As Mr. Barkin returned to room 12 - where his charges remained pending his return to detention - his expression (which had been carefully neutral to conceal any hint of his thoughts and plans), involuntarily twisted, flickering between disappointment, dismay, and disgust before settling into a grim mix of all three emotions. He froze just inside the doorway, his eyes glued in shock to Ron as he in turn stared blankly at the empty chalkboard - instead of listening to Kim as she read a section of her class notes aloud.
The sheer gall of Ron's disobedience of his orders - especially considering the brevity of the administrator's absence - very much rubbed Mr. Barkin the wrong way, rendering moot his attempt to mask his emotions. "Stoppable," he growled, shaking his head in dismayed disbelief. "You're a real piece of work, you know that?"
Ron's face spun to face Mr. Barkin almost comically fast at the first hint of his familiar growl, and even as the teen turned, his startled jump sent his knees crashing into the underside of his desk in an overreaction that not even Global Justice had ever been able to adequately quantify. "Ow! I wish people would quit doing that to me," Ron complained as he rubbed the stinging joints. "My knees can't take this much abuse."
Mr. Barkin didn't deign to respond to the gripe; inattention brought its own punishment, as Ron should have learned long before now. "You were supposed to keep him on task, Possible," the administrator growled, turning the full force of his glower upon the other student.
"I was! Tell him..." Kim trailed off as a nasty suspicion took root, then turned to frown at Ron. "Wait... Ron? Weren't you listening to me?"
"I don't want to hear it!" Mr. Barkin cut her off. "You both have detention. Or should I say, more detention," he informed them darkly. "Friday. After school. You will be here," and the edge in his voice promised dire retribution if these orders were disobeyed in the slightest.
Kim opened her mouth to protest the punishment, but held herself mute. Mr. Barkin's grim expression told her the likely result of a protest - and it wasn't a reduction of the penalty. "Yes, Mr. Barkin," Kim reluctantly agreed. She turned and scowled at Ron, the look hitting him with an intensity that was more powerful than a mere physical blow ever could have been when he remained silent.
At the unsubtle prompt, Ron reluctantly chimed in, flinching away from Kim's displeasure, "I know, I know, K.P. I'll be here too. It just seems like I'm always here lately," he concluded under his breath.
Kim continued to scowl at him, but didn't speak aloud, not wanting to risk running further afoul of Mr. Barkin's visibly soured mood. Nothing could prevent her from indulging in mental griping, however. "Why is Mr. Barkin giving me detention? That is totally unfair; it's like our science projects all over again." "This is all your fault," she told Ron under her breath.
"Good," the administrator growled, ignoring the not-so-quiet comments from the peanut gallery. He glanced back and forth between the two until he was satisfied that they understood both how serious he was, and how determined he was to see them here again on Friday, then concluded, "I think we're done for tonight."
Ron blinked and looked up at the clock mounted above the chalkboard. "But we've only been here..." he began, then stopped as his eyes widened in realization. "Wait, what am I saying? Boo-yah! We're free! Let's go, K.P.!" He quickly began sifting his materials from out of the mix of books and papers in front of him, gladly getting ready to go.
Kim frowned, but after a brief hesitation slowly began to collect her books and notes as well. "You are going to finish your homework when you get home, right?" she prodded Ron as she tucked her history book into her backpack.
"Sure, whatever," Ron agreed without hesitation, but his attention was clearly not on her.
Kim wondered briefly if he had even heard what she'd asked; he was obviously inattentive. "You will do it, Ron," she ordered, her eyes narrowing.
"Anything you say, K.P.," Ron mumbled under his breath as he rose to his feet.
The click as Mr. Barkin stopped the counter on his stopwatch precisely as Ron's seat vacated his chair caused Kim to shake her head in disbelief - of both Ron and Mr. Barkin. "Ron may need to focus, but Mr. Barkin definitely needs to throttle back on his focus."
As the administrator wrote down the length of time Ron had served in a little notebook he pulled from his breast pocket, Kim made a mental note to cover today's material with Ron again on Friday. "I guess we'll have plenty of time to cover it," she winced in annoyance. "But maybe putting it off until later is for the best. Homework's obviously the last thing on Ron's mind right now," Kim realized.
To Kim's surprise, despite her irritation with Ron for managing to earn her detention, Ron's distraction didn't really annoy her. "At least he's not still thinking about whatever it was that freaked him out so badly in the lair," she consoled herself pragmatically. With that thought cheering her and easing her conscience about ignoring Ron's obvious intent to procrastinate, Kim rose from her seat and followed her friend out, leaving Mr. Barkin to his thoughts in the quiet solitude of detention.
"I'm home," Kim called out as she closed the front door of her house behind her.
"Hi, Kimmie. You're home late. Was it a mission?" her mother asked.
"Not really," Kim answered as she slipped her sneakers off beside the door. "We finished one earlier, though. It was Drakken again. No big. I was just going over Ron's homework with him while he was in detention."
"That was nice of you, dear. Ron's such a nice young man, and he seems really devoted to you."
Kim's expression shifted minutely. "I know," she answered quietly.
Kim's mother blinked at the look on her daughter's face. "Is everything all right, dear?" Mrs. Dr. Possible asked, setting aside the papers she was reading and rising to her feet. She rested a hand on her daughter's shoulder, then gently stroked the edge of Kim's lip with a finger, tracing the split and the precursor of a bruise that was blossoming beside it. "Oh my; does that hurt?" she asked sympathetically.
Kim tongued the split in her lip briefly, then shook her head, dismissive of the injury. "No, it's fine. Mom... I..." she trailed off, trying to articulate her confused thoughts and feelings.
"You know you can tell me anything," Kim's mother reassured her, ducking her head so she could look her daughter directly in the eye.
Kim's face twisted, her expression a mirror of her troubled thoughts as they swirled through her mind in a disorganized jumble of uncertainty. "Ron was really freaked out. Why wouldn't he listen to me? Is he really okay, or is he hiding something that's really wrong? He was so normal for weeks before this... What was he talking about when he was screaming like that? Is he getting better? Is it normal for him to go from freaked to normal to out of it so quickly? What did Gemini do to him, anyway? Did Gemini really try to get Ron to kill me? How did Ron get so fast?"
Eventually, Kim's expression cleared, even if the maelstrom of her turbulent thoughts didn't calm. Despite her uncertainty, she said only, "No, it's nothing. I guess I'm just tired."
Mrs. Dr. Possible frowned slightly, but didn't dispute Kim's patently false response as she straightened. "Well, just remember; a trouble shared is a trouble halved. Any time you want to talk - about anything at all - you know I'll be there for you."
That brought a smile to Kim's face. "Even if it's on speaker phone?"
Chuckling, her mom agreed, "Even if I'm knuckle deep in a cerebellum."
"Thanks, mom," Kim hugged her. "You rock."
"You rock too, Kimmie."
Mrs. Dr. Possible watched her visibly troubled daughter climb the stairs towards her bedroom. Returning to her papers, she mused, "Kimberly's so self-reliant - too much so, sometimes. She should know by now that just because anything is possible for a Possible, doesn't mean she has to do it alone." Despite the thought, she sighed, knowing her daughter didn't see it that way.
As she returned to the case histories she was analyzing, Mrs. Dr. Possible reassured herself, "Well, at least she has Ronald to help her."
Kim dropped her brown leather backpack beside her desk and let herself fall backwards onto her bed, her arms wide in a cruciform posture. Staring at the ceiling, she sighed, momentarily overtaken by a melancholic confusion. "Ron..."
She could never remain angry at Ron for very long; they simply had too much history together. Already the irritation Kim felt at "earning" detention was long since forgotten, but without the shielding heat of anger, her confusion and uncertainty were unclouded - and if there was one emotion Kim loathed feeling, it was uncertainty.
Looking up at the mobile from the Middleton Space Center gift shop that her father had given her on her last birthday as it dangled from the ceiling above her desk, she watched a tiny orbiter spin at the end of it's monofilament tether. As the silver space vehicle spun in its orbit, sending minuscule shards of light across her room, her thoughts were far away as she silently marvelled, "Ron went through those henchmen like they weren't even there. And I didn't even see him move when he hit me; he was fast."
Rolling over onto her stomach, Kim buried her face in the warm expanse of her pink comforter as her arms bunched the fabric into a soothing nest. "I've never seen Ron so freaked before," she thought, then was startled to realize how true the observation really was. "I've seen him freaked out by bugs, robot horses, giant lasers, heights, mutants, self-destruct mechanisms, deathtraps, and even monkeys, and he's never been so out of control." Scowling, her expression twisted against her bedclothes. "Ron's never tried to hit me before, either. Gemini..."
Kim unconsciously tongued the inside of her split lip, feeling the almost-pain sensation as the still-healing injury stretched at the pressure. "Ron didn't really hit me," she thought. "He just... reacted. And once he realized what he'd done, he... came back to himself, then... just... withdrew. Shut down. But why?"
That she would have to help Ron work through this was patently obvious to Kim. "Total no-brainer. I've got to help him deal. But how?" As much as it galled her to admit it - even to herself - Kim didn't know where to begin for something like this. "And he didn't respond to me at all after he... went away. He only responded to Rufus. How can I help him when he gets like that if he won't listen to me? And why is he freaked out by some things, and not others?"
After a moment's thought that failed to answer her questions, Kim levered herself off the bed and seated herself at her desk. Turning on the monitor on her computer, she watched the image of her desktop appear as the CRT slowly warmed to life. For a moment she hesitated, then her resolve firmed. "I have to do this," she reminded herself, then added, "and I want to do this. Ron's my best friend, and it's my fault he's freaked. Gemini wouldn't have gone after Ron if he hadn't saved me, so it's my responsibility to help him get better again."
