Darev: Happy "early" Halloween. I finally got around to rewriting the first few chapters of my Kim Possible/The Mist story. Progress, as always has been slow, but at long last here is the first revamped chapter. I'm trying to avoid my earliest mistakes and writing as much as possible prior to posting. Hence, this fic will be updated in spurts of at least two to three chapters.
Summary: When a mysterious black fog envelops Middleton, several residents are trapped inside the local Smarty Mart. Tensions begin to rise as the patrons soon realize that no help is coming. But the dangers of the mist, and the monsters that lurk inside it, pale in comparison to their own innate human nature. As people start turning on one another, Kim, Ron and a loose group of friends and enemies must find a way to stay alive long enough to survive their ordeal...as well as the darkness that threatens to consume their very souls.
Disclaimer: Kim Possible is a property of the Disney Corporation. The series and characters were created by Bob Schooley and Mark McCorckle. The Mist is based off a novella by American horror writer Stephen King.
Rating: Teen but may gradually become M as the story progresses.
Dr. James Timothy Possible was a creature of habit. Every day before breakfast, he would get up, shower, brush his teeth, shave, get dressed, and come downstairs to have breakfast with his family. Of course he would take a slight detour to the front door where the morning paper would be waiting for him. This is what he loved most about Middleton; the inescapable monotony of predictability. James wasn't so much afraid of change as that he liked things the way they were.
What's not to like, he mused? He had a wonderful wife, three great kids, an upstanding job at one of the world's premiere research centers for spacecraft and aerodynamic study, and was one of the most respected men in his field. James lived in a beautiful home in one of the nicest, quietest, and cleanest neighborhoods this side of the Rocky Mountains. Middleton was a paradise on Earth and if God willed it, James would make this his home for the rest of his natural life. It had been a difficult road getting here but James could pat himself on the back knowing that he had earned everything he had...and everything that was coming to him.
He earned the right to be happy and to be pleased with his station in life. If he could, he would freeze every moment and live in it forever. Of course that was physically impossible, not to mention highly improbable even for a rabid Captain Constellation fan such as himself. But James wouldn't change a thing. He reveled in the past, enjoyed the present, and lived for the future. All he asked was that things would stay the same.
Opening the door, James felt something very different in his perfect world. There was a foreboding in the wind; a disturbance in the Force, one might say. James picked up his paper and held it as a warrior would the hilt of his sword when he sensed danger. A low rumbling caught his ear. James followed the sound to where a convoy of military vehicles was passing his house. There were two trucks, each filled with soldiers, making their way down the street. The procession disappeared around the corner and James just stood there, as if he'd just stepped into somebody else's dream. This isn't Middleton, he thought. But it was, and James knew why.
Closing the door, James entered the kitchen to find his wife had already lain breakfast out on the table. No sooner had James sat himself down when two bundles of energy came running in. "Jim. Tim. What have I told you about running in the kitchen?" He scolded his twin sons.
"Sorry, Dad." They spoke in unison, a trait which had become both endearing and creepy to the devoted father of three. It was said that twins shared a brain between them. James wasn't sure if that was true as he was no brain surgeon. His wife on the other hand...
"Eat up, boys. You don't want to be late for school." Anne Possible placed a stack of pancakes before the famished Possible doppelgangers. One look at all that milk-buttery goodness and it was feeding time at the farm. Jim and Tim retained enough civility to put their napkins around their neck but after that all bets were off and they stacked half a dozen cakes each on their plates. James wasn't sure he liked their eating habits. Eight years old and already in high school, proper etiquette was a necessity. He usually let Anne deal with their antics and if it didn't bother her then he would tolerate it. For now...
A patter of nimble, light-footed steps brought James attention away from his paper. His Kimmie Cub bounded into the kitchen with her hair billowing behind her like some auburn cape. "Morning, Daddy." Feeling privileged above all else, Kimberly placed a kiss on his cheek first before giving salutations to the rest of the family. His heart would soar at the sound of her voice. This girl, which had sprung partially from his loins, was the apple of his eye and one of the reasons that made him so proud to have been born a Possible. Not even eighteen and Kim was already doing great things. She was already known throughout the world and had been accepted into several of the finest college institutions. She'd yet to make her choice, though James had hoped she would follow in his footsteps and go to M.I.S.T, but whatever her decision he knew it would be the right one for her and that everyone would benefit from it.
She was dressed and ready to go. Donning a tan pair of pants with a short-sleeved pink shirt with a heart insignia in the middle, Kim was at that stage in a girl's life when she was just ready to step into womanhood. Hard to believe that she was his little girl not that long ago. Who was he kidding? Kim would always be his little girl.
"Sleep well, Kimmie?" He asked, as he switched over to another section of the paper.
Kim had served herself some pancakes. "More or less. A helicopter woke me up last night. Someone should really tell those flyboys not to drive so low."
James stopped what he was readying. He peeked at Kim over the top of the paper. "Was that the only thing you heard last night?"
"Just the usual convoy that comes by every night at 2 A.M." Taking a bite, Kim chewed thoroughly before speaking again. "Have you seen some of the firepower those guys are packing? It's like they're preparing for an invasion."
"What makes you say that?"
"I've been to countries where military readiness borders on all-out hostilities. There haven't been this many ground troops in Middleton since 9-11."
Kim was right. There were a lot of prime targets in Middleton. In addition to the space center, it was also home to one of the world's top medical facilities and many of the finest scientific minds on the planet called Middleton home. Being the home of world-renowned heroine Kim Possible, it wouldn't surprise James if Middleton High was on the list of top priority targets. Lord knows she made enough enemies in her ventures. Of course he was confident that Kimmie could look after herself. But what about her fellow students?
"This is all because of that new project your father's working on," Anne Possible said as she provided her husband with his cup of coffee. Joining him at the table, Anne looked to James for clarification. "The military must be pretty interested in whatever it is you're working on."
"Dad's working on a top secret project," one of the boys, Tim, said. "It's really high-tech,"
"And dangerous," Jim completed for his brother.
Suspicion entered into James' voice. "How do you boys know that?" For their sake, he hoped it wasn't through illegal means.
"Duh," they said as one. "When is it never..."
"...high-tech and dangerous?" Jim and Tim said, respectively.
