The After

Rated T for language, violence, and teenage situations

(And if this beginning bit isn't quite your cuppa,' stick with it, and rest assured - Ten yards and a touchdown? Ew, gross. 27 feet and then a punt return in the opposite direction? Well, with the proper setup and connecting passes, that might be a play I can run...)

1. REM

July 16th, 2007

Carnival Cruise Lines ship Liberty

Corridor 18-B

3:08 PM

"…I can't tell you how much I appreciate this, Mr. LaBranche," Kim Possible chortled, shifting the straps of her backpack slightly with a roll to her sore shoulders. Soft golden lighting played gently off rose-petal wallpaper. An ornate teak chair-rail slid by at her waist. Piped-in music played delicately from overhead speakers. In this luxurious part of the ship, wave roll was virtually nonexistent. She savored every footfall of her tired soles into the thick first-class carpet.

"Not at all, not at all," rumbled the jolly Creole, captain of the Liberty. "It was you, after all, who saved our line's reputation during that e. coli outbreak."

"No big," she responded cheerily, "I've got Ron to thank for it, anyway. He can spot an expired spinach can at fifty paces…" Not that'll prevent him from tasting it, of course… she thought quickly. "...It's something he's picked up from working at SmartyMart." She skillfully masked a gag reflex. "Isn't that right, Ron?"

Kim looked over her shoulder.

"Waaahhmmm?" Ron Stoppable mumbled groggily, smashing together a "What?" and "Hmm?" Shaking out of a sleepy zombie-walk, he mechanically wrung a bit more salt water out of the sleeve hem of his shirt. The corrosive mix dibbled onto the two-inch-thick Persian wall-to-wall hall carpet.

Cringing, the captain glanced the other way. Just this once… Just this once…

Kim gave her long hair another flowing shake, hoping to rattle the yucky brine feeling out of it. It felt frizzy, a bit sweaty, and just plain uncomfortable. Like waking up in a mummy bag on the second showerless day of backpacking. She was somewhat glad she hadn't seen a mirror since being hoisted aboard; her face was undoubtedly streaked with dirt. "…This is really nice of you, Captain. I hope we're not being, like, a burden, or anything."

"Perish the thought," said LaBranche courteously, brushing away the comment with a wave of his smooth brown hand. He dug into a pocket of his fine white captain's uniform and pulled out a heavy, gold-colored key the size of his palm. Slowing, he counted down room numbers and then came to a halt. "…Aaaand here we are." He had stopped in front of a mahogany inlay door, similar to the dozen or so that stretched down the corridor. Suite 1-A read a flourished plaque.

"Are-are you sure we're not burdening you?" Kim said anxiously, now somewhat unnerved by the finery of their surroundings. "I mean, I don't want to deprive a…a -paying- customer of the room, and Ron and I are fine with second class–"

"We are?" Ron interjected mournfully.

LaBranche held up a hand, cutting Kim off. "Ms. Possible, please, it's no trouble at all. We've had a slow week, and we were actually on our way back to Miami after dropping a load of clients in the Bahamas when we picked you up. This whole hall is empty. Besides, you saved my company millions in P.R. hassle. This is the least I can do to repay you." He stuck the key in the lock and sprang the bolt with a solid clunk. "I'm only sorry we couldn't offer you the honeymoon suite…"

Kim felt a prickle of heat trace up the back of her neck.

"…But I think you'll find the cabin quite comfortable." He held the door open for them.

Kim walked in, looking around. The tan carpet here was slightly less thick, although it still felt very expensive. Fresh white chair-rails and moldings accentuated blue floral-pattern wallpaper. A four-poster on her left, closet doors, and heavy furniture were made of rich, dark wood. The bed, she saw gratefully, was fitted with Egyptian cotton. No satin. She glanced quickly over at her longtime boy friend and relatively recent boyfriend, who was leaning on the doorframe.

One less temptation there, thankfully ... I ... guess...

A glass-paned door on the right wall, abutting the adjoining wall, led to a balcony. Floor-to-ceiling picture windows made up the entire right wall, except for the very middle, which was covered by a heavy blue curtain. It ruffled slightly, indicating a space behind. The windows, along with an abundance of mirrors, gave the room a very open, airy feeling.