With her resolve and conviction solidly reinforced, Kim's attention focused on her computer. Opening a web browser and starting a search engine, Kim carefully entered "'brain sifter' flashback symptom" in the text box, then hit enter. Scrolling down the resultant list of sites, she bypassed the first six results (that they linked to pornographic sites was obvious from either the text of the links or the summaries displayed), as well as the next two ("What kind of a name is that for a band?"). After passing over these entries, she found a link that looked promising - one that led to a page on the NIMH website. She clicked on the link.
As the page slowly began to display on her monitor, Kim frowned at the speed of the download - or more precisely, the lack of it. "Using the Kimmunicator would be faster than this - but that would tell Wade everything I'm doing. It's not like he can't figure out what I'm doing even when I work on this machine though, but... Will he figure it out anyway? Or bother to check? And does it matter?" Remembering Wade's expression when she had called for extraction from Drakken's volcanic lair, she wondered, "Or does Wade know what I'm thinking about already? Should I ask him what he thinks? Will he tell GJ that Ron's still having issues?"
She eventually resolved to set her concerns about Wade's thoughts aside for now. "I'll have to think about it. Wade usually does what I tell him to do, anyway, so it shouldn't matter."
At length, the web page finished loading, and setting aside her uncertainty, Kim determinedly began to read. "Brain-Sifter ('brAn(-)'sift-er)..."
"One lump or two?"
The man's voice startled Ron, coming as it did from nowhere. Because of the darkness, Ron eventually realized his eyes were closed, so he opened them.
Ron blinked as the light set his eyes aching. "What?" he asked, blinking furiously. As his vision slowly cleared, the man standing beside Ron politely hefted his tray, calling attention to the white ceramic teapot steaming contentedly from its position atop his upraised hand.
Confused, Ron looked more closely at the man. He was thin, and what little of his hair remained was as white as the falling snow Ron could see through the frost-kissed window across the room. Despite his jovial smile and friendly demeanor, Ron somehow knew he had never met the man before in his life. "What the...?" Ron wondered as he stared into the man's hazel eyes. "Who is he?"
"One lump or two?" the man repeated, still smiling cheerily.
Ron abruptly realized he was gaping at the man, and closed his mouth with a click as his teeth met. He apologetically mumbled, "Um... two. Thanks, I guess."
"It's what I'm here for," the man answered with a grin. Setting aside his tray, he lifted the teapot and positioned it over the cup that Ron abruptly noticed rested on a table in front of him. "Would you like to do the honors?"
"What?" Ron asked in confusion.
Smiling, the man turned his arm, offering Ron the teapot's handle.
"Nah, go ahead," Ron instructed, still feeling croggled.
The man chuckled, and pressed a dark green button on the side of the pot that Ron hadn't noticed before. With a faintly mechanical burr that flickered at the edges of Ron's memory with a sense of familiarity, a steady stream of molten cheese poured out of the bottom of the teapot, filling Ron's cup.
Ron stared as his cup slowly filled with steaming processed cheese product. His nostrils flared at the familiar scent of Bueno Nacho's finest cheese sauce.
When the cup was full, the man returned the teapot to the tray. Picking up a pair of glittering metallic tongs in his freed hand, he then proceeded to lift two small cubes of cheddar from the serving tray, and drop them into the steaming yellow sauce. The cubes sank into the sauce but didn't fully submerge, forming islands of a deeper orange in the semi-fluid liquid.
"Embrace the nog."
Hefting the tray after making the cryptic comment, the man casually walked away, ignoring Ron's confused, "What are you talking about?"
Boggled and uncertain Ron could only watch as the man marched off, leaving the warm scent of cheese floating in an inviting and almost tangible trail behind him. The door the man passed through swung shut with a solid finality behind him, and Ron found himself alone.
Without other distractions, Ron glanced down into his cup. Atop the mellow orange of the cheese sauce, the cheddar cubes had dissociated, leaving a swirl of oily red-orange floating on the surface. Ron casually lifted the cup, his pinky extended as he held the delicate handle, which seemed far too small for his fingers, and carefully took a drink of the steaming brew.
His eyes widened in surprised delight. "Delicious," Ron marvelled as he licked his lips - both to savor the residue and to ensure that he didn't miss the smallest bit.
Setting aside his drink, Ron suddenly realized he was seated in his own dining room. With that realization came the startling discovery that he was also seated at the head of the table - where his father sat on those few instances where they actually ate together like a normal family. He briefly contemplated moving to his usual spot along one side, but for some reason sitting where he was felt natural, so he remained.
From the archway leading to the living room, he could hear the TV - and the familiar, beloved sound of Snowman Hank. As the faint but enthusiastic cry of "embrace your fellow maaaaan..." drifted to his ears, Ron rose and walked over to the arched opening.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, while a clockwork Santa waved his beard's white hair. The Christmas tree glittered with ornaments and lights in a rainbow of hues, while the menorah on the sideboard flickered, all nine candles glowing and new. Snowman Hank strummed his ukelele singing about the meaning of friendship from the TV, while a ceramic Rudolph's nose glimmered with glee.
And Frederick in his spacesuit, and Chippy in her Nana dress... - Ron blinked in surprise - ...were snuggled by the fireplace sipping cheese nog from hollowed out coconut shells. When the simian celebrants noticed Ron's arrival, Frederick lifted his tropical glass in salute, then pressed a few buttons on his wrist. ( Ook ) a synthetic voice announced.
Ron smiled as the simian astronaut lightly tapped his coconut glass against the monkey ninja's as they raised them in a silent toast to their host. "Ook eek," he told the monkeys cheerily. "Those crazy monkeys," he thought fondly.
As Ron spoke, the lights on the tree abruptly began to glow blue; even the string of chaser lights surrounding the Magen David perched on the pinnacle of the tree began to burn with a constant blue light, the simulated motion of the blinking lights stilled. At that moment, the sound of glasses clinking together coming from behind him made Ron realize that someone was in the kitchen - and that wonderful smells were emanating from within. "Mother? Need help?" he called as he turned, all but drooling in anticipation of the feast to come.
"I've got it, dear," a woman's voice called back.
Ron blinked. "That's not mom," Ron wondered in surprise. His brow furrowed, but before he could think more on the strangeness oddity, he was distracted by a call.
"Boys!" the woman's voice called out, louder and sharper and comfortingly familiar. "Dinner's ready!"
Arm in arm, Frederick and Chippy walked past Ron into the dining room, and as Ron turned to follow, a blur of red and green raced by, brushing against him and all but spinning him in place. Ron paused as the monkeys seated themselves along one side of the rectangular table and the Possible twins seated themselves at the other.
"Why are the tweebs' eyes green?" Ron wondered as he slowly returned to his place at the head of the table. "Aren't their eyes blue? And did they bleach their hair?"
"Who's hungry?" the woman's voice called out from the kitchen, the question cheery and bright with anticipation.
"We are!" the tweebs called. The monkeys smiled at each other, and Frederick reached out to hold Chippy's hand in his.
Ron licked his lips as he took another drink of cheese nog. Though it was hard to imagine how it could have been possible, the aromas coming from the kitchen smelled even more appetizing than before. And although he'd never contemplated drinking cheese nog - the marvelous mix of Bueno Nacho cheese sauce with just a dash of cheddar - before, he made a mental note to have it again - it tasted wonderful.
"I'm hungry, too," Ron called out, sitting up in his seat. "It smells great!"
Kim eyed Ron worriedly from her position beside him on the bench seat. "Didn't you eat before we got in the helicopter?"
Looking frantically around, Ron blinked in confusion. "What are you talking about?" he asked. "It's time for Christmas dinner. Try the cheese nog; it's won-der-ful," he added, slurring his words slightly. Although he was mostly awake, his eyelids were still drooping, heavy with slumber.
Chuckling, Kim asked teasingly, "Have a nice dream?"
Scrubbing his face with his palms, the familiar feel and smell of his mission gloves brushed away some of Ron's confusion. "It was all a dream?" he asked uncertainly.
"Sounds like it," Kim told him gently. "Was it a good one?" she asked.
"It was Christmas dinner at my house," Ron dreamily answered, closing his eyes to help recapture the fading feeling of joy. "The tweebs were there... and Frederick and Chippy... it was snowing... Snowman Hank was on TV..."
"It sounds nice," Kim admitted. "Think your mom will let you do something for Christmas at your house this year?"
Ron rubbed his eyes, clearing granules of dried grit from the corners. "No," he sadly denied. "But it was so nice... It just felt so real..." he told her dreamily.
"Well, it's time to wake up and get your head in the game," Kim told him firmly, straightening her back as she patted his thigh in commiseration. "Señor Senior, Senior isn't going to surrender on his own, and we have to recover the stolen prototype."
"I guess," Ron mumbled, his eyes unfocused. Something about the dream teased at the edge of his mind, but he couldn't quite figure out why he felt so... saddened at awakening. He licked his lips, tasting a phantom memory of cheese and cheese, his nose tantalized by the scent of cooking dinner, and the sense of the holidays in the air.
"Focus, Ron," Kim ordered. She turned Ron's face with one hand so that his gaze met hers. "You with me, partner?" she asked.
Ron blinked, and his eyes met hers as the memory faded like so much pixie dust, leaving only a vague disappointment like a sour aftertaste across his thoughts. "Yeah," he nodded, shaking himself fully awake as he pulled his chin from her grasp. "I'm ready."
"Good," Kim nodded in satisfaction, shifting into mission mode herself. "Let's get suited up. Remember, we're taking a stealth approach this time."
Nodding his acceptance, Ron joined Kim in slipping a drysuit on over his mission clothes. The job was hampered by the close quarters and the tightness of the material, but they were well accustomed to irregular methods of transportation and making do with available space.
