Disclaimer: The Kids Next Door does not belong to me. I do not own any stake in the Kids Next Door franchise. I do not own any of the characters that appear in the Kids Next Door television show. I do not make any money off this story. Any other non-canon characters, however, are mine.
Additional Disclaimer: If, for any reason, I should mention anything else that does not belong to me (for instance: song lyrics, television shows, internet webpages, other franchise/brand names, etc.) I shall have you know that I hereby disclaim any ownership of said things. I do not make any money off of those things. I also do not condone anything criminal or unlawful.
Special Thanks: goes out to Angelraider (formerly known as RaidersEcho) and Numbuh Phenon. This story contains awesome ideas taken from their awesome stories (Angelraider's "Operation TIMELINE" and Numbuh Phenon's "Operation: OPPOSITE"). Check 'em out if you haven't done so yet.
More Special Thanks: goes to Tataiha for being beta. Unf, dat beta.
= = = This is a scene divider. There will be some things within the scene dividers. They might strike your fancy. Also, I started writing this in August, 2010 and my writing style's changed since then. Enjoy reading how I used to write. = = =
It was dark and quiet. The only sound was the soft hum of the machines that circulated air throughout the entire KND Moonbase. Silence was a novelty here. It only stole over the base at 9 o'clock in the evening, when operatives would rub their eyes and regretfully turn from their work, or their toys and games, and bunker down for the night. There was no curfew, of course, but children could only be awake for so many hours during the day. They would empty out the cafeteria and the offices and retreat to their beds, leaving the halls deceptively bare. The lights would be lowered and the televisions and radios would be muted and turned off and it seemed the entire base would also doze until morning, when its loud and boisterous occupants would wake and wreak all manner of havoc and noise all over again.
One streak of light disrupted the peace of night. It came from within a cozy office off of the bridge, Numbuh 362's office. Within the office was a low worktable, covered with scratches and scorch marks. Numbuh 362 wasn't known for her dinky prowess in tinkering with 2x4 technology, but she knew enough to scrape by. She didn't have much time for tinkering nowadays and her table was more often used for writing than for soldering now, but her tools and her unfinished projects were a comforting presence in the room.
When Numbuh 362 turned twelve, she knew that it would be her last year as the Supreme Leader. She knew that and she thought that she had steeled herself for that blow, but she realized that it was a different matter altogether to realize it emotionally when she woke up one night and discovered that her body had begun to function in ways quite beyond her control. She rushed to her private bathroom and surveyed the damage. There seemed to be none, but she was bleeding. She was bleeding. With growing horror and suspicion, Numbuh 362 fled through the base, commandeered a small ship without clearance and retreated for home. If she was right, then she would not want her status to be pondered over by any KND medic. Once at home, Numbuh 362 roused her mother from sleep and explained her predicament.
Her mother sat her down in the kitchen of their suburban home and made her a cup of cocoa. When that was done, she proceeded to give Numbuh 362 the rundown of what was now happening within her body. Numbuh 362's mother seemed to know that dancing around the issue would not help anyone and so she was painfully candid and clear in her descriptions as well as sympathetic.
Numbuh 362 was appalled. She didn't understand why her own body, which had served her well thus far, would all of a sudden decide to become strange and mutinous. It was unthinkable. But it was happening. It was with great regret that she boarded her stolen vessel with bags of the strange products that her mother had given to her to help her with her new problem. And after Numbuh 362 had gotten back to Moonbase she was thankful all over again that her status procured her a private room and bathroom. There would be no one else who would be privy to her problem. No one would be poking around. She stowed her shameful baggage in the cabinet under the sink and then turned to her bed to find that her work was still not done.
Numbuh 362 broke. With raging shrieks she tore her ruined bedding from her mattress, leaving it bare. She stood among her linens; a sobbing wreck, and knew, just knew, what she had become, and what it meant. She changed into a set of fresh clothes and grabbed a worn bag that no one would miss. While she packed the linens and clothes into the bag it occurred to her that she could wash them herself. But Numbuh 362 had no time to be scrubbing anything out of bed sheets. She couldn't send them down to the laundry department either because that would mean letting people know what was going on. Numbuh 362 took the bag and ran all the way down to the incinerators. She threw the bag into the first one she saw and watched all the fabric turn into ash.
