“You've died twice.”
“How odd, I can't remember. You're here. Am I in heaven?”
“No. You're in Iowa… Did you see that movie? Mostly you're on a lot of medication.”
“When did I die?”
“In the ambulance on the way over, the day you were shot. Four days later, as your blood pressure started to get back to normal a vein they thought was fine ruptured… If they hadn't gotten the blood--” Kim shut her mouth.
“What do you mean, if they hadn't gotten the blood?”
“I just mean, they were able to give you a transfusion. It saved you.”
“A transfusion? Come on, Kim. I know enough of my body chemistry to know that isn't likely… unless… No, Kim, please tell me you didn't.”
“Would you rather be dead?”
“It might be easier than owing my life to him.”
“Them, Bill and Ed have the same type also. Matt is different type, but he left them a pint for the lab to work with -- to try and figure out how to deal with your body chemistry. Henry is taking erythropoietin to increase red cell production. He's already given more than they usually take in a week so they have two units stockpiled if you need more. He'd have given more if they would have let him and you needed it . You've got erythropoietin in one of those bags on your IV tree. They won't let you race in the Tour de France if you're on that stuff.”
“It's going to be hard living with him saving my life.”
“Well, you wouldn't be living if he hadn't.
“Your brothers were here with an middle-aged couple. She looks a lot like an older version of you. Did your father give you any genes?”
“Were they together? Did they look happy?”
“They looked scared. They were with your brothers, what do you mean 'Were they together?'?”
“I know that doctors still don't agree on exactly when death happens, but do you remember anything about the last week?”
“Well, if I died, I would have to say it's over-rated. I didn't see any big light and Jesus wasn't waiting for me… Maybe I should be glad I didn't see the devil waiting for me.”
The ICU nurse opened the door, “Miss Possible, your five minutes is nearly over.”
“Kim, tell me you aren't skipping classes to be here.”
“Your education is important. Finish the semester or I'll get out of bed to kick your butt.”
“I don't think you're in shape to do that.”
“Yeah, but just getting out of bed might kill me -- you want to live with the guilt?”
“I'll be good,” Kim promised and gently kissed Shego on the forehead. She made it out of the ICU before starting to cry.
Kim tried hard to throw herself into school, just to take her mind off Shego, but was never very successful. She would catch her eyes drifting over the same page several times without comprehension. Fortunately she'd done well the first part of the semester because she didn't think she'd be finishing well.
She slept most nights at home, sometimes only at the dorm Monday and Wednesday nights for the eight o'clock class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. One particularly bad night Kim's crying woke Bonnie up. It was against Bonnie's better judgment, but she crawled into the top bunk, “Roll over Possible, let me hold you.” Kim finally drifted off. “God, the things I have to do to get a good night's sleep.”
At least she was able to get up at five in the morning without waking Kim. With any luck, Kim wouldn't even remember the little act of kindness when Bonnie woke her up at seven.
“Kim, before you go in to see Shego I would like to clear up a few points with you.”
“First, are you going to intern with Global Justice again? You know that under normal circumstances you would be welcome. I'm not going to pretend these are normal circumstances. Ron Stoppable has already indicated he would not be with us this summer.”
“I'm not sure what I want, Dr. Director. I want to work with Global Justice. I believe in what you're doing. I'm just not sure about this summer, what is happening to me… to me and Shego right now.”
“You know, she will be going into a specially constructed cell as soon as she is healthy enough. She won't be getting out of prison anytime soon.”
“I… I know. I don't know if that makes me want to work at Global Justice this summer, so I can see her… Or, if it would hurt too much to see her behind bars. There's nothing you can do for her? She almost died trying to help Global Justice.”
“She almost died trying to rescue Drakken and saving you. She wasn't doing it for Global Justice. I'll go to court and give a character reference, but that's all I can do. I'm not the courts.”
Kim nodded glumly, “I know.”
“Second, I'd like to know what is going on with the list of visitors Shego approved to see her in the ICU. There's no family listed--”
“It's a long story. She hasn't told me all of it. I think they're good people. I wish… Never mind.”
“Well, you and your mother are on the list, with a couple of your friends… Who is Bonnie Rockwaller?”
“My dorm mate. We don't always get along, but Shego likes her.”
“Well, the mystery to me is that she indicated she wanted visits from the clergy. And under religious preference she indicated Jewish. Do you understand that?”
