My thanks to those who've reviewed the opening chapter to date -- King in Yellow, Limby, mkusenagi2, and Yankee Bard -- and also to those of you who've bookmarked the story. Chapter 3 may be a little longer in coming; I may see about updating Monkey Chi, Monkey Du first, as that's been hanging fire for an awfully long time now. However, I have every hope of keeping up with this one at a somewhat reasonable pace.

I also encourage anyone who hasn't yet done so to hop over and check out the "Guess the Author 4" stories under the GWA account -- -- one of the eleven disturbingly warped entries is mine, and a number of the other ten are arguably even funnier and stranger.


2 • Isn't This Kind Of A Long Commute?

Shopping, of course, meant a visit to the Middleton Mall. Ron had suggested Smarty Mart, but Yori shook her head. "We have Smarty Marts in Japan, and I do not believe we will find what I seek there."

So Ron wheeled out his newly rocket-powered scooter; he had gotten the hang of controlling it by now, and it felt disturbingly comfortable to have Yori riding behind him. Like Kim, she held on relatively lightly – as much for balance as anything else – but her grip was just a touch tighter, and he was hyper-conscious of the way her arms were wrapped like a seat belt around his waist. The trip took barely more than ten minutes, and as he located a parking space near the mall's south entrance, Ron found himself wishing it had lasted a little longer.

"Are you sure your vehicle will be safe?" Yori asked as they dismounted.

Ron shrugged, reached under the instrument panel, and pushed a button. "Kim's brothers rigged a security system when they added the rockets," he told her. "I don't have a clue how it works, but only Kim and I can disarm it, and while it's on the scooter's too heavy to move."

One of Yori's eyebrows went up, and she reached out, took hold of one handlebar, and tugged – to absolutely no effect. A few more moments' experimentation demonstrated that no amount of effort exerted from any angle could nudge the scooter so much as a millimeter, and she gave up with a bemused smile.

"Most impressive. Very well, let us begin."

They started in New Marine. Yori frowned thoughtfully over several styles of jeans without trying any on, then shifted her attention to skirts, shorts, and tops, gathering up a substantial armful of garments and retreating to one of the fitting rooms. She emerged in a series of different combinations, soliciting Ron's opinions on each:

A pale gray miniskirt and forest-green puff-sleeved shirt: "Do you think these colors work well together?"

"Um, the green's good – the gray, not so much."

The same shirt, navy corduroy shorts: "Is this better, and do you think these are the right size? They are . . . snug."

"Color's great. Maybe have Rufus check out the pockets?"

"Oof! No room!" The mole rat made a thumbs-down sign, and a bemused salesclerk hurried off, returning with a different pair of shorts.

"Comfy!"

"Indeed, Rufus-san."

A knee-length smoke-colored skirt and a pleated knit scoop-necked shirt: "What about these?"

"That's a way cooler gray, but the strawberry is just wrong. Maybe purple – darker, but not too dark."

Even after Yori had eliminated more than half her initial selections, those that remained filled two large bags and part of a smaller one. She paid for the clothing with a gleaming black credit card, and Ron followed her out of the store carrying the spoils. "That went well," he said. "Are we finished?"

Yori giggled. "Oh, no," she said. "We must investigate more carefully." Ron restrained a sigh, and followed her deeper into the mall.

At the Wedge, Yori pounced eagerly on the selection – and retreated almost as rapidly when she noted the price tags. "I do not think I can afford to be this popular."

She spent a little longer in Imperial Mango, but pronounced their fashions too conservative for her liking. "Blending in is often useful, but there is a difference between appearing inconspicuous and appearing dull."

Ron gulped a little as they went into Flaming Gossip. He and Kim had passed the store any number of times, but they'd never been inside; and he had noticed over the years that the boutique's clientele tended toward those with tattoos, Technicolor hair, and pierced body parts.

Yori, by contrast, appeared fascinated – though she passed quickly over the logo-festooned T-shirts and most of the more risqué outfits. "One's clothing need not be so unsubtle an advertisement."

"Right with you," Ron said. "I eat at Bueno Nacho, but I do not wear Bueno Nacho. At least not intentionally," he added.

"That is most wise," replied Yori, giggling again. "However," she added in a more serious tone, running her fingers over a gauzy purple-mesh tunic, "the power of suggestion should not be underestimated." She reached deftly backward and collected a plain black tank top from a nearby table, draped the tunic over her arm, and went in search of the dressing rooms.

