to the trouble of making her hair presentable. This was certainly not for the Mathter's benefit; rather, she knew that after they foiled his plot, they would need to speak briefly with the authorities. Unfortunately, when the time came to leave, the only hat she could find that even slightly went with her mission gear was one she knew made her hair frizzy.
During the so-called fight with the Mathter, he had gotten close to hitting her with one of his dumb electrified 'weapons.' She hadn't been hurt, but she knew its static discharge in combination with the fabric of her hat was going to reap havoc. She had not been wrong.
"We are SO never doing this again," she groused as she attempted to drag a comb through the giant red puffball on her head.
"I'm sorry, KP," Ron said glumly. "I always mess up your routine when I stay over." His eyes widened as he realized the tragic endgame of their current arrangement. "Oh no, by August break, you'll be as big a slacker as me!"
This last comment took most of the air out of her anger.
"It's all right, Ron," she said. "Today was my fault. I wouldn't have marinated so long if I had gotten more sleep last night."
"Oh yeah, you were gonna tell me something about that call with your mom. Some advice she gave…"
Although she had wanted to confide her fears to Ron under much different circumstances, there was no time like the present.
"Yeah, that. Well …"
She shook her head and tapped the Kimmunicator's screen. "Go, Wade."
Her heart froze when she realized the hologram wasn't Wade's; it was Captain Jack's.
Fortunately, Harkness quickly read her shocked expression and held up his hands in a calming gesture. "Nothing serious! Nothing serious! Just wanted to talk."
That was so not cool.
"Hey, Jack," Ron said with a small wave.
"Hey, Ron," Jack waved back.
"Dude, I thought I gave you the Roncon's number. How'd you hook into KP's device?"
"Actually, that's something I'd like to know," Kim said, arching an eyebrow.
"Complicated?" Harkness offered with a smile.
"Fine. What did you need to tell us?"
"Actually, I'm sensing this is a bad time," Harkness said giving Kim a funny look. "I can call back."
"Okay," Kim nodded. "We'll be back at my place in about five minutes."
"Great," Harkness smiled. "I'll call you in ten."
Kim was still frazzled by the jolt his call had given her, but she hadn't thought it had been so severe that she needed to take five. Then again, why else would Harkness decide that this moment was a bad time to talk?
Just before he ended the call, he said, "By the way, Miss Possible, love the bold new look."
Kim was still fussing with her 'bold new look' after Ron had parked the Sloth and they were making their way back to her place. She was almost pleased/not upset with how it looked when Ron cleared his throat with clumsy significance.
"Yes?" Kim asked as she inspected the top of her head with her compact. She had just spied a small cowlick at her crown that had been hiding beneath the frizz.
"What's the backstory on the Doctor's recorder?" Ron asked. "How did you know to tell Tim to look for it in your closet?"
"Oh, that," Kim said, putting her compact away. "Well, it's like you were saying, memories of him just keep popping up unexpectedly. Last night, I woke up and remembered something that I always lumped into the main dream—that is, back when I thought it was dream. I was in my room around dawn looking for Pandaroo. He wasn't on the bed where I knew I had left him. Instead, he was under the bed and right next to him was the recorder. I guess I got pretty anxious because I recall tossing it into the closet and then hurrying down the ladder with Panderoo."
"And you didn't remember that until last night?"
"Uh-huh," Kim nodded. "And I didn't know for sure the memory was real until Tim found the recorder."
The Roncom started playing the chorus of "Hello, Hello, Hello" by the Oh Boyz.
"Is he calling you now?" Kim asked. "It hasn't been ten minutes."
Ron glanced at his device, hit a button to silence it, and threw it back in his pocket. "Not him," Ron said in a nonchalant manner that was highly suspicious.
"Who was it?"
He rubbed his neck. "It's nothing. I-I mean, no one."
"Really?" she asked. When he didn't reply, she gave the sensitive spot right above his hip a quick poke with her index finger.
"Stop it, KP!" he laughed with a jump. "It's nothing. Well, nothing big." They had made it to her door.
As he fished his spare key out of his cargo pocket, she slipped around him and raised her two index fingers menacingly. "I'm not afraid to use these, Stoppable." She wiggled them. "Spill."
"Okay, okay," he said backing away. "It's a surprise for you. But I don't want to say any more."
"All right," she said reluctantly.
He opened the door and suddenly sprang toward the bathroom. "And I need to take a shower first!" he called as he shut the door behind him.
"What? No! Ron!" Almost immediately, she heard the shower head turn on. Dejected, she collapsed on Michele's couch/his bed.
A hologram of Harkness appeared when she clicked the device's display.
"Not sticking with the bold?" he said in a disappointed tone.
When she replied with just a sigh, he dialed back his charm and got down to business. "First, there hasn't been any movement from the Lorwardians. However, something occurred to the team about your plan."
"Which is?" Maybe it was the lack of sleep, but Kim noticed that her question had a snarkier tone than she had intended.
"We can give you the heads up if/when they start an approach to earth, Kim. However, when they start to get close, they could disrupt global communications again."
Kim sat up. "Right, preventing us from getting the latest news." Memories of being unable to consistently reach Wade just prior to the invasion flashed through her mind.
"So, my team has come up with something that might help that."
"It's a device that can detect Lorwardian tech within a radius of fifty miles. Small enough to wear on your wrist."
Kim considered saying something sarcastic about how Torchwood had been able to access Lorwardian technology but thought better of it. Despite their somewhat shady methods, Torchwood was going out of their way to help Ron and her. "Great."
"A few more tests, they tell me, but it will be ready by this evening," Harkness explained. "Would you like me to bring it over when it's done?"
"Please and thank you," she smiled.
He returned the smile and then frowned. "Miss Possible, I know that we didn't get off on the right foot. I tend to come on a little strong …"
"Yes, you do," she agreed. "But when I let you know I wasn't interested, you stopped immediately. That counts a lot with me."
"I'm glad, Miss Possible."
"You can call me, Kim."
"Ok, Kim, I'll be over as soon as it's finished."
"Sure, my address is … is probably something you already have, right?"
He gave another embarrassed smile.
"Complicated?" she asked.
"Okay, see you tonight, Jack."
Kim aimed the beam of her flashlight into the shadows of the cabinet. There was a brief flash as the light reflected off something. Adjusting her aim, she could see a pair of dark glasses laying near the base of a stack of pots.
Those are Mr. Paisley's.
"H-hello?" a fragile voice asked.
"Mr. Paisley? Is that you?" Kim whispered urgently.
As if in response, a small hand appeared within the cabinet and retrieved the glasses. Both disappeared into the darkness on the left. "Who-who are you?"
"It's me, Mr. Paisley, Kim," she said louder. "Kim Possible, we're here to help you."
"Kim?" His small head appeared from the left. Although he didn't have much hair to speak of, what he did have was in quite a state.
"Yes, from last weekend. Are you all right?"
"I-I believe so," he nodded. "Where am I?"
"You're in your kitchen cabinet," Zoe explained.
"Oh? Well, it is really cramped. How did I get in here?"
"Well, we assumed you were hiding." Zoe said.
"Oh right," Mr. Paisley nodded. "The monster." He began to quake in fear. "The monster that got delivered to me." As his shaking increased, his glasses started to edge down his nose and the banging of pans within the cabinet could be heard.
"Let's get you out of there, Mr. Paisley," Kim suggested. "Don't worry, it will be okay."
As the two girls lifted the older man from the cabinet, each winced at the commotion he was making. No doubt, the crashing of the cookware could be heard all over the first floor of the estate.
"Thank you, girls," he said as he dusted his small frame off with his tiny hands. "And who might you be, dear?" he asked, adjusting his glasses and looking at Zoe.
"Zoe. Zoe Heriot," she replied pleasantly. "I'm a friend of Kim's."
Kim found it pleasantly odd that someone she had known for maybe an hour already considered her a friend. What made it even stranger was that until this moment it hadn't even occurred to her to ask for Zoe's last name.
"Well, we need to get out of here girls," he said definitively. "Before that monster finds us."
"But we need to find the Doctor, Jamie, and Ron first," Zoe objected.
"Doctor?" Mr. Paisley asked. "Has someone already called 911? I couldn't get the phones to work right before the attack."
"No, no, Mr. Paisley," Kim explained, "we're here with some other friends. We need to find them before we can leave."
"Wait," Mr. Paisley raised his hands. "The panic room! That has its own generator. We can call the police and be safe in there."
That sounded like a good plan to Kim, but they needed to find Ron and the others first. "We need to find our friends first, Mr. Paisley. Then we can all be safe in your panic room."
"I understand, dear," he said patting her shoulder with his small fingers, "but they could be anywhere in this large house—if they haven't already left themselves."
"Mr. Paisley," Zoe said, "I really think our next step should be to find the Doctor."
"Oh, I have an idea," Mr. Paisley said, placing his right hand gently into Zoe's left, "the panic room has monitors linked to dozens of cameras all over my mansion. If your friends are still here, we'll be able to find them in no time."
The girls weren't a hundred percent on the older man's suggestion, but they couldn't really think of a good objection to it, either. So, it was agreed that they would go to the panic room, so that they could the police and find the others.
As they left the kitchen, Mr. Paisley put his left hand in Kim's right, so that he was walking between the two girls. As they made their way down one of the halls of the mansion, Kim reflected on what an odd picture they made. Two teenage girls (although Kim was still six months away from being officially a teen, she tended to round up) were walking a man in his forties between them as if he were a little brother or a child they were babysitting. When they reached the foyer, Mr. Paisley made a sharp right.
Kim was just about to remark that she thought the panic room was on the second floor when she noticed how firm Mr. Paisley's grip had become. Before she could say that she thought they were going in the wrong direction, Zoe cried out in pain.
"You're hurting me," she complained.
As Kim glanced at her friend's pained expression, she realized two things. One, Mr. Paisley's grip was also hurting her. And, two, the man was no longer leading them so much as he was dragging them to where he wanted them to go.
Kim had been both shocked and relieved when Ron decided to forego his bath.
She had been weighing her options as to the best way to spend the next two hours of her time when he burst through the bathroom door, his clothes sticking to still-damp patches of his body. To her questioning looks, he would only answer with a 'zip-the-lip' gesture. After twisting on his shoes, he gave her a good-bye kiss, called "See ya, soon" over his shoulder, and disappeared behind the closing front door. Ten seconds later, he came back, gathered his wallet, the Roncom, and Rufus, and, without bothering to put any of these in his cargo pockets, was gone again. Whatever the surprise was, Ron was certainly bringing his 'A game' to seeing it through.
As she sat in the bathroom and rinsed herself clean with the shower head, Kim was still reflecting on how fortunate Ron's decision to only take a shower had been. As much as she loved him, nothing tweaked her more than his ability to spend an entire afternoon in the tub. Unlike baths in America, Japanese baths were temperature-controlled. The water never got cold; it would remain at a toasty temperature for as long as the occupant wanted. This luxury feature combined with a marinating-inclined personality spelled trouble for anyone waiting in line behind him. Twice, he had literally fallen asleep in the tub. Both times she had roused him by severely lowering the bath water's temperature from the control panel in the kitchen. Apart from the nodding off, she really couldn't blame him. Taking long, leisurely, stress-reducing baths was one of Kim's favorite things about living in Japan.
She rolled the cover off the tub and tested the warmth of the water.
Considering the stress of the past few weeks, Kim had every intention of making this the day when she would beat Ron's all-time record. Maybe even take a short nap.
Bee-be-be-beep. Although the Kimmunicator was lying on the arm of the couch in the other room, the bathroom door was slightly ajar, and her device's tones echoed at a surprisingly high volume against the tiles.
"Of course!" she cried. She hastily rolled the cover back over the tub, quickly wrapped a towel around her body, and raced to the couch.
She pressed the display, and Wade's hologram appeared.
"Bad time?" he asked.
"No, not really," she sighed. She sat on the couch's arm and adjusted the wet tangle of her hair, so that it wouldn't drip (too much) on her friend's upholstery.
"Well, I finished the tests on the flute," Wade began.
"Spankin'!" Kim brightened. "What did you find out?"
"Not much," Wade pronounced casually. "It's completely normal."
"Oh." Kim didn't put much effort in disguising her disappointment.
Wade went back to nonchalantly typing on one of his many keyboards. "Oh!" he said raising an eyebrow. "There was one tiny thing that seemed odd about it."
"Really," Kim asked somewhat indifferently. "What was that?"
"It is not composed of any known element from this planet," he deadpanned.
After a few seconds of silence, Kim chuckled. And then she began to laugh in earnest. In fact, she laughed so hard, that she found herself wiping tears from both eyes. "Oh, Wade, I love you so much," she managed finally.
When she looked back at his hologram, he was wearing a strange expression.
Is something wrong?
He didn't say anything for what seemed a very long time, and Kim began to feel very awkward. Finally, he found his voice. "So, I was going to do another quick test or two and then get this back to you as soon as I can. Okay, Kim?"
"Yeah, sure," she nodded. "Is everything okay, Wade?"
"Of course, great," he smiled. "Talk to you later." He ended the call.
Was it because I said I loved him? Surely, he knows I do. Of course, I love Wade. He's one of my best friends. He's saved my life and Ron's dozens of times. But … have I ever said those words to him?
She remained in this troubled state of mind as she reclined into the warm waters of the bath. She hoped she hadn't somehow upset Wade by what she said. Unbidden, a thought occurred to her that Wade might be carrying a secret torch for her all these years. She quickly dismissed it. It was big-heady bordering on arrogant; besides, his reaction had seemed … well, he had seemed depressed. She vowed to have a heart-to-heart with him the next time they spoke. Whatever the sitch was, it needed to be discussed.
However, even after settling on this game plan, Kim found that she couldn't fully relax. Something else, just below the surface of her thoughts, was keeping her in a restless mood. She adjusted her position in the bath to get more comfortable. As she did so, her right kneecap broke the surface of the water. She spotted the small shaving scar she had given herself the Saturday morning after she and Ron had become a couple. The reason she was shaving her legs on a Saturday in the first place was due to the odd anxiety she had developed at the time. For the first few days after Junior Prom, she had started obsessing over being 'perfect' for Ron. This obsession had reached its crescendo when she had carelessly dragged a razor over her knee. At the time she had worried the scar might last a few weeks; four years later, it was still visible. But that so didn't matter. 'Perfect' had stopped mattering once she realized that Ron loved her for her—and that included her imperfections.
"Of course," she sat up in the tub.
It was so obvious. Although she had embraced her physical imperfections that week in the spring of Junior year, she still hadn't accepted her emotional ones. She still felt compelled to hide them from Ron. Like being frightened these past few weeks. She now knew exactly what she needed to tell him and how to say it. Ironically, Kim found that she both wanted Ron to be with her right that minute and for him to take as much time as he needed to prepare her 'surprise.' Now that she was fully at ease, she wanted to enjoy the rest of her bath for as long as she could.
The Doctor had just finished whispering the last of his instructions to Rufus when he thought he heard Zoe's voice.
"Off you go," he told the mole-rat, who dutifully scampered down his arm and leaped onto the stationary claw of the Yeti.
He felt compelled to stand to have a better view of the vault's antechamber but thought better of it. Getting up would certainly animate the Yeti. Only by keeping perfectly still could the plan proceed as designed.
"Ow! You're hurting me!" Zoe's voice cried in the near distance.
"What are you doing, Mr. Paisley?" Kim's pained voice asked.
"What's going on out there?" the Doctor demanded as he jumped to his feet. Plan or no plan, he couldn't sit still while his friends were in trouble. The robot growled and stood accordingly. The Doctor ignored this bluster and stood on his tiptoes in order to see over its shoulder. When this didn't work, he crouched down to get a better view from beneath the robot's hairy armpit.
An extremely short, improbably round man was dragging his two friends toward the vault.
"I say," the Doctor cried, "what is the meaning of this? I order you to let them go!"
"Ahh, Doctor," a harsh, raspy voice emanating from the small man pronounced. "So, fate has decreed that we should meet again."
If he had time to reflect on all the particulars of the situation, the Doctor might have been amused by the Great Intelligence's choice of such a less-than-formidable host. The unoriginality of his adversary's stratagem would have also received well-earned derision. This was the exact same ploy the Intelligence had use in the London Underground when it possessed Prof. Travers to take poor Victoria captive. However, at the moment the Doctor was far too alarmed by what was transpiring to make such observations. The possessed Mr. Paisley was walking himself and Zoe and Kim into a deadly trap. Within just a few steps, the trio would be standing within the expanse of the laser grid. With no way to communicate with Jamie and Ron, the Doctor had to assume the grid could come on at any second.
"Stay back!" the Doctor commanded. "I'm warning you. I have … uh … I have a blaster in here!"
"A blaster?" the raspy voice asked suspiciously.
"Yes, and I'm not afraid to use it, either. So, stay back!"
After a brief silence, grating laughter echoed along the walls of the vault's large antechamber. "You are in no position to threaten me, Doctor. I set the terms here." Mr. Paisley dragged his captives across the threshold of the laser grid.
"Oh, no," Jamie cried as he stared into the monitor overlooking the antechamber. "That little guy has pulled them onto the grid. We can't fire it up now!"
Ron seemed not to hear as he was too busy flipping switches and twisting knobs on the panic room's various control panels.
"Stop, lad!" Jamie grabbed him by the shoulders. "You're gonna fry Zoe and Kim!"
"Nuh-uh," Ron assured him. "I'm just trying to turn on the speakers, so we can talk to them."
"But you don't know which button turns on the laser grid," Jamie objected.
"Yeah, I do," Ron nodded. "It's that one, dude," he pointed to a big red button in the center of the middle console. Right above it, someone had adhered a fat strip of white duct tape and helpfully scrawled upon it in red marker: "WARNING! LASER GRID BUTTON! ;- (".
"Oh, aye," Jamie said. "So, what turns on the speakers?"
"No idea," Ron shrugged, "better mess with everything."
"M-Mr. Paisley," Kim pleaded as she tried to wrench her wrist from his cruel grip. "I know you d-don't won't to hurt us."
He, or whoever was controlling his body, aggressively ignored her. "Hear me, Doctor! No harm will come to these children, so long as you do exactly as I command!"
"First, you will provide me with—"
Here, the Intelligence's speech was cut short as Kim roundhouse kicked Mr. Paisley's stomach. On reflex, he released Zoe's hand, and the teen-aged mathematician found herself on her backside. Seeing that Kim was still in the possessed man's clutches, she swept her leg under his tiny feet, sending him face first onto the floor.
Unfortunately, this only made him angrier, and he maintained his iron grip on Kim's right hand. As he stood back up, he fixed her with a fierce, bottomless stare. Although the Intelligence had intended to cow her into submission with this look, it merely rid Kim of any guilt she might have harbored for what she was about to do.
She shifted her center of gravity and using all her strength and his own weight against him, she flipped the Paisley/Intelligence over her head. He hit the floor hard, releasing her hand as he did so, and rolled off the grid into a potted plant.
"Good show, Kim!" the Doctor cheered from behind the Yeti. "Now, you two need to get off—"
"Girl!" the Intelligence howled from his place on the floor. His voice swallowed up the room. "You will regret that!"
Suddenly, the Yeti turned from the Doctor and began running full tilt toward Kim, raising its gun as it approached.
"Oh, no, you don't!" Zoe cried as she threw one of her shoes at the robot's armed claw. Missing the gun, she scored a hit on the monster's shoulder that proved enough to throw off his charge. Kim zagged to the left and Zoe zipped to the right. For a moment the Yeti was confused as to whom to chase. A smack to the back of the head freed it from its momentary indecision.
Bending down to remove his other shoe, the Doctor chided, "Pick on someone your own size!"
The Yeti spun around, turning the full blast of its crimson eyes upon him.
"Oh … dear," he muttered, raising his hands as he backed away.
"Look out, Doctor!" Zoe cried.
"This way," Kim urged, gesturing for him to follow her.
A terrible ear-scraping noise broke across the room, causing everyone—including the Paisley/Intelligence, to cover their ears. His master distracted, the Yeti froze in place.
"Yeah," Ron's voice echoed through the hall, "hold this down, and you can talk … I think."
"Doctor," Jamie's voice blared through the unseen speakers, "are you ready to stop fooling around, so we can take care of this boyo for you?"
"Kim! Zoe!" the Doctor hollered, "Get to the corners quickly!" As he turned to run back to the vault, he muttered, "'Fooling around?' What a nerve!"
Recovered, the Paisley/Intelligence turned his attention to the fleeing figure of Kim, the person who had ruined his latest gambit to defeat the Doctor. The Yeti chased after her, aiming its weapon with deadly precision.
"Jump, KP! Jump!" Ron's voice urged over the sound system.
Not entirely sure what she needed to do, Kim attempted a triple handspring—the move she knew would cover the most ground quickly. As she reached the end of the second handspring, she heard a sudden 'zap' that caused her to lose her concentration. She slipped and skidded on her side into a corner of the room.
When her vision cleared, the Yeti was not ten yards behind her, trapped within the beams of the laser grid. Smoke began to pour from several points on its body, its eyes died one at a time, and then it collapsed into piles of dust and smoldering fur. For several moments all she could hear was the faint buzzing of the beams, and then the grid switched off.
"I say, Zoe! Kim! Are you both all right?" the Doctor called, staggering across the grid in one shoe.
"I'm fine, Doctor," Zoe said as she pushed her way free from a cluster of chairs on the edge of the grid. "A little bruised, but otherwise fine."
"I'm okay," Kim called as she stood up. "Ow!" She felt a sharp pain on her left hip. However, before she could examine it, she was swallowed in a fierce hug.
"KP, are you all right?!" Ron gasped out of breath. "I was so worried!"
"Yes, Ron," Kim said patting his back gently. "I think I'm fine." Since she was still in his tight embrace, it wasn't an easy task to determine the source of her pain, but she managed. She laughed, "I think I just landed on the flashlight funny."
"Oh, cool," he laughed.
He was still hugging her, and it was beginning to make her feel a little awkward. The feeling was compounded when she noticed that Zoe was staring at them with a peculiar smile on her face.
Before she could ask Ron to let her go, a high-pitched beeping filled the room. Its tone was so painful that everyone reflexively held their ears. It was coming from one of the larger heaps of smoldering fur. From the middle of the pile, a silver sphere slowly rose into the air.
"Doctor, do you think you can defeat me so easily?" Although the raspy voice of the Great Intelligence still emanated considerable menace, the effect was somewhat undercut because its source was still laying upside down, his small feet resting on a potted plant. "The control sphere is undamaged. Your primitive technology cannot pierce its defenses. It is only a matter … a matter …"
During the Intelligence's last few pronouncements, the sphere had begun to smoke. After he had ceased speaking, it started to spark. Finally, it crashed to floor.
"What happened?" Kim asked.
The Doctor beamed and ran to the fallen orb. "Well, the Intelligence is correct. These control spheres are virtually impenetrable," he picked it up and began to turn it over in his hands. "Conventional weapons, including lasers, cannot harm it. Ah-hah!" He pointed to a small hole near the thin seam that bisected the sphere into two. The hole looked like it had been chiseled … or nibbled. "Fortunately, we had unconventional means at our disposal."
"What are you on about now?" Jamie asked from the doorway.
"I was wondering when you were going to show," the Doctor muttered. "Here, give me a hand with this, Jamie."
The two fumbled with the sphere for a minute before it came apart in two equal halves. Inside was a tangle of wires and what, to Kim, appeared to be an old-school computer board. The tangle of wires began to move of its own accord, and the highlander jumped back in alarm.
"Really, Jamie," the Doctor shook his head in disapproval. "I thought you would have gotten use to Rufus by now." The little pink blob jumped from the mess of wires into the Doctor's waiting hand. The Doctor then carefully handed the naked mole-rat back to his human.
"Can anyone tell me where I am?" a small voice from the potted plant asked plaintively. "I'm afraid I've lost my glasses."
Kim didn't even last an hour in the tub before she started feeling guilty about all the productive things she could have been doing with her time. Although she firmly believed she could outlast her best friend boyfriend in a one-on-one soaking contest, she knew that relaxation wasn't worth the effort once you started feeling anxious about it.
After toweling off, she quickly identified the first task she needed to address: laundry. It was already mid-afternoon, and she hadn't even begun a load on what, essentially, was laundry day. She filled the washer with a light-colored wash, connected the attachment hose to the machine's top and then placed the hose's suction end into the tub water. Just before she started the machine, she thought she heard something from the main room.
She ran out into the living room and saw that all the windows were being pelted with rain.
"It was supposed to be a nice day!" She raced to the apartment's small balcony, flung open the slider, and hurriedly gathered Michele's clothes inside. They weren't soaked, but they were wet enough. "Great."
Kim broke out the apartment's vast arsenal of indoor hangers. She rehung her roommate's laundry in the doorways of both their rooms. She also set up the mobile hanger stations in opposite corners of the living room to be ready for Ron and her clothes. One thing she missed from America were clothes dryers. Although naturally dried clothes had a certain appeal, especially when they had been hung outside, laundry became exponentially more of a hassle in Japan whenever it rained.
Unfortunately, the only matching outfit she had that was both clean and dry was a spare mission outfit. She weighed the option of just lounging about in her robe but remembered that she was expecting company. Captain Jack said he would be over that evening but there was no telling when he might arrive. Also, Wade was sending the recorder over by courier.
Where is Ron?
It was already after three and he still wasn't back. She thought about texting him but changed her mind. Instead, she started studying for an upcoming exam. A half hour later she gave up. Something was still making her anxious.
"It's not just because you're alone is it, Possible?" she snarked. However, the way her words sounded as they echoed in the empty roomsonly made her feel lonely. Even Rufus' snores would have been good company right about then.
Then she heard a key in the front door.
"Are you guys decent?" Michelle laughed as she pushed the door open with her shoulder.
"Hey!" Kim said, springing to help her roommate with her backpack and purse. "How was class?"
The oddness of Kim's gesture was not lost on her roommate. "Is everything okay?" she eyed Kim suspiciously. "Has Ron not come back yet?"
"No, he hasn't," Kim admitted. "Hey, how did you-?
"He texted me two hours ago about … your surprise. Asked me if I needed anything. Strange, he isn't back yet."
"And what did he say about … the surprise?" Kim asked.
"Forget it, Kim," Michelle shook her head as she headed to the fridge. "Not gonna happen."
Kim sat back down on the couch. A few seconds later, she asked "What if I played a round of DDR against 'uncanny-valley me'?"
Michelle's one guilty obsession was the video game Dance Dance Revolution. During their sophomore year, Ron had given Michelle a pirated version of the game from South Korea that contained unlicensed likenesses of celebrities that the player could dance against. Unbeknownst to Ron, one of these illegal likenesses was of his best friend girlfriend. When Michelle made the discovery, she had begged Kim to dance against herself. Unfortunately, Kim was genuinely horrified by her avatar. Not only did she refuse the offer, she even refused to be in the room when Michelle was playing the game—in case she caught a glimpse of her digital doppelganger on a splash screen.
"Ooooooh," Michelle cried. "You are so cruel!" She munched on a cold pancake from the fridge as she considered the offer. "No," she sighed finally. "Not gonna happen."
The next few hours flew by. With Michelle in the apartment, Kim found that her anxiety level had dropped down to near zero. She was able to make headway with studying and took actual enjoyment out of hanging up the new loads of laundry. Of course, 'near zero' is not the same as 'zero'—Ron had been gone an awfully long time. Just as she was about to send him a text, there was a knock at the door.
"I got it," Michelle called.
Kim kneeled back down on the floor and continued hanging shirts.
"Kim, you have a visitor."
Although it was not quite evening, Kim stood fully expecting to see Captain Jack Harkness. But it was Wade Load who she discovered standing in the living room.
"Hey, Kim," he gave her a small smile. She noticed that he was holding the Doctor's recorder.
"How did—" she began.
"I borrowed your dad's mini-Kepler," he explained. "I told him I had something you needed ASAP."
She was just about to say that he didn't need to bring it himself, when he turned to Michelle and asked, "Can we have a moment?"
"Oh, sure," Michelle nodded and quickly disappeared between the clothes hanging in her bedroom's doorway.
"What, what's going on Wade?" Kim asked, forgetting to use their catch-phrase.
"Well, that's what I wanted to ask you, Kim. What's going on?" He seemed sad.
"Is this because of what I said earlier today?" she asked tentatively. "I-I thought you knew that I loved you. I mean, of course, I love you, Wade. You're one of my very best friends."
"Oh, no," he shook his head. "I knew that, Kim."
"I know that I've never used those words before, but whenever I tell you that 'you rock,' that's what I'm saying." Kim wiped her eyes with the back of her sleeve. Why am I crying?
He held her hand, and then gestured to the floor. They sat cross-legged on the floor, close enough that their knees touched. She took a few seconds to get herself together. "Then why? Why did you come all this way?"
"It wasn't what you said, Kim. It was how you said it."
"How did I say it?" she asked.
"You said it," and here Wade struggled a bit to keep himself together. "You said it like you were saying 'good-bye.'"
"So, does that take care of the Great Intelligence?" Zoe asked.
Jamie shook his head.
"Oh, I should say so," the Doctor said chipperly, "at least for the here and now. The one control sphere is destroyed, Mr. Paisley is back to normal, and, even the fungus has faded into nothingness." He flipped some switches on the Tardis control station. "However, Jamie is right, the Great Intelligence will be back at some point in the future." He paused. "Or in the past."
