The distant sun hung low in the sky as the helicopter flew swiftly across the sandy plains. Inside its steel belly, six figures were tightly packed, staring down at the ground as it swept past. One of the six glanced frequently at a large color panel showing their position on a colorful map. He looked to the woman with short red hair sitting beside him.
"We'll be in the area in another sixteen miles, Director," Agent Du said.
"How big of an area is it?" asked Kim, looking at the screen.
Du tapped the destination icon on the map and expanded it. "With the coordinates provided, we can narrow it down to about 800 square yards of space."
"Yikes," frowned Kim. "That's a big area to search."
"Satellite information forwarded to us by HQ seems to indicate there's a village there."
"A village? Do you think someone knows something there?"
Will Du shrugged. "Do you have any idea what the coordinates are meant to represent?" Kim shook her head. "Then we have little else to go on."
Kim leaned against the door and tried to look ahead on their path. She could barely make out something in the distance.
She stiffened suddenly then put her hand to her headset and yelled into her microphone. "Benny! Take us down now!"
"Aye, Director," said the pilot over the radio and slowed down to land the vehicle.
"What's going on?" asked Will, as he folded his tablet and slipped it into his side pouch.
"These are thatched roof villages," said Kim as the copter set down on the dusty ground. "We fly in close we could blow the whole settlement away."
Will nodded and pulled open the door, letting Kim and the four agents they brought with them file out. Once onto the ground Kim waved to the pilot who cut his engine and slowly allowed the spinning propeller to come to a stop. The agents all tossed their headsets back into the cockpit.
Kim tossed her bag onto her back and they walked towards the village with Will pointing the way. Kim looked around and frowned. She was in awe of the dichotomy of the continent they were on. Some parts of Africa were covered in jungle while others were just endless miles of dry savanna. She supposed that it was the same in the Americas, but the ever expanding sprawl of cities has somewhat diminished the impact of hundreds of acres of untamed landscape.
After several minutes of walking, the group made to the village. It was nothing they had expected.
The thatched houses and grass huts were there, but they stood alongside more modern construction that was built to last. The materials were not too dissimilar, more use of wood from the distant forests marked the newer houses, but the expertise used to construct the residences was readily apparent and of western influence.
As the team was standing awkwardly at the edge of the village of about 40 huts, a young girl with long dark hair and a very tanned complexion ran up to the GJ team.
"Who are you?" asked the girl in perfect English.
Kim looked to Will and then back at the girl. "My name's Kim," she said. "What's your name?"
"Kekue," said the girl. She tilted her head slightly. "Are you auntie Possible?"
Kim frowned. "Yes, I am. How do you know about me?"
The girl smiled and shuffled awkwardly for a few moments. "Mama said you were going to come," Kekue said. "Mama said you will want to meet her."
Kim shrugged. "Sure, I'll meet your Mama." She smiled pleasantly down at the girl who turned and started scampering off. Kim was startled then started walking after her. "Will, come with me. The rest of you look around, but be respectful, please?"
Will took up position slightly behind and to the right of Kim while the other four agents dispersed into the village. Will looked over his shoulder at the tanned locals staring at them and leaned in close to Kim.
"I'm finding this all a little strange," he admitted. "Do you think these people have clues to what Shego hid here?"
Kim shook her head. "I don't think what we're looking for is buried." Kim saw their 'guide' wave them over to a well made hut. "No, I think what Shego brought us here for is already visible to us."
"What?" asked Will, but Kim didn't answer.
At the hut, Kim and Will ducked beneath the canvas door and saw a woman weaving clothes inside. The little girl Kekue was standing beside her, hanging onto her shirt with one hand for safety. The older woman looked and stood, respectfully.
"My name is Orona," said the woman with a nod. Again, she spoke English but slightly more muddled than her daughter. "I guess you are Kim Possible?"
Kim nodded and held out her hand. "It's Stoppable, these days actually, but pleased to meet you. This here is Agent Will Du."
The woman shook Kim's hand then Will's, the latter expressing thanks.
"So how do you know about us?"
