Disclaimer: if you saw it on TV, I don't own it. Soundtrack for this chapter: Oblivion Days by Rocket Scientists; Minimum-Maximum by Kraftwerk.
The headline was simple and stark: "Super-Heroine Foils Plot!" Below it Shego wickedly smirked, hands blazing with emerald fire. Kim briefly wondered why they'd used that picture. She'd seen that expression countless times, up close and personal. It didn't look very heroic.
Inside there was a photo taken at the United Nations, just before Drakken received his medal and their pardon. After all, they'd saved the world. A very different woman in a formal dress smiled hesitantly from the photograph. Almost demure, thought Kim. Never imagined that word would ever apply to Shego.
Drakken was a blur in the background, gazing quizzically at his sidekick.
A year and a half later the former supervillains had walked down the aisle together as cameras flashed all around them. Neither Kim nor Ron had been there, despite a cordial invitation; they had been in Belgium, trying to recover composer Noyes Andrakit's priceless score for the Concussion Symphony from a madman calling himself Dr. Maestro.
Life certainly had its surprises.
That had been their last newsworthy appearance. Until now.
As if on cue, her fiancé laid a hand on her shoulder. "What's up, KP?"
"Ron, did you read this?"
"Yeah." He sat down beside her. " Well, I skimmed it."
"So you just read the headline."
"More or less. But there's a video at the KXKVI website." He grabbed the remote, clicked the TV on. "Somehow the news caught up with Shego right after it all went down. Watch this."
A few more clicks, and the brunette's beautiful features filled the screen, surrounded by microphones.
"Real deer-in-the-headlights look, there," Ron remarked.
"Totally. I'm surprised they didn't get a faceful of plasma for their trouble."
"Hold that thought. Besides, she's a good guy now, remember." His tone belied his words. "They both are. Saved the world."
"We all know who saved the world, Ron." She snuggled a little closer to him. "I notice she's wearing her action gear."
Shego was telling her story to the relentless newshounds. "Ah, I got a tip that these guys were, uh, going to strike there tonight." She wiped her forehead, though the harsh camera lights revealed no sweat. "So I, ah, I dusted off my old costume and went out to meet them."
"So it was a stakeout?" asked someone off-screen.
"Staked the place out, yeah. Right." She cleared her throat. "Sure enough, they walked right into my, uh, trap."
"How many of them were there?"
"Seven," she replied, and for the first time her smile appeared genuine. "Had some wicked martial arts skills, too. At least they thought they did. Nothing I couldn't handle."
"We understand that by the time Global Justice agents arrived, the villains were all subdued."
"Yeah, subdued. You bet." She glared straight into the camera. "And hey, GJ – you guys oughta knock before blazing into a place. Could have given away the game. Could have wrecked the whole, uh, stakeout."
"What were the criminals after? Any idea?"
"Me? Idea? No." She wiped her brow again, ran a hand through her hair. "Something, uh, dangerous, I'm sure. That's usually the drill. Steal something dangerous and powerful, and use it to, ah, take over the world or, ah, something. I mean, that was a top-secret place, sorta. Full of dangerous, powerful stuff. "
"How about Dr. Drakken. Was he involved in this too?"
For a split second, something almost like panic crossed Shego's features. "NO. No, Dr. D. didn't know anything about it. I, ah, told him I was going to work. He was at home." Without warning, her temper suddenly flared. "And besides, what business is it of yours, anyway? He didn't know anything about it. Nothing. Understand?"
"There you go." Ron's face was made eerie by the green light from the screen. "Out comes the plasma."
"At least she just threatened them with it. For Shego, that's restraint."
"So whaddaya think she was really doing there?"
"No idea. And besides, fighting supervillains is your department now, not mine."
"Hey, there's an update on the story. Let's check it out."
"OK, but we gotta get moving. We're gonna be late."
He clicked the remote again; anchor Gregg Greatman's grinning face filled the screen. Kim sighed in annoyance. "Right there's the reason I don't watch KXKVI News. What do people see in him, anyway? Did you know he was voted Middleton's most popular anchorman? Online poll or something."
"I heard something about that, yeah. He is a pretty popular guy." He'd tried to convince Wade to help him cast several votes for Greatman, but the computer whiz had refused. Like Kim, Wade didn't care for the oily newscaster.
"He reminds me of that insane temp Drakken hired – "
"Yesterday morning," intoned Greatman, in particularly plummy tones, "a sinister incursion into a top-secret government repository was foiled by the quick action of the woman known as Shego, a former criminal now turned superheroine; tonight, KXKVI has learned, information revealed by the captured felons has led to the apprehension of a secret terrorist organization bent on destroying America's power grid and taking over the government in the ensuing chaos."
Blurry images rolled across the screen, Global Justice herding group after group of henchmen and other captives toward what appeared to be submarines. The last one, a morose man with a goatee, was hustled right by the camera; Kim gasped in recognition.
"Ron, that was him! Drakken's temp! What was his name, Hank Berman, something like that – "
"Perkins. Hank Perkins. You're right. Looks like he's still in the bad-guy business."
"Was still in the bad-guy business. Whatever he was up to, he's in prison now. For once, I'd say GJ's on the ball." She looked at the clock. "And we've gotta get on the ball, too. We need to be there before they start."
Ron was clicking through YouTube channels. "Oh man, look! Kraftwerk!"
Kim stopped at the door, looked back. "Four old guys with laptops?"
"They were the grandfathers of electronica and techno, Kim! The trendsetters, the ones who set the pattern. And then when Afrika Bambaataa sampled Trans-Europe Express –"
"Tell me about it on the way to the Sloth. And grab those signs as you come, we'll need 'em. "
The surprisingly wistful strains of Kraftwerk's Neon Lights flowed through the room as Ron got to his feet, collected the signs, and took off behind Kim. Among the slogans were:
ATOMIC POWER? NO THANK YOU
CHERNOBYL AND FUKUSHIMA HAVE MADE IT CLEAR – FULL STOP TO NUCLEAR POWER
NO NUCLEAR POWER IN MIDDLETON
As she watched Ron bundle the signs into the car, Kim's mind was racing. Ron's ever-increasing Mystical Monkey Power was more than enough to deal with any supervillain outbreaks; this had become her battle, her crusade against evil. As a teenager, she'd been known around the world as a crimefighter. Now, as a young adult, she was just as famous as an anti-nuclear activist.
Famous – or infamous. Leading the protests against the proposed reactor twenty-five miles from her hometown had led to a lot of friction with people who had once been her friends, people who needed jobs. Even her relationship with her Dad, whose motto was "no room for skepticism in science," had been strained over it.
And there had been the night the Sloth's brakes failed, and she'd narrowly avoided being hit by a train. An accident, some people claimed. Others murmured darker things.
It didn't matter.
I'm still saving the world, she thought, but in a different way. She had known that since the day she first saw the photos of the dead city called Pripyat, the once-prosperous city built to house the workers at the Chernobyl nuclear plant. The photos that brought her to uncontrollable tears, without understanding why.
Kim had no idea why this cause had such an impact on her mind and heart; as well ask Ron why he didn't like meatcakes. All she knew was the cold certainty that an apocalypse awaited if she didn't see this through.
And she would see it through. Despite trouble, despite the opposition. Because anything was possible for a Possible.
The Sloth pulled out, drove away. It had begun to drizzle rain.
In his hurry, Ron had forgotten to turn the television off; the pensive melodies of Neon Lights were suddenly replaced by an ominous chord. Names reverberated across a skeletal electronic rhythm:
"Stop ra-di-o-ac-tivity," Kraftwerk chanted, as synthesized sounds rose in alarm and a morse-code rhythm pattered out S.O.S. "Chain reaction…and mutation…contaminated population…"
The message was clear, but there was no one home to hear it.