“So,” Yori said warmly, “tell me more of Shego, Ron-san. My government has quite extensive files on her, but they are largely related to her criminal past. Surely she has changed from the woman she was before?”
Ron and Monique exchanged looks. There were a few reasons for this. One was that Yori was inviting a discussion about Shego behind the former thief's back. Shego was with Kim in the cockpit, monitoring Sappho's flight now that they'd left the Earth's atmosphere behind. True, Yori didn't seem to be encouraging any kind of negative talk, but Shego was intensely private, and they'd already both witnessed that Shego wasn't ready to trust the Japanese agent any time soon.
Monique wasn't altogether fond of the other woman either, for that matter. Oh sure, Principal Barkin - damn, it was hard thinking of him as “Colonel” - had vouched for her, but she got under the vigilante's skin. And to be honest, all these weeks of tutelage from Shego had given Monique an odd sense of loyalty to her teacher.
Ron had a history with her, though, and she'd seen from the look in his eyes that he wasn't quite as reluctant to tell Yori things as she was.
Mainly, however, Ron and Monique looked at each other because Yori's question was so hopelessly wrong.
“I hardly knew her before,” Monique said, “but she doesn't seem that different to me.”
“Nope, pretty much the same,” Ron agreed.
“Except for wanting to give Kim her sweet loving.”
“Yeah, if you want to consider that a big difference.”
Yori didn't seem prepared for this answer. “But - before, she was a thief. A fugitive from justice in over a dozen countries. Her employer tried to take over the world many times. You fought her yourselves, and now you are friends. How can she be the same person?”
“If you knew her before,” Ron replied, “and you heard the things that come out of her mouth now, you'd understand she hasn't changed much.”
“I never realized there was such a short journey from 'villain' to 'hero' before,” Yori said dryly.
“Just three little letters long, Yori,” Monique said.
“KIM,” Rufus chimed in eagerly before any of the humans could.
“I confess, I do not completely understand,” Yori said. “That Shego would change for Kim, yes, but you say she hasn't changed.”
Monique glanced at Ron. “You can answer this better than I can,” she said.
“I should have taken psychology in college,” Ron sighed. “Look, from what I've gathered from Shego and KP, she's never cared a whole lot about 'good' or 'evil'. She lives for challenges, for excitement, for risk. She's proud of herself, and she likes reminding people what she has to be proud of. First she worked for Drakken because he paid her to steal, and she stole because she was the best at it. Then KP got involved, and it became more about beating someone who was as good as her.”
“Obviously Kim-sama was better than Shego, or Dr. Drakken would have won long ago,” Yori pointed out.
“I wouldn't say that out loud,” Monique warned her. “Shego doesn't see it that way. She says there were a lot of other factors that got in the way.”
“Most of them involve someone getting in the way. Either the idiot, meaning Drakken, or the buffoon.”
“That would be me,” Ron added.
Yori looked offended. “That is a highly inappropriate word to use - “
“It's okay, I got that a lot back then,” Ron said. “Anyway, I've worked her up to 'Stoppable'. I might have her calling me Ron by 2011. I have charts if you want to see.”
“Er, no, that is not necessary,” Yori said. She was still wondering how to analyze the information they were giving her. She hadn't mentioned to anyone that her superiors in Japan had given her a secondary assignment. Obviously the primary objective was to assist in the saving of her homeland, but she'd also been asked to gather data on Shego, on Kim, on their relationship - basically anything that could give them any indication as to how true Shego's commitment to 'good' was. There were those who were concerned that Shego was one bad breakup away from changing sides.
Or, worse yet, that Shego was in a position where she could theoretically “corrupt” Kim. Certainly Kim Possible had never before shown herself to be vulnerable to temptation.
But then, she'd never charged the people she helped before - until Shego came along.
If Yori detected any signs of this becoming a possibility, Japan - or any other government with which it chose to share this information - might need to take steps some day. Against whom, no one could say. One Shego was bad enough. Two would be positively terrifying.
Yori had gone into this mission knowing that she would be, for all intents and purposes, spying on the team leader, withholding information from her. This bothered her, but her duty to her homeland was clear. She would help save the world today - and perhaps her observations would do so again in six months, or a year, or whenever Shego “snapped”.
Ron's analysis, therefore, wasn't all that reassuring.
“Look,” Monique said, interrupting Ron's ongoing treatise on Shego's personality and jolting Yori's thoughts. “It all comes down to one thing. Shego's in love with her. So the things that are important to Kim are important to her. Her personality didn't have to change for that. Not that she'd ever admit to it,” Monique added darkly.