“You'll have to ask her that yourself. She's thinking about things. I think she wants to change her life.”
Betty Director's voice sounded grim, “I hope she gets the chance.”
“What do you mean?”
“Rumor is that someone at the Agency is royally pissed with Shego. They've taken the opportunity of her being stuck in the hospital to hire an assassin, one of the best, to keep her from talking about something.”
“An assassin? Why?”
“We don't know why, and I am terribly curious. Are they trying to silence her? What does she know? The story is that they've hired Bert for the job.”
“Yes, as in Bert and Ernie. We have no idea what Bert looks like, it is part of what makes him -- or her -- so effective. Bert probably looks like a mailman, or the cashier at the supermarket, someone your eyes slide right over without paying any attention.”
“Then how does he, or she, get a contract?”
“Oh, that would be Ernie, he's been photographed.” Dr. Director took an eight by ten from a manila folder and showed it to Kim. “He talks with the Agency, or some Mafia Don, and within weeks someone dies. We can't even tell if some of them are murder. Accidents and 'natural causes' just seem to happen, and Ernie is back to collect a fee. He reports one-third of the money on his tax form, and no one else knows who his partner is or where the other money goes.”
“So he, or she, could be anyone? Young or old, man or woman, black or white?”
“That is the common thought. I'm one of the few who wonder if Ernie is a piece of misdirection.”
“Maybe there is no invisible assassin. Maybe Bert and Ernie are the same person, with the secrecy of Bert and the openness of Ernie a little sleight of hand. In any case, we've doubled the guards outside Shego's room.” Kim studied the photo carefully before handing it back.
Kim felt a little nervous entering the hospital room. “I hear you wanted to see me?”
“Yes,” the man with the pale blue skin answered. “They tell me you saved my leg.”
“I don't take any credit for that. It was Shego who said they shouldn't amputate. How is your leg?”
They both stared down at the enormous cast that enveloped his left leg. “Some of the bone had been pulped. Some of the pieces simply didn't exist anymore. They say my left leg will be a shorter than my right. The physicians are amazed that some knitting is already taking place, they predict I'll never run again, but with a built up shoe and cane I'll get around.”
“You sound like you don't believe them.”
“I think they're being too pessimistic.”
“Could you tell me how your leg can possibly heal after what you went through?”
“Hasn't Shego told you anything?”
“No, she hasn't.”
Drakken gave her a wolfish grin, “They're awfully good about keeping their secrets. How long have you and Shego…?”
“How long have we what?”
“Been seeing each other.”
“It was more than a year ago that we started having coffee together. If you mean when did we start doing more than that I'm not sure. It just seemed to happen over the summer.”
“How is she?”
“She's not doing well. She took a bullet meant for me. They have a special cell waiting for her.”
“She's gotten out of them before.”
“I hope you're right, but as weak as she is…”
Neither Drakken nor Kim wanted to continue that line of conversation. “Since last summer, you say?”
“You're both good at keeping secrets. Perhaps you deserve each other… She's a good woman… But she's got a nasty temper.” Drakken grinned again. “Perhaps you do deserve each other.” He looked like he wanted to say more, then abruptly added, “You should go now.”
Obviously Drakken could be every bit as infuriating as Shego.
Regular classes were over, and final exams began in a week. Kim hauled her class notes and texts to the hospital for the review period. Shego had gained enough strength that Global Justice and the hospital bent the rules to let Kim sit and study in the ICU. Shego slept most of the time, but clearly took comfort from Kim being there when she was awake. Being in the room with Shego helped Kim to concentrate. She wouldn't pull the straight A's she originally wanted -- but hoped to keep her average up in the high B range.
The nurses at the ICU station couldn't quite place the nondescript little man pushing the cart, but orderlies come and go and he wore a hospital ID. “I was just up in the pediatrics family waiting room. I have a lot of juice, soda, and water left. Want something to drink?”
The three nurses were grateful for something cold. So were the two Global Justice agents in the hall outside Shego's room. Coke and Pepsi do not manufacture sodas containing powerful sedatives. But for a price you have cans doctored in such a way that the tampering defies casual notice. The orderly chatted with the two agents for a few minutes, until they both announced they were feeling terribly tired and slid down onto the floor.
