KP – The Light at the End: Part 1
It was very dark.
Kim thought grimly of her sophomore year creative writing class, and how the professor said he would personally slap anyone who actually started their assignments with "It was a dark and stormy night." Of course, there had to be one person in the class who had to play the smart-alec and raise the point that if that's how they wanted to begin a piece and that sort of setting was important to the plot, then why not? The aging professor fixed that particular student with an icy glare, trying to decide if they serious, or were just trying to call him out. Finally he decided, one way or the other, to treat it as the latter.
"There are better ways of doing it. Set up your scene and describe it. If it is indeed dark, and stormy as well, then lead us into that description, don't just blurt it out. There is a reason it has become such a hoary cliché. It is lazy simply to write like that."
Kim wondered why she was remembering that particular incident almost two years earlier. Yes, it was dark, the kind of darkness where it was difficult to even see your hand in front of your face. It was the kind of dark that made you feel like you were swimming in a pool of India ink. The close, warm, wet air made it even worse, causing every pore on her body to ooze sweat and oil.
The main reason she was confused by the memory was the fact that, while it was quite dark, it was not especially stormy. Oh, it had been raining. There was a reason it was called a rainforest, though she really couldn't tell when it was honestly raining, or when the water falling on her constantly was simply coming from the canopy above her. She would have actually welcomed a real storm. Then the rain would wash some of the rotting stench from the air, cooling her. She would like nothing better than to stand out in the rain and let it wash some of the filth from her body. It was the closest thing to a real shower she would be getting any time soon.
That did not seem to be forthcoming. It had been several days since she had an unhindered view of the sky. The forest itself was like a whole other world than the one she was used to. It made the thick, familiar forest around Lake Middleton seem like an open grassland. The trees were huge, with trunks ten to twenty feet across at their bases, their branches and limbs intertwining so much they formed a sort of ceiling above her. Here the sky was green, with dim light filtering through even at high-noon. The ground was teeming with life as well, with all sorts of creeping and crawling things that consumed what routinely fell from that canopy, be it leaf or creature.
Kim clutched her grappling gun to her chest as if it were her only lifeline. Even through her well-used leather gloves the plastic grip felt so familiar in her hands. It was comforting, much like holding onto her beloved Pandaroo at night. Here on a mission it would simply have to take the faded plush toy's place. It was something that was a part of her, something she knew she could depend on. Something she could touch and know what it was and what it represented. In the darkness of the South American night, it was a touchstone with her inner self.
That was about how much good it was to her at that point. It was out of charges, something that had only happened to her a couple times in the past. Still, it did have some uses. She could still deploy the hook and play the line out manually, and the retracting mechanism still worked when it was wound up correctly. That had to count for something.
She was doing her best not to be afraid. It wasn't that she shouldn't be. The proper amount of fear, given the situation, was merely being realistic. Anyone who wasn't afraid, especially with a death squad after them, was going to get dead real quick. The trick was not letting that fear overwhelm you. That was much harder to do than it seemed, even for somebody as experienced as her. It really wasn't such a new sitch to her. Come to South America, help us with a ruthless dictator. It was the kind of thing she had been doing since late in her fourteenth year, culminating in the mission when she first met Dr. Drakken. As always, she would help any way she could, be it simply getting some aid to the folks under the thrall of the bad-guys, or taking the villains on directly, any way she could.
That all looked good on paper, until you considered the fact Kim Possible never carried weapons. That always put her at a distinct disadvantage when she went into this sort of sitch. It was one thing to drop in on a squad of goons working for Professor Dementor, or any of her usual foes for that matter. They would often only use something like the energy staffs Drakken's henchmen employed, or simply rely on their fists. That was the whole point to having three-hundred pound walls of muscle as a goon.
These guys, unfortunately, were playing for keeps. It wasn't quite like the movies, where all the bad-guys carried Russian-style assault rifles. These guys weren't that lucky. Instead they had a hodge-podge collection of battered hunting rifles, shot guns and even something that looked like a musket. Unfortunately, any one of those weapons could kill you just as dead, it just took longer to get individual shots off.
Kim closed her eyes, trying to get her heart to slow down. She had to be calm and had to make the most of the nearly lightless night. The chase obviously had been called off because of the darkness. If she had been going up against a modern unit, they would have had some sort of night-vision, but this bunch didn't even seem to be interesting in lighting any kind of fire, though it was just as likely they didn't have anything they could keep lit in the ultra-damp greenery.
She cursed herself roundly for once-again heading out on a mission without being fully prepared. That lesson should have been learned quite some time ago. Leave something behind and you're sure to need it. Well, she could really have used her night-vision glasses. Touching her shoulder and the exposed flesh there, she knew she really could have used her more advanced mission clothes, or even her black super-suit. Both were made of the same self-healing fabric. No, she thought this was going to be veritable milk run. Just get some supplies to a village located deep in the forest and get back to the pick-up point.