"They've got you there," Anne added with a teasing lilt to her voice.
Giving them that, James took a sip of his coffee.
"So Dad," Kim began, "Any hints on what's going on down at the center?"
"Kimmie Cub, you know I'm under the strictest confidentiality. I signed an agreement that expressly forbids me from divulging any information about what I'm working on," James said in business-like manner. "I couldn't tell you even if I wanted to."
"But you really want to." Kim leaned over in her chair. "I can see it in your eyes."
"She's right, honey." Anne rested her delicate chin on milky hands. "You have that glint in your eye."
"What glint?" James responded defensively.
"The one that says..."
"...you've got a secret you want to tell."
James frowned at the boys.
"So..." Kim pressed.
"Is there anything you can tell us?"
"You know I can't."
"Cause then he'd have to kill us," Jim said.
"With extreme prejudice," Tim added.
"That true, hon?"
"I'm not even supposed to be talking about it, just to let you know. I can face serious consequences just for discussing it outside the center."
"But you haven't discussed anything with us." Kim looked to her brother and her mom who nodded. "It's not that big a secret. Everyone in Middleton knows something big is going down at the space center. How we not when there are tanks and trucks and helicopters occupying every free space between here and the airport?"
"Not to mention the checkpoints," Tim said.
"And the cavity searches," Jim said.
"What cavity searches?" Anne turned on her two sons. "Did somebody touch you?"
"No. But it's no big deal, Mom."
"Yeah. Jim and I haven't had cavities yet so we're good."
"Haven't had...oh!" Anne's face lit up with realization. Kim stifled a giggle while James rolled his eyes. For all their technical and engineering brilliance, Jim and Tim were still just kids. There was so much they had yet to understand and for their sake, as much to the mirth of their mother, father, and big sister, the Possibles prayed they retained that innocence for just a bit longer.
James looked left and right as if he was being watched. Seeing his family's gaze upon him, James bent his head, putting one hand to the side of his chin to stifle his voice from carrying too far. "Look, all I can say is that we're on the verge of a real breakthrough." His family leaned in close to hear him clearly. "What we're doing can change the course of human civilization as we know it. Just keep that between yourselves."
"That's all?" Anne asked; feeling disappointed.
"That's all you're getting," James replied with a smug look on his face.
"Careful, James." Anne lifted it a fork and twirled it in a figure-eight motion. "We have ways of making you talk."
Feeling he had said too much already, and that his wife would make good on the imposed threat, James decided it was best to hit that old dusty trail. "I think it's about time I get going."
"But you haven't even had breakfast yet," Anne protested.
"Sorry, honey." James kissed her on the cheek. "Got a lot of work to do. I can always get myself something at the cafeteria." He said goodbye to his boys. "Jim. Tim. You kids mind your mother and sister while I'm gone. You're the men of the house."
"Does that mean we can," Tim started to ask when James cut him off. "No."
"But you haven't even," Jim began.
"But..." they said together.
"No!" James spoke with finality and the boys 'huffed' audibly before crossing their little arms. Coming around to Kim, James gave her a peck on the forehead. "Be good, Kimmie."
"Aren't I always?"
Whispering so that only she could hear, James said, "Mind your brothers."
"Sure thing, Dad."
Anne joined her husband at the front door to see him off. They kissed and James picked his coat from off the rack before nearly running over Ron Stoppable who was just about to knock on the door. "Whoa! Hey, Dr. P."
"Good morning, Ronald. Sorry to hit and run, but I've got to go." James waved himself off. "Goodbye."
After getting in his car and driving away, James used the On-Star feature in his car to contact the space center. He promised them he'd be there a little early but had wanted to keep his peers updated nonetheless. A familiar voice picked up on the other line. "Ramesh. It's Possible. Just wanted to let you guys know I'm on my way over."
"Good to hear your voice, James." Ramesh spoke with a thick Indian accent customary to his native Delhi. "Wait until you see some of the calculations Michael and I came up with last night. If it all matches up, I believe we will be able to activate the gate tonight."
Michael Chen, like Dr. Ramesh, was one of the top astronomers in his field. They were also two of James' longtime friends and former roommates back at M.I.S.T. Working with them again reminded James of why he loved what he did so much.
"Here's hoping." James beamed. "I'll see you in a few."
"Ten-four." Ramesh signed off.
When James reached the space center, he passed the military checkpoint that stopped all cars entering and leaving the facility. James offered up his I.D. badge and even said hello to the soldier stationed there. The grunt didn't reply and just motioned for James to move along. James knew the army was here to keep tabs on its investment, but that didn't mean their men had to be so anti-social. Passing the heavily-guarded gate that cut the center off from the rest of the world, James was only reminded of another equally important reason he wanted to complete this project so badly. The sooner they were finished, the faster the army could leave.
The sloth passed an army truck that was heading in the other direction. Kim watched it go through her side mirror, seeing it turn the next corner that would take it downtown. That was the third truck they'd passed and they were only halfway to school.
"What's up, KP?"
Kim gave her boyfriend an uncomfortable shrug. "Oh nothing. It's just that Middleton's starting to feel like an occupied country."
"Yeah. We freed enough of those to know what one looks like."
Ron's comment got Kim thinking. While the army made it a point to stay out the way of the locals, it was hard to ignore so many heavily-armed vehicles carrying men who likewise carried enough firepower to level a city block. Granted most of them were stationed in or around the Middleton Space Center, which meant that checkpoints would increase the closer one came to that facility. They pretty much left the rest of Middleton in peace which was fine by Kim. But for every truck she saw, every armored jeep driving down Main Street, or helicopter that buzzed over their homes in the middle of the night, Kim felt a growing sense of ire that all was not right with the world.
Kim knew for a fact that not even the President garnered this much security during state visits, so what was so important as to turn Middleton into a veritable boot camp?
When they arrived at their school, Kim exited the driver side and looked up at the massive billboard that lorded over the rest of the campus. KEEP YOUR HEADS DOWN...in large black letters reminded Kim that all was not quiet on the Western Front. In fact, it felt like Middleton had become a powder keg that was ready to blow. Perhaps, and she thought this apprehensively, she should take the billboard up on its advice.
