Special thanks to Dr. J0nes, MrDrP, SassMasterGeneral, surforst, conan98002, Randy C, wopr, Ultimate Naco Topping, and AtomicFire for their reviews.

Thanks to everyone for reading!

And, of course, thanks to everyone for sticking with the story! I know it has been quite some time since I updated, but I plan on updating this story a little more often (at least more than once every three months).

And … I extend smuffy salutations to flakeflippingsnowgypsy!


"If you're good boys," DL beamed, "I'll sing you the story of my life." She came sauntering up to the mike in front of the reassembled Vomitones, having with kunoichi deftness removed an Uzi from its owner's sheath - "Hi, handsome, mind if I borrow this?" - to use as a prop, and, twirling it like a six-gun in a movie, taking time steps and shaking her hair around, sang, to the band's accompaniment,

Just a floo-zy with-an U-Uzi ...

Just a girlie, with-a-gun ...

When I could have been a mo-del,

And I should have been a nu-un ...

- Vineland, page 104

I.

Kim was majorly, majorly tweaked. As the flight wore on and her confidence grew in her very first flying attempt, her degree of tweak-hood grew exponentially. She was upset about so many things: W.E.E.'s (she assumed) attempted hijacking of their plane, Dr. Drakken's escape from GJ's custody, Yori's kidnapping by the former, Shego's escape from GJ's custody, the complete and utter incompetence of the latter, her incompetence at letting both Dementor escape and Shego blindside her the previous evening, Middleton Hospital's inexplicable termination of her mother's position, Justine's apparent disappearance, and, on the very last burner but still simmering, the fact that she and Ron had forgotten to open the door for the Prophet Elijah.

Of course, if she had known , she would probably have also been pretty unhappy about resembling a dyed-red Q-tip.

Conversely, Ron was actually quite relieved, if not content, about the sitch—specifically because his BFGF was tweaked. For one thing, she was not tweaked at him which was always a good thing. Second, a tweaked Kim was a confident Kim, and he so much preferred seeing her like that than how she had looked for most the day (and most def preferred it to how she had looked the night before-unconscious in that hospital room).

"Wade," Kim said punching up the Roncom, which she had more or less subconsciously adopted as her own, "I need you to try Justine's home number. I'm worried."

"Ok."

After a tense half minute, Wade shook his head on the screen. "Sorry, Kim, no answer. Do you want me to contact GJ?"

"So not!" Kim spat tersely. "Contact the San Narcisco PD."

Wade hesitated and then nodded. "Will do, Kim. I'll let you know what they can find out." The screen went black.

Kim began chewing her bottom lip. If W.E.E. had waylaid Justine's pilot why wouldn't the evil organization have decided to kidnap her too? The more she thought about the sitch, the more uncomfortable it made her. There was no doubt in her mind that the hijacking had been related to their investigation into Slothrop. Was Dementor in league with W.E.E. … and Shego … and … and who knew who else? The Kimmunicator was probably being tapped, and they (whoever "they" encompassed) had probably known from the outset that she was coming out to the coast to talk about Slothrop with Justine. And now Justine was in trouble. W.E.E. probably had Justine's office wired. Had they talked about anything that could endanger others? She couldn't remember ...

Kim let out an exasperated sigh. As she did so, she saw Ron's rainbow-hued eyes flash slightly in her direction. She did not read this as a new wrinkle in the mystical strangeness that had taken possession of her boyfriend; she just saw it for what it was—he was giving her a funny look.

"What?" she asked impatiently.

"Nothing, KP," Ron said pleasantly with a smile.

"Ron, you just gave me a look," Kim said turning to face him, "what's up?"

Ron leaned over as if he was going to whisper something to her, and, at the last second, kissed her just above her ear. A little too loudly.

"Hey!" Kim said in irritated voice. "Not so loud." But she was smiling, too.

"Sorry." Ron continued in the same pleasant tone.

"What was that for?" Kim asked finally.

"Because you rock," Ron stated.

"Really?" Kim asked, her mood beginning to thaw.

"Uh-huh," Ron nodded. "But you should probably apologize to Wade," he affirmed in a serious voice.

"Huh?"

"You were way rude to him, KP," Ron nodded.

"Was I?" Kim hesitated. "No, I wasn't."

"Kim, you sounded like you were talking to Will Du."

Kim sighed. "Okay, maybe I am a little upset. I'm just worried about Justine."

"I know," Ron nodded. "That's why you rock."

The Roncom chirped. Kim reached for the device, took a deep preparatory breath, and answered it with a relaxed tone that sounded only slightly forced. "Talk to me, Wade."

"Kim, the San Narcisco police said they're on their way to Justine's apartment—"

"Cool—"

"Sgt. Brock said that she would send a car over."

"Great." Kim smiled.

"I also called the University's Public Safety department to see if maybe they could check out her office."

"Good thinking," Kim interjected.

"Sgt. Vond said that she'd have someone check it out."

"You rock, Wade," Kim smiled and then said, "Sorry for snapping your head off earlier."

"Don't worry about it, Kim, bad hair days can be rough."

"Huh?"

"Well—" Wade said quickly, "I believe you're coming up on the Middleton Airport, I'll contact the tower for you guys, bye!"

"Waitaminute—", Kim said as Wade's image vanished. She turned and found Ron with an extremely broad grin on his face.

"Remember your new do, KP?"

She vaguely recalled Ron mentioning something about her hair not too long after they escaped from the black jet. Gingerly, she reached for the compact mirror in her shorts' pocket, but stopped.

"Maybe I should land this thing first?" she asked tentatively.

"Probably a good idea," Ron nodded.

Rubbing his eyes, Rufus popped his head out of Ron's pocket, looked at Kim and nodded emphatically. "Uh-huh!"

Kim figured if the bald member of the team was willing to weigh-in on the matter, her hair must have been especially gorchtacular.

II.

Dr. Drakken had sat quietly in corner of the lab for nearly an hour. True, he had stewed and ranted (silently) about being bossed around by a teenager, but he had still followed that teenager's orders to the letter. Although it certainly wasn't going anywhere, he was keeping a (mostly) careful watch over his own brain-tapping machine.

What was it about teenagers? He had been bullied by them when he was one himself, and now it was still happening. Possible and (even) Stoppable had been giving him abuse and attitude for almost four years. Of course, they had never threatened his life, and their lippiness had never been pointedly demeaning. The foul-mouthed punk who now gave him his orders, however, was definitely in another class.

"Oh great!"

He had to go to the bathroom. And the nearest bathroom was out the door, through the first tunnel, and then fifty yards to the left of the next tunnel. Even a genius like himself couldn't come up with a way to empty his bladder in a room some hundred yards away and still keep and eye on the brain-tapper. If only he still had those cloning tubes. But wouldn't that mean that there would be two bladders to empty?

His cloning days had been heady days! Like now, he had been without Shego, but he had been running his own show then. True, his cloning scheme had not worked out exactly as planned, but he had enjoyed the confidence, the freedom, the wild abandon of letting his evil imagination run wild without any sarcastic sounding board to dampen his spirits. Ahhh, that great afternoon tooling around Middleton incognito … in that Mr. Potty truck.

Drakken crossed his legs. And then re-crossed them. And then started to hop in place. Not much, but a little.

"Grrrrrr! Are they NEVER coming back?"

He started hopping more in place. A lot. And Drakken reminded himself to try not to think about waterfalls or running faucets or ... or ... and realized that that wasn't working.

"Oh, forget this!" Drakken announced as he ran to the lab's doorway. But he stopped in his tracks as he recalled the gun being pointed at him only an hour earlier. Drakken had looked down the barrel of a variety of weapons (not to mention all ten of Shego's fingers) in his life, but nothing compared to looking down the sights of an ordinary gun. It had terrified him, the memory terrified him still, and, yet, it, at the same moment, made him want to go to the bathroom all the more. If only that punk and Monkey Fist would return-then he could finally get some relief!