It didn't work out quite like that. Instead of just villagers, she had to run afoul of one of the local warlords. It didn't take long for her to have to start dodging bullets, trying to simply get away from them. Most of the afternoon had been spent alternately moving away from them and going on the offensive. It kept them off-balance, but it left her dead-tired and running low on her reserves, just as she was out of the charges for her hair-dryer.
Kim was actually more scared than she had been in some time. There was something missing, something that was every bit a part of her as her own skin. It was something she had come to realize really was the key to her success over the years. Global Justice had it right when they were researching it, even though they simply abandoned the project without any further explanation, at least to her.
She was scared because she was alone.
Really, she should not have been. She knew she brought everything she needed to the table. Her acrobatic skills, her sixteen kinds of kung-fu, her understanding of how these sitches would fall into place. Her confidence in herself should have been high…
…but it wasn't.
There should have been a man at her side. He had some skills, though nowhere near at her level. He wasn't as strong and he wasn't as fast as her. While he was a long way from being stupid, he really wasn't as intelligent as she was. He could be a bit slow on the uptake, though somehow, when it really counted most, he could pull through in the clutch. Once again, on paper it didn't look like he would add too much to the situation, to the degree that she had to spend half her time pulling his butt out of the way of some impending attack.
Only without him, Kim felt like she was only half there. The emptiness was as palpable as the darkness that enveloped her. Much as she did not want it to, his absence was draining her soul just the way her constant flight had drained the energy from her muscles.
"Chica!" a voice came out of the night. The voice seemed a lot closer than she would have liked, though it was difficult to pin down where it was coming from. Everything was too soft and wet, absorbing sound. To make matters worse, the night was especially quiet. If she had been at home, sitting on the small deck of her apartment, there would have been night birds and insects calling out. For some odd reason there was none of that, though it stood to reason there should have been much more sound, considering the sheer number of living things surrounding her.
The quiet was just as unnerving as the thug who was calling out for her in the night.
"Chica roja!" The man called out. Kim had never studied Spanish officially, though her passing knowledge of Latin did help somewhat in that regard. Still, it wasn't too hard to understand what he was saying. 'Red girl' was a pretty apt description of her, especially since all the natives tended to have dark hair. Her auburn locks, even plastered down with sweat and the considerable damp of the rainforest, stood out like a sore-thumb. It occurred to her that perhaps a hat, like the floppy 'boonies' the military preferred in these situations, would help conceal her. There was a reason her pants were olive and her top black. Her hair was almost like a beacon against the riotous green.
It was clear the thug was trying to psyche her out, and it was starting to work. The voice seemed to come from everywhere at once, causing her heart to speed up, even as she tried stilling it. "Chica roja!" came once again, seeming ever closer.
As darkness fell, Kim had taken shelter in a tumbled stack of stonework that might have been a temple created by some lost civilization. Beyond the village she had been to the morning before, it was the only indication that people indeed lived in the region, though the jungle had done much to reclaim it. It was only the regularity of the stone blocks that told her that human hands had indeed somehow hewn them and carried them to the place. Trees had sent their roots deep into the cracks, splitting the stones and moving them about, though it still offered just a bit of shelter.
Kim suddenly came to realize, that, despite the balmy temperature, the constant dampness was starting to creep into her body, making her much colder than she should have been. How could one be so hot, yet chilled at the same time? Was her confidence that shaken? Was she that dependent on Ron?
Stuffing the dead grappler under one arm, she felt the ring finger of her left hand. There should have been a thick gold band there under the glove, adorned with a medium-size diamond, flanked by two emeralds. It was the ring Ron gave her when he formally proposed to her in front of their families. It was the sign that their lives were bound, that following the two semesters that represented their senior year at Middleton College they would stand in her church and be bound by vows that would legally make their two lives one. It didn't matter that they were already married in spirit. They would finally complete the path they had started on that day in high school, that one particular night when they both had the epiphany that they had been denying what the actual truth was.
Only the ring was not there!
Almost in a panic, she stripped the glove off. There was nothing on her hand, no emerald and diamond combo, not even the smaller, simpler ring he had given her when he first proposed days after turning eighteen. She pulled her other glove off as well. She very rarely put the old emerald promise ring on for missions, but its absence was just as startling. Had she simply forgotten them? She only took the engagement ring off to bathe. Was it sitting at home beside the sink?
Her breath ragged, her fingers went next to her ear-lobes. The tiny emerald earrings were not there either. Those too she often left off when she dressed for missions, fearing they would be lost. Despite that, she wished with all her heard they were there.