A honking horn followed by the roar of an engine drew her attention away from her misgivings. A lovely brunette in a teal-colored convertible rolled up beside Kim's sloth. The new car smell was intoxicating and for a moment even Kim was too dazzled by the vehicle before her to notice the driver's condescending smirk.
"Hey, Kim. Still driving that four-wheeled crap box, I see." Bonnie removed her sunglasses which, Kim noticed, were studded with what looked like real diamonds. Gaudy much?
Of course, Bonnie had no idea of the sloth's true capabilities. Recent additions by her brainy brothers had made the sloth the most dangerous (for the villains) and reliable vehicle on the road. Kim had no doubt that despite the difference in aesthetics, her sloth could outdo Bonnie's convertible in every plausible category.
"Let me guess," Kim started as Bonnie turned off the engine. "Junior's latest display of affection?"
Bonnie stepped out of the car. "He's so cute." Looking at Ron she added, "And rich."
"I was rich once," Ron defended.
"Once doesn't cut it, Ronnie."
Kim raised an accusing finger." Don't call him Ronnie!"
"Ooh. Jealous much?"
"Jealous?" Kim's asked incredulously. "Of what?"
"Of not having the greatest boyfriend in the world."
"It takes more than money to make a boyfriend, Bonnie!" She growled out that last word.
"You're right, Kim." Removing her needlessly expensive glasses, Bonnie scrutinized Ron before turning on Kim. "A lot more." She put the glasses back on, turned, and strutted her way over to the entrance. Bonnie raised her hand over her shoulder and pressed the alert button on her car keys. In an instant, the convertible erected a protective barrier of sheet metal over the exposed side. Built-in clamps shut down over the wheels and the entire vehicle looked like it had been wrapped in a thin but powerful layer of steel. "Security system activated," a robotic voice announced.
"Coooooooooooool!" Ron's exclamation drew an eye-rolling gesture from Kim. She watched him approach the protected vehicle, raising a finger to touch it.
"Unrecognized meatbag! Step away from the vehicle!"
"Meatbag?" Ron crossed his arms. "Who you calling a meatbag?"
"Step away from the vehicle."
"I'm not touching it."
"This is your last warning."
Looking over at Kim, Ron didn't have time to see the metal arms snake their way from underneath the convertible. They coiled in preparation to deal with the intruder. "I find that meatbag comment derogatory and insult...ieeeeeeahhhh!" Ron was cut off-though he did scream-as the arms grabbed him by the shoulders and lifted him up. They twirled him around for good measure before throwing the hapless, freckled youth through the nearest window. Fortunately, the window had been opened, but the commotion caused by Ron's sudden entry resulted in a very familiar but angry voice speaking out.
"Stoppable! My notes!"
Kim sighed. Of all the windows, in all the schools, in all the world, he had to go through Mr. Barkin's.
She would have to go in to settle things before Barkin put Ron on permanent detention. The robotic arms slithered back into their default state. "Meatbag disposed off. Switching to taunt mode. Ha-ha. Ha-ha."
Kim hoisted her bag over her shoulder and went inside.
The day had passed pretty much like any other day. Aside from the customary spitball-dodging session in math class, which Kim attributed to her profound skill at dodging projectiles, the only other exercise she had to look forward to that day was cheerleader practice. Kim always enjoyed this activity as it was a place where she could really perfect her skills. She'd developed her own unique brand of martial arts by combining ancient kung-fu forms with her cheerleading; it was a mesh that proved ludicrously effective during her missions. Whereas most of her opponents relied on brute strength or numbers, Kim relied on speed, dexterity, flexibility and a thinking outside the box mentality that worked to her advantage every time. She owed everything she learned to the times spent with the girls both in the auditorium and on the field.
Right now they were in the latter, going through routines that had become second nature to the squad. They were a tight-knit group in a professional sense. The Middleton Mad Dogs were the best of the best because they knew how to put their differences aside and work together. Of course there were those who understood this better than most...and then there was Bonnie Rockwaller.
Watching from the stands, Monique flinched as Kim came down hard when her spotter, Bonnie, failed to catch her on time. Actually, Bonnie had been distracted when one of the football players had had trouble pulling off his shirt, giving her a look at his glistening chest. This meant that she wasn't there for Kim when she needed her to be alert and ready. It was a good thing they were practicing on the grass. Otherwise, Kim would have been unable to get up and properly scold Bonnie for her discretion without being sent to the infirmary first.
She was so loud that Bonnie visibly jumped back. "Geez, Kim! I'm not deaf."
Rubbing her backside, Kim could hardly walk for the first few seconds. She only managed to stumble over to Bonnie who was giving her a "What's with you" look.
"You were supposed to catch me!" Kim argued. "As in not LET ME FALL!"
"Oh..." Bonnie seemed genuinely embarrassed by the situation and crossed her hands behind her back. "Sorry."
"Sorry doesn't pop my spine back into place." As Kim said that, she straightened herself up, creating an audible crack while she did so. "What were you doing?"
"Can I help if there's so much man-candy around? I'm only a woman, Kim. There's only so much temptation I can take."
"What about Junior?" Kim scolded.
Bonnie scoffed. "Kim! We can't all be lucky enough to have our boy toys working out right next to us." She motioned to the players huddling on the opposite side of the field. Ron was among them.
"Ron is not a boy toy."
"Riiiight." Bonnie's tone was patronizing. "You're just happening to date the Middleton Running Back."
Kim stepped right up to Bonnie. "For your information, Bonnie, I happen to like Ron for who he is."
"Uh-huh," she countered. "And he likes you for your brains." Bonnie poked Kim on the nose and pushed her away. "They're boys, Kimmie. They're only after one thing. This." Bonnie struck a sensual pose that accentuated her hip and displayed a healthy showing of her bare legs.
"You are such a prima donna." Wanting to have this conversation over and done with, Kim turned to the other girls who until that moment had been watching the exchange with great interest. Watching Kim and Bonnie fight was always entertaining. The two were so much alike in that they were both popular, headstrong, and believed they knew better than everybody else that it was a wonder they didn't just cancel each other out of existence.
"Kay, guys," Kim clapped, and winced at the same time as the gesture caused the pain in her back to resurface. "That's all for today. See you tomorrow."
