“Hey,” Wade said, looking a trifle embarrassed.
“Wade?” Kim asked. “That IS you, right? Not a hologram or a robot or something?”
“Nope, me in the flesh,” he replied, spreading his arms and turning in a circle once.
Kim surprised him by stepping forward and hugging him impulsively.
“Heh, just making sure I'm real?” Wade said awkwardly.
“Just thanking you for the thirty or so times you saved my life, Wade,” Kim said into his ear before she let go.
Wade rubbed the back of his neck. “It's not necessary, Kim,” he said. “It was worth it the first time -”
“Wade, it's you!” Ron said excitedly as he arrived. “Uh, it is you, right?” He jabbed him lightly in the forearm. “Ouch, guess so. Nice bicep.”
“Maybe I should just wear a little sign around my neck that says, NOT A HOLOGRAM,” Wade joked. But he did agree that he had nice biceps, compared to where they were a few months ago.
“Maybe you're a clone, Nerdlinger,” Shego said as she came in. “I could get you a soda, Kimmie.”
“Never thought you'd meet me in person the same time as Kim, Shego,” Wade said dryly.
“Eh,” Shego said, shrugging her shoulders. “Not like I care.”
“Interesting,” Yori said from behind Shego. “Even in my work as a Japanese agent, I have not seen a single place with such computers. Is this an American thing, doing everything bigger?”
“Nope, just a geek thing,” Shego sighed.
“Just a hero thing,” Kim corrected her. “Wade, this is Yori. Yori - “
“I was there, Kim,” Wade said quickly. “On a computer screen anyway. No need to make formal introductions.” He did approach Yori and bow, though.
She returned the gesture. “Possible-sama obviously holds you in great respect, Wade-san,” Yori said. “How is it you have saved her so many times without ever being in the same room with her?”
“It's all in the Kimmunicator,” Wade said proudly. “Designed by yours truly and updated constantly. As for the computers you were admiring, I can - “
“Whoa, time out,” Shego cut him off. “How about you tell Pumpkin what the big news is before your geekspeak makes my brain melt?”
Yori raised an eyebrow. “Shego-san is right, Wade-san. We do not have much time. However, when our mission is completed, I would enjoy hearing the rest of what you were about to say.”
“Yadda yadda,” Shego muttered, waving her hand in a circular motion.
“Shego,” Kim said. “Wade, just what IS so important that you invited me over to your home?”
“Oh! Right over here,” Wade told her, heading toward what looked like an upright steel cylinder. He tapped at some buttons on a panel nearby. “Do you remember something called the Centurion Project?”
“Kinda hard to forget a top-secret prototype stuck to my wrist that turned into full body armor with shoulder-mounted laser cannons,” Kim pointed out.
“Ohhhh,” Shego said, remembering. “That night you lied to your parents.”
Kim flushed. “Er, yeah, that too.”
“Well, when you were still in high school,” Wade explained, “I did some tinkering around with the Project, using the data I collected while you were wearing it. Then the Acceptables came along, you retired, and I put my work aside.”
“Wade, you can't actually be saying you built her another Centurion Project,” Ron said. “She had to wear that thing all night! Shego couldn't even CLAW it off of her!”
Shego looked at Kim. “You are NOT wearing that thing into MY bed, Kimmie,” she said.
Wade coughed into his fist. “Don't, um, worry about that, Shego. I made a lot of modifications, especially after I picked up where I left off a couple months ago. Right after the Congo incident with Monkey Fist, actually. You were laid up in the hospital overnight, remember? Your mother wanted to make sure none of those monkey bites became infected?”
“I thought you could use a little protection,” Wade said.
“I don't think pregnancy is a concern right now,” Shego said evilly. She looked straight at Yori, obviously hoping for a rise from her.
Yori didn't react, however, although Wade coughed more loudly this time. “I do not believe he spoke of that kind of 'protection', Shego-san,” she said. “If I am not mistaken, Wade-san is describing some kind of body armor?”
“Exactly,” Wade said. “It's not metal, Kim, but it's still your very own suit of shining armor.”