"Shouldn't we be getting these two sleeping beauties back that bedroom of hers?" Jamie asked, gesturing to Kim and Ron who had managed to somehow fall asleep while being squeezed into one of the least comfortable rocking chairs either had ever sat in.
"Don't they make a sweet couple?" Zoe smiled.
"I hadn't really thought about it." The Doctor took a few moments to regard his sleeping companions. "Ah, yes, I see what you mean, Zoe."
"Well, he definitely has a thing for her," Jamie said. "The way he went on and on about her up in that panic room."
"And she does for him too," Zoe smiled. She brushed absently at Ron's cowlick.
"Too much adventure for one night, I suppose," the Doctor nodded. "Yes, well, we should definitely get them back to bed, then."
Here, Rufus stuck his head out of Ron's pocket and began squeaking urgently.
"What's that?" the Doctor asked, bending over to hear. "The couch, you say?" He nodded. "I think that can be managed."
Tired and worn out, James Possible was immensely relieved when he and sleepy sons entered their home. The reason being the figure of Ron Stoppable sleeping on the family couch.
"Why is Ron sleeping in his clothes?" Jim asked. "Without covers?"
"And with his butt in the air?" Tim asked.
"Language, Tim," James said sternly.
"'Derrière?'" Tim offered.
Ron's head and torso were lying flat on the couch, but his knees were bent and propping up his 'derriere.' James noted, with some satisfaction, that Ron's shoes were off. But that was gravy. The important thing was the boy wasn't bunking in his daughter's bedroom.
"Yeah, why can't he sleep normal like Kim?" Jim asked.
And that's when James' mood began to sour. Not three feet away from Ron's 'derrière' was his only daughter curled up under a throw blanket. He noticed an odd grating sound and then realized he was grinding his teeth. He wasn't sure what he needed to do, but this situation could not stand.
"Maybe we should ask him why he sleeps liked that?" Tim suggested.
"Wake him up?" Jim asked.
"I'll get the air horn," Tim said.
James put his hands on their shoulders. 'Don't move," he whispered.
Kim had begun to stir. She sat up, bleary-eyed, and looked over at her sleeping friend. She eyed him for a few seconds and then tossed away her blanket so that it covered him. He reflexively pulled it around himself and lay his, now-covered, derrière on its side. She lay back and promptly went back to sleep.
"Go to bed, boys," James whispered to his sons.
A few minutes later, James Possible returned to the living room and carefully placed a blanket over Kim. He then tiptoed out of the room, so as not to disturb their sleep.
The sun was just setting as Jack Harkness exited the Tōdaimae subway station. He was a ten-minute walk from Kim Possible's apartment. Running a little early, he decided to stop on the way and grab a yakitori. As he was fishing for the money in one of his great coat's inner pockets, he noticed a flash of red. "Fantastic," he muttered.
After walking away from the vendor and taking a bite of chicken, he opened his coat slightly to verify if it was the Lorwardian detector that was glowing and not some other device. It was the detector.
Here, Kim. This is the detector I promised you that is going to save your life. Oh, why is it flashing red right now? Don't worry, it gives false positives all the time.
He angrily pulled out his phone to call the official/unofficial Torchwood tech vendor who had given him the device not two hours earlier. But the call didn't connect.
"No," he shook his head.
He tried calling another Torchwood affiliate. That call failed as well.
He called the Kimmunicator. No service.
Jack started running through the crowd. However, most people did not make way for him as they were distractedly complaining about their cellular devices suddenly not working.
"Wade, I'm frightened," Kim admitted, looking away. When she looked back, he looked concerned, but his eyes were warm.
"That's completely understandable, Kim."
"I know, I know it is," she said absently. "But I'm not used to it."
"Have you asked Ron about it?"
"No, not yet," she groused. "I've tried to talk to him all day about it, but something kept interrupting us." She sighed, "And, of course, I've been putting it off, too. This is so difficult for me to talk through, I mean, even with you."
"Well, I don't think fear is something you need to talk through with Ron," Wade said with the beginnings of a smile.
"All you need to do is ask him how he deals with it. I'm sure he's got plenty of good advice."
And then it clicked. Kim had been fretting over how to cope with being frightened for weeks, and one of the world's leading experts on the emotion had been next to her the entire time. I am so, so clueless!
"You rock, Wade," she said with extra emphasis and pulled him into a tight hug.
Before he let her go, he whispered, "No matter what happens, we'll have your back."
There was the sound of a key scraping in the lock and then the door burst open. "Hola, everybody!" Ron called.
Kim was on him so quickly that he dropped one of his grocery bags, spilling its contents on the floor.
"Just a sec, K—" he didn't even get to the 'P' before he was swallowed in her kiss.
When it ended, he took a moment to get his head clear and then asked archly, "Ok, who blabbed?"
"No one did, Ron," she smiled. "We just need to talk."
Upon hearing those ominous words, Ron Stoppable's face automatically dropped.
"Oh, no, no, that's not what I meant!" she said giving a couple of quick snaps of her fingers before his dazed eyes. When they refocused, she said slowly and seriously, "Ron, I'm going to need some advice. Advice on being afraid."
Being a former 51st Century Time Agent, Jack Harkness could spot shoddy extraterrestrial technology when he saw it. For example, he knew from experience that when arcs of luminous plasma, commonly known on earth as St. Elmo's fire, gathered in tight clusters this was a significant indicator of the presence of rudimentary/low-rent cloaking technology.
At this moment, he was seeing two dozen such clusters hovering alongside Kim Possible's apartment building. He raced into the lobby and charged up the stairs two steps at a time.
When he reached her floor, he paused only to remove the safety from his weapon.
"Here you go, Ron," Wade said handing him a box of gingerbread mix that had fallen to the floor.
"Oh, thanks, Wade," Ron nodded. "Waitaminute! What's Wade doing here?!"
"I just stopped by to bring you guys this." He held up the Doctor's recorder, giving Kim a wink over his shoulder.
"Wow," Ron breathed. "There it is. Coolio!"
"I can't verify its 'coolio' factor," Wade explained, "but it is very strong. Whatever it's made of is a very resilient material."
Kim took it from him to judge its weight. "Hmm, doesn't feel that sturdy," she commented.
Michelle, who was bemused that everyone seemed excited by what appeared to be a plastic flute, asked the obvious. "Why were you gone so long, Ron?"
"Oh, man," he sighed, "it was such a hassle with those guys down at the Embassy."
Kim picked up a package of butter from the floor and noticed that it had a U.S. seal stamped on one end – and was missing a stick. "Why were you at the U.S. Embassy, Ron?" she asked.
"Eeep!" Her best friend boyfriend turned pale. He quickly gathered the rest of the spilled contents from the floor and placed them hurriedly back into the bag. "No one saw anything! Look away! Look away!"
Noting his human's distress, Rufus did a quick scan of the kitchen floor for anything that might have been missed. He spotted a stick of butter near Kim's feet and raced to recover it. When the mole-rat tried to pick it up, he realized that the balmy summer evening (not to mention the three hours waiting in customs) had not done wonders for its firmness. He tried pushing it, but that only made things messier. Finally, he decided that a caber toss would be the most efficient method to reuniting it with its brethren on the table.
"Uh-oh!" he muttered.
Unfortunately, his aim was less than perfect. The stick missed the tabletop but made a clean landing in Kim's right cargo pocket.
"What was that?" she asked, feeling the sudden weight. She reflexively placed her hand inside.
"Sorry!" Rufus squeaked from the table just as Kim removed her butter-coated hand.
"Eww," she grimaced. She dropped the recorder in her left cargo pocket and then quickly rinsed her hand off in the kitchen sink.
"Sorry, guys," she called, "I have to go change." She favored Rufus with an arched eyebrow.
Once she closed her bedroom door, however, she realized she had nothing dry to change into. She was in the middle of deciding whether her capris or her jean shorts were soggier when a loud commotion from the other room distracted her.
And then her bedroom wall collapsed onto itself.
Fortunately, no one had been standing around the front door when it was kicked in.
Michelle screamed. Startled, Rufus jumped on Wade's head.
Recognizing who was standing in the door with a gun drawn, Ron managed, "Jack!?"
"Where's Kim?" Jack demanded.
Pointing in the direction of her bedroom, Ron began, "She's—"
"They're here!" Jack shouted. He raced through the living room, stumbled over one of the mobile hanger stations and landed hard against Kim's door. He stood, shattered its thin plywood in half with his shoulder, and pushed his way painfully between the pieces until he was inside.
After a few seconds of complete disorientation, Kim comprehended exactly what was happening to her. She didn't want to accept it, but it was most definitely real. Even with her eyes closed, she knew.
The vertiginous, sickening sensation of drag one felt as they were caught in a Lorwardian tractor beam was as unmistakable as a nightmare. She opened her eyes, but the olive light of the beam momentarily blurred her vision.
Then she felt someone grab her leg. Part of her didn't want to look, didn't want to see Ron's panicked eyes. It would be a replay of Graduation night, and she so didn't want that look of hopelessness to be the thing she remembered him by. But a larger part of her knew that it being the last she saw of him was exactly the reason she needed to see it. She opened her eyes.
But Ron wasn't holding her leg. Elda Marker was.
"Bastards! Let. Her. Go!" the vampire howled, her blood-red eyes glowing. Clinging to the partial remains of Kim's outer wall with her left arm, she was trying to drag her back down with her right.
Kim watched as the muscles in both of Elda's arms grew strained and prominent, and she felt her progression to the ship actually begin to slow.
Clicking sounds overhead caught her attention. The long barrel of a weapon appeared to the right of the tractor beam's aperture. "Watch out, Elda!" Kim cried.
Two purple streaks of plasma raced by Kim. Elda dodged one, but the second hit her in the right shoulder. She screamed in pain, let go of Kim's leg, and fell into a huddled ball in the remains of Kim's bed.
Kim was crying out so hard that she couldn't hear herself.
As she started to ascend rapidly, some movement below caught her attention. Glancing down, she saw Jack Harkness trying to squeeze his way through her bedroom door. He was holding a gun in his right hand. Just as he made it through, a bolt of plasma struck him, and he fell back against the shattered pieces in the frame.
The last thing Kim saw before the aperture swallowed her was the motionless figure of Jack slumped on her bedroom floor, smoke pouring from his chest.
Kim awoke in darkness.
As her eyes adjusted to her surroundings, her mind was bombarded by a tangle of thoughts and images, both disturbing and wonderful. As she recognized the glow from the living room television's digital clock, she heard the unmistakable rumble of Ron's snore from just a few feet away.
What a crazy dream.
She replayed what she could remember of the Doctor, the endless staircase, the Yeti, Zoe, Jamie, a possessed Mr. Paisley, and the strange blue box. Although food had rarely impacted her dreams in the past, Kim thought that it might be best if her mom avoided buying the same brand of frozen pizza again.
Kim sat up in alarm. She and Ron were sleeping in the same room! This was the one thing her father insisted could not happen if Ron stayed over. As much as she hated to do it, she'd need to wake him and rustle him up to her room. Already walking on her knees across the couch toward him, she happened to notice the pattern on her blanket. It was her Pandaroo baby blanket. For years, it had been kept with other old nursery items in the laundry room. The only way she'd have it is if one of her parents had covered her with it.
A quick glance at the television's clock confirmed that it was much too early for her mom to have come home from work.
She lay back down and smiled. Her father would have woken them if he had been angry.
Unfortunately, even with this good news, drowsiness eluded her. There was an annoying question that she couldn't answer. When exactly did they fall asleep? She didn't remember watching the movie. Had she zonked out after rereading the DVD case over and over? If so, why hadn't Ron woken her when he returned from her room? He most def wanted to see the movie. But even beyond these questions there was something keeping her from sleep. She tossed and turned for what felt like a very long time.
It was so obvious. Heck, the reason for her insomnia was even printed on the blanket she had twisted about herself. She untangled from the blanket, grabbed the flashlight from the coffee table, and headed upstairs to retrieve her favorite Cuddle Buddy. She knew her way around her darkened home well enough that she didn't really need the flashlight, but it had been in easy reach.
Waitaminute. Why was it on the coffee table? Shouldn't it be in mom's drawer?
A chill suddenly enveloped her. As she reached the second-floor landing, she found she was nervously rubbing down the goosebumps on her arms and legs. From her spot on the landing, she could see the black square of space at the top of her ladder. Her mouth went dry. She looked at her feet and slowly, cautiously counted the steps until she reached the base of the ladder.
She considered turning on the flashlight but decided against. With difficulty, she swallowed and then looked up.
The familiar shadows caused by the nightlight were there. She felt so foolish but wanted to laugh at the same time. Sighing, she began climbing the first rungs.
She froze. Noises were coming from her room.
A familiar sounding voice muttered unintelligibly. Snoring. And then there was … music.
With automatic movement, Kim again began climbing the ladder. She paused at the top, considered turning on the flashlight, but finally put it in her shorts' pocket.
She listened to the unfamiliar song for a minute or two, took a deep breath, and then peered over the edge into her room.
Michelle couldn't comprehend most of what was going on in her apartment. However, she understood what needed to be done.
She ran to the bathroom, grabbed one of the thicker old bedsheets stored in the rack over the washing machine, and raced back to Kim's room. Once there, she carefully, respectfully draped it over the body of the stranger who lay slumped near the doorway. Although not raised in a religious home, her grandmother, a nurse from Mozambique, had taught her some Bahá'í prayers when she was a teenager. Michelle muttered what lines she could recall from the prayer for the dead.
When Ron had first tumbled into Kim's room, he had been confronted by a Lorwardian insignia that was larger than him. It quickly disappeared and was replaced by a gaping hole where his best friend girlfriend's wall used to be. In the seconds following the ship's departure, Ron realized something inside him had broken. He remained motionless for several moments, fearing that any movement he made might would increase the damage.
Finally, he turned his head and stared intently at the overcast sky. If he could only force the clouds to part, maybe he could find her among the tangles of stars. After a while, his head dropped. Even if he could clear the sky, he knew from experience that stars couldn't be made out against the lights of the city. He looked down at the street and noted absently that it seemed like a normal Monday night, no one seemed particularly excited or upset.
He then carelessly scanned the floor by the edge; among the debris from the wall, his eyes would fall upon the occasional knickknack or picture that Kim had kept on her desk. He noticed drops of water were pooling upon a picture Karin had taken of them outside Julian a year or so ago. After a minute he realized it had begun to rain again. As his shirt began to get wet, Ron shivered. Still, he did not move.
Wade was frantically searching the rubble around Kim's desk. It had been flat against the wall originally, but the explosion had pushed it into the middle of the room. Surprisingly, it hadn't been too badly damaged, but Kim's laptop was missing. Shifting through piles of debris on his hands and knees, Wade grew more agitated by the minute. He was just about to give up when he decided to check the desk's drawers.
"Yes!" The laptop was in the second drawer. He quickly cleared a space on top of the desk, haphazardly placed the laptop in that space, and fired it up.
"Maybe we should call the police?" Michelle asked softly. Honestly, she was surprised that officers hadn't already arrived. Her question went unanswered, but in the silence a more distressing thought occurred to her.
We need to call Kim's parents.
She was about to go look for her phone when some movement in Kim's bed attracted her attention.
"Come on, come on," Wade muttered as he feverishly typed. He was trying to interface with Global Justice's servers, but he couldn't remember the fourteenth character in their twenty-seven-character encryption code number. It was a mnemonic that he used practically every day of his life, and it was eluding him at the worst time. He sighed and tried another combination. When it, too, failed, he slammed his fist so hard on the desk that the laptop jumped.
Ron was by his side almost immediately. "Okay, dude?"
"Not five minutes ago," Wade began and stopped. He then looked up at his friend, his eyes pooling. "I told her that no matter what … we'd have her back."
Ron tried to find the right words but discovered he could only grip his friend's shoulder in reply.
"Oh my God," Michele gasped. "There's someone in Kim's bed."
"What?" Ron said turning to face her.
Michelle stared at the young woman. There was a nasty burn mark on her shoulder, but she was breathing. Michelle gave the ceiling a confused glance; it was relatively unscathed, so the woman couldn't have fallen from the floor above.
Where did she come from? Who is she?
Although she certainly didn't recognize the woman's extremely long pink hair, there was something vaguely familiar about her face.
"What?" Ron repeated, stepping around some debris to reach the bed.
"Ron, it's Karin. Karin Maaka," Michelle announced. She reached down and gently touched the woman's forehead.
At that moment Ron recognized who was in the bed. "Michelle! Don't!" he cried.
The woman's crimson eyes sprang open, and she violently swung her injured arm at Michelle. Although Michelle dodged the blow, she fell painfully to the floor.
"Get your hands away from me, human!" Elda roared. She pounced on Michelle, and before the startled young woman could even scream, Elda had griped her face with her right hand.
"Elda! Stop!" Ron yelled.
A diaphanous gold mist enveloped Michelle's head, and her eyes swiftly closed.
Wade had watched this scene play out in horrified silence. He only snapped from his daze when he realized that the bloody gaze of the pink-haired woman was now focused on him.
She sprang at him, and before Ron could reach them, she had Wade pinned against the desk, his face caged in her long-nailed grip. He only managed one word before the vampire's memory wipe consumed him, too. "Ron?"
"Stop it, Elda! Stop it!" Ron screamed.
She released Wade, and his unconscious body slumped to the floor.
Ron and Elda exchanged venomous stares. Each knew the other's power, and neither was backing down. The standoff was finally broken by the unmistakable sound of a pistol being cocked.
Sitting upright and no longer draped by the sheet, Captain Jack Harkness was pointing his weapon at Elda. "Ron, can you please explain to me what the hell is going on?"
What is keeping them so long?!
Although the tears that she had cried for Elda and then for Jack were still beading on her cheeks, that was a residual effect of the tractor beam in which she was still contained. Of the swirl of emotions that currently raged within Kim, anger was the most prominent.
When she had been abducted on graduation night, she had been placed in hand and foot restraints almost immediately. Tonight, Kim had been in the ship for most of an hour, and she was still floating in the beam within a grimy holding room no bigger than the freight elevator at Middleton Memorial. In all that time, she hadn't seen or even heard a Lorwardian. Of course, she knew that being neglected by her alien abductors wasn't really something to complain about. However, being angry felt much better than being sad or frightened.
After a few more minutes, the wall to Kim's right slid open, and a Lorwardian stepped into the room. She was initially taken aback because his skin was blue rather than green. He was also shorter and stockier than Warhok. However, his facial features and body markings were very similar to those of the two Lorwardians she had faced in the past. Looking her over with a displeased expression, he refused to look her in the eye.
"You won't win," she stated as a matter of fact.
He didn't react just continued to give her a visual inspection.
"I'm going to escape. You can count on it."
He scratched his elbow and then walked behind her.
"Ron will stop you," she said defiantly.
His hand was suddenly on her right shoulder, and she found herself immediately spun one-hundred-and-eighty degrees. His grip was strong, but he hadn't hurt her. Although he had turned her to face him, he still refused to meet her gaze. She was about to inform him of what she was going to do once she got free when he ripped the Kimmuncator from her wrist. He dropped it to the floor and smashed it to pieces with his boot. The action had been filled with such sudden violence that Kim didn't initially know how to react.
"You'll regret that," she managed finally.
The Lorwardian snapped his fingers and panels shot from the wall and formed hand and foot restraints that swiftly bound her. He snapped his fingers again, and the tractor beam clicked off. He turned without a word, and the floating restraints pulled her after him.
It didn't take long for Kim to realize that the ship was a much different model than the one Warhok and Warmonga had commanded. The corridor she traversed seemed cramped, the walls had the same old, dingy look as the holding room, and there were no windows that she could see. Shortly, they arrived at what appeared to be a dead end. She watched as the Lorwardian again snapped his fingers, and the wall slid up, revealing a command deck. This room, at least, seemed reminiscent of the previous ship. Although less than half the size of Warhok and Warmonga's deck, the instruments, at least, looked new. She immediately began to scan its consoles for the single button that would shut off the ship's power, but she couldn't find anything that looked like it. Then she remembered that button had not been on the command deck.
The wall slid shut behind her so suddenly that she jumped. The Lorwardian took no notice of her reaction and made his way to what she assumed was the pilot's chair. It was starting to unnerve her that he had yet to say anything. However, she was beginning to suspect nothing she could say would elicit a response.
Seated, he began adjusting controls on the panels immediately in front of him. Kim felt the ship move sharply to starboard and, for a brief instant, the moon was visible in the large viewing screen at the front of the room. Its appearance was jarring for Kim; the screen had been so uniformly black that she had assumed it had been deactivated. She could make out the stars now though. She glimpsed a constellation she thought she recognized, suggesting that the ship was still positioned over the northern hemisphere. Although a part of her was relieved the ship wasn't aimed at Earth, signaling another conquest attempt, the fact it was pointed toward the stars gave her a sinking feeling she tried to ignore. When the ship ceased moving, the constellation Orion was clearly visible in the center of the screen. A rumble started to build throughout the ship, followed by a roar from somewhere behind them, and then the viewscreen went completely white.
Kim didn't know how much time had passed before she realized she was trembling violently. Although the current sitch did frighten her, she didn't believe she was so scared she'd be shaking that much. Then she noticed that the Lorwardian was also shaking visibly. And, soon after that, she comprehended that the room, and, likely, the entire ship, was shaking. Suddenly, there was a prism-like glow floating an inch or so above everything, the viewscreen flashed red, and the shuttering increased.
"FRACKLE!" the Lorwardian abruptly yelled and smashed his fist repeatedly against the armrest of his pilot's chair.
Kim cried out in alarm. Not only had his yell and violent action startled her, she had immediately intuited that these were not merely expressions of rage, they contained fear as well.
Just as swiftly as the crisis had begun, it ceased. The ship was completely still, the rainbow haze vanished, and the viewscreen displayed a starfield. The only sound Kim could hear for the first few moments was the beating of her heart in her ears. After getting herself somewhat under control, she realized that the Lorwardian was trembling, and she could clearly hear his relieved sighs.
I so don't want to know what almost just happened.
There was a beeping sound, and the Lorwardian angrily pressed a blinking yellow dial on his left. The starfield was replaced by the head and shoulders of a female Lorwardian. With red skin and green markings, she was almost an inverse Warmonga, complexion-wise. However, her eyes were blue instead of yellow, and her hair, like every Lorwardian Kim had ever encountered, was myrtle in color. The woman glanced at Kim and smiled broadly. However, her pleasure was immediately interrupted by an angry tirade from the pilot. Although Kim couldn't understand a single word, she suspected the barrage of abuse he was hurling had something to do with the last few moments of their flight. The female Lorwardian could barely get a word in the conversation. Kim caught a single word being used in the 'discussion' repeatedly: "Mentors." Finally, the pilot exhausted his anger and after few more cool and terse verbal exchanges, he pressed the yellow dial and the woman was replaced by stars.
They were stars Kim didn't recognize. She had never considered herself an expert in astronomy, but she knew the stars in the viewscreen were ones she had never seen before. The sinking feeling she had tried to ignore at the beginning of the journey had remained, if below the surface, with her the entire time. And now it threatened to leak out of her eyes.
The ship turned to port, and a planet swallowed most of the screen. The color of inflamed rust, most of its surface appeared to be a fractured wasteland cut up by scar-like mountain ranges. However, after a few moments, Kim realized this was an illusion—what she had first thought was desert was in reality gigantic, slowly swirling cloud formations. The most striking feature was a particularly large cloud of incandescent green that bisected the globe diagonally. Kim was immediately reminded of Jupiter's giant storm cloud.
She closed her eyes and tried to swallow. So dry, her throat felt jagged.
How am I ever going to get home?
"Observe, War Criminal," her abductor spoke.
Kim's eyes sprang open. It wasn't because he was finally talking to her or that he was speaking English or that he had addressed her as a 'war criminal' that shocked her the most. For the first time, his gaze was meeting hers.
"The eye of Lorwardia is upon you," he pronounced.
No. Their home world.
"No one within three hundred light years can help you," he continued. "Prepare. Justice is nigh."
A second later, he added with a cruel smile, "Permission to weep freely is granted."
"Jack …?" Ron began.
"Answer my question, Ron," Jack interrupted, not taking his eyes or his aim from Elda.
"But you were dead," Ron protested. "Michelle couldn't find a pulse, you—" and here he glanced at the location of Jack's injury, "had a big hole in your chest …"
"It happens," Jack gave a disinterested shrug. "Who is this person?" he demanded.
"As if this night couldn't get worse," Elda muttered, "a human who doesn't stay dead."
"Who is she!" Jack yelled.
"She's a friend," Ron answered.
"Don't flatter yourself, human," Elda seethed.
"Ok, ok, she's a relative of a friend."
"Ok, yeah," Jack nodded. "I thought she looked familiar. That girl from Julian last night. Let me guess, this is the evil twin sister?"
"What?" Jack turned his head in Ron's direction.
Swiftly, Elda seized the gun from Jack and tossed it into a back corner of the room. She grabbed his face, and, within seconds, the gold mist enveloped it. However, before Ron could even protest, both he and Elda noticed that Jack's eyes had not closed. Then they heard the cocking of a pistol.
Jack had shoved a small gun into Elda's belly. He then force-ably shook his head out of her grasp. "As if I only carry one gun," he chuckled humorlessly. "What was that all about, Ron? The same thing she did to Kim's roommate and Mr. Load?"
"Yeah," Ron sighed, "it's a magical-memory-wipe thing she can do."
"Shut up, human!" Elda threatened.
"You're going to have to trust him, Elda," Ron said, exasperated. "You just saw that it doesn't work on him, and you already know you can't kill him."
"It won't hurt to try," she muttered.
"Stop it!" Ron slammed his fist on Kim's desk. Jack and Elda, at least for an instant, turned their attentions to him. "We're wasting valuable time. We need to save Kim!"
"You think he can help?" Elda asked with a hint of derision. Yet only a hint.
"I don't know," Ron admitted. "Can you?" he said turning to Jack.
Noticing the slight decrease in animus coming from his would-be attacker, Jack said in a calmer voice, "I may have some contacts that could help."
"That person with the Doctor's phone number?" Ron asked.
"I already told you," Jack said, shaking his head, "that number hasn't worked in years. Why are you stuck on—?"
"Because Kim and I met him before."
"What?" Jack said, lowering his weapon slightly.
Ron was so relieved that Elda hadn't used this opportunity to attack Jack again, that the latter had to repeat his question.
"Yeah, we met him back when we were twelve."
"And how long did you plan on keeping that a secret?" Jack said, his mood bordering on full tweak.
"We didn't realize it until last night when you mentioned him," Ron explained. "We always assumed it was a dream."
"And you two often have the same exact dream?" Jack asked sotto voice.
"It happens," Ron gave a disinterested shrug.
"Who cares?" Elda yelled. "How can this Doctor human even help?"
"The Doctor's not human," Jack said, his patience straining, "he's an alien."
"He is?" Ron asked with a start.
"So, he's another one of those green idiots?" Elda balked. "What good is that!"
Before Jack could reply, the trio heard someone clearing their throat. Turning in the direction of the sound, they discovered a conscious Wade Load staring at them, his back against Kim's desk. "Did I? Did I miss something?"
Before Elda could make a move, Ron gripped her left hand and hissed under his breath, "No! We need him." He then approached his friend and gently laid a hand on his shoulder. "Quite a bit, Wade," Ron said, "how far back should I go?"
"Well, uh, I'm not sure," Wade rubbed his head. "Where's Kim?"
"Oh, man," Ron sighed and then shot Elda a heated look. "The Lorwardians got her, Wade. They blasted a hole in her room and tractor beamed her out."
"What?!" Wade cried. Over the next few seconds, he seemed to sink into the floor. "I just told her that we'd have her back."
"We do, Wade, we do," Ron said gripping his friend's shoulders firmly. "We're getting her back, but we need your help."
Wade wiped his eyes and then nodded to Ron. "Okay, let's do this. I'll need Kim's laptop."
"Right here on her desk, buddy," Ron said helping his friend to stand.
Jack took this opportunity to stand as well. "Captain Jack Harkness," Jack said, giving Wade a brief but firm handshake, "good to finally meet you, Mr. Load."
"Ah, yeah, good to meet you," Wade replied still somewhat dazed. When his eyes fell on the open space that had once been Kim's wall he started. "Wow! They blew the entire wall away. You'd think we'd be hearing sirens by now."
"My familiars know to set up a boundary any time I get attacked," Elda said impatiently. "Can we get going? Those idiots are getting further and further away!"
"'Familiars?'" Wade and Jack asked.
"Never mind," Ron said hurriedly. "Wade, trust me, this'll all make sense … at some point."
Jack took a step toward Elda. "'Boundary'? Do you mean like a perception filter?"
She took a step away from him, her only answer a glare.
"She already has the Global Justice server interface up?" Wade said in surprise. "Th-that's strange." He shrugged, "But helpful." He began feverishly typing. "Okay, we're in. Let's see what we can find out."
"Jack," Ron said to the older man who was clearly impressed with the ease in which Wade had hacked one of the world's top intelligence agencies. "What about that contact?"
"Of course," Jack said. He swiftly took an old school cell phone from his coat and dialed. A moment later he said, "Doctor Jones?"
"Hey, Jack," a very concerned Martha Jones replied from her clandestine Torchwood location. "How did the hand-off go?"
"They got her," Jack replied.
"Oh my God! How?"
"They were using some low-rent cloaking tech, but that doesn't matter right now. Do you still have the Doctor's number?"