"Gentleman and beautiful lady," said the captain flatteringly, "Your luggage will be up in about an hour… It's in the steam room, drying. There isn't any crew or maintenance on the hall at the moment due to the low passenger turnout, but if at anytime you need anything at all, there's a call button to the right of the door. A steward will come running… And now, I must bid you both adieu and return to the workings of my ship. I beg you to enjoy your stay, and Au revoi!" He tipped his hat and gently closed the door.

Ron, finally deciding that wringing more brine out of his clothes was an exercise in futility, collapsed backward on a long side of the bed. Kim followed suit on the other, so their heads were now side-by-side.

"Niiiice place, KP," said Ron, brightening as he folded his arms under his head and looked around. "First class for the win! Swank-tastic all around… Hey, I wonder if we can get any champagne through the button thingy!"

Kim reached forward and rubbed a finger under Ron's nose. "Come off it, Ron," she said, automatically authoritarian but smiling all the same, "We're not 21 yet, remember?"

"Right, right, yet we save the world on a regular basis and I'm old enough to be drafted…" Ron grumbled, trailing off.

He paused to let the subject change.

"…Man…… That sure was something, huh?"

Kim squeezed her eyes shut as she again registered the salt grime on her hair and skin. "I'll say…"

They had every right to be exhausted. Thirty-six hours ago, Kim and Ron had foiled yet another of Dr. Drakken's take-over-the-world schemes. It had involved various Diablo robot scraps and hydrogenated flaxseed oil. Don't ask. However, when Shego attempted to ventilate Kim with a handheld buzz saw, she accidentally created a spray of sparks that ignited a trail of the oil. Drakken and Shego had dived for their bomb shelter, leaving Kim and Ron to skedaddle, Diehard Style, in an inflatable Zodiac. When they were less than three-quarters of a mile clear of the island, the flame reached Drakken's giant tanks of flaxseed oil. The massive explosion hurled huge chucks of rock and shrapnel for two miles. A gigantic boulder landed next to Kim and Ron's rubber raft; the water plume destroyed the boat while catapulting them clear. The pair treaded water together in the blood-warm waters of the Caribbean for the next day and a half, dodging sharks, until Kim spotted a passing cruise liner, the Liberty, and signaled it using an emergency flare in her life vest.

Recollecting, Ron sighed and let out a long, low whistle.

After a drained silence, Kim sat up slightly. "Wait a minute… I never saw Rufus come in."

Ron, in the process of nodding off, cracked an eye open. "…What? Oh, little buddy? Saw him snag a ride in a towel hamper down to the laundry room. Should be nice and cuddly down there. The little bugger stole my nametag, so I don't think ID'll be a problem."

"Probably pulling strings with all the stewards by now…" Kim smiled. After another listless pause, she hupped herself forward and stood up, stretching. "Well, I'm gonna go take a shower…"

"Wait… what about a change of clothes?"

"Ugh, I'll just have to put these back on, I guess," she said in disgust, gesturing down to her damp mission garb, "…Unless… you want to hold them for me…" she finished slyly.

"Ack! Uh, uh… nooo thanks… Um, just be sure to leave me some hot water, OK?"

"No big," she called, stepping into the bathroom and clicking on the light. Kim entered a marble room, strangely empty due to a lack of guest's personal effects. Turning in the space, very large for a ship, she flicked on a light above the shower and frowned.

A small paper sign taped to the translucent glass door read "Out of Order."

"Drat…" Kim spat under her breath, stepping out of the echoic bathroom. Guess I'll have to use the call button, then…

As she walked toward the buzzer, she paused, curious, in front on the fluttering blue curtains covering the swath of windows. The drapes curved outward on a C-shaped runner bar attached to the wall. Inquisitiveness getting the better of her, she firmly gripped the break in the curtains and pulled hard in either direction.

Dazzling sunlight exploded into the room.

Kim threw up her arms, then let them drop, stunned, as her eyes adjusted.


She stared out a giant bay window into the baby-blue Caribbean beyond. The window overhung the sheer hull, giving her an unobstructed bubble-canopy view. From a hundred feet up, the swell looked like ripples, sparking and dancing in the sun. A squadron of seagulls raced past, carving up and down the sides of the white ship. Through the deep window, she could see waves smacking the hull far below. Mullions in the window glowed in the afternoon sun, as if bars of light instead of wood.

Kim took an entranced step forward and nearly tripped into the window.


Kim expertly caught herself, arms windmilling, as her right foot dropped into an abyss. Adrenaline spiking, she looked down.

She had almost fallen into a jacuzzi.