The sudden swishing open of the door almost initiated a literal wave of relief to wash over Drakken. Fortunately, that did not happen.

"LIP-" Potty Mouth began. However, before he could begin the torrent of profanity-laced abuse against the blue-hued scientist for the arrogant idiocy of his cousin and his own careless idiocy of leaving the keys in his hovercraft which both allowed the prisoner to escape, Drakken had run past him (as well as Lord Fisk and Prof. Dementor) and out the door.

Drakken's departure was too astounding to be genuinely infuriating. In fact, Potty Mouth was so dumbfounded that he found himself using language he was unaccustomed to.

"Where the heck is he going?" he asked turning to Fisk.

The former British Lord and self-proclaimed genetically-altered affront to both science and evolution immediately recognized the signature hop in the mad scientist's retreating form. Dryly, he answered his hot-tempered employer, "To answer The Call of Nature."

III.

Bonnie was majorly tweaked, and her mood was quickly souring even further. She had been idling before the terminal entrance to the Middleton Airport for twenty minutes. If her mother didn't show up in the next couple of minutes, there was a definite possibility that she was going to become majorly, majorly tweaked.

Drumming her fingers against the cracking leather of the steering wheel, Bonnie realized that, in a way, being so tweaked was good. At least she wasn't frightened any more. The eerie anticipation that had been swarming in her stomach ever since hearing her mother say that wordhad gradually been overpowered and consumed by her growing anger at having to be seen in public in her mother's incredibly lame car. Of course, Bonnie could consoled herself that it was highly unlikely that anyone she knew (or cared to know) would also be at the airport on a Friday night.

She had been wrong.

Not two minutes after this consoling thought eased her mind, she was startled by a gentle rap on her window.

"Bonnie?" asked a concerned voice.

"Hope!" Bonnie practically yelled at her fellow squad member. She had completely forgotten that Hope had mentioned earlier that day in school that her family was leaving on a visit to India that weekend.

"A-are you okay, Bonnie?" the Tamil girl asked, moderately startled by Bonnie's extremely startled reaction. She then asked the important question, "What happened to your Mini?"

"It's FINE, just fine," Bonnie stammered, "I just, you know, wanted to ... to," she then shook he head in dismay. "Okay, I can't come up with anything ... so I'll just tell you the truth."

"Oh, all right," Hope replied, not quite sure how to respond.

"I'm here to pick up my mom," Bonnie said looking nervously over the other girl's shoulder. The fact was Hope and she were on pretty good (if slightly indifferent) terms, and Bonnie knew that she could keep a secret and wasn't catty like ... well, like herself. No, the problem with Hope wasn't Hope, it was with Bobby, her hottie older brother-the older brother that Bonnie secretly had a crush on (well, not so secret-everyone seemed to know about it ... well, everybody except Bobby). "And she insisted I bring her car, but please, please, please make sure your brother doesn't see me in this piece of-"

"Whoah!" exclaimed Bobby, who suddenly appeared at his sister's elbow. "I think I saw this car on TV Trash Heap the other night!" He smiled good-naturedly at Bonnie. Then he grew serious and asked the important question, "Does it talk?"

Bonnie buried her burning face in both hands and mumbled absently, "It used to."

Fortunately, Bonnie was spared any further tortuous small talk when Hope and Bobby's father called them over to help cart luggage out of their mini-van.

Bonnie could still feel the embarrassment-enhanced pulse beating in her temples as she exchanged farewells with her crush and his sister. Once she was alone again, she banged her head against the steering wheel.

"Mom!" Bonnie spat with virulence. Could this get any worse?

When she raised her head from the steering wheel and looked toward the terminal for any sign of her mother, Bonnie immediately brought it back down so quickly that it actually hurt as it smacked against the cracking leather. Standing not fifteen feet from her mother's Trans Am was the second-to-last person she wanted to see: Ron Stoppable. Which meant, of course, that the very last person she wanted to see was definitely nearby.

IV.

Ron offered to buy Kim a hat in the airport gift shop. She declined his offer for two reasons: one, she would rather he save his money and take her out to Chez Couteaux once this entire sitch was over and two, there wasn't a hat big enough. Besides, Kim sincerely doubted she would even need the hat. Really, what were the chances she'd bump into someone from school at the airport on a Friday night?

Her first landing had been so the drama ... at least, her first aborted approach had been so the drama. However, things had gone extremely smooth on their second and final approach. In fact, things had been so stress-free that Ron had actually slept through it. Then again, he had slept through most of the first one, too.

Her first landing attempt had included something of the edginess she had felt when she first spring-boarded to the top of the cheering pyramid. She had been on the Middleton Middle Mongoose junior varsity squad back in seventh grade. Of course, if she had messed up then, she probably would have only ended up with a sprained ankle and some wounded pride. Besides, her anxiety at the time had more to do with the fact that she was the only member of the squad with fuzzy knees (MrsDrP strictly forbid Kim from shaving her legs until she was thirteen) and the belief that somehow everyone in the stands would somehow know this fact and laugh at her regardless of whether she completed the routine or not. Needless to say, this had not happened, and her performance had completely floored the crowd-just as Ron told her it would.

This memory had been playing over in Kim's mind as she followed Wade's landing instructions on the first go around. Just as her concern over her fuzzy legs had provided the mental distraction she needed to complete that difficult routine in front of a full auditorium that first time, the memory of the importance of that long ago distraction (as well as Ron's confidence in her at the time) was, ironically, giving her the focus she needed to complete the complex task of landing an experimental state-of-the-art aircraft. At about the time Kim was beginning to think that maybe she was thinking a little too much ... the cockpit erupted in sirens and flashing lights.

Ron shifted in the co-pilot's chair and mumbled in a sleepy voice, "Kim, could you walk Mariko to the bus today?"

Kim and Wade exchanged quizzical looks. Then Kim got back in the game. "Wade, talk to me; what's going on?"

"Unidentified aircraft at seven o'clock!" Wade spoke quickly. "PULL UP!" he yelled.

Kim took evasive action and, almost immediately, the sirens and the flashing lights ceased.

"That was too close," Wade said shaking his head at one of his monitors.

"Where did it come from?" Kim said, her heartbeat slowly ebbing back to normal.

"No idea," Wade said. "We're lucky Justine's on-board system picked it up when it did. I'm plugged directly into the Middleton tower, and it's showing nothing."

"Can Justine's system track it?" Kim asked.

Wade checked the monitor that was linked with Justine's systems. "Very odd," he said after a moment.

"Wade," Kim said in an annoyed voice, "I am so tired of odd."

"Well, either it landed or vanished into thin air," Wade grumbled. "Whatever it was." He shrugged. It was obvious to Kim that Wade was as irritated as she was with the mysteries that seemed to be piling up faster than they could count them.

Kim's second approach was uneventful and her first landing was as smooth as glass. When they finally taxied to a stop, she shook Ron by his shoulder. "C'mon, Ron," she smiled, "Mariko's gonna miss her bus."

"Who?" Ron asked, making a face and blinking open his kaleidoscopic eyes.

She briefly explained his somnolent announcement from moments earlier.

He favored her with a shrug and a goofy grin. "Don't know, KP. Guess I was dreaming about one of our kids."

Her cheeks reddened slightly, and then she kissed his forehead as she replaced his shades. "Cute. Very cute, mister."

As they were making their way out of the plane, Kim felt the top of her hair brush against the top of the cabin's door. Instantly she took the compact from her shorts' pocket to examine the damage. "Oh, no."

"It's not that big a deal, KP." Ron said lamely.