"Of course," she sighed. "But it hasn't worked for years, you know that."
"Sure." Martha took out her personal cell and attempted the call.
"GJ doesn't seem to know too much," Wade grumbled. "They picked up a strong but brief power signature a few minutes ago in the exosphere above Tokyo, but then nothing."
"What can that mean?" Ron asked.
"It could mean a number of things. None of them good," Wade said with a shake of his head.
"My contact's number still doesn't work," Jack announced.
"Oh, man." Crestfallen, Ron hadn't realized how much he had been counting on this thin chance until he learned it wouldn't work.
"Is this a terrestrial call?" Wade asked.
"Probably not," Jack said. "Although the Doctor is on Earth a lot, he spends most of his time off world."
"Again, why are we looking for help from one of those green idiots?" Elda suddenly roared.
"He isn't Lorwardian," Jack explained through gritted teeth.
Observing Elda's incandescent glare-as-retort, Wade whispered to Ron, "I never pictured Karin being so abrasive."
"Dude, it's been a rough night on everyone," Ron said hastily. "What were you saying about the call?"
"Terrestrial calls rely on our satellites," Wade explained. "However, if the call is extra-terrestrial in nature, it must be relying on some other source to complete."
"A signal coming from the Tardis, I would guess," Jack said. "Which may explain why it worked at one point and doesn't now. The Doctor doesn't always keep the tightest ship."
"But what if it was something else," Wade said, furrowing his brow. "Something that might be blocking the signal. Preventing it from leaving Earth in the first place."
"Okay, I see where you're going," Jack nodded approvingly. "Martha hasn't been able to call him for about two and a half years. What has happened in that timeframe?"
"The Lorwardians?" Ron suggested.
"The invasion was three years ago," Jack said, shaking his head.
"Yes, it was," Wade said, "but Global Justice started covertly using Lorwardian tech two and a half years ago."
"Right," Jack said, very much liking where the conversation was going. "So, what Lorwardian tech might be strong enough to block the signal? It would need to be firing or 'on' all day and night to consistently block it."
"Waitaminute," Ron said, "how is Torchwood able to monitor Lorwardian chit-chat?"
"Well, … actually," Jack began hesitantly and then suddenly broke into a broad smile. "You're a genius, Ron! We pirate it from GJ's super classified long-range dish that's been active for the last two and a half years!"
"That does seem to fit," Wade smiled.
Jack gave Ron a hug that lifted him off his feet. "I knew your pretty boy looks couldn't have been the only reason Kim fell for you!" When he put Ron back down, though, his smile faded.
"What's wrong?" Ron asked.
"Well, if this hunch is correct," Jack explained, "we need to somehow break into Area 52 without being detected and then somehow shut down the dish."
Wade was only half-listening as he feverishly typed on Kim's laptop.
"Just getting a team together could take weeks, a month," Jack continued.
"Try it now," Wade said simply
"What?" Jack asked.
"The dish is down. Try making the call again," Wade explained.
"Seriously?" Jack asked.
"Call!" Wade and Ron yelled in union.
"Call! You undead freak!" Elda bellowed.
"Ok, ok!" Jacked yelled back. He redialed Martha. "Could you try it again, Dr. Jones?"
"If you think it will help," Martha replied hopelessly. Sighing, she dialed the number on her personal phone. Within seconds, she switched back to her other device, "Oh my God, Jack! It's ringing, it's ringing!"
"It's ringing guys," Jack announced happily to cheers from Ron and Wade and the ghost of a smile from Elda.
However, two time zones away, Martha's heart was still in her throat. The call was going through, but no one had answered yet. By the tenth ring, her spirits started to fade. But on the thirteenth ring, a woman's voice with a strong accent answered. "Ha-ha, I almost forgot where I had this. Tardis speaking how can we help?"
"Can I speak to the Doctor?" Martha asked excitedly.
"Martha? Martha Jones?" the woman replied happily. "It's been ages, how are you?"
"I-I'm fine," Martha stammered. Her mind raced as she tried to determine who this woman could be. She obviously recognized Martha's voice, so she knew her personally. However, as far as Martha was aware, the most recent woman to travel with the Doctor was Donna Noble. Although Donna did have a distinctive accent, it was not a Northern one. "May I speak with the Doctor?" she asked again.
"So, what's up?" Yasmin 'Yaz' Kahn asked eagerly.
"We're going to Tokyo 2010," the Doctor said, adjusting the Tardis console. "An old friend of mine was abducted by the Lorwardians."
"That's a long, unpleasant story," the Doctor said with a frown. "They're a race—"
"No, no," Yaz interrupted. "The friend."
"Oh, Kim Possible. Nice American girl. Smart. Very, very athletic," the Doctor explained as she continued to work the controls. "Had braces the last time I saw her." She paused. "That was over sixteen hundred years ago." She then brightened, "Her smile must be wonderful by now." She went back to prepping the Tardis for its flight. "We need to stop at her apartment first and pick up another old friend, Ron. Oh—he has an unlikely last name, too."
"Yeah, Stoppable," Yaz said. "Actually, he's her husband."
"Really?" the Doctor said looking up. She half-whispered with a smile, "Well, you were right, Zoe." And then she made a face, "Hold up, how did you know that?"
"Uh, because they're world famous." Yaz said, raising an eyebrow.
"They've been saving the world on a regular basis since I was little girl," Yaz explained. "Kim was one of the reasons I joined the Force." She paused. "How do you not know that?"
"I-I don't know. I can't know everything, Yaz." The Doctor frowned. "What really has me puzzled is what the Lorwardians would want with her."
Yaz gave the Doctor a look.
"She stopped the Lorwardian Invasion in 2007."
"What?! The Lorwardians invaded Earth in 2007!"
"For maybe twelve hours, but yeah. How do you not know that?!"
"The early 21st century was a hectic time for me," the Doctor said rather lamely.
"Wait a minute. If they abducted her over ten years ago," Yaz said with the beginnings of a smile, "why don't I remember hearing about it?"
"Don't know," the Doctor replied, mirroring her smile, "maybe we're part of the reason."
She spun the hourglass on the console's main panel, and they were off.
In direct, pointed spite of the 'permission' she had been 'granted,' Kim's eyes remained free from tears for the next hour. And, actually, nothing occurred in that time period that was emotionally upsetting. Once the devastating reality that she was light years from Earth had been accepted, everything else was so much window dressing.
The ship had entered the atmosphere through the center of the green storm. The pilot seemed preoccupied with making their flight's trajectory hug the edge of the dark 'iris' at the center of the cloud. The color of the clouds grew less incandescent the closer they got to the planet's surface. After a twenty bumpy minute flight, the green clouds faded entirely, and the sky turned to rust.
The burnt orange field was revealed to be clouds or mist, and the viewscreen displayed a large onyx-colored sea. At the far edge of this sea, Kim made out what appeared to be a jumble of plateaus of varying heights. These rock formations appeared to be their destination. During their approach, she was able to take note of many details about the planet. The color of the land was slightly darker than the umber tint of its sky. The land seemed bereft of any vegetation or animal life. She also didn't see any Lorwardians traversing the difficult terrain. The sky was another matter. There were dozens of Lorwardians of various hues flying above the sea on a myriad of vehicles. Several resembled the craft she had flown during her escape from the Lorwardian warship during graduation. She also noticed many that looked like the type of glider Warmonga had used to pursue her at that time. Most of the vehicles, however, were completely new to her. One unifying detail about these flying Lorwardians that slightly unnerved Kim was that they were all wearing helmets equipped with what appeared to be breathing apparatus.
Is the air even breathable?
As they drew closer to the plateaus, Kim realized that they were really clusters of columns very close to each other. Immediately, this put Kim in mind of the Giant's Causeway that she and Ron had briefly visited following a mission in Northern Ireland the previous year. She also detected some glints of jade embedded on the 'walls' of several of the columns. After a minute, she thought she saw some of the pieces of jade vanish and others appear at random points in the same column or on those nearby. Initially, she assumed this was an illusion caused by her rapidly changing perspective. And then she realized the truth.
They're lights! A-Are those buildings?
The ship's speed decreased as it neared what Kim now realized was a large city. To the right of this metropolis, there was a large, perfectly circular body of water. Next to it was what appeared to be a stadium or coliseum although she couldn't be sure because it was enshrouded by some opaque covering. The ship swerved to starboard; the pilot aiming them for the center of the lake.
Under the same circumstances with any other pilot, Kim would have asked what he thought he was doing. However, she knew the futility of doing that now. Besides, this pilot had earlier taken such relish in pronouncing her impending fate that she was certain he knew exactly what he was doing.
As they got closer, Kim realized it wasn't a lake at all. It was more of a 'bubble.' Composed of some sort of dark liquid, it didn't appear solid. Right before reaching the 'bubble's' surface, the ship decelerated to the point where it almost felt like it was floating. There was a brief shudder when they made impact, but then they were floating again.
Rows of dozens of landing pads filled the viewscreen. The pilot began pressing numerous glowing buttons on the consoles nearest to him. The viewscreen went black, and the deck's overhead lights dimmed. The pilot stood and stretched.
I guess we've landed.
Suddenly, the ship shook violently. The pilot muttered and gave the console a violent slam with his fist. Then everything was still.
Ok, I guess now we've landed.
Without meeting her gaze, the Lorwardian approached her. He was getting so close that Kim thought he was going to walk into her. Right before they collided, he reached out and gave her a slight shove.
"Hey!" she snapped as she floated backward. She stopped just short of the wall.
He gave her protest no notice and pressed a button on the wall. With a hiss, a panel opened in the floor. Bright light flooded the deck as the panel/gangplank slowly lowered to the landing pad below. The Lorwardian brushed rudely passed her and proceeded to exit the ship. The restraints dragged her down behind him.
After her eyes adjusted to the bright glare, Kim gave the large hover port a quick once-over. Hundreds of Lorwardians, identically dressed in burgundy-colored 'scrubs' for lack of a better word, were bustling around at dissimilar tasks. As she and her captor progressed across the 'tarmac,' she noticed workers inspecting undercarriages of ships, unloading undefinable objects from ships, loading unrecognizable objects into other ships, etc. And then there were those who were transporting objects that she did recognize. Weaponry Kim had known all-too-well during her graduation. So far, no one seemed to have noticed her.
Then she heard a gasp from somewhere behind her.
Ok. Here we go.
The gasp became gasps and dissolved into a general muttering. And then the Lorwardians in front of her started to turn around. Their reactions followed the same gasp/mutter pattern; however, she could see these Lorwardians' reactions. Looks of shock were quickly replaced by those of unbridled hatred. A couple of the larger Lorwardians even approached her. Although her 'host' did nothing to dissuade them, none of these threatened her with violence, thankfully. However, there was no question about their wish to do so. Kim decided that a blank impassive face was the wisest reaction under the circumstances.
And then there were the few Lorwardians who seemed legitimately frightened of her. There weren't many of these, but every time her eyes connected with theirs, it made her feel … odd.
They finally exited the hover port and entered a short corridor with a cathedral-like ceiling. The other end of which led to an open boulevard … of a kind. Broadly speaking, it seemed laid out similarly to those she had known in Paris. However, the differences were significant. Instead of being framed by an open sky, for example, this boulevard had a dirty, beige domed ceiling. In addition, it was not edged with trees. In fact, Kim couldn't see vegetation of any kind.
The restraints pulled her along past dozens of Lorwardians who were dressed much more casually and variously than those at the port. Most glared heatedly at her, but no one approached her. To keep herself calm and her mind occupied, she started to internally keep as thorough a record as possible of her observations of this alien city-almost as if she were prepping a seminar paper or preparing for an exam. By the time her abductor/pilot/host brought her to their apparent destination—a set of ginormous doors composed of rust-streaked stone, Kim was fairly satisfied with her prospects for getting a decent grade on any such final.
When they opened, the doors produced a hideous grating that swept her academic fantasy from her mind as if it had never been. Beyond them lay a cavernous room about half the size of St. Peter's in Rome. At the far end of this room was a very tall, black platform. Two rows of equally black pillars ran parallel to each other from this platform back to the entrance where Kim floated. It looked, at first glance, like a courtroom. A courtroom inside of a cave.
This so does not bode well.
As Kim floated into the room, she made several immediate discoveries. Her blue Lorwardian 'pal' had vanished, and she was being led, instead, by two very large green Lorwardians holding long spears who flanked her on either side. In addition, both sides of this cave-like chamber were filled with rows and rows of long metal booths. And these were filled with seated Lorwardians. Unlike those she had encountered so far on the planet, these displayed no reaction to her presence. They were eerily silent.
Looking up, Kim realized that the reason the chamber seemed so cave-like was because it was a cave. The proof was its stalactite-dotted ceiling.
Once she reached the mid-way point of the chamber, the heads of two green Lorwardians appeared at opposite ends of the tall platform. Even from this distance, Kim could see that their expressions were ferociously unfriendly. Suddenly everyone in the room stood.
That's a bench. And this is a trail.
When she noticed there was no jury box, she replaced this thought with a gloomier one.
Or a tribunal.
She then noticed that a third Lorwardian face had appeared at the bench's center. This Lorwardian's skin was blue, but a faded blue. Furthermore, unlike every other inhabitant of the planet she had seen so far, his hair was pale green rather than myrtle. He wore an expression of weariness.
Her movement ceased when she about twenty feet from the imposing dais. Her two guards gave curt bows to her 'judges' and then swiftly retreated to the columns on either side of her. For a long moment, nothing happened, and Kim began to wonder if she was expected to say something. That seemed unlikely.
She heard a click, and the lights on her restraints turned from green to red. Immediately, they both divided into two, so that each of her hands and feet was individual bound. They rose her higher in the air and, simultaneously, separated so that her body was positioned in an 'X' shape. It had happened quickly, but not violently. She was uncomfortable, but not in pain.
As she adjusted herself to her new position, she noticed a peculiar design on the floor beneath her. It was a metal spiral curve winding into a tight center. What made it peculiar was that it was made of dozens of segments, each with a serrated or jagged protrusion.
"The ceremony of Atonement commences," announced the Lorwardian on the bench's far left.
The shock that she could understand him was overshadowed by the dread his words' implication generated.
"Custodian," the Lorwardian on the far right spoke, "Thorgoggle whip. Twenty strikes."
Fairly certain about what was going to happen next, Kim tried to modulate her breathing and to clear her mind.
Out of the corner of her left eye, she saw the shape of a very large Lorwardian step toward her. Reflexively, she turned her head toward him and watched as he knelt and picked up something from the floor.
A crackling sound drew her attention beneath her feet. The spiral floor pattern came alive with blue static discharges and then unraveled quickly until it disappeared to her left. What Kim had taken for a decoration was actually the curved tail of the whip that was about to be used on her. She suppressed an urge to vomit. She discovered that she was hyperventilating. She futilely tried to regain control of her breathing, closed her eyes tight, and tried to think of Ron.
A skirl severed the air.
The pain was like nothing Kim could have ever imagined. It was so intense that she was nauseous. Tears were streaming from her eyes and when she screamed, her lungs felt like they were full of razor blades. Pain blossomed in her mind and covered her thoughts like a fog. The only images that could pierce the fog were those of her parents.
She was sobbing so hard that her body shook. And every time her body shook, the pain got worse, and she would sob again.
After the pain faded enough to be almost bearable. Kim reluctantly opened her eyes. Below her bellybutton there was a small tear in the fabric of her mission shirt. Although relieved, she couldn't reconcile this minimal damage with the pain that was still radiating over her entire body.
"What?!" cried an outraged voice above her. "The War Criminal has only had one strike!"
Kim gagged. She had only received a single blow.
"This child will not survive twenty," replied a higher-toned, calmer voice.
"Does a War Criminal deserve mercy?" yelled a heated third voice.
"Justice will still be executed," the higher-toned voice stated. "I ask only for consideration."
"Consideration?" balked the first voice. "On what grounds?"
"Despite the slanderous manner the War Criminal chose to color it, she did defeat two of our fiercest marauders," the higher-toned voice maintained.
The gulf of silence that followed this statement was only broken by Kim's ragged breathing.
"Such a triumph," the higher-toned voice stated, "deserves … something."
A very long moment later, the first voice said with a note of reluctance, "Custodian, you may be excused."
Kim heard a click and her arms and legs were slowly brought back together, and she was lowered to her former elevation.
"Justice will be executed when the Eye reaches the Monument," the third voice said without inflection.
Kim looked up at the bench and tried to blink her still-tearing eyes clear.
"Remove the War Criminal," said the faded blue Lorwardian in his higher-toned voice.
Kim's restraints switched back to green and the four merged back into two.
The restraints turned her slowly around, and she was again flanked by the guards. As they began their exit, the heretofore silent assembly broke into raucous chanting.
"For the Pride of Lorwardia! For the Pride of Lorwardia! For the Pride of Lorwardia! For the Pride of Lorwardia!"
They had not progressed far when the edge of her arm restraint got too close to the rip in her shirt. Kim was unprepared for the resulting surge of pain; she vomited. Some of the sick splashed on the front of her pants above the ankles, the rest landed on the chamber floor. She heaved as a long cord of drool descend from her chin to her foot restraints. The guards kept her moving.
The chanting never abated.
Once she was sure there would be no more, Kim bravely raised her head to face all of those who hated her.
Indeed, most of the chanting faces were inflamed with anger, disgust, or a mixture of the two. Yet, here and there Kim did pick out the rare face that was not chanting. The odd face whose eyes were not altogether unkind.
Searching for such faces among the angry mob, Kim distracted herself from her suffering. Or at least enough to maintain her sanity.
Her cell had no bunk or facilities. No lights, and the walls were completely black. The stale air smelled like death.
Freed from the restraints, she lay on her back and stretched out in such a way that nothing would touch her injury. Severe pain was still a companion, but it was isolated solely to the area below her bellybutton. The rest of her body was slowly returning to normal.
For a very long time she tried to remain perfectly still and to think of nothing. To allow herself to be swallowed by the darkness.
But, finally, thankfully, she got tired of doing that.
Slowly, carefully, she felt around until she found her right cargo pocket. Reaching inside, she discovered, as she had expected, the somewhat congealed remains of a stick of butter. She rested her hand in it. It reminded her of Rufus.
Gingerly, she found her left cargo pocket. Once inside, she wrapped her fingers tightly around the Doctor's recorder. Not because of the Doctor, but because of Wade.
And then, purposefully and with the utmost care, she selected a memory of Ron for her mind to orbit. She chose the complex look in his eyes whenever she surprised him with a kiss. A shifting mosaic of shock, silliness, and sensuality. And she looped her entire memory catalog of these pre-kiss moments. From the Moodulator incident Junior year to her grocery ambush of that afternoon.
They weren't much, these tokens and moments of lost time. However, she drew from them as much light and strength as she could. Such magic as they contained would be sorely needed once she escaped.
"I'm sorry," Ron whispered.
He gently laid Michele down on her futon in the middle of her bedroom floor. As he went to drape a blanket over her, he thought better of it. During the summer, the apartment tended to get stuffy. And he had no idea how long she'd be asleep.
"I told you she'd be fine." Elda huffed.
Unaware that the vampire had followed him as he carried his unconscious friend to her room, Ron was understandably startled by this pronouncement.
"What's wrong with you now?" Elda asked.
"Could you please not sneak up on me like that?" Ron asked, standing up.
"I don't know what you're talking about, human."
Ron took a deep breath. "Actually, you didn't tell me that she'd be fine. You just said that she wasn't dead."
"Well, she isn't, is she?"
"Why didn't she wake up when Wade did?"
"I wasn't fully in control when I wiped her. I was with him."
"What does that mean?"
"It means because she attacked me, I was defending myself with more power than I needed."
"She wasn't—" and here Ron remembered the futility and risks of arguing with Karin's grandmother. Still, a part of him was so tempted to do so—mainly because anger felt so much better than despair. Yet, he needed information from her and did not want her to stalk off without replying (at best) or destroy the rest of the apartment (at worst). He took another deep breath. "Sorry, Elda. I meant what will happen to Michelle?"
"Like I said, she won't die."
Another deep breath. "How long will she be asleep?"
"A few hours, maybe less," she replied absently. She was inspecting Michelle's pictures of friends and family with a look of mild disgust.
He took another deep breath and then asked THE question. "How much of her memory did you wipe?"
Elda had picked up a framed picture of Michelle holding her dachshund "Peanut" who had remained stateside. "Why do you humans keep mementos of your vermin?"
Ron snapped. "Elda, I need you to tell me. Did you wipe all of Michelle's memories!"
"What?" Elda cried, dropping the picture which, fortunately, bounced on the tatami mat undamaged. "How stupid do you think I am, human?"
"What does that have to do with anything?" Ron asked heatedly.
Elda shook her head and took her own deep breath. "Do you actually believe that I would erase the entire memory of a human that is so important to my granddaughter's best friend?"
The revelation that Elda considered Kim Karin's best friend was something of a shock to Ron. He hoped his reaction wasn't too obvious.
"What is it now?" Elda snapped.
"Sorry, Elda, sorry," Ron said covering his face with both hands. When he dropped them, he was wearing what he hoped was an inoffensive expression. "How much of Michelle's memory is gone?"
"A day's worth of hours maybe less." Elda uttered these words slowly, as if she were speaking to a child.
That wasn't too bad, Ron reflected. But it wasn't great, either. Monday's were the worst days for Michelle, caseload-wise. Not only would she forget everything she'd learned, she'd forget that she had even gone to class. She'd likely wake up thinking it was Sunday evening or she'd sleep until morning. And in either case she'd think it was Monday and go to all the wrong classes. At this point Ron noticed that Elda was leaving the room.
"Hold up, I have one more question."
Grinding her teeth very audibly, she slowly turned to face him. "What?"
"Why were you outside Kim's apartment tonight?" Ron asked. The question had been hovering on the edge of his thoughts ever since he recognized her laying in Kim's bed. Now that he had all the other crucial questions more of less answered, he gave voice to this one.
"To protect her, obviously." Elda seemed more than annoyed. She seemed … well, hurt. "I overheard you talking about those monsters last night underneath the bamboo tree. I figured if you two weren't going to take precautions, I should."
"Oh," Ron said after this had sunk in. "Thank you. Thank you, Elda."
"What for?" Elda asked, genuinely confused. "I failed."
Ron was trying to find the right words to explain both that Kim's abduction wasn't her fault and that he appreciated and knew that Kim appreciated what she had tried to do, but by the time he had something half-formulated, Elda had already hurried from the room.
When Kim opened her eyes, there was light in her cell. It was streaming from a slot, about a foot in length and about four inches tall, that was located just below the ceiling on the left wall. She wondered if it had always been there or had been opened recently.
The next thing she noticed was the awful smell. As bad an odor as the cell had when she arrived it was so much worse now. She sat up and immediately discovered the source: the ends of both her pants legs were caked with dried vomit.
There had been no pain when she sat up. She leaned back and then, carefully, felt the area around the tear in her shirt. Anticipating a burst of pain if she touched the wrong spot, she did this with her teeth on edge. But there was nothing, not even mild soreness. Untucking her shirt, she examined her wound for the first time. She expected an infected gash and, at the least, a good amount of dried blood. So, she was surprised to see only a thin blue streak of raised skin just above her bellybutton. It was ugly but could have been much worse. Gingerly, she touched it. There was some soreness on the cut itself, but otherwise it seemed fine.
She gave a relieved sigh and then refocused on the pants sitch. With no source of water in the amenity-free cell, there was no way to clean them.
Kim began to work the fabric of her left pants leg back and forth until it started to rip. Then, as carefully as she could, she tore off the stained end. She did the same to her right pants leg and then tossed the filthy ends into a far corner of the cell. The improvement in air quality was almost immediate. However, she hadn't done a perfect job. Her right pants leg had ripped lengthwise up to the knee. And she had gotten some of the sick on her hands.
"Hello!" she called toward the slot. When she didn't receive a response, she called again, louder. Again, there wasn't a response. Kim sighed and gazed through the floor.
A shadow fell over Kim's figure. She looked up, and there was someone staring at her from the slot.
"What is it, War Criminal?" asked a brusque female voice.
From the thin opening, it appeared to Kim that the Lorwardian woman had orange skin and yellow eyes. "I'd like to wash my hands," Kim said.
The woman stared at her for a long while but said nothing.
Guessing her visitor hadn't heard her, Kim repeated her request.
The woman closed her eyes and shook her head. "There is but a half dormin until you meet Justice, War Criminal."
"I don't know what that means," Kim said.
"Soon. It will be soon."
"Okay," Kim nodded. "What does it mean to 'meet Justice'?"
The woman was silent for a bit. "You will be terminated."
"I see," Kim replied. She looked at the floor briefly and then looked back to the Lorwardian. "I would still like to wash my hands."
"There is no point, earther," the woman replied in a softer tone.
"The point," Kim explained patiently, "is that I would like to wash my hands."
The woman was quiet for over a minute. Finally, she said, "Very well. I will provide a cleansing sheet."
"Please and thank you," Kim smiled.
"So, is the Doctor going to … I don't know, beam in?" Wade asked.
"Like in Space Passage?" Jack asked with a bemused smile. "Oh no, this'll be much more impressive."
Ron walked leadenly through Kim's fractured doorframe.
"Don't worry, Ron," Jack said clapping his shoulder, "the Doctor will be here shortly."
"How's Michelle doing?" Wade asked
"Sleeping. I think she'll be okay."
"Maybe we should call an ambulance," Wade suggested. "When she fainted, she might have hit her head. She should be checked for a concussion."
"She didn't hit her head," announced Elda sullenly. She was sitting awkwardly on Kim's bed.
"Are you sure?" Wade asked.
"Of course, I'm sure!" she snapped. "I was there when it happened."
"Oookay," Wade said, shooting a worried look to Ron.
"She'll be fine, Wade," Ron said encouragingly. His smile was weak.
To break the tension Elda's last statement had generated, Jack attempted to change the subject. "So, Ron, when you and Kim met the Doctor, what did he look like?"
"Uh, he looked like the Doctor," Ron shrugged. "Funny haircut, dressed very laid back, played a flute … I mean, a recorder."
"Hmm," Jack said thoughtfully, "I don't believe I've met that version."
"Version?" Ron asked, "What do you—"
"Do you guys hear that?" Wade interrupted.
An odd noise began to fill the room. The wheezing, groaning sound rapidly got louder. As it did, flashing lights began to appear in the corner of the room nearest to where the wall had been.
"Here we go boys!" Jack announced happily. "Man, I forgot how much I love this sound."
Wade stood, and he and Ron stared transfixed at the corner as both the sound and the lightshow increased until an object materialized. There was a thud, and the room went silent.
"That's it," Ron breathed with the beginnings of a smile. "That's the Tardis."
"It's … a box," Wade said with a note of disappointment.
"That it is, Mr. Load. That it is," Jack favored him with a broad smile.
"What is a 'Police Call Box'?" Wade asked after reading the wording on the top of the object.
"I think the Doctor explained what it was," Ron said, "but I wasn't paying attention."
One of the doors to the box opened inward, and a young woman poked her head out. "Ron? Ron Stoppable?" she smiled.
"Uh, yeah?" Ron said, rubbing the back of his neck.
"Come on!" she waved him in.
"Hey, Yaz!" Jack announced.
She turned in his direction and gave him a dry look. "Hello, Captain Cheese."
"Hah, you remember," he smiled.
"I guess you can come, too," she sighed.
Jack gripped Ron's shoulder and whispered, "I have been dying to meet this version."
Ron shook off the confusion the word 'version' once again generated and asked, "What about Wade?"
"Oh my gosh!" Yaz said. "I'm so sorry, Wade! I didn't expect you to be here. Of course, you can come."
"I should probably stay here," Wade said.
"Are you sure?" Yaz asked, disappointed.
"Wade?" Ron asked.
"Someone should look after Michelle," he explained.
"Yeah, I guess so," Ron nodded.
"If you can, keep me posted with the Roncom," Wade said. "I'll do whatever I can to help."
Ron gave Wade a hug and was hugged in return. "I'll get her back safe, Wade."
"Human, you're insane if you step inside this thing," Elda said, eyeing the Tardis with extreme suspicion.
"Maybe," Ron admitted.
She silently regarded him for a moment. "If you know what's good for you," she said finally, "you won't come back without her."
He gave her a slight nod and replied sadly, "I know."
After he followed Jack into the Tardis, the door shut. Almost immediately, the sound and light show commenced. A few seconds later, the box vanished, and the sound faded away.
After a minute of intensely awkward silence, Wade began, "Well, I guess …"
"Leave the room," Elda ordered without looking at him.
Kim was in the middle of stretching exercises when she heard a commotion outside her cell.
"The War Criminal is wanted," announced a gruff voice.
"It is too soon," spoke the Lorwardian that Kim had begun to think of as her guard.
"The Synod commands that the War Criminal be brought."
There was silence and then the slot in the left wall vanished and the wall itself slid open. Next to the orange female guard stood two green male Lorwardians dressed much like the two who had escorted Kim from the courtroom cave. However, they were not the same duo. The one on the left had a diagonal scar across his face. The one on the right had an eyepatch.
"Stand," ordered the scarred one.
Kim did as she was commanded.
The Lorwardian with the eyepatch snapped his fingers, and panels from the cell's walls formed restraints that quickly bound Kim's hands and feet. As she floated out of her cell, she glanced at her guard and told her, "Thank you."