As the team dispersed, Kim noticed a very sad face among them. Tara lagged behind the rest of the group as they made for the locker rooms. Kim approached her from behind. "Tara. Is something wrong?"
Tara didn't seem to hear her and Kim had to poke her on the shoulder for her to turn around. "Huh? Oh. Hi, Kim."
"Are you okay?" Kim asked even though she could tell she was not.
"Is it that obvious?"
"It's being broadcast on a hundred channels." Kim admitted. "Want to talk about it?"
Tara looked torn between accepting Kim's offer and turning it down. She accepted. Tara walked her over to the side of the fence just next to the bleachers and waited for all the girls to have left before speaking. "It's Josh." Tara leaned against the fence. "I'm thinking of breaking up with him."
Green eyes widened at the revelation. "Are you serious?"
"I know it's weird. Everyone says we're the perfect couple."
Kim didn't recall having actually said that but guessed that "everyone" meant the popular crowd. In the dog-eat-dog social hierarchy that was the Middleton High Food Chain, it mattered what people said or thought about you. As a member of the cheer squad, Tara's position with the Food Chain was at the upper echelon. While she rarely socialized outside the squad, Tara's status earned her the respect and envy of so many others. Partner her up with Josh Mankey, one of the most popular boys at school, and it was no wonder she feared what the gossip machine might do to her.
Then Kim reminded herself that this was not Bonnie. Tara had a soul, which meant that this decision was probably eating her up inside. Aside from that brief separation when they went to the Junior Prom with somebody else, she seemed to like Josh a lot. What changed?
"Did he do something?" Kim dared to ask. She couldn't imagine Josh doing anything even remotely harmful to Tara. Then again, she and Josh had only been out once or twice. What did she really know about him?
"No. Josh is perfect. And that's the problem."
"Okay. You're going to need to explain that to me."
Tara glanced around as if to make sure that no one would be eavesdropping. Confident they were alone, she began to explain. "You remember what you told Bonnie a minute ago, about liking Ron for who he is?" Kim nodded. "Well that's the thing. Josh is great and all but he's popular, and by extension so am I. We're dating only because it's expected of us."
Kim knew where this was going but allowed Tara to continue.
"It's like, do I like Josh for who he is or only because I'm supposed to? The more time we've spent together, the more I realized that while I do like Josh, I don't like-like him. I don't want to be with a guy because I'm supposed to. I want to be with him because I want to." Tara looked her in the eye. "You understand, don't you?"
"Totally. But have you spoken to Josh about how you feel?"
Tara pushed a golden lock out of her eye in a nervous gesture of indecisiveness. "No."
"So you're just going to dump him without even considering how he feels?"
"I know how he feels about me, Kim."
Tara's head shot up.
"Look, from what little time I've spent with Josh, I learned that he's a pretty emotional guy. He can be a little full of himself at times, but as far as high school guys go, Josh is a real catch." Seeing Tara's eyes widen, Kim held up her hands. "I mean don't take this the wrong way, but he's a real nice guy. I think you should sit down with Josh and have a real serious talk before you make any decision. I mean...say you dump Josh, I mean just throw him to the curb. How do you think that would make you look?"
"Kind of shallow, I guess."
"You're a nice girl, Tara. I don't want the gossip machine spreading rumors that you're that kind of girl."
"You mean like Bonnie, don't you?"
Kim was taken aback. "What?"
"You think I'm starting to become like Bonnie?"
"I don't think you're anything like her. In fact, I know you're not." Looking back on it, Bonnie never had a lot of boyfriends to begin with so she wasn't the dumping machine that Tara suggested she was. Besides Brick Flagg, Junior was the only steady boyfriend Kim could recall her ever having. It wasn't a fair example and Kim dismissed it altogether. "Look Tara, I don't want to tell you how to do things. You've got to do what your heart tells you and if it's saying you don't want to be with Josh then let him down easy. But just...consider him, okay?"
Tara thought over it and after a few moments she nodded. "Okay, Kim. I'll think about it." She began to head for the lockers when she stopped. "Kim?"
Kim watched her walk away before turning to the bleachers. Monique was waiting for her and tapped the empty spot next to her for Kim to sit down. As Kim approached her, she noticed Justine Flanner at the top of the stands. She had a laptop open and was typing away. Kim gazed at her for a moment, shrugged, and joined her best friend at the bottom.
"What was up with Tara?"
"Just a pep talk." Kim felt that that conversation had been a private one and shouldn't be televised to the world. For all her virtues, Monique was a blabbermouth and couldn't keep a secret to save her life. "Tara's been a little down lately. She just needed someone to cheer her up."
"What about you?" She said.
"Oh this?" She rubbed her lower back. "It's nothing. I get worse falls on missions."
Monique didn't find that difficult to believe at all. She reclined as far back as she could and crossed her legs. "Ever think about hanging up the belt?"
"Not in the foreseeable future." Kim mimicked her friend's posture, though had to take certain precautions given that she was wearing a skirt. After smoothing out her skirt, Kim reclined. "Why?"
"College is coming up."
"I hadn't noticed," Kim mocked.
"I'm just saying." The ebony girl shrugged. "It won't be easy saving the world when you have a thesis to write. Not to mention Ron."
At that Kim sat up straight. "What about Ron?"
"You remember when came out of Barkin's office, the big man yelling at him at the top of his lungs?"
Now Monique sat up. "I was passing by just before it happened. I heard Mr. B grilling Ron about how he had yet to prepare for his college entrance exams. He was supposed to go to tutoring but hasn't shown up once. Without those grades, the best Ron can hope for is community college, and unless you plan to join him I don't think you'll be seeing much of each other."
"Ron told me he took his GRE already and was waiting on results."
Monique spread her arms. "Well then either Barkin was wrong, which is unlikely since he's the one who tutors the students to take the GRE exams..."
"Or Ron lied to me." Kim's face turned a slight shade of red. She wasn't blushing.
Monique shied away. "Guess I should have kept my mouth shut."
"No it's good that you told me." Looking over at Ron across the field, the redhead could feel her blood boiling. "Looks like we need to have a talk."
"Please don't kill him, Kim."
"He's lucky that's all I do to him." At her sides, Kim's fingers began to clench.
It was the afternoon. The sun began its slow descent across the heavens. All across Middleton, the work day was drawing to a close. Pretty soon it would be time to go home and spend time with friends and family. It all seemed so ordinary until a helicopter flew overhead. Kim recognized the sleek and aerodynamic design of the craft long before she saw the green color and the white star insignia of the United States Army. Seeing that helicopter, watching as it buzzed the field and momentarily drew the attention of everyone still outside, Kim could not help but think back to what her father said. What sort of breakthrough required such a show of force? Was her dad even working for the civilian government anymore?
"I'm fine," she said, though in truth, Kim wasn't so sure of that. Not so sure at all.
When Ron finished practicing, Kim suggested that she and he go grab a bite at Bueno Nacho. Ron was ecstatic of course, thinking he lucked out by nabbing himself the best girlfriend in the world. In truth, Kim wanted to give him a false sense of security by lulling him into a familiar place. When he was at his most vulnerable, and therefore less likely to think up excuses, she would confront him about the examination thing.
She had invited Monique but was politely refused. Monique would rather not be there when the fur started to fly.
As the couple, plus Rufus, made their way over to the Bueno Nacho, they found the place near empty. Kim sat herself at their usual booth while Ron ordered up his usual with Rufus whispering additions into his ear. She waited until she sat down, a tray of nacos and chimaritos nearly blocking her view of her overly-indulgent boyfriend. "Time to dive in, Rufus."
Using Ron's head as a diving board, the naked mole rat hopped, once, twice, before leaping off, performing a perfect somersault into the stack of food. His pink head appeared a moment later before going back in; the chomping sounds could be heard throughout the store.
"Ron," Kim started.
"Relax, KP. I split your order from ours so that it's still in one piece." Ron divided a small portion of the meal, about one-eighth in total, and gave it to Kim. "See? Always putting you first."
"Now if only you would do the same for yourself," Kim muttered.
"What's that?" When Ron spoke his mouth was already filled with food so it sounded more like "Wafftt fhheatt?"
"Nothing." Kim decided it best to let him gorge himself for now. No sense ruining his appetite. They ate in silence. Or rather Kim did. Ron and Rufus ate like, well, animals. Looking to divert her attention away from the argument she knew was coming, Kim spotted Ned mopping the floor. He had worked his way close enough that she was able to shoot over a greeting call. "Hey, Ned. How's it going?"
Hearing his name called by a voice as sultry as Kim's froze Ned in his tracks. He looked around, not seeing any particularly attractive girls-this was a fast-food place afterall. When he spotted Kim and Ron at the booth, Ned nearly stumbled over himself coming over. "Kim! Hi!" He looked at Ron. "Hey, Ron."
"Shffup?" Ron spat back.
"So Kim! How's it going? Haven't seen you guys in a while. Everything okay?"
"Everything's fine, Ned. How are you?"
"Meh. Can't complain. Okay, actually I can. My promotion was denied...again!" Ned slumped against his broom.
Kim's sympathy was genuine. "Sorry to hear that."
"What does it take to impress the bigwigs? I've devoted my life to Bueno Nacho. I've poured my blood, my sweat and my tears into every naco and chimarito ever made."
"You mean that figuratively, right?"
"If only I did."
Ron stopped eating in mid-chomp and looked down at the mess that was his tray. Sweat? Blood? Tears? So that tang in the salsa wasn't really salsa?
"I mean okay, so I didn't invent the naco and I didn't save the company from a hostile takeover by a villain with a mad-on for little Diablos. But I'm still a hard worker, dammit! This place is all I have."
"There's always school," Kim suggested.
"I'm not one for studying. Never have been. Never will be. Without Bueno Nacho I am nothing. This chain is my life and I'm committed to its upkeep ninety-eight percent."
"What happened to the other two percent?"
"Ah." She nodded.
Ned sighed. "I guess I'll just be assistant manager of a Mexican-themed food chain for the rest of my life."
"Don't be so hard on yourself, Ned. You have plenty going for you."
"Yeah. You are very...um...you can...er...what I mean is..." Now would be a good time to put her foot in her mouth. Fortunately for her, Kim was flexible enough to do just that. If only the table weren't in the way.
"I get it. I'm a loser."
Kim kicked Ron underneath the table, her eyes pleading for him to help her out here. Ron swallowed a huge gulp of food before regarding Ned. "That is the cleanest floor I have ever seen."
Ned looked up. "You mean it?"
"Would the Ron Man lie?"
Both Ned and Kim raised an eyebrow.
"That was a rhetorical question," he said in his defense.
But Ned turned away just the same. "I know you're just saying that to make me feel better. But let's face it. I'll always what I am. Nothing more. Nothing less. Though generally less if this economy has anything to say about." Defeated, Ned began to slink away, dragging his broom behind him.
Kim looked to Ron, pleading with him to say something else. But Ron was already and approaching Ned. He grabbed the flimsy boy from behind and turned him around, showing surprising strength. "Now you listen to me, Ned." Ron put on his serious face. "You got the makings of greatness in you. But you got to take the helm and chart your own course. Stick to it no matter the squalls! And when the time comes you get the chance to really test the cut of your sails...and show what you're made of...well," Ron stepped back and closed his eyes. He spread his arms out wide as if welcoming the first breeze of summer onto his body. "I hope I'm there catching some of the light coming off you that day."
The power in Ron's words was such that Ned's eyes began to water. He wiped it away quickly, though it didn't change from the fact that Ron believed him, even more than Ned did himself. Opening his eyes, Ron found a very grateful Ned who didn't know what to say other than, "Thanks, Ron." He walked away, still blurry-eyed but filled with a newfound determination that wouldn't show until he was in the privacy of his own thoughts.
Returning to the booth, Kim forgot all the things she wanted to say to Ron and just gazed at him with newfound admiration. "That was beautiful, Ron."
"I can be encouraging when I want to be."
"But it was so powerful, so passionate. I never knew you had it in you."
He shrugged. "Yeah. Though I think John Silver said it with a bit more flair."
Kim had heard that name before. "Wait a minute. Long John Silver? As in the pirate?"
Taking another chimarito, Ron began to dog it down. "Uh-fhuh," he muttered.
Kim scowled. "Ron! You motivated Ned with a line stolen from a Robert Louis Stevenson novel?"
"Who's Robert Louis Stevenson?"