There was a hissing sound, and the cylinder slowly rotated, revealing a compartment inside. Inside, draped over what looked like a dressmaker's dummy, was a bodysuit like Shego's. However, instead of wild splashes of green and black, it was a shade of white so bright it was almost blinding, accentuated by shining blue stripes.
“I don't have a fancy name for it,” Wade said. “I just call it the Battle Suit.”
“Whoa,” Ron said.
“Mmm-hmm!” Rufus agreed, shading his eyes.
“Most impressive,” Yori added.
“Wow,” Kim said, amazed.
“Hmph,” Shego grumbled. “The colors are a little too goody-goody, don't you think?”
“I guess I'm not a fashion designer like you, Shego,” Wade retorted. “I was worried about making something both supple and strong, something that gives Kim complete freedom of movement, and yet something every monkey in the Amazon couldn't chew through.”
“It's gorgeous, Wade,” Kim said. “Even Monique would agree if she was here.”
Shego still looked unimpressed. She turned away and picked idly through the papers strewn about a nearby desk.
“Could this super suit stop a bullet?” Ron asked.
“No,” Wade admitted. “Not without affecting Kim's speed and mobility, and that's been her first line of defense for so long, I wouldn't DREAM of slowing her down. But it's tough enough to withstand most slashing, clawing, and biting attacks. And even if the Battle Suit DOES get torn, the suit's nanotechnology can repair the tear in seconds.”
“Nanotechnology?” Yori repeated slowly.
“Incredibly tiny robots,” Wade explained, favoring her with a smile. “So small you'd need a pretty powerful microscope to see them. But thousands and thousands of them working together can do some pretty amazing things in a real short time.”
Kim stared at the suit a little more closely. “Wade, is it the lighting in here, or is this suit - glowing a little?”
“Not the lighting, Kim,” Wade told her proudly. “This suit has a small power source along the waist. When it's activated, the suit will increase your strength AND - “
“Wade,” Shego interrupted softly, her head facing downward.
Without even looking in his direction, Shego shot out her arm and grabbed Wade by the throat. Before anyone else could react, Shego propelled him backwards until his back was flush against the wall. She raised her other arm, clutching a roll of papers in her fist. “You want to explain this shit?” she snarled.
“Shego!” Kim gasped.
“Sorry,” Shego told her, “but Wade here obviously has some trust issues. Don't you, Wade?”
“Shego,” he began nervously.
“Don't you Shego me!” She tossed the papers to Kim. “Look what's written in the upper right of those blueprints.”
Kim hesitated a moment before she unrolled the papers and found detailed design schematics for the Battle Suit. They were covered with notes, including the one Shego pointed her towards. “Glove technology perfectly designed to deflect and neutralize all plasma-based attacks,” she read out loud.
“Plasma,” Shego spat. “Gee, Wade, wonder why Kim would need to protect herself from plasma attacks?” Now that she was no longer holding the blueprints, she ignited the plasma flames of her right glove and held it a few inches from Wade's face.
“Shego, I can explain,” Wade said quickly.
“Maybe you should have built yourself a Battle Helmet, dweeb,” Shego retorted. “You could use those plasma defenses right now.”
“Shego, let him talk,” Kim said, sighing.
“Yes, I highly doubt Wade-san would have invited you into his inner sanctum if he considered you a threat, Shego-san,” Yori added.
“Those are the original blueprints,” Wade said when Shego didn't move. “From when Kim was still in high school. So back then, yeah, I'd say she needed it. But I've made an upgrade or two. Now it can protect her from most small-arms laser fire. It won't block a shot from a laser cannon, but with this suit she can even 'catch' laser fire in her hands and toss the energy back her enemies' way. And the power source that I was talking about? It powers the gloves too. Which I was about to tell her when you flew off the handle.”
“My gloves don't need batteries,” Shego said, but she was loosening her grip by then.
“Yeah, well this suit wasn't designed by a two-year-old super prodigy,” Wade pointed out.
Kim put her hand on Shego's arm. “Let him go, Shego. You heard him. This isn't about you.”
Shego dropped her arm, but the frown she turned on Kim was ferocious. “I still don't like it,” she said.