Despite the difficulty of the process, the familiar routine of checks of connections, straps, and gauges helped banish the last traces of the dream from Ron's mind. He shifted his shoulders, settling the suit more snugly around his neck while giving his arms more freedom of movement. He turned in his seat and as Kim strapped on her fins, he tightened a strap under her left arm, securing the small, emergency air tank more securely to the small of her back. He settled his own, then leaned back in his seat as best he could with the tank strapped to his back.
The rubbery material of his flippers squeaked as he slid his slip-booted feet into them, but the straps to hold them onto his feet snapped into place reassuringly easily. Ron tucked his mission gloves into a waterproof carryall, then pulled on a specialized pair of swim gloves.
Ron flexed his fingers, spreading the membranous webbing on the gloves. With his hands inside the grey material of the gloves, they looked oddly batrachian, and Ron's gaze was riveted to them as he slowly spread his fingers, watching the flexion and movement of the webbing as he did.
Kim paused in her own efforts as she watched Ron gaze intently at his gloves. "Are you going to be okay for the swim to Senior's island?" she asked worriedly, resting her hand on his shoulder.
Ron shrugged, and Kim's hand slid slickly across his rubbery suit before dropping off. "Sure. Why wouldn't I be?"
Despite her attempts to research Ron's condition, Kim felt she was no closer to a solution to his problems. Ron was simultaneously both too extreme and too normal in his reactions, and the odd dichotomy negated all the recommendations and diagnostic information about treatment that she had been able to find online. "Ron freaks out - breakdown flashback total withdrawal freakout - at the strangest things... Touching my face, Shego's plasma... But he's just fine with other things that I'd have thought would be much more likely to freak him out. I just don't understand him - or this," she admitted silently.
"I wish I could get a hold of GJ's full report on Ron - especially the psyche profile," Kim thought as she pulled on her balaclava styled cowl and tucked her hair inside, "but I don't want Dr. Director or Wade getting suspicious by asking for it." The thought of losing Ron to either additional GJ testing or a medical facility rated somewhere close to apocalyptic in her thoughts. "I need him," she admitted to herself, but chose not to question how or why too closely.
Kim pensively returned Ron's shrug, distracted by her unspoken concerns as Ron continued gearing up having shaken off his own distraction. "Still, if he's not worried about it, I'm certainly not going to remind him about what happened the last time we were in the ocean," she wryly thought. "Oh, no reason," she answered shortly.
"I wish Rufus was here, but he really looked sick this morning," Kim worried. "Who knew there would be a kind of cheese that he couldn't stomach? And with all the things he eats - including five-alarm Diablo sauce - why would a mellow cheese like Jarlsburg hit him so hard?"
A voice from the front of the compartment abruptly snapped Kim out of her troubled thoughts. "We're nearing the drop zone, Miss Possible," the pilot called over his shoulder.
As the pilot turned, and his sunglasses slipped lower on his nose, Ron felt an odd sense of familiarity as his eyes met the white-haired pilot's hazel gaze. "Do I know him?" he wondered silently.
"Okay," Kim answered. "When we get there, hover as low as you can and we'll jump out," she told him. "And thanks again for the lift, Mr. Guy."
"Oh, please," the pilot dismissed her thanks with a casual wave of one hand as he turned back to the controls. "After the way you saved my tour business, it's the least I can do."
"It was no big," Kim replied, equally as dismissive of her efforts. "Aerial tours of the islands was the obvious solution."
The steady rumble of the engines shifted into a deeper register and through the curved canopy, the wine-dark waters of the Mediterranean grew closer. "Here we are," the pilot announced, easing back on the throttle to bring the helicopter into a stationary hover over the sea.
Kim opened the side door, letting in the salt smell of the water and a mist of spray kicked up by the downward force of the spinning rotors. "Let's go, Ron." She edged out the door, bracing herself on the landing skid while holding tightly to the door handle for support.
As Ron clambered across the seat to join her, pulling his cowl over his head as he went, the chopper rocked as their shifting weight unbalanced the hover, but the experienced pilot quickly leveled the craft. Kim swung the door shut as Ron backed cautiously towards the rear of the helicopter, his flippered feet flapping and flopping against the textured metal of the skid.
Kim tested the latch to verify the door had sealed. She couldn't hear the click of the mechanism closing above the noise of the engine and rotors, so she was compelled to pause to check it manually. Once she was sure the door had been made fast, Kim waved a final time to the pilot through the side window. When he flashed a cheery thumbs up in response, she turned to grin at Ron. "Let's go!" she ordered.
Ron obediently jumped, holding his equipment tightly against his body and keeping himself braced for the small impact as he went in. Kim smiled in pleased surprise as Ron knifed into the water as beautifully as an Olympic high diver, the small splash his body generated instantly washed away by the chop. "Nice one," she grinned. "He usually isn't that smooth." Kim waited for Ron to surface, then stepped from the skid to join him in the water, taking care to aim herself well away from him as she fell, while also making sure to distance herself from the chopper's movements as the sudden loss of her weight caused it too rock.
She plunged deeply into the Mediterranean, exhaling heavily through her nose to purge the sudden influx of water from her nostrils as she sank. The water swiftly ate her momentum, and she could feel the resistance against her flippers in her ankles. When her descent into the depths finally halted, she kicked her legs strongly, propelling herself back towards the surface.
Gasping as she breached the surface, Kim sent a fine spray of glittering droplets cascading through the air. Treading water as she rose and fell with the swelling of the waves, Kim waved goodbye to Mr. Guy, then watched as the 'copter waggled back and forth to return the wave before flying off.
A small splash caught Kim's attention and she rotated her body with a few gentle kicks of her finned feet to face Ron as he dogpaddled closer. "Where to, K.P.?" he asked.
Kim's gaze raked across the horizon before suddenly stopping. "That way," she pointed, absolute surety in her voice.
Ron's head turned to follow her pointing finger, but the certainty of her selection of direction confused him. "How can you tell?" he wondered aloud, blinking as a wave splashed across his eyes.
"Junior's lamp. You can see the glow if you look carefully," Kim answered with a chuckle. "You ready?"
Ron dunked his goggles into the water to clean the condensation from the lenses, then pulled the white rubber strap over his head. He seated the lenses over his eyes, then checked the mouthpiece on his aqualung before returning it to the catch on his harness. His final equipment checks complete, he answered, "All set, K.P."
Kim grinned as she performed the same series of checks and preparations, then told him, "Let's go." She kicked powerfully with her flippered feet, lifting herself partially out of the water like a porpoise before striking out for the distant glow of the Seniors' latest island lair. Ron's start was less graceful, but soon he was swimming along, moving in Kim's wake.
Ron's awkward cross between the breast-stroke and butterfly was far more irregular and choppy than her polished and precise strokes, but perfectly sufficient for him to keep up with the relatively easy pace she set. They swam in silence, aided by the sea's current as it streamed towards the distant Pillars of Hercules and the Atlantic beyond.
Much to Kim's relief, Ron seemed as untroubled by the swim as he had been in the helicopter. "I'm glad he's handling it so well," she thought as she rolled onto her back to shift swimming styles, unconsciously compensating for the buoyancy of her small airtank.
While on her back, out of the corner of her eyes, she watched Ron as he swam gamely along beside her. To her surprise, Ron's movements had become much more fluid than his usual. "He's getting good at this," she realized. "He's not fighting the water as much." "How's it going, Ron?" she asked.
Ron's head bobbed momentarily over the crest of a wave as he paused at Kim's question, breaking his rhythm. "Going fine," he grunted, then sputtered as his mouth filled with seawater. "Still fine," he asserted, sticking out his tongue as he spat out the brine.
Wincing, Kim paused and let herself drift as Ron briefly floundered. "Oops. Sorry, Ron. Didn't mean to distract you."
"No... Pbtbltpt..." Ron briefly sputtered like a dying motorboat before concluding, "big," as he emptied his mouth once more. After a brief hesitation, he regained his rhythm, and they resumed their stealthy approach to the island.
A beep coming from inside her drysuit's carryall returned Kim's focus to the mission at hand. "Okay, Ron. We're inside the outer defense zone," she warned aloud, slowing to match her pace to Ron's. "So watch out for sentry buoys. If Wade was right, there shouldn't be any along our route, but they do drift, so be careful."
"Gotcha," Ron answered briefly, concentrating more on his swimming than on Kim's words.
Kim rolled onto her back again before wordlessly pointing past Ron. He glanced in that direction, but after spotting the floating sentry drifting further away, he just nodded in acknowledgement of the warning as she rolled in the water, shifting stroke styles once more.
After a time, as the seafloor gradually rose beneath them and the color of the water lightened, a muted double beep heralded, "Inner defense zone. Danger time. Watch for the mines."
"No pressure," Ron mumbled, but continued on without breaking the rhythm of his strokes.
"Ron's definitely getting the hang of this," Kim noted with pride. Although still occasionally awkward, in general his strokes had become as smooth and graceful as hers, and his kicks were much more powerful and focused - propelling him through the water very efficiently. "He's keeping up with me this time - or even better," she suddenly realized. "I've been swimming faster than usual, and he's still kept up."
Making a mental note to remember to congratulate him on his improvement, she concentrated on watching for mines, the better to help Ron keep his own concentration on swimming. As they passed through the inner, more dangerous defensive ring surrounding the Seniors' island lair, Kim was pleased with Wade's job of selecting their infiltration route. She spotted only anti-ship mines rather than anti-personnel mines as they swam towards the island, and even those were far too distant from the course they were threading to be a threat.
As they neared the island, the tidal surge began to assist the swimmers, pushing them towards a sandy beach near the southernmost tip. At length, an incoming wave picked them up in a watery grasp, and as the seafloor swiftly rose beneath them, the wave rapidly built up speed. Team Possible was carried in the sea's embrace over the few remaining obstacles and deposited gently onto the sandy slope in a swirling wash of foam and bubbles as the wave disintegrated on the shoreline.