Kim was escorted along the narrow hallway, a guard in front and a guard behind. It was hard for Kim to orient herself, but she was pretty sure she was being led in the opposite direction from when she was brought to her cell. Dingy and dull, the hallway reminded her of the corridor on the ship. However, as they proceeded, she noticed significant differences. Multiple pipes were running along the ceiling. Sporadically, steam would escape one. At one point, Kim felt a drop of liquid hit her head. As to what these pipes contained, she couldn't hazard a guess. However, they seemed to multiply the further they went. In addition, the hallway was at a slight incline. And this incline gradually grew steeper. It got to the point that her head was even with the leading guard's waist and the trailing guard's head was even with her waist. Since she was floating, it was no burden for her. But what if the guard in front of her lost his footing and slid backwards? She couldn't imagine what madman would design such an impossible corridor.
It's like I'm in a steampunk Alice in Wonderland.
This mental comment didn't make her smile, not that much could under the circumstances. Rather, it depressed her. She recalled how much Ron hated the Lewis Carroll Alice books. And why he hated them. And this put her in mind of THE WORST THING. She shook her head and tried hard to focus on something, anything else.
Then she noticed an umber glow about thirty yards ahead that reminded her of the Lorwardian sky.
Are they taking me outside?
The glow gradually became brighter and seemed to cover everything. And suddenly, the trio was standing/floating at an even level within a blinding radiance. Unable to shield her eyes, Kim blinked and squinted repeatedly until she could see clearly.
However, it wasn't the Lorwardian sky they were standing under. Rather, there was a slightly opaque surface hovering high above them and beyond it was the sky. Kim assumed it was made of the same substance as the 'bubble' that shielded the hover port. Then Kim looked down and realized they were traversing across a walkway located in the middle deck of a vast stadium. There were small groups of Lorwardians of all hues already filling the tiers of seating both above and below them. Looking down to ground level, Kim found, instead of a playing field, only more rows of seating. These too were slowly filling with spectators.
And then her eyes fell upon the focal point of the stadium, the very heart of any would-be spectacle. Not fifty feet from their present position was a large disc-shaped platform, tangentially connected to the walkway by a handful of thin, evenly-spaced supports. And in the center of the disc was a device. Covered in brightly-colored pictograms she couldn't hope to decipher and constructed from materials that she had never seen; the object was at once completely alien and unmistakable. It was a guillotine.
Kim released a sigh that seemed to empty all the air from her lungs. Her head sank.
A second later, she raised it again. She stared fixedly at the device and kept staring at it even as the guards walked her past the disc-shaped platform and led her toward a large ornate door at the far end of the walkway. She was staring so intently at the device that the rear guard ordered her to keep her eyes straight ahead as they neared the door.
Once they reached the door, the guards stopped with Kim floating between them. As they waited, Kim's eyes traced the sky, or, at least, the sky as seen through the shield that was sheltering them from it. She absently noticed in the distance a wisp of a funnel extending from the base of the giant green storm cloud. She watched as it languidly moved from right to left on the horizon. And then she noticed that the peak of the only visible mountain seemed to be in the funnel's path. With renewed focus, she wondered if there was a monument atop the mountain. A monument that would be crossed by the 'Eye.' Her thoughts were interrupted as the doors began to part and disappear into the sides of the building. The interior of the revealed room was a cluster of shadows.
"Bring her," thundered a voice from within.
The lead guard stepped into the room, and Kim was pulled inside after him. The rear guard remained outside, and the doors closed.
For what seemed the hundredth time that day, Kim found herself adjusting her eyes to a sudden light change. When they cleared, she found herself in a surprisingly cramped room. On the far end was what appeared to be a small viewing deck or patio with an unbroken line of sight to the device. Along the left-hand side of the room was a disparate collection of what she guessed to be furniture. However, the irregularly-shaped grey lumps could have been anything. On the right side of the room was a long narrow desk composed of a dull mineral, parallel with the wall. Seated behind this desk and giving her glances that ranged from apathetic to withering were the three judges from earlier. The blue judge sat at the edge of the desk closest to Kim; his two displeased confederates had seated themselves as far away from her as possible.
Everyone was silent for a very long time. So long, in fact, that Kim once again got the odd feeling that she was supposed to say or do something before events could proceed. Finally, the blue judge's high voice broke the silence, "War Criminal, make your request."
After a dumbfounded moment, Kim found her voice. "I do not understand."
The look of disdain this statement produced in the judge seated furthest away from her could have melted steel. The second judge showed his displeasure by slamming his fist against the desk's stone surface.
"Having defeated two of our Marauders," the blue judge explained patiently, "you have earned Tribute."
These statements only confused Kim further. Up until that moment, she had believed the reason behind her abduction and her receiving "Justice" had been her perceived single-handed thwarting of Warhok and Warmonga's invasion of Earth. And now she was being told that it had earned her a reward of some kind.
Her confusion must have been writ large on her face because the two unfriendly judges began to speak harshly in Lorwardian to the blue judge. He raised a hand, and they ceased.
"Tribute is a request prior to Justice," he said evenly. "Final meal, music, what brings you joy."
"A final request," Kim replied, "before I am terminated."
She had no idea how to respond. If anything, a last request just seemed to make what little time remained more fleeting. Even if she felt like eating (and she so didn't) and was able to digest Lorwardian prison food, each bite would just mentally bring her closer to the end of the meal and to her end. Music, same sitch. The entire time she was listening she'd be anticipating the last note. As for "What brings you joy," she so wasn't going to explore what that meant. Still, there was something that she wanted.
The green judge at the far end of the table took his turn to impatiently smash his fist into the desk.
"Okay," Kim said, "I know what I want."
"Proceed," said the blue judge.
"I want to know why you believe I am a War Criminal."
The eruption this caused from the two far judges was so violent that Kim's guard made a defensive motion. Only when he pointed his spear in their general direction did they retake their seats.
"Believe?" the blue judge said shaking his head. "You are a War Criminal." She could sense that even this judge's patience with her was starting to fray.
"But why?" Kim pleaded to him. "I honestly do not understand. I thought you were angry because I defeated Warhok and Warmonga. I really don't know why this is happening, believe me!"
The look he gave her was one of stone. However, she continued to stare right back at him, and, eventually, he looked away. "Very well."
The two other judges began speaking harshly to him in Lorwardian again. He raised his hand and pointed to the door. Grumbling, each stood up, brushed rudely past her guard, and waited impatiently for the doors to open so they could exit.
"You are excused," the judge told her guard, and he, too, left the room.
Once the doors closed, he shot her a fierce look. "You had better not be lying, earther."
She shook her head.
He snapped his fingers, and a screen, about a quarter of the size of her family's television in Middleton, descended from the ceiling. "Four decadormins ago, one of our scout ships intercepted this transmission from your planet." He turned brusquely to face the wall, and a silent video began to play.
When it had finished, Kim was reeling mentally and emotionally. When she had collected herself enough to form a coherent thought, it was to give thanks that the Lorwardians had known enough to abduct her and not the fifteen-year-old actress portraying her in the video.
For a half second, she almost found it funny that the she and the Lorwardians shared the same feelings about that Warhok/Warmonga-themed promo clip. Then she realized that wasn't true. They didn't feel the same about the clip. Not at all.
"Do you deny responsibility?" the judge demanded shrilly. "For this slanderous, mocking propaganda!"
"No," Kim said without hesitation. "I take full responsibility. It was all my idea."
He nodded. And then he asked, "Are you still confused as to why you are a War Criminal?"
"No," Kim said.
He smiled thinly.
"But it doesn't say much for Lorwardian culture, does it?" she continued.
He stared at her dumbfounded.
"The Pride of Lorwardia must be pretty fragile," she said in a chiding tone, "if it can be threatened by something as ferociously stupid as that video."
The judge stood abruptly and snapped his fingers. Even before the doors had opened completely, he was signaling the guard.
He pointed coldly at Kim and hissed, "Take this back to its cell."
As she began her journey back to her "quarters," she again looked intently at the device. However, she also stole a few glances at the rock formations that boarded the walkway on her left. And the several pathways that weaved among the rocks.
Once inside the Tardis, Ron felt very disoriented. Instead of the brightly lit, uniformly white interior he was expecting, he found himself inside what appeared to be a cave. A room temperature, cozy kinda cave, but a cave nonetheless. The general darkness of the place coupled with the presence of several giant glowing stalactites (stalagmites?) gave him this impression.
Suddenly, the young woman who had invited them in was shaking his hand. "It's a real honor to meet you, Ron," she gushed.
"Really?" he replied. "Thanks."
"Name's Yaz. I have been following you and Kim since I was little," she smiled and then her expression turned serious. "Never fear, we're going to get Kim back."
"Cool, Yaz," he nodded absently. "Where's the Doctor?" he asked
"Talking to Captain Cheese," she said with a roll of her eyes. "Old mates," she shrugged.
"Oh, come on!" Jack's complaining voice emanated from behind one of the glowing stalagmites.
"Sounds like the reunion's over," Yaz smiled and pulled him by the hand into the center of the console room.
It was much brighter here. In large part this was due to the ginormous glowing stalagmite, surrounded by console panels, that seemed to be growing out of the dead center of the room. Well, maybe not growing. Rather, it seemed to be going up and then going back down.
Ron was just getting adjusted to his new surroundings when a short blonde woman in a trench coat ran up to him and gave him a hug. "It's so good to see you, Ron!" She swiftly broke the hug and smiling, gave him a onceover. "My, you certainly have grown."
"Uh, yeah," he nodded. "I guess I have. G-good to see you again, too. I think."
At this point, Rufus stuck his head out of Ron's cargo pocket.
"Rufus!" the woman cried. "Look at you! You've grown as well!"
The mole-rat jumped onto the woman's sleeve, ran up her arm, and began to nuzzle her under her chin.
The puzzled look Ron was giving his pet did not go unnoticed by the woman. "You don't recognize me, do you, Ron?"
"No, of course, I do," he nodded but then shook his head. "Yeah, sorry, I don't."
"Let's see," she said scratching Rufus under his chin, "what was that charming nickname you gave me? A-ha, yes, 'MrD.'"
"'MrD?'" he asked.
"Well, I guess it's 'MsD' now," she corrected.
"Wait, y-you're the Doctor?" he stammered.
"Okay, let's pretend Rufus doesn't understand how that could happen …"
"Long, complicated explanation," she interrupted, "that we don't have time for right now." She took up his left hand and pulled him over to console. Flipping a switch, she produced a hologram of a star field that floated over the console.
"This is where they've taken KP," she explained, pointing to a small dot next to one of the brighter stars in the field.
"Lorwardia?" he asked.
"Correct," she nodded. "Fourth planet circling the star Bellatrex in the constellation of Orion."
"Right in the armpit of Orion," Jack added. "Where else would you expect to find the Lorwardian home world?"
"Adopted home world," the Doctor corrected.
"Really?" Jack asked. "What's their original home world?"
The Doctor sighed, "The sister planet of Raxacoricofallapatorius."
"And what's the sister planet of Raxacoricofallapatorius?" he asked.
"Seriously? Clom?" Jack shook his head. "So, they're really the Cloms. I can see why they rebranded."
"Yeah," Ron added with a weak laugh, "'For the Pride of Clom' doesn't have much of a punch."
Depressed by the sound of his own voice, Ron said, "I think that's the first time I've laughed in like forever."
"Come on, Ron," Jack said in an assuaging tone, "she's only been gone a handful of hours."
"Yeah," Ron nodded, "that's what I said." He rubbed his forehead absently. "So are we plotting a course there …"
Laying a hand on his shoulder, the Doctor replied, "We've been on our way since you got on board, Ron. We'll be there momentarily."
From his new perch around the Doctor's neck, Rufus gave his human an encouraging look. And a thumbs up.
Kim had only been back in her cell for maybe forty minutes when the guards came for her again.
Voices in the hallway alerted her, so she was able to remove her hand from her right cargo pocket before the door could open.
"Justice," the guard with the eyepatch announced.
"Okay," Kim replied and stepped to the center of the room.
With a snap of his fingers, her feet and hands were again in restraints.
As she floated past the orange Lorwardian, Kim shot her a glance and said, "Bye." Although the woman's expression remained fixed, Kim thought, for a second, she saw a twitch around her eyes.
Her second journey along the narrow retrofuturistic hallway was pretty much the same as her first. This time, however, she could not detect the hiss of the steam periodically escaping from the pipes. A low rumbling noise obscured it. As they continued down the hall, the rumbling increased in volume. As they began their climb up the steep incline, the rumbling become more than a noise. Even though the restraints kept her floating smoothly in mid-air, she could tell from the leading guard's gait and the shaking of the pipes above her head that the corridor was vibrating. She could well guess what was causing the commotion.
As they exited the hallway, the rumbling was indeed revealed to be the cacophony of thousands of Lorwardian voices in the now capacity-filled stadium. Instead of proceeding to the device, the guards held her back near the opening, so that she could not be seen by the crowd. From this vantage point she could just make out a platform on the other side of the disc. When she recognized the three Lorwardians on the platform, she concluded this platform was the 'patio' she had seen from the Synod's chamber room. The taller of her green judges held up his hands and gradually the crowd became silent.
Two extremely large Lorwardians, one orange and one blue, appeared on the far right of her line of sight. They were carrying what appeared to be the trunk of a tree.
Where did they find that?
Some thirty feet in length, it was the first bit of vegetation Kim had seen since she had arrived on the planet. As they marched with it to the device, Kim observed that it wasn't very thick, maybe a foot at most. When they reached the device, they proceeded to insert one of its ends through the largest of its three openings. After pushing a fair bit through, they stopped and stood back. Kim's eyes were glued to the device. Although she could see no movement, she did detect in the complete silence a slight groaning noise that went on for a while and was followed by a sharp click. A few seconds later, a large curved blade dropped from the tall crossbar and cut through the trunk with a sickening thud.
The noise from the masses in the stadium was ear-splitting. The blade was retracted to the top of the crossbar, and the two Lorwardians pushed more of the trunk through the opening. The cheering of the crowd drowned out the groaning and the click on this second practice run, and once the trunk was cut again, their pitch reached an even higher crescendo. This same cycle repeated four more times, and each time the tree was cut, the deafening din increased. At the end of the demonstration, Kim felt a few tears trickle down her cheeks. She credited them to the pain she felt in her assaulted ears.
She looked in the direction of the rock formations to the right of the pathway and realized that she couldn't see them for the squadron of guards that were evenly stationed along the pathway's link.
"Spanking," she groused. Saying the word aloud, even if she couldn't hear it, helped keep her spirits buoyed … somewhat.
She looked back at the device and saw that the two 'tree guards' were hurling the cut sections of the trunk over the edge of the disc. Apparently, into the crowd far below. Instead of terrified screams, these violent acts were greeted with whoops and applause. After the last stump had been tossed, the stadium grew deathly quiet.
Shooting a glance to the 'patio' she noticed that the blue judge had both of his arms raised. He cleared his throat and then began to speak in the Lorwardian tongue. As he spoke his inflections grew strident and then they became shrill. Each time he paused, boos and screams could be heard from multiple points in the stadium. The speech seemed to drone on and on and although she didn't understand any of the words, Kim realized that she was recognizing some of them. And these cropped up again and again as if the speaker was trying to drive home (or belabor) a point. Five minutes into this tirade, the negative reactions from the crowd were reaching the same decibel range as the cheers produced by the 'demonstration.'
So much for having a friend at court.
Although not a shield, sarcasm was proving to be a somewhat effective balm for Kim's emotions.
The judge suddenly ceased to speak; the guards on either side of her started to move forward. Just as Kim came out of the shadows and became visible to the assembled masses, the glare bleeding through the stadium's shield momentarily blinded her. By the time she had blinked her eyes clear, she could no longer hear. The sounds of outrage her appearance generated were literally deafening.
It's not going to work. It's not going to work. It's not going to work. It's not going to work.
As the guards reached the midway point of the pathway and turned so that Kim was directly facing the device, tears were streaming down both her cheeks. It wasn't merely the severe pain the howls of rage were causing her ears. It was also because she had reflexively retreated into her mind to escape that pain. And the first thing she had encountered there was Ron. Ron and THE WORST THING.
Suddenly, she realized that instead of the full roar of the crowd, she was hearing it's dying echo. Everything was silent again. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see the profile of the blue judge, his arms raised. If 'Justice' followed the same pattern as the 'demonstration' had—utter silence before the eruption of sadistic joy, there was still a chance.
The guard to her left snapped his fingers and her restraints were gone. She landed unsteadily on her feet.
Here we go.
In the instant before her guards could grab her arms, Kim collapsed to the ground in a fetal position.
The guards hesitated for a few seconds, but then swiftly picked up her limp form. Each one held her by the arm firmly. Her head lolled about on her neck and eventually fell between her shoulders. The guards stepped over the thin chasm between the pathway and the disc and carried her directly to the device. When they reached it, they lowered her gently, so that she was kneeling right before its three openings. One guard held her steady while the other lifted the piece of the device that contained the upper portions of the three openings. He adjusted the sizes of the openings to fit a person of her small stature. As he completed his task, Kim seemed to snap out of her daze and return somewhat to herself. She raised her head and then compliantly placed her own forearms through the lower half portions of the smaller openings and allowed the guard behind her to maneuver her head through the lower portion of the larger one. The top portion was replaced, securing her in the device. And the guards stepped away.
Kim discovered what hurt the most about being in this extremely uncomfortable position were her knees. The angle of her body coupled with the height of the openings meant that she was kneeling right on their points. It was agony, and it didn't lessen as time wore on. Fortunately, the pain wasn't enough to distract her.
She heard the device's groaning begin. She sighed.
As the groaning continued, she weakly struggled at the smaller openings.
When the groaning ceased, she quickly eased her buttered left wrist free, and slipped it into her left pocket.
When the sharp click came, she pulled out the Doctor's recorder.
In the two seconds before the blade fell, she lifted and angled the recorder so that it was lying directly across the blade's path and right above her neck.
The blade fell.
And everything went crazy.
Kim dropped her mother's flashlight. It bounced a couple of times before coming to rest near the base of her ladder.
She stood on the top rung, bathed in the shadows created by the night light. Unable to make a sound, she could only stare and count her heartbeats.
There were strangers sleeping in her bed.
Initially, she assumed that they had innocently ended up in the wrong house. And then she began to suspect that she was in the wrong house.
She didn't know how long she stood there trying to decide what to do or not to do.
Well, she had an approximate idea of how long. The song, that was coming from some unseen source, had already played through twice.
To be continued ...
For over a thousand generations the Monument had kept watch over the capital city from its position atop Advent Peak. Composed from a single large stone dredged from the bottom of the sea, the megalith was sculpted, transported and erected upon the summit in the days when the skies were the color of soft silver rather than of harsh rust. Not merely a metaphoric sentinel for the Lorwardians, it was intended to serve as an object for their reflection and introspection. Both upon how far they as a people had come and upon how much they could achieve.
However, the Advances of the past four hundred generations made it a hazardous location to reach and, as a result, rarely had visitors. In addition to the lack of oxygen-a general condition over the planet's entire surface, the peak was consistently buffeted by fierce windstorms that stirred up swirling clouds of millions of fine but dangerous shards of copper, silica, and zeiton. These fragments, especially those of zeiton, attached themselves to every inch of the Monument's surface. Settling in numerous layers over the eons, these sediments both substantially increased the megalith's apparent size as well as severely obscured its original form.
Accordingly, the original purposes of the Monument were likewise concealed over time. Instead of a load stone for self-reflection, it morphed into a mere symbol. Primarily, one used to instill fealty to the Empire. However, it also developed another more cryptic role. Eons of myth contended that, despite its name, Advent Peak was the departure point for the Great Blue. Once he delivered the Lorwardians to their new home, the summit was the last place where his mighty feet trod before he left for the stars.
And for even longer, a handful of legends singled out the Monument as the site of his eventual return.
As she kneeled in the Lorwardian's execution device, the adrenaline spike in Kim's bloodstream made her extremely alert. Subsequently, the milliseconds between when she placed the recorder in the blade's path and when the blade finally struck it seemed to stretch until they became, if not an ocean, a cove of time.
Against the red background on the underside of her eyelids, she swiftly plotted out her next moves after the recorder stopped the blade. In the ensuing seconds of Lorwardian shock, Kim would free her buttered right wrist from its restraint and attempt to do the same with her butter-smeared forehead. If her head refused to come free, she would spin her body one-hundred-and-eighty degrees and lift the restraints' top portion (and the blade) with the strength of her two free arms just enough so she could get free. Then, she would take out one of her guards with a roundhouse kick and take out the second with a leg sweep. As the guards along the walkway began their inevitable charge, she would employ a combination of Lotus style kung fu and handsprings to evade them and reach the potential sanctuary of the rocky terrain beyond.
Of course, there was always the chance that the recorder wouldn't stop the blade. Kim quickly dismissed this as unlikely. And that wasn't her propensity for optimism talking; it was her faith in Wade. If he claimed the Doctor's musical instrument was extremely strong, then it was. And if this did turn out to be the only time Wade was wrong, what did that matter? She would be dead, but at least she had tried.
A sudden shudder along her left arm brought Kim back in time; her eyes sprung open.
The blade hit the recorder-it worked!
Then she heard an unexpected noise like a guitar string snapping—a very large guitar string. That was quickly followed by crashing.
Kim refocused on her plan and went to free her right wrist only to discover it was no longer being restrained. And neither was her head. Sitting up and turning in the direction of the crash, she discovered the upper portion of the restraints as well the rest of the frame and part of the crossbar were laying on the ground to her right—almost as if they had been ripped from the rest of the device and tossed to the side. As for the blade, it was embedded in the roof of the Synod's observation patio; the blade's retracting wire was whipping in the air. All three judges were huddled together, their arms covering their shuddering heads. From all appearances, the recorder had not only stopped the blade, it had sent it rocketing back up the device and through the crossbar.
Kim jumped to her feet, placed the recorder back in her cargo pocket, and took off. Unfortunately, she had not anticipated how kneeling on the points of her knees would impact her ability to run. Her steps were uneven, hobbled. A quick glance told her that most of the guards were still in shock, but she was losing valuable seconds. As she reached the edge of the disc, her two guards broke from their trance and raced to intercept her. The soreness in her knees told her that she wouldn't be able to perform the roundhouse or the leg sweep.
Have to improvise then.
She decided to slide between them. Then she saw the eye-patched guard on the left snap his fingers.
The restraints! Shoot!
Having no real option, Kim went ahead with the hip slide. As she did, the panels zipped just over her head and wrapped themselves around the wrists and ankles of the guard with the scar. Unfortunately, her slide didn't take her quite as far a distance as she'd hoped. In fact, she stopped just a few feet to the right of the furious eye-patched guard.
"Hey," she smiled weakly up at him.
He did not return her greeting; instead, he menacingly lifted a booted foot.
She rolled out of his path and continued to roll until she was under and beyond his floating colleague. When she stopped, she heard an odd noise. Looking in its direction, she noticed a guard from the walkway fumbling with a control box on the far edge of the disc. An ominous rumbling began under the disc's surface. She immediately recalled the thin, evenly-spaced joints that connected the disc to the walkway.
She climbed to her feet and began to race to the edge of the disc. Just as she realized her knees were feeling much better, the guard with the eye patch jumped into her path, his spear at the ready. A roundhouse kick knocked it from his grasp, and a leg sweep sent him crashing to the ground a few feet from his restrained partner. The rumbling noise became a frightening vibration, and Kim leaped off the disc. As she landed chest-first on the walkway, a terrifying squeal of metal assaulted her ears. She turned her head and saw that the disc was gone. The eye patch guard had fortunately managed to cling to the waist of his restrained colleague before it had fallen. They were floating but had begun to sink slowly under their combined weight.
Kim stood and was surrounded … sort of. There was a row of about a dozen guards lined in front of her and about half a dozen behind her. Now that the only space to stand was the narrow walkway, all the guards were arranged single file and were in no position to rush her without pushing at least some of their companions to their deaths. After a moment's hesitation, the first guard at her front charged, she swept his leg. He went over the walkway's border and landed against the rock formation to Kim's right. Hearing the charge of a guard to her rear, she ducked, and he plowed right into the next guard waiting in front her. Since the tangle their bodies stopped any advance from that direction for the moment, Kim decided to focus on the five remaining guards to her rear. Turning around, she discovered the five had somehow become twelve. Looking over them, she spied the corridor through which she had entered the stadium, it was jammed with advancing guards.
But … of course.
The first guard in this ever-expanding line swung an ax-like weapon at her. She dodged his blow, and, as he tried to free his blade from the walkway, stepped onto his head, climbed on his back, and leaped over the border wall and onto the rocks. While seeking refuge in the rock formation may have been Kim's initial goal, she hadn't had this part of the outcrop in mind. On this end of the walkway, it was much more dramatic, the stones were jagged and extremely steep. And it was crowned with chimney-like outcrops. Most importantly, unlike the side nearest the Synod's chambers, this part was free of navigable paths. As she clambered up the notched rock wall, Kim really wished that she had put on a pair of mission gloves when she finished her bath.
A guard grabbed at her foot, and a handful of others began to hurl plasma-edged spears at her. These made a hissing noise in flight but quickly lost their 'glow' after hitting and then sinking into the stone surface. Two stuck just above Kim's head, and a third caught the untucked tail of her shirt.
So can't stay here!
She kicked her foot free, and, hoping the spear nearest her head was lodged fast into the rock face, she jumped for it. Grabbing its end with both hands, she instantly realized this move had been a mistake. She had planned to use the spear as a makeshift gymnastic bar to flip herself to the opposite side of the outcrop. However, generating the type of momentum such a move required would take too much time; unfortunately, that wasn't her immediate concern. The spear was severely bowing under her weight—putting her feet within easy grasp of the nearest guards. A pair of guards snatched a foot each and began to pull her down. As she started to lose her grip on the spear, she heard them and some of their cohorts begin to laugh. Using all the strength in her legs, she brought her feet together fast, banging their knuckles against each other. They simultaneously released their grips, and the spear snapped her high into the air.
Although this didn't put her on the other side of the formation, Kim did find herself near the top of one of its tallest chimneys. She quickly scrambled to its leeward side just as a barrage of spears struck the stone column. She took a few seconds to catch her breath and, for the first time since she had escaped the device, glance at the stadium. Surprisingly, the crowd wasn't in an uproar. The general vibe she got from them was confusion. Almost as if they didn't know how to react and were waiting to see the outcome. Two plasma blasts overhead cut her observations short. Although they hadn't been close, they convinced her of the need to keep moving. She began weaving her way carefully between the chimneys, frantically seeking a route that would lead her to a less exposed area.
After a few minutes without hearing more blasts or even the cries of outraged guards, Kim briefly turned her attention to what lay beyond the formation. From this height she could determine if there was a potential sanctuary in sight and then plot a course to arrive there. And she did see less treacherous terrain in the far distance on her right. The problem was it lay outside the liquid shield, where she had every reason to assume there was no breathable air. Before this discovery could lower her spirits, she was startled by the sudden appearance of a column of steam a few yards to her left. After it faded, she picked her way toward where it had been. It was a short distance, but the way was so difficult, it took her a couple of minutes to get there. She discovered a metal grate wedged in a crevice.
"That's unexpected," she said softly. Another burst of steam erupted from it. Although she was only a foot from the column, she didn't feel particularly hot. She tentatively tested the steam with her elbow. The temperature was between tepid and cool. Whatever its source, the steam had had a long time to cool by the time it reached the grate. "I wonder where you lead." Once the steam started to thin, she brushed the remaining wisps away with her hand and peered inside. From what little she could see there was a tunnel/pipe that extended some ten feet or so down and then seemed to curve to the left.
She tried prying at the grate, but it was either all-of-a-piece with its pipe or welded to it. Shaking her head, she muttered, "What are you thinking, Possible? There are so many reasons why that would a terrible idea, even if it was doable."
It was about the time she reminded herself to keep all her conversations with herself, well … silent, that the air erupted with a volley of yellow plasma blasts. A shower of rocks and dust covered her. She reflexively raised her arms to shield her head and realized that she couldn't move her right arm. When the air cleared, she discovered why. Her upper right arm was exposed, the shirt's fabric beneath the shoulder burned away. And the exposed skin was black with ugly, red streaks. She didn't feel any pain and that worried her.
Am I in shock?
As the staccato rhythms of a Lordwardian's voice pierced the air, a prickly, intensively unpleasant sensation began to emanate from her wounded arm. Stepping toward her, his handheld weapon pointed at her head, was the larger of her two green judges. He continued to speak, either unaware or uncaring, that she could not understand him. She shifted her position slightly to readjust her injured arm. His response was to shoot another plasma blast at her—this one was red. It landed in the crevice just to her left.
She was able to raise both arms to shelter her head this time. However, the pain in her right arm killed.
"Aaaaaie!" she cried out.
The judge laughed and continued to speak his language with menacing inflections.
He fired another red blast, this time at a rock directly to her right. It exploded. Rolling away from the dust cloud it produced, Kim noticed that the grate in the crevice to her left was gone; the pipe was exposed.
The judge screamed.
At first, she thought he had been hurt or attacked, but when she looked at his face, he was wearing an extremely pleased expression. He was still talking, and although she had no idea what he was saying, his eyes made his intentions plain. It was not the first time she'd seen that look in an adversary's eyes. He had decided not to take her prisoner. And he had relished making that decision.
He raised his weapon again and pointed it directly at her head.
She threw a rock shard with her left hand as hard as she could at his face. He batted it away without a word and took a step closer.
