Lonely At The Top
Never in front of the troops. This is a code that I have always followed for longer than I can remember. We all have our vices. I, for one, have been known to lean back in my command chair with a cup of hot chocolate, stare up into the starscape, close my eyes, and let my imagination run free. It's not often that I get the chance to do something like that. Usually, I'm too busy keeping the entire Kids Next Door organization running, but that's my little indulgence when I can find a few spare minutes to rub together. Numbuh 86 has her deep fondness for Rainbow Monkeys that she tries, only somewhat successfully, to keep a secret. The illustrious Numbuh 5 has a sweet tooth that's hard for most kids to rival. Numbuh 2 is hopelessly addicted to trashy Rainbow Monkey romance comics. And Numbuh 101 is the king of the fanboys.
I do have one other little indulgence. I used to think it was silly, now I realize it may just be part of getting old. It scares me a little. I mean, I'm not the kind of girl who does stupid things for a boy. I like to think that I'm not the kind of girl who does stupid things, period. There's always too much at stake for me to be careless. And I'm usually too busy cleaning up other people's mistakes to make any of my own. Well, except maybe that promotion I gave to Fanny. What the heck was I thinking there? She could be hard to work with before she got the job, now she's downright incorrigible. It's not that she isn't a good operative, and she keeps a lot of the troops on their toes. And I like her, which is more than a lot of people can say. But that doesn't mean that she doesn't drive me crazy. But then, I've found that most of the people that worm their way into my good graces have the ability to make me nuts. Maybe it's one of those things that come with the territory, I don't know.
I'm sitting at my desk, staring at his profile. Nigel Uno, Codename Numbuh 1, Commander of Sector V. I don't really need to go over his list of accomplishments, I know most of them by heart. But I find that I can't help reading them anyway. What can I say? He impresses me. And annoys me. He isn't a boy to weigh his options. He'd rather stick to one course of action and risk it all on that one move. That's really not my personality. But I can't afford to be that way. I have to look at everything from all sides. If I make a mistake, it could be a disaster for the KND as a whole. But Nigel never seems to worry about that, no matter what the risks. Because he's always confident of victory. He never worries about failure. He believes in himself and his team, he believes in the KND, and he once told me he believes in me.
I still remember when he told me that. It was the first time I had smiled in months, because of what he said. And I needed that. Because being the Supreme Commander of this organization starts to weigh heavily on you after awhile. It's gotten to the point where I'm no fun anymore, and I hate that. But that's why nobody wants this job. It just isn't any fun. It's the opposite of fun, and there's no time for a day off. Do you have any idea how hard it is to come up with excuses for taking off on Christmas morning before I've even opened my presents? But there's always some crisis somewhere that I have to oversee. Something is always coming up. And it's always been that way. And I don't even get thanked for any of it. Most operatives who aren't in Global Command only come by to see me when they have a brushfire they want me to put out, or some complaint they want to lodge. Such is my lot, I guess. I guess I'm whining now too, so maybe I shouldn't make such a big deal about it.
Am I entitled to the same kind of happiness that other kids have? I don't really know. Truth be told, I feel a lot more like an adult than a kid. I'm everyone's mother, I take care of it all. So why can't I have fun once in awhile?
Okay, okay. I like him. Back off me already. I like him a lot. Maybe that's what annoys me. He can be a bit of a hotshot sometimes. It just seems too cliché. Bored heroine falls for thrill-seeking boy hero. Yeah, there should be more to it than that. And there is. It's not like I just think he's cute or something. It's more like. . .he gets to me. On the inside. I like the way he makes me feel, and believe me, that can be a very scary feeling. But how else am I supposed to feel? When I talk to him, its like I can feel these little darkly, mysterious, beautiful kinds of sensations in my head. I feel. . .well, I feel things that I don't feel when I talk to any other boy. And I don't know how to react to them. I'm eleven years old, I'm too young for this! I had always thought that love was for teenagers. True, I've seen plenty of kids pair off around here before. I never really considered it my business unless it was becoming a factor in someone's performance. But I thought that I was different. Maybe that was a little naïve of me, I don't know. But I don't want to fall for him. . . . . . . . .I have fallen for him. There's no use kidding myself there. I always feel like I have more strength when he's nearby, like somebody has my back, that I have the strength to do this job for two more years.
And now I'm sitting here, looking at his picture and drumming my fingers on the desk, looking for an excuse to call him. No, that's not right. I already have an excuse. Hey, Numbuh 1, I just called to say I love you. Ha! I'll bet you thought that's what I was going to say, didn't you? No, I actually have a job that I want him to do. I'm just considering my options. How can I tell him that I like him without making myself sound like some lovesick school girl? Not to mention it would be a terrible breach of decorum, and that is so unlike me. Boys always think we girls have it so easy, that we all just sit around and wait to be asked out by some boy. If that were the case, no one would ever get together! If boys knew how much plotting we have to do behind the scenes to get a boy to ask the question, they'd probably freak out. And like any girl, I have to plan this so carefully. Like a dance, like a play, like. . .like a mission! Fortunately, I just happen to be the queen of planning. I look at situations from all angles, imagine every possible outcome, and develop a plan for each and every one. Some people might think that it makes me a little tense, but I'm not. I'm actually pretty laid back. For the Supreme Commander of the KND, at least.
All right, enough hesitating. I'm calling him. At the very least, I'll get to talk to him for a little bit.