Even as she slipped her feet out of her flippers, Kim quickly drew Ron away from the open expanse of beach, and into the protective shelter of the base of a low cliff, finding a rocky nook well past the tide's reach. She impatiently tugged Ron along as he hopped after her, one foot still stuck inside a flipper.
Once the duo were safely out of the open, and consequently much less visible, Kim knelt, and by working together, they were finally able to clear Ron's foot from the tangled knot of its safety strap. "Got it," Ron breathed in relief, gladly tossing his swim fins beside Kim's on the sandy ground.
Rising to her feet, Kim pulled her swim goggles over her head and dropped them negligently atop the pile of flippers before stripping off her gloves. "Let's get ready. You did good on the way in, Ron," she praised. "Have you been practicing?"
Ron doffed his own goggles and peeled off the hood of his drysuit. He rubbed at his revealed scalp with both hands, ruffling his matted hair before responding. "Nope, I haven't even been to the pool in a long time. I've been too busy with detention and mission stuff."
"That's kind of funny," Kim mused as she pulled her own cowl free, releasing the crimson cascade of her hair. "You looked way improved - when I wasn't distracting you, anyway," she explained as she combed her hair back with her fingers, brushing her dampened bangs from her forehead.
"I dunno," Ron shrugged, wholly unconcerned about it. "Swimming just felt more... natural than usual for some reason."
Ron quickly turned his back as Kim drew the top half of her drysuit off over her head - unintentionally bringing the hem of her mission shirt along with it. With his back turned, he started stripping off his own drysuit, trying to ignore the occasional squeaks as rubberized material rubbed against itself and the irritated grumbles that came from behind him.
Kim grunted as the rubbery material clung tenaciously to her skin and her mission shirt. "No more off the rack gear," she muttered. "The stuff Wade makes always works so much better."
"We could have just gone with the wetsuits and changed once we hit the island," Ron pointed out while loosening a strap on his carryall.
Snorting, Kim dismissed the idea out of hand. "You know how long it takes to dry this hair? Never mind. Just remind me not to forget the baby powder next time we wear these," Kim instructed. "It makes changing out of these things tons easier." She exhaled heavily with relief as she gladly discarded the inside-out top half of her drysuit. Once free of the tangled suit, she quickly adjusted her clothing, pulling her shirt back down over her sports bra while straightening the hem.
"Whatever you say, K.P." Ron agreed, glancing down at his gloved hands. "They made swimming feel so natural," he thought distractedly. Eventually, despite the weirdness he felt as he looked at them, he replaced the swim gloves with his ordinary grey leather mission gloves.
When he had finished stripping off his gear, and was properly attired for infiltration, Ron piled his discarded equipment somewhat haphazardly beside the rockface, weighing down the cowl and gloves with the unused air tank so it could be collected later.
Since Kim hadn't yet told him it was safe to turn around, Ron limited the range of his movements. He stretched, feeling the burn of exertion from the long swim in the muscles of his chest and shoulders as he twisted and turned, stretching out the aches while keeping his face averted from his potentially unclothed friend. "Hmm... Smell that?"
"Smell what?" Kim asked from behind him.
"The ocean," Ron breathed deeply, drinking in the scents of sun, sand, and surf as he gazed across the rocky shore and the broad vista of the Mediterranean beyond. "One of these days, we should move to the beach somewhere. It would be totally badical to live in a place like this... be able to smell this everyday... see the water... feel the wind." He closed his eyes, savoring the ambience. "Swim everyday..."
"Our parents might have something to say about that," Kim wryly noted, but Ron could tell she was amused. "Not to mention how much it would cost to have our very own private island." "He's in a rare mood. What brought this on?" she wondered.
Ron waved away her protest dismissively. "Dad can work anywhere. Anyway, wouldn't it be great?"
"I'll suggest it at the next Possible game night," Kim chuckled. "Ready to face the Seniors?"
"I guess," Ron admitted, tentatively turning back before relaxing when he saw that Kim was indeed ready. "We should get moving before the tide comes in any further. That stretch," he pointed past Kim to a slope leading towards the island's interior, "will be submerged when the tide rolls in, and I'd rather not swim now that we've ditched the suits."
Kim blinked as she looked where Ron indicated. The bare expanse of beach at the foot of the slope looked little different than any other stretch; there were no obvious indications one way or the other what the rising tide would do to it. "How can you tell?" she wondered aloud.
"I... don't know," Ron hesitantly admitted. "I just do," he shrugged helplessly, unable to explain himself any better.
"O...kay," Kim agreed, stretching the syllables dubiously. "Well, let's go." She walked towards the slope, following the cliff's contours.
Ron followed her, his brow furrowed as he thought about his strange conviction. As they neared the base of the slope, he almost collided with Kim's back as she stopped in her tracks.
"Good eye, Ron," she praised.
"The sand. See? It's swept smooth. And the side of the cliff is discolored; you can see the high water mark. You must have seen it as we came in, and realized what it meant. Nice job."
"Uh...thanks... I think," Ron mumbled to himself as he continued following Kim as she started climbing the steep grade. "I don't remember seeing any of those things. But I must have, right?"
Beneath their feet, the natural slope formed by the runoff from the highlands of the island as it eroded the cliff face slanted sharply upwards as they climbed. The going was difficult, but not impassable, and the thin rubber boots they'd worn beneath their flippers found good traction on the uneven texture of the slope.
Upon reaching the top, and after passing through a grove of trees - the vegetation far too sparse to really be described as forest or woods, they reached the wall surrounding Señor Senior, Senior's island lair. The smooth concrete wall loomed high above them - higher than even Kim could leap, and the loops of razor wire and spikes surmounting it made going over it an even more daunting challenge.
Kim glanced briefly down at the hair dryer-slash-grappling gun she'd drawn from her side pocket, then turned her gaze back to the gleaming razor edges on the coils atop the wall. "Hmm," she thought aloud, then reluctantly shook her head as she returned the device to her pocket. "Nah, the line would just get cut."
Her eyes followed the wall as it receded into the distance, first in one direction, then the other. The wall was utterly implacable and impassible for as far as her eyes could see in either direction, and the sheer uniformity of the expanse made finding a flaw in the barrier seem unlikely. She was still contemplating the possible options when Ron's voice interrupted her thoughts.
"We could always knock."
"What do you mean?" she asked.
Ron pointed ahead, to the shadow of a curve in the wall. A small metal door, recessed into the wall, was all but invisible in the deep shade.
"How could I miss that?" Kim berated herself. After a moment's self-flagellation, she cautiously approached the door, Ron hard on her heels.
"'Knock for admittance; ring bell for deadly peril,'" Ron read the small sign posted beside the door aloud. "I for one vote for knocking."
"It's so obviously a trap, Ron," Kim exasperatedly chided.
"Well, yeah," Ron agreed, "But he tells you so right there," he pointed to the sign. "It was nice of him to warn us about it, too. You have to admit, Senior has class."
Kim rolled her eyes and reached for the door bell. Ron's hand grabbed her wrist before she could touch the button. "Deadly peril, K.P." he warned her seriously. "Deadly. Peril," he enunciated slowly.
Scowling, Kim kept her finger aimed for the bell as she rounded on her partner. "Trust me, Ron. Knocking is the trap. It's how these things work."
"I don't know," Ron hesitated, reluctant to go against her wishes, but just as leery of ignoring the sign's warning. "It just seems too trappish."
Kim didn't bother trying to convince him further. As he visibly dithered between the possibilities, she simply reached around the block of his body and pressed the button with her other hand.
As they fell through the trapdoor that abruptly opened beneath them, Ron's cry of, "I told you, K.P. ... Deadly peril!" echoed down the chasm, chasing their falling forms.
Kim scowled as she fell, irritated both at Señor Senior, Senior for building the trap, and herself for falling for it - literally. "I should have guessed either action would trigger it," she berated herself silently.
Still falling, she reached into the side pocket of her cargo pants and drew her grappling gun. Reaching out with her free hand, she snagged Ron by his collar, drawing his flailing form closer. "Get ready," she tersely ordered, then pulled the trigger, shooting a grapnel up towards the trap door high above.
The sudden stop as the grappling gun arrested their fall was jarring. Kim felt a wrench as Ron's weight pulled on one arm, and their combined weight pulled on the other.
Ron simply gagged as his knit collar tightened around his throat. "Can't... breathe..." he forced out around the noose of black material that was suddenly strangling him. He clutched at Kim's legs and tried to climb up the length of her body in an attempt to loosen the stranglehold she had on him.
From somewhere overhead, a sudden metallic flash erupted from the side of the chasm. The stress on Kim's shoulders vanished as the tension in the lifeline disappeared, and their fall abruptly resumed. "Hey! No fair," Kim shouted as she watched the blade slowly retract back into the wall, having cleanly severed her line.
Releasing her grip on Ron, Kim reached into another pocket to find a replacement grapnel, but before she could fix the grappling gun, the duo's fall came to a sudden end. Green- tinted and slightly phosphorescent water erupted in titanic twin columns as the pair plunged into a deep pool at the bottom of the abyssal fall.
As they fought their way back to the surface, the water they'd thrown into the air at impact began to splash down on top of them - and onto the jagged rocks and the stony ledges surrounding the pool's periphery. Grumbling, Kim swam through the brief, but intense shower to the largest visible ledge and pulled herself out of the water. She awkwardly brushed at her clothing, dislodging some of the moisture, but concurrently making an unpleasant squelching sound. As Ron climbed up beside her, Kim squeezed what water she could from her drenched clothing, her expression sour.
"Hey!" Ron protested as she wrung the hem of her shirt out above his head.