“Dude, why?” Ron asked. “With this she'll be, like, KP 2.0! Fightin' Kim-style, taking it to the next level.” He looked at Shego. “Kinda gives her the edge on you now, doesn't it?”
“It disrespects her!” Shego shot back, tossing Wade a hostile look.
“Ron, Shego, everyone, just dial it down a notch, okay!” Kim burst out. “I don't see why we're all arguing about this! Shego, what do you mean this suit 'disrespects' me?”
Shego folded her arms. “Last time I checked, there isn't a person on this planet other than me who can beat you. The two of us… and him,” she said grudgingly, gesturing toward Ron.
“Thanks. I think,” Ron mumbled.
“Have nothing to fear from anyone else on Earth OR the moon!” Shego said forcefully. “You wearing that suit is an admission of weakness. It says to me that you need to be stronger, that you need special laser defenses, that you can't take everyone else on the same way you've been doing it for years.”
“You've worn those gloves, or gloves just like those, for years,” Kim said quietly. “But you don't really need them. Or at least, you didn't until we were in Monkey Fist's temple and your plasma powers were the only thing that saved us from being torn apart by three hundred monkeys.”
“I've worn them for so long, they're a part of me,” Shego said. “Like you and your grappling hook hair dryer, or the lipstick laser. I'm not saying it's beneath you to use something other than your fists and your feet. I'm just saying - “
“You're afraid me wearing this suit is an admission that WE'RE not strong enough, isn't it?” Kim said. “That I still need a super-powered suit even with you and Ron at my side?”
Shego looked away. “No,” she muttered.
“I'd just like to point out,” Wade said gingerly, “that this Suit isn't an open invitation for you to make like Superman from now on. For all intents and purposes the Battle Suit runs on electricity. If you activate its special attack and defense modes, you'll drain the battery in ten minutes, tops. And then you'll need a full day to recharge it again. This isn't a new way to fight. This is more like an emergency backup.”
Kim looked doubtful. “I don't know, Shego DOES have a point. On the other hand, your inventions have never done me wrong before, Wade. And just because I wear the suit, I don't actually have to use the special functions, right? I could just wear it for added protection?”
“That's right, Kim,” Wade said. “It should offer increased protection against exposure to heat and cold, too.”
“You could always try it on, Kim-sama,” Yori suggested.
Wade moved away from Shego and, taking the Battle Suit down, handed it to Kim gently. “Go right ahead,” he said. “It might not even fit. Your physique has changed from five years ago, and my estimates could be wrong.”
“Besides,” Ron added, “it's not like Shego hasn't been trying to get you to change your mission clothes for months now.”
“You're not helping, Stoppable,” Shego warned him. But then she looked at Kim. “You might as well,” she said. “I'm not entirely opposed to something that could save your life the next time someone tries to stick a knife in you.”
Kim nodded. “Okay. Guess I'll be back in a minute then.”
She went into the small private bathroom Wade's parents had built for him in his rooms.
“I hope it fits,” Wade said.
“If it does, and if Shego-san is anything like I've been told,” Yori said cheerfully, “then I do not think she will oppose it further.”
Shego swiveled on Yori. “What's that supposed to mean?”
“You obviously have a great appreciation for Kim-sama's body, Shego-san,” Yori replied. “I am sure you would appreciate it all the more if she wore clothing as tight as yours.”
Shego stared at her.
“Think she's got a point there, Shego,” Ron said.
“Don't encourage her,” Shego grumbled.
“Ah there, you see, Wade-san?” Yori said, gesturing past Shego. “It does fit.”
Everyone turned to see Kim's frame outlined in the entrance to Wade's bathroom. Yori was right - it did fit and it did show off her tightly honed physique exquisitely.
“What do you think, everyone?” Kim asked as she stepped forward. Her attention was on Shego.
“Looking good, KP,” Ron said, whistling.
“Still… ” Shego cleared her throat. “Still not crazy about the color scheme,” she continued, “and I say you should just rip the batteries out now and forget about the extra features. But would I mind seeing you dressed like that for every mission? Hell, no.”
Yori smiled. Her point had been made. She looked at Wade. “It seems your own mission has been a success, Wade-san.”