Kim closed her eyes.
They were both suddenly enveloped in a steam cloud. Without the grate, the steam had escaped the pipe in a much wider berth. Quicker than she could decide to do so, Kim snatched up another shard and hurled it at the judge's face. Momentarily disoriented, he was too slow to block the strike, and the stone hit him in the eye. He howled in pain and began shooting wildly.
With little choice, Kim awkwardly jumped into the exposed pipe and let gravity do the rest.
After falling straight down and then banking to the left for several feet, Kim found herself lying in a horizontal, circular shaft. It was somewhat roomier than the narrow pipe had been, but not by much. Her arm was still killing her, but she bit down on her lower lip to keep from crying out. The vicious cries of the judge were faintly echoing down the shaft. Then she heard other Lorwardian voices join his.
She got to her knees and began crawling as fast as she could away them. Unfortunately, as she got farther away from the voices, she also got farther away from her only light source. Soon, she was crawling in utter darkness. And then the steam covered her.
She held her breath but only after she had already breathed some in. She gagged, but that seemed to be only due to reflex. From what little she could tell, the steam seemed to be made of water vapor. Of course, she knew that conclusion might just be hopeful speculation. One thing about the steam her optimism couldn't speculate away was its temperature. It was most certainly warmer than it had been on the surface.
Regardless, Kim continued to crawl forward. Despite the utter darkness, the terrible pain in her right arm, and the periodic steam blasts that kept getting hotter, she knew she had to keep moving.
Even if there was no place for her to go.
"What's wrong, Doctor?" Yaz whispered. In the years she had spent with the Doctor, she had learned to identify the Timelord's facial cues that might herald catastrophe.
The Doctor's eyes met her companion's briefly and then darted back to the console. "Something's not right. We're right over the planet, but I can't get any readings." She sighed. "At least any that make any sense."
"Are we going to be there soon?" Ron asked hopefully from the opposite side of the console room. He had been nervously stroking Rufus for the past ten minutes, and his pet was just starting to complain.
"Do you want to give him to me, Ron?" Jack offered.
"We're there," the Doctor replied, "but there's a problem."
"W-what's the problem?" Ron asked, carelessly handing Rufus to Jack before the latter was properly within handing off distance. Fortunately, Jack caught Rufus in time. Rufus, for his part, was too concerned with the Doctor's ominous reply to be upset.
"The Tardis doesn't recognize it," the Doctor grumbled. She rested her hands against the console and blew a few stray hairs from her face. "I mean, it is the right planet, but everything's off. I'm not even getting life readings."
The color drained from Ron's face.
"Not the example to lead with," Yaz advised her.
"Let's just land and take a look around," Jack suggested.
"We can't," the Doctor said exasperated. "None of the readings are stable. Without at least one consistent reading of some kind," she explained, "the Tardis will not materialize on the surface." She dropped her head abjectly and sighed.
Yaz went to comfort Ron, but she didn't get two steps.
"Hang on!" the Doctor exclaimed, her head back up and wearing a beaming grin. "I can use the coordinates in the Tardis memory banks from the last time I was here!" She began typing feverishly on one of the console's many keyboards. "Just have to remember to keep the year current, so we don't end up arriving at the last time, literally," she explained. Jumping to the adjacent console, she pulled a lever.
The room pitched to the right and then back to the left. Oblivious to the turbulence or its effects upon the other Tardis occupants, the Doctor gave Ron a reassuring smile, "See, Ron? Problem solved!"
There was loud thud and the Tardis ceased moving.
"We're there!" the Doctor happily announced and headed for the doors.
Ron was understandably dazed by the rapid turn of events.
Yaz placed an empathetic hand on his shoulder. "You'll get used to it," she said and then ran after the Doctor.
"No," Jack said a second later, patting Ron's other shoulder. "Trust me, you won't."
When he and Jack stepped out of the Tardis, Ron discovered they were standing on the summit of a very tall mountain in the middle of a desolate landscape. It looked to him like the Australian Outback had gotten into a fight with the Wyoming Badlands. Except, there were absolutely zero trees and bushes. A large lake that made the Dead Sea look inviting. And, of course, the ginormous green cloud that swallowed up most of the sky.
"Doctor, are you all right?" Yaz's voice broke the silence.
When Ron turned toward her voice, he saw that Yaz had her arm around the Doctor's shoulders. The Doctor looked extremely depressed.
"What have they done?" she muttered. She closed her eyes tightly. "They destroyed it."
Everyone was quiet for a moment.
"It wasn't a paradise, maybe," the Doctor said in an agitated tone. She started to pace. "The weather wasn't perfect, of course. Nottingham in March. Overcast, gray, wet. Except, you know, all year." She gestured helplessly at the gaunt terrain and then at the sky. "There isn't even any oxygen left!"
"Uh," Ron said, raising his hand. "I hate to bring this up, MsD, but if there isn't any oxygen, how are we …"
"Air field around the Tardis," Jack and Yaz explained in unison.
"And it was all verdant," the Doctor said wistfully. "Verdant and silver."
"Silver?" Yaz asked.
"Yes," she nodded absently. "I had some leftover seeds from home."
"And that angry giant green cloud?" Jack asked.
"Oh, that?" the Doctor said, looking up. "No, that's always been there."
"So, are we saying that they destroyed their planet and then ditched it?" Ron interrupted. "I-I mean, if they did, where did they take Kim?"
"Oh, no, Ron," the Doctor said, walking toward him. "They're still here," she pointed behind him.
When he turned, he saw that on the other side of that dismal lake was a large city. A buried city.
"Are they living underground?" Jack asked.
"With zero oxygen in their atmosphere, they'd have to be," the Doctor nodded.
"Well, where are they getting it pumped in from?" Jack persisted, "I mean, they can't be making it underground."
"Stealing it from other worlds?" Yaz offered. "I mean, maybe that's why they tried to conquer Earth."
"No," Ron said, still staring intently at the city. "They conquered Earth for payback. Payback against Kim."
"Right," Yaz nodded. "What does it matter how they get their oxygen? We need to rescue Kim."
"Well, what's the plan?" Jack asked. "We can't just waltz through the city gates." He added dubiously, "Are we going to disguise ourselves as Lorwardians?"
"I don't need a disguise," Ron said coldly, still regarding the city. "I'll just kick in the city gates and go door to door if I have to." The dangerous tone that had crept into his voice made Yaz and Jack exchange worried looks.
"Locating Kim first would make things much easier, Ron," the Doctor called from some distance away.
Ron pulled his eyes away from the city and followed the other two to find the Doctor. She was on the other side of the Tardis, examining a large, fuzzy-looking block of rust. It was roughly the same shape as the Tardis and about twice its size.
"That looks familiar," Jack said wryly.
"Yes, I know, Jack," the Doctor replied. "Shush! I'm working."
She was pointing a large silver pen with a glowing tip at the block. She pulled the pen from the block and stared at its glowing tip for a few seconds. "I know what's playing havoc with the Tardis's readings. Jack, this may also explain where the Lorwardians got their cloaking tech."
"What is it?" he asked.
"There is a significant amount of zeiton-8 in the soil and, more than likely, swirling around in the atmosphere itself."
"And that means?" Yaz prompted.
"Zeiton-7 is a mineral fundamental to the Tardis's orbital energy," the Doctor explained. "Zeiton-8 reacts … poorly with it. I didn't notice the last time I was here because the topsoil must have provided a sufficient buffer, but, now, there is no topsoil."
"What does that mean?" Ron asked.
"It means, unfortunately, that most of the Tardis's normal scanning abilities will not work here."
"Like scanning for Kim." He spoke leadenly; it had not been a question.
She didn't meet his gaze, only stared at his chest.
"I'm going," he said hotly. "Come with me if you want." He turned and started walking in the direction of the city.
"Ron, there's no air!" Yaz protested.
He stopped in his tracks. Everything was going wrong. Who knew what was happening to Kim right now? He had traveled all the way to the planet she was being held captive on and was still no closer to helping her. Someone put a hand on his shoulder; he reluctantly turned to face them. However, he found it was the Doctor, not Yaz, standing behind him.
"I can't scan for Kim," the Doctor said solemnly, "but I can track her."
"By her DNA."
"Really? D-do you have KP's DNA?"
The Doctor smiled and then reached out and pinched at his shirt just over his chest. When she withdrew her hand, she was holding a long single strand of red hair.
"I do now."
Kim had been crawling on her hand and knees in complete darkness for what seemed like hours. Her back had been aching for some time, and her knees were killing her. She had made a makeshift sling from a torn section from the bottom of her shirt. Not an easy task to complete in such a small space while being effectively blind, but she had managed. Her right arm wasn't broken, but while it was in the sling, she was reminded not to use it as she inched along the pipe shafts. On the plus side, the burning sensation in her upper right arm had ceased, so that was good news.
Unless, of course, I really am going into shock.
It was so difficult to determine how far she had come or even where she was going. For not the first or the last time, Kim wished she still had her Kimmunicator. Even if she couldn't contact Wade, it had offline apps that would at least let her know how long she had been in here and a general idea at how much distance she'd crossed. The only thing she knew for certain was that every time she stopped to rest, she could hear the distant cries of angry Lorwardians, coming from behind or from above her. Each time, these sounds encouraged her to cut her rests short.
However, when she stopped this time, she didn't hear anything. She embraced this invitation fate had granted her. Edging onto her left side, she let the throbbing in her knees ebb into the surrounding void. She re-positioned herself so that her back wasn't touching the side of the pipe, removed the sling, and carefully stretched out her right arm in the most comfortable position along her body.
Time to eat.
Gingerly, so as to not to jostle her injured arm, Kim put her left hand into her right cargo pocket and pinched off a small chunk from the remains of the stick of butter. She was so tempted to gobble it down, but, with great restraint, slowly sucked at it on her fingers. She had completely forgotten about it until she reached that first y-juncture in the pipe. As she waited to determine which of the two pipes periodically produced what had become a very hot blast of steam, she had felt something that was most definitely not sweat drip from her forehead. Initially, she feared it was oil and that she had been totally wrong about the nature of the steam. For whatever crazy reason, she had decided that giving the viscous substance a taste was a good way to figure out what it was. It had turned out to be some of the butter she had smeared on her forehead when had feigned collapsing into the fetal position. And that had reminded her of her right pocket's remaining contents. Congealed butter that had been unrefrigerated for the better part of a day wasn't her meal of choice, but it would do until something better came along.
If I can just find a puddle of rancid water, I'll be so set.
More than anything else, Kim wanted to find a sliver of light somewhere up ahead. Where she was now it was so dark that she could detect no difference from when her eyes were open than when they were closed. In such a sitch, it was very difficult not to think about death. Although a dreary topic, it didn't depress her to confront it. Rather, thinking about death kept her motivated to keep going. And, at the very least, it kept her from thinking about THE WORST THING.
Kim recalled a quote from the AP English class she had taken senior year at Middleton. Invariably, this class had been taught by Mr. Barkin more frequently than by its assigned teacher, and, accordingly, she remembered the quote in his voice. "Death concentrates the mind wonderfully." She had to agree. And, right now, she was concentrating on all she would miss if she gave up and surrendered.
In addition to the obvious (her parents, the Tweebs, Wade, Rufus, her friends from college and high school), an odd assortment of unbidden memories manifested in her imagination. The smell inside her bike helmet on the morning of her tenth Christmas, the taste and crunch of that super-sugary cereal that Ron convinced her to buy last summer and that she had sworn she would never eat again, the feel of bubble wrap when you squeeze it right before it pops, the look of an overcast sky in early March, and the unexpected sound of a tree branch cracking in the far distance one January morning Junior year.
It went without saying that Ron was also on her mind. But she had to tread carefully since he was also involved in THE WORST THING. Of course, their wedding made the list. At the very least, there was no way was she going to miss seeing Monique's designs for both her dress and those of her bridesmaids. However, the dresses or the ceremony itself weren't at the top of her list. No, the first thing she absolutely refused to miss out on was their wedding night.
She smiled broadly in the dark.
Although she had never shared it with any of her girlfriends, she was certain that her wedding night fantasy was unique. And what made it unique was that the first time Ron and she made love it was going to be so, so very awful. No question about it. Awkward, painful, unfulfilling, all of the above. On occasion, the fantasy played out with Ron goofing it up. Other times, her natural Kimness raised its overachieving head and tanked the whole thing. Regardless, the first time was going to be terrible. However, despite this initial failure, they would laugh and cuddle afterwards and, eventually, fall asleep in each other's arms. And then. And then they would wake up in the middle of the night and try it again. And it was this second attempt that would be everything they hoped it could be. In a word, unmissable.
She basked in the afterglow of the yet to be for a few more minutes, and then slowly, carefully got back into mission mode.
After crawling for another five minutes, Kim noticed that the air smelled a lot better, and she thought she felt a cool breeze. Continuing on, she thought she detected a shift in the blackness. Was it getting lighter? She shook her head. Jumping to positive conclusions would be bad, better to keep going assuming the void kept going, too. At least for the moment. But, no, it was true; the pipe was getting less dark. In fact, it was also getting larger. Ten minutes later, it was bright enough for her to see that there was almost enough room for her to stand. When she finally could stand, the breeze she had been feeling had become a wind.
She walked against this wind for some time. As it got stronger, the pipe kept getting lighter and lighter. She was able to see more details. Although she couldn't be sure if they had existed further back, there were openings on the top half of the pipe for what appeared to be smaller pipes branching from it. Her pipe gradually curved to the right and when it straightened again, she beheld what she had been seeking, a literal light at the end of a tunnel. True, the light was flickering, but still. She started walking fast towards it, but this proved difficult because the wind was also getting stronger. And then she heard a sound. It was familiar but she couldn't place it. She kept walking against the building wind and, before she knew it, she was running against it.
As it occurred to her that she might be running headlong into a trap, she recognized what the sound was. It was the spinning of rotor blades. Kim slowed her pace, but she kept moving forward. The wind was so strong now that she needed to shield her eyes with her hand in order to clearly make out what was up ahead. And then she saw it. About fifty yards ahead was the end of her tunnel. The source of both the light and the wind. Approximately twenty feet in diameter, the tunnel's end was covered by a giant, whirling fan.
She tried so very hard not let this discovery crush her spirit. Not to let the disappointment overwhelm her. She tried to wipe the tears from her face with the torn edge of her shirt only to discover they had already been blown back by the wind. She sighed and kept moving forward. Maybe there was some space between the blades and the edge of the pipe, space large enough to squeeze through. Or something else. Anything else so long as she wasn't at a dead end.
The floor of the pipe gave way, and Kim was suddenly falling through the space.
She felt the bang before she heard it. And then nothing.
When she came to, she felt extremely hot. She glanced around and discovered that she was laying on an extremely large metal trellis that was connected by a series wires to a ceiling about a hundred feet above her head. Looking up, she saw 'her' pipe about twenty feet directly above her. And in the middle of the pipe, there was a rusty hole. Kim was covered in rust flakes. She looked over her exposed arms; they were some nicks and scratches, but she didn't seem badly wounded.
Did my last tetanus shot cover Lorwardian metal or just Earth metal?
She was still confused by the source of the heat. The words 'heating lamp' popped into her head. Although she saw dozens of small lights arranged sporadically on the ceiling, none of them matched that definition or could produce the level of heat she was feeling.
Kim tried to turn over and realized her mistake. About five feet away from her in practically every direction, there were socket shells almost as tall as her. She could only imagine how large the bulbs might be on the underside of the trellis. She wasn't under a heating lamp, she was on top of it.
She looked down to see what might need so much heat and was immediately blinded by an oppressively harsh glare. She reflexively went to cover her eyes with her right arm. The resulting shot of pain caused her to lose her balance. She reached out desperately with her left hand to steady herself, but she was already falling.
Fortunately, she folded herself into a ball before she crashed through the branches. She broke through several and painfully bounced twice against two of the larger ones. Although these impacts knocked the wind out of her, they effectively broke her fall.
She hit the ground hard, but not hard enough to break anything. Dazed, she attempted to stand. However, the considerable pain from the fall overwhelmed her, and she collapsed against the base of the tree.
Within a half-minute, she had passed out.
For most of the next hour, Kim slept uneasily against the trunk of a tree in the middle of a large underground forest on an alien world. A forest of trees with silver leaves.
To be continued ...
From the moment he saw it, Ron was plunged into a nightmare.
The Doctor had just announced that she'd located a trace of Kim's DNA and was landing the Tardis in proximity to it. As soon as the wheezing sound was punctuated by the thud that, Ron was coming to learn, always signaled that the ship had come to a stop, he had raced over to the call box's doors.
"Hold on, Ron," the Doctor cautioned. "Let's see what we're walking into."
Reluctantly, he headed back to the console and rejoined the others.
"Oxygen-rich atmosphere," she nodded at one of the displays.
"Inside the city?" Jack asked.
"Just outside it." She continued looking over the numerous instruments that Ron could never hope to understand. Then she frowned.
"W-what?" he asked.
"We appear to be in an arena of some kind," she said.
"Like a coliseum?" Yaz asked.
"Take a look," the Doctor pressed down on a small lever, and a large hologram of an empty stadium appeared on Ron's side of the console. The hologram was so big that he felt dwarfed by it.
Ron stared up at the image for what seemed a very long time. Too long. When he closed his eyes, he was confronted by its inverse image floating against the darkness of his eyelids. When he opened them, he felt dizzy. Nauseous even.
Yaz's voice stirred him from this unpleasant daze. "Coming, Ron?"
"Yeah," he nodded and followed the others as they exited the Tardis.
They had landed on one side of a very narrow walkway that bordered a tall pile of rocks that reminded Ron of someplace he had seen on a mission to Australia senior year. On the other side of the path was a very severe drop. At the bottom were rows of benches. He looked up from this pit and took in the immensity of the rest of the stadium. It was even more overwhelming in real life.
"What is that?" Jack said pointing straight above them.
"A shield of some kind that's keeping the oxygen in," the Doctor answered. "It looks like a liquid-based membrane of some kind."
Ron was starting to feel sick. He tentatively reached into his pocket for a solace-producing nuzzle from Rufus only to realize that his pet was still perched on Jack's shoulder. Ron sat down uneasily on the raised wall that divided the walkway from the rocks. He stared at his feet and tried to control his breathing.
"Are you ok, Ron?" Yaz's concerned voice asked.
When she placed a hand on his shoulder, he recoiled from her touch.
"Sorry," he muttered.
She sat next to him, careful to give him some space.
"Want to talk about it?" she asked.
"No," he said firmly.
As she was weighing whether to stay or leave him to his thoughts, she thought she heard a strange animal sound. A screech. Maybe. In any case, something one might hear in the jungle. She stood quickly and looked all around. Apart from the four of them, there was no sign of life either in the stadium or in the rock formation that was casting its shadow over them. Then she remembered Rufus. She decided that he was the most likely culprit.
"A few weeks after graduation," Ron began just above whisper, "that's when it happened."
His voice sounded muffled almost as if he was speaking with a hand clasped over his mouth. When she sat back down and gave his hunched form a close look, Yaz realized that this was exactly what he was doing.
"When what happened?" she asked, leaning close.
"What nightmare?" she asked, placing a hand on his shoulder. He recoiled again. Fearing that she was crowding him, Yaz was about to shift her position a foot or so away when Ron suddenly leaned against her.
"They kidnapped her," Ron's broken voice managed. "And took her to the Middleton Arena."
Yaz could easily guess who 'they' and 'her' were, so she let him keep talking.
"And that's where …" and he stopped speaking.
She was about to prompt him to continue, but something told her this would be a mistake.
Finally, he spoke. "They replaced her eyes with shards of green glass." He clenched his fists until his knuckles became white.
She considered telling him that it was just a dream, and that everything would be all right. Instead, she gave him a hug. A hug that he returned, fiercely. Eventually, she had to give him a couple of pats on the back, so he would release her … and so she could breathe.
Jack and Rufus were scoping out their surroundings. Jack looking in one direction with his weapon drawn and Rufus, perched on his shoulder, checking out the opposite direction. "Seems completely deserted. But I don't think it has been for long."
"Put the gun away, Jack," the Doctor said as she examined a two-foot tall box attached to the edge of the walkway.
"Not all of us live by your moral standards, Doctor," Jack said crisply.
"If you want to travel with me, you will," she retorted without looking up.
"I knew she was going to say that," Jack mumbled to Rufus as he put his gun back in his holster. "Why did I even bother?" He approached the Doctor and said, "You were saying something about zeiton being connected to their cloaking tech."
She paused what she was doing and looked up. "I suspect the Mentors are involved."
"Mentors. Don't recognize that name. Should I?"
"Shady intergalactic arms dealers."
"As in shadier than normal intergalactic arms dealers?"
"Yes, extremely unpleasant. Fourth-rate weapons, cloaking tech, temporary worm hole hyperdrives, etc. All at exorbitant prices."
"Several regenerations ago, our paths crossed. They were trying to corner the market in zeiton ore. I suspect they have a tech-for-ore 'arrangement' with the Lorwardian Empire."
"Hence, the strip-mine landscaping aesthetic and the bargain basement cloaking tech I witnessed."
"Yes. It also explains how Kim made it to Lorwardia so quickly. I'd say she was lucky to make it here at all. Mentor worm hole hyperdrives have a 73.5% failure rate."
"Failure as in 'boom'?"
The Doctor nodded.
Ron noticed a building at the far end of the walkway with something unusual sticking out of its roof. The sudden buzzing of the Doctor's "pen" distracted him. When he looked, she was pointing it at a nondescript box at the walkway's edge. Almost immediately, Ron heard/felt a rumbling beneath the walkway.
"What's that?" Yaz called out.
"We're about to see," the Doctor replied, her expression dour.
Slowly, a large, oval platform appeared from over the edge. It rose up like it was connected to the walkway on a hinge. When it was even with the walkway, it locked into position. On the far end of this platform was what appeared, to Ron at least, to be the lower half of a pillory. However, it was not the bad memories of the Senior trip to South Beach Bay Harbor that were putting his teeth on edge.
The Doctor and Jack ran to the remains of the device. The Doctor pointed the sonic screwdriver at the largest of the three half-circles in its frame. She then reached down and lifted a single red hair. For his part, Jack ran his fingers along the edge of one of the smaller half-circles; there was a viscous film on its surface. He smelled the substance on the end of his finger and then tentatively placed it to his lips.
"Butter," he said. "That's odd."
"She was here a couple hours ago," the Doctor said putting her sonic away.
"And where is she now?"
"Not sure." The Doctor scanned the walkway and the rock formation. She noted the spears sunk into some of the boulders, and the plasma blast marks along the chimney outcrops. "There are definitely signs of an escape attempt."
"Did she make it?" he asked in a low, hesitant voice.
The Doctor didn't say anything for a while. "Yes," she nodded finally. "I think so."
After a minute, Jack pointed to a shiny object that was sticking from the roof of a nearby building. "Is that what I think it is?"
"Yes. And that means this," she indicated the remains of the device, "is also what you think it is."
Jack lowered his voice again. "Of all the methods of capital punishment, I think I despise this one the most." He added, "And not only for personal reasons."
"Agreed," the Doctor replied. She added bitterly under her breath, "Nothing else is so efficient at turning a person into a mere object to be manipulated."
"Doctor!" Yaz cried from the walkway.
When she and Jack turned around, they were left speechless by what they saw.
Ron was floating in mid-air and surrounded by a pulsating, cerulean aura. Within seconds, their ears were assailed by harsh simian cries.
The pupils of Ron's eyes vanished.
Kim woke with a start.
Everything hurt. Despite the pain, her mind was centered on what had awakened her. Whether an echo from a dream or a noise from the waking world, she couldn't be sure. However, she implicitly recognized it as the sound of children laughing.
For the next several minutes, she sat perfectly still and listened. Having all her senses on high alert was not the ideal condition for taking in her new surroundings. During the first thirty seconds, she came very close to concluding that the laughter as well as everything else (the prickly feel of the grass against her right palm and left shin, the sweet smell of the air, not to mention the freaky trees with the silver leaves) was pure illusion. As the minutes went by, she gradually dismissed this theory. For one thing, if this was a fantasy her mind had created to escape her current sitch, Kim seriously doubted that the pain she felt would be an integral part of it. Furthermore, in her dreams, the details of objects tended to be microscopically fine one second and then comically abstract the next. All the details she perceived here were rich and stable.
Kim gazed up through the mosaic off shimmering leaves overhead and could just make out the glare from the rows of large lamps high above the trees. She also noted the half dozen broken branches. They went a long way to explaining her pain. Carefully, she extended her legs and stretched out her arms. Nothing seemed broken or sprained. Just really, really sore. She had not detected any hint of the laughter that had awakened her, but there had been another underlying sound. A sound that compelled her to stand up and get moving.
Supporting herself against the tree, she tested her knees to see if they could support her weight. The last thing she needed right now was to throw one out of its socket. Fortunately, they seemed fine. In fact, her legs were the least damaged parts of her body.
Good. I have a feeling I'm going to be doing a lot of running from now on.
She also discovered that her right arm wasn't giving her as much trouble as before. It still hurt, but only as much as everything else did. After a few more stretches, she guesstimated that ninety percent of its mobility had returned. The wound still looked ugly, though. Gingerly, she touched the black skin of her upper arm with her left hand. Some of the black came off on her fingers.
What she had assumed was burnt flesh appeared to be merely soot or ash from the blast.
All the more reason to find that water, Possible.
As she took her first unsupported steps away from the tree, Kim noticed that the sweetness of the air had become significantly pronounced. Then she noticed a pile of small, oval-shaped objects a few feet to her left. Their coloring reminded her, for the most part, of MacIntosh apples—however, their skins did have a few splotches of silver. She took a step closer to them, and the smell overwhelmed her. Before she fully knew what she was doing, she had fallen to her knees and was hungrily taking a bite from one. It tasted kinda like a pear, but so much better than any pear she'd ever had.
"They definitely dribble down your chin like a pear," she said happily, wiping her face dry with the loose, tattered edge of her mission shirt. As she reminded herself to stay quiet, she realized she had completely devoured the "pear." She grabbed another from the pile and quickly made short work of it, too.
The thought did occur to her that perhaps they were drugged or poisoned, but she quickly brushed aside these thoughts because she was so very hungry. Much hungrier than she thought she had been. However, when she went to grab her third, she noticed how very well stacked the pile was—too well. It was basically a pyramid.
Someone gathered these together. For me?
It seemed ferociously unlikely that these fruits would have been collected and placed so close to where she had been passed out by chance. Especially, in the middle of what she was beginning to realize was a sizeable, if not vast, forest.
She heard a rustle behind her. She spun around quickly but saw no remained still for a few minutes, her pulse thundering in her ears. She had almost convinced herself that the noise had been caused by some animal (as if the furtive movements of an unknown alien creature would be a comfort) or, hopefully the wind, when she heard a loud click come from overhead.
Instantly, the forest was plunged into darkness.
After she regained control of her breathing, Kim's senses returned to full alert. Every second she anticipated a return of the rustling she had heard. Or, perhaps, the shouts of Lorwardian guards. Or, the laughter that had awakened her.
Creepy! Possible, why did you think of THAT?
However, there was only silence. As the minutes wore on, Kim noticed that the forest wasn't completely dark. There were a few faint lights coming from high above, much higher than the 'heat lamps.' Then she recalled the small lights she had seen dotted across the ceiling right before her fall. She watched as more of these small lights began turning on. Eventually, dozens of them shone. And their light wasn't inconsequential. She discovered that it was now bright enough that she could, if careful, make her way through the forest. This was good because the running water was still calling to her.
Part of her wanted to stay put and not risk making her sitch any more dire. The larger part of her, however, counseled that staying where she was couldn't be any safer. Besides, she was so thirsty.
She stood and began walking in the direction where the water sounds seemed the strongest. As she advanced through some undergrowth, she thought she heard noises to her right that were echoing her own. She stopped and, again, heard nothing. Either her tracker was exceptionally skilled, or it was all in her imagination. With each step, the noises from the brook or river or whatever grew louder, and Kim ceased to care about anything else.
She stepped from the forest onto a swale that bordered a swiftly flowing river. No longer surrounded by overhanging trees, she found that the ceiling's artificial starlight was more than enough to light her way down to the bank. She kneeled by the edge, cupped her hands, and scooped out a drink. It was very cold. So cold that it made her teeth hurt. She so didn't care. She took four big drinks before taking a break. Then she lay on her back and gazed at the "stars."
At the back her of mind, Kim still entertained the possibility she was being tracked. This niggling thought helpfully kept her from dozing off. After a few minutes she sat up and examined the wound on her arm. She was relieved to see that the black washed away after giving it a few splashes of water. However, the streaks were still there; plus, she discovered an ugly ring of raised skin that was tender to the touch.
Probably the outline of the blast.
She took two more drinks and then sat cross-legged at the rushing water's edge to plan her next move. She considered going back the way she came if only to fill her cargo pockets with as many of those fruits as she could carry. It had been more than thirty minutes since she had eaten them, and she felt fine and hungry for more. However, she wasn't sure if she could find her way back. She glanced at the nearby trees. All the trees in the forest seemed to be the same species. She watched the silver leaves flutter in the breeze and was briefly reminded of a short phrase from of a story she had read in AP English Lit.
… silver and dark …
She couldn't remember the name of the story or its author, but she did know the phrase concerned snowflakes, not leaves. Still, something about this place reminded her of the stillness of a winter's morning. She could almost imagine she was back on Earth.
