“I thought you were going to Wade's,” Ron said.
“He's still on that physical fitness kick,” Monique sighed. “Watching him makes me tired, and I'm too tired as it is.”
“If Wade is on a physical fitness kick, then what are WE doing?”
“Dying by degrees?”
Ron's answer, little more than a whimper, was answer enough.
Now that Kim and Shego had worn each other's outfits during their capture of Duff Killagan and ended their wagering on who the better teacher was, their “lesson plans” for Ron and Monique's training had become less competitive and more cooperative. The two students had already been informally sparring with each other, but now they were spending their mornings teaching each other the moves they'd learned the night before. Then they had to SHOW their teachers how well they'd learned the following night. Kim had reasoned that the best way of judging how well someone had memorized their lessons was by seeing how well they could teach others.
“It's not like they're training every bit as much as we are,” Ron finally said. “More, even.”
“Yeah, but they FEED off each other when they spar,” Monique said. “It's like they get OFF on it.”
“Monique, please,” Ron said instantly. “That's an image I don't need in my head. Ever.”
“Hmph. Shego just looooves gossiping about her sex life when we fight,” Monique complained.
“Too much information! Too. Much. Information!”
“I wasn't going to go into the details, Ron.”
“Shego, Kim, and the S-E-X word should not even be in the same sentence where I'm concerned,” Ron told her.
Monique sighed. “Maybe training wouldn't be so exhausting if we had the kind of connection they do.”
Ron blinked. “Did you just suggest we could improve our fighting skills by dating?”
Monique was so surprised by his question that she sat up, and her sore muscles groaned at the sudden movement. “Um, I mean, well, not - huh?” she asked, so unlike her normally smooth manner.
“You said - “
“I know what I said! I was just wishing I had an advantage like that, not propositioning you, Stoppable!”
“Oh. Because, you know, we ARE sharing a bed.”
“Only because there's just the one, and I'm too beat to kick you out of it.”
Ron chuckled. “Maybe one day I'll meet a beautiful girl who'll train with me - “
“Ron, look at the woman in the skintight bodysuit next to you, and tell me what's wrong with that sentence.”
“AND,” Ron went on, “we'll fall madly in love with each other.”
“Ah. Now I know you're not talking about us.”
“Hey! I'll have you know that Ron the Man is quite the catch.”
“Please, Ron. I'm so out of your league. Too bad girls like me don't just fall out of the sky.”
Ron's Kimmunicator went off. Ron thought about getting it out of his pocket himself, but his arm seemed to be malfunctioning. “Rufus, ol' buddy? Mind getting that for me?”
Rufus and Ruby's heads popped into view from underneath the bed. “O-kay!” Rufus chittered as he scampered over and pulled the Kimmunicator out.
“Wade,” Ron said. “How's the aerobics coming?”
“Actually, I'm in the anaerobic phase of my training right now.”
“Unaerobics? Sounds like doing nothing to me.”
“He means weights, Ron,” Monique muttered.
“Just got the call from Doctor Director,” Wade told them. “Apparently we got a hit on the website. All she knows is it's super-secret and it's somebody big. Something about global importance, and they want to meet you guys in person TONIGHT.”
“Tonight?” Ron asked. “Sounds like a break from training. Woo-hoo!”
“Ah, that must be our mysterious client,” Dr. Director said that night when the chime sounded, alerting them to someone at the headquarters entrance. “A mission so important, he needs to meet with us face-to-face. Ronald, would you get the door?”
“Sure thing,” he said amiably, getting up.
“It could be a she,” Wade pointed out from the monitor.
“I’m not sure the room could handle that much high-powered estrogen,” Kim chuckled.
Ron Stoppable didn’t care that he was the only man in the room. Or that his college plans were temporarily on hold. Or that he was wearing a watch that, given a little effort, could transform into one very unique Lotus Blade.
What he knew was that life was good. He was where he wanted to be. He was brimming with so much self-confidence, he could have been twelve feet tall.
And when he opened the door, he almost fell over.
“Stoppable,” the man breathed. “You look the same as when I saw you last. I was hoping to say something different.”
There were few things that could surprise him any more. The sight of Mr. Barkin dressed like an army officer with a fistful of fruit salad on his lapel was one of them.
“M-Mister Barkin,” Ron stammered. He was feeling closer to four feet tall now.
“Colonel Barkin,” his former high school principal said. “Am I allowed to come in, or do you expect me to remain outside like some barbershop wooden Indian?”
“Uh, no, no sir. I mean no, Colonel. I mean – permission to come aboard granted?”
“That’s the Navy, son. I’m Army Reserve, recalled for active duty,” Colonel Steve Barkin corrected him as he strode in. “It’s a very nice … “ He seemed to be struggling for the right word. “Hovel you have here. I take it you’ve been spending your money on field assets.”