When she came out, Ron took one look, blinked, and tried not to goggle. The tank was decidedly form-fitting, the tunic was essentially transparent, and the combination . . . the combination, Ron decided, was the visual equivalent of concentrated Diablo sauce. He mentally ransacked his vocabulary for a suitable description, discarded several phrases (sultry, smoking, volcanic) as potentially dangerous, and finally settled breathlessly on, "That just – rocks."

"Good," Yori said simply. The outfit, along with a spaghetti-strapped top in a jagged crimson and black zebra pattern, went into another shopping bag, and they moved on.

To Ron's relief (mostly), they passed by Queen Anne's Lace without going in; he wasn't sure he was ready to deal with anything more exotic than the scantily clad mannequins in the store's window displays. Instead, Yori headed for Five East and its comprehensive assortment of shoes. Ron promptly settled into a chair while she spent a good twenty minutes studying the boots, pumps, sandals, flats, and other styles without picking anything up. When she finally turned over an ankle-high spike-heeled boot to check the price – $220 – she let out a sharp breath, but nodded as if to herself before setting it down again. "Expensive," she said, "but not without reason." She turned toward the store entrance, but just as Ron began gathering up the bags she spotted a shelf marked "Clearance" and zeroed in. Fifteen minutes later, she had added a huge bag with two shoeboxes in it to Ron's collection – one pair of navy blue walking shoes, the other little more than several narrow strands of black leather crisscrossed over silvery soles to which three-inch stiletto heels had been attached.

"Anything else?" Ron inquired, doing his best not to sound impatient, as he followed Yori back out into the mall.

She glanced over her shoulder at him, then paused to study a store directory display. "We must of course visit Club Banana," she said. "And – let me see. Does not Atlantic Moon offer American-style swimming suits? It would be good to acquire one while I am here."

Ron's brain, however, had registered the words swimming suits and stalled, as an image of Yori in a bikini backflipped across his imagination. As a result, he didn't immediately notice as another figure stopped near the directory kiosk.

"Yori? Is that—? "

"Kim Possible-san! Once again we meet, yes."

"So what's the sitch?" Kim asked, reaching into her bag for the Kimmunicator. "Monkey Fist making more trouble? I'll call–"

Yori held up a hand. "That will not be necessary. I am—"

But Kim's glance had finally taken in the unwieldy stack of bags and the sneakered feet protruding from beneath the hoard. "Ron, is that you?"

Kim's voice snapped Ron out of his brain-crash. "Right here, KP," he said, rearranging his load so he could see over the Five East bag.

Her eyes flicked between his unwieldy assortment of sacks and Yori in her cheerfully colorful schoolgirl's outfit. "You've been—"

"Shopping!" Yori said brightly. "Stoppable-san has been very helpful. It has been his honor—"

"—to carry the bags," Kim finished. "But if there isn't a mission-type sitch, isn't this kind of a long commute for a mall crawl?" She was still, Ron noted, holding her Kimmunicator, and there was a skeptical glint in her eyes.

Yori merely smiled. "As I was saying, it is my summer vacation – and being in America, I wish to better follow American fashion."

"I see," said Kim. "Only please tell me you haven't been relying on Stoppable-san here for fashion advice."

The slam to his fashion sense didn't faze Ron – he could tell Kim was at best half-serious – but there was a note in her voice that sounded faintly ominous. "Um, guys," he said, "if we're doing the catching-up thing, can we maybe do it in the food court over pretzels? If we stand here much longer it will be my honor to fall over."

"An excellent plan," said Yori as Kim led the trio back the way she'd come, toward the north end of the mall. Not quite ten minutes later, they were facing each other across a round table in the far corner of the food court's atrium. Yori's purchases were stacked more or less neatly between the table and the wall, and a smaller Club Banana bag was hooked over the back of Kim's chair. They had also very nearly bought out the Pretzel Palace's hot-case. Kim had chosen only a single plain pretzel, but Yori had ordered three (one salted, one with cinnamon sugar, one with cheese), as had Ron (one salted, two with cheese, though one of those was for Rufus).

Kim sipped absently at her iced tea. "So," she said, "you came all the way over here just for vacation?"

"Indeed," Yori replied. "How better to refresh the spirit than in the company of one's friends?"

"That's what I said," Ron put in. "More or less, anyway. And nothing says friendship like lunch at Bueno Nacho. And shopping."

"And shopping," Kim echoed, eyeing the heap of bags Yori and Ron had accumulated. "I'd have been glad to help out, if only one of you had called. There's a sale at Hint! – they had some rocking jeans." She lightly tapped the cellphone holster clipped to her belt, cocking an eyebrow at Ron.

Ron shrugged and took a bite of pretzel. "The only phone in the treehouse is the tin-can model I built when we were seven, and it's kinda hard to dial out on that one. And the Ron-man is not yet cellular-enabled."

Yori giggled briefly. "I am, as Ron-san has said, cellular-enabled – but regrettably, Kim-san, I did not know that you were. Nor would I presume to ask such a purely personal favor through your Web site. I am sure Wade-san has much more important work to do." Her mild tone was a perfect match for Kim's, but even Ron could sense the unspoken challenges ping-ponging back and forth across the table.

"It's no big; I just got the phone last week; here's the number." Kim dug a pen from her pocket, scribbled on a napkin, and pushed it across the table. Then she added, just a little too cheerfully for Ron's comfort, "So, how long are you staying? And did your parents come, too?"

The Japanese girl was silent for a moment, her expression unreadable. "I must return to Japan in three weeks. As for the other," she said, her voice growing very soft, "I am a daughter of the Yamanuchi school. My mother studied there before me, but she did not long survive my birth. My father . . . never came forward."

Both Kim and Ron sat stunned into silence by the revelation; for nearly a full minute, the only sound at the table came from Rufus, who munched busily on his cheese-topped pretzel. Finally, Ron reached out and took Yori's hand in his, though he still didn't speak.

"I – had no idea," said Kim, the unspoken edge entirely gone from her voice and posture. "I'm . . . ."

"Do not be upset, Kim-san," Yori said at once. "I am not, after all, alone in the world. Yamanuchi has many resources, and Sensei has been as a grandfather to me." She met Kim's gaze steadily, but Ron felt her grip on his hand tighten as she spoke.

Kim opened her mouth to respond—

—only to be interrupted from an entirely different quarter.

Beep-beep-be-beep! The Kimmunicator warbled, and in an instant Kim had scooped up the device. "Wade? I hope this is important."

"Very," came the reply. "Listen to this."

Wade hit a short key-sequence, and a video popped onto the Kimmunicator screen. "Greetings, Kim Possible," said Senor Senior Sr. cordially. "I trust you are well. I wish to inform you that my son and I will be taking possession of a certain large shipment leaving Kilchberg, Switzerland in the very near future. You, of course, will seek to prevent me from doing so, whereupon I will make every effort to see that you fail. It is, how do you say, time that I raise the bar in such matters? Until then, my dear Miss Possible – adios!"

"Switzerland?" Kim said. "Okay, Wade, what are they after?"

The boy genius's expression was grim. "Only about two metric tons of the world's finest Swiss chocolate," he said. "It's going out from the plant by rail just under eighteen hours from now, and it's earmarked for the Vatican."

Ron gasped. "Hijacking a trainload of chocolate? That's just wrong."

Kim's reaction was more practical. "Eighteen hours? That doesn't give us a lot of lead time. What's the ride sitch look like?"

"Hour and a half, your back yard," Wade said. "Dermot's the closest who can go trans-Atlantic, but he's coming in from Texas."

"We're on it," Kim said, her attention fully on the mission. "Come on, Ron."

"One moment," Yori said, as all three of them stood up. "If I may, it would be my honor to assist. You have both served Yamanuchi well in the past; I hope you will allow me to return the favor."

Kim looked doubtful, but Ron pumped a fist in the air. "Boo-yah!" he said. "Senior Senior won't be expecting the badical ninja moves – and with that much chocolate at stake, we can't be too careful!"

"We-ell," Kim said, frowning a little, "extra backup can't hurt. Besides," she added, waving a hand at Yori's hoard, "I don't think all that stuff is going to fit on Ron's scooter."

"That is true," Yori admitted ruefully. "We have been – busy."

Kim chuckled. "I've got Mom's car; I can run you back to . . . did you say the treehouse?" The chuckle faded into surprise.

"For the present," Yori told her, nodding. "Let us proceed. We have little time to waste."

"On it!" Ron said. "Come on, Rufus!"

But he stood watching for a moment as the two girls – Yori now carrying most of her own bags – headed out of the food court and down the mall. "I don't know, buddy," he said as the mole rat dived into his pants pocket. "Something tells me this mission's going to be hairier than usual."