The necklace was gone as well, along with the tiny pictures of each of them enclosed in the small heart-shaped locket. Ron had given it to her, along with the earrings on her seventeenth birthday. He got the money for them by selling most of his collection of action figures and toys, symbolizing the step he was taking in growing up. In a way, he was heeding the ancient advice of putting away childish things. He did that for her, and for no other.
With a growing sense of dread, Kim realized she had nothing on her that tied her to her Soulmate.
She tried to strengthen her resolve. They were really nothing more than bits of metal and stone, cold things with no life of their own. They were symbols, not the love she had in her heart for him. Still, she was deeply troubled not having any of those things. She couldn't possibly have lost them somehow during the mission. She had put her gloves on at home once the call came in over her Kimmunicator, and hadn't taken them off until just that particular moment. That meant she had never put them on that morning when she got out of the shower.
Why hadn't she? At least she should have put the smaller ring on. Then there would have been something she could touch, something physical that reminded her of him. It scared her that she could be so absent-minded. What else had she forgotten?
Oh, that was easy. No gli-pack to fly her away from the bad-guys, no spare charges for the grappler, no machete to make her way through the lush greenery, no special gadgets to give her an edge over her opponents…nothing that she really needed. Was she slipping that badly?
Still, she would prevail. She was Kim Possible, and she could do anything, and if that meant taking on the jungle death-squad bare-handed, so be it.
"Chica!" There was no denying it. The voice was closer. She gasped audibly when she realized another mistake she had made. The old temple might have offered her some shelter from the elements, but these men obviously knew the lay of the land. They would know where it was and could guess that she had gone to ground there. Not counting the men she had rendered unconscious already, there still had to be at least a dozen of them out there, more if they had called in reinforcements.
She felt the presence more than heard him. She could almost smell the naked steel of the knife she knew must be in his hands. He was there. Kim couldn't tell if it was the man who had been calling out to her in the night, but the presence was undeniable. Death was coming for her.
Relying on her memory, she leapt up onto a ledge, hoping the darkness would aid her as much as it was her assailant. Unfortunately, the man had anticipated her move. A rough hand closed on her mouth, and she could feel his muscles tense as the blade came down.
She sat up suddenly. It was still just as dark, but everything else was different. Cold sweat trickled down from her forehead, bathing her body, making her clothing cling to her. Her heart raced as she realized she was not alone in a jungle, about to have her life ended on the point of a crude fighting knife.
Reaching out to her left, she touched the metal shade of the lamp sitting on her nightstand. The bulb came to life, throwing dim illumination on the small but comfortable bedroom. She touched the brass lamp two more times, bringing the light to full-power.
Just as she had been in the dream, she was alone. It took her several minutes to remember that she was supposed to be that way. Since the previous winter, she could count the number of nights she had slept alone on one hand. The old plan had been for them to wait until after they finished college, for them to wait until they were officially married, but things did not work out quite that way. Instead, they lived together for a time in the home she had grown up in, until they finally found their own apartment just off campus.
Kim climbed out of the bed and headed into her bathroom, splashing cold water on her face. Ron was spending the night in Denver, having gone there with his parents to attend the bris of his newborn cousin. Kim had stayed behind because of some last-minute preparations for the impending school year. It was supposed to be quite simple. One night apart and everything would be back to normal.
She wasn't counting on having a nightmare.
The adventure in South America had been real enough. They had been in the apartment all of two days, just long enough to have the rest of their furniture delivered. The place was an utter mess, but they went anyway. That was simply what they did. People needed help, that's all that mattered.
Only, that night in the rainforest, hiding in the tumble-down temple with their opponents taunting them in Spanish, Ron had been there with her, holding her in the darkness. He was the source of her strength then, the reason she was able to prevail the following morning. She returned home not only having delivered the critical supplies to the village, but capturing the warlord and his death-squad, putting them in the hands of the proper authorities.
It was only about four-thirty in the morning, but sleep was pretty much out of the question. Even if she was able to fall back into a restful slumber, there would be the chance she would dream once more. She wasn't prone to nightmares, but when she did have them, they frightened her. The other problem was, when she fell asleep again at that time of the morning, she had a tendency to do so for hours, making it hard to get up at six as she planned to do. There was also the matter of her being soaked in sweat. There was nothing worse than getting into a damp bed, even if she were to change out of the old, red jersey into something fresh.
There was a lot to do that day. Classes would start the next day, and she planned to get a jump on things, meeting with as many of her professors as she could. She would also hit the campus book store to pick up as much of the materials both of them would need as she could. It was time for that final push to graduation, the final hurdle before they could start their lives together in earnest.
Kim started the shower, simultaneously wishing Ron could be there with her and berating herself for acting like a frightened little girl simply because her best friend and lover was away for one night fulfilling his family responsibilities.
Kim Possible and all related characters © Disney