“Really?” Ron and Yori said together.
Monique sighed. “Come on, Ron, you don't see it?”
“Shego and love are two words I don't usually see together,” Ron said.
“Spar with her for a week and listen to the things she says,” Monique replied. “She's just someone who thinks falling in love is equal to going soft, and she could NEVER allow that. 'Soft' is a four-letter word for her.”
Ron nodded. “Yeah, that's true … wait, 'soft' is a four-letter word for everyone, Mo.”
Yori giggled. “Oh, Ron-san, truly your wit is so quintessentially American.”
Monique looked at her flatly. Surely Ron saw that this girl was practically throwing herself at him.
Judging by the look on his face, though, he was still trying to puzzle out “quintessentially”.
“I'm still not sure if the information the military provided us is worth much,” Kim was saying at Sappho's cockpit. “I mean, both the Army AND GJ sent crack troops to this location, and nobody came back. It could just be a decoy.”
“Mmmm-hmm,” Shego muttered as she monitored Sappho's flight path.
“On the other hand, this is the moon we're talking about. Nobody goes to all the trouble of building a moon base as an elaborate ambush. And if there were a second installation on the moon, you'd think a telescope would pick it up.”
“Then again, who's to say Gemini didn't just build underground?” Kim sighed. “The logistics alone are a nightmare. We can't exactly park Sappho a few miles away, put on bulky spacesuits, and sneak in. But we can't exactly smash our way in either. We'd create a vacuum effect - “
Kim looked at Shego. She hadn't contributed a whole lot. She glanced to Shego's left and noticed a thin cable leading from the ship's console to … was it going into Shego's ear?
“Shego!” Kim snapped, grabbing the wire and ripping something out of Shego's ear.
“I'm trying to plan one of the most dangerous and important missions of my life with you, and you're listening to iTunes!”
“It's not like that,” Shego retorted.
“Er, Kim?” Sappho interrupted. “I'm sorry, this is my doing.”
“Yori's pumping Ron and Monique for information about me,” Shego said calmly. “Sappho's feeding me the audio.”
Kim blinked. “She can do that?”
“Kim,” Sappho explained, “I am this entire ship, and this ship is me. I hear everything spoken here, just as you would feel a breeze blowing across your toes.”
“And you're doing this for Shego why?”
“I asked her to keep an eye on Yori,” Shego said.
Kim folded her arms. “I don't care WHO is ultimately responsible, what I'm asking is WHY.”
“Because I don't trust her,” Shego replied.
“So I don't trust her either,” Sappho added.
“We have to trust her, Shego,” Kim sighed. “We don't have an alternative.”
“Yes, we do,” Shego retorted. “We put her in one of Sappho's cabins, we lock the door, and we don't let her out.”
“Oh, like THAT'S going to go over well with the American and Japanese governments.”
“She was foisted off on us by the government, Kimmie,” Shego said. “She was a condition. We're the absolute best out there. We had the position of power. We had the right to say no. We should have been the ones setting conditions, not them. And they stick us with this spy?”
“I think 'secret agent' is the proper term.”
“She's paid to infiltrate and spy on other people, Pumpkin. And because of her history with Stoppable, she's got instant access. You think he's going to watch what he says around her?” Shego snorted. “One of us needs to keep track of what she knows. If I even think she knows something I don't want her knowing - “
“I like my privacy,” Shego growled. “There's all SORTS of things I don't want her knowing. I'm going to have to make Yori understand that if she hears something, she won't be breathingit to her superiors.” Then she scowled. “I'll need a minute alone with Monique too,” she added darkly.
Kim didn't like the look in her eyes. “About what?”
“It's nothing,” Shego said. It was bad enough that Monique was telling Ninja Chick that she was - ugh, in love with Kimmie. Shego certainly didn't need to repeat such idiocy. She starts sleeping with Kim, and suddenly people expect her to go all mushy. Kim understood. Even if they were meant for each other, Shego simply wasn't wired for love. Love was for wimps.
“Whatever you may think of Yori, Ron DOES trust her,” Kim replied, “and that carries a lot more weight with me than you probably like.”
“Probably,” Shego agreed. “But that goes for everybody else, too.”
Kim smiled and shook her head. Always having to be the big, bad Shego. “If you want Sappho to monitor what she's doing, I guess that's fine, as long as it doesn't interfere with her other functions.”
“I am in the room, you know. In fact, I am the room,” Sappho muttered.
“You're an integral part of this mission, Sappho,” Kim said. “Besides being our transportation, there's your ability to change your outer hull to whatever color you like. Even, according to you, the color of a starry sky.”