When the sun rose it watched Numbuh 362 retire from the Kids Next Door months before she had to. Rachel would serve the rest of her term, make no mistake about that, but it was already coupled with a sense of loss.
= = = Hear that? That's the sound of a world breaking apart. = = =
If Rachel didn't say anything about her troubles, then her mood and her body still betrayed her. Close operatives caught on to her melancholy, even if they didn't realize or understand it, and they kept their distance. Rachel was growing; already she was inches taller than her compatriots. Her body, flat and planar as a wooden plank before, developed the slightest hints of curves. Her frame turned slender as her body burned the baby fat for the energy to grow.
Rachel took it upon herself to find out more about her gruesome fate. It astonished her. Depression? Acne? Mood swings? It was ridiculous and wholly inconvenient. Rachel thought her skin would be spared at least. Her mother insisted, bragged really, about how her skin was remarkably clear during her teen years and how Rachel had inherited that very attribute by proof of shade and texture. That's what she thought. That's what she wanted to believe, but then Rachel woke up one morning and looked into the mirror to find a pimple. It was on her forehead, near her hairline. Rachel gasped.
"No," she whispered. "No way. Aah! Mom, you are such a liar! What is this?"
After ten minutes of groaning and worrying, she washed her face and hair and made sure to change her bangs so it hid the pimple.
If her skin would change, then Rachel was sure that her psyche would too. She was already aware of changes. Whether or not it was her impending birthday or the irritation from the paperwork she had assigned herself she didn't know, but she found that things she had overlooked of the operatives before now made her cringe. There were the spelling mistakes and the overall messiness of the place. There were also the rampant shouting matches between operatives that were always held too loudly for anyone to stand. Rachel had to do something quick, before her entire outlook changed.
= = = In a parallel universe, this is where she would turn evil, but that's best left to a different story. = = =
It was with a desperate sense of purpose that Rachel started on her final stretch of paperwork. There was still so much to do and her time was running out. She spent many sleepless nights writing papers up and signing them off. She restructured the bureaucracy and reassigned workloads. She implemented new procedures in the Arctic Prison. It would be her last gift to the KND and it would serve as their failsafe long after she ceased to be available to be that for them. One of the papers she signed reversed the one rule that Father enacted during his brief stint as Supreme Leader: the "You can't decommission the Supreme Leader" rule. The ramifications of her action were immediate. If Rachel wondered how many operatives knew how old she was, she needn't any longer.
Operatives would stare in wonder at her on the bridge and in the halls as if they could perceive the impending, weighty sacrifice she would have to give. Fanny would come to her in tears now and then and ask her to make valid Father's ill-gotten rule once again. She asked Rachel to be selfish, to be self-centered, and to take advantage of the powers that she had been bestowed. Numbuh 274, Chad Dickson, had been that selfish.
The Chad argument, however, had been the nail in the proverbial coffin. For all the esteem that Rachel held in Chad, his betrayal still made him a traitor and so Rachel was determined not to end up like him. That meant going through with her decommissioning, and Rachel made preparations.
Then something remarkable happened; Rachel got a letter.
It was shipped in a regular envelope and was covered with numerous, indecipherable food smudges and stains, courtesy of the operatives that worked the hamster mail system. Within the envelope was another one, only much more professional and presentable. It was addressed to "Numbuh 362" and the return address was just, "TND." Rachel's heart skipped a beat. The Teens Next Door were a mysterious and ambiguous lot, if only because they had to keep complex relationships between the KND and the Teen Ninjas afloat. What could they possibly want with her?
She opened the letter and learned that she was to be spared. Much like other nameless operatives before her, the TND were interested in what Rachel had to offer as a teen operative and had arranged for Rachel to undergo a sham of a decommission. She would pretend to be memory-wiped and she would be released into the world and feign floater status until the TND gave her missions to accomplish.
Unfortunately, the letter changed very little of the situation. The friendships that Rachel kept and cherished with some operatives would still be changed, perhaps damaged beyond repair, and she grieved in advance for the people she would lose.
One of those people, Fanny, walked into Rachel's office late one night within the week before Rachel's thirteenth birthday. She was dressed in a nightgown and she hugged a rainbow monkey to her chest. Rachel reached across her desk, switched off a video camera and smiled at the younger girl.
"Fanny," Rachel shuffled some papers into a notebook and set it aside. "You're up so late. Anything wrong?"