"Sorry, Ron," she scowled. She was thoroughly tweaked as she brushed her drenched locks away from her eyes. "So much for using the drysuits," she thought irritably.
"Eh, no big," Ron soothed, backing down in the face of her anger.
A faint mechanical whirring came from somewhere high above. The pair glanced up, but even with the dim illumination provided by the glowing water, the source of the noise was indeterminate in the gloom.
Before their speculations could run too far afield, a small silver orb sank into view. The whirring deepened in tone as it began to hover, and small orifices appeared as irises opened around the circumference. From one of the new openings, a beam of light was projected, and in the air above them, a 15 foot square holographic image appeared.
"Greetings, Kim Possible," the titanic image of Señor Senior, Senior politely greeted them from the projected hologram.
Kim scowled, but Ron waved cheerily. "Don't forget me, sidekick, here."
"But of course; how could I possibly forget Ron Stoppable? I was most distressed to learn that you no longer perform with the 'Oh Boyz.' While hardly the aficionado of the genre that my son is, I would be the first to admit that your dancing was far and away superior to the others in that group."
"Thanks," Ron wiped a hint of moisture from one eye, moved almost beyond words by the praise.
"And I am pleased as well to see you so thoroughly recovered from your recent travails with Gemini," the older gentleman continued.
"What are...?" Ron began, but Kim interrupted before he could continue.
"Never mind about that," she cut Ron off. "What's your game, Señor?" she demanded.
"Such rudeness," the image clucked his tongue as he shook his head reprovingly.
"She's not usually like this," Ron explained. "She's sometimes bossy, but not usually rude. She's just a little tweaked at the moment."
"Ron!" Kim protested. "I am so not bossy!" she insisted. "Now help me figure a way out of here."
"Now, now," Senior chortled malevolently. "There's no need to fight amongst yourselves. After all, I have gone to a great deal of trouble to bring you to this place - trouble both in time and expense. Building this lair, stealing the experimental solar cell, baiting the trap..."
"I told you it smelled trappish," Ron commented.
"Enough about the trap! Ron, the sign outright said it was a trap. I just didn't realize what kind of trap it was," she scowled quellingly.
Unnoticed, bubbles began to rise to the surface in the center of the glowing pool. Ripples spread from the source of the disruption, the motion of the water obscuring what lay beneath even more than the oddly colored and luminous fluid already did.
"You see," Senior noted proudly, his eyes glowing with vitality despite his greying hair and wrinkled skin, "I had a vision. A dream of an epic struggle... of a combat as old as mankind. A battle pitting man against nature - or to be precise, woman against nature." He suddenly frowned, and lost some of his poise as he grumbled, "And you, Miss Possible, failed to bring my dream to life."
Under the water, a hint of swirling green was briefly seen as something approached the surface. Green and dark green writhed with an obscene muscularity before vanishing once more beneath the frothing ripples.
The disturbance in the water had grown too active to ignore, and both Kim and Ron looked away from the projection as a burst of rising bubbles splashed loudly. The foamy eruption in the center of the pool sent rippling waves washing across the pool to crash against the rocks and ledges.
"This would be the deadly peril part, right?" Ron asked, mostly to himself as the foamy wave lapped at his boots.
Señor Senior, Senior chose to interpret Ron's rhetorical question as one directed towards himself. "Oh, yes," he answered, his lips creasing into a self-satisfied smile that fairly dripped with maleficence as he leaned closer to the camera's lens, magnifying the size of his face in the projection. "Deadly peril indeed," he chortled villainously.
A long section of tentacle briefly breached the surface before submerging once more, hiding beneath the glowing water. "Not good," Kim thought distantly, even as she readied herself for the coming fight.(Note 1)
Ron flinched away from the frothing water, but Kim was relieved to note that it was his normal fear reaction and not the blind, panicky, flashback sort of fear she was becoming increasingly anxious to banish from her friend. "I hope I never see it again," she found time to think, before setting aside all distractions in preparation for combat.
From the foamy depths of the pool, a green dome slowly emerged, a tiger-striped pattern of darker green rippling across the glistening surface as the luminous water trickled down the sloping shape. As Kim watched with concern, an eye with a slitted pupil opened in the side of the domed shape - an eye larger than her head. A nictitating membrane flickered across the eye, blinking as the water trickled down, shed by the rising form of the enormous ovoid head.
As the head rose even further above the water's surface, a fanged maw cleared the water, slime and foam dripping from the dagger-like fangs that filled the mouth of the hideous creature. Tentacles breached the surface to coil around rocky protrusions along the periphery of the cavern, flexing and bulging as the striped coloration on the arms twisted and writhed, causing the saw-toothed suction cups that ran the length and breadth of the underside of the limbs to snap open and closed like tiny suckling mouths.
Despite the horrid appearance and the monstrous size of the creature, both Kim and Ron visibly relaxed as it rose from the water. "A mutant octopus?" Ron shook his head in disbelief and disparagement. "That's your idea of 'deadly peril?' Dude, that is so lame. And here I was getting all worked up, when it's just another mutant octopus."
"Don't knock it when a villain makes a mistake, Ron," Kim reminded him as the octopus continued to rise, revealing it was far, far larger than the last such that she had faced. "Just because we know its weakness is no reason to get complacent." "That's one big octopus," her eyes involuntarily widened as it continued to rise, gnashing its fangs menacingly.
"You are quite correct about the dangers of complacency, my young nemesis," Senior agreed, "but as it happens, you are both wrong in your taxonomic identification." He chuckled ominously as he added, "For this is not a simple mutant octopus."
As the full mass of the creature's body breached the surface, Kim's eyes widened in shocked dismay. "What in the world is that?"
"You see, my feisty foe, I was most disappointed when you failed to realize my vision of a life and death struggle. So, after a great deal more trouble and expense..."
"You made a cyborg mutant octopus?" Kim demanded, staring at the lights blinking from the metallic alloy plating that covered the bottom of the monstrous cephalopod. The robotic components extended from the central mass out over the base of the tentacles - incidentally protecting the vulnerable and highly sensitive nerve clusters that Kim had used to defeat the last mutant octopus they had encountered by tickling it into submission. "And how weird is it that I've seen more than one giant mutant octopus?"
"That is just sick and wrong," Ron mumbled, staring at the titanic creature and the robotic components grafted to it. "On so many levels."
"I would be a poor businessman indeed did I not learn from my mistakes," the billionaire villain pointed out. "And so I had to adapt to truly make my vision come to life. Now, I anticipate a battle for the ages," he paused portentously, then added, "Farewell, Kim Possible, I look forward to a magnificent struggle. I hope you do not disappoint me once again."
With that, the hologram winked out and the glittering orb that had acted as the projector rose, vanishing up the shaft and away from the imminent combat.
In another part of his lair, Señor Senior, Senior leaned back in his throne-like chair, causing the rich, Corinthian leather that sheathed the cushion to creak in protest at the shift in weight. The billionaire's eyes roved across the wall of monitors in front of him, drinking in every detail of the impending conflict that the dozens of hidden cameras inside the cavern revealed to him.
"Oh, yes," he breathed, "It is just as I hoped it would be." He leaned forward in eager anticipation, resting his hands on the head of his cane as he waited for the struggle to commence with bated breath.
The octopus roared, baring its fangs as a blue electrical aura erupted around its cybernetic implants. The lid lowered slightly above the monstrous eye as the halo of electricity flickered out.
The slitted pupil narrowed as it focused upon Kim. The muscles in the tentacles visibly tensed as the colossal head shifted slightly, turning to directly face her. The fangs gleamed as they interlocked as the maw flexed.
Kim leaped into the air as the end of a tentacle abruptly thundered down onto the ledge where she'd been standing. Fragments of rock, sundered by the force of the blow, clattered down onto the ledge and pattered against the water as the rings of muscles in the flexible limb tightened in readiness for another attack.
Ron was thrown from his feet by the force of the impact, slamming his head bruisingly against the wall. "Ow," he whined, slowly sitting up and rubbing at the injured spot on his forehead.
Despite his vulnerability, Ron was ignored by the combatants as the octopus turned to follow the arc of Kim's leap, its single eye locked to her every move. As Kim reached the pinnacle of her jump, Ron suddenly yelled, "K.P.! Look out!"
Kim quickly looked around at Ron's cry, and spotted the tentacle heading her way. With limited options as she fell, she shifted her weight and position, altering her trajectory - not by much, but just barely enough to evade the blow.
After missing its target, the tentacle slammed into the cavern wall opposite the ledge Ron knelt on. Dust rained down, shaken loose from the walls of the abyss above, and a fine network of cracks spread across the wall, forming a roughly rectangular shape in the uneven and rocky surface.
"Hidden door," Kim noted silently as she landed in a crouch atop a jagged boulder. "Once the octopus goes down, we are so out of here." Before she could do more than recognize the egress, she had to leap from her new perch as a blow from another tentacle crushed it into flinders.
Kim dodged blow after blow, and despite the fury of the tentacles' attacks, she managed to land a few kicks and punches on the creature - mostly to the tentacles. Even with the strength and power of Kim's attacks, the blows appeared to do little more than further infuriate the octopus.
With the octopus' eye locked onto Kim, Ron found himself ignored even as the combat escalated. The tentacle that had crashed against the ledge he stood on had wrapped itself around a large nearby rock, and occasionally flexed, but it showed no sign of releasing its grip or of attacking him.
Kim executed a backflip hurkey spring, dodging a lashing tentacle. As the octopus growled in frustration, she launched into a side hurdler liftup that landed her on top of the octopus' head.
Leaping just before the retaliatory strike landed, Kim's double backflip avoided the blow. The octopus emitted a deafening screech as it slapped itself, and the eye pulsed with hatred as it glared menacingly at Kim. "That move won us the state competition two years ago," Kim told the uninterested cephalopod.