"Who's Rob...he's the author!" She blurted out.
"I forgot the director's name," Ron admitted. "But it was a good movie."
"Treasure Planet, KP. A real coming of age story." Ron tapped his fist against his left breast. "Gets you right here."
"Ron," Kim suddenly remembered everything she wanted to say to at that moment. "We need to talk."
"Sure." Then his eyes bulged. Every man dreaded the "We need to talk" line. It was engraved into their very psyche. Ron found it difficult to swallow at that moment; he had to physically contract his neck muscles just to force the food down.
Both booth occupants turned to find Justine Flanner standing at their table. She was hugging her laptop to her chest and had a look of genuine concerned stenciled on her face.
"Can we talk?"
"I'm sorry, but I'm kind of,"
"It's important." Justine had the look of a woman who had something to say and would not be silenced. "Please."
It went against her nature to turn someone away so Kim begrudgingly gave up her seat and moved over to Ron's side of the booth. Justine sat down across from them, ignoring the pink rodent on the tray that was slumbering away as a result of his own gluttony. "This concerns the Middleton Space Center."
"What about it?"
"People have been talking. I'm sure you've noticed how excessive the military presence has become." As if on cue, a caravan of army units drove by the Bueno Nacho. One of was an APC; its passing sent a tremor rumbling through the chain store and subsided only when it was a good two blocks away. "It's getting worse."
"Look, I'm not happy about it either, but whatever they're doing at the center obviously calls for a lot of security."
"What are they doing exactly?"
Justine had placed her laptop to the side. She got up slightly so as to lean over the table. "What...are they doing?" She asked again.
"What makes you think I know?"
"Your father works at the center, doesn't he?"
Justine sat back down. There was an accusing look to her face that made Kim feel uncomfortable. "It's only logical to assume that Middleton's top rocket scientist would be involved with whatever it is they're up to."
"What are you insinuating?"
"I take it your father hasn't told you anything."
"No," she answered flatly.
"You know what I think?" Justine leaned over again. "I think something's about to go down. Tonight."
"What are you talking about?" Then Kim asked. "Do you know something?"
"All this increased security can only mean one thing. Something big is about to happen and the military wants to clamp down on possible leaks."
"I believe that's procedure."
"You don't understand. Here, let me show you something." Justine reached over to her laptop and opened the flap. Kim and Ron exchanged concerned looks. "Take a look." Justine flipped the laptop so that they would see the screen. It was a blank page with an error message on it. "No signal."
"Maybe it's just a bad connection," Ron suggested. "I mean computers have problems all the time w..." he paused when he noticed the hard glare across the table.
"I don't get bad connections."
"Some kind of interference?" Kim asked.
"Good guess, Possible. Only it's not civilian."
"How can you be sure?"
"I was able to get online this morning. I've been hacking into satellites and trying to zero in on the space center mainframe by piggy-backing onto one of their signals."
"That's illegal, Justine," Kim almost snapped.
She went on. "Not when the government is keeping secrets. I almost made it through when I was cut off completely."
"You probably activated a firewall or something. Those computers have pre-installed safety measures to keep hackers out."
"Kim, I once built a kinomatic continuum disruptor that could tear a hole into the fabric of space and time. A working one. You were there. You saw it."
"We all did," Ron added.
"My point is," she glared at him for interrupting, "do you really think that I couldn't work my way around a few firewalls without being seen?"
"Thank you. Now this has been going on for the past few hours. I thought that by finding a higher elevation point I'd be able to at least get something."
"Which is why you were at the bleachers," Kim recalled.
"With no luck. Then something hit me and I tried something else." Justine took out her cellular phone. "I called my mother."
Ron and Kim looked at each other. "O-kay. And?"
"I got through. But here's the thing: I tried to contact my uncle who lives just outside of Denver and couldn't do it. My cousin in lives Colorado Springs and I couldn't reach him either. I tried mom again and wouldn't you it, I got through! I was even able to get dad on the line."
"You're losing me, Justine."
A hand slapped Justine's forehead in frustration. "Don't you get it? The army has erected a dead zone around the tri-city area. Only local calls can go through, but anything outside the city limits; cell phones, wi-fi, twitter, internet, game consoles, it's all been completely cut off. A complete information blackout."
Ron took out his phone. "I think she's onto something, KP," he said after a few moments of pushing buttons.
Following his example, Kim tried to look up the news on her cellular phone. When that didn't work she tried check up travel information. She even tried to get the weekly forecast with no success.
"Need I say more?" Justine closed her laptop. "Did your father tell you anything that might hint at what they were doing? Nothing that involves this much secrecy can be a good thing."
Kim put her phone away and closed her eyes.
"Kim?" Justine continued to press her for information.
"He said they were on the verge of a breakthrough." Her eyes opened.
"Is that all?"
"Isn't that enough. He's under a confidentiality contract, Justine. He wasn't even supposed to tell me that."
"I knew it!" Justine banged a fist on the table. The thud stirred Rufus slightly, but then the mole rat scratched his belly, turned to his side and went back to sleep. "It's a conspiracy."
"It's the truth. They're hiding something from us." She looked away to think. "And I'm going to find out." She said that last part aloud even though she was talking to herself. "I have to go." Justine grabbed her computer.
"Hold it!" Kim grabbed Justine's arm before she could run away. "What are you going to do?"
"To burst this bubble wide open." She removed herself from Kim's grasp and left the store.
Looking back at Ron, Kim shook her head. "I don't know. What do you think?"
"All I know is I can't get Drudge Report."
Kim sat down on the seat Justine just vacated. "It all sounds like a conspiracy theory to me."
"Those are usually true, by the way." Ron was strangling his phone. "And I'd show you if I could only bring up Drudge Report!"
While she and Justine had never been close-they hadn't even spoken to one another after that science project they worked on together-Kim didn't know her to be a liar or crazed theorist looking for attention. Justine was a precise as she was practical and given that this whole thing had spooked her gave Kim cause for concern. A strong military presence plus a media blackout equals total disaster.
And one conspiracy theory plus no answers equaled one very worried Kim Possible.
The ride home had been a somber one. Kim was too busy considering Justine's theories to have that serious talk with Ron. Having gorged himself at Bueno Nacho, Ron seemed to content to get some shut-eye and Kim indulged him. She had a lot of her mind and knew that there was only one person could put her fears to rest.