"I'm gonna miss ya, Rachel," Fanny's northern burl twisted her words. "Would yeh forgive me if I don' celebrate yer birthday?"
"I…" Rachel hesitated. "You can mourn me all you want." Rachel's smile faltered and she reached under her desk for a box of tissue. Even if Rachel didn't use them, Fanny definitely would. "I'll be mourning me too."
"Oh, Rach!" Fanny cried. She ran to her and fell upon her neck, sobbing. The rainbow monkey fell to the floor, forgotten. Rachel raised her arms and returned Fanny's hug. "Please…can't…can't yeh spare yerself? Can't yeh do that? It's not too late!"
"I can't do that, Fanny," Rachel soothed. "I can't. You know that."
"But yeh can't go! You'll leave me here with all these idiots!"
Rachel slowly pulled back and led her to one of the couches on the bridge. She took the rainbow monkey and the box of tissues with her. "Maybe I won't, Fanny. We've been friends for the longest time and we haven't only talked to each other while here in Moonbase. We've been friends outside here too. I'll remember that. I'll remember you. Age is only a number, Fanny. I won't let it get to me."
Fanny looked at her with utmost disbelief. Rachel sighed and tried convincing her through a different way.
"You know how there are good teens? The ones that volunteer their time at the elementary schools and things like that? The ones who like spending time with kids? I know there aren't many of them, but maybe I could be like one of those teens. I mean, I don't think kids are troublesome, at least, not like Chad seemed to think." It was true. Despite the minor grievances that Rachel internally nitpicked at, they were just that: minor and therefore easily forgivable. "You know, if you ever want to, you can visit me. You will visit me, won't you?"
"Of course," Fanny sniffed and blew into a tissue. "I won't let yeh go that easily, Rach. I'll put up a fight."
"You know you have to let me go," Rachel gave a watery smile and took a tissue. "Be brave for me, Fanny. For me. I can't do this alone."
"Yeh, won't, sir," Fanny huffed, her spirits bolstered. "I'll make sure o' that."
Fanny rose, took up her rainbow monkey and went to bed, leaving Rachel to herself on the deserted bridge.
= = = If I had to mind-wipe one of my closest friends, I would be terrified, among other things. It's almost like being a reluctant hangman. = = =
Rachel got another late-night visitor on the eve of her birthday. She was packing. All of her possessions would be shipped to her house somehow. Her room and her office were bare and seemed sadder for the change. She started the process early in the day and all the operatives who traipsed into her office to get business done seemed struck by the Spartan look and left more thoughtful than they had come. Now, most of her belongings were nestled in boxes.
"I see you're standing by your decision."
Rachel looked up from her position on the floor to see Nigel Uno. He was as bald and as stern as ever. It seemed the Galactic KND had treated him well, for he was taller and his stance commanded more respect than she had remembered. He was dressed in a grey and red uniform, which cut him a smart and dashing silhouette. His brown boots stuck out from the cuffs of his coveralls and his sunglasses flashed in the lamplight.
Rachel gaped. It was Nigel. Nigel was back. Nigel was back? She blinked. Probably not. He was probably only visiting. He might be whisked away on GKND business at any moment and leave Rachel once again…without a goodbye. Still, seeing him loosened a knot in her chest that Rachel had tolerated for months.
Words poured into her head. She had discovered, after Nigel left, that there were so many things that she wanted to say. There were so many things she wanted to do. And now Nigel was back and it seemed that none of it would do. Instead, she gave a pained smile. "Hey, soldier. Can't you see past those shades?"
Nigel smiled back. "No, I can't." He took them off and hooked them onto the collar of his coveralls. Rachel rose and went to him, tucking the packaging tape dispenser into the back pocket of her pants as she went. She eased him into a hug, which he returned. If only she could stop time, or at least slow it down enough to get another day, confusing as it sounded. If only she could have another day as a kid. Rachel's heart skipped and beat faster and she pulled away. Nigel looked as forlorn as she felt. "I'm so sorry. Do you need help packing?"
"I…" Rachel turned and surveyed the office. There was only one box left, with some odds and ends scattered around it. "There's not much left to do."