There was a loud click, and she was blind.
She stumbled to her feet and dug out the recorder from her pocket. Even before she cleared her eyes, she knew the artificial day had suddenly dawned. Adrenaline bubbled through her limbs as she waited for her vision to return.
There were two Lorwardians at the edge of the trees maybe twenty feet to her right. The closer one had green skin and appeared female; the other was partially hidden by the trees, and he had orange skin. Kim was about to raise her recorder in a threatening motion when she noticed that both Lorwardians were blinking their eyes rapidly. Almost as if the sudden "dawn" had also taken them by surprise. Then she noticed something else about the pair. Perhaps it was their short statures (for Lorwardians, at least) or something about their postures, but Kim intuited that these were children.
They stared at her; she stared back at them. No one moved.
After what seemed several minutes, Kim slowly placed the recorder back into her pocket. She then carefully raised her left hand and gave them a wave. "Hey," she said with a smile.
The boy didn't react. Although the girl didn't move, either, Kim thought she saw something flash in her eyes that was a degree warmer than "not unkind."
The yellow plasma blast hit Kim's left arm, thrusting her backwards into the frothy havoc of the river.
When she surfaced a few seconds later, the burning pain in her shoulder was vying with the intense chill of the water for possession of her senses. She took a frantic gulp of air. A wail assaulted her ears and for a few seconds she thought it was coming from her. Movement on the shore drew her attention. The Lorwardian girl, who seemed impossibly far up the bank, was screaming while the boy held her back from the river with an outstretched arm. There was also a large orange Lorwardian with a gun. He was speaking harshly to the children and running in her direction.
Kim quickly deduced that the river's strong current was the reason the trio was so far away from her. However, it wasn't carrying her away fast enough because the adult Lorwardian was swiftly shrinking the distance.
As if it wasn't enough that she was trying to stay afloat with two injured arms in freezing, tumultuous water, Kim noticed, with a growing sense of dread, that the sound of the rushing water had grown exponentially louder over the past few seconds. She pointed herself away from the charging Lorwardian and saw what she knew she would see.
Fifty or so feet ahead of her, the river disappeared into a tunnel in the side of an immense wall. Just before it did, the river tumbled over an abrupt rocky edge. Kim swam as hard as she could to the opposite side of the river to try to escape the waterfall. However, the current was too strong, and she was pushed closer to the right side—the side with the charging, armed Lorwardian.
Suddenly, she found herself tangled in vines that were floating at the river's edge. She struggled frantically to grab one of these before going over the falls. The first one she grabbed snapped instantly, but the second one held firm. However, it only did so after she had painfully tumbled over the cusp of the waterfall.
At first, the Lorwardian assumed that the War Criminal had been taken over the falls. By chance, he noticed that a thick vine was being pulled taunt over the edge. He raised and carefully aimed his weapon. He squeezed the trigger; the vine snapped and instantly disappeared over the abyss.
Confidently but with a degree of caution, the Doctor approached Ron's floating form. She placed a finger in her left ear to block out at least some of the howls and high-pitched calls that radiated about his person. "Ron?" she called.
He did not immediately reply.
Looking him over, she noticed that his blue aura included a phantom appendage. Specifically, a long, curled tail. Watching this "limb" flex, she deduced it was possibly prehensile, like one of Earth's spider monkeys. That, of course, would dovetail nicely with the shrieks echoing in the air.
"I am looking for Ron," she called again. "Is Ron still in there?"
At this question, the simian chatter ceased. Ron blinked his eyes twice, and his pupils returned. He was, however, still floating and blue. "Y-yeah, it's still me," he replied in a voice that was both confused and angry.
"Ron, you need to calm down," Jack advised.
Ron shot him a furious look. "90 minutes," he spat.
"I'm sorry?" Jack asked.
"You said we'd have a 90-minute heads up," Ron seethed. "We didn't even get 90 seconds!"
"They were using cloaking technology, Ron," Jack explained, "we didn't know that they—" but then he stopped. "You're right," he admitted. "Torch—no, I failed you. Failed Kim. I'm sorry."
"If you're looking for someone to blame," the Doctor said, "you should be looking at me, Ron."
"What do you mean?" His glare was no longer incandescent but retained a dangerous edge.
"I'm the one ultimately responsible for the Lorwardian empire," she answered heavily.
"What?" Yaz breathed.
"Clom was invaded and colonized by a species called the Slitheen. The Slitheen persecuted them, even hunted them for sport. I saw an opportunity to help, so I guided them to a new home world. A planet in a completely different galaxy. Where they would be safe. Where they would have a fresh start." She looked away from him and shook her head. "And then I did what I always do." She looked up to meet his gaze.
"What was that?" he asked.
"I left," she confessed. "I went on to the next thing, the next adventure." She sighed heavily. "If I had stayed even a little bit longer, I could have given them more guidance. I might have shepherded their culture, so that they wouldn't become mere epigones of their oppressors, wouldn't destroy their world, wouldn't conquer Earth. And wouldn't have abducted Kim."
The pregnant silence that followed was broken by Ron. "Pretty words, MsD, pretty words. But no one forced them to kidnap Kim. That was their decision." The monkey shrieks became audible again. "That was their mistake. And they're gonna pay."
"And what do you intend to do, Ron?" the Doctor challenged.
"I am going to kick this entire planet's biscuit," he said forcefully as his pupils once again faded away.
Although his words did not make complete sense to her, his intent was unmistakable.
"I cannot allow that to happen," she stated firmly.
He didn't answer. The air behind the rocky outcrop suddenly turned crimson, and a hot wind began to blow.
"What's happening?" Yaz asked, exchanging a worried look with Jack and Rufus.
"You're better than this, Ron," the Doctor called out.
The wind grew stronger. The air across the entire stadium now had a red cast. From the group's perspective it was impossible to tell if this change was limited within the shield or if the outer atmosphere was also turning the color of blood.
"Ron, if you go through with this," the Doctor warned, "we can no longer be friends."
Ron closed his eyes tightly.
"I understand why you are angry, Ron," the Doctor shouted, "so I am going to say this as nicely as I can." Then her voice turned dangerous, "You do not want to be my enemy."
Her last two pronouncements had made a discernable impact on Ron, but it wasn't enough. The Doctor played her ace. "Is this what Kim would want?"
The wind and the simian howls died down; the red air dissipated. And Ron slowly descended back to his spot on the wall. His aura was still visible, but only faintly. "No," he said simply and dropped his head.
The Doctor walked up to him and placed her hand on his shoulder. "I'm proud of you, Ron." She added warmly, "And Kim will be proud, too."
"How do we know that she's even still alive?" he asked, too depressed to cry.
"I know from personal experience that she is a very resourceful person," the Doctor explained. "Also, a good friend of mine says she's amazing."
This last statement raised Ron's spirits high enough that he could cry.
"Come along, Ron. Let's go find her." The Doctor helped him stand, threw her arm around his shoulder and walked him into the Tardis. They were followed by Yaz, Jack, and Rufus.
After the Tardis had dematerialized, an elderly Lorwardian emerged from behind a rock near the entrance tunnel. He rushed back down it, so fast that he almost slipped. It didn't matter. As soon as possible, he needed to inform one of the Synod's officers about what he had witnessed: the return of The Great Blue.
When they were eleven, Ron had given Kim a mixed-tape. A few weeks earlier he had inherited his father's dual audio cassette player as well as his vast collection of tapes. Since his father's musical tastes were pretty eclectic, so were Ron's. Hence, the songs he put on the tape were ones Kim was completely unfamiliar with. What also made the tape unusual was that Ron placed some songs on it more than once—in one instance, the same song played three times in a row. Initially, she assumed he had done so by mistake, but he revealed later that these repeats were by design. She didn't like all the songs; a couple she only listened to once and would fast forward past whenever she replayed the tape. However, she did enjoy most of them, and a handful became some of her favorites. It was from this tape, for example, that she first heard "Love Is Like a Butterfly" (she would learn years later that it was Karin Maaka's favorite song). Another song she really liked was called "Paradise." It was interesting that she gravitated toward it because she initially didn't like the singer's voice, like at all. Plus, the song's subject matter was kinda sad. But the melody really clicked with her for some reason. As she replayed the tape, she found herself trying to sing along with the song, and, when she got to parts where she didn't know the words, she would hum along instead.
Something about the cramped corner of Lorwardia that Kim currently found herself in brought that song back to her.
When she had first gone over the waterfall, her trajectory with the vine had snapped her back through the cascading water where, she had feared, she'd crash into a wall of rock. However, as she braced for this impact, she noticed that she was swinging through an open space. She realized she was in a small grotto before inertia sent her back through the freezing wall of water. When she returned to the grotto a few seconds later, she let go of the vine and rolled safely to a stop on the chamber's smooth floor.
And not a second too soon. When she looked back, she saw her vine descending the wall of water and out of site.
She retreated to the rear of the grotto because it was as far away from the falls as she could go. Dropping into a ball, she hugged her knees close to her chest and tried to get warm. Although it hurt a great deal, she rubbed her left arm furiously and extended it as much as she could so she could do the same to her right. Once the chill of the water had begun to dissipate, she gave her new surroundings a closer inspection. Maybe ten feet deep and twenty feet wide, the grotto's shape was much too rectangular to be naturally formed. That plus the smooth floor and, of course, the large door she was leaning against made it obvious that it had been manufactured.
For some purpose, but what?
Still rubbing her arms, she stood and gave the door a long hard look. It had no knob or handle. There was writing on it, but it was in Lorwardian, so that really didn't matter. Starting to feel cold again, she returned to her position on the floor. Rubbing at the goosebumps on her arms as well as the exposed skin of her legs.
Now what, Possible?
Then she realized that the sound of the waterfall was so loud that it was unlikely that anyone looking for her could hear her.
Unless they're behind this door.
However, when she opened her mouth and repeated this last thought, she realized that even she couldn't hear what she was saying. So, she decided to go ahead and speak aloud. For whatever reason, talking, even when she couldn't hear it, made her feel more normal. Less scared.
After voicing her thoughts for about five minutes, Kim felt confident enough to give singing a try. And the song that came to her was "Paradise." Unfortunately, it had been so many years since she had sung the song that most of the words were lost. Yet, the melody remained clear. She hummed along and when a handful of words did return to her, she'd sing them.
When she shifted her sitting position, she recalled the Doctor's recorder. She took it out and looked it over. Apart from singing, Kim's musical performance experience was rather limited. Her mother had toyed with the idea of getting her piano lessons when she was little. Remembering that this had occurred during the end of her tenth year, she now understood that financial concerns were the most likely reason these lessons never happened. Then again, Ron had always praised her kazoo playing in elementary school.
"How different could they be?" Kim laughed. Her left arm still killed, but she managed to place her fingers randomly over some of the recorder's holes. Since she couldn't hear anything anyway, it really didn't matter what it sounded like. She proceeded to blow in accordance with the melody in her mind. When she came to the parts of the song whose lyrics she knew, she lowered the instrument and sang them.
"When I die let my ashes float down the Green River … Let my soul roll on up to the Rochester Dam … I'll be halfway to Heaven with Paradise waiting … Just five miles away from wherever I am."
She "played" the song again and again until her voice started to feel tired. She stood up to stretch. Her left arm was feeling a little better, and she hardly noticed the pain in her right arm at all.
"Time to get your head back in the game, Possible. Sooner or later, they're going to realize you didn't go over the falls. How to get out of here?" Kim surveyed what little she could see through the falling water. Exiting the grotto was going to be tricky; plus, without something to hold onto, scaling down the rest of the falls' height (however far that might be) didn't seem doable.
"If only I could get through this door," she said, as she turned around to inspect it again. She dropped the recorder, and it rolled about a yard from her feet.
The words on the door were in English.
KEEP OUT! SHIELD OPERATION OFFICERS ONLY
"That fruit was poisoned. I'm hallucinating."
She stared at the words for a very long while. Just as she had convinced herself that she really wasn't experiencing the Lorwardian equivalent of what her Mom's parents would call a "bad trip," she was startled by an ear-shattering noise from above. As it faded away, loud yelling from above pierced the ever-present rumble of the falls. She could tell the Lorwardian voices were speaking English (or she heard them as if they were speaking in English), but she couldn't make out exactly what they were saying. But that didn't matter. In any case, it would be bad news for her.
She rushed to the door, trying to see if she had missed any important detail when she examined it earlier. Apart from the words, there was nothing different about it
"If I really was hallucinating," she whispered, "there would be a knob."
She ran the fingers of her right hand along the edge of the entire door. About midway down the right side of the door, she found a slight indent.
"Now, I need to hallucinate a crowbar," she groused.
The ear-splitting noise came again—closer this time. And so were the voices.
Her eyes fell on the recorder. She snatched it from the floor.
"Maybe I do have a crowbar," she smiled.
She wedged its mouthpiece into the indent and pushed on it. The door gave a little. She changed her position and pulled back on the recorder as hard as she could. With a bang, that was a degree louder than she would have wanted, the door sprang open, and she landed on her rear hard. She struggled to her feet, placed the recorder back in her pocket, and looked cautiously through the doorway. Beyond it lay a darkened tunnel, highlighted every few feet by flickering crimson lights. It made the "steampunk" hallway from earlier look downright inviting. The ear-splitting noise came again so loud that the floor of the grotto vibrated.
Kim took a deep breath and dashed down the tunnel as quickly as she dared.
Author's note: If you happened to notice some lines that seemed out-of-place in this chapter. It might because I pilfered them from other writers. Ron's description of his nightmare was taken from MrDrP's story on ff.net "So Not The End of The World." The Doctor's pronouncement on the Lorwardian's device was taken from Albert Camus' Reflections on the Guillotine. Finally, the lines Kim sings are from "Paradise" by the great John Prine.
No matter how Hegemon held his head, it was assaulted with spasms of searing pain. Unfortunately, he had already taken the maximum dose of levina prior to the Ceremony of Justice. Ingesting any more of the powder prior to the next dawn could prove fatal. The only remaining remedy for his affliction would be to lay motionless in his sleeping chamber with all the shutters closed. Perhaps, after laying in the cool darkness of his room for a protracted period, sleep might be possible. Sleep that might assuage the pain. However, the day's events precluded this remedy.
With his eyes closed, he sat rigidly still in his chair within the Synod's cavern. He was careful to have his upper eyelids lay gently upon their lower brothers and not shut tightly. In his present condition, strains upon any muscles of his skull or face could exponentially increase his anguish. His listened to the two outraged voices echo throughout the large chamber, sifted out any rational meaning from these cries, and tried to remain calm. For if he allowed his own emotions to be riled by those being expressed by his fellows, the pain in his head would surely overwhelm him. And he would then be unable to prevent the torrents of tears from staining his face.
If that were to happen, a bowl of poison would be the only honorable option left him.
"Dredge the pool at the bottom of the falls," the angry voice of Bruvile shouted at his left elbow. Although a prudent proposal, it was delivered like a war cry.
"And when her body cannot be found," Gogcider bellowed, "what then?" From the direction of his voice, Hegemon could tell that Warhok's brother was now standing. Such a move was unnecessary since he was already a head taller than Bruvile. "The War Criminal has duped your troops and backtracked into the forest. By the time the dredging is complete, she will be dug deeper into the wilds than a bur in a Thorgoggle's hide."
"Then we shall search every inch of the forest with flaming battle staffs and smoke her out!" Bruvile petulantly retorted.
Hegemon raised his hand at this point. Fortunately, he did not need to voice his objection to Bruvile's rash stratagem for flushing out the fugitive. All three Synod members knew the dire consequences if the forests were to burn. His colleague's incendiary suggestion was merely an emotional flourish to save face. Provided they were not carried out, such outbursts were considered honorable debate tactics.
In the oasis of silence his gesture produced, Hegemon spoke in a reserved monotone that not only conveyed his years and wisdom, but also, he hoped, would aggravate his pain the least. "Bring the schematics for the falls. I wish to inspect them."
"Why?" Bruvile protested. "Hegemon, we cannot waste time on such trivial details!"
"Agreed, Bruvile," Gogcider spat. "Either the War Criminal went over the falls, or she is still in the forest. There is no third path!"
"Indulge me," Hegemon replied from the corner of his mouth. Fully opening his jaw to speak, as he had with his previous statement, had unexpectedly sent a sharp pain radiating from his hard palate to his crown. "Bruvile, you may begin your dredging as soon as you wish."
Although looking over the ancient designs for the falls was the rational path, he dreaded following through with it. Necessarily, he would need to open his eyes to examine them. He could only hope he could withstand the pain. Perhaps, it would be almost night by the time the documents were delivered. He could hope.
The door to the chamber slid open and then with a grinding scrape closed again. It was a sound Hegemon was used to, so he was able to bare it quite easily. From the vibrations that shook the table, he could tell that Gogcider was pacing in an agitated manner around the chamber.
"How's the eye?" he asked carefully. The War Criminal had struck the large Lorwardian with a stone before disappearing down a ventilation pipe.
"Perfect," his colleague snapped.
"What did the physician recommend?"
"Physician?" Gogcider scoffed. "I have no use for that fool. It will heal of its own accord in two dawns."
Knowing the folly of pointing out that a 'perfect' eye shouldn't need two dawns to heal, Hegemon remained silent.
"As soon as we kill the War Criminal," Gogcider voice continued as it floated behind Hegemon's aching head, "we shall deal with those guards that let her escape!" He pounded his fist into his open palm.
Although he had prepared himself for his colleague's brutal inflections, Hegemon had not anticipated the sound of the violent gesture. He winced but maintained his composure.
"And the marauder! How did it not occur to him to check her person for weapons when he first extracted her?"
The way Gogcider's voice carried as he spoke let Hegemon know that the large former marauder was walking to the far side of the room. Pock-marked with dozens of holes made by his fists over the years, the wall that composed this far side of the cavern was a favorite target of Gogcider's. Therefore, the noise of his fist creating a new hole was not wholly unexpected.
"They shall all face Atonement!" he exclaimed.
The cruel glee Gogcider took whenever he arranged punishment for his fellow Lorwardians had long been distasteful to Hegemon. Even so, distaste could be tolerated for a necessary cause.
The grinding of the door announced the return of Bruvile. From the shuffle of a second pair of feet, Hegemon could tell he was not alone.
What so soon?
"It is underway," Bruvile cried.
Assuming "it" referred to the dredging of the pool for the War Criminal's body, Hegemon didn't ask for clarification of his colleague's statement.
"The schematics as requested," Bruvile stated with aggressive disinterest.
"Spread them out before me," Hegemon muttered slowly. He heard the shuffle of papers and then the tale-tell crinkle consistent with the unrolling of older documents. This was followed by a moment of silence. Silence, that is, save for the periodic annoyed drawing of breath from his colleagues.
Hegemon cautiously opened his eyes. Thankfully, the day's light had sunk behind Advent Peak. The only remaining light that caused him pain was the dim light in the center of the table. This he could withstand for some time. He lowered his eyes to the document, taking a few moments to familiarize himself with the various symbols.
"Satisfied?" Gogcider barked.
"Almost," Hegemon replied after a pause.
"I need to get back to my men," Bruvile announced brusquely. "They will have located the body by now."
Before he could make it to the door, Gogcider suggested he try his comm device, so he wouldn't have to leave the chamber. Burvile sighed heavily and admitted he could wait a little longer.
"What is this symbol?" Hegemon asked, his finger touching a faint rectangle located just to the right of the symbol for the falls.
"A closed portal, sir," the frail clerk explained.
"When was it closed?"
"It doesn't say precisely, sir. But the fact that it is so faint indicates that it must be several generations by now."
"I see," Hegemon replied. Because he could not nod without producing indescribable pain, he blinked his eyes to acknowledge the clerk's statement. "When it was open, where did it lead?"
The clerk rolled up the document, stuck it under his arm, and shifted another document on the table close to Hegemon. He traced his finger along a red line on this document until it connected to a large green triangle that had a diamond inscribed within it. "The shield generator, sir," the clerk said hesitantly.
"Bruvile," Hegemon said in his even monotone, "send a squadron of your best guards to inspect that closed portal."
"Why?" Bruvile protested.
Hegemon struggled to maintain his composure. He swallowed his anger and stated simply, "To verify that it is still closed."
"It is not possible the War Criminal could breach that portal," Gogcider sneered.
"Or that she could even get to it!" Bruvile exploded. He seemed particularly angry that he and his rival were actually agreeing on something.
Hegemon closed his eyes and let their anger pass through him. He calmly instructed the clerk that he was free to go. By focusing on performing this act of dismissal as well as upon the sounds of the small man collecting the documents, he was able to control his temper. When the door's grinding informed him that the clerk had left, he turned his attention back to his seething colleagues.
"Were you two not present at the Ceremony of Justice today?" he asked.
They made unpleasant noises, but neither said a word.
"The War Criminal has proven to be a most cunning and resourceful adversary. Nothing should be taken for granted as long as she remains alive."
"Do you actually believe she poses a threat to the shields?" Gogcider asked. Since the question was posed without violence, Hegemon knew that he was taking the possibility seriously.
"No," Hegemon said without hesitation. "Yet, nothing should be taken for granted as long as she remains alive."
"Very well," Bruvile and Gogcider said in unison. With the grinding that accompanied both the opening and the closing of the chamber's door, they departed.
Hegemon released a sigh and allowed a few tears to trickle down his cheeks. He sat in the silent, gradually darkening room and tried to remain completely still. No matter where the War Criminal was located, he knew that he would be unable to retreat to the darkness of his sleep chamber until her death was confirmed.
Not for the first time, he regretted his leniency during the Ceremony of Atonement. If he had let the ritual play out to its conclusion, the Ceremony of Justice would not have been needed and all that followed from that fiasco would not have occurred. Including that ridiculous rumor of "The Great Blue" returning. He refrained from shaking his head. Whenever there was any disruption in the Empire that rumor always circulated through the lower classes.
If only he had not stayed the Atonement Custodian's hand, he would presently be in his sleep chamber, sinking deep into a balm of complete darkness. His loyal Banga's wet nose nuzzling his hand.
However, Hegemon knew such a fantasy was useless. Each time his mind revisited the instant when the Thorgoggle whip struck the earther child, he felt his rage retreat deep within himself. Even now, when considering all the trouble and anguish the War Criminal had caused him since that moment, he found that the worst fate he could bring himself to wish upon her was a swift and painless death.
Behemoth could not find the cudgel.
The collapsible basket was sitting in its normal spot by the front entrance; the invisibility panel, tightly rolled, was also inside. The only thing missing was the cudgel. If he couldn't locate that, he might as well not bother going out. And he had to go out tonight.
He suspected the mother's weapon had rolled under a piece of furniture in the main sleeping chamber. However, he didn't want to go into the room to look. Chances were good that he'd awaken his mother, and she would forbid him to go out. But he had to go out tonight.
Cautiously, he tiptoed into the sleeping chamber. From experience, he knew that the only section of the floor that did not creak was the part that was adjacent to the near wall. Fortunately, this was on the opposite side of the room from where his mother was sleeping. He glanced at her motionless form laying on the mat. She was facing away from him, and he could make out her faint snores. Still, he had to be careful; she was a light sleeper. However, if he could make it to the midpoint of the wall, he would be able to kneel down and see underneath all the pieces of furniture in the room. Hopefully, the weapon was under something nearby.
As he reached his target, the dwelling's one window came into view. His heart sank. It was almost night. He was already running late. Slowly, he got down on his knees and surveyed the empty spaces beneath the room's few pieces of furniture. The cudgel wasn't under any of them.
"Were you looking for this, Moth," his mother sighed. Without turning to face him, she held up the cudgel in the air.
"Yes," he admitted after a moment.
"I don't want you going out tonight," she said simply. She lowered the weapon back to her side.
"But what are you going to eat?" he asked.
"They still haven't caught that alien War Criminal," she explained without inflection. "It won't kill me to go hungry one more night."
He sighed in response.
"Understand?" she asked.
"Yes," he nodded and walked from the room.
Despondent, he sat next to the basket and leaned his back against the entrance. There were no more pearls. Well, none that weren't rotten. He had collected too many the last time. As a result, she had only eaten half of them and, even with the few he ate, that left several to wither, shrink and turn black. It was so difficult to figure out how many to gather. Sometimes, his mother would feel well enough to eat four or more a day. Other times, she could barely choke down one over the course of two days. Still, he had to keep trying. She needed to eat if she was going to get better and be honor-worthy once again. When that happened, she could rejoin her regiment, and she'd never have to eat another pearl in her life if she didn't want to.
He mused sullenly that it was probably nearing the shift change. Back when his father was still alive, he would be sitting in this same spot and fall into the hall on his back when his father slid open the door. His father always laughed when that happened. Even on days when his father wasn't in a pleased mood, he would still laugh.
Something occurred to him. He stood and walked quickly to the dwelling's only closet. Sifting beneath layers of unwashed uniforms, he located his father's tool chest. He lifted its cover and took the ratchet. It was much heavier than the cudgel and, as he discovered when he gave it a test swing, much harder to wield. Still, it would do. He placed it in the basket.
He tiptoed down the hall and stopped in the doorway of the sleep chamber. His mother's snores had grown deep and sonorous. He retreated down the hall.
His pulse thundering in his ears, he stood at the front entrance and pressed the open button. It always made more noise when it closed then when it opened. Chances were his mother would be awake before he even left the floor of their building. Still, he had to go out tonight.
The door opened, and he pressed the button to close it again. Stepping through the opening as it began to shut, he paused outside and whispered, "Good-bye" before it could close. He took off down the hall.
It didn't take him long to realize his task was going to be more difficult than usual. Considering his diminutive stature, he typically used the crowds of people switching shifts as cover to make his way down to the lower level. However, the streets were deserted. Then he recalled what his mother had said about the alien. More than likely, the shifts had been cancelled, and everyone had been ordered to stay at home. Getting caught during a curfew would mean Atonement. He seriously thought about turning back. Then he realized that the guards were missing as well. If he was lucky and very, very quick, he might be able to make it to the lower level without being spotted.
He decided to take that risk. Besides, he reasoned as he ran along the empty boulevard, the guards were probably too busy tracking down the alien. Unfortunately, this reassuring thought did awaken a fear that was more powerful than that of Atonement. What if he ran into the War Criminal?
He hesitated at the top of the staircase that led to the lower level. For a long moment he was paralyzed, trapped between two powerful emotions. He thought of his mother; he thought of the alien. He reached into the basket and confirmed his father's invisibility panel and ratchet were still inside. He paused another second, made his decision, and proceeded down the darkened stairs.
Fear whispered, "What if the panel doesn't work on the alien? What if she can see through it?"
I'll use the rachet.
Fear whispered, "What if the rachet can't hurt her?"
He thought of his mother and shrugged.
I'll be eaten then.
By this time, he had made it to the lower level. He removed the loose cap on the pipe near the floor, tossed in the basket and followed it into the dim tunnel. Once he replaced the cap, he was in complete darkness. That was fine. He knew the way. Besides, he always felt safer in dark, confined spaces.
He normally determined when he was at the right juncture by the amount of time he had been crawling. However, he had been crawling quicker this evening to make up for lost time. Therefore, he had to rely on his sense of smell. The sweet scent of pearls was almost overpowering at certain points along the abandoned pipe's route under the forest. However, he had to choose his point of exit wisely. If he were to emerge at the wrong location, the cultivator, the cultivator's children, or even a guard might spot him. The penalty for stealing pearls did not end with Atonement.
He attempted to lift the cap above his head. It wouldn't budge. He crawled further on until he felt the next one above him. It, too, refused to open. When he reached the next one, it gave at the slightest touch. Swiftly, he pushed it off and was blinded as the pipe filled with hot light.
Fortunately, he did not cry out. However, he was sure he'd been found. He cowered in the pipe under the intense light and waited for the cries and screams he knew were coming. But only silence followed.
Gradually, he lowered is guard. After a moment's hesitation, he poked his head slightly out of the opening. There was no one around. Only trees as far as he could see. But the forest was in day mode. Had he crawled so quickly that he had arrived before night mode began? That couldn't be. It was even less likely that he had left so late that the night mode had already ended. Something was not right.
Then he remembered the War Criminal.
The forest was in day mode probably because they were searching for her in the forest. The prospect that the guards or the alien or, likely, both were nearby chilled his blood and made his mouth go dry. And yet, he had to go on.
Not three steps away from the opening with a ripe pearl. Its silver blotches were especially large. Cautiously, he climbed from the opening, snatched up the fruit and dropped it in his basket. Quickly, he combed the nearby area. Using the trunks of the trees as resting spots he would dash from one to the next, picking up any pearls he found in between. In what seemed only a handful or moments, the basket was mostly full.
As he was about to retrace his steps, he was startled by two voices. One near. One far.
"Halt!" cried the near voice.
"Did you see her?" called the far voice.
"Not certain. There was something," the near voice spoke softly.
Moth crouched behind a tree and, as quickly as possible, removed the panel and the ratchet from the basket. He fumbled with the panel, unrolled it, and draped it over himself. Unfortunately, it was not large enough to cover both him and the basket. He listened as heavy footsteps crunched through nearby leaves; he tried not to breathe.
"We've been ordered to report to the falls," called the far voice.
"I'm not leaving until I check the area," the very near voice cried back.
"As you please," the far voice cried.