“Pffft,” Sappho said. “Piece of cake.”
“I don't like the situation,” Kim said. “It's probably a trap. But if you can camouflage us effectively, it won't matter, because we'll be on top of them before they know it.”
“Or we could just blow a hole in their little space condo and let the atmosphere suck them out,” Shego said.
“No killing,” Kim said.
“They're going to have guns, you know. I think 'no killing' is overrated when compared to 'no dying'.”
“I know, I know,” Shego said. “I know how you feel about it. I just want to point out that there's going to come a day when we won't have a choice. And you have to prepare for that.”
“That day doesn't have to come,” Kim replied stubbornly. “I can do anything, remember?”
Shego sighed. “I hope you're right. I really do.”
“Wow,” Ruby said.
Shego looked at Yori. “I realize you can only speak for Japan, but don't you government people keep an eye on space? Don't you have spy satellites? Because I would THINK somebody would notice THAT being built.”
“Shego-san, generally those satellites are pointing DOWN, not up,” Yori replied. “As for why it went undetected, we believe they have some form of stealth technology that hides it from view.”
“I can see it just fine,” Monique said.
“I do not think secrecy is a concern any longer, now that Gemini has declared himself.”
“’Declared himself’ is a funny way of saying he threatened to make California disappear,” Ron pointed out.
Kim didn’t say anything. She was studying their objective. It was truly massive. It wasn’t all that tall, but it was probably the size of a football field. She couldn’t imagine the amount of men and materials it had required to build, all of which Gemini had to ferry into space without anyone noticing. How had he done it? How had he paid for it?
“I wonder if we can salvage this,” Kim said thoughtfully. “It would make one hell of a bonanza for NASA. The government might be a little more grateful if we can hand this over in slightly useable condition.”
“Considering we’re planning on smashing a hole in the roof, I’m not convinced we can pull that off, Kimmie.”
Kim sighed. Sappho was designed for deep-space exploration. It was assumed that she would need to land on inhospitable planets. It was even possible she would have human passengers to disembark there.
For that reason, she’d been equipped with hardware that could allow her to descend on the moonbase from above, punch a hole through the exterior, and seal it off in such a way that the air inside wouldn’t leak out in five seconds. That way they could enter without having to change into – and out of again – bulky spacesuits.
“Is everyone ready for this?” Kim asked. “If anything goes wrong – well, it won’t feel pleasant for any of us.”
“Except Sappho,” Monique said.
“I won’t like it if you all die!” Sappho complained.
“There’s a lot of ways this could pan out with us not feeling ‘pleasant’,” Shego pointed out. “No point focusing on just one of them.”
“Not the pep talk I was looking for,” Ron said.
“I trust this will work,” Yori added. “It would be quite unfair if we died within seconds of my first opportunity to serve under you, Kim-sama.”
“Still not encouraged,” Ron told her.
“All right, no point stalling,” Kim said. “Sappho, you ready?”
“I was built ready, Kim.”
Their descent was slow, as Sappho needed to monitor her surroundings constantly on the chance that she’d need to change her exterior.
They stopped sooner than expected, though, because everything changed.
Specifically, their target disappeared.
“What the fuck just happened?” Shego asked.
“It wasn’t real!” Monique shouted.
“That’s why no one ever saw it,” Kim said grimly. “Gemini probably just activated the image when he thought guests were calling. Wade, come in! The ambush just got sprung … Wade?”
Everything really had changed, though, because instead of an answer from Wade or mission control, they got static.
“Someone is interfering with the signal,” Yori said.
“No shit, did you learn that in top-secret government school?!” Shego snarled.
“KP, look,” Ron said. “There’s something down there.”
Kim really looked for the first time and realized Ron was right. Besides being a hologram, it had also hidden what appeared to be a sizeable hole in the moon’s surface. “What’s he digging down there?” she muttered.
“A place for his little spaceships to ambush us from?” Shego asked. “Because here they come.”
Four small craft, each much smaller than Sappho, slowly rose from the hole and headed in their direction.
“We can take the runts,” Monique said.
“I’m not a combat-equipped vehicle, Monique,” Sappho corrected her. “If they’re armed, my only choice will be to outrun them. Plus the fifth ship that’s approaching from above.”
“Great,” Kim said, seeing control of the situation vanishing. “Onscreen?”
“Have you been watching Star Trek while I wasn’t looking, KP?”
The visual showed a ship that was definitely larger, although still not as big as Sappho. And it was definitely armed, as it bracketed Sappho with two laser beams.