Nigel Uno is staring back at me intently from his end of the line. Ah, of course. He probably thinks that I've got an emergency waiting in the wings for him. That the lives of kids around the world are about to depend upon him. Again. Well, I suppose it's possible. But probably not today. Still, there's something cute about the way he carries himself so seriously. He's never taken his KND duties lightly, I have to give him that. But the salute puts him a little over the top, almost as though he's like a cartoon parody of himself.
"Relax, Numbuh 1."
"You've got a mission for my team and I?" He asks me eagerly, as though this is the highlight of his day. And perhaps it is.
"Yes. Nothing too dramatic, though."
"What's the job?"
I fix a wry grin on myself before answering. "How would you like a tour of Father's mansion?"
"With or without the rest of the sectors?" He asks me, cocking an eyebrow, apparently picking up on my sense of humor.
"Without. Sorry, Numbuh 1, no fireworks this time. I'm just a little concerned. We haven't heard a peep out of Father in a few weeks. History says that this is probably our calm before the storm. I'd appreciate it if you guys can do a little reconaissance for me, see what he's up to and if we can put together a pre-emptive strike. But don't get cocky. I'd rather you avoid confrontation at this point. If you guys go in there and bust everything up, it makes it harder for our scientists to analyze the stuff he's doing."
"Recon only, affirmative." Nigel nods at me, even though I know he's going to be upset if he feels that he has a chance to take Father's plans out and doesn't. But sometimes I have to make tough decisions.
"I'm not catching you at a bad time, am I?" I ask him. What's wrong with me? Why can't I ever talk to him about. . .
"No, not really. I did promise I'd take Lizzie to the playground, bit I'll just postpone it."
I work very hard at disgusing my feelings about that. Sometimes I forget that Nigel already has a girlfriend. Of course, why shouldn't he? He probably has lots of girls after him. He's a hero. He's out there nearly every day, making the world a better place for kids everywhere. And I'm flying a chair up here in orbit, giving the orders. I haven't been on a field mission since Father tried to take over the KND, and it'll probably be a long time before I'm in action again. And that's how it should be. It's silly to think that someone like Nigel would ever look my way. I'm just his Supreme Commander. But it doesn't make moments like these any less painful. "Sorry about that. I hope she'll understand." I muster an apologetic smile for him.
"Won't be the first time." Nigel said flatly, dismissing the notion that I owed him an apology. "Don't worry. I'll try to bring you back a souvenior from the mansion."
"Thanks, Numbuh 1. I appreciate that."
"There is one other thing you could do for me."
I toss my hair back and offer him my best look before speaking. "When you get back, take the rest of the day off and have a nice time on your date." When I was very young, my father taught me to lose gracefully.
"Th-thanks, Numbuh 362. I'll report in after the mission."
"I'm not going anywhere." I smile warmly, terminating the connection. Leaning back in my chair, I try not to think too hard about what a fool I just made of myself. Am I being stupid, thinking that there's something between Nigel and me? Maybe it is just the foolish wish of a girl trying to distract herself from all the paperwork she always has to go through. But it feels like there's something there, whenever we talk. I don't know why. I just like you, Nigel. But maybe I don't like him enough to tell him how I feel. Either that, or I like him too much. "I just called to say I love you." I run my middle and index finger across the screen in my desk before standing up. Outside my door, there's an entire Moonbase waiting for me. It may not seem that way right now, but I won't make it three steps down the hall before I'm being pulled in a million directions. But it beats the paperwork. Because I just don't feel like being alone right now. I need a distraction. I open my door and walk out, heading back to the command area. For the record, it turns out I was wrong—I made it five steps before I had a clipboard shoved in my face. I'm ready for them. I just need to get a mug of hot chocolate. Look out, world. Rachel MacKenzie is back in the saddle.
When first coming to this short story, I had planned on doing something a lot more dramatic. But then I felt that it wouldn't work out that well, that such a sequence would be better served for my upcoming KND epic, Operation: M.O.T.H.E.R. (March 10, 2007—only at FFN).
And so I find myself with the piece you just read. I had noticed over at the KND Fan Forum that there seemed to be an outcry among my fellow "Courting Commanders" for more 1/362 fanfiction, so here's my humble submission. I really have no idea how well-received this will be, but for better or for worse, here it is.
This is basically my first work for KND that I've actually published. I'm rather pleased that it was for 1/362, since those two just warm my heart for reasons I can't even completely explain. They just seem to have a chemistry and personalities that would be extremely compatible. It's kind of ironic, I suppose, that this story turned out as it did, but I wanted to keep it realistic. Numbuh 362 is generally the cautious type, so she's not about to challenge Lizzie for Nigel's heart. It just isn't her style. I think I wanted to put out something that was angsty but not to the point that it got ridiculous. I like it, anyway.
Fans of my long-running "Instant Gratification" may rejoice—I'm about 75 done with a new chapter! I've been writing my brains out this week since I'm off from work, so I'm pleased to announce that the story is not dead, and that it will update on Thanksgiving Day! That's only a week away, can you believe it? I know that traditionally, I have always updated IG on a Monday, but I wanted to help alleviate some holiday boredom for all my fans out there. So anyway, IG is back too, and there was much rejoicing!
Okay, I don't know what else to say, except maybe—Chewy pellets for all!
And, as always, send your questions, comments, compliments, complaints, love letters, death threats, marriage proposals, and ransom demands to: