Kim Possible, Ron Stoppable, Rufus, Monique, Felix Renton, Drakken, and Shego are characters from the Kim Possible show, created by Mark McCorkle and Bob Schooley, owned and copyright © by the Walt Disney Company. The story takes place at the end of Kim and Ron's sophomore year of college, three years after "So the Drama," and not long after my earlier story, "Mind Out Of Time." This is part one of a four part story, © 2006 by cloudmonet.
Ron Stoppable finished the last sentence, put down his pen, and reread his essay on how the Chinese culturally dominated various peoples who successfully conquered their Kingdom. He decided it was good enough, carried the examination book up to the front desk, and handed it to his professor. His wife, Kim, of course, had finished hers about half an hour ago and was waiting in the hallway.
"How'd you do?" she asked him.
"Spiffy!" squeaked Rufus, Ron's pet naked molerat, who was perched on his shoulder.
"Mmm— I'm betting some kind of B," said Ron. "I think I made good arguments, and phrased them okay. I'm just glad finals are over. I'm so glad we didn't have to take the psychology final."
"Well, on the one hand, it's nice to have an automatic A, thanks to our participation in Dr. Hurlbetter's experiments. On the other hand, we didn't do the course."
"A plus as far as I'm concerned."
Dot dot dadot!
Kim pulled the kimmunicator from her pocket. "What up, W—?" she started to say, but the face on the screen was so not Wade Load. It was Drake Jones, the man who used to be the evil blue-skinned Dr. Drakken.
Now his skin was tan, thanks to some skin treatments from Dr. Anna Ruiz of Lima, Peru, and his formidable engineering abilities were turned toward more benign purposes. He and his wife, Sheila, the former Shego, were settled in Queensland, Australia, where Drake worked for zookeeper and cable television personality, Crocodile Jack.
Why did Drakken reform? Getting sentenced to 167 years in prison was discouraging, to say the least, especially when escapes got harder to arrange. He and Shego did manage one final escape, but this time wisely gave up their old habits and kept a low profile.
Kim and Ron had found them in Peru, and let them go. Why? Drakken was helping the Tulabombu Indians protect their jungle against illegal logging. Shego was pregnant, and more than anything did not want to end up losing the baby and doing life in prison.
Global Justice had found them in Queensland, and let them go. Why? Shego went to the Hindu Kush with Kim's squad and helped capture a whole nest of Central Asian Jihad terrorists, including Zafir the Scorpion. Drakken found a way to penetrate the advanced cloaking technology on the invisible plane, which Ali Abdullah was flying to China to steal the Chixulub bomb.
Kim brightened up and shrieked when she saw Drake. "Sheila had the baby!" she exclaimed.
"Chill, Kim, he doesn't look happy at all," said Ron.
Rufus, always quick to pick up on Ron's emotional state, shook his head sadly.
"Oh—" Kim said, looking closer at the small image of Drake's face on the kimmunicator screen. "Drake, what's wrong?"
"Sheila's not doing well at all," he replied. "She's alive, but unconscious. She lost a lot of blood. Alicia— well, I guess the baby's okay. She's got the green power, doesn't know how to control it, so they've got her— sedated. The birth— she really hurt her mom— and if she gets mad, she blasts green plasma all over the room. I want Dr. Ruiz from Peru. She said she'll come if you give her a ride."
"Stay calm, it's gonna be all right," said Kim. "I'm on my way."
"Please hurry," Drake said, in almost a whisper.
Kim put the kimmunicator back in her pocket. "Get Felix and Belinda," she told Ron. "I'm going to Dr. Hurlbetter's office."
"You're gonna use the telepathy machine with Sheila?" Ron asked. "You know you're gonna find her old bad self in there."
"With luck, she'll come out of it before we get there and I won't need it," said Kim. "I can hope, but it never seems to go that easily."
"On my way," said Ron, dashing down the hall.
Kim was already in the Miscellaneous Humanities Building, where Avrum Hurlbetter's office was on the third floor.
"I'm sorry, Kim, but I can't get clearance for you to use the telepathy machine on a patient in a coma," he told her.
"But you're a psychology professor. If you were operating the machine—"
"It hasn't been cleared yet for clinical trials."
"By the American authorities, whoever they are," Kim said. "I'm not going to use it in America."
"Where is the patient?" asked Dr. Hurlbetter.
"Uh, Queensland," Kim said hesitantly.
"Australia's no third-world country. Probably you'd get in some trouble and they'd confiscate the machine—"
"So not gonna happen."
"I can't let Sheila die. I can't let Drake lose her. This machine is the answer. If I fail him, the consequences for me, for him, and for the whole world could be very, very bad." Kim's voice dropped as her words fell flat. "I wish I didn't have to be so vague."
"I understand that these people are important to you, and I'm sorry." Kim gave him the Kim glare that looked like the precursor to an all-out assault.
"Kim, I understand your anger," said Dr. Hurlbetter.
"No, you don't," she replied.
"How far are you going to go?" he asked. "It's my machine, not yours, Kimberly. I wish I could do what you want, but you must understand, we're just not ready for clinical trials. If something were to go wrong, the liability—"
"So not a problem in this case," said Kim. "I can guarantee you that neither the patient nor the husband will press any lawsuits."
"How can you possibly guarantee that?"
Kim could guarantee this because there's no way either Drakken or Shego would ever willingly go anywhere near a courtroom, but she couldn't say this, and exploded with frustration.
"Ohhhh!" she cried. "I can't tell you— This is so wrong! I just hate it when I find myself up against another good guy! I've got to use your machine. Yes, it's your machine. I can't just take it from you. I can't beat you up. I can't, I can't, I can't! That's so not my slogan. I'm Kim Possible! I can do anything!"
"Your parents must have put you under a lot of pressure," Dr. Hurlbetter said calmly.
"My— parents? What do they— oh, right, sure, you're a psychologist."
"You lapsed into using your maiden name. Of course, it is rather catchy, and clearly means a lot to you."
"Dr. Hurlbetter, for better or worse, I'm a hero. I couldn't even begin to count how many people's lives I've saved. Whether it makes me feel good, or makes up for some inadequacy I feel inside isn't what matters. Sheila needs me to save her now, and I can do it, with your machine."
"Are you always right when you're this certain?"
Quickly tapping footsteps of hard-soled shoes on the tile floor became a suddenly opening door. There stood Belinda Brockmeyer, hands on her hips, glaring at Dr. Hurlbetter and Kim. She shook her head slowly. "I'm sensing toxic levels of anger and frustration."
"I wouldn't be so judgmental—" Dr. Hurlbetter said.
Belinda waved her hand, just as Ron appeared behind her in the doorway. "Kim and I need to borrow the portable telepathy machine, Dr Hurlbetter," she said quietly, looking into his eyes. "I hope this is fine with you." She dropped her voice to emphasize certain words.
"Belinda, Kim wants to use the machine on a patient," Dr. Hurlbetter protested. "We're not approved for clinical trials."
Belinda held his eyes with her gaze. "The treating physician will approve this," she said.
"She will okay it," Belinda corrected him. "This will work out very well for you, if you let it happen."
"You're— you're quite sure of this, Belinda?"
Belinda continued looking into his eyes while smiling calmly.
"Well, I guess—"
"Good. So let's pack the carrying case," she said.
Of course, it was Ron's honor to carry the heavy telepathy machine case. Monique's green Buick was waiting in the nearest parking area. It was pretty much filled with stuff. "Felix is already at the airport prepping the jet," she said. "I figure I'll take Belinda, and you guys can ride the stealth bike."
"I'm sorry about this," said Kim. "I was hoping to take you all home before any missions popped up, but this—"
"It's okay," said Monique.
Belinda opened the passenger door and got in. "We'd better go," she said. Kim opened a storage compartment on the stealth bike and got out the helmets. "Did you see what Belinda did? It's almost like she put Dr. Hurlbetter under a spell."
"Yeah," Ron said, and waved his arm the way Belinda had done. "These aren't the droids you're looking for."
"Ron, be serious."
"The force is strong in that one," Ron intoned. "She can stare into the eyes of petty bureaucrats, dissolving red tape so that we may proceed."
"Uh huh," Rufus agreed.
"You don't think there's something wrong with that?" asked Kim.
"Is it wrong to spin around and kick someone in the head?" Ron countered.
"Hi, yah!" Rufus cried, attempting a kung fu spin on Ron's shoulder. Atypically, he stumbled, but Ron caught him and put him back.
Kim's face showed a mixture of anger and thoughtfulness.
"Usually, yeah, it is wrong to kick someone in the head," said Ron. "But there are times when it's right and we know when to do it. Same with Belinda's hypnosis."
Kim straddled the bike and kick started the rocket engines. "Let's go," she said, and Ron put Rufus in his pocket and climbed on behind her.
A small black jet with the "KP" monogram on the tail flew between the eastern Pacific Ocean and the stars. Felix's wheelchair was locked in place at the control panel. "We'll be at the Lima International Airport in about 15 minutes," he said. "We're cleared to land at the general aviation runway."
"Fasten your seat belts," said Kim, and pulled the kimmunicator from her pocket. "Dr. Ruiz, my pilot says we're landing in 15 minutes."
"Buenos noches, Kim," the Peruvian woman replied with a smile. "I'm already at the airport."
Indeed, she walked out to Kim's jet as soon as Felix taxied to a stop, and climbed aboard. "It's good to see you again, Kim," she said, extending her hand.
"Have you heard anything new about Sheila? I must confess I'm not surprised there were complications."
"I should check that," Kim replied.
After a few moments, Drake's worried face appeared on the screen. It was still daytime in Australia. "Kim?" he said. "Sheila's not any better."
"I've got Anna Ruiz," she said. "Whoops, we'd better sit down. We're taking off."
Dr. Ruiz took the seat beside her and fastened the seat belt.
"I'm also bringing a telepathy machine," Kim told Drake. "It makes a direct noninvasive connection between two minds. It was developed specifically to be used to contact and interact with people stuck in a coma."
"That's cutting edge," said Dr. Ruiz.
"Well, it's a last hope if your own techniques— uh— I didn't mean that the way it sounded," Kim said hastily.
"Yes, you did, and you're quite right to bring it along."
The wheels left the ground, and the plane banked to turn away from the nearby mountain back toward the sea.
"A telepathy machine," said Drake. "That has to work, well, if it's a real research machine and not mad science."
"I've used it myself," said Kim.
"I wonder— if I had a neural compliance chip, and stuck it on Sheila's forehead, and just commanded her to wake up— do you think she'd wake up?"
"You don't have one—" said Kim.
"A neural compliance chip?" Dr. Ruiz asked, with alarm in her voice.
"No, I don't have one," said Drake. "If I had the schematic, I could build one by hand with my nanomanipulating equipment. I was just wondering."
"Her brain could be in a delicate state right now," said Dr. Ruiz. "A neural compliance chip could do real damage, and we don't want that. No mad science, at least not till I get there. It lacks finesse."
"I understand," said Drake.
It was a very long night across the Pacific. Even at hypersonic speed, there was no way to get to reach Queensland before the middle of the night, so Kim and Felix decided to fly slower, save fuel, and get there the next morning. Kim and Ron had air mattresses and blankets for everybody.
At some point in the middle of the flight, while most of the others were asleep and Kim was at the controls, she had a long talk with Dr. Ruiz.
"Sheila's in a coma, the baby's sedated and all but unmanageable," she said. "If anything happens to either of them, Drake will just be destroyed. What was your treatment plan?"
"There are certain drugs which will usually rouse an unconscious person, but if Sheila has lost a lot of blood and suffered other complications, this could be dangerous for her. She might wake up, but still be unable to speak or communicate. There could be brain damage."
"This is so wrong," said Kim. "They were both doing so well the last time I saw them."
"I'm good with comas— traumatic injuries from falls and car accidents, drug overdoses— usually young tourists. The right course of action depends very much on what caused the coma— probably shock, in Sheila's case. When there's massive loss of blood, the brain goes unconscious to minimize damage. With this machine, we can tell if Sheila's still in there, or if she's damaged beyond repair."
"I should admit that the machine hasn't been cleared for clinical trials in America."
"Kim, a lot of times, the only hope hasn't been cleared for clinical trials. How'd you persuade Dr. Hurlbetter to let you borrow the machine?"
"I didn't. Belinda did. She's the lab tech."
"Ah, your pilot's paramour."
"Oh, I didn't even think of that!" Kim whispered.
"What? Why are you whispering?"
"The last time we went to Queensland, Felix thought they broke up, and spent the weekend with a local girl, who works at the same place Drake does. I don't know if Belinda knows about her."
"Kim, calm yourself. You're stressing over everything—"
"I don't want my team divided by a soap opera while I'm trying to stop a tragedy."
"You need to let go, Kim."
"Please, call me Anna. You need to master your own mind. Turn down the angst."
"You know, of all the villains I've ever crossed paths with, Drake and Sheila are—"
"Your great success. The ones who actually turned over a new leaf and did something constructive. What's it going to do to you if this falls apart, even if this happens through no fault of your own?"
"You're starting to sound like Dr. Hurlbetter, who seems to think there's something psychologically wrong with what I do."
"Kim there's nothing wrong with what you do," said Anna. "But you need to be able to step back enough to not be hurt inside by the occasional failure. Other people will need your help."
"Anna," Kim said, looking briefly at the small, black haired Hispanic woman almost old enough to be her mother, and in fact having the same first name. "I'm trying to get comfortable with calling you Anna," she said nervously.
"Get used to it," Anna said, clasping Kim's forearm for a moment with both of her small hands.
"Thanks," Kim told her.
Dr. Ruiz, Kim, Ron, and Belinda met Drake in the intensive care unit where Sheila lay unconscious on the hospital bed.
"Oh, I'm so relieved," Drake said. "These people—"
"Are probably fine," said Dr. Ruiz. "They're just not acquainted with your wife's actual condition, are they?"
"There's some things I don't dare risk revealing—"
"Don't worry about it," she said, walking over to Sheila and doing some manipulations of her arms, then opening one of her eyes and shining a light on the retina. "Let me try something here. Nurse, could you bring the portable defibrillator?"
"Doctor, she's not in fibrillation," the nurse protested.
"I'm not going to use it on her heart," said Dr. Ruiz.
"We do have an electroshock machine if you think that's advisable—"
"I want the defibrillator."
In a few minutes the nurse brought it in. Dr. Ruiz attached the contacts to Sheila's left forearm and propped the arm up with a pillow. Gradually she amped up the electric pulses until something happened that totally surprised the nurse and Belinda, though not Drake, Kim, or Ron. The hand started glowing green and burst into flames. Dr. Ruiz immediately shut down the defibrillator and the flames went out. Sheila's hand showed no trace of being burnt, though the pillow was smoldering. Dr. Ruiz tossed the pillow on the floor. "Get this wet and get it out of here," she told Ron.
"Yes, ma'am," he said, and rushed the smoldering pillow to a bathroom sink. The smoke alarm and sprinkler system in the bathroom came on the moment Ron had the pillow in the sink and the water running. "Well, that tanks!" he said.
"That's just what the baby did!" the nurse was saying when Ron ran back, dripping wet.
"You weren't quite fast enough, were you?" Kim whispered to Ron.
"I'm betting it happens again when Doc examines the baby," he replied. "Why did you make Sheila blast?" he asked Dr. Ruiz.
"I wanted to see if it could happen while she's unconscious. If we have to use the telepathy machine, this could be a problem."
"I'm glad you checked that," said Kim.
"Am I the only one here who thinks it's really weird for someone's hand to blast green flames?" asked the nurse.
"It is weird, but all of us already knew about it," Dr. Ruiz explained. "Sheila was exposed to some low intensity ultra high frequency radiation from an extraterrestrial object of unknown nature. The baby absorbed a certain amount of this same radiation while growing inside Sheila's body. Sheila has somehow learned to consciously control the plasma effect."
"It's linked to her emotions, especially anger," said Drake.
"Yes, which is the problem with the baby. When she fusses, she blasts plasma. And babies fuss. Keeping her sedated is not good for her. Without the normal stimulations of full consciousness, her brain development— I'm going to have to order you to cut her dose of sedative in half immediately."
"But Dr. Ruiz, she's a fire hazard."
"Minimize the flammables in the room. So now I'm asking everyone to leave this room except the nurse and husband. I don't think Sheila would want anyone else watching the next part of this examination."
The husband, however, left the room with Kim, Ron, and Belinda. "I don't think I can handle that," Drake said. "Poor Sheila."
"Don't blame Alicia for what's happened," Belinda said, pressing Drake's hand between her own.
"I'm sorry, I'm kinda stressed," Drake replied. "You're some friend of Kim. Do I know you?"
"Careful," said Ron, wiping his head dry with a white towel. "That's a deeper question with Belinda than most other people. She might remember you from a past life on Atlantis or something."
"Drake, meet Belinda," said Kim. "If we do end up using the telepathy machine, she's the technician."
"Wouldn't it be better if I went into Shego's— Sheila's mind to look for her?" Drake asked.
"Dude, if you don't know what you're doing, how to block out what you don't need to see, it gets totally weird and confusing," said Ron. "You don't know how old you are, what's past, present, or future. You're shuffling through your life in random order, following whatever memory reminds you of something else. Kim can control this."
"You're getting better at it," said Kim.
"We've both spent lots of hours the past couple months on that machine," said Ron. "It's a practice thing."
"Okay, I get the picture," Drake said.
"It's a tragedy, a real tragedy and a shame," Crocodile Jack told Kim while they sat together in the hospital cafeteria. "This specialist from Peru, do you think she's any good?"
"She's got the baby conscious and so far not throwing fits and shooting green flames all over the room," said Kim. "And Daddy and Alicia seem to be bonding, which is all for the good."
"Yeah, what's up with the baby?" Jack asked. "I thought Sheila's flaming hands bit was some sort of martial arts discipline she learned from their spy days, but Dr. Ruiz talks like it's some bonzo-loco medical condition infecting the baby."
"Some of those ancient disciplines are dangerous to mess with," said Kim. "Did I ever tell you about the Chinese amulet from an ancient martial arts cult that almost turned me into a monkey?"
"Really. I was in my junior year of high school. I was so embarrassed! Can you imagine cheerleading with a hairy midriff and a tail?"
"Come on, let's go check it out," Monique urged Felix. "Do you wanna hang in the plane and be bored, or go to the hospital and watch Kim fix a tragedy, or do you wanna have some fun, roll through the zoo, and watch someone feed a great big croc?"
"I especially don't want to go to the zoo," he replied. "Kelly's there."
"Oh, I heard about her— your weekend date, when Belinda was all, 'Oh we worked out our karma!' and breaking up with you."
"Exactly! I don't want to stir up Kelly again. She kept calling me for weeks."
"What? If she sees you with me, she'll think you're with me."
"She may think you're Belinda and make a nasty scene."
"Where we gonna see her anyway? Feedin' a croc? Carrying a koala? They film just about everything that goes down at that zoo, just in case somethin' happens they can put on the show. Kelly won't make a scene in front of the cameras."
The crowd gathered round the walk on the outside of the heavy-duty double fence, watching a slender young girl with short dark hair walking near the murky pool. A big blonde man with a white bucket kept behind her.
"This is the lair and territory of Samson," Kelly began, her voice echoing through the public address system. "Jack calls him psycho, and diabolically unpredictable, but I find he's always been the perfect gentleman with me—" she stomped on the ground and a huge croc head almost as long as her body lunged out of the water, jaws agape. Kelly jumped backwards, the white bucket bloke handed her a big hunk of pork, she threw it into the jaws, and snap! The jaws closed and Samson was back in the water, all in one smooth move. "Except of course when he's hungry," Kelly quipped. "His table manners leave a bit to be desired."
This remark got a nervous laugh from everyone.
The second time, Kelly's assistant, who she introduced as Chuck, thumped on the white bucket to draw Samson out of the water. This strike wasn't quite so hard. The third time Samson moved slowly enough that Kelly was able to lure him all the way out of the water by walking backwards, dangling a piece of meat. Finally, she tossed it into Samson's gaping mouth. He paused, made a U-turn, and slid on his belly down the slope back into the water.
"A magnificent crocodile, and a perfect gentleman!" Kelly said, and the audience clapped. "Crocodile etiquette isn't exactly like people etiquette. In croc etiquette, it's always proper for the gentleman to eat first! So, if Samson's had his fill, maybe he'll let Starfire come out and get some."
"Kelly's a remarkable lady," Monique told Felix. "Kinda like Kim, you know."