Ron was finally putting two and two together. “Wait, YOU’RE the one with the mission?”
“I’m just the point man,” Barkin said. “This mission comes straight from the top. The United States government, Stoppable. I imagine you consider yourself to be a patriotic man, Stoppable?”
“Then you should consider this the greatest honor that will ever be bestowed upon you, having the chance to possibly sacrifice your life for your country. Where’s Miss Possible?”
“Upstairs,” Ron said, still stunned by Barkin appearing like some kind of poltergeist.
“Hm,” Colonel Barkin said before he went ahead.
“Huh?” Ruby asked from his pocket.
“That, my little friend, was Steve Barkin. The man, the myth, the legend – the one who gave out detentions like they were breath mints.”
“Mister – “ Kim said, startled, before she inspected the brass on his shoulders. “Colonel Barkin?”
“You know your military minutia, Miss Possible,” Barkin said approvingly. “I’m not surprised.”
If Kim was surprised, Doctor Director was absolutely shocked. She stood up slowly. “Steve?” she asked.
Kim stared at her. “Steve?”
“Hello, Betty,” Barkin said. “It’s been a long time.”
“Wait, you KNOW each other?”
“It’s classified, Possible.”
“Steve Barkin was the American government’s liaison to Global Justice for two years,” Dr. Director explained.
“It WAS classified,” Barkin muttered.
“Oh, loosen up, Steve,” Betty Director said. “You think YOU’RE privy to the number of secrets Kim Possible is?”
“I thought Global Justice was independent of the U.S. government,” Wade said.
“It is,” Dr. Director explained, “but like GJ, the United States has military and intelligence operations running simultaneously all over the globe. We simply HAD to share information with the Americans if we didn’t want to continually step on each other’s toes, interfere with each other’s missions, and essentially create one very big mess. For a long time Colonel Barkin was an essential part of that … wait, how do you know him?” she asked Kim.
“Are you kidding me? He was our high school principal!” Ron said as he entered.
“The U.S. Army – the best of the best of the best,” Shego added sarcastically.
“I’d watch your tongue, young lady,” Barkin warned her. “The Army is one hell of an institution.”
“Then why is the Army coming here?”
“Steve?” Dr. Director asked. “School principal? Why aren’t you a general by now?”
“I retired from active duty several years ago,” he said. “You remember our last conversation.”
She put a hand over her mouth. “I thought you were just – “
“No, I’d already put my papers in. I guess I thought you’d – “
“As extremely weird as this is getting,” Kim said, “maybe you should tell us why you’re here, Colonel?”
“Indeed,” Barkin said, glancing at Betty Director one last time before focusing on Kim. “Miss Possible, we’re dealing with a threat to not only our great nation, but to the world community. The very foundations of this planet are at risk. The military tried to deal with the problem itself in a joint operation with Global Justice, but we’ve lost all contact with the expedition and we’re assuming they’re KIA.”
“What kind of expedition?” Kim asked.
“Well, you may not believe this, Miss Possible,” he replied, “but a terrorist group appears to have built a secret base on the surface of the moon, and they’re threatening to use some sort of device which could alter the moon’s orbit. The effect this would have on the world’s oceans would be completely catastrophic. This entire world could be completely submerged overnight. Or, it could break the planet in two.”
“My God,” Betty murmured.
“Who are the terrorists?” Wade asked.
“Their identity is part of the reason why I’m here,” Colonel Barkin said. “Your unit is uniquely qualified for this mission, considering your history. You see, it’s the Worldwide Empire of Evil.”
Dr. Director gasped. “Gemini,” she whispered.
“Your brother, yes,” Colonel Barkin said. “Kim Possible, you’re the one person most responsible for the first downfall of Sheldon Director’s organization. Your country needs you to defeat him a second time.”
Kim waited only a moment. “I guess you can consider me drafted,” she said.
“Aye aye, Colonel,” Ron added.
“Can the naval expressions, Stoppable.”
“So Sarge,” Shego said casually.
Barkin favored her with a glare. “I believe you heard Ms. Possible call me by the rank I've earned, Shego.”
“Mmm-hmm, right. So Sarge, Kimmie may be ready to be 'drafted', but I consider myself more of an independent contractor,” Shego replied, “and that implies the all-important contract detailing the fee arrangement. I think you led the doc here to believe that we'd be paid for this?”
“Shego,” Kim said, exasperated. “This is saving the world he's talking about!”
“That's all right, Ms. Possible,” Barkin said. “Your government anticipated Shego would require her thirty pieces of silver.”
“Only if those pieces of silver are going to fetch me a nice price on the antiquities market,” Shego shot back.