As the fight entered a momentary lull as both combatants caught a brief respite, Ron's gaze fell upon that monstrous eye - the iris so dark it was nearly black, the slitted pupil so large he could even see inside to the muscles flexing and contracting as it tracked Kim's movements. Enrapt in his observations, he didn't blink as his gaze sank deeper and deeper into the octopus' eye.
"Ron!" Kim called as she jumped and kicked off the cavern wall. She performed a backflip that carried her over a lashing tentacle, then landed atop another tentacle's knot that the octopus was using to anchor itself, driving down with her boots with all the force of her momentum behind it, mentally bemoaning the fact that she wasn't wearing her sturdier mission boots despite their utter impracticality while swimming.
Ron didn't react to Kim's cry, seemingly mesmerized by the monstrous eye.
Kim rolled away from the thrashing tentacle that had just released its grip. As it drew back to launch another blow, she noticed the tentacle that she'd leaped over wrap itself around a boulder, anchoring itself. "Ah ha," she thought triumphantly. "The robot parts must be too heavy - it can't stay on the surface without holding on."
Her moment of distraction as she found the weakness in the creature lasted just slightly too long for her safety. The loosed tentacle lashed out and coiled around her body, encasing her in a muscular, slowly contracting cocoon. "Ron!" she cried out, straining and thrashing as the entrapping coils began to constrict.
"Ron!" she called again, hoarsely, as the tightening tentacle prevented her from drawing enough breath. Ron didn't move or respond.
"ron," Kim desperately tried again as spots began to appear before her eyes. His name was almost inaudible as life and breath were slowly squeezed from her. All the while, that monstrous eye watched her ever weakening struggles.
As though dazed, Ron slowly stepped forward, knelt, and rested his hand atop the tentacle gripping his ledge. His touch was almost gentle - neither a blow, nor an attempt to tickle, but despite the brevity and tentativeness, it had a profound effect.
Kim gasped and her lungs heaved as the tentacle that had been crushing her slowly began to loosen its grasp. She panted desperately, gulping in air for her oxygen-starved lungs as her compressed chest struggled to expand enough to draw sufficient breath.
Unmoved and seemingly even unaware of her plight, Ron continued to stare into the octopus' eye. As the grip holding Kim slackened further, its body slowly rotated until it was gazing back at him, ignoring its captive for the first time since the beginning of the fight.
When the tentacle had become slack enough, Kim slipped through the loosened coils to collapse awkwardly atop a small rock ledge. She desperately sucked in air, trying to recover from the effects of the crushing grip.
Ron softly stepped onto the tentacle and began to walk up the muscular limb. His balance was uncanny, atypically excellent for him, and he didn't sway as he walked up its flexing length.
Kim wanted to cry out in warning, but her body was too desperate in its attempts to regain breath to respond to her frantic thoughts. "Ron..."
The octopus' maw opened, and its razor sharp fangs spread like a vision of the gates of Hell as Ron walked up the organic walkway... closer and closer... and still closer to the octopus' mouth. Ron neither flinched nor blinked as he approached that terrible orifice - gaping like the mouth of Charybdis and fully capable of swallowing him whole - or even worse, of chomping him into tiny bits in only a few horrific masticating bites.
From within the opened maw, a hooked tongue, meters in length, dripping with yellowish slime and colored a deep, deep green emerged. As Ron neared the ovoid head, it reached out and slowly licked him, leaving a slimy trail from breastbone to ear.
"Ron," Kim finally managed to say aloud, rolling onto her side and reaching out for her friend as he walked unconcernedly into the proverbial lion's den. "Look out..." she panted, but was still too winded, unable to rise or distract the creature from Ron's incautious approach.
Suddenly, and without warning, Ron began to laugh. After a frightening pause, a strange sound emerged from the octopus' maw.
Kim blinked as she struggled to rise to her feet, managing only to rise to her hands and knees. "Is it laughing?"
Still laughing softly, Ron crouched on the metallic armor plate that surrounded the base of the creature's enormous head. His fingers scrabbled about on the polished alloy surface, seeking a grip, but after a moment, he was able to reach beneath a protective cover.
A sizzling sound erupted as a nimbus of crackling blue electrical discharge surrounded both Ron and the octopus, and as Ron and the creature screamed in unison, Ron's hand clutched convulsively inside the hidden compartment. With a grunt of effort, and with muscles twitching uncontrollably thanks to the electricity, he jerked his hand free, ripping something from the hidden socket. As the wires dangling from the thing in his grasp tore free, the electrical aura abruptly winked out.
Slumping beside the massive mouth, Ron glanced briefly at the thing in his hand, then negligently tossed it over the octopus' shoulder and into the water. It barely raised a splash as it went in, and the device quickly sank into the depths of the pool.
The massive tongue unrolled itself from inside the maw and gently began to lick Ron's face. Oddly, despite the ooze left in the tongue's wake, Ron didn't object to the action.
Kim stared in shock as she unsteadily rose to her feet. "If I didn't know better, I'd swear that thing looks apologetic," she thought. "Ron?" she asked aloud, her voice a pale whisper of her usual.
Ron blinked - making Kim realize how long it had been since the last time she had seen him do it - but he remained slightly distracted as he replied, "Yeah?"
"Are you okay?" she asked worriedly. The tongue continued to bathe Ron's face, leaving a trail of slime everywhere it touched. Ron was also much too close to that collection of razor fangs for her to relax.
"We're fine, K.P." Ron mumbled. "Say 'hi' to my new friend."
"Some friend," Kim muttered. "Um..." she began at a louder volume, but couldn't think of a single thing to say.
"I think I'll call you 'Betty,'" Ron told the octopus, gazing up into that monstrous eye.
Kim stared at the huge, one-eyed creature and slowly mouthed the name, "Betty?" "He has the most amazing knack with mutants," she thought with wonder.
With things under control - or to be more specific, under Ron's control, Kim took a moment to collect herself. She wiped the slime left by the tentacle as best she could from her face and clothes, then scowled as she discovered neat circular holes sliced into her shirt and pants. And as Kim brushed at the slime, she also found the fine cuts in her skin that lay beneath them. "Suction cup marks," she realized. The wounds were minor, barely noticeable even, but the cuts were irritating... and she had lots of them.
Injured, but undefeated, Kim shook off the distraction of the pain. "Ron? Shouldn't we be getting out of here?" she cautiously prodded, eyeing the octopus uneasily. She was reluctant to disturb him, unsure of the strength of his control or how long it would persist, but that dagger-fanged maw was far too close to Ron for her comfort.
"Oh, sure," Ron distantly agreed, sounding as though he didn't care one way or the other about the prospect of escape. "Betty?" he prompted.
Betty briefly crooned lovingly to Ron, then slammed a pair of tentacles against the fractured cavern wall. A few powerful blows later, and the wall crumbled into debris - the rock wall, the hidden door, and even the cement wall that had reinforced the rocky cavern were utterly annihilated.
"Um... Shall we go?" Kim tentatively suggested, jumping through the irregular opening to land on the tiled floor in the hallway beyond.
The octopus heaved its vast bulk out of the water and onto the crumbled remains of the wall. As Kim slowly backed down the corridor, it moved forward in a weird undulation, crawling on some of its tentacles, while pulling itself forward using still others.
From his perch on the octopus' robotic shoulder, Ron smiled dazedly, still not blinking despite the dust in the air left by the wall's destruction. "Senior's control room is just ahead," he told Kim - who didn't question his certainty as she eyed Ron and the octopus dubiously.
They moved slowly, limited by the octopus' speed, but despite the ungainly manner of her locomotion, Betty's progress was unrelenting and as inescapable as the tide. When they finally reached the end of the corridor, a sealed door blocked the strange trio's progress.
Kim was unsurprised to see the tentacles tear it - and the wall that contained it - down in seconds; her aching ribs knew full well how strong those fragile seeming limbs truly were. She stood as far away as she could from the creature, not wanting to be too close, but afraid to leave Ron alone with it, no matter how friendly it might seem.
A doorway suddenly opened with a "whoosh" in the room beyond the destroyed wall as an oiled, tanned, muscular figure entered. "Father, I am trying to perfect my tan, but I cannot hear my music while doing so. I must learn all the latest trends if I am to be a world famous pop singer, but I can not do this with all this noise! What is all this crashing and clanging that I am hearing coming from...?"
A tentacle shot out and enveloped the Speedo-clad Señor Senior, Junior before he could finish the sentence. The green limb flexed, setting the tiger-stripe coloration writhing as muscles bulged and shifted beneath the skin.
Kim's ribs ached in sympathy as Junior screamed girlishly, his voice reaching a register that even his favorite female pop idols couldn't reach. "Father, your fish has caught me!" he squealed.
The tentacle tightened around the wannabe pop idol, and Junior's face flushed a ghastly red-purple. He fell silent, unable to spare the air, nor move his torso enough to regain the lost breath.
Wincing, Kim turned to her friend and asked, "Ron? Shouldn't you ask Betty to put Junior down now? Ron?" Kim suddenly flinched as she caught sight of Ron's face.
A ghoulish smile leered from Ron's face, the expression an eerie match for the one on the fanged maw beside him. "Ron?" she asked again, hurrying over to her friend, dodging the tentacles' movements as she did. "Tell Betty to let Junior go," she harshly ordered him.
Junior's eyes bulged as a rattling whimper escaped from his pursed lips. The tentacle flexed, tightening again.
"RON!" Kim screamed in horror, fearing that Ron was about to kill Junior, using the octopus as the murder weapon.
Ron blinked, and the tentacle suddenly relaxed, dropping the younger Senior like so much garbage to lie in a twitching heap on the tiled floor. "K.P.?" Ron asked, his expression... strange, but no longer quite so horrifying.