The woman nodded slowly and continued weaving as she spoke. "Shi-Shi told us all you would come," said the woman simply. "She knew she couldn't be hidden forever." She picked up a green spool and introduced it into her pattern. "So, what happened to Shi-Shi?"
Kim looked down.
"I see," said Orona, softly. She increased her pace. "She also suspected that would happen."
"Awfully self-reflective for Shego," commented Will. "I don't suppose she tearfully poured out her every secret to you as well."
"Will!" snapped Kim.
"Quite the opposite, actually," continued Orona. "She never talked about yesterday. Came here nearly dead but wouldn't say how." Her thread ran out and she picked up a dark blue one. "She asked to stay for a while, and when the dust storms ruined the sunward homes, she stepped in to build them new. And when Madia passed away, leaving Cessili alone, she became her mother."
"She adopted a child here?" asked Kim.
"She became caretaker to young Cessili. But it was Cessili that the hunched elder used to force her to go with him." The older woman shook her head. "Poor Shi-Shi went without a word. Thankfully, he released the girl."
Kim was silent, staring at the long blanket being swiftly woven before her eyes. Will cleared his throat and addressed Orona again. "She didn't leave anything here for us, did she?" he asked. "Something for us to find once she had ... passed away."
"She had nothing with her when she first came," started Orona. "But she not leave anyone to care for Cessili and the mad one."
Kim looked up. "The mad one?" she asked. "Who's that?"
The older woman smiled and slowly slid off her seat. She waved expectantly and left the hut. Kim and Will followed quietly.
When they were standing outside again one of the other GJ agents came up to them. "Director, Agent, we found a house with some of the equipment Shego took on her mission to the Syndicate. A transceiver and part of her Tact Under-Armour."
Will nodded. "Collect whatever you can that we gave her."
"Sir," said the agent before turning and heading back in the direction he came.
"I'm getting a sinking feeling the longer we're here," said Kim as she and Will followed Orona through the village. There were probably just shy of a hundred people in the area, mostly children, but many adults as well who looked at the intruders with equal parts fear and wonder.
"She couldn't possibly have wanted us to take care of all these people," said Will flatly. "The humanitarian ability of GJ does not extend to providing for villages of Africans. We'd be better off calling in the Red Cross."
"She'd know that," said Kim. "It's probably why she made it her last request."
"Last request or not," countered Will. "We can just pick and choose needy people to provide for, it wouldn't be fair. We could fly ten miles in either direction from here and probably find another village of people who might need our help surviving the winter, why would we not help them? What makes these people special? Just because Shego was here for a while?"
"There's nothing special about these people," said Kim softly. "That's the whole point, I think."
"We can't care for everyone." Will shook his head. "And if we try, we're opening ourselves up to trouble."
"I'm sorry," Orona suddenly said, turning to face her followers. "I couldn't stop from listening, but I think your argument should include at least one of my people."
"What do you mean?" asked Kim.
"I understand your need to show you loved Shi-Shi, but you must understand, she came to us as a stranger, and became a member of our family. She was not our savior. She was here to help when we had our troubles, just as all of our family was. We loved her dearly, but we are not lost without her."
Kim bit her lip and apologized. "I'm sorry. We didn't mean to force anything on you."
"We always need strong arms when the storms come," said Orona, turning back and starting to walk again. "But we don't need caretakers."
Kim and Will watched her walk for a second before moving to catch up. "I'm starting to see why Shego liked you guys," said Kim with a smile.
The three approached a house set slightly apart from the others in the village and definitely constructed after Shego arrived. It was made of long wood boards and had clean cuts where Kim could imagine Shego's power coming in handy. The framing was sturdy and Kim could see Orona struggle slightly to pull open the only full door in the village. With a wave, Orona stepped into the house.
When Kim followed her inside, her eyes locked on the last thing she ever expected to see. Will was already reaching for his weapon by the time Kim had a moment to blink. He had pushed her to the side a second later, clearing her of the doorway and pointed his gun at the frail, pale blue skinned man tinkering in the corner of the small room.
Will kept his gun leveled and ready as he spared a glance towards Orona. "What is he doing here?" he demanded.