Once she dropped him and Rufus off at the Stoppable household, Kim went straight for home and parked the sloth in the garage. She had just entered the living room when she heard her mother call out to her. "Kimmie, is that you?"
"Hi, Mom. Sorry I'm late. I got hung over at Bueno Nacho." She kicked off her shoes, eager to feel the soft carpeting of the living room floor beneath her feet.
Mom appeared out of the kitchen. "Kim, it's your father."
Kim was caught half-stride to the stairs where she planned to have herself a shower before getting something to eat. It's not so much what Anne Possible said as in how she looked when Kim saw her. She looked concerned.
"What is it?" Kim feared the worse. Had Justine's seeds of doubt and impending doom taken root this quickly?
"He won't be coming home tonight. He wanted me to tell you and the boys so you don't worry about him."
Kim Possible released the gasp she didn't even know she'd been holding. "Geez, Mom. I thought something bad had happened. Don't scare me like that."
"It's not that, Kim." She watched her mother walk over to the living room couch and sitting herself down. Kim joined her just as soon as she saw her mother's eyes sink to the floor. "I've known you father for twenty-one years. I can tell when something's bothering him."
Kim crossed one leg under her as she sat. "Did he say anything?"
"It's what he didn't say." Anne looked at her daughter, her brow anxious. "I think something must have gone wrong at the center. He mentioned that they were on lockdown and that nobody was allowed in or out until the situation was resolved."
Kim covered her mouth.
"He says it's standard procedure during high-profile experiments. You know how your father always falls back on procedures when he feels uncomfortable."
Kim nodded, recalling how her father emphasized his oath to secrecy when the family pressed him on the finer details of the project at breakfast this morning.
"When did he call you?" Kim asked.
"This morning. It wasn't long after you and Ron left for school."
That long ago? "Have you tried talking to him since?"
She shook her head dejectedly. "He's working inside a highly secure facility that prevents incoming or outgoing calls. Your dad said he'd be shutting off his phone after he finished speaking with me and that we won't be able to contact him until the lockdown has been lifted."
Kim thought back. If the lockdown happened this morning then...then the timeframe would coincide with Justine's story.
"I need to check on something." She kissed her mother on the check "Thanks, Mom," and went upstairs to her room. Once she had some privacy, Kim took out her cellular phone and hit speed dial. A prerecorded message came up not two seconds later. "We're sorry, the number you have called: 561-822-9-,"
Kim hung up. "I can't reach Nana," she muttered. She tried reaching her uncle and Joss up in Montana with the same results. Justine was right. Middleton was right. Middleton was completely cut off from the rest of the world. She needed to get on this right away. Luckily, her greatest asset lived right within the city limits. Kim activated her wrist kimmunicator. For a moment she feared the blackout has suddenly become total as there was nothing but static for the first few seconds...then Wade's face appeared, all sweaty and gasping.
"Wade!" Kim began.
"Kim I...came as soon...as I heard the...the signal." His head dropped for a moment as he tried to collect himself.
"What happened to you?"
"Mom...slave driver...got me lifting boxes and...cleaning...whoo." He sat himself down to take a breather. "Cleaning the garage. Haven't had...chance to sit...all day."
"So you mean you haven't checked your computers lately?"
That caused Wade to sit up straight, as if even the notion that his precious hardware could be in trouble overruled his need for rest. "Why?"
"There's been a communications blackout placed over the tri-city area. Access to the internet is gone and don't even think about making calls outside the city limits."
"Since we're talking, I'm guessing that leaves local calls."
"Take that away and people might get suspicious."
Wade checked something on his console; his sweaty, chubby fingers danced like a ballerina over the keyboard. "If my readings are correct, and they always are," he added with a sense of pride, "it's not just the tri-city area but the whole county. We've been taken off the grid completely."
"That settles it."
Kim realized she said that personal thought aloud. "Wade, there's something I have to tell you." Once she had him all caught up, Kim waited for his opinion on the matter.
"Whoa. This is heavy."
Not what she wanted to hear, but it was a lot to drop in his lap all of a sudden so she forgave him his understatement. She spoke her next question hesitantly. "Wade...is there any way you can patch me through to my dad?"
Wade considered it a moment. "It won't be easy. The center is one of the most secure facilities on the planet. Hacking into their phone lines won't be easy."
"I'll try, Kim. I'll also see if I can out what they've been up to in there."
"Please and thank you."
"I'll call back when I find something."
After Wade signed off, Kim collapsed on her bed. She'd half a mind to just go over to the center and demand to speak to her father upfront. But even she wasn't reckless enough to up against the U.S. military. If Wade had any luck she wouldn't have to resort to force to uncover the secrets inside the space center. Right now, all Kim could do was be patient.
A familiar four-ring tone brought Kim back from an uneasy rest. She realized that she had fallen asleep on the bed without so much as changing into her pajamas. Kim sat up. It was dark outside. The clock read it 9:53 in the evening. She slept clear past dinner and hadn't even started her homework yet. Amazing how worrying so much could drain the mind and body of strength.
Her hand instinctively came up to her face and she hit the on button. "Wade?" Her hair was a mess and her eyes carried enough baggage to go on a cruise, but she was up...
"Kim! I just got your dad on the line."
...and now she was alert. "Seriously?"
"The signal is weak and I can't keep you connected for long. Just make it quick, okay?" Wade typed something. "Putting him through now!" Wade's face and bedroom vanished in a hail of static. There was no incoming picture, but verbal communication was possible. "D-Daddy?"
"Kimmie Cub?" Her father sounded stressed and she could imagine his features looked no livelier than her own at the moment. "Kim is that you?"
"I'm here, daddy." She breathed a sigh of relief. "It's great to hear from you. Mom said the center was on lockdown. Is everything okay?"
"Kim...something has happened. The situation is contained for now but...I want you to stay as far from the center as possible. Do you understand?"
Her face was one big question mark.
"Did you hear me? Keep away from the space center. Do not come no matter what happens. I need to know that you will do this for me, Kimmie."
"Dad, what's wrong?"
"Nothing I can explain to you right now. I just want you to promise me. Promise me you won't come to the space center."