"What did you say, Ron?" Kim erupted. "Not a ... BIG deal? It is nothing but BIG! My hair wasn't even this bad when Dementor had Bonnie and me strapped to the kinetic modulator last year!" For the briefest moment, the notion of Bonnie seeing her like she was flashed through Kim's mind. She shuddered, and shook the terrible thought from her as they entered the terminal. Fortunately, it was mostly deserted.

Kim nonchalantly eyed the handful of passengers and pilots that were making their way from the gates. Were any of them coming from the mysterious aircraft that had almost collided with Justine's plane? Fortunately, none of these strangers suspected they were under observation because they were too busy gawking at Kim's hair and listening to the crackle of static electricity every time her feet made contact with the carpeted floor.

In an irony that was certainly not lost on the two teens, Wade was having difficulty finding them a ride to Kim's house.

"If we needed to get to Greenland, Wade would have something set up five minutes before we even asked," Ron groused, "but when we just need a ride across town we get nada!"

"Maybe we should just call a cab," Kim said, trying in vain to push her hair flat. Finally, they reached the tiled floor of the airport's main causeway. Although her hair remained as poofy as ever, Kim no longer felt like she was going to start shooting sparks from her eyelashes.

"Ooooh, no," Ron breathed as they exited the main entrance.

"What?" Kim asked, not looking up from the Roncom as she located the number for the Middleton Yellow Cab service.

"Maybe you should go back and get that hat anyway," Ron said nervously as he turned and tried to foist a handful of bills and coupons into her left hand.

"Ron!" Kim had located the number but Ron's sudden movement had caused her to flip the device off before she could call. As she looked up in exasperation, Kim caught sight of Bonnie Rockwaller sitting in a car not fifteen feet to their right. "I'll get the blue one," Kim nodded quickly, "the blue hat was nice, nice and big."

As she turned to go back inside the terminal, Rob suddenly grabbed her elbow.

"Wait, KP."

"What is it, Ron?" From his tone, she instinctively knew that something was up, something far more serious than Bonnie seeing her bad hair.

"I-I don't know," Ron said, nervously. "I feel … weird. I'll explain later."

She so wished he wasn't wearing those glasses. She had become very accustomed to his new eyes and felt she could read what he was thinking, what he was feeling, if she could only see them. Regardless, there was no way she wasn't going to follow his lead on whatever this new sitch was.

"What should we do?" she asked.

"Get out of here," Ron said firmly, "like now."

"You mean, get a ride with Bonnie?" Kim asked with some hesitation.

"Yup, yup," Ron said in a voice that managed to be both Ronnish and deadly serious.

"Okay." Kim nodded. "Let's go."

As they got within ten feet of Bonnie's car, something inexplicable happened. Bonnie vanished. One second she had been in the driver's seat and the next ... she was gone. Kim wasn't sure if Ron's anxiety/weirdar/whathaveyou was contagious or just coming very much true, but, for the fraction of a second, she was genuinely frightened. First Justine, now Bonnie! Is the entire world going crazy?!

"What's up, Bon-bon?" Ron asked the empty seat good-naturedly. Strangely, it seemed as if all the tension had drained out of him despite, or maybe because of, Bonnie's disappearance.

Bonnie inched back up into the seat, but refused to look at them. She sighed, "Hello, Stoppable. Kim."

"Oh, hi, Bonnie," Kim said, extremely relieved that her fears had been misplaced and that Bonnie had merely been slumped in her seat. "Could you give us a ride back to my house?"

"Uh," Bonnie hesitated. She looked the pair over with distrusting/confused eyes. "I'm waiting to pick up my mom, but, yeah, I guess I could."

"Thanks," Kim smiled, "we owe you a favor."

Bonnie grunted, still eyeing Kim as if she didn't quite trust her or her boyfriend for some reason.

"When does your mom's flight arrive?" Kim asked, as she and Ron walked to the passenger side. She was relieved but also highly suspicious of why Bonnie had not yet snarked upon her hair.

"I don't know," Bonnie grumbled. "Why? Are you in a hurry?" she asked unpleasantly.

As Kim went to open the door, Ron commented appreciatively, "Hey, Bonnie! Like the wheels! Didn't I see this on TV Trash Heap?"

"YES!" Bonnie screamed. "It's my mother's car, okay! Could you two keep your snide comments to yourselves?!"

Kim had only just registered that they weren't getting in Bonnie's sleek little Mini when her fellow cheerleader exploded in rage at her boyfriend.

As was his nature, Ron took the sudden tirade in stride. "No, no, I really like it, Bon-bon," he smiled completely serious and genuine, "I just wanted to know if it can talk ..."

"Not anymore," Bonnie's mother answered pleasantly from the back seat.

As a careless afterthought or perhaps a clumsy justification for Mrs. Rockwaller's sudden impossible appearance, the driver's side door (which was the only conceivable way that she could have entered the vehicle since the passenger side was blocked by Kim and Ron) opened by itself and then quickly shut.

V.

Dr. Kramer, nephew of Franz Pokler and inheritor of his love for rocket propulsion, pulled his sedan into the darkened driveway that led to his modest home on the north side of Upperton. After leaving the Space Center around six, he had joined Steve Barkin for a meal at Chez Couteaux. The two had met online at a Jayne Austin chat board some months back and formed a fast friendship based on their mutual appreciation of the novelist's work. Dr. Kramer had, at one point, suggested starting a book club that might meet every third weekend to discuss the books with other Austin-philes in the Middleton area. Barkin had been reticent to move on the idea, however, because, unlike meeting one on one in restaurant to discuss the Miss Austin's works with another man, founding a book club seemed, well, "fruity."

Dr. Kramer's wife was visiting relatives in Vienna (the one in Georgia) all week, so he had the house all to himself for the weekend.

The strangely darkened house.

The Kramers' house lights were triggered by remotes that the couple kept in the glove boxes of their cars. For some reason, Dr. Kramer's didn't appear to be working this night. He pressed the button a few times-nothing. He considered the possibility that the power was out. The particular suburb where he lived was spread out and mostly rural; in fact, the realtor had tried to convince Dr. Kramer that "the woodsy, hill and dale affair" might remind "Herr Doctor" of his "Bavarian childhood." Dr. Kramer politely informed the realtor that he had spent most of his childhood in the States.

Dr. Kramer had decided to buy the house anyway.

In any case, the important aspect of the neighborhood on this night was that his nearest neighbor was a good five hundred yards back down a winding road. So far back down the road that he couldn't tell if their house lights were on from his driveway, and he couldn't recall having seen them on the ride up. As further evidence for the blackout theory, Dr. Kramer realized that the light for his doorbell was not lit.

And then it was.

As he tried to figure out if his eyes were playing tricks on him, the lights edging the drive and in the house came on. Hesitantly, he shut off the car's engine and opened his door. For whatever reason, he believed he would have felt more at ease if the power had remained off. He shook this discomfort form him and casually walked up the drive to his front door. Quite suddenly, he heard a rustling in the trees that lined his walk. Turning quickly, he caught sight of a large owl alighting onto a branch some five yards away.

Owls weren't uncommon in the neighborhood. Several nights coming home late from the Space Center, Dr. Kramer had seen them flying in the path of his headlights as he neared his house. Yet, this owl seemed different. A little larger perhaps. And the bird was staring at him. Dr. Kramer returned the stare for about half a minute. Finally, he shook his head and continued up his walk. When he did, the owl immediately took flight and landed in the branches of the small cherry tree to the side of the Kramers' front door. Although the weight of the bird caused the tree to sway somewhat violently, the owl seemed completely composed and at ease even as it rocked back and forth. More importantly, it kept its eyes fixed with Dr. Kramer's.

Tentatively, Dr. Kramer made his way up to his door. He was keeping to the side of the walk away from the bird. He wasn't scared exactly, but he also didn't know what the owl had planned, what it might do. Part of him wanted to go back to the car and wait for the owl to leave, but he was tired and wanted to get inside.