“Shego!” Kim hissed. She turned back to Barkin. “I don't like your choice of words either, Colonel Barkin, sir,” she warned him.
“Fine,” he said. He stood even straighter, if that was possible. “The United States government is aware that Team Possible has become a for-profit venture. We're prepared to direct a great deal of government work your way in the future - should there be a future, that is.”
“You're coming to us NOW,” Shego pointed out. “What's the incentive?”
“NOW is special circumstances and a dire emergency,” Colonel Barkin told her. “Normally, it would be highly unlikely that the United States would hire you for any freelance jobs.”
Kim was startled. “For what reason?”
“For keeping a terrorist on staff.”
“EXCUSE ME!” Shego exploded. “I don't know if this is another example of 'military intelligence', but I'm not wanted for a damn thing!”
“There are no outstanding warrants for your arrest, true,” Barkin said, “but your name is on a government watch list based on your international criminal record. Barring extraordinary circumstances - such as saving the planet - you'll spend the rest of your life labeled an extreme security risk. You couldn't even get into the White House on a visitors' pass, Shego.”
“Shego may not have spent the past five years in an official penal institution, Colonel Barkin,” Kim told him, “but believe me, she's more than paid off her debt to American society.”
“Again, perhaps,” Barkin acknowledged, but he didn't even bother to look at Shego, who seethed in her chair. “However, I would remind you that I mentioned her 'international' criminal record. Next time she tries getting through twenty-three different foreign countries, see how far she gets. She's been classified as an 'undesirable' by the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Portugal - “
“All right,” Shego muttered.
“Austria, Saudi Arabia …”
“I said - “
“Thailand, Angola …”
“I said ALL RIGHT!” Shego screamed, snapping her fingers. Her hands ignited. “You say one more name, and I'm soldering your TEETH together.”
“He IS right, Kim,” Wade said quietly. “My information says there are a lot of countries that would turn Shego away at the border on sight.”
“Like I said,” Barkin said, looking pointedly at her hands, “a security risk.”
“All right, that is ENOUGH.” Kim got between them. “Colonel, Shego is part of my team. For the second and last time, I won't have you provoking her. You will treat me and everyone who works with me with respect, or I'll be the one turning down government work in the future.”
She shot Shego a look that said she wouldn't say anything in front of Barkin, but that they WOULD talk about it later.
“KP's in soccer coach mode,” Ron whispered to Doctor Director.
“I'll agree to what you ask, if you agree that the United States has conditions of its own,” Colonel Barkin told her.
“Conditions?” Kim asked, eyes narrowing.
“Military term for ‘interfering’,” Shego muttered.
“One,” Barkin said, ignoring Shego, “as I have previous experience with liaison work – as Betty so inappropriately pointed out – the United States wants me to be their point man on this. I would need to be privy to planning sessions, and kept in the loop during your mission.”
Kim was already annoyed that the military came TO her with one hand, and demanded things OF her with the other. And after several months of close quarters with Shego, she could read her body language expertly enough to know from one glance that Shego, despite her indifferent exterior, was quite irritated. Still, it didn’t seem like THAT much of an imposition, as long as Barkin was kept in his place. “You said one,” she said, though. “Which implies there’s a two.”
“Correct,” Colonel Barkin said. “You will be expected to …” He paused. “Take someone with you.”
“That’s completely – “
Shego slammed palms on the table and shot to her feet, a shout on her lips.
Or at least, she WOULD have, but Kim had moved behind her, and her hands kept Shego firmly in her seat.
“Out of the question,” Dr. Director finished, thanks to Kim heading off Shego’s inevitable outburst.
Shego looked over her shoulder at Kim. Obviously Kim wouldn't be the only one to have words later. “Look,” she growled as she faced Barkin once more, igniting her black-gloved hand and waving dark fire with one finger, “the military may want to micromanage the team that never loses with you as their patsy – “
“I beg your pardon,” Barkin hissed, squinting at her.
Kim put one hand over her face. Like Shego and Ron just a couple months ago, “respect” would be a loosely defined word.
“But that’s too damn bad,” Shego continued. “You can sit outside our door, and if we don’t want to tell you something, you can smile and take it like a good soldier. And you’re sure as HELL not shoving some tightass Navy SEAL type down our throats. You ever heard of team chemistry, Burpin!”
Kim finally decided to just say nothing. Better to let Shego expel the remainder of her anger right now, rather than having her seethe the rest of the meeting and all night too.
“Firstly, it’s Barkin,” the colonel snapped.
“Oh, but when she mentions the Navy, he lets it slide,” Ron muttered.
“Second, FYI, this is not actually a request made by the American government.” He scowled at her. “Personally, I think it’s a mistake, but our administration believes in an outdated concept they like to call ‘bilateralism’, better known as ‘letting other countries shove their noses where they don’t belong’.”