Compared to the cool, breezy décor of the rest of the room, it seemed a bit out of place. Set at floor level into the bulge of the bay window, it was nearly twelve feet across. And pink. And a heart shape rounded out the cliché.

Unbidden, the captain's words floated back to her. …This whole hall is empty…

Something in her stirred. She tried to stamp it down, ignore it, but it kept reviving like a trick candle. Clawing to get out. A fireworks factory lit off by a single match. Almost instinctively, her heart rate jumped. Kim felt a warm flush creep through her brain.

Quirking an eyebrow, she stared down at the multitude of silent jets, fighting to maintain control. This is just classic..., she thought sarcastically, Two teens, on a cruise ship, alone, in a room with a heart-shaped hot tub. It's almost as if somebody's writing this…

Unbidden, a massive surge of estrogen flooded through her system. Riding its dizzying wave, she scrapped control. Ah, hell… Lead me to temptation, baby…

Peering almost guiltily back at Ron, she stepped around the tub and eyed stealthily out the window. From this forward perspective, she could see a thick wall extended outward on each side as a privacy screen. She glanced up and found herself looking at the solid floor of the balcony above. Now gulping slightly, almost afraid of the confirmation, she slowly looked down. The solid awning of the floor below prevented anyone from looking up.

As her brain digested this information and its implications, she felt a lurch inside her. A shifting. A clench. Like a firm, painless punch to the stomach. Only farther south. Kim now sensed small tremors running down her forearms and lower legs, turning her limbs rubbery and weak. Adrenaline. A slow, gathering buzz of teenage hormones. Inhibitions flowing off her body and hitting the floor like a robe.

Whoa, whoa, whoa, let's think this through. Yes, this had been building for quite a while, but don't be doing anything stupid, missy. Now, before this goes too far, we need to think of the possible, yes, -you- Possible, implications and consequences of these feelings you're having –

It was like trying to put the brakes on a runaway freight train, a long string of hoppers full of coal, doing 80 down the Rockies.

Ron, meanwhile, had gotten up from the bed and was sifting through the nightstand. "Hey, KP," he called, assuming her still in the bathroom, "When you get out, could you check for a toothbrush and washcloth? I wanna get this saltwater taste out of my mouth; a water fountain doesn't seem to cut it…"

"Shower's broken, Ron," said Kim quickly behind him, voice wavering and cracking with constrained energy.

Ron whipped around, startled. "Sheeesh! Ah, KP… hadn't realized you'd gotten out… Well… we'll have to use a neighbor's, then?" He turned back to his rummaging.

"Yeah…" she trailed, unhearing. A line of sweat moistened over her eyebrows. She felt heat crawl up the sides of her face and wondered if she looked flushed. Her heart fluttered hypersonic against her ribcage.

Ever since the Afghanistan operation a little over two months ago, she'd felt strangely liberated. Free. Powerful. Her stomach in knots, she felt that same feeling of heady recklessness returning. Knowing how far she could go, had gone, she was unsure how far to push it this time.

All the same, her foot subconsciously rotated the jet controls and the basin began quickly filling with warm water. Small tufts of steam pasted themselves to the cool window for a moment as they floated upward.

"Err, Ron…" she said slowly, running her tongue nervously against her teeth, "They've… um… got a hot tub…"

Are you sure you want to do this? Are you -sure-? How far are you willing to go? Where will this end up? You know this may be, can be, will be, a relationship game-changer… right? Are you truly ready for this? Her brain fuzzed over like a television losing reception. OK… OK… OK…! she panted, He's been my best friend since, like, Pre-K, dammit! Let's GO!

"Huh?" said Ron blithely, now searching under the bed for a desktop radio. "A hot tub? That's pretty cool… We should try that out once our luggage comes back…" His brow furrowed as he heard an odd, yet instantly recognizable, trinkle… rupt… rupple of a utility belt, then two items of clothing, hit the floor, with the third item given a good bit of velocity.

"…Kim…?" he said uncertainly as he backed himself out from under the bed, straightened up, and turned around, "…What are you – YAHAAGGGGH!"

He clapped a hand over his eyes so hard he staggered backward into the bed and toppled onto the sheets. Blindly, he jerkily crushed himself as far back into the headboard as he could go. The palm remained slammed over his face, his brain straining like a Windows 98 running Halo. At last, chest heaving, he slowly created cracks in his fingers.