Kim peeked around Will to see the once infamous Syndicate leader shivering in a corner. Orona nodded towards the 'doctor' and answered Will. "He was brought her by Shi-Shi, not long after she came to us. You don't need to be scared, he's harmless."
"He's the most wanted criminal in the world," said Will, the edge on his voice readily apparent. "He's not 'harmless.'"
"Whoever you think he is," said Orona. "Shi-Shi assured us this man could do no harm."
"I'm not mistaken," continued Will. "Blue skin, scar on his face, there's no questioning it. That is Drew Lipsky."
Kim stepped out from behind Will, causing him to nervously try to stand between her and Drakken, but she gently put her hand on his shoulder. "Will, put that down."
"Will, look at him," Kim insisted, and pointed.
Will's eyes followed hers and he stared at the blue man in the corner. He was trembling slightly and had a piece of long rope and some misshapen wooden blocks in his hands. He was trying to fit them together in some manner but apparently failing. Once in a while he would drop one of the pieces and feel around randomly until finding it again.
"What's... wrong with him?" asked Will to nobody in particular.
"His mind's a child's," said Orona. "He has been that way since Shi-Shi brought him here. His eyes have been fading as well. She said he was injured, but was once an important person to her and asked to be able to take care of him here. She built this house for him."
"Why all the security if he's harmless, then?" asked Kim, looking at the heavy door. "None of your other buildings are built like this."
"He wanted it that way." The elder woman motioned towards Drew. "He seems to like dark, small places."
Kim frowned and started walking towards the frail, blue man. Will motioned to stop her but she dismissed his warning. Kneeling down beside Drew, she spoke softly. "Hi. What are you doing there?"
"Building..." said Drew, shyly.
"What are you building?"
"A person? Out of wood?"
"Uh-huh. She'll move around like a person and play with me. Until Shi-Shi comes back."
Kim looked down and sighed.
"The kids are somewhat scared of him," offered Orona. "Only Shi-Shi would be with him on most days."
"I think Shi-Shi is going to be gone for a long time," said Kim. She patted him reassuringly on the back and he froze up like a frightened animal. "It's okay. You know, I'm sure I can find some other people to play with you."
"Director..." warned Will.
"Really?" asked Drew, looking up slightly. He still faced away from Kim but he wasn't shivering. "Are they fun?"
Kim nodded slowly. "Yeah, they're fun."
Will shook his head as Kim stood and headed for the entrance. Orona followed her out and the three stood under the sun again.
"This is not your responsibility," said Will.
"Yes, it is," said Kim. "In more ways than one. He needs to be brought back to GJ in the very least to confirm that he's... really this way. After that we can set him up in one of our monitored facilities."
"He murdered hundreds--"
"No," Kim shook her head. "Dr. Drakken did. Syndicate did. He's neither of those things anymore. We'll watch him to make sure he doesn't regress, but otherwise he's should be in the proper care."
"Easy for you to say," said Will, folding his arms. "You're leaving."
"Cheer up," Kim patted him on his shoulder. "I'm thinking about naming you as my replacement."
Will froze and looked at Kim, shocked. "I--"
"Orona," Kim immediately turned her attention to the woman. "Is it okay if we take him off your hands? I'm pretty certain Drew is the 'Him' Shego asked me to care for."
"Yes," replied the woman. "He has nobody else now."
"What about the girl? You mentioned a Cessili that Shego had adopted. Will she be taken care of?"
Orona nodded. "We can care for her, although she may wish to meet you."
"Me?" said Kim, surprised. "Does she know about me?"
"Shi-Shi spoke often of the great adventures of the Kim Possible. The tales were always popular with the children as well as many of our adults. Cessili in particular took great joy from them and I think Shi-Shi told her more about you than the others."
"Shego told favorable stories about Kim?" asked Will, incredulously.
"The legend of the Kim Possible is a great hero's tale," said Orona.
Kim blanched. "Given that, I'm not sure I can live up to the hype. It's probably better we disrupt your life as little as possible."
"The young one will be disappointed."