“I couldn’t survive more than a few of those, Kim,” Sappho said. “And we’re receiving a transmission. Should I accept?”
“I don’t think we have a choice,” Kim said.
The picture was momentarily fuzzy, and then became clear again.
“Well, well, it's been a long time, Kim Possible,” Gemini murmured. He looked older. So did the dog. It wasn't an improvement for either of them.
“Gemini,” Kim said coldly.
“I must confess, your plan was brilliant - the camouflaging is exquisite, and even now I can't pick your craft out from space - “
“Maybe it's because you've got one eye,” Shego suggested.
The eye she was referring to regarded her balefully for a moment before returning its focus to Kim. “Your presence could only be detected if someone was monitoring this airspace with specially designed machinery, and someone would do that only if they knew you were coming. Which was, of course, the one flaw in your plan. I knew you'd be coming.”
“Government mole, Gemini?” Kim asked.
“I could lie and say yes,” Gemini said. “The thoughts of the government witch hunt that would follow amuse me. But no, Ms. Possible. It was pathetically easy. Once the military failed against me, what, o what would the Americans do next? Why, call in the one person who defeated me in the past. The one who very nearly drove WEE into the ground,” he said with a touch of bitterness.
“Global Justice helped,” Kim replied, knowing what would happen.
She was right, as the chihuahua in his arms began barking frantically.
“Now Pepe, there there, it's all right,” Gemini soothed the dog. “She didn't mean to say those nasty words.” He looked back angrily at her. “And how else would you get to my secret moonbase but your very own family Space Center? I've been monitoring take-offs from there for days, while pondering the essential question - how to defeat you.”
“Let us know from prison when you give up,” Shego said.
Gemini chuckled. “So droll, Shego. Actually, I cheated my way to an answer. What does the computer say in that delightful movie? 'The only way to win is not to play'? I concluded that the only way to defeat you was not to let a fight begin in the first place.”
“You're losing me, Gemini,” Kim replied.
“Maybe he's surrendering?” Ron asked hopefully.
“Ah, if it isn't the Ron factor,” Gemini said, seeming to notice him for the first time. “I believe you still owe me for those Nacos years ago.”
“Actually, the docs over at GJ said I was more of a non-factor,” Ron told him. “So could you tell your mailing service to stop sending me recruitment info? My parents have been throwing those things away for years.”
“Hm, that would explain those monthly charges. But a NON-factor? I have a hard time believing that.”
“You could ask your sister - who you say is your twin but who looks nothing like you - next time she visits you in prison.”
Gemini smiled slightly. “I don't think I can wait that long.” He tapped a few buttons on his mechanized hand. “Agent Kappa, would you please ask Dr. Director if Ron Stoppable truly wasn't the 'Ron factor'? Thank you, I'll wait.”
No one answered for a moment. “What are you saying, Gemini?” Kim finally asked.
“Oh, didn't I mention it? I admit, it must be dreadfully cliched, Kim Possible, but I'm holding your entire family hostage - as well as everyone else in the Space Center. As I said, the only way to win was not to play. You're going to give yourself up to me, or they'll be shot one by one.”
Kim fell back into her co-pilot's seat.
“You're bluffing,” Shego said. “That's why you're jamming Wade's signal, so we can't prove you're lying.”
Gemini gestured with his good hand while keeping Pepe secure with the other. His image shrank as the left side of the screen showed the interior of Space Center mission control. Everyone could see the camera pan, showing Kim's parents and brothers, and Dr. Director with Thomas in her arms. There were also twelve men in the room armed with handguns and automatic weapons. Colonel Barkin was - “Where's Barkin?” Kim demanded. She tried to sound stern, but there was no strength in her voice.
“On the floor,” Gemini said. “He had to be subdued. Agent Kappa, please let Ms. Possible see that the colonel is alive.”
One of the uniformed agents snapped his fingers. Two others picked Colonel Barkin up off the floor. His arm was twisted behind his back, and his nose was bloody.
“She says non-factor, sir,” the man who snapped his fingers said. He looked nervous, like he wasn't sure if Gemini would like his response.
“Hm. Pity,” Gemini said. “Of course, she could be lying. Kappa, kill the boy, then her.”
“No, NO!” Kim screamed, leaping out of her chair. “You won't harm any of them! No more!”
“The fate of the world is in your hands, Ms. Possible,” Colonel Barkin said. “Our lives don't change that.”
“So what, I should just watch as my entire family is murdered?!” Kim retorted. Her stomach was a ball of ice, and yet her head felt feverish. She'd sworn after her mother's abduction by the Acceptables that her family would never be in danger again, and now … “I'll surrender.”