"It's enough," Nigel said. He slipped the packaging tape out from Rachel's pocket and went to the box. Rachel blushed. The thought that his hands were near enough to her bum to knick something from the back pockets was…alarming. But Nigel had always been too straightforward and cavalier with her to be subversive. Nigel knelt by the box and put the last of Rachel's things into it, one by one. Then he paused. He lifted a handkerchief, neatly folded and finely-spun. It was white and the borders were embroidered in masculine fashion. Nigel slid the sheer material over his palm and touched it with his fingertips. "I wondered where this went. It was with you all this time?"
"Yeah," Rachel said. She went over and kneeled on the other side of the box. "You left it behind, when you left the cafeteria that one night." She felt a sudden, irresistible urge to explain herself. "I washed it and I meant to give it to you, but I wasn't able to see you again for a long time and I thought, 'hey, it's a really nice handkerchief,' so…" Rachel trailed off and hung her head.
"So you kept it," Nigel finished for her. Rachel looked up to find Nigel smiling. She watched him fold it back up and place it gently within the box. Then he took up the packaging tape and taped the box shut without another word on the matter. "I'll make sure you get all this. Is there anything else I could help you with?"
Rachel shook her head. "There's nothing. All that's left is to get me decommissioned."
Nigel grimaced. "I came too late."
"No, your timing couldn't be any better," Rachel stood up and walked out into the empty bridge. Beyond the thick-paned, large windows the universe was dark. The stars twinkled from far in the distance. The Earth was a small, blue and green ball in a vast pool of inky black. "I don't think I'll be able to sleep tonight anyway." She turned to Nigel, who followed her. "Would you mind staying with me?"
"I wouldn't mind at all," Nigel answered. "Why don't you sit on the couch? I'll join you in a bit." He turned to the kitchenette in the back of the bridge. Rachel sighed and settled into the couch, her feet tucked under her bum. It reminded her of her newest growth spurt by evidence of her aching knees. Her elbows ached too. So did her hips. Her pants were now too short and her shoes were already becoming a tad too tight. As soon as she was put back home her mother would whisk her away to the mall, where they would get her a new and better-fitting wardrobe. Her closet would be complete in time for the fall, when she would start junior high school as an eighth grader. Rachel shivered.
"Tea?" Nigel broke her train of thought when he presented her with a mug full of piping hot herbal blend.
"Thank you." Rachel took the mug and shifted on the couch to give Nigel some room. When the both of them settled down she took a sip. "This is pretty good, Nigel."
"Believe me: making good tea was the only good thing I learned while in England," Nigel relaxed into the couch and took a long drought from his own mug. "When are they coming for you?"
"At eight-hundred. It's the first task on the agenda of the day."
"Hmm. What's your first mission from the TND? Do you know yet?"
Rachel gaped at him. "You know?"
"There is little the Galactic KND don't know," Nigel gave a sorry smile. "It doesn't make things easier, though. Or less painful." The two fell into a companionable silence and drank their tea. The minutes passed and Rachel eventually shifted so that she could put her head on Nigel's shoulder. If he was annoyed, he didn't complain. He seemed content to be her last sentry; content to help her keep vigil on her last night as a child. Rachel had drained half of her mug when Nigel's watch beeped. He didn't bother to look.
"Happy birthday, Rachel," he said bitterly. Rachel gave a humorless smile and finished her tea.
"Happy birthday to me."
The two of them watched as the earth made a strange eclipse with the sun. The beautiful sight was lost on Rachel, who turned the empty mug around in her hands. Without the hot drink, the glazed porcelain cooled.
"I'm sorry about Lizzie," she whispered.
Nigel looked at her as if she had just confessed to being Father incognito. "What? Why?"
Rachel was surprised herself. She didn't plan on talking about that, but she was truly sorry about that and decided to finish what she started. "If it wasn't for me, you'd still be with her."
"It wasn't your fault."
"No, no, no," Rachel said. "You don't understand. I thought about it a lot and I was totally out of line. You were a guest at a wedding. Your day should have been free from KND stuff."
"But you needed help."
"I am the Supreme Leader of hundreds of thousands of kids. I could have gotten someone else to help me. I could have gotten Numbuh 88, or the Numbuh 44 twins. I should have gotten anyone else but you. You were busy. It wasn't fair of me to order you like that."
"You have thought a lot about this."
"Of course. You were so sad when Lizzie ended it. She made you happy, and I ruined that for you." Rachel sighed. "I wanted to tell you how sorry I am about that whole thing for the longest time so..." Rachel shrugged. "I'm sorry."