Wade blushed. Much as he had every time Yori had smiled at him, spoken to him, or just looked at him so far.
“Even if your pet spaceship,” Barkin began.
“Do not let Sappho hear you call her a 'pet',” Dr. Director warned him. “She won't appreciate it.”
“Even if the spaceship can use its color-changing function to blend in with the stars,” Barkin continued, “we still have to assume that Gemini has some kind of early warning system that will alert him to Team Possible's approach. What will they do then?”
“I believe Sappho is a much more evasive craft than the ships used by the American military,” Dr. Director said. “We have to trust she can avoid any enemy fire. Once she makes contact with Gemini's base, well, then we trust that Kim, Shego, Ron, Agent Yori, and the Oryx can handle any defenses present. Granted, it's a lot to ask of them, but I don't think we have the time to plan any grand sort of flanking maneuver without a better idea of the layout of the WWEE base. And frankly, I trust them to succeed very much. Well,” she amended, “I don't know much about your Agent Yori - “
“She's with the Japanese, not with the US, Bet - Doctor,” Barkin said, covering the slip. “But they assure us she's the best.”
“Very well,” Betty Director said, choosing to ignore his mistake.
“I don't know much about your Oryx myself,” Barkin continued, “but our intelligence agency has quite the file on her, and it's an impressive read.”
Dr. Director raised the one eyebrow. “You have a file on Oryx?” she asked, surprised.
“Well, let me put it to you this way,” he said. “Monique.”
She gave nothing away, and yet Barkin knew her well enough to tell she was startled.
“Don't worry,” Barkin added. “The NSA's kept close tabs on all goings-on in the Middleton area ever since Ms. Possible emerged. One young woman dealing with the crime problem isn't our concern, and if she contributes to the effort before us, I dare say she won't have anything to worry about from the American government.”
“I see,” Dr. Director said slowly. “So they've been monitoring things here?”
“What about the Acceptables?”
Colonel Barkin frowned. “I can't speak for the NSA in that regard, but I should point out that Global Justice spoke VERY highly of them.”
“And what about you? Is that why you were the principal there?” she asked hopefully. “So you could keep an eye on Kim and Ron?”
He paused. “No, it was pure coincidence I was there,” he said. “I didn't become aware of what a special student I had on my hands until she first started making headlines.”
“Oh,” she replied.
There was a pause.
“I realize time is of the essence,” Barkin finally said, “but maybe we should talk about this?”
Betty Director looked away. “I'm not sure I want to, Steve,” she said. “Because it sounded a lot like you said you gave up your career for me.”
“My years at Middleton High were very professionally rewarding,” Steve Barkin said firmly. “Those kids needed me more than a desk at the Pentagon did.”
“You gave up your career,” Betty repeated, “and you had nothing to show for it.”
“It's been years,” Steve replied. “I moved on.”
“Then why do you want to talk about it?”
“Obviously you're still bothered by what happened.”
“When I told you that my role as the head of Global Justice couldn't permit me to become romantically involved with a high-ranking American officer, much less liaison between GJ and the United States, I wasn't asking you to retire!” Betty burst out.
“But we were involved, Betty,” he reminded her. “Whatever the rules said.”
“I know what the rules said,” she replied irritably. “And all right, yes, there was some - contact.”
“I suppose that would be a euphemistically correct description of what we did,” Barkin said dryly.
Betty frowned at him. “Yes, all right, fine. Still, when you said you would leave the Army for me, I never took it seriously. You lived for the American army. And then you just - left. Gone. The Americans assigned a new liaison officer, and they never explained why. I never found out what happened to you.”
“You couldn't have just used GJ resources?” he asked.
“It would have been improper to do so for personal reasons,” she said quickly. “And anyway, where were you?”
He looked embarrassed. “Well, perhaps I didn't think things through properly.”
“You think so? You really think so?”
“As I was saying,” Barkin grumbled. “When I resigned and gave up my role as GJ liaison, I also lost… any means of contacting you.”
She stared at him. “You can't be serious.”