"I don't want to think this way," he replied sullenly. He turned his wheelchair and rolled along the path away from Samson's enclosure, with lots of "Excuse mes" along the way.
"Hey, I'm sorry, brother," Monique said, squeezing through the crowd to follow him. "Felix, wait! I didn't mean to bum you. I just—"
"You just what?" asked Felix, stopping on the edge of the crowd.
"I was thinking of myself, that's all, always around such remarkable women— Kim, Belinda, and now here's another one, and I'm just plain ol' milk chocolate Monique— no kung fu, no psychic power, no teasin' crocs out of the water— all I want to do with my life is buy and sell stylin' clothes. Maaaan!"
"I'm sorry. I thought you were, you know, trying to make me think I chose the wrong girl."
"No, brother, I've watched you with Belinda. You made the right choice."
"Then what was the crack about 'We worked out our karma'?
"I just thought that was a nasty thing for her to do to you. She hasn't done any other nasty stuff I don't know about, has she?
"You want to look at the animals or what?"
"Okay, okay, I'm just concerned about you because— okay, so we never got very close. I'm just Kim's friend and you're Ron's. But we're around each other a lot, and I kinda like you, so I—"
"Did you just put your foot in your mouth?"
"Yeah, totally," Monique admitted.
"That's awkward," Felix said. "Nah, I'm just foolin' with you. It's okay."
"How do you really feel about me?"
"Are you trying for awkward? Do you really want to know? Cause I'm gonna be saying 'Belinda this' and 'Belinda that.' No other girls paid any attention to me before she opened me up, and now—"
They began moving past a series of saltwater croc enclosures toward higher ground, where they looked through a fence at several emus and big red kangaroos.
"Going with a guy like me isn't easy," Felix said. "Even Belinda gets overwhelmed, sometimes. I can never stand up and hold her in my arms, never dance with her, never be the one on top. You're pretty, okay? No, Monique, you're beautiful. I don't think of you as plain milk chocolate at all. But the guys who interest you are macho athletic guys like Brick and Wendell. I never thought I could have any place in your heart."
"Yeah, guys with big muscles, big egos, and big hot dogs," said Monique. "They think my body's some kind of exercise machine, my beauty nothin' special, and my heart irrelevant."
"Am I really so different? Seeing Kelly makes me wonder."
"See, now, Wendell didn't do other girls cause he thought I broke up with him. He did 'em cause he's a player. You love Belinda and you care about Kelly. You could've loved Kelly if Belinda didn't want you back, and if Kelly weren't so far away. You don't just knock some girl's heart around like a hockey puck till you score."
"Not intentionally," Felix agreed.
"I'm just realizing, brother, how'd I miss you?" Monique touched his shoulder and forced a smile that felt pretty real when Felix smiled back. "All I'm sayin', maybe if Belinda don't work out, you can come see about me, if you want. Otherwise, we can be friends."
"Sure," he said, shaking her hand.
"I want to be here," Drake said, in Sheila's hospital room. "When she wakes up, I want to be the first thing she sees."
"You have to sleep sometime, yourself, Mr. Jones," said the next nurse. "The IV's a real slow, gentle drip. Dr. Ruiz says she probably won't wake up till morning."
"If I'm asleep, I'll still be the first person she sees."
"As you wish," she replied.
Kim, Ron, Belinda, Felix, and Monique got a suite at the Krazy Koala Motel. The two couples settled in, watching a romantic comedy on the big screen satellite TV. Rufus fell asleep in his nest box. Monique changed clothes in the bathroom and came out wearing a soft light blue dress. "I'll be back later," she said, stepping out the front door.
"She's dressed up," Ron remarked.
Kim frowned with thought, then shrugged. "Monique can take care of herself."
On the television, the brown-haired girl was saying, "I don't think you really love me. I don't think you love anyone but yourself."
"That's not true at all," said the athletic guy.
"What a jerk," said Ron.
"I think he's supposed to love her, but he doesn't realize it yet, so his lie is actually kinda the truth," said Kim.
"That just happens in movies," said Ron.
"You can be in love and not know it," said Kim. "So been there, done that."
"Uh, yeah, me too," Ron said. "Okay, maybe he's not exactly a jerk."
"Yes, he is, but he'll learn the value of her love, like I did with yours."