As he fished in his pocket for his house keys, the owl let go of the branch and fluttered down to the Kramers' welcome matt. There was no questioning the fact now: the bird was looking straight at him.

They stared at each other for a good minute or two. Then Dr. Kramer experienced something that he couldn't quite define-a sensation that fell within the fuzzy middle ground between a thought and a physical pain. Whatever its source or nature, the message behind the feeling was unmistakable: "Beat it, Jackson."

Kramer gave the owl a confused, yet clear-eyed, nod and then jogged back to his car. He started it and backed out his driveway quickly. It wasn't too hurried a retreat, but his tires did squeal and he turned onto his street and went back the way he had come.

As his taillights disappeared around the bend, all the lights in and around the home (including the doorbell's) went out. A few minutes later the front door opened. The owl looked up at the dark figure that exited the house. As it had done with Dr. Kramer, the owl did not break eye contact with the person hidden in the shadows.

That is until it took flight to avoid the green blasts of plasma that were suddenly being hurled its way.

VI.

"Mother!" Bonnie yelled, turning around in her seat so quickly that she nearly strangled herself in the shoulder strap of the seat-belt.

"Yes, sweetheart," her mother asked pleasantly. Her face wore an expression as bland and inscrutable as a head of cabbage.

"WHERE did you come from?" Bonnie sputtered.

"From California, Sugar Drop, don't you remember?" Mrs. Rockwaller then went on to explain in a voice that suggested that she was perhaps doubting her own words, "We spoke on the phone just a half hour ago about it, and I left you note on the front door. Did you get the note?"

"Yes, yes, yes," Bonnie said shaking her head angrily, "but I meant how did you get in the car?"

"Why, through the door?" she said, gesturing. "Are you feeling okay, Bon-bon?"

Kim was quite relieved to hear the peeved anxiousness in Bonnie's voice. It underscored that something strange was indeed going on and that she wasn't just going crazy. However, Bonnie's aggravation also made her nervous because ... well ... what exactly WAS going on? She looked to Ron to gauge his reaction to Mrs. Rockwaller's sudden appearance, but he was already wriggling his way into the back seat. Once he buckled himself in, he looked back at her questioning glance. However, his expression was almost as unreadable as Mrs. Rockwaller's. Those shades didn't help. Finally, Kim sat in the front passenger seat and shut the door.

Bonnie, in the meantime, had continued to stare at her mother, perhaps hoping to make her break. It wasn't working. "Fine!" Bonnie cried to her mother's imperturbable face. She twisted back around, revved the car's engine, and with a terse "Whatever!" shifted into gear just as Kim locked her belt into place.

As they sped away from the terminal, Bonnie's mother said, quite loudly, "Kimberley, I, uh, well, I think what you've done with your hair is very, uh, interesting, but I don't believe it is the most flattering style for your figure."

Kim immediately reddened. She didn't even need to look to know that the full glare of Bonnie's eyes were upon her and that the brunette was finally registering the hideousness branching out in all directions from her head. She had known the other girl for almost seven years and could read the tale-tell silence right before a vicious Rockwaller barb was hurled.

So she was all the more surprised when it came.

"Yeah, Kim, what's up with that?" Bonnie asked absently.

"Believe me, dear," Mrs. Rockwaller continued to Kim, "you want your hair to draw attention to you, to your best features, and that style only draws attention to itself, I have a friend who works at the salon at Upperton Mall-"

"Mom," Bonnie groused, "just leave her alone."

Okay, Kim thought, being defended by Bonnie is, all things considered, still one of the stranger things that has happened today.

Kim turned to face Bonnie's mother, who was, of course, still talking. The older woman was almost invisible in the shadows of the back seat. The only things Kim could clearly make out were the faded white glow of her teeth and the sparkle of her rhinestone-studded glasses. How old was Bonnie's mother anyway? Kim knew that Bonnie was the baby of her family and had two sisters already almost out of college. Kim had assumed, on the one time she had thought about it-the school ski trip sophomore year, that Bonnie's mom was five years or so older than her parents. However, at this moment, Kim felt that original estimation wasn't quite right. On the one hand, Mrs. Rockwaller seemed much older, at least a few decades older than her parents. And then also, for some reason Kim couldn't pin down, she also seemed to be much younger, to be, in fact, not much older than Shego.

"Not trying to be cruel or anything, dear," Mrs. Rockwaller continued talking at Kim, "as my old friend Lobelia used to say, 'I'm just trying to help.' She always had the best eye for details, but I find that most cross dressers know what makes a woman look her best, don't you? Anywho, if you don't mind my asking, why did you decide to go with this particular look?"

"Well," Kim began tentatively since she had not been listening to everything Bonnie's mother had been saying, "it really wasn't planned exactly, Mrs. Rockwaller."

"Dearheart, Dearheart, Dearheart," the older woman interrupted, "please call me DL. 'Mrs. Rockwaller' is Bon-bon's grandmother. Call me DL!"

"Okay," Kim said, feeling the intense bad vibes flowing from the driver seat to all points in the known universe, "DL. It was sort of an accident ... uh, turbulence during our flight." Kim didn't want to lie to Bonnie's mother, but, at the same time, she wanted to be guarded in her answers. There was no reason to involve Bonnie or her mom in this sitch. But then again, was the very fact that they were giving Ron and herself a ride involving them? At least enough in the eyes of whoeveritwas Ron felt had been watching them at the airport?

"An accident," DL breathed, "Really? Did your plane get struck by lightening, get attacked by aliens, have an in-flight hijacking?"

Ron, who had up to this point maintained a silent (Ron silent? That was so unlike him.) and stoney demeanor, involuntarily turned his head toward Bonnie's mom as the words "in-flight hijacking" left her lips. His reaction did not go unnoticed.

"THAT's what I thought it was," DL announced cheerfully, slapping Ron on the knee. "You kids weren't flying Kahuna Airlines, by any chance? No, I guess not, they haven't been in business for decades, maybe another flight-by-night-excuse the pun-airline?"

"Uh," Kim stammered, completely confused, floored, and alarmed by Mrs. Rockwaller's prescience of their in-flight adventure as well as by her befuddling trains of thought, "no, we flew on a private jet."

"Really?" DL said thoughtfully and then she paused. Briefly. "You know I have never heard of them ever taking a private jet before, usually it's just on the small airliners. The fly-by-night jobs-again, excuse the pun-who don't pay up the protection money every year. I mean, it happens fairly regularly with them, of course."

"Mother," Bonnie interrupted incredulously, "WHAT are you talking about?"

"Sugar Drop," her mom said with a floor-to-ceiling eye roll, "I'm talking about what we've been talking about-what happened to Ronald and Kimberly. One of the Black Fleet tried to kidnap them and whoosh them away to wherever it is that they take people when they whoosh them. You know, I can't get over them coming after a private jet, I mean, it goes against their entire m.o. Do you kids have any enemies?"

"You could say that," Kim managed to say once the clouds of confusion had parted enough for her to realize that Bonnie's mother was asking her a question and to register what that question actually was. Kim's head was reeling. This woman whom she had only met once, no, twice, in her life and had barely ever given a thought to was uttering the most unbelievable things in the most casual and, at the same time, most sure-handed tone.

"Mother, could you please mind your own business," Bonnie said glaring into the rearview mirror. "It is so obvious you don't know what you're talking about! I mean, The Black Fleet! You are so making that up!"

"I am sorry, Bon-bon," her mother said condescendingly as she pat her daughter on the head (Bonnie's knuckles on the steering wheel went white at this gesture), "but mother does know what she is talking about. An old friend of mine had the very same thing happen to him, and it was on Kahuna Airlines."

"Why have I never heard about this then?" Bonnie snapped. "And who is this friend anyway?"