“Well, it's not as if you ever gave me your phone number,” he growled. “And you know how GJ security is. I tried getting through to you. But I kept getting jammed by low-level GJ agents who didn't know me as 'Colonel Steve Barkin, U.S. liaison to Global Justice'. I was just 'Mr. Barkin, Col. (Ret.)'. Apparently,” he said, sighing, “you're a very busy woman who can't take calls from just anyone.”
Dr. Director put a hand over her face. “Oh, hell,” she said.
“I would like to know, though,” Steve Barkin said. “If I had gotten through to you… would we have been able to continue our relationship?”
“Oh, Steve,” Betty said. “I - I think - no, I don't think so, Steve.”
He looked down. “I see. It wasn't because I was an American officer, was it?”
“Steve,” Betty said helplessly. “It wasn't you, it was me, it was who I was. I was the director of Global Justice. Emphasis on the word GLOBAL. I lived for that job the same way you lived for the Army. I had to live for that job if I was going to be any good at it! And you - you were handsome, bright, dedicated. You were something good in those few, brief moments that I could relax. But you can't build a relationship on a few brief moments. When we spoke, I used rules and regs as an excuse because I didn't want to tell you the truth. I guess - I was already married to the job.”
“I suppose you were,” Barkin said.
Betty's phone rang, but she made no move to answer it.
“You should get that,” Steve told her. “It might be Ms. Possible. I'll just - get some air.” He stood up stiffly.
“Steve, I'm sorry,” Betty said. “It's my fault you resigned. I should never have - “
“Betty, please,” he said. “There was nothing to forgive years ago, and there sure as hell isn't anything to forgive now.”
He marched out of her office without looking back.
Betty shook her head and pulled her phone out. The caller ID read 'VIVIAN'.
“Hello, Vivian?” Betty said.
“Betty, hey,” Dr. Vivian Porter said. “How are things going?”
“Fine,” Betty replied, not really meaning it. “How about you?”
“Not bad,” Vivian said. “I'm just taking a break from my work.”
Betty looked at her watch. “It's past eleven at night, Vivian. How long have you been there?”
“Since seven this morning. I've worked over twenty-four hours straight before, Betty, so sixteen is nothing to me. Besides, tell me you're not at your desk.”
Dr. Director's cheeks flushed slightly. “A big mission came up,” she admitted.
“Well, I didn't mean to disturb you, I was just calling to say hi,” Vivian said. “It's weird, you know. For years my friends were all robots. And now that I have you and Holly, I have this sudden compulsion to call you or her once a day, when before I would have just worked until I dropped. Funny, huh?”
“Funny in a good way,” Betty said. “Sometimes you don't realize that there are important things besides work… until they're gone. And then you wonder if you should have done things differently.”
The phone was quiet for a moment. “I hear you,” Vivian finally said. “Are you all right?”
“It looks like my brother is back to either rule the planet or destroy it. I could be better.”
“Want me to come over? My work - I could save it for tomorrow. I mean, ever since Robot Wars ended, all I did with my free time was run additional experiments, so it's not like I'm trying to beat the clock.”
“No, that's all right,” Betty said. “I have classified intelligence files to review. Can't launch an attack on the moon without all the data.”
“Er, no, I guess you can't. Guess I'll give Holly a ring then.”
“Thank you for calling,” Betty said sincerely. “I needed it.”
“You're welcome,” Vivian said. “I enjoyed the chat just as much as you do. Betty?”
“You say the world could end?”
“Only if Team Possible fails, and I don't think that's likely. So the chance is very slim that we'll see planetwide destruction in the next few days.”
“You sound like a meteorologist.”
Betty laughed for the first time that night.
“You'll give me the heads-up if the apocalypse is a go, right? That's what friends are for?”
“That's what friends are for,” Betty agreed. “Good night, Viv.”
“Good night, Betty.”
Betty Director terminated the call, stood up, and went into the next room to check on Thomas. He was fast asleep on his crib.
Maybe it was because of Steve, and maybe it was because of a lot of things, but Betty was suddenly struck by how much she loved her son.
She was sorely tempted to lie down in the cot next to his crib, knowing she could pass out instantly, but instead she went back to her office and her duty.
To be continued…