"Kim… what you… what… are you…" he gasped, voice a squeak, "…are doing… now… with… all… and… Sheesus… how… why… you… I… mean… what... and… and… and… G-god dammit, you are hot!"

His girlfriend stood seductively by the tub, right foot propped on the edge and leg bent, leaning coyly on the leg, letting her red hair drape sensually over half her face. She was wearing nothing but a strapless sports bra and semi-modest bikini-style lower. Sunlight streamed in from the window behind, creating a golden fairing around her body. Somehow, the scars on her midriff and upper thigh made her even sexier. More attainable. More human.

Ron hesitantly slid off the bed like a terrified cat, trying not to stare and failing miserably. The air was gone from his lungs. "Kim… what are I, err, we, err, you doing?"

"Stripped to my skivvies, standing by a hot tub with one hellava teenage sex drive. And you?" she smirked.

"I-I… was… I… alarm clock," he said lamely, gesturing weakly over his shoulder. In spite of himself, he felt a massive electrical charge building up inside.

Out of the smoke, dust, and bullets of what seemed eons ago, from the mountains of Afghanistan, Jonathan Leigh's voice floated back to him. "…Good, 'cause if you ever wanna get laid with that girlfriend of yours…!"

A sheen of sweat popped out on his forehead as angry red heat broiled his chest, face, and neck. His heart was hammering so hard he felt dizzy.

"K-k-im, are… are you… sure about… about… this?" he stammered.

Hands akimbo, the redhead smiled, revealing an even bar of gorgeous white teeth. "Ron… Pants. Off. Now."

The blonde recoiled, clapping a hand over his eyes. "Yawigawiga…! But… I… don't have any… any… trunks… only…" He blushed deep red.

Kim sighed, getting exasperated. "Ron, I've seen you in boxers countless times. Get your cargos on the bed, now."

"But… you… different… I… but… underwear…not… same…" he gibbered.

She rolled her eyes. "Look, Ron, is what I'm wearing right now any worse than what you've seen in Miami?" Kim asked practically.

"Of course not… Oop! I mean, YES! Yes...! Erp, wait…"

Before he could make up his mind, Kim professionally strode over to him, yanked off his belt, wrenched down his pants, and untied his shoes and tossed them into a corner, all in about five seconds.

More surprised by her speed and machine efficiency than finding himself suddenly standing in his boxers, Ron looked down at Kim, eyes quizzical. "Where'd ya learn to do that?" he asked suspiciously.

"That wilderness survival class we took a few weeks ago, silly," she said, standing and pulling his shirt over his head. "One of the most important skills in icewater rescue is to remove the sopping clothes of a dunking victim before the clothes freeze solid and hypothermia sets in."

Ah, yes. Ron remembered now. In preparation for an environmental study in Antarctica with National Geographic, where temperatures could plunge beyond ninety degrees below zero, they had been mandated to take a cold-water survival class. Kim, Type-A as always, paid strict attention and took careful notes. Ron doodled and wondered how many Buicks you'd need to drive onto a frozen lake to make the ice sink.

He felt the bottom of his synthetic top glide over his hair and found himself staring at Kim's eyes, roughly two feet away. He gulped nervously. "So, uh… practiced that on anyone else?"

Kim shot him an icy glare. "Ron… Get in the jacuzzi."

Ron snapped her a crisp salute. "Yes, ma'am!" He took a quick forward step and then hesitated, torn in two. His upper half still somewhat wanted his pants back, and his lower half wanted…. well, what the lower half usually wants.

Halfway into the tub, Kim noticed his hesitation and immediately grabbed his wrist, plunking him into the warm, scented water opposite her.

For a few minutes, they said nothing, letting their bodies adjust to the water, hesitantly glancing toward each other and then snapping their eyes to the ceiling whenever they realized they were hesitantly glancing toward each other.

On a sudden, horrific thought, Ron recoiled again, scrabbling half-out of the tub. "...H-how do I know this isn't a trap?!" he blurted, pointing an accusatory finger at her.

"Whaaa –'?"

"How do I know you're not an alien?!" Ron shot at Kim's increasingly baffled look, becoming more and more worked up, "This…" he gestured wildly around at his girlfriend and the jacuzzi, "…T-this isn't normal! How do I know you're not some alien from Mars who's commandeered my girlfriend's body and now wants to, um, harvest my DNA and create some super-species…?!"

Stunned silence. Then,



"You're nuts."