"Oh, it was Foomi, Angel Cake," her mother replied carelessly. "You remember, Foomi, don't you?"

"Yes." Bonnie said quietly.

For the last few minutes Kim had felt like Ron and she had been intruding on a private conversation which was kinda odd since the conversation had been more or less about them. The dejected tone in Bonnie's voice when her mother brought up her old friend gave more than enough credence to that feeling. Like she had when first meeting Connie and Lonnie, Kim found herself feeling very sorry for Bonnie. Her one-word answer had been so weary-sounding that if they had been alone, Kim would have felt compelled to give her rival a hug.

"Sure enough, a Big Black Jet swoops in line with them, and suddenly there are six or so armed scuba-gear wearing goons leafing through the passengers," Mrs. Rockwaller rattled on. "And, yep, they were coming for him! As well as a few others. Would have gotten him too, but the piano player on the flight chased them away by playing high B flats over and over again, did you kids do the same sort of thing? "

Kim was completely knocked off balance. She had been focusing on Bonnie's slumping shoulders and gradually alarming inattention to the road when her mother's last statement reached her ears. "Y-yes," she said dumbfounded, turning to face Bonnie's mother, "Ron started playing his harmonica and th-that helped chase them away." She shot an astounded look to her boyfriend. Although she couldn't see his eyes, his body language (he was nervously spinning the very harmonica over and over in the palm of his hand) suggested he was just as shocked as she was.

When she turned back to face Bonnie, Kim found her rival giving her one of the strangest faces she could remember seeing.

It was equal parts disgust and shock. The disgust was for Kim "siding" with her mother by validating her outrageous story and the shock was because that validation meant that everything her mother had been saying (all those ludicrous things) was true-that it was all real!

"That's must have been before I met him, then," Mrs. Rockwaller continued to prattle, "that's right, it was on a flight to America, I remember now. And, besides, we didn't meet until the summer I was kidnapped, taken to Japan, and sold into white slavery."

"WHAT!?" screamed both girls in unison.

"Well, yes, dears," DL explained, "of course, I was actually rented more than sold, I guess you would say. Lobelia was one of my co-auctionettes and-I did mention that she was actually a boy, didn't I? Anyway, what she said at the time was that I didn't know the word picky until I went through one of those things, and, boy, was she ever right!" Here, DL gave a light, warm chuckle. "Anyway, that's how I ended up meeting Foomi and giving him the Vibrating Palm."

"SHUT up! Shut UP! SHUT UP!" Bonnie screamed, pumping the breaks to accentuate each word as the car came to a jolting stop at a red traffic signal. She put the car in park, jacked up the emergency break, and spun around in her seat to face her mother, fire shooting from her flashing eyes and fingernails. "Do you even hear what you are saying!? How can you say things like this in front of my friends! How can you talk about this as if it's normal! You act as if being someone's sex slave was like being in the pixie scouts!"

"I was NEVER anyone's sex slave, sweetie," DL stated calmly if firmly. "It was, well, complicated."

"And that you gave Foomi something called the Vibrating Palm?" Bonnie spat, not listening. She looked like she was going to cry. "Y-you're disgusting!"

"It's not what you think, dear," her mother said in a reassuring voice. She placed her hand gently on her daughter's shoulder. It was rudely brushed away.

The blowing of a car horn behind them made Kim and Ron jump in their seats. The light had turned green, and their car was blocking traffic.

Bonnie vigorously, violently, rolled down her window and screamed at the driver behind them-"Go around, idiot! Mind your own business!"

"It's not what you think, dear," her mother repeated when Bonnie brought her head back into the car.

"Yeah, right!" Bonnie yelled.

"Sugar Drop," DL said in a voice that managed to be both soothing and dangerous, "trust me, it is not what you believe it is. I assure you, it is much, much worse."

The Roncom chirped.

Bonnie slowly turned back in her seat, took off the break, put the car back in gear, and, despite the fact that the light had turned back to red, drove through the empty intersection.

Ron handed the device to Kim from the backseat. "Kim, Wade wants to speak to you."

"Oh, okay," Kim said distractedly, taking the device. "T-talk to me, Wade."

"Are you okay, Kim?" Wade asked.

"Yeah, fine. What's up?"

"Well, there's no sign of Justine at either the university or her apartment, but the police say that they need to wait at least twenty-four hours before they can file a missing person's report. So should I go ahead and contact GJ?"

"Justine?" Bonnie asked with something akin to relief (relief at having the focus of the universe shift from her mother, if only momentarily) coming into her voice. "Justine Flanner?"

"Yes, Bonnie," Kim said, "Ron and I had to go speak to her; it was her plane that was almost hijacked."

"Kim?" Wade asked. "What should I do? Should I give GJ a call or should we wait the 24?"

"I-I'll call Pointsman, Wade. Thanks."

"Okay, if you say so, Kim. I'm sorry." The screen went black.

Kim sighed deeply. But before the sigh could completely leave her body, she felt a warm, reassuring touch on her shoulder. She turned, fully expecting Ron's hand, but it was Bonnie's mother-DL's hand. Kim, for the first time that night, gave Bonnie's mother a good, long look. She noticed a few blonde roots showing amid DL's mouse-brown poodle-esque hairdo. Kim looked into the older woman's eyes that were shining back at her through the darkened shadows of the car. Although the skin around them was wrinkled, the eyes themselves were effervescent. They counter-pointed, to an almost comical degree, the rhinestones that encircled them; yet their effect upon Kim was strangely soothing. "Your friend will be okay, dear." DL said as she patted her shoulder. "Trust me."

Suddenly, the car came to a lurching stop. They were at Kim's house.

Kim forcibly pulled her eyes away from DL's. Bonnie was fuming behind the driver's seat but was saying nothing. Kim heard herself say "Thanks for the ride." and then she mechanically opened the door and stepped out. The semi-daze she was in was broken by the welcoming feel of Ron's arm about her shoulder. It felt like she had been separated from him for a long, long time even though they had been riding in the same car together and had been separated (if that was the word) by maybe five feet and for no longer than ten minutes.

As they walked around the car to the Possible driveway, Kim turned to give Bonnie an earnest look of consolation. She knew what it was like to be embarrassed by one's parents. And even though her most excruciating moments of parental public embarrassment (the sky trip Sophomore year) had been orchestrated by Bonnie, the ordeal DL had just put Bonnie through was of such epic proportions that there was no way anyone could not feel sorry for the cheerleader.

"You know, dear," DL said at Kim's elbow, "you should really take my card." Kim's first impression upon seeing the woman explicably at her elbow was not the mystery of how she had gotten there (there had been no convenient car door slamming this time); rather, Kim was surprised at how short the woman was. DL was digging through her purse with purpose.

"Mrs. Rockwaller," Kim began.

"DL, DL," the older woman reminded her.

"DL, sorry," Kim said, "you really don't need to bother, I don't plan on keeping this, uh, style..."

"Oh, no, dear," DL shook her head at her purse, "it's not for your hair. The card's for something more ... more relevant."

Kim turned to Ron but he was no longer walking beside her. This was very strange because she hadn't notice the absence of his arm on her shoulder-in fact, it kinda felt like it was still there.

Ron was talking to Bonnie through the driver side window. Kim could hear Bonnie's anguished pleas quite clearly.

"Ron! You guys can't leave me with her! She's gone stark raving mad! Let's all go to the movies or Buena Nacho or whatever!"

Kim didn't catch her boyfriend's response because DL was talking to her again. "Here, dear" she said flashing a small iridescent business card in her hand. Kim looked at the strange object. It didn't feel like it was laminated or made of plastic, and it certainly wasn't paper. It looked almost like those "hologram" soccer cards her brothers used to get from cereal boxes. It changed colors and its design pattern when she flipped it over in her hand. However, these changes were not because of any discernible cues from the street lamp or the moon's light.