"O-Okay, Dad. I promise." It killed her that she couldn't see his face. He sounded so haggard.
"Good. It makes me feel better knowing that you're safe. I know you'd come if I..." the static overcame his last words.
"...y from here." His voice returned momentarily.
"At least tell me what's happening. Maybe I can help from the outside."
"Why? What went wrong?"
"We're not sure. But it's too dang..." The static returned in full force.
"Dad! Wade, what's wrong?"
Wade's voice overlapped the static. "I'm losing his signal. I'll try to boost the power, but Kim you have to make this fast. I don't know how long this will work." Seconds passed before Kim could hear her father's voice again.
"Listen to me. If there's an emergency, there will be an air raid siren to warn the civilians. If that happens, I want you to take your mother and brothers and get as far away from Middleton as you can."
"Why? What does that siren mean?"
"It means things have gone from bad to worse. The facility might be able to contain the worst of it but,"
"Worst? What the hell are you working on in there?"
James Possible excused his daughter's language. "Something we might not have been ready for."
Kim could not believe it. This Dr. James Timothy Possible. He was the most confident and self-assured man Kim had ever known. There was no challenge he couldn't handle, no obstacle he could not overcome. He was the quintessential Possible and everything Kim aspired to be. This defeatist talk was nothing like the man she knew. Something was scaring him big time.
"Kim, before I lose you again, I just wanted to say that I love you. Tell everyone that I love them all very much." She heard him stifle a sob. "I'll be home just as soon as I can. Keep the light on for me." Dad was breaking up. But it wasn't the static this time. He was fighting back his emotions. "I have to go, Kimmie." There was a long pause before he said his parting words, "I love you."
"Dad? DAD!" She didn't even realize she had stood up and was clenching her wrist so tight that her fingers began to cut off the blood flow. Wade's face appeared. "Sorry, Kim. The signal's gone now. Doubt I could bring it up again even if I wanted to."
"What's happening, Wade?" Kim's eyes watered between fear and frustration. Even Wade had difficulty looking her in the face. "I need to know!"
"I'll find out, Kim. That's a promise."
A promise. Her promise to her father was the only thing keeping her from storming the center at this very moment.
"Kim?" Wade asked after he noticed she hadn't said or moved in a minute.
She sat back down. Wade allowed her to wipe the growing wetness from her eyes before speaking again. "Are you going to be all right?"
She composed herself. The last thing Wade needed to see was her breaking down. How much confidence would that stir? "I'll be fine," she lied. "I just need to know what's going to happen."
"Kim. I hope you don't mind, but I was listening in. I was able to discern some background noise before we lost the signal."
"And?" Kim was on the edge of her bed.
"There were a lot of people running around. It sounded like an emergency klaxon was going off." He could see her face sink. "But it was pretty far off. I think he was in a private room. But Kim...he wasn't alone. There was somebody in there with him."
"Can you figure out whom?"
"I'm not sure. Give me some time to figure things out and I'll let you know as soon as I can."
It wasn't much but it was all she could hope for. "Thank you, Wade."
"Kim. He'll be alright. He's a Possible, remember? Anything's possible..."
"...for a Possible," she finished. A weak smile came across her face.
"You got it! Talk to you soon, Kim." And like that Wade was gone.
Anything's possible for a Possible. It was one of her father's favorite lines. Kim's philosophy revolved around that self-assuring concept. It's the reason she excelled in nearly everything. It made her believe that she could do almost anything if she put her mind to it. Right now, that creed demanded she have faith in her father, and that's exactly what she was going to do.
Wade worked well into the night. He had all his computers running a hundred different programs at once, creating a strobe-lighting effect in his room. He promised Kim he'd get to the bottom of this and that's exactly what he planned to do. It was pitch-black outside by the time Wade had finally made some progress. His eyes were red; fingers were ready to fall right out of their sockets. Wade Load could feel the silent presence of fatigue nudging him further into unconsciousness. He managed to fight it off so far. Kim was depending on him and Wade was not one to let a friend down.
A sudden beep stirred him right out of his seat. He'd been so focused on the task at hand that for a moment he didn't even know where he was. Then he realized it was one of his programs alerting him to a successful hack into the mainframe. He'd done it! All those hours of downloading video game betas before they were released had finally paid off.
He used to mouse to click the flashing yellow box on the corner of his screen. The box enlarged to encompass the entire screen filled with data in the form of binary code. Wade understood binary, but it was going by so fast that his human eyes could not keep up. He activated another program which slowed it down some, allowing him to read at a more preferable pace. Most of the information dealt with logistics. It was telling him how much money was being spent on the project (a very hefty sum as a matter of fact), how many people were working on it, the kind of materials that were being used and...
Wade narrowed his eyes. They were so tired that he worried they were playing tricks on him. He zeroed in on a single set of code that only a true techie would understand and read it again. "No way."
Wade had to read it two more times before his exhausted mind verified that it was no ploy. "I don't believe it!" he exclaimed. "That's what this is all about?"
A sound came from outside his door. Wade's excessive work ethic might have woken up his mom. Honestly, he was too shocked to even care if she walked into the room with the schematics...hold on. Since when did mom not drag her feet while walking down the hall?
To answer him, the door to his room burst open and Wade turned around just in time as a tranquilizer dart nestled itself neatly into his fat neck. The effect was instantaneous and the boy genius was out light a broken light. The intruder was armed with night-vision goggles and donning black stealth gear; he pressed his finger to his ear to activate a tiny communications device to confirm that the target had been neutralized. Behind him, other like-dressed men carried the unconscious bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Load out their bedroom and down the stairs. Another one entered the room to hoist Wade's body over one shoulder and followed his comrades down the steps.
The one responsible for taking Wade down approached the computers and placed a tiny, circular device on the main screen. He pressed the small button on top to activate it. Three seconds passed and the main screen burst into static. The intruder walked away as sparks flew from every piece of hardware in the room. The scrambling device was unlike anything Wade could have conceived and it destroyed years-worth of gathered data and programs.
The intruder never once looked back. He had the package and was on the way to rendezvous point. His orders were to get out of Dodge as soon as possible and that's exactly what he planned to do. Joining his comrades inside an unmarked black van, they stole away like thieves in the night, taking their prize with them, and leaving no signs of having ever been there.