"I don't think Monique wanted to deal with this movie," said Felix. "He acts too much like Wendell."
"She's been kinda quiet tonight," said Kim.
"Isn't she usually like that?" asked Belinda.
"No," said Kim and Ron in unison.
Monique walked through the cool evening past parking lots of other motels and a row of closed shops. There was music coming from a bar on the corner, sounded like Australian country music, or something like that.
"I must be crazy," Monique muttered to herself. "This is no scene for a soul sister." She took a deep breath, walked in, sat on a barstool and forced a smile.
"G'deven, sheila," the gruff old bartender said. "What can I make you?"
"Just a mug of that golden Aussie beer," she replied. "Please and thank you."
The brown-haired man on the next stool frowned at her. "Why don'tcha go t' the darkie bar?"
"The what?" Monique demanded.
"Franko, be polite," said the bartender. "She's an American tourist."
"I don't care what kind of bloody darkie she is," Frank muttered, with very slurred speech.
"Hey," said a big blonde man, seizing Frank by the neck of his T-shirt and pulling him off the stool. "I don't like that kinda talk or that kinda thinking. You just shut your mouth if you can't say somethin' nice."
Whether because of the blonde man's pushing or his own weak legs, Frank ended up sprawled on the floor.
"Anyone else wanna be rude?" The blonde man looked around the room, then smiled at Monique. "I guess we're okay then. Name's Chuck."
"Hey, Chuck, I'm Monique."
"Glad t'meet ya," he said, offering his hand, which she slid her own hand against, palm to palm.
"You work at the zoo, don'tcha?" Monique asked, touching the logo on his khaki shirt longer than necessary. "Think I saw you in the croc pit with that pretty woman. Kelly, is that her name?"
"We work together sometimes."
"Here's your beer, sheila," said the bartender.
"Thanks," Monique said, taking a sip. "Mmm, this is good."
"Thanks, Chucko," the bartender said quietly.
"I might've done that myself," Monique said with an angry gleam in her eye. "I do not appreciate racism."
"Don't take offense, sheila, Frank does not speak for this fine establishment."
Monique looked around at the other customers. A couple of the younger women smiled. Some of the men avoided her gaze.
"Well, Chuck, are ya havin' a drink before you go home to your wife, or are you out for the evening?" Monique asked him, touching his forearm lightly.
"Why, you wanna—?"
"Don't you get the wrong idea about me," Monique added quickly. "I just wanna talk, dig the music, maybe dance a little bit. You get what I'm sayin'? You be a gentleman, cause I'm a lady."
"No worries," Chuck replied.
"I know your boss, Crocodile Jack."
"Yeah. I was in the sea turtle episode, swimming on the reef with Kim and Ron."
"Right, you're Monique, from the Kim Possible episode. Is she in town with you?"
"I never talk about what she's doin'," said Monique. "But I guess I can say this much. Kim's here to help Sheila Jones. I guess she works for the zoo. She had a baby, but she's, like, in a coma or something—"
"Aw, yeah, it's awful. We're all praying for her to pull through. Sheila doesn't work for the zoo, but she comes around. Her husband's Drake, the robo camera wizard. He's also working on the hydro-engineering for our new aquarium . He's a bloody genius. Got a weird sense of humor though."
At this point, the jukebox music stopped, and the band, whose drum kit identified them as "Bad Luck Blackie," began gathering onstage and testing microphones. They were all wearing black. The burly lead guitarist had long hair, a lot of tattoos on his arms, and a stubbly brown beard. The singer with a skinny guy with shades and a purple mohawk.
This was the cue for a lot of the older patrons to finish their drinks, pay up, and slip away.
"If this was home, I'd guess I'm about to hear some punk, maybe heavy metal," said Monique. "Lotsa loud, distorted guitars, growly singing about stuff they don't like—"
"That's about right," said Chuck. "Not your scene?"
"Long as the drummer lays down something I can stomp and wiggle to, I'm fine. Unless you know somewhere better to go."
At that moment, the drummer hit an unbelievable cascade of cacophony, the lead guitarist played an intricate run followed by a swooping growl, and suddenly they the bass player and rhythm guitarist joined in.
Monique and Chuck looked at each other. Monique grabbed his arm and pulled him onto the dance floor.
Continued in chapter 2