The card read: Takeshi Fumimota, ADJUSTMENTS.

As she read the card and the last name played along her tongue, she looked up at DL. "Fumimota? Foomi?"

DL didn't reply to her question. Instead, she explained, "I know there isn't a phone number right now, but it will be there when you need it to be."

"Huh? I-I don't understand, DL."

"You will, dear, you will. Anyway, you kids have a good night; Bon-bon and I have gotta run-tah!" And she was gone.

The Trans Am's engine revved, a little reluctantly Kim thought, and Bonnie and her mother disappeared into the night.

Ron jogged back up to Kim's side and placed his arm around her shoulder again (although the warmth didn't feel as if it had ever left). As he did so, he made an appreciative whistle. "Man! Poor, Bon-bon!"

"No kidding!"

"Yeah, I guess I would be pretty freaked too if I learned right out of the blue that my mom was a ninja."

"What!? NO WAY!" Kim cried. "DL is a ninja?"

"So way, KP." Ron said with certainty. "Even if she hadn't come outta that Vanishing Stance in the back seat," he nodded, "she was giving off kunoichi vibes the entire time!"

"Whoah, waitaminute!" Kim said placing her hands to her face. When was this crazy day going to end? "Vanishing Stance? I-is that how she suddenly appeared out of nowhere?"

"Uh-huh."

"A-and what are kun-kunoichi-"

"Ninja chicks," Ron explained, "I get those vibes whenever I'm around Yori, and they were bouncing all around the inside of that car-I mean grande sized vibes, the entire ride. Right, Rufus?"

Rufus poked his bald head out of Ron's pocket and nodded with assurance. "You betcha!"

Although the idea of Ron getting any kind of vibes from Yori instantly sent Kim into jelling mode, she was able to push these irrational feelings to the back-burner without much effort. Her immediate question of why Ron hadn't picked up any of these ninjette vibes Sophomore year on the ski trip DL had co-chaperoned with Kim's parents was easily answered by the fact that Ron hadn't yet been to Yamnouchi at that time.

"Wow, the Vibrating Palm!" Ron said in awe.

"Yeah, what is that exactly, Ron?"

"KP, it's like one of the top ninja moves," Ron explained with the same admiration he expressed for the Bricks of Fury series (well, not the musical), "I mean it is right up there with the Enraged Sparrow, the Hidden Foot, a-and the Nosepicking of Death!"

"The Nosepicking of Death," she asked, eyebrow fully arched.

"Mock all you want, Kim," Ron said defensively, "but these are moves that only the top ninjas know. And if Bonnie's mom could give some guy the Vibrating Palm then she must be one of the best of the best!"

"Okay, amp down, ninja boy," Kim said raising her hands, "I believe you, but what exactly does the Vibrating Palm do to somebody?"

"Well," he said rubbing the back of his neck nervously, "I-I don't know. I'm not a top ninja yet."

She gave his shoulder a consoling pat. "But you are sure that DL is one, right? Hmm. How did Bonnie find out? It didn't sound like she thought the Vibrating Palm was a ninja move."

"Oh, she didn't," Ron said casually, "I told her."

"You did?"

"Yeah," Ron explained calmly, "she thought her mother was going crazy." He shrugged, "I thought it would make her feel better to know her mother was a top-flight ninja and not just some nut-job."

"Did she take the news well?" Kim asked with apprehension.

"Yeah, I guess so." Ron said, his attention obviously wandering. He grew suddenly tense as they reached Kim's front door.

"What is it, Ron?"

"I'm getting those ninja chick vibes again, KP."

"Yori?"

"M-maybe, "Ron stammered, "why do you think it's her, KP?"

"Well," Kim said pointing off to the left, "isn't that one of Drakken's hovercars in my parents' front yard?"

Ron looked and, sure enough, there one was, parked in the grass. Thoughtfully, it had been landed so as not to crush Mrs. Possible's flower beds.

"Wade said that Yori called him from one after she escaped, didn't he?" she continued.

"Uh, yeah, I guess," Ron asked semi (as opposed to non) plussed.

You may not be a top ninja yet, Ron, Kim thought, but you still look awfully cute right now. She stood on her tiptoes to plant a smooch upon her befuddled boyfriend's cheek.

However, they were interrupted by a terrible, hideous sound coming from inside the Possible home.

VII.

Kim and Ron entered the house in full mission mode. Despite Ron's kunoichi vibes and Yori's acquisition of one of Drakken's hovercars, there was always the chance, however slim, that Dr. Drakken himself was also inside-that hideous racket could have been indicative of any of a half dozen of his monstrous doomsday devices.

The notion that they were perhaps walking straight into a trap flashed across Kim's mind, but if her family and possibly Yori were in danger that was a risk they were prepared to take.

However, what they discovered could NOT have been prepared for; in fact, the scene defied and surpassed any expectations they might have had ... even in their wildest dreams.

The hideous noise turned out to be "music" blaring at top volume from James Possible's state of the art sound system. Something about the song seemed vaguely familiar to Kim, but it was almost unrecognizable (and certainly unlisten-able) in the current version. Whoever the woman was who was singing, she could NOT sing. And the band seemed to be purposely distorting the original melody just to make noise.

But it was what they saw that totally stopped Team Possible in their tracks.

Jumping from couch cushion to couch cushion, shouting along with the song at the tops of their voices, were Yori and Kim's mother!Only upon a second look did Kim realize that Yori had what looked like a cast on her left hand.

"People try to put us down!" Anne Possible cried. She was almost as off-key as the singer was.

"Talkin' 'bout my generation!" Yori growled along with the background "singers."

"Just because we g-g-g-get around!" Anne yelled as she leaped from the couch and landed in the center of the room, both arms raised above her head.

Then both women faced each and delivered the next line in unison, devilish glee in their eyes and voices: "Well, I don't need their expletive deletedexpletive deleted!"

"MOTHER!" Kim yelled in disbelief. She had never heard either of her parents use such language before-it was unthinkable that her mother would say such wordslet alone sing/yell them ... and with someone she barely knew, no less!

Although Kim got their attention, her angry, shocked tone was completely lost on Yori and Anne. Both women were overjoyed to see the two teens.

"Kimmie!" Anne cried her arms outstretched to her daughter.

"Possible-san! Stoppable-san!" Yori yelled, her eyes sparkling.

As Kim's mother swallowed her daughter in a welcoming embrace, Yori hopped from one end of the couch to the other, leapt to the floor right in front of the stereo and turned down its volume to a tolerable level. She then hurried back and gave Kim a hug just as Anne was giving Ron one.

"Load-san called to tell us you two had escaped unscathed." Yori explained. "I knew he would do you honor, " she beamed.

"Oh, I was so worried about you two!" Anne smiled. "When Wade gave us the good news, we just had to blow off some steam."

"Oh, okay," Kim said, trying to get her bearings for what seemed the dozenth time in a very, very long day, "that's cool, I guess. But what in the word are you listening to?"

"Why Patti Smith, Possible-san," Yori said, confusion and even a little hurt in her voice. She looked at Anne with concern.

"Don't worry, Yori," Anne said dismissively, "Kimmie's not really into punk rock."

"That's putting in mildly," Kim said with a roll of her eyes. She had heard of Patti Smith and even listened to one or two of her songs (although not this one). Josh has really liked her and tried to get Kim into her as well. That was just one of the early signs that she and Josh were so not meant to be. But the slightly disappointed look in Yori's eyes kept her from relaying this fact.

"And what is your opinion upon punk rock, Stoppable-san," Yori asked with concern.

"Well," Ron said, thinking real hard about the question. "It definitely has a good beat … to break things to, I guess."

"Kimberly, Ronald." James Possible's booming voice resounded from the kitchen's doorway. "May I speak with you two?" He did not look pleased.