“Wait, this request doesn’t come from Global Justice, does it?” Dr. Director asked.
“No, they’re still nursing their wounds,” Barkin said. “This comes from the prime minister of Japan, actually.”
“Japan?” Kim asked.
“You see, Ms. Possible,” he explained, “Gemini has already supplied us with simulated footage of what he expects will happen should his mad scheme succeed. Again, we don’t know if it will work, or if he’ll just turn the moon into this galaxy’s second largest asteroid belt, but if we assume he’s right, then the MOST immediate impact on the Earth’s tides will be something on the scale of the submergence of the islands of Japan and the California coastline. Not to mention Hawaii, the Philippines, Wake Island. And twenty-four hours later we won't need the Panama Canal because Panama will BE a canal.”
“Major floods, terrible destruction, and maybe hundreds of millions of people die,” Kim realized.
“We stopped using the word ‘maybe’ some time ago, Ms. Possible. So, as you see, the Japanese feel they have as much incentive as us, and more than anyone else, to stop Gemini,” he said. “However, they don’t feel comfortable leaving their fate entirely in the hands of three young Americans – “
“Four,” Ron said.
Everyone looked at him. “Huh?” Kim asked.
“I think we need to bring Monique in on this,” Ron replied. “I mean, I realize we originally hired her for situations where we had to split up, but maybe this is one of those times when we need that extra person.”
He expected Kim, certainly Shego, to object, but surprisingly, neither did. “If we’d had Monique with us in Africa,” Kim said to Shego, “things there might not have come down to a toddler upgrading your gloves.”
“She can fight damn good,” Shego agreed, “but she’s mostly been fighting scum here in Middleton. I’d like to see her up against some real competition. Granted, evil henchmen come in all shapes and sizes, but – “
“Ahem,” Barkin said. “While I expect to be informed as to just WHO you choose to take with you, what I was trying to explain is that the Japanese would feel more at ease if one of their best operatives were present on the mission. There's also a matter of Japan's national honor, and you know how they feel about honor.”
“Why should we care how the Japanese feel about this?” Shego asked coldly. “They’re not hiring us.”
“The American government would feel more at ease if you made their lives less difficult and went along with it.”
“I’m not letting some stranger onto my team sight unseen!” Kim protested.
“You won’t have to,” Barkin said. “She’s somewhere in this building right now.”
Kim looked at Ron. “You didn't tell us he brought someone with him.”
“He didn't!” Ron said. “He was alone!” He stared at Barkin. “And did you say She?”
“This young woman is not incognizant of the position she's putting your team in,” Barkin explained. “She thought it might be a preliminary sign of her skill level if she could get past your security without alerting anyone.”
“To be honest, there are still five or six holes in our current security for a reasonably competent person to exploit,” Doctor Director admitted. “We're on a shoestring budget still.”
“Be that as it may, the Japanese government was also sensitive to the notion that you might resent an outsider,” Barkin told them. “So they sent someone with whom you had a past working relationship with. Someone you knew.”
Kim scratched her head. “Who?” she asked blankly.
Ron stiffened as words from the past came back to him.
… left two years ago to become a 'secret agent' for the Japanese government. Very secret, of course, and I probably shouldn't have told you, but since we are both dreaming, it is not as if I have actually said anything …
“Oh, man,” he whispered.
“I’d better find out where she is,” Colonel Barkin said. He pulled a cell phone from his jacket pocket and flipped it on. “Agent?” he said.
“I don’t give a shit if it’s someone you know,” Shego grumbled. “I never worked with anybody from Japan. And I’M certainly not working with someone I don’t know.”
“But I haven’t!” Kim said defensively. “Ron, do you remember anyone?”
A ventilation duct fell from the ceiling two feet behind Ron, making him jump. The voice of the woman whose form silently followed it made him jump twice as high. “Perhaps you will introduce me to your friends, Stoppable-san?” she asked, standing up.
“Ron?” Kim asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Uh, yeah, heh-heh,” Ron said, tugging at his collar as the woman, clad in skintight black, removed the mask that covered her features. “KP, this is Yori. Yori, Kim Possible.”
“It is a great honor,” the Yamanouchi student said, bowing deeply. “Ron-san told me much about you when he attended my school years ago.”
“Ron,” Kim said flatly. “What does she mean by HER school? Because I seem to remember you went to school with ME since kindergarten.”
Shego just looked at the discomfited Ron and, for the first time in a while, found a reason to smile.
To be continued …
Author's Note - Confused? Wondering when Team Possible took on Duff Killagan? Check out Triaxx2's crossover Kim Possible fanfic, “Lost”. Specifically Chapter 5, written by yours truly.