"Are you... alright?" Kim tentatively asked. In the room ahead, Junior's crumpled form was crawling away, making Kim marvel at the young man's resiliency ("I know exactly what being crushed like that feels like," she thought, feeling an odd sense of admiration), but she ignored his flight, remaining by her friend's side and gripping Ron's shoulder reassuringly as his face slowly blanched as what had happened - and what he'd almost done - began to sink in.
"Stay with me, Ron," Kim urged desperately. "I really wish Rufus were here," she thought frantically. "What happens if Ron loses control - either of himself or of Betty?"
A trilling croon came from between the octopus' fangs, and Ron's expression approached a semblance of normalcy as he smiled slightly. "I'm okay. Sorry about that, K.P. I just..." he trailed off, unable to really explain what had happened.
"It's okay," Kim soothed, squeezing gently before releasing his shoulder, relieved that he sounded normal, even if he still looked more than a little discomfited and distressed. "Let's just go wrap up the Seniors, then head back to Middleton. We do have to get back in time for detention you know," she teased.
"Aw, thanks for reminding me," Ron mumbled, but his smile grew more natural.
Although still leery of the octopus - whose power she'd just seen an unnecessary and graphic reminder of - Kim judged Ron needed her support. She hopped up beside him, onto Betty's armored shoulder, and held his hand comfortingly.
At Ron's prompting, Betty crawled after Junior, following the trail of cocoa butter and octopus slime he had left on the dusty floor.
Kim scowled as they rounded a corner and discovered an opening in the wall of the room they entered. Through the archway lay a grotto - a classic villainous escape route, and the kind that the Seniors had often used to best effect.
Taking a quick look around the room, despite the obvious potential escape route, Kim noted a chair lying on its side in from of an abandoned wall of monitors. Some of the screens on the monitors displayed only static, the cameras feeding those display units obviously having been destroyed either in the fight or during Betty's breakout, but the rest all showed a much too familiar cavern.
The sound of a propeller starting returned Kim's gaze to the grotto. As she leaped from Betty's shoulder to race towards the sound of the engine noise, she heard a distant cry. "Farewell, Kim Possible..."
As she stood in the arched opening and looked out across the grotto, Kim could see a seaplane picking up speed as it headed towards the open sea - and a successful escape. As the plane roared into the distance, picking up speed, the rest of Senior's call was rendered mostly inaudible thanks to both distance and the roar of the plane's engine, but the words "vision," "mutant," "foiled," and "squid," reached her ears.
Scowling, Kim shaded her eyes as the plane took to the air. She tried to guess the course they were following, but she knew it would be of little help. "It's too easy to change direction once they're out of sight, and a man of Senior's wealth can find a safe harbor almost anywhere."
Turning away from the sight of the fleeing Seniors, Kim found Ron climbing down from the octopus' shoulder, leaning on one of her tentacles for support. "Now comes the hard part," she thought.
"So how are we getting back, K.P.?" Ron asked.
"Ron," Kim began carefully. "You do know that Betty can't come with us, right?"
Ron looked crestfallen. "Are you sure? I mean, she doesn't have fur, so dad's allergies won't flare up..." he trailed off hopefully.
Kim simply shook her head in sad negation.
Sighing, Ron looked over his shoulder, but even Betty looked resigned to the separation. Their gazes locked for a time, and Kim wondered what they were saying - not to mention how they were saying it; if their conversation was even audible, she couldn't hear it, no matter how intently she strained her ears. Finally, Ron tearfully told the giant octopus, "I'll miss you too."
Kim stepped back as all eight tentacles rose to surround Ron, embracing him in an eight-fold hug that surrounded him in a cocoon of tiger-striped green. Kim was slightly nervous as she watched the play of muscles in the limbs surrounding Ron's body, but they eventually relaxed, releasing Ron and leaving him safe and unharmed - albeit thoroughly beslimed.
Ron followed Kim as she moved back into the lair, and wiped his eyes, dashing away both tears and the yellow ooze left by the octopus' kiss goodbye. Together they watched Betty rip the entrance to the grotto wider, crumbling concrete and bending steel rebar like pipe cleaners as she demolished the side of the building. The giant octopus crawled through the enlarged opening and splashed down into the warm water of the grotto. With a final wave of a tentacle, she vanished beneath the surface, but a rippling wake showed her movement underwater, heading swiftly towards the Mediterranean and the ocean beyond.
"She'll be fine, Ron," Kim reassured him. Wrapping her arm around his shoulders, she hugged him briefly, then quickly stepped away with a nauseated expression. She shook her arm, loosing the dribbles of slime that had been transferred to her in the brief embrace. "I just hope the rest of the world will be fine with Betty out there," she admitted to herself.
"I know she will," Ron mumbled, his eyes staring into the narrow section of ocean that could be seen through the grotto's entrance. The wake showing Betty's progress vanished as it left the hidden grotto, the octopus taking advantage of the deeper waters. "She said she knew a place she could go. One that I'd be able to find her..." he said, though his brow furrowed with a hint of confusion as he did.
"I'm sure you'll see her again, someday," Kim told him. "And can I just say... Nice job, Ron. Score another victory for the mutant whisperer," Kim grinned as she headed towards the grotto to look for transportation away from the now abandoned lair.
Ron shrugged, his eyes still following the distant rise and fall of the waves, envisioning the octopus swimming somewhere beneath.
"And hey," Kim pointed out, trying to distract him from his funk, "when Wade sends our report off to Dr. Director, I'm sure she'll be just thrilled to hear about her namesake."
"Aw, Kim," Ron mumbled, finally turning away from his depressed contemplation. He quickly followed Kim as she walked out of the lair, heading towards the grotto.
Despite his depression at losing his new friend to the ocean, Ron found himself smiling as he followed Kim. The breeze blowing off the sea through Kim's hair carried both her subtle scent and the smell of the ocean to him, and he found the combination to be simultaneously soothing and exciting.
His heart raced as he climbed into one of the Seniors' abandoned boats as Kim started the motor. Closing his eyes, he continued to contentedly drink in the enticing combination of scents as she steered the boat out of the grotto and into the open sea.
Steve Barkin frowned distractedly as he glanced at his watch. "Stoppable better get here soon," he thought, irritated both at the delay and being made to wait. It was nearing the deadline he had set, and the thought of being ignored - on any matter, let alone one as important as this - was troublesome on several levels. "Possible, too," he grudgingly amended his thoughts.
A distant rumble distracted the administrator from his concerns, and as he stepped from beneath the front portico of Middleton High, his eyes roved over the empty parking lot and the street beyond, searching for the source of the irritating sound. "What is that noise?" he wondered.
The rumble steadily grew in both volume and intensity, until it finally became distinct enough to be identified as the roar of engines - and more than a few of them. As Mr. Barkin watched in surprise, a small pack of motorcycles - mostly choppers with raked and extended front trees, with a few that were more conventional in appearance, but still bore the hallmarks of extensive modification and customization - turned into the high school's driveway.
Scowling - he liked surprises less even than he liked funny looks - Mr. Barkin marched down the front walkway to intercept the motorcycles as they slowly approached the school. "Unusual," he noted to himself before thinking, "I don't need this aggravation."
The riders came to a halt, parking the two-wheeled vehicles in a rough semicircle centered on the ramp comprising the school's main passenger unloading zone. The engines screamed as the riders fed them gas, their gloved fingers goosing the throttles. Then, as the sound reached a screaming crescendo, in perfect unison the engines were cut, and silence fell over the parking lot.
The sudden silence seemed magnified in the aftermath of the machines' roar. For a moment, in the stillness, not a sound could be heard - even the wind seemed to be holding its breath in wary anticipation.
Mr. Barkin's scowl deepened, and his mounting irritation was plain in his expression. "If they think something like this is going to intimidate Steve Barkin, they've got another think coming," he promised himself. He turned his scowl on the riders, and slowly ran his gaze over each - returning the intimidation factor in spades without the need for any mechanical assistance.
Most of the riders wore helmets that covered their entire heads, with darkened visors to hide their faces from view besides, but two of the riders - parked at the center of the arc - wore less concealing headgear. Beyond the choice of headgear, the two also shared a similarity of features. Indeed, their faces were so similar that the commonality of appearance led Mr. Barkin to suspect the two were related, even though the woman's skin coloration was quite different from the man's.
No matter the headgear, all the riders were uniformly dressed in a homogenous - if diverse - assortment of denim and leather clothing in varying degrees of cleanliness and repair ranging from filthy and decrepit to fresh-from-the-wrapper new. The one constant in their wardrobe - aside from the materials involved - was that all were entirely covered, from head to toe to fingertip; not an inch of uncovered skin was visible. Even the apparent leaders of the crew shared the same all-covering style of dress, save for their faces.
As his gaze returned to those two revealed faces, Mr. Barkin's brow furrowed. Something about the faces was disturbing, though Mr. Barkin was hard-pressed to identify precisely what exactly it was about them that made them so disturbing.
They weren't be any stretch of the imagination what he would call attractive. But on the other hand, neither were they outstandingly hideous. Instead, a subtle asymmetry and an odd rubbery appearance to the flesh marred their features.
"Botox overdose?" he speculated, wondering what could have given their skin such an... abhorrent appearance. "Skin transplant? Burn victims?" Whatever the cause, the texture of their skin looked repellently abnormal.
Perhaps it was simply the expression they shared that was so disturbing. They both wore a look of disdain and subtle mockery that definitely grated on his already stressed nerves.
Mr. Barkin was mature enough - and experienced enough - not to let such insignificant matters as beauty or its lack greatly influence him. His experiences with both the military and the school system had given him ample evidence that outward appearance had little if anything to do with inner character. Despite that knowledge, with this pair, he couldn't quite seem to ignore their... odd appearance.