At her words, Ron visibly deflated and eased himself back into the jacuzzi. "Thanks, K.P….. Only the real you would be that blunt... And I think I've been watching waaaaaaaaayyyy too much Sci-Fi Channel..."

The conversation lapsed into silence – thick and warm this time – as things cranked back into the mood.

"Sooooo…" Kim said unsteadily at last, raising a leg and swirling the bubbled water with the tip of her big toe.

"Where do we go from here?"

"How far do you wanna go?"

"Ummmmmm…" Ron glanced around again, eyes searching everywhere except below Kim's neck. Every dire warning from every sex-ed class since middle school was now yammering in the back of his head. They overlapped and ran together and were proving to be rather less helpful than he had anticipated.

Uh-oh… backpack's a few floors down… wallet's in my backpack… in my wallet is… Errrr… Does salt water affect those, or is that Vaseline...? A shudder of testosterone rocked his body, sending system errors crackling through his brain. Big help it is now and oh hell KP and I don't need one right? he thought, synapses short-circuiting, We're different. Special. Sure of it. All the blood tests and spit tests and phlegm tests and nose-hair tests and who knows how many others tests Wade's cranked us through – they would have picked up something, right? Right? Right?! Rightrighrightrightrightright!?

He realized he was losing control. He fought it. Don't think that way, Ronnie… Don't think that way! Bad stuff that way! Remember all those slide shows we used to giggle through in gym…! I was being shot at less than two months ago; how can I still think I'm somehow invincible? Abort, abort… think of something else…!

"…Weather!" he burst out randomly.

Kim blinked incredulously at him and then burst out laughing. "We-we're both ready to roll, you're probably hard as a rock, my body's screaming at me… and your-your diversionary tactic i-is the weather...?! Ahhh, gawd, Ron, that's why I love you…" she started to lounge against the tub wall, sinking deeper into the water, before springing up slightly with a faint look of panic. "Wait… I didn't mean it like that! Did I? Wait…" She broke off, shaking her head. "Hormones sure are screwy, huh?"

"Yeah…" Ron's heart was hammering again, adrenaline levels to the max, overclocking his body, mouth bone-dry. He wasn't sure if he was riding an endorphin high or about to be sick. He unconsciously started checking out his longtime friend from the corner of his eye, then blushed mauve when he realized Kim was doing the same.


"Well, I-I had never expected it t-to be… be… q-quite like th-this," Ron stuttered, "I mean, sure, I've had a few fantasies about it, but– Yiep!" he clapped a hand over his mouth, looking absolutely mortified. Kim grinned, smiling shyly, and nodded for him to continue. "But… but… but… I hadn't expected… you… to be quite like… like… like, well, yaknow… you," He made a weak circular gesture in her direction.

"Oh, come off it… You're acting like you've never seen a girl nekked before."

Ron nearly inhaled half the bubble bath. "Whahowzeehuh?" he spluttered quickly, panicking.

"You didn't think the Kimmunicator doesn't come with an internet history, did you?" she said delicately, smirking.

Ron blanched, sucking in a pained breath through gritted teeth. "Ah…... that…... ah… man…. Kim… Sheeze… Didn't mean for you… Hope you didn't take it as… Oh, Gawd… I'm so sorry… So, so sorry… I mean, I'm sorry. Really sorry. Sorry. Sorry, sorry, sorry. Really, really sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Did I mention I'm sorr-"

Kim reached across and put a hand over his mouth. "Look, Ron, it's natural. Not right, maybe, but natural. It's really not an excuse, but, well, you're a guy. Hormones are… well… different." She paused, trying hard to maintain a straight face. "…I hope you know, though, that 99.9 of that stuff presents a distorted male fantasy and is an unfair, unattainable model of femininity? Most of those girls are more plastic than a Clorox bottle."

Ron grinned sheepishly and nodded. "Yeah… I knew that… It was stupid, really, really stupid of me…And, look, if there's any way I can undo that, I…"

"Already done. I deleted the junk off the history. Wade saw nothing. Wade knows nothing."

Ron, deflating with relief, sunk into the bubbles. "Wow… Just… Wow… Thanks… You're a great friend, you know that, KP? A really great friend…"

"I know… You're welcome… and by the way, apology accepted. Just don't do it again, OK?"

"Scout's honor."

"Besides…" purred Kim, also sinking into the water, "Those other girls may be fake…… but you know what?" She half closed her eyes, looking right at him. "…I'm real."