Kim sighed. "Will, can you get the team together and see about moving Drak-- er, Drew to the helicopter. We'll head back to the US on the next flight out. I'll catch up with you in a few minutes."
"I'll leave Landry behind," nodded Will.
"That's not necessary, I'll only be a minute."
"I'm still leaving him behind." Will turned towards where they last saw the agents.
"You're not Director yet," called Kim after him. "You can't rescind my orders."
"You'll have to cite me then," called Will over his shoulder.
Kim smiled and looked back to Orona. "Can you bring me to her? Cessili."
Once again Kim followed her through the village, this time noticing the stares and quiet whispers between friends as they looked at her. She wondered if they figured who she was, if somehow Shego had told them strange tales about her. Orona had never actually agreed that the stories were favorable.
The small hut that Orona brought her to featured some of the same straight cuts and polish Drew's house had, another sign of Shego's influence. The animal hide over the doorway had a green mark on it that Kim didn't recognize but figured was how people knew Shego's place from the rest. Or maybe how Shego figured out her place from everyone else's.
Orona pushed aside the pelt and Kim stepped inside. A young girl, probably just a little older than Julie, sat inside, holding a scrap of green and black cloth, staring at it solemnly. Kim noticed an agent standing just inside the doorway and she frowned. "Landry?" she asked.
"She was holding onto some of Shego's things and wouldn't give them up," the agent said motioning to a few electronic trinkets lying at the girl's feet.
"I asked politely for them back but nothing more," he quickly replied. "But..."
"But what?" frowned Kim.
"She asked why I wanted them and I ... may have indicated that Shego was dead."
Kim put her hands to her face.
"She looked so depressed I didn't want to leave her alone," said Landry softly. "So I've... been standing here."
Kim dropped her hands and nodded. "Wait outside for me, please."
"Sir," nodded the agent and silently exited.
Kim walked over to the girl and sat nearby to her. The girl didn't even move.
"Are you Cessili?" asked Kim, but received silence. "My name is Kim. I was close to Shi-Shi."
The girl turned slightly, spying Kim out of the corner of her eye, but continued with silence.
"I'm sorry you had to find out something so sad this way," continued Kim. "It's always painful to hear about things like this. When I heard about it, I was so sad I cried for a long time. It's okay to cry, you know, when it hurts like that."
Cessili swallowed, and looked back at the fabric in her hands. Kim recognized it as a piece of one of Shego's old jumpsuits. She must have had it after the Syndicate explosion.
"I heard that Shi-Shi told some stories about me. Did you ever hear them?"
The girl nodded.
"I hope they were good stories," said Kim. "I never knew she was a storyteller. I'm sorry I never got to hear them." Kim moved slightly to be more in Cessili's field of vision. "Hey, you know what I'd like to hear?"
Kim smiled slightly and tried to catch her eyes. "I'd to hear a story about you." Cessili's eyes widened slightly. "That's right, I want to know more about you."
"Why?" asked the little girl. Her voice seemed strained, but still melodic.
"Because of all the things I've faced in my life," said Kim. "I've never known anyone able to get Shi-Shi to love someone the way it looked like she loved you. And that's something truly amazing in my book."
The girl frowned and her lip trembled.
"How about it? You tell me some of your amazing stories and I'll you some good stories I know about Shi-Shi?" Kim carefully reached out her hand and stroked Cessili's hair. "Do you think you'd like that?"
The girl sniffled several times before bursting out crying. Kim inched in closer and wrapped her arms around the small girl, who immediate clutched Kim's shirt for dear life, burying her face in the rough fabric.
Kim stroked the girl's hair and whispered comforting words to her. She looked up to Orona with an expecting look. The elder woman just shook her head. Kim sighed.
The young Cessili continued to cry until her tiny frame slumped from exhaustion.
"Would you--" Kim started to say but hesitated. She felt crazy for even thinking it, but as she stared at the gasping form in her arms, she wanted to do something -- anything to ease the girl's pain.
Kim swallowed and started again.
"Would you like to come with me?"
(Continued in 'Full Of Grace')