"Something about their foreheads..." Mr. Barkin tried to consider them dispassionately, but found his eyes drawn again and again to the odd cant of their foreheads - and the way they sloped from beneath the front lip of the helmets down to prominent brow ridges. The curve of the bone seemed other than human.
Deliberately turning his gaze from the two bare-faced riders, Mr. Barkin glanced once more over the others. They were silent, and while their faces were hidden, he could feel the weight of their gaze returning his own regard from beneath darkened visors. They showed no visible reaction to his open observation of them, nor did they seem to be in any way concerned by his presence.
Shaking his head to throw off both the subtle wrongness of the group, and his own unconscious reactions to it, he attempted to be civil despite his distrust of the situation. When it was clear the riders weren't going to speak, he broke the silence. "What's your business here?" he asked, his tone relatively mild, but still pointed as he raised an inquisitive eyebrow.
"Ease up, man," the bare-faced male growled, his words inflected oddly, as though English weren't his primary tongue. "We're just dropping off."
Mr. Barkin blinked, and suddenly realized that while he'd been distracted by the oddity of the duo's facial features, he'd missed the presence of a pair of smaller figures mounted behind them. As he watched, the previously unseen duo awkwardly clambered from their perches on the pillion seats behind the shielding bulk of the larger riders that had hidden them from view, then stiffly began to stretch their legs.
The two dismounted bikers wore helmets that hid their faces as completely as the other riders, and were shrouded in oversized jackets - the androgynous one in leather, while the other - who Mr. Barkin thought was probably male - one wore a jean jacket. Considering their size relative to the pair that had driven them, Mr. Barkin could readily tell the source of the jackets - and also why he'd been unable to see them while they were mounted on the motorcycles.
As the one with the jean jacket stretched, "he" turned enough to reveal "his" back - and the gang colors displayed there. Whether deliberately or not, "his" stance spread the bunched material of the jacket, allowing Mr. Barkin to see the colors clearly.
In an arc across the shoulders, in a red the color of drying blood, gothic script proclaimed him to be a member of the "Ghouls MC". Mirroring it along the bottom, in a smaller size, but an identical font and color, was also written "Lowerton." In the center of his back was a face (possibly human) with an uncanny resemblance to the two bare-faced riders.
Despite (or because of) the skill of the artist who had painted it, Mr. Barkin couldn't be entirely certain the face was intended to be human; the same features that were "off" in the two riders had been exaggerated to such a degree that the face appeared to share as much canine ancestry as human, and correspondingly the impact was substantially more disturbing.
The inhuman appearance of it was startling, and a lesser man would have shuddered away from the sheer visceral disquiet emanating from the horrific and unnatural graphic. Steve Barkin simply deepened his scowl, maintaining his composure even in the face of the abhorrent image.
The dismounted figures, having stretched out the kinks, moved between the parked motorcycles into the center of the arc, until they stood between the riders and Mr. Barkin. The one in the leather jacket began a complicated dap, exchanging a rapid series of taps, gestures, and interlocking fingers with the male rider. The other simply pulled off his helmet, revealing sweaty blonde hair, thoroughly mussed and disordered by the protective helmet.
"Stoppable?" Barkin demanded, his eyes widening. As the administrator watched, the complicated handclasp between the other two ended with their fists pressed together, their knuckles and the first finger joints meshing. The smaller figure then removed its helmet, revealing a mane of crimson hair and a smiling feminine face. "And Possible?" he finished silently.
"Of course." His scowl returned as Mr. Barkin shook his head in disgusted self-mockery, a bit of the disturbing aura banished by the familiar presence of the teens. "I should have realized they'd be at the center of any weirdness," he scolded himself for missing the obvious explanation.
"Thanks for the ride, 'Crusher," Kim told the man seated on the motorcycle as she slipped off the oversized jacket. Without the enveloping black leather shrouding her form, her figure lost its androgyny.
The male grinned, his lips stretching almost unnaturally wide as he slipped his returned jacket on over his denim shirt before hooking Kim's helmet to the rear seat on his motorcycle where Kim had until recently been seated. "It's the least I can do after the way you helped my brother," he replied.
Ron made a move to return his jacket as well, but the female rider held up a warding palm, halting his movement with his arm still outstretched. "You can keep my colors if you want," she told the teen, her eyes intense above a grin that seemed strangely... hungry. "I think you'd enjoy running with us."
Turning on the woman, the male Kim had called "'Crusher" quellingly shot her a cold look. "He's already been claimed. You can tell as easily as I can - and we don't poach. Remember?"
The woman snorted but reclaimed her jacket anyway. "I'm willing to share," she pouted, the expression looking decidedly odd on her face.
Ron jumped as he was suddenly goosed. After spinning around to see the female rider's lips broaden into an even wider grin, he quickly hid behind Kim, holding her shoulders protectively as he peeked through the shielding halo of her hair.
"Sorry, Maneater," Kim chuckled, amused by the entire exchange. "I wonder how fast Ron would run if I told her he's not really mine?" she wondered idly.
"His loss," the rider grinned, her amusement overshadowing her disappointment. She adjusted the straps on the helmet Ron had worn, then replaced the smaller helmet she had been wearing with it. She stowed her spare in a set of leather saddlebags hanging across the back of her bike, then joined her compatriots in starting her engine.
"Let's go," 'Crusher ordered, waving one hand in an archaic cavalry command. He gunned his engine and led the riders away from the school, the sound of their motors quickly fading as they roared off into the west.
"You've got some interesting friends, Possible," Mr. Barkin commented, his disapproving scowl firmly in place.
With the riders gone, Ron stepped away from Kim, an odd expression on his face. He seemed somehow conflicted - as well as confused - as he stood a few paces away from her with his nose crinkled.
"They're not friends, exactly," Kim smiled as she turned to face the administrator, ignoring the odd look on Ron's face. "But they're not as bad as they look. We helped out Gerry's - he goes by Skullcrusher, mostly - brother once; he runs Pickman's Mortuary down in Lowerton."
Mr. Barkin blinked, slowly recovering the composure that had begun to erode thanks to the unusual method of the teens' arrival - and the even more unusual motorcyclists. "You'd think I'd be used to this kind of thing around these two," he silently berated himself, still disgusted with himself for not recognizing the situation quickly enough.
Shaking off his moment of distraction, Mr. Barkin glanced at his watch. "They barely made it." "In any case, you're just in time. Another ten minutes and it would have been extra detention for you both," he informed them.
"Aw, man," Ron mumbled. "That is getting so old," he kicked at the pavement, his thin rubber boots emitting a pained squeak as he did.
"I said 'would have,'" Mr. Barkin growled in retort. "Want to make it 'will be'?" he threatened.
"No," Ron admitted, instantly caving to the administrator.
"And what took you so long?" Mr. Barkin asked crossly. "You've known about this appointment for days," he reminded them, pointedly tapping his watch for emphasis.
"We couldn't get a direct flight," Ron shrugged.
"It was a little more complicated than that," Kim explained while frowning quellingly at Ron. "We commandeered one of Señor Senior, Senior's abandoned boats - as is our right as duly deputized agents of international law enforcement," Kim began, "to get to France, where we turned the boat over to the gendarmes before catching a flight to Go City..."
"...where we hitched a ride on a coal train to Lowerton," Ron chipped in. "It was dusty, but convenient."
"And the Ghouls brought us to Middleton on their motorcycles," Kim concluded. "It was a bit of a roundabout route, but we made it on time. So what's the big deal?" Kim queried. "Why did we have to be here? Not that it's not important to be at school," she hastened to add as she pulled off her mission gloves and tucked them into a pocket.
Without answering or reacting to her hurried addendum, Mr. Barkin bluntly ordered, "Stoppable, give Possible your rodent."
"Rufus is still at home, Mr. B," Ron commented. "He wasn't feeling good this morning. Who knew he couldn't stomach Norwegian cheese? But..." he trailed off as he experienced a major sense of déjà vu. "Uh oh; what district policy did I violate now?" he wondered aloud, frowning in confusion.
Kim blinked, seeing the parallels to the previous incident now that Ron had mentioned the possibility. "Did the district come up with something new?" she asked curiously. "I can't think of anything he's done that would rile the district. Not that they know about, anyway." She idly scratched at a circular scab on her forearm as she pondered the odd circumstances of the "detention."
"Negatory. Just follow me," Mr. Barkin ordered, walking along the paved path leading to the rear of the school.
Shrugging despite being surprised that Mr. Barkin wasn't entering the school building, Kim obediently followed him with Ron reluctantly bringing up the rear, still racking his brain and trying to think of what he could possibly have done that was bad enough for the district to decide to intervene once again.
To Be Continued...
To Be Continued...
Author's Notes: Special thanks to Joss Whedon for creating the inspiration behind one of the lesser characters in this chapter. Also, sorry about the minor cliffhanger here, but I decided to shorten this chapter to this point since it was already pretty long, and this was a good place to break the flow.
Thanks to those who have reviewed to date, and I hope you're still enjoying this work - let me know by R&R!
Note 1 Bonus! I decided to cut the following paragraph since it's a little too flippant for the air of looming menace I was trying to build in the context where it was, but because I found it amusing, I'm adding it as a special bonus - and one you don't even have to go to "The Shape Of Things Yet to Come" to read...
Contextually, it was originally at the spot in this chapter labeled, "(Note 1)"
A long section of tentacle briefly breached the surface before submerging once more, hiding beneath the glowing water. "I swear," Kim thought distantly, even as she readied herself for the coming fight, "If this is anything like those cartoons Larry has hidden under his bed, I'll burn his entire Ios collection while he watches."
P.S. If you understand the reference (and this is another one of those things I'm not going to explain in the interests of ratings), don't chide me if you're being a purist about animation terminology - after all, it's written from Kim's perspective, and she wouldn't care.
To be continued...
To be continued...