He tried to hold the panel as steadily as he could. A race of laughing worms had given millions of these panels to Lorwardia. The panels made Lorwardia's mighty ships invisible. And the worms had only asked for useless dirt and rocks in exchange. At least that was the story his father had told him when he had given him this 'extra' panel as a present. However, he had always wondered why the worms were laughing. Was it because they were so happy to be helping the Empire? Or was it because they were playing a joke? It then occurred to him that he had never used the panel to hide from a guard who was so close before. Would it work the same way?
The footsteps drew nearer. And then a shadow fell over him. He closed his eyes, held his breath, and hoped the guard could not hear the beating of his heart.
"What's this?" the guard's voice boomed.
Horrified, Moth watched the guard's hand picked up a pearl from the basket. The guard tossed it back inside and went to pick up the entire basket by its handle.
The guard screamed as the ratchet impacted the side of his head. As the guard clutched at his wound and rolled on the ground, Moth hastily rolled up the panel and stuffed it and the ratchet back into the basket. As he ran toward the pipe, he heard heavy footsteps coming from behind him. Whether it was the guard he had injured or another, he did not know. All he could focus on what getting back to the open cap and crawling as quickly as he could back home.
When he reached the cap, he stuffed the basket in first and then followed it. Unfortunately, his momentum had pushed the basket along the pipe in the wrong direction. Instead of going toward where he had come, it was further along the pipe toward where he had never gone. As he crouched in the pipe and debated whether he should risk crossing under the opening, the pipe was suddenly filled with flames. The guard was using a flaming battle staff against him!
Moth screamed and patted wildly at his singed eyebrows. He backed away from the shooting flames as quickly as he could and headed down the darkening pipe towards the unknown. As he passed beneath each subsequent cap, he feared that it would suddenly be lifted, and he would be doused in flame. These thoughts drove him forward for a very long time … even after his hands grew sore and his knees began to ache. Finally, he collapsed and lay in the darkness trying to control his breathing.
After a few moments, he righted himself, retrieved a pearl from the basket and munched hungrily on it. He was tempted to have a second, but, instead, decided to push on. Within a few moments, the pipe grew wider and then, quite suddenly, dead ended with a mesh grate. He pushed at the grate, and it gave a little. He took out the rachet and hit the grate hard. It popped off and fell somewhere below. The echo it made came swiftly, so he imagined it wasn't too far of a drop to the ground. He squeezed past the basket and looked out.
The room was a tangle of pipes. All different widths. Many expelled steam, but some, like his, seemed old and unused. The floor did not look too far below. However, it was hard to judge because the room was illuminated by crimson lights that turned on and off at odd intervals. Finally, he decided to lower his basket as close to the floor as he could and then let it go. When he did, he heard the ratchet inside clang against the floor. When the light returned, he could see that the basket had fallen on its side and spilled the pearls everywhere. He sighed, backed up into the pipe, turned himself around and crawled out. Holding onto the edge of the pipe, he lowered himself as far down as he could and let go.
The floor turned out to be further away than he had anticipated. He landed on his rear hard. After a few moments, he stood and attempted to collect all the spilled pearls. This proved a difficult task since he was dependent on the randomly pulsating light to find them. Once he believed he had gathered them all and confirmed the panel and the ratchet were also in the basket, he tried to orient himself within the strange room. If he could figure out where he was, he might be able to determine the most likely exit. And which direction home was.
There were letters inscribed on several of the pipes and when he made his way to one of the room's walls, there was a good amount of writing on it as well. Unfortunately, since he did not know how to read, this wasn't helpful. He continued to wander about the room and soon realized he was going in circles. He felt like crying, but that only made him think of his mother. And that made him want to cry more.
Then he heard footsteps. They weren't heavy like those of a guard, but they sounded like they were headed in his direction. The crimson light came up again, and he spotted a crawlspace beneath the large pipe next to his hip. He shoved the basket into the space, took out the racket and unrolled the panel. Unfortunately, when he tossed the panel over his head, he realized there was a large see-through hole in the middle of it. He tried to arrange the panel so that the undamaged portions hid most of his body, but it was far from perfect. The footsteps were much closer now.
Without knowing what else to do, he shut his eyes.
In the darkness he heard a soft voice. It was so close that the person could have been whispering in his ear. Reflexively, he opened his eyes and turned his head toward it. The corner of his eye latched onto the hole in the invisibility panel at the same instant the crimson light illuminated the room.
The alien War Criminal was hovering directly over him. She was opening her mouth and extending a hand toward him.
Screaming, he swung his father's ratchet wildly. It ripped through the panel, and he heard the alien's awful cries. Tossing aside the ruined panel and dropping the ratchet to the ground, he covered his head with his arms. He was too frightened to think, let alone give voice, to a complete sentence, so he muttered the only word he could find again and again.
"Please, please, please, please …"
He ceased a few moments later when he realized that the alien had stopped making that awful sound. Instead, she was speaking to him. This was a surprise for several reasons. However, the two biggest ones were that he could understand what she was saying and that what she was saying was ... kind.
"It's all right. I'm not going to hurt you. It's all right."
Although still very much afraid, Moth began to hope that he might not get eaten after all.
Kim's right wrist was shattered.
There was no need for X-rays to determine if a bone was broken. She could tell that several were. Fearing what she might find, she was hesitant to even look at it. But she couldn't just leave it laying askew on the cold floor. With great difficulty she lifted it, then cradled it in her left arm, and slowly lowered it into her lap. Although she had tried to perform the motion carefully, the pain had been such that she did cry out twice. Not to mention the horrible faces she must have made.
The whimpering of her young companion confirmed that the faces she had made were, at the very least, frightening ones.
"It's okay. It's okay," she said in as soothing a voice as she could manage under the circumstances.
It wasn't only kindness that compelled Kim to calm the terrified Lorwardian child who was trembling a few feet away from her. Although he seemed more scared of her than she was of him, he had effectively crippled her with a single blow. If he had aimed his weapon a little higher and a little to the left, she would have been dead. The last thing she wanted to do was give him a reason to take another swing.
As the crimson lights went through a few more cycles, she took a hard look at him. Although he was curled into a ball, he appeared to be the smallest Lorwardian she had encountered. His hair was exceptionally short, and he did not possess the ubiquitous ponytail that she had come to accept as 'standard issue' for all Lorwardian males.
Perhaps he isn't old enough to have one.
When she had first regained her composure after the attack, she had heard him repeating the word "Please" over and over. She had initially assumed this had been an audible hallucination caused by the extreme pain in her wrist. However, when she tried to calm him, he appeared to understand her as well. Of course, it could have been merely the tone of her voice that produced this effect.
Time to put it to the test.
"Hello," she said.
His trembling faded, and he looked intently at her face.
Okay, now what, Possible?
"A-are you the alien War Criminal?" he managed in an uneven voice.
All right, I can understand him, too. Unless this is all a hallucination.
She reflected on the intense pain radiating from her arm and dismissed this possibility.
She gave the young Lorwardian a nod. And then, before he could amp up his trembling, she said quickly, "My name is Kim. What's yours?"
He opened his mouth and then shut it quickly.
"It's okay. What's your name?"
"B-behemoth," he replied.
The name did not suit him. Although it was likely that he would "grow into it," it was comical to hang such a monstrous name on someone so short and thin.
"My mother calls me Moth," he ventured.
"'Moth'? I like that. Good to meet you Moth."
Moth shot a look at her wrist and then back to her face.
Oy, Possible. Could you have thought of a stupider thing to say?
"I mean," she stammered, "I wish that we'd met under different circum—"
"Are you going to eat me?" he blurted.
"What? No, no, of course not. Why would you think that?"
He shrugged. And, then over the next moment of silence, a wave seemed to pass over his whole form. He straightened out his body and even half sat up, supporting himself with his elbow.
As the silence became protracted, Kim tried to restart the small talk. "So, do you work here?"
He gave her a puzzled look and then shook his head. "I'm too young." He then added, "I don't know what 'here' is."
"Well," she began, "'here' is this building that we're in."
He gave her another puzzled look and then smiled. "No, I mean I don't know where we are."
"Oh, sorry," she mirrored his smile. Then she posed the question that had been burning in her mind for the past five minutes. "Are those your … fruits?"
"In your basket-" she pointed with her chin.
So, that's what they're called.
"There my mother's," he replied.
"I gather them in the forest. She is very weak."
Kim looked over his emaciated form. It was obvious his mother wasn't the only one in poor she realized that his expression, that had up to that moment been approaching agreeable, suddenly looked tormented.
"What is it, Moth?"
"My mother didn't want me to go out tonight," he replied.
After another excruciating moment of silence, Kim ventured, "Was that because of me?"
He nodded. He seemed even more sad.
"Don't worry, Moth," she said, "I won't tell her we met, if you won't."
She had meant it as a lighthearted joke, but the confused look on his face told her that it hadn't landed.
"A-are you g-going to see my m-mother?"
"No, no, no." she said, emphatically shaking her head. "Forget I said anything."
He relaxed a little, but still looked majorly confused.
"A-are you going to let me go?"
She paused a second, but then nodded. "Of course. I won't force you to stay."
The relived sigh he released was so strong that it fluttered her hair.
But then a funny look crossed his face. "I don't know how to get home from here."
"I know how you feel, Moth," she said softly.
She wasn't completely sure if he had heard her, but he asked suddenly, "Where is your home?"
"Far, far away," she replied. On the second 'far' she almost broke down. As she tried to recompose herself, it occurred to her that if Lorwardia was somewhere in the Orion constellation, then it was likely that Earth's sun was visible from Lorwardia, too. This small realization made her smile. "My home is near a star that you can probably see at night."
"A real star?"
This wasn't the answer she was expecting. "Y-yes, it's a real star," she confirmed.
"I've never seen real stars," he replied. "Only the ones in the forests. You can only see real stars from the arena. We cannot go there, and I'm too young anyway."
Every new thing she learned about Lorwardian culture made Kim hate those in charge of the planet more.
"You should get back to your mother, Moth," she said finally.
"I don't how," he sighed. "I don't know where we are."
"I thought I saw words on that wall before you-well, earlier," she said, realizing she didn't have a euphemism for 'before you attacked me'. Again, she indicated the direction with her chin. "Maybe they say."
"I can't read," he admitted.
"Oh? Well, let me try." It wasn't easy to read the words from her position. They were high up and the light kept going off and coming back on. Finally, she pieced them together. "Shield Generator #1 and #2," she announced finally.
"We're in the shield generator building?" Moth asked, his features breaking into a smile.
"I guess so," she nodded.
"That's just two flights down from the lower level."
"So, you can find your way back?" she asked.
He nodded enthusiastically. "I just need to leave this building and it'll be fine." He stood and began to gather his weapon and his strange mirror-blanket-thing.
"Good," she said and lowered her head.
"What are you going to do?" she heard his voice ask.
"Oh, me?" she said looking up with the approximation of a smile. "I'm just going to sit here for a while."
"Are you going home?" he asked.
"Hope so," she nodded.
"Moth?" she asked.
"Yes …" he began and then stopped. " … alien?"
For whatever reason, being addressed as 'alien' by an alien, made Kim grin. "May I have a pearl?"
She took her first bite as she watched the young Lorwardian disappear into the tangle of shadows in front of her.
A small part of Kim was screaming inside her head not to let him leave. To convince him to stay. To make him stay if necessary. Even if the notions of using the small boy as a bargaining chip or a hostage were totally out of the question, there were serious risks to letting him go. In fact, it was possible that this small act of compassion might end up being the one thing that led directly to her recapture. That led to her death.
Kim gave voice to the greater part of herself when she whispered, "I wouldn't die of anything else."
To be concluded …
Author's Note: The names 'Hegemon' and 'Behemoth' were snagged from Mikhail Bulgakov's novel The Master and Margarita (1967). Although my Hegemon also shares that character in the novel's general temperament and terrible headaches, Behemoth (who in the novel is a demonic cat with a proclivity for martinis and handguns) is a namesake only.
Kim allowed the misery fostered by the thought that she would never see Ron again, even to say good-bye, wash over her. The sadness seeped into every laceration and fissure that Lorwardia had inflicted upon her. Too disheartened to cry, all she wanted was to curl tighter into the snug crawlspace in which she was hiding, to curl tighter upon herself until she was no longer there.
And then she remembered.
Shaking her head, she smiled and sat up.
Pity fiesta's over, Possible.
She pulled her makeshift sling from her cargo pocket, placed it back over her shoulder, and adjusted it so that her right wrist was held close to her chest. Then she gingerly extracted herself from her hiding place and began to investigate the Shield Generator building.
"There has to be something I can do," she whispered. She made her way to the far wall to see if there was any additional wording there that could prove useful. At first, the oscillating interior lights made it difficult to tell if there was any writing other than the tall block lettering identifying "Generator #1" and "Generator #2." And, of course, the angry Lorwardian voices in the not-so-far-distance above didn't help her concentration any. However, before long she made out lines of smaller text beneath the larger labels. Underneath "Generator #1" was the word "Arena"; underneath "Generator #2" was the word "Port."
Her mind immediately went back to the opaque bubble she had seen covering the hover port when she had first arrived as well as the similarly composed "dome" that had encased the stadium. Recognizing the titanic import of the building in which she was trapped proved to be so invigorating.
How likely is it that the Lorwardians who designed this building also designed Warhok's ship?
Although it would have been much easier if she possessed an independent light source and if the Lorwardian voices hadn't increased in unpleasantness or sounded closer every minute, Kim undauntedly searched every yard of the building's ground floor and half of it's second. She searched until she discovered what she knew she would find.
Although "Spankin'" was the phrase Kim would normally use under such circumstances, she felt that since Ron's words had given her the strength to begin this mission, she would use his phrase to conclude it.
"Boo-yah," she whispered.
Bruvile was attempting to marshal his troops within the grotto under the falls. However, he kept being interrupted by Gogcider's shouted demands from his comm device. Impatiently waiting at the front entrance to the Shield Generator Complex, his confederate insisted that if an effective pincer movement was to be achieved against the War Criminal, they needed to coordinate their attacks. Exasperated after the fifth such verbal harangue, Bruvile killed the comm device. After lifting his foot to confirm it had been smashed to smithereens, he charged his warriors pell-mell down the ill-lit tunnel at the rear of the grotto. In the end, formation didn't matter. The only thing Bruvile really cared about was preventing Gogcider from taking sole credit for the target's death.
Although the two legions did enter the first floor of the building at the same time, this was due to happenstance rather than planning. Furthermore, the meeting of the two forces was far from coordinated. In fact, pushing matches broke out among several warriors from the rival companies. And, of course, the most ferocious skirmish was between the two illustrious Synod members themselves.
Eventually, all the fighting ceased when a high whistle broke over the warriors' heads.
On a raised platform at the rear of the building was the War Criminal. She favored them with a smile. "Hey!"
Immediately, Brivule targeted the alien with his plasma canon. He received a sharp elbow to the ear before he could fire. "Frackle!" he cried, clutching the side of his head.
"Imbecile!" Gogcider hissed. "Even with one eye, I can see she's located the switch!"
"Th-the switch?" Brivule repeated densely.
"Everyone hold your fire," Gogcider announced to the room.
"Everyone hold your fire," Brivule repeated to his troops.
Gogcider leaned down to Brivule and whispered, "Get Hegemon on the comm."
"I can't," Brivule shouted back.
"Why not?" Gogcider demanded.
"It's dead," Brivule replied.
Rolling his eyes, Gogcider huffed, "Fine." However, before he activated his comm device, he beckoned to one of his warriors. After receiving his captain's whispered instructions, the warrior promptly retreated to the other side of the building.
Gogcider pressed a button on the hands-free device in his ear. "Hegemon, she has located the switch."
Hegemon was only partially successful in suppressing a sigh. As a result, his head, which had been steadily feeling less anguished over the past dozen or so moments, began throbbing anew with sharp pain.
After taking a moment to re-center himself, he replied evenly to Gogcider via the comm link on his desk, "What does she want?"
Through the device he heard Gogcider bellow, "What is the meaning of this, War Criminal?"
He then heard her faint reply. "A ship."
"'A ship?' What is the meaning of that?" Hegemon heard Gogcider demand.
She wants a ship back to her home world, you fool.
Hegemon winced. Even thinking in anger caused him pain.
"I want safe passage on a ship back to Earth," came her faint, patient reply.
Heading off what he knew would be an outraged and utterly useless response from his confederate, Hegemon spoke, "Tell her, this will be discussed, Gogcider."
"What?!" Gogcider screamed.
"Tell her, Gogcider, and then lower your voice," Hegemon explained in a less patient tone than the earther had used, "so she cannot hear what you are saying to me."
Hegemon's mind was swirling and not just from pain. There were so many questions he needed to have answered, and he was certain his Synod confederate could provide none of the them. Chief among these was how the earther had learned about the switch. Following that, where had she learned to speak such fluent Lorwardian? He checked once again and confirmed (once again) that his Mentor-provided translating device was indeed not active.
The Doctor was highly displeased.
Having the Tardis "track" Kim's DNA was not bringing them any closer to finding her. Although it had certainly taken them to places where she had been, it was not doing so in chronological order. It was only when the Doctor could closely examine a DNA sample (hair, but, occasionally, dried blood) via the sonic screwdriver could she determine how long it had been since Kim had been present at the location the sample had been found. For example, the first place it landed after the stadium was atop a giant matrix of lights suspended over an immense underground forest of Gallifreyan trees. The next place was among the chimneys in the rock formation that bordered the stadium. Testing the samples proved the obvious, Kim had been at the rock formation before she had been above the forest.
And then the Tardis took them back to the stadium.
"What's wrong?" Yaz ventured softly.
The Doctor threw up her hands in exasperation. "It's the zeiton-5! It's having an echo chamber effect on the tracking systems. They direct us to the next sample, but in a completely random order. If we keep going like this, sure, we might get lucky, but we might just end up back where we started."
"Like now?" Jack asked.
"Yes," the Doctor hissed.
"I wonder what Wade would do," Ron muttered to Rufus. He had been trying to brainstorm his own solution, but he was hopelessly overwhelmed by the science-bordering-on-magic used by the Doctor. His recourse was to speculate on what the smartest person he knew might suggest.
"Of course, Wade!" Yaz cried.
"Wade?" the Doctor asked.
"Right!" Jack declared. "He's the entire reason we were able to reach you! He got Martha's phone to work in less than five minutes."
"Ok, great!" the Doctor nodded, grabbing her cell phone. "Let's give him a call."
Ron took the Roncom out of his pocket. "I'll get you the number."
"Why don't you just call him with yours?" the Doctor asked.
"I don't have a signal," Ron explained. "I'm guessing Lorwardia isn't on Hurtle's network."
The Doctor touched her glowing pen against the Roncom's screen. "Now it is."
Ron had five bars. He speed-dialed Wade.
Before the first ring had finished, Wade Load's anxious face appeared on the device's screen. "What's going on, Ron? Did you find her?"
"Not yet," Ron said, "we actually need your help on that, buddy."
"Uh, sure," Wade nodded. "What's going on?"
"Let me speak to him, Ron," the Doctor said as she took the device. "Hello, Wade. I'm the Doctor."
"Okay," Wade said after a moment.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
"N-nothing, I thought Kim and Ron said you were a man."
"Typically, I am. This—" she gestured to her face, "is just the latest thing. Don't give it a thought. The problem is that all my scanning capabilities are occluded by the zetion-5 in the planet's atmosphere and, well, under the planet's surface, too. Tracking Kim by her DNA signature has been the most useful method, but even that isn't providing an accurate chronological time signature."
"Did you need me to repeat any of that?" the Doctor asked.
Wade shook his head, and then furrowed his brow in thought. "I imagine your ship has its own unique signature? And anything from your ship would have a similar if not the same signature?"
She nodded. "Yes and yes."
"Do you think you could track that signature successfully even with the amount of disturbance you're getting?"
"I believe so," she replied. "But I don't see how that will help us find Kim. To my knowledge, she doesn't have anything from the Tardis."
"She does," Wade smiled.
"Right!" cried Ron. "She's got your flute!"
"My … flute?" The Doctor gave Ron a puzzled look.
"Well, your recorder," Wade explained.
The Doctor's expression did not change. She looked at Wade's image and then back at Ron. "No, she doesn't."
"Yeah, she does," Ron nodded eagerly. "You left it in her room when we were kids."
"No," the Doctor shook her head slowly. "I didn't."
"Huh?" Wade and Ron said in unison.
"I'm not sure what you guys are referring to, but I had my recorder long after you helped me defeat the Yeti at Paisley Manor, Ron."
"Are you sure?" Wade asked.
"I am." She nodded sadly. "I may be over two thousand years old, but my memory is still razor sharp."
The defeated looks this statement produced couldn't help but move her.
"I'll perform the scan for any Tardis signature on the planet," she said pressing a few buttons. Glancing absently at the scanner display, she continued, "But I'm not going to find—" Her eyes suddenly got large.
"What?" Ron asked eagerly.
"I usually hate it when I'm wrong, guys," she said breaking into a broad smile, "but I'm loving it today!"
"You found something?" Yaz asked looking over her shoulder.
"Yes! My recorder. Right there," the Doctor exclaimed, pointing to the display. "Thanks, Wade!" she said as she tossed the Roncom back to Ron. "Hold on everyone!"
"Boo-yah!" Ron yelled.
"She's got to be there," the Doctor said and then her smile faded slightly. "That is, if she still has the recorder."
Kim kept her hand steady on the end of the recorder. She had stuck its mouthpiece into the open space in the middle of the switch, effectively turning the instrument into an extended lever for turning it off.
She had been pleased with the Lorwardians' initial shock and encouraged by their apparent willingness to negotiate. But now she was starting to have doubts about their sincerity. The judge she'd hit with the rock outside the stadium had claimed he was going to discuss her request with someone called Hegemon, but that had been a while ago. And, for the past few minutes now, he had been staring intently at her, speaking softly to himself, and occasionally pressing the device in his ear.
He looks far too pleased with himself to just be arranging my ride.
She considered making a threatening gesture with the switch but was worried she might flip it by , of course, that concern led directly back to the elephant in the room.
What will I do if they call my bluff?
Almost from the moment she had been abducted, Kim had been steeling herself to the possibility that she wouldn't make it out of this stich alive. As her time on Lorwardia went on, an abject feeling of inevitability had grown stronger. If anything was possible for a Possible, then an end to her incredible string of luck was possible, too.
I'll just have to be brave.
Then she remembered the conversation she'd had with Ron and her cousin Joss junior year. Joss believed that since Ron was so full of fear yet always joined Kim on her missions, that he was the true hero. That he was the brave one. A few months ago, Kim had even reminded Ron of that fact. If only the Lorwardians had waited to abduct her ten, even five, minutes later. Then she would have been able to ask Ron for his advice for on how she could deal with her fears.
And I am so frightened right now, Ron.
High in the rafters on the opposite side of the building, Gogcider's sharpshooter was awaiting his orders. The War Criminal's skull was centered in the sites of his plasma cannon. The plasma setting was red; only one shot would be necessary.
He was at ease. Accustomed to waiting, he knew the value of patience as well as the dangers anticipation could bring. Yet, he found he wasn't completely centered in this assignment. The building itself was the most likely culprit. Particularly, its random noises: hisses of steam, knocks from the shield machinery, and what he was certain was the scurrying of vermin on the pipe just above him. Regardless of these distractions, the assignment would have a satisfactory end.
"Let me see her," Hegemon said to the comm link. Within a few seconds, an amber-colored hologram of the War Criminal hovered over the device.
"Closer," he instructed and braced for Gogcider's reply. For whatever reason—perhaps his confederate's placement of his corresponding comm link in his ear, whenever Gogcider whispered through the device, his voice became louder, tinnier and generally more unpleasant than his bellowing voice in person ever could.
"Why?" Gogcider hissed.
Hegemon winced and then spoke slowly, "I need to see her eyes."
The image increased in size until the young earther's head towered over Hegemon, each eye as large as his own head. He watched them intently as the pupils darted this way and then that. He examined them as they blinked, squeezed shut momentarily, and then opened wide once again.
"Well?" his confederate cursed.
"A moment," Hegemon said calmly. Although it would have been much easier if the image was in color, he was close to making his judgement.
A momentary flicker in her left eye, and he knew. The War Criminal did not want to die. More importantly, she did not want to kill. She was bluffing.
"She will not do it," he pronounced.
Immediately, the image of her vanished, and Gogcider whistled, "Excellent."
Before Hegemon could even ask what his confederate had meant, Gogcider killed the call.
"Do it," Gogcider's voice echoed in the sharpshooter's head.
Just as he pulled the trigger, a piercing pain erupted on the right side of the warrior's head. Instead of one direct, precisely aimed shot, three arcing, errant plasma blasts came from his weapon. It tumbled from his hands onto the floor five stories below.
When he touched the side of his head, his fingertips came back wet. Outraged, he looked above for the source of the cowardly blow he'd received. He recognized the incoming object as a ratchet an instant before his vision went completely black.
Two plasma blasts sailed above and behind the switch's panel, but the third came within six inches of Kim's head. Acrid smoke from the small explosion triggered a coughing fit. As she tried to recover, Kim discovered that she was on knees and she realized she was no longer holding the end of the recorder. Quickly, she looked up and saw that it was no longer in the switch; the switch, fortunately, was still in the 'on' position. Looking frantically around, she found the recorder teetering on the edge of the platform. As she reached for it, it disappeared, falling among the Lorwardian warriors on the floor below.
"Okay, we're going to materialize around Kim," the Doctor said. "We'll get her and get out. And we'll be cloaked while we do it."
"Cloaked?" Jack asked. "Why?"
"Because I have interfered enough with this race's culture, that's why," she said firmly.
"And you can do that?" Jack asked.
"Yes, completely invisible and silent. Did it once before," she explained. "Eavesdropping on President Nixon, long story."
"Silent?" Yaz asked after a moment. "I didn't know the Tardis could be silent."
The Doctor nodded. "A little trick I picked up from the wife."
"Wife?" Jack and Yaz exclaimed in unison.
Ron was far too worried about Kim to take any notice of the others' conversation, let alone to say jinx.
Luckily, Kim had landed on her left shoulder. Her right wrist had slipped from the sling, but it didn't feel any worse than it had. She had leaped to the first floor before she had even taken the time to make the rash decision to do so. It just felt imperative that she not lose her only weapon.
When she had recovered enough from the fall to sit up, she realized that the Lorwardians beneath the platform had jumped back (maybe in fear of the explosion, maybe in fear of her). They surrounded her in a semi-circle about ten feet in diameter. And two feet to her left was the recorder. She snatched it up with her left hand. Unfortunately, since this was also the hand that she had been supporting herself with, she collapsed hard on the floor the moment she grabbed it. Quickly, she scrambled back to a sitting position and, with difficulty, stood.
As she caught her breath, she took in the forces that were now encroaching upon her. There were dozens of large Lorwardians. Some had weapons drawn, some were extending their powerful arms. They were all smiling unpleasantly; a handful were laughing. In the right corner of her eye, she noticed the judge who had shot her approaching. He was brandishing a large blade. His sadistic expression reminded her of Warhok, and she idly wondered if they were related.
She took up a fighting stance (or as close to one as she could manage with a single arm) as their shadows engulfed her.
Let me be brave. Let me be brave.
And then she modified what she had every reason to believe would be her final thought.
Let me be like Ron. Let me be like Ron. Let me be like Ron.
She was in a cave. Although it was dimly lit, there was an amber glow emanating from somewhere behind her. However, before Kim could even begin to orientate herself, the walls echoed with a familiar cry.
As she was swallowed in an embrace, her senses were enveloped in 'Ronness.' The echo of his voice in her ears. The smell of his skin and clothes. The taste of his kiss as it throbbed in her delighted mouth.
I didn't think heaven would be so dark.
The fantasy that she was in paradise was swiftly belied by a sudden burst of pain from her wrist.
"Honey, Honey," she said breaking the kiss, "you're hurting my hand."
"Sorry, KP!" he said releasing her. "What's wrong with you hand?"
Before she could answer, Rufus appeared on her shoulder and gave her cheek a hug with his tiny paws. "Hiya!"
"Hi, Rufus!" she smiled. "Where are we?" she asked, still majoring dazed.
"The Tardis," Ron smiled, his eyes watering. "It looks majorly different, but this is the Doctor's Tardis."
"Really?" she blinked her eyes clear. "I-is he here?"
"Jack? Yeah, he's right over there," Ron pointed behind her with his chin.
"What? J-Jack?" she turned, and the Torchwood agent was about ten feet behind her, standing in front of a ferociously large, glowing crystal. Even when backlit by this giant pulsating stone, his smile was incandescent.
"Good to see you, Kim," he said.
"Jack! I saw you get shot! I thought—"
"That was I dead?" He shrugged, "That's kind of my thing."
She started to laugh. "Complicated?"
"Meh?" he raised his hand and gave the so-so gesture.
An unexpected buzzing sound drew Kim's attention to her immediate right. A blonde woman wearing what looked like an oversized hooded raincoat was running a silver and glowing "pen" along the length of Kim's body.
"Mild dehydration, some malnourishment, eww, that wrist looks nasty—we'll take care of that." The woman called over her shoulder, "Yaz! Get some water for Kim." Then she looked Kim in the eyes. With an ebullient smile, she asked, "What's your favorite biscuit?"
After a confused moment, Kim replied, "Uh, buttermilk."
"Right," the woman slapped her forehead. "You're American! Cookie-what's your favorite cookie?"
"Uh," Kim stammered.
"I'll surprise you!" she sprinted away.
Kim shook her head and tried to remember what she had been saying. "N-no, Ron, the Doctor! Is he here?"