“Kimmie, no,” her father said.
“The colonel is right, Kim,” Dr. Director added. “He could kill us anyway. He can most certainly kill millions of people across the globe. Even though you don't see how you can make this decision, it has to be made.”
Her mother shook her head. Kim knew she was agreeing. She didn't care. “Gemini, you won't harm them if I go quietly?”
“I've seen your files, Ms. Possible,” Gemini said. “So many successful missions coming after successful escape attempts. With your loved ones safe, I know you won't try to.” He swept his gaze around Sappho's cockpit. “That goes for all of you, including the two women I don't recognize.”
“This - this vile dishonor you have perpetrated will not last, Gemini,” Yori said. Her voice actually shook, as her anger was slightly getting the better of her.
“Ah, so the Japanese have a representative? Evidently not willing to trust a few gaijins. What about you, Shego?” he asked smugly. “I'm sure you don't want to agree - a few lives no doubt mean nothing to you - but you can hardly continue if all of your friends have - “
“I'll surrender,” Shego said, interrupting him. “I don't like it, but I won't let you hurt them.”
He seemed surprised. No one on the SAFO did. Shego rested her hand on Kim's shoulder, and Kim's hand came up to grip it tightly.
“Well,” he said. “In that case, you will deactivate your 'cloaking device' and allow us to escort you to my real base. I hope you liked the fake, although it wasn't a total sham. That large hole you're seeing? If you descend far enough inside, you'll find the device that's going to change the world. As well as this small pale rock orbiting it.”
Kim filed that information away. When the time came, she might have to disable the device manually.
Right after she manually beat Gemini into something no one would ever recognize as human. Mom, Dad, tweebs, Betty … I have to trust you'll find a way out of this, and so will I.
Agent Tri-Epsilon was one of several agents who had been sent to secure the Robotics Division at the Space Center. These were scientists, not fighters, but there was no telling what kind of machinery or firepower they might have here. Besides, Gemini wanted as many hostages as he could get.
The agent raised his gun and knocked on the door labeled “Dr. V.F. Porter”. “Open up!” he ordered.
The door opened a few moments later. “Yes?”
“Dr. Porter, you're coming with me. This gun in my hands says so. Any questions?”
Oliver had plenty of questions, but he'd arrived at the answers, or at least reasonable estimated guesses, by the time this intruder had finished speaking. The priority was to protect Vivian, and if this man believed he was Dr. Porter, then this man needed to go on believing it while the woman was asleep on a cot in the back of the lab. But he couldn't leave her alone either. She might wake, realize he was gone, and go looking for him. If there were more men with guns, one of them might encounter her and …
He'd realized this even before the man said the word “Porter”. By the time he got to “questions”, Oliver knew what he had to do.
He shoved the man backwards and ran back into the lab, closing the door. Probabilities indicated the intruder would -
The probabilities were right. The agent fired several times through the door. Most of the bullets impacted Oliver in the back, and he hit the ground, sprawling. He lay still.
The agent opened the door slowly and entered the lab. Dr. Porter, he saw, was either very dead, or about to be very dead.
He shrugged and left. The sound of the gunshots might have alerted other scientists. He had to move.
The sound certainly alerted Vivian Porter. She bolted upright in her cot, but fortunately she was hidden from view by computers. She couldn't see him either, but by the time she calmed her nerves and stood up, the man was gone.
“Oliver!” she gasped, seeing the robot down and rushing over. “Oliver, can you function?”
“I - bzzz - believe I am not - brrrrng - badly damaged, Dr. Porter. I apologize for - nnnnh - bringing this upon myself.”
“What happened?” Vivian asked as she went to fetch tools to give the robot a quick patch-up.
He told her, with the occasional mechanical interruption. She said nothing when he finished, but quietly worked on the repair job. When she was done, she went over to the phone but discovered there was no dial tone. “Phones are down, and the technology in here will interfere with my cell phone. We need to find a way out of the building,” she said. “There could be dozens of armed men. Someone needs to contact the police.”
“I will go,” Oliver said. “They have already inspected this room. They will not return. If you stay - “
“The police won't believe a machine, Oliver,” Vivian said. “We'll both go.”
“But your automobile - “
“Damn,” she realized. She'd taken the bus because her car was in the shop. Even if they got outside and called the police, they'd have to find a new hiding place. “Too bad you can't tell someone's car to open its doors and drive away. They really need to upgrade the computers in cars these days.”
“There is one possibility,” Oliver said.
To be continued …