Ron involuntarily gulped and fumbled for Kim's hand. They gave Yori and Anne weak smiles and walked toward the imposing, disappointed figure.

His look softened, however, once they got within a few feet. "Listen, kids," he explained, "I know you couldn't help getting almost kidnapped and all that jazz, but this (here, he Indicated with a reproachful look toward Anne and Yori) is the reason why I wanted you two to come home as soon as possible." He sighed. "When your friend showed up a half hour ago, I thought everything was going to be all right. It did your mother a world of good to prepare that cast."

"Yeah, MrDrP," Ron interrupted, "what's up with Yori's hand."

"I think she broke a couple of fingers, Ron, I'm not sure. But, I never would have guessed that she loved punk music, too."

"What's the story on that, Dad?" Kim asked.

"That's my point, Kimmie-cub," her father continued. "Whenever your mother gets seriously depressed, she reverts back to her punk days-we have tried to keep that hidden from you and the boys for years. And your friend just acerbated that entire situation."

"Mom w-was a punk rocker?" Kim asked incredulously.

"When we first met, you bet she was," James said shaking his head wearily. "At the time we first starting going out, she was practically stalking this one ... artist." He said the last word with obvious distaste. Then, with obvious difficulty, he uttered the reprobate's name: "Iggy Pop."

"Excellent idea, James!" Anne chirped. "Yori, do you have Raw Power loaded on that device?"

Kim's father's face went ghostly white. When Yori replied after a cursory search of the mePod's files that the album in question was, indeed, available for everyone's listening honor, his face turned … well … a whiter shade of pale.

As the thundering cacophany of the album's first song inundated all of their eardrums, Kim began to suspect her father's hatred of "show people" had originated with this Iggy Pop person.

"I didn't think we even had any punk music, dad." Kim said, as her father shephered the two teen heroes into the kitchen.

"We don't," James shook his head. "I was just worried that you mother going to start downloading it before long, but then your friend shows up with one of those mePod things jam-packed with all your mother's golden oldies."

"So how is mom doing?" Kim said loudly over the music whose volume had pursued them into the next room.

"Well, I guess it could be worse," her father admitted, "she does seem happy … I guess." He then spotted Ron inadvertently tapping his feet along with "Search and Destroy," the song that was currently playing. "Stop it, Ronald." he ordered.

Just then Yori ran into the kitchen, her face flushed with excitement. "Possible-san! You're mother just told me you were named for Smith-san's beautiful song! How wonderful! What an honor!"

"What song?" Kim asked, more than a little surprised.

"Why, 'Kimberly,' Possible-san," Yori explained, somewhat disappointed that her friend had not known.

"Really?" Kim turned her shocked face to her father.

James Possible nodded sadly. But then added firmly, "Don't worry, Kimmie-cub, you were only partially named for that song."

VIII.

Nine-teen-year-old James Possible found himself staring again at the sky.

This wasn't that unusual on the face of it. In fact, James had spent a good part of his young life staring into the night sky, with or without a telescope, distinguishing the stars from the planets and, most importantly, dreaming of how to get to them. What was odd about his gazing upon the sky today was that it was during the daytime.

Of course, this was well in keeping with his reason for being in Australia in the first place. Skylab's orbit had finally lost its integrity and was due to reenter the Earth's atmosphere sometime within the next few days. Although nothing was certain, most scientists had projected the station's reentry footprint would extend over most of Western Australia. The timeframe for the reentry, however, was a little more sketchy-it might happen just as easily in the daytime as it might at night. True, the burning path of reentry would be much more spectacular during the evening, but it should still be visible during the day.

No, what was strange about James looking into the blue sky was the fact that he wasn't looking for the falling Skylab. He was actually taking in the beauty of the sunny July (winter, south of the equator) afternoon sky in the Mitchell Rivers National Park in Northern Australia.

The few cirrus clouds only emphasized how deep the blue of the ethereal grounding was. It was incredibly silly and irrational but James felt that if he raised his fingers over his head and waved them high in the air, his fingertips might come back with a bluish tinge to them. The color of the sky was that incredible. Taken with brilliant greens of the palm trees that edged "his" piece of sky, not to mention the deep red of the gorge walls that surrounded him, and James had to admit this was the most beautiful place he had ever seen ... on Earth.

James Possible had never been much interested in terrestrial beauty. He'd choose an astronomy textbook over an art survey book or a "Natural Wonders" coffee table book no questions asked, Jackson. He had long held the conviction that there was no place on Earth that could hold a candle, in terms of sheer beauty, to the Horsehead Nebula. Today, he wasn't so certain that was true.

It was very, very peculiar, but James definitely felt connected with this strange and alien land. And he had the clear impression that the Kimberley region was a place he wouldn't mind visiting again someday. It was a place he might actually entertain see himself calling home. That is, if it had not been for all the crocodiles.

"But they're fresh water crocodiles, James," Steve Silver, his friend, fellow student, and de facto guide, had explained. "They don't attack or stalk people. The saltwater crocs are the ones you worry about."

"Steve, don't take this the wrong way, and it's not that I don't trust your judgment, but-"

"But, you don't trust my judgment," Steve said with a chuckle.

James laughed. One thing he really liked about his friend, unlike most of his colleagues in the astronomy department, was that Steve was very laid back. Well, part of the reason for this was because he wasn't in the astronomy department-he wasn't a scientist at all, in fact. Majoring in religion with a minor in art history, Steve had, at first glance, seemed to be the odd man out when the "Skylab Walkabout" had first been proposed. Most of the group was made up of either astronomy majors, like James and his friends Lee Chen and Drew Lipsky (although James wasn't really sure that he liked Drew all that much) or students from other science fields. However, the group had been very fortunate that Steve had volunteered to come along-he was the only member who knew a thing about the Australian Outback. He had come over, in fact, to do some personal research in the religious traditions of the Aborigines and wasn't too terribly interested in Skylab. Still, James wasn't going to take anyone's word that crocodiles (freshwater versions or no) weren't dangerous.

Everyone else in the "Skylab" group was actually hundreds of miles to the south, in and around Perth (where most of the projections predicted the station would fall). Few of the experts felt that the Kimberley region would see any debris from the errant space station. So it was actually something of a risk for James to venture up to the region with Steve for a few days' trip. However, he had felt compelled to go.

For the first reason, his assigned roommate in Perth, the aforementioned Drew Lipsky, was driving him nuts. The guy whined and complained about everything! Although he had considered Drew one of his friends at the end of the school year (his freshman year at college), going on this extended trip with the man not only revealed aspects of his character that James didn't like, it also got him thinking about things from earlier that had rubbed him the wrong way, too. Like how Lipsky had fawned over the visiting rep from Yoyodyne. That scene had actually made James feel queasy-Drew had actually hugged the man! And the more he thought about it, the more he realized that Drew seemed consumed with a desire to succeed at any cost. Some of the shortcuts he had proposed for their end of the term project together (shortcuts James had vetoed) were not only unethical, they were quite ... well ... mad.

"Hope you don't miss it," Steve said, abruptly disturbing the peaceful silence.

"Miss what?" James asked coming out of his reverie. "Oh, that!" he said realizing. "Don't worry about it. It won't fall for a few more days. Besides, I'm sure Chen and Lipsky will give me the scoop and all the details if it does. Chen might even save me a chunk of smoldering debris."

Steve chuckled at James' apparently unconscious exclusion of Drew from that last sentence. Although Silver had known Possible from a few liberal arts classes they had taken in the Spring semester together, he had not met Lipsky until coming on the trip. From the very first moment, he had him pegged as someone from whom not to buy a watch.

"So if you're not looking for Skylab," Steve asked, genuinely interested, "what are you looking at?"