Dead silence hung for a moment as they stared at each other, hot sweat mixing with the foam. Then simultaneously they lunged for each other, meeting in the middle. They wrestled for a moment, laughing, before Ron gained an advantage, grabbed Kim by the shoulders, and pinned her to the wall. They spread over each other, breathing thick and labored, irises inches apart. Kim was surprised to find herself in her current position. With her usual take-charge attitude, she had anticipated differently… But, she realized with a small thrill, she kinda liked it...

Ron, it seemed, was equally surprised by how this worked out. "Wow… Hadn't expected tha-mmmpphhh!" Kim cut him short with a lip-lock. She had a kiss of liquid silk.

Glued to her lips, Ron wrapped his arms around Kim's neck and let his fingers explore down her back. He unexpectedly found the sport strap and paused, repositioning his mouth. Kim, meanwhile, did a little exploring of her own; Ron winced slightly as she twanged the elastic back waist hem of his boxers.

Bashfulness gone at "I'm real," Ron started to decipher the complicated inner workings of a strapless sports bra clasp.

Why do the words "combination lock" always seem to apply to these things?! he thought frustratedly, fumbling with the intricate fastener, trying to think logically over his own sensory overload and Kim's tongue. He wondered how many neurons he'd fried so far. Concentrate…! At least Kim doesn't seem to mind the delay… His fingers trembled and slipped on the cords. Gaahh! Women must…must make these things purposely hard to get into, like… like… this is some sort of fiendish, evil competency test! How does Kim DO it?! OK… let's see… 30 left, 60 right, 40 left again… Wait, no, that's my gym locker combo… Kim tastes nice… I wonder if she had a breath mint? Hope my breath tastes okay… Whoops, what -have- I eaten? Let's see… uh, water, an orange once we got onboard, some seaweed floating in the water before that… boy, that was needed some salt... – Hey, hey! FOCUS!

Kim groaned slightly, repositioned her hands on his back, and pulled him even tighter.

Sweet… Jesus! …Hold up… I'm Jewish. Why would I be evoking the name of someone who, while deeply respected as a prophet, is not considered by our sect to be The Mess– oh, stop that!! …Hey, hey, hey, hold the phone here… Hold up, hold up… Underwater, he finally felt the connectors separate. The loose ends fluttered in the water jets. BOOYAHAHAHA!!!

"Fi-nally," Kim cooed heavily, wrapping her legs around his and wrenching his lower torso closer to hers, "Now…… let's…… make… some… drama…" Her hands started tugging at his boxers. In response, Ron reached down her body and...

A jolt. Like God had run a finger gently along the side of the ship.

"…Won… mut mus wat?" Kim mumbled into his mouth.

Then another; a jolt that shook the room.

Ron's eyes popped open simultaneously with Kim's. He looked into her large orbs, a nanoinch away from his. Far from being awkweird, as he had always expected, seeing her open eyes so close to his gave him a thrilling short of charge. He'd never felt so alive in his life. She stared back, ignoring the disturbance for a moment. In that fraction of a second, he thought he saw their entire friendship reflected in her gaze.

From far away came a hollow, rolling bang.

Kim and Ron broke apart in a wet sssswack! In a mutual handoff, Ron let go of the bra straps at the same time Kim grabbed them. They sat up slightly. Ron looked down at his girlfriend's face, less than six inches from his own. Her eyes were wide, somewhat confused, and a little bit scared, darting around and above them. Ron felt her muscles already slipping into battle mode.

A distant clud. An up-and-down swooping clutch.

"….Hang on, we go through little turb-lence," floated a thickly-accented Russian voice out of nowhere, filling the warm room as if out of a PA system. Ron snapped his head around, bewildered.

Turbulence? On a cruise ship? What the heck…? …Hey, wait a minute… Now that I think about it… There aren't any speakers in this ceiling…

The Ilyushin Il-76 transport rocked again in upper-level jetstream turbulence, and Ron Stoppable's dream evaporated in a rush.

July 16th, 2007

Il-76 Motherland

3:08 PM

The side of his head popped off a cold metal surface, and he slammed bolt upright in a fold-up chair. Strands of drool trailed after him, sourcing from a moderately sized puddle where his mouth had been. Across a little aluminum table, which pulled up from a ribbed floor beneath his feet, was Kim, in her mission clothes, staring intently down at a page in an open math book.