Rachel waited for Nigel to shove her away, or to the yell. He was awful tense.
"I…uh…please stop apologizing."
"But I am sorry."
"You are the Supreme Leader. You shouldn't be sorry for anything."
"It's important that leaders say sorry when they're wrong. Besides," Rachel muttered to herself. "This is one of things I can apologize for."
Nigel sighed instead and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I'm eleven, Rachel. Don't get me wrong, it hurt when she left, but there will be other opportunities to date yet. And it was never your fault."
Rachel put her empty mug on a nearby table. "I just…alright, I won't worry about it anymore."
"Good, you better not," Nigel commanded and finished off the rest of his tea. He set his mug by Rachel's. "I was expecting you to come after me. I realized too late that it was an awful thing that the GKND pulled when they took me. They shouldn't have undermined your authority."
"You know, you didn't even say goodbye. I thought you'd at least do that."
Nigel cringed. "I'm sorry. If it makes you feel better I watched for your ship when I could."
"You wanted me to come after you." It was more of a statement than a question, but Nigel answered it anyway.
"I'll admit I was…disappointed when you didn't come."
Rachel smiled. "I know you're one of the most capable operatives in the KND. No one can hold you, not even me. I figured that if you didn't like what you were doing, then you would just come back. Just like that. But the kids here, they needed me. I couldn't run a half-cooked mission to find you; I had to stay here."
Nigel frowned. "It seems the both of us have a habit of putting our work before each other."
"It's unavoidable. And besides, our friendship seems to be flexible enough to allow that. We both expect it of each other."
"I suppose you're right," Nigel's expression softened. "I'll come visit you when I can," he said gently.
"I'd like that," Rachel said from his shoulder. The both of them were so cozy. It seemed unthinkable that in a scant few hours time she would be publicly memory-wiped and sent home in disgrace. It made these quiet moments infinitely precious to her. The two watched as the sun wound its way towards them. It was a strange sunrise, but it was a sunrise all the same.
The day had begun. Murmurs and fierce whispers began to sound from behind the bridge door. They reached a crescendo as the hour grew long. It seemed that even though the procedure for decommissioning was widely known, the operatives were still at a loss without a leader to order them to execute those procedures. Neither Nigel nor Rachel moved to put the children out of their misery. Finally, a distempered shout silenced the whole lot and the bridge doors opened to admit Fanny and the Numbuh 44 twins. They came with trembling lips and lowered gazes. The others beyond the door stayed there, looking on without shame. Fanny's eyes betrayed some confusion when she saw Nigel on the couch with Rachel, but she put the thought away in good fashion. Her lone voice split the silence like a knife.
"Numbuh 362…sir…you are thirteen years old and…and therefore too old to be in the Kids Next Door. You are scheduled…" Fanny sniffed and started blinking uncontrollably. "You are scheduled for immediate…immediate decommissioning." She bowed her head and wept. The twins looked away. Fanny, the mighty monster of a girl, fit to tear an errant operative limb from limb by hand or psychologically down by tongue, was crying. Rachel frowned and stood up. She inwardly cursed at the height difference, now more noticeable than ever, and took Fanny's hands.
"Now, Fanny, you know this needs to be done. And I said that I needed you to be strong for me. I'm counting on you."
Fanny looked up, her eyes almost as red as her hair. "I…alright."
= = = I like to think that Fanny was actually trying to hold Rachel's decommissioning off, but she was shouted down and had to enter the bridge to apprehend Rachel. = = =
So that was the first chapter. It's more of a mash between a prologue and a first chapter though, but that's okay. How do you like my outdated writing style? Tell me. The scene dividers will be full of extra stuff that you readers might find interesting.
My friends who happen to be girls tell me stories of how they freaked out when they started their cycles. They thought they were going to die and their moms were all, "lol, no." Hilarious.
I can't stand reading these early chapters now, because they were written before I knew any better and now all I see is bad technique. I'd like to rewrite these chapters from scratch, but I won't, because I think it's a marker of how much I've evolved. I get better, I swear. It'll take a few chapters, but it does get better.
P.S. Here's some relevant (or not so relevant) information on Rachel's nickname for Nigel: http (colon) /www (dot) youtube (dot) com/watch?v=Hn6u_9AoYS0