But before Ron could answer, the blonde woman had returned. "Surprise!" she beamed. "I got you a Jammie Dodger." She held out a small cookie to Kim.
"Hey, MsD," Ron began, "I don't think Kim is really that hungry right now."
"Wait! Y-you're the Doctor?" Kim exclaimed.
"Yes," the Doctor nodded with a smile. "I know what you're thinking, Kim, and it is a great, if very long, explanation, but first, let's take a look at that hand."
As the Doctor slowly waved her buzzing "pen" over Kim's wrist, another young woman appeared with a glass of water. "Here you go, Kim," she smiled. "I know this isn't the best time, but I just wanted to say what a great honor it is to meet you."
Kim returned the smile and downed the glass quickly.
"My name's Yaz by the way. Would you like another?"
"Please and thank you, Yaz."
Yaz took the glass, and as she headed back for more water, she let a small squeal escape her lips.
"What was that?" Jack asked bemusedly.
"She said 'Please and thank you,'" Yaz grinned.
As Kim exchanged another nuzzle with Rufus, it occurred to her that Ron had been oddly silent for the past few moments. Glancing at him, she saw that he was staring at the injuries on her shoulders. And at the scar near her bellybutton. "What is it, Honey?" she asked gently.
"What did they do to you, Kim?" he muttered sadly. His voice was low, but she caught the dangerous edge that was hiding among its layers of misery.
"It's okay, Ron," she whispered urgently.
"No, it isn't," he shook his head and closed his eyes. When he reopened them a second later, they were cobalt and pupil-less. Spectral screeches and gibbers began to echo in the far corners of the console room.
However, before the Doctor could step in, Kim had placed her hand gently against her boyfriend's cheek. "Listen to me, Ron. The ones who rule this planet are very, very evil. But not every Lorwardian is."
The monkey chittering faded, and Ron's eyes turned back to warm cocoa.
She kissed his forehead, and he took her hand in his.
"I know, Honey, I know." She said as she wiped the tears from his eyes with her other hand.
"Well done, Kim," the Doctor said softly. "Well done."
It was just as Ron began kissing her hand that Kim realized that he was holding her right hand. "My wrist?" sheasked, looking to the Doctor.
"All set," she smiled. "I'll get to work on those blast marks in just a few."
"Doctor," Jack said as he approached. "I was just thinking about that monument we saw earlier."
She sighed. "Don't remind me."
"Actually, Ron just reminded me of the reason why the Lorwardians first came to earth, and I think there's a connection."
"Huh?" That had gotten the Doctor's attention. "What was the reason they came to earth?"
"Kim?" Jack prompted.
"Well, Warmonga said she was searching for someone called 'The Great Blue,'" Kim explained. "What monument?"
"The … Great … Blue?" the Doctor said slowly. Suddenly, both palms shot to her forehead. "Oh, oh, OH!"
"What's wrong, Doctor?" Yaz asked, water sloshing about in the glass in her hand.
"I've changed my mind," the Doctor replied. "I need to speak to the Lorwardians before we leave."
"Wait, we're still on Lorwardia?" Kim asked.
"Waitaminute, Doc," Jack began, "I thought you said you were finished with interfering with their culture."
"I did," she nodded. "But I just remembered that a wise person once said you should always do what you're best at."
"Interfering?" Yaz asked soto voice as she handed Kim her glass.
"Exactly," the Doctor grinned.
"Would this 'wise person' happen to be …?" Jack began.
"Of course, it was me. Stop acting smart, Jack!"
"What are you going to do, MsD?" Ron asked.
"Saving Kim from the Lorwardians is great," the Doctor explained, "but making sure they never come back for her or for anyone else is better."
"Coolio, need any help?" he asked.
"Actually, Ron, can you do that mystical monkey thing one more time."
"Sure, how much do you need?"
"Just enough that they wet themselves," she smiled.
"Can I help, too?" Kim asked.
"Of course," the Doctor nodded.
"What would you like me to do?"
"Just be yourself." Then the Doctor shot a quick look to Ron and then back to Kim. "You know, amazing."
"What do you mean she vanished?" Hegemon asked wearily. After Gogcider had ignored his repeated attempts to reconnect, the hot-headed Synod member had contacted him screaming and bellowing. It had taken several moments for Hegemon to make sense of his confederate's ravings through the fog of pain the communication had inevitably caused.
"What do you think I mean?" Gogcider cried.
"What about the switch?" Hegemon asked calmly.
The switch that keeps all our air from drifting into space, you fool.
That thought hurt, but Hegemon did not regret it.
"The Air Shield Generator's switch," he said slowly if not patiently.
"That?" Gogcider waved dismissively. "It's fine."
"So, the War Criminal is gone?" Hegemon asked.
"No! Didn't you hear?" the former marauder was choking with rage. "She's vanished-cloaked!"
"She's cowering in a cloaked cylinder or … box. Our weapons are useless against it!"
"Where did that come from?"
"What does it matter? I need you to authorize the deployment of a WDM terrestrially, so we may attempt to breach it."
Before Hegemon could begin to explain the inherent foolishness in deploying a World Domination Munition on one's own world, sudden movement in the Synod's cavern caught his attention.
The chamber's three view screens were descending from the ceiling on their own. As he absently looked over the controls on his desk to retract them again, they turned on. On the screens was a view from inside the Shield Generator Complex. Hegemon immediately picked out the switch at the top of the picture. Then he noticed random plasma blasts striking a space near the bottom of the screen. This negative space seemed to be absorbing the blasts.
"Gogcider," Hegemon began with irritation that he knew he would soon regret, "are you broadcasting your assault to compel me to –"
"Of course not!" came the outraged reply.
When Hegemon glanced at the screens again, he saw that a 'door' had opened in the middle of the negative space. And that earthers were exiting it.
As soon as the Doctor stepped from the Tardis, a barrage of crimson plasma blasts erupted about her.
Once the blasts faded, she shook her head and chided, "Do you really think we're daft enough to walk out here without shields?"
She was followed by Kim and Ron. Kim stood to her left, and Ron flanked her on the right. After they too had received a fair share of misguided and harmless blasts, the Doctor shouted, "All right! Enough!"
The Lorwardians lowered their weapons.
"Now, before we begin," the Doctor explained, "I should probably let you know this is being broadcast live to every screen on the planet."
The Lorwardians exchanged worried glances.
"Now that I have your attention," the Doctor continued, "Article 57 of the Shadow Proclamation clearly states that Earth is a well-established Level Five planet. And you lot think you can just invade it on a whim? That you can take one of its citizens hostage without so much as a by-your-leave?"
Although her 'shooting' judge had visibly stiffened at the mention of the 'Shadow Proclamation' (whatever that was), Kim could see that he wasn't cowed by the Doctor's words.
"Who are you to impugn the honor of the Lorwardian Empire?" he spat.
"No fear, I was just getting around to that," the Doctor smiled. "This is Kim," she said gesturing to her left. "You remember her, right? The young woman you abducted and dragged back to the heart of your glorious empire. She's been here-what? A day, maybe a day and a half. And she OWNS it, doesn't she?"
"She could have turned off your planet's shield generators and sent all of your oxygen flying into the void if she'd wanted, and you know it."
The 'shooting' judge fumed, but he said nothing.
"This is Ron, her boyfriend," the Doctor pointed a thumb to the right. "Let's just say, he's not pleased with the shabby treatment she received."
On cue, a cerulean glow encircled Ron. He levitated five feet from the floor, and simian hoots and screeches echoed throughout the building. The air surrounding his floating form began to turn red, and a violent wind swept over the assembled Lorwardians' heads. Even before Ron's aura had shown its prehensile tail, many of the warriors began fleeing toward the building's main entrance. The 'shooting' judge as well as a small handful of others (including one Kim recognized as her shorter green judge) maintained their positions although they most definitely looked nervous.
"As for me," the Doctor began, but then called out to Ron, "take it down a few notches, Ron."
"You got it, MsD," he replied, and the wind and hoots lowered accordingly.
"As I was saying," she smiled, "I'm the Doctor."
The short judge grew pale and turned to the 'shooter' one. "The Time Lord that the Mentors warned us about!" he cried in agitation.
"Silence!" bellowed his confederate.
"And the three of us have a message for the rulers of this so-called empire," the Doctor said sternly. "Earth and any other planet you may have in mind to conquer or oppress is hereby under our protection."
Even though he said nothing, Kim could see that 'shooting' judge was practically apoplectic with rage.
"Oh, and one more thing," the Doctor added, "when you talk about us, and you will, do NOT use our names. You see, only our friends can call us by our names. And the rulers of Lorwardia are definitely NOT our friends."
She removed the sonic screwdriver from her jacket pocket and pointed it at the remaining Lorwardian warriors, "You lot, you can just call us …" She pointed the screwdriver in the air and turned it on. The cloaking deactivated around the Tardis, and the blue police box immediately appeared behind the trio. "The Great Blue."
A wave of shock passed visibly over the Lorwardians. Within seconds all of them, including Kim's judges, were prostrate on the ground, begging for forgiveness.
"Word of advice," the Doctor said sternly over their pitiful lamentations, "you do NOT want to be our enemy. If I were you, I'd look into changing that."
And with that, the Doctor spun on her heel and reentered the Tardis.
As Kim went to follow her, exaggerated motion on a platform near the ceiling caught her eye. Peering up, she recognized the figure of Moth waving good-bye to her. She smiled up at him and with her right hand enthusiastically returned the gesture.
Hegemon looked at the screen closest to him for a very long time after The Great Blue had departed.
Even the noise it made when it left matched the legends.
This thought opened the floodgates, and his mind was suddenly buzzing and percolating with ideas. Ideas of things that needed to be done and changes that must be made. The promise of sleep that had tormented him all day like a tempting mirage ever-receding just beyond his grasp had ceased to matter. There was too much to contemplate and accomplish.
It was only after he made his fifth comm link to his Synod colleagues that Hegemon absently realized that his head no longer hurt.
"So, guys," the Doctor began.
"Yes?" Kim asked. She was reclining next to Ron. His arm was over her shoulder, hugging her close.
"What do you think?" She performed a semi-graceful three-hundred-and-sixty-degree twirl.
Initially, Kim didn't know how to answer. The hooded overcoat, the rainbow-striped t-shirt, the bright yellow suspenders, the baggy blue pants that ended mid-calf, and the work boots were the stuff of a fashion night-terror. And, of course, that only served to reinforce the claim that this woman standing before them was, in fact, the same disheveled person they had met when she and Ron were twelve. Of course, she wasn't going to say that. Fortunately, at the last moment, Kim detected a flash on the Doctor's left ear.
"I really like your ear cuff," Kim said in full honesty.
"Really?" the Doctor blushed. "Thank you, Kim. No one's ever complimented me on that before." She smiled, "And I really like your stripe-violet is definitely your color."
"It is bondigity," Ron agreed and gave her cheek a kiss.
The Doctor smiled at the couple. "However, I was actually talking about my body."
Now, Kim definitely didn't know how to answer. She shot Ron a glance; he looked understandably uncomfortable.
It took her a while, but the Doctor read the awkwardness in the young people' expressions. "That is, I always ask my old friends who knew me back when I was a man what they think of me now that I'm a woman."
"I don't recall anyone asking me for my opinion," Jack hollered from the other side of the console room.
"That's because everyone already knows your opinion, Jack," the Doctor yelled back.
"Burn," Ron called out.
"Well, I think we're both just majorly confused," Kim admitted after sharing a look with Ron.
"Understandable. As a Time Lord, I am able to regenerate my physical form and …," she registered Kim's non-plussed look. "And … I don't think I ever mentioned to you that I wasn't human before, right?"
"Yeah," Kim nodded slowly, "I think I would have remembered that."
"Well, I knew," Ron offered.
"Since when?" Kim asked.
"Jack told me."
"Basically," the Doctor explained, "when my body gets too damaged or too old, all my cells change and rejuvenate. Essentially, I become a new person. A new person with the same memories."
"Did you know that?" Kim asked Ron.
"Nuh-uh," Ron shook his head.
"Yep, yep," Rufus nodded.
"Really?" Ron looked askance to his naked mole rat.
"Oh, of course, he did," the Doctor said with an absent wave. "I told Rufus everything when you two were napping in my rocker."
"Okay," Kim began, "so you changed from an older gentleman into a young woman?"
"Yes," the Doctor smiled and then frowned. "Well, eventually, I did, yes. Actually, I've had twelve faces since you last saw me."
"Twelve? Is it an annual thing?" Ron asked. "I mean is there like a special day?"
"No, no, no," she shook her head. "Hmm. Maybe I should have explained this first. It's been, let's see, eleven years since you've last seen me, but it has been more than sixteen hundred and fifty since I've last seen you."
"What?!" Kim asked astonished.
The Doctor nodded.
"Wait, hold on," Ron said sitting up. "If it's been that long, how can you even remember us at all? Let alone what you told Rufus while we were taking a nap in your rocking chair? I didn't even remember it was a rocking chair."
"I always remember my friends," the Doctor said simply.
"Oh my gosh," Kim said suddenly. "That means that it's been almost that long since you've seen Zoe?"
"Zoe?" Ron said. "Oh, yeah! That really cute girl from the future. And Jamie!"
"Yes," Kim replied. "The highlander with the ferociously good legs."
"Yeah—hey!" Ron exclaimed.
She gave him a gentle elbow. "Right back at 'cha, Mr. 'Cute Future Girl.'" Then Kim noticed that a wistful look had passed over the Doctor's features. "Doctor?"
"Sorry," the Doctor sighed. "Just old memories. Say, speaking of which," she took the recorder from her jacket pocket. "Here, Kim, you dropped it on the floor when Ron first snogged you."
"No, no, Doctor, this belongs to you."
"Nah, not anymore," she gave it to Kim. "I couldn't even remember leaving it in your bedroom. Take it, for luck."
"Thanks, Doctor. Actually, I have a question about it."
"Well, I tried to play a song on it earlier and then I was able to read Lorwardian language and understand everything they were saying."
"Ah, yes, the Tardis translation circuits."
"Let's pretend Rufus doesn't know what those are," Ron interjected.
"Yes," the Doctor nodded," let's pretend because I remember telling him all about them, too.
Kim good-naturedly arched an eyebrow at her boyfriend.
"Basically, when you travel in the Tardis," the Doctor continued, "the translation circuits allow you to interpret all other languages as if they were your own. The recorder was created by the Tardis. When you played it, those circuits activated for you."
After a moment Kim said, "I hope you're not insulted that Ron and I thought you were a dream for most of the time since we met you."
"Of course, not," the Doctor said. "I've been mistaken for worse things. I've even been forgotten."
Concerned about the sudden dip she detected in the Doctor's last sentence, Kim said hastily, "I've always remembered you as one of my childhood's great mythical figures."
"Like Snowman Hank," Ron agreed.
"Well," Kim said shooting her boyfriend another 'brow,' "like Santa Clause."
"Well, that," the Doctor grinned, "is a very easy mistake to explain."
"It is?" Kim brightened, pleased that the Doctor's spirits had improved.
"Certainly," the Doctor laughed over her shoulder as she walked back to the console room, "who do you think gave you that red bike for Christmas in 1997?"
Kim echoed her laugh. And then said, "Wait, what?"
"Your stop, Captain Cheese," Yaz called out.
"I'll definitely miss Tokyo's street food," Jack said as he made his way to the Tardis's doors, "but now that the Lorwardian 'sitch'" -and he did throw air quotes around 'sitch'—"is over, it'll be nice to be back in London."
He shook hands with Yaz.
"Until we meet again, Captain Harkness," the Doctor said as she exchanged a salute with the Torchwood agent.
"Always a pleasure, ma'am," he smiled.
"Thanks, Jack," Kim said, holding out her hand to him.
He took it in his and then gave her a questioning look.
"Sure," she nodded.
He raised her hand to his lips and gave it a respectful kiss. "My pleasure. Wish we could have done more."
When he got to Ron, Jack opened his arms wide for a hug. Ron smiled and did likewise.
"See you later, dude," Ron said as they embraced.
"Oh, I'm counting on that," Jack replied cheerfully just before planting a big smooch on Ron's lips.
Kim's mouth fell agape, but, fortunately for all involved, Jack ended the kiss quickly.
"You are one lucky woman, Kim," Jack beamed. "Looks, brains, and an incredible kisser to boot."
Despite herself, Kim said, "Sure is, especially when he doesn't know one's coming."
"Yeah," Jack laughed, "I definitely got that." He flashed another incandescent smile to everyone and exited through the doors.
Kim snagged her tottering and blushing boyfriend, pulled him close, and kissed him behind his ear.
"More biscuits?" the Doctor asked.
"Oh, no," Kim sighed, "I'm good."
Ron, his mouth full, nodded to indicate that he wanted to take up the Doctor's offer.
"Actually," Kim said, "I was wondering if Ron and I could have a moment alone."
After the Doctor returned to the console table, Ron finished his last cookie and asked, "What's up, KP?"
She took both of his hands in hers. "I have a confession to make."
"Ever since this sitch started back in May, I haven't been totally honest with you."
He gave her a look that simultaneously expressed anxiety yet also urged her to continue.
"You kept asking me if I was concerned or worried about the Lorwardians, and I kept telling you I wasn't."
As he waited for her to continue, he maneuvered their hands so that hers were now in his.
"That wasn't true." She paused. "I was frightened."
"That's okay, Kim."
She smiled ruefully, "No, it isn't, Ron. I mean, yes, it was okay that I was frightened. But I should have shared my true feelings with you. Instead, I tried to convince you that everything was fine. That I was fearless." She shook her head. "I was really trying to convince myself. And to do that, I had to lie to you."
He didn't say anything. Only leaned in and kissed her forehead.
"I was so, so flawed," she laughed. "I didn't know how to handle my fears, yet I'm dating one of the world's foremost experts!"
"Hey, that's right!" He laughed. "I've practically got a PHD in panic. You can always come to me, Kimila, if need the downlow on being scared."
"I realize that now," she smiled slightly, but it quickly vanished. "But when I got to Lorwardia, I discovered my biggest fear. And I don't think your advice would have helped."
"What happened, Kim?" he could tell that she was struggling to maintain her composure. He put an arm around her.
"It wasn't anything that happened. Or anything they did or threatened to do to me."
"You had to know I was coming for you, right?"
"Exactly," she nodded, wiping away a tear. "That was what I was afraid of."
"I kept imaging you in one of my dad's Kepler rockets coming to rescue me." She took a couple of deep breaths.
"Okay, sure. What's so scary about that?"
"Lorwardia is almost three hundred light years from Earth, Ron. Even if the Kepler could go the speed of light and it so can't, it would be three hundred years before you got there."
"Yeah, I get it," he said sadly. "I'd never be there in time to save you."
"No, no, Ron," she said. "Forget about me! What about you?"
"Okay, I'm totally lost."
"Ron, the thought of you growing old in that ship, wasting the rest of your life in the depths of space—that was the WORST THING I could ever imagine."
"No, Kim, you're wrong," Ron said a little louder than he had meant to. "I wouldn't be wasting my life. I'd be doing the most important thing I ever could—I'd be trying to save you."
"I know what you're saying, Ron. And, believe me, I so appreciate it." She gripped his hands, "But don't you see? You'd be spending your entire life trying to save me, and I'd already be dead."
"I don't care!" Ron cried. "I'd still do it."
"I know you would, Honey," she took his face in her hands. "But listen …" she broke down. Once she had regained some control, she raised her pooling eyes to meet his. "Ron Stoppable, you deserve so much more than a life spent all alone."
Kim and Wade neared the end of their Roncom call.
Although Wade had no idea how she'd done it, "Karin" had repaired Kim's room so that it appeared as if the Lorwardians had never attacked. He was still theorizing how she could have persuaded contractors to work so quickly, and on such short notice, and without him noticing when Kim tactfully changed the subject by asking about Michelle. Fortunately, Kim's roommate had woken up a few hours after Ron and Jack had left in the Tardis. From what Kim could surreptitiously gather, Michelle had only lost her memories from right after Wade's arrival. This was lucky, not the least because the young woman hadn't been too shocked when she found Wade sleeping at the kitchen table early Tuesday morning. Wade suggested she get a CT scan in case these lost memories were due to a concussion.
"Thanks for everything, Wade," she said. "You rock."
"Any time, Kim."
"And you know what else?" she asked. "I love you."
"Uh, me too," he replied in voice that was only slightly awkward.
After the call ended, Ron said, "That's great about Michelle. I was so worried Elda had erased her memory back to junior high."
Kim smiled faintly. "I still can't get my head around the fact that she tried to save me."
"You should have been there, KP. Elda was seriously amped about getting us off our butts to rescue you. And if she hadn't been weirded out by the Tardis, she would have joined the party."
"Here it is!" Yaz cried from the console room.
"So that's where I put it!" the Doctor cried in reply. "Did I ever tell you that I turned my first radio into a clockwork squirrel?"
Kim looked over her shoulder at the console room. "You know, Ron, we must have the most unusual group of friends in the world."
"In the universe," he corrected.
Suddenly, an unpleasant screech like someone switching radio stations filled the Tardis causing Kim and Ron to cover their ears.
"Sorry!" the Doctor called.
Once the static gave way to sound, the air was filled with a pleasant, slowly building melody.
Kim suddenly griped Ron's arm. "Ron?" she breathed eagerly.
"Do you hear that?" she asked with a broad smile.
"Uh, the song?" he answered, somewhat confused by her amped reaction.
"You don't recognize it?" she asked.
"Well, yeah, it's from our childhood. From one of your father's records."
"I don't think so, KP," he shook his head. "I've never heard this before in my life."
"Really?" She seemed majorly disappointed.
"Well, I don't remember it," he said. "I mean, I like it, but it's totally new to me."
"Wow," she frowned. "I was so sure that I'd heard it from one of the tapes you made me or when I was over at your house when I was little."
By this time, the song had majorly upped its tempo, and Ron found that his feet were tapping along. It also hadn't escaped his attention that his girlfriend was humming along the melody. He stood and extended his hand to her. "Would you like to dance, KP?"
"You know I would," she smiled. Grabbing his hand, she pulled him toward the source of the music near the Tardis's console.
When she saw them approach, the Doctor explained, "We thought you two might like some music."
As the duo began an impromptu tango around the console, Yaz grinned, "And, apparently, we were right."
The Doctor and Yaz watched as Kim and Ron spun each other around the room. They made unlikely dance partners. Kim was all fluid motion and grace. Ron, on the other hand, was complete and utter improv. Yet, somehow, improbably, they always managed to be in the right place and the right time to complement each other's movements. This proved especially true as the song reached it conclusion. When the final notes faded, the two were in each other's arms.
Yaz wasn't sure if she should clap, but the hoots and cheers the Doctor made when the song ended her decision a moot one.
"Would you like to hear it again?" the Doctor asked.
"Please and thank you," Kim beamed.
The Doctor pointed her "pen" at the portable radio laying on the console, and the song began playing again.
"What is that?" Ron asked.
"Oh, this? It's my sonic screwdriver," the Doctor replied.
"Wait, I remember that," Ron said. "But Jamie said it could only make noise."
"Well, I've given it a few upgrades since then," the Doctor explained.
The second dance proceeded pretty much like the first. The couple did a slow dance for the song's first movement and then commenced with their unlikely paired solos during the up-tempo middle part. This was almost torpedoed when the Doctor decided to accompany them with her own odd "dance." She raised both hands over her head, bent her knees and began running up and down shaking her body from side to side as she went. Fortunately, Yaz was able to intercept her before she could cause any serious damage.
"What were you doing?" Yaz asked, trying hard not to laugh.
"The 'Drunken Giraffe' obviously!" the Doctor huffed.
As the song came to its close, Kim found that she knew the words well enough to sing along. "And now when twilight dims the skies above/Recalling thrills of our love/There's one thing I am certain of/Return, I will, to old Brazil." As the closing notes faded, Kim and Ron clung to each another. And they stayed that way when all was silent save for the random beep from the Tardis.
After a few minutes, the Doctor approached them. "Would you like to hear it again?" she asked.
"Actually," Kim said softly, "I think we're getting tired." She motioned to Ron, whose head was resting on her shoulder and seemed only a few seconds away from sleep.
"Would you like a copy of the song?" the Doctor asked.
"Please and thank you," Kim whispered.
The Doctor pointed the sonic screwdriver at Ron's pocket that contained the Roncom, and it buzzed. "All yours," she said.
Kim and Ron were both asleep. Kim was in Ron's lap and he was sitting so that his back was supported by one of the large crystal stalactites that encircled the central console.
"Shouldn't we be getting these sleeping beauties back home?" Yaz asked.
"Yes, Jamie, I suppose we should get them back to bed," the Doctor answered.
"Sorry, Yaz," the Doctor apologized. "Mind's drifting." She turned a couple of knobs on the console. "I still don't understand how she found my recorder in her bedroom."
"And you're sure that you used it after you met them?"
"I'm certain. And, yet, how else can it be explained?" She sighed. "Okay, let's take them back."
Suddenly, the Tardis pitched unexpectedly to the left. The motion was violent enough that Yaz almost lost her footing. However, before she could even cry out, the Tardis righted itself. She shot a quick look to Kim and Ron; they were still sleeping. "What was that?" she asked softly
"Not sure." The Doctor was busy checking over instruments on her panel of the console. "But it looks like we've landed safely."
"We landed? I didn't hear the noise."
"I decided to keep the breaks off," the Doctor explained. "I don't want wake them."
"So that's the trick you learned from your 'wife'? 'Taking the breaks off' prevents that wheezing, groaning noise," Yaz asked with an arched eyebrow.
The Doctor nodded.
"Why don't you always leave them off?"
The Doctor looked scandalized. "I LIKE that noise. It's a fantastic noise!"
Yaz urgently put her finger to her lips.
"Sorry," the Doctor whispered.
"When did you plan on telling me about her?" Yaz asked pointedly.
"I didn't," the Doctor admitted. "But I guess I'll have to soon." She looked over at Kim and Ron. "Until we meet again, Team Possible." The Doctor flipped a lever on the console, and Kim and Ron vanished.
"Where did they go?" Yaz asked in a panic.
"In her bed," the Doctor replied calmly. "When we landed, we landed atop of Kim's bed, and we just now took off again—leaving them as undisturbed as possible."
Kim shifted uncomfortably on the bed in the darkness. Ron's arms were draped over her shoulders and his legs were tangled up with hers. However, that wasn't what was making her so uncomfortable. Something in her pocket was. Drowsily, she dug into her right cargo pocket. This wasn't easy because it was underneath her. Finally, she pulled out the Doctor's recorder and absently tossed it to the side.
With difficulty, she turned over so that she was facing Ron and then pulled him closer to her. As she did, he reacted by pulling her closer to him. He felt so warm, so good. She stroked his thigh and inadvertently turned on the Roncom in his pocket. It began playing "Brazil" softly. She was going to try to turn it off, but then decided she wanted to fall back asleep to the music. Typically, she never needed anything but complete darkness to fall asleep. But she had already noticed that the nightlight was on.
And it was on. It was casting shadows all over the room, even under the bed. In fact, Pandaroo's shadow practically obscured the Doctor's recorder which had landed right beside the plush under the bed.
In fact, the only place that wasn't touched by these shadows was the loft's entrance where a little girl stood on the top rung staring at the couple sleeping in her bed.
"Hold up," the Doctor said suddenly. She checked the readings and then checked them again. "We've got to go back."
"What's wrong?" Yaz asked.
"We dropped them off at the wrong place," the Doctor breathed.
"What do you mean? They're not in her bed?"
"No, they are in her bed," the Doctor said as she scrambled with the controls. "However, they're not in her bed in Tokyo. They're in her bed in Colorado. At her parents' house."
"That's worse," Yaz said, her eyes getting extremely wide.
Finally, Kim could take it no longer, she needed to find out who the couple were sleeping in her bed. She climbed down the ladder and retrieved her mother's flashlight. As she reclimbed the rungs, she thought she saw a couple of flashes of light in the loft's opening. However, once she poked her head into the room, the only light was Ron's nightlight.
She climbed into the room on shaky legs. Taking a deep breath, she pointed the flashlight at the bed and switched it on.
It was empty. And then she noticed the song wasn't playing either.
She stood in the semi-darkness for a couple minutes, not sure what to think. Or what to do next.
Then she remembered Pandaroo. She began to search for him by pointing the flashlight at every likely place he would have been. After a few moments, she realized she could just turn on the bedroom light. Once she had done that, it took her hardly any time at all to locate him under the bed.
But then she found something else.
No, that can't be.
Nervously and without really thinking about what she was doing, she picked up the recorder and tossed it into a box in her closet and slid the closet door shut. She flipped off the light, climbed down the ladder with Pandaroo under her arm, and went down the stairs, two steps at a time, until she was safe under her Pandaroo baby blanket and just two feet from her sleeping best friend.
After everything she had experienced that night (whether she had dreamed them or not), Kim didn't think there was any way she would be able to fall back asleep. However, within five minutes she was.
The magical combination of the softness of Pandaroo, the remembered tones of a recently heard melody, and the snores of her very best friend soothed Kim Possible's mind enough for her to begin to dream once more.
Author's note: The song Kim and Ron dance to is "Brazil" as performed by Pink Martini. Special thanks to MrDrP for introducing this song to me. It was integral to a scene he devised (but, unfortunately, never used) for one of his excellent stories some years ago. He generously allowed me to riff of his concept for this story.