"Huzzat… Whuzzat… Izzat….. Kim?!" Ron asked groggily, bewildered, his voice unnaturally high.

"Hey, Ron," she said quickly, still looking downward, glancing between the book propped upward on her utility belt and a sheet of loose-leaf paper with equations scribbled all over it.

"Great googlie mooglies…What… what… just happened?"

"You were sleeping..." Kim said gently. "Must've been a real good dream. You looked really happy."

"…Y-you… have no …idea," breathed Ron, slumping back into the seat, exceptionally glad Kim couldn't see into his dreams.

He looked around. He was sitting in a little aluminum folding chair, supported by the same sort of thick telescoping column as the table. Both collapsed flush to what he now realized was a cargo deck. Rufus snoozed in an olive-drab webbing chair on the wall behind him. To his right, a large chromate green bulkhead stretched the width of the plane. It was covered with various wires, knobs, switches, and exposed piping. Ron leaned forward in his chair and peered through a single airlock-like door leading forward. Up a nearly vertical flight of stairs, he saw a swatch of the flight deck. The pilot, a portly little man with a glowing smile and a flight cap perched jauntily on his head, broke away from the controls for a moment to wave cheerily down at him. He had the Russian tricolor sewn to the right shoulder of his leather bomber jacket. Ron gave a weak finger-wiggle back.

Twisting, he saw another open airlock door opposite the flight deck access. Through it, he could see a huge expanse of cargo deck, partially filled by an international-orange snowcat. The tracked vehicle wrestled with its restraints, sliding from side to side as the aircraft rolled. The chains alternately strained, snapping taut with a hollow, rolling bang.

Beyond the machine, the space was empty, echoing back to the dim, sloping rear wall of the plane. He and Kim were in a sort of cargo antechamber, a crew quarters. That explained the fold-down bunks, ragged airliner seats, miniscule galley, and normal-sized door on the far side of the aircraft. Out the porthole, wispy cirrus twisted past in the large plane's slipstream. Below the wings lay a surreal blanket of light, tangled, ice-crystal clouds. The airplane's skin and formers groaned and creaked faintly as they flexed in the rough air.

"Where are we?"

"Somewhere waaaaay over the Southern Ocean. We finished up measuring ice thickness with National Geographic about two hours ago. ….Damn global warming…" Kim shook her head sadly. "…Anyway, I got a call from Wade; Drakken's up to something again, and the Russians are giving us a lift to Dr. D's lair in the-"

"The where!"

"The South Pacific. Why?"

"Sorry… my… my dream had something to do with… with the Caribbean."

A perturbed flash crossed Kim's face, but Ron didn't notice. "Um, right, so…" she continued, "Blue boy's boasting all about some new superweapon… Not sure what. Oddly, he didn't elaborate. Wade's cranking on it, though…"

She let a few seconds lapse to switch focus.

"…It's great to be back in the game, huh? This'll be the first time since… you know…" she gestured down to the knife scar just about her exposed navel, "That…we'll be fighting Drakken."

"Right…" said Ron, his voice high-pitched again. He was, in a way, glad he had awoken when he did… A few moments more and he would have needed a clean pair of boxers. At this, he realized his bladder was full to bursting. "Uh, Kim," he squeaked, "One more thing…"


"Where's the bathroom?"

Kim pointed over his shoulder toward the forward right corner of the room. Abutting the plane's skin was a narrow metal door stenciled with уборная – lavatory.

"Thanks!" Ron dashed over, rushed in, and slammed the door shut behind him.

Kim gazed intently at his retreating back until it vanished into the cubicle.

Had Ron been more observant, he would have noticed that Kim's irises hadn't moved while she stared down at her paper. Her pencil had remained likewise. Had he bent over, he would have noticed that the paper for question #36 was blank; 35 of the 36 homework questions had been completed at the arctic base. Taking two hours on a single question would have seemed odd for such a hardworking student as Kim. The left side of her hair was matted. A small dot of sleep drool obscured the "x" of problem #36.

She'd snapped awake roughly six seconds before Ron had.

Seeing the restroom's "occupied" light flicker on, she gave a great internal sigh of relief.

That. Was. Close.

She was exceptionally glad Ron couldn't see into her dreams.

It'd been a weird one. Something… something about a cruise ship and a hot tub…

July 16th, 2007

Il-76 Motherland

3:10 PM

To be continued…