Inside the room a red-haired young woman dozed in a chair and the target was asleep in her bed. He saw no reason to wake the young woman up to try and give her a sedative. Even if the target had been awake he wouldn't have needed to alter his plans. And would either have recognized him as an orderly and questioned why he was doing a nurse's job? The IV bag he pulled from his cart seemed outwardly identical to one of the bags on Shego's IV tree.
It appeared the red-head had been awakened by the sound of the cart. But he didn't need her asleep, he could pull this off with a witness. Kim was a little drowsy as she watched the man in scrubs apply a side clamp to the IV tube above the drip chamber and remove an IV bag. Kim's eyes narrowed -- the bag he took down looked like it wouldn't require replacing for another couple hours. The man hung a new bag, connected it to the spike and removed the side clamp. He smiled behind his mask, time to leave -- another successful hit. In a few minutes Shego's heart would go into arrhythmia. The ICU nurses were in no condition to answer the heart monitor. Even if some other medical personnel noticed the alarm and came in they would not be able to isolate the source of the problem before a fatal level of the drug had entered Shego's veins. With luck he'd be out of the hospital before anything was noticed.
He was still congratulating himself when the red-head's foot caught him in the gut and knocked him back against the wall. She recognized the ears from the photo Betty Director had shown her -- the head of Global Justice was right, Bert and Ernie were the same man.
Kim was frantic, she called for help but neither Global Justice agent responded from the hallway. Kim had no idea what was in the IV bag, but didn't want any of it going into Shego. She considered trying to pull the catheter from the cannula, but in mystery novels the embolisms that might create are always fatal. She had no way of knowing what the danger was in real life. Kim quickly grabbed some of the slack in the plastic tube, gave it a couple fast turns and squeezed it hard against the IV tree with her right hand to create kinks in the tubing -- to stop the flow from the IV bag. The tubing was tough, designed to withstand accidentally being run over with hospital carts. It took all Kim's strength to stop the flow of liquid.
Bert got up from the floor, and pulled a long knife from a calf sheath. In a more analytical moment Kim might have wondered about what sort of non-metallic materials were used in the blade, so that it could pass through the hospital's metal detectors. At the moment she was more interested in keeping herself between the assassin and Shego. She need not have worried about getting between Bert and Shego. Her actions identified her as a witness he couldn't afford to leave behind, and the fact she also stood between him and the door made Kim the target. Once she released her grip on the IV tube Shego would die.
In a fair fight Bert would have stood no chance against Kim. His prowess as an assassin rested on his planning skills rather than fighting ability. But Kim had a lot of disadvantages in this contest. Her mind was on keeping Shego safe. Her right hand had a death grip on the IV tree to stop the flow from Bert's bag. She used her left hand to steady the tree, to keep it from crashing over and pulling the various tubes from Shego. Considering she needed one leg to stand on Kim effectively had one leg with which to fight the short man armed with a long knife. Things got worse for Kim when the first drops of the drug -- the ones which dripped down before Kim kinked the tubing -- went into Shego, starting a small heart arrhythmia that set off Shego's heart monitor. The alarm buzzer sounded like it was screaming in her ears. At least, she hoped, it would bring the medical staff running.
Bert knew that hospital staff would wait several minutes for the unconscious ICU nurses to deal with the problem before investigating the alarm. He saw a young woman in front of him, holding onto an IV tree in desperation. He had a knife. While he regretted a messy kill he imagined this would be over quickly, letting him escape, with two bodies left behind.
His first two lunges showed him that it would not be as easy as he had imagined. Twice she kicked his knife aside, once catching his arm so hard he worried about it breaking. Okay, this was going to be harder than he first thought. He went to wide slashing motions, hoping his speed would keep Kim from connecting. Within minutes both legs of Kim's cargo pants were slashed and a trickle of blood flowed down her left leg from a shallow gash, hardly deeper than a scratch but still painful. He realized he was getting nowhere fast.
The alarm from the heart monitor continued to wail. It told them both someone had to be coming. For Kim the thought was comforting. The thought caused Bert to panic. He dropped the knife, the collagen solution on his hands should keep him from leaving any clear fingerprints, and grabbed a guest chair. A light chair, swung well, makes a very effective, if not necessarily lethal, weapon. This was a heavy chair. He planned simply to use it as a shield and ram her hard, then recover the knife and finish the job. He underestimated Kim's strength and didn't realize how much he lost in his own field of vision. He hit the wall, hard, with the chair hitting him in the head. He dropped, and was still on the floor when the hospital workers and security arrived.