"I don't know exactly," James said with a shrug. "I guess, I don't know, I just find this place really, really ... beautiful."

After a moment when they both silently listened to the insects buzzing in the undergrowth, Steve said, "Good. I hoped you'd feel that way."

"Actually," James confided, "I guess I am still thinking about those cave drawings at Bradshaw Rock this morning."

"Ahh, the Wandjini," Steve smiled. "Pretty impressive, huh?"

"Oh yeah, I've never been one for art, but, man oh man, those were … something."

That morning, just after dawn, James had walked from their campsite to the Mertens Creek and seen the drawings that adorned the rock walls on the other side. Initially, he had thought of wading into the water to get a closer look, but had thought better of it when he remembered the crocodiles. Finally, however, he found the haunting eyes of the Wandjini too compelling NOT to inspect closer and had waded across anyway-well, at least halfway. Despite a few moments when James mistook the far-off splash of a rock falling into the creek for the advance of a hungry croc, the journey had been well worth it. The Wandjini had, indeed, been something.

"You just like them because they look like astronauts." Steve sighed.

James rolled his eyes. "Come on, you know I don't buy that Chariots of the Gods nonsense."

"Well, don't get too attached to them," Steve warned half-seriously, "you may get more than you bargained for." He then proceeded to explain the mythological basis for the Wandjini and how the rock drawings James had been so fascinated with that morning were not portraits or artistic representations of the ancient gods, but the gods themselves whose spirits were embedded in the rock and also dwelling in the pools of water that covered all of the Kimberley region. And that, sometimes, if one wasn't too careful, or, perhaps, if one was lucky they might ...

"Are you saying I might get possessed by one?" James asked astonished.

"Oh, no, no," Steve assured him, "nothing that harsh. It would be more like they would hitch a ride home with you. You know, sorta like the hitchhiking ghosts at the end of the Cursed Condo ride at Dizneeland."

"So," James said smiling at the patent absurdity of it all, "if I stared too long at a Wandjina, his spirit might leap out of the painting and ..."

"Get reborn as one of your kids? Yeah." Steve nodded. "And their spirits don't leap out of the rock, James. They leap out of small pools of water. You know, like the ones you're surrounded by right now."

"That's crazy, Steve," James protested as he stepped from the center of a ring of small pools. "I don't even have a girlfriend. I don't think I have to worry too much about having a Wandjina kid or any kids for a long, long time."

"Well," Steve explained, "their spirits can stay inside a father's body for a long, long ..." and then he let the matter drop. James had stopped being amused.

However, Steve did give voice to one more reassuring thought. "Anyway, I don't think it's something to worry about. Having a Wandjina for a kid would actually be pretty cool."

James hit the hay pretty early that evening. When he awoke, he found Steve looking forlornly down at him. "I'm sorry, James." he said.

Skylab had reentered the atmosphere the previous evening … and on the southern side of the continent. Steve had heard all about it when he turned on their short-wave radio a half hour earlier.

Drew Lipsky had been among the first to see the reentry. He had been the member on watch and had made no few enemies on the team by being so enthralled (or single-minded) about the spectacle that he failed to wake anyone else. The very reason James had wanted to come to Australia had been lost. And, to a large degree, it had been because he had ventured with Steve Silver to the Kimberley Region.

He was disappointed. Yet James Possible also couldn't shake the feeling that somehow, despite the fact that he had missed out on the sole reason for his journey, he had gotten much more out of the trip than he had expected (and certainly he had made out better than Drew Lipsky did).

IX.

"Kimmie-cub," her father asked as a sudden flush of deadly seriousness took possession of his features.

"Yes, daddy?" she asked with raising trepidation.

"What in the world happened to your hair?"

"Okay! That's it!" Kim announced. "I'm taking a shower." She tossed Ron the Roncom. "Could you call Pointsman about Justine, honey?"

"You got it, KP!"

"Not that I think GJ will do any good, but it's all we have left," she said turning from the room.

"Wait! Possible-san!" Yori called. "There is much I need to tell you."

"You know," Kim said, giving her boyfriend a warm look, "you can tell Ron. He can make any decisions or calls that need to be made. I'll only be fifteen minutes. You guys can fill me in on the sitch then."

Ron, practically glowing (and not just from his eyes) from the vote of confidence, gave his BFGF a broad smile and a thumbs up.

As Kim made it into her loft, she wondered if she should have warned Ron not to mention Slothrop to Yori. The mysterious individual was such a dangerous person to know (or at least know of), and she so didn't want anything to happen Yori. Then Kim realized how silly that fear was. Yori had just single-handedly escaped from Monkey Fist and Drakken (Boy! That was a freakish combo). She was one "ninja chick" who knew how to handle herself.

When Kim went to close the blinds, so she could change for her shower, she spied a rather large and odd-looking owl sitting in the tree outside her window. She stared at him for a few moments and then closed the blinds. After a quick shower, a cursory glance in her bathroom's mirror told her that her hair was normal once more. She came back into her room and toweled off. Absently, she noticed the razor scar above her right knee. It had been almost a year, and it was still visible.

How much had changed in that year, how many changes had she undergone herself. She remembered when such a superficial blemish might have irked her to no end-now it just reminded her of a very special day. The day when she knew, truly knew, that Ron loved her. After dressing, she opened the blinds. She had half expected to see the owl still perched in the tree, but he was gone.

As she turned from the window, she caught out of the corner of her eye a figure standing in her parent's front yard. She caught her breath.

Standing beneath her window, looking fixedly up into her eyes was Charlie. Her vision from the night before-the fire, the stars, the moon, Wandjina-all came rushing back to her. She stepped quickly from the window and dashed down to the first floor, touching only every other step.

Ron and Yori were waiting for her at the base of the steps, both pale as ghosts.

"Ron!" she began.

"Kim, you've got to listen to this," Ron said firmly.

"And you've got to listen to this-" Kim interrupted.

"Yori was kidnapped by Monkey Fist, Drakken, Motor Ed, and Dementor."

"Ohmygosh! That's, that's crazy! They're ALL working together?" Then Kim got her head back in her game. She needed to tell Ron about Charlie and about her dream (she couldn't believe she had not gotten around to that yet). "But, Ron, I NEED to tell you-"

"But there's more, Kim" Ron interrupted.

"Please, Ron, I need to tell you something first!"

"It's about Slothrop."

That stopped her cold.

"What about him?"

"My grandfather knew him, Possible-san." Yori said.

"Wh-what?"

"My not-so-honorable ancestor met Tyrone Slothrop shortly after the Allies triumphed in Europe in 1945. They met on a cruise ship, a very dishonorable ship."

Kim could feel the ground giving way beneath her. Although she didn't know which direction this was headed, she knew.

"The ship was called the Anubis."

Before Kim could react to this bombshell, the doorbell rang. All three teens jumped with a start.

"He's here." Kim said with finality.

"Who's here?"

"Charlie."

"The bunyip guy?" Ron asked.

"Yes! This is what I've been trying to tell you, Ron. I just saw him looking up at me through my bedroom window!"

"Why would he be doing that?" Ron said in alarm.

The doorbell rang a second time.

"Well, there's something I've been meaning to tell you all day, but I didn't get the chance ..." Kim could see nervousness in Ron's shifting eyes. She knew he was reflecting the anxiety that he was reading in hers. "Why didn't I tell him sooner?" Kim thought lamely.

Suddenly, Kim was interrupted by the sound of the front door swinging open, and her father welcoming in the unexpected visitor.

"Dr. Kramer! What a pleasant surprise!"


TBC …
A/N: Apologies to UltimateNacoTopping for mooching off his Take-the-kids-to-school-dreamspeak gag from "Confessions of a Little Black Dress."

Also, apologies, once more, to Peter Weir's movie The Last Wave (1977). I ripped off a scene for parts of sections V. and IX.